When Jae came to, the world was on fire.
He blinked up at the sky, a blurry mess of red, orange and dark smudges of something streaking across his vision. It smelled like the summers of his childhood, of wildfire raging through California. It took two seconds for him to realize he was lying on the cold hard ground; his head felt like it had split in two. It took five more seconds to realize he had lost his glasses. There was something wet dripping down his face. He lifted a hand and touched his cheekbone, knowing from the smears of red coating his fingers that he had probably split his head open. God damn.
Rolling over onto his stomach, Jae managed to pull himself upwards on his knees. His head lurched, and he fell back to his hands, struggling not to retch. He opened his mouth and inhaled ash and soot, coating his tongue in its woolly unwelcome embrace.
“Jae, thank fuck,” said a gravelly voice, and Mark was beside him, one hand already around his waist and pulling him to his feet. “How are you still alive? Actually, never mind. We have to get out of here.” He started guiding Jae somewhere, only for him to trip over some debris and bring them both crashing to the ground.
“Just go on without me,” Jae said, his face planted in the dirt. “Did you know when glasses-wearing people lose their glasses it’s pretty much game over? At least save yourself.”
“Fuck if I’m going to let you play hero right now,” Mark scoffed. “Here, wear this.” He pushed something – a glasses shaped something – into Jae’s hand. Jae slipped on the slightly tight glasses and the world came just a little more into focus.
“Since when did you wear glasses?”
“You think you’re special?” Mark’s grin looked a little sharper. “Now let’s get out of here.”
Jae looked around at the hell he suddenly found himself in. Dark smoke and flames were rising up to the blood red sky, glowing embers floating through the air. What remained of the building they’d been standing in only 10 minutes ago was now a lot further away then he thought possible, and as far as Jae could see, tall walls seemed to loom around them, dotted with the ruins of other buildings. Buildings that had once been glitzy offices and shimmering apartments. Jae’s head lurched again.
“Mark, what the fuck.”
Mark looked grim.
An explosion went off in one of the buildings, and they shielded themselves from the fresh shower of glass that sprayed over them. A rumbling shook the area, and the lone ruin in the center of the crater suddenly burst into a hellish blue flame. And from the flame an enormous clawed hand clamped down on glass and steel, followed by a horned head.
“Is that…” Jae breathed, at the same time Mark simply came up with, “Fuck.”
The creature clambered atop its perch, and let out a piercing roar that knocked them off their feet. It reverberated around Jae’s already aching head, racking up the pain tenfold. Someone was yelling at him, muffled and far away. It felt like centuries had passed until Mark managed to pry his hands away from his ears and said, very low and very close to his face, “Get up Jae, get up now.”
Jae shoved him aside and scrambled to his feet. The chaos spun around him, but all he could see was that burning tower in the center of all things, and the last person he ever imagined turning their back on the world standing atop it.
As far as awful days went, today had been pretty much the worst.
ALMOST EXACTLY 2 WEEKS AND 5 DAYS AGO...
Of all things to expect after 5 years of expecting nothing, Jae certainly hadn’t expected to have someone suddenly barge into his office unannounced on a Monday afternoon. Especially when he’d just when he’d put up the ‘Out To Lunch’ sign on the door (under the less than glitzy Park Jaehyung, Private Investigator) and settled down to just that.
“Sorry for the interruption,” Sungjin’s grin was less than apologetic. He looked at the empty chair across the desk. “Mind if I take a seat?”
“Yes, by all means, take the table too while you’re at it,” Jae replied without missing a beat, and the ashtray on the desk suddenly roared with a small, bright flame.
“That’s new,” Sungjin remarked and sat down.
“Hmm.” The flame went out. Jae removed his feet from the desk and regretfully set aside his sandwich. A proper sandwich it was too, thick slices of honeyed ham and beautifully melted gouda cheese with sprinklings of caramelized onions all wrapped up in a crisp baguette. It broke Jae’s heart that he hadn’t even managed to take one bite. “So what brings you here my old…” He was almost going to say friend but remembered that he hadn’t seen Sungjin in 5 years nor had they traded birthday wishes in that time. But it would be too harsh to call him former teammate who seemed to have forgotten about me so... “…mate,” Jae ended lamely. “Water?” he gestured at the plastic water cooler just behind Sungjin.
