“What is it like to be in love?”

“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.”

Reign on Me series

Monday, April 6, 2015

[LIS10] Chapter 10: A Great Typhoon

words: 8325
rate: PG13
(Chapter 10 of the Living in Shadows series)

“I still can’t believe you left the Sector to be a florist,” Sungmin stated the next morning as he sat on a stool behind the counter. “Further more, remind me again why I’m here with you. I could better spend this time playing about in my backyard or doing target practice.”

“Or, searching the house again for more alcohol? I did another clean sweep last night,” Youngwoon admitted as he stood by the counter creating a large flower arrangement. “You’ve been looking like you’re in a bad mood since breakfast. Did something happen last night?”

“Oh, same old, same old,” Sungmin replied as he fiddled with his cell phone as a means to preoccupy himself as his friend worked. “Remembering past missions… past kills.”

“That’s dangerous,” he murmured in response, glancing over his shoulder at the younger man,

“Don’t act like you don’t do it, too,” the other shot him a sharp glare,

“I most definitely do, but I’ve found something that calms me, something that makes me feel as if I’m being redeemed at least a little bit,” Youngwoon replied as he picked up a calla lily, his long and rough fingers gently stroking its pristine petal; “I now create life rather than take it away. I nurture beauty rather than create chaos.”

Sungmin sighed heavily, “If that’s what being a florist does for you, then I envy you your solace.”

“You could have told me about this all these years,” He said simply, “Although we spoke rarely, you could have told me you were having trouble coping still. I could have helped you.”

“I would not want to drag you into my darkness, Youngwoon,” the younger man replied quietly, “I was in a hell of my own making… why would I bring you back to such a place when you’ve found a way to escape the memories?”

Youngwoon was silent for a moment as he turned his attention back to the arrangement. Although he and Sungmin had entered the NIB together, become part of the Sector as a unit and had been on every mission together, because of their different roles on the team, their kill count was significantly different. Youngwoon specialized in hand-to-hand combat even though he was quite skilled with a gun. Sungmin, since he was the sniper shooter, he had more opportunity to kill and had found himself in the position of having to kill or let another person be killed one too many times. Especially when they were first beginning as agents, there were times when Sungmin’s aim had not been as true as it now was and a stray bullet had put a target into a critical condition if not killed them. Indeed, there was even one mission when Youngwoon had had to protect himself and killed a small handful of targets with his bare hands. When the mission was completed and his current team had reunited at headquarters, it was then that he found out Sungmin had killed a dozen men who were preparing to ambush the area where they had been.

Youngwoon hesitated before he stated, “Something’s different about today’s melancholy, Sungmin.”

Refusing to look at him, Sungmin merely said, “Oh?”

“I’ve been with you before when the memories begin to swarm in on you, when you start obsessing over the names, the faces and the lives you could have spared. There’s something deeper here, something more emotional,” he replied,

“How can something be more emotional than what you just described as my state of mind?”

“Your usual melancholy is a part of your mental distress and, although it can consume you, it never engages your hotter emotions. Since this morning, however, I’ve been waiting for you to fly into a rage,” Youngwoon explained, 

“I’m faced with the dilemma of sending a man to jail and destroying his family as a result,” Sungmin admitted, his voice impossibly soft as he continued on in a brief description of his mission’s target. 

“We faced those kinds of dilemmas all the time in the past, Sungmin. It’s never bothered you so much before,” the older man pointed out,

“I’ve never been inside a target’s family’s minds before,” he reminded, his voice taking on a harsh bite, 

“You know what must be done.”

“I know, but it sure as hell doesn’t make it easier!” Sungmin exclaimed,

“I know.”

Those softly spoken words of his best friend jolted him almost immediately. There he was complaining to Youngwoon when, all those years, his friend had been going through the same turmoil. It was always Youngwoon who used his telepathy so frequently, so easily against their targets. Even though he was their leader, he was still his best friend and, yet, Sungmin couldn’t recall a time when Youngwoon was even close to expressing the same emotional roller coaster he was. He knew his friend felt emotions deeply, which meant that he worked even harder to control himself, to keep his feelings in check in order to function properly as their leader. 

“I’m sorry,” Sungmin apologized, shamed with his selfishness,

“Don’t be,” Youngwoon answered and, as if he knew exactly what passed through the younger man’s mind added, “If you think about what other evils the man may have done or may do in the future… it might ease your indecision somewhat.”

“But, what if this was his only sin? What if he doesn’t do anything again? Do I damn a man and his family for a one-time mistake?” Sungmin questioned, “Indeed, if we’re looking at those statistics, I’m more deserving of imprisonment than him.”

“This is a dangerous path you’re going down, Sungmin,” Youngwoon warned, looking at his friend again, 

“I just… I wish I never used my telepathy that night,” the younger man sighed heavily, ducking his head and gluing his eyes to his cell phone once more,

“Why do I feel as if there’s more to your mood than just that?” The other mused as he put down the flower he was currently holding and headed over to the store’s phone which began to ring, “You’ve been watching your phone like a hawk since we left your house. Are you waiting for someone to contact you?”

Sungmin was saved from having to reply as Youngwoon picked up the phone.

“PK Flowers, Youngwoon speaking, how may I help you?” Youngwoon’s tone suddenly became all business on the phone. Sungmin watched with amusement, having seen the same attitude many times when his friend assumed the role of leader on their cases. “Ah, let me put you on speakerphone,” Youngwoon put the handset down, “Eeteuk? You can talk now,” he said aloud, “Sungmin’s with me, too.”

