“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

Friday, April 10, 2015

[LIS11] Chapter 11: Strength of Fire

words: 9120
rate: PG13
(Chapter 11 of the Living in Shadows series)

“The auction is tonight,” Youngwoon stated as he brought his plate of food to the table and sat down for breakfast. Although he knew full well that the others would not forget such an important night, he swept his gaze over them, “Are you all ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be, but, to tell you the truth, it feels like I never left The Sector. It feels like this is just another mission for us,” Junsu mused as he came and sat down at the table too, his plate piled with eggs, toast and bacon.

Sungmin, who still hadn’t spoken to Junsu, but could see that the other man was melting towards them again, sat back in his chair, his cup of coffee pressed against his lips, ready for a sip when needed; “I’ll leave late in the afternoon before all of you. That way I can scope the property and set up my equipment. If you guys use my cars, please bring them back in one piece.”

“Thank God, I smell coffee,” Kyuhyun shuffled into the room dressed in his pyjama bottoms and a simple, white t-shirt. His hair was all askew which further suggested he had literally just rolled out of bed. As he poured himself a mug of the brew, he noted the others’ attention glued to him, “What?”

“You’re not the one who cooked breakfast?” Youngwoon asked the question they were all wondering,

“Obviously not.”

“But, it’s not Taeyeon’s day to cook,” Junsu stated,

“I had to work late into the night, so, I asked Taeyeon to cook today,” the youngest male explained. He raised a brow at the others, “Did none of you wonder why neither her or I were here? What? You think your food just magically appears?”

“I thought you cooked and had to attend to something else,” Sungmin shrugged and the other two nodded in agreement.

Filling his plate with eggs and rice, Kyuhyun came over and sat at the table, watching wistfully his coffee still too hot to drink immediately. He said, “Maybe Taeyeon did just that, then.”

“She’s doing target practice,” Youngwoon announced then as he began to eat, having taken a brief moment to seek out her mind; “She said she’ll eat after she’s done.”

“None of you thought to use your telepathy to find her?” Kyuhyun questioned as he leaned over to blow at his coffee while adding several teaspoons of sugar,

Junsu remained silent, not wanting to admit that he already knew where Taeyeon had been and, as such, hadn’t been too worried when she wasn’t at the breakfast table with them. 

Meanwhile, Sungmin answered, “I’m still not used to using mine. It’s not as instinctual as Youngwoon uses his.” 

“Kyuhyun, are you ready for tonight?” The eldest questioned, returning to the original topic,

The youngest man grinned at them ruefully, “As ready as I’ll ever be,”

“He’s more than ready,” Sungmin insisted, “He’ll do brilliantly.”

Kyuhyun was grateful for the words. After they had resolved the issues between him, they had fallen back into the comfortable friendship they had before. However, now there was something more, something richer that filled in between and around them. They weren’t in a relationship, but they did acknowledge their feelings for one another and were taking it one day at a time. 

Able to seek the other’s counsel once more, he had asked Sungmin for help with his role in the mission. 

“You know all about hiding, being concealed no matter what. You know how to keep calm, have a steady hand regardless of the situation. I want to be able to do that, too,” he had said one week ago.

Sungmin had looked at him speculatively, a flicker of fire in his gaze before he looked away, a small smile tugging at his lips as he agreed to help. All week, Sungmin had taught him how to walk, how to talk and even helped him find a different identity in the role. To better prepare him, Sungmin often questioned him to ensure he would be able to answer as if he truly was a rich, young master delving into Korea’s underground world and black market. If Sungmin said he was ready, then he believed it.

Kyuhyun noted the way Junsu smiled at him indulgently and Youngwoon rolled his eyes. Feeling his face heat up, he ducked his head, pretending to finally begin drinking his hot coffee.

“What if Kwon doesn’t show up tonight? I know he’s our main suspect, but there’s still a high possibility that he isn’t the leak,” Junsu commented,

“We can wait to hear about the leaked information and see who’s most interested in it. If it’s bought, we can find who is handing over the information. Something so valuable wouldn’t be handed over unless the money can be exchanged immediately,” Youngwoon answered, “All of us in the auction will have to keep our eyes and ears open whether or not Kwon is present. This may be our only chance to catch whoever is handling the NIB data; we can’t mess this up.”

“I think there’s an even bigger chance that Kwon’s our guy,” Kyuhyun admitted as he put down his mug and looked at the others; “A few nights ago Youngwoon came with me on a mission and we hunted down the pharmacist I was suspecting to be involved with the last agent death. There wasn’t anything really unsavoury about him that we could observe other than he’s still knee-deep in gambling.”

“He was at L’Or du Roi,” Youngwoon interjected between bites of his breakfast, naming the underground gambling centre they had followed the pharmacist to,

Junsu whistled appreciatively as Sungmin muttered, “High roller,” under his breath.

“I couldn’t find anything about his family, but when I turned my attention to his wife’s family, that’s when Kwon came into the picture,” Kyuhyun revealed; “Kwon is the pharmacist’s nephew by marriage on Kwon’s mother’s side. Had Taeyeon never thought to look for clues at the hospital, we may have never made the connection, especially since very little is known about Kwon’s mother.”

“All these signs point to Kwon and, yet, it’s still not enough,” their leader sighed, “I’m beginning to understand what the other team went through.”

Their conversation was interrupted as Taeyeon entered the kitchen. Murmuring a grumpy ‘good morning’, she grabbed two pieces of toast and a cup of coffee. She took a seat at the table, placing her at the foot of the table across from Youngwoon and adjacent to Junsu and Sungmin. Immediately Junsu saw the differences in her that he hadn’t seen  before when he avoided looking at her, his anger and pain still fresh. 

