“When hope is fleeting, stop for a moment and visualize, in a sky of silver, the crescent of a lavender moon. Imagine it -- delicate, slim, precise, like a paper-thin slice from a cabochon jewel. It may not be very useful, but it is beautiful. And sometimes it is enough.”
“Jeongin,” his master’s voice touches him like an icy hand down his spine, and drenches his skin in cold sweat in its wake. Jeongin knows that it is a mere whisper of what is to come next. “Jeongin,”is repeated when Jeongin doesn’t rise and come to his side immediately.
Jeongign must will himself to move to the large black leather chair in the corner of the room. However, he feels as if every place that his bare skin touches carpet, his knees, his shins, the palms of his hands splayed wide so that he can keep his balance, have been glued down to the fibers.
The shuffling sound of thick leather soles against plush carpet brush fear away from Jeongin’s mind, and in its wake usher in complacency. It’s not so bad after all, if he goes somewhere else in his mind. He can always visit memories of the school yard, or the arcade, and the presence of friends whose faces and names he could not recall, but always found comfort in nonetheless. If the journey is a matter of a few feet from his position on the floor to the chair, then his mind wanders for miles.
Jeongin begins the slow crawl across the carpet. Cool draft from the room wafts over his skin, pricking every inch of his body with gooseflesh. He cannot remember the last time he was allowed clothing, but he knows for certain that he was forbade from wearing shirts from the very start. Lost his underwear privileges when he came in a pair of white cotton panties when bent over his master’s knee.
Jeongin rests upon his haunches, his gaze directed at a pair of leather loafers which shone so bright he could probably see the scant traces of his reflection if he cared to look. He polished them himself that morning, and was punished appropriately when he made the mistake of getting black polish upon his skin.
“Will you sing for me Jeongin?” The deep timbre of his master’s voice is accompanied by the crackle pop of the ancient record player while the record spins freely. The groove desperate to find the needle.
Jeongin’s tongue parts his lips for a moment as the response catches in his throat. His master does not make a request, but Jeongin has decided that today, he will answer “no,” nevertheless.
He can remember sitting with an old woman, and watching trot singers on day time television. At school they’d hear him humming the tunes and tease him for loving something so old fashioned, but he loved the melodies and idealistic messages nonetheless.
Now, the steady sound of the singer’s voice makes his stomach twist. Often, he chooses records by female singers. Day by day, he’s losing the ability to reach those highest notes as his voice changes, and each missed note is a transgression which must be repaid with his body.
Nevertheless, Jeongin sings, drowning out the recorded vocalist, “try to remember, that kind of September.” The syllables catch in his throat as a hand tilts his chin upward. “When life was slow, and oh, so mellow.”
His master retreats to the large oversized leather chair, and to this Jeongin does not need instruction. He continues to sing as he crawls on all fours across the carpet. Does his best to keep his voice steady as he moves.
Beckoned to his master’s lap, he sits naked, straddling his thighs. He can feel the press of his master’s cock, bound in his slacks pressed against the cleft of his ass.
Then, there are hands upon him. Hands that occasionally bring kindness in the form of bright pink candies that Jeongin likes, and hands that so frequently bring cruelty enacted on Jeongin’s body. Hands tweak his nipples and rake down his sides. Hands stroke his cock first tenderly. When Jeongin continues the verse without faltering, hands pinch at the tip of his cock to make him falter.
Jeongin continues on, and in his unwavering voice comes the thread of defiance.
Upon the end table near the highbacked chair is a large bronze ash tray. It’s thick, blunt shape feels heavy in his hands. Jeongin knows its weight well, as he has been instructed to empty it many times when his master was here in the study working late. The object glimmers in the light which shines in from the window.
It’s thick, blunt shape feels heavy in his hands. Jeongin reaches for it when his master jams his fingers into his mouth, desperate now make him falter. Jeongin moves with a dexterity he’d never known possible. Grabs the large dish and raises it over his head, and immediately makes contact with his master’s skull.
The record spins on, against the sound of guttural and anguished cries, and against the harsh gnashing sound of bone cracking against metal. The melody drifts across the shell of his ear, even when they tumble out of the chair and onto the floor. Jeongin never once stopping his relentless onslaught for a moment, even after the track has changed and the struggle has long since ended.
Blood and brain spatter against his skin. Yet for the first time, he feels scrubbed clean.
Jeongin stops only when his hands are so slicked with blood that the ashtray slides from his fingers.
His tongue parts his lips for a moment. The air tastes metallic like blood. Jeongin’s lips curl into a smile. Not one of the fake ones that he’d give wall pulling down his master’s zipper, but one that is wide and uncontained. He sings along to the song now freely. Belts it out now like he used to do with the nameless old woman, and doesn’t care about his voice cracking or missed notes.
Even if it lasts for but a moment, he’s free.
Woojin’s orders were simple. His team, comprised of himself, Seungmin, and Minho, were to enter the premises after Changbin had hacked into the system and gained them access. Once inside, they were to use non-lethal force to neutralize any obstacles, and retrieve what they expected, but could not be certain, was a key target.
Woojin isn’t like Minho. He doesn’t allow superstition cloud his judgement in the field, nor does he carry charms to counterbalance his anxiety. At the same time, he doesn’t adopt Changbin’s approach, charging in and rapidly recalibrating upon assessment of the situation.
In the present, he lingers somewhere in-between. The feeling that something is horrifically out of place tingles at the place where his skull meets his spine. That feeling draws his shoulders up tight, and makes the holster strapped across his chest crush him where he stands.
However, as they approach the target’s stuffy pent house, there are multiple warnings that once he and the team cross the threshold, absolutely nothing will go according to plan. Water drips through the ceiling and into the foyer at the gilded entrance. Woojin wipes it off of his forehead, and motions for his team to remain calm.
Once the code on the door is cracked by Changbin remotely, they enter the sleek, modern home. The sound of trot music, the kind that his grandparents used to listen to, echoes throughout the apartment. The light-hearted music rings so loud that it shakes Woojin’s brain so that it rattles against his skull, and makes giving orders near impossible.
It’s upbeat tempo slides down his arms and legs like blood from a wound that he cannot find and patch. As they press forward, the sound becomes louder and louder still, and his nerves are lost in up-tempo instrumentals.
Woojin sends Minho down the corridor, and Seungmin to clear the rest of the first floor. Woojin himself goes upstairs, weapon drawn. Chan’s orders, “non-lethal,” must be constantly replayed in his mind, over and over again, and are subsequently tossed aside when he reaches the second floor. He cannot see the brilliant shade of crimson accurately, because the carpet is dark green. But he understands immediately that the red brown patches on the carpet are not something so innocuous as spilled tea or coffee.
The whole room smells thick and metallic like human blood.
What he finds near the window is a corpse by technicality, but the bloodied, mangled mass reminds him more of bags of offal meat, about to turn and marked down. There’s nothing identifiable about him, but Woojin can only assume that this is the target.
The sound of trot music is louder now, burrowing into the back of his skull until he cannot process anything other than line after syrupy line being piped through the speakers. If he had a shred of sense left, he’d walk over to the tall mahogany Victrola in the corner of his vision, and lift the needle from the large black disk that spun on the record player.
Instead, in his nervousness and fear, he mouths the words alongside the record.
After all, his grandmother practically raised him. He knows the words well.
His fingers shake on the trigger of his stun gun. Each and every breath ratchets his chest tighter, and tighter, and tighter until the sound of trot is drowned out by the sound of his heart rattling against the cage of his ribs.
If it weren’t so unnerving he’d notice the squish-squelch of his boots tromping against water saturated carpet.
Woojin kicks open the door, and instead of the all-out attack he braced himself for, he’s greeted with a much more troubling image.
For the sake of utility Woojin can fight, and Woojin can engage in subterfuge, and Woojin can even kill if need be. Those are things that they have all trained to do. What he isn’t prepared for is the sight of an I.N. unit fully submerged in an oversized porcelain claw foot tub. The faucet opened wide, water pours out over the edge and onto the tile so that standing water covers the entire floor.
