(Chapter 13 of the Living in Shadows series)
The following morning when the members went down to the kitchen for breakfast, they were startled to find Youngwoon and Eeteuk sitting at the table already. Taeyeon, who had come down a half hour earlier to cook breakfast, was already putting out serving dishes onto the table. Shooting a glare at Junsu, she walked back to the coffee maker and poured mugs for the others. With Youngwoon sitting in his usual seat at the end of the table, Kyuhyun and Sungmin sat on one long side, Junsu sat beside Eeteuk who was adjacent to Youngwoon and across from Sungmin. The last spot, Taeyeon’s usual seat at the other end of the table was left for her. The others were filling their plates with the food when Taeyeon finished bringing over the coffee for them.
Sungmin raised a hand in thanks as he immediately began drinking his coffee. The other men said their thanks, even Kyuhyun who was spooning sugar into his.
“So, is anyone going to ask why Eeteuk-sshi is here?” Kyuhyun questioned as he didn’t even look up as he continued adding more sugar to his coffee.
“Well, you just did so there’s no need for us to do it,” Junsu grinned.
“I’m here because I’m done being idle,” Eeteuk revealed; “I’m joining you all in the field. Indeed, it’s something I should have done after the last team was murdered.”
Youngwoon sat there eating breakfast, suspiciously quiet. When he had woken up earlier that morning he found Eeteuk already dressed and waiting for him, sitting in the chair he had sat when the older man had come home the previous night. When he asked if Eeteuk had work, the other man had explained his intentions. For the next hour, as Youngwoon got dressed and they drove to the mansion, Youngwoon had ranted and raged. All the while, Eeteuk had remained calm and quiet, his expression unreadable although his eyes were slightly lit with amusement.
He remained silent as Eeteuk continued. “There may be another chance to find who has the data, especially since the auction never finished. There were many things still not presented and, for a large scale event in the underground, they will want another chance to sell and buy such a collection.”
“Good. I want revenge for the guy who shot me,” Taeyeon hissed,
Eeteuk blinked, “Are you always this bloodthirsty?”
“Always,” the other men answered in unison.
“Until we find out how to get the leaked data, we’ll have to train harder than before,” Youngwoon stated. “We’ve more or less put behind us most of what has been a hinderance to us being the team we once were. I’m not saying we’re perfect and I’m not saying everything’s been resolved, but yesterday, we all put our cards on the table. We all know where we stand, now. We should support one another within and without this case. Otherwise, we’re doomed to fail again.”
The others glanced at one another, for once the wariness and guardedness gone from their eyes. For the first time in two years, they were able to completely relax with one another.
“Eeteuk and I will do recon work to find out where we might get the leaked data,” Youngwoon explained, “Eeteuk has many contacts since he’s been in the NIB the longest. I would bring Sungmin, but if I have to go visit certain contacts, I’ll need a partner who the contact doesn’t hate.”
Sungmin merely shrugged, unperturbed as he got up and refilled his coffee mug once more.
“Since many of us were seen at the auction, those people can’t play such a visible role the next time around,” Kyuhyun commented, sitting back in his chair, crossing his arms and absent-mindedly tapping his chopsticks against his pursed lips in thought.
“That’s a good observation, but you forget that the only one who wasn’t visible that night was me,” Sungmin reminded before adding dryly, “And it’s going to be a hard push to do a mission of this caliber on my own.”
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes, “I wasn’t suggesting such a thing.”
“Well you said -”
“That’s not what I meant,” he interjected Sungmin’s comment,
“Then don’t -”
“At least let me clarify!” Kyuhyun argued. “Taeyeon is able to still play a role.”
“I think you’ve forgotten that, not only did she play a visible role during the auction, but she was definitely noticed by almost all the men, too,” Youngwoon said,
“I didn’t forget,” Junsu grumbled between bites of food.
It was Taeyeon eyes to roll this time before she insisted, “I’ll be able to alter my appearance so no one would recognize me.”
“You were barely wearing anything. The only other way to alter your appearance is to drown yourself in clothes or change which body parts are showing,” Kyuhyun said sarcastically, even though he had the one been pushing for Taeyeon to play a visible role in the next mission.
Taeyeon said nothing, merely continuing her meal.
At her silence, Junsu looked up as the others watched him. “What the hell!?” She shot him a loaded look before suddenly preoccupied herself with drinking from her tea cup. “I’m not going to stop you, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it!”
“Are they always like this?” Eeteuk asked bluntly,
“No,” Youngwoon answered,
“They’re usually worse,” Sungmin added sincerely as he came back to the table with a full coffee mug,
“They’re no longer entertaining,” Kyuhyun commented in mock-disappointment.
“So, Sungmin and Taeyeon will be our central roles for when we have to get the data again,” Youngwoon redirected them back to the current issue.
“I can help, too, especially since I haven’t even been in the field in years. I’d be the least likely to be recognized,” Eeteuk added,
“Hell no!” Youngwoon fiercely objected,
“I was the first to be given this case and, since then, five agents have been murdered,” Eeteuk countered firmly, sternly, his eyes narrowed. He was the most serious any of them had ever seen him. “I’m not going back to my desk if my presence in the field can help tip the balance in our favour. I started this case - I’m going to help end it.”
Youngwoon stared at Eeteuk who, finally, looked back at him. There was no warmth in the older man then, only steel and cold resolve. He was as immoveable as a mountain on the subject. Without a word, Youngwoon stood from the table and left.
“Don’t mind him. He’s just throwing a tantrum,” Eeteuk insisted as he continued eating.
You okay? Sungmin called out to their leader.
Go to hell, came the reply.
“Definitely a tantrum,” Sungmin raised his mug in cheers before taking a deeper swig of his coffee.
It grew hot as the sun rose in the air. Junsu and Sungmin were sparring in Sungmin’s special backyard forest. For the fifth time, Sungmin almost smashed shoulder-first into a tree trunk where Junsu had just been standing in front of. Slowly getting accustomed to the other’s shadow walking, he was able to react quicker, immediately pivoting on the ball of one foot, as the other foot traced a semi-circle in the dirt with the toe of his shoe to help keep his balance.
Almost immediately, he burst into a dash, his fist swinging. Junsu immediately blocked the hit, his wrist crossing with Sungmin’s.
“I hate when you walk like that!” Sungmin exclaimed as he suddenly jumped up when Junsu tried to kick at his knee.
