Seungmin heaved the body, securely wrapped in a black tarpaulin, out of the back of the ute and slung it over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift. He grunted at the corpse’s weight – fuck, it had to be about a hundred kilograms – and looked both ways along the road out of instinct before crossing. No-one else would be here of course – this was a little-used country lane close to nowhere and nothing. Plus it was three am and spring hadn’t been here long enough yet to warm the nights. The bright half-moon managed to illuminate the road just well enough to highlight how intimidatingly impenetrable the forest on the other side looked.
None of it was frightening to Seungmin though; not only was this not his first time disposing of a body at three in the morning but he’d also used these particular woods before.
He was careful but sure in his movements as he breached the treeline. The scant moonlight breaking through the branches overhead and his exceptionally good night vision were enough to guide him deeper into the forest without stumbling or making too much noise. In Seungmin’s line of work you learned to be quiet or you died. Or worse, got caught. So even in conditions such as these, his toes going numb, his eyes straining, his entire right side complaining at the load he bore, Seungmin was quiet.
It only took about ten minutes (and seventeen seconds he counted) to reach the area he’d scouted two weeks ago as ideal for burying a body. Sinking into a squat that made his thighs burn Seungmin rolled his cargo onto the ground, ears alert for any untoward sounds. Then he rose and went to retrieve the shovel he’d stashed underneath a thicket behind a particularly large tree. Moonlight glinted off the metal shaft and –
Hold up a second.
He had made very fucking sure that the shovel was hidden when he left. It shouldn’t be visible at all. Every one of Seungmin’s senses shot up to red alert and his survival instincts simmered under his skin, flooding his system with adrenaline.
The first thing he did, of course, was not move. He barely breathed, listening and looking for anything that might suggest this was a trap, that someone was waiting for him –
In a split-second, Seungmin weighed up the benefits of staying still and possibly remaining unseen versus moving and getting out of a potential line of fire. The choice was easy and almost before he’d made it, he was throwing himself at the ground to roll behind the tree. As soon as he was behind cover, he rolled upright, pressed his back to the trunk, and listened. One hand strayed towards the silenced pistol strapped to his thigh.
Crunch snap. Crunch.
Whoever was approaching could surely not be here to kill him, they were making enough noise to wake an elephant. Plus, judging by the lack of a response, it would seem they hadn’t noticed him diving for cover. And... were they talking?
‘– was just a squirrel or a bat or something, nothing to – oh no, what the fuck.’
The footsteps stopped as the voice – familiar, very familiar – did and Seungmin supposed the person – a man – had gotten close enough to see the corpse in the tarp. Whoever this guy was, he definitely wasn’t here to kill Seungmin. While that was comforting, Seungmin was more relieved by the fact that the guy clearly had little idea what he was doing and thus was probably not trained like Seungmin, meaning that if it came to a fight, mystery man would also be getting buried tonight.
Considering all of this, Seungmin decided to risk a peek around his tree trunk.
He saw a tall, lean male staring in shock at the body and it didn’t matter that he was wearing a facemask because Seungmin recognised him immediately. Those eyes, that hair, and that voice matched a name he’d come to know very well over the past two months and his disbelief was strong enough that he disregarded years of training as he’d never done before.
‘Hyunjin?’ he asked incredulously, stepping out from behind the tree.
The young man’s head whipped up, eyes going very wide. ‘S- Seungmin?’ came the high-pitched reply. Hyunjin’s gaze darted between the body and Seungmin rapidly. ‘What- what are you, um, doing?’
Feeling a bit like he was in a dream – scratch that, a nightmare – Seungmin took a moment to settle his fractious instincts, reminding himself that this was Hyunjin, a clumsy dork with a heaven-sent smile and an infectious laugh. Oh god. This was Hyunjin. Why the fuck was Hyunjin here.
Forcibly corralling his very scattered thoughts, Seungmin met the boy’s eyes and said, ‘Burying a body.’
Hyunjin swayed slightly, like he might collapse at any moment. Seungmin wouldn’t really blame him if he did.
Reaching up almost absent-mindedly, Hyunjin hooked a finger over the top of his plain black facemask and pulled it down under his chin. He cleared his throat and, his gaze now firmly fixed on the ground, oh-so-casually said, ‘You too, huh?’
‘Are you serious.’ The deadpan words rolled off Seungmin’s tongue before he could even consider holding them back. He felt numb, too shocked to understand how any of this was happening right now.
‘Um.’ Hyunjin bit his lip and glanced up at Seungmin again, the dim light rendering his beautifully long eyelashes invisible. He stuffed his gloved hands in the pockets of his over-sized hoody – grey, not black, Seungmin distantly registered, better for blending in with shifting shadows – and nodded. ‘Yeah.’ He cleared his throat again.
Releasing a very drawn-out sigh, Seungmin pinched the bridge of his nose, praying for strength from whichever deity was watching this unfold and no doubt laughing their divine ass off.
‘Hyunjin,’ he said sternly.
The other boy audibly gulped. ‘Yes?’ he squeaked.
‘Why the hell are you out here with a dead body at three in the morning?’
Hyunjin squirmed, pressing his lips together in a tense line. ‘W- well, I could ask you the same thing,’ he protested.
Seungmin made a disbelieving noise in the back of his throat. ‘It’s my job, Hyunjin. Among other things, killing people is what I do.’ He ignored Hyunjin’s gasp, continuing, ‘Something I can say with absolute certainty that I know you don’t do. So. Once more –‘ his voice went sharp in a way he didn’t mean to let it, sharp like knives against the throat, making Hyunjin flinch – ‘what are you doing with a corpse in the woods at three in the morning?’
Hyunjin was breathing heavily, his chest rising and falling unsteadily as he stared at Seungmin, a look on his face the latter knew only too well, an unpleasant cocktail of horror and fear. A bitter taste filled his mouth but he did nothing more, waiting for Hyunjin to answer.
It took him a minute – Seungmin’s internal timekeeper wasn’t functioning too well presently so it was probably closer to three minutes – but eventually Hyunjin said quietly, ‘I- I didn’t kill him. I just... found him. On the side of the road.’
A heavy silence fell.
Seungmin was honestly this close to shooting something. Possibly a tree. Perhaps the corpse in the tarp.
‘You... found a body. On the side of the road. And decided to bury it. In the forest. At three in the morning.’
Hesitantly, Hyunjin nodded. He looked so apprehensive Seungmin was semi-seriously considering shooting himself.
Breathing out very slowly, Seungmin asked carefully, ‘And why did you do that? Why not call the police?’
Wide-eyed, Hyunjin shook his head rapidly. ‘What if – if they thought I did it? That – that I murdered him?’ Panic bloomed in his expression, visible even in the faint light. ‘There was no one else around so – And I mean, I’m – I’m not actually supposed to be driving right now which means I’m already breaking the law –’
‘Hey, woah, slow down a minute,’ Seungmin interrupted. ‘What do you mean you aren’t meant to be driving? You haven’t had your license suspended in the last twelve hours, have you?’
Oh that was a strange thought. Twelve hours ago they’d been on their second date at a dog-friendly dessert shop, enjoying slices of strawberry cheesecake and red velvet cake while Kkami begged for treats from strangers. This was so not how Seungmin had expected their next meeting to happen.
‘Ah, well, you see,’ Hyunjin hedged, chewing on a lip again.
When he didn’t continue, Seungmin prompted, ‘No, I don’t see. That’s sort of why I asked.’
Hyunjin rocked back on his heels, looking rather like a child who’d done something bad being confronted by a parent. Which was a distinctly unwelcome thought given, well, everything.
‘I’m technically drunk,’ he admitted. ‘I was at a party and my sober driver, Minho-hyung, got trashed and I didn’t feel too bad so... I drove.’
Having just confessed to being a killer-for-hire, Seungmin hardly had room to be scolding Hyunjin for drunk driving but by god did he want to. Murdering people for money was one thing but driving under the influence? That was just stupid.
‘So, you were driving home from a party, drunk, your sober driver wasted next to you and –’
‘Oh, no, no,’ Hyunjin interrupted, waving his hands slightly. ‘Minho-hyung stayed behind. He was doing body shots off his boyfriend when I left.’
Drunk Hyunjin was awfully chatty (which wasn’t really saying much, so was sober Hyunjin). At least he wasn’t looking quite so frightened anymore.
‘...Right. So, while legally drunk, you were driving in the middle of the night, and then...?’
‘Well, I took a back route because there were roadworks and being, y’know, over the limit, I didn’t want to get stopped and...’ Hyunjin shrugged helplessly. ‘And I came across someone lying on the side of the road. I got out to see if I could help but, uh, no, I definitely couldn’t help.’
Seungmin was still having trouble understanding why the sweet fuck Hyunjin had taken the body with him, which he did not hesitate to say, hands perched judgementally on his hips.
‘There was no phone reception so I couldn’t call an ambulance,’ Hyunjin protested. ‘And obviously I wasn’t going to try the police.’
‘You couldn’t just leave the body there?’ Seungmin retorted, incredulous.
Hyunjin gasped, last shreds of fear disappearing under a wave of offended indignation. ‘Of course not! Would you want to be left on the side of the road if you were dead?’
‘I’d be dead so I honestly don’t think I’d care,’ Seungmin groaned in frustration.
Like the toddler he apparently was, Hyunjin stuck his nose in the air and folded his arms. ‘I don’t know how you treat dead people, Seungmin, but my mother taught me to be polite to everyone.’
Heaving a great sigh, Seungmin said, ‘Okay. Sure. But why are you here? And why did you touch my shovel?’
Hyunjin pouted. ‘I’m not as strong as you are, I left the body in my car so I could look for somewhere to bury them. I came across the spade by accident and was coming back for it because I found a place I thought wouldn’t be too hard to dig a little way away.’ He winced. ‘Nearly broke my arms moving the body again.’
Great, he’d probably left prints all over it. ‘How about you show me this dead person, then?’
Hyunjin eyed him suspiciously. ‘What do you want with them? They’re already dead.’
‘If you don’t want the cops knocking on your door within three days of finding the body because you left behind incriminating evidence, you’ll show me. I’m experienced at this, remember?’ Seungmin shook his head. ‘You may be an idiot, but there is a reason I agreed to a third date, you know.’
Hyunjin spluttered at the confusion of sentiments, Seungmin managing to fit a compliment, an insult, and an almost-threat in. ‘Y- yeah, well, that date is under review until further notice,’ he said weakly.
Seungmin paused, already crouching down to reach for his shovel. He looked up and met Hyunjin’s gaze. His voice was calm as he replied, ‘Understandable,’ but there was a noticeably resigned tone to it.
Before Hyunjin could dwell on that and formulate a possible response, Seungmin straightened, shovel in hand, and made an expansive gesture. ‘It’s not getting any warmer or earlier, so let’s get going, yeah?’
Hyunjin glanced quickly at the tarp-covered body still lying on the ground. ‘Are you, ah, going to do anything about... that...?’
Seungmin waved a dismissive hand. ‘Waiting another half an hour to be buried won’t do him any more harm.’
Swallowing thickly, Hyunjin spun on his heel and walked back into the trees, pulling a penlight out of his pocket to help light the way. Seungmin took care to maintain some space between them as they silently walked – he didn’t want to cause the other any more discomfort than he already had. To his surprise, however, Hyunjin drifted a little closer.
‘Seungmin,’ the gangly boy began cautiously. ‘Why- why did you kill that man?’
‘I was paid to,’ came the quiet reply. ‘The job offer was sent my way and it didn’t interfere with any of my principles, so I accepted.’
‘And... why did someone want him killed?’
‘He owed a lot of money to a group of very powerful people. To try and pay it back, he was stealing from his own company, though most of those funds ended up in his own pocket.’
A hush fell as Hyunjin processed that. ‘What about his family?’ he eventually asked.
‘They’re not my concern,’ Seungmin immediately answered. After a moment, he reluctantly added, ‘But they’ll be fine. They have enough money to support themselves and there’s no hit out on them.’
‘If someone paid you,’ Hyunjin said slowly, anxiously, ‘would you kill me, too?’
Seungmin stopped in his tracks, forcing Hyunjin to do the same.
‘My attachment to you is obvious, no-one would be foolish enough to try and have you assassinated while I’m with you,’ he replied seriously.
‘But...’ Hyunjin bit his lip again, shifting from foot to foot. ‘But if someone did try...’
‘I would refuse the offer and let it be known that anyone who harmed you would have me to deal with, either before or after,’ Seungmin said firmly, unblinking.
Hyunjin looked surprised, pleasantly so. ‘Oh... Alright then.’
When he made no move to say anything more, Seungmin sniffed against the cold – he could feel a drip forming at the end of his nose – and kept walking. A couple of minutes later, Hyunjin reached out and tugged on the sleeve of his jacket, pointing with his other hand down a gentle slope to a particularly dense cluster of trees.
‘I left them there,’ Hyunjin mumbled, little clouds of condensation puffing up from his mouth.
‘Show me,’ Seungmin murmured, changing his trajectory.
Hyunjin led him around the copse, penlight dipping and diving over the ground until it illuminated a crumpled figure. He kept the light steady as Seungmin approached the body. Crouching in front of it, Seungmin caught a glimpse of bruised skin disappearing under a black hoody and unkempt fringe. Hyunjin’s light danced over the corpse’s partially obscured face and Seungmin had a sudden, terrible thought.
‘Hyunjin,’ he said quietly. ‘Bring that torch closer, would you?’
As Hyunjin shuffled forward, Seungmin reached down and flicked the dark fringe – blue, it was blue, of course it was goddamn blue – back so he could see the corpse’s face. Hyunjin hissed at the sight of the purple bruises blooming, the red cuts and scrapes, the split lip.
Seungmin hissed for a very different reason.
‘Han fucking Jisung,’ he growled under his breath.
‘What?’ Hyunjin asked behind him, confused. ‘Did you know him?’
Seungmin scoffed, already pressing two fingers to an equally battered-looking tan throat – strangulation, probably, given the fairly neat ring of bruises – to feel for a pulse he almost wished he wouldn’t find. No such luck, naturally. It was slow but definitely present.
‘Unfortunately,’ he answered. ‘He’s a... colleague of mine, you could say. We’ve worked together on a few jobs.’
‘Is?’ Hyunjin queried. ‘Don’t – don’t you mean was?’
Seungmin stood, dusting off his gloved hands instinctively. ‘I wish I did,’ he replied, ‘but actually he’s –’
A groan emanated from the only-unconscious young man on the ground and he visibly twitched.
Hyunjin screamed and promptly tripped backwards onto the grass in an aborted attempt to run away.
Frozen silence reigned supreme for a moment, Jisung making no more attempts to become conscious, Hyunjin reeling from his fall and shock, and Seungmin... startled.
‘What the fuck,’ came the furious hiss from the crumpled, tangled heap of limbs that was Hwang Hyunjin. ‘What. The. Fuck.’
‘He often inspires similar responses from me too,’ Seungmin offered, trying for levity but promptly receiving a disgruntled glare.
‘Now is not the time for jokes, Seungmin. That man was dead and now he’s apparently not, which either means he’s undead and you need to kill him properly or I was about to bury someone alive!’ Hyunjin’s stress at the situation was no less for being slat on his back.
He then ruined it by limply raising a hand and whining – with a pout and everything – ‘Help me up, it’s freezing down here.’
Seungmin sighed as he stepped over to the other young man and took his hand. He was privately pleased that Hyunjin was permitting contact between them, even if through two layers of glove; maybe the bit about him being a contracted killer, as opposed to a freelance IT consultant, wouldn’t be a total deal-breaker. With a firm tug, he heaved Hyunjin up. However, the honey-haired boy was not expecting such vigour and, yelping, he toppled forward.
Seungmin’s arm snapped out and around Hyunjin’s chest, abruptly halting his fall.
Wide-eyed, Hyunjin twisted to meet Seungmin’s surprised gaze before hastily stepping away. The feeling of immutable strength pressed against him, resolutely keeping him upright, lingered.
‘Thanks,’ he mumbled, momentarily forgetting the situation.
‘You’re welcome,’ Seungmin replied in that soft, pleasantly calming voice Hyunjin had grown so fond of.
Hyunjin cleared his throat and looked down at the not-so-dead young man before them. ‘So... you know him, then?’
Seungmin nodded. ‘I do. His name’s Han Jisung and he’s a smart-mouthed idiot. He’s borderline kleptomaniac, so keep an eye on your things. I don’t know what he’s doing here; last I heard, he was in Vietnam...’
As he crouched down again, rolling Jisung onto his back, Hyunjin asked, ‘Is – is he going to be okay? He looks pretty bad. Should we to take him to a hospital?’
‘Probably, to both of those,’ Seungmin answered, gripping Jisung’s chin with two fingers to stop his head lolling to one side. He gestured for Hyunjin to shine the torch directly onto Jisung’s face before gently peeling open both of the unconscious boy’s eyes. The pupils dilated quickly – not quite immediately – and Seungmin thought Jisung was probably safe from any brain damage. He let the eyes fall shut, then sharply pinched one of Jisung’s pierced earlobes. The blue-haired boy did not stir but his head jerked to the side, fighting Seungmin’s hold to escape the pain. Satisfied, Seungmin released him.
He glanced up and saw Hyunjin watching him with bright-eyed curiosity, rather like a small child might. Hyunjin blinked down at him and, realising he’d been caught staring, flushed, the ruddy colour visible even in the shitty lighting.
‘Shut up,’ he grumbled.
‘I didn’t say anything,’ Seungmin pointed out, straightening up.
Hyunjin slanted a suspicious glance at him. ‘You’re interesting to watch, okay? Like... you just did that so easily. I didn’t know you knew anything about figuring out if people are dead.’
‘Well... I’ve had quite a bit of practise,’ Seungmin hedged.
Hyunjin pursed his lips – pretty, pink, plump and damn everything to hell why was he think about that right now – contemplatively.
Before he could say anything more, Seungmin continued, ‘You’re... taking this whole thing surprisingly well. You’ve only screamed once and that wasn’t even my fault.’
‘Hey!’ Hyunjin’s lips turned down in a pout. ‘You know I’m not good with scary things! I thought he was dead.’
Seungmin sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. ‘I still can’t believe you were going to bury him instead of, I don’t know, literally anything else.’
‘It seemed like a good idea at the time,’ Hyunjin said waspishly. Then he let out a sigh, too. ‘I’ve sobered up a bit since then, though. Your, uh, revelation did a pretty good job at killing any buzz I had.’
There was a brief pause, before he hastily added, ‘No pun intended.’
Seungmin gave a half-snort, half-giggle. ‘Right. Well. This idiot should wake up soon and I’ve still got a body to dispose of. I don’t suppose you have your own shovel, do you?’
Hyunjin gulped and shook his head. ‘That’s why I was coming to get yours. I don’t just keep a spade in my car, you know. That’d be really weird.’
‘Typical,’ Seungmin muttered under his breath. Then, louder, he said, ‘Okay, are you coming? I’ll carry Han back with me, you can leave if you want.’
Hyunjin looked surprised. ‘Really?’
Seungmin raised an eyebrow at him. ‘What did you think I was going to do, make you swear to keep this a secret on pain of death? Kill you anyway?’
Leaning down to haul Jisung over his shoulder – not the one he’d used for the corpse half an hour ago – Seungmin grunted, ‘Not surprising, I suppose.’
‘No!’ Hyunjin exclaimed, taking a step towards the burdened young man. His gaze was intense, his brow furrowed with determination. ‘I – I didn’t think that. I’m –’ he swallowed – ‘I’m mostly sure you wouldn’t hurt me. Still working on it. This is new to me, okay? I just. I don’t know the protocol now. I’m having trouble reconciling the Seungmin I know, who likes extra marshmallows with his hot chocolate, with the Seungmin who, apparently, murders people for money!’