“Morning Sungmin,” Eeteuk’s voice rang out from the speaker phone,

“Good morning,” the younger man replied.

“What’s up, Eeteuk?” Youngwoon questioned as he turned half of his attention back to the flowers, 

“Well, first off, I got the results back from the hair samples Taeyeon was able to steal that night at the restaurant,” Eeteuk replied, “I would have gotten results sooner, but the person wasn’t on the criminal DNA database, so I had to hack into hospital systems and whatnot.”

“Hair samples?” Sungmin prompted, 

“Ah, that’s right, I never mentioned it during a meeting. That night that they broke into the restaurant the second time and was attacked, the man who attacked them, Taeyeon got a few of their hairs when she attacked him back,” Youngwoon explained, “So, I’m assuming we have an identity?”

“Yeah, and you’ll never guess who it is!” 

“I’m going to take that as a rhetorical question,” the florist replied dryly,

“You’re no fun. You could at least play the game for a little bit,” Eeteuk replied, surprising Sungmin at the almost-petulant tone the agent used. “The guy’s name is Kwon KyungKi and, I found out some more - guess what!”

“Eeteuk…” Youngwoon warned exasperatedly,

“He’s John Kwon’s cousin!” Sungmin straightened in his seat, gaping,

“That’s right! How did you know?” Eeteuk asked,

“He’s the guy I’ve been investigating,” Sungmin explained, “I saw him in some of the restaurant security tapes and, on the night that one of the agents died via hit-and-run, he left the restaurant shortly after Kwon did.” Sungmin slumped in his stool again as he ran a hand through his hair, “So, he’s the one who attacked them in the restaurant that night…” 

Youngwoon, sensing his friend’s renewed troubles, turned the conversation down a different route, “Eeteuk, is there any way you can meet with the team before the night of the auction?”

“Eh? That’s a little short notice, Youngwoon. We have a week and a half until the auction and, it was just the other day that I was attacked. I don’t know how safe it would be for you guys if I met with any of you outside of the NIB headquarters, especially if there’s a chance I may lead them to your team,” Eeteuk replied, his tone rueful, “Why? What’s up?”

“I think I need your help,” Youngwoon admitted, staring down at the flower in his hands,

“What? Why? You’ve never needed my help in the past? Besides, your team is the best in the business. Even if I could add my own perspective to things, you have a team of brilliant agents to help you,”

“I don’t think he needs reminding of that fact,” Sungmin stated with a roll of his eyes,

“I know, but this is literally the first time he’s asked me to help him with his team,” Eeteuk insisted,

“That’s true. Why are you asking?” Sungmin prompted, for once looking away from his phone for longer than a few seconds,

“Our team is crumbling before the main mission is even started,” Youngwoon stated firmly as he picked up a pair of small shearing scissors and then just slammed them back onto the counter, picking up another flower in stead. “Junsu can’t stand being with us for prolonged periods of time, let alone talk to Taeyeon. Sungmin’s going half crazy and Kyuhyun’s ready to abandon us before we’ve even come close to a solution.”

“I am not going crazy, but all the rest is true,” Sungmin defended before muttering,

“I haven’t the slightest clue how we’ll be victorious in our final mission at the auction if there’s so much dissonance,” the leader admitted, 

“Okay, okay, I’ll figure out a way to meet with you guys just so you don’t crack under all this pressure,” Eeteuk insisted, “But on the chance that I can’t, let’s try to resolve one of the issues nows.”

“But, how can we do anything over the phone?” Sungmin asked,

“Is there an issue that can be addressed right now?” Eeteuk sighed, “I have to admit those are big issues for a team, but other teams have functioned before with similar problems.”

“Our team only knows how to work in sync, any other way…” 

“Taeyeon,” Sungmin interjected,

“What about Taeyeon? It’d be best to fix her and Junsu’s issue with both of them present for the conversation at least,” Eeteuk said,

“No, there’s another issue that Youngwoon didn’t mention, or, perhaps he doesn’t know about. Taeyeon’s become completely submissive,” Sungmin announced, “I’m not sure how well she’ll be able to work during a mission when she’s being so timid. Honestly, it felt like I was working with a green agent the other night.”

“What!? Kim Taeyeon!?”

“Sungmin’s right. I thought something was suspicious when I was giving out the roles for the main mission and she didn’t argue at all and it’s a role she’s sure to hate,” Youngwoon added, 

“I was doing a mission with her the other night and she was looking to me for guidance every step of the way. Times when she would have made a decision or known what to do, she asked me what she should do,” Sungmin recalled. 

“Like her confidence was shot?” Eeteuk prompted,

Sungmin leaned so his back was pressed against the wall as he loosely crossed his arms about his torso, “No…” He mused as he tried to recall his thoughts and feelings from that night, “It was more like she was fighting all her instincts; holding back.”

“Even when she was a trainee, Taeyeon worked with the confidence of a seasoned agent and, although others may resent her for such an attitude, they could never deny she had the skills to back it up,” Eeteuk said, “Hell, who has ever heard of a trainee voluntarily remaining a trainee for two more years instead of becoming an agent?”

“Ever since our team’s gotten back together, she’s lamented to me a few times that her arrogance is the root of all her problems,” Youngwoon noted, “Perhaps all that’s happened lately is now causing her to put away her usual confidence. Maybe she believes things will be better if she takes a backseat instead of taking the wheel herself.”

