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Shadow By My Side

Chapter Text

Sanghyuk opened the door for Hakyeon’s three o’clock appointment. The man, Park, shuffled in, his shoulders slumped, expression typical of the people who were summoned to Hakyeon’s private office. Sanghyuk closed the door behind him and directed him towards one of the leather couches in the center of the room, pleasantly professional.

Hakyeon watched as Park glanced over Sanghyuk’s frame, taking in the juxtaposition of Sanghyuk’s height, the broadness of his shoulders, versus the traces of baby fat still just clinging to his jawline, lingering in his cheeks. His obvious youth, as if Hakyeon had decided to let his baby cousin work for the business as a favor. As if he was maybe, not too much of a threat.

It was impossible to see any sign of the Glock G43 at Sanghyuk’s hip under the newly tailored suit Hakyeon sent him out for last week. That was largely the reason Hakyeon had ordered for it.

But even if Sanghyuk, with his hidden ammunition and youthful face, was easy to be underestimated, Taekwoon was another matter. As Park took his offered seat, his eyes skittered over to Taekwoon, standing silently in the corner. Taekwoon glowered, which was his normal facial expression, and squared his shoulders. On anyone else, it would be nothing more than a useless show of aggression, but on Taekwoon it was genuinely intimidating. Those shoulders were impressive, to say the least. Park looked back at Hakyeon, swallowing audibly.

Hakyeon smiled at him pleasantly, knowing he looked intimidating in his own right. He shuffled some papers idly and then stood so he could come around his desk, sit down opposite Park. The dark wood coffee table that stood between them had been brought from his father’s office in the secondary family house when Hakyeon had moved here. It was obnoxiously expensive-looking, which pleased Hakyeon.

“Mr Park,” Hakyeon said, resting his hands in his lap. “Could I offer you something to drink? Tea, perhaps? Sanghyuk can fetch it for us.”

“No, sir,” said Park. He was middle-aged, with thinning hair at the temples and the beginnings of a belly growing at his waist. It was not the first time Hakyeon had met him; Park owned a restaurant by the river, close to Choi property. As a rule Hakyeon made it a priority to frequent the legitimate businesses that operated in his territory, to keep their relationship good, but this was the first time he’d summoned Park to the family house. Park looked suitably terrified, small beads of sweat appearing over the bald patches on his head.

“Very well.” Hakyeon waved a hand at Sanghyuk in dismissal. Sanghyuk inclined his head and left, closing the door to the office behind himself without making a sound, just like he’d been trained. He was good at it, for all he’d complained that he’d been hired as a bodyguard, not a secretary. Park glanced back at Taekwoon, probably stupidly wondering why he was still in the room, but Hakyeon ignored it. “I understand you’re having some problems with regards to your business and some Choi thugs?”

It was usually not the Choi family that caused Hakyeon trouble, but the Lees, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. The Choi family were rarely on Hakyeon’s radar; their families’ relations generally could be summed up as “the enemy of my enemy isn’t worth my time.” But Park sat there and candidly detailed a litany of all the ways the Choi family was affecting his business, his nervousness gradually dissipating as he continued to speak for the better part of ten minutes.

Hakyeon had to admit that it sounded very trying, to have young men with guns traipsing in and out of one’s place of business, affecting one’s work and turning away regulars. Park hired people only to have them quit hours later. His two daughters, both in their teens, were being harassed by the men, groped and made uncomfortable to the point where the youngest refused to come into the restaurant any more. All in all, it sounded like a nightmare.

When Park finished, looking more relaxed and comfortable than he had when he first came in, Hakyeon let the silence hang for a moment or two. Then he said, “And what do you expect me to do about it, Mr Park?”

Park blinked at him. “Do? Well, I was hoping you could send some guys around, to scare the Choi men away.” His eyes slid over to Taekwoon, a little critical, as if he was imagining the potential success of Taekwoon protecting his business.

Hakyeon had been reclining back against the back of the couch. Now he leaned forward, crossing one leg across the other and leaning his left elbow on his knees. “Well, you see, Mr Park, we do have a problem there. I would happily send some men in to help out, but you haven’t been paying your duties like you should and therefore I don’t see why I have any obligation to help you out.”

Park was surprised, which lowered Hakyeon’s estimation of the man. It was sheer stupidity to come in to see the head of a family and expect them to not know about all the other— well, shit you were up to. He hadn’t taken Park for an actual fool. “I— I don’t know—”

“Do not play stupid with me,” Hakyeon said, keeping his posture and tone casual. “In your yearly audits, you claimed that your restaurant makes barely any profit. I know this to be false. You know the rules. Twenty percent of all profit in my territory comes to me. In return, my men look after you. We don’t have any nasty accidents or tragic raids.”

Park went pale, and spluttered for a few seconds, possibly in affected indignance. Hakyeon wondered if he’d thought he could get away with it, that he was such small fry that Hakyeon wouldn’t notice the false paperwork, the lies. If so, he’d greatly misunderstood the type of person Hakyeon was. Hakyeon was efficient. He had to be.

Once Park was done with his theatrics, moping at his sweating brow, he said, “I don’t understand, twenty percent does go to you—”

“In the last year,” Hakyeon intoned, remembering the words printed tidily in all the files he’d been given, “your daughters have both attended one of the best private schools in the city. I know how good it is, I went to the brother school. You and your family take vacations out of the country multiple times a year. Your wife, who does not work, owns a Lexus. I thought that was funny, for a man whose only business barely survives each year. When my men looked into it, we found that you were turning a rather tidy profit. Quite a lot larger, I would say, than any restaurant should. I know my own territory, Mr Park. I know how much you should be making. Which brings me onto my second problem.”