She barely grabbed enough food that could be considered a snack. Despite being small, she had always eaten voraciously, to the point that they had often teased her - affectionately - that she could eat as much as they did. What caught his attention the most, however, which caused him to observe her for the first time since finding out about their son, was that she had poured herself coffee. She never drank coffee.

With that, he slowly moved his attention from her meal to herself. She was dressed in her usual spandex shorts and fitted tank, however, both pieces didn’t seem to fit her as snugly as before. She seemed so pale, her skin was practically transparent and dark smudges were streaked beneath her eyes. She had always been petite, but whereas before she was fit, now she seemed delicate and as fragile as porcelain. 

Such a change had happened in such a short amount of time and Junsu couldn’t help getting angry at himself from having not seeing it sooner. He had seen Taeyeon stress over a mission before or work herself to exhaustion during training, but he had never seen her in such an unhealthy state. He realized that in all the time he had known her, nothing had been able to faze her like now, nothing so negative could have touched her so deeply as compared to what was now roiling within her. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one suffering of having his son so close and not being able to see him everyday, of not knowing him.

“I was hired for the auction,” Taeyeon stated before taking the first bite of her toast. 

Junsu blinked, realizing she had been speaking the moment she had sat down.

“Thank God. I was worried you’d have to sneak in tonight,” Youngwoon quickly added, “Not that I doubt your skills, but it’d be easier if there wasn’t even a shred of doubt about you. We need the least amount of resistance as possible for this mission.”

Taeyeon smiled softly as she raised her cup of coffee in a salute, “Don’t worry, I felt the same way, which is why I went for an interview at the beginning of the week. I have to be there an hour before the auction starts, so I’ll be leaving around seven.”

“You could leave with me,” Sungmin offered, “I’m leaving around five, but it’ll give you time to relax before you have to go to the auction.” He shrugged, “It’s just an option.”

Taeyeon glance his way, throwing him a grateful look. She knew - and, perhaps even everyone knew - what he was truly offering. He was giving her the chance to spend some time with her son prior to the mission. She hadn’t been to see her son since the day she went to get interviewed for the auction. She called her stepmother every night, however and, every night after she hung up, she would lie in bed crying until she remembered she couldn’t allow herself to sleep.

“If at any time any of you have a question or see something suspicious that you need more information on, just let me know,” Youngwoon said then, “I’ll be communicating with Eeteuk the entire time, so I’ll be able to send your messages on to him and he’ll be able to get the information for us.”

They all nodded.

“This seems like such an easy case, but the five agents’ murders have proved how insidious Kwon or whoever is behind all of this really is,” Youngwoon reminded. His gaze swept over them, briefly pausing on each individual, “Take care tonight.”

“Some things definitely never change.”

Kyuhyun nearly jumped out of his chair when he heard the sudden voice in his ear, the brush of lips and warm breath against his skin. He slumped back in his chair when he recognized the voice as Sungmin’s. The older man stood behind him, leaning down to speak to him. 

“You know, you’re lucky we’ve never had to do a case regarding video games. You’d be dead so fast,” he stated, his tone a mix of light reprimand and warm affection,

“It helps me relax before a mission,” Kyuhyun defended lightly as he paused his computer game to give the other his full attention. Turning in his chair to look at Sungmin, he was startled to realize how close the other man truly was, his body practically caging him in. “Uh… did you need something?”

“I’ll be leaving soon for the city. I just wanted to check up on you before I go,” 

“We can still use telepathy,”

“I wanted to see for myself that you’re okay,” Sungmin clarified, “Even though Junsu and Youngwoon will be near you, this is the first time you’ll be taking on such a central role in a mission.”

“You said I’d be brilliant,” 

“I did and I believe that, but the question is, Kyuhyun, is if you believe it,” he replied, “Indeed, you need to do more than that. You need to know it.”

“Well, that’s a little difficult when we all know I have the least amount of field experience. Hell, I entered the NIB believing I was geared for a desk job for the rest of my life. Even if I was a tactician, I never once thought I would find myself smack dab in the middle of my own tactics,” Kyuhyun laughed lightly as if he still couldn’t believe he had become a field agent those years ago,

“Think of it this way: before, you were merely instructing other players how to play chess. Now, you have become the player, moving the pieces yourself,” Sungmin offered, a small smile on his lips, “Whether you acknowledge it or not, you were meant to become a field agent, Kyuhyun.”

“Why? Did you predict something three years ago about me?” 

“No, you know I’ve never had predictions about you or the other members that went into the far future. I said that because you’ve finally found something to challenge you, something to make you think on a different level than before. Now, you’re like one of those characters in your computer games. What you plan and decide is no longer static, but based on the fluidity of life as it plays out around you,” he answered. 

He tilted his head ever so slightly, his fox-like eyes seeming to warm as he added, “And, now you have become attached to your tactics because the agents are no longer faceless. They have names and histories and they are your friends. Regardless of the serious and distant facade you assumed when you became a desk agent and continued when you joined our team, you were always an emotional person, Kyuhyun. You were never meant to observe life. You are meant to live life, to feel it.”

“I… I never needed anyone but my parents and after they died I didn’t want to need anyone else,” Kyuhyun couldn’t stop the words from pouring forth, startled that it was becoming easier and easier to express himself;

“I know, but that’s not you,” Sungmin straightened, finally putting distance between them. He slowly paced away towards the nearest window. His gaze slowly swept over his expansive land, “We believe in you.”

