“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.”
It was the next morning when Youngwoon approached the team with another mission for the case. At first, he was silent as he ate his breakfast, not even paying attention to the way Sungmin and Kyuhyun avoided each other like the plague or the way Junsu kept trying to flirt with Taeyeon as she brought more food from the stove to the table. Once they were all seated at the kitchen table for breakfast, their leader finally spoke up,
“I’m going on a mission this evening and I need another person to come with me,”
“What’s the mission?” Junsu asked,
“I’m going to see one of my old contacts. If it’s a leak we’re trying to uncover, I’m going to work from the opposite end and see if there are any leads as to where the information is going and, possibly even clarifying what the information is,” Youngwoon explained,
“Why do you want a second on hand?” Kyuhyun inquired, “Back up?”
Youngwoon shook his head, “No, there’s no chance this contact would harm me and, even if they attempted, I could easily take them on my own.”
“He’s worried about a lost in translation happening,” Sungmin spoke up, not even looking at Kyuhyun even though he was technically answering his question. “The client probably speaks in a different dialect or language. Or, perhaps even a code that only their particulars understand.”
“Both,” Youngwoon sighed, sitting back in his chair, “This particular contact prefers to speak in coded French. How many are you able to still speak French?”
As agents in the NIB, they were required to learn English and a third language. Once they were in The Sector, however, the requirement was raised to five. As agents part of an elite and well-known team, they had prided themselves in knowing not just being able to communicate in five languages, but being fluent in them as if they were natives. However, two years without practice would erase many words from all of their vocabularies.
“I can still speak it, I made sure to keep up my languages by reading,” Junsu admitted as he rubbed the back of his neck wearily, “but I doubt I could survive coded French. I might end up insulting the contact and then we’d get nowhere.”
“I’m still fluent but, I have a feeling I know who this contact is and I actually did insult him once,” Sungmin reminded, “I doubt he’d be pleased to see me again. It’s Mouse, isn’t it?”
“The very same,” Youngwoon confirmed before grinning, “And I remember that. You said his face looked like a street with no lights and that his dog… what did you say about his dog?”
“That it would make a good hamburger,” he replied,
For the first time since being reunited with her, Taeyeon laughed out loud. It was clear and bright and embodied her entire being. For the briefest of moments, they all saw the person she used to be. “How did you manage to say all of that?” She asked between laughs,
“It’s the way his codes are, they’re tricky,” he defended,
“I can only read and write in French now,” Kyuhyun said when attention turned his way; “If I tried to speak it’d be very elementary. What about you Taeyeon?”
She sighed heavily as if very put-out as she placed her drinking glass on the table, “I’m still fluent.”
“You are?” Youngwoon and the others asked with enthusiasm and surprise respectively,
She nodded, “Quite.”
“Well, that decides it, Taeyeon will be my second in this mission,” Youngwoon said. He glanced around the table, “So, are there any new developments in the case from your perspectives?”
“I was able to get more information on the man leaving the restaurant on the video feed,” Sungmin spoke up, “I broke into the NIB’s database and he doesn’t come up in it anywhere, so I’ve begun to run background checks on him, along with the restaurant owner. I should know by later tonight what the owner’s relationship is with Kwon and if he’s done anything wrong, even something as minor as speeding.”
“How did you break into the NIB’s database?” Kyuhyun questioned, momentarily forgetting the awkwardness and silence between them.
When Sungmin hesitated in answering, their leader prompted him, “Sungmin? Well? How did you do it?”
“Eeteuk-sshi told me how to break into the database, so I didn’t need help to do it,” He replied with a slight shrug of his shoulders. Although no one said it, they all knew he had done it so he wouldn’t need help from their computer expert, Kyuhyun.
Youngwoon stared meaningfully at his best friend for several heartbeats before nodding his head and turning his attention to the youngest male, “Have you been able to go through the hospital employee database?”
Kyuhyun nodded, “I’ve narrowed it down to three prospective employees. I believe one of them will be the one who murdered one of the other agents or, if not them, then someone in relation to them.”
“How long until you have a name?” Youngwoon prompted,
Kyuhyun hesitated, staring down at this plate for several long seconds. He was unaware that, while the others watched and waited with curiosity, only Sungmin knew what he was thinking over; only Sungmin understood the pressure he was under.
“Give me until tomorrow morning,” Kyuhyun replied, “If it turns out to not be any of the employees, I’ll have to do thorough searches into their family and other acquaintances.”
Their leader nodded once more.
“So, while you and Taeyeon are off talking with Rat –” Junsu began,
“Mouse,” Sungmin corrected,
“ – same thing. And Kyuhyun and Sungmin are doing their background checks, what am I supposed to do?” Junsu questioned, “Sit here twiddling my thumbs?” He pointed his rice spoon at the others when they opened their mouths to answer, “And don’t any of you say I should wash dishes.”
“You should stop talking, give your jaw a rest,” Kyuhyun suggested, the briefest hint of sarcasm in his tone.
As the two youngest males began to argue, Sungmin quietly put his dishes away and began to leave the kitchen when Youngwoon stopped him,
“What’s up?” Sungmin asked casually,
“You and Kyuhyun,” he replied so only the other could hear, “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Sungmin shrugged, “We’re on the same team to complete a case, nothing more than that.”
Youngwoon sighed, running a hand through his hair, “You’re not going to go looking for your alcohol while I’m away, right?”
“If you want to talk when I get back, I don’t mind.”
“But you won’t seek me out, will you?”
Sungmin hesitated, glancing back at the table. His gaze briefly brushing over the youngest male. “Actually, I probably will,” he said softly and, then, swiftly left the kitchen.
That evening, Taeyeon was descending the main staircase dressed in black leggings and a fitted black shirt with short sleeves and a hem that barely grazed the top of her belly button. Her feet were clad in light, black running shoes and on her hands were leather gloves with the fingertips missing. As she walked down the stairs, she ran her hand through her long locks which she had taken the time to straighten after dinner. Even her face had a few layers of make-up.
