Mino dreams of staring out over a tranquil ocean, of holding Taehyun close and not having to let go.
Mino's reality is four am and blood smeared palms. Is staring into the glassy eyes of a dead man. Is re-loading his gun, and then slipping his gun under their pillow at night.
Taehyun dreams of a city neighbourhood, of hot coffee on cold lips. Of talking for hours and falling into bed together, and staying in it until the sun is setting again.
But his reality mirrors that of the man he loves: Orders are carried out, secrets are stolen from the lips of the desperate. He loads his gun and places it neatly on their bedside cabinet night after night.
Dreaming is pointless in this line of business.
There are only minor changes to the way they live, once they're together.
Now Taehyun doesn't ignore the brush of Mino's hand as he passes him his coffee in the morning. He doesn't try to stifle his laughter when Mino buttons his shirt up wrongly and he doesn't flinch when Mino tells him candid snippets of his childhood in the dead of night. He isn't a fortress now.
But they're still co-agents above all else, and the clock keeps on ticking as it always has, and always will.
Sometimes, Taehyun still can't quite bear to think about the passing of time, but he stops experimenting with taking off his watch. He has a new one, now, anyway. One with their initials, their real ones, the ones that don't officially exist on any legal document anymore, engraved on the underside.
(Taehyun hadn't wanted to accept this gift.
Had said, "Do you realise how stupid this is? Do you realise what would happen if someone found out that we'd shared this information with each other?" as Mino had stood in front of him, holding out the box on a cold day in December.
Taehyun had put it on, if only to keep their secrets safe. Had said, "I have to wear it, now. We can't just keep it in the box, lying around to be found... Or, actually, maybe we should burn it."
And Mino had laughed. Wasn't offended by Taehyun's blunt reaction. He'd replied, "No one knows; I was careful. Please don't worry," as he'd fastened the clasp. Had traced the clock-face with his thumb, and then had pulled Taehyun closer and kissed him roughly.
Had pretended he wasn't sometimes worried too.)
On their first night in a new city - a new mark, a new plan picking up motion - Taehyun stretches his arms above his head and lets out a breath he thinks he might have been holding in for weeks.
Taehyun has always liked this first night on a mission, although he rarely admits liking any part of this job, even to himself. But he must like something about it, he knows he must. After all, there was a reason he'd been attracted to the agency in the first place.
He just can't remember what the reason was anymore.
He wonders whether it was a need for excitement; the adrenaline rush. Or maybe a need to be special and the satisfaction of protecting those around you without them ever knowing about it. Maybe it was neither of these things.
One thing he does know is that he likes nights like these. Arriving somewhere new, the thrill of checking in at the reception of a hotel and sliding a fake passport across the desk.
He tells this to Mino as they lean against the headboard of Mino's bed and wait for messages from the agency on their latest target's whereabouts.
(They still sometimes get separate hotel rooms, they're officially only co-agents, after all. And then, they designate the room with the best view, or the nicest layout, or the biggest bed as their own.
They make the other room look as lived in as possible. Ruffled bed sheets, towel on the floor of the bathroom. Taehyun always uses the free hotel pen, using it to write the names of his old team down on his palm, keeping them alive in name, as he promised himself he would when they died.
And then he washes the markings away, leaves the room and returns to his living, breathing, partner.)
Taehyun plays with the strap of his watch as he voices his thoughts. "I guess I enjoy this part of-" He pauses, waves his hand. "- the job, because it's like a time of calm before the storm."
Mino clicks his tongue. "I don't like the waiting. I like knowing the brief has been carried out. I like the finish; logging in and signifying the mission is complete... How can you find the start more satisfying than the end?"
"Because you've always logged in like that - mission complete," Taehyun says, gently. "Because you've never had to log in to the fact that two thirds of your team are dead."
Mino reaches out, stills Taehyun's hand as he tugs at his watch absent-mindedly and covers it with his own. "Sorry. I guess I didn't think that through before speaking."
Taehyun shifts on the bed, takes Mino's hand when he offers it, but doesn't stop fidgeting, traces Mino's palm with the tips of his fingers instead.
"No-- it's good that we have different views on it. If one of us is in this life for the beginnings, and one of us is in it for the endings, we only have to get through the middle and it'll be okay." He laughs, but it's an empty sound. "At least we've always been good at the middle part."
"We are good at it aren't we?" Mino says. "Hey -- what do you think you'd be doing right now if you'd never joined the agency?"
Taehyun shrugs. "I have no idea. There's nothing else I can do."
"Of course there is. You're intelligent and thoughtful. You're creative. You'd be doing something creative."
Taehyun neither agrees nor disagrees with this. Just says, "Why are you being so complimentary tonight? Are you trying to get on my good side?"
"That, or into your pants." Mino grins, rolls over and presses Taehyun into the sheets.
The message they were awaiting comes through only one kiss later, and the chime that accompanies it signals the arrival of the storm. Taehyun sighs.
