It’s an ordinary case, in and out in half an hour tops, and Taehyung’s working the tech at his desk with his eyes running over three monitors and his hands moving over the keyboard.
“Next hallway on your right. Statue near the open doorway has the pen in its hand.”
His only response is a faint rustle in his headphones, the gentle sound of rhythmic breathing, and then the quiet click of plastic as Jimin removes the pen cap and digs out the thumb drive, inserting it into the hard drive built into his ‘phone.’ Civilians – albeit rich ones – continue to mill about in the main ballroom, obliviously chattering and drinking themselves stupid as a $300 million sting operation takes place a couple of corridors away.
The private surveillance cameras they’ve hijacked are easy to physically manipulate but terribly limited in their purview nonetheless, and all Taehyung notices is the quick glimmer of motion in the top right corner of the frame that shows Jimin hiding behind the ancient marble cupid that had held their intel.
“Watch out, eight o’clock.”
Instantly, easily, Jimin shifts into a relaxed posture, hands clasped behind his back as he pretends to study the intricate carving, the detailing on the little toes of the angel who sits with his arrow aimed at the sky, laughing.
“Sir?” asks the waiter, who’s carrying a platter of what look to be shrimp cocktails. “Do you need help finding anything?”
Jimin’s turned away from every camera Taehyung’s got an eye on, but he tips forward at the waist politely, likely smiling so as to look harmless, and answers, “Just admiring. I’m a big fan of sculpting, pottery, the like.”
“Right. Well, the hallways here tend to wind, so please be careful not to get lost. The best statues are on the balcony, I think.”
“Thanks,” Jimin answers, watching the man retreat, and then pulls the devices out of his pocket, checking for the green light. “Tae, is it done?”
“Another forty-three seconds. Sync is slowed because of some kind of interference.” He types some code into his computer and triangulates the signals from Jimin’s body wire and the several attached trackers. “Think the mansion owners set a block on nearby cell towers. But you wouldn’t be able to hack into the Wi-Fi anyway.”
Jimin hums in understanding and paces a bit between the walls of the empty hallway, grand as the rest of the house, though bare in its beauty. Aside from the statue there is one wide half-moon window in the wall that showcases a row of palm trees lining the outdoor garage, and a small built-in fountain toward the end of the corridor trickles almost inaudibly, colored a faint olive green in echo of antiquity.
“All right, seven seconds …” Taehyung murmurs, mouse ready to finalize the data transfer and get Jimin out safely. “Three, two … okay, safe to disconnect. Place the pen upside down back in the hand and exit through the south doors past the bar. The car is parked two lanes down from where it was when you left.”
Without a word, Jimin follows his instructions and passes through the swarms of hot bodies in the ballroom, stumbling into a couple of old women who ‘accidentally’ lose their footing when they see him coming, but he manages not to let them touch his suit and escapes quickly, opening the door into the open air and heaving a huge breath quickly. Though it’s just another hot August evening outside, it must be a relief to be out of the zone of risk. Now that he’s left the mansion, all that’s left is getting into the car and leaving the scene in one piece.
Back when they were both still training, before either of them even knew how to outsmart a polygraph, they’d hidden in the locker room of the shooting range and crawled into some small storage closet, trying to take back twenty minutes of their own time, when they weren’t being run ragged and on constant alert that they were being tested. And, sitting in the dark that day, Jimin had cried into Taehyung shirt about how relieving it always is to leave the location of an operation, how those meager seconds of knowing he’s one step away from home is the kind of high that he barely even gets during sex. They’d been kids then, barely in their twenties, but not much of that changes when every case is a matter of life-and-death.
He walks quickly across the lot now, turning two lanes early to find the car in its new spot, and the soft click of him pulling on the door handle is the last thing Taehyung hears before the door shuts and Jimin sighs with relief at the sight of Hoseok at the wheel.
“T-minus twenty to the hotel,” Hoseok says, and it’s crisper in Taehyung’s ear than Jimin’s voice had been, likely because he hasn’t moved enough to dislodge the mic. “And he’ll be back at headquarters by midnight.”
“Great, thanks, Hobi,” Taehyung responds, “Muting now. My line’s open.” He cuts the audio of both of the agents’ microphones and minimizes the frames of the surveillance cameras, switching to running the preliminary reading of the data they’d obtained. As he slips off his headphones, the outside world filters in slowly, the subtle ring of desk phones outside of his office, the low-level hum of his computers running around him, the coffee machine brewing in the corner.
He rubs his eyes wearily, knowing that Namjoon’s report for a new case will come in momentarily, as soon as he gets notification of the receipt of Jimin’s intel, and Taehyung will have to start setting up for it within the hour. It’s not so much that he doesn’t enjoy the work, it’s that he barely even gets to taste it before it is ripped from him. He’d known that things are fast-paced in espionage nowadays, but it seems like every day things get even faster, and the feeling of solving a case barely registers when he has to run through seven a day.
