(Chapter 14 of the Living in Shadows series)
The next morning began as an extremely quiet affair. When Taeyeon and Kyuhyun, who had decided to cook breakfast together, came to the kitchen, they found that breakfast was already prepared, plates of steaming, delicious food set out on the table. In one corner of the kitchen, sitting on the edge of a wide window sill was Sungmin, a mug of coffee held loyally in his hands. Upon their entrance, he didn’t even so much as move a muscle as if the sound of them coming in was not enough to break whatever reverie he had slipped into.
Kyuhyun hesitated, wanting to go near the older man. He glanced at Taeyeon for support, but she merely shrugged her shoulders, leaving the decision up to him. He took a step towards him, then stopped again. If Sungmin was truly preoccupied with his thoughts, he didn’t want to intrude. He didn’t want to upset him further if his assessment of him was correct. After weeks of Sungmin not displaying his usual habit of looking for a window, wanting to escape, he had slipped and, not only was he standing by the window as usual. Instead, he had set up a perch beside it, signalling how long he had been sitting there and how long he planned to remain.
Soon after, the others arrived in the kitchen, filling their plates with food as they sat in their usual seats. They assumed it was either Kyuhyun or Taeyeon to make the food, but Youngwoon, the two youngest saw, immediately looked towards Sungmin after his first bite of his food.
Youngwoon knew. The moment he tasted the scrambled eggs which were fluffy and light, the moment they melted on his tongue, he knew the taste. The youngest members were good cooks, but he knew Sungmin’s skill. As they ate, Sungmin didn’t move from his place by the window, his eyes glazed over as he stared sightlessly to the world outside, his temple resting against the cool glass pane.
Sungmin had been silent since he left him in the early hours of that morning. When Sungmin had stopped crying and it began to feel a little awkward to continue holding him, Youngwoon sat beside him on the back terrace looking up at the night sky. In silent consensus, they stood from their spots and started for the inside. Without asking him to and without him asking for permission, Youngwoon walked Sungmin back to his room. Before the younger man could disappear into his bedroom, Youngwoon pulled him into one more embrace, hugging him tightly as if for a brief moment, he, too, believed that he would lose his best friend the next night.
As everyone was drawing to the end of their meals, with the exception of Sungmin who stayed by the window, not even taking occasional sips of his coffee, Youngwoon finally put down his chopsticks and spoke.
“We need to discuss the final game plan for tonight,” he said. “I’ll be infiltrating the guards on duty at the yacht. I’m taking no chances this time, so, if I say cover your ears, you better cover your ears immediately until I signal otherwise.”
“I’d listen to him if I were you. He wasn’t even directing his words at me and I was still tempted to follow his dictates,” Junsu warned,
“His skill is so cool,” Kyuhyun admitted, glancing at Sungmin to see if he got a rise out of him.
Sungmin still didn’t move, but Kyuhyun felt a flutter in his mind as he heard the older man’s whispered words, Just because I’m quiet, doesn’t mean I can’t hear. Don’t test me right now, Kyuhyun.
“I will be one of the bidders,” Eeteuk spoke up as he sat back in his chair and picked up his coffee mug. “I’m sure to run into some of my contacts there and I have no doubt Cobra will be amongst them.” He paused as he took a long swig of his coffee. “However, they all know better than to cross me, so, it’ll be fine.”
“What I wouldn’t give to have been in that room when you took on Mouse,” Junsu murmured,
Youngwoon shot him a narrowed look, “No, you wouldn’t have wanted to be in there. It could’ve easily been a massacre.”
“Killing Mouse would not be a big deal,” he replied, causing Taeyeon to roll her eyes.
“I’ll be another bidder and, don’t worry, no one will recognize me from the last auction,” Taeyeon interjected, “I’ll probably come in right before the auction begins.” A little smirk tugged at her lips as she added, “It’ll have a better effect.”
“I’ll be sneaking onto the yacht,” Kyuhyun shrugged his shoulders. “They are being very cautious this time regarding range weapons. Setting up the auction on a yacht means none of us can act from a distance. We all have to be on the boat to assist in the mission. “I’ll get on when the auction is underway so attentions will be preoccupied elsewhere.”
“I will also be sneaking onto the yacht. I’ll watch from the shadows and support from there. If I’m needed, then, at least I’ll be nearby. If I’m not needed, then, all the better,” Junsu confirmed as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Sungmin?” Youngwoon prompted when the other man didn’t speak in turn.
“I will be another bidder,” he replied, his voice soft, empty as he finally lifted his mug to his lips and took a long sip. Finally, he stood from his seat on the sill and walked over to the kitchen sink, fully aware of and ignoring their eyes on him. Placing his mug in the sink, he gave them a two-fingered salute as he headed out of the kitchen, “Excuse me,” he murmured, “I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”
A few seconds passed from when Sungmin walked out of the kitchen before he re-entered, Junsu lightly pushing him back in. Eeteuk, as if still in disbelief over their particular abilities, looked at the seat beside him where Junsu had first been sitting before looking back at where he stood blocking the door out of the kitchen.
Shoulder propped against the side of the door, arms crossed over his chest, he said simply, “All cards on the table, remember? What’s up, Sungmin?”
Sungmin glanced at their leader who simply shrugged in reply. “You can’t expect to be all brooding and moody and not be questioned by the others,” Youngwoon stated, “Had this been a few weeks ago perhaps, but not after the last auction.”
“I had a dream last night, the same one I had when this case was given to us,” Sungmin began tentatively, rubbing the back of his neck wearily,
“You mean the stupid butterfly one?” Junsu questioned.
