(Chapter 16 of the Living in Shadows series)
“You did the best you could.”
Taeyeon, who sat in a chair with her legs curled up so her feet rested on the seat and her arms wrapped around her knees, raised her head to watch Eeteuk enter the waiting room. Since it was late at night, the waiting room was dim, most of the lighting coming from the corridor outside. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she had first sat in the chair, indeed, she hadn’t even realized that the others had left her in the room.
Eeteuk walked up to her and offered her a coffee, “No one could have done better than you under the circumstances.”
Taeyeon gratefully accepted the coffee, holding it between her hands and balancing it on her raised knees. She didn’t reply right away, recalling all that had transpired the moment she saw Kyuhyun. For the first time in her life, she doubted her healing abilities. Her hands had trembled as she pressed against the wound, trying to stifle the blood flow while she worked. Her mind was in turmoil with thoughts of Junsu being injured and the horrifying fact that Kyuhyun was barely breathing by the time they reached him. She wanted to take his pain away. Even though she knew it wouldn’t make him conscious again, when she doubted everything else, she knew she could at least take his pain away.
She could still feel the warm blood seeping through her fingers, coating her skin as Eeteuk’s hands moved rapidly across from her. She had watched him, entranced, needing something to focus her as she tried to determine the extent of the injury. Eeteuk was pulling syringes and needles from the many pockets on the holster around his abdomen. He filled two syringes with a clear liquid and he pushed the liquid directly into the wound. After he had told her that the medicine he had used was lidocaine with epinephrine, she felt the first semblance of hope in the situation. With the medicine working to constrict the vessels in the wound, she began to work on doing the same with her healing abilities. She closed her eyes as she began to repair the damage done to the vessels to stop the blood while Eeteuk began threading a needle to suture the wound until they could get him to a hospital.
“I… I hesitated,” Taeyeon admitted as she stared at the coffee. “If I hadn’t hesitated, if I had reacted faster, then maybe…”
“You’ll go crazy if you focus on the maybes,” Eeteuk said as he sat down in the chair beside hers, slowly sipping his own coffee. “Trust me, I’ve had over a decade of maybes and nothing will change if all you do is worry over them.”
“How can I not worry!?” Her voice was a hoarse, whispered cry. “How can I not focus on the maybes? The regrets?” Her eyes easily filled with tears even though her eyes had been burning from crying since leaving the yacht hours before. “He… he died,” she somehow managed, “I let him… I let him die!”
Taeyeon easily recalled the moment that Sungmin suddenly began shaking Kyuhyun’s shoulders, yelling at him to breathe. Sungmin had immediately begun artificially breathing for Kyuhyun as Eeteuk instructed her to keep working and to let them resuscitate him. Tears began to pour down her face as she struggle to concentrate. Never before had a healing been so important. Never before had a healing been so difficult. The vessels had been repaired, but the blood loss had been great and, in that time, Kyuhyun had stopped breathing. She could barely think of the layers of tissue she had to reconnect and heal. If done incorrectly, it could leave a pocket of space, allowing for an abscess to form.
Several times, Taeyeon had to stop, wipe her eyes with her forearm and continue with the healing, especially when they had lost Kyuhyun’s pulse and had to begin compressions. She wasn’t sure how many cycles of compressions and breaths Eeteuk and Sungmin had to do before they sat back, Kyuhyun breathing and his pulse thready, but there. It had seemed an eternity, the edges of the wound still gaping, before the yacht had docked in the harbour again and paramedics surged in.
“We got him back, didn’t we?” Eeteuk reminded gently.
“Just enough for the paramedics to take him, then he -” She choked on the rest of her words, her voice swallowed up by a sob as she turned her face and buried against her arm.
Youngwoon entered the waiting room then, his hands buried into his pants pocket, his gaze to the ground.
“How is he?” Eeteuk asked tentatively,
Youngwoon looked up, startled as if he hadn’t known they were there. He gave a small, trembling smile as his bloodshot eyes grew bright with tears. “Junsu will live.”
Taeyeon let out another sob at his words as she looked up at him, her expression a mix of agony and tentative hope. Youngwoon nodded at the silent question in her eyes as he closed the distance between them. He took the coffee from her and laid it on the ground as he pulled her against him, hugging her firmly, “He survived the surgery.”
Youngwoon could still remember the dread slowly filling him, his heart pounding painfully in his chest as he watched over his friend whose eyes were staying closed more often than open and whose breathing was becoming more and more shallow as a pool of blood slowly formed beneath him. He kept Junsu talking, kept talking to him as, in his mind, Youngwoon orchestrated dozens of people. He had commanded the captain of the yacht to steer them back towards the docks, while he had managed to call an ambulance to meet them there. Over the phone, he was easily able to influence those on the other end of the line to ensure the paramedics arrived posthaste.
Junsu, as if he, too, were scared, was valiantly trying to keep his eyes open at that time. Youngwoon saw the way he struggled to keep alert, his eyelids fluttering. Even when his eyes were closed, he made an effort to respond to Youngwoon talking, whether it be by vocalizing a word or two or even a hum. Instead of saving his energy, Junsu had continued to talk and even move a hand or his head, as if he were afraid that if he stopped, then he wouldn’t be able to start again. Even when the yacht docked and the paramedics came on board and found them, Junsu had managed a garbled “no” and Youngwoon directed them first to the back room where the others were.
“He’ll be okay,” Youngwoon insisted as he stood beside her chair, hugging her against his torso.
Taeyeon cried with relief, the terror that had gripping her heart easing, releasing a wave of emotion in the process. When the paramedics had gotten Kyuhyun off the boat first, she had immediately gone back to Junsu’s side. She had cried out when she saw how much blood was now beneath him and didn’t care who saw her crying as she knelt by his side, holding his hand between both of hers and clutching it against her heart. She didn’t leave Junsu’s side, even when he was placed in the second ambulance. She remained there, keeping a firm possession of his hand until they had to wheel him directly to the operating room and she could follow no longer. Eeteuk had to half drag, half carry her to the waiting room as all strength seemed to abandon her and continue on with Junsu instead. When Youngwoon tentatively let his arms slide away from her, she pressed the heels of her palms against her eyes as her tears refused to stop.
