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The single droplet of blood on top of his shoe is a sore in the eyes. Taeyong steps away from the mess on the floor, careful not to let it touch him and leave a trace that would lead to his whereabouts however they happen. His target is not even these two lousy security men that arrived out of the blue to patrol the area around the privately owned building that screams old and abandoned, but the potential star witness to a prostitution ring within the biggest clubs in Seoul. But even as the payment only covers the man whose body will be perforated with a bullet or two in a few minutes, the extra baggage needs to be wiped out, nevertheless.

In this line of work everyone is a hindrance, everyone has to be taken care of. Sucks that these guards were suddenly deployed here out of all days. Maybe Taeyong would’ve spared them if they didn’t pose a threat. What did they expect anyway arriving without a warning while Taeyong was in the middle of loading his gun? On a side note, this would’ve been done smoothly if Taeyong knew the building’s owner would suddenly think of heightening useless security.

Walking away from the dead bodies, he heads straight to the floor where his aim would be best done when Kim Sungtae heads out of his apartment. Taeyong finds the perfect spot by the broken window in a desolated room that looks like it was formerly an office, judging by the lone desk flipped over at the corner, a tattered chair most likely chewed by pests and papers strewn all over the floor, stained by filth.

The ground is covered in dust and whatnot that emits such an unpleasant odor and Taeyong adjusts the balaclava covering most of his face in a futile attempt to get rid of the scent. Soon enough it’ll worsen, thanks to the corpses three floors down. But by the time this building is cloaked by smell of decomposing human flesh, he’ll be nothing but a ghost that once haunted this place.

Being a professional hitman is nothing like in the movies where men saunter in the scene looking classy and luxurious in their suits and specs. The only thing they share in common is being decked out in all black because they deftly blend in the dark. When Taeyong thinks of how movies portray them, he’s glad that the chaos that follows these glamorized characters depicted oddly by those that have never encountered a real hitman do not exist in real life.

Oftentimes he lives quietly despite the danger of his work due to the fact that he chooses his employers wisely. It is a part of the deal to make sure that he’s not officially a member of whatever gangs these bosses of his run. He simply kills whoever they want him to, but he’s not their guy. Not completely. That’s how he keeps it lowkey. The lesser people he knows, the lesser chances to be entangled in a gigantic mess.

Taeyong checks the time on his wristwatch and angles the sniper through the broken window. The scope helps him get a superb view of his target, and his only worry is how fast he’ll be able to unleash that bullet before Kim Sungtae notices the red laser on his chest.

Five minutes. He has five minutes left before the man steps out to accomplish his nightly routine of consuming three cigarette sticks. Every mission needs to be clean, studied meticulously–except for the unfortunate security; things aren’t always perfect. Taeyong didn’t come unprepared, otherwise he wouldn’t know how to execute it perfectly. Days were spent watching Kim Sungtae, stalking him while staying in the shadows. Each mission is a call of suicide. Consider yourself as dead as your target when you accept one. Because no matter how certain he is of his skills birthed by years and years of this kind of service, there are a few people that could always outsmart him.

One might think he does this smoothly all the time, but no. Taeyong looks untouchable and unbothered superficially, but it’s all a different story on the inside. Under his gear and behind the high caliber firearm is the inconspicuous nervousness in his chest. It’s a mix of undying yet nevertheless irritating fear and adrenaline rush. He’s ready to die all the time, but it doesn’t mean he’s unfeeling. The adrenaline rush rooting from the promise of another victory and a bag of cash counters it.

He swears he hears a snap behind his ear when finally, Kim Sungtae steps out of the apartment and walks down the pavement before stopping next to a lamp post. Taeyong watches him light his cigarette and take a long, satisfying drag of it through the scope. Kim Sungtae is a star witness to a crime but nothing about him is innocent. The guy is connected to a politician slated to run for the next elections. Kim Sungtae’s words will expose the underground figures and leave the business in the hands of that politician who will bask in pretentious glory should the gangs get caught.

The laser floats just above Kim Sungtae’s heart. Taeyong can almost feel it beat in sync with his as his index curls around the trigger.

One, two, three –

The shot is muffled by the suppressor, barely stirring demons out of their slumber. Taeyong watches as Kim Sungtae drops dead on the ground, cigarette still pinched between his fingers as his eyes stare lifelessly up the midnight sky. As soon as he’s sure that the target is down, he quickly withdraws the sniper from the window and jogs down the building, bypassing the bodies that have now made a bloody mess around and takes a pathway hidden from the open street.

Taeyong has no qualms stepping outside looking the most suspicious as he casually saunters to his car parked a safe distance from the crime scene while carrying a gun. No one is out at such time to witness the murder, and the gang he’s working for had disabled all cameras covering the whole street. Unlocking his car, Taeyong shoves the sniper in the passenger seat before getting in and freeing his head from the balaclava. Sweat trickles down his face as he starts the engine and without even checking behind, Taeyong steps on the gas to officially end another successful kill.

 

 

Phone against his ear, Taeyong leaves his car after changing the plate (he’s got a few – the actual plate and  those he uses for when he goes to missions) in the underground lot of the cheap apartment complex where he’s been renting a room for the past year, There are no elevators, so he’s forced to take the staircase to reach the third floor.

“Like usual, I’ll deposit the money once I confirm it myself that he’s dead. No funeral before me, no payment. But rest assured it’s not going anywhere.”

“The news will reach you faster than his own family.”

His unit is nothing special despite the money he’s earning from every kill. The cheaper it is, the better. Luxury only garners unwanted attention. None of his neighbors give a fuck about him and that’s exactly what he wants.

“That I don’t doubt. You’re good, Taeyong. Really good. We’re lucky we found you.

Well, he certainly doesn’t feel as lucky anymore as compared to the time he signed that contract for a specific cause, and that cause has finished earlier than the contract. Taeyong grumbles under his breath, a response his boss freely interprets.

As soon as the call ends, Taeyong enters his apartment and closes the door behind with a soft click. Reaching for the switch on his left, Taeyong lights up a corner of his living room before depositing to the couch his phone, the balaclava, and the guitar case hiding his sniper. His body is already screaming for that rewarding cold shower to rid him of the tangible and intangible traces of his crime.  

The bulb atop his head flickers to life when he steps in the small bathroom. Taeyong begins shredding his clothes and dumps them in the laundry basket under the sink, and proceeds to inspect the new bruise among old ones on his face in the mirror. The sudden arrival of those guards had him running into a goddamn wall. The cut on his lip is tender. Taeyong gingerly picks on the flakes of dried blood around it and runs the tip of his tongue over the wound, savoring the sting it brings. Just a simple reminder that he’s still alive.

He showers quickly and dries himself with a fresh towel. Before going to the convenience store around the corner for a late-night dinner, Taeyong shoves the guitar case under his bed and the balaclava soon joins his dirty clothes in the hamper. He doesn’t ever bring them to a laundromat. They are always handwashed by himself on the weekends. After a quick check around, Taeyong heads to the convenience store.

It’s predictably empty when he arrives, save by the cashier who perks up as soon as Taeyong arrives. He heads straight to the ramen aisle in lieu of sparing the cashier a glance, takes two packets of his usual and grabs a can of coke from the cooler. Taeyong uncaringly dumps them on the counter and watches the price on the little screen with a face so bored and devoid of enthusiasm which is a stark contrast to the expression plastered on the face of the overly friendly cashier.

“How’s your day? Something good happened?”

Does it look like something good happened to him when he’s looking like he’d rather die than talk?

This sunny cashier, for the past three months since he started working in this convenience store, has always vainly tried to engage Taeyong in a conversation. So far, his roster of accomplishment is just accounts of him manning the register while the hitman looks at him as if he’s a talking sock puppet.  

“You should try the new ramen! It’s next to this one you always get. The brand just came out last week but it’s been sold out thrice. I made sure to save two for you, though. In case you get sick of these fire noodles. Oh, and coke isn’t good for your health. You’ll get bloated in the morning. Why do you even eat at like, 12 or 1 or 2am?” The cashier continues to talk and Taeyong pretends not to notice how the guy slows down taking his change.

Seriously, what’s with this insufferable person? Can’t he see how uninterested Taeyong is? Doesn’t he know how to read the room, get it through his head that no matter how many times he tries to make Taeyong talk, Taeyong will never indulge him with something so frivolous? Hitmen don’t get friendly with people unless they’re of value to a mission. Moreover…why does the damn cashier still ask about his choice of dinner? Taeyong buys nothing but ramen! The guy should take a hint and just think it’s his favorite!

The cashier flashes a smile too bright for someone to wear at an ungodly hour and hands Taeyong his change. “Eat well!”

Taeyong fights the urge to roll his eyes as he picks up his items and walks away to cook his ramen. While waiting for the noodles to soften, Taeyong can feel the cashier occasionally peek at his direction. As much as Taeyong wants to tell him off though, he won’t waste a breath for it. The guy will eventually get tired of pestering him.

With a silently grumbling stomach and annoyance sizzling under his skin, Taeyong brings his food to his usual table and proceeds to eat while pretending there are no eyes boring holes on the back of his head.

 

 

Jaehyun mopes in his seat behind the counter. Is there something wrong with his face? Why does that man only glare at him when he does look Jaehyun in the eyes? Oftentimes he’s just watching the price on the screen, but when he looks at Jaehyun, he always has either a bored or a hostile gaze. Does the man not like people talking to him? If that’s the case, then how does he live?! Isn’t that sad?

He continues to watch the back of the man sadly when his co-worker finally emerges from the storage room and joins him at the counter.

“…Who stole your candy?”

“I’m 22, asshole. I don’t sulk when people take my food.”

“My name’s Yuta, not asshole.”

“You certainly make it hard for me to remember, though.”

“You…” Scoffing in disbelief, Yuta leans sideways against the counter with a hand on his hip as he watches the barely hidden disappointment play across Jaehyun’s face. “What’s gotten you–” Right then something moves in his periphery and Yuta finally understands why his co-worker looks like a kicked golden retriever. He looks at the man drinking his coke before his attention returns to Jaehyun. “Honestly, why do you even try?”

Chin pillowed by his hand, Jaehyun sighs with a shake of his head. “I talk to all customers, you know. Because I believe a simple greeting would make their day better. It’s not bad to be friendly. After all, we’re in customer service.” He glimpses the man briefly and looks up at Yuta. “But this one is a tough nut to crack. He’s really difficult.”

“Maybe he’s a tough nut that doesn’t want to be cracked.” Yuta pulls a stool and sits next to Jaehyun, grabbing a pen from the plastic rack and thoughtlessly fiddles with it. “Not everyone appreciates friendliness, especially coming from strangers. Ever heard of introverts? They feel better when people leave them alone. That’s probably why he always sits at the farthest table with his back on you. Being alone equates peace.”

“You mean I’m disturbing him?”

Yuta shrugs, now twirling the pen as he looks at Jaehyun. “Who knows? At the end of the day it’s none of our business.”

“You’re right about that. But I feel like he hates me. One hello wouldn’t hurt. He can keep quiet as much as he wants after that.”

“He doesn’t owe you anything.”

Jaehyun crosses his arms with a huff. He knows Yuta’s making sense, that everything Yuta said is true. But there’s something about that man that makes Jaehyun want to keep talking to him even without getting a response. The man doesn’t seem like he’s going to punch Jaehyun anyway for refusing to read the atmosphere because as much as he looks scary, his body language tells no hint of ever wanting to hit Jaehyun. Not like Jaehyun is an expert at discerning people’s actions, or lack thereof. So if the glare is meant to tell Jaehyun to give it up, then the man needs to do better than that.

He’s been working in the convenience store for three months and since the first time Jaehyun saw the man, his interest to pull a reaction out of him that isn’t a glare or an indifferent expression only grows stronger each time. Jaehyun is naturally friendly so social interaction is a piece of cake. However, for some reason, this one particular customer decided to be an ass. And it only makes Jaehyun want to talk to him even more. And when the man finally gives up and talks to him? Ha! Jaehyun will consider it a victory.

“Doesn’t he intrigue you?” Jaehyun asks Yuta.

“He’s just another customer. He’ll intrigue me if he tells us to keep a thousand won change. But even then, that’s already a normal thing to do. So, nope.” Yuta puts the pen back in the rack and folds his arms over the counter before resting his head on them. “Wake me up if necessary.”

Right now is necessary. You can’t sleep during work hours.”

Despite the obvious reminder, Yuta merely grunts before taking a nap, leaving Jaehyun alone to deal with his ill-fated, unrequited friendship.

 

 

Taeyong slurps the last noodle and puts the chopsticks down, lets them soak under the red soup. He’s already sitting at the farthest table but he could still hear the cashiers’ conversation. At least one of them understands his lack of need to be friendly. They might have gotten it wrong; he’s not an introvert – he just doesn’t want to get close to innocent people and accidentally involve them in his lifestyle – but Taeyong sincerely hopes it convinces their co-worker to stop trying because it won’t work.

He still remembers the first time he was greeted with a loud ‘Hello! How are you?’. The cashier asked him why he was eating ramen at 1:45am and suggested eating sandwich instead. Taeyong promptly ignored him and didn’t think much of it. Because as much as he dislikes the interaction, he knows the cashier is just doing his job. But it started to get on his nerves when the cashier would ask him the same thing every time. What’s wrong with eating ramen? Taeyong likes it. He doesn’t owe anybody an explanation, certainly not Jaehyun. And how did he know the persistent guy’s name? He told Taeyong on their third encounter. Taeyong didn’t plan on remembering it. Somehow, it just stayed in his head.

It’s not like he could stop going to the convenience store. His apartment is dreary and the ramen won’t taste as good as it does if he eats it there, hence the decision to just suffer Jaehyun’s constant sunny disposition. Aside from his clear aversion of eating in his apartment, Taeyong has a habit of having dinner past midnight even without a mission to consume his time prior. It’s just his luck that Jaehyun’s shift lets them meet frequently.

Also, Taeyong has no stocks because he can’t cook to save his life. He really is destined to eat convenience store foods and meet the overly nice cashier. Anyway, it’s just a small price to pay for his lack of knowledge in basic life skills. He’s literally a hitman – bearing with the chore of listening to Jaehyun talk to a wall (the wall being Taeyong himself) won’t kill him.

Taeyong raises the can of coke and frowns at how light it is. He tips it over, waiting for that splash in his mouth and feels gravely upset getting a drop. Well, it’s a sign that he should leave. He cleans his table and is about to head for the door when he remembers he ran out of gums. It’s his own must-have comfort food. As weird as it is, gums help him deal with the jitters before each mission. Not wanting to go through a new one without it, he takes a detour and approaches the gum display, which is unfortunately by the counter.

“Oh, you like gums too?”

Of course, the cashier–Jaehyun would ask him that in spite of already knowing the answer. This is not the first time Taeyong bought gums since Jaehyun started working here. It’s just another hopeless tactic of getting him to speak.

Taking out his wallet to pay, Taeyong inwardly sighs when he only sees a wad of huge bills. Since his spare coins won’t cover it, he ends up handing the cashier a bill and waits for the mechanical apology of having not enough change during the dead hours.

It doesn’t come. Rather, Jaehyun accepts it with a smile and prepares to give him his change. “Um, are you okay with some coins, ‘because I forgot we already deposited the day earnings–”

“I don’t care.” Taeyong says, effectively stupefying the cashier. What, is he that shocked to finally hear Taeyong’s voice? Is the sound of his voice not to the guy’s liking? Jaw clenching, he snatches the gum off the counter and pockets it. “Keep the change.”

“…You, you talked to–”

The rest of Jaehyun’s words die down as the man rudely walks out of the convenience store. He watches the customer until he disappears, before glancing down the paper bill in his hands.

Wow, his voice is deep. It goes well with his face, Jaehyun thinks as he replays their first real interaction. Suddenly buzzed with excitement, he begins hitting Yuta awake, uncaring of the other’s protests. “The man talked to me! You should’ve seen it!”

“Huh? Who? Stop hitting me, for Pete’s sake!”

“The mysterious customer! The one who wouldn’t talk to me, the one with that fresh cut on his face…” Jaehyun continues to describe the customer ‘because it looks like Yuta hasn’t completely come to his senses yet. He sits back down, still awestruck. Jaehyun certainly didn’t expect the man to speak to him! “He sounded annoyed but it’s fine. That means he doesn’t hate me.”

Yuta grumbles. His co-worker loves testing his patience. “You just said he sounded annoyed.”

“Annoyed and hateful are two different things.”

“And what’s up with the one with that fresh cut on his face? How do you know it’s a fresh cut?”

“He always has bruises. Tsk. I observe people, okay? When they pay, you inevitably look at their hands. Sometimes he has bruised knuckles. And you’re always cheating your way out of work, you don’t see him up close. The cut on his brow healed, but he has a new one on his mouth.” The puzzlement shows on his face. “How could he eat something so spicy with a cut like that?”

The cuts and bruises on that man only adds up to his mysteriousness, and Jaehyun’s interest to get to know him. He’s like a book that doesn’t wanna be read and the wounds are stories piling up without any explanation, only to start a new one anti-climactically.

To be honest, talking to that customer is the only reason why Jaehyun isn’t sleeping off the dead hours like Yuta. The man certainly makes things better even with the rough attitude. Will he come back tomorrow? He rarely misses a night.

Jaehyun is already looking forward to hearing more from him. He knows it’s just a matter of time before they start having a real conversation. Would the man let him in on the stories of each cut and bruise?

There’s only one way to find out.

 

 

Over the course of the next two weeks, Taeyong still eats at the convenience store. He could avoid meeting Jaehyun by going earlier but ramen tastes better when he’s hungry, and he’s always hungry during Jaehyun’s shift. It doesn’t mean anything – his body has just been conditioned to tell him it’s time to eat when it’s well past midnight. Jaehyun becomes even more eager to get him to talk after that slip-up but Taeyong doesn’t allow him to get lucky again. Instead of answering the simple close-ended questions, Taeyong keeps his mouth shut, finishes his dinner, and goes back to his apartment without being a little nice to the cashier. He swears the sad looks Jaehyun gives him don’t affect him in any way.

The days following his latest kill are always mundane. He gets the payment, deposits them and gets on with his life being the most boring person to exist while waiting for an indefinite call from his boss. His missions aren’t consistent – they come when the boss wants someone dead. But even without a kill for a month, the handsome pay from one kill is more than enough for Taeyong to survive.

It doesn’t manifest in his apartment, nor anything about him outside being a hitman because he has nothing to spend on. Taeyong doesn’t wish to live in luxury. He pays electricity, water and phone bills, some unhealthy snacks from the convenience store, and that’s about it. His boss always keeps a portion of his pay that will be released once the contract finishes. A strategy to make sure he’s not running away.

And then half of each payment he receives goes somewhere important – a vow he made when she left.

Taeyong exits the apartment carrying a bag of the money he’ll be depositing. As he locks his unit, he notices a paper taped on the door of the space next to his.

It looks like he’s going to have a new neighbor. A few people came and went to occupy that unit since Taeyong moved into the apartment complex. None of them lasted longer than two months. Each floor comprises four units, and that last space has never seen an occupant willing to stay there for a while. As though it’s spitting them out until it finds the right person to own it.

Pocketing his keys, Taeyong glances at the notice one more time before going down the carpark. He’s buckled up and driving in no time, ready to drop the blood money to its new recipient. 

 

 

Jaehyun counts all the boxes in his room. Five. And then a mini fridge and a small fan. It’s always a hassle to pack up but he managed to make Yuta agree on helping him move to make it a little easier.

“This is the first time I’m seeing your place and you’re already moving out, what the hell.”

Checking around for the last time to make sure he’s not leaving anything behind, Jaehyun waves at Yuta dismissively. “Eh, we just became friends three months ago. Don’t you know about the rule of inviting a friend over on the sixth month of knowing them? Give it half a year to see how well you trust each other before letting them see your place.”

From where he’s standing by the door, Yuta gives Jaehyun a look that says what the fuck. “There’s no such thing, you idiot. Where do you get all these lame ass excuses? Come on, pack it up.”

“Can you please just keep quiet for a minute? I’m trying to look for my charger.” Jaehyun says from his bedroom as he checks each drawer and empty closet one by one.

“Dumbass. The first things you pack when moving are your phone and charger.”

A triumphant shriek tears through the apartment when Jaehyun finally finds it from under a rug. He doesn’t even wonder how the hell it went there. Jaehyun comes back to the living room and stuffs the charger in his backpack. “You’d think that getting paid for helping a friend move would make you shut up, but you never fail to prove me wrong.”

Yuta snorts as he picks up a box to be put in the cab waiting outside. None of them has a car, courtesy of being broke as hell which makes this even more annoying. “This place is nice. Why are you moving?”

“I’m moving because this place is nice, and broke people don’t deserve nice places. I found a cheaper unit two blocks from the convenience store. I paid with the advance deposits Mrs. Park returned. Bless her. She’s really nice. Reminds me of my mom.”

They start loading the boxes into the cab before Jaehyun hands the keys to his very kind landlady who tells him to visit when he has time. Oh, he has all the time in the world with being just a convenience store cashier, alright. After his 8pm to 4am shift, he has nothing else to do. He misses being a student but money is tight at the moment and he cannot keep up with the fees. But his 16-hour free time? Why would he use it on visiting Mrs. Park when he’s got better things to do? Like cope with the stress of lagging behind academically by sleeping it off, among others.

Yuta doesn’t say anything to that and surprisingly keeps quiet on the way to the new apartment complex. It’s a short trip and soon, they’re already carrying the boxes up the flight of stairs. How in the world does a complex with four floors not have a single elevator? Pretty sure there are senior citizens residing here, no?

Before he could explode from both exhaustion and annoyance, Jaehyun distracts him with some bills being waved right in front of his face.

“Thank you for your service!”

Yuta quickly snatches them with a grin. That’s the right way to relieve him of stress – with some good cash. “You’re welcome. Anyway, this is not a bad place. It’s definitely smaller but if it’s gonna save the money…”

“I know, right. I can start arranging my stuff later.”

“Will you go to work?

Jaehyun snorts and starts opening the boxes. “Of course. How else would I get the money to pay for this apartment?” He rummages for the cooking necessities and proceeds to put them in the tiny kitchen. “I can do it from here! You can go home if you want.”

“You sure?”

“Mm.”

Yuta watches the other for a few seconds before heading to the door, stopping suddenly when he remembers something. “Jaehyun?”

“Yes?”

“Are we really friends?”

Pausing from arranging his mugs and spoons, Jaehyun momentarily pretends to be in deep thought before grinning at Yuta when the latter raises a brow. “Only if you want to be friends.”

With a roll of his eyes and something murmured indistinctly under his breath, Yuta shakes his head at Jaehyun and leaves. Jaehyun’s words ring in his head as he leaves the apartment complex.

 

 

As a very kind and friendly neighbor, Jaehyun decides to introduce himself to as many of them as possible. And what’s a better way to get on their good side than with a tasty homemade food?

With ingredients bought from the store next to the complex, Jaehyun comes up with something simple yet delicious to be given to them. Sure, this is not necessary but he can never live in peace anywhere without getting to know the people around him. Who knows, it might come in handy one day. In case of an emergency, he needs to have a contact he can trust.

An hour later finds him carrying a tray of kimbap rolls split equally on paper plates. He makes the tastiest kimbap ever and Jaehyun just knows they will be head over heels for him as soon as they get a bite of it.

Logically, the first one he goes to is the apartment next door. But after a minute of knocking, no one has answered him. Is there no one inside? Probably. Or they must be asleep. Supposing that’s indeed the case, Jaehyun heads to the other units first to introduce himself. They happily accept the food and since he made a lot, Jaehyun decides to go to the next floor too. The cute family living above his unit asks him to join them for lunch, an invitation that a foodie like him cannot refuse.

Right then, his next-door neighbor finally arrives.

The bank is particularly busy today and the long line had Taeyong waiting for his turn for half an hour. He would’ve returned earlier if not because of it. However, he supposes it’s fine. It gave the hitman some time to decide whether or not he wanted to visit her. He ended up doing that just, bringing some flowers and talking to her for a while until it’s time to say goodbye again. He realized after that he missed her. Greatly. How long would it take him to miss her again, though? A week? A month? Would she understand it if he wouldn’t see her for a while? Seeing her only wrings his heart anyway.

