(Chapter 12 of the Living in Shadows series)
“Give me one good reason to not kill you myself,” Youngwoon stated, his voice a soft growl as he prowled before the front steps of the mansion.
Taeyeon sat on the second-to-last bottom step, her legs stretched out before her and crossed at the ankle as her arms were loosely folded about her torso. Clad in her oversized SPD sweater, jean shorts and running shoes, no one would have believed that she had spent most of the early morning lying in a hospital bed.
“Because all the effort to save me would be in vain?” She suggested lightly, offering a small smile to lighten their heavy conversation,
“You can joke after, but not right now,” Youngwoon stopped in front of her and glared down at her, his arms akimbo, “Had you not called Eeteuk none of us would have been able to find you the moment you became unconscious. You could have bled to death!”
“I would have healed myself once I had enough strength,” she defended quietly,
“And how in the hell would you have accomplished that, huh, Taeyeon!? You were exhausted - have been exhausted for over a week, just came out of a brawl where we were outnumbered and ran for who-knows how long before stopping to call for help. Not to mention the blood loss!” Youngwoon yelled, his hands fisted so tightly that his knuckles were white.
“I didn’t even realize I had been shot until after the fighting ended and it was quite some time before I realized it had been more than once,” she admitted,
“When the fighting stopped you should have told us you’d been hurt instead of running off on your own,” the leader scolded,
“I didn’t -”
“Didn’t what? Want to be a burden to us?”
“Well, yeah -”
“HAVE SOME FAITH IN THE TEAM!” Youngwoon bellowed, his voice easily bouncing off the large stone facade of the mansion and echoing into the quiet, early morning.
Taeyeon was taken aback by his unleashed temper. In all the years she had known Youngwoon, not once had he ever lost his cool. He was their leader, the example by which they all worked and aspired to be. He was dependable and responsible and, even though there had been times when he had gotten angry, never had he expressed himself without restraint as he just had when he yelled at her. Even his expression - the way his eyes narrowed dangerously and with his clenched jaw - was a fearsome mask she had never seen before, even in the face of their enemies. After everything that Youngwoon had done for her over the years, she deeply regretted having caused such a reaction in him.
“Yelling isn’t going to change whatever has already happened,” Sungmin stated as he appeared at the front door.
“Your future sight didn’t show you what happened?” Taeyeon asked,
“All I saw was Youngwoon driving to my house in my car. Curiously enough, it is the same car I left to you last night.” Sungmin slipped out and closed the door behind him to give them some semblance of privacy outside. A cup of coffee in hand, he made his way leisurely down the steps and sat down beside Taeyeon. “I could hear you while in the kitchen, so, I can assume something happened.”
Youngwoon sighed heavily as he slowly reigned in his emotions. He turned and carelessly plopped down on the stairs on the other side of her. Stretching his legs out before him, emulating her position, he turned his gaze up to the morning sky of palest blue. As his eyes slowly followed the rays of golden wheat stretching across the sky, he spoke again, this time his tone much quieter and much calmer;
“You said at the auction that you couldn’t leave us,” He recalled, his tone tinged with a hint of censure.
Taeyeon turned her head and looked at him, her expression completely surprised, “Of course, I couldn’t! I know it was important we catch Kwon with the NIB information, but I wasn’t going to abandoned you guys in such a situation!” Her eyes were slightly narrowed now, “You can’t be mad at me about that, too!?”
“No, you did the right thing regardless of my command,” He conceded before adding, “But you stayed and then left us anyway, Taeyeon.”
“You mean I left again,” she corrected, looking straight ahead of her, not truly seeing the vast forestry before the mansion.
“If you’re going to stay with us, then stay with us,” it was Kyuhyun who said the words, walking towards them having walked around the mansion’s perimeter. He stood before the trio, hands shoved deep into his pockets as he shrugged, “I know I’m not the paragon of such a statement, but it’s… it’s what I truly want. I don’t want to lose any of you anymore.” His eyes quickly darted towards Sungmin for quiet reassurance.
“I’m always up for impromptu meetings, but can’t they be scheduled a little later? It’s not even eight,” Junsu yawned as he suddenly appeared beside Kyuhyun, stepping out of the shadows cast by the mansion onto the grass.
“I HATE it when you do that!” Kyuhyun exclaimed. He shook his head as he turned his attention to their leader, “I was out training in the clearing and I could hear you yelling.”
“Okay, I know I didn’t yell that loud,” Youngwoon defended,
“You said it aloud and telepathically,” Taeyeon muttered,
“I was sleeping quite peacefully when your voice woke me up,” Junsu confirmed as he came and stood beside the youngest male, crossing his arms over his chest, “Were you just yelling that at all of us to gather us?”
The others realized then that Junsu hadn’t realized that Youngwoon had meant his statement for just one of them. When the others hesitated to reply, said member spoke up,
“He was yelling it at me. He didn’t mean to say it to the rest of you,” Taeyeon revealed.
“And, was he right, Taeyeon? Do you need to have more faith in the team?” Junsu questioned, his expression unreadable,
She matched his stare with one of her own. She replied simply, “Yes.”
She was done, Taeyeon decided. She was done running away. She was done trying to be someone she wasn’t. What had happened to the person she worked so hard to become? She had several bullet wounds in her stomach and instead of running away, she wanted to stay and fight. Instead of scaring her, being so close to death had angered her. She was angry at the ones who had shot her, sure, but she was most angry at herself.
“She’s not the only one,” Youngwoon spoke up before anyone could reply, “We all do. Since the auction was interrupted, there’s sure to be another one soon. Everyone who went to bid for something will want their items and those selling will want their money. Before then, however, we all need to start trusting each other again.”
“Trust is such a peculiar thing,” Junsu mused, “How do you expect to foster such a thing in so little time, despite the fact that we once trusted each other implicitly?”
“It’s actually fortuitous that you all showed up. I was going to have a pre-breakfast meeting. If I waited until breakfast all of you would have already devised ways to retreat into yourselves. We’ve all gotten really good at running away,” Youngwoon stated, before his dark gaze slowly swept over all of them, “We all need to talk about our last mission at the summer camp.”
“Youngwoon -” Sungmin, who had always been seen by the others as the unofficial second-in-command, attempted to interject,
“No, Sungmin. We all need to finally talk about that night at the summer camp,” Youngwoon’s voice was soft yet firm, brooking no argument from the others. He could see that they wanted to contest his statement, but none of them spoke up. In the end, he was always their leader. “I was the leader, I was responsible for all of you. I have tortured myself over what I could have done differently, what decisions I should have and should have not made that night. Most importantly, I allowed the team to break up… I allowed all of you to walk away with your pain and suffer alone.”