“You have to prepare for anything,” Junsu replied as he ducked his head when, in mid-air, Sungmin kicked out, aiming for his temple.
As he ducked, however, he grabbed Sungmin’s ankle with both hands and pulled with all his might, intending to throw him. Junsu threw him towards the ground, but Sungmin twisted his torso so he was facing the ground. Before he could hit the ground, however, he put his free foot down and both hands, bending his knees and elbows to absorb the jolt of weight. With his weight stable, he yanked at his other foot, drawing Junsu in before he could release Sungmin’s ankle. He kicked out, causing Junsu to stumble backwards.
“I think you lied when you said you need practice with hand-to-hand,” Junsu accused when Sungmin slowly approached him, hand outstretched to help him.
“I didn’t,” Sungmin insisted. He stopped, waiting as Junsu disappeared from the ground and, then, reappeared beside a tree, arms folded over his chest; “I think you forget that I’m always the sniper for our missions. And, since I’ve been a recluse these past few years, who would I have had to spar with?”
“If you can build your own changeable forest, you can do anything,” Junsu snorted as he gestured back towards the house, “Let’s take a break and go at it again after lunch.”
“Sounds good.” Sungmin let out a pressured breath as he wiped his sweaty brow with his forearm, “I should’ve brought the remote with me. We could just move the tiles around until we were out.”
“Feeling lazy?” He laughed in response,
“Hey! You can travel by just using your shadow walking. Besides, we’ve been fighting non-stop for the past hour and half. Anyone would feel lazy after that,” Sungmin countered.
After several long minutes in silence as they slowly made their way through the backyard forest, Junsu spoke up, “Hey, Sungmin?”
“About our last mission. Not for this case, I mean at the summer camp,”
Sungmin stumbled in mid-step but recovered quickly. “Y-yeah? What about it?”
“I didn’t want to bring up bad memories for you or anything. I just wanted to say how I didn’t know how you were able to remain sane after having to make such decisions,” Junsu shrugged, “I know you hated going through all that, but I really admire you for taking on such a burden. Despite how angry I am that you didn’t trust us enough to rely on us, too… I admire you.”
Sungmin sighted heavily, “Thanks, Junsu, but am I sane? Oft times I don’t even know. Hell, I was on the brink of being an alcoholic.”
“Well, during the times when you don’t know, just ask me and I’ll knock some sense into you,” Junsu grinned, “Literally and figuratively.”
“And, what you did at the summer camp… you know, it could’ve happened to anyone,” Sungmin said,
Junsu’s smile turned rueful as he crossed his arms over his chest, “Don’t cushion it to lighten the blow. We all know it was a rookie mistake. For all my vigilance, I still didn’t react correctly.” He sighed softly, “ You know… ever since I became a field agent, I have always hated the reputation that proceeds me.”
Sungmin raised a brow as he said in disbelief, “Oh?”
“I’m serious,” he insisted as he lightly nudged him with his elbow; “Kim Junsu - the best trainee to ever come along; only three months training; and, a weapons master. It sets me up for failure and when I work so hard to not fail, when it does happen, it looks even worse. I’ve always felt as if I was put on this pedestal and when I do something which may be just a blip in the road for others, it seems like a grave error for me.”
“Youngwoon’s right,” Sungmin commented, “We were always known as the best of the best, the elite team of The Sector. That last mission was doubly difficult because of those children and because we had finally failed. I think that retirement for us all wasn’t as difficult a choice as it would’ve been for others because our pride had taken a beating and our confidences in ourselves and the team was at an all-time low. We were looking for a way to not just escape the mistake we made that night, but also looking for a way to never having to make those decisions again.”
Junsu recalled how he had failed in so many ways that night at the summer camp. He had run until his legs had hurt, trying so hard to get to Taeyeon faster. He had tried numerous of times to shadow walk, but, each time he couldn’t even merge a finger into the darkness. At the realization that his special skill set was also failing, he grew desperate in trying to reach her as quickly as possible.
He recalled how the explosion was heard even from where they were, the light pouring into the room and even into the hallway where he had been hiding. Taeyeon had been hesitant to leave the target. Indeed, he had to grab her hand and pull her away so that they could investigate what had happened, especially when the others weren’t responding over the radio.
Later on, when it had settled what he had done that night, he had been overridden with guilt. He had felt the failure keenly as if it became a palpable thing resting on his shoulders. He could practically feel the shame at just the thought of returning to head quarters to hand in his report. He was even reluctant to see Taeyeon, let alone the other members because of his mistake. Leaving The Sector had seem like the only decision at the time simply because he was so afraid of tarnishing his once-golden reputation.
After being preoccupied with his thoughts for several long minutes, Junsu broke the silence once more. “Hey, do you ever think you’ll go back to The Sector? Ever get the itch for just one more case or even just one more mission?”
“Before we reunited I never thought such a thing possible and, even now when the prospect no longer seems so bleak, I’m still reluctant,” Sungmin answered. He looked down at his hands, the palms up and fingers slightly spread, “There’s too much blood on my hands as it is. You saw me yesterday; if I am to keep what little sanity I have left, I think it’s best I not return as an agent.”
Over the past two years, Sungmin had wondered often if he should return to The Sector. In his idleness, he had begun pacing around his mansion, it’s vastness and emptiness only emphasizing further how bleak and meaningless his life had become. He had taken up work as a mercenary believing that the only skills he had were those he had developed as an agent. However, when one too many jobs came to him requiring for him to go against everything he believed in as a Sector agent, he knew he could no longer continue as a mercenary.
The only light he ever found in his life was when he had a dream over a year ago. The dream had been as ambiguous as ever and consisted of him tending to a rose bush which was overly thorny, the leaves sparse and all the buds were shrivelled. However, he continued to tend to the rose bush and, just before he woke up, four of the buds had bloomed. When he woke up, he hadn’t known what the dream meant, but he felt as if something was going to happen and, so, he began training again. He filled his days in his backyard forest and did target practice - all in the hopes that, what he hoped the dream meant, would finally come true. When, a few short weeks ago, he had been sitting in his study and had the premonition of who was going to arrive at his front gates, he knew then what his dream about the rose bush had meant.
He lowered his hands, shoving them into his pockets; “But, I need something to do. The past two years of wallowing in my self-pity, guilt and my parents’ money has made me restless.” He laughed self-mockingly, “Hell, I was so restless I had my forest built. What about you?”