“Then, you guys need to talk to her. There’s taking a backseat to the leader and then there’s taking a backseat to the entire time,” Eeteuk commented,

“I think we all need to talk about our last mission at the summer camp,” Youngwoon muttered,

“Whoa - no, no, no!” Sungmin jumped to his feet, “We’re not that desperate to solve all our problems.”

“Aren’t we?” Youngwoon countered, eyes narrowing as he stared back at his friend,

“Look, whatever you guys decide, I am in total agreement that all these issues need to be addressed by the whole team. Like I said, teams have functioned before without full teamwork on their side, but what made your team so perfect was the fact that you didn’t have these problems; you trusted each other completely,” Eeteuk said, “I have some work here at the Sector to do. I’ll contact you as soon as I can, Youngwoon, and I’ll figure out a way to see you guys.”

“Okay, take care,” Youngwoon replied before a loud click was heard denoting that the other line had hung up.

When Sungmin realized Youngwoon was looking at him again, he sighed heavily as he slowly sat back down on the stool, “No, we’re not going to talk about the summer camp.”

Youngwoon looked at him for a moment longer, before given a short, curt nod and turning his attention back to his flowers.

“What is that for, anyway?” Sungmin inquired lightly as he looked down at his phone once again, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if it’s for a funeral?”

“It is,” Youngwoon confirmed,


It was the early afternoon when Youngwoon returned to the mansion with Sungmin. They went their separate ways with Youngwoon heading for the back terrace to get some target practice in. He was startled to find Junsu already there and watching over the grassy clearing for target practice. He walked over to the side of the terrace where Junsu was and was even more startled to find what Junsu was watching. Down below in the clearing Taeyeon was throwing dagger after dagger but only a handful were actually hitting the targets and, those that did hit were far from the centre.

“What the hell?” 

Junsu didn’t even spare him a glance, his narrowed gaze concentrated on the agent below, “She’s been like that since lunch. I don’t know what’s going on with her but she’s never been this bad.”

“What do you mean you don’t know what’s going on with her? You know exactly what’s wrong,” Youngwoon stated, his tone sharper than he had intended,

“Youngwoon…” Junsu began in a resigned tone,

“When you two first got together none of us made a fuss about it because we all believed you both were professional enough to not let it affect your jobs and, until now it hasn’t. Until now you both let your feelings go while on the field and didn’t show any biases as agents. But, now?” Youngwoon sighed as he crossed his arms over his chest, “Now, I’m just damn glad that our team is only doing this one mission before returning to retirement.”

“You should have told me I have a son,” Junsu stated then, anger evident in his tone and suddenly stiffened posture, “Even if it should have been Taeyeon to do so, when it was clear she wasn’t going to, you should have!”

“Yes, I should have and I apologize for it. Indeed this little reprimand isn’t the first time I’ve regretted my actions, but giving me and everyone the cold shoulder isn’t going to change what’s already passed,” Youngwoon countered, “And even though you may not agree with my methods, there’s still a part of me that has never regretted hiding your son from you.”

“Who the hell do you think you are!?” Junsu demanded as he suddenly grabbed the older man’s collar, his fingers clawing into the material, “I have a son! I missed his birth! I missed his first birthday! Who the hell are you to believe that you were right in keeping him from me!?”

“Something happened in that summer camp two years ago, Junsu,” Youngwoon said ruthlessly, his words like cold water pouring over the younger man’s flaming anger, “Something that changed all of us. Something that pushed us all to leave the Sector. None of us talk about it now, but we all know we were changed since that night. You, me, Taeyeon and the others - we were all different afterwards. Taeyeon has her own demons but at least she acknowledges them. You keep playing your happy-go-lucky facade as if you’re over that night, but I know you better than that.”

“Fuck off!” Junsu shoved him away and made to leave, 

“You’re broken just like the rest of us, Junsu, and hiding behind your bright mask isn’t helping you move on,” Youngwoon stated, his words keeping the other man in his place. Youngwoon sighed as he turned his attention back to the target practice area as he continued, his voice quieter, “How was I to entrust the life of an infant to someone who couldn’t even admit that they were not whole? How could I let that infant rely on someone who could break at any time?”

“I would never hurt my son!” Junsu defended hotly,

“I know, but having him in your life with wounds from the summer camp still open would have broken you in ways that nothing else could,” his leader replied, . “You were just like the others, Junsu. You would deign to talk with me these past two years, but you wouldn’t accept my help. And, now…”

“Now?” He prompted, his previous anger slowly deflating,

“Now, we’re a broken team trying to bring the pieces back together but they no longer fit,” Youngwoon said softly, quietly, his tone tinged with sadness and regret. 

He remained where he stood as he heard Junsu’s retreating footsteps. He waited a moment longer to calm himself, recollect his resolve and push aside his own chaotic emotions before going to help another teammate. After all, he was their leader.

Taeyeon was exhausted both mentally and physically in a way she hadn’t ever been before. Even during her years as a trainee, she could not recall ever being so tired, her body crying for just a moment more of sleep that she couldn’t grant it. She could not recall ever being so unfocused during her work and she was disgusted at how little of her daggers hit their target. She loathed that not a single dagger met its intended mark. As she reached for another throwing knife, she was horrified to see her hand shaking. She retracted her hand away from the knife as she stared down at her hand, clenching and unclenching her fingers. Fatigue and distraction were a deadly combination and, yet, she still tried to fight through them both. Indeed, she was feeling the effects, her hands had shallow cuts and her wrists were aching - signs that she not only was holding her knives wrong, but she was throwing them improperly, too.