He’s about to start his closing report when his civilian line rings, and it makes his eyes widen and his breath stick, since Jimin was not using that line as a backup today and there is no telling what story he’s supposed to have lined up.
Nonetheless, he picks up the call and shuts his eyes tightly, focusing, “Hello?”
“Yugy, fuck, why weren’t you picking up? Listen, I need help. I’m halfway through this date and it’s fucking intense, she’s had her foot up my crotch for the entire appetizers and she’s already asked for the check. I think she wants to just go straight to her place or something. I don’t even – I’m not sure I can survive – you gotta help me, she’s talking – “ There’s a high-pitched squeak, and takes a second for Taehyung to realize that the man on the other side is the one making it, but then he goes on, whispering harshly, “She’s talking to the waitress!”
Taehyung runs a quick calculation in his head, weighing the odds that this is some sort of setup, but in the end the stranger seems too bumbling and cutesy to be any kind of threat. Sighing, he leans back in his chair and sets his elbows on the armrests, closing his eyes and tipping his face to the ceiling. “Well, I’m not Yugy,” he drawls, and quiets for a moment to see how the stranger will respond.
“And even if I were, I’m at a loss as to what you’d want him to do. You sound like a grown adult man, you know what happens now.”
“You’re – you’re not Y -?”
“What’s the waitress doing?”
“Um,” the strangers squeaks again, and then pauses. “She’s laughing and whispering something, pointing to the bath-bathrooms. I told her I was going to the bathroom and had to leave my phone at the table, and the front desk said I could use theirs for an emergency, and I guess I didn’t dial correctly. I’m hiding behind a bush.”
Taehyung’s face breaks into a smile before he can stop himself. “You’re hiding behind a bush?” he echoes. “What kind of bush?”
“It’s – it’s a … some kind of –“ A faint sniff travels through the line, making Taehyung’s face crinkle with pained amusement. “I think it’s a hydra? Like those ones with the pretty round flowers.”
“Hydrangea,” Taehyung corrects, keeping his mouth pursed so his smile isn’t audible. “And the word you’re looking for is shrub. You’re hiding behind a shrub.”
“Whatever it is, she’s gonna see me any minute. Can you help me? Do I go home with her? I never do that, ever, I barely even – I – fuck, why didn’t I dial the right number?”
It might be the utter anguish and panic he can hear seeping from the stranger’s voice, or it might be the deep-set desire to put off Namjoon’s newest assignment as long as possible, but Taehyung bites. “What’s your name?”
“Um.” A soft silence, broken up by softer breathing. “I don’t wanna say.”
“All right, look, what’s the problem? You want this girl, obviously, if you’re on a date with her. So what, she’s really into you? Aren’t you into her, too?”
“Sure, but – I just … I don’t …”
“It doesn’t sound like you’ve had a one-night stand before, so just try it. If she doesn’t look like she carries syringes in her bag and could overpower you enough to tie you up naked in a sewer, the worst that can happen is that you’ll have bad sex with someone you’ll never see again, right?”
“I’m … I guess?”
“You’ll always be afraid of it unless you try it once. And if it sucks, you never do it again.”
Another squeak. “I’m hiding under the desk now. She’s started looking around.”
“You’re hiding under the desk?” Taehyung repeats, soothing. “What if she finds you there?”
“I haven’t thought that far.”
“All right, look. Time to be an adult. Your five minutes are up. Go rock her world.”
Another mortified squeak, and then, “Bye!” before Taehyung hears the dial tone. He opens his eyes and stares at his monitor, smiling at it like a loon, before registering the little yellow notification from Namjoon in the corner of his screen. His five minutes are up. Time to be an adult.
One late evening in September, Taehyung is debriefing the security detail and sniping team for Yoongi’s following morning mission at the Pentagon when the yellow light on his cell blinks, signaling a call on the civilian line.
He gives instructions for them to sit tight before exiting the room, pausing on the other side of the closed door and sending the call to his in-ear quickly, glancing around the sparsely occupied lobby absently. His own office is across the way, but he doubts that this call has any weight to require privacy. They haven’t used this line in weeks. Some faint suspicion itches right beneath the surface of his consciousness, and he relaxes into it. “Hello?”
“Yugs, she’s really hot. I don’t know what to do.”
Taehyung scratches at his eyebrow, lips quirked in a smirk, and crosses his arms as he leans against the wall, head tipped to the ceiling. “She’s really hot, and you don’t know what to do?”
“Oh, fuck. Again?”
“Just can’t get enough of me, huh?”
