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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.

Chapter Text

Chanyeol was late, a feat that had never seemed to surprise Baekhyun. He’d already ordered himself a tea, and a frap-whatever for Chanyeol that would keep anyone else awake for days. They were meeting their mark in 25 minutes – the lack of punctuality would have irked Baekhyun, were it not for their meeting point lingering near the café, which sat at the edge of a small park.

He couldn’t help but feel out of place in the aging café, the material of his suit jacket doing little to provide warmth in the impending winter. The drop in temperature had appeared seemingly overnight, sparkling frost signing its slippery annoyance across the city.

Still, it was better than anything warehouse duty had to offer.

“Baek!” Chanyeol was loud, as ever – and wearing sunglasses. Inside. During winter.

Baekhyun’s eyes flickered over to the clock on the wall, “Remind me what time we agreed to meet.”

“Uh,” The other let out sheepishly, slipping into the booth, “I’m a tad late. Ish. Did you order?”

As though on cue, the waitress appeared with both of their drinks atop a tray. Chanyeol grinned, leaving Baekhyun to thank her as he pulled the tea close to his chest. He watched as Chanyeol reached into his pocket, pulling out an identical pair of sunglasses and pushing them across the table.

 “Chanyeol,” He started, eyeing the sunglasses, “It’s below 40 degrees.”

“And?” The taller asked, taking a drag of his straw, “We’ll look good. Is that a new suit?”

“Yeah,” Baekhyun confirmed, glancing down in response, “The safe house lacks an espionage wardrobe, it seems.”

He neglected to mention that Minseok (with the annoyance of Jongdae) had insisted on buying him the suit, approximately an hour prior – their boss hadn’t liked the idea of Baekhyun returning to his apartment, not with the past week’s events being so dire. Someone knew where he lived, and there was nothing to stop them from targeting him a second time. Or, that’s how Baekhyun preferred to see it.

There was no room for heart, here.

Not in this city.

Chanyeol shrugged and handed him an earpiece, fitting his own into his ear carefully. Baekhyun did the same, catching the end of a debate between Sehun and Jongdae on the other end of the line.

“You lovers ready?”

Shut the fuck up, Chanyeol.

“Jongdae. That was rude.”

Do I give a shit? It’s six in the fucking morning and Sehun is somehow already high off his idiot ass. How the fuck-

“’Dae,” Baekhyun interrupted, quietly, “You ready?”

Yeah, we’re ready,” Jongdae grumbled back, his tone a little softer over the comms.

They both stood, Chanyeol leaving a few notes in the tip jar as they exited. Baekhyun kept his tea close to his chest, savouring what little warmth it offered as they stepped out into the street – the area was central to the city, businessmen wavering through the streets as rush hour commenced.

Chanyeol nudged him and Baekhyun sighed, tucking one end of the Ray Bans into his oxford shirt.

“I’m not wearing them,” He began, rolling his eyes at the taller’s pout and adding, “Yet.”

“What time d’you reckon he’ll turn up?”

Baekhyun took a sip of his tea, thinking, “It’s bad faith to show up late – but, he’d look eager to show up early.”

“Wanna bet on it?” Chanyeol asked.

What’re we betting?” Sehun followed, voice slightly more distant than Jongdae’s.

Nothing,” Jongdae answered.

Time continued to slip by as Baekhyun refrained from glancing around; there was one minute until their arranged time, and it seemed their mark was yet to show his face. Chanyeol was already bored, kicking at the small stones littering the path at the edge of the park and cooing at every dog on their morning walk.

“If you were stuck in a room with me, Jongdae and Captain America,” Chanyeol started, and Baekhyun didn’t even dignify him with a reaction, “And the only way to leave the room was to suck a dick, whose dick would you suck?”

Baekhyun stared at him as Jongdae sighed over their comms, “No.”

“If you had to-”

“But, I don’t have to,” Baekhyun replied.

“But, then you’ll be stuck in the room.”

“Yeah, I’m heartbroken.”

It was in that moment that a car pulled over to the curb, the dark paint of the metal matching the blacked-out windows – Baekhyun cast a questioning glance at Chanyeol, who was somewhat more experienced in the field. He’d been right, their mark was neither late nor early; just right on time.

It wasn’t Kai, nor a person either of them recognised.

“Gentlemen,” The woman greeted, smiling professionally.

 “You’re not Kai,” Chanyeol returned, easily.

For fuck’s sake,” Jongdae said.

“That’s correct, Mr Park,” The lady motioned to the car, “I have been instructed to take you to my employer-”

“Uh, no?” Chanyeol interrupted, cocking an eyebrow, “Why the hell would we trust you?”

“I’m the only person who can take you to the man you’re looking for, and I don’t have all day,” She deadpanned, staring at him, “Get in the car or leave. It’s your choice.”

Baekhyun looked down at his tea and sighed, taking one last drink before dropping it into the trashcan. He already missed its warmth as they both climbed into the car, staring at the woman as she held out her hand in expectation.

“Earpieces.”

Minseok’s gonna fucking kill us. I’m blaming this on Sehun.

They reluctantly handed over their earpieces and were each given a piece of black material. A blindfold. This day was really not going to plan – all Baekhyun could do was sigh, ignoring the sickly feeling of anxiety spreading through his chest as he pulled the material over his eyes. This was ridiculous, what reason did Kai have to go through such lengths?

All they wanted was information, not a potential death sentence.

Baekhyun hated this city.

He heard the door slam shut and sighed, “Chanyeol. You good?”

“We’ll see,” The seriousness in his tone was foreign to Baekhyun, and did absolutely nothing to calm his doubt, “Just follow my lead, yeah?”

Baekhyun quickly gave up his attempt to remember the amount of turns the car had taken, sinking back into the leather in defeat. He was confused as to why their earpieces had been taken and not their weapons – not that he wanted to count his virtues. Baekhyun knew how to defend himself and Chanyeol had always been better at hand-to-hand combat; though, Baekhyun was lethal with a knife.

A knock to their window notified them that they could remove the blindfold and he did so without hesitation, keeping his face blank as the door was opened for him. What he had not expected, however, was-

“Jongin?” Chanyeol let out, cracking up, “You’re Kai?”

“Okay, asshole,” Jongin replied, nodding once at Baekhyun, “I have to somehow protect this shithole.”

“Kim Jongin?” Baekhyun questioned, eyebrows raised at Chanyeol, “I thought he was dead?”

Jongin merely smirked, “Give Yixing my regards.”

Baekhyun frowned – Chanyeol shrugged, seemingly unaffected.

Glancing around, Baekhyun noted that they were in some form of a warehouse – he wasn’t sure if he expected anything less. Some form of security regularly patrolled the premises, their faces skilfully blank as Jongin swiped a card to let them through into a hallway. Baekhyun remained silent, having only heard in passing about the man in question. It hardly made sense, but asking questions rarely allowed one to remain unscathed, around here.

“What’s with the dramatics?” Chanyeol questioned, walking aside Jongin as Baekhyun lingered a step or two behind, “Jongdae’s probably freaking out.”

“I can’t risk you being tracked here,” Jongin responded, voice oddly calm, “Jongdae will have to wait.”

“You worried Minseok still cares enough to hunt you down?”

“He shot me. Twice. But, no, I’m not about that life anymore,” Jongin motioned to an office, allowing them to enter the spacious room, “I hear your crew isn’t doing as well as it used to.”

Baekhyun frowned, again.

 “We’re fine,” Chanyeol replied, short, “You have what we came for?”

It was odd watching Chanyeol act in a professional mannerism, Baekhyun thought, even his posture had improved. Jongin handed over a selection of files with a smug smile as Chanyeol’s eyes widened. That was a lot of dirt on one guy. He then opened one of the drawers on his desk and Baekhyun raised an eyebrow as he was handed a USB drive.

He stared at the weird mask in the bottom of Jongin’s drawer, startling slightly when it was slammed shut.

“That enough?”

Chanyeol nodded, flicking through the files easily before handing them to Baekhyun, “Great, hope to see you again sometime.”

“That makes one of us.”

As far as this genre of transactions often went, their retrieval of information could have gone so much worse – so why did Baekhyun feel like this was nothing more than a false sense of security? Chanyeol had waved him off, stating Jongin worked to fuck up politics, now; the reason why he’d been able to get them their information.

He risked a glance over his shoulder as they left, watching as Jongin gave him a departing wave and a smirk that left his questions unanswered.

 

☽ ☾

 

Baekhyun would be the first to admit that his mind had been amiss for weeks, months, as though the once-heavy anchor keeping him close to shore was somehow weightless. It had been a gradual thing, and yet he’d never seen a hint of it coming – like a candle beneath a rope, his mind burning through useless thoughts. There were more important things to fear in this city than the looks Minseok reserved for him, for the way Jongdae as much as brushed arms with him.

He remained an opposite, adapting, constantly changing to survive when his environment demanded it – a fraud. They were the same crew Baekhyun had been introduced to and he felt nothing but a fake, waiting for the day they realised they’d made a mistake hiring him.

The thoughts seemed to come from nowhere, surprising even Baekhyun.

Lingering around their headquarters after the surprisingly easy information retrieval, it didn’t take long for Baekhyun to pick up on the tense atmosphere. It felt heavy, but not unfamiliar – a rival gang had made a move on their territory, temporarily kidnapped one of their own and the list of people they could trust had always been short, getting shorter.

The atmosphere lacked fear, however – there was no doubt who’d end this war victorious. Minseok was a respected leader, a trusted boss, and it was in moments like this they were reminded of it.

Baekhyun almost admired him.

The way Minseok’s pupils dilated as his mind dropped into focus – if you looked hard enough, you could see it in the tense line of his shoulders, the stubborn tilt of his chin. Baekhyun knew where to look, how to see the usual excitement of heist planning had been replaced by a constant alertness, a mind calculating. He might have compared it to art, the picture-perfect image of his boss with his eyes scanning across the information laid out in front of him.

He’d yet to find Jongdae throughout the mess, their explosions expert finally found at Luhan’s mercy. The idiot assumed a few days had been long enough to recover from a bullet, his stitches soon ripping and Luhan slapping the back of his head as he insulted him in his mother tongue.

An unfamiliar face leaned close to Minseok, murmuring something quietly that made the curiosity peak in Baekhyun’s mind.

“Wu Yifan,” Junmyeon informed him, leaning against the table.

“M-Crew?” Baekhyun realised; he’d heard Luhan had once been their medic.

Yifan nodded, smiling small, “It’s good to see you all, y’know, in flesh and not on 10 o’clock news.”

Baekhyun had heard the M-Crew had ceased to exist, their members taken out one by one until they were forced to separate, to flee – well, Baekhyun had also heard Jongin was dead, perhaps it was time for him to assume that he knew nothing.

Their planning took them well into the night, members switching out to catch up on rest. Baekhyun hadn’t realised how severe the situation was; an untitled gang was moving through their city, recruiting the desperate people with little to lose. Not just people, but ex-gang members that the Crew had torn apart and reduced to nothing… and even a certain politician, according to Wu, who Baekhyun was immediately able to identify as the man who sent him the clean-up request. It came of little surprise, as politicians were often the dirtiest of all.

Baekhyun had excused himself to take a breather and had soon found himself in an empty kitchen, eyes focussed upon the milk lightening the dark of his coffee, his mind wandering. He had kissed Minseok. His boss. Or rather, his boss had kissed him. Impulse, perhaps? Something so easily sparked in the heat of the moment? It wasn’t entirely unreasonable, for Minseok had said nothing to him since the occurrence.

It was the reason for his doubt, but it was hard to forget the ‘Jongdae asked me to pass something along’, right before he’d kissed the younger.

It felt wrong to worry about something so trivial when the crew was facing something far larger.

As requested, Minseok had taken him from warehouse duty and he already had a list of new jobs to prepare for. He and Chanyeol had more field work to conduct, influencing to orchestrate within the hierarchy of the city – the filthy rich could be of use when played by the right hands. They also needed information from the politician before they disposed of him – who had instructed him to lure Baekhyun out?

Sehun had already hacked his way through the local government’s pathetically weak online barriers in their search to locate the missing politician – it was no secret that politicians often sided with crews, a corrupt city such as this thrived on greed and they needed the power that came sidled with crime and money.

The hours seemed to blur, Baekhyun struggling to piece much more than his instructions together. He hadn’t slept much in the foreign bed, his mind attempting to map out the last 48 hours – he often became distracted, mind focussing on minor details (tattoos; Minseok’s) and when he tried to focus, he could see it all again, feel Minseok’s lips on his own. Feel himself slipping further into the hole he’d dug for himself.

