Noise from the building was nothing unusual, it was impossible to sleep at night without it. Babies wailed for attention on floors above her, tires splashing against puddles of water along the gutter. Raised voices and laughter at random hours of the night, the sound of footsteps along the hallway. All played to its own rhythm, the melody a lullaby to which she hummed along to find rest. This night had started no different.
"Li Yin! Li Yin!"
She woke up with a jolt, her heart pounding harshly against her chest. As her mind forced itself into clarity, she fell out of bed and found herself rushing to the noise that jarred her from her slumber. His voice.
"Geng?" she called out to the door, hitting the light switch as she crossed the room for the multiple latches and bolts that secured her door shut at night. Her eyes peered through the keyhole, he was not alone. Geng's eyes no longer focused on the door but the shorter man slumped against him. The man's skin was pale in the dimly lit hallway, his jacket wet.
"Hang on, you've got to keep standing," she heard as she cracked the door, an unaccounted for hand pushing it open and her out of the way. The man-no, boy-fell through the opening, Geng rushing forward to grip the boy's arms and drag him into her apartment. Geng closed the door and began to lock them in without so much a word or introduction, crossing over to the window to peer out into the street through the curtain. In the light of her living room Li Yin could see the blood that covered the two of them.
"I'm sorry, the doctor, we couldn't...they'd find him." Geng muttered, half guiding half dragging the boy to her bathroom. He placed him in the bathtub and cut open the shirt with a switchblade. He continued speaking as he moved the fabric aside to expose the boy's chest. The controlled calm she was familiar with was absent in his voice, though the man continued to move as if he knew what he intended to do next. "I don't think it got his lung, but it is hard to breathe." She crossed over to the edge, and pushed Geng aside to examine the wound. It was clear that he had been shot. She helped Geng push the boy up to glance at his back, and was surprised that there wasn't any sign that the bullet had left his body.
"Who did this?" she pulled towels from the rack and pressed them to the gaping hole on the youth's chest. Brown eyes looked up at her, his eyes focused and alert. The boy took a deep breath, then another. "What's your name?" Why are you not screaming?
"No," the boy answered, his voice fading as his eyes fluttered closed. Opening them, he looked over her shoulder. "Their name."
"Henry?" Geng carefully moved Li Yin, taking her place with the switchblade still in his hand.
"What are you doing?"
"You saw there was no exit," he muttered, moving the towel away. "We need to get it out. Get what you have."
"You can't-" she tried to edge him away, but he held her back.
"This is our way. If you want to help, go." Hankyung waited until the door closed with Li Yin behind it before he returned his attention to Henry. "Time to get your bullet."
"Not my bullet." Henry replied, tensing as Hankyung leveled the tip of the knife at the wound.
"You're right, it's Eeteuk's."
At first glance, he did not look like he belonged in the Bottoms. From the long ink black neatly parted hair, the slate silk shirt and matching slacks, to the expensive shoes all looked like they belonged to a fashionable Judean banker. After all, they were taken from Kibum's closet. Their closet, even though Donghae seemed to be the only one using it. He had already let go of the illusion that Kibum's choice to leave Judoh to live in the Bottoms would allow them to spend more time together. It wasn't that the other man failed to adapt to the considerably less comfortable life, in many ways it seemed that Kibum truly belonged. The former banker had easily abandoned his pressed suits and salon styled hair, the posh penthouse, and lucrative desk job. Whereas Kibum seemed to shed more of what set him apart with each passing day, Donghae was apt to take those traits himself. When Kibum had his hair cropped short Donghae decided he needed a change, so he let his hair grow longer. When Kibum started to wear shirts without sleeves, torn jeans, and chains Donghae's attire became comparatively muted. It was, as Ryeowook pointed out to him randomly one day, that it seemed that in longing for each other that they were attempting to be like the one they missed.
There wasn't much of a choice in the matter, their world was changing around them and they were bound as instruments to that change. Kibum was the only member of the Triad that had a permit to freely travel to the Mainlands, and the resources that Eeteuk needed required that permit as well as Kibum's access to large sums of money. In the other man's absence Donghae easily fell back into his old routine, befriending possible allies and attempting to smooth over any minor problems caused by the reckless members of the Triad.
