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Reverie

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{chapter warnings: minor, non graphic sexual assault}
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It’s a vague name. People may catch a glimpse of it on their way to school or work but once it’s out of sight it’s out of mind.

KEYSTONE is spelled out in silver lettering with the sub head TECHNOLOGY INC slightly raised on the edge of the unimpressive double door entryway. It’s the only signage on the property and notably hard to read unless staring directly at it. It’s a bare, conspicuous building of an unimposing size, fenced in by perfectly trimmed bushes that block the view into the equally bare courtyard from anywhere on the street. No parking, no bodies. No one ever seems to come or go, but it’s not of concern. It’s just another business trying to survive in the industry.

Taemin lets the pages of the thin booklet fall closed on his lap. It reminds him of a college brochure, all pretty pictures of the campus taken on a nice sunny day and meager content preparing you for next to nothing. Keystone Tech was a robotics lab that was sued into bankruptcy some twenty years ago. It is now one of the many names the bureaucracy uses to hide things the public doesn’t need to be aware of, as the helpful, near-illegible disclaimer on the last page stated. Minho cheerfully informed him this little welcome package was just to make the organization seem more inviting. Taemin actually has to go there to learn anything substantial, including its real name.

He goes back to idly toying with the ID card that came with it, tilting it at different angles so the iridescent seal JIN stamped in the middle changes from visible to not.

He’s practically official. It has his name and job title and what he recognized as his passport picture all ready to go, like they knew he was going to accept. Which he did, without much thought. He was only a little suspicious of a man he’s never seen offering him a job with an organization he knew nothing about, still so even after learning it was by Minho’s recommendation.

His old roommate has been bragging about his job for almost two years now. Minho’s stories were frustrating to listen to because they were completely void of any detail due to the nature of his work. They left Taemin with so many questions Minho wasn’t allowed to answer, but Minho insisted on sharing them. Taemin was starting to think he didn’t have any friends there.

Maybe that’s why Minho threw Taemin’s name into the hat. And for whatever reason, they picked him to pursue. How desperate are they that they would choose a student with no training, or how brilliant of a pedestal did Minho put him on, he wonders.

It’s time to fasten their seatbelts for the plane’s descent and the closer they get to their destination the more his chest tightens. The initial boost of pride from getting to leave school before the rest of his class was short lived. The confidence he has in his abilities is dwindling. He has no idea what he’s getting himself into and he is sure as hell he is not prepared for it.

With a deep breath in a vain attempt to calm himself, his head falls back to the headrest. This was stupid. But he’s come this far already.

 

The terminal is packed to the brim with new arrivals and those about to depart, everyone in a big aggravating hurry to get to their place. It was like hitting twenty all over again; looking around and feeling like the only one who didn’t know what the fuck he should be doing.

Minho usually isn’t hard to spot in a crowd of normal sized humans, so Taemin assumes he hasn’t arrived yet. He taps in another text and watches it pop into the conversation under his last four. He stares until the screen dims, hoping he will finally see a reply. Taemin flicks his dark hair out of his eyes for another useless scan of the crowd and his attention drops to his phone again with a frown.

Arms quickly encircle him and Taemin is suddenly trapped against a hard chest. He staggers them both with a start accompanied by a curse in an unidentifiable language, but then he hears the very familiar snicker of triumph and relaxes with a huff.

“Miss me?” Minho coos and cranes his neck to try and look Taemin in the face, but he’s not having any of it and Minho lets him wriggle away. Taemin whips around ready to fight but he’s met with Minho’s big stupid cow eyes and big stupid smile and his arms raised as an invitation for a proper hug. It takes Taemin approximately four seconds to cave and walk right into it with his own arms wrapping around Minho’s broad torso. Feeling the other’s warm chuckle from deep in his chest makes Taemin almost answer with sincerity.

“Almost as much as that one instructor that was too handsy and always walked away with a caress.”

“He only did that to you and that one other kid.”

“Shut up.”

“But who can blame him—“ Minho whispers lowly, purposely making it as breathy as possible against Taemin’s cheek and he abruptly squirms out of the hug. Taemin leans down to grab his suitcase and passes Minho with a silent ‘I can’t take you anywhere’ glare, though any seriousness that may have been attached to it is lost with the smile Taemin fails to hold back. Yeah, he missed Minho.

