“Free. It feels free, like there’s nothing that can stop me, nothing can hold me down. It feels as if I can do anything because of love and I’m free of the fear of failure because, even if I can’t do everything, at least at the end of the day, there’s still me and him. When all else fails, love won’t.”
A knock at the door had Kyuhyun on his guard immediately. Even though he knew no one was in the house except for his friends, he couldn't help the unease that came from being in unfamiliar territory. Grabbing one of this guns, he quickly strode to the door, standing to the side as he opened it.
"No guns," Sungmin stated knowingly as he pushed past the younger man and entered the bedroom,
"Please, come in," Kyuhyun invited sarcastically,
"My house, my rules," Sungmin countered.
It was Sunday night. The others had arrived at various times that day with their luggage in tow. Sungmin had given them brief tours of the house, only showing the necessities and the route to their bedrooms. After a cold dinner of meat slices and hard bread, they had awkwardly parted and retreated to their respective bedrooms.
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes at the other's words. He retreated to the desk where he had been prior to the disturbance. Placing the gun on the desk, he turned half his attention to the many papers before him.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?" He questioned, his tone anything but polite,
"I need to know I'm not making a mistake. I need to know that I did the right thing by letting everyone come live here," Sungmin explained. He walked over to a window because he hated pacing.
"And why are you coming to me with this? Isn't Youngwoon your best friend? Wouldn't he be more suited to this kind of conversation?" Kyuhyun questioned.
He had been with the team a year before they had all retired from The Sector. He knew that he didn't need to follow their lead, knew that he could have returned to his desk job as a tactician. And, yet, in that year with the other four members, he couldn’t help but form a bond with each of them. If they were all gone from The Sector, he found he could not remain there alone. However, whatever brief friendships he had formed with the other males, they never truly spoke outside of work. He never would have thought they would seek him out to talk.
Least of all, he would never expect Sungmin to seek him out. During their time together on the team he and Sungmin had butted heads more than once. It wasn’t that they fought all the time. Instead, it was Kyuhyun’s naturally snarky nature colliding with Sungmin’s ability to annoy the hell out of him. Despite it all, Kyuhyun knew Sungmin would cover his back every time they went into the field.
“Youngwoon’s in the middle of an important conversation. Besides, even when Youngwoon does play the truth game with me, he tends to soften the blow. I need someone who will play devil’s advocate better than the devil himself. I need someone who isn’t afraid to call me a fool,” Sungmin explained, turning his back to the window before he ended up reaching out for the glass,
“We are a team that has been broken for two years. It was of our own doing, although it wasn’t purposeful. We wanted to retire, we didn’t want to stop being friends and, yet, that’s what we all did the moment we each decided to not contact each other. Now, we’re coming together for a common cause and, even more so we’re all living under the same roof for an indefinite period,” Kyuhyun stated as he put down his papers but remained sitting at the desk;
“Although we’ve spent a various amount of time together as team mates prior to retirement – myself being the least with a year with the rest of you – we’ve never been quite in each other’s’ pockets until now. We will all clash with one another at one time or another,” Kyuhyun continued, “Friends who have hardly spoken will rediscover that they have both changed and whether or not they can tolerate the changes in the other will be found out.”
“You mean me, don’t you? You mean the others might not like what they find out about me during the next few weeks,” Sungmin questioned,
“I mean all of us. We’ve all changed and we all chose to stay away from the others for different reasons. It’ll be only a matter of time before those reasons come to light and what those reasons have resulted in,” Kyuhyun answered.
“Let us not forget that two of our team members were once in relationship and at some point over the past two years have broken up,” Kyuhyun added, “I suspected it occurred after our last mission and before retirement, but none of us will know unless we ask them flat out about it. All I know is that Junsu is trying everything in his power to spend time with her and Taeyeon wants to avoid him like the plague. You know it’s only a matter of time before he finds out where her bedroom is, right? The moment she sleeps he’ll find out within minutes.”
Sungmin rubbed the back of his neck wearily, “Well, we already know he has no squabbles about following her.”
“When those two got together, I was skeptical but, in the end, I never thought it would cause any problems,” Kyuhyun admitted, turning his attention back to his papers,
“That’s because we never thought they would break up,” Sungmin said. He hesitated and, then, asked, “So, Kyuhyun, did I do the right thing?”
“After everything I just said you still have to ask?” Kyuhyun questioned,
“Well, yes you did do the right thing,” Kyuhyun surprised him with his answer; “We all need this, especially if we’re ever to function as a team again. We used to act as parts of a whole and, now, I don't think we can be so seamless anymore. And, we might need that for this mission. So, yes, you did do the right thing because, I think if it was up to us, we would remain apart even as we became a team again."
"We have to protect Taeyeon from Junsu. I know she can take care of herself, but it doesn't help that we're putting them under the same roof," Sungmin stated, "And you're right, the moment she sleeps, Junsu will find out exactly where she is in my house."
"Junsu will not like our interference," Kyuhyun commented,
"No, but if we don't do something, Taeyeon will pack up and leave," Sungmin replied, "And, this time, we may not find her again."
Kyuhyun tapped his fingers on the table, his thoughts racing. Just when Sungmin thought he wouldn't speak anymore, he did; "How do you think things would be now had we all kept in touch?"
"I do not know," Sungmin answered and, then, tentatively added, "But, there was only one future I saw before us."
"You knew what would happen to the team after retirement?" Kyuhyun looked at him finally, turning in his chair to face him,
Sungmin nodded once, "When we met up and decided to retire, I had a premonition right then. I knew we would all go our separate ways but, as incomplete as my visions always are, I never anticipated that we would all see each other again. It was... a sad thought."
"So, you didn't try to stop it? Didn't try to change what would happen to us all?" Kyuhyun questioned, "I know I wasn't on the team for as long as the rest of you were, but even for me the loss of you all hurt deeply."
"I wanted to change what would happen... I wanted to pick up the phone so many times or call out to any and all of you," Sungmin admitted quietly, turning so his shoulder pressed against the window. He gazed out it, his dark eyes filled with wistfulness; "But, changing the future comes with consequences that I dare not risk."
