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setting fire to our insides

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Baekhyun hadn’t always been on the C-team, hadn’t always been on the Crew’s speed dial or go-to for fuck ups. He was hired as a shot in the dark, a one-off risk in a moment of desperation – sirens tore through the night, hands clutched, blood stained, failing to tremble. A slip up, Zhang Yixing’s name traceless in dirt and one phone call made directly to Baekhyun. A debt owed; Kim Minseok had saved his ass once before, had his back, picked him up and dusted him off.

“Warehouse by the dock,” The voice was low, monotone, challenging, “Suit up.”

And Baekhyun did. Rubber gloves pulled taut, a barrier between himself and the scene as sodium hydroxide removed what water could not; the masking of lemon was next. Baekhyun’s occupation, before the Crew, was not to wipe all trace of crime – no, it was to remove all leads to the committer and leave only his own signature. He had burned the place to the ground, adjusting his hood when the rain had started to drizzle; a dismal addition to the burning fight between fire and the dark of night.

Kim Minseok had stood at his side, the flames dancing in his eyes as the fire reached out in glowing tendrils.

That was the night Baekhyun had found himself added to the Crew’s paycheque. He’d initially been stuck with the clean-up team, often heading operations and occasionally filling in a more prominent role up front – he had, more than once, played the face-man for a con; he and Chanyeol had been suited up, hair slicked back and sunglasses balanced carefully with smiles to fake. The tuxedos were a nice addition, expensive and comfortable as he found himself becoming more involved with the city’s most dangerous criminals.

He wanted to pretend that he’d never noticed the casual brush of Minseok’s arm against his, that he’d never noticed the way Minseok seized each opportunity to call him out on for shit he’d ignore from others – Baekhyun, perhaps, wasn’t prepared to admit the colour of the eyes that occupied his mind at night (dark, always sharp) and the tattoos (beneath suit sleeves, atop tan skin), the lingering touches and stares with meanings he’d yet to decipher.

That was where Baekhyun’s mind found him now, gathered in Minseok’s office with the skylight above illuminating the room more than any artificial light could. Minseok was running through the heist; get in, get the money, get out and, preferably, avoid dying. It was a drill they were familiar with, and the adrenaline they all felt caused nothing more than impatience. Their heist was hours away and far more complicated than logic would attempt – perfect, for them at least.

Leaning against the wall, Baekhyun crossed his arms lazily. He stood just behind Kyungsoo, hidden at the back of the room – and even then, he couldn’t stop his eyes from following Minseok. He watched the way Minseok’s tongue ran slowly over his bottom lip, brow creased in concentration as Junmyeon added her own contributions to the map. The way he braced his arms across his desk, confident, hands spread and shirt sleeves rolled to his elbows, he couldn’t stop himself. Didn’t even try to stop himself as his eyes traced the tattoos until they disappeared beneath Minseok’s rolled-up sleeve.

Baekhyun couldn’t pinpoint the moment he’d felt the change in his chest – the urge to see more, to follow the tattoos up and across Minseok’s shoulder blades where he knew scars were hidden. Everyone had heard the stories of Kim Minseok and his rise to power; you couldn’t build an empire atop broken glass and expect to remain untouched, unscathed… whole.

Kim Minseok was far from whole.

It wasn’t until Minseok cleared his throat that Baekhyun tore his eyes upwards, cheeks only slightly burning at the frown on Minseok’s face.

“You good?”

“Yeah, uh…” Baekhyun rubbed a tired hand over his face, “Sorry, boss. I’m good. What’s up?”

“You and Kyungsoo,” Minseok placed a finger atop the map, eyes trained on Baekhyun, “Drop off point.”

Nodding, Baekhyun straightened himself and slipped out of the room with the rest of the Crew.  He needed to stop zoning out in such a way – especially when his job was dangerous and any minor hesitation could result in a bullet through the back of his skull. He’d get it together, eventually, when he figured out how to stop his dick thinking through his brain.

 

☽ ☾

 

The heist went as well as anything involving a group of criminals, a cargo helicopter and excess cash could go. There were a few untimely – unplanned, Jongdae – explosions, the defacing of valuable objects, a singular ‘forget your fucking ammo again and I’m benching you, Chanyeol’ and one injury. In retrospect, it hadn’t been the worst outcome.

Except, Baekhyun’s hands were trembling, his clothes bloodstained from where he and Luhan had attempted to stitch up Jongdae in the back of Junmyeon’s car. Minseok’s voice was urgent in his ear, firing off orders, demanding questions with answers Baekhyun didn’t have.

One injury and of course it had to be Jongdae.

He hadn’t even registered the officer, his mask half obscuring his view as he helped Jongdae load the bags into Yixing’s van – he’d heard the shot, felt his heart run cold, felt Jongdae slump against his side as he fucking froze, useless, unable to do anything but grasp at Jongdae like it’d stop the blood draining through his stomach. Yixing had shot the cop, yelled at Baekhyun to move your fucking ass as he hauled Jongdae’s shaking form to Junmyeon’s car.

Baekhyun wasn’t a medic, he’d never claimed to have any form of medical experience and yet there he was, Minseok yelling down the comms in his ear as Luhan threaded a needle through Jongdae’s skin. Jongdae was clutching his hand, hard, attempting not to writhe in pain as Luhan pleaded with him to remain still.

And he continued to ignore his boss.