Out of the corner of Hakyeon’s eye, Taekwoon— he didn’t move, per se, he was simply breathing, but Hakyeon sensed satisfaction in it. Satisfied breathing. After all, it had been Taekwoon, as it so often was, who’d seen the information fettered out.

Park was sweating profusely now, bright red spots on each cheek. His eyes darted from Taekwoon, to the door, back to Hakyeon, and then repeated the process in erratic movements. Hakyeon straightened, dropping any pretence at casual. “Mr Park,” he said. “How long have you been doing business with the Lee family?”

Hakyeon was surprised Park didn’t pass out. It looked like it was close going. “I’m not—”

Hakyeon snorted. Park shut up. “Yes, you are. You have been for longer than I’d like to admit, seeing as how I’ve only become aware of it recently. The amount of money coming through your restaurant is far too high. It’s coming from somewhere else. Taekwoon?”

Taekwoon, for all his size and intimidating aura, moved silently as a cat across the room to Hakyeon’s desk. He pulled out the bottle of whiskey from Hakyeon’s top drawer and set it down on the desk. The other hand he kept by his side. He hadn’t wanted to have the meeting in Hakyeon’s office, where the space was too small for guns and the escape routes limited to one. Hakyeon hadn’t been willing to budge so Taekwoon had found his own compromise and was merely keeping one hand close to his weapon at all times.

“Does that look familiar?” Hakyeon asked, motioning to the whiskey bottle. Park opened his mouth but nothing came out other than a low moan that turned into a harsh rasp before he closed his mouth again. “The Lees were offering easy money, selling their products in your restaurant, giving you a cut of the profit. A profit I never saw. Don’t worry, I understand. Better men than you have succumbed to the siren call of wealth.”

“Sir,” whispered Park. “Mr Cha, please—”

“That doesn’t mean I’m letting you off,” Hakyeon said. He motioned to Taekwoon with a sharp movement and Taekwoon came around the desk and took hold of Park around the upper arm before Park could react or move. “Bring him to Jaehwan. Take his right index and middle fingers, then arrange for his family to be evicted. We’ll close the restaurant until we can find someone more loyal to look after it.”

“Of course,” murmured Taekwoon. He hustled Park, protesting all the way, out of the room. Just before the door shut behind their backs, he heard Park begin to shout, the reality of the situation starting to wash over him. Even with the door shut, Hakyeon could still hear the sound of his voice, high and frantic, though he couldn’t make out the words.

Hakyeon leaned back against the couch again, uncrossing his legs and exhaling. He didn’t like any part of this— the Lee family finding ways to funnel money through his area was bad enough, but the Choi thugs messing with his people, even if those people weren’t truly his, was too much. It was messy, and Hakyeon’s reputation couldn’t afford messy, after the way everything had begun. His reputation was the only thing he had to rely on.

Well, his reputation, and Taekwoon.

When the sound of Park’s screaming had faded away, Sanghyuk knocked and stuck his head in the room. “What are you going to do with his fingers?” he asked, fascinated.

“Feed them to you,” said Hakyeon wearily. “Now get the fuck out.”

———

This was the last time he let Jaehwan choose the bar, Wonshik thought, as he pushed his way through crowds of people to the small table they’d managed to snag with strategic use of Jaehwan’s best crazy eyes and glimpses of Wonshik’s knuckle tattoos. Normally when they both had Friday night off, they went to the joint down the hill from the house, where it was quiet and the owners knew them and gave them free drinks, but Jaehwan had pouted and whined about wanting to go someplace new, until Wonshik gave in to just make him shut up. Stronger men than he would fall to Jaehwan’s pouting.

As a consequence, they’d ended up at a hipster bar closer to the centre of the city, where things were, at least nominally, neutral. Wonshik suspected that Jaehwan’s sudden aversion to their usual bar had something to do with the fingers he’d cut off a man earlier that day and the fact that everyone knew where they drank. Nobody would dare go after Hakyeon for revenge, but Jaehwan was fairer game, and the man had two daughters. Either one of them could accost them at the bar with their tears. Jaehwan was unflappable about blood and screaming but he panicked when it came to people flatout crying at him.

So here Wonshik was, pushing through people and getting knocked in the side by loose elbows, after waiting ten minutes to get served for drinks that he’d had to pay for like some chump. He was billing Jaehwan for this.

He set the beers down on the table, pushing Jaehwan’s over to him. Jaehwan was watching a couple dance near them, tapping his foot to the rhythm of the music blaring from the overhead speakers. Wonshik didn’t recognise it, but then it wasn’t his kind of music, too Top 40 for his liking. Jaehwan would probably protest that it wasn’t his kind of music, either, but Wonshik knew about his secret Pandora station.

“Here,” Wonshik said, tapping the beer glass with his knuckles to get Jaehwan’s attention. “You owe me.”

“Wonshik,” said Jaehwan, not even bothering to look at him, fiddling with the earring in his left ear, “you still owe me $500 after the incident with the girl at the docks. I think you’ll find that I don’t owe you anything.”

Wonshik scowled, mostly because they’d agreed to not bring up the incident with the girl at the docks. “I hate this bar,” he said, in lieu of anything else to say.

“I thought you might,” Jaehwan said. He stopped messing with his earring and started shredding the label on his beer bottle, his usual habit. His fingers moved in quick repetitive motions, a little faster than normal. “You hate anything with a bit of atmosphere.”