-

“So how did you convince them to hire me?” Taemin asks, his gaze hopping from building to building as they rush towards what is now their shared apartment. Minho is elated to have Taemin as a roommate again and is really pressing the speed limit, one hand firm on the wheel while the other drums on his thigh to the radio. One would think someone in law enforcement would be a little more mindful.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit. I didn’t recommend you because you’re my friend, I did it because I know you’re what we need right now.” Taemin peers at Minho, and Minho’s eyes stay fixed on the road. There is suddenly a bit of tension lacing the air, uncharacteristically so, given who he’s with. The break in conversation nears an uncomfortable length and Taemin is already bracing himself.

“There’s this investigation that’s been ongoing for years now,” Minho begins a little lighter than Taemin anticipated. “You’ll learn more about it tomorrow, but in short, the trail went cold a year and a half ago and then last month we get this tip and suddenly it’s in full swing again. Unfortunately, we’re a little lacking in the area of field operatives right now and we can’t let just anyone in.” He glances at his passenger who stares back doubtfully.

“Okay, but how am I qualified? I didn’t technically finish school and you never mentioned any sort of academy or boot camp you have to go through for these people.” He’s set his expectations to low and is fully convinced they’re not going to like him. This little adventure will look nice on his resume even if he was only considered, he supposes.

“This is kind of a… sensitive case,” Minho treads with a small shrug. “It specifically calls for younger agents who don’t scream ‘cop’. And we kind of play by different rules, things they don’t teach in a classroom so those last few months wouldn’t have made much difference. The only way is learning on the job, and they were pretty much sold on you when I told them how hard you work outside of school. You pick things up quickly, it’ll be fine…This will make more sense when you’re briefed and they hand you the casefile.” He finishes quickly, turning a corner and pointing out their apartment complex. Taemin gapes at the massive building he had written off as a luxury hotel when he saw it almost 6 blocks back.

-

The inside is just as ridiculously sleek as the exterior; the kind of prestige that makes Taemin feel under dressed. ‘Apartment’ felt like too casual a word to describe what he’d be calling home, and he wasn’t quite sure why he was even surprised because he is well aware his unassuming college roomie is fucking loaded.

He was either in awe or was rolling his eyes during the tour. Minho didn’t even let him unzip his suitcase before he was hurrying Taemin back out of the apartment for sightseeing.

The main drag was a little too crowded and loud and had a really unappealing industrial/unwashed human stank about it, so they gave that venture up in favor of the tourist trap on the shoreline. The shops and bars opposite the ocean are well populated and the walk itself is busy with locals and tourists alike. Small crowds dot the way, gathered around the various performers that take advantage of whoever falls under their spell. Taemin and Minho pass an overabundance of themed outdoor restaurants and concession stands, and Minho is trying to get Taemin to decide where they should go for dinner.

It’s been a little under a year since they last saw each other, but they easily picked up exactly where they left off. The playful verbal and physical jabs at each other seem to be somewhat disruptive to the people around them, but they don’t pay much mind. Taemin didn’t realize how much he’d missed it, being so caught up in school and a shitty part-time job that he didn’t have any time to attempt a social life after Minho graduated. A lot can change in a few years in a new place, and Taemin was thankful Minho hadn’t let his super cool government job or prestigious man cave or the ridiculous amount of ass he probably gets go to his head.

“Oh—Uh, just a second,” Minho digs his phone out of his pocket and the screen lights up with an incoming call. “I’ve gotta take this. Pick a place, would ya?” He vaguely gestures at the restaurants in the immediate area as he walks towards a vacant bench where the noise would be a little more manageable.

Taemin scans the row of buildings a few times; the barbeque place they passed a moment ago is all that comes to mind. At least he thinks it wasn’t long ago. He takes a few steps away from the line of entrances to search down the street and goes on his tiptoes to see over people. What color was the sign, again? He glances over his shoulder at Minho; he doesn’t look close to wrapping up the call from what Taemin can tell. Already taking a few strides back down the way they came, he pulls out his phone to text Minho where he’s headed. Maybe he can have a table for them by the time he catches up.

He doesn’t get far before gradually slowing to a halt, his attention straying down a side street.

There is a small crowd gathered around a dancer that Taemin catches sight of just as he slides down on one knee. His hand is poised dramatically over his heart while the other delicately takes hold of a girl’s hand she shyly offered. Taemin can’t tell if the guy’s lips actually brush the back of her hand, but she yanks it back as if she were burned by the touch. The rest of the crowd whoops and the girl quickly hides her dumbly smiling face in her hands as the dancer seamlessly bounces back into his routine.