Byun,” Minseok all but growled through his earpiece, “Don’t you fucking dare-.

He removed his earpiece, tossing it aside as Luhan offered him nothing more than a warning glance. Jongdae was too out of it to question him. It wasn’t the worst injury, but had the means of becoming life threatening if undealt with properly – Junmyeon was driving as fast as she could without raising questions, an attempt to stay out of the police department’s radars.

This wasn’t anything Baekhyun liked dealing with – the mere thought that someone depended on him, for even a mere moment, to survive… no, Baekhyun could wipe any crime scene clean, could commit morality questioning crimes without much thought, could smile to con bullshit politicians, but this? He couldn’t be responsible for a life.

Not when that life was Jongdae’s.

He wasn’t even paid to deal with that genre of bullshit.

When the car stopped, he could only watch as Junmyeon pushed him aside to help Luhan carry Jongdae, Chanyeol scrambling out of the other unmarked car to join them. Baekhyun watched because he could do nothing more, just fucking watch, as Minseok hurried after them, his clothing stained in blood that wasn’t their Crew’s. He refused to think about the cold look Minseok gave him as they shared a brief glance.

He’d felt so fucking useless watching Jongdae’s blood seep through his fingers.

His first fuck up had been freezing like some low-level rookie, unable to see through the panic that gripped him the moment he’d realised Jongdae had been shot. His second fuck up had been to remove his earpiece – they didn’t have many rules, but he was pretty sure ignoring his boss was top of any relevant ‘not to do’ list.

“I think this is yours,” Sehun said, holding out Baekhyun’s earpiece, “Not the smartest move.”

“Thanks,” Baekhyun heard himself say, accepting the device.

That night found Baekhyun unable to go home, lingering around to avoid being left with his own thoughts. Jongdae was fine, in the end – but that wasn’t the point, Jongdae could just have easily been not fine and Baekhyun could just have easily been deadweight in the back of that car. He remembered it easily, the ‘don’t you fucking dare-’ as he cut Minseok off, unable to steady his hands as they pressed against Jongdae’s wound.

He used the predicament to his advantage, powering through the work that had slowly been building up on his own desk. It was part of the drudgery that the lower levels mostly dealt with – warehouse control, weapon imports, drug exports, untrustworthy ‘allies’ and the movement of other gangs within the city. Sure, occupying most of the city’s crime empire required a lot of boom and the like, but sustainability came with open eyes and constant work.

Baekhyun was well aware of Minseok leaning against his door, watching silently. He didn’t plan on removing his earphones nor paying much attention to Minseok; he was doing his job and if Minseok needed something, earphones weren’t going to stop him. It took a few silent moments for Minseok to ponder, sighing as he pushed himself up from the door. He leaned over Baekhyun’s desk to pull out one of his earphones.

“Go home.”

Baekhyun glanced to the clock to avoid meeting Minseok’s eyes, “I’m working, boss.”

Minseok sighed once more, picking up the discarded earpiece from Baekhyun’s desk and eyeing it carefully, “Well, it’s not broken.”

The other didn’t reply, merely watched as Minseok dropped the plastic back onto his desk. How was one supposed to explain that they removed their earpiece because of the voice on the other end? It was simple, he wouldn’t explain that; he would do nothing to risk incapacitating his position on the Crew. Survival on the streets were hard for ex-Crew members.

“What’s your excuse?”

“I-” Baekhyun stopped himself when Minseok’s eyes narrowed, “I don’t have one, sir.”

Straightening up, Minseok responded, “I don’t expect a repeat. Got it, kid?” Minseok waited for Baekhyun’s nod before continuing, “Good, now go home.”

Baekhyun let out a sigh of relief he hadn’t realised he’d been holding.

 

☽ ☾

 

Baekhyun was brought out of his daze – his mind had been wandering, eyes staring through the dark of his living room – by the dull buzzing of his phone against cold wood. The world was blurry, out of sync, as he searched the floor with his hand. He’d been laid on the sofa for most of the night, again, his mind unwilling to settle regardless of his whereabouts in his apartment.

“Hmm?” He yawned in greeting, his eyes unable to adjust to the light of his phone.

Fuck, did I wake you?

“Jongdae?” Baekhyun asked, confusion lacing his tired throat as he pushed himself up, “Is something wrong?”

No! No, everything’s fine, shit, sorry,” Jongdae sounded just as exhausted as Baekhyun felt, his voice tinny and distant through the static of his phone.

Still, the sound of the other’s voice was enough to ease his mind.

Slowly relaxing back down onto the sofa, Baekhyun let out a small breath, “What’s wrong?”

Nothing, I just…” Jongdae sighed, hesitating for a second, “Fuck, Baek, you looked so freaked out earlier and I couldn’t sleep and my side fucking hurts.

Looking up at his ceiling through the shadows, he asked, “Why call me?”

You know why.”

There was nothing uncomfortable to be found in the way they appreciated each other’s momentary silence, the dark of the early hour consuming them both for a simple second. He could hear Jongdae’s faint breathing through the speaker of his phone, the sound syncing to the sound of Baekhyun’s own. Baekhyun could visualise it well, the rise and fall of Jongdae’s chest – he could feel it, the shudder of Jongdae’s ribs as he exhaled, the only evidence of the gunshot wound stitched up beneath bandages under his shirt.