"And?" Kyuhyun prompted, knowing that there was more that the other man held back,
"And, as I saw our futures stretch out before us, I knew we all needed some solitude," Sungmin defended, his voice had dropped to an almost whisper; "After that last mission, we all needed to heal and we all craved to do so without each other. Healing together would be slow and arduous, especially since we would remind each other of what had happened. We needed to heal separately or we'd grow to resent one another. Our last mission... cast a shadow over all of us. We needed time to step back and remember that that mission did not define us, that we had several missions which had been better, which brought out the good in us all."
"Do you ever regret not trying to change things?" Kyuhyun asked, "Even if it meant talking to Youngwoon more?”
"No," Sungmin answered almost immediately, "It hurt knowing where our retirement would lead us and it hurt knowing that even my best friend and I would allow our friendship to reduce to the sad excuse it became. But, no, I will never regret not changing our futures."
Kyuhyun stared at the older man, taking in the way he tried to appear casual and, yet, tension was in every line of his body. He had learned during that year he was with the team how to bait Sungmin, learned the signs that revealed the older man was mad and learned which buttons to push to incite his anger. Without even realizing it, he had learned so much about Sungmin just from watching him. Now that they were talking of something other than a mission, he realized there was much more to learn about the other man.
"You've done it before, haven't you?" Kyuhyun asked before he could doubt the intelligence of asking such a thing. Just because they were talking now, didn't mean they were as close as he and Taeyeon or Sungmin and Youngwoon; "You've changed the future after having a vision."
Sungmin dropped the facade then, allowing his entire body to tense. He crossed his arms over his chest and, after a minute or two of complete silence, he answered, "Yes."
"More than once,"
Sungmin swallowed hard. Was he that easy to read? He and Kyuhyun did not have the closest of relationships on the team and, yet, in the span of half an hour, the younger man seemed to have learned how to read him like a book. Sungmin found he could no longer read him as easily as in the past and this disturbed him to no end.
"Yes," came Sungmin's clipped reply. When Kyuhyun turned back to the papers on his desk, Sungmin was surprised; "That's it? You're not going to ask me more about it? About what consequences there were?"
"I was debating it, but it was evident that the conversation was not to your liking at all," Kyuhyun shrugged; "I'm not always that cruel."
"People die, Kyuhyun," he blurted out then. It wasn't until after he had said those words that Sungmin realized how much he had wanted Kyuhyun to prod him; how much he had wanted someone to know the truth. When Kyuhyun didn't respond, indeed, didn't even look at him, he continued on, his tone bitter; "If I try to change even just the smallest of things, something big happens. I tried to change the outcome of a mission once and one of my team members was seriously injured afterwards. I tried to stop a little girl from dropping her teddy bear and walking away from it and in the end..."
Sungmin was startled to feel the hot sting of tears. He clenched his fists tightly in an effort to stop his body from shaking as he fought back the tears; "In the end, when she took her bear and turned to cross the street, the light had changed... she was hit by a car..."
Sungmin almost confessed to his most recent of sins even though it had occurred two years ago. He felt the wrenching of the heart he thought long dead and grounded his teeth together almost painfully in an effort to stop the words.
Still, Kyuhyun said and did nothing.
"Say something!" Sungmin practically growled, "How can you sit there and not call me the villain I am!?"
Kyuhyun looked at him, standing from his chair and leaning a hip against the desk. He shoved his hands into his pockets as he regarded the other man, "What do you want me to say, Sungmin? It's clear you said all of this to try and get me to chastise you, but why? You didn't know what consequences would happen from your actions and, the important part is that you learned from it."
Kyuhyun shook his head, "You're not a villain, Sungmin, if anything, I admire you even more now that I know what you go through. You see the future and, regardless of how painful or horrible it might be, you are left with not being able to do anything about it. You have to live with this hopelessness of never being able to stop what you know will happen."
Sungmin pushed away from the window, striding towards the door. He had yanked it open before Kyuhyun placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.
"Is that what your solitude has been about, Sungmin? Have you been persecuting yourself over your past choices?" Kyuhyun asked, his tone without judgement,
Sungmin hesitated. For one moment, he truly was tempted to tell Kyuhyun the rest. However, all he did was pull away from Kyuhyun's comforting hand and leave.
The next morning at breakfast, the team met early, having to accommodate Kyuhyun’s teaching schedule if they ever wanted to meet with the youngest male of their team. Upon entering the kitchen which was big enough to have the breakfast table in the same area, the older men arrived surprised to find breakfast made for them, Taeyeon standing by the toaster and Kyuhyun already eating.
The plates on the table were laden with eggs scrambled, over easy and benedict; white and brown toast, buttered and plain; bacon, ham and Chinese sausage; and, a small bowl of rice for each member. Sungmin was silent as he walked over to the coffee machine, a pot already made while the other two men sat down at the table.
“I can’t believe you did all this,” Sungmin said after a long sip of hot coffee.
Junsu and Youngwoon muttered their agreements between bites of food and piling more onto their plates.
Taeyeon took a fresh plate of toasted bread over to the table and shrugged, “I just made the toast. The rest was all Kyuhyun.”
Immediately Junsu and Youngwoon stopped eating, looking at the youngest horrified. Kyuhyun, who was standing from the table as he scooped the rest of his food into his mouth didn’t even spare any of them a glance. He put his dishes in the sink and, finally, looked at them, raised a brow,
“What?” Kyuhyun took a napkin from a holder and wiped his mouth of debris,
“We’re… not going to die from this, are we?” Junsu asked, eyeing his food suspiciously,
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes, “Stop being so melodramatic.”
“Kyuhyun, you can barely boil water let alone cook this spread,” Youngwoon said,
“Well, obviously I can cook,” Kyuhyun said as he tossed his napkin in the garbage; “What? You think after fending for myself that I wouldn’t learn anything?”
“You lived alone before we retired,” Junsu said,
“True, but my profession changed to one where I couldn’t live off of coffee and donuts in the morning and whatever food I could buy at the coffee shop across the street. I had to learn brown paper bag recipes for school days and,” he shrugged, “other stuff for weekends.”
Junsu and Youngwoon continued to eat when, the latter paused to speak. Taeyeon pointed her butter knife across the table at him,
“If you say that his cooking is better than mine, I’ll let you starve when he’s not here,” she warned,
“No one say a word!” Sungmin snapped before downing the rest of his coffee; “I miss her cooking.”
