The real chapter one!
Onew settled Juliette down in the main landing field on Aziel and took a minute to power the engines down, but Jonghyun could see a faint, excited smile curving his lips. He was practically shaking as he waited for each stage of the shut-down process to finish.
“I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” Onew said. “Give me a call if anything happens.”
“We’ll be fine,” Jonghyun said, reaching above his head to catch another of the switches. “This is almost done anyway. Go see your fiancé.”
Onew practically flew to his feet, the smile growing even larger. “Thank you!”
“Tell Joon I said ‘hi.’”
Onew blushed and almost sprinted off the ship. Jonghyun could see a Mule parked a few feet to the side, with a dark-haired man perching on the back ramp. As soon as Onew appeared, the man stood up and caught Onew around the waist.
Jonghyun turned to give them their privacy and pulled down the mic for the shipwide comm. “Taemin, you ready?”
“Yeah, just one second. I’ll meet you in the loading bay,” Taemin’s voice said, echoing through the empty ship.
It sent a pang through Jonghyun. There should have been more of them. Not for the first time, he hated, violently hated, the Alliance. One job went bad, very bad, and they’d lost not only their navigator, their doctor, and the only good cook they’d had on Juliette in Jonghyun’s memory, they’d lost their closest friends. It left Taemin, Onew, and Jonghyun to run a ship by themselves. More than anything, it had left Jonghyun alone.
“Are you okay?” Taemin asked, hopping down the last few stairs.
Jonghyun forced a smile onto his face and slung an arm around Taemin’s shoulders.
“You’ve got grease on your face,” Jonghyun said. Taemin made a face, but ignored it, choosing to twist a few lengths of hair back up into his ponytail instead.
“Did Onew leave already?”
“He and Joon’re probably in bed already,” Jonghyun confirmed. “Or alongside the road somewhere, if they couldn’t wait long enough.”
“Hyung,” Taemin whined, ducking out from beneath Jonghyun’s arm. It was a terribly old-fashioned form of address that Taemin only used when he wanted something very badly. It was a bad habit, but both Jonghyun and Onew gave in every time. Jonghyun laughed, and stepped out of the loading bay. Taemin let the door close and followed behind.
“All right, let’s go,” Jonghyun said. “What was it you wanted?”
“Needed,” Taemin corrected. “If I don’t get it, we don’t leave atmo.”
“We’re broke,” Jonghyun reminded him as they turned onto the dirty street that marked the shopping district in this tiny city on Aziel.
It was sickening to see the way these people fought for every little thing they had, giant containing walls up all around just to keep the worst of the winds and dust outside, while the Core Planets had all been properly terraformed. The smallest mechanical shopping district in Beaumonde was larger than this entire city, much less the pathetic excuse for a street this city had. He hated the Alliance.
“We’re gonna have to be not broke,” Taemin said, gently drawing Jonghyun back to the present and away from memories of flashing munitions.
Taemin gave him a weak smile. He understood, of course he did, the little brat. Not that he was “little” anymore, by any definition of the word. He’d just turned twenty-five, but Jonghyun had known him since he was seventeen. Even so, Jonghyun smiled back, incapable of not smiling when Taemin did.
In an attempt to distract himself, and keep Taemin from asking any questions Jonghyun didn’t want to answer, he pointed toward a building, only slightly more rundown than any of the other ones around them. It had lewd, flickering holographic photos rotating around it and a giant sign proclaiming it to house the best on Aziel. It didn’t specify what it housed, but the pictures were enough.
“That one kinda looks like you, Taeminnie. I bet you could get a job there.”
Taemin wrinkled his nose in Jonghyun’s direction, barely sparing a glance for the suggestive, and sometimes more than suggestive, positions the women were in. Sometimes Jonghyun wondered if the kid had a single sexual bone in his body, and then had to laugh quietly to himself. Bone. Taemin was never amused and consistently asked him if he was sure he hadn’t gotten his birth date confused.
“I’m not a prostitute. I’m a mechanic, remember?”
“Oh, right. I get those confused sometimes.” Jonghyun saw the contact they were coming to meet, the building with a single splash of yellow paint dripping from gaudy yellow windows, the only color any of the buildings had. “There. That’s the place.”