“Oooh, you cannot let Junsu see you like that,” Sungmin whistled with appreciation,
Youngwoon, who had been standing beside him in the foyer, elbowed him in the ribs, “I thought you’re gay.”
“I’m only gay when it comes to Kyuhyun, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good-looking woman,” Sungmin replied,
“Thank you for the compliment and I don’t care if Junsu sees me in this or not. Everyone needs to stop acting like we’re still together,” she insisted as she reached them, “Besides, I’m comfy in these clothes.”
“Even the shirt?” Sungmin raised a brow, “Last I recalled, you’re one of the most conservative of us all.”
“Well, if we want to get the most out of this meeting, the contact will need to be distracted somewhat,” Taeyeon explained, “And, if he’s straight, well, this shirt will help us take advantage of the situation.”
“So, you’re willing to let some fiend ogle you?” Sungmin asked,
Taeyeon hesitated before she shrugged, her expression suddenly schooled as she looked away, “I’ve done different undercover jobs and this isn’t the most risqué I’ve dressed. Besides, if showing my mid-drift is the worse sin I commit during this case, then, all the better for it.”
“Do I even want to know what some of your worse undercover jobs were?” Youngwoon asked as he sat on one of the bottom steps to tie his shoes tighter.
“Prostitute to bring down a rumoured brothel,” she answered succinctly, leaning against the bottom balustrade and crossing her arms loosely about her torso,
“What!?” The two men gaped,
“What do you expect? I was a new agent and those kinds of cases are easier dealt with when female agents are on board. Considering I was a new agent, I was the bottom of the rung and when the other female agents refused, I had to do it,” she replied, her voice slowly getting quieter.
Tilting her head down, she closed her eyes, remembering her first mission. She had to sneak into the brothel, dressed as a whore to find the owner. When she had found him, he cornered her in a locked closet. As they tussled on the floor and he had ripped most of her clothes off before she had finally knocked him unconscious. She had sat in the corner of the closet, huddled with her knees to her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs, watching the lax owner, scared he would awaken any moment. It had been almost an hour before she had recollected herself and called for the rest of the team to storm the building. The case called for the owner to be apprehended so that he wouldn’t be able to escape during the raid.
“Taeyeon?” Youngwoon prompted gently, slowly rising to his feet.
He tentatively put a hand on her shoulder and, immediately, she twitched away from him, her hands coming up in a defensive stance. He was surprised having never seen her so tense, so skittish. He watched as she lowered her hands and began to control her breathing as her cheeks pinked with embarrassment.
“I’m fine,” she insisted, knowing immediately what the other two were thinking; “It was a long time ago and it only made me work harder to escape the stereotypical missions for a female agent.”
“After your first month, all team leaders wanted you on their missions,” Youngwoon recalled, “You were famous in The Sector.”
She dipped her head in a sign of thanks.
“Are you sure you’re okay with using yourself like this?” Sungmin asked, concern evident in his tone,
“We have to use all of our tools at our disposal right?” She countered, tugging at her shirt in an effort to bring the hem lower. “Besides, I’m the only one who can go with our lovely leader.”
“How are you still fluent?” Youngwoon asked, “Were there French people in the circus with you?”
“I kept all of my languages up-to-date,” she admitted then, “If I ever needed to escape, I wanted to be as prepared as possible.” Before either of the men could question her further, she prompted, “Well, shall we go?”
“Do you have any weapons on you?” Their leader questioned. He himself was dressed in black cargo pants and a black shirt. He had an assortment of guns on his person, including strapped to his waist and ankles, between his shoulder blades and knives hidden all over his body as a last resort.
“I have a pair of knives and a gun,” she replied, “Minimal weaponry, but I’ll be fine.”
Both men stared at her.
“Where are your weapons?” Sungmin asked bluntly.
She laughed as she walked towards the front door, pulling her hair over her shoulder. Her hair had been a curtain hiding the obvious bulk of weapons between her shoulder blades. She called behind her, “Come on, Youngwoon. The sooner we begin, the sooner we finish.”
“I think we need to clarify who’s the leader,” Youngwoon replied as he followed her out the house.
They made their way around the perimeter of a dance floor in the noisy club. The music pounded against the walls, the air was filled with cigarette smoke and the crush of bodies pressed against one another in a manner no respectable club would allow. Indeed, Youngwoon and Taeyeon had ventured into a secret, seedy area of Seoul nightlife, finding their way to the club that the Seoul police department, or SPD, didn’t even know about. The NIB knew and allowed it to remain open knowing that there needed to be a balance between bad and good. If they were to have spies and rats of their own in the underground world of Seoul, they needed to let some things slide.
Youngwoon, with his broad shoulders and bulky frame easily made a way for himself through the crowd. Taeyeon followed behind, putting a lid on her pride as she allowed herself to forget the several hands which had tried to grope her as she passed; she didn’t have time for retribution. Once they were in a back corner, Youngwoon went straight to a door barely visible in the wall, its black paint blending in with its surroundings. He knocked a particular pattern on the wood, the sound made mute to those around them by the club’s music.
The door slid open and Youngwoon slipped inside, pulling Taeyeon in with him. The door closed and immediately, he raised a hand, catching a fist. He stared at the large bodyguard who had attempted to hit him,
“Now, now, Joon. I know it’s been awhile, but we both know what happened the last time you tried to hit me,” Youngwoon’s words were soft but deadly.
The man was at least half a foot taller than him, a hundred pounds heavier and with a head free of all hair. The man was easily the most intimidating-looking person in the room, Taeyeon saw as she caught glimpses of other men in the room, and, yet, he seemed thoroughly shaken at having Youngwoon there.
Immediately retracting his fist, the bodyguard, Joon, took a step back, “Sir.”