“You live in this mansion all by yourself… you do cook, don’t you?” Junsu asked,
“Of course I do, but there’s something nice about someone cooking for you,” Sungmin shrugged,
Taeyeon rolled her eyes as she began to butter a piece of toast, “Can we talk about what we’re going to do about this case now?”
“Just what I was about to say,” Junsu piped, trying to catch her eye but she promptly ignored him.
“Well, at this point, we don’t have a plan regarding the case,” Youngwoon said, “Right?”
“Give me another week,” Kyuhyun insisted as he stood by the kitchen counter drinking juice, “No, no, three days! I’ll have a plan in three days!”
Youngwoon glanced at the younger man. He could tell that Kyuhyun was getting frustrated, desperate. He was one of the best tacticians in the entire NIB before becoming a field agent and had never taken more than a day to come up with an initial plan. He knew it annoyed Kyuhyun to no end that it had been several days already since they had the data and he still didn’t have a plan. Worse, he was sure Kyuhyun was still upset about having to ride a plane twice.
“A week for everyone,” Youngwoon said, “We need an initial plan and we need to be extremely careful in everything. When we ask questions, research, stalk – everything careful.”
“We know, we know,” they all chimed in unison,
“Well, it doesn’t hurt to repeat it,” their leader muttered. He ate several spoons of rice before he continued, “Until then, we need to train. We’ve been out of the field for two years –”
“Some of us,” Kyuhyun muttered, earning a glare from Sungmin,
“– and, so, some of our skills may not be up to par anymore. More importantly, once we’ve trained individually, we need to train as a team,” Youngwoon stated, “Out of the field and out of each other’s lives for two years, that’s a long time to change. We need to account for these changes and learn each other anew. We need to approach this as if we’re a whole new team and, yet, not.”
“That makes loads of sense,” Junsu rolled his eyes,
“Just do it,” he said,
“Sounds good,” Kyuhyun placed his glace in the sink along with his dishes, “I’ll see you guys this afternoon.”
“Don’t be rude, do your dishes first,” Junsu said,
“You’re doing dishes,” Kyuhyun replied,
“And, how do you figure that?” Junsu demanded, his glass stopping halfway to his lips,
“Youngwoon’s our Sector contact, Sungmin gave us his house, I cook, Taeyeon’s the team visual –”
“Thanks,” she interjected between bites,
“You’re welcome. So, outside of the team you’re the only one who needs a chore. So, you’re on dishes until this case is closed,” Kyuhyun summarized, a smug smirk on his young face.
They watched as the young man, dressed in slacks, button-up and tie, adjust the thick-framed glasses on his nose and check that his hair was still slicked back from his face. He ignored their amused looks as he picked up his leather work bag and left the kitchen.
“Is there somewhere on your grounds where we can train?” Junsu asked as he got up and added his own dishes to the sink, “If not, there are shooting ranges I’ll have to visit.”
“Oh, there is somewhere,” Sungmin answered, “And, Kyuhyun’s right. You’re on dish duty.” Junsu swore as Sungmin walked past him to the table to finally eat; “Have any of you seen my backyard?”
“Why? Is it as big as your house?” Junsu asked drily,
Sungmin took his time in answering just to spite him. Finally, after slowly chewing a piece of bacon, he replied, “Bigger.”
“Bigger? Sungmin, did you kill someone to get all this money?” Junsu asked as he started to wash the dishes, “Because the only thing bigger than your house is Korea.”
Did you kill someone? Youngwoon’s voice whispered through Sungmin’s ear.
Sungmin threw him a glare, not bothering to hide the conversation from the others, “Stay out of my head, Youngwoon. I have enough things going into my head unwanted; I don’t need your voice there, too.”
For once, Taeyeon and Junsu glanced at one another, confusion evident on their faces.
“I’ve been a mercenary the past two years; can we get over it now?” Sungmin questioned, glaring at his best friend.
Youngwoon stared back unrelentingly. After several heartbeats, he gave a curt nod, “After breakfast show us your backyard.”
“Junsu,” Youngwoon warned.
He, Junsu and Sungmin stood on the back terrace. The back terrace was on the level of the second floor, so it looked out over the entire backyard which seemed to take up the space of a dozen baseball diamonds. The backyard was a maze of natural and man-made obstacles at the core with numerous targets that worked mechanically, appearing at random times. The entire obstacle course was built atop several large metal panels. With just a push of a button, Sungmin was able to completely rearrange the obstacle course like a sliding-square puzzle. Lastly, to one side was a grassy clearing the size of a football field used for stationary target practice.
They watched as, down below, Taeyeon moved through the obstacle course as if she ran through it every day. Dressed in black spandex pants and fitted tank, she had braided her long hair to keep herself nimble and free from getting caught on anything. No wall was too high for her to make it over, no crevice too small for her to squeeze through. And, through it all, she moved with the gracefulness that she showed in her circus act. When she was done, she slowly made her way back to the terrace to join them, a long stone staircase leading up from the ground.
“No, he’s right. What she did out there was nothing short of beautiful,” Sungmin agreed. He held up a small touchpad computer, “Did you guys see what she was doing?”
“Running the course,” Youngwoon and Junsu replied in unison,
“She was hitting targets, too,” Sungmin said, showing them a chart with numbers, “She hit all but nine.”
“Out of?” Youngwoon prompted,
The other two whistled in appreciation.
“That is one heck of a course, Sungmin,” Taeyeon said, her breathing laboured as she reached them. She accepted the towel their leader tossed to her, wiping at her forehead, “I can’t wait to see what it is tomorrow.”
“You got sixty-six hits,” Sungmin showed her the touchpad, the image on the screen changing from the chart to multiple camera images, nine of them highlighted to show which targets she had missed.
“Damn,” Taeyeon hung her towel around her neck,
“That’s pretty damn good,” Youngwoon insisted,
“No,” Junsu spoke up, “In the past she would have gotten it perfect.”
“Junsu,” Youngwoon warned,
“No, he’s right,” Taeyeon said as she patted her face and neck with the towel once more, “I’ve got a ways to go still to get back to my former skill level. Do you run this every day?”
