(Part of the Shatter series which is a sequel to the Surrender and Succesion series.)
“Where is he?”
Youngwoon looked up from the dishes he was cleaning. A tall man entered, dressed in business clothes (minus the blazer) and his arms slipped through what was obviously a gun holster. On first glance he looked like everyone’s fantasy of a cop. What no one realized was that since he was born, he had been raised to be anything but a cop. A mob boss who had turned his gang business legitimate, he leaned his shoulder against the kitchen archway, arms crossed over his broad chest,
“He’s asleep,” Youngwoon answered as he rinsed the last of his dishes and placed it on the drying rack, “Don’t judge, but I slipped him some sedatives.”
The other man raised a thick eyebrow, “What?”
“If you saw how sickly he looks, you’d force it down his throat, Shiwon,” Youngwoon said as he grabbed a dish towel and began drying his hands; “Ever since it happened, I don’t think he’s been eating… and the funeral this morning…”
Shiwon sighed heavily, raising a hand and pushing his hair back from his forehead, “Donghae said he wanted to come, but he thinks he’s of better use at the Agency.”
“Donghae is head of the department that Yesung used to be a part of,” Youngwoon stated, “He’s right to stay at work.”
“But if Sungmin needed his friends –”
Youngwoon shook his head, “He wouldn’t want everyone to see him in this state. Right now he may not care, but later on…” He sighed heavily, “If I ever lost Jungsu… or if you lost Donghae…”
“Jungsu told us how he was that night,” Shiwon said quietly as he followed Youngwoon into the living room, “He said he had to physically restrain Sungmin.”
“I’m secretly surprised that Sungmin didn’t kill Jungsu that night,” Youngwoon said quietly as he walked to the coffee table and straightened the magazines there. He straightened to his full height, his eyes sweeping over the vast space of the living room towards the one wall, which was all glass windows and led to a great expanse that was the penthouse apartment’s veranda, complete with a swimming pool. “I don’t want to leave him alone.”
Shiwon raised a curious eyebrow.
“Yesung’s apartment was great for the two of them, but for Sungmin alone…” Youngwoon raised a hand to the back of his own neck and rubbed it wearily, “I just… for as long as I have known him, I have never seen Sungmin as he is now.”
“Can I see him?” Shiwon asked tentatively,
Youngwoon nodded, “You knew a side of Yesung we were never able to see. I’m pretty sure being an accountant to the mob is different than to being an accountant to me.”
“Hey, we’re legitimate now,” Shiwon stated with a slight smile as Youngwoon led him down a long hallway.
At the end of the hallway, Youngwoon paused at the door there and slowly opened it. He pushed the door wide open when he realized that Sungmin was sitting up in bed against the headboard. At the wide, surprised eyes that slowly dimmed in recognition, Youngwoon realized sadly that Sungmin half-expected him to be Yesung.
“Sungmin?” Shiwon asked tentatively as he stepped past Youngwoon into the large bedroom.
Sungmin knew it was foolish to have allowed his heart to soar when he heard the doorknob turn. He knew better than to anticipate for, to wait for, to hope for… him. With his back pressed against the backboard, he had the comforter pulled up to his waist. When Shiwon entered and said his name, he buried his hands into the thick blanket and clutched it desperately, hoping that was enough to keep him from jumping out of bed.
His body was tired, exhausted, and waiting to collapse. His heart was physically aching, emotionally breaking and mentally was no longer in existence. His soul felt freezing cold, searing hot and unbearably incomplete. He had to fight his memories from flooding his mind, fight his body’s instincts that reached for a body that was no longer there and fight the overwhelming pain that bombarded him, swept him away in a torrent of tears and sadness and darkness and deposited him in a desolate place where he was alone. He could have Youngwoon by his side or be surrounded by people in the Agency and he was still alone. From now on, he would always be alone.
He watched, silently, as Shiwon slowly approached the bed. His eyes swept over Shiwon’s face and immediately he knew. He knew that if anyone felt close to what he was feeling, it would be Yesung’s best friend. He felt his heart clench painfully at the thought of how Yesung smiled and laughed with his friend. He felt a guilty stab of jealousy at the thought that Shiwon had known Yesung for a year longer, had a year’s worth more of smiles and laughter and had heard that voice, seen that face for a year longer than he had been able to. Sungmin tightened his grip on the comforter, this time to stop himself from shaking and bit down hard on his bottom lip to stop himself from crying out.
Shiwon sat on the edge of the king-sized bed, distantly hearing the soft thud of the bedroom door closing and silently thanked Youngwoon for giving them privacy. He had known Sungmin for some time now and the reason for their friendship had been because of Yesung, because they had known different sides of the same man and had loved him, albeit, in different ways. Now that he was nearer to Sungmin, he forced himself not to outwardly react, but Youngwoon had been right. The man before him was a pale, sickly shadow of his former glory.
“Sungmin…” He repeated, his voice a deep, soft and soothing sound. “I thought you were asleep?”
Sungmin managed to speak, tried to grab onto some thread of rationality and keep it because if he didn’t, he would lose to the dark shades that kept creeping on the fringes of his sanity; “You mean Youngwoon’s sedatives he thought I didn’t know about? I wouldn’t have been a good assassin if I didn’t have a tolerance against certain drugs. I was awake after five minutes.”