Kyuhyun stared at Sungmin for several silent minutes. He had gazed at his profile so many times since they first met, to the point where he was sure he had it memorized. Now, as the older man stood there, his profile was lined with a golden wash from the afternoon sun, the rest of him robbed of light and cast into shadow. And, Kyuhyun knew that’s how Sungmin saw himself: touched by light, and yet, forever, a part of him would never be free of the darkness.

He knew the demons that rode the older man, knew that they bombarded him all the time. When they had all retired and Sungmin became a recluse, Kyuhyun knew that all the ghosts from his past must have rushed forth like a tsunami and slammed into him, no longer protected by the barrier of their team’s companionship and comfort. He knew that, despite the smiles and laughter and happiness now seeping into his life, Sungmin would always feel the taint like the coldness of standing in the shade of a tree even on the hottest summer day. He knew all this because he felt the same way.

“You always do that,” Kyuhyun said then, “Walk towards a window.”

Sungmin looked at him, startled, “What?”

“I noticed it years ago and, I thought my initial guess of why was wrong, but, after reuniting with you and learning more of your mind, perhaps I was right after all,” he mused,

Sungmin raised a brow, turning so that it seemed as if the sunlight and the shadows fought to conquer more of his body.

“Whenever whatever is happening makes you restless, makes you want to leave and escape, you go to the window to remind you of freedom, of open spaces. You go to the window for some semblance of leaving the situation without truly doing so,” Kyuhyun commented. He turned towards his computer once more, breaking their locked gazes so as to remove any pressure from the other man, “Of course, I could be completely off the mark.”

“All this time you knew. Was I so obvious?” Sungmin’s voice was barely above a whisper, his shoes not making a single sound as he slowly closed the distance between them, “Did I give away my weakness so easily when all this time I believed I had it locked down tightly? Yes, I seek escape, Kyuhyun. Even that first day when you, Youngwoon and Eeteuk came to visit. Even then, I wanted to run away and pretend none of you had come. Even when I knew that it was a serious matter, one that I couldn’t turn my back on, even then, I wanted to run away.”

Kyuhyun looked up at him, his brow furrowed, “Why do you always make yourself sound like such a villain?”

“Aren’t I?”

“No. Damn, Sungmin, if you’re a villain, then so are the rest of us. There’s nothing you’ve done that we haven’t -”

“My kill count -”

“To hell with your kill count,” Kyuhyun stood from his chair so abruptly, it clattered to the floor; “Have you killed more people? Yes, I cannot deny that; none of us can. However, I may have killed more than the rest of you although I was not the one to administer the finishing blow or pull the trigger. For years I was a tactician, Sungmin. In the time it takes for you to complete a case, I may have completed a handful of tactics for other teams. How many of my plans have led to death and destruction? How many of my plans resulted in casualties or collateral?”

“You weren’t the chest master moving the pieces-”

“No, but I was the puppet master pulling the strings,” Kyuhyun interjected ruthlessly, “We all have had to do horrible things for this job, but we do it because no one else will. We do it because we’re riding on the hope that it’ll result in good. When our world is full of true villains, what we do gives our country the ability to hope that those villains will be stopped. This doesn’t mean we’re free from guilt, doesn’t mean that we aren’t haunted because that’s exactly what we are. But, we are not evil, Sungmin and the next time you even allude to such an inane thought, I’ll beat you with your own sniper rifle!”

“Okay, okay, I got it,” Sungmin said complacently as he put his hands on the other’s shoulders, trying to calm Kyuhyun down as he stood there, the younger man’s breathing heavy as if all his frustrations had poured forth in that single tirade.

Kyuhyun surprised them both then, eliminating the remaining distance between them as he pressed his body against Sungmin’s and laid his cheek on the other’s shoulder. He slipped his arms around the other’s torso as he let his eyes closed as if he were suddenly very tired. How long had it been since he had such solid, warm comfort? How long since he had allowed someone to get so close to him? Even after his first mission involving a death, when Taeyeon had seen how broken he was and tried to comfort him, even then, he hadn’t allowed her to hold him when that was all he craved. 

“It doesn’t matter that all you wanted to do was run because, in the end, you didn’t. You would stay and fight through,” he said quietly, “But, when you can’t even do that much, I told you I would be your alcohol if you need me to be.”

“Kyuhyun -”

“Don’t run from me, Sungmin,” his voice was barely louder than the flutter of butterfly wings, his tone achingly desperate;

Sungmin realized then what the younger man was truly saying to him. Kyuhyun, who had only his parents for so long, who kept everyone at a distance to protect himself from more loss, was scared. In acknowledging their feelings for one another, Sungmin had exposed the younger man to the possibility of loss and sorrow he had tried to avoid since his parents’ deaths. Every time Sungmin became his own worst enemy, Kyuhyun was worried he would run away or shut him out completely as a means to cope with his darker thoughts and emotions.

Slowly, Sungmin wrapped his arms around the other man, returning the embrace, “I won’t,” he promised. He would fight his demons and stay by Kyuhyun’s side. Then, not even death would be enough to part them.

When Taeyeon heard the knock on her bedroom door, she never expected it to be Junsu. Her eyes widened with disbelief and even took a step back from him when she opened the door. 

“J-Junsu… what are you doing here?” She somehow managed, ruthlessly pulling herself from her initial shock. She drew up all her defences around her like holding a double-edged sword and returned to her bed where she had been packing a backpack with the equipment for that night.

