“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.”
Taeyeon entered the hospital room dressed in pale-washed jeans and a sweater at least two sizes too big. Her sneakers were worn and old-looking, the laces no longer white. Her hair was tucked in beneath a cap as a pair of square-framed glasses too big for her face was perched on her nose. She had a tattered old backpack slung to one shoulder as she nodded a thanks to the nurse who had shown her the private room. She shut the door behind her as she approached the bed, tossing her bag to the ground,
“Oh, Cho Kyuhyun, you have a lot of explaining to do,” she sighed, happy to see the young man was awake.
She had heard his voice call out to her in the early morning, somehow waking her from the deepest sleep she had ever been in. An extension of her healing abilities, including she was able to accurate assess an injury, was she was able to sense a person’s pain. She heard it in his voice and felt his pain through their mental connection. When he didn’t reply to her call, she began putting a call to the hospital closest to his high school and confirmed with the emergency department that her ‘brother’ would indeed come through there, the ambulance still at the scene of a car crash.
“Nice disguise,” Kyuhyun murmured, a goofy smile on his face as he laid flat in the bed,
“Pain medication? Awesome, makes my job even easier,” Taeyeon said, “And, besides, do you expect me to show up here dressed like how I was a few nights ago? Someone might recognize me as the nurse from that code blue. We’re fortunate no one realized you were the doctor from that night.”
“Car crash,” Kyuhyun smiled up at her,
“Yeah, so I was told, along with three broken ribs, a pneumothorax, heavy abdominal bleeding and a dislocated shoulder. They said the pneumothorax was so severe they’re surprised you even survived,” her eyes narrowed as she added, “Especially considering you even got up and helped pull a man from a car.”
“Had to save him, didn’t I?”
“I’m not upset you saved him. I’m upset you got hurt!” Taeyeon hit the bed railing since she couldn’t hit him. She sighed heavily, dislodging her hat so she could run a hand through her hair in frustration; “What’s the plan, Kyuhyun? I’m assuming if you called me that you want to hide this from the others?”
“Not hide all of it, just hide how bad I was hurt,” Kyuhyun replied, “And I want out of the hospital… although I do love these medications.”
Taeyeon rolled her eyes, “So, I’ll heal you all up?”
“Not all up, just enough to convince the doctor I can be discharged,” Kyuhyun smiled up at her again. He scrunched up his face momentarily, “Sungmin’s been yelling at me all morning, but I don’t want to answer him yet.”
“Alright, I’ll get you stable, and then we’ll heal the rest of your injuries back at the house,” Taeyeon said, rolling up the sleeves of her over-sized sweater up past her elbows. “Although, this may have been easier if you called Youngwoon. He could’ve convinced the doctor to not only discharge you, but to even help bring your things down to the car. As such, we’ll have to take a taxi back.”
“Do you think they’ll give me more of these pills before we leave?” Kyuhyun asked indolently,
“You’re fine now, but you may not be once I start healing you,” Taeyeon reminded, “No matter what, Kyuhyun, you can’t let out even a peep or those nurses will be in here as quick as lightning.”
Kyuhyun merely smiled at her, but his expression almost immediately turned sour the moment Taeyeon brought her hands to lie on his stomach. She sensed the injured tissue there and concentrated on healing it, ensuring that the vessels no longer bled and his organs were hale again. Once she was sure his abdomen was completely healed, she gently slid her hands up to his chest. She found the broken ribs easily: all three were on his right side, one of them the cause of the pneumothorax. Concentrating on only healing the lung tissue, she made sure the tissue netted back together, good as new without any scar tissue. She double checked to make sure there wasn’t any residual blood so that all there was room for was air. She left his ribs broken and his shoulder, although reset, left the ligaments and tendons stretched as they were.
She was rolling down her sleeves just as the doctor entered, a clipboard in her hand,
“You are Cho-sshi’s sister?” At Taeyeon’s nod, the doctor raised a brow, “I didn’t see anything in his records about a sister,”
“Because we’re not siblings by blood,” Taeyeon swiftly answered, “We’re cousins, but we’re all each other has since we’re both only children.”
The doctor addressed Kyuhyun, “Do you agree to allow her to remain as we speak?”
“Of course, I called her here, after all,” Kyuhyun answered, his previous lethargy wiped away from the pain of being healed.
“Cho-sshi, I’d like to keep you here at least overnight. We want to monitor the abdominal bleeding and to ensure your lungs don’t fill up with blood again,” the doctor explained, glancing at the sheets in front of her,
“Doctor, please check again,” Kyuhyun insisted, “My sister and I don’t have enough money to afford an overnight stay at the hospital. If I’m stable, please let me go. I’ll visit my family doctor for any follow-ups needed.”
The doctor sighed heavily putting down her clipboard on the mattress and taking her stethoscope from around her neck, “I’ll check your abdomen and your lungs, but I don’t expect there to be much improvement from this morning’s tests, Cho-sshi. I understand the urgency, but your health should come before money.”
She exposed Kyuhyun’s abdomen and torso, pulling his gown out of the way. Using her stethoscope, she took a few minutes listening to the different quadrants of his abdomen. Carefully, she began to palpate his stomach shallowly. She then used both her hands to percuss, the fore- and index-fingers of one hand tapping against the fingers of the other hand as they lay atop various parts of his abdomen. Dull and tympanic sounds were heard and Taeyeon knew what each meant; she hid a small smile.
Next, the doctor began to listen to the front of his chest, having him take deep breaths every time she moved the diaphragm of her stethoscope. She walked around the bed to the right side and had Kyuhyun roll towards his left as best he could. She listened to his lungs from the back and, when she was done, she was evidently perplexed.
“What’s with that look, Doctor? I’m not sure I’m liking it,” Kyuhyun said, trying to hide the fact that he knew exactly what she had assessed.