It took Taemin two hours to find the part he was looking for, some odd thing that came with a massively heavy container that Jonghyun’s arms ached just looking at. Once Taemin had looked it over, several times, and refused two flawed parts, it took another hour to haggle the seller down to a price they could afford. It left them with almost literally nothing, hardly any money and the only things they had worth trading was the food they needed to get them to their next stop. If everything went right, though, they would make more than enough after that. The seller, their contact, reminded them several times to be “careful, very careful” with the container.
By the time they made it back to Juliette, lugging the massive container behind them, a fourth hour had passed. Onew had already returned to their ship and opened the loading bay doors. He was standing with Joon in the shade their ship provided, Joon’s arms wound loosely around his waist. He had also brought with him two men Jonghyun didn’t recognize. He didn’t like it at all.
When they got closer, Jonghyun could see Joon’s chin resting on Onew’s shoulder, his lips moving as he spoke quietly in Onew’s ear. Onew was smiling, happier than Jonghyun had seen him in months. They hadn’t been back here since just after the Alliance had killed… since The Job.
Taemin nodded his thanks when they got the container in and took off down the corridor, hauling it behind him toward the engine room. The container had a fake lining, beneath which was several hundred pounds of lase, the ammunition most needed on nearly all the planets. Jonghyun preferred his service pistol, generally more reliable and cheaper. Taemin would stow the lase in the smuggler’s holds they had scattered throughout the ship, and then install whatever little piece of machinery he had in his possession and they would be on their way.
Jonghyun brought his hand up to wipe the sweat off his face, turning to face Onew. He’d been born on St. Alban’s, a planet significantly colder than this one, and he was not at all used to the warmth. Space was comfortably cool, at least with the protection of Juliette around him. This part of Aziel was… not. It was hot and dusty and Jonghyun hated it. Onew had not yet disentangled himself from his fiancé, for which Jonghyun couldn’t blame him. If he saw Joon more than once a month, it was a miracle, even if they stopped planetside as often as they could.
He hated it even more when he saw the cool, mocking smile on one of the strangers’ faces. He was a little taller than Jonghyun, which honestly wasn’t a feat and Jonghyun was mostly over it at this point, but instead of the more rational, earthy colors worn by both Joon and the other stranger, he seemed to favor the brighter greens and pinks and blues that were so popular on the Core. That was enough to tell Jonghyun that he probably wouldn’t like him, whoever he was. Nobody from the Core was worth their sweat, especially this far out in the dregs of society. Jonghyun resisted the urge to sneer.
The second one was even taller than the first. That Jonghyun resented. Nobody had any business being that tall, but he at least looked like he could belong here. Jonghyun thought he could maybe like him. Maybe.
“Jonghyun, this is Key and Minho,” Joon said, gesturing with his head, his hands too comfortable on Onew’s waist. The flashy one was Key. Good to know. The name fit him. Minho gave him a faint smile, the kind that said he definitely knew Jonghyun didn’t like them already. “He’s the one you’re really going to have to win over. My Onew’s entirely too trusting.”
“We’re taking them on,” Onew said, ignoring Joon aside from a sideways look that just made Joon smile more widely. “They’re friends of his that need to get offplanet.”
“What’s their destination?” Jonghyun asked. He thought he would make it a little more clear that he did not like these strangers on his ship by completely ignoring them. Onew’s ship. Either way, Jonghyun considered it his personal responsibility to keep it safe.
“Anywhere offplanet,” Key answered. He’d even dyed rainbow streaks in his hair. Jonghyun really didn’t like him. “Through circumstances entirely beyond our control, we really need to be gone by sunset.”
That did not entice Jonghyun to trust him one whit more. Anybody given a “off by sunset” warning was generally not somebody he wanted to add to the ship’s roster, but Onew didn’t seem to be giving him a choice. Truthfully, Onew was one of the better judges of character Jonghyun had ever met. If he hadn’t been, Jonghyun would probably still be trapped with… he tried not to think about it. He probably would still be trapped on Liann Jiun, where he’d been abandoned. Imprisoned. Really, same difference.
“We can pay,” Minho offered. Ah, yeah. Jonghyun liked him.