He could taste it. The fear on his tongue. The adrenaline burning a path through his veins as his own panic failed to stop the bleeding. It was a mess Baekhyun couldn’t clean, only dispose of, destroy, bury, and ignore.

And yes, he admitted it, perhaps it had scared him, made his fingers shake, filled his mind with uncomfortable thoughts – because this was fucking Jongdae. The first person to ever make him feel human again.

It was considered ridiculous to have heart in this business, strings that could be pulled, paths that could be followed – but Baekhyun couldn’t shake it, that feeling as Jongdae’s blood escaped between his fingers, the hurt fracturing across his chest as Minseok’s eyes met his own, blank, empty, hidden. Disappointed that he’d been unable to keep things together.

“How are you feeling?” Baekhyun asked, quietly.

Like shit,” Jongdae replied, “The painkillers wore off about an hour ago and I can’t be fucked bothering Luhan for more.

Baekhyun hummed, knowing that any objection he made would do nothing to waver the other man, “What time is it?”

3am?” Jongdae answered, “Like it matters, I’m not exactly in working condition and you don’t sleep for shit. I heard what you did today.”

“What did I do?” Baekhyun responded, knowing exactly what Jongdae was referring to.

Ballsy move, taking out your earpiece during a stunt like that.”

“You should sleep,” Baekhyun countered, easily.

This isn’t, like, the start of your road to insanity,” Jongdae inquired, “Right?

“Is that what’s keeping you up at night?” Baekhyun couldn’t help the small smile that spread across his face.

I’m serious,” Jongdae grumbled, “We can’t risk our ‘golden boy’ losing his shit when we need him most.”

Baekhyun paused, a funny feeling in his stomach at the change in Jongdae’s tone – the small feeling that it wasn’t a collective ‘we’ and rather an ‘I’. He couldn’t tell if Jongdae’s pushing was from genuine concern or something further, but either way, Baekhyun didn’t ask. Some things were better left alone at such a time of morning.

“Yeah, well,” Baekhyun forced a little chuckle, “I’m gonna try sleep. G’night?”

Goodnight, Baek.”

As Jongdae had predicted, he managed little sleep and in the moments that his mind did wander, he’d see it all again – dark eyes, blank, tattoos, skin against skin and that dreaded feeling of disappointing the people he’d tried so hard not to care about.

Where Baekhyun had hoped the next day would be better than the last, he was left with disappointment. He wasn’t too bitter about it – he realised that he’d ignored a direct order from Minseok and obvious repercussions would follow. That was business; that was deterrence. Something about being stuck with shitty warehouse duty didn’t sit right with Baekhyun, not after years of direct and upfront work. Someone had to do it, but that was usually someone lower down in Minseok’s pecking order.

He was here to confirm shipments and deal with rookies. Fucking great.

His day at the warehouse was draining to an end when he felt the buzz of his phone in his pocket, the dull vibration waking him up a little from where he slouched at his desk. Baekhyun’s eyes ran over the short sentence, eyebrows knitting together slowly.

[UNKNOWN, 5.48pm]

> I’ll pay you double, think about it.

Attached to the text was a picture of an old industrial building, one Baekhyun knew was located at the other end of the city. Before the Crew, Baekhyun had his regulars – the anonymous names that paid to have their secrets burned and buried six feet under. Baekhyun’s shift ended in 12 minutes, which gave him plenty of time to prepare for a side job. Except, he didn’t need the money.

Which was why it didn’t make sense to Baekhyun that he wanted to do this.

The thought was almost exhilarating, there was a thrill to be found in destruction and he missed it. He’d always assumed that, whilst contracted to the Crew, he wasn’t supposed to accept jobs from anyone else – however, this was one job, a night’s worth of effort and the money was his. After a day like this, the answer was decided before he’d even tapped out a reply. He needed to get out, stretch his legs, do something for himself where Minseok had left him leashed.

[sent]

consider it done. <

As usual, there was nothing but silence to greet him as he entered his apartment. He’d considered buying a pet, once, but he wasn’t awfully confident about what would happen to it if he died. Such a thing was not a rare occurrence within his line of work, but he’d learned to accept and desensitize it.

Dropping his bag near the door, his body moved around his apartment as though automated, as though this was just any other job. And, it was – this was his off time, he had no bullshit paper boy errands to run for Minseok, this was hardly anything his boss could reprimand him for. What he did with his own time was his decision; but, perhaps he was slightly bitter about his week’s rota worth of warehouse duty.

As it was the way of the world and Baekhyun’s luck, things were only downhill from there.

Given his knowledge and experience, Baekhyun should’ve realised the moment he’d stopped his car that something was wrong – the biggest giveaway, perhaps, was the lack of body, blood, everything but the barrel of a gun waiting for him to arrive. The metal was cold against the back of his head, though it wasn’t awfully disconcerting. It was business. He dropped his bag, raising his arms above his head easily.

Baekhyun wasn’t an idiot, he worked for the most notorious gang in the city and, before that, he’d built up a rather infamous reputation of his own.

His attacker wasn’t alone, he noted as he was lead through the abandoned shell of a building. Another three men loitered around, hardly giving Baekhyun a glance as he was shoved into a rusting chair in the corner, his hands tied behind it. Hardly the most comfortable accommodation – hardly the worst Baekhyun had experienced.

