Chapter 1: 001
Frigid water seeps through a crack in a large industrial pipe bolted to the warehouse ceiling, colliding with the cement floor and making a constant drip, drip, drip sound. The sound, though subtle to anyone else, might as well have been a hammer to the ground to Minseok, so loud it bounces around within the confines of his skull. There’s heavy tension in the way his arms are held out in front of him, hands firmly gripping a handgun and finger poised on the trigger.
“Let. Him. Go.” Each word is said with a cold, dangerous edge that would send chills down the spine of even the most fearless men. Minseok has his gun aimed at the man’s head, ready to fire at a second’s notice, a murderous glint in his eye. There’s no doubting it, that man will die tonight. It’s more of a matter of when he will.
“Maybe you should listen to him,” Jongdae quips, the laziest smirk on his face. It doesn’t falter in the least when the shocking cold of the gun barrel presses harder into his temple. Despite the fact that he’s being held hostage: arm twisted behind his back and the threat of having his brain blown out very real, Jongdae isn’t very affected, pulse steady, nerves steadier.
“Maybe you should shut up ,” The man barks, suddenly pushing his arm into a deeper twist, tendons of his shoulder protesting at the stress they’re being subjected to, and okay, now that hurts, drawing a flinch from Jongdae.
Minseok spares a glance at Jongdae’s face and the sight of the weapon against his head makes an icy cold splash of fear settle in his gut. He uses it to fuel his already intense anger, jaw clenching, “I won’t ask again. Let him go.”
“I don’t think I will,” The man begins, voice roughened by years of smoking cigarettes, “The moment I do, you’ll shoot me. So this is how things will play out: You’re gonna put your gun down and I’ll take him with me until I get to my car. Then, if I’m feeling generous, I’ll let him go. How does that sound for you?”
While he speaks, Minseok’s eyes can’t help but dart down to Jongdae once more. All Jongdae does is give him a subtle wink, before he manages to free his knife from its holster and sink it deep into his captor’s thigh. The latter lets out a pained shout and Jongdae takes the opportunity to slip out of his grip. That window of opportunity is all Minseok needs to pull the trigger.
The bullet hits its intended target and the man slumps to the floor, blood pooling around his head and leaking into the crevices in the concrete.
Jongdae makes an expression of utter annoyance, looking at the blood that’s managed to spatter on his clothes, “C’mon, I didn’t feel like doing laundry tonight.”
Minseok disregards his usual whining to give the younger an angry glare, “What were you thinking?! We were supposed to do this together. Why did you run off like that?”
“Look, hyung, I remembered this room led to another exit and I didn’t want him to get away. I couldn’t wait for you!” Jongdae explains, wiping his cheek clean with his sleeve.
Minseok just sighs, anger and worry having faded into an overwhelming feeling of relief, “Whatever. Let’s go.”
Outside, Minseok spreads out a tarp over Jongdae’s seat, so not to stain it, and slips into the driver’s seat. Jongdae settles next to him and takes out his phone to text their Cleaner, stating that it was done. Now, the Cleaner could do his job: clear the crime scene of the body and any incriminating evidence, as if nothing had occurred.
Minseok turns the keys into the ignition and pulls out of their parking spot, calling their leader, Junmyeon. His phone is connected to the car, so when Junmyeon answers, his voice comes through the speaker.
“ I take it everything went well ?” Junmyeon asks, not without a smidge of concern in his voice.
“Mostly,” Minseok answers, fingers tightening around the steering as the thought of how close they cut it passes through his head.
“ Mostly? What’s mostly? ” That concern turns into full out worry that Junmyeon fails to keep at bay. He often struggles with control when his younger brother is concerned.
“Nothing happened hyung, Min is just blowing things out of proportion,” Jongdae sends Minseok a look that tells him that he better keep his mouth shut if he knows what’s good for him.
Minseok exhales heavily, relenting. There is no use of making Junmyeon fret over something that is already over, “Nothing too big. Just tell Yixing to be ready to check Jongdae over when we get back. He might have hurt his shoulder.”
Junmyeon relaxes slightly, “ Okay. I’ll let him know. You okay Dae ?”
“It kinda hurts, but it’s fine. I’ll live. Stop worrying hyung,” Jongdae reassures and rolls his eyes fondly at his older brother’s concern.
“ Okay. See you two soon ,” and with that, the call ends, leaving only silence. Neither of them are tempted to fill it, the thrill of adrenaline only just beginning to fade. Jongdae leans his head against the car and watches the streetlights pass by. After a few minutes, he gets antsy and is increasingly aware of the hunger making his stomach turn.
“Hyung,” Jongdae turns to look at Minseok whose eyes are glued to the road, “Can we pick up something to eat?”
“Sure,” Minseok agrees, “What do you want?”
“Fries, and a burger,” Jongdae says without even stopping to think about the question. Minseok nods but offers no other reaction, which makes Jongdae’s brows furrow in confusion. They pass the time it takes for them to reach the fast food place like that: Minseok more or less ignoring Jongdae’s existence and Jongdae studying him to see if he will stop.
Only, all it succeeds in doing is making Jongdae grow more frustrated by the second so he gives up and entertains himself with looking outside the window once again. Being his best friend, he knows Minseok very well, so well, that he knows that Minseok is very likely pissed at him for taking such a big risk. Jongdae saw it as a necessary one but to Minseok, it was too great a one, which is where their differences shine through.
Minseok and Jongdae see eye-to-eye on many things (how they take their morning coffee, spicy food being superior to non-spicy, vanilla over chocolate, etc.) but this is one of the few things they don’t. It’s an argument rehashed countless times only, no resolution has ever been reached because, at the end of the day, the two are both too stubborn for their own good.
So, Jongdae lets Minseok stew in his anger, fingers clenched around the wheel and jaw set, not bothering to try and talk to him. They don’t even exchange a word when the drive-through worker asks Minseok what their drink preferences are since Jongdae is hilariously predictable, ordering every time, without fail, a Diet Coke. They eat quietly, Jongdae subtly shoving his pickles into Minseok’s burger because the older loves them but always forgets to ask for extra. He also has too much pride to break his silence to ask Jongdae for his.
When they pull into the driveway of their headquarters, all that’s left of their food is a lone fry at the bottom of their takeout bag. The adrenaline has pretty much worn off and the masked pain tears its way through and makes itself known in the heavy throb of his shoulder. Thankfully, Yixing and Junmyeon are there to greet them, the latter opening the passenger side swiftly to get to Jongdae.
“Shit, Jongdae, is that blood?” Junmyeon asks, spotting the blood drenching Jongdae from jaw to shoulder. His hands immediately tug at Jongdae’s shirt to get a better look.
Jongdae tries to squirm away but doesn’t quite succeed, “Hyung, chill. It’s not mine.”
That does wipe away most of Junmyeon’s fears so he steps back and gives Jongdae a relieved and loving smile, “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Minseok stalks passed the three into the building, an air of irritation around him. Jongdae stares over Junmyeon’s shoulder, watching Minseok as he goes, discomfort settling in his chest. Then, his line of sight is blocked by Yixing who approaches him with that soft dimpled smile of his.
Yixing is their friend first and Exo’s personal doctor second. He joined Exo not long after Junmyeon (or Suho, as most others referred to him) took over the group, an overly polite and sweet med school graduate from China. Yixing knew exactly what he was getting into and exactly who he was working with but it never phased him since he was born into Exo’s allied Chinese group, VII. With his accented Korean and soft smile, he easily charmed everyone around him, Jongdae included.
Yixing’s examination room is far from a standard one you see in hospital’s but so very Yixing . The walls are painted a subdued lavender and the couch in the far corner a pale grey. At a low volume, light classical music plays from the Bluetooth speakers hooked onto his desk. On a shelf sit a few plants, which Jongdae himself had given him, their long leaves hanging over the edge and curling in the air.
“So what happened?” Yixing asks as he tries to get Jongdae’s shirt over his head, only to stop immediately at the pained gasp the latter lets out as the movement jostles his shoulder, “Okay…let’s try something else.”
Jongdae grits his teeth at the throb and digs his fingers into the mattress of the examination table, “The target got behind me and twisted my arm.”
Yixing hums in acknowledgement, his back to Jongdae as he opens a drawer in his desk unit, “Did you feel a pop when it happened?”
Jongdae shakes his head before realizing Yixing can’t see him and speaks, “No, nothing like that. It just hurt a lot and it felt like something in there was gonna tear.”
“Okay,” Yixing pulls out a pair of trauma shears, gesturing for Jongdae to hold still. He cuts the shirt from bottom hem to collar and after that, it’s rather simple to just slide it off. Without any fabric in the way, the full extent of his injury can be seen. The skin around the ball of Jongdae’s shoulder is an ugly purple.
Yixing frowns, always disliking seeing his friends in any pain but finds comfort in the fact that it’s not life threatening. Jongdae allows Yixing to manipulate his arm so to test it’s range of motion, observing how Yixing’s brows crease whenever he flinches or his frowns deepen when he makes a sound of discomfort.
When everything is over, Jongdae’s head is spinning with pain and also exhaustion. The events of the night are finally hitting him and he wants nothing more than to sleep, “So what’s the diagnosis ge?”
“Heavily sprained shoulder. You’ll need to take it easy for at least two weeks,” Yixing says sternly, knowing how quick Jongdae is to disregard any limitations placed on him, “For the next few days, I’ll give you something strong for the pain. You need to rest. I’ll make you if I have to.”
And if there is anyone Jongdae fears the wrath of, it’s Yixing, “Okay, okay, got it.”
Yixing looks around for the needed supplies and takes out a syringe. He administers the painkillers without much fuss, wiping down Jongdae’s arm with an alcohol soaked cotton pad afterwards. Yixing throws the used supplies on his tray and gives Jongdae an exasperated look, “So, that’s all done. I’d tell you to be careful but you never listen anyways.”
Jongdae responding smile is wide and dripping with faux-innocence, “I’ll know you’ll always be here to patch me up anyways Xing-ge.”
“Leave before I really hurt you,” Yixing slaps him in the back of the head and Jongdae listens, snickering obnoxiously. As he walks out, Yixing calls out after him, “I’ll check on you when you wake up!”
“Got it!” Jongdae answers back. Now, the only thing on his mind is a nice hot shower and sleep. Luckily, his room (or rather the room he uses when he sleeps over at their main building) is just down the hall. The first thing he does when he enters, is attempt to strip himself of his clothing soiled with sweat. But, before he can even think of getting his pants off, he needs to remove all his weapons and their holsters first.
Only, it’s difficult to unfasten his thigh strap with one hand and he nearly gives up before there’s a knock on his door.
“Come in,” Jongdae says and it creaks open to reveal a freshly showered Minseok. His pitch black hair is wet and messy and Jongdae can’t help but notice how much less severe he looks in his soft cotton pyjama pants and t-shirt.
“I thought you might need some help,” Minseok explains and doesn’t even wait for an answer before he’s kneeling, hands reaching for the appropriate fastens. The straps and weapons end up on the nightstand, to be properly organized later. The constant brush of fingers against Jongdae’s thigh burns through his jeans. Jongdae shuts his eyes, willing himself to take a silent breath.
It’s tense in a way it hardly ever is with the two of them, Minseok resolutely keeping his eyes lowered and focused on the task at hand. When everything is removed, Minseok stands and looks like he wants to stay something but hesitates.
“Don’t worry, I can take off my pants myself,” Jongdae jests weakly but it succeeds in making the corner of Minseok’s mouth twitch.
“Like I’d want to see your scrawny legs anyways,” Minseok bites back, poking the leg in question. He can’t help but laugh at the indignant squawk that Jongdae lets out.
“I’ll have you know that many people would want to see my legs,” Jongdae huffs but doesn’t have enough energy to grab the pillow and smack Minseok across the face with it, “Besides, they’re anything but ‘scrawny’.”
Minseok’s throat goes dry as visuals of Jongdae’s thighs enter his mind and no, they’re not scrawny at all, rather slim but toned and…
He shoves that dangerous thought away and looks up to see that Jongdae had scooted towards the middle of the bed and is now sprawled on his covers, already half asleep. Minseok sighs fondly and walks over.
“Dae,” he says softly, patting Jongdae on his uninjured shoulder, “You don’t want to shower?”
“I do…” Jongdae forces his eyelids open to gaze at Minseok under impossibly long lashes, “I should take one, shouldn’t I?”
Minseok scans along Jongdae’s torso and face, seeing dried, flaky blood along his neck as well as his collarbone, “You really should.”
Jongdae digests what Minseok told him, thoughts feeling like they’re moving through a thick sludge. Eyes staring dazedly at the ceiling, his limbs feel impossibly heavy, as if someone is pressing them down into the mattress. The bed beneath him is soft against his bare skin, akin to what Jongdae thinks a cloud would feel like. Exhaustion threatens to force his eyelids shut. He’s not even sure he could get up if he wanted to.
“I don’t think I can move,” He tells Minseok, words almost a mumble and blinking blearily, “Yixing’s got me on that good shit.”
A small chuckle resounds and Jongdae hears a thoughtful hum and some shuffling. He thinks he catches the sound of running water but he can’t be sure since his eyes decide to fall shut at that moment and everything else goes hazy.
Something cold and wet touches his face and he jolts, torn from the brink of slumber. Minseok can’t help the fond grin that pulls at his lips at the shocked expression on Jongdae’s face the moment the wet washcloth touches his skin.
Fingers card themselves through Jongdae’s hair, “Shh, just go back to sleep.”
Minseok’s soft voice along with the now tolerable caress of moist cloth lull Jongdae into the deep and peaceful realm of unconsciousness. Minseok continues to clean him to the best of his abilities, touch careful and almost reverent. His hand lingers a tad longer than it should. There’s still anxiety stirring in his chest because, at the end of the day, losing Jongdae is one of Minseok’s worst, if not the very worst, fear.
Afterwards, he does end up wiggling Jongdae out of his jeans, leaving him in his boxers since it’s Jongdae’s preferred way of sleeping anyways. Moving the latter would risk waking him so Minseok simply drapes a spare blanket over him and slides in next to him, on the side opposite to his injured one.
Minseok lays on his side, watching the steady rise and fall of Jongdae’s chest. He drags his eyes from his chest, following the silhouette of his neck and up to Jongdae’s face, which is facing him. He tries to discern the other’s features in the soft moonlight peeking through a space in the blinds. He knows them by heart, could map them out with his eyes shut, so he easily brings a hand to cup his face, thumb tracing the line of his prominent cheekbone.
“I love you,” he breathes into the air, says it to Jongdae too, but not really because there’s no possibility for a response, and maybe, just maybe, that’s what Minseok is hoping for.
Chapter 2: 002
If someone had told fourteen year old Minseok that, not ten years later, he would become a member of Seoul’s most esteemed mafia group, he would have laughed in their face. At that age, he could have never even thought of becoming someone big and important, much less a criminal (someone above the law?), The biggest thing on his mind was whether or not he would make captain on his school’s soccer team.
