“…and that’s when you killed him?”
For the past ten minutes Taehyung had been looking at the other man, not really listening to what he had been saying at all. Rather he had been staring at his mouth intently, so intently in fact that he had noticed that he had a chipped lower tooth and that was probably what had demanded his attention, had made him completely zone out and stare rather dumbly. So when he came back around to reality he figured out that he was staring at Yeun rather rudely and the inspector was staring right back. There was no hint of impatience on his face, the other man was rather patient all things considered. Taehyung really didn’t know what to say in reply to the question for he had suddenly come over dumb. He moved his gaze slightly to the side to see that Yang was also studying him, eyes rather large behind her rounded glasses and hair pulled up in a severe bun.
Yeun and Yang were the two inspectors left in charge of the case review, the two people that would comb over every single aspect of his undercover work and leave no stone or dead body unturned in the process. They weren’t exactly likable but that wasn’t because they were cold or judgmental, rather just because they were rigid and unrelenting in their pursuit of information, sometimes doing so at the expense of his comfort levels. They weren’t the only people in the room with him, for in the far corner there was Lee, his station-appointed psychologist, and seated adjacent to him at the table was Namjoon. Technically his teammate had to be present because he had overseen his activities whilst he had been undercover, and he was by right of the operation the only person granted access to his now restored police record and the database recordings.
Despite going through this routine nearly every day for two solid months, Taehyung always found his concentration waning over the course of the review hearings. He would be following their words carefully one minute, and then find his mind had gone blank on him without warning. It wasn’t a conscious decision but rather an inconvenient problem that kept happening to him. He was aware of the fact that this caused the hearings to drag on as a result yet he couldn’t control it. The most irritating aspect of it all was the fact that he didn’t lose concentration as a result of his own thoughts. No, rather he just went completely blank and empty.
A quick glance over at Namjoon saw that his teammate was looking at him too, waiting for him to speak. The other man didn’t look concerned, didn’t look impatient either but he was waiting for him to reply to Yeun. Taehyung dragged his eyes away to look at the camera set across the room, seeing sunlight playing off the lens coming in through the open window. In the beam he saw motes of dust dancing in the air and then he decided to look back at Yeun. The other man had small and intense eyes and he didn’t seem to blink as often as he should, and there was a light layer of facial hair on his face.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?”
“I said: “it was at this point that you claimed that you were taken into the warehouse and that’s when you killed Kim?”,” the man repeated for him, used to this routine by now because he was also aware of his terrible habit of unfocusing on both of them during the hearings. “Kim Jinwoo?”
“Yeah, yeah that’s when I killed Jinwoo,” he replied as he forced himself to sit upright in his seat. “We were taken from an airport across the city and to a warehouse, a munitions warehouse. Lots of slave labour workers were packing up bullets and disassembled guns to go every-fucking-where; Known Bae, Russia and maybe Brazil? Anyway, I was taken to a back room and there he was. Bae’s men had caught him in Shanghai, which makes perfect sense all things considered.” He could see them looking at him and trying to figure out what he meant by that but that would come later, after he had explained. “I was taken into a room and after some lovely light-hearted discussion I killed him. I cut his head off.”
Yeun looked up from the papers that he had been studying and after a few seconds of study he turned his head to look at Yang. She didn’t seem to notice for her own eyes were across the room and looking in the corner where his psychologist was sitting. Lee was eyeing him with concern and he saw that she looked like she might be considering ending the hearing in case he started getting upset. This wouldn’t be the first one that she had cancelled but hopefully, if everything went well it could be the very last one she had the opportunity to interrupt. Her hand was up so that she could play with her necklace chain, something that she always did when she was considering becoming vocal.
“Was there a particular reasoning for this method?”
“…The fuck does that mean?” Taehyung asked, shrugging his shoulders hard. “The method was to kill him, it was a successful method.”
“I was asking because I was curious as to what was done with his head,” Yeun explained.
“After the removal it would be customary to send it to someone, perhaps relatives, as a token,” Yang added as she reached up to push her glasses up her nose. “It seems rather unusual that Kim’s head was removed and yet neither that nor his body have been recovered.”
“No, I didn’t behead him for that purpose, I beheaded him ‘cos I told Jungkook that I’d cut his fucking head off if I could get my hands on him and he made sure that I kept the promise.”
“Dunno, never touched his body.”
“You have no clue where his body might have been dumped?” Yang asked, tone showing that she wasn’t entirely sure that he was being honest with them.
“An interview with Jungkook would corroborate with everything I just said and more, he should be able to pinpoint you in the general direction of a body. I didn’t dispose of it, I don’t have a fucking clue where he ended up. Am I supposed to care?”
Taehyung sensed that he was getting a little temperamental and there had been a great many sessions about that issue with Lee but they were yet to work. He was more than aware that he had developed a rather quick temper and snappy demeanor when pushed into a corner but that wasn’t exactly his fault. He had adapted under Haedogje Pa, had learnt survival techniques and now, back in the real world, those techniques were seen as ‘intimidating’ and ‘damaging to relationships’. It was hard telling him to be polite when talking about these things put him on edge and made his stomach feel hard.
“You need a body to secure a murder conviction, Kim,” Yeun explained, folding his hands on the table in front of him. “Otherwise there would be a lot more people in prison for murder charges. That’s why locating his body would be a blessing for both the Shanghai department and ours.”
“…We were in Nanshi, not sure of the exact street but it was close to a slum area and there were a lot of warehouses and a harbour, he’s probably at the bottom of Huangpu River,” Taehyung explained. “But like I said, you need to ask Jungkook otherwise they’ll be dragging that fucking river for months.”
“We’ll have to do so,” the other man agreed as he lowered his eyes down to study the file in front of him. Taehyung looked between him and the papers, waiting to see what would be thrown his way next.
“Good luck identifying his head if the teams there find it,” Taehyung remarked. “Jungkook fucking crushed most of it, he used it like a football and-”
“I wish I’d joined in.”
“OK, Kim,” Lee said in a quiet voice. “I think we should stop talking about this particular theme. You should talk about Shanghai gang connections instead.” The woman looked at the two inspectors with something that might have been slight reproach, lips set in a thin line.
The room fell silent at this and he was once again aware of the fact that he had said something that he shouldn’t have said. It had happened when they had made him talk about Nam just two hearings into the case and since then he had managed to curb himself talking about the men that he had helped murder and dismember. Only two of the men he had murdered were personal to him, were deserving of death in his eyes even if the two inspectors gave him looks that said that that was not the case. The first was Nam, that fucker, and the second was Kim Jinwoo. He knew that he wasn’t supposed to speak of them like that because that looked very bad on his end, made him look unstable, but after what he had been put through it was hard putting up a wall to stop the emotions from pouring out.
Nam had been the first death that he had helped cause, a death that Lee had told him countless times was always going to be the strongest. It was the death that she claimed had caused his PTSD, had started the nightmares and detachment to violence. Yet Taehyung found that he struggled to remember the night that he had mutilated Nam in vivid detail, rather just random flashes that mostly appeared in his sleep now that he was no longer drugged in some way to keep the thoughts at bay. Nam was rather like a ghost to him now, a lingering hint of anger and fear but not much more than that.
But Jinwoo? Jinwoo was something else, something so toxic and black that they hadn’t even started talking about him yet. The one time that Lee had broached upon the subject had resulted in him getting so distressed that she had decided to navigate around it for the time being. But when the time came around to go back to talking about him he knew that she would not like what he had to say about the other man. Lee might be able to help him forget about the other men, about the anger and the pain. Maybe even Nam, he was sure that she could help him heal that wound too. But she would never be able to help him let go of his hatred towards Jinwoo and the twisted enjoyment that he had gotten from decapitating him that day.
Jinwoo had stolen a part of him that he would never get back when he had ordered the casino hit on Jungkook. Jinwoo was the reason that he had almost died and had gotten addicted to morphine and as a result Taehyung had been left with a sensation, a sensation that he hated. It felt like there was a part of his brain missing, like it had been sliced away and had caused some impairment that he couldn’t understand. Nam might have attempted to rape him but Nam had failed and left him with nothing more than the occasional nightmare. But Jinwoo…Jinwoo had succeeded in destroying him even when he had failed at having him assassinated.
Only Namjoon understood that feeling, and whenever his words started to get too venomous, too disturbing, the other man was the only person in the room that didn’t seem to show discomfort. Namjoon knew what it was like to have a part of him irreparably damaged that would never be able to be fixed, that affliction just like that what he had described that night before he had infiltrated Haedogje Pa. Namjoon knew what it felt like to do bad shit and still be seen as a good man.
They were both survivors.
“Yes, let’s move onto how Shanghai is important in regards to Haedogje Pa,” Yang suggested. “Like the reason that Kim was in the city. Business?”
“Kim? Kim Jinwoo? Yeah, yeah he still had business flowing through Shanghai, quite a lot actually. That’s how he got caught out. The Jeon clan definitely had better links, were connected to, uh, Wo Shing To, 1K, another uh…Hong Quan something, I can’t remember hundred-percent but-” Taehyung reached up to rub at his brow, wanting to groan under his breath but knowing that he should stop himself. “The Kim clan had Wah Chuen, who I’m pretty sure are Jeon clan rivals. They were up until Jeon took over so I’ll assume that they still are, but Kim Jintae could’ve tried to unite ‘em again? Dunno, I know so little about the Kim clan even after all of this shit.”
“Do you know anything that could perhaps link these Triads to criminal activity?” Yeun asked, pen scrawling something down hastily even though he wasn’t looking at the sheet of paper.
“No, not unless they used their connections across Taiwan to secure men for Jinwoo to use in Singapore,” Taehyung explained. “The men were hired in Taiwan and Wah Chuen do have operations there, it’s possible but that’s up to fucking China to fix not me.” This caused a ripple of laughter in the room and he wished that he could join in but he couldn’t. “That’s all I know about Shanghai and Kim Jinwoo. I’ve told you everything else about that fucker, ask me something else.”
The interview room became silent at his words save for the sound of rustling paper and he lowered his hand to the table again. Taehyung picked up his glass of water and he took a slight sip as he looked at the camera. Then he spared a quick over at Lee. She held his gaze unblinkingly and then she offered him a slight smile.
“You’re doing very well, Kim,” she said in a supportive tone. “I’m glad to see that you’re handling this hearing much better than the last.” Taehyung placed the glass back down on the table and he had just finished swallowing when Yang said a name.
“Lim?” Taehyung was taken by surprise by the question and he looked between both inspectors before turning to Namjoon. “What about Lim?”
“He’s another body that we’re yet to recover,” Yang explained as she reached up to touch her glasses briefly, re-positioning them on her nose. “But you claimed to both Inspector Kim and Assistant Inspector Jung-”
“Inspector, he took his exam and was promoted,” Taehyung interrupted pedantically.
“… Inspector Jung, that you witnessed his execution,” she finished as she glanced down at the papers. “Is that correct?”
“Yeah, I witnessed it and so did like, five hundred other fucking people,” Taehyung replied brusquely. “He was shot in the church Jeon’s funeral was held in but Jungkook had him wear a…a burlap bag on his head to hide his identity so he could lie about him murdering his daddy.” The affection earned him curious looks from the two inspectors. “There might not be eyewitnesses ‘cos of this but Jungkook told me in the car upon leaving the church that it was him. Jimin was present, he can corroborate with my testimony too. You seen him since I told you he was dead?” Neither of them replied and so Namjoon decided to do on their behalf.
“No, he’s disappeared so you’re more than likely correct about him being dead, Taehyung.”
“…Lim deserves a commendation for that, a fucking medal. He’ll get a medal for his sacrifice, right?”
“It’s highly likely that he will, yes,” Yeun replied. “As could you, Kim.”
“Don’t want one,” Taehyung retorted in a flat voice. “I don’t want a mayor pinning a medal on me.”
“Mayor Bong is not Mayor Jung, Kim,” Yang stated, as if that wasn’t pretty fucking obvious.
“I don’t want one,” he repeated in a sterner tone and this was enough to stop anyone in the room from pressing any further. The interview room fell silent at this again and Taehyung waited to see what would happen next. He hadn’t expected the question about Lim to be asked today and yet it made perfect sense that the inspectors would ask about the other man. He was one of their own and therefore he deserved closure. He shouldn’t be another missing persons, another unknown Haedogje Pa victim. He deserved closure and maybe even a funeral if they could recover a body. It was unlikely that they would but Taehyung was holding out hope. Lim had gotten him into Haedogje Pa to begin with and he wanted to pay his respects to the man that had taken a bullet instead of him.