If he used his stun-gun now, he’d kill them both.
Blood covers the tile lined walls. The water has long since run cold; Woojin can tell by the way the I.N. unit’s lips and skin have turned blue. His teeth chatter above and beyond the sound of slow simple trot music.
Woojin presses against the button on his communicator, letting his team, and Chan know, “I found another one.”
In one moment, Jeongin is seated in his master’s lap. In the next, he’s staring into the eyes of a boy with a broad nose and an uncertain smile. Jeongin himself is uncertain of what has happened, but he knows that strangers rarely come here. He knows in the pit of his stomach something has happened, and that the blood smeared on the wall is not his own.
He should run...but if he did, where would he go?
The stranger has a weapon, and for a fraction of a second, Jeongin feels as if he should do…something. But the sight of blood smeared against the wall freezes him in place. Then it rains upon him like water from the bath. Perhaps it would be better if the stranger attacked. He has nothing worth protecting, and cannot face whatever cruelty lies ahead for what he did.
But the blow never comes.
Instead, the stranger resituates his weapon into its holster. He’s mouthing the words to the song piped in through the speakers. In that strange gesture, too childish for a soldier, Jeongin’s fingertips are bathed in the stranger’s warmth. It makes him forget about the stains on the wall, and makes him painfully aware of the lyrics to the song. So, he starts to mouth the words too until his hoarse voice yields to him for one last song. For a moment all they can do is sing to one another in broken, scared voices that crack with each note.
Although he’s been singing for some time, maybe never stopped since his master told him to start, he hears words now, perhaps for the first time. Together, himself and the stranger sing the closing words to Lavender Crown. The stranger’s mouth quivers as he belts out the lines as if he were afraid. “The silver sky, my love, the moon. A cabochon jewel.”
In that moment, Jeongin wonders what he has to be afraid of.
“My name’s Woojin,” the song ends and there’s silence as that side of the record ends. In his mind’s eye Jeongin can imagine it spinning in the absence of the needle. Although no hands touch him, it is not difficult to imagine the ghost of his master’s body draped over top of him and buried inside of him.
Yet in the present, the stranger offers him his hand and asks him, “what’s your name?”
Blood rushes to his ears, and suddenly the feeling of silver blue numb is replaced with that of red hot embarrassment. “Jeongin,” but the syllables don’t sound real. He’s not used to speaking it, just hearing it as the preface to orders.
Woojin helps him out of the bath tub, and grabs one of the long, cloud like towels that Jeongin used to dry his master off with after a bath.
It’s strange, seeing another human knelt at his feet, touching his skin without intent to inflict pain or arouse. It’s strange, seeing the stranger’s dark clothes clash against the sterile white marble of the bathroom floor. When the stranger looks up at him with a smile that is warm and genuine and says, “nice to meet you,” it makes his stomach twist in knots. Makes his throat dry, despite everything in the room being soaked and damp. “Do you have any clothes?”
Jeongin finally breaks eye contact as shame surges through his veins. “No.”
Jeongin curls his toes underneath his feet into the threadbare sheets. He runs fingers over the hem of the long sleeve shirt the Woojin gave him to wear. Then, he tests his fingers against the elastic band of the underwear before jamming his hands back into the pockets of the jacket Woojin draped over his shoulders and led him out of the penthouse in.
Hushed tones that he isn’t supposed to hear trickle in through the vents in the walls. “Why should this one get preferential treatment?”
And another voice, “this one violates everything we know about the I.N. With proper training, he could be a valuable asset—”
A different voice from the one before, too distorted for Jeongin to tell if it’s the first. “You violated orders. That isn’t like you.”
Another, “must be good then huh?”
And another, this time he’s certain there’s a third voice, “The whole point of this mission is to neutralize,” the voices cut out and then back in again, “he’s dangerous.”
There’s nothing on the walls here, unlike his
master’s, his old master’s penthouse. No carpet on the floor either, and so his feet are cold whenever he walks across the floor.
Woojin his new master, will give him a pair of socks. Maybe he should be more concerned that through a thin wall strangers argue about his fate. However, in the past when this has occurred he’s been given ample reason to be afraid.
Woojin gave him a shirt and a pair of underwear. Woojin gave him the world in two pieces of cloth.
“What if our greatest asset-“ Woojin’s voice fades out.
As he runs his finger back and forth across the metal tooth of the jacket zipper, he can hear a hushed almost exhausted voice through the vent, “he’s going to be your responsibility then.”
Woojin crosses the threshold to find Jeongin in the exact same position that he left him in. Jeongin sits on his cot in a pair of Woojin’s boxers that are far too large for him to the point of slipping down his narrow hips. He wears Woojin’s track jacket too, and it slumps on his shoulders exposing pale bruised skin. The sleeves of the jacket cover his hands.
The spare cot he’d brought into the room for Jeongin remains unmade.
“Do you have any socks?” Jeongin reclines back on the mattress and raises his arms high above his head which causes the jacket to be pulled upward, exposing the smooth pale skin of Jeongin’s stomach.
For the first time, it dawns on Woojin that perhaps he’s made a mistake.
Chan asked him why, after seventeen successful I.N. neutralizations in the field, he was suddenly interested in understanding them above and beyond what they had on file about them. Woojin answered truthfully. He’s looked into those same eyes before, and never seen a smile. He’s felt those same hands upon his body before. Not in the gentle touch of ice cold fingers against his palm, but in the form of a vicious assailant.
Male appearing, late teens, I.N. units were obsequious to the point of self-detriment. Dangerous. They act as simultaneous pets and body guards for those in the upper echelons against which they rebel.
Woojin told his friend and commander in no uncertain terms, “this one is different.”
As he watches the slight lines of Jeongin’s body move beneath his clothes, he isn’t so certain.
“My feet are cold.” Jeongin grabs his toes and extends his legs upward to the ceiling.
“Don’t you want to know your fate?” Woojin’s mouth pulls into the smile that he forces whenever he has to deliver bad news to the younger members.
“I heard everything. I’m yours now.”
“No,” Woojin walks the scant few steps to his dresser and extracts a pair of socks and tosses them onto the bed. Jeongin sits upright once more and puts them on over his feet.
“I’m responsible for you. Meaning anything you say and do will affect me.” His tongue feels thick in his mouth but he continues to speak. The springs of the cot creak in protest under his weight as he sits down next to Jeongin.
He needs to tell him. If this actually works, it’s only a matter of time before Jeongin will see another I.N.
“That’s different from me owning you. So remember that before you act.”
“I will.” Jeongin’s voice is soft and round around the edges in a way that suggests despite his sincerity, he doesn’t understand the gravity of what he’s agreed to. “Thank you,” Jeongin’s gaze shifts to the floor in deference, unable to hold eye contact with Woojin for more than a few seconds. In the faint light of the room, his eyelashes shine against the single fluorescent bulb which hangs by a wire and struggles to illuminate the room.
He needs to tell him. If this fails, Woojin and Woojin alone will have to neutralize him. That too is a component of responsibility.
Woojin can hear the bed frame groan in protest as Jeongin shifts on the cot. The sudden movement should prime him to full alertness, but he doesn’t react in the slightest. Woojin’s lack of reaction reveals full extent to which he’s compromised. He knows this. It thrums in his ears and at the base of his spine. Yet, Jeongin smells like the rose scented perfume of the high-end apartment from which they extracted him. The tip of Jeongin’s nose is cold against his cheekbone as he goes in for a kiss that is equal parts awkward and forced as if he doesn’t want to, but it’s all that he knows.
Even though Woojin saw it coming from a mile away, it still takes several seconds for the gravity of Jeongin’s actions to sink in. It isn’t until thin bony fingers paw at his belt buckle and the hem of his pants that he reacts properly. He wraps his hands around Jeongin’s, which are so small and so cold, as if the bath drained the warmth right out of him.