Taeyong is keying his apartment when he notices that the paper on the door next to his is gone. It must be occupied already. Sincerely, he hopes that whoever’s living next to him won’t ever think of knocking on his door just to introduce themselves and wish they get along through some plate of food. Tactics like that do not work on him.

 

 

“The food is so good, thank you! Once I’m done organizing my place, I’ll invite you as well. Especially you, little Jihoon.” The four-year old boy stops clinging to Jaehyun’s leg and runs back to his scattered Legos on the floor. “Well, my stuff is already crying for me to fix them. I’ll see you soon, Mr. and Mrs. Kim!” Jaehyun waves at the couple’s adorable son as well before leaving their unit to go back to his.

He’s in the middle of contemplating whether or not he should do a general cleaning first when he’s reminded of the remaining kimbap rolls on his tray. Will his next-door neighbor finally answer the door?

Jaehyun shrugs and stops at unit 303. Balancing the tray on one hand, he knocks and waits for anyone to answer him. A few seconds pass by and he gives it another try until sounds of heavy footsteps echo from inside the unit – and the door is wrenched open.

“Hi! I’m Jae–”

He stops to gawk stupidly at his neighbor. How could he not?

Standing before Jaehyun is none other than the customer, wearing the same look of shock on his face.

“Oh.” Jaehyun rubs his eyes and blinks a few times. Maybe he’s just hallucinating? Not impossible when his nights are made more fun by this very intimidating person. He’s so invested on trying to be friends with the latter that thoughts of him could be negatively affecting his sight too. Does that even make sense?

Oh,” he says for the second time when the man doesn’t disappear.

“What the fuck,” Taeyong says disbelievingly with a sarcastic huff as soon as he gets over the shock. Would the cashier really go this far to get close to him? “Are you stalking me?”

“Huh? No! Why would I do that?” Heatedly, Jaehyun denies it. How dare this man accuse him of such? “I just moved next door. We’re neighbors now, I guess?” A smile so wide his twin dimples pop off graces Jaehyun’s features. “What a coincidence, right?”

“Coincidence, my fucking ass.” Taeyong’s tone is meant to intimidate but Jaehyun remains unfazed. His hold on the knob tightens. “You’re stalking me, aren’t you? I won’t call the cops, but I will need you to get lost before I make you.”

“Wow…” The cashier’s smile fades, his nose scrunching in distaste. “You’re so rude. I didn’t think that’s what I’d hear now that you finally talked to me properly.”

Silence.

Jaehyun eyes his neighbor incredulously, one hand on his hip. “And now you stopped talking? Unbelievable. Shouldn’t you be nicer? We’re not just convenience store acquaintances anymore. We’re apartment associates! Amazing upgrade, if you ask me.”

What’s so amazing about that? Taeyong knows that Jaehyun won’t leave him alone now. His days of peace are over. God, why did he take them for granted? “If I haven’t made it very clear yet, I don’t want to deal with you.”

That should slap the guy awake.

“Okay,” Jaehyun nods. “I heard that.”

Taeyong tongues the inside of his cheek before stepping back to close the door, only for Jaehyun to block it with a slam of his hand. What the hell?

“But that doesn’t mean I agree with it! Here,” Jaehyun offers the kimbap rolls to the wide-eyed man. What, did he break him?

“…Are you kidding me?”

“Fortunately, no. I’m serious. I made these kimbap with thoughts of making my neighbors happy – wait a sec! Let me finish! I’m just being nice, okay? Let’s be friends! The family in the apartment above mine loves me already.” Jaehyun lifts his head arrogantly. “Why don’t you?”

A scoff leaves Taeyong. Did he hear that right? “Why don’t I love you?”

Okay, Jaehyun admits he made it sound awkward. Scratching his cheek in embarrassment, the cashier boy looks down his precious kimbap. “It sounds weird when you say it like that. What I mean is it won’t hurt you to accept this. It’s just food and I swear it’s not poisoned. Why do you dislike me so much…?”

For some reason, the cashier boy’s sadness makes Taeyong feel like he should explain. “I don’t dislike you. This is just unnecessary. You don’t wanna be friends with me, I’m telling you.”

Jaehyun straightens up, free hand curling into a fist. “Hey, you don’t get to tell me what to do.”

“And you don’t get to tell me I should talk to you.”

“You’re already doing it, though.”

“’Cause you’re making me…!” Stopping himself from losing it, Taeyong takes a deep breath and stares right back at the other. Jaehyun is right, he’s already doing it when he shouldn’t. Taeyong prides himself with an impressive self-control, except that his new neighbor is effortlessly making him doubt it. “If I take the kimbap, are you gonna leave me alone?”

Jaehyun squints and taps his chin with an index as he pretends to consider it. “Certainly…certainly not. You always visit me at my workplace, so how would I leave you alone?”

Closing his eyes for a while, Taeyong prays to whoever’s listening to him right now to grace him with more cups of patience. Pour a river on him, if they can. Why hasn’t he slammed the door on Jaehyun’s face yet anyway? He could’ve gone back to bed if he just shoved Jaehyun – Nah, it won’t work. “You’re trying to get on my nerves as much as you can.”

Not even a question, but a statement.

Smiling once again, Jaehyun offers the food. “Nice to meet you, I’m Jaehyun.”

Taeyong opens his eyes and takes the paper plate. “I know,” he says curtly before slamming the door close to an unsuspecting Jaehyun and quickly locks it.

Jaw on the floor, Jaehyun stares with bulging eyes at the audacity of his neighbor. “Wait… Oi, wait! I need your name!” He starts knocking again, even hitting the door with his tray as soft yet demanding as possible since he has other neighbors to take into consideration. “You should give me your name, mister! And what do you mean by you know?” Memories of him telling the man his name on their first meeting at the convenience store rush back to him, putting a playful expression on his face as he points at the door. “You remember it, huh? Aw, you! I knew you were actually listening to me! See you later, okay?”

When Jaehyun finally leaves him alone, Taeyong slides down the floor with his back on the door as though every ounce of energy was sucked out of him. He picks up a kimbap and shoves it in his mouth in one bite. Flavors burst over his tongue, surprising Taeyong with its deliciousness.

He must cook well, too.

The kimbap’s savory goodness cannot divert him from the problem at hand, though. He shouldn’t have talked to Jaehyun two weeks ago. Whatever he does now, the cashier boy will likely continue to pester him until he gives in.

Taeyong’s head hits the door just as a frustrated groan escapes him. Jaehyun seems like a pure-hearted person. The kind that wants to drag everyone he meets in his circle. The kind that gets attached easily. Not even a deliberate avoidance can deter him.

And Taeyong is everything that Jaehyun isn’t. He’s cold, detached, sinful. His hands have been soaked in the blood of people whose names he cannot even remember anymore. Amiable doesn’t look good on him. He has no rights to have a normal relationship with anyone, be it platonic or whatever that comes his way. Even if it gets lonely at times without her, even if he makes the mistake of craving it in periods of vulnerability, he knows he shouldn’t want it. Shouldn’t even think about it. He’ll just end up dragging them to hell. And as much as Jaehyun irritates him, the guy doesn’t deserve to be involved in this lifestyle.

He reaches for another kimbap and is surprised that he already finished all three. When did he…? Taeyong gets up with a sigh and disposes the paper plate in the bin under the kitchen sink before unceremoniously dropping his body in bed. He wants to sleep. His head hurts again.

If only she was here, he wouldn’t go through this in the first place.

 

 

At exactly 12:30am, Taeyong enters the convenience store. Hood up on his head, it makes ignoring Jaehyun’s bright smile a lot easier. He pays for the same ramen – two packets and a can of coke.

“Is it good?” Jaehyun gives him a little tray for his dinner.

Taeyong merely grunts before heading to the hot water station to cook his noodles.

For the first time in a while, Yuta is at the counter to witness the two interact. The customer has never once acknowledged Jaehyun’s attempts before, glares aside. So where did that grunt come from?

Yuta elbows his friend gently as the customer stares unblinkingly at the cooking ramen. It’s more disconcerting that Jaehyun looks nowhere near sad. “Was that a response just now? I know he just grunted like an irritated bear but that’s like saying whatever, right?”

With a thousand-watt smile, Jaehyun nods before wiping the counter with a rug. “I’m sure it actually means yes, the kimbap I made was good. He probably ate it all in one sitting.”

“…Hold up, what kimbap? How did this happen? You two met outside?”

“Mhm,” Jaehyun sits down and proceeds to pull up a game on his phone. “He lives in the same apartment complex and guess what, we’re neighbors.” He swallows the urge to jostle Yuta excitedly. To be honest, busying his hands on the phone is just a way to keep them from reaching for Yuta. “That’s probably why he always eats here. Since it’s close to the complex.”

“That doesn’t explain anything.”

“It just did.”

Taeyong walks past them to sit at his table. As usual, with his back to the counter.

Yuta stares at Jaehyun for a moment. “Such luck you have right there. You two chatted properly?”

“I can’t call it a proper conversation since we kind of argued because he thought I was stalking him, but it was better than all my vain attempts combined. He even ate my kimbap, so that says something.”

“It does. It certainly does. So, what’s his name?”

Jaehyun looks at Taeyong’s back flatly. “He didn’t say it, but he knows mine. He remembered it. Next time, I’ll ask him.”

“Why not now?”

“I might annoy him too much and I’d be back on square one. Let’s take it slow.” Jaehyun knows he’s not fooling anyone with taking it slow. They’ll eventually see each other in the hallways or staircase of the apartment and he’ll be doing the absolute most for the man to talk to him again. Who said he’s okay with just being apartment associates? He wants to be friends.

Yuta purses his lips. “You know, you should learn to take a no. Maybe you’re making him uncomfortable.”

“…Am I?” Jaehyun looks worried.

“I said maybe. But it’s not cool to assume too so ask him next time.”

Suddenly anxious, Jaehyun exits the game and pockets his phone, the blunt nail of his thumb absently scratching on the other fingers. “Okay, I will. But he said he doesn’t dislike me. Maybe I should tone it down?”

Yuta raises a brow in approval, pulling Jaehyun up with him when a new customer arrives. They should be standing like the properly trained customer service clerks they are. “You’re getting the hang of it. Besides, you don’t impose friendship. It naturally happens when you’re compatible.”

“Like us?”

He merely smiles at Jaehyun before greeting the new customer as he scans her item.

 

 

Jaehyun is just going to take his trash outside when Taeyong steps out of his apartment wearing a loose white shirt, trackpants and running shoes. He really set his alarm and woke up at the perfect time, huh. “Hey, fancy seeing you here!”

Blankly, Taeyong looks at the garbage bag next to Jaehyun’s feet before wearing the water bottle sling. “I live here.”

“Cool, me too. Where are you going?”

“It’s none of your business.” Not talking to Jaehyun is a futile attempt. He’ll just show the other how boring he really is and that might get Jaehyun to realize it’s not worth it.

Jaehyun fidgets under Taeyong’s intense stare. “Um, can I ask you something?”

Taeyong tilts his head, a silent permission.

“Am I making you uncomfortable?”

The question manages to catch Taeyong off-guard. It might have shown on his face because Jaehyun scrambles to elaborate.

“It’s just that I talk to my friend Yuta, the other cashier, about my attempts at befriending you. You know how I’m usually alone behind the counter when you go to the store? He either naps in the backroom or busies himself with arranging things in the storage room that doesn’t need arranging because it gets boring past midnight. So I just end up telling him everything. I told him about the other day, when I gave you kimbap. And he might have hinted that you could be uncomfortable around me.” Jaehyun lowers his gaze. The intensity of Taeyong’s eyes have lessened but it’s still makes him jittery. “And I felt bad. I don’t wish to make you uncomfortable.”

Taeyong grips the strap of his water bottle sling, facing Jaehyun properly. “No.” It’s true, Jaehyun doesn’t make him uncomfortable. He gets annoyed at most, but that’s all. Besides, it is Jaehyun who should be uncomfortable around Taeyong for his subtle intimidation and unspeakable secrets. “No, you’re not…you’re not making me uncomfortable.”

“Really?” Jaehyun loses the nervousness. “Ah, but I’m surely bothering you.”

“You are.”

Pursing his lips, Jaehyun leaves the garbage bag near his door. A custodian will take it later. “Then I’ll be changing my approach. Are you going for a jog?”

“…Yeah. If you’re planning to join me–”

Jaehyun cuts him off. “Can I? It’s okay, you can say no.”

Taeyong licks his lips and runs a hand through his hair. Of course, he can say no. But there are no rules saying that Jaehyun cannot join him. He can’t simply tell someone what to do without a valid reason. And he can’t give Jaehyun one if he’s not going to tell him the truth. “Anyone can jog in the morning. Just please try not to talk too much.” He can’t believe he’s begging. “Actually, I’m not gonna tell you anymore to stop talking to me. Just keep in mind that we can’t be friends.”

Jaehyun inwardly dances in victory, both from being allowed to spend time with his favorite customer and the fact that he gets to listen to the other talk a lot now without having to exert too much effort. “Are you only saying that now or like, we can’t ever be friends?”

They stare at each other for a while in silence, until Taeyong decides to slowly close in on Jaehyun who keeps walking backwards. Jaehyun’s back hits his door.

“You’ll condemn me once I tell you why we can’t be friends.” Oh, how chaotic it’ll be if it happens. What would Jaehyun do, Taeyong wonders. Look for another apartment, report him to the cops? He’s never had to expose himself to anyone before so Taeyong has no idea of a sample reaction. All he knows it that Jaehyun will be horrified.

When Jaehyun gulps, it’s almost too loud in his ears. It’s a little past 7am yet no one else from their floor is banging pots and pans to cook breakfast and do what they need to do in the morning. He then puffs out his chest. “Don’t treat me like a kid, I’m already 22. I can talk like an adult, alright. My natural sweetness just kind of gets in the way.” Flashing a smile, he allows a fair distance between them by gently pushing Taeyong’s shoulders – they’re broad. “Now, since you know you can’t dictate what people should and shouldn’t do, may I join you for a morning jog? I’m asking because it’s polite to do so.”

“Do whatever you want.” Jaehyun’s touch burns and Taeyong has to make a show of dusting off his shoulder to somehow get rid of the scalding feeling.

Jaehyun perks up in excitement. He can’t believe this! Wasn’t it just a few months ago when the man openly pretended that he didn’t exist? And now, they’re even going to jog together. Ah, miracles really happen when you least expect it. “Please wait for me. I’ll just change.” Quickly, he goes back inside his apartment and changes into a more comfortable set of clothes. Jaehyun doesn’t have a tracksuit so he opts for a pair of plain black shirt and basketball shorts, as well as running shoes that obviously need some washing.

It delights him even more when he comes out and finds that Taeyong is indeed waiting for him.

 

 

Wherever Taeyong goes, the turns he takes and the few second pauses he does, Jaehyun follows. They’ve been jogging for good twenty minutes and Jaehyun sticks to his unspoken promise of not talking too much. Actually, he hasn’t said a word since leaving the apartment. He’s contented with this.

Taeyong is undoubtedly amused that Jaehyun is not trying to start a conversation. He’s serious about what he said earlier – they can talk, but they can’t be friends. Although the cashier boy is quiet, Taeyong can feel the occasional staring on the back of his head. Jaehyun has done enough of it in the convenience store that the hitman has learned to pick up when and when Jaehyun is not watching him. He’s not creeped out; it’s not intended to be creepy anyway. The other man was just too curious about him.

Unplugging one of his earphones when they reach the park, Taeyong sits on one of the benches to take a rest and turns to his neighbor as soon as Jaehyun sits next to him. “Spill. You think you’re so smooth by not talking to me, but I could feel you staring. Even at the store. You do that a lot.”

“Oh, haha,” Jaehyun bashfully towels his sweat. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not bothered.”

“Alright. I just want to know something. How old are you?”

Really? Basic questions? Taeyong supposes it’s harmless. “I’m 27.”

Jaehyun’s eyes widen a fraction. “Wow, you’re 5 years older than me. Since you won’t tell me your name, I will just call you hyung. Hyung, do you jog everyday?”

Taeyong can sense that the younger is trying to tease him. “You’re planning to jog with me everyday. What if I don’t want to jog with you everyday?”

Shrugging, Jaehyun plays with his towel by tying it into a knot only to undo it and repeat. “It’s okay if you don’t really wanna be friends yet. Talking with me doesn’t automatically mean we’re friends, right? I just really wanna talk to you, first and foremost.”

At least they’re on the same page.

“And why do you wanna talk to me?” Taeyong can’t help but be curious too. It’s not everyday that someone is genuinely interested in getting to know him.

Jaehyun is parched. If he asks Taeyong if he could drink from his bottle, would the man let him? Maybe that’s toeing the limit for today. “You always come to the store past midnight and you always eat alone. Do you have friends, hyung?”

“I don’t.”

So he’s indeed a loner. “Is that so? Maybe we can change that one day.” Jaehyun eyes the other’s earphones instead so doesn’t tempt himself to ask for water. “What are you listening to?”

“Rock,” Taeyong says as he fishes out his phone to lower the volume. Even though he’s only got on earphone in, it’s a struggle to hear Jaehyun clearly.

“May I?”

Taeyong wordlessly gives his phone to the cashier boy and looks at the children playing at the park early in the morning. A group of boys are playing ball on one side, while a mother and her toddler basks in the healthy sunshine on the other. They look carefree, no worries to burden them, while Taeyong wonders when his boss will call him for the next mission. He’s not eager to kill, but he’s eager to finish the contract. Two more and it will be over.

Jaehyun bobs his head to the surprisingly good music. He didn’t know he’d like this genre, but his hyung has good taste. Deeper Deeper? He’ll look it up later. He’s about to ask for a recommendation when Taeyong suddenly springs off his seat to hug a toddler walking their way, blocking the ball from hitting the poor kid. Instead, the ball hits the back of Taeyong’s head and Jaehyun gasps in shock. That’s fucking painful, right?

But as Taeyong gets up carrying the kid and hands the little boy to her fretting mother, Jaehyun sees no trace of being hurt on Taeyong’s face. The latter picks up the ball and gives it back to the one of the teens before sitting next to Jaehyun.

What he just did is nothing short of amazing. How the hell did he react so fast? Jaehyun’s reflexes will ultimately fail him. Also, it was such a refreshing sight to see. Taeyong is always so cold and intimidating so it left Jaehyun speechless after that stunt.

Deep inside, you’re actually kind, right?

They stay at the park for a little while until Taeyong says he’s heading back. Jaehyun has no other plans but to follow so he does, and is surprised that they’re heading to the convenience store.

“You eat here in the morning too?” Jaehyun asks before greeting the cashier – she and another one replaces him and Yuta when their shift is over.

Taeyong lets Jaehyun tail him as he goes to the ramen aisle. As expected, the younger tells him how unhealthy it is to consume nothing but noodles. But Taeyong doesn’t tell him he eats bread for lunch, which he buys here and Jaehyun has no idea of that.

The duo-who-aren’t-friends then pay and sit together at Taeyong’s usual spot (which makes him feel a little weird having to eat with someone). “Don’t tell me you’re gonna start eating with me too?” Taeyong briefly eyes the bottled water Jaehyun bought. “Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

“Is that concern I hear?” Teasingly, Jaehyun asks his nameless hyung and cackles when Taeyong rolls his eyes. “I’m kidding. Well, yeah. I’m supposed to be sleeping. But this is better. I can still get lots of sleep before work, though.”

That must satisfy the older man because he doesn’t say anymore. Jaehyun tries his best not to watch him eat and just looks outside the window, observing people who are out and about for the day. He misses rushing to classes, misses the feeling of being late and hoping his professor would still let him in. But unfortunate things do happen and sadly, they happened to Jaehyun.

Come to think of it, he doesn’t know what this ramen-loving hyung does for a living. Would it be too much to ask? Well, Jaehyun is not lying when he said he’ll take it slow. They just became neighbors, and there will be so many days he can pop the question. Preferably when Taeyong is more relaxed around him.

 

 

Jaehyun’s see you later goes unheard when they head back to the apartment. Taeyong enters his unit before the cashier boy could open his mouth. Despite that, Jaehyun happily goes inside his own place and sits on his futon (which is set on the living room floor as he’s too lazy to finish cleaning the bedroom), reveling on the little progress he’s making with the grumpy man.

“He’s going to open up sooner or later, I guess? After all, nobody can resist my charms. Hah.” Jaehyun lies down and does an imaginary snow angel while staring up the ceiling. He can certainly see him and Taeyong being friends. Yuta might be really nice, but there’s something about the hyung who eats ramen past midnight that pulls Jaehyun in.

Is this what Yuta calls compatibility? Surely, compatibility isn’t solely measured by how fast people connect instantly. It’s not there yet, but Jaehyun knows he and Taeyong will reach a deep understanding about each other. Like what psychology says, proximity and frequency affect social relationships.

And what else would being neighbors do?

 

 

“Let me guess. We’re here to window shop – unless you have money. I thought we were equally broke?” Jaehyun sounds like Yuta has committed the worst betrayal known by mankind at the thought of the latter having spare money for leisure. In his defense, it’s their first time to hit the mall together before work.

Yuta gives him the stink eye. They’re currently walking around the mall munching on some cheese burger they got from a fast food joint. “You’re not wrong but come on, you can’t possibly be just working and sleeping the whole day. 8 hours of shift, 8 hours of sleep…what do you do with the remaining 8? I was supposed to invite you the other day but you said you were tired from jogging with the neighbor. Moping around your empty ass apartment isn’t a personality trait.” His attention span is shortened when they enter a clothing store. “Look, these are bomb…”

Jaehyun starts looking through the rack and nods. “Majestic, magnificent, fabulous, stunning, heart stopping.” He makes the mistake of looking at the price tag. It is indeed heart stopping. Taking a bite of his burger, he continues eyeing the clothes. “I’d love to get one because I know they’d look good on me.”

“Sure, because you don’t wear clothes. They wear you.”

“Precisely. When I put them on, people are gonna say wow, you make these look good. I can make these look better. But since my salary is already allocated to more important stuff, these clothes need to go to those who can splurge.”

“Damn, you’re depressing me. How are we both this poor?” Getting a weird look from the clerk, Yuta suggests dropping by the gaming store instead. They finish eating before they’re allowed to get in. “How are they, though?”

“Who?” Jaehyun looks up from the admiring the latest gaming console.

“Your parents?”

“Ah, they’re starting a food stall in Haeundae. My aunt from mom’s side is willing to chip in for capital.” It always dampens his mood when he’s forced to think about their financial struggle. “Things will get better for them there. Sometimes I feel guilty for pushing through with College when I’m not smart enough to get scholarship. It ate away at me when the laundry shop closed down and I had to drop out. Maybe I should’ve started working after high school.”

Even though he’s browsing DVD games, Yuta listens to his co-worker’s grouses. “You couldn’t have seen that coming. The shop going bankrupt, I mean. Won’t you go to Busan?”

Jaehyun joins the other. “They said I should continue studying. But I might go to a community college instead once I saved enough.”

“There are colleges in Busan, too.”

“My parents think schools here are way better because it’s Seoul.”

“Cheer up,” Yuta says as he returns the DVDs and pats Jaehyun on the back. “We’re at the mall. We’re supposed to have fun before going to work, not complain about the odds that are never in our favor. Like me, my family is buried in a ton of debt, courtesy of my parents’ gambling addiction. But I’m not complaining. It’s their problem, not mine.” His brows furrow, not quite believing his own words. “You got extra?”

“Why?” Jaehyun’s nose scrunches. “Let’s not go to the arcade. They sell expensive tokens.”

“Ugh, fine. How about a movie? Loosen up, Jaehyun. Your favorite scary customer is rubbing off on you. I hope he loosens up too and I don’t know, smile a bit? I wonder how he’d look when he stops looking like he hates the world.”

That gets Jaehyun thinking too as they leave the gaming store, mind trying to conjure an image of him smiling. Would hyung look more handsome?