Ah, there was the panic he’d been expecting. Late, but present now and, pleasantly enough, without hysterics.
Unceremoniously dropping Jisung back to the forest floor, Seungmin held Hyunjin’s gaze and said, ‘Believe it or not, they’re the same person. The Seungmin who gets hired to kill people, who knows how to break into your bank account, who speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, and French fluently, who has three false passports – that’s still the Seungmin who took sixty seven photos of you and Kkami yesterday after we ate too much cheesecake and who held your hand all the way to the bus stop.’
He forcibly relaxed his tense posture, shoulders slumping a little, and his tone coloured with resignation. ‘I didn’t mean for you to find out about this. It scares everyone off, which, I mean, I get but...’ He blinked, unintentionally making puppy eyes at Hyunjin. ‘Really. You can leave, if you want. I won’t make you stay and I won’t hold you to the third date. I’ll disappear and you – you won’t have to see me again.’
It took Seungmin a distinct effort to force the last sentence out; he didn’t want to never see Hyunjin again. What he wanted most right now was to bridge the space between them and smooth away the frown on Hyunjin’s face with his thumb and a gently teasing comment about early wrinkles.
But he did not have that right anymore.
Hyunjin’s expression shifted, softening sadly, his brows pulling up in the middle in an outrageously sweet look. ‘I don’t want you to disappear,’ he said quietly, voice slightly strangled. ‘I – I don’t want you to leave m- to leave.’
The way he was pursing his lips made Seungmin think the other boy might be fighting the urge to cry. Hyunjin’s slight slip of the tongue did not go unnoticed, either.
‘I don’t want to have to disappear, either,’ Seungmin said, watching the honey-haired boy carefully. ‘That’s all up to you now, Hyunjin. But don’t be scared of me or unsure of yourself around me, alright?’
He took a slow step towards Hyunjin, taking care that it appeared measured and not cautious. There were barely two paces between them now.
‘Please,’ he said softly, earnestly. ‘Don’t be scared of me, Hyunjinnie.’
They both froze at Seungmin’s accidental use of the nickname and this time it was he who looked away first. But Hyunjin reached out, nudging Seungmin’s shoulder with his fingertips. His eye smile was just starting to show, all gentle and beautiful.
‘I’m not scared of you, Seungminnie,’ he murmured. ‘I’m a bit... confused still, and I’m kinda nervous about your job, what with the ethical implications and what it might mean for both of us if we keep going on dates. But –’ he took a breath, released it smoothly through his nose – ‘I’m not scared of you. Promise.’
There was a moment of quiet between them, Hyunjin’s words sinking into the cold air and broken shadows draped around them.
Just as Seungmin opened his mouth to say something, a familiar, groggy voice from somewhere around his ankles slurred, ‘Fuck, my head hurts,’ and Hyunjin screeched for a second time, leaping half a foot in the air. He didn’t fall or drop the little torch, though, so it was an improvement.
While Hyunjin recovered from his momentary heart attack, Seungmin turned and looked down to see Jisung pushing himself upright, clutching one side of his head and mumbling under his breath.
‘Han,’ Seungmin said in mistrustful acknowledgement.
Jisung looked away from where Hyunjin was kicking a tree. His olive-shaped eyes glittered and he smiled his wide, heart-shaped smile.
‘Minnie,’ he greeted, sounding a little punch-drunk. ‘How are you doing? Where are we? Why is that guy attacking a tree? Shit, it’s cold.’
‘That’s because you’ve been lying in the grass for at least half an hour at half three in the morning,’ Seungmin replied drily, pointedly ignoring the ignominious nickname. He did not take his eyes off the blue-haired young man, who was visibly getting his bearings. ‘We’re just east of Sangju-si and “that guy” thought you were dead until two minutes ago, so...’
Jisung’s face crumpled in confusion. ‘Why would I...?’ Then his expression cleared and he lowered his hand to lightly prod at the bruises around his neck, flinching immediately.
‘Ah,’ he said.
‘Eloquent as ever,’ Seungmin snipped, as Hyunjin finished taking his distress out on the tree and marched back over to them, penlight trained on Jisung. ‘Feeling better now?’
The question was directed at Hyunjin, who aimed a glare at Seungmin, unsure if he was being mocked (he wasn’t).
‘A bit,’ he answered, before looking down at Jisung, who was still seated, hood pushed back, blue hair hanging in his eyes, and generally looking quite disreputable.
‘Hi,’ Jisung offered, signature smile blooming across his face like the dawn of day, if said dawn of day would rob you blind as soon as you turned your back.
Seungmin was pleased to see that Hyunjin’s guard did not lower, though he was unsure if he should attribute this to the warning he’d given or the fact that Hyunjin had sincerely believed Jisung to be a corpse.
‘I was going to bury you alive,’ were the first words out of Hyunjin’s mouth and Seungmin didn’t know what he’d expected, but it wasn’t that. The honey-haired boy squinted at Jisung. ‘I thought you were dead.’
Jisung took this in stride, cheerful air unfaltering. ‘So I’ve heard,’ he said. ‘That would’ve been a right shame.’
‘Well, yes,’ Hyunjin began, frowning, ‘then you really –’
‘Oh, no, I meant for you,’ Jisung interrupted brightly, clambering to his feet. ‘I would have had to hunt you down and kill you if you did that.’
Hyunjin’s eyes went very wide, lips parting slightly, and Seungmin fought the urge to facepalm or hit Jisung over the head with the shovel.
‘Ignore him,’ he told Hyunjin firmly, who had gone rather pale. ‘And you,’ he scowled at Jisung, ‘shut up and stop trying to scare him. I’ll bury you myself if I have to.’
‘Hey,’ Jisung pouted. ‘I’m injured, be nice to me.’
‘Absolutely not,’ Seungmin shot back. ‘Predators are especially dangerous when wounded and I don’t fancy hauling Hyunjin off to hospital with a bad case of stiletto-between-the-ribs.’
At that, Jisung grinned, eyes curving into crescents, cheeks squishing, and teeth glinting in the weak light. Hyunjin looked very unnerved and he made sure to keep Seungmin between him and the blue-haired young man at all times.
‘Aw, c’mon Min,’ the bruised boy said. ‘You know I wouldn’t kill either of you without a proper warning.’
Seungmin scoffed. ‘You wish you could kill me. I’d unload a magazine between your eyes before you managed to graze my skin.’
Jisung laughed, far too delighted for either the situation or the topic, in Hyunjin’s opinion. ‘I guess it’s a good thing that the bastards who caught me patted me down pretty good before I threw myself out the van, huh?’
Not buying a word of this, Seungmin shook his head. ‘Don’t even try to convince me you’re unarmed. I know you far too well for that. But enough of the small talk,’ he continued. ‘It’s fucking freezing and I still have a job to do.’
‘Ooh, can I come along?’ Jisung asked, rocking forward on the balls of his feet.
‘Only if you promise not to mentally, physically, or emotionally harm Hyunjin.’
Hyunjin flushed and tried to hide behind Seungmin.
‘Promise~’ was the singsong answer.
So off they trekked, back to the neatly bagged body Seungmin had left waiting. Their formation was an awkward one to say the least, Hyunjin doing his best to remain close to Seungmin while also as far from Jisung as possible.
Jisung didn’t seem to either notice or care, keeping one arm wrapped around his torso – maybe his ribs were hurt? – and his head on a swivel. He walked on Seungmin’s left, at least two metres between them. Hyunjin couldn’t help but notice that the way Seungmin was holding the shovel – pointedly with his left hand – would make it awfully easy for him to swing it up and use it as a weapon. This did nothing to settle Hyunjin’s nerves about the blue-haired boy.
Fortunately for everyone concerned, Seungmin’s corpse hadn’t moved an inch, so after one last promise to gut Jisung with his own zipper if he so much as touched a hair on Hyunjin’s head, the red-haired young man stabbed his shovel into the earth and got digging.
Jisung leaned against one of the trees, conspicuously within Seungmin’s line of sight, and slid down into a straight-backed crouch, still cradling his ribs. Hyunjin stood awkwardly several metres away, helpfully shining his torch at the ground Seungmin was digging up. He fervently hoped Jisung wouldn’t try to talk to him.
It was entirely keeping in with his luck tonight that, barely a few minutes into their wait, Jisung asked, ‘So, Hyunjin, now that we’re friends and all –’ oh was that what they were – ‘are you and Minnie-Min boyfriends?’
Hyunjin choked and, without looking up, Seungmin said loudly, ‘If he’s being nosy, ignore him, Hyunjin. You don’t have to answer any of his questions.’
Jisung stared Hyunjin straight in the eye with a look that implied far too many threatening things and stage-whispered, ‘Yes, you do.’
Seungmin paused and lifted his head to pin Jisung with a tight-lipped glare. ‘No, he –’
‘Oh, lighten up, Minnie!’ Jisung interrupted, obviously peeved. ‘I’m just talking to him; if he can handle your shitty social skills, he can handle mine.’
When it seemed like neither of them would back down from their sudden staring contest, Hyunjin cleared his throat and, in a voice that blessedly did not waver, said, ‘Seungmin, it’s fine. You don’t need to worry about me, I’ll be alright.’
The words came out more earnestly than he’d intended or expected, but Hyunjin supposed that was alright. It was the truth.
Seungmin tore his gaze away from Jisung, assessing Hyunjin’s sincerity. After a moment, he nodded shortly and said, ‘I’ll take your word for it. Scream if you want me to shoot him.’
Jisung protested vociferously at this, but the other two ignored him and Hyunjin gave the red-haired boy a small but genuine smile. Hyunjin thought he might have seen a faint blush rise on Seungmin’s cheeks but it was too dark to be sure.
‘Jeez, you must be special,’ Jisung grumbled, as Seungmin got back to his digging. ‘He’s threatened me three times already.’
Hyunjin leaned back against his own tree, feeling just a little pleased. ‘We’re not boyfriends,’ he quietly answered Jisung’s previous question. ‘We only went on our second date this afternoon. Er, I mean, yesterday afternoon.’
‘Please don’t tell me this is your third date.’
‘What! No, are you crazy?’ Hyunjin spluttered. ‘This all happened by complete accident, I didn’t even know he was – that he –’
‘That he’s an assassin?’ Jisung suggested, watching from under his long blue bangs.
Hyunjin swallowed nervously and nodded. ‘Yes, that. I, um, I didn’t know about that until tonight.’
Jisung whistled. ‘Shit luck,’ he said. ‘Bet that put a damper on things.’
‘Yeah, well...’ Hyunjin trailed off, gaze lingering on Seungmin. It did, rather. The moral implications of dating a killer-for-hire were... unpleasant to think about, to say the least. But despite the nagging of his conscience, Hyunjin had no desire to cut things off. As Seungmin had said, he’d taken sixty seven photos of Hyunjin and Kkami. None of Hyunjin’s previous dates had ever managed more than fifteen without getting fed up. That had to count for something.
‘Ugh, I can feel your lovesick angst from here,’ Jisung grouched, nose scrunching up in distaste.
Hyunjin flushed but didn’t say anything.
‘Look, you’re making it more complicated than it needs to be. If you like him, you like him. What does his job have to do with it, huh?’
Ultimately resigned that the topic of conversation was going to stay on his shambles of a love life, Hyunjin hissed, ‘He kills people. For money. My parents still make me go to church with them every time I visit and I’m pretty sure God would smite with me holy fire the next time I stepped on hallowed ground if I was knowingly dating a hitman. The fact that I’m gay is bad enough...’
Jisung turned so he was directly facing Hyunjin and the honey-haired boy gulped beneath the weight of his full attention. The injured young man looked disconcertingly like a disappointed parent.
‘Hyunjin. Almost-boyfriend of an idiot. My almost-attempted-killer. My new friend. I’ll be blunt – you’re over-thinking this. There’s no rule in the Bible that says “thou shalt not date a killer”; if I remember correctly, it’s “thou shalt not kill”, and Min isn’t religious so it’s fine.’
Hyunjin was about ready to throw himself under a bus. As it was, he made do with a particularly forceful facepalm. ‘That’s... that’s great, but my parents would really care.’
‘They don’t need to know,’ Jisung said dismissively. ‘Tell them what they want to hear, it’ll make them happy. You think my parents know what I do? Well, Mum doesn’t. Dad’s dead, so who knows about him.’
‘I... I’m sorry?’
Jisung waved a hand. ‘Don’t be, fucker had it coming.’
‘Um. Well. I have a problem with it,’ Hyunjin mumbled. ‘Maybe it’s nothing special to you guys but... killing people is kind of a big deal to me.’
Jisung sighed, then grunted in pain when he jostled his ribs.
‘I’m so glad I don’t have a functioning conscience,’ the blue-haired boy said, only slightly strained. ‘You can’t do anything with one.’
Hyunjin frowned. ‘Seungmin has a conscience and he still manages to – to do what you do.’
Jisung huffed, fringe fluttering briefly. ‘There’s a difference between what Minnie does and what I do. He’s very selective about the hits he takes. His moral compass may run counter to society’s but only because he’s more of an eye-for-an-eye guy than is legal in this day and age.’
‘Oh.’ Questions thrummed on Hyunjin’s tongue but he swallowed them down; if he wanted to know more, he ought to take them to Seungmin himself.
‘Yeah, oh. He’s pretty unexciting most of the time.’
Morbid interest drove Hyunjin to ask, ‘If – if he hadn’t told you not to hurt me... would I be dead now?’
Jisung cut him a sidelong look. ‘Would depend on how much you irritated me. And how bored I was.’
Silence fell thickly in the wake of his answer, broken only by Seungmin and his shovel. It took Hyunjin a few minutes to regather his courage but when he did, his voice did not shake.
‘So... how did you escape from the people who left you on the roadside?’
‘Ah, well, they thought I was out cold and they got sloppy. To be fair, I did black out for a minute the third time my head was smacked into the wall –’ Hyunjin choked – ‘but nobody checked to see if I woke up which was unforgivably stupid of them.’ Jisung shrugged. ‘I grabbed a gun, shot two of them, then opened the door and jumped out. The landing must’ve knocked me out.’
‘How are you alive?’ the honey-haired boy squeaked, horrified. ‘You need to go to hospital!’
Jisung snorted. ‘And get my name put in their databank? I think the fuck not.’
‘Don’t you have aliases? False identities? You could die if you’ve got a brain bleed or something,’ Hyunjin protested.
‘I also could have died that one time I was thrown out of a helicopter. Or the time someone punctured my left lung with a poker. Or when a mob boss put cyanide in my vodka. There’s a lot of times I could have died.’
‘I repeat my earlier question – how the hell are you alive?’
‘Cockroaches are hard to kill,’ Jisung said and promptly keeled over.
Hyunjin blinked dumbly. He waited for Jisung to get back up but he didn’t and suddenly Hyunjin was very concerned that the blue-haired boy had died.
‘Uh...’ His voice was about an octave higher than expected but there was no time to be embarrassed by that. ‘Uh, Seungmin?’
‘What’s wrong?’ came the immediate response, promptly followed by, ‘Oh, goddamn it.’
Hyunjin heard Seungmin stab the spade into the ground before climbing out of the impromptu grave and striding over to Jisung’s limp body. The honey-haired youth waited with bated breath as Seungmin examined him.
‘He’s just passed out again,’ the red-haired boy sighed, sitting back on his haunches. ‘Probably something to do with the egg-sized lump on the back of his skull.’
‘We have to take him to the hospital,’ Hyunjin blurted. ‘We can’t let him actually die.’
Seungmin glanced sidelong at him and didn’t say anything.
‘Seungmin,’ he hissed, frowning fiercely. ‘I don’t care if you two hate each other’s guts, we are not letting him die.’
The redhead’s lower lip jutted out ever so slightly. ‘But... this is such a perfect opportunity to get rid of him. I could just widen the grave a bit and he’d fit just –’
‘I will absolutely not go on a third date with you if you let him die here,’ Hyunjin interrupted.
Seungmin’s eyes noticeably widened at that. ‘Right,’ he said, clapping his hands for emphasis, suddenly all business. ‘I’ll be done with this guy –’ he jerked his head towards the corpse and partially-dug grave – ‘in fifteen minutes.’
Hyunjin could only watch, a little bemused and a little amused, as Seungmin returned to his task with renewed energy. And he had to admit, despite the crappy lighting, the icy temperature, and how tired he was, the view really wasn’t that bad. The ground was still pretty frozen but Seungmin didn’t seem to be having any trouble at all...
‘Stop distracting me.’
The words were clearly meant to be admonishing but instead sounded smugly delighted. Hyunjin blushed the moment he realised what Seungmin meant and he spluttered weakly. After that, he made very sure to stare at anything but the redhead.
A few reasonably short minutes later, Seungmin tossed the shovel out of the earthen hole and hauled himself up after it. Then he scooped up the neatly-wrapped corpse and dropped it none-too-gently into the grave. He made short work of covering the body up and piling the rest of the earth on top, tamping it down by walking back and forth over it a few times.
‘That’ll do.’ Seungmin turned to Hyunjin. ‘We can leave now.’
‘Oh, thank god,’ Hyunjin groaned, pushing away from his tree. ‘I want to sleep for a week. I can’t feel any of my extremities.’
He paused, however, when Seungmin made as if to start the walk back and cleared his throat pointedly. ‘Aren’t you forgetting someone?’
Seungmin visibly froze and sighed, his shoulders slumping, before he turned on his heel and went over to Jisung.
‘And be gentle with him, I think he hurt his ribs,’ Hyunjin hastily added, as Seungmin scooped Jisung up and slung him over his shoulder.
‘Oh, he’s cracked at least three of them,’ was the nonchalant reply. ‘Are you coming?’
Hyunjin squeaked and hurried to catch up with Seungmin, still lighting the way with his little torch.
It was when they emerged from the forest not much later, Seungmin’s pickup sitting just over the road, that Hyunjin gave a start.
‘Oh! Am I taking – should I leave my car or – uh, I mean –’
Before the honey-haired boy could quite swallow his own tongue, Seungmin said, ‘Leave your car here tonight. If you don’t mind loaning me a key, I’ll collect it and drop it off wherever’s convenient later.’
‘Oh. Well... wouldn’t it be easier for us both to come back for it? How will you get here if you don’t drive your car?’
‘Don’t worry about any of that,’ Seungmin replied, as they crossed the road. ‘It’d be better if you don’t come around here for a while. At least a month.’
‘What?’ Hyunjin shot Seungmin an alarmed look, stopping by the driver’s door. ‘Why?’
Unlocking the car and tossing Jisung and the shovel onto the backseat, Seungmin replied, ‘Probably no reason but better safe than sorry. I know how to avoid attracting unwanted attention, you don’t. Simple.’
‘I – I see,’ Hyunjin murmured, taken aback once again at how thorough and efficient Seungmin was being about this. ‘Then... sure. Here, take the spare.’
Seungmin looked amused as he accepted the key. ‘You keep both on the same keyring? You know that kind of defeats the purpose of a spare, right?’
‘Shut up,’ the other boy grumbled.
With a huff, he strode around to the other side of the ute and climbed into the passenger seat. He was surprised when Seungmin did not climb in next to him, instead rummaging in the back ‘til he found a zip tie which he promptly used to secure Jisung’s hands behind him. After a moment of consideration, he removed the spade, chucking it in the flatbed, and fastened one of the seatbelts around Jisung’s torso so he wouldn’t go flying at the first touch of brake.
As soon as he got into the front, Hyunjin asked, ‘What if there’s a cop-stop and they look in the back?’