Spoiler alert: he did.
Then, he had to worry about leading practices after class and training them so they would do well in tournaments. Minseok had never been the loudest or even tallest kid (still isn’t) but he always had an air to him that simply demanded respect, which made his job much easier since everyone on the team listened without a second thought.
He found it very important to make everyone feel comfortable and at ease with him so he would often joke around and try to encourage a tentative companionship between himself and his teammates. He was their hyung and found himself somewhat responsible for them. One person who responded eagerly to his attempts was a 1st year named Junmyeon. Their senses of humor were on the same level of lameness and Junmyeon often stuck around after practice to help Minseok pick up the stray soccer balls.
When Minseok had asked him if he didn’t have something better to do than clean up, Junmyeon had simply shook his head and mumbled a shy ‘not really’ and that was that.
Those extra fifteen or so minutes soon became that plus an hour spent together at lunchtime and another half hour during recess. They easily became the best of friends. You would never see one without the other.
The first time Minseok had been invited over to Junmyeon’s house, he was so overwhelmed. They went to a rather prestigious private school so Minseok was used to being surrounded my money, having come from it himself but Junmyeon came from money .
His house was a Chateau-style mansion with a modern twist and intricate architectural design. Minseok remembered gaping at the sheer size of it, easily double his already larger-than-average home. He hadn’t had much more time to continue staring since Junmyeon had ushered him inside and pulled him to his room. He was easily enchanted by video games that weren’t even released to the general public yet.
They had passed their time like that, hands tightly gripping their controllers and elbows straying in the hopes of distracting the other. Once they had exhausted their game options, they simply sat there on the plush black as pitch rug. Conversation flowed between the two like water down a stream as Minseok’s eyes took in Junmyeon’s room. Almost immediately, he noticed the large posters of the current top idols.
“You listen to them too?” Minseok asked, tilting his chin in the direction of said posters.
“Yeah, I’m a big fan,” Junmyeon says, tugging at a stray thread in the carpet, winding and unwinding it around his finger a few times, “Minseok?”
Minseok had given Junmyeon the okay to drop the ‘hyung’ when it was just the two of them as he didn’t see a point to it, being as close as they were. It took the younger awhile to get used to but now Minseok’s name, sans honorifics, naturally fell from his tongue. The way Junmyeon spoke said name sounded vulnerable in a way Minseok had never heard him sound before so he immediately turned to give Junmyeon his full attention.
“Yeah?” Minseok asked hesitantly, a concerned crease between his brow.
“Can I tell you a secret?” Junmyeon looked strangely somber, wringing his hands anxiously. Minseok tilted his head and gave him an encouraging smile followed by a nod.
And Junmyeon told him all about how he dreamt of becoming just like the idols plastered on his walls, sing in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people, his name chanted on their lips, his voice ringing clear in the stadium. But, he also told him that the dream would remain just that: a dream. Because he was meant for a life, no, forced into a life, of following his father’s too large footsteps. His future, rather than being set in stone, was literally set in the plaque in the CEO’s office of their family’s company, awaiting the engraving of his name, the day his father steps down.
And Junmyeon spoke of a little brother who would be subjected to the same fate should he fail or leave and how he would be willing to endure this pressure a hundred times over, even if it felt like his spine was giving under it, about to snap at any moment, if only to never let his brother feel even a thousandth of it.
That day, Minseok offered to help carry Junmyeon’s burden, not willing to allow his dearest friend to suffer, and took half of it onto itself. He promised to do so for the rest of his life and be by his side for it too.
Little did he know that by doing so, his own future became set in stone too.
Feet clad in casual slip-on shoes make a slight sound as they hit the sidewalk and walk at a leisurely pace. Sehun moves as if he has all the time in the world and with a particular model-like grace. Such a grace can’t help but catch someone’s eye, causing other pedestrians to give him a second glance, or even a third. It continues on until he spots an elegant shop just at the corner of the street. He speeds up, slipping between people before finally, pulling open the door and walking in.
His arrival is announced by the delicate tinkle of a bell.
Not a second later, a voice resounds from a backroom, “I’ll be with you in a moment!”
The air is thick with the scent of so many different flowers that they diffuse into one singular scent. Responsible for that prominent fragrance are the dozens of flowers held in pretty pots and mounted on wooden countertops and shelves stained an ashy grey. The colours are plentiful and they blend from a deep red, to a lighter red, with shades of pink and orange in between, before finally ending with the palest yellow. The right side is similarly organized, only the flowers are boasting blue or purple petals.
Sehun walks through the right row of pots and passed a section with tall potted plants, having to duck under a willowing branch lest it catch him in the forehead. Just out of view is a door, slightly ajar, with Employees Only written on it. Sehun, though not an employee, pays no mind to the sign and pushes it open.
It makes a subtle creak but it’s enough for Jongdae to hear and spin around, “Hey! You’re not all—”
Jongdae stops his chastising when he recognizes who came in and a large smile grows on his lips, “Sehun-ah, what are you doing here?”
“A guy can’t visit his best friend for no reason?” Sehun asks with a look of mock hurt on his face, “It is my day off.”
Jongdae leans back in his desk chair and narrows his eyes at the younger, “I guess you can.”
“Exactly,” Sehun takes two strides to reach where Jongdae is seated at his large desk. The room serves as Jongdae’s office, where he completes all his paperwork and whatnot, and even this place is not safe from Jongdae’s need of having a plant in practically every room. Regardless of the abundance of them in the main space, a tiny cactus sits on the corner of his desk.
Sehun leans over Jongdae to try and get a look at what Jongdae’s working on. “Whatcha doing?”
“Putting in orders,” Jongdae explains as he makes some space for Sehun to have a better view of his desk. He picks up his black ink pen, which he had put down when Sehun walked in, filling out order forms as he speaks, “There’s a wedding and I need Calla Lilies and White Roses for centrepieces. I also need those Roses for the bride’s bouquet. Then I need other flowers for the bridesmaids’ bouquet. So yeah, clearly I don’t just have that many readily available.”
“That sounds like a lot of work,” Sehun sighs, tired just thinking about having to make all those intricate projects by hand.
Jongdae hums in acknowledgement, not lifting his eyes off the paper, “Yeah it will be. But it’s fun, challenging.”
“If you say so,” Sehun snorts and mockingly pats Jongdae’s head. Jongdae knocks his hand away and runs a hand through his hair to smooth it over. His blonde hair does fall back into place, barely even ruffled to begin with, but nothing could save the stubborn fuzziness that lingered: a byproduct of the shop’s necessary high humidity level and Jongdae’s most recent bleach job.
“I’m pretty hungry actually. Do you want to go get something to eat?” Comes Sehun’s question five or so minutes later.
Sehun’s intentions are now clear as day. Jongdae pens in the last number and lowers his pen, swiveling in his chair to give Sehun the most unimpressed look he can muster.
“And by ‘do you want to go get something to eat’, you mean ‘do you want to go get something to eat and pay for it all?”
Sehun plasters on his signature shit eating grin and tilts his head.“Of course.”
Jongdae rolls his eyes and huffs, “Why am I the one who always ends up paying?”
“Cause you’re richer and older than me,” Sehun says in a matter-of-fact manner. Quickly, he grabs Jongdae’s wrist and pulls him to get up.
“Now come on, let’s go.”
Jongdae allows himself to get dragged out of the room and to the door. Sehun releases him so he can flip the sign to Closed and lock up.
The cafe a few streets down is their go-to. It’s chic, a hotspot that always bustles during lunch and dinner hours and is still quite busy every hour in between. The floors are a rustic wood and the chair and table are the same, only ten or so shades lighter. The atmosphere is relaxed, filled with business men from the nearby office building chattering, college students with some free time laughing, and starstruck lovers murmuring.
Sehun and Jongdae had stumbled upon the place one night in college a few years ago, all red-cheeked from the alcohol buzzing in their veins and also from the cold winds that had nipped at their cheeks. Wasting half the cash in their (Jongdae’s) wallets on all the pastries and food seemed like the best idea at the time. It tasted like the best idea too, the two of them huddled up on the couch in the corner, crumbs at the corner of their lips and laughs and giggles falling from their tongues.
The food tastes just as good as it did that night as it does today and every day they’ve been there since. Sehun takes a rather large bite of his usual sandwich and hums happily as the savory taste covers his tongue. He washes it down with a large triple berry shake and raises a brow at Jongdae when he sets the oversized glass down on the table.
Jongdae notices the peculiar gaze settled on him as he brings a spoonful of soup to his mouth. He pauses halfway.
“What is it?”
“You know…” Sehun begins in a tone that Jongdae has learned never means anything good, “Minseok hyung hasn’t been taking any jobs lately.”
Jongdae rolls his eyes at the information and finally eats, brushing it off, “There just haven’t been any to take. I don’t know why you’re bringing this up.”
A look of understanding dawns of Sehun’s face and he leans in closer, resting his weight on his elbows.
“Is that what he told you?”
Jongdae forgets about his meal entirely, suspicions growing rapidly. He nods slowly, “Yeah, I saw him on Wednesday and he told me that things weren’t too busy.”
(Jongdae’s been forbidden from setting foot in their headquarters to let his shoulder heal. Minseok has been keeping him updated.)
“Things aren’t too busy?” Sehun scoffs, “There’s been a ton of suspicious activity and rumors flying around. Kyungsoo and I have been working damn hard trying to find any leads.”
“Rumors? What kind of rumors?” Concern is sparked in Jongdae and he leans in, mirroring Sehun.
Sehun lowers his voice to a whisper.
“Word on the street is that there’s a rising group. So far there has only been whispers here and there. No proof yet, but we can’t be too careful.”
Jongdae nods solemnly, “Of course. Should I make any additional orders to my flower supplier then?”
“So far so good, but you should maybe stock up on the Aconite just in case,” Sehun says and makes to take another drink from his straw. Jongdae hums in acknowledgement and the subject is dropped. He pushes around the soup in his bowl, appetite suddenly gone, and too busy digesting the influx of new information. Why would Minseok keep this from him?
That contemplation stubbornly remains even into the next day and Jongdae finds it difficult to concentrate on daily tasks. He’s thankful his day job doesn’t require much active thinking as he’s memorized the names of all the flowers and their meanings and can construct just about any bouquet or arrangement with his eyes closed. But he’s also not quite thankful because simple, mindless tasks give him room to ruminate that much more.
By the time he’s closed up shop for the day and heading out the door, he’s buzzing with pent up anxieties. Those exact anxieties are what make him take a right turn rather than simply go straight towards his apartment complex. The drive to the gym is almost as familiar since he takes that route nearly just as much as the one home, as is the parking spot he takes.
He climbs out of his SUV and opens the trunk to grab the bag he keeps filled with spare gym clothes and his fighting gear. The peculiar smell of mats and sweat welcomes him like an old friend. The receptionist is absent so he simply swipes his membership card and slides through the turnstile. He has half a mind to check if his friend, and fellow member of Exo, Jongin, is around somewhere, but decides against it. Jongin is the owner of Eighty-Eight gym, as well as an instructor in the martial arts classes they offer so he might be occupied. Eighty-Eight is a hybrid gym where the first floor is dedicated to regular activities such as the treadmill, free weights, yoga and Pilates classes, and other courses. The second one is solely focused on martial arts with necessary punching bags and fight rings, so on and so forth.
It’s to the second floor that Jongdae heads to and uses his special membership card to grant him access to a Jongin’s own private training room.
He’s quick to change in the private bathroom, slipping into black gym shorts and a form fitting dark tank top. Seated on a bench, he wraps his left hand, putting his thumb through the loop attached at the end of the hand wrap and then bringing it around his wrist. He ensures that his wrist is properly supported as he continues bringing the wrap under his thumb or around his knuckles as necessary. Once that’s done, he moves on to his right hand.
He slips on his boxing gloves after connecting his phone to the bluetooth speaker and turning on the playlist he reserves for the gym. His feet bounce in place before the punching bag, getting all the nerves and jitters out, before he throws a tentative left hook. Fist solidly hitting the bag, a satisfied smile spreads across his face as his previously injured shoulder makes no protest at that action.
This week, he finally got the okay from Yixing to return to training after spending the past eight weeks recovering, five of them sporting an obnoxious sling. That means it’s been two months since Jongdae has gotten a nice training session in and it’s definitely driving him insane. Since extremely young, he has always been an active kid. His parents put him in gymnastics before he was even old enough to attend school. Eventually, he balanced gymnastics and kickboxing classes before finally delving into other various martial arts as he grew older.
Later on, he realized that all those activities were simply a way for his parents to get him out of their hair so they could focus on their jobs and raising Junmyeon to be their successor. He knows their blatant neglect of him should bother him more, and it did, at one point, bother him quite a lot, but now he simply draws satisfaction from the way that he’s managed to become so deadly as a result.
The tension in him bleeds from his fists and dissipates into the material of the punching bag with every hit he lands. Amped up by the upbeat grind of rock music in his ears and adrenaline in his veins, he lets himself go, losing himself in satisfying sound of glove on bag, going through complicated striking combos as easily as he breathes. Time flows like this, sweat beading down the valley between his shoulder blades and following the curve of his spine. His breaths come shorter, definitely quicker than he’s used to, the interruption of his usual regimen making itself known in the way his muscles burn sooner, his endurance failing him sooner, too. With one last strike, he stops to take a much needed break.
Minseok walks down the hallway at the gym and his curiosity is peaked when he hears a familiar song blasting through the speakers of the private training room. He scans his card and enters before freezing in his tracks, hand still on the door handle and clenching around it. Jongdae has his head tilted back as he drinks from his water bottle. The bob of his Adam’s apple is absolutely tantalizing, Minseok’s throat going as dry as sand when stray rivulets of water trail down the slope of Jongdae’s neck, and Minseok feels like the only way to soothe the dryness would be to catch each individual trail with his tongue and trace it back to the source.
Jongdae can feel the weight of someone’s eyes on him so he turns, removing the bottle from his lips and wiping the excess with the back of his hand. Upon spotting Minseok, Jongdae’s eyes curve into the prettiest of crescents and he smiles brightly, uttering a joyful, “Hyung!”
Minseok feels the air leave his lungs and a vice wrap painfully around his heart. He swallows once but his voice still comes out affected.
"Hey, have you been here long?"
Jongdae nods, discreetly eyeing the way Minseok's workout shirt clings to his biceps and does nothing to hide his defined chest.
"About an hour or so?"
Minseok’s concern sparks and he wants to tell him to take it easy but he's not his mother. Although Jongdae tends to be reckless, in Minseok’s opinion, he wouldn't do anything that would keep from returning to work as quickly as possible. After all, Jongdae relishes in the thrill his job brings him. Being away from it for so long has to be driving him crazy.
Minseok sets his bag down next to Jongdae's and gets an idea.
"Do you want me to grab the pads and we do some drills?"
"Yes! I'd love that."