“It was Jungkook that killed Lim, yes? Park will also testify to this?” Yeun asked him rather curtly and though he didn’t outright say it there was something in his tone that suggested otherwise; a hidden blade sinking right into his back.
Yeun had just asked him if he had murdered Lim for Jungkook. That was what those questions were hinting at. The other man wanted to know if Jungkook had been the man to pull the trigger and kill him or if he had snapped his fingers and made someone else do it. Someone else like him, the good little guard dog that had killed every other man that he had told him to.
“…Are you asking if I killed Lim?” Taehyung asked in a low voice, lifting a hand to point at his chest. He was so shocked that he could only stare at Yeun for a moment, lips slack and mind completely blank of thoughts. He couldn’t believe that he was being asked this question right now. Something seemed to ripple through the air, a kind of energy that hinted that he might just explode on them all perhaps, and that made Namjoon move to push his chair out and get to his feet.
“I think that we should take a slight break,” he suggested. “Taehyung?”
“Yeah, yeah, I think I’ll take a little break,” Taehyung muttered under his breath as he pushed his chair out. “Be careful though, Namjoon, I might be tempted to fucking kill you.” As he stepped through the door and held it open for the other man he saw Namjoon giving the inspectors a disapproving look. He assumed that Lee was doing the exact same because he couldn’t see her through the door. Taehyung followed his teammate along the narrow landing to get to the stairs and then they went down them to leave the station. Whilst he did so Taehyung got his cigarette packet out of his suit jacket pocket in preparation.
They stepped out into mid-summer warmth, the kind of bright sunlight that made him squint and feel strangely uncomfortable. Sunny skies and warm breezes always reminded him of one of two things: Singapore or Shanghai. The warmth usually left him feeling rather chill in the most horrible way possible. He had never told Lee this fact for it sounded rather ridiculous but it was true and he hated it. The weather, he had a problem with the fucking weather. Taehyung would find this pretty crazy but the fact that he already knew he was crazy made it seem rather tame.
“Christ, Namjoon, Lim? Fucking Lim?” Taehyung asked, cigarette slipping into the corner of his mouth as he did. “Do they think I’m a serial killer? I mean, technically I am but-” he stopped talking to light his cigarette, “that’s not the fucking point. I didn’t kill Lim, I’ve got no fucking reason to kill him and Jimin will say exactly what I said.”
“I know, I know you didn’t but sadly, it’s standard procedure,” Namjoon replied in a quiet voice. “Try to not let it get to you, you’ve got this one last hearing and then you’re done, brother.”
“Yeah but,” he breathed the first drag out his nose hard, “they ain’t asked about Bae yet, about the raid. They’re gonna ask me about that shit when I go back in, ain’t they?”
“More than likely,” Namjoon replied. “Also, Taehyung, lay off the serial killer shit. Please.”
Taehyung held the cigarette up in front of his lips and he didn’t take a drag, rather just left it smouldering between his thumb and fingers. Why should he lay off telling the truth? Yeun and Yang might be neutral parties assigned to review the case but he still had the most unshakeable feeling that they were judging him regardless of this fact. How could they not? After all of the shit that he had pulled whilst undercover: the tortures, the murders, the brutality, and the trouble that he had caused them with the pornography and his drug addiction, Taehyung was pretty fucking certain that they had every right to judge him like everyone else did.
The mark of Cain was on him now and it was the lingering scarred skin on his knuckles and chest from his removed tattoos.
“…Sorry, you’re right,” he agreed as he dropped his gaze to study the pavement. “I should stop saying shit like that but it’s hard.” Namjoon stayed a slight distance away so that his smoke didn’t blow in his direction, still and silent as he watched the traffic rolling down the street beside them. “Hey, brother, if they ask about the raid-”
“You won’t be the only one talking about that, I’m present and I’ll have quite a lot to say on that subject. I’ve already given an account, just like Hoseok and Sungah and every single officer involved in all three coordinated strikes. It’s not your word against nothing now, Taehyung, the team has your back.”
“Good, ‘cos I still think about that shit, y’know? And it keeps me awake at night,” Taehyung said, hand shaking slightly as he replied to take a drag on his cigarette. “Shit, Namjoon, I don’t wanna revisit that day ever. I don’t wanna think about it.”
“Just be quick, get it all out and let them record it and chew on it,” the other man said. “Lee’s there, she will stop the hearing if it gets too much for you, brother.”
Everything about the fucking hearings was too much for him but Taehyung decided to hold his tongue and keep that to himself. He was sure that Namjoon knew this fact so it was pointless telling him that. It was one thing talking about business deals but being forced to recount murders graphically and accurately, to talk about Jungkook and Jimin, that was something else. It made him feel a variety of emotions and Taehyung had difficulty processing most of them. He seemed to have difficulty processing most things these days and yet no one seemed to be concerned about this fact. Not when there was the case, and the hearings, and the fucking operation to think about.
Sadly the smoke break ended much too quickly for his liking and he had to follow his teammate back inside the station, taking the stairs to get up to the floor and re-enter the room. The three other people hadn’t seemed to have moved yet he knew that that they had for the scent of freshly brewed coffee was heavy in the air and that meant that one of them must have left to get refills. Taehyung didn’t break his silence and instead he sat down in his chair and waited, fixing his jacket and trousers to stop any creases from getting into the material. It appeared that both of the inspectors had been discussing things whilst he had been absent, hopefully including Lee in the discussion whilst they had. For a couple of minutes the room remained quiet and he tried to not fidget whilst he waited.
“We have to cover the day that you called the station to organise the raid and the resulting raid,” Yeun explained in that rather pedantic voice of his. “We have the database recording present, which we will play in a minute. Are you alright with discussing these aspects of the case, Kim?”
“Not really but I’ll do it, I’ll get it over with,” Taehyung explained as he folded his hands on the table so that be could keep his hands still. “Play the recordings.”
Yang had to move to collect a recorder device from the camera case, shifting to lean down and collect it from under the table. When she had collected it she placed it down on the table and Taehyung eyed it with a mixture of distrust and discomfort. She pressed a button, which clicked loudly in the silence of the room, and after a few seconds voices came from it.
“ Speak to me brother, let’s not waste any time and just get straight to it, ” Namjoon said, his voice coming from the grey box but not from his actual mouth. No, sitting adjacently to him, Namjoon had his mouth closed and he was still and silent. He was studying the device with a rather unreadable expression, guarded perhaps.
“ I’m in, I’m on track again. ”
Taehyung heard his own voice and he sucked his lower lip in to bite down on it hard, as if he was trying to trap the words between his lips. He couldn’t look at the device and so he closed his eyes and he forced himself to listen to the recording on the device, listening to himself speaking. It seemed like it had been years since that day and yet it had only been three months. It was strange, for listening to his voice he found that it didn’t sound like him speaking even when he knew that it was. He knew every single word that he was going to say on the recorded telephone conversation, hell he might just have been able to mine along. First came his brief conversation with Namjoon, then the raid specifics with Hoseok and then finally his closing words with Namjoon again as he finalised the raid and then ended the call.
As soon as the phone call conversation was finished the room plunged into silence and it hit him that that was the last time that he had actually contacted the team by way of the tapped line. That was strange, for there had been only a few phone calls played in total over the duration of the case review. All things considered, it didn’t seem like he had really done much at all even when he had. After several minutes of blissful silence it was finally broken.
“Park hasn’t filed a complaint against the station, which by all rights he is legally allowed to do so,” Yang said as soon as the recording was finished. “I believe that he was threatened at several points before the agreement you mentioned was struck?” Her eyes slid over to look at Lee and so the other woman spoke.
“Park does indeed possess the right to file a complaint however he had expressed multiple times that he doesn’t wish to do so,” Lee explained. Taehyung would have sighed in relief if the two inspectors wouldn’t stare at him for doing so.
“It wasn’t right to threaten him but he put me in a very scary situation, I reacted outta fear and instinct,” Taehyung argued. “I’ve apologised almost every single day since then, it ain’t gonna change a thing but Jimin knows and he understands. We wouldn’t still be in close contact if he didn’t, would we?”
“What did you threaten him with exactly?”
“A gun and some threats about revealing personal info,” Taehyung explained. “Personal info that was blackmail material but also a big fucking lie - yeah, I scared him and yeah I did something wrong but that’s not the point. Can we not focus on him, please?”
“I agree,” Lee remarked. “Talking about this is detrimental to both Kim and Park’s relationship so I would like it if this not be brought up again. We have made massive gains in healing their issues, I don’t want that to be damaged. Thank you.”
Taehyung couldn’t help but sigh in relief this time because Lee had just changed the topic for his sake. It didn’t matter if the others heard him doing so. Jimin had nothing to do with the case now, that issue had already been discussed and Jimin had declined to file charges against him. Yang and Yeun were just opening old wounds and rubbing fistfuls of salt into them at this point, and Taehyung wasn’t entirely certain that his wounds had even closed up fully. No, they had simply tugged hard on the stitches just to cause him even more pain.
“Let’s talk about the raid instead,” Namjoon agreed. “That’s the only thing that we need to focus on right now.”
“In the phone call recording you claimed that the meeting wasn’t important and that you would update the station should you find out more information. Were you informed at any point after the recordings that Bae Goohee was going to be present in the meeting with his men?” Yeun asked, the first blow aiming rather low he had to admit.
“No, no I had no prior knowledge about Bae being present at that meeting. I found out at the exact moment that he ducked under the shutter and stepped into the warehouse,” Taehyung replied honestly. “Prior to that point Jungkook had told me that there was nothing of great importance happening in the meeting.”
“Was it common occurrence for him to not inform you of meetings, Kim?”
“Yeah and no, if Jungkook thought that the meeting was important or if a man was going to die he’d tell me. If not then no, he didn’t. He didn’t tell me why we went to The Gold Monkey casino once, I was left assuming the entire time.”
“But Bae was a man of great importance, was he not?” Yeun asked, more than fully aware of the answer. It was enough to make Taehyung set his jaw in annoyance because he knew exactly what was coming. First he would tell them that he was, that he was very important, and then they would ask why Jungkook had not told him about the meeting, to which he had no reply. Telling them that Jungkook had not found a meeting with Bae something important enough that he should have been told about was not a true reply but even now he didn’t really have a better explanation.
“He was, and I know what you’re gonna ask so I’ll reply now and save you the trouble: I dunno why I wasn’t told. Maybe like The Gold Monkey casino I wasn’t told ‘cos Jungkook trusted Bae and he didn’t think I needed to be informed. Like I said, he really only told me about meetings when it was going to end in murder or threats. He never told me about good meetings ‘cos I was hardly ever present for one.”
“Jeon Jungkook trusted Bae but he murdered him right in front of you?”
“I dunno why Jungkook shot him but it wasn’t a setup to kill him, if that’s what you’re asking. He was like, his fucking idol or something. Jungkook worshipped the other man and Bae, as much of a fucker as he was, he was loyal. Fiercely loyal. I didn’t want him dead, I didn’t want to be anywhere near him let alone get into a shootout with him.” Taehyung looked at them both and then turned to look at Namjoon. “D’you really think I’d put our teams in fucking danger like that on purpose? D’you think that I knew and I didn’t tell you so I could…what, have the team all murdered and run off into the fucking sunset with him?”
“It’s just part of the review, Kim,” Yeun explained without looking at him. “Don’t look at it as a personal attack.”
“Hard not to when you just told me that I basically fucking lied to Inspector Jung,” Taehyung spat, unable to help himself. “I wasn’t told about Bae and I dunno why Jungkook shot him he just did. He almost blew my head too you seem to be forgetting about that part.”
“But he didn’t,” Yang said in a quiet voice.
“No, he didn’t.”
It seemed that an unspoken question was hanging in the air and yet no one wanted to ask it. It was the unspoken question that Taehyung himself had already asked Jungkook and hadn’t gotten a true reply in response. Why hadn’t he shot him? Why hadn’t he let Bae blow his head off that day? So many possible answers and yet Taehyung didn’t know which one was the truth. A part of him really didn’t want to know because it seemed better to be left in the dark.