‘The back windows are tinted,’ Seungmin said, starting the car up and turning the heat up high. ‘And I have this.’ He tapped an unfamiliar box attached to the dashboard above the radio.
Hyunjin eyed the multiple dials and tiny LED display on the box. ‘And that is...?’
‘Police scanner,’ Seungmin grinned.
Defrosting his gloved hands over the vents, Hyunjin felt his brows shoot up. ‘Isn’t that... illegal?’
‘Only sometimes,’ came the cryptic answer. Before Hyunjin could press further, Seungmin added, ‘Keep half an eye on Han for me. If he wakes up, I’d rather not find out from a knife at my throat.’
Gulping, Hyunjin twisted in his seat to look back at the limp, beat up boy in the back. ‘He’d do that? We’re helping him though.’
Seungmin shrugged. ‘He hates hospitals. Wouldn’t voluntarily go there even if he was vomiting blood.’
‘That sounds a bit... extreme.’
‘He’s an extreme kind of person,’ was all Seungmin would say to that.
It was quarter to five when they reached the outskirts of town and Hyunjin was seriously struggling to keep himself awake. Jisung, fortunately, hadn’t stirred once and the only sounds, aside from the ute, were the occasional crackles of static and brisk voices from the police scanner. Hyunjin noted that while Seungmin didn’t seem particularly interested by them, he took them on a slightly more convoluted route to the hospital than necessary.
Seungmin parked in the nearly-empty carpark by the emergency department, the hospital still well-lit. He killed the engine and all fell quiet.
There was a pause.
Hyunjin glanced at him.
Seungmin continued staring blankly straight ahead. ‘I’m trying to decide how best to hand him over,’ he said by way of explanation.
Hyunjin’s forehead creased faintly. ‘How about we take him in like norm–’
‘I could just kick him out of the car,’ Seungmin interrupted absent-mindedly. He hadn’t blinked in at least two minutes. ‘They’d find him eventually. Or I could see how close to the doors I could throw him. He’s pretty light...’
‘Or we could do none of that,’ Hyunjin said loudly, overriding him. ‘Get your homicidal urges under control, we’re taking him in the usual way.’
So-saying, Hyunjin opened his door, hissed at the sudden influx of cold air, and hopped out. He turned back to Seungmin, hand on the door handle.
‘Are you getting him or am I?’ he asked sternly.
Seungmin blanched, immediately unclicking his seatbelt. ‘You’re not getting anyone,’ the redhead said, hastily moving around to Jisung’s door and opening it. ‘I don’t need you being checked in for concussion and fractures when you trip over thin air.’
Hyunjin squawked. ‘Don’t exaggerate! You saw me fall over one time –’
‘Exactly,’ Seungmin said solemnly, removing the zip tie from Jisung’s wrists and tucking it away. ‘I only saw it once. God knows how many more times there were before and after that. Lock the car, would you?’
He had Jisung draped over his arms like a sleeping princess, which would’ve been amusing to Hyunjin if he hadn’t been crotchety and way too tired. Not bothering to complain, the honey-haired boy scooped Seungmin’s keys off the backseat, shut the door, and locked it. As he went to pocket them, he suddenly noticed something.
‘Hey, we’re both still wearing gloves. Shouldn’t we take them off? People don’t normally wear them into a hospital.’
‘...You make a good point. I’d forgotten about the gloves,’ Seungmin admitted. ‘Okay, help me get mine off and put them all back in the pickup. Don’t touch Han with your bare hands, alright?’
‘Eh?’ Hyunjin said quizzically, as he unlocked the car again and took Seungmin’s gloves, nonetheless careful not to touch Jisung.
‘He’s probably going to have your prints in three days no matter what you do, maybe a week if he’s feeling lazy, but there’s no reason to just give them to him,’ Seungmin replied.
‘Why would he want my fingerprints?’ Hyunjin asked, bewildered.
‘He calls it being prepared, I call it paranoia.’
‘Oh, that’s so reassuring,’ the honey-haired boy groaned.
Seungmin gave him a sympathetic look. ‘I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything too wild with them.’ He started towards the hospital but immediately paused. ‘Ah, when we get in there, the story is you and I found him on the side of the road on the outskirts of town, okay? We don’t know him. I’m a med student and decided it was safe to pick him up and bring him here without calling an ambulance. If anyone asks why we’re out so early, we’re on our way back from Daegu, Suseong-gu if you have to be specific, where we spent the last week with my parents.’
‘Sure,’ Hyunjin accepted.
‘Come on, then,’ Seungmin said, voice taking on an edge of impressively-distinct satoori.
They crossed the carpark and climbed the three shallow steps to the sliding glass doors. The waiting room wasn’t overly warm, but it was much better than outside. The only person in sight was a weary young medic with a pointy chin, clacking furiously on one of the two computers behind the reception desk. Hyunjin felt sorry for the guy; he looked like he needed a solid twelve hours of sleep, if the shadows under his eyes were anything to go by.
‘Hello, how can I help you?’ the man – his nametag read Seo Changbin – asked, eyes immediately landing on Jisung’s limp body.
Seungmin launched into a brief spiel, not saying too many unnecessary things and sounding appropriately concerned. Hyunjin did his best not to fall asleep where he stood. He blinked and suddenly Changbin was hurrying around the desk, fingers dancing over a pager that had suddenly materialised in his hand.
‘Has he had any trouble breathing? Coughed up any blood? Turned blue?’ Changbin rattled off the questions briskly, beckoning them around the corner to where a gurney stood, ready and waiting.
‘Not that we’ve seen,’ Seungmin answered, satoori tugging at his words as he laid Jisung on the bed.
The redhead stepped back, joining Hyunjin nearby, just as a pint-sized woman in the same scrubs as Changbin came barrelling down the corridor towards them. She skidded to a halt by the medic, who didn’t look up from where he was checking Jisung’s vital signs.
‘Hello,’ she said, breathless, and ducked a quick bow to Hyunjin and Seungmin, who bobbed their heads back. ‘Changbin-ssi and I –’ Hirai Momo according to the nametag – ‘will take care of this young man here until Doctor Kim can join us. It’s been a quiet night so she shouldn’t be long.’
Before either of the boys had a chance to reply, Changbin barked, ‘Noona, where’s the cuff?’
‘Oh, here,’ Momo replied, whipping a blood pressure cuff out of her large coat pocket and handing it over. ‘What are we dealing with?’
The question was directed at Changbin, who answered, ‘Possible violent mugging, he’s got all the hallmarks.’
‘Nasty bump on the back of his head,’ she murmured, gently stabbing a fresh-capped temperature reader in Jisung’s ear.
‘Broken ribs, too, according to the med student.’ Changbin jerked his head towards Seungmin when Momo raised a brow at him.
She fixed Seungmin with a sharp look.
‘That’s what it felt like,’ he explained. ‘I had to make sure he was alright for us to move when we found him.’
‘Good thinking,’ Momo praised him, stern expression melting away.
‘Right, this guy needs a secondary survey,’ Changbin said, unstrapping the cuff. ‘Which examination room is free?’
‘We can take Two,’ she answered, checking her thermometer. ‘He’s at thirty eight point one. How’s his blood pressure?’
‘Low – seventy four over fifty.’ Changbin glanced at Seungmin and Hyunjin. ‘We can’t let you into the treatment room, sorry, but we do need to take your details. You understand that the police are likely to get in touch.’
Hyunjin’s eyes widened in alarm but Seungmin took this in stride and nodded.
‘If you come to the front with me, I’ll take your names and contact details down,’ Momo said to them, gesturing back towards the waiting room.
‘Of course,’ Seungmin replied.
Hyunjin kind of wanted to protest – they were going to leave Jisung? Just like that? – but he kept his mouth shut and followed the other two back to the front, glancing back to see Changbin wheeling Jisung away. The blue-haired boy looked so small on the starched white bed.
He’s threatened to kill me at least once tonight, Hyunjin reminded himself, pulling up at the waiting room counter.
‘Right, if I could get your names, please?’ Momo asked them, hands poised over her computer keyboard.
Seungmin gestured for Hyunjin to go first and, not having been told otherwise, he assumed he wasn’t meant to pull an alias out of thin air, so he said, ‘Hwang Hyunjin.’
Clacking away at the keys with impressive speed, the nurse continued, ‘And your contact details?’
Hyunjin rattled off his address and cell phone number, pulling out his driver’s licence when she asked if he had any ID on him.
‘Thank you. Your name, please?’ Momo directed at Seungmin.
‘Yang Jeongin,’ the redhead replied and Hyunjin almost choked on his spit.
Entirely unfazed, Seungmin wrapped his hand around Hyunjin’s and squeezed. When he went to let go, Hyunjin turned his hand slightly to lightly intertwine their fingers instead. That got him a very brief glance and he felt his ears prickle with sudden heat. Seungmin then gave the nurse a number that was definitely not the one Hyunjin had in his contacts and an address the honey-haired boy would bet his left eye was fake. When Seungmin slid his driver’s licence over the counter, Hyunjin noted that the name on it was Yang Jeongin barely a lick of surprise.
Momo then asked them to recount the details of how they’d come across Jisung, which Hyunjin once again left up to Seungmin, nodding as appropriate. Or possibly as inappropriate. He wasn’t too sure. God, he needed a sleep.
Fortunately, they were free to go after that. Stepping outside was still like climbing into a freezer but they were in the car a minute later and Hyunjin wasted no time in draping himself over the vents as Seungmin turned the heating up high.
‘Are you sure it’s alright for us to leave Jisung here?’ Hyunjin asked anxiously, glancing out the window towards the hospital.
‘It’ll be fine, don’t worry,’ Seungmin replied, defrosting his fingers over his own vents. ‘He may loathe hospitals, but he won’t hurt anyone there. Probably. Not unless they really piss him off.’
Incredulous, Hyunjin stared at the redhead for a long moment. ‘I was actually asking for him, not the staff, but sure. Great. Thanks for that. I feel so much better now.’
‘...Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.’
‘You’re the one who left a potentially-dangerous murderer in a hospital, you don’t get an opinion.’
Seungmin snorted. ‘Hyunjin, he’s dangerous all the time, nothing potential about it.’
‘I thought you’d’ve had enough of grave-digging tonight, but there you go, still digging.’
That dragged an outright laugh from Seungmin, who did not reply. After a pause long enough to let the residual humour fade from the air, Hyunjin ventured another question.
‘So... who’s Yang Jeongin?’ he asked, eyes shut against the assault of warm air on his face.
Seungmin sighed. ‘One of my more well-structured aliases. When the police check our story, to make sure we were in Suseong-gu, they’ll receive confirmation that one Yang Jeongin and one Hwang Hyunjin were there for a week.’
‘Is Kim Seungmin your real name?’ Hyunjin asked frankly, turning to look up at the other boy.
The redhead glanced down, the weight of his dark eyes as gentle as his hand had been.
‘Yes. Kim Seungmin is the name I was given by my parents. I only use it for things that... aren’t related to work.’
‘Like introducing yourself to lost boys in book shops,’ Hyunjin said wryly, recalling their first meeting.
‘Just one lost boy,’ Seungmin corrected, mouth curling up slightly.
Hyunjin hesitated. ‘You won’t...’ He licked his lips. ‘You won’t disappear now, will you? I meant what I said before – I have concerns about us, uh, keeping going with this, but I want to settle them. With you. Because I want us to continue with this.’
Silence hung fragile in the air as Seungmin considered his answer.
At last, he replied, ‘I won’t disappear, Hyunjin. I don’t want to leave and if you don’t want me to either, then here I stay.’ His gaze flicked to the car clock and back to Hyunjin’s. ‘How about we meet up tomorrow afternoon, or the day after, at Chan’s Kitchen and you bring all your questions for me. Ask anything you want and I’ll do my best to answer. Then maybe we can see about that third date. How does that sound?’
Hyunjin didn’t have to think about it, nodding immediately. ‘That sounds perfect. I’m too tired to ask anything more now. Are you, um, okay to drop me at my apartment block? I don’t know how many trains are running this early on a Sunday...’
‘Oh, yeah, of course! I told you to leave your car behind, I wasn’t going to make you find your own way home, jeez,’ Seungmin mumbled, tone lilting between offended and scandalised.
Giggling, Hyunjin settled back in his seat as the redhead put the pickup in drive and headed back out to the road.
It was only when they pulled up outside Hyunjin’s apartment building that the honey-haired boy realised something and he turned to Seungmin, judgement heavy in his glare.
‘I never told you my address,’ he accused.
Seungmin’s eyes widened. ‘Uh – I can explain?’
Hyunjin groaned and dropped his head into his hand. ‘Don’t bother,’ he sighed. ‘I’ll ask you about it next time.’
He hopped out of the car, hissing at the cold and hastily shoving his hands back into the relative safety of his bulky gloves.
‘See you in a couple of days, then,’ Hyunjin said, leaning against the open door.
Seungmin’s expression was distressingly fond as he nodded. ‘You decide when. I’ll let you know when I drop your car off, okay?’
‘Cool. Um. Yeah,’ Hyunjin said eloquently. ‘Good night, Seungminnie.'
The horizon was already tinged green with false dawn, but they ignored that.
‘Good night, Hyunjinnie,’ Seungmin smiled.
Feeling oddly exposed, Hyunjin stepped back and shut the door. He didn’t wait for Seungmin to drive away before turning and hurrying up the stairs to the building entrance, rejoicing that he didn’t live somewhere with a curfew. Then it was through the quiet lobby, into the lift, and up thirteen floors. He only almost punched in the wrong lock code twice before successfully unlocking his door.
As soon as he was inside, Hyunjin kicked off his shoes and dived into his tiny bedroom, happy to see Kkami still asleep in his basket in the corner. Hyunjin flicked on his electric blanket and thanked any listening deity for central heating. He smelled of stale sweat and dirt with a spicy hint of alcohol, which was just charming, but the shower would have to wait. For now, he needed to get to bed.
After changing into his pyjamas and curling up under his duvet, Hyunjin opened his Kakaotalk app and, with only a moment’s hesitation, sent a message. Then he set the phone to Do Not Disturb, tossed it carelessly onto the bedside table, and went to sleep.
From: Hyunjinnie🐶 (6:17 AM, Sunday)
Drive safe. Sweet dreams ♡
From: Seungminnie🐌 (6:51 AM, Sunday)
Of course. I have an as-yet-unconfirmed date to keep
Have a good sleep ♡
From: Seungminnie🐌 (5:17 AM, Monday)
I’ve left your car in its usual spot in the carpark under your building. Keys are under the front passenger’s seat
Nothing in it’s been touched, don’t worry
From: Hyunjinnie🐶 (8:01 AM, Monday)
Hey so (12:33 PM)
I’m only taking the morning dance classes on Wednesday, hyung’s got the afternoon ones
I could meet you at Chan’s Kitchen about 2? （*´‿｀*）
From: Seungminnie🐌 (12:41 PM, Monday)
Sounds good ^^
From: Hyunjinnie🐶 (12:43 PM, Monday)
Okay, see you then!
From: Seungminnie🐌 (12:46 PM)
‘Where are you off to in such a rush?’
The mildly amused question came from the entrance of the instructors’ changing room and Hyunjin glanced up to see Minho walking in, silky black hair bouncing slightly with every step.
‘I – I’m not in a rush,’ Hyunjin defended, silently cursing himself for stumbling over his words – the other dancer was like a bloodhound, any hint of weakness and –
‘You’ve buttoned your shirt up wrong and one of your socks is inside out,’ Minho grinned, eyes a-twinkle as he slung his bag onto the bench by Hyunjin’s, cat charms jingling.
Hyunjin wondered briefly if maybe Minho was in the murderers-for-money business too, before discarding the notion. Not only would Seungmin surely have known and told him, but when Minho wasn’t at the dance studio, he was either at the gym putting all the Kim Kardashian-wannabes to shame or with his boyfriend. That didn’t really leave much time to be running around assassinating people.
Still, there was no denying Minho’s eagle eye for detail, and a quick look down revealed that, yes, he’d buttoned up his nice maroon shirt wrong and his right sock was inside out. With a distressed whine, Hyunjin set about unbuttoning his shirt again while Minho filled up his water bottle at the tap in the corner, snickering.
‘It wouldn’t happen to be an afternoon date at a certain café we both know, would it?’
Hyunjin turned sharply on his heel, staring at Minho with wide eyes. ‘How do you – when did –’
‘I got a text from Chan a few minutes ago saying there’s a very familiar red-haired boy sitting in the café, looking a lot like a lost puppy. He was wondering if you’d be showing up anytime soon,’ Minho said, halfway between smug and delighted.
‘Wait, he’s already there?’ Hyunjin squeaked, double-checking the time on his phone and completely flying over the fact that Chan had ratted him out. ‘It’s only quarter to!’
‘Chill, Jinnie, clearly the kid likes showing up a bit early,’ Minho replied, rolling his eyes as he stuffed his bag in his cubby on the far side of the room.
‘He’s only two years younger than you, hyung,’ Hyunjin grumbled, already calculating how fast he could get to Chan’s Kitchen without breaking a sweat because sweat stains were not a thing he’d taken into account when selecting this shirt.
Noticing Hyunjin’s distraction, Minho laughed outright, his nose scrunching up. ‘Calm down. You’ve got plenty of time and Seungmin knows you’re coming from the studio, right?’
Hyunjin nibbled on the edge of his lip but nodded, accepting his hyung’s reassurance. ‘Yeah, he knows.’
‘Then you’re fine, don’t worry about it,’ Minho said, tone gentling as he nudged the younger dancer with his hip on the way to the door. ‘I know this isn’t your first date with him; why are you so twitchy this time, hmm?’
‘Ah, well...’ Hyunjin trailed off, averting his eyes. What was he going to say – this was their first date since finding each other in the middle of the night burying bodies? Not likely.
Minho was a good hyung, though, and an even better friend. Hyunjin was infinitely grateful that the older boy didn’t push.
‘Well, whatever it is, put it out of your mind because it’s unnecessary –’ was it, though? – ‘and stressing you out –’ it was definitely doing that – ‘and go enjoy your afternoon, okay? Hyung’s orders.’
Despite himself, Hyunjin giggled at that.
Minho’s lips quirked up again and he continued, ‘That’s right. You look much prettier smiling than you do frowning, Jinnie. Now, off you go and have a good time with your lost puppy.’
He pushed open the door and made a sweeping gesture, indicating Hyunjin should leave first. Hitching his own bag over his shoulder, shirt correctly re-buttoned (the sock wasn’t that noticeable), Hyunjin dramatically thanked and bid Minho farewell as he left the room.
It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. This is fine, the honey-haired boy chanted to himself as he walked briskly away from Dancing Gem Studio. I have the questions written down, no chance of forgetting them. Seungmin’s still Seungmin. This is fine.
Such was his preoccupation that not only did he almost walk right past the café-slash-delicatessen that was Chan’s Kitchen, but he pushed on the glass door that very clearly instructed users to pull. So, not a great start, but happily no-one seemed to have noticed his disgrace as he stepped inside.
Hyunjin glanced around the spacious café, shelves climbing the walls and stuffed with assorted delicacies, both foreign and not. A few of the little round tables were filled, but not as many as would have been an hour ago. He recalled his days working in the hospitality business and shuddered to think of the harried stress of the lunchtime rush.
Quit stalling, you limp-spined flop, he scolded himself.
Seungmin was not difficult to find – he was sitting at a table in the back, a window on one side and a wall of colourful jars behind him. He was also facing the door and when Hyunjin caught his gaze, a bright smile spread over Seungmin’s face, making Hyunjin’s heart squeeze most unhealthily. He did not try to hold back his own smile and promptly made his way over, only almost tripping over once when someone pushed their chair out to get up.
