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The Bandits of Sawtooth Mountain

Chapter Text

Hongjoong swung his legs over the elegant neck of his horse, jumping down to the ground with an energetic bounce. His boots came to stand securely on the dusty road and he stemmed his hands in his hips, breathing in deeply. He was looking out over the little town in front of him, dusty and squeaky in the faint wind and with it's glorious mountains behind. He breathed in the foreign air of this place deeply, content with having mastered his journey up until here.

Well, maybe he breathed in a bit too much for dust immediately settled in his lungs, making him start coughing in a panic. He fumbled around at the saddle next to him, his eyes teary from the itch and hastily gulped down some of his water, calming his poor throat again. He blinked the tears away then, epicly staring out over the city again with more flat breaths.

This was his now, his little spot of earth to protect and cherish and he already had made so many plans on how to make it bloom, he could barely wait to start with it.

He gently patted the flank of his dear Wave, gently running his fingers through her dirtied mane.

He could actually use some bath right now, he craved it after his long journey under the hot sun in the empty plains.

Hongjoong took the reigns of his horse again, stepping forward and further into the little town. It was relatively overseeable, just about three dozen houses and two main roads that crossed in the middle. Hongjoong saw multiple opened stores on the first glance, an inn, a little marker on how to get to the railroad and also the house he was searching for: the townhall that had exact the same size as anything else.

It was a cute little village, perfectly fine for Hongjoong himself and he fastened Wave's reigns in front of the building, nodding to a passing woman before he stepped in. Inside it was cozy, there was a desk with two chairs in front, a holding cell for criminals and a wall plastered with wanted posters of some rough looking criminals.

There were also two men in the room who were discussing loudly, one with an exasperated and quiet voice, the other one clearly overly excited with his yells.

Hongjoong recognized one of them. He had known Jaebeom from some hunts before and he was the person who had asked him to come here too. His dark hair was overgrown and hung in a messy ponytail, some stubble shadowing his chin.

He looked so very tired and the boy babbling next to him did not seem to help either.

Hongjoong took pity on him.

He gently cleared his throat, grinning brightly when the noise immediately died down as both of them turned towards him. Jaebeom seemed to get younger immediately by 10 years, rising in order to step closer.

He looked rough, the leather of his boots scratched up and his shirt stained with various dark spots. Still the hand he extended to Hongjoong was warm and his smile bright.

"Hongjoong my fellow! It's good to see ya! Wooyoung come over here and greet ya new superior!"

Hongjoong scrutinized Wooyoung as he bounced closer, indeed finding the little silver star fixed on his west. His hair was a shaggy blond, barely to be seen under his brown hat but he still flashed Hongjoong a bright smile when they shook hands.

"When did ya arrive? Seonghwa said the railroad would not operate today!"

"Ah, I came by horse. Wanted to get familiar with the surroundings already.", Hongjoong gently explained, letting himself be coaxed into sitting down at the desk, while Jaebeom ran around to get him something to drink.

"That's the spirit! Ya hear, boy?! There will no lazy sitting around here anymore from now on!" Jaebeom cackled a bit evilly, sitting down opposite of Hongjoong to start searching for some papers in his drawers. Wooyoung leaned against the table, pouring Hongjoong his drink which he took with a polite acknowledgement.

"Now where is it hmm... Ah here! Excuse the mess, ya might sort in stuff however ya want. I'll be out of ya hair soon." Jaebeom pulled out some papers for him to sign and the golden sheriff badge, proudly fastening it on Hongjoong's shirt while he wrote his name down gingerly.

"Wooyoung can basically show ya around anywhere and explain anything to ya. I will be here of course too but for now I'm free of any duties!" Jaebeom strechted with a happy groan, making Hongjoong giggle into his drink.

"Never heard of someone who went into retirement at 27 before. Life here must be harsh, huh?"

"Ya have no idea. I really hope ya can wipe those bastards out from the face of earth. Ever since they changed leaders a year ago everything has gone to hell around here."

That was why Hongjoong was here. To capture a famous group of bandits that were wrecking havoc around here. Only then more settlers would come and build better railroad systems and roads to the city. They had some investors interested for quite some time but whenever they came by and tried to start on something the bandits ruined it again. Jaebeom was fed up with them and Hongjoong was their new ray of hope.

"Why change? I thought relations were going good with Jinyoung?"

Hongjoong was informed.

Jaebeom shrugged, leaning back again.

"Guess that was their problem. That new guy is not nearly as diplomatic though. I've spent eleven years of my life finding out Jinyoung's identity and trying to sign some peace treaty and those sons of cows just ruined it again. Good look waisting ya youth on that, Hongjoong." He gave a disappointed shake of his head and Hongjoong just grinned to himself in secret.

He did absolutely not plan on spending eleven years with this. In one year the city would flourish and roads would be build and the beautiful ladies from the cities would come visit here in perfect security. He knew it.

"Ya can stay in Yeosang's inn for the time being. We are clearing out a hut right now whose owner died in the latest raid, ya can move in as soon as we are finished moving his stuff."

Hongjoong lifted a brow.

"They are killing the townsfolk too? Sounds like some foul fellas indeed."

Jaebeom just nodded sinisterly, Wooyoung making a quiet sound in affirmative.

"I will try to protect every single one of them. I swore on it.", Hongjoong assured them seriously, Jaebeom giving him a tired smile.

"Yea, ya do that, fella. Tell me if ya ever need help. My house is the one next to beautiful Mary's. Ah, and also, ya can bring ya horse to Wooyoung's. His family owns the barn in the north." Jaebeom rose with that, getting his hat and tapping at it in greeting before he left. Hongjoong was alone with Wooyoung in his new office.

When he turned to the man he already had that cheshire grin again, looking way too playful for Hongjoong's liking in an assistant.

"Tell me then, Wooyoung, what do we know about those damned bandits right now?"

Wooyoung jumped up at that, going over to the wall and taking one of the posters down to show to Hongjoong. The picture drawn showed nothing really but an unrecognizable figure wearing a black hat that covered their eyes and a just as black mask over their nose and mouth. It was incredibly disappointing.

"What, this is all we know? Are they male of female?"

"Both. It's a large group. They always come as five people but there have been groups with males only and also with females only. We think they have a system with multiple leaders. They all look like this." Wooyoung pointed at the picture with a shrug, making Hongjoong rub his chin with his fingers.

At least ten people then. That was quite sizable in comparison to their little town.

"Do they have a schedule at which they come by?" Hongjoong was still studying the poster. They were called 'The Bandits of the Sawtooth Mountain' and each member scored for about two thousand dollars. That was quite a sum for whoever wiped out the whole group.

"Depends. Sometimes it's once a month for food. They most likely rob the trains then. Poor Park was hurt last time and has been on a break for two weeks. That's why the trains don't come right now. Sometimes the men come for some women and then leave again. They rarely swing by just to plunder and kill. However they might do that soon as to get to know the new Sheriff."

Well, Hongjoong could work with that.

"We will prepare then. I want you to take me around town and let me meet all of the people here. I need to document every encounter you had with the bandits ever since they changed their leader system and I want a list of our resources and townsfolk." Hongjoong emptied his drink, rising to get to work. Wooyoung just sighed heavily, getting some paper and a pen.

"I will prepare the lists then, let's go meet the people first."

They stepped out into the warm afternoon again then, greeting the people who passed them by in the streets. They had settled on bringing Wave to the barn first, making sure the horse was taken care of before setting out again. Wooyoung explained to Hongjoong that the ragged mountains in the north were called the Sawtooth Mountain and it was where the bandits had their hideout apparently. Hongjoong made himself some notes about checking it out sometime, maybe getting some of the younger men here to ride with him.

They then went to Yeosang's inn 'Hehetmon' next, Hongjoong carrying the bags with his few belongings so he could settle down there soon. The saloon was quite orderly, the tables and chairs about clean and to the left there was a stage where someone in a long red dress was dancing prettily.

Wooyoung ignored the music and people inside in order to stalk up right to the bar, waving at Hongjoong to follow.

The man they found behind the counter was probably around their age and his face was calm and collected. He had pretty features and a put together appearance looking more like some city man than a cowboy in a village.

"This is my best friend and also the innkeeper, Kang Yeosang."

Hongjoong intoduced himself with a big smile, jotting the other's name and occupation down.

"He's the only one who was never attacked by the bandits before! Everybody else had to suffer somewhen!", Wooyoung continued excitedly, jumping over the counter in order to hug Yeosang close. The man had a tired look of resignation on his face.

Hongjoong gave him an sympathetic smile.

"Never attacked before? How might that be?"

Yeosang gestured downwards.

"I have a perfectly well working shotgun right here and I know how to use it. When those bastards try to come in here they get a nice round of lead as a snack."

Hongjoong also noted down that Yeosang was nobody to feel at ease with.

"Congratulations then."

"Normally all the people hide in here when the bandits come through. They have somehow accepted it as a neutral ground. But the people who are not fast enough... They do not care for them."

Hongjoong wrote down a 'plain rude' on the page with notes about the bandits.

"What's your opinion on them? You up to checking out that hideout of theirs with me these days?"

Yeosang just shrugged, as calm as before.

"Sure. Try to find San before we go, he knows his way around in the plains." He nodded at them in greeting, going back to polishing perfectly clean glasses.

Hongjoong left the inn again after bringing his stuff up, reconciling with Wooyoung outside.

"So who is this San person?", he asked curiously, writing his name down under Yeosang's.

He did not see the blush taking over Wooyoung's features, too busy sorting his stuff.

"Uhh, he is our hunter. He and a few others are out a lot and search for food. He's mostly missed out on the bandits as he's never here.", Wooyoung told him oddly stiff and Hongjoong just nodded, writing that down too.

"Let's ask him then to join us as soon as he's back."

Chapter Text

After meeting some of the people on the streets and paying a visit to 'Kunpimooks hats and cookies' (the strangest store in town) they were just idly walking around while the sun was still setting. It drowned the plains in a fiery red ocean of flames, breaking beautifully around Sawtooth Mountain. Hongjoong knew to appreciate the wonders nature gave them and looked at it as long as possible.

They did not find San yet but they did get the information that he was planning to return the next day. Hongjoong just had to wait for a bit then.

"Are there any other hunters apart from San? Or people who spend much time out in the fields?", Hongjoong had asked Wooyoung while they had been walking down to the railroad station. Hongjoong wanted to check the place out und also meet this Park person if possible so he could ask him about the constant attacks on the trains.

"Well Yunho is out a lot to collect ingredients. He's our doc. Mingi too. Most information we get on the desert is from Mingi actually."

Hongjoong jotted that down, having accumulated a remarkable amount of information by now.

"So we could take those two with us too?"

Wooyoung made a funny noise, stepping up the creaking steps to the platform and building at the station.

"I don't think so. Yunho likes staying here all the time and Mingi is a bit particular. He does not take orders." He shrugged at Hongjoong's hum, carefully peeking in to the information room of the building. Nobody was inside at the moment so he motioned Hongjoong to follow, stepping in too.

"Seonghwa, are you up there? You have a visitor!", Wooyoung sweetly yelled up the stairs where another door was probably leading to Seonghwa's private quarters.

A thump was to be heard and then heavy steps that sounded like a really painful limp travelled through the second floor.

Hongjoong took his hat down, looking up patiently while Wooyoung just picked at his teeth, leaning against the railing of the stairs casually.

The door did open then, the frame of a tall man coming into view. He was carefully gripping at the railing, heaving down one of his legs that was wrapped in a heavy cast and supported by wooden splints.

"Give me just a second.", he murmured distractedly, trying to hold himself upright on the steep steps with the singular railing and only one working leg.

Hongjoong did not hesitate seeing that pitiful man, pushing his hat into Wooyoung's arms and jumping up to help him.

The man looked surpised at first when Hongjoong came up at his side but he smiled carefully when Hongjoong beamed at him, slinging one of his arms around the injuried man's waist.

"Here, grab my shoulder.", Hongjoong supplied gently, his brain coming up short for a moment when he noticed how small the waist under his fingers was compared to the man's shoulders.

Together they somehow made it down the stairs and back to Wooyoung who was standing there with Hongjoong's hat pressed against his chest in mock emotion. Seonghwa hopped through the room at Hongjoong's side, settling down on a bench with a groan. Sweat was glinting on his forehead and Hongjoong pitied him again.

It must be hard operating trains like this and he was alone with that job as it seemed.

"Sorry. I already sweated all over you and did not even intoduce myself. I'm Park Seonghwa." The man carefully reached out a clean and oddly neat hand out to Hongjoong who was still standing at his side.

Hongjoong took it, finally taking in the other's face when he greeted him.

He also seemed young and a pit more pale than usual, his black hair contrasting harshly with his light skin. Dark bags had settled under his eyes but he was still undeniably attractive.

Hongjoong found himself wondering where his wife was while he was injured this badly but he did not dare ask. Maybe the bandits took her.

So instead he just let his fingers slide carefully in the other one's, shaking his hand gently.

"I'm Kim Hongjoong, the new sheriff in town."

Seonghwa gave a wry chuckle at that, gesturing for them to sit down.

"Yeah, I can see that. Welcome in Fort Davis.", he drawled in the usual accent of the people here, making Hongjoong clap his hands in glee.

"Thank you. I am sorry to be bothering you at such an hour but I do actually have some questions for you to answer. Do you feel up to that?"

Seonghwa nodded with an indulgent smile, settling down more comfortably.

"Let's begin then. I've already heard that you are the railroad operator here and are being hindered by the frequent attacks on the goods delivered. Are you the only person working in this place right now?" Hongjoong took out his notebook again and decidedly ignored the way Wooyoung rolled his eyes next to him.

Seonghwa stayed patient, answering calmly.

"Sometimes some of the people in town help me unload the deliveries. Apart from that I'm trying to teach one of the boys in town about how all of this works these days as I'm not really up for hard work." He patted his leg gently, Hongjoong nodding in understanding.

"You encountered the bandits before right? Do you have any intel on who they might be? Anything that might help the government to get them?"

"Oh, uhh... Nothing of help I fear. The person who attacked me was really tall though and they had a knife. It was a strange one, normally they carry guns and he was really good with it. Nearly hacked off my leg after all." He patted the poor thing again.

"That might have been their food's person. This means that while the group has members for daily chores everybody is also send out on raids. It will be hard to trace them then. No real base we could attack.", Hongjoong mumbled more to himself, the other two keeping quiet so he could make his notes in peace.

"Anything else that seems important to you, Mister Park? Of course you can also send for me whenever you think of something. I do not wish to waste too much of your time when you're already occupied with healing."

"I shall think about it again and contact you if there is something more that comes to mind. I did not expect you that early, Sheriff Kim." Seonghwa smiled a calm smile, extending his hand to Hongjoong again. Hongjoong rose in order to take it, careful not to step too close.

"Thank you for your cooperation. I wish you a fast recovery. If you might need any help you can find me in my office whenever." Hongjoong tapped his hat in greeting then, shuffling out behind Wooyoung into the cool gray of the night. The first cicadas had started their nightly choir and in the distance some other animals were to be heard but the plains still had a calm tranquility to them.

Hongjoong breathed in the clean air deeply, starting his trek back to the village with Wooyoung by his side.

"So, tall and dark-haired, huh? Not bad.", Wooyoung commented with a teasing smirk, making Hongjoong gasp indignantly at him. His hinting was quite obvious.

"Excuse me?"

"Park. I mean I get it. Everybody here swoons over him. Had we come earlier you could have met basically every woman in town trying to get his attention by helping him somehow. He's not married if you were wondering." The man winked comradly, making Hongjoong's face burn. Had he been that obvious?

"This behaviour is highly unprofessional, Mister Jung. I would appreciate it if you kept your nose out of my private business."

"Oh, but in this town nothing is private. Everybody shares information, we basically live off gossip. I certainly won't tell the others that our new sheriff is already smitten with Park but I damn sure will also not oversee it. By the way call me Wooyoung. We will spend lots of time together. Honestly, it will be so much that I will know everything about you either way."

"Mister Jung, I-"

They were interrupted by a person crossing their path, mumbling to themselves. The man was tall and broadly build but he was carrying a cute little basket with flowers painted on it and various herbs or something sticking out.

It was the middle of the night and he just dropped down next to the path in some muddy spot, starting to dig around with his bare hands.

Hongjoong stared at him dumbly.

"I told you, Mingi, this is not them. No, no, these are all wrong. I need the older ones, they have way more healing abilities. Where? Ah, so far out? Should we maybe leave tomorrow? Were you not so damn uncooperative all the time you could just get them yourself!"

Who was he talking to?

Wooyoung seemed not bothered the slightest, just marching closer to the man to tap his shoulder gently. The man acknowledged him with a calm nod, standing up then to wipe his hands on his pants.

Hongjoong pulled a face.

"Ah, Woo, fancy meeting you here. You coming back from some wild make out session with San?"

Wooyoung punched the taller man in the stomach for that, making him laugh. Hongjoong had already made his notes again, smirking at Wooyoung's panicked glance.

"No, no, this is not true! It's a joke around here, I do not make out with San! Tell us, Yunho, what are you and Mingi doing here when it's already dark out?"

Hongjoong felt glee to have something to make an quite obviously shy Wooyoung embarassed with but he also did still not see another person and that confused him greatly.

"Ah, he told me about some nodules I might have needed out here but those are not the right ones. No I told you, idiot, they are not!"

He spoke... To his basket?

Was Mingi some kind of dog? It would make sense actually but that small? A cat? Also those conversations seemed a bit strange.

"Well then, typical Mingi. Ah, by the way this right here is Hongjoong. He is our new Sheriff." Wooyoung gestured towards Hongjoong who stepped forward then, carefully shaking Yunho's hand.

"Ahh, Sheriff Kim, right, I heard. Mingi told me. Ah, this is Mingi!" Yunho thrusted his basket forward and Hongjoong tried to see whatever was inside really badly but it was dark out and he only saw some twigs and straws.

"H-Hey Mingi?"

There was no answer. Of course not.

Wooyoung snickered when he saw the look of absolute confusion on Hongjoong's face.

"We will take our leave then. Good look at finding your stuff, don't bother him too much, Mingi!"

They parted ways again and Hongjoong kept turning to that strange doctor of theirs, close to writing it off as an hallucination after spending too much time in the sun.

"Mingi is... what exactly?"

"A tumbleweed. Young, wild and free."

Wooyoung laughed again when Hongjoong just stayed quiet, them entering the town again where some windows were lit by now.

"You have to be kidding me. A tumbleweed?"

"Yeah, no lies. I told you Yunho is our local quack. One day Mingi - an actual person - disappeared from here and Yunho is absolutely sure he accidently magicked him into a weed or something. I mean we never saw Mingi again so..." Wooyoung just shrugged, his voice high and scratchy from amusement.

"How does he even believe that?"

"I have no idea. But everybody accepts it. Not like it hurts someone. Just be kind and play pretend whenever he brings it up. Mingi did travel through a large part of the plains already."

Wooyoung came to halt in front of Yeosang's inn, tapping his hat.

"I will see you tomorrow then, Sheriff. Have a nice first night here. Dream of Seonghwa, maybe?" He immediately jumped away with a squeal when Hongjoong tried to kick him.

"Work on your professionalism, boy. I am not Jaebeom.", Hongjoong just grumbled, entering the inn then brusquely. Wooyoung slinked away with a giggle.

Inside Yeosang was just finishing cleaning the floor, giving Hongjoong a curt nod. Everything was quiet now and he had no troubles in walking upstairs and finally taking his long-awaited bath. The nights out here were not that cold yet so Hongjoong felt content walking around naked when he quickly moved his stuff in his drawers.

Only after mulling over all of his notes again he could finally fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong awoke to a gloved hand closing around his neck.

He startled awake immediately, one hand flying up to keep the hand from pressing down harder, the other frantically flying over to his nightstand in desperate search for his gun.

It was gone.

Hongjoong kicked and fought frantically, trying to locate his attacker in the dark room but he could not see anything, his brain too panicked to think clearly where to hit.

Hongjoong had to yield completely when something heavy dropped down on his body, quickly wrestling with his fists. Hongjoong was rendered useless when whoever settled down easily above him, pressing his hands above his head with one hand of his own, while the other moved to press a metal barrel right against Hongjoong's groin, making him splutter.

"Stop moving, Sheriff, you don't want to stain the bed now do you?", a low voice whispered above him, making Hongjoong decide that this fast person had to be a man indeed.

He did indeed still down, feeling way too exposed but pushing aside the shyness in order to try and get an eyeful of whoever this was.

He thought he could make out an oddly shaped head, a person wearing a hat most likely. Weakly he pulled against the hand holding him, feeling the leather slide against his wrists smoothly as the other's grip just tightened a bit more.

"Who are you?", Hongjoong whispered with as much of a threat as he could manage in his voice, hoping to scare him away.

"I'm nobody. Nobody you have to care about for now. I just wanted to... check our new sheriff out." The man was obviously smirking even if Hongjoong could see no facial traits in the dark room and he felt annoyance and rage creep up in him.

"You are either some way too confident townsperson or one of those dirty bandits, what is it now?", he growled at the man impatiently, thinking about how to throw him off his body.

"A beautiful revolver you have there, by the way... I wonder how those engravings taste? Tell me, please and shut the hell up."

Hongjoong confusedly opened his mouth to tell the guy off, pretty sure by now he was just some stupid boy playing a prank on him when suddenly the barrel of his own gun was thrusted down his throat, making him choke on the heavy metal. The weapon tasted of dangerous gunpowder and Hongjoong felt his whole body seize up at the thought of getting shot through the head like this.

While his insides were all clenched, however, his body had gone stiff and frozen, not daring to move in order to avoid being shot.

The stranger purred appreciatively, making Hongjoong's hate burn hotter but he did stay still, letting the other man talk.

"Now I truly might be anybody right? Don't play any tricks on me, you may hurt a civilian, dear sheriff. Just stay here, all calm and pretty and I shall leave immediately."

Hongjoong could not let him leave. He had to stop that man, keep him from running away and also capture him. He had to know which people dared to attack him in the middle of his first night here and he had to make sure it would not happen again.

His weak gurgling protest was shut up again with his gun, harshly scratching the inside of his sensitive throat when it was pushed even deeper, making him gag around it. A dark chuckle sounded from above him. It seemed to amuse the man how Hongjoong's throat locked up around the weapon, how his feet kicked weakly in protest when his heartbeat started to rise at the lack of oxygen.

"Stay calm. You will get your revenge on me as we shall not meet for the last time."

Hongjoong was released at that, the weight leaving his body and he immediately rolled around, heaving and coughing. His revolver hit the matress next to him with a soft thud and he gripped it immediately, pointing it at his nightly visitor.