“Jeongin,” Woojin pulls back and Jeongin tries to chase him with his mouth. Woojin squeezes his wrists and pushes him back. “Let’s make up your bed.” As he rises from the bed, Jeongin’s smooth limbs come back into view. Despite the dark hair on his head, his body hair is impossibly faint.
His mouth feels dry. His body hot. “And find some pants for you too.”
Jeongin’s world is nothing but endless black and tightness in his chest. Although he cannot see his own body, he can feel his limbs floating upward. Unable to tell up from down, it feels as if his whole body is falling forward into the abyss. That feeling propels him in directions unknown, and forces him into alertness.
His blurred vision clears to reveal a blinding white light that burns with such aggression that his retinas become scorched under the light’s intensity. Yet, he cannot look away. His mind races, but his body is stagnant. Every muscle in his body is rigid from shock.
The form of a man cross cuts the blinding white light, but Jeongin finds no reprieve. Although his vision is still distorted, he can make out the shape of broad shoulders shrouded by white cloth. With it, comes the sight of a face devoid of noticeable features.
The figure bends at the waist, and his face becomes Jeongin’s entire field of vision. Jeongin sees dark purple red circles underneath the figure’s eyes. A white perforated surgical mask covers everything save for dilated pupils that take him in and dissect him underneath their gaze. The forehead wrinkles, and something warm and covered in bitter latex is inserted into his mouth forcing him to gag on contact.
Fingers stretch out his lips and reach for the back of his throat. Sensation slowly returns to his body, first in his feet and then in his fingers, but he’s unable to move or fight back. But, he knows that he’s close, so close to willing his body to move if he only had a second’s more time.
If only he were stronger. He’s never been strong enough.
The fingers are removed, but the figure above him doesn’t offer a moment’s reprieve. A razor sharp plaque scraper is jammed against his gums. He can feel the soft pink skin of his gums tear like tissue paper against the scraper.
The relative silence of the examination room is broken by earsplitting cries. From every labored gasp, agony drips down the back of his throat and makes him choke.
It isn’t until his throat aches that he comes to understand that the sound comes from him.
The assault on his body carries on independent of his cries. His back molars are torn out, and caustic solution is injected into the socket.
Blood pools in the back of his throat, and his screams become garbled blood flooded wails that comingle with the constant electronic whirr of the drill.
The place where body meets mind has made him aware that in the moment, this is not his reality, but he cannot force himself back into the present.
If only he were stronger.
“Jeongin,” hands on his arm and hands on his chest. Jeongin is dragged back into consciousness. His tearstained eyes fall open to the sight of brown eyes knit tight with concern. It’s almost strange, how he cannot see a single glint of malice nor the shine of deception within the ridges of his irises. Features come into view, broad nose and pursed lips. Woojin, the man who saved him. Woojin, the opposite of the man that tortures him in his dreams. “Jeongin, it’s not real.”
Sick hiccup sobs slide out from the back of his throat
Featherlight touches brush against his shoulder and his spine. Unlike before, Woojin doesn’t pull away from him. He accepts him now and pulls him close, regardless of the tears and the snot that pour down his face.
It’s not just his hands that are warm. Woojin’s body feels as if it burns with fever, and Jeongin wants to burn himself alive by pressing himself as close to Woojin as possible until his skin blisters. His skin doesn’t smell the way skin is supposed to. Absent is the scent of thick perfumes and soaps, and in it’s absence is something musky and human. Although it’s pungent in comparison to lilac tinctures and berry scented poultice that he finds familiar, Jeongin too finds this addictive. So he buries his nose into Woojin’s neck, and latches onto the boy who sat upon the edge of his cot.
It’s not just the uniform and weapon that make him seem firm. Woojiin’s body is hardbound muscle wrapped in thin cotton sleep clothing, from the stomach that breathes deep controlled breaths, to the ridge of his back over which Jeongin’s fingers dig into.
Strange, his master’s body was soft, and his behavior was unyielding.
In sharp contrast, Woojin’s body was firm and his demeanor soft.
Strong soothing hands rub Jeongin’s back as he sobs into Woojin’s chest.
Although he’s been with Woojin for less than a day, memories of the past seem like distant intangible demons that linger in the corner of his eye, and darted as soon as he turned his head.
“Jeongin,” Woojin whispers into his ear. “It’s alright. You’re safe now.”
For a fraction of a second, Jeongin wants to protest. He yearns to confess to Woojin that he’s tried to run away before, and was always dragged back. He wants nothing more to tell him that his master, although dead, is powerful. There will always be someone looking for him for what he did.
With Woojin’s arm around his middle, he’s pushed back onto the cot. Woojin rustles the blankets around them covering them both. Suddenly, it’s easier for Jeongin to throw his leg over Woojin’s and fist the thin cotton shirt the other boy wears as if it were a lifeline. “Promise?”
For a moment, Woojin does not speak. His chest expands as he sucks in air. Jeongin shrinks against his chest on the exhale. “Yeah,” Woojin says, as if he’s just decided something heavy and permanent. “Yeah. I promise.”
Getting to know Jeongin, is like coming to understand that the stranger that stands across from you on the same crowded train car each day has hopes, and dreams, and fears. Ge’s seen a number of IN units peacefully poised at their master’s sides in the distance, or ripping at his own skin in a suicidal attempt to protect their masters. However, he didn’t quite understand that they were also capable of belching loudly when they ate too much. It never occurred to him that they’d need to be reminded to bathe, or wake up with bedhead. Never crossed his mind once that one would stay up too late reading banned novels on his tablet.
Jeongin follows him like a shadow, but unlike a shadow he’s anything but silent. He trails behind Woojin when he’s on duty, and sings a constant flow of trot songs. “Do you know, First Love?” He’ll ask as Woojin turns on his heel to attend one of the monitors, only to bump into Jeongin.
“I don’t think so?” Woojin does in fact know most of the words to the songs that Jeongin sings, but teasing him is almost as rewarding as the sound of his voice.
“It’s so good,” and then he belts out as if the control room were an arena, “When we were young, we did not remember our youth.” Woojin cannot help but notice the way that Jeongin pronounces words as if he has something in his mouth. The words sound round around the edges, and doughy in the middle, but beautiful nonetheless.
Woojin allows Jeongin to make it through the first verse alone, before joining in on the chorus. “Someday we will meet again.” His voice is steady and blends seamlessly with Jeongin’s, filling in the gaps wherever his own voice cannot reach. “Even though we don’t know where we will go.”
“So you did know, huh?” Jeongin breaks harmony to laugh at him.
Woojin notices the way that the corners of his mouth crinkle and fold underneath the weight of his smile, which is immense when it is freely given.
When Jeongin abandons the second verse, it grows quiet between them once more until Woojin hums under his breath, a tune to a song long forgotten.
“Oh,” Jeongin interjects. “I know this one too,” and he throws the invisible switch, shifting his voice from childish to sultry, “I remember you, the slightest tremble. To you who leaned against me and fell fast asleep. On your lips I planted a kiss.” Jeongin interrupts himself with another laugh. “You were thinking of me when you remembered that song.”
Woojin’s lack of response stems from some secret, red hot burn in his ears from being found out. “No,” Woojin stammers. “I was thinking about how when I do this job alone it usually takes me two hours.”
“Woojin?” Jeongin interrupts.
“We’ve been down here since noon. It’s four now.”
“Right,” Woojin supplies, exasperation curling his voice around the edges.
The first night they spent together, Woojin sat at the ledge of Jeongin’s bed and willingly dove into the abyss of sheets, and blankets, and skin. With that action, silently, knowingly, Woojin allowed their already strange and unbalanced relationship to change once more.
