Actions

Work Header

Ground Zero Gods

Chapter Text

The jet hits some sort of turbulence, just as the man opposite him gets back into his seat. Pulling his seatbelt across him with shaking hands he utters something along the lines of the ‘airplane food not settling well with him’, but Taehyung knows he’s just a pissbaby—the food on the plane is gourmet and made to perfection, there’s no way it’s made him sick.

He’d say it’s ironic for a cop to be such a pissbaby, but someone of his ranking never puts themselves in any actual danger—they just get people like Taehyung to do it for them.

He doesn’t bother greeting the man, just continues to trace the edge of the golden badge sewn to some black leather with his fingertip as it sits listlessly on the table in front of him; something ambivalent rises in his chest.

‘Los Angeles Police Department’ it boasts proudly at its point, though Taehyung feels neither honoured nor shameful of it; but it does make him wonder what it’s so prideful of, as if the work he’s been assigned isn’t just stooping to the level of the criminals they hate and calling it ‘blending in.’

Besides the badge, in the plastic wallet is a card with his name and position plainly typed up on it and a photo of him on the far right that looks, if he does say so himself, rather good for what it is.

His newly-established colleagues had complimented him on looking handsome somehow in the one-time, quick-take photo and Taehyung had found that funny, remembering how he’d been told something similar by the men whom he’d shared a jail cell with a few weeks previous.

Of course, that was back when he was getting taken for mugshots, not authentication photos.   

The last few weeks have been fucking crazy, to put it lightly. Taehyung feels as if he’s walking into something he shouldn’t. Some sort of trap or ambush that all his years growing up in the limbo of making trouble and keeping under the radar doing it has taught him to be hyper-aware of. To not trust police and stay clear of gangs.

And, yet, here he is, making a cosy little room for himself in the lion’s den: putting his life into both of their hands.

He already knows the gangsters in Hong Kong thrive off deceit… but the man opposite him–this Andrew Zhao—is no different, from what he’s gathered.

Probably worse than half of the gangs, really.

“Mr. Kim, are you listening?”

Taehyung finally lets his focus drift up to him, gazing through the fading silver hair splayed across his forehead with unhidden contempt.

The man doesn’t ask for more confirmation, just reaches for his briefcase beside his chair and slides it onto the large table separating them.

They hired a private jet for the trip, thankfully, since sixteen hours on a cramped plane with crabby adults and their sticky-fingered screaming children would’ve made him want to jump out. Though, the actual reason behind it is so Taehyung could spend the next sixteen—wait, fifteen and a half—hours learning all the information about his new life in Hong Kong.

As if it even matters. What more does he need than a couple of names and faces, and a location or two?

His fake background isn’t even too different, they’d said. Taehyung hadn’t been a cop for more than a month, tops, so there was no need to build him a completely new identity to prevent anyone from finding out his intentions, since no files have been actually made on his career. Hell, he doesn’t have a career. It’s just a temporary title so they could train him with less paperwork and give him a nice shiny badge to make him feel special. They’ll probably throw him back in jail as soon as he does what they ask.

The fact that he’d already lived in Hong Kong and been steeped in the crime industry as a kid helps with the mission too. He doesn’t have to be taught much—most of what he’ll need to know, he’ll learn as he goes—so, this shouldn’t be all that much to take in, they assured him back in the station.

Unbeknownst to them, Taehyung remembers very, very little of his life in Hong Kong. He thinks he might’ve suppressed it subconsciously, to be entirely honest.

Zhao unclips the briefcase and opens it up enough to slip out some ugly yellowing files, dog-eared and worn, before slipping the case back beside his chair. He pushes the files to the middle of the table, telling him, “We just need to go over the intricacies of the case. The things they won’t expect you to know, but what you should in order to gain a better insight from the very start.”

Taehyung understands. They told him this back in Los Angeles too, like he’s some sort of fucking idiot. And in some sense, he probably is since he was dumb enough to not only get caught, but to then agree to this bullshit instead of just taking the jail time.

Ten years isn’t that much.

“First of all,” Zhao begins, leaning his bony elbows on the table between them, sleeves of his pale blue shirt rolled up and black tie loosened around his neck like the cop in an 80’s crime film, “you speak some Chinese, yes?”

Emphasis on the ‘some.’

He was born in Hong Kong, sure, but his family’s Korean-American. He knows English, enough Korean to get by, and decent Chinese for the rare time he used it while living there. Growing up, most of his friends spoke English in school and he learnt some Mandarin because of how popular it’d become with trading and business (i.e. it was more useful for the gangs) and some Cantonese just from living there. When he started running around with the kids from the streets instead, they mainly spoke Korean because of where they were from.

Not country – most of them were born in Hong Kong, too – but the gang they belonged to. Or, more accurately, wanted to belong to someday.

Hua She: Hong Kong’s longest-running Korean-owned gang. They speak English mainly, and they’re not a Korean mafia, per se, but they may as well be considering the majority of the members are all at least partly Korean, as far as Taehyung knows.

“I speak enough,” Taehyung confirms, eyes snapping to where the man’s finger is sliding towards the fading, type-written title of ‘Huā Shé (花蛇)’ with the tones and characters scribbled on in bleeding black marker.

“Then, this?” He asks inquisitively, finger smearing the ink even more as he taps the words. “You know translates to-,”

“-Flower snake,” Taehyung answers, peeling his eyes from the file to meet the man’s stare, “I don’t need Mandarin to know that. I’ve seen the markings.”

Thousands and thousands of them on men and women he used to pass casually in the street. A loyalty label, of sorts. Tradition in many, many gangs of the world… but it’s different from most of them in this one. You start with a small piece. Something small, but in an obvious enough place that anyone can immediately identify who you are. Or, more accurately, who you belong to.

The neck, the wrist, fingers... face – if you’re unfortunate enough.

They call them ‘bitch tags’ and while the thought used to amuse Taehyung as a juvenile, insufferable child, his stomach feels tight with disdain when he realises that he’ll likely be expected to get one, too.

But then, there are the other ones; once you earn your place, you’re rewarded with a full-scale work.

Typically, most people will go for a piece on wherever is most suited to their position in the gang.

So, extortionists, brawns, and general tough guys get sleeves that stretch from their hands to their shoulders. Drug runners, street racers, and bodyguards get their legs covered. The favourite personal whores, the most profitable prostitutes, and the experienced dancers get their ass, back, or thighs inked. There’s an unwritten system.

But, of course, not everyone follows it, just like not everyone gets the standard design of a single snake coiling around a white rose. Taehyung’s heard rumours of the people at the top of the gang in particular going entirely original in their tattoos. He’s never seen any of them up close to know – bar one terrifying encounter with the infamous Min Yoonsung when he was eleven –  but it did used to make him wonder.

Now, that he has the potential to find out, however, he finds himself struggling to give a shit.

Zhao mutters something along the lines of a ‘very good’ (his ego can’t take being dismissed) and he actually opens the file at last. The first page is covered with printed out photos, wonkily pinned via paper-clips, so they shuffle when he flips it open. Taehyung lets his eyes run over the images.

He vaguely wonders how long this case against the gang has been running, loosely scanning the fuzzy black and white photos of men in vague formal wear in the distance, zoomed, most likely, as they’re coming in and out of vehicles, accompanied by others with no sleeves yet arms still covered – just with tattoos. Underneath each picture is a scribbled time and location, and, sure enough, the dates recall as early as the fifties.

Taehyung gets bored enough by the third page of this to stop the man’s hand when he goes to flip onto the next one, snapping, “Okay, Zhao, I get it – cut the crap, what’s my goal, here?”

Zhao, once again, looks unimpressed, but complies because that’s what he’s getting paid for. Taehyung can’t blame him, he supposes. With a deep, groaning sigh, he turns a few more pages, before halting, keeping his index finger between two as to not lose his place while he looks up to the young man before him.

“You know Jeon Jungkeun,” he says, and it’s not at all a question, but a sure statement. Everyone’s heard of him, no matter if you’ve been in Hong Kong for your whole life, or two hours. He’s a huge beast of a man, with an unshakeably cold expression, that has his claws dug into every single part of the city you could imagine.

Everybody knows it; everybody just pretends it isn’t the case.

The Jeon family are the founders of Hua She, making the eldest Jeon the boss – and anyone with that much power and influence is bound to want to get involved in the world that has been unofficially pronounced theirs.

“What about him?” He asks, eyeing where the man’s finger is keeping place with menial intrigue.

Zhao seems to perk up slightly when he doesn’t seem to know what he’s going to say, the smartass bastard, and far, far too joyously for the words, tells him “He had a heart attack last month. Died in his hospital room a few hours later.”

Taehyung’s face drops, mouth slacking open and eyes wide and alert.

While he obviously doesn’t feel remorse for him, he certainly wasn’t expecting the revelation either.

The death of a family member is hard enough to take. The death of a leader is hard enough to take.

The death of both?

Grief, turmoil, chaos, a lack of direction… all of it so suddenly. Taehyung can only imagine what sort of state the gang is in right now. And he supposes that’s the perfect time for him to go in.

Taehyung isn’t particularly surprised he hasn’t heard the news. He supposes they’ve probably tried to keep it secret until they work out how the gang should function now. If their rivals found out they’re weakened, they’d have the perfect opportunity to strike.

It’s a shame the information got leaked to one of them anyway.

“And? Who’s in charge now?” He asks, because Taehyung can’t exactly recall any second-in-line or heirs ever mentioned surrounding the gang. Zhao doesn’t actually give him an answer immediately, just a knowing tug of his lips, and a flick to the page, so it falls open flat on the next one. A double-spread absolutely teeming with pictures and annotation and writings.

There’s a boy on there. Chubby-cheeked with round eyes so full of youth that it’s clear even through the grainy photographs. There’s one HQ shot of him as a child – though, it looks more like a school photo: as if it was taken professionally, and then obtained somehow – and it sits dead in the middle of one page, surrounded by scrawls and arrows and words in everything from English to Chinese to Korean talking about his estimated height, where he’d been, who he’d been with, what they’d been doing. Pieces of dialogue and words heard. Important items and vehicles spotted.

At the very top of the page is a sticky note saying, ‘little prince’ in quotation marks, an explanation scribbled beside it to note that this is what they hear everyone address the child as. Somehow, Taehyung doubts he still lets anyone call him that— but it’s kind of cute anyway.

He guesses Jeon really did have an heir, judging by the annotations claiming so around the pages. He must’ve kept him pretty well hidden if Taehyung had no idea.

Then, as Zhao turns the page again, there’s shots of the same boy, now getting older rapidly in each picture – like his appearances became less and less through the years. Perhaps Jeon realised that flaunting his child wasn’t the smartest idea in terms of the security of his gang—which figures why people like Taehyung don’t know about him then.

Taehyung watches silently as the cheeks on the boy lose their chubbiness, as he grows into his huge teeth and wide eyes and round nose—and, by the last few pictures of blurry coloured shots, he looks like he’s grown into quite the young man. Attractive, confident even in how he simply holds himself— but the thing that truly strikes Taehyung is that gruelling coldness in his demeanour, the kind that morbidly twinkles in his eyes where all that youth once was.

This…” Zhao says, dramatically leaning back with his hands clasped (Taehyung finds himself scowling at it; he doesn’t really care for theatrics), “Is Jeon Jeongguk. Only child of Jeon Jungkeun, aged nineteen as of last month, the new leader of Hua She–,” he takes a short pause to meet Taehyung’s eyes “–and your main target.”

Taehyung averts his gaze to the last picture on the page, one where the boy’s not quite looking at the camera, rather past it, with this pensive air of wonder gracing his features. He looks… almost innocent in it somehow, but, with what Zhao just told him, Taehyung knows he’s far from the truth with that.

Jeon Jeongguk is likely every bit the slimy fuck his father was. And that his father before him was. And so on, and so forth because the Jeons, and Hua She as a whole, have a long, long history of being despicable bastards. Taehyung may be a criminal himself, but there’s a special place in hell for people like the Jeons.

“Okay, I know the leader,” he tells him, wanting to hurry up and get this all over with, with the intention of hopefully sleeping off the rest of the flight without Zhao’s presence, “That’s not a whole lot to go on, Zhao – give me more.”

The man grumbles under his breath–probably muttering something about his criminal record as he seems to like criticising it enough–and flips on another few pages before stopping again at a page littered in maps and location shots and some kind of makeshift blueprint.

“There’s a few distinct locations and areas you’ll have to get to know. They’ll likely introduce you to most of these, but if you know where to go in the first place you’ll have the best chance of getting in sooner. Understand?”

Taehyung gives a soft grunt to show he does, and the man points to the first picture, a rusted, rundown old restaurant. Taehyung lifts an eyebrow at it. Hua She’s really let themselves go if this is somewhere important.

“Min Yoongi’s den. This is around where your job begins.”

And that makes even less sense. From what he remembers, the Mins are rich bastards. Why their eldest son would reside in somewhere like that is beyond him, but an even more important question arises at the revelation.

Min? As in… anyway related to Min Yoonsung?” Taehyung asks, fingers tensing up at the mention of the asshole.

“His eldest son, I believe.”

“What the hell do I have to do with a Min?” Taehyung barks, bitterly adding, “I met his father once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.”

For one of the first times in Taehyung’s life, he genuinely thought he was going to die the night he stumbled across a drug deal involving Min Yoonsung. But, luckily for him, before he could get fucking murdered, one of the boys he was running about with yanked him back out of the alley and they sprinted away until the scene blurred into the harsh neon of the overtaking streets.

Did Taehyung ever want to see the man again? Not particularly. But, at least since then he’s had his fair share of drug deals and trade-offs–it was what landed his ass in this situation, after all.

Fuck, he still can’t believe that. All of the years he’s spent hustling not once did he fall for any sort of set-up. First sign of sketchiness, Taehyung always bailed–and he always had someone to back him up in case he needed an alibi or getaway or a general extra pair of fists.

It just so happened that this time his extra pair of fists happened to get their greedy little fingers on some money for selling him out.

“You don’t have business with him. Yet. But, you have business with his lackeys and you’ll find them in his territory; probably here,” he says, pointing to the photo next to it; it looks like nothing more than the courtyard of an abandoned cafe or bistro and Taehyung begins to wonder if he’s simply misremembered the glamour of the Hua She lifestyle, disillusioned by childhood fantasy.

But Zhao must somehow sense Taehyung’s distaste despite his blank face because he smugly tells him, “Of course, these are all cover-up locations. Min’s place is much fancier than it appears.”

“Of course,” Taehyung gripes back, a faux smile tugging venomously at his lips, “but where’s next? We’ve only got fifteen hours, you know.”

Zhao scowls, but doesn’t take the bait, flicking through the file past pages and pages of documents that Taehyung can only assume is legal jargon and boring shit about Min’s place like trivial conversations heard there and descriptions of the location dug up by previous undercover reporters.

That was something Zhao and his team of justice-fuckers made very clear: there’ve been many attempts on infiltration into Hua She before–not just by them, but by police forces and gangs alike.

They’ve been caught out every time and tortured horrifically (Zhao was kind enough to even show him photos of the mangled bodies) so, in short, this meant that they were not blind to traitors.

Which therefore means that Taehyung can’t afford to make even a single error or he’ll most certainly die a slow, gruesomely agonising death.

(“Just like our last undercover officer, here. Can you see where they’ve gouged out his eyes and ripped the sockets down his face clear enough or do you want me to show you the digital copy?”)

Taehyung doesn’t understand how they think Hua She are violent maniacs when the head of department is like that. He may be no stranger to gore, but the only other time he’s seen such strange enthusiasm towards it was from the force’s very enemies.

But, Zhao is, of course, completely oblivious to Taehyung’s recurring repulsion, and he points out the new location the next page reveals; one that’s doused in gaudy lighting and several proclamations of ‘XXX’, ‘adults only’ and ‘18+’ thrown around the outer-building in both English and Cantonese. The huge neon sign outside has the image of an almost-naked lady holding one leg poised in the air, the other thigh covering anything too X-rated. Taehyung can almost imagine it blinking in animation with the way the lights look like they’re fading, as if captured mid-switch.

“A strip-club,” he notes, and Zhao hums with an air of disgust that he certainly doesn’t deserve to hold. As if a place like that is much to talk about when they’ve both seen so much worse than a few naked bodies.

“More of a brothel,” he corrects, and even then Taehyung fails to understand his reaction until he begrudgingly adds, “though, almost entirely male.”

Ah, there’s the source of disgust. Taehyung would laugh at him if he actually found the strength to care.

He supposes he shouldn’t be particularly surprised by the revelation, anyway, the guy didn’t exactly peg him as the type to be interested in men. Not with the scowl he’d given him earlier when Taehyung had asked him how he ‘wanted him’ after the man had roughly set him down into a chair, handcuffed, in the interrogation room.

He’d half been expecting a slap, too used to cheeking-off gang members, but the man had just grimaced and sat down opposite him, leaning away slightly as if he might catch something.

Maybe that’s why he took so much joy in trying to freak him out with the pictures.

And likewise, now, Taehyung doesn’t bother giving him a reply either. He just stares blankly, lips pressed shut together to silently beckon him to go on.

“Kim Namjoon’s office is in there–are you aware of Kim?”

Taehyung arches an eyebrow. There are far, far too many Kims in that gang to know them all. He assumes that when Taehyung was a kid, this Kim Namjoon was too. Either that or he’s so old that he’d just meld in with the rest of the Kim’s, anyway.

He shakes his head and Zhao scoffs as if he should somehow know every single member from his childhood.

“He’s sort of a problem-solver for Hua She. We’ll get into the members you need to know later. For now, just know that he’s important and, therefore, this club is also very important.”

“Sure thing. As long as you’re not gonna try and make me work in there, that’s fine,” he jokes flatly, leaning back in his seat and stretching out his legs as much as he can.

He’s only been here for about an hour but he’s already tired of sitting around. Back in LA he’d rarely stop if it wasn’t to sleep or eat–these fifteen hours will be the slowest of his goddamn life.

Zhao adjusts the stick in his ass enough to crack an almost-smile at the joke. Taehyung decides he doesn’t like how it looks on his face but luckily for him it’s gone as soon as it appeared when he turns over another few pages, arriving at a double spread with a few places crammed into them.

He wastes no time for once, immediately putting an ageing finger on the photo of a large skyscraper sort of structure, to which he informs him is, “The building where all the official meetings take place. Inside are probably hundreds of conference rooms and offices. The same one’s never used twice in a row as a safety precaution, and Jeon has men patrolling it throughout the entirety of each meeting.”

“Hard to get into,” Taehyung muses, “is there something important kept there?”

“I very much doubt it, Hua She are paranoid bastards. It’s likely to be a precaution–but, of course,” the man says pointedly, “you’ll be the one to confirm that.”

Fantastic.

Not only does he have to get into one of those very important meetings, he’s expected to snoop around the highly guarded area, too.

Christ, who do they think he is? A drug dealer for the CIA?

Zhao directs him to the photographs of what’s labelled as ‘Yan Maht [yen2 med6] Port’ and Taehyung doesn’t need much direction to guess what goes on there since the name itself practically means secret.

“Shipments?” He assumes, and Zhao gives a short nod, confirming, “Drugs, weapons and people, mainly. Occasionally, Jeon would sometimes order something like a car or an expensive jewellery collection or an illegal snake, but lately it’s just the usual.”

“Hold on–a snake?” He echoes and Zhao gives a miniscule shrug of his shoulders, telling him, “Some form of torture, presumably.”

Taehyung cocks an eyebrow, half-intrigued. He wonders if Jeongguk will be as flashy as his father was in that department and decides that, in true Hua She tradition, he most likely will be.

“Anything important that comes overseas to Hua She will likely go through here. For that reason, we’ve got records of most things that arrive but, of course, we can’t catch everything.”

Taehyung sees where this is going.

“So, you want me to alert you of anything big that you miss.”

“Precisely,” Zhao agrees, “And then we have this.” He points to a large-scale warehouse. Nothing spectacular from the looks of it, but that appears to be Hua She’s aesthetic, and Taehyung presumes it’s more to do with shipments and such but, to his surprise, Zhao shakes his head when he voices this.

“None of our intel have ever informed us of its purpose, but we have reason to believe it’s some sort of interrogation or execution spot.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because none of our men that went in have ever come out again.”

Internally, Taehyung sighs. He should have expected that by now.

“And lastly,” Zhao says, arriving at a page so scarce with information, it looks as if the person creating the file just gave up. It’s a grand-looking hotel, pale grey and a monster of a height, stretching up and up with floor after floor, balconies littering the sides of it like cracks in the silver surface. Nothing out of the ordinary to an outsider like Taehyung but there’s claims scattered on the page of this and that and fairly incriminating pictures of the Hua She members themselves walking in and out, giving Taehyung the impression that he would be foolish to assume so.

“This was where Jeon lived. We’re unsure whether his son moved into his suite after he died, but it certainly isn’t unlikely. Either way, the boy most definitely lives in this building.”

He glances back down at the page. So that’s where he’ll be aiming to work his way in to, huh?

“A cover-up hotel?” Taehyung questions, finding the ploy a little bit odd considering anyone could check-in and snoop around under the guise of being a guest, but Zhao seems to already have a full-explanation for him.

“He’s got several hidden cameras in every room. Hardly any blind spots at all. The hotel requires an ungodly amount of personal information for check-in and if people supply fake details they’ll immediately be caught out, since Jeon had men assigned to researching each and every person that walks in the front door.”

Taehyung hums, admittedly impressed at that. It’s a hell of a lot of work, but a very clever deter for anyone trying to spy on them. It seems the Hua She are just as cautious as he remembers. Zhao finally closes the folder and pushes it aside, just in time for Taehyung to question, “So, what about me, Zhao? What’s my story here?”

The man rolls his shoulders, clearly starting to get stiff in these chairs, eyes flickering over to the recliners at the other end of the lounge area with an air of want. Neither of them would like to draw this out, it seems.

“Practically the same,” he states, turning his gaze back to him, hazy boredom floating in his expression. His face looks tired and worn-down, but it always does— any time Taehyung’s seen him in the past month; the deep-set wrinkles make his face look like its permanently frowning, dark circles under his eyes make him look permanently exhausted– but Taehyung can’t assume those things aren’t true.

If he had to spend day-in day-out chasing after criminals that wouldn’t even waste their time grinding him to a pulp, just blow his brains out, and on top of that, have to go home to a wife that most definitely can’t be in it for the love, he’d probably look that tired all the time too.

Of course, it wouldn’t look so terrible on him, but Taehyung supposes that isn’t Zhao’s fault.

“Your name is still Taehyung Kim — of course, over there, you’ll be introducing yourself with your family name first.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes. Americans. As if he’d somehow forget that.

“You were still born in Hong Kong and moved to America when you were fifteen with your mother and sister. You still got caught up in drug dealing and to escape the police on your trail you moved back to your home country. You’re interested in Hua She because of what you heard on the streets of Los Angeles, and what you heard growing up in Hong Kong. The rest— personal reasons for joining, where your family is, what else you’ve been doing the last few years—is all up to you. I don’t care what you say as long as you don’t fuck up our operation,” he remarks harshly, like Taehyung doesn’t want this to go smoothly as much as he does.

Zhao loses a chance at bringing down a colossal empire, sure— but Taehyung loses his fucking life, thank you very much, and he doesn’t think they’d do it with rose petals and a proper farewell, either.

“Okay, I think I can manage that,” he says sarcastically.  Zhao’s upper lip twitches irately at it. “What’s next?”

The man drags the next file out, one messily labelled ‘ALLIES & SUBORDINATES’ in a drying-out marker, leaving streaks all over the cover. When he opens it, Taehyung notices that there’s no actual information written down-- just large, printed out pictures loosely tucked inside.

“These are the people that past undercover missions have revealed to us as most important. You’re bound to meet many more, but we think it’s wise if you’re acquainted with at least three of the people in this file already.”

Taehyung watches the man dig out the first set of photos. Captured in them is a slim-figured man with impeccably well-kept hair, no sign of greying in sight, and a strong-willed face that seems just slightly cocky in the hidden glint of his eye and sharp grin of his mouth.

“Cha Kiyoung— you could view him as being Jeongguk’s right-hand man… whether he wants him to be or not.”

Taehyung finds that remark rather compelling, questioning, “Jeongguk doesn’t like him?”

Zhao stacks the photos back into a pile, distractedly muttering, “He was his father’s right-hand— but, supposedly, his son doesn’t trust him. Though, we don’t suspect he trusts many people,” like none of it really matters, despite the fact that he was the one that brought it up.

“Any idea why?”

The man glances at him condescendingly as he tucks the set of pictures back inside the folder.

“Did you see him? Doesn’t look particularly trustworthy, does he?”

Taehyung would argue that not many people in Hua She do, but he thinks that would be too narrow of a view on the matter, because, to be fair, not many people in the police force do, either.

Exhibit A is right in front of him, after all.

“Next,” Zhao continues, pulling out another set of large, worn-down photos. Taehyung wonders how old some of these shots are. “We have Park Jimin.”

The photos are spread out in a modest line across the table, and Taehyung runs his eyes over them, taking in the muscular build of the man shown in front of him; undoubtedly handsome, with strong cheekbones and a prominent jawline. Thick lips, cat-like eyes, ashy blonde hair pushed back effortlessly off of his forehead.

Taehyung can’t hide his interest, thumb tracing over his bottom lip in thought.

There’s a few candids of Jeongguk captured alongside him, the shorter man walking next to him guardedly; eyes alert and strong arms creating a sturdy defence line around the boy that makes Taehyung immediately assume, “Personal bodyguard.”

Zhao hums in that pettily amused way he indulges in when he gets to correct him, saying, “One of many— but Park was Jeon’s favourite, and the only one Jeongguk doesn’t seem to hate.”

Taehyung takes his eyes off the pictures to arch a lazy eyebrow at the older man’s merriment.

“Okay, then—” Taehyung starts, “why is he important?”

“Because you have to be extremely wary of him. He’s a very smart man— we have reports that Jeongguk values his judgement far too much for a regular bodyguard. Our psychoanalysts suggested that it was due to the fact he was close with his father, and the boy wants to know how to follow in the man’s footsteps.” He lets that point simmer for a second, before a glow of mirth lines his features, gaze narrowing to be almost dark when he adds, “And he could probably break every bone in your body,” like somewhere in him, that’s an ending he wouldn’t totally mind.

Taehyung isn’t surprised. People like him probably seem disposable to people like Zhao— that’s why he gave him the job, after all.

“Noted,” the younger mutters, gaze scanning the photos once more as if he’s actually thinking intelligently about them before he muses, “Well, if he does get suspicious of me, maybe I could offer to suck his dick and have him forget all about it,” only half-joking with the statement.

In reality, if he set this guy’s alarm bells off, Taehyung would probably have the barrel of a gun nestled in his mouth and a bullet ripping through the back of his throat before he could say ‘what if–’, but the fact that Zhao’s annoying fucking smirk wipes right off his face at that gives Taehyung enough incentive to blatantly ignore that realism, just for the satisfaction it brings him.

As Zhao’s swapping over to the next set of photos, bringing out the last ones he’s planning on showing him but not the last of the folder, by the looks of things, Taehyung lets out a low, sarcastic whistle.

“Is this my competition?” He asks, with a clear sense of mockery that Zhao doesn’t seem to pick up on anyway, looking down at the pictures with a furrowed brow.

Across the photographs is the depiction of an extremely beautiful woman, even Taehyung won’t dispute that. She has coppery-brown hair that falls rather dishevelled past her shoulders, and an easy-going, friendly face that makes her approachable in a ‘girl-next-door’ sort of way.

There’s pictures of her hanging off his target’s arm, smile a little mischievous which had prompted him to ask in the first place. Jeongguk’s grimacing too much to be genuinely annoyed by her presence.

“Om Taeseon— she’s Hua She’s weapon-dealer.”

Taehyung hums, noting the very large crates surrounding them in some of the pictures and figures that must be what’s inside them.

“Are they close?”

Zhao makes a noise of indifference, telling him, “As much as the nature of their relationship allows for. It’s more of a simple business association. They’re not romantically involved, if that’s what you’re wondering. She’s married.”

Taehyung huffs out a ghost of a laugh, remarking, “Doesn’t seem the type of thing that’d stop Jeon.”

Zhao seems in agreement with him, replying, “It probably isn’t— I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve slept together more than once. But, then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if I heard Jeon’s fucked every attractive member of Hua She.”

Have you heard that?” Taehyung asks curiously, the dark pique of interest in his voice shamelessly clear. Zhao simply shrugs off the question with a, “I’ve heard countless rumours about that man,” and seems eager to move the discussion on from Taehyung’s misplaced curiosity.

But this is important to the case, contrary to the man’s belief.

Sometimes the easiest way to get underneath someone’s skin is to get underneath them, putting it frankly—but he’ll save Zhao the mental image for now.

Maybe Taehyung will be Jeongguk’s next target, like Jeongguk is his—

Just not in the same way.

“Right, weapons-dealer, close-ish with Jeongguk. What else?”

“Any order that any member of the gang makes— including Jeon —will go through her,” Zhao informs him. “From a lower-member to the boss’ own right-hand. Jeongguk will be alerted of all of them too, so don’t think you can just grab a weapon and threaten him or something.”

Taehyung makes a noise of partial disappointment, asking, “So, no guns, huh?”

He’s just kidding, but Zhao gets rather annoyed with his complaining and snaps, “Things are different over there, as you know. We didn’t train you in hand-to-hand combat to be so foolishly desperate for a gun.”

The younger man tips his head back, more serious at that as he arrogantly remarks, “I’ve no problem fighting with my fists.”

Good, then you won’t need to visit Om. Actually, try and avoid her altogether. We’ve heard she’s a bit… unpredictable.”

Taehyung nods slowly but he can’t say he isn’t slightly intrigued. Zhao packs away that file and brings out the final one: this time a black ring-binder with dividers along the side of it, separating each profile, by assumption, with a surname and the initial of their given name.

“These are the last people you need to know and, arguably, the most important. Hua She has five very important members, not including Jeon. One of which is the bodyguard, Park, so we needn’t go over him again— the other four, I want you to remember the faces of because you will meet them all if this goes to plan.”

“No if’s— I’ll meet them,” Taehyung says, too cocky for the other man’s liking, perhaps, but he doesn’t comment on it, just opens the file, heavy frown tugging on his lips.

“I imagine you know the first man,” Zhao tells him, and Taehyung lets his gaze fall on the first section aptly labelled ‘Jung. H.’

He feels a sort of half-grimace, half smile creep onto his face at the profile.

“Jung fucking Hoseok…”

Zhao lets out a semi-amused snort, confirming, “You could call him that. I’m sure he’d love to punch you for it.”

Taehyung shakes his head, remarking, “Hoseok wouldn’t lay a finger on me.”

“And that’s why he’s your in.”

The younger man hums. Smart move on their part— Hoseok and him go way fucking back. All the way to their adolescence, running about the streets of Hong Kong with baseball bats and pathetic cotton bandanas around their mouths, smashing up shop windows and street signs like they were the next fucking mafia. He was always a good kid to have around, could give one hell of a swing even back then. Taehyung was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of it once, when he was growing into a hormonal asshole and hit on the boy’s sister.

He can’t even imagine what he’s like now— especially if he’s made it into Hua She of all gangs.

“So… where do I find him?”

“Hanging around Min’s place — he’s practically his bitch, despite what he’ll tell you himself, but their close connection is what makes Jung so important— it’s by association. He practically does all the boring work for him. Beat up this guy, threaten those ones… he’ll take you under his wing, I’m sure.”

Taehyung nods in understanding, finger running up the line of his jaw, silently commending just how decent this plan seems to be, so far. There’s no way Zhao came up with it.

“And… from Hoseok… I get to Min Yoongi,” he guesses, and the older man confirms it quietly, obviously annoyed he didn’t get to say so himself, petty bastard.

“Yes… Min Yoongi,” he repeats, turning to the next section of the file which reveals a blonde-haired, rather doll-like man that would probably look way more like some kind of entertainer for the gang if it wasn’t for that stomach-curdling glare that festers in his sharp eyes, obvious in each picture.

He’s pretty in a ‘break your face if you stare too long’ sorta way. Taehyung finds himself relatively charmed.

“Min is somewhat Hua She’s… field captain. Unlike Jeon, he likes to get his hands dirty. That’s why he has Jung do all of his errands.”

Taehyung’s slightly amused by that, upon realising, “I guess that he’ll have a new bitch soon, then, huh?”

Zhao smirks slightly at that, obviously pleased that Taehyung’s in for a bit of a shitty time to start and agrees with, “Most likely. Min will probably have you scaring people into keeping their Hua She ‘protection’ and getting rid of rivals invading their supposed territory. He, on the other hand, will be making deals and executing anybody who steps out of line or steps in the way without an inch of mercy. He’s a big name in the gang— not that far in position from Jeongguk himself, actually.”

Taehyung gives another low whistle, only slightly mocking this time when he says, “So, you’ve gotten me a pretty solid starting point, then,” even though it’s technically his own connection. But, regardless, Zhao radiates ego at the statement, grinning proudly as he says, “Indeed, I have.”

Taehyung meant the whole force, but whatever.

Zhao quickly moves on to the next section of the file, obviously having a sudden drive to reveal the rest of ‘his’ plan, landing on the section he announces to be on, “Kim Namjoon,” who he’d introduced briefly earlier, if Taehyung’s brain hasn’t mangled from the altitude and the sound of Zhao’s voice.

“The strip-club owner,” Taehyung recalls, and Zhao clicks his tongue, correcting, “No, he has his office in there. He doesn’t own the club.”

“Who has an office in a strip-club?” The younger man questions, nose scrunching up in confusion.

“Men who have things to hide,” the elder remarks ominously, waiting a few seconds before he suddenly adds, “Or perverts.”

Taehyung raises a condescending brow at the opened file, glancing over the pictures of the dark-haired Kim Namjoon with a tall and commanding stature, intimidatingly handsome face and yet, there’s something ultimately tranquil about him. He seems much more rational than any of the other men he’s seen thus far.

Even Hoseok—  if he’s still the same, the guy’s downright flammable, half the time.

But this Namjoon guy…

“Well, he doesn’t look like a pervert,” Taehyung comments casually— though he certainly still looks like a man with things to hide. Everybody has some things to hide, and Taehyung has no doubt that, in this industry, that rule applies tenfold.

Zhao makes a vague huffing sound, remarking, “All of Hua She are perverts. You’ll find that out for yourself,” which is, again, sort of ominous, if you ask Taehyung, but he certainly doesn’t doubt it.

Although, that might come in handy, he supposes. Playing into the weird little fantasies he’s sure Jeon Jeongguk will most likely have could get him exactly what he’s aiming for.

Whatever it is he’s aiming for.

“So, Kim Namjoon, as I told you earlier, is a very important man to Hua She,” Zhao informs him, pulling him back into the matter at hand. “He’s what you could call the problem submission box. If anybody in the gang has some kind of issue— say, there’s tension between them and a rival or confusion over an arrangement made, maybe a shipment hasn’t gone to plan, Kim will be the one to arrange a meeting with. Once he’s informed, he’ll alert whoever needs to be alerted in order to solve it. More often than not that includes Jeon— or, now, Jeongguk.”

Taehyung hums, finding the system to be quite a creative one. He’s sure it’ll save Jeongguk the headache of being told problem after problem every day. The poor kid probably doesn’t have the time to listen to every little hitch in between his new life of slaughtering other gangsters and cheating people out of money.

Not that Taehyung believes he didn’t do so already when his father was still alive—but, now, he’s the main man for it. That’s gotta be at least three times the slaughter and cheating.

“So, any problem, I go to him?” He asks, but Zhao simply shrugs, dodging the question (probably because he doesn’t really know the answer) to loosely tell him, “I’ve no doubt that you and Kim will cross paths eventually. He’s the centre of the gang, in a way. He knows everything.”

“Sounds like a good guy to squeeze information out of,” Taehyung comments, glancing over the benign expression of the man’s face. He looks trusting enough, but Zhao seems to disagree, warning him, “He’s too smart for that. Avoid asking him anything you haven’t been told to ask, otherwise, he’ll probably see right through you.”

Taehyung chuckles lightly.

“Jeon put together a smart team, huh?”

“Indeed he did,” The older man concurs, “That’s what makes them so dangerous. And, from what we’ve heard, his son is certainly not any different.”

“Well, you know what they say,” Taehyung prompts easily, “there’s nothing more dangerous than intelligence and power.”

Zhao shrugs his shoulders slightly, flipping over to the next section without much thought as he tells him, “The huge knife Kim carts around certainly helps with the danger aspect, too.”

Taehyung decides… not to ask about that.

“Lastly, we have Kim Seokjin,” Zhao tells him, revealing the spread of photographs on the page, depicting probably one of the most beautiful people Taehyung’s literally ever seen. He looks far too beautiful to be a gangster— definitely should’ve been an actor or a model or something because he can practically feel the confidence that’s radiating from the simple ink on paper and those are the two things that it takes to make it successful in that kind of industry: good looks and confidence.

But, then, maybe that’s hypocritical of Taehyung to say. He decided to become a drug dealer, after all.

“Kim is Hua She’s overseer. In general, he makes sure that the gang’s trades are all running smoothly. Half of the time he spends in his office, keeping finances and contracts and all the complicated parts of running a gang in check. The rest of the time, he spends making visits to their businesses and meeting with the owners to make sure nothing’s out of order. He usually prefers to talk things out, but he’s been known to get violent when he deems it necessary.”

Taehyung isn’t sure if that’s a warning for him or just a simple statement. Most things seem to come off as a warning from Zhao.

“Close with Jeongguk?” Taehyung asks again, assuming so simply because he’s last in the file and the few photos of the man that there are in the section, Jeongguk’s somewhere to be seen in the background. Zhao confirms his assumption, telling him, “More than that. They’re cousins. Jeon’s brother-in-law is Kim Seokho, the chairman of the city council; which, as you can imagine, is a very nice benefit for Hua She.”

Taehyung surely can. No wonder the Jeons have so much influence, even outside of the violence and threats.

“Kim Seokjin has been said to be somewhat of an older brother figure for Jeongguk. They seem to be very close— enough so that Kim actually gets away with reprimanding his cousin sometimes.”

“Ah,” Taehyung murmurs, grinning a little against the fingers he has pressed absentmindedly to his lips as he quips, “the little prince needs some guidance from more than just his bodyguard, hm?”

After all, he has sort of been thrust into this with the abrupt death of his father, and everything. No siblings, no immediate family at all that Taehyung’s aware of, no heir except him.

He’s only had about a month to adjust, too, so Taehyung has no idea what state the gang’ll be in when he arrives—but he imagines the kid’ll be glad to have his cousin around, whether he admits it or not.

“I’d expect he does,” Zhao tells him, likely coming to the conclusion the same way Taehyung did. “Of course, that’s what his right-hand man is meant to be for, but, as I already told you, it seems Jeongguk doesn’t trust him as much as his father did.”

Taehyung hums to himself. That might benefit him if he goes about it right… he could be a nice replacement.

“He does have a lot to manage, of course. Jeon put as much work into making sure the gang ran smoothly as Kim Seokjin did— I doubt Jeongguk’s doing any less,” Zhao continues, and Taehyung would think he sounded almost understanding of the man if it wasn’t for how bitterly he adds, “But, we’ve heard he also carries out many of the gang’s executions, like his father did, too.”

Taehyung clicks his tongue, saying, “Hardworking.”

“In all the wrong ways,” Zhao clarifies, but Taehyung simply shrugs to the man’s dismay. A good work ethic is a good work ethic— whether you’re a nine to five businessman with three kids or a mafia boss.

“So, now you’re familiar with the most prominent members,” The older man says, closing over the last folder and pushing the large leather-bound book aside. “Let’s talk about your actual mission.”

“Mm,” Taehyung mutters, “Sounds like a plan, considering I have no fucking idea what I’m gonna be thrown into in—” he tilts his head to check the time on Zhao’s sparkly-golden watch— ludicrously flashy and probably very overpriced for the actual appeal of it, “—fourteen hours.”

The older man scowls a little more than he naturally does (still not any less a repulsive sight) but decides that it’s best to just ignore him as he often does, launching into explaining, “What we want is for you to gather as much information on Hua She as you possibly can. Anything you can find out will be helpful. Surveillance, recordings, files, data, things people have told you— whatever you get and however you can get it without risking your cover.”

Taehyung figured as much. It doesn’t sound so hard when he puts it like that, but he isn’t a fucking idiot (again, minus the getting caught spiel)— there’s a reason no one else has brought down Hua She yet. He can’t imagine they’re particularly loose-lipped in there, nor do they like to leave anything important just… lying around.

“How do I send you any of this?” Taehyung asks, figuring that, if by some miracle he does get his hands on something good, he’s not gonna have a second chance to get it to them. He really can’t afford to fuck that part up— not if he wants to keep his skin attached to his body.

“There’s a wireless network set-up on a cloud server that’ll allow you to upload whatever you gain onto the laptop we gave you earlier. It’s encrypted so no one but myself, a few colleagues and you can access it,” The older man answers simply. Taehyung figured the laptop wasn’t just a nice gift.

They took away all his own things and handed him item after item. He’d assumed it was chipped or something at the time, so they could watch him, but he guesses that’s not the case.

Or, at least, it’s not its primary function.

“Anything that you wish to tell us, you can do so by using the mobile and calling the number saved to your contacts. Do not let any Hua She member use or see either of these devices. It’s best if they don’t even know you have them.”

Right, so he has to hide a whole fucking laptop and phone from one of the tightest-secured organisations on the planet. Sure thing.

Should Taehyung just blow his brains out now? Jump out the plane? Just to save Hua She the trouble.

“How often do you expect me to update you?”

It’s something he’s always wondered about, seeing it in the films, if he’s honest. Either way, he’s gonna do it as little as possible. He’s not risking his life for this fucking mission.

Well, he is— but as mildly as he can.

“Whenever is possible,” Zhao answers to his relief. He was worried he was gonna say once a week or some shit. “Do not risk jeopardising your identity to give us information.”

Yeah, no worries there, Andrew.

“So, information—” Taehyung lists with a languid finger pointed onto the table, the force of it curving the tip to redden. “What else are you assholes expecting from me?”

Zhao’s mouth twitches in annoyance. It must be a habit of his. Maybe he should reduce the stress in his life, Taehyung’s pretty sure that’s one of the most common causes for muscle spasms.

“Assassinations may need to be carried out of notable members in order to gain your way to the top.”

Taehyung raises his eyebrows. He hadn’t quite expected them to want him to just… off people. Not just because that may seem a bit suspicious if he joins and, suddenly, important people start dying, it should also be a bit against the good people of the country’s justice-force’s morals, should it not?

Zhao obviously acknowledges his reaction, quickly clarifying, “It’s necessary for the good of the city as well as the mission.”

“There’s all sorts of way to justify murder, Zhao,” Taehyung fires back, removing his hand from the table to rest his arms behind his head, “but at the end of the day it is what it is…”

The man shifts rather uncomfortably at that, quietly moving on by telling him, “Think what you want of it. We both know it’s no particular disturbance for you.”

Taehyung’s never killed anybody before, but he’ll let the man have that one simply because he’s right. It won’t bother him off-ing a few of those bastards. Not even a little. He’s seen enough death to not be squeamish and he’s heard enough about Hua She to not feel guilty slicing down a few of its members.

“These assassinations might not be directly by your hand,” Zhao informs him, and Taehyung finds a little more interest in that. “For example, manipulating your colleagues into turning against someone is a low-risk means of achieving the same goal.”

It doesn’t sound like a bad plan, if he’s honest. He’s sure he can cut out that Cha Kiyoung bastard once he nestles up to Jeongguk. Hell, the man’ll probably be glad to be given an excuse.

“Despite what I said earlier, Jeongguk is not your only target, per se, but he’s your most promising way of getting valuable information.”

Well, that was his plan, anyway—but, unlike Zhao would, he doesn’t rub it in his face.

“However you can, get close to him. Earn his trust and use it as a way of finding out everything you can. He may be tough, but he’s still just a kid. He’ll make mistakes.”

Taehyung doesn’t doubt it. A kid hidden and coddled and spoiled his whole life, thrust into all of this power and responsibility out of nowhere like that? He’s bound to be vulnerable. Taehyung almost feels bad for him.

Almost.

“Get to Jeon to get information,” he dutifully repeats, “Sounds good to me. Anything else?”

“One last thing,” Zhao says sinisterly, interlacing his fingers as he leans forward across the table just a bit in some attempt to intimidate him. It doesn’t quite work, he still looks queasy from the turbulence.

“Don’t dare even considering abandoning your loyalty to us,” He warns, as if Taehyung would be stupid enough to try. He’s not on anyone’s side here. He’ll do what he’s told and get Zhao and his dick-riders off his back then go far, far away. “Remember, we can and will pull the plug on your investigation and detain you at any moment. And, of course, as incentive for completing the mission successfully you know you will be financially compensated.”

Ah, yes, the money. Props to whoever thought of that, because there’s no way in hell it was this shrivelled-asshole in front of him. He wouldn’t even splash out for the on-board champagne he was offered earlier—and he was offered a discount.

Taehyung decides he might drink an entire bottle himself and fall asleep in one of the nice massage chairs since all his purchases are being covered by Zhao’s superiors.

“Don’t fuck you guys over otherwise you’ll fuck me. Okay, no problem,” he summarises quickly, already shifting his way out of his seat before the man even answers his question of, “Are we done here?”

But, to both of their reliefs, Zhao actually says, “We are.”

Taehyung doesn’t hesitate to click off his seatbelt, heading straight for the minibar.

He’s gonna need something pretty decent to wash the older man’s drawling voice out of his mind, he thinks.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

Zhao doesn’t even bother giving him an actual goodbye when they touch down in Hong Kong. He walks towards his plain, overpriced car, door held open by some no-name academy trainee and looks over his shoulder once, just as he’s about to get in, to say, “Don’t contact us until you’ve made it inside the gang— and try not to get killed by pissing anyone off, Kim.”

Was that a warning or a threat?

Taehyung scoffs, silently watching the man settle inside the car, his door closed for him because he can’t even bare to do that much with his fragile, important hands.

There’s transportation for him out front in the parking lot, Zhao had told him when he handed over the keys. So, he makes his way over there, thankful to be avoiding the actual airport building considering the horror stories he’s heard in accordance to how busy it is— and while he certainly doesn’t expect some kind of brand new sports car waiting for him in the space, he doesn’t expect what he gets, either.

Taehyung checks the slip of paper given to him with the number of the parking spot typed up on it and frowns, looking back up at the vehicle in front of him.

A red Honda, but not the type he expected in any sense.

While he was waiting for four worn-down wheels and some uncomfortable leather seats, he gets two, with a shiny red fibreglass fairing and a flashy exhaust that looks like it would kill someone if you swung hard enough with it.

He’s never driven in Hong Kong, much less a motorcycle, but Taehyung doesn’t spend too much time getting hung up on it. It’s 5am right now the orange glow of the bike’s digital clock informs him when he sticks the key in the ignition, and he’s hoping to get some sleep in before he inevitably has to head out in search of his old best friend for a less than righteous reunion.

He clips off the top cover from the back of the bike, unhooking the helmet attached to the lock on the inside and fixes the cover back on, examining the helmet in his hand.

Nice of them to give him one, he supposes. It’d be a shame if he splattered his brains before he got to meet anyone from Hua She.

He slips it onto his head, adjusting the snug fit that feels like two hands are covering his ears, everything sounding a cross between muffled and underwater, and pulls the visor down.

Taehyung has driven a motorcycle before, at least. He used to use them to get to deals pretty often, actually— and it was the thing he’d driven in the day he was arrested, too (maybe somebody on the force has a sweet little sense of humour) so, when he slides onto the seat, revving up the surprisingly smooth-sounding engine, he doesn’t feel totally at a loss of how this is going to go.

He just has no knowledge on the laws of the road in Hong Kong, is all.

But, it seems new experiences are going to be his forte from now on, so he should probably get used to getting thrown in the deep end, as soon as possible.

The more you struggle, the more likely you are to drown, after all.

Taehyung kicks in the stand and pulls on the clutch until the bike comes to life with a sudden whir. Slowly releasing it with his right hand on the throttle, it starts to roll forward, and he carefully manoeuvres it out of the parking spot, getting a feel for the vehicle as he guides it out of the lot.

That goes smoothly, of course. Not many people can fuck that part up.

It’s as soon as he pulls onto the highway with bigger, bulkier much less stationary vehicles going way faster than they probably should be, that he gets a real test of his driving skill.

And by that, he means his reflexes and general luck.

He’s really fucking glad he’s got a helmet on— not just for protection but also the simple fact that it’s keeping his hair out of his eyes. He isn’t gonna lie, crashing because he couldn’t see past his hair isn't exactly that high on his list of acceptable ways to die.

The hot wind tears through his peachy silk shirt, already unbuttoned a third of the way down; tugging it loose from the belted waistline of his fitted dress pants as Taehyung weaves in and out of lanes. He’s rather reckless with it all, overtaking cars and bikes and vans to the point that the blare of their horns start to blur along with the city lights, smearing across the horizon line and up, as if all of his senses are melting with the heat of the rising morning.

There’s a certain feeling to the streets of Hong Kong, and it hits Taehyung all over again in a wave of nostalgia for his childhood as soon as he makes it into Mong Kok— the rush of leaking neon, running along the edges of his vision, scattered across the buildings in what feels like almost every language in existence.

He almost wishes he wasn’t wearing a helmet this time, to feel the breeze push and scratch against his face and the lights glitter and scorn on his skin and, before he can reel in his common sense again, his hand is reaching to unclip the strap at his chin and shove off his protection, watching it bounce along the road and into someone else’s way in the side mirror.

They yell something out at him through the crack of their open window, but Taehyung’s Chinese isn’t good enough to catch it.

He kicks up into the next gear, pushing the throttle harder to meet the change and he grins at the immediate gush of lukewarm air that slaps into his face. His hair whips right out of his vision, so he at least doesn’t have to worry about that casualty, twisting in and out of vehicles and turning sharp corners into detours he doesn’t need to take, just for the hell of it.

He thinks about all of the people he’s probably waking up right now with the vitality of his engine, for a moment, but it’s not like the streets are particularly quiet anyway. Hong Kong is the kind of place that never seems to want to sleep, and Taehyung would be lying if he said he hadn’t missed that.

Not that LA ever likes to sleep either. But while LA stays awake with obnoxious parties and rich people trying to deviate from a normal lifestyle as much as they can, Hong Kong stays awake with a natural vivacity and a restless hum of energy that never even thinks to dull.

Call it childhood nostalgia and jet lag, but Taehyung thinks it’s kind of good to be back.

That is, until he reaches his apartment.

Taehyung drives around for a good thirty minutes more than he needs to, but as the sun rises over the cityscape, coating the dying lights and monochrome roofs in a heated pinkish-red glow, he pulls up to a small open space, cars and bikes parked haphazardly through it, leading off into a looming sort of box of surrounding apartment blocks.

He brings his bike to a stop, letting go of the clutch to kick the stand back down, and then, he simply looks up in some kind of marvel at the state of the place. The walls are chipped and overrun with mould and what looks an awful lot like bullet holes. The windows are scraped and clouded over, a few of them with uneasy-looking cracks running right through them. The entrance door is left wide open, cobwebs and rust staining the edges that suggest to him that it’s never closed. In fact, it looks flimsy enough that if someone tried to shut it, it’d probably keel right over—so Taehyung understands why, at least.

Besides, it’s pretty fucking humid half the year in Hong Kong, anyway. Taehyung’s shirt’s already starting to feel uncomfortable with how stubborn the silk is in clinging to his skin.

There’s a double garage opposite the entrance with a man sitting in the booth, leaning on his hand and clearly bored out of his mind because as soon as he catches Taehyung’s eye, his expression brightens in intrigue.

“You’re Kim Taehyung?” He shouts over the gap between them, the words echoing across the empty concrete space, loud and clear. Taehyung gives a short nod, wondering if the man knows who he’s with along with who he is because that makes him a liability. He keeps his fists clenched, one hanging by his side, the other on the throttle, like he’s ready to kick off again if need be.

But then, the man waves him over, saying, “New tenant, right? You can park your bike in here.”

Taehyung hums in consideration, but whirs his vehicle back to life again, anyway, hopping up on the seat and slowly guiding it over to the garage. The man presses a button and with a lengthy beep and a lot of creaking from the metal shutters, the space opens up, revealing a small, bricked room with oil stains smeared on the floor and a musty smell that makes him scrunch his nose up in repulsion almost immediately.

“Sorry ‘bout the smell… doesn’t get opened much. As you can see, most of the residents here like to park their vehicles anywhere but where they’re meant to.”

The guy sounds lightly bitter at this, but Taehyung can’t blame him for that, he guesses. It must get frustrating sitting in a booth all day, having everyone blatantly ignore the very reason you’re sat there.

Taehyung gives a breezy laugh, wheeling his bike in and killing the engine again. He throws down the stand and hears his words bounce around the garage as he quips, “I guess I’ll be your new regular, then.”

“Try only,” the man corrects, seeming rather defeated with the fact, though Taehyung can’t even see him.

He exits the garage, tucking the keys into the front pocket of his fitted slacks as he leans up against the booth. The man inside closes the garage again, probably rather eager to do so for once, while Taehyung casually asks, “So, how do you know who I am?” gauging his expression for any kind of uneasiness just in case.

If the force have done their job right, Taehyung shouldn’t have to worry about anything like that: people knowing about his arrival that shouldn’t. As far as anyone in Hong Kong should know, he’s no one. A name on a list of residents, a visa, a tourist, even.

But, as Taehyung knows very well, anyone can fuck up a simple job—even the FBI, in this case.

However, this guy just looks moderately confused that Taehyung would even ask. He points to the monitor of his outdated computer, tucked as neat as it can be into the corner of his cramped desk.

“I have a list of residents to know who’s checking in and out. Haven’t seen you around before, and your name is the only new one in the system.”

There’s no shiftiness in his expression, no nervousness— just blatant bemusement. He’s either a wonderful actor… or a valet doing his job.

Taehyung decides to settle on the latter.

He’s not normally so paranoid, it’s more that his life is at risk a lot more than it usually is. Or, rather—more brutally.

Back home, most of the time, there was the possibility that he’d get stabbed; maybe shot if he really pissed off the wrong person, but this time around he’s dealing with proper actual fucking syndicates. Gangs, mobsters—big… scary people that could likely snap him in half, but probably wouldn’t spare him that kind of mercy.

Plus, on top of that, he doesn’t exactly have a lot of faith in Zhao—and if he’s really at the head of this entire operation then nobody can blame him for being a little extra cautious. The man looks at Taehyung like he wants to off him himself, and they’ve only talked a handful of times

Luckily, he won’t have to see the man again for a long time, once he’s in Hua She, he suspects. Hear his voice from time to time, yes, but he thinks he can stomach that—at least with some alcohol or some kind of drug in his systemwhatever the gangsters deal in these streets, nowadays.

“Convenient,” Taehyung says to the man, and he says nothing more, save for a brief, “See you around, then,” before he’s striding across the gravel again, aiming for the beaten steps leading to the apartments.

It must be dragging close to six-thirty by now, judging by the sun hovering on the horizon with an orange-ing glower, as if it’s impatient to start the day. He can sleep away the rest of the morning, and likely the rest of the afternoon too, if his fifteen-hour jetlag decides to catch up on him now. Then, he can go find his good childhood friend, and see if he’ll be happy enough to see him to take him out for some food before he pulls him into the sinkhole that is his gang.

A last taste of freedom, he could even call it.

Taehyung steps through the metal arch of the entrance, hosting a sign with a fading ‘East Avenue Apartments’ anciently painted on in paling red Cantonese and practically illegible English. The inside is dark, as if it’s closer to midnight than sunrise, with the lights occasionally hung to the wall and ceiling all either busted or flickering. They cast fiendish-looking shadows across the lurid pea green wallpaper, peeling and torn along the stretch of the entire room.

It’s more of a foyer of sorts than anything, a short staircase shoved into the corner that winds up and left, leading to a similar-looking hallway. To the left of the ground floor, however, at the darkest part, is what seems to be a cleaning supplies closet, with a busted door handle that Taehyung would bet means it’s unable to be opened, anymore.

Which explains the state of the place, he supposes.

The floors are linoleum and orange, going on brown, with a strange sticky feeling to the entire surface that Taehyung doesn’t want to know about at all. On the bright side, there’s no holes in the flooring.

That’s about the only plus to it, though.

He walks across the short distance to the staircase, feeling his shoes stick and unstick with a pitchy thwick each step, and he just knows by the sound of it that the soles of this pair are never going to be quite the same, again.

He’s got a fair amount of money to get by, at least, figuring he’ll have to get himself some new clothes in general while he’s here considering all the force gave him are the ones on his back, miserable bastards.

Maybe Hoseok’ll be up for taking him out for some shopping, too. He’s bound to be richer than Taehyung is, working so close to Min Yoongi so, he certainly wouldn’t object to letting the man pay, either.

After all, god knows how long he’ll be stuck at the bottom of the food chain. There’s men that spend their entire lives living as the dogs of a gang. Taehyung likes to think he’s a little too skilled to suffer the same fate, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to get up to the top.

No matter what he’ll have to get his hands a little dirty—and if Jeon gives him the opportunity to, he’ll take it. Play him like a violin in every way he can.

That might even be fun, knowing that his Jeon is nineteen with a movie-star look to him and not his late father who, while he knows was fairly handsome (had to be to raise a kid like that) wasn’t exactly his type.

If he has to skip around someone like a pathetic little lapdog, he thinks he’s pretty fortunate to have it be Jeon Jeongguk.

And, if that doesn’t work, then he’ll just have to cosy up to important people one by one until he basically forces himself into Jeon’s highest men. After all, he’s already got Hoseok hook, line and sinker. He doesn’t think he could’ve had an easier way in.

Taehyung climbs the stairs, grateful to find that the top and only other floor, by the looks of things, is carpeted—and, therefore, he’s not having to rip his feet from the ground with each step. He passes several flats on his way, numbers climbing up and up the further he makes it around the block. At the very end of it, however, is his one, just as Zhao dismissively mentioned.

Number Thirteen. Sounds promising.

He removes his ring of keys again from his pocket, taking the small, rusty gold one into his hand, and shoves it into the lock. It rattles around as he turns it, before there’s a soft click. Taehyung grips the door handle, relieved to find that this one actually works, and pushes it open, unsurprised to feel the stale air hit him once he steps in.

Instead of being a mouldy smell, like the garage, this time it’s as if the room hasn’t felt fresh air in years. Dust floats in the room with his sudden entrance, and it doesn’t take long before it gets into his system. He sneezes harshly, blowing more of the specks around like dandelion fluff.

Taehyung doesn’t even look around the small apartment, immediately heading to the wall at the very end of his lodgings with two wide windows crushed into the yellowing white concrete. He sweeps his hand along the edge of one, clearing a layer of dust from the handle and its ridges before he wedges the window open, arm jolting with the release of tension as the stuck frame swings open with a theatrical groan.

The second one takes some more prying to pop open, but once it does, Taehyung breathes the air flooding in as if it’s the first time in hours.

He thinks he’ll keep these windows open for a little while. Maybe forever.

Now, Taehyung turns on his heels, examining the dull apartment with expected contempt.

He knew he wasn’t in for five-star accommodation or anything, but he thinks this is ripping the ass out of it.

The apartment itself is no better condition than the corridors. There’s two rooms: the bathroom and everything else—like a studio flat, just on a two-hundred-dollar budget. The bed, wedged into the walls between the bathroom and the door like a tiny alcove is double, at least, but covered in a single off-white bed sheet with a stained mattress that’s visible even underneath it. The pillow is so flat that, for a moment, Taehyung actually thinks it’s just a stack of linen.

Alright, looks like he’ll have to buy things to sleep on, too.

There’s no couch, but a circular dining table with two decaying wooden chairs runs parallel to the line across half of the left wall that is the ‘kitchen.’ There’s an oven, oozing hardened grease, and a stove that has burn marks on the wall behind it, as if mini fires have been started on multiple occasions.

The fridge is small and has two tourist magnets stuck to it, one depicting the words ‘Hong Kong’ in obnoxious red lettering, and the other showing a map of the city which, he guesses, could come in handy if his personal phone fails to grasp on to the undoubtedly dodgy network connection in the area.

The thing that really peeves Taehyung about all of this is that Zhao is probably sitting in some gorgeous hotel right now, waited on hand and foot in a beautiful part of the city. Most of Hong Kong is pretty fucking nice, actually.

Taehyung knows the man would pass this off as some kind of ‘precaution’ so that nobody thinks that he’s been set up with the place, or anything—but he was pretty well-off back in LA, he could certainly afford better than this.

Still, he can’t do anything about it now. Later on, he can go buy some things a little more to his taste— or anyone’s—but right now, he’ll just have to hope he doesn’t contract something from the state of that mattress.

He wonders if he’ll even make money in the gang if he’s just tagging along with Hoseok. For all he knows, his friend could be just as bad as him, right now, living in some kind of shack and mooching off his friends for any kind of luxury. He doesn’t know how generous Min is with his lackeys’ pay-checks, but he hopes he has a particular soft spot for Hoseok which Taehyung’ll be able to benefit from.

Taehyung unbuttons his shirt, letting it drop to the floor. His fingers quickly undo his belt buckle whilst he’s kicking off his shoes and, then, he falls back onto the mattress, the springs giving a stiff jolt and squeak as he shifts to try and get comfortable. Once it’s evident that this is as good as it gets, he gives a frustrated sigh, just hoping that he’ll manage to fall asleep at all despite the humidity circling the flat.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

Jeongguk feels the bulk of the pipe weighing down in his hand, the cold surface seeping through even underneath his gloves.

His leather pair have gotten somewhat scuffed, lately— marginally worn at the fingers and the palms all scraped— so he’s had to settle for simple silicon today. Luckilythis job doesn’t require or deserve much more than disposable gloves.

This is just filler. An appetiser for what’s to come.

He’ll have to get Kiyoung to pick up a new pair soon—maybe the next time he decides to try and take matters into his own hands and go do some things Jeongguk didn’t tell him to do.

That bastard thinks he runs this damn gang himself half the time; it pisses Jeongguk off. Just because his father’s not around to pull on his leash he thinks he can do whatever the fuck he likes?

Cha praises him until death to his face but constantly sneers at Jeongguk behind his back, he knows he does. He thinks he’s just a child trying to fill his father’s boots; still sees him as seven years old: playing with toy guns and sleeping with a nightlight. Incapable and undeserving of what’s been handed to him.

But Jeongguk’s capable of tenfold of what the rest of the gang can do. And hundredfold of Cha Kiyoung.

Christ, he’d love to wrap his hands around his throat sometimes and just squeeze until his body goes limp in his limited-edition blood-red Valentino satin shirt.

Jeongguk’s grasp stiffens, fury flooding through him hot and venomous as he swings, the weapon halting with a tremendous crack of bone before landing neatly on his shoulder again. He’d always hated golf when his father took him—too slow paced, he could never get the hang of it—but it has its benefits at times like this.

“Now, Tengfei… do you feel like giving me an apology, yet?”

The man in front of him grimaces, blood dribbling down his chin and pooling in a revolting puddle on the wood of the chair between his thighs. He doesn’t bother struggling against the restraints—it’s quite obvious that he’s locked down to the chair and Jeongguk’s sure the man has enough experience with this kind of thing to know that he’ll hardly break out of them any time soon.

“Guh-go to hell… runt.”

Ah, but perhaps not experience enough…

Jeongguk wraps both hands around the end of the steel pipe, rolling it on his shoulder as if in thought. Then, he slams it down on the man’s left wrist; a pleasantly thick snap is followed by a throaty grunt and Tengfei grinding his teeth at the broken bone.

“Oh,” Jeongguk says quietly, leaning down slightly to examine the busted limb with a tinge of intrigue. “I think you could slide this right out of these bindings now. Should we give it a try?”

The man doesn’t humour him with a reply, his jaw clenched tight—but Jeongguk can see the fear that’s struggling in his eyes. It's satisfying, somehow.

He loves knowing he’s feared. That he’s the kind of thing that sends a shudder down the spine of the very few men that even know he exists.

That will be changed very soon. Once everything’s settled, Jeongguk has plans for an inauguration of sorts. A warning to anyone that thinks Hua She is somehow weaker now when in fact it’s only getting stronger. Far, far stronger than it's ever been. 

But for now, he has a very tiny speck of his grand scheme in front of him.

Tengfei is the kind of man that, usually, Jeongguk wouldn’t even glance in the direction of. Normally, he would be taken care of by someone who was very much not him. Maybe someone who’s never even seen Jeongguk in the flesh, way, way, way down the gang. Someone Jeongguk doesn’t know the name of and never will.

But this particular speck, Jeongguk has a very personal vendetta against, simply because he’s been running his filthy mouth about Jeongguk and the people close to him inside the walls of his own gang.

And had the audacity to steal from him while he’s at it.

And even then, in most cases, Jeongguk still wouldn’t care enough to do something about it himself... but when it got to the point that he was being informed of it again and again by everyone, he figured that he’d have to rid the earth of this two-faced bastard sooner than initially intended, before other people started to think that they could get away with bad-mouthing him, too.

Which consequently means that he needs to get rid of Cha Kiyoung as soon as possible as well… but one problem at a time.

Jeongguk takes Tengfei’s wrist into his hand, squeezing lightly just to test the damage. The bruising, the discolouration, the... texture... even Tengfei's grunts and groans tell him that he, as expected, broke right through the joint. He seems to have cracked up his radius slightly, too, with how the bone’s peaking out halfway up his forearm, right before the thick leather strap that clamps his arm down to the chair.

Jeongguk hums, fingers delicately brushing up the shortened stretch of bone making a ridge in his skin, bright red blood dubbed neon under the white lights of the room trickling around it.

“Interesting,” he muses, much to his test subject’s disagreement, “but let’s see if…” Jeongguk grabs the edge of the exposed bone between his fingertips and tries to ease it back into the man’s arm, but it moves no more than an inch, blood oozing with the pressure before Tengfei is wildly shaking his arm, trying to loosen the younger’s grip.

But Jeongguk ignores him and his whimpering and smacks the heel of his palm against the bone, which pops back in underneath the skin with a revolting squelch.

Right, now to get rid of those thieving fingers of his. Jeongguk holds out his arm behind him, hand facing up expectedly as he feels a cold handle pressing into his palm. He unveils it to Tengfei, who looks moments from passing out from the pain which Jeongguk can’t help but frown at.

He gives him a strong slap to the side of his face with the back of his hand, snapping, “Wake up, sweetheart—you don’t get to sleep this off.” Then, he slips back into a semi-smile, telling him, “Besides, if you make it through all of this I’ll let you walk free, how’s that sound?”

He’ll never walk out of here. Jeongguk’s planning to try cutting his feet off and sewing them onto his elbows, just like daddy used to do it, and he’s pretty sure he won’t be able to manoeuvre very far like that.

Although, that would certainly be a show. He should let him walk into the next meeting like that, let every asshole that thinks they can double cross him know exactly what that’ll earn them.

Jeongguk runs a finger along the blade of the cleaver in his hand. He frowns a little, murmuring, “It’s a bit blunt, now. I might have to take a couple swings at it, if that’s okay.” He glances back at Tengfei, eyes fluttering about the room like he’s desperately trying to keep them open and, well, at least he has enough sense in him to attempt to listen to him, now.

Too little too late, though. He should’ve listened months ago when Jeongguk had Yoongi personally warn him about what running that mouth of his would bring him.

Ah… yes… his mouth. The other culprit. There’s a multitude of things he could do with that dirty little trap, isn’t there?

“Tell me, Tengfei,” he says airily, lining up the knife to the root of the man’s thumb, right at the knuckle. “What should I do with that messy fucking mouth of yours? Cut it open? Sew it shut?”

Ironically, his mouth clamps shut at that. Jeongguk stifles a chuckle.

“There you go, all ready for it,” he says, one hand letting go of the knife to thumb along the man’s lips. “I could grab a needle right now. What’s first? The mouth or the thumb?”

Tengfei finds his voice, then, apparently, barking, “Fuck yourself, Jeon,” and before Jeongguk can even expect it, the asshole actually bites his fucking thumb. The younger man pulls back with a hiss, examining the dent of broken skin on the side of his appendage with a bitter scowl.

He glances back at the man, fire scalding in his eyes as he slowly mutters, “You goddamn bastard!" The last word is explosive and, as if to punctuate it, he raises his arm, grip tightening on the knife before it slices down, cutting Tengfei's thumb right off which flies across the floor with the momentum.

Sharp enough after all, apparently.

Blood pours right out, trickling down the wood of the chair like a neglected tap. Tengfei yells as if Jeongguk’s severed a limb or something. It’s just athumb. Jeongguk didn’t cry when he bit his, did he?

“I should fuck myself, right?” He roars, throwing down the bloodied knife to the ground with a harsh clatter. “With what, fucker? This?” He stuffs his whole hand into the man’s mouth, prying it open with his fingers and injured thumb before he hisses, “Bite me again and I’ll pry every last goddamn tooth from your sorry mouth out by hand." 

The man tries to say something, but the words are muffled by Jeongguk’s fingers, drooling around the digits enough to make the younger turn his nose up at it.

“There we go, can’t talk back now, can you?” Tengfei groans again, shaking his head to try and spit the man’s fingers out, tongue pressing forcefully against his hand. Jeongguk scoffs.

“Stupid cunt, slobbering all over the place like a fucking mutt—maybe I should stuff your mouth with something bigger…” he says thoughtfully, shoving his hand further and sneering mockingly as the man gags. “What was it you told me to do?” he asks, quickly recalling, “Fuck myself?”

Tengfei stops moving so much now, eyes narrowed dangerously as his shoulders heave with anger. It seems he thinks he has an idea where this is going. Jeongguk takes his hands out from his mouth, gripping his chin with the spit-soaked digits.

“You planning to help me out with that, were you?”

The man shudders, throat shifting as he swallows hard and stares the younger down. Silently, albeit, so it’s an improvement.

Jeongguk lets out a short, scathing laugh.

“No objection?”

Tengfei stays completely wordless.

“Alright then,” Jeongguk mutters, hand wandering down to his belt buckle. “Better than chopping off another finger, huh?”

And still, nothing.

The silence is beginning to irk Jeongguk a bit. He was half expecting the man to be objecting like his life depended on it by now. He seems the type. Lets him chop off a thumb with barely a murmur but pleasuring another man?  An uproar.

And yet...

Jeongguk sighs, hand freezing on his zipper with heavy disinterest floating in his gaze.

“Come on… not a word?”

Tengfei continues his blank stare, and the younger grimaces.

He was only kidding, but to receive no reaction at all? Jeongguk sighs—and just as soon as he does, there’s a sharp knock at the door.

Jeongguk pauses, fingers still gripping his belt as he glances around the room.

Six men and women that, from a digital standpoint, Jeongguk knows everything about: from their name, age and place of birth down to what they had for dinner last night. He makes sure to find out everything about everyone that makes it this close to him and while some may call him paranoid for doing so, he knows the value of it. Too many people in his position let their egos get the best of them, and that’s as dangerous in this world as it is in any.

They think they’re too powerful, that they don’t have time to learn the lives of people around them. And those are the fools that lose their own to it.

“Come in,” he calls, coarsely, turning to look over his shoulder at the opening door of his little house of horrors. It’s not very often he interrogates someone like this anywhere but his usual warehouse, but it was too long of a drive out for Jeongguk’s impatient time limit and Tengfei was already in his home, packing up his getaway bag with stolen drugs and skimmed money—their drugs and their money—that it was just far too sweet of a coincidence to not take it up.

The ageing door swings open, and in steps a blonde-haired man with a titanium gaze, an aura about him that seems both beautiful and deadly.

Park Jimin: the exception.

Not an exception with the fact that Jeongguk doesn’t know everything about him, but that he would trust him even if he knew nothing. Park has served his family for as long as he can remember, he’s been treated like family. Jeongguk would never even consider Jimin would try to hurt him simply because he has no reason to. He doesn’t desire money or power and has no need for that sort of vengeance.

Does that mean that Jeongguk doesn’t keep a close eye on him like he does with all his important subordinates? No, not at all—but it’s more the point that he doesn’t feel as if he needs to.

“Sir,” the man says smoothly, and Jeongguk quirks an eyebrow at him when he sees the apprehension flutter on his face at the scene. Not the blood and the state of the victim behind him, but simply how Jeongguk’s standing with his hands on his zipper, belt unbuckled as if it’s not compromising at all.

He thinks adding a 'it's not what it looks like'  wouldn't really fly, right now.

Jimin's hesitation quickly dissolves, and he continues with, “Your cousin wants to see you as soon as possible. He’s waiting back in your suite.”

Ugh. Of course, he does. He’s been wanting that too damn often lately for all kinds of absurd reasons.

Ever since his father kicked the bucket, Seokjin’s been checking up on him like he’s some… traumatised child, telling him to justify actions that he has no need to justify. He wonders what it is this time—the cheating dealer he poked the eyes out of last week was left too worse-for-wear? He’s not a fucking surgeon.

Jeongguk feels anger pooling through his veins again, and it’s not the ugly, tar-like feeling that rises up his stomach and leads to moments such as these. It’s not even the one that his right-hand man sparks up in him.

It’s the Kim Seokjin Effect.

Jeongguk gives a heavy sigh, digging into the waistband of his trousers to pull out the pistol tucked into the back. Solid gold barrel, an intricate floral design running across it, white marble coated magazine with his initials engraved into the slide in swirling calligraphy. Not many people in Hong Kong have a gun, anyway—but nobody has this one. Jeongguk takes a shot of juvenile pride in that.

He aims the gun right between Tengfei’s eyes with a hazy, unfeeling gaze weighted on him. It’s a shame to end it like this after weeks of expectations from just about everyone.

But now, it’s just a chore.

“Goodbye, Tengfei. May you find no peace after death.”

The man’s eyes widen, then, emotion and adrenaline kicking through at last. It always does. That fight or flight reaction that animals share.

“W-wait but you s-said—” he babbles, and it’s almost funny how now he’s begging for him to torture him some more instead of killing him straight off. Where’s his dignity?

Jeongguk scoffs. He cocks the gun, finger clicking down on the trigger as he drawls, “As if I’d ever let your thieving hands go free, bèi pàn zhě.”

There’s a short, sharp bang that enters the room, invited in like an old friend, and Jeongguk never gets used to the sound. The hysteria of the climax and then nothing.

Eerie silence, when no one dares to speak.

Jeongguk shoves the gun back into his trousers, tucks his shirt over it again and wipes his bloodied, drool-soaked hands on the vest clinging to Tengfei’s cooling body.

He doesn’t spare him the luxury of another word.

Jeongguk turns on his heels, towards his waiting bodyguard and follows him out of the silent room of the orphaned flat.

It’ll be cleaned, rid of any sign of the man who had once owned it, and that will be the last scrape he had tried to leave on the earth, erased.

Jeongguk takes comfort in the knowledge that he will never suffer the same fate. His marks will plague the earth forever.

 

 

Chapter Text

“I told him to stop checking up on me,” Jeongguk grumbles, much more to himself than to Jimin, whose attention is instead well-captured by his cell phone—blue light reflecting off of his face unsteadily as the car runs over the uneven tarmac. “I don’t understand what he wants from me.”

Jimin responds with nothing but the sound of his thumbs tapping against the thick glass of his phone screen. Jeongguk just scowls deeper.

“He treats me like a child. I’m nineteen, when is he going to realise?”

Nothing .

Jeongguk glances over at the man whose face is pulled into a concentrated frown. A rush of anger sweeps through him.

“For fuck’s sake, Jimin—” he snatches the phone out of Jimin’s hand, to his silent protest, lips downturned and marginally parted like he might say something. But no, of course he doesn’t. “I don’t pay you to ignore me.”

Jimin’s eyes flash electrically, shrinking back into his seat out of a simple wish to disappear over any kind of fear and that is even more irritating, Jeongguk thinks. His lips say ‘I’m sorry, sir’ but his aura says ‘you don’t pay me to talk, either.’

And he doesn’t. He’s under no obligation to talk to him. But, Christ, would a little human decency kill him?

“What the hell’s so important, anyway?” He questions, side-eyeing the phone in his hand, screen alive with activity that Jeongguk can’t be bothered to read for himself.

He made the mistake of glancing at Namjoon’s phone screen once when the man had gone to make them a drink and saw things that he still can’t unsee. He won’t risk it with Jimin, too.

Jimin languidly upturns his palm, stretching out his arm to him in a wordless plea for the device to be returned to him. His eyes are lidded, pretty lips lying in an emotionless line and Jeongguk’s own mouth twitches in annoyance at his impudence.

He knows Jimin would never act like this with him in front of anyone else—not even Seokjin. They’ll step out of the car in a few minutes and the older man will be as professional and eloquent as ever.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t piss him off.

Still, Jeongguk can’t bring himself to rebuke him for it. There’s something oddly depressing about a man begging for another’s fake courtesy. What’s the use when they’re both well aware of what Jimin really thinks of him?

Jeongguk hands him back his phone, begrudgingly, the device landing weightily in the man’s palm, who seizes it back into his grasp with a vicious flare.

“Arrangements for your inauguration,” he explains shortly, looking out the window just to avoid the younger’s gaze as he adds, “Since your right-hand man would rather shoot a few cunts, get drunk, fuck a stripper and call it a day.”

Jeongguk has to agree with him on that one. Kiyoung only does things when he’s told (and even then it’s half-assed.) He couldn’t give a fuck about his inauguration.

Honestly, Jeongguk would make Jimin his right-hand if he could—but he knows he’d never agree.

“What arrangements?”

Jimin gives him a wry look, eyes focused back on the screen again as he dryly jokes, “Flower arrangements.”

Jeongguk grits his teeth, letting out a low growl as he seethes, “Location, Jimin. Where are we doing it?”

The bodyguard clicks his tongue, scrolling through a few pages of notes before he comes to what he’s looking for. He half-heartedly holds the device up for Jeongguk to see.

“An old theatre?” the younger observes, eyes drifting up from the screen to look quizzically at the other man, who snaps the electronic to lock again, tucking it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket as a sigh rattles up from his chest. He smooths out the soft cotton of his pants, clinging elegantly to his thighs.

“Thought you might appreciate the irony,” Jimin says dully, as if the short few words somehow manage to exhaust him.

Jeongguk, on the other hand, is alive at the simple mention of the day. He quirks an eyebrow at the elder.

“What irony?”

Jimin looks at him for a moment, just a few fleeting seconds, as if he’s weighing something up in his mind; but the moment still settles heavily in Jeongguk’s chest.

Then, he looks away again, and the weight is lifted just as easily, the man muttering, “It’s where you show everyone that you are not here to play.”

The words are so flat that they come out slightly mocking, but he knows Jimin believes them.

After all, he’s proven that time and time again to him, hasn’t he?

Their silence fills the rest of the journey, and when the car pulls into the hotel parking lot, coming to a standstill at the steps rolling down from the grandiose entrance, the entire front of the lobby made of glass and marble and gold, Jimin gets out without a word, slamming the door behind him as Jeongguk waits for the driver to open his.

The door glides open and the man steps aside to let Jeongguk out with his head bowed in respect.

Jeongguk doesn’t know his name, and he never will. He knows the issue number of his licence, his employee number, his face. Knows exactly where to go and how to find him if he steps out of line. Everything he needs to know. It goes back to his philosophy about knowing exactly who is around him at all times.

But his name? He doesn’t know that. Jimin might, because he’s courteous enough to ask that kind of thing. But men like this don’t need names in Hua She.

Just orders.

The man closes the door behind him and he doesn’t even need an order to know what to do now. He knows Seokjin is here and he knows, like always, he’ll be getting shoved out of the door as soon as possible and looking for a drive home because he never wants to drive after he’s visited Jeongguk.

Seokjin claims that it’s because his cousin exhausts him, but Jeongguk would sooner put it down to the fact that he helps himself to most of his liquor cabinet every time he’s over.

The driver gets back into the vehicle, roaming off to a parking spot while Jimin looks over his shoulder expectantly at Jeongguk, like he’s asking him ‘what are you waiting for?’

It’s a loaded question, but Jimin isn’t being inquiring—just ignorant.

However, as soon as they approach the steps, Jimin falls into the persona of his most trusted subordinate again. The family bodyguard. Nothing more, nothing less.

“Good morning, sir,” the doormen greet in unison, dressed from head to toe in uniform. Hat, coat, heavy trousers, polished shoes. Honestly, they look like any other doormen at any other hotel in Hong Kong—maybe a little overdressed, but not by much.

Jeongguk eyes the earpiece coiling down their neck, the reflective sunglasses, the bulk of their outfits, hiding all sorts of protection for anyone dumb enough to try and infiltrate them through the entrance.

Security… doormen—what’s the difference, really? Isn’t that just a bouncer?

Jeongguk tips his head in acknowledgement, though he’s not sure if the time can even be classified as a plain ‘morning.’ It feels like a kind of limbo, the sun rearing its head over the skyline and dousing the scene half in shadow, half in gold.

The men allow them in, Jimin purring back a polite, “Morning, gentlemen,”  that’s bound to peak their interest with that kind of attention-grabbing lilt that pours so fluently from his lips.

He never talks to Jeongguk like that; anything directed at Jeongguk is clinical and formal, or bitter and sharp. It’s almost foreign hearing the man’s liveliness after a whole car journey of the latter.

The lobby is fairly quiet at this time, most of the guests either waiting for their taxis in the lounge, too drowsy to speak, or still asleep in their rooms. Their footsteps echo against the hard marble flooring. Guests whisper as their first words of the day, staff stop what they’re doing to silently greet them with a bow. Chorus after chorus of ‘Good morning, Master Jeon…’

‘Master…’ Jeongguk groans internally. He's so tired of that.

There’s an irregular mix of who knows his change of position and who doesn’t that swarms the hotel. It’s irritating, in that sense. It mightn’t be so well-known to a sizable portion of the rest of the world, but a large amount of Hong Kong know him as Hua She’s heir, at least.

Knowing what happened to his father, and what that makes him now, however, might as well be a family secret.

Still, Jeongguk doesn’t correct them. They’ll find out soon enough.

He leans closer to Jimin, almost whispering in his ear, “I want my inauguration to take place no later than in two months’ time, Jimin—is that doable?”

The older man nods his head, discreetly moving away from him and answering, “Yes, sir. Everything will be ready by then,” as if it’s that easy, but Jeongguk knows that, in actual fact, it probably isn’t; he just wouldn’t dare argue with him in the lobby like this.

Later, the man’ll probably run through all the reasons why that can’t happen, how there needs to be witnesses and journalists—but nobody can have hard evidence, just word of mouth. It’s a delicate affair, but Jeongguk doesn’t want things to just slowly spread.

He wants it sharp, instant, like ripping off a band-aid. He wants everyone to know without question that Hua She and every damn street in Hong Kong are his .

His coronation: from a prince to the fucking king.

Jimin presses the button for the elevator and the shifting movements of it pulling to a halt at the floor with its saccharine chime bring Jeongguk back out of his head. He’s faced with his reflection as the doors glide open, suit pristine and tie silky and unwrinkled, despite the events of the night. He licks his finger, smoothing a strand of hair that’d fallen across his forehead between his thumb and forefinger to settle it back into place.

They step in, and Jeongguk towers over the older man by at least half a head. He’d always been a lanky child, long-limbed and gangly, but it’s only in the past year or so that he’s filled out to suit his stature. The lines of his face are sharp and assertive, running off into strong, wide shoulders that could rival his cousin’s. His waist pinches in—a particularly delicate feature that he tends to cover up more than he flaunts—but it’s balanced-out again by the bulky muscles of his thighs, built up from a hell of a lot more than a gym.

Things like crouching beside someone for hours while they drain of blood, until they forget the answers to the questions he’s asking—or fucking someone deep into the mattress, hard enough to bruise, break the bed, have the headboard dent into the wall.

He’s a caricature of his own lifestyle.

Jimin doesn’t linger to fix himself up, instead, turning on his heels to face the door again as he presses the button to the top floor, letting his thumb print scan through the system before it flashes green and the door closes, the elevator jumping to life again.

Neither of them exchange a single word on the short journey up. It feels more awkward today than usual and Jeongguk feels considerably relieved when the doors open again, and they can escape, walking briskly along the corridor to get to the double doors of his suite, adorned by a golden plaque engraved ‘JJK.’

He hasn’t made many changes to the suite yet; it just worked out that conveniently enough their initials are the same.

Jimin holds open the door for him and follows him inside soon after, shutting the entrance behind them again as Jeongguk’s shrugging off his suit jacket to sling over the back of one of the settees pushed against the wall.

He unbuttons and rolls up the sleeves of his shirt, about to ask Jimin to fetch his cousin when a monotone, “You smell like torture,” pierces haughtily through the silence.

Jeongguk looks up for the first time since his entrance, immediately locking eyes with the well-dressed, handsome man boasting a whole heap of confidence that oozes out of him like the pus of a wound.

Seokjin sits in one of the upholstered armchairs, feet up on his coffee table and dressed in an extravagant deep red suit, acting like he’s invited Jeongguk when, in reality, he’ s invited himself. There’s a cup in his hand—one of the pieces from the family china set that Jeongguk never uses—and the smell of green tea filters in the air just as soon as he notices it, making his way over to the man.

“That’s because I was torturing,” Jeongguk answers shortly, sinking into the chair opposite of his cousin with his fingers rubbing soothing circles into his temple.

Seokjin rolls his eyes, but doesn’t comment. They both know what he thinks of Jeongguk’s habits, by now. He called him psychotic last week when they got too heated over it at one of Seokjin’s favourite restaurants and Jeongguk almost smashed the bottle of wine perched expensively on the table over his head.

Alternatively, Seokjin takes a final sip of his tea before leaning over, feet slipping off of the coffee table to set it on its saucer. Then, his eyes slip back up to match Jeongguk’s heavy stare as he settles contently back into the cushion.

“Go clean up,” he orders sharply, “Your uncle wants to meet with you, and you haven’t returned any of his calls.”

Jeongguk scowls, the inference leaving a sour taste on his tongue, yet, he doesn’t argue like he certainly would’ve in the past. His father used to meet with Uncle Kim regularly to discuss issues arising in the city; it’s part of his responsibility now.

But despite that, Jeongguk doesn’t move. Instead, he gives his cousin a long look before he asks, “When? I have a meeting at one o’clock and I haven’t slept in twenty-four hours. Plus, I’m due to visit Min tonight.”

Seokjin’s lip twitches at the last statement, but he exhales quietly, a short puff of breath escaping his lips as he locks stares with Jeongguk, as if waiting for the man to co-operate. Jeongguk tips his chin up, a silent flex of power in the gesture.

There’s a long stretch of silence that pushes between them, until—

“Fine,” his cousin relents. “You’ll have to check with father, but I think he’s available again sometime in a week or so.” Seokjin rises to his feet, buttoning his jacket back up and running a hand through his stress-induced unruly hair. Then, he looks up again, sending an icy glare to the younger man as he warns, “But you have to meet with him, Jeongguk. You’ve got holes to dig yourself out of–and the longer you delay it, the deeper you’ll get.”

With that, the man makes his exit. Jimin never having left the door, opens it for him gallantly. Seokjin dips his head in a silent thank you and the bodyguard mutters a farewell.

Before the door closes, however, Seokjin peaks his head back in, eyes still as sharp as ever as he tells him, “And Jeongguk… next time you go to meet someone, I suggest you wash the blood out of your fingernails, first.”

Jeongguk growls, examining the stained strips of white with an annoyance completely unrelated to their state.

“Self-righteous bastard,” he mutters once the man’s gone.

Jimin snorts softly, leaned up against the door with his arms folded over his chest. He doesn’t tell him what he finds so funny, but Jeongguk doesn’t have to ask to know.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

Taehyung wakes up to the sound of sirens wailing in the distance, and he jolts up so fast he manages to bang his head on the light fixture hanging awkwardly low above his bed.

He lets out a hiss, rubbing the spot with a begrudging string of curses and goes to scramble out of bed when he feels the rough sheets on his skin and realises that—

He’s in Hong Kong.

Not LA.

Those sirens are not for him.

(Not yet, anyway.)

He’s working with the cops now, not against them. The thought alone sends a dull trickle of detest through his body, thinking that he’s on Zhao’s side—and it matches just perfectly with the throbbing of his head. But he’s in a little too deep now for regrets, isn’t he?

Taehyung rubs his eyes, trying to unblur them somewhat, and reaches into his pocket for his phone, the screen lighting up the festering dark of the incoming evening, it seems—and the glowing numbers on the device just confirm that.

9:32pm .

God, his jetlag took no prisoners— Fifteen hours sleep .

His stomach growls like it’s in agony and Taehyung decides that yep , it’s definitely time to get up.

So, he crawls out of the narrow space between his bed and the wall, reaching for his shirt before shrugging it back on but leaving it unbuttoned. The clamminess of sweat clings to the soft ridges and curves of his body and Taehyung decides he could probably use with a shower, too, if the plumbing works.

He steps over the creaking floorboards and makes a sharp left to arrive at the paper sliding door of his ‘bathroom.’ He slides the door back, grating along its tracks with a harsh scraping sound that goes straight for his ears and grimaces, shoving it the rest of the way. The wooden frame bends at the action, as if it’s threatening to break on him if he tries that again.

Taehyung examines the small room with considerable detachment. He doesn’t have the energy to feel disappointed at the sight right now—sleep is still busy fogging up his brain—so he just sucks it up and walks into the broom-cupboard-sized bathroom, sporting the same ugly putrid green that the building seems to love so much, and white tiles with more mould running across them than tile.

There’s a toilet, thankfully, porcelain and a strange mint colour, and a mismatching yellow sink, squeezed against the wall with ageing glue and toothpaste marks.

At least the last resident cared about their dental hygiene, he supposes. That makes one thing.

There’s also a shower—though it may as well be a box with a tap at the top with the way the panels caging it in aren’t transparent at all, but the same odd mint colour as the toilet and how the shower head only has room for a few measly trickles of water.

Taehyung turns it on with the actual metal tap halfway down the wall and watches as the spray spits and ceases, like it’s caught between wanting to stay on and deciding ‘fuck it, stay dirty, I don’t want that shit.’

Fantastic. A shower with attitude.

Taehyung reaches his hand underneath the spray and recoils at the freezing spurts of water raining down on him. He gives a grunt, turning the tap the other direction, and holds his hand back underneath it.

It goes from lukewarm to just right to third degree burns in under five seconds, and he jumps back again, holding his hand in a fist as he swears, “Jesus Christ!” and yanks the tap back into the middle-ground.

Cold showers it is, then.

Reluctantly, Taehyung slips off his clothes, feeling like it’s been an age since he even put them on in the first place, and he steps into the shower, the water hitting his back like ice and making his skin break out in goose-bumps all over his body

There’s a pale pink bottle wedged into the shower rail and he cagily takes it out, examining the label on the front of it. It’s marginally faded with water damage, but he can just about make out the Cantonese declaring it as some kind of scented shampoo, with random claims of it being good for this and smelling like that. He assumes by the basket of strawberries illustrated onto the label that it’s strawberry-scented, but when he clicks open the lid and brings the bottle to his nose, he finds that it’s more of a vague, generic fruity kind of scent.

False advertising at its finest.

But he’ll take what he can get, Taehyung quickly decides, squirting some of the product onto his hand before he develops frostbite from the water. He rubs it into his fading silver hair, turning blonder by the day since they apparently don’t offer the luxury of hair dye in prison, and hopes he doesn’t have some kind of allergic reaction to it.

He rinses it out, smearing the rest around his body because the last resident either didn’t use soap or was so attached to it they took it with them and he steps out of the shower again, quickly realising that he doesn’t actually have a towel to dry himself off with.

He definitely should’ve thought about that beforehand.

Taehyung figures he only really has one option here, and he grabs his clothes from the floor before he makes a quick exit out of the bathroom, feeling the cool air immediately cling onto every inch of skin on his exposed body to fight against the general humid warmth of the flat. Leaving a trail of water behind him, he strides over to the bed, yanks off the sheets and unhesitatingly uses them to dry himself off, concluding that they’ll probably be fine to sleep on again by the time he’s back, anyway.

He wraps the sheets around his waist and sits back down on the edge of the mattress which groans and shakes with his weight, just sitting in his own silence for a moment or two whilst the shower steam makes its way out of his headspace long enough for him to collect his thoughts again.

He reaches for his phone, tossed carelessly onto the mattress with the haste he took the sheets and presses the home button, the screen jumping to life and waiting to be unlocked.

It’s not even his phone. His real phone is back in a zip-lock bag in some case file in LA, he’d assume. This is his fake real phone, along with his real police phone and his real police laptop.

None of which are actually his. At least, not LA’s Taehyung Kim’s.

The phone in his hands, as well as everything else about him now is Hong Kong’s Kim Taehyung’s.

You swap a name around and look what happens.

Taehyung swipes across to open the phone up, immediately scrolling through the wave of apps to find his notes, where he typed out all of the addresses he’d need courtesy of his gargantuan boredom hour ten of the plane journey and did a quick information search on most of them via the ever-faithful TripAdvisor.

But, he supposes that’s come in handy now as he reads over the street name of both Min’s place and the courtyard where his underlings supposedly like to hang out.

The Mins’ family-owned Golden Cat ‘restaurant’ is situated on Yang Avenue, whilst the courtyard (to an old outdoor bistro, Taehyung found out) is a minute walk away, on Bao Lane. Taehyung vaguely remembers passing the restaurant a few times on his way to and from school, but he can’t quite remember which direction the courtyard is from there. He considers giving it a quick google, but then he notices the blatant ‘NO SERVICE’ tucked into the corner of his screen and figures that it doesn’t matter too much—how hard can it be to find?

He tosses his phone back onto the mattress, intending to get dressed and head out as soon as possible before the sun decides to disappear completely. His hair won’t take too long to dry in the night air, anyhow—especially once he’s driving for a while.

As Taehyung steps out of the apartment block, heels clicking against the concrete, it almost feels like he hasn’t slept at all: this night almost completely identical to the last with the soft orange glow of the sun falling over the living vibrancy of the cityscape.

It’s disorientating to say the least, especially as he sets his eyes on the valet still inside the dingy plastic-glassed booth as bored-looking as ever. He’s spotlighted with a strange white-blue glow that bleeds out into the purpling crooks of shadow where the sun can’t reach anymore.

Taehyung strides over to him as casually as he can with his hands inside the pockets of the exact same pants as the previous night. In fact, he’s wearing the exact same clothes, a whole twenty-four hours later.

But the guy probably won’t notice—

“Hey, you’ve been gone a while. Out of new clothes already?”

He tries not to let the surprise show on his face, gritting his teeth instead and muttering, “ No. I need my bike.”

The valet seems rather unfazed at Taehyung’s underlying hostility—perhaps too comfortable with him already, from one simple interaction—and he swivels around in his chair to unhurriedly press the button to open the garage up as he chimes, “ Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this evening.”

Taehyung’s fists clench, but he braces himself to chill the fuck out—he’s not trying to start a fight with the fucking valet of this shithole.

No, he just musters up a hopelessly strained smile, rattling out some forced laughter as he agrees, “Uh huh…” and waits impatiently for the hunk of metal to finally creak open so he can leave.

The smell is no better, still as pungent and system-shocking as it was the previous day, which the guy reiterates as if Taehyung doesn’t have a fucking nose.

But, he walks in anyway, about to reach for his helmet when he remembers that, right, it’s probably currently lying in pieces at the side of one of the many streets of Mong Kok. He mounts the bike with a somewhat exasperated grunt.

He should probably be more careful with impulses from here on out. Not having a helmet is hardly a big deal—but he doesn’t really want to get into any kind of actual trouble because he couldn’t keep his anger controlled, or his mouth shut.

Taehyung’s always been rather impulsive: it’s what attracted Hoseok to him, the boy used to say. The adrenaline the two got from running rampant in all the places their parents told them to stay out of when Taehyung said, ‘let’s go this way’ or ‘let’s jump this fence.’

He wonders if the man’s kept up that habit, or if following along Min Yoongi’s footsteps have re-ordered all of that unruliness. The kind that used to shine through every inch of him, even in something as simple as the wonky shape of his smile from a crooked bottom tooth. It got punched out of shape one dwindling evening by a few upperclassmen and an unclamped mouth outside the school gates.

Taehyung hardly remembers what it was over now—just that it most likely had something to do with one of their sisters, since both girls seemed to be endlessly getting into trouble, exactly like their brothers.