Hyunjin collapsed with less grace than he would have liked into the wooden chair opposite Seungmin.
‘Hello,’ Seungmin said, still smiling a little, his eyes very fond.
‘Hi,’ Hyunjin replied, way more breathless than he ought to have been (okay, maybe he’d really missed Seungmin over the three and a half days since they last saw each other).
‘I know this isn’t meant to be a date, but I’m still going to tell you that you look really handsome,’ Seungmin said, eyes darting down to Hyunjin’s shirt and back up.
Hyunjin preened, though he tried (and abjectly failed) not to show it. ‘Thanks.’ Not to be outdone, he continued, ‘In that case, I’m going to say it back, because that jumper looks very good on you.’
The aforementioned jumper was black with large, geometric, red patterns knitted into the lower half and creeping upward. It was quite striking against Seungmin’s pale skin and dark hair.
Seungmin dimpled and for a moment there was only quiet as they looked at each other with soft, mushy expressions. Then Seungmin blinked and straightened.
‘Ah, I should go and get us drinks, you must be thirsty after all your dancing,’ he said, grabbing his wallet and standing.
‘Oh, no, it’s okay, I can get myself something,’ Hyunjin began, reaching down towards his bag.
But Seungmin stilled him with a gentle hand on his arm. ‘I’ve got this,’ the redhead smiled. ‘You can get it next time.’
‘That’s what people on dates do!’ Hyunjin protested, but he stayed put when the other boy went up to the counter.
Hyunjin was determined not to treat this like a date; they had important things to talk about. Then he remembered the shirt he was wearing – he only ever wore this on dates, it was too nice for anything else, really. Fuck. He’d accidentally sabotaged himself from the get-go.
Seungmin returned a minute later and set their table number down, before sitting again. Hyunjin tried to project a firm air of no-nonsense but then Seungmin folded his hands neatly on the table and oh god he had sweater paws –
‘How’s your week been so far? How’s Kkami?’
The light questions successfully put a stop to Hyunjin’s rapidly derailing train of thought and, with a slow blink, he dragged his eyes up from Seungmin’s hands to meet the redhead’s faintly amused gaze.
‘Um. It’s been good, yeah. Busy with work, you know. I’ve started teaching the kids a new routine and they like it, which is great because I didn’t get Minho-hyung or Rocky-hyung to help me make it. And, uh, I’m going to take Kkami to the dog park on Friday; haven’t had time to do much with him this week.’
Hyunjin was grateful when Woojin appeared, laden tray in hand, unsure what he would have said next.
‘Hi, guys!’ the dark-haired man said cheerfully, smiling his toothy smile. ‘One lemongrass tea –‘ he didn’t wait for Seungmin to raise his hand before placing the cup and little teapot in front of him – ‘and one mocha, extra cream.’
Again, the drink was set in front of Hyunjin before he could indicate it was his – Woojin had long since memorised their orders.
‘Thanks, Woojin-hyung,’ Hyunjin replied, already warming his fingers around the mug. He opened his mouth to say something more but –
‘Nope, I’m gonna have to stop you right there,’ Woojin interrupted, holding out a forestalling hand, which pulled up the sleeve of his t-shirt a little and revealed the tailfin of one of the several koi inked on his bicep. ‘No questions about how the thesis is coming along or I might have to do something really unprofessional that would definitely get me fired, okay?’
Seungmin snorted and Hyunjin burst out laughing, the delighted sound abrupt and brief.
‘Okay, hyung, I won’t ask. See you later!’
With a little wave to them both, Woojin turned and went back to the counter.
Using a teaspoon to scoop up some of the cream, Hyunjin offered a shy thanks to Seungmin. He’d always felt his order was a little childish but the other boy had never teased him for it.
Pouring his sweet-smelling tea, Seungmin smiled slightly. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
As they relaxed and sipped their drinks, quiet tension curdled in the air, the elephant in the room breathing heavily down their necks.
‘Do you... know how Jisung is?’ Hyunjin asked hesitantly.
‘I haven’t heard from him,’ Seungmin replied and Hyunjin noticed his posture change, straightening, sharpening. ‘He’ll be out of hospital by now, whether or not he’s meant to be. You’ve not heard from the police, right?’
Hyunjin shook his head. ‘No. I was wondering why they hadn’t called.’
The corner of Seungmin’s mouth quirked up. ‘They probably won’t. Han doesn’t like loose ends; he’ll have tied that one off.’
Heart suddenly in his throat, Hyunjin asked, ‘He wouldn’t hurt them, would he? That sounds pretty final –’
‘Don’t worry about the cops, Hyunjin. As happy as he is to wreak havoc wantonly, there are far more efficient means of dealing with the law than violence.’
Deciding that was not a rabbit hole he wished to go down, the honey-haired boy left it at that. Besides, they had other things to be talking about, didn’t they?
Taking a fortifying gulp of caffeinated, chocolatey goodness, Hyunjin said, ‘I wrote down some questions.’
If Seungmin had been sitting more formally before, that was nothing compared to the change his demeanour went at those five words. His expression became very intent, focus completely narrowed in on Hyunjin, and he tensed like he was ready to leap over the table at a moment’s notice.
Seungmin inhaled sharply, eyes widening as he realised what he was doing. ‘Sorry,’ he murmured, gaze immediately softening with regret, posture relaxing. ‘I didn’t mean to scare you. Sorry.’
Swallowing, Hyunjin minutely shook his head. ‘It’s – it’s okay. You just startled me.’
A muscle in Seungmin’s jaw twitched and his mouth began to curve down into a pout, so Hyunjin decided drastic measures were required and placed his hand halfway across the table, palm up. The redhead blinked in surprise, lips parting. Hyunjin smiled encouragingly at him and wiggled his fingers.
‘I mean it, Seungminnie. It’s fine,’ he said quietly.
Gingerly, as though fearing Hyunjin might retract his hand at any moment, Seungmin reached out and loosely intertwined their fingers. Hyunjin squeezed Seungmin’s warm, callused hand before relaxing his grip, leaving their handhold intact. The red-haired boy looked much happier now.
‘Let’s try that again, shall we?’ Hyunjin suggested wryly. ‘No need to freak out.’
‘Right,’ Seungmin agreed, cheeks reddening.
‘Okay, just a sec –’ Hyunjin reached down with his freed hand to fish his phone out of his bag, not breaking contact with Seungmin. Placing it next to his mocha, he unlocked the cracked device and opened the notes app.
‘Okay,’ Hyunjin repeated, tongue darting out wet his lips. ‘There aren’t many and I’m not looking for gory details or anything –’
‘You don’t need to justify yourself, Hyunjinnie,’ Seungmin interrupted gently. ‘Lay it on me.’
Despite knowing exactly what he’d written, the honey-haired boy couldn’t help but check his notes again, abruptly nervous.
‘First question – how much of what you told me about your life was true?’
‘A lot of it,’ was the immediate reply. ‘I was born in Seoul, I have an older sister called Seunghwa, my father was a prosecutor, I love eggs, and I wanted to be a baseball player until I was twelve.’ Seungmin paused. ‘It was halfway through my first year at university when my father was murdered.’
Hyunjin’s eyes widened but, through sheer willpower, didn’t say anything, only squeezed Seungmin’s hand tighter.
The red-haired boy shifted slightly in his seat, eyes staring into the middle distance, brow faintly furrowed as he continued, ‘The murderer was never caught, but all the signs pointed at a large and powerful gang my father had recently won a case against that had sent seven of their men to jail and cost them millions of won. When I realised that no charges were going to be pressed, that there wasn’t enough evidence to make an accusation – I got angry. I decided to take matters into my own hands.’
He cut a sidelong glance at Hyunjin and the honey-haired boy had to remind himself that he wasn’t in danger and the cold in Seungmin’s eyes was not for him. It was a very, very unsettling look.
‘It took eight months of preparation, but eventually I was able to take matters into my own hands,’ Seungmin said succinctly. ‘I nearly died, had to lie to everyone that I fell down a flight of stairs to explain the bruising, and was almost caught three times. But –’ he cleared his throat, forcing the steel from his voice – ‘I achieved what I’d set out to do.’
He fell silent and took a drink from his tea. Hyunjin tried to remember how to breathe normally. Seungmin set down his little mug and lightly stroked his thumb over the back of Hyunjin’s hand.
‘We can stop at any time,’ Seungmin reminded him quietly, carefully. ‘You don’t have to say anything. You can leave if you’ve had enough, I won’t stop you.’
Slowly, Hyunjin shook his head. His face was quite pale but his hold on Seungmin’s hand remained firm.
‘I just... need a minute,’ Hyunjin murmured though barely-moving lips.
The redhead stayed quiet, sipping his tea, petting Hyunjin’s hand, and maintaining an air of perfect relaxation. The honey-haired boy, however, could feel Seungmin’s pulse pitter-pattering almost as fast as his own.
‘Okay,’ Hyunjin exhaled. ‘I’m good. Keep going.’
Seungmin nodded, trusting his word.
‘After that,’ he continued, ‘I started thinking about all the other crimes that went unpunished, whether due to a lack of evidence or incompetence or legal loopholes. I thought about how my father had dedicated decades of his life to upholding the law on their terms and how he’d died for it.’
He paused again, absent-mindedly stroking Hyunjin’s hand. ‘At the end of my second year, a classmate of mine was... violently mugged. The police couldn’t find anything to identify her attacker and I knew this would end up as another one of those cold cases, never solved, unless I did something about it. I was ridiculously fortunate not to get caught that time, especially given – well. I was very lucky.’
Seungmin lifted his cup again, saying, ‘I met Han Jisung for the first time a few months after that,’ before taking another drink.
As he did so, Hyunjin heard Woojin’s voice rising excitedly behind him in the direction of the counter. He barely had time to wonder what was happening when –
‘Hey, Seungmin! There’s another Kim Seungmin here!’
Startled, Seungmin peered around Hyunjin and immediately choked, coughing tea all over the table. Hyunjin whipped around to see Woojin grinning by the till. On the other side of the counter, a tall young man with black hair looked at them. He appeared perfectly ordinary from a distance but, for some reason, the smile slowly curving across his face made the hairs on Hyunjin’s nape stand on end. It was a smile that screamed pure mischief.
Seungmin-the-second briefly said something to Woojin before walking straight towards their table, ignoring the curious looks of the other patrons. Hyunjin turned around to see if his Seungmin had recovered and was startled to find staring with dread over Hyunjin’s shoulder at the approaching youth.
‘Seungmin? Are you okay?’ Hyunjin asked quietly, leaning forward to be heard.
‘Why is he here?’ the redhead hissed and okay, what.
There was no time for any more questions, however, as the young man had reached the table and was beaming down at them cherubically, the unsettling expression from moments ago having disappeared. His olive-shaped eyes appraised Hyunjin with unusual intensity before flicking to Seungmin.
‘Hi!’ he said cheerfully. ‘Fancy meeting you here, Seungmin.’
Why did he emphasise the name? Why was Seungmin looking so spectacularly unimpressed? What was Hyunjin missing??
‘Hello, Jeongin,’ Seungmin gritted out.
Hyunjin didn’t even realise the word had slipped from his mouth until the two glanced at him. Seungmin (his Seungmin) appeared most uncomfortable but his expression was a warning one, probably silently begging Hyunjin to shut up before he said something stupid. The black-haired boy – Seungmin-the-second? Jeongin? – shot him a look that was just as assessing as the first and in that moment Hyunjin understood.
He understood that this person was like Seungmin and Jisung, in that he killed people for a living.
Awesome. Another assassin. Just what Hyunjin’s day needed to get better.
‘Why are you here, Jeongin?’ Seungmin asked, glaring up at the fresh-faced youth.
Jeongin’s smile did not waver. ‘I’m looking for Jisung!’ he said brightly. ‘We have a job we’re due to start in a couple of days and he told me to meet him in Sangju-si. I can’t find him though. Don’t suppose you know where he is, do you?’
Seungmin shot Hyunjin an apologetic look before replying, ‘Not anymore. Can’t you track him? Isn’t that your thing, always keeping tabs on people?’
Hyunjin would have wondered at this apparent trend of paranoia running through Seungmin’s colleagues, but he supposed if anyone had a right to be a bit overcautious, it was an assassin.
‘I earmarked his phone but the tracker cut out four days ago.’
‘Maybe he found it and ripped it out,’ Seungmin suggested.
Jeongin grabbed a chair from a neighbouring table, twirled it so it was backwards, and sat down all in one smooth motion, elbows crossed on the back support.
‘Not likely,’ he countered. ‘That one would only come out if he destroyed the whole phone. He didn’t even know about that tracker.’
Seungmin leaned back in his seat and scoffed. ‘Han knows you too well to think he could ever let you out of his line of sight and not get his phone bugged.’
‘Oh, he knows that,’ Jeongin laughed. ‘He buys a new one every time we split up so I can’t get my hands on it. What he doesn’t know is that I bug every phone in every shop he buys from.’
Seungmin looked mildly impressed and Hyunjin honestly had no idea if the black-haired boy was joking or not. As a much-needed distraction, Hyunjin picked up his orange mug and took a gulp of his drink, wincing slightly at how hot it still was.
‘What are you drinking?’ Jeongin asked as soon as he lowered the cup.
‘Uh, mocha,’ Hyunjin said hesitantly.
The other boy’s nose wrinkled in disgust. ‘Tainting chocolate with coffee? A crime.’
‘Not everyone’s addicted to hot chocolate,’ Seungmin said, rolling his eyes.
‘It’s literally the only hot drink worth having.’
‘Nothing beats tea, you heathen.’
‘Hot chocolate stays unbothered,’ Jeongin sniffed. Then: ‘So, where did you guys last see Jisung?’
‘Ah, well –’ Seungmin broke off, glancing again at Hyunjin, who tried not to panic when Jeongin’s attention promptly shifted to him.
‘We haven’t been introduced,’ the black-haired stated, holding out a hand for Hyunjin to shake. ‘I’m Yang Jeongin.’
‘Hwang Hyunjin,’ Hyunjin replied automatically, taking the offered hand.
Jeongin, however, did not shake his hand. Instead, the other boy flipped it over and examined his palm for a long second, then said, ‘You’re a dancer, right, Hyunjin-ssi?’
Hyunjin squeaked, tugging his hand back and hugging it close to his chest. Seungmin sighed. Jeongin giggled.
‘How did you know that?’ the honey-haired boy demanded.
‘There’s a dance studio not far from here, you’ve got the muscle for it, and your hands aren’t callused enough to be a gymnast’s,’ Jeongin explained.
Hyunjin gaped at him.
‘Please don’t scare him,’ Seungmin mumbled, massaging his temple.
‘I’m not scared,’ Hyunjin said immediately, burning with a mighty need not to appear like a complete baby.
‘That’s the spirit,’ Jeongin cheered. ‘You can think of me as Jisung’s protégé. So, Hyunjin-ssi, where did you last see Jisung?’
‘Oh, um –’ Hyunjin looked at Seungmin, unsure of what he was supposed to or allowed to say.
‘You can tell him,’ the redhead murmured.
‘Right. Well, um, we last saw him at the hospital,’ Hyunjin said to Jeongin. ‘We left him there really early on Sunday morning.’
Now it was Jeongin’s turn to look shocked. ‘The hospital? He stayed there?’
‘Er, yes. He was unconscious, you see, he had a head injury...’
Jeongin whistled. ‘Well, he certainly won’t be there anymore.’ He side-eyed Seungmin. ‘What were you doing with Jisung?’
Seungmin’s expression was impenetrable as he said, ‘We found him, he was injured, Hyunjin prevailed upon me not to let him rot on the roadside, and we left him at the hospital.’
‘Out so late on a Saturday night?’ Jeongin said slyly, shooting Hyunjin an overt wink. ‘Sounds like fun~’
Hyunjin flushed at the implications. ‘No, we –’
‘Why are you so interested?’ Seungmin interrupted, his eyes narrowed. ‘It won’t help you find –’
He cut off, eyes widening in realisation. Then, with a frustrated groan, he thumped his forehead on the table. Hyunjin blinked, confused (again), before spotting Jeongin’s decidedly smug grin; no doubt that had something to do with Seungmin’s sudden need to give himself a concussion.
‘You’ve been having us on, haven’t you,’ Seungmin sighed, still facedown. ‘You’re just trying to mess with me.’
Jeongin cackled. ‘There’s no “trying” about it, you make it too easy!’
‘Let me guess – you’re the one who helped Jisung escape the hospital and hole up wherever he is now.’
‘Obviously to the first part and actually no to the second part.’
Seungmin lifted his head. ‘You didn’t help him? Or... you really don’t know where he is?’
‘Really don’t know where he is,’ Jeongin repeated. ‘He called me to extract him from, as he put it, “this starched white hell” and then he disappeared somewhere between me posing as this really grumpy nurse I left bound and gagged in a woman’s toilet and security chasing us down the fire escape. I wouldn’t be concerned but our job is time-sensitive so –’ He shrugged.
Before Seungmin could reply, Hyunjin blurted incredulously, ‘Does he always just ditch you in dangerous situations?’
There was a momentary pause.
Jeongin said stiffly, ‘Not exactly. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. He recognised the name of the nurse whose coat and tag I stole; it’s entirely possible Jisung went to rescue him and got caught up along the way.’
Hyunjin made an unimpressed “che” sound under his breath, gaze dropping to the table as he muttered mutinously, ‘People like Jisung don’t rescue others, they just hurt them and cause problems.’
He didn’t realise he’d made not only a mistake but a Colossal Fuckup™ until he noticed the ringing silence in the wake of his words and saw Seungmin gently close his eyes, as though preparing for an explosion.
Jeongin sat up straight and turned to face Hyunjin and oh, his black-olive eyes were hard as stone. The assassin smiled faintly, lips closed, and the temperature around the table plummeted. Hyunjin shrank back in his seat.
‘Oh really?’ Jeongin said softly. ‘You think Jisung is so heartless, Hyunjin-ssi?’
Hyunjin was pretty sure his voice had died, so it was great that Jeongin didn’t seem to be expecting an answer. He felt Seungmin’s leg press against his own under the table and took what comfort he could from that.
‘Let me give you a little lesson on how heartless Jisung is,’ Jeongin said, voice still deceptively light, gaze still cutting into Hyunjin like a scalpel. ‘I was barely fifteen when I left home, did you know? My family were straight-laced traditionalists; didn’t leave much room for a neurodivergent kid like me.’ His lip curled at the memory. ‘Things had always been rough, but then they got worse and I ran away. I’d only been on the streets for a week or so when I walked into the wrong alley.’
His laugh was quietly venomous as he continued, ‘I needed somewhere to sleep and I just had the shit luck to pick the alley with a guy who had no problem killing kids.’
Hyunjin felt a little faint now.
Jeongin leaned in a little, eyes burning with a terrible fire. ‘He shot me in the gut. Do you know how much that hurts? I was too scared to even scream. I just lay there and bled out as he pulled out a knife the length of my forearm. It takes a long time to die from a stomach wound, you know.’
There was a beat of silence before Jeongin said, almost contemplatively, ‘That’s when Jisung arrived. One second I was about to have my throat slit, then the man was screaming, a different knife slotted neatly between his ribs. Jisung snapped his neck before I had time to blink.’
Blink? Hyunjin hadn’t done that for a while. His eyes were rather dry but he couldn’t make his eyelids move.
Unexpectedly, Jeongin then reached for the hem of his hoody and pulled it up, barring a flat abdomen. Hyunjin inhaled sharply, horrified, glimpsed Seungmin stiffening in shock in his periphery.
The skin of Jeongin’s stomach was smooth and pale but for an awful scar on the left side. It was clearly old, the healed tissue silvery, but its mere presence was angry and snarling, past violence whispering over every ridge and bump.