The sound of soft footsteps drew their attention as Sungmin entered the waiting room. He stood just inside the door watching them. He was the palest they had ever seen, his expression unreadable as he opened and closed his mouth several times, unable to form words.
“Sungmin?” Youngwoon approached slowly, hesitantly.
Instead of replying to the obvious question in his best friend’s tone, Sungmin crumpled before them, falling to his knees as he bowed his head, his hands clasped firmly over his mouth in a desperate attempt to physically silence his own cries. Uncaring of who saw him, he gasped for large gulps of air as his entire body shook like a leaf in a windstorm, his sobs overtaking his entire being as tears poured twin trails down either side of his face.
Sungmin had felt as if he had been walking through a dream the moment Taeyeon and Eeteuk had rushed forth to save Kyuhyun. When he had moved away from Kyuhyun and realized what his dream had really meant, he had froze, his heart and lungs seizing. Taeyeon had screamed his name several times before he acknowledged her even as his gaze was locked on Kyuhyun.
“Keep talking to him! Give him a reason to fight! Don’t give up on him now!” She had demanded of him.
Hands trembling, Sungmin had reached out and taken Kyuhyun’s hand in his own. His eyes burned with unshed tears, and sobs were welling up within him, but he fought them all back. He believed that if he allowed his tears to flow and his sobs to be vocalized, then he would be giving up on Kyuhyun, believing him already lost to them. With a ruthlessness he never knew he possessed, he reigned in his emotions as his mind frantically sought out Kyuhyun’s.
He felt as if his heart were literally trembling, terror piercing through him as he called out to Kyuhyun over and over again through their private mental pathway. He yelled at him, commanding him to live. When he realized Kyuhyun had stopped breathing, he began to breath for him, forcing air through the younger man’s cold lips as his mind screamed out to Kyuhyun, trying to reach out to him and drag him back.
When Kyuhyun’s pulse had weakened into nothing, Eeteuk had begun compressions immediately, the sharp snap of cartilage breaking like the sound of a gun going off to Sungmin. When they had managed to resuscitate him, Sungmin had clutched his hand again, tighter than before as if loosening his grip even just a bit would result in losing the younger man. He went from ordering Kyuhyun to live to begging him, pleading him as if he could keep Kyuhyun alive with pure will alone.
The moment the ambulance had arrived at the hospital, Kyuhyun flatlined, the heart monitor piercing the silence with its loud alarm. The paramedics had practically shoved the stretcher out as an emergency room nurse jumped onto the stretcher, straddling Kyuhyun’s waist as she began compressions while one of the paramedics grabbed a mask and bag and they began to resuscitate him again. Sungmin had followed them all the way to just outside the ready operating room. Another nurse, porter and the other paramedic attempted to escort him to the waiting room, but Sungmin had refused.
He had grabbed the paramedic by the shoulders and shaken him powerfully, “I love him and if he dies while I’m away from him, then I will find you and make you pay! I will make all of you pay if you force me away from him! He is my heart and soul! He is my other half - the better half! If you don’t leave me the hell alone I’ll make you all regret that you never left me here!”
However, it wasn’t his words which caused the three to back off. Rather, it was the stark need, blatant fear and naked love in his expression which broke through their resolves. One by one, they left him in peace to pace before the operating room doors.
At one point, he had stopped pacing long enough to yell out, his face tipped towards the ceiling as he demanded, “WHY! Why do you give me glimpses of the future but now, NOW, that I need it the most I get nothing!? WHY!?”
Fortunately, he had been alone during his tirade but, at that time, he hadn’t cared who had heard him. All he cared about was the man in the operating room whose heart had already stopped twice and whose last word had been his name.
After the surgery had finished, it had taken him nearly an hour before he could find and gather the strength to, finally, leave Kyuhyun’s side and seek out the others.
Taeyeon shook her head, stifling her own cries as more tears fell, this time no longer of relief but of the threat of emptiness and total sadness. Even beside her, Eeteuk propped his elbows on his knees and bowed his head. Youngwoon dropped to his knees before the younger man, his arms limp at his sides as he stared down at him, disbelief ruling his mind as icy darkness filled his heart.
“N-No… n-no,” their leader stammered, his voice hoarse and thick with overflowing emotion.
“He… H-he’s a-alive,” Sungmin’s voice was soft, shaken and broken, so quiet the others at first weren’t sure if they heard them, even just the semblance of hope a horrifying thought if it would be taken brutally away.
“What!?” Youngwoon questioned,
“He’s alive!” Sungmin exclaimed, his words carried on a cry as he opened his eyes and locked gazes with his best friend. “Y-Youngwoon… he’s alive!” He said, this time almost pleadingly as if he frantically, hopelessly needed a confirmation of the very information he shared himself.
“Oh, thank God!” Taeyeon cried out as her feet slipped from the chair to the floor and she leaned forward, burying her face in her hands, tears spilling forth from the reservoir her hands created.
Eeteuk looked away, although he sniffed and reached out, his hand comfortingly rubbing her back.
“You bastard, why didn’t you say sooner!?” Youngwoon accused even as he yanked Sungmin against him, engulfing the younger man in a bear hug. “When you have good news you don’t fucking hesitate! You made us think bad things!”
Sungmin slipped his arms around his best friend, hugging him back tightly, his hands clutching the back of his shirt as if his grip on him was the same as his grip on reality, his grip on his vulnerable hope.
“He’s alive,” Sungmin repeated, the words a mantra, a prayer as if his heart could still not completely believe it, afraid that this second chance was too fragile to accept. “He’s alive… Kyuhyun’s alive.”
“The NIB has taken Kwon under custody,” Eeteuk relayed a few days later.
