Changmin’s men work quickly.
While he keeps a gun pressed to the temple of the boy that had been with Kai, arm wrapped around his front and pressed close to Changmin’s own chest, the NIS guards put up walls to a makeshift hut.
They’d moved to a part of City Hall that security assures Changmin Kai has never before seen, a room mostly vacant in the center now that they’ve shoved all the desks to the side. They’re squished against walls lined with shelves housing scrolls and books and data pads, all chronologically catalogued.
Inside the hut it’s pitch black, Changmin making sure not even a sliver of light can pierce it, and he handcuffs the scrawny boy to the darkest corner, gagging him for good measure. Better not give him a voice to describe where he is when Kai comes. And Changmin’s positive he will. It hadn’t been hard to see the protective stance Kai and his other friend had taken towards the boy as soon as Changmin had pointed a gun in their faces. They wanted him, for whatever reason. They’ll come back to get him and instead Changmin will get Kai. Kai, Changmin thinks, whom he has never seen up close without his mask on, at least, not in person, not until just now. The LED screens don’t do him justice, not at all. His lips look a lot fuller in real life, like a couple of bites will turn them red in a nanosecond and his cheeks soft and formed to fit Changmin’s palm perfectly. It’s easy to imagine the muscles underneath his threadbare clothing and the way his hair would look flopped across a pillow. It’s easy to picture his skin slick with sweat and tongue peaking out of the corner of his mouth and what the hell, Changmin thinks. He shakes himself. He is not Yunho.
But he does admit, at the darkest bottom of his consciousness, if it means getting Kai on their side, Changmin would sleep with him in a second.
He tells his officers to wait outside, intent on confronting Kai alone, though he knows once Yunho hears, Changmin’s going to be in so much trouble, especially if Kai manages to rescue the boy. But that isn’t going to happen. Changmin is going to make sure that doesn’t happen.
His breath seems to echo in the now-empty room, and if he concentrates, he can hear the boy sucking in air through his nose at a rapid pace. They’d patched up his arm so that the bleeding stopped (at least Changmin hopes it has), but he’s probably in a lot of pain. Changmin feels a little bad about it, but after this is all over, he’ll get the kid some top medical treatment and pay him handsomely for his trouble. He probably has no idea what he’d gotten himself mixed up in anyway and will be better off not ever seeing Kai again.
Changmin ends up waiting an hour before there’s a swish of air, and Kai lands in the center of the room, black smoke dissipating in seconds.
“Where is he?”
Changmin grins, waits for Kai to see the darkness of the hut he can’t teleport into for fear of accidentally ripping into Baekhyun’s body and killing him. The chuckle is hard to contain when he sees comprehension dawn across the thief’s face.
“Lu Han said you were in England.”
Kai bites his lip and Changmin can’t help but notice that he’d been right—it turns red very quick. “Lu Han is easy to trick when it serves my purposes.”
The words only douse half of Changmin’s suspicions concerning their telepath, but he knows as soon as Yunho reads his report, Lu Han will be back in the National Secrets Fold. Their leader trusts too easily, and Changmin wishes he could promote himself and get everything straightened out the way he wants, Lu Han-free.
“Don’t,” Changmin says, as Kai tries to take a step towards the hut.
“You shot him. I hope you bandaged his wounds.”
“Why are you here?”
“To get Baekhyun,” Kai returns, like it’s obvious. Maybe it is.
“Why are you doing this?” Changmin presses, “Kai…” he trails off. “Jongin,” he corrects, hoping that maybe a real name would make a bigger impact, “we need you. We need you to help us find the other ten stones and bind the Twelve of them together and get this world back on track.”
“I’m just here for Baekhyun,” Kai repeats.
“You could be more powerful with all of the stones.”
“I never said I didn’t want them.”
Changmin falters. Wait, what? “Then what is your problem?”
“You,” Kai says. He’s not looking at Changmin, though, his eyes remaining trained on the hut, clearly trying to peer through the darkness and figure a way to get the boy out. The boy, Changmin thinks, whose name is Baekhyun. It sounds familiar but Changmin can’t quite remember where or when he might have heard it. He hopes one of his men listening outside had enough sense to call the name in to headquarters. Just in case.
“You don’t know me.”
Kai snorts. “Get him out of there.”
“I’m not stupid. You want him, you need to agree to help us. We just want to make a deal.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
“I don’t understand. Why are you so stubborn?”
Kai finally looks at him. His appears sad, more serious than Changmin’s ever seen him, even counting that one time Changmin had managed to blindfold him a few years ago, thinking that would keep him from teleporting. “I’ve already made a deal.”
Changmin tries not show his astonishment. A deal? A deal that implies getting the stones? “With whom?”
“That’s none of your business. They pay me, and I do things for them, which right now, is getting Baekhyun away from you.”
“I didn’t know you could be so stoic,” Changmin says. He’s stalling as his mind races. Does Kai know of the other stones and who has them? Are they talking? Are they seeing each other? He thinks of the other man Kai had been with a few hours ago—had he been one of the Twelve? If so, Changmin’s clearly not as good with intelligence as he advertises. Yunho will have a fit.
Kai had taken another step forward, and in warning, Changmin shoots a bullet by his feet. “I really don’t want to have to shoot you but I will. I swear.”
“I know,” Kai says, and his smirk is back in place. “But that’s never stopped me before, has it?”
He's going to start teleporting. He probably thinks he can knock the hut down if he works hard enough at it, or maybe has remembered a light of some sort that he has on his body and is planning to toss it inside the doorway to be able to see. Changmin lifts his gun; he’ll shoot Kai before he gets near Baekhyun.
But that’s not what happens.
Kai doesn’t move an inch, not a hair, before there’s a glow that encompasses the entire hut; it’s a light Changmin’s intimately familiar with, and it hits him like a punch in the gut. There’s no way he’s winning this, not without divulging secrets Yunho will kill him for revealing, and so Changmin lowers his gun, watching with a sinking stomach as Kai teleports in to get Baekhyun, gripping him tight with a smirk that makes Changmin's blood boil.
“I will catch you,” Changmin swears, “one day.”