That wasn’t true, Wonshik thought. He liked plenty of places with atmosphere; their usual bar had atmosphere. “I enjoy being able to hear myself think.”

“I wasn’t aware you could think,” Jaehwan said tartly.

Wonshik kicked him in the shin. It was testament to Jaehwan’s training that he merely winced, but he would have a bruise for a couple of weeks. Jaehwan marked as easily as a peach. Wonshik took some gratification in that.

Wonshik sipped his beer, which was currently at a temperature that was approximately two minutes away from being disgustingly lukewarm. He wondered if he was supposed to drink it quickly so as to avoid such a fate. He gulped more of it down. Maybe the bar would seem better after a couple of fast pints.

Jaehwan watched the dancing couple again, although his eyes were glazed, expression far away. He didn’t even blink when they started to kiss. Wonshik nudged him with his knee, careful to avoid the area he’d just kicked. Jaehwan shook his head to clear the cobwebs and turned to him, eyebrows raised in expectation.

“You okay?” Wonshik asked, a little wary. Even though Jaehwan insisted on coming to places like this, he sometimes didn’t do too well in crowded rooms, where there was always a potential enemy that he couldn’t quite keep an eye on.

“Yeah,” Jaehwan said, voice light. “I’m always okay.”

That was a falsehood if there ever was one. “You seem kind of out of it. You thinking about that guy today?”

“What guy? Oh, you mean—” Jaehwan bent the first two fingers on his right hand down towards his palm and waved his hand around in the air. Wonshik grimaced. “No, I wasn’t thinking about him, not really. He passed out in the middle of it, which at least stopped him begging so much. It grates on you, after a while.”

Wonshik wouldn’t have put it like that; he had a high tolerance for blood and viscera but he was always at a distance from his victim, sometimes literally buildings away, looking through the scope of a sniper rifle. He did not like being up close and personal like Jaehwan so often was. He didn’t know if Jaehwan liked it either, necessarily, but that aspect didn’t seem to bother him much. Wonshik didn’t often watch his sessions. “So what were you thinking about?”

Jaehwan picked up his drink and took a couple of sips, like he was mulling it over. When he put it back down on the sticky table he said, “That kid, the new one.”

Wonshik thought for a moment, confused, and then said, “Oh, you mean— Sanghyuk?” He had never spoken to the kid before, just seen him outside Hakyeon’s office before Wonshik went in to see him. Too new, kept too busy, for Wonshik to have had any chance to feel him out yet. He looked vaguely familiar but Wonshik hadn’t been able to place him. “Hakyeon’s new project? What about him?”

Something flickered over Jaehwan’s face. “He came down to my office afterwards and asked what I was going to do with the fingers.”

Wonshik laughed, tickled at such childish antics. “What did you tell him?”

“I told him I was going to use them in my satanic ritual on the next full moon and he could come along if he wanted.” Jaehwan had finished with the bottle label, the wet paper curled like pieces of orange rind in a pile on the table. Wonshik slid his old, empty bottle across to him, and Jaehwan started on that one. “He looked kind of disappointed. I think he wanted them.”

“He sounds weird,” Wonshik said. That was nothing unusual, in this family. What was unusual was for a nobody, some kid that looked fresh out of high school, to waltz in and take up a position as trainee bodyguard for Hakyeon. It meant Taekwoon trusted him, at least, which counted for a lot in Wonshik’s eyes, but it had unnerved him when Sanghyuk first moved in, just a few weeks ago. “But then, that’s how Hakyeon likes them. It’s why he likes you.”

“And Taekwoon.” Jaehwan fell silent, looking contemplative. Wonshik drank more of his beer. “Do you think they’re banging?” Jaehwan asked, surprisingly tentative. “Hakyeon and the new kid?”

“No,” said Wonshik immediately, sure of his answer. What an odd thing to wonder about, if their boss was fucking his bodyguard. “Sanghyuk looks like he just got done with puberty. Hakyeon’s got bigger fish to fry. You know he doesn’t like having distractions on his quest for dominion of the universe.” An additional thought occurred to him. “Besides, you know he would be banging Taekwoon if he were banging anyone. New kid isn’t in the same league.”

Jaehwan let out a bark of derisive laughter. “What league is that?” he asked, a little more disdainful than need be, like Wonshik had said something offensive. “Taekwoon is a robot. You can’t fuck a robot. They don’t have the apparatus.”

Wonshik didn’t bother chasing the obvious rabbit there. He saw the way Hakyeon and Taekwoon looked at one another when both of them thought no one would see. If Jaehwan hadn’t noticed it yet, it was his problem for being an idiot. So instead, Wonshik simply hummed, saying, “They’re building robots with dicks, you know. Fully functioning.” He’d read an article about it earlier that week, when he was supposed to be filing invoices with the businesses down at the docks for the protective services the Cha family provided. It had sounded like something out of a science fiction novel, so it had stuck in his brain.

“Why do you know that?” Jaehwan asked, leering at him. “Trying to figure out how to finally get laid?”

“Fuck you, man,” said Wonshik. It came out almost weary; he was starting to think he was getting too old for these kinds of arguments, and he wasn’t sure why Jaehwan was being so prickly in the first place. “I don’t need a robot for that.”

Jaehwan held up a finger, wagging it obnoxiously. “Buying a girl at Chang’s doesn’t count,” he said.