Every night after, Jeongin finds his way to Woojin’s bed. At first, there are plenty of nights where Woojin turns off the light and both of them begin in their own cots under the premise of sleeping separately. But there are rarely nights where Jeongin does not dream. Through trial and through error, Woojin learns that it’s not even necessary at times to wake Jeongin. If he catches it early enough, and he often does, the whimpers will cease no sooner than he drapes his arms over Jeongin’s side.
On other nights, when exhaustion weighs down his bones and seeps through his skull into his brain, Woojin will wake to the dip of the bed, and the hushed shameful murmur of, “I had another dream.” And on those nights Woojin can do little more other than throw his blankets back and allow Jeongin in.
Woojin is used to waking up to the sound of Seungmin knocking on his door and asking him if he wants to go for a run in the old security tunnels near their compound. Now, he wakes up to the soft sound of Jeongin singing. “My confession, the moment I open my eyes in the morning.” His voice is becoming stronger every day, as if the cracks in his voice are repaired with time and the salve of freedom. “I want to see you. The person who has woken me from my deep sleep.”
When this happens, Woojin isn’t certain what is more difficult to ignore. The soft press of Jeongin’s lips upon the crown of his head as he lingers in the warm, static filled liminal space between awake and asleep, or the stifling hot need of Jeongin’s cock pressed against his stomach.
“Jeongin,” Seungmin has a nice smile which is even on all sides, unlike his own. He takes the brush in his hand, and strikes a bright green line across the schematic rendering before him. He must have gotten new information. That seems to happen a lot. New information comes in, and Seungmin has to start over. “I missed you.”
Everyone else has jobs to which they are assigned based upon their skills. Jeongin, still does not yet know what his skills are, and so he rotates between the members of this unit, helping when he can and ultimately getting in the way. There are days when he sits with Changbin in the monitor room, and there are days he trains with Felix. He likes spending time with Chan in the hydroponic room second only to helping Woojin.
“Oh,” Jeongin smiles. “I see you at dinner.”
“Right, but,” Seungmin abandons his render and wraps his arms around Jeongin, hugging him from behind It’s strange the way he wilted from touch before, but craves it now. Jeongin plays with everyone, but Seungmin does this often. Hugging him, or pushing him, or sneaking up behind him and sticking a finger wet with spit into his ear. “I think that times like this are special. You know?”
“Changbin says it’s special when I work with him. Says I set back his work three days for every day I spend with him.”
“Not like that.” Seungmin’s breath is hot against his ear. Suddenly, Jeongin realizes that somehow, this interaction between them is different, although he could not explain why. Seungmin lets go, and spins him around so that they face each other. “I like it when you work with me, because I like you.”
Jeongin lets the syllables reverberate in his ear and wash over his brain. He likes Seungmin too, and so he offers this information to him freely. “I like you too Seungmin. It’s fun to make maps.”
“No I mean I,” Seungmin’s expression falls, as if he’s been defeated somehow. It makes Jeongin’s stomach twist in knots. He doesn’t want to be the source of that pain.
Jeongin interrupts, blurting the first thing that comes to mind. “Do you like trot Seungmin?”
“It’s alright?” Confusion tinges Seungmin’s voice, but Jeongin knows that an explanation lines his static filled way of thinking. “Do you know the words to Lavender Crown?”
Seungmin shakes his head no, eyes still squinted in confusion.
“It’s my favorite. It reminds me of when I was young, and everything was nice.”
Seungmin opens his mouth, as if he wishes to speak, but the words don’t come out.
“Woojin knows the words. I think that’s really nice. We can sing it together”
“Oh,” Seungmin unclenches his jaw. As the confusion drains from his face, something like understanding resurfaces. Jeongin wishes he understood what it is that Seungmin seems to understand. “You should tell Woojin that.”
Jeongin opens a new data file, and grabs a stylus. Seungmin has taught him a few things about cartography, and he’d like to help if he can. “Why? Woojin already knows I like to sing.”
“Your project seems to be going well,” Hyunjin turns his head to look at him, even though he’s strapped into the VR console, remotely detonating opposition mines in areas beneath the city they want to take. He waves his hand to the left, and the monitor to Woojin’s right indicate he’s sent the drone right into a row of mines. “I used to think-“
Woojin winces too, but enters the recalibration code into the console. No one is perfect.
“I used to think he just imprinted on you. Like the other guy was dead, and you were there but..” Another wave of the arm, and Hyunjin jumps backwards. Woojin rises from the console to brace his friend with one hand, and stretches the other arm back to the keypad to recalibrate. “I think you were right.” Another wave of Hyunjin’s hand, and Woojin watches his monitor light up. “He’s different.”
“You’re being reckless,” Woojin mumbles under his breath as Hyunjin continues to move. “He likes all of us. What if he imprinted on all of us?” It goes silent between them for a moment, as Hyunjin takes out another cluster. “It’s not a game Hyunjin.”
Hyunjin uses his free arm to work his fingers up underneath the headset, and peels it back from his face. His hair slicked to his face. “It’s not like you to second guess yourself and,” Hyunjin thrusts the headset toward him, “if you can do a better job, go ahead.”
Woojin accepts, and for a moment, his world becomes nothing more than a bright green render against an inky black background. He moves his arm slowly, purposefully.
“He turned down Seungmin.”
Woojin jerks his arm suddenly, pelting the remote drop site with ammunition.
Hyunjin laughs at his graceless movements. Woojin waits for admonishment. After all he did just do what he told his subordinate not to. “I don’t think he’d do that if he imprinted on us all.”
“You’re back,” Chan doesn’t even look at him, but instead recognizes the sound of his feet shuffling across the floor. Chan pulls back the plants in the tray before him, and snaps off leaf after leaf of green black chard. “I thought you were rotating out to Jisung today?”
“I like it here the most,” Jeongin responds. He should offer to harvest with Chan instead of simply staring at the plants. He should do his best to make himself useful, because everyone was busy here. Always.
Instead, he walks a few paces behind Chan to the place where his flowers grow. Long vines of ivy are interrupted by bursts of geraniums, and baby’s breath, and roses. The names of which Chan taught him. He likes the colors, and he likes the smell even though it is faint. He’d always heard of these plants, their names printed on perfume bottles in the old penthouse. Now, knowing that the syrupy scent was a lie, and lush beautiful plants were the truth made his lips curl on either side into a grin.
He knew something that every person that bought those perfumes didn’t know.
“Woojin tells me you’re training hard,” the weight of Chan’s gaze is heavy, like a wool sweater or a thick blanket. Jeongin wears it with pride whenever they speak.
“Yeah. He said that I can come out on a mission soon.” Woojin’s team is something prized to him. His heart skips a beat every time it’s brought up.
“He did?” Chan purses his lips, as if he respects but does not understand his subordinate’s decision. Changing the subject he asks, “which ones do you like best?” Chan’s voice sounds strange, unlike anything he’s ever heard before. But the voice soothes him nonetheless.
Chan’s voice is heavy, in the tone that he uses whenever he knows something to be true. He uses it often. “That makes sense.”
“You know my favorite song? Lavender Crown?” Chan doesn’t seem like the kind of person to know trot. When he’s not in the garden, or leading a resistance, he’s making strange melodies on the computer, and hammering over them with a toy piano pulled from rubble.
“No,” Chan laughs. “But that makes sense too.” For a moment, the conversation goes silent between them. Jeongin runs his fingers over broad ivy leaves. The sound of snapping greens is rhythmic and soothing. “Flowers have meaning you know. Red roses, love, and persimmon blossoms resistance,” Chan tells him. “You can give them to someone if you want to tell them something.”
“Who do you give flowers to?” Jeongin asks.
Chan answers without hesitation, “Jisung and Changbin.”
“What flowers do you give them?” Chan always answers his questions, no matter how many he asks.
“It depends on what’s in bloom. But what I like to give best? Yarrow and Heliotrope.” Chan supplies the meaning immediately. “Love, everlasting or eternal. It’s a little redundant.”
“What does lavender mean?” Jeongin asks.
“Devotion,” Chan responds.