“Maybe,” Kai agrees, cradling Baekhyun to him, and then in a poof of black smoke, they (and the light) are gone.
Changmin stares at the spot for a good fifteen minutes before a hand touches his shoulder, pulls the gun from his hands: Yunho.
“He got away?”
Changmin sighs. “Yes. But Yunho,” he turns, gives his commander—his friend, most importantly—a significant look, “I found the man with the Light Stone.”
Yunho’s smile is brilliant.
Baekhyun has lost far too much blood. Someone—Jongin assumes Changmin—had made a rough bandage, but Baekhyun had been sitting in the dark for a long time and the teleportation from Beijing to Yifan’s house in Seoul hadn’t helped, the rush of blood accompanying the transport pumping out past the bandaging, all over their clothes.
They land in a heap in Yifan’s office, and the Dragon stone is on his feet in a second, ringing for Yixing and ordering Jongin to lift Baekhyun onto the couch. “Changmin shot him,” Jongin explains. The details can wait, as much as Jongin actually does want to tell Yifan about them. Jongin had probably said too much, but they had all known the truth would have to come out at some point in time, and if it means they have Baekhyun, there’s no better time than the present. Jongin’s sick to death of hiding.
Yixing takes far too long to get there, though it’s clear he sprinted from wherever he’d been because he’s breathing hard, sweat dripping off him, and has to down a glass of water before he can focus.
Normally, Jongin would have made a joke about it, but the situation is far too serious. Baekhyun’s pale and getting paler, clutching the wound on the side of his arm tight, but not tight enough to keep blood from slipping out from in between his fingers—those slim, delicate fingers that were so warm a few hours ago and that Jongin can’t erase from his mind.
A chair scrapes across the floor, Yifan only frowning slightly as the wood drags across his dizzyingly patterned carpet, and Yixing plops down in front of Baekhyun. “Try to relax,” he instructs.
Healing is gentle, and although Baekhyun’s face remains pale, the harsh, ragged breathing slowly quiets as the bullet is sucked from his shoulder, the flesh knitting together until the skin is seamless, thick globs of blood sliding off it. Yifan tosses Jongin a damp towel, and he catches them on the white edges, watching as the blood soaks into the cotton.
“I wish I could replenish your blood magically,” Yixing says, “but I need to save my energy, I’m sorry. You’ll survive without transfusion, so I don’t want to use our blood stores on you.”
Baekhyun waves a hand weakly.
“I’m going to run downstairs for an IV. After a few hours, we’ll see if you can handle some juice. Jongin, get him into a bed.”
Yixing floats away, eyes drooping twice as low, and Yifan stares after him a moment, lips pursed thoughtfully before he turns back to Jongin. “He can stay in your room.”
“Because we can keep it locked tighter than any place else, and you’re the only one that will be able to get in or out.”
Baekhyun snorts, wind puffing against Jongin’s skin. “Don’t underestimate me, bastard. You got me shot. Just because I let you heal me, it doesn’t mean that I’m actually going to stick around and—”
“I don’t care,” Yifan cuts in, cold. “Jongin, get him into your room.”
Lu Han had once made the mistake of assuming that since Jongin teleported everywhere, he didn’t have muscles. Jongin had held him down on a bed for that jibe and not let up until he had proven exactly how well developed his muscles were. Being Kai means constant trouble. He can’t always teleport; sometimes he has to run, and even then, teleporting takes strength to withstand. He has to be in tip-top shape or risk accidentally ripping himself to pieces.
So Baekhyun’s small frame is easy to lift, and he chuckles as Baekhyun snaps his teeth at him, eyes alight with fire. “Cool it,” Jongin mutters, “it’s not like we’re going to torture you or anything.”
“You might as well,” Baekhyun returns smoothly, but he curls up to make it easier for Jongin to hold onto him and only punches his shoulder when he lays Baekhyun down on his bed. He’s glad someone had recently changed the sheets. Minseok, probably. Thoughtful bastard, Jongin thinks fondly.
“I don’t understand why you’re fighting this.”
“Because you’re all idiots, obviously.”
“I might a little dense,” Jongin admits, “and Yixing may look like he’s constantly on drugs, but Junmyeon’s clever, and Yifan’s a lot smarter than he appears.”
“Not smart enough.”
“For what?” Jongin asks. “This secret information you’re holding above our heads?”
“You’re a lot less annoying when you don’t talk.”
Grumbling to himself, Jongin starts to strip, ignoring Baekhyun’s squawks of what are you doing? His clothes are saturated in blood, never mind sweat, and what he really wants is a shower. But if he leaves Baekhyun alone, Yifan will never let him hear the end of it, so he settles for a new shirt, new pants, and a wet cloth.
“You’re a jerk,” Baekhyun informs him. “Were you going to offer me a shirt?”
Baekhyun frowns, eyebrows knitting together. “I’m going to make your life miserable.”
“You’ve already done that,” Jongin tells him, “that’s a useless threat. But fine. If it will make you shut up.”
Secretly, Jongin feels a little pity for Baekhyun, who’s too weak to wipe at his face with a rag. So Jongin does it for him, ignoring Baekhyun’s hisses as he props him up on the pillows and scrubs away at the dirt and blood stuck to his face and neck. Baekhyun curls into his chest again as Jongin pulls off his shirt to reach his back, and he swallows back a sudden desire to follow the rag with his fingertips and slide against the impossibly pale skin. Baekhyun doesn’t say thank you, but Jongin gets a sense of his gratitude because there’s no more sharp retorts or glares even though the spare clothes are too big, and Jongin doesn’t move away after he’s done dressing Baekhyun. It’s cold, and Baekhyun’s shivering, so Jongin sits there and lets Baekhyun roll himself in blankets and pillow his head on Jongin’s lap and soak in his warmth.
Yixing entering the room with an IV in tow keeps Jongin from doing anything he’d regret (like hold Baekhyun’s hand and stroke those perfect fingers, or pull out the tangles in Baekhyun’s hair and scratch the nape of his neck) despite his previous irritation.
The healer’s gentle as he inserts a needle into Baekhyun’s arm, taping it over carefully and fiddling with the bag of medicine. “Is their any residual pain?” Yixing asks, “I can get some morphine if that’s the case.”