“I’m alright,” Sungjin shook his head. “Let’s get right into things, why don’t we?”
“We?” Jae put his hands up in mock surprise. “As far as I can see it looks like there are only two of us in this room and I’m definitely not down for anything that you’re about to tell me, so I guess that means that it’ll just be you won’t it? So – to rephrase – “I’ll get right into things, why don’t I?” sounds more accurate, no?”
“But would be grammatically incorrect,” Sungjin’s mouth twitched slightly at the corner. “Anyway, it won’t just be the two of us.”
“Oh God,” Jae rested his elbows on the desk and massaged his temples with his fingertips. “Don’t tell me…”
“Professional as always,” said a scathingly familiar voice, and an infuriatingly good looking man closed the door behind him and locked it.
“Brian,” Jae said into his hands.
“It’s Younghyun, in case you forgot,” Brian snapped. Sungjin glanced at him and he huffed slightly, sitting down into the other empty chair without so much of an invite. He crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes slightly at Jae, who made no attempt to offer him water of any sort.
“Okay,” Jae composed himself. “What’s the punchline? I mean,” he looked back and forth between Sungjin and Brian, “an officer of the Power Regulation Committee and… whoever Brian is now? Look, I know I tell a lot of stupid jokes but you’re not the type of person to do that Sungjin so just give me the punchline. Sooner rather than later. You don’t even need to tell me the whole joke, I promise I’ll still laugh no matter what.”
“It’s not a joke,” Brian said stiffly.
“What are you doing now anyway?” Jae asked him. “Out of curiousity.”
“Not spending all day sitting on my ass and poking my nose into other people’s lives if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Technically you can’t poke your nose into other people’s lives if you’re sitting on your ass all day,” Jae leaned back into his chair and smiled smugly.
“We’re reforming the team,” Sungjin said calmly.
“Unfortunately,” Brian muttered.
Jae’s smile wavered, then dropped. “Well fuck,” he said. “Water anyone?”
“So let me get this straight,” Jae took off his glasses and massaged his eyes for what felt like the hundredth time. “Jaebum decided to go off and get involved in some kind of mafia workings and he took Jinyoung, Jackson and Wonpil along with him… and they’ve evaded you for months. And now we’re the ones who have to go haul them back in by the scruffs of their necks? Us. The retired superheroes.”
“That’s a… very summarized version of what I just told you but yeah,” Sungjin nodded. Brian had gotten up to wander around Jae’s shoebox of an office, picking up objects at random and placing them back at equal random. Now he leaned against the windowsill looking too cool to be in a dimly lit room with stains on the carpet that had probably been there since the beginning of time, peeking through the blinds and tossing Jae’s paperweight up and down in his hand. Jae didn’t even have the heart to tell him to drop it. Preferably on his foot.
“Why us?” he asked instead. “Why not the police or – I don’t know – some of you actual qualified guys from the Committee?”
Sungjin cracked his knuckles and cricked his neck. “This is something that has to be handled… delicately. We all know how Jaebum can be when he’s provoked.” His words were calm and steadfast as they had been the whole time he’d been telling Jae about this absolutely crazy of a plan, but Jae caught the flicker in his eyes.
“They don’t know about this, do they?” he asked. Brian paused in his paperweight juggling act. “Well, well, Park Sungjin.” He leaned back in his chair and almost put his feet up on the desk again. “Don’t tell me. You want to make sure this stays under wraps. That’s why you’re coming to us, to make sure this doesn’t get out. You’re still trying to save Jaebum’s ass after all these years,” he groaned.
“I can see why you ended up going into investigative work,” Sungjin remarked. “You're right. This is a top secret mission. Nobody knows about it, not even the top brass. We’d all probably get into huge trouble about it – well, me especially – but this isn’t something I can solve alone, or get anyone else involved in.” He rubbed at a spot between his eyebrows.
“So why us?” Jae asked. “Why… me? I don’t have anything to offer you, Sungjin.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Sungjin said sharply. “I know things… haven’t exactly worked out for you but you’re still one of the best in the game. You’re still one of the best people I know. And you’ve solved every single case you’ve ever gotten, haven’t you?”
“Damn, I hate how good you are,” Jae muttered, unable to meet his eyes. “But I’m not going to throw it all away just to bail out some crooks.”