He tugs at his gloves, pulls the leather up his wrist so that it hides his watch and steps out into the night with his co-agent. He makes it to the end of the mission with two bullets left in his gun and information to relay to the agency that it may cost another life to protect.
Says, "You send the report; enjoy your favourite part of the mission," to Mino, as they peel off their gloves and untie boot laces in the doorway of their room. "I'm taking a shower."
(Is joined by Mino five minutes later. Mino's chest pressed close up against his back as he slips into the shower behind him, the flat palm of Mino's hand sliding around and down his body with precision.
"This is my favourite part of mission end," Mino clarifies, as his hand travels lower, and they work through adrenaline and hunger and gratefulness that they're here, together, alive.)
It's a month later and Taehyun's watch is still firmly attached to his wrist.
Mino's chest rises and falls under his hand as they rest from a sleepless week of trying to stay alive. Taehyun lies awake, counts the drips of the tap in the en-suite of their hotel room.
Mino's voice breaks the quiet, thick with exhaustion as he whispers, "What are you thinking about?"
"How come you can always tell if I'm awake?" Taehyun replies.
"For the same reason you can't help but focus on the ticking of clocks, the dripping of taps and creaks in hallways on the other side of buildings."
Taehyun understands. Their job, their lives are the reason entirely, and he knows it. Both men attuned to every sense. To listen for the sound of footsteps, to watch for suspicious eyes in a crowded room, to know whether the man lying next to you is sleeping or awake.
"It's nothing really. It's just, it's Nam Taehyun's birthday in two days. My birthday, I mean."
"Oh." Mino reaches across his body to turn on the bedside lamp. Blinks as the room lights up. "I didn't know."
Taehyun lets a small laugh slip past his lips as he takes in the frown on his partner's face. Thinks, this is stupid. It's dangerous enough that they use each other's birth names, adding more personal details to their oh-so intimate knowledge of each other isn't a particularly good idea.
"Why would you know? I've never told you. It's best you don't know, really."
"Most couples know that sort of stuff."
"Most couples will have spent tonight watching television or cooking dinner or making out, not-- doing what we did."
"What did we do on your birthday last year?" Mino wonders aloud, but he doesn't expect an answer.
"Killed someone. Or planned to kill someone, maybe."
"Oh, can you remember?" He sounds genuinely impressed.
Taehyun feels an urge to laugh.
He isn't sure why he finds this conversation so amusing, it's just completely bizarre to be talking about something as normal as birthdays. "No," he replies. "It's just a guess. I-- I never think about it, anymore - my birthday. I was just reminded today. Something I read in the newspaper."
"We'll celebrate." Mino sounds so decisive that Taehyun's amusement really does turn to laughter.
"Oh, of course we will. Because HQ will have thought about this. They've probably given me a surprise day off work to celebrate, they're thoughtful like that." He rolls his eyes.
Mino grins back at him. It is an absurd thought. He watches Taehyun's face; the way his eyelashes cast a shadow below his eyes, the perfect curve of his lips. Mino reaches out and pulls him closer, brushes his lips against his hair. They haven't showered yet and he can smell the faint scent of blood in Taehyun's hair.
"Don't spoil my fun," Mino says. "We will celebrate. In some way, we will."
When they wake up again in the middle of the night, they have six messages awaiting them from the agency and two men to kill by the time Taehyun turns another year older.
"Happy Birthday," Mino wakes him up with the words, and then a kiss. Repeats this over and over, until the words are an echo in Taehyun's mind, drowned out by the taste of Mino's mouth.
It's written on his coffee cup in hotel biro, and then sang to him in the shower with a smirk. Twice.
They spend Taehyun's birthday indoors, researching their next mission, reading through file upon file of intricacies, holed up inside as the day grows darker.
"Okay, that's enough," Mino announces at eight pm, but Taehyun doesn't respond. Keeps reading until Mino turns out the lights.
"What-- I'm still doing research."
"We only have four hours of your birthday left and I really want you to be naked for at least three of them."
"Mino...Turn the light on."
"Come on," he whines. "I'll do that thing you like."
Taehyun can only see Mino's shadow on the bed across the room, but can tell just from his voice as he says this that Mino is pouting.
"I like a lot of things," he says. Lips pursed, holding his ground.
"Exactly," Mino pushes himself off the bed, closes the space between them. Taehyun counts his footsteps: five, six, seven, and then he's there behind him, leaning over his shoulder, snaking his hand around Taehyun's watch.
"Tick-tock, birthday boy. Three hours and fifty seven minutes to go," he says, even though there is no way Mino can really see the time on the watch-face in the darkness.
"You're my least favourite co-agent," Taehyun groans, but he's naked within ten minutes regardless.
It's a warm evening in a forgettable town at the end of a mission. Mino's favourite part of the job, Taehyun thinks, smiling as he watches his co-agent from the door of their balcony.
"Want a drink? I'm having one."