“You should rest. Junmyeon’s on his way here, and he and Yifan have a lot of questions.”
Baekhyun rolls his eyes.
The corners of Yixing’s eyes crinkle as he smiles, his dimple pressing into his cheek, and he pats Baekhyun’s head. “You’ll be just fine,” he says, and then waves at Jongin on his way out.
“You know,” Jongin tries, “eventually you’ll need us. And we’ll need you. Being a bitch about it is only making everything worse. It’s Changmin and Yunho we should be fighting, not each other.”
He thinks he’s been ignored, as Baekhyun doesn’t speak for a good fifteen minutes. But then he says, in a very quiet voice, “I know,” and Jongin feels as though he’s just won a war, victory springing up in his chest and very nearly coming out in a triumphant shout. But he can’t scare Baekhyun away, can’t do anything that would make him take the words back, so he rests a hand on Baekhyun’s shoulder (that’s painfully thin) and leaves it there until the cavalry arrive.
Junmyeon has his serious face on when he walks inside, Yifan just a step behind him. He jerks his head at the door after catching Jongin’s eye, a clear sign that he is to make himself scarce, and Jongin wonders what sort of plan the two of them have cooked up in order to get Baekhyun to talk. Jongin finds himself hoping it isn’t torture; Junmyeon can be very creative with his power over water. Jongin wonders if maybe he can tip Junmyeon off to Baekhyun’s sudden change of heart before it gets bad.
“You,” Baekhyun snaps, when Jongin tries to stand and leave, “where do you think you’re going?”
“Sit back down.”
“But—” Jongin throws Yifan a very tentative (frightened) glance.
“No,” Baekhyun says, with as much authority as Yifan when he’s ordering people around, “you sit your ass back down. You got me into this mess, and you will see me through it.”
To Jongin’s immense surprise, Junmyeon chuckles and Yifan says wryly, “Finally: someone that can effectively hand Jongin orders. Maybe we will keep you around.”
Jongin huffs, but finds that he can’t refuse the crook of Baekhyun’s slender finger, and he sits down on the bed, fiddling with the comforter that suddenly seem quite rumpled. It’s a quilt Lu Han had given him, something that was supposed to be a joke but had ended up with the two of them locking lips over it for the first time and giving blow jobs over it for the first time and telling each other ‘I love you’ over it for the first (and last) time. Jongin can’t quite bear to part with it, however threadbare it had gotten, not when he has important memories to attribute to it.
“I’ll tell you want you want to know,” Baekhyun starts, before either Yifan or Junmyeon can ask him questions, “but you need to promise me that I’ll be kept in the loop. I get to go where I want and do what I want, no questions asked.”
“If you join us, you agree to our leadership,” Junmyeon returns just as smoothly. “You take part in our battles and agree to be bound to the other eleven. That comes first before your priorities, Baekhyun.”
“Fine,” Baekhyun agrees, “though I reserve the right to point out when you’re being morons. Which I’m sure will be often.”
“Now listen closely because I’m not repeating myself.”
Baekhyun can’t tell them why they’ve been chosen—fate, destiny, who knows?—but he does tell them something Jongin has never before heard: “I’m looking for the Original Twelve.”
“Whom,” Baekhyun corrects, “I’m looking for twelve people that have Stones like ours that were supposed to bind themselves together—but for whatever reason, couldn’t.”
“There are other powers?”
“Duplicates of our powers. Generations, if you will. If one fails, then the powers duplicate and transfer to another twelve, and permanently bind the powers to the people with the DNA of the previous group of Twelve.”
“DNA.” Yifan sounds skeptical and very unimpressed, “This sounds like the beginning of something I would never want to read.”
Baekhyun snorts. His bangs blow out of his face a moment before falling back across his eyes, and he leans to the side, peering close at Jongin; Jongin only just manages to not sweep the bangs away. Baekhyun’s eyes are pretty, and Jongin thinks he shouldn’t hide them.
“Limitations,” Baekhyun begins, “do you have limitations on your teleportation power?”
Jongin blinks. “Well.”
“Like, you can only teleport so many things for so long before you get tired. Or the weaker you are, the more likely you are to rip yourself to pieces. Or perhaps having to see where you’re going?”
“Well, I do have to see it. I can’t teleport blindly.”
Baekhyun gives him a wolfish grin. “But what if I said the DNA would help counteract that? That if you could feel and hear a space as well as you see it, then you could successfully get in and out of places without vision—preferably before your comrades are shot, of course.” He gestures weakly at his arm.
We’re comrades? Jongin thinks. He’s pretty sure Baekhyun didn’t mean that, but he’s sort of stuck contemplating being friends with the person he’s been chasing the past few years, and it blows his mind.
Jongin starts when Yifan rests a hand on his shoulder.
Jongin decides not to apologize. Friends. He looks at Baekhyun’s pretty eyes and his slender fingers and his smug smirk and thinks he wouldn’t much mind being around them, so long as Baekhyun’s not making fun of him—or ordering Jongin around like a puppy. Jongin’s mostly positive that won’t happen again.
“How do you know this?” Junmyeon asks.
Jongin knows that Junmyeon’s limited in the amount of water he can influence despite having become very good at doing it. When they were younger, before Jongin had become Kai, Junmyeon had tried to move the entire Han River (or what was left of it, anyway) over about twenty feet with the help of Kyungsoo. The book Junmyeon has about the Twelve said that he was supposed to be able to do this, but all they had managed to do was slosh the water around and destroy the sides of the ravine and create months of hell for rescue workers. Jongin had sapped his energy transporting people to safety for days.
“I read it,” Baekhyun says, “in a book. Do you know what those are?”
It looks like Yifan really wants to hit Baekhyun over the head. Hard. His fingers are twitching, and Jongin swallows. He’s been on the receiving end of that fist more times than he cares to remember—he doesn’t really want Baekhyun to feel that, not anymore. Not if he’s right.
“Where’s this book?” Jongin asks, before Yifan can take a step forward.
“With Changmin, obviously.”
“Then how did you read it?”