Wonshik bit down on his first retort, which was to ask what the fuck Jaehwan even knew about buying a girl at Chang’s. The answer was nothing. But that was just because Jaehwan didn’t like girls. “I can get laid easily, Jaehwan.”

“You want to prove it?” Jaehwan was smiling in that overly bright way of his that told Wonshik he was walking straight into a trap but damn if Wonshik hadn’t been sorted into Gryffindor every time Jaehwan made him take a damn Hogwarts sorting test.

“Hell yeah I’ll prove it.” Wonshik spread his arm expressively around the room, gesturing at the mass of people crammed into this little hell pit. “Choose someone in this bar and I’ll pick them up.”

Jaehwan’s eyes searched Wonshik’s face for a moment or two, then turned to scan the rest of the room. Truthfully there were a lot of people here Wonshik would have no chance with, and knew so— obviously straight men that couldn’t be lured away with Wonshik’s particular brand of endowments, people here with dates who would never stray. But those would be low blows, almost cheating, to pick, and Wonshik knew Jaehwan wouldn’t. That would end the game before it could begin.

Wonshik’s eyes skittered over the crowd, skipping past the people Jaehwan wouldn’t bother with, and spotted a large gaggle of women in the corner, some of them beautiful, some of them dressed up in an attempt at looking beautiful. They were a likely pick. The hard part would be marching up to the group, trying to get one of them to separate and dance with him. He was so focused on the women, expecting Jaehwan to direct him there, that it was a surprise when Jaehwan said, “There, standing at the bar in the green shirt. Trying to get the bartender’s attention.”

Wonshik looked. It was a man, tall and slim, standing mostly with his back to them, although the edge of his face was almost in profile. He had brown hair, pushed back from his forehead in the kind of casually messy style that Jaehwan was forever trying to emulate. He leaned forward over the bar, emphasising the narrow point of his waist. The shirt was well fitted enough that Wonshik could see the play of muscles in his back.

“Him?” Wonshik flicked his attention back to Jaehwan for a second.

“Him,” said Jaehwan, grinning.

There was something about that grin that pissed Wonshik off. It was as if he thought he’d already won. “Did you think I wouldn’t pick up a guy or something?” Wonshik asked, more heavily indignant than he’d intended.

“Please, I know you better than to think that.” To his credit, Jaehwan looked slightly offended at the suggestion. “It’s just that three other guys have tried to buy him a drink in the past ten minutes and he rejected every one of them. Good luck.”

Wonshik flipped him off before he stepped away from the table and headed to the bar. He leaned against it, bracing his elbows against the surface, trying to not think about the dampness seeping through his shirt, a few steps away from his target. He wasn’t good with words, like Jaehwan, or good at using his body, like Hakyeon. But he had other ways of getting people’s attention.

He caught the bartender’s eye with a level of aggression that most bartenders probably weren’t used to. The man came to serve him immediately. Wonshik ordered another beer and then, with a casual motion to the man in the green shirt, added, “And whatever this guy is having, he’s been waiting here long enough.”

The man turned to look at him for the first time. Wonshik felt his breath catch. He wasn’t used to finding men beautiful — just because he liked to fuck them didn’t mean he always found them attractive in the same ways he did women. Wonshik had always considered his attraction to men as satisfying a more immediate need, to take something roughly in ways that he’d never felt comfortable doing with women. Not that women were the delicate fragile flowers people liked to make them out to be. But the truth remained that when he fucked men, he looked for very different things than when he fucked women.

This stranger, though, was beautiful; it was the only word Wonshik could find to describe him, the kind of beautiful that put Wonshik in mind of marble statues in museums, of a muse inspiring great poetry and epics, the kind of beautiful that men would go to war for. Then the man scowled and he suddenly looked far more human.

“I don’t need you to buy me a drink,” he said. His voice was deeper than Wonshik expected, but he should have known better than to judge by appearances, after knowing Taekwoon.

“By all means, pay for it yourself,” Wonshik said. He kept his voice light and airy. He was good at picking people up but he didn’t usually do it for these reasons. It made figuring out a strategy somewhat difficult, because he felt a little guilty. But not guilty enough not to try; he’d be stupid to pass up the chance. “I just noticed that you’ve been standing here a while. What do you want?”

The man hesitated. He looked suspicious and his eyes were scanning Wonshik up and down like he had terminator vision and could see through to Wonshik’s true self. After a moment he squinted but said, “Bourbon. On the rocks. And you’re paying.”

Wonshik smiled. “Sure, if you’d like.” He turned his attention to the bartender, who was bustling about getting the drinks. He could feel his target’s eyes on him, watching. He fought the urge to hunch his shoulders. He wasn’t often sent on undercover things because he’d never quite picked up the habit of acting normally when he knew he was being watched, but he managed well enough. After a minute of allowing the man to take him in — Wonshik knew he was a lot, with the earrings and the tattoos — he turned back and held out his hand. “I’m Wonshik, by the way.”

The man held out his own hand slowly and let Wonshik shake it. His hand was warm, and under the dim bar lights Wonshik’s tattoos looked blurry and not at all odd against the blank smooth skin of the man’s hand. “I’m Hongbin.”

Pleased at coaxing a name out of him, Wonshik let go of Hongbin’s hand before the handshake could linger, keeping it polite and friendly. “Good to meet you. Do you come here often?”

Hongbin’s face shut down. “No.”

“Me neither,” Wonshik said. His voice was still light. “It’s not my type of place. I prefer something quieter. But my buddy—” He waved in the vague direction of Jaehwan, who was probably watching him and cackling to himself. “He likes these kinds of places. He says they have more atmosphere.”