"Hmm?" Mino seems distracted. "No drink. We just got a message."
"Already?" Taehyun feels his heart sink a little.
(Wants Mino to get to enjoy the ending.)
He steps out onto the balcony. "Are you going to let me see?"
Mino is covering the screen with his hands. "Wait." He looks up. "I'll read it for you."
Taehyun's shoulders are tense. "Why won't you let me look? What does it say? Don't tell me we have to stay here for longer. We got all of the information they asked from us and-"
"It's not that," Mino cuts in. "We're expected back at head quarters next week. It's-- I don't know, routine upgrades of the software, some training bullshit. It should only take a day or two, apparently."
Taehyun doesn't feel like his celebratory drink any longer. "Oh, fuck. Both of us?"
Mino nods. "I know you prefer field work."
"More like I avoid going back there as much as possible."
Mino gives him a small smile. "Look, it's just routine stuff. And I'll be there too. We've been back together before."
Taehyun frowns. "I didn't like it then, either," he says. Slips back inside their hotel room.
He's never liked returning to the agency head quarters, but he can't refuse the orders. And so he packs his bags, glances at his watch and hopes that the time spent at HQ will at least move faster than usual.
"Home." Mino grins as they enter the agency's building.
Taehyun isn't sure if he's being sarcastic or not, since his memories of this building are probably better than his own. Probably. He doesn't know for sure; there is still a lot the men don't know about each other. Even now, Taehyun can only take so much history, small-talk and shared stories, and sometimes Mino feels like he can almost see his co-agent's shoulders straining with the weight of the knowledge.
Taehyun can't be sure that Mino doesn't truly think of their agency's head quarters as a home of sorts. But, for Taehyun, HQ is no more his home than any of the hundreds of places he has visited so far in his lifetime, and no more his home than any of the places he has yet to visit. Even when he started out, a rookie agent desperate to prove his worth, he'd preferred being out in the field to the vast hallways and piercing stares of the agency's control centre.
(He also holds memories of this building that fill his mouth with a bitter taste.)
Taehyun takes a glance through the small glass window of a boardroom as he passes. Just a quick glance, and yet the sight is branded into his memory for weeks after.
He recognises the scene: the cold eyes of a senior agent at one end of the table, another agent sat at the other end, blank stare, fists clenched at her sides. Taehyun remembers sitting in that same seat after Operation R.8. Remembers the line he was fed after the death of his closest friends:
"Of course it goes without saying they will not be spoken of again."
He can feel the anger rising inside of him as Mino pulls at his jacket sleeve and says, "I hope this doesn't last too long," low into his ear. Taehyun wishes it were already over.
As it turns out, the day pans out much as Mino had told him it probably would: Routine software updates, some updated security measures. Updates to the documents that strip away all of their individuality, humanity, existence.
Taehyun feels like he's suffocating.
Mino walks ahead when the day finally comes to an end. Taehyun is distracted, wondering whether the agent with the clenched fists that he saw being briefed has forgotten her fallen co-agent yet.
He hopes not.
He steps out into the corridor, pausing as he hears footsteps behind him. Someone close by clears their throat and says, "May I have a word, agent?"
Taehyun turns around and is faced with an agent he remembers from his days in training. Older, experienced, his senior. Taehyun has a bad feeling about this, but it isn't like he can say no.
The other agent isn't interested in getting an answer, anyway. Continues, "It's regarding statuses. specifically logging them in with ourselves here at HQ."
Taehyun finds his voice. "I am very familiar with the procedure."
"Really? Because we received some-- interesting intelligence recently." The other agent pulls a sheet of paper from the briefcase he holds, hands it to Taehyun. It's a printed copy of their logging system. It has a date in the corner and a series of codes. It has Status: Active written next to Mino's alias, with a hand written question mark added next to this.
It's dated the night Mino went missing; the night Taehyun didn't log him in as missing. The night that symbolised the beginning of their relationship.
"It seems to me like maybe you need some further training."
Taehyun swallows, tries to suppress the wave of panic he feels.
The senior agent takes the document back without a word. Says, "If an agent is missing in action, they must be logged in as such. Anything that prevents you from fulfilling your duties will not be tolerated."
The agent pauses to make sure Taehyun is still listening, and he is, although the other man's voice is almost drowned out by the rush of blood he is convinced he can hear rushing to his head.
"I'm sure you've heard things -- stories of professional relationships taken further. Of agents who go rogue, go after their co-agents when they should be awaiting orders from ourselves. Agents make a promise of loyalty to the agency when they join. And you understand the agency's stance on disloyal agents, don't you?" The agent is sliding the sheet of paper that holds Taehyun's and Mino's biggest secret from the agency back into his briefcase. "I think you may be familiar with some previous examples."
Taehyun realises, with a sickening feeling, that he's almost certain that they is referring to his old team.