Baekhyun grins. “I control light, Kai. I can make people see whatever the hell they want. I can get in and out of anywhere at any time and not set off alarms. There’s a reason I’m a better thief than you. You’ll notice my face isn’t all over the world as the most wanted criminal in the history of forever.”
And ok, so maybe Jongin wouldn’t mind if someone punched Baekhyun in his perfect face.
“Don’t scowl at him,” Junmyeon says, “it’s unattractive. You’re a very good thief.” He pats Jongin’s shoulder in consolation. It only makes Jongin’s mood worse.
“I think we should steal that book next,” Yifan says, “if it indeed does exist.”
“There’s no need for that,” Baekhyun says. “I’ve copied the entire thing. It’s in my hotel room in Beijing.”
“Jongin?” Yifan asks.
“I’ll go get it,” Jongin agrees. “Do you have the room key?”
“Now?” Baekhyun gapes at him. “Changmin’s definitely still in Beijing.”
“He won’t catch me.”
Baekhyun doesn’t have his key. But it’s room number 365 and enough to go on for the time being. Jongin can break in easily enough without having to teleport. The book is on his data pad, Baekhyun says, which should be in his suitcase.
“Bring Zitao if you can,” Yifan says.
“Wait,” Baekhyun starts, “hold on one second.”
“Our leadership,” Yifan reminds Baekhyun. “Your knight in shining armor will be back in no time.”
Jongin flicks his middle finger up as he stands before the freezing strands of black grip him, mask fastened across his face and hat pulled low over his brow, and in a second, he’s back in Zitao’s apartment, tendrils of nothingness swirling around him.
Zitao’s home, chopsticks and noodles half way to his face which he promptly drops with an alarmed shout.
“Sorry,” Jongin apologizes.
Zitao swears in Mandarin, clutching his heart.
“Sorry. I need to get some things from Baekhyun’s hotel room. Want to come?”
“I was eating,” Zitao pouts. But he’s wrapping a scarf around his neck and sliding a mask over his face.
“You’re coming back, too,” Jongin tells him, as they descend the stairs.
“Can’t I fly? Or take a boat?”
“No. Yifan’s orders.”
Zitao sighs. He’s never liked teleporting. Jongin thinks if he didn’t do it so often, he wouldn’t either.
They walk as fast as they dare, Jongin clasping Zitao’s hand tightly in case someone spots them and they need to teleport out of the way. But the streets are mostly devoid of any officers, Chinese or otherwise, and Jongin’s very careful about his mask and hat. Though Jongin can’t help but notice the differences between Baekhyun’s hand and Zitao’s. Zitao’s is rougher, thicker, yet not quite as warm. He holds Jongin’s hand almost uncomfortably tight, and Jongin finds himself missing Baekhyun’s fingers and his smooth skin and light scrape of manicured nails.
Even though it’s been less than a day.
They reach the hotel in no time, hurrying up the steps and to the elevator. Jongin doesn’t bother paying attention to the interior decorating. Zitao exits the elevator first, peering around corners expertly in case of an attack, but they reach room 365 safely, and Jongin picks the lock in a matter of seconds.
The room is nothing special, like any hotel room, really, though perhaps with thicker blankets and expensive drapes. A maid had recently come through, the faint smell of disinfectant in the air, the bed recently made.
“What do you need?”
Jongin spots the suitcase in a corner, inconspicuously black, and he confirms that the data pad is indeed inside. “That.” But he sweeps the room, hoping he has the time, and starts to throw in whatever is strewn across the floor. Zitao grabs Baekhyun’s articles from the bathroom—toothbrush and toothpaste, small bottles of soap—and Jongin dumps books and some random articles of clothing he’d found in a corner.
They’d been there not even fifteen minutes. Zitao looks very reluctant as he takes a hold of Jongin’s hand. Jongin has to focus a minute because Zitao plus a bulging suitcase is a lot to transport, and he’s already exhausted, but several minutes later, they land in the center of his room at Yifan’s, all their body parts attached and the suitcase unharmed.
Jongin collapses, though, in sudden need of sleep, and it’s Yifan that hauls him up by his arm, setting him back on the bed beside Baekhyun who's flailing a little. “My things!” he says, patting at Jongin’s body excitedly. “Thank you!”
They let Baekhyun load the contents of his data pad onto a computer while Zitao goes to fetch food and coffee for Jongin which he scarfs down in a matter of minutes. He feels his energy return by the time Baekhyun has the information ready to share, but his foot is pressed against Baekhyun’s underneath his covers and their arms brush any time one of them moves, and Jongin’s quite content to stay in bed and pretend that he’s not fully recovered.
“I have four of the twelve DNA samples,” Baekhyun tells them. Yifan’s dragged a table to the bedside for the computer. It’s a small screen, but they can all see it a lot better than Baekhyun’s data pad. “Those are in a bank vault along with instructions on how to turn it into a serum for use.”
“Where?” Yifan asks.
Not a bank Jongin’s ever robbed, then. He tends to stay away from Jeju since it’s outside the Walled Cities and wouldn’t yield much return for the risk. Granted, Jeju has mostly stayed radiation-free, but one can never be too careful.
Baekhyun brings up a list on the computer, the first four names in black with their Stones listed beside them. Jongin doesn’t recognize any of them.
Kang Daesung: Water
Kim Jaejoong: Telepathy
Park Yoochun: Healing
Choi Seunghyun: Earth
“Kim Jaejoong,” Junmyeon muses, “that sounds familiar.”
“It should,” Bakehyun nods, “he was in the NIS for awhile before he mysteriously disappeared. Though I have it on good authority the NIS know exactly where he is.”
“He almost shot me once,” Yifan says. “I remember now.”
“Vicious bastard,” Baekhyun agrees. “Had a hell of a time getting it from him, let me tell you. None of them are easily beaten. They all still have their powers even if they aren’t bound to one another, so it makes them doubly dangerous. Now, the Time Controller is in Beijing. Kim Heechul. I was trying to find him before you showed up,“ he elbows Jongin, “but he’s hidden himself really well. I’m not sure why he’s in China, but he’s been hiding there the past couple of years, and I only know that because I sneaked into the NIS and almost died accessing Changmin’s private records.”