However the man had already disappeared, leaving Hongjoong alone in his room when he lit a lantern with trembling fingers.

Goddamn it.

-

Hongjoong had not slept after that.

It was by far not the first time he was threatened at gunpoint and also not the first time people tried to kill him in his sleep.

What put him off were the words of that man.

After describing the incident to a worried Yeosang, Hongjoong got another opinion on that stranger. They both were absolutely sure that it was one of the bandits as the townsfolk would not do that. However he had come and disappeared like a shadow, no traces being left.

So why did he play the innocent civilian card? Was there any chance of the townspeople hiding something from Hongjoong? There would not possibly be somebody in the city supplying the enemy with information, right? But if not, how could he have known so fast?

With his suspicions rising Hongjoong stayed awake thinking, trying to find a way on how to gather the correct intel. If there actually was a bandit undercover here Hongjoong had to move more carefully from now on.

He gave a loud yawn where he was sitting in Yeosang's inn, the man having served him breakfast for free as an apology for the rough night. He did feel remorse for not hearing the commotion but he also did pout the whole day about his holy ground being desecrated.

Hongjoong was at his second cup of coffee when the swinging doors opened again, some broad man walking in. They nodded at each other curtly before the man disappeared behind the counter. Hongjoong tiredly rubbed his eyes.

The inn started filling with time, people coming to get some food before going out for work or spending their days on a thin thread of life held by alcohol. Some of them greeted Hongjoong already and he was welcomed by the rest too, feeling just slightly uncomfortable at the coquettish giggles two women directed at him.

Jaebeom was in too, greeting the other people with boisterous yells before he started some drinking game with them. Hongjoong could only chuckle at them.

The stage was lightened some time after, another man playing the piano coming up with the same singer as the day before in her red dress. Hongjoong saw it whirl from the corners of his eyes a while before he decided to look up too, oddly intrigued by the fast pace of the tunes.

However, when he did set his eyes directly at the dancer for once he found himself blinking confusedly.

Was that...

Hongjoong had to squint.

He was pretty sure that was no woman.

No, it did not make sense. The person sometimes stopped dancing to sing instead and their voice was just a tad too deep to be female.

Hongjoong leaned over to some man on the table next to him, nodding to the stage.

"The dancer, who is it?" He was pretty sure he had not met the person before but if that was Yunho in a dress or something he would not have recognized him either.

"Huh? Oh, 's Jongho. Our muse." He grinned a broad, nearly toothless smile and Hongjoong just nodded, writing it down distractedly. The longer he looked at the guy the less female he seemed. He was way too broad, muscles bulging under the red fabric and his movements sharp and less fluid like a female's would have been.

"He is no woman is he?"

At that the whole table errupted in laughter.

"Nah, 's not! But that d'sn't matter, we all just pr'tend he is 'cause ya find no bett'r p'former out here! 's fine, he'll be down if ya ask 'm for a night. Ah, sometimes he do comedy ev'nings too!"

Yeah, Hongjoong could see that. It was obviously an ongoing comedy to pretend that huge of a man would be a woman.

Still he jotted down some notes about him, reminding himself to ask Yeosang later whether Jongho might join them on their expedition out to the mountains. He was already planning on doing that tomorrow.

Hongjoong had to leave soon after, not having the time to listen to Jongho's next song and instead wandering over to his office to wait for Wooyoung there. His throat still hurt from the rough treatment the night before and he had pondered seeking out Yunho but he was actually not that keen on getting turned into a tumbleweed by accident.

So he just rubbed at his skin with a grumble, walking into his office only to screech immediately.

Wooyoung was already here but he was not alone.

He was sitting in the lap of somebody on one of the chairs in the room with his back to the door. He was full on occupied, a tongue down his throat and the other man's hands down his pants while their breathy moans filled the air.

Hongjoong slapped a hand over his eyes before he had to see his obnoxious assistant grinding down on the other male, flushing a deep red.

His screech had startled them at least because a panicked noise was to be heard, the rustling of bodies stilling.

"I'll be out at the barn today just join me whenever you're done but goddamn it please learn it to do that elsewhere!", Hongjoong ordered quickly, fleeing the scene before anything else happened.

He stood outside panting then for a minute, feeling his face grow hot again at that picture.

He should have tried to see the other person. An eye for an eye, Wooyoung.

With a shudder Hongjoong started walking north, greeting everybody he met and quickly interviewing the people that he had not seen before. By the time he passed the northern part of the city he also met Mary again, the pretty blonde that lived close to Jaebeom's.

He had met her already on the day before walking the streets in a plain dress but with her golden locks still calling for attention and she was actually really nice.

Today she was carrying a basket with food and flowers inside and her face broke into a happy smile when she saw Hongjoong close up on her.

"Sheriff! Good morning, are you already working again?"

Hongjoong raised his hat at her, returning the smile. What a sweet and pleasing presence after Wooyoung's hungry lips.

"I sure am. Somebody has to protect the place, no? Are you out for work too?"

She nodded brightly, giving a shy smile down to her basket.

"These are for Seong- Mister Park. I am helping him out a bit at home these days as he is injured." A slight blush dusted her cheeks, making Hongjoong grin all the more. Seonghwa could need that indeed.

"Send my greetings. I hope he can recover soon."

She nodded again, hurrying off then to go see her crush.

Hongjoong thought it was endearing seeing them all fall for the same man. Seonghwa must indeed have some charms working for him.

Hongjoong calmly reached the barn then, visiting Wave and then sitting down on the fence close to her to do a rough sketch of the mountains in the North. Their ragged tops did indeed look like some dangerous teeth, looming darkly against the sky.

When Wooyoung finally joined him most of the townsfolk was out and working already, the city bustling with life.

Wooyoung did not come alone, he had another man with him that walked in a certain distance from him, his steps absolutely soundless and careful like that of a tiger.

He looked so obviously wild, the look in his eyes untamed that it was not hard to guess who he was. And if Hongjoong was right, he had some gossip to share now too.

Hongjoong still waited patiently to be introduced.

"Morning, Hongjoong. And... sorry for earlier. It won't happen again. I told Yeosang off."

That person had not been Yeosang at all and Hongjoong bit back his grin when he noticed himself having found a whole gold mine there. He could memorize that.

"This here is San. He arrived this morning." Wooyoung stepped aside with the tension visible on his face while Hongjoong hopped down again to greet the hunter, grinning broadly at him.

"Nice to meet you. So when are you up to showing me around in the plains?"

San's smirk seemed sinister, his gloved hands cool against Hongjoong's skin.

"We have horses right here, let's go."

Chapter Text

They had listened to San and took off immediately, only the three of them speeding through the dusty planes on the backs of their horses.

San was by far the best rider out of the three of them, his powerful legs slung around his horse tightly and he rode it with one hand at the reigns, the other one balancing his body behind him. Hongjoong kept watching his muscular back, riding at his left while Wooyoung was at the right.

The hunter expertively did know his way around the plains, easily showing them the best paths to follow around large boulders and avoiding the nests of any wild animals. Hongjoong was sure that a man like him must spend most days of his year out in the wild with all the venomous snakes and hungry coyotes and he could respect that. While Hongjoong knew how to live out in the wild he was not very keen on doing it more than absolutely needed.

Their journey was mostly silent, everybody preoccupied with not breathing in too much dust and Hongjoong memorizing the landscape around them. It was only after the first period of canter when they slowed down their horses to an easier trot, that San spoke up again.

"See those trees back there? A treck starts there that leads up the mountain. However, horses cannot take it. We either have to rest here for the night or travel in the dark. What shall it be?"

Hongjoong tried deciding, not sure about how well the bandits would take to them literally camping in front of their hideout. Had San ever had run-ins with them? Did he know how to fend them off?

"What do you think? Are we at a risk of getting attacked?", Hongjoong calmly asked back, not yielding to the fierce look in San's eyes. The man had a distinct white streak of hair in between his black locks, looking like lightning had stolen a lock of his hair.

"I'm not sure... They might come out if they see us close or they might watch only. However it's not more or less safe here than in Davis."

Hongjoong studied the other man's face, his high cheek bones and full lips, the way his fox-like eyes seemed to narrow a bit when he noticed Hongjoong's gaze on him.

"Let's stay the night then and go up tomorrow.", Hongjoong decided smoothly, looking forwards again.

-

Hongjoong tried not to fall alseep, he really did. The atmosphere kept creeping him out, the eerie silence of the plains only seldomly interrupted by the noises of wild animals he would rather not meet.

Wooyoung has had less problems with calming down despite their unfamiliar surroundings. After spending the whole evening sitting close to their little fire and staring into the distance he had nodded off quite easily, curling into a little ball underneath his blanket.

San himself kept watch without seeming to tire. His eyes were sharp and quick, ears picking up any sound and he also kept their fire burning, warming up the little group and keeping predators away.

Hongjoong and he had conversed a bit when Wooyoung was still awake, simple questions that San had avoided quite mysteriously. His shell was not easy to pierce and Hongjoong gave it up after some time, quieting down as not to disturb Wooyoung.

And after some time he also felt sleep tugging on him. His eyelids drooped where he was mindlessly staring into the fire. His limbs seemed much to heavy to still be used to move much and when he lifted his head again it felt already light.

"San.", he whispered carefully, meeting the other's fierce eyes over the fire that danced in them like a certain death creeping closer.

"Wake me up when you need me to sit guard.", Hongjoong mumbled tiredly, just getting a quick nod before the man resumed to looked out over the plains.

Hongjoong was asleep before his head hit his arms.

-

He got visited again.

This time the hand settled on his mouth instead of his throat, silencing any scream that may have sounded. At the second he awoke Hongjoong already knew that this was not San, the cold of the shock immediately settling in his limbs.

Still he stayed calm, glaring up at the man in black blocking the sky above him.

It was all dark out, their fire having died out already and Hongjoong was quite sure that dawn was no more than an hour away. In the hopes of Wooyoung or San waking up before the bandit could flee Hongjoong stayed calm, cautiously glancing down towards his hip.

His gun was gone again, having found it's place in the secure grip of the stranger's hand who just waved at Hongjoong with it before sliding it in front of his belt. Hongjoong frowned at the obvious display of mockery.

The hand slid from his mouth again when the man was sure he would not scream, leaning over Hongjoong to whisper in his ear through his mask quietly.

"We meet again, Sheriff."

"Is this the moment you let me arrest you like a good boy?", Hongjoong growled back, his patience running thin and they were three people after all. They easily outnumbered him so why did he feel so confident?

"No, not at all, that has to wait until later still. This is the moment I warn you. Stay away from the mountains if you do not wish for your little village to get hurt. People have been dying."

The other was so very close, his black jacket brushing against Hongjoong's chest while the many chains dangling from it completely uselessly and probably for fashion only tickled against Hongjoong's neck.

"What is your goal then? What do you want? If you are so mighty you could have killed all the people long ago already.", Hongjoong spit maybe a tad too loud as the hand immediately came up again, pressing against his mouth.

"No, no... That's not what this is about. I just want to play, dear Sheriff. No need to get all business-y."

Hongjoong tried peeking under that dark hat of his, tried to see behind the silvery decorated mask but there was only black nothingness, absolutely nothing hinting at him having a face.

Hongjoong shuddered at the thought of the other man maybe not having a face at all, just some kind of twisted nightmare having taken on human form.

It would make sense actually, this being a nightmare. However the cold Hongjoong felt seemed very much real.

"Who are you then? What are you doing here mocking me? Is this part of your scheme?" Hongjoong spoke again as soon as he was released, memorizing the smell of fire on the other man.

The bandit however gave a disappointed noise, pulling back. His eyes wandered over Wooyoung and San, both deeply sleeping before he focused Hongjoong again.

"I said no business. You are no fun today, Sheriff. Entertain me more when we meet next time, I'm begging you."

Hongjoong huffed when his revolver was dropped on his stomach heavily, hitting a rib. The man stepped back then, easily turning his back and walking away through the grayness of dawn but Hongjoong wasted not another second.

As soon as the man turned his back to him, he grabbed his dear White Rose, lifting her to fire at the man's retreating back.

However, his first shot missed when the man easily avoided it, his fluid movements terrifyingly fast.

Hongjoong gritted his teeth, aiming at his broad shoulders again but a confused voice saying his name interrupted him.

"Sheriff... Just what are you firing at?"

When he turned around San was looking at him groggily, rubbing his eyes as if not quite believing them.

"One of the bandits. He was here, he is just-"

When Hongjoong looked back, wanting to point, the man was already gone, having disappeared between dead vegetation and prickly cacti. He blinked, suddenly unsure whether the man truly had been there. Confused, he lowered his gun.

"Maybe we did stay out too long yesterday... Let's just check out the trail today and then go back. I fear you might catch a fever. Tell me if you see things again." San sounded mildly inconvenienced, his face showing distrust.

Could Hongjoong have imagined it with his sleepy brain? Well, today for sure but his throat did hurt the day before. But if that had been from the dust? Were those paintings of the bandits already haunting him in his sleep?

Not quite decisive he just rose, going to give some water to the horses while San woke up Wooyoung. Hongjoong tried sneaking a peek at them, tried catching them at slipping up but both played their parts, keeping a safe distance.

Hongjoong was nearly diasppointed but Wooyoung had been right. Seeing the people here interact with each other made him curious indeed.

Wave and the other two did not seem disturbed, did not show any signals of noticing the dark man come and go and Hongjoong had to accept it, calming himself down again.

He brought the horses with him, when he returned, San giving the call to start their journey again. Hongjoong munched on his bread while they were going, trying not to search too obviously for the dark man who had to be here somewhere.

On second thought they might even prepare to capture them right now, waiting patiently until they were stupid enough to walk right into their lair.

Their cockiness made Hongjoong angry, sending him into a dark spiral of curses. Those were bandits, robbers and murderers, taking whatever they wanted, how dare they play them like a cat a mouse? Hongjoong would put an end to this for sure and he would start with that brainless bastard who kept haunting him.

"San.", he calmly called out to the other man, coming up to his side to talk better.

"Have you ever had any run-ins with the bandits? What are they like? Are they willing to let people go?"

There might be some sort of motive, some way to prevent the killings. Was it money they were after? Respect? Simple entertainment? Hongjoong needed to know in order to confront them.

"I met them. But I never saw their faces, just like the others. So far... I only see them from afar normally, only actually talking once. They had a woman with them then. She was easy to persuade." San's grin finished the story for Hongjoong and while he did not intend on using that for himself, he did take a internal note.

San standing in one of their's favors might be an advantage too. If they were to get that woman weak enough for him she might spill some beans.

He shared that thought with San, getting a thoughtful look.

"I agree with your technique, however I would not know which one she was. Seducing the right one might get difficult."

Their multiple leader system was indeed no bad idea. Hongjoong started to wonder then. Was the man visiting him at night one of their leaders too? Did the bandits know he was spying on Hongjoong and did they approve of it?

Hongjoong was not entirely sure whether he could recognize that man in a swarm full of same looking people but he did memorize the details well enough to know whether it was the same one visiting him.

So if he tried the San technique himself, could he win the bandit's favor? He might be able to worm his way into their secrets somehow without the other bandits ever knowing, without that man himself ever knowing.

Hongjoong's plan was starting to form already in his head, making him try to think of a way to get the bandit pliant and trusting for him. It would have been easier indeed to seduce a woman but depending on what exactly that bandit truly wanted from him he might be able to give him just that.

And if the man ever got too comfortable he would lock him up and demask him. And after laughing at his disbelieving face Hongjoong would annihilate their whole group.

Wooyoung threw him a funny glance when Hongjoong just evilly giggled to himself. San did not comment on it, his eyes focused on the mountains.

Chapter Text

They had done as San had advised them to. Before noon they had checked out the trail leading up the mountains to where San had told them the bandits were believed to live in an old mine. It had not been used for quite some time and he was sure that by now the water of the mountain's springs had filled it up nearly halfway but it also was the only place where they assumed the bandits to hide.

Hongjoong had observed everything with thinned lips, still agitated from the encounter the night before. His fingers itched to put a bullet through that mysterious man, to see him put behind the bars of the cell in Hongjoong's office. Maybe he should ask Jaebeom about them again, whether he had been mocked by a particular person too.

But for now they had to retreat. Hongjoong did not dare venture further with just the three of them around so after checking out the trail they left for home again. This time it was Hongjoong leading them, speeding through the dusty plains and only swerving around some tricky spots that San warned him of.

Wooyoung was close at his side again, telling him about his family and past raids, trying to remember as much information as possible. He did not mention some man with an annoying need of wanting to mock people but he did account some important data.

Hongjoong needed more time. It was more difficult than he had expected to outsmart these guys and he wanted to have them gone already.

They rode through the plains while the sun was leaving its hot trail over the clear sky, letting their shadows slowly circle around them with the passing hours.

Fort Davis came into view after noon, the moon already having made its pale appearance on the sky. They entered the eerily quiet town after putting away the horses, Hongjoong feeling sore all over.

They also met Mingi who was busy rolling over the fields not far from the barn and everybody had greeted him politely. Hongjoong tried his best to ignore that this was no person at all, just nodding at him without asking any more questions.

However, after stepping into the main street of the town the air seemed oddly heavy, the silence disturbing. Hongjoong narrowed his eyes when he could see no one out, hearing no laughter or noise anywhere. The town was eerily quiet.

"Where is everybody?", Wooyoung wondered out loud, carefully checking the locked doors and empty windows. San was walking soundlessly on the other side, carefully peeking into the narrow alleys between houses before he passed them.

So where-

"The inn. Let's go to the inn.", Hongjoong quickly decided, feeling his gut clench with a horrible presentiment and the other two men nodded quickly. Wooyoung looked absolutely serious and suddenly all sharp features, his usual soft and smiley persona gone with the wind.

Hongjoong motioned for them to stay back when reaching the inn, carefully lifting a hand to knock at the door.

"Yeosang? It's us. Are you in there?" He had lowered his voice to a careful mumble, waiting with tensed muscles. For a second nothing moved, but then the door was pushed open the barest bit, a tuft of blonde hair and Yeosang's sharp eyes peeking out.

When he saw Hongjoong the man visibly relaxed, opening the door wide to curiously peek around at the street.

"Did they leave?"

Hongjoong copied the gesture, glancing around and feeling his body lock up when he indeed saw somebody in the shadow between two houses. For an agonizing second they just stared at each other, then the man rose the dark hat on his head at Hongjoong before disappearing with a grin.

It was him, Hongjoong was absolutely sure.

He already turned to hunt him down, when Yeosang's whisper held him back.

"The bandits."

So that guy was a bandit indeed. This came to no surprise. Hongjoong stayed when Yeosang spoke up again, quickly nodding at San and Wooyoung too.

"They came around noon. We were expecting them to come around these days but we thought they would wait until you were here. We dodged them quite well but Yunho is upstairs caring for the wounded."

"How many were hurt?" Hongjoong felt his jaw clench in seething rage, trying to breathe deeply as to not scare Yeosang who still looked a bit rough.

"Six of them, but no deaths this time. Jaebeom already left to check on the people who did not manage to hide here. So far everybody is accounted for, no one missing. Well, except for Mary, that is." Yeosang pulled the door open a bit more, showing the inside of the room where the people had huddled together, staying on the ground as not to be seen through the windows.

Hongjoong gave another curse.

"Mary? She told me she is looking after Mister Park. Did you count him in?"

Yeosang's eyes widened a bit before he turned around, quickly scanning the room.

"Gods no, I never do, he normally does not come up here to hide! Maybe-" He stopped talking when in the distance a scream was to be heard, loud and pained and unmistakeably female. It came from east. That was where the railroad was.

Hongjoong pulled out his gun when he finally connected the dots, the shadow from earlier having left in that direction too and he quickly started running, yelling at Wooyoung and San to follow.

Together they stumbled down the street, some trappy stones making them trip and stumble but they did arrive at the house after a few minutes, bursting through the door immediately.

"Seonghwa?! Mary?!", Wooyoung started screaming their names already, the three of them quickly scanning the room.

There was nothing out of the ordinary, the things still clean and orderly. But where were they?

"Upstairs.", San quickly guessed, jumping up the stairs with Hongjoong hot on his heels.

San swerved left, his gun at the ready while Hongjoong jumped right, doing the same.

He needed a second to oversee the room that obviously was the sleeping chamber, a big bed standing in the middle of the wall with other furniture sorted neatly around it. On that bed however there were two people in a big puddle of blood that shimmered fresh on their naked skin, making Hongjoong's stomach churn.

"They're here!"

He quickly looked around, only seeing an opened window but no bandit and with another curse he scrambled to put the gun away, rushing over to the bed.

San followed him quickly, looking out the window and then giving up too, when there was obviously only dark night out. Wooyoung's heavy footsteps where heard on the stairs when he joined them too.

"Oh God."

He arrived just in the moment that Hongjoong carefully pulled Mary's still body around, her limbs heavy but still warm. They got a fine view of her bloodied temple, the hole a deadly bullet had left. Her eyes were wide open and empty.

Hongjoong carefully laid her down next to Seonghwa, searching his still body for injuries too.

At first glance he could see none but the pale man was obviously very unconscious too so Hongjoong had no other choice than to scoot closer to the other man's body, carefully searching his head.

There was some blood on one of his temples that seemed to be his own and when Hongjoong placed a thumb at the other's opened lips he also felt him breathing flatly.

Hongjoong sat back on his haunches, trying to calm down a bit before he looked at Wooyoung who was still staring at Mary with pity.

"We have to bring him to the inn. It's much too dangerous to keep him around here."

Both of them nodded, Wooyoung immediately looking around to find some clothes they could put on Seonghwa.

"Let's just wrap him in a blanket. He can do that himself when we know everybody safe. They could be back any moment and we are outnumbered right now.", San hurriedly decided, stepping over to wrap the sheets around Mary's body. He lifted her easily on his shoulder, nodding at them to follow.

"Woo, pack some clothes for him. I'm counting on you watching our backs."

Hongjoong felt his heart clench when he watched Mary's slender wrists limply hanging down behind San's back, her blood leaving a trail on the floor.

He was so going to kill those bastards.

Hongjoong made quick work of Seonghwa's body, wrapping him securely in another blood stained sheet and then lifting him on his shoulder with a grunt. He was careful not to touch his injured leg, gripping his thighs instead as they hurried outside. Wooyoung was looking left and right, checking the darkness for any suspicious movements and everything seemed to have gone back to normal already.