He found himself staring at the unfamiliar ceiling, eyes mapping the darkened patterns as he ignored the vibrations of his phone.

 

☽ ☾

 

Although he knew the safe house was a necessary precaution, Baekhyun found it difficult to relax into the unfamiliar – lonely – surroundings. Most of the crew remained on the other side of the city, elbows deep in technicalities; a consequence of war. Perhaps he was being dramatic, but even he could sense the impending conflict they were supposed to be prepared for. He wasn’t an idiot, even if Minseok did seem to be shielding his eyes from the depth of it.

Minseok. Someone he shouldn’t have been thinking about the moment before stepping into the shower. Minseok, with tattoos painting his tan skin; tattoos that Baekhyun felt like he’d give the world to see, to trace with his fingers until he found the scars he knew littered the older man’s back. And Jongdae, he wondered if Jongdae had ever seen Minseok’s tattoos.

Had the two ever spent a night together?

He expected jealousy, but instead felt longing.

Jongdae would be loud, somehow Baekhyun knew that – he wondered if Minseok made much noise, if he took control in the bedroom the way he did every other aspect of life. Yet, he felt like Jongdae would struggle to submit; it would be a fight for power, he could see Minseok winning, grabbing Jongdae’s wrists and pinning them above the pyromaniac’s head.

Baekhyun imagined the fight leaving Jongdae’s body, the submission of his limbs not mirrored by the fire in his eyes – and Minseok would smirk, would press his thigh between Jongdae’s legs until the younger was a whining mess, arching up to feel every part of Minseok his boss would allow.

With a small gasp, Baekhyun wrapped his hand around his hardening cock. He let the heat of the shower run over his body as he breathed, slowly stroking his length as he thought about Minseok spreading Jongdae’s legs, kissing the soft skin on the inside of his thighs. He could almost hear the moan Jongdae would let out, needy and demanding.

He imagined himself there, somehow fitting into their messy dynamic like the missing piece of some childhood puzzle. It felt right, the way he’d lower himself onto Minseok’s lap, the other filling him up just the way he needed; his back against Jongdae’s chest, words of praise being whispered into his ear – and then Jongdae’s lips would travel from his ear to his neck, and Baekhyun would moan, hands reaching out to grasp Minseok’s.

His hand tightened around his cock and he groaned, leaning his forehead against the cold of the tiles as he thought about Jongdae moving to fuck his face, grabbing his hair tightly and using his mouth like it was made to suck dick. He thought about Jongdae coming down his throat, using his thumb to wipe Baekhyun’s lips clean before kissing him – before kissing every bad thought from his mind as Minseok came inside him.

Baekhyun fell apart, then, his breath steaming up the tiles of the bathroom as he painted parts of the wall white; the moan that left his mouth would’ve been embarrassing, had anyone else heard it – yet he continued to stroke himself through the bliss, until his hips trembled in sensitivity and he allowed the warm water to wash his dirty thoughts down the drain.

Refusing to pay any mind to what had just happened, what he’d allowed to happen, Baekhyun cleaned himself down and stepped into the cold air beyond the steam of the shower. He felt sheepish, too embarrassed to even look at himself in the mirror – to see his cheeks blushed with the exertion and the remnants of his thoughts behind his eyes.

Instead, he focused on pulling on clean clothes, humming a song under his breath as he padded down the stairs.

He folded his legs beneath himself on the sofa, having completed his routine lock-up for the night. The microwave hummed softly from the kitchen, providing background noise to the old drafts of the house. It was almost nice, providing Baekhyun the ability to de-stress from the day – he lazily tapped through the channels, until his phone buzzed.

 

[Jongdae, 10.38pm]

> wow, thanks for letting me know you didn’t, y’know, die.

Baekhyun frowned.

[sent]

I thought Chanyeol called you? <

[Jongdae]

> that’s not the point, dumbass

 

After handing their comms over to the strange woman in the car, Baekhyun hadn’t even realised Jongdae could have been worried. Chanyeol had called in the moment they’d left, reporting to HQ the details of their find. Sighing, Baekhyun stretched out his legs, staring at the glow of his phone for a few moments before replying.

[sent]

sorry, I didn’t realise <

 

What else could he even say? He wasn’t even sure what to think of his own thoughts, the possibility that Jongdae and Minseok could mean something more to him than members of the same crew. It wasn’t like he could believe either of them were willing to contribute emotions when they lived in times such as this.

The ‘ding’ of the microwave tore his gaze towards the kitchen as his phone buzzed again.

 

[Jongdae]

> it’s not like anyone could be pissed at you, anyway.

 

Baekhyun could only type out half of his response before a noise from the window stole his attention. He paused, eyes lingering on the curtains as he muted the television and strained to hear against the static of silence. Out of routine, and safety, he moved towards his front door to look through the peephole. There was nothing more to be seen than the wooden porch, the wind rusting the branches of a nearby tree.

 

 [sent]

what’s that supposed to mean? <

 

He heard the noise again, the creek of the wooden pane surrounding his window. Frowning, he slowly crept forwards to take a discreet glance through the blinds. Nothing. The garden stood bare and he almost laughed at his own paranoia – it could quite have easily been a bird tapping on the glass of the window… if it hadn’t been dark outside, the thought would have filled him with far more comfort. A raccoon, perhaps?

The noise of his door handle turning filled him with a deep dread. As much as his feet willed him to stay frozen to the spot, he slid off his shoes to walk silently towards the front door. He watched, the blood in his veins running colder, as the door handle was turned once more. His eyes glanced from the door to the staircase on his left, and the kitchen on his right.

Possible escape routes.

Baekhyun risked another glance through the peephole, unable to stop his mouth from dropping open as his eyes met a blank black mask. The head beneath the mask then tilted, as though listening for Baekhyun through the wood of the door. He urged himself to remain calm despite the thick shock filling his chest.

Opting to creep up the stairs, he dialled Minseok’s number on the off-chance that the oddly masked man was here for a reason. He was pretty sure Minseok would’ve given him a heads up if he was expecting anyone – and the mask, it was creepy as fuck. Still, it felt ridiculous of him to call his boss for something he should’ve been able to deal with on his own. He was no stranger to defending himself, but right now, Minseok felt like the only sense of comfort.

Minseok picked up almost instantly, “Baek, what’s up?

Beside himself, Baekhyun let out a nervous laugh as he shut himself into one of the bedrooms upstairs, “Should I be expecting anyone here? Like, say, a friend of yours with an affinity for creepy masks?”

No?” The confusion in Minseok’s tone left a sick, heavy feeling in the pit of his stomach, “Baekhyun. What the fuck is going on?”

“Uh, boss,” Baekhyun replied, pressing his ear to the door, “I think I have an uninvited guest.”

Shit,” Minseok cursed and Baekhyun could hear him moving around, “Are you sure? Where are you?

“Upstairs,” He answered, heartrate beginning to climb, “I saw one guy, weird mask. Please tell me this place has weapons.”

Minseok was silent for a moment, before cursing again, “Fuck, Baekhyun. I’m on my way. How many?

“One, I think,” Baekhyun moved over to the window to look down, and though he couldn’t see much through the darkness, he could see more than one figure on the porch, “Never mind. Four, maybe.”

We moved all the shit from that house last month,” Minseok said, grimly, “I’m on the other side of the city, fuck, shit-

“Boss,” Baekhyun said as calmly as he could be concerning the circumstances, “They’re still outside, I could get out the back-”

No. They’ll have your exits covered,” Minseok started, “I’m with Jongdae, we’re on our way.

“Jongdae should be in the medical wing and you’re on the other side of town,” Baekhyun said, more to himself, “That’s a good 30 minutes, Minseok, I think I should-”

Baekhyun,” Minseok cut in, his tone strained, “These are people that have not only found one of my fucking safe houses, but orchestrated it on a night when the crew is as far from you as possible. I don’t… fuck, Baek. I’m gonna hand you over to Jongdae, okay?

He nodded, despite Minseok being unable to see him. This was… not good. He’d left his knives at the base because this was a safe house. This was an undisclosed location that little people knew of – and yet… His throat felt dry, why was it taking them so long to break in? What were they waiting for?

Hey,” Jongdae’s voice was softer over the line, “You with me?

“I’m here,” Baekhyun replied.

Are they in the house?

“Not yet.”

Good,” Jongdae responded, “That gives us some time. I need you to get down to that door and – I know this sounds ridiculous, but we just need to buy you time – lodge something beneath the handle.

He’d left the room before Jongdae had even finished speaking, ignoring the hammering of his heart against his ribcage as he reached the front door – he was so fucking thankful that Minseok’s safehouses had better than average locks on the doors. It bought him a little time.

 “Try to be quiet, okay?” Jongdae continued as Baekhyun lifted the chair, moving slower once he crossed from the carpet to the wood in the hallway.

He did as Jongdae said, pushing the chair against the handle to prevent it from opening – for now, at least. Baekhyun stopped when the sounds from outside also stopped, leaving silence, and then-

A deep voice came through the door, “Hello?”

Fucking-” Jongdae stopped himself from losing it over the phone, “The kitchen, Baek, you’re good with a knife, right? I’ve seen you fight three guys with a knife – I know standard kitchen knives fucking suck, but it’s what we’ve got.

Baekhyun moved into the kitchen, ducking low to avoid the window and sliding one of the large knives from the block, “Done.”

Take a look under the sink for me,” Jongdae continued, soothing, “Is there anything useful in there?

“Bleach, but it’s almost empty,” Baekhyun replied, swallowing the lump in his throat, “And… rubbing alcohol.”

Perfect,” Jongdae’s response was instant, “Is there a piece of cloth? Or maybe a small towel?

“There’s a kitchen towel,” Baekhyun confirmed, already aware where this was going. He slipped the silver lighter into his back-pocket without prompting.

Okay, go back upstairs, quietly-”

Jongdae was cut off when the kitchen window shattered inwards, Baekhyun launching himself into the hallway to avoid shards of glass. He kept a tight grip of his phone, scooping the alcohol and knife back up as he all but sprinted up the staircase. Locating a random bedroom, he closed the door silently and slowed his breathing.

Baekhyun? Please answer me-

“I’m here,” He said in a whisper.

Fuck, are you okay? Where are you?

“An upstairs bedroom,” He replied, dumping his items on the bed quietly.

They’re taking their time,” Jongdae responded, grimly, “They’re trying to mess with you, Baek.”

“How far are you?” Baekhyun asked, though he knew they were further than would be of use.

We’re close, okay,” There was something desperate in Jongdae’s voice, “You just gotta hold out a little while longer. Think you can do that for me?

Baekhyun couldn’t bring himself to reply.

They’re not all gonna come kicking and screaming into one bedroom, just stay quiet – do you still have the knife?” Jongdae waited for Baekhyun’s confirmation before continuing, “Good, move behind the door.

He moved across the carpet, careful to be light on his feet as his heart continued to pound against his chest. He tried to slow his breathing, holding the knife in his good hand and the phone in the other. They were climbing the stairs, he could hear them – they were making idle chatter, laughing, it made the bile rise in Baekhyun’s throat.

When the first fucker comes into the room, you take him down,” Jongdae instructed, determination in his voice, “You do it quietly, okay? You got that?

“Yeah,” Baekhyun doubted his reply was audible.

Baekhyun placed the phone down on the shelf, positioning himself as flat against the wall as his body would allow. He heard one door slam open, one of them laughing, feet continuing down the hallway. Another bedroom door, one of them was calling out, taunting, and Baekhyun calmed himself. He breathed out slowly, knife ready like he’d done a million times before. His door opened.

Luckily, the man had opted for a less aggressive method of opening doors than his friends – the door was pushed open slowly and Baekhyun held his breath, waiting for the man to fully enter the room before pushing the door partially shut. His height gave him an advantage and he grabbed the man from behind, running the blade quickly across the man’s throat and holding his mouth shut to quieten the sound of gargling blood. This wasn’t his first kill. He waited for the man to stop twitching before letting him slide to the carpet below, the cream colour painted red.

He picked up the phone, Jongdae already launching into the next step.

You’re doing great, Baek, we’re almost there,” Jongdae’s voice had softened, they both knew he wasn’t going to hold another three men off.

“Jongdae…” He trailed off, lowly.