Sungmin nodded, “One of the reasons that I had it built to be able to change on a moment’s whim is to outwit my own future sight. I can’t control what future I see, but I can stop myself from picturing what obstacle course it might be.”
“How do I get my weapons back?” Taeyeon asked,
Sungmin had the grace to grimace, “It would have to be done manually, but we can cut the time by shifting around the plates.”
“You have such a high-tech playground built and you didn’t see as far as to how to return your weapons after target practice?” Taeyeon raised a brow,
“I think you forget that I’m a sniper shooter. Any weapon I use stays on my person so I never had to worry about weapon retrieval,” Sungmin defended,
“How many knives did you leave out there?” Junsu asked as he squatted down to tighten the laces on his running shoes,
Taeyeon did a quick inventory check on the numerous holsters she had strapped onto her tiny body; “Four, but I have no idea where I left them.”
Sungmin showed Junsu the computer screen.
Junsu’s eyes swept over the screen, “I’ll get them back while I do my run-through.”
“It’s okay –”
Junsu shot her a hard look, “It’s faster for me to go get them while I do the course instead of you having to do it manually even if we are sliding the plates around.”
Before Taeyeon could say another word, Junsu was sprinting down the stairs. Junsu was almost a blur as he made his way through Sungmin’s makeshift backyard. He sprinted over thick roots and between potholes. He vaulted over fallen logs, climbed up trees and jumped across ditches. There were a few times, however, when Junsu disappeared from sight altogether. It wasn’t that the thick nature hid him; rather, Junsu stepped into the shadows and disappeared only to appear elsewhere, stepping out of the darkness.
“I hate when he shadow walks,” Taeyeon grumbled as she began to unbuckle each of her holsters,
“I love it. It’s so useful in the field,” Youngwoon said, his eyes sweeping the large area trying to predict which shadow Junsu may spring from,
“Yeah, in the field. Outside of it he’s just a plain stalker,” Taeyeon said, lifting the hem of her shirt until she could hold it between her teeth so she could release the holsters wrapped around her torso, allowing her to keep several knives against her stomach and behind her back.
“You two have got to fix whatever issues you have,” Sungmin stated bluntly, turning his head to look her way, “I understand it can be awkward considering your former relationship but –”
When Sungmin didn’t finish, Taeyeon glanced up, “But, what? Hey!” She snapped, her hem falling into place as she spoke, “What’s with the staring!? We made an agreement when I first joined the team four years ago, remember? I’m not a female when we’re in team mode!”
“We did make that agreement,” Youngwoon agreed, his attention still on tracking Junsu in the backyard, finally catching sight of him amongst the greenery.
“B-butterfly,” Sungmin stammered,
That caught Youngwoon’s attention immediately. “What did you say?”
“Taeyeon has a butterfly tattoo on her ribs,” Sungmin said, his gaze going to Youngwoon’s, terror evident in the younger man’s eyes.
“So what if I do?” Taeyeon questioned, looking back and forth between the two; they were getting paler by the second.
Sungmin felt his heart seize when he saw black ink outlining a sapphire-blue butterfly wing. Now, after he had spoken the words, reality came crashing down around him along with the remembrance of his dream. His heart stuttered and, then, went into overdrive, his heart beating rapidly against his rips like the wings of a panicked butterfly. He stumbled backwards as he tried to put some distance between himself and Taeyeon, as if doing so would stop his dream from coming to pass.
“Sungmin,” their leader said carefully, slowly approaching him as if he was easily spooked, “This is Taeyeon we’re talking about. If something happens to her, she can heal herself.”
“Whoa, whoa, if what happens?” Taeyeon turned startled eyes towards Sungmin, “Tell me, I deserve to know!”
“No… no,” Sungmin shook his head fiercely, “If we try to change the future… no!”
Sungmin suddenly turned and ran back into the house. Taeyeon hesitated, then looked over at Youngwoon, “Don’t you dare say anything to Junsu.”
“No, I mean it, Youngwoon. This is my life and I make my own decisions. Junsu has no right to me anymore, so, if you want to keep me here, you keep what you know to yourself,” Taeyeon commanded, eyes narrowed.
Youngwoon stared at her for half a heartbeat and, yet, in that time so many thoughts crossed his mind. Taeyeon was no longer the young girl who was calm and cool, the one who kept all of their heated tempers in check. No, now she had found her own fire and it burned brightly in her dark eyes. However, he knew what she went through to find her anger, knew the pain she experienced to lose her previous control. She always had spark, but she never let it light up, never let herself get angry or explode with emotion. Now, it was as if she could barely reign in her temper.
“I need this, Youngwoon… I need to live again,” her tone dropped in volume and, all at once, the fire was extinguished by cool waters.
“I won’t tell Junsu,” he replied then because, what else could he say? They needed Taeyeon on their team but, more importantly, she needed them. She had secluded herself far more than any of the others and, even now, a part of her was trying desperately to keep her emotions away while she was forced in their presence. Taeyeon – who had always been compassion and affection incarnate. It was a sad thought that while she learned to express her darker emotions, she had found a reason to leash all other emotions.
Youngwoon had barely finished speaking before Taeyeon ran into the house after Sungmin. Once inside, she stilled for a bare moment, straining to hear a sound – any sound. She had been trained to hear the quietest of whispers and she worried now that the roar of the circus had dulled her ears. She heard the distant sound of a door closing and immediately ran in its direction. She tried to estimate how far the distance with the volume of the sound but knew that that couldn’t be completely reliable especially since Sungmin could have slammed the door or gently eased it close.
When she reached the main foyer, she paused again, listening, even going so far as to close her eyes to further her concentration. The clink of glass had her backtracking down the hall she had just come from until she reached a large door. Before she could press her ear to its surface to determine if the sounds came from within, she heard him call out,
“Just come in already,”
Taeyeon did so, finding herself in Sungmin’s study. She closed the door behind her and slowly approached the desk. Sungmin stood a few feet away beside a side table, a small glass tumbler in his hand and what she knew to be alcohol within; her sense of smell was as sensitive as ever.
“You knew I would run after you,” Taeyeon stated, knowing it pointless to question anytime Sungmin knew what was to come.