“We have already covered most of the aspects of the raid,” Yang said to break the silence, flicking through the piles of paper to check something. “We have corroborative reports with Inspector Jung and Yoo, along with Inspector Kim and Park that all coincide with one another. No strong inconsistencies, they all seem to flow correctly with your statement from last month.” Taehyung listened to her talk and he wondered if this little recap was her way of letting him know that he was finally finished with all of this. “In terms of a review, I would say that we have covered all of the relevant aspects to have it closed up officially. Yeun?”
“Kim, we may have to call you in again for some minor reviews in light of evidence and witness testimonies, but for now we have what we need from you,” Yeun said as he brought his papers together and tapped them on a table to neaten them out. “You are free to go and spend the rest of your leave much better now that you can breathe. And as soon as your leave is up you will be back to working with your team to help further the case.”
Taehyung didn’t feel like he could breathe in the slightest. There was still a weight on his chest, it had been there for three months now and it wasn’t going to go away any time soon. All that he had done was present a case of evidence that would see him cleared of all charges and instead pin it all on someone else instead, mostly Jungkook. That hadn’t made any of the pain go away in the slightest. But rather than say anything he just pushed his chair out and moved to leave the room, pulling the door shut behind him hard. Rather than go down the stairs and leave he instead moved over to sit down on the padded leather bench placed just beside the door, practically collapsing on it.
“Shit,” he breathed out as he reached up to touch his brow, wiping away beads of sweat as he did. He took a few quick breaths to try and slow his heartbeat down and then he dropped his head to stare at the flooring.
Finally he was done with the stupid reviews. Finally he had no need to keep talking about everything that had happened to him. The past was over and done with and now, now there was only the future. Except for Taehyung he knew that the past was never truly going to be buried. The case would be, buried under layers and layers of information and convictions so that in time so would he. His persona for Haedogje Pa would become a ghost, a ghost with deleted credentials and no record of ever existing. There was no more Kim Taehyung, Haedogje Pa member but rather just Kim Taehyung, Yongsan-gu police department Assistant Inspector with several months of work under his name that covered up his undercover job duration.
But Taehyung didn’t think that he was ever going to be rid of that persona.
From a few feet away he heard the door opening and he didn’t look up at the sound. Lee said something to him as she passed, reminding him of his scheduled appointment in two days so he made a soft noise in agreement under his breath to let her know that he remembered it. A minute later the door opened again and then he heard the soft rustle of clothing sounding before another voice broke the silence.
“Going to visit him again?”
Taehyung looked up sharply from the flooring to see that Namjoon was standing in front of him. The other man looked rather tired right now and he wasn’t surprised. They were all probably tired, even Yeun and Yang. The hearings had been gruelling and Taehyung really didn’t want to think about it right now because he had finally escaped that horrible interview prison. For a second, just a second, he was almost convinced that Namjoon was talking about him instead and he actually felt his heart stopping in his chest before he realised who he was actually talking about.
“Oh, Jimin? Uh, yeah. I’m gonna hit the halfway house and see him. Why?”
“Try to get him to come in for a quick hearing, maybe next week or something,” Namjoon suggested as he turned his head and watched the two inspectors leaving the room with their files and the case containing the camera in tow. “It would really be helpful if you had his words to backup your own, you know?”
“I know, I just think it’s pretty fucking hypocritical.” His teammate turned his attention back to him, brow furrowed slightly in a fashion that showed that he was confused by his words. Taehyung sighed and sat back against the padded back of the bench. “I was trusted to infiltrate Haedogje Pa and yet I’m being borderline accused of lying about everything; and for what? What’s the fucking point?”
“I don’t know,” Namjoon admitted in a quiet voice. “I guess it’s just precaution but still…there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed and I agree, you deserve more trust and respect than this, Taehyung.”
“Jungkook trusted me more than most of this department and I was actually betraying him unlike the department.” At his words Namjoon reached up to rub at the back of his neck and Taehyung dropped his eyes back to the flooring. “It’s pretty funny, I guess?”
“No, it’s not funny,” the other man replied. “What you went through isn’t something that can be treated like this but right now we aren’t in the position to lodge complaints, brother. We’ve got to hold our heads up and take every single blow they aim at us on the chin, so when it comes out that you’re being honest and you’ve told them everything then you come out on top like you’ve been the entire time.”
“I’ve taken enough blows, Namjoon,” Taehyung said in a soft voice. “How many more do I have to take, huh?” His teammate didn’t reply because he had no real answer to give him and the hallway fell quiet at this, the distant sound of voices and ringing phones from the other floors bleeding up through the open stairwell.
“Want me to drive you there?” Namjoon offered. “To go and see Jimin?”
Taehyung had pretty much been planning on walking there for the distance to the halfway house wasn’t very far at all from the station. In the current summer weather it would have been pleasant for some but not him, never him. It would cut a ten minute walk down to a couple of minutes and it made sense to agree. So he took him up on the offer and got off the bench to follow him along the landing and down the stairs to get out of the building. It was only when they were in the vehicle and a few streets down waiting in traffic did Namjoon break the silence that had been hanging in the air between them.
“How has Jimin been exactly?” he asked, jolting Taehyung out of his mindless musings as he had watched the streets of the district go past the windows. He turned his head to look at the other man, waiting for him to continue speaking. “It’s the first time he’s been explicitly mentioned in the case hearings before. I was shocked that Yang even focused on him and the possible complaints he could have charged, but I guess it makes sense.”
“Jimin’s been…dealing,” Taehyung replied in a quiet voice, squinting as a flash of sunlight bounced off the chrome of a passing car. “Kinda like me, he’s dealing with it.”
“Mmm, clean but sure as hell hating it,” he said as he reached up to rub at his eyes. “He has panic attacks sometimes.” All the time, he thought but decided to not say. “But the people at the shelter, they treat him alright, I guess?” They treat him like shit , was what he had really meant. “I want him outta there soon, as soon as I can.”
“It’s been three months, he should be getting discharged soon enough, right?”
“He needs to get a job first, and that ain’t easy when he’s the way he is. But I think I’m gonna find a way out, a way of getting ‘em to let him take care of him until he can really get back on his own feet, y’know? I mean he might just need care for the rest of his life but, shit, I’m willing to give it.”
“Lee doesn’t approve of the care aspect,” Namjoon said as more of a statement than a question.
“She thinks I’ll further foster dependency in him or some shit,” Taehyung retorted. “Ain’t that funny? She’s telling me, as a lover , that I shouldn’t be allowed to live with him.” Namjoon didn’t reply at this but rather made a soft noise under his breath that could have been in agreement. “That must make every housewife a victim of dependency then.”
“I’m sure that he’ll see more improvements soon,” his teammate said. “Even a slight improvement is better than none at all and he’s come such a long way already. I think it’s amazing how hard he’s been trying, just like you.”
The car fell silent at this and Taehyung turned back to the window, enjoying the reprieve from conversation. Talking about Jimin with anyone else, even Lee was hard. Almost impossible even. He couldn’t ever describe what Jimin had been through in his own words because it was far too hard to do so. He would do his suffering and abuse no justice at all and therefore he liked to avoid talking about the other man for this very purpose. There was only one person that he could talk to Jimin about and that was Jungkook. Only Jungkook understood his complexities, his addiction to opioids to help block out the pain that he had been through and his almost pitiful need for constant attention. No one else could understand it like either of them because everyone else would eventually find him useless or pathetic.
But both he and Jungkook had understood Jimin needed someone to care for him. That wasn’t useless or pathetic. Taehyung didn’t want to provide care for some ulterior motive, to manipulate him now because that was done and in the past. Taehyung wanted to care for him because nobody else could. Not even his own family had wanted him. His mother and father had been to visit him multiple times and after seeing the ruination of the young man that had once been their son, the anxious wreck that hadn’t been able to stop crying and collapsing in their presence, things had not went well at all. Jimin had been unable to embrace his own father because whenever the older man had went to touch him he had frozen, seized up in rigid horror. As a result of his complete physical detachment and disturbing emotional responses they had cut off all contact with him. Jimin hadn’t even gotten to meet his younger brother again because he had been in university and their parents hadn’t alerted him to the fact that Jimin was still alive.
That was why Taehyung wanted to have Jimin out of the shitty halfway house and in his own apartment, because he was one of the few things that Jimin still had left now.
“You been to see him?” Namjoon asked to break the silence. They were nearly halfway on their way to the other building at this point in the journey.
“…Have I been to see Jungkook?” Taehyung asked in a quiet voice, finishing the full question that Namjoon had decided to not ask. When he turned his head ever so slightly to look at him he saw him nodding at the question. “Define what you mean by “went to see him”? ‘Cos there’s a dozen fucking reasons to go and see him and I need a little more clarity.”
“I mean, have you went to see Jungkook for any other reason than to talk about the case specifics?” Namjoon clarified for him.
“No, I’ve only went to see him with another person present over the duration of the hearings, once with Hoseok and once with you,” he explained. “Never on my own, never to talk to him about anything other than case specifics.”
“You were going to go see him today, weren’t you?” At the question Taehyung let his breath out in a weary sigh and he turned back to the window. “Hey, by that I’m not specifying why. You could be going to see him to discuss the case again, that’s completely understandable and you’re allowed to do that, brother. In fact you’re allowed to go visit him for whatever goddamn reason that you want. You do know that, right?”
“Yeah…yeah, I know.”
“You don’t need an excuse to do so, so don’t think that you need one. Were you going to see him today?” Taehyung thought the question over before quietly confirming that he was had been planning on doing so. “How long do you usually stay with Jimin?”
“Maybe an hour?” Taehyung replied as he dragged his eyes away to look out the front window. “Yeah, that’s usually how long I visit Jimin for today. The weekends it’s most of the day but today it’s usually only an hour.”
“Then I’ll wait, grab something to eat whilst waiting, and then I’ll drop you off at the prison,” Namjoon offered as he slowed down at a set of lights.
“Maybe you shouldn’t be so willing to…to lemme see him,” Taehyung said in a quiet voice, gnawing at his thumb as he did just so he wouldn’t end up tearing his lip open with his teeth again. “Y’know? Maybe you should be trying to stop me, like Lee?”
“Why should I try and stop you from seeing him, Taehyung?”
“…‘Cos it’s bad for me to see him.”
“Do you feel bad when you see him, when you discuss the case or whatever you do when you go to see him?” Namjoon asked him, the car stationary at the red light. “Do you feel bad or do you feel like you’re getting some of that bad out?”
“No I…well, I dunno,” Taehyung explained, pulling his thumb free so that he could talk clearly. “I don’t feel good right now but there’s still so much shit that I gotta get out, yeah? And Lee, Lee keeps telling me that if I go see him then it might damage the recovery process but…but how can I recover when there’s this constant voice in the back of my head telling me that I’ve gotta see him and talk to him about what happened? He’s just as much a part of the case as the rest of us and so I need to know, need to speak to him, yeah? It feels like if I cut him out, if I pretend that he wasn’t a part of my life that it’ll all just go away but I don’t want that. I don’t want my head to turn into some fucking filing cabinet, compartmentalised into good shit and bad shit. I don’t want that to happen so I can’t just cut Jungkook out, even if that means I’ll have to deal with the other shit too.”
“Yes, I understand,” the other man said as the car finally started rolling down the street again.
“I was so fucking numb to it all, brother,” Taehyung said in a soft voice. “The murder, the pain, the sex and just…just everything. I was numb and I hated it, I don’t want to be numb again, like I was ‘cos of that fucking poison. I want to feel something even if it hurts.”
“Have you told Lee any of this?”
“‘Cos she’ll think I’m even more fucking nuts than she already does and I want her to think I’m getting better. That way she’ll leave me alone.” Taehyung laughed softly under his breath at this but it sounded forced and harsh. “If she leaves me alone I can go back to working my desk job and I can live with Jimin and maybe it’ll hurt but it’s what I want. For once, I want to be able to choose what I want to happen in my life, not somebody else.”
It took another minute of driving before Namjoon was pulling the vehicle up outside of the halfway house and killing the engine. In that time neither of them spoke to each other and Taehyung was thankful for it. He had already said more than he should have and he didn’t want to delve any deeper into his emotions and pain right now. That could wait for later in the day, when he really needed it. When he shifted to pop the door open and step outside Namjoon made sure to tell him that he would stay parked outside and so Taehyung gave him a quick ‘OK’ sign before slamming the door shut and turning back to look at the building in front of him.