Jongdae puts his glove back on as Minseok grabs the kickboxing pads from the cupboard and slips them on. The two settle in the centre of the room, feet soft on the mats. They both get into position and at Minseok's signal Jongdae throws a simple jab-hook-cross combo, the pads attached to Minseok's forearms absorbing the impact. They flow through the basics effortlessly before adding legs to the mix.
Jongdae is light on his feet, throwing a powerful right kick, followed by a left hook and a knee. Soon though, Jongdae gets tired of fighting an opponent who can't truly fight back so he calls for a stop.
"What's up?" Minseok asks, breathing slightly heavier than before but nothing too notable, lowering his arms and relaxing. "Are you tired?"
"No," Jongdae replies as he discards his gloves, a grin growing on his face, "Can we spar? I'm getting kind of bored of this."
Minseok thinks it over for a moment.
"Sure but nothing too heavy."
And it really isn't anything too heavy because the two of them somehow unanimously decide not to take anything seriously and end up rolling around on the mat not ten minutes later, Jongdae trying to get his hands underneath Minseok's shirt to tickle him. Minseok has a tight grip around Jongdae's wrists, keeping him from going any further. Laughter fills the air as well as Jongdae's indignant sounds since Minseok is definitely stronger and he's not getting anywhere.
Strong legs bracket Minseok's hips, Jongdae a solid weight on top of him and it's only when Minseok stops to breathe between laughs that he notices how close they are, Jongdae leaning in and squirming in order to try and loosen Minseok's hold. Jongdae is flushed, pink dusting his cheeks, hair matted with sweat, and he is so impossibly beautiful that the breathlessness affecting Minseok is not exercise related whatsoever.
A part of him wants to pull Jongdae closer still, so there's no space between them, skin to skin, tongue on tongue, breaths mingling, limbs impossibly tangled. He wants. Oh god, he
. A greater, more level-headed part of him knows that's not possible, that it's not something he should even consider, so he turns them to the side, allowing Jongdae to fall unceremoniously off his lap and onto the mat before he untangles their legs and puts some distance between them.
"I win," Minseok says haughtily, bottling up all the feelings threatening to spill out and twisting the cap shut. Before Jongdae could even think of initiating a second round in revenge, he's on his feet and walking away.
"I'll take the first shower."
Unbeknownst to him, Jongdae's eyes are glued to his form as he enters the bathroom, heat flicking in his gut at the sculpted shape of his back and shoulders but also love bursting in his chest at the wide gummy smile that had just graced his lips and the pretty, loud laughter that fell from his mouth. Laughter that he would so anything to hear every day, a smile he would do anything to see, a heart that he would give anything to have.
When the door to the bathroom shuts, Jongdae allows his head to drop back onto the mat and covers his face with his hands, sighing defeatedly into them, a tumultuous sea of emotions threatening to pull him under.
In the steam and heat of the shower, Minseok leans his forehead against the still cool tiles of the shower wall and it helps him somewhat ground himself. Eyes closing, he takes a heavy breath.
Before Minseok, Jongdae considered Junmyeon to be his best friend. To put it simply, he had no one else, yet, even if he did, no one would be as great as Junmyeon was to him. Despite the four years separating them, Junmyeon did his absolute best to include Jongdae in everything. If he got the newest toy, Jongdae was the first to play with it. If he was allowed to go to the park, he’d make sure to bring his little brother along. So it went without saying, everything Junmyeon did with Minseok, Jongdae tagged along too.
Minseok and Jongdae becoming friends was nothing short of inevitable. Though it didn’t happen all at once. In the beginning, Jongdae simply admired Minseok to no end because he was older and so, so kind to him and Minseok enjoyed spoiling Jongdae since he had no siblings to call his own.
A shift occurred later, when Jongdae was in high school and Minseok was attending university. Now that Junmyeon was an adult, his parents decided he was ready to have a part time job at their company. That, on top of having to complete a university degree, gave him absolutely no free time. So, naturally, with Junmyeon undisposed, Minseok and Jongdae sought the company of the person who was the second on their list: each other.
It wasn’t like Jongdae had anyone else on his list anyways. He’d had the worst luck in the friend department. Once people found out he was the son of the Kims, one of, if not the richest family in all of South Korea, they flocked to him obviously in hopes of making connections for the future and/or for the fact that he was filthy rich and they hoped that he was inclined to spend some of that money on them. So, needless to say, he steered clear of everyone. Except Minseok.
Minseok was, is, always the safest option.
Minseok was there when Jongdae realized he liked boys, told Jongdae, as he held him tight, that it was okay, that he liked them too .
Minseok was there when Jongdae made his first real friend, a boy named Sehun, in college. He listened to Jongdae ramble about how Sehun was two years younger but so much taller and such a brat. Then, Minseok told him that he was a brat too so they were perfect for each other and laughed loudly at the insulted sound Jongdae made afterwards.
Minseok was actually there when Jongdae had his first kiss, with Sehun, after a night of partying and Minseok had come to pick them up, the two cramming into the backseat of his car, drunk out of their minds. The two had been bickering as they usually did and when it suddenly got quiet, Minseok had looked in the rear view mirror to see Jongdae in Sehun’s lap and his mouth on his. The kiss hadn’t lasted long at all as the two had promptly burst into giggles not a two seconds later.
“Do you...like Sehun?” Minseok asked tentatively after they had dropped of Sehun at his house.
Jongdae was flat out drunk and feeling incredibly floaty and disoriented but he didn’t even have to think about the answer to that question, “No, I don’t.”
Minseok had simply made a small sound in acknowledgment and then hummed along to the music playing from the radio.
I like you , Jongdae had wanted to say but his tongue felt too heavy in his mouth, his thoughts too heavy in his mind, and the consequences too heavy on his shoulders.
Because somewhere between being the little addition to Junmyeon and Minseok’s duo, to forming his own little duo with Minseok, Jongdae’s admiration transformed into full blown adoration. Next thing he new, he’s fallen for Minseok.
And he still hasn’t managed to get back on his feet.
Chapter 3: 003
Located in the heart of Gangnam, White Noise is considered the epicentre of the high class nightlife. It boasts delicate lavender lighting and a two floor design, connected by an elegant winding staircase. The main floor has a rather large dance floor and separates into a lounge area for those who have decided to pay for bottle service for the night. The upper floor is absolutely selective about who is allowed to step into the unique atmosphere that is the VIP section. Only esteemed and powerful men and women grace the luxurious leather booths or help themselves to the ridiculously expensive and varied drink selection offered by the private upstairs bar.
Yet, only the most esteemed and powerful ones were the ones who own the place.
After his parents’ passing, Junmyeon inherited the club along with the company and too many other things to list. Once Jongdae came of age, Junmyeon added his name next to his and it became something for the two of them to own. Theirs. They had revamped it, flipped it from head to toe, and birthed something newer, something alive and so very vibrant.
It never failed to fill Jongdae’s chest with pride to see the ridiculously long lineup stretching from the entrance down the block and all the way around the corner. He knows his eyes have lingered too long when Minseok lightly wraps his hand around his elbow to pull him along the side, towards the VIP entrance. The usual bouncer greets them politely, tacking on a respectful ‘-ssi’ which Jongdae absolutely despises and has told him to drop but from the mischievous glint in his eye, Jongdae can tell he did it on purpose.
The moment Jongdae steps inside, he’s hit with a slightly muted wall of tastefully mixed EDM tracks and he can feel from experience and the bass reverberating from his feet and into his chest that it’s much more deafening in the main area than it is in this back hallway. They take the employee’s route upstairs, passing by said employees who, at the sight of them, immediately stop what they’re doing and hastily bow.
The smile that Jongdae plasters on the moment he pushes open the double doors and steps onto the top floor, everyone’s eyes falling on him, is underlined by danger. In here, he’s not Kim Jongdae, youngest son of the late Kims.
He’s Exo’s Chen.
And Chen doesn’t simply walk towards Junmyeon, Suho, who’s already waiting for them in one of the more privately located booths, nestled in the corner and away from prying eyes and ears. He stalks , the sharp edge of his jaw held high and a menacing, yet playful curl to his already curled lips. In step with him, Minseok, Exo’s Xiumin and Suho’s right hand man, is the definition of intimidating, broad shoulders highlighted by the cut of his tailored suit and gaze severe, almost threatening but not, simply holding the promise of dormant power. On their own, they’re deadly. Together, walking side by side, they’re the epitome of lethal .
Minseok slides into the private booth facing Junmyeon, and there’s enough seclusion for him to let a smile break through his severe expression.
“Did you miss me?”
“Obviously, he missed me more,” Jongdae teases, and brings his brother into a brief but tight hug. Junmyeon reciprocates, hugging back just as tightly and giving Minseok a soft smile and a ‘hi’ over Jongdae’s shoulder.
When Jongdae pulls away, his eyes fall onto the empty whiskey glass by Junmyeon’s hand. He grabs it.
“I’ll get you a refill. Xiumin, do you want the same?”
“Yes,” Minseok nods, then adds, “Please.”
With his confirmation, Jongdae spins on the heels of his leather ankle boots and makes his way towards the bar, past tables and other booths. He turns heads as he goes, men and women stopping their conversations to stop and stare, but whether the tinge in their gazes is envious, lustful, hateful or a bizarre mix of all three, Jongdae doesn’t know - and he doesn’t care because at the end of the day, they’re only sitting there because he allowed them to be.
Once at the bar, he rests his elbows onto the granite countertop, and almost immediately someone is there to serve him. He’s young, with a youthful face and devastatingly pretty features. The standard bartender uniform does wonders for his frame, white dress shirt highlighting the impressive width of his shoulders and the deep grey vest conforming to the lines of his tapered waist. He’s definitely a new hire. Jongdae would have, without a doubt, remembered seeing someone so devilishly handsome.
“What can I get you?” he asks, his pouty pink lips turning into a welcoming smile, voice deeper than Jongdae expected, almost raspy, but not quite.
“Two Johnny Walker Blue, neat,” Jongdae replies and he can’t help but smile back, “and one glass of Cristal, please.”
The bartender nods and can’t help but be captivated by the man before him. Captivated by the way mischief seems to sparkle from eyes with impossibly long and curled lashes and how the lavender lighting casts shadows along sculpted cheekbones. Pretty , is the first word that comes to mind, painfully pretty . His lips have a kittenish curl to them and the bartender would not mind tasting the tongue that absentmindedly comes out to lick away the dryness. Maybe, if he played his cards right, at the end of the night he’d get the chance.
“Would that be all?” he asks and the pulse of music is less loud than on the main floor, less blaring, but he still leans in when the man speaks.
“You’re new here,” It isn’t a question but a statement. Jongdae tilts his head and the delicate dangle of a diamond earring sparkles with light and sways with the movement.
“What’s your name?”
“Baekhyun,” the bartender says, smile taking on a more seductive edge as he appraises Jongdae, enjoying the way his silk shirt has the first few buttons undone and allows smooth skin and collarbones to tease through.“What’s yours?”
Baekhyun hides his surprise well, allowing it to widen his grin, and sure, anyone else would have been disappointed by the revelation but Baekhyun’s not anyone.
“Guess that makes you my boss then.”
Baekhyun’s bluntness startles a laugh from Jongdae. Baekhyun thinks it's such a nice sound and wants to know what other sounds he could possibly pull from him. Wants to know if they are all so delightful.
“I guess it does, but please don’t act all formal with me. We’re probably the same age,” Jongdae requests and hell, Baekhyun’s not going to deny it.
“I guess if we’re dropping formalities, I have to ask what you’re doing after this,” Baekhyun says cheekily, lightly placing his hand above Jongdae’s resting on the countertop. It’s smaller than his own, Baekhyun notes, and he slowly thumbs a knuckle.
The intensity of Baekhyun’s gaze has goosebumps prickling up Jongdae’s spine. There’s no mistaking the intent in his dark eyes, deepened by a haze of deep grey and purple blended eyeshadow, and it’s far from innocent. Jongdae considers it, subtly rakes his eyes across broad shoulders and chest and down to slim fingers burning his skin. The possibilities make his lashes flutter, his throat dry and his toes curl.
But he’s not that easy, and even if he were, he’s staying over at Minseok’s tonight who easily takes priority over an easy lay.
“I am going home to sleep and you should get back to work. I don’t pay you to flirt,” Jongdae carefully removes his hand from under Baekhyun’s.
“Have the drinks brought to Suho’s booth. It was nice meeting you, Baekhyun.”
Baekhyun knows a dismissal when he hears one, so he takes it in stride.
.“On it,” he winks, and he can’t help but tack on, “and the pleasure was all mine .”
His words are nearly a purr and Jongdae can’t help but snort at his determination despite having been turned down. He returns to the corner where Minseok and Junmyeon are seated. Baekhyun’s eyes find interest in following the lines of his legs, clad in impossibly tight jeans, the black elongating them nicely. He feels want bloom in the pit of his stomach, still not quite discouraged. He’s been known to be rather determined, especially when the outcome is worth his energy and Chen definitely is.
Junmyeon and Minseok are conversing casually when Jongdae joins them, sitting in the space Minseok has left for him.
“So what are you guys talking about?”
“Nothing important,” Junmyeon dismisses “What took you so long?”
Jongdae cracks a smile at the question.
“Just talking to our new hire.”
Junmyeon’s face lights up with recognition and something else neither Jongdae nor Minseok can pinpoint. He straightens his spine and the air around him changes, shifts into something heavier, enough for the other two to know that it’s time to talk business.
“The reason I told you two to meet me today,” Junmyeon begins, giving them a serious look, “is that we’re getting a new member and by ‘we’ I mean you two are.”
Minseok and Jongdae make up Exo’s subunit which is unofficially dubbed ‘CX’ (because CX is much quicker to say than Chen and Xiumin). The two deal with matters requiring discretion and stealth, and also are in charge of all things related to their overseas connections with China. Forming the team had been a natural decision. Minseok was the only one Junmyeon trusted to oversee Jongdae’s integration into Exo, and he was also someone Jongdae was familiar with and trusted, clearly making him the best option. At some point, Jongdae no longer needed his guidance but the two, and everyone else, realized that they worked together too well to put a stop to it. And so here they are, four years later, working even better together as a solid, tightly knit unit.
So to introduce someone new into their unit felt...jarring, to say the least.
Which easily justifies the heavy apprehension settling in Minseok’s chest upon hearing those words. He blinks once, twice, trying to comprehend that he just heard him right.. A crease appears between his brows.
“What do you mean, we’re getting someone new?”
Minseok feels Jongdae shift closer, whether to give comfort or to seek it, he doesn’t know, but it doesn’t matter. He responds by placing his hand on Jongdae’s thigh beneath the table and squeezing. It doesn’t matter because Minseok feels calmed from the heat of his thigh, from his touch in general, and he can see Jongdae’s jaw unclench from the corner of his eye, can tell that the younger experiences much of the same.
“Exactly what I said,” Junmyeon reiterates, eyes going back and forth between Minseok and Jongdae, observing them cautiously. “You have a new member. He will be joining you on jobs. I feel like he will be a great asset to your team.”