Junsu laughed then, reservedly, but it was pure and free from the ruefulness of before. “Well, as much as I enjoy my bookshop and sales are enough for me to break even with the bills, Kyuhyun was right when he said I was surrounding myself with books instead of people.” He shook his head, “I don’t even know what I was thinking. I went from the Seoul PD to the NIB to The Sector to a bookshop. Yeah, I’m getting restless, too.”
As they stood at the edge of the forest, the mansion looming before them, Sungmin paused and turned towards the younger man, “Hey, Junsu.”
Junsu paused and looked over his shoulder having taken several steps ahead of the other. “Yeah?”
“Did we just have one of those mushy brother-romance moments when we talk about feelings and stuff?” Sungmin grinned as he closed the distance between them, stopping when he was abreast with him.
Junsu sighed in mock-drama, “I think so.”
Sungmin nudged him with his elbow, “I won’t tell the others if you don’t.”
“Should we hug on it?” Sungmin suggested, his eyes dancing with amusement,
“Maybe next time,” Junsu replied, his tone serious, “Kyuhyun seems like the jealous type.”
Sungmin laughed aloud then, Junsu quickly joining in. When Junsu was about to head up the steps to the back terrace, Sungmin gestured towards the target practice area and they went together.
In the practice area, Eeteuk stood behind one of the targets several metres away, the target at a two o’clock position from where Youngwoon stood, a dagger in each hand. The target board was just low enough that the older man was able to lay an arm overtop, the other elbow propped beside his arm as he leaned his chin in that hand.
“Come on, Youngwoon. We can’t wait forever for you to grow a pair and throw the dagger,” Eeteuk called out, boredom clear in his tone.
“Can’t I practice first without you standing behind the target?” He questioned.
After breakfast, Eeteuk had found him in his room. The older man said nothing, merely watching Youngwoon get ready for training, dressing in black lounge pants and a white, sleeveless shirt. He was fully prepared to continue to ignore him when the older man suddenly shoved him against the wall, his palms propped on either side of his shoulders as his eyes were narrowed angrily.
“Do you think you’re the only one who worries when the other is in the field? You know how much it hurt me to bring you back to The Sector. I know how much you suffered after that last mission and it killed me to bring you back regardless. I was desperate and my only salvation was - and is - you,” Eeteuk had stated, his voice a soft, deadly growl.
“I asked for your help on this case because I believe in you. I asked for your help but I prayed every day, every spare minute, that my belief in you wouldn’t end with my love dying,” he continued, his voice taking on a hoarse tone as emotions began to suffocate him, the hot sting of tears threatening him. “I told you I wanted to keep you from this life, wanted to protect you so that you would never even have to think about this shadowed life, let alone walk in it again.
“Ever since you became a part of this damn case I have felt as if a part of me was breaking off, moving a little bit farther away. I was dying a little bit every time I didn’t see you after work or when I woke up in the morning. I was dying a little bit every time I didn’t hear your voice or felt your body next to mine, beneath mine.”
His tears were openly tracking down his face then. However, before Youngwoon could speak, Eeteuk ruthlessly swiped angrily at his tears with the back of his hand.
“So, stop throwing a tantrum every time the subject is brought up that I’m going into the field for this case because you’re not the only one suffering.” He moved away from Youngwoon then and headed for the door, “Get your weapons, we’ll do some target practice.”
Although Eeteuk hadn’t allowed him to get a word in, they had formed a shaky truce, momentarily pushing aside the issue until a later time when they were both mentally and emotionally prepared for what the other would say. That had been over an hour ago and, as they continued working on Youngwoon’s knife throwing skills, Taeyeon and Kyuhyun had eventually gravitated towards the clearing and joined them. As the youngest pair sat in the grass a few feet back from Youngwoon, Taeyeon called out advice, assisting Eeteuk in helping Youngwoon. Kyuhyun, on the other hand, just called out little comments which were slowly grating on their leader’s patience.
“I don’t even know why we’re doing this,” Youngwoon continued when Eeteuk had just barked at him to throw the damn knife already. “I can practice throwing knives without putting you in danger. I’m more likely to hit you than the target even if all I can see of you is your head and arms.”
“Look, Tae, the softer side of Youngwoon,” Kyuhyun said loudly, his tone mocking,
“I’ll practice with him standing behind the targets!” Youngwoon snapped, gesturing to the youngest male, his patience - usually the most enduring - was threadbare by that point.
Eeteuk rolled his eyes, a gesture Youngwoon could see even from his distance. “We’re doing it this way because it’ll speed up the learning process since we don’t know yet what kind of time line we now have. And, no, I’ll stay here because if it’s Kyuhyun you’ll purposefully hit him.”
“He deserves to be hit!” Youngwoon scowled,
“Concentrate!” Eeteuk exclaimed, his voice crisp, clear and commanding.
For the first time, Kyuhyun and Taeyeon watched as their leader took direct orders from another person and followed them without complaint. Youngwoon turned his back on them and faced the target once more. Youngwoon raised the dagger in his right hand, gripping it as he prepared his throw. His eyes narrowed ever so slightly as he made the aim, checked the balance of the dagger and gauged his surroundings. He breathed slowly, evenly as his heart raced, praying his aim would be true and he wouldn’t hurt the other man. He moved his hand with great precision until a sudden alarm went off and, at the last minute, his hand jerked but it was too late - the dagger became airborne.
“WATCH OUT!” Youngwoon yelled,
The clash of steel was the only warning before two daggers flew away to the side, safely away from everyone.
Youngwoon was gasping for air when Taeyeon walked up to him and punched him in the arm, “Never let yourself get distracted during a throw!” She slapped a cellular phone into his hand, “And that’s why you should make sure your phone is on silent. But, even if it wasn’t, you should have still been able to make that throw.”
Youngwoon had the grace to look sheepish as he answered his phone.
“I could have easily dodged that,” Eeteuk said as he made his way towards them; “I know I haven’t been a field agent for years, but that doesn’t mean I can’t defend myself.”
Youngwoon finished his conversation and pocketed his phone by the time Eeteuk reached them, “I’ve got a meeting set up with Mouse for tonight,” He revealed.
“The Korean guy who pretends he knows French? He’s such a fake, his coded French is nothing more than him being horrible at the language,” Eeteuk snorted, “I can’t believe he’s one of your contacts still.”