The walls don’t just crumble between Jeongin and the others. It happens with Woojin too. Except, together he and Jeongin take twin sledgehammers and pound through the opposite ends of the walls until they meet in the middle. He’d say that it was sudden, if Jeongin hadn’t been slowly chipping away from his end since the moment they met.
Together, Jeongin and Woojin scrape the metal framed cots across the floor. The sound of the frames echo and bounce across the tiny room.
Woojin balances his tablet in one hand, and cradles Jeongin with the other. Together they read aloud the passages of books that were considered too dangerous for the public to read. “I wonder why we always deny love. I remember in middle school, if you were accused of the crime of loving, you screamed denials constantly and stopped ever even looking at the boy you were accused of liking.” His arm always falls asleep in this position, and they’re always so tired that the words are muted and poorly enunciated.
Woojin used to take great pleasure in swimming in vast pools of forbidden literature, where knowledge and experiences were gained, wielded, and poured into everything that they did. “The boys could destroy each other by yodeling, "An-drew lo-oves Jen-nie," and both Andrew and Jennie would flinch and blush.”
Jeongin’s hand slides up his chest and rests at the place where the collar of his shirt meets skin. “Love is this great thing that most songs and books and poems and lives are all about. So the minute we actually think there might be love around, we start laughing and pretending and hiding from it.” Now, he wonders if there was truly something dangerous hidden within these texts.
It is not just Jeongin who wakes up hard anymore, but Woojin too. All the places where their bodies meet: cloth to cloth, skin to cloth, and skin to skin, feel like fire. Pressure rests at the base of his spine, and knowledge that relief is as simple as rolling his hips forward haunts him.
Woojin holds his breath and leans back in an attempt to turn onto his back, pivot and go to the shower, see if Chan wanted to cook breakfast for everyone together. However, hands that are impossibly cold while their bodies burn up, slip underneath his shirt and press against the small of his back.
“Woojin,” Jeongin’s voice is more slurred than normal, heavy with sleep and shame yet to creep into his bones, Jeongin rocks his hips and his cock makes contact with Woojin’s thigh. He’s so grateful that their clothed lengths do not touch. If that were the case, he would abandon his resolve in an instant. “You’re hard.”
“Yeah,” Woojin admits. No use in hiding it.
“We could…” Jeongin’s voice trails off as if he’s nervous to ask, yet desperate to try. “It’s still early.”
Jeongin adds as an afterthought, “I like you.”
“I know,” Wojin peels himself away from Jeongin. “I like you to.”
“But,” Jeongin sets his jaw tight and looks down at the tangled blankets instead of his face.
“But I have to look after you.” Woojin should tell him. He won’t do anything until he knows for sure that when Jeongin says he wants him, he means it. No coercion. No imprinting. “Would doing that with you be okay if-“
“My dreams?” Jeongin supplies.
“Yeah,” Woojin responds. He should tell him, if only to protect himself before he’s raked from the ash gray coals on the edge of the fire into the burning red embers of the center. Instead, he drags himself forward into the heat, bending back down and pressing a soft kiss to the tip of Jeongin’s nose.
“Woojin?” Jeongin’s asks. “What will you do if this ends?”
“What do you mean?” Woojin’s own mind is flecked with bits of sleep that cloud his cognition. The rest of his energy, consumed by the need to restrain himself.
“When you and Chan…When we win?”
“Oh,” Woojin sucks in air, and his mind draws a blank. He’s never really considered after. Always assumed that this was everything his life would contain. “Get an apartment maybe, the kind with the little window flower box for you.”
“I want to get a job,” Jeongin supplies. “I want to sell people old records,” Jeongin continues, babbling. “I want to sell new records. We’ll make a trot record.”
“And record it on old black vinyl?”
“Yeah,” Jeongin responds.
“Okay,” Woojin responds. “We’ll do it someday."
Jeongin eroded away everyone’s resolve, not just his own. Chan was as protective of the garden as he was his Yamaha keyboard. So, it is surprising, but not completely shocking, that he finds Jeongin in the hydroponic room alone. The near constant hum of his voice singing a long-forgotten song is absent, and Jeongin seems to swim in the silence as he sways back and forth touching petals. Could it be possible that Jeongin is finally comfortable with his own thoughts?
If so, can Woojin finally tear down the sheer veil hastily tacked between them?
“You’re supposed to be with Minho today,” Woojin finally speaks.
Jeongin jumps at the sound of his voice, as if he’s been caught stealing the “cookies,” dried fruit and mealy determination, that Chan bakes for them.
“I was with him earlier,” Jeongin explains. “We finished, and I like it here,” the latter part of his explanation childish and simple, but Woojin finds no flaw in his logic.
“Yes but,” Woojin walks past row after row of hydroponic trays. The green which emerges looking out of place against the harsh fluorescent lighting and sterile white trays. “If you were with him, we would’ve reviewed your most recent modules with the team.” Initial concerns about Jeongin’s latent abilities, those activated when the I.N. unit was threatened, were ameliorated when they reviewed how bad he was in initial simulation training.
Jeongin’s draw drops as surprise washes over his face.
Woojin smiles, if for no reason other than to convey that he’s done nothing wrong. “But you would’ve been kicked out for the top-secret portion of the meeting.” In an instant, Jeongin’s face falls again.
“We decided something though.” Again, Jeongin’s expression changes. It’s almost cruel to wind him up like this, but whenever he’s around Jeongin, mischief pulls at his heartstrings. Makes him feel like he did years before when he first met Chan and everything was simple. There’s a lot to be liked about Jeongin: his smile, his voice, his hard work, and his warmth, but he undoubtedly likes his playful spirit best. “We want you to come with us.”
“Really Woojin?” Jeongin’s expression makes the journey once more through elation and suspicion. His smile firmly grooved into his face, but his brow knit in concern. “You’re not teasing?”
“Not teasing,” Woojin responds. “Promise.”
Chan grows whatever he can get his hands on in this room. Labors meticulously over starters and agonizes when he considers how his single row of decorated flowers could be used for growing more food. But they insisted, Woojin, Jisung, and Changbin, that the leader who gave so much take one thing for themselves. Just because their world was ugly didn’t mean they couldn’t allow beauty to exist here.
He’s seen Chan rip up plants for starters and seeds when a mission closed. He can remember Chan waking him up during the obscene hours of the night when a mission closed to show him the very first seedlings sprout.
He’s spent enough time here with Chan to know that the flowers raised in the hydro-room rarely possess a strong scent. Yet the smell of lavender permeates the air.
Jeongin’s fingers, thin and long, reach for a single sprig of lavender. Woojin need not touch Jeongin’s hands to know they are cold, and to know that he wants nothing more than to warm them between his hands.
“Aren’t you excited?” His hands are drawn to Jeongin’s hips like a magnet to steel. Perhaps now, in this moment, it is easier to embrace his crumbling resolve than to tell Jeongin the truth. Of course, he doesn’t believe it’s possible to have both the truth and Jeongin.
Jeongin threads the sprig of lavender through the button hole on the collar of his shirt. Jeongin’s body melts against Woojin’s as if this were the most natural act between them, despite the fact that their affections are only freely given in those liminal minutes between waking and getting ready for the day.
With Jeongin’s hands around his neck, he can feel hot breath against his lips and the tip of his nose.
Jeongin responds, “nervous,” and wets his lips with his tongue.
It’s like they both know. They both know that this is happening, and they both understand that this moment is fleeting.
Kissing Jeongin is somehow the most magical, and simultaneously most sterile thing he’s ever done. It’s different, and yet it is the same as the failed forced kiss on the first night that they met. The kiss begins softly, and Jeongin swoons against him. The action seems rehearsed, and in Woojin’s mind’s eye field notes on I.N. units, and their passivity, race through his mind. Woojin moves to pull back, but Jeongin chases. In that moment, their eyes open briefly. In that moment, Woojin sees every promise he’s ever made Jeongin shine bright. Ready to bloom like flowers, or erupt like mines, and only Woojin can bring about either outcome. Now the burden rests upon him alone to give him the truth.