The cicadas were doing their nightly song, the moon bathed them in its pale light and the town had gone back to its busy hustle as if the bandits had never been there. And it pained Hongjoong to see. It pained him to know that fear, pain and death were normal occurences in the daily lives of these people. He needed to stop this.

They hurried to the doors of Hehetmon without any disturbance, the townsfolk they passed worriedly looking at the people they were carrying. When they had reached the building San gave a quick nod at Hongjoong, inclining his head down west.

"I'll take her to the graveyard immediately. Don't need the crows feeding on her pretty body. Come help me?" He directed that last part at Wooyoung who nodded just a tad to quick but Hongjoong was too empty, his head too full with plans to dwell on it.

"You do that. I'll send her parents over to help as soon as possible." The cool distance they held actually helped Hongjoong with coping , helped him pretend that this had not been a friend of theirs dying. Five other people might die too, he had to hurry.

They split up there, Hongjoong hurrying inside of the inn where everybody had dispersed already. Yeosang was standing behind the counter with Jongho leaning against it, his dark frown contrasting with that dress again.

At Hongjoong stepping in they immediately moved closer, eyes wide.

"It's Park.", he declared out of breath, looking at Yeosang helplessly.

"He's hurt? Oh, uhh... The rooms are all occupied right now so I have to move some people around maybe. I can ask Yunho to-"

Hongjoong made a dismissive gesture.

"It's alright, they are hurt. I'll take him to my room. He's only unconscious but please do tell Yunho to come by as soon as he has time." Hongjoong sincerely hoped that the man could save everybody, that no one had to die anymore.

Yeosang nodded quickly, promising to prepare another blanket for Seonghwa. Hongjoong left them to their own chores, groaningly carrying Seonghwa up the stairs. The man did become heavy after some time.

Back in his room Hongjoong carefully placed Seonghwa down on his bed and then went to take a bath. He needed to free his head of any thoughts right now, needed to concentrate on the important things.

And still, while the cool water washed away the worries of his day Hongjoong could not let go of the treacherous thoughts eating away in his mind.

A person had died under his watch. He had failed them already, not having protected them well enough. He needed a new plan, could not indulge in that game of cat and mouse and therefore he needed that strange man that kept following him. If he could get some information out of that guy, if he could somehow get to the rest of the group through him, Hongjoong might be able to stop them from taking more innocent lives.

He actually might be able to make those bandits being the ones taken to the graveyard while the town could rest assured.

Chapter Text

Seonghwa awoke somewhen around noon the next day and Yeosang came over in the flesh to Hongjoong's office to tell him. Hongjoong gladly took on that opportunity to step out a bit, having stayed in and worked through old records and logs all day long. With his back aching he had followed Yeosang over to the inn, nodding at Jongho who was busy again already with dancing and singing the people's worries away.

Them all pretending he was a woman still was nearly even more ridiculous than Mingi the tumbleweed.

Yunho was just leaving Hongjoong's room with tired eyes and wild hair as the two scaled the stairs, greeting them with a sluggish smile.

"How is he?", Hongjoong cut right to the chase, receiving a snort.

"Naked. Send someone out to find Wooyoung already, who knows where San took him this time."

Indeed Wooyoung had not come to work today. But it was his free day either way so Hongjoong did not bother searching for him. He had also not known of him going missing though.

"I will. Come on, I'll get you a drink. You look like death." Yeosang patted Yunho's shoulder before leading him away, easily stringing him into some smalltalk. Hongjoong was left to deal with Seonghwa.

After taking his hat down and knocking politely Hongjoong was welcomed in already, finding Seonghwa sitting up in his bed with Hongjoong's clean sheets wrapped around his frame. They had slipped down over one tanned shoulder of his, contrasting beautifully with the skin and showing off a slender collarbone and elegantly curved shoulder.

Hongjoong cursed Wooyoung's voice in his head teasing him.

"Mister Park, I see you are awake. How do you feel?" Hongjoong put down his hat on his desk, coming closer to sit down on the end of his bed to watch Seonghwa attentively. He saw a faint blush dusting the other's cheeks, his still drying hair freshly cleaned from blood.

"I got a bit of a headache but apart from that I'm just embarassed about the whole situation." He bit his lip, distracting Hongjoong for a second.

"We already sent someone out to get you some clothes. Did the others tell you about Mary already? I'm sorry for your loss." Hongjoong was sincere. He still mourned the girl, already having visited her grave and offered his condolences to her friends and family. San had left some pretty flowers he had found somewhere on her tombstone too.

"Loss? I heard, but Mary was not- When did you arrive?"

Hongjoong settled down more comfortably, resting his hands on his lap.

"We arrived here and went to the inn first. While Yeosang was telling us you were still missing we already heard Mary scream. By the time we arrived the attacker had fled, probably because Wooyoung was so loud. It did warn him but it also saved your life."

Seonghwa gave a disbelieving chuckle, shaking his head gently.

"No, no, that's all wrong. I was the first person unconscious. The bandits did this? You must be wrong. Because Mary was one of them."

Hongjoong blanked, staring at Seonghwa dumbly for a long minute. However, when the man's face did not change, he recollected his words, double checking their meaning in his head.

At the end he still had to make sure he heard right.

"Mary? As in pretty angel Mary? She took take of you these past few days did you forget already?" Hongjoong just mumbled carefully, not getting warm with that ridiculous idea. This was nothing to joke about.

However, Seonghwa's eyes stayed sincere. He kept them firmly fixed on Hongjoong and they looked way too serious for a guy who was sitting in nothing except some white sheet wrapped around his frame.

"Mary was... One of the bandits?"

Hongjoong was thankful for his head working on its own as he immediately whipped out his notebook, jotting that information down with tremblings hands.

"Yes. Yes, she was. That man who came in, the one with the long hair, he said something about her being a traitor, about disregarding their orders. I think he wanted to kill me too but I fainted and when I woke up Mary was already dead. I think you yelling actually might have shooed him away." Seonghwa seemed to be cold, pulling the blankets tight around him.

Hongjoong's hand was flying over the paper, noting down everything and some more when he made his first assumptions on how these bandits worked.

The most important part though: they were right between them, right at the heart of the town. They were posing as them and Hongjoong froze when he could suddenly connect much more dots.

"Seonghwa- Mister Park, I-" Hongjoong moved quickly, dropping down on the bed next to the injured man and flicking hectically through his notebook. He found the page with his first interview with Seonghwa, smoothing it out with trembling hands.

He beckoned Seonghwa closer impatiently, opening the book more for him to see better, when the other man leaned against his shoulder, his eyes searching.

"Here." Hongjoong accidently bumped their heads together when moving closer, none of the two caring.

"God, it all makes sense now! This is why they did not just wipe out the village yet! They are manipulating the people from within! Mary worked as a nurse, right?" Hongjoong's scrawls could barely be read anymore because his hands were shaking so much but his excitement was not stoppable right now. He had to share his findings.

"Oh God... Who told me you get all your information from Mingi?" Hongjoong connected a line from Mingi (who also got a drawing next to his name) to Yunho, putting a quick star before flicking the pages again to put the same star next to the mysterious person who had attacked Seonghwa.

"Someone tall who can work well with knifes? Mary, who tried to kill you? And information from a tumbleweed that is oddly close to Yunho? All signs point to him." Hongjoong cried out in triumph, quickly writing the points together then.

Seonghwa was sitting next to him with his jaw dropped open, understanding glinting in his eyes.

"You glorious bastard! I had my suspicions after Mary, but yes, of course! It had to be him!"

Hongjoong nodded quickly, reading further. His brain felt hot with his rapid thinking, all of his muscles tensed with anticipation. And he found another thing to be wary of.

Smoothly he leaned further into Seonghwa, one hand sliding to his thigh to stabilize his body when Hongjoong basically leaned into his lap in glee. The other man immediately came closer again too, his warm breath brushing against Hongjoong's hair.

"This too! Yeosang's inn was never attacked! Why? When it's a perfectly fine place to store goods and people in? Those bandits would never accept it as a safe zone! So either Yeosang is one of them and smuggles his goods out or he made an alliance with them to protect this spot!"

Hongjoong was interrupted rather rudely when Seonghwa suddenly lifted his hand, pressing it tightly against Hongjoong's lips.

"You have to shut up then! He could hear you.", he whispered just as excited but at least more quiet and Hongjoong nodded quickly. Seonghwa took his hand back then, settling it warmly over Hongjoong's in his lap.

Hongjoong barely noticed.

"Seonghwa, this is it, this is the key. I have to find the people responsible for this and filter them out."

Everything made so much more sense now. How he could have been attacked in Yeosang's inn, how they did not meet any bandits on their way back from the mountains. They were right within them all this time.

"You actually did it, Hongjoong. Now what?" Seonghwa's voice had lowered to a careful murmur, his happiness clearly controlled.

"I will have to investigate everything more in detail now. I will watch them, will search for any signs of them being an enemy. This is the best thing that could have happened, thank you so much for sharing that little detail with me!" Hongjoong turned his head to look at Seonghwa's eyes, to show his sincerity.

When he did come face to face with the other man though he noticed their noses suddenly brushing, the closeness of their faces dawning on Hongjoong right at that moment. He faltered in his thanks, his gaze locked with Seonghwa's dark and grateful eyes that seemed to drop a bit the moment Hongjoong did not pull away.

"Mister Park, I-"

"Seonghwa is fine." Hongjoong shuddered when Seonghwa suddenly licked his own lips, just a flash of tongue appearing way too deliberately with the way his hooded eyes found Hongjoong's again.

"You look like a person I'd very much like to kiss.", he then gently said, making Hongjoong gulp.

He was keenly aware of the thin sheet that had slipped from Seonghwa's torso all the way down to his lap, bunching there. The golden skin of the other man lured Hongjoong in, making him want to press Seonghwa down on the bed to see it contrast beautifully with the white sheets.

And also his lips- Hongjoong felt his eyes drop. His lips looked so very kissable.

Who was Hongjoong to deny a man as beautiful as that his whishes? He could kiss Seonghwa senseless and still hunt down the bandits afterwards. By now he had a huge vantage.

As an answer Hongjoong just brushed Seonghwa's lips with his own, an inviting touch. His eyes easily slid shut when Seonghwa reciporated with a brush of his tongue against Hongjoong's lips now. Their mouths finally molded together after that, the soft glide of lips addicting.

Hongjoong indulged Seonghwa, letting him explore his mouth with that curious tongue of his that made Hongjoong yearn for more easily, chasing the heat he left. He did not know when exactly his fingers found the soft skin of Seonghwa's hips and neither did he notice the other man's hands sliding into his hair to gently pull at his locks.

His head did clear up a bit however when he felt both of them losing their balance, Seonghwa being pushed down on the bed far too easily by Hongjoong's weight. He did kiss him deeper then, letting the other man taste his own tongue too before carefully sliding his hand down Seonghwa's injured leg, jostling it a bit so it would not get stuck between their bodies.

Seonghwa gave a soft groan at the gesture of care, pulling Hongjoong in deeper, his lips kissing harder. It became more and more difficult for Hongjoong to stay focused on anything else apart from his body slowly heating up. He did like kissing Seonghwa, did like the way his muscles shifted underneath Hongjoong's fingers or soft gasps escaped his lips when Hongjoong pressed them into his skin just right.

However, anything more than kissing would have to wait for another time. As willing and as desirable Seonghwa was at that moment with his dark hair fanning out above his head and his eyes glazed over, Hongjoong did have a bit of a time frame.

So he pulled back, leaving Seonghwa to breath hard in the sheets. Hongjoong smoothed both his hands over his bare chest, appreciating his fair skin before moving back completely, kneeling on the bed again.

Seonghwa's eyes were understanding even if he did lick his reddened lips again, strechting his arms above his head. His tiny waist showed just the more, a hip bone peeking out from under the white fabric and Hongjoong gulped, giving Seonghwa a heated gaze.

"Come back soon. I will wait for you." Seonghwa sounded a bit roughened up and Hongjoong really just wanted to throw his clothes off and invite Seonghwa to a dance in the sheets but he refrained from that, instead getting to his feet with a cough.

"I'll hurry. Just have some bad guys to arrest, nothing too hard." He grinned back at Seonghwa who just laid lazily in bed like some kind of sensual god, winking at Hongjoong playfully.

"Go play the hero then. And remember not to let the women swarm you too much or else I'll get bored."

"I surely won't."

Hongjoong hurried up.

Chapter Text

"So... Tell me more about yourself, Jongho." Hongjoong batted his lashed coquettishely at the dancer, having propped his upper body up on the counter of Yeosang's inn. He thought it accentuated his hips quite well but Jongho was still busy with jugging a whole bucket of water after one of his performances.

"Not much to tell, Sheriff. I sing, I dance. I make people laugh. What else do you need to know?"

Hongjoong was fascinated by the muscled chest peeking out from the low cut of the red dress, flimsy sleeves wrapping around his thick arms like another skin. How did he even get that on and off? It was amazing.

"Since when have you been doing this?", Hongjoong gently continued, nodding at Yeosang when he pushed a glass of something over to him. The bartender just rolled his eyes at that.

Hongjoong focused Jongho again, not wanting to blow his cover by asking Yeosang about his life too directly.

The younger man had just finished his bucket, roughly wiping his lips with the back of his hand. He put the bucket down on the floor next to him, his eyes lazily sweeping through the nearly empty inn.

"Since a long time ago. Mom trained me to be a singer, I took her position when the bandits took her." He shrugged, Hongjoong quickly noting that down. It gave him a good reason not to be a bandit. He would have probably protected his mother then.

"Hmm and ever had any run-ins with the bandits? Personally?"

Jongho huffed at that, turning around to show his back to Hongjoong. Hongjoong lifted his brow at the sight of the tight corset hugging his sturdy waist and the black ink covering his bare shoulder blades.

He had the tattoo of some sort of bird, stretching beautifully over his back and from his close position Hongjoong could easily see that it was covering scarred flesh, a deep wound having opened his body quite roughly once in the form of a cross.

"I spent my fair share of time being used as their scarecrow. Any more questions you need to ask?" He sounded quite annoyed by the impromptu interview and Hongjoong forced himself to a quick smile, retreating immediately after.

"No, thank you. Please tell me anything that might seem suspicious to you."

Jongho took off with a grumble, taking his own drink with him to put down at the piano to go talk with the guy manning it for the remainder of his break.

Hongjoong smoothly slid closer to Yeosang, grinning brightly when the man just rolled his eyes at him.

"I'm a bartender, since I was born and no. I told you they never come here."

Hongjoong chuckled, flicking over to the page dedicated to the man.

"You have to admit that sounds too good to be true. However, I will go easy on you, as you are clearly a friend. Can you tell me exactly what your jobs in the city include? I know that Jongho sometimes has gigs outside too. Do you run errands?"

"I do literally everything, Sheriff. The snow shovelling, watering the flowers, fishing, sometimes I also entertain our many tourists. Just how do you think these questions will lead you to an answer?"

Hongjoong gave him a patient smile, grabbing his glass to let the liquid inside swirl around a bit.

"What do you reckon I do? I gotta start somewhere."

"I don't see the point in wasting time like this. Hunt them down instead of making the whole city turn against each other. Did you hear how Mary's parents had to lock themselves in because the people wanted to skin them alive? This is dangerous, Sheriff Kim."

Hongjoong's spores clicked against each other when he crossed his feet, taking a sip. From under his hat he narrowed his eyes at the busy Yeosang, quite sure to have found a sensitive spot.

How curious that it were exactly the people most liked and needed in the town that were possible suspects. They had to think of themselves as quite safe in their spots.

"You know Seonghwa has been sleeping with Mary for a while now, right? I even heard of rumors of them planning to marry soon. How about asking him about her? She might have dropped some hints."

"Do you know of a man with long hair in the village?"

Yeosang stared at him blankly, carefully not answering. Whether he did truly not know or tried to protect somebody, Hongjoong did not know. Hongjoong did know that there were people with long hair around though.

With a sigh Hongjoong stood, giving up on the inn for today. He still had some other people to ask about the topic. Yunho for example.

He raised his hat in greeting at Yeosang who just nodded back stiffly, watching him go.

Hongjoong went to his office first, needing to collect Wooyoung first. However, when he crossed the street he noticed a figure slinking down the street slowly, multiple people crowding around them with worried voices.

Like the responsible sheriff he was Hongjoong immediately came closer, parting the crowd easily. It was Seonghwa, balancing his body with one hand on the wall next to him while the other one was reassuring the people he was fine.

"Mister Park. What are you doing out here? Were you not described to stay inside today?", Hongjoong asked him sternly, feeling his lips tingle at the reminder of Seonghwa's mouth on them when the two locked eyes. Seonghwa looked quite gorgeous today, his hair pushed back slickly instead of falling into his face and he was also wearing some of his nicer clothes as it seemed.

"Ah, Sheriff. Actually, I was searching for you. I wanted to accompany you. Wooyoung told me earlier that some investor will arrive in the city soon and I figured you might need some help but still wanted to send Wooyoung out to search for clues." He grinned a bit, his expression bordering on pained and Hongjoong was quick to rush to his side. With one hand placed around the other's waist and Seonghwa securely holding on to his shoulders they stepped away again, Hongjoong sending the people off.

"Are you sure? You might have to play pretend in front of your friends." Seonghwa smelled good, he must have taken a bath earlier that day. Hongjoong leaned in a bit more, carefully brething in his smell and meeting Seonghwa's fond eyes when he looked up knowingly.

"I can do that, no worries. I gotta distinguish clearly who is a bad person from now on."

Hongjoong felt sorry for him again. Not knowing who Mary was, getting tricked by her like that, it must have hurt. He gently squeezed Seonghwa's hip to show his compassion.

"Let's go then. We need to find Wooyoung first and while I do that you can just stay in my office. As long as you don't break anything.", he grinned, trying to lift the mood and Seonghwa also smiled crookedly, leaning close to Hongjoong's side when they started walking.

"Might fall down so I get to feel you pick me up again." His teasing tone was just shy of flirting and Hongjoong only gave him a knowing gaze.

"You know, if you just wanted my hands on your legs you should try getting well first. I'd have to worry much less about holding you without hurting you." Hongjoong gave another squeeze to the other's hip, enjoying the way his warmth seeped pleasantly into his side.

"You could just put your face there for now instead? I understand the inconvenience."

Roughly, Hongjoong shouldered the door to his office open, hauling Seonghwa in. The man giggled at the sudden rough treatment, easily falling down on the chair Hongjoong led him to. His breath was unregular already when Hongjoong dipped down, pressing his lips against that loud mouth of Seonghwa's.

The other man shut up immediately, bringing one hand up to rest against Hongjoong's jaw, guiding the kiss into something deeper. He also leaned back far against the back rest of his chair, nearly forcing Hongjoong to climb into his lap.

Hongjoong warningly bit him, relishing in the whimper that sounded.

With a bit more of resistance he escaped Seonghwa's grasp again, moving back quickly.

Seonghwa pouted at him, looking detectable and Hongjoong swore under his breath, shaking his head once.

"No. I told you I want to investigate first and I will also do exactly nothing to you as long as your health is at risk. Keep that rude tongue to you."

Seonghwa smiled sheepishly taking back said tongue that had been flicking over his lips right then, chasing Hongjoong's taste on his lips.

"Please be careful if you interview them alone. They are quick at killing."

Hongjoong nodded with newfound earnesty, stepping out again in order to look around for Wooyoung. His best take was to search at the farm of his parents so Hongjoong did exactly that. Lowering his head as to not let the sun blind him while he wandered towards the end of the street.

Wooyoung's parents greeted him easily, telling him that Wooyoung would be back from his ride soon and just to wait. Hongjoong spent that time leaned against the side of Wave, gently stroking her fur while losing himself in thought.

Seonghwa had the effect of some drug on him, kept pulling him back, yearning for more. He had become someone who Hongjoong wanted to dedicate his time and interest to very easily and there was nothing bad about that. However, Hongjoong feared for what the future may bring.

Seonghwa had been nearly killed by them twice now and Hongjoong guessed by now they must be quite fed up with him. Even more so if he was the center of the town, all hearts directed at his pretty face. Keeping him close might bring Hongjoong closer to the bandits but it might also endanger him just the more. It was only a matter of time until that annoying bandit who targeted Hongjoong started to try and kill him.

Hongjoong had to find a way to keep Seonghwa out of harm's way. Maybe he could do so even better when he kept him close by his side, even when he feared of what might happen when that burglar bandit attacked with him there.

Wave snorted slightly at him as if sharing his worry and Hongjoong gently resumed patting her. He felt sorry for distracting her with his thoughts.

It was only a few minutes after that Wooyoung came back indeed, but he was not alone. Hongjoong stayed hidden behind Wave, innocently lowering his head down further. He listened in to the conversation growing closer, quickly recognizing the second voice as being San.

"I'm wet all over. You did a good job." It was San laughing brightly, his behaviour towards Wooyoung having changed like a switch as soon as they thought themselves alone. Hongjoong found it quite intriguing.

Wooyoung responded with another giggle.

"You need to try it some time. Also how about doing it during rodeo sometime? Need the kick?"

Hongjoong lifted a brow, not daring to reach for his notebook quite yet.

"You're crazy, we'll get trampled to death." Not as if he sounded opposed or whatever.

"But it'll feel good, won't it? Worth it." Their voices grew distant when they went in through the back of the farm and Hongjoong sighed, moving to seem more peaceful.

Those two were lying about their relationship quite obviously and Hongjoong wondered why. Have there been earlier problems with relationships of this kind? Or with either of them?

He needed to find out. Wooyoung had a lot more beans to spill than he already did and Hongjoong needed them to fit the puzzle together.

When Wooyoung came back out to him with a bright smile Hongjoong just grinned at him. He pretended not to notice the way Wooyoung seemed to groan inwardly at every step, pretended not to see the marks on his neck.

He needed to know who exactly to trust first.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong arrived at Yunho's home with his brows furrowed. Just earlier he had greeted a tumbleweed on the street only to be laughed at by a passing Jaebeom because 'that's not Mingi you idiot' and he kept pondering the state of Yunho's mind on his way here.

Maybe the guy was just a bit confused? His head might have stopped working correctly after the tragic loss of his lover. Or maybe the herbs he was collecting had a strange effect on him. He did not necessarily have the mindset of a criminal but his behaviour was suspicious for sure.

So Hongjoong knocked on his door carefully, taking his head down and grimacing when the hot sun hit his sweaty neck. Thankfully he did not have to wait for long, the door in front of him swinging open quite soon.

Yunho was still tall and now during the daytime, Hongjoong could also see his features more clearly. The man's face looked oddly sunken in and sad, a little lost actually and his broad shoulders were hunched as if he was carrying the whole world on his shoulders.