“Sungmin, come stay with me and Donghae for a few days, hmm?” Shiwon offered, “I know you’re a grown man, heck, I know you’re older than both of us but… I really don’t like the thought of you being here by yourself, especially so soon after…”
“I can’t,” Sungmin said, his voice quiet and laced with sadness and another emotion Shiwon couldn’t quite label, “I appreciate the offer, truly, but I just…”
“Please Sungmin? As a favour to me?” Shiwon stated, “It’s something Yesung would expect from me and –”
“And he would expect me to stay here,” Sungmin replied, “It’s only fair.”
Both of Shiwon’s eyebrows rose in confusion, “How does this have anything to do with being fair?”
“That first night alone I wanted… I wanted…” Sungmin took a deep, steadying breath and prayed his voice wouldn’t break like the rest of his body, “I wanted to stay away… I wanted to stay away from the memories… the ghosts… but I… I knew I couldn’t… I knew it was only fair that I stay here and I face them all.”
Sungmin locked gazes with him, “Yesung died because of me.”
“Sungmin, he didn’t –”
“Just… just listen,” Sungmin interrupted, “The man who attacked Yesung was bigger… if it had been me, I would have beaten him, but just barely… Assassins are trained to stay hidden and attack from the shadows. Yesung was in International Intelligence and Defence; he was trained to plan, infiltrate and gather information… What made him so great at his job was that Yesung excelled in all areas of the Agency. So, where I would have had trouble with the man, Yesung could’ve taken him down after awhile.
“I wanted… I wanted to help him… I could tell he was fine on his own, but my instinct is… was… always to help him. But I couldn’t… I couldn’t – couldn’t – couldn’t –” Sungmin shut his eyes tightly as he inhaled sharply, forcing the tears back, forcing his body still.
Shiwon listened quietly, intently, knowing that what he was hearing was slowly killing the older man, tearing away his shields one by one until Sungmin was left vulnerable and incredibly raw. He clenched his fists in an attempt to stop himself from reaching out because that was the last thing Sungmin wanted; that was the last thing Sungmin needed.
“I couldn’t move,” Sungmin grounded out, forcing his eyes open, but this time, he refused to look Shiwon in the eye; “I just… I just kept remembering last year and how he… how he… and I couldn’t… I froze… I just… I just f-froze.”
“Sungmin, it’s okay, it happens to everyone,” Shiwon said quietly, tentatively,
“NOT TO ME!” Sungmin exclaimed, his eyes flashing towards the younger man, “Not. To. Me… I never… never – never – never…” He paused again to take a deep steadying breath before he managed a quiet, “I never freeze.”
“What happened next?” Shiwon asked,
“Yesung had him… I’m sure that after a few more hits, he would’ve knocked the guy unconscious,” Sungmin paused and swallowed hard; “But then… I saw… I saw something… it… it glinted like… I knew then that the guy had pulled out a knife or dagger… something metal. Before I realized it, I called out his name and then… and then he looked at me… he looked at me… h-h-he looked at m-m-me. He could have beaten the guy, but instead… instead he… he…”
Sungmin could feel what was left of his heart lodge itself in his throat. He tried to swallow, but it was too painful and if he didn’t, he would suffocate. He felt the burn of hot tears behind his eyes and he blinked them back, gritting his teeth to stop their flow, stop his body from trembling, stop the pain from being overwhelming.
“I could allow Youngwoon to drug me and put me to sleep… I could allow you to take me away… I could run away from all these memories, all the emptiness but…” He looked up at Shiwon, locking their gazes; “I have to face the consequences of what I have done.”
“Sungmin, you cannot blame Yesung’s murder on yourself,” Shiwon insisted as he stood from the mattress, crossing his arms in a commanding manner,
“I am a professional, a trained assassin. I knew what problems distractions caused and yet I still…” He allowed his gaze to falter and he looked away, his eyes veiled by thick tears; “Yesung gave me nothing but love and I catalyzed his murder.”
“Are you Lee Donghae?”
He blinked, gaped. Wasn’t he…? Why was he here? He shouldn’t, should he? He looked around and noticed that everyone else was staring at them; the older man specifically. They weren’t that much different in age. In differences in experience, he was on top. But in skill? That other guy was as great as they came.
He had trained for two years and became a full agent and on the same day, he saw that other guy for the first time. That other guy had been a trainee for two weeks and showed such expertise, so natural, raw talent, that he had been promoted to a full agent and had his pick of any department to enter and specialize in. That other guy had over one hundred successful missions, all done cleanly, quickly and with the smallest body count the Agency had ever seen. That other guy had left the Agency a year ago after showing his true colours.
“What… what are you doing here?” Donghae asked, his mouth suddenly very dry.
“Handing in my resignation,” the other guy replied simply.
“But you resigned…” He paused; had the rumours been true?
When he arrived at the Agency that morning, he had heard rumours about him, the great Kim Yesung had returned. Returned? Wasn’t he a traitor? No, it was all part of a mission. He had undertaken one of the greatest undercover missions in South Korea. He had given up everyone he knew, everything he loved in order to complete the mission. He had thrown away his dignity and degraded his golden reputation. He had taken a case more difficult than any black case an agent was ever given because he had to live a lie with people he knew. After all he sacrificed; the prodigal son had returned a failure.
“I heard your mission was unsuccessful,” Donghae said quietly, his tone a soft comfort he often gave to comrades who returned with failed missions.
The other guy, Yesung, quirked an eyebrow, “It was, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“W-what?” Donghae blinked, confused.