What he remembered most vividly about that last mission was running towards the next cabin to look for the children. Almost as if his eyes caught the subtle swelling of a cabin several metres away, he had begun to turn when the night was filled with a loud blast. He felt the intense heat at his back as he was slammed to the ground by the explosion. His nostrils were filled with the stench of burning wood and flesh, his eyes watering from the onslaught of smoke. What horrified him was the silence that followed the explosion. The children never had a chance.
It had been several months after retirement before he could sleep an entire night without waking up with his shirt soaked as if he had been wrapped in that heat once more, his lungs gasping for air as if smoke surrounded him again.
“We all feel deep guilt about that night,” he continued when the others remained silent, “it’s what made us all decide to retire. If we’re ever to continue on with our lives - that’s right, not just continue with this case, but our lives - then we need to talk about that night.” He sighed heavily as he leaned forward so his elbows could rest against his thighs and, with his hands clasped together, propped his mouth against his hands, his gaze unseeing straight ahead of him. “Then… maybe, then we can learn to live again.”
The others didn’t reply. Instead, they became restless as his words repeated in their heads. Sungmin drank half of his coffee in one gulp. Setting his mug on the step beside him, he got up and began to pace restlessly. He found the urge to run back to his study for a tumbler of alcohol to be great. He paced even more just at the realization.
Kyuhyun was clenching and unclenching his fists. He would pull his hands out of his pockets only to violently shove them back in, as if he could get them deeper each time. However, his own worries were put aside when he caught sight of Sungmin. Before he even knew what he was doing, he reached out and grabbed the older man’s arm, either to stop him from running away or from running to get alcohol, neither knew. All that they did know as they exchanged a brief meeting of their eyes was that they knew each other’s weaknesses and would become each other’s strength.
Junsu shoved both of his hands through his hair. He gracelessly sat down on the ground. Looking up at the sky as if waiting for divine intervention. The last mission had caused more problems than any of them could have anticipated. Further more, the last mission marked not just the end of their team, it marked the end of his relationship with Taeyeon. After they had returned from the summer camp, they had both returned changed and their relationship seemed to disintegrate in the days following. He ran his hands through his hair once more, a sigh on his lips.
Junsu felt a nudge against his outstretched legs. Lowering his stare from the sky, he found Taeyeon watching him, her expression guarded yet concerned. He hadn’t realized until that moment how close he had actually been to her, their outstretched legs meeting. He was startled and relieved to see such cool determination in her unyielding eyes. Something had changed in Taeyeon since the last time they spoke yesterday. Indeed, for the first time since they were all reunited, he felt as if he were seeing Taeyeon and, not just who she was two years ago, but who she was before their last mission. He gave her a half-hearted shrug, not sure what either of them wanted. In response, she looked away.
Youngwoon could feel his heart speed up. He felt ridiculous because he was more nervous addressing the others about their last mission compared to actually being on a mission. Indeed, perhaps it was the truth for the others. Being an agent had become such a part of their lives, it was all second nature. Being honest about their feelings and allowing themselves to be bared, however, was apparently a foreign concept.
Indeed, the only reason he was able to open up about the last mission with Eeteuk had been because the older man had given him an ultimatum: their relationship would not last if they allowed secrets between them. He had resented Eeteuk at the time, but afterwards, he had been grateful, the experience cathartic. He only hoped to achieve the same thing with the members.
“We follow my tactics when we go for missions,” Kyuhyun was the first to speak, his hand slipping from Sungmin’s arm so that he could shove his fists into his pockets once again; “Like a chess master it was my tactics which had put us where we were that night.” He saw Taeyeon open her mouth to argue, so he shook his head for silence, “Even if we make our own decisions once we’re in the actual mission, it was me who made us all so spread apart in the camp. If I had kept us in a group, or, at least moving in pairs, then what happened could have been avoided. It would have taken longer to sweep the camp, but at least Taeyeon would’ve had the backup she needed that night.”
Kyuhyun could still remember that night as if it had just happened last night. With Taeyeon’s and the target’s voices being transmitted over their radios, he and Youngwoon had separated for the first time in that mission. Originally, they had been the only members to be together so that they could alter the plan accordingly should the need arise. After Youngwoon had given the command for Sungmin and Junsu to assist Taeyeon, he and the older man had immediately separated, running in opposite directions between camp buildings.
He had had half his attention on the conversation Taeyeon was having with the target, with each building he snuck into he carefully swept through each room for any sign of the young victims. He was leaving a small cabin when they heard that they were looking for twelve children. Kyuhyun had quickly moved onto the next cabin, instinct telling him that the children were more likely to be housed in the bunking cabin instead of other buildings, especially since the target seemed to be emotional over them. He was in the midst of searching another cabin when he heard the explosion filling the silent night.
Abruptly, Kyuhyun walked a few steps away from the others, turning his back to them. He shoved both hands through his hair before pushing them deep into his pockets once more. However, he was too restless, withdrawing his hands to keep them at his sides, clenching and unclenching them as if they itched with coursing power.
“If I had been just a bit faster, I would’ve been in the room, too,” Junsu spoke up. “Yes, you do plan out our moves and where we go, but we still make our own decisions, Kyuhyun.” He ran his hands through his hair again, “I had reacted too late. The moment I heard the gun drop to the ground, I should have stormed the room to give backup. I thought it had been Taeyeon’s gun that had dropped and didn’t act as I should have. I could have stopped the target. I could have disarmed her or shot her hand - anything that would have taken the detonator from the target. I… I could have stopped the target from pressing the button… I could have…”
All Junsu ever had to do was close his eyes and he would remember that night. When he had to join the shadows, remembering that night was the fastest way to shed himself of all warmth. The moment he heard Taeyeon’s voice over the radio claiming that the target had a gun, he had sworn sharply, loudly. He began to run in the direction he knew Taeyeon had gone. Several times he had tried to shadow walk but he was unable to detach himself enough each time. He cursed each time he was unsuccessful at shadow walking.
“Did none of you ever wonder why it took me so long to reach Taeyeon that night!?” He demanded, angry at himself. He drew up his knees, propped his elbows against them and pressed the heel of each palm against his eyes, “I failed in more than one ways that night. I failed to use my skills properly as an agent and… and I failed at using my other skills to shadow walk. No matter how many times I tried I couldn’t… I couldn’t.” He turned his head to face her, his eyes bloodshot, “I’m sorry,” he insisted, his voice tortured, “I should have been there sooner.”
Before she could reply, Junsu turned his head away again, covering his face with his hands.
“Kyuhyun, you already said that we make our own decisions,” Taeyeon spoke up, unable to hesitate as Junsu’s words repeated in her mind, his voice echoing, his tone causing her heart to clench. “And, Junsu, I should have been able to handle that situation better even if it started out like dynamite already lit. Yes, I could have waited for backup before confronting the target, but would any of you hesitated to confront a single target?” When the others remained silent, she turned her gaze to the sky, “When Youngwoon sent Junsu and Sungmin to help me, my ego was chafed immediately. I was up against one person and two other agents were being sent to help me. I admit freely that my arrogance has always been my biggest flaw, but how many of you wouldn’t be offended by such a thing?”