Jeongin traces the line of his lips with his tongue. Now, it’s Woojin’s turn to grow knock kneed.
“Woojin,” Jeongin whispers as they part. Foreheads pressed together, bodies close, it feels so good. It feels so fleeting. “Woojin, it’s soon isn’t it?”
Of course, the very fact that Jeongin pushes him away ever so slightly is further proof that Jeongin is special. Jeongin has the ability and the desire to push him away after chasing him for so long for the sake of the mission. Through this action, Whether it’s in his genetically modified DNA, or deep and equally intangible within his soul, Jeongin is not a typical IN unit. “Six hours,” Woojin responds. “I have some modules for you. To inform you of our objectives.”
Kim Woojin’s rules of fieldwork, resistance, and general espionage, are quite simple. One: any mission with a high number of contingency plans and fail safes will go on without a hitch. Two: the simplest missions will inevitably fall apart at the seams. Nothing makes a chill run down his spine quit like Chan looking up at him from over his screen and saying with a smile, “it’s simple.” Three: when taking a new member out to the field for the first time, it won’t go well. That’s just the nature of the game.
The job they vote to take Jeongin on is the ever rare mission set up to be the sweet spot between low risk and high reward. Woojin should have understood that when guilt and suspicion braid ones insides so tightly that they cannot be disentangled, the combined outcome can never be less damaging than the single horrific component. They’re doomed from the start, but he ignored so many signs.
Yet surprise burns at the back of his throat as he witnesses Jeongin’s betrayal at his own hands. Upon surfacing from the tunnels, the team is surrounded by blinding white light, and voice, magnified and distorted, “hands up.” Men with partially shielded faces look like the creatures that Jeongin describes to him in his dreams. Their expressionless features are far more terrifying than their drawn weapons.
The warehouse district was black, dirty, and unlikely to contain a one of the privileged men against which they directly rebel. Nor was it likely to contain one of their pets, an I.N. unit. Yet, in the center stands a man with a fine brocade suit and an obedient I.N. unit by his side.
But the most frightening thing about the entire scenario isn’t the fact that they’d been caught, or the question of whether or not opposition technology was outclassing Changbin’s skill. These are things that they can work around. It’s not the fact that they may not make it out. Minho’s got distractor charges rigged. He’s seconds away from throwing the kill switch, giving them the opportunity to dart across the warehouse and into one of the secret tunnels.
No, the most frightening thing is the way that Jeongin looks at the other I.N. unit. It would be expected of Jeongin to stare at him, mouth agape in shock. It would be expected of him to furrow his brow, and tighten his fist. To cast a glance to Woojin’s side in confusion and hurt. Instead, Jeongin maintains constant eye contact with the other I.N.
His gaze is broken only when Minho makes the move by jamming the remote in his pocket and detonating the back half of the warehouse as a distraction. “Jeongin,” Woojin tugs at his collar and forces him to move toward the escape route.
In the scant fractions of a second it takes for Woojin and Jeongin start moving they become separated from the team. The I.N. unit intercepts them, blocking their path and sizing them both up. Woojin’s hands slip against the smooth metal handle of his weapon, and for a moment he doesn’t even know if he could take out this person that looked so much like Jeongin. The weight of lies through omission smashing the glass of his moral compass and letting him spin in freefall.
The I.N. unit lunges for Woojin’s weapon belt, setting off a chain reaction of movement. Jeongin lunges toward the I.N. unit and together they fall to the floor in a twist of limbs and fury. The sight of Jeongin pushed to the ground by his doppelganger triggers memory after memory of what kind of pain I.N. units are programmed to handle.
Worse still, the sinking feeling in his stomach as he watches Jeongin wrestle the other I.N. unit to the ground. His fist connects to the I.N. unit’s jaw with as gut-wrenching crunch.
Of course, it’s not so simple as tearing Jeongin away and fleeing. Woojin himself is caught by a guard that can’t be shaken. Hauled up by his collar, he can see a fist zeroing in on his face in slow motion. After that, the world goes black.
Rule four of work in the field. If you wake up and don’t know where you are, assume the absolute worst. When Woojin comes too, it takes him a moment to realize that the dark vaulted ceiling that towers above isn’t his room at the compound. No, he’s still drowning in the coagulated mess that is a failed mission. Turning his head, he sees three other bodies laid out on the ground in a row, comprised of the faceless, nameless guards.
At the end of the row stands Jeongin, uniform torn and hands bloodied. Tears streak down his face leaving blood stained rivets down his cheeks.
Jeongin towers over a whimpering pathetic thing. Cut above his eye, and swollen jaw, the I.N. tries to get up from the ground and fails. Determination edged out by the limits of his body, the I.N. unit, this other version of Jeongin, will push himself to the very end.
Much like Jeongin pushed himself in training modules. Much like Jeongin threw himself in harms way as soon as Woojin’s position was compromised.
The question, how different is Jeongin? Is shattered against the floor and pulled back together into another, far more dangerous question. How similar are the rest? What kind of volatile defiance bubbles just below the skin?
Jeongin’s beautiful voice sounds warped and distorted as he speaks. “I should kill you, because you’d kill me.”
Whether it is injury or fear, Woojin’s body feels cemented to the floor by spilled blood.
The I.N. unit on the floor nods his head slowly, deliberately at Jeongin, a cold yet defiant yes.
“But I’m not like you,” Jeongin’s voice becomes more confident as he talks. “So I’m not going to kill you, and you’re going to let us leave.”
“Do you want me to leave?” Woojin asks as his eyes hit the first image in the file. A face, identical to Jeongin’s own, save for half of it is missing stares at him through the screen. Exposed muscle in full color should make him cringe. Instead, it feels appropriate given what he’s done.
Woojin’s dossier is over thirty pages long. Each entry in the long is signed K.W., leaving little room to question who assembled such a complete file.
“No.” Jeongin’s voice is firm despite the way that his heart races and his chest feels tight. Maybe he wants Woojin’s comfort. Maybe he wants Woojin to live through this discomfort with him for the sake of feeling uncomfortable. Maybe he’s afraid to face it alone. “I want you to stay,” and to emphasize his point, he gropes for Woojin’s hand. Never taking his eyes off of the screen, Jeongin bats the air until Woojin’s warm fingers intertwine with his own.
Jeongin reads every single word, page after page, regardless of how painful it is. “Imprinted,” and “docile” and “triggered by threatening action,” are branded upon the inside of his retina. Graphic photos of humans that share his face, but have twisted limbs stare back at him. Jeongin finds it difficult to blink despite the horror. “You were supposed to kill me.” Jeongin murmurs when he reaches the last page of the document, and focuses on one of the photos. There are two bodies this photo, two faces which match his own. With the statement, he feels as if he’s let out a long exhale after holding his breath for a very long time.
Woojin is slow to speak, as if he is considering his words carefully. The silence could have gone on for hours, but couldn’t have been more than seconds. Then, the response simply spills out, “Yes.”
“So there are people that look like me. Might be more me than me, roaming the streets trying to kill you. And then you just decide I’m different?” Woojin opens his mouth as if he expects a turn to speak, but Jeongin has so much more to say. “How do you know that I’m different? How do you know that all the ones that are dead aren’t the same?” Although hysteria makes his vision tunnel around the edges, his voice remains calm.
“I don’t know anymore Jeongin.” Woojin sounds like Chan now; tired and confused. Somehow, in his own confusion and exhaustion, that isn’t comforting for Jeongin. “All I know is that when Changbin patched us into Dae-Jung Park’s penthouse, I never expected an-“ he cuts himself off, but Jeongin knows what he’s about to say. I.N. unit. “Never expected you to have done the job already. I thought-”
Jeongin interrupts using language from the field report. “Servile? Blindly loyal?”