Taehyun remains as blank faced as he can. Knows that the agent isn't asking him any questions at all, that he's being humoured; that the agency are reminding him of who he works for, and the power they hold. That there are people above him who are ready and willing to dispose of any agent who breaks the rules, if necessary.
Hi senior closes the briefcase and smiles. "So, will you be needing any further training on our logging in procedures?"
"No-- I understand." Taehyun breathes in, stands up. "Do I have permission to leave now?"
The eyes in front of him don't flicker as he walks away, but Taehyun knows from experience that they're analysing every single minuscule movement that he makes.
Taehyun lets out a long breath as he steps into the street afterwards, he feels light-headed, disbelieving.
Mino's hand finds his arm. "Where did you go?"
"I forgot something," Taehyun replies.
Mino doesn't believe him, but he doesn't push Taehyun any further. Knows he has been on edge all day. He says, "Shall we go to your place? I'll cook-- or we can get takeout. Do some normal stuff for tonight. I doubt we'll get further orders until tomorrow, now." He nudges Taehyun's arm, smiles.
"Okay-- yes. That sounds amazing." Taehyun manages to return Mino's smile, but inside he is wondering what else the agency know about their lives since the night he dragged Mino to freedom and bandaged his wounds in that tiny en-suite.
If the agency now know what happened on that night, what is to say they don't know everything? Every smile, every single kiss, every single touch. Every single secret shared between the two of them.
Taehyun wonders what they know and how long they've really known it. He thinks about his old team too. About their love for each other and what the agency might have done to them if they'd known about it. Thinks about the very organisation they lived their lives for wanting them dead and wonders at whose hands his old team really died.
He grips the wheel as they drive away, vision clouded red. And, then, he swallows his dread, tells himself that the very people he work for wouldn't kill their own, that he's reading too much into the warning he was given.
By the time they get to his apartment, Taehyun actually almost believes himself.
The next few weeks go by in a blur. Nothing changes, but everything has changed.
Taehyun can't shake the feeling that the enemy is no longer the man that lies in the centre of the room as he and Mino clean up after a hit. He feels that maybe enemy is closer than that, now.
He doesn't tell Mino about what happened when they visited the agency's head quarters, but he does replay the events in his mind twenty times a day.
Picks it all apart; takes every single word spoken and spreads them out in his mind. Sometimes, on a good day - on days when they receive a message of congratulations for a secret uncovered at the end of a mission, or when Mino slips into the shower with him and grins against wet skin - on those days, Taehyun thinks that maybe they have nothing more than the usual to fear.
But, then he remembers the look of satisfaction in the eyes of his senior as he'd been warned, in the round-about way that it had been done, that the agency are wary of his team, that they hold power of their agents lives and deaths, and that nothing is really a secret once you've sold your soul to the devil.
It's four weeks later, or five, or three. Taehyun wears his watch, but he feels as though time has stopped making sense all together.
They are waiting for a target; cold hands, colder faces, as a bitter snow storm rages around them, and Mino is muttering something about using with the weather as their weapon instead of the gun he has concealed in his jacket.
"What is he doing in there? He's been four hours." They're in the shadows, an alleyway in a quiet part of the city, playing the waiting game they know as the middle of a mission. "Fucking asshole, why won't he come out so we can end this?"
"I don't know-- shhh," Taehyun, always alert, holds his hand up to silence him, but it only works for a matter of minutes.
"Once this is over we're spending twelve hours straight in bed." Mino pipes up, flexes his fingers. They're inside thick, leather gloves, but he feels like they might as well be being plunged directly into ice water.
Taehyun sighs. "Can we focus on the task at hand please?"
"Why? Are you getting distracted by thoughts of us, or--"
"Shhh," Taehyun hisses. Turns to him with wide eyes and presses his gloved finger against Mino's lips.
They miss their chance to finish the job by one single second: their first ever failure. And, as Mino negotiates with he agency later, advises them the mission needs an extension and that they should only need a one day extension, Taehyun stands at the basin in the bathroom, stares into the mirror and bites his lip.
If the agency have been looking for an excuse, some sort of reason to think that he and Mino aren't a worthy team, loyal to the cause, they now have it.
Taehyun writes four names on his palm instead of two on that night.
Nothing happens, after the failure. They complete the mission twenty two hours later. They get their next briefing, they move on, and on, until another mission has slipped by.
Taehyun promises to meet Mino in the hotel bar for a drink; they're posing as businessmen on a buying trip, and so it won't harm to enjoy an hour of relaxation now that the ending has come about. He dresses slowly, chooses a shirt that he knows Mino appreciates, runs his fingers through his hair as he locks their hotel room door.
"I ordered you a drink." Mino smiles as Taehyun sits down next to him at a table in the corner. He motions to the woman at the bar, preparing a tray for them.
Taehyun glances over and takes in a familiar form. "Who is that?"
Mino shrug."The hostess? She's going to bring over your drink."
"I recognise her." Taehyun is running through scenarios in his mind, trying to place her.