He was such a fucking idiot. After so long of playing dormant climber of ranks, he’d allowed himself to slip up on something so elementary

The only logical reason for targeting Baekhyun would be to demand his services or to target the people he worked for. But, they could’ve easily found and threatened him at his apartment, not some abandoned industrial site amid the city’s outskirts. To lure him out here felt lacklustre, unless they had wanted to kill him – something that had yet to do. It felt like a complete waste of time.

Baekhyun was unsure for how long he was left to his own devices, the skin around his wrists raw from where he’d been silently struggling. He wasn’t Yixing, he couldn’t just break his hand to free himself from cuffs. His progress was slow, though it wasn’t exactly the first time he’d been incapacitated like this

What he’d deduced, at least, was that this was not a simple kidnapping. They were waiting, his captors, antsy where they stood – defensive, Baekhyun realised, they were probably waiting for his Crew.

Eventually, the same man that had forced him onto this chair returned and Baekhyun decided he was not going to remain idle. He waited until his hands were free again, the man unnecessarily yelling at him to put his hands above his head – he complied, albeit slowly, before jamming his elbow into his captor’s nose and lunging for the gun.

He was outgunned, outmanned, an idiot, yet even the smallest of footholds would help him feel less like a fuck up.

The two men remaining in the room had their own guns pointed at Baekhyun. Not that he cared, much.

“This isn’t a kidnapping,” Baekhyun began, the gun in his hands pressed against his captor’s jaw.

“Nah,” One of the other men answered, “You’ve done your job – Kim should be here pretty soon.”

“Shouldn’t be too long,” The man Baekhyun had disarmed chuckled.

Baekhyun pressed the pistol harder against the man’s jaw, and the man glared at him. He ignored the glare, reality sinking into his brain – he’d been used as a fucking chess piece, moved merely to draw Minseok out of his protected empire. There were only a handful of Crew members that were put on objectives such as this; his boss being one of them.

Minseok was going to be pissed.

For the Crew to even know where he was meant that someone must’ve been tailing him – which meant Minseok had sent out the order for him to be tailed. Baekhyun couldn’t help the flare of irritation in his chest, Minseok had distrusted him enough to have him fucking followed. It was the perfect set up, far out enough to avoid local law enforcement and long enough away that Minseok’s backup would take time. Not that the law had ever involved itself in gang disputes.

The echo of a gunshot rang out through the concrete walls and Baekhyun’s gaze snapped towards it, it was enough of a distraction for his captor to take his legs out from beneath him. He gasped as his back collided with the ground, his lungs winded as the gun clattered to the side. Baekhyun kicked out, catching the man’s own legs to scuffle – the man stumbled and Baekhyun lunged forward, forcing them both to the ground.

Distantly, he could hear more gunshots, though he paid them no mind as the captor’s gun was once again pressed against his own face. He froze, breathing heavily as the shots continued to echo throughout the empty space, sharp and sudden – a rifle, Baekhyun realised with slight relief, Sehun’s weapon of preference.

Although Sehun was a perfect aim and not at all bad at his job, Baekhyun remotely hoped there was more than one man on his side. This place was most likely littered with rival gang members, itchy to make any member of this Crew one bullet heavier.

Glancing back to his captor, the man’s eyes widened in slight panic at the sound of chaos, Baekhyun made to grab the gun – the weapon dropped to the floor in their scuffle, Baekhyun rolling over and stretching his arm out to reach for it. His attempt was deemed futile the moment a booted heel came down hard on his wrist, he yelled out at the pain rushing up his arm as the man collected the weapon for himself.

Sure, this was fine, Baekhyun was having a great day.

The sound of the man cocking the gun reached his ears, the world stuttering yet crashing in front of his eyes. He watched as the man’s finger moved to tease the trigger, the bang of a bullet tearing through his mind like shock – except, the man swayed, his face paling as blood pooled through the hole in his shirt. His pistol hit the ground as he fell, hands pressed to his chest as his breathing spluttered.

Minseok was there to kick the gun out of reach, stretching his arm out to release a final bullet into the man’s skull. Baekhyun flinched at the sound, cradling his throbbing wrist as his heart raced. The room spun slowly, his mind a daze – shock, such close proximity for gunshots often disconcerted the mind.

He registered Minseok’s fist as it balled into the front of his shirt, hauling him to his feet. Then, the wall, cold and sudden, solid, causing him to gasp out when Minseok slammed him against it. Grasping onto Minseok’s wrist with his uninjured hand, he held on to ground himself, the world coming into focus at the feeling of Minseok’s pulse thudding against his fingers. His boss’s skin felt like fire, yet his eyes were nothing but cold.

“What the fuck were you trying to do?” Minseok was breathing hard, his fist tightening in Baekhyun’s shirt, “Get yourself killed? Get the rest of us fucking killed?”

He stared at the splatter of blood on Minseok’s shirt, wincing slightly.

“My job, boss,” He answered eventually, attempting to push back against Minseok and ignoring the jump of his own heart.

“You’re on warehouse duty for a reason, Byun,” Minseok’s voice was low, threatening, “You’ve been reckless, blind – you could have fucking died today.”

“I’m unsure if you’ve noticed,” Baekhyun started, laughing bitterly, “But, that’s a small downside to our line of business.”

