words: prompt - 5000; actual - 15412
For sgcharbor/breenex who donated to help Japan
In the End
"It was really great seeing you again, Sungmin."
"Yeah, five years has been too long," Sungmin agreed to the older man who walked beside him.
He strode along the quiet street, hands shoved in his pockets with his sleeves pushed up to his elbows, shirt tails partially pulled out of his waistband and the tie around his neck loosened after being tugged several times since leaving the high school. The man beside him was dressed in slacks and a button-up shirt, but his tie was still tied and even his shirt tails were neatly tucked into his pants. Appearance-wise, they were completely different.
"I'm sorry I couldn't come visit until now, Yesung," Sungmin said then.
The other man, Yesung, appeared as if he wanted to say something. Eventually, he just shrugged and nodded his head and they continued walking in silence.
"This reunion... I'm glad I came. Seeing all those faces again... well, there were great times in high school," Sungmin chuckled softly when it was obvious the other man wouldn't talk; "Remember when I had to help you with phys. ed.?"
"That is not a real class!" Yesung exclaimed then, causing Sungmin to laugh.
Sungmin had always seemed laidback and never seemed to care about school. Despite his attitude, he had skipped a grade during middle school. Yesung, on the other hand, took his studies seriously. Not to the point of spending his hours on end with a nose in the book, but just enough to be a straight A student. He had attributed his studious dedication to the ridiculous fact that he had somehow managed to repeat the first grade. Their own quirks had let to them being in the same year in high school.
In first year, Yesung had spent most of the time concentrating on his studies instead of paying attention to the rules in various sports during gym class. When he realized that his participation in gym would overall affect his A average, he had turned to Sungmin who he had realized was in his three other classes. What began as the oddest tutor-student circumstances turned into a friendship that lasted throughout high school.
"Yes, well, you're doing fine all on your own in university," Sungmin grinned at him,
During college, they had gone to different schools but had kept in touch. Yesung had remained in Seoul for college, but Sungmin had left the city to attend business school. Yesung never quite understood why when there were plenty reputable business programs in Seoul's various post-secondary schools. Sungmin had always been too busy to visit since graduation, so it had surprised Yesung to no end when Sungmin had showed up at their high school reunion.
"I can't believe I decided to do my master's degree," Yesung sighed, running a hand through his hair, causing the first unkempt attribute in his appearance. "After years of studying I go and subjugate myself to more. Most idiotic thing I've ever done."
"You'll be a fine professor when you're done," Sungmin insisted, knowing that Yesung was just being dramatic. He had always joked that Yesung should have majored in drama instead of English.
Yesung stopped walking and Sungmin stopped alongside him. Sungmin looked up at the familiar façade of Yesung's childhood home. He knew Yesung lived on campus during the school year and had only returned to his parents' home for the reunion.
"Well... this has been..." Yesung sighed softly as he smiled, "I'm glad you came back for the reunion."
Sungmin gazed at the man who had been his best friend in highschool; had been his only friend since graduation. He smiled at him, "Yeah, I'm glad I came, too... I've really missed you, Yesung."
The older man blinked, seemingly startled, before his expression relaxed, his dark eyes lit with a peculiar emotion as he took in his friend's fox-like eyes. "I've missed you too, Sungmin." He glanced at his house in an attempt to ignore how his heart reacted to seeing those eyes light up, "Well... I guess I'll see you at the next reunion." Yesung turned towards the house.
Sungmin watched him head up the path to the front door. For years, Yesung had been the most important person in his life. His own parents had died during his first year in high school and Yesung had been the only person to find out he had been living on his own since. After graduation, saying goodbye to his friend had been the hardest thing he had ever done. He had forgotten how hard until that moment when he had to say goodbye again.
"Yesung!" Sungmin called out, wary of being too loud and waking Yesung's parents or any other residents.
Yesung paused on the front porch, keys in hand as he turned to watch Sungmin walk up the path. He took the few steps to the edge of the wooden porch, "Yeah? What's up?"
"I... I'm moving back to Seoul," Sungmin stammered. He cleared his throat to quickly compose himself before continuing, "My program is done... I finished last year and have been... you know, internship stuff this past year, but it's almost done. When it is, I'll be back to Seoul."
"Oh," Yesung replied.
He wasn't sure how else to reply. He was overcome with bursting happiness, but he couldn't exactly admit that. Sungmin had always been his best friend, even though he hadn't seen him in the past five years. When he found out Sungmin had been living on his own in first year of high school, he had felt a protectiveness of which he never knew he was capable. Ever since then, his happiness had depended upon whether or not Sungmin was happy. Making Sungmin happy made him happy. This time, however, Sungmin was making him happy and he was too scared to say it out loud.
"I... I just wanted to tell you that," Sungmin said. He shrugged and offered a small smile, "I hated being away... from you, that is."
Yesung's keys hit the porch with a clatter as he closed the distance between them, took Sungmin's face in his hands and pressed his lips against the other's. Fire spread through him, then, as if it had been contained for far too long, allowed to build up until he couldn't hold it in anymore. In that moment, he didn't want to be the orderly, predictable person he had been since repeating the first grade. Instead, he wanted to take a chance, be carefree, do as he wanted as Sungmin had always done since he first met him.
When Sungmin began to kiss him back, Yesung knew he had made the right decision.
Five years later
“In the bathroom,”
A man in his late twenties appeared in the doorway to the bathroom. Dressed in simple black slacks and a white, button-up, he leaned a shoulder against the doorframe, hands shoved in his pockets. He stared at the other man, a slight smirk on his lips,
“Well, aren’t we being luxurious today,” the man by the door mused, “Hmm, Sungmin?”
Sungmin turned his head to face the other man without lifting the back of his head from the edge of the tub. He lay in the white tub, relishing in the hot water as wisps of steam rose from the water and filled the bathroom with fog. His half-shaven hair was slicked back from the water, his cheeks pinked, presumably from being in the hot water.
“Long day at work,” Sungmin murmured, turning his head back to face the ceiling and closing his eyes,
“Ah. Sorry I’m home so late,” the other man replied, “Went drinking with some of the other professors after class was done.”
“Not a problem, Yesung,” Sungmin replied absent-mindedly, too preoccupied with keeping himself from becoming hypothermic.
“How was work? That is, other than it being a long day?” The other man, Yesung, inquired as he walked further into the bathroom. He put the lid of the toilet down and sat down atop it so he was closer to Sungmin.
“Same old, same old, I suppose,” Sungmin shrugged, the gesture causing water to slightly slosh around him,
Yesung waited for more, but Sungmin was silent for long enough that he knew he wouldn’t get any more from him. He repressed the urge to sigh. Sungmin hardly ever spoke about his day or his job. No, no, correction – Sungmin never spoke about what he did during the day. All Yesung knew was that the other man worked at an insurance company. There were times when he would wonder why he put up with it. Why he didn’t ask questions, why he didn’t push for more, but then Sungmin would say or do something that would make him forget the other holes in their relationship. He knew that he was scared to push for more because he didn’t want to push the other man away.
“Well, my day was exciting,” Yesung declared suddenly. He leaned forward so his forearms rested on his thighs, “That is, as exciting as a professor’s life could be, but exciting nonetheless!”
“Plagiarism?” Sungmin prompted,
“Okay, predictable, but exciting!” Yesung said with a grin, “But you’ll never believe the count!”
Sungmin thought of the other times Yesung had come home only to rant about plagiarism in his students’ assignments. Swiftly calculating what would be an astounding amount compared to the previous times, he guessed casually, “15-17 assignments?”
Yesung’s jaw literally dropped slightly as he gaped at the other man, “16! How did you guess?”
Sungmin opened his eyes and grinned with open amusement at the professor, “The last time this happened, 12 of the assignments had been plagiarized in some form or another. That’s the greatest number until today. However, you don’t seem mad enough for there to be 20 or more. Then, just to be whimsical, I said those numbers.”
“Damn good numbers, I’d say,” Yesung replied, “But, yes, can you believe it? 16! What is the world coming to that students have turned to copying others’ work rather than using their own brains! You know what I blame?”
“Technology?” Sungmin murmured as Yesung continued on, “Technology!”
“Back in my day, we had card catalogues to search through and you had to physically find your resources instead of having these online databases,” Yesung shook his head, “Technology makes it too damn easy for them to cheat and their feeble minds are weak enough to fall to the temptation!”
Sungmin chuckled, “Yesung, they may have still had card catalogues when you were in school, but there was most definitely internet already. You’re 28, so stop acting like you went to school during the stone-age.”
"I might as well have been, the way these kids easily do all these what-not’s. You’d think they’d get smarter at least. If the semantics are smoother than my own, it’s clearly you copied from someone else. " Yesung replied. "They want me to do a conference at the University of Tokyo next week on plagiarism. That's like salt in the wounds."
Sungmin chuckled softly in reply.
They fell into a comfortable silence as Sungmin closed his eyes again and Yesung kept his eyes open, slowly raking what he could see of the younger man's body.
"We got an invitation for our high school reunion," Yesung said, his eyes slowly sliding back up to Sungmin's face. He was startled to find Sungmin watching him, those fox-like eyes he adored so much lit up with smug amusement.