No, Baekhyun, you’re not giving up on me now. Put the kitchen towel through the bottle of alcohol, be quick – you might have to use the knife to tear it into a smaller shred.”

Baekhyun did as instructed, using the bloody knife to cut a smaller rag from the kitchen towel. He shoved it through the opening of the bottle, removing the lighter from his pocket.

“Light the end of it,” Jongdae prompted, “And listen, you can’t just stand there and wait, this time. You’ll hit the first guy but the second will be fine. You need to go into the hallway – aim for their feet. You got that, Baekhyun?”

His hands were trembling. He didn’t want this to be the last time he heard Jongdae’s voice, tone desperate, trembling with the guilt of fear. Hadn’t he always told himself this would happen?

Speak to me, Baek, I need you do to do this, okay? Just one more thing. We’ll be there soon.

Lighting the end of the rag on fire, Baekhyun could feel his heart forcing adrenaline into his veins with every step he took. Peering out into the hallway, Baekhyun waited.

“There’s only one.”

Wait for it,” Jongdae reminded, calmly, “You need to be patient.”

Baekhyun swallowed, his voice barely audible, “He’s getting closer.”

Patience.”

Placing the phone down, Baekhyun readied his hand on the door. Come on, Baekhyun’s mind screamed to itself, waiting for the other man to appear. There – the other man stepped into the hallway and Baekhyun pulled open the door, smashing the bottle open at their feet. The man nearest to him yelled out as the material on his pants caught aflame, the alcohol spreading the fire viciously. That was it; that was all he had.

The phone was left forgotten as he lurched for his knife, eyes frantically scanning the room as one of the men came barrelling into bedroom violently – it was the one who’d missed most of the alcohol, his clothes only slightly singed from the fire as Baekhyun pivoted towards him, knife raised. He could hear the other man screaming from the hallway, could smell the burning of material as the fire alarm began to cry above their heads.

Without hesitating, Baekhyun dropped into a defensive position – he spun away from the kick that had been aimed at his stomach, unremorseful as he jammed his knife up and through the flesh of the man’s jaw; the attacker stumbled away, taking with him Baekhyun’s knife… through the doorway and back into the hallway.

In a moment of desperation, of panic, Baekhyun hid himself within the room’s wardrobe – he locked the bedroom door on his way.

Jongdae’s words had been nothing but a soother, an attempt to keep Baekhyun calm as he awaited the inevitable – he was unsure how many more men were in the house, he was unsure if there were more of them waiting for them in the street… he knew nothing, and it failed to fill him with hope.

His hands were sticky with blood, the smell suffocating within the musty air of the wardrobe.

Watching through the smallest of gaps, Baekhyun could do nothing but hold his breath as the last masked man kicked open the bedroom door, gun raised.

 

Baekhyun?” Jongdae asked through the phone; no reply came, not even as the line went dead.

Chapter Text

Baekhyun was gone.

Jongdae could determine the exact second Minseok had realised that fact, their final sweep of the house rendering them emptyhanded – he’d turned and buried his foot deep into the stomach of the sole survivor left behind. The man had wheezed, his clothes singed black where Baekhyun had burned him with the alcohol. He merely watched as Minseok kicked him again, and Jongdae wished he could take pleasure in the breaking of his ribs.

Minseok un-holstered his pistol, chest heaving but arm steadier than ever – and Jongdae couldn’t have cared, he almost wanted his boss to put a bullet through the man’s skull.

“Minseok,” His own voice was quiet, fingertips warm on Minseok’s arm, “We need him alive.”

He slowly took the gun from Minseok’s hand, fighting his own urges to blow the fucker’s brain across the walls of the house. Minseok couldn’t even look at him, stepping over the man’s writhing body as he made his way down the corridor. Broken ribs were notoriously dangerous, Jongdae thought; the man was moving far too much considering his injuries, for all it took was one stray piece of bone to pierce the tissue of the lung. Pity.

Baekhyun had been there, perhaps not even an hour prior. Had he been scared? No, Baekhyun wasn’t like that. He fought until he could no longer fight. Jongdae had to swallow around the grim reality that added to the swelling dread of his stomach; a reminder, really, of how he’d somehow allowed the world to fall to shit. To allow Baekhyun to be taken. Such a thing had always been dreaded, expected, that one day, one of the Crew members would be taken; but Baekhyun? No. Baekhyun was supposed to be safe.

His grip tightened on the pistol as he stared at the man, his jaw beginning to ache from how hard he’d been clenching his teeth. It would be quick, easy; he could end this man’s life, could make him suffer until the heavy dread felt temporarily lighter. But, he couldn’t. They needed answers – he’d happily sit in on Yixing’s interview with the man, lack regret with each bone broken.

A black scorch painted the carpet, a smell of burning material, perhaps flesh, hung heavy throughout the house. It was suffocating, a reminder that Baekhyun had once been here and now they had no fucking idea where he’d been taken. It was possible that he’d managed to escape the house amidst the scuffles, but Jongdae had been on the other side of the phone – had heard Baekhyun’s yell turn into a muffled thud; had hated himself for being so useless.

The room they’d found the phone in had been a mess; another body, lifeless on the floor, the wardrobe doors thrown open and Baekhyun’s phone left abandoned. The door had been of little defence; a singular dent the size of a foot, cracked wood exploding out from the point of impact like veins across the surface.

Jongdae stared at the body like it would solve his problems, taking note of the mass amount of blood clotting on the carpet surrounding him. Ruptured jugulars were never clean; it wasn’t the genre of mess Jongdae preferred. He liked the simplicity of gunpowder and explosions, the heat from a blast warming him with success. It was easy – one, two, three, boom. His problems solved and forgotten; a mess for someone else to clean.

With a sigh, he used his foot to turn the dead man’s head to the side. It was no one he knew, as expected – but whoever had this inside info, they had to be someone to the Crew. Why else would Baekhyun be a target? He was no target for those blind to the Crew’s inner workings. To the rest of the city, Baekhyun was nothing more than a promoted member of B-team, a former man for hire with skills of delicacy people often feared to threaten. That’s all he was to the city.

And to Minseok? Jongdae didn’t know.

In his Luhan-caused drug-induced state, Jongdae had kissed his boss. Not only that, he’d told his boss to pass the kiss onto Baekhyun. He wasn’t an idiot, there was something between them – there was something so fucking wrong about Baekhyun not being here, not being a part of them. To him, he had no answer; couldn’t quite figure out the things he felt for Baekhyun. The things he felt for his boss were far different and yet so similar, the same lightness within his chest, the same urge to bring a smile to certain lips.

The same feeling of a need to protect, and he’d already fucking failed there.

They had every available man on the hunt for Baekhyun, collecting every slither of information leading anywhere towards this ghost gang.

“Jongdae,” Minseok said from the door, observing the explosive’s expert as he observed the room, “Anything?”

“Nothing,” Jongdae sighed, looking up from the body, “He was quick, one clean cut. A silent kill.”

“It worked, then,” His boss continued, having heard Jongdae’s words to Baekhyun over the phone.

“It didn’t work enough,” Jongdae didn’t snap, his fight somehow draining out of him at the sight of the other man, “We did what we could.”

“Like you said, it wasn’t enough.”

Jongdae nodded, before leaning against the part of the wall without blood splatter, “So, what is he to you?”

There was a frustration building within him – if it was at Minseok’s lack of reaction or his own inability, he didn’t know. There was nothing he could do right now, and he felt so fucking useless. The gunshot wound along his torso throbbed, like his body agreed with his mind; he was useless, right now. He didn’t care, he wanted some form of reaction from Minseok, to see that his boss was hurting just as much as him.

“What?”

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae pushed, “What is he to you?”

Minseok’s eyes narrowed at Jongdae’s attempt at provocation, “An employee. An important member of the Crew. What else do you want me to say?”

Jongdae felt the change, his frustration evolving into anger – they’d been so close, if they’d been faster they wouldn’t have this fucking mess. They hadn’t been there when Baekhyun had needed them most; someone must have known that Baekhyun was on another gang’s radar, that their own goddamn safehouse had been identified as a potential target.

They’d left Baekhyun alone, playing right into this ghost crew’s hands.

“I want to know how the fuck you can seem so calm about this,” Jongdae pushed himself to stand, “How could this even happen without you knowing? So, let me ask again; what is he to you? An asset, something replaceable?”

“You’re getting pretty defensive for someone who makes it a point to never give a shit about anyone.”

He froze, suddenly more interested in staring down at his hands than at his boss, “I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to,” Minseok said, quieter than before, “You only care when you’re wasted or on some post-heist high.”

“Minseok, I fucking-,” Jongdae cut himself off, rubbing a tired hand over his face, “I cared. I care, alright? About you. About Baekhyun. But, now we have this giant fucking mess and we just… we need to find him. We need to bring him back alive and kill every motherfucker even remotely involved with that crew.”

There were a few seconds of silence in which his boss stared at him. Jongdae stared back.

“We got comfortable at the top,” Minseok admitted, leaning against the doorframe, “It doesn’t matter. We will find Baekhyun. We will destroy them – and the entire fucking city is going to watch.”

“It never ends well for people like us, in this Crew. How many have we lost? We can’t – we can’t lose him, too.”

Minseok nodded, letting the words settle between them before he moved to pick up Baekhyun’s phone, “Enough talking over some dead stranger’s body, we have work to do.”

“I called Kyungsoo, he’s flying back.”

“Didn’t we just send him to Quebec?”

“Plans change,” Jongdae shrugged, following Minseok back into the hallway, “He and Baek were partners, once. We’ll find him.”

Minseok was silent for a moment, before he stopped in front of Jongdae, “We are going to fix this.”

Jongdae could only find the energy to nod as Minseok’s fingers found their way to his neck, following the skin of his neck and to his jaw. A thumb stroked across his cheek, eyes watching as Jongdae allowed his own eyes to flutter shut. He leaned into the touch, but only slightly, allowing the motion of Minseok’s thumb across his skin to drain some of the tension from his mind – it wasn’t awkward, nor was it familiar, and yet it aided him all the same. Remembrance of a comfort they’d once found in each other.

Now, they both had Baekhyun.

The act was small, yet more sincere than anything they’d ever shared. Minseok’s forehead pressed against his own, the tight ball of guilt easing up, even if just a little, and his lungs began to breathe a little easier. They shared a few moments of breathing, Minseok’s hand still on his face; the only way he could show, could promise, that this wasn’t an end to some fucked up chapter of their life. There was only so long that Jongdae could live like he had nothing to live for – he wanted to feel it now, whatever ‘it’ was… and yet, he’d never been good at this. He felt anger, frustration, and it overwhelmed anything else he wanted to feel.

“We’ll find him,” Minseok’s voice was small, but it eased Jongdae like any illegal sedative, “We will.”

Jongdae pressed his mouth to Minseok’s for the second time that week, a brief show of gratitude and distraction from whatever confusion seemed to ignite his thoughts.

 

☽ ☾

 

“Ever felt a chemical burn, before?” Baekhyun had begun to ramble, his voice hoarse from the hours of disuse but needed as a distraction from the pain racing up his arms, “It’s not like a regular burn, not just the damage of the over-exposure of heat – it’s corrosive, dissolving or melting your skin the way water sinks through cheap paper.”

His captor merely stared at him, the dim lighting of the one remaining bulb doing his ragged features no favours. The man remained quiet, a gun grasped loosely in one hand as a constant, silent threat. Baekhyun doubted the man was prepared to kill him, even with all that he’d fought back – they could have killed him back at the safe house, they’d had several opportunities and yet Baekhyun’s heart continued to beat; they could’ve left his body for the Crew, something not uncommon between rival gangs. That alone would’ve sent a message.

Regardless of the man’s silent yet smug mannerisms, he’d made one vital mistake – he’d made the decision to hide them both in an old cleaning facility, a large allotment of barren rooms storing the chemicals that Baekhyun knew better than perhaps anything else within this city. Everything was old, broken down and rusty enough that no-one would even think to look for them here. Baekhyun assumed they were waiting for a pick-up team, considering how their raiding team had been reduced to one man; he had to wonder if the man had any idea who he was, because if anyone really knew Baekhyun, they would know he’d worked with chemicals all his life.

Yet, here they were, out of sight in an old chemical manufacturing facility with aged bottles of necessities littering the floors. For ten minutes, Baekhyun had been using a bottle of what he’d hoped to be hydrofluoric acid to eat away at the binds straining his arms behind his back. He recognised the familiar stench, had used it to neutralise an array of industrial cleaners at numerous crime scenes – it was his signature, of course. The awkward angle and a requirement for subtlety meant that the acid had managed to spill onto both the floor and his arms, yet his mind refused to slow down; he just really fucking hoped to free himself before any form of contact poisoning shook his system.