He does however remember how Hoseok showed it off with pride as a memento from the day he beat up a handful of juniors by himself, which everyone took as a sure sign of his calibre.

Taehyung digs the keys out of his pocket, shoving them into the ignition and launching the bike into a start before he kicks off the stand to let the vehicle inch forward and edges it out of the garage.

After all, the best way to get an answer to his questions is to go visit the man himself before someone dies of old age.

The valet gawks at him the entire time for one reason or another (nothing better to do is Taehyung’s guess) and the last thing Taehyung catches is a chirpy, “Have a good eve—” before the engine revs up, leaving the kid completely in the dust: both literally and metaphorically.

Taehyung drives out of the block, fiddling with the GPS system installed into the bike’s dashboard to try and find that courtyard Zhao had pointed out to him in case his memory of the area isn’t as sharp as he thinks it is.

Walking the streets might feel like muscle memory but driving through them isn’t so familiar. He only ever did so a few times via his father’s car on a few joyrides with and without Hoseok; but that stopped rather indefinitely once the man found out and Taehyung got his ass beat so bad he couldn’t sit in a car, never mind drive it.

He doesn’t think of his father much—and that is one very fine example of why.

Saying that though, it isn’t easy driving too fast in a car around Mong Kok—the traffic tends to be rather congested at the best of times, being as insanely populated as it is—so Taehyung would’ve normally avoided the area back then.

But, on his motorbike, he’s welcomed to a whole new world of questionably dangerous driving.

Cutting across lanes and weaving in and out of people is temptingly easy with the streamlined, slim frame of his vehicle and the honking of horns and shouted curses is rather exhilarating in the same way that it might be to flip off the teacher that always has it out for you, or tell your crabbit boss to go fuck themselves.

It’s the excitement of pissing off people that are probably totally in their right to be angry. An immature rebellion of sorts.

The GPS’ voice tells him to turn left at one point, but he can barely even hear it over the sounds of his rambunctious exhaust and the blood swirling in his ears. He takes it sharp, left foot kicking out to scrape across the ground and steady himself, grinding up the sole of his shoe like sandpaper.

He should probably get a thicker pair if he’s going to be messing around on this thing more often.

The turn takes him onto a less-populated side-street, cars parked up the side of it like landmarks under the pink and purple glares of small clothing stores and an advertisement for a nearby cinema. There’s a rather upmarket looking McDonalds, too, (at least compared to the ones back in LA) showing off its latest coffees on an electronic sign that Taehyung is almost tempted to stop for.

Maybe later, once he’s found Hoseok. A catch-up chat over some fries and two cheap cups of decent coffee, unless the man still can’t stand the taste of those and opts for a milkshake..

There’s a few people wandering around, too, so Taehyung pulls his bike down to a manageable speed—though people still lurch out of the way as if he was about to knock them flat.

He has better control than that, thank you .

At the end of the street, now driving little faster than walking pace, Taehyung catches the sign announcing ‘ Yang Avenue’ and he pulls to a stop a few feet away from the restaurant, deciding to check the place out first, both to familiarise himself and on the off-chance that he bumps into the man he’s looking for without looking for his fellow lackeys, first.

He cuts the exhaust, kicking down the stand again and climbs off the bike, ruffling a hand through his mostly-dry hair which has likely puffed into some kind of elegant silver mess with the high-speed and sudden turns he was making. He smooths down the wrinkled silk of his shirt, tucking some of the loose fabric back into his pants and scuffs the heel he’d marked earlier along the pavement, as if it’ll help clean up the damage pulled on it.

There, now he’s about as presentable as he can manage.

Taehyung makes his way down the avenue, the restaurant situated neatly on the corner and, even as it’s nearing eleven, there’s still a small number of people sitting outside, merrily enjoying food and alcohol; in fact, as soon as Taehyung walks up, he’s greeted by several slurring customers, welcoming him and even inviting him to sit down with them, drink up the remainder of the alcohol they surely don’t need but most definitely want.

Taehyung politely declines most of their requests, finding that, as he assumed, a considerable few of them are speaking Korean. He, on the other hand, sticks to replying in English. He isn’t sure how people might react to a stranger coming up and spouting Korean to them like a native—Korean-American or not, it’s not exactly a casual thing in this kind of crowd; it carries a meaning.

So, with his touristy Cantonese and fluent English, he picks a table to hang around at for a minute or two, silently staking out the area for future reference and, hell, who knows, maybe Hoseok’ll come striding out for a seat in the pleasantly mild night ambience.

But it’s as he’s idly chatting to the group of older gentleman at the table, on some kind of celebratory night out, that he hears the soft snort beside him, and he looks to the doorway of the restaurant to meet the eyes of a strikingly beautiful blonde-haired man, dressed in an open-collar white shirt and some plain back slacks, a red apron around his waist with stains of beverages and food on it, it seems.

Min Yoongi stares back at him, some kind of mocking amusement detailed on his face, but he doesn’t say a word.

Taehyung falters, only half-listening to the story one of the customers is telling him about the time his wife and him went to Cancun and ended up getting food poisoning for the whole week they were there.

His eyes are trained on the man that steps into the outdoor extension of his restaurant, pouring onto the street with the homely kind of informality that runs pleasingly rampant through the city.

He removes a small notebook from the pocket of his apron, bending back the cover as he removes the pen tucked behind his ear, hair falling to frame his face slightly more as he comfortably cocks a hip when he arrives at a table of new people.

Taehyung watches as his nimble fingers spin the pen around to click off the lid, before pinwheeling again to set the nib effortlessly back on the page, and the man’s lips curve into a gentle smile (one that sends a jolt of surprise through Taehyung at how earnest it really seems.)

He never exactly pictured Min Yoongi waiting tables at his cover-up restaurant but, somehow, he looks considerably natural doing it.

Eventually, Taehyung turns back to the men looking quizzically at him around the table, and he shrugs off their question of what on earth had him so spaced out with a simple, “Nothin’, nothin’. So, what was that you were saying about you and your wife, Mr Wong?”

Airplane food was the culprit, he soon finds out.

The buzz of conversation quickly floods in again, and Taehyung finds himself temporarily distracted from the presence of the son of the very man he grew up terrified of, falling into a topic surrounding just how much alcohol they’ve all consumed tonight because it just so happens that Ka Ho over there got a big promotion at work, and now they’re all celebrating his pay rise with glee—like good friends should, of course.

But then, that seems to remind them of something and before Taehyung can refuse, one of the men at the table raises his hand and calls out, “Hey, Min! Get our new friend a drink, would you?”

Min Yoongi looks up from where he’s scribbling down a different order on his notepad, and there’s marginal revulsion swimming in his gaze until he shakes it off with a breathy chuckle, only really even noticeable because of the shake of his shoulders. He makes his way over to the table, and Taehyung’s breath hitches in his throat when he ends up only an inch or so away.

“You know, Hui, there’s more eloquent ways to order—”

“Yeah, yeah, Min. Just get our guy a… hey, what do you drink, new guy?”

Taehyung arches an eyebrow at the question, eyes darting back to the server who’s already gazing formidably at him. It feels vaguely like he’s being stared at through a sniper scope. Taehyung swallows the lump in his throat.

“Gin and Tonic.”

Yoongi scribbles it down, marking a dot with his pen as his eyes shift back up to him to ask, “Any preference for the gin?”

“Whatever’s cheapest,” Taehyung answers back, as cooly as the waiter, but a hell of a lot more forced.

The man smirks at that, flipping his notepad closed as he mutters, “Sure thing,” and, in the blink of an eye, he’s walking away from them again, disappearing inside the restaurant without a second word.

Taehyung pulls up a stool, and sits restlessly as he waits for the man to return, barely able to pay attention. Part of him wants to straight up ask the man if Hoseok’s around, but he gets the feeling that might not be the best idea. He doesn’t peg him to be the type of guy that doesn’t mind intrusive kind of questions.

So, he lies in wait until he comes with his order, and when he does, he sets it down expressionlessly on the table, minus a shred of entertainment curving his mouth when Taehyung thanks him in his touristy Cantonese.

Yoongi straightens up, tucking the tray underneath his arm as he takes one hard look at Taehyung and guesses, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Taehyung hums, nonchalant when he picks up his glass and traces the rim with his finger, answering, “I’m not, but I know you are.”

The man’s face contorts into some form of confusion then, and Taehyung knows he slipped up because, lowly, he mutters an inquisitive, “And what makes you say that?”

So, Taehyung responds exactly how he would’ve if he knew nothing at all about Min Yoongi.

“Judging by the apron, I’m gonna guess you either work here—which makes you a Min, since my travel guide names this place as a family-run restaurant—or you’re impersonating a waiter for a reason I haven’t quite figured out yet, but am very much intrigued by.”

That earns him a trickle of laughter, something coy reflecting off the deep irises of the man’s feline eyes.

Taehyung follows it up with a smirk of his own as Yoongi backs away with a murmur of, “Not as dumb as you look, stranger. Enjoy your drink.”

Taehyung waits until the man’s back inside to breathe out again.

He leaves as soon as he possibly can, vaguely reluctant to get caught in the Min’s perceptive crossfire with one saved fuck-up already—and he knows that’d only get more and more likely with a bit of alcohol in his system.

He thanks the men for the company and the drink, wishes them a good night, and quickly exits the scene, floating down the street with the throngs of people gathered around, probably thinking about heading home or somewhere else soon.

Most likely the latter, actually.

And, likewise, for Taehyung, the night is just getting started.

Taehyung pulls out one of the metal chairs, pushed in against a rusting wrought-iron table. It creaks in protest as he settles into it, and, somehow, it’s almost as if the air around him shifts as soon as he does; leaves that have already flown from their trees tumble around the stone courtyard with a sense of restless unease, like they’re trying to ward him off.

Taehyung crosses a leg over the other, fixing down his shirt, disturbed by the hot breeze and, like the action set off an alarm, a small group of men come rushing into the area, sleeves forgone and the prideful marks of snakes coiling around a white rose stretched out on the uncovered skin as if it’s some kind of identification for entry.

A slow, smug smile falls onto Taehyung’s lips at the arrival.

“Gentleman,” he greets in smooth Cantonese, arms opening theatrically as the five men stand before him, dumbfounded. “I was hoping you’d show soon.”

They all exchange glances, until one of them finally grunts, “Who the hell are you?” in choppy English, apparently having decided that Taehyung’s accent is not up to scratch to be native.

“American,” another spits, looking him up and down as if the evidence is written all over him, and not just in his foggy knowledge of the language.

Either way, it’s clear that he’s not meant to be here, so Taehyung decides to just give up the game.

“Actually,” he begins in Korean, “I’m less foreign than you think.”

The men all look at each other in confusion, mutters of his fluency circling around and there’s sparks that ignite in their gazes because, as Taehyung said, Korean isn’t just a language around these people—it’s a statement. People that speak it are either rivals or allies, and with the fact that Taehyung, a total stranger, is currently situated in their territory , it seems as if they’ve already made their mind on which one of those he is.

And it’s not a great outcome, by the looks of things. Taehyung watches them all unveil their own weapons ranging from knives to bats with a dull sigh escaping his lips.

“Your hospitality needs work,” he notes, and not a second later, the men are launching themselves at him. Taehyung gets to his feet, looking as if he’s simply moving his chair out of the way, before he picks it up by the legs and swings, throwing it straight into one of the men, while he delivers a kick to the table, sending it into another’s path, who trips straight over it and falls to the ground with a low groan.

He steps out of the way of the blade swiped in his direction, and grabs the wielder’s arm, swapping their positions around to twist the man’s arm back before he punches down on his elbow. A clean snap graces their ears, and the gangster steps back, cradling his disfigured arm awkwardly as he bites back any sounds of pain through gritted teeth.

Taehyung’s just about to head for the next challenger, ready to shove that pipe he’s holding up his ass, when the man he knocked over with the chair grabs his ankle, pulling hard and he stumbles, struggling to regain his balance. Before he can, though, he feels the overwhelming blow of steel smacking against his jaw, knocking him completely off his feet and blossoming a sharp, demanding pain to swell in the area to compliment the ache of his head hitting against the concrete below him.

Taehyung peels open his eyes again, just in time to see the pipe-man hovering over him again, looking as if he’s about to make some kind of dent in his head. Taehyung reaches to his left, pulling the discarded chair over to him and hauling it in front of him as some kind of poor shield, the metals clinking against each other, until he pushes up with the piece of furniture, the force knocking the man’s weapon away from him.

Taehyung tosses the chair at him, knocking the pipe-wielder onto his side before the younger rolls backwards, skilfully launching to his feet again just in time to dodge out of the way of an incoming brass-knuckle punch that he definitely doesn’t want to be on the receiving end of.

He takes a moment to catch his breath, brushing off the dirt clinging to his pants as he gauges the men still standing, quite satisfied with how two are yet to get up off the ground for all of three seconds until they’re both clambering to their feet again.

Taehyung sighs quietly to himself.

“You fuckers don’t quit, huh?”

They don’t at all, apparently. Taehyung spends the next ten minutes fending off five men over and over again but, with no wish to genuinely harm any of them because he’s sure Min Yoongi wouldn’t appreciate him fucking up his lackeys too much, he’s left dodging their attempts at fatality on him whilst decapacitating one or two at a time for a few brief seconds, like an endless game of whack-a-mole until, finally, there is a breakthrough.

And it’s nothing to do with Taehyung.

Another body enters the arena, and all Taehyung can hear is the arbitrary click of a tongue and a mutter of, “What the hell is going on here?” before everything ceases.

Well, everything ceases after a fist cracks against his already-bruised cheekbone that he’s pretty sure can be counted as foul play and three of the men grab him whilst two of them step towards their colleague. They waste no time greeting him, but instead giving a rushed explanation that involves the words ‘territory’ ‘foreigner’ and ‘asshole’ over and over again in such a jumble of sentences as they talk over each other, that even Taehyung has a tough time deciphering their point.

And he was there.

The man looks over their shoulder, and his face flashes through three stages.

Disbelief, confusion, and pure, unfiltered elation .

“Kim Taehyung… is that you, you son of a bitch?”

Hoseok looks smart in not only his expensive clothing, but the uncomplicated way he cocks his head at him, runs a curious hand over his lips, grins wolfishly at him like he’s either going to get a kick out of beating him up or kiss him.

He does neither, thankfully, and, instead his path is set on approaching his former best friend and uttering, “What the hell are you doing in Hong Kong, dumbass?” just around the same time he chastises the brawns, setting Taehyung free from their grasps with a simple, “ Hey, hey—lay off, 만지지마. 병신아—you’ve no idea who we’ve got our hands on here.”

The men step away from them and Taehyung conceitedly fixes himself up, murmuring, “Yeah, that’s right… you heard him.”

He turns to Hoseok, expecting a sappy welcome or a tight hug or something, but, instead the man raises his hand and before Taehyung can anticipate what he’s doing, he’s been slapped across the face, his own palm swinging to press down on the tender skin with a hiss as he seethes, “What the fuck, Seok? What was that for?

Hoseok steps back, all too proud of himself and Taehyung promptly ignores the snickering of the brawns as his old friend tells him, “Leavin’ me in this hell hole for one thing.”

Taehyung bristles, hand dropping from his face to give a steely reply of, “That was mom’s decision,” and he says nothing more on the matter, because neither of them need to mention what went on back then. No need to relieve what’s dead and buried.

(Dead, buried and yet, like it was yesterday, Taehyung can still remember how his explanation was short, sweet, and cacophonic to the point where the words tumbled out like ice-cubes settling into water, heavy and impacted, when he recalled them to his best friend, standing on his porch with a mission and a time limit. Like it was yesterday, he can still remember scrambling into the car, fastening his seatbelt and how his sister cowered into him, mother stamping her foot down on the pedal, all to get away from the man that had made their family home a nightmare. Taehyung can still hear the dull banging of fists against the car window like it’s never stopped.

Hoseok isn’t far off calling this place a hell hole, when he thinks of that.)                                                     

The older man swallows back his accusation, like he’s just had the same monologue the younger has, and retries, “Then, for not keeping in touch.”

His excuse is harder to pull for this one because there are things—many things. Too many things that Hoseok does not know, nor does Taehyung want him to know. Especially not in… company.

“Things got complicated,” he tells him and, somehow, Hoseok doesn’t seem to doubt it. His finger slides over his bottom lip as he thinks. It’s a habit Taehyung doesn’t remember him having; he wonders where he picked it up. A random occurrence? Or was it influenced? Did it rub off from Min Yoongi? Is it Jeongguk’s tick?

Hoseok grounds him again, like he always does, and he jibes, “How about not telling me you were coming back home?”

Taehyung smirks, letting a huff drop fondly from his lips.

“I came to see you first, didn’t I?”

Hoseok has changed, and he has not, Taehyung soon finds out. Peeking out from underneath the collar of his floral-printed shirt, slipping past the rolled-up sleeves, there are illustrations carved into his skin in a flurry of coloured ink and monochromatic lines that were definitely not there when they were kids.

There’s the standard Hua She symbol, depicted near his collarbone, but it’s a bud in an orchard with what surrounds it. Flowers, snakes, skulls and thorns and all kinds of swirling patterns coating his skin. It’s new, and it’s different.

But, then, when Hoseok finally pulls him into a hug, arms strong and familiar across his back, it feels like nothing in the world has changed.

Taehyung’s met with a sense of nostalgia mixed with the harsh realisation that things continued on without him, while he was gone—and Hoseok pats him on the back like he’s thinking the same thing.

“Interesting… smell,” the elder notes when he pulls back, nose twitching to tell Taehyung that ‘ interesting’ is perhaps putting it politely.

“Thanks,” he replies, dryly. “It’s strawberry.”

He leaves out the apparently that follows in his head.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

“Well, well… if it isn’t the stranger.”

Min Yoongi tucks the rag back into his apron and leans back with his palms on the half-cleaned table, watching him steadily—the man that he’d seen off himself, not even an hour ago.

Taehyung still feels minorly on edge in his presence, but he swallows the feeling down when Hoseok pats his shoulder and says, “Gi—you’ll never guess who this is,” obviously completely missing the older man’s implication.

“The man that staked out my restaurant and then decided to sit himself down right on my territory too?”

Hoseok falters, glancing at Taehyung with a moment’s apprehension, before his attention snaps back to Yoongi and he sharply says, “ Maybe, but, more importantly, he’s the kid that I used to run with back in the day. Kim Taehyung.”

“Yeah?” Yoongi asks distantly, putting a hand to his cheek in thought as his narrowed eyes slowly drift up and down Taehyung’s body. The younger tries not to look too uncomfortable as this is going on, standing with his hands on his hips and an eyebrow raised as a silent challenge for him to say something.

And he certainly does.

“Looks like he wouldn’t last a second out here, now.”

Taehyung forgoes his composure, blood boiling in him at the comment and the words, “And why’s that, fucker?” whip out of his mouth before he can give them a second thought—and even after he can’t bring himself to look regretful.

Unease, apprehension? All of that just slips right out of him.

Hoseok’s eyebrows snap up his face like an elastic band but the two other men are entirely unfazed, Yoongi not even giving away a sign that he actually heard Taehyung. Which, of course he did—it’s not like he whispered it,

In fact, Yoongi smirks—but it’s far from amusement that glints in his eyes.

“Look at you,” he says like it’s an explanation, and Taehyung feels his jaw clench. “You don’t look like you’d last in a whorehouse, never mind a gang.”

Taehyung takes a step forward, form taut with tension as he stares down the older man, and this seems to trigger Hoseok into some kind of attempt at peace-making, suddenly telling him, “He’s a really good fighter, Gi. Honestly, our guys aren’t doing too hot,” but it’s a futile attempt; that much is obvious in the haze of indifference that clings to the man’s gaze like a film.

“They’re still standing, aren’t they? Still breathing?” Yoongi asks pointedly, and Hoseok finds himself unable to answer him with something that’ll make a difference.

So, Taehyung says, “I wasn’t trying to kill ‘em, Min. You think I’m dumb enough to kill Hua She brawns?”

The man shrugs his shoulders, but there’s a touch of pride that glazes on his face at the comment.

“You do what you do to survive,” he supplies easily.

Taehyung gives a staccato scoff. “How much longer do you think I would’ve survived with half of the gang having it out for my ass?”

“Five seconds,” he snaps back immediately, an arrogance creeping onto his face as he cocks his head at him. Taehyung tries not to take it personally.

“Point proven,” he says instead, mimicking the man’s smug tone, but Yoongi seems to find a different kind of point in that, and his lips curve into a smile.

“Therefore,” he drawls, “You’re not good enough for Hua She.”

Taehyung’s mouth parts and closes, lost for a response at the realisation that the man had been cornering him into that kind of conclusion all along. He grunts as Yoongi licks his lips, tongue small and pink and threateningly feline. He thinks he even sees a gleam pass over the man’s eyes.

“Face it, Kim—most of the men in here would eat you up.”

Distantly, Taehyung thinks about how convenient it would be if Jeon Jeongguk ended up being the same. But that’s a thought for another time.

He has his integrity to protect.

But, Hoseok seems to have the same idea, and he reminds the man, “I already told you he can fight—”

“I’m not talking about how good he is at fighting, Hope,” Yoongi cuts in sharply, a glossily unreadable expression dawning his features before mockery slices right through and he adds, “I’m talking about how he looks.

Taehyung’s face tightens into a scowl and he bites, “What’s wrong with the way I look?

“You just don’t look like a gangster, kid. Nothin’ personal,” Yoongi claims, and Hoseok gets a kind of unusual entertainment from that, sauntering over to him and swinging a heavy arm around the older man’s shoulder, who immediately regards him with discontentment, eyes hooded and sharp as Hoseok grins with the amusement of a devil.

“People always said the same thing about you growing up, Gi,” Hoseok begins steadily, pressing an inquisitive finger to his lips as he wonders, “What was it they used to call you?”

“Don’t you dare, Hoseok—” Yoongi warns.

“Something to do with a kitten?”

Hoseok, ” He urges, scrabbling out of the younger’s hold to try and shut him up.

Hoseok leans away, peeling the man’s hands off his face and some kind of light ignites on his face as he leans in close and asks, “ Meow-meow—?

Yoongi slams his fist down on the table behind him, hand reaching around and, in a flash, there’s a knife in his hand, and he has it pressed neatly against Hoseok’s throat.

“Say that again…” he hisses, pressing the blade hard enough against the man’s skin to mark, but not to draw blood. Hoseok swallows, and the metal shifts unresistingly against it.

Taehyung snorts, and Yoongi’s attention snaps to him, like a surge of electric.

You, ” he says pointedly, gesturing with the knife as he leans off Hoseok, obviously thinking he’s learnt his lesson, the younger man rubbing at his throat with a grumble. “Not a word. I can’t kill Hoseok, but I can sure as hell kill you, motherfucker.”

Taehyung holds his hands up in menial defence, smile glittering with something deviously playful—but he’s wise enough to leave it at that, knowing that Yoongi probably isn’t joking.

Hoseok, having recovered now, turns back to his boss to tell him, “I’m serious, though, Gi—Taehyung’s a solid guy, good skills. We could use him. Especially since Jeon got rid of Tengfei—we’re short-handed.”

Taehyung doesn’t ask what happened to this ‘Tengfei.’ He gets a feeling he doesn’t want to know.

Yoongi’s lips stay clamped in a firm frown, scanning Taehyung intently once again before he puts a hand to his face, a sigh escaping his mouth as he mutters, “Shouldn’t he get a say, at least?”

Hoseok matches his gaze with Taehyung’s, mouth in full smile when he chirpily states, “Sure thing: Work for us or get drowned in the nearest river for trespass and beating up five of our guys.”

Taehyung lets out a low chuckle, leaning off the table again as he assures, “I have no problem working with you, Seok.”

He doesn’t need to know why that really is.

Yoongi scoffs, clearly displeased with the situation as he snarkily says, “Sorry to break up the love fest—but Kim can’t join until he’s proved himself.” And then, with borderline cheer, he adds, “Until then, think of him as an intern.”

Hoseok laughs, heartily, nudging the older man in the arm as he asks, “You got something in mind, by any chance?”

The man smiles, a predatory kind of blaze to it.

“Of course, I do.”

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

As the night goes on, somehow, it feels as if the streets just get busier.

The atmosphere is jovial and animated as Hoseok and him make their way from the restaurant, to the night markets. Min had pointed them in that direction, talking vaguely about an intrusion of their territory by another gang, and left them to it.

Mockingly, Taehyung had asked if navigating his way to one of the most notable parts of the area was part of his ‘test’, but the man had simply snuffed, stomping back inside with a hostile scowl.

It’s little more than a ten-minute walk from where they started, but, somehow, the two try to squeeze in years of catching-up, starting with Hoseok casually commenting, “Haneul’ll be excited to see you again. She always wondered what you got up to while you were away.”

Taehyung snickers lightly at the memory of Hoseok’s little sister. She’d never leave them alone when they were all kids. She got subtler about it as they got older, but it was still blaringly obvious to everyone involved how strong of a crush the girl had on him.

That was what had led to Taehyung getting a solid punch in the face from his best friend; but he isn’t sure that’s the greatest anecdote to bring up again—Hoseok was wildly prickly about it, even when the wounds had healed.

Both the metaphorical ones and the bruise on Taehyung’s face.

Even now, Hoseok’s expression is rather expectant as he watches Taehyung form a reply.

“Settle down there, Seokie,” he says with an edge of ridicule to the words, “I’m not after your little sister.”

Anymore, ” Hoseok grumbles.

Ever. Especially not now,” Taehyung corrects, shaking his head like the man should’ve known.

At that, Hoseok raises an eyebrow, looking at Taehyung with a different kind of confusion than he expected him to have with that.

“Is there someone else?”

Taehyung’s eyes flick to Hoseok with bewilderment rolling off of him in waves.

“What the hell gives you that idea?”

“The way you said that made it sound like you’re already occupied,” he justfies, casually adding, “Hell, I dunno what you got up to back in America.”

Taehyung scoffs, giving his friend a scandalised look as he prods, “And you thought settling down was a possibility?”

“I don’t know!” The man replies defensively, “You might’ve changed. Maybe that’s why you came here—met someone online, or whatever…”

“I haven’t,” Taehyung says firmly. Christ, it couldn’t be further from the truth . “I can assure you, I didn’t come back to Hong Kong for love.”

Hoseok seems to think about this for a moment, walking in silence, until he slowly asks, “Then… why did you come back?”

Taehyung rolls his eyes, flaky smile on his lips while he questions, “Can’t I visit my home country?”

“’Cause you miss it after being away awhile?” Hoseok fires back, “ Sure . But out of the blue, no warning, after half a decade? There had to be a reason.”

Finally realising that Hoseok won’t just drop the subject, Taehyung concedes instead. He hums without any real meaning to the sound, and merely tells him, “I got into some trouble back home. Needed somewhere to lay low for a while.”

“Trouble with who ?”

“The police, Seok—who else?” He asks with a sneer, but his friend just grins, cheekily at him with a taunt.

“You’re a loud mouth,” he jibes, “could’ve been anyone.”

Taehyung clicks his tongue but doesn’t deny it. They have that in common, he guesses.

“But, in that case,” his older friend continues, “where are you staying?”

“East Avenue,” Taehyung replies breezily but Hoseok’s joviality wipes clean off of his face.

There? ” He gasps, screwing up his face in repulsion. It’s slightly dramatic. “God, those apartment blocks are—”

“Disgusting, I know,” the younger brushes off, quirking an eyebrow at his friend in crafty hope when he says, “Which reminds me… you couldn’t buy your old friend some bed sheets, could you? Maybe a few things to wear, too?”

At that, Hoseok really seems bewildered.

“You didn’t bring anything?” He asks, to which Taehyung merely shakes his head, patting the clothes on his body as he says, “Just me.”

“Shit, Tata,” the man swears, silly childhood nickname rolling off his tongue like second nature. He looks considerably affronted, poking, “How much money do you have?”

“I’m asking you to buy me bed sheets, Seok,” Taehyung deadpans and somehow that is the thing to make the man crack.

“Why the fuck did you come to Hong Kong with no luggage and no money?” He says accusingly, bumping the man on the shoulder who rubs at the spot with a dismissive scoff.

“I told you; I got into trouble. Didn’t exactly have time to pack .

Which isn’t totally a lie. He got arrested, he got sent off. They didn’t let him scoot back home for a bag.

“Christ almighty,” he says, dumbfounded and, after a moment of wordless contemplation, he concludes, “Well, I guess Yoongi’ll have to let you in. Either that or you’re gonna have to work in the restaurant.”

Taehyung gapes.

“I’m not working in the restaurant.”

Hoseok gives him a grave look, saying, “Gi’s a stubborn bitch. I wouldn’t be so quick to say that.”

Stubborn bitch —Taehyung snorts. He can’t say that surprises him. Even when the man didn’t seem to hate his guts, while he was still serving him, there was an overwhelming sense of resentment rolling off of him. Taehyung just couldn’t place why.

He still can’t, for the record, and he scrunches his nose up at the realisation, bluntly asking, “What’s his problem with me, anyway?”

But Hoseok just shrugs his shoulders like he doesn’t even know himself, answering, “He’s got problems with everyone. And I mean it when I say everyone.

But then he sighs, and as he takes his eyes off of Taehyung to stare ahead, the action makes the younger wonder if he might know more than he thinks.

“I mean,” Hoseok continues correctionally, “everyone except one person.”

Taehyung’s mouth hangs open.

One person?”

In the whole fucking world? One?

He thought the hostility running between the men was just light-hearted, deep down but it looks like Taehyung was off, unless that ‘one person’ is Hoseok.

But the words don’t sound fond like he thinks they would if he’d meant it that way. They sound somewhat pitiful.

“Yep, just one,” he mumbles flatly, a glimpse of a grin hanging off of his features, untimely and out of place, before he wipes it away with a, “But let’s not get into that—not my story to tell.”

Taehyung’s interest only piques tenfold at that, like Hoseok probably expects it to, which is probably the exact reason why he changes the subject, saying, “He has a problem with you in particular, though, because he doesn’t know you. You gotta admit, your introduction wasn’t the greatest, from his point of view.”

Taehyung might be able to agree with that… but he explained himself, for god’s sake—does the guy not know how to let go of grudges?

“So, what—you think I gotta work for him as a waiter to prove myself as a gangster ?”

“It’s about loyalty and discipline, I’d suspect.” Hoseok shrugs his shoulders, murmuring, “Dunno, man—the guy’s thought process is almost as weird as Jeongguk’s. But at least Yoongi isn’t running the show.”

Then, Hoseok’s face shifts into one of blatant shock, as he very much knows that he fucked up.

He didn’t really; Taehyung already knows every detail, but, of course, Hoseok doesn’t know that.

“Jeongguk?” Taehyung echoes, forcing an expression of curiosity into his countenance as the older man seems to fumble for an excuse, lip caught between his teeth with worry.

“Did I say Jeongguk?” he wonders, “I meant Jeon. Just Jeon. No ‘gguk.’”

“I thought Jeon’s first name was Jungkeun?” he presses, watching as a bead of sweat starts to roll down Hoseok’s face. He swallows hard, breathing somewhat erratically until he just seems to give up, shoulders slumping with a sigh.

“Jeongguk is his son. His father had a heart attack and now he’s had to take over,” he tells him sourly, eyes flickering to Taehyung with an air of warning about them as he insists, “You can’t tell anyone. It’s a secret for now. If our rivals found out the gang’s vulnerable at the minute then…”

Then, there could be an infiltration—and they don’t want that, do they?

“Seok,” Taehyung says cooly, “Who am I gonna tell?”

That doesn’t already know, that is.

Hoseok lets out a chuckle of relief, breaking that tough façade of his as he straightens up his posture again, remarking, “Right, that’s fair… you weren’t up with the gangs back in LA?”

Taehyung shakes his head, replying, “Pretty much solo. I had a couple of allies, a few good guys for back-up—" minus the fuck that screwed him over , “But, yeah… free dealing, really.”

“Good to hear. We value loyalty in Hua She, as I’m sure you’ve grasped.”

“What gang doesn’t?” Taehyung says easily, but Hoseok doesn’t seem to find this as light-hearted as Taehyung intends, face flickering into a small frown.

“Seriously, Tae,” he says slowly, “If you’re not willing to put your all into this gang things aren’t gonna go well. You can’t just… skip off in a couple of months if you change your mind. It’s not about a place to ‘lay low’ for a while.”

Loyalty . Taehyung has the sense not to scoff at that, but the irony is not lost on him.

He’s been disloyal before he’s even joined. This isn’t about loyalty. Not to Hua She, not even to the LAPD and the FBI.

But he can’t tell Hoseok that, so, instead, he bullshits to his expertise, giving him a firm nod and a sombre expression as he says, “I promise, Hoseok. I’m not going anywhere.”

And, with that, the man seems content again, walking beside him in comfortable silence as Taehyung pours over what the man had said, a little slower to think about it.

Things won’t ‘go well?’

He could take a pretty confident guess at what he means by that. Jeon won’t want half-assed people in his gang, but he can’t exactly cut them loose either.

Not loose from the gang, at least. Loose from their bodies, maybe.

He hopes the grimace on his face isn’t too noticeable.

“So,” Taehyung says, suddenly wanting a topic-change, “What have you been up to? You and Haneul?”

Hoseok grins like he’d been waiting for him to ask.

“Well, Hannie just graduated.”

Taehyung’s eyebrows raise in surprise, asking, “From High School? That’s great—”

“No, from being a runner. She’s into dealing now.”

Taehyung stares for a few silent seconds, waiting for the man to tell him he’s kidding.

He doesn’t.

Oh … that’s…”

But, then, Hoseok bursts out into laughter, clapping the younger man on the back as he says, “I’m just kidding, dumbass. She just graduated senior year. Looking to go to college in the fall.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes, muttering, “Asshole,” before he flashes a congratulatory smile and asks, “What’s she studying?”

“Medicine,” Hoseok announces proudly—and he does, really, look proud. He always seemed so proud of his little sister. Every tiny thing she did was like a gold medal at the Olympics , to him.

Taehyung smiles sadly, and Hoseok seems to think it’s a better idea to move on again.

Taehyung’s noticed him doing it. They talk about everything, but not once does Hoseok bring up the elephant roaming through the streets; not again.

He says, ‘before you left’, ‘while you were gone’ like Taehyung was on vacation and while a part of him is ready to snap, just tell him to spit it out, ask what he so obviously wants, the smarter part of him decides that, maybe, it’s better this way. He isn’t sure if Hoseok’ll want to hear how much his old friend has changed over the years.

Especially since it doesn’t seem like Hoseok’s changed much at all, minus the gang.

The streets are tightly squeezed and flurrying with noise as the markets glow in their subliminal mazes, winding down steps to form wall after wall of vibrantly lit stalls. The smell is incredible, and it makes Taehyung promptly remember that he hasn’t eaten in about a day, because his stomach starts to croon with hunger, loud enough that even Hoseok hears it. He looks to his younger friend with mild delight as he asks, “Is this your way of saying that I have to feed you?”

Taehyung gives a cheeky grin, eyes flashing with that old kind of mischief as he replies, “A celebration of our reunion—and you’re the hyung.”

Exasperation flirts with the underlying fondness on Hoseok’s face, grumbling, “Last time I checked, this was Hong Kong, not Seoul.”

Taehyung just shrugs his shoulders, reminding him, “Culture is culture.”

And, despite the man’s playful refusal, he seems to cater to his younger friends’ needs, anyway, stopping at the first food stall they pass. Hoseok perkily greets the vendor and just as promptly asks for a whole stream of orders.

The woman stares at them both uneasily and, for a second, Taehyung thinks it’s because they ordered so much. He glances at Hoseok in a silent inquiry, but the man keeps his eyes on the woman, watching her gather their order before she hands him two cups, hot with curry sauce and skewed fish balls, along with a bag containing half of the menu.

Taehyung doesn’t ask what the fuck was with that until they both get away a little, and by then he’s drawn up his own conclusion, remarking “Must be hard to get proper service sometimes, being so infamous .”

The word, though vaguely mocking, isn’t far from the truth, and Hoseok hums, rippled by a thoughtless chuckle.

“Some people won’t serve you at all,” he tells him, “but some do it with their best smile. She has protection from one of the gangs that are slowly weaselling their way into Mong Kok: Four Suns.” And then, almost as an afterthought, he casually adds, “It’s nothing personal.”

Hoseok hands him a cup and Taehyung feels the heat of it pleasantly bleeding into his hand. It smells like Friday evenings a decade ago, where they’d ditch the last class of the day to rampage around the city, always winding up spending the last of their pocket money on the street food they could never resist, no matter how many times they swore they would.

“You were watching her like your life depended on it.”

Hoseok looks at him in his peripheral, face as radiant and youthful as Taehyung remembers it, despite the changes that they’ve both overcome in each other’s absence. A little more defined, a little rougher—but he’s handsome and boyish all the same.

“It might’ve,” Hoseok says, spirited and grinning as he bites into a skewer. He hums in satisfaction before he adds, “but god, would it have been worth it.”

Taehyung snorts, ready to deny it, but when he takes a bite himself the argument melts right out of his mouth with a moan of, “Fuck, this is good. ” He swallows, shoulders swaying with a gentle sigh as he admits, “I missed this shit, Seokie.”

He’s not just talking about the food, and Hoseok knows , but he doesn’t comment on it. He nudges him hard in the ribs, a little more out of his reach than they used to be and jibes, “ Yeah, ‘cause you’ve been stuffing yourself with processed shit and America’s ‘Chinese food’ all these years, Tata.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes at him, “As if you’re eating home cooked meals every night. There’s a fast-food restaurant every corner, Seok.”

“Three on each street, actually,” the man seamlessly replies, and Taehyung can’t help but laugh—not just at what he said but at the general picture of themselves right now, walking through the night markets, eating cheap street food and talking about nothing at all. Carefree, almost, if it wasn’t for the reminder of why they’re even here.

Hoseok suddenly puts a hand on Taehyung’s shoulder to stall him, eyes trained on down the path, where the market opens up into a small square. Among the crowds are a collection of suited-up men, surrounding a stall. One man’s holding an iron bat, whilst the rest just look as if they can seriously do some damage, all on their own.

“That’s them?” Taehyung guesses, because as gang-orientated as some of these parts can be, you’re not likely to run into several groups of armed gangsters threatening some random civilian in one place.

Well, not including him and Hoseok, of course.

“Time to prove yourself, Tata. Hospitalising is permitted, death is discouraged but not prohibited,” he rhymes off like he’s making an announcement over an airport intercom. He throws the bag of food to the side and loosens the tie at his neck until he tugs it off, too.

“Works both ways,” Taehyung replies, distractedly, but the other man just laughs.

“Yoongi always tells me that, too.”

Taehyung doesn’t know what to make of being compared to Min Yoongi , so he doesn’t—and the two calmly make their way over, the sight of Jung Hoseok approaching a group of gangsters enough to clear out an impressive percentage of the pedestrians and vendors around them; some start to hastily pack up their stalls, whilst others just bolt out of there.

Taehyung doesn’t comment on it, but Hoseok gives him an arrogantly knowing look anyway.

As they get closer, they see exactly what Yoongi was talking about. The vendor of the stall must be in his late sixties—but the men are laying into him, pushing him around like they’re in a playground.

Hoseok tucks his hands in his pockets, strolling right up to them with a steady nonchalance that Taehyung can’t help but quietly smile at.

“You know,” the man starts, all the attention of the small crowd snapping to him like the flick of a switch. “It’s one thing to threaten someone under Hua She’s protection—but an old man? That’s low.”

The thug holding the vendor scowls and, not a beat later, a man emerges from the group, walking forward to Hoseok with his chest puffed out and his jaw clenched. Taehyung watches the way Hoseok’s face changes, playfulness crumpling to disgust as he observes the person approaching him.

It feels as if the entire city goes silent in that moment, the gangsters’ shoes punctuating his walk with a sharp snap against the concrete. Taehyung notes the smug expression stretching on his face, clearly pleased with Hoseok’s reaction.

The man is older than both of them, certainly—Taehyung would guess late-forties—but while his face should perhaps gently be beginning to warp by the natural wrinkles of age, Taehyung sees the harsh tellings of frown-lines tormenting his instead.

“Hypocritical of you to scold someone on their morals, is it not?”

Hoseok’s jaw twitches, face melded into a scowl. He doesn’t answer him, just muttering, “Hung Chi Lai.”

The name catches on Taehyung’s memory, but not his recognition.

Hoseok’s voice is surprisingly even for the hostility storming in his features when he asks, “What the hell are you and your mutts doing, going where you know you’re not welcome?”

Chi Lai grins, gesturing around the area to drawl, “Just getting some air—grabbing some food.”

“You normally stop to threaten old men on your walks?” Hoseok quips, expression void of any amusement, and before the man can even warrant a response, he snaps “Cut the crap, Hung. You’re in Hua She territory. Hua She and Black Wolf aren’t allies, so either move along or let me kick your ass out myself.”

There’s a heavy silence that falls over them. Taehyung has no idea who this fucker is, but if he’s in their territory, then that gives him good enough reason to want to beat his ass, he guesses—and just as soon as he decides that, Chi Lai’s eyes land on him, lips curling up, into a sickening kind of intrigue.

“Who’s this little pup?” He asks, mockingly, turning back to Hoseok as he says, “One of Min’s?”

‘Pup.’

Something about the word makes Taehyung shiver in repulsion. Does the guy have a canine fetish, or is it supposed to relate to the gang name?

Hoseok’s brow furrows, looking at Chi Lai pointedly as he answers, “No. Old friend of mine.”

“Good fighter?” the man assumes, eyes still locked with Taehyung until Hoseok captures his attention once more.

“Keep talking and you’ll find out.”

Chi Lai’s gaze lingers on Hoseok a second longer, narrowed and burning with warning. Then, he simply shrugs his shoulders, smoothing out the creases in his suit jacket until, like a strike of lightning, he swings.

Taehyung feels the man’s fist crack against his cheek before he even sees it coming, and he staggers back with a wounded grunt, cussing, “Bastard–” but before he can surge forward, Hoseok holds out an arm to block him.

Taehyung knocks against it, looking bewildered at Hoseok, who keeps a completely straight face when he tells him, “Don’t.”

“What do you mean ‘don’t’? That cunt just–”

“I know,” he answers shortly, switching to address Chi Lai instead when he says, “I’d suggest that you don’t do that again.”

“You said he wasn’t Hua She,” the man replies smugly.

“Not yet,” Hoseok corrects. “Min wanted him to prove himself first. By taking care of the mutts swarming our territory.”

And, without a breath between the words, Hoseok grabs the man by the collar, and throws him into one of the poles of the vendor’s stall. It shakes with the impact, Hung’s face clashing against the metal with considerable force while his men stand around, almost dazed, for a moment, until they’re charging towards them.

“You can hit these ones,” Hoseok announces, and that’s all he says before he’s piling into them, kicks to their stomachs, fists against their faces. If Taehyung were a bystander, he’d be watching in awe.

But there’s no time for watching, right now.

The first man that reaches for him, Taehyung cleanly dodges, twisting on the spot to slam the point of his elbow in his throat. The goon gags and stumbles on his feet, so Taehyung sweeps a kick to the backs of his knees and he falls right over, knocking into another thug that Hoseok just sent flying.

Out of the corner of his eye, Taehyung watches Chi Lai get to an unsteady stance again, holding onto the pole that nearly knocked him out.

But then, he has to block the incoming punch of another brawn and his attention is diverted, tugging hard on the man’s arm and kicking at his ankle to unbalance him. He crashes to the ground with a groan, and Taehyung steps away, assessing the situation as Hoseok cleanly takes care of the last man standing, shrouding into a crouch as he clutches his bruising stomach.

Taehyung glances back to where he remembers Chi Lai was, but a breath is punched out of him, landing to the ground at the force of a practised heel to his chest. He lifts his head from the floor, throbbing and echo-y from the collision and sees Hung standing over him, knife held threateningly in his hand.

“Seok,” Taehyung calls warily, “Am I allowed to fight him now?”

“No! Let me–” one of the men on the floor grab Hoseok as he’s climbing over them and he goes hurtling to the ground, the thug moving over the top of him and smacking the words right out of his mouth.

Taehyung looks up again just in time and his hands fly out on reflex, blocking the very large knife from stabbing right into his very unprotected chest. He struggles desperately against Chi Lai, arms shaking with exertion as he tries to force the weapon away—but the man is just as strong as he looks, no surprise.

Hobi …” Taehyung says warningly, eyes sealed to his opponent who’s grinning maniacally like he’s certain he’s got him.

And, well… he might.

Don’t touch him!” Hoseok tells him again, and Taehyung grits his teeth in annoyance.

“Why the fuck not?!” He hisses, brain unable to come up with a single excuse for Hoseok’s behaviour.

“Just don’t, okay?” he says as his lousy explanation. “ Trust me!”

Taehyung’s grip starts to slide, and he looks to Hoseok frantically until his eyes cross at the effort, because, suddenly, Hoseok’s on his feet again, and he tackles the man hovering over his friend to the ground, grabbing the hilt of the knife and twisting Chi Lai’s arm around until he’s forced to relent with a throaty grunt.

Then, to Taehyung’s utter stupefaction, Hoseok climbs back up onto his feet and throws the knife aside.

As Hung gets up, Hoseok wastes no time in shoving him in the direction of the square’s exit, seething, “Get the fuck out of here before I cut your fucking ankles off and you have to crawl your way out, bitch.”

There’s confliction clear in the man’s demeanour, trying to decide on what will save the most dignity, most likely. He fixes his appearance with a misplaced arrogance for someone that just got their ass kicked.

Without any ass kicking, that is.

But he’s smart enough to walk away, taking a few, resentful steps backwards with his gaze flickering between them, guardedly.

Hoseok helps Taehyung to his feet again, and Hung has an air of intrigue still moving in his eyes as he witnesses the interaction, before saying, “Your loss, little pup. Good luck making anything of yourself in Hua She.”

Taehyung spits, wiping the back of his hand with a streak of blood smearing across the skin. His glare hardens.

“What a shame I won’t learn how to lose against two men I drastically outnumber.”

Chi Lai growls, eyes flashing dangerously, but he doesn’t say another word, hovering for a moment as he looks over his beaten men, all in varying degrees of both standing and consciousness.

Hung clicks his fingers, snapping, “ Come on ,” before he’s stomping off, shoving disorientated civilians out of his way until he disappears into the mirth of the night.

Hoseok waits until he’s out of sight to let out a triumphant bout of laughter, twisting around to Taehyung with an ignited smile as he says, “ God I love to piss Hung off, he makes my fucking skin crawl.”

Taehyung chuckles, watching as the man acquires his tie, slinging it around his neck and picks up the bag of food again, energetically, still running off of the high of adrenaline, it seems.

“Yeah? Not just me then?” he half-jokes, while Hoseok fakes a shiver, vehemently disagreeing.

“No way; Yoongi calls him Hands-On Hung.”

Taehyung arches an eyebrow.

Why ?”

“Because he doesn’t know how to keep his hands off, ” Hoseok replies, grinning with a strange kind of affection laced within the expression, before his smile widens slightly in memory and he adds, “There’s a whole story about that, actually, but first—”

Hoseok heads straight towards the beaten vendor, stepping over the remainder of Hung’s men with his brow knotted in concern. He helps the man up from where he’d taken shelter behind his stall, asking him “Are you alri—"

Immediately, Hoseok’s smacked in the face with a spatula, and he recoils, holding his hands out to prevent any other possible attacks as he says, “ Hey! Hey, wait, we’re not with those guys!”

The vendor retreats but doesn’t sheathe his weapon, holding it cautiously in both his hands like he’s ready to swing again at any moment when he hisses, “What do you want, then?”

Clearly, this vendor falls into the ‘ won’t serve you at all’ category.

But, to Taehyung’s surprise, it’s not because he has protection from a different gang.

No, in actual fact, Hoseok rubs a hand gently over the reddening mark on his cheek and answers, “Just wanted to make sure you were alright, for one thing, but also—”

“Protection money,” the man finishes, bitterly. Hoseok deflates slightly, like he was hoping he’d have a change of heart over the situation.

“I’m sorry, but it’s Jeon’s orders. If you’re behind on payments, we can’t help you.”

The implication of what happened tonight hangs heavy in the air. The ‘ if you’d paid, you would’ve been fine’ trailing along the momentary lull in conversation.

The vendor grunts, slamming down his spatula on the counter and dipping behind the stall to take out a box. He lifts off the lid, removes the stack of bills inside and mutters to himself as he begins to count them.

Once he’s finished, he holds them out for Hoseok to take, grumbling, “Every gang in this damn city acts like they’re so much more righteous than the last—but you’re no better than each other.”

Hoseok takes the money, tucking the stack into his pants and thanking the man for his time, who doesn’t give them a goodbye, but a muttered ‘get the fuck away from my stall.’

When his friend joins him again, Taehyung is a little more than shocked by the interaction.

“’Surprised you let him talk to you like that,” he tells him, Hoseok turning his head to face him as he begins to lead them out of the square. “I half expected you to smack him around a bit for it.”

Hoseok lets out a sound of morbid amusement, chiming, “Jeongguk would’ve. Maybe Yoongi on a bad day, but that wouldn’t teach him a lesson, you know? He’d just hate us more.”  

“Rational,” Taehyung notes, and Hoseok beams, clearly agreeing, before he remembers—

“Oh, the story about Hung!” he says excitedly, not even waiting for Taehyung’s acknowledgement before he starts, “They first met way back when Yoongi hadn’t taken over for his father, yet. Not completely. But, he’s always been eager to prove himself, so he did odd jobs and deals with people to kinda prep himself,” Hoseok explains, and Taehyung nods in understanding. It sounds about right. From what he’s heard, Min Yoonsung wasn’t an easy man to please.

“One night, he’d set up a meeting with Hung to talk about divisions and possibly arrange some kind of alliance between their sections of the gang, you know? Yoongi decided to have them meet at Kim Namjoon’s place—the strip club—just ‘cause it was comforting to him, knowing that Joon was nearby with a huge, menacing knife, should things take a turn.”

The younger man hums in recognition, not sure if Hoseok expects him to know who Namjoon is—but he doesn’t question him on it, so he figures he’s good.

“Problem was,” Hoseok continues, “Yoongi was only… like, early twenties at the time. He was really skinny back then. Lithe, you know? And he’d just bleached his hair… Hung must’ve thought he was a waiter or something because as soon as Yoongi approached him he ‘turned on the charm’.

Taehyung makes a face of disgust, repeating, “The charm?”

His older friend snorts, answering, “Yup. Calling him baby, givin’ him the eyes—the kinda stuff to really make your skin crawl.”

Taehyung’s had the good fortune to never experience that kinda shit. Back in LA it didn’t happen unless you were in a club and, even then, one hard look and they were on their way. He doesn’t like being called baby, doesn’t like people putting their hands on him or looking at him a certain way; doesn’t like anyone acting as if they can just take what they want from him because they wanna stick their dick in him. It’s illogical and irritating and, quite frankly, Taehyung can’t comprehend how anyone would enjoy being treated like that.

But, of course, he realises a beat later, he’s gonna have to put up with that sort of bull if he wants to snag Jeongguk’s interest, most likely.

Privileged little rich boy that’s been babied and told how special he is all his life? Seems like the exact type to feed on that power-play kind of shit.

“Sounds sleazy,” Taehyung agrees, and Hoseok gestures with the hand not carrying their food, a silent ‘right?

“But Yoongi thought the guy was just one of those assholes, so he let it slide—until Hung grabbed his ass. Then, Yoongi broke his wrist and the entire arrangement.”

Taehyung’s mouth drops open, staring at Hoseok in reverberating shock. Hoseok nods, pointedly.

“That’s exactly what I looked like when he charged into the room an hour earlier than we expected him, trying to reach for Joon’s knife to ‘ cut that bastard’s hands off .’”

“Holy shit, ” Taehyung says, thoroughly amused by the anecdote as he asks, “The rivalry between Hua She and Black Wolf is down to Yoongi?

Hoseok laughs warmly, confirming, “Mm hm—I mean, they were rivals before; but that’s why it’s never been resolved.”

Taehyung shakes his head in disbelief. He wonders if Hung lost his shit when he found out that he just grabbed the ass of Min Yoonsung’s son.

“I’m surprised he’s still alive,” Taehyung comments.

“Yoongi was willing to tear the fucker limb from limb—but his father was not. Said it was ‘too much.’”

At that, Taehyung’s brow furrows, asking, “ How? If that was my kid, I’d want Hung’s head on a silver platter.”

Hoseok shrugs, saying, “Me too—but Gi and his father never really ever saw eye to eye. He thought Yoongi was too soft and Yoongi thought he was too harsh.”

Christ. Yoonsung must’ve really been the nightmare Taehyung remembered him as, then.

Somehow, he always expected Yoongi to be a carbon copy of his father. To hear that he’s very much not, supposedly is… surprising.

“Yoonsung was killed a couple of years back, wasn’t he? Some kind of assassination?”

He remembered hearing about it on the news. Not a lot of gang shit from Hong Kong travelled Taehyung’s way once he moved to America—but his death was so public… so brutal that it couldn’t be covered up and, furthermore, it got the world talking about the violence still going on in fully-developed societies, even today.

Of course, no one thought to point a finger in the mirror with that one.

“Yeah,” Hoseok says, airily, squinting like he can see it in front of him, still, as they climb the stairs out of the night market to reach the main roads again. “One of the bloodiest things I’ve ever seen.”

“How did Yoongi react?” Taehyung asks and although it should feel like a stupid question, somehow the answer doesn’t feel very clear to him. Even Hoseok looks contemplative when he asks.

“Quietly,” is what he comes up with. “He just nodded when he was told, like he knew it’d happen eventually. I think he cried for a bit. He was his father, after all—asshole or not. Yoongi was different back then, though. He could take hardship without exploding. He had a great support system, you see, but then, when things changed he just… got volatile.”

“Because of his father?”

Hoseok shakes his head.

“No. Because of a different kind of death,” he tells him ominously, and Taehyung feels a chill run over his skin just witnessing the gravity of Hoseok’s words, the severity in his features.

Taehyung decides that it’s probably a good idea to veer off the topic, as soon as possible.

“So… was Jeon not angry that Yoongi fucked up the alliance with Hung?”

Hoseok actually laughs at that, entire aura changing in a flash, now looking at Taehyung as if he’s just asked the most redundant question in the world.

“Yeah, but he wouldn’t kill him. His favourite bodyguard was Park Jimin,” he replies breezily, parking himself down on the steps of an abandoned shop at the side of the road without warning, so that Taehyung has to screech to a stop as his friend rips open the bag containing the rest of their meal.

But, Taehyung stalls for a different reason, too, confusion flickering in the action.

“What does that have to do with Yoongi?”

Like a relapse of earlier, Hoseok realises he fucked up, clapping his hands over his mouth and gaping at Taehyung like his eyes might pop out of their sockets.

Hesitantly, he removes his hands before uttering, “You didn’t hear me say that.”

Taehyung makes a face, annoyed in response, prying, “ What? Jimin and Yoongi are…? What?”

Hoseok flinches, rising to his feet again to clamp a hand over Taehyung’s mouth as he glances around them, paranoia sparking off of him like a live wire.

“Shut up,” he hisses, checking around them some more until he pulls back with a deflation of tension, regarding Taehyung with a tired look as he mutters, “Christ, you still manage to pull secrets out of me like you’re tugging a loose thread.”

“That’s why we never kept them,” Taehyung says dismissively, eyes roaming over the man’s nauseated and greying face with enormous suspicion. “Brothers?Cousins?” He guesses. “Lovers?”

But Hoseok merely shakes his head, replying, “No way are you getting that one out of me.”

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

When they get back, Yoongi’s sitting at one of the tables he’d just wiped down earlier, feet up on the plastic surface and a lit cigarette in his hand, circling smoke around his fingers as he watches them with a steely expression, like he’d been expecting them, somehow.

“Done?” He asks, barely bothering to lift an eyebrow in question as the two arrive in. Hoseok immediately sits himself down opposite him, loudly and graceless, while Taehyung idly leans up against the adjacent table.

“Easy peasy,” Hoseok chimes, happily folding his arms behind his head to act as a pillow, while Yoongi snorts, softly, turning to Taehyung with an expectant look.

“We had time to eat after,” he boasts, crooking an eyebrow right back at the man when he adds, “If that was an initiation to Hua She then maybe I’m joining the wrong gang.”

Hoseok hiccups with laughter, while Yoongi looks minorly peeved, leaning on his hand and muttering, “Yeah, well Hung’s a little bitch, you got off lightly.”

“He told me to send you his greetings,” Hoseok jokes, knocking the elder’s foot with his own whose jaw clenches visibly in disgust.

Finally, Yoongi relents with a drawn-out sigh, and he removes his feet from the table, getting up to untie his apron as he glances back at Taehyung with an air of reluctance gracing the motion.

“Okay, Kim. You’ve got a shot. Don’t fuck it up,” he mutters darkly, to which Taehyung merely grins with victory.

Yoongi stretches his arms above his head, making a soft mewling sound before he drops them, along with his cigarette, crushing the stick under his heel against the concrete. Then, he looks languidly at them both, quickly explaining, “Jeongguk’s on his way, so it’d be better if you aren’t here.”

“Why not?” Taehyung immediately fires back.

Yoongi rolls his eyes, exhaustedly, murmuring, “Boss man can be weird around new people—” he stops dead in the middle of his sentence, mouth gaping as he realises what he just said.

Just like Hoseok. Taehyung must have some kind of compelling aura about him.

“Don’t freak,” Hoseok says casually, holding a hand up to stop Yoongi from erupting on the spot. “I already let it slip earlier. He knows about Jeongguk’s father, and he knows about Jeongguk.”

But Yoongi does explode, despite Hoseok’s efforts. He just explodes on him.

“What the fuck? You told him? Before he was even in the fuckin’ gang?”

Hoseok is completely speechless for a moment from sheer bemusement.

Then, he says, “I’m sorry—what did you just do accidentally?”

Yoongi falls short of an explanation, eyes blinking slowly like he’s managed to confuse himself.

Then, he glares at his younger friend, telling him, “You’re on break-in-the-newbie duty with Taehyung for the next month. Have fun with that.”

Hoseok doesn’t look too bothered about that, to Taehyung’s satisfaction. Yoongi starts to walk off again until Hoseok jokes, “So, I guess that means you’re not making him work in the restaurant?”

Then, the blonde recoils and stiffens to the spot, frown weighing down his lips when he looks over his shoulder to sneer, “You think I’d let him work in my business?”

Taehyung scoffs, not particularly offended , just kind of sick of his bullshit, already.

“You’re letting me work for Hua She, aren’t you?”

“That doesn’t mean I’d let you anywhere near my customers,” Yoongi snaps back, and then, somewhat teasingly (but at the same time, painfully serious) he remembers the conversation from earlier, and continues, “Nor does it mean that I still won’t kill you if you step out of line, Kim.”

But Taehyung isn’t so wary of the guy, by now, and he folds his arms across his chest, defiant as he drawls, “I could say the same to you.”

“Actually, you can’t,” Yoongi remarks smugly, neatly folding his apron as he cynically chimes, “Protection code and that.”

Taehyung makes a face, nose scrunched and eyebrow cocked as he repeats, “Protection code?”

Hoseok turns his focus to Taehyung to tell procedurally him, “Unwritten law. That’s why you couldn’t touch Hung. You’re not a notable gangster, so you can’t touch any dignitaries—and if you do, you’re breaking protection code. The whole gang’ll be on you before you can even scream ‘he hit me first! ’”

“Could’ve told me that,” Taehyung points out, but Hoseok simply shrugs his shoulders.

“Wasn’t the best time to give you a tutorial.”

And Yoongi’s almost about to walk back inside again for the third time, when Taehyung realises something.

“How come you could hit him, then?”

The blonde snickers into his hand, face ripe with delightful mockery as Hoseok’s bewilderment slaps right onto his.

I’m a dignitary! I own that entire fucking square!”

Taehyung looks over his shoulder, as if the square is right behind him, before he languidly turns back and concludes, “Pretty sure that’s owned by the council.”

Hoseok makes a noise halfway between a growl and a whine, posture tense and fingers bent into claws until he simply sighs, releasing all of that tension from his body to mutter, “I shouldn’t have brought you.”

But, before Taehyung can even give a rebuttal, hip cocked and smirk playing wildly on his lips, Yoongi’s interrupting their bickering with a dull greeting of, “Ah, sir. Good to see you again, come on in—”

Taehyung turns his head like the crack of a whip and, suddenly, he meets the most striking pair of eyes he’s ever seen, soft and doe-like when they focus on Taehyung for a moment.

But, then, they transform with unfiltered sharpness, lingering on him like he’s deciding something in his head, before he looks ahead again, striding past Taehyung with the kind of confidence that just screamed out from the photos.

He knows he’s being watched.

It’s just as overwhelming and lightly irritating as Taehyung expected it to be. He hums in satisfaction at that.

“Min,” the man says deeply, “let’s deal with this quickly.”

And it’s almost like he was never there at all, once Taehyung’s left with Hoseok again, mind clouded with the soft tresses of dark hair, firm eyebrows, commanding posture. All strong curves and sharp lines.

That, and the last glance the man gave him before heading inside. The lick of his lips, the flash of something, something in the murky pools of his irises.

That wanton whisper of ‘mine, mine, mine.’

It still makes Taehyung’s skin crawl, but it’s not disgust that courses through his veins.

Chapter Text

Taehyung’s ears ring on the first punch—and from that, will come the first of many things that Yoongi will drill into his head once Hoseok tells him what happened later on:

Don’t get comfortable.

The morning after Taehyung joins Hua She, he gets a call from Hoseok at nine AM. The sun is already intruding through the murky glass of his windows, but it’s the default shriek of his ringtone that wrenches him out of his dreamless sleep. He feels around for the device in his molding bed sheets. They’ve crusted in a few places with stale water, locking in the smell—but Taehyung doesn’t have the coherence to care at this time in the morning.

He can’t even remember what time he actually got back home last night, but Hoseok still sounds as chipper as ever when he answers.

“Wakey wakey, Tae-Tae,” the phone crackles into his ear once Taehyung manages to sit up long enough to hold it. “If you hurry down to the restaurant, Gi’ll make you something to eat before we head out.”

Taehyung stretches, feeling the bones in his back pop with the motion. Groggily, he places the phone back to his ear and repeats, “Head out?”

“He’s got a job for us—well, more you. But I’ll be tagging along.”

It turns out that Hoseok’s dreaded ‘break-in-the-newbie’ duty only involves him watching over how Taehyung carries out the tasks he’s given, no helping out. Yoongi explains all of this over doenjang soup which tastes almost uncannily like his mother’s, the taste slapping Taehyung right in the face after years of black coffee and stale bread making up his morning routine.

There is a man that’s been skipping out on paying his rent for one of the docks down at Yan Maht Port, Taehyung is told, who’s trying to save money by paying for the transport, without the location charge. It just so happens that the space he occupies is one of the ones that Hua She rents out and, therefore, the money that he’s deciding to not pay is theirs.

“And Jeongguk doesn’t like the sound of that,” Yoongi says ominously, looking directly at Taehyung, as if the man’s wrath will be on him if he fucks up.

Which… it might be. He kind of already looked like he wanted to kill him last night. Somewhere between that and wanting to fuck the daylights out of him.

It’s a thin line to read, sometimes.

“Okay—so rough him up a little until he pays,” he says simply, already standing up from his seat at the table. “I get it.”

Yoongi looks vaguely irritated at his dismissal, but he doesn’t correct him. “The guy owns the car dealership a few blocks away: Leung’s Motors. If he’d pay up without confrontation, he’d be a smart man, but he’s not smart enough to pay in the first place, so—”

“—He won’t do it without a good reason now, either.”

Yoongi gestures inattentively with his hand, already turning away from the table to head back to the shop front. He turns the sign in the door from ‘closed’ to ‘open’, the thin plastic rattling against the glass for a second or two after.

“That’s for you to find out.”

 

 

Hoseok outright refuses to let Taehyung drive them there on his motorcycle.

“After watching you drive that thing last night, no way—I’d like to be alive at the end of the journey, thanks.”

So, instead, they take his car: a flashy red Jaguar that the man defensively tells him is an F-type and limited edition, as if that somehow makes it any less pompous.

“You must make a lot working for Min,” Taehyung comments once he’s shown the luxury of the interior as well: comfortable leather seats and an over-complicated dashboard flashing back at them through an array of unnecessary lights and theatrics.

“I do—but you won’t,” he replies, smiling closed-lipped and smugly at him after picking out the hopefulness in his friend’s voice. “At least not so soon.”

But Hoseok soon finds out that he has misread his friend completely when Taehyung smiles and says, “Then, I suppose you can buy all of my necessities for me.”

The older man's keys turn with a click, the engine making itself known as his foot brushes against the gas pedal.

“I already got you clothes.”

“You lent me your clothes,” Taehyung corrects, sticking his foot up on the dashboard, ankle bare to the world as he snaps, “And these pants don’t even fit.

“Not my fault you’re so fucking tall.”

“And it’s not my fault you haven’t grown since you were seventeen!”

They light-heartedly bicker all the way to the dealership, and, when they arrive, Hoseok doesn’t even bother being subtle about it, driving up into the yard and parking right in the middle. He rolls down his window when the presumed-owner saunters over to them, cigarette hanging in his mouth and introducing himself as “Leung Thomas, nice to meet ya. What can I do for you two gentleman this morning?” Not even a second later, Hoseok gestures to Taehyung, a flick of his hand that means ‘you’re up’ as Leung looks between the two of them, taking a slow, uncertain drag in the silence.

Taehyung wastes no time in getting out of the car. He rounds the hood of the vehicle, steps graceful and deliberate as he watches the man with narrowed eyes, practically waiting for him to strike.

“Actually, it’s less how you can help us , and more about how you can help yourself…” Taehyung stops in front of him, standing a good few inches over the man and Leung peers at the stranger a little harder with the sun obscuring his vision as he looks up and struggles to grasp his point. His eyes dart back and forth from Taehyung to Hoseok, still sitting in the car.

Then, realisation crashes onto his face as he lingers on Hoseok. The cigarette drops right out of his mouth.

“Oh shit,” he utters, glancing back to Taehyung with widening eyes etching into his paling features. He holds his hands out in defence, swearing, “I can pay! Whatever you guys need, I’ll pay.”

“How about what you owe?” Taehyung says dangerously, taking a step closer to the man, who doesn’t step back, but instead starts to shrink under his shadow.

“Yes! Of course, just give me a day and I’ll…”

Taehyung snorts, softly, and the man’s voice dies out in his throat.

“Okay… I’ll give you a day,” he starts, Leung’s eyes burning with relief for an instant, lips already moving to thank him until he adds, “And I’ll kick your ass as interest. How does that sound?”

The man seems to crumble at that, face and shoulders falling when he realises that waiting isn’t an option. He nods his head, relenting, “Yeah. That’s fine, I get it.” Taehyung’s lips curl upwards at the submission, watching the man dig in his pockets for his cash as he mutters, “Just gimme a second and I’ll—"

And this is where Taehyung realises that he has gotten too comfortable.

As he said, the first punch makes his ears ring.

He loses his footing immediately, stabilising himself against the hood of the car as he recovers from the blow. His face stings, skin throbbing weakly at the point of impact.

Taehyung’s eyes snap to the rings of metal around the man’s fingers and he understands with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that Leung had most definitely not been looking for money… just brass knuckles.

And, without another word, the asshole takes off running across the yard, towards the metal fencing surrounding the place. Taehyung can only just hear Hoseok’s ‘fuck, are you okay? ’ before the younger’s sprinting after him, legs kicking off out of pure instinct.

But it’s the vague humiliation and swirls of anger dropping through him that really provide the adrenaline he needs.

He could have a concussion; but he hasn’t fallen over yet, so Taehyung takes that as a good sign, blood pounding in his ears and heart leaping in his chest as he pushes Leung’s workers out of the way. They all stare in bewilderment as this goes on, not only at their boss sprinting across their workplace like he’s cheating death, but at the furious man with a fist-shaped bruise on his cheek chasing after him, too.

Leung takes a sharp left, heading for some kind of office, it seems, and Taehyung skips time by sliding over the hood of an unfinished car, the mechanic rolling out from underneath it to watch the scene unfold with great confusion.

“Calm the fuck down, Tom! We don’t have to do this! Just give me the fuckin’ money!”

The man looks over his shoulder, eyes wild and fleeting, and Taehyung knows he has no intent at all to give in anytime soon. In fact, he pulls down a few steel drums, sending them rolling in Taehyung’s direction, who hops over and between them with precision and agility that Leung clearly underestimated.

He scurries through the door of his presumed office, a plaque misleadingly declaring ‘Leung Thomas – CEO’ on it, and shoves it closed behind him, the click of a lock sounding out in the stunned silence of the yard.

Taehyung shakes the handle, checking how sturdy the thing is, before he steps back and gives a testing kick to the weakest part of the door, right beside the lock. It already starts to budge, and Taehyung gives a toothy smile, feeling just a little animalistic.

He kicks it again, and again, and on the fourth kick, the thing busts right open, shrapnel of wood flying from the impact. Taehyung locks eyes with an uneasy Leung, who’s currently scrambling out of the back window, and deciding to close that behind him, too.

Taehyung groans.

He really is not a smart man.

Taehyung picks up the metal lamp sitting beside the man’s desk, ripping it out of the socket as the plug rattles along the floor before hauling it against the window. The glass erupts into tiny jagged pieces, scattering out all over the room—but it leaves him with a generous little escape hatch.

He re-joins Leung, attempting to climb up the metal fence and, for a second, considers letting him, just to see how he fairs against the barbed wire at the top. But Taehyung ultimately decides he doesn’t really have the patience for that, and he grabs onto Leung’s ankles, hauling him right down again until he can slam him against the wall of his own building behind them.

Leung’s breaths are short and ragged, blinking rapidly at him until he regains his focus. He stares up at Taehyung with stars likely circling his vision and tries to get back up to his feet, hands against the wall.

Taehyung kicks him hard in the stomach and he wheezes, deflating against the brick again with a quiet, “Okay, I’m done.”

Taehyung’s wise enough to keep his distance this time, towering over the man as they both catch their breaths back—panting with heaving shoulders through the brief silence.

“What the fuck was all that, Leung?” the younger stands with hands on his hips, his eyebrows scrunched together in disbelief. “Do you normally drag your associates on impromptu sprints?”

Leung slips down the wall some more until his back is flat on the ground. His eyes are twitching, rather than blinking, pupils darting around like they’re chasing something invisible.

Taehyung has... broken his target.

“Leung…” he repeats, edging just an inch closer to the man, who seems to snap out of it then, shaking his head like a horse wards off flies and letting his eyes snap to Taehyung as he hangs over him. “Do you not have the money—is that what this is about?”

“I have money,” he says quickly, just hanging off of Taehyung’s question like he didn’t even have to think, “But it’s not for you.”

Taehyung cocks an eyebrow, one hand raising to brush along his mouth as he stares the man down. He just got chased down and hurled against a wall in his own workplace, humiliated in front of his staff and clients—and he’s still not gonna hand over a few measly bills?

“Tom,” Taehyung begins, Leung’s face screwing up at the nickname, “I’m gonna be honest with you, I don’t want to splatter your brains against the pavement, because then I’m gonna have to go look for your money. But I’m not totally against it either.” He pauses, turning over the hand near his face, casually. “It’s up to you.”

“I’m not just keeping it for the hell of it,” Leung insists, though, really it sounds as if he has been. “If I give you that money I’m gonna get my ass kicked later, instead.”

Huh.

Taehyung’s posture slouches, hand dropping to his side. He squints.

“By who?”

“I’m not telling—”

Taehyung presses his heel down on the man’s stomach and Leung curls up at either end like a bean bag, a guttural noise escaping his lips. “By who?”

Taehyung releases pressure, and Leung lets his head fall back to the ground again. He deflates, limbs going limp and looks as if he’s just watching the clouds moving languidly along the sky. Accepting his fate, it seems.

“Four Suns,” The man mutters, lips barely moving at all. “They bumped up their rates.”

“What rates?”

“Protection rates… for protection from them more than anyone else.” His eyes slide down to stop on Taehyung again. “Evidently, considering the position we’re in right now.”

Taehyung puts a hand to his face, groaning quietly into the skin as he rubs his eyes.

It sounds as if Hua She has been done over. If he takes this money, then he’s going to get into shit with Four Suns when Leung tells them why he couldn’t pay up.

Truthfully, Taehyung doesn’t know a whole lot about them except for how Yoongi summarised them as ‘the bastards among bastards.’ But, even from just that, he understands that it’s probably not a conflict he wants to start.

But, if he doesn’t take the money, then Jeon’ll be pissed at Yoongi—and Yoongi’ll be pissed at Taehyung.

And Taehyung decides that he’d take a bunch of gangsters wanting to beat his ass over Min Yoongi any day.

“Where is it?”

Leung gapes, mouth falling open as he says, “You’re still going to take it? Even after my sob story?”

Taehyung lifts his shoulders, head tilting. “Not my problem, Leung. You owe us, I’m taking it.” His lips stretch out into a smile, teeth sparkling on display. “You can try and stop me, if you like.”

Leung makes a slight movement as if he’s about to get up, but Taehyung gives one decent kick to his stomach again—probably bruised to hell, by now—snapping, "That was a joke, Tom."

Immediately, the man gives up again.

“Okay, fine— I’ve got enough… in my… safe,” Leung says breathlessly, eyes rolling back in his head as he gives a throaty groan. “I think you broke my fucking ribs, asshole.”

“Yeah, and you almost cracked my skull with that punch. We’re even,” Taehyung hisses, moving his foot to clamp down Leung’s equipped hand, like the head of a snake, before he slips the brass knuckles off over his fingers.

“I thought you were gonna kill me—”

“So you started a fight?” Taehyung slides the weapon into his back pocket and leans right into the man’s personal space. “Where’s the safe?”

“Let me up and I’ll show you.”

“No…” Taehyung chides, boot pushing harder against the man’s wrist, “...you tell me first.”

“The office!” Leung shouts, probably informing half of the yard, too, with no context to the words at all. “Fuck, okay? It’s in my office. The code is seven-two-two-six. It’s my wife’s birthday if that feels better on your conscience, bastard. Just celebrated it in Hawaii.”

Taehyung stands up straight, dusting off his hands and freeing the man from his foot as he brightly informs him, “If you’re lying to me, Leung, the next thing she’ll be celebrating is your death.”

The man wilts a little more then, mouth clamping shut and, well , Taehyung thinks, at least he’s smart enough to do that.

Taehyung leaves him to wallow in self-pity, and makes his way back to the office. He clears some more glass from the window frame and steps back inside again, hearing the distant sound of Leung complaining, just outside.

The safe is almost his height, a shining silver that’s virtually impossible to miss where it’s sitting in one corner of the room. It looks like Leung hasn’t even attempted to hide it, which either indicates that he doesn’t know how the fuck to hide a safe, or it’s secure enough that he doesn’t even need to worry about it.

Taehyung goes with the former, because as he dials in the passcode and opens it up, he finds the door is flimsy, even in full working condition, and doesn’t really fit all that well to its hinges. Probably not bullet or fireproof, and certainly not clobber-with-a-pipe proof.

However, besides from that, there does seem to be something in there, as Leung said. A black gym bag, stuffed to the brim that, when Taehyung takes a second to unzip, appears to be loaded with thousand-dollar bills.

He has no fucking idea how much the guy owes, but he figures that even if this is too much, he can think of it as paying in advance.

Taehyung hangs the strap of the bag over his shoulder, the weight of it somewhat surprising to him, and he closes the safe again with the back of his foot.

He decides to use the door to exit this time, instead of the window, and while he sort of expects people to come rushing up to him, interrogating him over what they did to their boss and threatening to beat him up if he doesn’t hand over the money, he’s partially astonished to find that the place has practically cleared out, bar from a few people squeezed into the fencing, like they’re trying to keep as clear of the situation as they possibly can.

And, in the middle of it all, is Hoseok leaning up against his flashy car, a judgemental flicker filtering through his gaze.

Taehyung stops a few feet away from him, bag hung on his shoulder and amusement in his gaze as he clicks his fingers and points at his best friend, quipping, “Hey, you know, that’s a great impression of Yoongi. Can you do me?”

Hoseok snorts, but the look doesn’t shift.

“Yeah, I can do you. How about the part where you were a fucking idiot and could’ve died letting that guy punch you with brass knuckles to the side of your head?”

Taehyung whistles, eyebrows shooting up at his friend’s dramatics as he walks past the man to the passenger side and jokes, “You can check me for internal bleeding when we get back.” He goes to open the door, but Hoseok’s hand presses down on it, slamming it shut again. He leans closer to him, a grave expression plaguing his features, now.

“I’m serious, Taehyung. You have to be more careful. Do you know how many guys I’ve seen die on the spot just from a regular punch? They should never get the first hit on you.”

Taehyung’s posture loses some of its confidence, lightly embarrassed as he mutters, “I’m fine.”

“You were lucky,” Hoseok amends. “And luck runs out for people like us.”

Taehyung’s quiet for a moment, watching the sincerity clouding on his friend’s face.

Hoseok isn’t telling him this just for the sake of it. He doesn’t want something to happen to him,  and Taehyung gets that. He does— he could just do without the nagging.

Still, he sighs, and he pats Hoseok on the shoulder, saying, “Okay, I understand, Seokie. I’m sorry, I’ll be more careful from now on.”

Hoseok’s mouth lifts at that, reaching out to squeeze the man’s cheek fondly. It always used to make him giggle in delight when he was a kid, and, even now, a smile cracks out behind Taehyung’s frown.

“If you thought my lecture was bad, wait until Yoongi gets on you.”

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

Over the next few weeks, Taehyung’s dragged from place to place and, as Zhao predicted, he certainly feels like Min Yoongi’s bitch; sorting out his errands for him and going wherever he orders without a single question about it.

After a few more pre-emptive hits, and with the talks from Yoongi getting lengthier and more hostile each time, Taehyung begins to learn the art of not getting comfortable, and, within three weeks, he can confidently say that he’s caused quite a stir among the streets of Hong Kong.

It’s nothing like Hoseok’s reputation, and not even a fraction of Yoongi’s, but it’s still somewhat satisfying when he wanders up to a group of gangsters he’s been instructed to beat the shit out of, and they already know his name—even if it’s followed by ‘American bastard’ or ‘Min’s bitch.’

But, tonight, that won’t be the case.

Taehyung wipes the gasoline off of his hands, smearing it in a grubby black mark along the hem of the clean white press of his shirt.

Hoseok’s shirt, his friend sulkily reminds him when he witnesses this happening—but he doesn’t linger on the fact for long...

… because an explosion shakes the ground beneath them, shattered glass and metal splitting into the air with bright orange flames far behind them. It spits out thick black smoke into the air, and Hoseok’s face finally returns from its gaping, scared-shitless state, eyes trailing along the horizon to land, disapprovingly, on Taehyung.

“Flashy,” is all he says, the two of them leaning to watch the scramble of people escaping the burning warehouse behind them, pitchy screams merging with the sound of those still trapped inside. Smoke and burning brick and melting flesh corrode Taehyung’s senses all at once. He scrunches his nose, unpleasantly.

“S’my trademark, Seok.” Taehyung unlatches his fists into open palms whilst he shrugs his shoulders, still feeling the sticky residue of gasoline clinging to his fingers.

Ash in his hair; sweat on his skin; blood everywhere.

“Damn, I really need a fucking shower,” he adds ever so casually after, as if they’re having a meaningless conversation seated at one of Yoongi’s spare tables in the restaurant, a cigarette between Hoseok’s fingers and a pint in Taehyung’s.

Neither of the younger’s statements are false, but Hoseok gives little more than a chuckle, crinkling his own nose as if he can smell Taehyung over all the other pollution in the air right now.

“Ah, yes… your ‘reputation’.” He puts air quotations around the word and Taehyung grunts, kicking the man in the shin as he strides past him, slipping into the passenger seat of the car.

It’s not so much of a getaway, this time around, as it is a simple evacuation of the scene. Over the past few weeks, Taehyung has found out that, actually, emergency services are very slow to respond to incidents involving gangsters and while that’s a plus today, he hopes it doesn’t come back to bite him in the ass tomorrow.

This particular incident involved a couple of lowlifes, barely even enough to call them gangsters, hiding out with stolen goods ( their stolen goods) in an abandoned warehouse, a few blocks away from where they hijacked the delivery van.

Honestly, it was so insultingly stupid of them that Taehyung hardly even thought it was worth him dealing with it, as low in the food chain as he might still be—and definitely not as flashily as he did.

But that little reputation…

At first, he hadn’t been doing this sort of thing on purpose: it kind of just happened. Taehyung got bored with beating up gangsters and threatening loser tough-guys.

And then, Yoongi had brought him along to one of his infamous torturing sessions of a man that’d ratted out the real purpose of the restaurant to a few guys in Four Suns. The older man looked him dead in the eye when Taehyung had asked if they were done here and condescendingly pointed out, “He’s still alive , Taehyung. You think traitors to Hua She deserve to live?”

Ever since, it’s like a seal has been broken and, from then on, the jobs haven’t been so boring anymore, with another lesson Yoongi has drilled into his head.

1. Don’t get comfortable.
2. Traitors don’t deserve to live.

He keeps the second one in the forefront of his mind as a very good reason for him not to get caught out. Ratting out a restaurant results in a very gory death—he can’t imagine what ratting out the entire fucking empire would equate to.

Actually, he can. Gouged out eyes, according to Zhao. Definitely something he wants to avoid.

Taehyung has no idea what the next life lesson is with Yoongi. Never really knows what’s next with the man at all, he’s come to find out over the weeks. It could be anything from a simple habit of Taehyung’s that ticks him off, to life-saving advice, to how to properly cook squid.

Honestly, Yoongi isn’t all that terrifying like his father was (Hoseok was definitely right in inferring that they’re not the same at all) but he’s still just as unpredictable and just as strict and, from that, there’s something about him that not only makes Taehyung feel like he should always be standing to attention in his presence, but it also means that he can hardly ever read him.

And, occasionally, when he does manage to read him, he almost always wishes he hadn’t.

Hoseok soon joins him, dipping into the driver’s seat and starting up the engine, figuring it would be wise to get out of the place before they burn to shit, too.

“Be careful driving on the way back,” Taehyung warns as the car jumps to an eager life, “I had to stack those boxes to get them all in—if anything breaks Min’ll blame me.”

Hoseok rolls his eyes, pulling out of the warehouse lot (albeit more carefully than he was.) “You and I both know he’d blame me before he’d blame you—and that wouldn’t have been a danger if you’d used something other than the delivery van’s gas to light the place up.” When Taehyung doesn’t reply, just giving a soft pit of laughter, Hoseok eyes the burning warehouse in the mirror. “You did make sure the place was empty before you lit it up, right?”

Taehyung slowly turns his head to look at the man with discontent, feet shoved up on the dashboard. He knows Hoseok’s glaring at the dirt his shoes are smudging along it, but he doesn’t tell him to stop.

“Yes,"  Taehyung replies in a sneer. “I’m not that new at this, asshole.”

Hoseok clicks his tongue, eyes back on the road as they move into the main streets. “I think some of these gangsters are rubbing off on you,” he tells him sourly. “I want my sweet little Tata back.”

Taehyung laughs, leaning back into the seat with his shoes settling more comfortably, as he entertains that idea.

Sweet is something neither of them ever really were by most people’s standards. They were stealing candy from corner shops and flicking rocks at people’s windows even back when they first started walking home from elementary school together.

Things just escalated from there and, according to their teachers and local authorities, neither of them were ever particularly ‘sweet.’

And, yet, Hoseok used to call him so all the time. When Taehyung offered to fetch him a band-aid after the older boy scraped his elbow, he was sweet. When he offered him the last bite of his food because it was Hoseok’s favourite, he was sweet. When he gave him his scarf in the winters because his friend always got cold much easier than he did, he was sweet.

Back then, it was like Hoseok held the entire world in his pocket, sometimes, to Taehyung, and the compliments used to leave him feeling like he’d been blessed by the universe. Looking back on it, though, it all just feels like a weird fever dream; especially, now, when they’re both sitting in this car under such different circumstances, with strikingly different pasts for two people that grew up together.

When you’re a child, you think that everything’s going to stay the same. You’ll always have that same friend, doing the same thing, in the same place. But then you grow up, and even if you’re lucky enough to go back to the same person in the same place, things are never the same. The feeling’s never the same.

Taehyung looks at Hoseok for a moment, a long moment where a million things fly through his head—all indiscernible and pointless, really, but before anything coherent even comes to mind, Hoseok slams on the breaks and Taehyung jolts forward, feet slipping right off the dash before he snaps his fucking legs in two.

His hand flies out to steady himself, slapping down on the tracks his shoes left, and his eyes snap to Hoseok as if he’s gone crazy.

Taehyung almost shrieks, ‘what the fuck was that?’ but the words stick in his throat when he realises that the man isn’t even looking at him.

Hoseok’s eyes are bolted to the road ahead of them and it’s only when Taehyung looks up as well, that he understands why.

“Seok…” he says warily, “who are they?”

The entire path is barricaded by two rows of muscle cars with darkened windows and engines revving loud enough to drown out their own.

Hoseok moves his hand to the gear stick like they’re in slow motion, focus not leaving the scene in front of them for a second as he mutters, “Take my gun out… subtly.”

Taehyung follows his line of sight, uncertainly, the bright headlights scorching through their window. He can’t make out a single face from the glare, but he’s not stupid enough to think it’s some kind of benign coincidence that they’re there either.

So, Taehyung reaches for Hoseok’s gun inside the warmth of his deep navy jacket. His demeanor is as calm and controlled as ever, gaze hard and unyielding, brows firm, mouth pressed into a line—but Taehyung can feel his heart pounding against his chest as his hand passes over it.

Hoseok’s scared of stupid things; like horror films and weird-looking insects and ghosts. He’s not scared of gangsters. He’s not scared of danger. He’s not scared of trouble.

Therefore, the fact that he’s scared now… that gives Taehyung a reason to worry.

The pistol is weighty and oddly cold in Taehyung’s palm as he locks his grip on it.

Hoseok must sense his fixation, and quickly asks, “You’ve used one of those in America, right?”

Taehyung snorts, tugging off the safety and checking the magazine all in one smooth chain of actions, keeping his hands out of sight from their audience.

“If you wanted to survive over there, you had a gun.”

Hoseok seems pleased at that, tugging the gear stick into the reverse slot.

“Right then,” he says with an air of finality, sort of like that of a skydiving instructor the moment before they let their customer jump out of the helicopter with a parachute and a pat on the back. “Don’t let us die, keep the car from blowing up and kill those fuckers.”

Yep, the feeling of death’s imminence is right on the money with that one.

“Who are they?” Taehyung asks again, scrolling down his window like the rest aren’t gonna be shot right out in a minute, anyway.

Hoseok shrugs his shoulders.

“You and I are probably on a hundred people’s hit lists, now, Tae—this right here?” He says, gesturing to the two of them, so close together in one very dangerously malleable vehicle. “This is a goldmine.”

Well, at least they didn’t choose Taehyung’s bike today.

He hums in understanding. By now, the world around them is coated in a deep, deep red. Ash falls through the air like blossom petals, the sky is burgundy and welcoming the night pulling in so quickly. It’s fitting, somehow—but they have to finish this fast. Navigating these roads at night and aiming with the precision Taehyung needs to be aiming with: that won’t be so easy with the loud contrast of heavy darkness and blinding light warping their vision.

Kill fast and kill accurately.

It sounds simple now, but out of a passenger window when they’re hurtling one hundred miles down some of the busiest streets in the world?

Not so simple.

But, either way, Hoseok kicks his foot against the gas pedal, and they fly backwards, the man spinning the wheel with urgency to swing the car around. He shoves it back into gear, and kicks off again, and the vehicle screeches with a cloud of smoke as it burns its tires against the gravel before springing off down the street they just came from.

Taehyung cocks his gun, already hearing the sound of bullets punching into the frame of their car, flying overhead, piercing the glass, and the force of the wind slaps harshly against him as he sticks half of his body out the goddamn window. He aims behind, at the stampede of vehicles following after them, breath held in his chest to get as steady as he can before he fires.

The first few bullets dig into the hoods of cars, one snaps out a headlight, and another curves right over the roof. He pulls himself back in when he hears the whistle of a bullet fly past his ear, checking out the location of it through the cracking state of their back window with his heart hammering in his chest.

“I can’t bring ‘em back to Yoongi’s, Tae,” Hoseok says, sounding simultaneously distant and firm, like his brain’s completely focused on getting them away, and his mouth’s taken over with a mind of its own. “You’re gonna have to take them out. Or I’m gonna have to try and lose them.”

They both know that the latter is far, far less likely. Losing about ten expertly driven vehicles in such a tightly-packed area is almost impossible.

“I’ll get them,” Taehyung says, assuredly, and he doesn’t even give Hoseok a chance to argue before he’s dipping his head back out, firing with more assertion this time.

He lines up the shot to collide right through where the driver should be in one of the cars and when the force rattles through his hands, and the tiny speck of metal charges through the air, he watches.

Blood splatters up on the windshield and the car spirals out of control, crashing into the side of another which barely recovers. Taehyung doesn’t let himself get too engulfed in the small triumph, but the adrenaline coursing through him ignites.

He puts a hole in the front tire of the car the last just sabotaged, and it almost tips forward with the sudden halt at the speed they’re going, stuttering out to a stop as the others loop around it. Hoseok yanks Taehyung’s arm suddenly as they turn a sharp corner, pulling him back inside while they race down a side-street, a few straggling pedestrians leaping out of the way in understandable fear at the disturbance.

“Thanks,” Taehyung says roughly, settling back into his seat for a moment until they launch out onto a main road again. He keeps watch out of the side mirror, waiting to see the storm of cars making their way towards them again and, when it happens, Taehyung gives himself a second to reload, before leaping back out at them.

Hoseok moves the car in diagonal lines with the wider road and while it definitely makes them harder to hit, it also means that Taehyung has a harder time hitting, and he wastes a few more shots adjusting again, the bullets scraping alongside doors or plummeting into the concrete below them.

The back window of their car collapses entirely, and he can hear Hoseok swear from outside, the man stooping much lower into his seat as he tries to adjust their course again.

Taehyung takes his aim, going for the car on the furthest left that seems to be trying to gain some speed. The engine’ll be working harder than the rest, he subconsciously notes, so he delivers five direct shots into the hood, where he assumes it’ll be, and the first licks of smoke start to pour out from the misshapen bonnet.

Then, flames: ferocious and frantic, and with one final shot, the car explodes.

Taehyung ducks back inside as the explosion rattles around them, busting the windows of the vehicles beside it and getting left behind in its own aftermath, heat still unfurling in bright orange from its charcoaled frame.

And it’s then that Hoseok suddenly yells, “Tae, on our right!”

Taehyung peers out Hoseok’s window to see a different car gaining on them, and before the older man can do anything about it, the car’s boosted ahead.

There’s only a breath between that realisation and when they first ram into the side of them.

Hoseok hisses, hands gripping the wheel with a fury as he attempts to steer away, only for another car to pound into the opposite side, launching them back into the middle.

Taehyung grips onto the seat, hands sweatily holding onto the pistol as panic rises in his chest. “Seok, what the hell do we do?”

Hoseok doesn’t reply—he either doesn’t have a solution or can’t even hear him with how hard he’s focusing. Either way, they’re not braced for the next crash, Hoseok’s side of the car visibly denting in as the two hang on for dear fucking life while they get smacked around by cars much beefier than theirs.

Hoseok’s poor fucking flashy Jaguar. There’s no way it’s gonna survive this.

Hell, they might not even survive this.

And, finally, with another smack into the car from Taehyung’s side, Hoseok speaks.

“Tae, I’m gonna need you to head into the back. Take out anyone else behind us. Don’t worry about these cunts; I’ll try and hold off as long as I can. You just focus on the rest.”

Taehyung doesn’t question it. This may be his first high-speed shootout chase, but it certainly isn’t Hoseok’s. He climbs into the backseat, immediately sprawling to the floor to avoid the plethora of bullets seeping in through the open window.

He makes his way up onto the seat, moving to his knees before he very cautiously peers over the tops of the headrest.

He can see about five, maybe six cars still remaining behind them, and it’s then that Taehyung realises that he needs to stop fucking about. If another one of those bastards gains on them, they are fucked.

He reloads in an instant, pulling himself back up onto his knees to aim as inconspicuously as he can. There’s a car just slightly in front of the rest, the easiest target, so he aims for the windshield, coating the glass in three commendably spaced bullets, and, like a row of dominoes, it crashes into the car behind it, a dead weight, and knocks it entirely off the road, veering into a wall with a puff of resentful smoke.

Taehyung readjusts, aiming back at the next car, already with a damaged front in a way that it’s just skimming over the tires, like some kind of shield. However, it also leaves a gap that leads underneath the hood. Taehyung checks behind him to make sure the road ahead is still straight, and then takes his shots, laying three into the open space, with another tearing through more of the metal.

Like the setting off of a firecracker, the entire thing bursts into hyperactive flames and, in a bid to avoid the carnage, one car swerves to the left, slamming into one of the others and taking both of them off the road.

“And two remain,” Taehyung says pointedly, bracing his arm on the back of the chair for a firmer hold as he aims to pop the tires on this one, the hood too undamaged and the windshield totally blacked out to try anything else.

He’s about to pull the trigger when, suddenly, their own car is slammed into, almost threatening to turn right over, it feels, with Hoseok’s loud grunt and the screech of the tires fighting against force. The gun flies right out of Taehyung’s hand, landing awkwardly between one of the boxes in the trunk.

Taehyung curses underneath his breath, sitting up taller on the seat as he leans to reach as quickly as possible before Hoseok decides to turn a corner, or someone veers them off the road. His fingertips just brush it and he wriggles further onto the top of the seat to grab it properly—

“Fuck!” Taehyung seethes, falling right back off the chair and onto the floor of the car, gun lying pathetically beside him as a searing, hot-white pain blisters in his arm.

“Tae?” Hoseok calls, panic swelling in his voice as steadily as he’s trying to keep it. “What just happened?”

They both know. Taehyung doesn’t have to look down but he does anyway, and sees the line of red staining his shirt sleeve, the tear right across his bicep.

Hoseok catches sight of this in the rearview mirror, cussing harshly before he composes himself. Taehyung rolls off his back, and props himself up against the seats.

“Is it a wound or a graze?”

Taehyung shakes his head in response, muttering, “Dunno, but my arm’s still there. We’ll check it out once we’re done.”

Hoseok snorts.

“Cute work ethic and all, but Christ, Tae.”

“I’m fine,"  he insists, reaching out to pick the gun back off of the floor before he’s awkwardly maneuvering his way onto the backseat again, using one of the belts as an impromptu rope. The pain in his arm is dizzying, tight and burning, like boiling water is being poured over it again and again every time he moves.

He doesn’t think there’s a bullet in there.

But, either way, there’s nothing he can do now, and Hoseok warns him before he’s about to turn a corner again. There’s another jolt to the car as one of those paralleling them misjudges the angle and grazes right into the side of them.

Or it was a good judgement, depending on their motive.

Taehyung grips on hard with his injured arm, the other applying pressure to the wound as best as he can just in case, and when they straighten back up, he moves to ready himself for the cars turning the corner.

As soon as they show, he shoots.

The first shots empty right into the windshield of the left car, popping open the fucker that shot him just moments ago. The bulleted vehicle slowly starts to drag behind, engine stuttering out and losing its acceleration with the sustained sound of the car’s horn getting left in the distance.

The second, on the other hand, isn’t so easy. It veers left and right, making Taehyung’s eyes cross as he tries to focus on it, but his mind is starting to fuzz up. Hoseok turns a corner without warning, and one of the cars following them to the side crashes into the rear, metres away from him. He loses his aim in favour of holding on, ducking his head below the seats as the passenger of the vehicle takes the opportunity to start firing a couple shots at him.

“Seok—” Taehyung calls out, the man responding wordlessly by matching his stare in the reflection of the rearview mirror. “Can you take us down a side street? As narrow as you can.”

Hoseok arches an eyebrow, slowly peeling his eyes back onto the road as he unsurely says, “Okay... give me a few.”

Taehyung sinks back down into the beaten leather of the backseat, catching his breath for a moment while Hoseok navigates the main roads to try and find a narrower side street. Taehyung’s vision is blurring around the edges, and his tongue feels like it weighs a ton in his mouth—but he isn’t really sure what any of that means, honestly.