"Another one?" Sungmin asked,
"It's been five years since the last one," Yesung reminded lightly, reaching out and putting his hand atop of Sungmin's which rested on the edge of the tub.
"Exactly, but what do I need to go to a reunion for? I already have you," Sungmin grinned as he sat up in the tub, rivulets of water streaming down his body.
"Ever the sweet-talker," Yesung murmured as he leaned closer, touching his forehead to the other's, "How ever did I resist you for so long?"
Sungmin chuckled, "It's because if I ever had a chance at finishing my program, I needed to be away from you." His expression sobered slightly, his fox-like eyes gazing into Yesung's, "It was the hardest five years of my life."
It was Sungmin's explanation for going away from school that he wouldn't be able to concentrate on school if Yesung was always around. Yesung found it was the opposite for him, often missing Sungmin so much that studying was the last thing he wanted to do. Yesung pushed those thoughts away, focusing on the present, on Sungmin and their life they made together.
"I love you, Sungmin," Yesung said quietly as he brushed his lips against the other's,
Reaching up, Sungmin's fingers wrapped around Yesung's neck and held him more firmly against the kiss as he whispered, "I love you more, Yesung."
He loved Yesung with everything he had. Even in high school, in a crowd of people, amongst all their mutual friends, Yesung had captured all his attention. Yesung was all he cared about, the only thing he kept as a constant in his life. He could have gotten distant, could have allowed their friendship to end after high school, but he found that it was impossible to forget Yesung. He found it impossible to want to even try to forget Yesung. So, regardless of his life, his job, he made sure to keep Yesung in it.
Sungmin pushed back memories of work from earlier that evening, concentrating on Yesung.
Earlier that evening
That's all it takes for a person's world to change. A moment, a second - that's all it takes for a decision to go wrong, for a person to cross beyond the point of no return and face all the consequences that came with their decision.
Lee Sungmin had many such moments. Every time he made a decision at work meant affecting the lives of many, whether it be directly or indirectly. Every time he got an assignment from work it meant another life, possibly more than one, would be somehow touched by him. He hated the thought, hated the term collateral damage, hated that innocents would be involved, even just emotionally. However, in his line of work, he couldn't stop and think such sentimental feelings. In his line of work, he had to do his job because he was good at it - really good.
It was a cold winter evening when he found himself lying belly-down on a snow-covered rooftop. He didn't have much time to get settled, so he had set up his equipment, laid down on the thick snow and remained still. Dressed completely in black, his half-shaved head gave his appearance a hard, vicious edge when he could have easily been described as young and soft. Darkness had fallen around him, but still he remained as motionless as a statue. The snow beneath him chilled him, seemed to seep through his thick jacket, the cold settling deep in his bones. He still didn't move.
He had one eye focused through a monocular scope. He hadn't switched eyes ever since he settled in his spot. He blinked several times to lubricate his drying eye with natural tears. He focused his gaze once more through the scope and waited.
He had one hand stabilizing his gear, his other hand on a trigger. His hands were clad in black, leather gloves, the tips of the fingers cut off to give him a more secure grip. His hands didn't tremble as he held the sniper rifle loosely so as not to get cramps, but firmly so as not to lose his aim. His muscles had been crying out in pain long again from the prolonged position, but he had learned long ago how to ignore the burning sensation of fatigued muscles, and of clenching, seizing muscles that wanted to move or rest for days.
His target came into sight in a building's window across the street. The light to an office turned on and a woman dressed in a black suit had appeared by the window, sitting at a desk there. She had begun to go through the drawers, not even bothering with the blinds behind her which were partially open. They couldn't be more than a centimetre open each, but it was enough.
From afar, Sungmin saw her jolt in her seat, looking straight ahead. He couldn't see what had startled her, but he had a good guess as to who it was. Her hands, which had been at her side, slowly were rising to the desk. He watched as one hand surreptitiously grabbed a small handgun from a top drawer of the desk. He readied himself for his job.
With the hand that was on the trigger, he raised it to his ear to hook the earpiece back on so he could hear the voice on the other end. Then, he replaced his hand on the trigger and waited for his cue and, if that cue didn't come, he focused his gaze to find his timing.
"What are you doing here?" He could hear in his ear. There was a pause when that voice continued, "There are no documents here. Those were just bait... Yes, bait for the real culprit."
Sungmin watched as the woman raised the gun and pointed it at the other person in the room.
"Even if you shoot me, you'll never get away," the voice in his ear stated, "There are agents waiting at every entrance. So, you might as well put down the gun and come with me." Another pause, "Put down the gun!"
Sungmin watched as the woman began to point the gun at her own hand.
One moment. One second. He pulled the trigger.
He watched as red blossomed from the woman's hand and, finally, another figure appeared by the window. The other person lunged at the woman, tackling her to the ground. He heard the call for agents to enter. He, however, took the earpiece out of his ear again and finally, moved from his spot.
Quickly, he dismantled his gun, stored it in its case and slung the case's strap diagonally across his shoulder. Without so much as a backwards glance at the window, or the chaos of the street below, he stood and left, his footsteps silent but for the slight crunch of the snow.
He wiped all thoughts of his day from his mind, concentrating on going home and getting into a hot bath to fight his potential for hypothermia.
The next evening
Sungmin stood on the balcony of their apartment, arms crossed over the railing and face tilted up to the sky. His eyes were closed as he inhaled the cold, winter air. It was after midnight and he had felt restless, deciding to leave the bed rather than risk waking up Yesung. He was glad he had had the foresight to pull on a sweater and shove on a pair of sneakers before escaping to the balcony in just his pyjama bottoms.
He heard the balcony door slide open, "You'll catch your death," a sleepy, amused voice commented,
"Just getting some fresh air," Sungmin said as he turned and slipped his feet out of his sneakers as he stepped inside. He retrieved his sneakers and brought them to the rubber mat by the front door of their apartment.
"Fresh air? Yet you smell like fresh tobacco," Yesung stated as he closed and locked the balcony door.
He headed through the living room when Sungmin intercepted him at the end of the couch. Sungmin's hands laid on the other's hips before slipping under and up his shirt, slowly running his cold hands over Yesung's heated skin. Yesung sat on the edge of the armrest as he stared down at Sungmin whose hands slowly slid back down until they rest on his hips once more.
"I wish I had quit sooner," Sungmin said as he looked up at Yesung, his fox-like eyes lit with some emotion that the older man couldn't quite place,
"Start quitting now," Yesung suggested simply,
Sungmin shook his head before leaning in and brushing his lips against the soft skin of Yesung's neck, "Not cigarettes... my job. I wish I had quit my job sooner."
Yesung blinked into the darkness, stifling a moan at the feel of kisses against his neck as he tipped his head back, allowing more of his skin to be exposed to Sungmin's ministrations. He raised his hands to Sungmin's jaw, holding it away as he looked down at him,
"What? Why?" Yesung inquired,
Sungmin's eyes seemed to search Yesung's before smiling soft, "I just feel as if I haven't spent enough time with you... as if the years have sped by and work has kept a part of me from you."
"Sungmin, the same could be said about my job. I don't usually have late hours, but it doesn't help when I do marking on evenings or on weekends. We can't just quit our jobs... we'd be homeless in months," Yesung said lightly, amusement colouring his tone,
"And... I wish I hadn't left Seoul after high school. If I had stayed in town then we wouldn't have lost those five years," Sungmin murmured,
"Hey, we didn't. We may have not seen each other that entire time, but we talked almost every night. Even if you had gone to school in Seoul, it's not like we'd have had much time together because of classes and studying," Yesung defended. His eyes bore into Sungmin's, "Where is this all coming from?"
Sungmin opened his mouth as if to say something before shaking his head and sighing mutely, "Just reflecting over lost time."
"Well, stop it," Yesung scolded softly, "There's no point worrying over the past when we can't change it. All that matters is that we have now, right? We've had each other for five years and we'll have so many more years after, right?"
Sungmin reached up and pulled Yesung's lips to his own, "I love you so much," he whispered before deepening the kiss.
Yesung kissed him back and, when Sungmin tipped them over the edge of the armrest, they didn't miss a heartbeat as they continued on until the early hours of the morning.
Two mornings later
"Hello? Is this Seoul International Assistance Company?"
Yesung paced in the room in their apartment that they used as an office. He had the phone sandwiched between his ear and his shoulder as he rifled through the papers in the drawers which were designated for Sungmin. He pulled out pages which joined the other piles of papers and notebooks on the desktop.
"Yes, could you please transfer me to Lee Sungmin? Yes, I'll hold," He sighed heavily as he began to skim over the various papers he had out on the desk. "What the..." he muttered.
Every piece of paper he had pulled out of Sungmin's drawers were written in roman letters and none of the words made sense. Then again, he couldn't even call them words, more like letter clusters, but still, they made no sense. Being an english professor, he was fluent in the language and, he knew, without a doubt, that none of the letter clusters on any of the pages were English words. Indeed, considering the combinations of letters, they couldn't be words from any language since they appeared impossible to pronounce smoothly.