“Sungmin, that could mean anything! It could mean any one of the five of us, or something completely different. We don’t even know if it is referring to Taeyeon’s tattoos or not,” Junsu said,
Ignoring the way Youngwoon watched him, Sungmin shrugged, “After a lifetime of witnessing my predictions unfold, revealing the meaning behind my dreams, I still have not adapted to such an occurrence.”
“Such a way would be tiring,” Taeyeon assumed, “I’d be over vigilant and nervous all the time.”
He glanced at her, a sad light in his fox-like eyes, “Such is my life,” he stated without bitterness or anger, simply with resignation and quiet acceptance. “What’s worrisome is that I’ve never had the same dream twice, even if it took a year for it to come true. With this particular dream, I’ve had it three times now.”
“We know now that changing the future won’t result in death every time,” Kyuhyun reminded as he added spoonfuls of sugar to his coffee.
“We could have been lucky last time,” Sungmin stated softly, his voice taking on a dark, deadly edge. “Or, maybe you’re right and changing the future won’t end in death every time, but from my personal experience, it ends in death sometimes - no, most of the time. I won’t… I can’t take that chance with any of your lives.”
“Well, we won’t have to worry about that too much, will we? We don’t even know who is predicted to die from your dream,” Kyuhyun reasoned, looking up from his mug at the older man, a peculiar light in his eyes.
“We have to continue on with the mission. This case is so close to being done,” Junsu said,
“I know that. I never said we should stop the mission,” Sungmin snapped. He sighed heavily, pushing his fingers through his hair; “Sorry. Just… Just ignore me. I’m not in a good mind frame right now.” He threw them all one last rueful smile, “I’m gonna spend some time alone before the mission. I’ll see you guys on the yacht.”
This time when he walked away, they let him.
Taeyeon and Junsu left in the early afternoon, the others understanding and remaining silent as they departed together on a motorcycle that Sungmin owned. With her arms wrapped around his waist, her cheek pressed between his shoulder blades, Taeyeon allowed her mind to wander on the drive into town. She couldn’t believe that she was beside Junsu again so casually, so intimately and so willingly. Never during her self-imposed seclusion had she believed it would happen, even in the middle of the night when, for a brief moment, she allowed all her shields to drop, all her control to go to the wayside and she felt her losses keenly.
When he manoeuvred the motorcycle to the curb on a suburban street and killed the motor, Taeyeon was slow to release her arms from him. She moved from the bike easily with practiced ease and she gave a small nod of thanks when he took her helmet and carried it inside with him into the apartment building where her stepmother lived. They were silent as they rode the elevator up to the specific floor and when they walked down the hall to the designated door. When Taeyeon’s stepmother opened the door to their knock, her jaw literally dropped.
Taeyeon threw her a rueful look as she hugged the older woman and gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek. “We just want to spend some time with Junho. We have a mission tonight.”
Her stepmother’s eyes widened ever so slightly, understanding their sudden presence and a heaviness caused her eyes to shine with unshed tears as she realized the importance of their time with their son. They wouldn’t come together to see their son if they didn’t doubt they would live after that night. She gave them a bright smile and gestured towards the nursery before stating she would give them some privacy and go grocery shopping.
Upon entering, they found Junho playing with his toys on the floor, the door had been left open with a gate so as to limit where he would crawl or walk off to. At the noise of them moving the gate, Junho looked in their direction, smiling immediately.
“Umma! Umma!” He stood on chubby, shaky legs, smiling like the sun as he slowly, wobbly walked to them.
Taeyeon immediately knelt down and wrapped her arms around him the moment he was pressed against her heart. He grabbed fistfuls of her hair and tugged happily. She stood up with him in her arms and, immediately, she felt the warmth crowding in beside her as Junsu moved.
Realizing that his mother hadn’t come alone this time, Junho smiled even bigger as he squealed, “Appa! Ap, Ap, Appa!”
Instead of taking him from Taeyeon, Junsu leaned close, cupping the bag of his son’s small head to hold him still as he moved closer and pressed a kiss to his crown. When he pulled back, Junho giggling in response to the affection, Junsu realized that Taeyeon was not only watching him, but that in moving closer, it had placed them almost flush, their breaths mixing.
As if the commodity of having his parents together was no longer entertaining, Junho began to wiggle in his mother’s arms, even releasing her hair in an attempt to slide to the ground. After Taeyeon reluctantly let him down, he stumbled to his knees but, unperturbed, quickly crawled back to his toys to play.
“I never thought we’d ever be with him together like this,” Taeyeon admitted as she put her bag down by the door and moved closer to her son, sitting against the wall close to his corner.
“How sad it is that such friction would exist between us,” Junsu murmured as he moved to the adjacent wall to where their son played and sat on the ground, too, his back against the wall.
“I always hoped that we could be together with him, but I never thought it would happen,” she explained softly, the hot sting of tears threatening as she watched their son play happily between them. “I believed my fear too great. My fear of putting him in danger because of being an ex-agent. My fear of being unable to protect him adequately. My fear that you would hate me… did hate me. The longer it takes to apologize, the harder it gets to say the words.”
“We don’t have to talk about this now. We agreed to talk after the case was closed,” Junsu replied gently, seeing her tears dot her lashes like tiny diamonds as she kept her eyes focused on their son.
“But, maybe it’s best we talk of it now, Junsu. What if by putting it off, we never get to have the conversation?”
Junsu felt his heart clench at her words despite knowing she could be absolutely right. Everything within him protested at another separation, of even contemplating that there would come a time that they wouldn’t be together again. He swallowed hard, a lump forming in his throat as emotions he had been holding at bay suddenly crashed into him in waves.
