The flashes and bright lights were almost too much for his eyes. With each glaring flash of a camera, he almost went blind. There were so many of them, and they were so bright, that he could barely make out the people in the gathering holding them. He felt the urge again, to lift an arm and shield his eyes from the blinding light; his fingers twitched slightly with just the idea. He suddenly felt the light pressure of a hand on his left shoulder, but didn’t have to look behind him to know whose it was. The man standing next to him, his father, had spoken to him just before the press conference: he wasn’t to move, speak, wave, or do anything except stand there and keep a pleasant smile on his face for the cameras. So he did, and forced the urge out of his mind.
After the conference, they had returned to the house. He knew exactly when dinner would be—it was at the same time every day—and had about an hour to himself. He headed first to his room to change out of the formal—rather uncomfortable—clothes he had been dressed up in for the event. That was one of the things he was still getting used to, being put in clothes that weren’t the same ratty white t-shirt and blue dirtstained shorts. Granted they had an element of discomfort to them, but they weren’t terrible. It was better than how it used to be.
Lots of things were better now than how they used to be. He was living in an actual house now, not some shack that was falling apart just about everywhere. It was rather large, though, and he was still getting his bearings in terms of orienting himself (on more than one occasion he had gotten lost—and that was just last week). On his way to his room, as he had at least gotten that route down-pat, he passed that room. The disturbing beeps and constant low whirring weren’t there anymore, and all that echoed down the hall were his footsteps, but it still gave him chills every time he walked by. He didn’t let anyone see how unsettled it made him, not his father but especially not the woman he had married.
She also took some getting used to, but she seemed okay to him. She was nice, and her cooking was good, and best of all she didn’t hit him. Yet she still always seemed to have a sadness about her, which only became really noticeable behind closed doors. He knew why, of course, and wasn’t surprised, but also didn’t know how to handle it. So he mostly just avoided her. She didn’t seem to mind, though, and gave him lots of space as well; she had probably been told all about the situation he came from.
Yes, things were much better here. Except for one thing.
Was Taemin okay?
It was a question which plagued him every day. He had no way of knowing, and every day it would crack into his mind like lightning. Even now, he could feel that small jolt of his heart at the uncertainty. He tried to tell himself, just like he did every day, that Taemin was strong—much stronger than he was himself—and was doing just fine on his own. Taemin could take care of anything. He reminded himself that he was doing this for Taemin, so that he could repay the boy with the beautiful brown eyes and comforting arms, his savior, for doing just that—saving him. He was here, in this large house and wearing these strange clothes, so that he could repay Taemin and provide for him. So that he could give Taemin the support and protection the boy had given him in that slum, when he himself had nothing. Could do nothing.
He would become strong enough to take care of Taemin, and would take him far away from that place, so that he could keep Taemin by his side forever. The passion to keep the boy safe, and the motivation to do all those things burned fiercely in his heart, but he maintained a cool, composed outward appearance, and never let anyone know. It would happen one day soon.
And yet, the guilt and worry grew inside him just as powerfully. The fear that something might happen to Taemin, that he would get badly hurt, that—
“Min Siwoon!” The light voice of the woman his father married startled him from his thoughts. That was also something he was getting used to—the replacement of his identity. Being called something other than Min Woojin, something other than the name Taemin always called him.
Not wanting to be late and cause worry or suspicion, as he was expected at the table the same time every night, he finished changing and began down the stairs. As he made his way, careful not to slip because of the socks he had on, he firmly repeated his mantra. The reason he was here was because of Taemin. He was doing this because of Taemin. Despite his worry, which he knew by now would probably not leave, he would be with Taemin again; but this time, as someone strong enough to protect him and provide for him just like Taemin had.