He wasn't sure what exactly drew him to his apartment's window, the view was still the same crumbling brick wall and the pothole ridden street as it always was. Even if it was the sound of a familiar car passing by it was only wishful thinking. Kibum wasn't expected to return from his recent task for another week. Despite that knowledge he easily imagined a strong tattooed arm slide around his waist and hold him in an embrace as the other would whisper into his ear.
Donghae wasn't imagining it, Kibum was back early. "When? How?" as happy as he was, he knew Kibum's presence ahead of schedule typically meant things did not go as planned.
"My contact was dead before I got there." Kibum sighed heavily and rested his chin against Donghae's shoulder. "The cargo was gone."
"Great." Donghae muttered, when word got back to Eeteuk he knew Kibum would be sent away again. "I want to say welcome home, but you're gonna be gone tomorrow."
"I'm not going anywhere. Even if I'm told to go back." The resolve in Kibum's voice set off all sorts of warnings in his head. Taking the initiative was something that Eeteuk tolerated, but outright defiance was an entirely different thing.
"What are you going to do?" Donghae asked trying to hold onto some hope that Kibum knew exactly what he was doing. Kibum rarely did anything without thinking it through or without a backup plan, the cost of failure was something he shouldn't need to worry about.
"There is an ocean between us and what we need. It is hard to get the imports because H&E has control of the port. We're going to take it from them."
"We?" He failed to hide the jealous rise in his voice, after being separated for so long to find out that Kibum was making plans with other people. Without him.
Kibum chuckled and embraced him tighter. "Yes. We. I wouldn't leave you out. I need you."
Feeling petulant and a little put out he tried to move away, but Kibum was too strong. Or Donghae really didn't want to move to begin with. "Only for business?"
"You know me better than that." Kibum murmured as he brushed aside the curtain of hair that concealed the butterfly on the back of his neck and pressed his lips against it, it was his favorite of Donghae's tattoos after all. "How long has it been since you've had a haircut?"
"Does it matter?" he asked and turned around to face him. "I don't know if it is your haircut, but were your ears always so big?"
That earned a laugh and the smile he had begun to miss far too much. "At least when I wear a tie, I know how to tie it," Kibum grasped both ends of the tie that was merely draped over his shoulders, "I should give you some credit that you remember this shirt is supposed to be worn with a tie."
"You should." Donghae allowed himself be pulled closer, "So what can I get with my credit? I've been saving up, I hope something good."
"I might have something that you won't refuse," Kibum's hands drifted lower to rest against Donghae's hips.
"What if I refuse?" Donghae teased and managed to break free of Kibum's grasp. "Are you open to negotiate?"
"It depends on if you have a firm counter offer." Kibum followed Donghae into their bedroom, clearly amused that their innuendo was sounding more and more like a business meeting. "I'm not hesitant to make a hard sell. Are there any bidders I need to be aware of?"
"Nope," Donghae sat on the edge of their bed and stretched out, "I haven't been taking bids. Lack of interesting prospects."
"Why not?" He wasn't offended by the surprised tone of Kibum's question, it was expected.
Donghae had a well-known reputation of keeping multiple lovers at a time, or moving from one brief fling to the next. He was a demanding lover, and he loved the thrill of the chase. Once he had someone, his interest would move to the next person. Until Kibum. The start of their relationship didn't change his habits, he still fell in and out of love with others while Kibum tolerated his wanderings without any hint of jealousy. Donghae both admired and was annoyed by Kibum's confidence that in the end he would come back when all was said and done. It took Kibum's absence to realize that Kibum was right.
"They weren't you." It didn't matter who he was with, none measured up to Kibum. His smile, his voice, his touch. Everything fell short when compared to him. The thought scared him. Relying on just one person, needing only one person was something he thought he'd promised himself he would never do. He never wanted to love someone that much, to risk losing someone and feel lost and alone. The way he felt when his father died.