Junsu knew the exact moment she had completely shut him out. He saw all emotion dissipate from her face and eyes as if shoving her heart into a dark corner. He saw the way her small frame seemed to stiffen as if preparing herself for the worse. Even as she attempted to assume a casual coldness, he had already seen her emotions when she had opened the door. 

Her eyes had been filled with terror and he hated that he had been the one to do that to her. Even though she had been the one to do wrong by keeping their child a secret, he allowed things between them to break down to the point where she felt the need to hide his own son from him. He had broken her trust in him during the fight that led to their separation. He had broken faith with her when he didn’t go after her.

“I want to see my son before the mission tonight. I want your permission to visit him,” he explained although his tone brooked no argument. He wasn’t asking for permission. He was demanding it.

She knew him too well and knew his tone. Her eyes flashed with a brief fire before the shutters came down once more and she replied, “You’ve gone to see him several times, Junsu. You shadow walk so my stepmother doesn’t know you’re there and, even when he’s asleep you dream walk to comfort him. But, if you’re going to pretend like you need my permission to see him, then you have it.”

“You knew?” Junsu asked absent-mindedly as his gaze slowly swept over her, taking in every detail again as if seeing her for the first time, trying to see all that he had missed.

“I know nothing would stop you from seeing your son whenever you wanted but my stepmother never mentioned seeing you, so I can only assume you shadow walked. And, even though she hasn’t seen you, my stepmother mentioned to me several times that Junho would be crying at night, but by the time she got to him, he’d be asleep again. She thought he had already begun to self-soothe, but, I know you dream walked,” Taeyeon shrugged her slight shoulders as if what she knew was commonplace, as if she wasn’t the only one who could read him like a book and know him like she knew herself.

Junsu’s eyes widened in disbelief. While knowing he had a son and doing exactly what Taeyeon assumed he did to get close to the toddler, he never once knew what his name was; “T-that’s his name?”

Taeyeon froze in the middle of packing her knives. After several heartbeats, she continued in her ministrations, replying as calmly as she could, “You used to say that if we ever had a son, you would name him Junho.”

Junsu had to look away from her profile, his heart clenching painfully at her words. Even after everything, even after she had left him and even after her decision to hide her pregnancy from him, she still thought of him. If after all their separation she still thought of him, then, perhaps after that case was finished, despite their problems and suffering, then maybe she would think of him again. 

He caught sight of her delicate fingers carefully handling each blade, securely strapping them into their holder with a quiet reverence. He noticed the small nicks and cuts on her hands and it was the final blow that made him see just how truly exhausted and stressed she had been. She had always been dismissive about her own injuries because she could heal herself, but to not even heal such minor cuts spoke of how desperately she was trying to reserve her energy.

The moment she had placed her packed knives into her bag, he grabbed her arm and unceremoniously dragged her to the bathroom,

“J-Junsu!? What are you doing!?” She sputtered in shock and anger as she tried to pull free of him,

“Just shut up for a moment and let me do this,” Junsu stated as he pulled her towards the sink. 

Without a warning, he placed his hands on her tiny waist and easily hoisted her onto the bathroom’s long counter. He didn’t miss a beat as he grabbed a face cloth and ran it under the faucet’s warm water, even as his mind stuttered when he felt her body beneath his hands. Where before she was subtly muscled with gently sloping curves, all he could feel were sharp bones.

“But, what -”

“Didn’t I just say to shut up?” Junsu questioned not unkindly as he took the cloth, turned off the water and wrung out the cloth until all the excess water was gone. He picked up her closest hand and, gently, began to dab at the small cuts, cleaning them carefully. 

Taeyeon swallowed the hiss of pain that made its way to her lips. She had learned to ignore the cuts on her hands because she didn’t want to expend any of the little energy she had left to heal herself. She had attended to them when she first got them, but hadn’t gotten the chance yet to clean the wounds she had obtained from that morning’s practice. Her skin stung and she could accurately guess where each new cut was on her hand, evidence that she still wasn’t throwing her knives properly. Although they were her specialty and she had packed some in her bag, she fervently hoped she wouldn’t need to use them. Her concentration was shot and who knew what damage would be done when she was throwing as if untrained.

When Junsu had finished with her other hand and began looking through the drawers for topical antibiotics, Taeyeon couldn’t remain silent any more.

“Why are you doing this, Junsu?” She asked tentatively,

“Because if you’re not going to take care of yourself, then someone needs to.”

“Yeah, but… why you?”

He paused in his search in a drawer and straightened. He looked at her and saw the wary way she watched him. Dare he tell her the war going on in his heart and mind? His heart reminded him that she broke his heart, yet, reminded him that she completed him. His mind reminded him that she had led him astray, yet, reminded him that he’d be lost without her.

Swallowing hard, he pushed away all the confusing chaos and settled for something detached; “You’re one of my team mates and I need to make sure you’re in top form for our missions.” 

It was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth and it wasn’t all he wanted to say. However, despite the clashing craziness within him, he couldn’t help but think of self-preservation and take the easy route, effectively protecting himself even though he knew his barriers weren’t hurting only her.

Taeyeon was eerily quiet as he found a small tube of topical antibiotic and gently dabbed small drops to each cut old and new. When he was done and capped the lid on the tube, he took each hand and gently blew on each cut to help the medicine dry faster, the cream not needing to be bandaged after use.