He sat in a hospital room at the bedside of Junsu with Youngwoon beside him. Junsu sat with the head of the bed raised, his pillows propped behind him. He still wore a hospital gown, his blankets pulled up to his waist. He had a table set before him with a tray of untouched food. His attention was more held by the others than his growling stomach.
“He even sang like a bird and revealed all of his accomplices, some of which are his family members. He’ll be charged and sent to jail within the next few weeks,” Eeteuk continued. “He’s being discharged from the hospital today and going straight into custody.”
“He’s been here, too?” Junsu asked,
Youngwoon nodded, “Yeah, after Kwon shot Kyuhyun, Sungmin went on a rampage and took his revenge against Kwon.”
“And the leaked data?” Junsu prompted,
“I personally destroyed the data,” Eeteuk answered. “Since all the information had been copied from the NIB’s databases, we didn’t need to save it after we got a hold of it. Ever since the leak was confirmed, the NIB and The Sector especially have been beefing up their security systems. All the employees are also undergoing questioning to weed out any others who are like Kwon.” He pinched the bridge of his nose as he added exasperatedly, “Even I have to undergo questioning even though I helped bring him in.”
“At least it’s over now,” Youngwoon reminded comfortingly.
Eeteuk sighed as he nodded, “There is that. Once this is all settled, there will be a memorial service for the team that died earlier on in the case. I think it will be difficult for the families to be reminded of their losses, but it will also give them closure knowing that the people responsible are being accounted for and justice is being sought.”
“So, what are your plans now?” Youngwoon asked,
Before Junsu could answer, there was a soft knock on the door. After he called out, Taeyeon answered before she walked in, Junho walking beside her, his hand wrapped firmly around her fingers. As she closed the door behind her, Junho made his way to the side of the bed and grinned happily as he slapped his hands against the mattress,
“Ap! Ap! Appa!”
“Youngwoon told me about your son and how much he looked like Junsu when he was younger, but even now I can see the strong resemblance,” Eeteuk commented,
Taeyeon punched their leader in the arm, “You were sworn to secrecy!”
“I know, but it’s not like I could hide a lot from Eeteuk after I returned from America. Besides, I can’t keep secrets from him; he gets angry,” Youngwoon defended, “And, you saw how he was on the yacht. Would you want him angry with you?”
“I guess not,” Taeyeon murmured as she swiped up her son and brought him to the other side of the bed from where the others sat.
Junsu pushed away his table and took Junho from her, setting his son to straddle his lap. “What? No greeting kiss?”
Taeyeon’s eyes narrowed slightly as her cheeks pinked, “Not with others watching.”
“Well, then I’m not telling you the update from the doctor today,” Junsu replied, turning his attention to their son who was amusing himself with the ties of the hospital gown.
Taeyeon glared across the bed until Youngwoon and Eeteuk both closed their eyes. She leaned down and pressed her lips against his cheek. “That’s all you get because you blackmailed me.”
“I’m not complaining,” Junsu grinned as the others opened their eyes. “Since you held up your end of the deal, then, so will I. The doctor says that if the remainder of my tests come back fine today I can be discharged tomorrow.”
“Already? But… but are they sure you’re ready? They’ve done everything?” Taeyeon questioned,
Keep looking at your son because if Taeyeon sees that smug look on your face she’ll hit you, Youngwoon warned when Junsu’s expression changed with the blatant concern she was showing.
“I am ready and yes, they’ve done everything they can,” Junsu answered as he did as his leader advised and kept his face towards his son.
Junsu had been shot in the spine when he had covered Taeyeon during the fighting on the yacht. As he had lay on the floor, the tingling sensation had been numbness slowly spreading up his limbs, the nerves affected from where the bullet had entered. The surgery had been a success in extracting the bullet and the surgeon repaired as much as his could, but the doctor had warned that Junsu may never walk again. Once he had been moved from recovery to a normal hospital room, Taeyeon had tried to heal him with her own abilities. She had tried over and over again until she cried from frustration and guilt and Junsu had softly told her to stop.
He looked up at her when she remained silent. He took her hand and gently shook it, “You did everything you could. This is the way life goes. We all knew there would be risks to being agents and, when we agreed to take on one last case, we knew some of us could even end up dead.”
“But I couldn’t even help you,” She stated bitterly, her eyes narrowed as they filled with tears. “What’s the point in having these damn abilities if I can’t even help you!?”
Taeyeon yanked her hand from his hold and turned away, pacing towards the window. Propping her hands on the sill, she stared out the window as she tried to leash in her emotions. The moment she had heard his prognosis she had vowed to do everything in her power to heal him as guilt became a crushing weight in her heart. After all, he wouldn’t be in the hospital if he had never protected her from being shot.
“So, your plans?” Youngwoon prompted,
“I’ll continue doing rehab as an out-patient to keep up my muscle tone even if I can’t use my legs. Rest as often I can and, when I get bored as what will most likely happen in a few weeks, I’ll figure out what to do with myself,” Junsu answered. “The fortunate thing is that even my wheelchair will remain with me if I shadow walk.”
“You mean shadow roll.”
Everyone, except for Taeyeon, all looked to the door to see Sungmin coming in and closing the door behind him. He looked ragged, in dark jeans and a wrinkled shirt. His hair was shiny and stringy from being too oily and stubble was evident on his upper lip and chin. He put a paper bag on Junsu’s table before stepping back to the end of his bed.
“What’s that?” Youngwoon asked,
“Food,” Sungmin answered, “Junsu asked me to get him some real food since he hates hospital food.”
“Junho, let’s see what Appa has to eat,” Junsu took the bag and opened it between himself and his son who was still straddling his lap. As he did this, he revealed to their leader, It was the only way I could get him to leave Kyuhyun’s side and take a break. “Taeyeon,” he called, trying to pull her back from her dark thoughts, “Does Junho have any food allergies?”
Finally turning away from the window, her eyes dry but bloodshot, Taeyeon shook her head, “No, but he loves bread.”
“Ah, that’s good to know. Junho, let’s see if Uncle Sungminnie has brought you bread,” Junsu said as he nonchalantly added, “How’s Kyuhyun doing?”