"She was in here last night too - she works here." He says it slowly, can't understand Taehyun's fixation. She's been in here every night, they've passed her on their way to their room. "So, of course you recognise her. She smiled at us last night." He laughs.
(Mino is in a good mood. He enjoys the endings.)
"No. I don't think that's where I know her. She--" It hits Taehyun suddenly, flashes before his eyes:
A brief glance through a doorway. The hostess in a dark suit, eyes dark, fists clenched, sitting at the end of a table.
It's the agent he saw being briefed the day they returned to the agency head quarters.
An agent who isn't part of their mission. An agent smiling at him, placing a drink in front of him carefully, as she says, "Here you go, Sir."
At least, he thinks it's the agent. Or is he just stressed out, paranoid, overly suspicious?
"Are you going to drink that? You're acting really strangely." Mino brushes his hand over Taehyun's shoulder. "You look hot though, I like that shirt."
Taehyun flinches at Mino's casual touch. He can feel the hostess' eyes burning through his flesh.
"Ah. What's up? Are you still feeling ill? I know you're pretending not to have a cold."
"I have a headache." Taehyun clears his throat. Is glad of the excuse. "Finish your drink and then let's go to our rooms. Separately."
"What?" Mino looks between his full glass and Taehyun's face. "If you're sick, I'll come and--"
"I'll see you in the morning, agent." Taehyun cuts in before Mino has a chance to continue, and stands up. Hopes he's being paranoid, but knows deep down he isn't.
(He's good at this, after all.)
Mino puts Taehyun's behaviour down to their lifestyle. Remembers how he used to be, when they first worked together: cold and quiet and aloof. Mino knows that Taehyun is still that person; that it's part of who he is, as well as being warm and charming and affectionate. He calls Taehyun from his own room the next morning. Says, "Stay in bed, I'll let you know when we get our next orders, okay? Rest up." Leaves a pause at the end where he'd usually say I love you. They never say it on the telephone, just in case they're ever recorded.
Taehyun doesn't correct Mino's assumption that he's feeling run-down, even though it's not even remotely the truth. He doesn't want to share his suspicions, not yet.
Decides that the less Mino knows, the less danger he could ever be in as a result and the less secrets can be extracted from him if something goes wrong. Taehyun knows he'd appreciate this, if he knew, and that he'd do the same if their roles were reversed.
The next two missions go by as normal, although Taehyun feels more eyes on him than usual. They complete their tasks within the designated time-frame, the missions neatly wrapped up, and for a few days Taehyun can almost believe the prickle of fear at the back of his neck has nothing to do with the agency.
On the third mission, though, everything seems to be working against them. They are advised by the agency that their target has two minders, and then they watch their target exit an elevator from their place in the shadows... followed by three other men.
Mino mutters something about needing extra ammunition, says, "The brief only advised us of three men... HQ aren't usually sloppy like this."
As they log in a death toll of four at the end of a long night, Taehyun knows that this can't be a coincidence, that the agency would never have got this information wrong.
Thinks, maybe the first failure was their own, but now they're being tested, now they're being thrown to the wolves. Unprepared and unsupported, like the agency doesn't want them to survive.
Taehyun starts to pack extra ammunition on every journey.
It's a warm, serene afternoon in May, in a city across the world from Head Quarters, when Taehyun returns to their current safe-house to find Mino sat at the table in the kitchen, papers and photos spread out in front of him.
"What's this?" Mino looks up. His eyes are dark, his mouth a harsh line.
"I don't know..." Taehyun picks up a pile of papers and starts to read. It's a dossier on him, except it reads as new. His name, his upbringing, old missions he'd been a part of... It's all wrong.
Pages and pages of lies.
He reaches out, slides the papers and envelopes over the table, trying to take in as much as he can. There are photos too: glossy, candid shots of him in training, completely unaware of a camera presence. He looks so young, so determined.
There is a photo of him with his old team. They're laughing, leaning in to each other. Taehyun is at the edge of the scene, looking away. He tries to place the mission it was taken on, but they've all ran into one long mission now.
Mino says, "This came through the letterbox this morning. Addressed to me."
"From who?" Taehyun thumbs through the files.
Mino doesn't answer. "Is your name even Nam Taehyun or did I get those initials engraved for nothing?"
"The file-- it says you're working with another agent. That you've always had a side team, that you're skilled in bringing down internal threats to the agency."
"What?" Taehyun feels a wave of nausea flowing over him. He's never worked with anyone other than his old team and now Mino.
"It's written here." Mino waves a sheet of paper. "Some top secret extra mission, something about you spying on other agents. Is this-- are you working against me, Taehyun?"
"Are you joking right now? Can you hear yourself? I'm your co-agent."
"Then how do you explain this?" He turns the page; there is a photo attached, a head-shot of the agent he is supposedly working with on the side. It's the agent who was following them, the agent disguised as a hostess. "No wonder you recognised her at the hotel. She's one of us. Are you working with her? What's going on?"