“Well, Cho-sshi, to be honest, I’m not sure what it is that I just assessed. After all of my assessments, everything seems fine; a normal result for both assessments,” the doctor explained, hooking her stethoscope around her neck and picking up her clip board once more, “Which is vastly different upon your admittance to this unit and certainly different from what the lab results show. I want to run more blood tests, an ultrasound and x-ray just to make sure what I heard was correct, but if everything looks good, you may have your wish to be discharged.”
The doctor shook her head lightly as she left, scribbling furiously on her clipboard.
“It seems we’ve confused her, my dear Kyuhyun,” Taeyeon said softly the moment the door closed behind the doctor,
“I do feel sorry for that, but I can’t spend any more time lying around here when I need to be breaking into the database,” Kyuhyun smiled, “But, at least with this I can be off work without being reprimanded by the principal. How long do you think I can get off work for this?”
“A week at the most, perhaps? Your job isn’t physically straining, so, with the proper braces the doctor will give you the okay to return to work by then. Of course, we can have Youngwoon talk to your principal and convince him you shouldn’t be back to work until you’re in top condition.”
Kyuhyun sighed heavily, observing the IV in the back of his hand; “I have to answer Sungmin, soon, don’t I? His yelling is getting angrier.”
“You should’ve answered him immediately if you didn’t want him to get suspicious!” Taeyeon scolded,
“I was in too much pain before and, then I was unconscious. Now… now I just don’t want him to be angry,” Kyuhyun sighed again, dropping his arm to the bed,
“Angry? Kyuhyun, he’s probably going crazy with worry for you!” Taeyeon reached out, brushing strands of his hair from his forehead, “Answer him, tell him you were busy at work and that’s why you didn’t reply. Tell him you’ll see him after work.”
Kyuhyun! Why the hell haven’t you been answering me!? Fuck, you have no idea how… what the hell happened to you!? Why did you leave the house so early!? Damn it, WHY DIDN’T YOU ANSWER ME!?
Kyuhyun scrunched up his face at how loud his voice echoed in his head.
Taeyeon took his left hand in hers, using her other hand to pat it, giving him a show of support.
I was really busy at work. Everything is fine. I’ll see you after work, okay?
No, not okay, Kyuhyun. I understand you’re at work, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to reply to me. I’ve been calling out to you for hours!
If you stop yelling at me, I promise you can yell at me later when I get back.
Kyuhyun silently swore at himself. He should’ve known that Sungmin would see through his deceit immediately. I’ll talk to you later. Then, he did what he should’ve done that morning, something he hadn’t done in years: he put up layers of mental blocks in his mind so that Sungmin was unable to communicate with him. It took conscious effort for him to do so and he wasn’t sure how long he could sustain it, but it was better than continuing to lie to him.
“Ugh, what did you do?” Taeyeon released his hand to cover her ears as if she could physically keep the telepathy out of her head, “Sungmin’s yelling at all of us now.”
“I blocked his path to me. He can’t talk to me unless I open up the path again,” Kyuhyun explained,
“Ah, so now he’s trying all of ours trying to get to you,” Taeyeon sighed, “There’s going to be a lot of yelling when we get back to the house, isn’t there?”
Kyuhyun gave her a weak smile, “We don’t have time to be fighting. We need to finish this case.”
Taeyeon smiled back in response, ignoring Sungmin calling out to all of them once more.
Junsu was finishing his run around the perimeter of Sungmin’s entire estate when he saw the taxi drawing up to the front gates. He sprinted over when he saw the person exiting the back seat was Taeyeon, excited to see her even if he was wearing jogging pants, a simple t-shirt and was drenched in sweat. He held the door open as she helped Kyuhyun out.
“What’s going on?” Junsu asked as Taeyeon paid the driver,
Taeyeon glanced at Kyuhyun as the taxi drove off.
“Okay, obviously it’s something that would make Sungmin mad because he was screaming for you earlier on the mental path he shares with me,” Junsu said, crossing his arms over his chest,
“He was annoying, wasn’t he?” Taeyeon grinned,
Junsu fought the urge to grin back, instead narrowed his eyes at her, “Don’t try to distract me. And, why are you dressed like that?”
Taeyeon sighed, wishing she had changed out of her disguise. She gently nudged Kyuhyun’s uninjured arm with her elbow, “Just tell him so we don’t have two people mad at us.”
“Mad at us? I’m the one at fault,” Kyuhyun replied,
“Yeah, but you made me an accomplice the moment you called me this morning,” Taeyeon countered,
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on before I tell Sungmin we’re here!?” Junsu yelled above their bickering, his voice impossibly raspy,
“He’s probably waiting for us at the front door by now,” Taeyeon said, “You know how inconvenient his visions can be.”
“Taeyeon,” he grounded out,
“I was in a car accident this morning and Taeyeon healed me enough that I could leave the hospital so we can continue with this damn case,” Kyuhyun blurted out. He let out a frustrated breath, “If only Sungmin were here so I didn’t have to repeat it.”
“Car accident!? Are you okay!?” Junsu suddenly stepped in front of the younger man, trying to look for injuries,
“I will be once we get back to the house so Taeyeon can finish healing me,” Kyuhyun explained, “It wouldn’t do well to suddenly have no injuries at all.”
“Did they give you any medication when you were discharged?” Junsu questioned,
“Because Taeyeon can’t heal you unless you take those meds,” Junsu stated,
“Junsu! Who are you to say –”
Don’t fight me on this, Taeyeon. You forget I was with you last night. I don’t ever want to see you in pain again if you can avoid it.
Taeyeon stared at him, frustrated through and through. She was frustrated he was trying to dictate to her and frustrated he was being so damn nice about it. She was frustrated at the warmth she saw in his eyes even if they were narrowed at her. And, lastly, she was frustrated that she woke up that morning remembering the feel of his arms around her, almost as if she had slept beside him.
“I’m not completely without sense. I made sure he had his meds before I healed him this morning,” Taeyeon muttered. She glanced at Kyuhyun, “Are you okay to walk to the house from here?”