For years, he had held a particular grudge against Yesung. He couldn’t deny the guy was skilled and talented, but amidst his awe was a thick streak of jealousy. Yesung spoke with passion for his work. He was friendly and smiled to all those he met. He inspired friendships and yet, never took partners on missions. He offered advice but never took any. Other agents saw it as Yesung looking for a challenge. Donghae saw it as silent arrogance.
But the Yesung standing in front of him was different from how he remembered. This one seemed to have an easy humour just like the old Yesung, but there was more light, more easiness.
He was free.
The Yesung he remembered, the great Agent, would never have returned until his mission was completed. The Yesung he remembered would not be pleased with such incomplete results; he would never get such results.
He was happy.
“If I succeeded in my mission, I would have betrayed a good friend; my best friend, in fact,” Yesung explained lightly, shoving his hands into his pockets,
“But… you gave up friendships, your job – your life – all for this mission and then suddenly you don’t want to finish it?” Donghae questioned, “You are the greatest Agent in our department, damn it, in the Agency and maybe even the world… you know not to get emotionally involved in a mission! How could you?”
“He’s the first person not to betray me,” Yesung said simply. “Even after learning of what I was, what I had done to him… he has shown me more loyalty and courage than any of the Agents we work with.”
For reasons he didn’t want to examine, Donghae felt his heart clench tightly, restrictively, as a jolt of pain stirred memories he tried desperately to drown below the surface of his acknowledgement. “W-why… are you telling me… this?” He asked hesitantly, absent-mindedly taking a small step back, not caring that other agents were watching him critically.
“He wanted me to give you a message: you’re still first in his heart,” Yesung said softly and then turned on his heel and made to leave.
Suddenly, those memories began to push against the surface, forcing their way into Donghae’s thoughts. He tried to push them away, push them back into an oblivious abyss, but those words – Yesung’s words – were repeating themselves and giving strength to memories he locked away years ago. Before he realized it, he was lunging across the distance Yesung had created between them. Before he realized it, he was reaching out and grabbing Yesung’s wrist, stopping him. The other man looked over his shoulder at him knowingly, challengingly. One corner of his mouth tipped up in a small smirk.
“W-w-who is your best friend?” Donghae asked desperately, begged softly.
Yesung turned around to face him, changing the grip so that they were now shaking hands; “Choi Shiwon.”
– A knock on the door pulled him out of his reverie. His gaze shot up to the opening door immediately as a colleague and friend entered,
“Jungsu,” Donghae said with a small smile, “I haven’t seen you all morning.”
“I was at the funeral,” Jungsu explained, tugging at his black tie as he sat down in the chair before the other’s desk, “Working on his case?”
Donghae nodded as he pushed away the file he had tried to read all morning but had been unable to concentrate. The file contained the personal information of the victim, the witness report and it always had a photograph of said person. Donghae used to ignore the photograph to keep himself emotionally detached, his soft heart never able to harden completely with his years of Agent training. This time, however, Donghae couldn’t ignore the photograph; he had become emotionally attached years before this case was ever given to him.
“I… I just…” Donghae ran both hands through his thick, wavy locks. He sighed heavily, leaning his head back against the leather padding of his office chair; “I just can’t believe he’s…” He sighed again before looking at the older man, “How’s Sungmin?”
Jungsu shook his head slowly, sadly as he reached over and picked up the case file, “More composed than I thought he would be… that’s why he’s such a good agent.” At Donghae’s raised eyebrow, he explained, “Sungmin knows one of the attributes an Agent must have to be good at his job is to control his emotions. He is considered a great Agent because he’s learned to completely mask his emotions… All I can say, is that I’m glad Youngwoon is staying with him.”
Silence fell between the two friends as Jungsu briefly went over the witness report that Sungmin had given. After a few moments, Jungsu pulled his gaze away from the photograph at the top of the file and gently laid it on Donghae’s desk. Sitting back in his chair, he began to think aloud,
“Whoever it is that attacked Yesung must have been very skilled – it’s the only way he could have been bested,” Jungsu stated, “But to have such skills… There aren’t any known rogue Agents… and Shiwon’s gang… well, they were the last known gang in Seoul and they’ve completely switched sides… Not Agent, not gangster; a lone wolf again?”
Donghae shook his head, “Shiwon called me before noon. Apparently, the person who attacked Yesung was much bigger, just as the report states. However, what the report doesn’t state is that Yesung had been distracted during the fight; that led to his… his…”
Donghae swung his chair around, giving his back to Jungsu as he tried to compose himself. All morning, he had kept calm and collected. All morning, he had forced himself not to look at the smiling photograph in the file. All morning, he kept remembering.
“I wish we could figure out what’s going on,” Jungsu sighed, “Not an Agent; not a gangster or lone wolf… An amateur would say it was just a coincidence, but Sungmin said that Yesung had been asked if he was an Agent. That means whoever it is that killed Yesung knows about the Agency and, what’s worse, he knows who are Agents.”
“If he asked, though, that means he’s not confident in what he knows,” Donghae said as he swung back around to face him, “That means he’s making guesses as to Agents. Do you… do you think we’d be able to lure him back out with an Agent? If he’s targeting Agents, then…” Donghae glanced at the open file before him and instinctively, his eyes were drawn towards the familiar photograph. He swallowed hard as he forced his eyes away, forced them to lock with the other man’s; “What do you think, Jungsu? Could it be that easy? Could it all end with a simple baiting?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Jungsu stood up slowly. Eventually, he reached over and closed the file, crossing himself with his free hand as he did so; “But it’s all we have.”