It burned, a constant itch of irritation and pain racing up both his arms and attempting to blister the surface of his skin.

He could feel the weakening of his binds, silently relieved that nothing seemed to be fizzing – he suspected the acid had been concentrated enough to clean the old machines littering the factory floor, or even an acid based cleaning product; but this place was decaying and Baekhyun didn’t have the time to care. He kept his teeth clamped around his tongue, an endeavour at remaining silent as he attempted to free himself from the binds. This wasn’t the first time he’d ever felt the burn of an acid, the explosion of irritation that crawled its way deep into one’s skin and along nerve endings.

The sting of the acid was a familiar pain – if his old skills served him well, his binds should at least thin out and loosen up. It wasn’t concentrated enough to eat through his skin at an alarming rate, but it was enough of a pain to test his patience, to flare up a constant frustration at how long it was taking to free himself from something so menial. Even the small patches where it had touched his skin hurt, which meant a face full of the stuff would make for one painful time.

It was with little relief that one of his hands slid free, the plastic weak enough to be broken with miniscule movements – he fully opened the thick lid at the top of the container, gripping the bottle tight with his free hand. He could attempt to throw it and hope that his aim was accurate enough to even hit the man, but the risk of missing would deem all his painful efforts useless. Instead, he had to play yet another long game.

Fuck,” Baekhyun let out, part in response to the pain and to catch his captor’s attention, “Who are we even waiting for? You’re not the dumbass in charge here, right?”

Silence.

“I mean, if I had been you, I would’ve brought a better gun. A pistol, seriously?” He continued to push, “You’re just another disposable, then. Nothing more than muscle, like your other friends. How are they doing, by the way?”

“Shut up, kid.”

“Kid?” Baekhyun tried to scoff, but the pain in his arms was increasing with exposure to the air and he was pretty sure he just winced, “Please. I could do more with that piece of scrap metal. You sure you even know how to use it?”

“I’ll fucking show you,” The man growled, stepping closer to Baekhyun’s position on the floor.

Bingo.

“As long as you’re not worried about embarrassing yourself. I wouldn’t want that, it’d be uncomfortable. For both of us.”

The man crossed the room in an instant, quicker than Baekhyun would’ve liked, lifting his gun as though planning to hit Baekhyun across the face with it – it was in that moment that he lifted the bottle, using his lower position to empty the contents upward and splash the man square in the face with it. He had to remind himself to move out of the impact zone, rolling to the side with his wrists pulled to his chest in protection; the man had fallen to his knees, face in his hands with a yell of pain.

Baekhyun took the moment to inspect his own wrists, cursing under his breath at the ugly patches of burns and blisters painting the skin in random splotches; the skin in the centre seemed red raw, the edges tinged a darker colour… which, yeah. It wasn’t exactly great. The true pain took a few more moments to hit him, a placebo effect caused by the act of finally viewing his injuries.

The man made to lunge for him in a half-blind panic, and Baekhyun merely had to side-step the figure as he fell to the ground once more; he swooped low to grab the gun, willing himself to ignore the pain threatening to render his hands useless. He cocked the barrel of the gun, pushing the man to lay on his back with a simple kick to his shoulder.

“Who are you working for?” Baekhyun asked, surprisingly calm considering the past several hours.

“Fuck you,” The man retorted, and Baekhyun cringed at the burns emerging across the man’s face.

“Um, no? Listen, I’ll tell you how to treat those burns if you give me what I want.”

His ex-captor sneered, eyeing the pistol in Baekhyun’s hand, “Do you even know how to use it?”

“Yup,” Baekhyun answered, pulling the trigger.

Stumbling without direction, Baekhyun aimed to get himself as far away from the factory as possible before any form of pick-up team had a chance to find him. The pain coursing up his arms was constant – acid reacted well with skin and such caustic burns were never a pleasant experience. He’d seen the effects of such acids in an array of uses; for example, when swallowed, the result was something Baekhyun was unsure he’d ever forget, nor would he ever choose to use such a thing against someone. Sure, the mouth and throat would burn, could blister up and strip away; however, he was unsure how such a thing compared to the shutting down of organs, like a simple system of switches.

One after the other, no chance to scream through raw throats and… he stopped himself, urging his mind to pause and focus on getting him the fuck away from there.

He was at a risk of shock, which would render him utterly useless and defenceless. It wasn’t like he could touch the skin – darkened edges were a sign of dead cells and touching it only increased a risk of infection. It wasn’t life threatening, yet, it just hurt. A lot. Only his skin had contact and Luhan could fix this. It would heal.

Baekhyun hadn’t realised he was shivering, hadn’t even realised he’d emerged into the cold air at the back of the facility. He didn’t know what to do, or where to go – the edges of the city were so sparse that he’d easily lose himself through the woodlands, but the roads were too fucking dangerous. Not even the stars were out to comfort him this night. He had little choice, part of him hoping his plan to find a motel and a first aid kid to patch himself up with wasn’t a miracle’s chance.

His train of thought was cancelled when he heard the click of a loaded gun and froze, eyes squinting through the darkness akin to a horror game at the edge of the forest. Upon instinct, and defeat, Baekhyun lifted his injured arms up in surrender – and who could blame the weak sigh he let out? It had been one hell of a day.

 

☽ ☾

 

Jongdae did nothing more than watch, his perch in the corner of the room giving him the perfect vantage point to observe from. He’d never been good at observing, at catching minor details and the behaviours of everyone at once – Minseok was, that man could detect the smallest twitch of a finger, the movement of an eyebrow that expressed nervousness. Jongdae couldn’t – but there wasn’t much else he could do. Luhan had benched him, and without his weapons he wasn’t much help.

He itched to be out there, on the streets, like Yixing and Junmyeon – to be doing something other than pretend to feel helpful whilst stuck in the corner of a room. All because of one stupid bullet hole in the side of his stupid body.

“He can’t be far,” Kyungsoo relayed, peering over at Chanyeol’s laptop screen, “We have the roads covered, and you said our contacts in the PD were keeping their eyes and ears open. Right now, there’s little point stressing over why he was taken – that comes later.”

Chanyeol sighed, expanding several camera feeds, “You’re asking me to cover a lot of ground, ‘Soo. How the hell am I supposed to find anything?”

Everyone was tense.

“It’s better than nothing,” Kyungsoo shrugged in response, “We’re scrounging for scraps, but I know someone who might be able to help. Call if you need something.”

And with that, their best reconnaissance member left the room. Kyungsoo was good, one of their best; the man could hunt down just about anyone just about anywhere, even if such a thing required trekking his way across half a fucking continent.

Minseok hovered around the centre of the room, conducting a range of issues Jongdae could only begin to imagine. It was clear they had a mole, which potentially meant that no-one in this room could be trusted. These were people Jongdae had grown up alongside; the thought itself was sickening. He may have lacked observance, but he knew Minseok better than most – he could see the way the muscle in his jaw jumped, he was as restless as Jongdae, itching to leave and physically search for the kid himself.

His boss looked up, then – and for perhaps the first time, Jongdae could see doubt in Minseok’s eyes. He understood, he understood that as a man in such a position of power, Minseok had to consider everyone, had to distrust everyone. Still, it hurt. It hurt to even be in this situation. It was harder to fall if you were number one, at the top. It was a long road of pain and deceit ‘til rock bottom.

It felt so wrong. Foreign.

He watched as Minseok reached across the table, tapping number into the phone atop the desk. Jongdae could hear the low sound of the connecting call, detecting reluctance in the tense gait of the person he trusted most within the room. He half expected whoever Minseok was calling not to pick up, as the call tone droned on.

The call connected.

“Minho, I need a favour.”

Jongdae raised his eyebrows.

A beat of silence followed, before, “What’s in it for me?

“Whatever the fuck you want,” Minseok replied, practiced, “You have access to some info I need, think you can get it?”

Minho hummed, “I’m no longer dealing dirty, the Bureau tends to get suspicious.

“Are you gonna fucking do it or not?” Minseok’s patience was wearing thin, the irritation clear through his tone.

Not with that attitude.”

“Minho.”

Have one of your guys drop by, I’ll see what I can do.

Minseok hung up, then, and Jongdae frowned. Choi Minho was a contact from dark times, before Minseok had lay claim to the city – when the battle for the top position was disputed and power struggles brought nothing but uncertainty. His boss rubbed a tired hand over his face, and Jongdae watched as the man pushed his own exhaustion away. It was a hobby they’d all adopted.

Jongdae’s eyes wandered over to Sehun, their youngest member sliding bullets into his gun’s magazine. Younger members were often predictable and eager to please – Sehun was neither of those things, which was as frustrating as it was amusing. He cleaned his guns when he was stressed, Jongdae had noticed years ago, but Sehun rarely cleaned his guns. Jongdae didn’t have the energy to comfort him, they were all missing a piece. The Crew worked like that, they all slid perfectly together into a force so powerful nobody had been able to touch them for a decade.

Yixing had called in to say he had a lead, and radio silence had followed. That was Yixing’s way of doing things. He was often the wildcard, and not even Minseok bothered with trying to get him to check in regularly. Yixing was perhaps the most unpredictable, both intimidating and terrifying. On ops, the man wore a mask obscuring the lower half of his face. It somehow added to his success rate, or some shit from his mercenary days that Jongdae hadn’t bothered listening to.

Regardless, someone had been ratting them out – the location of the safehouse, Baekhyun’s own internal importance and his trusted position within the Crew. Whoever it was, Jongdae wouldn’t care, they’d fucked with the wrong people, his people. Minseok had built these foundations from nothing, from literal shards of fucking nothing and the man would be damned before he’d let it fall for just as much.

“Want me to visit Choi?” Sehun spoke up for the first time that evening.

Minseok glanced over to him, a slight frown on his face, “You sure?”

Sehun nodded, hands still occupied with cleaning his guns, “I’m bored. And anyway, Baek is one of us, it’s not like we’re gonna rest until he’s found.”

“I don’t need comforting, Sehun.”

“Mhm,” Sehun hummed, before grinning, “You’re missing one half of your hard-on.”

“Go speak to Minho before I slap you with that gun.”

“Sir, yes sir.”

Sehun slid from the room without much sound, leaving behind the rifle he’d been cleaning. He looked casual, but Jongdae knew that damned holey denim jacket was hiding more weapons than he’d bothered to count. Minseok was reading down the list of names Kyungsoo had sent across earlier, potential enemies and members of the ghost crew. It was a long fucking list, and Jongdae didn’t blame Minseok for the frustrated sigh he let out.

Chanyeol burst into the office, then, mouth speaking a mile a minute, “Minseok? This isn’t – I just found-I, fuck! A bug, a goddamn virus in my own fucking systems. It was right there, I was just reconfiguring our secondary DNS when-”

“Chanyeol,” Minseok was already across the room, “Slow down, what the fuck are you saying?”

Jongdae would’ve snorted, had the situation not been so dire.

“We’re under attack – virtually, I mean. They’re coming for everything.”

Within those couple of seconds alone, the murmuring from within the main room had been reduced to silence, all eyes on Minseok. Their boss had tensed completely, eyes running over the screens of incomprehensible code as Chanyeol typed, eyebrows drawn together in frustration – Minseok’s knuckles were white from where they gripped the back of Chanyeol’s chair. He barked an order or two at the rest of the room without even looking up, but just like that, the Crew sprang into motion.

Minseok remained by Chanyeol’s side, eyes looking over screens he hardly understood, “I thought we had fucking safety protocols for a reason, Chanyeol – so shit like this doesn’t happen.”

Chanyeol seemed to shrink into his seat, “I tried to locate where the attack is coming from so I could at least protect us, but… it’s coming from ‘everywhere’, a defence mechanism designed to destroy any path back to the source. They’re trying to shut us down. Where the hell is Yixing?”

“Restart the servers?” Jongdae piped up from his corner, feeling like an annoyance trying to tell their main hacker what to do in an IT scandal.

Only members of their technology team remained in the room, wires and laptops spread across the table – but nobody could do anything, nobody could offer them information that they’d understand, or give a shit about.

“They aren’t just targeting our main systems,” Chanyeol let out in realisation, his fingers flying across his keyboard, “This is everything – every alias the Crew owns, secret identities, important people we have undercover… Hell, even the people we have working overseas.”