“For what it’s worth, I think it’s the area code. I keep dialing five instead of two, because those are the last three digits of my number.”
“And why do you keep leaving your cell at the table?”
“I don’t want them to think I’m going to call someone from the bathroom? Or, like, that I’ll scroll through social media on the toilet? It’s rude.”
“Listen, I really need help, I’m on a time crunch. She’s hot and my place is a mess, I don’t want to take her there. But I definitely want to eat her out, possibly with all these witnesses. What’s the best way to approach that?”
Taehyung pinches the bridge of his nose, eyes shut tight, and sets his other hand on the belt at his waist, pacing toward Namjoon’s end of the floor slowly. A secretary bustles past him with a stack of paperwork, and the scent of her Chanel N°5 clogs his nose for a second as he ponders how much he cares about this guy. “If all you’re looking for is a quick fuck, I don’t think you need to take her further than the actual bathroom you’re pretending to be in. Does she seem to be on the same page as you?”
“I think so? She tied the cherry stem from her cocktail with her tongue and kept licking her lips while I was telling her about my – plus, she took off the jacket she was wearing and now I can see everything.”
“You can see everything?”
“Her shirt is see-through.”
“Oh, so you’re a twelve-year-old. I get it.”
“Fuck you. I haven’t been laid in three months.”
Taehyung stills, then turns to pace back to the meeting lounge. “You were hot and heavy with a hydrangea shrub last month, when you called me. Did that not pan out?”
“I – no, it didn’t, I … can you help? What do I say if she asks to go to my place?”
“Look, it honestly sounds like she’d be happy to go at it in an alleyway outside, so why don’t you just put on your big boy boots and let her call the shots? How much of a mess is your apartment anyway?”
“It’s … I mean, it’s not bad by regular people’s standards, but it’s bad for me. I left three shirts on the chair when I was deciding what to wear, and I haven’t vacuumed the hallway in two weeks. Plus, all my shoes are off the rack near the door, and – “
“You’re a crazy person. Just unclench and take her to your place.”
“I’m – it’s embarrassing. She’ll think I’m messy.”
“She’ll think you’re messy?”
“What is it with you and repeating everything I say? Are you a phone sex hotline? You’re bad at it.”
Taehyung smiles, lowers his voice. “Do you want me to be good at it?”
The stranger squeaks, familiar, and then clears his throat. “I gotta go, she’s pulled her phone out. Thanks for nothing!”
The dial tone is more surprising than it should be, but Taehyung tips his head back against the wall for a second and laughs soundlessly. He pulls out his phone, saving the stranger’s number for future reference, and has the contact synced to his personal cell.
After letting his eyes rove over the ten digits aimlessly, he sticks the device in his pocket and fixes the collar of his suit jacket, stiffening the lapels without much thought. Then, he ducks back through the door to continue the briefing.
A stray bullet during a compromised mission in Antigua has Jimin out of commission for two weeks in October, and rather than send an inexperienced agent into the field, they send Taehyung with a bulletproof vest and replace him with an inexperienced handler.
He’s got his earpiece on low, dialed down via his remote access to his desk in the office, and is thus blessedly saved from listening to the two new kids working the tech talking absolute nonsense to each other as they barely keep up with the parameters of what he needs from them.
He’s broken into a politician’s home on the one night that he and his wife visit the opera, and after navigating the security system and the two dogs who started yowling at him and then sniffed his fingers and started following him around, quietly panting, he’s finally reached the third floor. The tiny nails of the two Pomeranians tailing him scratch at the hardwood of the grand spiral staircase, but Taehyung waits for them to reach the landing and catch up with him before he continues into the dark depths of the house, avoiding all windows and peering at corners to check for cameras. None so far, and he’s in disguise anyway, but his confidence is shaky with the occasional muted, “Wait, is that a bird or a drone?” “That’s a fucking cloud, Brad,” in his ear.
He’s halfway into the long corridor that spans the length of the whole house when a faint beep resounds in his ear twice, making him halt beside an open door and check that he’s alone on this floor before pressing the button on his watch to switch the line to the call. The number is unfamiliar, and he’s in the middle of an operation, but he trusts himself more than the two idiots at his desk.
“I need your help.”
Taehyung walks further, past the empty guest bedrooms and the tiny maids’ station – fucking rich people – before he murmurs, absently, “You need my help?”
“Yes, and I know you’re not Yugy. Yugy’s at his parents’ country club all week and I think his phone died one day in, and he hasn’t recharged it. But I don’t know what to wear, and I need your help.”
“Do you only have one friend?”
The stranger tuts, and then sighs. “I’m Guk. My name, I mean. It’s Korean.”