The sun was slowly setting in Seoul. As such, Youngwoon knew that only a few hours remained until he had to open the bar. He had been running it himself since Yesung’s murder, but that day he wasn’t sure what to do. With the funeral in the morning, Youngwoon didn’t want to leave Sungmin at all that evening. He was standing in the kitchen, peering into the fridge, figuring out something to make for dinner, when Shiwon entered,
“Are you staying for dinner?” Youngwoon asked as he closed the fridge and moved on to the pantry,
“No, but don’t you have the bar to open?” Shiwon asked,
Youngwoon shook his head, “Not tonight… not with the funeral just hours ago.”
“He seems quite composed,” Shiwon commented, leaning a hip against a counter, crossing his arms loosely,
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Youngwoon sighed as he opened the pantry, his eyes sweeping over the contents; “Ever since it happened, I haven’t seen him get emotional; the most I’ve seen are his eyes tearing up, but other than that… I’m scared that if I leave him, then he’ll be alone when he does show his emotions.”
“It’s been three days since Yesung died,” Shiwon said quietly, “You’ve left Sungmin alone several times since then –”
“But a funeral didn’t happen all those days,” Youngwoon explained, “I… I have known Sungmin for years and nothing has affected him so greatly as Yesung’s death…”
“What about a death in the family?”
“Sungmin’s an orphan. Nothing has affected him like this and he has never controlled his emotions as much as he has these past few days.” He smiled bitterly as he closed the pantry and leaned his back against the door, “I remember after our first mission, Sungmin had cried the entire way back to the Agency. The only thing that sobered him up was when I told him I was resigning that same day.”
Shiwon raised a hand to his neck and rubbed it wearily, “I didn’t want to leave him alone either, but I’m another link to Yesung and I might cause him more pain… I offered him to stay with me and Donghae for a bit, but he refused. I just… Yesung was my best friend and I wanted to help Sungmin out.”
“We’re so caught up with Sungmin that we forget the other people who are mourning,” Youngwoon said quietly, “Maybe you shouldn’t be alone either, Shiwon.”
Shiwon shook his head as he looked away, “You know… I remember the first time I began to trust Yesung. When he began working as my personal accountant, it was because my ex-wife hired him,”
“That’s why DoHae was at the funeral?” Youngwoon inquired,
Shiwon nodded, “Yeah, she was the one to introduce us. When I wanted him to be the accountant for my gang, I knew I was taking a big risk; we all knew he was a fallen Agent – the best Agent. Me and my men were wary of him, but I needed an accountant. He was… quiet and reserved.”
“Surprising, but true. Then slowly he began to open up to us. I knew the men were very guarded around him, kept him at a distance,” Shiwon could feel his heart pound faster and harder with each word and could feel the tears threaten and so, he kept his gaze away from Youngwoon’s; “And then during Christmas, some of the men gave him gifts. He was… grateful and happy. Then, he excused himself. Some of the men and I followed him back to his office and he was… he was crying.”
“You never cry in front of the enemy, it shows weakness,” Youngwoon stated, “Was that a part of his act?”
“I thought so when his mission was revealed,” Shiwon admitted, “But Sungmin told me that Yesung probably cried because he realized how much his mission had become his life; that the truth and lies were merging and he didn’t want to betray the new friends he had made.”
“That sounds like the Yesung I know… knew,” Youngwoon said quietly, his head slowly lowering into a reverent bow.
“What everyone sees on the surface is a gang with hardened criminals… what no one understood was that being part of the gang – my gang – was a part-time job; it was just one aspect of their lives. Yesung understood that, was the only person outside of the gang who did… that’s why his betrayal caused so much trouble in the gang,” Shiwon explained, “Yesung was a link between their gang life and their normal lives and to find out it was a lie… well, that moment in Christmas proves it wasn’t all a lie.”
“He could’ve gained everything back if he turned you in,” Youngwoon stated, “Instead, he decided to permanently shut the door on his old life and hold on to what he had left of his new life… he was a great Agent, but a greater man.”
Shiwon immediately turned his back to Youngwoon, his words causing his heart to contract painfully. He inhaled deeply, steadily as he clenched his fists and crossed his arms even tighter, “Um… I can put up a sign or something on your bar’s door so your customers don’t wait around… if you want.”
“Yeah, I’d really appreciate that,” Youngwoon said gruffly, abruptly clearing his throat. He pulled out his keys and detached the one for the bar. He walked over to Shiwon and, without looking at him, handed the key over, “This is the key for the back door. Um… if you… if you wanted to come back and just hang around with us… you’re more than welcome to.”
“I might just go home,” Shiwon said quietly, “Donghae should be home by then.”
Youngwoon clapped a hand on his shoulder, “We all lost someone, Shiwon-sshi… we all handle it differently so… if you and Donghae need someone.”
Shiwon shook his head in a silent, negative reply.
“Me, Jungsu and Donghae lost a friend… you lost a best friend; you’re hurting close to – if not the same – as Sungmin right now,” Youngwoon said knowingly, squeezing his shoulder comfortingly; “You knew Yesung personally the longest and –”
“And that’s why I don’t think I can stay with Sungmin,” Shiwon replied quietly; “He’s hurting a lot right now. The last thing he needs is a reminder that in this one thing, I was first in Yesung’s world.”
“I care about Sungmin, I do and he’s my best friend, but you, Shiwon –”
“Have grieved before and can grieve again. I know loss a way that Sungmin doesn’t know; personal loss. His needs are greater than mine,” Shiwon said, finally looking at Youngwoon with a small, sad smile on his face, “I will grieve but I know I will survive. Sungmin has never needed to grieve, so he doesn’t know that he can survive.”