"Their loss," Kibum's words were punctuated by a kiss, "in light of which, I may be less willing to share." It was the closest they would ever get to saying 'I love you' but it was enough. Without even trying, Kibum filled the empty void in his heart that he had tried to keep empty.
"I can live with that."
Yesung was instructed to meet in the alley behind the warehouse that appeared to be Eeteuk's secondary base of operations. As part of his arrangement with Eeteuk, Yesung was guaranteed protection, an unofficial partner to shadow him in the event he needed backup that the good city of Judoh could not provide. A guardian angel of sorts.
He did not expect a jumbo-sized bag of marshmallows propped up against a stack of warped crates munching jovially on an apple. A heavily tattooed bag of marshmallows at that.
"You have got to be kidding me." he uttered, ignoring the young man entirely to stand in front of Eeteuk, pointing his finger rudely into the taller man's face before pointing to the man on the crates. "That's my protection? Him? Do you want me to die?"
"Wasting my time, boss." The man called over to them, his voice muffled by food still in his mouth. "Can I go finish my lunch?"
"In a minute, Donghee." Eeteuk spoke with an amused smile and shrugged at Yesung. "You wanted the best, and the best you will have. The rest of my family is off limits to you, but I assure you Shindong will not disappoint."
"I don't want to babysit." the man added over Yesung's shoulder, the crates groaning as Shindong moved his weight off of it. "Busy enough as it is."
"He'd get in my way." Yesung chimed in protest. The man was beside him now, he could hear him masticating loudly by his ear.
"I'll get in his way," Shindong agreed and tossed the apple core over his shoulder.
"You don't agree with my arrangement?" Eeteuk looked to one and then the other.
"I'm not babysitting a cop."
"Find someone else." Yesung answered in near unison with the other man.
"Well, if that's how you both feel..." Eeteuk sighed and turned to the warehouse steps. Once halfway through the entrance he looked over his shoulder and waved dismissively, "Kill him."
"Wait, what?" he called out and received silence for an answer. Yesung turned to look at Shindong, only to realize that the barrel of a gun was pointed directly between his eyes. Caught off guard he barely shook off that human instinct to freeze when threatened in time to fully avoid the shot. His mind was racing as he reached for his own weapon, trying to ignore the burning sensation along his right temple. No need to panic, he just grazed you. He tried to return fire, but not only did the shot miss but yet again the gun was pointed at his head.
"Damn," Shindong whistled when Yesung literally dodged a bullet for a second time. He fired yet again, but this time Yesung simultaneously changed the tragectory by hitting his gun arm and firing a shot at the same time. That shot missed as Shindong did the exact same thing. "So the cop knows a few tricks."
"What the fuck are you doing?" echoed over the sound of volleys slamming into the ground or the brick wall behind them.
The close range gunfight was not something an amateur would last long at, the way the two managed to narrowly miss shot after shot and place themselves in position to possibly fatally hit the other. The unnerving part of it for Yesung wasn't that he believed he met his match, but that the man was better at it than him. A well-timed kick to the solar plexus sent him sprawling backward and knocked the wind out of him. He had to give tubby credit where credit was due, not only were his reflexes above par, but Shindong was very strong.
"You heard the boss," Shindong crouched and tapped the barrel against Yesung's forehead. "Think about it, I've been ordered to babysit you, but if you're dead I don't have to babysit."
"That's it?" Yesung smirked, if he was right he still had the upperhand.
"Yep. No bargaining, pleading, or any last words before departing?"
"Nope. Pull the trigger, big'un." Yesung laughed at the absurdity of the entire thing and he didn't flinch when the other man did as ordered. But he had guessed right, he wasn't the only one out of bullets. Click "I guess that means I win."
"Damn, I was hoping you wouldn't notice." Shindong laughed, offering a hand to help him stand. "Good to know you're crazy like the rest of us."
The atmosphere in the room was inappropriately tense, like most things the news of what happened traveled fast. Shindong wasn't surprised when Ryeowook appeared at the clinic doors, nor was he surprised that the usually accompanied man was alone. The clinic was the one place Kyuhyun had a phobia about, though Shindong had a feeling that the cause of the phobia lay not in the establishment but the lone practitioner.