“You’re not the only one faulted for being proud,” He stated simply, quietly. “You said once that after you left you waited for me, wanted me to fight for you. When you left, I didn’t come after you because I was too proud. I believed that if you left me, then you should be the one to come back to me. Why should I chase you when it should be you chasing me?” He shook his head in disbelief at his own gall, “When I could no longer stand being away from you, I called out for you every hour of everyday and you never responded. But, even then, I still didn’t come after you.
“Everyday that followed I kept hoping that you would come back, that you would contact me again. I surrounded myself with books instead of people, not wanting to be around anyone who wasn’t you. I filled my days with stories of other worlds, other lives, wishing that I would have a storybook ending. And, still, I didn’t come after you,” Junsu revealed, his voice raspier than normal as regret was heavy upon him.
He looked at her, then, a part of her silently willing her to look at him, too, and the other part desperately hoping she never saw the tears he cried at that moment, never saw the naked need for her in his expression. “My pride turned into my own fears,” he admitted, not caring the way his voice became even raspier, threatening to break. “I was scared that if I did go after you I would be rejected. I was scared that I would look into your eyes and no longer see the love there. I was scared to see you… scared that you would be with someone else because my inaction had caused you to forget about me.”
Taeyeon looked up at him then, her surprised expression not because he was crying along with her, but because of his confession. Never in the time that they were together had she seen such a raw display of emotion from the man who never seemed to hold himself back. He was always the happy one, the mood maker. She was always the calm one, the tempered one and he was the one to break her shell, the one to pull her into the fold. In their time apart, she had learned to let her temper run free like a firestorm as ice seemed to enclose every other aspect of her life. He, on the other hand, didn’t seem to change until that moment when he could no longer use his happy-go-lucky facade.
As their time at the mansion continued, the temper he had long kept leashed slowly slipped from his control and he didn’t show shame at his emotional displays before the other men of the team. Several times now she had explained to him and the others just what drove her actions since they retired. Not once, until now, had he done the same. Junsu had finally begun to show the depths of his character, the true side, the imperfect parts.
“I can’t not love you, Taeyeon,” Junsu stated softly yet firmly. “I tried during the two years we were apart and I sure as hell tried with all my might in the weeks after I learned of our son. But I can’t stop loving you and I don’t want to. You are everything I’m not and everything I need. You keep me grounded. Keep me humble. Keep me real. You are the connection I need in life that I have been desperately trying to find in humanity but have failed to do so.”
“There were so many days when I couldn’t function because of the loss of you,” Taeyeon admitted, her voice already pitching with emotion, her heart clenching painfully as tears coursed down her cheeks. “So many times when the phone was the devil incarnate and the temptation to call you too great.” She smiled ruefully through her tears, “I couldn’t use telepathy to call you, you see… it was too intimate… too close… to hear your voice in my head would destroy me as nothing else could. And, so, I destroyed the telephone, instead.”
All she had been through flooded her awareness at that point. All the tears, the struggles, the anger, the pain, the loneliness - all of it washed over her and poured into her words. “I have learned the painful, undeniable truth that I can live without you, have done so the past two years. But, I - ” Her voice broke then and she struggled to take in deep breaths to steady herself, to regain some semblance of strength to at least finish what she had begun to convey. “But, I would lose myself in the process. Losing you means losing all that is good and kind in me. Losing you means losing all the humanity I gained because of having you in my life.”
She shook her head to stop whatever argument he was about to say. “Before you, all I cared about were my parents. Yes, I wanted to use my ability to help people and I joined the NIB to bring justice where it was deserved. But, I never had this emotional connection to people. I cared about them from a distance, but they never affected me,” she explained. “You closed that distance for me. You gave me the missing link to make me truly care about those I helped, especially when all it seemed I was doing was killing people regardless if they were the bad guys.”
She had been standoffish when she first joined their team for a single mission. Junsu, Youngwoon and Sungmin saw immediately the arrogance she carried like a mantle upon her shoulders, the pedestal others placed her on and she cherished it as if it were gold. He didn’t know what the others thought, but he also saw the depths of warmth in her eyes when people were nearby. She would watch them with a bemused expression as if she watched the world from a distance. He couldn’t help but think that she believed she was looking in from the outside when all she really wanted was to be a part of that world, a part of all the intricate interactions going on around her. Before he even realized it began, he was already in the middle of wanting her to be brought into that world and wanting to be the one to do so.
As if sensing her distress, Junho looked up at his mother. Pushing himself up on shaky legs, he walked to her dragging a plastic toy train with him. Ungracefully he turned and plopped into her lap, preoccupying himself once more with his toy, never knowing that his action, presence and warmth was all it took to wrap his mother in a kind of embrace.
Taeyeon, briefly distracted by her son’s love, looked up and locked eyes with Junsu. “After being with you again - seeing you, hearing your voice, feeling your arms around me - I won’t be able to live again without you. I nearly lost myself once, Junsu. If I lost you again, it would destroy me.”
“You won’t lose me,” he promised, then. “From this moment on, no more separation. No more running. This time, you can’t push me away, Taeyeon. If something’s wrong, we face it together and we work it out until the end. This time, it’s forever because, just like you, I won’t survive the hell I’ve been living the past two years.”
“No more running,” she agreed before adding, “And, no more giving up. I won’t run, but don’t tell me to leave as if I don’t mean anything to you, as if telling me to leave is so easy. It’s not going to be easy for us, Junsu. We both have our faults and our fears, but we have to fight past them together.”
“No more giving up,” he agreed. He hesitated half a heartbeat before he asked, “Can I hold you right now?”
Taeyeon felt as if her heart would explode from the onslaught of happiness, love and relief. She wiped at her tears with the back of her hand but more quickly replaced them as she nodded. Junsu stood and crossed the short distance to her side. He sat back on the ground against the wall and easily pulled her so that she sat between his legs, her back flush with his chest. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders from behind, relishing in the familiarity of her scent, the feel of her body and the treasure of her warmth and love.