He heard the sound of Juliette’s engines powering up behind him. The sound was smooth, not at all like the pulsing, rocky sound they’d been hearing for the past several months. So Taemin really had needed that part.
“Hah!” Taemin’s voice cried, echoing through the shipwide comm. system. “Everything’s shiny back here, captain. We’re good to go.”
“They’ve already moved their stuff in,” Onew said, reminding Jonghyun oh-so gently that he was actually the one in charge of who got on and off his ship. Jonghyun nodded his acceptance and moved on board, leaving Key and Minho to follow of their own accord.
“Jonghyun!” Joon called, making Jonghyun pause and turn around.
“Take care of him, okay? I do love him an awful lot and I’d really like to actually get to marry him someday.”
Jonghyun smiled, ignoring the painful wrench in his heart. “I’ll make sure he makes it home to you again.”
“Thank you.” Joon’s voice was entirely serious.
Jonghyun turned to go inside, leaving Onew to say goodbye to his fiancé. Ten minutes later, Onew joined him in the cockpit, his face blank. It hurt Jonghyun to see his friend like that, but he knew better than to say anything. He could see Joon retreating a safe distance away, but as soon as he’d reached the point, he stopped and waited. Without being asked, Jonghyun flicked the comm. to broadcast outside the ship and glanced over at Onew.
“I love you,” Onew said, his voice entirely too heavy for the words he was saying, and then reached up and shut the comms off himself. Joon waved and, from what Jonghyun could tell, blew a kiss in their direction.
“Taemin, you ready?” Jonghyun asked, keying up the engine room.
“We’re good,” Taemin’s voice said. “Everything looks good back here.”
“All right,” Onew said, his voice broadcasting throughout the entire ship. “We’re on our way to Koschei. We should be there in the next three or four days. From there, we’ll see.”
Juliette was ancient by most any definition of the word, but she rose smoothly from the ground and made her way out of the planet’s atmosphere and into the dark space. Jonghyun instantly felt more comfortable when Aziel’s too-large sun disappeared behind them. It took them only a couple of minutes for them to get far enough out to let the ship pilot itself, following the coordinates Onew programmed in, and then the two men stood from their seats, working their way back to the large, open space that served as their common room and kitchen.
“Jonghyun,” Onew said, stopping him in the middle of the hall. That was never a good voice. Nothing good came from that tone of voice. Ever. “I just wanted to warn you, we moved Key into T--um, his old room.”
He felt an instant and violent dislike for stupid Key and his stupid colors. Onew must have seen something cross his face because he cleared his throat uncomfortably.
“It’s just… Jonghyun, it’s the only other habitable room we have right now. I know this is… I know you don’t like it, but it’s what we had to do. I’ll start clearing one of the other ones out and we can move him as soon as we do.”
Not that Jonghyun had been in his room since he’d died but the thought of a stranger in there, where they had been…” He fixed a smile to his face. “It’s okay.”
“Is it?” Onew asked, surprised. “I mean… I know it’s still soon but--”
“It’s been a couple of months now, Onew. I’m okay.”
It had been six months and fourteen days. If you wanted to get really picky, it had been six months, fourteen days, and six hours since he’d died, bleeding out in the middle of their kitchen because their doctor was already dead and he was dying anyway, so what was the point of making it hurt more to carry him? He just wanted to be able to see Jonghyun while he died.
Onew gave him a suspicious look. “I’ll still see if I can get Taemin to help me--”
“I’m going to wash up,” Jonghyun interrupted. “I’ll be out later.”
For the first time in his life, he walked away while Onew was talking. He brushed straight past Minho without even seeing him. He would have missed that Taemin was walking with him if he hadn’t called his name, which Jonghyun also ignored. He couldn’t handle people right now, not even Taemin. He could faintly hear Minho asking, “Is he okay?” but he didn’t hear Taemin’s answer.
His door slid open and he stepped inside, wishing it shut with something more than a faint rattle. Without bothering to change, he threw himself down on his bed, covering his head with his pillow. He didn’t want to think. He hated thinking and the thoughts that came with it. He didn’t really mean to, but he managed to fall asleep, still dressed and covered in dirt and sweat from the planet.