"Ah - yes, I'm still here. Yes, that's the name I said... What? Are... Are you sure?" He questioned, "Thank you." Yesung took the phone and pressed the 'end' button. "How could he not be in the system? He works there. He's worked there for over four years." Yesung stood from the chair and glanced down at the weirdly-worded pages before him, "No, no, the receptionist must be mistaken. She must be new on the job or something..."
Grabbing some of the pages, he folded them and stuffed them in his pocket. Then he went to their bedroom, shoving his wallet into his back pocket, patted his cellular in his other pocket to ensure it was still there. Then, he headed out of the apartment, grabbing his jacket and keys on his way out the door. He would go down to Sungmin's work personally and find someone who worked there for as long as Sungmin.
He needed to find out why Sungmin didn't come home yesterday after work.
Yesung walked out of the Seoul International Assistance Company dejected and confused. The receptionist, recognizing the name from the earlier phone call, insisted over and over again that no one at the company went by the name 'Lee Sungmin'. When Yesung went so far as to demand to see her supervisor, the receptionist had called in the head of human resources who would surely know if an employee went by that name.
Yesung could not argue when the head of human resources brought out a laptop and did a scan on current employees and not a one went under the name 'Lee Sungmin' and, those with the name 'Sungmin' did not have his birthday nor did their identification photo even come close to resembling his Sungmin.
From the insurance company, Yesung drove to the Seoul police department. He explained he wanted to report a missing person.
"Name of the person?" The clerk asked as she pushed her thick-rimmed glasses high on her nose,
Yesung raised a brow, "What?"
"Certain officers and detectives work on specific parts of the alphabet. So, name of the person?" She repeated as if wasting her time with such conversation,
"L-Lee. Lee Sungmin," Yesung answered,
The clerk was silent a moment as she stared at her computer screen. When Yesung cleared his throat, she asked, "Date of birth?"
"Do certain officers and detectives also work on specific birthdays of the year?" Yesung questioned, sarcasm wrapped around his words,
"No," She retorted, "But once they start investigating, it would help to know his date of birth."
Yesung stared at her a moment, trying to remember if he had ever mentioned that his missing person was a male. "January first, 1986," he replied eventually.
She nodded, "Please have a seat, sir, and you'll be called shortly."
Yesung breathed deeply to steady himself, to calm his rising frustrations. He nodded and retreated to one of the wooden seats lined against a wall by the entrance. He propped his elbows on his knees, clasped his hands together and pressed his lips against his fingers as he stared sightlessly at the wall opposite him.
Yesung had gotten home the previous night earlier than Sungmin which was not a rare occasion. When Sungmin still hadn't appeared for dinner, Yesung had called his cellular and left a message for him that dinner was in the microwave and to just heat it up when he came home. Yesung had then gone to sleep, needing to wake up earlier that morning for a meeting. However, when he woke up at five o'clock and Sungmin was not in bed, indeed, not a sign that Sungmin ever came home, he began to worry.
He had called Sungmin's phone and always, always, it went straight to voice mail. He called every half-hour from five o'clock until eight o'clock. That's when he began rummaging through the office. Desperately, he tried to find Sungmin's office number, realizing then that, in four year's time, he had never called Sungmin's direct office line. Instead, he had always called Sungmin's cellular to leave a message, knowing that Sungmin would call him afterwards.
He had found the number to Seoul International Assistance Company, the insurance company Sungmin had stated he worked at and then that's when he had called. Now, waiting in the police department, Yesung felt his growing sense of worry suddenly boil over and completely consume him. Why was Sungmin not in the employee list at the insurance company? Could Sungmin have switched companies and just never mentioned it? It was a possibility, especially since Sungmin never talked of work. However, Yesung couldn't help the strange, peculiar feeling that wriggled with him, burrowing and burrowing, allowing cold darkness to seep in.
"Sir, you are the one looking for a Lee Sungmin?" A feminine voice inquired.
Yesung looked up at the young lady who stood before him dressed in a black, pencil skirt and crisp, white blouse with capped sleeves. Her hair was pulled back into a sever bun to the top of her head, her bangs brushing her brow in a straight line. He realized that a badge hung from her neck on a chain and on her right hip was a gun holster. He blinked at her outstretched hand before jumping to his feet and shaking her proffered hand,
"Yes, ma'am," He replied, "Kim Yesung."
"Follow me and we'll talk," she turned and led the way down the hallway.
When, at the end of the hallway, she entered a room, he silently followed her, reading briefly the title printed on the door before closing it after himself. She sat behind a large, mahogany desk and he sat in a chair before it. She turned slightly in her chair to face the computer screen placed at the corner of her desk,
"How long has this person been missing?" She inquired,
"The last time I saw him was yesterday morning before I left for work. I didn't speak to him at all during the day, so I'm not sure if he even made it to work," Yesung answered,
"And where does Lee-sshi work?" She asked as she typed on the laptop, her gaze steady on the computer screen,
"At Seoul International... well... I'm not sure; an insurance company," Yesung answered hesitantly,
"You began to say a name, what is it?" She questioned,
"The last place I know he worked was Seoul International Assistance Company," Yesung said before adding, "But I was there earlier and they said he's not a current employee. They said past employees are confidential information so... I don't know where he works now."
"What does he look like? Description? Hair, eyes, any distinguishing features?" She prompted,
Yesung opened his mouth before closing it. He thought then. How could he describe Sungmin? He could say black hair and black eyes. He could say that his hair was half-shaved, something he found peculiar for one who worked in a professional, business setting, but he never commented, thinking it a quirky, Sungmin-like thing. He could describe his eyes as fox-like, mischievous and, yet, he felt that grossly underestimating the light and emotion that seemed to radiate from those eyes in which he could easily drown.
Finally, Yesung pulled out his wallet and took out a photograph of Sungmin. It was old, the edges worn and tattered and Sungmin was dressed in cap and gown from their high school graduation. However, he couldn't help but think that Sungmin looked exactly the same, seemingly ageless. He put it on the desk and slowly slid it to the young lady.
"This is what he looked like ten years ago," Yesung explained, "But, I assure you, he hasn't aged a day since then. The only thing that’s different is that the left side of his head is shaved."
She stared down at the photo before nodding and looking back at the screen; "I'll scan this photograph into the system if that's okay with you, Kim-sshi."
Yesung nodded and she pulled out a portable scanner which looked like a thick, rectangular prism. He watched as she hooked it up to her computer and slid the photograph through the scanner. Afterwards, she slid the photograph back to Yesung. He stared down at it for a moment, his thumb caressing its surface before replacing it in his wallet.
"I'll tell you now, Kim-sshi, because I don't believe in giving anyone false hope. We usually wait 24-hours since a person's been missing before setting things into motion. However, since the last person to see him was you, yesterday morning, I'll start things immediately," She paused and turned her steady gaze from the computer to Yesung; "Unfortunately, there's a profile for a missing person's case. After a certain amount of time we stop expecting that person to still be alive and, eventually, we just start looking for a corpse."
"Ma'am, since I realized Sungmin hadn't come home, a few things began to confuse me," Yesung stated as he leaned foreward, propping his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped together; "First, I was calling his cellular around the clock and it went directly to voice mail."
"He probably turned it off or, someone did," She replied,
"At eight o'clock, on the dot, I called again but, instead of hearing his voice mail, an automated message came and stated that the number wasn't in service. That means Sungmin or somebody had cancelled that number at some point between seven-thirty and eight this morning," Yesung deduced. He pulled out the sheets of paper he had taken from Sungmin's drawers, "I find pages and pages of some kind of... coded language in his desk and not a key anywhere which tells me that it was probably memorized in his head, that he used it often enough to not need to write it down."
"I will enter that into the case, it is indeed peculiar," She stated,
"I found that Sungmin was not currently listed as working at that insurance company and, indeed, it seemed as if the head of human resources had never even heard his name," Yesung continued, his dark eyes locked with the young lady's, "And, coincidentally enough, he has never talked about work or his day. He has never even mentioned working at the insurance company such as an impossible client or having to refuse someone insurance."
"There are privacy laws against such idle chatter," She explained,
"Then, ma'am, explain to me why the chief of police is the one assigned to my case!" Yesung exclaimed, "I'm sure you have enough work on your plate than to be handling missing persons’ cases. Yet, somehow, for some reason, you are the one who is talking to me about Sungmin, who is taking on this case. Why is that!?"
She stared at him, unblinkingly. Eventually, she calmly stated, "I will contact you should we receive any information on the case. I ask that you leave your contact information so that I may call upon you should we need any more information. Thank you for your time, Kim-sshi, and I will begin this immediately."
"Damn it, answer me!" Yesung answer, lunging to his feet as he slammed a palm onto the desk.
"You may see yourself out," She replied as she turned her gaze back to the computer screen,
"Chief Kim!" He exclaimed, recalling her name from the printing on her door, "Please! I'm begging you! If you know something - anything - regarding Sungmin, please tell me! How do you think it feels to wake up one morning only to find the love of your life gone? Missing? Not a word, not a trace - nothing! How do you think it feels to wonder and, perhaps even have it confirmed, that all he said about himself was a lie?"