Kyuhyun nodded, “These meds do wonders unless you’re healing me.”
Junsu went to stand on the other side of Kyuhyun, just in case.
“That shoulder had been dislocated,” Taeyeon warned, “It’s been set, but I haven’t had a chance to finish healing it.”
Junsu nodded his understand and, as a trio, made the long trek up to the house.
As expected, Sungmin was waiting for them at the front door, Youngwoon beside him. They were climbing the steps when Youngwoon put a restraining hand on the younger man’s shoulder,
“Remember what we talked about, Sungmin? Give him a chance to explain,” Youngwoon reminded firmly,
When the trio reached the top of the stairs, Sungmin’s gaze immediately pinned onto Kyuhyun. He wasn’t sure why, but Kyuhyun felt as if the anger and blatant betrayal in the older man’s eyes hurt more than the injuries he sustained that morning.
“I’m glad you’re alive,” Sungmin interrupted, his tone curt. He shook of Youngwoon’s hand and stalked back into the house.
“How could you not tell him you were okay, Kyuhyun?” Youngwoon hissed,
Kyuhyun winced, dropping his gaze. He had never seen their leader so mad before.
“He’s been going crazy for hours!” Youngwoon revealed, “Do you know how hard it’s been for me to keep him distracted this morning? Then, when he knew you should be at work and you didn’t reply to his calls, I couldn’t distract him anymore!”
“You were with him before I was at work? At breakfast?”
“I’ve kept Sungmin with me since you last saw him early this morning,” Youngwoon replied, “I tried to make him run the obstacle course, but he couldn’t even do that much; he was so distracted with worry!”
“He wasn’t the only one!” Youngwoon admitted then, running both hands through his hair, “I knew Sungmin was worried, why he was worried and…” He let out a frustrated breath, “You should’ve said something sooner, Kyuhyun!” Youngwoon paced a few steps away, before briskly returning, “You think you mean so little to the team, but you have no idea what kind of hell we went through not knowing how you were!”
Kyuhyun was horrified to feel the hot sting of tears. He was glad he had his face lowered, knowing that later, once all the seriousness passed, the others would tease him for crying. Suddenly, he was in a strong embrace, squeezed tightly, the pain running around and up his ribs, his right shoulder aching. At Kyuhyun’s sudden yell, Youngwoon released him, staring at him with confusion,
“Youngwoon, you’re crying!?” Kyuhyun gaped, startled at the discover,
Their leader swiped at his tears as he stared at the younger man, “Why did you yell out? What’s wrong?” Before Kyuhyun could answer, Youngwoon reached out, pulling the other’s shirt up and revealing the heavily bruised chest. “Shit. Okay, yelling will continue after we get you healed. Taeyeon?”
She nodded in reply as Youngwoon herded Kyuhyun into the house. As she moved to follow, Junsu grabbed her hand, stalling her.
“Junsu?” She looked at him questioningly,
“Don’t overdo it,” he replied quietly. When it looked like she would argue, he added softly, “Please.”
Taeyeon nodded in agreement. Junsu stared at her for another half-heartbeat before he reluctantly released her hand.
“Are we really another step closer, Sungmin?” Youngwoon stood behind the chair where the younger man sat, looking over his shoulder at the laptop open on the desk,
“That’s how it looks,” Sungmin pressed a few keys and a video window popped up on the computer screen; “This is when Kwon left the restaurant. Almost immediately, the person leaves also, however, they wait outside of the restaurant, but their gaze is in the direction Kwon left. Soon after, they follow.”
“It’s not much to go on, but it’s more than anything,” Youngwoon agreed, “Are you able to zoom in enough to get a visual on the person’s face?”
Sungmin nodded, “Yeah. I’ll do a search on their face once it’s done.” He paused, then added, “I’m sure Kyuhyun can break into the NIB’s database so we don’t have to use Eeteuk-sshi’s access codes, right Kyuhyun?”
Kyuhyun had drifted awake at the sound of their voices. After Taeyeon had finished healing him, he had succumbed to sleep with the help of the medications and Junsu. He had forgotten that along with shadow and dream walking, Junsu had the ability to make a person sleep on command.
“Yeah, shouldn’t be too hard,” Kyuhyun replied from his bed. As he pushed himself to sit up against the headboard, he noticed that his desk computer was now there, set up against the wall on his desk.
“How are you feeling?” Youngwoon turned to the younger man,
“Much better. I feel good as new,” he answered, even going so far as to rotate his once dislocated shoulder.
“Good,” Youngwoon nodded his head, growing silent when it was obvious he wanted to say more. He was almost at the door before he stated fiercely, “If you ever make me worry like that again, I’ll hurt you myself, do you understand, Kyuhyun?”
Kyuhyun swallowed, knowing the leader was not making an idle threat, “Yes, sir.”
Youngwoon left them, closing the door firmly behind him.
The silence that fell between the two men was thick with tension. Kyuhyun could practically feel it pressing against him like a heavy heat trying to suffocate him. He was in his pyjama pants, a pair without pockets and, so, was unable to bury his hands anywhere. His fingers curled into the mattress as he tried to find the right words to say. It was clear he had hurt the other man and somehow cracked – if not broke – whatever it was they had between them.
“So, you proved me wrong. No one has to die if we try to change the future. Is that why you didn’t answer me for so long? You wanted me to worry just a bit before you showed your hand?” Sungmin’s voice was deceptively calm as he kept his back turned to the younger man, idly typing on the laptop as he spoke,
“Of course not –”
“Then why, Kyuhyun!?” Sungmin demanded, whirling out of the chair so fast it clattered backwards onto the ground, “Why did you not answer me for hours?”
“Well, for one thing, I was unconscious. Kind of difficult to talk when I’m knocked out,” Kyuhyun muttered,
“Don’t give me your sarcasm right now, Kyuhyun because I’m so close to either killing you myself or –” he stopped, realizing he had about to say ‘or have a drink’. Self-disgust swept over him as he paced towards the window, crossing his arms over his chest; “And, afterwards? When you finally deigned to talk to me? Why did you cut me off when it was so obvious you were hiding something from me?”