“You’re running yourself ragged,” Youngwoon commented lightly as he reached her side.

Taeyeon whirled around to face him, hating that her heart had nearly jumped out of her body at hearing his voice and hating that she hadn’t detected sooner that someone was approaching her.

Youngwoon’s eyes narrowed; he had easily seen the signs of surprise in the ex-agent, “I came down here to see if we could continue my dagger training, but I see now that I may be better than you at this moment.” When Taeyeon opened her mouth to reply, he quickly interjected, “Don’t you dare start lying to me now, Taeyeon!”

She shut her mouth and looked away, her face downcast. It was several heartbeats before she finally spoke, her tone flat, “What can I say, Youngwoon? You can see my daggers scattered in the grass and the paltry ones which actually hit a target are so far off the mark… and, yet, I must be masochistic because I throw one more and one more in the hopes that one may actually hit centre even though I know I’m in no state to be here.”

“What has been going on with you lately?” He asked simply, plopping down onto the grass and pulling her down beside him; he saw almost immediately how tired she was. “You didn’t even heal these cuts even though you could have done so easily. You’re that exhausted, aren’t you?”

“I’m tired, Youngwoon,” she replied, hugging her knees to her chest,

“It’s more than that,” he insisted,

“No, it’s exactly that,” she said, laying her forehead on her raised knees, “I’m tired of the drama and tension. I’m tired of this mission. I’m tired of falling far below my usual standards. I’m tired of trying to be something I’m not but I’m scared of being who I really am. I’m tired of Junsu hating me…” Her voice trailed off as it broke during her last words. She cleared her throat as if to stabilize her voice as she said quietly, “I’m tired of everything.”

“Are you out?” He asked bluntly, “I need to know now, Taeyeon. Are you in or are you out? If you’re out we need to adjust the missions accordingly, but if you’re in, I want the real you completely in.”

Youngwoon was silent, giving her time to answer. However, he couldn’t help the dread that crept up on him with each passing second that she was silent. He had never seen her so broken or defeated as she had seemed since starting the case with them. He knew his former team mates were still heavily effected from their last case and its final mission at the summer camp and, yet, he still sought them out and brought them back to a world they may have not been ready for. Indeed, half the time he wondered if he was ready to be back.

Shaking himself from his musings, he realized that Taeyeon had still not answered. So, he gently suggested, “There are things I can’t help you with, but what about something I can help you with? Why are you scared of being who you are?”

“Sometimes I don’t even know who I am, Youngwoon. Who I’ve been… who I’ve become. I mean, look at the horrible things I’ve done to all of you!” Taeyeon looked up, her expression tortured, her eyes glassed with unshed tears.

“I know you to be Kim Taeyeon, one of the greatest agents the NIB has ever had. I know you to be an all-rounder as an agent but an expert at throwing knives. I know you to be a compassionate friend and a reliable teammate. And, more recently, I know you to be a mother who will do anything and everything to protect her child, even if it means protecting him from yourself,” Youngwoon stated with confidence, his voice brooking no arguments. 

Taeyeon stared at him in a silent awe. She had always been arrogant and she had heard praise since she was a trainee. However, Youngwoon spoke of her as beyond the agent. He praised her for more than just her skills on the field. He praised who she truly was and all she hoped to be. As he spoke, the tears she had long been suppressing spilt over her eyelids and trailed down her cheeks.

“Be who you have always been, Taeyeon,” Youngwoon stated softly, moving close enough that he could wipe away her tears with the cuff of his sleeve; “Be confident without being arrogant. Be brave without being foolish. Be honest without being scared.” 

Taeyeon scrubbed at her face with both hands, taking away her tears and sweat. She looked at her leader with an almost fearful determination as she nodded.

“The old you would totally kick your ass right now for being like this,” he joked,

Taeyeon couldn’t help but laugh. 

He reached towards her and brushed away a few more stray tears as he said sincerely, “Who you really are is someone to be proud of, Taeyeon. Who you really are is someone your son will respect, admire and aspire to be.”

Taeyeon turned towards her leader and, for the first time in all the years they had known each other, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

A few days later, Youngwoon and Junsu were in Kyuhyun’s bedroom helping the younger man with his role in the up-coming auction as one of the bidders. It seemed that their talks with Junsu had finally broken the ice and allowed him to let them closer again. Youngwoon knew that Sungmin still hadn’t approached Junsu since he was dealing with his own problems, whatever they were, and he was beginning to believe that Junsu and Taeyeon wouldn’t speak again until the case was closed. To keep Junsu in the fold as much as possible once he was finally letting his walls slowly come down, Youngwoon had dragged him to Kyuhyun’s room with him after the younger man had called him for help earlier that day.

Youngwoon sat at the desk chair while Junsu sat on the desk itself, pushing the keyboards aside so he had room. Kyuhyun came out of the walk-in close dressed in a crisp suit of inky black and pristine white pinstripes. His hair was slicked back away from his face with gel and he had a pair of square, thin-wired glasses. He came and stood before the other two and awaited their judgement.

Junsu burst out laughing almost immediately. Holding his stomach, he held up a hand, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. You look fine, it’s just funny to see you look so… so…” as if he couldn’t describe it himself, he merely waved at Kyuhyun’s attire.