Taehyun grabs at the papers, runs his thumb over the image. "I have never worked with her, Mino-- I just saw her at the agency once. I've never even spoken to her."
Mino is shaking his head. "Who are you really?"
"Everything I've told you is the truth." Taehyun is struggling to keep his voice level. "Everything."
"So why-- why this?"
"This dossier that the agency have put together to rob me of my life, of the truth? It's a fabrication."
Mino's face is a storm cloud. "Why would someone make this up?"
"I don't know, Mino, but-- it's not true. I love you."
"I don't know what to believe." Mino is staring down at the papers.
"Believe me." Taehyun's voice breaks. He feels more helpless than he ever has in any mission.
Mino looks away. "You know I asked to work with you -- I thought we'd make a good team. Are you-- are we even a team now?"
"Yes." Taehyun grips the papers he is holding. Feels panic rising. "You know who I am, Mino. None of this information is true. The agency have the power to make any story they invent look like a truth and you know it."
Taehyun watches Mino's expression soften a little. "They could-- but why would they?"
"I think they're turning on us, Mino. The agency... They took me aside that day, when we went back to HQ for training. They knew about when you almost died. When I didn't log you in. They knew a lot of things. And-- they don't want us to trust each other more than we trust them. It's lies."
He didn't want it to be like this, telling Mino about his suspicions. He wanted it to be at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right way. This doesn't feel like it.
"You never told me that. They agency wouldn't..." Mino begins, but can't bring himself to finish the sentence. Maybe, because he knows, deep down, that they would.
Taehyun takes a breath. "Everything I've told you about me and my past is true. I can't-- there isn't anything else I can do to prove it to you. I have no documents, I can't prove anything, I have nothing but my words. And your trust. That's all I have."
Mino places the papers on the table and turns away. "I need time to think."
It feels like forever before Mino returns. His body is cold as he slips into the bed next to Taehyun; he must have been walking for hours.
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
Taehyun turns to him, searches his eyes. Finds warmth.
"I do trust you." Mino looks Taehyun directly in the eyes. "I trust you completely. I'm sorry, I just-- the agent in our hotel. It seemed like too much of a coincidence... Everything is messed up. I need you to tell me what's going on."
Taehyun reaches out. "I've never worked with that agent, I've just seen her before-- just a glimpse, through a doorway at the agency. I remembered her face because seeing her there reminded me of me the day I was briefed when I returned with no team. That's all."
Mino nods. "When they took you aside, what did they say?"
"They made it clear they were suspicious of us, of our relationship. That they knew about that night--- And, then, when we failed that mission, I got this feeling in my gut that they had been waiting for us to slip up. To find reason to get rid of us. They planted that agent in our hotel, they put together this file." He sighs. "Maybe they hope we'll kill each other before they have to kill us."
Mino looks more rattled than Taehyun has ever seen him before. Even more so than he did on that night, when Taehyun found his way into the warehouse, dragged Mino, bleeding and groggy from the scene.
Taehyun continues, "I think they killed my old team because they were considered more loyal to each other than they were to the job." He adds, "I know it's a lot to process, and maybe I sound crazy right now, but-- I'm good at this, I know I am. I've always trusted my instinct."
"They swore to protect us when we joined the agency." Mino stares at the ceiling.
"And we swore to be loyal to them above all else." Taehyun points out.
Neither man speaks for a while, as they let this sink in.
"We'll get rid of that fake dossier. We'll carry on as always-- show them they aren't going to break us, that they created those lies for nothing." Mino finally says. "I-- I just wish you'd told me about this."
Taehyun bites his lip. "I didn't know what to do. I was waiting until I was sure that we couldn't trust them anymore before I did anything."
"You were waiting until they had made up forty pages of fake back-story on you as a gift for me?" Mino asks.
"Hmm. I don't know whether I want to kill whoever wrote that file or congratulate them on their creative writing," Taehyun replies.
"The first one sounds more to our skill-set."
Taehyun smiles. "Not many couples could say that, huh?"
"They wish they could." Mino grins.
The next morning, Mino rolls over, says, "I just thought, that photo of your old co-agents... They looked just as I imagined they would."
"Really?" Taehyun ponders this.
"Yeah. You've done really well, keeping their memory alive. They were lucky to have you." Mino kisses him.
And Taehyun has never felt more proud.
They burn the files; all except the photo of Taehyun and his old team. Taehyun cuts him out of it, is glad he wasn't really part of the scene and that it shows his old team smiling at each other. It's how he has always remembered them.
And then, they wait.
They get no orders from HQ for a week. "I guess the agency are waiting to see if I kill you," Mino says, oh so casually, as he butters toast on a sunny morning. "How do you think they're expecting me to do it?"
It isn't funny, imagining your death, but Taehyun can't help but smile at the absurdness. "They think they know us so well. And they know a lot, but-- they can't know us really if they think they can turn us against each other."