“I… I didn’t want you to worry –”
“I was already worried, Kyuhyun! Nothing you said could have made me more worried than I already had been all morning!” Sungmin sighed heavily, propping his hands on the window sill and leaning forward until his forehead touched the cool glass. “When we are in the field I never worried about you this much because you always kept in contact with us. But, today, when you cut me off… Do you have any idea how much it hurt knowing you purposefully blocked the mental path between us?”
“I never admitted to the same feelings you’ve claimed,” Kyuhyun defended quietly,
“This isn’t even about that!” Sungmin exclaimed, slamming his fist against the glass so hard it cracked. “As a friend, Kyuhyun, it hurt me! That you would block me out, hurt me! That you would trust me so little…”
Sungmin swallowed hard, a wealth of emotions rising up within him, threatening to choke him. His heart had been hurting all day and, now it seemed as if it were trying to commit suicide, it was pounding so painfully against his ribs. He struggled for his composure, struggled to keep the walls he so meticulously built around him from crumbling right then and there all because of one man.
He wasn’t sure why he had allowed his feelings to live on through the years after they retired from The Sector. All he knew, however, was that on days when he was feeling especially lonely or upset, when his house seemed too big and too empty, or when the decanter seemed too within reach, he thought of Kyuhyun.
“I wasn’t sure how to tell you what happened. Surviving a car crash is definitely much preferred to death and, yet, I was still scared to tell you. I truly didn’t want to worry you,” Kyuhyun said sincerely from the bed; “If things had gone according to plan, no one other than Taeyeon would have known what had happened. I –”
“And is that what a friend does Kyuhyun? All these secrets?”
“Were we ever friends?” Came Kyuhyun’s quiet question.
Sungmin felt his heart physically hurt at the words. He whirled around to turn his dark glare on the younger man, “That bullshit again? You really believe that, don’t you? You think none of us cared about you, thought of you as a friend. You think I…” He shook his head as he stalked out of the room, “If that’s what you want, then, that’s what you’ll get.”
Kyuhyun scrambled to his knees, “What do you mean?”
However, Sungmin didn’t stop. He left, slamming the door behind him until the hinges rattled.
Kyuhyun slammed a fist into the mattress, wondering why there was pain in the vicinity of the left-side of his chest. All he ever wanted to do was protect Sungmin from the knowledge that he had gotten hurt. How had it turned out like this? He had never seen Sungmin so angry, never heard him use such a cold voice. Furthermore, what did his parting words mean? Kyuhyun was startled to find he was crying when the fear of those words engulfed him.
Sungmin moved as swiftly as if the devil were chasing him. He easily vaulted over large tree roots several feet high and fallen logs in his path. It was night already, the moon high in the sky and, yet, he was as quick as ever, moving as if he saw everything by the light of day. He had commanded the panels of the backyard to move and, before they even finished shifting into place, he had dashed down the terrace’s stone steps and disappeared into the make-shift forest.
He needed to drown himself in something, take him out of the web of emotions that Kyuhyun caused and saturate him in something different, something safer. He ruthlessly pushed away the clenching of his heart as he remembered the younger man’s words and continued to run. He didn’t have access to his alcohol and he didn’t want to turn to it again. He needed to be physically active, but he wasn’t so masochistic that he’d want to spar with his best friend again. He knew regardless of how tired he made his body, his mind would continue to replay Kyuhyun’s words.
He reached a particular part of the forest where the trees grew thick and tall, so close together their branches created an impassable web. The only way through was beneath the small passages created by their roots. He immediately dropped down onto his stomach and, using his forearms and digging the toe of his shoes into the ground, he dragged himself through the dirt and carpet of fallen leaves. He had rarely done the obstacle course at night, such a thing was dangerous to do alone. Especially in that particular part where the dark confines of the tree roots could make the sanest of people claustrophobic.
A pealing part of bark scrapped across his cheek, barely a centimetre below his right eye. He lowered his head further below the line of his shoulders; any higher and he could’ve been blinded in his own backyard. He continued on, unable to tell how much longer until he was free of the roots, the end of the tunnel darkened by the night. As he had to pull himself between a space created by a raised root not completely separated from the ground and another root bending down as if seeking the soil, he threw away all care for his body, the space gripping onto him from all sides. With one last tug, he passed through, hearing the tearing of his shirt as he did so.
Once he felt the space open up, he pushed himself to his knees and, then, fell back onto his bottom, leaning against the wall of roots. He breathed heavily, using his forearm to wipe at his face, knowing he was probably caked with dirt and debris in some places and sprinkled with it in all the other places. The sound of clapping had him jerking in surprise, startled that he wasn’t alone in the woodsy clearing.
“How safe to be doing this in the dark and alone,” Junsu commented sarcastically, crossing his arms when he finished clapping.
Sungmin could just see his friend’s form, sitting atop a low-hanging branch, his back against a thick tree trunk.
“I HATE when you do that,” Sungmin scowled from the ground,
“I know. It’s why I do it a lot around you,” Junsu’s voice held laughter. When all that filled the night was the sound of Sungmin’s heavy breathing, Junsu asked, “So, why are you out here? If you wanted to do some night training, you could’ve told me. I’m probably the best one to do this with… in terms of safety, of course.”
“In all honesty, I wanted to be alone,” Sungmin replied, slowly getting to his feet, brushing uselessly at his clothes; they would never get clean at that point.
“Ah, are you in a sulking mood? Shall I leave you here to sulk?” Junsu asked, suddenly standing beside Sungmin,
“Damn it, Junsu!” Sungmin swore as he jumped away; “If you stay, you need to stop doing that to me!”
Junsu chuckled as he shoved his hands into his jeans’ pocket, “Very well, I’ll stop.”