“Hence the drink,” Sungmin replied, emphasizing his words by drinking the rest in one go, “I need fortitude if we’re to have this conversation.”
Taeyeon sat down in one of the chairs before his desk, crossing one knee over the other, “What was it, Sungmin? What did you see?”
Sungmin splashed more drink into his tumbler and drank it down immediately. He placed the glass down almost too harshly on the side table before pacing over to the desk, but he didn’t sit down. Although he had seen blood in his dreams before, they were never about his team mates nor about himself. If there ever were such dreams and he couldn’t prevent them, he would have gone mad years ago. As it were, he was already going crazy in the brief time since he saw her butterfly tattoo.
“It wasn’t one of my normal premonitions. Those I get all the time,” Sungmin explained, “It was one of my dreams. The dreams can be extremely vague compared to my premonitions and I never know the time frame, never know when it will occur.”
“What did you see?” She repeated,
“I saw a blue butterfly and when I touched it, my hand came away with blood. Every dream I have that has blood means someone gets injured or killed,” Sungmin said, “And, I don’t mean paper cuts, they’re usually seriously injured.”
“Can it be prevented?”
Sungmin hesitated before shaking his head, “Like I said, I don’t know time frames. Remember, you’re just a possible answer to who the butterfly represents but, if you are the butterfly, I still don’t know when it is that you would be…”
“Injured or killed,” Taeyeon finished when the other could not. “And there’s no way to prevent it?”
Sungmin hesitated once more, then, finally admitted, “We could try to prevent it but past experience has shown me that trying to alter the future in any way will result in deadly consequences… always.”
“So, if your dream meant I was going to get injured and we tried to stop that from happening I could end up dead instead?” Taeyeon asked, her voice disturbingly flat,
Sungmin nodded once.
“Well, if your dream meant I’m to be injured, there’s some comfort in knowing that I can heal myself. If it’s a serious injury, it’ll take a bit longer, but I’ll heal faster than anyone else,” Taeyeon stated calmly,
“And, if it means the other?”
“We all must die eventually and we all came into this profession knowing it a very high possibility that we… perish before our time,” Taeyeon replied,
“What else do you expect me to say, Sungmin? I’m going crazy here and it’s taking everything I have to keep it together!” Taeyeon exclaimed, her calm finally beginning to slip.
“What will you do?” Sungmin asked,
She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward, propping her elbows on her knees and clasping her hands together; “Nothing. Like you said, if I try to change the future I’ll just end up dead or someone else could die. So, really, there’s no way out of this fate.”
“If you leave the case it may give you more time,” Sungmin said,
She shook her head, “The faster we get this done, then the more lives will be saved. All I can do is hope that I live long enough to help close this case.” She looked up at him, staring into his eyes directly; “Promise me you won’t tell Junsu.”
One of the reasons that Sungmin had drunk a second glass was because he knew she would ask such a thing of him. He knew he would accept, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. He knew the turmoil that would be involved with such a secret and in keeping it, but he couldn’t change the future.
Sungmin nodded as he got up and strode to the side table once more.
Taeyeon slowly rose from her chair, “I must leave practice for now, there is somewhere I need to go. If Kyuhyun cooks dinner, tell him I’ll be back by then.”
She made it halfway across the room when she heard the shatter of glass against the ground. She turned back to find Sungmin standing by the side table, staring at her, shock evident in his face and his little glass tumbler in pieces at his feet.
“Sungmin?” As if realizing too late what premonition he may have, she immediately ran across the room towards him, her hands grabbing his arms fiercely, “Sungmin, no!”
“I… I can’t believe it… tell me I’m wrong, Taeyeon,” Sungmin replied just as fiercely, “Tell me what I’m thinking about what I just saw is wrong.”
Taeyeon felt her mouth go dry. Even though Sungmin hadn’t said what he saw, she had a horrible feeling that she knew exactly what he saw in his vision. “Don’t say a word, Sungmin, please! Please!”
Sungmin pulled out of her hold and paced away. He ran a hand through his half-head of hair, practically growling, “How can you ask me of that!? I can only keep silent about so many things, Taeyeon, but about this!? That’s just wrong!”
“I can explain, please, Sungmin!” She followed him, grasping his arms once more. Her eyes pleaded with him, “Come with me and maybe… maybe you’ll understand.”
“What is there to understand!?” Sungmin demanded, knowing he was yelling at her now,
“Why I left two years ago,” came her reply, her voice barely about a whisper.
There was something in her voice which seemed to twist a knife in his heart. He couldn’t ignore the way she pleaded with him, couldn’t ignore the desperation evident within her. When he spoke again, his voice was much calmer,
“I haven’t been able to look in the mirror for two years, Sungmin,” Taeyeon admitted, “I haven’t been able to see who I’ve become and acknowledge what I’ve done. That last mission hurt me just as deeply as the rest of you but knowing it was my arrogance that caused how it ended –”
“You can’t possibly believe you’re to blame?”
“ – shattered me,” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “I felt that I had to prove myself because I was the only female on the team. I had to show that I was strong enough, good enough to handle any situation on my own. I should have waited for back up before confronting that target especially because she was armed and unstable, but I went ahead alone. That mission has humbled me more than you can imagine and since then…”
Her hands dropped from his arms and he was alarmed to see the deep resignation on her face. She was always a fighter, determined and sure. He thought he would never see the day when she would give up and, yet, there they were and she looked as if hope was a distant memory.
“Since then I have been trying to find a way to redeem myself. I have been trying to find my worth again,” Taeyeon confessed, her voice broken; “It’s been two years and I still don’t think I’m worthy and, so… I stayed away… I stayed away because if I hadn’t, I couldn’t have let go and if I didn’t let go, I would have spread the taint and dishonour.”
“Taeyeon, you are not dishonoured and you certainly don’t bring any taint with you,” Sungmin insisted, his voice soft.
“Come with me,” Taeyeon insisted again, “You’ll understand why I ask for silence if you come.”
Sungmin stared directly into her eyes, eyes that had once been so full of light and warmth. Why hadn’t he seen sooner how dull and dead they now appeared? Once again, he found himself agreeing to a bargain sure to bring about more pain.