“He’s given me some very reliable information over the years,” Youngwoon defended,
“Well, then how about after that, we go meet with my contact? We can find out which information is true,” Eeteuk offered,
“And how do we know that your contact is reliable?” Youngwoon questioned,
Eeteuk’s smile was cold, dark. “Because this contact knows better than to double-cross me.”
“So what happens when -” Kyuhyun, who had stood up to be on even level with the others, suddenly found his words stifled as Taeyeon reached up and covered his mouth firmly with her hand.
“Learn when to not talk,” she scolded as Youngwoon scowled at him again.
“What has he done now?” Sungmin sighed as he and Junsu neared.
“You guys are done sparring?” Youngwoon questioned. When both nodded, he snorted, not unlike Eeteuk; “You two have gotten soft over the years.”
“Hey! We sparred for an hour and a half!” Sungmin argued,
“And I did shadow walking on top of that! It’s exhausting!” Junsu defended,
“Taeyeon and I can spar for over two hours,” Youngwoon shrugged his broad shoulders.
It was Kyuhyun turn to snort, “She barely survived an hour with me a few days ago!”
Sungmin, immediately seeing the danger, promptly pulled Kyuhyun away and inserted his body between the younger man and Taeyeon with her suddenly deadly gaze. He held up his hands in a placating manner, “Now, you and I both know that half the time he never thinks before he talks. This is one of those times.”
“Well, too late now! One round, Kyuhyun!” Taeyeon exclaimed, “Fifteen minutes hand-to-hand and we’ll see who barely survives!”
“Ha! I’ll take you down in fourteen!” Kyuhyun retorted, causing Taeyeon to lunge towards him.
“Junsu! A little help, please!” Sungmin hissed as he held Taeyeon back,
Junsu raised a brow, his arms still crossed. “Why ever would I do that? My son will grow up being ashamed because his father didn’t support his mother, even this one time.”
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes as Sungmin openly gaped at him. Taeyeon, however, turned around to glare at him. “Y-you can’t just bring up Junho whenever you want!” She sputtered as her cheeks pinked,
“Why not? He’s my son, too,” Junsu lightly reprimanded,
“Because you’re only doing it to stop me from being angry!” She argued,
“Is it working?” He prompted,
She sighed, the fire in her fight going out the moment he mentioned their son. “Yeah.”
“See? Definitely no longer entertaining,” Kyuhyun sighed with mock-drama,
“Stop talking before they decide to tag-team you!” Sungmin snapped, turning on the younger man. “If you keep pissing everyone off, I’m going to let them attack you!”
Kyuhyun rolled his eyes again.
“If you roll your eyes at me, I’m going to attack you!” Sungmin hissed,
As the four continued to bicker back and forth, Eeteuk loosely crossed his arms about his torso as he gently nudged Youngwoon with his shoulder, “Shouldn’t you be intervening?” He murmured quietly,
“Hell no,” he replied immediately. Catching the older man’s questioning expression, he explained, an indulgent smile on his lips. “This is the first time in over two years that I’ve seen them acting like a real team… like real friends.”
The next morning, the members came down to eat breakfast, Kyuhyun diligently putting out the food on the table. When Taeyeon arrived, she immediately gasped. Eeteuk sat there with a black eye, a split lip and his hands, which were loosely clasped atop the table, were full of cuts as well.
“Give me your hands,” she stepped towards him,
“No, no, no,” Junsu slipped between them quickly, forcing her to take a step back, “These are small wounds which can heal naturally and don’t need your help to speed things along.”
“You’re right. They’re small wounds so the energy to heal them would be inconsequential,” she argued,
Junsu crossed his arms. “No.”
Taeyeon’s eyes narrowed as she put her hands on her hips. “Yes.”
“Taeyeon,” he grounded out through gritted teeth,
“Junsu,” she replied mockingly,
Eyes now narrowed, he stated crisply, “Junho.”
“You can’t use him to win an argument!” She exclaimed,
“Jun. Ho,” he repeated slowly, emphasizing each syllable in their son’s name.
“Can you two stop bickering long enough for Eeteuk and I to explain what happened last night in our mission and why he’s beginning to look like a raccoon?” Youngwoon talked over both of their voices.
The pair nodded as they quickly went to their seats, startled because their leader had used his stern “leader voice” which meant he was serious and if someone didn’t listen, there would be consequences.
“How could I look like a raccoon? I have one black eye, not two,” Eeteuk murmured as the others began to fill their plates with food.
Shooting him a narrowed gaze, Youngwoon began, “We met up with my contact first last night, Mouse and, then, with Eeteuk’s contact - Cobra. I went with Eeteuk since Sungmin and Taeyeon would not be welcomed by Mouse and I needed someone fluent in French.”
Eeteuk gave a soft snort at the absurd thought that what Mouse spoke was true French.
“More like a rat if you ask me,” Junsu hissed, his hands fisting on top of the table.
“What kind of name is that anyway? And, Cobra?” Sungmin shook his head, “If I ever became a criminal, I’d come up with a really good street name.”
“Stop interrupting,” Taeyeon hissed at the pair,
“Cobra only uses that name to piss off Mouse,” Kyuhyun interjected.
It was Eeteuk’s turn to be surprised as he asked, “How do you know that?”
“Mouse has been in the underworld for longer than Cobra. Indeed, when Cobra first came on the scene he was seen as an up-start fool with nothing in his head but rocks. The most to promote this was Mouse. Unfortunately, Cobra turned out to be quite the criminal and, to taunt Mouse, used the name Cobra since snakes eat mice,” Kyuhyun recalled automatically as he walked over to the table with a pot of coffee and began to pour some in the other’s mugs.
“Yeah, but how do you know that!?” Eeteuk reiterated,
Kyuhyun shrugged his shoulders as he sat down in his seat beside Sungmin and adjacent to Taeyeon; “I’m really good at hacking. Just because I’m no longer a desk agent, let alone an agent altogether, doesn’t mean I don’t use the information that’s available.”
“The NIB may have a database for contacts, but I’ve never entered in any of my contacts,” Eeteuk revealed as he leaned back in his chair, folding his arms.
Youngwoon, his mind reaching the explanation first, nudged Sungmin’s foot with his own. The signal, one they had developed together over two years ago, triggered the other man to take a swipe at Kyuhyun’s head.
“Hey!” He hissed at Sungmin.