She tried to draw her knees up to her knees when she felt small, sharp pains stab at her abdomen. Recalling she had just spent the better part of the early morning in a hospital bed, she stretched out her legs again, crossing them at the ankles. She laughed ruefully in spite of her previous words, “Of course, I was still reckless that night, wasn’t I? Despite what Junsu said, I, too, could have disarmed the target. I should have seen that she had a detonator in her other hand. Do not beat yourself up over it, Junsu, because I should have been able to handle that situation alone. My pride was hurt and that made me make rookie mistakes. If I hadn’t been so careless, then the bomb… those children…”
Her words were swallowed up by a stifled sob, her voice hitching over her last words. She covered her mouth with her hand as if trying to physically hold in her cries as she bowed her head, feeling unworthy to show her face to the others.
Abruptly, Sungmin swiped up the mug and whipped it at the wall, the coffee staining the stone and the mug raining porcelain shards to the ground. Without a word, he ran back into the mansion. At the sound of the mug breaking, Kyuhyun turned back around just in time to see Sungmin dash off. He immediately ran after the older man with Youngwoon hot on his heels. It was easy for Junsu to merge with the shadows as Taeyeon gingerly stood from the front steps and carefully made her way after the others, her arms wrapped loosely about her torso.
When Kyuhyun burst through the study doors, causing them to shake precariously on their hinges, he found Sungmin throwing an empty glass decanter at a book shelf.
“Shit,” Youngwoon swore as he came to a stop abreast with the youngest male, taking in the complete breakdown of their friend.
Realizing he wasn’t alone, Sungmin suddenly charged towards their leader, his fingers immediately curling into the older man’s collar, “Where the fuck is my alcohol!?” He demanded, his voice a desperate growl.
“Calm yourself, Sungmin!” Youngwoon commanded as both leader and friend.
“I don’t care who the hell you are! I don’t care if you’re the best at hand-to-hand! I don’t care if I have to beat you up with my bare hands! GIVE ME MY FUCKING ALCOHOL!” Sungmin yelled, his hands fisting into the other’s shirt so tightly that his knuckles whitened.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s going on!?” Junsu came out of the shadows from between the two men, shoving them apart with all the strength he had. Although Youngwoon barely took a step back, Sungmin was sent stumbling backwards from the surprise attack.
“Give it back!” Sungmin repeated immediately, unperturbed by Junsu’s sudden appearance. He made to lunge at the other when Kyuhyun got ahold of him, wrapping his arms firmly around Sungmin, effectively trapping the older man’s arms.
“Go to hell!” Youngwoon growled,
“Fine! I’ll follow you there!” He snapped as he struggled against Kyuhyun’s hold, “What the fuck, Kyuhyun!?”
“Calm down! I could crush you in a moment if I so choose, so stop it!” Kyuhyun argued,
“Use your telekinesis on me and you will regret it Cho Kyuhyun!” Sungmin warned,
“Even without my telekinesis! I’m not the weakling I once was!” Kyuhyun suddenly shoved him away, “Pull yourself together goddamn it! Do you think any of us coped any better after that last damn mission!?” His fists were clenched at his sides as he continued, “Youngwoon became a fucking florist. Junsu - who has always been an annoying social butterfly - buried himself away in books. Taeyeon left the country. And, me? I surrounded myself with people. Me, who is the most antisocial out of all of us! I surrounded myself with so many people just to get a semblance of comfort as if my teammates didn’t abandon me when I needed them the most!”
The walls seemed to swell from the waves of barely leashed power from the youngest male. His hands were fisted, his body rigid as if he himself were struggling with all his strength to control his emotions and power. Everything in the study subtly vibrated as telekinetic power leaked from him, slowly spreading and permeating the very air they breathed.
Taeyeon, who had slipped into the study when Kyuhyun had began his tirade, had heard the others’ yelling quite clearly as she slowly made her way down the hall. Without hesitation, she walked up to Kyuhyun and placed her hand on his arm.
“You calm down, too,” she murmured gently,
Somehow, as Kyuhyun slowly breathed, the tension seemed to slowly drop despite the hostility still wrapped around Sungmin who paced by the side table where his decanter and tumblers were usually kept.
Youngwoon yanked Taeyeon away from Kyuhyun, “Don’t be an idiot!” He scolded, “You’re too weak to be using your powers!”
“I had to do something! Sungmin looks ready to kill and Kyuhyun was going to send the mansion falling down on us!” She defended even as she began to wrap her arms about her torso once more.
“How ironic! Kim Taeyeon, of all people is trying keep this team together. Maybe the old you, but who you have become? Don’t make me laugh. You were the first one to run away,” Sungmin mocked before his hand swiped at a tumbler, sending it crashing to the ground.
Taeyeon felt his words pierce deeply despite how well-deserved they were. Firming her resolve, she lashed back, “But, I came back!”
“We had to corner you on a fucking rooftop just to talk!” Sungmin countered,
“That’s right, but I still came back!” She defended angrily, brow furrowing and eyes flashing with dark fires; “I even went so far as to use a life debt with you just so that I could escape that meeting - I was so desperate to run away! What finally convinced me to come back was that Youngwoon promised that no matter what happened, I would always have a chance to leave the case and the team. Always.”
She swallowed hard before she barely managed to admit, “And last week he offered me an exit and I still stayed. I was so desperate to make sure I could leave whenever I wanted, but I stayed. I know exactly what you feel like, Sungmin, when you want to escape so badly you’d do anything to give you even a moment’s reprieve. I know, Sungmin!”
“The hell you do -”
“I do -”
“No, you don’t! I knew everything!” Sungmin roared, startling the others with the ferocity of his voice they had never witnessed before. “I knew!” He grabbed the side table and shoved it onto its side before pounding both fists on the wall where it once stood against. “Damn it, I knew,” his voice was trembling now as he fell forward against the wall, “I knew! I knew!” He repeated, each word punctuated by his fists punching the wall over and over again, “I knew what was going to happen!”
The other four were stunned silent. Despite knowing Sungmin had future sight, none of them ever once considered that he may have predicted what had transpired that night in the summer camp.
“A few nights before, I had a dream premonition,” he confessed, his voice hollow as he stood flush against the wall, leaning his forehead against it as his hands flattened out from their fisted state as if the wall were the only thing holding him up. “In it, I was surrounded by darkness but up ahead of me was a door with the number thirteen carved into it. There was no structure around it, just a single door holding itself up. The closer I got to the door, the more I realized its edges were brightly lit. The closer I got, the brighter the light. Just before I reached the door, the light exploded behind it. I was even thrown backward, but the door remained standing as fire towered behind it.”