The halfway house was a tall apartment block with eleven floors including the ground-floor. It was made of concrete and looked rather cold upon first glance. But the exterior had no age to it, no long running cracks or pitted patches of damage that made it look like an unpleasant place to step inside. On each floor there were two rooms and the residents inside varied from recovering drug-addicts to abuse victims and people suffering from physical and mental disabilities, and there was even one or two convicts with minor jail sentence in there going through a rehabilitation process. Taehyung found it rather strange that both he and Jimin had ended up in there at some point but looking back on it it made perfect sense that they did. After all, they had both been drug-addicts cleared from a rehab centre and they were both victims of trauma that had left deep mental scars. But he didn’t like the fact that Jimin was still in there regardless of this knowledge because he deserved to be out of there.
So he crossed the sidewalk and went up the short entrance path to do the usual. He pressed a button on a system on the wall and waited for the door to be opened by whatever worker would be in the entrance area. When he stepped inside he saw that it was Hyosung, and she was hastily typing things up on the check-in computer. What she was typing he didn’t know but he assumed that it was administrative work. The check-in desk was right by the window and there were little boxes on the wall behind the counter that contained mail. The stairs were on the wall beside the desk rather than opposite the door, and on the left there was a ground-floor kitchen.
“I’m here to see Jimin,” he said as he moved over to the desk and folded his arms up on the wooden counter.
“Can you just empty your pockets out please, so I can make sure that you’re not carrying contraband?”
Taehyung had to go through this every single time that he was granted access into the building and there wasn’t a single worker in the building that hadn’t made him do it. A few of the male workers liked to do a pat down too just to be sure and it eerily reminded him of Jungkook’s penthouse suite. He had yet to try smuggling anything in but it still happened to him. So he reached inside his jacket to pull out his apartment keys, his police identification badge, a lighter, and a nearly empty packet of cigarettes. He placed them down and she looked at them before glancing up at his face.
“Remember, no smoking on the premises.”
“I know, I lived here once.”
“And you smoked in your room, Taehyung,” she retorted before nodding at him and letting him know that he was allowed to go through.
Taehyung put the objects back inside his jacket pocket as he crossed the entrance area and a quick glance over at the open doorway to his left showed that the medium-sized kitchen had quite a few people inside. He ascended the stairs and went up to the sixth floor without a hint of hesitation, more than used to this routine. When he stepped onto the landing there were two doors and so he went over to the correct one. Taehyung lifted his hand and he rolled his fingers up to rap on the thin door hard four times just like always. It wasn’t a particularly special knock but hopefully Jimin had learnt to associate it with him. After all, not a lot of people knocked on his door. He kept his hand in place rather than lower it, just in case he needed to knock again, but after maybe thirty seconds he heard the sound of the chain lock being scraped back and when he glanced at the door knob he saw it working as the door swung inwards a few inches.
“Hey, can I come in?” Taehyung asked as he lowered his head and looked between him and the slight gap in the doorway. Jimin stayed in place for a moment, almost as if he was thinking his words over. A study of his appearance showed his hair was tousled from sleep and he was wearing nothing other than a loose tee that was almost criminally short. There was no silken bathrobe in sight anymore but the sight of one of his old tees, faded and rather worn, seemed to suit him a lot better. It might just have been 10:30am but it seemed that the other man had been sleeping whilst he had been at the station.
“Of course you can come in, baby,” Jimin said as he shifted out of the doorway, voice a little heavy with sleep. “I’m not at all busy.” So Taehyung stepped inside and he found his eyes doing the exact same thing that they usually did, scanning the size of the room, and it made him feel rather annoyed.
Taehyung had been granted permission to leave the halfway house shortly after he had been green-lighted as completely clean from the methadone and able to be brought back into society. In total he had spent just a single month in the building and most of that time he had stayed purely for Jimin. It was a small building, the apartment rooms cramped and quite frankly disgusting. Not because they were decrepit or covered in filth but rather because they almost felt like a prison to him. Jimin had been taken from his ivory tower and reduced to living in an apartment no bigger than a small motel room and it very much felt like a prison cell. At least under Jungkook he had had a luxury penthouse suite to be locked up in all day long.
They had been forcibly separated upon being housed in the halfway house together and Taehyung knew exactly why. It had been because mingling and sexual contact was most certainly not allowed in the building, the workers there had made that explicitly clear. Even when Jimin had woken up half of the building screaming on the very first night that they had been lodged there and only he had been able to calm him down. Taehyung had found ways around this by sneaking into the other man’s room in the middle of the night, opening his rather busted old lock with a thin piece of copper wire he had found on the premises. But it wasn’t being separated that had boiled his blood the most but rather the fact that he had been judged the entire time that he had stayed there; judged by supposed charity workers that seemed to have a lot more hate in their hearts that acceptance.
Taehyung had wanted out from the very first week, had absolutely despise the place, and he wanted to get Jimin out too but that was currently out of his abilities. The department was covering the costs for the other man to stay on the premises but he didn’t know how much longer he was going to be allowed to stay. So much for fucking charity, they were just as bad as the bastards working in the police that Haedogje Pa had plied with money. Taehyung wanted to move him out, move him into his apartment room maybe where he would at least have something better than this, it was just a matter of waiting until he was granted permission to leave. But that was taking time, taking a long time. The fact that Lee wasn’t entirely certain that he should do such a thing didn’t help either but he wasn’t going to let her caution stop him.
Jimin deserved something better than this after all of the pain and fear that he had caused him and though Taehyung would never have something good enough, anything was better than this shithole.
“You still sleeping at this hour, huh?” Taehyung asked as he stepped out of his shoes and left them close to the door. The few pairs that Jimin owned now were all placed on a small shoe rack a few feet away. The carpet felt horribly thin against his bare soles, thin and itchy.
“Mmm,” Jimin agreed as he reached up to rub at his eyes roughly. “That’s what I do most days, days and nights actually.”
“You alright?” he asked as he straightened up and started shrugging his jacket off. The other man didn’t reply to this and there was really no need to do so. It was clear what he was going to say anyway so there was little point in asking. “Got any coffee? I’ll make you some, really wake you up.”
“Yes, there’s a little left,” Jimin said as he wandered over to sit down on the bed, so Taehyung moved over to the slight stretch of counter. There was no stove in the room but rather just a few devices that could be plugged in and used: a kettle, a microwave and rice cooker. If Jimin wanted proper food then he needed to go down into the kitchen on the ground-floor of the building instead. Instant coffee wasn’t exactly the best but it was better than nothing and Taehyung just focused on preparing it, adding a dab of sugar into Jimin’s because he knew that he liked it sweeter even with the sugar already in the instant blend. He was in the process of stirring one of the mugs when he heard a strange mewling sound and so he twisted to look over his shoulder and see a rather amusing sight.
“I thought that she was gone two weeks ago,” Taehyung remarked as he watched the tabby cat toddling across the apartment in Jimin’s direction. It was strange looking at the other animal and thinking about how oddly small it now looked in comparison to what he was used to. Taehyung had shared an apartment room with a cat the size of a leopard and now he was looking at a cat that looked like a mouse in comparison. “The fuck did you get her back in here?”
“She was in the garden again so I smuggled her back up here, I’ve given her a name now. She’s Chunsa, so don’t tell anyone,” Jimin said as he shifted to pick the cat up and almost hug her against his chest. “Taiji, you know Taiji right? Well, he’s been helping me care for her for a couple of days by bringing food and stuff from the store when he gets back from his work-shifts but one of the workers will probably find out and get rid of her again. But it’s been good so far so maybe not.”
Taiji was an ex-heroin addict with several petty offences to his name that included thievery and attempted armed robbery with a knife. Yet he was also helping Jimin care for an illicit pet cat.
“When I get you outta here I’ll let you have as many fucking cats as you want,” Taehyung said as he moved over to him and reached down to stroke at the cat’s head. “That’s a promise, alright?”
“Wangbi?” Jimin asked in a quiet voice, and Taehyung dragged his eyes away from the cat’s face to look at him.
“…She’s still being held by the station as part of the investigation but I’ve been to check up on her,” Taehyung explained. “She’s got a kinda kennel all to herself and she’s fed and groomed by the workers, so I’m sure that she’s fine.”
“I just don’t understand why I can’t have her back,” the other man said, tone showcasing some annoyance as he did. His lower lip even pouted out as he spoke just like he always did when he was upset or disgruntled.
“She was bought with cash brought in through Haedogje Pa earnings and she’s technically one of Jungkook’s assets,” he replied. “So that’s why you can’t have her back, Jimin. I’m sorry.” Chunsa wriggled in his arms and so Jimin stopped hugging her and instead let her wriggle free and pad along the bed to curl up by his pillows. Taehyung watched the cat settle down, tail wrapping up close to her nose, and then he turned back to the counter to collect the mugs of coffee. He handed one to Jimin and the other man accepted it so he joined him on the end of the bed.
“I was bought with Haedogje Pa earnings,” Jimin said in a quiet voice, nursing the mug between his hands. His eyes were looking across the room rather than at him and Taehyung felt his fingers tightening around his own mug. “Is this my kennel?”
“No, no this ain’t your kennel. Don’t say shit like that, Jimin. You ain’t a pet anymore. You’re gonna get discharged from here soon, right, and then you’re gonna come with me and I’ll take care of you just like you need. Better than these assholes do, yeah?”
“Mmm, I don’t know, Tae,” Jimin replied as he shifted on the end of the bed, folding his legs to the side just like always. “I don’t know if they’ll discharge me yet.”
“It’s been three months, Jimin,” Taehyung said as he lowered his mug and looked at him. “Why’re they still holding you here like it’s a fucking prison, huh?”
“I can’t get a job.”
“Why not? Didn’t they send you off on those training programs, huh? The ones to help train you?”
“Yes, and the last one I went to I had a panic attack and they dismissed me,” Jimin replied curtly. “Which I keep having, every time they send me out into the world and try and make me pretend that I’m normal, Tae.”
Taehyung didn’t reply to this but rather stayed silent, moving his tongue around his mouth. He tasted the coffee, bitter and acidic on his tongue, and then felt the increasing need to smoke a cigarette. He knew that smoking indoors was against the rules here too but he didn’t give a shit. If he had been willing to resort to locking him and Jimin in the cramped room toilet multiple times for quick blowjobs and rather frantic fucking just because it meant that no one could loudly knock on the door and call out shit to make them stop, then he was willing to smoke a goddamn cigarette. Besides, the window was open across the room anyway so he was practically outside. So he placed the mug down on the hard mattress and reached inside his jacket to slip the packet free. Jimin watched him do so intently, also silent. Taehyung flipped the top with his thumb, stuck the stick between his teeth and proceeded to light it. He dropped the packet without a care as he took a deep drag and then he breathed it out heavily.
“Shit, I ain’t normal either,” Taehyung remarked as he pulled the stick free and wet his lips. “I’m just good at pretending, that’s all this is. Fucking pretending. Been doing it now for…” he took a drag and breathed it out his nose, “almost eight months. That’s a personal record and it’s one I’m gonna keep breaking ‘cos I’ll be doing it my entire life.”
Jimin thought this over, eyes studying the end of the cigarette rather than hold his gaze. Taehyung knew that he wasn’t supposed to say that shit to him, Lee would probably disapprove of the attitude but it was the truth. Taehyung just wanted to tell him the truth because he deserved it at this point more than anything else.
“I pretended in Haedogje Pa, I’m pretending in my therapy sessions and my daily shifts. It’s gotten to the point now where I have trouble figuring out if I’m actually pretending to be the same person I was back then or if the person I was back then was actually the pretender. Y’know? Like all that time I was actually fucked up and I was pretending to be normal ‘cos I had to be.”
“No, no you weren’t always like that, Tae,” Jimin disagree with a head shake. “No one is like that, it happens to you. You get exposed to things and those things change you, your environment affects you. If you were like that all along then we wouldn’t be here talking like this right now, would we?” Taehyung wrapped his fingers around the mug and he studied the murky contents. “We would still be in Gangnam-gu, in the penthouse. You would still be in Haedogje Pa, Jungkook would still be a free man with an empire and an entire city under his control. But we’re not. We’re here, and that means that you weren’t like that. You were normal, you were good too.”
Taehyung just took another drag on his cigarette and breathed it out his nose rather than reply to this. It was funny, what Jimin had just said sounded like something that he would have expected Namjoon to say to him. He didn’t like the part about being good but it seemed that that was going to follow him for the rest of his life whether or not he liked it. After all, hadn’t Yeun remarked earlier that he could be in line for a medal? The thought was almost enough to have him scoff under his breath and he pulled the cigarette free and took a deep swallow of the coffee, even when it scalded his tongue.