The dancer whips around and faces Taemin’s direction, most definitely looking directly at him. Their eyes lock and the dark, hooded gaze accompanied by a lethal crooked smirk and the absolutely unnecessary swipe of tongue over his lips meant to entice the mostly female audience makes Taemin’s stomach do a flip and fuck this, it’s time to go.

He will never admit it to avoid possible ridicule, but all the partying and drinking and questionable sex with the dude that sits in the third row in macroeconomics was not part of his college experience. Taemin wanted to be in an out with as little drama as possible. Unfortunately, due to his first meeting with Minho in their dorm, that didn’t happen.

It wasn’t his fault. Minho walked in and all he saw was shoulder-length bronze hair on a dainty frame and slender legs and it just slipped out. Loud enough for a few curious boys to come running. Taemin doesn’t remember how long it was before he could walk past another guy without hearing a snarky “excuse me, miss”.

You would think criminal justice majors would be good people; the type to stop harassment rather than fan the fire. You would think. Being surrounded by nothing but that particular brand of asshole meant Taemin kept mostly to himself. Minho was the only one he considered a friend and ally, even after he graduated and left. Everyone else just seemed to piss him off, but not Minho.

Another thing Taemin will never admit: he thought Minho was fine as hell. That never went anywhere, however, because after a few weeks of living together Minho basically adopted him. Against his will or otherwise, Taemin liked the feeling of having an older brother. People didn’t mess with him when Minho was there. He became too good a friend for Taemin to think of him as anything but, at least when sober. There are a few fuzzy memories where they were absolutely smashed, maybe made out a little, woke up in bed together… platonically. Taemin was already over his crush and Minho didn’t think anything of it. They didn’t make it weird. Legitimate or not, that was about as far as Taemin’s love life went on campus grounds.

No partying and feeling bitter resentment towards the general population meant there wasn’t a lot of ass to be had. So maybe Taemin is a little weak. Still, it was just a fucking look; he couldn’t believe he was so affected.

Well, maybe he could. The dancer’s torn jeans and black wife beater left little to the imagination, and even where Taemin stands he can see the sheen of sweat over tan skin and toned arms and good lord the boy has a beautiful neck and jaw line. Judging by the way he has his audience completely at his mercy, he is damn well aware of his assets.

It isn’t until the dancer spins to face the other half of the crowd that Taemin is able to force a step forward and almost breaks into a run to avoid getting trapped again. Alright, this he will admit; alley boy is hot and it’s been a while. He exhales, glad to feel the coiling in the pit of his stomach fade. He’s in a new city with a new job, both of which he is still very unfamiliar with and he does not need this right at this very moment.

The restaurant comes into view and he remembers he never actually sent that text to Minho.

-

Jupiter, as Minho addresses it, looks just as advertised: deserted. No trace of life, not even a cigarette butt carelessly discarded on the pavement. The doors and windows are tinted so dark there’s no telling if anything is happening beyond them. Taemin is wary of the empty courtyard and bleak atmosphere as he follows Minho to the entrance. There is a quick swipe of a card and a beep-and-click of approval, and Taemin walks into a lobby that is a bit more welcoming.

It’s all white walls and white tile, aside from the warm panel of finished mahogany with a large matching desk before it acting as a divider. It looks like there might be a narrow hall behind it to what he assumed was more building, since the only other thing in the room is a black and titanium spiral staircase leading both up and down. Minho leans over the unmanned desk and knocks a few times, glancing between both sides of the divider. Taemin just stands idle, unsure of what they are waiting for but he follows Minho’s line of sight wherever it goes.

A quiet minute passes. Footsteps echo distantly and Minho perks up.

“I thought Kibum was the welcoming committee today.” Minho says, a little disappointed. The man that emerged gives him an exaggerated frown and his shoulders slump when he stops beside the desk, feigning dejection. An ID card identical to Taemin’s hangs low on his torso by a blue lanyard and Taemin can just barely make out his name. Kim Jonghyun; whatever position he holds is printed too small. Betraying the immaculate lobby, Jonghyun seems a bit disheveled, like he’s been rushing around. The top few buttons on his shirt are undone and a few locks of dark hair are out of place.

