(Chapter 1 of the Living in Shadows series)
"Did I ever tell you that you're adorable when you pace?"
Said pacer, paused in his repeated track to scowl at the other man. Although younger than him by a few years, the other man was broader in the shoulders, more muscular and of a sturdier frame. His hair was kept short, cut whenever it went beyond two-inches in length. He had an easy smile and, yet, something in depths of his dark eyes spoke of hidden steel. Indeed, his hands seemed too powerful, too rough to be dealing with the flowers he was now meticulously arranging.
"Youngwoon, you are not helping," the pacer snapped before continuing to pace.
The younger man, Youngwoon, sighed as he turned his attention back to the flower arrangement he was creating for a customer. He owned a small flower shop in a suburb of Seoul. He knew he didn't fit the stereotypical profile of a florist, but he didn't fight the calmness he received when administering to the blooms. No, if he had to do something with his hands, then he'd rather help nurture life than take it away.
He glanced to his companion as he finished the current flower arrangement. They were the only two in the small shop, him being the owner and only employee of the store. The older man was dressed in business-casual wear - black slacks and a white button-up shirt, the sleeves pushed up past his elbows. His short, chestnut-coloured hair was no longer in the neat hairstyle it had been when he had arrived at the shop, having run his hands through his hair several times since then. He was lean, his frame slight, but there was hidden strength in him.
"Eeteuk," the florist began as he took the arrangement and carefully placed it in a temperature-controlled glass case to await pick-up, "I don't know why you think I can help. You came in here, said not even a 'hello' and have been pacing since."
Despite the silence of Eeteuk, Youngwoon had known immediately that the older man needed help. It was the only reason he visited the flower shop during the day instead of awaiting for Youngwoon to finish work.
Eeteuk let out a frustrated sigh before he went to the front door, locked it and flipped the sign so that it read 'closed' to the outside world. Without a word, he walked past Youngwoon to the back room, not wanting anyone to intrude or to see them talking so seriously. With a slight shake of his head, the florist removed his green apron, carefully draped it on the counter and followed his companion. Closing the door, he leaned back against the door, crossing his muscular arms over his chest,
"Okay, Eeteuk, what is it?"
"The NIB gave me a case four months ago and it still isn't resolved," Eeteuk revealed, frustration evident in every line of his body,
Youngwoon raised a brow, "You and I both know that that's not a strange thing when The Sector takes on a case. They prepare thoroughly, meticulously and, then, they do the mission. Sometimes that means going covert and stalking for weeks or months at a time."
"Had the team been on the case it would've been resolved within a month," Eeteuk commented.
Youngwoon remained silent, not a single muscle moved.
Eeteuk waved away his previous comment. "That's not the point. The point is that over those four months, five agents have come up dead."
That got the florist's attention. He raised a brow, disbelief in his tone as he reiterated, "Five?"
"Three of which have been within the past two weeks. They're happening more frequently and I have a feeling that somehow our hand's been shown and has tipped the other side off," Eeteuk stated, "I cannot ignore that an entire team is now dead after taking this case."
"Why is The Sector taking on this case? Yes, I can see the need after an entire Sector team is now dead, but in the beginning - why?"
"The NIB agent who gave me the case... he did so because he and his superior believed that there was a leak in their department," Eeteuk revealed, both knowing that not too much of the case could be said before laws were broken.
Youngwoon felt apprehension shiver down his spine, "Why are you coming to me with this, Eeteuk? When you have problems with a case, you talk to me about how to make decisions, not specifics about a case... What kind of a help are you asking me for?"
"I want to get the team back together for this," Eeteuk stated quietly, firmly, his eyes lit with determination.
"No." That was all he said. He hadn't moved and, yet, something shifted and he seemed more on guard, more ready to pounce or react even though they both knew Eeteuk would never hurt him.
"Youngwoon, please, think about it," Eeteuk insisted, "We both know I'd never reveal such things of a case unless it was important. I wouldn't ask this of you - of them - unless I was desperate."
"They're retired for a reason, Eeteuk," the younger man stated, his tone all bite, "They wanted normal lives, deserved it and got it. The Sector doesn't get to drag them all back just because its other agents can't handle a difficult case."
"A team is dead, Youngwoon,"
"And that is unfortunate, but there are other teams. Other teams that didn't leave The Sector. Other teams that have willing agents. Use them," he said firmly,
"Let me talk to them,"
"No." Before the other could speak, Youngwoon held up a hand for silence, "No. You'll wrap it up in a pretty little picture or, somehow, they'll feel guilt and come back under that kind of pressure. I won't do that to them, Eeteuk. Not even for you, I won't do that to them."
Eeteuk sighed heavily as he sat down in a chair in the small room. Propping his elbows on his knees, he clasped his hands together and dropped his gaze to his hands; "You think I'm not affected by the missions and cases? You think that, just because I sit behind a desk, coordinate from the backlines that I don't go through the same emotions that field agents do?"
"You forget, Youngwoon, that before I wore a suit and tie, I was a field agent, too. I've pulled the trigger, thrown a knife and felt flesh against my fist. I have saved lives and have even had to take lives. I am not immune any more than you or the other agents are," he stated quietly, steadily, never raising his gaze.
"The team did something I was never able to do. They walked away. They had the strength to give up this life and find purpose outside of The Sector," Eeteuk said, "I have never left because I don't think I would be so successful. This is all I have known since I was eighteen.
"I would never willingly ask retired agents to return to the field unless it was a dire situation," Eeteuk looked up then, his gaze a silent plea, "That's what this is, Youngwoon. The NIB can't trust its own agents. A team from The Sector have been killed one-by-one. That alone is not an easy thing. We both know that The Sector's agents are superior to the NIB's, but, now, I believe it is time to turn to even better agents. I need the best of the best for this, Youngwoon. I need the team. Your team."
"You said dire... how dire?"
"Best case scenario? The dismantlement of the NIB and that includes The Sector."
"And, worst case scenario?"
"Every agent dead."
Youngwoon swore, his fist hitting against the door at his back, the force rattling the hinges.
"Cho Kyuhyun. Codename "Water". Why are we going to him first?" Eeteuk asked as he parked the car in the lot and looked out the windshield at the building before them.
"He'll be the easiest to convince," Youngwoon explained. It had been three days since Eeteuk spoke with him at the flower shop and, since then, he had been planning on how to approach each former agent. He realized, unfortunately, that he would need to go with Eeteuk to visit them, rather than remain holed up in his shop as he had initially wished. He may divulge to the older man where the ex-agents now were, but he wanted nothing to do with the case.