“I don’t see a need,” Minseok bristles beside Jongdae, fingers digging into his thigh. “I think we’re fine the way we are.”
Jongdae understands where Minseok’s coming from, feeling that their team has no issues, but he also understands how someone else could be beneficial, sees where Junmyeon is coming from.
“Min,” Jongdae says softly, placing a reassuring hand on his forearm, and his face is even softer when Minseok looks at him, seeing the careful tilt of brows and general openness, maybe even a spark of genuine curiosity. “I mean, it’s not a bad idea? If hyung thinks the guy would be an asset, then he most likely will be. Hyung’s judgment is rarely wrong. Come on, I know you trust him to make smart decisions all the time, why is this one any different?”
Minseok would have liked to stay adamant, to put his foot down on the issue for reasons he’s not even sure of himself but he’s never been able to deny Jongdae. Then you add the younger’s almost pleading expression and the way he sounds so sensible too, and Minseok never really stood a chance. He sighs heavily in defeat, and Junmyeon smiles triumphantly because he knows they won him over.
“Sorry to interrupt,” comes a voice and they all look to see Baekhyun balancing a tray with their drinks. “I have your orders.”
“Thank you,” Junmyeon says when his drink is placed before him, the glass making a slight clink when it settles on the table. Minseok thanks him as well, immediately curling his fingers around it and taking a sip of his whiskey.
“And the Cristal for you,” Baekhyun’s tone has an alluring feel to it and so does the tilt of Baekhyun’s mouth as he puts Jongdae’s flute of champagne in front of him.
Jongdae goes to take a sip before pausing. A thought hits him.
“Wait, how did you know the champagne was for me?”
“It’s a very pretty drink for a very pretty person,” Baekhyun says with a nonchalant shrug, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Minseok feels a stab of annoyance and a pinprick of jealousy, but allows the burn of whiskey down his throat to overpower it.
The words make pink dust Jongdae’s cheeks, both in surprise and bashfulness. He clears his throat.
“What did I say about flirting on the job?”
“Oh, but I’m not exactly on the job now,” Baekhyun purrs. He flashes him a secretive grin, putting the tray down and draping himself in the empty space beside Junmyeon.
“At least, not on my actual job.”
Junmyeon rolls his eyes at Baekhyun’s unnecessary theatrics before gesturing at him.
“Guys, meet Baekhyun, our newest member.”
Jongdae nearly chokes on his champagne.
“What? It’s you?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
Baekhyun’s eyes appraise Jongdae in a way that makes Minseok want to either throw his drink in his face or hide Jongdae from his view. Actually, both sounds like a better idea.
“I must say that I’m definitely much more excited about this now that I know that I get to work with you .”
“Baekhyun,” Junmyeon groans in exasperation, pinching his nose and giving said man the most unimpressed look possible. “Can you try not to hit on my brother in front of me? Please .”
Whoops. Baekhyun did not think that through. Sometimes he gets too carried away, like a kid with a shiny gift dangling in front of him and, well, Chen definitely is a gift .
“Yeah, no problem. I’ll save that for later.”
“I wasn’t aware that there’s going to be a later,” Jongdae says as he raises an inquisitive brow and smirks at him from the rim of his glass, amused.
“There will definitely be a later.”
The sound of a loud throat clearing interrupts them and draws everyone’s eyes to Minseok, who, up to now, has been silently stewing in unreasonable but unavoidable jealousy. Minseok sets his now empty glass down. Jongdae can tell Minseok is simply tolerating the situation but to anyone else, he must look like he normally does - intimidating.
“I’m Xiumin. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Baekhyun nods, not buckling under his commanding presence. He knows when he’s not liked, is all-too used to it actually, and although Xiumin hides it well, the dislike, or at the very least annoyance, is there. Tiny, but enough for Baekhyun to want to draw it out and maybe make it grow.
“Alright, good,” Junmyeon claps, breaking the obvious tension. “Now that introductions are out of the way, I can tell you that we’ll meet at my house tomorrow at noon. Everything, all your questions, complaints, whatever, will be discussed there.”
“Yes sir,” Baekhyun says, even adding in a salute and the way Junmyeon’s face scrunches in annoyance makes Jongdae snicker behind his hand.
Junmyeon gives his brother an imploring look.
“Please don’t encourage him.”
The shit-eating curl of Jongdae’s smile says he’s anything but.
Junmyeon sighs heavily and checks his watch.
“Okay. Well, now that that’s done with, I’m leaving,” he announces, gets to his feet and motions for Baekhyun to stand and allow him to scoot out of the booth. When he’s free and Baekhyun’s back in his seat, he turns to Jongdae.
“Do you need a lift?”
Jongdae shakes his head and shoots his thumb to the left of him.
“Nah, I’m good. I’m going with Min,” he explains and proceeds to looks to Minseok, “Do you want to get going?”
“Sure,” Minseok says, and with that, they all shuffle out of the booth, Minseok after Jongdae.
“Are you leaving, too?” Jongdae asks Baekhyun who’s standing beside him. Without the bar between them, Jongdae can tell that Baekhyun’s the slightest bit taller.
Baekhyun grins in a way that Jongdae knows the next thing that comes out of his mouth would be nothing good.
“Why? Are you reconsidering my offer?”
The arch of a straight brow emphasizes the bite in Jongdae’s response.
“What exactly is there to consider?”
Baekhyun doesn’t even have time to answer back because Minseok picks that time to wrap an arm around Jongdae’s waist and gently steer him towards the exit. Jongdae looks at Minseok with confusion and questions written all over his face, but body subconsciously leaning into him anyway. Minseok’s only answer is a curt ‘we’re leaving,’ and the tightening of his grip.
Chapter 4: 004
The next day finds Jongdae curled up on the large couch situated in Exo’s lounge, faint tendrils of sleep still stubbornly clinging to him. The only thing that keeps him from grabbing the blanket draped over the side of the couch and going back to sleep is the iced americano that he and Minseok had stopped to buy on the way over, supplying him with some much needed caffeine. He loudly slurps from the straw, welcome bitterness coating his tongue, and sighs as happily as he can, considering he had been forced to leave his bed before noon on his only day off.
“You look comfortable,” Baekhyun comments as he steps past the threshold, having been told to wait in the living room with Jongdae as Minseok and Junmyeon discuss whatever it is they need to discuss. He takes in the chic, minimalistic feel of the room. Despite the expensive and simple decor, it looks lived in and welcoming, cosy even, which is the last thing Baekhyun would expect to say about a criminal organization’s headquarters. The last thing he would expect to see in said headquarters is one of the members lounging around, looking impossibly serene, like an overgrown house cat.
“I am,” Jongdae states, leaning his chin on his hand. Baekhyun looks miles away from a seductive bartender in the daylight, he notes, makeup washed off to reveal a fresh, youthful face and eyes much more innocent, rounded without the edge of eyeshadow but still just as hungry. Still just as good looking too, Jongdae notes and pats the space beside him.
Baekhyun listens, settling into the plush cushions and making himself comfortable. He wonders why Jongdae looks like he just rolled out of bed, notices that even if that was the case, his face looks just as pretty, “Do you live here?”
“I might as well sometimes,” Jongdae snorts, shaking his head, “but no, I don’t live here. I look like I just woke up because I did, in fact, just wake up.”
“And I had to drag your sleepy ass here,” Minseok suddenly cuts in as he enters, Junmyeon in tow. He plops onto the single seater in the corner, eyes briefly flitting to Baekhyun with an unreadable expression. Jongdae easily steals his attention by childishly sticking out his tongue at him and Minseok swiftly returns the gesture.
Junmyeon stops in the center of the room and gives Jongdae and Minseok the most unimpressed look he could muster. He goes to speak but Jongdae quickly cuts him off, rolling his eyes.
“Hyung, I know what you’re about to say. You’re about to complain about the fact that we’re here instead of in the ‘official meeting room’,” he says, making exaggerated and mocking quotations with his hands, “but I’m going to tell you that it doesn’t matter. Baekhyun’s not one of those uptight businessmen that you need to impress. He’s our newest member and we should treat him like one. So cut all that formal bullshit and sit down.”
Junmyeon has had all these formalities, all these ‘proper’ ways of doing things, drilled into his head from so young that he can’t even remember when the lessons began. He had been forced into the mold of a good host, great CEO and even greater leader. But sometimes, when you try to force someone into a too small, too restrictive mold, pieces break, fall apart and get left behind. Jongdae is there to constantly remind him that he’s more than just a product of his parents wishes, he’s always there to pick up pieces and stick them back or, if they’re irreparable or lost, fill the gaps and holes they left behind.
“Okay,” Junmyeon nods to Jongdae and to himself, exhaling heavily and moving to sit in the other single seater. “Happy now?”
Jongdae’s lips curl like a cat who just got the cream, extremely glad Junmyeon’s allowing himself to loosen up. Minseok’s just as satisfied and he expresses this by discretely mouthing ‘good job’ at Jongdae and sending him a thumbs up. Jongdae’s grin only stretches wider as a result, eyes scrunching closed. Baekhyun catches the brief exchange, wants to observe it further, but gets distracted by seeing the enthusiastic curve of Jongdae’s eyes and mouth.
“Now that everyone’s comfortable,” Junmyeon begins, and Baekhyun’s forced to tear his eyes away, “I’m just going to cut straight to the chase. You three are now part of a new unit and to make things simple, we’re calling it CBX— ”
“How original,” Jongdae comments sarcastically and punctuates it with an obnoxious slurp of his coffee.
“Can you please not interrupt me?” Junmyeon huffs, slightly exasperated. Jongdae mumbles an insincere ‘sorry’ and motions for his brother to continue.
“As I was saying, CBX is the new unit but many things will stay the same. You’ll go on your usual jobs, just with Baekhyun there. Your trips to China will include him too—and yes, before you can ask, Baekhyun is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, so you don’t have to worry about that—basically, picture nearly everything you do, just with him as your plus one. He will make your lives much easier, as well as create possibilities that weren’t there before because of his skill set.”
Minseok listens to Junmyeon speak, eyeing Baekhyun curiously and observing Jongdae beside him, who seems to be absorbing all the new information and trying to digest it, judging from the way he chews at his bottom lip. Everything sounds reasonable, but Minseok needs more to be sold on the idea.
“What skill set?”
“What Baekhyun does is very similar to Kyungsoo,” Junmyeon answers and Jongdae and Minseok regard Baekhyun in surprise.
Kyungsoo is, simply put, their spymaster. He has men planted in multiple other groups, creating a web of connections that spans throughout all of South Korea and is spreading overseas. He keeps tabs and files on absolutely everyone, storing away and compiling information so that he can have leverage over them when the need arises. Having prime blackmail material on the head of a syndicate, for example, means that said syndicate has no choice but to work for them, thus adding to the ever growing organization that is Exo, the web expanding even further.
Junmyeon clarifies that Baekhyun, contrary to Kyungsoo, who has spies located everywhere, enjoys taking a much more hands on approach. He himself is the spy: Integrating himself into multiple gangs and organizations to gain inside intel. He worked alone until now, selling said gathered intel to the highest bidder to let them use it as they saw fit. That was how he had made his living.
Kyungsoo, as an obvious result of having eyes and ears practically everywhere, caught wind of Baekhyun’s popular business. He saw how he could potentially fit into Exo and thus, after discussing with Junmyeon, extended an offer to join them.
Which led to Baekhyun now sitting in their headquarters’ living room with his two new teammates and leader, with the former digging a tad deeper to get to know who exactly they’re being paired with. Baekhyun answers their questions with ease, preening subtly when Jongdae’s brows raise in surprise when he states that he speaks seven languages nearly fluently. He lists off which major groups he’s infiltrated seamlessly and that gains a satisfied noise from Minseok, too, who’s been rather quiet until then. Baekhyun tries not to hide his satisfaction.
“How do you do it?”
Jongdae’s now turned towards him, legs crossed on the couch and leaning closer to Baekhyun with curiosity and eyes wide in unconcealed awe.
“Make them believe that you’re actually interested. That you’re actually who you say you are.”
Baekhyun shrugs, slightly amused.
“You just gotta be a goddamn amazing liar. That’s all there is to it.”
Really, that is all there is to it. Baekhyun crafts a persona out of lies all layered upon one another, impossibly intertwined to the point that you don’t know where one starts and the other ends. To the point where he himself nearly believes the lies he’s spewing. To the point that he doesn’t know where the persona begins and where he ends.
Jongdae’s not convinced, eyes narrowing skeptical at him.
“Fine, if you’re that good of a liar. Tell me one.”
Baekhyun’s eyes twinkle with excitement at the challenge. He scans the room, eyes landing on Minseok, who’s rather relaxed, legs crossed, lingering on him for a moment, then moving on to Junmyeon, who’s looking at him expectantly. Baekhyun combs through his mind for a possible subject to lie about. His gaze falls back on Jongdae, who is still looking at him expectantly, lips in a perpetual curl.
The falsity falls from his lips as easy as breathing, though his mind is thinking the complete opposite.
“I don’t think that you’re the hottest person I have ever seen, and I wouldn’t like to go a date with you at all.”
The cogs in Jongdae’s brain can practically be seen turning as his straight brows furrow in confusion, trying to discern whether Baekhyun’s telling the truth or not. (He clearly told Baekhyun to tell a lie but he said it so steadily that it didn’t sound like one, but on the flip side, if he is lying, that means his previous attempts at asking him out were more serious than he thought.)
Thankfully, Junmyeon saves Jongdae from further conflict, cutting in with a stern voice.
“What did I say about hitting on my brother?”
“I don’t remember you telling me anything at all,” Baekhyun smiles with the innocence of an angel that he is very much not . Junmyeon feels like between him and Jongdae, they might send him into premature cardiac arrest without even having hit thirty yet.
“Okay,” Jongdae says, somewhat having gathered his thoughts, and kicks at Baekhyun’s thigh. “Leave Jun alone. You’ll stress him out. I believe you.”
Baekhyun smiles mischievously but relents, then pauses, catching the slip of an unfamiliar name.
“Oh yeah, I don’t know if it’s obvious, but we don’t use our real names,” Jongdae explains. “I mean some of us do, but it’s pretty much up to you if you want to go by something different.”
“No, no, I’m good,” Baekhyun says quickly. He’s had to adopt a new name too many times in the past. Here, he’d like to remain as himself. Especially since, unlike previously, here he’s given the option.
“So Jun is short for what?”
“Junmyeon,” said man answers, smiling kindly. “That brat sitting next to you is Jongdae, and Xiumin is Minseok.”
Junmyeon. Jongdae. Minseok . Baekhyun nods, digesting the new names and pausing for a moment on each respective face. He feels like a barrier has been lowered. Wants to, with time, lower them all.
After further discussion of logistics and details, Junmyeon and Minseok allow the other two to continue chatting while they head to the kitchen just through the hallway. The atmosphere shifts from the open one in the living room, gradually tightening and darkening, growing heavy by the time Junmyeon leans against the counter, face oddly pensive.