He takes a quick look at his arm, seeing the red patch now messily making its way down to his elbow, and he groans to himself.

If they can wrap this up before he dies of blood loss, that would be fantastic.

It feels like only a few seconds later, when Hoseok turns into the winding street, full of awkward hills and the backs of apartments. But it’s easily a couple of minutes, actually, because by the time Taehyung’s moving to sit up on his knees again, scouting out the scene behind them, the blood on his shirt has leaked to the inside of his arm, too.

He watches carefully as they tunnel through the street. Two black cars whizz past, not bothering to turn into the side street, and Taehyung prays that they don’t know a quicker way to find them on the way out of here. But he keeps watching… and watching—

And then, like a bullet in its own right, the bulky car with its thick metal and pitch-black windows comes bolting down after them—exactly like Taehyung had hoped.

It can’t veer out of his aim in a road like this.

Taehyung aims for the tires, forcing the hand of his injured arm to grip the gun as well, despite the burning pain rubbing up and down it. He closes an eye, holds his breath, hopes that he can get it in before they land on him, and he fires.

Six bullets fire out, and Taehyung watches one bounce off the bumper, three scrape along the alloys and, finally, two sink into the left tire, bursting it right open as the vehicle begins to shake, uncontrolled, grinding up against either walls enclosing the street.

For a second, it looks like the thing might give out, but then, it gives a ferocious rev of its engine and pulls vengefully closer to them.

“Fuck,” Taehyung hisses. He turns his head towards Hoseok whose shoulders are hunched in concentration as he loops around the tight road. “Seok,” he calls, “when we get out of here, make as sharp a left as you can.”

“Better pray nobody’s standing in the way,” the man jokes back—but there’s a strain to the words that suggest that it’s not quite a joke.

Taehyung ducks down behind the wavering protection of the leather seats, simply catching his breath as Hoseok moves them out of the side street. They stumble onto a main road and Hoseok slams his foot down, tugging the steering wheel as they skid to the left and shoot along with the other weavings of traffic. Taehyung struggles back onto his knees to watch their follower and grins when he sees the faulty tire struggling with the turn, leaving all the work to the backs and the right wheel, making a horrendous screeching sound as it flounders.

Taehyung aims as the vehicle tries to pull straight again, unsteady in the motions with the busted tire being ground down to almost just the alloys at this point. He’s able to fire two clean shots into the right tire, and another in the back left, for good measure.

The car shrieks, sparks flying as the metal of the exposed wheel grinds along the road. It struggles to direct itself, and, before it can manage, the back wheel busts as well, jolting it off to the side of the road and smashing the front of the car into the lamppost lined conveniently within reach. The hood, completely bent out of shape, lets out a tornado of smoke and the engine is killed off with the passengers, it would be safe to assume.

Taehyung releases a breath he hadn’t even noticed he was holding and mutters, “Got ‘em, Hobi,” as he collapses onto the seat. His chest is heaving with exertion as the adrenaline starts to wear off and a wooziness takes over him instead, his arm throbbing with hot spikes of pain and his head feeling like it’s filled with water.

Hoseok swallows, hands tight on the steering wheel as he takes a quick look into the back-seat. Taehyung’s eyes are fluttering, threatening to shut and the gun is slipping out of his hand—but, most importantly, there is a very large red stain seeping through his shirt.

None of which are particularly good signs, and his immediate instinct is to get him to a hospital—until a whirring catches his attention instead.

At a blink, Hoseok sees the two cars they’d almost lost before catching back up to them, pulling out of an alley as if they were waiting. He curses hard under his breath, warily taking another glance at Taehyung before he tells him, “Don’t pass out just yet, Tae—we’ve still got a problem.”

Taehyung barely cranks an eye open before they’re being slammed into from the right side by both cars, Hoseok desperately trying to catch control back as he spins the wheel in his hand around fervently, foot cramming against the gas.

“Tae, you okay?”

“Shit, yeah—"  the younger rambles in an obvious daze, sitting up again and gripping onto both of the front seats from behind. His eyes are darting between the cars, analytically, and Hoseok can tell the gears of his brain are working overtime to pull them out of this one, too. That’s how they’ve always worked. Taehyung’s the brains, Hoseok’s the power.

And yet, the brains is the first to say, “How the hell are we gonna lose these assholes, Hoseok?”

And Hoseok’s as honest in the best of the times as he is in the worst.

“I have no fucking idea.”

Taehyung doesn’t seem all that surprised, somehow, snuffing with gentle laughter until they’re rammed into again and he gasps, holding tight onto his injury. He grits his teeth, hissing, “I want those fuckers to burn.”

Hoseok snorts, but it’s tenser than it should be, saying, “Can’t promise fire, but I’ll make sure they don’t make it through this.”

“Good enough for me.”

At that, Taehyung sits back again because exhaustion is overcoming any sort of stress he has at the moment, and he rests his head against the chair, looking up at the once expensive and pristine state of Hoseok’s roof, which is now tainted with blood, bullet grazes and glass wedged in.

He’s going to be furious once he catches a moment .

Taehyung’s mind starts to drift off to other places, focusing distantly on the humming of the road underneath his feet instead of the crashes into the metalwork or the firing sounds of bullets grazing and poking their way through the broken windows.

The seat is plush and oddly comfortable underneath him, in a way that makes him feel as if he’s going to be swallowed whole by it. All the sounds that reach his ears are echoes, and melt into each other until a climax of noise pulls him an inch deeper into reality, only to fall a foot back in.

He must drift off or black out or something at some point, because when he’s come to again, they’re not on the same street at all—actually, Taehyung doesn’t even know if they’re in Mong Kok now. All he knows is that Hoseok is yelling at him, and there’s different sounds than before. Louder ones, mixed with much gentler lulls and—

Taehyung’s eyes rip open, he sits up like he’s been electrocuted awake just in time for Hoseok to call his name for the tenth time from the front of the car.

“Hold on!”

Taehyung’s brow furrows.

Hold on? Why—

Suddenly, his body is lifted up into the air, and Taehyung doesn’t question it twice, not out-loud . He scrambles to grip onto the front two seats again, mentally screaming what the fuck is happening until he realises that, no, the car is in the fucking air—Hoseok speeding off a single conveniently tilted dumpster, running off over a harbour , and they’re suspended twenty metres off the ground.

It feels like it happens in slow motion, actually, how Taehyung watches the cars either side of them sink deep, deep into the ocean, whilst they’re still in the air—almost like they’re floating.

And then, they come crashing back down, cracking right onto the wooden pier below that crumbles and splinters with the weight of the car, the planks tumbling out behind them through each wheel that drives over it. Hoseok bumps up a gear, pressing his foot down as hard as it goes and the car screams with exertion, wheels spinning almost uncontrollably as they travel along the corroding pier.

Then, they’re pulling back up onto concrete and winding around a small road meant for delivery vehicles and the occasional worker but right now, is harbouring a flashy Jaguar F-Type, that looks like it’s been ran through a steamroller and just fucking flew

They make it up to the top of the road and, for the first time in about an hour, there is silence. Taehyung doesn’t remember to let go of the seats.

He’s pretty sure his fingerprints are molded into the leather.

Half a mile down the next road, both of them still in a dead silence.

And then, Hoseok finally asks, “Are they gone?”

Taehyung shakily rises to his feet again, death grip unlocking on the seats as his ears are still trying to adjust to the newfound silence. The road behind them is empty, bar a few ordinary vehicles, and, with an overwhelming wave of relief overcoming him, he collapses onto the backseat with a weary sigh.

“Yeah, Seok… they’re gone.”

 

 

 

 

Hoseok doesn’t end up taking him to the hospital. Once they come to their senses, and the older man takes a look at Taehyung’s bruised and bleeding arm—but without any kind of bullet lodged in it or anything more than a nasty graze—they both decide that a hospital is too much of a risk for a cosmetic wound.

Neither of them have broken anything, they’re just bleeding here and there and considerably sorer than they had been before, so, Hoseok decides it’s the perfect opportunity to bring Taehyung back to meet a strikingly familiar face.

Haneul’s jaw drops wide open when she sees them both and, at first, Taehyung wonders if it’s that shocking that he’s back in Hong Kong.

That is, until she screeches, “What the hell happened to you two?!”

Taehyung grimaces at the volume, but he grimaces even more at the way the girl drags him and Hoseok both inside, taking no incentive to be careful with their injuries as she tugs them straight inside Hoseok’s childhood home.

Taehyung is sitting on the very same couch on which Hoseok’s mother used to hand him tea and let the two watch the same three movies through the unreliable video player and bulky television.

Only now, he is twenty-two instead of seven, and sitting here bruised and beaten and bleeding, whilst Hoseok’s mother is nowhere in sight. Instead, her daughter is rummaging around for her first aid kit with mutterings of “Just ‘cause I wanna study medicine doesn’t make me a doctor,” and “You’ve known Tae was back for weeks and this is how you give us a reunion," flying past their ears as she storms in and out.

Needless to say, Taehyung’s sense of nostalgia for the moment is weird and slightly misleading. He certainly hasn’t experienced this before.

Eventually, Haneul stops cussing them out long enough to actually help them, and, no matter what she said about not being a doctor, she’s fairly damn efficient with it.

She heads straight for Taehyung, snapping, “Shirt off, Kim, if I roll that sleeve up it’ll put pressure on your wound and at this point, all that’s gonna do is hurt like a bitch.” And while Taehyung is unbuttoning and shrugging off his friend’s ruined white shirt, Hoseok is protesting beside him.

“Close your eyes, Hannie—don’t look at his torso!” he says first and when the girl does nothing but glare daggers at him, he moves onto a different complaint. “How come you’re treating him before me?!”

Full protective brother mode is on. Taehyung has been left in the dirt.

“Because,” Haneul snaps, turning on her heels with a swab of disinfectant clutched in her hand like a claw, “you have playground injuries. Your best friend is losing blood, idiot.”

She wipes the swab along Hoseok’s cheek, who recoils with a shriek at the sting of his cuts, and the girl seems satisfied enough with that, turning back to Taehyung with a much gentler aura as she asks, “Okay, this is gonna hurt—but don’t punch me in the face or I’ll break your arm; instinctive reaction or not.”

Well. Gentler to an extent.

She picks up a different swab and kneels down beside Taehyung’s wounded arm, not hesitating to start cleaning the injury which, honestly, does sting more than he expected it to—but his pain tolerance is decent enough to work through it without much complaint.

He’s just glad it isn’t Hoseok with the injury. That would be a completely different story.

“Good news,” she mutters after snapping on a glove and poking around the wound with her tongue pointed concentratedly past her lips (Taehyung does have to grit his teeth a bit at that.) “You don’t need stitches.”

“I don’t?”

“Nuh-uh,” Haneul replies distractedly, letting go of his arm to plunge into the first aid box sitting patiently on the table behind her. She acquires a gauze and a roll of bandages before turning back to tell him, “It’s long, but it’s not deep—”

Hoseok snorts and, almost like it’s an instinct to do so, Haneul reaches out to kick his ankle, hard, hissing, “Shut up!” Hoseok yelps, crouching over himself to rub the spot, defensively, and thoroughly betrayed.

“I didn’t say anything,” he whines, but his little sister dutifully ignores him, unpeeling the gauze from its protective packaging and unraveling the bandage at the same time with the help of her teeth.

She places the gauze along the length of the injury, and then immediately shifts to wrap the bandage around it. She ties the material together, sticking her fingers in between the layers before glancing up at Taehyung, a focused frown dressing her face as she checks, “How’s that?”

Taehyung moves his arm, feeling the bandage tight against him, but not enough to cause discomfort. He nods his head, replying, “S’fine. Thanks.”

The girl nods her head in satisfaction, moving away again quickly to reach for a pair of scissors to clean up the tie. She snips the excess off and chucks the tool back into the first aid box, before packing up the rest of the supplies strewn on the table and clicking the box closed.

Then, Haneul sits down on the coffee table, leaning back on her hands as she unimpressedly watches two men in front of her shift in discomfort.

“So,” she starts, eyebrow arched in judgement. “What happened that ended up with you getting all injured, not even a month back here?”

“A few guys,” Hoseok answers vaguely—but Haneul just manages to somehow look even more unimpressed, and she doesn’t even have to say anything for Hoseok to correct himself to, “with cars…”

His sister waits.

“And guns,” he belatedly adds.

Then, the girl launches back into animation, standing up irately from the coffee table and grabbing her first aid kit, not even looking at her older brother as she strides out of the room, muttering, “A bullet wound. Fantastic.”

Taehyung, who feels as if he watched the entire exchange from a completely different body, snaps back into reality when Hoseok kicks his shin, hissing, “Hey, that was way more your fault than mine!”

Taehyung snorts, retorting, “Yeah? We have no idea who was after us, Seok—there’s no way those guys are that important to have ten cars ready and waiting as soon as I set a few of them on fire.”

Hoseok crosses his arms over his chest. “You don’t know that. The whole thing could’ve been a set-up. Hired by Chi Lai to get us back for beating them all up. And, what about the actual shot? That wasn’t my fault.”

“You were driving.”

“It was your mission.”

“You dragged me into Hua She.”

“And you admitted yourself you wanted to be in it.”

“Yeah, well—"

“That’s enough, boys.”

Taehyung’s head whips around, mouth falling open as in the doorway stands Jung Eunseok with a gentle smile and a cup steaming with the heat and smell of freshly brewed tea.

Immediately, the argument is dispelled.

“Auntie!” Taehyung gushes, instantly feeling like a kid again as the woman steps into the room with small, languid steps. As she comes properly into view, Taehyung realises how much she’s changed since they last saw each other—the short curls of her hair are now a silvering colour to rival his own—and her face is wrinkled with stress and smile lines, as if they’re at war.

Taehyung stands up respectfully to greet her, absolutely gigantic against her curving frame, but she clicks her tongue at him, one frail hand gesturing for him to sit down again while the other hands him the tea, saying, “Please, Taehyung, you’re not a stranger.”

Then, she steps back, squinting at him behind her circle-rimmed glasses a little for reasons other than simple eyesight problems—like she’s taking in the sight of both men together again after all these years.

“You’ve grown up so much—such a nice young man, now.”

Then, her eyes drift back to Hoseok whose posture is straight and smile arrogantly expectant.

She sighs.

“And yet, you’ve gotten yourself mixed up in this one’s antics again.”

Taehyung snorts with laughter as Hoseok immediately deflates, a loud protest of “Huh?” and the younger doesn’t bother informing her that, in fact, he was normally the one to instigate everything they got up to as kids.

And, of course, everything that’s brought them back together now, too.

“Mama,” Hoseok whines, getting up from the sofa to silently offer the lady his seat, which she takes with a smile that says ‘about time.’ “That’s not fair. I’m a nice young man, too!”

The woman ignores him completely, turning to Taehyung with her hands neatly in her lap as she asks, “So, my Taehyungie, how have you been enjoying being back home?” She glances at Taehyung’s wounded shoulder and even he can feel the disapproving shockwaves sent to Hoseok as a result of it. “Minus the hitches , that is.”

Hoseok coughs, awkward, strained. He settles himself down onto the floor and for a moment, looks like he’s about to try and justify himself—but they all know it’s better if he doesn’t.

“Truthfully, auntie,” Taehyung says instead, “it’s like I’ve never really been away.”

It’s weird how right the words feel. Things should be different, much different. The reason he’s here, all the things he’s doing—they’re not exactly familiar. But, at the same time, there’s something about it that feels like he’s just blinked and only a few hours have gone by from when he was standing on Hoseok’s doorstep as a kid, knocking relentlessly until the door would swing open and Hoseok would be standing with a poor attempt at a frown on his face.

Eunseok, however, just laughs—negating the oddity entirely. “Well, that’s hardly a surprise, I suppose. Same streets, same people.” But she doesn’t know all the details. Haneul, Hoseok—none of them really know all of the things that’ve changed.

“How is your mother?” The woman asks, eyes glittering with interest, but there’s marginal bitterness to the question, the kind that’s made Hoseok’s fingers twitch on his knee, swallow hard, look away.

Eunseok and Taehyung’s mother were as close as Hoseok and him were. Hoseok mightn’t take it to heart that his friend never contacted him until now, all those years. He’s an adult, a gangster, desperately trying to rip off the lingering layers of his adolescence because it’s the only way to be taken seriously in a world like his.

Mrs. Jung on the other hand, doesn’t give a shit about being taken seriously. She’s angry her closest friend never even sent a postcard, e-mail, text. A fucking friend request on Facebook.

Still, she smiles, tight and reserved, but she’s interested, to an extent. Less a ‘how is she’ and more of a ‘how must she be that she didn’t even bother reaching out once all this time?’

“She’s doing fine,” is Taehyung’s simple answer, but it doesn’t seem to remedy the situation. But, really, he isn’t sure what could besides his mother in the flesh appearing out of the blue with one hell of an excuse and an even better apology. “I haven’t visited in a while, but last I heard she met someone.”

Eunseok’s smile dissipates, slightly, like she can sense that his mother isn’t just avoiding her.

But it’s not really fair of him to put it like that—he’s by no means any better. Taehyung moved a little deeper into LA, got his own apartment, did his own thing. There wasn’t any time to talk.

Except that’s a lie, too. There was time—just time that neither of them wanted to waste on each other.

“You should call her, I’m sure she’d be glad to hear from you,” Eunseok insists, lips up-tilted again but the warmth never sinks into her gaze, this time, and Taehyung can’t tell if it’s just a formality for her to say it or if she truly believes that.

Taehyung doesn’t even believe that.

He laughs, shortly, a little too breathy, taps his fingers alongside his cup. “She never liked the thought of me and gangs, much.”

Hi mom, I moved to Hong Kong without telling you so I could join a gang just to rat them out to the FBI—did I mention I got arrested for drug dealing?

It’s better if they leave things how they are—and maybe Hoseok’s mother sees that at this point, because she doesn’t comment on it, doesn’t force-feed him any more propriety.

She stops circling with the blade and just plunges, unbeknownst to her.

“What about your lovely big sister? I haven’t heard a word about our Miri in years.”

She hasn’t heard a word about any of them, but Taehyung’s stomach still turns. The semi-light-hearted atmosphere of the room drains right out. Everyone turns to him because it’s been a second, or two, a minute, maybe more—and he hasn’t said anything.

Taehyung sets his cup down on the table, clanking against the saucer and the sound rings circles around his head.

“Tae, are you oka—"

“Neither have I,” he says, cutting Hoseok right off. He can hear the way the words get stuck in his friend’s throat, like hands have clamped around them, squeezing the syllables back down.

If the silence could become any deeper, it would’ve, right at this moment.

Taehyung’s eyes are locked onto one singular flake of dust floating down in the air, through the weak stream of the sunset dying outside as Hoseok asks, “What do you mean?”

What does he mean? What could he? Hoseok doesn’t need to bother asking, but he does.

And Taehyung has to answer.

“She went missing.”

It feels like a hell of a thing to spring out in the middle of a conversation, but he doesn’t know how to phrase it. Never has. That’s why he doesn’t—that’s why he doesn’t.

His mother, his friends, LA to Hong Kong, Hoseok, Haneul, Eunseok… the phrasing of it all. This is why he doesn’t.

“What?” Haneul half-squeaks, face slack and eyes verging on moon-sized. She’s always been overdramatic, hands cupping over her mouth, words punctuated. “That’s awful !”

Eunseok puts her hand on Taehyung’s knee, and it burns like acid through his pants as she murmurs, “I’m so sorry to hear that, Taehyungie.” Another formality, but this time he knows she means it. Miri was practically her kid too, after all. “She’s such a sweet girl, she doesn’t…”

Doesn’t deserve that. Of course not. Miri was some kind of wild child bordering on a menace when she was here, but when people go they’re always perfect, too good for this and that.

Or maybe Taehyung’s cynicism is just getting the best of him today. He smiles.

“How long has it been, Tae?” Hoseok wonders, but where everyone else looks sombre, Hoseok looks severely confused, mouth twisted in an odd kind of way, eyebrows pinched.

“Three years.”

“Christ.”  Eunseok gives her son a stern look and he clears his throat, embarrassed, but her expression softens again, melts right down when she looks at Taehyung.

“And the police?” she asks, lips pouted in the sort of way that looks strikingly like her daughter’s.

“Couldn’t find her.” He gives a shrug that’s exhausting to perform with how heavy everything feels. “But, honestly, I don’t really think they even tried. She didn’t have a good track record with them.”

A college dropout with several convictions; they probably saw her file, glanced over her picture, name, age and barely gave it a second thought.

And, to make up for it, Taehyung’s had to give it a million.

Hoseok fidgets, fingers picking at the fibres of the carpet beneath him. He meets his eye, then looks away again, lips parting unsurely, but Taehyung already knows what he’s going to ask.

“…Do you think she’s…?”

“Dead?” He finishes, and Hoseok nods solemnly. Taehyung sucks in a breath, tiredly releasing it, makes his lips curl up as much as he can without feeling as if he’s ripping skin. “Yeah, I do… she would’ve contacted us by now, you know?”

Nobody points out how maybe it just isn’t in the family to do so—but Taehyung knows Miri would. As reckless and mal-tempered as she could be, she’d never snub her own brother.

Eunseok touches her heart, voice wavering as she tells him, “Then she’s—I’m so, so sorry, Taehyung.”

“Yeah… I…” Haneul half-chuckles. Nervous laugh, always gets her in the worst times. Her eyes are tearing up, and Taehyung looks away, knowing how much the girl hates people seeing her cry. “Wow, I can’t believe she’s…”

Hoseok reaches up to pat his back, soothingly. Taehyung keeps smiling.

“It’s okay,” he says, “it’s been a long time, now, yeah? It just would’ve been nice to know what happened to her, I suppose.”

Nobody points out the waver in his voice.

He glances to Mrs. Jung, forcing that smile a little longer as he asks, “Auntie—would it be okay if I lay down for a while? My head’s still spinning, and my apartment’s not that close.”

Nobody mentions anything. Nobody at all.

“Of course, you can, Taehyung. Stay as long as you need.”

 

 

 

 

Taehyung wakes up an hour later, feeling like the past three never happened.

Hoseok doesn’t say a word until they reach the car. They say goodbye to Mrs. Jung, who makes Hoseok promise to keep Taehyung from getting hurt again for at least a bit longer, planting a kiss to Taehyung’s cheek and telling him to visit whenever he needs, while Haneul clings onto the two men like she’s trying to form a chemical bond.

They shut the doors of the banged-up sportscar, and Hoseok convinces the engine to jump to life again. Taehyung leans on his hand, up against the window, vibrations curling through his bones but with none of the amusement of the sensation.

They drive. And Hoseok says, “how sure are you that Miri’s dead?”

His first reaction is anger. Raw, emotional, a surge of it, in the way he used to yell at anyone when they told him to hope. He did. He hoped and hoped, but the cold sting of disappointment wasn’t worth the occasional rush.

His second, however, is rational. He should let Hoseok speak and ignore the deep nausea that seeps into his bloodstream at the thought. This is new information to him, after all. He’s bound to have questions. God knows Taehyung had them.

He swallows, discomposure rising in his throat like bile.

“She never came back—”

“But how do you know she’s dead?”  he presses. The words sharp enough to do that: to press right into him. “What if she’s just missing? Ran away?”

Hoseok is naturally hopeful.

But that kind of hope has been squeezed out of Taehyung. Like blood from a pebble, maybe, but either way, it’s gone.

His friend’s fingers tap nervously against the steering wheel, and Taehyung tries not to lash out.

“I’m just… telling you not to be absolutely sure.

“Why?” Taehyung asks. One word, but it sticks to the ceiling, hangs right above them. “I’ve made my peace with it… why are you bringing this up, Hoseok?”

It’s harsh how he says his name. There’s a foreignness to it, one that hadn’t even been present when they’d first met up again. Unfamiliar isn’t the right word, but it’s not completely wrong either.

Hoseok clutches his bottom lip between his teeth, looking almost unsure of what to say next.

“You just never know with these things.”

“She didn’t come back ,” Taehyung tries again, teeth grating off of each other, too wound up to even turn in his seat. His eyes are fixed straight ahead—on the road being sucked underneath the car and spat out the other side.

“But you never saw a body, either.”

That’s what he said too.

She could still be out there, mom. Why do you think she’s dead? You have no proof. You’re just assuming the worst. She could still be—

He flinches in his seat, hand moving to cup his cheek like it’s pink and raw all over again.

The night he packed a bag, disappeared into the unforgiving misty skies of the Los Angeles twilight like a cliché in its purest form. Like a kid following his sister’s footsteps.

Hoseok’s hand touches his leg, and he jolts again, a gasp leaving his mouth. He leans away, heat rising on the back of his neck.

“Tae—”

Pity. It makes Taehyung’s stomach churn with embarrassment.

“No,” he says quietly, voice barely breaking over the rumble of the engine. “Can you just… just drive? I don’t want to talk about this.”

He can feel how Hoseok’s eyes linger on him, darting back and forth between the road and the side of his head. Taehyung’s tongue licks his bottom lip, slowly, dragging across it—a stupid habit he’s had since he was a kid. A hard mix of upset and anger.

“Fine, Tae.” He relents. Then, as an afterthought, or something second-guessed, “I’m sorry, by the way.”

Taehyung nods, and both of them pretend to not notice how bad his hands are shaking, squeezing and intertwined in his lap.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

Jeongguk can see how the atmosphere shifts as soon as he enters the club.

It’s slightly different when Jimin’s here—he can cool or warm a room as he pleases, and, in most situations, he prefers the latter. But he’s not with Jimin today.

His loyal bodyguard is with his cousin instead, discussing the financial details of the inauguration: both what it’ll cost and the possible negative implications of the event itself on the gang’s income after it’s completed. People’ll want to leave, kick-up about it, fight for their own right to act like they could run this fucking gang. There will be chaos, for a while, Jimin keeps reminding him.

But you don’t just build on top of an empire when you want to start over. It has to be torn down first.

The door is pushed open for him, and when he steps inside, everyone’s heads turn.

The bass cuts through their wavering silence in dull, nauseating throbs of trashy dance music nobody would ever actually listen to if they weren’t half drunk or looking to make their paycheck. Some customers duck their heads when they see him—the kind of people that’ll probably end up bolted to a chair in front of one of Jeongguk’s subordinates, eventually, for something petty, a total waste of their shitty lives. They’re not important enough to ever see him this close again.

The staff tend to scuttle away, moving behind walls or getting on with schmoozing their clients—repulsion or fear or a strange concoction of the two driving the motions. But then, there are those few that slink closer, eyes hungry and lips caught between their teeth like a rabbit between the jaws of a lion. They look at Jeongguk and see power and money and think that they could make something of that, tonight.

And amongst those, are a few that, actually, on a different night, Jeongguk might look twice at.

But tonight… he’s not here for that.

The bodyguards that are accompanying him are reliable enough: Wang Kei and Kwangjo and that won’t particularly matter in two hours, when Jimin comes back to him; but, for now, it does and Jeongguk can tell them their mother’s blood type and every job their father had growing up until now, even if they can’t.

They stay either side of him, turning away any of the workers that approach them as soon as Jeongguk shakes his head.

It gets harder as they cross the floor, of course. That’s when they start to get desperate, seeing an opportunity flickering out. Half of the people in here are respectful. They’ll stay a good few feet away and, if they want, they’ll ask him then—but there’s some that have probably had a little too much of something tonight, a little too much stress hanging over their heads as it is.

Then, out of practically nowhere, one girl leaps at them so frantically she must be looking for trouble to come from it and Kwangjo smacks her to the ground in one, clean swipe, that Jeongguk didn’t signal.

But he doesn’t look apologetic when their eyes meet, either, lips twisting into a gruesome smile as the girl glances back up at him, appalled, cheek red with impact and fury, a fire burning in her eyes, looking at Jeongguk like he’s the most disgusting sight she’s ever seen. There’s a collar around her neck with letters imprinted on it Jeongguk can’t even make out in the lighting and her lips part—but before she even gets a chance to say anything, moving to her knees, she’s pushed away from him again by Wang Kei and sits harshly back on her heels.

And there’s words then that leave her mouth, but they’re lost underneath the pounding music and the white noise that’s feeding into Jeongguk’s ears. But the snide comment of, “mouthy bitch,” that Kwangjo probably doesn’t mean to say into Jeongguk’s ear as he’s pushing past him, gives him a fair idea of what it was.

Jeongguk’s urged to exit the main floor by Wang Kei, directing him to the large velvet curtain beside the stage that leads off into the dressing rooms and Namjoon’s office, but he gives a curious glance over his shoulder again at the girl, being hauled up to her feet and gracelessly pushed away like a circus animal.

When their eyes meet once more, Jeongguk decides that maybe it isn’t a death-wish that’s driving her actions, but a plead, a desperation like everyone else in here, because there’s something in there, in her eyes that isn’t hate.

Pleading for what… who knows. All he does know is that if she’s putting any fraction of her faith in him, she’s a fool.

Jeongguk peels back the curtains, and enters inside, Wang Kei and Kwangjo returning soon after. They guide him through the corridor, hazed in a deep purple—in the carpet and the cracked paint of the wall, and lights that always remind him of a Broadway show running along the tops of the wall in a loud fuchsia.

Honestly, it’s a route that Jeongguk could walk blindfolded, without touching a single wall, he’s walked it so often—so, in that sense, the two men directing him like they’re considering holding his hand while they’re at it is vaguely insulting.

And that is one of the true problems facing him at the minute: half of this damn gang still see him as an heir. The son, not the leader.

The little prince.

Jeongguk grimaces out of habit.

They reach Namjoon’s office soon enough, passing the dressing room locked tight with a muttering of names and words thrown around like Jeongguk is an intruder, in their eyes. Maybe he’s supposed to hear, maybe he isn’t, but regardless, it just adds onto his impatience to prove to them unwise for being so bold to talk so poorly of him.

The door to Namjoon’s office is labeled with a rose-gold plaque adorning his name. It doesn’t list his profession, or his relation to the business at all; it’s almost like the two are entirely separate entities, as if he just happens to be situated inside this strip club. And, on records, that’s technically true. Namjoon has no legally documented ties to this place, besides from the fact he has a room in it.

But there’s no other owner. And someone’s running it. Funded by Hua She as it may be, it needs a person to manage it.

And here he is. Dodging taxes and legalities to save a few bucks and a future jail sentence, just by using a fake name in the places’ deeds that nobody can ever find and keeping his own details off any hard evidence.

Jeongguk’s hand stops before reaching for the doorknob. He turns to the men that’ve drifted a breath or two behind him, as if they’re not sure to follow or not, and he gives them a firm order to answer that question.

“Stand outside and wait for Kim and I to finish. No interruptions; send anyone away that intrudes.”

Wang Kei and Kwangjo bow their heads, taking another step back right before Jeongguk opens the door.

He doesn’t miss their hesitance in leaving him alone. On some level, he supposes that’s a good thing. They’re wary, alert.

But on the other hand, it’s Namjoon —and Jeongguk’s safer inside that door than they are standing on the outside.

The man is sitting on the edge of his desk when Jeongguk comes in. Slowly, he closes the door behind him, shutting out his bodyguards until he hears the soft click of the locking mechanism, and Namjoon stands up properly, bowing neatly at the younger’s arrival, before raising his head again with an intoxicating sort of grin to it.

“Sir,” He greets, smoothly, soft light of the room basking his indisputably handsome face in a glow. “How are you? I’m glad to see you got here safely.”

Jeongguk huffs, sauntering over to the man with an arbitrary swing of his hips. Namjoon leans back up against the table as Jeongguk approaches, smirk digging a dimple into one cheek as he watches with wry amusement. There’s a scar on that cheek, as well, parallel to his jaw that has a story to it he’ll never tell him in full.

‘Father’, ‘psycho’ and ‘that’s why I’m in Hong Kong, now’ are the only pieces of the puzzle he’s been given, over one night with long, long drags of a too-potent cigarette, sweaty and hazy, half-dressed, clothes strewn on the floor—but it’s not too hard to guess the picture from there. Jeongguk’s never pestered him for the other pieces.

It’s a hole in Jeongguk’s perfect knowledge, but one that’s easily filled with expensive wine and cheap touches. He’d tell him if he asked—he’d tell him anything if he asked. But he won’t, so he’ll never know. It’s that simple.

And that, in a way, is how Jeongguk knows he can trust Kim Namjoon; he’s the only person he’s ever met that’s able to bear their soul with no fear, and nothing to hide.

Everybody’s got something to hide. Namjoon just doesn’t bother hiding it.

“Drop the monotony, Kim,” Jeongguk says, voice low and sultry in his throat. “We both know you don’t care how I am.”

Namjoon hums, head tilting to the left to stare the man down under the scarce lighting of the room. Jeongguk’s hands grip the desk either side of Namjoon’s hips and he stands up as tall as he can—but the older man still inches over him.

“This isn’t what you sounded like you needed on the phone,” Namjoon remarks in a smooth and playful kind of way that might sound vaguely mocking if Jeongguk didn’t know him.

And at that, he pulls away, as if he was never there at all, stating, “It wasn’t—” and he steps backwards, maneuvering himself until he settles into the armchair sitting crookedly at the man’s desk, where he relays, “—it isn’t.

Namjoon doesn’t move away from the desk until he holds Jeongguk’s stare for an ounce longer. When the younger reflects back, just as steadily, he seems to believe him, and makes his way to his own chair, just on the other side of the desk.

Jeongguk crosses one leg over the other, sinking down into the leather with a hand supporting his chin. Namjoon keeps a perfect posture, sliding his glasses onto his nose before his arms return folded neatly on his desk.

“Ma Sanghoon,” Jeongguk begins, lifting a brow at the man whose eyes squint, already digging into his memory. “Does the name ring a bell?”

Namjoon thinks for no more than five seconds until he clicks his tongue, remorseful as he says, “The card dealer?” Jeongguk nods his head, tartly, and Namjoon shakes his, muttering, “Damn. Nice kid, I thought. A little shifty-looking, pretty sure he robbed me of a game a few times, but what dealer of ours doesn’t?”

Jeongguk can’t imagine anyone robbing him of a game—the only people that ever have certainly aren’t around to try their luck with anyone else, anymore—so he can’t find himself agreeing all that easily with Namjoon. Instead, he just tells him, “Turns out, Ma’s been doing a lot more than robbing a few games.”

At that, the man raises a hand to his chin, interested, supporting its weight as he asks, “Is that so?”

Jeongguk nods in confirmation, telling him, “According to what I’ve been told, he seems to have a little routine built up for himself. Someone’ll catch his eye at the table and he’ll fix their hand to make them lose all their rounds. Then, during his break, he’ll buy them a drink to ‘cheer them up’, spike it when they’re not looking and take them up to his hotel room.”

Jeongguk talks quickly and bluntly, little to no emotion registering in his voice, but Namjoon looks considerably affronted when he hears this, darkly muttering, “Jesus Christ.”

It’s gruesome, no doubt, but Jeongguk’s heard the same sort of thing enough times to be numb to it now. Namjoon tenfold, but he doesn’t seem to numb towards anything. Some people are just driven by their emotions, he’s observed.

Jeongguk’s never been one of them.

“As you said, he seems like a nice kid—so it’s not too hard for him,” he comments, with a shrug of his shoulders, and Namjoon acknowledges it, but the grimace refuses to wipe from his face. “From there, he’ll rob them, probably have sex with them, and get security to take them back out again.”

“And that’s how you found out about it,” Namjoon points out, the younger grinning with untamed ridicule.

“He’s one stupid motherfucker. And, of course, I can’t have dealers drugging my clientele. That casino’s one of our biggest legal incomes. If word starts to spread that there’s a robbing serial rapist that works there, they’re not gonna want to go, are they? And then they’ll start to question the other casinos. And then the massage parlours. And the restaurants.”

“And then we’re down to dirty money,” Namjoon finishes, and it’s rather acute of him to pick up on Jeongguk’s point like that (but of course, that’s Namjoon.) Most wouldn’t even see it as an issue since ninety percent of gangs thrive off of dirty money and dirty money only, anyway . Illegal dens, brothels, pornography, drugs—but all of that comes with a risk. If the cops find a way, they can shut them down in an instant.

But they can’t shut down legal businesses—not without some very, very solid evidence.

“Exactly, Kim,” Jeongguk murmurs. His finger trails up and down his own thigh, eyes glued to the motion like his focus is elsewhere—but it counteracts completely with how clearly he states, “I hate getting personally involved in something that should be so easy to fix, but our friend Kiyoung and his team of idiots have been trying to catch Ma for weeks now, and they haven’t figured it out, yet. I’m growing impatient.”

Suddenly, his finger stalls, eyes flipping up to stare down the man opposite to him, strident and heated like a branding iron.

“I want it done better and I want it done faster.

Truthfully, Kiyoung likely isn’t even trying. But his bitches should be. They’d do anything to escape the little slump in the hierarchy they’ve found themselves in. Jeongguk can’t imagine it being particularly pleasant to have to obey Cha Kiyoung of all the bastards.

But, still, if Kiyoung and his lackeys were capable, he would’ve fixed this when it was brought to their attention. Jeongguk was unwise to go to Kiyoung first. His team are loyal and smart enough to be efficient, most of the time, but Namjoon’s all those things and better. He might not carry out the dirty work himself, but he always knows someone that will.

And, proving his own point, Namjoon immediately responds, “I’ll find you everything I can on him. What have Cha’s guys tried already?”

Jeongguk groans, fingers rubbing slow circles into his temple, muttering, “Nothing useful. They’ve staked him out to try and catch him in the act, but he knows when he’s being watched—he seems to recognise the entire gang.”

Weeks upon weeks and Sanghoon hadn’t made another move. Then, the very first night Kiyoung’s fools weren’t watching him, three new incidents. It’s getting ridiculous. One simple request shouldn’t take so long to follow through.

“I’m assuming we can’t just go and grab him.”

God, if only it were that easy. Jeongguk shakes his head, irritation snarling in his mouth at it.

“Ma Sanghoon’s a slippery bastard. He keeps getting away, and it seems he’s on red alert at the minute. There’s some kind of undercover protection for him around the casino, we’ve concluded, and I’m pretty sure he’s paying some of the staff, too.”

Which means Jeongguk has a hell of a lot of reordering to do. Whether they’ve taken bribes out of fear or greed or desperation, disloyalty doesn’t stick in Hua She. He’ll make sure they’re disposed of much quicker than Sanghoon once this is solved.

He can practically hear the machinery in Kim’s brain working double-time at all of this, frustration as imminent as Jeongguk’s own, but he doesn’t voice that. Just keeps asking questions.

Sometimes, it feels like he’s filling out a complaint form, talking to Namjoon about all of these problems.

“Have you consulted Min, yet?”

The last resort to many of Hua She’s problems. Jeon likes using Min’s brazenness to take care of tasks quickly—but with this he unfortunately requires a little more precaution, and while that certainly doesn’t work to either of their favours, it’s not entirely out of Min Yoongi’s league, either.

“I haven’t,” Jeongguk replies, swiftly deciding, “but I’m heading there after this.”

Namjoon nods, typical sense of amusement dotting his lips as he informs him, “Min shouldn’t be too hard to catch—heard his new recruit is rather enthusiastic when it comes to his dirty work, so he’s got a bit of leisure time, lately.”

Jeongguk hums.

“Ah—yes, I’ve heard mentions of him… what’s the name…”

“Kim Taehyung,” Namjoon answers for him, and Jeongguk hums in memory. He hasn’t heard anything particularly big. Just a few whispers of one of Min’s scribbling their name onto the dirty windows of the city’s gang scene—but, still… impressive for it to have reached his ears at all.

No face to the name, however, so the guy’s still got a ways to go in terms of that, but, regardless, regardless. It’s some kind of feat. Min picks them well.

“He’s a smart kid, by the sounds of things, excellent skills,” Namjoon says, conversationally—not much aim to the words than to simply fill the space. “He’s just back from a couple of years of living in America, Min said. Now, he’s running around with Jung Hoseok.”

 

And that’s when it clicks. A face given back to the name. Or the other way around, if going chronologically.

Quite a feat, indeed.

 

Kim Taehyung.

 

Jeongguk remembers the man, hazily. He’d been distracted for a good portion of the meeting with Min that night after crossing paths with him, thinking about the strength that’d reflected back in those unusually pretty eyes of his. How he’d love to break it to submission, break him to submission: the man’s long, slim legs wrapped desperately around him; Jeongguk leaving bruises on his waist and hips and anywhere he could get his hands and mouth on.

The thought had quickly faded from his mind soon after, uncertain of the man’s relation to the gang—but now, a few weeks onward, he hears that he’s their newest member? For Min of all people?

If Jeongguk didn’t know any better, he’d call it fate. But he isn’t sure fate likes to play dirty games like he does. Isn’t sure if fate would want to make two people meet, just so one could hear the other cry out his name like a prayer… or a plead… or a curse.

Jeongguk rises to his feet, anticipation guiding the actions. There’s a telling curve to his lips, filthy intent oozing out of the split.

“Maybe it’s about time I meet him. He must be damn good to get picked up by Min like that.”

Namjoon looks intrigued in all senses of the word. He looks like he knows exactly what Jeongguk is thinking. He always does.

“Maybe it is, sir.”

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

Jeongguk steps out of the car just as Min’s pulling down the shutters of the restaurant on one side, enough to ward off any new customers.

He’d called him in advance, informing him of his arrival in about fifteen to twenty minutes and, presumably, Yoongi saw it as a necessity to close early. Confidentiality purposes, he’d suppose, but it wouldn’t surprise him if the man doesn’t give a shit and business just happened to be slow tonight.

Wang Kei and Kwangjo seem to think they’re needed here, too, filtering out after Jeongguk with their shoulders square and faces solid like they’re trying to form some kind of defensive wall. Jeongguk snorts.

If Min Yoongi wanted to kill him he would, no matter who was protecting him—and he still could, any minute. It’s quite simply a chance Jeongguk’s willing to take for the man’s abilities.

There’s only one person who could really protect him from Min’s temperamentality; but, of course, he’s never with him when he visits, throwing out any excuse to get away with it. Trouble with this den, important meeting with that ally, extra protection needed for those people. Hell, maybe he purposely picked today to meet with Seokjin, knowing Jeongguk would likely resort to visiting Min one way or another.

But perhaps it’s better this way, all things considered.

Min greets him politely, like visiting royalty, with a firm, “Good evening, sir—I’m pleased to see you again so soon.”

It is practised enough to not sound like a lie anymore and yet, the same fire still burns ferociously in his sharpened eyes, as if not a day had passed at all.

Jeongguk grins, malice radiating from the gesture as he begins to approach the man, uttering, “You too, Min—” Jeongguk doesn’t bother making it sound like the truth. He turns to gesture to the men following him, informing him, “This is Wang Kei and Kwangjo, by the way. Park couldn’t make it.”

He watches as the man flinches when Jeongguk walks past. Not from the action, however, but the words. Min clears his throat, doesn’t give a response and, instead, he follows the other man inside, closing the restaurant door behind him and silently switching the open sign to closed.

They file through into the dining area, Yoongi dipping between the marble arches of the kitchen while Jeongguk leans in the doorway, Wang Kei and Kwangjo a few steps back, watching the man bang his fist on the metal of one of the counters to get his workers’ attention.

“We’re closing early tonight—” he tells them, firm, authoritative. “—you can all head home, now.”

There’s a rumble of joy that flutters through the room with a strange sense of familiarity in the way his employees pat their boss on the back, clap his shoulder, smile like he’s granted them a wish. Crude, and too easily. Min doesn’t flinch—maybe only a fraction embarrassed. It makes Jeongguk wonder if he does this often.

He tries to imagine any of his employees treating him the way Yoongi’s restaurant staff apparently treat him and barely holds back a shudder. He’s never seen anything like it, not in any restaurant or bar or any kind of establishment at all: employees acting like colleagues instead of assets to their boss.

The thought of Min Yoongi patting him on the shoulder like some kind of equal is enough to put Jeongguk in an even worse mood than he arrived in. He glances at Wang Kei and Kwangjo, who seem as easily as perturbed as he is, and finds comfort in the way that their eyes refuse to meet his.

Eventually, the staff leave and the restaurant settles down to a rather ghostly kind of silence; the foundations creak, pipes fuss and groan with water, taps drip. Jeongguk follows Yoongi to where he’s still standing in the kitchen, seeing the last of his workers leave through the back door, and when he pulls the huge metal structure closed, it thumps with finality.

Then, Yoongi turns on his heels to face his guest, a soft sigh escaping his lips.

“Sorry about that, sir. I meant to clear them out before you came.”

Jeongguk shakes his head, dismissing the notion, and lets his eyes wander around the room. It’s been a while since they’ve met in here. Typically, they’d use Yoongi’s office upstairs, or one of the tables in the main restaurant. But, tonight, it seems as if Min has picked here.

He looks over his shoulder to Wang Kei and Kwangjo, both men hanging around, uneasily, at the entrance of the kitchen, and he brings his hand up to gesture to them.

“You two can leave. Min isn’t a threat.”

Not in a way either of you could help with, at least.

There’s a customary second of hesitation between them, gazes fluttering around, posture uncertain—but Jeongguk keeps his expression firm, eyebrows knotted together with his mouth downturned and, soon, the men take the opportunity to escape.

Not unlike the rest of the place, the kitchen is, as always, well-kept and surprisingly upscale for the purpose of the restaurant.

Back in the earlier days of Hua She, The Golden Cat was run by the Mins as a cover-up for dealers and gangsters to meet up and arrange somewhere where they wouldn’t have to worry about being caught out by cops. After all, it was just a plain old restaurant on the outside.

Now, it looks like a plain old restaurant on the inside, too, because since Min’s father owned it, it’s been used less and less for gangsters to work and much more for them to eat and drink themselves sick.

The food’s gotten too good and the alcohol’s stayed too cheap, Jeongguk personally thinks.

As far as he knows, Yoongi’s been working in it since he was a teenager. His father had more important things to do (albeit, things that Yoongi handles himself alongside it, today) and his mother used to be the head chef until she moved to somewhere on the Japanese coast after the death of her husband.

There’s days like these, of course, where the two of them will use it to discuss a new issue that’s emerged—but, honestly, there’s also times that Jeongguk arrives and it’s like he’s come to the wrong place; ended up at an actual restaurant instead with how Min’ll dart around him, pen precariously balanced behind his ear as he dishes out meals like he’s dispensing them from his hands. He’ll look at Jeongguk and go, “Two minutes, sir,” before he even gets a word in. Then, he’ll serve three tables and finally come back to him just to tell him to go wait upstairs.

Some days, Min Yoongi seems strikingly regular . And, some days, Jeongguk doesn’t know if he pities or envies that.

He blinks a few times, shaking off the train of thoughts with a trickle of disgrace riling in his gut and snaps out of his trance when Yoongi languidly gestures to the small table pushed into the otherwise empty end of the room. Storage boxes pile up around it like a fortress.

Jeongguk doesn’t need to be told, really, but Yoongi does so anyway.

Occasionally, he’ll arrive in the middle of a game of cards taking place on this table—the stench of cigars and the muffles of laughter pungent to his senses even from outside.

Inside, he’ll find Min with that sidekick of his, Jung Hoseok—a couple of Min’s other guys joining them in a game of poker or blackjack—maybe bridge if they’re really bored. Min’ll look at him for a moment, a challenge in his eye, but nothing to do with the game, whilst Jung’ll invite him to play for the millionth time.

Jeongguk thinks he does it just to piss him off, sometimes, the way he always has the same tell-tale shit-eating grin, arm slung over the back of his chair as he drones, “Want a game, boss?”

But, tonight, Jung Hoseok is nowhere to be seen and when Jeongguk realises that is when he realises that neither is the new one. Kim Taehyung.

And that’s a little less pleasant.

Jeongguk shifts forwards to rest his head on his hand as he watches Yoongi move silently around the kitchen. Brewing tea, it seems.

“Min,” Jeongguk says oddly conversationally, enough that the man stalls in his steps, turning to him with a blank face. “I heard you have a new recruit.”

Immediately, the look on Yoongi’s face darkens, and he answers, “Yes, sir. Hoseok picked him up. You crossed paths, I believe, at our last meeting.”

The words are stiff and overly formal. Jeongguk almost rolls his eyes at them. He accepts it from everyone else. Jimin can sound natural with it when he wants to, and Namjoon is overall kind of neutral—but coming from Min, formality just sounds like a poor attempt.

But he hums, thoughtfully, pretending to remember the meeting all of a sudden as he says, “Ah, I did, didn’t I?”

There’s a long silence. Yoongi picks up on the odd quality of his tone with his typical perceptive guardedness.

So, Jeongguk waits until he almost turns away again to airily ask, “Will he be joining us, tonight?”

And as soon as the man meets his eyes, suspicion flaring in the look, he corrects himself with, “I mean Jung, of course. He’s often present at these meetings, after all.”

Yoongi stares a moment longer—does so, so often that Jeongguk would think that he was a bit slow if it was anyone else—and, then, the man finally turns his back on him again, replying, “I’m not sure, sir. He’s out right now with… with Taehyung.”

Jeongguk doesn’t miss his hesitation. He licks his lips.

“Is that so?” he asks, voice level and steady for the wolfish stretch of his smile. “Well, perhaps they’ll drop by soon, then.”

“Perhaps, sir,” Yoongi mechanically repeats, transporting the tea set onto a tray before he finally approaches the table. He sets it down in the middle and seats himself opposite of Jeongguk, pouring a cup for his superior before filling his own.

Yoongi respectfully waits, hands in his lap, for Jeongguk to have the first sip, and when he does, the heat of it threatening to scald his tongue, he sits back in his chair as if the hyper-formality has finally been dispelled for a moment. Yoongi takes his own cup into his hands, drinking slowly before setting it back down on its saucer with a rattle.

Then, he gauges Jeongguk lazily as he tells him, “I got Namjoon’s message. There’s a problem with Ma Sanghoon. A casino dealer?”

“Correct,” Jeongguk confirms, slightly grateful that he doesn’t have to explain the whole thing once again. Yoongi’s frown lifts off of his face, eyebrows raising ever so much in a silent ‘and…?’

Jeongguk sighs, raises his cup to his lips again and drinks.

Honestly, the tea’s rather bland. He crinkles his nose at it and sets it back down. He’s never really been the biggest fan, anyway.

Yoongi’s face flickers with wry amusement, and Jeongguk scowls, sitting straighter in his chair as he continues, “I want him brought to me—but it seems as if nobody is able to do so.”

“Why not?”

“He’s slippery,” Jeongguk answers, vaguely. “Point is, I’m out of options. It won’t be good for the business if I just barge in there and drag the fucker out by his heels. Even the other employees would be concerned with seeing that happen to one of them.”

Min hums, taking a long drag himself before setting his cup down again, lips smacking and curling into a smirk.

“So, you need discretion,” he concludes, rather brazenly. “Did you come to the wrong place, sir? That’s not exactly my expertise.”

Of course, the infamous Min Line and their blood-splattering brutality. Physicality and quick judgement. Yoongi is the kind of man Jeongguk would be ecstatic to have in his gang: if it wasn’t for that personality of his, the balance of both his poor attempt at civility and snarky mannerisms far outweighing his skills.

That’s the problem with most, he thinks: the human condition.

“I don’t want discretion,” Jeongguk corrects. “I just want it done with as little collateral damage as possible—and that you are good at.”

As brutal as the Min Line historically are, Yoongi’s the type to carry out things clean and quick. It’s something his father resented about him, as if his precision took away from the principal. Something he resented among a long, long list of things.

And that is something Min Yoongi and him once found common ground on—the burden of being resented.

“What do you want me to do, sir? If I can’t drag him out of there, then, what? Go to his house?”

Jeongguk shakes his head, finger reaching out to inattentively smear a droplet of liquid the teapot has let slip onto the table.

“He’s got security. You could try, but I advise against it. He lives in the centre of Mong Kok. Word would spread—and I don’t want any publicity until the inauguration, much less hard evidence adorning front pages with all the CCTV in that area.”

Yoongi looks contemplative for a moment, until he replies, “Something quick and silent, with as little collateral as possible.”

Jeongguk nods. “And if you can’t find a way to do it cleanly, I’ll take care of him myself.” He wipes the droplet completely with the sleeve of his jacket, eyes running back up to the man opposite him. “I cannot let this continue, Min. Ma Sanghoon is making a mockery out of my empire.”

Yoongi snorts condemningly at him, muttering, “And robbing and sexually assaulting innocent people.” The ‘not that you would give a shit’ follows it without a voice and Jeongguk grimaces.

Christ, that pisses him off more than anything. One of his inferiors being so insolent to him is one thing, but the way Yoongi covers it up just enough to let Jeongguk know exactly what he thinks without actually saying it. He’d much, much rather feel his hostility than his passive aggression—and Yoongi knows that.

Again, Jeongguk finds no appeal in another man’s fake courtesy.

“Why bother even keeping up the formalities, Min? Speak your mind freely or stay a coward.”

Namjoon and Yoongi are his only employees that he allows to do so, along with Jimin, as much as the man pleases: but all for wildly diverse reasons.

Min’s mannerisms are instantly warped, like the pulling off of a mask. His grin is dark, twisted. A perfect replicant of his own and Jeongguk hates the familiarity he’s hit with by it.

“Rather be a coward than a bastard, Jeon .

Anger simmers deeply in his stomach and, frankly, Jeongguk wants to explode on him.

But he holds his tongue; it’s better if he doesn’t get into any of that just yet. All Jeongguk has to do is pick at Yoongi every so often—only where he knows it’ll hurt: the scars that haven’t healed right.

He’ll break, eventually.

Jeongguk just has to wait.

So, he takes a breath for now. Exhales slowly. Lets himself smile in his own way: the kind of smile that makes the hairs stand up on people’s necks.

Everyone’s but Min Yoongi’s, of course. He isn’t scared of Jeongguk—he’s just scared of what he could do.

“That’s better,” Jeongguk praises, the words low and poisoned. “You’re not getting any better at the cover-up act, so you might as well drop it when we’re alone, right?”

Jeongguk stands up, suddenly, without another word. His shoes echo against the hard floor as he walks around the table and he sops in front of Yoongi, moves to sit on the table in front of him with a foot resting on the edge of the elder’s seat.

Jeongguk moves closer to the man, who doesn’t want to look at him, focus glued to the table instead and he slips his fingers underneath his chin, tipping his head up to make him look. Jeongguk’s thumb presses on Yoongi’s bottom lip, gently tugging the soft red strip down, aimlessly.

“Go ahead, Min. Tell me exactly what you think.”

Yoongi is both contemplative and defiant in his initial silence, stare held resistively firm in the arcane circles of his irises. Delicate how they gaze, the usual pointedness lost in the shoddy lighting until, in a shock of action, they pierce, and he smacks Jeongguk’s hand away.

“Don’t play games with me, sicko.”

Jeongguk chuckles, retracting his hand as he crosses one leg over the other, foot leaving the man’s chair.

What a ridiculous request. Playing games is all he does.

“‘Sicko,”  Jeongguk muses, reclining back on his hands as he glances pointlessly around the kitchen. “Haven’t heard that one in a while.”

“Hard to believe.”

Jeongguk hadn’t intended this meeting to turn this way—but perhaps it’s too late for that, now.

He smiles at the man in front of him with a clean shrug of his shoulders and feels the urge that natural instinct of his awakens, to dig his fingers in where they don’t belong. To press and bruise and pull apart the tendons, feel the blood trickle down his wrists.

It’s not that dramatic.

But Jeongguk is a blade, and Min Yoongi takes any ounce of unnecessary blood for a fatality.

“Not everyone finds my games as sick as you do.” The word is thick and clotted dripping out of his mouth. Infested with ridicule. A cesspool. It’s his thumbs squeezing into old bruises—those old scars.

Yoongi’s jaw clenches and Jeongguk watches the motion with unpronounced delight. Yoongi’s scowl shifts further into his skin, practically branded, now, but he doesn’t bite—not how Jeongguk wants him to.

“Leave him out of this,” is all that he mumbles.

Heartbreak. Such a pathetic ailment.

But god, it never fails to amaze Jeongguk how he doesn’t even need to say his name anymore to get the man on full defence.

“Why should I?” He asks, faux-sincerity soaking the question. “You should let me elaborate.”

“I already know what you mean.” His words are almost a growl, but he has some vague air of caution about him. It’s the kind of thing Jeongguk wants to burn to ashes.

Caution is for cowards. The type of people that play it safe all their lives and never get anywhere.

Underneath all that is a burst of fury. He can taste its fumes curling into the air, hot and charged. The feeling of radiation seeping into his skin, bitter on his tongue like battery acid. He just needs to be the catalyst.

“Do you miss it?” he asks.

“Stop...”

He’s tense—all hard lines and bunched up muscles. Hands bunched the same by his side, posture straight. He should seem bigger, but he looks so small. Jeongguk wants to unravel him.

“You remember how he feels, Yoongi? How he moves? It really is something to marvel.”

“Jeon.”

“He acts so tough but submits so easily.”

Yoongi’s lips are pressed tight together, a line so thin Jeongguk wonders if they’ll smudge right out of existence in a moment or two. It’s easy to tell that he doesn’t want to hear anymore, and there’s wrath that melts, blistering hot, in his eyes. He knows exactly what comes next.

“Such a little slut .”

The cut is made, gushing, spritzing out in cracks of a dense, viscous red. Fingerprints line skin, purple to blue and spotlights of pink.

Yoongi launches out of his seat, hands smacking down on the table either side of Jeongguk’s hips and it’s a tidal wave. Vibrations licking along the walls. Jeongguk waits patiently for the biting point, eyeing the clench of the man’s fists, the square of his shoulders.

The empty room.

But Yoongi’s voice cracks as he yells, “Get the fuck out!” and Jeongguk is left spotless: no collateral.

He’s good at that, remember.

But there was a second there, when their eyes locked, such raw hatred glaring out of the other’s he almost had to squint. A second where things almost flipped—a moment of opportunity, a chance to get away with murder, so to speak, that he didn’t take.

Jeongguk thought he was going to hit him, stomach taut with anticipation.

But it never came.

He moves off the table, into the man’s personal space and they’re almost chest-to-chest. He isn’t finished yet and, no doubt, Min picks up on this. There’s a level of stiff discomfort in his stance, as if he wants to back away but knows better. Aggression trickles out of him like a punctured tire.

Yoongi’s voice is soft, screamed raw with one sentence when he speaks again.

“Why do you love torturing me so much, Jeongguk?”

There are some questions, Jeongguk’s learned, that simply do not have an answer.

Or, sometimes, there are answers… but they’re so banal that they can’t possibly satisfy the gravity of the question.

Jeongguk could give a thousand responses to Min Yoongi’s desperate plea, but none of them would make him see. He’ll never see. Never understand. How could he, with the whole world’s hands clasped over his eyes?

The world that was supposed to be Jeongguk’s. Is Jeongguk’s. But for all the wrong reasons.

“I’ve always been loyal, I’ve always done what you asked without question,” he continues like loyalty matters.

Like maybe it matters far more than he could ever comprehend.

“This isn’t about loyalty.” It feels like a lie as it grates against his teeth, but in the silence of the room it fits perfectly.

“It’s personal,” Yoongi insists.

“I took what I owned,” he corrects him, the darkness of his tone casting shadows over Min’s face. “I don’t want to share.”

Finally, Yoongi steps back. Maybe the proximity is too much for him—draining, in a way—because as he lowers himself back down onto his chair, his legs shake.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

Taehyung tries to pull open the trunk of Hoseok’s car, but it requires some very tough prying, having been beaten into a strange wonky shape, like crumpled paper, which has stuck the locking mechanism a little too far in to smoothly function.

Hoseok stands and watches—to Taehyung’s annoyance, surely, but utter lack of surprise also. Neither of them have said a word since the start of the drive.

On the third try, Taehyung lets go again with a heave, glaring moodily over his shoulder at his best friend. Hoseok’s face is forlorn, to say the least.

“Well?” He doesn’t move a muscle, and Taehyung grinds his teeth, agitated by the man’s stasis. He lets go of the door, straightens out his form and feels every bone and muscle in his back whine and pop with tension. “Are you planning on helping me or are you just gonna stand there?”

Hoseok lifts his eyes from the battered metal of his car, to Taehyung, slowly, like he’s having to pull them up by rope.

“Does insurance cover that?”

Taehyung growls, kicking the back of the bumper in a sudden pit of fury and, to Hoseok’s horror, the chunk of metal clatters to the ground, licence plate and all.

“My bumper!”

“Cry about it later, ‘Seok—Min is going to hang us by our dicks.” He swings his arm behind him, pointing vigorously to the mangled cardboard in the trunk, seething, “Just look at that!”

It seems that, in their silence, Taehyung has been given time to steep in his anger (boil, perhaps) and Hoseok has been given time to sulk over the destruction of his treasured car. Neither are particularly desirable reactions—actually, it makes them both seem oddly pathetic—but Taehyung can’t see past his foul mood at this point for long enough to care.

Hoseok leans his weight onto one leg, arms folded across his chest as he huffs. A more rational Taehyung might relent at this point—but this one refuses.

Hoseok sighs deeply, face formidably sad… rather off-putting… definitely wasting their time.

“Fine, fuck!” Taehyung snaps, stooping down to pick the bumper back off of the ground and hesitating over what to do with it. He sets it up awkwardly against the wrecked trunk. “Min’ll probably replace it for you, Seok, he’s loaded. Just… stop fucking pouting over it.”

The bumper falls to the ground again with a telling clatter. A piece of it cracks off. Taehyung blinks in surprise.

“…It’s not even that bad,” he outright lies, hand brushing some of the dirt off of the paint-job along the back window (the utterly smashed back window.) The flashy red peels off in his hand, crumbling to dust and revealing a cold, unfamiliar metal. He quickly tries to divert the older man’s attention to the trunk again, giving it another tug as he promises, “Look, with a little elbow grease this’ll pop right open.”

He puts both hands on it, shoving the button down and pushing all his strength against it, veins popping out in his neck as he grits, “See? It’s… almost—”

The handle pops off in his hand, and Taehyung’s launched back with the force, stumbling on his feet as he holds the broken component, stupefied.

He throws it into the plant pot decorating along the sidewalk, as if Hoseok didn’t see it. But he saw it. When he dares to look back at his friend’s face, it’s turmoil.

Taehyung sighs, feeling the anger start to fizzle out of him.

“Please stop sulking.”

His face doesn’t change, and Taehyung groans hard enough to scratch his throat.

“Oh my God, Hoseok, okay! I’ll help you guilt Min into replacing it, just stop .”

And, suddenly, like some kind of switch has just been pulled, Hoseok’s smiling, face alight with glee like he’d never been sad at all.

“Sure thing, Tae!”

Taehyung has whiplash, he’s pretty sure, watching as the man walks off with a bounce in his step past his mangled car.

They reach the restaurant, Taehyung trudging after him, irately and can’t help but notice how much Hoseok’s mood has magically improved in the space of a couple of seconds. He huffs a breath, arms crossing over his chest.

Con-artist.

“Hey, Gi— guess who narrowly escaped with their lives yet again?!” Hoseok yells into the empty restaurant, the words echoing obnoxiously into the space in a way that he knows Yoongi’ll complain about—that’s why Hoseok does it, after all.

He reluctantly follows the man as he barrels through into the kitchen, still shouting.

“Tae barely escaped with his arm, but we’re alive—”

He stops so hard that Taehyung bangs straight into the back of him, staggering backwards with a hissed curse as he looks to Hoseok, snapping, “What the hell—” but Hoseok elbows him in the stomach, stopping the words instantly. At that, Taehyung really looks to where his friend’s looking at, and…

…oh.

He pushes out from behind Hoseok’s inexplicable defensive stance to stand beside him, just as Yoongi stills, backing away from the table pressed into the end of the room and says, “I’m so sorry, sir.”

Taehyung looks at the older man with vague bemusement. The words sound genuine, but his expression is plastic at best, a processed apologetic look adorning his features. Taehyung sort of wonders why he’s even trying so hard. From what he’s gathered over excerpts of conversations and stories these past few weeks, Jeongguk wouldn’t lay a finger on him.

Hoseok, however, is a different situation, it seems. He bows deeply, with a fear that’s evident in the tremor of his spine and mutters, “I apologise for my outburst, sir.”

Jeongguk, he figures, would in fact lay a finger on Hoseok.

And frankly, Taehyung isn’t sure whether he should apologise or not—technically, he didn’t do anything—but with the glint in the man’s eyes as they drift from Hoseok to him—

Yeah, never mind. He still has no idea. He just knows his stomach burns in anticipation from it.

The man looks divine tonight, in his defence. When he’d first seen him, those few fleeting moments, he’d easily surpassed his pictures (which was quite an achievement already) but, now, as a real life still, he’s admittedly breath-taking.

Jeongguk’s expression is bold, focused, hand supporting his chin as he looks on with just an inkling of nonchalance in the practice. His shirt is unbuttoned to the chest, a crucifix glistening on a silver chain and Taehyung almost snorts at the sight.

He can’t really bring himself to buy it: that Jeon Jeongguk believes in anyone’s divinity but his own; deems anything a god but himself.

Honestly, Taehyung doesn’t think there’s an ounce of righteousness in that man. Nothing even a fraction holy that would ever have him on his knees.

Perhaps it’s just as well. That’ll make his job easier, after all.

The man’s hair is more tousled than he remembers it, like fingers have ran through it a couple times—probably his own out of frustration, he’d bet, based on the sole fact that he’s here at all. He doesn’t exactly visit Yoongi to catch up, the blonde had informed him amidst Taehyung’s round of questions after the last meeting. Both men probably have a thousand other things they’d rather do.

But, regardless, Taehyung finds that he likes how the dishevelment looks. It suits him much better than all that neatness and perfection. He doesn’t even know why he bothers with that act; his eyes are far too telling for it.

Deep and dirty. Ardent with sin.

“So, you’re the Kim Taehyung I’ve been hearing so much about,” Jeongguk says, smooth tone licking hot around Taehyung’s ears, conspiring against his throat.

Taehyung tries not to feel too proud at the words. After all, it’s a temporary reputation, for a gang he can’t bring himself to even properly care about.

But, if even the great Jeon Jeongguk has heard of him, then, he can’t really help it. There’s men that spend years trying to get noticed by the boss, he’s sure.

“Yes, sir.”

There’s a heavy silence that hangs in the air.

And then, Jeongguk gestures to the floor right in front of him as he leans back in his chair, arm hanging on the back of it, uttering, “Come here.”

Taehyung approaches like he’s compelled and watches as Yoongi’s hand flinches on the table when he walks past, maybe about to stop him—but he’s wiser than that.

Taehyung stops in front of Jeongguk, who looks up at him, satisfaction thick in his countenance as his blood-red lips part again.

“Kneel,” he commands.

And as Taehyung does so, he wonders if he makes all new members do this or if he’s just decided to establish his power over him. Maybe, he thinks Taehyung’ll be trouble, doesn’t want him to step out of line.

It feels like some kind of game, if he’s honest. A test.

The kitchen tile is cold through the fabric of his pants. Jeongguk extends his hand out to him, knuckles facing upwards and fingers laid out for him. Taehyung notices the little tattoo on his ring finger. A crown, intricately detailed like it should be much more than a finger tattoo.

The Little Prince, Taehyung can’t help but think, though, his aura certainly doesn’t feel little—or even all that princely.

A king? Maybe. More of a tyrant than anything else.

He takes the man’s hand in his, feels the rough, calloused fingers and presses his lips against the contrasting silk of his skin, chaste against the ink on his knuckle.

“Welcome to Hua She, Kim Taehyung.”

Taehyung pulls away, hand still lightly holding the man’s as he replies, “Thank you, sir.”

Jeongguk takes his hand back, and motions for him to stand again, eyes gliding away like his mind has moved on a million miles already.

There’s a smirk on his lips, however, that suggests otherwise.

“Min,” Jeongguk says, steadily, and the blonde’s attention is immediately on him rather than Taehyung again. “I can’t afford to waste any more time on that traitor. I want him in my hands as soon as possible. See to it that he is before the end of the week.”

“Of course, sir.”

Jeongguk rises, and, respectfully, Yoongi follows, hands folded behind his back to lead the man out, but he stops as Taehyung moves to get out of his way, as if the action had reminded him of his presence.

He glances at Taehyung, then to his shoulder, neatly bandaged to the arm and down to a dull throb, now, as it peeks out from underneath his wide-collared, blood-stained shirt.

“Jung,” he says, addressing the man evenly, but without a glance in his direction. “Take better care of your recruits. This is my gang—they’re mine too, remember.”

He likely expects that to be a revelation, that this is the new leader of Hua She—that the last Jeon has given over. But Taehyung knows it all already, of course. He stares back, unhesitant. Thinks Jeongguk could probably sense a fake reaction, anyway.

“Yes, of course, sir.”

Jeongguk finally takes his eyes off of him and, then, he follows Yoongi out of the kitchen. Hoseok bows deeply to him as Taehyung watches in silence with his hand on the back of the chair the man had been sitting on.

The door of the restaurant shuts to a heavy close again.

Then, Taehyung sighs deeply, sitting himself down in the man’s place as Hoseok wanders over, limbs stiff and shocked when he collapses into the chair opposite to him.

“Jesus Christ,” Hoseok says faintly.

“S’what I was thinking.”

Hoseok laughs, but there’s too much confusion in it to be actually amused.

Then, like a phantom, Yoongi arrives back in, unceremoniously. He heads straight to one of the fridges, holding all the beverages for the restaurant, and pulls out a bottle of whiskey like it’s second nature.

Taehyung watches intently as the man screws off the cap, throws it to the ground with an unpronounced rattle, and tips his head back, lips clamped to the mouth of it as the liquid disappears down the glass. He pulls back, shuddering darkly as he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and clears his throat.

Hoseok seems rather unphased.

“Well, how was the meeting?”

Yoongi drags himself over to the table, scraping out a chair, bottle clenched in the other hand as he plants himself down, ungracefully.

Clearly, he is not in a great mood.

He glowers, smacking the bottle down on the table with a full thud. The wood creaks at the impact.

“Jeon…” Yoongi growls, voice croaking like gravel in his throat, “is a bastard.”

Taehyung feels a shot of unease pulling through him at the same time Hoseok falls into snorts of laughter, chiming, “We know —” But then, his eyes drift to Taehyung, silent in the uproar and he nudges him in the arm, hard, correcting, “Or, I know. Somebody else seems a bit caught up in his storm.”

Before Taehyung can even defend himself, Yoongi’s head shoots up.

“You, Kim Taehyung, will not fall for that. Jeon doesn’t want a thing from you that’d do you any good. He just likes to show his power.” He sits back in his seat, sniffing with sour amusement as he murmurs, “Fucking brat.”

Briefly, Taehyung thinks how Jeon might react if he heard Yoongi call him that. He doubts it’d be anything pretty.

But, on the other matter, he feels like he can give both men an inch of comfort, insisting, “Believe me, I don’t think anything good of that man.”

‘Good’ has got nothing to do with it. Taehyung has a goal: do a bad thing to a bad person for bad people for a bad reason. None of it’s good— and Jeon Jeongguk is a prime example of nothing good. Even his attraction’s filthy: stained in dirty habits and nasty actions. The taboo.

“Nobody does,” Yoongi tells him, slowly, thumb running around the mouth of the whiskey bottle, half-unfocused. “But you don’t have to like someone you roll over for.”

Taehyung snorts. As blunt as it is, he certainly isn’t wrong—and Taehyung very much intends to prove that.

“What was he here for, anyway?” Hoseok questions. His feet are parked snuggly on the table, the smoke of his just-lit cigarette crawling around the room. Yoongi huffs, kicks the man’s feet off the table and snatches the cigarette from his hand, taking a drag of his own while Hoseok complains as background noise.

“Problem with a card dealer in one of his casinos,” he answers, gruffly. “He wants rid of him, but we can’t just grab him and go—and he won’t fall for any trick so far, either. Idiot thinks he’s untouchable.”

Hoseok lifts his feet back onto the table.

“And he’s shoved it onto your scrawny shoulders?”

Yoongi shoves them off again, with enough force this time that the man actually yelps, the bottle of whiskey teetering with the commotion. Yoongi catches it before it spills and stubs out the cigarette on its side, to Hoseok’s dismay.

“You know what he’s like—can’t use his own brain.” He takes another swig of the liquid, eyes rolling irately as he murmurs, “It’s not like I even know the details.”

“He didn’t tell you them?” Hoseok doesn’t sound too surprised, and Taehyung gets the impression that this is a common occurrence between the two.

“Nope—he spent most of the time tryna get a rise outta me. I’ll get the info from Namjoon, later.”

Well, he thinks, that explains the tension between the two of them. Taehyung wonders how a gang can even work with that kind of malice ongoing with two people that presumably have to meet up so frequently. He supposes that might just be Jeon, though—considering what he was told about him and Cha Kiyoung.

But none of this was in their files.

“Did he succeed?” Hoseok crosses his legs instead, slouching onto the table as he watches Yoongi’s expression curdle even further.

“He always succeeds,” he says, tartly.

Taehyung can’t help but get stuck on that particular point. Why would Jeon be so hostile towards one of the most important men in his gang? Kiyoung, he has reason to hate in a way, but what is it about Min Yoongi? And why didn’t Zhao and his team know about it?

He’d say he should try and find out more, just for his own knowledge… but which man would it even be easier to pry from?

Hoseok moves the conversation on before he can consider asking more with a question of his own.

“Why can’t we just go and grab that dealer guy?”

Yoongi shrugs his shoulders in response. “He didn’t say. But I’d assume it’s ’cause Jeon doesn’t want to cause a scene before his inauguration.”

Taehyung arches an eyebrow at that.

Inauguration? Is that his plan?

Hoseok said they don’t want anyone to know about Jeongguk’s father yet, just in case they try to strike when they’re not quite prepared—but, then, this inauguration must be the turning point.

Sounds like something Taehyung might want to attend.

“We can’t send someone undercover to bring him out?” Hoseok asks next. “Play a game or somethin’?”

Yoongi shakes his head, nails tapping the glass of the bottle, absentmindedly, telling him, “Jeon said he knows pretty much every face in the gang, and he’s tipped off security to help him out with that, too. They recognise everyone, we can’t get close enough.”

Hoseok hums, obviously half-dismissing the ordeal already—but Taehyung sees an opportunity.

“Well, what about me? He won’t know my face, yet.”

After all, what better way to boost his importance in the gang than to solve a problem straight from Jeon himself?

But Yoongi on the other hand, looks unconvinced. He snorts, remarking. “I don’t think you’ll wanna take this one, Kim—” He meets Taehyung’s eyes, amusement swirling somewhere in there—lightly ridiculing. Maybe Yoongi’s just in a bad mood, or maybe Taehyung is, but there’s something irritating in the way he says, "Just give it a pass, we’ll figure something out.”

We’ll . As in them. Not him.

It shouldn’t bother him so much. But he tells himself it’s just for the sake of his own mission that it does.

Not his ego. Definitely not.

“What is it?” He persists, and Yoongi smirks at him like he knew he would. Perhaps stubbornness is lesson three.

“Jeon wants him brought to him because he’s being immoral, and it’ll drive away his customers. He’s a dangerous man.”

Taehyung snorts, fingers reaching to play with the gold strip of his earring as he gazes at the other man with undeniable arrogance.

“I can handle dangerous men.”

That’s Hong Kong. That’s America.

“Okay, but can you handle spiked drinks?” Yoongi asks, tauntingly, “Because that’s his speciality... He spikes their drinks and then takes them up to a suite. Robs them, takes advantage of them and calls security to have them kicked out.”

Taehyung’s jaw goes slack.

“Wow. That’s…”

“Exactly,” the man says. He’s about to bring the bottle to his lips again, but then he pauses. “And that’s why I’m saying don’t bother. It’s risky shit.”

He drinks like it’s a conclusion, but Taehyung’s brow furrows, air puffing past his lips before he questions, “What? Are you joking? That just makes me want to do it more. Somebody needs to fuck that guy up.”

Yoongi must have the tolerance of a fucking bull, his words are crystal clear, expression just teetering on light-hearted, but serious enough to be in his Hua She state of mind.

“Look,” he says slowly, sitting back to put his own feet on the table, to Hoseok’s utter disgust. “I’m not gonna stop you—I’m just advising. But if you want to give it a try, then…”

Then you’re disposable, I don’t care . That’s what Taehyung hears after those words—he just finds it hard to believe that Yoongi really thinks that. From what he’s gathered, the man appreciates another set of capable hands around with him—especially a pair belonging to a man that’s not as defiant and bold as Hoseok is.

“I know how to go undercover,” Taehyung assures him, but the irony in the statement is lost on everyone else. Back drug-dealing in America is one thing, but just look at him now. Seamlessly woven where he doesn’t belong. Or, at least, where he wouldn’t have. He can’t tell if he fits in here because he’s made it so, or if he really does just fit.

“Unfortunately, unless it makes you immune to date rape drugs, Tae, that isn’t gonna help much.”

Taehyung scoffs.

“I don’t have to drink it, Yoongi.” He sits forward, hands open-palmed on the table as he says, “Look, here’s what we do: ask a bartender from one of Jeon’s other casinos or some shit to cover a shift at this one for the night. Then, we tell them to swap the spiked drink for another one while I distract the guy, so he doesn’t catch it. And I’ll just bluff.”

There’s a moment where Taehyung can see how Yoongi’s instantly about to wave him off. But, then, he really thinks about it. And an unhurried, inconspicuous smile begins to surface on his face.

“You know what, Kim Taehyung… that’s not a bad fucking idea.”

He lifts his shoulders in response, quipping, “As I said—it’s not the first time I’ve done this shit.”

“Okay, don’t get too cocky,” he chides, but there’s a sense of fondness in the words, no matter how much he’d never admit it. “What do you do once you’re up there, huh?”

“I knock him out and call one of you guys to come get him.”

“What if he has a weapon?”

Ah… Taehyung hadn’t considered that. He’s kind of gotten used to the good old fist fighting, here. But, then again, with the gun action he’d got caught up in the middle of earlier, maybe that’s naïve of him.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

A plan should never be too planned, after all.

Yoongi chuckles, quietly, but sounds satisfied with the situation enough to agree, “I’ll get on preparing that as soon as possible. Let me know what other things you need, if you think of anything.”

Taehyung gives him a nod, grin bursting at the seams of his mouth.

Yoongi rises to his feet, digging his phone out of his pocket as he says, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a call or two to make.” He almost leaves the bottle on the table, until he sees Hoseok eyeing it up, and he frowns, swiping it from the surface as the younger man slouches back into his chair, muttering, ‘cheapskate.’

Once Yoongi vanishes like always, Hoseok perks up a little bit again, nudging Taehyung with his foot as he praises, “Good work, Napoleon.” He swings his feet back up onto the table with a hefty thud.

Taehyung winks, smirking roguishly at him as he stands up himself, pretending to smooth down his already tattered clothes just to keep the motion casual.

“I’m going for a smoke. Don’t want Min on my ass for doing it in here.” He looks to Hoseok, hand out, already expectant as he asks, “Got a light?”

Hoseok reaches into his pocket, pulling out a luminous orange lighter before tossing it to him. Taehyung catches it with ease, turning it over in his hands, and seeing all the scrapes and cracks in the thing. Must be pretty old. Hoseok didn’t smoke when they were still friends—so he wonders when he took it up.

After he left? When he met Min?

And how close were those two events, anyway?

Taehyung has a lot he still doesn’t know about his best friend, it seems.

But, maybe the feeling’s mutual, because Hoseok passively says, “I didn’t know you smoked.”

Taehyung holds out his hand again.

“Yeah, do you have any cigarettes left, too?”

The older man looks affronted for a moment, before he begrudgingly begins to search his pockets again, picking out the crumpled white packet inside and tossing it to him with a grumble of, “Freeloader.”

Taehyung just beams at him, shaking the packet, gratefully.

He heads out the fire escape door that the staff exited earlier, and immediately notices how the temperature has dropped dramatically since he was last out. The wind is biting, caught up mercilessly in the alleyway, like a funnel for it. He closes the door behind him, walking along the side of the building for a bit until he finds a dip in the wall that’s just slightly more sheltered.

He can hear Yoongi’s voice buzzing indistinctly around the corner, and, with the phone in his hand—the one foreign and too clinical to really belong to anyone at all—he rethinks his original plan of calling Zhao.

Instead, he brings up the messaging app, and types with as much speed as his frozen fingers can grant him.

 

guess who just met jeon…. the newest member of hua she, that’s right.

(sent. 11:58pm)

 

He can’t even remember what time it is in America, right now—if that’s where Zhao even is. For all Taehyung knows, maybe he’s stuck around in Hong Kong to keep an eye on him. It wouldn’t really surprise him. Either way, it’s questionable whether the man’ll even be awake and, after five long minutes of trying to shelter himself from the wind picking at his very poorly covered body and considering using the lighter to light himself on fire for warmth, the screen finally lights up again.

 

Have you made a solid connection?

(received. 12:03am)

 

Taehyung frowns. He can feel the condescension from here. Zhao’s probably sitting in some ugly bathrobe, right now, getting a massage and complaining to himself about how Taehyung is just creating more knots in his back with all of this… stupidity. And Taehyung’s freezing his ass off here having to wait for him to text that.

 

 

not exactly.

soon, though .

(read. 12:04am)

 

Within the next week, he’d hope. Though, he’s not entirely sure what a ‘solid connection’ is. Does he mean a permanent position that requires him to be around Jeon? Does he mean enough to be contacted by him frequently? Or is it his roundabout way of asking if they’ve fucked or not yet?

Either way, Zhao’s response is unpleasant.

 

Alert us when you actually have.

(received. 12:06am)

 

:/

(read. 12:06am)

 

He snuffs at his own immaturity, shutting the device down and tucking it back into his pocket, full-well knowing that Zhao would never reply back. His fingers brush against the packet of cigarettes he shoved in there, too, and he cringes, slightly.

He really should’ve come up with a better excuse. He hasn’t smoked anything, ever, outside of the one time he tried pot at a party back in LA. But that was pot—and even that was terrible.

Taehyung holds the packet in his hand, and frowns, flicking one stick out, and twirling it around his fingers. He puts the rest back in his pocket and fishes out the lighter instead.

If he comes back in, not smelling of smoke, Hoseok’s going to question it. He doubts even wind like this could just whisk that away so easily. He lights it up, fingers oddly adept with a lighter for someone who doesn’t smoke, but, of course, there’s other uses for it, as cliché as it is for him to say: much more vengeful ones.

Like blowing up a warehouse with delivery van gas.

He feels the warmth emerging between his fingers, tiny wisps falling out the end as the insides burn by the second and, with a moment’s hesitation, he brings it to his lips. Breathes in, breathes—

Chokes. His hands fumble to keep a grip on the thing in the midst of his coughing fit, and he hammers his chest once he grasps it properly, a flurry of rumbling coughs heaving up his chest.

Taehyung screws up his face at the smell. God, if his mother could see him right now she really would hate him. In Hua She of all gangs, bumming a cigarette off of Jung Hoseok outside Min Yoongi’s restaurant.

Oh, and did I mention I moved to Hong Kong without telling you yet, mom? Because of the LAPD? Who arrested me for drug dealing?

He grimaces a little more at that.

Already , Taehyung can’t deny that there’s a sort of skew of focus going on with him from being in Hua She. He knew it’d end up like that—hell, even Zhao told him it would—but the ease with which he’d volunteered himself to get involved with someone as dangerous as Yoongi described, knowing he could end up risking his life if the guy sees through his act, is a little daunting. All of that just to get into Jeon’s good books?

It’s unnecessary, he knows it. There’s a million ways he could get involved with Jeon Jeongguk. It doesn’t take a genius to realise how he was looking at him earlier. The man wants to fuck him, and he’ll get his way if Taehyung just waits.

But he didn’t. He’s going to do this mission instead—and maybe Jeon’ll notice, maybe he won’t. Taehyung finds he doesn’t care so much about that, somehow. It just feels right that he takes this fucker down.

And regardless… he’s slowly realising that things like that mightn’t be the most dangerous situations he gets himself into—

Taehyung glances down at his arm, the bandages just barely visible under the collar of his shirt.

That’s another lesson he’s learned today. An unofficial one.

With Hua She comes danger—and, no doubt, the higher he climbs in ranks, with Min Yoongi, with Jeon Jeongguk, things will only amplify.

After five minutes, Taehyung’s kind of gotten used to the cigarette—meaning he isn’t choking anymore—and he feels like he’s stuck the smell enough for it to stick to him, so, he lets the thing drop to the ground and crushes it under his heel which, honestly, gives him more satisfaction than he thought it would.

Taehyung might be ready for things to get a little more dangerous, after all. It’s getting kind of tame around here, he thinks.

 

 

 

** ~♔♚~ **

 

Taehyung’s only been in a handful of casinos in his life. On his 21st birthday a few of the people he used to deal with took him on a trip to Vegas for the week, intending to spend it drinking, gambling and partying. But, of course, after the first night they lost so much money from games that they had to budget like actual people their age (college students) for the rest of the trip.

His father used to work in one, too—so, naturally, Taehyung got to visit occasionally to help count the money before lock-up or order the chips again. His father would sit him on the bar and quiz him on all the currency they used. Sometimes, he’d just set him up with a game of solitaire and a soda to chill out while he finished up.

That part of his childhood seems so separated from the rest, these days—like it’s been severed from the rest to try and prevent it from being tainted. The good of Hong Kong separated from the bad, separated from the ups and downs of LA and how things are now: neither good nor bad, really.

Taehyung shrugs off the memories, now, perched up against the smooth oak of the bar like he was a decade and a half ago as his eyes fall over the floor of the establishment, bursting with activity as the evening’s just getting started. The wide-open floor, an eloquent diamond pattern, housing grandiose red-carpeted staircases and a ceiling far, far up above everyone’s heads, where the balconies even fail to come close to.

The room is doused in gold, lights dousing all the fancy chairs and expensive tables in a shimmer—bouncing off jewelry, cufflinks and crystal glasses in hand.

And, in amongst all the hustle: Ma Sanghoon—tonight’s main event.

Taehyung swirls his drink around in his own glass—the bronze liquid licking up the sides and slipping back down when his hand pauses. He licks his lips, feeling a little like a tiger watching its next meal.

Truthfully, Taehyung had expected a much, much different culprit to be chasing tonight. This man looks a little too ordinary to be up to no good—hair slicked back and smile pasted on like most of his colleagues.

Taehyung thinks he can see how he gets away with it, too: he’s generally handsome. Polite, as well, judging by the pleased smiles surrounding him amongst the sea of batting eyelashes and softened giggles.

It seems like Taehyung may have to heighten the stakes if he wants to pull through with this. He might have to start a thing or two, himself.

Yoongi really hadn’t pressed too much when Taehyung failed to give him any more details of his plan the next time he asked. He checked if he needed anything else and Taehyung had listed a few things: one of which being the new suit he’s wearing right now which wasn’t really a necessity, but he hadn’t wanted to pay for the thing himself—and Hoseok had helped him convince the man.

Most likely because he knew if he refused Taehyung would rope him into buying it for him: but it’s worth the purchase, he thinks—considering how divine he looks.

His shirt is made of a rich creamy silk, unbuttoned to his chest with a pretty gold necklace hanging down that ended up getting sold to him along with the suit because of how damn convincing the sales assistant was.

And, well, it wasn’t his money. He wasn’t that bothered.

The suit, on the other hand, is peachy, soft-to-the-touch, with golden leaves decorating it. The pants hug his hips, accentuate his slender legs and make his ass look fantastic, while the jacket broadens his shoulders, shows off the curve of his figure with its subtly smaller waist and, if he wants, he can wear its sleeves rolled up for extra sexy effect.

All of this came from the sales assistant, by the way.

Besides from the suit, however, Taehyung really hasn’t advanced his plan very much—but, from what he’s gathered from past experience, the best undercover jobs are ones that adapt to the situation, not the ones planned to a T.

Not that Taehyung’s is even planned to a C.

He knows to approach, to weave in a little flirting here and there, wait until he loses and exaggerate how upset he is. Then, head to the bar (though he’s given this step a trial run to make sure the bartender’s the right one) and wait until Sanghoon comes over. Then, he acts like he’s out of it to get into his suite, beat him to a pulp and finally call Hoseok, who’s on standby with a few guys, ready to grab him.

Easy peasy. He has no idea what to do if it doesn’t go smoothly—but, as he said to Yoongi, he’ll cross that bridge when he gets to it.

Which he hopefully doesn’t.

Taehyung watches Sanghoon start to set-up the next game—reshuffling cards, waiting for some players to quit for the night, clearing away chips—and that, he thinks, is his cue.

He chugs the rest of his drink, the brandy burning hot and rather pungent at the back of his throat, before setting the glass down on the bar with a gentle clatter and slipping the bartender a few bills to cover it.

“Back in a few rounds—” he says, giving the man a wink, who nods his head in understanding.

Taehyung had briefed him beforehand, just to make sure he really had been swapped out. Half for peace of mind and half for the simple reason of making conversation whilst he waited for the next game to be set-up.

The guy’s rather quiet, gives the slight impression of disinterest which isn’t really the greatest source of conversation, but it’s maybe not a bad trait for a bartender to have: most of his customers would probably rather drunkenly rant on and on instead of have an actual conversation, anyway.

Taehyung begins to cross into the open space of the casino, aiming quickly for the table with a half-intentional swing of his hips. He musters up a sweet smile, an innocent bearing of teeth as he reaches the chair closet to Sanghoon, hands placing on the back of it and waiting patiently to catch the man’s eyes.

His gaze raises after a moment—harsh, marginally annoyed—until it melts right off. Or, perhaps more accurately, is painted over.

“Is this seat taken?” Taehyung asks, voice purring in his throat. He raps his fingers against the soft cushion of the chair and knows Sanghoon picks up on all of it at once: voice, body, virtue lining up like the reels of a slot machine.

There’s a glint in his eyes, Taehyung notices, a sickening slant of his lips. His gaze runs up and down his form, as exaggerated and frivolous as Taehyung himself, and he has to hold back the disgust from surfacing on his face. The idea of the suit was to look expensive and robbable —but now he’s lightly regretting not wearing a trash-bag or something.

“Not at all. Please, sit.”

The worst part, maybe, is that if he hadn’t known the guy’s background, he might’ve been tricked by that attractive little simper. It doesn’t look malicious . Just interested. It’s always the pretty ones that get away with the most, of course. That’s how Taehyung gets around, too.

He likes to think he’s just a little more respectable than this bastard, though.

Taehyung sits as he’s told, settles against the plush velvety cushion and leans forward to rest his elbows against the table, pretending to be tragically fascinated in the set-up.

He catches Sanghoon’s eye again, and takes the opportunity to lie, “I’ve never played this one, I don’t think. I’m not too good at games, y’know?” He blinks, wide-eyed at him, lips still glossy from the brandy, resting his chin in one hand—every bit as false as anything Sanghoon’s doing in response. Taehyung just hopes his acting phase in high school carries him through it well enough.

But it must, because the dealer chuckles. Everyone places their bet for the round, Taehyung just pushing out the same amount of chips as the rest of them, and Sanghoon starts to pass out two cards to each of the players. No doubt he’s already tilted the odds out of his favour. If he’d been watching then, maybe, he would’ve seen him deal from the bottom or skew the order—but his hands move too fast to really look, and Taehyung doesn’t really need to see it to know he will.

Sanghoon’s eyes dart back to him when he finishes. Languid, playing hard-to-get like he’d almost forgot. It half reminds him of the way Jeon had done the same the last time they’d seen each other, at Yoongi’s restaurant—except, the only difference is that, whether he knew it or not, Jeongguk was not very good at keeping up that particular act. His interest was potent, electric.

Sanghoon’s only simmers underneath his professionalism.

“Why play, then?” He wonders to his much earlier question.

Taehyung uncoordinatedly shrugs his shoulders, tries to look a little more believable. He softens his diction, giggles quietly, squints at him, a bit sleepily.

Mmmh. I get bold when I’ve had a few, I guess…”

Sanghoon’s expression alights with intrigue, but he controls it as soon as it appears, tucking the card pile back into the middle of the table and muttering, “You shouldn’t drink alone—especially not at a casino. You’ll lose a fortune.”

“Don’t care. Not my money—my parents are loaded.”

Sanghoon settles back into his chair, glances at Taehyung again with an underlying murkiness underneath his unreadable face. He’s locked onto that. The money.

“Alright then,” he says—and the game starts.

Contrary to what Taehyung had just said, he has played blackjack before. Hoseok’s obsessed with the damn thing—always has been. And Taehyung beats him almost every time.

But, tonight, that’s not his aim—and he doesn’t think he’ll even be allowed to, if he did try.

As the dealer, Sanghoon turns one of his two cards up, leaving the other facedown as the hole card.

A king. Ten points.

Taehyung looks down at his own hand. A six and a seven—thirteen in total. If he just leaves it and stands he’s wildly unlikely to have Sanghoon pull out a three or less, and not bother going higher. He could bust—but if he’s trying to win games, he’s probably not going to let that happen, not when he’s trying to do the same to Taehyung for these few rounds.

He could hit, grab another card and hope for an eight or less—but, honestly, he doesn’t even know why he should bother trying to win. He doesn’t really even want to look good at the game after he’s just told Sanghoon he’s never played, and there’s no way the dealer’s going to let him win, anyhow. Taehyung doesn’t even glance at the rest of the players around the table.

He doubles, placing the same amount of chips into his bet again and drawing another card. He can see Sanghoon’s lip twitch.

A nine. Twenty-two points in total. Bust.

What a surprise.

But he acts it, tapping his cards with a faux-pout as he murmurs, “I thought I played that well.”

Sanghoon doesn’t reply, biting his lip as he deals out a new round.

This next few rounds fly by in much the same manner. Taehyung’s got a decent hand—probably could win, but bluffs it, and then finds out that, even if he had tried, Sanghoon would’ve already fucked him over. It’s hard not to get even slightly irritated. Not because it’s his money he’s wasting (just the casino’s) but because of how fucking smug Sanghoon looks every time, glancing at him like he’s the biggest dumbass he’s ever laid eyes on.

Taehyung barely has anything to bet with on the last round, just piling in what he can. Person to the left of the dealer goes first, and he watches a few of them go bust, too. Bump up the realism or something, to ensure everyone that it’s not just Taehyung getting fucked. When it comes to him, he would decide to double for no reason other than getting rid of more chips—but he doesn’t actually have anything to double his bet with.

So, he just hits, lands on a comfortable twenty. And, where in most other situations he could be quite satisfied with his position—when Sanghoon reveals his card, totaling fifteen, he hits and, of course, reaches the pretty little total of twenty-one with the six that he pulls.

Taehyung slumps in his seat, and when Sanghoon flatly asks, “Would you like to purchase more chips, sir?” He glances up, lips pulled downwards into a frown as he shakes his head.

“No, thank you,” he says, flashing a pitiful smile as he quips, “I’m gonna go drink my sorrows instead—” Taehyung stands up, tucking his shirt in again at the back from where it had been tugged out slightly from his slouching. He doesn’t even have to look to know that the dealer’s eyes are on him.

Gross.

Still, he makes his way back over to the bar, settling down on one of the stools and turning to the bartender from before with a soft smile.

“How’d it go?” the man wonders, already grabbing a glass for him. It’s a nice kind of proficiency: professional, to the point, but with a little more warmth than he’d shown him earlier.

“As I expected: I got my ass roasted on a spit and served to the whole table.”

The man snorts, giving the glass a quick clean to make the crystal really sparkle before he pours from the same bottle he’d served him from only about an hour before. He slides the drink over to Taehyung, who thanks him quietly, leaning up against the bar and glancing over at the table he was just at. The game’s still ongoing, by the looks of things. Taehyung wonders when it’ll finish up, and, more importantly, if Sanghoon’ll even make his way over to him.

He starts to sip his drink—the harshness of it lingering on his tongue, sliding down his throat and tries not to grimace too hard. Truthfully, Taehyung doesn’t enjoy brandy that much—but it’s always a nice wake-up call, a slap to the face, and he most definitely needs one of those for what’s coming next.

When he sees the people around the table finally begin to disperse, Sanghoon glances at the golden watch on his wrist. Taehyung wonders if he stole it.

Then, Sanghoon’s eyes meet his, and a nauseating spark runs up Taehyung’s skin. The haziness in his head starts to take over a little more, hand wrapping tighter around the glass.

His tongue pokes out his cheek for a moment, analytical, contemplating the man’s darkening expression, like he’s got something over him.