“Who’s there, Joon?” A voice called out from behind the large man,
“It’s Kangin,” Joon called over his shoulder,
“Well, let him in already so we can finish this game,” the voice commanded.
Immediately, Joon stepped aside, his back to the wall. With his body out of the way, the room was revealed to them. No bigger than ten-feet long and wide, the room was lit by a single halogen light hanging from the ceiling. In the centre was a round, rickety, wooden table and, seated around it were three men. Two of the men were dressed similarly to Joon in black slacks, simple white shirts and sunglasses covering their eyes; at their waists were guns clearly displayed as threats.
The man farthest from them, however, was dressed opulently, his clothes even more blatant in such dank settings. He had a single row of hair a few inches long running down the centre of his head. He had a large nose and a defined, square jaw. While the only adornment on his head was a single set of diamonds on his ear lobes, his hands were covered in tattoos. He wore a suit of blackest night, the pinstripes a bright yellow; from the way they occasionally winked in the bright light, it was clear that the pinstripes were inlaid with gold. His jacket was draped across the back of his chair, so he wore just the vest piece of his suit over a pristine, white button-up, the sleeves pushed up his forearms.
“Ah! Kangin! How long has it been? Two years?” The man grinned widely, his white teeth flashing as he raised his hands in a welcoming gesture, “Join the game, Joon can sit out,” he waved a hand towards the empty chair closest to the door, a hand of cards face-down on the table marking where Joon must have once sat.
“Mouse, you know if I come it’s for business not pleasure,” Youngwoon replied in French, hooking his foot against the chair’s leg, pulling it closer to him rather than going closer to the other men,
The lavishly dressed man, Mouse, sighed with mock-hurt, also speaking in French, “Alas, one day I’ll convince you to play a round of poker.” Then, as if realizing for the first time that Youngwoon was not alone, his dark gaze swept over Taeyeon, clearly appreciating certain aspects of her person as his eyes paused on several parts of her body. When his scrutiny finally raised to her face, his eyes shone with an unholy light.
“A present for me?” Mouse asked expectantly, his tone suggesting that, even if that wasn’t the situation, it sure as hell was now.
Taeyeon remained silent, her back against the wall beside the door. She crossed her arms beneath her bust, knowing that it caused her breasts to push up and forward. Barely, she suppressed the shudder that went through her when her movement drew his regard once more.
“Ah, but Kangin, the train sometimes comes at two,” Mouse cajoled, his eyes tentatively sliding away from the only female in the room. He spoke in the coded French that Youngwoon had warned about. Despite speaking in French for security, should anyone overhear and understand the language, he added another layer of security by speaking in codes.
The other man had stated that Taeyeon would not be leaving the room. Youngwoon withdrew a bulky white envelope and smacked it onto the table, his hand firmly on top. “Where does the sparrow feast?” He proposed a business deal, momentarily ignoring the other man’s blatant threat.
Mouse’s eyes narrowed at the obvious offer of money before him. He looked up at Youngwoon once again, “Baked cheese spoils on the window sill.” He would listen to Youngwoon’s questions, but he still wanted the woman.
We may have to fight our way out of this room when this is done.
Taeyeon didn’t give away her leader had just spoken to her. If he doesn’t let us leave, let me initiate an exit strategy.
Very well. Youngwoon thought just before he said aloud, “The Han River is beautiful in the winter.” He wanted to know if there was anything organized happening in the city’s hidden community.
Mouse laughed abruptly then, “Twinkle, twinkle little fucking star.” Why did he suddenly appear just as rumours were spreading that something big would happen?
Youngwoon shrugged his broad shoulders, “My mother gives her greetings.” He didn’t have time for explanations, just answers.
While Youngwoon tangled with Mouse in a conversation overflowing in coded French, he also used his telepathy to seek into the other man’s mind. He had learned years ago how to work mentally on several levels, his telepathy coming in handy when he couldn’t get answers in an interrogation. With Mouse in particular, Youngwoon would talk with him and also seek the other’s mind to insure he got accurate information, especially since he was unable to influence Mouse into telling the truth. Apparently his special skills did not work with coded language.
The other man regarded him for several silent minutes. Finally, he began to speak, his gaze going to the five cards facedown before him. “The monkey jumps as it eats a banana,” he began as he slowly flipped over one card at a time, revealing the numbers nine and ten. “Snow storms can be hard on summer tires,” he continued as he flipped another card, this time revealing the king. “I once adopted a stray cat. It scratched me,” he flipped over the jack card. He paused, his eyes going back to Taeyeon, “Give me her,” he finished in normal French, revealing the queen card.
Youngwoon stood from the chair, turning slightly to give Taeyeon a considering look.
“I’ll stay,” she said softly, seductively, the French rolling off her tongue smoothly.
Without a backwards glance, Youngwoon opened the door and gestured for the three guards to precede him. Then, he followed, closing the door firmly behind him. However, Taeyeon heard the silence that came after the door shutting, signalling that the doorknob had not slid back into place; Youngwoon had kept his hand on the knob and turned so the tumbler was retracted for easy opening.
Mouse rose elegantly from his chair, prowling around the table like a predator. He closed the distance between them quickly, pressing her against the wall with his body. One hand rose to cup the back of her head, tilting it so she looked up at him. The other hand slid along the side of her body, caressing her from breast to hip, his hand moving to palm her buttock before moving along her thigh and pulling until her leg curled around his hip.
“You speak the language of love, my beauty,” he murmured, speaking in French once more.
Taeyeon fought the bile that rose in her throat at the contact. His much larger body dwarfed her own and she quickly calculated how much force she needed and where to bring him down. She disguised her shudders of disgust as shivers of anticipation as she hummed a soft moan at his caresses. With her body pressed against the wall, her weapons were sandwiched painfully against her and momentarily useless. However, she would soon rectify that issue.