She turned her head away at his ministrations, each of his breaths against his skin like a reminder of her cruel betrayal. She felt the threat of tears stinging her eyes, closing them to hold them in and fight them as best she could. She couldn’t cry before him; she wasn’t worthy of her own tears. She had no right to cry before him of all people. He had every right to be angry with her, treat her with every discourtesy she treated him with the moment she hid his son from him. And, yet, he handled her with care as if she were a precious package worth protecting. A lump formed in her throat with her unshed tears and silenced cries and apologies. All the while, her heart was fluttering against her ribs like a dying butterfly desperately trying to escape its cage to see the sun just one last time.

When he let go of her hands, she jumped off the counter and quickly slid out from between him and the counter, suddenly needing distance. She swiped up a pair of black high-heeled shoes from the ground beside her bed and tossed them into her bag, closing the zipper securely as she heard Junsu exiting the bathroom behind her at a leisurely pace.

“I should go,” she stated then, her movements jerky as she pulled on her backpack and slipped her feet into a pair of sneakers. “I’m going to head into town with Sungmin and he’ll…” She paused in the middle of tying her shoes to look at him, aware that trepidation and fear were evident on her face,

“I’ll visit him long after you’ve left him,” Junsu replied, knowing exactly what she was feeling, “The shadows will let me move faster, so, I don’t have to worry so much about going to the auction.”

Taeyeon didn’t respond, deciding instead to just nod her head briskly as she stood up and turned towards the door. Before he could stop himself, Junsu reached out, his fingers like a firm but tender vice around her forearm. She looked back at him, worry and curiosity flashing past her eyes before she schooled her expression once more.

“Thank you for naming my… our son Junho,” he managed, his voice raspier than normal, feeling much like his heart was lodged in his throat. Whether his heart was trying to escape him to find its other half or strangle him, he wasn’t sure. All that he knew was that he couldn’t stand the thought of not seeing her before the auction, knew that his restlessness lately was a mix of anger and needing her.

The barest ghost of a blush kissed her cheeks much as he wished he could as her cold gaze melted for the briefest of heartbeats. Then, she pulled her arm from his loosened grip, her eyes suspiciously bright as she turned away from him and strode to the door.

“You…” She cleared her throat, that one word sounding broken and laden with all the emotions she withheld. When she spoke again, her voice was stronger, yet she couldn’t get rid of the strain, “You be careful, Junsu.”

She left, then, never hearing him reciprocate the words when he finally realized what she had said and all the things she left unsaid.

The sun had finally set. He now froze, still as a sentry watching over the abandoned building so as to avoid detection as the front door of the building opened and two large men appeared like bouncers of a club. Sungmin had dropped Taeyeon off at her stepmother’s apartment and he had left his car with her since he would be too noticeable in the area if he drove there. Taeyeon, however, had a legitimate excuse to be at the auction and would be able to show up driving a car. After stealing a promise that she wouldn’t drive recklessly, he had taken several busses to get to the seedy part of Seoul. 

Once he located the building from behind, he carefully made his way through the empty, four-storey, apartment building. When he reached the third floor, he made his way to a room which would be directly across from where Junsu stated the auction would take place. He had found an old stool and set it by the window, quickly setting up his sniper rifle with its tall tripod. He had spent the next few hours leading up to the auction checking his field of vision with the sniper’s scope and calculating the different angles he’d need due to the different furniture and limited view provided by the windows. He had counted seven potential blind spots before he moved to adjacent rooms to see if he could cover more area.

He sat hunched over ever-so-slightly, the stool not tall enough for him to use his tripod to the best of its ability. If he needed, however, he was well trained to take up the rifle and aim without the tripod, years of practice giving him the ability to remain motionless. He kept his scope trained in the room across, seeing that, as Junsu had reported, all the walls had been knocked down to accommodate a larger population in a single room.

We’re coming up the sidewalk, Youngwoon’s voice echoed through Sungmin’s mind.

I see you both. Wow, Youngwoon, you clean up good. Who knew?

Shut up, Youngwoon rolled his eyes, thankful he wore a pair of black sunglasses despite the late hour as they approached the two bouncers. 

When one of the bouncers demanded an invitation, Kyuhyun - embodying the perfect disguise - snapped his fingers and signalled Youngwoon to produce two invitations. He had gone through several old contacts to obtain the highly desired invitations. 

One of the bouncers stared at them, his gaze resting on Youngwoon suspiciously, “I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?”

Hyung! Kyuhyun worried, all the while keeping his expression schooled.

Cover your ears, the older man instructed.

“No, you haven’t seen me before. Neither of you have,” Youngwoon’s gaze swept over the pair, his tone pitching in a particular way, allowing his specialty to seep out and embody his voice. When their eyes seemed to glaze over, he knew he had them enthralled, “You will let us both in without issue and forget this conversation ever happened. If someone comments to either of you about myself or my young master, you will insist that there is nothing suspicious about us.” He touched Kyuhyun’s arm to let him know it was okay to uncover his ears. 

Without a word, the bouncers returned their invitations and they were let into the renovated building. 

What just happened? Are you both okay? Sungmin questioned both of them.

I always knew Youngwoon’s skill was great, but I’ve never witnessed him actually using it. He was so cool! Kyuhyun’s voice bursted with excitement as he replied. Kyuhyun tripped over a bump in the rug, quickly recovering due to Youngwoon’s help.

Just relax, Youngwoon insisted,

Who’s more cool now? Sungmin’s smug tone went out to the pair of them,

You didn’t cause that! Kyuhyun snapped,

No, but I could have warned you.

Will both of you stop it? Youngwoon reprimanded the younger men, We need to keep our wits about ourselves if we have any chance of succeeding tonight. This can all end tonight.

Sorry, Youngwoon, Sungmin replied as Kyuhyun echoed, Sorry, hyung.