“They’re hunting,” Jongdae said.

Chanyeol was nodding, “Every contact we have in the PD, the FBI, the fucking Chinese embassy. Minseok, this is bad, this is really bad.”

“They must’ve been dormant inside the servers for hours,” The head of I.T, Jinki, informed, “Waiting for us to be vulnerable enough – preoccupied enough. Just waiting.”

“Waiting?” Minseok pushed, “How is that even possible?”

“Waiting for their time to attack. To target everything – this virus, it’s aggressive. It’s copying itself, replicating into every server I pull up or shut down,” Chanyeol shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, “If they succeed here, they’ll have everything.”

“How do we stop it?”

“Well,” Chanyeol’s laugh lacked humour, “How do you stop something you can’t see? My own fucking servers are starting to time out.”

“Chanyeol,” Minseok said, voice stern, “I need you to focus. What are our options?”

“I can defend us for…” He stopped to focus on whatever he was typing, “Maybe five minutes? If I had Yixing, I could reconfigure a version of this algorithm to both find it and shut it down. I need time, which I don’t fucking have. I need Yixing!”

“Yixing isn’t here,” Minseok retorted, perhaps louder than intended – he had no fucking idea where Yixing was, Jongdae realised.

Their mercenary had been missing all day and their boss’s patience was wearing thin. This kind of unreliability was included beneath Minseok’s zero tolerance policy. It wasn’t going to be pretty.

“Why?” Chanyeol asked back, shooting a franticly worried look up at Jinki, who shook his head, “Where the hell is he? We need him for this-”

“I don’t fucking know, Chanyeol.”

Oh, shit. It really wasn’t going to be pretty.

Chanyeol practically growled in response, standing up fast enough to knock his chair over before he sprinted out of the room. He pushed past people without care, descending the stairs to the basement at a dangerous speed – this was where they kept their central servers and computers, but he didn’t spare a thought for that. He pulled out his personal keys, uncapping their backup flash drive and slamming it into the port without care. He paced as he waited, backing up whatever information he could save.

[Are you sure you want to wipe-]

He hit the enter key instantly, crossing the room to completely shut off power to their servers – the cables were thick and grouped together in large bundles as he pulled, the crackle of electricity making him cringe as he cut the power to their systems. He’d rather shut down his own servers than give that fucking ghost crew what they wanted. If his Crew were going blind, so was every other fucker in the goddamn city.

Jongdae lingered in the doorway, not quite sure he had the effort to ignore the pain in his side enough to venture down the stairs. Chanyeol was breathing hard, eyebrows pulled together in a frown as he stared at something out of Jongdae’s sight. Minseok wasn’t far behind him, side-stepping Jongdae to descend the stairs – the man’s aura was on fire.

“I want answers. Now.”

“This was an internal attack, meaning somehow, someone managed to get into our servers…” Chanyeol trailed off, hand reaching up for the object Jongdae couldn’t see, “Oh, fuck. I think I found our bug.”

He slid a flash drive from one of the bulkier computers and Jongdae frowned, a sinking feeling in his stomach confirming their fears – they definitely had a mole, and the mole had been here, had planted the flash drive and, what? Uploaded the virus into their systems? Jongdae had no fucking clue about computers; if a simple restart couldn’t fix something, he passed it onto Chanyeol to fix.

“Jongdae, check the security cameras,” Minseok started, taking the flash drive from Chanyeol, “Tell no-one. Not until we know who we can trust.”

Jongdae swallowed, hating the vulnerability that this brought all of them.

“Isn’t this… Baekhyun’s flash drive?” Chanyeol spoke up, hesitant and looking like the last person who’d want to say such a thing, “He, uh, yeah. That’s Baekhyun’s flash drive. He left it before you dropped him off at the safe house.”

Oh, no.

“What?” Minseok asked, and Jongdae really had to give the man credit for how calm he sounded.

Fuck.

Baekhyun couldn’t be their mole. It wasn’t in his nature. He…

Jongdae hated the slither of doubt crawling its way up his spine.

“It could be a misunderstanding,” Jongdae tried, attempting to fill the words with more confidence than he felt.

“Perhaps,” Minseok responded, and his tone was cold, “However, right now, we need to make do with the evidence we have. Baekhyun turns up with this flash drive, secretly uploads it hours before we’re hit with a huge fucking virus attack?”

He’d be wrong if he said his heart wasn’t beating hard against his chest.

“It might not have come from there,” Chanyeol informed, running a hand through his pink hair.

Minseok returned the flash drive, “Can you check?”

“I’ll need a few hours.”

“Take all the time you need,” Minseok replied, his eyes flickering up to Jongdae at the top of the stairs, “I’m not sure I want a fucking answer.”

 

☽ ☾

 

“Yixing?”

It had taken Baekhyun a few moments to recognise the outline of the mercenary’s mask through the dark night, and honestly, it had made Baekhyun’s heart jump. It wasn’t what he’d been expecting to see, especially after killing a man and shivering through the cold for twenty minutes. His body still shivered, small snowflakes drifting through the air between them; Yixing just stared at him, eyes hard and powered by a stare capable of intimidating even the highest of people into submission and fear. The white of the snowflakes were prominent against Yixing’s black clothes and yet the man didn’t appear to feel remotely cold. He never even blinked.

Or lowered his gun.

Baekhyun’s eyes lingered on the gun in Yixing’s hand, following the length of dark metal before he raised his eyes to meet Yixing’s own. He failed to feel fear after such an evening, only confusion clouded his mind as the mercenary’s finger hovered over the trigger, the gun trained on Baekhyun’s chest with exact precision.

“Yixing,” Baekhyun repeated, his shoulders trembling through the cold, “What are you doing?”

His Crew member continued to stare at him, eyes as cold as the frost that froze the ground at their feet. Baekhyun could hardly feel the snow as it fell, the sky above insulating the city below in a blanket of white as the wisps of wind began to toy with Baekhyun’s thin shirt. His wrists continued to ache, but the pain was hardly at the forefront of his mind as he rubbed a hand up his arm – no, his concern lay with the barrel of that gun. Or, more specifically, the barrel of Zhang Yixing’s gun.

He swallowed, his voice quiet in an attempt at confidence, “Yixing.

Yixing sighed, his hot breath creating a cloud around the edges of his mask, “This is how it works, Baek. You know that.”

“I do?”

“I’d always considered myself a good judge of character,” His gun didn’t waver, his eyes didn’t move, “I considered you loyal – well, loyal to an extent. Perhaps I’m slipping.”

“What are you trying to say?” Baekhyun asked, unable to stop the furrow of his brow.

“I also never thought Minseok could become so blinded – Jongdae, too. I don’t even think Sehun saw through your play, nor Junmyeon. It’s impressive, I must admit. Am I the only one you haven’t fooled?”

Baekhyun attempt to step forward, but Yixing merely raised the gun higher, “I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”

Yixing shrugged with one shoulder, “You don’t have to drop this act – in all honesty, I don’t care. That’s not why I’m here.”

Staring at the other man, a numb feeling spread across Baekhyun’s chest in realisation, “You’re here to kill me.”

The mercenary laughed. Bitterly, perhaps even humourlessly, but he laughed all the same. It wasn’t a taunt, nor an attempt to rile Baekhyun up or offend him… It was almost sad, and Baekhyun was left clueless. The only thing he could focus on was the fact Yixing hadn’t yet pulled the trigger, and Zhang Yixing never hesitated when killing a mark. He didn’t want to kill Baekhyun and he didn’t understand. Had Minseok sent him? Was Yixing working for someone else? Had he himself managed to fuck up something incredibly vital?

“It was a convincing performance, I’ll give you that,” Yixing continued, though his words were finalising, “It takes someone with a real lack of heart to pull this off, believe me, I know. You were a useful asset, Baekhyun, and it’s going to be a shame to lose you.”

“You’re talking nonsense!” Baekhyun retorted, the control over his own voice wearing thin, “What happened? You can’t just-” Yixing’s eyebrow cocked, and Baekhyun sighed, “Okay, so you can. Yixing, don’t shoot now and ask questions later. That’s reckless-”

“We’re done, here,” Yixing interrupted, his finger moving back to the trigger.

The gun didn’t explode the way Baekhyun was expecting, had been preparing himself for – there was no cloud of gunpowder rising into the dark sky, no pain or end of life. Instead, there was a figure behind Yixing, perhaps less than an inch taller… and pressing the barrel of a gun to the back of Yixing’s head. Yixing’s shoulders tensed, though his own gun remained on Baekhyun. His progression towards death had been delayed by a few more moments, it seemed.

“Hi ‘Xing,” Jongin greeted, “Miss me?”

Baekhyun stared.

“I thought you were dead,” Yixing returned, oddly calm.

Jongin rolled his eyes, “Everyone thinks I’m dead.”

“I killed you.”

“Wrong,” Jongin shot back, “But, anyway, that’s old news. You’re wrong about little Baekhyun here, whatever bullshit information you’re running on, it’s false. I’d ask you to trust me on this, but you don’t even trust your own mother.”

“That information was from M-crew,” Yixing’s voice was tight, “Are you saying they’re against us?”

“Maaaybe,” Jongin drawled out, though he didn’t sound at all concerned, “Maybe not. I don’t care. You gonna put down the gun?”

“You first.”

Baekhyun half-thought they were going to stand like this all night, but Jongin lowered his gun without much care. Yixing did the same, but he moved to have both Jongin and Baekhyun within his line of sight. The mercenary’s eyes seemed to linger on his old friend, and Baekhyun felt like he was intruding in on a private moment. He cleared his throat, head feeling a little dizzy. At least he was still alive.

So, Yixing had thought him a mole. Baekhyun felt sick.

“Why are you here?” He asked Jongin.

“I was passing by the neighbourhood,” Jongin offered in answer, and Yixing’s eyes narrowed.

Baekhyun sighed, but didn’t press further. More confusion would only hurt his head, and he wanted to clean one mess at a time – first off, this mess, how the fuck could the Crew even suspect him a mole? After all he’d sacrificed and given? He’d rather ditch town than attempt to fuck over the Crew and survive. No-one fucked over the Crew and lived to tell about it. So, really, he couldn’t blame Yixing for almost killing him; but still, the feeling of bitterness remained.

“I’m calling pick-up,” Yixing announced, eyes sliding over to Baekhyun, “You, stay there.”

As much as he wanted to retort with maximum pettiness, he lacked the energy. He allowed himself to lean against a tree trunk, watching as Yixing stepped away to make a phone call. The mess of burns on his arms were consistent, the pain only increasing when Baekhyun’s eyes inspected them. There wasn’t much he could do, here – water would dilute the acid, but could offer him little temporary relief.

Baekhyun doubted he should even be outside; his skin was pale, both from the cold and the possible shock from the burns. God. He needed this entire week to be over.

“I’d say it’s good to see you again, but you don’t look so good,” Jongin began, wandering closer to Baekhyun.

He slid off his jacket, and Baekhyun accepted the warmth without much complaint. His whole body was beginning to ache.

“What are you even doing here?” Baekhyun gathered the energy to ask, caring not for the doubt in his tone.

“Saving your ass, clearly,” Jongin began, but at Baekhyun’s deadpan stare, he laughed, “I have my own contacts. I’ve been meaning to pay Yixing a visit.”

“Yeah, but here? This is a little weird. No, it’s a lot weird. Why are you here?”

“Like I said,” Jongin replied, tone blanker than before, “I have my own contacts. But, anyway – I plan to be far from here before your boss even has a chance to show his face. Send my regards.”

Baekhyun managed to nod, heart beating harder in his chest at the mere mention of his boss. There was no way the next few hours were going to be pretty; and perhaps Baekhyun was a little pissed off, mostly at Yixing. Were it not for Jongin, Baekhyun could have been dead over false information – and Jongin had mentioned the M-crew, if they were working against them then… it was going to be war.

He closed his eyes and willed himself to breathe.

They were fucked.

Chapter Text

Timeline: uncertain.

Target: Byun, B.

Location: undisclosed.

Objective: isolate and incapacitate.

Retrieval status: dead or alive.

 

The car was black. Sleek, black. Invisible.

Unmarked. Blacked-out. Discreet with intention.

Ignored, unnoticed.

The hand was gloved. Black, leather.

Carding through a thick file, pages chosen and removed. Not random.

Dangerous with intention. Discarded inside the glovebox.

A specific page. Chosen, altered. Thrown onto the passenger seat.