“Wish me luck.”

He tries not to take the silence as a ‘you’ll need it.’

 

 

 

Sanghoon gets a sense of adrenaline on nights like these. Where he’s got a plan to carry out. Another crack to make in his own morality. He likes thinking of it like that: chipping away at his righteousness. Everyone else in this damn gang does it. Jeon’s the fucking exemplar.

Dealing in a casino isn’t really for him. He’s never found much interest in gambling, that’s not the part he enjoys. The part he enjoys is seeing the crumble on peoples’ faces after they’ve realised what they’ve done. Sobered up enough at the table to see that they’ve gambled away half of their savings.

There’s a beauty in that kind of destruction. An attraction to the bedlam. Sanghoon likes to see it, but, more than that, he likes to cause it.

The boy at the bar seemed different from the get-go. He sat down, all kinds of confidence radiating off of him and that isn’t particularly uncommon. You get all kind of cockiness in here, people that waltz in thinking that since they’ve played a game or two online and managed to scrape by, they’re some kind of unbeatable champion.

Sanghoon likes to tear those people down too, of course. But it’s not beautiful. It’s all ugly. Just gets worse and worse as the night goes on. Sometimes he’ll have to call security because some idiot has grabbed the collar of his shirt, claims about cheating and this and that, and he’ll tell them what he tells everyone who says so.

Don’t come into a casino if you aren’t prepared to lose. That’s gambling.

But this boy didn’t have the same kind of confidence as the rest of them. It seemed as if he didn’t care at all. He said he couldn’t play, but he barely lifted his eyes from the table. It was like he wasn’t trying.

Sanghoon even gave him a few chances, just to see what he’d do, and he still lost.

Like he wanted to lose.

And that captured his attention, of course.

He checks his watch now, reflecting the overhead lights of the chandelier. His break’s in fifteen minutes, but if he wraps up now he’ll have just over an hour. That’s not such a bad window, and, well, if he has to, he can just ask someone to cover his shift for him. They won’t ask questions—not if he pays.

Of course, the boy’s watching him. He doesn’t have to look to know that, he’s been shamelessly flirting with him for an hour. At first, Sanghoon wondered if that was the reason he came over to play in the first place—he wouldn’t be the only one.

But, now, he’s come to a different conclusion.

He stands up, thanks everyone for the last round while ignoring the ones glaring like he’s taken every penny out of their pocket but they chose to play. He takes the keys to the table out of his jacket and bends over to lock the cupboard holding excess chips and all the other components for a handful of other games.

Then, a different game begins.

Sanghoon takes his time going to the bar, stopping on the way to exchange a few words with his colleagues, a couple of regulars that played against him on a good day. He takes his time, knowing that the boy is waiting, and the longer he waits, the easier it’ll be.

He approaches the bar, and, by the time he gets there, he can see the change. The confusion coursing through him. The ‘something is wrong—this isn’t what was supposed to happen.’ It’s a unique reaction, but this is a unique situation.

Sanghoon takes the seat beside him, watches the boy’s fluttering eyelids with an edge of delight. It takes a moment for him to even register the movement.

Sanghoon’s face falls convincingly, he leans in, hands hovering as if he doesn’t know how to react. “Hey, there—” he says, laced with concern, “Are you okay? You’re looking a little sick.”

The boy puts a hand on the bar, trying to keep his head from drooping, look him in the eye.

Pretty, pretty, pretty. He’s gotten lucky, this time, having someone like this fall right into his hands. This boy has to be one of the prettiest he’s ever seen: long eyelashes, thick lips, smooth, sun-kissed skin. He’s perfect, in a strange kind of way.

“Huh? Yeah uh-I’m… good.”

He looks confused. And that’s the best reaction. Sanghoon can’t even stop himself from grinning at this point. Everything’s working out so well, he can’t help it.

“Are you sure?”

He keeps his voice low, mouth inching in, only a few breaths away from the boy’s ear.

“Kim Taehyung?”

And there it is again. The realisation that something has gone wrong. A hole in his perfect little plan.

Really, he could’ve got him if Sanghoon hadn’t been paying attention tonight. If he hadn’t had a double-take at the bartender, hadn’t realised that he didn’t recognise him, hadn’t gone over to investigate… it might’ve all worked out.

But he had… and it seems like Kim Taehyung does not have a backup plan.

Immediately, panic starts to surface in him, plain as anything. On his face, the quiver of his bottom lips, the furrow of his brow. “Huh-how do you…”

He tries to look angry, then, powerful—slipping off the bar-stool as if he’s either going to leave or knock him to the ground, but his knees buckle from the impact. Sanghoon’s hand reaches for his waist, fingers curling around the silk of his shirt, underneath his jacket, the warmth bleeding against his palm.

The curve of Taehyung’s body is rather delicate for a man of his profession. With both hands on his waist, he feels small, dainty almost. Sanghoon smooths over the cracks in his act again for a moment, voice high and alarmed as he asks, “Woah —do you need to lie down? Maybe we should take you up to your room…”

To any onlookers, this probably looks as typical as any other day. A kid that’s had too much to drink and his friend, an acquaintance, perhaps his boyfriend helping him back to his room. It looks perfectly normal, blends perfectly in.

He feels Taehyung tense underneath his touch, eyes swirling with perplexity, as if he doesn’t even know this for a fact when he tells him, “I d…don’t… stay here.”

Sanghoon smiles, voice a whisper again. “No, no you don’t,” he says, “But you do now.” One of his hands slide away from his waist, reaching into his own pocket and pulling out the plastic card tucked inside. He pretends to take it from Taehyung’s jacket, holding it up for him to see as he announces, “Ah, here’s your key-card. Room 204. That’s not so far.”

He can barely decipher what Taehyung says to him then, head lolling forward to rest on his shoulder when he tugs him. It’s somewhere between ‘no’ and ‘motherfucker’ he’s pretty sure.

A smile twitches at his lips.

The boy doesn’t have much resistance on their way through the hotel—his body probably much too focused on staying awake and trying to form some kind of new plan where his old one has crashed and burned. Sanghoon keeps his arm fixed around his waist, smiling at any passers-by. A few of them make joking comments along the lines of ‘too much to drink by any chance?’ and ‘looks like someone’s heading for an early night.’

It’s always funny hearing that sort of thing. How some people are invasive enough to look but don’t care enough to see.

They reach the room and Sanghoon swipes the key-card smoothly, the light buzzing to green as the mechanism gives an audible click. He pushes the door open, bumping Taehyung inside, before he closes the door behind them both. The lock clicks.

Sanghoon turns on his heels and shoves the boy instead who stumbles, hands reaching out for the wall next to him and this time he knows he means it when he growls ‘bastard.’

He’s over there in two strides, grabbing onto Taehyung’s collar who has the gall to look a little more alert at him now, a little more enraged.

“You’re not in a position to be smart, Kim Taehyung. You should be thankful I’m not going to kill you just yet.”

The boy rolls his eyes, slumping against his hold as he drawls, “You’re not gonna kill me later, either, asshole.” The way he’s glaring at him right now, a whisper of heat in his eyes, the ghost of a smirk—clenched jaw, chin tilted upward—Sanghoon would say it looks as if the boy’s about to spit at him.

But that’s not quite how it goes.

By the time Sanghoon blinks, a fist is colliding with the side of his face, smacking against his cheekbone with far, far more force than he would’ve ever expected the boy to have. He lets go of his collar, staggering back on his feet and holding his face in shock, mostly. The pain rattles down to a dull ache, and he looks at Taehyung leaning up against the wall, looking all too fucking pleased with himself.

“Okay…” Sanghoon says slowly, standing up tall again as he takes a step forward. “If that’s how you want to play, then fine.”

In a flash, he’s grabbing the boy’s shoulders, who barely even has time to struggle against him before he’s being thrown against the hard concrete of the wall, head smacking off of it with enough impact that the sound reverberates around the room.

Taehyung’s body crumbles to the floor, and after a few moments where he continues to lay still, Sanghoon shrugs off his jacket and throws it over the coat rack near the door.

He crouches down beside Taehyung, pushing his hair back from his face to see the delicate spread of eyelashes against his rosy golden cheeks.

He’s utterly breathtaking. It’s such a shame they didn’t meet under better circumstances.

But, of course, that doesn’t mean this can’t still be fun.

 

 

 

When Taehyung’s eyes flutter open again, it’s to the feeling of hands rummaging through his pockets, and an uncomfortable weight on his hips.

He blinks, Sanghoon’s face too close to his, and an ache he hadn’t had before brewing around the back of his head.

Suddenly, he jolts, knocking against the man’s hands, who presses him firmly back down into the mattress.

“Settle down,” he murmurs, but it sounds closer to a threat than anything else.

Mattress…? When the hell did he fall unconscious—

Fuck.

The memory of swinging on instinct at the man comes back as sweetly as the searing pain of his headache.

That is, not at all.

Taehyung frowns, eyes screwing shut, the cold hands on his body invasive and irritating with the way his heads still swimming.

“You didn’t bring much, tonight—did you, Taehyung? Precaution, maybe?”

Something about the sound of his name on the man’s tongue is repulsive. His eyes flick open, he shoves at his chest, but his arms are heavy, pulled back to his body like stretched elastic.

Sanghoon barely even moves.

“Ah, give over.” He clicks his tongue, hands moving from Taehyung’s waist to grab either side of his face, keeping his focus on him. “You did all of this yourself, you know.”

His eyes are still razor-sharp by default, matching all of his other features: nose to jaw to the point of his upper lip. A few strands of his slicked back hair fall down over his forehead. Taehyung wonders if he knocked them loose with the punch earlier. He’s attractive, by all things considered—but Taehyung’s gut fills with nausea at the sight of him, just thinking about how easily other people have fallen for it. How he might’ve if it wasn’t for the mission—

And then, Taehyung’s tongue feels heavy in his mouth, thoughts rushing back to the mission… through all of this he still has a mission to complete.

Christ, he needs to fix this.

“The barman,” Taehyung says, plainly, “Why did he drug me…?”

Sanghoon sits back on Taehyung’s hips, fingers popping open the top few buttons of his shirt, unknotting his tie without a second thought. He answers him like he’s barely even considering it. “I thought it was strange when I saw a bartender I didn’t recognise in tonight. Wanted to know what he was up to—and all I had to do was pay more than Min did.”

“But how d’you know me?”

“He told me everything I needed to know,” Sanghoon says, tie unravelling along with a few more buttons. His waistcoat is already long discarded, it seems, crumpled at the end of the bed. “Kim Taehyung. Pretty, tall Korean boy with an American accent, silver hair and an aura too big for his body. You tend to stand out.”

Taehyung’s laugh rattles in his throat.

“S’nice of you to say.”

Sanghoon frowns, shirt popping open and, of course, his body is rippled with muscles like a seafood buffet. Taehyung barely stops himself from rolling his eyes. The creep’s probably expecting him to start drooling over it any minute now.

“Don’t get used to it. We’re not here for niceness.” His stare hardens, glancing up and down Taehyung’s body with irritation in the motion. Vaguely, Taehyung wonders where his jacket is; it’s kind of cold in here—though, that might just be Sanghoon. “Do you have anything of actual value on you, or did you really just want to waste my time?”

Taehyung snorts softly, head tilting at him as he coyly answers, “The second one.” Sanghoon just scowls deeper.

“Smart enough to take precautions but dumb enough to fuck it up, anyway,” he comments, faux-sweetly. “How versatile.”

“To catch a villain, you gotta think like ‘em,” he tells him, stirring slightly because Sanghoon’s starting to get just a little too heavy, sitting on him like this. “In your case: dumb.”

Anger ignites on the other man’s face like the first spark of a forest fire.

Sanghoon’s hand collides with his cheek, the sting of the slap a raw and angry pink on his skin. Taehyung grits his teeth, his own hand going to rub the mark, but Sanghoon stops him, gripping both of his wrists hard and pinning them above his head, awkwardly. Taehyung’s shoulders shift around, trying to make the situation more comfortable, but to no avail.

“I bet you’re used to running your mouth like that, huh? With Min and Jung—they’re the same, right?” He asks, moving one hand to hold Taehyung’s chin, keeping him from fussing around any more, while the other keeps his wrists down. “Well, if there’s anything I’m going to teach you tonight, Kim Taehyung, it’s that mouthing off gets you killed.”

It’s meant as a threat, but Taehyung can’t help the laugh that trickles out past his lips.

“I dunno… s’worked pretty well, so far.”

Sanghoon purses his lips, and his hold on him loosens ever so slightly when his own chin tilts upwards. “Is this what you call working well?”

Taehyung grins, stupidly, eyes blinking slow, drowsily at him. His teeth latch onto his bottom lip and he hums, “Mmhmm.”

The man clicks his tongue, eyes boring into Taehyung like a scalpel—piercing, uncomfortable. “It’s such a shame you’re this annoying.” Sanghoon’s fingertips trace the younger’s jawline delicately, as if he’s touching glass. “You are beautiful.”

Taehyung does his best to lean into the touch without puking.

“Yeah?”

“Yes…"  Sanghoon says, firmly—but, then, he takes his hand away, head tilted, stare pointed again. “But you know that, don’t you?”

Taehyung nods exaggeratedly, giggling along to the motion and Sanghoon’s frown only deepens.

“Unfortunately,” the older man says, deliberately, “I can’t stand arrogance.”

Taehyung makes a quiet sound in his throat, between a hum and a purr.

“Not enough room for two giant egos, right?”

Sanghoon lets go of Taehyung’s wrists at last to unclip the cuffs of his shirt sleeves, rolling them up to his elbows and, for a few seconds, Taehyung wonders why he’s doing that.

Until his face is forced to half-bury in the pillow with the clash the man’s hand makes on his cheek. The sound reverberates around the room and Taehyung chokes on a breath—but it was at least a little gracious of him to go for the other cheek, this time, he supposes.

He shakes the linger of the sting off, quirking a corner of his mouth up as he quips, “You should know I’m into that.”

Sanghoon groans with frustration, yanking the undone tie from around his shoulders and rolling it up into a ball. He grabs Taehyung’s chin, prompting his mouth to open before stuffing the material inside to the man’s muffled semi-protest.

“There we go,” Sanghoon says, lips twitching at the sight. “Much prettier now that you can’t speak, aren’t you?”

Taehyung huffs around the gag, nose scrunching in annoyance, but Sanghoon doesn’t chastise him for that. He shrugs off his shirt entirely, throwing it behind them both and rolls his shoulders with far too much nonchalance for the situation.

“Well,” he starts, voice lilting, like each word is strung together, “if you’re no good for money, I suppose you’re useful for one thing.”

Taehyung takes the words as his cue. He shifts up the bed as Sanghoon hangs over him with his hands pinching at his waist and suddenly reaches out for the lamp sitting on the bedside table. He swings, slamming the pottery into the side of the man’s head, who recoils at the blow. Taehyung knees him hard in the chest and follows him as he tumbles off the bed, landing on his knees beside him before he scrambles to sit on his stomach, putting his full weight on him with his hands trapping the man’s arms to the floor.

Sanghoon gasps, struggling fitfully underneath him as he growls, “Get off me! Why are you so heavy—”

Taehyung spits out the tie still hanging from his mouth, the soaked material landing on the man’s face along with a stream of excess saliva.

“I’m more muscular than I look.”

Sanghoon retches, shaking violently to try and get the item off, which lands with a wet thud on the carpet.

“Where’s my phone?” Taehyung questions, hands pushing harder against the man’s forearms, leaving finger marks for sure. It’s payback for how red his face probably looks.

Sanghoon dodges the question entirely—of course—gazing at the man above him in thorough confusion as he states, “You’ve sobered up already?” though it comes out sounding more like a question.

Taehyung grins, victory pleasingly warm in his veins.

“How familiar are you with the term double-crossing?” He asks, tilting forward a little more so Sanghoon can feel the full force of his apparent arrogance. “Considering why I’m after you in the first place, I’d say quite a lot.”

It takes all of three seconds for Sanghoon to process this.

Then, face blank, he deadpans, “You paid him off twice.”

Truthfully, Taehyung hadn’t intended to get himself knocked out—that did throw him off for a bit, feeling as groggy as he probably would’ve been if he had actually been drugged for a little while. But then adrenaline kicked in again and, here they are.

“Min promised double whatever you offer, if you offered—which I knew you would.” He’s paid off every other bitch in the building—it made sense that he’d tackle the one he didn’t know as well. “As you said, I’m smart enough to take precautions.”

Sanghoon lets him soak in his glory for a moment or two. And then, Taehyung forgets the stupid fucking rule again.

Don’t get comfortable.

“But dumb enough to fuck it up, anyway.”

Sanghoon hauls his knees up to his chest and kicks Taehyung hard in the stomach, the wind sweeping right out of him. He wheezes, rolling over onto his side when the man shoves him in his recently-bulleted arm, and barely has a second to react before Sanghoon’s darting towards him again. Taehyung rolls backwards, stomach twinging at the movement and scrambles to get to his feet, hanging onto the foot of the bed to help him up.

He raises his foot and kicks Sanghoon full-force across the face, who grunts, blood spitting out onto the floor from his nose and by the time he unsteadily stands up, Taehyung’s reaching behind him, hands grasping a vase of flowers.

Sanghoon looks considerably terrifying, handsome face skewed into an ugly, tangible fury. Taehyung lunges forward, vase in hand, but the man holds his own hands out to block it, tearing the thing out of his hold and hurling it. Taehyung ducks, and it crashes against the wall behind them, shattering with a heavy crack.

Glass sprays everywhere and Taehyung steps back, feeling the pieces crunch under his feet.

“You don’t lay a hand on me and get away with it, bitch,” Sanghoon snarls, voice nothing but grit from his chest. Slowly, he makes up the steps Taehyung takes to move back, like stalking prey. Taehyung has to think fast. No matter how many punches he took from all the professionals Zhao’s people set him up with back in America, despite all the convoluted moves and self-defence tactics, there’s only so much he can do fist to fist against Sanghoon. The guy is athletic, much stronger than him, as much as he hates to admit it. He has muscle, height, weight on him.

Taehyung’s strong, but he’s not unbeatable. He’s heavy but he’s not unmoveable. He has to think.

But, suddenly, Sanghoon is holding onto his shoulders, leaping forward at him like the firing of a canon. He grabs him, throwing him up against the wall. Taehyung’s back crashes into the table that was holding the flowers, knocking the ornaments to the floor with a flurry of rattles. He hisses, feeling a shooting pain above his tailbone, elbows hooked on the furniture to keep himself upright.

But Sanghoon seems to have other plans. He grabs him by the hair, fingers pulling at his roots that burns all over his scalp like needles. He yanks Taehyung to his feet again, and just as quickly throws him to the ground. His forehead smacks off the metal bar of the bed and the pain flits right through his body. He feels it linger in the nerves of his teeth, vision spotted with white. Taehyung rolls over onto his back, feeling as if his skull has split, wonders how much force that actually takes.

Sanghoon presses his foot down onto his stomach, driving pressure around the ache already brewing there. Taehyung gags from the force, feels something warmth and thick seeping out the side of his mouth, metallic on his tongue. His hands clasp shakily around Sanghoon’s ankle, trying to push him off, impose his own eyes to stay open, but every time they do the lights on the ceiling make his head swell with pain.

“There’s much easier ways to get laid, y’know…” Taehyung rasps, the back of his trembling hand reaching up to wipe the blood away from his mouth.

Sanghoon sneers, moving his foot up to press against Taehyung’s throat instead, who gasps weakly with no air, desperately trying to pry him off of him with both hands before he’s knocked unconscious again—or worse.

“I’m not trying to fuck you, now, Kim. You’re not worth the trouble.” Taehyung tries to swallow but Sanghoon’s foot is pressing too hard, even for that. His hands fall either side, the lack of oxygen in his brain making his arms feel like dead weights. “I think I should just leave it at this.”

‘This’ apparently doesn’t equate to strangulation. Sanghoon removes his foot just as Taehyung’s head starts to loll to the side, and the breath he takes in rubs raw against his throat. In between the dips of his eyelids, he sees metal: shiny, silver, impossibly sharp.

Sanghoon is going to stab him to death.

Taehyung’s first instinct is to yell, but every noise that makes it past his lips is worn down, nothing but a squeak. He moves his hands from either side of his head now that he’s semi-able to again, and as Sanghoon is leaning over him, blade clenched with vengeance in his palm, Taehyung’s fingers come across something cold and smooth, completely solid.

An ornament—one of the ones they knocked over. His eyes flick to the side, taking in the marble statue and without a second thought, he grabs it, using the surge of his returning strength. He hits the man as hard as he can and the rock smashes with an audible crack against the man’s cheekbone. Sanghoon draws back with a cry, knife clattering to the ground to hold his face in agony, staggering on his feet.

Taehyung kicks his leg out to strike the back of his knee. Sanghoon easily buckles over, almost on top of him, but the younger man scrambles away, reaching for the discarded knife before he settles on top of him again. One hand forces the man’s face to the ground, while the other wields the weapon, alertly, holding it to his throat so any sudden movement will cut.

“Enough fucking around, Ma,” he hisses, voice still scratching against his throat. He holds the blade a little tighter to his skin, just to hear the man seethe. “I need to live tonight, so you’re gonna cooperate whether you like it or not.”

“Why?” Sanghoon taunts, words muted against the density of the hotel carpet. “So that when you get back, Min’ll pet you on the head and call you a good little bitch?”

The day he goes to this much trouble to get that from Min Yoongi is the day he’ll stab himself.

“Not quite,” he answers truthfully, leaning down closer to the shell of the man’s ear so he doesn’t miss a syllable of this. He needs to remember these words when he’s taking his last few breaths and has the gall to think he’s been wronged. “It’s actually so I can make sure you get the shitty, excruciating ending to your miserable existence that you deserve. And you will.”

Sanghoon snorts, unshakeable it seems, but just for now. Taehyung’s never really been all that hung up on violence—not really—but this asshole makes him wish that he’d actually be there to see Jeon torture all of that resilience out of him, one cut, one scream at a time.

“Okay, kill me,” Sanghoon challenges, shoulders shifting with the deriding laughter he gives. “But we both know our boss won’t be happy if I die before I get to him.”

Taehyung giggles, the sound airy, a little maniacal to be his.

“Okay, kill me,” Sanghoon challenges, shoulders shifting with the deriding laughter he gives. “But we both know our boss won’t be happy if I die before I get to him.”

Taehyung giggles, the sound airy, a little maniacal to be his.

“Oh… I’m not gonna kill you…”

Sanghoon jolts out of nowhere, trying to shove the younger man off of him, but Taehyung’s too fast for him, and he reaches behind himself to bring the blade down into the back of Sanghoon’s knee. He feels it tearing through the ligaments and muscle before sticking into his kneecap and virtually pinning the limb down.

If he moves his leg, it’ll only tear further.

Blood streams out of the wound, calm, almost orderly the way it seeps through his trousers, spreading out onto the floor. But the scream that the man releases into the floor is anything but—unquestionably travelling to the room underneath; maybe a few floors beneath that too.

“You fucking psycho! Fuh-fuckin’… sadist… b-bitch…”

Taehyung lets go of the weapon, struggling to bring himself to a stand again. His head is still swirling with the blows to it—he needs to remember to get checked for a concussion once they’re done here (again.)

Sanghoon is muttering gibberish into the floor, the pain probably sending him delirious and Taehyung tries not to question where the surge of brutality in him came from.

He grabs his jacket, hanging on one of the bedposts, and shrugs it on over his three-quarters-buttoned shirt. Then, his hand dips inside to feel for his phone. Honestly, he’d somewhat expected Sanghoon to have broken it or something, just in case, but when he pulls it out, it’s in perfect working condition, with a thousand notifications lighting up the lock screen: rapid-fire texts from Hoseok, even a few check-ins from Yoongi.

Taehyung presses the call button on his friend’s name, leaning up against the bed frame as he catches his breath back. The line connects almost immediately and Hoseok’s panicked voice filters in.

“Taehyung, I’ve been calling you for hours—are you okay? The hotel staff wouldn’t tell us what room you went into—we’ve been trying everything.”

Hours? How long was he passed the fuck out for?

Taehyung swallows hard, trying to sound as composed as possible to put Hoseok’s undoubtedly racing mind at ease.

“Yeah, sorry about that, Seok. I’m perfectly fine, don’t worry—just ran into a few problems. Room 204, ready when you all are.”

Hoseok sighs heavily in relief, muttering, “Thank god .” He hears him repeating the room number to the people around him before he says, “We’ll be there in a minute. You got Sanghoon, then?”

Taehyung glances down at the man still writhing on the floor, and he puts his heel down to wedge the blade a little farther into his knee. Sanghoon screeches, and Taehyung giggles at the sound, forgetting about Hoseok on the other end of the line for a moment.

“Yeah… m’pretty sure he won’t be getting up any time soon.”

Hoseok doesn’t even bat an eyelash at the scene when he gets there. It kind of makes Taehyung wonder what other things he’s witnessed in Hua She.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

It’s hitting eleven pm when Jeongguk gets the call, a blaring of noise standing out over the undeniable tension built up in the back seat of the car.

Seokjin sits opposite him, disapproval thick in his demeanour. He crosses a leg over the other, watching as Jeongguk raises the phone to his ear, lips already stretched out into a grin.

Both of them already know what this is about.

“Min,” Jeongguk says grandly, the call going through with a click and the sudden intrusion of background noise. A fussing of some kind, some struggling—a few groans and growls here and there. “You’re giving me good news?”

“We caught Ma Sanghoon, sir. We have him waiting for you whenever you’re ready.”

As usual, Min Yoongi is cold, clinical. Straight to the point. It’s much better than most of these calls, where the person on the other end rambles on and on just because they have the privilege to call at all. Yoongi is still just a touch indignant about their last interaction, Jeongguk can hear it in the lining of his words. The sharp cuts of words, too-steady tone.

“I knew you could do this for me, Min. Very well, bring him—”

“Actually, sir,” he cuts in, and Jeongguk’s triumph stilts in his throat, “it wasn’t my plan.”

His grin dissolves, opting out for a quiet simmer of confusion—he can see the way Seokjin locks onto it, somewhat intrigued.

“Whose was it?”

And he can hear it: the downturn of the man’s lips, the silent ‘you’re gonna love this one,’ that fills the pause. The hesitation. Jeongguk knows the answer from that.

“Taehyung, sir. Kim Taehyung’s plan.” Yoongi takes a breath. He can hear something creak underneath his weight as he sits. “He went undercover to trick Sanghoon himself. There were…” he falters, searching for the word, “complications… but he incapacitated him and waited for Hoseok and a few guys to take him off his hands.”

Jeongguk acts surprised, repeating, “Undercover?” but the amusement is smoke-thick in his voice. “Very good… remind me to thank him.”

“I’ll tell him, sir—”

“No,” Jeongguk says, firmly. “I’d prefer to tell him myself.”

Yoongi doesn’t reply for a moment. He hates being cut off and corrected as much as Jeongguk does. He can hear the grit of his teeth when he replies, “Of course, sir,” and finds satisfaction in the sound—even if he doesn’t quite understand its source.

For whatever reason, Yoongi appears to be sort of territorial about Taehyung. He understands it coming from Jung Hoseok. Supposedly, the two have history—but, from what he understands, Yoongi’s only known Taehyung for as long as he’s been back in Hong Kong. A couple of weeks at the very most.

He’s never given a shit when Jeongguk’s done this kind of thing in the past—spare a few holier-than-thou looks—but he feels just an inch of hostility in it this time.

But, if anything… that just makes Jeongguk want him more.

He hears a crash in the background—something clanging against metal by the sounds of it, and Jeongguk wonders where Yoongi is right now. Or, more specifically, how long it’d take for them to get Sanghoon to him. He’ll pull over if he has to, honestly. His fingers just itch to bring the problem to a close, now.

But, then, he meets his cousin’s eyes again, and that festering excitement dies out. They’re already on their way to prior arrangements right now—and there’s no way in hell he’ll let them reschedule again. Jeongguk’s been avoiding this meeting with his uncle for roughly a month and Seokjin is so fed up with him at this point that it’s almost midnight and he’s still making them go.

“I’d like to hear more detail about this later—but, for now, Min, I’ll be taking the traitor out of your hands. Bring him to me in thirty minutes—”

An hour,” Seokjin cuts in pointedly, kicking Jeongguk’s ankle with his stupid fucking Fendi shoes.

The younger boy pulls his feet in, growling low in his throat as he repeats into the phone like a scolded child, “An hour…”

He definitely heard the altercation, but Yoongi doesn’t laugh. It seems as if he wants to keep all of the blood in his body, today. A wise decision.

“We’ll have him waiting in the warehouse for you, sir.”

Jeongguk’s thumb taps to end the call, and he tucks the device into his pocket, eyes setting forward again to land on his cousin as he mutters, “I hope you’re happy.”

“Ecstatic.”

Seokjin smiles with a glint to it. Always does. There’s never anything pure, straightforward about that man—it runs in the family.

Jeongguk would be happy enough for the conversation to end there. But it doesn’t. His cousin stretches out his legs, knocking his with his feet again and the younger fights the urge to pull them up to rest on the seat with him. “So, who are you thanking—and what for?”

“Kim Taehyung,” he answers shortly, eyes rolling to look out the window instead. There’s not much to look at, for once. Rows of sky-scraping buildings glittering with the same old too-bright lights. It gives him a headache. “And I want to thank him for solving a problem that none of my other men could put their heads together to solve.”

“The one about that dealer by any chance?”

Seokjin’s heard Jeongguk ranting about it enough times to know every last detail by now. He nods his head, murmuring, “The very same.” Fuck, he can’t even express how good it feels to know that’s taken care of, now. Once he’s done with this meeting, he’ll bash the bastard’s brains out and all will be right in the world again.

And he can focus on more important things: like getting rid of his right-hand… trying to get Jimin to hurry up with his inauguration and, the newest addition to the agenda, getting Kim Taehyung into his bed.

It’s the simple things in life.

“Maybe I should reward him for being so brave,” he ponders, now. “Actually taking initiative. It’s apparently hard to come by in this fucking gang.”

"Reward,”  Seokjin repeats, stuck on that one little point. His shoulders shake with a quiet chuckle. “What kind of reward?”

He knows what he’s implying. Jeongguk lets himself smirk at the implication—the vague disdain in his cousin’s voice.

“He’s wasted talent down in Min’s place,” Jeongguk decides in the moment. “I think he’d be better use to me. An advisor of sorts—but one with balls . Not like Kiyoung. Kim’ll actually do shit when I ask.”

Jesus, anything would be better than Kiyoung.

Seokjin clicks his fingers, humming, “Ah , a servant. Isn’t that what you wanted Jimin for?”

Jeongguk presses his lips together into a firm line.

Seokjin shifts to sit forward a little, elbows resting on his knees as he questions, “Really, though, ‘gguk, why even bother with all of that? You and I both know you have no interest in his advising,” he says, raising his eyebrows at the word. He lets out a short bout of laughter, quipping, “Shit, he probably knows that. Why not just sleep with him and get it over with?”

Jeongguk smiles, languidly, his lips curving at their own pace.

“Do you scrape off the icing and just leave the cake, hyung?” He questions, the honorific rolling all too comfortably off the tongue. Seokjin says he only uses it when he’s being a brat but Jeongguk touches his chest, theatrical sincerity driving the motion. “I like to save it ‘till last—it tastes better like that.”

Seokjin crinkles his nose up in minor repulsion. Clearly, he doesn’t want to think too much about that concept.

“End of conversation,” he says wearily, dissolving back into the leather of his seat again, as Jeongguk merely shrugs, tongue poking out his cheek, mischievously.

“You asked.”

Most discussions between Jeongguk and Seokjin’s father begin in calm, orderly English but, as they progress, deteriorate into rapid-fire Korean, thrown back and forth like bullets. Seokjin likes to watch the destruction as he does now, leg thrown over the other, nestled into one of his father’s finest chairs, a wine glass situated comfortably in his right hand, and his chin resting in the palm of the left. It’s quite the show, sometimes.

Jeongguk whines. He doesn’t like when Seokjin points that out—but he does. He whines like a toddler—and Seokjin’s father gets redder and redder like a thousand tiny torches have been lit inside him. Sort of like a jack-o’-lantern.

Jeongguk shrugs his shoulder dismissively, insolence bright and volatile. The kind of attitude that would’ve earned him a smack when he was younger—but nobody would lay a finger on him, now .

“Uncle, please, 무슨 문제예요?” he questions, too casual for him to be genuinely puzzled. What’s the problem? He always asks it, lips tipped upwards, eyes bored, unfocused—it sounds like more of a mockery than anything. “I don’t see why you’re so upset.”

He knows why he’s upset. He just chooses to ignore it.

“You’re irresponsible! 이거때문에 골치아파!”

And there’s his father’s usual phrase. ‘It makes me sick.’ ‘You’re a headache.’ Seokjin scoffs quietly into his glass—everything makes that man sick. He’s been telling the both of them that over any trivial little thing for years.

Though, Jeongguk’s actions are fairly nauseating from time to time.

Seokjin takes a sip of his drink, humming appreciatively over the commotion of his relatives. Honestly, his father always buys the best wine. Imported straight from France. The perfect accomplice to these kinds of meetings—makes it all a little more bearable when the fun starts to die out.

His father rubs his temples, irately, eyes fluttering closed. It’s a habit Jeongguk’s picked up lately, he’s noticed—he’d probably kick off if he realised. “You can’t make such a scene, Jeongguk,” he mutters, “killing off anyone that gets on your nerves. It’s getting me in trouble—how am I supposed to keep covering for you?”

Truthfully, as the head of the council, he could probably get away with murder himself. There’s people in his position that’ve done worse, after all. But reality doesn’t work with Jeongguk—you have to be dramatic. And even then, sometimes, it doesn’t go through.

Like, now.

Jeongguk laughs at nothing in particular, conjuring up amusement from somewhere, the way it sparkles fiendishly in his eyes. “미안하지만 그건 당신 문제예요. I never asked for your help.”

Seokjin sucks a breath in through his teeth. ‘That’s your problem.’ The tension in the air is suffocating. His father looks disgusted, ready to explode. Red from head to toe, and Jeongguk—

Well, Jeongguk just looks victorious. He has this infuriating way of saying rude things politely—and nobody can stand it. Seokjin’s father’s hands clench where they’re tucked together in his lap. He always looks uncomfortable during these meetings. Seokjin used to think it was just the dynamic of sitting with a desk between them in his office—but they’re parked in his study now, armchairs situated around a crackling fire, and he still looks as uncomfortable as ever.

“If it wasn’t for me you would be in prison,” he seethes, and it’s a bold statement. Seokjin doesn’t know if anything could catch Jeongguk out. He seems to weasel out of every obstacle that comes his way. He once saw it as a talent, but, these days, it just comes off as luck.

“아니요. I don’t think so, uncle. 틀렸어요.”

Seokjin winces.

If there is one thing everyone in this family can agree on, it is that they hate to be told they’re wrong. It’s like Jeongguk’s little catchphrase sometimes, because he knows how much it gets on everyone else’s nerves.

틀렸어요 . You’re wrong. Don’t you know anything?

If this was a cartoon, smoke would be pouring out of Seokjin’s father’s ears right now. He grips the cushion of the chair, squeezed underneath his fingers. “This is exactly why I always told your father to have two kids. In case one of them turned out like you.”

The words are short and quiet—but they echo in the unoccupied space of the study. Jeongguk’s expression remains heavy, unflinching, but Seokjin knows the words grazed him. Any mention of his father does.

And he knows that because Jeongguk doesn’t retort, doesn’t come back with anything else. He gracefully rises to his feet, setting down the untouched glass of wine on the table beside him, and he lifts his vision away from the man, staring off to the wall over his shoulder, instead.

“Are we done here, uncle?” he asks, coldly.

Seokjin’s father doesn’t respond immediately, staring at the clenched jaw of his nephew. The defiance that scorches in his eyes, no matter where he looks. Jeongguk has an impression that radiates leadership, power… but he still doesn’t know how to use it.

His presence sparks with authority, but his eyes burn with the same passion that rebels against just that. He’s a living contradiction, and, yet Seokjin can’t blame him for not seeing that just yet. He’s still only a kid, after all.

“If you won’t listen anymore…” the man begins, as if he’s hoping the younger man will correct him.

He gives a long sigh when he doesn’t, an exhaustion to it that has very little to do with the time of night.

“…then yes. We’re done.”

Jeongguk nods in acknowledgement and turns to face Seokjin, flicking his finger up to gesture for the older man to stand. He hates when he does that—makes him feel like an idiot whether he follows through or doesn’t.

Seokjin rises to his feet, downing the rest of the glass and giving his body a quick shake to loosen up from sitting silently for so long. He begins to follow Jeongguk out of the room, but then, his father calls out to the younger.

“But, Jeongguk—”

His cousin’s shoulders tighten, square—his back solid and stoic. He doesn’t turn.

“Yes, uncle?”

The silence is only accompanied by a low buzzing of one of the ventilation systems. The occasional rush of wind hurling against the window from outside.

“Visit your mother, soon,” the man says, and it’s by no means a request. “I won’t tell you again.”

Months on end. He’s been putting that off even longer than he’s been putting off this meeting.

The command does nothing to relieve Jeongguk’s tension. His posture stays firm, powerful—but defiance still oozes out of all the creases.

He sneers, an ugly, scornful sound following it.

“Goodnight, uncle. Sleep well.”

The words are hollow.

Jeongguk doesn’t say a thing the entire journey back.

 

Chapter Text

Jeongguk is not an irrational man.

He just understands that some things cannot change. Some things cannot be changed and, therefore, there is no reason to keep them around.

When things are a burden, an inconvenience; when they get in the way of plans or become a catalyst for bigger problems they are wrong.

And when you are wrong, you change. When something is wrong you change it. If it cannot change, cannot be fixed or reformed or redeemed then it is worthless.

Jeongguk stands in front of something that cannot be changed. He’s a useless man, a problem that’s been buzzing in his ear like a fucking mosquito for weeks. He can’t change, so Jeongguk has no reason to keep him around.

You discipline a mutt, it’ll cower like it’s sorry until you walk away. Then, it’ll go right back to what it was doing. You kick it, it’ll turn on you.

He could let Sanghoon go with a slap on the wrist, but he’d only be more careful from then on. Slyer.

He could beat the shit out of him and let him grovel his way out of this, but once the pain faded, the sickening yellows and purples of the bruises would heal into vengeance.

So, no… Jeongguk can’t change this man and, therefore, he has no purpose left.

"Did you think your actions would go unpunished?” When Jeongguk speaks for the first time in a number of minutes, Sanghoon’s head rises from the ground. He’s just kneeling there, on the dirty, cold concrete floor of the warehouse. It’s stained with what looks like rust, but the putrid smell suggests otherwise. Jeongguk doesn't mind it, thoughit’s a morbid reminder of his control, his previous conquests. “Just 'cause you’re loosely part of Hua She you think that gives you a right to lose your morals?”

Sanghoon’s face is covered in blood, cut and sliced to hell but only on one side. Jeongguk was feeling a little artistic this eveninghe only touched half, peeling off the skin with the edge of a blade to fulfill an aimless curiosity. He was satisfied with that for the time being.

But the night’s still young.

“You’re a murderer,” Sanghoon tells him, his teeth clenched together, spit drooling from his mouth. “A monster.”

Jeongguk snorts, watching—with stupid amusement—the disgust on the man’s face; an expression overlaid in red and bruised in blotches like bleeding ink.

“I know." He touches the knife to his own cheek in thought, wiping the half-dried blood onto his skin in a flaking, cold smear. "Do you honestly think you're the first person to tell me that, Ma Sanghoon?”

The question doesn’t hang in the air; it submerges, expands, condenses. Fills the room until it pushes off the walls and reaches Jeongguk’s ears again. Sanghoon doesn’t have an answer, of course. He thought he was being brave. The slack jaw, the furrowed brow: that’s surprise, whether he knows it or not.

But what Sanghoon doesn’t understand is that hypocrisy is cheap, affordable –even more so when you accept it. You can utilise it all you like, then.

If you are a hypocrite, if you know you are a hypocrite, it’s an iron casing. Bulletproof glass. Nothing anyone says can catch you off guard because, of course, you already know.

“But what about you,” Jeongguk asks now, a smile selfishly adorning his lips. “What do you think you are?"

Sanghoon swallows hard, angry. Jeongguk hates looking at him. It’s even worse in the silence.

It drags on and on and on.

“I’ll tell you…” Jeongguk whispers. He crouches to the ground, clothes rustling as the two men meet eye-to-eye: the only time they have and ever will.

Maybe it’s curiosity that resonates in Sanghoon’s glare, there. Festering, corrosive. All merged cells and blown pupils. But it might be damnation, too. Jeongguk reaches out, grabs his jaw, makes sure his half-bloodied face is focusing on him exactly how it should be, because this is important.

His fingers dig into the tenderness of Sanghoon’s marred flesh and the man jolts violently at the touch, fighting the ropes roughly binding his hands behind his back with a growl. As tough as he wants to appear, his eyes are shrieking, trembling with what, what, what—what am I?

It’s the words to decide his fate, after all.

Jeongguk smiles without even meaning to. It’s just too perfect.

“You are scum.”

Sanghoon is too dignified to take the bait. He doesn’t scowl any harder, doesn’t writhe or shove or–god forbidspit. He remains impassive. Agitated, but that’s the height of it.

On the outside, that is.

Jeongguk would like to fix that—and he most definitely plans to. So, he lets go of Sanghoon’s face, almost going to wipe his hand on the tattered shoulder of the man’s waistcoat but he knows it’ll come off dirtier. Instead, he puts his hand out expectantly behind him and delicate cotton is instinctively fed into his palm by one of his subordinates.

Jeongguk stands again, wiping his bloodied digits down before he drops the soiled handkerchief to the floor.

“You know,” he says conversationally, “I’ve met a lot of assholes over the years... but ones like you are always the worst... you know why?” There’s a strange kind of mirth to the words, out of place for the environment, certainly: with the men and women crowding them like lifeless prototypes—robotic and procedural, too good at their jobs for a human reaction. 

Sanghoon, on the other hand, just seems a little bored.

And somehow, that manages to piss Jeongguk off even further. The way the man tries to radiate this… pseudo superiority over him. Like he isn’t just the dog shit smeared into the cracks of a sidewalk in Jeongguk’s empire.

His city. He owns this fucking place and what does Sanghoon do? Work five nights a week in one of Jeongguk’s hundreds of businesses? He’s only alive because of him. He only has money… a job... a house because of him.

How fucking dare he act like he’s better?

“Your kind is always the worst,” Jeongguk reiterates, veering back onto track, “because the rest of them harm stupid people. People who have it coming, but you..."

He needn’t say much more. He throws the knife to the ground, the clatter of it rather relieving in the overkill of a room. It was too repulsive to hold onto, anyway. God knows what Jeongguk could’ve caught from vermin like him.

But Sanghoon doesn’t accept this information like he should. He isn’t done with the conversation, it seems.

“My victims had it coming too–"

It’s instinct. Jeongguk dusts his unblemished hand against his pant leg and Sanghoon is thrown onto his side, bloodied face against the ground. The palm of Jeongguk’s hand tingles with satisfaction. He slaps like a bitch, he’s been told and, with such a reaction, he knows that the statement still rings true.

The grin that surfaces on Jeongguk’s face is borderline maniacal, nerves sparking with delight at seeing the man writhe in pain before him.

"It’s hard to turn my stomach,” he notes. He doesn’t want to engage with someone like that, now. Jeongguk focuses on cleaning his nails instead, picking out little red specks and flicking them to the floor. “And yet, you make me immeasurably sick, Ma Sanghoon. I let some fucked-up people roam around in my circles. Conmen and murderers and sycophants. But rape is just... nauseating. Pathetic.”

Maybe, if Sanghoon had been craftily pickpocketing people in his casino, stealing wallets or credit cards for fraud, then perhaps this would’ve worked out less gruesomely. Jeongguk might’ve never had to come into contact with this man at all.

But the drugging… the assaults… the secrecy—it’s deplorable. It’s the very thing that’s made Jeongguk crave a solution. A chance for vengeance of his own. The lost money, the bad publicity… that would’ve been an issue, surely, but, in spite of whatever his subordinates have decided, it’s not why Jeongguk was so adamant about catching this asshole. It’s not why he wants to deal with him himself.

It all digs a little deeper than that.

“You traumatised several of my customers... and then you tried it with one of Min's recruits? One of mine?”

Sanghoon groans into the floor, marinating in his own saliva, drooling out of his mouth like an animal. Jeongguk wonders if he knocked his last couple of brain cells out with the blow.

“You are the bottom of the food-chain. You don’t get to touch people like that, you don’t even get to breathe in their direction. The customers, your co-workers, my employees: they’re all above you, do you understand?”

When Sanghoon makes no attempt to agree, Jeongguk lifts his foot to clamp down on the side of the man’s jaw, twisting his sole into the bleeding, butchered flesh there. “I said , do you understand that, cunt?”

Sanghoon grits his teeth, face red with exertion.

“Fuck you.”

Jeongguk feels a shot of malevolence burn through him.

If he’s not gonna use that fucking mouth of his right, then he doesn’t need it anymore, does he?

He raises his foot up and, for a second, Sanghoon’s body loses some of its tension as if he thinks he’s won the exchange. It’s always the smartest assholes that make the dumbest mistakes, after all.

But then, Jeongguk jumps, slamming his foot down onto Sanghoon’s jaw with his entire body weight forcing into it. The warehouse comes alive with a snap—a beautiful, beautiful sound that circles the space, ricochets. Sanghoon tries to yell but it’s garbled behind a mashed jaw as he rolls laboriously onto his back with a guttural noise. Maybe he’ll swallow his tongue and suffocate in a couple of minutes, if he’s lucky, but Jeongguk thinks it’s much more likely that he’ll take quite some time to die.

Whatever the cause, though, he will do so.

Which means Jeongguk’s job is done here.

“Han,” he calls out to one of the few men gathered with him to observe the show. “I want his body disposed of when he dies. You can do what you like with him until then—just make sure he’s not left lying around for too long.” Jeongguk drags his foot along the rough surface of the warehouse floor, trying to rub off the rest of Sanghoon’s blood.

“Yes, sir,” the man replies stiffly. His collar’s too tight, the material making little red rings around his neck whenever he fidgets. “The body will be burned as soon as possible.”

Jeongguk reaches for his jacket, slung on the back of the chair he’d been sitting in an hour or so ago. They’d started this ordeal with a sense of civillity: calmly seated opposite of each other as Jeongguk waited to see if he’d crack—but that’s only fun when you can pick out all the nervous ticks your guest is showing while they’re anticipating it.

Sanghoon didn’t have any. He was pretty well composed.

And it made Jeongguk’s blood boil.

He doesn’t bother sparing a last glance to his former employee. There’s no point committing the sight to memory—it’d just take up needless space. Instead, he addresses his subordinates again, speaking formally, coldly… even if he knows that what he’s about to say will be the talk of the fucking break room later on.

“One last thing: none of the details of this evening reach the ears of my cousin, yes?”

Seokjin would have him down for a therapy session within twenty-four hours for that little rant of his and, although all six of them nod with overzealous sincerity, Jeongguk’s certain they start mocking him the instant he closes the door behind him.

But he’ll get his fucking respect around here soon enough.

And then … they’ll be scared to laugh at him in their own goddamn heads.

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Hoseok swipes his thumb across the screen to end the call and nimbly locks the device again with his ring finger.

“Well,” Taehyung prompts, “what did he say?”

His friend tucks his phone into the front pocket of his jacket, chuckling bitterly to himself. “Exact words were ‘ fuck you, I’m not paying for that. Also, you assholes still owe me for wrecking the goods you so heroically destroyed.’”

Taehyung shakes his head, pretending he didn’t hear the plural there because he can’t even afford clothes, never mind a bunch of undoubtedly pricey illegal goods. He’s still wearing the rejects from Hoseok’s least-loved wardrobe. “That petty bitch.”

Hoseok snorts, fingers drumming along the steering wheel with dull thuds as they sit in one of the highway’s cold shoulders. Truthfully, it’s a surprise he was able to pull this thing out of the restaurant’s driveway, never mind drive them around half of Hong Kong in it—but that doesn’t make Taehyung want to do it any longer. At this point, he just wants to spend the rest of the day clearing out a couple of jerks for Yoongi and maybe mooch a couple of drinks off of him for it—not spend it metaphorically handcuffed to his best friend and his 1.86 tons of shiny red metallic baggage.

“He’s got a penchant for that… but if we can’t get Yoongi to pay for us, then I guess we’re just gonna have to find it cheaper, huh?”

Taehyung really doesn’t like how he keeps saying ‘we.’

“Seok,” he whines, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose, “we’ve tried everywhere. Face it, no one’s gonna wanna fix this heap of junk for anywhere near your budget. Let’s just scrap—”

“Don’t finish that fucking sentence.” His fingers stop, gestural punctuation. Taehyung might’ve been intimidated if it wasn’t over something so stupid. Hoseok slides a hand down one side of the steering wheel, the other reaching to turn the keys in the ignition. “And we haven’t tried everywhere.”

Taehyung’s eyes drag over to the other man from where he’s slouched in the passenger seat, feet dirtying up the leather beneath him because, as he told Hoseok, it’s not like he can fuck up the thing even more.

“We’re not going to Leung,” he deadpans.

Hoseok doesn’t even look surprised that the younger caught what he was implying with zero hints; instead, a sickening grin wrenches onto his face, the overcast skies of the afternoon throwing a dull, menacing shadow over him that gives Taehyung the feeling that, actually, that’s exactly what he has planned.

“Hoseok,” the younger man starts, tone clipped, “why the hell would the guy I beat to a pulp and stole ten grand off of wanna fix your shit-show of a car for a discount?”

“Good morals,” he retorts, smoothly, gaze clear but mouth still tilted devilishly as he pulls out onto the road again. Taehyung can’t even tell if he’s kidding or not at this rate. “And, if that’s a bust—”

“—It’s a bust—”

“Then you can just threaten him, again. Simple.”

Ah, Taehyung thinks, so now he says ‘you.’

Leung’s face is momentarily pasted white as soon as Taehyung steps out of the car—that is, until he notices the state of said car… and a very humbled Jung Hoseok stepping out after him.

Then, he’s just smug.

He folds his arms, cigar peeking out between his fingers with his hips swinging exaggeratedly as he strides towards the men. But, no surprise, his eyes are fixated on Taehyung when he drawls, “Well, well, well… judging by the state of that little beauty—” he points to the car lazily with an upturned palm, “it looks like the big bad gangster needs my help, now, doesn’t he?”

Taehyung grimaces, eyes sweeping to scan around the yard, instead of the stubby, pompous man in front of him. He’s getting a headache already. “Cut the crap, Tom—will you do it or not? ‘Cause if you can’t, we’re leaving.”

Leung’s eyebrows shoot up, mockingly surprised. He laughs, short, sharp, amused disbelief as he answers, “It’s not a matter if I can do it, Kim.” He says his name like a secret password. (Looks like somebody has been doing his research since they last met.) “It’s a matter of whether I will.”

“We’re on a tight budget—”

“Then, maybe we can make a deal?”

Taehyung doesn’t like where this is going. Beside him, Hoseok’s already nodding along, desperate just to get anything at this rate as he tells him, “Yes, yes… deal!” but Taehyung sets a hand on his shoulder, the other held out in front of Leung, dubiously.

“What kind of deal, Tom?”

The man’s lip twitches at the nickname again, but he still doesn’t berate him for it. Instead, he stuffs his hands into his pocket, chest puffed out confidently as he says, “I want you to fend off those Four Suns bastards for me.”

Taehyung grunts and clenches his jaw. He knew this would all come back to bite him in the ass.

“No fuckin’ way—I’m not digging myself into any more shit with them than I already am. You know they popped the tires on my bike last week?”

Taehyung knows it was them, and Yoongi was so pissed that he was late that he gave him a bicycle to replace it. He was the laughing stock of every person he tried to intimidate, that day.

But Leung shrugs his shoulders, insisting, “If you do this, Kim, I’ll let you take a new bike , never mind new tires. And I’ll fix that car up, no question.” He shakes one of his hands loose from his pocket, pulling down the collar of his shirt to unveil a big purple mark stretching across his shoulder. “You see this bruise?” he asks, though, it’s impossible to miss. “They gave me this ‘cause I couldn’t pay them because somebody took more than he should’ve from my safe.” He lets go, the collar snapping back into place as he reiterates, “And I’m not gonna have enough when they come back, either—so you better help me.”

Taehyung straightens his posture, hands clutching his hips as he huffs out a breath. “Are you ordering me around, Leung?”

The man grins, pulling the cigar from his lips with a puff of clotted smoke.

“I like to call it emotional persuasion.”

Taehyung snorts and Leung must see that he isn’t exactly winning the discussion with that ‘emotional persuasion’ of his, so he idly knocks some ash off of the end of the cigar, eyes lifting back up to the younger man as he mutters, “Look, I’m not saying you wait on me hand and foot, twenty-four-seven. All I’m asking is if they come back let me know I can rely on you to come save my ass, okay?”

Taehyung’s quiet for a moment, thinking this over. It’s not a huge burden, if he’s honest—Taehyung isn’t exactly the kind of person that likes to owe favours, but beating up a few guys that’ll probably cross his path and piss him off eventually anyway isn’t the worst thing.

It is a favour for Leung, though. A grimy, untrustworthy little man.

“You’ll fix the car for free?” He double-checks, and the man’s expression lifts, even at the implication.

“Yep!”

Taehyung narrows his stare.

“And get me a new bike?”

“Yep!”

“High end? Something classy?”

The older man arches an eyebrow, sigh blowing out with the smoke of his cigar. Taehyung scrunches up his nose at the smell.

“Yes,” Leung replies tiredly, as if he wasn’t the one instigating this, “anything you want.”

Taehyung leaves his gaze watchful on him for a moment or two longer, before he lets the look drop, reaching into his back pocket to pull out his phone. He unlocks it with a press of his thumb, navigating to his contacts as he says, “Okay, then… but if I’m busy I’m not coming.”

It’s a childish remark, really just meant to rile him up more than anything, and Leung certainly takes the bait, head cocked challengingly as he barks back, “Then, I’m not gonna fix your car.”

Unfortunately, Taehyung knows he’s doomed when that gets Hoseok to kick up, elbowing the younger man hard in the ribs and hissing, “Tae!”

Taehyung flinches, rubbing the spot with a vague sulkiness to the motion. Leung’s mouth twitches at it.

Asshole.

“Fine!” he snaps, “it’s a deal.”

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Jeongguk feels like he’s suffocating in heat.

It’s clinging to his neck, flushed up his chest, down his body, legs tangled in the silk of his bedsheets that do little to calm the inferno rushing through his bloodstream.

And all, all, all of it: the heat, the insatiability, the yearning… instigated by soft honey skin, strong, mesmerising eyes staring up at him, the kind of deepness to a voice that resonates in his gut like a punch.

“Want you,” the man says—plainly and yet, it sends a thousand shocks up Jeongguk's spine. Underneath him, the body trembles in anticipation. Jeongguk can feel the vibrations in the air like how his words reverberate around the room as if they’ve been shouted deep inside a tunnel. “Want you now . Inside me. Need it.”

Jeongguk’s mouth replies for him, the syllables strung together and tumbling out of past his lips, yet they land effortlessly on their feet, beginning their own roles.

“You need it, baby? That bad?”

He nods his head, a moan slipping out from his mouth like the gesture knocked it out of him. His hand loops around Jeongguk’s wrist, tugging him close.

“Touch me, please. Everywhere.”

Jeongguk reaches out, fingers compelled to run down the smooth expanse of skin on display, his for the taking.

But what he touches is cold, slipping between his fingers.

Suddenly, the body melts out of his touch; the touch that never surfaced and yet, Jeongguk feels the ghost sensation of his partner linger on his arms, chest, thighs—feels the shadow of a kiss on his lips, finds they’re almost bitten raw when he runs his tongue over them.

Jeongguk fights against the heavy weight of his eyelids to force them open against the white light of the morning sky crawling into his room and, when he does, he expects the feeling to go away; the lasting remnants of a half-conscious dream. A technicality, nothing more.

But it doesn’t. He’s squinting in the rays of the early morning, trying to wrap his head around what just happened—separating imagination from reality because it felt so real. Pathetically so.

Jeongguk shifts under the covers, skin grazing against silk— friction —and he gasps, teeth gritted. His body is too heavy and his brain is still too sleep-fogged to process any of this artfully, but that he feels. The interruption in the soft lines of his bedsheets is kind of hard to miss.

Jeongguk moves to make himself sit up, exposed back leaning against the cold black leather of the headboard. He doesn’t typically wear clothes to bed, finds it too restrictive, but he half regrets not slipping a shirt on last night with the chill that runs through him, now. A pillow is wedged between the small of his back and the mattress and he reaches behind himself to free it, propping it up to lean against.

He doesn’t dream often. Usually, Jeongguk awakens with clarity; perfect memory of the moments before he drifted off as if they had only been seconds ago. It leaves him feeling restless, sometimes, like he hadn't slept at all.

But, lately, he’s been plagued through the night.

He’s not naïve enough to have to wonder why, not with the routine he’s succumbed to: the burn of his stomach, the shoots of pleasure that dart along his nerves. His brain overtaken by skin like Mulberry silk, amber, glittering with sunlight. The echoes of breathy moans and pitching ‘sir, sir, sir’ s that stick unshiftably to the back of his mind.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened: where he’s gotten fixated on one person enough to have them invade his subconscious, too, but it never fails to torment him, either.

Even now that he’s awake, Jeongguk can’t help but imagine him: splayed out underneath him, glorious, striking, confident in his uncovering. Purple and pink bruises mapped out across his body, crafted by the revolution of Jeongguk’s mouth. How the gasps that leave his lips are every bit as beautiful as they are terrible.

Jeongguk’s hand finds its way beneath the sheets without a second thought, fingers immediately feeling electric against his already half-hard and demanding length; enough to have woken him up in the first place.

He grabs the base of his cock, thumb brushing up and down minutely along the shaft and a sigh manages to shiver its way past his lips, head knocking back against the headboard with a mute thud.

He starts to think about how he could pin the man down by the hips, watch him squirm, wide-eyed, pliant, and he strokes up his length imagining that it’s those long, slender legs he’s slipping between instead. Jeongguk flicks his wrist, thumb rubbing over the head, grip tightening for a second, before he strokes down again. His hips buck greedily as he reaches the base.

“Fuck .”

The remnants of the dream start to fade away, overwritten by new thoughts. Maybe Jeongguk’s holding the man’s hands above his head—maybe they’re tied to the bed. He instinctively pumps faster at the visual. He’d be struggling, wanting to touch, but Jeongguk would only thrust in deeper, harder, lifting the man’s hips up, hands on the curve of his ass to get a better angle.

He’d try to keep back his moans at first, but Jeongguk would tug on his bottom lip, telling him to be as loud as he wants, let him hear him, and he’d comply immediately. The younger’s stomach would tighten impossibly at every whimper.

“God, Taehyung—”

The syllables shatter on Jeongguk’s tongue when a different kind of sound cuts into the room. One upbeat… repetitive… loud .

One he really should’ve put on silent because Jeongguk has his hand pretty securely on his dick when he makes the mistake of glancing to the side of the bed and sees his phone lit up with Cha Kiyoung of all names.

He gags a little.

For a while, Jeongguk just considers ignoring it—wouldn’t be the first time, honestly—but the very moment the call dies out, it starts back up again, alongside a text that says ‘URGENT’ and might as well be followed by ’stop ignoring me, you stupid fucking brat’ because that tends to silently follow most things Kiyoung says.

Jeongguk clenches his jaw, hand letting go of his dick and wiping along the bedsheets as his other reaches for the phone on his nightstand, fist clenched around the device like it might snap in half if he tries hard enough.

But, even if it did, it wouldn’t benefit him, anymore—he’s out of the mood.

Nothing kills a hard-on faster than Cha Kiyoung.

So, instead, Jeongguk keeps the phone to his ear, thumb tapping with an audible thump against the screen. He slouches down, rests his head on the back of the headboard to look up at his blank ceiling and wait for the man to speak.

“Good morning, sir,” Kiyoung says tightly. Jeongguk can imagine the way his face is right now: tense and pinched together like a dumpling. He was probably cussing him out all of three seconds ago, maybe pissed himself a little when the call actually went through, in case his boss had heard him.

But Jeongguk doesn’t need to hear it to know. Everyone in Hua She knows.

“What?” The word is as blunt as it deserves to be. The single time Kiyoung actually decides to do his job and it’s at—Jeongguk glimpses to the screen in his hand— eleven AM when he’s tired and horny.

Neither of which are things that the man helps with; not when he’s as exhausting and repulsive as he is.

He can easily pick out Kiyoung’s frustration through the line. Unlike some of his other subordinates, Kiyoung is horrific at hiding his contempt for the younger man. It’s not that he doesn’t try —he probably does, thinking it’ll save his ass when the time comes (which it won’t)—but he’s so awful at it that it’s frankly a little hilarious.

Hilarious in the way that it makes Jeongguk want to slit his throat every time he sees him, that is.

“You scheduled a meeting with Kim Taehyung this morning, sir. He’s in the lobby.”

Jeongguk’s about to shrug the man off, but his attention snags on that once he actually processes the information.

What a graceless coincidence.

Jeongguk tries to wrack his brain for any memory of this apparent meeting, but he fails to remember any situation in which he might’ve mentioned it to Jimin in passing who would’ve went on to tell Kiyoung to do his fucking job for once.

But then, very vaguely, the memory of a few evenings ago comes to mind. Jeongguk had been getting an update report from his audacious right-hand—corrected by Jimin in every possible place—and, from Jeongguk’s third or fourth (fifth, sixth…) glass of champagne, he knows he must’ve mentioned it. He tends to get over-zealous, a few glasses in.

“Right.” Jeongguk’s eyes drift to the mirror opposite the red-silk expanse of his bed, catching his dishevelled reflection—the worked-up flush to his cheeks, the unruly curling of his sleep-ruffled hair, strewn with tawny brown in the glare of the sun’s rays.

Jeongguk, tangled in the inky-black and ruby damask of his bedspread, doesn’t even look like himself , much less ready for a meeting. He looks tired and raw, the sheets pooled around his waist. They engulf him, swallow him whole—spill out over the sides of the endless silken mattress.

“I’ll be down in fifteen minutes.”

At the least, but he’ll hardly be reprimanded for tardiness—his cousin isn’t here.

Jeongguk hangs up before Kiyoung can respond, throwing the device to sink into the sheets as he tries and wills himself to wake up, body clinging to that last hazy remnant of sleep.

Unsurprisingly, his erection is pretty much dead and buried by now—any trickle of lust having been wrung out of him completely as soon as he heard the sound of his right-hand man’s voice. But it’s just as well, considering he’s about to go meet the person who caused all of that desire face-to-face.

Some things are better waited for.

Jeongguk unravels himself from the sheets, bare feet brushing against the soft fibres of the rug splayed across his floor and he’s somewhat surprised by the shiver that trembles through his body once the air cools on his exposed skin. Even the sun shining through his window lacks its usual warmth, and he realises how quickly the months are passing by, already tumbling into November.

It feels like he’s barely had time to breathe lately, much less notice the change of seasons—he hasn’t wanted that time. Wasted days don’t go down well in his position. He doesn’t have time to stop or slow or relax. Not when he’s all too aware of how his empire could crumble at any whisper of the right information that falls on the wrong person’s ears.

Still, he braces the cooler atmosphere hovering in the room, arms crossing over his chest as he walks towards the ensuite. It’s not cold, yet, but the glass windows scraping all the way up to the roof, surrounding his bedroom in its entirety certainly don’t help with the glare of a chill they let seep into the room.

It isn’t a fantastic start to his morning. Of course, he’s had countless rude awakenings before, with Kiyoung at his door or Seokjin inviting himself in—occasionally, a body or two that’s overstayed its welcome—but blue-balling himself and having to hear the ear-piercing sourness of his lout of a right-hand man all in a matter of minutes is really up there.

Jeongguk closes the door of his bathroom behind him, the lock clicking with a small echo in the marble structure of the room.

It’s silent now without the lure of the city roaming about underneath him, enclosed in expensive stone. Jeongguk lets the tap run as he puts his hands on the countertop, bleeding cold into his palms. His gaze drifts up from the spray of water to his reflection in the mirror again.

 

Closer, now, he can see the redness still clinging to the apples of his cheeks, the vague circles under his eyes, the line of acne clearer on his jaw than he remembered it being last night. He sighs, eyes fluttering closed as he cups his hands together.

Leaning over the faucet, Jeongguk splashes water in his face, the iciness causing his skin to tingle. He runs his wet hands through his unruly hair, smoothing over the sleepy imperfections and straightens up again, hand twisting the tap to come to a stop. A few drops leak through, dripping audibly against the plughole to mimic the roll of the droplets running down his forehead and cheeks. He reaches out for the rich burgundy towel hanging untouched on the rail next to him and dabs his skin and dripping hair dry.

When Jeongguk meets his own eyes again, he feels different. More and less like himself at the same time, though the line’s been blurred for so long, now.

He throws the towel back on its rail, the silver ring squeaking with the blow and lets his fingers agitate the damp locks of his hair.

The flush to his cheeks is gone, the confines of sleep ruled over. He’s satisfied now, ignoring how he must look standing, naked and grinning in front of his bathroom mirror because that is not what Jeongguk sees when he looks at his reflection.

He sees power, glory, excellence.

He sees a god.

       

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Yoongi likes the way Jeongguk’s face falls when he meets his eyes, pausing at the top of the staircase.

He’d made an effort, clearly. Yoongi knew he would. A white pressed shirt, unbuttoned to the midpoint, his blazer and slacks a deep, alluring red that cling to his body in all the places he wants it to. His hair’s styled to borderline perfection, only a few strands falling down to frame his face.

And, yet, there’s surprise—mostly irritation—but surprise, too, in his countenance. Something he hasn’t expected. Unprepared, genuine emotion, there.

Jeongguk stands at the top of the staircase, hand gripping the banister, ruefully, as he leans all of his weight on one leg. His eyes pierce into Yoongi like he hopes he’ll erupt into flames at it.

And Yoongi can’t help but grin.

“Good morning, sir.”

Jeongguk takes two, three steps, hips swinging pointedly but without its usual touch of arrogance, the one that revels in the fact that he has eyes on him. He’s just annoyed. And, as always, he doesn’t try to hide that.

“What are you doing here?” The words are accusatory, like he’s asking a different question all together. One a little less mature. Childish in the knowledge that he’s not getting what he wants. Yoongi isn’t stupid, he knows exactly what Jeongguk’s thinking.

“Your guest needed a ride,” he answers simply. “Hoseok’s car’s banged up and Tae’s bike isn’t the most professional mode of transportation.” Or safe , he doesn’t add. Even with the upgrade, the kid rides it like he’s trying to cause as much trouble as he possibly can.

Beside him, the semi-joyrider in question grumbles, lips pouted like he’s huffing as well—over something certainly different, but in no way any less juvenile.

Before meeting Taehyung, Yoongi thought he couldn’t possibly find anyone more childish than Jeongguk (not even Hoseok outdoes him) but Taehyung definitely gives the kid a run for his money, sometimes, pouting over the most trivial things and treating nearly everything as a challenge or an adventure.

Needless to say, he isn’t exactly looking forward to this meeting—but it’s worth it if it means Jeongguk won’t get his way.

The man’s head tips to the side at Yoongi’s excuse, the crucifix around his neck jingling at the motion. He has no idea why he even still wears that damn thing, it’s not like he’s fooling anyone. Jeongguk’s bottom lip draws between his teeth, eyes sticking to Yoongi, warily, as if he’ll blink and the older man’ll have completely jeopardised his little scheme.

Which isn’t totally paranoid of him to think so. Yoongi thought he was kidding when he got a call from Cha Kiyoung telling him that Jeongguk requested a meeting to be set up between him and Taehyung within seventy-two hours.

A ‘meeting’ seemed rather misleading from the get-go—what did they really have to discuss?

Jeongguk was up to something.

So, as reluctant as Taehyung was to let him, insisting it came off as unprofessional, Yoongi went with him: half because he didn’t trust Jeongguk and half because he didn’t quite trust Taehyung, either.

He doesn’t seem to really buy into any of this. He isn’t wary enough.

Jeongguk could destroy him, if he wanted to.

His hand slides over the cool marble of the banister, feet following the motion with a slow, pointed click ringing out along each step.

“I could’ve sent for him.” Jeongguk’s chin is pointed up, eyes disparaging and blinding, even with the distance between them.

“But you didn’t,” Yoongi retorts.

He stops, and the sound echoes in the open silence. The older man squares back his shoulders, trying not to grimace at the harshness of the words.

Jeongguk only ever wants to see that side of Yoongi when it benefits him, somehow. Gets him wound up or gets them to the point of their conversation. Right now, however, he’s just disrespected him in front of someone he likely wants to make his superiority clear to.

Yoongi doesn’t think adding a ‘sir’ would really help at this point.

But, then, perhaps surprising them all, Jeongguk smiles.

It’s pretty, the way his eyes light up, crinkling at the edges while his lips curl with the slightest twist to the sides.

But it’s also plastic, radioactive; and the turn to his mouth is predatorial.

Jeongguk doesn’t linger any more on the moment, elegantly making his way down the rest of the stairs. His hand slides down the marble without a catch. “We should talk somewhere more comfortable, shouldn’t we? Standing around like this… it feels—” his eyes flit to Yoongi again. Dangerous, spiteful. A taunt. “—out of place.”

Something about the burn in his gaze makes Yoongi’s throat run dry.

Then, his focus slides to Taehyung for what, physically, seems like the first time since their arrival—probably as much as Taehyung’s noticed, anyway—but Yoongi can tell when Jeongguk’s playing with someone. Uninterested until he’s not. Untouchable until he’s not.

And then, they’re wrapped up in all that power and dominance, rooted down to the seams and only able to escape it when he wants them to. Yoongi’s seen the same process a thousand times: the broken hopes, broken people. An odd kind of cliché that doesn’t fit into his world, really. The heartbreaker, luring victims in with bewitching looks and empty promises.

Staging some kind of reward, some kind of important meeting; it’s a little more effort than usual—and yet, it doesn’t make Yoongi’s skin crawl any less.

“It’s good to formally meet you, Kim Taehyung. Thank you for coming.”

Yoongi watches Taehyung’s blank expression falter for an instant, brows drawing in, lips twitching; but he isn’t even sure what it means.

“Thank you for inviting me, sir.”

Jeongguk gives that same smile again. An exact copy. So artificial Yoongi feels like he needs a detox just from seeing it.

Following him feels like an ambush waiting to happen, somehow—the man’s eyes alight with each glimpse Yoongi catches. He hates that—how he always feels one step behind him. It never used to be so obvious, but, lately, it feels as if Jeongguk’s trying harder on purpose, scheming and plotting all the time.

Yoongi doesn’t know why— what it is about him that pisses Jeongguk off so much. It’s just a fucking job—this is just a meeting. Hell, it has nothing to do with him, objectively. So why does it always feel like another step in his grand plan?

They turn a corner, Jeongguk stopping in front of wooden doors with a jolt. He steps back, gestures with an open palm to the entrance and doesn’t even spare a glance to his meeting partner, staring directly at Yoongi when he says, “After you.”

Yoongi wants to ask him why he’s trying out courtesy for the first time—but he holds his tongue, swallowing the remark back down. Instead, he grabs the handle of the door, watching warily out of the corner of his eye—Jeongguk’s predatory gaze, the darkness swirling in his expression.

Yoongi pushes open the door, handle clicking with the mechanism and, immediately, he wishes he hadn’t.

He opens that door and wishes he hadn’t even come.

His breath gets caught in his chest, a shoot of pain. Slow, clawing at the flesh inside like broken glass. Jeongguk shoves his shoulder and he falls inside, falling into the bulk of the room, the atmosphere thick like fog. He’s frozen in it, held captive, drowning.

And him… he’s caught in headlights, too, eyes wide, expressive—lips parted. He’s awkwardly balanced between two actions, as if someone’s pressed pause on him.

And still, somehow, the first thing that crawls through Yoongi’s head is ‘God, he’s beautiful,’ the blood swirling hard enough to block out everything else.

“Park,” Jeongguk says, firmly. His voice is dripping in venom, victory— vengeance. The single syllable that makes Yoongi’s stomach turn, just as Jeongguk knew it would. This is what he was so smug about, the convenient punishment for ruining his plans, today.

The door handle feels red-hot, branding into his skin. Yoongi lets his arm drop, useless by his side as Jeongguk asks, “You have the paperwork?”

The man’s eyes are stuck to the floor, head hung and Yoongi’s hand twitches by his side, begging to reach out, but he’s smarter than that.

He just hopes to god Jeongguk doesn’t see it shaking.

“Yes, sir.”

It’s quiet and short, but just as soothing as ever. He stands with his weight shifted to one leg, hand in his pocket, and when he lifts his head his expression is stern and unfamiliar.

Through all of this, Taehyung is standing beside them, silent in curiosity. Of course, this is his first look at Yoongi’s skeletons—the quiet hysteria, the ugly remains of them being shoved back under the rug.

Yoongi understands Jeongguk’s delight over this. Forcing them to meet like this, (him, him, him— Yoongi can’t even hear his name in his own head without feeling nauseated.) making them face the head of a problem but not letting a solution come to light. It makes sense why he would let it happen. It’s cruel, uncomfortable. He gets it. It even makes sense why he’s taken to playing around with Taehyung.

Jeongguk has a need to assert his dominance over everyone. Anyone can see that, but another dirtier little secret of his is that he has a need for attention . As fucked as his and Yoongi’s ‘relationship’ is, it doesn’t make him blind to that. He craves attention, physical engagement. And sex kills two birds with one stone, as much as the thought grosses him out.

He wants Yoongi to hurt, so he reminds him of the root of his pain. He wants to get his dick wet, he seeks out new prey.

The thing Yoongi doesn’t understand, though, is why Jeongguk is so malicious about it all. Maybe he doesn’t even think to consider Taehyung’s feelings towards this—but why does he want Yoongi to hurt so much?

He feels like his brain is about to explode. Every time Jeongguk looks at him, it’s with a fire he can’t blow out. One he can’t even see the cause of. It doesn’t make sense , but Jeongguk’s grinning as if he should know everything.

What the hell is going on?

He doesn’t mean to say it out loud, but there’s an unmissable stir in the room, Taehyung’s curiosity still buzzing quietly in his gaze, half-bored again until now, it seems. Jeongguk stares, face cemented in wicked amusement.

But with him, his gaze finally lifts from the floor.

And he is completely unreadable.

Yoongi doesn’t know what to do with that. So, he doesn’t do a thing. He meets his eyes and pretends it doesn’t feel like his insides are corroding with it.

Jeongguk is the one to break the moment, of course. He gestures for the bodyguard to close the door and he does, striding across the room like a phantom, shutting them in. There’s a gap left in the door that he hangs onto, between him and freedom. Yoongi doesn’t even realise he’s holding his breath until his chest hurts bad enough to make him feel faint. It fit too well at first to notice.

“Leaving so soon, Park?” Jeongguk’s leaning against the wall like an ornament—posed, perfect, this grotesquely triumphant twist to all of the curves and lines of his form.

He’s won, once again.

“I have other matters to attend to, sir—” of course. He always does, doesn’t he? “If you’d like me to send Kiyoung to you, then—”

“Absolutely not.” His arms are as heavy on his chest as the scowl grazing his lips. “Keep that bastard as far away as possible.”

Yoongi would chuckle any other time but, every emotion has bundled into knots, stuck in his throat. He swallows hard but just feels it tangle more.

“Yes, sir. Will there be anything else?”

Jeongguk’s eyes drag slowly over to Yoongi, as if he’s waiting on something. Another outburst, some kind of objection.

Yoongi clenches his jaw and, after a moment, the younger sighs. He pushes off of the wall, one hand dropping by his side again whilst the other pushes back his jacket to settle on his hip, the clean dip of his waist pinched in by the fit of his pants.

“No, Jimin,” he says, the syllables taut on his tongue. “That’ll be all.”

And, unceremoniously, he leaves, escaping through that gap like a breath wisping off into winter air. Cold, cold, cold. Yoongi shudders.

Jeongguk’s focus practically disintegrates off of the older man, now—as if the fun with him is over.

He has a new doll to play with.

He gestures to the large conference table stretching out into the room, saying, “Please, sit down. We have things to discuss.”

To Yoongi’s knowledge, Jeongguk tends to use these rooms for his legal business meetings—but today must be an exception given that he didn’t drag them to his mammoth building of unoccupied boardrooms specially used for this very purpose.

That is, assuming that this meeting was Jeongguk’s primary purpose today (which Yoongi severely doubts.)

Regardless, the man takes a seat at the end of the table and both Taehyung and Yoongi follow suit, sitting opposite of each other and at right angles to Jeongguk. The leather of the seat has no give, and, as uncomfortable as it is, Yoongi doesn’t think it’s the cause of the discomfort riling up in his throat.

Jeongguk fingers through the paperwork left for him with feigned professionalism. The kind of thing that doesn’t suit him at all. Jeongguk doesn’t understand what it’s like to be professional. He’s barely older than a child, after all.

But, he’ll try in front of Taehyung—lips pursed together and eyebrows drawn like he’s concentrating hard. Yoongi lets his focus shift to his friend and wonders if he’s buying it. The gangster is currently leaning his unreadable head in one hand as he keeps his stare steadfast on Jeongguk at the end of the table.

Taehyung’s hard to figure out, in a way. Not in the same way as Jeongguk, who’s constantly trying to deceive him—or even the same as Jimin, covering up or too altered these days to be recognisable. Taehyung’s hard to figure out because he acts like he’s already laid everything on the table. He’s assured him he isn’t interested in Jeongguk. He’s as involved as he can be in the gang. He’s willing to put himself in danger, no hesitation. He’s explained exactly what he’d been doing in America, and why he came back.

And yet, despite all of it, Yoongi always feels as if he’s missing something with him—and when he gives the impression that he doesn’t bother to hide anything then… it’s slightly disconcerting.

“Kim,” Jeongguk says, tongue rolling out the sound, thoughtfully with his cutthroat gaze and languidly exaggerated gestures. He looks as if he wants to pounce right over the table—gut Taehyung or fulfil his filthy little fantasies (hopefully not both.) But the oddest thing, maybe, is that when Yoongi glances at Taehyung, he sees that same glint: the valour, the danger captured in the grin he’s hiding behind his hand, the shine of his eyes that makes him question if he’s misread them both.

This is a clash of egos, no doubt—but, still, Yoongi wonders if Jeongguk himself can even pick that out or not.

“I want to discuss the job you followed through on involving Ma Sanghoon. You recall?”

“Vividly, sir.” No exaggeration: he’s had to relay every detail each time another gangster who’s caught wind of it has asked. It seems like everyone is overtly interested in this newbie’s takedown of one of Hua She’s own. Some American kid that popped up outta nowhere with a thing for trouble.

And, apparently, Jeon Jeongguk himself is not immune to the allure of all this talk, either.

“Excellent,” he says, predictably. “This was a very frustrating situation for me, as I’m sure you can imagine. Asking Min was my last resort. Therefore, I’m very grateful towards you, Kim, for taking the matter into your own hands. My highest-ranking men didn’t even do that.”

Taehyung lets himself smile a little, just a quirk of his lips. Formal, charming.

“I’m happy to have helped, sir.”

“You did,” Jeongguk assures him. “Quickly and thoroughly. I like people who’re capable of that.”

Yoongi can’t help the snort he lets out. Now just where has he heard that before…?

Jeongguk scowls at him, quietly, mouth downturned for a fraction of a second as he glares out of the corner of his eye. But his attention is grabbed right back again when Taehyung tells him, “Mm… There’s no time for people that aren’t, sir, is there?”

God, that’s the exact kind of pretentiousness that probably gets Jeongguk off. Taehyung’s either very good at reading people, or he’s that kind of asshole, too.

“No… there isn’t, Kim.” He licks his lips, smirk unravelled by the motion. “And that’s why I’ve asked for you, here.”

At that, Yoongi stiffens slightly in his seat. Unnoticeable to the other two men, but there’s a change of atmosphere in the moment.

Jeongguk hands Taehyung a stapled set of pages who takes them politely with both hands and an uttered ‘thank you.’ Yoongi’s upside down reading skills are undeveloped, but he peers anyway as Taehyung scans the pages himself. The Hua She symbol is inked on the top corner of the page, a snake winding around a flower, and even that settles uneasily in Yoongi’s gut. Something official… something he needs to sign?

“Kim Taehyung, I would like to have you as my personal advisor.”

Yoongi stills. The words run wild around the silence of the room as his eyes shoot up to the man who said them.

Even Taehyung looks surprised, his composure cracked by raised eyebrows, parted lips.

“Your advisor, sir?”

Jeongguk simply nods. Taehyung’s eyes flit back down to the papers. A contract, Yoongi belatedly realises.

Christ, this is worse than he thought. One single mission and Jeon wants him to be his advisor? What the hell does that even mean? He’s not a fucking monarch.

He has Kiyoung for that, doesn’t he? Not that Cha Kiyoung is useful for advice on anything… but, even still. There’s Jimin… even Seokjin. Taehyung just did an undercover job. Yes, he orchestrated it, but how the hell does that qualify for something like this? Jeongguk doesn’t know a thing about him.

And then, Yoongi’s re-hit with the reality of it. The weight of his stare hanging on him as Taehyung reads over the fine print.

It’s a sham job. An excuse to get what he wants.

Does Taehyung know that, too? His bottom lip is caught between his teeth. He looks concentrated, but not panicked. Does he know he just has to do this? Or is he gullible enough to believe that it actually has weight, ranking?

Somehow, Yoongi can’t buy into the idea that Kim Taehyung is that stupid.

He can’t say no. Everybody in the room is aware of that.

Taehyung flicks to the back page and reaches out for the pen set neatly beside the stack of paper. He scribbles his name down on the line. Yoongi doubts he even read the thing properly. It’s probably just jargon, anyway. Fancy words to distract from the actual intent.

That’s one of Jeongguk’s specialties, after all.

Immediately, the younger man collects the contract from him, humming intently at the inked acceptance. His voice is needlessly laced with faux-surprise as he says, “I’m glad to have you accept, Kim. It’s good having men like you around.” His focus shifts to Yoongi for a moment or two, colder, more serious as he adds, “And I’m glad there were no objections, either.”

Not yet, Yoongi thinks. But they both know it’ll come later, when Taehyung’s not here. When the defence lines can be let down, the false pretences.

“You’re free to go, now,” he strictly informs them both, before telling Taehyung, “I’ll send someone to collect you tomorrow morning and we can discuss this with a little more—” he smiles, strained and overly polite, “privacy.

Yoongi doesn’t know if that’s a dig at him or creepy businessman flirting.

Either way, Taehyung remains completely unfazed, answering, “Yes, sir. Should I write down my address for you?”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “No need, I’ll check the records.”

Taehyung’s expression flickers again, light surprise on it and the younger man chuckles, his posture too stiff to pull it off casually.

“Records are just a formality, Kim, no cause for alarm. I have the details of everyone that works for me. I’ll see you tomorrow at twelve PM. Oh and, one more thing—” Jeongguk reaches into a drawer underneath the desk, the mechanism sliding smoothly out as he retrieves a black plastic file.

He closes the drawer again and passes it across the table to Taehyung whose eyes follow the movement with interest.

“I’d like you to read through this as soon as possible. You won’t need it tomorrow, and it’s not overly complicated, so be as thorough as you can with it.”

Taehyung takes the file from the younger man’s grasp, setting it in his lap as he answers, “Yes, sir. I’ll be sure to do that.”

Yoongi crinkles his nose. Hearing Taehyung talk like this is borderline unnerving; he sounds like a completely different person. Considering he’s called Yoongi a bastard a hundred times already during the brief time that they’ve known each other, he’s sussed that respect doesn’t come easy for him.

So, he must be trying pretty hard with this. Too hard. He sounds ridiculous.

Jeongguk rises to his feet, him and Taehyung copying the motion whilst the man says, “You’re both dismissed. See you tomorrow morning, Kim.” Then, he looks to Yoongi, gaze burning with a silent ‘and hopefully not you… ever again’ in it—he’s that predictable.

“Yes, sir. Have a good morning.”

Not once has he told Yoongi to have a good morning—and he’s just as much his boss as Jeongguk is.

Though, perhaps, that’s no longer the case. Not until Jeongguk gets bored and drops him, at least.

Or, even better, not until Yoongi stops it from becoming a thing at all.

Thankfully, one of Jeongguk’s other bodyguards are waiting outside the door to escort them back out of the building. Yoongi doesn’t think he could take that godawful silence again. And, as they’re heading out, Taehyung looks pensive, not a word said the entire way that when they reach the front doors, he’s about to point it out, how normally he’s talking his ear off—but a quiet ringing gets in there before him.

Taehyung jumps out of his trance, hand delving into his pocket to bring out his phone, the name ‘Leung :/’ illuminating the screen. Yoongi frowns as the other man picks up. Leung… as in Leung’s Motors Leung? Leung Thomas?

Yoongi’s confused for a moment, until Taehyung says, “Let me guess—Four Suns?” followed by a roll of his eyes and, “Fine. On my way. The car better be ready, too.”

Hoseok’s car... a reluctant favour… Four Suns…

Taehyung ends the call just as Yoongi says, “Why the hell did you make a deal with Leung Thomas of all people?”

Taehyung pushes the phone back into his pocket, skipping down the steps of Jeon’s hotel as he throws the answer of, “Hoseok’s too stingy to splash out and he said he’d give me that new bike if I helped, too,” over his shoulder, like he’s got more pressing matters to attend to than talking to Yoongi. Then, adding further insult to injury, he smiles, quipping, “If you weren’t so bitter, then I wouldn’t have had to.”

Yep. Respect does not come easy to him at all.

Yoongi clicks his tongue, following the younger down the stairs to where the valet is pulling up with his car.

“Yeah, well, you still owe me fifteen grand—wouldn’t wanna add to that debt, would we?”

Taehyung approaches the passenger door, one hand on the roof, the other on his hip and he grins again: bold, artful—the kind of smile that gets what it wants.

“Of course not, boss,” he says, the words sweet and charming, “But, if you want to forget it all together then even better, right?”

Yoongi shakes his head, groaning softly as he gets in the car, the valet holding open the door for him.

Jeon might think he has this whole thing under control—but a kid like that?

Yoongi doesn’t think anything could control Kim Taehyung.

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Taehyung steps out onto the uneven footpath, the entire street overrun with roadworks at the minute and pulls the gull-wing door of Yoongi’s car down behind him. He raps his knuckles against the roof as a farewell and waits until the man’s driving off again, the shiny black ridges and silver silhouetted horse between the circles of its neon red taillights, fading into the distance.

Then, for the first time in hours, Taehyung feels as if he can actually breathe again, in the back throws of its heady fumes.

It’s not like Jeon managed to scare him—but he didn’t feel as sure of himself in his presence as he had during their last run-in, either. Not with having all of the man’s focus on him, this time. There’s just something unnerving about it.

‘Advisor.’

Taehyung scoffs, hands slotting into the pockets of his checked coat as he heads towards Leung’s place.

Is that a solid enough connection for you, Zhao?

But despite the success in that department, Taehyung can’t help but think back to Yoongi’s pre-warning a few weeks ago—about not falling for whatever Jeongguk was putting on. It was hard to judge what he thought of the situation from his reaction alone during the meeting, but the tension that followed every momentary silence on the drive back certainly suggested that he wasn’t pleased.

He knows, though—he’s bound to know that Taehyung had no choice. Even without Zhao and his ass-lick crew breathing down his neck, he had to say yes because Jeongguk doesn’t seem like the kind of person that would take being told ‘no’ very well.

And, from that, comes the question that’s been stuck on Taehyung’s mind ever since the words ‘advisor’ left Jeongguk’s lips.

What does he want?

Sex is the obvious thing—and it’s all Taehyung would’ve figured until earlier.

But there were things said in the silences between Jeongguk and Yoongi that he couldn’t catch. Looks that were more than looks.

He doesn’t know what that is between them, that rancid kind of sourness that seemed to boil over the longer the meeting dragged on, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure that it isn’t anything good.

Taehyung just can’t help but feel like some kind of pawn in all of this. Jeon making up some way to get closer to him, he expected—but promoting him… that’s caught him off guard.

But that’s not to say it hasn’t worked out just peachy for the FBI—it’s just interesting to Taehyung: how Jeon Jeongguk has managed to surprise him.

He quickly forgets all of that, though, because as soon as he makes it into the yard it’s obvious that something is going on. The clear out of customers, the grey-faced employees, the abandoned jobs.

But, most of all, it’s the sounds of Leung shrieking all the way from his office that really gives Taehyung an idea of the situation.

Sounds like he hasn’t fixed the window, yet.

He hurries across the yard, vaguely begrudging about it because now he has to actually act on a promise and, well, that kind of ruins the sentiment. He follows along the same route he’d chased Leung along the last time—but just without all the obstacles this time around, thankfully.

Maybe Taehyung should’ve sided with the other guys. At least they’re not throwing barrels at him like fucking Donkey Kong.

He stops just outside the office’s door, Leung’s yelling complimented by the sounds of other people speaking, this time, much harsher. There’s a loud smack, followed by a groan and Taehyung can’t say he isn’t even slightly relieved when the shrieking stops.

He pushes lightly on the door, finding that it too has yet to be fixed with how easily it wobbles open and, as it does, it unveils the little party going on inside.

Leung’s being held by the collar, definitely more bruised than he remembers leaving him. The group of gangsters assembled pause at the intrusion, the additional four of them standing with their fists clenched. He looks down at the one holding the bat in their hand along with their angrily held fist and well, he guesses that’s where all the smacking sounds came from.

Taehyung sighs, shrugging his coat and jacket off his shoulders to hang them on the rail next to him. The attention on him ranges from dubious to confused—bar Leung who seems nothing short of elated, grin unsuitably wide for the blood drying around his mouth.

“Kim! Finally.” Taehyung frowns, watching him sharply from the corner of his eye as he unbuttons the cuffs of his shirt sleeves. “Bring your ass over here and get me out of this mess!”

The brick wall of a woman holding Leung scowls, lifting him another inch of the ground with a hiss as his stubby body flails and chokes.

“You’re here for him?” She asks, disapproving in the question as if she’s wondering why he’s even bothering.

Not that Taehyung isn’t also wondering that.

He holds his hands to his hips, jutting his chin forward as he scans over the gangsters in the room.

“Not by choice,” he answers simply, “but even pest control doesn’t look forward to getting rid of vermin, do they?”

“Who the hell are you?” One of the others snap, a square-headed man that looks as if he might topple over any minute with proportions like that.

Taehyung takes another step into the office, movements casual and practised, but slow enough to keep an edge on them, the anticipation of the moment capturing their attention more than he is.

“No one,” he says, head tilting quizzically as he approaches. “Don’t worry about me.”

Taehyung’s gaze flicks back to Leung whose eyebrows are raised in a silent ‘get on with it.’

He’s got a lot of fucking nerve —but, Taehyung does need to get this over with.

If he’s lucky, he can still make it back in time to sponge breakfast off of Yoongi and get Hoseok to hand him over something to wear that isn’t three inches above his ankles or a shirt that won’t pop all its buttons open with a wrong move.

So, Taehyung reaches into his trouser pocket, expression dull, uninterested as his fingertips find the cool metal ridges. The men surrounding Leung shift, eyes fixed warily onto the stranger’s movements.

Then, the one standing closest to him stalls, face dropping and tumbling into a furrowed brow as he clenches around the bat in his hand. “Wait. ‘Kim’…” he mumbles, gaze fixed accusingly on Taehyung who stares right back, eyes hard. “The accent… the arrogance… the baby-face—”

Wait, the what?

“This is that Hua She bastard!”

Taehyung huffs, eyes rolling languidly in their sockets.

Well, at least he’s moved on from ‘Min’s bitch.’

He takes his hand out of his pocket, knuckles shining bronze and wipes the scuffed metal along the silken shirt on his chest. Taehyung chuckles softly, a confused silence falling over the group, teetering between anger and hesitation.

“Got me.”

Then, he swings.

Taehyung’s had a little practise with his secret weapon since he stole them from Leung. Yoongi snatched them from his grasp when he’d been showing them off one evening, thumping him on the side of the head with them and talking about being ‘careful’ and the ‘proper way to use them.’ Taehyung had blown him off until the older man had reached for his hand to bend back one of his fingers, growling, “You want me to break your fingers now, or when you punch someone wrong in the middle of a fight?”

Needless to say, Taehyung didn’t want either.

But his fingers don’t break on this punch, so he counts that as a win. The man stumbles back, arms flying out behind him as he tries to keep a hold on his weapon and stop himself from falling.

And, as always with the first hit, everything else follows fast .

In an instant, Taehyung has two guys on him. The square-headed one from earlier who latches onto the arm wielding the weapon while the other, full of odd and sharp angles as if he’s made of rock, pulls his inked arm back in preparation.

Taehyung kicks out his leg, catching on the back of the knee of the man holding him. He pulls forward, making the goon buckle and throws out his other hand just in time to catch the fist flying towards him.

Taehyung reaches for the collar of the square-headed man and shoves him towards the other, sending them both crashing to the floor in a tangle of hard limbs.

He wipes his hands, satisfied when, not a second later, there’s a force roughly tugging him backwards. Taehyung’s feet slip out from underneath him, smacking against the hard floor and winding him, letting out a crackling wheeze as his eyes squeeze shut.

There’s a movement near him, and Taehyung’s hands fly upwards in defense when he feels a presence hovering over them. His eyes shoot open, stinging pain shooting through his nerves as his palms press against the blade of a knife, stopped a few feet from him.

He grits his teeth and tries to push back the cat-eyed woman hovering above him. She grins, teeth sharp, hair falling over her face—definitely a textbook psychopath.

Blood oozes out as he keeps his grip on the blade, arms shaking with tension while the feeling of his skin tearing up with each slip makes his stomach churn. Taehyung takes a breath, then he lets go.

As the knife drops, he rolls to the side, the weapon narrowly missing him with a crash against the floor. He rushes to his feet and turns to the woman as she struggles to remove the knife from where it’s sunk into the floorboards, body straining with exertion. Taehyung clenches his reddened fists, delivering a kick to the woman’s side with the heel of his foot.

She falls with a moment’s resistance and Taehyung dives for the knife before anyone else does, tugging it out the last remaining inch and staggering back again out of their range.

He feels his heart thumping as he catches his breath again, readjusting his grip on the weapon whilst assessing the gangsters still standing.

“Think I’ve earned this, don’t you?” He wonders as the small circle of three close in on him further, all rigid and full of tension with the new toy their target’s picked up.

Taehyung tests out the blade in his hand, feeling its surprising weight as he turns it over, flicking the blade around experimentally. He nods his head in approval.

This’ll do.

He leaps forward, grabbing the shirt of the rock-shaped man and hauling him towards him to plunge his hand into his stomach. The blade slips in without much resistance, and erupts into ripples of blood cascading out when he pulls back again. The man lets out a screech to rival a preschooler’s and falls to the floor, clutching the wound with shivering hands as if he can stop it.

Taehyung wipes the blood on his pant leg, just reacting in time when the cat-eyed woman grabs his arm, twisting it backwards in a flash. “Drop the fucking knife,” she hisses into his ear.

Taehyung forces his body to relax against the strain and lessen the chance of getting snapped like a twig. He drops the knife with a clatter to the floor and the woman lets go of his arm, stooping down quickly to pick it up again.

As her fingertips touch the handle, Taehyung clasps his hands together and smacks them down on the arch of her back, making her buckle to the floor. When Taehyung reaches for the knife, she rolls to the side and he clicks his tongue, muttering, “I already used that one, you can’t do it, too.”

She gets to her feet again, wiping the blood trickling from one corner of her lips on the back of her hand. “Just showing you how it should be done.”

She lunges for him and Taehyung jumps back, two seconds away from spewing out another line when, suddenly he hears a clunk and, a second later, his head is splitting with blunt pain from getting hit with a bat.

“Oww!” he whines, hand pressing down on his scalp as he stumbles around on his feet. He points at the wielder, snapping, “I thought I took you out, how could you!?” to which the man shrugs his shoulder as if to say ‘you hit me with brass knuckles, dude, you deserve this.’ And, through the altercation, the cat-eyed woman seizes the moment, naturally, pushing him up against the brick wall behind him and pinning him still by his wrists, either side of his aching head.