“What they have,” Hongbin said, “are lines of cocaine being done in the bathroom.”

He had the same kind of accent as Hakyeon on his best days, the upper crust kind of accent, but unsullied by the base tone Hakyeon usually adopted, the harsher vowels. Hongbin said cocaine the way someone else would say the word cunt, with an air of disdain that struck Wonshik as particularly amusing. He had to struggle to keep himself from smiling. The accent coupled with the expensive shirt and the equally expensive, well-fitted pants, suggested to Wonshik that he was dealing with a rich boy very far from home. Wonshik had never had one of those before.

“Jaehwan would probably be interested in trying that,” he said.

Hongbin pursed his lips, looking, for a moment, like a disapproving mother. “Your friend sounds very— strange,” he said.

Wonshik grinned. “You’re not the first to say so.”

The bartender put the drinks down in front of them and took Wonshik’s money. Hongbin pulled his drink across the bar towards him and then stood, turning it round and round with the tips of his fingers. He didn’t move away right off, but neither did he seem to know what to say. Wonshik ran through possible strategies in his head but soon grew tired. He did not like to trick people into bed with him, even under a pretense that was not really a pretense. If he fucked Hongbin, it wouldn’t actually have anything to do with Jaehwan’s bet. So Wonshik said, “I owe you an apology.”

Hongbin tilted his head to the side. “You do?”

“I came over here because my friend said that I’m bad at flirting and I wanted to prove him wrong, so he picked you out as someone for me to try to pick up,” Wonshik explained, and Hongbin was squinting at him now, glass held halfway up to his mouth. Wonshik forged on ahead. “He knew you’d reject me. I wanted to buy you a drink all the same.”

“Well, you bought me one.” But Hongbin still didn’t move away.

Wonshik pressed his advantage, turning his body so that he more fully faced Hongbin. “We could only see you from the back, I didn’t know you were so beautiful.”

Hongbin set his drink back down on the bar. He didn’t look flattered, in fact he looked distinctly unimpressed, but not in a way that set Wonshik’s alarm bells off. “Hardly an original line.”

Wonshik grinned. “I’m telling the truth though. As you can tell, I am very bad at flirting.”

Hongbin was silent for a moment and then, purposely not looking at Wonshik, he said softly, “Not that bad.” Then he shot Wonshik a quick, shy smile. He had a dimple at the corner of his mouth.

Wonshik wanted him so badly so suddenly that it felt like a physical ache in his stomach. He couldn’t stop staring at that smile, the unsure edge of it. He had never seen someone so shockingly gorgeous in his life.

He was staring. Hongbin’s smile became something stronger and he flicked his eyes at Wonshik, a little teasing. Wonshik felt himself turn pink as he jerked back into himself. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” said Hongbin. He sipped at his drink, watching Wonshik over the rim of his glass, the shadows of dimples just visible. “It’s more flattering than the lines.”

“Yeah,” said Wonshik, maybe a bit dumbly. “I’m better at being a fool than I am at flirting.”

Hongbin laughed. It was quiet but it was there. Wonshik took a quick step closer, so that he could feel Hongbin’s warmth, but they weren’t quite touching. The thought of this not going anywhere, of not knowing what Hongbin’s mouth tasted like, filled him with premature regret. “Do you want to finish this drink and go somewhere else?” he asked impulsively, surprising even himself.

Hongbin paused, staring at him before he relaxed. “Where did you have in mind?” he asked. Wonshik didn’t think he was imagining the way Hongbin was leaning in.

Wonshik didn’t know. He didn’t know anywhere around here, but he didn’t want to take Hongbin closer to his side of the city for fear someone might recognise him. “Somewhere quieter. Another bar.”

Hongbin looked surprised at that. “Not your place?”

“It’s too soon,” Wonshik said. He raised an eyebrow at Hongbin. “A gentleman never overplays his hand.”

Hongbin smiled; Wonshik had been right, he really would start wars for that smile. “And are you a gentleman?”

Wonshik grinned, all teeth. “Not at all.”

———

Sanghyuk leaned his shoulders against the wall, taking the weight off for a second or two. It wasn’t necessary; he’d spent long days with Taekwoon training for just this, hours of standing perfectly still without showing any sign of the discomfort that inevitably began to set in. It wasn’t uncomfortable yet, but it didn’t matter even if it was. No one was around to see him anyway.

The door to Hakyeon’s office was shut. Hakyeon had come up here after his dinner with Taekwoon and locked himself away. The soundproofing was too well done for Sanghyuk to hear what he was up to, but he could well imagine it because he’d seen it before. Hakyeon would be at his desk, working through legal contracts and business proposals, invoices and rent payments and tenant complaints. The long stretch of his desk was always full of paperwork like that.

Sanghyuk straightened up, rolling his shoulders and neck. Taekwoon was busy with something, or else he would have been in the office with Hakyeon, and Sanghyuk would not be here. It was already past midnight, and Sanghyuk did not know how long he would be here, guarding the door, but the truth was that he liked doing this, being here. There was little chance of Hakyeon being attacked in his own office, in his own house, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that this was his job, standing here, keeping guard. And Sanghyuk had been waiting for so long to finally be allowed to do this that even if it was currently somewhat dull, he was grateful to be here at all.