She allowed her hand to run up his arm, her fingers seemingly appreciating his muscled forearm and bicep before resting lightly on his shoulder. Her other hand slipped between their flushed bodies, her palm sliding up his abdomen, slowly dragging over his chest as she looked up at him. She kept her expression relaxed, hoped her eyes didn’t betray her true feelings.
Suddenly, the latter hand fisted and swung in an uppercut. His head whipped back, her other hand came in and she pressed her thumb against his windpipe. With the momentary distraction, she slipped her torso to the side so she was no longer directly between him and the wall. She grabbed his neck with both hands and pulled with all her might, sending his head crashing into the wall beside her. Mouse stumbled backwards, still catching his breath as his head now shook with dizziness. He began to charge at her when her foot came up and kicked him in the stomach, shoving him against the table. The table rattled behind him as he regained his balance, his furious gaze swinging to her immediately as she stood idly in the same spot, her hand now behind her back. When he came at her this time, her hand moved to the front, revealing a knife now in her hand. Her arm moved in a graceful arch, meaning to hit his temple with the hilt. However, he grabbed her hand easily, never seeing that her other arm had moved like lightning and, gun in hand, slammed the butt of the handle against his other temple. As he crumbled to the ground, she kneed him in the other temple, effectively knocking him out.
With her gun trained on the unconscious Mouse, Taeyeon knocked against the door, knowing that even if Youngwoon couldn’t hear it, he would feel the door’s vibrations. On cue, the door easily swung open. Youngwoon took one look at her to assure himself she was free of harm before he caught sight of Mouse. He nodded and allowed her to exit the room, closing the door behind him. As the three guards approached the door, he grabbed her hand and pulled her into the crowd to hide. They moved as fast as they could to escape the club, knowing they would need a roundabout way through the city to divert any possible trackers from their trail.
Junsu was entering the foyer from the back, having gone through the obstacle course using his shadows, when Youngwoon and Taeyeon returned. Almost immediately his attention was absorbed of her, not because of her revealed stomach, but from the withdrawn look in those eyes he knew so well. Without a second thought, he crossed the tiled distance to her and cupped her cheek, tilting her head so she was forced to look at him directly. At such a close proximity, he was able to confirm that what he had seen from across the foyer had been real.
“What happened?” He asked gruffly even as his expression softened.
For a moment, indeed, no longer than half a heartbeat, Taeyeon stayed still in his arms, drawn to the familiar warmth and comfort he once brought her. She realized that, after her encounter with Mouse, she needed a different kind of physical contact, one that calmed and cherished rather than repelled and ravished. Then, belatedly, she stepped away from Junsu, severing contact.
“Mission accomplished, right, Youngwoon?” She prompted, forcing a calmness into her voice that she didn’t quite feel.
Their leader nodded, “I’ll let everyone know tomorrow morning, but we definitely have a break in the case after that meeting with my contact.”
“Why don’t we just gather the troops now and you can tell us?” Junsu asked, reluctantly turning his attention away from her,
“It’s already well past midnight and we all need our sleep,” he answered. He looked over at Taeyeon, “Thanks for the backup,”
She offered a ghost of a smile, “Anytime,” she replied. She glanced at Junsu and, then, walked passed them both, sprinting up the main staircase.
Once she was out of sight, Taeyeon leaned a shoulder against the wall and sighed heavily. She and Youngwoon had ran through back alleys for close to an hour before catching a bus. They rode it all the way until the station before they left on foot once more into Seoul suburbia. It was after another hour of jumping fences, avoiding dogs and crawling through thick bushes before they finally reached where they had hidden bicycles. It was another hour of gruelling, rapid peddling before they arrived at Sungmin’s front gates. She was thoroughly exhausted – physically from the journey back to the house and surprisingly emotionally after her encounter with Mouse.
When she eventually made it to her bedroom, she almost collapsed against the door, wanting nothing more than to crawl into her bed and sleep for a day. However, she felt dirty, literally and symbolically. And, so, she trekked to her private bathroom, stripped off her clothes and weapons and stepped into the large shower. As the water ran hot and down her back, she pressed her forehead against the cool tiled wall.
She had been so firmly resolved to use everything at her disposal to help with the case’s progress, even if it meant lowering herself to being a piece of meat for bait. She dealt with Mouse like any other encounter of that nature she had had in the past, but she never anticipated how emotionally shaken she would be afterwards. For the briefest of moments as he lay on the ground and she stood there, her adrenaline slowly seeping away, she found herself back in that locked closet in the brothel all over again. She wasn’t sure if it had been talk of her first mission before they had left the house, or if it was because she hadn’t had to deal with such situations in a long time, but, whatever it was, she was affected.
After shaking herself free of the dark depths of her mind, she showered, scrubbing her skin roughly as if Mouse had left a physical imprint in her skin. When she exited her bathroom a full hour after first stepping into the shower, she was only mildly surprised to find Junsu in her room sitting at the foot of her bed. Clad in just a towel, she ignored him as she walked to the closet where she kept her clothes.
“You were in there awhile,” Junsu commented, not caring that he revealed just how long he had been waiting in her room.
“Why are you here?” She called from the depths of the walk-in closet even though she already knew the answer.
“I was worried,” he replied, “You had this look on your face when you came into the house.”
It was not the first time Junsu had seen such a look on her. Indeed, as team mates he had seen it a few times after particular missions. He certainly had seen it the night of their last mission before retirement. He hated seeing her as such, her eyes always seemed so hollow and the only way he could describe her was as haunted. Something plagued her mind, haunted her soul and he always – always – had the undeniable need to protect her, bring her back from whatever brink she teetered on. That night was no different despite the years apart and the fact that they were no longer a couple. Even if her heart was now turned against him, there had been a moment in the foyer as he held her close where he knew that, despite how short a moment, her heart had fluttered towards him.