“Changmin knows about the DNA?”
Baekhyun gives Jongin a look. “Of course he does. He’s not an idiot like the rest of you. Were you not paying attention when I said I learned about this by reading his books? Honestly.”
Jongin goes back to wishing Yifan would punch Baekhyun in the face already.
“I work well on my own,” Baekhyun continues. “I found all of these in the last year, and I have very good leads on the rest of them as well.”
“You’ll give those to us? We get started a lot quicker if we have more than one person searching.”
“If you think you can handle them and not fuck everything up, then yes, I’ll tell you everything I know.”
“We’re quite capable of handling ourselves,” Yifan says. His frown is returning.
“I’m sure. But you’re going up against people that have the same powers as you do and have had a longer time to perfect using them, bond or no.”
“I’m well aware of that,” Yifan says back.
Baekhyun shrugs. “Fine, then. But I want to go back to China to get Heechul. I had a plan mostly worked out. Though, I suppose if you have your Time Controller handy, I could do a much better job.”
“That’s me,” Zitao cuts in. “I’ll go back with you, so long as Jongin doesn’t teleport us there.”
Yifan laughs, and Jongin tries not to stare as their stoic leader actually smiles. Yifan’s never smiled at Jongin like that. It’s a nice smile. Not as nice as Baekhyun’s, or even Lu Han’s, but still. It’s sweet.
“Jongin needs to distract Changmin and Yunho,” Yifan says. “I’ll get you both plane tickets on a flight tomorrow morning if you’re up for it.”
“It’ll be nice to have some extra protection,” Baekhyun muses.
“Get some rest,” Junmyeon suggests. He grabs the laptop as he stands. “I’ll go over the rest of this with Yifan.”
Baekhyun falls asleep first, his breathing evening out and eventually snuggling far enough into the blankets for his head to rest against Jongin’s shoulder. Jongin swallows a bit nervously, hyper aware of the heat spreading from all the places their bodies were touching even as he tries not to think about it.
This sucks. He’s sharing his bed for the first time in years, and it’s with someone he had trained himself to dislike. Though it had taken a day for him to change his mind because of Baekhyun’s fingers, his smile, his face. Because of the way he’d insisted Jongin stay with him.
It’s nice to be wanted for something other than Teleportation.
He eventually falls asleep, his temple resting against the crown of Baekhyun’s head, their hands brushing underneath the covers.
It takes several days to find the man named Baekhyun. Changmin’s cameras got several good angles of his face, so he at least starts with that, but it turns out he’s almost as good as Kai at avoiding them, and so they have no real trail to follow. Baekhyun pops up a few times in China, mostly when he’s eating before disappearing altogether for days. Changmin spots him in Korea and Japan, a few times in North America, though that was several years back, and only once in Europe.
“What are the dates?” Changmin asks, wiping his eyes in the hopes it will dispel his exhaustion. He’s started seeing double.
Kyuhyun hands him another cup of coffee. “I’ll check.”
Changmin keeps his eyes shut, forehead resting on the cool surface of the table as he listens to Kyuhyun typing. Changmin’s so tired of this. He’s tired of being made to look like an idiot, tired of being led into traps, tired of Kai escaping traps, tired of everything. Changmin just wants to be done. Please let me find something.
Kyuhyun exhales hard. “Oh. Well, that can’t be just a coincidence.”
“Is it worth me opening my eyes?”
If he’s not impressed, Changmin thinks he’ll take away some of Kyuhyun’s vacation time. But his friend is as good as ever at his job, and as Changmin squints, scanning the readouts, adrenaline shoves aside his exhaustion, and he amends his previous thought: Kyuhyun deserves more vacation days. Some of the dates, actually, most of them, are the same dates as Kai’s more notorious robberies. Coincidence? Changmin thinks not.
“And here I thought he was capable enough to work on his own.”
“But what does Baekhyun do?” Kyuhyun asks.
“What any self-respecting Light Stone owner does, I imagine: make things invisible.”
Still, Changmin has his doubts, and they echo in his friend’s face when Changmin spares him a glance. “What are the odds of those jobs being pulled off by Baekhyun before Kai can get to them?” Kyuhyun asks. “I mean. Kai can teleport. Why does he need to be invisible?”
“You mean they’re…rivals?” Changmin questions. “But then why were they together? Why was Kai trying to rescue Baekhyun?”
“I know you hate thinking like this,” Kyuhyun says, “which is why I’m going to overlook your stupidity for a moment, but we’ve been played.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Kyuhyun says, “we’ve been so focused on Kai the Thief that we haven’t been paying attention to much of anything else. And I think that was exactly what Kai—or whomever he’s working for—wanted to happen.”
“A distraction.” Changmin hates being fooled. He does not at all like where this is going. He is going to kill someone if this turns out to be true—so long as Yunho lets him—and it’s going to be bloody and satisfying.
“Kai clearly knew who Baekhyun was. I saw how desperately he wanted Baekhyun back, and I also saw the part before you arrived. They were not having a friendly discussion, Changmin.”
“Yeah,” Changmin sighs, swallowing down a fit of rage, “yeah, I get it. Kai wants the Twelve as much as we do and probably has a lead on more, if not all of them. He’s been after Baekhyun, and Baekhyun—for some reason—has been eluding him. Until now.”
It’s the only story that makes sense. Baekhyun must have been the original thief, responsible for quite a few of the hauls attributed to Kai, and Kai—or his employer—must have realized his particular talents with Light and sent Kai the Teleporter out to fetch him. Baekhyun, for whatever reason, didn’t want to join Kai and his unknown associates, and so under the guise of thief, Kai chased Baekhyun around the globe trying to catch him. While Changmin wastes his time worrying about all the money Kai is stealing and not about what’s actually going on behind the scenes.
It makes Changmin grind his teeth.
“I’m going to report to Yunho. Can you print those for me?”
“They’ll come out at your office,” Kyuhyun promises.
“Thank you.” He doesn’t just mean for the pictures, and Kyuhyun’s smile tells Changmin his friend understands. Thanks for having a brain when I’m too prideful to admit my own mistakes. Yunho’s not going to like this, not at all. He’ll probably take it out on Changmin, and not pleasantly.