It was in the late afternoon before Kyuhyun rejoined his team mates. He had driven up to the house just as Sungmin and Taeyeon were exiting a car together. He raised a brow at them but didn’t say anything as they all entered the house together. Without a single word to each other, they all dispersed into their own areas of the house. Kyuhyun returned to his assigned bedroom and changed out of his work clothes. He pulled on jeans and a plain white t-shirt, revelling in the comfort the clothes brought him. He felt so wound up all day and, yet, coming back to that house to be with those people brought a calmness in him that he had long forgotten. He wondered why that was when his solitude the past two years were supposed to achieve the same feeling. Once he was done changing, he left his room and went to the back terrace where he knew he would find their leader.
He found Youngwoon sitting at the top of the stairs which led down to the backyard. With his elbows propped on his arms and his laboured breathing, Kyuhyun assumed that their faithful leader had just finished some kind of training exercise. In the distance, he saw movement amongst the foliage and knew that Junsu was having his turn, too.
At the sound of footsteps, Youngwoon glanced up, “Come to train, slacker?”
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes, “Unlike you people who can drop your jobs and come play in Sungmin’s forest, I can’t.”
“How was work?” Youngwoon asked, the words odd on his lips. He had asked it often enough of Eeteuk, but to ask Kyuhyun, such a mundane question as if they hadn’t been separated for two years, it was unfamiliar but not a bad feeling.
Kyuhyun shrugged his shoulders as he slowly walked down the steps, Youngwoon quickly following him towards the shooting range, “Work is work. I teach a bunch of brats calculus and physics. I may enjoy the subjects, but they do not. I took the job because it was close to what I was doing before in the NIB.”
“Why didn’t you just stay after we all retired?” Youngwoon asked, “I know your reasons for leaving the field, but you could have returned to your old job, if not for The Sector, then at least the NIB.”
Kyuhyun reached the shooting range, walking up to a table that Sungmin had set up for them. He grabbed one of the ear protectors and shrugged again, “It didn’t feel right to stay when none of you were with me,” he admitted, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. Putting on the protectors, he effectively cut off the conversation.
Grabbing a pair for himself, Youngwoon watched as Kyuhyun pulled a small revolver gun from a holster hiding beneath his shirt. There was a remote on the table and Youngwoon picked it up, Sungmin having told him that it would alter the distances and heights of the targets. However, before he could adjust any of the targets, Kyuhyun shot six times at a target that was lined up in front of him. However, the target was twenty metres away.
“Set it back five metres,” Kyuhyun yelled, holding up five fingers on the chance that Youngwoon hadn’t heard him.
The same target slowly began to shift backwards. Once it stopped moving, Kyuhyun had already reloaded the gun with six more bullets. Immediately, he fired them at the target now twenty-five metres away. Kyuhyun placed the revolver onto the table and then withdrew a black SIG Sauer. He held up five fingers and Youngwoon knew he wanted the target moved back again. Once in place, Kyuhyun held up the gun, took aim and shot several times at the target. Kyuhyun turned to signal for the leader to move the target again, but Youngwoon had taken off his ear protectors. Kyuhyun shifted so one of the pads moved off his ear,
“Give me a moment,” Youngwoon said as he made the target move towards them.
When it couldn’t move any closer, stopping five metres away, Youngwoon closed the distance and approached the target. The targets were paper bull’s-eyes secured to planks of wood several inches thick so, even though the target was ripped, it could still be used again. Youngwoon was amazed to find that a hole a few inches in diameter was in the centre of the target. All of Kyuhyun’s shots had hit in almost the same area despite the varying distances.
“You’ve been practicing,” Junsu was with them then, his breathing heavy after exerting himself in the obstacle course,
Kyuhyun shrug, “I was only a field agent a year before we all retired, but I always knew there was the potential for me to come back to The Sector. As such, I kept practicing at shooting ranges.”
“You didn’t want to be behind anymore,” Youngwoon guessed,
Kyuhyun hesitated before answer. He had never admitted such to the team when he joined them. However, having been a tactician first and having minimal field training before coming to their team, he had always felt inferior to the others. He knew that it was reasonable considering he was so new to the field, but he hated it. Growing up, he had always been the genius, academics a second nature to him. When he finally wanted to branch out into something new, something that would truly challenge him like no puzzle could, he had found he hated feeling incompetent. Having to actually try for the first time in his life, he hated not being the best.
“You think I didn’t realize when I was never sent in to do the more difficult individual tasks and, if I was, I was partnered with someone?” Kyuhyun asked quietly, replacing his firearms into their hidden holsters.
“We did that with all new field agents, Kyuhyun,” Youngwoon insisted, “The only other agent I’ve always been with is Sungmin. We’ve had agents come and go, but we always did that with them. You’ve had the least amount of field training and the only reason you were allowed to become a field agent was because of your tactician skills.”
“And my telekinesis,” Kyuhyun added, a self-deprecating tone in his voice, “Had Taeyeon never found out about my telekinesis, I never would have become a field agent.”
“Do you blame her for that? Do you wish you were never a field agent?” Youngwoon questioned,
“I wish I wasn’t defined by it,” Kyuhyun explained. He sighed heavily, “Both of you, Sungmin and Taeyeon were all agents of The Sector because you were good agents. You guys were the best. Your other talents only add to your natural skills. But, me? I was a tactician for four years. Youngwoon, why did you approach me to be a field agent other than because Taeyeon told you about my telekinesis?”
Youngwoon didn’t answer. He and Sungmin had trained together and had been more than partners, they became friends. Through a fluke of fate, they found out about each other’s special abilities and, from that moment on, decided that they would always be teamed up. Several other people joined their team and moved on to other teams, other occupations, but when they happened upon Junsu during his training, they immediately realized he was one of them. Once they recruited Junsu to their team, they decided to find others like them, others who had special abilities that the general public didn’t have or even know about.
Taeyeon had joined their team simply because they were assigned a case and before beginning any of the missions associated with that case, they realized they needed at least a fourth agent to assist. The desk agent who had been assigned for their case had known Taeyeon to be considered an elite agent. She was never a fixed member on a team, but was chosen for missions here and there by several of the other teams. After that mission with her, they convinced her to join their team because she was so skilled. It wasn’t until a several months later that they realized that she, too, had a special talent. Then, one day, she approached them and told them about Kyuhyun. It was decided on that spot to recruit him. Their team wouldn’t be like any other. They would be the greatest. The best of the best, made only better by hidden abilities.