Slowly, Youngwoon lowered his hand from Shiwon’s shoulder, “Still… if you need anything –”
“You’ll be the first I call,” Shiwon insisted, his smile finally reaching his dark eyes. With that, he left, silently repeating himself to keep a hold on his emotions. He was entering the outside world again and he could not allow them to see him break.
After Youngwoon put the last dish on the drying rack, he slowly made his way into the living room. The lights were on, but he couldn’t see Sungmin anywhere. His eyes swept the large area, and finally, he found himself looking through the glass wall to the veranda. Out on the veranda, he saw a small form sitting near the pool. Half-alarmed, Youngwoon quickly strode out into the humid night and reached Sungmin’s side in record time.
Sungmin didn’t even look up. With his legs curled against his chest, arms crossed atop his knees and his chin propped on top, he said quietly, “I’m not going to drown myself. I’m sad, not suicidal.”
“You? Sad? Never would have guessed,” Youngwoon said sarcastically as he slowly lowered his body to the ground.
“I lost the love of my life; how could you say that!?” Sungmin demanded, turning his head to look at his friend,
“Then cry, yell, throw things – I don’t care, but act like you’re sad!” Youngwoon exclaimed,
“I DON’T HAVE A RIGHT!” Sungmin argued,
“Why? Because you couldn’t save him? Because you have some twisted idea that he died because of you?” Youngwoon demanded,
“He did –”
“HOW THE HELL DO YOU THINK I FEEL!?” Youngwoon questioned.
Sungmin blinked at him, startled. He had seen Youngwoon mad before, but he had always kept calm and collected. Surprised, he didn’t know what to say, so he merely raised an eyebrow in silent questioning.
“Yesung was never supposed to be there,” Youngwoon grounded out, his gaze focused on the still waters of the pool before them; “He was supposed to go home with you… I should’ve been there; I should’ve been the one to…” He inhaled deeply, “I was trained just like the two of you to be an Agent, I knew better than to allow my emotions to rule and yet, I let them… I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and instead of staying to work like I should have, I went home.”
Slowly, he turned his gaze to Sungmin, “Yesung was there because of me… I hold just as much as guilt as you do.”
Sungmin swallowed hard. Youngwoon was always responsible and clear-headed; he never said irrational thoughts and always acknowledged the consequences of his decision. He knew that whatever Youngwoon said rang true within the bar owner’s heart. With that in mind, he asked tentatively, practically begging for an answer; “What do you do then?”
“With what? The guilt?” At Sungmin’s nod, Youngwoon slowly lowered his torso to the ground so that he was lying down, his fingers laced behind his head as he gazed up at the velvety night sky. “Nothing. For now, I push it out of my head and grieve the loss of a good friend. I believe he deserves a great amount of mourning and so, I forget about my selfish feelings for a moment and allow myself to honour him with my tears.”
“I… I can’t cry, Youngwoon,” Sungmin said quietly, turning his gaze back to the dark waters and resting his chin back on his crossed arms,
“Why not? Just let it all out, Sungmin,” Youngwoon replied soothingly as he allowed his eyelids to drop and relished the feel of a slight cool breeze kissing his heated skin.
“I’m afraid that if I start to cry, I won’t be able to stop,” he confessed, his voice barely above a whisper as if even the wind was not allowed to hear his words. He slowly tilted his face into the circle of his arms until he could feel a forearm pressed against his closed eyelids; “I’m afraid that if I allow myself to feel, it’ll hurt and I won’t be able to take the hurt.”
“You’ve felt pain before, Sungmin, and you’ve lived to see the next day, right? It’s the same thing: you’ll feel pain, but you’ll live to see tomorrow… pain isn’t always a bad thing,” Youngwoon insisted,
“I have never felt pain like this before,” Sungmin replied, “So intense… so horrible… so… so… cold. I feel as if no matter what I do, all I’ll ever feel is this endless emptiness and loneliness and I can’t… I can’t be alone again.”
“You won’t be,” Youngwoon said, “I’m here with you and I won’t leave you, Sungmin.”
“Then why did he?” Sungmin asked quietly, his words barely reaching the other’s ears, “Why did he leave me? Why – why – why was it that he asked me not to leave him and yet he left me? Why did he not want to be alone and yet now I’m… I’m… I’m alone?”
The first sign was subtle and Youngwoon only caught it because he had opened his eyes to watch over the younger man. It began with a subtle shiver of Sungmin’s spine. Then, his torso began gently to tremble. Next, Youngwoon saw the sudden expansion and rise of the ribcage and it held longer than a few seconds; he knew that Sungmin was holding his breath to stop himself from crying.
Silently, Youngwoon pushed himself up into a sitting position. With one hand, he slowly reached over and just an inch before his hand touched Sungmin, he heard the softest, saddest of sounds. Hand floating in mid-air, he watched and listened as soft cries drifted through the hot night air to his ears. The sounds were quiet and modest, yet somehow, they told a story of intense heartache and suffering. They flowed with a mournful melody that caused one’s heart to constrict with each dip. With his almost-silent cries, Sungmin had completely and thoroughly conveyed his feelings to Youngwoon, practically merging them with the older man’s.
“Sungmin… I’m sorry,” Youngwoon whispered as his hand finally laid on Sungmin’s arm.