"Really? But, I remember him as being very... anti-social. Even within the team," Eeteuk commented, "I would think him one of the more difficult, gaining his sympathy a difficult task."
"Kyuhyun is sarcastic and snarky, but he isn't cold," Youngwoon replied, "Out of all the agents in the team, he was the newest to the field, having been a field agent barely a year before he retired. He was a tactician for The Sector for years prior that, so, that's why he seemed to prefer to work solo. But, no, Kyuhyun is the most rational of the team. He'll accept your offer more readily that the others."
"So, how are we doing this? We can't exactly waltz into a high school and kidnap one of the teachers," Eeteuk muttered,
Youngwoon raised a brow, "You have been away from the field way too long. I set up a meeting with him."
"And do you believe he'll meet with us?" Eeteuk asked,
"No," he replied honestly, "That's why I did it under the guise of a concerned parent."
Eeteuk nodded and got out of the car with Youngwoon. Following the younger man's lead, they entered the high school. A few minutes later, they found themselves in a small conference room awaiting the former-agent-turned-high school-teacher.
The door opened and a young man entered dressed in slacks and a simple button-up shirt. Almost immediately, he shut the door behind him,
"Oh, fuck, are you kidding me right now!?" Cho Kyuhyun demanded, glaring at the two seated men as he adjusted his thick-framed glasses as if he were seeing things.
Tall and lanky, the young man leaned a shoulder against the door, shoving his fists into his pockets. His dark hair was styled with gel, slicked back from his face. All at once he appeared both manly and boyish. He could have easily passed for one of his students.
"You're right," Eeteuk murmured, "Not cold at all."
Kyuhyun immediately turned narrowed eyes at them, "What the hell are you two doing here?"
Youngwoon raised a brow at the disrespectful tone.
Despite having retired from The Sector over two years prior, Kyuhyun could not help how that single brow made him add, "Sir."
"Tell him," Youngwoon invited,
Eeteuk looked at him, startled,
Youngwoon stared back, "I came with you so he wouldn't attack you. If you want him back, you're going to have to tell him yourself."
"If you want me back, it better be a damn good reason," Kyuhyun scowled from across the room, "I have a new job now, a new life. I have new colleagues, new friends... it better be a damn good reason."
Eeteuk glanced at Youngwoon, silently asking if he could risk divulging the confidential information regarding the case. After all, Kyuhyun could still say no. At the younger man's short but sure nod, Eeteuk explained the state of the case. He observed the high school teacher closely, watching for any sign of a reaction regardless of how minute. It wasn't until Eeteuk mentioned that agents had been found dead that the slightest narrowing of the younger man's eyes gave away his inner feelings.
No, Eeteuk thought to himself, He is far from cold.
"You should have told me the truth," Kyuhyun said quietly, staring steadily at the older men, "You shouldn't have requested this meeting as if one of my student's parents needed to speak with me in person. I could have prepared myself."
"It's not as if we're going to attack," Eeteuk said,
"No, but I could have prepared for the upheaval of my life," the younger man replied.
"You would have met with us had I told you the truth?" Youngwoon inquired, raising a brow,
"We worked side-by-side for a year and you still have to ask that question?" Kyuhyun retorted, "We may not have seen each other in over two years, but it's not like we haven't spoken to one another, Youngwoon."
"I wanted this to be seen as a formal meeting... something that came from The Sector and not from me," he replied.
Kyuhyun sighed heavily as he withdrew one of his hands from his pockets to adjust his glasses on his nose, "I'll need all the notes on the plans the previous team made for this mission. I need to know where each was last seen and where their bodies were found. I need to know -"
"Kyuhyun, there's some other things that need to be done before you can start analyzing all the data," Youngwoon interrupted, glancing at the older man beside him,
"I'm a tactician, I don't need to do anything else but analyze data," Kyuhyun grounded out,
"You were a field agent for a year, Kyuhyun. You're more than a tactician. Yes, the team will need your brain, but they need you out on the field, too," Youngwoon countered,
Eeteuk remained silent during the exchange between former agents. He noticed immediately that Youngwoon referred to the team as an entity that did not include himself. The team that would be formed to complete this mission, as it appeared to Youngwoon, would not include him. Eeteuk held his tongue, deciding it best not to show all his cards just yet.
The teacher's brow furrowed ever so slightly, whether from frustration or being delayed from seeing his beloved data, Eeteuk wasn't sure.
"Fine. What else is it that needs to be done?"
"So, you're on the team?" Eeteuk asked, needing a concrete confirmation,
"Are you deaf? Have you not just heard the past five minutes of conversation?" Kyuhyun questioned bluntly,
Youngwoon barely stifled a laugh. He was sure that in Eeteuk's long career in The Sector, he had never been insulted. The urge to laugh dissipated, however, when Eeteuk remained silent, his slight frame suddenly becoming impossibly still. It was then that Youngwoon realized how serious Eeteuk truly was about the case and how desperate he was that he could not take a little joke. Youngwoon turned his attention to Kyuhyun whom he knew would bait a bear if he had a chance. Unfortunately, Eeteuk was a bear that no one should bait. He subtly shook his head towards the younger man and, finally, Kyuhyun replied with an affirmative.
The silence stretched for several heartbeats before Eeteuk finally nodded. He gracefully stood from his chair, straightening out his clothes from any wrinkles that may have formed as he sat.
"The remainder of the team needs to be formed," Eeteuk revealed. He glanced at Youngwoon, "Who's next?"
"You mean I'm the first?" Kyuhyun questioned, "But, why?"
Youngwoon shrugged, "You're the most level-headed of the team and Eeteuk needs the team to come back together. I knew you, above all others, would hear reason before making a decision."
Kyuhyun shot him a dark look, "You are aware that the others will never let me live it down that I was the first to cave into returning? And so easily, too!"
"The others? I won't let you forget it," Youngwoon grinned as he crossed the room to him. He clapped a hand on his shoulder, "It's good to see you, Kyuhyun."
He sighed heavily, visibly relaxing and, suddenly, appeared years younger than his age, "It's good to see you, too, hyung," Kyuhyun replied, finally allowing the formalities of the meeting to slip away and finding comfort in the old comraderie with the older man. "Who's next?"
"Lee Sungmin. Codename "Wood"," Eeteuk pulled his car to a stop before the tall, iron gates.
The gates were the only reprieve to the twenty-foot-tall stone wall which ran around the entire estate of the ex-agent. The dirt drive beyond the gates were long and winding, twisting through walls of tall evergreens, further screening the house from the outside world.