"We have to remember that. That's our hidden card." Mino nods, passes Taehyun a slice of bread.
Just like any other couple eating breakfast.
A new brief comes through on the system the following Saturday afternoon. A regular team mission. The file that turned up is never mentioned.
By the time they make their kill six days later, both men know there are eyes on them.
Taehyun awakes the next morning to find that Mino isn't in the bed next to him, and he immediately knows that something isn't right.
He hears the light pad of footprints in the next room, knows they're Mino's. His every move, his breath, the way he shifts in bed, every nuance memorised. He isn't sure whether this is because he's a good agent, or because he's so in love.
Taehyun stands at the doorway, watches his co-agent pace the floor, his laptop on the desk. He can see the agency's secure system logged in on the screen. "Mino?"
"I got a message - instructions from Head Quarters." Mino turns to him, he looks pale in the moonlight. "I've got a solo mission."
"What?" Taehyun walks over to him, wraps his arms around himself.
"They're making another move, Taehyun. They've realised that we aren't going to destroy each other so they're trying another tactic now. They're splitting us up."
"You can't go," Taehyun places an arm on his shoulder.
"I know, but I can't refuse the mission, either, Taehyun. They'll want to know why, they'll know... I think we need to do something big."
Both men lie awake after this, spend hours imagining grave stones that will never exist.
When Taehyun finally sleeps, he dreams of messy hotel rooms and palms slick with perspiration; wakes up with his breath hitched in his throat and a deep, horrifying certainty that if Mino leaves for a solo mission, he will never see him again.
Taehyun has been sent no instructions, at least, not yet.
He assumes he will get a message soon, with a brief for his own solo mission, or a request to return to HQ. It really doesn't matter what orders he is sent, because he won't be following them. He won't even be logging in to check.
They've chosen a new mission, his and Mino's own, and the brief is very simple: To run.
"Did you already check in online for the flight you're meant to take?" Taehyun asks Mino, as they pack.
Mino nods. "They're going to believe I'm taking the mission, stop pulling that worried face," he says, teasingly. But Taehyun can tell he's just as anxious.
Taehyun waits until he is alone. Slips off his watch and turns it over to look at the initials engraved on the underside of the watch face. Thinks about the different promises he has made himself over the last few years. The promise he made not to forget his old team, the promise he made not to let Mino in.
Remembers Mino's desperate voice on the telephone on the night he almost died, pleading with Taehyun to write down his name on his palm, to keep him alive in the only way Taehyun knew how.
But, Taehyun hadn't promised to do this; instead he'd put everything on the line, followed his heart over his training and had ended the mission with Mino's blood on his fingertips, the taste of Mino's skin on his lips and a deep feeling of relief.
"I promise to keep us alive." It's barely a whisper when it leaves his lips. He runs his thumb over their engraved initials more, slides the watch back over his wrist and fastens it once again.
When he returns to Mino, Taehyun lets the other man snake his arms around his waist, kiss his neck and say, "We're going to be okay."
Turns his head to kiss Mino properly. "This will be easy. Or, at least, easier together."
After years of following orders, planning your own future is strangely exhilarating.
It's almost like the things that normal couples do as routine. A little bit like planning a holiday or a weekend away, except neither man need to think about return travel or have to book time off work.
Instead, they need to think about laying low, being anonymous, staying one step ahead.
Taehyun wishes there was one destination he could pick that would send them as far away from the agency as possible, but the world is a small place when you're in a line of work with eyes on every corner of the globe.
They log into the agency's system for the last time. Stare at their identification photos, at their aliases on the screen.
Wish them goodbye and log out.
We are a good team. We are good at this. We can survive.
Taehyun repeats this over and over and over as they sleep in overnight trains and board long haul coaches, hoods pulled over their heads. Mino takes his hand in the corner of a dark carriage of a smoky train and whispers, "Is it weird if I say I feel more alive now than I have in a long time?"
"Yes," Taehyun replies, but he feels the same.
They can't fly until they have new passports and so they stay in a tiny mountain village on the border where Taehyun knows there is a black market for fake identities.
Mino paws his new passport with contempt. "This doesn't even look remotely real. How much have we just spent on these? They're bad."
Taehyun agrees, but he says, "What were you expecting? Agency quality?"
"Oh. You're right."
Taehyun's mouth twitches. "As always."
Mino's palms are slick with perspiration as they wait board their flight. The attendant flashes a smile, scans their passports, and allows them to move through security.
"They can't be that bad, then," Mino whispers to Taehyun as they watch the world beneath them disappear into clouds.
We are a good team. We are good at this. We can survive.
Taehyun repeats it in his mind as he fiddles with the strap of his watch and hopes that this can last.
They land in a place they've never visited, and, officially never will.
Mino says, "I always wanted to visit here." Adds, "I never thought it would be under these circumstances."
"At least we're off the grid now," Taehyun says. It's all they have.
Mino thinks aloud, "But for how long can it last?"