Jonghyun woke to his alarm, reminding him it was standard morning. He wanted to throw it across the room, but he pushed himself up anyway and set about washing, which he really had intended to do the day before. By the time he stepped out of his room, ruffling his hair to dry it a little further, his bad mood from the previous day had mostly faded.
At least, it had faded until he forgot to take the long way around and walked past The Door, which was just opening. Key stepped out, dressed in another ridiculously colorful outfit. For just a second, a fraction of a moment, before he saw Key and saw that he was too short and too colorful, he expected to see him walk out, and when he didn’t Jonghyun’s heart clenched.
“Is everything all right?” Key asked, peering at him.
Jonghyun could see into the room, the bed exactly where it had been before, not that it was going to move as it was built into the wall, the closet door just a little bit open. The paintings that had been on the walls were gone, packed up into a little box in Jonghyun’s room that he still could bear to open.
He couldn’t speak. His throat closed and the raw grief rose up in him again before he could find something with which to stomp it back down. Key reached for him hesitantly and Jonghyun had to move. He had to go somewhere that wasn’t there, where the bed and bare walls weren’t. He turned and ran, sprinting toward the room that served as their workout room.
It was empty, exactly as he’d hoped. He keyed in the code to lock the door and slid down the cool wall. For the first time in his miserable life he wished he were planetside.
Jonghyun spent the next two days avoiding everyone. The only person he willingly spent time with was Onew and only when he was tracking that annoying, blipping spot that had been popping up behind them randomly since they left Aziel. It stayed too far away for him to identify.
It could have just been debris, which was Onew’s vote. They were headed toward the outer edge of the rims. There were Reavers here, which meant destroyed ships, which meant scavengers, which meant more destroyed ships. The blip disappeared and reappeared without any rhyme or reason, but Jonghyun couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
Whatever time he didn’t spend in the cockpit with Onew, he spent locked in his room, doing absolutely nothing but avoiding the two strangers and even, he was a little sorry to admit, Taemin. He did sit-ups until his stomach ached and then push-ups until his arms wouldn’t hold him up any longer. He did everything he could to keep his mind from thinking. It did work for most of the next three days, up until Onew politely overrode his security code and unlocked his door.
“No, it’s easy,” Taemin said, as he was walking back from the engine room with Minho. “All you have to do is override the first safety and just make a second one in its place, because, really, the safeties are there for a reason. You just don’t need to do it the way they wanted it to. That’s why Juliette is the fastest ship I’ve ever seen.”
They’d made it a few steps further down the hallway when Taemin heard raised voices from Jonghyun’s room. He was about to tell Jonghyun that his door wasn’t shut when Onew’s words made him freeze.
“You have to stop treating Key like he had anything to do with Taecyeon’s death.”
“Don’t say his name!”
“Not saying his name isn’t going to make him any less dead, Jonghyun. I know it hurts, and I’m sorry that you didn’t manage to die too, but he’s gone and none of that is their fault.”
Taemin knew he should have gone, but he couldn’t move. There was a pause during which Jonghyun remained silent.
“I’m not asking you to take him into your loving family--”
“Oh, fuck you.”
“But I think you would like him if you gave him a chance.”
“I don’t want to give him a chance. He’s living in Taec--” Jonghyun’s voice choked a little, “Taecyeon’s room, he’s from the Core--”
“So you hate him because he was born on the Core Planets? When I found you, you and Taecyeon were on a prison colony on Liann Jiun. Was I supposed to leave you there? For all I knew, you were the blackest murderers in the ‘verse, rather than just Browncoats too damn stupid to surrender when they offered you the chance. Joon introduced me to Key and Minho. You were a stranger who happened to have access to the parts I needed.”
“We should go,” Taemin said at last, catching Minho by the arm and hauling him past the door, the voices fading behind them.
“He can never be Taecyeon, Jonghyun. No one can, and I’m sorry but you need to get over it.”
“Get over it?” Jonghyun demanded. “Would I ask you to ‘get over it’ if something happened to Joon?”
“That’s not the same.”
“The hell it isn’t…” The voices faded out as the two of them rounded the corner. Minho caught Taemin’s hand to stop him.
“What was that about?”