How long had Mingi been gone? The actual one.

"Hi, Yunho. We've met before, do you remember?", Hongjoong gently began a conversation, uncertainly nibbling on his lip.

Yunho gave an exhausted sigh.

"Of course I do, Sheriff Kim. It's a bad day to visit me but what can I help you with?" He stepped aside, letting Hongjoong in his home and he took a moment to look around carefully.

He did not see any big knives or suspicious masks and hats. Just a multitude of herbs and odd potions standing without any sense of order on furniture that had even less sense of order. It seemed fairly harmless.

Yunho sat down on his small round desk, motioning Hongjoong to go sit opposite of him. The man had already prepared some drinks, a clean mug standing in front of Hongjoong.

"I'm sorry, did anything happen? I did not see you during the raid, if you had problems you could have come searching for me anytime." He took a sip of his... tea? and let it's spicy taste spread on his tongue.

"No, I-" Yunho looked immensely tired.

"It's the day I cursed Mingi... And he did not come to console me."

Hongjoong felt an odd kind of pity well up in his chest while he looked around, indeed finding the room devoid of any tumbleweeds. Awkwardly he fiddled with his thumbs, not knowing what to say.

"It's been three years... Three long years that I failed at turning him back."

Hongjoong did still not believe the theory of Mingi actually turning into some weed even when seeing all the unsettling potions here. However, he was also quite sure that however this Mingi person was like, he would not survive out in the desert without any help for three years.

However, there were people out there. The bandits for example.

If Yunho did play a game, he did not necessarily have to lie. He could get all of his information on the bandits from Mingi, just not the tumbleweed one. But the bandit one.

Maybe, just maybe Yunho was indeed not part of their crimes but just a desperate lover.

"Did you consider... he just left?" Hongjoong leveled his voice, trying to make it seem like a harmless guess and no firm belief.

Yunho buried his face in his big hands, his dark curls coming to fall in front of his dirt-caked fingers.

"No, no, he wouldn't have. He wouldn't have left me here just like that. He had nowhere to go, it can't be. Mingi is Mingi and I made the mistake of cursing him and even now he still loves me, keeps coming back to me." His voice cracked and Hongjoong felt bad again, self-consciously rubbing his fingers against his pants.

The thought of Yunho loving a tumbleweed was nearly even more disturbing than Wooyoung not only riding a rodeo bull but also San at the same time. Images Hoongjoong did not need in his head.

"Have you tried... following him? Maybe he's rolling to where the answer to your questions is." He felt completely stupid talking about this topic but he needed to in order to get into Yunho's head.

And as it looked, Yunho could never be a criminal. Hongjoong must have been wrong in his guess.

"I did. I followed him for weeks through the outback. But no sign of anything. Just loneliness." Yunho shuddered pitifully, his form hunching probably even more.

"I can't make any promises but I will look into it. Maybe I can find some more information during my research and help you with that... curse." Hongjoong reprimanded himself for going so soft on the tall man, giving empty promises.

However, Yunho's head snapped up immediately, his bright eyes suddenly glinting and filled with life.

"You are?!"

Hongjoong yelped when suddenly his hands were grasped, held tightly in between those big paws of Yunho.

"You are a good man! Such a good man, Kim Hongjoong! May your ancestors be blessed! I for sure wish you no more interferences from Youjin during your search!"

Hongjoong just nodded with big eyes, not quite listening.

However, when the last sentence registered in his brain he slowly blinked, watching Yunho freeze and do the same.

"Who?"

"Uhhh."

For a long moment they just stared at each other, waiting for the other to move.

"The- uh- the bandit. We did not wish to talk to Seonghwa about 'that bandit who killed Mary' all the time so we... gave him a name? Haha it does not matter!" Yunho broke out in a sweat, his smile wavering. Suspicious, Hongjoong narrowed his eyes.

Not them giving a bandit a name was the strange thing. It made sense actually, making the problem more solid.

But how was Yunho so sure that he was the same man who had been annoying Hongjoong at night? He told nobody after all.

At Hongjoong's prolonged silence Yunho scrambled to speak again.

"I mean! Like for your duties! If he keeps murdering people, who knows how much more work you have with that! I wish you some calm in the village so you have time to search for a cure, that's what I wanted to say! Excuse my silliness, it's just a terrible day for me."

He gave Hongjoong his best smile that Hongjoong just nodded silently at, filing that information away for later. Stiffly, he removed his hands from Yunho's grasp, standing.

"Of course. I do not wish to bother you on such a bad time anymore. Stay safe, Yunho. I shall inform you if I can find anything." He carefully stayed calm, not wanting to trigger another reaction from the man and got a mumbled goodbye before leaving.

Outside he blinked surprisedly.

He could test Yunho's credibility quite easy now. Whenever that bandit came to annoy him again, Hongjoong would just ask him for his name. If it happened to be Youjin Yunho would be behind bars faster than Mingi could roll to his rescue.

He made some quick notes, going to collect Wooyoung and Seonghwa then.

He had told the other men he wanted to speak to Yunho alone (solely because he could trust nobody) and Wooyoung had been busy with the preparations for their investor to arrive either way. So Seonghwa's job was basically just sitting in a corner and looking pretty but he was also damn good at that.

However, when Hongjoong returned to the office there was only Seonghwa idly swinging to and fro on his chair, no Wooyoung to be seen.

The man's face lit up when Hongjoong came in, the chair immediately settling on the ground.

"You're back.", he greeted him slowly, his face immediately settling in an expression of hunger. Hongjoong smirked at him, pulling the door shut and stepping over to the desk. He dropped his hat there unceremoniously, his fingers coming up to deftly pull at the bandana around his neck that kept heating him up.

"Where did Wooyoung go?"

"Over to Yeosang's to reserve a room for Mister Bang. He might take his time, I saw him making out with Yeosang through the windows earlier." At Hongjoong's scandalized glance at his face Seonghwa just licked his lips, motioning him to come closer.

"I thought he was dating somebody else.", he grumbled in surprise, however heeding the wish and stepping in between Seonghwa's opened legs. The other man's hands settled on his waist easily, pulling him in while he nosed at Hongjoong's neck.

"Oh, you haven't heard? Yeosang is his husband. But San is the man his heart belongs to." He said it so nonchalantly, chuckling at the way Hongjoong gasped. The sheriff leaned his head back, giving Seonghwa more access when the man started lapping at his sweaty neck, his hot tongue a curse and a blessing at the same time.

"That's a quite... Wooyoung thing to do.", he breathed with a disbelieving laugh, his fingers gripping Seonghwa's shoulders more tight when the man gently bit at his jugular, leaving marks for sure.

"Hmm. Did you find all the clues you were looking for? Want you to take me against that window for all of them to see."

Hongjoong's breath hitched a second time, his right hand flying up and into Seonghwa's hair to wrench his head back. Hotly his blood throbbed in his veins when he met the lidded eyes of the other, taking in his oh so pretty face.

"You look like a starved man. Did nobody take care of you these days?" He tightened his grip with his growl, watching Seonghwa's lashes flutter. He noticed the other man's fingers sneakily dipping underneath his shirt, resting on hot skin.

"Maybe that bandit would have done me good had you not interfered." His brow lifted in a quite obvious challenge, making Hongjoong just step closer boldly, knocking Seonghwa's good leg aside to open his legs more for himself. Seonghwa complied easily, a whine getting stuck in his throat when Hongjoong tipped Seonghwa's head back even further to loom above him.

"Even that bandit? You must be desperate, sugar."

A sly smirk graced Seonghwa's lips and Hongjoong just moved to dip down, to kiss him breathless and remove that cocky expression from his face, when outside a yell was heard.

"Wooyoung!"

That sounded like Yeosang.

Hongjoong did not hesitate, ripping away from Seonghwa immediately to run outside, his gun already in his hand. He opened the door to a cloud of dust, pressing his hand against his lips to hold in his painful cough. With teary eyes he looked around, hearing the thumping of hooves on the ground and a singular neigh to his left.

When he did finally find the source of the commotion he started running, seeing a man with a black uniform seated on a just as black horse. And in his lap, basically thrown over the saddle and struggling with his hands bound behind his back was Wooyoung.

Hongjoong ran as fast as he could, fleetingly aware of Seonghwa right at his side but just when he lifted his gun to fire, the masked man turned his head towards them, pulling his horse around.

Hongjoong's loud curse was screamed into the desert when the man took off, taking Wooyoung right with him. Yeosang was there too together with some confused folks, jogging weakly after them but stopping at the outskirts of town.

They had lost him.

Hongjoong was resolute in turning around, immediately stomping back to his office.

"Get me a horse. I will get him back.", he ordered darkly to some boy who came up to his side and he panickedly ran off again.

Inside of his office Hongjoong grabbed his rifle and his hat, hastily taking the bag with food that was always prepared for this occasion.

When he turned to go, Seonghwa just arrived in the door, breathing heavily and leaning on his good leg.

"Hongjoo-"

Hongjoong silenced him with a kiss, boldly pushing him backwards as to not get stopped by his frame in the door. Seonghwa stumbled, nearly biting his tongue at the bruising force Hongjoong kissed him with. When they were out on the street Hongjoong pulled back again, Seonghwa hiding his blushing face behind a delicate hand.

"I'll be back."

With that he took off.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong spent a good portion of his day in the sole companionship of his horse, trotting dutifully beneath him.

At the beginning he had still tried to hunt Wooyoung and his kidnapper down but it got clear pretty quickly that the other man and his powerful horse knew the rough terrain much better than Hongjoong did, thus gaining a huge lead on him. By now Hongjoong was just following their trail, his eyes trained on any clues they might have left.

Honestly, he was even astonished that the man did not just kill Wooyoung already, obviously either having shut him up with some cloth or actually being able to ignore the other's chattering. Hongjoong was pretty sure that if he had been a kidnapper he would not have hesitated to ditch or kill Wooyoung long before they reached their goal. If that was what kept Wooyoung alive though, maybe it was good that he was such a chatterbox for once.

As it seemed their goal was indeed the mountains too, San had been right. Hongjoong wanted to try to catch up with them before he had to fight the whole group of bandits, keeping it at a single person only.

So his plan had been letting loyal Wave rest during the day and sneak up on them at night but he had completely underestimated the stamina of that damn black horse. So he did choose to rest at night still, even when not wanted, just to be able to fight more rested in the morning then. He needed the energy either way.

After having a grumpy meal Hongjoong laid down in the darkness, hoping that he would wake quick enough if somebody were to approach.

He did, in fact, not.

When Hongjoong awoke in the middle of the night it was to the flames of a fire happily dancing away in front of his face, warming him up considerably.

He had, however, not lit a fire.

So he awoke with a start, sitting upright immediately. His gun was drawn too when opposite of him and veiled by orange sparks was not a worried San, as he might have hoped, but a man with a black hat.

"You!" Hongjoong would deny how his voice cracked at his shout.

From under that black mask sounded a dry snort.

"Aye, me. You trying to freeze out here? Already fed up with the happenings in the village?" His voice was not charming at all, a mocking lilt following his thick accent.

Hongjoong sorted his legs around his frame, slowly lowering the gun as he still had the security of the fire between them but letting the heavy weapon rest on his lap to grab it immediately again when needed.

"No. I lost something out here. What are you doing here?"

"Would you not rather have me here than in your precious town killing your people?"

Hongjoong tried to see more of him in the thick darkness behind him. His body seemed to blend into the black of the night, his silver accessoires blinking like stars in the night sky. He held his body differently than the man who had taken Wooyoung so Hongjoong assumed them to be different people, but he was sure that this was his usual bully.

However, he could not see any long hair on him. What did that mean? He was about a hundred percent sure that this was the man he had seen going south to kill Mary. The man Seonghwa said to have long hair.

Hongjoong tried his luck with his theory about Yunho instead.

"I do not care about what you do, Youjin. I will capture and see to your hanging either way.", he coolly retorted, watching the man hide his eyes beneath his hat again with a chuckle.

"My name is not Youjin, dear. Where did you get that name from?"

"I guessed. You look like a Youjin."

For a moment they just observed each other, waiting for a reaction but then the man dropped it with a shrug.

"I guess somebody ran their mouth too much. I do not care for that though." The man in black calmly rose to his feet, dusting off his pants. Hongjoong watched him with narrowed eyes, waiting for him to attack in any way. The heavy metal of White Rose cool under his fingertips

However, the only thing the man seemed to plan to do was turn and leave into the darkness.

And with that, a quick idea appeared in Hongjoong's head. An idea that seemed genius and foolish at the same time.

"Wait! What did you come here for?" He scrambled to his feet too, waiting for an answer.

His visitor barely glanced over his shoulder, his hat shadowing his eyes. He nodded at the fire nonchalantly, one gloved hand coming up to adjust his hat.

"Just making sure our troublemaker sheriff does not die from the cold. That would be mightily boring. I still need you for the fun, you know?"

Hongjoong pressed his lips together in a thin line, feeling his blood boil at the arrogance of the other. Oh to be back home and sink into Seonghwa's warm arms and enjoy his body without any worries in the world. But no, he had to deal with this human scum.

"I'm thinking about striking a deal with you," Hongjoong breathed calmly, going for the truth before the other lost interest. Indeed the man turned around the barest bit, finding Hongjoong's eyes with that dark and black painted ones of his again.

"A deal?"

Hongjoong put the gun away, lifting his chin a bit to meet the other's eyes more coolly.

"Yes. You know your way around the plains, no? I'm asking you to take me to Wooyoung. He got kidnapped by one of your friends."

The fire was throwing dark shadows on the man's face, reflecting in his eyes and making them seem all the more fierce. It fit him well.

"You are asking me to betray my people?"

"It is no more betrayal than I am playing with by striking up a deal with one of the enemies. I do not want you to go against them. Just show me the way and fight me as soon as we arrive if you desire so." Hongjoong balled his hands into fists of calmness, forcing himself not to kill the man on the spot but instead put himself at risk.

The other man's shoulders were still tensed, showing his distrust.

"What kind of payment do you imagine for this kind of service? You are aware that I can take whatever I want, no matter what it is, right?"

That was true indeed. Hongjoong had also things he could just not give up, like the town or the people's lives. He needed something he could offer without putting anyone at risk or restraining himself.

"Answer me a question then. Are you or are you not one of the people from the town I am risking my life for right now? If you were, you would normally be the first one executed. However, I might save your life and get you out of a sentence if you promise me your loyalty on this matter."

The bandits eyes grew wide from where he had narrowed them suspiciously before and then he was stepping around the fire, his movements deliberate.

"But that is too much, Sheriff Kim. My life for a bit of help that might get you killed in the end either way? I might kill you as soon as you lay eyes on Wooyoung again, you know?"

Hongjoong held his breath when the man stopped in front of him, lifting a hand to brush a stray strand of hair out of Hongjoong's forehead. Hongjoong felt his blunt nails dig into the skin of his palms, suppressing a shiver.

"Let's try something different. A replacement in some way. You will get Wooyoung back, safe and sound but I want that railroad operator in exchange. He slipped through my fingers far too easily."

Hongjoong could not keep his face from slipping, staring at the other in horror for a moment.

"Seonghwa? No, I can't do that! I need to protect them all equally, this is my job! I can't save one and sacrifice the other!"

He would sacrifice himself any time. But then who should stop the bandits?

"Why do you want to kill him that bad? Was ruining his leg not enough? He cannot even defend his life from your attacks on his own any more!" Hongjoong grew agitated, all of his haggling not succeeding. Why did that man want the one kind of thing Hongjoong could not give?

"I don't want to kill him yet. Let's say he and I, we have... old problems to take care of still." He probably smirked under that mask and it made a foul taste spread on Hongjoong's tongue. He gulped.

For a moment they just stared at each other, trying to get into the other's head to read their minds.

At the end it was the bandit who broke the silence again.

"Well. I get that I have to get him myself then. Do not complain later on. Now, what could you give me for my help instead... I for sure like that gun of yours." His eyes lowered, scanning Hongjoong's hips for the weapon and finding it strapped to the holster on his thigh. Hongjoong shifted his legs self-consciously. He quite liked that weapon himself, his hands used to it's shape and weight and he would only part unwillingly from it.

"If I give it to you... will that settle it then? We will part as soon as we find Wooyoung?" Hongjoong defeatedly dropped his hand to the weapon he cherished so much, having redesigned its looks by himself when he was younger. The weapon itself had been crafted by his father, having much more worth to Hongjoong only.

"I will help you find him, yes. It should not be long, maybe a day or two." He held up his hand, waiting and Hongjoong carefully pulled White Rose, handing her over. He did not like feeling her leave his grasp, the bandit testing her balance with an approving hum.

"I will use this one to shoot your dear town's people. I hope you are aware of that. Who knows, somebody might even recognize it? Maybe they will hang you first for treason.", he drawled full of mockery, his eyes glinting crazily.

Hongjoong forgot quite quickly that they had just formed an alliance, striking at the man's head. An amused chuckle answered him, a quick hand coming up to dodge him.

Hongjoong hissed when the barrel of his own gun pressed against his forehead, forcing him back. He tried to calm the boiling of his blood, he really did, but the way the other man's eyes glinted when he forced Hongjoong down to his knees in front of him made him rage like a wild animal ready to be unleashed.

Oh, he would love to take this man apart. As soon as he could he would absolutely destroy him, wipe that cocky grin off his lips.

Hongjoong stayed on one knee, not going to back down fully and looked up at the man with the hat towering above him, tilting his head slowly.

"You are weak right now, don't even have your weapon. Do not play with your luck."

Hongjoong lifted one hand to push the weapon away, firmly holding it in his grip. He felt the warmth of the man's fingers through the gloves brushing his fingertips, showing that he was indeed human and able to bleed.

"Will you tell me a name to call you for me to know just which bastard I will have to watch out for?", Hongjoong growled at him darkly, his nerves still close to snapping.

In the distance the lonely call of some bird sounded.

"Call me whatever you prefer. Daddy, Sir, Master, I don't mind."

Hongjoong wanted to kill him so bad but first he wanted to see his face, wanted to know just who would spew such nonsense.

"You'll have to respond to bastard then."

With another chuckle the man stepped back from him, putting White Rose away in his jacket.

"No the worst I've had." He offered Hongjoong his hand, pulling him back to his feet.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong's new ally seemed to keep his promise at least and brought him closer to the mountains in a quicker speed than before. Hongjoong kept watching their surroundings, trying to spot a dark man on an even darker horse with some kicking bundle on his lap.

He wondered if that bandit had already grown fed up with Wooyoung, of how good of a condition he would be in when Hongjoong finally found him. He for sure hoped it would not be that horrible.

Bastard, as Hongjoong kept calling him, was mostly silent spare for the few glances he gave Hongjoong when he was sure he was not looking and that made Hongjoong constantly watch him suspicious from the sidelines. He was waiting to have his own gun directed at his head every passing moment and the tension made his muscles ache.

They scaled the mountain on that day, having left Wave hidden behind some scrubs and by now quite sweaty as they grew closer and closer to where Bastard promised Wooyoung to be. They took some secret passage hidden on the west side of the ragged rocks that were not used that frequently and would gain them access more easily.

Bastard did give no information on how many bandits there were, especially at that moment and how much trouble Hongjoong would run into when he was inside already but Hongjoong also felt way too prideful to ask. He would manage, no matter how much of a predicament he had to get Wooyoung out of.

"What even do you guys want with Wooyoung? He's such an annoying fellow.", Hongjoong asked once they had scaled the worst part, catching his breath before venturing further inside. At his side Bastard was dusting off his sleek gloves, catching Hongjoong's gaze unwillingly.

"Maybe whoever took him wanted them for themselves. Or they saw potential in turning him into one of us. Is he prone to betrayal?" He had smirked under that mask, his cruel eyes mocking Hongjoong again and he really wanted to take his shotgun already and let the other's brains splatter against the walls.

Hongjoong inwardly thanked his parents for his patience as he just sighed, refraining from a bloodbath another time.

"How many of the citizens are involved? Do you even let them a choice or will they be killed then?" He remembered what the man had said about Seonghwa. His goal was the railroad operator just how Wooyoung could be another bandit's. He wondered if they all had certain people they went after.

"Will me telling you reassure you or make you lose all your trust, I wonder? I know no details of course, but I can tell you at least that there are indeed still people worth fighting for. Had you just come here in vain that would be much too pitiful. I will see how many people you lose trying."

"Are you their leader?" It slipped out of Hongjoong without him wanting to but the arrogance the other carried, his obvious superiority complex made him wonder.

He received a loud laugh in return.

"You think so? I really appreciate that." He let one hand come down to tangle in Hongjoong's hair, pulling his head back not to softly. Hongjoong swallowed down his anger, his hands forming fists where they were hanging limply in between his legs.

"Fuck off. Your constant avoidance of my questions is annoying as hell. What are we, five?", he growled back, gritting his teeth when the grip tightened warningly.

"What, you are claiming to not be some dirty kid that came to play hero? Because that is exactly what you look like in my eyes." The man squatted next to him, sitting so close that Hongjoong could smell the leather of his clothes. Stubbornly he stared out over the plains in front, into the prettily couloured sky.

"I will show you how good this kid is at killing criminals if you don't stop being a nuisance. We agreed to be peaceful."

If he moved quickly he might be able to push the man down the cliff and watch in satisfaction when the rocks broke every single bone in his body. He imagined it, enjoying the picture.

"I love the way you try to come off as tough without having any support on that matter. Let's go. I can't wait to break this alliance off and fight you for real to test that claim." He let go of Hongjoong to rise to his feet, the sheriff hurrying to do the same and step away more so he was not too aware of their height difference.

The bandit did at least not comment on it further, instead leading Hongjoong down the trail that ended in thick darkness in the rock. Hongjoong followed slowly, both hands outstretched to feel up the rough stone around him and his ears pricked. He was on high alert, waiting for more people to appear or his ally to turn against him.

However, nothing happened during that thin trail and they stepped out into some abandoned mine shaft. There were dusty rails on the floor and random tools laying around. The whole thing was lit by the occasional lantern and no signs of life were anywhere.

"I won't take you to our living rooms, that means certain death. We will search around a bit and see if I can find him for you, alright? If you're good I'll even fight you somewhere outside where I don't have a huge advantage."

Hongjoong snorted at his optimism.

"Go on. No foul play."

He appreciated the respectfulness of the man now at least. While he could not trust it at all, he could at least get the thought. After all, Hongjoong was alone here against a clan of armed bandits. His chances stood bad to begin with so he would take anything he could.

They moved quickly and determined, the bandit more often than not blending fully with the blackness in some corners and Hongjoong struggling just a bit to keep up with the other's longer legs. (Not that he would admit that.)