"I live in a one-bedroom apartment and Sungmin lives out here? The world is definitely not fair," Kyuhyun muttered from the backseat of the car.
Two days had passed since they met with the high school teacher. Youngwoon had been adamant that Kyuhyun be present to recruit the next agent. Indeed, he insisted that, as they met with each former agent, they have all the members present to show a united front. Kyuhyun, who refused to jeopardize his current life with his former, agreed to come with them as long as it was outside of school hours. And, so, there they were on a Saturday afternoon outside the property of Lee Sungmin.
"So, I don't see a buzzer or intercom system," Eeteuk said as he got out of the car, the other two following his lead.
"There isn't a lock to break," Kyuhyun said as he analyzed the wrought-iron gates. "They must be electrically controlled with the bolts locking into crevices in the stone."
Before Youngwoon could add his own input, his cellular phone rang. Leaning a hip against the car door, he answered it, "Hello?"
"Tell Kyuhyun not to touch the gate,"
"Kyuhyun!" Youngwoon exclaimed immediately, a half-split second before the younger man's hand made contact with the gate, "No touching!"
Hearing the seriousness in the other's voice, Kyuhyun immediately lowered his hand and, even took a step away from the gates. He had a feeling he knew exactly who was on the other side of the phone call.
"Sungmin," Youngwoon said into the phone, confirming the younger man's guess; "Where are you?"
The ex-agent snorted, "As if I would give away my location."
Youngwoon rolled his eyes, fully aware that the other could probably see him doing the action, "This is a friendly visit, Sungmin. Although I'm a little offended you would think otherwise."
"Oh, I trust you, Youngwoon and even that brat you brought along. But, why is there a suit there with you?" Sungmin demanded,
Youngwoon looked at Eeteuk to find the other man looking at him curiously, expectantly. "Sungmin, let us in."
"Put me on speakerphone and state your business," Sungmin argued,
Sighing, Youngwoon did as the younger man requested, holding his phone out for the others to hear, "Okay, Eeteuk, tell him."
"I want to bring back the team in which you were a part of," Eeteuk explained. Just as the words left his lips, Youngwoon immediately pulled Eeteuk against him, holding him close as he used his own body to shield the older man. When nothing happened, Eeteuk asked, "What the hell was that?"
Even Kyuhyun raised a curious and, yet, amused brow at him.
"Really, Youngwoon, did you think I was that unstable?" Sungmin tsked from the phone as the gates began to slide open, groaning as if they hadn't been moved in a long time. "Come up to the house," was all he said before the distinctive click announced he had hung up the phone from his end.
"You know, I'm a little put out that you guys ambushed me, yet you're so straight-forward with Sungmin," Kyuhyun commented lightly as he retreated to the car,
"If we ambushed Sungmin, we'd die," Youngwoon defended as he lowered his arms from Eeteuk and pocketed his phone, "If you attacked, it would be to injure, not kill."
Kyuhyun smirked, but didn't deny the charges. He glanced at Eeteuk in the mirror once they were back in the car and driving up to the hidden house, "You see how volatile we all are? Are you sure you still want us to bring the team back?"
Eeteuk couldn't be any more serious when he replied, "Most definitely."
Despite driving, the trip from the gates to the house took several minutes, their sunlight blocked for some time due to the towering firs. The house that appeared before them could only be described as a sprawling mansion. It was made of the same stone that surrounded the grounds and was at least three-storeys high. Although the many windows were free of shutters, curtains were pulled tightly from within, light surely unable to slip past. Double-doors of dark wood made up the front entrance with several wide, cement steps leading down to the drive. All around, tall hedges grew and ivy crawled up the walls as if nature were trying to swallow it up.
One of the front doors was open, a young man standing there with a shoulder propped against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest. The left side of his head was shaved while on the right side his hair grew at an angle to his jaw looking much like a raven's wing. Dressed in dark jeans and a black shirt, he could have been the picture of menace with his small, but muscled frame, except that his face was all soft lines and his eyes could only be described as fox-like - sly and mischievous.
"Sungmin," Youngwoon greeted curtly as he stepped out of the car.
Sungmin's dark gaze was on Kyuhyun before, slowly, it slipped to Youngwoon. He nodded briefly, acknowledging the other's words.
Eeteuk took in the exchange as peculiar and not at all what he would have imagined. What he recalled of the agent was someone who was too friendly and quick to laugh and, yet, he was a silent killer, the best sniper shooter in the world. Of course, the rest of the world didn't know that fact which further proved how good he was. Youngwoon had spoken of the team often when they were still active. He believed Sungmin was his closest friend on the team, the two of them entering The Sector together and training partners from the beginning.
"I know who you are," Sungmin interrupted as he straightened away from the door frame, "I made sure to know everyone in the NIB. Follow me," he turned abruptly and disappeared into the house.
"You mean The Sector," Eeteuk prompted as they followed him deeper into the dark house,
"No, I mean the NIB," Sungmin replied as he led them into the study, immediately crossing the expansive room to the large desk. He sat in the large, leather chair as he watched the others take seats in chairs before his desk; "What's the point in knowing just a small part when I can know the whole?"
Youngwoon looked around them, noticing that there were exactly three chairs ready before the desk. He glanced towards Sungmin, not surprised that the other was already watching him, "Some things never change, hmm, Sungmin?"
"And, yet, everything changes eventually," came his quiet reply. His gaze flickered towards Eeteuk, taking in how the older man was dressed for business in a full suit, "State your piece and then leave me in peace."
"How original," Kyuhyun muttered sarcastically. He looked away almost immediately, knowing that Sungmin would shoot a glare at him. He shoved his hands in his pockets and aimed for nonchalance.
As succinctly as he could, Eeteuk revealed the bare bones of the case to the former agent. Initially, he had planned to appeal to the other's sympathy, but, after his first meeting with Sungmin, Eeteuk had decided that the cold hard facts were the way to go with him. He wasn't surprised when the younger man gave him a flat-out, "No."
"I have no other choices," Eeteuk insisted,
"Oh, you have plenty of choices," Sungmin replied, settling back against his chair, crossing his arms over his chest, "You just chose the easiest one. Yes, one team is dead, but that doesn't mean I have to give up my life for The Sector. That doesn't mean I have to risk my life just because you don't want to risk any of the other teams for the case."
Sungmin stood then, taking a few short steps to a small table against the wall behind his desk. He opened a glass bottle of clear, copper liquid and splashed some into a small, glass tumbler. Replacing the stopper in the bottle, he raised the tumbler to his lips when Youngwoon spoke.
"There was a time when you put others' lives before your own; when you would take the most dangerous of missions simply so others wouldn't have to."