“I didn’t know what it meant until we got to the summer camp and I noticed the cabin numbers.” Slowly, Sungmin began to sink to the floor, hitting his fists on the wall again, “I couldn’t do anything, I was too scared to change the future. I couldn’t tell anyone because I could be sending them to their death if they went to cabin thirteen. I truly believed that if I did change the future then death would have been assured.”
“But, you change the future all the time,” Junsu stated, “You finish our sentences or stop us from doing things. None of those has ever led to death.”
“That’s because I was given choices then,” Sungmin explained, feeling the hot threat of tears in his eyes, “Sometimes my future sight shows me several different paths for the future. Usually these are choices that would not ultimately affect the future, so there is no harm in choosing one over the other. However, when I am given only one choice, I have to let the future pan out as I see it.”
“It was only recently that he discovered that death doesn’t always happen,” Kyuhyun revealed, “Immediate death and eventual death by mortal injuries can be averted. It’s difficult and, perhaps it was prevented because Taeyeon and I used our special abilities, but it can be done.”
“Had I known… had I known…” Sungmin was hunched on the floor now, his fists continuing to pound the ground, his hands reddened and now covered with tiny lacerations.
Sungmin had stood three cabins down from number thirteen that night. Hidden in the shadows, he could just make out the carved number on the door, subtly highlighted by the silver moonlight. Instead of sweeping through the buildings as he had been instructed to do, he was glued to his spot, his mind warring over what to do. When he heard the call to assist Taeyeon, there was several heartbeats when he found it difficult to tear his gaze away from the cabin door. Feeling as if his heart, mind and even his soul were being wrenched apart, he turned his back on the cabin and ran away to help. Once he was in place to assist Taeyeon if necessary with his sniper skills, half of his mind was preoccupied with cabin thirteen. When the night was filled with the explosion, he felt a part of him die.
The others remained silent, further startled when Sungmin began to openly cry. None of them, even Youngwoon had ever witnessed such a thing in all the time they had known the ex-agent. Especially now when Sungmin was colder, harder than his previous self, they would never have guessed such a raw display of emotion would be forthcoming.
Sungmin felt the regret and guilt of his actions like a physical pain burning in his chest as if whatever had been left his heart, mind and soul were slowly being consumed by the very fires he couldn’t save the children from. His leanly muscled body shook as waves of grief poured over him and he didn’t even try to silence his own cries as hot tears streamed down his face.
Youngwoon was the one to approach their broken friend. He carefully made his way across the large study to Sungmin and carefully knelt on the ground beside him. He wrapped his hand at the nape of the younger man’s neck to bring some physical comfort. He sighed heavily, feeling the pressure of having to make everything right again in his team. He had forced the confessions upon them, forced them to face all their guilts and demons from the summer camp mission. He had caused all of them to break down, his best friend the most, and, now, he would help put them back together and build them up again to their former glories.
“You didn’t know any better, Sungmin,” Youngwoon said simply, his voice comforting and smooth like warm honey. He pitched it particularly not to entrance, but to soothe, a quality of his vocal ability that he had never told the others about. The team had always been a confident, self-assured group that he had never had to use the skill with them.
“You were worried that it was the other members who would end up dead if you tried to save those children,” the eldest made his words a statement rather than a question.
Regardless, however, Sungmin answered, “Yes.” When their leader slid his arm around Sungmin’s shoulders, the younger man shifted more into the other’s half-embrace, no longer able to withstand the cold, dark abyss his memories had thrusted him into. “If any of you had died… because of me…” He shook his head fiercely as if reliving the internal battle from two years ago, “My friends versus those children… I couldn’t. I couldn’t! I COULDN’T!”
“Shh… it’s okay, Sungmin. It’s okay,” Youngwoon murmured, hunching more over the younger man. He gathered him into his arms and held Sungmin protectively against his heart. Even if they were both men, he was his best friend, his brother.
“Give me the alcohol, Youngwoon,” Sungmin was begging now, no longer caring about appearances or pride. All he cared about was escaping the void he had been running from ever since he learned there were twelve children at the camp that night two years ago. “Please, Youngwoon,” he cried over and over again, “Just give me the alcohol. Please!”
Before their leader could reply, Kyuhyun put a hand on his shoulder to signal his presence. When he looked at the youngest man, Kyuhyun stated quietly, firmly, “Give him to me.”
Hesitant, yet curious, Youngwoon slowly released his hold on Sungmin and moved back to give the other man space. Kyuhyun knelt beside Sungmin and pulled him up on his knees. Before the older man could curl back into a ball, Kyuhyun pulled Sungmin flush against him, wrapping his arms around him.
“I’m here, Sungmin,” Kyuhyun said quietly, his words warm against the other’s ear. “I’m here.”
Sungmin immediately slipped his arms around Kyuhyun’s waist as he buried his face into the younger man’s shoulder, the onslaught of tears continuing and the shaking of his body more violent than before.
As Sungmin’s cries filled the room, the others remained like silent sentries, protecting their brethren. Despite what happened two years ago, despite their prolonged separation, they would not turn their backs on one another again.
They remained in the study another two hours, merely sitting in silence with each person reflecting on what had transpired as they bared themselves to one another. Youngwoon had taken up one of the chairs before the desk, Taeyeon sitting in the other. Junsu leisurely browsed the bookshelves, occasionally taking a book down and absent-mindedly flipping the pages, never truly reading them. Sungmin stood by one of the windows, arms crossed with his shoulder propped against the side as he gazed wistfully outside. After using his telekinesis to clean up the broken glass and the overturned side table, Kyuhyun sat in Sungmin’s chair behind the desk, his attention half-tuned to the older man.
When the noon hour drew close, it was Kyuhyun to announce he would start on lunch. The others, as if not wanting to separate after such an intimate morning, followed him to the kitchen, Youngwoon giving him a nod of approval at such a tactic. It had been a difficult and emotion-laden morning for them, but they had to keep going rather than dwell on their pasts. Kyuhyun took Sungmin and marched him to the kitchen before him, his hands on the older man’s shoulders, gently pushing. The others followed close behind.
Lunch was a quiet affair, Kyuhyun cooking for them all because Youngwoon wouldn’t allow Taeyeon to help at all. Afterwards, Youngwoon led them all to the library. He herded them to sit before the fireplace where three couches were placed in a U. Sungmin sat in one of the side couches, Kyuhyun sitting on the same one. When Taeyeon went to sit in the other side couch across from theirs, Youngwoon gently nudged her shoulder,
“Lie down on the couch. Junsu and I will sit on the other one,” their leader commanded.
Rolling her eyes at him once again, she still did as she was told, blatantly ignoring Junsu’s curious look as she stretched out on the one couch on her own. She laid on her side so she could see the others, curling her arm beneath her head as her other arm loosely wrapped about her torso.
“Is Lee Sungmin coming back anytime soon?” Kyuhyun asked when they were all seated.
Sungmin tilted his head ever so slightly, “What are you talking about? I’m right here.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve buried yourself beneath your guilt to the point that you’ve completely withdrawn from everything around you,” he hesitated before adding, “including from me.”