His thoughts halt when the headline of a newspaper display in the bookstore catches his attention. Jaehyun tugs a confused Yuta inside and picks up the broadsheet to read about a heinous crime. “Human trafficking? Two dead bodies with missing organs found near Han River? That’s so sick…”

Yuta scans the news and glances at his friend. He can’t understand why this normal occurrence throughout the world affects Jaehyun. “What, this rattles you?

“Whoever’s doing it is sick in the head.” Jaehyun returns the newspaper in the rack and looks at Yuta with a slight frown. “You think it’s a mob?”

“From what I read on Wikipedia, they do all kinds of gruesome business. And it’s astounding how illegal products are never depleted ‘cause there so many consumers and nobody wants to get to the bottom of it. If our national leaders can’t stop it, what about us, right?” Yuta shrugs. “Stuff like this will exist ‘til the end of the world.”

“But it doesn’t mean it’s okay,” Jaehyun comments before letting himself get tugged back on the way to get movie tickets. “Remember the news last time? Didn’t they say the guy was allegedly assassinated? People talk about him being connected to some underground transactions. But how could that be possible if they also said he was a friend of a senator?”

It’s a little baffling how Jaehyun is easily bothered by issues he cannot control, but Yuta continues to discuss it with him anyway. “Maybe it’s related to this? You know why crimes like this rarely leads to the big bosses? Because they hire hitmen. So if things fuck up, the first ones to go down are the hired killers, not the masterminds.”

“Who would even get a job like that?”

“The reaper’s scythe on legs, probably.”

They reach the ticketing and Yuta huffs. One look at Jaehyun tells him that the other is still hung up on the news. “Stop thinking about it. It’s not like you’re ever gonna be in that situation. Just pick a movie, okay? I’ll treat you.”

Jaehyun is quick to lighten. “For real?”

“Just let me sleep it away at work later.”

“Look at you – you never work!”

Slightly shoved to the line by Yuta, Jaehyun tries his best not to linger on that news anymore. He can never understand how someone can take another human being’s life and walk outside like they’ve got no conscience. Maybe they really don’t have it.

 

 

Taeyong glances at the chime on top of the door when he enters. The convenience store didn’t have that before.

“Hi, hyung! Good evening!”

He looks at the counter where Jaehyun is currently arranging coins in the register and then at the storage room before going to the ramen aisle. Imagine the internal shock Taeyong is given when he doesn’t see his ramen. Grudgingly, he grabs the one Jaehyun recommended and pays for it together with a bottle of sparkling water.

“Were you asking me if Yuta’s hiding in the storage room?” Jaehyun asks before gasping when he realizes Taeyong is going to eat the noodles he suggested. “I swear this is good. But we’ll stock up on your favorite soon. Anyway, Yuta treated me to the movies earlier in exchange for letting him skip. He’s doing god knows what in the back room.”

To be honest, Taeyong doesn’t care. He’s just a little curious if it’s okay for the other cashier boy to let Jaehyun work alone. If something bad happens, Jaehyun shouldn’t be by himself.

Ah, shouldn’t I be the last person to give such lecture?

Taeyong walks away without saying anything to Jaehyun. Soon, he’s sitting at the table he rightfully claimed, ready to see if these noodles are as good as Jaehyun makes it out to be when said cashier boy settles across him, grinning with both dimples visible.

Jaehyun mockingly imitates the older man’s inquisitive brow raising. “What? It’s boring to sit there alone! Why not make use of your company while you’re here?” He leans forward with both arms on the table. “Hyung, why do you always eat that? Even if it’s my favorite, I wouldn’t eat it all the time.”

It seems like Jaehyun failed to entertain any possible answer on his own. Taeyong starts eating in lieu of feeding the cashier boy’s curiosity.

Taking the customer’s silence as rejection, Jaehyun decides to start playing a mobile instead. He’d hate to come off annoying again.

Unbeknownst to him, Taeyong is actually going through a mental debate with himself if sharing a little bit of personal information won’t do any of them harm. Sure, he’s hellbent on not giving the friendship Jaehyun is expecting from him, but anything else will still push them closer to each other when that’s the last thing Taeyong wants to happen. There’re just too many dangers such closeness entails.

“I can’t cook.”

This kind of information won’t expose him, right?

“What?” Jaehyun looks at him over the phone and mumbles about useless teammates when his character dies.

“I said I can’t cook.”

What Taeyong said must’ve genuinely shocked Jaehyun for the latter gapes, forgetting the game he’s playing.

“How can you not know how to cook at 27? The government shouldn’t let kids reach their 20s without knowing basic life skills. You live by yourself, don’t you? Making ramen is a no brainer, though.”

Taeyong’s eye twitches. “Are you calling me stupid? It’s not that I don’t know how to boil water.”

Putting his phone away, Jaehyun apologizes. “Okay, I’m sorry for indirectly calling you stupid.  I guess that’s not the right way to convince someone to be friends. Don’t think I don’t want to see you because it’s far from that, but why do you always eat here? Plus, you can eat something else if not knowing how to cook is your only problem.”

“I don’t eat ramen all the time,” Taeyong says before refilling his mouth with noodles. He doesn’t mention that eating ramen reminds him of her, doesn’t mention eating in the lonely apartment reminds him of her. Apart from the fact that Jaehyun doesn’t need to know, the cashier boy won’t understand how it feels to miss someone and not want to dwell on them at the same time. “You haven’t seen me eat lunch yet. Give it up, Jaehyun. I eat whatever I want and I eat wherever I want.”

Jaehyun only lets it go because this hyung said his name for the first time and it somehow sounds nice. “Doesn’t change how embarrassing it is to not know how to cook at 27.”

Such comment earns him a saggy noodle thrown across his face.

Taeyong merely smirks as the cashier boy shrieks in disgust before continuing his dinner. It’s so loud at the moment but he doesn’t feel irritated.

Jaehyun dramatically gags as he flicks the noodle to the floor. He can sweep it later. When he looks back at Taeyong, his eyes zoom into the man’s lips. “Oh, hyung. The cut on your lip healed. Seriously, though. Why are you always hurt? I didn’t notice just because I kept looking at you. Anyone would’ve noticed too.” Jaehyun blatantly leans into the other’s personal space, sending Taeyong pulling away in silent panic. “Your cheekbone is a little red. Do you get into fights?”

Fights? If only you knew. “This…” Taeyong gently runs the pad of his fingers over his cheekbone and lowers his head when he feels his face heat up in mortification. “I fell down the stairs on the way here.”

Silence.

Taeyong peers through his fringe just as Jaehyun bursts out laughing uncontrollably. “Hey, shut the fuck up. It’s not funny.”

“I CAN IMAGINE YOU ROLLING DOWN THE STAIRS LIKE AN EGG–” The cashier boy wheezes and wipes at the corners of his eyes.

“Shut up. Act your age, damn it.” Why the hell is Taeyong even getting worked up? Is it because he’s losing his cool in front of Jaehyun, or is it because the sound of his laughter is like gentle bells and for some unexplainable reason, Taeyong likes it?

Jaehyun’s laughter subsides to giggles. “Act my age? Why don’t you stop falling down the stairs? Bet your other bruises came from that, too. Didn’t know you’re so clumsy, hyung.” He says and rubs his stomach, complaining about it hurting from laughing too much.

Jesus, he’s too old for this. Taeyong opens his sparkling water and chugs it as his back rests against the window, feet propped on the seat.

“Aw, don’t ignore me. Are you ignoring me?” The smile on Jaehyun’s face remains as his head lolls against the window pane. This feels nice, just hanging out with his hyung in the convenience store and bickering like kids. He’s yet to see a smile to soften those sharp features and the thought of seeing it one day excites Jaehyun.

Right then, a customer arrives and Jaehyun hesitantly returns to the counter. He wants to spend more time with his neighbor. And when Taeyong goes back to the apartment, Jaehyun pretends the sadness in his chest is because he’s alone once again, and not because Taeyong didn’t even say goodbye.

 

 

In the 27 years of his existence, Taeyong has had three kinds of morning – Mornings he can’t recall anymore for his childhood was nothing special, mornings of dread and despair, and then monotonous mornings after the despair dissipated. Several months already passed by since waking up to fear of losing her ended. And then it was followed by empty mornings because there was no need for that kind of fear anymore. It wasn’t much of a sudden event. It was sort of a given, which helped in him adapting to the meaningless mornings. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. Inside, it is never easy.

Today, he’s coping. The coping mechanism in question is nowhere near healthy but a man like him couldn’t care less about what’s good and what’s not. Mornings are routinely – wake up, await calls, shower, eat. He doesn’t even need to think anymore. It’s a muscle memory. He’d die relying on muscle memory.

But that was before until the fourth kind of morning was born.

Taeyong cannot call it a routine because he doesn’t even go on jogs regularly. But when he does, he’s not alone. The days are not mundane anymore, courtesy of Jaehyun. It’s sunny, it’s cheery, it’s full of goddamn life he stopped living long ago. But see, he doesn’t hate it. Actually, he tried to miss his 7am jog by leaving the apartment 30 minutes late. He’d think Jaehyun would give up, but lo and behold, he was waiting by the staircase and when he saw Taeyong, he beamed. He fucking beamed.

Confused? It’s an understatement. Jaehyun baffles him so much. And since he’s made aware that this will be the new normal for him, Taeyong lets it be. Five mornings follow of him and Jaehyun going on a jog together, chatting idly at times, answering the younger’s random queries regarding literally anything under the sun. His way of getting to know Taeyong, Jaehyun reiterates.

‘No friendship, hyung, just some good conversation with you.’

A hitman and a cashier boy? Odd combination. But it most certainly works.

It goes on and on and then Taeyong stops counting the hours of sleep Jaehyun sacrifices just to see him. He himself stops counting the days he doesn’t even try to stop it. They see each other at 7am, part at 8, and meet again when his stomach rumbles between 12mn and 2am.

He has no idea what to call this kind of morning, but it’s okay. There’s still that line between them that Jaehyun cannot cross. Unbeknownst to Taeyong though, Jaehyun is slowly crawling in, and he has no power to make it stop – absolutely nothing.

 

 

Rapid knocks on the door rudely wakes him. Without even seeing who it is, Taeyong already knows. Only Jaehyun would have the audacity to disturb him unapologetically. Given that none of his other neighbors give a fuck about it.

He opens the door to a frantic Jaehyun. “You better have a good reason for ruining my day.”

“Nothing will ruin anyone’s day more than me losing sleep because my pipe is leaking!”

It’s only 6:49. They don’t need to go for a jog today. Taeyong should be in bed sleeping, and since he’s up when he’s not supposed to be, Jaehyun’s words ring the wrong way in his ears.

Pipe? Whose pipe is leaking?

He must have slipped into a trance because Jaehyun snaps him out of it, quite literally.

“Hello, earth to hyung?” Jaehyun snaps his fingers a few times, panicking even more. “Can you please help me fix it? Do you know how to fix it? It’s leaking so bad I might end up having a pool by afternoon.”

“Why don’t you call a plumber?” From a hitman to a plumber? Not a very bad choice for a change of career.

Jaehyun flails, his phone almost slipping out of his hand. “But I don’t know how much they charge. And we know each other so you can help me.”

Taeyong scoffs in disbelief. “So you’re not gonna pay me?”

“But we’re friends!” As soon as it leaves his mouth, Jaehyun’s inner panic soars. He tries to read Taeyong but he’s as blank as a newly pressed sheet. “Wait, I didn’t mean–”

Taeyong momentarily disappears back inside his unit, only to come out again carrying a metal box of plumbing tools.

 

 

“Are you really gonna be able to fix it?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know how.”

Jaehyun stands next to a Taeyong lying down the wet kitchen floor, the upper half of his body under the sink. He wanted to mop first so it wouldn’t be this wet but his neighbor said it would be useless. Water will still shower on his face while fixing the pipe.

Which actually happens. Jaehyun is forced to watch a very drenched Taeyong twist and turn valves while mentally cursing out the images of a bad porn he saw back in high school. Of a woman having the same kind of kitchen issue he’s having at the moment, who called a plumber to fix it, only for them to end up screwing each other on every possible surface three minutes into the ten-minute long video.

Slapping himself as hard as he can won’t even dispel the indecent thoughts. Jaehyun feels so guilty for remembering it. What would his favorite customer think if he had the ability to see through Jaehyun’s mind?

Taeyong groans as he slips out from under the sink, shirt darker now that it’s soaking wet. “If it leaks again, tell me. But I doubt it.” Carelessly dumping the tools back in their box, Taeyong drinks in the beet red coating Jaehyun’s face – the color spreads down his neck and goes further under his shirt. “Are you okay?”

“Huh?” Jaehyun blinks a few times and clears his throat. Suddenly, the puddle on the floor becomes the most interesting thing in the world. Would you look at that? An in-door pool! “Um, yeah. I’m okay. It’s just hot, I think I should get a bigger fan, haha.”

Hearing that statement, Taeyong looks around the deserted unit. There’s literally no furniture in the living room, except for a futon, a bunched-up blanket and a couple of pillows. The small fan in question stands in one corner plugged into a socket. The kitchen is devoid of dining table and chairs. At least there are some basic cooking equipment. How the hell is Jaehyun living like this?

“You got next to no stuff here,” Taeyong comments like Jaehyun wasn’t aware of it.

“Eh? I don’t need them. Also, this is the tiniest unit on the floor so it doesn’t feel that bare. If you’re curious why my futon’s there, well…because if I sleep in the bedroom together with boxes of my clothes and other shit, the living room will be literally empty. My old apartment had a bed but that’s why it was expensive. Anyway!” Plastering the fakest smile, Jaehyun taps the other man’s shoulder quite hard. “Thank you, hyung! I wouldn’t know what to do without you!”

“Yeah, right.” Something’s definitely up but it’s none of Taeyong’s business if Jaehyun doesn’t wanna tell him. Briefly reminding the cashier boy to clean up, he returns to his own apartment afterwards to dry and get changed before crawling back to bed.

His boss left a message last night about a new mission they’ll discuss later. Thinking about it now, the comfort slowly evaporates and turns into bubbling uneasiness. Taeyong fishes out the pack of gums under his pillow and pops one in his mouth, chewing quickly.

It’ll soon transition into thrill and suspenseful rush especially on D-Day.

Taeyong falls back to sleep with thoughts of her, and the wish to get it over with as soon as possible.

 

 

Back in his apartment, Jaehyun mops the floor with all his might. The tiles would chip at how hard he’s scrubbing, but it’s the only thing he knows that expresses the unexpected sexual frustration that crashed into him in a more socially acceptable fashion.

Relieving said frustration aligning to its nature is just…impossible! Unacceptable! That hyung is his soon-to-be-friend! How could he think of him in such a way that detracts from their supposed platonic relationship?

Jaehyun sobs as he falls unceremoniously on the damp floor, mop hitting the edge of the sink. “Nooo, why do I feel this way? It wasn’t even remotely sexy! He was just fixing my damn pipe – no, no, no scratch it. Not my pipe. The sink pipe! Because it was leaking! Oh, good lord,” he says and sobs more into his hands, half guilty and half excited. Jaehyun’s heart drums wildly in his chest to pump emotions coming out of nowhere.

Sure, Taeyong is hot. He’s rude and hot. Jaehyun came to terms with it on their third morning jog. But that’s just it – he finds the other man physically attractive. Nothing else can push him to feel more than this superficial emotion.

Yet as the time ticks with Jaehyun dissecting his reaction piece by piece, he arrives at a conclusion that kind of, maybe just slightly, terrifies him.

He might actually like his nameless hyung.

Because the man is as kind as he’s rude. Jaehyun saw him protect a kid, help an elderly cross the road, pick up the fruits that fell from a stand, and he doesn’t ignore Jaehyun anymore. He lets Jaehyun blabber and doesn’t complain how loud and repetitive and annoying it might be. He lets Jaehyun sit with him for dinner. He lets Jaehyun nag him into eating healthier food and actually listens. The man is eating sandwiches now, for Pete’s sake. He’s been opening up more and Jaehyun swears he saw his neighbor smile one time while he recounted an embarrassing childhood story.

And these are the valid reasons for this blooming attraction that was merely triggered by the goddamn broken pipe.

If it didn’t break, how would Jaehyun realize it? He wonders, and muffles another shriek.

Jaehyun likes that hyung¸ and he doesn’t even know his name.

Fantastic.

 

 

He was only given two days to prepare for the next kill. No stalking, no habits to pick up and use for his advantage. Taeyong asked why, because it’s so incongruent to all the past kills his boss ordered. Turns out that the targets are not exactly members crime perpetuators.

Personal vengeance. The boss overheard his woman’s plans of transferring his money into her account before running away with a man she’s secretly seeing, and he wants Taeyong to get rid of an ungrateful whore.

Taeyong asked the boss why he couldn’t do it himself.

“Why would I taint my hands with a bitch’s blood? Moreover, this concerns you too. She might snitch on me the moment she flees with the money. You met her twice. She will not hesitate to drag you down.”

Truth be told it’s a puny mission in every sense of the word. It’s like going for a walk, shooting twice and the deed is done. Taeyong is both glad and offended. If he’d be frank, he’s probably one of the best hitmen in the country. Obviously, he’s still not immune from getting entry-level kills like this.

And since he cannot accept the fact that his boss gave him a target so low-profile, Taeyong takes it upon himself to make it as worth it as possible.

Yes, he’s just trying to finish this contract. Killing doesn’t mean anything anymore because the reason he signed those papers is gone. It shouldn’t matter whether or not the targets are the most vicious criminals. Even so, it doesn’t stop him from feeling a little insulted.

His boss better pay him double for insulting him and the impressive effort he’ll be executing thirty minutes from now.

Hidden in the dark alley fifty meters away from the next crime scene, Taeyong crouches and opens the black duffle bag containing the tools he’ll need to bring him to the next victory. Instead of a sniper and rounds of bullets, there’s liquid drugs in syringes, a chainsaw, bleach and several garbage bags.

Taeyong mentally goes over the steps he needs to perform perfectly, chewing on the sweet gum. Killing them will be easy. It’s the cleaning that’s going to take time. If his boss doesn’t commend him for a job well done, he’ll ensure the bastard does it on the last mission, and he better make it memorable. Because it’ll be the conclusion to this deplorable walk of life.

 

 

CCTVs with a full view of the tawdry motel outside and inside are now disabled. Taeyong greets the receptionist with a shot to the neck of the drug that renders her unconscious instantly. Having done the same to the few staff present on a night shift, he casually heads to the floor where his unsuspecting targets are.

Third floor, last room to the right. Blood will decorate it in no time.

Now standing where his next kill awaits, Taeyong can’t help but sigh heavily behind the mask. Moans and cries of pleasure coming from every goddamn room pass through paper-thin walls. These people sure can’t invest on a business’ improvement. Unless listening to collective whimpers and unattractive grunts that sound like heaving air condition is a kink nowadays.

Anyway. The sooner he stops complaining about other people’s bedroom preferences, the sooner he finishes this mission.

Taeyong knocks thrice and waits for the couple to entertain their unwanted guest. Do it respectfully, at the very least. Why break down the door when he can do it as peacefully as he can?

And when a furious man in a robe answers it, not a second is wasted as Taeyong breaks his nose with an unforeseen punch and slips inside the room, closing the door to tone down the noises. Fuck being respectful. Others who are none the wiser will most likely dismiss it as rough sex.

Tossing the duffel bag at the foot of the bed, Taeyong straddles the man before nonchalantly stabbing the syringe on the crook of his neck and injects the tranquilizing drug in his bloodstream. He can’t afford to let the naked woman’s terrified screams alarm anyone so he gets off the twitching body, grabs another syringe and launches towards her in bed. She gives whatever fight she has in her body by kicking him as he holds her down by the throat.

“H-help! Somebody, help!”

Taeyong glances at the now unconscious man on the floor and looks back at the thrashing woman struggling to escape his death grip. “Nobody’s going to hear you.” He spits out the gum somewhere in the room. “Everyone’s too busy fucking each other’s brains out. Do you really think they’d give a damn to some sick roleplay happening here when they’re busy soaking in the throes of passion?” Feeling a little more merciless, Taeyong bites the syringe so he can reach for the stereo and turn it to its highest volume. Coincidentally, Lady in Red is playing.

The hilarity of it distracts him and he fails to notice that his hold on her throat loosens, giving her an opening for a kick to his groin. Taeyong falls off balance shouting in pain and the woman manages to push herself up and run for the door, but not fast enough to save herself.

Taeyong bears the pain shooting up his nerves, grabs her by the hair and roughly drags her back. The woman falls on her back on the bed. Incensed by her gall to think she could outsmart him, Taeyong unfeelingly lunges the syringe through her neck and watches as she gradually weakens.

“That hurts, what the fuck,” he says through gritted teeth and proceeds to haul their weights to the bathroom. He figures it’ll save him from tedious cleaning if he puts them in the tub and drain their blood later on. He’ll still make a mess no doubt, but there will be less to scrub off.

He does it as gracefully as he can. Fill the tub and dump one body in at a time. Chop what needs to be chopped. Drain what needs to be drained. Pluck the evidences that could help identify the body. Flush them down the toilet. Taeyong retches twice, doesn’t bother swallowing the bile. It reeks of blood in the bathroom and the exhaust fan can’t keep up. Spray bleach all over once the bags are filled, scrub and rinse. All done.

When he leaves the motel and drives away with the presents in the trunk, room 305 is available for booking.

 

 

Taeyong arrives at the gang’s headquarters carrying heavy garbage bags. His boss’ lackeys escort him to the entertainment room, wondering what the fuck is in those bags that emit such horrid smell.

“Boss, Lee Taeyong is here.”

The man looks up from a game of cards with his friends, glaring at the garbage bags. “What are you doing here? And what the fuck is that? It smells like shit.”

“I wouldn’t make all of you inhale it if you didn’t give me a lousy order,” Taeyong says before dropping the bags on the floor and kicking them towards his boss, causing the chopped body parts to roll out of their confinement. “I had to make it as thrilling as possible and worth the payment. But there’s a catch. I’m asking double.”

No one bats an eye at the physical evidence of slaughter on the newly vacuumed carpet. Rather, his boss seems to like it. As expected from the lunatic.

“Didn’t I order you to shoot them?” His boss asks, casting a smile at his friends before tossing the cards on the table as he looks back at the hitman. “It must have worn you out.”

“Not enough to distract me from your offense. Someone else could’ve done this. Let’s say, a newbie.”

The man clicks his tongue in amusement before gesturing for one of the lackeys to take care of the mutilated body parts. The stench is so damn strong it flips their stomachs. “But I like you, Taeyong. You never fail to impress me with your work ethic. This is genuinely surprising, but I appreciate it. Did she scream for help?”

“That, and kicked me in the balls.”

“Oh,” his boss chuckles and beckons him to the connecting office. Taeyong looks away as the man opens a safe. “You don’t deserve it. I apologize on her behalf. But I applaud you for another great job. You didn’t just kill them, those motherfuckers – you ridiculed them for me. I guess it’s only fair to give you what you want.”

The corner of Taeyong’s mouth quirks into a small smile as his boss stuffs more cash in the briefcase.

“Because you brought them to me, I don’t have to wait for a confirmation anymore. That’s another task ticked off on our lists. Here.”

Taeyong catches the briefcase tossed his way. It’s definitely heavier than usual.

“Did I really offend you for giving you that mission?”

His bland stare is an answer itself, pulling out a fond laughter from the mob leader before him.

“Then I sincerely apologize. Wouldn’t want my best hitman to hold a grudge against me. Because if vengeance possesses you, I might not hold a candle without my minions. Let’s hope we don’t ever come to that point.”

“Certainly. After my contract ends, I want us to think we’re both dead.”

“No grand funerals to attend?”

“I would hate to come.”

The mob leader takes a deep breath and gives Taeyong a smile that holds plenty of meanings. “Likewise. I’ll see you on the last mission.”

Taeyong nods before leaving the headquarters.