“Come on Jae,” Brian suddenly interrupted. “You know those guys too. Don’t tell me you want to see them get thrown into jail for life. Or worse.”
“Isn’t that what happens if you break the law though?” Jae spread a hand over the files strewn over his desk. “And from the looks of it they’re definitely breaking the law. Theft, extortion, drug trafficking. It’s all here. I’m surprised they haven’t been nerfed off the face off the planet yet. Or at least off the face of this city.”
“Aren’t you at least curious to find out why they’re doing this?” Brian pushed himself off the windowsill. “You and I both know it’s not like those guys to do these sort of things. Especially not somebody like Wonpil.” He approached the desk and released the paperweight with a thump. He waved his own hand over the files, where they neatly arranged into a stack and stuck to his palm, upside down.
Jae’s eyes narrowed at the name. “Yeah, maybe Wonpil was a good kid. Maybe they were all good kids. But people change. And doesn’t that just make what they’re doing even worse? They were Supers once. They of all people would know the difference between right and wrong.”
“Do people really change though?” Sungjin took up Brian’s old post beside the windowsill. In the dim light Jae saw his eyes flash red and he instantly knew that this was not going to go well. Sungjin pulled the blinds open without warning, letting sunlight stream into the room. “I think you of all people know that people don’t change, Jae. And I’m going to prove it to you.”
“Wait a second -,” Jae got to his feet, but before he could finish his sentence a figure crashed through the open window, sending broken glass flying. Jae yelped as he shielded his face from the explosion, and someone grabbed him in a vicelike grip and flipped him over into a piggyback. It was rather like colliding with a very sturdy – if very skinny – tree.
“Long time no see,” someone said quietly very close to his face. “Did you get new glasses?”
“No, no, there’s no problem, we just dropped a glass. Thank you so much for your concern,” Jae heard Brian saying through the suddenly open door. He spotted his neighbor – Soyeon or Sohyun or something like that – gazing up at Brian with adoring eyes and cursed the bastard’s power. It just always seemed to come in handy in the worst possible moments.
“You might want to hang on tight,” said the person whose back Jae was currently draped over. Jae reared his head back to catch the sharp-toothed smile directed at him.
“I can’t believe you got roped into this too,” he groaned.
“Desperate times my friend,” Mark said nonchalantly. “Hold on!” Jae let out a huge scream and wrapped his arms and legs even tighter around Mark’s body as they herded out the window and down on to the roof of the building below.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Brian said to Sungjin as they watched the duo disappear in the maze of glass and steel.
“I have an inkling,” Sungjin replied, and turned away from the broken window. Brian looked thoughtfully at the paperweight on the table, and raised his hand as if to lazily catch an easy ball. The paperweight shot off the desk and into his hand, and he pocketed it. “And put that back,” Sungjin called back through the door. Brian pulled a face.
“Well, that’s the last of it,” Jackson dusted off his hands and slammed the truck door shut. “All clear!” he banged on the side of the truck. The driver waved from the front and started the engine.
“All done?” Jaebum came up behind him with a clipboard. “That was even faster than yesterday. You’re really out here to break records aren’t you?” He ticked something off the list.
“Gotta keep the muscles conditioned you know,” Jackson rubbed his nose and grinned. “Come on, let’s lay off tonight. Go grab a drink or something. You’re starting to look old already, did you know that?” He slung his arm around Jaebum’s shoulders and started dragging him across the carpark.
“Well somebody has to keep you in check,” Jaebum raised an eyebrow. “Anyway, we can’t tonight. We have a meeting remember?”
“Oh yeah, another one of Jinyoung’s yawn worthy meetings,” Jackson yawned, displaying a full set of teeth. Jaebum looked away. “I’m feeling sleepy just thinking about it already.”
“If you want I could record it and play it to you in your sleep,” said a voice behind them. “And keep it on infinite loop.” Jackson swung his head back and grinned at the figure emerging from the shadows, hair perfectly coiffed and smiling as if he knew all of the universe’s secrets.
“You’d just love to do that wouldn’t you,” he hung back and threw his other arm over Jinyoung’s shoulders. “Come on, we can take a break! We’ve been at this for months now, I think we all deserve a good drink at a good bar. Pleeeeease Jinyoung.”