It was only after several minutes of just wandering through the ever the same looking corridors that Bastard suddenly motioned him to freeze, his shoulders tensed. Hongjoong held his breath when in the distance some humming and steps grew closer to them.

Bastard quickly looked around. They had been following the same path for quite some time now, no junction or dark corners in sight.

He cursed silently, turning around to Hongjoong.

"We need to be discovered now. Running will lead us right into the arms of another nightguard.", he whispered hushedly to the sheriff whose eyes instantly grew wide.

How would they explain his presence here? Some bandits might know what his face looks like already.

Bastard seemed to read his thoughts.

"If we're lucky they don't know you yet. If not... Prepare for our alliance to end here then." He stepped even closer, making Hongjoong stumble backwards and into a wall. He flinched back, when the other man roughly yanked the rifle from his back, dropping it to the floor. Together, they kicked some bucket laying around so that most of the weapon could not be seen.

Bastard squinted in the far darkness again, a wandering light growing closer on the walls.

"I gotta hurt you."

"Sure, knock me out, it's cool. As if I would trust you with that!"

He only got an eye roll in response before the man seemed to think of something else quickly, instead ripping open Hongjoong's shirt and pulling it far enough down that his sheriff 's star was hidden between the folds. Hongjoong gave the other man an icy glare when he noticed his eyes resting on his chest. Then he pushed off the shirt completely himself, dropping it into the kicked over bucket.

"Turn around and don't move until I tell you to."

Hongjoong did so unwillingly, hearing something rustle before some foreign feeling fabric was draped over his shoulders. It was the jacket of the other man and it was followed by his hat, obscuring Hongjoong's identity.

He was dying to turn around but he stubbornly did not, just giving a confused noise when he felt something being pulled over his ears before suddenly obscuring his view. Was that-

Hongjoong lifted a hand, feeling up the mask and his body shuddered when he finally understood that the other man had demasked himself completely behind Hongjoong. He was dying to get a peek but he did not turn.

This meant he could actually trust the man.

That, or Bastard was quite sure that Hongjoong was dead faster than he could see his face.

"Step out of one pant leg for me." He sounded rushed and Hongjoong grit his teeth before he did as he was told, feeling the other's man brush his bare legs when he helped him to undress even more. His pants were discarded to pool around his left foot, the bandit suddenly pressing up against his back.

Hongjoong furrowed his brows in the darkness in front of his eyes when he felt him reach down, grasping Hongjoong's length tightly.

"Try to get hard real quick. He will join in if he does not see us obviously occupied with each other."

Something crashed then and Hongjoong flinched, way too tensed and anxious to try and get aroused right now. He did however notice their surroundings get even more dark, assuming Bastard had destroyed the lamp close to them.

He did startle even more though when he felt something probing at his entrance, all wet and slippery.

"Hey-" He ended in a groan when it slipped inside without too much resistance, Hongjoong's body not quite unfamiliar with taking things in.

However, the feeling of the other man's leather gloves were a completely different story. Hongjoong breathed harshly when he felt him searching around, finding that bundle of nerves way too easily.

With his mind a jumbled mess Hongjoong tried to shy away from those fingers, feeling his blood travel south despite all odds.

"Here he is. For the love of god, no comments."

It was the last thing Hongjoong got before he felt something much bigger touch his entrance, the bandit forcing it inside with little care for Hongjoong's protesting whines.

He really had to kill that man later.

Hongjoong bit his lip to refrain from crying out loud, forcing himself to relax around the intrusion and at least it was just the stretch burning thanks to whatever eased the glide.

Bastard utilized the time it took for Hongjoong to adjust to greet the second bandit now joining them. Hongjoong turned his head away, whining when the bandit removed those damned gloved fingers from his by now full hardness.

"Ah, I see you found a way to enjoy the evening, Sir.", the unfamiliar voice greeted lightly and Hongjoong nearly scoffed at the way the other man's length twitched inside of him at the title.

Kinky bastard.

He did clench around him however in an act of petty revenge, immediately regretting it, when the man teasingly rolled his hips against him.

"I did. I hope I am not disrupting your watch? He was just too damn desperate to wait until we were back in his room."

Hongjoong did not know whether to hate him for the lie or appreciate the implication that he was one of them either way.

"We all know how desperate the boys can get. I for sure enjoy seeing that energy of yours though. It has been some time since you were occupied with something else than that sheriff boy of yours.", the other man laughed unwisely and Hongjoong grinned into his arms holding his body up on the wall. That other dude was a full gold mine himself.

Bastard however reacted by finally stepping up his thrust game, starting to pound into Hongjoong's body with the clear intention to getting them off instead of lengthening the experience.

"Ah yes, that kid. I had to get my full frustration with him out of my system.", he delivered a particularly rough thrust, knocking the air out of Hongjoong's lungs and not allowing him not enough rest to catch it again. Hongjoong hated how composed the other was, while he was growing closer to the edge so quickly and uncomfortably, his hands scrambling over the wall for purchase.

"I get that. Was asked the same by boss man yesterday. He was like 'ay Mingi, don't ya think this kid is a bit too much, Jaebeom was much more tame' and I could only agree."

Fucking brilliant.

Hongjoong spoke up.

"Min-"

Bastard acted quick, grabbing Hongjoong's neck with one hand to choke him up while roughly fisting his length until his sight turned all white.

But the damage was already done. He knew.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong had initially planned not to let Mingi get away like that and ask that man about a certain quack he knew from the town but Bastard was quite clear in his ministrations. He send Mingi away so he could finish in peace, the other man just walking off with a giggle.

The sheriff was forced to wait then, the gloved hand around his neck not allowing him much movement and making quite clear that the bandit's nerves were close to snapping. So Hongjoong just waited until Mingi was out of earshot and he was abruptly dropped by the bandit. He was respectful enough to hand the hat and mask back to him without any more struggles and also without risking a peek.

The bandit finished himself off with a low groan, his voice sending the barest hint of excitement through Hongjoong's veins but he forced his body to calm down again.

He wanted to take a shower already. Or collect Wooyoung and take a shower then.

After he could be sure that the other man was fully clothed again, Hongjoong too went to hunt down his clothes, putting them back on his dirty skin with a grimace.

Only after that he turned to the other man again, his black uniform fitting impeccably as if it had never left his body. Hongjoong could not stop a triumphant grin from forming on his lips.

"Don't."

"So Mingi, huh? And who are you? San, by any chance? Yeosang maybe? It comes to no surprise that he is here to be honest. I had my guesses."

A weak chuckle sounded from the other man.

"Oh? You mean you did not believe him to be a tumbleweed? How curious. Still, remember that Mingi is not officially part of your town. He has lived here for a longer time than you stopped wearing diapers probably.", he drawled cunningly, making Hongjoong scoff contemptously.

"You literally just fucked me in order to not get found out by your criminal colleagues. Do you define as child molesting now or can we finally drop this?"

"Would be easier if you were not so damned tiny."

Hongjoong guessed it was better to be called tiny than to be called a kid so he went with it. He just went into the direction they had been going earlier, stumbling at the first steps. With as much dignity as possible he carried on then, leaving it to the bandit to follow or not.

He did, wincing a bit at the limp in Hongjoong's step that he tried hard to conceal but he did not comment on it.

They went on in silence, the bandit leading the way a bit less obnoxious than earlier and Hongjoong at least appreciated that remorse or whatever it was.

He guessed it was already dark out by now, finding his way back with Wooyoung in tow would certainly be an adventure. However, he also wanted to refrain from staying out in the wild in in close vicinity of the bandits longer than needed. He also hoped Wooyoung was at least not hurt or anything. Bringing a bloody and whiny Wooyoung home would be even more of a hassle to go through.

They had to hide another time not soon after when passing through a larger room but the corners in there were dark enough that Hongjoong could disappear easily. The bandit took his time in asking the woman they had met about Wooyoung, gently coaxing information out of her.

When he did get what he wanted he returned to Hongjoong with his dark brows drawn tight, his eyes stormy.

"Apparently there is some emotional dilemma going on. We can manage for sure but I can not promise Wooyoung's full wellbeing. However, it should be quite easy to get him out from there."

Hongjoong felt a stab of guilt at that. Not only Yeosang but also San were waiting for that man. He hoped to bring him home in an as good as possible shape.

Not so easy with Wooyoung being as loud and uncaring as he was.

Bastard and he went down another narrow connecting tunnel and Hongjoong waited there when he was promised that the other would give him a signal to move. He just had to walk into one room to his left when Bastard had left with its owner, get Wooyoung and find his way back.

For a long moment he and Bastard just stood in that tunnel, Hongjoong breathing down onto the other's neck from how close he was leaning.

"So... See you then I guess."

"I'll make it up to you. I'll beat you in a fair fight."

Hongjoong gave a disbelieving laugh, pushing his dirty blonde locks back.

"As if you'd win. Next time I see you I will be the one pressing you against some surface and having my way with you." He said it full of spite, the hate burning hotly in his belly. However, he also anticipated the next meeting with the man already. He could not wait to beat him already.

He had found some kind of respect-deserving rival in this annoying bandit and even he was surprised to admit that to himself.

"I'd like to see you try. Well then, have fun on your way back. May your hips remind you just how much you liked writhing beneath me."

Hongjoong kicked his shin, prompting him to leave. The bandit did with another giggle, sounding way less evil now that they had actually tried fucking the hate out of their systems.

Hongjoong was astonished.

What if they ever tried to actually take their time? They might become best friends overnight.

The sheriff rolled his eyes at himself, pondering if that was the way so many of the town's citizens had fallen into their trap so far. Maybe that was what they were trying with Wooyoung right now? Break his spirit by getting him to succumb to pleasure?

Hongjoong shivered, wrapping his arms tightly around his frame to subtly massage his fingers in his hips. No, he was not in pain.

He nervously gnawed on his lips but indeed the bandit emerged not soon after, in his arm another woman with long blonde curls he kept talking to animatedly. She wore no mask but Hongjoong did also not know her. However, she looked positively murderous, her pretty face pulled into an ugly snarl.

Hongjoong involuntarily pulled up his shoulders a bit in protection around his head, glad he did not just run in there in the bold assumption he could just take care of this himself. This fury looked not fun to deal with.

He still waited until they were out of sight before he sprinted to the room Bastard had told him to go to, pulling aside the washed-out blue curtain that had ugly splotches of dark brown substance tried in it.

He indeed found Wooyoung in the small little cot, his body strechted out on some kind of uncomfy looking mattress and with his hands and feet spread from him in an X. He was actually cuffed to that mattress and his unmissable nakedness made Hongjoong only slightly uncomfortable.

Wooyoung, too, was blindfolded with one of their face masks, most likely the one of that woman. His hair was sweaty and sticky with something, his head hanging at an unnatural angle from the edge.

Hongjoong gave an inward sigh before stepping closer to the other's head, carefully pulling the mask off.

Wooyoung was thankfully awake and blinked up at him with tired eyes that looked just a bit too lifeless for Hongjoong's liking.

"Hey, Wooyoung. Can you hear me?", Hongjoong asked him slowly, nervously looking around for something to open his bindings with.

"Sheriff... Please tell me you came to get me out."

Hongjoong spotted a knife, reaching over to make quick work out of Wooyoung's bindings.

"No, I actually came to ogle you and after I've got my fill I wanted to leave without you." Hongjoong rolled his eyes. However, the tired smile that spread on Wooyoung's face was worth it. He seemed alright.

Freeing him did not take long and thankfully his clothes were also still laying around even if a bit messed up after the woman had cut them from his body quite obviously. Thankfully the cuts on his body were shallow, not giving much option to become infected.

With Wooyoung hanging over his shoulder Hongjoong left again, pulling the other man with him on equally weak legs.

"What was that? Why did she take you?", Hongjoong hushedly asked him as soon as they were out in the corridors again, slowly walking down the old rails.

Wooyoung just gave a groan.

"No more than a jealous snake. Apparently she took a liking to San during their encounters and she wants his attention to himself. Not that I have anything to do with that or anything, hell no, but she thought she could make me turn away from being a gay cowboy and thus him to lose interest? Not that he has that, of course not."

Hongjoong just hummed, knowing exactly well how well he and San got along with each other. So he nodded, having met his fair share of jealous women himself and understanding the drama they could act out about quite anything.

"Bold of them to assume I was involved with San, pah! As if." Wooyoung gave his best at grimacing, not noticing the way Hongjoong lifted an eyebrow at him.

"How could you, you are married to Yeosang.", Hongjoong also agreed, watching the way the other man nodded full of determination. At least his face did not change so he truly had to love Yeosang in some way. It was good to know that obviously his relationship with both men worked out somehow.

They wandered more, hiding in some corners when the occasional guard passed them. After some more time they found back to the little tunnel leading outside that Bastard had made Hongjoong memorize by the sad useless wagon laying right left to it.

Wooyoung followed him through easily and Hongjoong slipped out into the cool night air that he immediately sucked in greedily.

He had been right. It was night already and above them there were countless stars shining brightly in the dark sky. The plains strechted far and like some ugly mat beneath them and up here they had a nice view on the rocks surrounding Fort Davis in the distance.

Hongjoong turned to Wooyoung, watching the way the wind played a bit with his hair. He looked like he was cold.

"Come on, we have to climb but I got a blanket at my horse."

"Damn I'd love a blanket right now."

Hongjoong smiled at him, showing him where he could climb down the rocks most easily and Wooyoung did. Even though the man was so tired he did a great job at holding himself up and climbed carefully and without ever misstepping.

They arrived at Wave's hiding spot with only minor scratches on their hands and the horse greeted them with a gentle nudge of her nose against their shoulders. Hongjoong petted her while he helped Wooyoung get up, wrapping the man in a blanket first before getting into the saddle right behind him.

If anybody happened to step out onto that platform they might be able to see them riding away but Hongjoong did not really care, only holding tighter to Wooyoung who kept dozing off. He had not gotten any sleep these days as it seemed and Hongjoong would also not keep him from falling asleep.

Instead he tried to sit comfortably on his hurting behind, pushing the bandit far out of his head even when he returned at every zap of pain coursing through him.

He focused on Wooyoung's words instead, on that relationship he had with San and whether he could utilize some bandit's obvious interest on some of the town's people to their advantage.

However, when he recalled everything Wooyoung had said about him and San there was something not quite making sense to him.

How could that woman have ever fallen in love with San when they had told him he had never met the bandits? She was no woman from the city either so on what occasion should she have seen San?

Hongjoong sent a suspicious glance into Wooyoung's peaceful face.

What were he and San hiding?

Chapter Text

A sharp pang shot through Hongjoong's lower back, moving all the way up his spine and making him shudder, tighten his hands on the soft flesh beneath them. A low groan escaped his lips and he hung his head, cursing that bandit once again.

Just why did that man need to be so rough? He got it, they were enemies but it was not like the situation asked for it. Simply not going all the way and rather showing off Hongjoong writhing on that damned gloved fingers of his would probably have been enough already.

Hongjoong grumbled to himself, having been cranky during the whole morning already because of the constant reminders of his hips that yes, he did succumb to that bandit. He was already counting the minutes until he could see that annoying bastard again and show him his place.

"Ho-Hongjoong. Slow down, please."

The throaty whine ripped Hongjoong out of his thoughts, making him blink harshly. He was in his room, staring at the wall above his bed. Right beneath him and stretched out like some kind of ancient goddess was Seonghwa, deliciously warm against him.

And now Seonghwa had settled his trembling fingers on Hongjoong's chest pleadingly, their delicate shape seeming oh so precious on a man like him.

Hongjoong looked him over, his sweaty dark hair that was fanned out above him and the soft rosy lips that were opened like a flower blooming in his need for air. His dark eyes were lowered, a suspicious wetness clinging to his long lashes and Hongjoong felt his heart ache.

"Forgive me, precious. Did I hurt you?" Hongjoong gently grasped his wrists, emcompassing them completely as he pulled them away to gently push them into the sheets. He stilled the movement of his hips completely, allowing Seonghwa to take a shuddering breath. His tanned chest was heaving beautifully, a sheen film of sweat glistening on it.

Hongjoong re-arranged Seonghwa's legs around his hips, gently massaging the marks his rough grip had left on his thighs and checking on the bandage around his knee area. It had not bled through again, thankfully, only the dried blood from when they had crashed into a table earlier still showing.

"It became a bit too much... That bandit again?"

Hongjoong thought he did not deserve this patient man laying all pretty and willing in front of him. How cruel of him to hurt this gentle soul.

The sheriff leaned over the other carefully, swallowing the breathless gasp that escaped Seonghwa when he jostled their bodies. He pressed remorseful kisses around the other's lips and eyes, mumbling soft apologies so his tears would dry again.

Seonghwa sighed dreamily, wrapping his hands around Hongjoong's neck to idly play with the hair in his nape.

That was the second time this happened today. The first time had been downstairs when Hongjoong had bent Seonghwa over his desk way too roughly, pulling his hair and arm like reigns as he got rid of all his anger and frustration. He had awoken to Seonghwa's pained scream when his wound was pressed against the desk at the wrong spot and had immediately showered the other man with guilty apologies.

And still Seonghwa had allowed him to stay, even cooking for him before they had tumbled into bed again. There they still were, sharing the warmth of the night in between the soft glow of Seonghwa's candles and the warm wind that travelled through the windows accompanied by the cicada's song.

It was calming and sensual and still Hongjoong's mind managed to stray off, to make him hurt the man.

"Yeah... I'm sorry, Seonghwa. You're gorgeous I don't know why I constantly-"

Seonghwa hushed him with a chaste kiss, pulling him down to press his lips delicately to Hongjoong's. His dark eyes were sincere when he allowed him to pull off again.

"No worries. I know you do not mean to and as long as I can remind you to come back it'll be fine. Even though I wish there would be one day you could look at me and me only. Without distractions from another man.", he murmured slowly, a blush immediately spreading on his cheeks after.

Hongjoong was devastated.

He grabbed one of Seonghwa's hands from his shoulders, carefully weaving their fingers together to press soft kisses to the other man's knuckles. Seonghwa blushed, if possible, even more, shyly lowering his eyes.

"This sounds suspiciously like lovers. Do you wish to be my lover, Seonghwa? Mine only?"

Hongjoong's heart sung when Seonghwa nodded timidly and he carefully rolled his hips into the warmth still enclosing him tightly, making Seonghwa bare his throat with a low moan. Hongjoong immediately latched to his neck, biting marks into his smooth skin that bloomed prettily like his lips, fitting to him.

"Why? Did I not make you hate me by hurting you constantly?" The sheriff kissed the other man's jaw, settling into a slower rhythm than before that made the pull of the heat in his veins just the more delicious.

"If anything it shows your strength. So much passion... I want it all for myself. Let me be greedy, Hongjoong?"

Hongjoong gently pressed their intertwined hands down into the mattress, thrusting deeper to see Seonghwa arch prettily for him.

"Sure. Take anything you want. I'll be happy to give it to you."

-

Hongjoong was at a much better mood when meeting the investor later that day. They had already met twice, before Hongjoong came here and the other man was always a pleasure to deal with. So it came to no surprise that Hongjoong's mood lifted significantly when he stepped into the inn and spotted him in the corner in the back.

They waved at each other before Hongjoong nodded at Yeosang still a bit frostily and then started to make his way around the desks. He greeted some other townsfolk as well, even Jongho who nodded with fiery eyes that looked not feminine at all.

"Mister Bang!", he welcomed the other then when he was close enough, seeing a crooked grin spread on his visitor's face.

"I told you Yongguk is enough. It's good to see you all energetic." The man's voice was a deep rumble like water hidden deep inside of a rock, soothing and bottomless.

Hongjoong gave him a broad grin, sliding onto the bench opposite of him and settling down comfortably.

"Yeah, you too. I hope you had a nice night? I try to make this a safer place but I did not quite succeed yet.", he sheepishly murmured, pouring coffee in both of their mugs from the bigger jug. Yongguk watched him with a calm face, his whole aura radiating peacefulness and an ease that Hongjoong actually appreciated very much right now.

"I did. The owner made sure to see to my needs. How is your work with the bandits coming along?"

Wonderful, actually, he managed to get one killed, discovered another and got laid by a third one. Brilliant.

"I'm working on it. I think I'm not that far away from getting to know more about them."

He thought by now that San was quite suspicious too. He had checked his notebook before leaving Seonghwa and San had told them he met the bandits only once face to face. However, Wooyoung had spoken about his 'encounters' as in plural. So either he was hiding information from them or he did meet up with them quite regularly. At least often enough that they could fall for him and knew about him and Wooyoung.

"That's good to hear. I hope they do not trouble you too much?"

"Nothing more or less than I expected.", Hongjoong lied, forcing a smile on his face. As if wanting to mock him his hips hurt right then, making him shift uncomfortably on his chair.

"However, I think it will still need some time before you can do anything here. How long will you stay? I do not wish to get you in trouble.", he added then, crossing his feet while Yongguk calmly sipped his coffee, his dark locks falling in front of his eyes. They constantly seemed a bit too knowing for Hongjoong's liking, boring right into his soul.

"Of course, I gave you five years I do not expect success within a few weeks. I sure count on your abilities though. Tell me whenever you might need something from the city." Yongguk leaned back leisurely, his bony fingers playing with the handle of his cup absentmindedly. "I plan to stay for a few days. However, I also heard that getting back by train might be a bit troublesome but I am sure not up for horses right now... How is that train conductor doing?"

Hongjoong felt the itch to correct him but he did not, not wanting to be too petty.

"He is getting better. I paid him a visit this morning and he seemed to be healing well." Hongjoong nonchalantly sipped his tea, trying not to think about Seonghwa who was laying on his bed still with his skin marked up by Hongjoong's hands and teeth and caught in deep slumber.

"Did you now... Very thoughtful. I know the city in good hands then." Yongguk looked as if he knew more than he was letting on but Hongjoong left it at that, only nodding to finish his coffee.

"I will spend my day out and question some more people. If you wish to look around feel free to do so. Normally Wooyoung would have accompanied you but I fear his health has not been that great these days. I could ask Jaebeom however to show you around."

Yongguk just nodded, his eyes on Jongho who was twirling and singing again, his honey voice filling the room. He was oddly captured by the sight of the bulky man in a dress and his eyes shone with more fascination than Hongjoong's probably ever did.

"Sure, that would be very nice of you. I will not get into your way."

Hongjoong would rather like to know that the bandits would not get into Yongguk's way. He needed to keep a close eye on Yeosang and Yunho. Hopefully that would not be too difficult with Yunho considering he was thinking about asking him about Mingi. He just had to do it without disclosing the information he had gathered about the other man.