“You do remind me of my principal from elementary school,” Youngwoon commented lightly as he titled his head to the side, regarding the younger man thoughtfully, “At least you already can fake an icy cold demeanour to go with the facade.”

“It looks perfect for the role,” Junsu insisted once he had stopped laughing, “And with Youngwoon playing your bodyguard, it’ll only help complete the image of a young master.”

Kyuhyun sighed, crossing his arms to stop himself from running his hands through his hair and ruining the style, “I suppose it helps that if someone questions me it won’t be hard to disprove them of any doubts. I’ll just talk them in circles with economics and politics.”

“Don’t tell me that I have to learn that stuff, too!” Junsu exclaimed, “I’ll just have to adopt a strong-and-silent-type of character. There’s no way I can learn all that in a week.”

“I haven’t played such a central role before,” Kyuhyun admitted as he paced towards the foot of his bed and sat down, his arms still crossed, “That’s why I asked for help. I don’t want to mess this up, especially if it means this case can finally be closed after all these months and after an entire team being murdered.”

Junsu was surprised at the young man. For as long as he knew Kyuhyun, the younger man had carried himself with a quiet confidence, his intelligence and critical thinking something he had always admired. Even though he had been a green agent to the field, Kyuhyun had never hesitated in joining the action and never faltered as a tactician. To see him as he was at that moment made him realize - and regret - how much he truly didn’t know about Cho Kyuhyun.

“I don’t think we should be using radios,” Kyuhyun spoke up, “We’re always weary of our line being tapped or the frequency being interfered with. Even if I program the radios myself, there’s never complete confidence of privacy over radio signals. We’ll need to use our telepathy wholly this time.”

He stood and began pacing before his bed, his mind racing as he went over the tactics in his head. He had already explained them briefly to Youngwoon but had yet to perfect them. As the end of the week drew closer, he would talk with each ex-agent and explain the plan. The day before the auction, they would gather together and go over the plan together again and again until it was perfectly memorized and, in theory, seamless.

“Youngwoon, we may need to adopt our own code. If the others are communicating to me through telepathy, I won’t be able to communicate with you with my telepathy. I’ve hardly ever used it before and it’s too late now to perfect it,”  Kyuhyun stated, “Besides, it may become confusing and tiring for me if I have several mental pathways open. At least if I have one less and can speak with you normally, that’ll put less strain on my mind.

“Also, you’ll have to be my eyes for the rest of the auction. I can’t seem too interested in my environment or I may become suspicious to those around us,” Kyuhyun mused, “At least, as my bodyguard, it would be expected that you’re constantly monitoring everything and everyone. No one will spare you a passing glance, merely thinking you’re just there to protect your young master.

“We’ll have to choose a key seat which is both inconspicuous and, yet, can help us keep an eye on Kwon and where Junsu will sit,” he looked thoughtfully at the older men, “Junsu, since you’ll be our main bidder, it’ll be better if you arrive there before Kwon. That way we can place ourselves according to where you sit.”

Junsu, having always been impressed with Kyuhyun’s tactics, realized something at that moment. Kyuhyun was arranging them all like pieces on a chessboard and, even though he wasn’t their leader, Kyuhyun was the master player. In all his time spent at Youngwoon’s side, needing to consult their leader with any change in tactics during field missions, Kyuhyun had begun to absorb and emulate the characteristics which made Youngwoon such a good leader. 

“Well, Kyuhyun, it sounds to me like you’ve got this role pretty much figured out,” Junsu stated, “I’ll help you as much as I can, but it’s hard to teach something that has become second nature to me. You need to learn to make the role your own, make it natural.”

“I… I was originally going to ask Sungmin for help,” the younger man admitted as he sat back down on his bed again,

“Then, why didn’t you?” Junsu asked, “I mean, I don’t mind helping you and, although I probably should feel a little peeved that I wasn’t your first choice, but why didn’t you ask him?”

Finally uncaring about his gelled hair, Kyuhyun ran a hand through the stiff, dark locks in frustration, “We sort of had a fight? Or maybe it’s a misunderstanding. I don’t know. Something happened and I got him mad at me.” He smiled ruefully at the others, “It seems some things don’t change; I’m still quite good at getting into fights with Sungmin.”

Junsu was silent for a moment. Indeed, he had witnessed one too many times the squabbles the two had gotten into during their year as a team prior to retirement. However, he never saw them as true fights. Indeed, there was more than once that he and Taeyeon had likened them to lovers’ quarrels. 

Taeyeon… Junsu gently shook his head as if to free his mind from thoughts of her. He was still feeling too raw to even begin to turn his attention back towards her. Not now, not while they had other pressing matters to attend.

“You two are so stubborn. It’s been three years, why don’t you two just get together already?” Youngwoon questioned exasperatedly,

“W-what!?” Kyuhyun gaped at him,

“We’ve watched you two circle each other two years ago and again now. Why can’t you both just stop all this nonsense and become a couple already? I’m sure I’m not the only one just waiting for it to happen,” the eldest glanced at Junsu,

In response, Junsu shrugged, “Yeah, we used to have bets on when either of you would make a move. We all knew Sungmin liked you, but you seemed so unaffected in the past.”

“B-but… he’s a guy and so am I,” Kyuhyun reminded,

Youngwoon’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly, “What’s your point? All that matters is that you like each other. Forget about society’s view on who you should be with and just do whatever makes you happy.”