Jimin placed the mug down on the floor and shifted to lie back down on the bed and so Taehyung copied his actions, making sure to not let his cigarette fall out of his mouth as he did so. He settled down onto his back, snaking an arm under his neck so that Jimin could move onto his side and loosely curl up against him. Something at the back of Taehyung’s mind told him that there was something missing from this and yet his other arm was hanging over the side of the mattress rather than around another warm body.
“You ever think about life and think…shit, I wish I could go back and change everything?” Taehyung asked as he stared up at the ceiling. Jimin’s fingers trailed along his chest slowly, playing with the buttons of his shirt. He lifted his hand to take a drag on the cigarette, reaching over the side of the bed to knock a chunk of ash free.
“Mmm, I think we all do that,” Jimin agreed. “I would go back to that day I went to the park with my friends and left my brother behind at home because I didn’t want to play board games with him.”
Taehyung turned his head to look at him and he saw that Jimin wasn’t looking at him but rather at the wall across the room. His fingers had stopped playing with his shirt buttons for a few seconds but then he continued doing so, snagging hold of one between his thumb and forefinger to lightly twist it before letting go again.
“A part of me thinks that I’d wanna go back to the start of the fucking operation and say “no”, just say “shove it up your ass I ain’t doing that shit” but then…then a part of me thinks that I wouldn’t do that if I’d the choice,” Taehyung said as he rolled his head back to stare up at the ceiling.
“Because even when all of the shit happened, even when you’ve been through hell, you know that you had to do it. That no one else could.”
“Mmm, yeah. Yeah I guess so. But also I know that I’d never get to meet you or Jungkook so the trade doesn’t seem worth it.”
“You and Jungkook were two of the only few good things to happen to me,” Jimin said in a quiet voice. “Lee told me that it’s unhealthy to-to think of Jungkook’s treatment as a good thing but he never hurt me, Tae. Not once. He could have hurt me and abused me like the other men that owned me but he never did. That means something to me, and being told that he was some kind of monster…I don’t like it. I don’t like her. Jungkook treated me well, or as well as he could. He was never right to begin with, I see that now. Jungkook’s the one that’s always needed help but he never got it, so he became that way, and I can’t get mad at him. Can you?”
Taehyung knew what he was supposed to say, what Lee has tried her very hardest to try and force him to think and say, and yet that didn’t come out of his lips.
“No, I can’t get mad at him either.”
“Jungkook could…nothing anyone could ever do for him would help fix certain parts of him. The murder and the…the torture and all that but Tae, you were helping him with things.” Jimin shifted so that he could balance his head on his chest, chin digging in ever so slightly. “Because of you he started opening up to me and telling me things that he had never done so before. It was like he just…needed someone in Haedogje Pa that he could trust and-”
“Jimin, don’t talk about that, don’t talk about Haedogje Pa.”
The other man seemed to think this over for a moment, contemplating whether or not he should continue talking or stop. Then he shifted to place his head against his shoulder again, the weight somewhat comforting to him. Taehyung stubbed the cigarette out and then tossed it onto the floor without a care.
“A job don’t matter, yeah?” Taehyung said as he moved to press his face against his hair. When he breathed in the faded scent of his shampoo from last night filled his lungs: apple. “Getting you outta this hellhole is more important first. Then we can worry about that, OK? Don’t feel bad or like a burden ‘cos you can’t handle that right now, Jimin. After everything you’ve been through you should be fucking proud of yourself right now.”
“I just…just don’t know what I’m doing any more,” Jimin said in a quiet voice. “I feel like I’m still trapped in a spiral and I’m not going to get out of it ever, I’ll just keep getting sucked back down every single time I almost free myself.” Taehyung reached up with his hand to stroke his hair, fingers brushing against the silken lengths. “Is…is it wrong for me to wish that I was still living in that penthouse with you and Jungkook and Wangbi and that everything is the same as it used to be? Even if that happiness is fucked up? Is that wrong, Tae?”
“No, no it ain’t wrong.”
“Do you still think things like that?”
Taehyung was on track to recovery according to Lee. There were still certain aspects that he needed to improve, like the nightmares and the aggressive tendencies, like his burning hatred for Kim Jinwoo and his lingering want to get his hands on something stronger than basic pain medication that he was taking on a basis that was far too often to be considered healthy. Taehyung was getting ‘better’ and pretty soon he would be stamped with a nice big declaration that said that he was ‘healthy’ when in reality it should have said that he was a great actor.
“Every single fucking day, Jimin.”
When he pushed the building door open and stepped out onto the curb sure enough there was Namjoon’s car, parked just like he had said it would be. The other man had probably left it there even when he had been inside the building because he had said that he would; walking several blocks to get something to eat when he could have used the car instead and save himself some time. It seemed exactly like something that he would do. Taehyung studied it for a few seconds and he heard the door closing behind him and locking with an automatic buzzing sound. Then he moved to cross the slight path and sidewalk to pop the passenger-seat door open and climb inside. Namjoon was sitting behind the wheel of course, no sight of food in hand but a takeaway box placed on the dashboard in front of him that seemed to be for him.
“Yeah,” he replied as he slammed the door shut. “Yeah, it’s alright.”
Namjoon lifted the handbrake and started pulling the car away from the curb with a soft twist of the wheel. Taehyung looked up at the sixth floor window as the car started rolling down the street, knowing that Jimin was asleep in bed and that when he woke up again he would find the note that he had left for him on the pillow. There had been no mentions of the fact that he was going to see Jungkook today, nothing at all. Jimin didn’t need to know about the fact, in fact the less that he knew the better he would be in Taehyung’s opinion. No, all that he needed to know was that he had left but he would be back to visit at the weekend to see him again just like always. Maybe if he was lucky he would be able to take him out for a few hours if the workers in the halfway house stopped acting like prison wardens. He thought that Jimin really needed to get out a little bit more, even if he only did so with him present. The other man couldn’t stay hidden away all the time because that was bad for him, would make his recovery that much harder.
On the dashboard in front of him there was a square box of takeaway food and a bottle of water. Taehyung would have thought that his stomach would feel tight and hard at the thought of going to the prison and yet he was actually hungry, hungry enough to accept the offer of food. So he moved to lift the box off the dashboard and unfolded the cardboard flaps to open it up. The strong scent of stir fried vegetables and sweet potato noodles wafted up in thick waves.
“Hoseok’ll kill you, driving me to the prison and getting me free japchae,” Taehyung remarked as he stuck the plastic chopsticks into the still steaming mess and hastily tossed it up to stop the noodles from congealing.
“Oh yes? Well, when you were working Hoseok got free jajangmyeon so he can’t complain,” Namjoon argued as he spared a quick glance over at him.
“What? Going on dates without me in tow?” Taehyung said in mock surprise, pausing in the act of going to shove noodles in his mouth. Namjoon made an amused noise at this and so he turned his attention back to the food.
“Any updates on Jimin?”
“Found the cat again,” Taehyung explained around the mouthful of japchae, poking at the contents of the box with the plastic chopsticks. “He even gave her a name.” His teammate asked him what he had called her. “Chunsa. He’s gonna get kicked outta the place if he keeps kidnapping strays, and actually I want that to happen. That’s a good thing. I should probably collect a bunch of fucking stray cats and release ‘em in the garden so he rescues ‘em all.”
“Showcasing your wonderful ability at planning operations there, brother,” Namjoon remarked as he stopped the car at a set of lights. Taehyung just continued chewing the mouthful of noodles and vegetables rather than reply. “Anything else?”
“…He failed the last training course,” he added as he chewed a mouthful of the food. “He had another panic attack so he was removed from the course. I dunno why I’m pretending I’m surprised ‘cos I ain’t. I knew that that was gonna happen the second I knew they had placed him on one. When’re they gonna learn that Jimin can’t handle that shit right now and that it’s just making it worse, huh?”
Namjoon made a soft noise at this, concentrating on driving rather than keeping up the conversation. Taehyung didn’t mind and he just carried on eating, stabbing at the box of japchae in annoyance and finding that the mouthfuls had lost all semblance of flavour on his tongue. It felt like he was running in circles right now trying to fix Jimin’s problems and there was a simple solution to it all. But no one would listen to him because the solution was much too close to the past. By allowing him to take Jimin out of that disgusting halfway house and care for him he was almost replicating Jungkook’s behaviour and that seemed to be a worrying sign for Lee. But Taehyung didn’t want to replicate his behaviour, he just wanted to help Jimin because he needed it.
Yet Taehyung was being made to feel like he was fostering some form of dependency and manipulating the other man when all he did was love him and want to take care of him.
It was when he was halfway through the box of japchae that Taehyung found that he felt nauseous. He should have seen it coming and yet a part of him had been hoping that he wouldn’t get hit by it, that he could just keep the food down and not have that horrible sensation in the pit of his stomach. Yet he found those horrible cramps hitting him as suddenly his mouth was too wet, too filled with saliva, and he just knew that he was going to vomit.
“Shit, stop the…car, Namjoon, stop the-”
Namjoon quickly pulled the car away from the lane towards the curb and Taehyung shoved the door open and he leaned out just in time, retching and vomiting into the gutter. He felt even more disgusting doing this but he had to. If he wasn’t vomiting in the gutter like a drunk then he would have vomited all over the dashboard of his teammate’s car instead. That was most certainly much more messier than the gutter for sure. Whilst Taehyung took a few quick breaths, throat and nose burning from the bile, Namjoon actually reached over to rub at his back a few times. His palm was warm against his jacket, warm and comforting, and yet the contact made a shiver run down his spine and Taehyung couldn’t help but moan under his breath. As soon as the cramps had passed he grabbed the water bottle and swilled his mouth out with water, spitting it into the gutter to rid the taste of vomit from his tongue. That done he shifted to get back into the car fully and slammed the door shut, placing the bottle back on the dash.
“Always happens,” he muttered under his breath as the car started moving again. “The, uh, the last time Hoseok took me here I did it in the prison. All over the floor.” Taehyung carried on massaging at his brow, eyes closed and elbow balanced on the gently vibrating door armrest. “That was fun, really caused a scene. I knew it was gonna happen today but I was kinda hoping that it wouldn’t.”
“Mmm, I’m a fucking nervous wreck right now,” he agreed before taking a deep breath and letting it out. “I know what Jimin feels all the time now and I know exactly why he was always popping fucking pills - Namjoon, it’s just the shittiest feeling.”
“You should go see a doctor,” Namjoon said without looking away from the front window.
“It’s not like they can give me a prescription, I’ll get hooked on whatever they give me. I know I will. They’d give me something for, uh, for nerves and that’d dope me up.” Taehyung wet his lips and then pulled the lower one in to start nibbling on it. “So I ain’t allowed prescription meds stronger than basic painkillers.”
“Have you been taking them?”
“…Yeah,” he replied in a quiet voice. “I’ve been taking codeine. Y’know, the shit you get for menstrual cramps? Yeah, I’m taking that daily instead of methadone. I’m doing fucking great, Namjoon.”
The car fell silent at this and Taehyung kept his eyes closed as he tried to get himself under control. His hands wouldn’t stop shaking, not entirely. That was a lingering habit that the morphine had left him with but most of the time it wasn’t that bad. The worst part wasn’t the shaking fingers or the onset of a crippling headache, it was that horrible unsettled sensation in the pit of his stomach that wouldn’t leave him even after he had vomited. His teammate didn’t say a word at this and instead concentrated on driving and after a minute of quiet he opened his eyes to look out of the front window.
“Y’know, at the clinic I asked a lot of questions,” Taehyung said to break the silence. “When I was more lucid and able to do so, I asked questions. Namjoon, heroin has a relapse rate in the ninety-percent bracket.” He paused to let this since in for a few seconds. “The high ninety-percent bracket, to be precise. Morphine ain’t far off heroin. We’re both set up for a fucking relapse but I know that you ain’t gonna do it. I dunno why but I just know you ain’t. Why?”
“Why won’t I relapse?”
“Yeah- no, I mean,” Taehyung shifted on the seat as he tried to sort his thoughts out into words. “How come you’ve been able to fight it off all of this time, and I can’t? I can’t even go a couple of months without latching onto something as as a replacement so why?”