The others seemed to hold their breaths as they awaited the answer. They had all visited the ICU over the past few days to check on Kyuhyun. Other than going to the bathroom, Sungmin never left Kyuhyun’s bedside.
“He still hasn’t woken up,” Sungmin revealed, his voice gravelly as if he didn’t use it often. He cleared his throat before adding, “The doctors say that all of his tests are coming back normal and him remaining unconscious may just be the body’s way to heal.”
Sungmin shook his head, stopping whatever apology he knew Taeyeon was about to say. “The surgeon said he was baffled that none of the vessels were torn from such an injury. He said that if a bullet had taken out such a chunk from his head then the vessels were bound to be injured, too. Kyuhyun was able to live because of what you and Eeteuk did that night.” He smiled sadly at the others, “I should go back…”
Youngwoon stood up and forced Sungmin into his chair, “You rest. I’ll go and stay with Kyuhyun. Have you even slept for more than an hour since the auction?”
“Collectively, yes,” Sungmin replied as he struggled to stand despite the other man’s hand pressing on his shoulder.
The older man suddenly grabbed his collar as he leaned down until their faces were a hand-span apart as he glared down at him. “You think you’re the only one upset? You think you’re the only one who wants to stay by his side day and night? Get over yourself! The only reason none of us have done what you have been doing is out of courtesy to you. But we deserve our time with Kyuhyun, too! We deserve to be by his side just as much as you do! So, sit the hell down and I don’t want to see you back in the ICU until you’ve at least changed your clothes!” Youngwoon released his hold on him as he turned away in frustration. He said nothing as he stormed out of the room, the door slamming behind him.
“Don’t mind him, it’s just another tantrum,” Eeteuk insisted as he slowly stood up, “I can go get some clothes for you, Sungmin, if you don’t want to leave the hospital.”
Sungmin sighed heavily as he handed over his keys to the agent, “Thank you.”
“I’ll come with you. If Junsu is being discharged tomorrow he’ll need clothes,” Taeyeon said as she moved back to the bed to take Junho,
Junsu raised a brow, “What are you doing?”
“I might as well drop Junho off with my stepmother on our way out of the city,” she replied,
“He can stay with me until you get back,” Junsu stated,
“But, he might get restless and you need to relax. And he might get hungry or sleepy and he gets really grumpy when either of those things happen -”
“Taeyeon! I can take care of our son for at least an hour! Just because I can’t walk doesn’t mean I’m completely incompetent!” He reprimanded,
“I never said such a thing so don’t twist my words!” She argued, crossing her arms over her chest, “Fine! But if you get exhausted, don’t complain to me when we get back!”
Before she could turn away, Junsu grabbed her hand, “A kiss goodbye?” He grinned at her.
She raised a brow as she kissed her palm and then lightly smacked his forehead with that hand. “That’s all you get for trying to blackmail me - again and you got slapped because you tried to emotionally blackmail me this time.” She put her bag on the bedside table and withdrew just her wallet, “He has snacks and toys in there and diapers, too.” She headed to the door, “Come on, Eeteuk. Let’s go before I strangle him.”
After the door closed after them, Junsu looked at Sungmin, “If it comes to it, do you know how to change a diaper?”
Sungmin’s eyes widened before they narrowed ever so slightly, “He’s your son, you have to change him!”
“He hasn’t done anything, yet. I’m just saying if he does,” Junsu said. “Maybe I shouldn’t give him food.” When he tried to take away a bread roll from Junho, however, his son bit down on his hand instead. “Ah! Okay! Okay!” He gave the bread back to him, “Geez, you’re as bloodthirsty as your mother.”
Sungmin chuckled softly as he settled into his chair more comfortably.
Junsu glanced up at him before taking out half a sandwich from the bag the other had brought him. “You know, that’s the first time I’ve seen you smile since the auction.”
“Well, what do you expect under the circumstances?” He shot back sitting up,
“Under the circumstances, you should be focusing on the fact that he’s alive,” Junsu reasoned. “I know it’s hard and I know you’re worried because he hasn’t woken up even once but, you’re running yourself ragged. If Kyuhyun were awake to see you this way he’d kick your ass for letting yourself get like this.”
“And I’d kick his ass for making me worry!” He snorted as he sat back again, “Continuing to be unconscious to let his body heal? The doctors don’t know what they’re saying. Kyuhyun’s doing this to bug the hell out of us all!”
Junsu laughed then as he grabbed Taeyeon’s purse and put it on his knees so as not to separate himself and Junho. He pulled out a juice bottle and handed it to his son to drink. “That does sound like something Kyuhyun would do.”
“So, are you going to keep running your bookshop even on wheels?” Sungmin asked as he leaned his elbow on the arm rest and propped his cheek against his fist.
“I did enjoy the peace and quiet the bookstore gave me, but it got very lonely. Even though that may not be the case now, I would have to completely renovate the store to accommodate my wheelchair and there’s no way I’d be able to have use of the second floor walkways. I’ll have to give up my store,” Junsu answered. “Other than rehab, I also want to spend as much time as possible with Junho and…” Junsu’s voice trailed off when he realized that Sungmin had fallen asleep. He smiled indulgently before turning his attention back to his son. “See, Junho? Uncle Sungminnie can be very stubborn, but not as stubborn as your Uncle Kyu. From now on, everything your Uncle Kyu does, you do the opposite, hmm?”
As if in earnest reply, Junho laughed happily.
“You really are stubborn, you know that?” Junsu asked exasperatedly as he put aside the scissors and forceps he used to take out Taeyeon’s stitches.
Taeyeon sat on the edge of the bed facing him, her shirt rolled up to just beneath her breasts. She said nothing as she covered the gaping wound there with her hand and closed her eyes. Junsu began to pack away the tools into her kit and, then, into her bag as she concentrated on healing the wound with her ability. When she was done, perspiration dotted her forehead and she looked paler than before. When she moved her hand away, her abdomen didn’t hold even a scar to remember the previous gunshot wound.