"How is he?" Ryeowook asked after sitting in silence for several minutes, his voice taking on the tone it often did before he would begin to cry.
Shindong shrugged and looked at his watch to mark the time. "I've done worse to him."
"They said he was hit in the head." Ryeowook's concern was in equal parts admirable and annoying. The anxiety and worry was not necessary, and he was never good at consoling someone who could talk himself into worse spirits to spite whatever was around him.
He could have replied by explaining bullet trajectories, deflections, and all of the relevant scientific conditions that would render a head shot non-lethal, but he knew those would be words that would be wasted on someone who had particularly selective hearing. "He'll have a headache, but he'll live."
The door to the examination room opened and the doctor appeared followed by Yesung, aside from the bandaging that covered his forehead and his right eye, he looked fine. Instead of updating them on the man's status or give any after care instructions, he turned his attention to Ryeowook. "The peripheral network, do you find it useful?"
"The perinetwhat?" Yesung asked, the amused tone in his voice a hint of the drugs that had to be circulating in his system.
"I just extracted a bullet that wedged itself between your frontal and sphenoid bones, you most likely won't remember anything said to you within the next 24 hours. Take him home and let him sleep it off, it will be a few days until he'll know if his vision is affected. Bring him back if he needs to be fixed." The doctor was never one to use tact. "The network, how is it?"
"My arms feel real, most of the time." Ryeowook's answer must have been what the doctor wished to hear for he too was dismissed.
Shindong placed a stack of bills on the scientist playing doctor's desk, grateful that his friend got the treatment he needed and that the day could be called over. "You're one lucky bastard." He commented, taking to stand next to Yesung's side and slipping an arm around his waist for support. He was too drugged to complain, so he leaned on him instead.
"Or just plain crazy. Your pick."
Even in the decadent luxury of Judoh, one rarely saw young women in convertibles driving like they were determined to defeat the speed of light. It wasn't that they didn't exist, surely, but they tended to keep out of the way. It was their place to let their sons and their husbands get into spats with the law; after all they were the better placed to escape its long arm through connections and hefty sums of money waved around on a daily basis.
There was no one to keep this driver in check, Yesung thought bitterly, not even common sense. While it wasn't his job to play traffic cop, he couldn't exactly hope that by calling the license plate in that any of his colleagues would give a shit. It was high likely to be traced to some big name Daddy, and the girl would be off the hook. Which would be good and fine for her, but what if she ran someone over along the way? What if there were victims?
Not everyone had a Daddy to protect them, he thought, images of Ryeowook's severed hands not vanishing from memory any time soon.
The siren alone was not enough to make her slow down, in fact it had the opposite effect. Her gaze reflected back at him through her rearview mirror, painted eyes wrinkled at the corners with an obvious smile. It must be very funny to be chased by police. Probably something to break the monotony of shopping, beauty parlors, and more shopping. Incensed, Yesung pushed down hard on the accelerator, driving alongside her as both cars raced up a steep cliff and cut in front.
The truck coming from the other direction missed at nary a hair's breadth from his front bumper.
"Shit," he swore, this time he being the one to glare in the rearview mirror. It was no more a risk than he usually took, but still, he didn't particularly fancy giving his last breath in favor of handling a traffic violation. He had little doubt that if he crashed she would just drive on and leave him bleeding on the pavement. With that thought in mind, he slowed to a stop, inevitably forcing her to do the same.
Judoh didn't enjoy much variation in landscape, but the hillside that overlooked the harbor bridge connecting it to the mainland had been built with surprising care for natural beauty. The cliffside had been more than taken into account in the laying down of the roads and baby's breath had actually bloomed by the side.
It was these flower buds that the wheels of his patrol car crushed mercilessly - the Cadillac behind immediately followed suit.
Yesung stepped out expecting to find an argumentative hag, instead, he got a woman barely out of her teenage years, looking up at him with a hand pressed to her forehead to shade from the sun.