“Oh God, Youngwoon… it hurts so much,” He heard Sungmin’s muffled words, “It h-h-hurts… I just… I just… I-I-I just…”
Sungmin couldn’t find the words, the description to how he felt. He felt empty, lonely and unbelievably cold. His entire body ached as if each muscle, bone and joint was too tired, too pained to move. His mind was overflowing with emotions and thoughts, everything pounding over and over again against his skull. His soul felt… incomplete.
Over and over again, all he could remember was Yesung lying before him in a pool of blood. Yesung gazing up at him with all the love in his eyes. Yesung holding onto him as tightly as he could. Yesung talking to him, trying to comfort him when it should’ve been the other way around.
Yesung, Yesung, Yesung…
He could remember it: the first word, the first touch, the first kiss, the first hug, the first smile, the first laugh…
He could hear the first words from Yesung: “A glass of ice and one bottle of whisky.”
The first time he heard his name: “Ah, Sungmin, having fun again?”
When he learned the truth: “You were right about everything.”
When Yesung first…
“Yeah… I love you.”
I love you. I love you. I love you…
“I’m sorry: I couldn’t love you for as long as I wanted.”
No, he shouldn’t be remembering; wasn’t allowed to. No, he couldn’t feel sad because he’s the reason it happened. No, he couldn’t… he couldn’t… he couldn’t… but it was all he could do.
“I… I l-…. I love… I love you,” Yesung’s voice trembled as more tears fell from his eyes, “I love you, Lee Sungmin!”
I love you, Lee Sungmin. Lee Sungmin. Sungmin.
“SUNGMIN!” Youngwoon exclaimed, alarmed at his deep silence.
He looked up, locked eyes with Youngwoon and the latter felt his heart stop. When Sungmin looked at him, his fox-like eyes were red and his round cheeks were slashed through with multiple trails of hot, thick teardrops. He always knew that Sungmin always kept at least a minimal hold on his emotions, even when he cried after their first mission; it’s what allowed him to do his job and do it well. Now that the hold was broken and his composed mask had been lifted, what Youngwoon saw sent cold flares straight to his soul.
He had already grieved, had already gone through the motions of weeping for a dear, lost friend. At that moment, he wasn’t even the one crying and yet, he was affected by that one look. His heart refused to beat and he could feel his lungs shiver and shake with each attempt to breathe. Youngwoon had to control his breathing, making it deep and steady until he was able to regain his control once more. It was then, that Sungmin finished his words,
“I just can’t escape the darkness.”
Youngwoon felt his hand on Sungmin’s arm tremble. He wanted to get closer and wrap his arms around his friend; wanted to give him any semblance of comfort and yet, he knew he couldn’t. He knew that if he comforted his friend as he wanted, Sungmin would lose the last shred of his control, his strength. And so, he was left to watch as Sungmin seemed to constrict into a smaller ball. He was left to pay silent vigil as he tried to keep his best friend from completely collapsing into the clutches of his inner demons. He knew when the sun rose in the morning, Sungmin might not be there to see it.
It was late afternoon when Shiwon taped up the sign on the inside of the window on the bar’s door. Satisfied that the customers would see it, he ensured the door was locked and began turning off the lights again. Here and there, he swept his gaze around the bar to make sure nothing was out of place and everything would be in order for Youngwoon when he returned to work. Eventually, he headed towards the back rooms to leave. As he walked down the dim corridor, he slowed when he reached the closed door that separated him from what he knew to be Yesung’s office. Slowly, he turned and faced the door.
It was just a piece of wood and yet it was more. It wasn’t special and yet it was special. It was just like any other door leading to any other room and yet it was a different door leading to a very important room.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood there staring at the door; the moment his eyes laid on its smooth surface, it felt as if time slowed down. Shiwon was sure he could feel and hear his heart beat slower, was sure that his need for air wasn’t as great as it usually was. He felt as if standing before that door, he was on a different plane where time and everything else didn’t exist.
His hand trembled as he reached for the doorknob, his fingers circling the cool metal. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he recalled what he had been raised to be, recalled what image he projected to the outside world and turned the doorknob.
The door opened easily and silently; of course Yesung had kept it in good condition. The office was neat, tidy and from the bookcase of binders and folders, he knew it was well-organized; of course Yesung kept everything in order. The office looked like any other office and yet, to Shiwon, there was something essentially Yesung in the room. He swallowed hard and entered the room that was dimly lit by the corridor’s light.
The office wasn’t incredibly large nor did it have any windows, but it wasn’t a janitor’s closet either. At one end were a long, heavy, wooden desk and a large, leather office chair. Before the desk were two simple wooden chairs with leather upholstery, gently angled so that they formed a flattened isosceles with the desk. Against a wall adjacent to the desk was the bookcase of binders and folders. On the opposite side of the office from the desk was a black, leather couch. The room was sparsely furnished but Shiwon couldn’t imagine it with anything more nor with anything less. This was simply Yesung.
Slowly, Shiwon walked towards the desk, his hands trailing along the spine of books as he walked past the bookcase. As he neared the desk, he rounded it and tentatively slid onto the comfy chair. He sat back, leaned against the soft leather and was just silent. He leaned his head back, sprawled his fingers on the armrests and inhaled deeply, trying to fill his nostrils with the stale air of the office; it was obvious that the door hadn’t been open for days.
Shiwon closed his eyes and tried to quiet his breathing and his beating heart in an attempt to listen to the silence. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing, but he truly believed that if he kept still and silent then, eventually, he would be able to smell Yesung’s cologne in the air, feel the warmth of his body from the leather chair and hear the voice that distinguished the older man. He waited and waited, but nothing. He swallowed hard; there was always going to be nothing.