“You could have just waited for it to heal on its own,” Junsu scolded softly as he reached out and ran his fingers of the skin where the wound had once been. “Are you going to be okay to drive back to your stepmother’s after this?”
“I’ll be fine. She could pick me up, but Junho’s probably asleep already,” she replied with a nod.
Earlier that afternoon she had brought Junho back to her stepmother’s apartment and returned to have dinner with Junsu. While they were eating the food she brought for the both of them, she had convinced him to help her take out her stitches so she could heal her own wound. He had finally relented after acknowledging she would do it with or without his help.
She pulled her shirt down over her abdomen and he let his hands slip to her hips, staying there. She reached out and cupped the side of his face, her thumb stroking back and forth over his lower lip. Smiling softly, she said ruefully, “I should get going. Visiting hours will be over soon.”
“So stay until the nurses come kick you out,” Junsu grinned, “I want to spend as much time with you as possible.”
Taeyeon laugh softly as she let her hand fall away from his face, “You’re being discharged tomorrow anyway.”
“Just a few minutes more then. It can’t hurt, right? And, besides, we have so much lost time to catch up on,” Junsu stated.
Taeyeon’s expression shuttered as she looked away from him.
“Hey, hey, no running, remember?” He said softly as he moved one hand from her hip to her chin, guiding her back to look at him again,
“I’m not running,”
“Okay, but next time just call me a jerk for misspeaking,” Junsu said, “I didn’t mean to hurt you about what happened. We were both responsible for the separation, it wasn’t just you.” He tucked strands of hair behind her ear, “I know it’ll be hard, but we have to put the past behind us. It is a big loss to the both of us - the years we had apart from one another and the secrets that lay between us, but we were both broken people and we had learn from our mistakes. We have to put it behind us.”
Her eyes were filling with tears again, something that was happening quite regularly since the auction and especially when she was around him. “But, I left and… and Junho… and your legs.”
Junsu immediately pulled her against him, tucking her head beneath his chin as he slid both his arms around her, embracing her protectively, lovingly. “We both made mistakes, but if we ever want to heal from this, we have to move on. Come now, you know all about healing wounds, Taeyeon. If you keep picking at a wound it’ll never heal properly.”
“I just… I just wish I had known then what I know now,” she replied quietly, huddled against his warmth.
“Isn’t that always the case?”
“It is now 8:30 and visiting hours are now over,” the voice on the hospital’s overhead system was just barely heard through the room’s closed door.
Taeyeon slowly pulled away from his embrace with a soft sigh, “I’ll see you in the morning.” She cradled his face between her hands and leaned in, kissing him softly on the lips before slipping off the bed.
“What was that for?” Junsu asked as she picked up her bag and slung it on her shoulder,
“A kiss goodbye,” she raised a brow at him,
“Yeah, but I didn’t ask for one,”
“That’s what happens when you don’t blackmail people. You get kisses for free,” she stated with a small, smug smile.
“Ah, I like that - free kisses. I guess I’ll have to stop blackmailing you then, hmm, Taeyeon?”
She threw him one last smirk before leaving, the door closing softly behind her.
Sighing softly, Junsu moved the head of his bed until he was lying almost completely straight. Turning off his overhead light and closing his eyes, he settled in for the night, preparing to sleep after a quick visit into his friend’s dreams.
“You’re still awake?” Youngwoon questioned as he came out of the bathroom, a towel slung low about his hips. “I though thought you took a shower first so that you could sleep earlier since you have work in the morning.”
“That was the plan, but I figured I could get a bit more work done before I sleep,” Eeteuk replied. He sat against the headboard, his laptop open on his thighs and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses on his nose. “If I get more done now then I can come home earlier tomorrow. See? I’m thinking ahead.”
“I like your thinking, but I don’t like you going into work when you haven’t had enough sleep,” Youngwoon replied from within the depths of their walk-in closet.
“I’ll be fine,” Eeteuk insisted, “What time are you going to the hospital tomorrow?”
“I want to drop in to the shop first. I haven’t been in since before the auction,” he answered as he came walking out of their closet dressed in lounge pants and a sleeveless shirt.
“Don’t worry, I have. All of your flowers are still alive.”
Youngwoon let out a sigh of content as he settled in between the sheets and turned off the lamp on his bedside table, the lamp on Eeteuk’s side still on. “Ah, you always know what I need.”
“At the auction, when we were all fighting…”
Eeteuk looked away from his laptop screen to the man lying down beside him, “It scared you didn’t it? The way I went crazy?” He sighed heavily as he raked his fingers through his own hair, “I knew it would. Why do you think I never let you see me fight or train with me?”
“I saw you pummel Mouse a few weeks ago,” Youngwoon reminded,
Eeteuk snorted, “That wasn’t a fight. That was teaching a lesson.”
“Well, whatever it was, whether it was seeing you beat the crap out of my contact or going on a rampage against those guards. You didn’t scare me,” Youngwoon insisted,
“You looked scared for a moment when I looked at you after the fighting was done,” Eeteuk said as he turned his attention back at the laptop, not wanting to see that fear of him again in the eyes of his beloved.
“I wasn’t scared of you, I was scared for you,” Youngwoon stated with exasperation. “Why the hell would I ever be scared of you? You’d never hurt me. Geez, you did all of that because you were reacting to me getting hurt.”
Eeteuk stared at him, confused, “Why would you be scared for me?”
“Because when you were fighting, it was all instinct, pure and raw. It was as if you completely forgot yourself, forgot who you are,” the younger man replied.
“It was instinct. Every movement was like second nature, my weapons an extension of myself. But I didn’t forget who I am, Youngwoon. Everything was instinctive to me because protecting you comes natural to me,” Eeteuk declared softly, sincerely. He reached out, his long, slender fingers gently running through the other’s short hair as he sighed quietly. “To love you, to protect you, to provide for you - these are the most basic things to me, to my life, to my very being.”