Kyuhyun and Youngwoon made their way up the staircase to the second floor. Once there, they were ushered through double doors which led to a large room, as if the walls had been torn down between smaller rooms to create such an open area. The room itself boastfully displayed the opulence Youngwoon had told them about. 

The wooden floors were like polished honey, a warm glow added by the three crystal chandeliers which hung from the high ceiling. The walls glittered as if real gold had been melted down and then used for paint, the sight almost blinding from the bright light cast from the chandeliers. At what was to be the front of the room was a raised stage of dark cherry wood, supposedly where the auctioning items would be displayed. Before the stage were rows of dozens of chairs made of dark mahogany and upholstered with scarlet velvet.

“Kangin,” Kyuhyun’s voice was crisp, even going so far as to snap his fingers as he held out his hand.

They had agreed that Youngwoon’s alter ego would be well known to the underground world, and, as such, he would assume his guise as ‘Kangin’, especially if several of his contacts made an appearance during the auction. Knowing what the younger man wanted, but not knowing for what, Youngwoon withdrew a pristine-white handkerchief and handed it to him.

Kyuhyun flicked out the piece of cloth and laid it on a chair’s seat before sitting down, as if even such luxury were not up to his standard. He sat down with confident gracefulness, crossing one knee over the other and loosely folding his arms about his torso, not even bothering to acknowledge his surroundings as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

Quick thinking, Youngwoon praised as he stood by the young master’s chair, fully immersed in his role as body guard, just as his partner was fully immersed in his own role.

“Dinner was delicious,” Youngwoon said aloud, adopting the special code he and Kyuhyun created for the mission, so that Kyuhyun would not be overloaded with his telepathy.

The younger man easily translated it to mean that there weren’t many people yet, but his choice in seat was ideal, situating them in a back corner where they would be able to observe the entire auction and have clear access to the exits.

Oh shit! Sungmin’s voice suddenly echoed to the pair,

What? Youngwoon demanded, suddenly going on alert as Kyuhyun remained calm and collected even as his body tensed as if ready to attack.

To your ten o’clock, what do you see?

Casually turning to look in the specified direction, Youngwoon caught sight of a familiar face, Taeyeon.


Shit, Youngwoon swore as he took in her attire.

Agreed, both Kyuhyun and Sungmin replied this time.

Taeyeon looked the same, and, yet, different. She looked exotic and tempting, even to her team mates and friends. Her long hair was tied high on the crown of her head, falling like a straight waterfall to her mid-back and her bangs were pinned back forming a small bump. Her eyes were dramatic, lined with thick eyeliner and shadowed to create a smoky effect. Her lips looked fuller, kissable, her lipstick matching the bright red upholstery. It had always been a skill of hers to alter her appearance by using subtle differences, hiding that a change had taken place. She further proved this by adding  a mole to the corner of her mouth, slightly altering her appearance but also drawing attention to her mouth to distract any who saw her. Despite her make-up, however, her outfit was what caused the members to exclaim.

Her dress matched the scarlet vibrancy of the furniture, the bodice of her strapless dress hugging her torso, the sweetheart neckline accenting her small bust and making her seem fuller than she actually was. The skirt of the dress sat at her hips, layers of ruffled material, falling to mid-thigh like live flames dancing about her. Her legs were encased in black stockings, the ribbons a matching red tied to just above her knees, a few inches of bare skin revealed. Her supposed uniform as a waitress for the auction was completed with black, four-inch high heeled shoes and a black silk ribbon which wrapped around her waist and tied at the back. It accented her tiny waist and drew attention to her backside.

The members had seen her in many different disguises, however, she had made a point of never having stereotypical female roles in missions, refusing to blatantly use her appearance as a weapon. Now that she actually was, they couldn’t believe how lethal a weapon it truly was. Indeed, even they couldn’t deny how entranced they were.

With a quick sweep of his own from across the street, Sungmin saw that her disguise had its desired effect, all males in the room were watching her like wolves as she made her way through the room taking orders and serving drinks. Several times he saw men trying to sneak a feel, but she easily evaded their groping hands, tossed them a coy smile before moving on to the next patron.

My God, has she always been this attractive!? Sungmin questioned, forcing himself to look away from their team mate and to observe the environment once more,

Pfft. She’s hot. Youngwoon commented, confirming how big of an effect she had on them, forcing even the most committed of them to acknowledge such attraction. God save us all when Junsu sees her.

Too late, Kyuhyun warned.

Junsu came out of the shadows, feeling the warmth slowly seep back into his body. He had appeared several alleys away from the actual auction building, casually coming out of the alley and walking to the correct building. He was dressed in a simple black, two-piece suit and a crisp, white button-up. While his appearance was not as exorbitant as Kyuhyun’s, he had added small details which hinted at his wealth to the others attending the auction. His cufflinks and the single chain of his pocket watch were gold. Also, upon closer inspection, his suit, shirt and shoes were of the highest quality. 

His hair was styled particularly as if the wind had blown it into place, giving him an almost carefree look. Yet, the steel in his narrowed gaze and the way his sleeves tightened around his biceps as they were slightly flexed from having his hands in his pockets belied the hidden strength in him. Even his stride told the underground world that he wasn’t as insouciant as he appeared, each step confident, strong and sure. Indeed, his understated appearance, so different when the rest of the profligates would be boasting of their successful ventures in the underbelly of Seoul, warned the others that he would be an adversary not to be underestimated.