“You’re planning something, Jun,” Minseok states with strong assurance, arms crossed. Fifteen years of friendship allow him to easily notice when Junmyeon isn’t telling the whole truth, his mind faraway and plagued by constant worries. Minseok continues, pushing but not ungently so.“You’re not adding him just cause he’ll be an asset to us. There’s something more to it. Something you’re not telling us.”
Junmyeon heaves a heavy, tense sigh and that’s enough of an answer.
Baekhyun doesn’t run on a normal nine-to-five schedule. He works Thursday to Sunday, from dinner time until well into the next morning, always coming home to crash immediately after and sleep in. So it’s safe to say that if he worked the previous night, he won’t be awake until anytime before 3pm unless something with the same amount of urgency as his apartment catching fire comes up. On days he’s off, he keeps a similar nocturnal habit because it’s much each easier to adjust his life around his odd hours and not fight it, simply going with the flow.
Yet, even before a bartending job required him to keep such a schedule, he’s always been a person who thrived at night. The underground is at its peak when the moon and stars are shining and quietens when the suns comes out to play. Baekhyun is much of the same, as he and the underground are quite familiar with one another. Bars, seedy clubs, underground gambling rings, all are what Baekhyun thrives in, utterly comfortable with a drunken brawl occurring behind him as he sips on cheap alcohol and feels dizzy from the suffocating cloud of fruity perfume that follows the barmaid as she leaves the table to refill another man's drink.
White Noise is planets away from the establishment he’s sitting in. He’s pretty sure just a bottle of the stuff Jongdae drinks could buy out half of this place. But it’s almost like home to Baekhyun. He spent his youth in bars exactly like this one before he was even old enough to drink.
Now, at twenty-four, he can’t shake the urge to frequent them, even when it’s not required by a job. The biggest difference, he’d say, between Baekhyun at fifteen and Baekhyun now, is the large amount of money he’s managed to (illegally) collect over the years.
The biggest similarity is that he always ends up drinking alone.
Having no company at all is preferable to having company that doesn’t even know his name.
Chapter 5: 005
The air in Jongdae’s flower shop is filled with crisp, flowing notes, Jongdae singing along to an upbeat song on the radio. His order for the wedding arrived early this morning and he’s been at it all day, arranging elegant Calla Lilies and White Roses into tall clear vases, sprinkling delicate Baby’s Breaths between the larger flowers. His hands ache and lower back ache and he’s pricked his fingers on the thorns more than a couple dozen times but pride swells in his chest as he finishes the very last one, gazing upon his intricate creations. He finished the bouquets the night before, storing them in his large fridge situated in the back of his shop. It’s set at the perfect temperature to keep the flowers fresh for when the groom’s family picks them up in an hour.
Jongdae’s price includes a bringing them to the venue himself and setting them up nicely but they strangely declined, preferring to do so themselves. He had removed an amount from the total of course, not finding it right to charge for a service they wouldn’t be receiving.
He spends the next hour tidying up and putting bandaids on some deeper cuts on his fingers. Sometime between putting discarded leaves and stems into the compost bin and fetching the first aid kit from under the sink in the employee bathroom, Jongdae’s phone buzzes to life in his pocket. He fetches it and his screen is lit with a text message from a certain Baekhyunnie ;) (said Baekhyun insisted on putting in his name himself when they had exchanged numbers after their first team meeting. Surprisingly, it had been Jongdae asked for Baekhyun’s phone number, seeing as they were going to be working closely together, he thought it was only appropriate and a given. Clearly, Baekhyun hadn’t complained nor had Minseok.). The two had been texting rather regularly since then, chatting about anything and everything, no matter how insignificant. Baekhyun is easy to talk to when he’s not focused on making very un subtle passes at Jongdae.
The text is quite ominous, Baekhyun simply asking for the name of Jongdae’s shop.
First Love , Jongdae messages back, confusion manifesting in the crease between his brows, why?
He’s offered no reply so he returns his phone to his pocket and continues with his duties. The groom’s family arrives just on time, Jongdae aiding them in bringing the bouquets and arrangements to their large van, his eyes crinkling in joy once everything is good to go and they all thank him profusely for his work, the groom’s mother actually crying when she sees how beautiful everything turned out.
Extremely satisfied, he sees them off and returns to his shop, exhaustion finally settling in deep in his bones. He’s been up since 4:00 am, working almost without pause and now it’s nearing dinner time and all he wants to do is go home, shower and curl up on his couch with some take out and some shitty tv. Despite the tiredness, he can’t help but grin widely at the fact that his customers had been so pleased with his work.
First Love hasn’t always been his, hasn’t always had that name either. The flower shop belonged to a kind a woman in her thirties who insisted he called her Liyin noona, despite their large age gap and would tell him off if he would forget. Jongdae had come into her shop, having seen the Help Wanted sign in the storefront window. Although Jongdae had enough money from his inheritance to buy the shop and five others if he wanted to, Junmyeon insisted that he try to live the life of a regular college student. It was their deal: Jongdae would attend college, make friends, find a job and if after all that, he still wanted to join Exo, Junmyeon wouldn’t stop him.
Junmyeon had been entirely against the idea. His fate had been sealed from young, he would step up to lead Exo no matter what happens, but Jongdae wasn’t so unlucky. He wasn’t required to be a part of that world, could have taken the option to lead a normal life away from the gruesome reality that is the criminal underground. Junmyeon would do anything to keep his brother safe and preserve his innocence. Being in Exo changes you, seeing and doing unspeakable things in the cutthroat competition in order to stay on top changes you. People don’t think twice to literally and figuratively stab you in the back if it would advance them somehow, if it would somehow get them that much closer to the top.
Jongdae hadn’t cared. He thought it was unfair for Junmyeon to bare the burden and have no choice while he got off scot-free. He wouldn’t allow his older brother to keep sacrificing himself in order to ensure Jongdae’s happiness and safety. They made a promise over their parent’s grave, between choked sobs and trembling breaths, that they’d be alright as long as they had each other, as long as they stuck together and this wasn’t exempt from that promise. If Junmyeon had a responsibility to lead Exo, Jongdae had the responsibility as his brother to be there at his side while he did so, offering unwavering support, no matter the consequences.
As a result, Jongdae listened to his brother’s wishes and worked at the shop all throughout college and after he got his degree, his mind hadn’t changed one bit. Even once he became an official member of Exo, he continued to work at Liyin’s shop, having grown to become her best employee, a sponge that soaked up all the knowledge she had to offer on the subject of everything botanical. The shop was, is, his little haven, his home away from home, a little place where he could escape his inevitably hectic and draining life. When Liyin, one day, announced that her and her husband were moving to Japan for his job, she offered Jongdae the place and he bought it without a moment’s hesitation.
He changed very little, wanting to keep her vision of the shop alive. The most noticeable difference was the name that graced the awning in flowing gold cursive: First Love .
Jongdae finishes wiping down the counter. It’s the last thing he has to do. Suddenly, there’s knocking at the shop window and Jongdae jumps in fright, head raising rapidly to see who’s there. Baekhyun’s large rectangular grin is the first thing he sees, the former waving quite excitedly. Jongdae shakes his head in disbelief, laughing to himself and goes to unlock the door.
“Hey, so I was in the neighbourhood,” Baekhyun says as Jongdae let’s him in, “and I thought I’d stop by to see you.”
Jongdae rolls his eyes, “You’re so full of shit.”
“Maybe I am,” Baekhyun shrugs, a wide boyish grin on his face. He looks up and let’s out an impressed whistle as he takes in the simple but nonetheless charming layout of the shop, “This place is all yours? It’s so pretty.”
Jongdae preens as if Baekhyun had complimented him directly, “Thank you. Yeah, it’s all mine.”
Jongdae still has trouble getting used to seeing Baekhyun during daytime hours. With simple track pants, a hoodie and a cap, Baekhyun looks like the epitome of an everyday university student, a far cry from a sex-on-legs bartender in the most prestigious club in the city. Regardless, Baekhyun clearly doesn’t need a form fitting uniform to charm others. He does enough of that on his own.
“Okay, so don’t take this the wrong way,” Baekhyun begins a bit tentatively, “But why a flower shop? I mean, I’ve been around. I know your rep. It’s a bit shocking to find out Exo’s ‘Lighting Killer’ spends his days off arranging bouquets.”
It’s a valid question and if Baekhyun in an everyday setting is disarming, Jongdae is even more so. He looks completely unsuspecting, near (faux) innocence emphasized by his soft pastel pink sweater and deep grey apron, the sweet aroma of flowers never failing to cling to his skin, his clothes. Little did people know that he could kill them with the pen in said apron’s pocket. Sure, he dabbles in international relations between Chinese syndicates and Exo, among many other things, but first and foremost, he’s Exo’s one and only assassin. His main responsibility is to perform hits on people his brother sees as necessary to be rid of. ‘Lightning Killer’ is a name he gained not long after he started. It’s crazily fitting since lightning never strikes twice and all Jongdae needs is one shot to make someone drop dead.
“Why not?” Jongdae’s mouth curls more than it already is, “I mean, I already have more money than I could ever need so I don’t have to work to make a living. I can just spend my time doing things I love to do and I love flowers. They’re soothing and make me happy,” he plucks an extra white rose he has lying around from before and offers it to Baekhyun for him to smell it. Baekhyun leans in and inhales deeply, the unmistakable aroma of roses filling his senses. Jongdae raises a brow at him, “Am I wrong?”
Baekhyun lets Jongdae place it back with the others. He considers what Jongdae said and it did make a lot of sense.
“No, you aren’t. They are really beautiful and I’ve heard that they all have their own specific meanings.”
“They do,” Jongdae’s eyes light up at the prompt of his absolute favourite thing to talk about when it came to his passion, “You can say just about anything with flowers and sometimes people find it even easier than saying things out loud.”
Baekhyun can’t help but be endeared at how Jongdae is absolutely filled to the brim with excitement. A warmth bubbles in his chest and he finds himself wanting to see more and prolong the wonderful sight before him. At the same time, he’s also intrigued, “Just about anything? How about… ‘fuck you’?”
Jongdae stops to think for a moment, pursing his lips, “I’d make a bouquet and put geraniums, which means stupidity, foxglove for insincerity, meadowsweets for uselessness…” his eyes scan the room for reminders as his teeth worry his bottom lip before landing on a flower in the corner, inspiration hitting him, “yellow carnations that mean ‘you have disappointed me’ and finish it off for orange lilies for hatred. Yeah, I’d think that would be a really great fuck you bouquet.”
“That’s insane. I never knew you could say so much by just giving someone a damn flower, you know, besides typical roses,” Baekhyun’s eyes widen in surprise. Jongdae really wasn’t kidding; there was a flower or flower s appropriate for many emotions or situations. An idea suddenly blooms in his head and it brings a small smirk to his lips, “Is there a flower that means ‘I just met you but I can’t get you out of my head’?”
Jongdae looks at Baekhyun, a tilt to his head and the question makes him furrow his brows. It’s weirdly specific but he shrugs it off for now, “I can’t think of one that satisfies both of those off the top of my head, but I would say a Carnation would be close, which means love and also fascination.”
“A Carnation? I don’t think I’ve seen one before,” Baekhyun plays dumb and Jongdae thankfully doesn’t notice, buying it.
“I’ll show you then, come,” Jongdae leads him to a corner where the ruffled looking flowers are situated. He gestures to the different colours, “In general they mean fascination or love but yellow ones, like I said earlier, mean disappointment and rejection, white is innocence, pure love, etc. You get the gist of it. But for what you asked me, I would say a red one suits it the most. A light red Carnation stands for fascination and admiration. But why the question, do you have someone in mind?”
“Actually yes,” Baekhyun’s blunt tone juxtaposes Jongdae’s teasing one and Jongdae is taken aback. Baekhyun uses the other’s surprise to pluck one of the already cut Carnations up and watches as utter shock grows on Jongdae’s face as he offers him the flower, “I have you on my mind.”
Jongdae eyes flit anxiously between the flower and Baekhyun, mouth open in a small ‘o’ of disbelief but he can’t ignore the intense butterflies fluttering about in his stomach.
Baekhyun uses the silence to plough on, “Look, I wasn’t joking or anything when I said that I wanted to go on a date with you. Maybe my lie was too believable but I really do—”
“You don’t even know me,” Jongdae finally finds the ability to speak, “Why do you want to date me if you don’t know me?”
“Do I really need a reason? If it wasn’t obvious, I find you so damn attractive and so far, my impression is that we have complementing personalities,” Baekhyun shrugs, a half smile to his lips that makes Jongdae’s heart do a flip, “I don’t need to know you to know that I would like to pursue this further and if it’s really an issue, we can get to know each other.”
Jongdae can’t help the conflict stirring in his chest, one part of him agreeing completely with Baekhyun’s words. He is attracted to Baekhyun and he really does enjoy his company. But on the other hand…
“I don’t know…” His eyes find interest in staring towards the floor, teeth chewing his bottom lip.
“What’s holding you back?” Baekhyun’s voice is gentle, not prying just simply asking.
Is the immediate answer to that question. The first thing that comes to mind and that’s what it always comes down to: Jongdae being stupidly in love with his best friend. He has spent years loving him, pining so intensely after him it ached but in all honesty, he has no plans to confess. Doesn’t think the risk of possibly altering their friendship negatively is worth it. He very much doubts Minseok feels the same way. The only outcome he sees is his confession ending in rejection. So why put a strain on their friendship for nothing? He’s not dumb enough to think it would ruin them, their bond is too strong to be truly shaken. Their foundation too rock solid. But it's an added stress, an added heartbreak neither of them needs. And yet, Jongdae’s been tightly clinging to the tiny bit of hope in his head. It’s led him nowhere and it’s holding him back.
Maybe it’s time to move on. To let go.
Jongdae raises one finger, “One date. I’ll give you one date and we’ll see from there.”
The smile that grows on Baekhyun’s face easily overpowers the sweetness of every damn flower in the room combined. He grabs Jongdae’s hand and laces their fingers together, utterly giddy, “You won’t regret it.”
Baekhyun’s fingers are long and slim and his palm is warm against his. Jongdae can feel his heart racing and he knows his own is beating just as fast.
He doesn’t think he will.
Chapter 6: 006
“Electrolysis is the electrical current flow through a liquid which causes chemical changes. The liquid can be a molten ionic compound or an aqueous solution,” Minseok presses the button to change the PowerPoint slide to the next one showcasing a diagram. He catches some confusion on his students’ faces, as well as interest on some and utter boredom on others, “The liquid will contain free-flowing positive ions and negative ions. Positive ions are called cations. Negative ions are called anions.”
His lecture continues on much like this, interspersed with some questions for further explanations and clarifications on harder to comprehend concepts until class ends and, after bidding his students a good rest of the day, he’s left shutting off the smart board and gathering his things. He smiles politely and nods to the few stragglers as he heads out of the classroom to his office.
His office mate, Joohyun, is also getting ready to leave for the weekend. She’s slipping her phone and a folder into her deep red designer purse when Minseok comes in.