She remained silent, but her fingers were frozen above her keyboard.
"I don't even trust you to actually do an investigation!" Yesung confessed angrily, ruthlessly forcing back the tears that stung the back of his eyes and ignoring the twisting, burning pain of his heart. "Please just... just tell me something, regardless of how small a detail... something that can give me some kind of insight, some piece of closure about who Sungmin truly is."
Chief Kim slowly lowered her hands to her lap as she straightened in her seat to face him directly, her gaze calm and unwavering as she stared up at him, "Kim-sshi, I feel it is my duty to inform you that it is not wise to threaten one such as me."
"I'm not threatening! I'm begging!" Yesung yelled. He stepped back away from the desk and fell to the ground in a full-bow, his forehead practially kissing the floor, "Please!"
She rose from her chair, walked to the door and, when Yesung was worried she'd open it, instead, he heard the distinct click of the lock. He heard her footsteps retreating to her chair, "Please have a seat, Kim-sshi." Once he was settled again, his hands gripping his knees, she continued, "Since you have guessed some on your own, I will confirm those pieces of information; I am not breaching anything."
Yesung's eyes widened, startled. He had shot wildly in the dark with his accusations, not sure if his confused mind was warping the facts to make some kind of sense, or, if he was truly reading between the lines correctly.
"I worked with Lee Sungmin a few times over the past four-or-so years he has been working in Seoul and, indeed, it never had to deal with insurance. That is, not in the traditional sense," Chief Kim confirmed, "I will not be heading an investigation as to his whereabouts because, I am not at liberty to do so. Among his acquaintances, which includes work and... personal... I was the last to have contact with him."
Yesung felt his mouth fall open, his fingers digging into his knees until he was sure he would draw blood. "You?" His word came out as barely a whisper,
"Indeed. I warned him, advised it was unwise, however, he asked I speak to you should you come looking, should you start asking questions," Chief Kim admitted. When she continued, her voice was a bare whisper, "Because both he and I are bound by certain... rules, he could only ask so much of me and, even if he asked more, I could only do so much. Regardless of either his or my own wants or needs, I cannot help you to the extent to which you wish, Kim-sshi."
She pulled out a notepad from a desk drawer and picked up a pen. Quickly, she wrote on it before ripping the top page from the pad. She folded it and held it out for Yesung. He stood up to retrieve the paper. Before he could take it from her, she held it firm, her grip surprisingly strong despite holding it between thumb and forefinger.
"Kim-sshi, I cannot stress how important you safeguard what is written on this paper," She said, her voice impossibly quiet, "Wait until you get home and then, and only then, do you read it. Immediately, you must destroy the paper - fire, is best. Do not copy it anywhere; do not ask questions about it at all. What you do with the information is up to you, but it is all I can give you at this time. After you leave here, you must not return." He stared steadily at her, "Do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," He replied, his voice firm, even; "I will do as you have instructed."
She nodded once, releasing the paper so he could take it. As he strode to the door, just before he had opened it, he heard her soft whisper, "For Lee Sungmin's sake... I hope you do."
The next day; Two days missing
Yesung paced the length of his hotel room. Considering it was one-room big, not including the small bathroom, it did not take a long time to go from one side of the room to the other. He considered getting a bigger room, but he didn't need it, nor could he afford it, especially considering what he was planning.
He paused a moment, leaning his shoulders back against one wall, arms crossed, his left hand's fingers tapping an unconscious rhythm on his right bicep. He had to do things right, had to be careful. He hadn't seen Sungmin for two days, now, and, after his meeting with Chief Kim the previous morning, he knew he had to be cautious if he wanted to find his answers.
Ever since reading that single word on the folded piece of paper, he had repeated it over and over again, even as he had burned the paper in one of Sungmin's ashtrays and then flushing the ashes down the toilet. He had promised to destroy the paper, and he was determined to follow through.
Afterwards, he had retreated to their office in the apartment and began putting Sungmin's papers back into his desk, included the pages he had pocketed. He tried making it as orderly as possible, making it seem he had never gone hunting into the drawers. He had grabbed an encyclopedia from their small library and found that Novosibirsk was a city in Russia. Something was there; something important Sungmin.
He had taught his afternoon classes while informing various professors that he'd be leaving for a conference in Tokyo, the one he had previous declined; no one had to know he hadn't actually re-accepted. If he was heading to Russia, he wanted something legitimate to explain his absence. Before leaving his office in the university, he had called Gimpo Airport only to find the next flight to Japan wasn't until the following morning. He had bought a ticket; it wouldn't do well to say he was going to Tokyo and then bought a ticket for Russia.
When he had landed in Tokyo Airport that morning, he had bought another ticket for Moscow, but it wouldn't depart until the following evening. He had left the airport and found a hotel close to the University of Tokyo. He had paced his room ever since.
He needed a plan and he needed...
He grabbed his wallet from his back, his hotel key and left.
He walked the busy streets of Tokyo until he found an internet cafe. He found an empty computer and set up camp there, deciding to do some research since he had a day and a half until he could get to Moscow. He researched Moscow and then train systems. He researched Novosibirsk and how to get there from Moscow.
Finally, he sent an email to the head of his department at the university back in Seoul. He said he was invited by a Japanese professor to tour a university in Russia, a potential prospect for as a sister school for the University of Tokyo. The tour would take place before the conference at the university.
He had to cover his tracks. He sat back in his chair as he read and reread the email. Satisfied, he sent the email.
Setting his elbows on the table, he took the photograph out of his wallet again and just gazed at the familiar, smiling face. With the tip of his forefinger, he traced the lines of Sungmin's face, the smile and the eyes which held their own peculiar light, as if they could smile themselves. Picking the picture up with thumb and forefinger and brought it to his lips. He bowed his head, closed his eyes and tried to remember the last time he saw Sungmin.
It seemed an eternity ago.
'Are you leaving now?' Sungmin had asked sleepily from the entrance of the hallway which led to the other rooms of the apartment.
'Yup, morning class,' He had sighed as if teaching was the last thing he wanted to do. 'I'll make dinner tonight, okay? So don't get take-out or anything on the way home.'
Sungmin had looked at him peculiarly and Yesung had attributed it to the younger man being sleepy. Sungmin had walked up to him then, grabbed his tie and pulled him into a kiss. Yesung had thought it would be one of their short, sleepy kisses they often had before parting in the morning, but it had gone on for a few minutes, Sungmin deepening it when Yesung thought he would end it. When Sungmin had ended the kiss, Yesung had been breathless and Sungmin's eyes had looked close to tears.
'Are you okay?' He had asked, immediately concerned,
Sungmin smiled at him then, brightly. So brightly that it managed to dispel the worries clouding Yesung's mind.
'Yes,' Sungmin had insisted, straightening Yesung's tie, 'Just thinking about our talk last night again.'
'Don't, okay?' He had insisted, kissing his forehead, 'We have today and the rest of our lives.'
Sungmin had looked as if he was about to say something, but then Yesung had looked down at his watch. He kissed Sungmin swiftly on the lips before picking up his leather, satchel from the dining table,
'Sorry, but I really have to go now,' Yesung had said as he quickly slipped on his loafers, 'I'll see you tonight.'
Yesung had raced to the door, practically throwing it open and shutting it behind him. He was halfway to the elevators before he felt a strong hand on his arm. He looked back to find Sungmin there, staring up at him,
'Sungmin? I have to go,' Yesung had said urgently,
'I know, I know... it's just...' Sungmin quickly kissed him again, 'I love you, Yesung.'
Yesung had stared at him before replying, 'I love you, too, Sungmin.'
'I just... wanted to remind you,' Sungmin had said lightly, dropping his hand from Yesung's arm. He laughed then, almost in a forced way, 'Just in case you ever forget.'
'I'll never forget,' Yesung had reassured. He had turned to the elevators, before turning back and kissing Sungmin's forehead again, 'Just how I'll never stop loving you.'
Sungmin stared at him peculiarly before nodding and smiling brightly, 'Okay, go... you'll be late.'
'You're right! Bye, Sungmin,' Yesung had called over his shoulder as he ran towards the elevators.
Looking back, Yesung wished he had looked back one last time. Looking back, he should have known something was wrong, that Sungmin hadn't been saying everything. He should have stayed instead of rushing off to work. He should have kissed him longer, held him longer, should have told him 'I love you' one more time, five more times - a million.
He quickly wiped away the tears that had begun to stream down his face. Replacing the picture in his wallet, he erased the history of the computer, paid for his time and then left. He bought enough take-out to last him until his flight to Moscow, and then returned to his hotel room; his cold, empty hotel room.
He prayed the rest of his life would not be thus.
Five days later; Seven days missing
“I’ll just find her myself then!”
He walked down the hall to where he knew her office was.
“Chief Kim! Chief Kim!”
Yesung stopped before her office door just as she stepped out, arms crossed and a single, perfectly shaped brow raised, “I told you not to come back!” She hissed quietly,
“Any normal person would follow-up on a real investigation,” Yesung whispered before exclaiming loudly, “I demand to know what has been done for the investigation!”