But, Kyuhyun was right. He had been recruited because of his telekinesis, not his talent as a field agent.
“Then, you do what you got to do to prove yourself to you, but Kyuhyun, I hope you know that you don’t have to prove your worth to us. Yes, it was your telekinesis that brought you to the team, but you have brought so much more than that,” Junsu piped up.
Kyuhyun sighed heavily. He hated how whiny he sounded to himself; “Thanks guys,” he walked beside the others back towards the terrace,
“That’s why you rarely used it in the field, isn’t it?” Youngwoon asked, “You hardly used it at all unless moving something would be dangerous to do manually.”
Kyuhyun nodded, “You all have these skills as agents and I didn’t want to make it easier on myself by doing the same things with my telekinesis. If I want to pick a lock, I want to do it using the same tools as you guys, not using my mind to move the tumblers.”
“Makes sense,” Junsu murmured as they reached the terrace. “Well, boys, I’m exhausted. I haven’t done this much exercise in years. I’ll see you guys at dinner. Are you cooking, Kyuhyun?”
“If you do dishes,” Kyuhyun smirked,
Junsu chuckled as he disappeared into the shadows.
“I hate it when he does that,” Youngwoon rubbed the back of his neck wearily, “It’s just… so creepy. Are you coming in?”
“Later. I want my own run through in the obstacle course,” Kyuhyun answered,
Youngwoon nodded, “Alright, just use the remote and you can move stuff around.” He laughed, “And, you guys thought the stuff in my flower shop was intense. Sungmin made his own training ground.”
As Youngwoon walked back to the house, he heard the plates moving and knew that the obstacle course was changing its layout once more. He was at the door when he realized that he had never handed over the remote to the younger man. Whirling around, he found Kyuhyun already gone from the terrace. They had rarely seen Kyuhyun’s talents and when they did, it was always small moving tasks. Now, he began to wonder what else the youngest male was hiding up his sleeve.
“How strong are you?” Youngwoon pondered before re-entering the house.
“Your backyard is the best toy ever!” Junsu exclaimed happily at dinner that evening.
Youngwoon gave an indulgent smile, Sungmin smirked, Kyuhyun rolled his eyes and Taeyeon fought from smiling.
“The next house I’m living in is definitely going to have a backyard like yours,” Junsu decided between bites of his meal, “How much did it cost?”
“Clearly you haven’t realized how huge this place is,” Kyuhyun murmured behind a glass of water,
“How did you manage to buy this place?” Youngwoon asked,
“It wasn’t on a mercenary’s salary,” Taeyeon commented lightly. When the others stared at her in blatant curiosity, she shrugged a shoulder, “Before joining the circus, I considered my occupational options. Even if you did a job every day for the past two years, I doubt you would have afforded both this house and the backyard’s accommodations. Besides, your land is ridiculously expansive.”
Sungmin remained silent at first. He wasn’t sure how much he wanted to tell them. Before, he wouldn’t have hesitated answering their questions. He never volunteered personal information, but he didn’t mind sharing when pressed upon. Indeed, there was no one he trusted more than Youngwoon. Surely if he trusted these four people with his life, then he could trust them with his past?
Carefully, he placed his glass on the table, the movement silent; “I didn’t buy the house or the property. I inherited it and, then, my mercenary’s salary paid for my backyard.”
“You inherited this!?” Junsu exclaimed, waving his arms to indicate everything around them,
Kyuhyun raised a brow, but quiet appreciation was evident in his expression.
“I had a feeling you were rich,” Youngwoon admitted from across the table. When Sungmin sent him a speculative look, he explained, “When we first started as trainees, you were very… stiff. No, that’s not a good way to say it… You held yourself aloof; you had this quiet haughtiness about you but training beat it out of you.”
“My father wanted me to take over the family business after high school. Applying to the NIB was my little rebellion. When he died, I inherited everything,” Sungmin explained, forcing a strength into his voice he didn’t feel so that it didn’t break, didn’t reveal how he felt inside.
Silence fell amongst them as they continued their meals. It was several minutes later before someone spoke again.
“Did you guys realize that we worked together for so long and, yet, we hardly know anything about each other?” Junsu asked quietly, “I’m not saying we have to be the best of friends, but, well… outside of the team, I didn’t have anyone else. How could I with the life I led?”
Silence once more.
In that moment, Taeyeon remembered why it had been so easy to fall in love with him so long ago and why it was so hard to fall out of love. In their team, Junsu had been the mood maker. He was the one who had a smile and a joke for every occasion. He could cut tension with a laugh like a hot knife through butter. He was also possibly the most honest out of them all. He never withheld his thoughts or feelings, his face so very expressive that the other guys had teased him often about being more emotional than her. He never cared, however, because he accepted who he was, accepted who they all were. He accepted who she was.
“There were so many times I wanted to call each of you… wanted to go find you all,” Junsu continued even as he kept eating; “But, I kept thinking to myself why should I when they won’t? Who am I to believe that they would want to talk to me, want to see me? If I had known or had the smallest bit of hope that any of you appreciated me as a friend outside of the team, there would have been no way in hell that two years would have gone by before I saw any of you again.”
Junsu was the first to finish his meal. He picked up his dishes and placed them in the sink. Silently, he began to wash them dutifully, the atmosphere thick.
“Were we ever friends?” Kyuhyun asked, his voice without its usual derision.
“Kyuhyun!” Sungmin scolded,
Youngwoon and Junsu remained silent, both recalling the conversation they had with him earlier.
“I know I was only with you guys for a year, but I never got the notice that we were friends,” he shrugged as he gathered his dishes and brought them over to Junsu; “What do any of you know about me other than I’m smart and that I have telekinetic skills?” When no one answered immediately, he continued, “When no one contacted me, I thought to myself that perhaps I was the only one no one talked to after we left The Sector. Youngwoon and Sungmin had known each other since their trainee days, Junsu and Taeyeon had been in an intimate relationship… I was the only one without a solid connection to the rest of you.”