Leaning to take a glance at the orthogonal hallway, sending the beam of his flashlight up and down the creases in the flooring, Taehyung listens to the tell-tale clatter of canine paws on the floor as he advances into the shadows, approaching the door to the study slowly. As he gets closer to his target, he tugs his phone out of his breast pocket and transfers the call to it, pulling the phone to his ear and letting the stream of the two idiot handlers back into his earpiece. “Korean?” he echoes, before muting his phone and hissing, “Confirm destination.”
Brad clicks a few buttons slowly, and then says, “Uh, yeah.”
Hardly able to contain his ire, Taehyung rolls his eyes and glances around at any neighboring spaces that could contain a risk of detection. The politician’s kids are with a babysitter across town, and the housekeeping team had been sent off before the opera outing, but the man is well enough disliked around town that booby traps and random unpleasantries wouldn’t be entirely out of the realm of possibility.
“Yeah, I just shorten it. It’s ugly, I think, I don’t like how it sounds.”
“I think it sounds cute,” Taehyung tells him, tugging on his swipe gloves and using the thin finger pads to trace the edges of the door, testing for any surprises. It ends up being bare, a regular old door to a study. The handle doesn’t turn, though, locked securely, and Taehyung lets himself hope that it’s the only hurdle he will face. “What do you need help with?”
“I have a date tonight.”
“Yeah?” Taehyung coos back, dragging the syllable with a smile and propping the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he kneels on the ground with a furtive glance into the darkened hallway, digging quietly in one of his pockets for a lockpick. “You have a date tonight?”
“Who’s he talking to?” Idiot One asks in his in-ear, and Taehyung grimaces, dialing the volume down again so they’re nearly inaudible.
“Yeah,” Guk tells him, and it sounds like he’s eating, vowels warbled lightly. “’M nervous.”
“Am I your therapist, Guk?”
“Not a good one. But it’s less scary to say it to a stranger I don’t know than my friend of thirteen years, so – it’s a guy. It’s a date with a guy. And I’ve never gone on any dates with guys.”
The lock clicks, and the door floats open, showcasing a cramped little room with bookcases lining all the walls and a desk in the middle, overflowing with paperwork and two large monitors, both powered on.
Muting the phone again, Taehyung says, “Keep me updated on surveillance. If the garage lights go on in ten minutes, you tell me in nine.” Approaching the screen, he sees the login window with the cursor blinking in the passcode box, and he plugs in his USB, watching as it generates millions of passcodes one after the other, each of them glowing incorrect. He sits in the chair primly and presses the phone to his ear again, where Guk is calling, “Hello? Are you there?”
“Yeah, sorry, my service is breaking up. Okay, so you just found out that you like men?”
A squeak. “Don’t say it like that.”
“Don’t say it like what?”
“I dunno, you make it sound … stupid. Plus, I’ve always liked men.”
The generator is up to six-digit passwords now, and all are still incorrect. It could be another half-hour before the right one goes in, and Taehyung checks his watch to ensure how much time he’s got before Aida is over and the Lees are expected back. “So what is it you need help with?”
“What do I wear?” Guk wails. “What do guys want?”
Taehyung snorts. “Shouldn’t you know? They want what you want.”
“I don’t know what I want.”
Seven digits. Taehyung inhales deeply, leaning down to pet the Pomeranians gently, and they waddle around his feet happily, panting at each other and scratching at the floor some more. “A man’s the same as a woman, Guk, we’re not that different. If he’s tying cherry stems with his tongue and sticking his foot in your crotch, the message is pretty unambiguous. If he’s smiling at you over a plate of cherry pie a la mode and asking about your family, you’ll probably have another date or two.”
“Do you like men, Mysterious Phone Sex Voice?”
“That’s funny, since you’re the one who keeps calling me to talk about his sex life.”
“I don’t even have one,” Guk whines, and the sound of something thudding lightly echoes through the line. The screen suddenly lights up green, and Taehyung is in. He tugs the USB out, pocketing it, and sticks another one in, transferring to it all the files on the hard drive. “I’ve been … it’s been weird lately. I don’t know what I want. I can’t do a hookup, it’s not … it’s not me. I go into it thinking I’ll be fine, it’s just – it’s just sex, and I’m attracted to this person plenty, but … I don’t know. It scares me.”
“What scares you?”
“I don’t like … not meaning anything to people. And I had one … when I was in college, I did it once with this girl I really liked. And she told me she couldn’t commit and she made it clear that it would be a one-off, and I thought I was okay with it, but in the morning, I felt horrible, crumpled. I think maybe the problem is that I liked her so much, and that won’t necessarily be a problem with any new people I meet, but … I can’t – I can’t. I try to see it as that kind of thing, especially since most of these people are from dating apps, but I freak out. And they don’t call me again anyway, so I lose twice.”