“Nice to see you, too.” Jonghyun deadpans, but it quickly fades into a light smile. His soft eyes rest briefly on Taemin before he turns back around and beacons them to follow. The hallway behind the divider was like a different building entirely with its dim lighting and dark walls. “He still is, but right now he’s a bit… See, our other recruit bailed on us. He was here by Kibum’s reference and waltzed in here with such bravado you wouldn’t have recognized the guy that left.” Jonghyun shakes his head with a low chuckle.

That can’t be good. Taemin is suddenly reminded he has no idea what he’s walking into. He swallows hard and attempts to focus on mentally preparing himself because they’re almost at the end of the narrow hall. The heavy duty metal door with a high tech security pad and thick bar locking it shut suddenly looked more intimidating than cool. Hopefully the lighting would stay this bad so no one would see how this face had virtually no color.

“You’re kidding.” Minho snickers. It’s smug, like he knew it would happen. He gives Taemin a quick glance before he steps beside him and throws a reassuring arm around him. Taemin attempts a small, rather unconvincing smile along with him after he has a miniature meltdown because fuck, Minho knows.

“Nope. And Kibum is not happy. I don’t recommend messing with him. I mean it.” Jonghyun swipes a card in a slot over the key pad and quickly taps something in. His hand moves to rest on the handle of the door and he looks over his shoulder at Taemin, still struggling with his demeanor. “Kibum’s a nice guy, I promise.” He assures with one of the warmest smiles Taemin has ever seen, but somehow it doesn’t quite throw off the foreboding statement. Minho gives him a light squeeze of encouragement before his arm drops and he pushes his jacket back to fit both hands in his pockets. There is a low click from the door and Jonghyun shoves it open, allowing Minho to stroll through first with a bit of bounce in his step followed by Taemin, who may or may not have had to take a second and remind himself how to walk.

The space they entered, in Taemin’s mind, resembles a lecture hall; high ceiling and rows of desks on descending levels with the lowest and largest level having something of a stage and a podium, with stair cases on either side of the room and one cutting right down the middle. The light is dim presumably to cut down on eyestrain for those occupying the desks, tapping away at their keyboards or quietly discussing something over the phone. Most have two or three monitors, and there were a few with four all going at once. It’s an impressive display, though Taemin notes how half the desks are vacant and void of any personal items.

“This looks like something out of a movie…” Taemin utters while his eyes wander. Someone scoffs nearby.

There is one station directly to the left of the entrance and it takes Taemin a moment for his eyes to focus on the man in all black, swirling a cup of coffee in one hand with his feet propped up on his desk. There isn’t anything conventionally intimidating about the high cheek bones and delicate lips, but the severe way he seems to be sizing Taemin up is a little unnerving.

“Oh, this one looks promising. Good job, Minho.”

So this must be Kibum.

He discards the cup before begrudgingly getting to his feet. There is a half inch thick file sitting on the far corner of his desk that Kibum snatches on his way around. Taemin spots a similar, now coffee coated one in the small trash basket a little farther past Kibum’s work station.

“I heard your pick didn’t work out. That’s too bad.” Minho offers nonchalantly, walking to meet Kibum, which Taemin is thankful for because he somehow already feels like he’s walking on thin ice. “So, how does next Friday sound for collecting my prize?” Minho looks down at Kibum with a shit-eating grin and the latter narrows his eyes.

“You haven’t won yet. If he actually takes the job I’ll admit defeat.” Kibum throws Taemin a look lacking any confidence that will be the case. Taemin takes in the situation silently and, unsure of what make of it, he looks back at Jonghyun.

He has his arms crossed with his mouth in a thin line, patiently waiting for this exchange to conclude like it was something that happened regularly. Minho and Kibum’s stare down goes on for another uncomfortable moment before Jonghyun clears his throat. Kibum stares a beat longer before tearing his gaze away and focusing on Taemin. He pushes the file he grabbed into Taemin’s fumbling grasp on his way down the middle stairway, and Minho nods for Taemin to follow.

“That’s an overview of the case and information detailing your role here.” Kibum begins robotically, dropping whatever mood he was in on the spot. “Where we are now is our information center and the heart of this operation. Above is research, down below is mostly storage.” Taemin quickens his pace so he is almost beside Kibum as he doesn’t want to miss anything. He picks open the file but before he can flip through it they are near the bottom of the room, heading to a door off to the side.