‘Jisung gave me this.’ Jeongin’s voice was calmer now, more matter of fact. He lowered his top and met Hyunjin’s stunned gaze, satisfaction gleaming in his dark eyes. ‘He shoved his knife sheath between my teeth, told me to bite down hard, and ripped me open to get the bullet out. Afterwards, he patched up my half-dead body and hasn’t left me alone since.’
Hyunjin silently prompted his lungs to start up again as Jeongin settled back in his seat again, crossing his wrists over the backrest.
‘I owe Jisung my life many times over,’ the black-haired boy said steadily. ‘He may be a narcissistic, chaotic, unstable bitch most of the time but he is not uncaring.’
His gaze was expectant and Hyunjin managed to scrounge up the courage to dip his head in a tiny nod, apology written plainly in his drooping posture. Seeming to accept this, Jeongin huffed and slouched, glancing between Hyunjin and Seungmin.
‘Well, now I’ve gone and made everything serious,’ he pouted. ‘And for what? You guys don’t even know where Jisung’s hiding.’
His words cracked any lingering ice in the air and Seungmin sighed. ‘Try the motels on the road out of town going north. He’s unfamiliar with the area so he might have holed up there.’
Jeongin brightened, a sunny smile breaking out across his face, though Hyunjin now recognised this as a disguise for the mischievous, lethal young man behind it.
‘That’s a good idea! I bet there’s a Lee Yongbok recently checked into one of those.’
Hyunjin’s confusion must have been clear to see, for Seungmin immediately explained, ‘Han’s favourite alias. Unless he’s really trying to hide – and I don’t see why he would be – Lee Yongbok is his default.’
Jeongin clapped his hands together decisively and stood, neatly returning his chair to its original table.
‘It’s been an experience meeting you, Hyunjin-ssi,’ he said cheerfully, patting Hyunjin’s shoulder. ‘As much as I’d love to stay and chat more, Jisung can barely look after himself on a good day, so it’s high time I was gone. Must come with being a rich kid, far too many servants.’
On that interesting note, he saluted them and with a hasty, ‘Don’t be strangers!’, skipped to the exit, breaking into a flat-out sprint the second he was out the door.
Silence reigned for a minute, Seungmin pinching the bridge of his nose sharply and Hyunjin just... a bit shell-shocked, really.
Hyunjin cleared his throat. ‘So –’
‘Hang on,’ Seungmin interrupted, leaning over the table and beckoning Hyunjin to do the same.
Puzzled, the honey-haired boy did so. Seungmin reached out and stroked his hand over Hyunjin’s shoulder, which wasn’t unwelcome but –
‘Aha,’ the redhead muttered, sitting back, something tiny and black pinched between his thumb and forefinger. He tilted it from side to side, letting Hyunjin peer at it.
‘Did – did Jeongin bug me?’ he asked, astonished.
‘Yep. Try not to take it personally,’ Seungmin continued, lifting the lid of his little teapot and dropping the tiny device inside. ‘It’s a matter of course for him. He’ll have known I’d find it within a few minutes.’
‘Right,’ Hyunjin said faintly.
In an attempt to get his rambling, tangled thoughts to shut up, he picked up his half-empty mocha and drained it. The sweet drink was well on its way to lukewarm but still pleasant enough.
Hyunjin set the mug down and Seungmin said, a touch awkwardly, ‘So, that was Jeongin.’
The honey-haired boy raised a brow at him. ‘I gathered that. You told me the other night that “Yang Jeongin” was one of your aliases.’
‘Er, yes, well, we use each other’s names,’ the redhead explained, toying with the handle of his teapot. ‘It’s – it’s kind of an inside joke, I guess.’
‘And he’s Jisung’s – what did he say? – protégé?’
Hyunjin nodded to himself, chewing gently on his lower lip. His gaze fixed on the table, he said softly, ‘I’m sorry for what I said about Jisung. I – I didn’t mean to upset anyone. I shouldn’t’ve spoken so thoughtlessly.’
‘Hey, hey, it’s alright,’ Seungmin soothed, reaching out to gently hold both of Hyunjin’s hands with his own. ‘You’re the kindest person I’ve ever met, Hyunjin, I know you didn’t mean any harm by it. Jeongin’s just... a bit touchy when it comes to Han. No matter what that blueberry idiot might say, they mean a lot to each other.’
‘Yeah...’ Hyunjin trailed off with the slightest sniff, irritated at himself for getting so emotional at the drop of a hat. He squeezed Seungmin’s hands, silently thanking him for the comforting touch.
‘So,’ Seungmin continued lightly, ‘what were the other questions you had for me, hmm?’
Oh, right. The whole reason they were here in the first place. It was fortunate that Hyunjin had memorised his questions because he really didn’t want to let go of Seungmin’s hands. He wasn’t yet sure he wouldn’t start crying like the baby he apparently was if he did and he shook his head quickly to try and focus.
‘There are a couple,’ Hyunjin replied, coughing to clear his throat of the wobbly cobwebs clogging it. ‘Um, we can start with: what are the chances of something happening to me because of your work? Dating a hitman sounds pretty dangerous...’
Seungmin hummed contemplatively. ‘I can’t promise that nothing bad will ever happen, but I can say that it’s highly unlikely and if something were to happen, I’d either be there to keep you safe or I’d have made sure that you knew how to get yourself to safety. I would never leave you undefended.’
Hyunjin flushed at the sincerity in Seungmin’s lovely brown eyes. ‘Okay, okay,’ he said, nodding. ‘How often would you have to be away? And for how long? I can be pretty clingy and I’d get sad if you weren’t around much.’
The pout was totally, completely accidental. Really.
Despite a valiant effort, Seungmin melted at the expression. ‘I – well, I’d definitely be away a bit. But... not as often or as far as previously. I don’t ever want to make you sad, Hyunjinnie, but I can’t promise I’d be here every week. There’s plenty of work in Korea, though, so I could avoid going overseas most of the time.’
With a small smile, Hyunjin said, ‘We can compromise, find something in the middle, yeah?’
Seungmin nodded, face brightening in an almost puppy-like manner. ‘Of course.’
‘Okay, last question – are there any other assassin friends I need to know about who might pop in unexpectedly?’ Between Jeongin and Jisung, Hyunjin had had enough of surprise visits from professional murderers.
‘They’re not really my friends –’ Hyunjin frowned and Seungmin hastily changed track – ‘but no, Jinyoung-hyung would never be so rude as to show up unannounced, Nayeon-noona is, ah, very busy in Shanghai right now, and as far as I know Wonpil-hyung is still in Germany.’
‘You sure seem to know a lot about them for not being friends,’ the honey-haired boy murmured pointedly.
Seungmin wrinkled his nose in response, which was actually distractingly cute. ‘It’s part of the job,’ he countered, a note of petulance entering his tone.
‘I’m sure it is,’ Hyunjin cooed indulgently.
The redhead shot him a distinctly unimpressed look.
Hyunjin just smiled brightly, pink lips parting and eyes curving up into crescents. Seungmin’s hands twitched in his and he went a little red, though he did not look away.
‘So,’ Hyunjin said meaningfully, wiggling his eyebrows. ‘Now that we’ve got all the boring stuff out of the way...’
Seungmin looked blank for a second, clearly unsure of what the dancer was getting at and, judging by his face, thinking something quite alarming. Then his expression cleared and his eyes went wide again.
‘Oh!’ he exclaimed, louder than expected and probably drawing the attention of other patrons, but neither of them cared to check.
Hyunjin giggled, heart fluttering with delighted anticipation.
A hopeful smile unfurled across Seungmin’s face and he asked, softly but surely, ‘Will you go on a date with me, Hyunjinnie?’
Hyunjin beamed. ‘Only if you promise not to take me body-burying in the middle of the night.’
Surprised laughter burst out of Seungmin and his head tipped back, bright and unabashed in a way Hyunjin had rarely seen him. The sight made Hyunjin’s heart swell and he couldn’t help but hope he’d be able to coax such responses from Seungmin more often.
They set the date for Saturday, intending on an afternoon of milling around town, walking Kkami, visiting the art gallery (Seungmin hadn’t been yet), and snacking unhealthily before concluding with dinner at Hyunjin’s favourite restaurant. Hyunjin would’ve been happy to go on the date earlier but Seungmin had apologetically informed him he’d be busy with work until the weekend, so Saturday it was.
Late Friday evening saw Hyunjin snuggled up in his PJs, fluffy socks, and a thick blanket on his little couch, watching a rerun of one of his favourite dramas. He only had one children’s dance class to run tomorrow and it wasn’t until nine thirty, so he’d allowed himself to stay up late and indulge in some heartfelt, emotional bubble-gum before bed.
The episode was only a few minutes from finishing and his gaze was riveted to the screen when –
‘Accidentally in Love? A man of taste, I see.’
Hyunjin screeched and launched himself off the couch, promptly tangling in his blanket and crashing to the ground. Scrambling to get his hands under him, he rolled himself over with enough force to smack his shin into the low table holding the TV and yelped in pain. He ignored it, however, in favour of whipping his head up to see who’d broken into his apartment and shaved a solid ten years off his lifespan.
‘Hi,’ Han Jisung grinned, casually leaning against the back of Hyunjin’s couch, dark blue hair falling in his eyes and looking much more alive than he had last weekend.
Hyunjin sagged in relief, collapsing back onto the floor to let his heartrate settle, but tensed up again as he recalled just who Jisung was. Seungmin’s friend he might be, but Seungmin wasn’t here to protect Hyunjin now and Hyunjin’s faulty survival instincts flared, warning him to keep his guard up.
‘How did you get in?’ he asked as he sat up, distressed at the thought of the damage he might find. ‘Did you break my lock?’
Jisung raised a condescending brow at him and ignored the first question. ‘Of course not, do I look like an amateur?’
Aware the question was probably rhetorical but feeling sufficiently intimidated, Hyunjin answered, ‘No, you don’t.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ Jisung sniffed, nodding decisively before completely changing the topic. ‘Are you going to stay down there? It doesn’t look very comfy.’
‘Oh, right...’ Hyunjin quickly picked himself up off the floor and wrapped the blanket more securely around him. He switched off the TV and hesitantly approached the couch again, sitting as far from Jisung as he could. The assassin’s second brow likewise disappeared under his blue curtain of a fringe, but he didn’t comment.
Hyunjin cleared his throat a little nervously, hands tucked between his thighs, and said, ‘You’re, um, you’re looking better. Are you okay now?’
Showing too many teeth to really be considered smiling, Jisung hopped right over the back of the couch and perched on the armrest, facing Hyunjin.
‘Never better,’ he replied. ‘Which sort of relates to why I’m here.’
Hyunjin waited for Jisung to continue but the other boy was silent, peering very closely at Hyunjin’s face like he was looking for something.
At last he said, ‘Okay, so I’d rather have my teeth pulled without anaesthetic than say this but I owe you for picking me up off the roadside, even if you were going to bury me –’ Hyunjin winced – ‘and for convincing Minnie not to leave me zipped up in the body bag and tied to a tree.’
There was a second while Hyunjin’s brain processed that and then – ‘Uh, I don’t think he’d –’
‘No, he would.’ Jisung looked very serious as he nodded and repeated, ‘He would. I pissed him off on our last mission together and he holds grudges better than me.’
His gaze intense, Jisung continued, ‘We were sneaking out of this really fancy place in Shanghai and there was this big party happening on the floor below, right?’
Just smile and nod. Hyunjin’s face was a bit too frozen in shock for a smile but he nodded.
‘We were going along a balcony over top of the party and I saw this lady wearing a really nice nose ring, all silver and sparkly and definitely one of a kind. There was no way I was leaving without it so...’ Jisung shrugged in a what-can-you-do manner.
Hyunjin thought he should probably be less surprised that the assassin had risked it all for a pretty piece of jewellery.
‘Minnie would’ve shot me in the arm or something if he’d had time,’ Jisung continued, ‘but I was already over the balcony before he really knew what was happening. We had to shoot, like, fifteen more guards and steal a helicopter to get out but it was fine.’ He heaved a sigh, pouting. ‘Minnie’s probably still mad about it.’
Hyunjin took a split second to consider an appropriate response before asking, ‘Did you get the nose ring?’
Like someone had flicked a switch, Jisung’s pout disappeared and a dangerously charming smile blossomed. ‘I did,’ he said smugly. ‘I’m going to wear it the next time I’m in a dress for a job.’
Obviously never having seen Jisung in a dress, Hyunjin nonetheless had no doubt that the blue-haired boy would look anything less than utterly gorgeous. Heck. That was an unhelpfully distracting mental image. Heck.
‘But that’s not what we’re talking about!’ Jisung clapped for emphasis. ‘I really don’t like saying thanks but I like owing people even less so there you have it – thank you for not letting me die or Min leave me hog-tied in the middle of the road.’
‘You... really don’t owe me for that,’ Hyunjin interjected uneasily.
‘Oh, but I do,’ the assassin countered. ‘So, in return, I’ll answer you one question about anything Minnie won’t tell you about.’
Before Hyunjin could accept this, Jisung added, ‘You also got me landed in hospital, which is usually a crime punishable only by death but Minnie would never forgive me for that so, just this once, you’re getting a free pass.’ Jisung’s eyes gleamed. ‘Don’t do it again, though.’
‘I won’t,’ Hyunjin squeaked, kind of wishing he had his phone with him so he could send an SOS to Seungmin.
‘Good,’ Jisung said firmly. ‘Now that that’s out of the way –’ his tone lowered ominously – ‘what are your intentions towards Minnie-Min?’
‘I – what?’ Hyunjin choked, reeling at the abrupt subject change and the question.
‘You and Min are dating, right? You’re still doing that, yeah? Yeah? Thought so, knew you wouldn’t be scared off that quick. So what,’ he repeated impatiently, ‘are your intentions?’
Hyunjin gulped, hands clenching tightly in his blanket. Tongue darting out to wet his lips, he said quietly, ‘I – well, I just want him to be happy. With me. I want him to be with me... and happy.’
He flushed at his shitty, tongue-tied answer and Jisung snorted.
‘How disgustingly sappy,’ the blue-haired boy said, not sounding particularly disgusted. ‘Right, well, if you want to shack up with him, I have to make sure you’re up to the task.’
Sudden, awful scenarios sprang to life in Hyunjin’s mind of him having to prove his worth to Jisung by leaping out of a plane without a parachute, or climbing Hallasan in three hours while armed only with a toothbrush and a soup spoon, or being told to survive the night in his apartment building while Jisung hunted him, or –
‘Hey, calm the fuck down,’ the assassin in question interrupted, halting Hyunjin’s rapidly spiralling train of thought by snapping his fingers in front of the near-hyperventilating boy’s paling face. ‘Jeez. I’m not going to torture you or anything.’
Hyunjin hadn’t even considered that and he had to very forcefully beat his brain into submission so as not to start imagining electrocution and waterboarding and pliers and hammers. He took a few deep breaths before looking up at Jisung, embarrassed again.
‘Sorry,’ he mumbled.
The blue-haired boy waved his hand dismissively, already moving on. ‘Tell me – how much of his past has Minnie told you?’
Hyunjin thought back to his and Seungmin’s not-date that Wednesday and how Seungmin’s story-telling time had been forestalled rather decisively by the arrival of one Yang Jeongin. (Wait, had Jeongin found Jisung? Did Jisung know the black-haired boy was looking for him?)
‘Not very much,’ he replied at length. ‘He told me a bit about university and how things got... started. Nothing beyond that.’
Quite frankly, Hyunjin wasn’t sure he wanted to know any more than that.
Jisung rolled his eyes and sighed, the epitome of disappointed-but-not-surprised. ‘He probably gave you the sanitised version of that too. He must have mentioned the classmate who mugged, right? Did he tell you he inflicted the exact same injuries she’d received on her attacker? That he taped the guy’s confession on his own phone?’
Hyunjin couldn’t help the little gasp that slipped out of him and he shook his head. No, Seungmin had said nothing about that.
‘Of course not,’ Jisung muttered, rolling his eyes again. ‘Min would have you believe he’s perfectly noble, as morally upright as a killer-for-hire can be. No fuss, no muss. Get in, do the job, get out. And these days, that’s more or less true, he’s kinda boring most of the time. But a few years ago, when we were doing our first jobs together?’ The assassin whistled, long and low, a slow smile curling the corner of his mouth. ‘He was a lot more vengeful then.’
Hyunjin was pretty sure he should only be hearing this from Seungmin, not someone else. But what could do – tell Jisung to shut up and go away? Yeah, right.
Perhaps noticing Hyunjin’s trepidation, Jisung grinned wolfishly. ‘I’m hardly one to preach, but burying the past is a lot harder than burying a body. So make yourself comfy, we’re going to be here a while.’
That they surely were.
Hyunjin realised this was a test of his mettle halfway through the story about Seungmin and Jisung infiltrating some crooked business mogul’s skyscraper to assassinate him. (‘We had to garrotte him with a violin string. Only they were really old and kept snapping so Minnie made a braid out of three of them and used that. The guy had a seriously thick neck so Min was sawing for a while.’)
Hyunjin realised Jisung was seeing if he’d crack and flinch away from Seungmin’s past after the story about them taking out a gang kingpin and his henchmen at a busy train station. (‘Things go wrong sometimes, you know? This was the epitome of that. Five civilians were killed. Min and I are at least as responsible for that as the men we were after.’)
Hyunjin realised there was a lot more blood in Seungmin’s past than he’d dared even consider partway through the story in which the two assassins had been stuck on a mountain playing a lethal game of cat and mouse with fifteen enemy mercenaries for three days. (‘When you’re outnumbered that badly, you even the odds by any means necessary. We used poison. Did you know that if you ingest enough ricin your organs start violently, painfully giving up on you within a couple of hours?’)
Hyunjin realised he didn’t know Seungmin anywhere near as well as he thought he did halfway through the story about Seungmin locking six human traffickers in a shipping container and using the ship’s crane to drop them in the sea. (‘Usually, he handles survivors and I deal with clean-up duty, but it didn’t work out that way that time. No, I got the oh-so-enviable job of looking after twenty-odd traumatised kids while he had all the fun.’)
Hyunjin realised he wasn’t completely sure he was up for this as Jisung started the story starring them in a plane with a terrorist and a bomb. (‘We were supposed to keep the fucker alive but he reminded me so much of my brother I was ready to throw him out the emergency exit, mission be damned –’)
‘Wait, you have a brother?’ Hyunjin blurted in surprise, voice husky with tiredness (it had to be at least one a.m. by now). This was the first he’d heard mention of any siblings.
A frigid silence followed his words. Jisung’s face drained of colour between one heartbeat and the next and Hyunjin’s breath caught at the look in his eyes. Hyunjin hurried to backtrack but was immediately cut off as Jisung surged across the couch towards him. He toppled back with a squeak and froze as the blue-haired boy’s hands slammed into the armrest on either side of his head, caging him in. Jisung made no physical contact but stayed crouched low over Hyunjin’s rigid body, close enough that Hyunjin could count his individual eyelashes.
Jisung’s gaze darted erratically between Hyunjin’s eyes and his warm breath washed unevenly over Hyunjin’s face as he swallowed compulsively. The honey-haired boy did not blink, painfully aware that one wrong move now could get him killed.
In a voice that cracked at the edges with barely-supressed rage, Jisung snarled, ‘I do not.’
Jisung fought to regain control of himself, nostrils flaring, jaw clenching and relaxing, and Hyunjin lay quiescent. He watched the struggle playing out in the assassin’s expression and could not help but wonder at the intensity of Jisung’s anger, the almost defensive fury brimming within him.