“Junsu, I’m scared,” she admitted as she allowed herself to lean back against his body, his strength. She closed her eyes as the tears continued to fall, a mix of happiness and fear that what they had would be ripped from her that night.
Startled at her admonition, something she had never admitted to before, Junsu’s arms tightened ever so slightly around her, careful not to disturb their son’s ignorant blissfulness. He pressed his cheek against hers, turning his head just enough so that his lips brushed her skin.
“Tonight, we will fight and we will win. And, tomorrow, we will begin the rest of our lives together,” he said steadily, firmly, his voice more so than his words like a band of courage wrapping around her heart. He pressed her closer to his body, to his heart. “No matter what, Taeyeon, even if it means the mission and, ultimately, the case fails, don’t do anything that jeopardizes your life.”
“This case already jeopardizes my life.”
“You know what I mean. Please, Taeyeon. For me, for Junho - please, for once, think about your life first,” Junsu begged, unashamed that his tears mixed with hers.
“Only if you promise the same,” she replied, turning her head to tuck it more against his.
“I promise,” he breathed, the words brushing like a butterfly’s wing caressing her skin.
“Then, I promise, too.”
Sungmin stood at the side of his bed dressed in black dress pants and socks only. For the remainder of the day after breakfast, he had locked himself in his bedroom. No one had come by to seek him out, but Youngwoon had spoken to him a few times to ensure he was okay. He had barely moved all day, lying in bed staring at the ceiling as all his thoughts preoccupied him so completely. When his alarm finally rang, telling him it was time to get ready for the auction, he hadn’t hesitated to leave his bed to shower.
That night and whatever fate it held would happen and no amount of not wanting it to was going to stop it. He wasn’t going to stop it and he wouldn’t let Youngwoon either. It had been difficult to choose between the life of the members and the life of the children two years ago. Now, when he had to decide whether he let fate run its course and he died or tried to change it and possibly put the others in danger, his resolve didn’t waver. He would never trade his life for the others.
Youngwoon was his best friend, loyal and dependable even when he pushed him away for two years. They had survived NIB training together, became partners and were always on the same cases. As their team had rotating members, they were the only constants. Youngwoon had pulled him down from his lofty mindset as an arrogant heir wanting to rebel against his parents and made him truly care about his training and job. Youngwoon had given him the biggest reality check during a training exercise by punching him in the face and telling him simply: “If this had been real life and I was your enemy, you would be dead by now. We’re training as a fucking team, so act like it.” They had been friends since.
Junsu had been a commodity in The Sector and he had been curious as to his skills when he and Youngwoon were looking for others to form a team for a case. Intrigued, he had suggested to Youngwoon that they recruit Junsu and the older man, as if doting on him, agreed. Junsu easily melded in with them, amicable and practically bursting at the seams with happiness, he was nothing like those who usually left training jaded. In their time as a trio, Junsu had joined him in his efforts to annoy the hell out of Youngwoon. He had proven his worth time and time again and Sungmin knew that, no matter what, he would never have to worry if Junsu was the one covering his back.
Taeyeon had entered his life next. While Junsu had been a hot commodity, she had been a legend. All teams wanted her on theirs and all agents wanted her to take a part of their cases and missions. However, she never accepted offers to join teams and she never grew attachments to those she worked with. Indeed, although she worked with many, he never heard of her ever talking to anyone outside of work or work-related issues. She was rational when it was difficult for others to be. She calmed them when their tempers got the best of them. She kept them focused when Youngwoon allowed them to run rampant. She became a precious little sister to him and he would protect her for the rest of his life just as she had protected and saved his life.
Lastly, there was Kyuhyun. Kyuhyun who had immediately annoyed the hell out of him from the beginning with his snakiness and sarcasm. Kyuhyun who had drawn him in like a moth to a flame, pulled in more and more as he watched the younger man. Kyuhyun with his quick wit and quicker mind. Kyuhyun with the smile of his youth and the eyes that seemed too wise for his age. Kyuhyun who had surrounded himself with walls that challenged and tempted him to break through them to the real man. Kyuhyun who had slipped into his heart and wrapped around his soul long before he even realized it had begun.
Despite the recluse he turned into, the self-imposed seclusion of the past two years, the members were everything to him and he would do everything in his power and more to protect them. His life or theirs was a trade he never doubted how to choose. He would place them before him, above his own life each and every time. His resolve was the reason he could get ready for the auction without trepidation, without hesitancy. However, despite his acceptance of the situation, his fear of his own mortality left him cold and shook his soul.
Sungmin had just pulled the zipper of his pants into place before he abruptly walked over to the door and opened it. Kyuhyun stood in the hall, his fist raised to knock when the door opened. The surprise in his face was brief before he rolled his eyes and walked into the room. Sungmin sat on the side of his bed as he lifted one of his pant legs and strapped a holster to his calf.
“Did you need something, Kyuhyun? Shouldn’t you be getting ready for the mission?” Sungmin asked,
Kyuhyun, still dressed in jeans and a t-shirt merely shrugged, “It won’t take me that long to get ready. I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Okay, what did you want to talk about?” Sungmin asked, “Don’t mind me while I get ready.”
“Is your dream the only thing that’s bothering you?” Kyuhyun asked tentatively as he moved to sit on the desk’s chair.
“It’s more than just a dream, you know that,”
“Then, how come I only learned of it recently?” Kyuhyun questioned. “It seems like all the others know about the dream except for me. If it’s more than just a dream how come you never once mentioned it to me in all the time we’ve been at this house? Even after we… we… Even after, how come you never mentioned it to me? Even before the last auction?”