 

 

Done airing out the trunk of his car and switching the plates, Taeyong goes up to his apartment with the briefcase. It’s not even five minutes later after he shoves it under the bed when soft knocks reach him from where he stands in the bathroom ready to take a shower. As he puts on a shirt he got from the laundry basket, Taeyong wonders why Jaehyun is visiting him at 2:37am.

Hyung, I got worried because you didn’t come to eat. Are you not hungry? But I thought you might be and you just felt lazy to go out so I got you this,” Jaehyun hands him an instant rice meal. He’s wearing his work apron so it means that the food is straight up from the convenience store. “Just...just cover it if you don’t wanna eat it yet.”

He couldn’t put a name to it earlier but it’s clear now – that something different about Jaehyun is his timid gaze and the way he can’t seem to look Taeyong in the eyes. “Thank you. I’m sorry for worrying you, I guess.”

Jaehyun gasps and shakes his head. “No, hyung! It’s okay! Um, are we going on a jog later?”

“Maybe not.”

The way the cashier boy deflates squeezes Taeyong’s heart achingly. He loathes seeing Jaehyun sad especially when he’s the cause of it. That realization dawned on him some time ago when he refused to buy the younger man a bottled water after their jog.

Something urges Taeyong to assure Jaehyun, and it happens through him reaching for the cashier boy’s hand. It confuses the hitman when his chest constricts even more as Jaehyun looks at him in surprise. He really built a thick wall between them, didn’t he?

“I’m just tired. Let’s do it next time.”

A sigh of relief escapes Jaehyun and he looks at their joined hands. Wrong move. His heart races a thousand miles per second. Taeyong’s hand is calloused but warm and he really, really wants to keep holding it.

However, Jaehyun thinks better of it. With a smile, he withdraws his hand as casually as possible before shrugging. “Okay, hyung. Eat your dinner! It’s bad to skip meals. And uh, I gotta go back to the store.  Yuta isn’t really good at handling the customers alone. Plus, I know he’s taking some coins from the register.”

Taeyong nods. He’s about to step away to close the door when Jaehyun clutches the front of his shirt.

Hyung, did you fall down the stairs again?”

“…No. Why?”

“Then what’s this,” Jaehyun says before showing the dry fleck of blood he swiped off Taeyong’s cheekbone. “You hurt yourself again, didn’t you?”

Fuck. Fucking hell. Their blood sprayed faintly when he sawed their limbs.

Panic rises within Taeyong. He clears his throat hoping the fear does not overtly show before wiping the blood off Jaehyun’s finger with the hem of his shirt. “It’s paint. I was painting. Wait a sec, don’t go anywhere. And don’t smell it.” Taeyong leaves the food on the couch before rushing to the bathroom. In his frantic state of looking for alcohol, he accidentally knocks off the first-aid supplies in his medicine cabinet, and the noise momentarily alarms Jaehyun outside. Before the cashier boy could get in and check, Taeyong is already back to copiously squirt alcohol on his finger. “I was trying to paint my bedroom.”

“Is that so… Ah, but why are your hands trembling, hyung?

Taeyong stills.

Jaehyun laughs good naturedly and pushes the alcohol away. “That was unnecessary, but thank you. And don’t worry! I’m not going to judge you for decorating your apartment at this time of the night. You do you. Anyway, I really need to go now. See you soon, hyung?

Heart lodged in his throat, Taeyong breathes out a ’see you’ back at the cashier boy before finally closing his door.

Holy shit. Jaehyun almost caught him. God, what would he do if Jaehyun wasn’t so trustful? What would he do if there were more blood on his skin?

Taeyong drags himself to the couch and picks up the meal Jaehyun bought for him. It’s cheap but it smells heavenly.

He feeds himself spoonful after spoonful of delicious goodness but the agitation prevails. Taeyong puts the plastic container on the floor and clutches his head with both hands, slouching as he anxiously stares up the ceiling.

God forbid Jaehyun figures it out. Taeyong would lose his mind.

Closing his eyes for a moment, Taeyong fishes out the pack of gum in his pocket and chews on one. It calms him a minute later, and the unfinished food is the first thing his gaze lands on.

For some reason, his chest aches for the second time but it’s not from dread anymore. It’s lighter and warmer.

Jaehyun…he really cares for me, doesn’t he?

As an influx of a smiling Jaehyun rams into his head all at once, Taeyong lies down and rests an arm over his eyes. The pictures swirl like falling snow, floating in his mind for a moment before settling in his heart. It consumes him. Jaehyun, radiant and pure, slowly commits himself not just in Taeyong’s memory but also in his life.

“Jaehyun…” Why do you have to make me feel like this?

Taeyong belatedly realizes he said it out loud when his heart is already trying to rip out of his chest. He’s already falling asleep when he remembers he hasn’t showered yet and he’s wearing a shirt that smells like abomination. Pissed at having to get up again, Taeyong shovels in what’s left of the food and proceeds to shower, skin red from desperately scrubbing off remnants of his latest sin.

 

 

Constant raps on the next door as well as repetitive ‘Mr. Jeong? Mr. Jeong Jaehyun?’ greets Taeyong when he walks out of the bedroom to get a glass of ice-cold water. While quenching his thirst (curse parched throats in the morning), the hitman glares right at his own door wondering why the hell his neighbor is not answering whoever’s outside his apartment.

When another minute ticks by and the person is still calling for the cashier boy, Taeyong decides to check what it is about. “Excuse me, what’s that?” He asks as he leans against the doorframe.

The man is wearing some work uniform. One glance on the ID clipped to his pocket tells he’s from a courier service. “We have a package for Mr. Jeong Jaehyun. Been knocking but I don’t think he’s around.”

“Might be sleeping. The guy gets off work around 4am, I guess. Just leave it there, no one’s going to take it.”

“I would’ve done it already if we didn’t need a sign to confirm he got the package.”

Taeyong ruffles his hair and sighs before glancing at Jaehyun’s door. “Fine, I’ll take it for him. We know each other.” He signs on the waybill and checks the package’s address of origin as the delivery man leaves. “Busan?” Taeyong reads and takes his chance on calling for Jaehyun.

Nothing.

Impatiently, Taeyong turns the knob not really expecting it to be unlocked and is surprised that it is, confirming that Jaehyun is inside.

It’s not trespassing if he welcomes himself in without malicious intentions, right? In any case, he’s doing Jaehyun a favor by ensuring the parcel won’t be stolen.

Half convinced that he’s not committing more crimes by doing an arguably good deed, Taeyong enters the unit and immediately hears the sound of running water in the bathroom.

There are no tables or desks where he can leave the package and it’s another thing to invade the bedroom. Without a better choice apart from the futon, Taeyong puts the parcel there – Jaehyun will see it right away.

He’s just straightened up when Jaehyun comes out of the bathroom freshly showered, only wearing a towel around his waist. Surprised to see his hyung, Jaehyun asks, “why are you here?”

It may not look like it but Taeyong feels like being stuck in the Arctic. Chilly yet ironically, a flame begins to burn within him. Frozen in his spot, Taeyong unabashedly watches beads of water roll down Jaehyun’s unblemished torso. One of them catches on the thin trail of hair beneath Jaehyun’s cute outie belly button and the hitman almost swears he’s just been set on fire. Fuck uncontrollable feelings.

It’s hot because Jaehyun only has a dwarf fan. Better tell him to get something bigger. “You have a package from Busan.” Taeyong sounds a little winded. But he’s pretty sure the air was quite literally knocked out of his lungs. “I signed the waybill for you.”

“Really?” Jaehyun sees the parcel as soon as he asks and excitedly scurries to pick it up. “It’s from mom! Yup. Thank you, hyung.

“Where are you going?”

“Huh?”

Taeyong still hasn’t taken his eyes away from Jaehyun’s inviting collarbone. “It’s only 8am and you–”

Mistaking the older man’s staring for simple curiosity, Jaehyun makes no move to be decently put a shirt on. Still, he’s a little self-conscious so he hugs the parcel to cover his chest. “No plans aside from watching whatever’s trending on Youtube and sleeping ‘til the next shift. Oh yeah, there’s no work tonight, hyung! Sad to say, you need to go to a different store.”

Deflecting from the strangely alluring sight, Taeyong frowns at Jaehyun. “Why don’t you have work?”

“Something about the store’s anniversary and the owner is inviting all employees. But we’re free to decline so I did. Don’t feel like socializing.” Jaehyun shrugs before letting out a gasp as he comes up with an idea. “Hyung! Are you free today? It’s a Saturday!”

“Yea, why?”

“I need to do some groceries. Will you come with me?” Jaehyun tilts his head and proceeds to give the cutest puppy eyes, internally celebrating when the frown on Taeyong’s face crumbles. “Or are you not yet done painting? Speaking of it, I haven’t gone inside your apartment yet! And this is like your second time coming here.”

Taeyong slips both hands in his pocket, gaze lowering. “Not yet done. It’s messy. Smells like paint.”

“Okay… Then you won’t come with me?”

There’s that distinctive change in Jaehyun’s tone again whenever he’s upset. Taeyong’s eyes flicker back to the younger’s and maintains the contact for a while before severing it, as well as that buzz of electricity surging up his spine. “Get dressed. I’ll drive you there.”

Jaehyun waits for the other to leave before going on a silent fanfare of the starting success of his plans and quickly puts on some nice shirt and jeans for when he hits the supermarket runway. Why, he has to look good while shopping with his hyung.

 

 

The cashier boy cannot contain his wonder while looking around the interior of Taeyong’s car. Gripping the seatbelt, Jaehyun twists in his seat to check the backseat. “Damn, hyung. Didn’t know you got wheels. How much did you get this?”

Taeyong keeps his eyes on the road while driving. Nevertheless, he feels an urge to glimpse the adorable awe on Jaehyun’s flawless features. Can Jesus Christ please spare him some mercy for today and tell Jaehyun to stop being...squishy? “For how much you’re willing to pay secondhands.”

A grin splits Jaehyun’s face as he sits properly. “That reminds me of Nightcrawler. Louis said that the true price of any item is what somebody is willing to pay for it. Have you seen that movie?”

“Would be a literal shock if I didn’t. I like Jake Gyllenhaal.”

“Me too, hyung. His character also said that a friend is a gift you give yourself.” Jaehyun gives the man a sidelong glance. “You know what to get me for my birthday then.”

Taeyong only snorts before making a swift turn, raising a brow when Jaehyun asks for a paper and a pen. He points to the dash. “For what?”

“I list down everything I need so I won’t forget anything and do not get anything I don’t need. The art of budgeting.” Getting ahold of the materials, Jaehyun starts listing down what comes to mind first. “Do you have a fridge?”

“Fuck, who doesn’t have a fridge?”

Jaehyun squints at his incredulous neighbor. “The non-alcoholics and those who do not cook. Tell me, what’s in your fridge?”

The tone oddly reminds Taeyong of Facebook’s preface status question. “…Water.”

Nodding, Jaehyun lists again. “Water and nothing else?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“Because I only have a mini fridge and since your fridge keeps nothing cold and fresh, maybe I can use yours.”

Taeyong shrugs in agreement, briefly glancing at the boy in the passenger seat before looking ahead. Something tells him that there’s more to this grocery shopping that what’s on the surface.

 

 

Arriving at the thankfully not crowded supermarket, Jaehyun quickly pulls out a cart and scans his list of items to be bought. “Okay, let’s get some fresh produce first. Hyung, push the cart.”

Taeyong obediently follows wherever Jaehyun goes. They stop by the vegetables section and Jaehyun immediately begins picking up whatever his hands reach before smelling them, and putting in the cart those that get his approval.

“What are you checking?” Taeyong asks as he rests his arms over the cart’s handle.

“The weight, color, texture. You’ll know which is better if you know what you’re looking for. Go with your preferences.”

“They all look fresh to me.”

“Well, that’s you. And your judgment can’t be trusted because you’ve never cooked once in your life.”

“Will you ever stop calling me out?”

“Mm, nope.” Jaehyun picks up some radish and inspects them closely. More vegetables soon join inside the cart. “You like vegetables, don’t you? Do you eat everything? Like if someone cooks for you, are you not gonna be picky?”

Taeyong pushes the cart forward as Jaehyun gets more vegetables. “Hardly do I get picky with food.” He continues to watch the younger man in silence, growing more and more suspicious as Jaehyun proceeds to the meat section asking what he likes. “You should get what you need. Don’t ask me what I want. It’s not like you’re gonna cook for me.”

He gets ignored.

“You like chicken, hyung? Beef? What about pork? Fish is good too. Excuse me,” Jaehyun calls for assistance. “I’ll get half a kilo of this, this and this. Then three whole chickens. Thank you!” He then bends over to look at the price tags, face contorting in worry. “Hyung, these are not expensive, right? Do you think they’re expensive?” Taking out his phone, he hastily computes. 

It’s so amusing to watch Jaehyun fret over food prices. Does he look like this every time, poking out his tongue in concentration? Taeyong bites his lower lip, staring at the tip of that pink muscle. “It’s not that expensive.” He says before taking the packed meat and putting them in the cart.

Jaehyun eyes his hyung and keeps the phone. “Well, if you say so. Shall we get some rice now? Oh, we need fruits, too.” Eagerly, he beckons Taeyong to follow.

After getting a sack of rice, they finally stop at the fruit aisle where Jaehyun marvels at the piles of fresh fruits. This is what he likes about this supermarket – they don’t prepack the food so the customers can freely choose what they want to get.

Jaehyun lets Taeyong smell them. He belatedly remembers that it’s not his taste that should be considered in this shopping. So what Taeyong nods at, he stuffs in the bag.

And in the middle of doing all these, his traitorous feelings then point out how currently domestic they are. Picking food together, asking each other what they like, nagging about what one should eat to maintain good health. One shops while the other pushes the cart, letting the former decide because they know better. Needless to say, it makes Jaehyun feel giddy.

They fill the fruit bag and deposits it next to the sack of rice. Jaehyun’s eyes then randomly darts to Taeyong’s wrist where he sees a black hairband. “Hyung, do you tie your hair?”

Taeyong tilts his head. “Sometimes I do…? Why?”

“Makes sense… Your hair is getting longer. You must tie it when working so it’s not bothersome. Hyung, can I ask you something?” Jaehyun proceeds to drop the question as soon as he gets permission. “You always eat past midnight so I’m guessing something keeps you up late. Is it work? What do you do?”

Of course, this will happen sooner or later. He can’t avoid it when they’ve been hanging out a lot more, especially when they’re considerably at ease around each other than before. Taeyong rapidly digs his brain for a plausible excuse. “I fix stuff,” he says through his teeth, “Like whatever stuff people want me to fix. On call, hence the fucked-up body clock and eating habit.”

It’s not entirely a lie, just a flowery version of the truth.

“Is that so?” Jaehyun’s eyes widen. “That’s why you got plumbing tools! Hold up – so you’re a plumber. Maybe. Then why did you tell me to call somebody if you are a plumber yourself? Tsk.” He makes face at his obviously amused neighbor.

Taeyong’s hand shoots out to grab a fruit and smell, hiding the smile he can no longer resist. “Just wanted to annoy you.”

“Ha! Didn’t know I’d live to see the day hyung is finally teasing me back. We’ve come a long way from being just a cashier and a customer, right?” Profoundly pleased, Jaehyun takes the hairband from Taeyong’s wrist. “May I? I think you’ll look good with a tiny ponytail.”

A happy Jaehyun is probably the best kind of Jaehyun that Taeyong is lucky enough to see. Wordlessly, he turns around so Jaehyun can properly tie his hair and then the younger is tugging him again, eyes sparkling.

“Not gonna lie, hyung. You look really good. Ever thought of dyeing your hair?” Jaehyun fixes the loose strands falling over Taeyong’s uncharacteristically soft eyes. “Red would look fire on you.”

As Jaehyun rambles on and on about the perfect styling on Taeyong, the latter fondly nods at everything Jaehyun says even if he doesn’t understand half of it. All that Taeyong registers is the pure excitement in Jaehyun’s voice and how endearing he is at the moment, mouth curling into a pout when he forgets something, and the twin dimples that pop off when he giddily touches Taeyong’s hair.

Oh, how warm he feels all over.

Jaehyun’s words die down when he notices something strikingly different on Taeyong. “Hey, you’re smiling.”

“Am I?”

Did Taeyong’s voice suddenly get deeper, or is it just the work of Jaehyun’s raging emotions?

Taeyong keeps the smile on his face. “I haven’t done this in a while. It’s just that you’re really cute right now. What the word?” He tongues the pocket of his cheek, eyes squinting a bit. Completely oblivious of what it does to Jaehyun. “Ah, it’s heart fluttering.

Jaehyun musters all the strength not to choke on his own spit. Is God awake right now, ‘cause if he is then he better come rescue one of his sons pining homosexually. “R-really?” Oh, how gay.

“Mm,” Taeyong hums before pinching Jaehyun’s cheek, surprising himself with how squishy it is. Holy smokes, there’s an overflow of something in his chest and it’s dripping continuously, pulling him down in a quicksand of dreamy yet terrifying feelings.

His smile grows wider as Jaehyun splutters, pathetically stammering out nonsense. Taeyong doesn’t know why Jaehyun’s imitating a giant tomato right now but it’s so funny that he ends up bursting in laughter, doubling over the cart.

Jaehyun fans his face with the collar of his shirt. “Hyung, why are you laughing?” He reddens even more hearing the mortified inflection of his voice.

Shaking his head, Taeyong laughs until his eyes brim with tears of happiness he hasn’t felt in a while. In the back of his head, something whispers about how things are a drastic change with Jaehyun in his life. No more mundane mornings, no more tears of misery. They’ve been replaced by the works of this sunny person before him.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me.” Another lie. Of course, he knows. He’s aware of how karma boomerangs back at him to slap with the failure to keep Jaehyun out of his life. He failed to keep that wall between them, he failed to keep his heart frozen inside a block of ice. He failed. He keeps failing. And Taeyong knows it, knows he can’t do anything about it but laugh at such his own downfall.

He must have gone crazy. Seriously, not noticing when he started relaxing around Jaehyun, when he started putting his guard down? Smiling, laughing, doing things he wouldn’t normally do? Skinship?

“Are you done laughing?”

Taeyong schools his features and nods, biting his lip once he senses another incoming burst of laughter.

Jaehyun huffs before blocking his own face with the list he made just to keep the other from seeing how the blush on his cheeks hasn’t gone down yet. “Do you have cooking tools?”

“Don’t tell me you’re gonna borrow those too?” What the hell is Jaehyun doing? Put that paper away, Taeyong wants to see you.

“Just making sure in case I need something.” Jaehyun peeks at the other man curiously. “Why do you even have those if you can’t cook?”

“Decoration?”

Jaehyun rolls his eyes before they make a beeline here and there for spices, condiments and the rest of the list. Once done, they head to one of the open counters to check out their items.

The duo watches the cashier idly as she punches in each price. When she confirms how much is to be paid, Jaehyun expectantly looks at Taeyong whose brows raise in amusement.

Taeyong points at himself in disbelief. “Me? For real?”

“Mm! These groceries are not mine, hyung. They’re yours. That’s why I asked what you like, if you have a fridge… Don’t worry about not knowing how to cook. I’ll cook for you. Just tell me what you want to eat. I promise I’ll make it really delicious. I know you love ramen so much, but let me cook something nice for you, hyung.” Jaehyun begins fidgeting. “Sorry, this is very presumptuous of me. I’d pay these myself if I had more money.”

Taeyong glances at the obviously impatient cashier and takes out his wallet, handing out his card.

Jaehyun blinks. “Are you not mad? You don’t look mad.”

“Why would I be mad? I got a personal chef.” Sifting his fingers through Jaehyun’s hair comfortingly is Taeyong’s own version of a non-verbal thank you.

 

 

They make two trips up Taeyong’s apartment just to get everything from the car. Jaehyun wipes his hands down his jeans and looks around the place while Taeyong takes all items out of the bags. He won’t lie – it’s a little dreary. The curtains are close, keeping the natural light from seeping in and even though there’s a lot of stuff around varying in colors, they look gray and dull. It’s complete with necessities but no different from the emptiness of Jaehyun’s apartment.

But it’s not the only thing that bothers him. There are a few things denoting presence of someone else here. Like a woman’s hairbrush atop the television and a pair of Minnie Mouse house slippers. He’s sure that it isn’t Taeyong’s because if it was, Taeyong wouldn’t be walking barefooted.

These things lie around randomly, posed to look like they’ve always been there – except that they are dusty for not being used anymore.

Disappointment wrings Jaehyun. “I don’t smell paint, hyung.” He takes note loudly to take his mind off of this thing bothering him.

“I aired it out,” Taeyong glances over his shoulder before placing the last fruit on the table. “Hey, you should help me. Tell me where to put everything.”

Even though he feels gloomy, Jaehyun dutifully helps Taeyong arrange all the food in his fridge.

“You really made sure to not get me instant noodles and carbonated drinks.”

“I don’t want you to stop going to the store, hyung. Please continue eating there even though I’m gonna make you homemade dinner. And lunch, since I’m gonna sleep after this and you can’t disturb me.”

Taeyong purses his lips. “Take some for you to eat.”

Because Taeyong is utterly useless, he lets Jaehyun work in the kitchen by himself while he watches tv. Occasionally, Taeyong would check on the younger asking if he needs anything, only for Jaehyun to turn him down in a heartbeat with another jab to his lack of cooking skills.

While waiting for the food to sizzle, Jaehyun joins Taeyong in watching some foreign sci-fi movie. Honestly, the cashier boy doesn’t even catch the majority of what’s going on because he’s too busy self-pitying. The hairbrush on top of the tv is obviously mocking him.

Then Jaehyun thinks it’s stupid to feel this way since he only wants friendship from his neighbor. It shouldn’t bother him whether or not the other’s single. Hell, he still doesn’t even know his name. That’s weirder than his crush. How can he be friends with someone who refuses to share the very basic information about them? Is this even worth it? It’s like he’s not trustworthy.

“You don’t need to cook for me everyday, Jaehyun.”

And it’s so unfair how his hyung can easily call him by his name and he cannot do the same.

Jaehyun gets off the couch to check on the food and sees that it’s ready to be served. He fills a Tupperware Taeyong lends him and carefully covers it. “That’s why I already cooked a lot so you still have something non-ramen to eat until tomorrow. If there’s more, eat them at the store, okay?”

Taeyong inhales the mouth-watering scent and nods. “I can take it from here. All I have to do is eat anyway.”

With that, Jaehyun finally returns to his own apartment. He leaves the food on the tiny kitchen counter before plopping down his futon to wallow in his own unpleasant feelings. Suddenly the day isn’t as fun anymore as it was earlier.

 

 

They say that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so when Taeyong takes a sip of the broth and is blown away by Jaehyun’s magic, his heart thunders against his ribcage and leaves him helpless in the kitchen. He eats everything that he put in a bowl and thinks that maybe, he should give this friendship a try. Even if he knows he might ruin it.

Friendship… That is all Jaehyun wants to offer by going out of his way to do this for him, right?

“God,” Taeyong’s head hits the table with a thud. “What do I do with you…”

 

 

Sure enough there’s still a lot left the next day. Bringing some Tupperware with him, Taeyong heads to the convenience store and greets one of the cashier boys busy bagging a customer’s purchases. “Good evening, Jaehyun.”

Jaehyun and Yuta look at him in sync as though they’ve seen a ghost.

Taeyong snorts before going to his usual table next to the charging station, not surprised that an enthusiastic Jaehyun sits with him.

“Say, is Samgyetang your favorite now?” Jaehyun asks merrily as Taeyong opens the two containers of Samgyetang and Kimchi. “Be honest. It’s better than five-star restaurants’ recipe.”

“It is my favorite now.” The radiant smile that graces Jaehyun’s features warms Taeyong. He glances at the counter where the other cashier, Yuta, contentedly mans it alone before looking at his neighbor sincerely. “Jaehyun, um, I wanna tell you something.” Licking his chapped lips, Taeyong grips the spoon as he thoughtlessly scoops rice from his Samgyetang. “You’ve been putting effort in getting to know me. I want to…I want to know more about you.”