“This room,” Kibum accentuates with a nod as he grips the handle, “is just a conference room. We’re gonna... give you a ‘lil test.” The door swings open effortlessly and Taemin halts, holding the file with both hands in front of him, eyes wide. Minho and Jonghyun pass him and take seats at the elongated table beyond the doorway. Taemin reluctantly follows, timidly peering around, expecting there to be more to the room. It’s just the table and a large flat screen taking up most of the far wall, and Kibum is struggling to work the remote. Minho drums his fingers on the table top and stares expectantly at Taemin until he quietly closes the door behind him and sinks into his chair, placing the file on the table as if it were made of glass.

“If you open it to the second tab you’ll see three of our known targets,” Kibum sighs. There is a no signal warning flashing on the display and he moves to do some kind of manual fix on the television itself.

Taemin follows the instruction and is met with a photo taken in the midst of a crowd with the focus on an adolescent male with mussed brown hair and soft features, turning away from the camera. In a patch of whitespace in the corner of the picture is a drawing of what looks like a star; four long points, each separated by three smaller points, with a hollow circle at the center. There are a few other paparazzi-style shots beneath it held on by a paper clip—one of which where the subject bears a tattoo that resembles the star doodle on his right forearm, on the soft inner flesh just before his elbow—and beneath that is a document listing personal information, dates, and locations.

“We refer to them by a code made up of the first letter of the city they were first spotted in, the order we found them, and the last digit of what year it was. So this,” Minho reaches over and taps on the picture, “is M-61. Sixth confirmed, first sighted in Malaysia in 2011. The other important bit is threat level. His is set at low or unknown because he is quick to flee at the first sign of danger and hasn’t displayed particularly violent behavior.”

Taemin scans the rest of the page. “Alright, but what did he do?”

“We’ll get to that.” Minho motions for him to turn the page. The same format of photos attached to a document, however this one has less information. It is another young man of smaller frame, youthful with round eyes behind a pair of glasses. He looks innocent enough.

“R-50. Fifth to be confirmed. Russia, 2010. Threat level: high. Engage with caution...” Taemin reads aloud carefully and looks between Minho and Jonghyun. “What does this—“

“Okay okay, here we go!” Kibum blurts triumphantly. Displaying on the TV is a paused frame of a vacant hall lined with doors and what looks like an empty gurney pushed off to the side; hospital security footage, most likely.

“This was an incident that occurred three years ago in North America starring M-61 there aaannd,” Kibum makes a circling gesture with his hand and Taemin flips the page to the next profile. Yet again, a normal looking young man about the same age as the others, towering over those around him. Brazil, 2008. Threat level: high, DO NOT ENGAGE is highlighted and underlined. “B-38. He almost shut us down.” Kibum steps aside and clicks play.

There is no sound. Nothing happens for a few seconds and then two men come barreling into the shot and scramble down the hall. They disappear around a corner and not a second later four others run after them. A lone female is in the lead followed closely by three men, the front two with guns drawn.

The video cuts to a different scene, the two attempting to escape swerve around another corner and stop just at the edge of the frame. The shorter of the two—M-61, Taemin guesses—is doubled over, one arm pressing against his abdomen and the other stiff at his side. His entire body is moving with harsh gasps. The taller one, B-38, crouches down and carefully rests his hand on M-61’s shoulder while the other quickly brushes his dark fringe out of his face before cupping his cheek and then sliding the hand to the side of his neck. B-38 is frantically trying to tell him something, maybe try and work out a plan, but then he stands and bolts back the way they just came, not even acknowledging M-61’s mute call of protest. B-38 disappears and M-61 slumps against the wall, too exhausted to follow. With the new angle, Taemin can clearly see blotches of blood on his shirt and the smear at the corner of his mouth.

The footage jumps again, this time to B-38 standing at a dead end with the camera angled from the opposite end of the hall. Two of the four agents come into view; the woman keeps looking over her shoulder, off screen. Guns raised, they progress slowly towards their target, who stands motionless save for his heaving chest. He slowly raises his hands in surrender. All four agents come into the shot, still advancing cautiously. The two in front keep their guns up and those behind them have their hands hovering at their sides ready to draw.

The woman is saying something to B-38. He is unresponsive. They all halt a few yards before him, and she tries to communicate again.

The angle is bad and the video quality is not the greatest, but Taemin can see B-38 shake his head. His arms begin to lower. The agents react instantly, all weapons pointed for the kill.