His thoughts drifted to what he had been turning over and over in his mind for the past few hours; namely, the man Hakyeon had called Jaehwan. The man who had cut off Park’s fingers and then sat in his basement office without a hair out of place and got on with his paperwork like nothing had happened. He was slim and attractive and had looked at Sanghyuk like he had three heads when Sanghyuk asked him what he planned to do with the fingers; Sanghyuk was curious, that was all. He was new to this section of the family. He was still trying to learn what everyone did, how it all functioned.

Hakyeon’s office door opened. Sanghyuk turned to it, hand going to his gun, but casually; there wasn’t an actual threat. Hakyeon stepped outside, smothering a yawn against the back of his hand. He blinked in surprise when he saw Sanghyuk. “I thought you would have gone to bed,” he said.

“You never dismissed me,” Sanghyuk said. He did not add that he would have stayed even if Hakyeon had dismissed him; someone needed to keep watch.

Hakyeon smiled at him, a soft, indulgent smile. It was a smile that rankled Sanghyuk a few years back, although now he knew Hakyeon better, he did not mind it so much. “Go to bed, Sanghyuk,” Hakyeon said. “If I cannot be safe in my own house, where can I be safe?”

Sanghyuk was silent for a few moments. The truth was that, unlikely as it was, there was no guarantee that Hakyeon was safe in his own house, and they both knew it. But they had to pretend, because otherwise nobody would get any peace.

“I’ll walk you to your room,” was all Sanghyuk said eventually.

“How sweet,” Hakyeon teased, but he let Sanghyuk do it all the same. He walked a step in front, hands tucked into the pockets of his slacks, the only outward concession to the late hour. Otherwise he was as prim and proper as ever. Looking so well-put together must be natural on Hakyeon; Sanghyuk was still trying to learn it.

Hakyeon paused outside his bedroom door, fingers hesitating above the handle. “Tell me,” he said. “How are you finding it, so far, this job?”

Sanghyuk thought for a moment. He did not often see Hakyeon hesitate, and so he knew that it required an answer that he had thought about, not something blase blurted out before first reflecting. But it was hard to put it into words, how this job was. He could not find a way of saying it feels like slipping into a well worn glove that would not sound ridiculous expressed out loud. “It’s about what I anticipated,” he said.

That didn’t seem to reassure Hakyeon. “And that’s good?”

Sanghyuk laughed, just a little. “Yes,” he said. “Yeah, it’s really good.”

Hakyeon rolled his eyes at him and finally opened his bedroom door. “Well,” he said lightly. “I look forward to working with you more in the future. Goodnight, Sanghyuk.”

“Goodnight,” Sanghyuk said. He waited until the door had shut behind Hakyeon, hearing the lock click, before he turned and headed to his own bedroom, his footsteps light on the hardwood floor.

———

The sunlight streaming in through the cracks of his blinds woke Wonshik up. He squinted at the window and then rolled over. Hongbin lay on his front, face mashed into the other pillow. The sheet dipped down low on his bare back, almost purposely so, just barely covering the swell of his ass. Wonshik had been hoping that Hongbin drooled in his sleep or something, just to ruin the image of perfection, but he didn’t. His hair did look like a multitude of baby birds had made their home in it, though.

Hongbin continued to sleep, despite the light and Wonshik rolling around, the half of his face that Wonshik could see peaceful. Wonshik slid off the bed, carefully, to not wake him before he needed to. He searched as quietly as he could for his underwear and eventually found them still in his jeans, half under the bed where he’d kicked them. He pulled them on; it was warm enough that he didn’t need a t-shirt. He let himself out of the bedroom and made sure to leave the door open just a crack, both so Hongbin felt free to come out and so that the latch didn’t make a sound.

He wandered into the kitchen, idly scratching at his stomach. His limbs felt lazy and languid, in ways that he hadn’t felt for a while. It hadn’t exactly been a dry period for him recently, but it had been a long time since he’d had sex like the night before. Hongbin may have been a posh little rich boy but he knew his way around the bedroom.

Wonshik searched the kitchen cupboards for any food that might have been left from the last time he or Jaehwan had visited. He’d brought Hongbin back to the apartment he and Jaehwan rented together, close to the neutral city centre. They’d decided to rent it as a means escape from the main house, when they needed it. Not really in terms of dire circumstances, though it could be used for that too, if the need ever arose. It was more that— even after five years living in the main house, it still seemed like too much sometimes, with the strict hierarchies and rules. They’d been there when Wonshik lived in the secondary house too, he definitely wasn’t a stranger to rules, but it had all been much more lax then. A lot of things, he reflected, were different now.

This was a rule that hadn’t changed though. Even just the thought of bringing a one night stand back to the main house made Wonshik’s skin crawl. Hakyeon would probably skin him alive for it.

Unfortunately their use of the apartment was patchy at best and all Wonshik could find was a carton of eggs that were just in date and a loaf of bread that someone (probably Jaehwan) had sensibly stashed in the small freezer for later use. There was a half-full carton of orange juice in the fridge that was out of date but smelled okay when Wonshik sniffed at it. Nothing else was edible and went into the trash.

Hongbin hadn’t moved much on the bed when Wonshik slipped back into the room, but the sunlight was falling square across his head and his face was pressed fully into the pillow, so Wonshik could only see the mess of his hair. When Wonshik climbed back onto the bed, Hongbin said something into the pillow which possibly sounded like a muffled, “No thank you.”

“I was going to make some breakfast,” Wonshik said. He lay a hand on Hongbin’s back. His skin was sun-warm and a little tacky from last night’s sweat. “You can have eggs if you want, or we’ve got bread for toast.”