The innocent smile on Jaehyun’s face morphs into a smirk and it punches Taeyong in the gut from how attractive it is. Jaehyun’s youthfulness suddenly boosts into alluring maturity. “Curiosity finally killed the cat, I see.”

“…Only rejoice if my satisfaction brings me back to life, please.”

The remark tears a giggle out of Jaehyun. “Okay, geez. What do you wanna know?” Excited that he’s finally gaining the same level of interest from his neighbor, Jaehyun sits straight with his clasped hands on the table as Taeyong starts eating. “Come on, ask me.”

“Tell me anything.”

Jaehyun sags with a flat face. “Seriously? That’s so vague!”

“Age, birthday, anything about you. I don’t know what I wanna know but I wanna listen to you talk about yourself.”

Okay. That sounds strangely better, actually. Jaehyun shrugs it off and starts talking. “Err, like you already know I’m 22, born on Valentine’s Day – that’s why I have a lot of love to give. Apart from living alone in Seoul because my parents are now in Busan trying to run a small business, I’m also a college dropout.”

Taeyong keeps his eyes on the cashier boy.

“Reasons? Plenty of it. But the most prevalent is money,” Jaehyun sighs while drumming his fingers on the table. “We don’t have much of it, so I’m working to save up and continue in a community college. Can’t follow my parents to Busan because they’ll beat my ass. They have this weird mentality that Seoul is infinitely better than the rest of South Korea.”

“That’s why your apartment is naked as fuck. Consider dressing it up.”

“How? Put things here and there that I don’t need? Why don’t you donate some of yours? Like that hairbrush or house slippers. Clearly you’re not using them considering their state of neglect.” Jaehyun says then instantly realizes how tactless he is being when Taeyong’s face darkens, and the man’s gaze drops to his dinner.

Taeyong quietly eats a chicken leg. Silence stretches between them with tension so thick. He spits out a thin bone before speaking. “They’re my mother’s. I can’t give them to you. Choose something else.”

Bricks of shame drop on Jaehyun, every single one of them labeled with STUPID in big, bold letters to emphasize how much an idiot he is for being jealous over somebody’s parent. Lord, he is ready to ascend. “You live with your mother?”

“Used to,” Taeyong shoves a strip of Kimchi in his mouth. “She’s dead.”

Jaehyun visibly deflates. “Sorry, hyung…

The older man rubs his face and huffs. “Forget it. You didn’t know; it’s not your fault.” Seeing that Jaehyun is still quietly beating himself, Taeyong gently taps his hand on the table to grab the younger’s attention. He can never be mad at Jaehyun. It’s his own fault for reacting to his unacceptance of her death.

“Hm?”

“What were you taking up in college?”

“Oh,” Jaehyun smiles a bit. “Culinary – Food is my life; it makes everything a whole lot better. I also applied as a cook actually but I got accepted here first, so.”

Taeyong’s mouth quirks. “Explains the talent. And the eagerness to cook for me.”

“Hehe, I just really want to show off.” Sensing that the tension is gone, Jaehyun leans in agog. “Hyung, it’s only fair that you tell me your story too. Are you originally from Seoul? Are you mixed? ‘Cause that face cannot be pure Korean.”

“What does that even mean?” Taeyong picks up another Kimchi. There’s something in it that he can’t put a finger on, but it’s boosting the flavor. “I’m from Seoul, and I’m not mixed.”

“Okay. That’s cool. What else? Any other interesting stuff? The kind that will stun me.”

A scornful smirk blossoms on Taeyong’s face as he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand before looking out the window. “Did you forget what I said before? You’ll condemn me once you find out.”

Jaehyun scrunches his nose. “You’re just being dramatic. It can’t be that bad? Unless you’re a criminal of some sort.”

Calling it uneasiness is offensive to the bugs crawling under Taeyong’s skin. A foreboding atmosphere clouds overhead thinking about the day Jaehyun does find out in the worst way possible. No one should learn about the truth Taeyong is hiding.

The rule is to kill them if they did – except that if Jaehyun does find out, Taeyong will bend that rule for him and do everything in his might to keep the younger away from ensuing misfortune.

Even if it comes to bite him in the ass.

Taeyong plucks the meat off of the last chicken leg and pushes it against Jaehyun’s lips. “I can’t finish it all.” He moves it out of reach when Jaehyun attempts to pinch it. “I’m feeding you.”

Jaehyun almost falls off his chair. What in the world…? “Eh?”

“Open your mouth and say ah,” Taeyong chuckles and insistently presses the meat on the corner of Jaehyun’s mouth. “

Wow, Jaehyun wants to cry – but he doesn’t do that. Rather, he indulges Taeyong’s playful side by accepting the food, letting the man feed him until his dinner is gone.

From his seat behind the counter, Yuta witnesses how much the two have gotten closer. It’s actually very impressive, considering Jaehyun’s previous efforts being dismissed without second thoughts. He watches them laugh together as the nameless customer pokes Jaehyun’s dimple with the chopstick, drawing out a petulant whine.

“You finally got to make him smile, huh,” Yuta murmurs before steering his attention back to the game on his phone. “Good for you.”

Jaehyun squints. “Oi, wash the container properly. The last time you did it was still greasy.”

“Ah, I absolutely appreciate it when you nag,” Taeyong says and gets up, gathering the Tupperware as well as the chopsticks and spoon. “I’ll see you later. Jogging at 7.” He says then turns in his heels ready to leave.

Hyung, wait.” Jaehyun stays seated as he grabs the hem of his hyung’s shirt to keep him from walking away. Their eyes meet. “Tell me your name,” he chuckles softly before tugging the shirt. “It’s okay if you don’t wanna tell me more about you, but can I please get a name at least?”

Taeyong weighs his options as he stares at Jaehyun. Would it be safe to drag Jaehyun into deeper involvement with him? He has not seen yet the exact consequences of knowing his name given that select people have that bit of information for legalities, but for some reason, it feels like Jaehyun might get hurt if Taeyong so much as gives his initials.

“Name?” Taeyong says before leaning in until their faces are mere inches apart, his hands planted on the table. The hitch of Jaehyun’s breath doesn’t go unnoticed. “But I like it when you call me hyung.” After a gentle poke on Jaehyun’s cheek, Taeyong walks out of the convenience store feeling like as if he ran a marathon with how badly he palpitates.

Inside the convenience store, Jaehyun finally detaches his ass from the seat and hysterically flings himself at an indifferent Yuta. “Did you see that?! Did you? Yuta, why does he keep doing things that make me feel tingly? Are soon-to-be friends supposed to be like this? I wasn’t informed that 21st century friends like to get very touchy.” Jaehyun dramatically slumps over the counter. “Why do I have a crush on my soon-to-be friend?”

Yuta restarts his ruined game in annoyance, swiping his mother’s message. It’ll be nothing but when are you sending money, never an actual concern. “My expertise doesn’t lie on issues of the heart. Deal with it yourself.”

“Jesus, you’re cruel.” Jaehyun props both elbows on the counter to cup his face. “Be glad we’re friends. Even if you betray me like this, I’ll forgive you.”

Yuta childishly sticks out a tongue at Jaehyun before screeching in panic when the latter chases him around the store with a broom stick.

 

 

Did I do something wrong?

Plenty of possible reasons come and go and yet, Jaehyun fails to find the most accurate that explains why his hyung didn’t come to the store despite saying he would. It would’ve been the perfect consolation after he refused Jaehyun’s offer to cook before going to work, saying he was craving for ramen again.

Really? Instant noodles over the plethora of recipes Jaehyun can confidently follow and present restaurant-style?

He’s disheartened, to say the least.

When they get off work 5 minutes after 4, Jaehyun parts ways with Yuta who has been itching to get home so he can catch this illegal livestream of some foreign band’s concert. Come to think of it, Jaehyun hasn’t been to Yuta’s place even once since they met. He has no idea where his lazy co-worker lives. Well, he can’t really argue about that – Yuta must have his own friendship rule of when to invite people over.

With a heavy heart, Jaehyun walks back to the apartment complex. The nearer he gets to their floor, the sadder he is. If he did something to offend his neighbor, the latter should just say it so Jaehyun can apologize. He’s not good with receiving cold shoulders. Jaehyun is the type to confront the problem head on instead of dancing around each other.

Hopefully, that’s not the case and his hyung is simply busy with work. It’s only then that Jaehyun remembers he’s an on-call whatever. He doesn’t know what to call it exactly because like the older man said, he fixes whatever needs to be fixed and plumbing is just one of them.

Jaehyun reaches the third floor and passes by unit 303. He really wants to just let it go for now because he might just be overthinking, but he can’t help it.

That door next to his ropes him into knocking incessantly, uncaring of the other neighbors he might disturb. “Hyung? Hyung… Are you there? Wake up! Hyung, are you mad at me? Did I do something wrong? Why didn’t you go to the store?” The longer he stands there pathetically calling for someone that might not even be there, the lower his emotions plummet. He could’ve dropped by at the store first to say he wouldn’t make it to dinner, right? “Hyung, talk to me. Hyung –

Jaehyun is interrupted by something soft hitting his shoe. As he looks down, he sees a bronze key lying on the floor, that obviously wasn’t there earlier. He picks it up and realizes that it must have slid through the slit under the door.

He’s inside.

Not wasting a second, Jaehyun unlocks the door and thrusts it open, seeing a sweaty Taeyong curled up in apparent pain on the couch. “Hyung!” Quickly closing the door and thoughtlessly pocketing the key, Jaehyun kneels next to his sick neighbor. “What happened?”

“Keep your voice down, will you? You’re gonna wake everyone,” Taeyong says with slight difficulty as he clutches his stomach when another cramp comes. “Fuck. First time to fucking cook and this is what I get…”

Jaehyun’s brows furrow. He looks at the kitchen. Indeed, there’s a medium-sized pot on the stove. “You cooked? What does that have to do with you dying right before me?”

Taeyong releases a pained chuckle, followed by a grunt. “God, you’re right. I’m dying. All those sins and I’m dying because of food poisoning.”

“Food poisoning?!” A panic-stricken Jaehyun exclaims. “What did you eat?!”

Normally, Jaehyun’s loudness would’ve been fine but since he’s unwell and is extremely irritated, it only gets on Taeyong’s nerves. “Speak softly, dammit. I’m this close to hauling you out this complex. Shit,” he curses as soon as his stomach cramps for the nth time that evening. “I want to eat Samgyetang again so I tried to replicate yours.” Taeyong pauses to push the fringe out of his damp forehead. “Bought a whole chicken from the meat shop nearby when you went to work. Wanted to…wanted to eat with you at the store but I don’t trust myself so I ate some first. And now–now I’m about meet Jesus.” A snort comes from not from him, surely. “Wait, no. I’m going to hell.”

Jaehyun plops on his ass. “Oh no, hyung. Something must have gotten contaminated. Might be the chicken you bought. Are you sure it’s food poisoning?”

“Been making trips to the bathroom since 9, Jaehyun. What time is it?”

The cashier boy takes out his phone. “A little over 4.” Looking back at the sick man, Jaehyun sighs worriedly. “Hyung, you could’ve just asked me to cook it again if you missed it. It’s okay, I really want to cook for you.”

Taeyong rolls on his side facing the couch, still clutching his stomach. “But I wanted to cook for you.

Hearing that come from the man that used to be so reclusive, affection diffuses within Jaehyun. He smiles softly, patting Taeyong’s arm. “Let’s cook together next time so you’ll learn easily. I can teach you better than the internet.”

“Don’t I need to go to the hospital?”

“Don’t be silly. Home remedies work just fine. Wait for a day and if feel like you’re not getting better, we can go see a doctor. Have you eaten anything else aside from your wack Samgyetang?”

Taeyong shakes his head and says nothing more, alarming Jaehyun once again.

“What the hell? You have diarrhea and you’re vomiting! You need to hydrate! Have potassium! Tsk,” Jaehyun pushes himself up and carefully tugs a protesting Taeyong off the couch. “Come, it’s better to lie in bed.” Seeing that the bedroom is open, Jaehyun assists his hyung back to bed and tucks him in as gently as he can. “Stay there. You’re going to continue dehydrating yourself if I didn’t check on you.”

Squinting threateningly at Taeyong, Jaehyun slips out of the bedroom to prepare some stomach-friendly food, only to stop in his tracks when something comes to his notice. He pokes his head back inside the bedroom to look at the poor state of the walls. The paint is fading and some parts of it are already chipped.

Didn’t he say he was painting…?

Jaehyun frowns at the man in bed before making his way to the kitchen. Maybe his hyung changed his mind and removed the new paint? He has no idea how it’s done but it could be possible. His knowledge about home decoration is pretty limited, as seen in his own apartment.

He checks the Samgyetang, shaking his head. “Such a waste. I’ll dispose you later.” Jaehyun then gets two bananas, and a potato to boil. While waiting for the latter to soften, he slices the fruit into small pieces and puts them in a bowl. Thankfully there’s already cooked rice to mix his mashed potato with.

With the food ready to be eaten, Jaehyun takes a bottled water and returns to Taeyong. He puts the food aside and helps his hyung sit up before taking the bowl of potato rice. “Let’s put some food in you.” He sits on his heels on the floor and starts feeding a surprisingly pliant Taeyong.

His hyung can perfectly eat by himself but Jaehyun has always liked taking care of people. Why let someone sick move when they’re clearly in pain if he can lend a hand, right? Plus, he finds that he enjoys feeding Taeyong.

Taeyong runs to the bathroom twice while trying to finish his food. Jaehyun sighs and urges him to drink more water instead to soothe his sensitive stomach.

When Taeyong vomits again, Jaehyun is there to hold his hair and rub his back soothingly. “Hyung, stay in bed first and try to sleep, okay? Then see if you can eat more later.” As Taeyong flushes the toilet and rinses his mouth, Jaehyun takes a small towel from the cabinet and does his best to wipe Taeyong’s sweat when the latter goes back to bed, still moaning from stomach pains.

“Why am I not feeling better yet? I finish it all.” Taeyong since with a wince.

“They’re replenishment. You won’t get better right away but best believe they’re helping you on the inside. And you keep throwing up, so you need to eat more later if you think you can handle it.” Jaehyun gently dabs the towel on Taeyong’s forehead. “Just bear with it for a while. Drink lots of water–”

The older man stubbornly shakes his head and pushes Jaehyun’s hand away. He seems to be a little delirious, but Jaehyun doubts so. “Can’t you run to a pharmacy? Get me some over-the-counter pill–”

“No, no medicine! Didn’t you hear what I said? Wait a day!” Jaehyun huffs and begins nagging. A sick Taeyong is a very difficult Taeyong. “Home remedies work just fine! Why buy a pill that won’t help when you can make use of what you have at home? Stop wasting money, hyung. Don’t you know that medicines at times like this aren’t recommended by experts themselves? Because it’s important to let your body work naturally to purge the bacteria–”

Jaehyun doesn’t get to finish his lecture when Taeyong grabs him down by the collar, causing him to brace himself on the bed and cage the sick man between his arms. Stunned and trembling as he feels hot lips brushing over his throat, Jaehyun holds his breath in.

“You’re so annoying. Keep. Quiet.”  

His heart beats so fucking loud Jaehyun fears it might damage his eardrums. Does Taeyong feel it, the racing pulse over his lips? Jaehyun gulps and stares down at Taeyong, noticing the latter’s hazy gaze. Their faces are too close. One wrong move and they will either hate or love its consequence.  

“Okay…” The word is nothing but a whisper out of Jaehyun’s mouth. “I’m sorry. Take a rest, hyung.” Removing Taeyong’s hands from his collar, Jaehyun plops down his ass again and watches the other turn away from him. Jaehyun then pillows his head on the bed with his arms, lulled to sleep by exhaustion.

 

 

Jaehyun wakes up two hours later with a stiff neck and transfers to the couch in the living room after checking on a sleeping Taeyong. He gets a few more hours of sleep before the unfamiliarity of the place makes him uncomfortable enough to wake into the new day. With nothing much to do in his own apartment, Jaehyun decides to help his hyung by discarding the spoilt food and washing everything stuck in the sink. After ensuring that the kitchen is spotless, he proceeds to clean the living room as well.

While sweeping dust from every corner he can reach, Jaehyun mulls over a lot of things.

He’s never done this to anyone before. Not to his high school or college friends, and doing house chores actually irks him. But this moment is another proof that he has no problems going out of his way for Taeyong whenever he can.

Before, the thought of caring for someone without getting anything in return just because of love was hilarious to him. Yet now that he’s experiencing the same thing, now that he confirms it’s more than just a crush, that he cares for that man more than he’s meant to as a friend, Jaehyun doesn’t laugh at himself.

Jaehyun is happy, because it feels good. It feels good to fall in love.

 

 

Tasting acid in your mouth is not the best way to greet another morning, especially when you haven’t completely gotten well yet. Taeyong, however, sucks it up because there’s nothing much he can do and finishes the bottle of water sitting on the nightstand. The cramps are gone but he still feels a dull, bearable pain.

Taeyong slowly gets out of bed. An upset stomach really sucked the energy out of him. He stops by the doorway of the bedroom when he sees Jaehyun and watches the younger dust off his mother’s slippers before wiping the top and sides of his television with a rug.

Watching Jaehyun unconditionally do these things for him even after being a little rude earlier, and his constant refusal to open up, shatters Taeyong. Isn’t it a mistake for them to meet, for him to let things spiral out of control? Because he doesn’t deserve Jaehyun and Jaehyun doesn’t deserve someone like him, tainted and irredeemable. Jaehyun is so, so good. Too good for anyone.

It’s funny how he was so dead set on not accepting the friendship Jaehyun is offering when his undeserving heart actually wants more than that. When did he fall? When did he fall for someone he didn’t even want to be friends with? When did he break his own rule? It really went from not wanting to involve Jaehyun in his lifestyle to wanting to leave this lifestyle for Jaehyun.

And Taeyong knows he will be devastated once this something they have escapes his grasp. Because he will never be allowed this kind of relationship again. This is the first and the last.

“Jaehyun.”

Jaehyun whips around and grins, scurrying to his hyung’s side in a heartbeat. “Good morning, hyung. Do you feel better now? I’ll get you some yogurt then. Oh, you’re still sweating. Fuck summer, right–”

Taeyong stops Jaehyun from touching his forehead and holds his hand, taking in the younger’s slight surprise. “It’s Taeyong,” he says, smiling when Jaehyun gasps. “Lee Taeyong. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

See? He can’t stop that force from pulling them closer. He’s tough, but he’s powerless.

“Ah, Taeyong hyung,” Jaehyun is ecstatic. The name is a perfect fit to his hyung. “Go back to bed! I’ll get you some yogurt.” Jaehyun withdraws his hand and quickly runs to the convenience store, missing the way Taeyong’s gaze lingers where he previously was, hoping he won’t ever have to see Jaehyun running away in fear and fueled with hatred for him.

 

 

Later at work sees Jaehyun tapping on the phone, giddily exchanging texts with Taeyong. The older man’s number was the first thing he asked when he returned from getting some yogurt.

 

 

 

 

[JH]: I’ll kick your ass if you go here just to eat ramen and drink coke again. those are prohibited for a while. actually, don’t eat them anymore. u know, I might request my boss to stop selling ramen and soda.

[TY]: then I won’t have a reason to go there.

[JH]: ?! u mean you won’t even visit me ?1?!?!?

[TY]: don’t be dramatic

[TY]: is texting allowed at work?

[JH]: yes, especially when you’ve only texted NOW, at 11:52:38 to save me from a near death experience

[TY]: what? are you okay?

[JH]: lmao. Yuta called in sick so I’m alone

[TY]: I’ll go there

[JH]: no, hyung! Take a damn rest or I will make u

[TY]: huh. You’re threatening me now? And here I thought you were harmless as a kitten

[JH]: ?!?!???!?!?!?

[JH]: what do you mean

[JH]: I’m not a kitten. I’m BIG and MATURED. I’m a tiger

[TY]: the one that bites?

[JH]: all tigers bite…

[TY]: how do I know?

[JH]: …hyung, do you want me to bite you?

[TY]: jfnskdks

[TY]: sorry

[TY]: my phone fell on my face

[JH]: ah… this is me stifling my laughter [701214.jpeg]

[TY]: you are full on grinning, Jaehyun

[JH]: hehe. Am I handsome?

[TY]: yes

[JH]: SO STRAIGHTFORWARD.

[TY]: did I make you crumble?

[JH]: not as much as I made you when you dropped your phone

 

The last reply puts a smile on Taeyong’s face.

 

 

 

 

[TY]: can’t I really go there?

[JH]: sigh. Just take a rest. Eat some potato rice. U know how to boil potatoes, right?

[TY]: you’re underestimating me.

[JH]: u did this to yourself

[JH]: anyway

[JH]: bunch of customers just came in. talk to u whenever, hyung?

[TY]: say it

[JH]: haha! Taeyong hyung! See you later!

 

The shift in their friendship manifests through constant texts even when Jaehyun’s at work, and as Jaehyun cuts down his sleeping schedule just to hang out at Taeyong’s apartment streaming movies on Netflix. They’ve definitely gotten closer as one of the tallest walls Taeyong built between them collapses. Ordinary days continue with ordinary activities they’ve already been doing together – jogging, eating at the convenience store. The days roll by feeling so promising, deluding Taeyong in a false sense of normal as someone whose background is anything but. He actually starts to think it’ll stay this way for a longer time, just him and Jaehyun hanging out, half bickering and half bonding over poor eating and sleeping habits, agreeing on the best Jake Gyllenhaal movies (“It’s Brokeback Mountain for me,” “Is that your final answer? Could’ve gone for Nocturnal Animals,” “Keep your opinions to yourself, hyung. Especially if they’re not praising Prince of Persia”).

Such days are terrific.

Until the ordinary days stop to give way for a call that drags Taeyong back to his kind of normal.

“The cult leader?” Taeyong munches on an apple, leaning against the kitchen sink. “How huge are they?”

“Twenty members. It’s pretty new, that’s why we need to prevent it from growing. Or else my business will slow down. They’re doing it so carelessly too and if they continue, it’ll be harder to move in the shadows.”

“Are they the ones that buy the goods instead of just kidnapping? That’s dangerous, isn’t it? How sure are they that these sellers won’t talk and sell them out instead? Them buying from civilians is an impending disaster. And they might even point fingers at you. Not that I care.”

“As expected from you, Taeyong. So crass but business-minded. Anyway, you only need to kill the leader so we can cripple the cult. They will disperse as soon as he’s dead. Don’t worry. After this, I’m letting you go.”

A thud resonates to the phone as Taeyong tosses the apple’s core in the bin under the sink. “That’s the only thing I want to hear. When do you want him dead?”

“As soon as you can do it. But make it quick.”

Pleasantries do not exist among criminals. Taeyong slips the phone back in his pocket and fetches the sniper from where it’s hidden under the bed and brings it to the living room to clean and check. He does this every time when there’s a mission. Can’t afford to bring a faulty gun to war.

As he checks the firearm for any defect it might have acquired however, Taeyong is reminded by the news about corpses found at Han river missing internal organs. This cult thinks they’re slick by paying people for a lead to a potential good, only to butcher such poorly formulated strategy by leaving evidences lying around. It vexes Taeyong, because it reminds him of his father who tried to sell one of his kidneys because they lagged so far behind in rental fees. And as if the gods thought it wasn’t that bad yet, the man died from a hit and run.

All about his past annoys him. He simply wants to finally break free from it.

Taeyong cocks the sniper and lifts it to eye-level, peering into the high-definition scope. Such high caliber gun gifted to him by his boss. The previous guns were buried six feet under together with the recipients of their bullets in exchange for this.

He gets too engrossed in mentally planning how he’s going to end that cult’s career that he conjures the faceless figure of its leader while aiming the gun on the wall –  too distracted by the call of his last victory that he forgets he didn’t lock the door, and it gives an excited Jaehyun a chance to barge in unannounced, holding a glass of juice he made for Taeyong.

Hyung, look what I–”

Rammed with shock, Taeyong hastily faces the intruder, belatedly realizing he’s pointing the sniper right at Jaehyun when the glass of juice falls with a deafening shatter.

It shatters with the hope of keeping Jaehyun away from the horrible truth.