“I don’t know, Taehyung,” Namjoon replied honestly as he stopped the car at a set of lights. This allowed him to look over at him for a moment and so he did, hands still on the wheel. “I still have memories of what I went through, what I saw and did, just like you. But I don’t have an attachment to what happened to me like you do. What I did was overseas, the activity, the drugs, and I feel like that distance helped me cut a lot of the pain out. You don’t have that luxury, you’re in a city that filled with memories and places that hold a lot of meaning to you and you still have strong connections to the case right now. It’s ongoing, and you aren’t going to be able to cut that out just yet. Maybe that’s why you’re struggling to fight it, brother?”
“The codeine, that isn’t good,” Namjoon added as the lights changed and they started rolling down the street again. “But it’s also something that can be corrected in the future. Don’t feel bad or weak for developing a soft dependency on painkillers, OK? You’re still in pain right now with the case being open but soon enough it will close and we can start moving on from it and help you fix that dependency. Think of it like alcohol right now, you needing it so much isn’t good, but it’s more manageable than something extreme.”
“I…I want the pain,” Taehyung said in a quiet voice. “But I don’t wanna feel the pain. I thought that I did but I don’t.”
It took ten more minutes until they were drawing close to the prison and in that time Taehyung found himself completely blank of thoughts and feelings. He felt rather numb and cold and that was a blessing all things considered. It was strange because he had expected the nerves to get stronger the closer to the building that he got, but Taehyung found that it was actually the complete opposite. Whatever the case at least he could breathe without feeling like he was suffocating and nothing else mattered. His teammate was silent for the duration, maybe thinking his words over or maybe just staying quiet because he had nothing to say. He wouldn’t be surprised if his words had made him feel a little numb too.
Taehyung had kept so quiet about the codeine problem. He hadn’t even told Jimin about it for fear that he would worry about him taking the painkillers but they were nothing really. Nothing more than a slight kick that wasn’t even remotely close to that of the morphine or even the methadone. He had started taking them to try and combat the headaches and the constant pain in his shoulder and of course he had went for the most potent, the most addictive of the pharmacy brand painkillers; the ones that didn’t need a prescription. He knew that his current pills of choice were actually rather weak, more filler paracetamol than codeine. Taehyung had started taking them for the pain but now he was just swallowing them because he still hadn’t let go of the fucking habit it would seem. Yet despite not telling Jimin he had just blurted it out to Namjoon and he really didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.
Whatever, all they could do was force him to go back into rehab again for an addiction to minor painkillers and further delay the case. Taehyung doubted that they would go to such lengths to fix this problem when there was a much bigger one at hand right now; something much bigger than he was.
When Namjoon slowed the car down at the security gates to the prison Taehyung felt his heart doing a hard hiccup that caused him to almost wriggle in his seat. There was no trouble of course for they were let through the gates by the man in the booth after his teammate showed him his Inspector badge. That was all that they needed to be granted access and the man was probably more than aware of who they were here to see. The car slowly rolled into the outer prison yard, which was separated from the prison by way of chain link fencing and another series of security gates. Namjoon guided the car over to the far end of the parking lot area, killing the engine without a single word and fully plunging the interior into silence.
God, Lee was going to pissed off when she heard about this, Taehyung had no doubts about it. He had been told quite a few times that visiting might not be a good idea at this current stage, that it could impede his recovery process, and yet here he was, eyeing the prison through the window of the car and very much feeling the impulse to climb out and go inside. Taehyung could feel his teammate studying him from the seat beside him but he just kept his gaze straight ahead on the building rather than look back at him.
The prison was a long stretch of light grey concrete and it was perhaps three floors high including the ground-floor. There were small windows all along the length of it and it was quite the distance away. That was because there was a large front yard area for inmates almost enclosed with high fencing, the tops covered in barbed wire and signs along the lengths warning that the fencing was live and that touching it could result in electrocution and possible death. Between the yard and where they were currently parked there was another building, a smaller building. This one was ground-floor only and it was the entrance to the prison. Visitors would be checked and searched within and guards would take breaks during shifts inside. There were two other other buildings flanking each side of the prison, one in which there was an infirmary and presumably solitary confinement of sorts. The other contained a large visitation room and other things that Taehyung had yet to see whilst inside. Lastly, in two of the corners around the prison there were tall towers on which guards would stay and watch everything from above. There were massive alarm systems stuck to the sides and Taehyung wondered what the siren would sound like coming from them before dragging his eyes away.
It was an imposing building, that much was certain, and the cold waves coming off it seemed to permeate the very car and chill him down to the bone.
It was because he needed to talk about the case, of course. It was important that he talked about the case with him and he ensured that Jungkook knew what was happening too. That was the exact reason that he was here today and nothing more than that. But Taehyung knew the main reason that he was shoving the door open and that was because he wanted to see him.
“Want me to wait for you?” Namjoon asked as he climbed out of the seat.
“Nah, go back to the station,” Taehyung said as he lingered beside the doorway. “You don’t have to wait for me - and I know that you’re gonna say that you want to wait but don’t.”
“…OK,” Namjoon said after a moment of thought. “OK, I’ll go back to the station. If you need me or anything don’t hesitate to call, brother.”
Taehyung told him that he wouldn’t hesitate and then he slammed the door shut and stepped away from the car. As he turned back to the building and eyed the entrance area he heard the car backing up slowly to pull out of the space and drive across the lot. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes as the sunlight was reflecting off the windows right at his face. For a few seconds he just stared at the automatic doors and then he let his breath out in a heavy sigh and started walking towards it. The doors opened when he stood on the rubberised pad, a gust of air-conditioned air hitting him right in the face as he stepped inside and located the counter set just to his right. There was a guard standing there, a rather short man with a cap on.
“Jeon Jungkook,” Taehyung said as reached inside his jacket to slip his police identification free. He flipped the wallet open and put it down on the counter so that the guard could check it. He hoped that he didn’t look as nervous as he was currently feeling. He had no real reason to be nervous if he was just an officer coming to interview him for the case and yet he was; so nervous that he was starting to break out into a sweat in fact. The man checked his wallet and then turned to a computer, hitting a few buttons to check something.
“…OK, follow me through the door and we’ll have him sent to visitation,” the other man said as he moved to duck under the counter partition. Taehyung collected his wallet and shoved it back into his jacket, moving out of the way so that the guard could get out and guide him across the room in the direction of a set of locked doors. The man had to enter a passcode and then he was escorting him down a series of corridors with more locked doors.
“This is Do, Jeon Jungkook has a visitor to see him. Approved police visitor. Send him over to visitation, noncontact,” he said as he pressed a button on a transmitter radio on his shoulder. There was a static burst a few seconds later from another officer and it sounded like a confirmation to his ears.
Just like the halfway house, just like the penthouse suite in Gangnam-gu, Taehyung was forced to go through a pat-down just before leaving the entrance area. There were two guards there and one collected his cigarettes and lighter to put in a marked tray because they were contraband but they allowed him to keep his keys in his suit jacket pocket. As soon as he was checked thoroughly, inside of his shoes and all, the other guard took over Do’s duty and escorted him out of the building. Taehyung had to cross a long stretch of gravel path that led to the visitation building, both sides flanked by high fencing to keep a distance between the guards and visitors and the inmates on the yard. Currently in the yard there were quite a lot of inmates and he could feel many pairs of eyes on him as he walked. Maybe some were looking at him because they knew that he was police from a mile off. He knew that quite a few weren’t however because some sharp wolf whistles cut through the air, followed by uproarious laughter.
“Just trying to scare you,” the guard said without looking back at him. Taehyung doubted that he was telling the truth.
He was escorted along the yard and taken to the other section of the prison. The visitation block had several entrances and he was taken through the one that would take him to the noncontact room, having to go through more locked doors as he did. The guard stopped in front of the visitor door and told him that he would be waiting outside and so Taehyung nodded at him and pushed the door open to step inside.
A quick glance along the length of table showed that no one else was in the noncontact visitation room for the entire stretch was empty on both sides of the glass. There were six sets of chairs and so Taehyung moved to the very first one and sat down in it, the plastic creaking ominously under his weight. He eyed the telephone receiver on the wall beside him and then looked at the glass to see that it was thick and free from scratches. He felt the most pressing urge to swallow hard because there seemed to be a lump in his throat. Taehyung placed his hands on the table, warm and sweating palms against the cool wood, and he closed his eyes whilst he waited.
Jungkook was currently being held for the murder of Bae Goohee, a murder that had been proven in court that he had had to testify in via a video link for his own safety. He was yet to be charged with a single offence that they had against him and the charges just kept mounting higher and higher without an ending in sight. There was going to be so many prosecutable offences that Taehyung wasn’t entirely certain how they were going to take him to court over them all. It would probably take near a hundred hearings alone to cover the monetary crimes that he had been responsible for, and that wasn’t even scratching the surface of it all.
But even if he was prosecuted for one aspect and he ended up with a life sentence that didn’t matter, they couldn’t stop there. Jungkook was integral to every single conviction that they had for his men, both in Korea and abroad. That meant that they most certainly needed his cooperation and that meant one thing.
A plea bargain.
That was why the Yongsan-gu department had to have him on hand for every single thing. That was why other departments across the city were begging for phone calls with him so that they could have his spoken word as evidence amongst other things. Even foreign countries required his assistance and that aspect might have just been the reason why he was staying in a private cell cut off from the rest of the prison and inmates. That or his lawyer had seen him get some nice upgrades, Taehyung didn’t know but he did know his lawyer was a ruthless woman. The fact that he had seen her at Jeon’s funeral sitting just several seats down from his mother might just have been a sign.
Taehyung opened his eyes again and he stared at the empty seat facing him. The urge to tap his fingers on the table was overwhelming but he managed to not do so. He did end up compulsively wetting his lips however, for every time that he did they still seemed to be dry. He imagined how strange it would have been to have seen Jungkook in the yard just like every other inmate in the prison and found that it was not a mental image that he could visual at all. It was too hard to do so and instead he tried to think of something else instead. Like what to say to him when the younger man stepped through those doors in a minute or two and left him completely dumb in his presence.
“…Shit,” Taehyung muttered under his breath as he dropped his eyes to stare at his hands. He had been so worried thinking about everything else that he hadn’t even thought about what he was actually going to say to Jungkook. The complete blankness that overcame him was so surprising that he could only sit there, still and silent. He had just settled on talking about the case when there was a sudden sound and he looked up sharply to see the door being pushed open.
When Jungkook stepped into the room with a guard right behind him Taehyung felt every single muscle and nerve in his body turn to stone. He was quite simply paralysed by the sight of him. Unlike his guard Jungkook’s guard stayed inside his half of the room, back against the wall and eyes staring off across the room rather than look at them. Taehyung studied the man before dragging his eyes back to look at Jungkook as he sat down in the chair. For a moment he could do no more than stare at him because he had also lost the ability to talk.
It had only been three months and so Jungkook looked practically the exact same as he had when he had last seen him outside of these prison walls. Save for some slight weight gain, muscle weight, he looked the exact same. Taehyung supposed that Jungkook had little else to do but workout in here for he wasn’t entirely certain of the privileges that he currently possessed. As he stared at the younger man’s face those same large and rounded eyes stared right back at him and his expression was currently neutral judging from the slight pout of his lips. Not at all like his expression, for Taehyung was well aware of the fact that he was almost slack-jawed right now.
After maybe thirty seconds of staring Jungkook moved to collect his receiver off the wall and so Taehyung did so too. His hand was shaking so much that it was a miracle that he didn’t drop the fucking thing and break it. The younger man held it up against his head with one hand, the mannerism looking rather cool and collected yet Taehyung saw right through it. He could see that Jungkook was just as nervous as he was. It was in the way that he kept blinking and the occasional twitch of his lips at the corners.
“When they said police officer I must admit, I wasn’t expecting this,” Jungkook said to break the silence. The sound of his voice down the line, slightly static, caused a tremor to run right down his spine and Taehyung just knew that a soft moan escaped his lips and that he had heard his through his receiver.
“Uh, yeah it’s…it’s kinda sudden,” Taehyung agreed as he dropped his gaze to stare at his chest rather than look at his face. The colour of his prison issued sweatshirt and pants were white and he wondered if that pissed him off before glancing back up at his face again.
“It’s been three months,” Jungkook replied in a flat tone. “I think you took your time.”