Youngwoon stared up at the older man, his dark eyes slowly sweeping over him as if committing every loving detail to memory. “Jungsu.”
“If I asked you to, would you quit The Sector and NIB for me?” Youngwoon asked tentatively, his expression blank as he merely watched the older man, observing for even the tiniest of nuances.
“At least think a bit before you answer!”
“I have,” Eetuek insisted, “If me quitting would make you happy, then I would do it.”
“It can’t be that simple. This is your career, who you are. You cannot simply just give it up because I ask you of it, regardless of how selfish I may be feeling and how selfless you are at that moment. You have to consider the consequences, the aftermath. How will you deal with not being an agent anymore? Not even being a desk agent?” Youngwoon challenged,
At first, Eeteuk said nothing. He turned his attention back to his laptop long enough to save his work. Then, he closed his computer and put it on his side table. He took off his glasses with a slow, entrancing methodicalness as he placed them atop his laptop and, then, turned his attention back to the younger man. He leaned over him propped on his elbow as he stared down at him, his dark gaze unrelenting and intense.
“It can be that simple. It is my career and a great part of the latter part of my life. It is who I am, but it is not all that I am. I can simply give it up not because you are feeling particularly selfish or out of some selfless need I want to oblige, regardless of what you think. I have considered all that may result of my retiring from being an agent. How will I deal with it? I just will,” He gave a small, careless smile as if the struggles he may face during retirement were simply a molehill rather than the mountain the other was predicting.
“I know now what worries must trouble you every time I go into work and you are not there, too. I know now that irrational, all-consuming fear that takes hold in wanting to protect the other person, even though logic and trust all tell you that the other person is more than qualified to protect themselves.” He spoke softly, his words like a caress on their own as his hand slowly slid up along the younger man’s neck and then his fingers running down along the side of his face and along his jaw with a kind of wonderment.
“So, Youngwoon, are you asking it of me?” Eeteuk asked without even a hint of resentment or hesitance. His tone was indulgent, accepting and purely curious.
Youngwoon, suddenly overwhelmed as his heart began to beat as if it would explode, filled to the brim with love for the older man, abruptly turned on his side, giving his back to him. “I don’t know,” he admitted even as his face heated up, “Just ignore I even said anything. I think everything that’s happened the past week has just made me all messed up.”
Eeteuk’s chuckle was warm against his bare shoulder. “Oh, Youngwoon, your friends would never let you live it down if they knew how shy you can be.”
“Shut up,” he muttered without conviction as he suppressed a shiver when he felt the other’s hands warm against his back, slipping beneath the hem of his shirt and slowly sliding up, pushing the hem higher.
“I hate when you wear shirts when it’s just the two of us,” Eeteuk admitted as he managed to slide the back of his shirt to half-way up his shoulder blades. “I know you do it to hide your scars, but I love your scars. They tell of your story, your sacrifice. They tell the story of a man who fought for twelve children for as long as possible until he had no choice but to turn back, to protect his team mates, his friends. To return to the one who loves him.”
“Stop romanticizing everything, Jungsu,” Youngwoon sighed,
“As if you don’t do the same thing?” Eeteuk challenged, “When we are being intimate or if you are very angry at me you revert to calling me Jungsu. It could be seen as a sign of closeness, of intimacy between us, but it didn’t start that way, did it, Youngwoon? You did it so that if you ever had a slip of the tongue, no one would connect you to me. You did it to hide our relationship.” He slid his arms around the younger man, pressing his lips against the scarred skin, “What’s my name, Youngwoon?”
“Not who I was. Who I am now.”
The older man sighed as he rained kisses along one of the larger chunks of scar tissue which ran along the lower edge of his shoulder blade. “Never mind, I like it better when you call me Jungsu.”
“Because only I call you that?”
“Because only you felt it important enough to remember,” Eeteuk replied, hugging him firmly from behind, his left hand splayed over the other’s heart.
“When you wake up, I’m going to kill you with my own hands,” Sungmin muttered softly from the chair he sat at the bedside.
Although Kyuhyun had a private room in the ICU, one wall was made of complete glass to allow for the nurses to monitor the patient from the nurses’ station. The small room was filled with machines monitoring his vitals, supplying him with nutrients, fluids and he even had an oxygen supply because he had desaturated the day before last. The soft beeping of the cardiac monitor had, at first, driven Sungmin mad, almost as if each beep had been counting the seconds and each second seemed like an eternity. However, now, the sound was soothing, melodic even as it reassured him that Kyuhyun was still alive.
“I swear, Kyuhyun, if you’re still unconscious just to piss everyone off, I’m going to kill you,” Sungmin warned as he sat back in his chair, his arms crossed loosely about his torso.
He stared at the younger man lying unresponsive in the bed: a tube down his nose to his stomach; a non-rebreather mask over his nose and mouth; and an IV line going into the crook of his left arm. After a blood transfusion, Kyuhyun was no longer anemic and his blood pressure had returned to normal after first arriving to the hospital. The doctor had assured him that his tests were coming back normal and, despite the wound, there didn’t appear to be any injury to his brain although there was a surface laceration on his skull.
The side of his head was shaved where they had closed the wound. The surgeon had expressed that Kyuhyun had been very lucky because the bullet hadn’t gone through the skull but had torn through the surface and, then, became lodged in it. Its trajectory along his skull had been due to Kyuhyun turning when he was being shot at. Sungmin never voiced his sure belief that the bullet had stopped because Kyuhyun had used his telekinesis to do so and it had only remained in his head because Kyuhyun wouldn’t want to cause more damage using his telekinesis to remove the bullet himself.
“If everything is fine then why… why are you still asleep?” Sungmin asked, his eyes burning but dry, as if he had completely cried himself out the past few nights as he sat by his bedside and was left alone with his thoughts. “If everything is fine then why… why don’t you reply when I call out to you? Your mind is as quiet and dark as a cemetery at night and that scares me… terrifies me.”