Hyung…” Horror is painted on Jaehyun’s face, body frozen in fear by the muzzle of the gun pointed at him. It’s a couple feet away from him, but it seems so close. So close to impaling a bullet in his chest. “What… Why do you have a gun?”

The gun slips out of Taeyong’s hands, dropping by his feet with a heavy clang. He opens his mouth yet no words come out to salvage Jaehyun’s steadily declining trust.

Eyeing the sniper on the floor, Jaehyun hears nothing but incessant gunshots and the news of savagely murdered victims by suspect crime syndicates. “Is this…is this why you always had cuts and bruises? Hyung… you weren’t painting that night, were you?”

When the man before him stiffens, everything clicks into place. “That was blood on your face, right? And you never fell down the stairs. You were never clumsy. Actually, you are meticulous. Always has been, that you managed to hide all these from me.”

“Jaehyun, listen–”

“Listen to what?” There’s no hint of anger in Jaehyun’s voice. Every soft lilt of it assembles to deliver fear and devastation. To think that he thought of Taeyong happily not long ago while making that goddamn juice, and this is what he’s gonna be served. “I’m not dumb, hyung. Just because you fooled me into thinking that you were…were anything but this, doesn’t mean I’m dumb. You’re just cruel.”

Taeyong is paralyzed by the words coming out of Jaehyun’s mouth, and even more by the broken look in his eyes, so broken by the knowledge that all this time, he’s been trying to befriend a criminal.

“You killed them, didn’t you? That man called Sungtae that was found dead near his apartment, the bodies near Han river. They were your doings. Yuta said hitmen work for gangs. Do you? Or do you do these for fun?” Jaehyun can’t even bring himself to look Taeyong in the eyes. Looking at the weapon feels better than looking at the fraud he trusted wholeheartedly.

“That’s why you didn’t wanna talk about yourself, scared of being exposed. Why did you even tell me your name? Because you know I wouldn’t live long enough to tell anybody? Hyung, you’re a liar.”

Who and what was Jaehyun even trying to get to know since the beginning? Taeyong hid his history and it’s because it’s heinously unspeakable. In hindsight, Jaehyun should’ve seen it. The man repeatedly hinted how wicked it is. All his parts, they’re warped pieces of a sinister puzzle. But he was blinded by that superficial enigma.

“I didn’t kill them all, not those bodies at the Han river. And I really did fall–”

Jaehyun weakly shakes his head and steps back once, still reeling in shock. Fragments of the glass break even more beneath the sole of his shoe. “Stop lying, hyung. Can you please stop lying now? From the start ‘til the end, all you wanna do is lie. Do you think I’m a game to play for when you’re bored of killing quick and easy? What are you gonna do to me once fooling me isn’t fun anymore? Or are we already in the process of killing me slow and painful?”

Taeyong itches to reach out for Jaehyun but fearing the latter will just swat his hands away in disgust. He’s already lucky that Jaehyun is not shouting to let the neighbors know what’s going on.

“Fix?” Jaehyun crosses his arms. It’s his go-to means of protecting himself when he feels uneasy, but it does nothing to protect him from the harm’s physical manifestation right now. “Your job was to fix? You’re a murderer. You don’t fix shit – you assassinate them.” In a fleeting moment of resolution, his gaze then latches onto Taeyong’s. “Don’t show your face to me again.” And in turn I won’t long for you.

Only when he hears the startling sound of Jaehyun’s door does Taeyong move from his spot to close his and rests against it with his heart lodged in his throat. He wants to throw up. He badly wants to throw up. In a desperate attempt to calm down, he fishes out the now half-empty pack of gums and pops one. Taeyong chews and chews until the sweetness wears off yet there he is, still winded from the merciless punch of his ill fate.

Their friendship was too good to be true. He knew it all along, and he knew it would come to this eventually, and he feels like a complete idiot to assume he would be given a long time to relish it. How selfish of him to want to keep Jaehyun in this bubble of pretense as though it’s the younger’s responsibility to give him some semblance of peace.

Taeyong glances at the sniper. It mocks him, knowing that in spite of his self-hatred, he will pick it up again to take someone’s life soon. It’s his own symbol of hypocrisy.

And as he does pick it up, Taeyong feels the weight of all lives he’s taken so far. They had been reasonable, yet for the first time since he’s entered this line of work, guilt eats away at him. Just because the person he was trying to save from this side of him finally gets shot by the truth.

 

 

Jaehyun can only ask for a two-day sick leave so he makes the most of it by simply holing himself up in his empty apartment, turning off his phone and shutting himself from the outside world, only getting off his futon to reluctantly shower and eat.

Initially, he expected his feelings to turn stronger and hostile yet as he continues to mentally beat himself over failing to recognize signs, they remain weak, with only the ineffable disappointment and fear prevailing. And it vexes the fuck out of him when his fear, the only rational emotion he should have at the moment does not even come close to the disappointment of finding out the man he’s fallen in love with is a hired killer.

Yes, he fears for his life. There’s this lingering dread beneath his skin that Taeyong might get rid of him for knowing the truth. That fear is only subdued by the irrational thought that maybe, just maybe, Taeyong cared for him even just a tiny bit and would spare him if Jaehyun promises not to rat him out.

He doesn’t want to die. If Taeyong offers him that deal, Jaehyun will take it. But he’s torn, because if he doesn’t help put Taeyong behind bars, there may come a day that the next victim will be one of his loved ones–his parents, and also Yuta. Jaehyun deeply cares for them but he’s not a martyr. If Taeyong ever sits him down for a talk, he’ll just beg the hitman hard enough to leave his family and friends be. Besides, they’re all innocent, and there’s not a chance that any of them will offend him or the monsters he’s working for.

It hurts. Realizing that he’s a humongous fool for Taeyong. It has only been two days since the man he fell for pointed a gun at him, so it doesn’t bother Jaehyun that the feelings are still there. He wonders when they will leave him, when they will be swallowed by the logical feelings of fear, and disgust that is yet to come.

He wants to just sleep it off until he forgets what he knows. Reset his brain and rewind the time for when he’s simply curious about the man always eating ramen alone at the fourth table in the convenience store, next to the charging station. Maybe it would be better not to dwell on the mysteriousness he emitted. Maybe who wouldn’t be guilty for not regretting the days he was filled with happiness courtesy of the hitman himself.

Honestly, Jaehyun wants to regret them. But they’re so precious to him that if Taeyong disappears from his life, Jaehyun knows will treasure those memories.

Stupid, I’m so stupid.

He is. He’s a complete fool. Because even though he’s waiting for the love to quickly fade and the anger to take over, he still wants to see Taeyong. A fool for hoping Taeyong does not listen to the last words he said, and knocks on his door to explain. Who knows, the hitman’s explanation might convince Jaehyun enough to look away from the blood in Taeyong’s hands and just focus on what he wants to see.

 

 

Taeyong, for the lack of a better word to encapsulate how he’s been since Jaehyun practically curses his whole being, is a mess. Contrary to the stereotypical chaotic place and self-destructive tendencies, it’s his emotions and priorities that are a mess. A bout of anger, frustration, longing, regret – they congregate into an eventual emptiness, pushing him to forget what he should be doing – to start working on the mission and study his last target. That is important, but this is urgent. So urgent yet he is in a quandary, not knowing whether to try putting a band-aid over Jaehyun’s wound or just let it be to respect his wish.

How, in its every sense, can Taeyong just let it be? He cares for Jaehyun – God, he deeply cares for Jaehyun but is he in the right place to demand a chance to explain? And even if he was given that, it’s not like it was a misunderstanding. Well, part of it is – he’s not the mastermind of the cult’s doings and as dumb as it is, he really fell down the fucking stairs once and the bruise that came from it was the one that Jaehyun pointed out.

But that’s so stupid it doesn’t even matter.

Looking at the guns and bullets crying out for him to be tended makes him sick. Sure, he’s used to this. Being a hitman literally feeds him and a lot more that nobody knows.

But it instilled fear in Jaehyun. Hell, Taeyong pointed the fucking gun at Jaehyun and it angers him. He doesn’t ever wanna hold it again yet it’s unavoidable. He has some duties to do, some duties he’s been postponing for the sake of making no efforts in keeping Jaehyun.

Seriously asking his 27-year old adult ass, what should he do? What can make Jaehyun stay and hear him out –

Food is my life; it makes everything a whole lot better.

Taeyong jolts up his bed and almost trips over his own foot as he rushes to the kitchen, staring frantically at the content of his fridge.

Will this work? He doesn’t know what to cook! Should he rely on Google? But what if one of these is contaminated again and instead of softening Jaehyun’s heart through his stomach, he might even food-poison him?

And most of all, will this even grant him a portion of atonement? Some food in exchange for Jaehyun looking past his dark side?

It is stupid and he knows that much, but fuck it. Life is full of surprises and this should be one of them. This has to be one of them.

Taeyong pulls up some easy online recipe to follow and checks if he has all the ingredients.

Alright, let’s do this.

 

 

The careful yet insistent knocks on the door makes Jaehyun flinch. Even without seeing, he knows who it is. He has replied to all of Yuta’s texts already explaining he’s sick and not to visit, and he knows Yuta won’t because that friend of his is not the type to cling. No one else knows where he lives, except for his parents that don’t have business here in Seoul.

Gripping his blanket, Jaehyun looks down for a moment to weigh the pros and cons of not talking to Taeyong. He won’t dare hurt me while we’re in the apartment complex, right? Jaehyun takes a few deep breaths and leaves his trusty futon to grab a knife from the kitchen just in case, before getting the door and thoughtlessly gestures for the other to get in – which might be a dumb move, but if they’re going to talk, they can’t do it in the hallway.  

Taeyong expects to knock for hours on end, and is genuinely surprised that Jaehyun isn’t serious about not wanting to see him again. He wants to fix this as much as he can and not even that kitchen knife can stop him. “If it’s gonna put you at ease, keep the knife with you. But I’m really not gonna hurt you, Jaehyun. As a matter of fact, here –,” he pushes a plate of kimbap rolls to the younger, “it’s not poisoned. I ate one earlier.”

Is this going to work? I made that kimbap while thinking of him – like he did before. Please let it work –

Jaehyun eyes the food suspiciously but takes the plate nonetheless, closing the door with his hip as Taeyong stands in his apartment awkwardly. “Why the hell are you giving me these?” The blunt tip of the knife pokes one roll. The kimbap looks harmless at face value. “Do you cook for your future targets?” Don’t get him wrong, Jaehyun sounds firm and looks fearless but he’s a nervous wreck on the inside.

“No, I just thought–”

Cutting him off, Jaehyun shows no care about disrespect when he sits down the futon with the plate of kimbap on his lap, knife sitting pretty on his side. It’ll be easy to grab it now that Taeyong boldly sits next to him without permission. “Well, I guess food poisoning is a good alternative to shooting or stabbing; it won’t get you jailed. Actually, I’m not sure about the law. Are you? I don’t think so. You wouldn’t kill if you were.”

Taeyong takes it all in because Jaehyun has all the rights to be hostile. “Would it be too much to ask you to listen to me?”

“…I already found out what I needed to find out, so I don’t think any of what you’ll say will still surprise me. Go on,” Jaehyun starts eating one of the rolls, secretly anticipating what Taeyong has to say. “It’s not like I could keep you from talking. I already let a murderer in, why not make you explain yourself too?”

Going over his history is something Taeyong hates doing, but it’s inevitable. He reclines against the wall, one arm resting on his knee as he stares at the door.

“We were poor, like…I can say we were dirt poor. Didn’t even finish high school so I was a little envious when you said you have a chance to continue college. Tried odd jobs here and there but the dismally low wage couldn’t keep up with the stacking bills. We were kicked out, my father tried to sell his kidney so he could put a roof on our heads but who would buy an alcoholic’s kidney? He was a huge drunkard. Then he was killed in a hit n’ run, leaving my mother and I to fend for ourselves.”

Jaehyun listens in silence, picturing a young Taeyong grappling to find jobs just to eat. It reminds Jaehyun how lucky he is because around that time, he didn’t know what it’s like to struggle.

“Mom eventually found a job at the market. That got us a house the size of a box. It was uneventful until I turned 20. She was starting to get sick then.” Gouging Jaehyun’s reaction, Taeyong continues. “Found a gun in the trash can outside the pub I was working at, kept it in case it came in handy and it did. It came in handy when I shot a guy cornering somebody in an alley one night. That was how I scored my first gig as a hitman for a gang. The guy I saved was a mobster. It continued from thereon because they money – the money was fucking overwhelming. The pay depended on your skills and your target’s profile and I was kind of shit at first, of course, but the boss himself taught me. Said I had potential. You would kill so well, so kill well I did. I signed contracts but didn’t join groups. Hopped from one boss to another. Doesn’t matter if they’re enemies, none of them would know their killer was someone they used to work with.”

Suddenly, the kimbap tastes stale. Jaehyun forces himself to swallow it but with how fast his heart’s going, it feels like it wants him regurgitate. “…Did your mother know?”

“Yeah, she sure did. She eventually wondered how I was getting the money I paid for her treatment. Told her the absolute truth. She didn’t say anything because she herself knew we needed it. Played deaf and blind to the calls and guns. I kept doing it because she kept getting sick. She didn’t really get better; she would, then she’d fall ill again. Comorbidity. It was hard ‘because I wasn’t really booked all the time and my money would all go to her treatment so we didn’t save much. I only got to save now since she died four kills into this contract. Some money I keep, some goes to charity for people with cancer.”

Taeyong rubs a hand down his face. Thinking about her has never been easy. “When she died, that’s how everything lost their meaning. Because I’m now doing this for nothing. I lost my purpose. Still, I can’t stop because a contract’s holding me back.”

He can’t stop because of a contract? Is it that hard to just run away? Jaehyun shakes his head, still not looking at the man next to him. “For how long are you gonna do this?”

“It’ll be over,” Taeyong says with a sigh, remembering he hasn’t done anything about that yet. “I have one mission left.”

“Can’t you stop it?”

A curt chuckle escapes Taeyong. “You’re asking me to commit suicide? I don’t mean it literally but I can only pull out of a contract if I’m putting myself up for murder because they can’t afford possibly getting snitched. As much as I was always ready to die, I don’t want to anymore. I found a reason to want to live normally.”

“You will never be able to live normally knowing you killed so many people, Taeyong.”

Does the deliberate omission of hyung translate to the end of what they have?

“I know, but I want to continue seeing you and I wanna stop this kind of life as soon as I am able to. I never wanted to fool you, Jaehyun. God knows how much I tried to resist. You know how much I resisted you – because I don’t want to drag you with me. I knew it wouldn’t end well once you discovered who I am. You don’t deserve this, but I lost control.” Taeyong really wants to unclench Jaehyun’s hand and hold it. “I care for you, Jaehyun. I really do. I’m not expecting you to believe me but this is the realest I’ve been since being friends with you.”

“And you expect me to believe it easily?” Putting the plate away, Jaehyun finally twists to face Taeyong. His gaze hold so many emotions, but the clearest one among them is pain. “I really can’t believe I’m here, sitting on my futon in my naked apartment being sentimental with a criminal. It would hurt me physically and much more than that but I wouldn’t be surprised if you grab this knife from me and stab me twenty times after saying all that just to save yourself. Are you gonna kill me, hyung?” Jaehyun’s lips tremble. “I don’t wanna die.”

Taeyong looks at the younger in disbelief. “What? God, Jaehyun. I will never do that. I will not kill you, what the fuck–”

“You can’t expect me to not be scared, hyung! How could you…how could you stomach watching them die before you? You’re not a judge; you’re not empowered to penalize them with death–”

“I’m just following orders. And for the record, I didn’t kill those that were found at the Han river. And I really did fall down the stairs, let’s clarify that.”

Jaehyun huffs. “Still, it’s murder. What you’re committing is murder. It’s not child’s play, hyung. I can’t believe I’m lecturing you about this.”

“Those people are not even innocent.”

“Do you seriously believe that? Your bosses can easily lie to you. Well, I’ve never been there since the start, so I don’t know. Were their crimes so atrocious they deserved to die?”

“Oh,” Taeyong smirks, shaking his head as he avoids Jaehyun’s gaze. “You have no idea.”

Did every single one of them deserve to die? Taeyong knows that the answer is no, and that Jaehyun has a point. But it’s not that easy. Taeyong can’t choose who he wants to allow justice; he’s just an obedient pet to its master. What is Jaehyun even expecting? He sacrificed his morals the second he signed the contract. Morals have no more parts to play after that.

The younger emits a sound of disbelief. “Fuck, of course I don’t. I don’t want to have an idea. Ever.”

“It’s good to know I’ve been right all along, though. You’re finally condemning me.”

The pained look in Jaehyun’s eyes might be silent but it’s not any less explosive, twisting Taeyong’s heart in angles unimaginable.

“I’m condemning the actions that rightfully earned such condemnation, not you, hyung. Do you get me?” Jaehyun sighs heavily and rests against the wall, gripping his shirt. He can feel Taeyong’s burning gaze on the side of his face again, intense and with an underlying emotion he cannot put a name to. He sounds vulnerable when he talks again. “And it confuses me because you’re so vague. Your perspectives are so gray, giving me a mix of black and white. It makes judging you harder than it should be. Are you good or are you evil?”

Their eyes meet again, and Jaehyun sees sadness dancing under that layer of bitterness. This time, his words are softer, more emotional. “But you know what makes me sick more than knowing you’re a hitman? The way I can’t hate you completely. If I just hated you, then maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But since I still…cherish you, we are where we are. Does it make me just as bad if I tell you I don’t wanna sell you out? Your mother didn’t sell you out. What right do I have to do what she wouldn’t do? And even if she wasn’t in the equation, I’d die even before I come to a decision.”

There, the fact that Jaehyun really doesn’t want to part ways with Taeyong is finally out. The fact he didn’t want to acknowledge because it’s irrational, yet it’s not irrational enough to be thrown out the window.

Seeing that Jaehyun has no plans to use the knife on him, Taeyong reaches for his hand without a word, and holds it. Affection and remorse fill him when Jaehyun doesn’t budge, oblivious of the latter’s heart skipping a few beats.

“Am I good or am I evil, you ask? I’m neither. Liked I said, I started this because I was desperate. Then I kept doing it because it was easy money and easy money paid the hospital bills. But I started to lose myself, found enjoyment with killing – because it made me feel like a hero yet a twisted one at that, I admit. Countering evil with another sucked me into this endless loophole. Doing this for years misshaped me, and the line between good and bad? It’s fuzzy. Personally, I don’t believe there are only two distinctions in this world. This job exposed me into the third – doing what you gotta do because it keeps you alive. My mother was terminally ill. Would I go through the slow process of getting little help and fall into a pit of debts trying to get her one or two medicines or shoot that drug dealer for payment without zero interest and give her therapy?

I know she’s gone and there’s no reason for me to kill anymore, but a contract is holding me at gunpoint and cancer kids are benefitting from that blood money. They don’t know to know where it came from. They don’t need to know whose blood I had to drain to help them extend their lives. I know it’s some sick justification but it works. You don’t need to label me. I am what I am. Just want you to know that because you deserve to.”

Taeyong wets his lips and interlocks their fingers, heart thundering uncontrollably as he gently squeezes Jaehyun’s hand in silent hopes of keeping the younger around after this. “I’m not going to ask you to understand. I just went here for you to hear me out. Thank you for letting me talk.” He waits for a response, and gets up when it seems like he’s not getting one. “I won’t hurt you, Jaehyun. But it’s up to you if you want to call the cops on me.”

Letting go of Jaehyun’s hand, Taeyong turns in his heel to leave but is abruptly held back by a slight tug on the back of his shirt. Just like that night when Jaehyun asked for his name.

Hyung,” Jaehyun gets on his knees and keeps his hold on the shirt, as his forehead presses against Taeyong’s back. “No, hyung. I won’t… I won’t tell them.” Coming to terms that he is willing to mute his conscience for Taeyong proves to be the hardest thing that Jaehyun has ever done, but the thought of Taeyong quitting his job soon makes it a little easier. “I don’t understand and I never will because we have different views, but I won’t tell them. Because then you’ll flee and I won’t see you again.”

Taeyong stays in his position, merely listen to the younger. The part of his back where Jaehyun’s resting his head burns.

Jaehyun takes a deep breath and sits on his heels before pulling on the shirt hard enough for Taeyong to get the hint, a small smile appearing on his face when the latter looks at him. “Can you please take me to your mom? I want to see her.”

 

 

The cemetery where she lies is empty, save by Jaehyun and Taeyong standing by the grave of Lee Bongsun. They dropped by a flower shop on the way to replace the last bouquet Taeyong left for her.

Jaehyun crouches next to the headstone and pulls the flowers closer. His hair dances with the wind that blows their way and whistles a peaceful tune. Taeyong, with both hands in his pockets, watches the younger talk to her.

“Mrs. Lee, I wonder what went through your mind when you heard what this son of yours was doing.”

It is more playful than contemptuous.

“Because you’re his mother and you know everything, somehow I wanted to react to his according to how you did. But we must be no different from each other, huh? You were probably confused too but accepted it because the money would help you. I have my own reasons…but I won’t say them anymore.” His voice softens, not wanting to be heard by Taeyong. “My heart and mind clash but you must know of the winning stance, right? Despite the things I was told, I want to keep seeing him. He is a good friend to me, as good as one should be sans the whole hitman thing.”

Jaehyun momentarily stops to look at Taeyong before turning back to the headstone, fingers thoughtlessly caressing the flower petals in the bouquet. “I hope you’re happy wherever you are. Thank you for giving birth to hyung and letting me meet him. Though I wish we met way back, so I can fully understand him. I wish I met you under better circumstances.”

“Are you done?” Taeyong asks as soon as Jaehyun gets up and dusts off his pants. “She must be happy. I don’t visit her a lot.”

“What do you usually do when you go out without…you know, without a mission?” It still bothers Jaehyun, but he figures he won’t have to talk about it soon – when Taeyong finishes his contract.

“Deposit the money to the charity’s account?”

Will that be enough to absolve Taeyong of any blame? “…You’re probably the most compassionate killer to exist. A hard candy with a surprise center.”

“And out of all the ordinary people I’ve encountered, you’re the craziest.”

“For what, befriending you?”

They stare at each other for a moment before Taeyong looks at the bouquet, mumbling under his breath. “If that’s all there is to it, then suit yourself.”

Jaehyun huffs. What did hyung say? Playing mysterious again, he shouldn’t be keeping things to me anymore. Hyung, if you were that poor before, why didn’t you learn how to cook? I’d think you would be so independent…”

“My mother did all the cooking and said my job was to eat and tell her how well she did. And when she was at the hospital, I already some money to just get delivery. Why would I waste my time on cooking?”

The older man’s laziness astounds Jaehyun that he snorts, before fishing out his phone as it beeps with an incoming message. “How stupid,” he says and reads the text. Whatever it is slightly heats up his face. “Hyung, can you please drive me somewhere?”

“Where?”

“I’ll forward you the address,” Jaehyun quickly does just that and keeps his phone, still blushing a little bit. “Yuta said…well, Yuta said he’s going to confess something to me.”

Huh. How did Jaehyun not notice that Yuta has feelings for him?

Jaehyun gets in too deep with trying to remember if Yuta ever gave a clue that he misses the darkening of Taeyong’s gaze.

“Why are you blushing?”

“W-what? Uh, because I didn’t know he liked me!”

“Do you like him?” Taeyong’s brows furrow. He knew there was something off about that other cashier.

The younger rubs his nape, feeling more embarrassed at being interrogated. “I do, but not like that.”

“Then why are we going there?”

“Because I can’t reject him through text. That’s cruel. He deserves some decent rejection. Why do you even sound mad? If you don’t wanna drive me there, then don’t.” Jaehyun rakes his fingers through his hair, frowning. “I don’t wanna ride with a hitman anyway.”

“Wow,” Taeyong gives him a once-over. “Ever wondered how you got here? You even ate food made by the hitman in question, just saying.”

“What. Your kimbap not even that good…”

“…Fuck you, you ate them all. Get your annoying ass to the car. Now.”