“Minseok oppa, how was your day?” She greets him, her soft and light voice filling the small space.
“It was fine, I’m just ready to head home,” He heads for his desk, grabbing the light jacket hanging off the back of his chair and putting it on, “How about you?”
“It felt a little long, maybe it’s just the anticipation for the weekend,” She shrugs, leaning against her desk and waiting for him to be ready. Not wanting to hold her up for long, he quickly uses the last bits of his water bottle to water the small cactus sitting on the corner of his desk, courtesy of Jongdae’s unrelenting need to gift all his friends with a plant to call their own. When he’s finished, she motions for them to get going, “Any plans for your weekend?”
He falls in step beside her, locking the office as they pass, her tall heels clacking against the floor with every step she takes towards the parking lot, “Nothing much. I’m having a night in with Jongdae tonight. I also need to proofread my tests before printing them for next week. How about you?”
“Just relaxing with the husband,” her deep red lips stretch wide with the force of her smile, “A night in sounds fun. Tell me, will I ever get to meet Jongdae? Are you scared I’ll snatch him away from you?” laughter akin to soft bells resounds, “I am married but if he’s cute enough, I might.”
Joohyun is a new hire in the chemistry department at University Minseok works at . She transferred over from another city at the beginning of this year and they have shared an office space since. The two have bonded over their mutual annoyance over students not bothering to learn how to properly use significant figures and the time spent stuck in their offices correcting tests and exams for hours at a time. Minseok has spent countless lunch hours with her talking about her darling husband, who’s also a teacher but for kindergarten children rather than adults and in return, he too has spoken about Jongdae and Junmyeon, his two closest friends. Junmyeon, she has met once or twice, when he’s dropped by to join them for lunch but Jongdae is ever elusive.
Minseok barks out a laugh, throwing his head back, “I think he’s plenty cute enough, so maybe you’re right. Maybe I want to keep him away from the claws of predatory married women.”
She forms a playful claw with her hand, surprisingly fitting long manicured nails add to the effect, “But I just love cute young men, you can’t do this to me. Can I at least see a picture?”
They’ve reached the parking lot, their cars taking up the reserved spots nearest to the door. The sleek curves and lines of Minseok’s Audi looks a tad out of place compared to the more reasonably priced cars parked around it, but not so much so that people would question how he could afford it on a professor’s salary. If one asked, Minseok would simply say he saved up for multiple years. He leans against it as he pulls out his phone, Joohyun standing before him expectantly.
He selects a picture of Jongdae from a few weeks ago where Jongdae thought it would be funny to take pictures of Minseok after he had fallen asleep on the couch. He looks handsome in that effortlessly Jongdae way, hair a tad bit messy and mouth in a smirk as he pulls a sleeping Minseok’s lips into a smile so he could pose for the photo. There are a dozen others in the series which Minseok only found a day later while eating breakfast and dumbly smiled at it with a warmth suffusing through his chest and deep fondness on his face.
He shows Joohyun said picture and she lets out a loud coo, eyes wide, “Oh my god, no wonder you were hiding him. If I were you I wouldn’t let him leave the house, in case someone wanted to run away with him. He’s so cute and gorgeous! His lips have little curls .”
Minseok can’t do anything but nod because he wholeheartedly agrees and completely understands her reaction, “The curls are really cute, aren’t they?”
“The cutest ,” She takes one last long look and coos one last farewell before giving Minseok a level look, “Now that you showed me him, I just have to meet him in person. You can’t tease me like that. I promise I’ll won’t snatch your best friend away, pretty please.”
Minseok pretends to sigh heavily in annoyance and rolls his eyes,“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Yes! Okay perfect,” She pulls him into a brief hug before turning to her own car right beside them, “Drive safe okay? And have a nice weekend!”
“You too,” Minseok answers as he unlocks his car and gets in. He waves at her as she drives off before doing the same.
He reaches his apartment not ten minutes after, exiting the elevator at the top floor and heading to his door, binder under his arm and empty coffee thermos in the same hand. He keys in his code and lets himself in, toeing off his shoes and arranging them neatly by the entrance. Shortly after, he hangs up his jacket on the hook by the door. He’s about to take another step when he stops short, one socked foot poised to press down onto the tiled floor. Loud laughter that Minseok would recognize anywhere resounds from the living room, travelling through the hallway to reach him.
An involuntary smile tugs at the corners of Minseok’s lips. He continues down the hall to spot Jongdae stretched comfortably across his couch, . The latter greets him without looking up from the variety show his eyes are glued to.
“Hey hyung, how was work?”
“It was work, nothing too special. Exams are coming and everyone is tired,” Minseok places his work binder in its respective place on his kitchen counter, “What time did you even get here? It’s rude to just let yourself into other people’s houses.”
The two had agreed to meet here for 7pm but the numbers on his stove indicate that it’s a whole hour and a half before that.
“Well I’m not the one who set the keycode of your house as my birthday. That’s practically announcing that I could come and go as I please,” Jongdae quips back, joining Minseok in the kitchen, feet softly padding at the floor, as the elder washes his thermos at the sink. Jongdae leans his hip against the counter, “I got here maybe...twenty minutes ago? Because I got a call from Junmyeon hyung and we’re gonna have to cut our night short. He needs us to do a last minute job.”
“Oh?” Minseok looks up in surprised, rinsing the soap off and placing it on the drying rack. He wipes his wet hands on his pants, “What kind of job?”
“He told me it was a hit, some rich fuck who doesn’t know how to listen to hyung’s warnings and thinks he can get away with it,” Jongdae shrugs and his sigh ends in a pout, “What an asshole. Couldn’t he pick another night to be stupid? I was looking forward to tonight. Friday nights are ours .”
An intense pang of fondness squeezes Minseok’s heart. Whenever Jongdae says things like that, Minseok doesn’t know what to do with himself and has to keep himself from reading into it. Instead, he nudges Jongdae’s shoulder gently, “Don’t worry, we can do something tomorrow too. Let’s order in for every meal and not get off the couch.”
Jongdae pretends to think it over but Minseok knows by the quirk of his lip that he’s already sold on the idea.
“Fine. Now let’s eat quickly, we need to be at HQ for 6:30 for a debrief with Baek…Fuck,” Jongdae runs a hand through his blonde hair, slightly fuzzy after a long day, “I wanted more time for us to get used to everything. I didn’t think hyung would need us all so soon.”
Minseok pauses, blinks, and realizes that yes, this is going to be their first job with Baekhyun. It isn’t like he completely forgot about it, it’s more like he forced himself not dwell on it, the fact lingering in the back of his mind, always present, but now it’s being forced to the forefront. It makes his stomach turn uncomfortably but he can’t exactly pinpoint why.
“Did you get us something?” Minseok ignores the feeling, focuses his attention on Jongdae to see him opening the fridge and pulling out two styrofoam containers.
Jongdae gestures at the takeout in his hands, “Yeah, I got us some wraps from our usual place. Bought us some smoothies too. Can you get them for me?”
Jongdae goes to set the food onto the small coffee table in front of the couch. Sure enough, there are two large plastic cups in the fridge, one a deep purple colour and the other a light green, betraying the contents inside: a protein berry smoothie for Jongdae and a pineapple spinach protein for Minseok. Minseok’s careful not tilt them as he takes it from the fridge, closing the door with his hip. When he gets to the living room, Jongdae is already happily biting into his wrap, careful not to make a mess just because he doesn’t want to deal with Minseok having to clean it up right away because god forbid crumbs stay on the couch for more than thirty seconds.
He sets Jongdae’s drink before him and sits down next to him. He digs in, utterly starving and the two finish their meal without any talking, simply the sound of eating and slurping their drinks filling the room, watching a drama that happened to come on after the variety show. Once done, they place their empty containers onto the coffee table. Without anything to spill, Jongdae takes the opportunity to wiggle closer to Minseok and rest his head on his shoulder.
Minseok’s arm automatically comes around Jongdae to allow him to snuggle closer and the proximity helps release all the tension from Minseok’s body.The scent of flowers lingers on Jongdae, in his hair mostly, since he hasn’t had a chance to shower after work today and it takes everything in him not to breathe it in deeply. He leans into him too and they settle on the couch like that.
“Is there something on your mind?” Minseok asks softly. Jongdae in general is the more talkative of the two of them, not to say that Minseok doesn’t speak much. Actually, between the two of them, they can ramble for hours on end but they can also comfortably enjoy the silence. Yet, this one feels slightly different, busy, like Jongdae is wrestling with something.
Jongdae tilts his face so his nose presses into the crisp fabric of Minseok’s work shirt. As he inhales, notes of amber and black orchid, illuminated by the clean sensuality of black cardamom, ginger, and a touch of water lily, the distinctive fragrance of Minseok’s cologne, makes his head spin but also the familiarity of it helps him organize his thoughts.
“Baekhyun…” he exhales, “He asked me out on a date and I guess I’m a bit nervous.”
Minseok feels like he’s been doused in a bucket of ice cold water, heart dropping to the pit of his stomach. It’s selfish dread that joins his heart in the pit too. The small, nagging, jealousy that has been rearing its ugly head every time he’s seen Jongdae smile at a text Baekhyun sent him or seen Baekhyun flirt with him, suddenly doesn’t seem so small anymore. He had convinced himself it was just him reading into things too much, driving himself crazy when there was probably nothing happening between them anyways.
He deluded himself into thinking Jongdae blushing, or the way his smile goes soft at the mention of Baekhyun wasn’t anything significant. Well, jokes on him. His gut feeling was right. He recognizes interest on Jongdae easily, has seen it before and now once again with Baekhyun. But, it isn’t fair for him to stew in jealousy when Jongdae needs him. He’s the idiot who fell in love with his best friend. The hand not soothingly rubbing Jongdae’s side grips onto his slacks, knuckles turning white against the skin.
“When did this happen?” Minseok swallows passed the lump in his throat and prides himself on the fact that his voice is steady.
“Yesterday,” Jongdae smiles as he recounts the it, Minseok can hear it in his voice, “He came by the shop to surprise me and asked me out. He was really cute about it too, asked me all this stuff about flowers and which one means what and in the end, he gave me a damn Red Carnation,” Jongdae sits up to face Minseok with a look of incredulity on his features, “Like who does that? They mean fascination hyung, fascination .”
“Someone who’s fascinated with you Jongdae,” Minseok pokes the tiny dimple formed by Jongdae’s grin and pushes aside the turmoil in his chest. Jongdae softly swats Minseok’s finger away with an annoyed sound, “What makes you nervous about this?
Jongdae averts his eyes, examining the black stitching in the couch cushion, scared that if he looks at Minseok, he would somehow see all the things he can’t, shouldn’t say, would somehow see the love he’s fought so hard to hide, the love that’s tripping him up right now, and that has been for so long, the biggest reason as to why he’s nervous.
“I don’t know…he’s so forward ,” he figures he might as well be somewhat honest, “and persistent. I thought he was just a flirt honestly but he says he’s serious and I guess, it caught me off guard.”
Getting hit on is something neither of them are a stranger too, especially since their job does require them to spend a lot of time in clubs, bars and lounges where many people are on the lookout for their next conquest. Status and power also attract many, many, admirers. Jongdae experiences this a tad more since his aura doesn’t scream look at me wrong and I’ll break your hand like Minseok’s does. Which is why Jongdae is so used to simply shutting someone down as quickly as it happens, not usually interested in one night stands or anything of the sort. Typically, it ends there. Other times, the person is quite persistent and Jongdae simply puts them in their place and on very few, very rare, occasions that place is on their knees, face pushed into the floor by Jongdae’s boot.
Baekhyun’s persistence is of a different kind, all full blown suggestion and seduction but also romance and genuine interest thrown in the mix, and Jongdae still isn’t sure how to deal with it, has trouble coming to terms with the fact that he actually wants it.
“But you…” Minseok ventures cautiously, for himself or for Jongdae, he’s not really sure, “do you like him?”
Jongdae’s eyes snap up to Minseok’s, to the beautiful cat-like eyes he fell in love with and he can’t deny that his heart starts to race, especially with the way Minseok is looking at him so intently and with so much affection that his heart can’t decide whether it wants to continue racing or simply burst in his chest. But he also can’t deny that Baekhyun makes him feel similarly, not quite as intense or all consuming, but the spike in pulse that Jongdae experiences in Baekhyun’s presence is undeniable.
“I do like him. I like him a lot. But, I don’t love him, not yet anyways. It’s way too soon.”
Not yet .
Minseok’s sigh is one of heartbreak, of conflict and of painful acceptance. Acceptance that this is what he chose. He chose to not confess, to allow Jongdae to remain oblivious. Jongdae finding someone to date was inevitable. He couldn’t have Jongdae to himself forever. It isn’t a matter of if Minseok would have to let him go, it’s a matter of when . And the hour hand is up, Minseok had made his bed and now, it’s time for him to lay in it.
“Then that’s all that matters really,” Minseok says with a small shrug, pulling Jongdae back into his side, “Just take it day by day. See how it goes with him. A date isn’t a marriage certificate either. At the end of the day, you know what you want and you know how you feel.”
Jongdae shuts his eyes, lashes resting against his cheekbones, head nestled into where Minseok’s neck slopes into the expanse of his shoulder. He wants to scream because that isn’t what he wanted Minseok to say. Because he might know how he feels but he doesn’t know what he wants .
Doesn’t know if it would be better to simply grip his fingers in the ironed fabric of Minseok’s shirt and pull his mouth against his own, whisper the words he’s kept buried into his lips, every consequence and repercussion be damned.
But in the end, Jongdae knows that he made up his mind the moment he agreed to go on a date with Baekhyun. Knows that he no longer truly considers the above scenario as an option, maybe he never really did. Maybe he spent too long hoping to convince himself that it was and now he needs to swallow the bitter pill and smile as it scrapes down his throat.
“I guess you’re right,” Jongdae squeezes Minseok tightly for a moment, wanting to hold on for a moment longer, then another, and then another, “One day at a time. I guess I’m just psyching myself out.”
“You are,” Minseok’s fingers toy with the hem of Jongdae’s shirt, running his nail along the stitching. The drama episode ends without them paying attention to a single thing that happened. Not one of them could have told you what the main character’s name was despite the fact that it was said almost fifteen times a scene. The ending indicates it’s about time for them to peel themselves off the couch and start getting ready.
“We have to get going.”
Jongdae huffs in annoyance, completely content with staying like this the rest of the night. He luxuriates for a moment, snuggling deeper, before forcing himself to stand, “Junmyeon hyung said we’re attending a night at the opera and he has our suits waiting for us at HQ so don’t worry about that.”
The last thing Minseok is worrying about at the moment is their suits
Chapter 7: 007
The suits are in fact waiting for them at their headquarters, freshly pressed and inside a garment bag delicately placed on their respective beds. Minseok dresses cleanly and swiftly, pulling on his black fitted suit pants and a crisp white dress shirt. He ties his matching tie with practiced fingers and checks his appearance in the tall mirror on the far wall. His slim figure is streamlined by the cut lines of his suit, the silhouette of his torso accentuated by the vest he buttons over his shirt.