Rolling her eyes, Chief Kim stepped aside to allow entry for him into her office. Then, she closed the door afterwards and retreated to her desk.
“So, why are you here, Kim-sshi?” Chief Kim inquired,
“I went there,” Yesung said simply,
“I know,” Chief Kim replied. When Yesung stared at her in confusion, she sighed, “I’m glad Sungmin was right to trust you. When your passport was scanned to leave Korea, a mini-investigation occurred. I was asked why you had come here and I said to report a missing person. They found out that you went to Japan, but you have a legitimate reason for going. I explained to them that I told you to continue on with your life and that we’d contact you when we found out anything. They only followed the investigation that far and then dropped it.”
Yesung blinked and shook his head, “I don’t understand. Who found out I went to Japan? Who started the investigation on me?” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, “Chief Kim, when you said you worked with Sungmin, I thought you meant as part of the police department. Are you telling me he didn’t work for you?”
Chief Kim stared at him for a moment, her gaze considering. Finally, she said simply, “The federal government.”
Yesung slowly sat back in his chair, folding his arms over his chest. His gaze shifted to just the side of the chief’s head as he fell into a thought process. It suddenly made more sense. It made sense how Sungmin had worked with Chief Kim, why Sungmin had always been so tight-lipped about work. It made sense the need for extreme caution and security. He was suddenly very thankful for his foresight before leaving Korea five days prior.
Yesung shifted his gaze back to the chief, “What is so important about Novosibirsk?”
“Shh!” She hissed. Her gaze darted towards the door before settling on him again, “Don’t say that word so freely! Not just here, but anywhere in South Korea!”
“I don’t understand why it’s so important though,” Yesung explained, “I went there, spent two days there and I still don’t understand its importance. I didn’t want to ask around there just in case.”
Chief Kim sighed heavily. She turned her chair away for several moments. Eventually, she swung back to look at him, “It’s a training base.”
Yesung’s brows rose in surprise, “For the government?”
“For their agents,” She confirmed quietly, her gaze always darting back towards the door, “There are several all over the world so that the agents cannot be pinpointed at any moment in time.”
“So, Sungmin went there to be trained as a government agent?” Yesung asked,
Chief Kim chewed on her bottom lip for a bare minute before answering, “Yes.”
“Sungmin left Seoul for five years. He told me it was to go to school and I always assumed he was still in South Korea. He was in N… He was there, then?” Yesung inquired,
She nodded, “Not for the entire duration. He also was in Canada, France and Brazil. He returned to Korea the last few months of his training. They want their agents to be able to work in the most extreme of conditions; to be adaptable. Sungmin can speak Korean, Russian, English, French and Portuguese. Quite fluently, I might add.”
“Okay… so Sungmin is a government agent. What does that have to do with his disappearance? It’s been a week since I last saw him,” Yesung stated,
Chief Kim stood from her desk, strode to the door and locked it. She grabbed her coat from its hook and threw it on the ground, sure to cover the small space between the door and the floor. She walked back to the front of her desk, leaning back against it. She folded her arms about her torso as she stared directly at Yesung.
“Sungmin was given a mission as a black agent,” Chief Kim said quietly, Yesung having to strain just to hear her words clearly; “A black agent needs to go undercover – so much so, that they must disappear completely from their old lives. This ensures optimal security, especially if someone tries to find background information on them.
“Depending upon the mission, Sungmin will set up a new life, a new identity wherever the mission is to take place. He will assume an appearance, personality and characteristic traits different from his true self. Essentially, a black agent must become a new person – wholly,” Chief Kim explained, “His true identity, his past, must be completely untraceable to those whom the mission affects. That is why he couldn’t say anything to you, couldn’t even elude to it.”
“Why would he accept such a mission? Why would anyone?” Yesung questioned,
She shrugged, “Everyone has their own reasons. Some with a sense of duty to their country, others with a need of adventure… I do not know Sungmin’s, but I assure you that, if he accepted this mission, he had a reason and it probably had to do with protecting you.”
“Protecting me? But I don’t have enemies and certainly not on a federal level,” Yesung insisted,
“It might be an indirect threat. To Sungmin, it could be that he feels this mission would make Seoul safer and, thus, protect you,” Chief Kim explained,
Yesung began to tap the fingers of his left hand against his right bicep, “So how long do these missions last? When can I expect to see Sungmin again?”
“As a black agent, these missions last longer than normal,” Chief Kim answered tentatively, “They could last weeks, months… years.”
Yesung jumped to his feet then, walked around his chair and began to pace, “Years? Really?” His hands began to clench and unclench at his sides. Eventually, he paused and raked both his hands through his hair, “Years? It could be years before I ever see him again?”
Chief Kim dropped her gaze, “There’s always the chance of… never.”
“What do you mean by never?” Yesung demanded, gaze narrowing even though she was no longer looking at him,
“If Sungmin were… to die on the mission, the information wouldn’t go farther than the federal offices,” Chief Kim explained quietly, “It’s all a part of protecting identities in the mission.”
“So, all black agents, if they die, then their families will never know what happened to them?” Yesung question, “They’re left to wonder what happened? I’m left to wonder if I’ll ever see him again!?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” Chief Kim answered, “I’m not even supposed to know he’s working as a black agent. Usually, we’ll have cases of missing people and they grow cold. If we know they worked as a government agent, then we even just assume they took a mission as a black agent. Even if Sungmin had not come to me himself… well, eventually, I would have assumed what mission he was on.”
“No… No, I can’t just accept this,” Yesung turned towards the door.
Chief Kim lunged towards him, knocking over the chairs which had been before her desk. She grasped his arm tightly, “Kim-sshi, you cannot do that! If you go to the government, they’ll have to detain you in order to preserve the confidentiality of the mission. Both of us are at risk of being arrested and held in indefinite custody because of what we know.”
When she was sure he wouldn’t bolt, she eased her grip on his arm and, eventually, let go, “I’m sorry Kim-sshi, truly I am, but you have to let this go… you have to continue on with your life.”
“Without Sungmin?” Yesung spat, bitter anger evident in his tone, “I’m supposed to continue on with life just constantly wondering, constantly waiting. Years could go by and still I’d be left wondering when his mission would end or, if he was already dead…”
Chief Kim said nothing as Yesung slowly fell to his knees and hands, his head bowed. She watched with sympathy as his body shook with silent cries.
Yesung couldn’t fathom it, couldn’t imagine a life of indefinite waiting. The chief told him he had to go on with his life and, he suppose, he would. However, the constant waiting would keep him on edge. He would wake up, hoping to find him walk through the door. He would come home, hoping to find him waiting on the couch. He would constantly look at his phone, hoping to find a missed phone call, a waiting message whether it be via text or voice mail.
Some people would perhaps move on after a certain amount of time without their loved ones there. However, Yesung knew better. Yesung knew there was a possibility of Sungmin still being alive and still coming home. That possibility, that ray of hope which he knew would grow smaller as time went on, would stop him from moving on, from loving another. That possibility would never be a ‘what if’ for him. Instead, it would become ‘when will’.
He had already been separated from Sungmin for five years, but at least they spoke often. Indeed, even just a day without talking to him left him feeling empty, as if his day was not complete without just hearing his voice. It had been a week since he last saw Sungmin now and every day since then had been torture. Every day passed and he felt as if he was getting closer and closer to finding Sungmin.
Now, however, he would never find Sungmin. He was doomed to just wait for him in Seoul, what for the day when he would finish his mission and come home; if he came home.
He thought back to their last night together. It made so much more sense now. Sungmin had known he would be disappearing the morning after. Yesung wished he hadn’t disregarded Sungmin’s words so easily; wished he had sensed there was more to it than just regretting the past. He wished he had made Sungmin promise to never leave him again.
A small, tentative hand on his shoulder had Yesung jerking out of his reverie. He stood up then, wiping at his eyes with the back of his sleeve. Chief Kim slowly rose as she watched him, her eyes reflecting true concern.
“Kim-sshi, I know this must be hard for you –“
“Do you know? Do you really know!?” Yesung demanded, “Do you know what it’s like to have a piece of you out there in the world, not knowing if you’ll ever get it back? Do you know what it’s like to be looking ahead to the future and knowing that you’ll never – NEVER – be complete? Do you know what it’s like to know that from this point on, you’ll never have your questions answered? That’ll you’ll always be waiting and waiting for that door to open, or that phone to ring?”
Yesung swallowed hard past the lump that formed in his throat, suffocating him. He struggled to breath as his lungs burned and his heart beat so painfully he was sure his chest would be bruised. His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides in an attempt to stop his body from shaking violently, the affect of the cries he stifled, caged within his body.
“My father,” Chief Kim answered quietly, “My father became a black agent when I was still a baby.”
“And how do you live with the waiting, Chief Kim?” Yesung question, not caring how desperate he sounded,
“My father broke protocol and ensured that, should he ever die, my family be notified. It came under the guise of a cold case being solved when I was ten years old. It wasn’t until I became chief of police that I found out the truth of his disappearance,” Chief Kim explained; “It is because of that, that I accepted Sungmin’s request I speak with you. It is because of that, that I have told you everything I know.”