It was a minute or more before the blue-haired boy calmed, releasing a strained breath through his nose and blinking as though to dispel a haze. He suddenly seemed to realise the position they were in – him looming, Hyunjin playing very dead.
‘Woops,’ Jisung said lightly, nimbly pushing himself up and withdrawing to his side of the couch, knees tucked under his chin.
Hyunjin took a second to just breathe, his pulse a pounding drum in his ears and his mouth dry. Fuck.
‘That’s not a nice subject and we’re not talking about it. Okay?’ Jisung continued, his usual, slightly-mocking tone firmly back in place.
Forcing his vocal cords into action, Hyunjin croaked, ‘Sure.’
He wasn’t suicidal; he knew when to back the fuck off, no matter how interesting a topic. Indulging in his curiosity about the aged, angry pain in Jisung’s eyes was so not worth what would undoubtedly follow. At the rate things was going, Hyunjin thought he’d be lucky not to have a heart attack before Jisung’s impromptu visit was done. Maybe he should just staple his mouth shut. Or –
Maybe not hang out with homicidal lunatics?
- cut out his tongue. Then he wouldn’t say stupid, insensitive things and have near-death experiences like this.
If I survive the rest of night, I’m asking Seungmin how to assassin-proof my front door, he thought distantly.
Clearly done with waiting for Hyunjin and his cardiovascular system to recover, Jisung nudged Hyunjin’s ankle with a socked foot.
‘Minnie will be angry at me if I’ve broken you,’ he said, voice just a touch softer, more cautious.
Hyunjin’s pride smarted and before he could rip his tongue out of his skull, he lifted his head and snapped, ‘But I don’t matter, right? Breaking me doesn’t even register compared to Seungmin being angry at you.’
His heart thudded in the renewed silence but there was no time for fear to coalesce, as Jisung was already saying interestedly, ‘Oh, Hyunjinnie has teeth?’
Way to twist the knife, jeez.
‘And maybe you haven’t noticed but I’m not really a friendly person,’ Jisung retorted, eyes narrowing. ‘It’s going to take more than you hauling my body off the side of the road and me paying you a house call for us to become BFFs, right?’
Hyunjin sat up, grouchy and tired and... drained. He crossed his arms and glared at Jisung, wishing he’d leave. The urge to strike back was strong, especially now that Hyunjin had a hot spot to target, but his survival instincts had finally woken the fuck up and turned his tongue to lead.
Thinking of something marginally safer to say, Hyunjin asked, ‘Why do you care so much about Seungmin?’ How close are you, really? ‘You said he used to be a lot more vengeful; did you, like, bond over killing people or something...?’
Jisung grinned. ‘That’s classified information.’
But Hyunjin had not forgotten the assassin’s words from earlier and he was well-used to throttling the voice in the back of his head, the one currently screaming at him to keep quiet and not piss off the capricious murderer on his couch.
So he said, ‘You promised me a question. For sa- helping you. You said I could ask about anything Seungmin wouldn’t answer.’
Hyunjin wasn’t sure what exactly he expected Jisung’s response to be but probably nothing good – certainly not tipping his head back and cackling with gay abandon.
‘Oh very good, Hyunjinnie, very good!’ The words might have been carried out on a peal of laughter but Jisung was showing too many teeth again and his eyes were sharp as blades.
Well, it’s a bit bloody late to be worrying about that now, Hyunjin thought, sincerely hoping the apparent mirth didn’t mean he was about to be sliced six ways to Sunday.
Laughter fading, Jisung cocked his head, blue bangs falling over his face. ‘Are you sure this is how you want to use your question?’ he asked. ‘There isn’t something more exciting to save it for?’
The fact that Jisung was trying to change Hyunjin’s mind was rather telling, in Hyunjin’s opinion. He wouldn’t be swayed, though.
‘I’m sure,’ was all he said.
‘Hmmm, well...’ Jisung rolled his head on his shoulders, cracking his neck and making Hyunjin wince. The assassin looked at the honey-haired boy with hooded eyes, head on an angle. ‘We certainly... bonded over our first mission together. It was my job but I was pretty green around the gills at the time, so I went looking for a suitable partner.’
How spectacularly unhelpful.
Jisung chewed the inside of his cheek, contemplating. ‘I found Minnie and... well, without him, the job would have killed me.’ He said this very matter-of-factly, lips twitching into a brief smirk at Hyunjin’s startled expression. Then he sighed quietly. ‘By societal standards, I should probably hate him or something.’
‘What did he do?’ Hyunjin ventured in a hushed voice. He groped for a titbit of information he’d gleaned last Saturday night. ‘Did – did he kill your father?’
Jisung shook his head. ‘I handled that years before I met Min.’
There was a pregnant pause.
The blue-haired boy’s eyes seemed to glitter under the shadow cast by his hair as he at last said, very softly, ‘He killed my brother.’
An extremely embarrassing eep of alarm escaped Hyunjin before he could contain it and his hands clutched instinctively at his blanket. Jisung had almost ripped him limb from limb for mentioning his brother barely ten minutes ago; was he about to fly off the handle again?
It seemed not, however, for the assassin only smirked again.
‘Minnie-Min could point at any person in the world and tell me to kill them and I would do it or die trying,’ Jisung said, sincerity laced through every word. ‘The debt I owe him is one that can never be repaid.’
Hyunjin gulped. That was... quite a statement. He didn’t know what to do with it. God, he almost wished he hadn’t asked. Jisung saved him from having to come up with a response by hopping off the couch a moment later.
‘Time for me to be going!’ he said brightly, bouncing on his toes and not looking like he’d just sucker-punched Hyunjin’s entire perception of Seungmin. ‘You have a date tomorrow – er, today and it’d be a shame if you fell asleep halfway through.’
Reeling from the whiplash of the subject change (again), Hyunjin did not think to question how Jisung knew about the date. Nor did he think anything of Jisung’s comment about falling asleep, aside from mild indignation – he’d’ve been in bed ages ago if not for a certain someone breaking in. So Hyunjin simply rubbed his eyes, befuddled with sleepiness, and nodded meaninglessly.
‘So soon?’ he mumbled sarcastically, blearily looking up at the young man before him.
Jisung snickered, pulling up the hood of his camo-print hoody. ‘Innie’s in the building, can’t let him catch me yet.’
‘Sure, please lock the door on your – Wait, Innie? Innie like Jeongin?’ Suddenly Hyunjin was wide awake again.
Jisung was already halfway to the door and he cackled delightedly as Hyunjin stumbled in his haste to get off the couch and follow him.
‘Stand here long enough and you’ll find out. See you ‘round, Hyunjinnie~’ Jisung said in a singsong voice, waving and slipping out the door.
Hyunjin pushed it open before the door could swing shut and stuck his head around it to see Jisung hightailing it down the dimly lit corridor to the stairs. He stared even after the assassin was gone, the night’s events slowly catching up with him, and jumped when he heard a particularly emphatic expletive from the other end of the hall.
Whipping his head around, he squeaked, ‘Jeongin?’
Indeed, the olive-eyed boy was sprinting towards him, dressed all in black and looking distinctly ruffled.
‘How long since he left?’ Jeongin hissed, skidding to a halt inches from Hyunjin’s blanket-wrapped form. ‘He took the stairs, right?’
‘Uh,’ Hyunjin managed, brain stalling. As the glint in Jeongin’s eyes turned decidedly murderous, he hastily nodded, continuing, ‘You only missed him by a minute –’
Jeongin was already darting away, running surprisingly silently to the stairwell door, ripping it open, and throwing himself inside like a man possessed. It shut with a gentle snick behind him.
Hyunjin loitered in his doorway for another minute, in case anyone else felt like putting in a surprise appearance. All remained quiet, however, and he went back inside, making sure the apparently-not-assassin-proof lock was set. Slightly numb, the honey-haired boy flicked off the lights around his apartment and noodled off to bed. Kkami, bless his precious soul, didn’t look like he’d stirred once despite all the commotion. Hyunjin made sure the alarm on his phone was set and groaned softly at how late it was.
Without really thinking about it, he opened his Kakaotalk app and pulled up his and Seungmin’s conversation, ready to give the redhead the lowdown on what had just happened. His thumbs hovered over the keyboard, hesitating unexpectedly.
Hyunjin pursed his lips, staring at his phone, staring at their previous messages, staring at the little icon that showed Seungmin’s smiling face.
In silence, he closed the app, plugged the charger into his phone, and set it down on the bedside table. Then he went to sleep.
Hyunjin sat on a stool in his apartment’s tiny bathroom, trying not to fidget as he stared straight up at the light above the mirror while Minho carefully applied liner to his lower lash line.
‘Okay, you can blink,’ the older dancer said, leaning back.
Hyunjin relaxed and blinked twice, resisting the urge to rub his eyes.
‘Hmm... Not bad,’ Minho muttered critically. ‘Right, let’s do the other eye.’
The honey-haired boy sighed very quietly before straightening and tilting his head back again.
‘You know,’ Minho said, delicately lining Hyunjin’s right eye, ‘I’d happily teach you the basics so you could apply your own makeup, Jinnie. Or you could watch, like, a YouTube tutorial.’
‘But then I’d have to buy a hundred tiny brushes and learn what they’re all for and practise,’ Hyunjin replied, managing a slight pout without moving too much. He flashed Minho a blinding smile as the elder stepped back. ‘Why go through all that trouble when I have you?’
Minho huffed exasperatedly, exchanging eyeliner for mascara. ‘You’re lucky you’re cute, Hwang Hyunjin, or I swear I’d leave you to fend for yourself.’
Hyunjin giggled. ‘You’re the best, hyung.’
‘Hmmm, am I now? I would have thought that title belonged to Seungmin.’ He laughed his patented witch cackle as Hyunjin spluttered weakly, before directing the younger to look up again.
‘Well, you’ll always be my favourite hyung,’ Hyunjin mumbled, trying not to flinch away from the mascara stick.
‘You’re just saying that because I could stab you in the eye right now,’ Minho retorted, hand staying steady.
Hyunjin made a strangled sound of protest. ‘You wound me, hyung.’
‘Not yet I don’t,’ the elder threatened.
Fortunately, the final touches of Hyunjin’s makeup were completed without any bloodshed. As soon as Minho moved away, the younger dancer stood and checked himself out in the mirror, gasping in delight. His eyelids shimmered, his lips were soft and pink, and his skin was smooth and even.
‘Oh, hyung, you’ve done such a good job!’ Hyunjin exclaimed, tilting his head from side to side to admire Minho’s work.
Minho grinned, pleased, as he packed away his colourful collection of brushes and powders and creams. ‘Should be enough for a stuffy work gala, that’s for sure. And with that suit? You’ll be the beau of the ball, Jinnie.’
Hyunjin hummed. He wasn’t quite sure he wanted to be the beau of the ball tonight because, yes, the gala he and Seungmin were going to tonight was going to be full of Seungmin’s... colleagues. In the two months that he and Seungmin had been dating, Hyunjin had been doing quite well at avoiding anything related to boyfriend’s work and he liked it that way. Still, tonight’s event was important for Seungmin to attend, apparently, and what kind of a partner would Hyunjin be if he didn’t go as Seungmin’s date? The assassin had also promised everyone there would be on, if not their best behaviour, then at least half decent behaviour.
‘Alright, alright, you can preen later, you peacock,’ Minho scolded, lightly smacking Hyunjin’s arm. ‘Your ride’s due here in ten minutes and you haven’t finished getting dressed.’
‘Oh right!’ Hyunjin squeaked, whirling away from the mirror, almost slipping in his socks, and diving out into the main room without quite falling over.
He flushed as Minho cackled again, continuing more sedately to his bedroom. Kkami, who was curled up in his basket in the corner, perked up at Hyunjin’s arrival and yipped at him.
‘Hello, baby,’ Hyunjin cooed, making a kissy face at his beloved dog as he swiped the thin red silk tie draped neatly over his chest of drawers. ‘Doesn’t Hyunjinnie look nice tonight, hmm? Do you think I look handsome, Kkami?’
Kkami barked again, trotting around the bed to sniff at Hyunjin’s ankles.
‘That’s right, darling, Hyunjinnie looks even more beautiful than usual and it’s all thanks to Minho-hyung,’ the dancer continued, carefully tying the tie in as neat a knot as he could manage under the collar of his crisp white shirt. ‘Well, this suit probably helps too and that’s all thanks to Seungminnie.’
This was true – there was no legal way in which Hyunjin would be able to afford a suit as nice as the one he was wearing. When he’d brought this up after Seungmin asked him to accompany the no-longer-so-red-haired assassin to the gala – ‘there’s only so long I can stand to be in Jisung and Jeongin’s presence without stabbing someone, please don’t make me suffer through another one of these dratted things alone’ – Seungmin had not been concerned. In fact, he’d simply asked for Hyunjin’s measurements and exactly a week later, a large, fancily-wrapped box had arrived at the front desk for one Hwang Hyunjin.
Inside had been the scrumptious black velvet suit, white shirt, and red tie he was wearing now. It’d even included shiny new dress shoes.
When Hyunjin had accordingly had a minor breakdown over how much it all must have cost, Seungmin told him to think of it like an investment. There were odd occasions – perhaps several times a year – that Seungmin had to attend grand events like this for reasons other than assassinating someone. As his long-standing date, Hyunjin required appropriate attire. Hence the ridiculously expensive, very handsome suit.
Finished with the tie, he slipped on the velvet jacket and fastened the two silver-and-pearl buttons, which matched the simple, slender drop earring he’d chosen for tonight. Reaching into his little in-set wall closet, Hyunjin retrieved the original box in which he’d kept the shoes, determined to keep them pristine.
Kkami, of course, was endlessly fascinated by the new shoes. Hyunjin yelped in horror when he turned back around after putting the empty box back, seeing Kkami with one of the shoelaces in his mouth.
‘No, no, no,’ he rushed out, quickly scooping up the little dog and depositing him in his basket. ‘No chewing on those, okay? They probably cost as least as much as you did.’
Hyunjin’s phone buzzed atop the drawers just as he finished tying his laces. He checked it and called, ‘Hyung, are you ready to go? Seungmin said they’re waiting outside.’
Minho appeared in the doorway, bag slung over his shoulder. ‘I’m good to go,’ he said, before whistling and ostensibly checking Hyunjin out. ‘Wow, aren’t you looking fancy~’
Hyunjin grinned and did a cheesy “cool guy” pose, making Minho snort with laughter. Then, grabbing his phone, wallet, and keys and burying them deep in his pockets, Hyunjin blew a goodbye kiss to Kkami before leading the way out.
‘Who else is going with you and Seungmin?’ Minho asked a they exited the lift at the ground floor and made their way across the lobby.
‘Oh, just a couple of his work friends. I’ve met them once or twice before and they’re... nice.’
Smooth, Hwang, smooth.
Minho opened his mouth to ask another question but they’d reached the doors and, upon stepping out into the cool evening air, his eyes went as wide as Hyunjin’s just had and he froze. Hyunjin audibly choked.
On their side of the road, parked and waiting, was a limousine. Sleek, shiny, black.
Just like my shoes, Hyunjin thought faintly.
But the flash car – attracting astonished looks from passers-by – was only the half the spectacle. The other half were the three people lounging around outside it.
First was Jeongin, leaning against the side of the limo, looking very haughty with his black hair swept back and his cheekbones sharp enough to cut the unwary. The black-lined, white suit he was wearing complete the look, rather than made it.
Next was Jisung, who was ignoring the onlookers and staring critically up at the apartment building, hands on his hips. Jisung, who was wearing a long, black, halter-neck dress, the lower half of the skirt speckled with sparks of silver thread. Intimidated as Hyunjin still felt by Jisung – as he had ever since that fateful late-night visit – there was no denying what a striking image the blue-haired assassin cut.
And then there was Seungmin, coolly adjusting the cuffs of his double-breasted, dark red suit jacket, the shade matching Hyunjin’s tie. It also highlighted the fading red in his hair and generally made him look incredibly, stupidly handsome, which in turn made Hyunjin feel weak at the knees. The way the light from the nearby street lamp cut shadows across Seungmin’s profile only made it worse, giving him an air of tightly-contained strength.
Hyunjin swallowed through a suddenly dry throat.
‘What kind of work did you say Seungmin does?’ Minho muttered incredulously, still staring.
‘Uh, well –’
Whichever half-baked excuse Hyunjin was about to fumble with died on his lips as Jisung caught sight of him and grinned that unsettlingly wide grin of his, teeth glittering.
‘Hyunjinnie!’ he called, striding towards the steps and oh god, the dress had a thigh slit and Jisung was in high heels.
‘Hi, Jisung,’ Hyunjin managed, voice cracking embarrassingly at the end.
‘Haven’t you cleaned up well,’ the blue-haired assassin purred, giving him a slow onceover. His eyes – pale blue-grey for the night and thickly lined in black – flicked to Minho and his smile took a turn for the charming. ‘Hello there, beautiful, who might you be?’
Some of the awe faded from Minho’s expression and he raised an unimpressed brow. ‘Hyunjin’s best friend, Lee Minho, who is about to go home and share a glass of wine with his devoted boyfriend.’
Jisung pouted. ‘Why are the pretty ones always taken?’ he lamented to no-one in particular.
‘Han, stop flirting with everyone and get in the car,’ Seungmin said in exasperation, climbing the stairs to meet them.
The blue-haired boy’s protests were soundly ignored until Jeongin came over and chivvied him away. Minho bid the others farewell, winking at Hyunjin as he told him to enjoy himself. Hyunjin and Seungmin engaged in a battle of compliments and only stopped when Jeongin’s head popped out of the limo again to yell at them for taking so long.
A minute later, all four young men were inside the car (which was just as posh inside as outside) and on their way to... wherever the hell the gala was happening.
‘Wow,’ Hyunjin murmured to himself as he settled back on the butter-soft leather seating, looking around the elongated car. Seungmin was sat next to him and the other two, who were currently arguing about what music to play, were opposite him.
Seungmin smiled slightly at him. ‘Kwangsik likes his guests to feel both special and honoured. He sends a limousine every year.’
‘Kwangsik? Is he who’s throwing the gala?’ Hyunjin asked.
‘You haven’t even told him about Kwangsik?’ Jisung interrupted, making no attempt to be subtle about the fact that he’d been eavesdropping. He didn’t give Seungmin an opportunity to reply, immediately continuing, ‘Moon Kwangsik is a very powerful, very wealthy man, all boring business stuff as far as the public’s concerned. He hires people like us –’ Jisung gestured to himself and the other two assassins in the car – ‘an awful lot, though. We humour him and show up to this party he throws every year because he pays well and the food’s good.’
‘Oh.’ Hyunjin chewed on that for a moment. ‘Does that mean I’m going to be the only, uh, civilian there tonight?’
‘Yes,’ Jeongin and Jisung replied simultaneously.
Shooting a glare at them, Seungmin took Hyunjin’s hand and squeezed it gently. ‘You don’t need to worry about that,’ he promised. ‘People will see you come in with us and assume you’re new blood.’
‘And if they realise otherwise, they won’t bother you anyway because that would amount to bothering one of us,’ Jisung said.
‘We’re all supposed to be friendly with each other for the whole night,’ Jeongin added, rolling his eyes.
‘Isn’t that a good thing?’ Hyunjin asked, bewildered. ‘Would a gala even be possible if you were all being unfriendly?’
‘Boring,’ Jeongin sniffed and promptly changed the music from something heavy and full of aggressive rap to a cheerful, vaguely familiar song sung by a girl group Hyunjin couldn’t place but Minho would have immediately known.
‘Yah!’ Jisung rounded on the black-haired boy and resumed wrestling him for the remote.
‘Don’t ruin your dress,’ Seungmin interjected drily.