"Any particular reason you didn't pull over when you heard the siren?" he questioned as he pulled the side door open and motioned for her to step out.
In response the insufferable smile only widened. "Any particular reason I should have?"
Once on her feet, Yesung noted her dress and her makeup were all professional, as though she had been dressed to play the part of the reckless driver. Or maybe he'd just seen too much. Maybe he was just more than a little jaded.
"You were speeding," he stated, knowing she knew he knew she knew. "It's against the law."
Arms folded over her thin chest stubbornly. Like a child might have done. "If there is a law in this city, it's not yours," she retorted tartly, the double fold lidded eyes widening as if in recognition. "Oh, I know. You're only pulling me over because I'm a girl." She affected a pout. "Officer, that is morally, ethically, spiritually, and grammatically wrong."
It was more the snark he would've expected in the Bottoms, but not here. Yesung frowned. "What?"
"Grammatically, it should be 'because I'm a girl, you're pulling me over'. The emphasis is on my gender, not one what you're doing, no one gives a fuck about that." With an airy laugh, she lifted her fingers, enumerating: "Spiritually, you're acting in a position of authority over me and trying to terrorize me by the power invested in you by a little shiny badge, when really, you should be protecting me. God is merciful, you know. Ethically, you shouldn't pull someone over just because they're an easy target, it's so lazy. And well, morally, you shouldn't pull someone over when you yourself are under investigation, now should you?"
It took a brief second for the monologue to sink in but once it had, Yesung's frown only deepened. "What did you just say?" She was playing him, it was obvious, but she had also arrested his attention. If a sliver of what she'd said was true, then traffic offenses were the last thing on his mind.
The young woman arched a brow, her smile no longer painted on, but on of genuine glee. "God save me, I've shocked the man of the law." Bending at the waist, she moved to whisper close to his ear. "You're under investigation, toots. Don't tell me you didn't know? A connected man like you..." Her laugh was mocking, but rich with deeper understanding that he'd initially supposed.
Not such a defenseless little girl after all.
On impulse, he grabbed her arm. "What do you know about it?"
Surprise faded into a superior smirk. "Everything. I know everything." Her fingers bore colored rings, jade and sapphire colors mixing like a kaleidoscope of light as she freed herself. He let her go with an uncharacteristic flush. He wasn't in the habit of brutalizing women - or men, for that matter, unless they deserved it. This one just had the knack of messing with his head and it infuriated as much as it captivated him.
"I know you're going to let me go," she went on. "And I know you're going to rush back to the precinct downtown as fast as you can before your chief gets back from his lunch break." She said 'lunch break' as though the words dripped with sarcasm, as though she knew something about that too, but wasn't about to tell him. "You'll look in his desk, in his papers... and you'll find it. A piece of paper with your name on it. Stamped, sealed and delivered. All in the name of Justice."
He didn't believe her. He didn't. He repeated the thought as many times as he could to convince himself and still it refused to stick. He had been careful all these years. He had made sure his connections to the Bottoms couldn't be traced - but if they had someone tailing him... He spared a thought for his parents, old and decrepit but happy in their retirement. They had a small condo facing a park in the downtown area. If he went down, their nearly non-existent pensions would send them packing to the Bottoms where the age pyramid got very thin at the top. Where they would be defenseless, even with the triad guarding them.
Yesung swallowed thickly.
"So, Officer, am I free to go or what?" Having said her piece, the young woman looked no longer interested in him. For a second, he got the feeling that she was just passing along a message but could think of no one who'd use her to warn him.
He nodded. He didn't have time to book her just to see her go in the next five minutes after a call from Daddy came through.
"Cool." Cherry lips widened into a grin as she slipped back behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition. For a second, she hesitated, before her hand came down upon his where he still clutched the side door. "Chop, chop, Officer. Remember what I told you."
"What's your name?" he found himself asking, trying to fight past the vise clutching in his throat.
She answered without meeting his eyes. "Kumiko Koda."
"Kim Yesung, yes, I know." The sound of the engine revving almost drowned out the rest: "I'm psychic."
If not for her laugh, he might have thought she was serious.