“Your family waited ten years for news?” Yesung shook his head, “I… Years?”
Chief Kim walked over to her desk. She opened a drawer and pulled out a memory stick and small card. She returned to Yesung’s side and held them out for him. He took them both before looking at her in silent askance.
“Sungmin’s entire profile is on that memory stick… I cannot stress how much you need to ensure that information stay on that stick and not be saved anywhere else. It has its own safeguards to protect against any viruses that may find their way to your computer,” Chief Kim explained, “You mentioned before not truly knowing Sungmin… I think after reading his profile as an agent, you’ll realize you did know him; the important parts, at least.”
Yesung nodded as he pocked the memory stick. He glanced at the card, his gaze sweeping over the fine, black print, “Your business card?”
“When Sungmin returns – yes, when, not if… when – I don’t want to have to explain why I didn’t ensure you were protected in his absence,” Chief Kim explained, crossing her arms, “Please… take care of yourself, Kim-sshi.”
Yesung took out his wallet and slipped the card into a slot, behind Sungmin’s graduation photo. As he pocketed his wallet, he locked gazes with the chief.
“Thank you, Chief Kim,” He turned and picked up her jacket from the ground, shaking it out before hanging it once again.
“You’re welcome,” she replied, “And, Kim-sshi,” she said just as his hand touched the doorknob, “For what it’s worth… if Sungmin was willing to risk his entire mission by talking to me and ensuring you had a source for some answers… then it means he loved you a lot and that he didn’t want to leave you… It means he’ll work even harder to make sure he doesn’t just come home, but that he comes home sooner rather than later.”
Yesung swallowed hard, fighting the tears that threatened again. He turned the door knob as he managed to whisper, “That means the world to me… Thank you.”
“Morning Mrs. Smythe! How are you?” The young man called out in perfect English, not a hint of an accent. Dressed in a black suit, he walked from his front door to the small car in the driveway.
“Good morning to you, Victor!” The middle-aged woman called back from her porch as she carried down a small toolbox of garden tools. She walked down the few steps to the ground and laid the toolbox before a soil bed, “Beautiful day out, don’t you think?”
“After the winter we’ve had? Most definitely,” He said brightly, as he ran a hand over his shaved head,
“Off to work now, are you?” She asked pleasantly as she stared down at the soil, arms akimbo and face scrunched up in thought; it was obvious she was planning her next garden in her head.
“Just like every morning, Mrs. Smythe, but you know I’d rather stay at home and spend time talking to you,” He grinned as he walked to his car and began unlocking the door,
“Oh, Victor Chang you will give me palpitations with your flattery,” she laughed jovially, “I know you only moved here this winter, but you need to find yourself a special someone!”
“Mrs. Smythe,” he said lightly in mock-exasperation,
“No, no, it’s the duty of the younger generation to allow those of past generations to interfere with your lives,” She smiled across her lawn at him, “Now, you find yourself a pretty young lady, do you hear?”
He laughed, “Only if you insist.” He slipped into his car and closed the door firmly. Putting on his seatbelt and starting the engine, he waved as he reversed out of the driveway and drove off.
He eased his grip on the steering wheel and sighed heavily. Mrs. Smythe was a sweet woman and had acted as his surrogate mother since he had moved in next door to her that past winter. He knew she meant nothing but good intentions for him, however, he couldn’t explain away his current state of being single. Indeed, he couldn’t explain that he was, in truth, not really single, but had been in a very committed relationship for the past five years.
His grip tightened on the wheel to the point that his knuckles whitened. Was he still in a relationship? Had Yesung tried to find out what happened? Had he figured it out? Most importantly, if he did, would he wait? He sighed heavily as he came to a red light.
Sungmin knew it was selfish of him to expect Yesung to wait for an indefinite amount of time for him to return and, yet, the thought of Yesung moving on without him, of him finding someone knew… it physically hurt him. He wished he could go back; wished he could end the mission and return to Korea.
However, he knew if he stopped now, now after being so deep into his new life, that his sudden disappearance could cause parties involved to be suspicious. He didn’t want the possibility of leading them back to Korea and, potentially, to Yesung. No, he had to finish this mission. He had to finish it quick and return to Yesung; all the while, praying and hoping that Yesung would still love him.
And so, when the traffic light turned green, Victor Chang continued driving to work, forcing his thoughts and emotions behind a locked door in his mind. He had to remain strong and keep the mission in the forefront of his mind. He had to finish the mission, even if it broke his heart in the process.
Distantly, he heard the sound of banging on the door. He heard his name being called over and over again.
“Kim-sshi! Kim-sshi! Damn it, KIM-SSHI!”
The sound of screeching metal, of splintering would, barely permeated his mind. The sound and feel of rumbling footsteps drew closer until a part of black heels appeared by his head. He rolled his head to try and look at the person who towered over him and was slowly coming kneel by him. He felt his body being pushed and pulled into a sitting position, but he felt like lead, wanting the comfort of the ground again.
“Damn it, I told you to take care of yourself!” Chief Kim exclaimed as she pulled out her cellular and called for an ambulance. “You do not get to leave a message for me saying goodbye! You do not get to escape so easily, do you understand me!?” She demanded after hanging up the phone,
“Doesn’t… hurt… anymore,” Yesung managed the murmur,
Chief Kim scanned the surrounding floor and saw a small orange bottle. She dragged him against the wall and propped him against it. Then she went over to the bottle and picked it up. She cursed silently; he had overdosed. She had known it was hard for him to adjust, even after he had been prescribed medication for his constant anxiety. However, when she came into work that morning only to hear his message on her voice mail, she had left work immediately.
“Just let me… go,” Yesung practically wept, sliding sideways against the wall,
Chief Kim sat next to him, holding him up, “No! I understand this is hard for you and I understand that Sungmin is the love of your life, but you’re going to have to live without him! You’re going to have to find meaning without him! Just because Sungmin isn’t around it doesn’t mean you get to die, Kim-sshi!”
“Not… worth… it,” he murmured as his head lolled from side to side,
“Damn it, pull yourself together!” She exclaimed, “Do you think this is easy for him!? Do you think it was easy for him to just completely disappear from his life? From you? No! He had come to me on the brink of a breakdown. He was close to dropping the mission and running away with you, but he knew he couldn’t do that. He knew he couldn’t force you from the life you had built here. He knew he couldn’t force you into a life lived constantly hiding and running away from the government… Just the thought of leaving you almost forced him to defy our federal government. The least you could do is continue living. Even if you move on, even if you find someone else, as long as you keep living.”
"But what... he's dead?" Yesung asked as he slouched against her,
"We can't think that - you can't think that!" Chief Kim insisted, gently shaking his shoulder to keep him conscious.
"Fire department!" A gruff voice called out,
"We're in here!" Chief Kim replied,
Two bulky men in their fire uniforms came stalking in, "We heard the ambulance right behind us. They should be up soon."
"He's overdosed on diazepam," Chief Kim explained,
Yesung began to doze in and out, struggling to keep his eyes open as he saw more people come into his bedroom. Chief Kim stayed by his side. He felt himself overcome with fatigue as his head dropped to her shoulder. He felt his body lifted and laid down on what must have been a stretcher. Eventually, it became too hard to keep his eyes open at all. Over and over again, he recalled the voice mail message he had left for Chief Kim that morning:
"This is Kim Yesung. I just wasn't strong enough in the end. Goodbye."
Winter; One year missing
"I got your message. How are you doing?"
"Better than I expected... considering the circumstances," Yesung raised his glass as Chief Kim entered the apartment, having created a copy of the key ever since the incident the previous summer.
"Yes, better indeed, especially since you have three bottles of tequila on your coffee table," Chief Kim stated dryly as she sat on the couch adjacent to the one Yesung sat on, "I suppose drinking is an alternative to... well... the alternative."
"Ah, always finding the silver lining," Yesung praised before shooting back the rest of the contents of his tumbler,
Chief Kim said nothing as she watched him. Yesung had his head tilted against the back of the couch, eyes shut and the tumbler head loosely atop his thigh. When he opened his eyes, she saw the sheen of tears covering them.
"I'm so scared..." Yesung said quietly, "It's only been a year and already so much has happened. I've been on medications for months. I was admitted last summer and during Christmas. I almost lost my job... What will happen this year? Will it just continue being a cycle? Will it get easier to cope?"
"This year hasn't been so bad," Chief Kim said softly, "More often than not, you've gone on fine without Sungmin."
"I knew it would be hard... I just... I just thought I'd be stronger," Yesung admitted as he roughly wiped away his tears with his free hand, “I’m not usually like this… I’m actually very independent and it’s usually me being protective of him.”
“Well, maybe that’s the problem. You’re used to protecting him but, now, he’s protecting you,” Chief Kim replied, “It scares you because you can’t do anything about it, but you see, Yesung,” she added lightly, being on a first-name basis since the summer incident, “You have to trust Sungmin to take care on his own. He’s very good at his job.”