Youngwoon had mentioned the previous week that they had to all stop hiding things from each other and to start being honest and open. Kyuhyun knew he was pushing Sungmin and taking an even bigger risk by doing so in front of the others. However, the youngest man felt that since their scars were all made from their final mission two years ago, they had to heal together as a team.
Sungmin sighed heavily as he stood and moved towards a window. However, all he had taken was a single step before long, slender fingers wrapped around his wrist and held him captive. With any other person, he knew he would be able to disengage the hold, but Kyuhyun was different. Although they had all sworn never to use their abilities against one another, he wasn’t sure how stable Kyuhyun’s telekinesis was now, especially after such an emotional morning.
“You don’t get to run away from me,” the younger man said. His eyes narrowed ever so slightly, “Even if all you’re doing is going to a window, we both know what it means. If you ever want what we have to develop into something more, don’t you ever run from me.”
“Then, what would you have me do!?” He demanded, his tone almost pleading,
Kyuhyun yanked on his arm, bringing the other barely an inch away from him, their faces so close that their breaths mingled; “Stay with me! Talk to me! Let me stand by your side and help you with whatever is troubling you!”
Sungmin looked into the younger man’s eyes desperate to find any semblance of hope. He had been living the past two years in solitude, lost in a world of his own making, built from his own guilt and regret. Hope was a distant memory that he had given up on ever experiencing again. Yet, here he was with Kyuhyun and he was promising hope and every good, warm feeling Sungmin had lost at the summer camp.
“I can’t shake the guilt,” Sungmin admitted as he moved away just enough that their closeness wouldn’t make the others uncomfortable, but allowed the younger man to retain a hold of his wrist.
“Have you ever tried?” Junsu asked,
“No. I’ve tried to escape it, but not get rid of it. Even now with all of you absolving me of it all, I still can’t let go,” Sungmin answered freely,
“What’s the difference between escape and letting it go?” Taeyeon inquired,
“I…” Sungmin opened and closed his mouth several times, the others patiently waiting and giving him the time he needed. With a flick of his wrist, he released himself from Kyuhyun’s hold, but then immediately grabbed Kyuhyun’s hand with his, changing the quality of their physical connection. He swallowed hard before confessing, “When you let go of your guilt, it means being about to forget about it, even if for a little while. Me, however… I can’t. I remember and ruminate. The only way for me to be free of my guilt is to escape it. I… I wanted the ultimate escape.”
Since Kyuhyun was right beside him, Sungmin heard his sharp intake of breath just as the other’s hands gripped his hand tighter - protectively and comfortingly. Taeyeon sat up abruptly, gaping as Junsu sat forward, propping his elbows on his thighs and clasped his hands together. Youngwoon jumped to his feet and began to pace, restless like a caged lion as he ran his hands through his hair over and over.
“Why… why didn’t you ever say anything!?” The eldest demanded.
“Youngwoon…” Sungmin murmured,
“You’re my best friend, damn it! If you had… and I didn’t…” he continued to prowl in agitation, his hands going between running through his hair and clenching and unclenching at his sides. He shook his head fiercely as he moved to pace behind the couch he and Junsu had been sitting on, “Keep talking. This isn’t about me.”
“Sungmin, you should have talked to us if our last mission was bothering you so much,” Junsu spoke up, “Even though none of us were talking to each other except for Youngwoon, you should have said something. We were all there that night. We were all affected. Even if we couldn’t understand what you were going through, at least our demons came from the same place.”
“I… I was too ashamed to admit that I had known what was going to happen,” Sungmin confessed quietly, “I could have saved those children, but my own cowardice…”
“Damn it, Sungmin, you didn’t know any better!” Junsu exclaimed as he jumped to his feet, “You didn’t know that you could change the future of your dream premonitions! You thought the only choice you were given was to either save those children or save the team! No one in your position would be able to make a decision and stay sane, so, just…”
He sighed heavily as he sat back down on the couch adjacent to the other two, “Just let us share the burden with you.” When Sungmin opened his mouth to speak, he quickly interrupted him, “Not just you, but me and everyone on this team. We were always considered the best team in all of The Sector and, even, the entire NIB. It was more than just our skills as field agents. It was because we shared everything. We took equal shares of each mission for every case we were given. We took equal pay. We took equal responsibility if we succeeded or if we had a setback. For some reason, after leaving that summer camp, we thought we didn’t need to share anymore and took our own piece of the blame and made it our own.”
“We allowed our troubles to consume us until we could no longer turn to one another,” Taeyeon commented as she slowly adjusted herself in a more comfortable position on the couch; “We believed our pain was so much our own that we couldn’t rely on another; couldn’t allow the others to unnecessarily be burdened because of us. For some reason, that night at the summer camp we forgot what it meant to be a team.”
Youngwoon finally stopped pacing and stood behind the couch opposite the fireplace. Propping his hands on the back of the couch, he bowed his head, “There is not one individual to blame for what happened that night. We all share the blame. Yes, we all had our part which contributed to the failure of that mission, but we are not the first team to ever fail in a mission. Further more, we were not the last team to fail in a mission. It is a tragedy that thirteen lives were lost that night. However, I believe it a success that we left with our lives considering one or all of us could have died in that explosion.
“What was such a powerful blow for us was that it was the first time we had failed in a mission. We have had set-backs, but never a complete failure,” their leader stated, “I think we all began to think our team invincible, which set us up to take failure even harder. Then, when we did fail, we blamed ourselves for it because that’s the team we became: we could never think ill of each other. We would rather be wrong than believe it of another member. What made us a good team, also destroyed us because it blinded us to share our pain and guilt as we once did.”
“If we’re ever to succeed as a team… if we’re ever to heal… if we’re ever to move on with our lives, we need to fix everything that was broken from that night,” Kyuhyun said quietly, firmly, his hand gripping Sungmin’s tightly.
“Then, there’s one more thing we need to address,” Junsu spoke up, his gaze focused straight ahead at the cold hearth, “Taeyeon, you need to explain what happened to you after the last mission.” He glanced at the others, “Tell me now if I’m out of line and if I should have done this in private, but I just… I just can’t align the Taeyeon who hid her son from me with the same Taeyeon I knew.”
“I’d also like to know,” Kyuhyun murmured.
Sungmin remained silent, having been the one to first see her desperation on the rooftop that night in Las Vegas. He had seen her struggling to come to terms with who she was and who she became. He saw her battle against herself, becoming someone who was completely against her nature. He saw her broken and defeated in ways he never thought possible. Whatever she decided to do, he would support her, however, after being able to finally share his burdens, he knew that her talking may help her even if it were just a tiny bit.
Youngwoon straightened immediately, his expression alarmed as he looked at Taeyeon. She had been a fragile state since they first met up with her in Las Vegas. She seemed to be becoming her old self again, but at the beginning of the mission, he had promised to always give her an exit. She had declined the last one he offered, but, now, he offered her another one to escape the impending conversation.