When they both looked at him in silent askance, Youngwoon pushed away from the desk as he threw his hands in the air in exasperation, “Oh, stop playing dumb. If neither of you have realized I’m in a relationship with Agent Eeteuk, then you both are doomed.” The older man sighed heavily as he strode towards the door, “I’m so sick of these secrets and the fact that we don’t talk to each other properly. If you want to ask Sungmin for help, then go ask him. If you two got into a fight or whatever it is that happened, then fix things. Stop moping and waiting for something to happen!”

“I kissed him!” Kyuhyun confessed, effectively stopping him in his tracks. When Youngwoon turned back to face him, he repeated in a quieter voice, “I… I kissed him. And a few nights ago it… it may have seemed like I rejected him,” he explained but quickly added, “But I didn’t! I was just confused and surprised and… and things were moving fast. It was just a misunderstanding. I was just confused!”

“Just make sure that while you’re trying to understand how you feel exactly, you don’t lead Sungmin on and hurt him,” Youngwoon stated, fierce protectiveness evident in his voice and every line of his body, “Sungmin’s spent years believing his feelings are unrequited. Do not give him hope and then take it away, Kyuhyun. That’s a cruelty that is not in your nature and neither of you deserve such a destruction of your friendship.”

Kyuhyun opened his mouth to speak, but, in the end closed his mouth and merely nodded.

Youngwoon breathed deeply to calm the sudden frustration and anger that rode him hard suddenly, almost as if his control was slipping and all the feelings and thoughts he had been suppressing for the better of the team were slowly breaking free. 

“I’m not perfect… I’ve been doing things which have prevented us from being a true team again, too, but at least I’m trying to rectify that problem,” he stated simply, “We all need to start talking again and, not just in little groups or pairs or whatever has been going on the past week. We need to come together and talk with everyone present, lay out all of our cards on the table.” 

He was shaking his head as he left the room as he murmured just loud enough for the other two to hear him, “Or else we’ll fail like the last team.”

If it hadn’t been for his future sight, Sungmin would have nearly had a heart attack when the door to his study burst open and rattled against their hinges. He knew exactly who would do it but he never saw how they would appear. Kyuhyun came striding into the study dressed in a black suit with white pinstripes and, except for his unkempt hair, he looked ready for business with his narrowed gaze and fisted hands. For the briefest of moments, his heart stuttered at the picture the younger man presented.

“Why have you been avoiding me?” Kyuhyun demanded as he stopped before his desk, slamming his palms onto the top,

“I have not been avoiding you,” Sungmin replied as he picked up a small glass tumbler and kept it pressed against his lips.

The younger man reached over and swiped the tumbler from the other’s hands and downed the clear liquid in one go. He caused the glass to shatter when he was putting it back down on the table, his telekinesis slowly slipping from his control, 

“Water!?” He stared at the older man in surprise, not even caring that his hand was now cut up and bleeding,

“Despite what you might think, I’m not an alcoholic yet,” Sungmin rolled his eyes as he pushed a box of tissues towards him. He fought all of his instincts to rush to the younger man’s side, suppressed his need to tend to those wounds and take away his pain.

“We’re going off topic. You are avoiding me, Lee Sungmin!” Kyuhyun accused, ignoring the tissues, “You don’t even come to meals any more and I’m pretty sure you’re using your future sight to help predict where I’ll be so you can stay away.”

Sungmin snorted, “My future sight doesn’t work on command, you know that. My telepathy, however, does.”

“So, you’ve been going into my mind? You told me just a few days ago how much you hate using your telepathy like that! Do you want to stay away from me so badly that you’ve resorted to such tactics?” He questioned,

“Well, what do you expect, Kyuhyun?” The other countered angrily, “You rejected me that night. Do you expect me to not at least avoid you for a little bit while I get my emotions under control? Forgive me if I don’t want to see or interact with the person who rejected me!”

“I didn’t reject you!” Kyuhyun exclaimed. He straightened and breathed deeply to steady himself even though his heart was now beating a rapid tattoo, “I didn’t reject you that night, Sungmin.”

“You pushed me away -”

“Because you were drowning in your sorrow and confusion and you were just using me to forget everything. You weren’t kissing me because you wanted me. You were kissing me because you wanted to escape reality,” The younger man stated, “I meant what I said before, Sungmin. I will be your alcohol, but I don’t want you to want me just because of that.”

“Idiot!” He slammed his fists on his armrest, “Of course I would want to forget everything and be with you! You know how much it’s killing me knowing that I’m destroying that man’s family regardless of his innocence or lack thereof. It has been tormenting me ever since I left that man’s house. I wanted a reprieve for even just a moment and I found that when I was with you. I found it being pressed against you, kissing you. Yes, I wanted you to be my escape but that’s how a person’s supposed to feel about the one they love!”


Sighing heavily, Sungmin turned his head so he could hold his forehead in his left hand, finally breaking eye contact with the other man, “I do want you to be my alcohol, Kyuhyun. I want you to be my addiction, my drug. I want you to be my reprieve, my escape. But, you know me… you should know that I would want you for more than just distraction. You should know that what I feel for you goes far below the surface, Kyuhyun.” 