Woojin nods. His Adam’s apple bobs slowly as he swallows.
“You thought I’d be angry if I found out? Trigger response activated?” He throws more of Woojin’s words back at him, but he’s talking now just to be hurtful. “That’s not me Woojin.”
“I know that now,” Woojin responds.
“I think you did a good thing,” Woojin offers the truth because he has little else.
“Who knows? I let him go. He let us go. Maybe he’ll kill us next time. Or another one that won’t listen. And why am I different?” The words come faster and faster until Jeongin’s syllables melt together and become unintelligible.
Despite the surge of raw and unarticulated emotion through Jeongin’s veins, he never once let go of Woojin’s hand. His palm feels cold and clammy now. Even now, when it might be appropriate to feel anger or sadness at Woojin, all he can do is feel heartache for Woojin. He’s done so much for him, and surely, he agonized so much over telling him the truth.
In the presence of that truth, a thousand little details interlock, allowing him to see the much larger picture for the very first time. Woojin’s rebuffed advances, never sure if Jeongin acted by choice or by genetic manipulation. The whole team treated him as if he were glass until he passed strange and unspoken tests. In the past as well….
“I think I’ve always kind of known,” Jeongin offers.” I thought they were just dreams. You know, staring at a naked version of myself when I was naked too. We were both held in place and,--” Jeongin cuts himself off, only to interrupt with another memory. “Or huddling together, naked and afraid. I knew Woojin. I think I always knew.”
“What are you doing?” Woojin jumps as icy fingers touch at the nape of neck. Jeongin scratches against the skin lightly with his nails in an attempt to soothe him.
But Woojin cannot take solace in the soft touch. Although Jeongin did not push their beds apart, the past few nights they’ve slept on their respective sides. Their bodies never once finding one another in sleep, as if they knew even when unconscious that things had changed. Perhaps the change is irrevocable. How many times this week alone has Woojin drifted down to the garden with nothing to specific to say to Jeongin, but the aching desire to see him?
Each and every time that he’s tried, he’s found that Jeongin is not there.
“I’m not really sure,” Woojin confesses. But in his heart, he knows. Drawn to the long, plentiful sprigs of lavender at the back of Chan’s garden, Woojin could not shake the lyrics of Jeongin’s favorite song from his mind. Pulling sprig after sprig, and braiding it round and round in a loosely joined ring.
How many times? How many times will Jeongin have to prove himself?
How many times? How many times will Woojin be given a gift that so many spend their whole lives searching for? How many times will Woojin refuse it? One petal per transgression? One spring for every time they tried to get closer and pushed each other away?
“A lavender crown?” Jeongin’s face is pulled into a smile that looks beautiful even in the harsh fluorescent lighting of the hydroponic room. The low buzz of the lighting serves as a steady base, and Jeongin’s voice rises up over it. “The silver sky, my love, the moon. Sacred night, when coronation bells ring.”
Woojin threads the last sprig into the other end. Knotting the ends of the strand together makes stems break in his grasp, and the scent of chlorophyll intermingles with that of lavender. He rises from the place where he is seated at the gardener’s bench, and rests the crown upon Jeongin’s head.
“To wear a crown of lavender upon my head, the roots must reach the heart. Long live the king.” Jeongin ends the verse early, interrupting himself with laughter and hiding his smile behind his hands. “Woojin?”
Jeongin encircles his waist with his hands and presses his head to his chest. Jeongin smells like lavender, and for the first time, his skin feels warm to the touch. “Let’s not be distant anymore?”
Woojin responds to Jeongin, not with words but through actions. Tilts his chin upward, and slots their lips together. They kiss not as if they had never had a rift between them, but with the strength and the passion that is afforded only by coming back together.
“Have you ever done this before?” Jeongin’s voice sounds husky, as if the need and the desperation between them had thrown a switch within him.
“No,” Woojin confesses as he wipes his damp palms against his pants. “Not really.” He’s kissed before, and jerking off in the same room as the others is just second nature between them all now. Beyond that however…There’s never been the right time.
“Don’t worry,” Jeongin’s smile disappears for a moment as he lifts the hem of the oversized sweater he wears above his head. Inch by inch, he exposes soft white skin. “I’ll make sure you’re okay.”
Woojin finds that his shyness is evaporated in Jeongin’s playfulness. Second in command, unit leader, head reconnaissance investigator, Woojin can not only do this, but do this better than anyone else can for Jeongin. So, he responds by crowding into Jeongin’s space, and pressing their bodies together. Seals their lips with a kiss and dip his tongue inside immediately while threading his fingers into Jeongin’s hair. The action tilts Jeongin’s head back, and he deepens the kiss further.
Jeongin moans into his mouth, and it makes Woojin feel dizzy. Jeongin could put on a face for anyone, but he wants him.
“Shouldn’t I be telling that to you?” Woojin asks when they part.
At that, Jeongin’s cheeks redden and the hot flush of embarrassment and arousal drag down his body. “I guess,” Jeongin wets his lips with his tongue. “It’s like a first for me.” Jeongin doesn’t offer more information, but Woojin can fill in the rest. This is the first time he’s wanted it just as much as the other person. Woojin is the first partner wants him for who he is, the trot singing, blanket stealing boy who rises long before the sun comes up.
For a moment, that shared realization sucks all of the air out of the room, but Jeongin doesn’t allow them to suffocate. Instead, he tugs at Woojin’s shirt until he raises his arms above his head. Then, he rocks on the balls of his feet upward, and falls forward until their lips collide once more. Experience lingers in the way he runs his tongue against Woojin’s lips, and inexperience interrupts in the way he forces the kiss to move deeper immediately. He dips his tongue into Woojin’s mouth, and retreats suddenly.
The journey to their conjoined bed is traversed in a viscous, honey drip slowness. Interrupted frequently by stolen kisses to Jeongin’s neck, and the lobe of his ears which illicit the very best noises from Jeongin.
Jeongin tries for his belt buckle, and it reminds him of the first night they spent together. Jeongin threw himself upon him, for lack of knowing any other kind of gratitude. “Jeongin,” Woojin’s hands go to the other boy’s belt instead. “Let me?”
“What?” Jeongin smiles at him, reminding Woojin that he possesses a secret that Woojin himself has yet to be told.
“I want to do something for you.” It only seems right, when he spent so much time denying what Jeongin accepted so blindly. His love for Jeongin was etched into his skin the moment Jeongin’s nails dug into his palm as he took his hand and pulled him out of the bath.
Jeongin doesn’t respond with words. Instead, he sheds his pants, underwear and socks reducing them to a pool on the floor. Completely naked now, he flops onto the cot, which squeaks and bounces against his weight. Unashamed, he spreads out onto the bed, revealing himself to Woojin. Flat fluttering stomach, smooth silk skin, his cock stands stiff, red, and at attention. The previously discarded crown of lavender is placed back upon his head.
Woojin has seen him like this many times, and yet he’s never seen him like this. Never allowed himself to look. Jeongin appears before him in equal parts impishness and dangerousness. The combination of the two, his to decode.
Jeongin holds his gaze steady. His throat bobs as he swallows, and Woojin can see the soft rise and fall of his chest. Finally, Jeongin breaks his gaze and casts his eyes to the side. “That is a first.”
Woojin joins him on the bed, and does his best to commit Jeongin’s body to memory with his mouth. Hands and tongue move from Jeongin’s neck, to his collarbones, to his dusky nipples. He smooths pebbled flesh with his tongue, and brings the peaks to a stiff point until Jeongin’s mewls of pleasure begin to sound distressed. Then, Woojin moves back up his body, drinking in his cries with a kiss. He repeats this process several times, working his way down his body guided only by what seems to make Jeongin feel good, until he reaches his cock.
With Woojin’s mouth so close, and Jeongin’s need so great, the confidence instilled upon him by Jeongin seems to disappear. What’s left in his wake is the return of the sinking, timid feeling in his gut.