Taeyeon, caching Youngwoon’s concerned look, threw him a small, grateful smile as she gently shook her head, “You said it yourself: I have to have more faith in the team.”
“It’s okay, Youngwoon,” she interrupted, “If it’ll help consolidate the team, I’ll do it.”
“But you should be doing it for you, not for the team,” he argued,
“I am,” she insisted. She took a deep breath, before she looked at the others, feeling the pressure almost like a palpable heat, suffocating her and squeezing her heart until it beat painfully fast. “When I became an agent, I knew that things would be life-or-death and I knew that there would be times when lives became collateral. There is something… heartbreaking… devastating… when you know that you caused the death of an innocent - regardless of how inadvertently - and, even more so when it is a child. Our mission at the summer camp resulted in not just one, but twelve children’s deaths. At that point, I was already breaking apart inside. I didn’t know how to cope with those deaths, my guilt was like a poison, a black stain spreading through my body and encompassing everything. It was as if I could no longer feel any of positive feelings. No, I couldn’t even feel anything passionate; when I was angry, it was like ice rather than a flame.”
Although he hadn’t been asked, Junsu nodded his head. After returning from summer camp, Taeyeon had seemed to withdraw into herself. Preoccupied with his own growing demons, he had seen her distance as a withdrawal from him rather than for what it truly was. When they fought, it was as she described. She was cold and apathetic, telling him over and over again to just leave her alone. Then, finally, he did just that.
“When…” She hesitated before continuing, “When I left Korea, I thought leaving would get rid of the guilt; sort of like out of sight, out of mind. When I arrived in America, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Being an agent was all I knew for so long but, fortunately, with the money I had saved, I didn’t need to work right away. That turned out to be even more fortunate because I shortly found myself pregnant.”
Taeyeon moved to lean her elbows on her knees, when a combination of stabbing and pulling pain swept across her abdomen. She grimaced before she sat up straight again. Pushing the pain from her mind, she went on, “After the death of those twelve children, finding out I was now responsible for another child’s life was… it was the most horrifying thing I had ever encountered. On top of that, I believed myself to be the cause of those children’s deaths and also the target’s death. Who was I to be worthy enough to bring a child into this world, raise that child and protect it? I had never been more scared in my life than in the moment when my pregnancy was confirmed by a doctor. By then, Youngwoon had been trying to contact me once a day, every day for weeks. After I returned home from the doctor’s, I finally responded to him.”
“Why didn’t you call me?” Junsu asked, his raspy voice suddenly soft and broken, “Why did you answer him but not call me!?”
Taeyeon looked at him then, uncaring that her eyes were veiled with hot tears. “I wanted to… I wanted to so badly,” she admitted, her voice hitching. Her small body began to subtly tremble as if all the emotions from the past two years now swept over her like a crashing tsunami against the coast. “I thought you had abandoned me, Junsu… I thought you hated me for what happened in the last mission… I… I thought you would think that the pregnancy was a hoax to get you back or… or, worse, that I had gotten pregnant by another man, but claimed it was yours. The last thing I wanted in this world - the last thing I ever wanted in this world - Junsu, was to have you hate me.”
“Why didn’t you at least tell me I have a son?” He questioned, sudden threatened by the sting of his own tears,
“I… I…” She stammered as she stumbled to her feet, the onslaught of emotions breaking down her fragile resolve. When Junsu stepped into her path, grabbing her upper arms gently yet firmly, she shook her head fiercely, “I can’t… I can’t. I thought I could, but I can’t -”
“Just tell me!” Junsu begged as she struggled to push him away, her hands fisted against his chest, “Just tell me, damn it! Why didn’t you tell me I have a son!? Even if I left you, I still deserved to know!”
Taeyeon fell against him, her tears soaking through his shirt to his shoulder as she cried, “I didn’t want you to take him from me!” Her hands stopped pushing, “If my stepmother had him, it’d be okay, I’d still… I’d still have a chance… but… but if you took him then…” Her fingers curled into the front of his shirt, letting go of her guilt, her fear and everything that had turned her into a coward, a shell of her former self. She clung to him desperately as if he were the only thing keeping her together.
“I would never,” he said as one arm wrapped around her shoulders and the other around her waist; “I won’t, Taeyeon. I promise you, I won’t do that to you.”
“What… what if he, too, died because of me!?” She cried against his shoulder, the pain in her abdomen suddenly overridden by the pain sweeping from her heart and coursing through her entire being.
Kyuhyun tried to let go of Sungmin’s hand to wipe the tears suddenly springing to his eyes, but the older man only gripped his hand tighter. When he looked over at him, he found Sungmin to be watching the pair with tears trickling down his cheeks uninterrupted. Swallowing the lump that was fast forming in his throat from the outpouring of everyone’s emotions, he turned his attention back towards the others. Even Youngwoon was attempting to hide the fact that he was crying but sadly failing to disguise wiping away his own tears.
“He won’t,” Junsu promised her, “You didn’t kill those children and we will protect him with everything we have.” He moved his arm from around her shoulders to grab her chin and tilt it so she was looking at him, “Do you hear me, Taeyeon? You will not bring any harm to our child and anything that dares to even try to hurt him will answer to the both of us.”
Shaking from the effort of quieting her cries, she stared up at him with a look mixed with trepidation and hope. “I’m so sorry, Junsu… I’m sorry for everything,” her voice was broken, her words a blatant plea for forgiveness.
“We’ll figure things out,” he insisted softly,
“And, you have us if he abandons you again,” Kyuhyun piped, trying to lighten the mood,
Taeyeon took a step away from Junsu as she looked at Kyuhyun, managing to smile through her tears, “I just thought he -”
“Taeyeon,” Junsu interrupted then, his tone a warning, “Why is there blood on my hand? And on my shirt?”
Startled, Taeyeon looked down at her over-sized Seoul PD sweater. Splotches of red were now smeared across her stomach where she had been flush against Junsu and along one side where his hand had curved around her waist, his fingertips pressed against one of her wounds. Before she could answer, Junsu continued,
“Is this why you’ve been grimacing all morning?” He questioned, and, before he could think about what he was doing, he lifted the hem of her sweater until her stomach was exposed. However, the pale, soft skin of her torso was wrapped in bandages with patterns of bright red matching that of the overlying sweater. “Oh, you have something else to explain before anyone leaves this library!”
She slapped away his hand so that the sweater fell back into place as she turned on him, eyes narrowing despite the tears still dotting her eyelashes; “I’ve been trying to explain but you won’t let me get a single word in!”
“You wouldn’t have trouble explaining had you just said so earlier this morning!” He argued,
“We were all discussing something more important than my gunshot wounds!” She countered,
“WHY THE HELL DO YOU HAVE GUNSHOT WOUNDS!?” He bellowed.