Taeyeon sighed heavily as she walked out of the closet clad in a tank-top and baggy pyjama bottoms, her long wet hair clipped messily to the top of her head. She had been wondering how much longer she could push Junsu away, however, his very presence in her room proved that he had always been more than a team mate and lover to her. He knew her and understood her far better than she had previously assumed. He knew something was wrong and he knew she wouldn’t want to be alone so soon. For the time that they were a couple, he had been the closest person to her and, even though they were no longer together, that didn’t mean they could not be friends again.
Crawling onto her bed and sitting against the headboard, she asked softly, “Do you remember what I told you about my first mission as an agent?”
“Yes,” he replied, shifting so he was facing her, confusion evident on his face; he didn’t know where she was going with this,
“There was something about tonight’s mission that reminded me about it and… and I didn’t like it one bit,” she explained,
“Wait, what could have happened that made you think of that mission?” He questioned,
“The contact… he wasn’t a mouse, he was a damn rat,” she hissed even as her vision blurred with unshed tears,
“He took advantage of you, didn’t he?” Junsu asked quietly, his hands fisting so tightly his knuckles whitened,
“He tried. He got as far as groping me before I beat his ass up,” she rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand as she spoke with venom,
“Ah-ha, that’s my girl,” Junsu grinned,
She looked up at him, eyes wide, “Junsu…” She said warily,
He held up a hand to stop any more words, “I know, I know… we’re not together anymore. It was just a reflex calling you that. I’m just glad we can still talk like this.”
Taeyeon hesitated before giving a single, short nod in agreement, “Regardless of everything else, for a time you were an intimate… my confidante.”
“Do you think we could ever go back to that? Not as a couple, but as friends?” Junsu asked, his gaze unrelenting.
She offered a tentative smile, “I’d like that.”
He was silent a moment before he reciprocated with his own smile. He stood from the bed, stretching his arms to the ceiling, “Well, it’s getting late. I’ll see you at breakfast?”
She nodded and he left. It was only after she was sure he was gone that she reached beneath one of her pillows and extracted a sweater a few sizes too big. Pulling it on, it was black but faded and worn. On the back, printed in faded letters were the words ‘Seoul Policed Department’ with a barely-there crest over the left-side of her chest. Bending her knees to her chest, she draped one arm over her raised knees. With her other hand, she brushed her fingertips over the embroidery of the opposite sleeve: Kim Junsu.
Kyuhyun wasn't sure what time it was. All he knew was that it had been hours since he had dinner with the others and, ever since then, he had been going over the data extrapolated from the hospital employee database. As he looked over that data and the data he had gained from the NIB's own database on convicted criminals, he was able to narrow down which employees could possibly be placed in both spheres. It was difficult to discover if a criminal had any connection to an employee; he had to go deep into their files in the NIB's database. However, regardless of how he looked at the data sets at hand, he still could not narrow down the options beyond three employees.
Pacing before his bed, he ran his hands through his hair dozens of times. He had thought that without his job at the high school he would have so much free time. Instead, he had completely thrown himself into the data, trying to further the case. He wasn't even sure how much sleep he had gotten since he was healed; it felt as if all he had been doing were looking through background checks and other pieces of personal information. If he had had a photographic memory, the amount of information he would have accumulated would have caused his mind to implode. As he was now, he had a pounding headache whenever he even thought about looking at the data again.
If things had gone his way, he could have been in his apartment with Taeyeon living with him temporarily. Then, he could have gone to her and talked through his problems. However, as things stood, he was not at home and, although he could still go seek out Taeyeon, he knew there was a better option. Indeed, several times the past hour alone, he had opened his door to leave, only to close it and pace away. He had never felt so conflicted in his life.
Kyuhyun walked back to his desk where his desktop computer was set up, his two wide-screen monitors both displaying several different windows of information. He was sure that, if he just sat down and went through everything again, he would find an answer. Unfortunately, he was also sure that that route would take countless more hours and he wasn't sure the case could allow for any more wasted time. Even now, it had been several days since they truly began the case and there didn't seem to be much progress on it. Indeed, they did need the time to train themselves once more to become the agents they had once been, but time was not their friend.
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Kyuhyun threw open his door and made his way through the large, dark mansion. It was several minutes before he reached the room he desired. He knocked immediately before his own doubts could stop him and make him run back to his own room. As he waited, he shoved his hands into his pockets. He wasn't sure how long he stood there but, as he began to turn away, the door opened.
"It's three in the morning, Kyuhyun," Sungmin stated, his tone none too pleased.
Before guilt could settle in regarding waking the older man, Kyuhyun realized the bedroom behind Sungmin was well lit and the other was still dressed in the jeans and t-shirt he had been wearing at dinner.
"I need help," Kyuhyun forced himself to admit, his doubts about coming there quickly crowding in.
Sungmin raised a brow, but stepped back and opened the door wider to give the younger man access to his room. He walked over to a large window seat and sat down, his back against the niche's side. The window's curtains were pulled back to allow moonlight in. Once he was settled, he slid an open laptop from the seat onto his lap. It was obvious he had been sitting there prior to opening the door.
Kyuhyun shut the door behind him before crossing the room, sitting on the other end of the window seat. He had so much to say and, yet, found the words stuck in his throat.
"Well?" Sungmin prompted, picking up a small tumbler which had been sitting on the padded seat beside him. He held it to just below his lips as he glanced at Kyuhyun from across its rim, "I'm sure that whatever sent you here at such a ghastly hour must be important. You said you need help."
Sungmin watched as the younger man clearly struggled with his words. He pretended as if he wasn’t aware of the struggle, wasn’t aware of why exactly the younger man had such a difficult time expressing himself. Indeed, Sungmin knew exactly why Kyuhyun was having issues at that moment. The youngest male of their group, Kyuhyun had lived a life where knowledge was never a difficulty for him to acquire. He easily excelled in the fields in which he studied and worked. The first challenge ever presented to him had been becoming a field agent. However, Kyuhyun’s biggest flaw two years ago was the same now; asking for help was a big blow to his pride.