The visitation room fell silent at this, horribly so. There was a thickness to the air that was almost cloying and Taehyung wanted to break it but he didn’t really know how. All thoughts of what to say just seemed to dry up in Jungkook’s presence and so he settled for going between staring at the table to his face in quick succession. Every time that he did Taehyung heard an annoying little voice whispering away in the back of his mind. A voice that kept wanting to remind him of how beautiful Jungkook was and how he had had him once but not anymore. A disgusting voice that told him to blurt things out just to get a reaction from him, maybe even some validation. Taehyung was so preoccupied trying to force it away that he didn’t even attempt to break the silence, but luckily for him the younger man did.
“You’re here about the case, aren’t you?” Jungkook asked before sighing softly. The sound was amplified down the line and Taehyung almost felt his breath against his neck. His fingers curled up painfully right in response to the sound.
“Yeah yeah, actually it’s funny you should ask,” Taehyung remarked as he shifted on the seat. The plastic creaked rather annoyingly under his weight and he made a mental note to pick a different chair next time just to avoid having to listen to the annoying sound every time he did so much as move one of his legs. “Today I, uh, I finished my last case hearing at the station. That’s it, it’s been three solid months of work and I’m finally free of that shit.”
“It’s all over now?”
“Not exactly, the files are still being analysed, convictions are still pending, statements and all of that shit,” Taehyung’s fingers played with the slight pleat in his trouser leg. “There’s a lot of work, and I heard that you’ve been doing a lot of work too.” Through the glass Jungkook made an amused noise under his breath, eyes dropping to study the wooden surface of the table. Taehyung wished that that noise didn’t give him butterflies and make his eyes start stinging.
“Not all of the files were as straightforward as you thought, yes?” he said rather smugly. “You expected it to all be in black and white, no codes, no security on the files. I heard that the department wiped an entire drive trying to assess it.”
“Yeah, a drive was wiped,” Taehyung agreed with a nod. “But not on our end, you had remote network access to have it deleted. By Seokjin, right?” Jungkook didn’t reply but the answer was pretty fucking obvious so he didn’t need to. “We acted too quickly, it was our own fault for not thinking and hacking into the drive. He probably got a nice big red warning sign on his monitor screen, didn’t he? A nice big warning telling him to hit a button and delete everything before we could even blink. Forensics might just be able to scrape some residual data from the drive but that could take a long time, and there ain’t no guarantee it will be anything more than passwords and shit like that. It ain’t gonna be documents, photos, records. You fucking pulled a fast one on us, Jungkook.”
“Mmm, I’m not soft, Taehyung,” Jungkook said with a nod. Taehyung thought about how soft his skin was against his, his lips and those silken locks of hair, and his stomach did a horrible clench. He was soft alright, just not in the way that he was talking about currently. “No one keeps files so naked like that, just asking to be hacked into and stolen. Everybody who’s anybody encrypts data and if you’re bigger than an anybody, then you better have a fail-safe prepared. Just in case.” When he lifted his gaze to look back at him he saw that the smirk was still on his lips.
“You’re getting a reprieve by offering assistance, ain’t you?” Taehyung asked him in a quiet voice, studying the younger man through the glass. Jungkook nodded and shifted slightly in his seat, folding his free arm up on the table. “Cutting a nice chunk of your sentence down by giving witness accounts, men, absolutely anything that you can give us you’re giving. Don’t you think that’s betrayal, Jungkook?”
“Betrayal? No, no I think it’s survival,” Jungkook retorted without even blinking at him. The surety in his tone and on his expression was unmistakable. “You can only betray a person that’s close to you, those men are nothing. I owned them but I don’t owe them anything, especially not an ounce of my sympathy.”
“Well, it ain’t like you’ve got much to spare, right?” Taehyung agreed. The younger man didn’t respond to this and instead just held his gaze. “I did tell you that day that you could fuck the courts up if you really tried but I didn’t expect this. How long? What’s the current estimate?”
“Five years, with parole,” Jungkook replied without a hint of hesitation. “That’s the figure that my lawyer is insistent that I’ll be able to narrow it down to if I can provide multiple successful convictions amongst other things. I’ve been helping clean up the filth on the internet too, all of that pornography.”
Taehyung tried to not swallow too hard at this but he failed. The younger man had probably heard the gulp down the line.
“You need to know how to access the sites to bring them down, and that’s all up here,” Jungkook continued as he tapped his fingers against the side of his head. “Most of the shit, I didn’t even need to make notes. I just memorised. You have to memorise if you want to keep hold of power, Taehyung.” The younger man had held power in his hands for less than a couple of months and yet he seemed oblivious to this fact. “Which is why your team needs me, why multiple stations across the city needs me. Shit, several countries need me to ensure successful convictions. You can’t find where the treasure is buried without a map.”
“Five years?” Taehyung repeated in a quiet voice as he looked at him. Jungkook held his gaze confidentially. “Jesus Christ, Jungkook.”
“Without me the streets are still filled with remnants of Haedogje Pa, men are still working, crimes are still occurring right now as we speak. There are so many men that worked for daddy that you don’t know about but I do. There’s so much, Taehyung, those hard drives were just a drop in the ocean and I don’t think any of you have a clue just how fucking big this all is.”
“I know you don’t see it as betrayal,” Taehyung explained, “and truthfully neither do I, but I’m curious. What’d your men think? The ones that you’re selling out to the police? Aren’t they gonna see betrayal? Ain’t they gonna want you dead for this, Jungkook?”
“Yongsan-gu was never been a corrupt district in terms of police activity, I’m relatively safe in this prison. Nice and separated from the other men so I don’t have to breathe the same air as them.” Jungkook paused before adding. “My men wanted me dead anyway, what difference does this make?”
“Good point…” Taehyung muttered as he reached up to switch hands, placing the receiver against his other ear. The movement caught Jungkook’s attention and he caught him staring at his hand and so he froze before he realised why he was doing so. “They forced me to get it removed, the station, y’know but,” he paused and looked down at his hand for a few seconds, out of sight on his lap.
Taehyung lifted his hand up and held it so that his palm was facing his cheek, the back of his hand on clear display for Jungkook to see. The younger man’s eyes latched onto it, onto the unmissable white lines still left in place on his tanned skin rather than the black ink that had once been there. Sometimes the white turned a rather startling shade of pinkish red but not today. No, today it was the bone white shade of scar tissue and it was no wonder that Jungkook was staring at it so openly.
“Scarring,” he explained to him, as if that wasn’t pretty damn obvious from first glance. “You went a little hard that day, damaged the skin. The tattoo wouldn’t have lasted forever, would’ve faded over time and needed touch-up work to it to keep it crisp. But I had to get it removed, and when I did it was…”
It was what exactly? Taehyung had had several words come to mind and yet he couldn’t seem to find the right one to say. He guessed that a part of him had found the scarring terrifying at first for he had almost thought that he had been hallucinating the characters; his eyes playing tricks on him to make him think that the letters were still etched onto his skin. How could they have remained after the removal process? Why had those white and pink lines lingered there to almost haunt him, like the faded scent of his own cologne trapped in his clothing that always seemed to trigger thoughts in his mind or the wrinkles and indents on a pillow that seemed to have been created by another head every morning when he woke up?
But Taehyung would be lying if he claimed that his reaction to the scarring had been only negative, only scared. There was no real point in denying the fact that he had felt something else too, something that was hard to really put into words. The letters on his flesh had been like some strange sign rather than a brand, some sign that told him that he was still Jungkook’s in a way. If his nickname was still etched into his flesh then his ownership was still there in his mind and that was something that would horrify Lee if he told her that. So Taehyung hadn’t, even when the feeling still persisted.
The tattoo had still remained even after it had been removed. Maybe that meant that Jungkook still loved him even after the betrayal?
“Let’s just say that it was pretty funny seeing it still there on my skin even after it had been removed, y’know?”
“Did you want to get it removed?” Jungkook asked in a quiet voice, finally looking up at his face again.
“…Dunno, I know I wanted your daddy’s tattoo removed ‘cos I ain’t Haedogje Pa no more,” Taehyung explained slowly. Jungkook’s hand was on clear display on the table and he could see that the tattoo had hardly even faded for him. The black characters were bold and unmissable on his fingers.: S.L.U.T. still on his skin like a brand. “But…but I actually wanted to keep that one.” At his words the younger man looked away and stared off across the visitation room. “I’m not supposed to admit that but it’s the truth.”
“Why aren’t you supposed to admit it?”
“My shrink would get pissed off with me.”
“Is Jimin still seeing her?”
“Is Jimin OK? Is he..is he safe? Is he happy?” Jungkook asked as he shifted his gaze back to him. Taehyung thought this over for a moment before telling him that he was safe, but far from happy. “Then that makes two of us.”
“I’m not exactly happy either, Jungkook.”
Jungkook’s gaze was withering as he stared at him and yet Taehyung forced himself to hold his eyes regardless. He understood the younger man’s anger towards him, and the pain that he had caused him, but he was telling him the truth. Every since completing the operation Taehyung hadn’t really felt an emotion that could be described as ‘happy’. The success had not made him happy, the freedom had not made him happy, nothing had come close to what the sensation that just lying in bed between Jungkook and Jimin drifting on the lingering effects of morphine had felt like; warm bodies and breath, fingers playing with his hair. Taehyung had given that up and what did he have now? A soft dependency to codeine instead of a morphine addiction, more scars and more pain.
Taehyung wasn’t happy either and he knew that he wasn’t going to get to feel anything like that ever again.
“Jungkook, I…” Taehyung folded his arms on the table in front of him, the receiver balanced in the crook between his shoulder and neck so that he didn’t have to hold it in place. “I need you to understand something, yeah? Something important.”
“I’m listening,” Jungkook said in a quiet voice, holding the receiver in place and slowly twirling the cord around his index finger. He was no longer glaring at him but attempting to look disinterested again.
“When I was sent undercover I was not sent in to get close to you,” he explained slowly, not to be condescending but to let the younger man really think his words over. “My entire mission was to get in, spend maybe eleven months hanging around and trying to sneak some info from men. Pass it on, sell ‘em out, maybe try and get a line on you from a distance and set you up for a single crime that could bring everything down. I wasn’t supposed to get close to you.” Jungkook didn’t look away from him once as he spoke, eyes wide but not in shock. Rather he was looking at him attentively, hanging onto every single word. “That just happened, and I didn’t mean for it to but it just did. Maybe that was a mistake, yeah, you probably think that it was a big fucking mistake but-”
“It wasn’t,” he spoke over him.
“but shit, Jungkook, it wasn’t supposed to happen. You understand what I’m saying, right?” Taehyung paused for a moment, lips still moving but words struggling to come out right. “I didn’t go undercover with the intention to use you, to hurt you, or any of that shit I-”
“Taehyung, I understand,” Jungkook said in a quiet voice.
“I didn’t wanna do that shit to you, to anyone. I wasn’t told about that shit, Jungkook, but I had no choice ‘cos I was thrust into it and forced to play along so I didn’t take a fucking bullet. My team didn’t tell me I wuh-would have to do that and-”
Taehyung stopped talking and he dropped his head, taking a deep breath as he closed his eyes. He could feel himself starting to get emotional and this wasn’t supposed to happen either. Lee most certainly would be pissed off with him if she found out that talking to Jungkook still made his chest ache with guilt. He was supposed to have passed that phase several weeks ago but he just didn’t seem to be able to do so. Not like Jimin, who had less feelings of guilt but more feelings of anxiety and dependency; who admitted to him that he was constantly scared that something was going to happen even when he knew that he was secure. Jimin was likely never going to feel such a level of security and it seemed that he was never going to get rid of the guiltiness either.
Taehyung didn’t feel safe exactly, not when he no longer had a gun and the knowledge that he was sleeping in a building with armed men and top-level security. He understood Jimin’s fear but fear was something that he was used to after all of his time in Haedogje Pa. Fear wasn’t new, but guilt most certainly was and that was just another aspect of the entire situation that kept dragging him back to Jungkook.
“Taehyung, I approached you,” Jungkook explained in that same quiet voice, and so he opened his eyes to watch his fingers twirling the cord tighter and tighter. “I made the first move that day and I wasn’t supposed to, I wasn’t supposed to take a tribute from the pool like that. You were supposed to go to my men but I wanted you.” When he let go the cord sprang back into shape almost instantly. Taehyung eyed it and then lifted his gaze to his face. There was something on it, something almost wistful about it. “Woo told me not to, daddy told me not to, but I did it anyway because I wanted you to myself.”