“You heard what Junsu said. What’s the point in leaving in fear and paranoia when we won’t know what the dream means? I didn’t want to worry you -”
“Bullshit!” He interrupted immediately, “You didn’t want me to change the future again-”
“I will not risk you!” Sungmin snapped angrily as he stood up straight. He wrapped another holster around his bare abdomen, pulling the straps firmly into place as he continued, “Talk all you want, Kyuhyun. Think whatever you want of me but in this one thing I will not budge! I will die first before I let you die.”
As he picked a dagger to put in the holster, Kyuhyun stated simply, “You can’t protect me all the time. I am an agent, after all.”
Sungmin whipped the dagger against the wall, the force causing the dagger to plant deeply into the wall without cracking around it. Glaring at the younger man he spat, “You are no longer an agent, Cho Kyuhyun and -”
“And if I became one again?” Kyuhyun interjected calmly, albeit his eyes narrowed ever so slightly, steel running through his words. He crossed his arms over his chest as he reminded, “I can always come out of retirement.”
Sungmin barely swallowed the curse words hovering on his lips as he turned and stalked over to where his knife had landed. He said nothing as he slowly wiggled the dagger out of the wall. What could he say? He had always been supportive of Kyuhyun, had always wanted to foster the potential he knew was lying just below the surface. What he realized belatedly, however, was that in pushing Kyuhyun to become a better agent, it also meant the younger man would be in more danger.
“Say something, Sungmin,” Kyuhyun prompted. “I know I’m not the greatest agent and my skills were the last thing to bring me to this team, but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be a field agent. That doesn’t mean I haven’t trained my ass off to get closer to the level of the rest of you. You don’t worry needlessly for the others because you know they can protect themselves. I can, too, so, don’t take that away from me.”
“I never questioned your skills, so, don’t put words in my mouth,” Sungmin reprimanded sharply as he walked back to the bed, the dagger safely strapped into his holster. Picking up a small handgun, he checked it was loaded and put the safety on before strapping it into his holster, too. “You’re a damn good agent and if you keep underestimating yourself I’m going to kick your ass into the next century! I know you can protect yourself just as good at the others. Fuck, you can probably protect yourself the best out of all of us because your so bloody brilliant despite how twisted your mind is. If you keep accusing me of thinking of you in this way I’m going to hang you up by your feet from a tree and use you for target practice!”
“So violent,” Kyuhyun murmured.
“I’m not kidding, Kyuhyun!” Sungmin practically growled as he slipped another gun into the holster at the small of his back. “I don’t worry about the others the way I worry you because I have this damn annoying urge to protect you all the time. Do you know how insane I went the past two years because I didn’t see you everyday like I did when we were still part of The Sector!? I hacked into so many databases just to find where you lived and worked so I could gain some semblance of a piece of mind!”
“Stalker,” the younger man muttered even while he felt a blush warming up his neck and cheeks.
“That’s right I became a fucking stalker! I had nothing to preoccupy me all this time except for my memories and the constant wonder if you were alive and well!” Sungmin stated as he picked up a white, button-up shirt and put it on. “We never talked about anything personal before, so I didn’t know if you had someone. If you had a girlfriend or a potential one. I went crazy at the thought that I wouldn’t see you anymore and that someone else was by your side. Even worse were the thoughts of whether or not you were still alive and safe after we retired.”
“Then, you know the torture it is not being able to protect the one you love,” Kyuhyun mused. When Sungmin froze in his actions, he added softly, “How do you think I feel when you won’t let me protect you?”
“Why is your dream bothering you this much? This isn’t the first dream that you believed you couldn’t change. Why is this one affecting you so badly?” He asked, tilting his head to the side as he regarded the other man.
He had known almost immediately during breakfast that Sungmin was affected more, differently by this dream than others before. He had watched the older man during that year they had worked together before retirement. Then, the weeks he spent living in Sungmin’s mansion, he had gotten to know him even more. Before retirement, he could guess what the other was thinking, feeling or what he was going to do. Now, he knew, could read him like a book.
Sungmin was quiet as he finished buttoning up his shirt, tucking the ends into his pants. He button his cuffs slowly, methodically before he turned towards the younger man and slowly walked over to him with the gracefulness of a predator. Once he stood before him, his legs touching the younger man’s knees, he stared down at him, his fox-like eyes warm.
Cupping the other’s jaw with his hand, he asked tentatively, “Did you just admit that you love me?”
“Don’t change the subject, you…” Kyuhyun’s eyes widened as realization dawned upon him. He shook his head lightly, his heart pounding painfully in his chest as the other man smiled sadly down at him. “No… no, don’t tell me…”
Sungmin was unashamed when his vision blurred and his eyes stung. “If you cannot say it directly, then I will.”
“Sungmin, no -”
“I love you, Kyuhyun,” he stated softly, firmly.
“No! You won’t die!” Kyuhyun exclaimed, “You must have interpreted your dream wrong!”
“For once, my dream was very blatant about who would die,” Sungmin admitted, his voice thick with emotion.
“No! No!” Kyuhyun stood up suddenly, his chair falling to the ground in the process. “We can change it, Sungmin, we can! You will not die!”
“Kiss me,” Sungmin said, his hand still cradling the younger man’s jaw now slowly drawing him closer.
“Not if you believe this will be the last time!” Kyuhyun argued, his narrowed eyes now filling with tears.
However, he allowed the older man to pull him closer and closer. His cry was abruptly smothered by a kiss flavoured with their combined tears. The kiss ended as quickly as it began, but it was enough. Kyuhyun buried his face into Sungmin’s shoulder, his arms slipping around his waist and holding him tightly. Sungmin held the other to him protectively, possessively as if the younger man were his life line, his anchor.