Seventeen minutes left. In his earpiece, Brad says, “Lees are exiting the opera house. Last geolocation is near the parking garage.” It’s a thirty minute drive from downtown to the house, so Taehyung’s got time, but he checks his watch again, restless.
“Are you afraid that this guy will want a one-off?”
“Kinda. Most guys do, on the apps. Even the ones who don’t say it up-front. But my brother says it’ll be much easier to see the first guy I ever date as a one-off, to relieve the pressure to build more. Plus, I’m in a line of work where a long-term relationship won’t be on the table for a while.”
“Why don’t you try to meet someone naturally? It sounds like you’re forcing it. If someone just wants conversation with you, it’s not that hard to tell.”
“Garage lights are on,” Brad says urgently, and Taehyung’s heartbeat freezes, then restarts. He glances out the window behind him, seeing the headlights reflecting off the glass, and hears the excited patters of the dogs’ receding feet as they rush to greet the new arrivals. “It’s not the Lees.”
A new level of panic rises to Taehyung’s throat, and he taps the desk with the soft pads of his fingers as he stares at the loading bar, watching the time remaining linger of four minutes, without changing. He mutes the phone and raises the volume of his earpiece. “Who is it?”
“Unclear, we’re tracing the license plate. Blue Mini Cooper, looks like two occupants. They aren’t parking, just idling in the driveway. Backup is on its way, they’ll park down the street for discretion, but signal if you need someone to come to the house.”
Taehyung grits, “Right,” as the time drops to two minutes. Unmuting the phone, Taehyung says, “Guk, my service is getting worse. Listen. Cancel the date. You’re not going on it for the right reasons. You’re forcing yourself into situations where you think you’ll be pressured into being different, but you don’t end up being different, and you make the whole experience miserable for yourself on the whole. Cancel the date, go to a bar by yourself, and meet someone there. Don’t set yourself up for failure.”
“Maybe,” Guk murmurs. “I’ll think about it.”
“Right,” Taehyung says. “Think about it. I gotta go, though.”
“Okay, thanks. Can – can you tell me your name?”
“Now look who’s repeating. Bye, Guk.”
He manages to wait out the transfer and rip out the USB with a vengeance. Sticking to the shadows, Taehyung returns the way he came, crawling out of a window on the bottom floor into the enclosed garden on the opposite side of the house from the driveway. He pets the Pomeranians goodbye as they nip at his heels, and then shuts the window with gloved hands quickly, disappearing into the darkness.
After one particularly grueling operation that ended with blows and being shoved out of a second-floor window by an ambushing double agent, Taehyung gets a two-day leave. He’s bent over his stove, frying some vegetables and listening to a soft rock melody from the speakers in his living room when his phone lights up with what he now recognizes to be Guk’s cell number.
He dances over to it languidly, licking his thumbs and wiping both hands on his waist apron, and picks up the call.
“Am I saved in your phone now?”
“Maybe. I like … I like the sound of your voice.”
“I’ve told you I am not a phone sex hotline.”
Guk snorts, and when he speaks again his speech is muffled, like he’s buried his face in something. “I couldn’t go through with it, last time. I canceled the date and – and then we rescheduled it, and I could tell he wanted … but I couldn’t. Lately I don’t feel like I’m attracted to anyone at all. ‘Cause if I were, it’d be easier, wouldn’t it? To ignore the fear?”
Once he’s finished sautéing, Taehyung sets the pan on a free burner and turns off the gas, sitting at the counter beside his phone and sipping at his wine. “How old are you?”
“And you’ve never had a random, meaningless hookup?”
“No!” Guk cries, then quiet. “I’m a good boy.”
“You’re a good boy?” Taehyung coos, swirling his cabernet sauvignon loosely in the glass that he holds by its stem, and tilts back in the bar stool, watching steam rise from the cooling frying pan. “Then maybe it’s for the best. Why the desperation, anyway? You’ll meet someone.”
“I’m in between jobs, and I know that once I switch to my new one, I won’t have time. I won’t even have the right life for it. I’ll be lonely, if I can’t learn to just … fuck and buck, or whatever.”
Taehyung gags at the words, setting his glass down with a resonant clang. “Don’t say that again.”
“Are you busy? I always call you, and you always talk to me. Are you unemployed?”
“Give me a reason not to hang up right now.”
“I really love your voice. I wish everyone had your voice, all the time. You’re so soothing.”
Figuring he’ll be stuck on the line a while, Taehyung stands to fetch a plate, piling his veggies on it and adding a few drops of avocado oil on top, before ripping off a piece of baguette and chewing quietly. “I work a complicated job, myself. Fucking and bucking is all I have.”
“See, and doesn’t it suck?”
“Not really. I’m good at it. And emotions aren’t really a problem for me – I don’t think about them as much as you seem to. Wired different.”