Despite being alone, Shiwon continued to breathe slowly, steadily, keeping a tight reign on his emotions. He leaned forward from the chair, moved his hands from the armrests to the desk’s surface and just relished in the feel of the deep mahogany wood against his skin. It was just a desk like any other and yet, he ran his hands along the polished wood as if he could pick up traces of Yesung’s presence from it.
Shiwon’s eyes studied the tabletop, knowing he’d never find a speck of dust, despite Yesung being…
Eventually, his eyes landed on the many drawers of the desk. He knew he was prying, but he also knew that someone had to open these drawers again and, as selfish as it was, he wanted to be the one. Slowly, he began to open the side drawers. They held nothing out of the ordinary: papers, more files, pens and pencils. Finally, he turned his gaze to the middle drawer, the shallowest of all the drawers and the one he knew Yesung would use the most. What would this hold? More pens and pencils?
Carefully, Shiwon slipped his fingers into the crevice of a handle and slid the drawer open. His lips twitched in his body’s first attempt at a smile. More files; of course. He was about to close the drawer, when something metal caught his eye. He looked down at the paper files and noticed something was beneath them. Tentatively, he pulled the files out of the drawer, laying them on the desk and revealing what was underneath: small picture frames.
Shiwon felt his heart jump from his chest and lodge itself in his throat. He felt it so completely, he was almost positive he was going to suffocate. Somehow – he wasn’t sure how – he managed to reach for the picture frames and flip them face-up. The first was a picture of Sungmin sleeping, his cheek buried in a soft-looking pillow and a thick blanket pulled up to beneath his chin. Shiwon felt his lips twist into an easy smile; no one would believe him if he said that the man in the picture was a trained assassin.
The second picture, Shiwon remembered well because he was the one to take it. It was the day Donghae and he were moving in together and the others were helping. Donghae and Yesung had still not softened up to one another and they had begun to argue. It had escalated to the point where Jungsu was holding Donghae back, Sungmin was standing between Donghae and Yesung and Youngwoon had told Shiwon to grab a camera. Shiwon had captured the scene of the four Agents (two were ex-Agents) as he and Youngwoon tried to stop from laughing.
The third picture was a picture of all of them together: Yesung and Sungmin, Jungsu and Youngwoon, Donghae and himself. Shiwon remembered when the picture was taken: it was at one of his best friend’s wedding; his ex-wife, DoHae. He remembered that night because it had been so much fun and relaxing; it was one of the first nights the six of them had been together and were truly able to get away from the world of gangsters and Agents. Smiling, Shiwon placed the frame gently beside the others on the tabletop.
The fourth frame he reached for made Shiwon laugh softly aloud. The picture was of Yesung and Youngwoon sitting at the bar. They both had opposite elbows propped on the bar’s surface, their hands holding their chins and were looking away from another. From their unpleased expressions, Shiwon could only assume they had just disagreed on something that was strictly owner-versus-accountant business. Also, from the blur on one corner of the photograph which could only be a finger partially covering the camera lens, Shiwon knew that Sungmin had taken the candid photo.
The final frame that had been hidden in the main drawer made Shiwon’s laughter cease and his smile to melt away. It was a picture older than the others, taken over two years ago. The picture was dimmer and the only thing depicting the time of the year was just a fringe of an evergreen in the background. Shiwon stared at his smiling face in the photograph. He had one arm slung over Yesung’s shoulders as his other arm reached over to the older man’s face, his hand holding Yesung’s face to look at the camera. Yesung’s eyes, however, were angled at Shiwon in a glare. The picture had been taken at his gang’s headquarters when they were still a gang and Yesung was still an undercover Agent.
When Shiwon saw a small splash of water on the frame’s glass, he realized then that his eyes stung with hot tears. The frame trembled in his hand and he realized it was his hand that was the one shaking. He inhaled sharply and realized he hadn’t been breathing since he first laid eyes on that old photo. Before he could look away, before he could put the photograph down, Shiwon’s senses were overwhelmed with the memories of that night, that moment.
“Take a picture with me, Kim-sshi! Take a picture with me – just one!”
Shiwon could practically hear the soft Christmas music playing, the hearty laughter and bouncy chatter of his supposedly heart-hardened gang members all in the background. He could smell the rich food that the members had brought in from their families to share with one another and he could practically still taste the aftertaste of spice and alcohol in his mouth.
Somehow, he managed to put the frame down on the desk and he slowly brought his hands closer to his face, palm-up. His eyes gazed at them as if they were foreign to him, simply because they still felt warm from touching that other man’s body; simply because he was sure he could still feel Yesung’s body in his friendly embrace.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Shiwon lowered his face to meet his hands and he pressed the heel of his palms against his closed eyes as if that would stop the sudden onslaught of tears. They came, painful and hot, and yet they could not stop; he would not let them stop. He clenched his teeth and tensed all the muscles in his body to stop himself from shaking, trembling like he was inside; like his very soul. He inhaled slowly, evenly, just so that he could control himself, stop himself from crying out.
His elbows lowered to the desk, finding purchase between the frames as his body seemed to want to curl up and make him smaller. He was then taking gasps of air in an attempt to fill his shaking lungs, but each inhale didn’t seem to fill them enough, didn’t seem to do anything but make his body hurt more, make his body colder. He was trying to swallow and swallow, tried to move that lump in his throat, which he was still sure was his heart trying to escape his body. The lump remained, the pain grew until Shiwon wasn’t sure what he was feeling was emotional or physical pain. All he knew was that he wanted it all to stop.