The engine hummed to life. Quiet.

Lingering eyes. Guilty eyes.

One logo.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation.

 

☽ ☾

 

Baekhyun hadn’t imagined pick-up to go quite like this.

He pulled Jongin’s jacket tighter around himself, more for protection against the cold than anything else – certainly not to comfort himself, and certainly not in reaction to witnessing Minseok pin Yixing against a tree with strength only few had witnessed the man showcase. Baekhyun knew he was lying to himself, he wasn’t stupid; something significant had happened, significant enough for Yixing to hunt him down like prey. He wasn’t sure he could handle the same sense of betrayal behind Minseok’s eyes.

When Minseok spoke up, his grip tight around Yixing’s collar as he pinned the man to a tree, Baekhyun forced his jaw to stop jittering with the cold. His vision seemed to wobble, and only then did Baekhyun realise he was swaying. He leaned against the tree again, dead on his feet.

“Two hours ago, a virus attacked our systems,” Minseok’s eyes were trained on Yixing, his voice cold with authority, “The resulting damage would have been far less significant, had you been present – had you answered your goddamn phone to aid Chanyeol. Instead, I’m told you thought working solo to kill one of our own was a better idea. I know you’re not fucking stupid, so you have one chance to explain yourself.”

Minseok had thus far neglected Baekhyun’s presence, and Baekhyun’s legs wobbled with either exhaustion or the nerves building within the pit of his stomach, like sickening butterflies.

“I retrieved a file from a former member of M-Crew,” Yixing responded, far calmer than anyone should be beneath their boss’s glare, “It contained photographs, timestamps and bank transfers – to one Byun Baekhyun. I came to confront him.”

“You came to kill me,” Baekhyun snapped, forcing the last of his energy into forming words, he felt sick, “You didn’t even tell me why you were gonna fucking blow my brains out, you didn’t even consider the fact that I could be fucking innocent.”

“That’s enough,” Minseok cut in, releasing his grip on Yixing, “Take what you found to my office. Speak to no-one. This information is on a strict need-to-know basis, anything else would cause panic and distrust.”

Yixing nodded, once, before taking off in whatever direction he’d ditched his car.

Baekhyun watched him leave, his jaw aching with the force it required to remain shut through the cold. His exhaustion granted him pettiness for which he didn’t care, he just hoped Yixing was feeling fucking guilty. He hoped the mercenary felt like shit, because he’d almost killed Baekhyun over false information – and now Baekhyun fucking owed his life to the dodgiest guy with excellent timing. He knew this style of living came at a cost of trust, but this? Baekhyun deserved more than this, he deserved more than being cast aside as a traitor from minimum information.

He deserved more than being placed on a hitlist written by people he cared about. He’d done nothing but risk his ass for this Crew.

Minseok refrained from as much as glancing in Baekhyun’s direction.

“Are you okay?” Jongdae asked, and Baekhyun hadn’t even noticed his arrival.

Like a switch, the cold seemed to sink into his bones once again – his teeth clicked together, useless. Somehow, he’d been reduced to this. Stood in a frozen woodland that only hours ago could have been his grave, he’d been kidnapped, he’d had far too much contact with acid and his own Crew doubted his loyalties. He really fucking wished he wasn’t so offended, so hurt, but allowing himself to even be placed in such a position was his own fault.

Having heart, here, like this… A prime example of compromise.

“We need clean-up,” Baekhyun answered, ignoring the frown he received in response, “He was waiting for someone at the old cleaning facility. Usually I’d recommend we leave before back-up shows face, but honestly? I don’t fucking care anymore, it’s not like any of you take me seriously.”

Minseok turned to glare at him with his usual, disturbingly cold façade – Jongdae tended to be easier to read, for his mouth dropped open; then closed, like the explosive’s expert had no idea how to respond as he pushed a frustrated hand through his blond hair. Baekhyun didn’t care, his arms were on fire despite the cold and his vision threatened to white-out when he moved his head too fast.

“I know you’re pissed,” Jongdae said slowly, carefully, “I know, okay? But, Baek, you don’t look so great and this isn’t the time. You okay?”

No, he wanted to reply, he was not fucking okay. He needed to see a damn medic.

“Like either of you fucking care,” Baekhyun intended the venom, he was unprepared for the way Jongdae flinched and yet he was satisfied, “My name is still blacklisted, right? You’re still searching through my files, right? You still fucking doubt me, right?”

“Things we’ll discuss when we’re warm and safe,” Minseok began, his eyes flickering around the perimeter before returning to Baekhyun’s, “Answer the question.”

“Yeah, I’m fucking great. Yixing just tried to bury me six feet under with belief in false information but that’s fucking fine, no big deal. That’s just life with the Crew, right? You knew he was coming after me, hell, you probably gave him the fucking green light. It’s not like you would’ve hesitated if you’d found the file first. So, no, Minseok, I don’t want your fake fucking concerns or your half-assed attempts at caring,” Baekhyun had to force himself to top, to breathe, before gathering the courage to return Minseok’s glare, “We both know I’m on house arrest regardless of how long it takes you to figure this shit out.”

The stress was not helping his condition.

God, Baekhyun had been right the moment he’d stepped foot here. This city was fucking toxic, nobody, not a soul, could leave its borders unharmed. Whole. None of them had been considerably whole for a long, long time. The cost of living here was a combination of your sanity and morals.

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae tried after a few beats of silence through which he glared at their boss, “You have to understand the difficulty of the situation. Say someone’s framing you, the best thing to do is act oblivious so that they have no idea that we’re onto them. We’re on fragile ground, now.”

“I don’t care, anymore,” Baekhyun let out, resigned, hurt, “It’s not like either of you trusted me, anyway. I get it, I’m a useful asset until, y’know, I’m not. Whatever, can we leave?”

“Take the attitude down a level if you want this to go smoothly,” Minseok reprimanded, like he was angry at Baekhyun for almost dying.

“Attitude?” Baekhyun’s laugh was bitter, “What, are you a comedian now?”

Jongdae cut in, antsy, “Kyungsoo’s here.”

“Your flash drive,” Minseok continued, relentless, “It started the whole fucking attack.”

“I didn’t do shit,” Baekhyun fired back, short of breath from either anger or the effort to remain standing.

“Kyungsoo-,”

“Kyungsoo can wait,” Minseok retorted, eyes focussed on Baekhyun, “The flash drive is yours, is it not?”

“Jongin gave it to me,” Baekhyun said through gritted teeth.

“So, it is yours?” Minseok pushed, seemingly oblivious to the way Baekhyun swayed on his feet, “Whose jacket is that?”

“Jongin’s.”

“An ex-member I was certain I had killed gives you a flash drive, that then takes us down from the inside out,” It was Minseok’s turned to laugh, albeit humourlessly, “We then find you on the outskirts of the city, with my best hitman claiming reason to believe you are the traitor… and you’re wearing his jacket?”

Something in Baekhyun snapped, he wanted to yell, to lash out at the absurdity of what Minseok was insinuating. Except, Baekhyun had crossed the line of exhaustion hours ago, and his boss had given him no reason to be respected.

“Oh my,” Baekhyun let out, and Jongdae averted his gaze before the words were even out, “Careful, boss. You almost sound jealous.”

Minseok’s jaw clenched shut. It was like Baekhyun could see him counting back from 10 in his mind as he took a careful breath through his nose.

Baekhyun’s insides also seemed to calm down with the imaginary numbers. The harsh beating of his heart in his ears didn’t grant him the peace of mind to regret his words, his lashing-out.

8, 7, 6…

He glanced to Jongdae – the arsonist’s eyes were on his feet, his lips sealed forcingly shut. He felt a pang of… something. Longing, perhaps. Back to simpler times, when he wasn’t being framed for betrayal.

5, 4, 3…

God. Had they both doubted him? Had the whole Crew doubted him? Did they still doubt him? Fuck. He felt dizzy. The cold air stung his nose and his lungs seemed incapable at exchanging oxygen. He blamed the tear-induced blur of his vision on the biting wind.

2, 1, 0.

Baekhyun passed the fuck out.

 

☽ ☾

 

He couldn’t have been out for more than a few moments, but with the hum of the car engine and the occupants of said car, Baekhyun opted to keep his eyes shut. Except, his head was being cradled in Jongdae’s lap, and he knew it was Jongdae because he knew Jongdae’s smell. It wasn’t weird, their explosives expert smelled like gunpowder and paint.

Baekhyun’s chest hurt, and not from his injuries.

It was during these moments that he began to breathe easier, he allowed himself to slip back into the warmth – he allowed the paint-stained fingers to comb through his hair and push the strands from his face. He allowed himself to feel whole for just a few moments more, because he knew it wouldn’t last long and he knew the future was uncertain.

They’d been an almost-something, the three of them, and that alone perhaps hurt more than becoming something that never worked out.

He then allowed his eyes to flutter open. Jongdae’s eyes had already been on his face, and Baekhyun felt that hurt in his chest fucking multiply.

One of Jongdae’s hands found its way to his face and he forced himself to swallow.

To ask, “Did you doubt me?”

Baekhyun knew the answer when the hand froze on his face, a thumb stroking across the soft skin beneath his eye. He could see the way Jongdae recalled the events – and Jongdae did remember, for it was hard to forget the slither of doubt he’d felt stood atop those basement stairs.

“You did.”

“I did,” Jongdae confirmed, voice small.

It was as crushing as it would have been had Jongdae yelled his doubt from the rooftops.

“Stop.”

Jongdae’s eyes filled with guilt, “What?”

“Stop touching me,” Baekhyun clarified, pushing himself up and away from the other.

“Baekhyun,” Jongdae tried, and it was almost a whine, “We were under immense pressure, no-one was spared from those doubts. It… it just doesn’t look good, the things we’ve found. Someone wants you dead.”

“Did you spare Minseok?” Baekhyun asked, ignoring technicalities, “You said you spared no-one, don’t lie to me.”

Jongdae’s gaze shifts beyond the car window, “He’s our leader.”

“I asked a question.”

“Yes, I spared Minseok.”

“I don’t want to talk to you anymore, Kim.”

The timing of the discourse was perfect, for the moment Baekhyun forced himself to tear his gaze away, to focus on anything other than the constant ache of his body and the dry itch of his eyes, the engine of the car was cut and Luhan waved at him sadly through the window.

“Take him to a secure room,” Minseok ordered, upon climbing out of the driver’s seat.

Baekhyun forced his lips into a thin line, beyond the point of even arguing back.

“He needs medical attention,” Luhan argued, his eyes running over the length of Baekhyun’s body in concern.

Minseok’s eyes also lingered on Baekhyun, who refused to even acknowledge the man, “Then give him medical attention in a secure room.”

“We could take him to the med bay, and then a secure room,” Jongdae phrased it like a suggestion, but the hostility of his tone made Baekhyun think he wasn’t offering this as a suggestion to their boss, “I can accompany them.”

“You’re still recovering, you can hardly even look after yourself,” Minseok retorted, already walking towards the elevator doors.

Jongdae’s eyes narrowed, the hostility somehow increasing, “Then, you can accompany them.”

Minseok didn’t even pause, his back to them as he pressed the button to call the elevator, “Unfortunately, I am too busy dealing with a bigger mess.”

Bigger mess? Baekhyun wanted to retort, to claim the only mess present here was the way Minseok dealt with things. He kept his mouth shut, and Jongdae appeared angry enough for the both of them.

“Then send fucking Sehun, or Junmyeon,” Jongdae continued, exasperated, “Jesus Christ, Minseok. The kid fucking fainted, he’s probably got injuries he’s hiding from us and you want him secure? He bad-mouthed you, get over it.”

Minseok raised an eyebrow at Jongdae over his shoulder, “Send for Sehun, then.”

“Take the fucking stick out of your ass before you burn every good thing you have,” Jongdae snapped back.

“Approval ratings didn’t grant me the throne to this city, Jongdae. I’m not here to be a favourite teacher, or the world’s best boss,” He slid between the opening elevator doors, “Nobody wins by giving a fuck about damage control.”

Jongdae was lucky the doors slid shut when they did, for Baekhyun supposed the next words out of the arsonist’s mouth would render them both incapacitated and locked away. They shared a brief look, before Luhan was ushering him to the floor they retained solely for medical purposes. If you hadn’t been injured within your first year working for the Crew, you were doing something wrong. It was all part of the fun.

And Minseok was right – caring for damage control was useless.

Except, now, he was damage control.