Yesung sighed heavily, “I lived with him for four years and not once did I ever know or suspect, what his real job was… Five years of training all over the world, five years of working as an agent and sniper shooter for the government…” He raised his head from the couch to look at the chief, “I know a year ago you said I’d realize that what I knew of Sungmin was the important part… but his training and work encompassed ten years of his life and… that’s a chunk of those ten years that I didn’t know.
“I understand the need for secrecy for his current mission, but what about before then? His training, fine, that can be a secret, but afterwards? When we were living together? He didn’t have to tell me about his missions, but he could have at least been honest about his job,” Yesung stated, his words slurring slightly, “For years I thought he worked at an insurance company. For years I thought he could have done more with his life than just a desk job…”
“He wanted to protect you from that life,” Chief Kim confessed, “Whenever I worked with him, he would bemoan the fact that he couldn’t tell you about work. He felt himself tainted by the job, by the blood of those he’s had to kill. He didn’t want that taint to even come near you.”
“I always believed I loved him… but could I have truly loved him when I didn’t know this part of him?” Yesung inquired, his head dropping back against the couch again, “I loved just a part of him, so I cannot claim to have loved him, all of him, wholly, now can I?”
“What are you saying, Yesung?” Chief Kim questioned, eyeing him with concern,
He sighed heavily as he closed his eyes against the hot sting of tears, “I don’t know what love is anymore.”
He had been staring at the phone for hours.
Sungmin had foregone going to work that day, calling his boss and explaining how it was the one-year anniversary of his wife’s dead – the explained story of his sudden move to that particular city. He had prompted he would be only a quarter hour late, no more, just spending some time in a nearby church before heading off to work. His boss, ever the sympathizer and, thankfully, not one of the targets of his mission, profusely insisted he not come into work that day or, even the next, should he be in disposed. He had hung up the phone in the middle of a fake, choking sob.
That had been twelve hours ago at eight in the morning. The sun had long set and he had barely moved from his spot on his bed, his back against the headboard and the cordless phone just beside him.
The first hour had been spent convincing himself one small phone call would not bring down the entire mission.
The four hours that followed had been spent convincing himself that he could not, absolutely would not, risk everything on one phone call.
Three hours had been dedicated to his inability to stop crying, the memories of Yesung bombarding him and the aloneness smothering him like never before, trying his patience, his will and determination.
Two hours had gone by in which he had to convince himself, again, not to call the phone. Indeed, at some point, he had thrown the offending cordless phone across the room.
The past two hours he had found himself remembering each moment he had had with Yesung, ever since they first met in high school. He remembered laughing when Yesung complained that his grade-point average depended upon him kicking a ball. He remembered climbing into a tree to retrieve Yesung’s cap during graduation when the older man had gotten too excited in throwing it in the air. He remembered his years away from Seoul, when his happiness depended upon the calls he made to Yesung, just to talk, just to hear his voice. He remembered walking into their five-year high school reunion and the immediate relief and comfort he felt at seeing Yesung among their former classmates. He remembered the painful panic that had encompassed him after the reunion, when he was watching Yesung walk away to his parents’ front door. He remembered the indescribable happiness when Yesung kissed him for the first time that night on the porch.
The tears had been threatening for hours and, when Sungmin began to remember the moments after their romantic relationship began, the tears overcame his strength and poured down the sides of his face relentlessly.
He remembered their first night together. He remembered when they moved in together and Yesung proved to be a moving supervisor rather than a moving helper. He remembered when he had almost burned down the kitchen and Yesung had come running, brandishing a fire extinguisher. He had held Yesung when first his mother had died due to illness and, then, his father due to a car accident. Yesung had nursed him every time he had gotten sick due to outside missions.
He remembered countless laughs, countless talks. He remembered countless kisses, countless embraces. And he had given it all up to take a mission. Ever since receiving the mission, he had been constantly questioning to who he was most loyal: Yesung or South Korea?
He slowly laid down in bed, rolling onto his side and staring at the empty side of the bed, the one where Yesung would have slept if they were together or if he had never left their home. He reached out, the space cold. As he slowly retracted his hand, it brushed the phone. He rolled onto his stomach, buried his face into his pillow and cried until the sun rose.
Christmas; Almost two years missing
“Why don’t you join the staff party?” A colleague asks jovially from the door to his office,
“It’s time I head home,” He says simply as he packs up his briefcase with stacks of papers and folders,
“Aw, come on, Vic, just an hour – no, no, half an hour – no, no, fifteen minutes!” His colleague insists, a slight slur to his words hinting that he had begun partying prior to the actual Christmas party.
Victor Chang finally agrees while Sungmin is sighing inside, wanting nothing more than return to his cold, empty house and have a cold dinner made of yesterday’s leftover pizza. He entered the boardroom which had been miraculously transformed by boughs of holly, cheaply stringed lights, the occasional decorative ball and a faux evergreen tucked in a corner which had been layered with gold and silver tinsel.
Standing just to the side of the door, he plastered on a small smile as he nodded to other employees who were talking, eating and drinking all around the room. The smell of turkey and honeyed ham wafted through the air and, while the smell was tempting, Sungmin wasn’t in the mood to eat, let alone join in the Christmas festivities.
From across the room, he spotted one of the targets of his mission. He had been idly watching the target, amongst others, and was just waiting for the moment to implement the next stage of his plan. He needed more groundwork, however, needed more evidence to validate his movements and, unfortunately, ‘gut feelings’ did not rate high with the government’s bureau of investigation. His gaze slipped away before the target could sense he was being watched and caught him staring.
Another colleague, clearly in his cups, came sauntering up to him with a goofy grin on his face, “Vic, buddy! You shouldn’t be standing so close to the door! Someone might suspect you’re waiting to kiss someone,” he grinned drunkenly as he gestured wildly towards the mistletoe hanging from the top of the doorframe,
Sungmin shot him a dark look, “What?”
The serious reaction sobered his colleague someone as he took a half step back, “Ah… I forgot, Vic, I’m sorry. I was just joking around, I really was.”
Sungmin eased somewhat as he gave a curt nod.
His colleague clapped his shoulder with a hand, “At least grab some food to eat, hmm? Don’t like the thought of you being alone during Christmas eve, buddy.”
Sungmin shook his head as he slipped out of the boardroom, heart clenching painfully as he whispered, “I’ll always be alone until I return.”
Yesung wasn’t sure how long he had been in there, but it the skin on his fingers had wrinkled long ago. He stood in the shower, his back to the spray as he gazed sightlessly to the tiled wall opposite him. The steam had built so much already that it completely permeated the bathroom and the shower. He distantly remembered soaping and rinsing and, afterwards, he had simply stood there thinking.
Another Christmas was about to pass; another Christmas without Sungmin. He often wondered how long he would wait; how long he could stand waiting. He examined the fear he had often ignored whereby Sungmin would never return; that Sungmin had died long ago and he was waiting for an apparition.
Slowly, he closed the distance to the wall and touched his forehead to the cool tile. Slowly, slowly, he sunk down until his knees were submerged in the pooling water. His hands shook as he raised them to the wall, fisting them. His body shook as he began to cry, pounding the tiles with his hands, his hot tears mingling with the pouring water.
He remembered the last night he had with Sungmin. They had made love on the couch, moved to their bedroom and made love all over again. Then, afterwards, they were both lying in bed, panting to catch their breaths, heated and sleek from their physical exertions and he had simply held the younger man. Sungmin had had his hand lying atop his pounding heart and Yesung had clasped his hand overtop, keeping it there.
He remembered that final morning. He remembered how Sungmin had ran after him in the hallway.
’I love you, Yesung’
He had found it strange the way Sungmin had come after him after parting ways in their apartment. He was surprised when Sungmin suddenly said those words to him, so impulsively.
'I just... wanted to remind you,'
His mind had laughed at the remark, as if Sungmin ever had to remind him. He knew Sungmin loved him far before the younger man had ever said the words. He knew it from how he acted. He knew it from the look he saw in those fox-like eyes.
'Just in case you ever forget.'
The way Sungmin had laughed echoed in his mind, so light yet forced. It had been used to dispel any worries that may have begun to creep in his mind and, it had worked – Yesung had suspected nothing.
'I'll never forget,'
He still remembered the feel of Sungmin’s forehead against his lips and, millions of times since then, he had wished that he had kissed his lips instead; felt the warmth, the lips that could be firm and soft at the same time.
'Just how I'll never stop loving you.'
He had been completely convinced of it then, truly believed his love would be unwavering and remain strong until the end. Several times over the past two years it had been tried and tried and he knew it was strained to the point of breaking. Wasn’t it just last winter when he had questioned his emotions altogether? Wondered if he had loved at all?
He was crying now, sobbing between large gasps of air as he huddled against the tiled wall, all the while pounding it over and over again. He turned and sat. He pulled his knees to his chest, tucked his head down and wrapped his arms over his head.
“Why?” He begged to no one, “Why? Why!? WHY!?”
He said nothing as the bathroom door opened, the air suddenly cooling with the escape of the steam.
“Yesung!” Chief Kim’s voice called as the sound of approaching footsteps clicked against the bathroom floor.
The shower curtain was pulled back, the sound of metal on metal echoing in the bathroom. She sighed with relief when she found Yesung there.