“Wired different? But doesn’t it feel dirty?”
“To fuck and buck?” Taehyung echoes, stifling his gag and his laughter.
“Yeah, to just be disposable like that. My brother’s been married for nine years, and I want what he has. It’s warm and clean and good.”
“It’s probably got a name, Guk.”
“Shut up, I mean the marriage. He’s part of a unit. He’s not a loose end.”
Scraping some fried tomato off the bottom of his plate, Taehyung sighs. “You’ll have it one day. You’re young. But I think you’re too tense and stressed to let it grow organically with the people you try to meet. It affects the mood, affects the conversation.”
“So I’m the problem?”
“Yeah, you’re the problem.”
There’s a silence, and eventually it lasts long enough that Taehyung starts to pipe up that he was joking, but then Guk sighs audibly and a soft rustle comes through the line. “I’m falling asleep, I think.”
“You’re falling asleep?”
“Yeah, I’m sleepy. I called you after I brushed my teeth.”
“You got an early morning tomorrow?”
“Really early, yeah. And stressful. I haven’t been able to sleep well for the last week or so, thinking about it. But I’m,” he cuts off to yawn loudly, “sleepy now.”
“That’s good, Guk. Go to sleep.”
He stays on field missions through the end of the month, aided by a rotating catalog of idiots, but he’s got enough training on his own not to be too bothered.
One evening in late autumn, he’s working a swanky hotel in the richest part of town, impersonating a new valet driver to try to swipe the bag of money stuffed in the hood of a yet-to-be-identified car, when it all goes south. He’s got the hood open and his head under it when a scantily-dressed woman, one of the escorts of a millionaire who’d tipped Taehyung three hundred bucks an hour prior, shows up and starts asking questions. It takes a few left turns in his answers for him to realize that she’s an agent, and shots start ringing through the garage before he can gather his bearings.
Hefting the money bag quickly, he shoves her off when she launches herself at him, running through the open space for the nearest cover behind some Jeeps. Lifting his sleeve mic to his mouth, he whispers, “Backup needed.”
Everything that follows is a blur. He ends up with a bullet grazing his arm, slicing it open slightly, and one lodging in his vest, dropping him flat on the ground with all the breath knocked out of him. Whoever was shooting at him doesn’t seem to be satisfied, as shells keep dropping to the cement floor nearby, with the sound of each shot blowing out Taehyung’s eardrums.
When the final bullet comes, it reflects off some chunk of metal nearby, buried deep in Taehyung’s hip. He bites down on his fist to avoid making a sound, hidden behind a Corvette with low ground clearance, face a mask of pain. When screeching tires signal that his assailants have escaped the lot, he croaks, “Medical attention needed.”
“They’ll be there momentarily, they’re already entering the garage downstairs. Can you give us a quick status update?”
“Money’s with me. Bullet in my hip, cut on my arm. One of theirs, female, twenties, may recognize and identify my face.”
“Copy that. Bus got held up by hotel security after the commotion. We’ll signal when it’s on your level and safe to approach.”
Taehyung wheezes, excruciated by the burn in his side, and thrashes weakly, turning over onto his non-injured hip blearily. It takes several rings for him to notice that his phone is illuminated with a call from Guk. Unthinking, he stabs at the screen. “H’llo?”
Breathing heavily, Taehyung squeezes his eyes shut a few times. “Hey.”
“You sick of me yet?”
“Yet?” Taehyung echoes with as much derision as he can muster. But Guk’s voice is soft and mellow, like he’s taking a bath or under blankets or in a meadow somewhere.
“That’s fair,” he responds, melodic. “I just wanted to update you that my work thing went good. They’re putting me on this probationary thing where I’ll be tested a few different ways, but I think the job’s mine to keep if I make it through.”
“Good,” Taehyung pants, back arching as a nerve in his leg twitches and makes the bullet burn more, sending pain through his whole body. “That’s good.”
“Are you okay? You sound weird.”
“Fine,” Taehyung grits through his teeth, staring at the blood that pours out of his arm and coats the ground beneath it. “Tell me a story.”
“Tell you a story? I don’t have any good ones. I did meet someone at a coffee shop that sounded like you, though. All growly and raspy and serious, he’d ordered some froofy sugary frappuccino. And I thought, that’s exactly what Tee would order. But then he turned around and I knew it wasn’t you.”
“How’d you know that?”
“He wasn’t hot at all. I know you’re hot, I can tell by the way you talk. How hot are you, one to ten?”
“Eleven,” Taehyung rumbles, shutting his eyes. In his ear, a handler says, “Bus was released. It’s on its way to you now.”
“See, that would make me think you’re actually a two if it were anybody else, but I can tell you’re serious. You’re hot as fuck.”