He adjusts his carefully gelled black hair, slips on his go-to watch before folding his suit jacket over his forearm and heading to the room right next door. He knocks once to announce his presence but doesn’t wait for an answer to enter. He’s not surprised to be met with the sight of Jongdae not even close to ready, only his pants on, halfway through towel drying his hair.
No matter how many times Minseok has seen Jongdae shirtless, it never fails to make his throat go dry. There’s just something so tantalizing about the expanse of his muscular back tapering into an impossibly small waist. Petals of his tattoo follow the curve of Jongdae’s rib cage, allowing him to catch a glimpse of it from his vantage point. To further Minseok’s suffering, Jongdae has two small dimples sitting on either side of the curve of his spine, nestled in his lower back, practically begging for him to fit his thumbs into them. The temptation would drive any sane person absolutely mad.
Instead of acting on any of his desires, Minseok makes his way over to Jongdae’s bed and sits down, in line with the mirror Jongdae’s fixing his hair in. Jongdae shoots him a dumb smile through the mirror and whistles when he takes in Minseok: broad shouldered, and strikingly gorgeous in his fancy attire, “Hyung you’re looking hot .”
Minseok does his best to not let the compliment get to him with a huff and a roll of his eyes, “Thank you. What time is Baekhyun getting here?”
“He texted me that he’s on his way,” Jongdae puts down his towel on the vanity and grabs his comb and a tub of hair gel. He combs through his pale blond hair, using the gel to style it in a windswept fashion that is still appropriate for the high class venue they will be in. He purposely frames his face with slightly wavy strands, rearranging them to his liking and stepping back to see the full picture when done, “So maybe fifteen minutes max.”
Minseok watches as Jongdae hums along to a song under his breath while and wiggles his hips to a beat only he can hear and really, he’s sure someone out there has it out for him as this only brings attention to the way Jongdae’s slim fit black suit pants cling to the generous curve of his ass. His fingers twist in the fabric of Jongdae’s bedding, swallowing so his voice doesn’t sound affected when he speaks.
“Are you worried? About working with him?”
Jongdae unzips his makeup bag to pull out a palette and eyeliner. He hums thoughtfully as he applies warm shades of brown and pastel pink to his lids.
“I am. I don’t think things are going to go wrong or anything, it just feels weird,” Jongdae meets Minseok’s eyes through the mirror, “I just am so used to it being just the two of us, you know?”
“I do,” Minseok exhales. Jongdae finishes up his makeup with a thin line of eyeliner, flicking it at the end. Jewellery is next on his list. Jongdae takes two watches from his dark wooden watch case, one a pretty rose gold with semi-circular three piece links, bezel set with diamonds, and the other an intense black ceramic satin-finished and polished case.
He turns around and presents them both to Minseok, “Which one?”
“The Rolex,” Minseok nods his head towards the rose gold one, “You can match it with the earrings Junmyeon got you for your birthday last year.”
“You’re right!” Jongdae makes a sound of excitement and returns the other watch to its rightful place. He fastens the chosen one on his wrist, “I knew I keep you around for a reason.”
“Oh sure,” Minseok crosses his arms in faux insult, “ disregard all these years of emotional support and acting as your chauffeur when you couldn’t drive, not to mention the fact that I always pay for your meals even though you’re richer than I am. My only use is picking out your jewellery.”
“At least you know it,” Jongdae sticks out his tongue, placing said diamond studs into both ears. Finally, he sets about finally putting on his shirt. He’s ready just in time for there’s a knock on his door not two seconds after he pushes the last into the hole.
“Come in,” he calls and the door opens to reveal Baekhyun, looking handsome as always in a sleek waiter’s uniform, bow tie and all.
He does a little twirl, “What do you think?”
Jongdae is always a little breath taken when he sees him and this time it’s no different, “You look really good. But you knew that already. Is there a reason you’re always in uniforms?”
“Maybe I just like being at your service,” Baekhyun’s all cheek and flirtation as he shrugs and Jongdae shoves him in exasperation, “No but I’m being serious. I have to pose as a waiter at the opera house for the VIP box. The VIP box which you two,” he points at the both of them, “have seats in.”
Jongdae looks to Minseok for his opinion, “Sounds simple enough, no?”
Minseok nods at the younger, not quite worried. He points out the folder in Baekhyun’s hand, “Is that the info on our target?”
“Yeah,” Baekhyun confirms, holding out the folder Junmyeon had given him, “Everything’s here.”
They allow Jongdae to have the first look, eyes scanning over the printed pages and cementing the information into his head.
Target : Park Yongsik, Chairman of Park Pharmaceuticals.
Park Pharmaceuticals is one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in South Korea. It has nearly a complete monopoly over the industry, thanks to their allegiance to Exo and Junmyeon’s father. When the company was just starting out, the family had gone to Junmyeon’s father for money and help to jumpstart the process. Their father had seen the business potential in the company and agreed to do so, but only if the Parks would give him 50% of the profits. Desperate but also thinking it wasn’t too terrible of a deal, they took his offer. It was clearly the right move because they grew exponentially and with time became the multi-million dollar company they are today.
But the rich and successful are often the greediest of them all because once Junmyeon’s father was no longer in the picture, Yongsik decided to claim their profit as one quite lower than the actual numbers show so more of that money can go in his own pocket. Little did he know that Junmyeon, like his father, wasn’t someone to be taken lightly.
Junmyeon believes in giving chances. He doesn’t want to be seen as an asshole, unless given no other choice. Compromise. He always does his best to compromise. His kinder way of running things sometimes causes others to think of him as a weak Leader with no backbone but he is the furthest from it. If things can be resolved with words and negotiation, he’ll take that route without a second thought. But, if nothing of the sort works, he spares no one any mercy.
His mindset led him to developing a simple system of letting other syndicates, businesses, individuals, know where they stand with him. The system was completely and utterly influenced by Jongdae’s insistence on the fact that any message you want to relay can be told with a single flower.
And so, one knew they were considered Allies by Exo when they received Chrysanthemums, the flower of friendship and well-wishes. A warning that one was walking on thin ice came in the form of lovely and deadly Aconite, which is poisonous to touch and along with it was attached a lovely message:
Warning: may cause death
And so may we
It’s easy to say that after receiving such a chill-inducing message, many straighten up their behaviour for fear of it becoming a reality. But, ‘many’ doesn’t include Park Yongsik. He continued disobeying Junmyeon and trying to get away with it under his nose. Now, it is only fitting that Junmyeon follows through with his claim.
Jongdae finishes reading and hands off the folder to Minseok.
“I remember seeing this guy at one of those lame ass parties my mom loved throwing. He thought it was nice to pinch my cheeks.”
Baekhyun takes it upon himself to lightly pinch one of Jongdae’s cheeks, “But I bet you were such a little cutie, how can you blame him?”
Jongdae grumbles and pushes Baekhyun away but the latter is undeterred, simply hooking his arm with Jongdae’s instead and comfortably resting his head on the ball of his shoulder. The casual proximity makes a light flush dust his cheeks.
“He was pretty damn cute,” Minseok admits, eyes not lifting from the document he’s reading but the corner of his mouth betrays a small quirk, “He would follow Jun around every party, just holding on to the back of his sleeve.”
“No fucking way,” Baekhyun gushes, glancing up from where he’s perched on Jongdae’s shoulder with a fond look on his face. His grin widens at the annoyed expression Jongdae is wearing. Then, he glances back at Minseok.
“Wait,” He looks between the two of them, “How long have you two known each other?”
“Well, I’m twenty-four, so…” Jongdae counts off the years in his head, “Fifteen years.”
“Damn, that’s so long…” Baekhyun trails off. He can’t even imagine knowing someone for more than half his lifetime and being still so close as they seem to be. Can’t imagine keeping a friendship going strong for even a fifth of that time.
His thoughts are interrupted by Minseok snapping the folder shut and standing. Minseok pauses for a moment, gaze indecipherable when it lands on how Baekhyun is clinging to Jongdae but he snaps out of it so quickly it goes unnoticed.
“I’m done here. Baekhyun did you get the chance to read everything over already?” At Baekhyun’s nod, Minseok begins walking out, taking his suit jacket with him, “Then let’s go get ready.”
Minseok leads the way through a hallway and down a few flights of stairs, the entrance of which is well hidden from prying eyes, until they’re well underground. Baekhyun got a quick tour on his last visit so he knows that they’re heading for their armory. Minseok bypasses multiple password locked security systems before finally opening the door that gives them access to the lower level.
Exo’s headquarters is rather unassuming above ground. It’s a rather large house with as many bedrooms as it has members with a few extra to spare. A kitchen, living room, ensuite bathrooms, spacious garage, nothing out of the ordinary, besides maybe Yixing’s examination room but that’s hardly incriminating.
Everything interesting resides on the lower level. The armory being one of the most. Once again, specific passcodes are required to enter and the moment they step past the threshold, Baekhyun’s eyes go wide. The walls are lined with many different weapons, from semi-automatic rifles to handguns.
“This is nice,” Baekhyun comments. Jongdae smiles at how much he resembles a kid in a candy store.
“Pick whatever you want, knock yourself out,” Jongdae gestures to their extensive supply, then tacks on, “Just keep it easily concealable obviously. I highly doubt bringing a shotgun to an opera house is appropriate.”
Minseok snorts from where he’s grabbing magazines for his go-to handgun, “I mean, that’s one way to make the fat lady sing.”
That draws small laughs from the other two but everyone is mostly quiet as they equip themselves with everything necessary to get the job done seamlessly. For Jongdae, it’s a 6 inch combat knife strapped to his ankle in addition to the standard handgun the other two are carrying. The final step is Jongdae plucking the petals off a black rose that he dyes himself and replaces when it dries out, carefully folding them into the handkerchief he places in his breast pocket. The petals are another message in and of itself. Black flowers are universally known as a symbol of death, which is rather fitting given the reason they’re heading for the opera. As it’s not too complicated of a mission, they’re in the car and ready to go within the next five minutes.
“Okay so we need to talk about how exactly this is going to play out,” Minseok begins once he pulls out of the driveway. He shifts gear to bring his car into a gentle cruise, “I think our best option is that we wait for him to go to the washroom. Baekhyun, you let us know when the coast is clear and Jongdae and I are going to pretend that we’re sneaking off to have a little fun so everyone else sitting in the VIP box aren’t suspicious.”
Jongdae lets out a laugh, throwing his head back against the leather headrest. He regards Minseok with a raised eyebrow once he’s ceased laughing, “So we’re doing that again?”
He can see the corner of Minseok’s mouth curl into a smirk, “I mean it’s pretty foolproof and works every time.”
Minseok isn’t wrong. Over the years, they’ve had quite few jobs that required them to give the illusion that they were intimately involved in some way. At first, Jongdae was worried that it wouldn’t be believable but such worries were easily forgotten when they put the theory into practice and figured out that they were naturals at pretending that there was something more between them; already so comfortable with one another, their usual interactions were simply heightened, touches lingering, pressing higher, more suggestively than normal.
Then again, pretending to want someone isn’t the hardest thing when you already want them.
As a result, rumors flit around, snaking through the underground pipeline, surrounding the nature of Xiumin and Chen’s relationship. The way they’ve been spotted, intimately draped over one another, has done nothing to disprove the suggestion of intimacy between them, yet, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Friends is all they have ever been. Very close, extremely close, yes, but simply friends.
“It’s been awhile so why the hell not?” Jongdae agrees, mind traveling back to many months ago for a moment. Then, a startling thought crosses his mind. Baekhyun . He whirls around to face Baekhyun, who’s sitting in the backseat with an amused quirk to his mouth.
“Are you…” Teeth begin to chew at Jongdae’s bottom lip. Baekhyun’s face softens when he sees the worry tilting Jongdae’s brows, expectant, “Is it…okay? If Hyung and I…”
Jongdae trails off but his implications are rather obvious. Baekhyun blinks for a moment, taken aback that Jongdae is asking him for the go ahead, taking his feelings into consideration. They haven’t even gone on their first date yet. They’re not dating. Jongdae technically doesn’t owe him anything. But, he still thought of him and that fact makes Baekhyun want to lean over and kiss Jongdae as breathless as he is currently making him. Sadly, they aren’t alone and despite Minseok driving quietly, it’s impossible to overlook his presence, so Baekhyun settles for placing his hand over the one Jongdae has curled over the seat.
“It’s fine,” Baekhyun’s so earnest that it has Jongdae’s stomach twisting, slim fingers warm against his own, “Don’t worry about it.”
Baekhyun’s words soothe a nervousness that Jongdae didn’t know would be so prominent. Jongdae nods, swallowing to keep his heart from coming out of his throat.
A thumb softly brushes over Jongdae’s knuckles, pausing at the most prominent one to draw slow circles around it. The gentle touch makes Jongdae minutely tighten his loose hold on the seat.
A throat clearing makes them both jolt and break eye contact to shift their attention to Minseok. Minseok doesn’t so much as glance at them as he speaks, “So Baekhyun, have you been to this Opera house specifically? Do you know the layout?”
Baekhyun gives Jongdae a small wink before answering the older, “I have many times, when I was working on my own.”
Minseok nods, putting on his flashers before changing lanes, “Okay good. Saves us the trouble of showing you around. When Jongdae and I are in the washroom, we need you to keep an eye on it and make sure no one comes near.”
“Got it,” Baekhyun answers, nerves jittering as the venue slowly approaches. But they’re the good type of jitters, the ones that keep him on his toes, ready for any complications that could possibly arise. They sharpen his senses to a razor point and Baekhyun can see he’s not the only one affected. Jongdae can’t seem to keep his leg from shaking, bouncing it up and down and gnawing at his bottom lip. With Minseok, it’s much more subtle, knuckles turning white as his fingers tense around the steering wheel.
Regardless, the set of their jaws is confident, the look in their eyes determined and even though this is the first time on a job as three, as CBX, there’s this unspoken almost trust lingering in the air between them. It’s a mutual understanding that relying on each other is the only option. Like a three-legged table, if one leg fails to do its job, the whole table comes down.
And that’s enough for the time being.
Chapter 8: 008
Sorry for the delay in this chapter! Things got a little busy in my life. Nevertheless, here it is :)
The National Opera House of Seoul boasts glamour from top to bottom. A high domed ceiling amplifies the sound and allows it to travel the furthest it can. The seats are a plush wine red velvet, uniform with the floor to ceiling curtains that obscure the stage from view when it is not in use. The floors are a cold marble that clicks under the heels of Jongdae’s dress shoes as he and Minseok make their way to the elevator which will bring them to the top floor. Baekhyun is already off in the employees only section of the building.
They step inside and Minseok presses the appropriate button, the door closing promptly when no other person walks in. Completely alone, besides the security camera in the back left corner, Jongdae slides into the already small space between him and Minseok and reduces it to nothing, arm falling to rest around the older’s waist.