His chest was still rising and falling quickly due to his own exertion, and Minseok’s chest was doing the same. His boss stared at him; Baekhyun could see anger, frustration, and a spark of something he hadn’t yet learned to read. He’d probably live to regret holding his ground against Minseok, his boss, the sole reason he was here to begin with.

“Alright, break it up,” Yixing interjected as he knelt down to inspect one of the men on the floor, “We won’t have long before someone else turns up.”

Clearing his throat in attempt to shake himself of the frustration, Baekhyun muttered, “I’ll help clean this mess-”

“No,” Minseok interrupted, eyes hard, “You and I are going to have a talk.”

“Yikes,” Yixing mumbled, pocketing whatever ID he’d found on the man.

Baekhyun hadn’t slept enough to care for a day like this – he hadn’t been prepared enough to argue with his boss, to deal with the thought that Minseok hadn’t trusted him to begin with. The thought left a dull ache in his chest, he’d known Minseok for years, had sacrificed so much for the Crew, yet Minseok still had him tailed.

He knew his boundaries when working for this Crew – he’d slaved and laughed with this Crew, played and joked, been himself, found attachment in places he’d promised himself he wouldn’t. Yet, right now, he felt foreign beneath his own skin. He felt ridiculous, the feeling merely increasing the further away they moved from the scene.

It wasn’t as though he’d started the day with the intention of fucking shit up.

Feeling like a child, chastised and ignored with a slap on the wrist, he kept his eyes trained beyond the glass of the car window. He was sat in the back of the car, stuck between Sehun and Chanyeol – Sehun’s feet were kicked up onto the seat opposite and Chanyeol had, at some point, stolen Sehun’s phone.

Maybe Baekhyun had imagined the change in Minseok’s behaviour, in his own behaviour – maybe he’d imagined the concerned side glances from Jongdae, the frustration he felt simply growing.

Or maybe, Baekhyun needed to sleep for a few days.

He glanced at Sehun, waiting for the younger to look back before looking away, “You were following me.”

“Yup,” Sehun replied, nonchalant.

They were the only words exchanged during their journey back.

Baekhyun required no prompting to know the only place he was to go would be Minseok’s office. He couldn’t shake that feeling of being talked down to, like he was stupid, like he was some rookie desperate for validation.

Part of him wanted to remain stubborn – he could still feel Minseok’s wrist in his hand, could still feel the way it had melted the flames in his stomach, unknowing if he wanted to kiss the man or punch him. But, part of him knew he’d fucked up. Again. Things could’ve turned rather grim rather quick, he could’ve been ditched in some shallowly dug dirt hole and left unfound until a poor hiker grew curious

Yet, somehow, Baekhyun wanted to hold onto the belief that he lived a life only he controlled. Like he wasn’t some possession of a Crew he’d earned a position within – it was his decision to take on a side job, it made Minseok’s reaction feel unreasonable.

It was a cocktail of sleep deprivation and something Baekhyun wasn’t quite sure he was prepared to admit.

Minseok’s mouth was pressed into a thin line as he led Baekhyun into his office, pausing for a moment at the sight of Jongdae, cross-legged, sitting atop his boss’s chair. Jongdae was wearing a suspicious smile, a look of smugness in his eyes as he glanced from Minseok to Baekhyun. Their explosive’s expert made no attempt to move as Minseok braced his knuckles atop his desk, leaning forward – it took Baekhyun’s remaining energy to avert his eyes, to keep his gaze fixed anywhere but on the muscle of Minseok’s arms.

Instinctively, Baekhyun rubbed his injured wrist with his other hand. The pain seemed to anchor his feet to the office floor and reminded him that he wasn’t here on any old errand. He was in shit.

“Explain,” Minseok began.

Baekhyun pushed the pain in his wrist aside to reach into his pocket and retrieve his phone, “I received a text – nothing more than a price and a place.”

“And what?” Minseok’s tone was nearing disbelief, “You didn’t think to clear it here first?”

“I know who sent the text,” Baekhyun answered, walking towards Minseok’s desk and placing his phone down, “There was nothing unusual about it.”

Jongdae leaned forward for the phone, rolling his eyes when Minseok grabbed it first, “It’s not like you need the fucking money, so why’d you bother?”

“I wasn’t looking for money,” He replied, raising his eyes from Jongdae to Minseok.

“So,” Jongdae prompted, “What?”

Minseok’s eyes were trained on Baekhyun, a flicker of realisation as he answered for the younger man, “It’s because I stuck you on fucking warehouse duty. You’re like a goddamn kid – was it not good enough for you?”

Ignoring Minseok’s pushing, Baekhyun continued, “I can tell you who sent the text and where to find him, if that’s what you’re-”

“I’m pissed because you could’ve gotten yourself killed!” Minseok’s raised voice shut him up, “You can’t pull shit like that, you know that, so why?”

“You wouldn’t have a mess to clean if you hadn’t had Sehun fucking tailing me,” Baekhyun retorted, unable to stop the anger from raising his voice, “I would’ve thought, after dedicating so much to you and your fucking Crew, you’d have at least a slither of respect for me.”

Jongdae shot him a warning look and Baekhyun deflated, glancing anywhere but at the two men causing him so much frustration. Perhaps he shouldn’t be provoking a kingpin he’d seen destroy people for far less.

“If it wasn’t for my order,” Minseok responded, his voice scarily controlled, “You’d be dead.”

“Maybe,” Baekhyun admitted, “But, maybe they wouldn’t have even targeted me, were it not for the thought it would draw Kim Minseok out.”