Sungmin slowly lowered the glass without taking a sip. He glanced over his shoulder at them, his gaze zeroed in on Youngwoon, "Do you deny that there are plenty of other teams that can take on this case?"
The muscles in the other man's jaw tensed, telling Eeteuk that he was clenching his teeth even as he answered, "No."
"Do you deny that reuniting our team - reputed as the best of the best - would certainly be the easiest choice?" Sungmin prompted,
"No," came the gritted reply,
"I have my reasons for leaving The Sector, one of those being my unwillingness to continually risk my life," Sungmin stated. He tossed back the drink in one gulp and the other three suspected it was alcohol. When he put down his tumbler, his voice was as cold and unyielding as the stones in which he surrounded himself; "You all know the way to the front door."
His suggestion was clear and, indeed, was more of a command than anything. Even as Kyuhyun and Youngwoon slowly, unwillingly rose to their feet, Eeteuk remained where he was. He was a man with many aces up his sleeve, after all;
"Then, why are you a mercenary?"
The words sounded much louder in the quiet room. Sungmin gripped the tumbler ever so slightly before releasing it, a self-deprecating laugh escaping his lips, "You came prepared, Agent Eeteuk-sshi. I never anticipated the conversation to take this turn."
"You're what?" Youngwoon's question came like a whip at the younger man. His tone was like steel, hard and cold and managed to pierce deeply to a part of him Sungmin was sure he had let die. There was a command in that voice for an honest answer and there was hurt in that voice that insured Sungmin gave an answer at all.
"A mercenary," Sungmin answered, turning to look at them. His expression was as blank as ever as he slowly crossed his arms once more, "In case you need a definition, I sell my skills to the highest bidder."
"After everything you leave The Sector to become that!?" Youngwoon demanded, his eyes narrowing. "After all these years when you convinced me over and over again to leave you to your solitude, allowing our friendship to dwindle down to just a few telephone calls every month... it was all because you wanted to hide this from me, isn't it?"
Sungmin stared at the man who had been his closest companion for a decade. They had entered the NIB together, been selected for The Sector together and retired together. Annoyingly, he felt a twinge of guilt in the vicinity of his heart, but he ruthlessly ignored it, knowing that the symbolic organ was long dead.
"Well, of course," Sungmin replied flippantly, the tone and words easier than he thought possible, "There was nothing stopping me from lying to you; you don't have the same gift as me. Or, is it curse? I can never remember which it is."
Youngwoon clenched his fists at his sides. For the first time in his life, he was close to strangling his best friend. And, indeed, that's what he still considered Sungmin to be, despite the distance and silence between them.
"Tell him the rest, Eeteuk," Youngwoon stated then, "Tell him what will happen if this case isn't closed soon."
"The NIB will cease to exist," Eeteuk said simply,
"The worst case scenario, Eeteuk," he prompted,
Eeteuk hesitated for a brief moment, but he saw the determination lighting the younger man's eyes. He also saw something else, something close to desperation. He realized then that Youngwoon was looking for anything that could bring Sungmin to the team. Anything that could elicit the person Lee Sungmin had been prior to leaving The Sector.
"Every agent murdered," he revealed quietly. He heard the almost silent gasp from the youngest man present; he hadn't referred to such a fate during the meeting at the high school.
Youngwoon watched Sungmin, trying to catch any sign that the other cared, that his best friend hadn't changed so drastically. Finally, he growled exasperatedly, "Stop acting like you don't care, Sungmin!"
Sungmin looked directly at him then and, for a fraction of a heartbeat, Youngwoon felt his heart go cold, the other's eyes looked so empty, so haunted. Sungmin turned his back on them once more, pouring more alcohol into his tumbler. He downed it as quickly as the first time before he turned back to the others. His gaze drifted to Kyuhyun, the youngest had been so silent.
"You were the first to say yes," Sungmin said,
"I was the first they asked," Kyuhyun replied easily,
"Why did you?"
Kyuhyun stared at Sungmin a moment. He took in the image of his former teammate. He looked the same and, yet, there was a hardness, a coldness in his eyes that hadn't been there before. It had been over two years since he last saw or spoke to Sungmin and, after the time they spent with him that afternoon, Kyuhyun began to wonder if his memory was faulty.
Finally, he answered with a slight shrug of his shoulders, "I'm still willing to risk my life for others."
It was Sungmin's turn to take in the younger man's presentation. He was all that Sungmin remembered, still wise beyond his years and as sarcastic as they come. Sungmin hadn't been lying when he said that everything changed eventually and, yet, looking at Kyuhyun, he felt comfort in the thought - hope - that, perhaps, some things didn't changed. After two years of continuous change, he found rare solace in something as familiar as his former team mates' presence.
"I'll do it," Sungmin said, then, his voice barely above a whisper. He turned his back to them. Instead of returning for another drink, he walked across the room to the nearest window, a narrow panel that ran floor-to-ceiling, the curtains already parted because he had been in that room prior to their arrival.
"Sungmin..." Youngwoon's words trailed off as his friend walked away from them to the window.
"I will be there," Sungmin stated, crossing his arms to stop himself from reaching out and touching the glass he knew would be cool to touch; stopping himself from revealing how much he wanted to escape and run away; "Tomorrow, at the bookstore... I will be there."
Youngwoon wasn't even surprised that his friend already knew.
"Kim Junsu. Codename "Fire". What is it with you ex-agents and living lives completely opposite of what they once were?" Eeteuk questioned as he, Youngwoon and Kyuhyun met up with Sungmin in front of a small bookstore squeezed between a large grocery store and and even larger department store.
"That's the point isn't it?" Sungmin murmured, so quietly the other strained to hear, "We lived life a certain way for so long and, after walking away from that life, it's either wallow away in an empty life or turn to something completely different, something so drastic that the old way is forgotten... or, at least, the impact less severe."
"And, you, Lee-sshi? Which way did your life go after leaving?" Eeteuk inquired, his tone coloured by only curiosity.
Instead of answering, Sungmin shrugged, the light in his eyes extinguishing as if the walls he carefully built around him came closing in tight, shuttering him off from the outside world.
Eeteuk caught Youngwoon staring at him, his voice silent as his message was clear; Leave him be.
Eeteuk sighed quietly as he turned his attention back to the modest shop before them, "Since I know you have kept contact with everyone and I have never met the team until now, I suggest you state your plan of approach, Youngwoon."
The younger man raised a brow at him, "You've met Junsu before."