“I just feel like a…a fucking monster, Jungkook,” Taehyung said in a whisper. “I just…I did so much bad shit. I should be locked in here too ‘cos of what I did and I don’t understand why everyone wants to pin medals on me and-and act like I’m not.”
“It’s because you’re a hero, Taehyung,” Jungkook said.
“I ain’t a hero, I’m a monster.”
“Aren’t we all?”
Taehyung lifted his eyes from the table to look at him. Jungkook was giving off no air of anger or annoyance despite what had happened. That was exactly what Jimin had said to him, that day that he had went to go and see his team secretly. Jimin had told him that everyone was a monster in the end, particularly Gods, and here was Jungkook telling him the exact same. Did the younger man still feel like a God? Did he still feel like he was something bigger than everyone else because he was ruling the courts from this prison and he was going to get out soon? The answer was probably yes but right now Taehyung felt as far from Godliness as possible.
“Jungkook, d’you feel like a monster too?”
Jungkook held his gaze for a moment before shifting in his seat and looking down at the table. He eyed his own knuckle tattoo rather than speak and Taehyung could see that he was thinking his words over before he gave him an answer. It took a solid minute of silence before he decided to break it.
“I’ve always been a monster, Taehyung,” he said in that same soft voice. He had been using it for most of their conversation and it was strange hearing him speaking like that. Usually he only spoke that way when they were alone, lying in bed or standing in a parking lot where no one else could see or hear them. Taehyung couldn’t help but stare at him as he spoke, watching the way that his lips moved, the soft twitch of his nose or brow. “I never tried to be anything else. I didn’t want to be anything else.”
“…I don’t know,” Jungkook admitted with a soft shrug, one of the few times that he had actually admitted uncertainty in his presence. “I guess that I always thought that being a monster meant that I was strong, that I was stronger than everyone else. They’re stronger than humans. Monsters don’t have weaknesses, they make everyone else weak; weak with fear. But then I found out that I have weaknesses so that means that I can’t be a monster, I guess I’m really just another human.”
“D’you think that weaknesses mean that…that you can’t be a monster?” Taehyung asked him in a quiet voice, thinking the implications of his words over.
Jungkook thought that love was a weakness because he had told him so. That meant that the younger man thought that the love that he and Jimin had shown him, the love that he felt for his parents, meant that he couldn’t be a monster. Those emotions made him human instead. The thought was enough to make him feel conflicted and he wasn’t sure what to think or feel. This was just going to cause another series of therapy sessions that he would have to lie his way through again.
“Then…then that means that-”
“Then that means that you’re not a monster either,” Jungkook said as he lifted his gaze to look at him.
Taehyung stared at him dumbly because there was nothing that he could say in response to this. All of this time he had been labelling himself as a monster, a freak, a downright psychopath and every single time someone in the department had told him that he wasn’t any of those things he had scoffed at their words. They had called him a hero, a blessing and everything in between but that hadn’t helped him change his opinions on himself in the slightest. Yet Jungkook had just simply told him that he wasn’t a monster but rather a human, and he found himself believing it completely.
“Taehyung, will you…will you visit me again?” Jungkook asked, free hand moving up to actually cup the receiver close to him as he did. The way that his shoulders went up and he held on to the receiver looked defensive, almost as if he was preparing himself for a blow of some kind.
“Every week,” Taehyung promised as he shifted to get to his feet, phone still held against his ear so that the cord stretched taut. “I’ll visit every week, Jungkook.”
“Because of the case?”
“Yeah but…but not just ‘cos of the case,” he explained in a quiet voice. “I’ll visit you ‘cos I wanna visit you, y’know?”
“Do you really mean that?”
“Yeah I mean it,” Taehyung confirmed with a nod. “I wanna see you, Jungkook. D’you…d’you wanna see me too?”
“Yes,” the younger man replied without a hint of hesitation. “Yes I want to see you again, Taehyung.”
Jungkook shifted so that he could hold his hand up, hovering it just in front of the glass before slowly pressing his palm against it. Taehyung studied this for a few seconds and then he reached over to press his own palm against it. The glass was cold at first, but then he was almost certain that he felt a warmth bleeding through it, a warmth that he might just have been imagining. When Taehyung pulled his hand away from the glass he saw that there was a faint mark left behind shaped perfectly like his hand. Jungkook kept his against it for a second longer and then he also pulled his hand away. Looking at the two faded handprints on the glass was about as close to holding hands as they were currently allowed to do.
“Jimin?” Jungkook asked as he looked up from the smeared handprints to look at him instead. “Does Jimin still want to see me?”
“I’ll try and get Jimin to visit you when he can, y’know, when the stupid fucking workers ain’t on his ass,” Taehyung muttered as he shifted his gaze over to look at the guard. The man wasn’t even looking over at them. “I think he wants to see you again too, I really think that he does.”
“Does he still…still love me?”
“…Yeah, I think he does,” Taehyung replied, pausing for a moment as he contemplated finishing what he really wanted to say. He knew that he really shouldn’t because he would get scolded for doing so but he just had to say it anyway. “I still love you, Jungkook.”
“I know,” the younger man said as he closed his eyes. “I know that you do.”
“It fucking hurts, it hurts more than taking that bullet did,” Taehyung said as he reached up to pinch at the bridge of his nose tight. “Christ, Jungkook, it fucking hurts .”
“I know, I know that because it hurts me too.”
“And I know that I shouldn’t ask this but I just gotta, OK, I have to ‘cos of everything that happened and what I went through and-”
Jungkook’s voice cut right through his blabbering and Taehyung stopped talking instantly, lips actually pressing together to mute himself. His fingers were shaking around the stupid receiver again and he just knew that he was going to drop it, that he was going to break the device. He couldn’t take much more of this, he was going insane and he wondered if Jungkook even knew what he was going through right now. Did anyone? No, not even Jimin probably understood what he was going through and Taehyung couldn’t either. Why did it hurt so fucking much? Why couldn’t be just shut himself off to this too, that same way that he had desensitised himself to everything else?
“I love you.”
Taehyung closed his eyes and he took a deep breath, holding it in his lungs for a moment. Down the receiver he could hear nothing save for the softest sound of Jungkook exhaling his own breath, that lovely little sigh. When he opened his eyes again he saw that Jungkook was looking at him openly, seemingly waiting for him to speak.
“I’ll…I’ll come and see you again,” Taehyung said in a quiet voice before lifting his hand to gesture at the guard across the room, to let him know that he was finished. “I promise.”
Taehyung watched the guard pulling the cuffs off his belt so that he could cuff him again, Jungkook holding his out in front of him. The younger man didn’t watch him to do so and rather just continued looking at him. The cuffs closed around his wrist with a crisp metallic clicking sound and then the man was reaching over to place a hand on his back to push him in the direction of the door. The guard pulled the door open for him and Jungkook spared a final glance over his shoulder at him. Then he was being gently shoved through the gap and the door closed over again with a dull thumping sound. Taehyung stayed in the visitation room for another moment, hearing nothing more than the softest sounds of doors opening and closing somewhere in the building. Then he turned on his heel and went over to the door to knock on the door.
Taehyung was escorted across the yard again to get out of the prison, the guard walking several feet ahead of him. Despite the noise coming from the yard he didn’t look over at it once because he had no interest in it anymore. He just followed him until he was being let into the entrance building. He was given his belongings back by the other guard and he shoved the packet and lighter back into his suit jacket as he crossed the area to leave the building. He was let back through the security gate and walked the short length of the drive to exit the prison. Taehyung turned his head to see the familiar sight of Namjoon’s car parked right at the end of the street. The sight of it was enough to make him scoff under his breath and roll his eyes so he moved over to the car.
“So much for not waiting, huh?” Taehyung said as he sat down in the seat and slammed the door shut. The car shifted as he moved to get comfortable. When he looked over at him Namjoon just shrugged in response before starting to car again and pulling it away from the curb. “Guess what?”
“I spoke about the case with Jungkook and guess what figure his lawyer is pressing for right now?” Taehyung rolled his head against the headrest to study the other man and Namjoon thought the question over intently before giving him a reply.
“Five? Christ,” Namjoon made a soft noise under his breath at this and then shook his head in disbelief. “You know, I honestly wouldn’t even be surprised if he managed to pull that off all things considered.”
“Yeah, me neither.” Taehyung shifted to sit back in the seat, settling back against the padded leather with a heavy sigh. “After everything that we did, that I went through: five fucking years.”
“That’s still a long time, brother, and you need to remember that Jungkook isn’t that only man that went down for this. Look at the numbers of convictions that we’ve pulled so far, I would say that that more than makes up for it, yeah? After all this operation might have been aimed at bringing him down but that wasn’t why we did it. This wasn’t just to get Jungkook, this was to get his knowledge and his information so that we could bring down Haedogje Pa, remember?” Taehyung thought this all over and then made a soft noise in agreement. “So to me, five years? That’s good seen as he’s cooperating so much. The others won’t be so lucky and there’s really no need for plea bargains when we have him.”
“He said something like…“you can’t get the treasure without the map”,” Taehyung remarked as he stared out of the front window. “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he said that, ‘cos he’s fucking right. We need him just as much as he needs us for half of this shit; the teams are taking too long to recover that drive data, the facts are all there but they ain’t adding up right. Shit, Namjoon, I didn’t get the keys to the castle at all I just got the map to the keys instead ‘cos Jungkook’s the goddamn key.”
“And we have him in our possession now,” Namjoon added.
In the time that it took Namjoon to drive him back to his apartment there was no more mentions about Jungkook. Taehyung was glad of this fact because he didn’t really want to talk about what had had happened in the visitation room. He didn’t want to tell his partner about what he had said to the younger man, about the promises to keep visiting him and the fact that they had both exchanged words of love. That was something that he wasn’t going to tell anyone except maybe Jimin. If he did then they might try and stop him from being able to visit him in prison and he didn’t want that. He would rather just pretend that nothing else of great importance had been discussed and leave it at that, even when he knew that Namjoon knew differently. When his teammate stopped the car just outside his apartment block he got out and lingered for a moment.
“Call me if anything happens, yeah?” Taehyung called through the window. Namjoon confirmed that he would with an ‘OK’ sign so he moved away from the vehicle and crossed the sidewalk to enter the apartment block. In the elevator ride he collected his keys from his jacket in preparation and when he unlocked his door the first thing that he did was slip out of his shoes and toss the jacket onto the small table beside the door with his keys. Taehyung ran his eyes over the room for a moment before his gaze settled on the bed and he felt an idea come to mind.
He shifted to check under the bed and sure enough he saw it, the large cardboard box shoved right under the frame. He had to lie down on his stomach and wriggle under slightly so that he could grab hold of the corner and pull the box out. As he did he saw the tracks that the bottom left in the light layer of dust on the wooden flooring and he had to wipe a thick layer off with his hand to reveal the tape. It was old and cracked in parts, little bubbles trapped beneath the surface and after running his fingers along the tape he located the edge. So Taehyung started pulling on it, peeling it away so that he could open the box. It tore off with a crisp ripping sound that was strangely pleasant to his ears and when he had stripped the tape away he lifted the cardboard flaps to open the box.
Inside he saw the chessboard box, wrapped up in a heavy bundle of bubble wrap. Taehyung pulled it free and then he started unwrapping it, dropping the wrap aside without a single care. As soon as it was free he placed the box down on the floor and he lifted the metal latches to open the box. It revealed the side sections in which the pieces were all stored to keep them safe, the lining a soft green velvet that matched well with the dark wood, and the board was inside too so he slipped it out to also go onto the floor.
It was still as glossy as he remembered that it was, wood and inlaid pearl gleaming at him in the sunlight from the window. Taehyung ran his fingers along the board before reaching in to start collecting the pieces, placing them down on either side almost as if he was going to start playing a game. A game against a ghost perhaps? He picked up the white king piece and he was about to place it down when he noticed something about it and he stopped.
There was a chip in the piece.
Taehyung lifted the piece closer to his eyes to study it better and sure enough he saw that there was a chip and when he ran his thumb along it he felt that deep notch in the wood. It was unmissable really and yet this entire time he had been so convinced that the entire set was in perfect condition. He has been wrong but the fact he hadn’t looked at the board in years might have clouded his memory. Whatever the case the king piece was damaged. Taehyung put it down on the board and then he took a moment studying the complete setup, running his eyes over the display of pieces. Then he knocked the king piece over his the back of his finger, hearing it landing on the wooden board with a soft clunking sound.