A muscle in Minseok’s jaw jumped when he clenched it shut, “It’s like you want to be on thin ice.”

The resultant silence fell quickly and Baekhyun was reminded of his discomfort, of the smallest idea that he wasn’t imagining Minseok’s behaviour. Baekhyun knew he was pushing his limits, inducing provocation like it would get him anywhere but punished – but he needed to know Minseok’s agenda, to know why the man thought so little of him when he’d been nothing but a loyal member.

The past couple of days had shown him more of Minseok than he was sure he’d ever see – reactions brought on by himself, by Jongdae, things one would never expect from the man who owned the fucking city.

And Jongdae. It was hard to forget his fear from the day prior, Minseok’s urgency in his ear, the panic, the desperation. It had made him feel sick to his stomach, the swirling of events over which he had no control. He was in over his head, how could he ever expect to gain a foothold when he kept slipping?

Yes, he had taken out his earpiece – the thought of Jongdae beneath his fingers, vulnerable and bleeding out, was immiscible with the sound of Minseok in his ear. The situation had made him realise Minseok wasn’t the heartless man he’d grown to perceive; had made him realise that one wrong move could hurt Minseok, could mean that he would lose Jongdae. It had been unbearable, a build-up that failed to aid him, and fuck if Baekhyun wasn’t an utter mess.

In his ear, he’d had the world, a centre of gravity that never failed to anchor him – yet, beneath his trembling fingers he’d had the stars, distant, small, fading.

Baekhyun swallowed, pushing himself to say what could only be considered a provocation, “You’re acting like I’m irreplaceable, boss. You and I both know you could easily replace me – after all, you only trust me as a pretty face, right?”

Minseok sighed, Jongdae glared and Baekhyun remotely wanted to disappear.

Jongdae pushed himself up, letting out a small wince, “Talk about your feelings before it fucking kills a man.”

Jongdae wasn’t even supposed to be here – he was supposed to be in the fucking medical wing, healing, but telling Jongdae what he should and shouldn’t be doing was like talking to Sehun with his earphones in. Useless. A flash of guilt hit Baekhyun, then, and he looked away from Jongdae to the ground at his feet.

Minseok also pushed himself up, straightening his suit before asking, “How’s your wrist?”

“Fine, sir.”

“Drop by Luhan on your way out, and take this idiot with you.”

 

☽ ☾

 

Luhan had been rather busy chasing a certain explosives expert with a gunshot wound to do a thorough examination of his wrist, but he’d been able to confirm that it wasn’t broken. The medic had fitted him with a small brace for support, it had been a two second job and now Baekhyun was left to his own devices. Which, in retrospect, was not as freeing as it should’ve been.

The longer he watched the kettle on the stove boil, the more he considered shutting the hell up and counting his blessings. He worked for the Crew, ex-head of clean-up, a once valued member of lower ranks and growing into an increasingly more prominent member of seniority. He’d almost thrown that all away – what the fuck was wrong with him?

“You gonna mope around all day?” Baekhyun looked up to see Junmyeon leaning against the counter, her dark hair pulled up into a loose bun.

Baekhyun huffed out a laugh, pouring his coffee into one of the disposable cups, “Don’t worry, I’m going home.”

“I’ll drive you,” Junmyeon answered, fishing her keys out of her pocket, “Give you more time to mope around.”

Rolling his eyes, Baekhyun fitted the plastic lid over his cup and followed Junmyeon down the stairs and to the basement garage. He held his cup close to his chest in attempt to overcome the small chill working its way across the city, thankful when Junmyeon turned on the car’s heater. She pulled out of the garage, allowing the sound of the radio to fill the car as she turned onto the street.

Of course, it had started to rain.

“I’d ask what’s bothering you,” Junmyeon started, “But I’m pretty sure it starts with ‘M’ and ends with something pretty gay.”

He sipped his coffee, humming, “You’d probably be right.”

“You realise you’re going to have to do something, right?” Junmyeon asked, taking the turn that would lead them to the highway.

Baekhyun laughed, “Yeah, sure. If he doesn’t shoot me first.”

She glanced to him for a second, eyes serious, “He might, but he’s not exactly going to play fetch with you.”

“He’s my boss, Junmyeon,” Baekhyun responded, watching the scenery race by, “And it’s not just that. Things are better left alone.”

“Yeah, Jongdae always tends to be an unpredictable factor.”

He frowned, looking over at Junmyeon, “How did you...?”

“Baekhyun, please,” She mused, “The only people clueless are those involved.”

Allowing the hum of the engine to fill the air, Baekhyun defeatedly watched as drops of water hit the windscreen. So, it hadn’t been something only he had imagined – Baekhyun was unsure whether this made things easier, or far more complicated. He couldn’t deny the change in his heartbeat when Minseok entered the room, nor could he lie about the stupid smile he’d get every time Jongdae text him something ridiculous.

There was no way something this unsystematic, this disorganized, could work. Junmyeon had always been a dreamer.

“Listen,” Junmyeon began, her voice soft, “I’m not saying do something drastic – hell, I’m not saying do anything at all.”

“But?” Baekhyun prompted.

“But this is Minseok,” She replied, “Minseok is great at many things – we’ve seen him build an empire from nothing, we’ve seen him destroy systems with little thought. Here is a man who can bring an international organization to its knees in one phone call, who can orchestrate the most ridiculous shit when he’s bored.”