And then there was fire.

It’s so quick, Taemin doesn’t catch where it comes from, just that a massive wave of fire engulfs B-38 and rages down the hall. The female agent in front whips around and tackles the man behind her to the ground, the other two stumble backwards and the video goes black just before hell washes over them.

Taemin searches the screen, waiting for more to happen. They all look at him and Kibum shifts his weight from one leg to the other.

“Did you see it?” He points the remote at the TV. Taemin blinks.

“See… what? What happened?” His eyes dart between the three.

“Watch closely.” The footage is set back to the four agents cornering B-38, with the woman speaking to him for the second time. Kibum pauses it, and clicks forward frame by frame. Taemin folds his arms on the table and leans forward, still not seeing what he apparently should. Frame by frame, he watches B-38 lower his arms. Frame by frame, the agents bring up their guard. Frame by frame, the fire sparks into existence. Kibum stops. “This is what we’re dealing with.”

Taemin inclines his head, still not quite understanding. Kibum watches him, and continues tapping through the frames, slower than before. B-38’s palms are out, his arms dropped half way at his sides. The flecks of fire start around his arms and hands. The next frame, not half a real-time second later, shows those same sparks nearly five times the size they were before. New heated little specks appear farther away, in a trail following the extension of his arms, nothing but blurs curling in towards himself. Two more frames go by and the fire bursting forth from nowhere has taken the shape of wings about to open, burying B-38 nearly out of sight. Kibum plays the footage at half the regular speed and Taemin just barely catches how the resulting devastation is the backlash from the ‘wings’ blossoming open. The video goes dark again.

There is a sharp huff of air and everyone else stares as Taemin laughs nervously. His chair squeaks as he relaxes back in it.

“This is a joke, right? Something you do to newbies?” Taemin quickly flips through the file again. “Do these guys work here, too? Or is this all from a movie?”

Silence. Taemin’s face falls as he looks at each of them. Jonghyun wears the same soft smile Taemin first saw at the front desk. He motions with his index finger for Taemin to wait a moment. Jonghyun stands up and turns his back to them while untucking his shirt from his pants. The sight of Jonghyun’s blaze scarred lower back has Taemin swallowing whatever he was about to say.

“I was the one behind the man in front, Kyuhyun. He didn’t make it.” Jonghyun lowers his shirt and quickly gets to work righting it. “Sooyeon and Jinki were more fortunate, but this put them permanently out of commission. They had been on M-61’s trail for months, and this is when they found out what B-38 was capable of.”

“That hall was lined with patient rooms, most of which were occupied.” Minho adds gravely, leaning on the table with his fingers threaded together. “Two citizen casualties and nine injuries, in addition to our own loss. That’s why Jupiter was almost terminated; our ‘carelessness’. The only thing that saved our ass was that they can’t afford not to have us.”

“You’re serious.” Taemin says in doubtful awe. His eyes drop to the photo of B-38 before him. “…There’s no way.”

“We don’t know the how or why, just that it is.” Jonghyun gets comfortable in his seat again. “Jinki and Sooyeon got a hold of M-61 prior to this incident—actually it was the cause of it. B-38 came to his rescue. Anyway, they managed to get a few things out of him.” Taemin tears his gaze from the profile, his expression unreadable.

“We still aren’t sure how reliable the information they got from him is because he had been in a traffic accident and the hospital had him drugged up, but it’s the clearest picture we have regarding their motives. He said they were searching for something. He said it needed to be kept away from someone, and this thing is why they have power, or rather, why they were given power. We don’t know by whom, no idea who is calling the shots, just that there is an individual or an organization doing so. Whoever it is, there is something out there that they desire, and someone else wants to get their hands on it as well. We knew some of this already, but the mention of two different parties being involved was new. There was suddenly a great deal more to be concerned about, and to this day we still have zero information on the other group.” Jonghyun leaves it there, trying to determine if Taemin is keeping up.

It’s debatable. He still thinks this is a really elaborate joke and everyone will suddenly burst out laughing so he may not be feeling the weight of what Jonghyun is saying.

“Obviously, regardless of their motives, we can’t just let these people do as they please.” He continues carefully, searching Taemin’s eyes for some sort of agreement. He gets the hint, and nods once. Jonghyun concludes this is probably enough for the time being.

“Take the casefile home and think things over. If you’ve got questions, you’ve got Minho.”