But when Changmin gets to Yunho’s office and has to key in the code, he finds that Yunho is otherwise occupied with pressing Lu Han up against a wall. Their shirts (uniforms) are a little askew, and Yunho’s hands are places on Lu Han’s body that Changmin really doesn’t want to think about at all, and their lips are (finally, Changmin grudgingly admits,) attached and look as though they have been for awhile.
Yunho looks extremely put out when he pulls away. Lu Han only laughs. “Who won the betting pool?” he asks and dodges Yunho’s hand as it swats at his shoulder.
“Kyuhyun,” Changmin answers immediately, moderately ashamed for having known that. He goes back to despising his friend. How dare he? How dare Kyuhyun accurately guess the time (the most inconvenient time!) for Yunho to finally succumb to Lu Han’s wiles? Changmin would have thought his friend a Telepath if he didn’t know any better.
Lu Han’s still chuckling though, and he straightens the starched collars of Yunho’s jacket, dusting them off, and pressing a kiss to Yunho’s cheek (he has to go up on his tiptoes.) “I’ll leave, since Changmin seems to have something important to say.”
“Stay,” Changmin finds himself saying, “it’s about Kai.”
Yunho cracks his first not-related-to-Lu Han smile of the day. “Something good?”
Changmin watches Lu Han carefully as he relates Kyuhyun’s suspicions, and it doesn’t take long for Yunho’s smile to turn upside down. But Lu Han’s mask of concern doesn’t falter, and he even pats Yunho’s knee. “Want me to trace him?”
There’s a fire in Yunho’s eyes that means long nights and no overtime, but Changmin doesn’t really care; he needs to get Kai. No more screw ups, no more excuses, nothing but success, no matter the consequences or means.
Changmin takes out the knife he palmed from Baekhyun’s jacket and hands it over. Another test, he thinks to himself, to see if Lu Han gives them the correct location or not, to see if Lu Han is really someone they can trust (someone deserving of Yunho).
“Give me a minute.”
It takes ten, Lu Han sitting quietly as he holds the knife in both hands, breathing in and out through his nose. Yunho stares resolutely at the ground, refusing to meet Changmin’s eyes and after a moment, Changmin decides not to be irritated. He’ll find someway to use this against Yunho to get his way (he doesn’t at all consider that blackmail,) and just waits until Lu Han comes back to hand the knife over.
“The owner of the knife is at a restaurant. I don’t know if Kai is there or not.”
“That’s fine. Enough to go on.”
“I don’t know the restaurant,” Lu Han frowns.
Changmin looks at him hard, searching for any sign of deceit. He doesn’t see anything, except a set to Lu Han’s shoulders that borders a little on panic. Interesting.
“That’s alright,” Changmin tells him, “I think I know which one it is. I’ll be back.”
“Don’t rush into this,” Yunho warns.
“I’m just going to talk. I’ll have Kyuhyun track me.”
“I really don’t think you should walk into—”
“I’ll be fine,” Changmin says. I will be fine. He’s just going to have a discussion with Kai about why he’s searching for the twelve on his own and what Changmin can do to convince him they both want the same thing. He isn’t at all going to be distracted by Kai’s lips or his face or his anything this time. He’s just going to be the Changmin that has worked his ass off to get where he is now and the Changmin that doesn’t take no for an answer.
“You could just try that angle,” Lu Han suggests.
“What angle?“ Yunho asks.
“He likes Kai’s lips.”
Changmin tries very hard not to blush. “Get out of my head.”
“Not my fault you’re projecting it for miles,” Lu Han says, waving a thin hand. “You never know, Changmin. Maybe you can coax him to our side after you coax him to your bed.”
“Fuck you,” Changmin tells him, ignoring Yunho’s pointed frown.
Lu Han laughs. “The things I could say to that.”
Changmin smells the restaurant from a block down the street, noting the sidewalk outside already packed with patrons shoveling food into their mouths at an alarming rate. He hopes there’s a table for him somewhere.
Inside, the restaurant is just as crowded, though there are a few tables that are empty. He waits to see if someone would help him, but then catches sight of the please seat yourself sign and heads over to a smaller table in the corner.
He recognizes one of the waiters—he’d seen him when he and Kyuhyun had followed Lu Han with a camera—and tries not frighten the kid half out of his mind when he brings a glass of water and a menu.
“What’s your name?”
The blond’s lips purse. “Sehun.”
“Sehun,” Changmin smiles. “Do me a favor. Tell Jongin I’m here, and I want to talk.” He’s sure if he Kai aloud it would turn unnecessary heads.
To his credit, Sehun keeps his face still. “There’s no Jongin employed here.”
“Don’t insult my intelligence, Sehun, or my methods. I know he’s here, and I’m not leaving until I speak with him. I suggest you find him so you don’t piss me off anymore than you already have.”
Technically, it had been Baekhyun that Lu Han had traced, but Kai is a teleporter and if he wants to be in a place he can just be there. Either way, Changmin is determined to talk.
Sehun presses his lips into a thin line, turning on his heel. He heads straight for the kitchen, ignoring a few patrons that shout out to him for kimchi refills. Changmin doesn’t miss the hard set of Sehun’s shoulders or the way his fingers clutch his notebook so tight they go white. Kai’s certainly somewhere, or Sehun had at least recently seen him.
But the man that comes out to speak with Changmin is not Kai, though he looks older and quite a bit more calm than Sehun had. He sets a glass of water in front of Changmin before giving him a charming smile and half bow. “Sehun said you wanted to speak with me?”
“Actually,” Changmin tells him, leaning back a little, “I was looking to speak with Jongin.”
“There’s no Jongin employed here.”
The man is smiling, teeth glinting white against his skin that’s entirely too smooth to pass for normal in this part of town. No one around here should be able to afford looking like that, and Changmin’s so suspicious he nearly calls in the cavalry, right then and there.
“What’s your name?” Changmin asks.
“Everyone calls me Suho,” the man offers, “and yes, this is my establishment and no, there’s no chance that whomever it is you’re searching for is here in secret. Shim Changmin, right? Of the NIS. He must be quite a catch if you’re here personally.”