Baekhyun remained silent, his mind somehow clinging onto her every word.

“But what Minseok cannot do, what Minseok has never been able to do,” She sighed, pulling onto the exit lane, “Is overcome emotional constipation.”

“What if I just make it worse?”

“You could,” She pointed out, “Colossally – but you could also make it the best damn thing to happen to you.”

By the time they reached his apartment, the rain was pouring heavily and Baekhyun had finished his coffee. He stared up at his apartment through the rain, appreciating the odd calm that had come over him. Junmyeon watched him silently, allowing his thoughts to run their own path. He gave her a small smile, hand moving to the handle of the door.

Perhaps, in another world, in which Baekhyun was not prone to fuck ups, she would be right.

“Thanks, Junmyeon.”

He was soaked before he even closed Junmyeon’s door, waving her off as he dashed towards his apartment block. Baekhyun grabbed a towel the moment he was through the door, kicking off his shoes and moving around to tidy up the week’s clutter. He shut his curtains, allowing the sound of the TV to fill his apartment as he occupied his mind.

In another world, his life, and preferably his mind, would be easier.

Turning the heating up, he opted for a quick shower and let the stress of the day ease away with the stream of the water. The pain in his wrist had lulled, leaving him with the outline of a bruise on his wrist – he rubbed the area gently, having taken off the brace, the blue and red of his skin the last thing on his mind. It was a short shower and he dried himself quickly, pulling on an old pair of jeans… for comfort. He needed some comfort.

His hair was still dripping when he heard his doorbell ring.

When Baekhyun’s eyes met the eyes of his boss through the peephole, he almost slipped atop his laminate flooring. Either he had somehow fucked up again or Minseok was here for another talk. Baekhyun had already decided that he’d keep his mouth shut, let Minseok do the talking – or at least, that’s what he told himself as he steadied his breathing and tightened his grip on the door handle. In one easy motion, he opened the door to greet his boss.

Then, he also remembered that he wasn’t wearing a shirt.

Minseok stared at him and Baekhyun could see the surprised amusement in his eyes as he asked, “Am I interrupting something?”

Baekhyun had to fight the blush threatening to betray him, “Not at all, boss. I just showered.”

“Relax,” Minseok then glanced over his shoulder, “Are you going to make me stand on the doorstep?”

“Right, uh,” Baekhyun opened his door further, motioning Minseok into his apartment, “Make yourself at home?”

His boss cleared his throat, and Baekhyun could swear Minseok’s eyes followed a droplet of water as it fell from his hair and hit his clavicle. He pushed the thought aside, slipping into his bedroom to pull a shirt over his head.

“I wanted to bring you this,” Minseok announced as he returned, pulling Baekhyun’s phone from his pocket, “Thought you might need it.”

“Thanks,” Baekhyun replied, crossing the room to get his phone from Minseok – he kept the thought that Minseok could’ve sent anyone to give him is phone to himself.

Maybe Junmyeon’s words were optimistic.

As he took his phone from Minseok’s hand, the older man caught his wrist in a soft grip. There was a small frown on his face as he rubbed his thumb over the marks on Baekhyun’s skin and Baekhyun froze, feet rooted to the ground. He couldn’t stop the hitch in his breath nor could he tear his eyes from Minseok’s when he looked up. His boss smelled like coffee and gunpowder. Generic, possibly, but awfully fitting.

The moment was over in a blink, Minseok releasing his wrist and leaving Baekhyun to drop his arm.

“You still wanna be pissy?” Minseok asked, cocking an eyebrow in challenge.

Baekhyun bit his lip, thinking through his reply, “No. I think I said all I needed to say.”

“It’s not often that people argue with me – or ignore me,” Minseok informed, giving the younger a pointed look, “I don’t expect a repeat, Baek. You know you mean more to this Crew than a pretty face for a con.”

Baekhyun swallowed, looking away, “Sorry, sir. I was distracted.”

His boss considered him for a moment, eyes calculative and Baekhyun fucking wished Yixing had spent more time teaching him how to read people. Of course, Minseok looked like a kingpin, expensive suits and an aura of dominance – but, there was so much more to him Baekhyun would probably never get to see, so much more than cold stares that failed to even scratch the surface of the man in front of him.

He almost hated the way his mind went back to Jongdae – he was certain that man had seen more to their boss than any other. Baekhyun expected to feel jealousy at such a thought, instead, he felt a longing. Jongdae had secrets and scars, too. The duo felt like something he’d only ever be able to watch, not touch, separated by a thin layer of realism.

“Jongdae is okay,” Minseok mentioned, and Baekhyun frowned, “You do know that, right? You can stop beating yourself up, kid.”

“I know,” Baekhyun replied, Minseok’s eyebrow raised, unconvinced, “But, he might not have been. We’re lucky to have Luhan.”

Minseok tutted, “If we spent time lingering on the things that could have happened, we’d get fuck all done. Jongdae cares about you, he’d feel fucking guilty if he realised how much it was effecting you.”

“Don’t tell him,” He responded, hating the swell of emotion in his tone, “He shouldn’t be worrying about trivial things.”

His boss shot him a look, and Baekhyun’s breath caught in his throat.

“I won’t,” Minseok tilted Baekhyun’s chin up, then, his voice a murmur, “Though he did ask me to pass something along.”