“Stop going into peoples minds!” Youngwoon was the one to scold, having been too far from the youngest male to exact his own revenge.
“Going into peoples minds? You never told me about that!” Eeteuk exclaimed,
The others in the team all turned their glares at their leader, “I thought he knew!” They exclaimed in unison, all of them having believed that Youngwoon had let Eeteuk become a part of their team only because he had known about their special abilities. Since the agent appeared at the breakfast table the previous morning, they had all allowed their guards to relax around the agent, not being too mindful about mentioning their particular skills around him.
“I know you have special abilities like Youngwoon does, but, other than him and Taeyeon, not what,” Eeteuk explained. He turned a critical eye on their leader, “Can you read minds, too?”
Youngwoon took a long, deep swig of his coffee before carefully putting his mug back on the table as he answered, “It’s not really reading minds. It’s telepathy, but it’s also the ability to go into another’s mind to search for the information needed. It’s not like if you think something we’ll instantaneously know your thoughts.”
“I know this is putting you all on the spot, but if I’m to be in this team, even for just the remainder of this case, I think it would be helpful for me to know what each of your abilities are. I’m not saying it’s imperative I know, but it may help for me to know that once we’re in the field,” Eeteuk said simply, calmly; “You don’t have to tell me now, just… maybe, eventually.” When he went to grab his chopsticks, they floated into the air away from him.
The others immediately looked towards the youngest male, “Kyuhyun!?” They exclaimed.
“Eeteuk’s right. We’ve started thinking in terms of a team again, so, why stop now?” When they continued to look at him in disbelief, he rolled his eyes before picking up his coffee, “I know, I know. Me? Talking about being a team? I can do more than just computers and sarcasm.” He took a small sip of his sweet coffee, “I have telekinetic abilities. Youngwoon’s been working with me to better control them.”
“Take the chopsticks before they fall in your coffee,” Sungmin lightly warned.
Eeteuk, watching him curiously, plucked his chopsticks from the air as instructed.
“I have future sight. I can’t control it, I’m just given glimpses of the future,” he explained.
“You already know I have healing abilities,” Taeyeon said. She hesitated, before adding, “Physical and mental distress, along with pain.”
While looking towards Taeyeon, Eeteuk realized Junsu was no longer sitting between them. He blinked, startled, “Where did -” he was startled to find Junsu now standing across the room by the coffee pot. “How?”
“I shadow walk,” Junsu explained, “And, if I so choose to, I can make someone sleep and walk into their dreams, too.”
Junsu suddenly disappeared and reappeared in the seat beside Eeteuk’s. The older man didn’t even so much as flinch, but still stated, “Don’t do that to me ever again. I’m more likely to hurt you in response.”
“I hate when he does his shadow walking,” Sungmin admitted as he got up and got more coffee.
“Now, can we get back to the topic at hand?” Youngwoon asked, an edge to his tone.
“So impatient,” Eeteuk murmured, a light reprimand in his voice.
“What did you find out?” Taeyeon asked, always the one to help Youngwoon keep everyone on track once business talk began.
Raising his mug to her in a salute, he continued, “Since not a lot of things were bought and sold during the auction, those who organized the auction will be holding another one but at a different location. It’s set for two weeks from now to give them time to set everything up. The goal is for even more security and exclusivity in sending out invitations.”
“We heard whispers of a yacht being involved,” Eeteuk added, “We should be getting the invitations within the next week so we can get in, but we’ll have to consider what roles to play to ensure we’re all on that boat to provide back-up. Kwon will be on that boat, but don’t believe for a second that that means he won’t be able to escape if he needs to. We need to cover all exit routes and possible ambush points. If we’re lucky, he’ll believe that what happened at the auction isn’t connected to him, but I have a feeling he’ll show up with his own personal guard this time.”
When they fell into a silence, eating and thinking over the revealed information, it was Kyuhyun who prompted, “That explains what you guys learned on your mission last night, but why does it look like Eeteuk got in a fight?”
Youngwoon leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his muscular chest, “Never get on his bad side.”
“What?” The others questioned in unison.
“He has a very particular way to interrogate those who aren’t co-operative,” Youngwoon explained as Eeteuk got suspiciously quiet, suddenly absorbed into his breakfast. “Mouse was being difficult and Eeteuk got impatient and rushed at him. He took out Mouse’s guards and then went after Mouse. Finally, he gave us the information we wanted.”
“I told you Mouse annoyed me. He butchers the French language every time he speaks,” Eeteuk scoffed. “And, he’s so damned arrogant without the skills or results to back it up.”
“And you didn’t have any problems with Cobra?” Sungmin asked,
Eeteuk shook his head, “He sings like a bird when I come to him for information. Even more so once we mentioned Mouse in front of him.”
“So, we have another two weeks to prepare,” Junsu said as he stood from the table, taking his and Taeyeon’s dishes to the sink and ignoring the surprise look she shot at him in the process.
“We’ll train harder, come up with another battle plan, but,” Youngwoon’s gaze swept over them all, “this time, we’re a true team.”
The night before the mission, everyone was busy with preparations. As such, they didn’t have dinner together. Rather, they went their separate ways each with tasks they needed to do. After Eeteuk was able to get a hold of invitations for the next auction the previous week, Junsu immediately went to work on locating the yacht to scope out the area. The night before the mission, Junsu was once again sneaking onto the boat with Kyuhyun surveying the area, hidden on the docks, sitting amongst stacks of crates with his laptop open on his thighs.
I’ve entered into the storage area and making my way up. I don’t hear any movement from above, Junsu’s voice easily moved through Kyuhyun’s mind.
I don’t see any movement from where I am, Kyuhyun replied. He had night vision goggles strapped to his head, amplifications done by pressing buttons at the side of the thick lenses. With one hand adjusting the zoom, his free hand quickly typed on his computer, bringing up several different windows of information. You have fifteen minutes before the guard starts his next round of the docks. Seventeen until he gets within seeing distance of the yacht.
I’m in the lower compartments, Junsu revealed. Instead of going through the door from the storage level to the next level where a series of bedrooms were, he simply moved through the shadows, not wanting to reveal himself by a noisy door.