"This man, what's his name?"

Hongjoong glanced at Yongguk, then throwing a haphazard look at Jongho still singing his soul out.

"Jongho. He's good, isn't he?"

It never ceased to amaze Hongjoong just how fixed the people were on Jongho, watching him perform with rapt attention day by day without showing signs of tiring. He truly was their celebrity.

"He is. You think he would be interested in coming to the city to perform someday? I might know someone to set him up with."

Hongjoong chuckled, pretty sure that Jongho with his aggressive feminity would absolutely weirden out the uptight city people. However, he could also imagine very well that he would love to experience a real crowd for once, to get his actual talent acknowledged.

"I will ask him to think about it. He may be a bit shy at getting back to you but I will make sure that the answer will have arrived at yours by the date of your departure. Anything else you need to know? If not I'll take my leave now." He still wanted to collect some more information on this 'easy to persuade' woman that San had talked about.

It would be nice to know where San was these days anyway.

"No, go do your work and thanks for seeing me. I'll see you around I guess."

They nodded at each other, Hongjoong taking his leave then.

He found Wooyoung outside, walking at the side of his mother who had one arm looped into his and was walking slowly at his side, talking animatedly about something.

Hongjoong chose not to bother them, trying to pass them with a small smile because Wooyoung still looked a bit shaken up even after spending the night at his house with Yeosang at his side.

However, Wooyoung stopped him before he could pass them easily. He grabbed the smaller man's shoulder, pulling him close for a moment.

"Sheriff, by the way... I heard a name during my stay there. I wanted to tell you in case it was important."

Hongjoong nodded patiently.

"It's Youjin. One of their bosses is called Youjin."

Chapter Text

"What exactly do you remember of the incident involving Mingi? Did he say anything unusual or did you by any chance fight before you.... enchanted him?"

Hongjoong was sitting in Yunho's living room opposite of the other man who was constantly sipping on his tea in order to avoid Hongjoong's piercing glare. It was in vain however, Hongjoong reading his nervous mind way too easily.

"He... I think he was strange for a few days yes. He seemed more absentminded than usual and I think he fought with Jongho a few days prior. Jaebeom tried consulting him once when he started closing off but Mingi seemed cold. I actually made him that potion to cheer him up.", he mumbled hesistantly, seemingly aware of the trap that Hongjoong was building around him.

Hongjoong was very sure that he knew Mingi to be one of the bandits.

"And when he drank the potion, what happened then? Did he turn in the night?"

"No, no. I was leaving the room to go put his mug away and when I came back there was already this tumbleweed instead of his human body which was looking at me all sadly. I don't think he would have been able to pull off some runaway stunt in that short time and really- why would he? So we just accepted that new form and went on with our lives."

Hongjoong wrote down that Mingi had been in contact with the bandits earlier already and probably got an offer he could not refuse. Now he just needed to find out how willingly he took it.

"What was Mingi's job here? Did he go out quite often?" Hongjoong's shoulders were tensed, his eyes shining with the need to trace this hint he had received. He forgot everything around him that was not Yunho's hunched form.

"No, he... He worked at Kunpimook's. They were good friends and poor Kunpimook was absolutely heartbroken when he heard. He adored Mingi."

So this influence did come from somewhere inside of the village. Hongjoong nodded briefly.

"Mary?"

"They never met as more than acquaintances as far as I know. Are you implying he had ties with the bandits?" Yunho sounded scandalized and Hongjoong lifted his head, giving the other man a sugary sweet smile.

"I'm implying that I think basically all of you fuckers here are having ties with the bandits. I'm just trying to find out who doesn't.", he drawled, giving the man a stern glance at which his eyes widened.

"Oh... Do you now? That is... quite disappointing. After all you were sent to protect us, not to turn us into criminals."

Hongjoong leant back in his chair, observing the big man in front of him who showed no signs of hostility. He had made his decision.

"I won't falsly accuse anybody. However, while you are keen on believing the whole tumbleweed Mingi thing you also dropped a few too many hints for me to ignore. I just don't know whether you are being threatened or if you are trying to protect someone. But Yunho, I can promise you, I will not be able to protect anyone if I don't get the information I need. Because then everybody is just the same kind of murderer and robber in the eyes of the law." Hongjoong shut his notebook determinedly, rising to his feet.

"Think about it. I think we are both very aware of two names I know for sure also to exist in their group and both lead to you, Yunho. You don't need to tell, especially if it endangers you but I need you to know that I am no friendly figure automatically because I am the sheriff. I am the sheriff responsible for destroying those people and anything that has ties to them. Have a good day."

Hongjoong raised his hat at him, stepping out of the house then while Yunho stayed back in silence. He hated to destroy the man's delusions, him thinking he magicked some spell quite obviously just a way for him to protect himself from the cold truth.

Hongjoong was also aware that he had to be careful from now on. One wrong word from his side and the bandits would be here faster than he could blink. However, maybe that was the next plan. He could not count on the town's people to fight at his side against them so he would just have to find those rats some other way.

"Sheriff. Brooding as ever, I see."

Hongjoong lifted his head to the voice who had spoken, blinking harshly against the sun for a moment. It was San, stepping closer now to lift one gloved hand over Hongjoong's head, protecting him from the harsh light. Hongjoong nodded thankfully, adjusting his head so it shadowed his eyes again.

"You are in the city again I see. Had a good catch?"

"Sure. Wooyoung told me what happened to him. Thanks for getting him back. Until the message would have reached me it would have probably been too late already." His eyes seemed a tad too dark for his smile, his dimples feeling oddly hypnotizing and misleading. San was a dangerous man.

"No problem, just doing my job. Even then you were out there already, or no? Maybe you would have been faster indeed."

San gave a chuckle, adjusting his gloves.

"I would have never gotten him out of their hideout all by myself. Which was quite a feat for you to do, Sheriff. Who would have thought you had so much ease with finding your way in a cave system. Truly an excellent hunter we got here."

Ah, so that was it. San was just as suspicious of him.

Hongjoong smiled patiently, nodding to a speck of dried blood on the other man's gloves.

"I was trained for hunting people just how you can hunt animals. If this settles down more we can go hunt somewhen together. I would surely love that."

"Hmm, do you even know how to take an animal apart though? It's no easy task."

"You do it bit by bit I'd guess. Or take a big knife. As I never see one on you, you are more the type for bit by bit?" On that note, he had also never seen a knife in Yunho's home either though. Only small ones and they could surely never hurt Seonghwa as bad.

Was San the person who had attacked him by any chance? San knew how to handle knives for sure.

"Very true. I guess me taking down big animals equals your skill of taking down a large group of bandits that makes others shake in fear. What is your preferred method, Sheriff? The act of taking them apart gradually or at once?"

"Usually I'm more the patient guy but as I am keen on ending this quickly I will most likely try different ways for now. Any advice you may have is welcome."

San gave a dry snort at that.

"You know, the whole secret is to be the surviving one. No matter the technique, you just have to be the last man standing.", he said with an easy shrug, the fire in his eyes challenging Hongjoong.

"I think I can do that. Sounds quite easy." Hongjoong turned to leave, still needing to question Yeosang again. San's laugh followed him.

"Show me. I too love the challenge of winning over something that keeps advoiding me."

Hongjoong just lifted his hand in greeting, stepping into the inn then and breathing deeply.

Why did he always feel like standing in between the jaws of a hungry corocodile ready to snap whenever he talked to San? Really, it was no surprise that he was their fighter and Hongjoong sure as hell hoped that this was just his way of acting and not a signal that he was a bandit. He was not that keen on fighting San.

With a restless shake of his head Hongjoong slipped over to the counter, settling down all polite and laying his book down in front of him, his pencil poised.

Yeosang gave him one look and then sighed deeply.

"Again? Your questioning keeps making you lose your sympathy points." The barkeeper carelessly slung his towel over his shoulder, stepping closer to lean against the counter. With one hand he fixed Hongjoong a drink, the rest of him was busy trying to get a peek into Hongjoong's notebook.

"Who is on your hitlist right now?"

"Basically everyone. I'm making a new list with people I know I can trust. Wanna be the first official member?"

"There are inofficial members?"

"Well, yeah. Jaebeom. Yongguk. Me, obviously."

"Cute. So, what do you want to know today?"

Hongjoong accepted the man's patience and his drink with a thankful smile, feeling his neck starting to ache from the hours it spent bend today already.

"Hmm, good question. What do you know about the blackmailing culture here?", Hongjoong started, seeing Yeosang pull over a stool for himself and settle down on it. He crossed his arms, uncertainly tilting his head.

"It exists. I myself was never part of it in both ways but I do know of some cases. Did you find something hinting at a new one?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure Yunho is being threatened. He knows much more than he lets on but I don't think he might truly be a bandit himself. So maybe they are keeping him quiet to use as some sort of agent?"

Yeosang leaned over the counter, resting his smooth face on his hand.

"Do you think they would do that though? He could always slip up and... I mean we are sure that there are more bandits right between us, no? Do they need him then?"

"To confuse me? Big yes. I got so many wrong information already I have no idea what to think anymore." Hongjoong felt like whining and throwing his book at the wall out of frustration but it also made him all the more determined to win and end this already. For his own sanity.

"Yes? You mean they work together to spin a lie?"

"Yeah. This here for example." Hongjoong switched pages, tapping his pen down on a particular sentence.

"Seonghwa told me the bandit who killed Mary and attacked him had long hair. However, I know for sure that the bandit I saw on that day going to his house did not have long hair at all. So there might have been a second bandit. That, or someone else is supposed to be targeted. It's the same with Yunho. He is being threatened, slipped up in front of me and still fine as ever? Quite suspicious. It's as if they want me to get these crumbs of information to distract me. So far I have also only heard of people not involved with the city. Nobody drops hints on the people on the inside."

Yeosang seemed to be more awake now, his eyes interested.

"That would also explain that assumption you had with me being one of them."

"Yeah, but it's too easy. Of course I would think that and them not attacking you plays right into that front. This is why I have to watch out for the other hints now. There have to be mistakes somewhere. I need to begin here before I can go there."

"About that, Sheriff... There was an incident not long ago I wanted to tell you about either way."

Hongjoong narrowed his eyes at him, half as a joke, half serious.

"Depending on what you tell me now it's another wrong lead. Careful, I'm prepared."

Yeosang laughed quietly and hidden behind his hand, his eyes lighting up in a glee that was similar to schadenfreude. He seemed like some little malicious imp and Hongjoong found it oddly endearing.

"Remember that day Wooyoung was taken? I was trying to catch up with them and you sprinted out of the city hall with Seonghwa, no?"

"Right. But they were too fast."

"You ran down about half the village, Sheriff. And Seonghwa was right behind you."

"Well of course, Wooyoung was getting kidnapped, we-" Hongjoong stopped, blinking confusedly. Yeosang nodded slowly at him, quickly letting his eyes roam through the nearly empty room. He lowered his voice further when he spoke again.

"He had no problems with running and sure, it has been some weeks since he got injured but considering how he normally moves he looked quite healthy suddenly."

So what he was saying... was that Seonghwa was never attacked in the first place?

Chapter Text

Hongjoong needed a moment to think about the implications of Seonghwa not being hurt at all. It did not necessarily have to mean anything bad, it could be petty reasons as wanting to have a bit more free time from his job or maybe fear from getting attacked again by the bandits. It could mean literally anything but the way Yeosang was still looking at him patiently with those knowing eyes of his made Hongjoong hesitate to choose an easy solution. It was too strange for that, Seonghwa's act too well thought through.

"It's not just that, right?"

Yeosang just shrugged, nodding upstairs. Seonghwa was still there somewhere, by now most likely awake and waiting for Hongjoong to return to him. Not suspecting of his secret having been found out.

"It certainly means that some things might work differently than we thought. Yunho is his doctor. Is Yunho in? Is he not? What does this imply about Mary spending all of her time with him? She must have known. I don't want to accuse just anybody but I think this is a thing you could discuss with him. Of course you did not get that information from me."

"No... Of course I did not.", Hongjoong mumbled, feeling that ugly darkness of doubt spread in his heart. While he and Seonghwa might not have known each other for long Hongjoong always made sure for the man not having to doubt him. So how was it that now it was the other way around?

"I need to talk to him. If word gets out and this is another one of these misunderstandings I want to be ready. Oh, but also... it could be another trap to distract me."

"But that would mean he's a complice either way or no?" Yeosang thinned his lips, standing up again to look out over the room. His eyes caught on something and Hongjoong turned around in his chair, feeling another migraine coming already.

Outside there were people running and for a long second Hongjoong did not even question it, his mind filled with different thoughts but when a harsh bang sounded and one of the hectic people went down he flinched violently.

"They're here! Everybody barricade!", Yeosang shouted even faster than him, Hongjoong finally springing into action and down his chair. His hand flew to his hip first, cursing when White Rose was missing at his side.

Of course he had left his rifle at his office.

"Your shotgun, give it to me!", he yelled at Yeosang in a panic and promptly the heavy metal filled his arms, making him stumble back. The first people started streaming into the room, helping each other in and also finding their way through the secret back door. They were talking all over each other, their panic palpable in the air. Some childrem were crying.

"Kill some of these bastards and let's talk after." Yeosang looked much more savage than earlier, his body tensed and hard muscle showing on his bare arms when he started throwing tables and chairs over to create protective shields. His eyes were fierce and not to be questioned twice. Hongjoong listened to his growl, immediately stepping outside. To his right there were people running for their lives. To his left there was a group of people on dark horses slowly riding into the village, their guns cocked and aiming at whoever was moving.

Hongjoong crouched down low, bringing the rifle to his shoulder and marveling about the smoothness of its trigger only once when he pulled it. One bandit down, another one and two horses going wild before they spotted him.

Hongjoong rolled aside, narrowly dodging a bullet the bandit at the very front shot at him and diving down into the alley at the other side, leaving the inn alone so it could become everybody's safe heaven again. He started reloading the weapon quickly, his breathing flat while he tried to listen to any noises that came from the street.

There were two more shots, the confused neighing of the horses dying down and then silence. No more hooves on the ground going forward.

"Is this you, Sheriff Kim? Come on out and show us your pretty face, we missed it in between all of that dust."

The voice was teasing and dominant, the order and threat in it just as uncomfortable as the sugary-sweet allure. Hongjoong grimaced.

"Leave this place! You are not welcome here!", he shouted out, letting his rifle snap back into place with an audible click. Soft laughter sounded from the outside, some horses snorting impatiently.

"Don't be angry at us for taking so long to come visit you. We were all dying of curiosity. No eavesdropping, dear." Hongjoong violently flinched when another shot sounded, a woman screaming in the distance.

They had some talented shooters for sure and that might become a problem.

Hongjoong shifted, quickly trying to think of a plan. He could impossibly take down all of them but he also had to get them to leave.

"Won't you come out? We may leave if you are good."

Should he? He risked getting shot down by approximately sixteen bullets if he did and if not he risked them bringing death and despair over the town.

Hongjoong moved.

With silent steps he sneaked around the house and up the stairs to the second floor. From there on it was easy to climb up to the roof and lay down there, carefully pointing his rifle at them.

He shot down another one without a second of hesitation, seeing some unrest come up between them, nervous glances being exchanged. Some horses were trying to break out out of nature, skittish with every move.

The leader however, the one at the very tip of their little V-shaped group turned his head to stare right at Hongjoong, his dark eyes playful. Hongjoong believed to see him grin but it was impossible to tell from that distance.

"There you are."

Hongjoong shot again but the man was too quick, pulling his horse around so the bullet hit the man at his side instead of him. It took him a bare second to pull his own weapon and it would have taken Hongjoong two to duck.

His shoulder flared up in pain when the bullet hit him, lodging deep inside of his flesh and making pain akin to hot lava burn through his veins. His muscles locked up, the rifle dropping from his hands and to the roof he was laying on. He cursed loudly, writhing in pain.

"Get me that clown down here so I can see him for real.", their leader ordered and the sound of boots hitting the ground was heard. Hongjoong winced, trying to get his body to move and block the blood flow at the same time. His ears were tingling, for a second disorientating him and then there were already two hands grabbing him and hauling him up. Hongjoong cried out when his shoulder was roughy pushed against another person's, his sight nearly going black.

He could not move, he had to move!

Hongjoong weakly struggled to keep his eyes open, his whole being shouting at him to shut down and rest already but he could not, he had to stay awake. He vaguely noticed being carried away, trying to breathe through the pain.

The next time he blinked he was already down from the roof, getting dropped on the dusty ground. He blinked then, biting his teeth against the pain of the bandit behind him holding him down at his shoulders and seeing that leader bandit stand in front of him.

His hat had been blown off from the power of Hongjoong's shot and was laying in the dirt some meters away. He had not bothered to pick it up again and Hongjoong could now see his long hair pulled together in a ponytail.

He stepped closer to Hongjoong, crouching down in front of him and gently knocking the hand gripping Hongjoong's injured shoulder away, tsking at the man behing him. He studied the wound first, then giving some signal to one of his people. Only then he looked in Hongjoong's face, his dark eyes studying every detail.

"They sent a child this time around, huh? Damn government people. Are we really worth so little to them?"

Hongjoong was really fed up with this whole kid thing. He could not move his jaw to answer, suspecting a scream to rip out of his throat so he just gave that man a withering glare. He was also tsked at.

Some other woman stepped closer then and in her hands she was carrying two things.

One was some sharp kind of tongs, The other one a gleaming red branding iron. It was just a regular one used on horses or cows, the hoof shape looking quite menacing up close.

Hongjoong immediately moved away, trying to escape but he was grabbed again, his weak fists getting pulled behind his back. He sluggishly kicked and moved, not getting anywhere while the leader took the tongs with a nod.

"Stop moving already you are just making this harder. Honestly you should be thankful. How many of you enemies usually treat your injuries?" With that he grabbed Hongjoong's shoulder, jamming the tongs in the wound and grinning when a broken scream sounded through the village. Hongjoong's voice cracked, dying down somewhen and hot tears filled his eyes by now.

"Shh, keep calm. All of your people are watching you don't want to disappoint them now, do you?", the bandit sing-songed full of glee, ripping the bullet out roughly. Hongjoong felt his stomach churn at the feel of more blood bathing his form in red, dripping all over the place.

He was given no time to rest, the hot iron following right up without a break and pressing against his injured flesh.

Hongjoong passed out from the pain. He was not gone for long, only for the few seconds of it touching his flesh but when he came back he immediately vomited all over himself, weakly coughing and gagging.

The leader did not even grimace, just handing the iron back and nodding at the burnt flesh around Hongjoong's wound. It had stopped bleeding already.

"There, that's it. Guys, we'll go. See you soon, Sheriff. We still have a lot of games to play." With that he stood up, Hongjoong beind dropped completely and feeling himself get sick all over from the pain again.

He probably passed out again because when he blinked the next time the bandits were already out of the village, their forms flimmering on the horizon as they left. Hongjoong was too hot and too cold at the same time. He needed to rest but he also needed to follow them. Everything was blurry and he heard voices but he could not understand them.

Why was it so hot?

Hongjoong weakly rolled around, looking at the building next to him where the heat seemed to come from.

His eyes widened when he found the inn brightly aflame, its wooden planks being the perfect material for the hungry flames to feed on and screams being heard from inside and out. There were people moving inside, crashes being heard followed my cries of agony and the flames were unstoppable. There were people running, carrying water from the well to uselessly splash it against this hellfire. The air was heavy with the smell of burnt flesh and wood.

It looked horrible, like a nightmare come to life and Hongjoong was aware that he needed to help but he could also not move. He could only watch weakly as the house burned from all sides.

Next to him something moved.

Worriedly he dropped his gaze, finding one of the bandits he shot earlier coming to his feet with his hand pressed to his arm where the bullet had hit. He stumbled a bit, turning around barely when he noticed an uncontrolled whine coming from Hongjoong.

He was wearing no mask or hat anymore and Hongjoong immediately recognized the distinct white streak in his black hair.

"S-Sa-"

The man turned around fully, his face contorted in rage. He lifted his leg, bringing it down hard against Hongjoong's head and making him tumble in another darkness that made all pain disappear in its mercy. The last thing he saw was that black clad man disappearing in the burning inn before his head finally shut off, letting him have his rest.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong was out of it for merely a day. He felt guilty for not being able to help saving Hehetmon from complete destruction and while he felt triumph about having caught San, the sadness about the people who died was much worse.

San had been difficult. He had stayed to get Yeosang out of the building instead of fleeing with the other bandits. He had done it for Wooyoung who was thankfully out with Yongguk at that time but it made his morals too gray for Hongjoong to actually curse him. So he had let it slide, allowing Yunho to take both men under his wing and by now they were lying in his sick bay with many horrible burns marring their bodies.

There had been multiple victims in the fire. Some could escape the hungry flames through the back door but some could not and within those there was a mother with a child, their local farrier and also Jae, the man Hongjoong mistook as a scarecrow the first time they met because he looked so ragged standing on that field of his. There were two more bodies found and when doing a headcount they had noticed Seonghwa and another woman missing. While the bodies were burnt so badly they could impossibly be identified anymore the numbers were fitting.

It was only six people of several hundred but for a village this size it was a remarkable loss. The people were bitter and easily riled up. Finding out San had been one of the bandits made them suspicious of each other and Hongjoong had to put out an official order to stay at home to keep some peace.

Hongjoong himself lost every bit of patience he still had.

Having discovered San being an enemy too and Seonghwa dying before he could even question him had riled him up enough that he ignored his health in order to take his revenge on them. And now there were actually people going to help.

"I will join you."

It was Jongho who said it first, the man actually walking around in normal clothes and Hongjoong nearly mistook him as someone else at first. Hongjoong had looked up at him where he had just adjusted the bandages around his body and lifted a cool brow.

"I can only take you if I can be sure you won't betray me."

"You don't have to trust me. Get me in so I can rip a few of these bastards apart, shoot me if you have to. I don't care anymore."

Jongho was just as fed up with everything as he was and Hongjoong suspected some deeper connection to one of the people involved being his excuse but he would not question it. Oddly enough Jongho's presence was calming.

Yeosang too asked him to come, but Hongjoong refused. He was in too bad of a condition.

Wooyoung wanted to stay with Yeosang and San, barely leaving their sides and deep circles marking his eyes while he watched their discolored and wrecked bodies. Yunho guarded them all.

Hongjoong was so furious.

It might have had to do with Seonghwa's death, with the odd relationship he had built with that man that was now ripped away from him. Maybe it was also Yongguk's cold eyes telling him to end it already.