He sighed heavily as with one hand he ran his fingers through his half-head of hair, pushing it back from his face. With the other hand he rubbed it down his face as if he could wipe away the tears he no longer possessed. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. Clasping his hands together, he propped his mouth against his joined hands as if he were begging for more hope to which he was desperately trying to cling.
“They told me they’re moving you to a different unit tomorrow. They said that there’s no more… no more…” Sungmin cleared his throat before he could continue, “They said that there’s no more that they can do for you here.” He bowed his head until his forehead was pressed against his hands as if he were praying for a miracle. “The last thing you said was my name. By the time I got to you, you weren’t responding anymore. I had thought then that you had… that you had already… but you didn’t and… and…”
He could still remember the feel of Kyuhyun’s hand so cold and limp in his as the ambulance drove the city streets from the harbour to the hospital. He silently urged them to go faster as he prayed that the younger man hold on just a bit longer. When the monitor had showed a flat line and the alarm echoed in the back of the ambulance, Sungmin had felt his own heart seize as he gripped his hand tighter while a paramedic had begun chest compressions. He had yelled Kyuhyun’s name over and over in his head, hoping that if couldn’t hear with his ears, then perhaps his mind could.
“Damn it, Kyuhyun,” Sungmin hissed as he abruptly got to his feet, the action knocking his chair over. “Give me something! I can’t function without you! I can’t live without you again! It’s so fucking hard to not go out and get drunk right now!” He angrily scrubbed at his face when the tears he thought were completely cried returned and, then, stood over him, hands fisted at his sides. “I’m so far past being cracked, messed up and broken but you made me believe that could change, that I could be fixed. You made me believe that I was worth fixing.”
With a shaking hand, he reached out and clasped the younger man’s hand, gripping it firmly, protectively as he desperately tried to ignore how it felt so cold, so lifeless. He blinked back the blurring tears, causing them to spill over and burn twin trails down his cheeks.
“You’re so damn stubborn, you didn’t even tell me you love me directly,” he stated, his voice barely above a whisper, strained and shaky. “You mention love but withhold a true declaration and leave me in wonder. Come back, Kyuhyun… wake up… tell me you love me,” he cried, begged as he slowly sank to his knees, “Just once, please.”
All the while, he never let go of the other’s hand as he let his tears be an apology for breaking his promise. He had been unable to ensure the other smiled again.
The next morning, it was shortly after breakfast when Junsu received his discharge papers. As he sat in his wheelchair in his room, Taeyeon was packing up his belongings, his bags on the bed.
“Ah, how lucky I am to have you,” Junsu sighed with content, glad she didn’t see his mischievous smile before he added, “To think the great Kim Taeyeon domesticated!”
“How would you like the great Kim Junsu to be murdered by the great Kim Taeyeon?” She threw him a narrowed look as she zipped one of the bags close with a snap of her wrist.
“Always the bloodthirsty one. Why didn’t you bring Junho?” He asked, “You can’t get mad at me if he’s around.”
“That’s exactly why I left him with my stepmother, because I knew you’d eventually say something stupid and be deserving of getting at least hit,” she replied. She sighed, putting her hands on her hips, “Besides, it’ll be tricky enough getting you and your stuff down to the car without having to worry about a toddler, too.”
“You could always carry my bags, sit on my lap and I’ll wheel us around,” Junsu offered even as he took the bags and held them on his lap.
She shook her head as she came up behind him and began pushing his wheelchair out of the room, “I think I’ve been around you for too long. That actually sounds more fun than steering you around myself.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” His tone entirely too smug. “Let’s do it, Taeyeon. We’re only 26 and 23 - entirely too young to take life so seriously.”
“We have lived life quite seriously since entering the NIB, haven’t we?” She mused quietly as they moved down the corridor, nodding gratefully to the nurses at the nurses’s station as they passed. “What ever shall we do now, Junsu?”
“I will become a marathon runner and you can become my loving and doting housewife,” he suggested,
Taeyeon laughed as she playfully hit his shoulder. They got on the elevator and started to ride it down to the main level. The carriage stopped at the floor below their own. When the doors opened it was Youngwoon who stood there awaiting for the elevator.
“Oh, I was just about to come visit,” he stepped back, signalling they follow him out into the corridor.
“Why are you here?” Junsu asked as Taeyeon manoeuvred his wheelchair.
“This is the unit Kyuhyun was moved to. I was coming up to tell you guys if you wanted to visit before you were discharged,” Youngwoon explained as he led them down the hall.
“You could’ve just used that other way to talk to us,” Taeyeon reminded,
“Yeah, but if Junsu wasn’t ready to leave yet, I didn’t want to tell you guys to come down. Besides, I wanted to see you guys for myself,” Youngwoon shrugged his broad shoulders, “I guess after living with you guys for even just a month made me so used to seeing you both everyday.”
“I know what you mean. Believe it or not I even miss Kyuhyun’s snarky comments,” Junsu stated quietly. “Even when all I want to do was strangle him or hit him, I still miss the kid.”
“Between just the three of us, I miss having good home-cooked meals,” Youngwoon admitted,
“What? Eeteuk doesn’t cook for you?” Junsu asked as Taeyeon rolled her eyes and muttered, “Then, learn how to cook.”
“He does cook but, may I repeat I miss having good home-cooked meals,” their leader explained. “Don’t tell him I said this. He’s scary when he’s angry.”
“Yeah, we know,” they replied in unison. Taeyeon added, “Remember, we saw him fight, too.”
As they were nearing the room, Sungmin stepped out of the room and leaned both his head and shoulder against the doorframe, wrapping his arms about his torso as he clenched his eyes shut.
He’s been like that all morning, Youngwoon told the others, concern evident even through his telepathy. He’s barely said anything to me, too.
“Hey, Sungmin,” Junsu greeted as they reached him.
He opened his eyes which were red and red-rimmed, offering a small, sad smile, “Morning. Have you been discharged?”
Junsu nodded, unsure of what to say to his friend.