“Please just say yes to stop him from wheedling,” Jaebum sighed.
“I could do with a drink.” Wonpil popped out from a corridor unannounced. His hair was dishevelled and he had prominent dark circles under his eyes, something rarely seen in him. “Badly. Section 3 has been giving me the biggest headache over the past few weeks, if I knew any better I’d have bopped the boss one and gotten it over with at the very start.” In the background Jackson was still going ”Pretty pretty please for fuck’s sake, Park Jinyoung.” while Jaebum attempted to cover his mouth.
“He’s a stubborn old fox, isn’t he?” Jinyoung offered sympathetically. “Okay, fine, we’ll call off tonight’s meeting. Drinks on Jackson.”
“Yes!” Jackson yelled as Jaebum dropped him unceremoniously to the floor.
“Get double,” Jinyoung whispered to Wonpil as they walked down the hall. Wonpil grinned, and the dark circles seemed to lessen a little. Jaebum gave them a little sideways glance, then looked down at his clipboard. Maybe they could afford to have fun every once in a while.
“You guys are crazy, this is basically kidnapping you know,” Jae muttered under his breath. “And you left my fucking masterpiece of a sandwich behind; do you know how much that shit cost me? And it’s not even going to work, we’re nothing but a… a ragtag team – and I don’t even know if team is the right word – of… of… wait, does this mean we’re vigilantes now?”
Mark banged a soju glass in front of him and poured out a shot in a single, steady stream. “Not something you would want to be, trust me,” he poured out his own shot. “Right, Sungjin?”
Behind Mark’s smile and Sungjin’s held up glass, Jae detected something that bordered on uncomfortable. “Ugh…” he downed the whole glass in one shot. Better not to think too hard about this one. It might just mean the end of his career.
“I heard you became a jack of all trades,” he said instead to Mark. 5 years since he last laid eyes on the guy, and it doesn’t seem like he’d aged a day. Oh there were telltale lines under his eyes and in the furrow of his eyebrows when he frowned, but he was still as lean as Jae remembered. And judging by the way he leapt from roof to roof without missing a beat, that wasn’t the only thing he’d been keeping in good condition.
“Doing anything that gets me the money,” Mark said easily. “You know how it is.” Brian harrumphed slightly and took another handful of rice crackers.
“And how are you doing?” Jae asked Sungjin carefully. From the beginning he’d sensed how stiff Sungjin had been, but since sitting down in the bar it felt like he’d loosened up a little. At the very least his blazer lay draped over the chair and his collar was unbuttoned so that was a start.
“I’ve been… well my life’s pretty boring. Nothing as exciting as what you’ve been doing,” Sungjin poured out another round for everyone. “The usual rounding up of some old timers who can’t seem to let go of the hero mantle, or some small time villains who can’t keep their powers out of sight. Sometimes we bust some really big cases and that’s pretty exciting.”
“Did you ever find out about -,” Brian started, then fell silent. The atmosphere at the table chilled slightly, like the ice cubes melting into Jae’s water, spreading its icy coldness through and around them. Just waiting to drown them.
“No,” said Sungjin softly. “I never did.”
“I knew this was a bad idea,” Jae blurted out. “I knew we should’ve just stayed away from each other.” Mark’s hand tightened around his glass, and Brian’s eyes narrowed.
“You always know, don’t you?” he almost sneered. The table started rattling a little, the glasses sliding towards him. Mark and Sungjin exchanged glances. “Always the smart mouth, always ready to come up with the perfect plan to end all perfect plans. Back then, that night, If we hadn’t… if you hadn’t…” The glasses slid a little faster. Sungjin grabbed his arm and Brian sat back, although the sneer stayed.
“Is it too much for me to ask that you guys stay civil to each other for the rest of this mission?” Sungjin hissed, his voice taking on a deeper, more sinister tone. His eyes flashed red, and Jae’s lips suddenly felt very, very dry. “If not so help me God, I won’t be responsible for whatever happens to the both of you.”
“I’d do as he says,” Mark said breezily.
“Fine,” Brian scowled. Jae nodded.
“Thank you,” Sungjin closed his eyes and rubbed the area between his eyebrows with two fingers. When he opened them they were back to his usual dark brown, if a little tired looking. “Can we just sit here and have a drink like old friends catching up after a long time?”