Taemin glanced around, sighing. He grabbed Minho’s arm and led him to his room, waiting until the door shut firmly behind them. Minho waited quietly, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Jonghyun hates the Alliance more than probably anyone else. He hates everything to do with them. We were… There used to be seven of us. We were working a job… scavenging, really, but somehow the Alliance got word of what we were doing and…” Taemin sighed. “I was the only one who stayed on the ship. When they got back, we’d already lost the doctor. We had to leave them all behind. Taecyeon was the only one that survived long enough for them to even get him back to the ship.”
“Who was he?”
“He was Jonghyun’s… everything. He was the reason Jonghyun survived Liann Jiun, the reason he bothered to fight to get off. He’d said he hated the Alliance before but after…” Taemin shrugged. “He’d die if it meant he could take the Government down with him. I think, sometimes, that he’d be willing to sacrifice Onew and I if that was the only way.”
“And Key’s from the Core.”
Taemin nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Onew never calls him on it, even when he gets completely irrational. I can’t believe he did now.”
“Key’s not like the rest of them,” Minho said.
“It doesn’t matter to Jonghyun. He can’t differentiate. Or maybe he just doesn’t. I don’t know.”
“Taemin,” Minho began, shifting uncomfortably, “there’s something you need to know and we should have told you sooner, but Key wanted to wait until we were further out.”
“Is this the kind of thing that I’m going to have to tell Onew and Jonghyun?”
“Probably.” Taemin just waited and Minho drew in a sharp breath. “We’re smugglers.”
“So are we,” Taemin said.
“I mean… we’re data smugglers.”
“So?” Taemin remembered, suddenly, the notices that had been scrolling across the public buildings on Aziel. “Wait. You’re the data smugglers? The ones that every bounty hunter on Aziel wanted?”
Minho nodded. “That’s us. Me, really.”
“What did you steal?” Taemin demanded. “We’ve stolen entire armories and the worst we’ve gotten was a three-day blockade that we got out of within the first few hours anyway. And how did you get Joon to help you? He’s a hunter too.”
“Was,” Minho corrected. “Can you imagine him if somebody called him to take Onew’s bounty? He’s retired. Mostly. We stole some… we’ll call them ‘state secrets’ from Sihnon.”
“You stole state secrets from the capitol? How did you even get in? How did you get on planet?”
Minho’s smile was a little bit proud. “Joon wasn’t lying when he said I was good with computers.”
Taemin stared at him, completely uncomprehending for a few seconds. “You hacked into the flight computers on Sihnon?”
“And Londinium. I hacked into the entire system, deleted a couple outstanding arrest warrants for some friends of mine, scrambled their access history, and, just for the hell of it, adjusted some of their employee’s work schedules so it looked like they’d skipped work every Tuesday from eleven until two during the racing season.”
“I’m… impressed,” Taemin confessed. “I thought that was impossible.”
“I probably couldn’t do it again. The only reason they think it’s impossible is because as soon as they discover it, they close up that way in and immediately arrest the person responsible. As far as I know, only one or two people have escaped.”
“Where does that leave you?” Taemin asked.
Minho’s smile faded a little, but brightened again. “They’ll probably catch me one day, but as long as the information gets where it needs to go, I’ll have done my job.”
“They say Koschei is where the rebels recruit.”
Minho shrugged, running a hand through his messy hair. “They say a lot of things, especially about the rebels. I’m going to get something to eat. You’re welcome to come with me, if you want, but I won’t be surprised if you want to go to Onew and Jonghyun first.”
“Are you going to Key about Jonghyun?”
“That’s not our deal.”
He moved for the door, but Taemin stayed where he was, his hands in his pockets. “You and Key, though, that is our deal. We’ve carted fugitives before, but never without knowing about it.”
“I said I’d understand. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re done.”
Minho walked out, turning toward the kitchen and Taemin turned the other way, heading back toward Jonghyun’s room. He could hear voices behind the door, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. He took that as a sign that Onew had at least managed to calm Jonghyun down. The voices fell completely silent when he knocked.
“Taemin, can it wait?” Onew’s voice called through the door.
“I don’t think so.”
“Come in then,” Jonghyun said.
The door opened and Taemin tried not to stare as he stepped through. Jonghyun was sitting on his bed, his arms crossed protectively over his stomach. Onew was standing a few steps to the side, his hands in his pockets. There was a definite air of unresolved something that Taemin was more than willing to pretend he didn’t sense.