Minseok gives him a knowing smirk and reciprocates by leaning into the embrace. The two know that the cameras have been shut off for them specifically, so Minseok when he speaks, it’s freely, “You’re ready Dae?”
The use of his nickname makes Jongdae want to melt into a puddle right then and there. But, he has a job to do. Instead, he lightly squeezes Minseok’s hip.
“I was born ready.”
The elevator reaches their floor and Xiumin and Chen step out. Almost immediately, they’re greeted with a waiter carrying a tray of complimentary flutes of champagne that he nearly upends when he sees them.
“Chen-ssi, Xiumin-ssi, welcome,” He bows as he balances the tray carefully, “Would you like a glass of champagne?”
Minseok already knows that it probably isn’t the type Jongdae likes so he shakes his head, “No thank you, we’d like our usuals. You can have it sent over to our seats.”
“Of course! It’ll be ready shortly,” and he bows one last time as they walk passed, Minseok giving him a polite thank you. Jongdae switches his grip so he loops his arm through Minseok’s and curls his hand to hold onto his bicep instead as they spot some well known faces by the bar.
Jongdae raises a brow in interest and gestures towards the small cluster of men chattering away.
“Maybe we should go say hi.”
“Maybe we should,” and with Minseok’s approval, Jongdae leads the way to the bar, a gleam in his eye and a dangerous curl to his lips that tells Minseok he’s up to no good. The men take no notice to their sudden appearance for the first few moments before one of them glances up and startles.
“C-Chen-ssi, Xiumin-ssi!” The man, director of a reputable hospital in the district, cousin to their target, stands quickly to greet them, slapping on a shaky smile. The rest whirl their heads around, one nearly falling from his stool, and widen their eyes in surprise, clearly not having thought Minseok and Jongdae were attending tonight.
“What a nice surprise! What made you decide to join us tonight?”
“I was bored,” Jongdae shrugs with easy nonchalance, “I thought a night out would entertain me more than staying home. Do you mind if Xiumin and I join you?”
“Not at all,” Another man pipes in, older, hair peppered with grey and rather rotund. Jongdae recognizes him as a rather well known politician. One who is rather acquainted with the dealings of his older brother. He plays the politician part well, Jongdae thinks, putting together a welcoming ruse. Jongdae can see right through it but then again, he’s used to dealing with snakes, “We’d love to have your company.”
“Thank you, you’re very kind,” Minseok offers him a tiny quirk of his lips but that’s the most someone would expect to get from Xiumin: irritated, stoic or angry being his three default expressions. Any other variations scarcely appear and if they do, they’re reduced, small, “What were you three gentlemen speaking about before we interrupted?”
The man who has been quiet until now speaks up, “We were discussing the upcoming game night. It’s tomorrow evening, will you be attending?”
This man, Junhong, is one Jongdae recognizes very, very well. He remembers, as a young child, walking in on countless arguments Junhong had with Jongdae’s father, their voices booming in his ears and causing fear to rise in his gut. He runs the majority of the clubs in the city, the underground, seedy, filthy ones but also, ones that are prim and high class and proper. Not White Noise though.
Never White Noise.
It wasn’t without him trying. Jongdae didn’t forget the way he tried to wheedle Junmyeon into signing him over the rights to the club, thinking he could take advantage simply because Junmyeon was young. In fact, all of the men currently present think Junmyeon isn’t fit to lead due to him being practically half their age. Though not all of them are stupid enough to voice it or even stupider to try and go against it.
They have to simply accept the fact that Exo were on top and they weren’t.
With smugness in his chest, Jongdae leans his head onto Minseok’s shoulder, Cheshire grin widening as their eyes follow the action. Possessively tightening his hold on Minseok’s bicep, he regards them, words a purr at the tail end, “He won’t be attending, he’ll be a bit preoccupied that night, won’t you Xiumin ?”
Minseok masks the shudder that tears through him as Jongdae’s lip brushes the shell of his ear. Instead, he turns his head to press a sultry kiss to Jongdae’s cheek, following it up with a slow caress. Near the end of the touch, he lightly grabs Jongdae’s chin, tilting it so he can look him in the eyes.
“Of course. You’ll have me all to yourself.”
Two of the men have a similar expression of discomfort on their faces. Clearly, they would rather be somewhere else. But one doesn’t seem to mind at all, eyes raking over them in interest. Junhong has always spent too much time looking at Minseok in a way that makes fury churn in Jongdae’s gut. Fury is often an emotion he feels around the man: he double crossed his father, attempted to do so with his brother, would probably do it to him if he had the chance. If he wasn’t so useful, Jongdae would have made good on all of his father’s threats and thrown the man in the Han river with bricks chained to his feet. He’d be doing everyone a favour anyways.
Ultimately, at this moment, he’s not in a position to act out his urge so he settles on gloating, because everything Junhong has ever wanted, Jongdae has. Jongdae raises a straight brow as if to say ‘ see?’ , returning his head to the slant of Minseok’s shoulder, “Sorry, maybe another game night.”
It’s a blatant lie because they don’t often make appearances at the underground ‘game nights’, essentially just illegal gambling parties, with more than enough alcohol, pretty women and a tad too much testosterone. Gambling was never something Jongdae was interested in, it seemed like a waste of money to him and casino games only served as the simplest way to make someone want to kill you. The tension rises and weak men bet more than they’re willing to part with and that unwillingness results in a bullet to the head, later on, as the weak men steal back what was won fair and square. Needless to say, Jongdae didn’t attend unless his presence was required and Minseok shared the same opinion.
“That’s no problem,” Junhong grits out behind a bitter smile. He takes a large gulp of his scotch and didn’t so much as flinch as it burns down his throat. He’s tempted to maybe smash the glass against the countertop and make use of the jagged edges but he knows that if he even touched a hair on Chen’s head, he wouldn’t make it out of this building alive. Not with the way Xiumin is watching him, eyes narrowed into a silent warning. One that he’s gotten from Suho too. No matter how much Chen seems to be a royal pain in his ass, he can’t get rid of him.
“Gentleman,” a voice cuts through the tension like a knife, one that Minseok and Jongdae are quite familiar with, “The show will be starting in five, so it’s best if you were to head to your seats now.”
Baekhyun stands behind the bar, the epitome of professional in his flattering uniform.
“Thank you for telling us,” The politician replies and downs the last bit of his drink, the other two men following suit, “Let’s join Yongsik and our wives. They are waiting for us.”
At the sound of their target’s name, their senses sharpen to a razor point. They are quick to address each other subtly, in the form of a nod or a brief wink. Everyone is now standing, empty glasses on the countertop left for Baekhyun to pick up. They start heading towards the entrance of the concert hall.
“Chen-ssi, Xiumin-ssi,” Baekhyun calls after them and said men turn to see Baekhyun, a kind smile on his face. Jongdae fights the urge to smile back or laugh, “Your drinks are coming up. I’ll bring them to you myself.”
“Don’t mess them up or I might not be very generous with the tip,” Jongdae winks cheekily at Baekhyun to counteract the sternness in his voice.
Baekhyun somehow manages to keep a mostly straight face but the urge to let out a chuckle is very present, “Of course. I’ll do my best.”
With that, Minseok and Jongdae leave to catch the tail end of the group of men heading to their respective seats. The double doors open to reveal a balcony with the very best view the House has to offer. It’s situated high and just right, allowing you to not miss anything happening on stage. The few seats are organized in rows, already occupied by older women dressed head to toe in the latest designer fashion and a man at the far end, fitted in a dark suit.
Upon seeing them walk in, the ladies make to stand but Jongdae stops them with a hand and a kind grin, “Please don’t get up.”
Minseok rolls his eyes at the way they swoon when Jongdae takes his seat beside him, complimenting one of them on her sleek black heels and giving her his complete attention as she recounts that they were one of a kind and that the designer himself had to be persuaded to allow her to buy them off him. Jongdae ooed and awed at every appropriate moment, straight brows raising, quite impressed. Minseok simply observes as Jongdae charms each of them from the seat next to him, eyes rapt on Jongdae’s profile. The women are simply enraptured by the young man and the way he manages to make them feel like they were the only important person in the room. Minseok clearly doesn’t blame them, long having succumbed to the consuming force that is the Jongdae effect .
Jongdae suddenly begins batting his long fluttery lashes in Minseok’s direction, fingers coming out to trace the bone on Minseok’s wrist which is resting on the armrest. The look in his eyes is full of coy amusement, making his lips quirk.
“What do you think of Sooyeon-noona’s new necklace?,” Jongdae gestures at the rather sparkly and gaudy piece hanging off the politician’s wife’s neck. Minseok enjoys expensive jewellery, don’t get him wrong, but it is frankly quite hideous. He knows Jongdae’s thinking the same thing by the upward tilt of his brows, “It’s pretty isn’t it?”
Noona? He has these poor ladies eating out of his hands. Minseok wants to kiss that bratty smirk right off his lips, maybe take him down a notch or two. Instead, Minseok simply raises a single brow.
“It’s certainly very pretty,” he regards said noona with a kind smile for a short moment. His free hand raises to lightly trace along the edge of Jongdae’s collar, delighting in the way only he can feel Jongdae’s breath hitch from so near, “Maybe I should buy something for you? You certainly have a pretty neck. Anything would look nice around it. Would you want me to?”
“I’d enjoy anything you’d give me, Xiumin,” Jongdae can hear the gushing of the women beside them and it only causes his smirk to grow in size. Women are always the easiest to entertain, all it takes is some good looking men, add in some sexual tension and alcohol, and they go home happy. It’s almost always men who make things more complicated, testosterone diluting their common sense until it is nearly nonexistent.
“Well aren’t you…” Minseok’s hand comes to briefly cup the younger’s face. Jongdae sees Minseok’s eyes inconspicuously flit to their target, who is situated a couple of seats away from them, before returning to meet Jongdae’s, “sweet.”
“The sweetest,” Jongdae dips his head to press a light farewell kiss to Minseok’s palm then shifts in his seat to entertain the women once again. Minseok catches typical complaints and jealousy, the wives wondering how Jongdae could get someone so sweet and stating that they are how much they clearly adore each other. They go on and on about how beautiful young passionate love is.
Minseok masks a snort, a bitterness coating the back of his tongue.
If only they knew.
He craves something to help wash it down and Baekhyun appears as if on call, bearing their drinks. Minseok is one part relieved and another part even more bitter at just the sight of him. Baekhyun hands them their drinks with sheer professionalism. His smile and demeanour friendly but not suspiciously so. One wouldn’t be able to tell that they knew each other from their interactions.
Even when Jongdae pulls a few fifty thousand won bills and slides them in Baekhyun’s pocket, it simply looks like a waiter receiving a jaw dropping amount of tip rather than two not-quite-boyfriends having too much fun with this ‘undercover’ business. After Baekhyun and Jongdae pull the typical ‘oh no this is too much. I can’t accept this ’ and ‘please, I really insist ’, embellished with Baekhyun’s hand over his mouth, supposedly to show how ‘shocked’ he is, but really it’s hiding the grin that threatens to stretch across his face, Baekhyun takes his leave. The concert hall grows dark and Jongdae and Minseok settle into their seats.
The crowd is hushed as the curtains are drawn and the lights grow stronger, illuminating the stage crafted to look like a majestic circus. A large prop circus tent sits at the center, painted in stripes of shimmering gold, stark white and bright red, the drums building, higher and higher and higher until the spotlight shines on an actor dressed as an elegant clown. The music ceases and the actor sings.
Minseok discreetly leans into Jongdae’s space, lightly pressing his lips to the shell of the other’s ear, “Baekhyun’s in position. Everything’s good to go.”
A simple system was established for the two to communicate with Baekhyun. Baekhyun would send Minseok a text. Even though they were discouraged to use their phones during the show, Minseok could simply understand the message through the vibration it caused him to feel against his thigh. One buzz meant the coast was clear. Two buzzes warned them to wait. Three told them to abandon their job and return to headquarters as soon as possible.
Jongdae squeezes the hand Minseok has on the arm rest but otherwise makes no visible confirmation that he’s heard him. His eyes follow the performers on stage. His ears listen to the powerful vocals amplified by the shape of the hall. Yet, his mind is elsewhere. Small tremors run through his hands to the very tips of his fingers. The gun hidden beneath his suit jacket feels molten, heat bleeding through the thin fabric of his dress shirt and into his skin like a brand. There’s a nervous flutter in his chest in place of a regular heartbeat. He swallows to soothe his dry throat, not trusting his hands to be steady enough, at the moment, to bring his flute of champagne to his mouth and drink from it without spilling it onto himself.
But they need to steady enough to launch a bullet, to wield a knife, to end someone’s life.
He forces his mind to go blank. Forces himself to forget that the lady he smiled at so kindly before is the wife of the man who he will be forced to put a bullet through his skull. Forces down the ever present revulsion that claws its way up his esophagus. Revulsion towards himself for allowing it to become manageable over the years. To have let it become so small that he’s now able to snap a lid on it for the time being.
His mind goes blank. Wiped clean of anything of unimportance. There are only two people in the room that matter: Minseok and Yongsik. He can feel the steady presence of Minseok beside him, their arms touching from shoulder to wrist. Yongsik’s is like a black hole, two seats from him, sucking the life and the energy around him.
He unglues his tongue from the roof of his mouth.
Toes flex in the confines of his Italian leather shoes.
Hands grip the arm rests tightly. Nails digging into the red fabric unforgivingly.
Teeth bite into his inner cheek. Copper fills his mouth.
Chen curls his fingers around his flute of champagne and brings it to his lips, allowing the bubbly liquid to wash the taste away.
Two seats over, Yongsik is shaking in his hand-waxed calf leather dress shoes. When he saw Chen and Xiumin walk in, looking like the embodiment of sin and danger they very much are, an icy, dense ball of dread dropped to the pit of his stomach. He knew he was playing with fire when he decided to breach the agreement with Exo. But by the time he realized just how far into the devil’s nest he had walked, it was too late. He was hooked on the feeling it gave him to spend the money that wasn’t his, the money of someone so powerful, and get away with it.
Or so he thought.
The consequences to his foolish actions have finally caught up with him and it causes him to break out into a cold sweat, shirt sticking to his back and drops dripping down his forehead. His thoughts go to the flowers that appeared on his doorstep, in his car, even in his damn bedroom, which he had to scramble to hide before his wife saw. Each time with that damn message attached to it. It was easy to slap on gloves and and burn them to ashes in his fireplace without a second thought. Somehow he thought that he could simply be more discreet, cover up his tracks better, and it would just go away.
Clearly, it isn’t going away and Xiumin and Chen showing up isn’t something he can simply toss in a fire and forget about. He’s clearly not dumb enough to think their presence is a mere coincidence. Yet, he hopes with every inch of his trembling body that they’re only here to warn him once more. Maybe they’ll only rough him up a little. He can handle a beating. Besides, it’s a very public venue, surely they wouldn’t try and kill him here.