Hongbin moved his head just enough to squint one half-open eye at him. “No,” he said, and then turned back away from the sun.

“Mmm. Is that no to food or no to talking?” There was no reply. Wonshik stretched himself along Hongbin’s side, propped up on one elbow. He dropped his head to kiss Hongbin’s shoulder. Hongbin seemed to melt into the mattress, so Wonshik did it again. He was reminded irresistibly of the night before, kissing the back of Hongbin’s neck as he fucked him, one of his hands holding Hongbin’s hands stretched out above his head, the other pinning Hongbin’s hips right where he wanted him. But that thought just slid into another memory (of making out in the back of their cab over) and another (Hongbin riding him, the long line of his neck bared as he tilted his head back) and another (Hongbin’s mouth around his cock, sucking him with more finesse than someone who could barely pronounce cocaine should have been capable of).

Hongbin rolled over onto his back. His cock was obviously half-hard underneath the sheet that was tangled up around his legs. “Hi,” he said, in a raspy voice.

“Hi.” Wonshik shifted so that they were pressed skin to skin. Hongbin was warm, and Wonshik wanted to be closer. He tucked a hand around Hongbin’s waist and stroked his side, revelling in the feeling of it, and the way Hongbin shivered. “Did you want any breakfast?”

“As sweet as that is,” Hongbin said, squirming on the bed into Wonshik’s touch, “I’m going to have to leave soon and I’d rather use that time in other ways.”

“Do you have to leave?” Wonshik kissed the corner of his mouth and felt Hongbin smile against him. “I did have some plans in mind.”

“I have work to do,” Hongbin said. He touched Wonshik’s chest, trailing his fingers in lazy motions against the tail end of the dragon tattoo that covered the upper half of Wonshik’s left arm. His eyes were hooded, and the touch was so distracting that it took Wonshik a few moments before he could remember to respond.

“It’s a Saturday,” he said. Like he could talk. Saturday was nominally a day off for him but that wouldn’t stop Hakyeon from calling him with some task or another to take care of.

“There’s no rest for the wicked,” Hongbin said.

“What do you—” But Hongbin cut him off by sliding his hands into Wonshik’s hair and tugging him down into insistent kisses. Wonshik climbed on top of him, hips tilted down into Hongbin’s, the hardness of his erection making it seem as though the sheet between them didn’t even exist. Hongbin let go of his hair with one hand to grab a handful of his ass and pull him that impossible bit closer.

“Why are you talking,” he said breathlessly, “when you could be sucking my cock?”

Point. “Yes, sir,” said Wonshik.

———

When Wonshik finally arrived in Hakyeon’s office, it was well after midday, and he was smiling in a self-satisfied way that Hakyeon knew he didn’t want to know anything about. He hadn’t been in his rooms when Hakyeon sent for him, so Sanghyuk had called him to get him to report in. It was a Saturday, so Hakyeon couldn’t begrudge the extra time too much, but he still felt a little petulant about it.

“Did you have a good night?” Hakyeon asked, just a tad sarcastically, as Wonshik sauntered to the couch in front of the desk and flopped down onto it. Taekwoon sat opposite him on the other couch, a tablet in his hands. He was scrolling through something and didn’t seem to be paying much attention, which didn’t mean he wasn’t listening to every single word. Which he was.

“Sure,” Wonshik said, almost lounging. “Didn’t Jaehwan tell you about it?”

“I haven’t seen Jaehwan,” said Hakyeon. Then, as the thought struck him, “Dear god, please tell me you didn’t fuck Jaehwan.”

Wonshik blanched so hard it was almost worth the mental images it had put in Hakyeon’s head. Hakyeon heard a soft noise from Taekwoon, which may have been a snort, but he didn’t look up from the tablet screen. “No!” said Wonshik. “Not Jaehwan! He was just at the bar with me, that’s all.”

“I don’t want to know any more,” Hakyeon decided. He’d sleep better at night this way. He made a sharp motion with his hand to indicate the conversation was over. “I need you to go over to Prince Street, where the new acquisitions are?”

Wonshik nodded slowly. Prince Street was within the area he was in charge of, and Hakyeon had kept him involved in the process where he could, but Wonshik was a visual learner, and he hadn’t actually visited the place yet. “The new bars?”

“Yes. There are a couple of them that don’t seem to be settling like I would have hoped. They don’t seem to like the idea of paying their dues to me.” It was more than that, but Wonshik would know to read between the lines; nobody had refused to pay up yet, but it could come to that. Hakyeon didn’t much fancy having to evict all the bar owners and replace them. It would only mean stretches of time where the bars would be closed and he’d be making no money off them. “I need you to go check up on them, work your magic. They’re more like your area of expertise.”

Wonshik smiled. “So the owners are a little rough around the edges?”

Hakyeon smiled back. “More than a little.”

Wonshik nodded. He reached out and picked up the car keys left on the coffee table without Hakyeon needing to prompt him. Wonshik had his own car, kept in the underground garage, but Hakyeon preferred his employees use the family cars when they were on official business. Hakyeon had picked out one of the dark sedans for him to use in this case, nice enough to impress but not flashy enough to stand out too badly in that area of town.

Wonshik stood, tossing the car keys up in the air and catching them with a jangle. “I’ll check in on the girls by the east side when I’m down there,” he said. “Make sure things went smoothly last night. And Jung’s rent is due today, you want me to bring it to you or just take it straight to the bank?”

Hakyeon waved a hand at him. “Just take it to the bank. Get a receipt, to file with your paperwork.”