She’s just about to say something, shaped red lips parting in preparation, when Taehyung’s diluted brain short-circuits for a moment and he cuts in first with, “Is it weird that I’m kind of attracted to you, right now? Like, I’m gay , that’s so weird, right?”

She sneers right in his face, snatching the knife out of his hand and reaching behind her to pass it over to the square-headed guy who is… just about the worst person that could wield it, given the circumstances.

“You knifed my friend,” he says, brusquely, coming far too close for comfort with something that sharp in the hands of a very angry revenge-seeking brick-man. “I’m gonna cut every little detail off your face, asshole.”

Taehyung crinkles his nose.

What would that even look like? Does bone count as a detail?

The man pulls his arm back, clearly going for a stabbing motion, and Taehyung tries to find a way out of this one when he sees the woman move to the side a little, avoiding the knife.

Which gives him the perfect ‘let’s hope this works’ idea.

He pushes his weight up into a kick, momentarily latching onto the woman’s waist with his feet to push her body to the side. The square-headed man doesn’t stop in time and his swing goes right through her, the blade piercing right into her throat like something out of a stupid 80’s action movie. Her scream is mangled, blood swelling out from around the area that the tip pokes through at the other side.

Her weight crumbles, falling forward and sloping against Taehyung who gags, shoving her back off with so much vehemence that she ends up hurtling towards the man holding the bat, still. In a state of panic, he reacts without thinking, swinging the bat to hit her straight across the face. She falls to the ground with a heavy, definitely-dead thump, the knife still stuck and bloodied in her throat.

Ah, and here they were just starting to have a connection.

Taehyung leaps over her dead body, navigating towards the freer space of the room as Leung cheers him on in the background right before he gets punched in the face and told to shut up again.

He deserves it for indirectly making a dead person touch him.

Taehyung almost gets to catch his breath, again, but of course he doesn’t actually, because the Square One is charging straight for him, smoke flaring from his nostrils like a full-on, not-to-be-fucked-with bull. Taehyung’s never seen a bullfight, but he imagines it could go something like this.

He ducks under the man’s arms, feeling pridefully nimble until he’s yanked backwards again like an elastic band, facing the man he literally just escaped, once again.

Okay, maybe not like this.

He’d horrifically misjudged the sheer bulk of this man, because now, having been held in a tenderless embrace by him, it’s pretty clear that his biceps are in fact the size of his head.

Taehyung loosens up his smile, head cocked as best as he can when he says, “You know, I don’t usually let boys handle me like this on the first date, but…”

The man grimaces and, a moment later, his friend with the bat is joining him and, well, it’s just too good of a moment to pass up.

“Okay, two is going out of my expertise, fellas. Would it kill you to ease me in, a little?”

Both men pause to look at each other with painful exasperation across their faces. Regret, that’s what that is.

But, regardless, bat-man continues towards him, smacking the weapon in his open palm, threateningly, as Taehyung struggles against the arms wrapped around his chest. He claws at his captor’s skin with his fingernails, but the man doesn’t react and god damn, is he made of rubber or something?

They never taught him this shit in Zhao’s ‘all-inclusive training’ but how to escape from a very large man should’ve definitely been on there, considering how frequent of a situation this seems to be for him.

So, he thinks logically about it instead. He can’t use his hands, so what does he have to use?

Feet.

He waits for the right moment, just as the man is pulling the bat away from his torso, and just hopes the guy holding him is as strong as he looks when he jumps, upper body strength put to the test when he kicks out a foot and knocks the bat flying out of the other man’s hand.

Then, Taehyung goes a little mad with power at having that work out and bends his back, lunging forward in an attempt to flip the man behind him over his shoulders but god, he’s heavy. His knees buckle, crashing face-first into the floor and under a very large amount of weight that squishes his cheek to the ground even as he finally moves his head.

As he turns, his eyes lock onto the bat that rolled only a metre or so away from him, still yet to be picked up with how hard its owner is laughing, doubled over as he points at them both a shaking finger.

“You’re the kid Leung’s betting his life on? Really?”

Taehyung wheezes, trying to shift his and the other man’s weight so his lungs aren’t being pressed up against his ribcage. He peels his hand out from underneath him, creeping towards the bat as he manages a, “Again, not by choice. It’s was more… desperation.”

“Yeah, I can tell,” he boasts back, smugness in his voice that sort of makes Taehyung just want to lie here and wither away. “Let me give you some advice, kid: you gotta be aware of your surroundings in situations like these,” he says as Taehyung’s hand slithers closer to the bat, completely out of his awareness. He could laugh. What pompous asshole—

“Ow, fuck!”

“Like that,” the man says with his hands triumphantly set on his hips, just resting his foot on Taehyung’s hand after brutally stamping on it.

At least it wasn’t the one with the brass knuckles on it. His fingers might’ve snapped.

“That’s a fresh wound!” he complains, his palm still very much open and burning from being rubbed against the wooden floor.

“That’ll be the least of your problems in a minute.” As he takes his foot off of him again, Taehyung is struck by a spike of sudden petty vengeance and he takes his injured hand and tugs on the guy’s pant leg as he’s unbalanced. He falls forward with a yelp and Taehyung hears his head smack cold off the wall before he’s a deadweight on top of them, completely winding Taehyung with the extra force again.

Silence falls over the room then and Taehyung thinks it might be a nice time to sleep, actually, his head swirling from a serious lack of oxygen until he hears Leung’s nasal tone calling, “Hey, Kim! You still haven’t finished your job!”

Do promises still apply when you’re dead?

Taehyung groans, opening his eyes again, figuring he doesn’t really want to take the chance of Leung haunting him in the spirit world, too, and, with a hell of a lot of effort and a few pops in his back that can’t be healthy, he crawls out of the pile two minutes later, reaching his knees with ragged breaths and his hands trying to press out the knot in his lower back.

“You know, Leung,” he says in between his violent coughs and wheezes, “I don’t think this was worth it.”

“Aw, come on. You’re having fun.”

Taehyung wobbles as he gets to his feet, but he completely stalls at that—eyes flitting to the older man with so much rage, that Leung’s mouth clamps completely shut at it. And that is not an easy task.

Taehyung reaches for the bat, waving it around a little as he waits for everything to stop spinning and when he sees the square-headed guy twitch, a grunt muffled in the floor before he raises his head, Taehyung tuts, moving to strike him across the face with the weapon. His head thumps against the floor again and Taehyung tosses the bat to the side of the room, hands quickly beating out some of the dirt and dry blood from his pants before he wipes his palms together with finality, quipping, “And that’s that.”

There’s a throat clear from the other end of the room. Taehyung glances at the woman still holding Leung by the collar, irate to say the least.

“Well?” he taunts, hands splayed flat to the ceiling. “Are you gonna take it or leave it?”

The woman’s fist curls in Leung’s shirt who chokes at the new pressure and she snarls… but drops him, the man tumbling to the ground with a melodramatic whine.

After what Taehyung just experienced? He’s not allowed to complain.

“You’ll regret this, Kim,” the woman promises, eyes narrowed and piercing on him. She speaks with her teeth ground together. “Four Suns are not to be fucked around with.”

Taehyung looks exaggeratedly over his shoulder, faking shock as he points and says, “Really? That was serious combat?” His neck aches as he does so but she doesn’t need to know that.

She hesitates for a moment longer, taking another look at Leung who recoils at her very attention, crawling a foot backwards on instinct.

Then, she stomps past him, stopping to eye Taehyung with a warning of, “You better watch your back, Kim. Four Suns won’t forget this—I can’t wait to watch Hua She crumble to the ground.”

She knocks into his shoulder, hard and barges past. Taehyung puts his hand on the wall to keep his balance and snickers, lightly.  “Yeah, you and me both, pal,” he mutters to himself.

He watches as she drags out the body of the cat-eyed woman and the rock-shaped man with their respective bleeding wounds, both concussed men trailing unsteadily behind them. Taehyung closes the door with satisfaction, nodding to himself before he watches it creep back open again and—

Right… he broke its mechanism last time.

He makes his way over to the man that caused all of this (sort of) and holds his hand out to him. “Alright, up and at’em, Tom—they’re gone.”

Leung takes it, pulling himself up with a pained whimper. He stands with his hands on his hips, recovering from the whole incident while Taehyung slips the brass-knuckles off his hand again. The other man has the gall to hold his open palm out, expectant, and the younger scoffs, blowing him off completely to say, “Yeah, no chance—these are mine, now.”

Leung huffs, but doesn’t look exactly surprised. He bluntly pats down a couple of tufts of his hair, jutting his chin out as he says, “Well, thank you, for actually saving my ass, Kim. I think I’m fine, now—they won’t come back for a while if they know I’ve got you on call—”

On call. Did he actually agree to do this indefinitely? Taehyung blames that on Hoseok’s peer pressure.

Truthfully, he wouldn’t mind doing it so much if he was gonna still be running jobs for Yoongi. It isn’t so hard to put off and delay whatever errands the older man gets him to do for him; but he can’t imagine Jeon’ll be so flexible.

Actually, an ‘advisor’ doesn’t sound very flexible at all. Or independent. Or anything like working for Yoongi.

Taehyung wonders how long it’ll last before he’s demoted again, like Yoongi predicts. His first instinct is ‘hopefully soon’ but then it dawns on him that, actually, he shouldn’t want that at all. That would be a step backwards in his ‘mission.’ He should be glad Jeon’s turned his sordid attention on him.

And yet… here he is.

“Ah, as much as I’d love to be your knight in shining armour, Tom—” the man’s posture sags, but a corner of his mouth still tips up in amusement, “I’m a busy man, now.”

Leung picks up on this with a quirk of his eyebrow, weight shifting to one hip as he echoes, “Now? You got an upgrade, Tae?”

Tae? The younger man screws his face up. He guesses he should’ve saw that one coming.

“Sort of,” he answers. “I got a…” promotion doesn’t quite seem like the right word, “temporary opportunity, let’s say.”

Leung snorts, both brows raised now as he jibes, “Top secret shit, huh?” Taehyung tips his chin up, a silent, prideful ‘yes’ and the older man chuckles. “Well, I guess I can’t argue with that.”

The moment feels like a period mark to the conversation, so Taehyung goes to grab his coat off the rail again, pulling it and his jacket back on and tucking the brass-knuckles into one of the pockets. He glances towards Leung again who’s picking up a frame that’d fallen off his desk in the midst of the fight, palm wiping off the dirt from the glass and it makes Taehyung stop for a moment.

Leung isn’t arguing against him anymore—actually, he seems quite content, like he knows he won’t get anywhere with it. If Taehyung hadn’t shown up he’s sure there’d be a little more carnage than a fallen over picture in here and he’s even more confident that whenever they come looking for their money again it’ll be tenfold.

He sighs to himself, hand lingering on the doorframe, and Leung looks up at the noise as if he hadn’t even noticed that Taehyung was still here.

“Look,” the younger man says shortly, fingertips tapping against the wooden frame, “I could get you some protection… for when those bastards decide to come back, yeah?”

Leung’s expression clouds, lips tweaked up, eyebrows raised an inch or two as he starts to reason, “I can’t afford that—”

“—I know,” Taehyung cuts him off, firmly. Leung blinks in response. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Then, the man’s wide eyes narrow, half-smile twisting. He juts out a hip, arms folded, prodding, “Why are you doing something nice, huh, Kim? You were beating the hell out of me a few weeks back.”

Taehyung scoffs, sharply, and shifts from one foot to the other, shoulder leaning up against the door, now, instead. “I’m a man of my word, okay?”

Leung laughs, in loud, mocking rounds. “I find that hard to believe,” he says, but the eased look pulled across his face says otherwise.

Taehyung stands straight again and, after a moment or two, Leung snaps his fingers at him, palm slapping against his forehead as he says, “I owe you a car, don’t I?”

Taehyung grins, head lolling to the side.

“That you do, Tom.”

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Hoseok practically jumps out of his seat when the door to the restaurant swings open. He fumbles with the cigarette in his hand, crushing it against the tiled floor with the heel of his shoe and frantically wafts the smoke in the air, as if it’ll take away the putrid scent of tobacco, too.

But, by the time Yoongi comes stomping in—alone—Hoseok knows there’s something wrong.

The man doesn’t even cuss him out for smoking in the kitchen. Something is wrong.

“Where’s Tae?” He asks, watching as the older man wanders restlessly around the kitchen. Organising and re-organising. It’s like he’s looking for something he knows he doesn’t even own.

“Leung’s,” Yoongi answers shortly, and Hoseok feels a little tension ease out of him, then (hopefully he’s picking up his car) only to have it smoothed over by confusion.

He stuffs the crumpled pack of cigarettes back into his shirt pocket and pushes his hair out of his face, leaning on his fists as he asks, “And… why?”

Yoongi’s hands rest on one of the counters, frustration tensing the muscles in his arms. “He’s chasing out Four Suns for him.” The words are short, sharp, clipped. Not unlike Yoongi when he’s pissed at him, but he’s not pissed at him right now. In fact, he’s not pissed.

The younger man actually gets to his feet this time, navigating over to Yoongi who doesn’t move, nor does he offer any further explanation so Hoseok just stands opposite of him, hands on the other side of the counter, staring him down. This isn’t about Leung, or Taehyung, or the Four Suns. Hoseok goes with his gut.

“What did Jeon do?”

The older man’s knuckles whiten, tightening against the island’s countertop. There’s a jump in his jaw, the clench of a muscle. He lets his shoulders unlock, breathing out slowly through his nose.

“Made Taehyung his advisor.”

Hoseok’s face crumples, puzzled. What the hell does Jeon need an advisor for? It’s not like he listens to anyone, anyway. He won’t listen to Taehyung, just like he won’t listen to his cousin, or his uncle, or Cha Kiyoung, or how he never listened to his father. Hoseok’s heard it all from Yoongi.

“You mean officially?” He asks, next, feeling like he’s missed a trick, a detail that’ll bring sense to the situation because something is still off, here. “Instead of workin’ with us?”

Yoongi nods his head like it’s packed with steel and it makes the younger man falter in his interrogation, again. Even despite the sketchiness of Jeon’s interest in Taehyung, Hoseok can’t picture Yoongi acting like… this over it.

“What else happened?” He prods, gently at first, but sometimes gentle doesn’t work with Yoongi. His lips are pressed together, thin and peachy in the wilting daylight of the afternoon. Hoseok taps the man’s arm with the back of his hand, tone harder when he snaps, , 정말 . I’m talkin’ to you, Yoongs.”

His chest constricts when he still doesn’t say anything, eyes glazed out, staring at the counter.

“Hey—”

“Jimin,” he says at last, the word quiet, as steady as it can be.

His voice still cracks.

Hoseok’s shoulders slump, a sombre ‘oh’ leaving his lips.

Yoongi’s so damn hard to comfort. Not because of who he is, but what he is to him. They’re complicated… but, at the same time he’s still his boss. Though their rank and age has never really alienated them before, he’s still Min Yoongi. He’s still this infamous, terrible, bloodthirsty gangster.

And here he is, broken up over a boy.

So, he caves, moving around the counter to sling his arm around the older man who’d never admit how he leans into the touch—would probably shove Hoseok away if he pointed it out—and he knows Yoongi doesn’t like to talk about it, but, still, he asks, “Did he say anything?”

The man laughs, bitterly, threatening to edge away from Hoseok’s touch but not enough to actually say he did. “No, Christ. He could barely look at me.”

Hoseok isn’t surprised, but he doesn’t say so, just hums quietly, keeping the words on his tongue.

“And Jeon?”

Yoongi’s aura shifts, morphing to something bitter, rancid—the way it always does with Jeongguk, these days. It’s hard to believe, sometimes.

Now, in a room together, a smile isn’t present unless it’s cruel and cold. Laughter never breaks out unless it’s in mockery.

“Smug,” Yoongi answers sharply. One word and he shakes Hoseok off of him, putting space between them. The younger frowns. “Fuckin’ smug as always. I know he did it just to get back at me for intruding on his little meeting with Tae.”

Yoongi sighs, leaning his weight against the counter. He puts his hands over his face, eyes fluttering closed and murmurs, “I dunno what’s wrong with him. Anything I did, he made sure he got me back for—so why…” Then, he drops his hands, palms smacking down onto the countertop to grunt, “Doesn’t matter.”

Hoseok parts his lips to argue (Yoongi doesn’t say shit if it doesn’t matter) but the man stops him, finger pointed. “Not now, it doesn’t. We need to talk about Taehyung. You can play psychologist with me later.”

“You’re never gonna let me do that,” Hoseok says dryly, and the older man merely shrugs. “But, I know… I love Tae, but I don’t think he knows who he’s dealing with.”

Hoseok should’ve knocked all of that cockiness out of him from day one. Taking missions without a second thought, taunting half of Hong Kong, flirting around with Jeon Jeongguk of all people.

Now, he’s gotten wrapped up in one of his stupid games.

“I’m gonna talk to Jeon as soon as possible,” Yoongi says, the kind of flat delivery of the words that tells Hoseok he’s not going to be able to talk him out of it his intention to do so, either. Those two need to meet from time to time—just to keep Hua She running smoothly—but there’s always another little pinprick to the tension between them both whenever they do.

Hoseok doesn’t want to find out what’ll happen if it ever bursts.

“You know you won’t stop him from doing anything.”

“No shit. But I’ll warn him about what I’ll do if he fucks that kid up, too.” Yoongi’s voice is even, slow, nearly mechanical, but the way he looks at Hoseok makes the hairs on the back of his neck raise. “I don’t know Taehyung that well, but I like him. And he matters to you, ‘Seok. I don’t want him getting hurt ‘cause of Jeon.”

Hoseok lets himself smile, fond and cheery as he tells him, “I appreciate that, Yoongs, but I’ll kill that cunt with my bare hands if he does.”

Yoongi snorts, throwing his head back in silent laughter—not that Hoseok's joking.

“Fuck,” he says after a moment, cocking his head to get a better look at the man next to him. “You really care for that kid, huh? Even after all that lost time between you two.”

Hoseok shrugs. If he’s honest, he’d never really even questioned it. Taehyung and him had naturally fallen back into their old ways. Things have changed, but not enough for it to feel unnatural or even foreign. He loves his friend like he had all those years ago, and he trusts him wholeheartedly, because there’s no reason for him to not.

He leans one hand onto the counter, tongue darting out to swirl across his bottom lip in thought.

“The years we were together outrank the time we were apart, I guess.”

Most memories Hoseok even has from before Hua She have Taehyung stuck in the middle of it somewhere, one way or another.

“Poetic,” Yoongi remarks shortly—perhaps a little teasing, even, but Hoseok doesn’t bother giving him a reaction. Yoongi tends not to linger on a point like that, and, by habit, neither does Hoseok. The older man clicks his tongue, slouching to let his lower back hit the counter as he tilts his head to glance up at the ceiling, mind already somewhere else. “I hate not knowing what Jeongguk’s planning,” he bluntly confesses.

Hoseok arches an eyebrow. Jeongguk’s plan doesn’t seem all that complicated to him, from the information Yoongi’s given him.

Unnecessary mentions of him, weird introduction (seriously who asks someone they just met to kneel?) unnecessary meeting, weird job offer.

Hoseok presses his teeth together, blowing out a short ‘psh’ of air before he quips, “Have you seen the way he was looking at him a few weeks ago? I think it’s pretty obvious.”

But Yoongi doesn’t seem to have quite the same level of amusement as the younger man does, tongue poking out in his cheek, silent for a second or two until he decides, “I think it’s more than that. This is all too complicated for just sex, y’know? You know Jeon, he would’ve just taken him out for dinner or something if that’s all he wanted.”

Hoseok hums in consideration. He’s definitely heard of a case or two like that before. Pretty people that’ve done some kind of decent job on something. Just enough to get them noticed—almost exactly like Taehyung.

Except, it didn’t go like it normally would for him. He understands why Yoongi’s suspicious.

If it isn’t that, then what does Jeon want with Taehyung?

He frowns, lip caught subconsciously between his teeth. He can feel Yoongi’s eyes boring into the side of his head, waiting for input but, instead, all Hoseok asks is, “Do you think Tae’ll fall for it?”

Yoongi glances away, disinterest floating across his gaze. He tends to fall into that when he doesn’t get what he’s looking for. It’s funny. He always criticises Jeongguk for the exact same thing. “That’s a you question,” he murmurs, “What do you think?”

Hoseok doesn’t even really know what he was asking, himself. Fall for the lie that he’s important? That he’s actually got a proper job to do?

Fall for Jeon?

Taehyung’s never been the romantic type, nor has he ever been gullible. Bright, when he was younger—seemed a little impressionable, but it was the kind of thing he always used to his advantage; to get out of all types of trouble when he needed to.

Taehyung came out to him when he was fourteen, lying on the porch outside Hoseok’s front door on a long summer evening. The boy raised his head off of the wooden floor, tugging out the lollipop stuck in his mouth with a sweet pop and said, “Hey, Hobi, I think I’m gay,” and that was that.

But romance was never something he concerned himself with as a kid—and, from the stories the man’s told him since he’s been back, it doesn’t sound as if he’s set on it, these days, either.

As for believing that Jeongguk’s ‘advisor’ means anything good never mind important, he can already see Taehyung rolling his eyes.

He’s a smart kid, is what Hoseok is saying. Overconfident, likes to play with fire—but smart.

“I think he’ll do what Jeongguk wants him to do—he doesn’t have a choice with that…” he says, letting his focus drift off from his friend to wander around the empty kitchen while he thinks. “But Taehyung doesn’t buy bullshit very easily.”

“Jeongguk isn’t an idiot, either,” Yoongi reminds him, “Manipulating people is what he does.”

Hoseok nods along, knowing Yoongi is all too 'au fait' with the fact but, regardless he assures him, “Tae’ll only do what he has to.”

“It isn’t about what he does for him,” the man says sharply—without much thought, even. Hoseok’s attention latches back onto him. “Taehyung can fuck around with Jeongguk seven days a week for all I care—but, like you said, he doesn't know who he's telling with; if he starts to think he actually matters to him then he’s in trouble.” There’s a cold, regretful twist to his lips, eyes unfocused when he takes them off the younger man. “Nothing matters to Jeongguk,” he mutters, like he half doesn’t expect Hoseok to hear the words at all. “He’s a monster.”

Hoseok falls silent for a moment. The topic of one man is always a volatile thing to bring up to the other; like navigating your way across a minefield, blindfolded. Yoongi’s bitter and although it’s not without good reason, he can get carried away, just like he’s heard of Jeongguk being known to do.

Both men wear tinted glasses and act like the other is the only one that can’t see things as they are. Hoseok doesn’t bother trying to change that. He knows he’ll never get through to either them (wouldn’t even dare to try with Jeongguk.) Some things can’t be fixed by a third party.

“You really believe it’d be that bad?” he asks, but he already knows Yoongi’s answer.

The man looks at him wordlessly, seconds dragging on by. Then, he nods, expression sombre, without an inch of amusement in the words as he tells him, “I wish I could say no, Hoseok. But I can’t.” Yoongi sighs, pushing himself away from the counter. He readjusts his jacket, fingers working on tugging down the cuffs at his wrists. His eyes flit up to the younger man, heavy, sharp—dark irises thick with severity. “We’re not just talking heartbreak here. If Taehyung gets too comfortable and steps wrong… Jeongguk could kill him.”

And, tinted glasses or not, Hoseok doesn’t think Yoongi’s wrong about that.

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Taehyung’s half sitting on his kitchen table, not quite trusting it to support his full weight, with a cheap porcelain mug in his hand that’s stained with something that definitely isn’t coffee while he watches the clock on the opposite wall crawl by with wonkily clicking seconds.

He woke up forty-five minutes ago, body too used to the early mornings that Yoongi forced on him to sleep any longer than past eleven AM.

He took a stone-cold shower, put on the nicest clothes Hoseok gave him and picked the mould off of the last slice of bread in his cupboard for breakfast since he’d just been scrounging off of Yoongi these last few weeks and hadn’t thought to pick up actual fresh food at any point.

Now, he’s just killing time, burning his tongue with flavourless coffee that’s been expired for a month and waiting around for Jeongguk’s promised chauffeur to show up.

In that time, he gets to thinking. For one, he realises he should probably call Zhao pretty soon, lest the man get impatient (which would certainly be out of character.)

It feels like more of a chore than anything else, updating the force. He kind of figured this from the start but, lately, it’s become apparent to Taehyung that he doesn’t care about the FBI, he doesn’t care about the legal system—and he certainly doesn’t care about how America is affected by Hua She’s actions in Hong Kong. Not to say he truly cares about the gang either, but at least Zhao isn’t involved in it.

Although, if he had to choose between Zhao and Jeon… it’d be kind of a tough choice. One’s an ugly, bitter asshole and the other’s a hot, entitled asshole (the most dangerous kind.)

He wonders where Jeongguk’s arranging for him to be taken to today. He’d be lying if the secrecy of it all didn’t make him a touch tenser than he should be. For all he knows, Jeongguk’s on to him. He could be taking him to that warehouse Zhao was talking about—the one none of their past undercovers have come back out of. Or, he could just be planning to get rid of him neatly. Bust his kneecaps, tie him up and throw him into the nearest body of water.

Taehyung’s riding on a feeling, here. A certain kind of trust that he’ll be fine—and that in itself is absurd; all Hoseok and Yoongi had been talking to him last night about was how he is not to trust Jeon Jeongguk. Not even a little, tiny, tiny bit.

And, objectively, he doesn’t. There’s nothing about him so far that even gives Taehyung the reason to.

But he does have to trust he isn’t going to murder him today. It’s not like he can get out of it, after all.

If he refused, then Taehyung might have less of a reason to trust him.

He’s jolted out of his thoughts when he hears a knocking against the thin wood of his door, a gruff voice he doesn’t recognise calling out, “Mr Kim, I’m here to collect you by Master Jeon’s request.”

Taehyung tips his mug into the sink, informing the waiting man that he’ll be out in a moment as the brown liquid streams down to the plug hole in a long, sludgy line. He sets it back on the counter and moves towards the door, grabbing his coat hooked onto the rack beside the entrance and pulling it on over the thin satin blue of his shirt.

Enough speculating, it’s time to go find out what Jeon really wants.

 

His hotel isn’t so far away. Hell, Taehyung could probably walk if he had to. He’s barely even thought about what he’s going to say when he gets through the doors. Jeongguk hasn’t given him any instructions, hasn’t even contacted him this morning just to let him know this is still happening.

Last time, Yoongi had taken care of it; not many people in Hong Kong don’t know Min Yoongi’s face, so he’d done little more than look at the receptionist before she’d rang for Kiyoung to come greet them.

The car pulls to a stop outside the entrance and the chauffeur gets out to open his door. Few words had been exchanged between them during the journey since, after a few clipped answers to his customary questions, he got the feeling that Jeon doesn’t allow his staff to talk to people with more status than them. Maybe gangsters in general. Maybe Taehyung.

He nods at the man anyway, thanking him for his service, and he nods in response, responding, “You’re welcome, sir.” Then, their attentions divert from each other, splitting off like loose thread, and Taehyung wraps his coat around him that much tighter as he ascends to the building’s entrance. There’s a stiff breeze pulling through the lot that rubs against his cheeks and plays with his hair and, by the time he meets the doormen guarding the grand double doors, spotlighted with crystallised glass and polished gold, his reflection is indisputably dishevelled.

Both men tense when Taehyung approaches, faces hardening, as if he hadn’t just seen them yesterday.

The left one, an old man with greying hair and a wrinkled face by the name of Harvey, he remembers—looks him up and down, chest puffing out.

“Back so soon?” he asks him inquisitively, the gaze that he watches him with steadfast and sharp. “That’s unusual.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes, glancing behind the man’s shoulder to see the buzz of life running around within the hotel lobby. Yesterday, the place seemed almost deserted, only staff walking around–but today, it seems quite the opposite.

“Get used to it,” Taehyung tells him. He huddles down into his coat a little further, shuddering out a chilled breath before snappily adding, “Now, can you let me in? It’s freezing out here.”

The significantly younger man on the right, Sungsoo, snorts, muttering, “Tell us about it, kid.” His eyes land on Taehyung just as he grimaces at the nickname (seriously, he can’t be any more than five years older than him.) Sungsoo’s head cocks slightly behind the upturned collar of his uniform’s jacket. “What are you here for, anyway?”

Taehyung pauses, jaw clenched together, instinctively. Why the hell does he have to explain himself to these two idiots?

“I’m workin’ for Jeon,” he says dismissively, moving to step between both men as he growls, “now get out of my way–”

“Didn’t you already work for him?” Harvey points out, the tone of his voice slow and annoying—he thinks he just caught him .

Is it too late to quit? Can he just go back to making eyes at the guy across the room?

“Yeah,” Sungsoo, pipes up, “Like, being in Hua She and all.”

Taehyung snorts. Jesus Christ, these two. “Intelligent observation. But I mean directly.” He can sense a tinge of panic between them, then, glancing towards each other with dilating pupils and a greying complexion. “Jeon asked me to be here for twelve PM and it’s now—” he raises his arm, coat sleeve bunching up to reveal his watch and fakes a wince, sucking a breath through teeth “—twelve-0- two.”

There’s a moment of silence, only the wind tearing across the nearby streets causing any kind of chaos. Sungsoo looks at Harvey, almost imploringly with his widened eyes and shaky expression, the down-curl of his lips. The older man swallows, looks away from his companion to glare at Taehyung again, like he’s trying to weigh the likelihood of this up in his mind. Taehyung blinks, prettily, at him, almost fluttering his eyelashes and juts out his bottom lip just subtly enough to make it seem natural.

Harvey sighs.

“Fine, go on in… but we’ll be checking up on that. If you’re lying, you’ll be out of the building before you can even see Jeon.”

“Yeah, we don’t let conmen in here! Or liars, or traitors!”

Taehyung bites the inside of his cheek, trying not to let the amusement show on his face.

But come on.

Not that Taehyung’s done a whole lot of lying or conning or betrayal, yet. He swears if it wasn’t Zhao he was dealing with, that whole front would’ve been activated a lot sooner; but something about the man half makes Taehyung want to fuck up this whole operation.

At the end of the day, both men he’s dealing with are bad in their own rights, aren’t they? Sure, Jeon kills and robs and threatens… but Zhao—there’s something off about that man, besides him just being a giant asshole. Or, maybe he just hates Taehyung to an irrational degree.

Either way, the doormen finally step aside, and Taehyung is unfathomably grateful for the blast of heat that swarms him once he gets in through the door. Back in LA the winters had barely fazed him but now that he’s back home they seem so much colder.

Maybe he’s just got more of that Hong Kong blood still in him than he’d thought.

The interior is just as grandiose as he thought it was, yesterday, and he half expects Jeon to be appearing at the steps again, doused in red, a look in his eyes that says he’s out to kill.

It’s just as he’s glancing around the slews of guests, checking in and waiting around with bags and calling dozens of people on the phone when he hears his name being called by a voice he doesn’t pleasantly recognise.

Taehyung glances over his shoulders, just in time to see that smarmy little jerk from the previous morning waltzing over to him, something cold and bitter in his face despite the over-the-top greeting.

Taehyung swallows down his annoyance, and slaps a smile onto his face, greeting, “Mr Cha, good to see you again, so soon.” The man comes to a stop in front of him, navy blue suit squeezing him in all the wrong places, hair slicked back with enough grease to supply a whole fast food chain. He looks like a gangster alright, but not the kind he would imagine fits into Jeon’s world. The poised, the perfect…

Cha Kiyoung is an anomaly, it seems. Even Park Jimin had come off as neat and expensive in the few tension-filled moments he’d met him in.

There’s something about that, too. It seems like Yoongi had all kinds of secrets.

Taehyung had already figured as much by the slip of the tongue Hoseok had had a few weeks back, saying they had some kind of connection, but the weirdness between Yoongi and Jimin yesterday… well, it’s quite clear now that whatever it was ended badly.

Does he need to pry? Not necessarily. He can’t imagine the FBI would be able to do too much with two members having a little fall out that Jeongguk isn’t involved in. But Taehyung’s only human, he can’t stave his curiosity.

If he can’t coax it out of Yoongi, he’ll milk it out of Hoseok.

Kiyoung gives him a curt nod, muttering, “Yes, yes, welcome back, Kim.” He stuffs his hands into the tight pockets of his dress pants, the outline of his bulky rings poking through the material and begins to turn, even before he’s finished saying, “Master Jeon is in his suite. Let’s not keep him waiting.”

There’s an edge to his neutral expression, a stiffness to it that, with his straight stance and kilt of his hips, seems a little arrogant, a little haughty.

A little ‘I’m too important to be talking to you, so let’s not drag it out.’

Taehyung’s smile slides off his face when Kiyoung turns his back and, softly, he clicks his tongue.

Pompous asshole.

Taehyung picks up a few of the guests’ attention as he matches the older man’s deliberate strides across the lobby, likely wondering who’s important enough to warrant Cha’s escort. Of course, they could be staring at the both of them—but Taehyung finds it hard to believe anyone would willingly stare at Cha Kiyoung for longer than they had to, if he’s honest. Though he’s still not wildly unattractive in person, the man just has a… repulsive sort of energy about him—pungent enough to be noticeable even at the first glance.

He smirks to himself, glancing at the unsuspecting elder’s rough profile. It goes back to what him and Zhao were talking about, that day on the jet. There’s just something about the man that feels off, untrustworthy. Something even Jeon’s supposedly picked up on—but, if he was his father’s right-hand before him, then, surely there’s more to it than that. If he grew up seeing that man’s face around, then there must have been something to set him off.

But, no doubt Kiyoung won’t tell him anything. He seems to already hate his guts a little bit—and Taehyung hasn’t even had the chance to push his buttons, yet.

He doesn’t know what to expect from Jeongguk’s suite when they arrive. Lavish is the first thing that springs to mind, excessive the next. When they step out of the elevator, the doors smoothly sliding open, Kiyoung’s hands finally fall out of his pockets and he leads Taehyung across the corridor, without a word.

Taehyung’s eyes drift upwards as they come to a halt, reading along the shining plaque that hangs over the double doors.

JJK.

Simple, bordering on subtle. Not nearly as gaudy as the Jeons’ reputations. Taehyung quirks an eyebrow up at it, and glances towards Kiyoung whose fist raps against the door, a flippant swing to his wrist and a sluggishness to the knocks that suggests he doesn’t want to do it at all.

Within the suite, there’s a long, heavy drawl of “Come in,"  the words popping in the quiet and Taehyung feels his blood fizzle as the doors push open at Kiyoung’s touch.

The suite opens in all directions, a second story to the impromptu living room that acts as an indoor balcony, the entire room enclosed in glass from all sides. The walls and floors are dressed in a combination of spotless white marble and a warm brown wood that seems to match the rest of the hotel. The theme of red running through it, the needless luxury—it all fits together sweetly. But what doesn’t match the rest of the hotel is the walls surrounding the other end of the living room, covered in glass and exposing an area that looks like Beverly Hills or Hollywood, rather than Hong Kong. A rooftop garden, thriving with greenery and a pool that swallows a whole section of it, alongside well-kept grass and a wood flooring similar to the kind laid inside.

And, right in the centre of the living room, lined up perfectly in Taehyung’s line of sight, is the man waiting for him.

Jeongguk is never not breathtaking at first glance, it seems, because, though Taehyung feels as if he’s seen him a thousand times by now, the sight of the younger man leaning into the rich scarlet upholstery of his settee, eyes smoky and hooded, still holds him for a moment or two.

Unfortunately for Jeongguk, though, his looks are soon overridden once again by his mouth.

“Kim… you’re late.”

Taehyung tries not to grimace, keeping his hands politely behind his back as Kiyoung splits off further into the open-plan living area. He doesn’t sit by Jeongguk. In fact, he seems to take the furthest seat away from him that he can, settling into an armchair in the corner of the room.

By default, Jeongguk’s attention, stretched out like an elastic band, snaps back to Taehyung, waiting for him to respond.

Except how the fuck is he even supposed to respond to that?

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir,” Taehyung says, rather flatly. Jeongguk’s lips quirk up, quietly, looking at him with an unusual trickle of delight, like he’s watching an animal perform in a circus. His expression is cold, mostly—critical, even—propped up against his hand with a sense of elegance about it, but his gaze is red-hot. “Your doormen wouldn’t let me in.”

At that, Jeongguk’s demeanour changes. His chin lifts slightly, brow raising up to brush the loose strands of his hair. “Ah,” he says, bluntly, “Is that so?” He peers at Kiyoung who sits inanimate in his chair, arms folded across his chest and straining the shiny material of his jacket. “Make sure that doesn’t happen again, Cha.”

“Yessir,” Kiyoung mutters in response, words slurred into a mope that makes Taehyung’s attention linger on him for a moment. He would’ve expected Jeon’s right-hand to have the sense to at least pretend to be enthusiastic about working for him—especially in front of company.

And it looks like Jeongguk expected that, too. The distaste is clear on his face, dragging down his features to something stony, almost immovable. Cha tries to puff out his chest, but he just seems to end up deflating, somehow.

Then, the exchange disappears completely.

Jeongguk’s eyes dart to Taehyung, intrigue dancing in the twirl of his irises. He pats the large space beside him, the empty cushion of the sofa, light taps echoing the motion. “Come, sit with me, Taehyung,” he murmurs, not breaking their starelock for a second.

Taehyung unfolds his hands from behind his back, moving to weave around the dark stone coffee table, completely void of any decoration. In fact, most of the room seems like it’s been stripped down: the walls mostly bare, with the occasional printed painting or generic stock-photograph, the surfaces uncluttered. Even his bookshelf, running along the entire length of one of the walls seems untouched, impersonal—a bunch of titles stuffed in it he couldn’t ever imagine Jeongguk picking up.

The man must catch him staring as he sits down beside him. He hums, softly, following Taehyung’s line of sight before he confirms, “My father’s collection. How he ever had time to read so much is beyond me.” He lingers on the spot for a moment longer before he fixes his gaze to the rings adorning his fingers, adjusting the thick metal. A silver snake coiled around one finger, the others a mix of detailed patterns and textures. “I haven’t had the chance to move it out of here, yet.”

Taehyung lifts his gaze from the man’s rings, to his face. Foggy, is all he can glean from the expression.

“I’m sure you’re a very busy man, sir.”

Jeongguk nods, slowly, letting go of his own hand. Taehyung half expects him to throw his other arm around the back of the sofa—any other teenage boy’s attempt at flirting—but he doesn’t. His arms stay by his side. “But that’s what I want you for, Kim. So I can load off some of that tension somewhere.”

Taehyung stops.

Is that a euphemism or is he serious?

God, he can’t even tell. He lets his head dip, telling him, “Yes, sir. I’ll do what I can,” and when he raises it again, amusement is splayed out across Jeongguk’s face for an instant. No longer than a second until it melts off again.

“I’m sure you will, Kim. Now—”

A muted crash interrupts him, echoing along the walls above them and Jeongguk stops, brows furrowing as he looks to the second story. A few seconds later, Jimin storms in, hands slapping down on the glass railing as he growls, “Jeon, that damn fucking snake of yours just—”

The man cuts himself off, face falling as his eyes land on Taehyung sitting motionlessly beside his boss. He raises a fist to his mouth, other hand clenching around the silver banister of the railing as he breathes out a quiet, “Oh.”

Taehyung looks to Jeongguk, who’s yet to react. His posture is as unaffected as it had been, fingers brushing absentmindedly along his lips, as if he’s trying to pick how to respond.

So… things with his closest-and-most-trusted-bodyguard aren’t as peachy as Jeon would have everyone believe, it seems.

Taehyung catches a glimpse of Kiyoung, tucked in the corner of the room like he doesn’t want any part of this—but there’s a whole abundance of mirth clasped behind the hand he’s leaning on, eyes trained on Jeongguk as if he’s watching a ticking time-bomb.

“What’s the problem, Jimin?”

The man shifts on his feet.

“The… study. Papers, sir.”

Taehyung doesn’t know if that made any sense to anyone else, because it definitely didn’t to him, but Jeongguk rises to his feet, anyway.

“Taehyung,” the younger says without sparing him a glance, “Have you eaten yet? I’m sure Jimin  would be gracious enough to show you to the kitchen.”

Taehyung mutters an agreement, still glancing back and forth between both men, frozen in the moment. It’s slightly unsettling, whatever this whole ordeal even is but, before he even has a chance to think much more about it, the younger man himself has disappeared, crossing the living room to climb up the steps to the second story.

Kiyoung snorts at the altercation, by Taehyung’s side now as the two of them stand like idiots watching Jeongguk pass the other man on the landing. Jimin unfreezes, leaning off the railing again without a single word leaving either of their lips.

He slowly starts down the steps, looking as if he’s in a slight daze himself until Kiyoung pipes up, snarking, “I always knew that big mouth of yours would get you in trouble, one day, Park.”

Jimin’s eyes narrow, a sheen sparking up by his pupils. He lets a huff of laughter pass his lips, tongue licking around his teeth, cagily, as he approaches the other man. “Then heed your own damn warning and shut yours, Cha.”

He pushes past him, knocking their shoulders harshly. Kiyoung growls and, a few steps later, Jimin half-turns, just commanding attention as his glare shifts over to Taehyung.

Even his frown is front-cover-worthy. He clicks his tongue, blonde hair parted prince-like along his forehead, coral lips puckered at him. If it wasn’t for what just happened, he wouldn’t understand how Jeon ever kept his hands off of him.

Now, he doubts Jimin even lets him get anywhere close.

“Come on, Kim,” the man says flatly, “I’m supposed to feed you, by order of the royal court.”

Kiyoung’s chuckle rattles into the air again. “I’m sure Jeon would love to hear that one.”

“Yeah? I’m sure he’d love to hear how you called him a spoilt brat for the hundredth time to all your ass-kissers yesterday, as well.”

Kiyoung’s amusement slides off of his face then. His posture straightens into something more defensive, shoulders back and hands wedged into his pockets. He’s silent for a moment, halted in the archway of the kitchen. Then, he scoffs.

“I’ve got shit to do. Tell Master Jeon to call if he needs me.”

Jimin unfolds his arms, uncocking his hip as he watches Kiyoung leave without another word.

Then, he seems to remember about Taehyung, again. For a second, the younger man thinks he’s going to comment on everything that’s happened in the last two minutes, apologise for it, break the ice or something.

But he doesn’t do any of that.

Instead, Jimin just rolls his eyes, striding further into the kitchen. “Okay, what d’you want?” he asks, folding up the sleeves of his sweater, a black turtleneck that clings to his toned figure. “Can’t promise it’ll be any good, but if you’ve been eating at Min’s place every morning then, well…” his words trail off, sounding as if he doesn’t know where to go with them.

“You cook?” Taehyung asks, head tilting subconsciously as he watches Jimin navigate his way through Jeongguk’s kitchen with the kind of practised elegance that suggests he does it often.

The man hums, grabbing a pan from the rack and setting it on the dark granite worktop with a small clatter. After a second or two, Taehyung realises he isn’t actually going to elaborate on that. So, he joins him by the matte coal-grey island separating the appliances from the dining table, stretching across the rest of the room, enough to seat ten people—but given the condition of the area, he gets the feeling that Jeon isn’t hosting too many dinner parties.

Jimin raids through the fridge, the words muffled slightly when he asks, “What’d you eat back in America? Eggs… bacon?”

“Never really had time for breakfast,” Taehyung answers, dismissively, “—you don’t have to make me anything, I already ate.”

Jimin pauses, head poking out of the fridge. He looks kind of funny—angrily backlit in its blue-ish glow. But, after a few seconds of silence, he closes the refrigerator again, moving to put the pan back onto its rack, too, a little languid in the motions as if he’s hesitating.

Taehyung decides not to mention that what he ‘ate’ was mouldy bread. He’d rather not have Jeon’s bodyguard cooking for him first day on the job. It’s too much.

“Well, do you want tea or coffee?” Jimin asks, quickly adding, “Master Jeon’ll be expecting some, anyway.”

“Coffee’s fine.”

It’s bound to be better than his own, at least.

Jimin chuckles to himself, moving to the sink to gather some water into the pitcher. “Good answer. Now, I don’t have to make both. You take sugar, milk?”

“Milk, yes, little bit of sugar.”

He brews it in a few minutes, sliding Taehyung over a mug with a much nicer form than the ones he has back in his apartment. No cracks, thick porcelain, a cute little monochromatic design running up along the sides. He lets the heat lick into his palms for a moment before taking a sip, the bittersweet tang of expensive coffee grounds expanding as soon as he swallows.

Taehyung watches Jimin prepare his cup, sliding it closer to the wall, before he turns back to the third one, filling it with milk until it turns a pale beige and dropping more than a couple of spoonfuls of sugar in. He stirs it leisurely before tossing the spoon into the sink and taking his own mug.

Taehyung decides not to comment on how Jeon seems to like his coffee. ‘Childlike’ is what pops into his head, but he doesn’t think Jimin would bother humouring him, given how the man’s not even bothering to look at him, right now, spaced out and staring across the room, instead.

Unfortunately for both of them, though, Taehyung kind of needs to squeeze information out of anyone important to Hua She’s operations that he can.

“So,” he starts, words skimming over the rim of his mug, “How long have you been Master Jeon’s bodyguard?” He already knows the answer, of course—but this is just a starter, something to get things going.

Except, Jimin just takes a sip of his coffee, completely silent as he lowers the cup again and pops his lips, gaze set rather warningly on Taehyung. “Pretty long,” is all he says.

The man is kind of unnerving, the way he feels like he’s staring holes right through Taehyung’s face right now. But, the younger tries his best to not let it show, sitting up straighter in his seat as he says, “Right… I worked for a guy back in LA for three years, but nothing like this. More of another set of hands for him, y’know? Errand boy.” He takes a drink as the other man stays taciturn, no longer even moving to raise his own cup. “Definitely not an advisor. He wouldn’t listen to a thing I say. You ever worked for someone like that? Totally infuriating.”

Jimin keeps an eerily straight face as he sets his cup down on the worktop beside him. The sound rings out in the room. He tucks his hands into the pockets of his black and white checked slacks, balancing his hip against the counter and his voice is so low, the words barely sound like anything other than a buzz. “What you and I do, Taehyung,” he says, slowly, articulating each each syllable, “is very different. You don’t need to know me, I don’t need to know you. Therefore, you can stop asking questions, now.”

A shiver runs over Taehyung. His jaw sets, teeth lightly grinding against each other.

Christ, this guy’s a brick wall.

But Taehyung shrugs it off, feeding an airy sort of nonchalance into his demeanour and he’s about to take another drink before he pauses, telling him, “Suit yourself—I just like to get to know the people I work with.”

Jimin quirks an eyebrow, the fragment of a laugh falling past his lips. He grabs his cup again, turning away from Taehyung to walk to the sink. “Yeah, well, you’re not the newest counsellor at summer camp, Kim,” he says dryly, tap shooting out water with a gush, “—we don’t need to know each other’s blood type.”

Taehyung laughs around his mug, the sound captured in the porcelain before he downs the last of the coffee, too. He slides off the stool, holding the cup with the tips of his fingers as he saunters over to Jimin.

The man peers at him, brows furrowed, but takes his mug without offering, washing it out as well as Taehyung leans one hand on the black matte surface of the sink, inches away from the other man. He tilts his head towards him.

“And what if I want to get to know you, Park?” he murmurs, eyes testingly hooded as Jimin looks up at him. There’s a complexity that runs across his features, something frantic that burns to a crisp in seconds. A wildfire. Taehyung can feel the heat of his breath ghosting over his skin, the way his eyelids flutter once, twice.

But, then, Jimin scoffs in his face, letting the cups hit the bottom of the sink with a clunk. He backs away from Taehyung, harshly, snatching a towel from the counter. “Too bad,” he mutters, shortly, rigorously drying his hands.

Jimin throws the towel back, and Taehyung rattles with laughter again. Mostly to dispel the odd atmosphere of being shut down twice in under a minute, but there’s genuine amusement in it, too. A little bit of surprise at how professionally he’s handling all of this.

Or, how much he genuinely dislikes Taehyung, already, maybe.

“Fine, fine…” the younger tells him breezily, stepping away to return to his seat, again. Jimin unrolls the sleeves of his sweater, gaze still piercing into the other man like he’s deciding whether he’ll have to kick his ass or not.

He doesn’t. Not yet at least.

And, just moments later, Taehyung hears footsteps behind him, but it’s Jimin’s “Your coffee’s here, sir,” that makes him turn around to look over his shoulder. Jeongguk’s standing in the archway, hand on the wall and an expression on his face that Taehyung reckons should be underneath a cartoon thundercloud. He walks past him, catching his eye with a glint that could mean anything at all. He takes the cup from the counter, the room remaining in a strange, heady silence as he drinks.

Jeongguk looks just slightly sweaty, a tint redder than he had been earlier. His top few buttons are undone, jacket wrinkled and, honestly, Taehyung wants to know what the hell he was doing upstairs.

Something about a snake, Jimin said? Someone in the gang—or is it someone leaking information from the outside? He’d made it sound as if it had something to do with Jeongguk, though, something he set up. Maybe it’s someone gathering information for Hua She, instead.

“We need to replace the desk lamp in the study, Jimin,” Jeongguk says flatly, right before he takes a long sip of his coffee. It’s probably lukewarm by now but, if it is, the man shows no sign of disgust at it, eyes set lethargically on his bodyguard.

Jimin looks as if he wants to say something, lips parting—but he ultimately just nods his head, saying, “I’ll get someone on that right away, sir.”

A beat passes.

“But if you wouldn’t let him roam about all the time, this wouldn’t happen.”

Taehyung’s brows shoot up, looking between the two of them, dubiously.

A guy just broke a lamp? He questions but, after a second, Taehyung looks back to Jeongguk—the dishevelled appearance, almost laboured.

Did Jeongguk break a lamp over this guy? Did they kidnap him for information? Neither would surprise him. Is that why he invited Taehyung here?

But then, Jeongguk huffs, holding his cup precariously in his hand as he mutters, “You can’t lock a Black Mamba in a tank, Jimin. It’s a predator. It can’t live in glass as big as its goddamn body.”

Taehyung stops, this information processing in his head.

A snake… they’re talking about an actual snake.

Jesus Christ, he owns a snake?

Jimin groans, a rebuttal likely on his tongue when his eyes flitter to Taehyung, who’s been sitting perhaps too quietly for the past minute or so. The man falters, then, exasperation simmering back down to light annoyance, as he addresses his boss again, telling him, “I’ll get the lamp replaced, sir. Is there anything else you need me to do?”

Jeongguk hums, fingers tapping against his mug, eyes circling around the room as he thinks. He turns his head to Taehyung and, suddenly, the curiosity changes. His frown hardens, gaze flicking up and down. He purses his lips and the older man swallows.

“Taehyung needs a better wardrobe.”

His face drops and he hears Jimin splutter laughter into his hand across the room. Jeongguk glances down at his pants, expression entirely unamused and Taehyung follows it, wiggling his foot around to get a better look at his absurdly exposed ankles. He drops the extremity again with a thump against the chair’s metal foot-rest and meet’s Jeon’s eyes, alive—almost mischievous.

“I’m borrowing clothes from Jung Hoseok, sir. I’m slightly taller than him.”

Jeongguk licks his bottom lip, edge of his mouth quirking up. “I can see that.” He sets his mug down and pushes away from the counter he’d settled against. The soles of his shoes clip neatly against the hard floor as he wanders closer to Taehyung, the fingers of one hand trailing beside him along the worktop as he says, “And, Jung can look as stupid as he likes, chasing brain-dead gangsters around his little square in Mongkok but you...

He pauses in front of him, Taehyung’s chair spun to the side. Jeongguk’s hand creeps a little further, until he’s only a few inches away; the kind of proximity where brains are put on red-alert, trying to trigger a fight-or-flight response to get some kind of reaction to the huge presence invading its space.

“You have to look good, Kim Taehyung,” the man tells him, quietly. He smirks, a tiny, practically invisible twitch at one corner of his lips. “Because you are mine.”

The words punch into his gut, one by one and all he can note in the moment is that Jeongguk smells oddly sweet. It’s something rich, a touch of vanilla,maybe—wrapped in the pungent grip of sandalwood. Absurdly intoxicating. Borderline sickening. It’s all Taehyung can smell.

He doesn’t know how a man can make a simple conversation turn so theatrical—or how he can sound so fucking stupid and, yet, absurdly hot at the same time.

But, the way Taehyung sees it, he has two goals: keep the FBI happy by getting close to Jeon and don’t let himself be fooled by him. Both very doable, even together. There’s no reason he can’t have some fun with it, too.

Taehyung isn’t sure if he’s meant to back down or show how he can keep up, right now.

But he knows what Jeongguk wants him to say.

“Yes, sir.”

Jeon grins at the words, of course. He stands up straight, taking himself out of Taehyung’s space and reaches into his pocket, pulling out a sleek black-case smartphone that, after a few simple taps, he’s putting to his ear.

Taehyung glances to Jimin, who looks remarkably bored for whatever just went down. He doesn’t look back at him , though. His gaze is focused on Jeongguk, completely idle, motionless—like someone’s flicked his power off.

“Get one of the cars ready,” Jeongguk says, impatiently, adding, “Chauffeur, too—I don’t care what model…” A second passes, murmuring coming through the other line, and the man sighs, pressing his fingertips against the bridge of his nose. “Something nice, then. Whatever.”

Jeongguk ends the call, tucking the device back into his pocket. He glances at Taehyung, lips raising, silently—an air of intent swirling around him.

“Alright, Kim. Let me show you how a real man treats his employees.”

Taehyung bites down the urge to scoff at him.

“Yes, sir.”

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

“I’ll need to take your measurements, if that’s alright with you, Mr Kim.”

Taehyung snaps his attention away from the watches, catching the light in one of the glass display cases. Honestly, he’s never gotten the point of blowing money on something like that. Thousands of dollars, some idiots pay, for a thing their goddamn phone can do just as fast.

He’s been loitering around the store for a couple of minutes now while Jeon talks to the employees. He seems to be entirely familiar with the situation, calling all the staff by name and rhyming off brands and fits and styles to them like it’s second nature. Taehyung kind of expected all of that shit to be done for him—maybe he had a personal stylist or something—but apparently he was wrong about that.

Jimin’s stood by the door, enough distance between Jeon to not bother him (or the other way about, perhaps) and close enough to Taehyung that he can keep a good eye on him. Jimin’s been watching him like a hawk ever since they left the suite. Even on the car ride over here, he was making calls with his eyes glued to him—as if he’d be dumb enough to try something, alone with two men like that.

He guesses Zhao wasn’t wrong about Jimin being intelligent—but there’s no way he’s suspicious already. He comes across as a kind of untrusting person in general, he thinks.

At the voice, Taehyung looks up, and the woman that approaches him is tall and spritely, cheeks rosed with a natural blush that doesn’t fail to compliment how confidently she stands in front of him; her shoulders back and head proudly upwards, a gentle smile on her lips. Taehyung raises an eyebrow, glancing the lady up and down. She’s very beautiful, no doubt, though she seems to carry herself like she knows that: shoulders back, chin up. He lets himself smile ever so slightly, too, replying, “No problem, ma’am.”

The woman chuckles softly, eyelids glittered in a peach shimmer. “Follow me, then.” She turns on the spot, long black hair sweeping in gentle curls down her back and Taehyung lets out a half-amused snort, walking briskly after her as she pushes open a beautiful thick velvet curtain with a sign alongside it that says ‘fitting rooms.’

Taehyung’s never been fitted for anything before, so when he follows through the curtains, he isn’t entirely sure what she expects of him next, the woman wordlessly approaching a desk overloaded with different kinds of needles and threads, with tape measures and chalk and fabric, all neatly organised into unwritten sections.

Taehyung takes in the rest of the room’s interior too, no less neat and organised or luxurious as the rest of the store. He raises his head, looking above him to the high, ornate ceilings, carved and accentuated in golds and blues, eyes tracing the patterns on their own.

Excessive, he thinks. Definitely seems like somewhere Jeon would favour.

“Mr Kim,” the woman calls out, sifting through a multitude of different tape measures. She shows no sign of awkwardness when she continues, “If you could remove your shirt, pants and shoes, that would be great, thank you,”  her face and tone even as she looks back down at her tools.

Taehyung’s never been the shy type, so he doesn’t hesitate, fingers working on his shirt and pants pretty easily. He kicks off his shoes, shimmies out of his ill-fitted pants, and slips off his shirt, letting the garments drop to the floor with a light thud. The woman glances up at the noise and snorts, quietly, before she grabs what she needs and makes her way to the stand in the middle of the room, where Taehyung had the common sense to migrate to.

The process, though long, isn’t mind-numbing. He learns that the lady’s name is Michelle and that she’s been tailoring for the Jeon family for a large portion of her career—that’s all she touches on with that. Taehyung tells her he’s just back from America and that Jeon happened to take notice of him—and that’s all he touches on with that.

They fall kind of silent after that, passing back and forth the odd comment as they come, and, about ten minutes into the measuring, Michelle holding a tape measure across the width of Taehyung’s shoulders with a solid frown she says, “How do you feel about suspenders?”

Taehyung half-shrugs, the woman’s hands on him making the gesture sort of difficult. He doesn’t think about clothes at all, really, and he tells her as much. She hums, eyes flitting to the discarded pieces on the floor as she says, “It shows.” And, before Taehyung can even argue, she’s backing away, telling him, “Wait right here, I think I’ve got a nice little get-up for you.”

He figures it can’t be any worse than Hoseok’s hand-me-downs, so Taehyung just watches the woman strut out of the room, the eyelets jingling against the pole as she pushes the curtain back. He hopes they can wrap this up soon—he’s starting to get kind of chilled, just standing around in boxers and a cheap undershirt. And it’s just as that thought crosses his mind that he hears the curtain draw back for a moment again.

Except, it’s not Michelle that strolls in.

Of course, it’s not.

“Oh, Master Jeon—”

Taehyung doesn’t know whether he should bother trying to cover himself up or not, arms awkwardly folding across his chest—but Jeongguk doesn’t look too taken aback. His gaze is steady and set on Taehyung’s face, not even crawling down his body like he would’ve bet they would, given the opportunity.

Jeongguk rests his hands on his waist, pushing back the tails of his jacket, and silently prowls further into the room. He glances around, eyebrows furrowed. “Where did Michelle go?”

“She stepped out to get something, sir.”

Suspenders, apparently.

“Is that right?” he asks, hips cocking with each slow step he takes. “Well, I’ve got a meeting scheduled with Kim Namjoon in two hours. No doubt, he’ll be giving me more problems to sort out—but I’ll handle them myself this time around, so I can drop you off wherever you’d like.” Jeongguk glances down at the table Michelle had wheeled over earlier, holding her notepad with Taehyung’s measurements taken down along with the tape she’d been using.

Jeongguk picks the measuring tape up in his hands, unravelling it in front of him as if he’s scanning it for something. Then, his focus shifts back to Taehyung, muttering, “I’ve been to a hundred of these fittings. Never understand why they take so damn long…” he holds the strip up to Taehyung’s waist, eyes flitting down to it instead as he loops it around him, hands warm as they lightly brush against the thin cotton of Taehyung’s undershirt.

Taehyung tries to keep a straight face as he works, but he’s been ever so slightly thrown off by this. He clears his throat, saying, “I’m not sure I can afford somewhere like this, sir. It seems...” he pauses, not wanting to call it overpriced, though, judging by what he’d seen in the main part of the store earlier, it definitely is. “Expensive,” he decides on.

He’s pretty sure Jeon’ll pay for all of it—but just in case. He can’t afford to borrow money off of Yoongi anymore. The guy’s obviously never heard of a friendly discount considering that he charges more interest than a loan shark.

Jeongguk snorts as he pinches the tape together, reading off the measurement. “I know, Kim.” He scribbles it down in Michelle’s notes before unravelling the item from around Taehyung’s waist. “Unlike Min, I’ll pay you what you deserve. I know you’re new to this, but I think you’ll adjust quickly when you see all of the benefits.” Jeongguk nudges one of his arms, getting him to raise them both as he starts to measure his chest, too, while Taehyung ignores the sly dig at Yoongi, figuring both men have a habit for it.

“Benefits, sir?” He questions, and the younger man hums as he works.

“I’ll cover anything bought, today. In fact, I’ll give you anything you want, Taehyung, as long as you remain worth it. You have to work hard, but from what I’ve heard, you’re rather good at that. Even if you were just clearing away Min’s headaches.” He writes down the next measurement, and moves behind him. “Drop your arms,” he orders. Taehyung lets them fall by his sides as Jeongguk’s hands come to rest on his shoulders to pull the tape measure between them. “In a way, you’ll be doing something similar for me. But I don’t need you running off anywhere, Kim. I just need that brain of yours to fix my headaches.”

Taehyung can feel Jeongguk’s breath, hot against the nape of his neck, minorly distracting from his words—but he can still pick out bullshit when he hears it: acting as if making him follow him around all day and sort out his problems is something Taehyung should be undyingly grateful for.

He didn’t mind clearing away Yoongi’s headaches. It was easy, even a little fun sometimes if he managed to rope Hoseok into it. But being ordered around down to every last detail day-in day-out? It’s certainly not something he’s looking forward too.

But, a job’s a job—and he needs this one to do his actual job.

Suddenly, the curtain is drawn back again and Michelle’s face sparks up a way of confusion, lips curling downwards while her footsteps falter. She’s got a dark grey suit in her arms, a pair of black loafers settled on top which she gingerly sets down on the large desk beside her.

“Ah,” she says, politely, “Thank you for helping me, Master Jeon. I’ll take over from—”

“No need,” Jeongguk says, backing away from Taehyung to walk around him again. He drops the measuring tape back on the table, stooping down to scribble another number down onto the page and tells her, “That was the last one. Please send Taehyung to me once you’re finished.” And, without another word, he leaves, throwing back the curtain with a clang against the railing.

Michelle lets out a deep breath, but doesn’t comment on it. He gets the feeling Jeongguk pulls this kind of shit often.

She gestures towards the clothes she brought, saying, “You can put these on, now. They won’t be completely perfect, of course, not until we have things tailored for you according to your measurements—but it should be a good fit,” and, then, she walks over to wheel the table back, taking her notepad and her tape measure and reading over the numbers, silently.

Clearly trying to estimate whether Jeongguk did it right or not, judging by the way she seems to focus towards the end of the page.

Taehyung steps down from the stand and goes to pick up the new suit left for him. Michelle looks up when he comes near and closes her notebook with a relieved smile. “Seems like we’re done here, Mr Kim. Your old clothes will be sent to your home along with the new ones. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll let you get dressed in privacy.”

Taehyung nods, abidingly, and the woman leaves the room, too, letting Taehyung have the first bought of solitude since leaving his apartment this morning. He unfolds the clothes, picking out the plain white shirt first of all to finally somewhat protect him against the chill in the open room.

He gets dressed without any further disturbance, finding that the outfit fits as well as Michelle had said it would. He wanders over to the large mirror, taking up half of one of the room’s walls, and admires the tinge of originality that the suit has.

As foretold, there’s black suspenders, patterned with grey lines to match the suit holding onto the waistband of his pants, a stony grey that clings to his hips and fans out, angled at the pockets, before fitting down the rest of his leg—and, even better, only showing a tasteful amount of ankle between the hemline and his loafers. It looks good with his hair—now that it’s reduced down to just a silver tint, practically blonde again.

Taehyung pops a button at the top, not having to worry about a tie, and decides not to keep Jeongguk waiting any longer after being late this morning.

He’s directed to one of the back rooms by a small-voiced lady who seems too afraid to look him in the eye, telling him, “Master Jeon is in there, Mr Kim,” and, with no sign of Jimin, it’s safe to assume he’s waiting with him. Taehyung pushes open the door to the room, unveiling a whole new part of the store, covered in glass displays with sparkling jewellery that Taehyung assumes is only on offer to certain people.

He watches the grin that surfaces on Jeongguk’s face when he enters the room, silently evaluating the suit from the velvet sofa perched at the edge of the room for waiting men like himself.

As Taehyung comes closer, he locates Jimin whose focus is located out one of the windows, instead, clearly disinterested—but Jeongguk just smiles even more. He licks his bottom lip.

“Much better, Kim,” he concludes, “Much better, indeed.”

Taehyung nods, relaxing into his stance as he sticks his hands into his pockets. “Thank you, sir.”

Jeongguk’s lips quirk again and, then, he’s rising to his feet. He gestures around the room, palm flat and says, “You can pick out anything you want, here. Watches, necklaces, rings. You have your ears pierced, don’t you, Kim?” Taehyung nods again and Jeongguk approaches one of the vertical cases standing around the room. He taps his finger against the glass, pointing out a silver pair of drop earrings, encrusted with a single sapphire at the bottom, framed in a larger silver triangle.  “I think these would suit you.”

Taehyung isn’t that hung up on jewellery, either, really. He buys his cheap so it’s no big deal when he’s bored of it, but, still he tilts his head, looking at them with faux-intrigue just to keep the other man happy before he decides, “They’re stunning, sir.”

“Exactly.”

Taehyung looks at Jeongguk with mild surprise, watching the man’s unfurling simper, the cant of his hips as he leans against the display.

He has to admit, he wasn’t expecting that. Taehyung laughs, unsure how to react. He tucks a lock of his hair behind his ear and watches how Jeongguk stares a little longer.

But, then, he moves again, aimlessly taking a few more steps closer, telling him, “As I said, Taehyung, I like to take care of the people that deserve it. There’s a lot of changes going on in Hua She right now. Changes that might be a catalyst for worse if I’m not careful.” Jeongguk circles him like a shark, hand reaching out to brush along Taehyung’s shoulder blades as he walks by. “That’s why I value loyalty. In times like this, it’s the loyal people that keep things from going under.”

Jeongguk stops. His hand rests on Taehyung’s shoulder as he stands beside him and he leans in, lets his mouth just hover by his ear to mutter, “You’re a loyal man, aren’t you, Kim?”

Taehyung’s heart skips a beat. Alarm bells start going off somewhere deep, deep in his head. He resists the urge to swallow, willing away the sudden spike of his nerves.

“I like to think so, sir,” he answers steadily. Jeongguk pulls away, hand lingering on his shoulder for a moment before it drops by his side again.

“Well, I like to know so,” he replies, easily. He takes a step back, crossing his arms as he watches Taehyung with a piercing gaze. He speaks slowly, tone low, severe. “There’s no room in Hua She for disloyalty. There’s places where that sort of thing festers, like cockroaches… but I won’t have it in my gang. I’m putting a lot of trust in you as my advisor. I expect you to return that with your loyalty. Unwavering, you understand?”

Taehyung tries to gauge whether Jeongguk’s saying this on a whim, or whether something’s tipped him off to Taehyung’s case. If Jimin mentioned it after Taehyung kept asking him questions—but Jeongguk’s expression is completely unreadable. Intense, but clouded.

So, he just nods, telling him, “I do, sir.”

Jeongguk remains silent, and he passes Taehyung again, returning to the edge of the room where he’d started as he says, “But, you’re an advisor, not a bodyguard. I acknowledge that. I don’t expect you to be leaping at any man that poses the slightest threat as proof of your loyalty… but, having said that… my life takes priority over yours. I recommend you keep that in mind.”

You will die for me, if I need you to.

Taehyung almost laughs to himself. He truly can’t imagine a universe where he’d even consider dying for Jeon Jeongguk.

The man settles back into the velvet sofa, crossing a leg over the other. He looks as if he’s getting comfortable. Taehyung isn’t sure why that unsettles him more than anything else.

“You can fight, can’t you, Kim?”

There’s a long pause.

“Yes, sir, I can.”

Jeongguk smiles, content. He relaxes himself a little further, saying, “Let me see.” Then, he turns to the man on the other side of the room, calling, “Jimin?”

Taehyung looks between them both, Jimin practically re-animating after sitting in silence for so long. He finally stops looking out of the window, sleeves rolled up again like they had been earlier and Taehyung realises with dread that he was waiting ... that Jeongguk planned this.

But when? Before he’d even come in to the fitting room? Did Jimin really tip him off, after all?

What the hell does he want?

Jimin doesn’t stop walking towards him, and Jeongguk makes no move to stop him, either, hand supporting his chin with an eagerness to him that makes Taehyung feel as if he’s been played, just a bit.

But, he hasn’t got time to whine about that—not if he wants to keep himself intact by the end of this—so, he tugs off his jacket, throwing it to the side of the room and gets into some kind of vaguely fighting stance, fists held up in front of him like he might’ve seen in a movie once or twice because Jimin looks like he’s not playing around, gaze formidable and practically soulless on him.

And then, he suddenly jumps forward, his foot coming straight for Taehyung’s head, who only narrowly misses it, heart skipping a beat as he falls back against one of the display cabinets behind him, the hinges of its door squeaking with his weight.

He doesn’t even realise his mouth is hanging open until he watches the smirk curling up on Jimin’s lips, standing beautifully composed before him like he knows exactly what he’s doing and that is alarming because Taehyung? He had a couple of rough-around-the-edges lessons on basic survival fighting from some guys that didn’t really want to teach a criminal how to kick someone’s ass.

While Jimin, on the other hand, Taehyung gets the feeling could’ve taught them.

Taehyung ducks when he watches him go for another kick, yelping slightly as Jimin’s foot crashes right through the cabinet. The glass rains down on Taehyung in pathetic little shards and he holds his arms over his head in a meager attempt to protect himself.

He’s just glad it wasn’t his head.

Taehyung soon comes to the conclusion that he’s going to have to act a little quicker than he would with usual thugs—given that Jimin seems ready to kill and, even worse, seems able to actually do it— so, the moment he sees his foot raise again, Taehyung holds his hands up. The force of the blow shudders right down to his fucking elbows, the rough soles of Jimin’s shoes scratching up against the healing wounds on Taehyung’s hands.

He really can’t catch a break.

Taehyung grimaces, trying to push against him when, suddenly, Jimin pulls his foot towards himself and Taehyung lands on his stomach, hands burning as the older man forces his foot down on the back of them, now, instead. He scrambles to pry his fingers out from underneath him, head running through a thousand jumbled cusses a second with the hot pain shooting up his nerves.

His fingers slip out and, before Taehyung can even figure out where to go from there he’s tumbling onto his side, a few moments in the aftermath where he can’t even figure out what happened—that is, until a blooming ache starts to surface along his face and “Christ, do you do anything but kick?”

Truthfully, it’s a question Taehyung wishes he hadn’t asked because, as soon as he recovers from the swirling in his vision, his right ear still buzzing, he’s pulled up to his feet roughly by his shirt and thrown against the adjacent cabinet. His head smacks against the glass so hard he can feel it in his teeth and, when he comes to, he only has a second to react to the fist flying his way.

Taehyung brings his arms up, crossed over to block his face and rattles with the force against the cabinet when the punch lands. There’s a moment of surprise on Jimin’s face and Taehyung’s well aware that he has to take the undoubtedly limited chance. He throws a punch of his own, connecting the blow to his stomach and Jimin lets out a gasp, air rushing out of his lungs as he stumbles back half a step, hand holding his stomach.

Across the room, Taehyung hears Jeongguk chuckle, darkly, a low whistle from his lips, all too amused at this and, well, he can’t say that isn’t annoying.

Taehyung half wonders how he fairs in a fight.

He goes to hit again but Jimin is faster this time, blocking the punch with his arm over his face. He kicks at Taehyung’s knee, which buckles under the tension but Taehyung grabs onto Jimin’s sweater to bring him with him, the two teetering to the right before Jimin shakes him loose.

He moves back, re-affirming his stance and Taehyung tries to slow his breathing a little, popping another button around his collar to loosen up a bit. Jimin snorts, eyes flicking but doesn’t comment on it—the judgement in his gaze pungent enough as it is.

Taehyung jolts forward, reaching for the man’s shoulders. He shoves Jimin backwards, following it up quickly with a punch that almost turns him around. Jimin grunts, the back of his hand brushing over the mark as he half-looks over his shoulder at Taehyung and, before he even knows it, Jimin has spun around and slammed his foot into his ribs, sending Taehyung flying back and crashing to the carpeted floor, the friction scuffing up against his forearms.

Somehow, that sticks out more than anything else, right now. That shit burns .

Still, he manages to get to his feet again, using the display table filled with expensive watches beside him as a crutch and he manages to stay composed for all of two seconds before he’s jerking back out of the range of Jimin’s foot heading his way again.

The older man assaults him with a series of punches and kicks, spinning and jumping his way into them one after another as Taehyung just barely evades each, stumbling and ducking and dodging in the last second until he hits a wall, back thudding against the hollow structure while Jimin prowls predatorily towards him.

Then, his foot is flying towards him again and Taehyung barely even thinks when he ducks, sliding down the wall as, overhead, a repeat of earlier occurs, Jimin’s foot striking open the wall, whose plaster crumbles into dust around Taehyung.

The younger scrambles away, pulling himself up again and expects another attack coming his way, when he sees Jimin with his foot still in the wall, tugging on it with quiet grunts as if it’s—Taehyung pauses, a slow grin winding onto his face.

Stuck.

He acts fast, heel kicking out Jimin’s other ankle on the floor. He groans out a swear, teeth gritted together at his legs splitting as he struggles to keep his balance to save himself from breaking something.

Would… would Jeon be mad if he broke his best bodyguard’s leg?

Well, it’s his bones or Jimin’s, he guesses.

Taehyung moves again, putting his weight into it when he brings his elbow down on Jimin’s arched back and almost as soon as the full cry of pain shoots out of his mouth, the man is tearing down the rest of the plaster in the wall out of desperate force. The structure’s marked with a long vertical line of chipped paint and broken wood and, while Jimin re-composes himself, Taehyung tries to figure out how the fuck he just did that.

Is he fighting a cyborg? Christ. Jeon must feel safe in this guy’s hands. He’s starting to feel like they could film a Terminator reboot with this, witnessing Jimin recover again and again—can he even die?

Not that Taehyung’s trying to kill him. Jimin would be dead by now if he was.

For sure.

As Jimin comes towards him again, Taehyung mirrors him, arm pulling back to swing at his head. Jimin catches it in his palm, pushing back against him before he’s shoving his elbow forcefully into his bruised stomach. The worst part is, he knows Leung would be loving this if he could see it—taste of his own medicine and all that.

Is that what this is? A punishment from the heavens? God, his mom always told him he’d be judged for his sins one day (though she was much more verbose about it) but Taehyung didn’t expect to regret it like this.

And then, like he never would’ve expected but probably should’ve by now, Jimin takes his other arm and wings it around Taehyung’s leg before he throws him over his shoulder with a sudden heave.

Taehyung hears the glass of the second display table cracking before he even feels himself hitting it, but, a beat later, his back aches, prickling with shards of glass and the metal frame of the table. A wave of nausea rushes over him, staring up at the ceiling and somehow, within the midst of all that, he’s wondering how much damage they’re causing to the store. Jeon’ll pay them off, no doubt, but wow, he’d definitely be banned by now if it wasn’t for his family name.

Coming around, he sees Jimin start to move again and the adrenaline kicks back in, rolling off the table just as the man goes to land another blow. Unsteady on his feet, he keeps a hand on the table, watching the irritation building in Jimin’s demeanour, as if he wants nothing more than to just get this over with. Beat him to a pulp and move on. Poor guy.

He lets out a vague chuckle, and Jimin quirks an eyebrow at it, not even bothering to chase him around the table yet but just letting Taehyung talk. A brief interlude for both of them, though the other man doesn’t look like he needs it that much. A bead of sweat on his forehead is the only tell that he’s been doing anything at all.

Taehyung, though, he needs a minute. If he can just… stall… catch his breath back, try not to get thrown across the room again.

“Well trained, aren’t you, Park?” Taehyung takes a step back as he talks. Jimin’s eyes snap to his movements, more dubious as the interaction goes on. “Academy? Secret Club? Overly intensive initiation for Hua She? What’s the deal?”

The man frowns, stalking closer to him again. “What did I say about questions, Kim?” Taehyung still feels his head spinning as he artlessly manoeuvres around to the other side of the table. He just hopes Jimin doesn’t notice.

“Don’t?” He guesses.

“Exactly.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes. “Just humour me, Park—Russian spy? Abandoned at birth and raised in a Martial Arts school?”

Jimin’s upper lip twitches, eyes dark. He glances to Jeongguk who’s hiding a smirk behind his hand.  The younger shrugs his shoulders at him and Jimin turns back to Taehyung with a frown.

“I used to do ballet when I was a kid, but the class shut down and my teacher recommended Taekwondo as an alternative—then, I just expanded my range growing up.”

Taehyung raises his eyebrows, laughing airily as he notes, “Wow, okay—not at all what I expected. Weird alternative.” Jimin purses his lips, a few metres from him again. Taehyung grins, starting to feel his head clear out again, breathing back to normal.

“Let me try some of that—”

He twists, throwing his foot in the air like how he’d seen Jimin do so earlier and shoots up with pride for all of two seconds until Jimin suddenly ducks, sweeping his own leg out to kick Taehyung to the ground for what must be the hundredth time by now. His back groans.

Jimin raises to his feet again, triumph gloating in his eyes when he says, “Don’t tell your opponent what you’re going to do,” the ‘you fucking idiot’ following after well-implied.

“Right,” he replies. In an instant, Taehyung jumps to his feet in a surge of new energy, immediately smacking his fist against the side of the man’s head who recoils an inch, surprise washing over his features. Taehyung knows to follow it up, aiming a kick to his thigh—but Jimin brings his knee up to block, catching Taehyung’s arm in his hands this time when he goes to punch again.

Next thing Taehyung knows, he’s being swung around like he’s back in middle school before Jimin sticks out his leg to make him trip on it, sending him sliding over one of the broken tables, knocking the rings and necklaces all over the floor. He dangles over the other side of it before pushing himself to tumble the rest of the way, landing with a thump on the floor.

He hears Jeongguk laughing at him, an evil little giggle that both suits and completely contradicts him.

Struggling to his feet again, Taehyung leans both arms on the table, feeling the blood run down his face and every bone and muscle he has ache.

He’s done. Fuck, can he just be done?

“Are you done?” Jimin asks, less condescending about it and much closer to being bored. His eyes are hooded, lightly dabbing his bleeding bottom lip with his fingertip as if it’s all just a minor nuisance.

Taehyung grits his teeth, standing up straight again as he growls, “Nope.”

Jeongguk’s expression flashes into something else at that, eyes set on Taehyung with that unreadable half smile again.

Jimin rolls his eyes, but doesn’t make a move, clearly waiting for Taehyung to come to him.

So, he does, treading over to the other man with maybe a quarter of the grace and drive he might’ve had at the start and, after a moment of motionlessness between them both, Taehyung wills all of his last shreds of determination into this hit, swinging as hard as he can.

His fist curves beautifully off of Jimin’s face, who splutters, a haziness in his eyes when he looks back at him. Taehyung oozes with confidence, goes to strike him again—

Except Jimin catches his hand again like he’s fending off a child. He knees him in the stomach and Taehyung’s almost dry-heaving, body desperate to curl up into a ball at this point when, in a gloriously flowing chain of events, Jimin follows that up by elbowing him directly in the nose, the stuffiness of the blow mingling disorientatingly with its sharp pain. He grabs his arm not a second later and twirls underneath it, hiking it over his shoulder before flipping Taehyung onto his back again like it’s nothing. Like he’s not almost a head taller than him.

Taehyung whines, writhing about on the floor with a choking pain sprawling across his shoulder blades. He almost tries to get up again, but his legs ache in protest, shaking as soon as he tries. He lets out a weak breath and feels the tension in his body flooding out when he collapses against the floor.

Jimin makes a move towards him again and Taehyung almost shrieks before Jeongguk’s warning, “Okay, okay… don’t kill him, Jimin…”

The older man huffs, continuing over to Taehyung before he holds out a hand to him and grumbles, “I’m helping him up.”

Okay, not what Taehyung expected.

But, he takes Jimin’s help, anyway (he’s not that prideful) and is glad he did because the guy practically has to lift him from the floor to get him on his feet again. He pats his back before walking away from him again and Taehyung winces, feeling a piece of glass stabbing him underneath his shirt.

Right. He got his ass kicked but, on the bright side, he didn’t get anything stuck in his bullet wound that’s still on the path to healing, and his already-damaged hands are only a little worse than they were.

All of that for fucking nothing, too. At least his other injuries felt like a small price to pay—one for his life and the other for Leung’s.

But that? That was all for… what? Jeon’s entertainment? Does he get that bored? Taehyung in no way expected the kid to be nice, but even that’s overdoing it. They aren’t gladiators for fuck’s sake.

“It’s alright, Taehyung,” Jeongguk says pitifully, the words somehow ominous as he adds, “you’ll learn.”

Well, so much for not having to fight much. 

He nods his head and feels his neck creak at it, hand going to rub the knot in the back of it with a frown.

Damn, there was definitely some passive aggression in how Jimin was throwing him around like a rag doll.

Coming to think of it, that isn’t really passive.

Jeongguk glances at his watch. “There’s still an hour before I have to meet Namjoon—Jimin, will you be joining us or should I make arrangements for security?”

Jimin wipes the drop of blood left trickling from his lip on the back of his hand, standing confident and oddly poised for what just happened. “I’ll meet you there, sir,” he answers briskly, using the reflection of the cracked casing next to him to inattentively fix his appearance. “There’s a woman from the council that asked to meet your cousin for lunch and he requested I go with him.”

Jeongguk scoffs, leaning his weight against the arm of the couch with the kind of grace that suggests he expected as much. “Let me guess,” he says, sourly, “Seokjin’s dug up every secret they’ve ever had in preparation?”

Jimin drops his hands to land with finality by his sides, gaze skipping back to his boss again in an odd sense of amusement.

“I don’t doubt it.”

Jeongguk just grimaces.

“In that case… Taehyung—” he calls, two fingers settled underneath his bottom lip. He tilts his head, contemplative, and Taehyung feels as if he can see the cogs turning.

His attention pulls away from the dull throbbing in the back of his head and the blood pooling and dripping from a superficial wound across his forehead. Jeongguk frowns a little more, watching the man dab his undoubtedly expensive shirt sleeve against it (as if he wasn’t indirectly the cause.)

“I have some more files back in the suite that I meant to give you in preparation for tomorrow,” he says, smoothly—systematic, practised like a formality, but the way his fingers keeps trailing underneath his bottom lip, how his mouth curls upwards when he knows the older man’s watching says otherwise.  

Taehyung settles his jacket to hang off his shoulders instead of putting it on, cocking his hip with his hands stuffed in his pocket—waiting for it. Whatever it is.

“Come back with me and I’ll give you them before I send you home.”

His eyes are abrasively alive, body so casual in contrast. His index finger slides over his lip. Intent, intent, intent. It’s not hard to tell what he’s thinking right now. Taehyung can pick out bedroom eyes when he sees them. But is that because Jeongguk wants him to know? Or does he think he’s being subtle?

Jimin’s emotion is flat, pressed to the dull look on his face. Taehyung would bet he’s been caught up on the sidelines of this too many times to count, by now.

If Taehyung sleeps with Jeongguk now the man might kick him to the curb tomorrow morning—kick him right back down the steep, steep steps of the hierarchy. Go back to being ‘Min’s bitch’ after one day.

And then he’d have to tell Zhao. That he failed after one day.

He stiffens at the thought. He can not let that happen.

Taehyung doesn’t exactly laugh as he accepts Jeongguk’s invite, but he can’t help but grin slightly watching all that naivety thrum through him. The way he stands, firm and smug like he’s gotten the older man right where he wants him. Like he’s already won.

Jeon Jeongguk has more growing up to do than he thought, it seems.

Maybe the revelation came to him while he was getting beaten to a pulp—maybe it’s the almost certain irreversible damage done to his brain talking… but he’s got an idea that it might be wiser now for Taehyung to show Jeongguk that he needs him first. That this ‘advisor’ of his is useful in more ways than he’d like to admit. Giving Jeongguk what he wants isn’t the way to go; he’s used to that.

First, he has to make him desperate for something he didn’t even know he wanted. Something he thinks he doesn’t, even. And then… no matter what happens he’s secured his place. From there, anything goes.

And the way to do all that? Taehyung has no idea—but maybe a good place to start is through that little touch of naivety.

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Their movements echo throughout the apartment, Jeongguk immediately hanging his coat on the rack as he makes for the minibar like clockwork.

He sets two glasses down just as Taehyung’s hung up his coat and is stepping into the living area, already pulling out a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet behind the bar.

“Can I get you a drink, Taehyung?” He asks, the clear crystal sparkling in his hands. Expensive, no doubt. And it’s not hard to figure out what he’s hoping his answer will be when the mouth of the bottle edges over the glass’ rim.

Taehyung smiles, softly, mutters, “I’d like that, sir.” Knows Jeongguk likes the sound of it the way his lip quirks as he pours the drinks out.

He leaves the bottle on the counter, both drinks in hand as he gestures to his hovering guest. “Please, make yourself comfortable, Kim.” Taehyung sits back down onto the same sofa from earlier as Jeongguk hands him a glass, the younger man leaning over slightly to reach for the files laid across the coffee table, telling him, “This is all the information you’ll need.” He hands them to Taehyung, who thanks him and rests the documents in his lap, watching as the other man settles down beside the elder, angled slightly to face him. Their knees knock. Jeongguk takes a drink and licks the gloss from his bottom lip.

Taehyung glances at the top folder, a washed-out mahogany labelled ‘Lo Wai Yi.’ He’d noticed it written on the other file, too. A woman? Or is it some kind of cover-up name for something? Some kind of operation. He fingers the corner, contemplating opening it when Jeongguk speaks.

“No need to look at it now,” he says shortly, nudging his hand away from the cover. “You can relax.”

Taehyung had been anticipating that.

He lets Jeongguk take the files, setting them back on the table and immediately downs the remainder of the whiskey in his hand without so much as a grimace. Jeongguk sets the empty glass beside the files, and turns his attention back to Taehyung.

“Not a fan?” He questions, nodding to the untouched drink still held in Taehyung’s hand. “I should’ve asked.”

Taehyung absentmindedly taps a finger against the glass, the sound ringing quietly. A little release of tension, the restlessness festering in the air. He hums. “Not totally. Yoongi likes it, though, so I guess I’m accustomed.”

He takes a swig, the liquid sliding down his throat with a harsh burn as he watches the momentary clench of Jeongguk’s jaw—practically invisible, as if it’s reflexive. But the man relaxes again to take the half-finished drink out of Taehyung’s hand when he silently offers it.

Jeongguk swirls it, eyes trained on the bronze licking up the sides of the glass as he mutters, “You call Min rather informally for a subordinate of his,” offhandedly, as if the thought barely crossed his mind.

Taehyung pauses for a moment, trying to figure out what he’s getting at here. “He insisted, sir,” he answers, evenly.

Sort of.

Jeongguk snorts, lips pursed.

“Well—” he starts, knocking back the rest of Taehyung’s whiskey as well (seriously, this kid could’ve been one hell of a college student) before he leans over to set the empty glass on the table again with a resonating thud. “I’m not like Min.”

Taehyung gives a wry smile, chin settled on the knuckles of one hand.

“Of course not, sir.”

Jeongguk sits back against the couch again, an inch closer to the older man this time. He glances at the time on his watch, finger languidly tugging up the sleeve of his blazer to show off its glittering face before he makes a soft noise in the back of his throat—one that doesn’t really say anything at all. He looks back up to Taehyung, arm crooked to rest against the back of the sofa, leaning his cheek against his fist. Taehyung would probably think Jeongguk was bored, looking at the droop of his eyelids, if it wasn’t for how impatiently his fingers are tapping against the side of his thigh.

“You’ll get a better insight of all of this tomorrow,” he says matter-of-factly. He speaks evenly, quick—as if the words he’s saying don’t really matter to him. “I’m sure today felt slow to you.”

Taehyung bites back a scoff. Did he forget the part where he got his bodyguard to kick his ass? Not exactly his idea of a nine-to-five.

But, suddenly, he’s rinsed of the thought entirely when Jeongguk reaches out, hand brushing down the lapel of Taehyung’s jacket. He tenses underneath his touch. Jeongguk’s stare is easy, still leaning against his other hand, unfocused, as if the movement is subconscious.

“I knew this would look good on you,” he murmurs, “that place never disappoints.”

Taehyung waits for something else. His hand to dip lower, slip behind the jacket, push something off. His jaw is clenched. He shouldn’t let this go any further—but he hasn’t moved yet.

And, then, Jeongguk’s eyes skirt up to meet his, eclectic, practically boundless. His thumb rests on Taehyung’s shirt, moving in small, barely even noticeable circles.

“Do you know that, Taehyung? That you look good?”

A shiver runs up Taehyung’s spine, unsure of whether he even wants an answer to that. Jeongguk’s games are starting to seem more complicated as time goes on. He parts his lips, just about to say anything, when the apartment door glides open.

Taehyung turns just to watch as Kiyoung strides in, a trickle of mischief underlining the apology in his gaze.

“Sir,”  he begins, over-emphatically, a grimy shake to his head, “so sorry to interrupt—”

Jeongguk presses his lips together, hand clenched around the back of the sofa, snapping, “You always do, Kiyoung.” He drops his hand from Taehyung’s chest, slithering its way back into his own lap. Kiyoung smiles, the lines of his mouth stretched and tight, like he’s trying to keep in a rebuttal.

“Well, sir,” he continues, already backing up across the living room a step or two, “Kim Namjoon just called to request that you meet with him now, instead. Something else came up that can’t be rescheduled.” He stands stiffly, close to the door. It’s not out of fear, he doesn’t think. Taehyung isn’t quite sure Kiyoung is afraid of Jeongguk. It seems more likely that he just… doesn’t want to be around him. Maybe he’s eager to get back to whatever he’d been up to before he came here.

Jeongguk is silent for a moment, eyes locked across the room. But, then, he snaps out of it, his arm slipping from resting on the sofa. A grumble emerges from his throat before he begrudgingly gets to his feet and says, “Very well, then.”

He picks up the files from the table, handing them back to Taehyung. “I’d like you to read these files tonight. Someone in the lobby will arrange a chauffeur for you for now—but I’ll pick you up at your apartment tomorrow evening. Say, around eight PM?” Jeongguk takes both glasses from the table too, dangling from one hand as he pulls out his phone with the other, giving a dismissive mumble of, “See you then,” as he moves towards the bar again.

Taehyung takes that as his blunt farewell and adjusts to grip the files in both hands, replying “Yes, sir. See you tomorrow.” He begins to move out of the living area before he decides to add, “And, thank you for the clothes.”

Jeongguk looks up from where he’s leaning over the bar, phone held intently in his hand. He nods.

Taehyung takes it as a win—rather thankful for the interruption after all because he felt like he’d started to lose sight of his prove-himself-useful-first plan for a moment there, the more Jeongguk was talking.

He passes Kiyoung and when he catches a glimpse of the man’s curled up features, disgust lingering in the crevices, he garners a wicked smile and utters, “Work hard, Kiyoung,” low enough to blur the tone between scathing and playful.

Kiyoung scowls even deeper, his lip twisting into a snarl as he hisses, “Whore.”

Taehyung eyebrows shoot up, and just as quickly snap back down before they pinch together, the grin sliding right off of his face.

“Dismissed, Cha,” Jeongguk cuts in, an edge to the words that don’t quite match the shadow of a smirk on his lips, just smudging out by the time Taehyung looks.

He frowns, teeth clenching together. How mature.

This god complex of his is getting old, fast. Taehyung can’t exactly complain about being treated as a conquest, not when his own motive is probably even scummier—but, christ, would it kill him to drop the brat act once in a while?

He takes another look at Jeongguk, stuck back on his phone as if everything else has become unimportant again and thinks, yeah, okay, maybe it would.

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Taehyung lifts a hand to the chauffeur as a thank you when they drive off. Left in it’s fumes and the golden glow of the restaurant sign, Taehyung feels eyes on him from the moment he steps out.

It’s obvious a car like that belongs to someone important, so, he lets himself bask in the pride of seeming important for a moment or two as he approaches the restaurant—that is, until the taunt of, “Getting a beating, were you, Kim?”  comes into ear-shot.

Taehyung stops in his tracks, palm pressing  subconsciously against the dirty bruise on his cheek, the one that looks wonderfully like Park Jimin’s knuckles. None of them can tell that, of course—but the odd drop off by a fancy car with all the reds surfacing into purple on his face probably doesn’t look like something to be proud of.

If they knew it was Jeon’s bodyguard involved, then, proud of surviving, maybe.

Taehyung’s eyes lock with one of the men crammed around a table, a cigar clutched between his crooked teeth. He’s not a new face by any means. Taehyung’s seen him around at Min’s place enough times to have struck a conversation or two.

Would he count them as friends? Not a chance. Acquaintances, maybe, if he ever needed a favour from him, but Taehyung squeezes out the little bit of charisma left in him, as he idly approaches the table full of drunk, jeering men. The kind of table he would avoid like the dead anywhere else.

And, there, the one with the mouth on all sides: Soo Chungho.

Supposedly, he’s somebody important around here (at least, that’s what he’ll have everyone believe.) Some kind of superficial title that means he gets paid a lot for doing very little, most likely.

Taehyung knows him, however, because the man had been seated at the same table only a few weeks back, just twice as drunk—and when Taehyung and Hoseok had gotten back from a little extorting for Yoongi, Chungho had overheard, saw his face and drunkenly called him a ballsless-little-pretty-boy. Taehyung had initially shrugged him off, but the guy wouldn’t leave him alone until he punched him across the face to ‘prove himself.’

Needless to say, Taehyung didn’t refuse.

Chungho’s nose is crooked now and somehow that’s created a bond between them. So much testosterone festers in the air whenever they cross paths—with all the bruising slaps on the back and offers of cheap beer—that Taehyung always feels as if he’s grown chest hair after every conversation.

Truthfully, he’s never really made an effort to be all that manly . While he wouldn’t mark himself down as feminine either, after getting called a different slur pretty much every day of high school he kind of lost interest in keeping up any kind of front at all when it was just as easy to follow Hoseok around at lunch like a shadow and avoid all of that shit.

But, god, there’s something about Chungho that makes Taehyung want to bodyslam him through a log cabin. Maybe it’s the fact he looks so incredibly douchey for a man well into his thirties.

“Not this time, Soo,” Taehyung replies breezily with an easy shrug of his shoulders. He stops just a metre from the man, hunched over the table with an alcoholic flush to his face. His eyes are unfocused, lips unsteadily bearing a lazy smile. Taehyung wonders what he’s drinking. It’s barely even the evening, yet.

Whatever it is, though, he feels as if he could maybe use it, himself, at this rate.

“How’s the divorce coming along?” He asks, overly sweet, vaguely recalling how the man had been lamenting over it the last time he’d sat his drunken ass down here three hours too early to be socially acceptable.

Chungho’s friends snicker into their glasses, their hands stuffed with food. Taehyung recognises a couple of their faces too, but none of them speak up, too busy enjoying the flustered look Chungho gathers on his face when his inebriated brain catches up.

“It’s not a divorce,”  he says, eyes shifting around the table, uncomfortable with the attention, “she just wants a break.”

Taehyung grins, a little mean. “Keep telling yourself that.”

Chungho sits up straighter then, glass thumping down against the table, sloshing the bubbling liquid around inside. “What do you know about relationships, Kim? You don’t exactly look the type.” He drags his eyes up and down the other man, as if he’s pointing out exactly what he means. Taehyung’s eyes narrow.

“And what do I look like, Soo?” He prompts, hands landing flat on the plastic table as he leans into the man’s space. The circle of water left by one of the glasses next to him ripples. “A ballsless-little-pretty-boy?”

Chungho drifts back with a groan, gesturing with a finger pointed up from his gripped glass. “Let that go, Christ,” he grumbles, “I was gonna say asshole, but whatever you like.”

Taehyung snorts, won’t even deny it. He steps back, arms folding comfortably with the release of tension while Chungho slowly melts the sour look off of his face.

“Anyway, is Yoongi about?” Taehyung asks, changing the subject quick enough to not let the elder get another word in. “Need to see him about something.”

Chungho quirks an eyebrow, but doesn’t pry, shrugging a shoulder to tell him, “No idea, man.” He chugs the rest of his drink and lets out a sudden belch before deciding, “He owes us another round, though, so, if you see him, tell him to get his cute little ass in gear.”

Taehyung’s lips quirk up, lazily inching away from the table with wide, imprecise steps. “I’ll tell him you said exactly that.”

Chungho wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, thumping down the glass on the table again as he watches the man walk away. “You better not ,” he snaps after him, “I’m looking for a drink, not a beating, Kim!”