Standing at the end of the hallway, the other end leading to the deck, he pressed his back against the wall, his gloved hands flush on the wall as well. He waited, his ears perked for any sounds. When all he heard was silence, even his breathing indiscernible, he slowly made his way down the hall, the soft soles of his shoes quiet, using the shadows to absorb their sound. He checked each room, but all he found were bedrooms which were all fully furnished, the beds and desks secured to the floor and walls. All though the furniture was sparse, the sheets appeared of finest quality, silk shining in the moonlight sneaking in through small windows.
Junsu had to stop after closing one of the bedroom doors, his glove snagging on a loose screw in a doorway. He took out a penlight and, holding it in his mouth, took the time to carefully ensure not even a thread was left behind. It was then that he realization dawned upon him regarding the events from the auction. Pocketing his light, he cursed himself.
Fuck, I just realized why I was targeted at the auction, he revealed to the younger man.
The first time I went scoping out the building I didn’t put on my gloves before beginning, he swore again as he continued to slowly make his way down the corridor of rooms. I was distracted and messed up. They must have seen a disturbance somewhere and found my prints.
Do you think they have a leak in the NIB?
They wouldn’t need one. The Seoul PD has a less complicated security system. If they had a spy in the SPD or were able to hack their database, my prints are in there from when I was a police officer.
Rookie mistake, Kyuhyun’s words were like a stab to a very sore spot. His next words, however were a balm, But it happens to the best of us.
You’re not saying that just to make me feel better?
Kyuhyun’s snort was heard even in Junsu’s mind. When have I ever lied just to make someone feel better? Sungmin and Taeyeon did a mission a few weeks ago. A simple B-and-E but they both did rookie mistakes. Sungmin got caught on a fence he was climbing over and Taeyeon yelled when a dog barked nearby. So, you see? Everyone does it.
Taeyeon hates dogs, Junsu revealed.
See? Rookie mistake. Kyuhyun was silent a moment, before adding, But we can’t make any mistakes during the auction. This case has gone on too long and too many have died. We need to finish this case tomorrow night.
Agreed. I’m moving to deck level.
Wait! Guards on rounds! Kyuhyun reminded immediately. He began adjusting the zoom, keeping the guards in his eye as he slowly moved himself further back on the crate he sat, surrounding crates creating a niche for him to sit in. He crossed his legs and readjusted his laptop to hide all light.
He barely breathed as the guard slowly walked by. There were several metres between them, but if the guard shone a light towards him, he might be revealed.
Get into his head, Youngwoon instructed, his voice whispering through both their minds.
Kyuhyun did as he was told immediately. He expanded his mind just as Youngwoon had taught him to do several weeks ago, sent it seeking into the security guard’s. He slipped in like a shadow and settled in like a parasite, waiting.
There’s nothing here to see. You need to hurry and check the other parts of the dock and, then, return to your office. His voice was pitched peculiarly, his control so complete, so precise that, even though both Kyuhyun and Junsu heard him, the full impact of his words were felt by the guard alone.
The guard suddenly sped up his walking, continuing on to further down the dock.
This is why you told me to cover my ears at the auction. Even if the words weren’t directed at me, I still felt the impulse enough to do as you said, Kyuhyun said. Hell, I can only imagine what it feels like to have the full force of your persuasion aimed at me.
Then start showing me more respect and you’ll never have to find out, Youngwoon’s words were serious, but his voice was amused.
I’m moving to deck level now, Junsu stated just after he moved out of the shadows. He was crouched over so as not to be seen from the docks.
He made his way knowingly to a reception room in the superstructure of the yacht. The structure itself was two storeys, the lower being a reception room and the top floor the control room. The reception room was three quarters the length of the entire yacht, the walls made completely of glass. The wooden floors were polished, gleaming in the moonlight streaming inside. Once again, there were no tables in the room, but rows of cushioned chairs facing a raised platform. When he came away from the shadows, it was slowly, checking for cameras before he completely materialized.
So, remind me again. We’re just here to do a final observation of the place since you last came here a few nights ago?
Yeah, but since all the guests will be searched for weapons, I’m hiding some for Taeyeon.
In the invitations for the auction it had stated that to avoid the altercation which had occurred during the last auction, all people attending the next one would be searched by the guards and all weapons must be checked at the door. Although it seemed as a security measure to the untrained eye, to an expert, they would immediately see the statement as a challenge. No person in the underground world would allow themselves to be completely defenceless while allowing their host to have all the power. Rather, the invitation was weeding out those who didn’t truly belong at the auction by forcing them to not attend rather than having to give up their weapons at the door. With Youngwoon’s team and Eeteuk having extensive knowledge in the underground, they saw the invitation for what it was and began plotting how to enter the auction with their weapons.
Is this really necessary? I suspect she’ll find a way to hide her own weapons, Kyuhyun commented, Stop sucking up to her and please tell me you have another reason other than that because if you don’t, I’m going to kill you for dragging me all the way out here just so you can play Romeo.
I’m not playing Romeo. Besides, Romeo dies, Junsu defended, And, I do have another reason. I wanted one last look around to ensure nothing had changed on this boat since my last visit.
Junsu moved around the reception room quickly, efficiently with his steps silent. He buried a dagger into a potted plant. He hid another into the cushion of a chair, the zipper on the side of the cushion making it easy to hide the dagger. While he did this, he also secured several listening devices around the room: beneath chairs, around door frames and, even, along the stage.
Do you think we all will live through this case? It’s been so lethal already and even during the last auction Taeyeon had been severely injured. Kyuhyun’s voice was quiet, tentative, even in Junsu’s head.
We will. Despite that butterfly bullshit, I know we will, Junsu replied as he made a final sweep of the reception room before making his way out. I can’t believe anything else.
Butterfly bullshit? What are you talking about?
Sungmin had a dream-premonition weeks ago and he believes it means someone will either die during this case or, be mortally wounded and, then, die. Junsu revealed. It all surrounded a butterfly in the dream, so, it’s made him and Youngwoon paranoid about the insect.
Kyuhyun was silent as he sat on the crate. He slowly began to pack up his laptop, using the methodical way of it to calm him, still him as his mind raced to absorb the information. He knew that, when given a choice in his premonitions, Sungmin wouldn’t have any causes for concern. However, with premonitions that were presented to him with only one choice, such as when he predicted Kyuhyun not making it to work on time, he was too afraid of the consequences to change the future. His dream-premonitions were even worse because they never gave choices and Sungmin was even more afraid of even attempting to change whatever future those showed him, whether it was the conclusion of the mission at the summer camp or the case they were doing now.