They walked in silence for a time, moving over the various obstacles in a leisurely manner. Junsu, who had no intension of training that night – he was only dressed in jeans a t-shirt – didn’t even go around the obstacles, preferring to utilize the shadows to get around them.
“So… did you want to talk about it?” Junsu asked when the silence began to bother him too much; he hated silence.
“Talk about what?”
“Don’t play stupid, Sungmin. I was there when they got back to the house, too. Not to mention I was in the room when Taeyeon was healing Kyuhyun. I’ve never seen you so angry,” Junsu said, “Look, if you don’t want to talk about it then just say so. I was just offering to be an ear if you needed one.”
Although Junsu hadn’t been in the NIB for as long as him or Youngwoon, he had been the next longest-running member on their team. Whispers of Junsu’s skills in weaponry had been spread about in the NIB, his name even mentioned once or twice amongst those in The Sector. The requisite time a person spent as a trainee was a year before becoming an agent. Junsu, however, was able to own any weapon he touched. Perhaps not specializing in any one as Sungmin was with the sniper rifle or Taeyeon with knives, but his skills spread out evenly amongst all weapons and at a high skill level. It was his weaponry skills that enabled him to finish his trainee time in just over three months.
Intrigued by the only trainee in NIB history to become an agent before the requisite year was done, Youngwoon and Sungmin sought him out to be the next member of their team. Junsu was competent enough to be in The Sector and he got along well with the pair of them. When his special skill set was revealed during a mission that required at least two more members, Junsu had cemented his place in their team. He had been a part of the team for three years before they had all decided to retire.
In that time together, Sungmin had truly felt Junsu as another friend, the second he had at work, indeed, perhaps the second he had in the whole world. He had grown up privileged, set apart from the rest of his peers and attended boarding schools where deceit was common and friendships were based on furthering’s one’s status. For not the first time, Sungmin wondered how he could have ever let his friendships die after they left The Sector.
“I don’t know if I want to talk about it,” Sungmin admitted quietly, “I mean… talking about feelings? That’s what girls do.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not like we surround ourselves with female friends and we can’t all keep bothering Taeyeon with our issues,” Junsu replied,
“Fine,” Sungmin sighed heavily as he crossed his arms about his torso, “I… I like… man, this is hard. I –”
“Like Kyuhyun? Yeah, I know,” Junsu interrupted,
“You do?” Sungmin gaped,
Junsu laughed, “Yeah, I’ve known for years. I did wonder if you still liked him after the past two years, but, the way you acted today, I knew you still did.”
“But… but how!?” Sungmin questioned, panic in his tone,
“Hate to break it to you, Sungmin, but you’re very obvious,” Junsu replied,
“Dude! Tone down the volume, you’re sounding like a dolphin,” Junsu chuckled; “And, yeah, you were obvious. Taeyeon and I used to bet how long it would take before you made a move on him. Why do you think Youngwoon never interrupted any of your stupid little fights with Kyuhyun?”
“Youngwoon knew, too!?” Sungmin cleared his throat and, then, repeated in a normal voice, “He knew, too?”
“You didn’t even tell him? Now, I’m surprised,” Junsu muttered; “Well, Sungmin, you were obvious and the whole team knew except for Kyuhyun because, as smart as that kid is, he’s pretty dim when it comes to social interactions.”
“Well, even if he is socially inept, he should’ve known not to cut me off!” Sungmin exclaimed,
“No, that wasn’t well done of him, but grumbling about it isn’t going to change that it already happened,” Junsu replied, “What’s really bothering you, Sungmin? He’s fine, isn’t that all that matters?”
“What if Taeyeon questioned everything you two had been to one another? What if you found out that, to her, everything you shared was dispensable? Inconsequential?” Sungmin questioned, “It’s okay if he doesn’t like me back, but to not even see me as a friend!? How am I supposed to react to that, Junsu? How would you feel?”
“As if all this time I had meant nothing to her,” Junsu answered, his voice quiet. Even though that wasn’t the case and she had never said anything as such to him, he still felt his heart stutter painfully at the thought.
“Exactly,” was Sungmin’s soft reply.
They continued on in silence until, finally, they had escaped from the backyard’s thick forestry. They were mounting the stone steps up to the back terrace, when Junsu broke the quiet between them,
“So, what is your plan now?”
“For me, it was okay that he didn’t like me back, so long as we were friends, so long as he was there,” Sungmin said, “but, if he doesn’t want to be even just my friend, then I’ll stop trying. After this case is done, I’ll erase him from my mind.”
Clapping a hand on his shoulder, Junsu said ruefully, “Another thing I hate to break to you is that the heart isn’t as fast to forget.”
Taeyeon sat in the very front pew of the balcony seats in the small church. From her vantage point, she was able to see the entire interior of the main chapel. Few people were present since there wasn’t any mass occurring at the moment, but a the small handle that were there were scattered amongst the pews below, praying, giving thanks and there was even a woman with her small toddler.
Her hands clasped in her lap, she leaned back in her seat after scoping the area. She felt the sense that someone was coming up behind her and, even though she suspected who it was, her hands still moved to the daggers she had hidden beneath her knee-length skirt. The person entered the pew behind hers, walking until they were almost directly behind her. The knelt down, elbows propped on the back of her pew and, in her periphery, she recognized Agent Eeteuk. She subtly flattened her skirt into place once she confirmed his identity.
Putting her purse in her lap, she withdrew a folded up handkerchief, holding it out for him to take.
“This is the sample?” He asked,
“Follicle and all. The attacker was so focused on my knee on his crotch that he didn’t realize I had snagged some hairs,” Taeyeon replied quietly, not wanting their conversation to be overheard in the beautifully acoustic church.
“Brilliant. Once we know his identity, we’ll be able to find a connection to Kwon or, if he isn’t the true leak, then to anyone else in the NIB,” Eeteuk said, safely placing the handkerchief into the breast pocket of his suit. “If we can confirm the leak’s true identity, then we’ll be able to find out what information they really have and what they’re doing with it.”