“I’ll put in a good word for you, pretty boy!” he calls over his shoulder, dipping under the arch of the restaurant doorway just as Chungho’s blotchy, red face screws up at him.

Dinner service doesn’t start until an hour or so—which begs the question of doesn’t Chungho have a job to do or something? But, also means that inside is fairly quiet, for now, only a few tables occupied by pairs with dim sum spread out and half-gone between them. A head or two looks up when Taehyung walks in—but they go back to what they were doing a moment later.

He manoeuvres through the mostly-empty tables to quickly dip into the kitchen, pushing on the dual-swing door before he scans around the room, overcrowded with steam and bustling white-clothed bodies, for Yoongi, but to no avail.

The head chef, Kwong, notices Taehyung peering in and raises the massive knife he’s dug into a bloody mound of raw meat to point to the roof with it, gruffing, “Boss is upstairs, Kim.” Then, without missing a beat, he crudely shoves the thick blade back into the slab of meat and continues cutting like he’s just killed the conversation along with it.

None of the other employees spare him a glance, either—too busy absorbed in their current tasks as if they’ll get a mad rush of customers hurtling in through the doors, any minute now. Taehyung rolls his eyes and backs out, the door swinging both ways before it settles down again.

So, Yoongi is upstairs according to Kwong. Taehyung was starting to forget there even was another floor to this place. Any time he’s looking for him, Yoongi’s got his phone glued to his ear at a table outside, cigarette smoke wisping out as quickly as his syllables or he’s holed up in the kitchen, pen forgotten behind his ear and sleeves rolled up past the elbows because ‘if he doesn’t keep an eye on things in here then who the fuck will?’

He’s always balls-deep in some kind of work, stuck in the action somewhere on the ground floor, so Taehyung reaches the stairwell with an air of curiosity, his hand clutched around the brass banister that’s tucked away from the remainder of the restaurant with a plastic ‘strictly no access to the public’ sign decorating the door outside it.

Why Yoongi chooses to live directly above his workplace certainly never fails to baffle him. His apartment is curt, discreet and simple—not quite the catastrophe that Taehyung’s place is, but it’s no leap of luxury, either.

He climbs the winding, burgundy-carpeted steps, fairly well lit by the late afternoon sun hitting through the window. The walls, a pale cream, are modestly bare and at the top the wooden-floored landing is decorated by nothing more than a plant pot Taehyung’s sure must’ve come with the place, and his front door. A silver number one hangs on the black wood, as if there’s anywhere else.

Taehyung doesn’t knock, knowing he isn’t expected to, and, instead, opens the door up into the wide, central space of the apartment. It’s strategically filled with furniture like cushioned sofas, spotless tables, shelves cluttered with miscellaneous ornaments as if it’s actually lived in, while spilling into an open kitchen that Taehyung knows for certain is never used.

He hears voices immediately—not hushed by any means, in fact, he can pick them both out as clear as anything as belonging to Yoongi and Hoseok, even from a room over.

Taehyung walks across the room, heading for the hallway that holds nothing more than a single bedroom, a bathroom and Yoongi’s office, but the moment his foot comes down on one of the floorboards, the panel creaking underneath his weight, one of the door’s bust open—Jung Hoseok standing with his gun pointed at him, dishevelled, a little flushed, but with a wicked determination in his eyes that immediately fizzles once he really looks at the intruder.

The man drops his arms, pistol hanging dejectedly from his fingers. Marginally disappointed, even, but there’s something else—weightier in his movements, the vague gravel to his voice when he says, “Tae—Christ, sorry, didn’t expect Jeon to let you go so early.”

Barely a second passes when Yoongi’s poking his fluff of blonde hair out of the door, uncoordinated hands gripping the frame but still perfectly timed to say, “Or at all, honestly…did he—” Then, the man suddenly stops, eyes fixating on Taehyung’s face. He frowns, pushing out past Hoseok with heavy steps until his hand grips onto the younger’s shoulder. Taehyung winces, trying to shove him off as his fingers unknowingly dig into a bruise, but Yoongi interrupts him, saying, “Why the fuck are you all beat up?”

He sees Hoseok tense, eyebrows furrowing at once and Taehyung smacks Yoongi’s hand away, stepping back out of both of their ranges as he says, “Had to prove myself, a little,” to diffuse the situation. As pissed as he is himself about it, he knows it’ll never die out if Hoseok and him get annoyed about it, too. “Jeon got me to go against one of his guys to see what happened—”

“And you got your ass kicked?” Yoongi cuts in again, arms crossed over his creased white shirt as Hoseok ignores them both completely, swerving around them to head to the kitchen.

Taehyung shrugs, deciding to leave out the details—he isn’t so sure how Yoongi would feel with his and Jimin’s mysterious connection.

“You should’ve seen the other guy,” he says instead, a lopsided grin trying to conjure up some fake kind of confidence before, suddenly, Taehyung’s being yanked backwards, stumbling on his feet as Hoseok hooks their arms together and drags him over to one of the couches. He’s practically tossed down, the cushion bouncing underneath him as Hoseok forcefully tips the younger’s head up with his fingertips and starts holding a cold towel to one of the swelling bruises on his face.

“That fucker,” he growls to himself, face contorted up into a rare scowl the kind Taehyung hasn’t seen in a long time. The last time he did, the situation probably wasn’t so different to how it is now. It’s kind of strange, the wave of nostalgia that washes over him from something as bleak as this. “Who does he think he is?” The older man continues, “Bet he gets some sick kind of joy from shit like this—”

He’s not even speaking to Taehyung at this rate, irises dark and clouded like he’s seeing right through him. Yoongi throws an ice pack into Hoseok’s waiting palm and he swaps the towel out to clean up some of the specks of dried blood, instead.

The ice is admittedly refreshing—but it’s hardly going to help much after how long it’s been, and Jeon certainly didn’t bother his ass fixing him up, which Hoseok makes sure to point out.

It’s funny, in a way, because Taehyung kind of thought that, in comparison to Yoongi, Hoseok seemed rather indifferent towards Jeongguk. But this is genuine rage.

He smiles a tiny bit at that.

Then, he catches the man’s hand, pulling it to a stop right before he’s about to move the ice somewhere else and, meeting his eyes, Taehyung very calmly says, “Seok... I got shot a few weeks ago. I was knocked out and nearly stabbed to death by that greasy asshole Sanghoon. I’ve only been in Hua She for a month and I’ve already had way worse than a couple of bruises and a scrape on the forehead.” He lets go of his hand and Hoseok retracts it, holding the ice pack to his chest with an indisputably lost look. “We’re not in middle school,” he adds, gently, “you don’t need to fight my battles for me.”

Hoseok’s quiet for a handful of seconds, fingers red at the tips from clutching the ice for so long until he finally breaks, a blow of air pushed out through his clenched teeth.

“Fine,”  he gripes, “keep your bruises.” He weaves out past Yoongi, who’s perched himself silently on the edge of one of the couches, eyes trained steadily on Taehyung.

Taehyung knows he won’t ask, so he sighs, telling him, “I’m fine, Yoongi. The store’s display got it way worse than me.”

He looks a little longer, as if he’s trying to gauge if he’s being honest or not, but then he nods, accepting it.

“Alright then, hotshot,” he says after a moment, gesturing upwards with pointed fingers to add, “give us a twirl in your big-boy pants.”

Taehyung rolls his eyes, but grins as he gets to his feet, making a show of it, sarcastically spinning on the spot. Yoongi gives a long hum, clapping slowly as the younger says, “See? Not all bad. I’ll do anything to get out of Hoseok’s rations.”

“Did they add the blood stains for you free of charge?” Hoseok asks, bitterly from the kitchen. The younger gives him an irritated look, a silent ‘drop it’ and Hoseok takes it literally in a sense, dumping the towel and the icepack on the counter before he huffs and trails back over, instead trying a, “Hey, don’t act like you didn’t used to steal my clothes all the time, smartass,” before fondly knocking Taehyung on the back of his head with his knuckles.

“Things have changed, huh?” he prompts, cheekily and Hoseok clicks his tongue, but his expression is too flat to be genuine.

“So, really—” Hoseok says tiredly, “how did it go besides the beating? Jeon can be intense.”

“That’s one word for it,” Yoongi cuts in with a snort, arms folded as he reclines on the arm of the chair. “I think I liked angry Hoseok better, someone to trash on that brat with is nice.”

“Pick any guy off the street, I’m sure you’ll find one,” he replies, breezily and, a beat later, his expression sours again when  he adds, “And I’m definitely still angry.”

If Taehyung didn’t have to keep on Jeon’s good side as much as he can, he’d be right there with him. Hell, he probably would’ve went for him, nevermind Jimin.

But, for now, he ignores the comment, telling them, “It was fine. About what I expected. He’s got an actual job for me tomorrow—could be anything, though.”

Yoongi raises his eyebrows, skeptical. “He didn’t give details?”

“Gave me more of these,” Taehyung answers, waving the files in his hands around, “but I haven’t gotten around to them yet. I’ll look later, but I wanted to ask you something first.”

Yoongi sits forward where he’s sitting, slightly, face split between apprehension and intrigue.

“What is it with Kiyoung and Jeongguk?”

Yoongi’s intrigue drops off his face. He frowns, posture sloping in disappointment. Hoseok chuckles and walks back towards the kitchen again, muttering, “Now, there’s a question.”

“What do you mean?” Yoongi asks, lazily instead as he picks at the dirt underneath one of his nails. Taehyung grimaces at him. There’s no way he doesn’t know what he means. Even the FBI picked up on it.

“The way they blatantly hate each other?” he says slowly, the words lifting at the end into a question.

Yoongi brushes it off, sluggishly shrugging his shoulders. “Everyone hates Jeongguk.”

True, but not the point.

“But why does he keep Kiyoung around?” He presses, “Does he not know he just shits on him every time he’s left the room?”

Yoongi snorts, eyes flicking off to the side for a second. “He definitely does.”

“Jeongguk knows when anyone talks shit about him,” Hoseok adds in, coming back with a glass of water to hand to Taehyung who takes it with gratitude, staling whiskey still clinging to his throat. “He’s good at reading people, finding snakes.”

He should probably take that information with more caution. He doesn’t want Jeon figuring him out anytime soon—preferably at all.

But, then again, he seems to have a knack for keeping snakes around, doesn’t he? Cha Kiyoung right at his side, his snappy little bodyguard Jimin, too, and, of course, the literal beast that supposedly lurks upstairs in his hotel suite.

Maybe Taehyung’ll be lucky, too.

Still, he takes a drink, feeling it run cold down his throat when he swallows and settles the glass back into his lap again, subconsciously fidgeting with the plain silver hoop in his ear. “Well, if he knows, then why hasn’t he done anything about it?”

“I don’t know… I don’t understand half of the things that kid does,” Yoongi confesses with a taut press of his lips, his fingers scaling alongside his face to rub his temple. “It’s not like Cha’s even useful to him. Or anyone.”

Taehyung puts his fingers to his lips, eyebrows drawn together and the intensity of his pensive frown must be more obvious than he’d meant it to be (or just perfect enough) because Yoongi gives a deep, lasting sigh, leaning his chin on his fist.

“Alright, kid,” he says, “don’t burst a blood vessel over it. If you really wanna know, Jeongguk’s never liked Kiyoung.” But Taehyung doesn’t find it much of a stretch and Yoongi knows he isn’t satisfied with the explanation and crosses his arms, a quick roll of his eyes before he continues, “Even when his father was still alive, Jeongguk didn’t like him. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why—Kiyoung’s an asshole… but why Cha hates Jeongguk so much… that’s a little more complicated.”

Taehyung finds his interest in that, drawing nearer to the older man, the water in his hand jostling against the glass with his movements. Anyone would hate a spoiled little brat that hates you right back—but there’s something more than that to it?

“How so?”

Yoongi tips his head at him, biting the nail of his thumb before he asks, “Why are you so interested?”

The younger shrugs, answering him honestly. “I don’t like working around secrets.”

The older man gives a half-hearted laugh. “You’re in the wrong place, then.” A moment passes, and Yoongi reaches to scratch the back of his neck as he admits,  “But, I dunno. I assume it’s something to do with Hua She going to Jeongguk. He’s the heir, yeah, but I guess Cha expected a little more power for himself. Jungkeun didn’t give him any.”

Taehyung squints at him, fingers splayed over his lips as he asks, “You think he’s jealous of Jeongguk?”

Yoongi drops his hand, falling with a smack into his lap, snapping, “Who wouldn’t be? Jeongguk has everything he wants. Every damn thing.” His hand curls into a fist, eyes locked to his knuckles as they pale with pressure.

Taehyung doesn’t comment right away, waiting to see if Yoongi’ll expand on his own. When it’s clear that he doesn’t plan to, Taehyung says, “That sounds like a dangerous person to have around you.”

Out of nowhere, the other man stands, smoothing out the settled wrinkles in his shirt. Everything is somehow calmer: no flushed faces, no rage furling around the room. Even Hoseok seems pacified for now. Yoongi tends to have that effect. When he talks, people listen—and they listen well.

Except for Jeongguk, apparently.

“Maybe it is,” Yoongi drones, hands slipping into his pockets. He rolls his neck until it pops, stiff from sitting curled up as he was. “But, as much as I hate to admit it,” he adds a second later, “ I doubt Jeongguk doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Yoongi says it with the confidence of a man who’s certain he’s speaking the truth. Taehyung wonders how he can be so sure, but knows he won’t get the answer to that—not with all the prying he’s done already in the last five minutes.

“Do you think he’s keeping him around for a reason?” Taehyung pushes. Yoongi holds his gaze for a few silent moments, thinking hard enough that Taehyung can tell he isn’t actually looking at him.

He sighs, averting his attention to somewhere across the room, instead. “All I’m saying is, Jeongguk would’ve shot Kiyoung in the head the very same day his dad died if he wanted to.”

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Jeongguk feels a restless buzz rippling through his veins as the car pulls up to a stop outside the worn-down apartment complex. He’d rhymed the address off of to his driver a journey prior and, now, he’s very ready for what comes next.

Taehyung is standing at the entrance, leaning against the rusted door-frame with all of that chaos frothing off of him like he’s accustomed to it. He has his phone in his hand, focus lingering on it for only a few more seconds until the car’s purring engine catches his attention instead.

He tucks the device into the deepset pockets of his pants, matte black and patterned with a white grid to match his jacket. A chain hangs from his belt, jingling with a subconscious brush of his hand.

He looks as good as he did yesterday, if not better—but handsome isn’t even the first word that comes to mind.

One look at the man and all Jeongguk’s thinking is strong. He’s good at showing that off—he showed him plain as anything yesterday, putting up a better fight against Jimin than he’s seen from most men. The closest street light is flickering sporadically, and, underneath it, Kim Taehyung looks strong—set jaw, sharp eyes, strong-willed like he knows what he’s doing.

It ties Jeongguk’s stomach in a beautiful knot.

He tells the driver to wait on them, and opens the door, shutting it behind him with a smack as Taehyung watches in silence from across the complex. He bows his head when the younger approaches him and Jeongguk reaches out a hand, placed on his shoulder, wordlessly telling him to straighten up again.

Taehyung looks up at him, inquisitive, inquiring—the gears always turning behind each blink of his thick eyelashes, behind the deep rings of earthy brown encircling his pupils. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

He almost gave in, yesterday. Could’ve ruined his own game if Kiyoung hadn’t barged in like the hellspawn he is. He’d like to blame it on the alcohol making him impulsive, but Jeongguk can’t deny the thoughts that were swarming his head just from having the man beside him.

Thoughts of pulling into his lap just to watch him squirm, of pushing him deep into the sofa, caging him in, getting him on his knees, between his legs. It was too perfect. He knows Taehyung’s mind was heading to the same place, his eyes were starless, infinite as they stared back at him.

But it’s a good thing that didn’t happen. Jeongguk would have to admit his eagerness to his cousin, then, wouldn’t he? And it’ll be so much more fun to wait, make it really perfect.

Taehyung is strong for now but Jeongguk’ll break him down. Just how it should be—how everything should be.

“Good evening, Taehyung,” He greets, hands clasped behind his back. “Recovered after yesterday?”

He watches the man subconsciously brush a dying bruise on his jaw with the back of his hand and swallow, tightly answering, “Yes, sir.”

Jeongguk nearly feels guilty for it, but it was such a show—well worth the pressed line of the man’s lips, now; the caution flickering in his demeanour.

Jeongguk grins, hand settling into one of his pockets as he relaxes into his stance. “Do you still have the files? I’d like to have a look over them with you before we start.”

“They’re upstairs, sir.” Taehyung loosely gestures behind him, into the moulding crevice of a building. Jeongguk turns up his nose. “I’ll go get them—” he starts, turning away, but the younger touches his elbow, a light brush of fingers and Taehyung stills like he’s been bound to the floor.

He glances over his shoulder, lips parted in wonder. Jeongguk plants one foot on the steps of the complex, closer. “I’ll come too. I’m curious to see where you live.”

Taehyung shuts his mouth closed, expression unclear again as he lets his lips quirk up. “Of course, sir. You’re very welcome.”

It’s a sorry excuse for a place, clear as day from the moment he steps in. The hinges of the door look immovable, and the walls are a gruesome, dreary green. It’s dark, it’s cheap, it’s—

Jeongguk stops suddenly, lifting his foot in quiet horror from the floor, a touch of resistance to it as it unsticks with a syrupy thwack.

“What the hell?”

Taehyung barely has to look before his mouth curls in amusement, a gentle hum of laughter rising from his throat.

“Tell me about it,” he drawls, words softened around their edges, colloquial. He has an accent Jeongguk hadn’t picked up before. Something a little sunkissed, a little worn down by sand and sea. Pretty.

The rest of the hallway allows no improvement. Rickety stairs, holes in the wall, wild stains in every direction. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised when Taehyung opens the door to his apartment and it groans like it shouldn’t ever be disturbed. The smell of damp hits Jeongguk in the face instantaneously.

A cramped space, somehow full of furniture despite the lack of it. Molding ceilings, cracked paint, unstable-looking floorboards. He makes a mental note to watch where he steps and as Taehyung continues into the room (the singular room. One) Jeongguk suddenly halts like his entire body has seized up. He wrinkles his nose, feeling it sting and prickle before he lets out a sneeze that bounces around the hollow walls of the apartment.

Taehyung looks back at him, surprise flashing on his face that soon gives way to a grin.

“Gesundheit.”

Jeongguk’s brow scrunches in confusion.

Is that an American thing?

He nods curtly anyway as Taehyung picks up the small pile of files stacked on the edge of an unmade bed. It’s a far cry from his own—the entire place is—but, for a moment, Jeongguk thinks about what it must be like to live it, to wake up in itchy sheets and a solid mattress. Taehyung doesn’t seem to have blinds, his windows pushed obscenely open to let in the unceasing noise of the city  as the sun starts to die over the skyline; but in the morning it’ll claw its way back in, sunlit fingertips inching along the floorboards. Maybe he’d turn over on his side to evade it, back turned golden in pieces, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle.

Peaceful. It must be peaceful.

Jeongguk snorts, eyes peeling away from the bed to glance at nothing outside the window again.

What a boring way to live.

“Anything else that I need, sir?” Taehyung asks, tugging Jeongguk out of his head again. The man’s standing with the files in his grip, looking restless, in a sense, the way his fingers tap unwittingly against the sides of the paper. Jeongguk hums.

He’s never really been one for conventions.

Behaving, some would call it—or ‘not being a brat’ if that person is Seokjin.

He thinks about that in the lull of conversation, studying Taehyung intently.

“Just the files,” Jeongguk mumbles, strolling his way towards the other man who stands with a taste more self-assurance to him. “But there is one more thing… just before we head out.”

“What’s that, sir?” Taehyung utters, shoulder blades hitting the wall behind him with a soft thud as Jeongguk eases into his space.

When he was little, his mother had always tried to teach him not to play with his food. She gave up after some time, of course, fed up with his resistance—but the lesson never learned comes to mind again, now.

He just gets a kick out of riling people up, he thinks. He always has.

Jeongguk lifts his hands and Taehyung’s breath hitches, the younger feeling the jump when he brushes over his shoulders.

He doesn’t look at Taehyung until he pulls away again, offering his hazy gaze a flat explanation of, “Your collar was up.”

Taehyung’s brows draw together, pushing his weight away from the wall as the younger begins to head for the exit again. Jeongguk stops by the door, giving one rushed scan around the apartment again before his eyes lock on Taehyung.

“Try to do some spring cleaning around this place for next time, okay, Kim?”

Taehyung’s hold around the files tighten, mustering up a tight-lipped smile. “Yeah, okay, sir,” he replies through half-gritted teeth.

Jeongguk walks out with a half-hearted, “Let’s go,” thrown over his shoulder, and Taehyung feels as if he’s been deserted slightly in his aftershocks, having to gather the willpower to actually follow after him.

He groans to himself.

What the fuck is wrong with this kid?

 

 

As Jeongguk’s driver opens the door for them, Taehyung notes that this man is just about as autonomous and soulless as the others he’s met. Maybe it’s in the criteria. Maybe Jeon likes the simple people to keep their simple heads down, and the important ones to remember they’re still not as important as he is.

‘Be good but don’t be better than me.’

Taehyung holds back a scoff, and thanks the driver, figuring he probably doesn’t get it a lot.

Jeon’s car is about as he expected, black leather seats in a layout that could probably be mistaken for a conference room, all that’s missing is the table between the square of seats—but he imagines that would get in the way of what Jeongguk likely uses it for.

He wonders what he’s got in store for it today.

And, just as he does, Jeongguk beckons him over, gesturing to the space beside him. As Taehyung takes a seat the younger man gets comfortable, his arm resting on the windowsill.

“Alright, Taehyung,” he says as the engine begins to hum, “What can you tell me about Lo Wai Yi?”

And here is where he would’ve been fucked if he hadn’t followed through on his homework—but luckily, Taehyung was smart enough to do what Jeongguk and when the question comes, the information rolls off his tongue.

“Lo Wai Yi is the alias used by the daughter of the CEO of ADACHI—a Japanese technology development firm specialising in medicine. Her real name is Suzuki Mei, but she doesn’t like to draw attention to herself over here.”

“Good, good,” Jeongguk murmurs, “And why’s that?”

“She doesn’t want to tarnish mommy and daddy’s name back home with everything she gets up to here,” Taehyung says, sitting back into his seat with a half-grin.

Jeongguk tuts, shaking his head and agreeing, “Definitely not. But what does she get up to, exactly?”

“Gambling, mostly,” he recalls. Jeongguk’s fingers play idly with the crucifix on the end of his necklace as he listens. “But, she’s made a reputation for herself in some of the more popular street racing clubs and gangs around Hong Kong, too. Word is she’s even been to Seoul a couple times.”

The other man grins, inclining his head. “What else?”

Taehyung rhymes off just about everything he remembers from those files. Blood type, family addresses, close associates, known affiliations, last sightings, medical records—just about every minor detail they could collect. Jeongguk’s clearly impressed, his eyebrows held up for half of the monologue—but it’s not what he’s looking for, yet.

“So, where will we find her, Taehyung?”

“Right now? Well—” Taehyung takes his phone from his pocket, glancing at the ‘8:17pm’ that flashes back at him on the screen. “She goes to the tracks around nine, but if I remember right, she always eats out, first. Somewhere on Water Street, she’ll swap around every so often.”

“Yes… but what about now?” Jeongguk urges, leaning closer to the older man. “Where will we find her now?”

The tone of his voice makes Taehyung feel as if he’s forgetting something, so he thinks it over for a moment, mentally scanning through the pages he’d had a quick look at yesterday, and again over the duration of the day. Eight PM… eight PM…

He doesn’t remember anything so specific like that and the words are about to leave his mouth when, right as he takes a breath, he remembers, clicking his fingers as he says, “She’s a smoker. Always takes a few after her meal—and if she’s heading out at nine, then she should be finishing up her food soon?” He proposes it as a question, but Jeongguk doesn’t even answer him. He draws away from him again, nodding once.

“Very good, Kim. Not much of a puzzle, but your ability to retain information like that—even with all the useless shit I had put in there—is very impressive.”

He just loves wasting other people’s time, doesn’t he?

“Thank you, sir,” he says regardless (he’s kind of obligated to, after all) “I’ve got a bit of a photographic memory.”

Jeongguk cocks his head, finger tracing up and down his cheek. “It shows,” he murmurs, “I can put that to good use, Kim.”

Internally, Taehyung curses himself.

More studying. He didn’t do it back in school—he certainly doesn’t want to do it, now.

Jeongguk pushes his hair back off of his forehead and moves forward to prop his chin on his palm as he says, “One last question, though. Just out of curiosity. What do you think I want with this woman?”

Taehyung doesn’t reply immediately, pondering on it for a moment to consider the options. This was the one thing missing from the file, he’d half-noticed at the time. Piles upon piles of information, but not a sentence on what any of it meant to them. It felt more like a fact sheet than a file on someone—but that was just another, test, it seems.

Jeongguk’s far too fond of this bullshit.

But Taehyung thinks about it anyway, because he’s expected to. Bare minimum isn’t gonna get him where he needs to go. It won’t impress him, so he thinks about how he could give him the actual answer, even if it’s an educated guess.

It’s easy to assume that this Suzuki Mei has been cheating Hua She in some way—that seems to be Jeongguk’s plague. Her family’s obviously very rich, too, so no doubt that plays a part. She’s not too poor to keep up loans or rates or anything like that. This isn’t an extortion job.

Well known gambler… the gang certainly has ties to that with all its casinos and dens—but they have influence in the street race scene, too. Hoseok told him he used to dabble in it when he first joined before he got his car scratched up and couldn’t take it.

So… rich girl, messing around in Hua She’s profits one way or another, no doubt. Alias, different country—she’s not being stupid about it. In fact, she seems quite intelligent.

Rich… intelligent… dangerous… no doubt confident; if she’s such an avid gambler she must feel like she has some kind of running luck. And money, of course… money always chokes someone’s grip on reality.

In that case, then, maybe—

“Tax evasion.”

Jeongguk’s eyes light up.

“Explain.”

Taehyung crosses a leg over the other, folding his arms on his thigh to lean his weight on as he starts, “Well… she probably thinks she can get away with it because of the alias, right? She doesn’t technically exist.” Jeongguk nods his head once, slow, to show he’s following. “And it’s all gambling… so she can’t exactly avoid paying at all, but she doesn’t sound like the type to want to draw attention to herself, either—not with her family’s reputation at stake… so, it has to be something subtle, but just enough to annoy you, right?”

“What are you thinking?” Jeongguk asks, face blank and not giving away any sign of whether Taehyung is even on track or not. The older man taps his chin in idle thought.

“The files didn’t mention her being employed, so it’s not income tax,” he says quickly, “but I do happen to know that the council introduced a residence tax for long-term visitors last year and, of course, Hua She gets a cut of that if it’s in your area.” He fans out his fingers, palm flat to emphasise, “which she is,” head tilted and half-nodding at him.

Jeongguk still doesn’t indicate whether he’s right or not, just keeping a steady gaze on him as he waits for him to finish. It’s kind of unnerving.

“But, as I said,” he continues, anyway, “she doesn’t exist. They can’t charge her because they don’t know she’s here and that means we’re losing out on money,” Taehyung concludes, folding his arms again as he awaits Jeongguk’s response.

The man stares without a word for a second or two longer, before he sits back again, looking down to adjust his tie as he says, “You’re half right.”

Huh. Taehyung arches an eyebrow.

“Oh?”

Well, he can’t say he’s that surprised. No doubt with the smug look on Jeongguk’s face he didn’t expect him to get it.

“Tax evasion, yes,” he begins, carefully, “But countless people do that. Half of the council do that. The real reason, Taehyung, I didn’t expect you to figure out.”

And there it is. Taehyung has to bite his tongue to stop himself from saying something in protest.

“Suzuki Mei isn’t here just to gamble—it’d be a long way to go for that. She’s actually here for her father,” Jeongguk mutters, pulling out his phone from the pocket of his jacket and flicking through it for a minute until he shows it to Taehyung, a picture of a man on the screen. “Suzuki Hatsuo… he’s the face of ADACHI but his wife does most of the work.”

He tucks the phone back into his pocket as Taehyung snorts, quipping, “So, he’s lazy?”

“Lazy, selfish and spineless, apparently,” Jeongguk agrees with a playful quirk to his lips. “He sent his daughter over here to gather information for him on our income sources, which he’s passing on at the request one of our international rivals. Trying to keep his company from going under, I’d suspect.”

One of his international rivals, Taehyung thinks. Does he count the FBI in that, too?

Here Jeongguk is talking about a threat a whole country away when Taehyung is right beside him. Dramatic irony is a beautiful thing.

But, still, he asks, “A rival, sir?” and Jeongguk hums in confirmation.

“Blue spider,” he says and, while the name isn’t one Taehyung recognises, that in itself is hardly surprising considering he barely knows even half of the gangs in Hong Kong. “They’re based in Osaka and, no doubt, they have a lot of similar deals going on with other companies for other things—even some in the Western world, too—but they seem to be targeting us, lately.” Jeongguk tells him this as if the fact doesn’t really phase him, eyes fluttering to his lap while his hand reaches down to brush away a loose thread, the movements fluid, light—controlled. Taehyung wonders if he really feels that way, as if this whole situation is easy.

If he’s going to the effort of putting a stop to it himself like this, then, maybe not… but he supposes that people with as much power as Jeongguk has would have to stay calm. If he reacted rashly to every attempt at being infiltrated or targeted like this then the gang would be in ruins in a week.

Even Taehyung has to admit, it’s impressive for a kid to handle all of this so well.

“I’m not entirely sure why they’re suddenly so concerned with us,” he continues, eyes straying up to Taehyung again as he rests the back of his head against his fist, arm resting on the windowsill. “I’d guess that they’re looking for a bigger influence in Hong Kong, maybe wanna move some shit out here. They’re pretty big in their heroin and fentanyl dealing, these days.”

Shit, the Suzukis are fucking with people like that, on top of Hua She? As tame as it might seem to Jeon to be involved, for regular people—a run-of-the-mill businessman with a cosy family—that must be some scary shit.

Jeongguk grins at the change in Taehyung’s expression. “You’d be surprised how many well-respected businesses in the world are linked to gangs.”

He’s heard a few rumours like that now and then, but this isn’t just a little profit-boosting—it’s almost on the same wavelength as what Taehyung’s doing.

“But, yes… well done, anyway, Kim. Her tax evading is actually what brought all of this to my attention. Now, let’s take care of this quickly, shall we?”

True to his word, in a matter of minutes, the car is pulling to a jolted hault, stopping just outside a sleek, black matte wood and glass building, decorated with fake trees and a warm golden sign, saying ‘Le Chanteur du Ciel.’ A place that, no doubt, has bills that look like the start of a phone number more often than not and doesn’t speak a word of french.

They mustn’t be stopped outside for any longer than a couple of seconds, before the door opposite of them tears open and, suddenly, there’s a flurry of action—two bulky men pushing in a lavishly dressed woman, fur and expensive jewellery that seems to maintain her dignity for her even as she’s being shoved inside.

“Alright!”  she hisses, pushing both of the men off of her as she’s thrown down into one of the empty seats. “Easy, no need to be all rough, okay? What the hell do you two pervs—Oh.” She stalls when she catches the eyes on her at the other side of the vehicle, her shoulders sinking, tension relaxing out of her.

Whoever’s first reaction when being kidnapped by the son of Jeon Jungkeun is to relax must be fairly used to trouble.

Seriously—what is worse in her head?

“Jeon Jeongguk,” the woman acknowledges. She looks as if she’s about to say something rather profound, eyes narrowed and head tilted when she gauges them both, carefully. But, then, she snaps her fingers, muttering, “Now, the roughhousing makes sense.”

Jeongguk’s mouth doesn’t even twitch, his expression as unreadable as ever when he drawls, “Lo Wai Yi… I hope you enjoyed your meal.”

She scoffs, throwing one leg over the other to get as comfortable as she can with two considerably threatening men sitting beside her. “Was enjoying my smoke break more,” she quips, watching them with hooded eyes, a false-nailed finger picking between her teeth.  “Good to see you again,” she adds, like an afterthought.

At that, Taehyung quirks an eyebrow, glancing towards Jeongguk who immediately picks up on the elder’s intrigue, telling him, “I’ve been aware of Miss Lo’s debt dodging for quite some time, now, Kim. I’ve given her several chances to redeem herself out of the goodness of my heart…” Mei doesn’t hold back on her fake laugh, Jeongguk cutting her a glare before stressing through gritted teeth, “but, I’m at the end of my patience.”

Maybe the woman realises that this is all a little more serious, this time, then, tipping her head up a breath as she silently thinks over the situation.

“I can get you the money, Jeon,” she decides after a moment, quickly adding, “I’ll make some calls. An hour, tops. Hell, I can get you it without leaving the unceasing warmth of your lovely company.”

Jeongguk gives a long, long sigh. He slips his elbow from the windowsill, resting his weight on his thighs, looming closer to her. “It’s past that now, Miss Lo,” he utters. Then, giving her a second look, he peers and shuffles even closer as if to spill a secret. Inquisitively cocking his head he says, “Or… should that be Suzuki?”

At that, the confidence melts out of the woman. She gasps, manicured hand slapping over her mouth, the bracelets laid across her wrist jingling with the motion.

“How long have you known?” she asks, the words muffled behind her palm.

“Not long,” he says, ambiguously, lightly shrugging his shoulders when he sits back again. “Being honest, I never cared about the debts, I thought you’d come around eventually and, if you didn’t, I’d just send a few people your way to put an end to it.”

Mei shifts around, frown set and uncomfortable at the implication.

“It wasn’t a lot of money and, compared to other people in your position, you weren’t enough of a threat to concern me—as annoying as you are.” He grins at the passing insult, licking over his teeth as the other huffs. “But, then, as I was telling Kim here, one of my men noticed something odd about some of your transactions when he was looking into it. Money wired into your account from somewhere in Japan. Some more digging through a few lousy security systems and we found exactly where: ADACHI’s very own Suzuki Hatsuo,” he reveals, pride pulling up an enigmatic smile as he theatrically opens his hands to conclude, “And here we are.”

By the end of the explanation, Mei seems to have recovered her cool, gazing at him with a lazy glare again as she snips, “Well done, detective. But where does that leave us? What are you gonna do with me?”

Jeongguk chuckles to himself, raising his hand to cover the growing smile on his lips.

“I think I’ll keep that one to myself, for now,” he says, tone low, just above a murmur, “You seem to be a fan of surprises, after all.”

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

Taehyung stares out at the sea of lights rippled across the city until they blur, his hand cradling a glass of wine over the edge of the railing that Jeongguk had been kind enough to pour him after the second hour of trying to get something useful out of Mei.

The building is one of many that belonged to his father, he’d mentioned in passing and, beyond that, Jeongguk still supposedly likes to keep them all stocked with expensive alcohol.

Very good, expensive alcohol. Despite the stilt in their mission, Taehyung can’t complain that much; with the sweet scent of black cherry mingling with the tarter tones of raspberry still clearly making it to his nose, even with the breeze cutting across the balcony, he finds it quite hard to complain, at all.

It’s about what Taehyung expected, so far, working with Jeongguk. He’s just hanging around—not actually expected to do much. Even inside he wasn’t exactly involved in the interrogation, just watching from the sidelines with his brain hazing over from the very gentle coaxing of his drink.

Taehyung knows this is the point. He isn’t here to get his hands dirty if he doesn’t have to—in fact, he’s sure that that would mean a lot less paperwork for the FBI—but, quite frankly, he’s bored. Or as bored as someone can be drinking fancy wine on the balcony of a filthy rich, extensively handsome and very dangerous new leader of a world-renowned criminal empire.

Jesus, that’s a mouthful. This kid needs to shave a few things off his resume. Preferably the ‘dangerous’ part, if he can.

Taehyung’s circling his thumb around the rim of the glass, eyes fixated on what was once a highway and is now just streams of blurry passing light, when he hears the slide of the glass door behind him.

“Quite the view, isn’t it?”

Taehyung glances over his shoulder just in time to watch Jeongguk pull out a lighter, waltzing towards him with his fingers adept in how they light the cigarette poised in one hand. The clicks of the mechanism before it catches, the way the wind fights to put it out before the flame even really gets its chance.

“Yeah… it is, sir.”

Jeongguk props his weight on the railing beside him, curves of muscles in his back visible where his shirt clings to them. The wind ruffles through his hair, embers wisping from between his fingers as he looks at Taehyung. He breathes in, and Taehyung’s eyes follow the way his cheeks hollow, cheekbones prominent as his shoulders rise and stop.

The smoke pours out past his lips as he speaks, telling him, “Really, I’m only out here ‘cause the fire alarms are sensitive—but this is a nice bonus.”

Taehyung chuckles, watches as the other man’s mouth curls up in response, and, for a moment, he takes out the context of all of this, looking at Jeongguk at face value. How not out-of-place he looks right now, lighthearted, on a casual smoke break. How the way he smiles without any malice in it isn’t as weird to see on his face as he expected it to be.

Taehyung taps his index finger restlessly against the wine glass. He’s definitely going to have to cap it at this one.

“Have they got anything yet?” he says instead. Jeongguk’s eyelids drift closed as he takes another drag. His eyelashes are dark against the peachy complexion of his skin, the distant light of the TV in the apartment across from them flashing faint multi-colour over him.

His eyes open again as he swears, “Nope… but shit,” tapping out the ash on the end of his cigarette, “if that crazy bitch hadn’t busted her phone we might’ve gotten something by now. Instead, we’re spending two hours trying to retrieve Daddy Suzuki’s fucking number from the depths of our network’s asshole.”

Taehyung snorts into his glass, taking another sip to loosen his tongue a little more. This is as good as an opportunity as any to establish himself as different, he supposes. A change of topic is in order—Jeongguk’s tensing up so bad he looks like he’s going to crack one of his teeth.

Taehyung stretches, letting his arm fall by his side, glass still held cosily in his hand as he comments, “Everything looks so different from up here.”

Jeongguk turns his head to look at him for a flashing moment. “You think so?” he asks, eyes casting back out towards the cityscape. He’s quiet for a minute, wholly focused on the scene before he decides “It’s a blur,” bringing the cigarette to his lips again. “All those lights,” he mumbles around the stick, breathing in and out as if its second nature, “I feel like they never switch off.”

“That’s the charm, I guess,” Taehyung replies with a weak chuckle, raising his glass to take another drink.

Jeongguk snorts. “It’s also the headache,” and the response surprises Taehyung more than it should, hearing that the prince of Hong Kong finds the place itself irritating.

Taehyung expected him to be all over it with that pride of his.

Yet, after a moment or two passes in silence, Jeongguk reconsiders himself, saying, “It’s not so bad from here, though. Everything’s so small—makes you feel like you’re on top of the world, doesn’t it?”

Taehyung’s gaze leaves Jeongguk’s to look ahead of him again, eyes scanning over the intricacies he can pick out from here. The tiny, minute details; the people that wander on the streets like sophisticated ants.

“It does, sir,” he confirms. The way Jeongguk’s talking sounds as if he’s got a different point. He takes another drag, has the courtesy to blow it away from Taehyung when he exhales but the smell still makes his nose itch.

“Overseeing everything like this—seems like it’s all yours…” he muses, settling his chin on his palm, his cigarette spitting ash out to be pulled away by the wind. “All that power, the glory; to really be on top of the world…” the things Jeongguk has, “would you like that?”

He wonders what the younger man wants him to say. Maybe, there’s nothing in particular he’s looking for, for once. Maybe he’s just curious what kind of person he’s dealing with.

Or… maybe not. He looks interested, though, either way, gaze settled steadfast on him. He doesn’t move his hand again either, ignoring how his cigarette is rotting away to the wind.

“I guess I would, sir.” Taehyung tells him, honestly. He can’t remember how many nights he spent staring up at the ceiling back in LA, the parts where the water pipes leaked through and mold had built up along the edges, thinking about what it’d be like to be somewhere, someone else. “Everybody wants power. It’s a human instinct: to want more.”

Taehyung’s sure Jeongguk would agree—that he lives by the same philosophy, but, to his utter surprise, the younger man shakes his head, putting his cigarette to his lips once more.

He breathes out with a cloud that looks as if fog has fallen over West Kowloon and eventually he says, “Well, take it from someone who knows, Taehyung. Power is great, you’re right—but it doesn’t grant you immunity or immortality. It can’t grant you loyalty, it can’t grant you happiness—and it certainly doesn’t give you wings. You may think you're on top of the world…” he glances over the balcony at the street below, gaze half-lidded, “but, even from there, it only takes four minutes to fall."

Taehyung can’t help but stare as the man speaks, words assured and clear as if they’ve been thought through a thousand times before.

Wow, rich, handsome and intelligent? What a catch you are, Jeon Jeongguk.

Ignoring the ego, the questionable morals and the brattiness, that is.

Jeongguk stubs out the cigarette on the banister, marking a black burn into the fine wood. He flicks it over, and Taehyung watches it fall until it gets lost in the depths of the growing night.

“I’ll remember that, sir,” he assures him while Jeongguk wipes his hand on the luxurious cloth of his jacket and gives a cordial nod.

“Smart man,” the younger praises, setting a hand into one of his pockets and beginning to back away as he adds, “Now, let’s go see if dumb and dumber have gotten anywhere.”

Taehyung follows Jeongguk back into the warmth of the apartment, door sliding closed again behind them, just in time to hear the tail end of one of Mei’s complaints. She turns her head at their entry, though, disapproval on her bruised and bleeding face from where she’s tied to a chair, the black upholstery of which matches the smeared eyeshadow ringing her eyes.

“Ah,” she sneers, eyes darting from Jeongguk to Taehyung with her distaste tangibly clear in the motion. “You two are done verbally touching each other up on the balcony, then?”

Taehyung guffaws, spitting his wine back into his glass and smacking his fist against his chest in an attempt to recover from a coughing fit while Jeongguk scoffs from beside him. His hand settles on his back for a second, as if he’s trying to help, but with how the look that the younger sends him cuts right through him, Taehyung gets the feeling that isn’t quite what he’s getting at.

He trails it down his spine before dropping completely, Taehyung unintentionally shivering after it like a shadow.

“I don’t beat around the bush, Suzuki,” Jeongguk drones. He wanders over to her, hips swaying as he jeers, “You of all people should know that—how’s your model friend? Recovered, yet?”

Mei pulls a face, tongue sticking out as she fakes a wretch and shudders and, really, Taehyung’s not far behind, witnessing Jeongguk’s grimy, smug face at provoking his intended reaction.

Recovered? Taehyung snorts. Classy.

Jeon’s a little rough, is he? He can’t say he’s surprised, but he does wonder what Jeongguk counts as not beating around the bush because, as far as Taehyung can recall, he hasn’t managed to make a proper move on him, yet.

Jeongguk looks at the two men he’d left Mei in the gentle hands of, flitting between the two of them as he prods, “Well? Anything useful?”

They look between each other, making vague faces and awkward hand gestures with jumbled half-sentences of ‘well’ and ‘kind of’ and ‘I suppose it depends on—’ until one of them stops, phone in hand showing a collection of digits on screen as he says, “How important is Suzuki Hatsuo’s personal mobile number, sir?”

Jeongguk doesn’t respond, waiting on the punchline as if they’re kidding. Then, he puts his hand to his forehead, sighing into his palm before he mutters, “Fucking idiots.”

They’re still at a loss, even as Jeongguk marches over to them and tears the phone out of one of their hands, beating his thumbs against the screen and putting it to his ear seconds later.

“Is… is it important, boss?”

Jeongguk ignores them, strolling back over to Mei as he tells her, “This could’ve gone a lot faster, Suzuki, if you’d just told us his number.”

Mei crumples her face, the chair creaking as she sinks against her restraints and gripes, “I said I didn’t know it. Who memorises numbers these days?”

Jeongguk curses as the call falls through to the answering machine, cancelling it with a harsh jerk. He redials, face pulled into a frown as he offhandedly answers, “Dumb kids with big mouths—a category you fall well into.”

Mei snorts as Jeongguk holds the phone to his ear again, her damaged face charmingly unattractive as she grins. “No doubt you’ve memorised your contact list, then?”

Jeongguk grunts, scowling a little harder before he tucks the phone between his ear and his shoulder. Then, he raises his hand, the other still in his pocket as he smacks Mei across the face. The woman growls at the sting, scowling up at the man with her forehead creasing tightly at the draw of her brows.

“Don’t get smart with me,” He scolds as he takes the phone back into his hand. “Unfortunately for you, I’m not a gentleman.”

“Oh really?” Mei taunts, her head tilted back to glower at him, “So kidnapping isn’t polite, then?”

Jeongguk rolls his eyes, reaching behind his suit jacket to pull out a pistol from its holder. It’s personalised, Taehyung notices. Golden and ornately engrained—oddly pretty for its purpose. He presses it to Mei’s head, who huffs in response, fighting at her restraints with no give. Jeongguk’s lips part, as if he’s just about to make a retort, but, then, the call goes through at last.

“Hello, Suzuki-san,” he snips, impatient after the interlude. “Too busy to answer your calls? That’s a shame, I’ve got a gun to your daughter’s head, right now.”

He puts the call on speaker and sets the device down on the round table that accompanies the chair Mei is tied to, keeping the gun aimed in her direction. He beckons Taehyung over with his free hand, palm to the floor as he flexes his fingers.

“Wh-what?” a man’s voice crackles through the phone. “Who is this?”

Jeongguk slides a hand around Taehyung’s shoulder, getting him to stand in front of him and take the gun pointed at Mei as he deadpans, “Jeon.” He removes the glass of wine from Taehyung’s other hand while the elder stands a touch straighter, keeping the barrel resting on the woman’s forehead. She looks up with venom in her eyes and mouths ‘bitch’ at him, and Taehyung scoffs, digging the gun harder into her skin as a warning; but, she doesn’t seem to take it as one, her lips curling up into a cocky smile like an unruly child.

After a long silence, the man on the other end of the line finally speaks up again, hesitant and thickly accented.“What do you want?”

Jeongguk knocks back the rest of Taehyung’s wine and smacks his lips, the thing just barely clutched in his hand as he replies, “Luckily for you... peace.” Then, he smashes the glass against the wall, knowing Hatsuo is bound to have heard it, and he picks up one of the longer shards, inspecting it as it glitters in the interior light. “Your daughter has been poking around in my business, Suzuki, and I don’t like that.” He begins to walk back over to the focus of the room, eyes rooted on the phone as he begins, “Now, my Japanese is rusty, so I won’t even bother torturing you with it, but listen very carefully…” Jeongguk crouches down to perch beside the phone, mouth close to the speaker to make his demands as clear as possible.

Hatsuo sighs on the other end, as if he can sense what’s coming next.

“I’m listening, Jeon.”

“Excellent…” he smiles, eyes alive with power. “If you want your nosy little bitch of a kid back in one lively piece, Suzuki-san, then here is what I want you to do. Twenty-point-five million Hong Kong dollars—that’s roughly two-hundred and eighty million yen—in cash. You get on the next flight to Hong Kong after you’ve acquired it, we’ll have our exchange, and then everyone can go home, safe and sound,” he finishes, the saccharine tone of his voice completely unnatural in the uncomfortable silence of the room.

Mei bows her head a little, jaw jutted out, frowning at the situation she’s landed her father in (even if, technically, it’s his fault in the first place) but Taehyung prompts her to look up again, prodding her head with the barrel.

Hatsuo clicks his tongue, the sound clipping in the speaker.

“Alright, fine, that’s—”

“But,” Jeongguk interrupts, pausing slightly for emphasis, “if I ever catch wind that you or your daughter are planning on setting foot in Hong Kong again, I’ll blow both of your brains out before you can even cross the fucking border.”

“What will you do with her until then?”

Jeongguk chuckles, standing up again as he examines the shard of glass in his hand again with an odd aura of satisfaction to it.

“Time’s ticking, Suzuki-san… the quicker you are, the less I’ll have to answer that with.”

“I can get it within the hour,” the man rushes, desperation making its appearance in his voice, now, but Jeongguk just chuckles.

“Impressive,” He remarks, sarcasm choking the word. “I’ll see you in about five then, yes?”

“Y-yes, you will,” the man agrees, cautious with the statement as if he’s balancing it on a point. “...But if you hurt her, Jeon—”

“That’s up to you,” The younger man replies, lips twisted upwards and relishing in the other’s palpable fear. “Tick-tock,” he chimes, ending the call a beat later and tossing the phone onto the table again. He looks to Taehyung, palm reached out flat as he says, “I think that went well, don’t you?”

Taehyung snorts, handing him the weapon back with a tone-matching,  “Faultless,” to which Jeongguk grins, his nose scrunched and shoulders shrugged, radiating an unusual kind of charm for a man that’s just graphically threatened an international businessman and his spying daughter.

He tucks the weapon back into its holster and, with it, regains his composure, twirling the shard of glass around in his hand again as he decides, “Alright, let’s get started.”

Taehyung stalls, staring back at the other man in a state of confusion.

“With what, sir?”

Jeongguk mirrors the look, half-gesturing to a disgruntled Mei, who’s seemingly dropped the wisecracking for this round with her eyes glued to the blank wall opposite her as if, at long last, she’s considering the consequences of her actions.

At least one person in this room is. Taehyung looks back to Jeongguk.

“You just got a deal,” he says, stating the obvious, and the younger stands with one hand on his tilted hips as he stares at Taehyung with such disappointment that it borders on comedic over unnerving.

This kid… he really doesn’t know when to stop, does he? He got his way and he’s still not satisfied.

“Yes, and now I have five hours to kill and a lesson to teach,” he points out, enunciated and condescending enough to imply that his point should’ve been obvious. And it was—but that doesn’t mean Taehyung has to agree with it. “Come on,” Jeongguk adds after a few seconds throwing his head back to loll at the side. “You’re not pussying out on me, are you Kim? Where’s all that confidence gone?”

Taehyung purses his lips. It’s not that he has a problem with knocking somebody around a bit—not at all. Mei probably deserves it for even more than Jeon’s thinking about, she certainly seems the type. But rather, it’s more that he doesn’t see the point. It sounds like something a little kid would do: vengeance and overkill.

It’s just… embarrassing, really.

But Taehyung doesn’t say that, not explicitly. He just rolls his shoulders, looking pensive, considerate, hooks the other man onto his answer before he even tells it. “If you think beating the shit out of her will ‘teach a lesson’, then I’ll do it, sir—but I think it’ll just make an enemy.”

Jeongguk’s lip quirks up to one side, a wry sort of amusement, surprise at the challenge. “Is that so?” he presses, shard glittering in his hand as he curls the question around his tongue, “That’s what you think?”

“It’s what I advise, sir,” he lilts back, lifting his eyebrows just an inch. He tries not to get too comfortable in his skin, but, at the same time, Jeongguk’s expression doesn’t flicker.

He saunters closer to him, just a step or two, a flash of teeth peeking past his lips as he murmurs, “You’ve got some balls on you, Kim. Not many men like to disagree with me...”

Taehyung almost laughs, but Jeongguk’s yanking him forward all of a sudden, and Taehyung stumbles until, a second later he swallows and feels something jagged and sharp pushed against his throat. Jeongguk’s mouth is by his ear.

“And for that…” he whispers, “there’s a very good reason.”

Taehyung’s heart is beating furiously in his chest, breaths untimed and shallow. Jeongguk’s hand on his shoulder is strong and firm, keeping him as close as he wants. He’s fucked up.

But, then, he hears a trickle of laughter, light and melodious—way off for the moment—but Jeongguk doesn’t seem to think so, dropping his hand from Taehyung’s throat as he lets go of him with this absurd stream of giggling.

Okay, he’s definitely crazy. Unquestionably adding that one to the list.

“Relax, Taehyung... I’m just kidding!” He teases, reaching out to thump Taehyung hard on the arm before he drops the shard of glass to the floor, foot following fast to crush it underneath his heel. “I was going to carve ‘nosy bitch’ into her arm but I don’t think it would really scar right without a proper knife. So, I’ll take your advice—” Mei’s face screws up. She mutters ‘psycho’ under her breath while Taehyung wonders if that’s the only reason he’s listening to him.

“It’s what you’re here for anyway,” Jeongguk adds after a second, giving Taehyung a long, half-expectant look that makes him think they might be on the same page for why that’s probably a total lie. “We’ll see how things turn out, this time,” he says, but it sounds a hell of a lot more like ‘I won’t be joking, next time’ with the way it crunches when he crushes his foot against the shards on the floor.

He’ll have to bring along a plastic cup to drink his wine out of from now on, then—just as a precaution.

“Yes, sir.”

Just then, a buzz cuts into the air, and Jeongguk steps back, retrieving his own phone from his pocket with a murky expression as his eyes run over the words flashing up on screen. He clenches his jaw, knuckles tightening around the device before he shoves it back into his pocket. He looks over apologetically at Taehyung, but he doesn’t feel as if the pity is aimed at him.

“I’d planned to take you with me to hand Mei over—but, unfortunately I’ve got something else to take care of, tonight, before then.”

Jeongguk turns to one of the men who’ve been standing idly since the call to Hatsuo, as if they’re both content with their minor contribution for today and he leans over to whisper into his ear with his hand covering his mouth for privacy. When he pulls away, his lackey nods with fervency at being given a duty, half-bellowing “Right away, sir!” before he takes his own phone from the table again and runs out of the room like a hyperactive man-child.

Some top secret business Jeon’s got going on, then, is there? Another thing Taehyung’s got to add to his list of mysteries to solve. As he expected, Hua She is just full of them. He’s just going to have to be patient with a few.

Jeongguk’s already blurring him out again, not even paying attention to Mei either at this point as he collects a pair of keys from his jacket, rattling restlessly in his hand before he begins to retreat to the door without giving much thought about a goodbye, movements sharp and stormy.

“Will I be needed tomorrow, sir?”

Jeongguk looks over his shoulder, already gripping the handle to leave. His expression is too dark to read, eyes hazy, warmthless. “I’ll be in touch, Taehyung,” he says, clinically. “Goodnight.”

The door shuts with a snap and all Taehyung can think is how he feels rather sorry for whoever is about to be on the receiving end of that little spark of wrath.

 

~♔♚~

 

 

 

It’s ridiculous, really, after all this time… but his palms still get clammy when he’s waiting on her doorstep.

She never answers. She can’t hear it half of the time. Or, she chooses to ignore it. Maybe she knows, on some level—can sense who it is by the thunder clouds that suddenly start to swarm over her roof, the dark, swirling tobacco clouds, heavy with electric and water, just waiting to react.

He clears his throat on the third ring, a scurrying coming from behind the grand, white-pillared doors along with the sound of a key turning in the lock. The door creeps open and a young woman greets him, analogous to the dull grey that lurks around the house, as if the entire place has been desaturated.

“Master Jeon, good evening,” she mutters, the words tight with unsentiment. “It’s nice to see you again.”

The maid steps aside to let him in and he lingers in the hall for a moment, looking around himself like anything’s changed. It hasn’t, of course. It looks just as untouched as ever.

Jeongguk bites his lip, frustration coiling in his gut. He glances to the woman, who stiffens as soon as he does.

“How is she?”

“Fine, sir,” she tells him, but it’s too impersonal to mean anything. “Ate well today, walked around a bit. We managed to help her get dressed.” There’s a few fleeting seconds of silence, but it’s not the kind to intrude on. It’s a filled pause, the kind where someone’s gearing up to say something. “If you had let us know you were planning on visiting, sir, then we would’ve made everything more… presentable.”

Presentable. Jeongguk scoffs.

There is nothing that can be done to make anything in this house work. There never has been.

“If I’d let you know I was planning on visiting, Catherine, she wouldn’t have let me.”

The woman edges the door closed, locking eyes with him in some kind of bitterly soulful stand-off. It shuts with a soft click.

“Maybe that would be for the best, sir.”

Jeongguk grits his teeth.

She begins to walk past him, but Jeongguk seizes her arm, the woman turning with an blast of shock on her face, a twitch to her body as if she wants to shove him off.

“Instead of giving advice on personal family matters, maybe it would be the best for you to stay out of it,” he warns, voice deep and brisk, but hushed enough to make sure it doesn’t travel in the house’s echo. “If you want to keep your place on your major and get a degree, that is.”

The woman swallows, holding his gaze with her chest puffed and head held high for a moment longer—until she crumbles, casting her eyes to the floor with a subdued mutter of, “Yes, sir…”

Jeongguk lets go of her, his lips twinging up in response as the maid fixes the wrinkles out of her shirt. She’s wise to take his threat seriously.

He doesn’t need the escort, but she seems set on giving him one, leading him down the spacious corridor to the large double doors at the very end. Jeongguk has early memories of them being a pearl white, almost glowing. When he’d push them open, the room behind shone with gold. As a child, it always made him think of the descriptions of Heaven he’d hear about in the stories, the ones he’d be told by his mother as she set him to bed.

But the paint is peeling off the corners now, closer to grey than anything else and when they’re opened he certainly doesn’t get anywhere near the sense of wonder he had in his childhood.

When the maid’s knock is answered with a croak of “Yes? Come in,” and the door is pushed open, Jeongguk doesn’t feel much of anything.

“Ms. Kim,” the maid says, hands intertwined behind her back. She looks briefly in her peripheral, to Jeongguk, standing in the doorway with his shoulders back, chin pointing upwards. “Your… son is here to see you.”

“He is?”

She sounds… almost relieved, somehow, her tone light and easy. Jeongguk can’t even remember the last time he heard her speak like that.

But, then, he steps forward, into the cold space of the moon-tinted room. Long, hard shadows are cast over the bare walls, and where the light should fall on his mother’s face, her soft, gentle features that had been so carefully copied onto himself, it doesn’t illuminate her at all.  She’s completely washed out, blended right into the walls as the momentary glow in her eye snuffs out without a smolder.

“I’ll leave you two alone—”

“No,” his mother snaps, eyes barely even able to escape from the image of her son in front of him. A weak finger is pointed up at the maid, but her tone is steel. “No need, Catherine. He isn’t staying.”

Jeongguk takes a step forward and her attention is back on him, the finger accusatory now, instead of desperate.

“Mom—” he tries, but she mirrors against the movement, retreating back into her shell of a bedroom. It’s not quite fragility, watching this greyed-out woman quake and stumble into the shadows. Jeongguk thinks it might be closer to evaporation. He turns to the woman by the door, still, instead, and tells her, “You can go, Catherine.”

She hesitates, eyes darting between her two conflicting superiors. “But, sir—”

“I won’t tell you again,” he warns, face set and formidable in its frown. She balls her hands up into fists by her sides and bows her head, backing out to shut the door behind her.

When it does close, he relaxes ever so slightly, a sigh escaping his lips as he wanders further away from the exit. His mother is no longer trembling, bony arms folded heavily across her chest. Her sunken face mimics the scowl on his as perfectly as it can but he ignores her disapproval, meandering over to the desk flush against the wall, just escaping the windows’ light. He picks up the ornament at the edge, fingers running along the stone ridges of the blue-robed woman holding a baby in her loving arms.

“She called you Ms. Kim,” he monotones, the words sounding as if he’s reading them off a script. Jeongguk hears movement, his mother scuttling around behind him somewhere, but his focus is locked on the decoration in his hands. “I thought you were going to keep our name.”

“I changed my mind.” She sounds tired, hollowed-out. She doesn’t want to have to deal with him. It’s something Jeongguk’s known for so long now that it doesn’t usually phase him as much as it should—but, in the moment, it sends a pang through his chest.

“And why did you do that?” he asks, thumb stroking the baby’s tiny golden head now, so easily he could be asking about anything at all. How has your day been?

His mother isn’t quite so good at it, though. “I don’t want to talk about this, Jeongguk.” The words are stale. Partially from delivery, but also from how many times they’ve been said, too.

Then, Jeongguk’s attention drops off the ornament. He sets it back down with a heavy bang against the antique wood.

“Why?”

His mother freezes in shock for a second, scrutinizing her son like he’s throwing a temper tantrum; but, then, she shakes her head, eyes falling closed.

“Why would I want it?” She mutters.

“You said you loved him.”

“I did,” she insists, eyes flicking open again with her palms to the ceiling as she pleads with him, “I do.”

“Then how the hell are you okay with just… acting like he didn’t exist?” Jeongguk seethes, fingers curling up into fists as he drags closer to her.

Where their voices had been edging up in volume, there’s a long gap between his question and his mother’s response. Enough time that, when she answers, it’s dropped again, wobbling barely above a whisper.

“There are things, Jeongguk, that you don’t understand, okay?” she asks, eyes brimming with all of the emotion the rest of her body refuses to hold. “There are things you don’t know, that you don’t need to know. Nothing is black or white. That’s your problem,” she says and, where she might’ve held him for a second, he falls right through her fingers at that. “You see everything as one way or another. You’re the good son, I’m the bad mother.”

“This isn’t about me!” Jeongguk yells, chest heaving for a moment. His mother’s mouth falls open, flinching at his outburst. Jeongguk feels his stomach twist, and he turns his back on her, facing the desk again as he starts working through the documents splayed across the surface without a second thought, the ones Seokjin had texted him about earlier—in order to coax his curiosity into coming here, no doubt.

“This is about you,” he mumbles, “Not me. It’s got nothing to do with me.”

“It’s always about you,” she spits back, and he hopes she doesn’t notice the way his fingers tremble as they work over the paper. He wants to block her out, but it’s amplified the harder he tries. “You can’t stand it if it isn’t. What, do you expect me to think you came here to talk about me?” He closes his eyes, wonders if she’s trying to burn holes through the back of his head. “You don’t care about me, Jeongguk. You only care about yourself.”

Jeongguk swallows hard, eyes opening again to scan over word after word about ‘finances’ and ‘treatments’ and ‘rehabilitation.’ Red, underlined ‘urgent’ and ‘do not ignore’ in big block capitals. He knows what this all is, somewhere in the back of his mind, but his brain can’t piece it together right now.

“Why are they sending you these?” he questions, ignoring her statement completely to pick up the letter on the very top of the pile. Pristine white, neatly folded, printed with yesterday’s date at the top corner.

Her hand is on his shoulder, trying to pull him away as she says, “None of your business, Jeongguk. No need to pry—” he shoves her off, turning to face her with his eyes still glued to the page, reading down, down, down—

 

 

Dear Ms. Kim,

At our last meeting you told us that you wanted to do this for your son. This is the fourth letter you have ignored this month. We don’t usually go so off-script with the contents, but this is the only way we know to reach you, after avoiding all calls and visitors.

Please, do not ignore us again. You need this treatment. We have discussed this personally with your doctors and they agree that action must be taken. You have already given us your son’s permission for financial support with the documents you gave us last meeting, now all we need is your cooperation.

We will stress this again: DO NOT IGNORE THIS LETTER.

 

Hoping to hear from you soon,

Dr. Tam, MBChB.

Department of Health and Social Science.

New-Health Medical Centre, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

 

The letter crinkles in Jeongguk’s grip. His mother wilts, hand slipping off of him like she’s lost the power in it.

To do it for her son? She wants… to get better for him?

It’s the only thing his brain even cares about, but it’s not what he asks.

“Did you… forge… my signature?” He croaks, mouth dry.

The woman fumbles over her answer, face flicking from conflict to conflict, fidgeting with the collar of the white robe that glosses over her, splitting off into spotless white ruffles. Angelic, the way it shimmers with golden details.

“It’s—it’s more complicated… t-than that,” she fumbles. Her face is greying by the second, rosy cheeks sucked right out of her. A loose black strand of hair falls over her face as she tugs her robe tighter around her, as if she can disappear into it entirely.

“What treatment?”

“It’s not serious—”

“What is it?”

She looks for longer, eyes begging him to drop it as they blink. Jeongguk presses his mouth into a fine line and she exhales, shakily.

“They think there might be something wrong with my liver, so they want to check and if it’s okay then—” She sucks a breath through her teeth and shifts her eyes to the side, glassy as the light catches them. “If it’s okay... they want me to try therapy and if it’s not—” she sniffs, sleeve raising to dab under her eye and pulls away to glare at nothing, lips caught in a steady frown. “They’ll have to do surgery... and then they want to put me in Rehab.”

Jeongguk’s chest shoots up with pain, but he remains utterly silent for the entire time she talks. Then, once she finishes, he mutters, “You said you were fine.”

“I am fine.”

“If you were fine they wouldn’t be recommending you get help.” He slaps the letter back down on the desk, storming off to the pale cream door at the other side of the room as the woman trails after him, hissing at him to stop.

Jeongguk barges into the bathroom, already headed for the medicine cabinet as he rips open the doors of it and sifts through the standard painkillers, heartburn tablets, cold and flu remedies. His mother tumbles in after him, tugging violently on his arm, shrieking, “Stop! Stop it! Just believe me, you won’t find anything!”

Plastic trays and empty cardboard packages get knocked to the floor as he rummages through the shelves, and he’s just about to pull away when his hands knock against something a little harder. Plastic that rattles when he touches it.

They both still, arms inside the cabinet. It’s a horrible, pathetic moment. The way Jeongguk’s stomach churns as if the universe is mocking him.

He pulls out an orange bottle, half-filled with tiny, white, round tablets that jumble in his grip when he shakes them.

Jeongguk feels as if he can’t even look away, but he knows his mother is watching him intently.

“I—”

“I thought you threw these out,” the man mumbles, eyes locked on the pills as if he’s counting each one. “After the funeral. That’s… what you said.”

“I tried, Jeongguk,” she whispers, “Really, I did—but it’s not that easy—”

“Did you throw them out or not?” He barks. The woman trips over the syllables.

“I… I was going to…” she struggles, unable to keep her eyes off the medication, either. “But with your father passing—”

“If I’m not allowed to, then don’t act like you care either, mom,” Jeongguk cuts in, scathing and too venomous to not sting. “You couldn’t stand him.”

She shakes her head, lip quivering but her eyes completely dried out. “That’s not true.”

“It is,” he urges, grip tightening around the bottle. “You couldn’t handle him calling you out for your own bullshit. I— Christ, I can’t believe you kept these.” They’re too loud when he shakes them, like cheap bass at a shitty club. He can feel a headache coming on. “You’re still hooked on this shit. Nearly two decades later?”

Codeine. The label’s ingrained into his mind at this point, every last piece of information on it stored uselessly in his brain. He used to stare at it for so long he swore he could see its imprint when he closed his eyes.

“I tried for as long as you’ve been alive to kick it,” she counters, toughening up to her usual steel again, “but your father never made that easy!”

She always blames everything on him. How can she blame it on him? He didn’t give them to her.

“Dad tried to help you.”

She’s exasperated—must be to think its a good idea to latch onto him like this, her hands solid against his arms as she practically yells, “He only made it worse, Jeongguk. You can’t seriously tell me you think he was helping. He didn’t help you, did he?” Jeongguk’s stomach flips at the question, bile rising to the top of his throat. “The way you used to run into my fucking arms anytime he kicked off, shaking like a goddamn leaf. That was help?” Their faces are so close, he feels like she’s staring into his soul, can see right through him.

He feels claustrophobic. Trapped.

“No…” he hisses, articulation wavering by the second, “it… he didn’t do that, it was—”

“Did it help you when I had to put you to bed sobbing nearly every night?” she asks him. He feels sick. This isn’t right, she can’t say this. “When I couldn’t even tell you he was wrong about you because you couldn’t even tell me what he said?”

Jeongguk swallows hard enough to feel his throat get raw. He sucks in a sudden breath as if its closing up, eyes stinging when he shuts them. Unsteady on his feet, his hand flies out to the wall for support. It’s so stupid, this is all wrong. Wrong… wrong—

“Baby…”

Jeongguk pushes, his hands connecting with her shoulders blindly, but his eyes shoot open in time to keep himself steady, chest heaving. His mother grabs onto the counter, disillusion spilling from her eyes.

Jeongguk blinks at it, his own confusion thickening in his throat for a handful of untampered seconds.

Then, he wipes his cheek and scowls.

“You’re weak,” he whispers, “I’m not like you.” Jeongguk throws the pills out of his hands as if they burn and she catches them like a starved animal, bony fingers clinging to her plastic lifeline. “Keep them, I don’t care what you do with them. I’m not paying for your fucking treatment.”

He’s at the bathroom door when he pauses, looking back at the woman that hasn’t moved yet, shock binding her to the floor.

“Rot here,” he spits.

That’s the blow that gets her, reanimating to her half-life as she looks down, peering at the bottle as if she hasn’t seen them before.

Then, she looks back up, eyes heavier than he thinks she can carry.

“For so long, I hoped you’d be different,” she whispers.

Jeongguk growls, fingers grasped and stiffening around the doorway.

“I spent years and years praying that you wouldn’t turn out like him. Like some… some monster.”

He shakes his head, walking out past the door but she follows, quick when she wants to be. When she’s desperate. When, like any of their hellish family, she wants to prove that she’s right.

“I don’t know where I went wrong. You’re practically his reflection.” Sour, but in the same breath, so tender when she says, “I wanted so much for you.”

Jeongguk pauses in the middle of his escape, his tense back to her as his fists curl at his sides.

“I have everything, mom.”

Everything. Everything he could ever want is his. No one can say no to him. He can have everything.

There’s a long, suffocating silence. He can’t remember how to walk away. That was the part he never got. But it’s too late, because by the time he might remember, his mother is speaking again, her voice barely above a whisper but somehow it still reaches his ears like a scream.

“No, you don’t, Jeongguk,” she says, bluntly. Dead. Lifeless. “You don’t have anyone that cares about you. And you never will.”

This room is filled with so, so much hate.

‘Where did I go wrong?’ she asks, but the truth of it is that none of it ever worked in the first place. Fear can’t bring people together. Half of the people that it breaks never heal right, and the others stay broken.

Jeongguk takes a long, deep breath. His voice is eerily steady when he speaks.

“Tell your maids not to send me an invite to your funeral when your liver gives out.”

He walks away then, he remembers how to leave, because it’s so easy to leave behind the howling cries of his mother when they feel like acid against his skin.

“You monster!” she screeches. Jeongguk can feel it in his rib cage. “You horrible, unfeeling, demonic little monster!”

He slams the door behind him and a thud followed by the sound of smashing marble echoes it.

It was a useless ornament, anyway. The Holy Mother holding her Holy Son… what place does that have in their world?

Chapter Text

Taehyung wakes up after a half-peaceful night—and a mild hangover, but you can’t have it all.

Waking up has never really been his strong point, but it’s even harder with a festering headache and the kind of slow-cooked sleepy feeling that only an entire bottle of way-out-of-your-price-range wine can bring.

Still, he stirs around noon-something which he finds out from his phone once he manages to peel one bleary eye open and uncoil himself long enough from the pillow in his hold to grab the device on his nightstand.

He sits up, hugging the pillow to his chest and unlocks his cell-phone with a swipe, expecting a whole flurry of notifications telling him to get his ass outside before they send a brick through his window. But a frown settles onto Taehyung’s face instead.

No missed call from Jeon, not even a text.

He supposes it’s fair to assume his night didn’t go too smoothly, then. And, as tragic as that is, Taehyung can’t bring himself to feel remorse.

This frees up his afternoon quite nicely.

He thinks about sending Zhao a quick text—just letting him know he hasn’t been brutally murdered or anything yet, thanks for asking—but clicks out of his contacts list before he goes through with it. He can last a little longer, just until Taehyung gets a good idea of what’s actually going on here to save himself the embarrassment of not being able to explain things when he’s asked.

Or at the very least, make it sound like he gets it.

So, instead, he rolls out of bed, dropping the pillow reluctantly back onto the mattress. His back creaks at the movement and, just as soon as the thought of ‘god, I really need to get a new bed’ crosses his mind, the reminder of an unread notification popping up on his phone screen catches his eye.

[PayPal] Jeon. JK. sent $50k USD — ‘for being good’ (11h ago)

Taehyung cocks his hip, the device idle in his hand as he gives a short, “Huh.”

Jesus fucking Christ.

He could’ve done without the tagline, but he guesses he can’t complain about getting fifty-thousand dollars to do some homework and hang around for an hour or two—maybe he’s landed himself a nineteen-year-old sugar daddy.

The kid was right though. He definitely pays better than Yoongi.

Taehyung throws his phone back onto his mattress and, heading to the shower, wonders if he could pay to have it replaced too; but as his bare feet swipe over the cracks running along the floor, sweeping up the walls, he gets the feeling it might not be the safest move. The whole floor looks like it could collapse.

And he knows Zhao would be on his ass about that, somehow, someway.

Maybe he’ll buy a new apartment. Or save up for a few jobs and buy a house.

Or, better yet, stay in this dingy apartment until Jeongguk buys him a house.

Taehyung slides off his shirt, his underwear, and lets the water run as he steps in, temperature nozzle stuck in the middle but still bringing its usual spike from one extreme to the other with it. It shocks the hangover right out of him, though, and he lets out a sharp, “Jesus Christ!” that rings out around the bathroom.

A few moments later, there’s two blunt thumps coming from the floor above him and a hissed string of insults that Taehyung doesn’t fully catch but is pretty confident could not have come from the mouth of literally anybody religious.

He has too many enemies as it is to go picking fights with his neighbour, too, so he settles down along with the water temperature and cranes his neck back to rest his waterlogged head against the tiled wall. A sigh escapes his lips and he hopes the steam’ll help clear the foggy feeling in his skull, too.

Taehyung had put it down to alcohol at the time, waking up at some point far past midnight, but he’d had the strangest dream.

About his childhood and his family… he hasn’t seen his father in forever, but his face was still crystal clear—the chills that ran through his body real enough to shock him awake. It was the kind of dream that didn’t make any sense at all on reflection but, at the time, had all kinds of plotlines and secret connotations that said things Taehyung can’t even hope to decipher, now. Not first thing in the morning, anyway.

His eyes fall closed and he tries to focus on the freezing-cold water hitting against his skin, instead. His mom is in America, his sister is… nowhere and his father—well, he can only assume he’s burning in hell, right about now.

None of it matters anymore, it’s about time he believes that.

And in a bid to take his mind off it, he wonders what Hoseok’s doing today. No doubt Yoongi’s got him on something. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to go see him; he feels like it’s been a hot minute since he’s hung out with Hoseok.

Not that their get-togethers lately bring anything good, Taehyung’s reminded when he feels the sharp sting of soap running into his still-healing shoulder.

He could fix up his apartment a little, instead—do some of that ‘spring cleaning’ Jeon was on about (which apparently requires fifty-thousand-dollars)—but, at the same time, Taehyung’s only here when he has to be, what’s the rush?

He’ll go pester his best friend instead. Maybe Yoongi’ll still be serving breakfast. And, hell, if Jeon wants the place cleaned so badly to make sure his poor little allergies don’t kick up, he can come clean it himself.

Taehyung picks up the brown-lidded bottle stuck in the rusting shower rail; the one right beside the shifty-looking conditioner he bought in a two-pack just the other day on his way home from the restaurant. His hair hasn’t fallen out yet, though, so he’s taking that as a good sign and, unlike the complementary bottle that came with his shitty apartment, both of the products actually smell like what they advertise: in this case, the refreshing scent of coconut.

Well, maybe refreshing is a bit off the mark. It’s definitely coconut, though.

Taehyung lathers and rinses, taking one of the towels he bought from a very flirtatious old woman in the market square off of the rung. He swipes the loose droplets along his skin before wrapping the sickly green fabric (strikingly similar to his bathroom) around his waist.

He steps back into the cooler breeze flowing through the rest of his apartment and waltzes back over to his bed, half-expecting a demand from Jeon to come meet him this instant and ruin his afternoon but, when he picks up his phone… nada. Not a thing.

The relief shoots right through him. He needs a day off. He hasn’t had a day off since he came here. Not really. Not with Yoongi on his ass—but apparently, Jeongguk doesn’t share the same sentiment.

Taehyung goes for his closet—a strange little hole carved into the wall with a less-than-reliable door. It was basic hell trying to cram the shit Jeongguk bought him inside (especially with how stiff Taehyung is from being thrown around like a chew-toy by Jeon’s lapdog) but, on the upside, he’s always wanted a walk-in wardrobe.

It’s just a shame that, without the clothes, he could barely fit in it and with the clothes he can just about manage an arm.

Still, he gets dressed pretty quickly—plain black blazer, striped pants, black t-shirt: definitely not the ensemble Jeongguk envisioned, but he never said don’t mix and match so, really, it’s on him. Besides, today’s lax. Just him and Hoseok… hanging out like old times. Easy.

Or, it will be easy, Taehyung thinks as he’s heading out the door, just as soon as he deals with the little twerp of a valet.

He’s gotten to know the kid far, far better than he ever wanted to over the past few weeks. At first, it was just a minor inconvenience, him being there—but the more times he’s picked up his bike, the worse it’s gotten.

For example, he now knows for sure that he is a kid; only seventeen, in fact. Taehyung caught him doing homework a couple of times and he felt obliged to explain that he goes to a specialist kind of college that starts in late afternoon on random days of the week, so Taehyung never even noticed he was gone.

Honestly, he’d just started to think he never left.

He gets about three steps out of the front door, cold, midday sun streaming through the gaps where the giant concrete complex doesn’t block it, until he’s hit with an ear-piercing call of, “Afternoon, Mr Kim! I’m just about to head to class soon, you’re in luck!”

Luck. Taehyung scoffs, shoulders slumping. There is absolutely nothing lucky about that.

His arms curve as he stuffs his hands into his pockets and begins to drag himself along the block. The valet’s face lights up when he reaches his booth, eyes shining and lips curled up into a goofy smile.

“Hey, kid—” Taehyung grunts, shaking his keys out of his pocket with a withered sigh, “need my bike.”

Taehyung turns them over in his hand, fitting the ignition key between his thumb and index finger. Then, he notices the silence. He glances up through half-lidded eyes and sees the kid looking back at him, face set into a drooping frown.

Taehyung clicks his tongue and drops his waiting hand, keys giving a staccato jingle in his grasp. “What?”

“You know my name,” he mumbles, the hint of a pout forming. “Stop calling me kid.”

Taehyung really can’t believe his life, sometimes.

His eyes fall closed on a throaty groan, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Vincent—”

“Vinny—” the kid stresses.

“Vincent,” Taehyung snaps, eyes shooting open again as he spits out the ‘t.’

The younger’s face falls into something rather grave, eyebrows raised, eyes widened on emphasis as he tells him, “My friends call me—”

“We’re not friends,” Taehyung retorts. He saunters a foot closer to the garage to knock his fist on the door twice, the metal giving an unsteady creak as he chimes, “Let’s go, chop chop, kid.”

Vincent juts out his bottom lip again but still doesn’t move to actually do his job. He just flips another page in the book that’s been sitting abandoned on his desk until now—one of the thousand novels Taehyung sees him tear through every day or two; but this time his eyes don’t even scan over the page.

“So,” he says, instead, lips puckered as if he’s trying to pretend that he isn’t about to say something stupid. Taehyung already doesn’t like where this is going. “No scary, rich boyfriend picking you up, today?”

The older man’s face crumples, eyes squinting at the kid in front of him.

He’d made the mistake of angrily blurting out that he’s gay a few evenings ago after the millionth repeat of ‘no lady again tonight, huh, Mr. Kim?’ plucked out his last nerve. And now he’s seeing why that was a mistake.

“Not my boyfriend,” Taehyung says through gritted teeth, leaving out the fact that he damn well knows the kid would piss his pants if he knew who he was actually talking about. “He’s my boss.”

But this doesn’t seem to rectify the situation at all because a glint forms in Vincent’s eyes, fingers stroking the few strands of hair attempting to form a beard on his chin. “Ah, say no more,” he says, pitch rising with the corners of his mouth, “I won’t judge. Casual thing, I get it.” His voice suddenly drops an octave, wiggling his eyebrows at the other man to whisper, “Scandalous.”

Taehyung stalls for a moment, eyebrow cocked, staring Vincent down. His eyes flicker to his book and back up, lips curled into a grimace. “You read too much,” he concludes, mockingly tapping two fingers against his temple to add, “That shit’ll rot your brain.”

Vincent leans back, wary in the way he looks at him, eyebrows pinched and mouth pursed into a firm line. He gingerly closes the cover of his novel, pushing it out of the way to lean his arms on the desk.

“So, what are you doing today if you’re not working?”

Right, like he’s going to tell this idiot he’s a gangster. Not a chance—he’d bug him about it until the day he dies. Taehyung crosses his arms over his chest, hip cocked.

“What happened to ‘say no more’?”

Vincent scoffs, brave enough to roll his eyes at him. “It’s an expression,” he drawls, but, not even a second later, he rebounds into his beagle enthusiasm again. He leans closer out of his booth, mouth open as he prods, “Ya’ visiting a friend?”

Taehyung pokes a finger to his forehead, pushing him back into his chair, muttering, “None of your business.” Vincent shakes him off, rubbing the spot, ruefully, as the elder says, “You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”

And, now, he knows how Jimin felt.

But, of course, ever the spirited, Vincent just shrugs his shoulders, eyes looping around their sockets as he rests his chin on his hand and grumbles, “I’m bored, hyung.”

Taehyung falls silent, nose scrunching. He lets out a short, soulless laugh.

“Sorry, one second—” he murmurs, patting his palm against his ear as if he’s shaking out water before he looks back to Vincent and asks, “what did you just call me?”

Vincent beams. Blinding. Painful to look at. Taehyung squints. Really.

“Hyung?” he repeats with a dopey full grin on his face, eyes twinkling enough to make Taehyung nauseous. “You’re Korean, right?” He leans forward again, hand to his chest to announce, “So am I! I only moved to Hong Kong when I was fourteen.”

Taehyung blinks.

“Wonderful. Don’t call me hyung,” he deadpans.

And like that, Vincent is back to pouting, posture slouched and voice unreasonably loud when he asks, “Why not?”

“Lots of reasons,” Taehyung fires back. “I don’t even know you, to start.”

“But I’m homesick,” he says, dragging out the vowels as long as he can. Taehyung wishes the booth was a little more soundproof.

“That is not my problem,” he mutters back, tapping his knuckles against the garage again as he commands, “Door, now.”

Vincent mopes about it (heavily) but he does press the button to open up the garage at last, Taehyung’s brand new bike sitting neatly in there, just waiting to be taken for a proper spin because she has been so deprived up until now.

Now, nobody is here to pick him up in a flashy car or call his biking a ‘hazard to the population.’

No points for guessing who decided on that one.

But, whatever Yoongi says, Taehyung can’t deny that his new ride is sexy as hell. A sleek little Yamaha with a pearly white body and metallic, deep rose accents, even coating the suspension.

He might be starting to like bikes more than cars. Just a feeling, considering how he nearly creams his pants every time he gets a glimpse at this little beauty.

He slips onto the matte black seat, kicking the stand up and finally sticking the keys into the ignition, pulling in the clutch, hand on the throttle and god, the way she purrs.

Maybe he’s joined the wrong association. Maybe he should’ve joined a biker gang, instead.

As he rolls out of the garage, over the sound of the engine he can just barely make out Vincent’s comment of, “Cool bike, by the way. Did your boyfriend buy you it?” And immediately regrets that he heard it at all.

“Boss,” Taehyung hisses back, hand clenching tighter around the handle before he tells him, “And no, he didn’t. I earned this honestly.”

Well. He definitely earned it. Morality is a hazy topic.

But, either way, Vincent looks pacified enough for now, smiling at him with a dream-like quality in his glazed-over eyes as he chirps, “See you later, hyung!”

Taehyung slumps into a hunch as he stares the other down again, but the younger doesn’t react this time, just sticking with his cheesy grin.

Taehyung sighs, but he gives a curt nod before kicking off with a whir, pushing straight out of the garage and shooting out of the apartment block in a matter of seconds. His last bike might’ve taken a second or two, but this one feels like it might call him a pussy and throw him off the back if he doesn’t break the speed limit within thirty seconds.

Which he won’t. Not until he’s used to it. He doesn’t really want to have to call Zhao to bail him out of prison for smearing some poor pedestrian along the sidewalk.

The streets are alive as ever; busy with a mother and her playful children, giggling while they circle her incessantly like flies as she reaches to catch their hands before they cross the road. Shopkeepers chewing on their lunch, sat down at an empty chair outside their stores. People carrying groceries back home, thinking ahead of time what they’ll make for dinner in the evening.

Taehyung’s been back in Hong Kong for weeks, now, but, somehow, he still feels as if he’s been missing out on all of this. Just watching life go by—there’s never a lot of time for that in Hua She. Sometimes he forgets other things exist besides whatever job he’s stuck on, and that isn’t even a sentiment exclusive to here.

He can barely even remember what was across the road from his place back in LA.

The sunlight blitzes through the gaps in the buildings, stretching up to the blueing sky. It chases him along the roads, cascading down his back, glowing orange through the spaces the wind rips apart in his hair. He squints at it, dropping speed the more he’s impaired and turns, thinking he can lose it when he dips into an alleyway but, out the other side and there it in again. Lukewarm from the season and burning its brand into his eyes.

The slew of side streets and alleys to Yoongi’s restaurant help him avoid getting caught in traffic, winding through the areas of Mongkok that are a little quieter in the stretching afternoon. People are hanging their washing out to dry in the cold, crisp air on the lines above him and cats are falling asleep on the windowsill, only to jump awake when Taehyung screeches past.

He’s the anomaly in their little world. The one with the lack of an indoor voice.

Still, he pulls up just outside the Golden Cat not too many minutes later, kicking the bike stand down again as he tucks his shirt back into his pants and flattens down the windswept tuffs of his hair. He vaguely expects the restaurant to be a little empty today with the temperature drop—at least on the outside—but when he actually looks, there’s a crowd of hulking gangsters seated around Yoongi, who’s grumbling away about something, hunched over on a table, the smoke tumbling out of his mouth with each pointed syllable.

When he catches his eye, there’s a dangerous sheen that runs across his darkened pupils. Taehyung gulps.

“Kim Taehyung,” he calls out from across the short space. His audience turn their heads to look at him too, faces screwing up and bodies looking tense enough to pop right open. “Just the asshole I wanted to see.”

Taehyung tugs his jacket around him, shivering out a breath as he squares back his shoulders and saunters towards the small crowd. Yoongi’s slouching in the middle like a ringleader, propping his chin up in his hand and watching him with a predatory grin as if he’s waiting to strike.

“Good morning, Yoongi,” Taehyung says, coming to a stop just a few metres from the other man. Beside him, another man looks as if he wants to rise, fists clenched and his red face twisted together. He growls at Taehyung, but Yoongi puts his hand on his shoulder, eyes flicking to him to silently guide him to stay seated, before he stands himself.

“Tae,” he says, the word lifeless. He cocks his head at him, eyelids heavy and taps some ash from his burning cigarette. “What the hell did you do to piss off Four Suns?”

“Ah,” Taehyung says, an awkward laugh following out after it. “Funny story,” he starts, but Yoongi’s expression doesn’t change, focused on him with something grave spread along his features. Taehyung hesitates, amusement draining out of him. “What’s with the face, Min?” he prods, “What happened?”

Yoongi’s jaw clenches, smoke held in his mouth for a second before he blows it out with a roll of his eyes, dropping the half-finished cigarette to the ground. He crushes it under his heel and mutters, “We found five of our men gutted inside one of the dens a couple of blocks away.”

Taehyung feels his stomach flip, eyes shooting open with his mouth.

“Fuck…”

Yoongi snorts, flat and unamused.

“Yeah, exactly. Whole place was ransacked, completely trashed. They left us a sweet little note, too.” He pushes out past the crowd to put his heavy grasp on Taehyung’s shoulder. “And now,” he presses, “We’ve got a lot of people on our hands, here, shitting bricks and wondering if they’re next because of you.” Yoongi gestures behind him to the flurry of angry men death-staring Taehyung down. He understands what he’s doing. He wants him to justify himself. To speak to the small collection of people that look as if they want to smear him along the sidewalk, calm them down.

Show a little leadership.

Taehyung’s lips part, but no words come out.

Jesus Christ, what is he supposed to say? ‘Uh, sorry, didn’t mean to, but it was self-defence anyway’? He swallows, looking back to Yoongi with desperation in his eyes. The older man stares right back, still prompting—but Taehyung’s brain is empty.

Yoongi drops his hand back to his side with a deep sigh and turns to the gangsters, again.

“Danger is a part of the job description,” he tells them. There’s a rush of bitter looks sent around the group, grumbles, a few half-protests, but Yoongi holds a hand out to silence them. “However ... if you think we’re just letting this go, you’re wrong. Four Suns attacked us first—”

“Yeah,” one of the members barks up, a pitbull-like man who has his rabid grimace set on Taehyung. “After Kim beat the shit out of a bunch of their guys! This is revenge!”

Taehyung grits his teeth, just about to dispute that when Yoongi says, “It doesn’t matter what it is. Getting into a fight and winning isn’t the same as instigating a full-on slaughter of our people on our territory.” He snaps. “You think they’re just gonna call it a day, now?” His voice is just as sharp as his stare, belittling, even. The man in question shrinks under the words. “Hell no. This is just the start. And if we sit around on our asses feeling sorry for ourselves we’re next. Four Suns have always been a threat. This shit isn’t new. They’ve just been given a reason to strike.”

The man dips his head, backing down, and there’s an uncomfortable murmur floating through the crowd. A few weak disagreements, as if they don’t totally believe in the words they’re saying, now.

“If you think I’m wrong,” Yoongi tells them, “now’s the time to say.”

He scans across the whole group, awaiting a response; the silence drags on noticeably as he does. Yoongi just stands, judging them with his hands on his hips as the group shift and fidget, looking amongst each other as if they’re trying to pick out just who of them could end up next.

The blonde seems satisfied enough, huffing out a breath of wilted laughter.

“That’s what I thought,” he murmurs. Then, he tosses his palm out to point across the street, snapping, “Now get outta here and get back to work. And if you see Hoseok about, send him my way, yeah?”

They scatter like ants, some appeased for now, and some very much not, leaving behind scathing comments that Taehyung doesn’t think he should argue against.

Yoongi really does have this place wrapped around his finger. It’s funny—with Yoongi… people actually seem to listen to him. Respect him, even. None of those insults were aimed at him, after all, despite his outright challenge for it.

Taehyung thinks back to Jimin’s sharp quips against Jeongguk and then to the looks and utterances of Kiyoung and, once again, sees the difference in them. Both leaders in their own rights and yet… a world apart.

And Taehyung? He’s not a leader by any right, but he’s no better, either. He wishes he could say he doesn’t care about what just happened, but the feeling clings.

He hates fucking up. Causing problems for other people— being the problem. Hates having to fix his mistakes when he knows he shouldn’t even make them from years and years of hearing as much over and over again.

Yoongi nudges his elbow against his arm after the crowd disperses, head titled and asks, “You alright, kid?” The words are quick yet soft-spoken.

Taehyung winces at him, lips pressed together in an uncomfortable smile. “I’m sorry,” he says, but isn’t even sure if it’s the right words for the moment.

Yoongi doesn’t say anything in reply. Instead, he steps away from him, rapping his knuckles against the back of one of the chairs and silently offering Taehyung a seat. He takes it with a tinge of discomfort in his gut, while the older man leans against the adjacent table, arms folded but gaze steady on him and listening.

He wants him to talk, huh?

Taehyung sits back in his chair. It creaks with his weight as he blows a noisy breath past his lips.

“People died ‘cause of me,” he says and while death isn’t exactly a new concept to him, the fact that some people that had nothing to do with his actions wound up dead doesn’t sit well. Taehyung shifts to lean against his hand, looking up at Yoongi, wearily, who shrugs his shoulders, though a frown tugs at his lips.

“You get used to it,” he replies too easily and Taehyung wonders what kind of situations the man’s gotten himself into that’ve brought him to that conclusion. “You saved Leung didn’t you? And yourself?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“Then, that’s what you did,” he replies, as if it’s as simple as that. Yoongi leans back on his hands, ankle resting on his other knee, oddly relaxed. Matter of fact. “You can’t pussy out of your decisions. Especially not when it cost lives. It’s fine to blank, now and then, you didn’t know—but just ‘cause I helped you this time doesn’t mean anyone will in the future,” he warns, the words pointed and serious again as he stresses, “Especially not Jeon or any of his little pity party. If you fuck up, you stick to it. At least then you have something going for you.” He reaches out to pat Taehyung on the back, brusque hits that punctuate his conclusion of, “Life lesson.”

And there’s lesson four.

Taehyung nods his head, understanding what Yoongi means—and, in theory, he shouldn’t be so unsettled by this. He’s definitely witnessed the death of more people than the five killed today and, once this is all over, he’ll never even have to think about Hua She again, never mind feel guilty about it.

But somehow, Taehyung doesn’t know if he can believe that.

Christ, maybe he just needs a break from all of this. Today’ll be good for him.

“Okay, Yoongi,” he says without much thought. “Thanks.”

The man shakes his head, hand gesturing away from them as he says, “Don’t mention it, kid.” His attention becomes easier, blunter after that, relaxing against his impromptu seat as he quips, “Now, why are you here, anyway? Jeon doesn’t want you sucking the dirt off his shoes, today?”

Taehyung laughs, licking his bottom lip as he grins. “He had a minor tantrum last night. Left me to it and stormed off somewhere. He didn’t specify whether he needed me today or not, so—” He gestures to himself with both hands.

Yoongi suddenly looks a little more pensive, eyebrows drawn and his voice lower as he tells him, “Yes, I heard about his mood, actually.”

Taehyung hesitates at that, wondering how. He doubts it was any of the men Jeongguk had with him last night—but who else would’ve known?

He might’ve asked him, if it wasn’t for the sound of an engine being killed just by the restaurant, and the car door opening with a call of “Tae?”

Both men turn to look over their shoulders at Hoseok, strutting across the gap to them with sunlight striping along his figure. His mouth curls into a hopeful smile, glittering in the sun as he jokes “Did you get demoted?”

Taehyung chuckles but shakes his head despite himself and gets to his feet to meet the man with a playful punch to his arm. “No,” he snaps, “But don’t jinx me.”

Hoseok’s eyes roll but his grin doesn’t waver any. He plants himself down on the chair Taehyung had just been sitting in and kicks his feet up onto the table, popping a cigarette into his mouth from out of seemingly nowhere. “Well, what’s the deal, then?” he asks, lips holding the stick in place as he flicks a lighter at its end.

Taehyung shrugs his shoulders. “Free afternoon s’all,” he tells him, arms folding comfortably as he half-sits on the table next to him, a thigh resting beside Hoseok’s feet.

His friend looks beyond pleased at this. “Hey, Yoongi—” he says, turning his focus to the man whose attention had been off somewhere down the street. “You got anything for us?”

The man’s gaze lingers on the road for a moment longer before he turns to Hoseok, shifting off of the table to take a few steps towards them. “Well,” he says, hands settling on the back of Hoseok’s chair, “I was gonna get you to go check out the gambling den—I don’t think they’ve finished clearing it up yet. But you might as well go together, maybe find something useful.”

So much for a free afternoon.

Suddenly, he yanks Hoseok’s chair back, pulling his feet right off of the table with a heavy smack against the concrete. Hoseok grunts, an angry puff of smoke coming out of his nostrils like a bull, but Yoongi rounds his chair with the blankest expression, as if nothing happened.

“Here’s hoping,” Taehyung says, admitting defeat because arguing against Yoongi is a lost cause, anyway. He shifts to a stand again, patting Hoseok on the shoulder as he passes, and mutters, “Let’s go, Seok.”

Hoseok takes his cigarette from his lips, free hand tucking the loose end of his shirt back into his pants and points at Yoongi, quipping, “Get that water boiled by the time we get back, Min.”

Yoongi’s face crumples into a scowl as he pushes Hoseok’s chair back into the table with a thump.

“You’re on thin fucking ice, Jung.”

Hoseok chuckles like he couldn’t be less afraid. He winks with a devilish glint to his eye and smacks his hand off the older man’s butt. Yoongi bristles and, with a growl, shoves him away.

Taehyung watches the interaction unfold like a ten-foot sewer monster has just crawled out of the drains—but Hoseok doesn’t even acknowledge it, leading off to approach his shiny red car, all brand-new and sitting in wait at the side of the road.

Taehyung follows along and gives the vehicle a pat with his hand, the metal clanking as he says, “So, here’s the infamous car…” He half expects it to cave in with his touch, but it seems Leung’s not as talentless as he comes off. “A lot of things went to shit to get this hunk of metal fixed.”