Suddenly those 2am texts from Sehun trying to convince him to hotbox Minseok’s office didn’t seem like such a foreign idea.

Luhan almost babied him the entire journey to their ‘med bay’ – they had genuine doctors and nurses on their payroll, yet they were only needed on the occasion of a bank heist gone wrong. Not unlike the time Chanyeol and Sehun’s car lost two wheels and almost flipped sideways. Into the ocean. From a bridge. Five hundred feet in the air. That was the thing with the Crew; they were successful because they enjoyed the thrill, aware of the risks and uncaring.

He wasn’t sure when he’d started to care.

Sehun was waiting for them, a reminder that Baekhyun was no longer trusted – as much as it irked Baekhyun, it was good to have company that wasn’t trying to kill him, or convince themselves that Baekhyun was a fucking traitor.

Sliding Jongin’s jacket off, Baekhyun ignored the grimace on Luhan’s face the moment the medic laid eyes on his arms. He’d say it was worse than it looked, but he’d be lying. It fucking hurt – it felt as exactly like it looked, like his arms and wrists had been splashed with acid and burned like a lab’s safety advertisement.

“So,” Baekhyun began as he adverted his gaze, “Yixing said he got his information from M-Crew.”

“Are these-,” Luhan grabbed his arm as gently as any doctor did, “What the fuck, Baekhyun?”

“Ouch,” Sehun let out, but he seemed mostly unaffected by the grotesque burns.

“I’m administering a pain relief before I even attempt to clean these,” Luhan continued, though he pulled out his phone and fiddled with it for a moment, and then raised it to his ear, “Oh my god, Baekhyun – you could have contact poisoning, you’re still burning! Why didn’t you say anything sooner?”

“Wouldn’t have gotten here any quicker,” Baekhyun mumbled, glancing down at his arms.

There wasn’t much, but the burns decorated the lower half of both his arms, and the back of his left hand looked a little… grim.

“You need a damn hospital,” Luhan responded, before turning away to speak into his phone, “Yo, I’m looking for Leeteuk. Yes, Doctor Leeteuk, I am phoning a hospital. No – just put me through, it’s urgent.”

A few silent moments passed by, during which Baekhyun and Sehun just glanced around awkwardly.

“It’s Luhan, yeah, sorry it’s actually urgent. Are you busy? Good,” Luhan moved to one of the cupboards, pinning the phone between his ear and shoulder as he pulled on rubber cloves, “Remember the acid attack that happened back in ’09? Yeah, the one at the mall. Run me through how you treated that girl’s burns. Yup. Hold on, I’m sticking you on speaker.”

How big is the contact area?” A voice asked through the phone’s speaker.

Luhan set it aside to take a look at Baekhyun’s arms, “I’d say between four and six inches, and the back of one of his hands.”

Is there disfigurement?”

“No,” Luhan answered, and Baekhyun’s eyes widened, “Not yet.”

“Not yet?” Baekhyun almost screeched.

Rinse immediately, then. Keep the burns under flowing water, and don’t touch any of the contaminated water. It’ll at least dilute the acid, and cease any spread of contact. Do you have a chemical waste sink? You don’t want to risk a build-up of this stuff in your pipes.”

“Sehun,” Luhan began, motioning for Baekhyun to stand and follow him out of the room, “Bring my phone. There’s a sink for waste in the next room.”

Any idea what acid it was? The best treatment is to neutralise the area, it breaks the chemicals back down to, well, primarily salt and water. High school chemistry.”

Luhan sneakily prodded one of his burns with some testing stick, before inserting said stick into a test tube. Baekhyun glared at him.

“It was an industrial acid,” Baekhyun then uttered, allowing Luhan to pull his arms beneath the running taps and hissing out a curse at the contact, “You remember that old cleaning infomercial with the woman unable to clean gross ass kitchen appliances?”

“Run a quick diagnostic and get back to me. He should be fine, I recommend keeping the burns under water for twenty minutes – I’ll text you before then. Keep it clean. After, I’d recommend using a standard gel for chemical burns, and keep the area wrapped up until the wounds are no longer raw. Open wounds pose a high risk of infection, and it’d be a pity to have your hand removed.”

“Bye, ‘Teuk,” Luhan snorted.

Baekhyun didn’t think he was funny.

Sehun placed the phone down, sitting himself down atop the hospital bed, “How are you feeling?”

“Physically, or…?” Baekhyun trailed off, and Sehun nodded, “Kinda sick? And exhausted. Chemicals burns are the fucking worst, god, it reminds me of… before the Crew.”

“Before?” Sehun prompted.

“I worked solo, refused to spend more than a few jobs working with someone. Except…” Baekhyun sighed, pushed out his feelings and focused on the way the cool water washed over his stinging skin, “Well, I worked with Minseok and Yixing perhaps a few more times than I should’ve.”

“I’m…” Sehun seemed to struggle for a moment, “Sorry? About Yixing.”

Baekhyun snorted, “No, you’re not.”

“He’s always been a tad unhinged,” Sehun reasoned, but didn’t justify, “He works differently.”

And that’s all there was to really say on the topic of Yixing and an attempted assassination.

“What changed?” Sehun questioned, crossing one leg over the other, “You said you worked solo.”

“Oh,” Baekhyun swallowed, remnants of the memory flickering by like an old movie, “I was worn down, eventually.”

 

He’d never seen it rain so much before, he remembered thinking on that first day. Some sick joke of pathetic fallacy marking the first day he’d witness Kim Minseok in the flesh – they’d only ever communicated over the phone, and it was always easy. In front of them both stood the building Baekhyun had just ignited, with tips from an arsonist the Crew had forwarded him to. With fire dancing in his eyes, Minseok was one of the most beautiful people Baekhyun had ever seen. Thunder lay a soundtrack to their first meeting, with lightening burning the sky above their heads. Minseok had personally asked him here, not ordered, because Baekhyun hadn’t been on the Crew’s permanent payroll. Not yet.

It became the first of many shared jobs with the Crew, until somehow, he allowed the sharp-tongued arsonist to convince him to join them exclusively. The money would be in his account before he’d even finished the job; and the jobs were always the same: move the body to a peculiar public location, clean the original scene beyond spotless, and then burn the body. Make sure the remnants were found by morning. Or, even better, allow the authorities to witness it first-hand.

That’s how he had met Yixing. One request, almost quadruple his highest payment, to leave the DA’s body in the very same courthouse that had sentenced Minseok as a teenager. There was to be no evidence linking even Baekhyun to the attorney’s body, but everyone knew – the DA had imprisoned Minseok wrongly as a kid, and everyone knew Minseok had been waiting. They couldn’t prove it, for Minseok had ignored the man’s existence for fifteen years. That didn’t stop the new DA from bringing him in, trying to make his first gig putting the city’s most exquisite criminal behind bars.

Minseok had pulled a few strings and had the hearing held in the exact same courtroom. It was one of the greatest things Baekhyun had ever heard in his life. The new DA was left alive, in constant paranoia that Minseok was after him. It was a more amusing outcome.

 

“When did you first meet Minseok?” Sehun asked, again, proving to be a useful distraction, “I shot him, you know.”

“You shot Minseok?” Baekhyun let out a breath, glancing at the younger over his shoulder, “And you’re still alive?”

“I think shooting him landed me my job here,” Sehun pondered, leaning back on the bed, “He must’ve been impressed, or some other whack mob boss shit.”

Baekhyun snorted again. Sehun wasn’t wrong.

“The first time I met Minseok, I’d already worked a few jobs for him,” Baekhyun informed, his back beginning to ache with his position over the sink, “But, face to face? It was an urgent job. Yixing was in bad shape, he’d been jumped by thirteen people on a job. Two escaped.”

“Only two? Jesus. He killed the other eleven?”

“No,” Baekhyun continued, feeling like an old man telling stories across some bonfire, “That was before Yixing even joined the Crew. He’d made himself a rather ‘public enemy number one’ target for some crew getting on Minseok’s nerves. Well, that’s hardly surprising considering Minseok hired Yixing to take out their entire heist team... Minseok killed the other eleven.”

Sehun let out a loud laugh, and Luhan shot him a dirty look from where he was emptying the contents of a perfectly organised cabinet.

“So, they somehow managed to capture Yixing? The Zhang Yixing?” Sehun pressed in disbelief.

“Not just capture,” Baekhyun replied grimly, shifting his focus back to the water, “They tortured him for almost seven days, before Minseok heard the city’s best merc had been coerced into giving himself up.”

“Coerced? How the fuck does anyone coerce Zhang Yixing?”

“They had Jongin,” Luhan responded, head still in the cupboard. He found what he was searching for and his face returned to the world, “His dumbass used to hang with the wrong people.”

“Jongin?” Baekhyun frowned, confusedly, “Didn’t Yixing…”

“Kill Jongin?” Luhan answered for him, “Yeah. Or, at least, he tried.”

Sehun let himself fall back onto the bed, “What the fuck, man.”

“See, Jongin was… volatile,” Luhan added to the conversation, “He lived dangerously, on some super thin line laid down between business and pleasure. They cared for each other, supposedly, yet Jongin hadn’t even breathed a word of Yixing’s capture to Minseok.”

Baekhyun hummed in thought, “Is that why Minseok had Yixing take down Jongin?”

“He was a liability,” Luhan confirmed, “Yixing was almost the city’s best hitman, his only downfall was Jongin. Once Minseok had him supposedly take care of the problem, Yixing was hired.”

If Yixing had been willing to kill the only person on the fucking planet he’d ever cared for, then Baekhyun really found it difficult to take the mercenary’s past attempt at killing him personally. He’d worked with the man enough to know what he was capable of. It remained disconcerting, though, and his internal repetitions that ‘it was the city’ had grown old. It remained an excuse for the livelihood of the city, though. He’d been foolish to even assume that Yixing had a different outlook from all those years ago.

Regardless, someone was attempting to stir a storm, to divide the Crew by splitting loyalties. It was working, if the past day was any indication. Regardless of how pissed he was at his boss, Minseok had taught him how to survive and Baekhyun knew that the entire city would sooner burn than the man who’d raised it from nothing.

“You say ‘Xing got his info from M-Crew?” Sehun brought back, though he stared at the ceiling.

Luhan tutted, “There is no M-Crew, not anymore. We were all forced to freelance, our leader went solo and your boss gave us an ultimatum. We could rot on the streets, attempt our best at plea-deals from the law… or join the Crew. If you were useful enough. I didn’t have much of a choice.”

“Careful,” Baekhyun muttered, “They’ll think you’re the mole.”

Snorting, Luhan began to swirl the test tube, “I’m here to do what I was trained to do, for a Crew that worships my skilled hands.”

Sehun rolled his eyes.

“As easy as that?”

“I wasn’t about to risk my ass on those streets, again. I’d worked too hard for anything else and my pretty face wouldn’t keep me out of jail,” Luhan continued and it was Baekhyun’s turn to roll his eyes, “I’m also not stupid. I know for a fact that anyone seeking a plea deal with information on the Crew were completely obliterated.”

“There goes my plan,” Sehun replied, dead-pan. Baekhyun laughed.

 

☽ ☾

 

It wasn’t until Luhan had forbade him from strenuous hand activities (whatever that meant), that Baekhyun found the note in his pocket. A crumpled rectangle of paper shoved deep into the pocket of Jongin’s jacket – he was waiting for a change of clothes, dozing in and out of consciousness on the bed and fully medicated when his hand had brushed it. He glanced over at Sehun, noting that the kid was in the exact same horizontal position on the chair, his legs kicked over one of the arms.

Would it be wise to open such a thing in front of their best sniper? Absolutely not.

And anyway, it could’ve been a wrapper. Or something.

Not a secret note. Nope.

His fingers practically itched to check.

He waited until Sehun granted him privacy to change into new clothes that he slid the note out – it contained a time, three hours from now, and a place. The Old Docks. Was Jongin supposed to be meeting someone there? Or, did he want Baekhyun to meet him there? There was no way to be certain, until Baekhyun folded it in half and read his own name scribbled onto the back of the damn thing.

So, yeah. Most certainly for him.

Baekhyun couldn’t go – they already suspected him of being the mole, this, in no way, would aid his plight. Part of Baekhyun didn’t care, but there was a tightrope to walk and the note placed another three obstacles in front of him. He could have the chance to tell Minseok, but Minseok hadn’t even spared him five minutes of his time... so what was the point, right?

He was sat on the bed in contemplation when Sehun returned, a pink Nintendo DS in one hand and his gun spinning around his forefinger in the other.