“Maybe I wasn’t clear.” Changmin leans forward, giving Suho a blinding smile of his own. “I’m only here to talk. I don’t have a SWAT team waiting outside or snipers posted up on the rooftop—though perhaps you already know that. I’m here to have an honest discussion with him about the people and practices he is endorsing, and when I’m done, I will get up and leave and not arrest him. I know for a fact that Baekhyun is here because my Telepath tracked him,” he sees Suho swallow, and Changmin feels a little rush of adrenaline, “and if Jongin is indeed as protective over him as he was earlier, then he’s here as well. Though if by chance I’m wrong, I’m sure he can find a way to get here and rather quickly too.”
“I—” Suho starts.
“If,” Changmin continues, leaning forward even more and taking pleasure in Suho’s discomfort, “he is not here, then I will get a SWAT team, and I will sweep through your restaurant and arrest you, your employees, permanently shut this establishment down, and confiscate every single thing in here down to the last piece of dust. So I suggest you comply.”
“I do not respond well to threats.”
“Well, you weren’t responding well to an honest request. We all do what we have to do, Suho.”
He doesn’t actually want to do that (he winces internally just thinking about all the paperwork,) but Suho’s considering him, head tilted to the side slightly, weighing his options before nodding. “Fine then. I’ll see what I can do. Can I get you something to eat while you wait?”
Changmin scans the pictures on the wall until he spots the meal he and Kyuhyun had seen the first time they’d spied on the restaurant. Suho gives him another nod. “Sehun will bring it out when it’s ready.”
“I appreciate your cooperation.”
“I’m not promising anything,” Suho says, and he points a finger in Changmin’s face. “I might be able to reach the person you want, and if I can, it will be his decision to show up or not.”
“I have all day,” Changmin assures him.
“He might not come, and I doubt you could blame him if he doesn’t.”
Changmin smiles again, less pleasantly this time. “For your sake I hope he does.”
“I’m not the boss of him,” Suho says, “no one really is or ever has been. I suggest you get that through your head.”
It’s hard to tell whether Suho is lying or not; faced with threats, it makes discerning the truth difficult. But Changmin remains optimistic that Kai will show, and settles back in his chair to wait, contemplating Suho and his exact relationship with Kai. It’s possible he is not Kai’s boss, but it’s just as possible that Suho’s lying. Or it could be a half-truth in that Suho and Kai both work for someone else—in which case, Changmin has to wonder, does Suho have a Stone and if so, which one?
Sehun comes out a few moments later, food balanced perfectly on his arm, and Changmin decides that even if Kai doesn’t show, the meal is definitely going to be worth the trouble of coming here. “Sehun,” he says, before the waiter can turn away, “tell Suho that in the event of Jongin being unable to come, I’ll settle for speaking with Baekhyun.”
Sehun gives him a stink eye. “You shot him,” he says. “I doubt Baekhyun will be any more willing to see you than Jongin.”
He leaves, a puff of frustrated air blowing his bangs away from his face, and Changmin grins. Sehun is a lot easier to agitate than Suho, and Changmin tucks that little tidbit of information away in the back of his mind. For all he knows, the entire restaurant staff are all Stone owners and have been hiding right under Changmin’s nose. From now on, whether or not Kai shows, Changmin’s going to put this restaurant and its employees under tight surveillance.
It’s an hour before the door opens, and Kai walks inside, mask fastened across his face and cap low over his brow—Changmin would recognize him anywhere and watches as Kai walks over to him and stands in front, arms crossed. It’s easy to picture his lips forming a scowl.
“You came,” Changmin comments, taking a sip of his water.
“You threatened Baekhyun.”
“I did no such thing,” Changmin says. “But it’s nice to know that will get you to come when I call.”
Kai snorts. “You’re lucky I was in the area.”
“I have very good sources.” Changmin takes another sip of water. “Sit?”
“Not here. Follow me.”
“No one’s going to come at you.”
“I’m not sure if you realize this,” Kai tells him, “but because you put my face all over the fucking city, I cannot sit down in a restaurant and have a chat without someone calling the cops, regardless of you being here or not. Follow me.”
He doesn’t wait for acknowledgement, turning on his heel and marching briskly out to the back. Changmin stares after him a moment, a little flabbergasted at being ordered around by a criminal, before Sehun reappears, still huffing, and beckons.
The room he’s led to in the back looks like it’s something usually reserved for couples willing to pay top dollar for private dining. It’s not the most comfortable—but the curtain hanging in the door frame encloses them, and a dim light hanging from the ceiling gives a soft glow that’s actually quite romantic.
Sehun puts down Changmin’s half-eaten dinner in front of him and then a cup of coffee in front Kai. “I’ll be right outside,” he says, in a manner that’s supposed to mean and I’ll be listening so don’t try anything. Changmin doesn’t have any plans of the sort, but he can’t blame them for being continuously suspicious. He would be.
He watches Kai fling his mask onto the table and shove a hand through his hair when he takes his cap off, shaking bangs from his eyes and blinking owlishly as the sunglasses come off and he adjusts his vision.
It’s mesmerizing. Changmin actually feels his mouth go a little dry as he’s drawn to the way Kai’s tongue licks at his own mouth before blowing on the coffee and taking a sip, swearing as it burns him. Changmin really, desperately, wants to bite Kai’s lips, remembering their encounter earlier and how they had turned red as Kai gnawed on them anxiously. You could try that angle, Lu Han’s voice echoes in his memory.
“So,” Kai starts, before Changmin can think about angles that may apply, “what’s so urgent that you come waving a white flag and insist on meeting?”
“You make it sound like you hate coming here.”
Kai shrugs. “They’ve got the best food,” he says, and then grins, sending Changmin’s stomach plummeting to the floor and his common sense wheeling, “but the employees…well, you’ve met Sehun.”
It’s the most ridiculous lie Changmin’s ever been told, but he’s not here to call Kai out on it or stir up more trouble than he wants. Kai’s allowed self-preservation and the preservation of his friends (accomplices, Changmin corrects,) and lets it go.