“Woojin,” Jeongin tousles his hair against the pillow to make eye contact with him. “Do you want to know what I like?”
“Please,” he’s never felt like he’s needed a lifeline like this before.
“Do you have any like…” Jeongin props himself up on his elbows and looks about the room. “Something slick? Like lotion?”
“Ah,” Woojin quickly considers every item in the room. “I have some Vaseline.”
Woojin obeys. His mind sent into overdrive to complete simple tasks like finding the container in his dresser drawer, and screwing the lid open. His hands fumble for the lid.
“You know what to do?”
“Fingers?” He asks as he settles back between Jeongin’s legs.
“Yeah,” Jeongin responds.
Woojin cups Jeongin in the palm of one hand, hard and twitching. Runs his Vaseline slicked fingers across his hole, and the very sight makes Woojin’s cock twitch against his pants. “You’re really pretty,” Woojin mumbles against his thigh.
“That’s embaras-ah” Jeongin interrupts himself with a gasp as Woojin pushes inside. For a moment, he finds it difficult to believe that his finger and his finger alone could make Jeongin moan so loud, screw his eyes shut with pleasure…Except, Jeongin’s body does something similar to him. He’s so hot, and so tight. He can feel every twitch and every clench of his body. Watching Jeongin feel good, makes him feel so good, and it spurns him on. Curls his finger inside of Jeongin, and watches him squirm.
“It’s true Jeongin,” Woojin mouths against warm skin, alternating movements of his finger with kisses and bites against his thigh. “Everyone says you’re cute, but,” Woojin presses his finger against Jeongin’s walls and watches with delight as he arches his back off of the bed. “I get to see you like this.”
In time, Jeongin’s grip on his finger changes from vice tight, to sliding in and out with minimal resistance. It makes him wonder if he could slip another finger inside. Woojin circles the rim with his middle finger and presses tentatively against his stretched tight rim.
Jeongin responds with his body by pushing back against him. Woojin works the second digit inside, and the process from before is repeated. Jeongin’s body tightens, and Woojin dare not move lest his fingers slide out.
In that moment, selfishness tugs at Woojin’s sleeve. He wants Jeongin to cum, and he wants to know what it’s like to feel Jeongin from the inside. His mouth is inches away from Jeongin’s cock, aching hard and long neglected. A single bead of precum pools at the tip.
“Woojin,” Jeongin’s voice cracks with a silent plea, that only Woojin can grant. “Please.”
Who is he to tell Jeongin no? With that request, Woojin remembers to breathe. Sucks in a deep breath, and takes Jeongin into his mouth. The tip of Jeongin’s cock hits his soft palette, and makes him gag. Although embarrassment burns at his cheeks and his ears, the sound Jeongin makes spurns him forward. Makes him pull back and take less of him in his mouth.
Finding rhythm is difficult. Jeongin rocks against his mouth, interrupting the brush-push motion he makes with his fingers. Woojin must constantly readjust how much is in his mouth while simultaneously chasing the addictive sounds that Jeongin makes, “Woo-jin-ah, Woo-jin-ah,” by lapping his tongue against the ridge of his cock.
Jeongin tries to warn him. He can hear through the ringing in his ears, and Jeongin’s cries in fitful distress, “gonna-Woojin!” But he does not move away from Jeongin’s cock. More than he wants his own release, he chases Jeongin’s, and finally it happens. Jeongin twitches and releases into his mouth, and Woojin swallows it all down without a second thought. Jeongin deserves all of this and more.
“Woojin,” Jeongin coos into his ear. “Woojin,” Jeongin repeats. Woojin crawled up his body and kissed him when Jeongin could do little more than look up at him and smile. It’s never felt this way before…like every cell in his body hummed from Woojin’s touch. Like every cell in his body yearned for more of him, despite buzzing with overstimulation. “Woojin,” at first he can do no more other than comb his fingers through Woojin’s thick hair, and lazily return every kiss Woojin gives to his reddened, kiss bruised lips.
Now, as strength returns to him, he understands that he must act. “You’re still hard.”
“It’s okay if-“
“That wouldn’t be okay at all Woojin.” Finding his strength is difficult. His knees shake as he props himself up onto the bed, and his fingers tremble as he removes Woojin’s pants. “I want to do something for you now.”
Jeongin does. Without fear he tells Woojin every desperate and love-sick thought he’s had about Woojin since the moment they met by throwing his leg over Woojin’s body and sinking down onto Woojin slowly.
Satisfaction washes across his skin as Jeongin watches Woojin bite his lip and pinch his eyes shut in satisfaction. His heart flutters when Woojin laces their fingers together and holds both of his hands.
“Feels good right?”
“Yeah,”Woojin whispers through pursed lips.
“Good.” Woojin says that he owes him nothing. Asks of him only that he live for himself. Yet, Jeongin still feels as if he doesn’t understand. In the past he was surrounded by vermillion red carpets, and painted cyan blue walls, but the world was visible to him only in black and white. Jeongin felt as if his own body were foreign. His experiences, not his own but belonging to someone else.
Now, he spends his days in a bunker below ground. The world is olive drab, and gray, but every day reveals to Jeongin some new and wonderous shade. The blush of kindness in their cheeks, the lush green of the plants in the hydroponic room. Jeongin knows that every second, and every experience with Woojin belongs to him.
Jeongin screws his eyes shut, and rides the wave of Woojin’s breath and the twitch of his cock. Although his fingers felt so good, the difference between them and Woojin’s cock is considerable.
Woojin cups the side of his face with his hand, and Jeongin smiles and leans into the touch. In an instant the pain is lessened.
“Hm,” still unable to open his eyes. The pain that bleeds red into the corner of his eyes slowly fades away to pleasure.
“I’m not hurting you am I?”
“Just give me a minute.”
“You’re crying.” Woojin’s voice is thick with concern.
Opening his eyes allows hot tears to fall onto Woojin’s chest and dampen his skin. “But you’re not hurting me. I was thinking. I was thinking about-”
Woojin brushes a thumb across his cheek bones, wiping away tears before pulling him forward. Their lips brush together. Woojin’s cock, is buried deeper inside of him.
He’s uncertain from whose mouth it slips out first. Could’ve been his, given the way his emotions ran high. Could’ve been Woojin, given the way that his confidence shone though everything he did, even when he was uncertain. Could’ve been Wooojin, given the way that he thrust up shallowly into Jeongin, in the absence of his own movement.
All he knows is that once it starts, it doesn’t stop. It’s ugly, and needy, and fragile. “I love you,” whispered and proclaimed back and forth between them over and over, out of tempo with the rise and fall of Jeongin’s hips.
The crown long discarded, petals of lavender, cover the threadbare sheets and surround Woojin’s head like a halo.
“You should go to bed.” Contrary to Woojin’s words, he squeezes Jeongin tight around the middle. Jeongin sits in Woojin’s lap as he watches the monitors, as it is his job to have night watch this week. Soft lips graze the soft raspberry colored mark on the juncture of Jeongin’s neck that never seems to go away.
“I’ll stay up just a little longer.”
A comfortable silence wraps around their bodies and draws them closer.
But like most quiet moments which occur in the compound, the intimacy is grabbed away from them all to quickly. The harsh chime of the alarm goes off. “Oh no,” Woojin mumbles as Jeongin leaps out of his lap, and mashes the button on the console since he’s closer to it than Woojin.
The night vision camera is grainy and distorted, but what he sees on the screen is undeniable. “Woojin?”
A mirror image of himself stands before them. His mouth moves, but the audio is muted on the camera. An unhealed cut above his eye suggests that this is the I.N. unit he allowed to escape on the botched mission.
“Woojin, turn on the sound.”
The audio comes in at what seems like the end of a long diatribe of raw, poorly articulated emotion, and vulnerability. The sound that spills from the back of his throat is high-pitched and frightened. “I just realized, I’m not like that either. I want to help you.”