"Yes, well, despite all that, I'm quickly learning that my initial assessments are falling short of reality or, in some cases," he resisted the urge to glance at Sungmin, "being completely off the mark."
"You're all a bunch of pansies," Kyuhyun finally spoke up, pushing past Eeteuk and Youngwoon to take the first steps to the bookstore's door, "We're going into a bookstore, not walking through no-man's land."
The three older men watched in shocked silence as the youngest disappeared into the bookstore, the slightest tinkling of a bell announcing his entrance. Before the door completely closed, the top edge just kissing the silver bell hanging above it, they followed him in.
The book store was as narrow as it appeared from the outside, however, what it lacked in width, it made up for in height and length. They couldn't exactly estimate how far back the store went, the depths slightly hidden by the single row of book cases running down the middle and the various stacks of precariously piled books on the floor. The ceiling was two-storeys above them, a narrow walkway running the perimetre at the level of where the two floors would have met had there been a separation. The walkway was connected every few metres by more walkways which ran high above, crossing the store's width.
"I never knew Junsu liked books this much," Sungmin gaped, his expression open for the first time since they met with him the other day,
"I never knew Junsu could read," Kyuhyun muttered. He looked all around them, taking in every small detail of the shop as he stuffed his hands into his pockets. However, wherever he nor the others looked, they couldn't find the shopkeeper.
"Other than Junsu, we're the only ones in here," Sungmin commented lightly, ignoring the way Eeteuk glanced his way,
"Junsu stop playing mind games and come out," Youngwoon said, his voice all command as he stood akimbo.
A tsking sound came from behind them and, in unison, they all turned back towards the front door. There, leaning just beside the door was a young man. Dressed in faded jeans and a plain t-shirt, he seemed preoccupied with the open book in his hands. With his head tilted down, his hair the colour of dark chocolate fell forward, shielding his eyes, revealing only a defined, strong jaw.
"You should never enter unknown territory without scoping it out first," his voice had the slightest rasp, his tone coloured with amusement. He looked up at them, a small smile giving his face a boyish charm. "And you," Junsu straightened from the wall as he glared at Kyuhyun, "I heard what you said and you're lucky I don't use you for target practice."
Kyuhyun simply smirked in silent reply.
Eeteuk opened his mouth, but Junsu held up his hand for silence.
"Whatever it is you're about to propose, save your breath. I'm in," Junsu said,
All except for Sungmin gaped at his words. Sungmin merely rose a brow.
"Let it never be said Kim Junsu is not a team player," he grinned as he closed the book in his hand and put it atop the closest book pile. "If my team is in, then I'm in."
Eeteuk looked at Youngwoon, "You said Kyuhyun would be the easiest to convince," he whispered,
"I also said Kyuhyun is the most level-headed, but, I stand by what I said about him being the easiest to convince," the other defended quietly,
"The whole team isn't in," Kyuhyun stated, the others unaware of the quiet exchange between the two eldest present,
Junsu's expression hardened ever so slightly. It wasn't obvious, but there was a tensing of his facial muscles, a slight darkening of his gaze. Immediately his eyes swept over all of them and his expression hardened before closing completely. He walked around them, heading towards the depths of the store,
"I retract my statement. I'm out," Junsu stated simply,
"Wait, wait, wait," Eeteuk said as he quickly strode after him, "You give and then retract your consent without knowing any facts. Let me explain the situation first."
Junsu abruptly turned back, his movement so fast that Eeteuk would have collided into him had his reflexes been a fraction slower. As practiced as they were, he managed to stop a full foot away from the ex-agent.
"Eeteuk, I'm not stupid. It's been two years since we were all with The Sector. They've left us in peace since then, not even so much as a furtive probing into our current lives. The only reason they would come hunt each of us down, bring us back together when we haven't even gotten together on our own, is because something big is happening or has happened," Junsu theorized, "We were always given the most complex of cases, the most difficult, seemingly-impossible missions. Retired or not, that doesn't change."
"So, you'll do the mission if the whole team is present?" Eeteuk questioned,
"Yes," the younger man replied immediately, no hesitation whatsoever.
Eeteuk turned back to the others, his eyes immediately on Youngwoon, "Then, we round up the final member and come back for Junsu."
Youngwoon, however, shook his head, "That's not how it's going to work. Junsu, you either commit to the team now or not at all."
Junsu's eyes narrowed, his amiable demeanour seemingly long forgotten, "And, why is that?"
"Your commitment cannot be based on members being present. Your commitment should be based on getting the job done," Youngwoon stated,
"You're questioning my dedication -"
"I'm questioning your motives," Youngwoon interjected, tone ruthlessly honest; "You think I didn't already know what could be the biggest deciding factor for you agreeing to this case? I told Eeteuk to seek you out next specifically, Junsu. I wanted your decision without external factors affecting you."
"She is not just an external factor," Junsu grounded out, his voice getting raspier with his thinly-leashed temper,
"I agree. She is an integral part of the team, but you cannot be emotional about this decision. Emotions get people killed in the field," Youngwoon reminded, even though he knew Junsu was aware of the fact. Indeed, they all were.
“He’s got a point, Junsu,” Sungmin spoke up then, pushing back his hair away from his face, “You want to base your decision on whether or not she’s there in the team with us. How do we know that you’ll have our back even when she’s not there?”
“I have always had your back!” Junsu exclaimed, suddenly walking towards him aggressively, stopped only because Youngwoon held him back. He struggled against the older man’s hold, glaring at Sungmin; “We were on the same team for three years and you have the nerve to say that to me!?”
“You really know how to slip the knife between the ribs, huh?” Kyuhyun muttered from beside Sungmin,
Sungmin shot him a glare before replying, “Junsu, you’re agreeing to going on a mission while protecting your team mates. However, your agreement is dependent upon a certain person being on that team. That means, if that person isn’t on the team, you wouldn’t agree to join the team and help protect us. That means if given the option you won’t protect us.”
“That’s it, just twist the knife in deeper,” Kyuhyun muttered,
Junsu stopped fighting against Youngwoon then and, even though he continued to scowl, the fight in his eyes died; “I never meant it like that. I never saw it like that… if given the option I would always protect you guys.”
“I know,” Sungmin acknowledged,
“We all know that, but how do you think it looks when you say yes and no as quickly as a whim?” Youngwoon asked.
Abruptly, Junsu turned and walked around one of the bookcases. Eeteuk made to go after him, when he stalled, startled, “Where’d he go!?”
“He doesn’t know, does he?” Kyuhyun asked Youngwoon,
“You only realized that now?” Sungmin raised a brow at the younger man. He shook his head, “And, you’re supposed to be the smart one.”