“Cheers to that,” Mark lifted his glass.
“So did anyone ever manage to find a girl or…” Jae trailed off when he spotted a figure weaving through the crowded bar. He couldn’t quite make out the person’s face, but he was sure he knew that body shape, the way he held his head upright, the way he moved. Jae blinked, and the person he thought was Wonpil disappeared into the crowd.
“Who did you see?” Brian asked in a hushed voice, keeping his position with his back to the bar.
“It might have been Wonpil,” Jae bent low over the table on the pretext of picking something up off the floor. “It was too dark to see his face but I know that head shape anywhere. He went down the corridor; he might be going to the bathroom.”
“I’m going there too,” Sungjin stood up.
“Whoa, Sungjin, don’t be too hasty, we don’t even have a plan - ,” Mark whispered testily, but Sungjin had already left. Jae and Brian caught each other’s eye and for the fraction of the second Brian lifted an eyebrow and grinned, it felt like they were back in high school, starry eyed and hopeful for the future, so sure that they would one day make the world a better place. Then Brian seemed to realize what he’d done, and instantly looked away. Hope gone.
“He’s going to get us all killed,” Jae muttered.
And sure enough, 10 seconds later an almighty blast ripped through the bar. They dove out of the way as Sungjin came flying through the air and landed heavily on the table, sending the glasses and snack plates flying. “Fuck, are you okay?” Jae pulled him to his feet.
“Yeah, Younghyun slowed me down, it wasn’t a hard fall,” Sungjin panted, brushing broken glass from his shirt sleeves. “Thanks,” he added to Brian, who simply nodded. Amidst the chaos of people shouting and pushing around them somebody bumped heavily into Jae, who fell backwards into Mark.
“Wonpil!” Jae yelled at the retreating back. Wonpil turned around, and Jae barely recognized the face that stared back at him. The hair, the cheekbones, the hollow look in his eyes. The guy turned and ran, and for a dazed second Jae wasn’t even sure if it had been Wonpil at all.
“Jae, let’s go!” Brian yelled, and they were getting into Sungjin’s car and speeding into the night.
“Wait, where the hell are we even going?” Mark clung to the passenger’s headrest. “Did you manage to talk to Wonpil?”
“Didn’t have a chance,” Sungjin shook his head. His white shirt was wet with soju and flecked with red sauce. Jae was glad that was the only red he’d have to see tonight. “He sensed me coming and told the others. Before I even managed to get a word in Jaebum blasted me away.”
“Perfect opportunity to use his abilities in such a small noisy place,” Jae remarked drily. “So where are we going now?”
“Younghyun managed to get a small tracking device on Wonpil while he was distracted with you,” Sungjin tapped the screen on his dashboard. It instantly lit up in the shape of a map, a bright orange circle beeping down the street they were on. “So you’re turning out to be really useful in this mission, Jae.”
“I really wish I wasn’t,” Jae said under his breath.
“If we’re lucky they might lead us right to their hideout,” Mark said slowly, realization beginning to dawn on him. “This might turn out easier than I expected.”
“Don’t underestimate them,” Brian said darkly. “They’re not the rookies they used to be.”
“Hmm,” Mark hummed.
“They’re on to us,” Jaebum turned off all the car lights as they turned the corner. Beside him Jackson was peering back out of the rear window, but no lights seemed to be following them.
“There’s no way they’d know, we left them back at the bar,” he pointed out. He slumped down in his seat and whistled. “Man that was weird seeing Sungjin again. And right out of the blue. Did we really have to blast him like that?”
“He’s investigating us,” Jaebum said coldly. “We didn’t have a choice.” His hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and his teeth clenched as he recalled the last time he’d seen Sungjin. It made his blood boil remembering the way Sungjin took everything from him in that one moment. He’d never forgive him.
“Hey, what’s this?” Jinyoung suddenly noticed a small black square from Wonpil’s jacket. A tiny, barely perceptible orange light blinked back at him. “Shit. Guys, we got a tracking device on us.”
“Are you serious?” Wonpil twisted around as Jinyoung plucked it from his back. “How the hell did that even get there? We didn’t even give him a chance to get near me.”
“Maybe they have someone who can hide in the shadows,” Jackson suggested. The others fell silent, looking suspiciously around the dark interior of the car.