Hoseok snorts, digging his keys out of his pocket as he says, “You’re telling me.” He presses the button and the car unlocks with a click. Taehyung watches Hoseok walk around to the driver’s side, but his fist slams on the roof of the car as he opens the door, grunting, “Man, this bullshit with Four Suns isn’t good, Tae. I dunno if Jeon’s mentioned it or not, but Hua She’s control isn’t so stable at the moment, and the last thing we need is other gangs kicking up at us. Especially Four Suns.”

Taehyung makes a noise of indifference, dipping into the car just as Hoseok does. “I don’t think we need to be that concerned, ‘Seok,” he says, rather truthfully. “Jeongguk hasn’t mentioned it—and, I mean, I did beat out five of them single-handedly. How tough can they be?”

Surely, whatever Four Suns can do they can do twice as hard. There’s a reason Hua She are known all around the world. The rest of the gangs in this city can’t say that.

But Hoseok seems to disagree, turning the key in the ignition with a sharp look to Taehyung in his peripheral. “Very tough,” he answers, “don’t underestimate them. And it’s not just them we have to worry about, either.” He pushes the gear stick into first and lifts the handbrake to pull off as he tells him, “They’re allied with Black Wolf, after all.”

Taehyung scrapes his brain for that name, recalling his first day back in Hong Kong and the whirlpool that’d followed. “Ah,” he says, pointing his finger, “the one with that asshole, right?” Though, describing someone as an ‘asshole’ in this industry is about as specific as calling them a person.

But Hoseok nods his head anyway, saying, “Hands-on Hung, that’s him. Black Wolf and Hua She have never been more than civil, but Four Suns and us have always been pretty rocky, too. You remember the stories, right?” he asks him, listing, “The street wars, the power struggle—back when our parents were kids.”

They’re memories so fuzzy that Taehyung wonders if he made them up, sometimes: sitting on his mother’s knee as he listened to Mrs. Jung tell tales of her childhood that sounded like action films and horror stories. Gangsters murdering each other in broad daylight, buildings being blown up at the flick of a switch, car chases on every road, drugs pushed on every street, full on wars.

“Hua She came out on top among every gang in Hong Kong,” Taehyung recalls, head cocked at the other man as he says, “Jeongguk’s grandfather, right?”

“Barely came out on top,” Hoseok corrects, fingers tapping restlessly against the steering wheel as the car comes to a stop at a junction. “But Grandpa Jeon clawed his way, somehow, after months and months of bloodbaths.” He sounds disbelieving of the fact, even today, but as the car pulls off again he says, “My point is, Tae: if we’re not careful things could be heading that way again. Jeon might not have mentioned it to you, but he’s worried. Yoongi’s worried. We’re all worried. If Four Suns and Black Wolf want to take control from us, I don’t doubt for a second they’ll use everything they’ve got trying.”

Taehyung’s silent for a minute. Zhao threw him in here at one hell of a time; a street war? Just his fucking luck.

“So, we have to put a stop to this shit with Four Suns before it’s too late.”

Hoseok grimaces.

“Bingo.”

A few minutes later, they pull up outside the den Yoongi must’ve been talking about. The whole street is deserted minus the group of gangsters huddled outside the building—no police, no ambulance. He doubts anyone called them.

They lock onto the car as it pulls up, a few of them bracing themselves, as if they’re waiting for more of Four Suns’ guys to show their faces, but, when they see Taehyung stepping out onto the sidewalk, they look even keener to fight.

Taehyung only has a few seconds before one of them’s storming up to him, face barren of anything but rage with his muscled body tense and ready to pounce on him.

“You better have one hell of an excuse for yourself, Kim,” he growls, pushing Taehyung’s chest hard enough to make him stumble back a few steps. “Or you’re next.”

Hoseok rushes up to them, hand about to grab Taehyung’s shoulder with a, “Hey, hey—” but the younger man shrugs him off, pushing his shoulders back to stand up straight.

He fucked up, he has to stand by it.

“Look, I’m sorry for what happened,” Taehyung starts, the man’s jaw twitching upon just hearing the words, “I am— but this ain’t the time to be at each other’s throats.”

The gangster scoffs in his face, arms crossing tight over his chest as he snaps, “What, we’re supposed to be frolicking through the fucking flower field? You wanted to wipe our tears away with your little heart-printed tissues?” He shakes his head at him, venom spraying with his words when he spits, “Fuck you, Taehyung. Min made a mistake thinking you were good enough for Hua She.”

He looks as if he’s about to walk away, but his limbs lock in place when Taehyung’s tone gets sharper. “I’m serious,” he says, “What’s the point in threatening me, huh? You wanna do Four Suns’ job for ‘em? Fine, go ahead.” He smacks his hand against his own chest, taunting, “Have at it, tough guy.”

The gangster holds his stare for a second, fist clenching by his side, a deep-set anger cracking into his features.

He swings.

Air wafts across his face—but the man’s fist stops an inch from his cheek. Taehyung’s gaze is unyielding, unflinching. He frowns at him.

“C’mon,” he drawls, stepping closer until his face knocks against the man’s fist. “Hit me.”  

Tension thrums through the moment, the street turning deathly silent without the jeers of the other men waiting in their huddle.

The gangster grits his teeth, fingers flexing in their fist. He pulls back his arm, eyes locked with the other man.

Then, he drops it to his side with a huff.

“You’re lucky none of the guys from Four Suns were dignitaries,” he says, darkly, a shiver working up Taehyung’s spine when he’s told “You would be dead, Kim. Fuckin’ dead.”

He steps back, patting out the wrinkles in his shirt as he mutters, “Yeah, well—pretty sure the whole gang’s on my ass, regardless.” After a moment, he looks back to the other man with sympathy knotting his eyebrows together. “Look,” he says, “I’m sorry if you knew any of the people they killed.”

The man’s lips form a thin line and he nods his head, eyes diverting somewhere aimless behind him as he says, “Yeah, my… my brother, actually.”

At that, Hoseok finally cuts in again, putting a hand on the gangster’s arm as he tells him, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“We all have it coming to us,” he answers, plainly, an emptiness dominant in his gaze as he muses, “with what we do…”

He cuts himself off with a sigh, and Hoseok takes his hand away, a firm frown coating his expression when he tells him, “Still—doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

The gangster looks marginally at peace with that, lips quirking up for half a second before he nods his head. His eyes skip to Taehyung again, voice stern and sombre as he says, “Kim.”

Taehyung doesn’t speak, silently willing him to go on.

“Think about this shit next time, okay?” the man utters to him. “The grievances between our gangs these days run deep. Nothing happens without a consequence.”

Taehyung nods, a tightness in his gut that makes him think he should head his warning, after all. The FBI won’t care that Taehyung’s getting gangsters killed and stirring up all this shit between them—but if he fucks up again he might find himself the next one to be smeared along the sidewalk… and that’s not such a pretty picture to them.

After a moment, Taehyung follows Hoseok inside. The men by the door are brooding—but quiet, and that’s enough for them.

The door closes behind him as they follow down the narrow hall of the den. Hoseok taps his arm, telling him, “Hey, you handled that pretty well out there, Tae. Shit like that happens to the best of us… it’s hard to think about the consequences, sometimes—cause this city is unpredictable.” He waits a beat before adding, “Don’t make a habit out of it, obviously—but I’ve fucked up more than I care to remember, you know? Even Yoongi has.”

“With Hung, right?” Taehyung says, thinking back to the very conversation they’d had on the car ride over. “He fucked up their relations.”

Hoseok hums. “That wasn’t even what I was thinking of,” he tells him.

They get to the end of the corridor and Hoseok reaches for the handle of the main room’s door. He’s just about to open it when he hesitates.

“Yoongi’s made worse mistakes than that,” he says, suddenly, and Taehyung’s eyebrows shoot up for a moment.

“Things that’ve cost him an even bigger deal?” He asks, but Hoseok shakes his head.

“Things that’ve cost him everything.”

Taehyung stares, just about to ask him what he means by that when he pushes the door open and the look on his face—the way his whole demeanour just falls —is enough to steal the question right from his mouth.

“Jesus Christ,” Hoseok murmurs, walking into the space as if he’s being wound in by string. No part of the den has been left untouched. It’d be a fucking hayday of a crime scene for authorities—signs of struggle everywhere, blood up the walls, on the floor, leaving a trail. He’s sure there’s fingerprints all over the place, too. Four Suns didn’t keep this quiet. They wanted them to know exactly what happened.

The tables are turned over, cards and chips and all sorts of game pieces scattered like shrapnel. He takes a step forward and hears the crunch of broken glass, the smell of stale alcohol wafting up at him the deeper in they go.

One table in the middle stands upright still and, as Taehyung approaches, he can see the piece of paper lodged into it by a pen-knife.

“Is that—”

“A note,” Taehyung finishes, the words short and curt. He tugs on the page to get it loose and, when it doesn’t budge, rips it off by force, the words split right down the middle. Taehyung holds it up to read, gaze and frown heavy, weighed down more by the contents.

“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” he reads. “Be careful playing with matches in a wooden kingdom, Kim Taehyung. Ash is the manifestation of regret.”

Taehyung crumples the letter in his hand, meeting Hoseok’s hardened stare for only a second before he’s slamming the paper back down on the table, punctuating his growl of, “God damn it, Hoseok,” with a sullen thud. “Fuck, all I did was stop someone from being beaten to a pulp. How the hell am I the bad guy, here?”

Hoseok gives a deep, weighted sigh, busying himself with heaving a table back upright. It wobbles to a still as he lets go of it. “It would’ve happened, eventually, Tae,” he says, pulling a chair with a bent leg to sit at the table, too. “Trust me, they were just looking for an excuse. Like I told you, they’re tryna push into Mongkok.”

Hoseok’s nonchalance is always a fifty-fifty for Taehyung. Sometimes, it’s comforting.

Today, it just sets him off more.

“But I gave ‘em the excuse,” he stresses, leaning up against the table and pulling the pen-knife from its cigarette-burned surface. He turns it around in his hand, as if he’s contemplating something about it—though his mind is utterly bank. “If I just didn’t steal that fuckin’ money from Leung—” he groans, flicking the blade back into its casing. It’s weightier than he expected, a thick blade and a thicker wooden handle, ambiguous stains just barely visible along it in a deep rusted colour. Of course, it’s not hard to guess what caused them.

Passed on from one pair of bloodied hands to the next.

Hoseok stops playing redecoration for a minute then to give his friend a serious look.

“If you didn’t, then they would’ve spread over another part of our territory. Leung’s important, you did what you had to do. Shit happens,” he says, tone a little harsher than usual, and it makes the elder de-tension himself slightly when he realises; shoving his hands into the pockets of his pants, he wanders over to him. “You gotta learn that quick, Taehyung,” he says, slapping a heavy hand on his shoulder. “I wanna keep you from being desensitised as much as I can, but you can’t let stuff like this throw you off-course.”

Taehyung sighs, Hoseok’s hand slipping off his shoulder with the movement and he looks across the room again for a moment, pensive, until he asks, “Those people that chased us a few weeks ago… you think that was them?”

“Hardly matters now,” Hoseok admits, shifting up to sit beside the other man on the table, “but it could’ve been. It’s like everyone keeps saying: we’ve never gotten along. Most of us don’t.”

“Except Four Suns and Black Wolf,” Taehyung points out, “They’re allies.”

Hoseok snorts, eyes rolling as he taps his fingers off the side of the table, murmuring, “Metaphorical fuckbuddies—” and, as Taehyung laughs, Hoseok answers the next question on the younger’s mind. “Not to say Hua She doesn’t have allies… Jeon just never kept them as chummy as everyone else did. Arm’s length, you know?” He tells him, tilting his head at the other man who nods to show him he does. “Probably a good decision on his part—it’s hard to trust anyone these days, especially for us. Most gangs would love to get a stab at us.” For a second, Taehyung thinks he sounds proud of the fact—the infamy, the lone-wolf cliché— but then his eyebrows knot together, voice lowered to a mutter as he says, “Don’t tell Yoongi I said this, but it makes me feel kinda bad for Jeongguk.”

Taehyung raises his eyebrows at him, knowing the older man would go crazy if he heard that.

And Hoseok seems to know it too, gauging the abrupt change in his friend’s expression as a requirement to justify himself. “He’s practically all alone in this. Nobody’s really there for him.” He shrugs a shoulder up, chin tilted towards the ceiling like his thoughts are written across it as he muses, “There’s Seokjin, I guess—but he doesn’t really like to get involved. He’ll clean up for Jeongguk now and then, sort through their finances no problem, but he doesn’t condone a lot of the stuff Jeongguk does.”

There’s something he didn’t expect. If even his own cousin doesn’t support him one-hundred percent then, as Hoseok says, who does he have?

Taehyung’s position is looking better by the minute. If he can show Jeongguk that he’ll be his ‘yes man’ then that already puts him above pretty much everybody else he knows. He’ll be trustworthy—somebody to tell secrets to so he can give them to Zhao and get this all over with.

And move back to LA, he supposes. A little bit richer and ready to take about two years off doing anything.

That is, if the LAPD don’t fuck him over and throw him back in jail, anyway.

Taehyung looks back to his friend, a momentary lull in the conversation that Hoseok doesn’t seem to mind, too busy chipping some of the paintwork off the table with his fingernail, as if it didn’t look beat-up enough.

“How do you know?” he asks him, and the man stops his vandalism to give him a stiff smile, a slight haze floating about in his regard.

“I used to tag along when Yoongi met with Jeon a while back—Seokjin was normally around and he’d always offer me a drink or two.” He gives a short laugh, one eye shutting as he grins at the man beside him, quipping, “The guy’s pretty alright with a couple of shots in him.”

Taehyung gives a soft snort, finding that hard to believe if he’s related to Jeongguk.

“But, my point is,” Hoseok says, the amusement leaking out of him again as his face drops back into a natural frown, “Seokjin can only support Jeongguk so much. And on top of all that, nearly everyone outside of Hua She’s out to get him, and a hell of a lot of people in the gang, too.”

Right. No friends and no one to trust fully—danger, traitors, liars, everywhere.

And here comes Taehyung, trying to convince him he isn’t any of those things, just to turn around and destroy his entire empire.

“That is tough,” he comments, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his thighs—and he’s serious, too. That is tough. Heavy stuff; it almost gives Taehyung the incentive to feel bad about it.

Almost. If it wasn’t for everyone around him implying that Jeon deserves what he gets pretty much anytime he comes up in conversation.

“No kidding,” Hoseok says, flatly and, just a moment later, he’s slipping off the table again, hands pushing back the ends of his jacket to settle on his hips as he takes another look around the devastated room. “Well,” he says, tone prompting, like the mark of a topic change, “what do you make of this place, huh? Any leads, detective?”

Taehyung gets to his feet just after him, shaking his head with his eyes still bouncing around the scene—one dead end to the next. “Not much to go off of,” he concludes, and Hoseok gives a firm nod in agreement. “I mean, I know who did it—” He reaches for the balled-up note on the table, unfolding its wrinkled surface to look over the words again, bottom lip tugged between his teeth. “But I don’t know how to find them. Or what I’d do if I did.” He folds the note this time, slipping it into the pocket of his pants before he puts his hands in his pockets, too, posture sloping with a quiet exhale. “I don’t wanna blow this into a full-out war.”

The other man nods his head again. “Yeah, we’re in a tight spot.” But then, he gives a light shrug, suggesting, “Maybe it isn’t our call to make.”

Taehyung snorts, tilting his head back at the other man to say, “Being Jeon’s advisor, I find that unlikely.”

Realisation flashes over Hoseok’s face, as if he’d somehow forgotten that fact. He scratches the back of his ear, reasoning, “Well, it’s not mine… ” And when Taehyung’s eyebrows shoot up, head snapping upright again, the man chuckles, giving his friend a weak pat on the back as he tells him, “Look, just take the note with us. Let Yoongi know about the ones you beat up. Maybe he’ll know someone—no doubt Namjoon could find ‘em.”

Taehyung holds his gaze for a second, unable to place what he’s feeling, really. Confliction, he supposes. Those old instincts burned into him as a kid about not making mistakes, and not being able to immediately rectify one makes it even worse, like his father’s just about to burst in through the door with that grimy old scowl of his.

“Sure thing,” he mindlessly agrees after a moment or two, and Hoseok’s lips twinge downwards, forehead wrinkling briefly.

“You feel like you should be doing more, huh?”

Taehyung nods, knowing the man’s read him like an open book, as always (maybe with a few good pages ripped out.) He doesn’t know the whole context of the story but he’s good at filling in the blanks.

Hoseok lets his mouth curve upwards again, reaching out to eagerly fluff his fingers through the other man’s hair. “That’s always been your problem, Taer-bear.” Taehyung just about manages to pry him away, fixing down the strands with a semi-fond grimace when the man moves to poke him in the stomach instead, teasing, “You’ve got a soft spot inside. Like a s’more.”

Taehyung scoffs, flicking away that invasion too as he drawls, “Yeah, yeah, like you can talk.”  He bumps the man’s shoulder as he pushes past him, throwing a quippish, “Don’t act like you don’t have a soft spot, too,” over his shoulder.

Hoseok blows a breath through his teeth, a soft ‘pshh’ sound that’s visualised by the tilt of his hips, an eyebrow arching at Taehyung. Arrogant, condescending… a little intrigued.

“What soft spot?”

Taehyung already has his hand on the door, ready to leave when he pauses, scrunching his face at his friend.

What, he thinks he didn’t notice?

“How about the one on the blonde piece of work I saw you grabbing earlier, huh? You know, the guy that could pummel us both into the ground? Simultaneously?”

There’s a second when Hoseok stops completely, expression wiping into a blank slate on his face—and Taehyung thinks gotcha.

But then, the man strides over to him, taunting, “What? This?”

Without any further warning, his hand is smacking off Taehyung’s butt, a clear hit, scarily practised and the younger man jolts slightly, looking at his friend in raw disbelief.

“Saving it to marriage or something, Tae?”

He clears his throat, just giving himself a moment to get over that, and shakes his head as he opens the door to let them both out. “Just surprised Yoongi didn’t break your fingers is all.”

Hoseok follows after him, closing the door behind them both with a cheeky arrogance to the way he grins, scrunches his nose and shrugs.

“I’m just dusting off the cobwebs for him.”

Taehyung involuntarily shudders and Hoseok cackles about it the entire walk back.

The gangsters seem to have dispersed while they were inside, only the man from before with a few others left hanging about. When Taehyung looks at him he gives a stern nod—not quite understanding but perhaps heading towards acceptance. It puts Taehyung’s mind at some kind of temporary ease, at least.

Thankfully, there’s no assembly of muscle cars around the corner this time, so Taehyung relaxes into his refurbished seat, watching the people on the streets pass by faster than them, being caught in a surge of lunch-time traffic. Somehow, though he doesn’t mind all that much—they’re not in any huge hurry.

“So, while I have you to myself, for once…” Hoseok says, hand lifting off the gear stick as if he’s accepted the fact that he won’t be needing to shift up anytime soon. Taehyung turns his head to him, smirking at his best friend’s passive aggression as he continues, “About the whole… Jeongguk getting you to fight someone thing—”

Okay, scratch that ‘doesn’t mind’ bullshit.

“Seok,” he groans, the noise bubbling in his throat as he throws his head back against the firm leather seat. “I already told you—”

“It was Jimin, wasn’t it?”

Taehyung’s head snaps forward again.

“How’d you know?”

Hoseok rolls his eyes at him, car inching forward lazily as the traffic begins to unpack. “I’ve seen you fight, Tae,” he answers very simply. “You might be totally technique-less… sloppy… and way too reliant on sheer luck—”

“Hey!”

Hoseok leans away from the incoming slap to the back of his head, stressing, “But, I know you can hold your own.” The younger man retreats, arching an eyebrow at the smug grin crawling its way onto his friend’s face. “Plus, I was the one that taught you, so I know it’s good.”

The look Taehyung gives is neither amused nor in agreement. If by ‘taught him’ he means the time he accidentally punched him across the face when they were kids and let him do it back to make it even, then sure.

“My point is,” Hoseok continues, “you were pretty banged up and I don’t know many guys Jeon has that you couldn’t handle.” A spark of warmth swells in Taehyung’s chest for a second, looking over at his friend with fondness. Hoseok’s eyes cast to somewhere on the ceiling, face crumpling ever so slightly as he says, “Maybe not beat, but definitely not lose as hard as you did.”

The spark dies out, and Taehyung scowls.

“Way to rub it in, Seok.”

“You’re welcome,” he chirps, grinning with his eyes back on the road as it virtually clears out. “Besides,” he adds a second later, “Jeon doesn’t typically go places without Jimin unless it’s to see Yoongi, so, educated guess.”

Taehyung laughs.

Of course—there’s always a catch with Hoseok. He could make an incredible pitcher.

He leans his arm on the windowsill, watching the older man from his peripheral with a tinge of deviance.

“Are you allowed to tell me about those two yet or am I still waiting for another slip?”

Hoseok’s eyes widen for a split second, shaking his head as he says, “Yoongi would gut me. And it’s not my story to tell.”

He can accept that. Yoongi probably would gut him—but Taehyung’ll find out eventually… Hoseok’s never been good at keeping secrets.

And, like he can’t quite contain himself, a few seconds of silent contemplation later he gives a heavy sigh, hands gripping tighter to the steering wheel as he warns, “Just be careful around Jeon, okay? That’s all I’m gonna say.”

Taehyung chuckles.

“So, Jeongguk was involved?”

“What did I just say?” He huffs and, eyes still on the road Hoseok reaches over and flicks Taehyung on the forehead.  “Just ‘cause you jetted off to America for a couple of years doesn’t mean you can come back here and walk all over me.”

Taehyung scoffs, rubbing his forehead with the beginnings of a smirk, despite himself.

“Apologies, oh great one.”

Hoseok tips his chin up, lips splitting into a smile.

“That’s better.”

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

Jeongguk can feel the headache settling in before he even opens his eyes, blossoming around his forehead, trickling along his temple. Short, sharp bursts of pain around his face in a too-bright room. His throat is scratchy and his entire consciousness feels as if it’s been put through a blender.

He groans into his pillow, eyes flickering between opened and closed, trying to recall anything actually good that happened last night to land him in this position—but all that comes to mind are the things he tried to forget.

That, and the ageing bottle of bourbon he emptied in one sitting.

Jeongguk hauls himself out of bed after steeping long enough in self-pity, and treads through his clothes scattered along the floor in a trail to the mattress. He reaches for the red silken bathrobe on his way out, slipping it on over his bare skin and tying it around his waist. Then, he shuffles towards the stairs, feet as heavy as his eyelids while he squints at the blinding sun intruding throughout the floor-to-ceiling windows of his apartment.

As he would expect, Jimin is loitering around downstairs, phone glued to his ear and muttering about times and places—more preparation for the inauguration, he’d assume. But, the man looks towards the staircase when Jeongguk’s drowsy steps make the wood creak and he tells the person on the other end of the line that he’ll call them back.

Jimin ends the call, phone still clutched in his hand as he eyes Jeongguk with a stern, narrowed gaze and a, “Goodmorning, sir,” that rolls off his tongue with venom.

Jeongguk’s just about to question it, hand slipping off the banister as he drops down from the last step when the older man says, “I kicked out your ‘guest’ for you. Real charmer,” he assures him with a sarcastic lilt.

Jeongguk stops, face crumpling into something sour watching Jimin toss his phone onto the chair beside him.

“...Who?”

Jimin snorts, but the curve of his lips makes him think he isn’t surprised. He leans against the wall, arms folded across his chest and says, “The entitled socialite you brought home last night? Desperate, irrelevant, ditsy… an ego with legs— just your type.”

Jeongguk ignores the insult and, instead, wracks his brain for any memory of this at all, even vague, while Jimin looks on with that uniform detachment in his gaze. After a couple of seconds, fingers rubbing his temple like it could rid him of his headache, he might recall some dark hair, tight clothes… maybe a sliver of skin or two.

But that’s the height of it. Club, street, contact list—anyone’s guess where he picked them up from.

“Right,” he replies, palm brushing over his face before he grumbles, “Fuck, my head—” Jeongguk drops himself down onto the nearest sofa, briefly hoping the cushions will swallow him whole, and, not even half a minute later, Jimin’s in front of him, silently holding out a glass of water and some aspirin for him.

Jeongguk takes them without hesitation, knocking back the pills and emptying the glass in a matter of seconds. He wipes his mouth on the back of his hand and lets out a soft groan, hand gripping tight around the finished drink as he lifts his gaze again to Jimin.

“What time is it?”

Even talking hurts. God, he can’t remember the last time he had a hangover this bad.

Jimin glances at the golden watch on his wrist, finger tapping against the glass face. “Just past two.”

Jeongguk winces.

As much as he hates to admit it, he went overboard last night. There’s no doubt what everyone else is thinking about it, either—he can hear the whispers of ‘another tantrum’ already.

Jeongguk puts his free hand to his forehead, pushing his hair back and leaning forward on his elbow. “Do I have anything scheduled for today?”

The answer is always yes—but here’s to hoping he gets lucky.

Jimin reaches out to take the empty glass back from Jeongguk, eyes circling around in thought before he answers, “Om called this morning—she made the repairs to your gun.” He disappears for a moment, returning the glass to the kitchen before he strides back into the room, adding, “But, apart from that, everything can be rescheduled or worked around… so, it’s up to you.”

“Right…”

Maybe he’s luckier than he thought.

Quick work on Om’s part, at least. He supposes he owes her punctuality for it.

Besides, she just gets more annoying the longer she’s made to wait.

He’ll get dressed and head over there immediately he decides, gripping the arm rests to haul himself back up to his feet but, it’s as he’s passing his bodyguard that he realises the absence of another person.

“Taehyung,” he mutters. Jimin arches an eyebrow.

“What about him?”

Jeongguk shakes his head, already moving to ascend the stairs again. Three steps up, he turns to look over his shoulder, down at the man still eyeing him with caution.

“Do you happen to know where I left my phone, Jimin?”

He tilts his head, chin tipping up. Jeongguk can see the ‘I’m not your butler’ gleaming in his eyes. “Try the study,” he answers curtly.

Jeongguk nods, turning back to climb the rest of the steps. His bare feet touch the landing and, autonomously, he ties his robe tighter around him, the cold wood of the floor chilling him from the soles up.

He pushes open the heavy door to the study, the hinges creaking with the strain as, immediately, he catches onto the gentle hissing sound, a rattle—something else falling to the ground.

Jeongguk sighs, but his mouth is upturned, anyway.

He crosses the study, a loose piece of paper sticking to his foot out of the hundred on the floor. He leans a hand on his desk for balance, peeling the page off and glancing over it.

Nothing important anyway, some financial accounts—Seokjin probably has them copied at his place three times over.

He’s just about to straighten up again when, from under the piles of books and documents littered around his desk, peaks the head of a familiar creature, smoky grey scales, forked black tongue slipping out with a demanding hiss.

Jeongguk’s eyes follow the line of his body and, of course, he’s wrapped himself around the desk. He has a habit of doing that when Jeongguk is working there, anyway, but, perhaps he just missed him this morning.

“Ares,” Jeongguk murmurs, letting the snake slither over his hand, curling what it can of its thick body between his spread fingers. “What have you been up to, hmm?”

It’s quite clear what he’s been up to, looking around the study. File after file thrown all over the place, the new lamp he just had Jimin replace already on the floor. Pages crumpled, books bent. Jeongguk’s just glad he didn’t leave anything valuable in here.

Although saying that…. where is his phone?

“Daddy’s been busy, hasn’t he?” he asks, watching as the snake begins to uncoil itself from him, clearly satisfied with the attention for now. “Is that why you’re trashing his office?’

Jeongguk never had a pet when he was a kid—there was nobody to look after it. And Ares is hardly a pet as much as he is an ally. It’s not compassion the snake has for Jeongguk… but an understanding of sorts. A deal of ‘you don’t hurt me and I won’t hurt you.’

But Jeongguk doesn’t just tolerate the thing. It’d be difficult to deal with most of the mayhem he causes, trashing every room in the suite whenever he feels like it, based on tolerance alone.

He likes Ares. There’s something familiar about him. Something he understands, perhaps: what it’s like to be feared but not respected.

Another file falls off the desk, like the snake is trying to get his attention again and Jeongguk leans down to pick it up, eyes flitting over the cover as he sees a square of colour peeking out.

He settles into a smirk, fingers running over the photo in his hand—the man in it with silky silver-golden hair to match the golden glow of his skin, match the golden tint in the sunglasses perched lazily on his nose. Unsuspecting, candid, looking at the world around him with dissatisfaction clear in his gaze like he’s expecting to be handed something more.

Jeongguk glances at Ares, who is still, now—tongue darting out in sharp intervals and awaiting a response to the question he apparently just asked.

Jeongguk scoffs, tossing the picture back onto the table with a flick of his wrist.

“Don’t get jealous, baby,” he says, reaching a finger out to smooth along the scales of the snake’s head. “You know how this all goes.’

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

“And then one of the brawns came up to shit on him for fucking up—but Tae handled it pretty well,” Hoseok says, hands held up in surrender. He slaps them back down on the table. “The guy backed off.”

Yoongi tilts his head, eyebrow cocked as he glimpses at Taehyung with the edgings of a smile on his lips. The younger winks at him, mirth running over his features.

“As for the place itself, though,” Hoseok continues on a less-entertaining note, “we couldn’t find much.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung cuts in, shifting forward in his chair to sit up straighter as he adds, “all we really have are the descriptions I gave you of the gangsters from Leung’s place and that note.”

Yoongi presses his lips together with a short nod, pausing from wiping down a table to throw the rag over his shoulder and say, “Well, no surprise they didn’t leave a treasure map.” He wipes his hands on the apron tied around his waist and saunters closer to them, hands sitting neatly on his hips. “I’ll pass the info onto Joon, but don’t beat yourself up if we can’t fix things before something else goes wrong, okay?” He stops just in front of Taehyung, the man looking up at the elder stood innocently between his legs. There’s warmth in his eyes as he reaches out and taps underneath Taehyung’s chin with his knuckles. “Sorry for being harsh earlier,” he mutters, lips pouted, tip-toeing the line of sincerity and condescension.

Taehyung shrugs away from him, knocking his hand back with his as he chuckles, quipping, “I’m not a Care Bear, Min, you don’t have to go all afterschool special on me.”

Yoongi grins, grabbing the rag off his shoulder again to hold it loose by his side.

“I’ll take that as ‘apology accepted.’”

Hoseok, peering at the man between them both, runs his fingers along his chin in thought, ankles crossed with his feet up on the closest chair to him. “You’re taking all of this surprisingly well.”

Yoongi shrugs, as casual as anything as he strolls over to Hoseok and, slowly twisting the rag in his hand, suddenly whips it against the man’s legs, who hisses, knee jerking up and banging off the table in one fluidly painful moment.

“It happens, you know?” Yoongi continues, as if he hadn’t just done any of that—and he’s addressing Taehyung again when he tells him, “Not your fault they didn’t lead you right to ‘em.” 

Hoseok’s rubbing his knee, glare aimed perfectly at Yoongi. “That’s true…” he murmurs, shoulders hunching with the dip of his mouth. “But still didn’t expect you to say it.”

Yoongi gives him a warning look, head tilting up, the feline cut of his eyes sharp and pacifying—but Hoseok challenges it, rising to his feet with his arms crossed along his chest, hip balanced against the table.

Yoongi doesn’t cave, more just drops it off a cliff, rolling his eyes and turning to completely cut Hoseok out of his vision as, to Taehyung, he says, “Hey, if you’re gonna be sticking around today, though, I might have a little job for you two.”

Immediately, Hoseok is over himself, picking up the warming pint of beer from his table and raising it with a shout of “Woo- hoo!” The head froths around the glass as he jumps over with stomping feet against the concrete.

“Hope and Tata back in action!”

Taehyung chuckles, raising his coffee mug, still steaming out of the porcelain and clinks it against the older man’s beer, replying, “Hear, hear.” Hoseok plants himself down in the chair beside him, knocking back the rest of his drink as Taehyung asks, “Now, what kinda job? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I’ve already filled my quota for injuries this month—”

There’s a buzz in his pocket. Taehyung reaches into his pants to pull out his phone, flashing a name on the screen with a vibrating ring. He lets out a quiet ‘oh.’

“It’s Jeongguk.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Hoseok scowling—a downtrodden pout that might fit better on a pre-schooler.

“Speak of the devil,” Yoongi notes, expression clouding over with a lazy eyebrow quirking just above the other.

Taehyung snorts, standing to his feet again as he says, “S’cuse me for a sec, let’s see what he wants.”

“We all know what he wants,” Hoseok mutters, patting the bottom of the empty glass held over his open mouth to try and get out the last drops.

Taehyung draws his fingers across his lips in a zipping motion as he steps away from the two men to speak without a running commentary. Taehyung presses answer, eyes flitting to his friends who’ve settled back into a conversation of their own—Taehyung hears his own name and figures out the topic from there.

Then, the call goes through, a buzz popping into his ear.

“Hello, Master Jeon,” Taehyung says, head tilting subconsciously as he asks, “Everything alright?”

Jeongguk gives a soft groan—closer to a whine than anything. His voice is gravelly, the words slightly confused and groggy when he speaks. “Taehyung, where are you?”

Christ, if this kid blows up on him for not being at his beck and call—

“The Golden Cat, sir.”

He makes a noise of frustration in the back of his throat, something bratty and childish—but, to Taehyung’s surprise, leaves it at that.

“There’s some things I’d like to show you today,” he drawls. Taehyung thinks he might still be half-asleep—or at least pre-occupied. “I’ll pick you up in fifteen.”

The call is dropped before he can even give him a reply. Taehyung looks at the black screen of his phone with slight whiplash, lips closing together again, his affirmation swallowed back down.

It’s not like he was going to refuse—but still.

“Well,” Hoseok asks when Taehyung walks back over to him, his hands around his coffee. He takes a sip, smacks his lips—-a silent challenge to object. “What did His Lordship want?”

“Me,” Taehyung answers bluntly.

Hoseok snorts, half of his face hidden by the rim of the mug. “As expected.”

Taehyung gives a short laugh, plucking the cup out of his friend’s hand just as he’s about to drink again and tells him, “He said he’d like to show me some things.”

Hoseok settles back into his seat, eyeing the coffee for a moment before his eyes flick up to the sky and back down again, jibing, “No shit. Bet he wants to show you a lot of things.”

Yoongi reaches for the empty pint glass Hoseok left lying on the table and, upon straightening up, doesn’t miss the chance to smack the younger man on the back of the head with the flat of his palm. Hoseok’s head ducks slightly with the force.

“Ow!” he moans, rubbing the spot (again) with a piercing glare in the direction of his boss.

Yoongi winks, a grin edging up his lips as he backs away, flipping his notepad out of his pocket, pen in hand before he moves over to the table of customers behind them, calling for his attention.

It must be about fifteen minutes later when a car pulls up across from the restaurant: tinted windows, shining black body and a steady, gentle purr as it comes to a halt. Looks the same as the rest of Jeongguk’s cars to Taehyung, but, across from him, Hoseok looks on, longingly, sitting with a coffee of his own, now, at the table.

That is, until the door opens.

Just a few metres away, Jeongguk sits, spread out like royalty in the back seat, opposite a line of unresponsive guards. He moves over to leave space, but his arm still hooks around the back of the seat’s headrest, other hand gripping a coffee cup with his knees parted too much to get any real credit for hospitality.

“Come on, Taehyung.”

He jerks his head to gesture in his own direction, his tone expectant, as if Taehyung’s about to run right to him like a dog.

There’s a soft snort. Taehyung glances to his left to see Yoongi scribbling down notes on a file pad (details for a few important drug shipments, he’d said) with his apron still on and a smirk on his lips that is far too telling for the moment.

Jeongguk’s arrogance fades away, mouth snapping downwards.

“Min,” he says tightly, but Yoongi doesn’t heed the silent ‘watch your tongue’ spelled out between the syllables. 

He straightens up instead, throwing the pen down onto the paper and, just as hotly, replies, “Sir.”

Between them, Hoseok shifts uncomfortably on his feet—it’s a tense atmosphere. Taehyung’s hardly sure what to do with himself, either.

He stands, patting Hoseok on the shoulder in a farewell and passes Yoongi on the way, who nudges his arm, gently, eyes not leaving Jeongguk for a second when he says, “Hey, Tae—try to stay in one piece today, yeah? First aid box’s running low.”

The look that both men exchange is nothing short of icy.

Then, Jeongguk sniffs, indignant, and downs the rest of his coffee. He crushes the paper cup in his hand and chucks it out the door. It falls to the ground with a dull clatter as he holds out the now-free-hand, demanding and petulant when he says, “Now, Taehyung.”

Taehyung tenses; being ordered around like that always manages to piss him off, but he takes the man’s hand anyway. It’s warm and soft—much softer than he’d expect—and he catches Jeongguk grinning at him for feeding into his needless theatrics. Taehyung settles into the spot beside him, watching the expression on both of his friends’ faces shift from disbelief to irritation.

Taehyung lifts a hand to them both, staring dumbly back at him, and Jeongguk leans over to close the door with a thud.

Then, the amusement on his face is gone. He sinks into his seat, slouching, and presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose, massaging in small circles with a gentle grunt.

Taehyung watches the motion with curiosity. It seems as if a good night’s sleep wasn’t what the guy needed for his mood-swing.

“Are you feeling alright, sir?”

Jeongguk remains impassive, staring straight ahead of himself with a firm gaze fixated on nothing; spaced out, it seems. He completely ignores Taehyung’s question. “There’s an associate of mine I need to see: Om Taeseon.” The name clicks right into Taehyung’s memory, the files Zhao had showed him on the longest journey of his life. “She’s repairing my gun.”

“Repairing it?” He tries not to sound too suspicious with the question, the words relaxed around his tongue—lightly curious, conversational . Certainly not prying —he’s learned that lesson with Jimin, already.

But his curiosity is justified—-it was just fine, last night. Taehyung had held it himself... so what happened after that?

If Jeongguk thinks he’s being intrusive, he doesn’t show it, answering with a stiff, “Yes,” that doesn’t have much thought at all. “She’s a very important member of Hua She, so I want you to meet her.”

Taehyung lifts an eyebrow at that, somewhat surprised by the latter revelation.

He tries to recall what Zhao had told him about Om, but not much comes up apart from the fact that she manages the weapon orders—he hadn’t mentioned that she could fix them up, too.

Honestly, Taehyung would’ve been better off with a couple of documents to induct him rather than that man. Would’ve been much more bearable, too. It’s hard to remember things he’s told him when Taehyung’s been trying to pretend he doesn’t exist.

A second or two later, Jeongguk snaps into awareness again, glancing to Taehyung with a furrowed brow. 

“Word of warning though she can be… inappropriate,” he decides and—

Ah… Taehyung remembers now.

‘Try and avoid her altogether,’ Zhao had said.

Well, there goes that plan.

“How so, sir?”

“You’ll see,” Jeongguk answers, non-descriptively. A moment later, fingers running over his lips in thought he adds, “She’s the best weapon-dealer we have, though.”

Most people would think having someone like that so highly ranked in their gang would be irresponsible—but it seems Jeongguk has a penchant for disorder. 

Either that or he’s just a magnet for it.

Taehyung hums, passively, and lets his eyes land on the three men sitting across from them, nothing of note about them besides their hardened faces and the fact that he doesn’t recognise any of them.

Just how many guys does he usually have running around with him? Taehyung rarely even sees the same guard twice—minus Jimin, obviously. Though, that makes him realise something else.

“Where’s Jimin, sir?”

The bodyguards don’t react to the question and in fact, Jeongguk barely does, either—eyes glued to a spot on the floor again as he mutters, “Meeting us there. He isn’t keen on the restaurant. Though, no doubt you’ve picked up on that.”

No kidding.

“Yeah… no one’ll tell me why, though.” Jeongguk grunts in response, eyes casting off to look outside the window instead, chin resting in his hand. 

Taehyung tries his luck.

“Do you know, sir?” Taehyung asks, intonation rising as he half-glances at Jeongguk. He watches the man’s jaw clench, his fingers curling up by his cheek.

“I don’t know if Min lets you play twenty questions with him all day long or somethin’, Kim,” he gripes, still not turning to look at him, “but it’s not my job to satisfy your nosy little curiosity.”

Ah. So, he does know—just like Hoseok said.

It looks like this whole thing might be a little more important than Taehyung first thought.

Minutes later, the car comes to a stop outside a colossal building—its thick brickwork reaches high up into the sky, almost the height of some of the buildings in Wan Chai and, despite its secluded spot (close to the Victoria Harbour for shipment purposes, he’d assume) its parking lot is packed, trunk to hood.

Two bodyguards get out first, holding the door open for Jeongguk to step out behind them and, when Taehyung gestures for the remaining one, looking at him blankly, to go ahead, the man shakes his head, lifting a hand and telling him, “Please, you first, sir.”

Sir.

Taehyung grins a little to himself, skipping out after Jeongguk. So, this is what that feels like, huh?

The door’s closed a moment later and Taehyung’s able to inspect the place with a bit more clarity now, hand shielding his eyes from the winter sun, just peeking out over the building. Birds weave around it, the clouds seeming to form a cluster at its peak. It’s like observing a mountain.

“Does Om have this whole place to herself, Master Jeon?”

Jeongguk looks to him, amusement sharp in his eyes, a lopsided grin quirking up his lips as he snides, “Not quite, Kim.”

And Taehyung sees exactly what he means by that when they head inside.

From floor to ceiling, the place is buzzing with life. Glass railings go up and up and up the floors, like balconies to show off the plethora of rooms packed inside, men and women walking about in clumps and lines like finely-dressed ants. Everywhere he looks there’s more people. 

People at the entrance, giving greetings to their boss, people at desks, acting like receptionists, people sitting on the sofas, briefcases in hand as if they’re waiting for their name to be called. If Taehyung didn’t know any better, he might think this was any regular, legal organisation. The nerve centre of a successful chain corporation, a legitimate business.

Jeongguk notices him staring and, out of the corner of his eye, he sees him raise a smug eyebrow.

Taehyung knew Hua She was big but this… 

“Om has a floor to herself,” Jeongguk tells him a beat later. He points lazily upwards, could be directing to any place at all when he adds, “Way up there—her office, her workshop and her storage. It’s a self-made business of hers, but Hua She funds it, these days.”

Taehyung nods, taking in the information for politeness more than anything. It’s an interesting origin, though: Hua She picking up some freelance weapon dealer when there was no doubt a thousand already out there with credit to their name.

He sees Jimin marching over to them from the other side of the room soon after. His shoes click against the tiled floor, hair pushed back off his forehead. Composed and ever so intelligent-looking as usual. Taehyung didn’t know he wore glasses, but the rounded pair on the end of his nose make a fine appearance anyway.

“Om is in the workshop, sir,” he says when he approaches. His eyes skit to Taehyung and then immediately away again, as if he never saw him. “Something about finishing touches.”

“Jimin,” Taehyung says, the syllables sliding off his tongue with compact sleaze—a little teasing when he adds, “Nice to see you again.”

The man’s head twists his way, sudden and sharp. Taehyung swears his eyes flash behind the lenses. “I saw you yesterday, Kim,” He says, adding absolutely nothing more onto the conversation as he gives his attention back to Jeongguk, who’s looking very amused for someone who gets the exact same treatment. “This way, Master Jeon.”

Taehyung blows a breath past his pouted lips, hands folding into his pockets as he follows along behind them.

Jeongguk leads them across the floor, men and women stopping in their tracks as they see him to offer a bow, recycled greetings heard time and time again. 

‘Good afternoon, sir’ ‘Wonderful to see you, Master Jeon’ ‘Anything we can help you with today, sir?’

Jeongguk nods his head in acknowledgement once or twice but, by the time they reach the elevator, adjacent a pair of winding staircases, he is stoic and unresponsive. Just around the corner, Taehyung catches a remark —the word ‘bastard’ passed around on lips that, no doubt, should be expected to kiss the feet of the one they’re insulting.

He feels a shiver run through him and watches as Jeongguk’s steps falter, his shoulders twitch back. The man’s eyes flutter shut and his fist curls by his side—

—But he doesn’t do anything. 

And Taehyung’s left wondering why. Surely, he should be trying to squeeze as much respect out of his subordinates as he can around here. Taehyung’s yet to meet someone who genuinely does respect him—does that not bother him?

Jeongguk prods his finger against the elevator button, a soft click preceding the amber glow on the wall. None of them speak until the doors open. After Jeongguk moves into the mirrored space, Jimin puts a hand up between him and the other three bodyguards, stopping them in their tracks with a potent sort of authority that seems to disarm them without a word.

But, Jimin speaks anyway, telling them, “Om doesn’t like people she doesn’t know running about in her workshop—” he gives a hard look to Taehyung, lips pulled taut, before addressing the others again. “There’s plenty of things for you to be doing here in the meantime. We won’t be long.” That seems a dig at Jeongguk, who challenges Jimin’s gaze with something just as steady; pleased, even. He always looks vaguely entertained when Jimin speaks.

Does Jeongguk respect him? Or does he just see him as another one of his toys?

Jimin gestures for Taehyung to go in and he takes his place beside Jeongguk, whose eyes follow his reflection as he walks.

The doors close after Jimin presses the button for the top floor, stepping back to keep both men in his peripheral as the elevator clinks and begins to ride up the shaft.

The atmosphere is tense—and Taehyung can’t quite put his finger on why until he watches Jeongguk’s growing smirk unveil across his lips.

“So, Jimin,” he starts. The man’s posture stiffens up immediately. “Did you finish up all those things you suddenly had to do this afternoon?”

Jimin clenches his teeth, eyes glued straight ahead of him, watching the panel on the other side of the elevator climb and climb but, undoubtedly, not fast enough.

“Yes, sir,” he grits out. Jeongguk chuckles, something deep and borderline sultry about it. 

He rests his hip against the handrail, a shit-eating grin on his face as he says, “How convenient.” The ‘t’ pops in the crisp silence. Jeongguk waits a beat. “As always...”

Jimin turns to him, impassivity turned to venom as he snaps, “You—"

The elevator dings, doors swinging open a second later. Freedom, it feels like, and Jeongguk steps out without hesitation. Taehyung goes to leave too but as he glances back, he sees Jimin glowering still, his hands curled around the railing behind him with whitened knuckles.

He glances at Taehyung and, face scrunching up a little cruder, lets go, shoving past him with a grumble. Taehyung puts a subconscious hand on his own shoulder, watching the man stomp away.

Christ. Clearly, he’s missing something if that pissed Jimin off so much.

Taehyung catches up, following them along the short foyer lined with unopened crates and boxes—shipments that haven’t been moved yet, he’d assume. The place isn’t exactly shabby, but it doesn’t feel like one of the top floors of a business, either. The uncarpeted floors and the cold seeping in through the small windows on concrete walls make it feel more like a renovated warehouse.

Jeongguk steps back, waiting at the thick wooden door labelled ‘workshop’ by the plastic sign adorning it. Jimin moves past him to give it a firm knock, knuckles rapping against the wood in two staccato beats.

“Om, I’ve got Master Jeon for you—” he calls out, pushing the door open at his own will to unveil a heavy thrum of machinery, the sound blocked out from the other side.

Within the bodies of shifting pistons and gears clogging up the huge space of the workshop, a woman is wiping down a shining golden plate. Her sleeves are rolled up ungraciously to the elbow, apron around her neck covered in black smears. When she looks up, it’s with wild, fervorous eyes, magnified by goggles with three sets of lenses in front of them.

Taehyung flinches a little—but a quick dart to his side, at Jeongguk and Jimin’s total lack of reaction, makes him believe this is a normal sight to barge in on.

“Oh, yay!” She squeaks, (the happiest he’s witnessed someone react to Jeongguk’s arrival yet.) Her eyes flick back to the piece in her hands, muttering, “Just gimme a second to—” She snaps the plate back in place, running the rag in her other hand over it once more before holding the weapon up to catch the light. “Ah, there we go,” she marvels, attention glued to the glittering reflections.

In the same moment, she hurls it in Jeongguk’s direction—wordlessly—and Jeongguk catches it without a fumble, smoothly ringing the trigger guard around his index finger in an apparent routine of theirs.

“Good as new,” Om assures him, watching Jeongguk run his fingers over the ridges of the gun, re-familiarising himself with it. 

She takes off the goggles as she walks, the elasticated band snapping back into place before she hangs it up on a rack of many identical-looking devices; headbands with lenses and flashlights and some kind of infrared feature hung up all over the wall.

“Can’t promise it’s perfect,” she warns him, coming to a standstill opposite Jeongguk with an authoritative cant of her hips. “You did barge in here all demanding so late last night, after all, sir—but it works.”

Taehyung keeps his intrigue to himself, but his eyes slide over to Jeongguk, inquisitive, regardless.

Left in a hurry, broke his gun and demanded it be fixed in the middle of the night?

The logic in Taehyung points to some kind of confrontation, perhaps with another gang—but the smart side says there’s more to it than that.

Jeongguk ignores the looks and the comments, sliding the weapon back into the waistband of his pants as he says, “S’all I’m looking for, Om.”

The woman drops the hardness in her demeanour at last when he puts it away, her lips curling up in an award-winning smile. “Wonderful,” she says quickly, “now come here—” In two steps, she’s throwing her arms around Jeongguk, planting an audible kiss on one of his cheeks like an unfavourable aunt. “I haven’t seen you in forever!”

Another unconventional relationship, Taehyung thinks, though he isn’t exactly surprised at this point. Zhao had a notion they’d slept together—but Taehyung doesn’t get that feeling from seeing them together in real life, despite what he’d joked at the time.

Maybe Jeongguk’s just dropped the reins slightly here, too. He’s likely known Om for most of his life, given what he said about her importance in Hua She, and it must be hard earning respect from the people that probably watched you run about in diapers.

“I was here last night,” he points out, pulling back from her arms to give a sullen frown that only deepens when the woman prods his cheek.

“Not in your right mind, though.” Jeongguk’s forehead wrinkles and Om lets out a chesty giggle, the sound tickling up her throat as she pats his cheeks in her hands, cooing, “Ah, I missed that handsome frown of yours, sourpuss.” She drops her grip along with her attention, spinning on her heels to greet Jimin in a similar fashion, with a call of, “Minnie!”  

Jeongguk steps out of the target area, smoothing out his jacket with his head held up like he’s trying to cling onto the last of his composure. Om lays another kiss on both of Jimin’s cheeks and the man leans in to reciprocate them, politely. 

“You, I definitely didn’t see last night.”

Jimin’s laughter is rigid, stepping back in a similar fashion to Jeongguk as he gently wipes at the faint glossy marks on his cheeks with his knuckles, muttering, “Yes, well… Master Jeon had some personal business to attend to.”

Om snorts—an unsightly sound that Taehyung wouldn’t have bet she’d ever make if he hadn’t saw it.

“He sure did; a date with a liquor store.”

“Om,” Jeongguk cuts in, dangerously, his tone deep in his throat as he stares the woman down with malice oozing from his features. For a moment, his eyes dart to Taehyung, furtive, cautious, but at the gleam of a snidely grin Jimin hides behind his fist, he looks away again.

Ah… Taehyung realises. A hangover. That makes sense.

Om puts her hand over her mouth, too, a subdued, “My bad, sir…” escaping past her fingers, though she doesn’t sound all that sorry.

Her focus soon turns to Taehyung, a sudden and spritely move as if she’d only just noticed he was in the room.

“Now,” she lilts, eyebrows shifting up with her question of, “who are you, gorgeous?”

Taehyung parts his lips, but it’s Jeongguk who steps in, hand settling on Taehyung’s vacant shoulder to answer, “This is my new advisor: Kim Taehyung.”

Om rolls her eyes, clearly disapproving of Jeongguk’s introduction when she sneers, “Is he mute?”

Taehyung chuckles. “No ma’am,” he says, taking her hand of manicured nails worn down and black with oil to lay a kiss to her skin. “Pleasure to meet you.”

Om sparkles as she laughs, wrist going limp under Taehyung’s hold as she drops the tension from her posture and sighs, “Ah, you know, a few years ago that would’ve gotten me into bed in a heartbeat, mister.” She takes her hand back and presses her index finger playfully to the point of his nose, Taehyung leaning back to swat her away with a laugh.

Om holds up the other hand this time, wriggling her fingers to direct his attention to the sparkling diamond on her ring-finger.

“But alas… my lovely husband’s waiting at home,” she says, dreamily, before sobering up a second later to add, “It’s nice to meet you, anyway.”

Taehyung smiles in response, chirping back, “Likewise,” and, just as he’s wondering why Zhao even told him to stay away from her, she’s got a funny look on her face, knowing and devious as she nudges Jeongguk with the point of her elbow.

“Where’d you pick this one up?” she prods, “The police station?”

“Not far off it, actually,” Taehyung quips, taking the liberty to answer for the other man, whose lips have formed a mild line, gaze pinned to Om. “Did some time back in LA.”

The woman grins, the look molten and dangerous.

“On which side of the bars?”

The hairs on the back of Taehyung’s neck stand up.

Did she—

Did she just suggest that—

But then, out of nowhere, Om bursts out into hearty laughter—the kind that sounds like she should be doubled-over—and she reaches out to pat her kissed hand against his cheek, swearing, “You are too cute, Kim Taehyung! Far, far too... cute…” Om eyes him for a second longer than seems right, narrowed and somewhat scrutinising, and for a second, Taehyung thinks she’s about to call him out again, but, then, she asks, “Are you a revolver kind of guy or a semi-automatic?”

Taehyung hesitates again, but for an entirely different reason.

Because what?

At his lack of response, she puts a finger to her lips, humming melodramatically as she says, “Wait, don’t tell me…” She snaps the finger with her thumb, pointing at him to guess, “Single shot.”

What the hell is going on?

Taehyung tries to shrug the whole thing off, steadily answering, “I’ll handle what I’m given.”

But Om seems even less impressed with this, hands balled into fists on her hips. “Ahhh,” she sighs, shaking her head, “the words of the inexperienced.” Not a second later, though, she’s perking up again, cocking her head to Jeongguk with a pouted bottom lip and begging, “Master Jeon, please let me fix him up.

Jeongguk scoffs, and Taehyung braces himself for the words—thinking he might’ve taken Om’s allusions as the truth (not that they aren’t.) But, all Jeongguk does is slot his hands into his pockets, watching Om with disapproval in his narrowed gaze as he says, “Like I’d let a man I’ve barely known a week carry a loaded weapon around me.”

Taehyung still feels on edge, finding no comfort in the man’s lack-of-reaction. It’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking, but it’s not so hard with Om, who looks all kinds of predatory again when she sets her sights back on Taehyung.

“But he seems so…” she chuckles hand running up Taehyung’s arm in some kind of contemplation— “...interesting.”

Jeongguk’s attention on him feels heavy, like a hand ghosting over his throat that won’t quite grab or slip away. The man licks along his bottom lip, studying him hard, as if he’s trying to come up with a conclusion of his own.

“If he behaves himself then maybe someday.”

Taehyung’s eyebrows shoot up, but just as Jeongguk sees the silent question, he’s looking away again—face in a gentle frown that seems to solidify looking at Om.

Someday? 

Is he just trying to appease Om with an empty promise, or does he really mean that?

Taehyung still wants to be done with this as soon as possible—despite how great it’s been to reunite with his best friend—but it’d certainly be handy if Jeongguk wasn’t intending to kick him out the moment he gets him underneath him. 

“Well, there goes that chance,” Om cuts in, and Taehyung’s ripped out of the tangent with a confused frown tugging down on his lips. She lets go of his arm to point a sharpened finger in his face, looking over her shoulder to Jeongguk with condescension. “You think this looks like the face of a man that behaves? Probably a good idea you don’t let him carry, sir.”

What the hell is wrong with this woman?

Taehyung bats her hand away, eyes crinkling playfully at the edges as he forces a smile, tries not to sound too nervous when he quips, “Hey, now—you were singing my praises a second ago.”

Om folds her arms over her chest, lips pulled up at one side—flirtatious, every bit as playful.

Delusional , Taehyung thinks.

“What’s not to sing about?”

The man blinks, completely at a loss for words—and Om seems satisfied in that, turning with the curiosity piquing in her tone to face Jimin, whose feline eyes are steadfast on Taehyung, almost accusatory.

Taehyung swallows.

For once, he should’ve listened to Zhao.

It’s one thing to have Om making jokes, but if Jimin’s actually suspicious of him, he might be fucked.

“Jimin, darling,” Om calls, and the man’s gaze reluctantly slides off of Taehyung to focus on her, instead. She tucks a few locks of hair behind her ear, inquisitive concern clouding her features when she says, “I’ve been meaning to ask—how’s your little beauty doing?”

Jimin seizes up, face dropping into something shell-shocked. Wide eyes, parted lips, complexion greying by the second. “My what?” He fidgets, hand tugging and smoothing around his collar. His eyes flick across the room at nothing. “He… he’s not—"

“The one in your holster, Minnie,” Om says, terribly matter-of-fact about it, like that much should’ve been obvious. All the colour floods back into Jimin’s face, tinging rosily across his cheeks and forehead, the tips of his ears like a glowstick.

“R-right,” he says, teeth gritted together. In one, careless motion, he reaches into his jacket and flicks out his pistol in one hand, showing it off, limply, to the woman as he mutters, “Fine, Om, barely a scratch—”

Om’s face screws up in disgust, snatching the weapon out of his hand and holding it up to the light. “The detailing’s all blunted!” she stresses, scandalised. “What the hell did you do with this thing, run it over with a truck?”

Jimin scoffs, eyes circling around their sockets. “Usage, Om,” he says, flatly, “it’s from usage.”

The woman sends the look right back, prodding his forehead with the pistol’s handle as she quips, “Well, then, loosen your grip, tough guy, before you smelt it.”

“Right, next time I’m in a shoot-out I’ll think of you.”

“Yeah, think of me spending twelve hours re-carving an ugly cat into your handle.”

“It’s not ugly!” Jimin argues, squinting at her with knotted brows. Om just nods, slow and condescending, amusement surfacing on the contours of her face.

“Sure,” she drawls. Jimin closes his eyes with a drawn-out sigh, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose, but Om leaves no time for remorse, heartily patting him on the shoulder as she says, “Why don’t you leave it with me, huh? Couple hours I’ll have your pretty kitty all cleaned up.” She bats her eyelashes, a gesture that looks wildly out of place on her.

Jeongguk speaks up, telling her, “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Om.” He arches an eyebrow, glancing to Jimin who relaxes no more under his attention than he had under Om’s. “Don’t really wanna entertain the idea of my bodyguard not having a gun.”

Om’s shoulders slump, frown overtaking her features as she mutters a subdued, “Yes, sir…” She reluctantly hands Jimin the weapon again, who watches her dubiously as he rushes to shove the weapon back into his pocket.

Jeongguk reaches into his jacket pocket, flicking open his wallet and fingering through a stack of bills so thick, Taehyung’s mouth waters a little at the sight. He stops, thumb making a separation in the stack as his eyes flick up to the woman. 

“What do I owe you, Om?”

Om sulks back to her station, tidying up the assortment of tools and shreds of metal left lying around. “Don’t worry about it, sir,” she says, untying her apron from around her neck. “Just don’t bust it up again anytime soon.”

What’s the kid even do? Throw it off a roof? Drop a bomb on it?

What the hell pissed him off so bad?

The longer Taehyung spends in this gang the more questions he has.

 

 

Jeongguk’s men are waiting for them as they head back to the car. One opens the door for Jeongguk but just as he steps a foot in, hand in the roof, the sound of Jimin’s phone ringing stops him in his tracks.

He looks over his shoulder, clearly trying to gauge who it is as Jimin’s expression grows dark.

“What kind of problem?” He snaps, holding for a response. His forehead crinkles further. “Well, what the fuck started it?” Jimin shifts his weight to one hip as Jeongguk slowly gets out of the car again, squinting intently at his bodyguard. “So, why didn’t you call Kiyoung?” 

Even Jeongguk laughs at that one.

Jimin shakes his head, fingers rubbing against his temple.

“Dunno why I asked,” he mutters. He glances over to Jeongguk as he says, “I’ll send some guys down to clear it up as long as they—” the other person on the line cuts him off and his face screws up in annoyance. “What do you mean they won’t listen, I—” 

He gives a sharp sigh.

“Hold on.”

Jimin puts his hand to the bottom of the phone, bringing the device away from his ear as he looks towards Jeongguk with mild exasperation etched onto his face.

“Master Jeon,” he says, “a couple of Kiyoung’s men have broken out in a fight over some owed money. May I go down there and sort it out?”

Jeongguk arches an eyebrow, a lazy sort of disapproval lingering in his gaze that would no doubt come off as cutthroat to anyone else.

“You’re abandoning your duties…” he says slowly, “to break up a fight?”

“I wouldn’t normally,” Jimin argues, fingers tapping alongside the rim of his phone with impatience, “but it’s in the middle of one of our goddamn restaurants. Damage control’ll be hell if it isn’t stopped before something happens.” Jimin hesitates before he speaks again, expression falling flat before he dares to add, “If your right-hand man wasn’t so incompetent, I wouldn’t have to balance his duties with my own.”

Jeongguk clenches his teeth with a muted growl and looks to his bodyguards, the three of them staring somewhere away from the interaction, as if trying to pretend they can’t hear it.

Suffice to say, Jeongguk seems to know that Jimin’s right, because he relents, standing with his shoulders pushed back as he stares the older man down with an unwarranted look of arrogance. “I’ll speak to him about this later. Go on, Jimin. We have enough hands here, for the moment.”

Jimin gives a bow out of politeness—perhaps making up for the insult he just threw his way—and flicks his keys out of his pocket, thundering off through the parking lot to locate the car that he’d presumably driven in.

Jeongguk goes to lean into the car again, eyes distractedly watching Jimin leave with a pensive, unreadable expression across his face. “Jaegeun,” he says sharply, eyes refusing to drift to the man he’s addressing, “keep a tab on Jimin. I want to hear he resolved the problem before it escalated.”

“Certainly, sir, I’ll contact the restaurant immediately.”

Jeongguk gives a stiff nod, finally looking at his subordinate, before he dips inside the car, sliding over the seat to leave Taehyung room to follow in after him. The chauffeur is already waiting for him and as soon as the third bodyguard slips in, closing the door behind him, the engine jumps to a start.

Taehyung watches Jeongguk out of the corner of his eye, as if he isn’t looking at all. The man’s expression stays unmoving—stuck on those drawn brows, the slight purse and pucker of his lips. Soft wrinkles across his forehead. That ‘handsome frown,’ Om had called it. 

Handsome for now, sure, but Taehyung wonders if that face’ll be cursed with it when he’s older. If, after the years of problems stacking on problems, the youthfulness will be sucked out of him. The wrinkles of a permanent scowl, the angry sheen of grey hairs, problems, problems, problems written like a list across his body. Would he still be handsome then?

“Jimin said they were Kiyoung’s men, sir,” Taehyung points out. Jeongguk’s frown doesn’t soften any just yet—but nor does it deepen.

“Yes,” he says, briskly and, after a moment, he finally lets up slightly, posture slinking against the curved leather of his seat as he confesses, “Can’t say I’m shocked. I might as well be leaving a primary school child in charge of a kindergarten class.”

A moment passes where he seems to be thinking, focus drifting to the floor.

“Or leaving a slightly older kindergartener in charge of a kindergarten class.”

Taehyung gives him a half-hearted chuckle, mind stuck on another detail instead.

If that’s how he feels, then why does he?

The ride continues in a majority of silence. The odd comment comes from Jeongguk, but they’re rarely addressed to anyone—simple observations about building developments around the city, the traffic clogging up roads, as if some of his internal thoughts just happen to slip out now and again.

After several minutes, Jeongguk finally looks away from the window to say, “Jaegeun.” The man’s attention snaps instantaneously to him, stiff and alert. “Any updates?”

He reads through the alerts on his phone, face wrought with concentration. “The restaurant manager says that Jimin is currently dealing with it—they seem to have settled down, for the most part.”

Jeongguk hums, lips puckering in thought. “That’s some good news, I suppose.” His eyes slink back over to the window, cheek resting against his fist. “We shouldn’t be so far from the hotel, now,” he comments, “hopefully Jimin’ll join us once he’s—” 

A deafening bang cuts him off and the car’s brakes screech, throwing them around inside with a jerk as it swerves. Taehyung hears Jeongguk swear beside him, fingers clawed into the ridge of the window as Taehyung reaches for the headrest behind him with one hand, the other gripping the seat between his knees.

The alloys give a horrendous shriek as one side of the car grates along the kerb and, at a dip in the sidewalk, slides up onto the path, unsteady on its feet. 

It comes to a graceless stop, smacking against a lamppost with such ferocity, Taehyung nearly tumbles straight to his knees; but the hand firm to his chest keeps him back, Jeongguk throwing out a foot to the seat opposite him to keep them both from flying forward.

Silence follows—silence and the sound of the engine, steaming. Heavy breathing in the confined space and a look shared among them as if they’ve spotted a collective ghost.

Jeongguk shakes alive again, hot with anger. He rises to his feet as best as he can, shaky from shock whether he likes it or not and nudges one of his bodyguards out of the way to bang on the dividing glass between them and the chauffeur.

“What the fuck’s your problem?” He spits, finger pressed against a black button as the screen slowly rolls down. “Can’t even drive on a straight road—"

Jeongguk’s rage gets caught in his throat, a lump that he can’t quite swallow down as he croaks, “Shit.”

The chauffeur is sitting in the front seat—or what’s left of him is. Body slung over the steering wheel and brain splattered along the interior.

“Get down!” He snaps, and suddenly his hand is on Taehyung’s head, pushing him down, down, down to the floor as he scrambles to land beside him. The three bodyguards leap to their feet, hands on their weapons.

They barrel out, and Jeongguk gets his own gun from his waistband just as quickly, pulling out his phone in the same second as he waits for the call to connect.

Not even a beat later, he hears a click.

“Jimin,” Jeongguk says urgently, though it’s as if he’s still trying his best to seem composed. “We’ve got an ambush down on Des Voeux—yes, across from the chapel. Bring reinforcements.”

The call ends as soon as it began, and Jeongguk’s already tucking the device back into his pocket by the time Taehyung’s recovered from the whiplash of any of this. 

Gun shots fire, continuous along the street. Taehyung hears a few graze and snap against the vehicle—shooting out a window in the backseat. Jeongguk curses in its spray, muttering some regret that he chose a car without bulletproof glass, today.

Which is a pretty big problem, right now, in all honesty.

“What the fuck’s going on?” Taehyung asks, completely dropping the honorific, but Jeongguk doesn’t even seem to notice, fixated on something off in the distance, instead.

“We let our guard down,” he murmurs.

Taehyung had hoped for a little more context than that—a name, an explanation—but perhaps Jeongguk is as clueless as he is.

The man kicks hard against the backdoor and it pops open with a crack, spitting out a bullet that’d gotten stuck in the mechanism. “Come here,” he says, free hand reaching out for him, “follow me, alright, stay close.”

Taehyung lets Jeongguk keep his hand on his shoulder as they file out of the car because, truthfully, he has no idea what he can do in this situation. He’s unarmed in a shootout and if Jeongguk’s got a gun then Taehyung will stick to him like glue.

“Bet you wish you let Om hook me up, now, don’t you?”

He half-expects the man to tell him to shut up, Taehyung grinning at him like a Cheshire cat as they slink behind a brick wall that shields them just enough from the spread of gangsters overtaking the street. But, to his utter surprise, Jeongguk chuckles, hand slipping off his shoulder to get a better grip on his gun as he peeks around the edge of their cover.

“So, you could be the one to shoot me in the back?”

He thinks he’s joking—but it’s impossible to tell.

“So, I can prove just how loyal I can be, sir.”

There’s a ghost of a smirk on Jeongguk’s lips, but it soon hardens to a scowl; flared shots from his handgun when he locks onto a target bang bang bang.

He pulls back and gives Taehyung another side glance, more serious this time.

“Plenty of time to prove that, Kim—just stay behind cover.” 

It feels rather anticlimactic to be on the side-lines after all of the action he’s had in Hua She. Fist fights, on-foot chases, numerous encounters with weapons of all shapes and sizes and even the odd moments where Hoseok’s thrown him his gun and said, ‘you shoot—I drive.’

But, he sticks behind cover without a complaint, because as much as he feels like a liability, he’s not an idiot. He isn’t looking to get shot to pieces today, thank you. 

“How many are there, sir?” he asks when Jeongguk settles back beside him, waiting for his opportunity with his fingers wrapped around the shiny new surface of the pistol.

“Not many,” he replies, huffing out a breath as his back hits the wall. A stray lock of hair falls into his face and he swipes it away with the back of one hand. He’s grinning as he looks towards Taehyung, relievingly confident. “I think they underestimated my men.” 

Taehyung can’t imagine why anybody would only send a few people to try and take out Hua She’s leader—or, to their knowledge at least, the heir. Perhaps they just hoped to catch him off guard; but surely they expected Jeongguk could do more than hold his own, worst case scenario.

“Who are they?”

Silence. Taehyung watches Jeongguk’s profile as he glances past their cover, face pulled into a taut, troubled frown that he doesn’t think is from concentration.

“Sir?”

“I don’t know, Taehyung,” he answers shortly, animated again all at once as he shifts into a crouch, hands locked with poise around his gun. “Keep your head down, I don’t want to have to find a new advisor so soon.” 

Doesn’t- know -doesn’t-know, or just can’t tell yet? Taehyung’s immediate thought is Four Suns, but he can’t imagine why they’d be after Jeongguk so suddenly—not when Taehyung’s the one that pissed them off.

Wait—

‘So soon?’ 

Taehyung grimaces. Asshole.

But, suddenly, Jeongguk’s hand is on the back of his collar, pushing him towards the cover of the car again as he hisses, “There,” in his ear. Taehyung only has a moment to get his bearings when he sees Jeongguk spring up, gun in hand, and pulling the trigger twice on a man he’d obviously been watching make his shifty way towards them the whole time they’d been talking.

The shots land in his chest and one in his throat and, though he falls to the ground, a bloodied, choking grunt escaping his mouth as he spits up blood all over the back of the car anyway, Jeongguk lands down beside him again with a breathy curse.

“My aim’s off,” he laments, shaking the weapon in his hand to wipe off the tiny specs of blood with a gaze so nonchalant—a single eyebrow just barely arched—that it’s kind of chilling.

“Thanks,” Taehyung says anyway, in reference to the graceless shove to the ground in the name of sparing his ass from a bullet wound (that’d be twice this month.)

Jeongguk hesitates for a moment. 

Not out of any kind of loss of words or modesty, though—just genuine confusion. His face contorts as he looks at Taehyung, clearly trying to see the situation through his eyes before he gives a quiet ‘tsk.’

“You were in the way.” 

Ah, his hero.

Jeongguk keeps a close watch on the altercation still taking place, but he doesn’t shoot anymore. At first, Taehyung thinks he’s out of ammo but, after what just happened, it’s more likely he’s trying not to give out their location again.

“Jimin should be here soon,” Jeongguk tells him, eyeing the open street with a sense of languidness that certainly doesn’t suit the steady gunfire going on around them; reduced from when it started, but not yet entirely finished. “The restaurant isn’t all that far from here.”

And it’s just as Jeongguk says as much that they hear one of his bodyguards curse loudly, a shot ringing out into seemingly nowhere. Footsteps, fast and heavy.

“He’s getting away!”

Jeongguk flinches, clearly ready to tackle the escape-artist himself when there’s a screech of tires, two, three cars stopping just a few metres from them, completely blocking off the street. A door slams, and Taehyung peers through the shattered window of their own vehicle to catch the blonde tresses, the artful walk, cut-throat glare as Jimin sizes up the gangster who’d made a break for it.

Jeongguk stands up, sliding his gun back into his waistband and Taehyung takes that as a sign that he’s no longer in danger of getting his brains blown out, hand on the open car door to haul himself up.

They meet Jimin halfway while he’s dragging the gangster along with him, one hand scrunched in his collar, making little red lines around his throat. He looks ready to murder something. Clearly hasn’t gotten his fix, like Jeongguk and his small team have. The men clambering after them must be Kiyoung’s from the restaurant, looking like a pack of scolded dogs as if Jimin gave them a verbal beatdown before heading off.

“So, this is my prize?” Jeongguk asks, tilting his entire body to get a look at the man struggling against Jimin’s grip on his throat with awkward, flailing movements. Jimin throws him at Jeongguk’s feet and he lands roughly on his side, face grazing against the concrete. The man lets out a coarse, throaty groan and looks up at Jeongguk peering down at him; feral emotion evident in both of their gazes.

Jeongguk toes at the gangster’s shoulder, flipping him over onto his back before he crouches down beside him. It looks rather personal, intimate even, the way he hovers over his body, staring intently as if waiting for the slightest movement.

“Speak, prize—save yourself.”

There’s no chance of that, even the gangster himself probably knows as much. He tilts his chin up, eyes flitting to adjust to the orangeing sky overhead. Taehyung wonders if anyone is watching this scene unfurl from their window. A parent cooking dinner, a curious child in their bedroom, a lazy dog lounged out across the couch. Jeongguk’s all for theatrics, of course, but he doubts even he wants an audience right now; making local headlines over something like this.

“I don’t have the information you’re looking for.”

Jeongguk’s hand reaches out to grab the man’s jaw, turning his attention back to him with a quiet growl.

“Then, we’re going to have a very long night, aren’t we?” 

The man visibly swallows, not even blinking as he stares into the other’s eyes.

All of a sudden, Jeongguk lets go of him, letting his head fall back against the pavement and he rises to his feet again, wiping his hand on the cloth of his slacks. He gestures to the man on the floor, then in the vague direction of the rest of his men and says, “Take him to the warehouse, we’ll need some privacy.” Then, he heads towards the nearest car—one without bullet holes all over it—and, upon reaching it, pauses, glancing back over towards the bundle of gangsters, unamused. “And, for the love of God, someone send Kiyoung my way once I’m done.”

Jimin’s hand glides across Taehyung’s back as he passes, a non-verbal indication that he’s to follow him, and they head in after Jeongguk.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

Jeongguk feels restless for the entire journey back to Kowloon.

His collar feels too tight, but even undoing the first few buttons doesn’t manage to save him from the choking feeling. He keeps his posture relaxed, spine curved as he bounces his ankle resting on his opposite knee. He’s chewing on the corner of one of his fingernails, an archaic nervous habit of his, but it does nothing to calm him.

Jeongguk knows every symbol, every tattoo and uniform. Every weapon make, every supplier, who deals where and to who—he knows every single goddamn important face in Hong Kong.

But not one of those bastards had anything on them that he recognised. No sense of cohesion, no order. They couldn’t even wipe out him and three of his most mediocre guards.

And yet… they tried. And that’s what chills Jeongguk the most.

Somebody had the guts to try and take him out—and he doesn’t even know who.

He could rhyme off every gang that operates in these parts, chronological, alphabetical—whatever order you’d like… but this group… this fucking ghost gang…

Who the hell are they?

He catches Taehyung looking over at him a few times throughout the journey, not much on his face to pinpoint what he’s thinking. Maybe he’s trying to figure out what he’s thinking, that airy, disengaged look in his eye that he always seems to watch him with in the quiet, when he thinks Jeongguk isn’t paying attention.

Jimin, on the other hand, seems to be sending texts back and forth, one after the other like a slot reel, ping, ping, ping, ping, ping. He stops after a minute or so, looks up and meets Jeongguk’s eyes—only a slight raise of his eyebrow when he sees that he’s already looking at him—and says, “Apparently, Cha’s ‘busy’ tonight, sir. But he’ll meet with you first thing tomorrow.”

Ah, Jeongguk thinks, so Jimin was chewing him out, then.

It isn’t the first time Kiyoung’s dodged him, and he’s sure it won’t be the last. But, regardless, Jimin sounds as if he’s intending to drag the man’s ass to meet him himself tomorrow morning.

Jeongguk nods, replying, “Thank you,” but isn’t entirely sure it’s something he should be grateful for.

Honest to God, Kiyoung is the least of his problems, but not a day goes by that Jeongguk doesn’t want to grind him to a pulp. No amount of warnings or threats gets through to him; he doesn’t wish to listen to a child.

But Jeongguk has to be patient. That’s what he keeps telling himself over and over again, every time he sees him: 

Patience, Jeongguk, patience…

He finds his lips mouthing it sometimes, like some kind of mantra or chant.

But yes, Cha Kiyoung is the least of his issues—with their destination and the guest of honour in mind, he’s not even in the top ten. Even the splitting headache Jeongguk’s still feeling as a consequence to last night is higher up.

He has much, much bigger problems right now.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

“This, Taehyung,” Jeongguk says grandly, opening his arms wide to the abandoned concrete slab around them, “is a little something I like to call ‘ Ground Zero.’”

Taehyung glances around the warehouse with a ladened curiosity that weighs down the line of his brows to a furrow.

“Ground Zero,” he echoes, feeling how the words weigh out in his mouth. His eyes shoot to Jeongguk, careful-tongued but inquisitive when he asks, “Why is that, sir?”

Jeongguk’s already got his hand in his pocket, digging out a cigarette from the crumpled cardboard packet. Two of his men offer a lighter but he shakes his head, his own already in hand. His thumb clicks against the mechanism and, with the lick of the flame, his eyes meet Taehyung’s, words softened around the stick in his mouth as he says, “It’s the starting point.”

Taehyung’s head cocks, gold and silver hair falling dishevelled on one side as he gauges Jeongguk.

His words are as blunt as uncoordinated as the rusted shutters being hauled down behind them, closing the warehouse off from the rest of the city. “Starting point for…”

“For where I’ll build my new empire,” Jeongguk says, lighter slipping back into his jacket as he pulls the cigarette from his lips with two fingers, gesturing from the floor to the ceiling as he says, “from ground zero up. Right here, in this shitty little warehouse.” 

Taehyung looks none the wiser, but both of their attentions are momentarily stolen by the man being dragged in, fumbling from foot to knee with his hands behind his back and a hood over his head.

Jeongguk lets out a breath, the tendrils of smoke curving out past his lips. He gestures to him as he’s thrown down to the floor between them.

“Right here, with grime like this.”

Jeongguk considers circling around their captive, size him up a little—but that seems too dramatic, even for him. Instead, he stands on the spot, stance relaxed and bordering on lazy as he observes the man on the ground.

“You see,” he says, addressing Taehyung still, who he can feel watching him with that steely intrigue of his, “many powerful people before me have contributed to the build of Hua She. Men like my father, my grandfather… all the others they employed to aid them through the years. They’ve made this gang exactly how it is today.” Jeongguk meets Taehyung’s gaze, lips pulled into a taut smile. “And I don’t like how this gang is today, Taehyung. Not one bit.” 

Jeongguk holds his cigarette between his teeth, pushing his suit jacket off his shoulders and into the hands of one of his subordinates as he continues.

“A team is made strong by its unity,” he says, matter-of-factly, hands still busy rolling his sleeves up as he adds, “Power and money go a long way too, of course, but they don’t go all the way. You can stack all the bricks that you want, but how can you expect a stable foundation without cement?” He takes hold of the cigarette again with a shake of his head. “That’s this gang’s problem. What might’ve started as a small group of ambitious people turned into greed, deceit, corruption—” 

Taehyung snorts, quietly, a noise so soft that he likely wouldn’t have even caught it if he hadn’t been waiting for it. Jeongguk grins in response, figuring what Taehyung’s thinking.

“That says a lot with the business we’re in, doesn’t it?”

Taehyung reflects the look right back. “Indeed, it does, sir.” 

He knows his own father would’ve thought the statement was ridiculous.

You have to be greedy in life, Jeongguk. People who don’t climb are there to be stepped on.

But Jeongguk doesn’t quite see the use of stepping on his own gang. He’s already at the top, he just needs to make sure nobody tries to step on him.

“Everyone just does whatever the hell they want,” he continues, “there’s no respect. People were afraid of my father, sure, but did they respect him? No. And they sure as hell don’t respect me.” The subordinates peppered around the room shift on their feet, fidget, clearly uncomfortable with the observation

But even with that, they miss Jeongguk’s point. 

“It’s hard to admit, but it’s the truth. I’m not foolish,” he assures them and takes another drag, thinking things over as his lungs fill. He exhales quickly, a short, sharp puff of smoke from his lips that punctuates the start of the following sentence. “Point is,” he says, “there’s a lot that needs changing about this gang… but you don’t build onto a rotted house. What’s the use?” He asks, hands splaying out in front of him with the question. “You have to tear it down, so you can rebuild something new.”

Taehyung’s lips stay shut in their fine line without a response, but the look of vague amusement on his face, the tilt of his head, the slight, slight curl to his lips as he runs a finger underneath them is enough to propose that he agrees. Or, at the very least, understands.  

“People who won’t conform,” Jeongguk lists, “people who’ll attempt to resist… I don’t need them, anymore. Hua She will be destroyed so it can be rebuilt.” Jeongguk gestures to the ground now, heel tapping twice against the concrete as he lifts the other to press his cigarette against his lips, lisping the words slightly as he flaunts, “And here’s the foundation.” He pulls the stick away again, arm dropping by his side as ash flicks off the end. “The starting point,” Jeongguk reiterates, and, bringing it full-circle, “ the Ground Zero.” 

Worthy of an applause, in his head, but Taehyung’s quirked eyebrow is enough—the split second he takes his bottom lip between his teeth. He’s enjoying something about this. Whether it’s something to ridicule later in the privacy of his friends or genuine intrigue… anything is better than Jimin’s quiet condescension and the rest of his men’s forced stoutness.

“I’m sure you can guess why,” he says, addressing Taehyung directly, again. He’s a smart man, after all. “The information I pull from here helps me find more corruption. I learn what I’m to look out for, what to defend and where… when to attack and why.” Jeongguk pauses, contemplating his own motives as his eyes drift across the warehouse, elbow rested against the wrist of the other and cigarette balancing daringly between two loose fingers. “I want control, sure,” he says with a slow nod. “I want respect. But, most of all… I want unity.” His attention drifts back onto Taehyung. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Kim?”

Monotone, but without hesitation, Taehyung replies, “You want to rebuild Hua She so it’s yours, not someone else’s.”

“In a literal sense, yes,” Jeongguk agrees, “but I want to rebuild Hua She so it’s ours. Every man and woman in it. I wanna turn all the shit from before my reign into something much better. But you know what they say about teaching old dogs new tricks. It’s just easier to start fresh.”

Taehyung waits an instant, perhaps wondering if he has anything else to say and, after it passes, tells him, “I understand, sir.”

Jeongguk smiles around his cigarette as he inhales and lets it all out again, advancing towards him by just one step.

“I’m glad you do, Kim.” He shrugs one shoulder languidly, head tilting at Taehyung when he adds, “Being honest, I’d like to purge this whole city of corruption; get to a day that I don’t need to use violence or power or money to get people to fall in line.” He tips his head back the other way, eyes rolling up to the ceiling, considerate. “But even if I one day manage that, the whole world is corrupt. It’d take god-like power to fix it all. To destroy it inch by inch and build it up from scratch.”

“Like Noah’s Arc,” Taehyung supplies and Jeongguk lets his gaze fall back down on him, a chuckle rumbling up from his chest as he nods in agreement.

“Yes… yes, exactly like that.” Jeongguk lets his half-smoked cigarette drop to the floor, heel stomping down on it with a sharp click. He grins it against the concrete until its ash before his hands slip into his pocket, relaxing his stance again. “I’m not looking to save the world, Taehyung,” he says, the words slow and articulated. “I just want to be able to say, ‘I told you so’ when things go to shit.” 

A full grin breaks out across his face, noticing the flicker of something that washes over Taehyung’s. He purses his lips, clearly coming to some kind of conclusion for himself.

Jeongguk winks at him.

“Childish, isn’t it?” 

He can hear Jimin’s huff from across the room, but Taehyung doesn’t respond past a momentary quirk of his lips, as if he’s become a spectator of the conversation rather than a counterpart; arms crossed and expression rather vague and distant. Hard to pin, like the thoughts of a stranger. A man that’s walked in off of the streets. He could sure pass as one, having dressed down today (perhaps Jeongguk caught him off guard with his call earlier,) wearing something that’d struggle to pass the business-casual check in a small firm; it makes him stand out among the rest of the people scattered around the room. 

Honestly, Taehyung doesn’t look much like a gangster at all, whatever he wears. Nothing overly menacing about him except his broad shoulders and blood-freezing gaze—but that’s all genetics and lifestyle. A man could be built like a mountain and spend his days teaching orphans to read.

There’s nothing obvious and brazen about Taehyung that serves as an immediate warning that he’s not a man to cross. That he’s Hua She. 

“Coming to think of it, Kim,” Jeongguk says all of a sudden, sucking the man right back into the conversation, “you’ve been official Hua She for quite some time now. It’s about time to show it.”

Taehyung glances at the figure squirming about on the floor between them, a silent question arising in the motion when he looks back up at Jeongguk, as if he’s expecting a further test of his worth.

But no, Jeongguk is reasonably satisfied in that area for now. He specifies, “Your initiation tag.” 

The bitch tag, as it’s better-known, and Taehyung’s likely heard the term before too, curiosity draining out of his face to leave him with something a little more informed,

“Yes, sir.”

Jeongguk manoeuvres over to him, stepping around their wriggling captive as his eyes skirt up and down Taehyung’s form, trying to figure out where would be the most appropriate place to put such a marking. 

He voices the question a moment later, and Taehyung seems to consider it for a moment, inspecting his own body before he decides, “I don’t know, sir.” His hand runs through his hair, curling the strands through his fingers as he asks, “Where would you like me to have it?” Jeongguk follows the motion, stepping forward. He picks up the strands as they fall from Taehyung’s hands, tucking them behind his ear.

“What about here?” He mutters, thumb brushing behind his earlobe. He can feel the man’s gaze on him, sharp and burning, his pulse quick under his touch, but leaves it to hang a second longer. “Your brain is mine, now, after all, isn’t it?” 

The look in Taehyung’s eyes is electric—sparks spritz all throughout the amber rings encircling his pupils and when Jeongguk looks into them, he almost braces, as if he’ll be met with a shock.

“Yes, sir.”

Jeongguk drops his hand, fingertips itching after the warmth of Taehyung’s skin as he steps back and says, “Excellent.” His hands settle on his hips, fingers tapping against the thick leather of his belt. “Let’s go after we’re finished up here… and speaking of which...”

Jeongguk turns on his heels, eyeing the man still waiting for him on the floor, a sudden weight of boredom taking over him. His eyelids fall into a listless gaze.

“Thank you for your patience, prize—though, it’s not like you had much choice.” The man gives a tug at his restraints at that, the hood over his head muffling the sounds of his gagged mouth even more.

Jeongguk reaches down and swipes the rough black material from his head, throwing it behind him to the floor. Their hostage blinks at the harsh change of lighting, squinting at the figure looming over him with a semi-grimace. Just the simple development makes Jeongguk realise how much of a chore this whole situation can be. Getting them to break to give the right information and then figuring out what to do with that… usually, it takes hours. Hours that Jeongguk doesn’t feel like throwing away, today. He gives the man a pitiful look, all but cooing at him as he asks, “You’re going to be very co-operative, aren’t you?”

It’s not quite a glare that he’s receiving—it’s somewhere closer to apprehension, mistrust. Maybe a little resentment in there, but he’s silent nonetheless.

“Here, let me help you out—” Jeongguk says, reaching around the back of the man’s head to untie the piece of cloth shoved between his lips. He holds out his hand behind him and, as procedural as ever, one of his subordinates hands him a small glass with some mildly cold water in it. He gestures towards it, “Drink up,” and places the rim of the cup to the man’s lips, helping him take a drink.

He pulls away after a few seconds, and the man meets his eyes, agitatedly, cheek bulging out with the load in his mouth.

Jeongguk glares at him, a silent dare.

The man halts.

And spits.

He jolts back, face slapped with lukewarm water that sticks to his dress shirt as it dribbles down his face and neck and lets out a quiet sigh, focus falling to the ground. 

Immediately, a clump of his men rush towards him with different exclamations, offering him handkerchiefs, paper towels, a jacket or two but Jeongguk simply shakes his head, dabbing at the wetness sprayed across him with his own sleeve, just enough to stop him from dripping. He eyes the glass in his hand with a sniff, fingers lifting it off into the air and catching it a few times. It’s heavier than it looks, landing back into his palm with a solid thunk each time.

Out of the corner of his eye, he glances at the man waiting for his reaction in front of him, half way between regret and triumph.

Jeongguk pulls his arm back and finds that the glass makes a similar thunk against the side of a face. It shatters just shy of his hand, splitting off into thick shards as the remaining water flies in all directions. The man falls flat on his back and Jeongguk takes the offer of a cloth this time, wiping his hand clean and dabbing off the rest of the spit-water.

He stands up again.

“Everybody’s brave when they get that first glimpse,” he murmurs, scrunching the cloth up in his hand and letting it drop to the floor. “It’s just adrenaline. It doesn’t make you special… and you can forget whatever sort of hero or martyr you think you are in your head.” His fingers work on loosening the tie still clenching around his throat before he takes another glance at his hostage, the silk knot in his hands falling loose down his chest. “We’re all villains in here.”

The man swallows, his throat squeezing with the motion. He tilts his chin down to rest against his neck and meets Jeongguk’s eyes with quiet, defeated words.

“I don’t have anything useful to tell you.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Jeongguk fires back. “We can start with your name.”

Keep it easy for now. See if he’ll co-operate. Jeongguk has a hunch this might go his way easier than he’d initially thought, the way the man on the floor seems to have lost his bite.

“Patrick Siu,” he mumbles, the order of the names foreign to his ears.

“Are you American, Mr Siu?”

“San Francisco.”

He hums, lips pressed together in light amusement.

“Certainly explains your manners—” Jeongguk turns his attention to Taehyung, who doesn’t seem to have taken offence to the comment, but, rather, seems generally uninterested in the entire exchange. “Kim,” he calls, “you ever been to San Francisco?”

He shrugs his shoulders, hands resting on his hips.

“Once or twice, sir... s’nice,” he adds as an afterthought.

Jeongguk nods his head, gaze falling back on the other American in the room as he says, “Well, Mr Siu, I hope you don’t long to see it again—‘cause if you don’t give me every piece of information in that americana brain of yours, you won’t even make it out of this warehouse.”

Siu lurches, making himself sit back up again with a back as straight as an arrow as he babbles, “There’s nothing I can tell you—”

“Where did you come from?” Jeongguk snaps, cutting him off, his lips twisting up into a smirk when he adds, “And I’m not talking continent, this time.”

The man’s panicked gape shuts down at that, face steely again as he looks upon Jeongguk with a defensive up-tilt of his chin.

Jeongguk splays his hands out in front of him in a vague gesture, taking a step back and settling into the chair set opposite of his subject. “I’ve got all day, Mr Siu. Sooner or later you’ll realise that your loyalty doesn’t really earn you much merit in here.” He crosses one leg over the other, hands tucking neatly into his lap. “Who do you work for?” He repeats, the words calm and even. “I didn’t recognise anything about your team—no notable tattoos or emblems. Some kind of assassination group, perhaps?”

The silence in the room is vaguely nauseating—like the buzz of white noise or static.

Jeongguk sighs, leg slipping off the other so his knees can split apart. He slouches into the wood and his head lolls back to look over his shoulder at Taehyung.

“Kim, can you hold his head up for me?” he asks, something akin to a whine threatening to rise up his throat. He can’t be bothered with this.

Taehyung dips his head, “Of course, sir,” and waltzes on over to them both. His hip juts out as he stands behind Siu and grabs him by the crown of his head, fingers twisting painfully in his hair. Not with the precision or the professionalism any of his men would carry the action out for him, but a certain kind of nonchalance that makes Jeongguk chuckle.

Taehyung catches his eye with a smirk, as if he can tell just what Jeongguk’s thinking.

The younger man crouches down in front of Siu again, reaching for the small dagger tucked into the holster stretched around his thigh. He spins it around between his fingers, the thin blade skipping in and out between his fingers as he thinks. Thinks hard about how he wants to do this.

He stops the knife so its settled back in his hand, raising the pointed edge to sit just sweetly underneath Siu’s chin.

“You know I’m not going to kill you, that’s why you’re being quiet, right, Siu?” He asks, hand twisting to force the man’s head up higher, meet his eye properly. “You’re far too valuable for me to kill. You’re my only lead on what happened today.” Siu grits his teeth as Jeongguk pulls back for a moment, “But that doesn’t mean I can’t make you wish you were dead.” He slots the knife right underneath the lower eyelid of the man’s right eye, thumb pressing against the blunt end as if he’s about to peel a vegetable. Blood begins to freckle around the edge, just cutting in enough to sting. Siu’s eyes start to water, as if he’s trying to stop himself from blinking. “Where. Did. You. Come. From?”

The words punch out one at a time, slow and calculated and sharp. Siu’s lips stay clamped, but they quiver. More and more as the blade begins to move, swivel around and angle its point into the crease, right underneath the bag of his eye. Pushing in millimetre by millimetre until—

“T-tong Gao. “

Jeongguk stops, fist tightening its grip around the handle. One eyebrow crooks, practically of its own accord.

“Tong… Gao…” he repeats, slowly, testing out the syllables as if his memory has just stilted. Siu makes no move to correct himself, and Jeongguk remains unamused. “Is that a joke? ‘Copper Dog?’” Another beat of silence. He scoffs, twists his neck around to look at Jimin, whose expression is comically blank. “There’s no Tong Gao in Hong Kong,” A peal of laughter ripples out of him, he adjusts his position, bringing one knee up so he’s kneeling in front of the other man instead, a better angle. “You think lying’s gonna get you out of this, Siu?” Jeongguk takes the blade and flexes it in his palm, gesturing for Taehyung to tilt his head back further as he begins to ease the knife in a little more.

Fresh meat. Jeongguk’s lip curls downwards into a sneer.

There’s another lull, Siu seemingly hesitant to continue. But he takes a gasping breath when Taehyung’s grip tightens in warning on his shoulder and gushes, “Yes, yes, I swear! They recruited me when I came to Hong Kong—a few months, at most.”

A few months. Jeongguk is nearly repulsed, but instead he finds the information outright hilarious, a dark bout of laughter rumbling from his chest.

“And you had the balls to attempt to assassinate me?” Siu blinks like a deer caught in the headlights and Jeongguk just laughs harder. He takes the knife away from the man’s eye to point it in his face, telling him, “That’s a good one…”

“I’m telling the truth,” Siu practically pleads, flexing to sit forward for a moment before Taehyung’s pulling him back again. Jeongguk rolls his eyes.

“Okay,” he starts, “let’s say you are… why the hell would you make an attempt on the heir of Hua She, huh?” Jeongguk asks him, shoulders back and head tilted with arrogance. “Why not go for my father?”

Siu’s face crumpled into confusion, clear even from the angle of it, pointed to the ceiling.

“Isn’t Jeon already dead?” 

Jeongguk feels his stomach drop before the words even make sense. His arms break out into goosebumps. 

His eyes immediately search for Jimin’s again, whose composure is so unbreakable these days that it’s actually startling to see him dumbfounded, complexion greying out and mouth hanging open.

Jeongguk turns back to Siu, burning with urgency, yet reluctant all the same.

“What did you just say?”

Siu looks back and forth, eyes pinballing through the men gaping at him around the room and must get the feeling he’s made a very big mistake. 

“Y-your father…” he stammers, “he’s… you’re the leader of Hua She now, aren’t you?” 

Jeongguk sniffs hard, a heatless scowl reclaiming his face as he raises the knife to sit back underneath Siu’s chin, tilting his head up himself.

“How do you know that?”

Siu’s eyes widen, half-swallowing his words in his panic. “Muh-m-my superiors said—I didn’t know it was a secret, I—”

Superiors. 

Jeongguk stands up, letting Siu fall from his grip with a shaky exhale. He pockets the pen knife again, slotting it back into its holster and turns to face the silent men waiting behind him.

“Jimin,” he calls, pulling his bodyguard from his shock-induced daze, “contact Namjoon and tell him I’m coming to see him—I don’t care where he is or what he’s doing.” 

Jimin gives a firm nod, taking out his phone in the same instance and stepping closer to the exit, device held to his ear. Jeongguk’s attention snaps to the man that’d been stationary beside him, who jolts slightly when he addresses him. 

“Jaegeun, take Taehyung to Mura to get his initiation tag.”

Taehyung blinks at him, as if he’d practically forgotten all about it—or at least had expected Jeongguk to have—but, truthfully, he just wants something to go smoothly right now; these last two days have been hell. 

“Meet me back at the hotel in a few hours,” He says to the older man, who bows his head in agreement. “No doubt we’ll have things to discuss.”