We’ll be fine, Junsu insisted after Kyuhyun remained silent for too long.
But, the premonition…
Hasn’t come true yet and we can’t live in fear because of it. Besides, I bet you’ve already come up with a dozen scenarios and how to avoid them, Junsu stated, his tone warm and encouraging.
How did you know?
I’ve figured out how your mind works. I’m heading out of the yacht, now.
You’re clear from this end, Kyuhyun confirmed as he secured his gear in his bag and gently jumped down from the crate where he sat.
All right. I’ll meet you at the car, Junsu replied. There was silence for a few minutes before Junsu said, And, Kyuhyun?
If you ever choose to go back to The Sector, you’ll be one hell of a leader.
Kyuhyun was startled by the admonition, nearly stumbling as he ran when he processed the words the other had said with such confidence. He and Junsu had never been close in the past, but, over the past few weeks, they had begun to bridge that gap, forming a tentative friendship. His words now, because it came from someone who wasn’t so close to him as the others were, meant even more.
Eeteuk was sitting by himself at the very back of the chapel. The high ceilings made everything echo, however, he was alone there, for which he was thankful. The windows were decorated with stained glass, however nothing came through as darkness descended. Tall candles in hanging lanterns around the chapel cast shadows everywhere, the candles used late in the night to save electricity. The atmosphere was somber and soothing all at once. For Eeteuk, that was exactly what he needed.
He sat back in the pew, arms folded loosely about his torso as he gazed absent-mindedly ahead of him. He had never been a particularly religious man, but ever since he became involved with Youngwoon, he found himself praying more and more. Especially since he dragged Youngwoon into his case, he found it difficult to sleep because of the anxiety and fear coursing through him. He had been desperate in his attempt to finish the case, not wanting to risk any more lives but, in the process he had ended up risking the life of his beloved, the love of his life.
He wasn’t checking the time before the distant sound of a door opening and closing broke through the silence of the church. He didn’t even move as soft footsteps drew closer and, finally, Taeyeon came beside him int he pew. She lowered the kneeler and knelt down, propping her elbows on the back of the pew before her, clasped her hands and lowered her head until her forehead was against her hands.
“Thank you for driving me into the city,” she murmured, her voice so quiet not even the acoustics of the church were able to take her voice and echo it. “Sungmin’s gotten it into his head that the others and myself are untrustworthy when it comes to driving one of his cars.”
Eeteuk laughed softly, “He even confiscated a set of keys from Youngwoon the other day. But, it’s not a problem. How was your son?”
“He talked today, like more than just a word or two,” Taeyeon revealed, her voice strained as her emotions began to choke her. “When I saw him, he walked towards me with the biggest smile on his face and his little hands raised, clenching and unclenching, wanting me to pick him up.”
“Such a precious age. He’ll be turning two, correct?”
Taeyeon nodded, “In a few months. I… I never thought I would ever be able to be with him on his birthday. I felt it would’ve been too dangerous but now…” She swallowed hard past the thick lump forming in her throat as her eyes burned with unshed tears. “I want to spend the rest of my life protecting him. When this case is over, I will leave behind my past and start anew with my son. I will no longer allow fear to dictate my life, tearing me from him.”
“And, Junsu? He’s the father if I remember correctly,” Eeteuk said.
Taeyeon raised her head, made the sign of the cross before sitting beside the agent in the pew. “Yes, he is. We promised that once this case was done we would talk. There is so much to talk about before we can make any decisions regarding the pair of us. Instead, we need to consider Junho first, make sure he is taken care of and protected properly before we can be selfish and discuss our relationship or, lack thereof.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Why did you decide to be an NIB agent?” Eeteuk asked bluntly. “Most people enter from when they’re 17, the average age for female agents entering being 20. You, however, applied for and entered at the age of 16. Your life had barely begun and you chose such a difficult path.”
“It’s because of my healing abilities,” Taeyeon revealed. “I knew from a really young age about my skills.”
“Then, why not be a nurse or doctor? Some kind of health practitioner?”
“Because my parents taught me to always protect my abilities, to keep it hidden,” she explained, “They worried of me being exploited or blackmailed, and, if I went into health care, my abilities may be too easily revealed. As I was growing up, my father instilled a strong sense of justice in me. When I heard about the NIB, I knew it was there where I wanted to be. Maybe this is fate or destiny or whatever it is that Sungmin see’s in his premonitions, but, once I started training, I knew there was no other place I’d rather be, no other place I would fit.”
“And, so, you became an agent.”
“And, so, I became an agent,” she repeated in confirmation. “Despite my healing abilities, there is much blood on my hands and there is much hatred aimed towards me from past adversaries. I tell myself that those who have died had to in order to stop hundreds more from dying and, that is how I was able to remain an agent so long despite my initial goal being to use my healing to save lives.”
“But, then the night of your final mission and case happened,” Eeteuk commented lightly, easily recalling when he had been moved to join the NIB, when his sense of justice had overridden all passions after graduating from high school.
“Casualties were not a part of any mission I had taken part in. Such a loss of innocence, so many children…” she stopped, needing to breathe deeply, slowly to leash in the sorrow slowly seeping in, mixing with the reminiscence and wonder which had brought her to the NIB’s front lobby seven years ago.
They sat in silence for several long moments before Eetuek spoke. “Regardless of what you may think after that night at the summer camp, you are still the best agent I have ever encountered at the NIB, The Sector included. Your retirement was and is one of the greatest losses to ever hit The Sector.”
“I’m nothing without my team,” she replied softly, loyally.
“And, that is one of the reasons I asked Youngwoon to reassemble his team,” Eeteuk revealed. He turned when he saw her turn to look at him.
“To lure me back to The Sector?”
“To lure you back to The Sector,” He confirmed, giving her a small, rueful smile. “You were an agent for barely two years and were considered to have the most potential even when the rest of your team were also considered elite and Junsu considered the greatest trainee to ever go through the NIB’s training program.”
“I… don’t know what to say,” she said simply. The shedding of her arrogance having been a long process.
“Don’t say anything. Just know that if you ever wish to return to the NIB, it would welcome you with open arms,” Eeteuk stated. “I’m not pressuring you or even trying to convince you to rejoin, Taeyeon. If you ever wanted to stop running, coming back to the NIB is an option. Not the only option, mind you - I’m not stupid enough to believe that. But it’s an option.”