“There still haven’t been any leads as to what information is being given? Mission locations, maybe?” Taeyeon asked,
“Possibly, but I fear it’s more severe than that. I believe that the information being leaked are agents’ identities,” Eeteuk answered, “Then, assailants or assassins don’t need to know mission locations, they can just stalk the agents, kill them during a mission and have that be their cover.”
“Then, it’s even more imperative that agents from The Sector do this mission since their identities are of the highest clearance level. Only department heads have access to them and, even then, our identities are buried deep,” Taeyeon commented,
“I feel the same way. I think that the last team had been found out because they were caught being undercover so, Kwon had watchers watch his watchers. If he went into their records, he would find they were NIB agents, but it’d be nearly impossible for him to discover anything about The Sector,” Eeteuk agreed,
Taeyeon nodded, quiet for a moment before she asked, “Why couldn’t you pick up the hair from Sungmin’s house?”
“I’m being followed,” Eeteuk explained, “For a few days now and I didn’t want to chance them finding Sungmin’s house and discovering you all are living there. It’s fortunate you were going out into the city today anyway.”
Taeyeon nodded again, “I came to this church every Sunday as a child with my father. When he died, all I had left was my stepmother, but she wasn’t so religious. I stopped going for a few years.”
“After those few years, what made you come back?” Eeteuk asked tentatively,
“I had been a field agent for months and had already made my first kill but, when I joined Youngwoon’s team, I learned that they worked by a code,” Taeyeon answered, her voice barely above a whisper; “It isn’t one established by The Sector, but one Youngwoon and Sungmin had employed since becoming agents. Do you know them, Eeteuk-sshi?”
“Yes, the ancient commandments for a secular life,” Eeteuk replied, “Youngwoon told me of them before. They’re the guiding ethos for the soldiers of old.”
“Five commandments in total: loyalty to one’s lord, in those times that would be whatever master the soldiers served be they landowner or sovereign; love and respect for one’s parents and teachers; trust among friends; never retreat in battle; and, the last,” Taeyeon hesitated as she raised her gaze towards the large cross mounted at the front of the chapel, “never take a life without a just cause.
“Learning these, knowing that I had killed as a means to an end for a mission rather than coming up with a better way to finish the mission, I returned to this church,” Taeyeon explained, “Whether from internal conflict or a driving need to redeem what little soul I had left after taking lives, I don’t know… all I know is that, had it not been for those principles which Youngwoon demands each of his team members to work by, I could be a very different person from now. Harder. Colder.”
“Did you come here often as an agent?”
“After every mission even if no lives were lost.”
“And, now that you are doing one more case? A few missions have already been done in order to obtain information, but have those driven you back to this church as well?”
Taeyeon shook her head, “No. Those are not the only reasons I have to come to church.”
Noting her now shuttered expression, Eeteuk apologized, “I did not mean to be so bold, Kim-sshi.”
“It’s alright. I suppose I should thank you, Eeteuk-sshi, for bringing the team back together,” Taeyeon said as she slowly stood up, purse in hand,
“I… I don’t know if you’re being serious or not,” Eeteuk admitted, eyeing her closely,
Taeyeon offered him a small smile, “I’m being very serious. We all need a chance to remember our pasts.” She gave a formal, half bow, “I wish you well, Eeteuk-sshi. Until next time.”
Eeteuk sat back in his pew as he watched her leave, the heels of her shoes loud against the wood-panelled floor. He had never personally worked with Kim Taeyeon in the past, but he had heard often enough about her. At the age of sixteen, she had been the youngest person in history to be accepted into NIB training, most agents entering at eighteen. She had been considered a hard worker, determined to prove her strength since she was always at a disadvantage with her small stature and slight weight.
Although she could have easily been promoted to field agent after she finished her year as a trainee, she had surprised her superiors by continuing to train for two more years before becoming a full-fledged agent. After she passed her examinations to become an agent, she was immediately recruited to The Sector. What didn’t surprise the higher-ups was that she quickly became known as an ace agent after only a month in the field. All teams wanted her for missions and all desk agents tried to bribe her into remaining in one team, but she always remained as a free-lance agent in The Sector. Of course, until she did a mission with Youngwoon’s team. When it was made known she had finally decided on a team, while there were regrets from other teams, no one was truly surprised; what better place for the ace agent to be than on the team fast becoming known as elite?
Despite it being two years since retirement, Eeteuk had seen how daring she still moved even in the circus, taking leaps that no sane person would take. He saw how quick she reacted and thought, running away from everyone in the alley and, then, the rooftops. No, Kim Taeyeon was still very much the ace agent she had once been. He prayed that after the case was closed, that her demons would no longer haunt her as they did now.
After several minutes alone, Eeteuk got up from his seat and quietly left the church.
Taeyeon entered the front door holding her heeled shoes by the tips of her fingers, having taken them off long ago on the trek up to the house from the front gates. She was in a low mood after being at the church. She always received a mix of solace and sombreness when she visited the church and, yet, now that she was back in Seoul, she couldn’t stay away. Lost in thought, she was on the back terrace before she even realized she hadn’t gone up to her room. Dropping her purse and her shoes to the stone floor, she walked up to the wall that surrounded the terrace and, propping her hands atop, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Perhaps she needed the fresh air, the light and freedom. Although the house was incredibly spacious, since there was just the five of them there, only commonly used hallways were lit, everything else left in darkness.
She opened her eyes, startled. Looking out at Sungmin’s backyard, she turned to the direction she heard her name. She found Youngwoon and Junsu by the clearing, obviously in the midst of stationary target practice. Junsu waved her over and, before trepidation could set in, she sprinted in her stockings down the cement steps and across the yard to the clearing.
“Beautiful!” She smiled brightly once she saw that a variety of daggers were laid out on one of the side tables.