“Have the doctors said anything new?” Taeyeon asked tentatively as she went over and gave him a hug,
“Um, no, not really,” he replied as he sniffed between sentences. “They say that sometimes people just never wake up after surgery. Even with… with what happened they’re not… not too sure why he won’t wake up.” He rubbed a hand over his face before he turned a tortured expression towards their leader, “He… Kyuhyun, he… he listed you, Youngwoon, as his emergency contact. Probably… probably from when he became a field agent.” He let out a deep, heavy breath as he tried desperately to reign in his emotions and steady himself as his body gently trembled as if physically feeling the cold encompassing his heart. “So… so they want to know if… if his heart stops do they… resuscitate and…”
Youngwoon felt as if his heart was suddenly gripped within the icy talons of death at his friend’s words. To decide the youngest male’s future, to be the one to give the advance directives. He swallowed hard at the lump quickly forming in his throat at the emotions clogging it, practically suffocating him with the heartbreaking, impending decision he would have to make.
“Don’t kill me off too soon.”
Sungmin suddenly straightened away from the doorframe, frozen as his heart and lungs seized once more at the sound of that familiar, sometimes annoying, but always loveable voice. That voice wrapped around him like a promise of spring, of warmer days after a frigid, unforgiving winter. Slowly, ever so slowly, he turned around in the doorway and found his eyes burning with the threat of tears, as his eyes immediately flew towards the young man lying supine in the bed. Even from several feet away, he could see the subtle movement of dark lashes.
“You guys are never going to let me live it down that I got shot in the head, are you?” Kyuhyun murmured from the bed, his entire body feeling like lead even as he felt like he were floating on a cloud.
At the sound of the younger man’s voice, Youngwoon rushed into the room, stumbling as his body moved faster than his feet allowed, practically falling against the side of the bed as he propped himself up on one of the top railings.
“K-Kyuhyun,” he barely managed, uncaring that tears filled his eyes and splashed down on his knuckles whitened by his grip on the side rails. “You… You were unconscious for… for days.”
“Tell me we won,” the younger man smiled weakly up at him.
Youngwoon didn’t know how else to react except to laugh through his tears, wiping at them with his sleeve, “Yeah, you brat. We won.”
“Kyuhyun?” Taeyeon’s voice was small as she stood at the end of the bed, one hand loosely clasped over her lips.
“Who made you cry, Taeyeon? Was Junsu being a jerk again?” He joked lightly, closing his eyes for a moment to inhale deeply from the oxygen mask still covering his mouth and nose.
“You were the jerk,” Junsu replied.
Kyuhyun opened his eyes again, however, lying flat on his back and too weak to raise his head, he couldn’t see Junsu, “Where are you?”
“Turn your head to the side,” Junsu replied as he wheeled his wheelchair to the opposite side of the bed from their leader.
Kyuhyun followed his voice, eyes widening as much as possible despite their heavy weight, “Junsu? What happened?”
“You were just shot in the head. I was shot in my spine,” Junsu answered, trying to make light of the situation with a grin as tears filled his eyes.
“Wouldn’t want to trade mine for yours, as fun either of them is,” he replied, still managing to have a dry tone even as he was finding it hard to keep talking, fatigue quickly stealing over his senses once more. “Where’s Sungmin? His voice woke me up… but I don’t see him.”
Youngwoon moved closer to the head of the bed, clearing the view from the bed to the door where Sungmin still stood. He had only moved enough to let the others pass by him, but otherwise, he was rooted in place. His heart was rapidly filling up with joy and, at the same time, he daren’t move, daren’t say a word on the chance that it would all dispel and he would find it all just a hopeless dream. Tears overflowed and his body trembled as, despite his fear, he found that he wanted - no, needed - to at least see Kyuhyun one more time, see his smile one last time even if he were to just wake up right after.
“You… you…” He stammered as his heart seemed to stutter in his chest, almost as if it had been left suspended in time, forgetting how to beat without its other half. “You idiot!” His words were a desperate, pleading whisper as he moved to the bed and fell to his knees by its side, his fingers curling into the sheets as his head bowed and his tears splashed onto the blanket.
“Not the… endearment I was hoping for,” Kyuhyun muttered as slowly, ever so slowly, his hand slid out towards him, reaching and reaching. His hand was shaking from fragility and fatigue as his fingers were able to just barely twine with locks of the other’s hair, his fingertips just managing to caress him as lightly as a butterfly’s wing.
“You said you wanted to protect me, but how the hell are you supposed to do that if you’re dead!?” Sungmin demanded, his voice tortured and wrapped up in all the sorrow and horrifying emptiness that had surrounded him, engulfed him as nothing but loneliness had seemed to stretch out before him for his heart. He raised his head to look at Kyuhyun, the action causing the other’s hand to fall from his hair, his fingers falling against his cheek, his jaw before landing limply on the mattress. “You told me that kiss wouldn’t be the last time!”
“And it isn’t,” Kyuhyun murmured, desperately trying to fight the seductive lull of sleep, wanting to stay with the others longer, with Sungmin longer. “I came back, didn’t I? It’s just like when we… retired…” He paused, his eyes blinking rapidly as he pushed away the sleepiness, “Except this time… I just was unconscious.” He offered the barest of smiles as he added, “I won’t sleep for two years - promise.”
“I’d kill you if you did that,” Sungmin stated as he pushed himself up enough to sit on the edge of the bed, clasping the younger man’s hand in his own,
“I came back,” Kyuhyun reminded, eyes fluttering close as the small smile remained on his lips, “I’ll always come back… to you.”
As Kyuhyun fell asleep, swept under by the sweet pull of medicine and the tide of lethargy of healing, his grip remained firm around Sungmin’s fingers, keeping their hopes afloat. Youngwoon reached out and gripped his best friend’s shoulder in comfort and solidarity as Junsu pulled Taeyeon onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her, holding her firmly as their gazes were locked on their sleeping friend.
For the first time since their mission in the summer camp, their hearts were finally light and whole. They could finally step into the light and live their lives, but, none of them would ever forget the time they spent living in the shadows.
(Coming soon, The Epilogue)