Jutting out his lower, Jaehyun follows the hotheaded man back to the parking area, wondering what got Taeyong’s knickers in a twist.

 

 

The address is somewhere Taeyong has never been to before. It’s quiet and secluded, desolated even. Literally the innermost of an area that people don’t really visit. As someone who has worked for numerous mobs and has been to a lot of minatory spaces to complete missions, this place is giving him an ominous aura. It’s overly suspicious, but he keeps it to himself.

“Are you sure we’re at the right place?” Taeyong grabs his phone from the holder, glaring at the address.

“Yes, hyung. Where is he?” Jaehyun unfastens the seatbelt to lean forward as he searches for Yuta. Did he arrive early? He assumed that Yuta was already at their meeting place. Belatedly, Jaehyun realizes that Yuta didn’t really indicate a time. But since he’s already here, might as well just text the other and wait.

Taeyong pockets his phone and looks around. Something flits in his periphery but he finds nothing strange lurking among the tall stacks of hollow blocks. There’s an old, neglected van on the other side that is obviously broken given its state, and after a second scan around the place, there’s nothing more to see than a bunch of disposed construction materials.

“Text him, ask him where he is.”

“I just did. I guess I’ll just wait here, hyung. Thank you for the ride.” Jaehyun gets out of the car and stops next to the broken van, quickly tapping on his phone.

The strange feeling of unease grows stronger by the second and Taeyong pats his pockets for the gum, only to remember he didn’t bring it. There was no need, but right now, he’s not so sure anymore. Not wanting to leave Jaehyun alone, he steps out and lifts the car seat to retrieve a handgun before slipping it behind him once he’s sure it’s not empty, and covers it with his thankfully long shirt.

Hyung, it’s okay. He hasn’t seen my texts yet but he will,” Jaehyun says when Taeyong leaves the car to join him. Truthfully, he’s a little wary but he doesn’t really wanna trouble the other with waiting.

Why does Yuta even want to talk here?

“We drove for thirty minutes, Jaehyun. You might wanna get a free ride home.”

“Uh, okay. Thanks.”

For some reason, Taeyong can’t keep still as he looks at the wall of hollow blocks on the opposite side. There’s little to no chance that Jaehyun’s co-worker might be waiting behind it but Taeyong decides to check anyway, walking over towards the concrete.

He’s almost there when he hears a noise behind him and turns around to see Jaehyun struggling within a man’s hold, mouth covered by the stranger’s hand. Taeyong pulls out his gun and accurately shoots the guy on the shoulder, causing him to let go of Jaehyun.

“Get back to the ca–”

Something solid and heavy hits the back of Taeyong’s neck and he accidentally drops the gun, stumbling to the ground. His attacker moves to reach for the weapon but Taeyong shoves it to the direction of the car. He narrowly misses the kick sent his way before pushing himself up and dodges the punches, managing to land a hard one square on the man’s jaw.

Terror wraps around Jaehyun as the man Taeyong shot gets up as though there was no bullet lodged in his flesh. The man comes at him again and this time, Jaehyun successfully evades it and kicks him as hard as he can, feeling a rush of courage and adrenaline as the guy staggers.

But a kick is not enough, so Jaehyun gives him another one before quickly skipping behind the man, picking up a thick piece of wood lying on the ground and slamming it down the back of his head. He drops the wood as the man drops collapses to the ground.

A pained cry rings in the air and Jaehyun turns just in time to see Taeyong’s attacker swing knives at the hitman who’s clutching his side, bleeding. Jaehyun picks up the wood again but the man points a blade towards him threateningly. Frozen and helpless, Jaehyun is left without a choice but to watch such horrible scene.

He wants to do something. Get in the car even if he doesn’t know how to drive and ram it into the man, but Taeyong is blocking the way.

Hyung…!”

Jaehyun screams as Taeyong falls on his ass against the car’s bumper after a slash on his arm. He can clearly see a few droplets of blood on the ground.

Taeyong glances Jaehyun’s way to make sure nobody’s coming out of nowhere again. His wounds sting so bad but they’re nothing. Not even a stab. The man before him is obviously inexperienced.

The attacker closes in slowly, his gaze cautiously shifting between Jaehyun and Taeyong – like he’s scared, like he didn’t expect the potential victims to be able to fight them off. And if he already has two knives and is still yet to inflict a lethal injury, Jaehyun figures out the guy’s an amateur.

Jaehyun takes a deep breath and picks up the wood. “Hey!” He calls the man’s attention before hurling the timber, successfully distracting him.

As soon as the guy’s attention is diverted, Taeyong kicks the man on his stomach before reaching for the gun.

A flock of birds fly overhead just as sounds of gunshots shatter the quiet afternoon.

Jaehyun hurries over to Taeyong’s side, purposely looking away from the dead body three feet away from them. “Hyung, let’s go!” He tugs the other’s good arm before getting in the passenger’s seat, worried sick about Taeyong’s injuries.

 

 

Jaehyun is still pale in shock as they enter Taeyong’s apartment. The ear-splitting gunshots still echo as though they’re firing next to him. And Taeyong’s wounds, he does his best not to look at them, but the image of blood remains behind Jaehyun’s eyelids like a tattoo each time he blinks.

He’s still shaken, but the worry he’s feeling for the man before him overtakes the fear. “Hyung… hyung, are you okay? Should we go to the hospital?”

Taeyong has taken off his shirt and is standing before the mirror to check the wound on his arm. They’re still bleeding but not profusely to lose so much. Speeding really helps in times like this when the wound needs to be checked as soon as possible. “No need,” he says before soaking a fresh towel under the tap to press on the wounds. “I wasn’t stabbed.”

“But those look bad…” Jaehyun glances at the stained shirt hanging on the sink.

“I’ve done this before, see?” Taeyong gestures to the scars scattered all over his skin that Jaehyun sees just now, being too worried to notice anything else. They look intimidating under the poor light. “If you wanna help, get the first-aid kit. All needles and thread are sterilized.”

“W-what? Are you telling me to stitch you up? Hyung, I’m a cashier – and a culinary student!”

“And? I don’t have a high school diploma but I’ve been my own doctor for years.” Taeyong grabs another towel, dumps the first-aid kit in Jaehyun’s hands and beckons him to follow to the bedroom.

They sit in bed as Taeyong puts pressure on the wounds until the bleeding weakens, and wipes the skin around them. He then orders a scared Jaehyun to pour alcohol on some cottons and dab them around the injury.

“Don’t dab on the wounds, it’ll hurt like a bitch.”

Slightly trembling, Jaehyun follows the instructions and carefully dabs alcohol around the cuts, swiping blood off of Taeyong’s skin. “Is this okay?”

Taeyong feels guilty for being a little amused at the way Jaehyun face crumples from imaginary pain. “That’s enough. Go get the needle and the thread.”

Jaehyun acquiesces as he does what he’s told. Yet he gives up after the tenth failure of sliding the thread through the needle due to his trembling hands. “Hyung, come on. Don’t let me do this.”

The bleeding has already stopped by the time Jaehyun gives up, and Taeyong finally pities him. Chuckling softly, he gestures for Jaehyun to put them back in the kit and grab the bandages instead before confessing that he doesn’t really need stitching.

Imagine the indignance on Jaehyun’s face. How could Taeyong still make fun of him when he’s scared shitless? Despite that, Jaehyun listens attentively to instructions of how he should wrap the bandage around.

“Do you know who those guys are…?”

Taeyong shakes his head. The only indication that gave away they belong in a group is the small, circle brooch on the collar of their shirts. To none the wiser it seems like a simple accessory, but Taeyong knows better.

“I don’t. Might just be amateur kidnappers. Mobs wouldn’t be so careless to do it in broad daylight even in a secluded area. Mobs are professionals. They do things smoothly.”

“I’m worried,” Jaehyun says quietly as he carefully wraps the bandage around Taeyong’s arm. “Yuta isn’t answering my texts. Do you think he came there early and was taken away first…?”

“Possibly.”

“Then we need to call the police.”

“You can’t.”

Jaehyun gets a little incensed by how quick Taeyong answered as if he didn’t even consider it. “Why not?”

Taeyong sighs heavily. “Because they will ask how you escaped. The prints of my tires, they will look for what cars use that type. And then they will cross you out because you don’t drive. I got my bullets in them. The police can trace that. They will ask if you had a gun. Again, it will lead back to me once they do a search and arrest me for illegal possession of firearms.”

Alright, so they can’t report this to the authorities. But what about Yuta? Jaehyun is torn between protecting Taeyong and asking help to find his friend. “What if they really have him…?”

“Just hope that’s not the case.” Taeyong asks the younger to finish covering the cut on his arm before sitting upright as Jaehyun starts coiling the bandage around his torso to cover the cut on his side. “Don’t go to work tonight. Tell your boss to ask the others to do overtime. Say it’s an emergency.”

Jaehyun finishes bandaging Taeyong’s cuts and quickly fishes out his phone to call his boss. There’s no use arguing with Taeyong about this because he himself doesn’t want to go out for a while, scared to be at the store in ungodly hours.

“You have a dog?” Taeyong asks as soon as the call ends, his mouth quirking into a miniscule smile.

“No, but luckily they care about my ‘loss’…”

It’s really hard not to worry about his co-worker when there are no other means to reach Yuta. Jaehyun doesn’t know where he lives, as well as anyone he can ask about the other. Sighing, he hugs his knees and rests his chin on them while looking up at Taeyong. “Hyung, thank you for saving me.”

Honestly, Jaehyun doesn’t need to thank him. Jaehyun managed to defend himself just fine and even helped Taeyong. Taeyong was just there to finish it. “No, thank you for distracting that motherfucker. I didn’t really see how you knocked out the other, but that was awesome.”

“I watched a lot of action movies.” It earns Jaehyun a laugh that dies down quickly when Taeyong winces, having triggered his injuries. His gaze then gravitates to the scars on Taeyong’s skin. “Hyung, how did you get those?”

Following Jaehyun’s line of sight, Taeyong hums as he recalls the story of each scar. “Most of them are really old. When I did my kills recklessly. My targets weren’t nobodies so I got into actual physical fights to save myself. This was a stab wound,” he points to the scar above his hip, “some lacerations, got caught on a barb wire. Sometimes they hurt when I touch them – but that’s all in my head. The pain, I mean.” When he looks back at Jaehyun he sees how hard the younger is staring at his torso, and raises a brow. “You can look closely if you’re that curious.”

Look closely Jaehyun does. It amuses Taeyong at first as Jaehyun asks if he could touch them, and eventually stops finding it funny when the soft and ticklish feel of Jaehyun’s fingers leave a tingly sensation where they trace, setting his skin on fire. Somehow, the pain he used to feel touching his own scars decides not to make its presence known, replaced by arousal that permeates the whole room.

He knows he’s not the only one that feels it.

Jaehyun senses the gaze on him and looks up, pressing a finger on the scar on Taeyong’s chest. “How did you get this?”

“Slash. 2015.”

There’s something about the way Taeyong’s voice drops that rattles Jaehyun so good from the inside. The older man eyes have darkened as well but Jaehyun sees it all – the want, the urge. Gulping once, he looks back at the scar and traces it, his own breaths coming out shallow. Taeyong’s skin is far from perfect but for some reason, Jaehyun wants to touch it. Taste it, even. How scandalous.

Tracing the blemish, Jaehyun’s finger catches on a nipple and stops when he hears a hitch of breath that isn’t his. In his defense, the scar is too close to the nipple and his thumb unintentionally touched it. But now that he’s sure that Taeyong doesn’t mind if the hitch of breath and the clenching of his hands are anything to go by, Jaehyun does it again, and again, until both of Taeyong’s nipples have hardened from the constant tease.

The air in the room thickens with desire and Jaehyun inhales it, filling his system. “Does it hurt?” He asks just to be sure because it would be extremely humiliating if the feelings are not mutual.

“No.”

Jaehyun meets Taeyong’s gaze before those lips steal his attention. They’re parted, thin and enticing, inviting Jaehyun to share their breaths and much, much more than that.

Is he really not hallucinating? Are the pools of desire in those eyes, real? He wants me, doesn’t he?

But before doubt comes to ruin, Taeyong eagerly confirms Jaehyun’s suspicions. His mouth is hot against the younger’s, knocking the breath out of their lungs with a fiery kiss that felt like it waited for a long, long time to be given.

None of Jaehyun’s daydreams can ever match the real thing. The way those lips take over, leaving him gasping for more with a string of spit between them whenever they part for air. Jaehyun hovers over Taeyong, careful not to let him move a lot and reopen his wounds. He wants to touch, run his hands over that body without restraint but given the situation, Jaehyun contents himself with lowering his hips on Taeyong’s and humping each other through their jeans.

Bracing himself on his arms, Jaehyun goes down for another kiss that Taeyong meets halfway and moans wantonly when the man under him grabs his ass, kneading them.

Something crashes to the floor. Must be the kit, but none have fucks to give.

The strength put in that grip speaks of Taeyong’s greed to feel Jaehyun as much as possible. He pulls the younger impossibly closer when there’s not even a hair’s breadth between them, moaning from both pain and pleasure. His wounds irritate beneath the bandage, yet he doesn’t care if they reopen. He can patch them up again and again, like he wants to have this again and again.

God, he wants this. Let him have it.

Jaehyun pulls away for a second to get rid of his shirt before reconnecting their mouths. He feels rough hands map his naked torso, tweaking sensitive nipples before raking down his spine and slipping underneath his jeans to grab his bare ass.

“Hmm, keep going…” Taeyong whispers breathlessly as their hard cocks press hungrily against each other. His neck cranes when Jaehyun gives a particularly good hump, giving the younger an opportunity to suck and nibble on his throat. Jaehyun’s teeth sink into his skin and the thought of wearing him for days turns Taeyong on even more. It’s hot, and they continue to get a taste of each other without a care in the world.

Jaehyun’s lips brush over Taeyong’s pulse before planting a kiss on it. The flat of his tongue presses over where it beats before greedily lapping up.

It’s so easy make Taeyong crumble – he would be tough and dominant at first but he gives way to Jaehyun in a snap. One of his mistakes is assuming that Jaehyun would be pliant but here he is, reduced to a moaning mess and they have barely even done anything.

Their lower garments are discarded soon enough. Taeyong watches through a lustful gaze as Jaehyun kisses his way down his body, covering every inch of skin with kisses and licks and bites. A frustrated noise rumbles in the back of his throat when Jaehyun deliberately avoids the place where Taeyong wants him the most, and proceeds to shower his thighs with the same set of presents – kiss, lick, bite, with an extra influx of suckles.

Jaehyun seems to be enjoying himself though, and that’s what matters. He makes love with Taeyong’s body so well that it spurs the latter’s curiosity, asking Jaehyun where he learned these things.

Hyung, I’m a healthy man. Did some things in college. I also watch stuff occasionally. Speaking of that,” Jaehyun spits on his hand and wraps it around his own aching flesh, his mouth hovering dangerously close to Taeyong’s arousal. “Remember when I asked you to fix my pipe ‘because it was leaking?”

Taeyong’s head falls back into the pillow. Closing his eyes, he focuses on the sensations Jaehyun creates with his surprisingly talented mouth.

“While you were under the sink, I thought of that porn I saw years ago. But I guess fucking the plumber would feel better. Hyung, once your wounds heal, would you let me…?” Jaehyun licks a fat stripe along Taeyong’s throbbing erection, flicking his tongue over the swollen tip once. He chuckles when Taeyong lightly spasms.

Fuck. The images are so fucking vivid. Of him bent over the sink, pants down as Jaehyun rams his way into him. Hard and fast.

Taeyong pants, clutching the sheets. “I’d like that. Jaehyun, I’d like that. But what the fuck are we gonna do tonight?” He opens one eye to glimpse what the other is doing. Currently, Jaehyun is stroking himself while flicking his tongue on Taeyong’s balls kittenishly. “I wanna taste you too.”

“Is that so? That’s not a problem.”

The younger sounds so confident, like he knows what he’s doing, what he wants to do. It impresses, Taeyong, can’t deny that he’s badly looking forward to what Jaehyun has in store for the both of them tonight. Couple of minutes tick by with Jaehyun indulging himself with a mouthful of Taeyong, caressing everywhere he can reach because he wants to give him the most.

When Taeyong demands that he comes up again, Jaehyun does just that but with a twist, quite literally. Repositioning himself on top, Jaehyun’s head is still between Taeyong’s legs but this time, his own cock hangs right above Taeyong’s face.

69, he’s always wondered if it would feel as amazing as they say.

Taeyong’s cock pulsates within the clutch of Jaehyun’s hand, his mouth watering at the proffered treat. As his palms stroke the firm muscles of Jaehyun’s thighs, his mouth busily sucks the younger’s balls. The taste is weird on his tongue, but not unpleasant. If anything, the feel of it and the sounds Jaehyun makes while sucking him off drives Taeyong into a frenzy. Lowering Jaehyun’s ass a bit, one of his hands then pumps the younger’s length. It’s hot and heavy in his hold, begging for more.

“Good?” Taeyong asks after releasing Jaehyun’s balls from his mouth. For a second, the string of spit hangs between his lower lip and a sack before it is severed by a flick of his tongue. The response to his question comes in the form of a moan that vibrates around Taeyong’s cock, as he shallowly thrusts into Jaehyun’s mouth.

So Jaehyun likes getting his face fucked, huh? Might as well enjoy it too.

Pointing the tip to him, Taeyong drags Jaehyun even lower and lets the latter’s erection slide into the wet heat of his mouth, pulling out a long, drawn out moan from the both of them.

With their mouths filled with each other, they move in sync – sucking, thrusting, drawing lines of ecstasy on unblemished skins. Taeyong cannot see his own artwork behind Jaehyun’s thighs so he gropes the younger’s ass cheeks again, parting them far enough.

Jaehyun trembles with pure want. His hole flutters as a finger gently prods it, not really pushing. Consumed by electrifying pleasure he thrusts a little faster, letting Taeyong’s cock slide out of his mouth for a moment so he can moan out loud, properly appreciating the attention given to him.

Hyung, Taeyong hyung…” These words flow out of their imprisonment along with softer obscenities. Jaehyun watches the way his penis gently jabs Taeyong’s throat before submitting to the latter’s silent demands of thrusting deeper.

He’s a little worried but the grunts of bliss and nails digging on his bruising ass cheeks urge Jaehyun to engulf Taeyong again, giving his all to match his hyung’s eagerness. When Taeyong suddenly thrusts up and builds a shallow yet steady pace, Jaehyun bobs his head to meet him halfway.  

They slide into each other’s mouth, pausing occasionally when pleasure gets too much and their lungs scream for oxygen, and content themselves for a while with tamer sucks and licks.

The wanton sounds of their throats getting fucked are so goddamn indecent, beyond the scope of sexual. Lust blazes through every fiber of their beings, leaving moans and whimpers of more in their wake. Taeyong spanks Jaehyun’s ass until it’s blooming red, and Jaehyun is tearing up.

Taeyong’s balls tighten, a telltale sign of orgasm. Releasing Jaehyun’s cock again, Taeyong watches the glistening, rock-hard shaft bounce against Jaehyun’s belly before tapping the younger’s side. “I’m gonna come, let’s do it together. Turn around.” He knows that the other’s close too from how much Jaehyun leaks. His essence is warm and a little salty on Taeyong’s tongue.

Jaehyun bobs his head a few more times. Can’t get enough of that cock. He gets another insistent tap before turning around to take Taeyong’s kiss-swollen lips and whimpers at the lingering taste of himself. “’M close, hyung. So close…” Panting, he wraps a hand around both of their throbbing cocks and snaps his wrist as deliciously quick as he can.

The first one to reach his peak is Taeyong, followed by Jaehyun barely two seconds later. Thick ribbons of white mix on Taeyong’s abdomen, sometimes shooting as far as to hit his chin. Jaehyun can’t help the furious blush on his face. It just feels so fucking good and Taeyong is one tantalizing sight to behold – the way his sweaty body shudders, the sounds of his gasps and moans joining the pounding of blood in Jaehyun’s ears, how he weakly holds on to Jaehyun’s arms while they both ride out their highs with the slow and sometimes stuttering snaps of their hips.

Taeyong’s mind is clouded with nothing but Jaehyun, Jaehyun, fuck, I’m in love with Jaehyun. The same conclusion erratically beats with his heart. They stare into each other, both bodies buzzing with the high of sex until it plunges to a calming afterglow.

Jaehyun gets off and sits in bed with a slight wince–oh, how much Taeyong enjoyed spanking him. “Hyung, I’m sorry about that,” he points to Taeyong’s chin before picking his shirt on the floor to use it to wipe the mess they made on Taeyong’s torso. Doing it embarrasses the fuck out of him, especially as Taeyong watches every move he makes. “I think we need to redress your wounds?”

“Relax, it’s just little blood. It’ll close again.” Taeyong doesn’t bother to stifle his smile. “You might wanna drink some honey water later if your throat feels sore.”

“…You didn’t go hard on me, hyung. But I’ll still drink it. Does your throat hurt?” The younger can’t even meet his eyes, it’s honestly so endearing.

Taeyong tries to swallow, brows furrowing a little. There’s indeed a dull uncomfortable feeling but knowing from past experiences, it won’t be too bad. “Why are you so red? Pretty sure I look blissed out too but you…you’re shy, aren’t you? Did you like it?”

Tossing the shirt uncaringly on the floor, Jaehyun lies on his side and grabs a pillow to cover his crotch which makes Taeyong laugh. “I loved it,” he says, remembering the boldness that came over him out of nowhere. He might just have discovered a kink. “You made me feel good. Did you feel good?” Jaehyun looks back at Taeyong who props himself up on his elbows, hair falling over his damp face.

“Of course. You also made me feel more than that.”

Jaehyun’s heart doesn’t get much time to rest. It speeds up as the atmosphere shifts but right now, it’s nothing sexual. It speaks to him beyond physical craving.

Should he…? Confessing after sex may not be ideal. However, Jaehyun also doesn’t want to wait especially when he’s even more certain now that Taeyong might reciprocate his feelings. Mustering up his courage, Jaehyun props himself up sideways and gulps. “This might not be the perfect time to confess, but–”

Words are stolen from him as Taeyong seals his mouth with a kiss. Jaehyun blinks rapidly as soon as it’s over, mouth tingling. “Taeyong…?”

“Me too,” Taeyong whispers, eyeing Jaehyun’s lips before swooping in to convey his feelings through another kiss. Slowly and more sensually.

“So are we like,” Jaehyun manages to say in between lip-locks, one hand cupping the back of Taeyong’s neck to keep him close. “Like boyfriends now?” He follows it with a whine when Taeyong chuckles. “What’s so funny?”

“Our friendship was too short.”

“It’s okay. You can’t just be friends with someone if you wanna get in their pants.”

“Touché.”

It’s unbelievably crazy how the world turns. He was mad at Taeyong for being a hitman, fearing him, and now they’re boyfriends. It feels like it was only yesterday when Jaehyun saw him at the convenience store for the first time. And given their stance on Taeyong’s lifestyle, it makes this even more ridiculous yet not ridiculous enough to make Jaehyun stop wanting it.

They are two different worlds that revolve around the same axis: Love.

Jaehyun breaks the silence a moment later. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m wondering why you haven’t returned my spare key yet.”

Jaehyun stills and then winces. “I keep forgetting! I’ll return it to you later…”

“Nah, just keep it. Got a spare anyway.” Taeyong is hoping to cuddle Jaehyun by draping himself over the latter but pain zips up his torso, causing him to fall on his back instead. “Fuck…”

“Look at this stupid little shit – you’re gonna reopen your wounds! Stay still. We can’t cuddle until you’re healed.”

Lying side by side, Jaehyun interlocks their fingers instead while basking in the moment of happiness, not giving a chance to that lingering dread gnawing at the back of his mind.

A friend of his is still missing. Jaehyun sincerely hopes that nothing bad happened to him.