“You are the oddest little girl I’ve ever met,” Youngwoon stated bluntly even as his tone was affectionate,
“This little girl can still kick your butt,” Taeyeon defended as she ran her hands along the hilts, picking up a few to test their weights and balances.
“I haven’t used a gun since we retired and, it’s been even longer than that since I last used a throwing knife,” Youngwoon explained, “Since Junsu didn’t want to do a little one-on-one sparring with me, I decided to brush up on my other skills.”
“The only people who would want to do hand-to-hand sparring with you are Taeyeon and people with a death wish,” Junsu rolled his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest,
Youngwoon immediately pulled Junsu into a headlock, playfully shaking him around before tossing the younger man to the ground, “You have perfect timing since you can give me tips.”
Taeyeon blinked, “Youngwoon, you’re far more experienced than me –”
“True, but you’re the blades expert. If I were practicing shooting in any capacity I would ask Sungmin. If I wanted to know how to annoy the hell out of my elders, I’d speak with Kyuhyun,” Youngwoon explained as he picked up one of the blades,
“What would you ask me for?” Junsu grinned as he stood up and brushed off his track pants,
“How to wash dishes,” Youngwoon threw him a toothy smile before turning towards a target about fifteen metres away and throwing the dagger at it. It spun tip over hilt again and again before it planted at the edge of the square target, far from the centre. He sighed, “Tips?”
“Wait,” she replied
Youngwoon stared at her for several seconds before he repeated, “Well? What tips can you give me?”
“I just gave you one: wait,” Taeyeon picked up one of the blades and stepped up to where Youngwoon had been standing, “You need to understand the knife in your hand before you throw it.” She held out her hand palm-up with the blade atop as she slowly raised her hand up and down, “You need to acknowledge its weight.” Next, she adjusted it so it was lying flat on the pads of her fore- and index fingers, “Know its balance so that you can predict how it will move in the air, guess its trajectory.”
Gripping its handle once more, she continued, “The reason the knife you threw spun in the air is because you didn’t take into account that that particular knife had an unbalanced design, its centre of gravity was not perfectly in the middle of its length. So, it’s heavier end caused it to spin. When I tested this knife, it balanced quite well in the middle, so I don’t have to be too concerned about one end weighing more than the other but, if I do want to make it spin, I’ll know how to throw it so aim isn’t compromised.”
To further demonstrate her point, Taeyeon whipped the knife towards the target. It too spun hilt over tip before it planted itself into the target. Hers, however, hit dead-centre.
“But in an emergency, I can’t take the time to gage a knife before throwing it,” Youngwoon pointed out,
“You should never throw a knife without first at least attempting to guess its weight and balance,” Taeyeon warned,
“But, I’ve never seen you do that until today,” he argued,
“That’s because I can guess their weights and balances by just holding them. I can be holding a blade from its handle and still know where its centre of gravity is,” Taeyeon explained; “Furthermore, the knives I predominantly use are my own daggers.”
“I remember your collection,” Youngwoon replied,
“Those knives I can identify with my eyes clothes,” Taeyeon hesitated before amending, “Well… not anymore since I’m so out of practice, but before I could.”
Youngwoon eyed the youngest member of their team and the only female. Although they had been teammates for two years prior to retirement, he had never actually seen her train with her blades. She would hit the gym with them and would even do floor exercises with them along with the occasional hand-to-hand sparring with him, but never any weapons training.
“You should see her do it blindfolded,” Junsu said, leaning a hip against the table, crossing his arms once more,”
“How different is it than normal target practice? Other than the blindfold, of course,” Youngwoon questioned.
“Switch around the targets and all you say is the distance and location. She’ll hit it dead-centre ninety-percent of the time,” Junsu said,
Taeyeon sighed heavily, “Do I really have to do this right now?”
“You want to brush up on your throwing, right? No better time than the present,” Junsu grinned as he stood behind her, covering her eyes with his hands,
“What are you doing!?” She whirled around to face him,
He turned her back to face the target range, “Being your blindfold since we don’t have one right now,” he answered, covering her eyes once more, “Now stop arguing and pick up one of the knives.”
Youngwoon rolled his eyes at his obvious friend as he played with the remote control which adjusted where the targets were placed.
Flirt. You better hope she doesn’t throw it at you.
Junsu chuckled making Taeyeon attempt to turn around again; “No, no,” he tsked, “concentrate on the task at hand.”
Junsu was sure he heard her softly growl before Youngwoon called out, “Fifteen metres, two o’clock.”
Taeyeon threw a knife and it landed accurately.
“Twenty metres, twenty-degrees west of north.”
Another bull’s-eye hit.
Junsu, able to see above her head to the layout of the target, called out the next one: “Thirty-five metres, fifteen-degrees east of north with an obstacle approximately thirty metres in the same direction.”
She didn’t even hesitate as she threw the third knife. It arched, but appeared to descend too soon, passing over the target in between with barely a centimetre to spare. It hit the designated target not in the centre, but a few centimetres too wide.
“Ninety-percent of the time,” Junsu reiterated as he lowered his hands from her eyes.
Youngwoon stared at her, shaking his head gently, “You’re as scary as Sungmin is with his sniper rifle.”
Taeyeon rolled her eyes, pretending to brush out wrinkles in her blouse, “We all have our specialities. This just happens to be mine.”
As if realizing for the first time her attire, Junsu asked, “Where’d you go?”
“She was delivering something to Eeteuk for me,” Youngwoon explained as he stepped up once more, picking up a knife and attempting to do as she taught,
“You went dressed like that?” Junsu asked, quickly amending himself, “I just mean you’re dressed quite nicely to just do a delivery.”
“I went to church for a bit,” Taeyeon shrugged, the slightness of her shoulders emphasized by her blouse’s small, capped sleeves.
“The same one you used to go to?” Junsu prompted.
All at once, Taeyeon regretted having said anything. She had forgotten how much Junsu knew about her. Indeed, no one knew her better than him, but after a few years without him, she had forgotten such a fact. For a moment, she pretended to be distracted by the many throwing knives laid out for her. When she glanced up and saw that he was still watching her, waiting, she knew she had to answer.