“I-it does?” He stammered,

“I have been in love with you for so long, Kyuhyun, that I don’t know how I would have survived these two years in seclusion without the thought of you,” Sungmin turned his head ever so slightly so that his head remained in his hand, but he now was looking at the younger man again; “I don’t remember what life felt like before loving you, as if everything before paled in comparison.”

Kyuhyun swallowed hard, his heart now beating painfully as if trying to escape his chest and join the other’s heart. He suddenly couldn’t find his voice, as if all his emotions were lodged securely in his throat.

Abruptly, Sungmin got up from his chair and slowly walked towards the nearest window. He leaned a shoulder against the side and turned his attention to the night sky despite the stars covered with inky darkness. He shifted his weight and pressed his palms onto the window sill, closing his eyes tightly as he forced his thoughts into words.

“If you don’t feel the same way about me, I beg you to leave me alone until the final mission. I’m begging you, Kyuhyun, because ever since you said that you didn’t reject me, I’ve begun to hope,” Sungmin didn’t care that his voice wavered as if it emulated the way his heart seemed to flutter with anticipatory fear, his ability to breath suddenly stunted; “I’ve begun to hope that when you said you didn’t reject me that night, that it means there’s a possibility that you’ll accept me and my feelings. I’ve told myself since that night to give up on hope, but now that you’ve given it back with your words, I’m scared of what will happen if you take it away again.”

Kyuhyun’s silence terrified Sungmin in a way he hadn’t expected. His heart seemed to physically hurt at the thought that he was truly losing him. With all his weight bearing down on his palms, his arms shook as if all of his strength was being redirected to his heart in an effort to keep it in once piece. However, that hated hope swelled within him at the acknowledgement that he hadn’t heard retreating footsteps. Yet.

“Please, just leave me a-”

Sungmin’s words were cut off as a pair of arms slipped around his waist from behind, a chin sat on his shoulder and a warm cheek pressed against his own. He closed his eyes to lose himself in that embrace, relish in the warm strength flush against his back and stop the tears that suddenly welled before his eyes. 

“I will never leave you alone, Sungmin,” Kyuhyun’s words were hot against his skin and wrapped his heart in golden joy. “It scares me to death to open up to someone, to let someone close enough to hurt me. It petrifies me thinking that I could come to care for someone so much only to lose them like I lost my parents… but, it scares me even more to not have you in my life. I spent the past two years alone even though I was surrounded by students and my peers almost every day. If I have to go back to that existence…”

Kyuhyun moved his head so that his cheek lay against the older man’s shoulder, his arms tightening ever so slightly, “If I am fated to lose those I love, then I want to spend as much time together as possible.”

Sungmin reached up and held the younger man’s head against his shoulder, his fingers forked through the other’s thick locks, “Kyuhyun, you won’t lose me.” When he didn’t respond, Sungmin turned in his arms and cradled his face between his hands, “Kyuhyun! You won’t lose me!” He repeated firmly, confidently.

“Don’t give me promises you can’t guarantee,” he pleaded,

Sungmin remained silent, unable to dispute the fact that their case had been lethal even before they were ever given it. Instead, Sungmin pulled the younger man’s head down until he could press a kiss to his lips and, then his forehead. He leaned back against the window sill and pulled Kyuhyun flush against him, wrapping an arm around his back and keeping the younger man’s head lying against his shoulder. With ease, he had changed their embrace from him seeking solace to reciprocating it. 

Kyuhyun closed his eyes and nuzzled his face against the side of Sungmin’s neck, “Just hold me a little bit longer,” he murmured,

Sungmin’s arms tightened ever so slightly, protectively, possessively; “Always.”

The night before the auction was to take place, Youngwoon slipped out of the mansion after dinner, stole one of Sungmin’s cars and drove into the city. He parked far from his destination, covering the final two blocks on foot. He slipped into the church in the cover of shadows. Once inside, a quick sweep of his gaze told him that the ground floor of the chapel was empty. He made his way to the balcony seats which overlooked the chapel and found himself in the company of one other person.

Eeteuk didn’t even bother turning in his seat when he heard the approaching footsteps. After years of hearing the comings and goings of his beloved, his heart reacted to the sound before he even registered it. He knew that foot fall as surely as he knew his heart beat for just one person. He heard Youngwoon slip into the pew behind his own and sit to just the left of where he sat.

“Thank you for the equipment,” Youngwoon said as he noted the black backpack on the ground beside him,

“I know you said you didn’t want radios, but I threw some in there just in case you change your mind,” Eeteuk replied, “I’m sorry I couldn’t meet with the team as you asked at the beginning of the week.”

“It’s okay. How are you doing? Are you still being tailed?” Youngwoon asked as he leaned forward so that his elbows rested on his knees and they didn’t have to speak so loudly,

“For the most part. I gave them slip tonight, but they’ll probably pick up my trail if I head back to our house. I’ll have to go to one of our safe houses,” the agent shrugged nonchalantly; “How are you doing? Is your team okay now or, at the very least, working together?”

“For the most part they seem to be getting along. Taeyeon’s beginning to act like herself again, but I don’t think she’s had more than a few hours of sleep this entire week. Junsu is talking to Kyuhyun and myself again; I’m not sure if Sungmin’s tried talking with him, yet. The only upside is that Kyuhyun and Sungmin have resolved whatever issues they had between them.”

“Does that mean they finally got together? I recall all your stories about the way Sungmin used to pine after Kyuhyun and Kyuhyun never even realized he liked Sungmin,” Eeteuk laughed quietly,

“I think it does.” Youngwoon sighed, “Even though there was two years of separation, it still feels as if it were just yesterday when we were a near-perfect team and still working in the Sector.”