Taehyung’s lead out by Jaegeun and a few others and, as Jeongguk begins to follow and get his mind back on track—wrap his head around just what exactly they’re dealing with here—one of the remaining guards in the room speak up, somewhat hesitant about calling after him.

“Master Jeon, what would you like done with him?”

Jeongguk stops in his tracks, heel clicking back against the pavement as he turns to look over his shoulder at Siu, waiting with jittering limbs on the floor. 

He could just as easily have him killed as anything else. It’d put him out of the way, reduce a threat. It’s not even Jeongguk that has to take care of it. Just a couple of words from his mouth and it’ll be all done for him—it’s as simple as that.

And yet, even with that in mind, Jeongguk doesn’t make the call.

“Siu… I’m letting you go because you were useful to me,” he says instead and even Siu looks surprised, eyes nearly bulging out of their sockets while Jeongguk stands before him with a stern-but-benign grimace. 

Killing Siu isn’t exactly in his best interest, he decides—not when he’s already mowed down several of Tong Gao’s other men today. He doesn’t know who they’re dealing with yet, it’d be wise to tread lightly.

“I suggest that you go back to America and stop messing around with stupid gangs. If we cross paths again I guarantee I won’t be so merciful.”

Jeongguk watches the relief form on Siu’s face, brightening up his eyes. He gives a withered sigh, shoulders shaking and mutters, “Th-thank you, Master Jeon. I won’t forget this,” and lowers his body into an awkward bow, the best he can do with his hands behind his back.

Jeongguk nods in acknowledgement. The man doesn’t seem much older than him, honestly. Just a kid.

As he heads back outside with Jimin, ducking below the metal shutter closing off the warehouse, Jeongguk waits for him to say something. He looks dubious the whole way, silent, but burning a hole right through him out of his peripheral. Jeongguk thinks he’s just mulling over the information they’ve been given this afternoon until he actually speaks.

“Why were you so relaxed with him?”

Jeongguk snorts. Of course, Jimin’s not thinking about that at all. He sounds halfway between bitter and disbelieving. Scrutinising; like he understands why he did it but can’t understand why he did it. 

Jeongguk’s just about to relay to him what he’d just affirmed for himself, about treading lightly and their lack of knowledge on Tong Gao when the man adds, “You could’ve punished him or sent him back or anything. But you told him to leave his gang.” 

Jeongguk stops when they get to the car. The door’s already opened for him, but his focus is set on Jimin—without actually being set on Jimin. More like he’s staring right through him as he mulls his own actions over.

After a drawn-out silence, Jeongguk says, “I don’t think he even knows what he’s doing. Anybody with brains would know that my father’s passing isn’t common knowledge. It’s lethal information for a gang.” He drags his view from Jimin to somewhere over his shoulder, towards the orange sun starting to lower in the sky behind them. It’s been a long fucking day, but he gets the feeling it’s not even close to being over.

Jimin shifts his weight on his feet, stiff arms crossed over his chest and, brought back from his mental tangent, Jeongguk continues.

“I have a suspicion that this Tong Gao weren’t supposed to succeed today.” It’s barely even a finished thought nevermind a solid theory, but he explains himself anyway. “They sent a handful of new recruits to kill me and my guards. They didn’t even know you and the rest of my men wouldn’t be there. That was luck.”

Jimin’s expression is steely, and he reluctantly asks, “What are you saying?” even though Jeongguk has no doubt he knows exactly what he’s getting at.

“That’s hardly an assassination attempt, Jimin,” he points out, “That’s a suicide mission. Cannon fodder.”

They weren’t meant to succeed, that much he can convince himself of.

He just doesn’t know why.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

Namjoon barely gets a greeting out before Jeongguk says, “What can you tell me about the gang Tong Gao?”

The elder chuckles, letting Jeongguk brush past him into his office. 

“Hello to you, too.”

Jeongguk gives him a sour look, sitting down in the nearest chair by Namjoon’s table, brows drawn together without any give. The older man shuts the door, understanding that the man is not in the mood to be fucked around with. He lets his fingers drop back down to his side and saunters over to his desk, gaze flicking around the room while he thinks.

“The name doesn’t ring much of a bell—”

“—Yes,” Jeongguk says, darkly, “That’s the problem—”

“—But, I’m sure I’ve got records on them here, somewhere,” Namjoon adds. He crouches by his filing cabinet, rolling out the third drawer and fingering through a hoard of files, alphabetically arranged from Q to V. Jeongguk can hear him muttering the names under his breath in a loop: organisations and businesses and people that’ve caused enough of a stir to get even slightly picked up on his radar. Name after name after name after—

“Tong Gao,” he announces without much flair, sliding the file out as he comes to a stand again. Namjoon kicks the door closed with the heel of his shoe as he turns and opens the document up in his hands, walking over to Jeongguk to lay it out in front of him.

Jeongguk eyes the information across the first few pages. Recently created according to the dates, like their informant said—they only go back about as far as two years but, even then, most of the items are dated to be a lot more recent than that. 

The exact members are, thus far, unknown. And no influence over any businesses that they know of, either. Jeongguk thumbs through the file, silent as he does so. Acquired emails are sectioned in from strange names like R_87 and H.9W . Aliases, he assumes, but even then, it’s hard to determine if they’re anything more than random combinations. 

There’s not much particularly exposing in any of it, regardless: just a few mentions of their name. It’s hard to tell, even with the context, whether they’re simply discussing the gang or are a part of it.

Whatever this all is, they’re being extremely secretive about it. Encrypting sensitive information is to be expected—all businesses do it. But this doesn’t seem like just covering tracks to avoid getting caught out by the police. It’s almost as if they’re completely underground.

“This isn’t everything, of course,” Namjoon says suddenly, once Jeongguk hits the last page a little sooner than he might’ve expected, or at the very least hoped. “I’ve just yet to been given a reason to look in any further. Leave this with me and I’ll find something for you soon.” Namjoon takes his seat opposite of Jeongguk, crossing one leg over the other. He slides his glasses to sit back properly on his nose. “Is there a reason you’re suddenly so concerned about these people, sir?”

Jeongguk closes over the file, deciding to pour over it later when he can focus, and leans back to set his arms on the rests either side of his chair. 

“They knew about my father,” he tells him, and Namjoon’s calm demeanour completely crumbles.

“That he’s—”

“Dead, yes,” Jeongguk says matter-of-factly, as if the revelation hadn’t shaken him to the core not even an hour ago. “If they know that, as a completely fresh organisation, then they must have powerful connections.”

“Which means powerful people are all too aware of our position, as well.”

Jeongguk nods, he had a bad feeling that might be the case. “Any idea who?”

Namjoon hesitates. He sucks in a breath, just looking at Jeongguk without a word before he turns to his computer, hand grasping the mouse as he clicks around his resources. Jeongguk watches folders upon folders crop up, labelled about as ambiguously as Tong Gao’s emails are, but Namjoon sorts through them so quickly he must have the muscle memory for it.

After a few minutes, he sighs, hand slowing down as he shakes his head. 

“Nothing’s cropped up in anything we have already,” he says with dejection, slumping back into his seat as he swivels to face the other man again. “I know from mere word of mouth that Tong Gao operate largely in Kowloon—but who doesn’t have a place or two in Kowloon?” Jeongguk’s expression plummets further to a deep-set frown, and Namjoon leans forward with his elbows on the table to assure him, “I can get you information on all the businesses around there that have had a change of financial input, funding, management or’ve just started up, but it might not be so easy finding out what’s theirs—nor will it be easy finding their allies. I’ll need time.”

Jeongguk slides the file into his lap, gaze slipping down to follow as he half-relents with, “I’ll give you as much of it as I can afford to.”

“I’m just looking for an outside connection,” Namjoon says, airily, as if he’s brushing the matter off completely. His gaze slips back to the computer on his desk for a moment, like he’s considering starting right away. “Something neutral, I hope, that’ll give us some insight on their inception.”

Right. The last thing they need is to be digging around a bunch of gangs to get their bearings on another. And having their source tell Tong Gao that they’re trying to dig shit up on them wouldn’t be good, either, regardless that they’re probably expecting it.

Planned for it, even. Jeongguk still can’t figure out why else they’d send a few inexperienced henchmen to take him down. 

“I’m hoping this is just a bump in the road,” he confesses, pressing his fingertips to his closed eyelids and shrinking back against the plush comfort of his seat. “I’ve got too much shit to deal with right now to have this going on as well.”

And the list just keeps growing, too, he realises, thinking back to what Namjoon cautioned him about through an unexpected phone-call just this morning (a call that he missed and had to have Jimin summarise for him.) But it seems the man in question has the same topic in mind, saying, “About that, sir—Four Suns.”

Jeongguk grimaces at the simple sound of their name.

“Do you plan to do anything about their threats? That advisor of yours is involved, after all.”

Jeongguk can’t say he was very surprised hearing that Taehyung had started a little trouble for himself. He imagines his blasé attitude doesn’t go down too well with other mobsters—imagines he gets a little cocky, too. Jeongguk’s rather curious as to what that’s like.

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t get himself in any deeper for one—but no,” he tells him, eyes fluttering back open with the drop of his hand onto the arm rest. “I’m waiting it out. There’s not much to act on, yet.”

Some idle threats, a bit of vengeance. It’s nothing new, in truth. Nothing that’ll affect them too harshly. Five men have died; Jeongguk doesn’t want to act on a whim and indirectly kill some more.

Namjoon smiles at him. “I agree, sir,” and that seems to be that. He rises to his feet again, taking one step away from the table before something seems to catch his thoughts as he stalls, turns back. “Also, while you’re here,” he tells him, hands tucked into his pockets, “Your cousin owes me a hell of a lot of cash and he’s avoiding my calls. If you see him, tell him I’m gonna put him on a blacklist for every casino in Hong Kong if he doesn’t pay up.”

Jeongguk snorts, leaning his head against his fist. “God,” he says with a smirk, “I told you to stop gambling with him.”

‘What can I say? He’s a good partner.” Namjoon stalls, a moment of reappraisal as he tips his head, fishing around in his jacket with a mutter of, “When he actually splits the winnings, that is. We made enough to pay every person in the casino’s wages for a year, last week.”

“As if you need it.”

“No,” he says, white teeth grinning at him in the dim light of the room, “But I like a little cash-on-hand.” He pulls out his lighter and reaches for the carton of cigarettes on his desk, only to find it completely empty. He clicks his tongue, tucking the lighter back into his jacket again. “For moments like these, actually,” he says, eyes landing back onto Jeongguk, inquisitive without being too inquisitive. “I gotta run to the store and get some more, you wanna tag along?” When Jeongguk hesitates, the man bribes, “I’ll dig up some more info for you before you go—I just work better with a cig or two.”

“Bad habit.”

The man snickers.

“Like you can talk.”

Jeongguk snorts, fully aware he can’t argue against that.

But someone like Namjoon heading to a convenience store to buy one packet of cigarettes. Heading to a convenience store at all. It’s laughable.

“Don’t you have people to do that for you?”

The other man grimaces, head lolling to the side as he admits, “Yeah, but I never know what I’m in the mood for until I’m there.” He chuckles to himself, strolling over to the rack by the door to get his coat and slip it on. When he glances back at Jeongguk it’s with a sly grin and narrowed eyes, telling him, “And sometimes I wanna pick up some candy, too—but I’m hardly gonna tell some old geezer that, am I?” Namjoon fixes down the lapels, smoothing out the grey tweeded sleeves with a gentle sigh. “Neither of us need any more reason to be seen as a child in the eyes of our juniors.”

Jeongguk hums in agreement. Namjoon is twenty-five, but many of the gang’s elders still think he’s too young for his job. They still think of him as the kid he was when he joined—fresh-faced and sweet-toned for a man that’d proved himself to be even more capable than the one he was assisting. Jeongguk and Namjoon’s stories aren’t exactly dissimilar—though Namjoon’s predecessor met his grisly end after a situation involving leaked information to rivals for money—and a shotgun. 

But Jeongguk’s fairly certain Namjoon was around his age at the time. Sudden pressure on his shoulders and envy from people who thought the job should’ve been theirs. He was never able to shake off the stigma.

Jeongguk intends to avoid suffering the same fate.

“Alright, Kim, I’ll tag along,” he mimics, but agrees despite himself. Partially out of some kind of solidarity and the rest, simple morbid curiosity. To see Kim Namjoon out of his workplace and out of his shell. 

The man smiles.

“Excellent, sir.” He opens the door and lowers his voice to add, “It’s only down the street—let’s head out the fire escape to avoid your guards.”

He swears he sees a mischievous glint in the other man’s eyes—something juvenile and rebellious—but, perhaps it’s just the glow of the exit sign.

Jeongguk cannot even remember the last time he walked down a street, much less with no men following him. Namjoon is probably the safest person in the country that he could be with (on par with Jimin) but he’s always been so mercurial, his father never liked them to be alone together.

Well, because of that and the rumour of their little affair that spread through the gang like wildfire too, of course.

One moment, Namjoon would be majorly formal, perfect for the job—cold, calculated, exactly what his father wanted. Another robotic yes-man.

And the next, he’d act as if they were two friendly strangers off the street; men who just conveniently stumbled across each other, maybe slightly familiar. Those times where Namjoon could have any face at all—man, woman, young, old—and it’d still fit. Jeongguk always liked that side of him more. When he’s real and fluid and warm. Everything and nothing at the same time:

A fool…a scholar… a visionary... a romantic.

It was never appropriate, and Jeongguk certainly never conceded, but, even so, it was refreshing when contrasted against everything else in his life. It was something that intrigued him.

But, as mirages tend to do, that side would vanish when he got too close, and back would be the formal, clinical man his father had hired. 

It was impossible to tell which was the mask; and whether he was putting it on or taking it off.

They’re quiet for the short walk to the store, but the silence is soon filled by the buzz of the glass-tubed neon sign above their heads and an air conditioner, brushing off the clinging humidity of the evening with cold hands.

Jeongguk follows Namjoon inside, the man heading through the isles with steps so practiced it probably means he does this too much. Jeongguk watches him mull over the shelves, packed tight with vibrant foil and plastic with a feeling of being out of place. He can probably count the times on one hand he’s been somewhere like this any time in his life. It makes his skin itch: the fact he doesn’t have an inch of nostalgia for the cartoon mascots on the candy bars and snack packets or the humdrum drone of the glass fridges lining the walls.

Namjoon takes one look at him out of the corner of his eye, nearly folded over himself to look closer at one of the items, and snorts.

“Relax, nobody even knows you exist.”

He straightens back up, a cuboid of wrapped taffy with a smiling peach on the packaging in his hands, and Jeongguk hadn’t even registered that he was fidgeting, glancing around them and tense; on high alert.

It’s a natural instinct. Especially for being alone with one—potentially unarmed—man and with not a single guard of his within a block. But, even still, Jeongguk glazes over it as nothing.  “I don’t have all evening, Namjoon,” he snaps, “hurry up.”

Namjoon just beams at him, dimples poking into his cheek as he twirls the block of candy around in his hand. He holds Jeongguk’s tepid stare for only a few lingering moments, before he strolls on past him, chiming, “Of course, sir.”

Jeongguk clenches his jaw, scanning along the rows of confectionary. He’s never even heard of half of these brands. Eyes lingering on pink and white packaging, he catches himself last minute and huffs, chin tipping up as he waltzes out of the isle to join Namjoon at the counter.

He shouldn’t be so surprised that Namjoon is chatting to the cashier like slightly more than acquaintances. He imagines he’s certainly no stranger to this place. Jeongguk hangs back, not interested in joining the conversation, and waits for the girl to pack Namjoon’s purchases into a small plastic bag. She leaves out a child-sized carton of milk and the pack of Black & Gold cigarettes, which Namjoon takes in favour of the strangest combination Jeongguk could think of.

Outside, the night-time air provides no relief to the clamminess built up on their skin. He watches Namjoon wipe his brow with the back of his sleeve and lean up against the store window, punching the tiny plastic straw through its hole with one hand, and awkwardly searching his pockets with the other, cigarette pack wedged between his middle and ring finger.

He finds his lighter, flicks open the packet with a finger and pulls out a stick to slip between his lips. Jeongguk watches him light up, put the packet away, and take a drag, barely even letting the smoke pour out completely before he’s taking a sip from the carton of milk.

Namjoon catches him staring, eyebrow arching with his lips puckered around the straw and he pulls the beverage away with a soft pop. Silence. Namjoon holds out the carton for him, blissfully oblivious.

Jeongguk frowns and reaches over him to snatch the cigarette from between his fingers, instead.

The older man grins, letting him do so as he takes another drink, perfectly content with the exchange.

Another few minutes pass and Namjoon crushes the carton in his hand, leaning over to toss it into the worn-down bin beside him and then, he reaches into the plastic bag hanging off his wrist to take out the candy he bought.

He doesn’t offer Jeongguk any this time, but there’s a gleam of amusement in his eye, anyway.

“It’s been a while since we’ve hung out like this,” Namjoon supplies once he realises Jeongguk doesn’t intend on keeping conversation, his mouth too occupied with the pilfered cigarette. The younger man hums, eyes focused hard at nothing across the street. The glare of headlights on a passing vehicle.

“A long while,” Namjoon adds. He doesn’t bother trying to get the cigarette back off Jeongguk, happy enough with the chewy peach taffy in his hand, instead. Jeongguk’s expression doesn’t shift, he just takes a drag, elbow balanced on the back of his other hand.

“I’m very busy,” he supplies as an excuse, and the older man nods, face melting into a softened frown.

Jeongguk’s always been complex, Namjoon thinks. Always a little off, as long as he’s known him. These past few months, though, Namjoon recognises him less and less. 

It’s not such a grievance, so much as it is a simple observation.

“I know it’s been tough for you since your father passed—-for a lot of reasons.”

There’s a different kind of pressure on him now than what he was used to. Going from the overbearing, crushing desperation to follow orders down to a T and impress to being hauled up onto a pedestal and expected to know Hong Kong and all that resides in it inside-out.

Jeongguk merely grunts this time, locked joints and lips pursed into a durable pout. Namjoon’s toeing an awkward line—not walking on egg shells as much as he is a mine field. 

They’ve never let each other in on every single secret of their lives or anything—there’s never been a need for it—but claiming that the man has always been so stubborn and guarded with him wouldn’t be the exact truth either. Namjoon never met the boy when he was perfectly carefree but to say such a time never existed? He finds it hard to believe.

A kid doesn’t come out of the womb angry at the world. It’s like the tabula rasa theory. Nurture over nature.

It’s not hard to point the finger at what made him how he is. He’s sure even Jeongguk himself knows it, deep down.

“Perhaps it’s inappropriate for me to say—” 

“Yes,” Jeongguk hisses, cutting him off, “it is.” He pinches the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, bending it in half before he drops it to the floor, ground into the concrete by the expensive sole of a Louboutin. “Don’t forget your position, Namjoon.”

The older man sighs.

“You’re still allowed to talk to me, you know. Nothing’s changed.”

Jeongguk folds his arms tight across his waist, fingers digging into his skin either side. It’s a petulant motion, but his face is much more intense than that, as if he’s mentally building up a barrier from the inside out.

“Can you take me back, now?”

His plead is quiet, barely a noise above the hums and buzzes of a Hong Kong night.

Namjoon smiles because it seems the best thing to do in the moment.

“Of course, sir.”

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

“And, yeah—he had a very small and private funeral too, just at an effort to keep his death a secret. So, the fact that a gang so small knows is really bad,” Jaegeun finishes, wrapping up his explanation with a gentle nod of his head. The other guards in the vehicle all hum in agreement, having spent the last five minutes giving eager interjections into the short story wherever they could.

Taehyung gives a short “ahhh,” his fingers stroking his chin in thought. He had figured as much, honestly—Zhao already told him how top-secret the information had been, even for the FBI: something they managed to grab almost by chance from a leak of the hospital’s patient files.

Which means damn is Jeongguk in some hot water, now. No wonder he looked so freaked out earlier. Taehyung thought it was mildly refreshing to watch him lose his bearings like that for once. 

“I guess you’re all glad to get away from the aftermath,” he jokes, and, gingerly, the men deal out individual smiles, eyes flitting between each other as if they know they definitely shouldn’t say so.

“Master Jeon is very upset, right now,” Seongjin, the rectangular-headed man with the rectangular glasses on his nose politely tells him. “He’ll probably be even more so after visiting Kim Namjoon.”

Taehyung’s just about to laugh until he realises—

“Wait, but I’m supposed to go see him after this.”

The men tumble into laughter, and one of them leans over the space between the seats to pat him sympathetically on the shoulder.

“Good luck, Kim,” the guard chimes.

“Although,” another innocently supplies, “he probably wouldn’t take it out on you like he would with us.”

The blonde directly opposite Taehyung snorts. “That sounds a bit risque—”

“Well, it’s Jeongguk,” the man next to him blurts.

Scandalised faces turn to him, and then they’re all watching Taehyung with unbridled horror as if he’s about to go running straight to the man himself to tell on them like a pack of preschoolers.

But Taehyung just chuckles.

“He’s a brat—don’t worry, I’m aware.”

They collectively sigh in relief and Jaegeun, the unofficial pack leader, points a lazy finger at Taehyung and says, “You know, Kim, you’re a lot more fun than the rest of the dozers Jeongguk has around him.”

“Except Jimin, he’s okay—”

“Jimin used to be fun, but he can’t take a joke, anymore.”

One man straightens up in his seat, clearing his throat as he forces a cold, angry stare onto his face and drops his voice an octave to mutter, “Stop fooling around, morons, you’re here to do a job,” and it breaks the rest of them up into waves of laughter.

It doesn’t sound like Jimin at all, but even Taehyung cracks a smile.

The car comes to a stop not so long after that and, as they file out, Taehyung takes in the sight of the new building before them.

He’d been expecting something more like the place they found Om at—a huge building, bustling with people and room after room after room. But all Taehyung sees in front of him is a regular old tattoo shop. Nothing notable about it at all except maybe the fact that it is the ugliest shade of green he has ever laid eyes on, the walls looking curdled with the thick lumps of muddy-green paint clumped up and chipping off on whims.

The sign reads a simple ‘Platinum Ink: Tattoo Parlour’ that’s displayed unceremoniously, with a flat white font against a stubborn black background.

“Go on ahead,” Jaegeun tells him, leaning up against the now-vacant car. “We’ll be waiting to take you to the hotel, after.”

Taehyung turns his head to look at the man— all of the men—with a dubious squint, hands pinned to his hips.

“You all plan to wait out here?” he asks in disbelief because, lo and behold, they’re all at least five steps back from him, as if there’s an invisible circle drawn around the vehicle that they’re not allowed to venture out of.

They fidget and shift, eyes darting about everywhere that isn’t the parlour or Taehyung.

“Yeah,” one of them finally decides to tell him, “Mura is…” 

“...Unsettling,” another finishes.

Taehyung looks towards Jaegeun for some kind of explanation, but the man merely shrugs in a ‘well, what can you do?’ sort of gesture. But it might be more of a ‘well, they’re not wrong,’ judging by the fact that he doesn’t seem to want to come any closer either.

“Right…” Taehyung murmurs, scanning across all of the supposedly unsettled men with a sense of perturbance himself. “Well, thanks for the pep talk, guys.”

An eager round of thumbs-ups bid him farewell.

Taehyung heads in without much grandeur, the door creaking its way open to let in the musty smell of a closed-in space and the faint sound of outdated alternative music crackling in through even older speakers.

It’s dark inside, with flickering white lights and deep green lamp shades attempting to illuminate the place, but it seems much more as if all they’re doing is just casting shadows. He can’t imagine it’s ever much brighter in here, even in the daytime. 

The room isn’t anything extravagant, but it isn’t dingy, either. He still can’t quite imagine Jeongguk favouring it, though; the blue plastic chairs against the squeaking checked linoleum make it feel more like a doctor’s waiting room than a studio. Taehyung puts his hand on the back of one of these seats, feeling the clammy plastic stick and slide indecisively against his skin, and a feathered shriek brings his attention to the other end of the room, where a burmese cat is poking its claws through the bars of a terrified cockatiel’s cage.

He has half a mind to save it, but on his way over his eye’s caught instead by the hundreds of intricate designs along the wall, ranging from animals to flora and portraits to typography in an even greater range of colour. There’s one design in particular that lures him in: the body of a tiger stretched out into a prowl with its tail splitting off into inky flowers, smudged and smeared and hanging from branches.

Taehyung gets close enough to see every stroke, and his fingertips are an inch away from the plastic sheet protecting the drawing, just about to—-

“You’re Taehyung?”

Taehyung jumps, his shoulders shooting up and fingers curling painfully into a fist as he turns on the spot to see a woman that easily rivals his height, looking at him through half-lidded red eyes—

Wait, red eyes?

Contacts, Taehyung realises a beat after, just contacts.

Not a ghost or a demon.

His heart is still beating abnormally hard in his chest but he clears his throat to play it off.

“Uh huh… and you’re Mura?”

She’s covered in tattoos from her neck to her feet, it’s a fair guess.

The woman’s stark red lips begin to upturn. “Mmhm,” she agrees, lazily. “Nakamura Hana—” Taehyung takes the hand she offers, and the woman shakes it with something he can only call a Grasp , almost squeezing his hand in the process. 

He takes it back with a chuckle, wiggling his fingers to loosen them again as she gestures for him to follow her on through to the actual studio. 

“Master Jeon just calls me Mura, and now it’s stuck,” she says, answering Taehyung’s silent question. “I think it was the only thing he caught the day we were introduced.” She bumps the door open to her parlour with the heel of her hand and pats the black leather chair in the middle of the room, intending for Taehyung to have a seat.

Mura strides about the cramped space, filled with cupboards and shelves stacked with all kinds of inks and utensils, as well as some more designs offered on the walls in sturdy frames.

“He came in shaking like a leaf,” she reminisces, pulling up a stool beside Taehyung once he manages to settle into the recliner. “Must’ve been about thirteen.” 

Taehyung’s brows raise up past his bangs.

“He had to get a tattoo when he was thirteen?”

“Oh, God no—” Mura rushes, pointing towards the other side of the room of starter jewellery as she explains, “I do piercings as well. He wanted his ears done, but he was terrified of needles.” She reaches over to grab a hair tie from the cart beside her, gathering the wavy black lengths up and looping it through a few times as she muses, “Think he’s well over it now, though, given the amount of jobs I’ve done for him since.”

She snaps on a pair of gloves, and Taehyung’s left wondering just how many that is—because all he’s seen so far is a few piercings on his ear and the crown tattoo on his finger.

“Now,” she says, leaning forward to rest her forearms on her knees, “you’re in for the bitch tag, right?”

Taehyung rolls his eyes.

“That’s the one.”

Mura giggles, darkly, leaning back again to look through the cart beside her again as she tells him, Jeon already paid for it. But luckily, Hua She’s emblem is decent. A few gangs I’ve done—” she grimaces.

Taehyung tilts his head at her, watching the woman retrieve a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab, a disposable razor balanced between her fingers as she stops to give the bottle a vigorous shake.

“You don’t just work for Hua She?”

“Nah, there’s not enough of you to go around,” she jokes before shrugging her shoulders, clarifying, “We’re a neutral business.” 

Then, that’s why the place is so ordinary. Still, Taehyung would’ve imagined the Jeons would’ve picked someplace with a bit of majesty—somewhere excessive just for the sake of being excessive.

“So,” Mura says, diverting the conversation back to the task at hand, “where’re we doing this?”

Taehyung moves back the locks of his hair to point at the spot, telling her, “Master Jeon suggested here.”

“Behind the ear, huh?” She rolls her chair closer, holding Taehyung’s hair back herself to examine the area before giving an acute nod. “That’ll be pretty—might hurt a little, but you look like a big strong boy, I’m sure you can handle it.” She swivels, lifting a handful of hairpins from the array set across the top shelf of her cart and turns back to him, raking his hair out of the way with her fingers before she pins it down in little criss-cross patterns.

It’s kind of a look.

“Got any tattoos already?”

“Nope.”

Not counting the tiny peach outline he got inked on his ass the night of his twenty-first—but she doesn’t need to know that. He was so drunk the artist could’ve stolen his kidney and he wouldn’t have noticed.

“What an honour,” she purrs, popping the lid of the rubbing alcohol open and pouring some out onto the cotton swab. “Then let’s get this baby prepped so we can start.” 

Taehyung grins.

“But Mura,” he says greasily, “we barely know each other.”

The woman looks up with a hauntingly blank face.

“Is that American humour or are you just not funny?”

“Believe me,” Taehyung replies, not discouraged in the slightest, “I’m not funny in America, either.”

Despite herself, the corners of Mura’s mouth quirk.

She gives the area a quick clean before tossing the soaked swab into the wastepaper bin across from her, tucking the rubbing alcohol back into the cart. She shuffles closer, resting her hand on Taehyung’s shoulder as she takes the disposable razor to rid the area of invisible hairs.

“So, guess you haven’t been in Hua She long, huh?” she asks him, swiping the blade along his skin in quick but careful movements. “But Jeon still personally told you to get your tag.”

“I work for him directly,” Taehyung explains, head forced to tilt to the side by Mura’s hand when he keeps shifting.

“Directly?” she echoes, face scrunching up. “Like, a guard?”

“Advisor, he called it.”

Taehyung half-expects Mura to react how everyone else has—with incredulity. Some kind of snide remark, or mild repulsion. 

But, all she says is, “Cool.”

She finishes up a moment later, chucking the razor into the bin as well as she wipes her gloved-hands together, saying, “Alright, give me a minute to get the right size.” She rolls her chair over to the stack of drawers behind her and sifts through the hundreds of design sheets inside. “I’ve got a bunch of these transfers already printed out—saves me a bit of time firing up the thermal-fax when all you gangsters want is the same tattoo.”

Mura flips out what looks vaguely like a photo album, only all the pockets on the inside are filled up with the same emblem of a snake winding around a white rose. While she’s busy, Taehyung knocks his head back against the leather of the seat to look up at the ceiling and, in the distance, he can hear the cat and the bird outside still screeching at each other. But, besides from that… the shop seems completely silent.

“You work here all by yourself?” Taehyung wonders, rolling his head around to look at the woman’s hunched back. The hair pins dig into his scalp, so he moves to sit forward, resting his chin on his fist.

Mura makes a noise of indifference, lips pursed in concentration.

“Got a few part-timers to help with clean-up and billing,” she murmurs, “‘sides that, it’s just me and my girlfriend, though.”

“You own the place together?”

“Yup—have done for over a decade now.” Blindly, the woman points behind her to a photo frame pinned to the wall. “That’s her.” Taehyung leans over the edge of the chair, squinting to get a better look. The picture is a little grainy, as if it’s a few years old now but, still, the woman is clear enough: fluffy black hair just under her ears and clinging onto Mura with neat illustrations along her arms and legs and the cutest eye-smile he’s ever seen.

The bit that really throws Taehyung off, though, is how Mura’s smiling even wider.

“Pretty,” he says, earnestly, and the woman turns her head to give him a little prideful grin.

“Yeah.”

She tries out a few of the sizes, lining them up with Taehyung’s skin, and moving them around here and there to figure out what looks the best, since Taehyung’s feedback almost entirely consists of ‘yep, looks good’ and ‘uh huh, that’ll do.’ 

He’ll be getting it removed as soon as Zhao brings his ass back to America, anyway. He can’t have the Hua She emblem on his neck for the rest of his life.

“I think we’ll go with this one—” she holds up a hand mirror again, letting Taehyung see the rough placement of the design and, before he even opens his mouth, the woman is already glaring intensely at him, a silent dare to give her a lukewarm response again.

“I like it.”

She groans.

Still, she doesn’t push him for anything more, pulling her cart towards her again and retrieving—Taehyung halts.

“Is that deodorant?”

Mura glances to the stick in her hand, and back up to Taehyung, eyebrows raised.

“Yeah. Gotta wet the area so the transfer sticks.”

“With deodorant,” he states.

Mura rolls her eyes. “It’s a thing, Kim, trust me. I can use Dettol or something, instead if you’re gonna be a little bitch about it.”

Taehyung holds his hands up to her, saying, “No, no—you’re the artist.”

She just grunts in response.

Either way, in about two minutes she has the stencil applied to his skin, and, this time, makes him go up to the floor length mirror at the other end of the room, holding the hand mirror behind him again this time so he can see the design properly.

“What do you think?” she mutters, like she’s dreading even asking.

It looks pretty cool, Taehyung has to admit. He knows it won’t be all that visible behind his hair, anyway, but he’s surprised to see the lines of ink and find himself satisfied with it being there.

He tells Mura as much, and the woman lets out a sigh of relief, saying, “Thought you’d never come around.”

The process of setting up a tattoo machine takes less time than Taehyung assumed it would. Mura preps the area again, applying some purple-tubed ointment that’s a lot colder than he appreciates, and then she pats him on the shoulder and says, “Alright, breathe as normal. This won’t take too long.”

What surprises him, though, isn’t the feeling of the needle, but the fucking volume of the thing, being right beside his ear. He has a straight wince for five minutes and every time Mura checks up on him, he can barely hear himself reply.

“Jeon’s men refused to come in with me,” he says once he finally adjusts. The woman only hums in response, too concentrated to fake intrigue, so Taehyung asks, “Is there a reason for that?”

Mura laughs, a controlled sound that doesn’t move her body at all, lest she fuck up the design.  “They’re pussies,” she gives as an explanation, but, when she meets Taehyung’s curious eyes in the mirror, she elaborates. “Last time they were in with Jeongguk, one of them knocked over one of my displays and I said if they ever stepped foot in my shop again I’d pierce their dicks together.”

Taehyung gives a light chuckle and Mura grabs his head with her other hand, forcing it back into place and hisses, “Stop moving; you’re not null to threats either, y’know.”

He likes to think she’s joking, but he isn’t so sure.

 

 

~♔♚~

 

  

“You’re kidding me.”

“Master Jeon didn’t tell us he was expecting anyone tonight,” Harvey repeats, arms folded across his bulky uniform like he’s some… gatekeeper to the underworld and not just a doorman. 

Taehyung feels the wind bite at the fresh scarring behind his ear. Mura had told him to keep his hair pinned up for a day or two until it started healing, just in case sweat or bacteria would throw it off, and while he hadn’t exactly been bothered at the time, he didn’t think he’d be standing outside in single digits again, because of these assholes.

“You’ve let me in before!” Taehyung argues, far, far too fed-up for this shit right now, but, of course, the man doesn’t budge.

“That doesn’t mean we can just let you in all the time,” he presses and, beside him Sungsoo nods with vigour.

“Yeah!” he says, “You could be here uninvited.”

“Which, to our knowledge you are.”

Taehyung presses his fingertips to the bridge of his nose, eyes fluttering shut as he heaves out a sigh.

“Look,” he starts, “I’m super glad you’re so into your job… I’m sure Master Jeon appreciates it. But come the fuck on, man. How do you ever let in actual hotel guests?”

“We don’t take walk-ins. It’s online reservation only. We do a full E-background-check using the details they provide and then call them back to let them know if there’s a space available or not. Then, we give them an ID number to present to us at the door.”

God damn, the Jeons take no chances. Taehyung is lucky he’s been given access as easily as he has.

Or, at least, it should be easy access...

Taehyung directs behind him with a flat palm, whining, “I just got dropped off by a bunch of Jeon’s men! Jaegeun, you know him, right?”

Harvey scowls.

“Yes, I know Jaegeun,” he mutters, the words clipped. “He broke an antique vase in the lobby a month ago and told Kiyoung it was my fault, who told Master Jeon, who banished me to doorman duties.”

Taehyung winces. Somehow, he managed to pick the worst person to name drop.

“Look,” he says after a moment, exasperation cleaving to the word, “if you don’t let me in, I’m gonna have to call Master Jeon myself, and then you’ll be banished to the unemployment line.”

The man stares, eyes half-lidded.

“I’m calling your bluff. I’ve been working for the Jeons for thirty years and I’ve never had any of their numbers.” He pokes a hard finger into Taehyung’s chest, snapping, “Why would you have it?”

Taehyung retrieves his phone from his back pocket, thumb pressed to the scanner to open it and, scrolling through his contacts a few seconds later he turns the device around to show the two men the ‘Jeon.’ on the screen.

Sungsoo slowly turns his head to look at Harvey, equally perplexed.

“I think that’s Master Jeon’s number, Mr. Cheung.”

“I know that—” he says, swiping the other man’s shoulder with the back of his hand. Begrudgingly, he looks back at Taehyung, lips taut in a frown. “Go ahead then, Kim.”

“Thanks,” Taehyung chimes, patting the man on the shoulder who stiffens under his touch. “I’ll be sure to tell Master Jeon how hospitable you’ve been.”

Harvey grimaces, but Sungsoo perks up at that, a stupid smile inching across his face as he says, “Hey, thanks, kid—that’d be real nice!”

All Taehyung hears left of the conversation as he moves on past them is another smack followed by the growl of “Moron.”

He’s let up to Jeongguk’s suite after the woman at the front desk buzzes him in, and the elevator ride up feels like relief.

God, he’s had the longest fucking day. From the mess with Four Suns, to getting chewed out by Yoongi, essentially called a traitor by Om, ambushed by apparent no-names, almost witness Jeon cut a man’s throat open and then to top it all off, oh, by the way Taehyung, don’t you have a fucking tattoo to get?

He knocks his head back against the cool glass of the elevator walls and groans.

He supposes it’s a whole heap of shit to tell Zhao. But the very idea of looking forward to a late-night phone-call with the man once he finally makes it home convinces him to keep it as short and sweet as possible.

When he makes it to the grand double doors of the suite, the security either side of them nods their head at him, and pushes open the door, letting the golden light of the room pour into the void-like blue/black of his unlit corridor.

Jeongguk is on the phone when he walks in, a leg crossed over the other, artificially relaxed into the sofa as one hand clenches around the device like he’s trying to juice it and the other bears a stumpy cigar, flexed weightily between his fingers and choking out thick smoke. 

“Well I don’t give a fuck if you dunno anyone down there, I’m telling you to go down there and find somebody!”

Taehyung toes the ledge between the entrance foyer and the seating area before he’s noticed, and as Jeongguk looks away from where he’d been staring bruises into the wall, some of the tension dissolves out of his face. He uses his smoking hand to wave Taehyung over, patting the space to the right of him when he gets close enough.

Taehyung flicks off some of the ash on the cushion and takes a seat. 

“Somebody has to have slipped up somewhere,” Jeongguk insists to the person at the other end of the line. “Nobody can be completely under the radar, Choi. Find me something better than word-of-mouth. I want solid leads, I don’t have time to chase geese.”

He ends the call then, dropping his phone onto the coffee table ahead of them both and, then, he sets his sights back onto Taehyung.

“Okay, let me see—” Taehyung tilts his head a little more, and Jeongguk hums, his fingers first tracing the pinned back strands of hair, intrigue blurred across his face from all Taehyung can tell out of his peripheral. Then, he very carefully creeps his fingertips down, practically ghosting over the design, his thumb dragging down the shell of his ear. Taehyung suppresses a shiver.

He partly expects the man to give his opinion on it, or give no opinion at all or even, god forbid, ask Taehyung how it was getting it done.

But, no. All Jeongguk does is chuckle, hand settling on the back of his neck as he taunts, “Guess you’re my bitch now, huh?”

Taehyung tries not to grimace—but come on. Joking or not, that’s a cheap shot.

He doesn’t trust himself to reply, so he just smiles, instead, moving to lean into the man’s touch as Jeongguk follows up with, “Do you like it? The design?”

“Yeah… s’nice.”

It doesn’t sound too convincing, and, no doubt, Jeongguk’s thinking the same thing, his face pulled into amusement, coaxing, “You can be honest, you know. As I told you earlier, I value honesty in this gang.”

Taehyung pauses.

“Okay, then… I think it’d look like an ink splat from a distance. Too detailed.”

Jeongguk snorts, “Fair enough,” he says, hand making light strokes up and down the nape of his neck now. His fingers reach out to trace very carefully around the design again and, after taking a drag and releasing slowly he murmurs, “But, for the record, I think it looks gorgeous on you.” The man waits a beat, head tipping to the side as his mouth curves upwards. “Up close, at least.”

To his own surprise, Taehyung finds himself laughing at that, eyes sweeping across the room. When he looks back, Jeongguk’s still staring at him in the same way: with a strange, unabashed type of delight, fascination, that makes Taehyung come off feeling lightly queasy.

“Thank you, sir,” he mutters back. Not quite sure how to define that feeling. He doesn’t think it’s repulsion. But he can’t imagine it being nerves, either.

Jeongguk inches closer, dropping his hand to the collar of Taehyung’s shirt again, fingertips circling the fabric, running along the stitching as both of them watch the movement. “You know, Taehyung,” he says. Jeongguk’s eyes flit back up to meet his and Taehyung feels his stomach give a blunt kick.

At the exact same time, the doors to the suite swing open. 

Taehyung turns his head out of impulse, but Jeongguk just groans, watching a man stride on into the room as if it’s his. He throws a hand through the golden-brown hair parted off his forehead and, as Taehyung studies him, he comes to two conclusions:

One: god damn he’s fine.

And two: he looks eerily familiar.

Usually it’s a combination that would mean something along the lines of a very hazy one-night-stand or a forgotten classmate that’s had a very fortunate few years. But Taehyung makes the guess that that isn’t the case this time.

The man’s smug when he sees the two of them in their proximity, and he feels Jeongguk tense right up like a clam beside him.

“Sorry,” the brunette, purrs, eyes ping-ponging between them both, “was I interrupting something?”

Jeongguk settles back away from him and takes another puff of the cigar Taehyung was sure he’d forgotten about.

“Seokjin…” he greets, but it sounds a little more like a warning.

And it clicks with Taehyung easily enough then. Kim Seokjin. The cousin.

The proof of the good genes. The nth interruption to what must be Jeongguk’s wooing routine.

Ah, the universe really doesn’t want them together, does it?

Jeongguk lets out a gargantuan (melodramatic, if he’s honest) sigh.

“What do you want?” He spits out the ‘T’ through gritted teeth, eyes flickering towards Taehyung and back as if to say, ‘I’m a little busy, here.’ 

Seokjin saunters his way further into the suite, hands in the silken pockets of his no-doubt overpriced pants as he says, “I was told there was some news. Namjoon left a bunch of messages on my phone and at the very top was ‘see Jeongguk ASAP’ so—” He pops his hands out to gesture at himself, heel thumping against the ground as he comes to a stop.

“You didn’t happen to read the rest of those messages, did you?”

The man grins and chirps, “Nope,” but it’s definitely a yes. “Haven’t had time to read a single text from my good friend Kim Namjoon over the last week, somehow.” He wanders closer to them again, shrugging his shoulders as he asks, “So, what’s the big deal?”

“We got ambushed two hours ago.”

Seokjin drops his ease, face hardening into a grimace as he echoes, “Ambushed? By who?”

“Tong Gao.” The older man arches an eyebrow and Jeongguk snorts, leaning forward to drop his cigar in the ashtray to die out. “Won’t blame you if you’ve never heard of them. Nobody has.”

“No-names attacked you?” Seokjin asks, his eyelids split right open. The look hardens a second later as he grumbles, “They’ve got some fucking nerve.”

Jeongguk hums. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

The man stalks over to them, seating himself on the arm of the chair opposite Jeongguk. “What did Namjoon say?”

“He gave me as much insight as he could, but there’s not a lot to go off of just yet.” Suddenly, Jeongguk turns to him. “Taehyung, can you go upstairs to the study and pick up the folder Namjoon gave me sitting on the desk?”

“Of course, sir.”

Taehyung gets to his feet, relieved enough to be out of the way of the weird kind of tension building in the room between the cousins for a couple of minutes. This whole Tong Gao business doesn’t really concern Taehyung.

What does concern him (probably) is what’s in Jeongguk’s study.

He climbs the stairs with leisure, hand sliding effortlessly up the banister. It’s a pleasant change of pace from the staircase in his own apartment; the sticky, rotting banisters he’s learned not to touch after getting a splinter from them a few days in and being convinced his finger would drop off with some ancient disease. 

The younger man watches him go, and then turns his attention back to his cousin, expression heavy with malice. Taehyung, on the other hand, makes his way across the landing, leaving their mutterings behind as the section splits into a corridor.

If Taehyung had already thought the bottom floor of the suite looked like some villa in Palm Springs, then the upstairs looks even worse, with the giant marble wall that separates the landing from the rest of the floor trickling a thin waterfall along its height, and the small potted plants lining the way.

He hopes Jeon doesn’t notice him ogling at it all, lest his ego inflate any more, but it’s admittedly hard not to stare. It’s a minimalistic-white-marble wet dream.

Taehyung follows past the tasteful waterfall, filtering in through the small doorless-entrance that leads off into the rest of the floor. The corridor is rather undecorated, besides a random end table with a plant on top or a soulless painting hung up on the wall. Mostly, the view makes up for it, the floor-to-ceiling windows that give such a wide scope of the city, Taehyung could be fooled into believing that this is all there is to it. It’s long past sunset now, and the lights dotting the cityscape look like stars have dropped right out of the sky.

He tries the first door he comes across, but instead, finds himself unveiling a pristine bedroom. One with a space so well-kept, not a hair out of place, that Taehyung automatically assumes it’s a guest room until he sees the suit laid out at the bottom of the giant bed. A skylight hangs overhead, huge mirrors directly opposite but the rest of the wall is glass, the adjacent side a roomy balcony. It’s gorgeous. 

But, Taehyung doesn’t want Jeongguk to catch him peeking in his bedroom and think he’s up to something (or assume he’s that desperate,) so he closes the door again.

The study isn’t the very next room—that’s an upstairs kitchen for a reason Taehyung isn’t rich enough to understand—but he finds the place he’s looking for soon enough. 

It’s significantly plainer than the rest of the suite; looks as if the whole thing’s just been re-done, but instead of moving the furniture and decor back in, he’s had someone throw in a rigid desk, a leather seat and a couple of cupboards and cabinets for storage. There’s nails in the walls but without any frames hanging off of them and cream paint that’s ran down onto the skirting board. It doesn’t look as if the room’s been done by a professional, is his conclusion. In fact, it looks rushed—unfinished, even.

He wonders if Jeongguk has CCTV, and figures he must, even if he doesn’t see any cameras tucked into the corners of the ceiling. Surely, a man like him would be careful. Which means, Taehyung has to be subtle about his snooping, make it look as if he’s legitimately looking for the file. He wanders over to the desk, lifting a few papers half-heartedly. It’s obvious the file’s under there somewhere; Jeongguk had told him it was. But, he sighs in frustration, pretending to skim over the titles of the documents on the table, like he’s not trying to gleam anything too valuable.

Not that there’s anything valuable lying about. All that’s on the desk is email confirmations about flight bookings to Japan in a few days that he’s sure isn’t even remotely interesting enough for him to care about, and a letter likely sent in post about a—Taehyung cranes his neck a little more—- oh, a brand new custom-built Koenigsegg Regera, of course. Just a little weekend cruiser, he’s sure. Something to treat himself for a hard week.

Taehyung rolls his eyes, hopes Jeongguk catches it if he ever watches the alleged footage back.

There’s also a half-crumpled receipt for a tin of paint and a roller that starts to make more sense.

Taehyung has a quick search through the cupboards but doesn’t find much more than a couple of wilting address books and a yellowing phonebook that must be older than him. The cabinets are filed into finance documents for the most part but, overall, the room doesn’t seem to serve any information more incriminating than the fact Jeongguk can’t paint a wall. 

The only thing that kind of sparks his interest are the mundane receipts tucked away like restaurant bills and bar tabs. He wonders if Jeongguk keeps them for evidence, to perhaps hold blackmail material over someone who shouldn’t have been meeting him, or to counter when they try to claim his involvement in something else—or if he’s just that obsessive over keeping his finances in check.

Still, it’s a search that Zhao would probably call needless and time-wasting. Even amateur, as if Taehyung should’ve been able to use his keen sense of smell to tell that there was nothing of much value for him to find in the room.

He wanders back over to the desk, giving it another limp search and feigning surprise when he brushes along the file he’d been sent to find.

He wonders where Jeongguk keeps his actually valuable information. Digitally, perhaps—-or maybe he just hasn’t moved the real shit back into his study yet. 

Truthfully, Taehyung isn’t one-hundred-percent certain of what kind of things he’s even looking for. Anything that would prove his involvement in something illegal, he supposes—-but surely, it’d have to be a lot. Or something huge. Something he can’t imagine Jeongguk leaving evidence of around very easily.

Maybe the FBI are expecting more surveillance kind of proof, instead. Something that shows Jeongguk slipping up, or something to use as a confession, even. He’s sure if he thought harder about it, he could figure out which would be the best—-the easiest to get and the most rewarding.

But, right now, Taehyung kind of just wants to give the file over to Jeongguk and dip as soon as possible. Maybe grab some food on the way home and get to sleep so the fresh wound of his tattoo can stop stinging.

He’s sure he’ll be told what to look for, at some point. Right now, Taehyung doesn’t give a shit.

He’s on his way out when he hears a strange noise—like air being pushed through a pipe—and, for a few seconds, he panics at the thought of some potential gas leak about to blow every hair off his body.

It’s only when Taehyung turns around to face the door that he realises what that sound actually is.

And if the shriek he lets out at seeing a fully-grown Black Mamba slithering it’s huge, terrifying body towards him is a little prepubescent-boyish, then he thinks he’s fucking justified.

Have fun watching that one back, Master Jeon.

 

 

Downstairs, Jeongguk is eyeing up his liquor cabinet as his cousin rambles on.

“Surely, this is a simple matter, Jeongguk,” he says for the hundredth time in the last five minutes. He keeps watching the stairs, hoping Taehyung’ll be back any second now to save him any more of this conversation.

“They’re basically brand new,” he mutters, somewhat defensively. “We haven’t got a lot to go off of.”

“Then, we’ve gotta act quick, don’t we?” Seokjin says like that isn’t obvious. “Wipe ‘em out before they can grow.”

Jeongguk puffs his chest out slightly at this, feeling the rush of being a small step ahead oozing through him. “Good news, in that case,” he boasts, “we’ve already taken care of a few today.”

But Seokjin doesn’t grin or praise him like he ought to.

The man just rolls his eyes. 

“Of course, you have.”

“That’s a good thing,” Jeongguk protests, but Seokjin creeps further from his position in the chair opposite him, leaning closer with a piercing gaze.

“Is it?” He asks, and the younger man is suddenly stuck for words. “You know what happens when you kill a wasp close to its nest, Jeongguk?” He drops his voice to a whisper. “The rest of the hive attack”

Jeongguk grimaces, fingers stiffening as they dig into the arm-rest of the sofa. 

He hates when Jin’s right.

“That analogy works both ways, hyung—and I’m not afraid of no names.”

“Fearlessness is a weakness,” the man rhymes off. “It makes idiots out of the smartest men.”

The words are something his uncle had engrained in them both since they could talk. Something Jeongguk’s father always scoffed at.

‘Fearlessness’ he’d say, ‘how can that be a weakness?’

But, despite his father’s dismissal, Jeongguk didn’t blow it off so easily. It always made him wonder. He knew he and Seokjin had a level grounding with it. That, from it, they had an understanding.

And, like any time it’s brought up, Jeongguk meets his cousin’s steady gaze, and nods.

“I’ll be afraid when they give me a reason,” he insists. “All they’ve given me is a concern.”

Seokjin peers at him.

“What concern?”

The tension in the air is thick. Jeongguk knows what Seokjin’ll say. His skin prickles over with anticipation.

“They knew about dad,” he mutters, and his stomach drops all over again, hearing it out loud.

Seokjin’s face drops. “What?” He barks, “That he’s—”

“Dead.”

Sharp, technical. Like ripping off a bandaid. 

Does it mean the wound has completely healed? Not necessarily. Maybe, in this case, it’s just bled through.

Seokjin looks as if he either wants to come closer or make a run for it, hovering in his seat like cautioned prey. “Jeongguk…” he utters, “if they know that—”

“Then we’re in trouble, I know,” the younger snaps. He grits his teeth, massaging circles into his temple. “I know.”

He’s heard so from enough voices today, picked it out from in-between the words of people too afraid to say so, in their mannerisms and grimaces when they think he isn’t looking.

A few hours in, and Jeongguk feels as if he’s ran through the entire scenario a thousand times over. Like he’s picked the goddamn thing to its bone.

His cousin curses under his breath, coming to a sudden stand, hands unsure what to do with themselves before they settle on clenching into useless fists. 

“That fucking bastard,” he growls, face skewed into abhorrence, “Still screwing us over from hell.”

Jeongguk’s stomach squeezes taut, the rest of him catching on faster to what Seokjin means than his brain does.

He doesn’t clock his reaction until the elder double-takes, face plummeting as if to match.

“Don’t give me that look,” he scolds and, for a moment, holds his glare as if he’s waiting for Jeongguk to retort. But he laughs a second later, scornful and disbelieving as if he’s reprimanding a child. “God, the fact you’re still so defensive over him is terrifying.”

“We’re not talking about this,” Jeongguk decides, because there’s nothing left to say that hasn’t been said before. Seokjin digs up this argument every damn time they see each other, lately. He’s heard it all by now.

The older man’s anger dissipates and curdles, growing bitter in his gaze. He tuts, standing tall, his shoulders back and arms sturdy across his chest. “I suppose you never listen, either way. Why waste my breath?”

Jeongguk rises to match the stance, prowling into his cousin’s space so they’re chest-to-chest. “I know you have better things to do than stand here and argue with me,” he spits. 꺼져 .”

Seokjin practically laughs in his face, eyes rolling around their sockets as he repeats, “ 꺼져 ? You’re telling me to get lost? Really?” His head dips to the side, glare cold and jagged as he taunts, “Are you a leader or a child?”

Jeongguk lets out a breathy chuckle, tongue poking his cheek as he listlessly glances off to the side. “How original,” he murmurs. His attention falls back onto his cousin, the look stony at best. “If all you came to do was insult me, then leave.”

Seokjin shakes his head with incredulity. Like he hasn’t stepped a toe out of line. “All this over calling my uncle what he is? As if you don’t already know? Don’t already agree, deep down?”

Jeongguk purses his lips, eyes hooded. And Seokjin seems to decide to take a swing at something else.

“Or are you still upset about me ruining your chances of a hook-up?”

No response, and his cousin layers on dramatics, cupping his own face in both hands as he cries, “Oh, I’m sorry Lord Jeon, I’ve committed the unforgivable act of cockblocking.” He drops his hands a beat later and gives a derisive scoff, judgement radiating off him in waves. “How many people do you have here a week, anyway?”

“That’s none of your business,” the younger man bites back, shoulders hiking up with his folded arms. Seokjin has such a fucking talent of getting under his skin.

“Actually, Jeongguk,” the man starts, airily, “it is—because it’s always me that has to clean up your messes. What’s your plan this time, huh? Sleep with him and kick him off back to Min again?”

“I—”

There’s a creak of wood and, out of the corner of his eye, Jeongguk catches Taehyung standing at the top of the stairs, folder in his arms like he isn’t supposed to be there at all. 

The man clears his throat, and awkwardly gestures to the file. 

“Should I pretend I’m still looking for this, sir, or…?”

Jeongguk’s gaze is sharp, lips unmoving but Seokjin steps away from him with a giggle, dusting invisible specks off of himself, as if they’d just been having a minor dispute.

“You’re Taehyung, aren’t you?” he asks, mouth curling into a charming smile. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’ve heard—” His gaze flicks to Jeongguk and back again. “...about you…”

All Jeongguk can do is sigh, shoulders slumping again.

Taehyung wanders down the rest of the steps as Seokjin ambles over to meet him at the bottom, fingers already wriggling from his outstretched palm to take the folder, which Taehyung hands over with light discomfort on his face.

“Yes, sir,” he answers, the laugh that follows probably more forced than it needs to be.

Jeongguk understands. Overhearing what he just did would likely put anyone on edge. And Seokjin lives to put people on edge.

The older man is already looking through the folder as he walks back over to Jeongguk. Taehyung watches the both of them subconsciously draw to it, Jeongguk’s neck stretching at an odd angle, like he wants to look through it himself, not with the other man, while Seokjin seems to almost be purposefully leaning away from him.

A few more seconds pass in silence, and Seokjin doesn’t even look up when he asks, “So, Taehyung—how are you finding Hua She?”

He sounds as if he’s asking about a part-time job at Starbucks, but Taehyung answers as honestly as possible, anyway, telling him. “Never a dull moment, sir. Min and Master Jeon have been keeping me busy.”

“No doubt…” the man replies with a tuft of amusement. He flicks another page over before looking up to his cousin, snipping, “Jeongguk—did you ask Namjoon about this group’s associations?” as if chastising him for leaving out something so crucial.

But Jeongguk just rolls his eyes and very exaggeratedly turns the page. Seokjin jolts his fingers back, flinching slightly.

“He hasn’t had time to look into them, yet, but there’s chances they’ve got links with at least some of the organisations and people on here.”

Seokjin scans over the supposed list, his frown deepening the further he goes.

“Some big names,” he notes, and Jeongguk nods along with him, agreeing, “Yeah, it’s weird, isn’t it?”

He takes a step back from the other man, clearly done with his backseat reading, his hands slipping to settle on his waist as he adds, “Gang comes up out of the blue… and they’ve got half of Hong Kong on their side.”

Seokjin snorts. “Well, you know why that is, don’t you?”

The younger man arches an eyebrow.

“What have they all got in common?” his cousin prods. “They want us burned to the ground.”

Jeongguk’s mouth arcs up into a vanity smile, shaking his head as he walks over to the minibar situated in front of the glass windows looking out onto his garden to pour himself a drink. The last of the night’s sun catches the crystal ridges of the bottle in his hand and splits across chosen strands of his hair, glowing like a half broken halo.

“I’m serious, Jeongguk.”

“I know you are,” the man drawls, and when he looks up from his concoction, his face is completely void of amusement—-emotion, even. “What do you want me to say? We can’t just start attacking everyone in the city because they don’t like us.”

“We can’t let them come to us, either.”

“What happened to the wasp’s nest?”

“I didn’t realise it was this serious.”

Jeongguk raises his glass to his mouth, but sets it down on second thought. It clicks against the marble bar, and he sighs.

“I don’t want a war, Jin,” he admits, quietly.

Seokjin looks sympathetic, Taehyung thinks, his gaze softening on the younger man as he jokes, “If it was that easy to stop a war, history books would be a hell of a lot shorter.”

Jeongguk shifts his jaw after taking a sip, licking over his teeth. Then, he continues drinking.

“Just because—” Seokjin stops, looking to Taehyung, unsteadily. He blows out a sharp breath and repeats, “Just because Hua She’s spent decades avoiding another street war, doesn’t mean we have to be blissfully unaware of the possibility of there being one. Jeongguk, I know you’re not just ignoring this.”

Suddenly, the younger is slamming his glass down, a much rounder thud following it this time as he snaps, “No, I’m not fuckin’ ignoring it, Seokjin. No matter what you think of me, I’m not an idiot. I’m fully aware that if things keep going like this, there will be a problem—but we’re not there yet.” He waits, sounding as if he’s trying to convince himself more than Seokjin when he says, “There’s still time.”

The older man ventures over to him, leaning his palms on the bar, next to Jeongguk as he asks, “What do you want to do?”

Jeongguk pauses, like he’s trying to answer that for himself.

“I don’t know yet,” he admits after a moment, “But I’ve gotta think of something.”

Seokjin tips his head at him, a smile edging onto his face and, with it, the wounds from the rest of the conversation seem to melt away along with the sourness in the air. “Well,” he says, “you’ve got a very wise cousin and an apparently prodigal advisor over here. Min’s a button-press away, too.”

Jeongguk looks up from where his eyes had been pinned to his thumb, circling the rim of his glass. He peers. 

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying you’ve got plenty of other brains around you, ‘gguk.” The man reaches out to tap the other on the head with the bulk of his knuckles. “Give this a break once in a while.”

Jeongguk raises a hand to bat him away, and pushes his weight off of the bar, letting the drink stay unfinished as he takes a few paces away. “I don’t have time,” he says, and follows it with a click of his tongue. “And if anyone has any bright ideas I’m more than willing to hear them out.”

“Woah there—” Seokjin raises his hands up in front of him, quipping, “I didn’t think you’d actually expect me to give you a plan.”

Jeongguk seems unimpressed, but, for some reason, it gets Taehyung thinking. 

Here’s his chance to make himself look good—with a little trick that worked wonders on other dealers and associates back in Cali: the art of being just vague enough to force someone to draw their own conclusion and make it sound as if it was his idea. 

“If I could suggest something sir?” He says, leaning up against one of the sofas by his hip, his arms crossed, head tilted. Jeongguk seems to like where this is going, his expression clearing of his previous annoyance.

“Of course, Kim. That’s what you’re here for.” Seokjin gives a brusque laugh and the younger man scowls at him, making his way over to Taehyung before sitting down and gesturing for the other man to do the same. “Go ahead.” 

Seokjin plants himself down opposite to them, holding his head up in one hand as he watches them with half-lidded eyes.

“Well…” Taehyung says, “they’re taking a chance because they think they can overthrow us, right? Once we’re down, then it’s a fair fight between the rest of them for power.”

Jeongguk nods along to his assumption, stare rather intense, as if he’s just desperate for something useful.

“Then, we have to crush the idea that Hua She is weak enough to be beaten,” he says, as if it’s as easy as that. “You’re the leader now, sir,” he adds, throwing in a boost to the ego to sweeten the deal. “They should know exactly who they have to be afraid of.”

And, as it always does, his little formula seems to work, Jeongguk humming, the finger on his lips hiding the inches of a smile as he says, “The inauguration… that’s what you’re talking about, aren’t you, Kim?”

Sure. Whatever that is.

He nods his head, saying, “Until then, I think it’s best to just stay as under the radar as possible.”

That way, Taehyung thinks, you don’t make any of this harder than it has to be for me.

He’d like to avoid as many life-threatening situations as he can, naturally.

“You might be right about that,” Jeongguk agrees, but his face clouds over in thought again a moment later, muttering, “but Tong Gao... they’re still a problem.”

Taehyung has to agree. But that is not something he wants to get caught up in again—he gets tossed into enough shootouts as it is.

“With all due respect, sir, if they have the allies that they’re said to there’s not much that can be done about them without setting off everyone else.”

For a second, it seems as if Jeongguk wants to argue—-like he’s itching to put a stop to all this. Taehyung can understand that, it’s his head on the line, after all, now that they know Jungkeun is dead. 

But, he doesn’t argue. Jeongguk just nods, eyebrows furrowing in minor frustration as he says, “I suppose so.” He loosens up with a sigh, throwing one leg over the other and melting into his posture. “Perhaps we’ll just gather intel on them for the time being—but if they try to attack us again, then I refuse to play defence,” he adds as a warning. His eyes wander over to Seokjin, eyebrows lifting again. “Input?”

The man hesitates before he speaks, fingers running over his bottom lip in thought. “I don’t like the idea of just waiting around,” he says, seemingly still weighing up the options in the brief silence that follows. 

Jeongguk watches him intently, but with the kind of layered nonchalance that suggests he’s trying to not make it obvious.

“I suppose I have to agree,” Seokjin admits soon after, clarifying, “It’s best to organise ourselves, if worse comes to worst. We haven’t quite… adjusted yet.”

Jeongguk gives Seokjin a painfully sharp look, as if his entire body has just locked up.

“There’s a lot of changes that need to be made to this gang,” he tells him and, though the words seem like an agreement, the snap of them makes it sound more like an argument.

Seokjin doesn’t exactly return the look, but he’s saying something with it, gaze focused relentlessly on the younger man with his lips quirked but not in pleasure.

These two have the weirdest energy—-Taehyung’s kind of uncomfortable.

But, Seokjin breaks the stare-off fairly quickly, glancing at his watch as his face shifts to something a lot less complicated. Reluctance, a little bit of boredom. He uncrosses his legs to come to a stand and gives a quiet sigh. 

“It’s getting late. I’ve gotta go if I wanna make it to dinner on time.”

Jeongguk peers at him, slightly scrutinising. 

“With who?”

The older man’s already shrugging on his coat, but he stops the motion to glance out of the corner of his eye at Jeongguk, as if a lump is stuck in his throat.

“Well… your mother wanted to meet.”

Thick, viscous silence follows.

Jeongguk looks as if a whole thunderstorm has just passed over his face, leaving behind something stern, his gaze even harder than before.

Seokjin doesn’t look victorious as he has any other time he’s pulled such a reaction out of Jeongguk. He shifts, as if he’s uncomfortable, and quickly buttons up the rest of his coat. Then, he turns to Taehyung.

“Taehyung, would you like me to take you home?” He asks politely, taking another peek at his cousin to add, “Assuming Jeongguk’s done with you for the day?”

Taehyung takes a look for himself. “Is that alright, sir?”

Jeongguk doesn’t seem angry or even sullen, as he had a moment ago. He’s very still, staring into space—-but when Taehyung speaks to him he blinks rapidly a few times, as if pulling himself out of a daze.

“Yes, that’s… fine, Taehyung.”

“What time—"

“Eleven AM tomorrow morning,” he says, cutting him off, but it seems to suck the last of the energy out of him. “Just come on up,” he mutters, and, before Taehyung can even really process that past realising it means he’ll have to deal with the doormen from hell again, Jeongguk is already trudging away, heading for the staircase as if his shoes are made of lead.

“Bye, Jeongguk,” Seokjin says, rather expectantly, tilting his chin up as he fixes the collar of his coat to try and meet the man’s eyes. Jeongguk just lifts a hand to him and continues upstairs.

When Taehyung turns to Seokjin with a questioning look, the man purses his lips, shaking his head in a ‘don’t ask’ sort of manner. He opens the door for him and makes a small gesture to have him go first, shutting it again behind them. 

They continue in silence down the hall, and, at the elevator, Taehyung remembers, “My bike’s still at The Golden Cat—if you want to drop me off there.”

He’s still trying to figure out what he just happened, but Seokjin’s no help at all—-his face even, as if absolutely nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred.

“Very well,” he replies, and ushers him in when the doors open. He presses the button, and they fall back into silence. Taehyung takes a look at the man beside him who’s staring dead ahead, still waiting for him to crack.

A small smirk forms on the other’s lips. 

“No need to stare, Kim—I know I’m handsome.”

The younger laughs, surprised to find it genuine, and it just makes Seokjin grin all the wider.

“It runs in the family, don’t you think?”

Something about how he says it leads Taehyung to believe it isn’t as light-hearted of a question as it sounds. Seokjin doesn’t seem the kind of man to make small talk or ask questions just for the sake of asking them. Trying to figure out what he thinks of Jeongguk, most likely. If he interrupted what he thinks he interrupted.

Taehyung isn’t even sure what he interrupted.

So, he just smiles as if he wasn’t expecting an actual answer. Polite but safe.

Seokjin meets his eyes and, for a second, there’s a glimmer that sheens over them, as if he’s planning to challenge that—-but it dies just as quickly, and he gives a bashful chime of laughter instead, pushing back the strands of his hair as he says, “Sorry, I’m being inappropriate.” He waits a beat, and Taehyung watches the man’s reflection start to grin a little again. “That also runs in the family.”

Taehyung has to stop himself from groaning. Maybe he should’ve just stayed with Jeongguk and his mood-swings. Seokjin’s lips fall into a frown, bordering on pout-territory.

“That was a joke, Kim, you’re allowed to laugh.”

Brattiness, it seems, also runs in the family.

“Oh,” Taehyung says, giving the man another semi-forced smile. “I’m sorry, sir.”

Seokjin laughs, slightly put off by the misses. “No worries…” he mutters, turning back to look ahead of them again. There’s a brief moment where the only sound is the elevator travelling down the floors with its busy whirr. Seokjin begins to fix his appearance, tilting his head back and forth with his eyes stuck on his reflection. His chin tips up as he’s re-looping his tie and when his eyes skirt over to Taehyung, wordlessly watching him, he says, “Not much of a talker, are ya’, Kim?”

Taehyung avoids his gaze, trying to play himself to be as well-mannered and insignificant as possible. He’s been warned to hell and back about how dangerous Jeongguk and Jimin and Yoongi are—-yet, nobody’s said a word about Seokjin, even with how… off he seems.

“Not particularly, sir.”

He’s not taking chances.

Seokjin’s fingers stop all of a sudden, his head lolling to the side as he meets Taehyung’s eyes in the mirror. His mouth cracks open, just barely. Probably unnoticeable if Taehyung hadn’t been looking for it.

“Odd…” he murmurs, “that’s not what Jimin told me.”

Taehyung feels a shiver run through him.

If Jimin and Seokjin are suspicious of him he’s in big fucking trouble. He’s sure they’d be a dream-team from hell—-they both thoroughly give Taehyung the creeps. His only saving grace might be the fact that Jeongguk doesn’t seem to listen to a word his cousin says, but it’s a lot to bet his precious ass on.

Taehyung laughs anyway, though, pulling some pretty grin across his face just to try and soften the blow a little. “I guess I’m just not sure how to make conversation with a member of my boss’ family.”

At last, the elevator dings, and the doors slide open. Taehyung almost pushes past the other man in an urge to get as far away from this conversation as possible, but he doesn’t. He holds his smile a little longer, gesturing for the other man to go out first this time, which he does so, graciously. 

“That’s fair enough,” Seokjin says once the doors close again. “But, truthfully, Kim, you don’t need to worry around me.”

He stops, the hint of a smirk lining his lips.

“As long as you don’t give yourself a reason to, that is.”

Taehyung feels caught out all over again—he just hopes Seokjin doesn’t notice.

“Good to know, sir.”

He follows the man into the bustling lobby as he flags down an employee shuffling past them who is completely drowned in his uniform, as if it was handed down by an older sibling.

“Gong,” Seokjin says, sweetly, in a stark contrast to his cousin, “bring my car out front, please.”

And, in a whole other contrast, the employee actually smiles back at Seokjin—-though Taehyung thinks it looks more like ‘please don’t eat me’ than ‘my pleasure.’ 

That could just be him projecting, though.

“Right away, sir.”

The man skips out ahead of them and, by the time he strolls out with Seokjin to the bottom of the steps outside (with Harvey and Sungsoo looking as if their hearts have just dropped out of their asses, seeing him with Kim Seokjin of all people) the shiny grey car is already pulling up next to them; a pretty little Aston Martin that people with too much money might deem modest. He’s sure Jeongguk’s probably got one for each day of the week.

Seokjin catches him checking it out and beams again, cheeky and playful now as he says, “Like it? Keep up the good work and maybe you’ll land yourself one of these babies someday.”

Not a chance.

“I think I’ll stick to two wheels for now.”

The man lets out a giggle and, in a total oxymoron, claps him on the shoulder with ‘friendly’ brute force.

The inside is no less impressive than the outside, smooth creams and warm blacks that straddle the line of brown, everywhere. Sleek and simple. Comfortable but classy. Taehyung looks around them, taking in the space and luxury and realises one other thing.

“How come you don’t have any security with you, sir?”

Even Yoongi normally has a couple of guys floating about at the restaurant. Though, he often wonders if they’re there for their jobs or the food.

Seokjin scrunches his nose as the engine whirrs to life. “Don’t want it,” he answers tersely. “I don’t like being followed around all day… having people breathing down your neck—s’not fun.”

Taehyung tries to imagine it, but he can’t even come close. He’s never really had anyone watching over him like that. Hoseok, maybe—when they were kids—but, even then, Taehyung tended to steer the reins most days.

“Yeah, doesn’t sound it.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll know soon enough,” Seokjin mumbles, leaning over the wheel slightly to try and find an opening in the traffic. “Jeongguk’s swarming with security at all times. Crowded by security in the hotel, escorted by security on his journey and welcomed by security waiting for him at his destination.”

Taehyung wonders how long it’s been like that. If it’s always been like that. It sounds suffocating. Does he ever go out by himself? Would he want to? Surely, if he hated security so much, he just wouldn’t have them; like Seokjin.

“Does he ever get time to just… breathe?” Taehyung wonders, but Seokjin just scoffs.

“Other people breathe for him. Even when he’s alone, there’s people right outside his door.” The car finally pulls out onto the road, and Seokjin relaxes a little again, adding, “Pretty sure they’d chew his food for him if he let ‘em.”

Taehyung hums.

“Kind of a shitty deal,” he says without much thought, and the older man gives an abrupt laugh, like he’d been taken by surprise.

“Yeah, Kim—I suppose it is.”

They don’t say much more for the rest of the journey, Taehyung stuck thinking about having twenty people that don’t really even like him following him around all day. No freedom, always waiting for him to slip up. Nobody to really even guide him. It’s like Hoseok was saying earlier. Half of the gang probably want him dead, already. Jealousy, underestimation. And all of this rival shit happening on top of that…

Jeongguk’s not a saint. But he is a kid. It must be pretty lonely, for a man that’s never alone.

He barely even registers that they’ve arrived at the restaurant until he hears Seokjin say, “Good to finally meet you, Kim Taehyung.”

It snaps him out of his daze, and he unclicks his seatbelt to nod his head, saying, “You too, sir. And thanks for the lift!”

Seokjin winks at him as he steps out.

“Be good,” he warns.

Taehyung just gives him another nod, hoping that the comment was a joke this time.

When he pokes his head into the restaurant, one of the part-timers tells him that Hoseok already left a few hours ago—-and Yoongi’s in his office but (as is often the case) doesn’t want to be disturbed.

So, Taehyung mooches some pork buns from the kitchen and rewards himself with a semi-early night.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

Taehyung kicks off his shoes when he gets in, stomach still a little more empty than he’d like because Vincent had sensed the food from a mile away the moment he’d tried to put his bike back and whined about how hungry he was until Taehyung gave in and shared. (And, even then, had the balls to ask him if he had any soup to round it off with.)

He knows better than to go searching for food in his cupboards again, figuring the stale bread’s grown a whole other civilisation by now, and decides to go to bed early, in hopes that he’ll wake up with enough time to go find a bakery or something in the morning.

He’s getting paid now, and, though he secretly gets the feeling Yoongi doesn’t mind feeding him and Hoseok nearly every day, he’s also slightly paranoid that another lecture might be coming his way if Four Suns decide to pull some other stunt tonight, as well.

Easier just to avoid it.

One thing he can’t avoid much longer, though, is Zhao. And Taehyung decides it’s probably the smart thing to do to finally call the man up, before he pays him a visit himself.

So, Taehyung gets out his phone and pulls up his contact, flopping back onto his bed as he listens to the sound of the call trying to connect. The slow beeps as the mattress settles under his weight. He watches flecks of dust illuminate under the lamp over his bed, when the phone finally clicks.

“Zhao—it’s me.”

“At last,” the man says, his voice gravelly and full of static. No wonder, considering how terrible the connection is in his place. He hopes they aren’t going to charge him for this call, considering the long distance. “Have you finally got something for us?” He sounds somewhat drowsy, his words slurring together ever so slightly, and Taehyung belatedly realises it’s still very early morning back in LA and he probably woke the bastard up.

He says the first thing that he recalls from today’s conversation with Jeongguk, still not really sure what the FBI want from him but figuring it’s a good place to start. “Jeon’s worried about a street war breaking out. I told him to lay low for a while.”

There’s a short pause.

“You told him to lay low?” Zhao asks, as if the notion is completely unbelievable to him.

“Yes,” he says through gritted teeth.

“And he listened?”

“He did!” Taehyung boasts, would be coiling the wire around his finger right about now in feigned-modesty if it was 1982. “I’m his advisor now so… it kind of figures.”

It’s obvious that he’s pleased. Pleasantly surprised. He has to be—-Taehyung landed it fucking big. Even if it was half because he’s got a great ass and half because he jumped right into an impromptu undercover mission without thinking about the consequences (for the second time, technically.) But Jeongguk seems to like both of those things, so where’s the harm? For all Zhao knows, he got where he is sensibly and cunningly.

“Very well, Kim. Don’t screw up your position,” is all he says, but Taehyung knows he’s impressed.

He shifts on the mattress to fit one of his arms behind his head. It’s slightly better than his pillow. “Well, what about you? How’s it back in LA?”

“Yes, yes, the operation is running smoothly,” the man says dismissively. Taehyung wonders if he’s lying in bed right now too. For some reason, that image deeply disturbs him. “Or as smoothly as it can go with nothing useful coming through from your end.”

Taehyung groans.

“I just told you he’s laying low!” he snaps. The bed frame creaks at the movement. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“What we want, Kim,” Zhao says sternly, “is something to take Hua She down with. We’re not interested in them becoming part of the Peace Corps,” he spits the words out so pointedly, Taehyung feels as if he has to wipe his face.

“And here I was thinking our justice system just wanted some blood off the streets. You’re looking for convictions, huh? A nice little trophy on your desk.” He sits up, throwing his legs over the side of the bed again to slouch over himself, hand practically cradling his face with the phone squished in between as an afterthought. It’s been a long day, and his neck is still sore. He wants this to be over as soon as possible.

“That tends to be what happens to those that commit crimes,” Zhao replies, snarkily. He thinks he can hear him glaring.

“Tends to be,” Taehyung repeats, being the clear exception, but the older man doesn’t seem to find much humour in the statement.

“Say the word and we’ll haul you right back into one of those cells, Kim.”

With some of the shit he’s had to put up with lately, sometimes he thinks he might’ve been better off.

“Nah, I’m having too much fun over here, thanks.”

“Remember what you’re there to do. Give us evidence, not anecdotes.”

“You’re not much of a conversationalist, Zhao.”

Now he understands Seokjin’s pain.

“I don’t really have the time to talk with lackeys.”

Taehyung snorts, mouthing ‘lackeys’ with a roll of his eyes. There’s a stiff breeze starting to creep into the room, so he gets to his feet to quickly go and close the window. It’s a minor struggle, the thing having been open so long now that it doesn’t seem to feel like closing anymore, but he gets it after some elbow-grease and settles his weight to one hip, letting his eyes rake across the low-quality shot of the city from his apartment block.

“Is that all, Kim?”

Evidence, not anecdotes. He can’t imagine Zhao being very interested in any of the issues involving the other gangs. It’s no secret Hua She’s hated by nearly every other gangster in Hong Kong—-nor is that something that could get a conviction. He’s sure he wouldn’t be pleased to hear that he might just have two of the worst people to ever have suspect him… suspecting him. Nor does he think he’d be very interested in the fact that Jeongguk’s surprisingly moody, or that he has a snake bigger than a fucking lamppost in his study.

Actually, that one might be illegal.

“Yup, that’s it,” he says after a moment, and Zhao hums as if he’d expected as much.

Asshole.

“I’ll send surveillance equipment to your apartment,” he informs him, “Get us something useful.”

Taehyung winces slightly at that. He hadn’t thought about the difficulty until it became a reality just now, but how the hell is he supposed to plant surveillance? And where? When? 

“Do you want this done right or do you want me to blow my cover?”

“I want you to get something,” the man stresses. “I don’t care how you get it, I don’t care what happens after you get it. The equipment streams right to us live. We could watch Jeon peel your skin off in HD and use it as further evidence.”

Taehyung shudders at the thought. He never really saw ‘gruesome livestream’ being his cause of death, to be brutally honest. And he is not risking his damn life for this mission, no matter what equipment he shoves through his mailbox.

“You’re a very disturbed man, Andrew Zhao.”

“Then I’m doing my job right…” Zhao replies, his voice crackling along the line but still crystal clear in its threat, “…so, do yours.”

The call drops with a beep.

He sighs, dropping his arm to fold with the other as he leans up against the window.

Taehyung doesn’t hate a whole lot of people—but , god, he’d throw that man through a brick wall if he got the chance.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

Yoongi studies the man opposite him—no more or less anything now than he had been, striding into his restaurant at happy hour and having his men practically haul him upstairs in the middle of an order.

Gang first, cover-up second, he had said and, normally, Yoongi would’ve agreed; if it had been anyone else but Jeongguk saying so. He doesn’t quite care about the restaurant in the same way he does about Hua She. It’s more that, in the daytime, Yoongi doesn’t always have a whole lot of practical shit to do. It’s just more productive to keep an eye on things, take a few orders and make some phone-calls at the same time.

He catches the eye of one of Jeongguk’s guards, a stern face glowering back at him as if he’d been some kind of vermin or prey—-not a man easily ten ranks their senior. Jeongguk doesn’t even normally allow them in the room with them during their meetings.

Looks like he might want him to be polite, tonight.

“Ambush,” Yoongi repeats, dragging out the two syllables to reduce them down to a drawl. Jeongguk’s lip twitches, his scowl generously spread across his face.

“Yes, that’s what I said, Min,” Jeongguk snaps, “An ambush.” He lets out a sigh, fingers pressed to his eyelids and slumps back slightly in Yoongi’s office chair. “We haven’t been able to find out who sent them or from where—don’t even know how they found us.”

This is a routine for them. Usually Jeongguk comes with a problem Yoongi can fix, but he doesn’t see what he’s supposed to do about some faceless gangsters. This isn’t his area.

“And you told—”

“Namjoon, yes.”

“I haven’t even heard of Tong Gao.”

“Neither had he, really,” Jeongguk tells him plainly, eyes hazed over with something almost bored, which is a hell of a stretch, considering he came to him.

“I’ll poke around some, sir,” he says at last, fingers curling around his steaming cup. He’d had one of his waiters make it up for them before he dismissed everyone for the night, even with their suspicious-as-always glances towards the man that’d barged into their workplace with a huddle of tough-looking guards surrounding him. Yoongi takes a sip, letting the vegetal taste bloom in his mouth, the hint of spice and flora, before he swallows. He sets the cup back down again on its saucer with a gentle clink. “No doubt a few of the runners’ll have at least heard some rumours.”

Ground-workers. It makes the most sense to start on the street, with those that have the most chance of running into a gang like this. Even Hoseok wouldn’t be such a bad place to start. But Jeongguk doesn’t looked pleased with the suggestion. He clicks his tongue, tea collecting condensation along the side of the cup, completely untouched.

“Not looking for rumours, Min—I need something solid.” 

“Rumours isn’t such a bad foundation when there’s no other leads.” Some moments pass where Yoongi watches the tension rise in Jeongguk’s form, the vein in his neck flex and pulse. “Sir,” he adds, sweetly.

Jeongguk shoots up with venom, irritating its way through his body. For a second, he looks furious at being disrespected, especially in front of his subordinates. But, in the next, his face wipes, leaving only a gentle grimace, as if there’s a bad taste in his mouth.

“Absolutely, Min,” he agrees. Yoongi waits for the catch. “You stick your nose wherever you like—-but, if you don’t find anything…”

Jeongguk’s civility drops right off his face, something ugly and corroded filling its place.

“You’ll wish Tong Gao had finished me off this afternoon.”

Yoongi has to bite back his promise that he already does.

Only then, does Jeongguk decide to pick up his cup, fingers bent with the awkward rigidness of inexperience that he somehow still manages to make look graceful. He smacks his lips, setting the cup down with a heavy hand on Yoongi’s desk, completely ignoring the saucer.

“And while we’re on the subject of problems, Min… don’t let Taehyung get involved any further with Four Suns.” Jeongguk sits forward, resting his chin on the backs of his hands, elbows firm on the varnished wood that squeaks with his slight movement. “I’d rather not have him gutted by some pissed-off dignitary, right now.”

Yoongi stills at that, mouth itching to ask something snarky like ‘since when did you care, anyway?’ but, guards in the room or not, Yoongi knows his answer: He doesn’t. He just hasn’t gotten what he wants from him yet; a paperweight for his bed sheets.

“About that, Master Jeon,” Yoongi says, suddenly, and the man raises both eyebrows at him in a sign to go on. “If I could make the suggestion: I think that Taehyung would be handy to keep around here, instead. He’s smart, yes but he’s strong, too. He fits with the streets, has a good way with people.”

Yoongi’s mouth is a little drier by the time he finishes the proposal, unsure of where he was even headed with it at all besides the fact that Hoseok had been nagging at him to say it. He doesn’t trust Jeongguk—neither of them do—but especially not after he put him up against one of his men for no goddamned reason. He’s treating him as a toy, at this rate. 

If Jeongguk’s surprised he spoke up, he doesn’t show it—-face as blank as it had been; perhaps a little amused, the way his lip has curled up on one side.

He holds his stare and it seems as if it says a hell of a lot more than his words. A look that Yoongi has seen on rare occasions, but still far too many times before.

That festering intrigue, thick like tar—the god-complex arrogance of someone who has the power to take, take, take.

“He’s just another face, Min—-no need for either of us to worry, is there?” Yoongi clenches his jaw and Jeongguk just smiles more, the devilish grin of a cat stumbling across a mouse. “Unless,” he mumbles, “You have a personal reason to?”

Yoongi feels his heart thudding in the base of his throat.

“Like you did with Park, perhaps?”

Jeongguk’s tone is polite, just an innocent suggestion, but his eyes flash with amber, cruel and delighted. Yoongi grinds his teeth, the mention of him always salt on an open wound—but from Jeongguk, it feels a lot more like a new wound entirely. 

“No,” he mutters, “this isn’t like that.”

Jeongguk laughs, breathy and semi-disbelieving—but with the kind of stubbornness that sounds more like he doesn’t want to believe.

“No, of course it isn’t,” he says, mouth twisting into a bitter smile. “But don’t worry, Yoongi. I’ll take good care of him.”

It’d been easy to tell himself that he’d only been doing this for Hoseok’s sake—only brought it up because his friend would never forgive him if something happened to Taehyung. But, the surge of anger in Yoongi’s gut, as foreign as it is for the situation, is unmistakable.

Yoongi lets a tight-lipped smile stretch across his face, catching Jeongguk’s guards shifting by the door, as if waiting to pounce on him.

Not now, he has to remind himself. He’ll speak to Jeon about this privately when he can. He’s no use in a body bag at the bottom of Victoria Harbour.

“Of course, sir.”

Of course, you will. Until you get bored of him.

Jeongguk stands, clearly satisfied with himself for now. Yoongi rises with him out of courtesy, following him across the room as the younger says, “Don’t forget about those rumours, Min—-I’m expecting great things,” the words dripping in sarcasm.

His guards part by the doors and he wedges through them, about to exit Yoongi’s office completely when he stops, hand on the door frame. He glances over his shoulder, murmuring, “Oh, now that we’ve mentioned it, I’ve been thinking…” Jeongguk turns on the spot, face-to-face with the older man again. “If you’re still so hung up on Jimin, we could always share—or,” he says suddenly, finger pointed in the air as if hit with a stroke of genius, “I fuck his mouth, you fuck his ass?”

Such a strong wave of repulsion comes over Yoongi that he practically recoils, bile rising up in his throat, taking in the dirty grin on Jeongguk’s face— the malice. 

Yoongi spits, before he even thinks about it.

Jeongguk’s head jerks back, but he only smiles wider, wiping the spot from his cheek with a contrapuntal chuckle. He hums, stepping back and, for a second, Yoongi thinks he isn’t even going to react.

And that’s when he feels the air knock straight out of him.

Jeongguk’s fist connects with his gut, masterfully, and he steps back for real this time, shaking the impact off his knuckles as Yoongi doubles over.

“You should be thanking me, Yoongi,” he tuts, half out of the room already. “I was being generous.”

With that, Jeongguk is gone—-and he knows that he’s fucked up when only a few of Jeongguk’s guards filter out after him.

And he knows he’s really fucked up when the first punch strikes across his face.

But, for Jimin’s dignity, he’d do anything.

 

 

 

~♔♚~

 

 

Hoseok is buzzing from the few beers floating in his system.

All day he’d been running around like an errand boy, sorting squabbles here and trading deals there. The word about Four Suns has spread like wildfire, and it’s already starting to cause unrest; both from people angry and those afraid.

That’s the thing that the likes of Jeon, and even Taehyung, apparently, don’t quite understand. It might not be so clear from up there how much a few lost men can affect the streets, but Hoseok lives it. He sees it every day, the real people that really lose. The bodies behind the numbers and the figures. He can only hope that Jeon’ll find a way to fix things quickly, but he doubts it.

One of their best heroin smugglers was close friends with one of the victims. Hoseok took him out for a few drinks after a collection to try and keep his mind off of it, at least a little.

He ended up crying it out, instead, but whatever works. Hoseok’d be damned if he said he didn’t let out a few tears himself just hearing the poor guy.

But things perked up after that and right now Hoseok’s feeling pretty good. Hell, he might even ask Yoongi if he wants to go out for a few, close up early. Maybe the guy’ll even pay for once. They could come back here after, as well, if Yoongi wanted to.

But, when Hoseok reaches the restaurant, he gets the feeling that mightn’t be in the cards tonight.

The store’s totally void of customers for one, and the closed sign is already turned for two. There’s barely a light, just the dull glow coming from somewhere inside the restaurant, and the tail-ends of the signs on the small stores and apartments across the street.

Yoongi hasn’t bothered to take any of the tables or chairs in, yet. Maybe he’s waiting for Hoseok to help him out. He wonders if the kitchen staff have already gone home—or that scrawny teenager the man initially hired to help out the other waiters in the busier nights of the week; though Hoseok rarely sees him when it isn’t virtually dead.

Contrary to the snide remarks he knows Jeongguk makes from time to time, Yoongi only works tables in the restaurant when it’s really slow or really busy. But, even then, he’s had the new kid staying later, when things are a little quieter to ease him in. 

Hoseok’s lost count of the nights he’s come back after a long day to find the guy wiping down tables or cleaning the dust off the window sills. Yoongi might bark at Hoseok for walking on his newly mopped floors, but he never says a word when the kid does the same.

It’s sweet, Hoseok thinks. Like watching a fed-up cat deal with a clumsy puppy.

His point is, that when even the puppy isn’t wandering about tonight, Hoseok knows something’s wrong.

And that assumption only proves correct when he walks through to the kitchen, the door swinging with a creak behind him. Yoongi is leaning against one of the counters with an ice-pack in one hand, held up to his bleeding lip, and a bottle of whiskey Hoseok doesn’t recall being so empty the last time he saw it in the other.

Hoseok sighs when Yoongi meets his eye, the left swelling with the beginnings of a dark bruise, matching the few along his cheek and jaw. The hand-marks on his neck.

Cleared-out restaurant, beaten-up face, bottle of whiskey. 

Jeongguk.

Hoseok trails over to the other end of the kitchen, avoiding Yoongi entirely in favour of collecting the little orange first-aid kit stuck underneath one of their lesser-used cupboards. There was a time Hoseok was the one prone to wounds—Yoongi used to call him punching-bag when he first started out here, always having to disinfect or ice something for him—but it’s two times in one week Hoseok’s had to nurse one of his friends’ injuries, now, and he can’t say it’s a pattern he particularly enjoys.

There are very, very few people that would get to lay a hand on Min Yoongi and walk out of the room alive. Jeongguk, and anyone under his permission, are settled comfortably in that very small margin.

And, from that, Hoseok can’t say it’s too difficult to figure out the cause.

Jeongguk and Yoongi: there’s quite a number of things they bump heads over, but there’s virtually nothing that would make Yoongi lash out enough to get his ass kicked in punishment.

Hoseok sets the box down on the counter beside the long-forgone whiskey glass (seems he’s just going straight for the bottle, now) and it makes a thud that, in reality, isn’t much, but in the stillness of the room seems ear-splitting.

He cracks the latches open, unfurling it like a book as his hands immediately go for the cotton swab and bottle of antiseptic. Yoongi watches him do it with glazed-over eyes, but they don’t shift when Hoseok sets them down on the counter, leaning on his hands nearby because, honestly, this is too much.

Any other split lip in the world, maybe if Yoongi got too mouthy with some dealer that didn’t care about consequences—another dignitary, even, it wouldn’t have mattered. They wouldn’t be here right now, Yoongi would’ve let him take him out for that drink after all, convinced that some vodka would clear it right up.

But this isn’t a slip-of-the-tongue punch, is it? This was personal. This said something. The pressure in the room is suffocating. Yoongi’s still thinking about it.

So, no, Hoseok leans up against the counter, tongue-tied and loose-lipped all at once when he looks at his friend. He hates seeing Yoongi like this.

“You gotta let him go.”

Around most people, Hua She or not, the two are content enough with communicating in English—but when the words slip out in Korean, so much heavier that way, the older man tenses up like a clam, fingers clenching around the neck of the bottle, his shoulders hunched.

He takes a swig. Stops. Goes to take another but Hoseok yanks the bottle out of his hand with a grunt and leans over the sink beside them, pouring out the remainder of the bottle as Yoongi looks on with a defeated sort of disdain. Angry, but too done for the night to protest.

“I’m serious, Yoons,” he says once he’s done, carrying on with the language switch and setting the bottle down beside the sink. He leans back against the counter behind them with folded arms. “This has gone on long enough. It’s for the best.”

“For the best,” Yoongi mocks under his breath, scowl utterly rancid on his face. He sways slightly, with anger or alcohol, it’s impossible to tell and throws himself around to him with flailing arms, shouting, “How the fuck would you know what’s best for me, huh? How the hell would you know a damn thing, Hoseok?”

The words are echoes of ones said not so long ago, on one of the only nights Hoseok’s ever seen Yoongi cry. In between babbles of ‘he’s gone’ and ‘I’m guh-gonna kill him’ addressed to separate recipients, Hoseok had tried to tell Yoongi to let it go, that there was nothing he could do, no matter how much it hurt. He couldn’t stand seeing him like that.

A division was made between them that night that never really healed. Yoongi’s felt alone ever since, Hoseok knows that, even if the man’s never said so.

The younger lets out a breath, slow and steady, and pushes away from the bench to do something that must be the alcohol in his system. He walks up to Yoongi and lets his hands settle on his cheeks, holding his face in them, gently. Defiance strikes up in his eyes that Hoseok pretends is just the utility light stuck on the ceiling. 

“Cause I care about you, ‘Gi. You know I do.”

Care. It’s a fragile word. A cop-out, even. Vague enough to hide behind if it isn’t accepted. And he knows Yoongi would never accept it.

But, for a second, the man doesn’t move. Hoseok half-expects him to push him away. Push him far away because he has no right, in truth. It’s a miracle things are as they are. But Yoongi doesn’t move just yet.

There’s a glimmer of something there; pity, maybe. He might even be a little sorry, how his eyelids droop with his brow. The slump of his broad shoulders. Hoseok wants to wrap his arms around Yoongi’s slim waist and hold him there, feel his head lull against his chest. It’s stupid, really. They’ve never had that. That sort of thing isn’t for him.

Yoongi is his boss, and what he says next only reinforces that.

His fingers loop around Hoseok’s wrists, stare hardening the longer he looks. He might be forcing a glare, but he can’t really tell, for once.

“Just 'cause we hook up now and again doesn’t make us friends, Hoseok.”

The words don’t sting as much as he imagined they would. How Yoongi tugs his hands off his face and drops them, like picking off an insect, is much worse. Yoongi’s always blunt when he’s on defense. He thinks hurting someone else’ll make him feel better.

He doesn’t look like he feels any better.

“Yeah, right,” Hoseok scoffs, arms folding over his chest again, “Like you have any other friends.” He reaches out to smack Yoongi’s arm gently with the palm of his hand, the man jolting with a heavy stare as he adds, “I’m hardly in love with you, Yoongi, lighten up. You’re a good fuck and I like your company.” Hoseok shrugs his shoulders, brushing off all the tension that’s been building since he walked into the room. “S’simple as that.”

Yoongi doesn’t look as if he quite believes him but, it’s not a lie, exactly. Hoseok isn’t in love with Yoongi.

It might hurt a little when he sees him still so broken up about Jimin. And he might want more some nights, when Yoongi looks particularly handsome and speaks to him with particular warmth.

But it’s nothing he can’t handle. 

At the end of the day, Hoseok’s got much bigger problems than some unrequited feelings. He’s got a best friend to try and steer out of the clutches of rivals and Mr. Hua She himself. He’s got a sister that never wants to stay out of trouble and every brawn and runner in the gang to calm down.

And that’s on top of his usual duties.

“C’mere,” Hoseok says after a minute, reaching back for the antiseptic he’d left on the counter. “Let’s clean that shit up—you’re not going anywhere near my dick with that lip.”

Yoongi huffs in amusement, muttering, “Who said I’m going near your dick?” But as soon as the antiseptic’s on him he hisses, a whole range of colourful vocabulary shooting out of his swollen mouth.

At the end of the day, Hoseok’s got much bigger problems than some unrequited feelings. He’s got a silly, heartbroken boy to patch up and talk down and kiss stupid, if he’ll let him.

At the end of the day, it’s a miracle things are as they are.