The blue-haired boy levelled a disdainful look his way and Jeongin took advantage of his distraction to slide out of reach, promptly burying himself in a phone game. ‘You think I can’t fight in a dress, Minnie? Is that what this is?’
‘I think you’re being way too dramatic for this early in the evening,’ Seungmin shot back.
‘You could have just taken a separate car,’ Jisung retorted.
‘Do I look like I was born yesterday? You’d have smuggled a submachine gun in if I hadn’t stopped you.’
‘Wait, wait – you guys are armed?’ Hyunjin interrupted, eyes wide.
Jisung snorted. ‘Obviously. Everyone will be.’
‘No, but they won’t know that either,’ Seungmin soothed, stroking his thumb over the back of Hyunjin’s hand. ‘They’ll just think you’re really good at hiding your weapons.’
Hyunjin was not reassured in the slightest. ‘What if someone whips out a gun or a knife or – or, I don’t know, a teaspoon? What do I do then?’
‘In the unlikely instance that something like that happens when I’m not with you, tell them you’re Min’s boyfriend,’ Seungmin said calmly. ‘Anyone who touches you after that will get what’s coming to them.’
Jisung cackled. ‘Chill out, Hyunjinnie, no-one’s going to pick a fight with Min by messing with you, not least because they’d be picking a fight with Innie and me too.’
‘Oh.’ Hyunjin blinked in surprise, glancing at Jeongin.
Patting Jeongin’s knee, Jisung leaned forward and said in a stage whisper, ‘Innie likes to pretend he’s aloof from all this but he’s secretly soft as marshmallow on the inside.’
‘I will break your nose ring,’ Jeongin said without missing a beat, eyes and thumbs still glued to his phone game.
Jisung squawked and recoiled, one hand rising protectively to his nose. He said something but Hyunjin was distracted by the jewellery there that he’d somehow missed until now. There was a moderately large silver hoop through one of Jisung’s nostrils, beautifully decorated with black crystals and silver droplets. He could see why a magpie like Jisung would like it so much.
‘Is that –?’ Hyunjin cut off abruptly, remembering that Seungmin had no idea about Jisung having told him any of the stories from his past.
Jisung smirked knowingly at him. ‘Yep,’ he replied.
Seungmin raised a brow at their truncated exchange and Hyunjin’s stomach knotted anxiously. He shouldn’t have mentioned it, goddammit.
‘You know about Han’s nose ring?’ Seungmin asked, a little too forced to be casual.
Hyunjin did not lick his lips, knowing that would give away his nerves as though he’d shouted them to the heavens. Jisung met his wide-eyed gaze, calculating and watchful.
Silently begging Jisung for help, Hyunjin murmured, ‘Sure I do.’
‘There’s quite a story behind it,’ Seungmin said cautiously, looking at him like he was an unexpectedly tricky puzzle to solve. ‘When did you hear that?’
‘Last time we met,’ Jisung lied, breezily saving Hyunjin’s ass.
Seungmin frowned in confusion. ‘I was with you both the whole time and I didn’t hear that.’
‘Maybe you weren’t paying attention,’ Jisung replied.
‘Oh, look at that,’ Jeongin suddenly spoke up, sounding bored and not, in fact, looking anywhere except his phone screen. ‘Have we arrived?’
Hyunjin whipped his head around to stare out the window behind him (the one behind Jisung and Jeongin showed only a rapidly darkening sky, shadowy hills, and the distant lights of the city).
It seemed Jeongin was correct – the limo was meandering up a long driveway towards an immense Western-style house. The house was three stories high and blazing with warm yellow light. Hyunjin regarded it with awe, recognising its might and grandeur. As they got closer to the entrance, he saw a large round fountain was situated in the middle of the gravel turning circle and a slow procession of cars (some limousines, some not) going past it as they dropped off their occupants.
‘Holy shit,’ Hyunjin breathed.
Seungmin hummed quietly beside him but did not say anything.
When it was their turn to stop, Seungmin opened the door and exited first, holding out a hand for Hyunjin to take as he followed him. The honey-haired boy accepted, smoothly intertwining their fingers. He looked back to see the other two get out of the car and, in his periphery, noticed the red-coated assassin quietly watching him.
A thrill ran over Hyunjin’s skin and he repressed a shiver. Seungmin knew he was keeping something from him.
‘Looks as pompous as ever,’ Jisung declared, striding past them to the stone steps, dress rippling dramatically, Jeongin half a step behind him and looking a bit like a bodyguard. ‘Come on, you two!’
The gala started pleasantly enough.
Upon arriving at the grand main entrance, Hyunjin and the others were politely directed to follow the other guests down a long hallway, wide enough for the four of them to walk abreast with little trouble if they so chose. All manner of artworks lined the walls between the doors leading off the corridor and great, sparkling chandeliers lit the way. The hall led them around a sharp corner and there, just a couple of hundred metres away, was an immense pair of wide open engraved wooden doors, manned by two smartly dressed servants. Beyond the doors was what could only be the ballroom.
‘Try not to gape quite so obviously, Hyunjin-ssi,’ Jeongin stage-whispered, interrupting the dancer’s train of thought.
Hyunjin blinked, briefly startled, before he realised that he was making his awe pretty obvious. He quickly schooled his expression to something cooler, more indifferent.
Jeongin smiled, entirely too reminiscent of Jisung. ‘You’ve been practising, I see.’
Before Hyunjin could confirm or deny that, Jisung tugged on Jeongin’s jacket sleeve. ‘Time to go in,’ he said, nearly vibrating with excitement.
Wordlessly, Jeongin held his crooked arm out and Jisung tucked a small hand around the top of his forearm, making no other contact. Looking very regal, the pair swept forward to join the fast-flowing stream of people passing through the double doors.
‘Well,’ Seungmin murmured at Hyunjin’s side. As the dancer glanced at him, Seungmin untangled their hands and offered his elbow with a light smile. ‘Shall we?’
Hyunjin felt a rush of affection for his boyfriend surge through him and he beat down his insidious nerves. This would be fine, Seungmin wouldn’t have brought him here tonight if anything bad was liable to happen.
Everything would be fine.
‘Yeah, let’s go,’ he replied, eye smile curving into existence as he slipped his arm through Seungmin’s.
(Hyunjin probably should have known better than to harbour such a naïve belief when all of the guests except him was either as chaotic as Jisung, as quick to strike as Jeongin, or as coolly vengeful as Seungmin. The trouble was, he didn’t want to know better.)
Upon entering the ballroom, Hyunjin saw that there was at least a hundred people here already, which was a lot more than he’d expected. Two sweeping flights of stairs framed the far wall, leading up to a balcony that ran around the room and to which a few people had already moved. Between the staircases was a long table draped with a plum-coloured cloth and lavishly laden with food. Over to the left, on a small podium, a quintet of musicians was seated, playing something cheerful and likely three hundred plus years old. The low buzz of many mingling conversations filled the air.
Indeed, for a bunch of assassins, Hyunjin had expected something a bit more... alarming than this. He unconsciously relaxed against Seungmin’s side and the dark-haired boy smiled.
‘Do you want something to drink?’ Seungmin asked, nodding to several people as he and Hyunjin slowly walked around the room.
The honey-haired boy nodded. ‘That would be nice,’ he said, a few stray butterflies flitting to life in his stomach at the sight of all these new, dangerous people.
Seungmin lifted his free hand and made a beckoning gesture to no one in particular. Hyunjin wasn’t very surprised when, barely a moment later, a server appeared beside them, silver tray laden with flutes of champagne.
‘Can I help you, sirs?’ they asked.
‘We’ll just take two of these,’ Seungmin responded, lifting two of the thin glasses from her tray and handing one to Hyunjin.
The server bowed slightly and disappeared as quickly as they’d come.
Hyunjin sipped his drink and hummed delightedly. ‘This is good!’ he exclaimed. ‘I don’t really like champagne but – I’ll make an exception for this, I think.’
‘That’s because it’s the best of the best,’ Seungmin said, amused.
Hyunjin rolled his eyes. ‘Of course, nothing less than perfection for you guys.’
Seungmin laughed softly. ‘Well, when money’s no issue, why not, right?’
The doors to the ballroom shut a few minutes later and when the piece they were playing finished, the quintet did not start a new one. Everyone fell reasonably quiet, turning to face the end of the hall. Hyunjin was instantly anxious again but Seungmin squeezed his arm reassuringly.
Then a rounded, not-quite-elderly man who could only be Moon Kwangsik appeared on the balcony and halfway descended the left staircase. In a surprisingly light voice for a tone so commanding, he greeted the gathering below – some two hundred people by now – and bid them enjoy their evening. He also entreated them not to indulge in wanton havoc, for he would send the bill to whoever broke anything more than a wine glass.
A quiet wave of snickering – nothing as refined as actual laughing or, heaven forbid, tittering – ran around the room. Then Kwangsik waved his hand and the quintet started back up. As Kwangsik completed his stately descent, conversation sprang back up, some people taking advantage of the buffet and sitting down at one of the little round tables set up on the right.
Hyunjin felt a breath of cold air brush past him, turned, and saw that a large stone balcony near the musicians had been opened up. The night sky seemed pitch black, but he knew that if he went out there, it’d probably be faintly lit by the ever-present glow that came with living near a city.
Both young men turned sharply at the call. A woman in a slinky white dress was striding towards them, long hair pinned up and wide grin revealing perfect teeth.
‘Lisa,’ Seungmin replied, less loudly, a slight smile creeping over his face. This woman was not an enemy, then.
‘I haven’t seen you since you were last in Bangkok,’ Lisa tsked, swooping in to press a kiss against his cheek before springing back.
Hyunjin noticed they both kept their hands very still when she did that and close to their bodies too. He wondered if it was to not give the impression of going in for an attack.
‘And who’s this?’ Lisa asked, turning to beam at Hyunjin.
‘Ah, this is my boyfriend, Hyunjin,’ Seungmin said proudly. ‘Hyunjin, this is Lisa. She’s usually based in Thailand but comes over every year for the gala.’
‘A pleasure to meet you,’ Hyunjin said, bowing politely.
Lisa inclined her head in response, smile never wavering. It was a bit intimidating and Hyunjin grip on his champagne flute tightened.
‘The pleasure is all mine, Hyunjin-ssi,’ she replied. ‘Min did well to snag someone as handsome as you, didn’t he? That suit looks very fine on you.’
Usually not a big fan of compliments on his looks from strangers, Hyunjin now took slight comfort in the familiar. ‘Thank you,’ he murmured.
‘And you, of course, are wearing white,’ Seungmin directed at Lisa, rolling his eyes good-naturedly.
Lisa’s eyes were heavy-lidded, dangerous like an unnoticed snake in the grass. ‘Of course,’ she echoed. ‘Would you expect anything else?’
Hyunjin’s puzzlement must have shown on his face because Lisa’s attention flicked to him an instant later.
‘I like white,’ she purred, eyelids lowering further still as goosebumps rippled up the honey-haired boy’s arms. ‘It makes a good canvas, no? Colours show up so nicely on it. Especially red. Red looks beautiful on white.’
Hyunjin... took a second to understand what she was alluding to.
Then it clicked it and – don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it – he flinched. The action was minute, he caught himself almost as soon as he started, but it happened and both assassins noticed it. Lisa’s grin twitched a little wider and Seungmin went very still beside him.
Before Hyunjin could panic that he’d royally fucked everything up, Seungmin said, polite but unyielding, ‘My congratulations to Rosé and you on your baby.’
Something that might have been shock flitted over Lisa’s face, gone as quickly as it had come.
‘There are others I need to greet, so we will excuse ourselves now,’ he continued. ‘Have a good night, Lisa.’ Seungmin did not wait for her response, instead turning and dragging Hyunjin away with him.
‘What was that about?’ Hyunjin hissed, once he thought they were out of earshot, trying not to crack the stem of the fragile glass in his hand. Speaking of which, he could seriously do with a drink right about now and promptly drained half of it in one go.
‘Are you alright?’ Seungmin asked quietly, ignoring Hyunjin’s question as they came to a halt near one of the gold-leaf wall engravings. He met Hyunjin’s eyes, unexpectedly intense.
Hyunjin’s emotions were having difficulty keeping up with everything and he was swinging wildly between confusion, irritation, and an unpleasant degree of fear.
‘I – I don’t know,’ he snapped, before immediately wilting and apologising. ‘Shit, I’m sorry, I just –‘ Come on, Hwang, you’ve been ignoring this crap for two months, keep it together – ‘I’m sorry if I embarrassed you back there. Is Lisa likely to tell everyone?’
‘What?’ Seungmin looked bewildered. ‘You didn’t embarrass me, what are you – How did you even - Is Lisa going to tell everyone what?’
Confusion reigned supreme. ‘I flinched,’ Hyunjin said slowly. ‘I was worried that that would, I don’t know, reflect badly on you.’
Seungmin heaved an immense sigh. ‘Hyunjin, I didn’t get you away from her as quickly as possible because I was worried about me, I was worried about you.’ He glanced briefly around before continuing in an undertone, ‘And don’t worry about Lisa – any temptation she may or may not have had to spread rumours will have been soundly squashed by what I said to her.’
‘It’s fairly common knowledge that she has a partner, Rosé, but them having adopted a child? That’s very new and she’s trying to keep it under wraps,’ Seungmin explained patiently. ‘She knows I won’t mention it to anyone else as long as she returns the favour.’
‘Tit for tat,’ Hyunjin summed up faintly. ‘Right.’ Cool. Part of him wondered if anything would ever push them to a stage like that in their relationship but he suppressed the thought by inelegantly gulping down the rest of his champagne.
Seungmin eyed him warily. ‘Are you sure you’re alright?’
‘I’m fine,’ the honey-haired boy said, hating himself for how easily the lie rolled off his tongue. He quickly changed the subject before Seungmin could call him on it. ‘Didn’t you say you need to say hi to other people? We should get going with that, right, to at least pretend that cover story was real.’
The next couple of hours were an interesting experience for Hyunjin. He drained no less than three more champagne glasses, tried to balance the alcohol out with unrecognisably exotic finger food, smiled politely when Seungmin introduced him to new people, and kept half an eye on Jisung and Jeongin’s shenanigans. (He was pretty sure he saw Jisung threaten someone with a cheese knife while Jeongin cackled like a hyena in the background.)
Most of the assorted assassins Seungmin made conversation with were less... unnerving than Lisa. Hyunjin supposed this was probably a deliberate action on his boyfriend’s part – the dancer’s reaction to Lisa had hardly been subtle. He really wasn’t sure why it’d unsettled him so much. It had just been so unexpected.
Well, it shouldn’t have been, Hyunjin thought crossly to himself, outwardly smiling politely at the particularly beautiful man – Jaehyung? Jaebum? – currently telling them about an armed chase he’d partaken of on a snowmobile in Switzerland last year. What did I think she’d say, that it looked like strawberries and cream?
But it wasn’t even that it had been unanticipated – the real problem was that it had been a stark reminder of what was considered normal by these people. People like Jisung and Jeongin.
While the young man in question made a reply concerning exactly how the feline-featured assassin had started an avalanche and outrun it, Hyunjin simply watched him talk. Watched how at ease Seungmin was with this, how naturally it came to him. It couldn’t be more obvious that he was completely in his element.
Hyunjin, meanwhile, was so on edge that if anyone tapped him on the shoulder unexpectedly there was zero chance of him not jumping a foot in the air. And wasn’t that just peachy? His first real taste of Seungmin’s world and he wanted to fly like a bat out of hell.
I need to talk to Seungmin about this. The thought was an unpleasant one – Hyunjin had been avoiding all possible discussions about his boyfriend’s professional life since that godforsaken night Jisung had paid him a late-night house call. But Hyunjin didn’t want to be the reason their fledgling relationship collapsed in on itself.
Time to put your big boy boots on, Hwang, he thought, internally hyping himself up.
He cleared his throat, felt Jaebum – surely his name was Jaebum – and Seungmin’s attention promptly shift to him, and opened his mouth to –
‘There you are, Min!’
Hyunjin managed not to jump but he definitely heard his empty glass crack.
A very tall, very skinny man with cherry-red hair and eyes as dark as Jeongin’s appeared next to Jaebum (Hyunjin had made an executive decision that his name was Jaebum unless proven otherwise). He smiled widely at Seungmin, glancing only briefly at Hyunjin, and clapped a hand on Jaebum’s shoulder. Jaebum side-eyed the newcomer but made no move other than to shove his hand away.
‘Hello, Yanan,’ Seungmin said, wary even to Hyunjin’s untrained eyes, which wasn’t promising.
‘Pardon the interruption,’ the pale giant named Yanan said, his eyes as dead as his grin was bright, ‘but I heard about your last mark in Gimpo and –’ he whistled – ‘the thing with the chopsticks and his eyes? Didn’t think you still had it in you, Min, I’m impressed.’
Chopsticks and his eyes.
There really weren’t many things that could mean.
Hyunjin was going to be sick. If Yanan said another word, Hyunjin was going to vomit right here right now. He saw Seungmin’s alarmed face in his periphery but could not bring himself to look at him. Instead, he accidentally caught Jaebum’s gaze and the assassin’s eyes widened slightly.
‘Toilet. Where’s the toilet?’ Hyunjin gasped, in no way sounding okay.
Speaking loudly to drown out whatever Seungmin started to say, Jaebum said, ‘I was about to go there myself, let me show you,’ and reached out to grab Hyunjin’s wrist, towing him away.
Seungmin called out behind him but Hyunjin didn’t look back, too busy trying to keep his stomach under control. For whatever reason, Seungmin did not follow them.
‘Give me that,’ Jaebum muttered, snatching the cracked glass from Hyunjin’s limp grip and depositing it on the nearest server’s tray.
He led Hyunjin under the left side staircase and through a door that bore a bronze plaque engraved with the English letters WC – fuck knew what that meant – into a spacious bathroom. There was a wall of mirrors set above stone counters and sinks to one side and a row of tidy stalls to the other, all of which were presently empty, thank Christ.
Hyunjin tore his arm out of Jaebum’s slackening grasp and dived into one of the stalls, crashing to his knees and retching into the porcelain bowl.
...the thing with chopsticks...
His stomach was rolling it had been kicked off a cliff. He retched again.
...and his eyes?
Oh god, he regretted everything about tonight, he wished he’d stayed home. Just watching horror films was too much for him, what the hell was he doing living in one?
Didn’t think you still had it in you, Min...
If this wasn’t damning evidence that Seungmin and Hyunjin were from completely separate worlds, he didn’t know what the fuck was.
Flushing the toilet when it seemed his stomach was done staging its coup, Hyunjin staggered to his feet and out to the row of sinks. He was mildly surprised that Jaebum was still there, even more so when the assassin silently handed a freshly-dampened hand towel. Hyunjin accepted it gratefully nonetheless and mopped at his face, doing his best not to smear makeup all over the cloth or himself. He rinsed his mouth out with tap water – given, well, everything, this little faux pas would surely be forgiven – about ten times.
Then he just stood there, leaning heavily on his hands against the edge of the counter, panting slightly.
He met Jaebum’s feline eyes in the mirror. ‘Not to be ungrateful, but why are you being so nice to me?’
Jaebum stuck his hands in the pockets of his neatly pressed trousers and shrugged lazily. ‘I owe Min a small favour. The way I see it, this is a good way to repay it.’
Hyunjin sighed quietly, letting his eyes fall shut and his head drop. ‘Well. Thank you,’ he murmured, voice raw.
‘No problem. Yanan is one creepy fucker, that’s for sure.’
The dancer hummed, keeping his eyes shut. ‘Jaebum-ssi, would you mind leaving? I’d... like a minute to myself.’