“I know you needed to leave the job after your last case,” Eeteuk said, “And, even after two years, you still have some demons to face… I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that you let me face those demons with you, Youngwoon.”

“What do you mean? I share everything with you,” the younger man stated, affronted,

“Not in the beginning and, even though it’s been some time since we became a couple, it’s still against your nature to be wholly open to another person. You still hesitate, but you didn’t with this. I’m glad that you can rely on me,” Eeteuk admitted, leaning his head against the back of the pew, “Indeed, even when you asked for my help at the beginning of the week, I was really happy. You’re so used to being the leader, I think you forget that you don’t have to play that role with me.”

Youngwoon leaned forehead and laid his cheek on the back of Eeteuk’s pew, “I’m sorry… I didn’t know that bothered you.”

Eeteuk turned his head so that his cheek, too, was lying on the top of the pew’s back and he was facing the younger man anti-parallel; “There’s nothing to apologize for; I never said anything, after all.”

“I miss you,” Youngwoon stated simply, heartily,

“I miss you, too,” 

“When this is over, our lives can go back to the way they were,” 

“I regret every day that I had to pull you back into this world,” Eeteuk said seriously, “You know I would never intentionally put you in danger -”

“But you were desperate and my team is the best,” Youngwoon interjected knowingly, “I have never resented that you gave me this case, Eeteuk. Indeed, it tells me how much you trust me, believe in me. I would be more upset if you treated me like glass.”

Eeteuk moved closer to him, lifted his head just as the younger man did the same. He cupped the back of the other’s head and brought his head close, pressing his forehead against the other’s. Closing his eyes, he sighed heavily, “If I could, I’d take you from the agents and secrets. I’d protect you from the lying and killing. I’d save you from having to make life or death decisions. I would do everything just to spare you from living in all these shadows, Youngwoon.”

Youngwoon pulled his head back enough so that he could look at the other directly, clearly. He reached out and ran his fingertips along the older man’s jaw in a caress like butterfly wings, his fingers coming to a rest on the other’s lips. “But, Jungsu,” he breathed, “we met in these shadows.”

Neither knew who pulled who closer. All they knew was that in one breath they were apart and, in the other, they were together, their lips meeting in a slow and sweet waltz. Youngwoon was the one to break the kiss, knowing he had to get back to the mansion. He stared at Eeteuk with such longing, wishing he could spend more time with him but knowing neither had any to spare. With the promise of the day after tomorrow, he brushed his lips against the older man’s lips once more before whispering his goodbye and leaving the church with the backpack. 

Once Youngwoon had left him, Eeteuk turned and faced the front of the church once more. With the toe of his shoe, he pulled down the kneeler. He sank to his knees then and propped his elbows on the back of the pew in front of him. Clasping his hands together, he bowed his head and pressed his lips to his hands. With everything he had in him, Eeteuk began to pray:

“Please protect them… Please protect him.”


(Chapter 11: Strength of Fire)

Emily - I didn't know where else to answer this (i.e. here, tumblr, fb) because I don't think I ever flat out answer that question later on or in earlier chapters, I think it's hinted at... anyway, I decided to answer it just to give some clarification. Prior to their separation, what made them such an elite team was their absolute trust in one another, the fact that they could be so blunt and open with one another (the only exception, of course, being Junsu and Kyuhyun. Kyuhyun's socially inept in this story, that's why casual conversations just weren't up his alley in regards to Junsu.) The reason the separation was so hard on all of them was because they lost the connection to all the others. They're all fighting between their instincts to remain aloof to protect themselves and, also, their instincts to draw back into the relationships that once sustained them when they were all a team. I hope this answers your question... heck, I hope this makes sense since I'm writing this at 2AM hehehe. Thanks for reading and I apologize for the typos! =)


Emily Wang said...

Also, I need to reread this story from the top >:| So many things I feel like I missed the first three times. >:|
...So, who won the bet on Kyumin? :3
A few typos here and there:
"Kyuhyun came out of the walk-in close dressed..."
"We’re always weary (wary?) of our line being tapped or the frequency being interfered with."
Question: What has happened during the separation that has made them all so willing to be blunt and open with each other in their conversations? I just ask because it seems in stark contrast to the lack of communication which ostensibly caused so much strife both then and now.
Also, I have to wonder: on a team of 5 people, did Kyuhyun and Junsu seriously never have any sort of casual conversation? I know it's possible, but still, wow. o.O
It's interesting how you keep slipping in Kyuhyun's sometimes sloppy control of his telekinesis. :)
The KangTeuk at the end makes me :'D as much as it makes me D': They're such a sweet and stable couple. <3
As always, thank you for a wonderful chapter! :D I will be patiently waiting for your next update! ^^

kyu min said...

Finally kyumin.. took you long enough to be a couple guys :" Now i'm worried about the one who'll die, can't all of them live? Like it's okay to hurt them physically but not to the point of dying no no ㅠㅠ Lets hope it'll be a happy ending without losing souls *the bad guys not included.. do whatever you please with them XD" ~

Anonymous said...

Dear author,
You have no idea how happy I am whenever there's an update!
The ending of this chapt leaves me with a foreboding sense of what's coming up next and I can't wait to know more.
keep them coming!
Thanks for making my day ^^ &&& You are really a brilliant writer <3