Youngwoon sighed heavily, running a hand through his short hair, “No, he doesn’t. And Junsu probably went into his office in the back… I’ll go talk to him.”
Youngwoon walked deeper into the long and narrow bookstore, finding the office door at the very back. Not bothering to knock, he entered and wasn’t surprised to find Junsu pacing before his desk.
“It’s not that I don’t want to protect you guys… but to come back… it was a difficult decision to leave in the first place. If I go back I’m scared that I won’t be able to leave again,” Junsu admitted, not once faltering in his pacing, “Even if you guys do take the case, I would be okay not helping because I know you guys can take care of yourselves.”
“So can she.”
“But, I’d go crazy worrying about her! It doesn’t mean I care about you guys any less it’s just… it’s just different,” Junsu stated exasperatedly, “When I decided to leave it was because you guys weren’t going to be there anymore and… and I could never be in another team without all of you present but, also…”
“Also?” He prompted with the other grew silent,
Junsu shook his head, refusing to finish. Instead, he said quietly, “I did agree to join the team rather quickly, hmm? And, to everyone it may have seemed impulsive but, it wasn’t… It was instinctual. Where you guys go, I go… but the team needs to be whole, Youngwoon. If she doesn’t approve… then there’s no way I can stand being on the team without her.”
“If you join the team, I think there’s a high possibility she will, too.”
“Then, let’s go get our last member.”
“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Eeteuk asked as he took his seat amidst the sea of people.
The crowd formed a large ring around the circular stage in the centre. The seats were tiered, the lowest level closest to the stage, intervals of stairs parting the people.
“We’re in the right place,” Youngwoon answered as he sat next to him.
“We better be in the right place after a sixteen-hour flight,” Kyuhyun’s words were muffled as he chewed on the straw of his drink, sitting at the end of their little group,
“We’re in the right place,” Sungmin reiterated the other’s words, sitting beside Kyuhyun with Junsu planted between himself and Youngwoon.
“Okay, I know why he knows,” Junsu gestured to Sungmin, “But, how the hell do you know, Youngwoon?”
“You know how over the past two years we’ve kept in touch?”
“Yes. If we hadn’t, I would have hunted you down,” Junsu replied,
“Well, I kept in touch with everyone,” Youngwoon revealed as the lights dimmed down, “Although, she was very resistant.”
“I can’t believe she actually kept in contact with you,” Junsu murmured as the crowd slowly began to hush.
What they watched then was the most famous acrobatic circus act, Cirque du Lune. Acrobatic performers of all sizes took to the stage dressed in fantastical, colourful costumes. They flipped and jumped, the props on the stage like molehills rather than the large obstacles they were. Smoke crept along the stage floor while some tossed about batons with ends lit by red and orange flames. They executed skills that were only seen in the movies, the show a visual feast for the eyes.
An hour and half into the show, four balls of wrapped sheets appeared from the ceiling. Suddenly, the balls began to fall to the ground, the material unraveling into long sheets revealing one acrobatic each. Using the sheets, they moved up and down in the air, wrapping and unwrapping different limbs as a means to move. They twirled in the air, the sheets forming twirling, colourful swirls. They all finally allowed themselves to reach the bottom of their sheets. They made their bows and ran off.
Then, a small, single performer appeared on stage. Using one of the long sheets, she slowly began to move up towards the ceiling. Then, unlike the other acrobats that just used a single sheet, she began to utilize the sheet adjacent to the one she was using, climbing higher and higher into the air. She moved amongst the sheets as if they were vines in a jungle. She moved in the air like a delicate spider, the sheets her only support. There were even brief moments when it seemed like she jumped between them, going airborne without a single limb wrapped in at least one sheet.
Fire appeared and the crowd realized she had procured a baton from somewhere, both ends on fire. Without compromising the gracefulness in which she moved, she twirled and spun the baton, the flames dancing amongst the materials with her. The fire moved faster and, yet, she seemed unperturbed, the sheets remained untouched by the flames. Suddenly, the sheets caught fire, the flames running up and down them, little flames falling off towards the ground. The acrobat began to move up toward the ceiling when all there seemed to be was a floating wall of fire. Finally, there was a small explosion and the fire was gone, smoke slowly dissipating high in the air. The entire auditorium was silent as the baton fell to the stage with an echoing clatter. The acrobat was nowhere to be seen.
A spot light shone then at the top of the stairs closest to them. The acrobat was there. She was thin, her spandex costume of glitter and sequence hugging her body with its gentle curves. She was small in stature and pretty with a heart-shaped face and eyes that tilted slightly at the outer corners. The crowd, upon realizing where she now was, burst into applause as she bowed before waving and running off.
“Kim Taeyeon. Codename “Wind”,” Eeteuk muttered as the applause slowly quieted, “It seems like you were right.”
The centre of the stage parted, a lift rising to reveal all of the performers. As bows were being made, the crowd stood to their feet; claps, whistles and cheers became a roar around them. Instead of clapping along, however, Youngwoon signaled to the others and they slipped out of the auditorium.
It was almost an hour later before they finally saw her again. The building was quiet, the crowds of people already dispersing into the night. Performers appeared dressed as common people through the back door in pairs or small groups, saying cheerful farewells as they all went their merry way. Then, she exited, leaving all on her own without a backwards glance for any of her colleagues. Dressed in black, fitted shorts and a white fitted tank-top, she looked very normal compared to when she was performing, her long hair free of glitter and feathers, sneakers on her feet and a single backpack her only accessory.
She walked down the alley between the theatre and another building, meaning to head to the front where the sidewalk was and head directly home. She was almost at the mouth of the alley when two figures suddenly appeared. Even though the people’s faces were shrouded in darkness, the bright lights from the street casting them into shadow, she felt an awareness tingle down her spine. Before either could utter her name, she immediately pivoted on the ball of her foot and broke out into a full-out run. She could hear one of the pair suddenly swear and then, the rapid footsteps as they followed her.
She turned the corner, running past the backstage door and continued on, turning around the other corner, hoping that she could make it to the street before the pair caught up to her. As she ran, she took in as many details as she could in the dark alley. She caught sight of metal stairs running down the side of one building, the ladder hanging at least ten feet above the ground. She noted two large dumpsters at the end of the alley and both too far from the ladder to give her any leverage.