“Jaebum,” Jinyoung sat forward, catching him on the shoulder. “Take us to Section 3.”
“Jinyoung?” Wonpil looked at him. He smiled back, eyes glinting in the passing streetlights.
“Let’s kill two birds with one stone.”
“You know guys, this isn’t what I imagine when I think of a secret hideout involving Jaebum and Jinyoung,” Jae said aloud when they pulled into the warehouse. He looked around, the wind ruffling his hair. He pulled his jacket closer to him.
“Yeah, it’s a little… too obvious,” Mark squinted through the gloom.
“Well this is where the tracker took us so this is where they have to be,” Brian shrugged.
“Even if it isn’t their hideout it’s still connected to them,” Sungjin intervened. “We might even find some more clues here so keep on the lookout. Jae, I’m counting on you for this.”
“Okay, but just so you know my multiplication tables past 12 are atrocious,” Jae quipped, staring at the patch of dry grass under his feet. It instantly set alight, the flare sending Mark and Brian a few steps backwards. They stared at the flame, and then back at Jae, who smiled. The flame went out, painting them all back in sudden darkness.
“What the hell was that?” Brian breathed.
“Just a little warm up,” Jae reassured him. “Nothing too hot.”
“If they didn’t see us coming before, they’d definitely know we were here now,” Brian hissed. “You just ruined our element of surprise.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Sungjin’s voice came out of the gloom. He threw something dark and floppy at each of them. “If it’s those 4 we’re dealing with, they already know we’re here. Put these on, shut up and follow me.”
Of all the abilities that Jae could have been blessed with – or cursed with, depending on how you looked at it – he’d always wished he’d ended up with something cooler. Like night vision or super speed or telekinesis or something like that. Something a little less… Jae.
“Are you trying to take my shoe off or something?” Mark hissed as Jae stepped on the back of his shoe for the 106th time. “Geez, Jae.”
“Look, these glasses were made to help me see with the lights on, not with the lights off,” Jae retorted. Said glasses were pressing uncomfortable into his face under the balaclava, and it didn't help that the balaclava itself smelled like someone else had worn it before. Someone very sweaty and who obviously didn't wash his clothing before returning them. “Maybe if we hadn’t jumped straight into this very dark warehouse with zero research and zero planning then I might know what the hell we were actually heading for.”
“Wait,” came Sungjin’s voice. “Does anyone smell that?”
“I’d like to know what the hell you guys are doing in here too,” said a deep voice none of them recognized, and the lights snapped on. In the sudden blinding fluorescent glow, Jae found himself faced with rows and rows of gunny sacks laid out on pallets. Each was stuffed to the brim with small dark curled leaves that looked like tea and now he knew exactly what that sweet smell in the air had been.
“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” said Mark, which pretty much summed up how they all felt.
In the center of the room stood a bear of a man, dressed in pinstriped suit. His white shirt was unbuttoned to his chest, and through it poked a thick gold chain. He had similarly thick gold rings around his fingers, and his hair was as slick and oily as the terrible fried chicken Jae once bought from the shop near his house. And he was flanked by two guys dressed head to toe in black. Carrying rifles.
Jae's throat seized up. He was going to kill Sungjin.
“Who’re you with?” asked the Boss. “Kang? That bastard Kim? Or was it Park?”
“Okay, now you’re just throwing out every Korean surname in the book,” Jae said before he could stop himself. Through his balaclava, Brian gave him the dirtiest look he could muster.
“Or maybe you’re with the police,” the Boss mused. “Answer me, assholes, or I’ll pump you so full of bullets you’ll be shitting them all over the floor.” He raised a hand and both the men at his side raised their guns.
“Well technically - ,” Jae started, and Mark clapped a hand over his mouth before he could finish his sentence.
“We’re with the police!” Sungjin suddenly drew a gun out of nowhere and pointed it at the Boss. Jae immediately froze up at the sight of it, a chill shooting up his spine. It was suddenly getting very, very hard to breathe. “Your game is up. Now drop the weapons or I will shoot you. Now!”
“We’re dead,” was all Jae could say.
Milliseconds before the bullets left the rifles, Mark charged at the others and shoved them to the ground. “Take cover, I’ll deal with this,” he breathed, and the first bullet hit him square in the neck.