“How can you say that!?” Taeyeon demanded, “How many years did we know each other, Kyuhyun!?”
He returned her glare with a calm, emotionless stare of his own, “And how many times did we meet outside of work, Taeyeon? How many times did we talk of anything other than work? You didn’t even know my phone number in all those years.”
Taeyeon quieted immediately, the fire leaving her eyes, but she didn’t look away.
“Maybe that’s how we should treat this case. We’re all here to do a job and, after that, we can all go our separate ways again,” Kyuhyun said, “Or maybe I’m the only one going in a different direction.”
“The only one who kept in contact with all of us was Youngwoon,” Taeyeon stated, “Other than him, we were all on our own, too, Kyuhyun.”
“But, you didn’t have to be. You all had your own connections to each other, you were all just too blind to see them,” Kyuhyun countered; “I’m the expendable one.”
He left then, horrified at how emotional he had become. What was wrong with him? He had always known where he stood with the others, so, why was it he wanted more now? As he strode through the mansion, up the large main staircase and towards his room, he realized the truth. The past two years had hurt him more than he had allowed himself to acknowledge. Just like Junsu, he had nothing outside of the team.
He had grown up doted on by his parents; parents who had been infinitely proud of him and, in their eyes, he could do no wrong. But, without them in his life, who did he have left? He hated how despondent he had become on the way to his room, hated how his eyes now seemed to burn and his throat seemed to be clogging with emotion.
Kyuhyun had almost made it to his door, when suddenly he was turned around and pushed up against it. He was surprised to find Sungmin before him, the older man’s hands digging into his shoulders,
“You aren’t any more expendable than the rest of us, Kyuhyun,” Sungmin’s voice was a low growl, “You think just because we knew each other for much longer that you weren’t a part of our circle? You think just because Taeyeon didn’t contact you over the past two years that your friendship with her was non-existent? Have you ever considered that perhaps she had her reasons – very damn good reasons – to keep her distance not just from you but from all of us!?”
Kyuhyun laughed bitterly, “Who are you to come and preach to me, Sungmin? In the year that we worked together all we’ve done is argue. What kind of basis is that for any kind of friendship?”
“We argue because I know you so well that I know how to piss you off,” Sungmin insisted; “I know you hate it when your intelligence is challenged and I know you hate feeling incompetent. I know you like drinking coffee in the morning, but always hid it from us because you didn’t want us to tease you for wanting it so sweet.”
“I know you’re an only child and both of your parents died in a car crash just before you became a field agent,” Sungmin continued, his expression softening ever so slightly; “It’s why you so readily accepted Youngwoon’s offer, isn’t it? It was more than just the challenge such a thing would present you. It was something so completely different from what you’ve done all your life and after their deaths that’s what you needed.”
Kyuhyun lost his voice in that moment. How did Sungmin know such things about him? It dawned on Kyuhyun then that, all the time he spent watching Sungmin and secretly learning about him, Sungmin had done the same. It was why they were able to argue so much, they knew just how to anger each other. He wondered if the older man did it for the same reasons; he did it to get a reaction out of Sungmin. He had a peculiar urge to incite some kind of emotion in the other, even if it was antagonistic. He had been correct the other night: there was more of Sungmin he had to learn.
“You want to be friends? Fine, we can work on friendship. I think that’s what we all need after these two years apart,” Sungmin said, “But don’t you ever think that this team can function as a whole without you, Kyuhyun. Yes, we were a team without you, but after you joined us, we became so much more. We became near perfect.”
“That still means that the team would be fine without me,” Kyuhyun argued,
“But, I would not!” Sungmin’s voice didn’t go above his soft growl and, yet, it increased in intensity and Kyuhyun felt those words, that voice, to his very core. Sungmin’s fox-like eyes were barely discernible in the dimly lit corridor, but Kyuhyun could see them slowly sweep over his face as if searching for something. Slowly, Sungmin straightened and dropped his hands from him; “I would not be fine,” he repeated, his words barely audible.
Before Kyuhyun could even think of how to reply or what those words meant to him, Sungmin turned and left.
Eeteuk knew he was being followed. He wasn’t like Youngwoon with his special ability, but he had natural instinct and, for him, that had saved his life more than once as a field agent. It was the prickling sensation on the back of his neck; that peculiar feeling that someone was looking at him for far too long. He had been going to work at the oddest of hours, staying for as long as twelve hours and for as short as thirty minutes. He was sporadic and he never spoke to the same person two days in a row. He had to remain random, remain unpredictable.
Last night had been the first night in years without Youngwoon beside him. He couldn’t help the feeling of loneliness that permeated his very being when Youngwoon had packed and left their house Sunday morning. He had filled his day with going through the case files with a fine-toothed comb, trying to find anything that the previous team may have missed. It had been near impossible for him to sleep in his lonely bed that night. When he went to work that morning late, it had been completely by accident; he had slept in.
Now, it was nearing midnight and he felt it a good hour to head home. Travelling at night was both advantageous and not. He had the cover of darkness, shadows aiding him everywhere. However, the streets were quite since it was Monday night. He knew the street he lived on would be completely scarce of any life at that late hour. There were no crowds for him to disappear into should the need arise.
He saw luck in the form of a city bus nearby. He immediately hurried to the closest bus stop and waited. He had opted for public transportation ever since he gave the case over to Youngwoon’s team. It was less predictable and it was more difficult to sabotage compared to a car whose breaks could be cut. As he casually boarded the bus, he sat down near the driver, scanning through the windows. He would be able to easily identify anyone who boarded after him and he had a quick exit should the need arise. When no one boarded after him and the bus pulled away from the curb, he knew he had escaped his pursuers for the time being.
However, he knew the pursuit was in no way finished. Something about those following him bothered him. A trained agent wouldn’t have been detected so easily, even against Eeteuk’s trained instincts. There was something sloppy in the way he had detected his followers and managed to escape them. While he rode the bus, he slipped out a small tablet computer and engaged it immediately. He and Youngwoon had wired their home security themselves with the latest technologies. If someone so much as even tried the front door’s knob, he would be able to know on his computer.
After a few minutes analyzing the data on his computer, he knew it was safe to go home that night.