Suddenly, a figure appeared at the end of the alley, seeming to break apart from the shadows. She barely suppressed a swear. She had been paying so much attention to her surroundings, she hadn’t realized the sound of footsteps had decreased to just a single person following her. At full speed, she suddenly ran towards the wall, stepping against the wall just a foot off the ground, using the momentum to bring her higher and across the narrow alley against the other wall. The ball of her other foot met contact with bricks and she pushed off with all her might as she ricocheted back to the other wall, this time much higher. Finally, she was high enough in the air that, as when she reached out she was able to wrap her fingers around the lowest rung of the hanging ladder. Her shoulder jarred painfully as her hand took on her full weight.
Before the two people on the ground could begin to plan or decide to follow her the way she went, she pulled herself up and quickly climbed up the ladder. Once she reached the first landing, she began running up the stairs. She was hardly out of breath but muscles she hadn’t used in a long time, regardless of being an acrobat, were already beginning to cry out a protest. She made it to the roof and knew she didn’t have a lot of time before she planned the next phase of her escape. However, once she was on the roof, she realized with dismay that she was not alone. Two more people were waiting for her on the roof. Immediately, she turned and, without giving herself a chance for doubt, she leapt across the alley, praying that her calculations were correct. She didn’t breathe easily again until she felt the cement beneath her feet again. The moment she landed on the roof of the other building, she broke into a run, only to run into a solid, warm body. Before she could do any more running, hands like gentle steel wrapped around her upper arms holding her in place.
She looked up at the man before her, feeling at once affection for her old friend and team mate and resentment that he was there; “Sungmin, please let me go,” she hated the plea in her voice.
She tried to tug away from him, but all it did was turn them so that his back was to the other building instead of her own. Over his shoulder, she could see the two people on the opposite roof plan and prepare their own jumps across the alley.
“Please!” Her voice was whispered and urgent.
She heard one person land not too far from them.
She narrowed her gaze on him, then, “I saved your life before, Sungmin. You owe me.”
Sungmin’s eyes widened ever so slightly before he finally asked, “Why are you running?”
A second person jumped the alley. Even if she could defend herself against them, she could never outrun all three of them. Her stamina was good, but not the greatest and she had just run down three alleys, up several stairs and leapt across an alley. Not to mention she had several performances earlier that evening.
“You were right, Sungmin. She did bolt,” Eeteuk stated as he brushed off his clothes, the suit somehow still immaculate even though he had just jumped across an alley way.
“I should have known,” Taeyeon muttered, recognizing the agent from The Sector. She had never worked with him before, but she had seen him often enough and heard enough to know that he was the only agent whose real name was never known. He was always only Agent Eeteuk.
“Why do we even ever doubt Sungmin? We know he’s always right,” Kyuhyun said, shoving his hands into his pockets as Youngwoon and, then, Junsu also jumped across the alley. At their quickness, Taeyeon assumed they had followed her up the stairs.
“Because the future is never certain. It always changes, always has the potential to change,” Sungmin answered himself, “Every choice made can change the future.”
“But, I’m predictable enough that you could trust what you saw, hmm Sungmin?” Taeyeon asked.
“You’re the complete opposite of predictable,” Sungmin answered, “Except for Youngwoon, none of us have been able to contact you… none of us knew what happened to you.”
Taeyeon laughed bitterly, “And is that supposed to move me? When we all decided to leave The Sector, no one said goodbye. No one said anything about keeping in touch. No one said one single word. I wasn’t going to pander to some illusion that any of us were friends outside of the team.”
“Weren’t we?” came Kyuhyun’s quiet inquiry, his voice free of its usual dryness or sarcasm.
Taeyeon looked at him, unable to stop clenching of her heart when she saw the stark hurt in the young man’s expression. When she spoke again, she was horrified at how soft and strained her voice was, “No one said goodbye.”
“Let me talk with her alone,” Junsu said, stepping forward,
“No!” She replied adamantly, even going so far as to take a step away from him.
Junsu opened his mouth to speak when Youngwoon stepped forward, “Give us a minute,” was all he said. Giving no space for argument, he took her arm and led her several metres away from the others. “What’s wrong, Taeyeon?”
“You know this is the last thing I would ever agree to,” she replied, easily disengaging her wrist from his hold. She knew, however, that had he wanted to keep her wrist, then nothing would have broken his grip. “You know why I’ve kept my distance all these years.”
“I do know, but Agent Eeteuk needs the team’s help. He needs your help,” Youngwoon said, “The fate of the entire NIB is relying on one last mission by the team. At least let him explain what the case is.”
Taeyeon heard the peculiar inflection in his words and glanced at him warily, “I don’t care about the case. Youngwoon, you are aware that the team includes you, too, right? If Agent Eeteuk has come after us to reassemble the team, you are no exception to that.”
“I’ll only agree to the mission if the entire team comes back together,” was his reply, “I want to agree to this mission, Taeyeon, but I refused to do so without every single one of our team back together.”
Taeyeon looked over his shoulder rather than directly at him, “You really know how to pressure someone, Youngwoon… influence or no influence involved.”
“I think it would be good for the team to come back for one last mission… good for us all,” he said simply, “There are dozens within The Sector that are at risk and dozens more in the NIB. We need to take this mission, Taeyeon.”
“No, you need to take this mission,” she argued, eyes narrowing, “All I need to do is go home, sleep and get on with the rest of my life. I don’t need to take this mission, Youngwoon. I’ve lived beyond The Sector, lived without missions and lived without the team. I don’t need this!” She covered her mouth when her voice broke with her last words.
Youngwoon took a half-step closer, putting a hand on her shoulder, “Taeyeon? Are you okay?”
For the briefest of moments, Taeyeon considered pretending to not know what he was referring to, but she knew it would be a waste of effort. Youngwoon of all people knew what she had been doing since retirement. He of all people would know what it meant, what it truly meant if she wasn’t okay. And, it was because he knew and because he was the only one who knew that she wasn’t able to lie to him.
“I’m fine,” she answered quietly, slowly lowering her hand from her mouth, “But, what if I’m not okay once we start working on this mission?”
“We’ll worry about it if it happens,” he replied,
“No, Youngwoon, I can’t rely on chance… not anymore,” she insisted, “If it happens, I want you to promise me that the others will never know. I want you to promise me that I will always have an exit. Always.” When he hesitated, she repeated firmly, “Promise me, Youngwoon.”
He sighed heavily, “I promise.”
She clenched her fists at her sides as she reluctantly stated, “Then, I agree to one last mission with the team.”
“That’s it? No explanations needed?”
Taeyeon looked at him, knowing that for once her emotions weren’t shielded from her face, “It must be important if you’re asking me to do one last mission… it must be dire if you brought all the members here to see me… to see my new life.”