The last thing Baekhyun had expected was for his boss to turn up at his apartment, after hours, citing inspirational words and… kissing him. He stood, frozen, the heat of Minseok’s hand against his jaw drawing out his response. His eyes fluttered shut, his own hand coming to rest on the side of Minseok’s neck and his boss hummed in appreciation. Minseok’s lips were worn by weather where Baekhyun’s were soft – Baekhyun couldn’t help the noise that left his throat when his boss licked into his mouth.

The amount of times he’d had to avert his gaze from his boss’s lips, to know how the most dangerous mouth in the city would feel against his skin.

And, of course, his boss tasted like coffee, tasted like exhilaration and every ounce of breathlessness Baekhyun had ever experienced.

As much as Baekhyun could say that it occurred quickly, that the entire happening was a blur, it was equally the opposite – time was of no issue as his mind mapped out the heat of Minseok’s breath against his skin, the way the other’s mouth was quite clearly leading, the way his hands moved to Baekhyun’s hips, pinning the younger man against the wall.

How the very feeling of Minseok’s hands on his hips were driving his mind crazy.

It was a cliché thought, but Baekhyun missed the warmth of Minseok’s mouth the moment they pulled apart – and in the same moment, he realised how fucked he was. There was no letting go of happenings like this, not for Baekhyun, not when his heartrate had practically doubled in his chest. He was satisfied to see Minseok breathing just as hard – the feeling not unlike their argument within the industrial building, except, this time, where Minseok’s eyes were once cold, a fire now burned.

The thought that Jongdae had asked Minseok to pass along a goddamn kiss had Baekhyun content in ways he’d never expected to feel again.

“Kid,” His boss’s voice was low, a growl, his thigh sliding between Baekhyun’s and pinning him to the wall, “Do you even realise how long I’ve wanted to do that?”

“If it’s any consolation, sir, you’ve been-”

Minseok swallowed his words in the form of a harsh kiss, leaving Baekhyun breathless in mere moments. The smugness on Minseok’s face lasted the beat of a second, dissolving into annoyance when the phone in his suit pocket buzzed, the dull vibrations filling the silence between them.

“I should probably get that,” Minseok muttered, reaching into his pocket and letting his other hand cup Baekhyun’s neck as he answered, “This had better be something interesting.”

The hand lingered on Baekhyun’s neck as he listened, fingertips tracing small patterns atop Baekhyun’s skin that had the hairs on his arms standing. It felt foreign, yet all the comfort Baekhyun could have needed as he leaned back against the wall. He could still taste the bitterness of coffee on his lips. Baekhyun wasn’t complaining.

There was a slight frown on Minseok’s face when he put his phone on speaker.

 “The place is frickin’ empty,” Chanyeol’s voice came through the speaker, “Did Baek give us the right address?”

“I – yeah?” Baekhyun replied, looking back up to Minseok, “Of course I did.”

“He probably heard we made it out,” Minseok sighed, leaning against Baekhyun, “Packed up his shit and left.”

“We broke in, anyway,” Sehun’s voice chimed in, “Found some interesting things.”

“I thought Chanyeol said the place was empty?”

“Chanyeol’s a dumbass,” Sehun returned, Chanyeol protesting in the background, “We’re bringing this shit with us.”

Minseok hung up, looking back to Baekhyun with a slight arch in his eyebrow; Baekhyun was wide eyed, lips swollen with evidence of their kiss. He risked a small shrug. Minseok pushed himself up to stand straight, fixing the front of his blazer and dropping his phone back into his pocket. He reached out, fixing Baekhyun’s shirt collar before looking at him properly.

“This guy, is he dangerous?” Minseok asked.

Baekhyun nodded, “Enough money can make anyone dangerous.”

“Was he a-” His boss paused, a small look of distaste pulling his lips, “Regular of yours?”

People who regularly required services such as Baekhyun’s were powerful.

“For the most part,” Baekhyun answered, “He never worked for a crew, Minseok, I swear if I’d known-”

“I know,” Minseok interrupted, dropping his hands from the younger man’s collar, “Sehun came to me a few days ago – said he’d been tailed and the bastards had scattered before he’d gotten much. I was aware of a movement, I just hadn’t expected you to be a target.”

“Take me off warehouse duty,” Baekhyun began, willing to try, “I can help.”

“Grab whatever shit you need, if they’ve been tailing you then they know where you live,” Minseok responded, moving away from Baekhyun, “I’ll drop you at one of the safe houses we use to ditch the feds – it’s temporary, but necessary. You good?”

It was the most he could ask for and he nodded in reply, moving to collect the bag from the bottom of his wardrobe he’d prepared for moments like this. They all had their ‘get-out’ plans, procedures they’d follow if everything fell to shit and they had to go underground, black market, each man for themselves. Not that there was much in this apartment worth keeping – most of what grew in this city withered over time, possessions of little worth when every corner of the city crumbled with corruption.

Baekhyun wasn’t complaining, the city was beginning to feel more like home than ever before – he had his Crew to thank for that, a stability yet to wither. They were different, because they cared, not about political bullshit and the law, but about each other, to an extent. It was often considered a weakness and even Baekhyun had fought against it, but when you knew you had people who gave a shit, well, it made the fight against the complex of the city far easier.

And the complex of this city was what had caused so many to fail before them.