“How hot are you?” Taehyung asks, smile finally playing at the edges of his mouth, heart pounding as he waits for someone to knock him out with some morphine.
“Eight or nine, I guess. I have a lot of muscles.”
“You have a lot of muscles? How many?”
“All of them.”
“All of the muscles.”
“You sound sleepy. Are you about to nap?”
“Yeah, Guk, I’m gonna nap. Congrats on the work thing.”
The call cuts off just as a car parks in front of the Corvette. Taehyung holds his breath until his earpiece crackles, “Safe to approach.”
He crawls, sobbing silently, until he’s visible to the medical team in the van, and then collapses, lights out.
After fielding a vicious attack in a downtown warehouse one evening, Taehyung wipes up the slight smidgeons of blood on his temple and under his nose, barging into a nearby bar’s bathroom to wipe himself clean. “I’m deactivating my mic and earpiece. See you in the morning,” he says to the newest incompetent handlers listening to him, and then moves all the devices into his pocket quickly. The only thing maintaining his sanity is the knowledge that a new field agent will be assigned to Taehyung next week, as Jimin has elected to work as Yoongi’s handler for the foreseeable future while his shattered leg heals, so Taehyung will be back in the office doing his own job properly within a few days’ time.
In the mirror, he merely looks a little sloppy, like he’s had a few after work, hair just a bit messy, clothes just slightly rumpled. He figures he deserves a quick pit stop before heading into the office for an overnight stay, and if he were followed to the bar it’s something he’ll deal with when he has to deal with it.
He’s leaned against the counter after ordering a martini, both arms folded in front of his chest as he stares at the muted light that glows from beneath the tap handles nearby, when his phone rings. He winces as he shifts to lift it from his pocket, eyeing the familiar number with hesitation.
“I did what you said, I went out with my friends and we ended up at this place, and there’s a guy so fucking hot here that I think I’d let him fuck and buck with no questions asked. You gotta help me. What do I say?”
Taehyung snorts, glancing around. There’s clusters of girls in a few places along the bar counter, and one table is occupied by two guys laughing at their phones, but otherwise the place is barren. For a Tuesday night, that’s not surprising. “You went out on a Tuesday night, and you still found someone hot enough to fuck and buck? You gotta send me the location.”
“He’s past an eleven, Tee, he’s like a fifteen, or a fifty. Fuck, I want to cry a little bit.”
Taehyung laughs, lifting his eyebrows in thanks at the bartender when she sets his cocktail glass in front of him. “You want to cry about it? That’s not a great precursor to any fuck and buck.”
“You have no idea, I think I’m melting. Do I just go up and say something? You do this a lot, you have to help me.”
“Okay, listen. People are all just people. Ask him something you’d want a guy to ask you. What drink he’s having, maybe? How hot he thinks he is on a scale of one to ten?”
“You know, I realize that I keep calling you, but you must be aware that you’re useless.”
“I’m not a good boy, Guk, I can’t speak your language. I’m sure if he’s at a bar on a Tuesday night, he’s just as willing to meet up in the bathroom as you are.”
“You act like you’re not a good boy, but you keep taking my calls, and you always talk to me.”
“So what does that make me?”
“The best boy.”
Taehyung gags audibly, gulping down some of his martini, and listens to Guk’s soft laughter. “Your five minutes are up. Time to be an adult.”
“I think – I think,” Guk says quickly, keeping his attention, “if we ever met, you and me … it’d be …”
He waits for the rest of the sentence, but it never comes. Just the gentle sound of Guk's breathing, and he doesn't know what to do with that. He knows what it means. “Bye, Guk.”
He throws his phone in his pocket again, rubbing at his eyes wearily and finishing his drink with two long gulps. As he raises his hand to wave for another one, a warmth shows up at his side, and a velvety voice asks, “What drink are y – oh.”
Turning swiftly, Taehyung finds a man beside him, soft-looking and dressed down, shiny hair piled neatly on one side of his face as he pouts at Taehyung’s empty martini glass. It takes a second of trying to understand what feels so strange about the moment before he processes the cut-off question and the voice.
With one elbow still on the counter, Taehyung shoves his mouth into his hand, studying the man quietly. After a long second, he asks, “Well, your remaining option is ranking how hot I am.”
Guk blinks at him with round, shiny eyes, and then buries his face in his hands. “Oh, my God.”
“But I’ve answered that for you, too.”
Taehyung takes his new drink when it’s handed to him and flicks at Guk’s wrists so that he’ll lower them, eyes roving over the length of him quickly. “You’re a fifteen or fifty yourself.”
“Stop,” Guk whines, eyes low, fingers picking at the countertop nervously. “This is embarrassing.”