“I think, Eeteuk, that you forgot the part when I said I planned to leave my past behind,” Taeyeon reminded lightly.
“I know, but you don’t have to come back as a field agent. I’ve been away from the field for five years,” Eeteuk shrugged. “But, like I said, it’s not the only option, it’s just an option.”
Taeyeon nodded as she stood, “Shall we go?”
“Just a moment,” Eeteuk requested, “I want to stay here just a few more minutes.”
“Scared, Eeteuk?” Taeyeon raised a brow,
“I do not allow fear to rule me, but that does not mean I am never afraid, Taeyeon. Only a fool would fail to pray before the day he may die,” Eeteuk replied softly as he knelt on the kneeler, clutched his hands together and began to pray.
Taeyeon slowly sat back down. As the agent quietly prayed, she opened her small purse and took out a wallet-sized photograph. Her son’s face smiled up at her and she could practically hear his high-pitched voice calling for her, saying his first sentence. Holding the photo against her heart, she bowed her head as the tears she fought dotted her lashes and slowly made trails down her cheeks.
She refused to be a fool.
She prayed again.
Youngwoon slipped out of the bed without a moment’s hesitation. The murmured protest from the warm body beside him had him turning back to place a reassuring kiss on the older man’s temple before he pulled on a pair of pyjama pants and left the quiet, warm comforts of their shared room in the mansion. He made his way through the large mansion relying on his memory to guide his way through the darkness. When he reached the ground floor and moved to the study only to find it empty, he hesitated before he moved to the back of the house.
The night had a soothing cool breeze as Youngwoon stepped out onto the back terrace. The cement felt cool beneath his socks as he padded over to the young man who laid in the middle, hands behind his head as he stared up at the starry sky.
“It’s a beautiful night,” Sungmin stated simply as he observed the night sky without the light pollution from the city. The stars were infinite and the moon full and bright. It took his breath away every time he looked upon the sky as he was now and he realized with regret how few and far between those times were.
“But, a dangerous night for those who work best in the shadows,” Youngwoon replied. “Please tell me you have a good reason for calling out to me in the middle of the night.”
He had been pulled ruthlessly from the depths of slumber as he heard his name being yelled out through the layers of sleep which had held him enthralled. His heart had been racing at the sudden disconnect from the dream world as he somehow managed to leave the bedroom without falling on his face or getting injured from the disorientation of not stopping first to reassure himself he was fully awake. His name had been yelled with such clarity, such desperation, that he knew he couldn’t avoid it, couldn’t not come and find his best friend.
“I… I had the dream again,” Sungmin managed, closing his eyes to the wonder of the night sky as if it could not share a place in his attention with the dark promise of his premonition.
Youngwoon sat down beside him on the terrace immediately. The fact that Sungmin had had the dream twice was a rare commodity on its own. Now that he had dreamt it a third time, the cold fear he had managed to push away was now slowly slipping around his heart and mind like an icy vice.
“The… the same?” He asked tentatively, quietly, as if he daren’t speak above a whisper in the hopes to avoid it coming true.
“Down to every last detail,” Sungmin confirmed.
“There’s… more,” Sungmin said quietly, his voice graver than before.
“More? More what?”
“The dream continued longer than it has before,” Sungmin replied, “I don’t… I don’t know why because this has never happened to me before. I don’t know if it means we did something that altered the future it had previous predicted or if my abilities have developed to become more precise, to give me more information.”
“What did you see?” Youngwoon asked, his heart stopping and his lungs seizing as he waited.
“The butterfly suddenly moved, its wing barely fluttered. I… I reached out towards it, regardless of the blood that dripped from my fingers and I picked it up,” Sungmin recalled, his voice suddenly hollow as if he was slipping from his consciousness and back into his dream. “It moved its wings once, twice, each time a bullet shell rolled towards me from the darkness.”
He slipped his hands out from beneath his head to throw his forearm over his eyes as he felt the hot threat of tears. When he spoke again, his voice was quieter, raspier, as if the emotions suddenly riding him were suffocating him. “It was able to fly, then, moving just until it clung to the shirt above my heart. Its wings barely beat against my chest before it fell into my lap. Dead. This time… this time, it didn’t move again and… and where it had touched me, a red stain blossomed.”
“Fuck! You can’t be thinking what I think you think this means!” Youngwoon hissed,
“I don’t know what to think!” Sungmin cried as he suddenly sat up, looking at his friend with a tortured expression, his eyes unashamedly veiled with tears. “I can never predict what these dreams mean until it’s too late and even now… even when it so blatantly shows me that I will be the one…” He swallowed hard, swiping angrily at his tears, “Even now I don’t know what to think.”
“We can change the future -”
“Someone else could die in my place!” Sungmin exclaimed, “Kyuhyun barely survived the last time he tried to change the future. Who’s to say that someone else will survive the next time? We’ve been so fucking lucky all these years, Youngwoon, when is it going to run out? Now? Tomorrow? Never? I can’t…” He choked on a sob as he rubbed both hands over his face. “I can’t exchange my life for someone else’s. I can’t… I can’t make that decision again!”
“Then don’t! Let’s tell the others! Let us make the decision for you!” Youngwoon argued,
“I can’t!” He yelled, his voice pitching with the agony and guilt suddenly crashing into him like a tsunami. “We… we knew getting into this profession that we would be risking our lives…” he paused, taking a deep, steading breath as his body began to subtly tremble from the fear that began to claw at him mercilessly. “But, it’s so… it’s so different from knowing you could die and knowing you will die.”
“You won’t die!” Youngwoon rose on his knees, grasping the younger man’s shoulders firmly. He stared down at his best friend, not even bothering to fight tears of his own, “Do you hear me Lee Sungmin!? You. Will. Not. Die! I will protect you with everything I have and so will the others! That dream could have meant a dozen other things-”
“I’m not wrong in this,” He replied, his voice barely above a pleading whisper, not that he was begging to die, but he was begging for some shred of hope.
Suddenly, Youngwoon roughly gathered him into his arms, embracing him fiercely, friend to friend. Brother to brother. His arms tightened a fraction more when Sungmin began to shake even more, his fear falling off him in waves as if they were tangible, his strangled cries filling Youngwoon’s ears. As Sungmin sat there in his best friend’s arms, he could only pray that, come tomorrow, he would be able to look upon the night once more with its beauty and endless majesty rather than an endless, empty, dark sky.