“What’s wrong?” Onew asked.
“I was just talking to Minho and he told me something I think you should probably know.”
“Out with it,” Jonghyun said.
“You remember the notices we saw all over Aziel?” Taemin asked. “The ones about the data smugglers?”
Onew looked confused, but he hadn’t gone into the city. Jonghyun nodded.
“It’s Minho. And Key. They’re the smugglers. They stole information from Sihnon and they need us to bring them to Koschei to deliver it.”
“Still think it was just debris dogging us?” Jonghyun asked, raising his eyebrows in Onew’s direction.
“I’ll lose them,” Onew promised, turning for the door. “And then we’re having a talk with our new guests.”
“We’re having a talk with Joon next time we hit Aziel,” Jonghyun called after him. He saw Onew flicking his hand dismissively in their direction before he disappeared completely.
Taemin was standing uncomfortably in the middle of Jonghyun’s room, with the other man looking at him expectantly.
“You heard us arguing then?”
“Liar,” Jonghyun said, standing and rolling out his shoulders.
“I didn’t mean to overhear,” Taemin offered, watching him warily. It wasn’t that he was afraid of Jonghyun, just that he wasn’t entirely certain what he was supposed to do.
Jonghyun shrugged. “It’s nothing to worry about. Our captain made his position clear. I am to treat our guests with all due courtesy.” He paused and tilted his head. “There might be a lot less due now, which makes my life easier.”
Taemin licked his lips and avoided looking at Jonghyun. “Key really isn’t that bad,” he offered. “He’s funny and sarcastic and I really do think you’d like him, if you stopped treating him like he had some kind of communicable disease.”
“Yeah, well, everyone from the Core has a communicable disease. It’s called ‘wealth.’ The problem is they don’t communicate it. They take and take and take until the rest of us out here on the Rims scrape by with whatever shit jobs we can get and have to eat protein for every meal because there’s nothing out here that isn’t taken and shipped back there.”
Taemin flinched at the venom in his voice. Jonghyun must have seen because he gave Taemin a weak smile, pausing on his way past to pat him on the shoulder.
“We’ll be okay. We’ll drop our guests on the nearest moon with an atmosphere and then we’ll be on our way.”
“We wouldn’t really, would we?” Taemin asked, following Jonghyun into the hallway. “We can’t just leave them.”
“Can’t just leave Minho, you mean?” Jonghyun teased, but he quickly became serious, turning to face Taemin in the hall. “I know you like him, Taemin, but he’ll get you killed if you try to keep him. Data smugglers do that. They piss off the wrong people, and you know he’s pissed off the wrong people, and they kill everyone they need to kill to get that information back.”
“I barely know him,” Taemin protested.
“Yeah, and you remember that,” Jonghyun said.
They’d only made it half way to the kitchen when they saw Minho heading back toward him room. Jonghyun caught his arm, swinging him around.
“Jonghyun!” Taemin said. “You don’t need to--”
Jonghyun gave him a hard look and Taemin fell silent.
“Why don’t you wait in the kitchen with us?” Jonghyun suggested. His voice was a little too nice, but Minho only looked once at Taemin before falling into step beside Jonghyun, letting himself be carried along with them.
They sat in uncomfortable silence for nearly half an hour before Onew came in, an unsure Key trailing behind him.
“We’re at Koschei,” Onew said sitting at the table at Jonghyun’s side. He looked at Minho and then Key. “You’re on your own.”
“What?” Jonghyun demanded. “We should turn them in. The reward would easily feed us for months. Maybe even years.”
“I promised Joon I would get them as far as Koschei,” Onew said. “And I have.”
“You can’t just leave them there,” Taemin protested. “They’ll get killed!”
“That’s not my problem. You and Jonghyun, you’re the ones I need to keep alive.”
“Let me make the drop,” Minho suggested. “I’ll come back and take Key, then we’ll go.”
“Minho--” Key began.
“You’re more recognizable than I am.”
“You can’t go alone,” Taemin said. “What if they catch you?”
“Then they catch me and no one else,” Minho said, turning toward Taemin. He smiled gently and Taemin felt his stomach sink. He expected to get caught.