“Oh my god, this is why kids shouldn’t have guns.”

Sehun snorted, placing the gun onto the bedside table without even looking, like some fucking temptation in front of Baekhyun’s eyes. He was confined to this room, left to rot in some forgotten corner of their headquarters; they didn’t even trust him to rest alone, like his injuries permitted him a good combat shape. The anger he felt had reduced to a simmer, earlier, watching Jongdae defend him against their boss.

He shouldn’t have even needed defending. He’d done nothing wrong. The anger continued to burn, though, humming beneath his skin with an energy ready to explode.

“I think Minseok’s on his way down,” Sehun murmured, his eyes still glued to the screen of the game, “I’m hungry, and we don’t get Wi-Fi here. Rest well, dude.”

He pushed himself up, offering Baekhyun a small salute and a lazy grin before leaving the room. And the gun. Baekhyun frowned, staring down at the gun like it was some weird test – Sehun was not this stupid, but Baekhyun had no hint of an idea at what kind of game the kid was trying to play. The temptation to take the gun for his own thrummed within his fingers, and yet he understood not why he’d need it.

Perhaps, to meet Jongin? At the Old Docks?

Or, he could play it safe. And leave the gun there. On the bedside table. Right. There.

He picked up Sehun’s gun, feeling the cold weight of the metal comfortable against his palm. Which, of course, was the moment Sehun had decided to return, eyes bright as he swung into the room so quickly that Baekhyun almost dropped the gun. At least the safety was on.

“I forgot my g- oh,” Sehun then smirked, eyes travelling from the weapon to Baekhyun, “Keep it.”

“What?” He dropped it back onto the bedside table, “Why?”

Their youngest member shrugged, “I’m rooting for you, man.”

“Careful, Sehun,” Baekhyun watched the orange-haired boy closely, “You’ll be painted as the next traitor.”

“Is it really traitorous if I’m doing this in the interest of the Crew?” He then hummed, cocking his head innocently, “I want to see its survival, not decimation.”

Their youngest member then left, and Baekhyun couldn’t help the confusion. Was he supposed to use the gun? And what? Escape? How would that help anyone? The mere existence of the firearm in Baekhyun’s possession would raise suspicions, and Minseok didn’t need any apparent help with accusing Baekhyun.

God, it was a mess. Minseok was acting like a completely different person – no, that was wrong, Minseok had just… ceased to allow his own beliefs and emotions interfere with the issues at hand. Someone was framing Baekhyun, as he doubted the Crew could fuck up information and accuse him without reason.

He stared at the gun, and continued to wait.

 

☽ ☾

 

Yixing was oddly silent, Jongdae noted, quieter than usual. The ex-mercenary usually kept to himself, but the way he was seated towards one end of the long conference table, eyes blank and surveying each person shuffling either in or out of the door struck familiarity within Jongdae. Any one of these people could be working against them, could have an entire agenda built upon tearing Minseok and his Crew six feet under.

Jongdae avoided sitting at the table, he felt too withdrawn to open himself to conversations, his mind always finding ways to track a path back to Baekhyun – the betrayal, Jongdae could see how much Baekhyun had been hurt by their doubts. Alas, Jongdae had no-one to blame but himself, he’d allowed himself to be dragged into the panic of leaked information and unstable certainties. He’d make it right. He hoped.

People moved around him as though his brain had switched his eyes to capture a time-lapse; his earphones kept the noise of the conference room away from his aching head. They’d found Baekhyun after a weight of frustration and worry Jongdae had never experienced before. It was too late to even try to admit that he didn’t care for Baekhyun, nor Minseok, he’d walk bare-footed to the ends of the earth for either of them.

Minseok handled such things with a complete lack of fluency. The worry he’d felt for Baekhyun had turned into anger at the mere idea Baekhyun was their traitor.

It was when Chanyeol entered the room that Minseok ordered everyone with B-team level clearance and lower leave. Their central team remained, bar Kyungsoo and Sehun – Junmyeon, Chanyeol, himself, Yixing and Minseok. Jongdae removed an earphone.

“Information remains sensitive,” Minseok began, his eyes scanning the room, “Trust no-one beyond these walls.”

“Sehun isn’t here,” Junmyeon pointed out, her eyebrow cocked.

Jongdae kept his disapproval on Minseok as he responded, “No, he’s not. He’s babysitting.”

“Oh, Baekhyun,” Chanyeol realised, sliding into the seat next to Yixing, “How is he?”

“Yeah, how is he?” Jongdae didn’t even try to be inconspicuous as he stared at their boss, “Oh, wait, you didn’t bother to check up on him.”

Minseok didn’t flinch, levelling him with his solid Crime Boss stare, “Careful, Jongdae. Compromising work with emotion leaves you vulnerable.”

Chanyeol’s eyes widened as he glanced between the two of them, “So, Baekhyun’s… okay?”

“He’s fine, now,” Junmyeon answered for him, “Luhan said he was in a bad way, chemical burns and fatigue. He’s wrapped him up and left him on bedrest.”

“With Sehun,” Jongdae added, finally taking out both of his earphones.

Chemical burns? He’d kept them hidden. The simple description of Baekhyun’s injuries had managed to pale Chanyeol’s face a small amount, Junmyeon’s lips pressed into a thin line and Yixing remained unchanged. Minseok stared at Junmyeon for a few moments, as though only just processing the information.

“Well,” Chanyeol coughed, pushing a hand through his fading pink hair, “I can confirm that the attack was enabled by this.”

All eyes on the room shifted to the flash drive between Chanyeol’s fingers. Baekhyun’s flash drive.

“Don’t we have cameras down there?” Jongdae questioned, ignoring the silent suggestion behind Chanyeol’s words.

Jongdae wasn’t allowing more accusations to be thrown around without solid proof. He wanted a goddamn hard piece of evidence instead of assumed threads connecting half-certain dots. Partly, it was the guilt and... annoyance, that his short-sightedness had hurt Baekhyun. All the while, Minseok retained his sharp image of their hard-headed leader and it was beyond frustrating.

He didn’t even want to sit there, to ponder possibilities when he could be checking up on Baekhyun, clearing up whatever messes he could. Except, their Baekhyun had been fucking injured – pretty damn badly and Jongdae hated himself for being unable to prevent it.

Junmyeon nodded, “We sure do.”

“Except…” Chanyeol sighed through his nose, dropping the flash drive onto the table, “All footage from that day, from every goddamn camera, was deleted.”

Minseok’s eyes narrowed and Chanyeol shifted uneasily, “Status?”

“Technology wise?” Chanyeol returned, and Minseok nodded once, “We’re in the dark, but they’re also in the dark. I didn’t give them the time to download anything – but it’s possible they could’ve gotten something, before I shut the systems down. I recommend we proceed as though they know everything, to be safe.”

Minseok’s eyes trailed to the window for a moment, “Warn anyone using false identities that said identity may be compromised, they should prioritise a low profile.”

“We’re gonna have to switch things up,” Junmyeon murmured, pulling her hair back to tie it loosely.

Switching things up caught Jongdae’s attention.

“Become… completely unpredictable,” Jongdae trailed, before grinning at all of them.

As one of the most unpredictable members within the Crew, there weren’t many things Jongdae tended to get a kick out of – explosions? Sure. Destruction? Certainly. But, this? This was granting them permission to ignite absolute chaos, and it filled Jongdae with an energy he’d needed; an energy he’d missed. It was time for the Crew to do things the way they should’ve the moment they realised they were being fucked with.

“You’re not wrong,” Minseok agreed, his lip almost curling up at the size of Jongdae’s grin, “We scrap strategy, burn heist plans.”

“I mean, that should work?” Chanyeol then nodded, “Right?”

“Unless,” Yixing spoke up for the first time, “They’re expecting us to do things differently.”

“But, Yixing,” Jongdae countered, crossing one leg over the other, “How can they be expecting anything when we’re going to be completely unpredictable?”

Junmyeon watched him, almost distrustfully, “What are you planning, Jongdae?”

“Well,” Jongdae began, leisurely, “A little birdie tells me Kim Jongin’s back in town.”

Yixing sighed, “I’m not a bird.”

“Eagles are pretty cool,” Chanyeol added, quietly.

“Here’s what I don’t understand: why would Baekhyun wipe the cameras?” Junmyeon pondered, thoughtful, “Everything about that flash drive paints a target on his back.”

Jongdae nodded, “Exactly, but this flash drive was given to Baekhyun.”

“By Jongin,” Yixing completed, with a frown.

“You think this is him?” Chanyeol bit his lip.

“Unlikely working solo,” Minseok hummed, pushing himself to his feet, “He returns to town the moment everything begins to fall to shit, and that’s one hell of a coincidence.”

They watched as their boss stalked to the front of the room, where a large whiteboard was situated on the wall. It contained their next heist plan; the National Art Museum in the centre of the city, with pieces of artwork beyond the value of money. Useless, now, Jongdae thought – Minseok seemed to agree, wiping away the details of the mind-map and drawing a question mark in the centre.

 He drew two lines, labelling one of them ‘Baekhyun’ and the other ‘Jongin’.

“So,” Junmyeon continued, “Everyone would assume this drive was Baekhyun’s, I don’t think he’s our traitor.”

“I agree,” Chanyeol then snorted, “Especially when you consider it was Baekhyun’s employee ID used to access the system. He’s not that stupid.”

“We have employee IDs?” Jongdae frowned, “Since when?”

“This was unlikely Baekhyun,” Yixing admitted, finally breaking his façade to rub a hand over his face, “The information provided by a former M-Crew member provided proof that payments had been titled to an account in Baekhyun’s name.”

“An off-shore dummy account,” Chanyeol clarified, “Something of which Baekhyun has never had interest in. Someone planted that fake ‘evidence’, and they wanted Baekhyun to fall for it.”

“To isolate him,” Jongdae continued, “When have gangs ever operated like this?”

“The Bureau,” Minseok stated, earning a dreaded silence from the room.

He drew another line, titling it ‘FBI’.

Jongdae groaned, “Again?”

“Anything is a possibility,” Junmyeon responded, shrugging, “Until we know who, exactly, is against us, we must assume everyone is against us.”

“And, Baekhyun?” He asked, though the question was locked and loaded at Minseok.

Minseok held his stare for a few moments, before his eyes trailed back to the whiteboard holding their mind map. He added a line to the centre, writing ‘M-Crew’ and bracketing Jongin’s name with ‘(Revenge?)’.

“I have an apology to make,” Minseok eventually announced to his central team, “Someone update Sehun, and ask him for files he received from Minho. Chanyeol, I want you to brainstorm Sunday’s heist.”

Yixing waited until the room emptied out to ask, “Permission to go after Jongin?”

Jongdae inwardly cringed.

“Today, you almost made a mistake,” Minseok began, turning to face the ex-mercenary, “Whilst I’m often understanding, today was unacceptable. Your mistake could’ve cost us a lot.”

“Us?” Yixing retorted, “Or, you?”

Minseok took a step forward, into Yixing’s personal space, “Don’t ever go after one of my men without consulting me, again. Permission denied. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I want you to apologise to Baekhyun,” Minseok continued, “They almost won, today – we almost isolated one of our own. The only reason I’m allowing your mistake to leave you unscathed is because I also made a mistake.”

Yixing nodded, appearing a little uncomfortable at the concept of apologies. He muttered his farewell quietly, sliding from the room to leave Jongdae considering Minseok.

“You’re apologising?” Jongdae asked, suspicious.

Minseok rolled his eyes, “To Baekhyun, not you. You allow your mouth to get you into trouble.”

Jongdae slid from the table to stand, “And you allow your fear of emotion to get you into trouble.”

“Perhaps,” Minseok replied, and Jongdae was caught off-guard, “I need to save my Crew, Jongdae – I can’t allow how I feel to jeopardise the safety of the Crew, because the Crew always come first.”

He laughed, because that’s exactly how he imagined Minseok’s response, “You seem to be forgetting that Baekhyun and I, we’re a part of this Crew.”

“And, if I’ve pushed him too far?” Minseok asked, and Jongdae felt a pang of sadness at the thoughts that followed.

“One bridge at a time, boss.”

“Oh, and please don’t let Chanyeol orchestrate the entire heist. I know I asked for unpredictability, but I don’t want to wake up to news that six men dressed as Pepper Pig replaced the country’s Picasso collection with wholesome memes.”

“Um,” Jongdae let out, “Has that happened, before?”

“Just please watch him.”