-

So, apparently, there’s a small group of guys out there about Taemin and Minho’s age who can make earthquakes and fire and fuck knows what else at will, and this faceless organization dubbed the Jupiter Intelligence Network is in charge of getting them under control by any means necessary. Taemin spends most of the ride home in a bit of a daze, wondering if maybe he fell asleep watching anime again.

Minho assures him he is very much awake, and not to worry. Everyone thinks it’s a joke at first.

“How is there this little information if this has been going on for over ten years.” Taemin mumbles flatly. He’s lying on his stomach, sideways on Minho’s bed with his arms along with the file hanging over the edge. Minho is busy rummaging around in his closet.

“That’s just an overview. Also, they’re really good at avoiding us.” He returns, pulling out two hangers holding two identical jackets. “Well, not that good. I mean, we still aren’t even sure how many of them there are, but you saw them. They’re young, they mess up. We know they’re often driven by their own emotions, which leads us to believe they’re not professionals and probably not operating under much direction.”

“That just makes this more dangerous, doesn’t it?” Taemin closes the folder and strains to set it on the bedside table. He scoots back on the bed a bit and rests his chin on his folded arms. He regards Minho silently with a brow cocked. “…Are you going somewhere?”

“We,” He corrects, discarding both jackets. “We are going somewhere. I know that was a lot to take in, so I think it’d be good for you to clear your head. With alcohol.” Taemin shakes his head disapprovingly but can’t fight the grin pulling at his mouth or the quick exhale out his nose. He doesn’t really want to go out but maybe intoxication will make everything make sense.

“Don’t you have work in the morning?”

“Oh, another perk to this job.” Minho quickly sheds his current V-neck in favor of the exact same shirt, just in black. “Because we aren’t analysts like Kibum and Jonghyun, we can actually do a lot of the office crap from home. Honestly there aren’t a lot of situations where we would need to set foot in Jupiter; we do a lot of communicating by phone or radio, webcam if we’re in a stable location. Field agents, remember? It’s set up this way because we sometimes have to travel.”

He knows Minho may be speaking of field agents in general but Taemin is a little bothered by all the ‘we’s.

“I don’t have clubbing clothes.” Taemin weakly attempts. He has a lot to think about, plus Minho’s bed is super comfortable.

“That’s a dirty lie.” Minho narrows his eyes knowingly. He’s right. “Besides, you don’t need anything fancy for this place.” Minho turns to him and gestures up and down his own body at his simple outfit. “It barely passed its last health inspection, but that’s where the charm lies.” Taemin’s brows furrow. He probably isn’t going to get out of this.

“And it’s all dance floor. You still like to dance, don’t you?”

-

They arrive a bit late in the evening. Anyone who isn’t good at pacing themselves is already wasted. There is a lot of shameless grinding of bodies and couples disappearing into the bathrooms. Save for a few standing tables on either side of the enormous bar and DJ booth elevated directly to the left of it, it really is just a massive dancefloor, currently bathed in magenta from the overhead lights. Taemin slips off his long flannel shirt and ties it around his waist because all these bodies are creating a lot of warmth. The entire room smells like sex and vanilla body spray and there is no way he is going to be able to weave his way to the bar without getting drenched in someone else’s sweat. While playing emo honor student he may have forgotten what a nightclub was like and somewhat regretted the grey tank that hugged his body a little too well.

“Alcohol is the only way I’m making it through this.” Taemin says flatly, scanning the crowd with uncertainty.

“That’s the point.” Minho elbows him and suddenly throws an arm up to wave at someone across the room. “And you’re in luck. I think my friends over there just hooked us up.”

It’s not as bad as Taemin thought. One too many shots and a screwdriver later and he’s just another grinding body lost in the pulsing bass shaking the floor. He went in with one of Minho’s friends but has since changed partners, at least he’s assuming so; the strobe lights make it hard to tell who’s who and he only just met the guy. The space behind him is suddenly empty again and Taemin takes it as an opportunity to get another drink. He weaves his way to the edge of the room for a clearer path to the bar.

Someone grabs him roughly by the shoulder and practically throws his back to the wall, and suddenly Taemin is sandwiched under a large body. The guy wastes no time nuzzling into the crook of his neck all breath and tongue and completely ignores Taemin’s effort to twist away. The pelvis pressing into his and the solid hands on his hips keep him firmly in place. Taemin’s back arches when he feels nails dig unforgivingly into his skin under the hem of his shirt and he wraps his hands around the guy’s wrists to try to pry him off.