‘Sure.’ A brief pause, then: ‘I’ll keep everyone else out too.’
‘Thank you very much,’ Hyunjin whispered.
He waited until he heard the door softly click shut behind Jaebum before opening his eyes and looking up to stare at his reflection. If one ignored the defeated expression painted across his face, he didn’t look like he’d just tried to hurl his guts up.
Didn’t think you still had it in you, Min...
Hyunjin shuddered and dropped his gaze to the black-veined marble counter, trying to lose himself in the snaking tendrils. Jisung had told him Seungmin used to be a lot more vengeful than he was now – but what Yanan had just alluded to? That didn’t sound like someone who’d mellowed.
What was I expecting? The thought was tinged with desperation. He’s an assassin. You knew that when you agreed to this relationship.
Of course he’d never been confronted by the reality of what that might entail until tonight. And sure, maybe Seungmin was dealing out justice to people who deserved it, according to his own slightly warped moral compass, but what the fuck? Did that?? Even mean???
What if one day Hyunjin did something that made Seungmin really angry at him?
...he holds grudges better than me. Jisung had also said that. So what if Hyunjin managed to make Seungmin super mad? What if he screwed up their relationship and everything went down in flames because Hyunjin never did things by halves?
Could he say with complete confidence that his eyes wouldn’t get turned into kebabs?
Staring at himself in the mirror, Hyunjin miserably realised that no, he couldn’t say that.
Raised voices from outside the bathroom door drew Hyunjin out of his spiralling mental breakdown and he glanced towards it, swallowing anxiously. Was Jaebum alright out there? Were they going to get in trouble for hogging the entire bathroom? He couldn’t quite make out what was being said but he heard Seungmin’s voice and he froze, feeling uncomfortably like a cornered rabbit.
There was a pause and then the door opened, Jaebum’s head poking around it.
‘Min wants to come in,’ he said.
‘Aren’t you doing this to repay your debt to Seungmin?’ Hyunjin asked, surprised. ‘Shouldn’t you be letting him in without question?’
Jaebum grinned brightly, eyes curving into beautiful half-moons. ‘Yes to the first, no to the second. Do you want me to let him in or...?’
Hyunjin exhaled slowly through his nose. Despite the butterflies in his stomach having serrated blades for wings and needles for legs, he nodded. Might as well get this over with.
Jaebum withdrew and Seungmin squeezed through the gap, door shutting firmly behind him. He looked so worried that Hyunjin wanted to cry but the dancer still stepped back the moment Seungmin stepped forward.
Seungmin froze, bewilderment and hurt so clear on his face that Hyunjin’s eyes started welling up.
‘Hyunjin...’ His name was said softly, carefully, like Seungmin thought Hyunjin might spook or break at any given second (which, to be honest, he just might). ‘Talk to me. Please, tell me what’s wrong. Something’s been going on all night, don’t think I haven’t noticed.’
Hyunjin sniffed hard, frustrated with his overly emotional nature again. What could he say, though? What could he say?
‘Hyunjinnie, please.’ Seungmin sounded so sad Hyunjin had to grind his teeth to not start sobbing immediately. ‘Was it too much, me bringing you here tonight? Did Yanan and Lisa scare you? Did someone else –’
‘I don’t know if I’m safe with you.’
As soon as the words were out, Hyunjin clapped a hand over his mouth and they stared at each other, shocked.
That... was not what he’d meant to say. He’d wanted to properly unpack his concerns, fully explain himself but –
Hyunjin supposed that, at the end of the day, that was about as honest as he could get.
‘You... you don’t know if you’re safe with me?’ Seungmin whispered, eyes so wide, hands limp at his sides.
Wrapping his arms protectively around his middle, Hyunjin nodded. ‘I know you kill people but – but that? What Yanan said? That’s so much more than – It’s not just –’
‘Hyunjin, that – that’s work,’ Seungmin cut him off agitatedly, running a hand through his hair. ‘That’s for people who deserve it, you know I’d never –’
‘No, Seungmin, I don’t know,’ Hyunjin said in a small voice. ‘That’s the point. You’re the one who decides who deserves that kind of punishment and what if –’ he swallowed thickly, hands clenched tight in his jacket – ‘what if one day you decide I deserve it?’
Seungmin gaped at him, at a loss for words.
Aware that he would never be daring enough to speak so forthrightly about this again, Hyunjin pushed on. ‘I’ve been trying not to think about it, to remind myself that even if, yeah, you’re literally an assassin, you’re not lying to me about who you are but –’ he paused for breath, shoulders rising defensively – ‘I thought all the nasty stuff was in the past, yeah? Jisung told me –’
Hyunjin froze, eyes wide as saucers. Oh shit. Seungmin was looking very intense now, a frown settling over his face, tugging down the corners of his mouth.
‘What did Han tell you, Hyunjin?’
‘Um.’ Well, no point hiding anything now, right? ‘Jisung may have broken into my apartment the night before our third date and told me about a bunch of your past jobs together and really freaked me out and that’s also how I know about his nose ring,’ Hyunjin said in one breath, the words slurring together in his rush. He peeked up at Seungmin through his eyelashes to gauge his reaction.
The assassin’s mouth fell open. ‘He did what now? That was months ago! Why didn’t you tell me?’
Hyunjin shrank back at the loud, incredulous questions but forced himself to straighten again as he replied, just as forceful, ‘I was scared, okay? I didn’t know what to do and - You murdered a man with three violin strings! You drowned half a dozen in a shipping container! It’s not like I didn’t want to trust you but how could I ignore that? Especially when there was a part of me wondering if one day the person being strangled could be me?’
He paused only long enough to suck in another breath, not giving Seungmin a chance to interrupt or his throat a chance to choke on the tears he could feel welling up. ‘I don’t know what you’re capable of. How could I? I don’t even know what I’m capable of. What if one day I have to defend myself against someone like Yanan and the situation is kill or be killed? I don’t want to kill anyone, I don’t want to hurt anyone!’
Fuck, he was definitely crying. He blinked and felt two traitorous tears finally break free, streaking down his cheeks.
‘Hyunjin, you are the kindest person I’ve ever met!’
Hyunjin’s breath hitched.
Seungmin exhaled sharply, clearly trying not to shout. ‘Look, even if you hated me, even if you had the opportunity to hurt me – I know you never would. Just look at what you did for Han!’ He shook his head in disbelief. ‘But most of the people I go after would take any opportunity to hurt me far worse than I’d do to them. So wherever possible, I don’t give them that chance. I break them before they can break me and innocents like you.’
The dancer swallowed hard. ‘Seungmin –’
‘Hyunjin,’ Seungmin interrupted, taking a cautious step forward. ‘My sweet, beautiful boyfriend who manages to both be both exceptionally graceful and unbelievably awkward.’
Hyunjin couldn’t hold back a tiny, wet snort and Seungmin’s mouth threatened to curve up as he inched closer.
‘These hands of mine are stained with more blood than I can ever hope to remove,’ the dark-haired boy murmured, his eyes so wide and earnest. ‘But I would bathe them in red a hundred times more with a smile on my face if it meant your hands would stay clean and whole.’
Hyunjin bit his lower lip fiercely so as not to cry. When Seungmin reached out and lightly unwrapped his hands from around his torso, holding them so carefully, Hyunjin let him. And when the assassin lifted them in turn to press a very soft kiss to each palm, Hyunjin’s whole body jerked with a barely-restrained sob.
‘Let me prove it to you, my love,’ Seungmin breathed and the dancer immediately looked up, startled. The assassin lifted his hands to cup Hyunjin’s face and nudged the tip of his nose against Hyunjin’s. ‘Let me.’
Hyunjin wrapped his hands around Seungmin’s waist and his eyes slipped shut, silently giving permission. Seungmin closed the space between them and pressed their lips together, gentle and sweet. He took a breath against Hyunjin’s mouth and kissed him again, stronger this time, pouring the depth of his sincerity and love into Hyunjin. Seungmin licked lightly at the dancer’s mouth and Hyunjin parted his lips on a sigh, allowing Seungmin to deepen the kiss.
Hyunjin pressed closer and Seungmin swept his tongue into Hyunjin’s mouth, running over his teeth, stroking against the velvet-softness of Hyunjin’s own tongue. He withdrew, their lips parting with a wet sound, but Hyunjin gave him only a bare moment to catch his breath before lifting a hand to thread through Seungmin’s dark hair and tugging him in again. Hyunjin kissed him, confident and sure, the acidic edge of his doubt soothed to nothing by the warmth of Seungmin’s lips, his tongue, his teeth, his hands. Hyunjin hummed contentedly in the back of his throat and Seungmin nipped at his lower lip, sharpening the sound into a broken off whine.
The assassin pulled back just enough that their eyes could meet, his breath tickling the delicate skin of Hyunjin’s face. Still cradling Hyunjin’s hands in his, Seungmin whispered, ‘I will never, ever lift a hand against you in anger, Hyunjin. You will always be safe with me. Do you understand?’
Hands sliding down to lightly fist in the material of Seungmin’s jacket, Hyunjin nodded as best he could.
‘Tell me with your words, love, I need to know.’
‘I do,’ Hyunjin choked, voice hitching and cracking. ‘I trust you, I do.’
Seungmin smiled sweetly, eyes curving up. ‘Good.’
In the warm light of a bathroom that wasn’t theirs, Hyunjin and Seungmin gave and received and confirmed their love through the press of warm, champagne-flavoured mouths.
And there they might have stayed for quite some time if heavy knocking on the door hadn’t broken them out of their reverie.
‘Hey! Are you guys done making up yet? You’ve been in there for fucking ages!’
Jisung’s raised voice made them both freeze and then Seungmin dropped his forehead onto Hyunjin’s shoulder with a pained groan while Hyunjin laughed softly. The dancer looped his arms around Seungmin’s back and hugged him tight.
‘We should probably go, hmm,’ he said, brushing a kiss over Seungmin’s dark hair.
‘Ugh. Don’t wanna,’ Seungmin mumbled, his breath tickling the side of Hyunjin’s neck.
‘Too bad,’ Hyunjin replied, bubbles of amusement and happiness filling him, making him feel lighter than he had in weeks. ‘Jisung will probably break the door down if we’re not out shortly.’
Reluctantly, Seungmin sat up, glaring at the door. ‘There’s no probably about it.’
He stepped back slightly and offered Hyunjin a hand, which the latter did not hesitate to take. Hyunjin looked at himself in the mirror and, okay, he kind of looked like a mess, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and by this point everyone was likely to be too drunk to notice. He decided he didn’t care enough to try and fix it, beyond wiping away the shimmering tear tracks with the heel of his palm.
‘Ready?’ Seungmin asked him, his expression as openly warm as Hyunjin felt.
Hyunjin nodded, crinkling an eye smile at him. He squeaked in surprised when Seungmin darted forward the pressed one more kiss to his lips and tried to control his blush as the assassin dragged him to the door and pulled it open.
On the other side, Jisung hastily straightened, pretending he hadn’t had his ear pressed to the door, while behind him Jeongin and Jaebum glared at each other. It would seem that Jaebum had been double-teamed.
Jisung took one look at them before throwing his arms up and only somewhat sarcastically cheering, ‘Hooray! They’ve kissed and made up!’
Seungmin narrowed his eyes fiercely at the blue-haired boy. ‘You and I are going to have a talk about breaking and entering and oversharing.’
Jisung’s eyes widened. ‘Ah. About that,’ he began.
‘Is this bathroom open for use again yet?’ called a deep, unfamiliar voice.
Hyunjin glanced beyond Jeongin and Jaebum, still engaged in their standoff, to see a broad-shouldered young man with white blond hair approaching them. He opened his mouth to call back a reply but paused when he saw a horrified expression blooming on Jisung’s face, just as a look of pure evil crossed Jeongin’s.
‘Yes!’ Jeongin yelled without looking, his eyes fixed on Jisung.
The blue-haired assassin twitched his head to the side just enough to meet Jeongin’s glittering gaze without letting his face be seen by the man walking towards them. ‘Shut up,’ he hissed.
But Jeongin looked like his birthday had come early and he grinned with too many teeth, a tactic he’d no doubt picked up from the one he was now using it on.
Hyunjin was very puzzled and he glanced at Seungmin, about to ask what was going on, but stopped short again. Seungmin was squinting at the approaching man but then his gaze moved to Jisung and the edge of a wicked smile curled around his mouth.
‘You’re Lee Felix, aren’t you?’ Jeongin asked the newcomer.
The snow-haired young man raised a brow and replied, ‘Sure am.’
‘Well, this is –’
Jisung whipped around and elbows Jeongin in the guts, effectively shutting him up as the younger assassin doubled over and gasped for air. Hyunjin barely had time to be alarmed when Jisung and Felix both froze, having seen each other.
Felix’s expression blew wide out in shock and then clouded over a second later. ‘You,’ he spat.
Jisung yelped in panic and immediately took off running, heels clicking urgently on the floor and the skirt of his dress billowing out behind him. Felix switched course and sprinted after him, shouting furiously about stolen identities and spiked cocktails. Jeongin, who’d just regained the ability to breathe, promptly howled with laughter, nearly falling over.
‘What...’ Hyunjin trailed off and simply stared as Jisung kicked off his impractical shoes, failing to trip his pursuer, and grabbed an empty serving dish to frisbee at Felix who knocked it straight out of the air.
‘Remember how my favourite alias is actually someone’s name?’ Seungmin sighed, watching the growing mayhem with resignation.
Hyunjin’s brow furrowed. ‘Yes...?’
‘So is Jisung’s!’ Jeongin wheezed, having sunk to his knees. ‘Only he stole his!’
‘As you can see,’ Seungmin continued drily, ‘the original owner isn’t very happy about it.’
‘So I can see,’ Hyunjin said faintly.
In the space of no more than thirty seconds, many of the ballroom’s occupants had been dragged into the fight. Although, observing more closely, most of them seemed to be throwing themselves into it with glee. As Hyunjin watched, he saw multiple plates of food being launched with the force and accuracy of a cannon ball, chairs being broken into more easily handled weapons, and people jumping onto tables for better vantage points from which to attack... literally everyone else.
Meanwhile, Jisung and Felix were duelling with large soup spoons hallway up the staircase on the other side of the room.
Glancing around them, Hyunjin noted Jaebum had already disappeared – was that him backflipping off a table to nail two people at once? – and Jeongin was slowly regaining his breath, face flushed and eyes sparkling.
He pushed himself to his feet and saluted in Hyunjin and Seungmin’s direction. Then, with a cheery, ‘Catch you two lovebirds later!’ he skipped off to join the fray.
A high-pitched shriek from above made Hyunjin and Seungmin whip their heads up – Jisung had leaped from the balcony and was swinging on one of the chandeliers.
‘Stop running away, you damn chicken!’ Felix roared from the balcony, hurling his spoon at the blue-haired boy.
‘Fuck you!’ Jisung screeched, uncoiling what must have been a wire of some sort from around his thigh and tying it to the stem of the chandelier.
Hyunjin squeaked and nearly broke Seungmin’s hand as Jisung leapt down from the light, clinging to the end of his cord and screaming like a banshee as he swung through the air.
‘Oh dear,’ Seungmin muttered. ‘He shouldn’t have done that.’
‘What does that mean –’ Hyunjin demanded, only to choke off as Felix launched himself from the balcony and grabbed hold of Jisung’s cord, sliding himself down before the rest of his body had even caught up. Hyunjin didn’t want to imagine how bad the rope burn on his hands must be.
Jisung, of course, hurled himself across the room before Felix could reach him but then, with an ear-splitting crunch, the chandelier detached from the ceiling, dozens of kilograms of metal and crystal hurtling towards the ground. Hyunjin blinked and missed how he did it but by the time the chandelier was crashing into the ground, pieces flying everywhere, Felix had landed on a table and was leaping off to chase Jisung towards the balcony.
‘And that’s our cue to leave,’ Seungmin said, as the main doors of the ballroom burst open and security poured in.
Hyunjin was not given an opportunity to argue before Seungmin had turned him around and frog-marched him back into the men’s toilet. He kept his mouth shut, heart still hammering at a million miles a minute, as the assassin dragged him to the far wall and kicked a section of the wall in, revealing a dark, narrow passageway. Seungmin used the torch on his phone to light the way, briskly towing Hyunjin along behind him.
‘Will everyone else be okay? What about Jeongin and Jisung?’ he asked worriedly.
‘They’ll all be fine, don’t be concerned,’ Seungmin replied, glancing over his shoulder back at Hyunjin. ‘Despite Kwangsik’s efforts, this is how things end almost every time. Everyone gets enough alcohol in their system and all they want is to let off some steam by seeing who can throw the most people through a window.’
Hyunjin couldn’t find it in him to be shocked. He’d passed his limit of things to be surprised about ages ago. So he simply accepted it. ‘Right.’
A minute later, Seungmin slowed, stopped, and let go of Hyunjin’s hand long enough to find a latch and unfasten it. There was a quiet click and then the wall or door or whatever it was swung outward. They quickly exited the secret passage and Hyunjin relished in the feel of the cool night air on his skin. He looked back and saw they’d emerged from a nondescript outer wall of the immense house.
‘Keep quiet, okay? Everything will be easier if we can get of here undetected,’ Seungmin whispered, taking the dancer’s hand again and storing away his phone.
So Hyunjin stayed as silent as he could, doing his best to match his sneaking skills to Seungmin’s. An impossible feat, yes, but they managed to make it away from the house and through the gardens undetected.
It was when they passed the sixth marble fountain and a huge topiary hedge, the moon lighting their way, that Seungmin said, ‘Okay, we’re clear, we can run.’
Hand in hand, breathless with the thrill of the night, they ran down a gently rolling slope, across a field, and up a hill. Seungmin stopped when they reached the top and Hyunjin braced his hands on his knees, panting. It had been a while since his last uphill run.
‘Hyunjinnie, come over here, this is the best view on the whole property.’
The dancer looked up and saw Seungmin sitting on the grass just ahead, twisted towards him with a bright smile. Unable to hold back a grin of his own, Hyunjin went and sat next to him, pressing their sides close together.
‘Oh, wow,’ he murmured, looking down at the view below.
At the bottom of the hill was an enormous lake, stretching out as far as he could see. The still waters gleamed beneath the touch of the moonlight, reflecting the star-strewn night sky. They were quiet for a moment, catching their breath. Only the crickets and occasional, distant crash from the mansion could be heard.
Seungmin turned slightly to face him. ‘Hwang Hyunjin, I love you.’
Hyunjin’s entire body buzzed with ecstatic energy and he immediately pressed a quick kiss to his boyfriend’s mouth, the echo of the words tasting sweet on his lips.
‘And I love you, Kim Seungmin,’ he replied, pulling back just enough to meet Seungmin’s twinkling gaze.
The assassin hummed happily and lifted a hand to cup the side of Hyunjin’s jaw, drawing him close for another kiss.
Hyunjin was about to lose himself in the soft, warm sensation when he heard a splash somewhere by the lake. He quickly pulled his head away and glanced down, concerned. There he spotted two figures – tiny, at this distance – chasing each other at the edge of the water. As he watched, the one with hair that was bleached to pure white by the moonlight caught the other, more indistinct person and threw them into the lake, causing large ripples to spread.
Worried, he turned back to Seungmin and asked, ‘Is that J-’
Seungmin silenced him with a kiss and then another one and another one. ‘Don’t worry about them,’ he murmured against Hyunjin’s mouth. ‘They’ll sort it out.’
As the assassin sealed their lips again and the dancer’s hands automatically clung to the front of his jacket, Hyunjin couldn’t bring himself to hold onto his concern. Instead, he let Seungmin smother him in kisses and decided to stop thinking about anything else at all.