“Fuck!” Brian yelled as blood spattered over their faces. “Mark!”
This is a nightmare, Jae thought as Mark’s head slumped lifelessly on his chest. He could feel a scream rising within him, threatening to burst out at any second. This is a damned nightmare and when I wake up I’m going to find myself back in my office just about to eat the best damned sandwich I’ll ever have in my entire life. And that was when Mark raised his head, winked at him, and flipped around to catch the next bullet in his arm. Blood poured out of the wound, and the next second the bullet pushed itself out of his skin and felt to the floor with a clink.
“What the fuck is going on?” Brian yelped.
“Doesn’t matter, leave him to it!” Sungjin dragged Jae backwards along the floor into the next room.
“Get them!” the Boss roared, and Brian made a gesture as if pulling some invisible strings. The door slammed shut in his face. “Get down and stay down, Jae,” Sungjin pushed him behind some crates.
“Wait, we can’t just leave him in there!” Jae shoved him away and scrambled back to the door. The guns ceased shooting and a deathly chill came over him. Cold sweat was running down his face and his hands were shaking violently. He clenched them into fists to try and control them, but it made no difference. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, is Mark de- ?”
An almighty shockwave rippled through the air that tore open the door and walls, sending him flying. A force tugged at him from the opposite direction, and he landed in a pile of weed much less harder than he anticipated. “Just listen to orders for once in your life!” Brian yelled at him from across the room, lowering his hands.
Jae looked back into the stockroom, where Mark had left a giant dent in the floor. The two bodyguards were nowhere to be seen, and the Boss was lying over one of the pallets, groaning. Blood splatters littered the floor, but when Mark turned to them he had no visible wounds. Just trails running down his skin.
“What the hell did you do?” Brian asked as they picked their way through the gunny sacks. “I mean… you fucking… died back there. I don’t remember you being able to do any of this before.”
“Just a little something I came to realize about myself,” Mark shrugged. He winced as he noticed the splatters across Brian’s cheekbones. “Yeah, it’s not pretty. Sorry about that. Anti-bacterial wipe?” he dug around his pockets and pulled out a packet.
“Are they dead?” Jae poked at the Boss, who seemed totally out for the count.
“Might’ve broken a few bones but nothing he won’t survive,” Mark replied nonchalantly, scrubbing at Brian’s face. “So what are we going to do about all this?” he waved a hand around the room.
“I’ll make an anonymous report to the police,” Sungjin said. “Let’s just see if we can get any more intel on Jaeb -.”
“You never could properly finish the things you started could you?” a figure emerged from the ceiling structure and dropped down to the ground in front of them. Jaebum got to his feet, his hands plunged deep into the pockets of his bomber jacket. “Hey, Sungjin.” Jae had always been on the receiving end of Brian’s dirty looks and scowls, but he’d never seen an expression so full of hatred as the one Jaebum was giving now to Sungjin.
Three more figures appeared. Jackson looked defiant, Wonpil agitated and Jinyoung cool as cucumber. Sungjin ripped off his balaclava. Jae had never seen him look so wild; hair a mess and blood staining his already stained white shirt. Even back when Sungjin was a professional hero, he’d never really looked so cool.
“Stop this now, Jaebum,” Sungjin said quietly, and Jae felt his rage prowling around the room like a jaguar on the loose. Ready to strike at any time. “I know what you guys have been up to, and you know what you’re doing isn’t right. You still have time to fix this before it gets out of hand.”
“Hmm,” Jaebum cocked his head to one side, his eyes still studying Sungin as if trying to make up his mind on what to do with him. “Fix things. That sounds like a nice resolution. All candy canes and fairy floss. We hand ourselves over, and life goes back to normal, except normal doesn't really exist for us anymore. Tell me, how are you planning on fixing that, Sungjin?”
“What are you talking about?” Brian pulled his mask off. “Sungjin hasn’t done shit to you. Quit behaving like rebellious teenagers and knock it off, you guys.” He looked at each of them in turn, but they all avoided his eyes. Jae felt an insistent tugging on his body, pulling him towards Brian.
“This is ridiculous,” he said. His glasses fell as he tugged his mask off, and cracked as they hit the floor. Jae winced as he shoved them back on. “Wonpil. Look at me. Get your ass back home. Live a long and happy and kinda slightly boring life and die in your sleep when you’re 95. Don’t give your life up like this. That goes for you too, Jackson.”