“That hurts— get the fuck off me—“ Taemin yells over the music and the next protest is lost in a yelp when the guy catches some soft skin between his teeth and bites down hard. Taemin attempts to bodily heave the man off but he’s a lot bigger than Taemin and doesn’t seem fazed by the attempt.

“Don’ act like you didn’t jus spend an entire song loving the way my dick feels on your ass.” He growls with his lips wet against Taemin’s ear and the slur in his voice is so thick Taemin fears the idea of talking his way out of this is off the table. It’s definitely not Minho’s friend but Taemin does remember the strong scent of the man’s cheap-ass cologne and oh, fuck, Taemin also recalls glancing over his shoulder and either biting or licking his lips a few times so maybe he’s not completely delusional.

“I don’t give a shit, I’m telling you to get off me now!” Taemin presses his hand to the side of the guy’s face and jams his thumb into his eye while pushing his head off to the side. The man cries out and his hands fly to his face as he stumbles off Taemin, who makes a point to kick in the back of one of his knees as soon as the shot is clear. The plan was to bolt and find Minho, but watching the asshole crumble under his own weight is too damn satisfying to miss. Taemin savors the sight with a proud smirk until the guy starts moving like he might get back up, and now it’s probably a good idea to flee. Taemin disappears into the crowd and after orienting himself he ducks into a nearby restroom.

He rounds the corner and spins to watch the entrance, body tense and guard up in case he was followed. Taemin curses under his breath when he realizes if the guy does come after, him he’s fucked. There is no other way out and he doubted anyone who staggered in would be of any help. Taemin is suddenly aware of how hard his heart is beating against his chest and he leans heavily against the row of sinks, hands tightly gripping the edge. His hair falls around his face as he hangs his head low and focuses on a deep breath, muttering another vulgarity because he doesn’t like how much he’s worked up. He came out the victor, it shouldn’t be this way.

“Um—” a voice comes from the entrance and Taemin scrambles to catch himself from going down from the surprise. He exhales loudly and leans back into the counter on his hip when he sees it isn’t who he’s avoiding.

“I uh—shit, I’m sorry, um,” The man—young man, barely looked old enough to be allowed in the club—had his hands nervously hovering at his chest with his fingers curling and uncurling, unsure of what to do. The club name is in bold lettering on the black shirt he wore and Taemin vaguely recalls seeing him behind the bar, bobbing along to the music as he filled orders.

“I saw what happened and security should be handling things,” He says quickly. Taemin feels like he might drown in the dark round eyes regarding him with so much concern. “Is there someone you want me to go find? Or ah…um,” He inclines his head and gestures around his own neck. “Should I grab a first aid kit?”

Taemin blinks and his brows furrow, and he lightly swipes his hand over were the man’s mouth was on his neck. It’s wet and Taemin looks at himself in the long mirror fixed over the sinks before he sees the blood on his fingers. Over the smear he just made there is a fresh trickle running down his neck and collecting in a dark red stain at his collar.

“That fucking prick…” Taemin acidly whispers and flicks the faucet on. He wets his hands and wipes away the blood, mostly just diluting it and tingeing his skin red. He tries to locate the paper dispenser and the bartender is there in a flash with a handful. Taemin nods in thanks and presses the toweling to his neck without meeting the other’s eyes. He can feel the warmth growing in his face because he’s embarrassed and a little pissed he feels like such a victim right now. He means well, but he bartender pitying him is making it worse. Taemin watches himself in the mirror and sees the thoughtful stare he is getting in the reflection. This isn't doing any favors for his heart rate and he tries to focus on anything but the mirror.

“I’m okay, it’s not deep.” Taemin says quietly and the edge of his mouth twitches because his voice just hopped an octave and what the fuck. His eyes drop to the sink and he switches off the water. The bartender pulls back a few steps with a hesitant nod, but he still hovered. There is an uncomfortable pause where neither of them move or say anything so Taemin finally turns to look at him and the other perks up, awaiting some kind of request.

“Really, it’s fine, you don’t…” Taemin trails off and he squints a bit. The other’s eyes widen and his gaze jumps around the room before falling back to Taemin and his head turns slightly, brows raising. Most likely the fault of the alcohol in his system, Taemin smiles faintly when it dawns on him.

“…Have you ever danced by the beach?”