Taeyeon abrupt crossed her arms over her chest as she remained silent, glaring at him.
That’s the Taeyeon I know. Youngwoon’s words echoed through the other two members’ minds,
Am I the only one hoping she’ll hit him? Kyuhyun asked.
I thought you resolved things with Junsu, Sungmin queried,
I did, but I think it’ll be funny if she hits him, the youngest man replied, causing Sungmin to roll his eyes and Youngwoon to shake his head even as a small smile tugged at his lips.
After a few minutes, Junsu finally sighed, putting his hands on his hips, “I won’t yell anymore,” he promised, knowing exactly what she had been waiting for.
“I just said so, didn’t I?” He questioned, exasperation tinting his tone,
“I just wanted confirmation,” she defended,
“Why would you need confirmation when I already said I wouldn’t?” He argued, his voice becoming raspier than normal and increasing in volume,
“Because you’re already beginning to yell at me!” She answered angrily,
“Because you make me crazy!” He countered,
“Fine! Next time I won’t save your sorry ass from getting shot!” She exclaimed,
Immediately, Junsu felt as if his heart had seized, “You… you saved me?” He questioned, his tone suddenly strangled,
“I… I…” she stammered as a subtle, pink blush began to creep up her neck to her cheeks, “I’m going to go rest, now. It’s been an emotional morning and Youngwoon, you’ve been telling me all morning to not do anything and I’m going to do exactly that.” She gave a small nod to the others before she swiftly made her escape.
When Junsu moved to follow her, Youngwoon stepped in front of him, “She really should rest and this morning has taken its toll on all of us. Now may not be the time to confront her about her injuries.”
“It happened last night, didn’t it? At the auction?” Junsu asked,
The older man nodded, “If she hadn’t, you would gotten shot in the back, she says.”
Junsu laughed then, helplessly, as if if he didn’t laugh, he would suddenly break down into tears once again. His eyes moved to the door, still open from when she left; “She really does drive me crazy.”
“You all drive me crazy,” Youngwoon stated dryly,
“I… I won’t confront her, I promise,” Junsu said, looking back at their leader, “I just want to make sure she actually gets some sleep. Earlier, when you stopped her from using her powers, she was trying to help calm down Kyuhyun, wasn’t she? He didn’t have any physical injuries, so she was straining herself to help him.”
“Her other ability? Yes. It’s why she was always the one calming the rest of us. I saw the toll it had on her when she used her power to do so,” Junsu revealed. He sighed heavily before he repeated, “I just want to help her sleep.”
“Really?” Youngwoon questioned, staring hard at him,
Junsu nodded, “All I’ve ever wanted to do is take care of her. I let my anger blind and stop me from doing so lately and it kills me to think that I haven’t been able to be there for her during the two years before that.” He looked at the door again wistfully before he repeated quietly, “I just want to help her sleep.”
In answer, Youngwoon stepped away, granting him access to the door. Throwing him a grateful look, Junsu sprinted out of the library.
Sighing with relief, Youngwoon turned his attention to the other two men in the room. His eyes zeroed in on the one he had known for over a decade, “Will you be okay?” He asked,
Sungmin saw the worry and hurt in his best friend’s expression, his heart heavy at the thought that he was the cause of them. Knowing that honesty was best between them, he replied, “Eventually, yeah.”
“You know I’m here for you, right?” Youngwoon demanded, his tone harder than he had planned as if he were desperate to get the other’s compliance.
Sungmin’s eyes widened ever so slightly before he tilted his head, regarding the older man peculiarly, “Yes, I do,” he said as he watched their leader carefully, worried that the older man’s troubled expression seemed immovable.
“No more alcohol?” Youngwoon prompted,
“None,” Kyuhyun was the one to answer, his tone unyielding even as his expression remained relax and calm. When he squeezed Sungmin’s hand in comfort, his heart beat easier after the older man squeezed his back in response.
Almost as if he knew of their byplay despite the distance between them, Youngwoon nodded with approval before turning to leave. “I might not be here for dinner. I have some things to take care of. Don’t wait up for me,” he announced before exiting the library.
Once their leader’s footsteps were far enough away they could no longer hear them, Kyuhyun turned slightly in his seat to face the other man,
“So, Sungmin? No more alcohol?” He repeated the previous question, his eyes sweeping over the older man’s face, gauging his reaction.
“I don’t need alcohol, I have you, right?” Sungmin answered. He turned in his seat until his body was completely facing the other. He reached out, his hand cradling the side of the other’s face; “And, I don’t want you to be my alcohol. I don’t want you to be my reprieve because you’re replacing my alcohol. I want you to be my reprieve, my escape, my everything because you’re you, Kyuhyun.”
“Then, let’s go break some more decanters,” he replied, the mischievous light in his dark eyes and smile on his lips turning him absolutely irresistible to the older man.
“Okay,” Sungmin agreed just before he leaned forward and kissed him.
Junsu moved amongst the shadows, not wanting Taeyeon to sense his presence as he followed you through the mansion. After her bedroom door closed firmly behind her, he came away from the shadows and quietly crept up to her room, patiently listening for when she would lie down to sleep.
Inside the room, Taeyeon grabbed another shirt to sleep in. After she had pulled off the sweater, she gingerly pulled on the fresh shirt, but kept the hem held in her teeth so that her abdomen was still exposed. She sat down at the desk’s chair as she began to carefully unravel the bandages wrapped around her keeping her dressings protected. She tossed the soiled strips onto the desk and slowly began to peel off the dressings from her abdomen. The sting of the adhesive pulling away didn’t even bother her, her stomach feeling as if it were on fire. Once her wounds were all exposed, she used a wet cloth to clean away the blood from her skin so that she could see each bullet hole clearly.
Gently, she placed her hands on her skin so that she covered each wound. Closing her eyes, she began to concentrate her healing energy into her hands, focusing the hot energy into the 4 wounds. She could feel the tissue pulling tight, knitting itself back together and her skin stretching to cover the holes. Her breath became laboured, her teeth grinding onto the hem of her shirt as she tried hard to stop from crying out. Her eyes burned with tears as she felt the healing process as painful as when she got shot.
Suddenly, she was surrounded by another warmth, tangible warmth as a body pressed against her side and held her head against a strong, solid form.
“It’s almost over,” Junsu’s familiar, raspy voice murmured to her, one hand gently stroking the tendrils at her temple in a soothing manner.
Once Taeyeon knew that the healing was done, she collapsed sideways against him, relishing in his strength and heat. When Junsu moved away to kneel beside her chair, she felt the loss of the contact keenly, her head spinning from weakness.
“Sometimes, you’re too independent,” he said quietly as he took her wet cloth and cleaned off the remnants of blood from her abdomen before pulling her shirt down into place.
“I had to heal sooner or later,” she said sleepily, her head lolling onto his shoulder as he picked her up and carried her to the bed, “Just waiting for enough strength to do so.”