“I… I…” Kyuhyun sighed, propping his elbows on his thighs and clasping his hands together as he stared at the ground; “I’ve been looking through all the data I have from the hospital employee database and the NIB. I’ve cross-referenced as much as I could and I still can’t narrow it down beyond those three employees it could be. As far as I know only one got the drug that killed the agent or all three did it together.”
“Maybe they did,”
“I didn’t come for you to state the obvious, I came for you to help me think!” Kyuhyun snapped. However, almost immediately, he looked over at Sungmin apologetically, “Sorry, I’m just…”
“That doesn’t give you leave to yell at me.”
“I know, I know, I’m sor –”
“Forget it,” Sungmin interrupted. “Tell me how you were able to narrow it down to those three employees. We’ll go from there.”
Kyuhyun hesitated before nodding. In the past, Sungmin would have teased or mocked him mercilessly for coming to ask for help. Indeed, usually if Kyuhyun had ever yelled at him, Sungmin would probably have playfully hit him in response rather than the cold, curt way he had just spoken.
“The first suspect is a porter for the emergency department and would have access to the supply room in question. He had a few charges of theft when he was in his twenties. He served a year in jail and has a clean record since. He started out in the hospital as a janitor before moving up to porter,” Kyuhyun explained, standing and beginning to pace.
Sungmin watched the younger man walk back and forth, his hands shoved into his pockets. Despite the agitation evident in every line of his body, Sungmin knew that he had a clear mind. Indeed, he wasn’t surprised that Kyuhyun had memorized the crucial points of data. However, he was still very much impressed. Although they occasionally teased Kyuhyun and called him their brain boy, it was all done with a heavy amount of respect from their end.
“The second suspect is a nurse in the intensive care unit,” the younger man continued, “Hers is the most obvious of the connections. She is the daughter of the boss of the former Yang Group. Do you remember them?”
“Youngwoon and I actually were on the team that brought them down,” he answered; “They had the record amount of money laundering schemes in all of Korea.”
“I doubt they came close to being as rich as you,” Kyuhyun commented, his usual snarky nature making an appearance,
“Pretty close,” Sungmin briefly grinned before his expression became closed once more. He glanced back down at the laptop before him, taking a small sip of his drink before adding, “After the case was closed, millions of won were recovered and redistributed to their proper accounts. Those caught were sent to federal prison and the remaining members supposedly disbanded and joined other groups.”
“Indeed. Since her father was arrested, her family found out just what his job actually was. Her mother divorced her father, remarried and moved out of Korea. Despite his past, she steadfastly remains loyal to her father, refusing to move with her mother. However, she has striven to separate herself as much as possible from her father’s past,” Kyuhyun recalled,
“You mean like… saving lives instead of taking them?”
“Something like that.”
“And the third suspect?”
“It’s one of the hospital’s pharmacists. He has full access to all the supply rooms since they may need to inspect or use the medicinal equipment,” he explained; “He’s acquired quite a bit of gambling debt this past year. Without having more data, I can only assume he’s making his payments to the bookkeepers just in time. Although it hasn’t been confirmed, it’s assumed he’s continued to accumulate more debt even as he pays off past transgressions.”
“There are gambling debts in the NIB database?” Sungmin questioned, his expression broken up by surprise,
Kyuhyun nodded even as he continued to pace, “The NIB has an agent or contact amongst the bookkeepers to help keep an eye on the passage of money in the country.”
“How far does their influence stretch?”
Kyuhyun paused in his pacing to look at Sungmin, his expression shuttered and mysterious, “Quite extensively.”
“I was saying that rhetorically. You actually know?”
Kyuhyun nodded again, “I was a desk agent for four years. Granted, not the same as Eeteuk-sshi, but even as a tactician, I had access to all of the NIB’s resources.”
“So, about the last suspect. Is he on your list because of the gambling debts?” Sungmin asked,
“Yeah. I first narrowed it down by minor offenses by the employees or their families like parking tickets and continued from there. If I was able to rule out all employees, I would have redone the searching by including the employees’ extended families,” he answered. He sighed heavily, finally extracting his hands from his pockets to run both through his hair; “So that’s who I have it narrowed down to, but I haven’t figure out a way to go beyond that. It would take too long to investigate all three.”
“But, if that’s all we can do…” his words trailed off as he shrugged his shoulders.
Sungmin took a deep sip of his drink, “There’s a but, isn’t there?”
“But I feel like I’m missing something, like there’s something else I can do to narrow the list further,” the younger man replied, “I’ve gone through so much data; what else could there be?”
“Well, that’s certainly up to you to figure out, isn’t it?” Sungmin mused, finishing off his drink.
“Damn it, what’s wrong with you!?” Kyuhyun finally demanded. He crossed the distance between them, gripping the older man’s shoulders firmly as he stared down at the other’s face, “You’re drunk aren’t you!?”
“Oh, certainly not as drunk as I would like to be. For example, there is only one of you,” Sungmin replied, momentarily closing his eyes to dispel the sudden onset of dizziness caused by the combination of alcohol and the younger man shaking him; “Wait, now there are two of you and both are annoyingly petulant.”
Kyuhyun let out a frustrated breath as he turned away from the older man. Sungmin had certainly fooled him; he hadn’t once suspected for even a moment that the other man had been drunk despite guessing that he was drinking some kind of alcohol. Indeed, Sungmin seemed quite clear-headed up until a few minutes prior. However, after a cursory glance at the rest of the room, Kyuhyun got his confirmation that Sungmin was, indeed, well in his cups: an empty decanter was on his bedside table.
“Why are you even drinking?” Kyuhyun questioned, “Don’t you have work to do for the morning as well?”