He would fight with everything he had that night, if only to ensure he saw Kyuhyun smile again.
The sun was slowly sinking by the time Youngwoon began to get ready for the auction. He stood by the bed buttoning up a black, button-up shirt over the weapons he had hidden on his body.
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready, too?” He asked the older man who sat against the headboard, the blanket pulled to his waist.
Arms crossed loosely about his torso, Eeteuk had watched him getting ready, his eyes gleaming with proud love and undisguised possessiveness. “I still have time. It won’t take me long to get ready. I think you forget how many years I have over you, rookie.”
Youngwoon rolled his eyes at the name. When Eeteuk had first met him and up until they actually got together, he was always being called rookie by the older man. Once he finished doing up his shirt, he sighed as he picked up the matching black blazer to his suit. “You know I hate this, right? That you’re going back into the field?”
“And after I left the field I had to deal with you being a field agent for five more years, so deal with it now,” Eeteuk snapped. “I should’ve done this years ago. If you’re in the field, then, so am I!”
“What the hell, Jungsu! I can protect myself!” Youngwoon defended angrily, his fists clenching,
“Does that mean I can’t protect you, too?” Eeteuk countered, his tone gaining a silky, deadly tone.
Youngwoon knew that tone. It was the one that said that Eeteuk was not joking around, that he would accept no less than what he demanded and anything other than what he wanted would result in dire consequences. Eeteuk had never used the tone with him and he was annoyed to find that not only did the tone tempt him to obey, it also aroused him.
“I know you can protect yourself. I even trust you enough to protect me without any worries. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t protect you, too. If it is within my power and capability to protect you, then I will and nothing and no one can stop me from doing so. That includes you, Youngwoon,” Eeteuk stated simply with a slight shrug of his shoulders.
“Are you trying to take that away from me?” Eeteuk asked, his words slow and spoken with sharp precision, a single brow raising in question and disbelief as he moved to the edge of the bed, sitting there with his feet on the ground, the blanket still draped over his lower body.
“Why are you making this so difficult!?” Youngwoon demanded exasperatedly,
“I’m not. I’m making it quite simple. It is you who is trying to complicate things,” Eeteuk said calmly, “You know you cannot win against me, so, stop fighting the inevitable.”
Youngwoon paced away, arms crossed over his chest. The dynamics of their relationship never changed. Eeteuk was always calm, always his anchor as he ranted and raged. Even though he was bigger, perhaps even stronger, there was a quiet, sure strength in Eeteuk that commanded obedience from everyone. Even though Youngwoon was strong in his own right, a leader by nature, he always deferred to, always submitted to the older man. He paced towards the bedside table and with a single swipe of his strong hand, he angrily shoved the table to the ground.
“Damn it, Jungsu, I almost lost you once!” Youngwoon practically roared. “How am I to function knowing that I could lose you again!?”
“You’ll have to learn to fucking deal with it because I’m not backing down,” Eeteuk lashed out, even as his voice remained calm and quiet. He knew he was demanding a lot from the younger man, knew he was pushing him hard. However, he couldn’t allow even himself to be a weakness to Youngwoon and needed the other man to grow stronger from it.
Youngwoon kicked the fallen table away. He knew, logically, that Eeteuk was secretly the most skilled of all the agents in The Sector. He knew, with complete confidence, that Eeteuk was probably the one most likely to survive the last mission if it turned lethal again. And, yet, all logic and reason could not defy the fear that was creeping into his soul like an insidious shadow, wrapping around his heart and clenching it painfully with icy fingers.
“I almost lost you once,” Youngwoon repeated, his voice desperate, quiet and hoarse with emotion as he looked at him, his expression tortured. His heart beat painfully and rapidly like a butterfly searching frantically for its mate. He moved back to the bed and crumpled before the other man, falling to his knees as he bowed his head. “Now that I know you more, love you more, I can’t… I can’t…”
“Your last in-field mission you almost died,” the younger man recalled, lying his cheek against the other’s thigh, closing his eyes tightly as he fought back the sudden downpour of emotions and memories threatening to drown him. The undeniable, suffocating fear he had felt all those years ago when he sat at the bedside of a comatose Eeteuk came flooding back. “For you to go back to the field…”
“I already went back to the field when we went to seek out those contacts two weeks ago,” Eeteuk reminded gently as he ran his fingers through the other’s short, thick locks.
“It’s not the same,” Youngwoon said quietly. He fisted his hand and lightly hit it against the other’s knee, “Damn you, Jungsu. You made me fall in love with you. What am I going to do if you die this time?”
“You know… your lack of faith in me living is actually starting to piss me off more than you not letting me protect you,” Eeteuk revealed. He sighed softy as he cradled the younger man’s face in his hands, forcing him to look up at him. “What you’re going through is just what I’ve gone through all the times you took a case and had to do in-field missions.”
“But, you don’t have to go. You can choose to not do this mission,” Youngwoon countered,
“Did I ever ask you to not take a particular difficult case or take a less visible role during a mission?” Eeteuk questioned simply,
“No, but this is different,”
“Yes, because I’ll be there,” Eeteuk admitted. His thumb stroked back and forth across the other’s lower lip, his gaze focused there as if mesmerized by his own ministration. “Am I your weakness, Youngwoon, the way that you are mine? Does your soul tremble at the thought of me being in danger as mine does for you? Does your heart physically ache just at the possibility of me being hurt, let alone killed, as mine has been aching, suffering, since I selfishly dragged you back into these shadows?”
Youngwoon turned his head to press a kiss into his palm. “How will we ever function tonight with the other in danger, too?”