“I just want to talk,” Changmin begins, “without pointing a gun in your face to make you stay.”
“Talk about what?”
“About what we were discussing earlier. Why you won’t join us—what the deal is that you said you made? And also about Baekhyun.”
The name gets the reaction Changmin wants: Kai’s eyes flash, and he sits up straighter. “What about Baekhyun?”
“I have a hypothesis,” Changmin starts, “but I’m still filling in the holes. It’s obvious he has the Light Stone, and that you want him, which can only lead to the conclusion that you’re gathering the Twelve on your own—or trying. What escapes me is why. Why are you looking for the Twelve when I’ve offered over and over again to help you? You won’t have to hide. You’ll have a clean slate. Protection. Housing. Food. What is so wrong about that?”
“I’ll not be a slave.”
“You wouldn’t be,” Changmin frowns.
“I would,” Kai argues, “I would be a slave to the Government and what they want and need, and I refuse to do that. To be that.”
“Do you honestly think I’d suffer that?” Changmin asks. “That I’d let someone control me like that?”
“We are in entirely different situations. Besides,” Kai leans in, grin back in place, and Changmin has a very hard time banishing a fantasy of reaching over the table to haul Kai in closer for a kiss, “what I want to fix is the Government.”
“Kai,” Changmin starts, “Jongin—”
He stops, having to swallow as Kai stands up, muscles rippling underneath his shirt. “I’m not interested. You try and contact me like this again, and you will sincerely regret it.”
“Don’t walk away from me,” Changmin growls, shoving to his feet and glaring down a few centimeters into Kai’s face. His perfect face. “We are not done.”
“I’m done,” Kai shrugs.
It happens before Changmin can properly realize what he’s doing, and he’s so grateful his cameras can’t see back here because if Lu Han were to see him grabbing Kai’s shirt and pressing him up against a wall and biting down firmly on Kai’s lip, Changmin would never hear the end of it.
As it is, the small squeak of surprise from Kai and then feel of his lips and his tongue and his fucking hands digging into Changmin’s arms and sliding around his middle and fisting his hair are things Changmin will never be able to banish from his mind.
“Agent, ” Kai gasps, in mock horror, but when Changmin presses their foreheads together, he smirks because Kai’s eyes are glassy, his pupils blown wide, and Changmin wonders if this might be the thing that wins him the war.
“Kai,” Changmin says, and leans in for more.
Kai’s lip is bleeding when Changmin pulls away the next time, Kai’s hands in Changmin’s hair, Changmin’s hand dangerously close to plunging down Kai’s pants. But he’s a different Kai—subdued, eyes glazed over, tongue poking at the tear in his lip. “What the fuck,” Kai says dully, but he’s pliant, slumped against the wall and held up only because of Changmin’s arm, the fight drained out of him, body geared for something else entirely.
“I meant what I said about the clean slate, Jongin,” Changmin murmurs. “I want to stop hunting you.” And Kai should know he can’t hide forever. Not anymore. Not now that Changmin knows about this restaurant, regardless of how it actually fits into Kai’s life.
Kai regards him a moment, finally raising a hand to wipe at his mouth. Changmin wants to kiss him again, so help him. He can barely breathe for want of it. Good lord, the places he would like for those lips to go.
To his surprise, it’s Kai that pulls him back down, tongue licking at the seam of Changmin’s lips until he’s panting again, his pride as an NIS agent the only thing keep him from grinding himself against a just-as-interested Master Thief.
Lu Han can never, ever, find out.
“I’ll consider it,” Kai finally whispers, mouth against Changmin’s ear.
“I’m not a complete idiot. I know you’re working with other people, and you need to talk to them. You’re a terrible liar.”
Kai actually blushes. “Go, before Sehun comes back.”
When Changmin releases him, Kai slumps back down onto the bench, exhausted, even though all they had done was kiss. Honestly, Changmin wishes he could do the same. Follow him down, balance on his elbows, move against him until they both come in their pants. Like fucking teenagers, for heaven’s sake. Changmin hasn’t felt this way in years.
“Go,” Kai murmurs, but it’s a far cry from his bossy tone of voice earlier. “The meal’s on the house.” Changmin really has kissed the disrespect right out of him. He feels proud.
“Think about it,” Changmin says.
“Thinking,” Kai says, eyes falling shut, and he waves a hand. “Thinking really hard.”
And what else can Changmin do?
He leaves with his adrenaline still pumping, blood pounding in his ears, and he thinks he’s either going to lock himself in a bathroom to jerk off or else take a really cold shower.
His phone rings at the top of the street and as he’s hailing a cab. “Hello?”
Changmin blinks. “Who is this?”
A cab stops in front of him as Changmin frowns at his phone. He gives the driver the NIS address before turning his attention back to the mysterious caller. An agitated huff finally makes Changmin’s brain click. “Heechul?”
“Do you know what happened today?”
“Why are you calling me? You know you can’t call me. We can’t be in contact.”
“Not important right now. Listen closely, Changmin-ah. Your little Light prodigy just stole my DNA.”
All thoughts of Kai’s sexy lips flee Changmin’s mind . “What?”
“I almost nabbed him,” Heechul continues, “but I underestimated his sidekick’s…kicks.” He laughs like it’s funny. “I’m fine, though, thanks for asking.”
“He got your DNA?”
“Are you deaf? Yes. Do you understand what that means? He’s got five out of twelve now, you complete imbecile. Do I need to come down there and do your job? Get it under control.”
“Five?” Changmin asks, feeling weak.
“Changmin, I swear to God. What the hell have you been doing the past few years? Fucking fishing? They found Jaejoong and Yoochun. Daesung. Seunghyun. Now me. Where were you?”
Chasing after Jongin, Changmin thinks. Kyuhyun had been right. They’d been so caught up with chasing Kai no one had even thought to check on the Original Twelve, assuming they were safe, assuming no one knew of them. Kai had been the perfect trap, and Changmin had walked right into it.
But no more.
“I’m on it,” Changmin promises, and hangs up before Heechul can make him feel worse than he already does. “Fuck!” he yells, making the driver swerve dangerously. “Fuck fuck fuck!”
His cold shower is going to have to wait.