So, in the most casual voice she could muster, she said, “Yeah. It’s nice to visit old places once in a while.”
“Have you visited your stepmother since you came back to Seoul?” Junsu asked,
Taeyeon hesitated before nodding slowly. For a moment, Junsu swore she was about to say something. Then, apparently thinking better of it, closed her mouth and seemed to turn her attention towards their leader and his throwing practice.
It was after dinner when Kyuhyun pulled Youngwoon to the side as the others filed out of the kitchen – Junsu excluded since he had dishes to wash. When Youngwoon looked at him questioningly, Kyuhyun gestured for him to follow and led his leader to the back terrace where they could be alone. Once out into the night, slowly cooling as autumn progressed, Youngwoon faced him,
“I need help with something.”
“He’ll stop being mad eventually. Sungmin’s not one to hold a grudge,” Youngwoon insisted,
Kyuhyun blinked at him before shaking his head profusely, “I’m not talking about him… that… I… I need help with my telekinesis,” he finished off with a hiss.
“Are you sure? Because your friendship with Sungmin needs work at this point,” Youngwoon added teasingly. When the younger man continued to glare, he offered a small smile, “What is it about your telekinesis you need help with? Our abilities aren’t the same other than telepathy.”
“I don’t want the others knowing,” Kyuhyun said quietly,
“Like your shooting practice?”
“Okay, what’s up with your telekinesis?”
“I… I don’t have complete control over it,” Kyuhyun admitted, leaning his back against the terrace doors.
Youngwoon was obviously startled, eyes widening slightly, “But, I’ve seen you use your telekinesis before. Granted, not as often as the rest of us used ours, but it never seemed out of control.”
“I use it so little because it’s not so controlled,” Kyuhyun explained, “I have to use it at small increasing increments but, even then, I’m not sure what the limit is before it explodes all on its own. Also, when I’m angry, what little control I do have tends to slip.”
Youngwoon’s jaw literally dropped at the admission, “Truly?”
“It’s why I do this so often,” he replied, shoving his hands into his pockets, “to remind me to calm down, to remind me of what the consequences are.” Kyuhyun hesitated before continuing, “You want to use everything at our disposal, including our own special abilities. If I’m to make use of mine I need to learn how to control it – if not completely, then at least enough that if I get angry I don’t accidentally cause things to go flying around or for the ground to shaking.”
“Please don’t cause an earthquake,” Youngwoon said drily. He sighed heavily as he paced away a few steps, “How do you want to go about doing this? Just have you move things around consciously?”
“Yes. If I can accurately control moving things, then that should be enough that we can start testing me when I get angry,” Kyuhyun answered, “I’ve thought about it long and hard and I realized that what little control I do have was gained through my curious learning as a precocious child. However, I stopped using it and trying to learn about it, so my skills with my telekinesis are quite limited.”
“Kyuhyun, you have to trust the other members to help you,” Youngwoon stated, turning back to face the younger man, “I know your insecurities make you believe otherwise, but we all do care about you –”
“I know that now, I do,” Kyuhyun insisted. His voice was so quiet Youngwoon had to close the distance between them as he said, “But, I have just enough pride that I want to hide my incompetency.”
“We all have things we’re not good at,” the older man said, “Junsu isn’t so good at the thinking part of missions. Sungmin wouldn’t know how to hit a target with a knife if his life depended on it. I learned today that I know very little about throwing knives, too.”
“And, Taeyeon? What’s she bad at?”
Youngwoon opened his mouth to reply but promptly shut it. After a few minutes, stated, “Okay, so she’s a little less incompetent than the rest – arrogant! Arrogance is her flaw. Taeyeon used to be very arrogant, rightly so since she did have the skills to back it up, but it’s still a flaw.”
“But, anyone can tell she’s gotten a healthy dose of humbleness over the past two years,” the younger man countered,
“Forget our ace for a moment, the rest of us all have things we need to work on and, it can be accomplished must faster if we help each other out,” the leader insisted.
When Kyuhyun remained silent, his expression unflinching, Youngwoon sighed heavily. He ran both hands through his hair in frustration;
“Fine, fine, we’ll keep it a secret for now but, I hope there comes a day when you can forget your pride when it comes to the team,” Youngwoon said quietly, crossing his arms over his muscled chest, “We all have our pride in some capacity, but if we’re to ever return to our former glory, we’ll need to toss that all away. Indeed, we could probably even become better than what we were.”
Kyuhyun let out a frustrated breath as he turned away from the other man, “Don’t you ever worry that we’re in over our heads? Don’t you ever worry that maybe we won’t be successful at this mission? We were considered the best of the best, but doesn’t that mean our luck is bound to run out soon? And, if we do manage to close this case who’s to say that we all live to the very end?”
“No, hear me out, Youngwoon. Five Sector agents were murdered before we took this case. How much time left before we’re found out, too and whoever assassinated them comes after us? Don’t forget we were attacked in the restaurant,” Kyuhyun reminded quietly, shoving his fists into his pockets; “Perhaps… perhaps a part of me wants to stay somewhat separated because we may have to face death at some point.”
“I will gladly help you train, Kyuhyun, but you need to find a little bit more faith in the team,” Youngwoon stated angrily. He was upset about the turn of the conversation and upset that the youngest male made too much sense about his theories.
“Good night, Kyuhyun,” he said and, then, stormed back into the house, a little too afraid to face the fact that the younger man’s pessimism may turn out to be their future.
Kyuhyun slammed his fist atop of the terrace’s wall, his chin dropping to his chest as he clenched his eyes shut. He had always been the rational one; when did he become so emotional? Furthermore, wasn’t he the first one to agree to rejoin the team? Why was it he was now having all these doubts? Sighing heavily and glancing one last time at the night sky, Kyuhyun turned and re-entered the house. Not once did he realize that his fist had caused the wall to crack.