“I will function close to normal, as I have dealt with this pain before. I have survived this turmoil for years before you retired,” Eeteuk reminded gently. “But, you need to learn - and learn fast - how to cope or else I won’t let you partake in this mission.”
“I think you forget who is leading this team, regardless of whether or not you have moved from your desk to the field,” Youngwoon grounded out, eyes narrowing slightly,
“If your mind is distracted, then you have no place doing a mission. You know just as well as I how dangerous half a mind can be and I’ve already well establish how I will not risk your life for anything or anyone,” Eeteuk replied, his voice soft yet that hint of steel running through his words.
“I’m terrified,” Youngwoon admitted even thought his voice was like a desperate plea, his eyes burning with unshed tears. “If I lost you, I would be destroyed. I would be completely destroyed. I would follow you into the afterlife.”
The older man silenced him with a kiss, recognizing his own words before the case began now being mirrored back at him. He broke the kiss as soon as he started it, but he didn’t pull his lips completely free, allowing for his breath, his words, to brush against other’s like the light wind from a butterfly flying by. “Don’t say that.”
“It’s true. I wouldn’t last long without you,” Youngwoon repeated his words from just weeks before, fighting hard against the tears trying to break free. “You are my heart and soul and you keep my mind sane. Without you, I have nothing.”
“Then, we’ll just have to make sure this case is a success,” Eeteuk stated,
Youngwoon pulled back enough to stared directly into the other’s eyes, unashamed of all the love in his heart pouring through his steady gaze. “So long as you do not have to exchange your life for it.”
“Nor yours,” Eeteuk added. He took his lips again, his eyes closing as he allowed himself to cry, the tears he had been fighting for so long finally flowing as his guilt and love compounded together. His tears turned their kiss salty as he whispered once more, “I’m sorry.”
Youngwoon returned the kiss and breathed the words “I love you” as he had done once before on the eve when he returned to the shadows.
Sungmin was the first of the teams’ bidders to arrive. Dressed in a dark, charcoal suit and a white, pristine button-up, the suit’s inner vest was a stark contrast to his appearance. While the soft lines of his face made him seem harmless enough, the dark glint in his fox-like eyes and his half-head of hair added a jaded edge. He joined the line of miscreants assuming a nonchalance even as his mind raced, his entire being vigilant for any possible assailants and anything that would assist with their mission and the completion of their case. At one point, Sungmin paused in the line to tie his shoe. As he stood up, he was able to furtively glance at those in line behind him. Five people in the line behind him stood Kwon with a pair of impressing looking guards on either side of him.
When Sungmin reached the front of the line, a pair of guards stood at the bottom of the walkway which led from the dock to the yacht. Sungmin didn’t react even a bit when he recognized one of them to be his best friend. Without being prompted, he took out the requisite invitation from his back pocket. The other guard took it, scanning it for legitimacy. The guard then handed it over to the familiar guard to hold.
As the other guard began to pat Sungmin down for weapons, Youngwoon immediately slipped into the guard’s mind.
You don’t feel any weapons. He’s clear to go on into the yacht.
He didn’t hold back even a bit as his voice overtook the guard’s attention. He had been one of the first members to arrive to the yacht. He had easily assimilated himself with the other guards, using his persuasive abilities to spread his lies like spilled ink on a blank page. Their minds were blank slates for him to overtake like a master with a brush. It didn’t take long before all of the boat’s staff believed he had been hired on from the beginning, even before the first auction.
The other guard straightened, gave Sungmin a nod and turned his attention to the next person in line. Youngwoon kept his gaze straight ahead, not even glancing at Sungmin as he handed him back the invitation. He had noticed Kwon enter the line almost immediately and, when it was his turn, Youngwoon immediately convinced the guard to pay extra attention to Kwon’s own personal guards.
This guy was at the first auction, near all the trouble that stopped that auction from happening. You need to take care when checking his guards for weapons. Be thorough.
As Kwon and the guards were preoccupied with meeting the no-weapons standard for entering the auction, Youngwoon went to work by going into Kwon’s mind. He slipped in like a parasite, undetected but infectious. With years of practice using his telepathy, he easily sifted through all the thoughts and information in Kwon’s mind before finding the correct information he needed. He pulled out of Kwon’s mind before speaking to the others, not wanting even the chance of a slip to happen and his voice to be heard by Kwon himself.
He’s our guy. He has the data on him and he’s anxious to sell it at the auction. He’s feeling antsy at having the data for so long and especially because now he’s actually carrying it on him. But, I can’t use telepathy as proof. We still need tangible proof before we can make an arrest.
He told the others immediately. Since Eeteuk was not a telepath as the others were, he had to open up the line of communication himself, stretching his mind five different ways. However, once he did so, it allowed for Eeteuk to contact him. To help the others preserve their energy, it was agreed that only he would have to keep a mental pathway open with Eeteuk and the others would use him as a medium to communicate with the agent. It drained his own energy, but, because he had more experience with telepathy, it would do so slower than with the others.
Once the message was relayed, he moved on to Kwon’s guards. He didn’t hesitate to pressure them with his skills.
You don’t feel good tonight. You feel as if death is breathing down your neck, like there is a target aimed at your forehead.
Youngwoon felt a hint of guilt and smugness as one guard took an obvious step to the side while the other rubbed the back of his neck warily and even looked behind him.
If trouble starts tonight, it would be best to step away from the action. Getting involved will only cause more trouble for you. It is better to save yourself.