“Oh, I started my work before I began drinking,” Sungmin insisted as he slid the laptop to beside him on the window seat, “All my searches should be done by the morning and I’ll be very much sober to do the analysis then.”
Kyuhyun turned back to look at the older man, watching warily as Sungmin stood up and placed his tumbler on the bedside table beside the empty decanter. He then proceeded to use his toes to pull off his socks as he raised his shirt above his head and toss it across the room. When he began to unbutton his jeans, Kyuhyun cried out,
Sungmin looked up at him, his expression adorably perplexed, “Eh?”
“I’m still in the room! Stop undressing!”
Sungmin grinned at him before shrugging and, then, crawling onto the bed.
It was the most peculiar of things to Kyuhyun, watching the older man act in such a way. Even though before retirement he had been almost as bubbly as Taeyeon had been, he had never seen Sungmin act so carefree, so goofy. Especially after witnessing the man Sungmin had turned into, so stoic and low, the man before him now was a curiosity.
Watching as Sungmin grabbed a pillow and proceeded to snuggle up against it, his face looking so boyish, Kyuhyun couldn’t help but test to see how inhibited the other was. “Sungmin?”
“Mmm?” The other murmured even as he nuzzled his cheek against the soft, feather pillow in his arms.
“Why do you drink now?” Kyuhyun asked quietly, recalling the first time he and the others came to the house that Sungmin had been drinking that day as well; “When we were all still working together I remember you saying you never drank alcohol, that you always had to be prepared to use your sniper rifle.”
“Well, once I retired I didn’t need to worry about that, now did I?” He replied with a lilting voice, turning to his other side and taking his pillow with him.
“But, you’re a mercenary,”
Sungmin snorted sleepily, “Have only done… few jobs.”
“Then, why?” Kyuhyun asked, his voice even quieter, not wanting to startle the drunk man into awareness.
“Help forget,” Sungmin replied slower and quieter each time.
“Faces,” the older man replied, “My kills… their faces… those kids…”
Silence fell between them. Kyuhyun waited as the other’s breathing evened out and he stopped moving around in the bed. Slowly, quietly, Kyuhyun approached the bed, walking around it so he could see the other’s sleeping face.
“I have my own confession, Sungmin. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said quietly as he squatted down at the side of the bed so that he was at eye-level with the sleeping man; “Or the others. Do you know how hard it was for me to be on a team with all of you? You guys were famous in The Sector and had been together for a long time before I came in. Call it my pride, my ego, my inferiority complex – whatever it was, it was nerve-wracking to join the team.
“I had hoped that we had all become friends but, when we all parted after we retired, I thought I was wrong… The past two years I thought maybe I was the only one who no one talked to. When I found out Youngwoon was the only one who managed to keep in contact with everyone, I was so surprised…
“I can’t… I can’t help but try to keep a part of me at a distance,” he admitted, crossing his arms gently atop the mattress; “I know I spoke about us needing to spend time together to become the team we once were but… I’m scared, Sungmin… scared that if we all become closer again that we’ll only separate and… and I’ll be alone… again.”
Kyuhyun slowly rose to his full height and quietly padded over to the door. He was halfway out when he paused and looked back at the bed. “You shouldn’t have carried the guilt of that last mission all this time, Sungmin. After all, it was my fault,” he sighed heavily as he turned to leave.
The door was closing firmly, quietly into place when Sungmin opened his eyes.
“Bold bastards,” Eeteuk swore as he switched from using the handle on his briefcase to its shoulder strap. Slipping the strap to cross diagonally from his shoulder, he took a quick scan of his surroundings.
Walking in downtown Seoul during morning rush hour meant that Eeteuk was surrounded by people going to work or school and even a few joggers here and there. Such a setting meant that he would be surrounded by people and he could melt into the crowds. Unfortunately, it meant that whoever was tailing him could do the same. Whoever was stalking him had not been following him since he left one of his safe houses, which gave him some comfort that they still didn’t know where he had been sleeping at night. But, they knew where he was now and they were fast closing in on him.
Knowing he was found already, he didn’t bother to even slip between people as he moved. Instead, he burst into full speed and ran through the flow of morning commuters, his bag bouncing against his leg as he went. As he ran, he did a quick spin, catching a glance of two large men running after him.
“Damn bastards must be on steroids to run so fast,” Eeteuk muttered as he cut through a small park, straying from the path to run through the trees.
The moment he broke free from the small bit of nature, he immediately ran towards the nearest alleyway, needing to end things fast. He could no longer endanger any of the public. He swore when he saw that he had run right into a dead end. Instead of stopping and turning back, knowing that the two stalkers would be waiting for him at the mouth of the alley, he ran straight to the end. Using a strategically-placed step against the wall, Eeteuk was able to propel himself high enough to step atop the two covered trash bins at the end of the alley. As he spun to face his followers, he quickly pushed his bag from his side, to lie against his lower back. He may need to fight, but there was no need to ruin his work while at it.
The two men were now just feet away from the round trash bins.
“I can’t believe two of us were sent to take on such a puny guy,” one of the men huffed.
Eeteuk ignored their words, taking in their red faces, sweat-covered foreheads and laboured breathing. He was almost insulted at the low caliber of men that were sent after him. He was about to wonder how the last team were able to be had by such men, when he realized that all the murders were never committed on foot. By changing his routine, being sporadic and taking public transport, he had forced his pursuers to change tactics, forced them to follow him on foot which was perhaps their weakness.
One of the men tried to charge towards him and Eeteuk immediately kicked out, the toe of his shoe making contact with the man’s cheek, sending him stumbling back against the other man.
“Now, now… I’m giving you guys a chance to leave with your bodies in one piece,” Eeteuk said, his tone blatantly condescending as he lightly jumped down from the bins; his plan required being on ground level with them.