"For as long as we live," Taehyun replies, simply.
And Mino knows that this doesn't necessarily mean a long time. Could be five months, five years, it could be fifty years, but only if they're lucky.
Whatever happens, Mino knows that as long as they live they will be on the run. If they're caught, not only will they not officially exist, they won't exist at all. The agency will see to that.
He wraps his arm around Taehyun's shoulder and they stare out over calm blue water. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, with anywhere else," he says, decisively.
He even means it.
They take a room in a tiny guest-house, spread their belongings out on the bed and contemplate how much money they have to survive on before they will have to find other means to get by.
Mino pulls off his t-shirt, the cotton clinging to his body in the heat. He holds his arm outstretched until Taehyun takes it, pulls him close, cups his face and says, "Thank you."
"For what?" Taehyun manages to get out, feels light headed.
"For being the best agent I know. For doing this." He runs his hands down over Taehyun's shoulders.
Taehyun says, "Maybe I should have let you go on that solo mission. Maybe they weren't going to do anything to you. It's me they don't trust, I think. Maybe they never did trust me."
"No." Mino shakes his head. "I would never have gone. It's me and you now. We'll be okay."
"And if we're not?"
"We'll still exist here." He moves his hands down over Taehyun's arm, holds his wrist, fingers sliding over the watch face that clings to it. "Our names, at least."
"That doesn't seem like much of an existence." Taehyun says, but he's grateful for Mino's words.
"Hey -- isn't this your favourite part of a mission? The beginning?" Mino asks.
"Is this how you're thinking of this? As another mission?"
"It's our most important one yet." Mino's eyes sparkle as he works his body in between Taehyun's legs, brushes hair from his face. "And I know you like the beginning. So let's try to enjoy it while we can, okay?"
Taehyun murmurs an agreement, let's Mino put his well trained hands to good use.
Kisses him harder than he ever has, turns them round, pushes Mino to the bed, ducks his head as he straddles him and rolls his tongue into his mouth. "I do like the beginnings," Taehyun says. "I just hope this time there isn't an end."
Mino breathes against Taehyun's jaw. "So do I."
Later, Taehyun listens to the ticking of his watch, imagines it ticking in time with their heartbeats. He wonders which will stop first; the battery inside of his watch or the their own hearts.
He wonders how many agents are looking for them. Wonders how they will die, when they do, and whether it will be by the hands of another man or woman with no real history, or name, or existence.
Wonders how long their new beginning can last.
They move around a lot. Change names and ages and professions. Taehyun, it turns out, is creative, and Mino is too.
They live in the cold, live in the sun, live on a busy street in an anonymous neighbourhood, and, then a village in the hills, in which they are by far the youngest residents.
Time passes strangely; long stretches of time that reach on and on and on, and then, suddenly, a flash of light and three months have passed, with nothing to show for it. Or, even stranger still, it moves on as Taehyun expects it does for everyone else; twenty four neat hours a day that go by as he expects they should.
But, despite this, neither man forgets why they're here. Taehyun still lies awake and waits for creaks of floorboards. Mino still slides his gun under the pillow, still runs his hand under every surface of everywhere they visit to feel for listening devices.
They don't read the news, or watch the news, or listen for news. They keep their heads down, their mouths shut and themselves a secret; shadows, always.
There is a month in which it rains every day.
"It's weird," Mino says, "If we wanted to, we could stay in bed all day, every day. No orders to await, no one to answer to."
"We could, but you were just complaining about how hungry you are," Taehyun reminds him.
"Well, we could stay in bed all day after breakfast."
They slip out into the rain, navigate familiar city streets (they've been here three months; the longest they've had the nerve to stay in one place), and into their favourite cafe. They take their usual table at the back, lapse into a comfortable quiet as they sit and watch the world go by around them.
Taehyun lets himself focus on the smell of brewing coffee instead of the movements of the people around him.
Mino reaches out and brushes away the hair framing Taehyun's face. Says, "Should we cut our hair again? Yours is getting longer, like it used to be."
Taehyun suddenly remembers where and who they are. It's not safe to become comfortable, and both men know this deep down. "We probably should," he admits. "But we won't need to if we're staying in bed all day every day, will we?" He grins.
"I knew you'd think it was a good idea," Mino replies.
(They cut their hair and disappear again not long after and Taehyun misses the smell of coffee for weeks.)
Taehyun wakes up in a new bed. Bed number eighteen he thinks, but he's losing count now.
Stretches out across the bed for a body that isn't there. Feels cold sheets and empty space and can't breathe, until--
"Do you miss me?" A voice in the doorway; Mino with bed-hair and a mug of coffee, hunger in his eyes as he says, "Move over, I'm getting back in."
Taehyun's watch stops ticking a short time after this, but he still wears it regardless, runs his fingertips over the engraving on the back and takes a deep breath.
(They dream of beaches, of sprawling cities, of holding on and not having to let go.
And dreaming is no longer pointless.)