Hongjoong by now knew enough. He could erase these bastards from the face of earth first and then search for the remaining complices. Doing it the other way around had obviously not worked.

They mounted their horses two days after and rode away through the plains. By now it was Hongjoong himself, Jongho with a stormy expression and dark clothes, Jaebeom who looked incredibly tired as usual and another girl who usually worked with the wild bulls by the name of Venus.

They all were determined to fight and put either bullets or shackles on these bandits.

When Hongjoong later asked Venus about her motivation to join she simply told him that the woman with the child who died had been her sister she deeply loved. She was bitter and angry about the killings and what the bandits had done to Hongjoong, doing her best to alleviate his pain.

Hongjoong wanted Seonghwa back. Wanted to make sure he was innocent and let the man care for him with his sweet gestures. The frustration about his unexpected death was probably the think that got Hongjoong the most agitated.

By nightfall they had gathered around their campfire and were discussing plans. They needed a solid solution to wipe these guys out without giving them too much room and time for an escape but it also had to be manageable enough for them to act out and live through.

After some thinking of closing up their entrances or poisoning their drinking water the final decision was made by Jaebeom.

"There is a river flowing inside those mines. They were actually abandoned after the dam broke once and killed many workers. We rebuild it before leaving there but the risk of it breaking is still high at all times. Especially when it rains."

They had collectively looked up into the sky at that, at the dark clouds obscuring the stars from view.

"So we will break the dam?"

"Yeah. However, I don't know whether they rebuilt their channel systems. It might be too sturdy now at the places we knew of. So we will split up in twos and search for the more easier one. The only problem is our own escape. These rivers flow deep down in the mountain so we will also be pretty far and trapped." Jaebeom drew his brows together, looking pensive.

"We could go in with ropes already attached?", Venus carefully asked, playing with some twigs in the flames.

"But if a bandit finds us then they will cut it off. However, I know of a entrance further up the mountain. While the bandits will try to flee through the normal one they will be flooded much earlier. So if we just let the water keep pushing us up there will be a good chance to live." Hongjoong ignored the curious glances around him, instead receiving a firm nod from Jaebeom.

"Alright. Then we will be twos, Venus you will come with me. We can help each other out."

They all agreed and resumed with eating before going to sleep. Hongjoong kept waiting for that bandit of his to appear, tossing and turning fitfully with sleep constantly dodging him. In the morning he felt not rested at all but the anger spurred him on still.

He took them on the route Bastard had showed him last time, leaving their horses behind some scrubs. Just like last time scaling the mountain was an exhausting task, making them all complain and groan when nobody was truly that bothered by it.

When they did finally get to the entrance they took a second to breathe before they took off in their groups. Hongjoong and Jongho went left, Jaebeom and Venus right. Their goal was simply to follow the rush of the water deeper inside and locate a place to let the water in. Optimal was also not getting caught meanwhile.

Jongho kept quiet, uncharacteristically so. Hongjoong had gotten to know him as a person not shy of a joke here and there or at least some quiet remarks but now he seemed very reserved. Hongjoong guessed it was the trauma.

It was the same thing as last time he was here. They slipped into the shadows, avoiding longer trails with no options to hide and managed fairly well. However, Hongjoong noticed less guards going around and those who were checked less throughoutly. Their steps were quick and distracted, their losses obviously concerning them too and Hongjoong nearly felt sympathy.

He might have actually shot Yunho's lover back then who knew. Maybe some people here lost loved ones too.

He had also gotten some information on that bandit leader though. It was exactly that main boss Mingi had mentioned and also the one who had been incredibly difficult when dealing with Jaebeom earlier. By his long hair it had to be the man named Youjin and Hongjoong was quite keen on seeing to his death himself.

After that there seemed to be three bosses who gave orders to the rest of the group directly. One of them was Bastard, San had been another one. The third was only known to be a woman, there was not much intel gathered on her.

Hongjoong questioningly stared up at Jongho's blank face the next time they had to hide.

"How good have you known Mingi? I heard you fought with him.", he whispered quietly, checking on the person walking further away from them sometimes.

"Yeah, he was behaving strangely. Was oddly close to San for a while, became strange. I fought him because he started closing off, making stupid decisions. He seemed to hate not only the town after a while but also Yunho. He did not deserve it. Fought him for that."

"Did you have feelings for Yunho?"

"Nah. For Mingi. Part of why I did not approve. When he disappeared I started hating him. But before San corrupted him he was a very sweet and clumsy person."

Hongjoong wanted to tell him that he had not lost the clumsy part but he kept silent, just nodding. He prayed that they would not meet Mingi here, were not distracted by his sudden appearance.

After a few minutes of waiting Hongjoong led Jongho further down, in the distance finally water to be heard. It sounded powerful, like a big stream nourishing everything inside of the mountain and it would be enough to kill for sure. It would crush the bandits' bodies against the rough stones and rip their limbs apart, leave them gasping for air while they slowly drowned.

Hongjoong trusted his senses with it, feeling the air grow colder the deeper they went and here the tunnels were completely dark, no guards showing up at all. The rushing of the stream only got louder and grew nearer, the dusty walls switching to wet, slippery stone that had little plants growing on it.

They somewhen reached a dead end where a barricade had been build into the wall. There was a constant trickle of water sounding where they got their water from a little hole in the wood. They never had to suffer from a drought before for sure, everything here was full of barrels filled with the freshest water in the whole of Texas probably.

Hongjoong cracked his knuckles.

"Well then. Let's get this. Can you take on these big pillars at the sides? I think the water will do most of our job here."

"Yeah sure." Jongho rolled up his sleeves, stepping closer to one and getting a feel of the wood first before spanning his hands around it. He nodded at Hongjoong briefly. "I'm ready."

Hongjoong copied him, stepping to the right one also but getting interrupted by a low chuckle before he could try to find the most comfortable position for his shoulder. He casted a quick glance over his shoulder, finding Youjin standing in the room behind them with a lantern in his hand.

The man was completely demasked, showing his unfamiliar features for the first time and Hongjoong remembered them as good as possible. If he lived and they lived he would get a better wanted poster for this scum.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Sheriff? It will kill you."

"And it will also kill you. We came here ready to die for the safety of our people. You tortured them long enough.", Hongjoong spit back, his shoulder throbbing in a reminder of exactly that.

They had narcotized the wound with some herbs so he did not have to feel its pain but he was still quite aware of the uncomfortable pull of it.

Youjin gave a little laugh, irritatingly calmly sipping at the tea he had brought.

"What a strong spirit you have. I'd have loved to break it or at least make it mine if you had let me. The enemy is not necessarily in the wrong, you know? We also just want to live."

"Yeah, you do. But you do so by killing and plundering. Try doing your work yourself next time. You already had the water to build and grow things."

When Hongjoong noticed himself grow agitated he quickly nodded at Jongho. No time for long monologues.

And they pulled.

Chapter Text

Hongjoong felt himself be grabbed and wrechned away by the masses of water very abruptly. He had barely noticed the wood behind them creaking threateningly, not really felt the first burst of the stream against his back. But now he was being whirled around by the water like a little toy in the hands of a child throwing a tantrum. It turned and tossed him around, making him crash against walls and rip his clothes on sharp edges.

He had protectively curled around himself, hiding his head between his arms while he was taken with the stream, losing every sense of direction. While his heart and brain were confused and worried at the sudden shift of surroundings his senses were numbed enough that he could concentrate, wait for the stream to grow a bit weaker and spread more through the tunnels so he could find his way out.

The vague thought of watching out for Jongho and making sure Youjin drowned also crossed him sometime, finding its roots in his mind as the most important thing for now, everything else came after.

A few seconds in, hardly a minute, he had no idea where he was, the stream of cold water having brought him somewhere far but it had spread enough already that Hongjoong could get a gasp of air in, holding himself up on the surface.

It was a treacherous race, ducking under ragged stones and protecting his body as best as he could when shovels and whole wagons were whirling through the rapidly flowing water. Hongjoong had to take a few painful hits, trying his best to not get hurt.

As it seemed he had arrived in the larger tunnels leading further up again, the living quarters of the bandits probably on the other side. Which was great, really, because then they would be hit with water from above and have less chances to be rushed out like he was.

Hongjoong took a big breath and ducked down again, narrowly avoiding another sharp rock only to be momentarily blind in the dark water.

He could absolutely not see that shovel coming and he was not at fault. However, he felt the pain explode behind his eyes when he was hit. For a moment he struggled, trying to clear the fog in his head and moving helplessly but his body betrayed him. His limbs grew heavy and his sight even more dark as his consciousness slipped from him.

Hongjoong could not stop it.

-

Hongjoong awoke to something soft pressing against his lips, opening them up to blow warm air inside. It hurt.

He rolled his body away from the feeling, water rising in his throat and forcing its way outside to wet his chin and shirt. He coughed it all out, taking a deep breath only to cough again. His throat hated him for it while the rest of his queasy and weak feeling body seemed to appreciate the thought.

"Oh damn it, what happened?" Hongjoong startled at the roughness of his own voice, lifting his head to touch his forehead that throbbed in pain.

"Apparently your stupid self thought it was a good idea to basically commit suicide. Such an intelligent idea.", a voice dripping with sarcasm noted to his left, followed by a just as tortured sounding cough.

Hongjoong whipped around with big eyes, finding a man with a dark uniform but missing the hat and mask sitting at his side and staring out at the stream flowing right beneath them, ripping away everything. They appeared to be sitting in some sort of niche in the stone right now but that was not important right now.

"Seonghwa? You're Seonghwa, right? Thank god, but- Seonghwa. Seonghwa???"

Faster than the other man could react Hongjoong had already threwn his body at the other with all his might, pressing him down on the wet stone. Seonghwa's eyes snapped up at him at that, giving him a glare.

"It's you- You lived and you-" Hongjoong shifted when he felt something press against his hip, glancing down curiously at the hard object.

White Rose.

"No fucking way."

Seonghwa stayed patiently still when Hongjoong reached down to grab the weapon, pulling it from the other's belt to bring it closer to his face to examine it. There was no mistaking it, it was his loyal White Rose.

Hongjoong stared at Seonghwa whose eyes were cold, much to apathetic for Hongjoong's liking.

"What is this, where did you find it? Tell me you took some guy's uniform and took this with you. Did you recognize it to be mine? Did you take it because of that?" Hongjoong wanted to deny how his voice shook, how desperately he hoped for a mistake here.

"Come on, you are not stupid like that. You knew nothing? I was not really subtle, Hongjoong." This was Seonghwa but he did not act like the Seonghwa Hongjoong knew. He sounded cold and cruel like Bastard did. He... was Bastard.

Hongjoong sat up more on the other's hips, feeling the heavy gun drop from his weakening grip. Seonghwa grunted when it hit his chest.

"I... I suspected you were hiding something but- I saw him, I saw you as a bandit! And then we found you and Mary and-"

"I killed her. I killed her and made you think Youjin was the one tracking you to confuse you. And gave you the hint of bandits hiding inside of the town when Mary never even was one. Why did it work so well? Did you fall in love, little sheriff?"

Hongjoong spluttered, furiously shaking his head.

"You were hurt! And literally the person suffering the most from everything how was I supposed to know?!"

Seonghwa slowly sat up at that, making Hongjoong slide down his body and end up sprawled in his lap with the gun uncomfortably wedged in between them. Hongjoong made a slow attempt to move away only for Seonghwa to grab his neck with that gloved hand of his, keeping him there.

"Ah, the coincidence of especially the poor hurt guy that stands in the center of everyone's attention to throw himself at you. I won't lie, having you was not bad, it took me out of trouble for sure. But oh, dear sheriff, how would this have played out had you not found out now? That might have become a huge problem, don't you think?"

Hongjoong opened his mouth to speak but Seonghwa shushed him, sliding the barrel of White Rose down his throat to shut him up.

"Shh. I chose to save you, this was my slip-up. You will get to lock me up either way so what am I supposed to do with you now, huh? How should I enjoy my last hours of freedom?" His eyes glinted full of mischief, raking over Hongjoong's still wet form and the way his lips had wrapped around the metal of the gun.

Hongjoong weakly pushed against his shoulders, feeling more confused than betrayed still and his leg hurt where he had gotten stuck on some rocks apparently.

"Are you down for sex? Let's fight now and let lust and hate be our weapon." He finally removed the gun from Hongjoong's mouth, placing it on the ground next to them. Hongjoong swallowed any excess salvia, glaring at Seonghwa.

"So the bandit one is the real you? Shy and timid Seonghwa writhing beneath me was all an act?", he spit aggressively, hating the way his body enjoyed the other man pressing against him.

"Not everything. For the role of that Seonghwa it was real. For hurt good boy Seonghwa falling for the sheriff was all to real. However, I? No. And this is the real me."

"How many others? Is it Yunho? The one who attacked you, who did you try to put it upon? Was Yeosang evil all this time?"

Seonghwa sighed, looking the deathly waters up and down for a moment before he shrugged.

"No use in keeping a secret when most of them are dead by now. I was not that close to them." He grinned toothily at Hongjoong and the sheriff could only shake his head at that traitor. "It was San and me all this time. I tried leading you to innocent Yunho because of that whole Mingi story. He's spying on us a lot, he actually gathered a lot of intel. Oh, and also Wooyoung. Wooyoung knows it all. He is not one of us but he- well he is dating one of us. And Yeosang knows that too."

So Hongjoong had been right with basically all of them being weaved in somehow. Of course it had to be like that. Hongjoong could not wait to go home soon into his own town, meet his parents and tell them about all of the schemes going on here.

"Was it fun to see me make a fool out of myself while trying to find the answer?" Hongjoong felt hot anger filling his veins, the feeling that all of his work had been in vain letting ugly doubts errupt in his head. He pushed Seonghwa backwards quite roughly, climbing over his body to settle on his chest. He pinned the other's arms down with his knees before he could react, watching his surprised eyes with every ounce of satisfaction.

"It was quite endearing actually. I would have watched you do this for ten years too." His smirk was crooked, pulling the left corner of his mouth further up than the right one. It would have been adorable had his soft self done it but as it was Hongjoong just felt all the more goaded by it.

-> "I think it's time for you to shut up now. You should not worsen your situation even more by spewing nonsense." Hongjoong easily undid the laces on his pants, pulling his length out that had been half hard since that mention of sex earlier. He liked the idea of making Seonghwa taste him still while he was dangling from a noose. What a fitting way for him to go.

Seonghwa only smirked at him lazily, easily freeing one of his arms to wrap it around Hongjoong's waist. The sheriff expected to be thrown off or pushed back but instead Seonghwa just pulled him closer, allowing him in his mouth without any complaints.

Hongjoong was astonished by how easily he took him in, his warm throat all too inviting for Hongjoong to thrust into without Seonghwa ever gagging. He must have used some tricks to make it easier for himself to take it and that knowledge made Hongjoong grab his hair roughly, pulling him further down his length.

Everything hurt and it was not really the time to be doing this but the pleasure washed away any pain and having Seonghwa quite willingly submitting to him now was the purest form of heaven Hongjoong could get.

"I'm glad to know that annoying people is not the only thing your tongue can to. It might actually be good for something.", Hongjoong groaned when he felt the hot muscle caressing his throbbing flesh. Seonghwa's eyes glinted again and then his hand dipped lower on Hongjoong's back, pushing his pants down over his behind.

Hongjoong expected the touch of leather on his skin so when it was cool metal instead he startled, trying to pull back. His efforts diminished when Seonghwa swallowed him down, pressing him close to bury his nose in the soft curls on Hongjoong's pubic bone. Hongjoong felt the barrel of the gun slip inside of him much too easily, his own spit slicking it up while Seonghwa pushed it up against that bundle of nerves inside of him roughly.

Hongjoong cried out, curling over Seonghwa's head when pleasure washed through him, coiling hotly in his belly. Seonghwa just kept pushing him, made him sprawl out above him with his elbows planted on the floor. His hips weakly kept thrusting into the other man's face with the gun following right up, filling and twisting inside of him.

It was the telltale click of a trigger being pulled that made Hongjoong's muscles lock up and a guttural groan escape his lips when he came, forcing Seonghwa to swallow everything.

The adrenaline made him tremble, pushing him into shock momentarily so when Seonghwa rolled him around and pulled off, Hongjoong just let him, not accountable enough to put up a fight.

Seonghwa looked down at his debauched form and smirked again before he pulled off Hongjoong's pants completely.

"Can't wait to show you that getting rid of my tongue would be the biggest mistake you'd ever make."

Chapter Text

They had to wait until the water had lowered a bit to step out. Their clothes had not even dried fully when they already slipped in the waist-high water again, Seonghwa leading the way to the exit. He had no qualms whatsoever to leave his fellow bandits to their own devices, not even sure himself whether some of them could actually swim.

Hongjoong was right behind him, cleaning White Rose in the stream surrounding them. He did not quite put her away after, rather keeping her now loaded barrel pointed at Seonghwa's broad back. If he got nobody else he would at least make sure to see to Seonghwa's imprisonment and the man seemed to know not to agitate him further. He was on the losing side.

Hongjoong saw Seonghwa rub unconsciously at his neck with those slender fingers of his where Hongjoong had left a dark bite out of pure spite. His chest swelled a bit at the thought that it hopefully hurt even when the other man did not seem to mind much. He had deserved it.

They walked in relative silence, Hongjoong sometimes slipping with a shout of surprise and Seonghwa catching him before he could disappear in the water with wide eyes. Apart from that they just searched quietly and it was only minutes before the actual western exit came into view that they found another man dressed in black hanging from some ledge.

Seonghwa took them down like a lost kitten and pulled them against his body in his ripped open shirt (also courtesy of Hongjoong).

"It's Mingi.", he mumbled softly, pushing some red locks out of the other man's pale forehead. Hongjoong crossed his arms and watched on as Seonghwa checked his pulse, inclincing his head as if to listen to it.

"I'll take him with us." With that he carefully maneuvered the tall man onto his shoulder, climbing through the exit.

The plains looked as boring ever, still and untouched while the inside of the mountain had been such a mess. There was a constant trickle of water now running down the cliff, wetting the stones they normally climbed on.

Hongjoong grimaced while Seonghwa just sighed.

"This will not be too hard. I know my way around."

Hongjoong trusted Seonghwa once again when he led them further around the mountain instead of down, quickly exchanging the dripping wet stones with dry ones again. Hongjoong admired his stamina for carrying Mingi around even though it made climbing remarkably harder for him.

After some long minutes of Mingi nearly slipping and falling to his death they reached the trail connected to the main entrance of the mine that was locked by a heavy red door that let nothing more than a thin trickle of bloodish-red water trickle through the crack at the bottom.

Seonghwa sighed once again.

"You did well. Everybody was probably pushed down here and smashed to death by the water and everything inside of it. Rest in peace, friends." He sounded bitter, turning without another word and stepping down the shadowy trail. Hongjoong glanced at the sturdy door one last time before he hurried to catch up with the other man, looking at him unwillingly.

"Are they friends? Do they deserve respect for their killings, rape and robbery?"

"There were women and children in there too. Women from the town who grew to love a bandit just like Wooyoung or Yunho did. Are they worth less for their love?"

"Why steal? Why not live in the town in peace?" Hongjoong was desperate, wanted to know the real cause behind everything even when he knew there would be no good answer.

"Kill or get killed. Exactly what you just did. Congrats on living." Seonghwa gave him a wry smile before he quietly went his way, Mingi's body like dead weight over his shoulder.

Hongjoong just shrugged it off and followed them to the horses. Jaebeom's and Venus' were still here too and they all were nervously testing the air for any danger. Hongjoong helped Seonghwa put Mingi on Jongho's horse before the other bandit slipped behind his friend, holding his limb body close. Hongjoong himself mounted Wave and left the other two horses. They would return by nightfall if nobody came to get them.

Their ride back through the plains was overshadowed by loss and mourning. Killing was never a good thing to do, no matter who it was. Hongjoong prayed that his friends managed to get out.

When they arrived by the next day the townsfolk had already started rebuilding Hehetmon while Yeosang was ordering them around with his arm in a sling. His face still looked horrible, the whole right half burned badly and Hongjoong just nodded at him while he rode through with Seonghwa and Mingi.

People stared but they kept absolutely silent, not commenting the depressing procession even when they slid from their horses and disappeared inside of Hongjoong's office. Mingi had awaken by now and had confusedly told them about trying to save Youjin but only succeeding in accidently ripping the other man in two when his arm stopped supporting his weight. He was still in shock, his eyes empty and he said nothing when he was put into the cell next to Seonghwa's.

Hongjoong had barely finished locking the door behind the leader when he had already turned around, wrapping his cuffed hands around the heavy bars of the cell.

"Will you hand us over?"

Hongjoong ignored his closeness in favor of stepping over to the wanted posters on the wall, ripping one down to put it down on his desk.

"I will. I will make a call right now and have you collected by tomorrow. Yunho will probably want to see Mingi first. I will get you San too if he is awake already. Yunho and Wooyoung might get a trial but they have a good chance of getting freed with some jail time.", Hongjoong explained quietly, not watching the way black hair fell into Seonghwa's forehead when he nodded slowly.

Hongjoong left it at that, stepping out and locking the door behind him. Wooyoung had keys to his office but not to the cells so him going in would be in vain.

With his hands in his pockets and his hat pulled down low over his eyes Hongjoong stepped to their phone mast, dialing in the city hall's number in the closest bigger city. While waiting for the signal he noticed his hair had grown quite long in the back, tickling his shoulders already. He would cut it as soon as he was home. He deserved a time-out after this and depending on Yongguk's plans he might not be needed again here anyway.

"Hello, this is Lee. What can I halp you with?"

"Oh, hi. This is Kim Hongjoong from Fort Davis. I caught some criminals waiting to be executed. When can you get them?" Hongjoong painted some circles in the dirt with his shoes, keeping his head lowered.

"Fort Davis? Give me a second... Ah, I see the trains have not gone there for quite some time now. Is there a problem with receiving them? We cannot send a train when there is nobody to operate them there."

What a sly bastard.

Hongjoong had to laugh exhaustedly, looking out over the sunset behind the mountains in astonishment. He had really pulled all the strings.

"Yeah, that's right, I see. What to do with them then? I could take them by horse but it might be risky."

"Is Bang Yongguk still there?"

"Yeah, he wanted to leave in a few days though. Please send a new person over for the trains."

"You can get his permission to execute them yourself no problem. Shooting them is enough if you have no gallows available."

"M-Me? I'll shoot them?"

"You're the sheriff, no? If there is no other sheriff it's you, obviously. The book says put them in front of a wall with obscured eyes and shoot them then. But honestly dude, if they did much damage I'd understand if you'd want to let them see it coming. I'll keep a secret."