He presented his invitation to the bouncers, briskly brushing past them before they could even stop him, his arrogance another layer to his disguise. When one of the bouncers called out to stop him to return to him his invitation, Junsu didn’t even give him an acknowledgement or thanks as he replaced the invite into an inner pocket of his blazer. He dismissed the pair of bouncers with a wave of his hand and made his way up the stairs, quickly taking in the differences of the building compared to when he had been scoping it out the previous week.

With his air of bursting confidence, he continued on to the next set of stairs in an attempt to see more of the building. However, he was immediately stopped by a man who looked like a bodyguard with his fine black suit and the earpiece in his left ear. As if to complete his ensemble, the man even had a pair of black sunglasses hooked to the front of his shirt.

“The auction will be held on this floor,” the man said as he stood at the bottom of the stairs, one arm extended towards the double doors as he brooked no argument; “Above stairs are the private quarters for the building owners.”

“My apologies,” Junsu replied as he easily turned and walked down the stairs back to the second floor, “I was merely drawn to the curious picture this building makes, so polished beneath its rough surface.”

He slowly paced around the bodyguard, his eyes taking on a lascivious glint as he looked the other man up and down. Finally, he moved in close, his lips almost brushing the man’s earlobe as he whispered, “I could buy you if I so choose.”

Junsu mightily suppressed the urge to laugh when he saw the frightened shiver run through the bodyguard’s body before he moved away and entered the designated auction room. Almost immediately, he spotted Kwon seated near the opposite wall at the end of one of the middle rows. Because of his late entrance, the seats were already three-fourths full.

Finding a choice seat a row behind Kwon’s, he slowly made his way there when a flash of red caught his eye. He froze completely when he saw Taeyeon in her glorious disguise, his heart seemingly to physically stutter then stop. She had literally taken his breath away and, before he knew it, he was changing his course to get closer to her, tempted sorely to take her away from the auction.

Stop! His leader’s voice rang clear and firm in his mind.

Taking his pocket watch out as a guise to the reason he abruptly stopped. He shot one last glance towards Taeyeon before pocketing his watch and heading back towards the seat he had chosen. He ended up sitting in the seat directly behind Kwon.

A man suddenly walked atop of the stage at the front of the room, drawing everyone’s attention and calling a halt to all conversations.

The auction was beginning.

At least four guards at the double doors, Sungmin relayed to Kyuhyun as he kept an eye on all of the auction.

There could be more hidden amongst the auctioneers, Kyuhyun replied,

I know that. That’s why I said at least four guards. That implies more than that is still possible, he snapped,

Stop bickering! It was Taeyeon this time that scolded the pair, Geez, I forgot how annoying your fighting can be.

Sungmin apologized although laughter was evident even in his telepathy voice. He moved his head away from his sniper’s scope as a means to alleviate the stiffness in his neck when he noticed something. Suddenly looking back through his scope, he used it to read in the dark, the building’s faded letters difficult to see.

“Oh, fuck!” He exclaimed as he called out to their leader, Youngwoon!

Is something wrong? Youngwoon questioned, immediately casting his stare across the large auction room, anticipating any possible threats,

That building used to be the home of a prostitution ring, right?

Yes. What of it?

Do you remember what it used to be called?

Of course, the Blue - oh, goddamn it!

My thoughts exactly, Sungmin replied gravely as he turned his scope away from the faded letters of ‘butterfly’ and back towards the windows to watch over the members from a distance. Should we retreat and come up with another -

Too late. Do you see those two guys behind Junsu? Kyuhyun interrupted them,

Yes, Sungmin immediately moved his scope to see the two men in question.

They’ve been eyeing him since Junsu sat down, the youngest male revealed,

Could have warned me sooner, Junsu sighed with mock-annoyance. Don’t worry, I saw them when I sat down. However, by then it would have been too suspicious if I suddenly moved away.

Have we been found out or are they randomly targeting? Taeyeon questioned as she casually made her way closer to the others, delivering drinks as her cover,

I don’t know, Youngwoon admitted.

Sungmin watched as the two men suddenly stood, blocking Junsu’s escape. The auction was suddenly halted as Junsu was shoved by one of the men. He ended up backing into Kwon’s chair, toppling the man to the ground as he regained his balance.

“My apologies,” Junsu said as he quickly helped Kwon to his feet and turned his attention back the men, “Men, is this really necessary?” He asked even as he carefully undid his cufflinks and pocketed the precious metals.

In coming! Sungmin warned as the four guards suddenly rushed towards them, pushing through the rows of patrons to get to Junsu. 

We’ve got your back, Junsu! Kyuhyun piped as he and Youngwoon immediately got to their feet and attacked the first two men from behind.

Suddenly, it was mash of nine men all fighting in a group. Fists were swinging, people were being shoved and in the chaos, the auctioneers were dispersing from the building like ants escaping a fire. 

Taeyeon had her back pressed against the wall with another waitress, watching the anarchy unfold before them. In the rush, however, she caught sight of Kwon crawling on the ground to escape. 

Youngwoon! She called out, taking an instinctive step forward before she stopped. She felt the other waitress grab her hand in desperate fear but, ruthlessly, she disengaged the hold, waiting for her orders. Her gaze flipped towards her team mates and Kwon, undecided in where to go.

Follow him! Youngwoon instructed as he ducked his head, felt the graze of a fist and came up swinging his own hand in an upper-cut. He could practically feel the other man’s teeth rattling from the heavy blow as he commanded, We might gain more information if you follow him, but don’t close in. Just follow him.

Taeyeon raced towards the double door, but stopped, looking back at her team mates. It was six against three and, although highly skilled ex-agents, she knew they were still at a disadvantage, especially since Sungmin had to be cautious about taking a shot in case it hit one of the other members instead.