“I just called you panicked from the bathroom to talk about how hot you are. Are you here with someone?”
“No, I’m alone.”
Guk tilts his head, studying him. “On a Tuesday night?”
“Extenuating circumstances. Not to fuck and buck.”
Something in Taehyung’s head turns over, and he extends a hand to lift Guk’s chin with the tip of one finger, catching his eyes readily. “But you’ve got my number, and my general location. Maybe that’s worth a little more.”
Guk nods, swallowing thickly, and then glances up at Taehyung again, head shaking with disbelief.
“On the phone, you said – if we ever met?” Taehyung asks, downing half of his cocktail slowly, eyes on Guk’s face over the top of the glass.
“I thought it’d be …” Guk laughs at himself derisively. “I dunno.”
The miserable set of his shoulders, the disappointed quirk to his lips, it all makes Taehyung's stomach tighten. Like the last vestige of hope for some mythical Tee, who will be exactly what Guk needs, has been torn from Guk unceremoniously, leaving him empty handed and resigned. Pouring the rest of his drink down his throat, Taehyung twists his neck, straightening, and licks his lips as he ventures into Guk’s space. The other stares at him, eyes blown wide, and doesn’t protest when Taehyung leans in and places gin-wet lips on his, swiping his tongue over Guk’s bottom lip lightly. He realizes as he’s pulling away that the other is lightly trembling, soft, cool fingers wrapped around Taehyung’s wrist where he holds Guk’s jaw.
“You know how to reach me.”
Guk nods dumbly, big eyes blinking slowly, and as Taehyung walks out of the bar to head to headquarters, he feels none of the lingering ache he’d walked in with.
The case is simple, in and out in half an hour tops.
It’s a blessing to be at his desk and in control again, knowing that he’s the best at what he does and that he offers the best possible backup for an agent that anyone could find in the country. Taehyung’s got his eyes peeled on the two camera feeds from the front of the bank as he watches his agent approach the entrance casually, dressed as an interior decorator come to finalize the planning for the installation of high-quality security systems disguised as wall hangings and other décor.
“Guard is moving, wait for the all-clear.”
Taehyung zooms in on the footage he’s got from the agent’s tiny camera, imbedded in his round glasses, and studies the shape of the security officer before he disappears back into the depths of the bank’s lobby.
“All right, go in.”
He’s just poised his hand over the phone to dial in backup when it rings beneath his fingers, on the civilian line, flashing with an unknown number. He blinks up at the camera footage on his screen with confusion, and then takes the call.
“Do you really think I’m an eleven out of ten?”
Rolling his eyes, Taehyung twines his hands behind his head and leans back in his seat. “You’re in the middle of a mission. But at least you finally got an agency phone.”
“They told me to wait in one of these little chairs while the manager gets off a call. I’m bored.”
“You realize we can’t do this now that both our lives are at stake? Also, does the purpose of your mic and your earpiece completely escape you?”
“I like not to talk to myself in public,” Jeongguk grits, pushing the speaker of his phone close to his mouth for emphasis. “And I just think we left things weird last time I saw you. I want to know if you’re okay with me calling again.”
“The hell are you talking about, the last time you saw me was three hours ago. We fucked and bucked Thursday night, got breakfast Friday morning, and fucked and bucked all weekend through before both showing up in my boss’s office covered with bruises for our first rendezvous on Monday. Your toothpaste is still in my mouth from when you kissed me this morning. There are two other agents on this line, listening to every word.”
“It’s disgusting,” Jimin intones from beside him, idle, fingers working quickly over the keyboard of his computer as he tries to hack into the bank’s safety box vault.
“I think this breaks several workplace regulations, actually,” Yoongi pipes up from the room down the hall, busy tracking outgoing calls from the manager’s line.
“Well, fucking and bucking is one thing,” Jeongguk continues uninterrupted, “but we never established if that was, you know, all there would be.”
The line crackles, and then Seokjin’s voice calls sharply over the line, “Jeongguk Jeon if you don’t get your shit together for your first covert op, I’ll skin you.”
There’s a squeak, and then Jeongguk sighs, “Sorry, hyung.”
“Hey, do you guys want to come over to ours for dinner tonight?” asks Namjoon’s voice then, and Taehyung swivels in his chair with eyes wide, staring at the door to his boss’s office. “Jin was griping about how much he missed his little brother during his training all year, and now he's griping about how he’s been stolen away by Tae, too. I think we should all get to know each other better.”
“Yeah, sure, hyung, whatever. Anyway, Tae.”
“I miss you.”
“I miss you, too, Guk,” he coos, pressing his fingers into the finger-shaped bruises on his hips absently. “The manager’s just finished her call.”
“My five minutes are up?”
“Your five minutes are up. Time to be an adult.”