“I’ll go with him,” Jonghyun said. “We’ll make the drop, come back, and then he can take Key and go.”
“I’ll come too,” Taemin said before he had a chance to really think about what he was saying.
“Absolutely not,” Jonghyun interrupted. “You’re the only one of us that doesn’t already have a price on his head. I’d like to keep it that way.”
“That’s not working on me this time,” Jonghyun said. “You’re staying on the ship.” Taemin just sat there, his arms crossed and Jonghyun groaned. “Fine. But if you get caught, I’m leaving you behind.”
Everything was going fine until Jonghyun felt a burning, blinding pain in his side and he crumpled to the sound of shouts. He felt arms lifting him and his eyes opened, prepared to do… something… if it was one of the Alliance. It was Minho.
“Taemin,” Minho shouted, the words fading away in Jonghyun’s mind. “Press your hand to the wound. We need to move fast.”
There was a brief burst of pain and then nothing.
The next time Jonghyun was conscious, they were running up the ramp on Juliette and Minho was shouting again. Did he never stop?
“Key! Goddamn it, Key!”
“What?” Key’s voice called. It sounded far away.
There was another voice, closer. “Jonghyun! Jonghyun, open your eyes. What happened?” Jonghyun didn’t want to open his eyes. His side was burning, Taemin’s hand pressing too hard on the wound for any comfort. “Jonghyun, eyes open!”
Jonghyun jerked in surprise. He had never heard Onew so angry. When he finally did open his eyes, it was to the sight of Key bolting toward them down a corridor.
“Shit,” Key said, almost out of breath. “Take him to the infirmary. Hurry, Minho.”
It was tight, fitting three grown men in the corridor at once, Taemin still moving along awkwardly, half skipping to avoid tripping over feet or bulkheads that narrowed the corridor, hand too tight on Jonghyun’s side. Onew was just behind Minho, squeezing Jonghyun’s shoulder every time his eyes tried to close again, digging his nails in when that didn’t work.
“We were almost back,” Minho explained, maneuvering himself through the doorway. Jonghyun was not at all proud of the noise he made when his body shifted, Taemin’s hand lifting away and then pressing back down again. “I don’t know who they were.”
“Jonghyun, what the fuck did you do to yourself?” Key demanded.
“Didn’t do it to--” he cut off, biting his lips to block his pained cry when Minho eased him down onto the bed. He didn’t entirely manage it.
“It’s okay,” Key said, stroking his forehead gently. “You’re going to be okay. It’s not that bad.”
“You’re a fucking liar. I can see it in your face.”
“All of you, get out,” Key ordered. “I can’t have you under my feet. Jjong, you are going to be okay.”
Jonghyun felt Taemin’s hand leave his side and he made a sound he swore was not a whimper, catching Key’s hand to ride out the wave of pain. “What did you call me?”
“Nothing. You’ve got to let me go, Jonghyun. I’m not going to leave you, but I have to hurry.”
Jonghyun let go, no longer strong enough to hold his own hand up. Key moved away, rustling through drawers Jonghyun couldn’t see. Honestly, he couldn’t see anything other than the ceiling straight above his head and even that was oddly fuzzy. Another wave of pain rushed through his body, starting at the wound and radiating inward. He thought even his organs hurt, which was an interesting experience.
“Talk to me, Jonghyun. I need you to stay with me for just a little longer and then you can sleep.”
He could barely hear Key, hardly had the energy to breathe, but he could still feel, and Key was prodding at the giant fucking hole in his side. He was peeling Jonghyun’s shirt away, bending over him.
“Jonghyun, talk to me.”
He didn’t want to. There was a hazy white light at the edges of his vision and there was a familiar face there. He wanted to see that face.
“Shit, Jjong, Jonghyun, stay with me just a little bit longer. Come on, you’re going to be okay, you just need to keep breathing for me.”
That voice was so annoying. The face had to be Taecyeon. He wanted Taecyeon.
“That’s right, Jonghyun. Tell me about Taecyeon. Just keep talking, let me hear that voice of yours.”
His body was numb everywhere except the burning spot in his side. Jonghyun couldn’t stay awake any longer. Taecyeon was right there. He could see him, he was so close. The last thing he heard was Key cursing, calling his name and he didn’t care.
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