"Oh, Yesung," She sighed as she turned off the running water. She grabbed a towel and, careful to not let it get wet in the inch deep water of the tub, she wrapped it around him."When you didn't answer your phone or when I came in..."
"I... I just can't stop," Yesung managed, his voice shaky and pitchy, "I try to stop... stop loving the part of him I know and... and I can't... I just... and then it hurts..."
Not caring of getting wet, Chief Kim wrapped her arms around him then, "I know," she whispered, "I know..."
Yesung cried harder.
Winter; Two years missing
The last he knew was the sound of a gun going off and burning, piercing pain in his chest. He remembered the feel of the rough ground after he had watched the final target fall and then he fell, too. He could still smell the gasoline in the air and he was suddenly aware of a tightness on his face.
He felt like lead. He felt lethargic. He tried to wiggle his toes, tried to force his fingers to move even a little bit. All around him he saw white. He heard hushed voices and caught few of the words being mumbled near him.
"Pneumothorax... Respiratory distress... Cardiac arrest..."
It was suddenly hard for him to breathe. Pain stabbed through the left side of his chest and numbness began to spread down both of his arms.
Alarms began ringing everywhere and he was distantly aware of more people entering the room.
His eyelids slid close as he was aware of several people surrounding him. He tried to force air into his lungs, but it was no use. He felt himself panic but couldn't do a thing about it. He felt the darkness creeping closer, threatening to take away his awareness, his consciousness.
"He's flat-lining! Get the AED! Begin CPR!" Were the last words he heard.
'Yesung... I'm sorry.' Were his last thoughts.
And, then, darkness took over.
Yesung inhaled deeply the fresh, cold winter air. Leaning his hip against the railing, he folded his arms on his chest as his gaze swept the city below. It was a school day, but he had taken the week off, as he had done the year before and, in truth, even when Sungmin had first disappeared. It had become habit, he realized and even his colleagues at the university knew when he would take time off work and why. They never mentioned it of course, but he could see it in their eyes when he bid them goodbye the day before.
He was startled when he woke up that morning, to find that the memory of that day, of what it meant and represented didn't bring a single tear to his eyes. He was surprised when he went through the motions of the day and he wasn't assaulted by the urge to fall down and cry. He was saddened when he realized he only set the table for one during breakfast, after two years of habitually setting out two sets of everything for every meal.
He escaped to the balcony for fresh air and to clear his mind.
Had it truly, only been two years ago that day? It seemed an eternity ago. An eternity of waiting, of hoping. An eternity of questions, of worries. An eternity of loving, of mourning.
Was this it, then? Had his mourning period finished? Yesung couldn't describe the past two years as anything but mourning. Mourning the loss of Sungmin regardless of the possibility he still lived somewhere in the world. He had always thought he would mourn forever should he ever lose Sungmin and, yet, here he was, two years later and he was no longer crying.
He closed his eyes as a gust of wind embraced him momentarily. He felt a distinct poignancy as he longed for a warmer embrace, a stronger, more familiar embrace. He felt his cheek sting slightly from the frigid winter wind and felt his heart tighten for the longing of something else to touch his cheek. A light, caressing finger. A gentle, soft kiss.
He opened his eyes, a soft smile on his lips. It felt foreign, strange. It felt as if those muscles hadn't been used in years and no longer knew how to smile. He shook his head with a quiet sigh.
No, he wasn't done mourning. It merely manifested itself differently now. It was quiet, subtle. It turned from hopefulness to wistfulness. Instead of a blinding pain in his chest, it was a never-ending hollowness.
He inhaled slowly, deeply, for several moments. Finally, he turned and slipped back into the apartment.
For the first time in two years, he knew he would be okay. He wouldn't be whole - not by a long shot - but he would be okay. He would survive. He would live to see another day.
He could only pray that Sungmin would, too.
Spring; Two years, two months missing
Yesung slowly woke up, feeling the sunshine on his face. When they had first moved into the apartment, he had joked that if they placed the bed in that spot, then it would be easier to get up and teach morning classes. Unfortunately for him, Sungmin had done just that, but out of revenge than helpfulness. He had promised Sungmin that, should they ever move, he would actually help next time.
Allowing his eyes to slowly open, he stared up at the ceiling. How many years had he spent lying there, staring up at the ceiling, but not truly seeing it? Indeed, every time he had done so, there was a warm body huddled tightly against his side. All of his focus had always been on that other person there.
He remained perfectly still, practically holding his breath. He strained his ears, trying to hear some sound, some sign, as if he would hear the front door open, or his phone ring. After a few seconds, he sighed softly, knowing he did it almost instinctively now rather than out of any true need.
He felt warm that morning, something that was unfamiliar after over two years of feeling cold whenever he woke up to an empty bed. He felt his eyes widened, felt all of his senses spreading out, reaching. Slowly, ever so slowly, he turned his head on the pillow.
Fox-like eyes stared back at him.
Yesung clasped his hands over his mouth to stop himself from screaming with joy. All the while, tears sprang from his eyes and poured down the sides of his face.
Hands shaking violently, Yesung reached out for Sungmin. His fingertips grazed his face and almost retracted his hands, as if scared it was a dream, as if the illusion would fall apart right before his eyes. He felt warm, solid skin. Tentatively, he pressed his fingers more firmly against the other's face until his hands framed him.
Sungmin pushed himself closer, wrapping his arms around Yesung and holding him tightly. He buried his face against the older man's neck and inhaled deeply. He held onto him tightly, not caring when he felt his own tears sliding down his cheeks.
Yesung pulled back enough to stare directly at him, his fingers tracing the younger man's face lovingly, reverently; "Tell me this is real... Tell me I'm not dreaming..."
"This is real," Sungmin managed, a lump forming in his throat, "This isn't a dream. And I promise I will never leave you like that again."
He looked the same and, yet, not. His fox-like eyes were still expressive as ever, but, now, Yesung saw the sad depths within them. His hair had grown out all over his head a few inches and he brushed the strands back from Sungmin’s forehead. Even as he held him in his arms, he seemed smaller, bonier, as if he had lost a great amount of weight. Then, there was his face.
"Your... your face..." Yesung said quietly, his fingers gently caressing Sungmin's forehead, his left temple and left-side of his jaw. His gaze travelled along side his neck until it disappeared into his shirt’s collar. Almost in awe, he raised Sungmin’s left hand to his gaze, confirming what he had begun to suspect.
"There was an explosion in the end… I was fortunate," Sungmin explained tentatively, knowing how shocking that side of his face could look with it's puckered, almost shiny skin. The burns had travelled down his neck and along his left arm and hand; his hand completely covered in scar tissue; "I’m even more damaged than before, now," he attempted to joke,
Yesung shook his head, "No... No, never."
Sungmin's gaze swept over his face, as if memorizing each detail. Finally, his fox-like eyes locked with Yesung's, "I know I'm being presumptuous... I know I'm assuming a lot by appearing so suddenly and like this..." He swallowed hard, "But you have to know that leaving you was the hardest thing I have ever done... the worst thing I have ever done. This mission... this stupid, stupid mission..." He shook his head almost violently, "I had to quit, Yesung... I had to quit once I returned... I can't do that again... I can't do that to you, again."
"But you're good at your job," Yesung said, his fingers still framing the other man's face, "Even if you don't take a mission like this again..."
Sungmin shook his head again as he pulled Yesung closer again, "I can't, Yesung. If I have to choose between the country and you, I'll always choose you. The government won't want an agent whose loyalty to the country is in second-place to something else… someone else."
Yesung held him tighter, as if scared to loose him again, as if scared it would all be a dream.
"Did you go to the police? Did you get my message?" Sungmin asked frantically, "I would have came home sooner, Yesung, I swear, I would have been here during winter but -"
Yesung silenced him with a kiss. It was short and sweet. Indeed, it was no more than a brushing of the lips. However, it was more than what either of them had for over two years and, so, at that moment, it was the perfect kiss.
"We can talk later. Right now... Right now I just want to hold you," Yesung said quietly, his embrace firming, tightening.
Sungmin gazed at him a moment, "I have to know, first, Yesung... what I did... what I have been... do you still love me? Even just a little? I can work with a little... I will gladly take a little... I know I deserve even less. Indeed, I deserve none of your love!"
Yesung stared at him a moment, flashes of the past two years streaming through his mind. He could say many things, express so many emotions. Finally, he decided on the only thing that felt right, the only thing he held to be wholly true, "I told you I would never stop loving you."
Sungmin blinked rapidly as more tears filled his eyes. He hugged Yesung even tighter, "I love you, Yesung... I love you so much... Never... Never again... I swear... I promise..." He buried his face against the side of Yesung's neck, his lips pressed against the soft skin there, "Thank you for trusting me Yesung... for waiting for me... for... for loving me." He bowed his head so his eyes were against Yesung's neck then as he began to weep.
Yesung simply held him even more securely, protectively, lovingly. He turned his head just enough so that his lips could graze the scarred skin of Sungmin's forehead,
A/N: This story is a one-shot.
A/N#2: However, I will be posting "deleted scenes" for this... There were some scenes I wanted to write, but I just couldn't fit them in anywhere that made sense.