Believing the agent to be more vulnerable, the other man – the one who hadn’t been kicked in the head – ran towards Eeteuk, arms outstretched and aiming for his slender neck. Immediately, Eeteuk shot his hand up and out, his palm pushing powerfully against the man’s nose. His sensitive ears heard the cracking of cartilage and, almost instantly, blood began to trail from the man’s nose.
“Fuck!” The man swore, his voice nasally, “He broke my nose!”
“In all fairness, I did warn you,” Eeteuk shrugged nonchalantly.
The man who had been kicked came at Eeteuk then. When the agent swung a fist, the man caught it, only to miss the other fist that came flying towards his temple. He fell back against an alley wall, his head spinning from the hit.
“Idiot, I have two hands,” Eeteuk scolded as if he were talking to a child just as he was turning towards the other man, his hand cupping against the stalker’s neck and pushing him against the parallel wall.
“Come on, you two need to do better than that,” Eeteuk sighed with mock-drama, “You’re both easily a hundred pounds heavier than me and yet neither of you can land a hit?”
When the man recovered from his dizzy spell straightened from the wall, Eeteuk did a quick kick swipe, sending the man back against the wall. Instinctively, he ducked, feeling the wind from a punch graze his cheek as he moved, the nose-bleeder’s fist just passing by him. He moved so he was outside of the man’s arm, gripped his wrist with one hand and, with the other hand, Eeteuk placed his palm against the man’s shoulder blade. Easily, he sent the nose-bleeder crashing into the other man.
“Now, guys, we can do this the easy way or we can keep going as we are now,” Eeteuk replied as he leaned against the opposite wall, sounding as if they were in a commonplace situation and talking about mundane things like the weather.
“We’re not done with you, shrimp!” One of the men growled.
Eeteuk rolled his eyes. Suddenly, he felt his body jolt against the wall, a burning sensation in his left bicep and the right-side of his abdomen. He didn’t even have to look down to know he had been shot. His eyes narrowed and his almond-shaped eyes flashed darkly,
“Piece of shit! You don’t bring a gun into a fist fight!” He exclaimed, pushing away from the wall.
In the small space between himself and the assailants, he spun on the ball of his foot, picking up both trash bin lids as he went. As he completed his rotation, he hit each man with one lid each on the face. Watching them fall back against the other wall, he tightened his grip on the lid handles. Using the edge of one lid, he knocked the gun from the shooter’s hand, carefully using the other lid as a shield should the gun go off suddenly. Then, as if filled with new-found energy, the men came at Eeteuk, their fists flying. Eeteuk used one of the lids to block their blows and, with the other lid he used it as a guard, knowing that they would have more than just one gun with them.
Knowing he had to finish the fight fast before he could begin to lose strength, Eeteuk ducked to the side of their punches to catch one head and then the other, smashing the metal lid against their faces. The nose-bleeder cried out as his already-broken nose suddenly flared up with pain from the hit. Clutching at his face, he stepped back, accidentally shouldering his partner. Despite it causing the briefest of pauses in their assault, it was long enough for the agent to adjust his hold on the lids. He threw them like Frisbees, hitting one right between the eyes and, the other, he landed another hit to the broken nose. When the two men had collected their wits, Eeteuk stood a metre away, two guns trained on them.
“I was going to be nice,” Eeteuk said, his voice cold, “but you’ve forced my hand. Did you two dimwits really believe I wouldn’t have some kind of weapon on me?”
Before they could reply, both men were stunned silent at the sight before them. During the chase and the fight, the agent’s suit jacket had been properly buttoned up. Now, however, it fell open, the buttons probably undone so he could access his guns; they could only assume they had been tucked into hidden holsters. What they saw in addition to the guns pointed directly at them, was that the open jack revealed the agent had padded knife holsters strapped around his abdomen, several daggers peeking out at them.
“You’ve been playing with us, haven’t you?” One of the men scowled,
Eeteuk smiled then, his expression somehow becoming more sinister rather than softening, “Oh, no. I haven’t even begun to play.”
Before either man could respond, Eeteuk shot both guns. The men flinched to their sides, trying to avoid bullets to their main organs. When they realized that they hadn’t been shot, it was already too late. Eeteuk, who had fired the guns wide on purpose to distract them, immediately slipped in closer. He punched the nose-bleeder straight in the nose, putting all his weight into the hit. With his other hand, he used the butt of his gun and smashed it against the other’s temple. The former collapsed from the onslaught of pain while the other fell upon him, his head spinning once more.
Eeteuk closed the distance between them. One gun trained at the fainted man, he aimed his other gun at the other man. He placed a foot against the man’s chest, putting just enough pressure to make it slightly difficult for the man to breathe.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” he stated calmly, his voice easily covered by the sound of city traffic, “You’re going to tell me who sent you, why they sent you and who else you’ve been sent after. Then, you’re going to be arrested and you’re going to pray that you never meet me in an alleyway ever again.” His voice softened, his tone terrifying to the other man, “You should also pray that I don’t do the interrogating. I assure you, you will break and it can be very painful.”
Eeteuk’s eyes widened ever so slightly as he saw the sudden spread of scarlet on the man’s clothes. The man moved his arm slightly and a gun clattered to the ground. The man had shot himself.
“I can keep my mouth shut,” the man grounded out, “until I bleed to death.”
Eeteuk swore as he quickly went to work. He pulled handcuffs from beneath his suit jacket, rapidly handcuffing both men. Once he was sure they were secured, he knelt beside the man with the gunshot wound. Eeteuk took out a pair of rubber gloves – also hidden beneath his jacket – and slipped them on before pressing his hand against the wound, trying to slow the blood. The man squirmed beneath his hand,
“Oh, be quiet,” Eeteuk scolded, “You did this to yourself. Did you really think I would let you die? Geez, they sure make criminals dumb these days.”
With his free hand, the agent took out his cellular phone and called for back-up.