Unable to leave her team behind, she suddenly jumped up, easily running across the chairs towards the others. With the added height, it was simple for her to do a round house kick, landing it right against one of the guard’s temples. She withdrew two daggers which she had hidden beneath her skirts, wielding them like the master she was.

I’m sorry. I can’t leave you guys again.

Sungmin, here! Kyuhyun exclaimed, suddenly grabbing one of the guard’s arms and throwing him in the air with a flip none of them would have expected from the youngest male.

Drawing the guard away from the pack, Sungmin was able to make a shot safe away from the other members. The man dropped atop several chairs, breaking them in the process. Once the guard was on the ground, he immediately clutched one of his knees, yelling out as blood pooled beneath his knee. Sungmin had disabled the guard without killing him.

In coming! Sungmin warned as guards suddenly rushed through the double doors, making the guard count from five to eleven, not counting the fallen guard.

I like these odds, Taeyeon stated as she used the butt of one dagger to punch at a guard’s eye and, in rapid succession, his nose to effectively break it.

Was that sarcasm? Their leader questioned,

Nope. I love a challenge, she easily replied.

Youngwoon couldn’t help the small smile that tugged on his lips right before he rammed his fist into a guard’s throat, causing the other man to fall backwards sputtering. His ace was in fighting form, her competitive spirit firing up.

Watch it! Junsu warned as he kicked a man in the stomach who had been trying to attack Youngwoon. However, a quick glance between the two was enough for Youngwoon to know that Junsu was warning him about more than just the assailant. 

Their leader rolled his eyes at Junsu just as he used the heel of his palm to shove against another guard’s nose, the sound of it breaking like a gunshot. Suddenly, the commotion was momentarily halted as real gunshots were heard. Another guard had appeared by the double doors and was shooting at the group, apparently not caring if they hit foe or friend. However, before anyone could react, the man slumped against the doorframe, one hand clutching his arm to stop the flow of blood pouring from there and his other hand having a wound of its own. His gun dropped to the ground and the fighting continued.

Have a little faith in me, Sungmin tsked. 

Kyuhyun punched a man, once in the jaw and again in his temple. To ensure the man was out of the fight, he kicked the man in the abdomen, sending him flying into the wall. Little cracks appeared in the gold-painted wall as the man fell to the ground in a heap. 

The auction is over, let’s get out of here, Youngwoon commanded.

Kyuhyun grabbed another man and swung him into Taeyeon’s waiting fist. The man crumpled to the ground the moment the youngest male released him. Junsu finally grabbed the man he was fighting and pulled him close until his lips were at the man’s ear,

“Sleep,” he commanded, his raspy voice suddenly pitched soft as velvet. The man’s eyes suddenly closed and he fell to the ground, already snoring loudly.

Youngwoon, who had a man by the collar, threw him towards Junsu who commanded him to sleep, too. 

I’ll see you guys at the mansion, Taeyeon stated as she bolted away, disappearing through a door hidden in the wall. 

Let’s split up, too. Kyuhyun threw a glance at their leader. Before the other could confirm, Kyuhyun sprinted out of the room. Youngwoon followed at a more leisurely pace.

With one quick glance around, Junsu ran towards a corner of the room, but didn’t stop when he reached it. Instead, he melted into the shadows and was gone. 

After a quick sweep of the auction room with his scope he confirmed all of the guards were unconscious whether by blow or by pain. Sungmin immediately began dismantling his equipment before packing up his belongings and escaping into the night like the others.

It was late enough at night that all public transportation would have already ceased. The only way back to the mansion would be by their own means. Despite the season, the night was cold and slowly seeped into the ex-agent’s body as they stopped in the alley where they were. They fell against the brick wall of a building, their hands pressed against their abdomen. They had been shot in the fight, not allowing the others know so as not to distract them. However, over the past hour since running from the auction’s building, they had lost too much blood. Their fingers and toes were already tingling with numbness.

Momentarily slumped, their hair fell across their forehead, perspiration thinly spread over their skin from their effort. Their breathing was heavy, unusually loud in the quiet night and echoing in the narrow alley. They struggled to stand upright, knowing their only way back to the mansion would be if someone came and picked them up. However, from a quick calculation, they knew that the other members would be back at the mansion already. By the time they came to get them, it may be too late. 

Unable to gather even the strength it took to use their telepathy, they managed to pull out their cellphone. Their fingers slid against the keys, slippery with their own blood. As the line rang, they pressed harder with their free hand, trying to stifle the blood. Their entire journey to that alley had been filled with a desperate attempt to prevent a blood trail. 

“Hello?” The other line was picked up, 

“Eeteuk?” They breathed, all power gone from their voice,

“What happened!?” He demanded, recognizing the voice immediately, “Where are you!?”

“Alley,” they managed before the darkness engulfed them completely and they lost consciousness.

All the while, their phone dropped to the ground, Eeteuk’s voice yelling, “Hold on, damn it, I’m coming! Don’t you dare die!” 

He continued to command desperately, pleadingly, but, it was too late. They could no longer hear him.



HenTeuk said...

wait a minuet .. what was that? ohmygod!!!! it is kangin right? right? and there i was thinking it will end without losing one of them ......
ok that was bad, give me the time please i can't think properly now T.T

Bookworm83197 said...

Also, Kyuhyun's move with the handkerchief is great XDDD
Also, more references to their past but no backstory to go with it. >:| Give us a hint juseyo ;w;
(PS I'm Emily Wang and bookworm83197 XD)