He wanted the pain to end, wanted to feel the creeping hollowness in his heart to stop and, most importantly, he wanted the memories to go away. If the memories went away, he could continue on as if he was fine; he could continue on as if he wasn’t that affected.
Before he realized it, Shiwon had lowered his hands from his face and was now looking down at his own gun in his hands. How did it get there? When had he pulled it out of its holster? His long, strong fingers wrapped around the cool, soothing metal of the gun and then he was raising it, raising it, raising it.
That same solid, stoic reply repeated itself in his mind and yet… it was different. His wet eyes widened as his thoughts began to clear through the haze of his building turmoil. What had he been doing? What had he been about to do? Knowing he hadn’t touched the gun’s safety, he suddenly threw the gun to the other side of the room, suddenly needing it far from him.
He had heard Yesung’s disagreement, hadn’t he? It had been so clear, so loud, so… real.
Shiwon suddenly jumped to his feet, the chair rolling back away from him from the force of the movement. He stared down at the photographs and felt his heart constrict once, painfully. He backed away from the photos and when he felt the chair behind him, he slipped away from the desk. His thoughts were flashing in a disconnected fashion. He was trying to sort them out, trying to remember what was real and what was not.
Yesung had told him ‘no’, but he wasn’t here… couldn’t be here because… no… no…
He could still feel the other man’s warmth, but he hadn’t seen Yesung since before… before… no… no…
He should tidy up the desk, but Yesung will never be in that office again, right? After all he… didn’t he… no… no…
“NO!” Shiwon had his back pressed against one wall, his fists slamming back against the wall as his eyes were glued to the desk and the files and picture frames on top.
The tears began to flow again and he knew there was no stopping them. His body was shaking horribly now and he knew there was no controlling it. He wanted to cry out, wanted to yell out, but he knew that was the one thing he could still keep a hold on; it was his last shred of control, sanity. He shut his eyes tightly, stamped his feet against the ground, pounded his fists against the wall over and over again as he willed his body to remain silent, commanded, demanded and forced himself to silence.
Slowly, Shiwon slid down against the wall until he was sitting on the ground. His knees were bent, his elbows propped against his knees and his head burrowed into the crook of his elbows. His hands tangled together into the hair at the nape of his neck as he fought fiercely for control.
“No… no… no…” He murmured, hoping his chant would keep him busy from vocalizing his cries. “No… no… no…”
And the office was filled with the echoing sounds of deep mourning.
It was already dark out when Shiwon finally emerged from the backdoor of the bar. He wasn’t sure how late it was, but he knew when he got home that Donghae would not be impressed. He locked the door and safely pocketed the keys so he could return them to Youngwoon. He was walking towards his car when he could hear shouting. Immediately, instinctively, his eyes swept around him until he could see two people fighting in the spotlight of a lamppost.
At first, they were just shouting at one another, but soon shouting turned into shoving and Shiwon was walking before he even realized it. He got closer and could hear their loud words were slightly slurred; drunk, perhaps? They were two men and, from their coordination, Shiwon could tell that one was more sober than the other. When the drunker man fell back against the lamp post, Shiwon saw that he was bleeding. Immediately, he turned to the other man, quickly and effectively disarming him of his weapon.
“What the –” His words had barely left his lips when the attacker suddenly turned and left, disappearing into the night.
Shiwon gripped the weapon tightly as he fought the urge to follow him. He wanted to follow, to stop the man, but the pained groan beside him made him think otherwise. He turned to the other man and knelt down,
“Hey, just hold on, alright? I’ll call for help,” Shiwon insisted, “Just –”
“PUT DOWN THE KNIFE!”
Shiwon froze and slowly looked over his shoulder. A man stood with a gun pointed at him, the barest of light spilling over his official police uniform.
“We received a report ten minutes ago about a fight here, but the caller just said there were drunks shouting,” the officer stated, “Put down the knife and put your hands behind your back.”
“I didn’t do this!” Shiwon exclaimed, “There was another guy and I disarmed him!”
“That’s what they all say,” The officer scoffed as he slowly approached, “Now put the knife down before anyone else has to get hurt.”
“I’m not lying!” Shiwon insisted, “Just ask…” He turned his gaze back to the other man who had gone oddly silent since the officer arrived. When he looked back, he knew immediately that the injured man was now dead. He swore softly.
“Just ask who? Him?” The officer finished for him,
“No… he’s… he’s already dead,” Shiwon muttered, a slight resentment in his pity for the man who couldn’t stay alive for just a few minutes more. He had half a mind to fight the cop when he remembered his gang members – no, his men – and how they had worked hard to turn legitimate. He couldn’t break the law now, especially since he was already thought of committing murder. Shiwon began to lower his hand,
“Hey! Not so fast!” The officer exclaimed,
“I’m just putting the knife down,” Shiwon replied calmly, quietly.
He put the knife down with one hand and with the other, crossed himself in honour of the man who just passed away without anyone’s acknowledgement. Then, he raised his hands to the back of his head and allowed his eyes to slide shut. The officer quickly closed the distance between them. As Shiwon felt cold metal wrap around his wrists, he silently prayed for all the chaos that was suddenly surrounding him and his friends would end soon.
He heard the distant sound of sirens from an approaching ambulance and Shiwon felt his heart constrict painfully as he thought of another ambulance that had come just three days ago to carry off the body of his best friend.