To ensure complete obedience, he added an extra push into his voice, turning its accuracy and command into a deadly weapon. It was a voice, a skill he had never used. If he did use it, he could easily command a loving child to kill his parents or, even, a leader to declare war against another country. He had tried it once and it was the last time. He had gotten into a fight with a friend when he was a child and had yelled at them to just forget about him. Instantly, his friend had completely forgotten about him. All of their friends had thought they had a falling out because his friend no longer spoke to him.
When Kwon and his guards were finally let onto the yacht, Youngwoon had no doubt that they would follow his commands.
Sungmin sat in the back corner of the reception room. He casually looked round him, absorbing each detail easily of the room. He barely suppressed a sigh as he admired the completely glass walls. They were a sniper shooter’s dream. The seats were slowly filling up and he easily recognized a good percentage of them of having been at the last auction. He felt an advantage over those people, not realizing that he had seen them through his scope just two weeks ago. Little did they know that their lives had been dependent upon him the night of the first auction.
Rumbles of whispers filled the room as people spoke amongst themselves and with acquaintances throughout the underground. One of the reasons that the first auction had been so popular, the invitations so sought after was because never before had so many individuals working the underground circuits had ever been gathered together. However, the room immediately quieted when a man entered.
His lean body was completely clad in black, his chestnut-coloured hair styled dramatically, his fringe cutting a diagonally across his forehead and partially hiding one eye. He entered with a calm, assured confidence as he made his way into one of the middle rows of chairs. He displayed his prowess when, as he sat down, all those in surrounding seats immediately gave him a wide berth, some shifting down even two seats to give the newcomer enough space. Those who appeared unfamiliar with the man, immediately deferred their judgement to those who moved to accommodate him.
Shit. Did you just see that? Junsu’s voice spoke into Sungmin’s mind.
Sungmin immediately suppressed the instinct to react in surprise. Yes and when did you get on the yacht?
Junsu’s snort was heard in the other’s mind before he added, I was the first one here. Even before Youngwoon arrived to join the guards.
Where are you right now?
If anyone looked into the ceiling corner behind you, they might have been able to see the top of my face at some point.
Creepy. I hate your shadow walking sometimes.
Sungmin observed those in the room. He noticed almost immediately that since the newcomer had come into the room, the whispers had begun again, but even softer, now. He never caught what the others called the other man, but he heard the awe and fear in some of the whispers closest to him.
Youngwoon, he called out to his best friend.
Eeteuk is so cool. Sungmin didn’t even bother to hide the wonder in his words.
After hearing a quick retelling of the agent’s entrance into the reception room, Youngwoon replied, Please don’t praise him to his face. He already had a big enough ego and bosses me around all the time. He’ll become insufferable if you add to his inflated head.
Hey, Youngwoon, Kyuhyun easily added into their conversation.
What? Their leader replied, an obvious bite in his tone. He recognized Kyuhyun’s tone of voice immediately and knew nothing good would come out of the youngest male’s mouth next.
I won’t say anything to Eeteuk if you pay me.
The other males laughed as Taeyeon muttered a quiet and exasperated, Boys. They could practically see her rolling her eyes at their antics despite the serious nature of their mission.
Oh, fuck. Youngwoon spoke to Sungmin alone this time.
What’s wrong? He asked as his eyes made a slow and precise sweep of the room, trying to catch whatever troubled the older man.
I know why Junsu had to hide weapons for Taeyeon last night and I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t know the full story as to why she couldn’t hide her own weapons.
You’ll see in about two minutes.
As if on cue, just before another set of guards were about to close the doors to the reception room, Taeyeon made her grand entrance and, just as with Eeteuk, the entire room grew perfectly silent. Her hair was short, sliced at chin-length and her bangs a blunt edge just kissing her perfectly shaped brows. As always, the smaller details were what she emphasized. She wore contacts which lightened her irises into a milk-chocolate hue. Her eyes were heavily lined but held no eye shadow while her lips were coloured a dark, blood red. For those who wouldn’t see her up-close, however, she ensured she knew how to distract them further from recognizing her face.
She wore a bandeau around her chest, a swath of soft, black cotton that wrapped around her bust, leaving her arms, shoulders and mid drift exposed. A long, cotton skirt sat low about her hips, falling to brush the floor as her feet were encased in silk ballerina slippers, visible through the slits in the skirt which ran up to just above her knees. Her pale skin was a beautiful contrast to the black, but her skin wasn’t completely bare. On the left side of her torso, blue butterfly tattoos climbed up her ribs and disappearing beneath the bandeau. Down her right arm from the cap of the shoulder to her elbow was a large dragon tattoo, wrapping around her bicep as if protecting the limb from harm. Lastly, she wore a thin, gold chain which wrapped twice around her waist, twinkling like stardust against the canvas her bare abdomen made.
Silence continued in the reception room as, with slightly swaying hips, she slowly made her way into the room. With her head held high, she cut a swath through a row, the men scrambling to get out of her way as they also tried to get just a glimpse of her face. She stopped when she was two seats down from where Eeteuk sat, the chair she stood before and the one between them both unoccupied due to the other people moving away from Eeteuk earlier. He slowly stood to his full height and it seemed like the entire room held their breaths as a silent battle of wills seemed to take place. Sungmin watched from afar and realized that, while most seemed to recognize Eeteuk, no one knew who Taeyeon was, but entranced all the same. When, eventually, Eeteuk gave a small bow of his head first, it told the rest of the room that, although she was a small package indeed, she was not to be underestimated.
Fuck, I see what you mean, Sungmin said to Youngwoon. Then, added ruefully, She’s going to kill Kyuhyun for getting her into a position where she has to dress like this.
Forget that, we’re going to have to stop Junsu from killing everyone who sees her tonight dressed like this.
Further discourse was postponed, however, when the yacht’s horn sounded clear into the quiet night signalling its departure from the docks. The auction was about to begin.