“I didn’t know any other way to sway you,” he admitted,
“You owe me for that, too, Youngwoon,” Taeyeon warned lightly, “because once the mission is over, I’m going to have to come up with another whole new life.”
“You don’t have to, Taeyeon… you could just stay in Korea and find another job there,” he replied,
She shook her head, “No. I have to leave.” She walked around him then, pausing once she was close to the edge of the roof, “And, next time, Youngwoon, you won’t be able to find the new me. Call the next time you need me.”
Abruptly, she hopped over the side of the building, managing to climb through a top-floor window. As she stood beside the window, pressing her back into the wall and taking in her dark surroundings, she could hear the others calling out for her, talking of how to find her. Youngwoon, however, told them to leave her alone. With that, she walked away.
“Kim Youngwoon. Codename: Earth.”
Youngwoon sighed heavily as he kept looking at the bright night, lit by the may attractions of Las Vegas. It was almost as if the city never slept; he had never seen such a sight before. He stood out on the balcony of his hotel room having returned from confronting Taeyeon just over an hour before. He and the others would return to Korea in the morning, but he had much on his mind. The moment they had retreated to their hotel, Youngwoon had insisted the one rooming with him take advantage of the shower first because he wanted to clear his mind.
“I’m not called that anymore,” Youngwoon muttered, leaning his arms atop of the balcony railing.
Eeteuk came out onto the balcony clad only in black silk pyjama pants. His hair was still damp from the shower and his towel was draped around his neck. He stood beside the younger man, crossing his arms atop the railing and, leaning his chin on his arms, gazed out at the city.
“Why did you ever believe that I would want your team and not want you on the team, too?” Eeteuk asked bluntly,
“I thought you were glad that I had left the NIB?” Youngwoon countered,
“I was and am thankful for that every day. However, if you re not there to lead the team, I don’t think they would function as well. You held your team together just like the earth brings together the elements,” Eeteuk answered; “Your team was amazing Youngwoon. Commanding desk agents like myself were all fighting to have your team take on their cases and do the missions.”
“You never approached us,”
“Do you think I would have been capable of sending you knowingly into danger?” Eeteuk questioned, his tone like a whip, his words a reprimand.
“So, why are you asking me now?”
“Because I’m that desperate, Youngwoon,” he confessed; “I’m so desperate that, if I thought I could work with a team as well as yours does, I would go back into the field to take this case myself.”
Recalling the details of Eeteuk s last mission as a field agent, Youngwoon felt the impact of his statement all the more powerful. If Eeteuk was willing to risk everything for this case, indeed, even going so far as to ask him to take on the case and bring back his former team mates, then he truly was in a grave state.
“Do you know how many times I wondered if I should ask you? Even when I first got this case, every day since then, I wanted to talk to you about it, but each time I couldn’t make that last step and pull you back into the shadows where I live,” he paused and turned his head, leaning his cheek on his arms, “The shadows where you once lived, too.”
“Do you know what you’re asking of me?” Youngwoon questioned, his voice barely above a whisper,
“Do you honestly believe, for even just a moment that I don’t know!?” Eeteuk retorted, his tortured tone finally causing the younger man to look at him. By then, however, it was too late and the agent had swiftly re-entered their hotel room.
Immediately Youngwoon followed him, slowly shutting the sliding door behind him as he watched the older man. In being defensive, he had hurt Eeteuk. The agent sat on the couch which faced a coffee table, the large king bed behind it. He opened his laptop on the table and waved his hand in the air,
“Go take your shower or sleep - whatever. I have some work to do before I sleep,” he said off-handedly, his tone flat.
Although he still felt the urge to defend himself, he felt regret in having hurting the other in the process. However, knowing that they were both upset and needing some time to cool their heads, Youngwoon silently retreated to the bathroom to have his shower. When he came out of the bathroom clad in shorts and a t-shirt, he walked over to the couch where Eeteuk still sat. He, too, had pulled on a shirt at some point while the younger man was in the bathroom.
Youngwoon ignored the protest when he suddenly nudged the coffee table out of the older man’s reach. He came before Eeteuk and knelt on the ground. Without a word, he leaned forward and slipped his arms around the other’s slender waist, pressing his cheek to the older man’s muscled abdomen.
“Forgive me,” He murmured softly. Even though Youngwoon was bigger and stronger, Eeteuk always had a quiet confidence, making him composed and intimidate. Eeteuk had always been the one to take the lead in all things that involved the both of them.
“If we had met somewhere else, if you had never known the life I lived, I would do everything I could to protect you from knowing such a life. Even now, I wanted to protect you from ever returning to the NIB and The Sector,” Eeteuk said. He hesitated, before he gently ran his fingers through the other’s damp hair; “I wish I had never been given this case,Youngwoon, and I wish it didn’t come to this but I don’t know what else to do.”
The younger man was startled. For the first time since knowing the other as an agent, he had never heard him sound so tired and weary of a case. Eeteuk had complained to him many times, but never before had he seemed on the edge of a precipice as if it were actually possible he might give up.
“I can’t… I can’t do this,” the older man said, cradling the other’s head against his stomach; “I can’t risk you to this case. I will risk everything and every one else, but not you, Kim Youngwoon. Not you.”
The younger man smiled ruefully then, “How can you say that when I have unknowingly already had you at risk because of this case all this time?” He held onto the other tighter, “I’ve never seen you like this… so lacking in confidence… so worried… so different from the Agent Eeteuk the rest of the world sees.”
“The thought of losing you is driving me mad.”
“You won’t lose me,” he promised. He turned his face upward to look at the other once more, “I was a pretty good agent. One of the best, right?”
“I’m terrified,” Eeteuk admitted softly, his eyes becoming bright with the sudden threat of tears; “If I lost you, I would be destroyed. Do you hear me, Youngwoon?” He asked, his hand moving from the other’s hair to cup his strong jaw, “I would be completely destroyed. I would follow you into the afterlife.”
“Don’t say that,” he replied sternly,
Eeteuk shook his head, “It’s true. I wouldn’t last long without you. You are my heart and soul and you keep my mind sane. Without you, I have nothing.”
“Then, I’ll just have to make sure this case is a success,” Youngwoon stated,
The agent’s expression remained deeply troubled, “So long as you do not have to exchange your life for it.”
“Let’s go to bed,” Youngwoon suggested, attempting to lighten the mood as he straightened on his knees.
Before replying, Eeteuk took his face in his hands and swooped down until their lips met. His eyes fluttered close, allowing tears to fall for the first time down his cheeks. His tears turning their kiss salty, he whispered, “I’m sorry.”
Youngwoon returned the embrace and, in return, breathed the words “I love you”.