Junsu sighed heavily as he pulled back the sheets, gently laid her down in the middle of the bed and pulled the blanket overtop of her, “And you didn’t take any pain killers before hand, did you?”
“I was already in pain. There wasn’t any point,” she shrugged.
Junsu shook his head as he sat on the edge of the bed. Tentatively, he reached over and brushed strands of her hair out of her eyes; “What happened yesterday after the auction? You were the first to leave.”
“I had been shot during the scuffle and I didn’t want to worry any of you or slow any of your escapes, so I left on my own,” Taeyeon explained, “I had left Sungmin’s car at my stepmother’s but, in case I had someone tailing me, I didn’t go there. Instead, I was planning on making it back here but I was losing more blood than I had previous assumed. Just before it got too difficult to keep moving, I manage to make a call. The only person in the city was Eeteuk. He came and got me and brought me to the hospital. I’m not sure what happened then, but when I woke up Youngwoon was in the room with me. He convinced the doctors to discharge me early this morning and, when we got back, he was yelling at me when you guys came to the front of the house.”
“Convince?” Junsu laughed shortly, “His ability really comes in handy sometimes.” When he looked back at Taeyeon, he saw the wary way she watched him while fatigue was evident in every line of her face. He reached over again, tucking looks hairs behind her ear, “We’ll figure things out when you’re strong enough to fight me back, okay?”
“We’re due for a long, long talk,” she agreed, “and no yelling.”
He nodded as he looked at her seriously, “And no running away.”
She nodded in agreement. However, her eyes widened when Junsu shifted closer, leaning lower and lower to her. When his cheek was pressed against hers, she could feel his warm breath tickling her ear.
“Sleep,” he softly commanded,
“What? No -” however, it wasn’t long before she became limp, her eyes closed and her breathing, at once, steady and shallow.
When Junsu shift back, a small, smug smile was on his face. “Sorry, Taeyeon, but you really do need your rest. You can yell at me when you wake up, hale and whole again.” He stared at her peaceful, sleeping face once before he got up and walked out of the room. He knew that, after such a moment with her, he wouldn’t be able to easily join the shadows for now.
Eeteuk was exhausted when he got home that night. Even thought it was Sunday, he had gone into the office after separating from Taeyeon and Youngwoon at the hospital. He had spent the rest of the day in his office hacking into the hospital’s computer system and changing all of the records so that, should Kwon or any of his people try to investigate anyone who had been shot the night of the auction, they wouldn’t be able to trace it back to Taeyeon or any of the other members.
Taking another random route home, he didn’t detect anyone following him. He assumed that Kwon had gathered his usual cronies to make up another plan after the failed auction. Fortunately for him, he needed a day off from being vigilant all the time.
When he entered the house, he locked the door behind him, kicked his shoes off and slowly made his way up to the master bedroom. Once in the bedroom, he turned to put his bag down on the ground, when he turned back, it was with a gun in each hand pointed at the man sitting in the corner of the room.
Sighing heavily, he growled softly, “Youngwoon, give me a warning next time!” He locked both guns before carefully placing them in a dresser drawer. “I could have shot you without first confirming who you were.”
“A good agent wouldn’t shoot first and ask questions later,” the younger man tsked as he gracefully stood from the cushioned chair in the corner of the room. He prowled closer to the other man, going so far as to stand in the bathroom doorway.
“I -” Eeteuk paused as he looked up at him after tossing his shirt in the laundry hamper. He cocked his head ever so slightly as he regarded the younger man. “What’s wrong, Youngwoon? Is it Taeyeon? Is she okay?”
“She’ll be okay. It’s me who needs you right now,” he admitted as he stalked the older man up until he had Eeteuk sandwiched against the glass shower stall wall.
Immediately, his expression softened as he reached up with both hands and cradled the younger man’s face, “What happened, Youngwoon?”
“I made everyone talk about our last mission at the summer camp,” he answered, his hands slowly caressing down the sides of the other’s bare torso, coming to rest low on his hips; “I… I had to talk…”
Eeteuk pulled Youngwoon into his arms, pressing his head against his shoulder, “You don’t have to talk about it again, then. I already know what happened to you.”
“I was their leader, Jungsu,” he turned his head to nuzzle the side of Eeteuk’s neck, murmuring against his skin, “I let everyone go. I let them suffer alone. I-”
“Leader or not, you can’t control what everyone does,” Eeteuk soothed, his hand burying into the younger man’s hair, “All you can do sometimes is give guidance and offer help and hope they accept one or both of them.”
“Sungmin, he… he…” Youngwoon’s voice hitched and, instantly, Eeteuk was even more concerned, having never heard such a break from the other before. As the older man’s arms tightened around him comfortingly, somehow, he found the strength to keep talking; “He wanted to die when we were all apart. He was so engrossed in his sorrow that he… if he…”
“Shh… all that matters is that he didn’t,”
“He’s my best friend!” Youngwoon cried, burying his face into the crook of the other man’s neck, “He’s my best friend and I didn’t know… I didn’t know!”
Youngwoon felt the chill sweep over him, the same one that took him over in the library when Sungmin first confessed. To find out that his best friend, the one who knew him so well for so long, had been contemplating and craving death and, yet, he didn’t once even guess. He had been floored, shattered and shaken to his very soul.
“Join me,” Eeteuk invited softly, trying to drag him away from his demons, trying to envelope the younger man with his warmth, with his love.
“I relived that night this morning,” Youngwoon continued in a trance as Eeteuk slowly disengaged his embrace, Youngwoon absent-mindedly going through the motions as Eeteuk pulled his shirt off. “It was like I was standing there in the night, my heart beating so fast it was sure to explode, my lungs deprived of adequate air…”
“You’re not there anymore,” Eeteuk murmured as he stepped around him and ran his palms slowly down the other’s back, the skin puckered and shiny.
“I could feel the explosion at my back again, the flames running up my spine as I hit the cold, hard ground,” he recalled, his eyes closing as he remembered being shoved to the ground by the force of the explosion. Although the others knew he had sustained injuries from the blast, they had never actually seen his back. It had been red and raw and he hadn’t even allowed his burns to be healed, carrying the scars as a daily reminder of his mistakes that night and all that followed.
“Come back to me, Youngwoon,” Eeteuk said, pressing butterfly kisses all up his back, following the wicked lines the scars made all over. As he tucked his chin against the younger man’s shoulder, he wrapped his arms around and hugged him from behind, his hands splaying over the other’s heart. “Come back to me, Youngwoon,” he repeated, his voice a tender caress, a sweet salvation from the darkness closing in on him.
“Never leave me, Jungsu,” Youngwoon begged, his voice broken and cracked, as he leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the shower stall, hot tears tracking down his face now.
Holding him tighter, protectively and possessively, he answered quietly, firmly, taking away a few tears wit his lips, “Stay with me forever.”