Hongjoong had to shoot them himself. He might be the one needing a blindfold.

"Got it, thanks. I'll keep the records and bring them to the office later."

"Alright, have fun."

Hongjoong slammed down the phone with more force than necessary, throughoutly disgusted by the man. Killing never was fun. That man was sitting in some nice office and had never seen a dead body in his life who was he to talk like that?

Hongjoong went to Yunho's first. He was in luck as Wooyoung was thankfully passed out right now so he made quick work in getting Yunho to follow him with San over his shoulder. Before he left, he unhooked the keys to the office from Wooyoung's belt, needed to be extra careful right now.

"So... How did it turn out?"

"You, my big friend will accompany me to the city in a few days together with Wooyoung. But first I want you to meet somebody." Hongjoong felt numb, just opening the door to the hall slowly and stepping in before locking it again when Yunho had joined him.

He silently took San to Seonghwa's cell and then left Yunho and Mingi alone, instead sitting down at his desk to stressedly rub his eyes. Time for some paperwork.

Hongjoong listened to their conversation with one ear while concentrating on the forms, ignoring Seonghwa's heavy eyes on him completely.

"You- You returned."

"I... Seonghwa took me. I did not plan to."

"Why did you... I knew you were out there so- Why didn't you-" Yunho was all chocked up by tears already and Hongjoong felt a migraine coming but he was glad they were not yelling at each other at least.

"Yunho, I'm sorry, I-" And Yunho kissed him. He kissed him while heartwrenching sobs interrupted them. He kissed him with the desperation of somebody who had not seen his lover in three years and never stopped loving them.

Hongjoong was so tired of all this and his leg hurt.

"Boys, there's... There's a room with a bed over there. I'll let you in there but I'll shoot without asking if I hear the window move." He rose to his feet with a groan, getting them out of there to the room Wooyoung had actually finally finished setting up. The window was old and squeaky without any hopes of opening silently so he was not that worried. He pulled the door shut behind them even if he would have to hear to their sobs for a while now.

With a sigh he sat down again, rubbing his temples.

Seonghwa was still watching him silently.

"What is it? Do you need food? Something to play with? Please just let me do my work already."

"What is agitating you so much? Shouldn't you be happy to have caught or killed us?" His voice was gentle and oddly soothing. He was contradicting with his own personality so much and Hongjoong hated knowing how closely he had been watched.

"I'm tired. Leave me be. You got your fill."

"Is it the trains? You can't send us out, right?"

Hongjoong lifted his bloodshot eyes to him, scrutinizing this handsome bastard he had caught. He still looked beautiful even after everything he had went through these past few days and Hongjoong was annoyed by that.

"Right. I'll play nice though. You'll get a blindfold. I owe you that much."

"I don't want one."

Hongjoong knew where this was going. Seonghwa wanted to stare at him even when he shot him, wanted to make him hesitate and feel remorse. He wanted to play with his power over him until the last minute.

"Not a chance. If Jaebeom comes back we can also make him do it. He has ten years of experience and Yongguk just needs to approve." He rose again with a sigh when the room started to go dark, lightening a lantern and putting in next to the entrance so he could still watch Seonghwa attentively.

The dark eyes of the man seemed like the most deep pools to lose oneself in and Hongjoong felt it pull on his nerves. He was terribly tired but he would get no shut eye this night.

San was still sleeping peacefully on the bench behind Seonghwa, looking oddly nice and young in his sleep.

"How old is he?", Hongjoong whispered faintly, hearing the low rumble of Mingi's voice as he tried to calm Yunho down. It sucked. Knowing their lover had to die sucked. No matter who they were. Hongjoong understood.

"Younger than you. Mingi too."

"How old are you?"

"Old enough to look the man who will kill me in the eye."

It was settled after that.

Chapter Text

Yongguk came to visit Hongjoong in his office later that evening, looking every bit as tired as the sheriff felt. However, they both managed a faint smile at the sight of each other, sharing their exhaustion. Seonghwa merely glanced at the man, having settled down by now.

"Good evening, Sheriff. You did well with the bandits." The low rumble of Yongguk's voice made Hongjoong just the more sleepy and he gestured for the older man to sit opposite of him. Yongguk did, his long coat sweeping behind him elegantly.

"You look ready for departure. Did you receive a telegram?"

Yongguk nodded, leaning back to watch Hongjoong with those dark eyes of his.

"I did. They will send a train to the town down south and I will join them there. I hoped to take Jaebeom with me but there is still no signs of life from him."

Jaebeom was probably not saved by some bandit with a twisted personality, right. They could only hope.

"About that... I was told executing these guys here would be alright too with your permission. Makes things easier. However, I did not know you held such a high position? Do you work for the government?"

When Yongguk had recruited him at that time they had met without disclosing much. Hongjoong just needed work and Yongguk needed someone to take a job. He did not know the full details.

"No, no I'm not. The opposite actually. I have a position in the government but I do not work with them. I support the minorities and people left out by our government. Apparently they take me serious enough to let me give these orders by now."

"Ah, I see. So when you invested..."

"This land's purpose is to build another outpost. You know of the native tribes in the west? They do not have schools. I am trying to make Fort Davis a place where both groups can meet and learn together. I hope to stop the fightings then. It was devastating to hear that it was not natives harboring bad feelings against us but our own people." Yongguk glanced at Seonghwa at that, just getting an unimpressed brow lifted at him.

"I really just assumed you were one of them. I got caught full on by the stereotype, thinking no one else would care. I'm happy to have helped with such grand work." Hongjoong chuckled only to be interrupted by a sudden yawn. Seeing Yunho, Mingi and San sleeping in their cells made him want to sleep too.

"I'll make sure to mention your name. And of course you get my permission to execute them. I trust you to do your job quickly and to your best." Yongguk's eyes were closed off, watching him attentively while Hongjoong searched for the appropriate papers. He found them after a while, handing them over together with a pen.

"Here... Sign here and there, please.", he mumbled as neutrally as possible, avoiding Seonghwa's searching gaze.

Yongguk easily did as he was told, his handwriting like a piece of art with its swirls and curves and Hongjoong felt his hands tremble when he took the papers back after. Yongguk did not comment on it.

"Well then, I'll leave you to your devices and depart at sunrise. Make sure to visit me when you are at home next time. I hope to put up another contract for you to stay here and guard my school."

"Yeah... Thank you, but- I might refuse. Depending on how I feel at home I might not want to return here soon. However, I will discuss it there with you. Have a safe trip." Hongjoong stood up to shake his hand, seeing him off, before he closed the door again. With a heavy sigh he slumped down on his chair.

"Let me out. I want to hold you.", Seonghwa spoke up not even a minute later, making Hongjoong groan. He looked at the bandit with his hurting eyes, telling him to keep it down already.

"Stop with these games. You will not get another chance to slip away."

"So you will shoot me tomorrow? You will truly look into my eyes and do it? How long will you regret, Hongjoong? A year? Maybe ten? For the rest of your life?"

"If you are trying to make me feel guilty it will not work. You made the mistake of saving me. Do not expect the same from me." Hongjoong stretched his arms over his head, arching his back until some bones cracked.

"I am not trying to flee. I'm trying to make you see that you hate this. It will be a mistake for you to make. I'm alright."

Hongjoong opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Slugglishly he got up, going to unlock it.

It was Jongho.

"You made it. I'm glad." Hongjoong opened the door further to let the man in, noticing his fresh set of clothes and the bandages around his upper arm. Still, his smile was the same.

"Right back at you. I see you got some of them, hm? Will you let Wooyoung say bye?"

Of course he would. Hongjoong was no monster.

"Yeah. Come on, sit down. You want something to drink?"

Jongho settled down at the front of his table, leaning back with a content sigh. He chose coffee so Hongjoong made them both a cup. They returned to their conversation after he had settled down with the cups opposite of Jongho.

"Jaebeom and Venus did not make it. Venus took some other bitch down with her and Jaebeom was crushed by a wagon. I had to wait until the water slowed down to leave but I did not see any signs of life anymore. If there is still someone, they are probably hurt too badly to survive."

Hongjoong nodded, filing their names in neatly in a report. He'd need to find their friends and family and mourn them before he left.

"Thanks for returning. I figured everything out by now." He gestured towards the two cells and Jongho seemed not really surprised.

"Park Seonghwa too, huh? Who would have thought. Did you not have everything you needed here? Attention, women, food and a job? Why throw it away?"

"It was never about that and you know it. Not everybody is as stubborn as you and refuses to succumb even when they are crucified." Seonghwa's voice was sharp, cutting through the air icily and Hongjoong hurriedly put his hands up, telling them to keep calm.

"Please, Gentlemen, we are not here to fight. Drink your coffee, Jongho and then get some rest soon. It has been a long day."

After that calm settled again. Hongjoong and Jongho quietly talked about how the future would look from now on. They needed to help Yeosang with Hehetmon and train new people for the positions Yunho and Wooyoung had occupied. Jongho promised to keep an eye on Wooyoung for the time being so that Hongjoong could do his stuff in peace.

Jongho was sad to hear about Hongjoong's upcoming departure and promised to accompany him to the city if he needed him to, so that he did not have to go alone with Yunho and Wooyoung.

Hongjoong thought that Jongho would make a good assistant sheriff. The man was able to keep a cool head.

It was probably around four in the morning when Jongho finally left with tired eyes, making Hongjoong fall back into his struggle to stay awake. Even Seonghwa had fallen asleep by now and Hongjoong took his time to watch them.

San sleeping like a child with his head in Seonghwa's lap. Seonghwa's hand still in his hair where he had been playing with the locks until some time ago. Yunho and Mingi hugged each other close, their desperation obvious even during sleep.

Hongjoong felt numb.

When he stumbled to his feet to slowly walk over to them Seonghwa startled awake again, carefully pushing San in his own corner so he could stand up. He stood at the ready, his shoulders squared when Hongjoong neared. For a second they just looked at each other, waiting.

Then it was Seonghwa who stepped closer first, carefully reaching out to cradle Hongjoong's face in his hands. The distances between the bars were big enough for them to kiss and while it was uncomfortable and cold metal was pressing against Hongjoong's forehead he did not care. It was easy to get lost in Seonghwa's sweet kisses.

Hongjoong pretended not to feel how Seonghwa's hands settled on his hips, pulling him close and slipping under his clothes. He only concentrated on that kiss and nothing more.

When he stepped back after some time that felt like hours, Seonghwa's eyes were heavy on him, making him lick his lips before he quickly looked away.

"Shut up now. I don't want to hear your voice again."

Seonghwa nodded, finally quiet.

-

"Ladies and Gentlemen I am happy to announce our little Fort Davis to be officially cleared from any criminal activity! The responsible ones have been put to trial and we are now looking forward to innovation and advancement. I am happy to have aided on the way and will gladly receive any visitors before I leave!"

The crowd cheered at him and Hongjoong carefully climbed down from his barrel again, receiving the first handshakes. White Rose felt oddly heavy on his hip and he could barely wait to put her away somewhere so he would not have to see her for the time being.

For now it was enough to put on a smile and accept gifts and thanks.

Jongho and Yeosang stayed close to his side for the whole time, being used as his personal bearers of gifts. They were quite content with that job at least.

"When will we hold the festival in honor of the dead?"

Hongjoong turned to some old lady looking up worriedly at him and gently smiled at her, taking her wrinkly hands she offered.

"This evening we will hold a ceremony in their name. There will be a bonfire and a funeral being held. No worries, Mrs Im. If you need my help preparing feel free to ask for it, I will be happy to."

She nodded at him with her watery eyes, going over to her husband to tell him the news too and Hongjoong turned to the next person.

"I can't believe you are leaving already, bro! You were really cool, when I ever manage a big break through and move to the city I will come visit you for sure! Here, I made you an even more stylish hat!" Kunpimook appeared out of thin air, thrusting a gift box into Hongjoong's arms that Hongjoong put on the other ones Jongho was carrying with a laugh.

"Thanks, man. I really appreciate it."

The line went on. Wooyoung's parents looked quite sad but they could understand that it had to be like this and still thanked him for his hard work. Yunho's mom showed her disdain quite openly, just spitting on the ground in front of Hongjoong's feet while he tried to not drop his wobbly smile.

He could not even say sorry.

Seonghwa's fanclub was devastated but instead they now all clinged to Hongjoong, asking him whether his hand was still available for marriage and if he had children waiting for him at home. He told them off politely, instead dodging these questions.

Nobody came for San.

It was a long day and when they finally returned to the city hall to prepare for the bonfire and rituals Jongho complained about his arms hurting when he put down the many gifts on the ground.

Hongjoong just laughed at him, stepping over to his desk to collect the cell keys Seonghwa had left him there. He slipped them on his belt again, turning around to smile brightly at Yeosang.

"Don't do anything stupid. I'll be gone in the morning and I want you to be warned."

"I will relay the message. Let's celebrate for now and be sad about your departure later. Or maybe never because I have a lot of alcohol collected from the people." His grin was wolfish and Hongjoong let himself be pulled outside with a laugh, joining in the merry folks.

They could put up a big fire now and dance and laugh without having to fear being discovered and the real joy on everybody's faces made Hongjoong's heart melt.

He would not have to regret after all.

Chapter Text

"I can't believe you made me come here again." The realization only settled with Hongjoong after they had arrived and Yongguk next to him just gave a low chuckle. They both slid down from their horses, Yongguk gently patting his on the side while Hongjoong searched for something to cool his dry throat down with.

Fort Davis had changed. It had grown bigger, more houses surrounding the city hall. There were more shops and people walking around, little squealing children running together with dogs and the whole city looked more bright and nourished. They looked as if they finally had everything they needed.

So far Hongjoong had not seen any familiar faces and he was wondering how many of them were still here. So far he knew only of Kunpimook having left the place.

"Let me show you the school first. It's not much yet but I'm constantly planning to make it grow." Yongguk gave the reigns of his horse to some native boy running around. Hongjoong also handed Wave over to a little cowboy and they took off together.

Hongjoong followed closely behind Yongguk, watching him greet a few people with a big sunny grin. Hongjoong was still distracted with everything, marvelling over the pretty facades of the buildings. Yongguk laughed when he nearly stumbled into his back once.

Yongguk led them inside of the by now biggest building in the town. It was the church and on the second floor they had build three little classrooms for the kids. They were on break right now, running with laughter and screams in between their legs. Some of them greeted Yongguk as director but most of them just wanted to go play.

"Right now only the young ones have a lesson in english. The other two rooms are empty." Yongguk let him step in first and Hongjoong smiled at the remaining children inside before taking a look around.

The room was decorated prettily. Yongguk had tried to lighten up the dark corners with some wooden boards where the drawings of the little artists hung, coloring the room. They had long tables and chairs that stood in rows in front of the teacher's desk. Behind the desk was a little chalk board that could be carried around. Hongjoong guessed they had only one so far.

"And this is our lovely Miss Moore. She came here from the city to teach the little ones in maths." Yongguk intoduced the woman sitting on the desk and Hongjoong exchanged greetings with her.

"Oh, and here comes the relay. Good afternoon, Mister Park."

Hongjoong turned around, not knowing what to expect but it was for sure not a whole Park Seonghwa with blonde hair and round glasses.

Hongjoong's jaw dropped to the floor as he looked the other man up and down. He was wearing a soft pink top and an awkward smile, looking halfway pained. He also had a book on his shoulder that he now put down on the desk behind Hongjoong. While doing that he stepped dangerously close in Hongjoong's personal space, leaning his head in.

"You are wearing a different cologne.", he commented quietly, pulling back with a more easy smile when Hongjoong just gasped.

"You stayed? Didn't I tell you to-"

Seonghwa was devastatingly beautiful and it had only been two years. Apparently these years had softened him up, taking his dark edge and smoothing out the bitterness he had habored. He had become even more attractive if that was possible and for the first time in a long time Hongjoong felt that pull at his heart telling him to allow himself to fall in love.

"I wanted to go. But Yongguk here collected me on my way and asked me to start anew. No worries, the rest of the town's people agreed to forgive me. I worked hard for this."

"I agree that it was my fault. Don't be angry at him.", Yongguk easily took his side, stepping up to them to gently place a hand on Seonghwa's shoulder.

"Wooyoung and his two boys stayed too. Together with Jongho. They are working on redemption and so far they have succeeded quite well. It truly was only a matter of that bad influence for them."

Now, that was a surprise. Of course it would be easier to forgive them as the friends they believed them to be than the bandits who they had never known to begin with but it still showed quite strong resilience from the people. Being betrayed and trusting again - it was no easy feat.

"Of course me coming here and starting anew would not have worked if not for your help back then.", Seonghwa adressed Hongjoong again and he waved it off quickly, trying to step away from in between the desk and Seonghwa's tall frame.

"Oh no, nothing to thank me for. You sly fox were the one who planned it out. Making the sheriff weak for you to have a chance to live should his mission succeed was fucking superb. A+ acting skills." Hongjoong gave him a wry smile, seeing a mysterious grin also tug on Seonghwa's lips before he just nodded.

"Sadly I have a lesson to give now. Will you stay for a few days? We can catch up later." Seonghwa shyly glanced down at his feet, not quite daring to look up at the man who let him live.

"Oh, sure. I'll be in Hehetmon 2.0. Can't wait to see Yeosang now that I know he stayed actually." He turned to Yongguk then, catching him watching them with a fond grin. They just nodded at each other, taking off then while Seonghwa stayed back. The last thing Hongjoong saw of him was how he kneeled down in order to speak in children's voice with one of his students.

Yongguk led him away with another chuckle, showing him around a bit more before bringing him back to Hehetmon. After a (nearly tearful) reunion with Yeosang Hongjoong found himself in some corner vibrating in his seat with his excitement for Jongho to finish his wild dance in order to come greet him.

"I think Seonghwa fell for you again."

Hongjoong gave Yongguk an amused glance.

"He never did in the first place, what is again supposed to mean?"

"Oh, you haven't heard? Well." Yongguk placed his elbow on the desk to lean in close, whispering lowly in his hands. "His love for you was not entirely acted out. Why do you think he saved you at that time?"

"And why, dear Mister Bang did you not deem it as necessary to let me know that during the two years you had him here?", Hongjoong growled back with a sugary sweet voice. He gave a stiff smile to Yeosang who came over to place their food in front of them, winking at him. He walked off after, leaving Hongjoong to deal with Yongguk.

"It was not important then but it is now. Go meet him with that knowledge later. I'm sure Mister Park would love to explain that to you." Yongguk's smirk was all too devious while he dug into his food, leaving Hongjoong to wonder.

"He is a killer, why are you implying he would be embarassed?"

"He likes you. Also he's a teacher now, don't mix up my employees please."

It was quite obvious that there would be no more helpful information coming out of Yongguk's mouth so Hongjoong just shrugged, focusing on his food.

-

"Hongjoong! You came!"

Hongjoong spun around to find Seonghwa coming closer to him in a light jog, his glasses askew and his hair tousled by the wind. He had stuck his tongue in between his teeth while running but took it back when he stopped in front of Hongjoong.

He would deny his fixation on the red muscle.

"I'm surprised you still remember my name to be honest. You changed so much during this time." Hongjoong felt more shy than necessary. However, the blush rising on Seonghwa's cheeks was much more noticeable, supporting Yongguk's theory.

"Of course I do. This all here is because of you. You are basically a hero in our story books."

"And are you listed as a villain?"

Seonghwa gave him a smirk, much more similar to the him at that time and it relieved Hongjoong to see him like that. It was oddly calming.

"No. I'm the responsible first english teacher that Fort Davis ever had. Cleared my name fully." He looked quite proud of that and Hongjoong had to approve, giving him credit for that. He was glad that Seonghwa had managed to settle down.

"What happened with Yunho and Mingi?"

"They left. I think they are somewhere out in the desert and living their life just the two of them. I never saw them again after."

Hongjoong nodded, still patiently looking up at the other man. He did not quite now what to expect, what to do with him now that they were not rivals anymore and Seonghwa not any longer a killer he had to bring down. How should he act towards him?

"Hey, remember when you asked me whether I wanted to be your lover once?"

The sudden question surprised Hongjoong, making him choke on his own spit and cough painfully for a second. That damn desert dust of course did not help.

Seonghwa laughed at him, gently patting his back until it stopped. Hongjoong felt the embarrassment burn hotly on his face, every try to ease the awkwardness in vain.

"Uh, yeah. You said yes at that time. When you tried not to get yourself killed."

"It's still true. I figured... Nah, I want to ask whether you would try again? Let me be honest this time?"

"How are you when you are for real?"

Another smile crossed Seonghwa's features, his curls falling softly into his forehead even when he tried pushing them away.

"I won't shove a gun down your throat?", he tried all cutely and Hongjoong barked out a laugh, nodding entertainedly.

"What about the other places that gun was? I beg to differ between keeping it far away from me and just not pushing it down my throat." His voice had a teasing lilt to it, making Seonghwa rub his neck awkwardly.

"Let me rephrase that. I won't use a gun on you if you don't want to."

"I love how you did not even mention anything else. Okay, let's try. I want to see how much of that bandit I can still find in you."

Seonghwa easily complied when Hongjoong took his fingers gently in his, pulling him closer. For a long moment they just rested while leaning against each other, the wind gently tousling Seonghwa's hair.

The teacher's hand came up to carefully take the hat off Hongjoong's head, turning it in his hands.

"Is this the one Kunpimook gifted you? You wear it for special occasions?"

"Yeah. Don't you dare make it dirty. He will kill me if he has to make another one of these."

Seonghwa twirled the hat playfully on his fingers, barely even flinching when Hongjoong finally grabbed his collar to pull him down to his level. He merely let his hands come up behind Hongjoong's neck, searching his eyes for a hot second.

The air was warm when it brushed Seonghwa's hair against Hongjoong's forehead when he kissed this bandit, tasting those sweet lips that had always been his on no one else's to claim.

He might need to start working here as a sheriff again. He had not seen any other person suitable for the job and it might have just been what Yongguk had planned for him. Again he had been caught in Seonghwa's web.

But with the way those soft lips pressed against his, tasting of honey candy and Yeosang's self brewn coffee, the way his body melted against Hongjoong's form as if they were made for each other and the little gasp that escaped his lips when Hongjoong pulled him even closer by his hips, it was all worth it. It was worth falling into his web for.

And Hongjoong might always have been too soft, too forgiving. But Seonghwa was also way too pretty and so very convincing.

Hongjoong did not mind. So what if he started working here again, dating the elementary school teacher.

He could not see any problem with that.