 

 

Eventually, Jaehyun goes back to work because he was only given three days to mourn the loss of a pet he never had. He has also stopped contacting Yuta because he can’t reach the number anymore. He can’t go to the police, so when a new cashier joins his shift after a couple of days manning the register and organizing the store by himself (Taeyong stays in the store with him, so he’s not entirely alone), Jaehyun gives up hoping that his friend is safe. Their boss said Yuta didn’t file a leave, so they were forced to hire a new cashier.

Doing his routine work saddens Jaehyun profoundly. He misses Yuta despite the other’s laziness. During dead hours, Yuta was a tap away to kill time with random conversations. Yuta was the one that Jaehyun confided in with his thoughts about Taeyong. He wishes to talk about it again with Yuta who’s most likely only going to roll his eyes anyway. This new cashier is so quiet, so awkward around Jaehyun that they rarely talk unless it’s about work. Thankfully, Taeyong is there to save him from the verge of death induced by boredom and worry.

A week later into crawling through his shift with Taeyong and the boring co-worker, Jaehyun sees his boyfriend (he always feels an urge to scream into oblivion whenever he addresses Taeyong with that word) become visibly distressed while talking on the phone. He cannot hear what Taeyong says but he’s mostly just nodding throughout the short call. As soon as his shift is over and they return to Taeyong’s apartment, Jaehyun asks about it.

“It’s my boss. Asking for an update on the last target and I had to lie about it because I’ve done literally nothing yet. He didn’t really give me a deadline but I know he’s expecting me to do it already.” Taeyong says as he lies in bed with Jaehyun, an arm resting over his eyes. It is silent for a minute before he is pulled into Jaehyun’s arms with his head resting on the cashier boy’s chest.

Jaehyun kisses the top of Taeyong’s head. “What do you usually do to prepare?”

“Stalk them so I’ll know how they move. Their routine. I’ll figure out the perfect time for a kill.”

“What do you know so far about them?”

“Their headquarters and the leader’s address. That information was already given to me, though. Everything else is up to me.”

Taeyong glances up and pokes Jaehyun’s chin, sensing the latter’s anxiety coming off in waves. “Don’t ask me not to go, please? This is gonna be the last, then I’m free. I promise I’ll be free.”

“I’m not planning to stop you. In fact, I hope it’ll be over as soon as possible. Where does…where does that man live? Are they all rich?”

“Maybe,” Taeyong shrugs and tells Jaehyun the address. He has it ingrained in memory.

“That must be an upscale neighborhood…”

“Not really. Looked it up and it’s a rich neighborhood but not enough to be considered upscale.”

He’ll forever be bothered by his boyfriend’s job, that’s for certain. Jaehyun doesn’t think he’ll ever have the courage to simply overlook it. The thought that Taeyong lives off of killing even though those people committed heinous crimes of their own will never sit well him. But this mission is going to be the last and when it ends, when Taeyong is finally able to walk away from it, Jaehyun will be there to help him forget the life he used to live.

And telling him to get it over with doesn’t mean supporting what he does. Jaehyun just itches to make him stop already.

With that in mind, Jaehyun looks down and wears a tiny smile. “After that, hyung, can we please go on a date?”

Taeyong chuckles. “Why wait after that?”

A finger runs over the fading scar on Taeyong’s cheek.

“Because I want you to have a reason not to die and come back to me.”

 

 

He can feel his boss’ impatience through the passive texts. The man might have never been upset with any of Taeyong’s missions, given that they were all done above expectation, but Taeyong can never be too complacent. The cult will be growing each day their leader remains alive, and their chaotic stunts can possibly involve other mobs, especially the one which Taeyong has a contract to. If he doesn’t move now, he might not have the chance to freely walk away.

Taeyong gets off the car and enters the store, immediately cupping Jaehyun’s cheek before pulling him in a deep kiss, both not giving a flying fuck to the other scandalized cashier.

“Wait for me,” he says, now holding Jaehyun’s trembling hands. Taeyong informed him earlier about finally completing his last kill tonight. “I’ll be back and we’ll go on a date. Let’s go somewhere really nice. Anywhere you want.”

God, he wants to come back to Jaehyun in one piece. Taeyong is usually not this anxious but considering that he doesn’t have a concrete plan to execute this mission properly, he’s extra jittery. Where are the gums? Taeyong pats his pockets before glancing at the rack – it’s empty. Did they not restock?

Jaehyun politely excuses himself from his co-worker and pulls Taeyong between an aisle of junk foods. It doesn’t show overtly but his boyfriend is obviously on edge and he is, too. For Taeyong, and for something else. “It’ll be okay, hyung. So what if you didn’t prepare? You’ve been doing this for years,” he glances at the new cashier to check if the other’s eavesdropping before gripping Taeyong’s hand. “What’s wrong…?”

“I need the sweet gum I bought last time. Don’t you have stock?”

“Oh, that. No, we ran out of it. A woman bought the last three earlier.”

“Fuck, I gotta go back to the apartment. I forgot to bring it.”

Jaehyun swallows the invisible lump in his throat. This insane idea of his? It literally occurred to him while mopping the floor fifteen minutes ago. And the panic that comes with it is spurring such thought into action. He can do this. He needs to make sure Taeyong comes back.

“Okay, um, let’s go get it.”

Bless Taeyong for forgetting a damn gum, allowing Jaehyun to do what he needs to do without struggling to come up with an excuse to go back to the apartment. Pulling Taeyong by the hand, Jaehyun tells his co-worker that he needs to run a quick errand before they go back to the complex.

As soon as Taeyong finds the pack, he pops two and greedily sucks the flavor, hoping it helps calm his nerves even just for a bit. While waiting for it to take effect as he splashes water on his face in the bathroom, Jaehyun quietly slips inside the bedroom and grabs the first gun his hand touches. Attached to it is a suppressor and with his scant knowledge of guns, Jaehyun releases the magazine to check if it’s loaded.

He quickly slips it in the back of his jeans and covers it with his shirt when he hears Taeyong’s footsteps, meeting the other man in the living room. “Are you okay now?” Jaehyun’s heart pounds like it wants to burst out of his chest. Hopefully nothing about his expression gives away what he did.

Taeyong combs his hair with a hand a few times while taking deep breaths, his eyes seemingly far away. “Yeah. I don’t know if he’s even there. I’ll just break in however I can and then go to the headquarters if he’s not at home.”

“What about the CCTVs? He’ll surely have some around…?”

“I’ll see what I can do. The houses shouldn’t be too close. It’ll be easy to go through the back. Come on, you gotta stay with your co-worker while I’m not around.”

The car pulls over in front of the convenience’s store. Jaehyun then looks at Taeyong, balled hands on his lap to keep them from shaking. “Hyung, come back to me. I’m serious.”

His voice trembles a little at the end and it pierces right through Taeyong. Why does it feel like they’re merely trying to convince themselves that this will not be the last they’ll see each other? It’s funny how they’re doing this in front of the store, too.

“That’s the plan, Jaehyun. I’ll see you later, okay?”

They meet halfway for a kiss. Jaehyun is the first one to pull away and finally gets off the car.

They don’t need to say goodbye. They will spend decades together before they have to cross that bridge.

When the car drives away, Jaehyun quickly flags down an incoming cab and gets in, ignoring the yell of his co-worker.

“Please follow that car, ahjussi. I’ll tell you when to stop.” Jaehyun reclines against the seat, feeling the gun press on his back.

 

 

The other end of the village connects to a main road so it is easy to enter without being a resident. Anyone that wants to take a shortcut is permitted to get in with an ID.

And of course, Taeyong presents one that has a fake name.

Once inside, he looks for a safe spot nearest to the target’s house where he can park the car. He finds a dark, empty lot half a kilometer away from Choi Sanghoon’s place and kills the engine, hoping it is a blind spot. Even if it is not, the spot fortunately sits beneath a broken lamppost.

Seems like the odds are working hard in Taeyong’s favor.

Carrying the sniper, he walks where the lights don’t touch until he reaches the side of Choi’s house – it’s dark, all lights off at midnight. Taeyong tip toes to the back as he puts the balaclava on and looks around for a camera. There is one latched onto a wall slowly turning side to side. He quickly ducks down next to a next container as the camera points towards his direction.

There is approximately five seconds between each turn. Taeyong only has five seconds to hop over the fence. When the camera turns to the other side again, Taeyong stealthily steps over the waste container and hops over the fence, landing on his feet with a soft thud before hiding behind a wall where the camera will not catch him.

The sound can barely wake anyone but Taeyong waits a few seconds just to be sure that no one has been alerted of his presence, and finally closes in to a back door. It’s locked. Retrieving a bobby pin, he starts picking the lock until he hears a soft click.

With bated breath, he opens the door.

 

 

His strides are slow and mute. Taeyong furtively scans the dining area since it’s the first room behind the backdoor. Sniper already aiming just in case anyone pops up. From what his boss said, Choi does not have a family. His day job is uncertain, but it is highly likely to pay well given the size of this house. It’s too big for one person. Or maybe he came from a wealthy money, who knows.

The only thing Taeyong is sure of is that the man is going to die tonight.

The living room is devoid of souls as well. Going up the second floor, Taeyong checks the three bedrooms and each time, he is met with disappointment. No signs of his target.

It leaves him with only one place left – the attic.

What would Choi Sanghoon even do in the attic? Sketch a pentagram and summon all the demons he can in exchange for half of his lifespan just to get all the money in the world? He’s a damn cult leader, he will probably draw the pentagram with his own blood.

The stairs creak with every climb. Taeyong winces, heart pumping more blood than it should. It’s all he hears apart from the grating, and the constant voice in his head to finish this quickly and return to Jaehyun’s arms.

Jaehyun. He misses him. Terribly.

There is no door leading to the attic. It’s an open entryway that permits Taeyong easy access to nothing but a dump of random stuff – boxes, luggage, books, and whatnot that Choi Sanghoon probably owns.

Fuck. Don’t tell him he went here for nothing. Where the fuck is he? At the headquarters? Taeyong should have–

The cocking of a gun from behind paralyzes him. Taeyong’s heart stops beating.

“I’ve been in this village for years and this is the first time somebody dared to break in. And they don’t look like a low-profile burglar to me.”

Choi Sanghoon smirks as he watches the masked man turn around slowly, sniper aimed towards him. “Should’ve checked under the bed as well, huh? Did you think I wouldn’t know? There are cameras where you think they wouldn’t be. I wonder; who would drop dead first? You or me? Who are you, my lovely guest?”

How did he not hear him?

“This is my house. I would know where to put my feet so the steps wouldn’t creak.”

He must have fucking said that out loud.

Taeyong gulps, his index wrapping around the trigger. “One shot of this sniper at point blank is going to blow you to pieces.” The man before him doesn’t look that old. Probably in his 40s. But it’s dark, so Taeyong can’t be too sure. “You don’t need to know my name. They say you will not remember a thing when you get to hell.” He hikes the gun and for some reason, Choi chuckles.

“You don’t want to do that, young man. You’re younger than me, aren’t you? What’s your purpose by doing this?”

The handgun is still pointed at him. Taeyong can easily stop talking and catch Choi off-guard but his gut tells him to wait for something. Whatever that is, it’s keeping him from pulling the trigger. “I don’t give a shit about you, Choi. Someone just wants you dead. That’s why it’s not my name you should be asking.”

It piques the cult leader’s curiosity. He steps into the light that passes through the window and grins at Taeyong who takes a step back to maintain the distance between them. “Who would even go out of their way to hire a hitman because they want me dead? Jesus, I’m new in this scene. Can’t you give me a chance?”

“It really isn’t me that you should be begging.”

Choi Sanghoon keeps the sinister smile on his face, eyes almost crazed. “Looks like I can’t make you spare me without a good offer. I’m going to bargain with you, hitman. My group is relatively new but it’s growing fast, and we’re starting off on the right foot. If you join us, you’ll receive a stable income. I know being a hitman is hard. You get paid sporadically, and depending on your target. Considering I’m new, doesn’t it mean you’ll get paid unfairly with how risky this is? I am willing to pay you regularly, just name your price.” He zeroes in on the sniper and moans in approval. “You must be a veteran. Come on, it’s a good deal. Also, the membership comes with a special freebie.”

“…Freebie?”

The man’s mouth quirks into a maniacal laugh before tapping a finger on the brooch on his collar. “We will be the first mob to have a symbol that sets us apart from the others, like a flag!”

Taeyong stares in astonishment at the small, circle brooch.

This…this is the leader of those men that attacked him and Jaehyun. Those men that tried to abduct his boyfriend.

This cult that pays people to hand them ‘goods.’

His mind floats from one realization to another as Sanghoon rambles, surroundings fading into black as he’s pulled into an abyss. Taeyong almost misses the farewell addressed to him, defrosting his attention and he quickly adjusts the sniper to kill Choi Sanghoon.

Unfortunately, he is one-upped by a shot that isn’t his.

 

 

Sanghoon writhes in pain on floor, bleeding on the back of his knee. He lost grip of his own gun and wails even louder as Taeyong kicks it out of reach, eyes threatening to bulge out as he stares back at Jaehyun holding one of his guns.

“Son of a bitch–!”

Taeyong signals Jaehyun to look away with a cock of his head before putting Choi Sanghoon to eternal rest with two more fatal shots, and beckons his petrified boyfriend to where the cameras are connected.

So many questions rush through his head as he does his best to delete all CCTV recordings, going as far as removing old files while Jaehyun silently watches.

“Give it to me. Now.”

Jaehyun hesitantly hands over the handgun and runs both hands through his hair as he watches more and more files get wiped out. Holy shit. He can’t believe he actually did it. This type of job is risky as fuck. Nothing is easy. From getting off the cab when Taeyong disappeared to the back of the house, going through the backdoor, hiding in the shadows as he watched the target from behind, up to planting a bullet through his knee. How in the world does Taeyong do this for a living?

Once Taeyong is contented, they make a quick escape and settles in the car, speeding into the main road with rapidly pounding hearts.

The whole ride back to the apartment is spent in uncomfortable silence. Plate changed, Taeyong leads the way up his unit with an inscrutable expression. Jaehyun can’t put a name to the aura he emits but he steers away from it by keeping his mouth shut. He’s highly aware of the danger that entailed his actions. Can’t blame Taeyong for giving him the cold shoulder. But Jaehyun only wanted to make sure he’s coming back. Shouldn’t the end sometimes justify the means?

Although he cannot deny that by following Taeyong, he just imitated what he was so against with.  

Jaehyun admits guilt as Taeyong tosses both guns on the bed, as well as the balaclava and black latex gloves. He waits for the other to sit down and promptly occupies the space on Taeyong’s right while the latter takes his shoes off, still mum.

“I’m sorry… I knew you didn’t have much of a plan and I was so scared you wouldn’t return. W-when you were in the bathroom earlier, that’s when I sneaked in to get a gun. Hid it right away. Took a cab when you drove away and had it follow you.”

“You’re stupid.”

“I know… And I’m a hypocrite.”

“No,” Taeyong says quietly before finally looking at Jaehyun. Only then do his feelings show in his eyes – Fear, because if something went wrong, he could’ve lost Jaehyun. Guilt is right up on its tail for indirectly making Jaehyun do the very thing he hates. He shouldn’t feel the need to do something that contradicts his beliefs for the sake of other’s. Taeyong will make sure it’s the last. “You’re fucking stupid. And smart.”

Jaehyun blinks, fidgeting.

“How did he not see you? How did none of us hear the steps creak?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve been listening since he started talking to you. Maybe he hid under the bed as soon as he saw you, that’s why he missed me. And I watched where he stepped so the stairs wouldn’t make a sound. But you, why did you not kill him right away?”

“…It was dangerous. We both had guns.” Stalling proved to be a wise decision after all because he found out a secret he wasn’t meant to know.

Jaehyun sniffles. “I’m sorry I was too slow. Almost got cold feet.”

“You’re sorry for saving me, a hitman? The one that should’ve done things ten times better than you and that guy?” Taeyong asks in disbelief, before pulling Jaehyun in a tight hug and burying his face on the mop of black hair. Jaehyun must feel how bad he’s trembling. “God, you’re so stupid. But thank you, baby. I’d compliment you but I don’t think you’d appreciate it.”

“No, please don’t. I just don’t really want you to die.” Jaehyun’s voice is slightly muffled by Taeyong’s shoulder, his hands clutching the back of Taeyong’s shirt. If it were possible, they would’ve merged into one from how desperately tight they’re clinging on to each other. “Won’t we get caught?”

“I don’t think so.” Breaking the hug, Taeyong looks down at Jaehyun’s apron and points at it. “Should’ve used this to cover your face instead. If a camera outside got you clearly, they’d catch you right away.”

Jaehyun stills.

“Did you walk on the dark sides?”

“Y-yes. Am I gonna get caught?”

“No, I’ll make sure of that.” Taeyong sighs and presses a soft kiss to Jaehyun’s cheek. “Don’t be scared anymore, Jaehyun. Tomorrow, I’ll get my last payment. I’m free.”

That’s all Jaehyun wants to hear.

 

 

Never did he feel any positive emotion coming to the headquarters. He was always either anxious or brooding.

Today, as he enters his boss’ office to get the last payment, he is relieved.

“Boss,” Taeyong greets the man who’s smoking at 10 in the morning. How is he still not diagnosed with lung cancer?

The man reclines in his sweat and pinches the stick away, blowing it through the corner of his mouth. “Yes, I heard the news. Of his death and the rising panic within the cult. Great job, Taeyong. I’d say keep up the good work but I know you’re here to leave.” The cigarette hisses as it is pressed to the ashtray. “Would you think about it if I offer another contract?”

“Not a chance. I’m leaving and I swear to seal my mouth shut ‘til my last day.”

The mob leader hums, staring for a moment before sitting upright and clasping his hands on the table. “Remember the day you signed the contract? You were so eager, so hungry to get booked. And now you look nothing close to it. What changed? Met with a pastor and had some divine intervention?”

Taeyong ignores his boss’ mockery. “A specific reason had me scrambling to get booked without second thoughts. But that reason died and a new one was born. This new reason convinced me to live better. No more contracts, no more bosses, no more kills. The second I step out of your office I’m gone for good. You will never see a trace of me.”

“Somehow, that’s sad to hear. But you are no slave of mine, so I will respect your decision. You never once gave me a reason to think twice about you, Taeyong.” Leaving his seat, the man retrieves two briefcases from the safe and puts it on the desk for the hitman to get. “Your last payment. Everything is there. I guess…this is farewell?”

This is the only farewell that feels damn good. Taeyong nods, eager to get out of that place. “Let’s never meet again.”

“And we ever do, let’s make sure it’s not to put a bullet in you.” The mob leader smiles as he plays with the same cigarette stick. “That would be such a shame.”

Taking it as their last words to each other, Taeyong heads for the door and stops when he remembers something. “Can you do me a favor?”

“What is it?”

“Run a name for me.”

 

 

Taeyong does not bother to knock properly. Instead, he kicks the door hard. Twice just to be spiteful.

“What the hell – ?!”

He scoffs as soon as horror dawns on Yuta’s face before forcing his way inside the tiny apartment, opening the briefcase on the couch and proceeds to nonchalantly throw wads of cash on the floor. “This is for you so you wouldn’t have to sell your friends to the cult anymore. Were you ever truthful to Jaehyun? The cult is dying, by the way.”

Yuta looks at the money by his feet. “How did you know…?”

“The cult buys goods from sellers. Guess who asked Jaehyun to come to a place where cult members were waiting for him? Guess who disappeared without a trace after that? I never cared about you before but I’ve got something to tell you now. Listen very closely because I will not repeat myself.”

Taeyong closes the briefcase and steps before Yuta, steely gaze drilling warnings into the other. “If you think you could get back at me for knowing you had contacts with the cult, let me burst your bubble now. I know more people than you’ll ever do. Use the money to make yourself scarce. Make sure to never cross Jaehyun’s path again. He thinks you’re dead. Keep it that way.”

Then he leans in so that his words embed deep into the petrified man’s guts. That way, he will understand not to commit the mistake of not taking Taeyong seriously. “Defy me once, and I’ll show you why you shouldn’t have.” Such whisper carries a thousand threat, a farewell that neither puts its receiver at ease nor strikes them with emptiness as Taeyong leaves.

Stabbing Jaehyun in the back was Yuta’s easiest resort to get out of this hellhole – The man can be a little naïve at times and his positivity irked Yuta, especially when he went on and on about that customer. Who would’ve thought that the bruises and cuts were more than what they were on the surface, and that that customer would be Yuta’s nightmare as much as he was Jaehyun’s dream?

Crippled by fear and regret, Yuta sinks pathetically to the floor, surrounded by evidence of being a traitor.

 

 

His apartment is empty when Taeyong comes back after making another deposit to the charity. Jaehyun must have gone back to his own. Slipping the briefcases under the bed, he gathers the firearms as well as the other weapons before putting them inside a luggage for disposal whenever he finds the perfect place to bury them. Maybe in the woods? Wherever it’ll be hidden for a long time.

Taeyong goes to the bathroom to wash his face.  As he looks in the mirror while drying with a towel, his eyes dart over to the scars. They have faded a little bit but still visible. He supposes he will never be able to run away completely from his life as a hitman, and maybe it’s fine. These scars were brought by hope to be with his mother for a little longer. Good thing he has Jaehyun to put his focus on. Things will be alright, slowly but surely.

Shock surges through him when he turns to leave and sees Jaehyun standing by the doorway, watching him with a small smile. Taeyong exhales heavily as he puts a hand on his chest, chuckling. “What, are you a ghost now? Didn’t hear you come in.”

“You looked deep in your thoughts.”

“I was thinking.”

“Of?”

“You,” Taeyong grins when the younger scrunches his nose, before pulling Jaehyun to the bedroom. “Did you take a shower?”

“Mm. I used my strawberry scented shampoo.” Jaehyun bows his head a bit to let Taeyong smell his hair, smiling so wide while running his fingers through it. “Do you like it?”

“Yes, but don’t you like mine? You should’ve just showered here.”

“Don’t wanna. Scared that you’d return earlier and peep.”

“As if I haven’t seen everything there is to see.”

Taeyong steals a kiss on Jaehyun’s lips before glancing under the bed, contemplating whether or not he should do it. And before he loses even more courage, he takes out the briefcases and all the stash of money he has kept since signing the contract.

Jaehyun gasps softly when Taeyong opens them and a few paper bills fly out of their confinement, blown by the soft wind entering through the window.

“The first step in moving on is already done. I said goodbye to my boss and swore not to meet him or any of his kind ever again. I want to go through the second step with you, Jaehyun.” Taeyong looks into Jaehyun’s eyes as sincerely as possible. He wouldn’t have imagined himself doing this all those months ago when the cashier boy disrupted his chaotic life with persistent radiance and sweetness, but he’s so, so glad that he let Jaehyun in. He’s so glad that he lost control and let Jaehyun worm his way into his heart.

“Second…step? What–”

“Start a new life with me.”

Jaehyun glances at the stacks of money and gulps. Start a new life? Does it mean quitting his job? Does it mean leaving Seoul and everything it can offer?

“Do you mean we’re leaving this apartment complex?”

“Mm. Let’s go to Busan so you can be with your parents. Convince them Seoul may have brighter lights but Busan is where you wanna be. With this money we can start up a business while you’re in school.”

The cashier boy reels even more. “You’re gonna pay for college….?”

“Why not? You wanna get that diploma and be a chef, don’t you?”

This man before him…is he real? Is Taeyong even real?

Jaehyun sits on the bed and stares at all that money. A brighter future. A lot of opportunities. And they will all be spent with his family and his boyfriend.

Letting out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, Jaehyun reaches for Taeyong’s hand to intertwine their fingers. “Okay,” he says without a second thought and meets his boyfriend’s gaze with a loving one. “Let’s go to Busan.”

Funny how he only wanted to befriend this loner at the convenience store. Funny how they actually got along. Funny how Jaehyun’s feelings remained despite knowing the stories of Taeyong’s scars.

And regardless of how many sins Taeyong gained while trying to cleanse this world of its flaws, Jaehyun will help him redeem himself. List his good qualities so they will outnumber his crooked decisions. He’ll sew up all the saving grace until he has enough to cloak Taeyong from head to toe.

Busan… It’s the perfect place to write a new chapter together.