“What about me and Jaebum?” Jinyoung finally spoke. He was staring straight at Brian, and Brian was resolutely staring back. Jae knew he was trying to work his power, but something didn't feel right about this. “Don’t we all deserve a shot at living the life we want? Didn’t we all?” Jae stared, disconcerted, as Brian’s eyes took on the same sheen he had just seen in Soyeon/Sohyun’s less than six hours ago.
“Brian…” he said warningly.
“All we wanted to do was live the way we wanted to,” Jinyoung turned his eyes to him. Jae felt an instant attraction pulling him towards him, like the North Pole of a magnet naturally gravitating towards the South. “And then some people decided that we shouldn’t be allowed to. That we shouldn’t be remembered. That we should never have existed in the first place.” Jinyoung smiled, and Jae felt his own mouth tugging at the edges. His brain was wrapped in a fog.
“So we’ll make them remember,” Wonpil added quietly. “They turned their back on us. And we’ll turn our back on them.”
“This is the future the public wanted,” Jaebum said, eyes narrowed. “A world without Supers. A world without protection. So we’ll give them what they want. They’ll realize their mistake when it’s all too late.”
Jae’s head snapped back into clarity as the sound of a gunshot echoed through the room. Sungjin stood with his arm raised, gun pointed at the ceiling. “You guys have gone too far,” he breathed. “This doesn’t sound like you, Jaebum.” He raised his gaze, and Jae felt chills creeping down his spine as Sungjin’s eyes glowed red. Suddenly the gun didn't really seem to matter anymore. Not when Sungjin...
“But revenge sounds so sweet,” Jaebum smiled. And before any of them could react Jackson leapt forward and shoved Sungjin backwards off his feet. The gun clattered to the floor and spun out of sight. Jackson tapped each of them on the body so fast that it seemed to Jae he had simply been a motion blur.. “I’m a little disappointed in you guys. You all used to be so cool,” he said sadly.
The second Jackson touched him Jae’s heart began hammering so hard in his chest he was sure it’d fall out. Every sense in his body was screaming at him to run, to get out of there, but it was if one part of his brain – a part totally unaffected by what Jackson had done to him – was telling him to stay and fight. So all he could do was stay rooted to the spot, frozen. Brian had already bolted off somewhere and Sungjin, like Jae, was paralyzed by his indecision. Mark had taken off after Jackson, leaving them behind.
Jaebum turned to go, but Jinyoung locked eyes with Jae again. He stared unblinkingly for a good handful of seconds, then smiled. “Wish we could stay for the party, you guys,” he said in a voice that was unmistakably, unnervingly, Jae’s. “But I think the decorations have already been taken down.” And the gunny sack before him burst into flame.
Two things registered in Jae's head at that moment: one, from a fireman's perspective, a roomful of dried marijuana and a burning hemp sack made for a recipe for disaster. Two, things were about to get very interesting indeed. “We have to get out of here,” Sungjin broke through his trance and grabbed Jae’s arm. The room was already filling with smoke, and it made Jae’s eyes sting. “Jae!”
They were just reaching the exit when the world slowed down around Jae. He felt like he’d been clubbed over the head, but also just noticed how shiny Sungjin’s eyes were. “Hey, I never noticed, but your eyes are really pretty,” he giggled, and promptly stumbled over his own feet and crashed right into Sungjin. “Whoa, why are we falling so slowly?”
“I'm not falling, man, I’m still running,” Sungjin managed, lying on the ground beside him. His legs and arms swung in every direction. “Why aren’t we getting anywhere yet? We’ve been running for like 10 thousand years.”
“Yeah, I’ve always been running to you,” Jae slurred. “To you and your pretty eyes... was that a gunshot?” Mark appeared out of nowhere and fell right over Jae, burying his head in his jacket. “Hey, it’s Mark,” Jae patted him on the hair. “Are you still bleeding Mark? Your hair is so soft. Hey, why are you trying to eat me?”
“Beef ribs,” Mark said nonchalantly. “I gotta cut them up but I’m too hungry.” He promptly started chewing on Jae’s arm through his jacket.
And that was how Brian found them.