“Fucking paperwork,” Wonshik grumbled as he headed out of the door. Hakyeon understood the sentiment, but couldn’t agree. He had respect for the concept of a paper trail, everything down on a solid surface, as evidence. The old way was of a handshake and a promise. A quaint idea, but Hakyeon didn’t put too much stock in promises being kept. Too much reliance on the old way had been what helped Hakyeon to his current position in the first place. He wasn’t going to let anyone else take advantage of that.

Wonshik shut the door quietly, ingrained after years of practise. Hakyeon watched him go, rolling his eyes internally at the spring in Wonshik’s step. Still, he was glad Wonshik was happy. When he’d first hired Wonshik years earlier, he’d been like these bar owners, prickly and resentful in many ways. Seeing him smile the way he did now made a lot of things worth it, in Hakyeon’s estimation.

As soon as Hakyeon was sure Wonshik wouldn’t hear him, he glanced at Taekwoon, and gave in to the niggling feeling he’d had since halfway through his conversation with Wonshik. “Whatever you need to say,” he said, “you should say.”

Taekwoon sighed. He put the tablet down on the coffee table and raised his eyes to meet Hakyeon’s. His face was impassive, which didn’t mean anything. “Those new businesses are too close to Lee territory,” he said. “I told you that when you were buying them. They’re never going to like being owned by a Cha.”

“Which is why I’m sending Wonshik to deal with them,” Hakyeon said, a touch irritated. “He’s hardly what you think of when you think of the Cha family.”

“This has nothing to do with Wonshik’s skills and abilities.” Taekwoon shrugged with one shoulder, a casual movement even when he was frowning, looking at Hakyeon with that expression that said I am puzzled why you continue to ignore my excellent advice. Hakyeon didn’t see that look very often and he hated it. “Even if they love Wonshik, which they no doubt will, it doesn’t matter. You’re never going to hold them.”

“Have a little faith in me,” Hakyeon said, trying to joke.

“Hakyeon,” said Taekwoon softly. Sometimes he had a way of looking at Hakyeon that, even when Hakyeon was looking in a different direction, Hakyeon could feel the pull of his eyes. In moments like this, Hakyeon meeting Taekwoon’s gaze directly, the effect was almost debilitating. “I always have faith in you.”

Hakyeon felt his stomach clench, his throat closing up. Only a lifetime of training stopped his reaction showing on his face. If he was anybody else, he would have flushed, his feelings would have been written for the world to see. “You might show it more,” he said lightly.

“And you might show it back,” Taekwoon said. “I know you, Hakyeon, so I know that I can’t convince you otherwise. I know you’re not someone to put all your eggs in one basket. But if you’re planning something, then I’d like to know about it.”

“I’m not planning anything,” Hakyeon said. He said it too quickly, he realised immediately. He sounded nothing but defensive.

Taekwoon’s eyes flickered. He was better, most of the time, at keeping his emotions off his face, which meant that the brief flash of hurt had been shown on purpose. He knew Hakyeon was lying. He always did. That was what made him so important to Hakyeon, even if Hakyeon had been able to feel Taekwoon slipping through his fingers for years now, ever since Nayoung.

“It’s too early,” Hakyeon said. It wasn’t a lie, necessarily. It was too early to say whether things would work out, but a plan being early in development had never stopped him from telling Taekwoon before. But it was different now, it had been different for a while. He had Sanghyuk to look after him, and he needed to learn to not rely on Taekwoon so much. “I don’t have all the right pieces yet. When I do, I’ll tell you.”

“Do you promise?” Taekwoon’s eyes were dark, impenetrable.

Hakyeon swallowed. Yes, he could promise to tell, but he hoped that would only happen when it didn’t matter anymore. “Taekwoon, I give you my word.”

There was a pause, then Taekwoon snorted. “I should get you to write that down,” he said. “That’s the only way I’d get a guarantee.” But he was smiling, just a little. Just enough.

“You know me too well,” Hakyeon said. It was a joke, but it wasn’t a joke at the same time, and it made Hakyeon’s heart ache. Nobody knew him as well as Taekwoon did, and once Taekwoon was gone, nobody would ever know him as well again. But it might be easier, then, to deal with the pounding need in the core of himself.

“Tell me about it,” Taekwoon muttered. He picked up the tablet. Hakyeon could just make out a video, some sort of surveillance footage.

He nodded towards it. “Is that something I should be worried about?”

“Just some vandals,” Taekwoon said. He flicked his fingers at the screen and gave the illusion of shrugging without moving his body. “Down on the east side. They spray painted one of our buildings. The police are already taking care of them. I’ve got a couple of other things to take care of. Do you need me for anything else, or can I go?”

Hakyeon waved him away in dismissal. Taekwoon stood and stretched. Hakyeon watched the play of muscles under his shirt for just a second, just enough to satisfy him. He was used to self-refusal at this point, but he needed just a little now and then to keep him going. Taekwoon’s shoulders disappeared under his suit jacket. Hakyeon didn’t think he’d ever seen anyone wear a suit so well.

“Dinner tonight?” he called, almost blurting it out as Taekwoon headed towards the door. “I’ll get the chef to make chicken for us.”

“Mmm.” Taekwoon lifted his gaze from the tablet for a moment. He gave Hakyeon a look that barely showed on his face but Hakyeon was well practised in interpreting Taekwoon. It was all in the eyes. It was as close to a grin as Taekwoon ever got. “I’m looking forward to it.”