Shinwoo growled as he landed flat on his backside, again. His only consolation was that Takeo wasn't faring much better. They had been sparring for nearly two hours now, on the little island that Frankenstein owned. It was summer vacation, so it was perfectly normal for a few people in their group to be out of town at any given time. M-21, Seira, and Tao were still back in Korea with Rai. Regis was here, as was Frankenstein. They were training on a rotating basis. On occasion, Rajak would stop by, whether by invitation or on a whim, and Frankenstein would get to play with Dark Spear.
After their sparring sessions, Frankenstein would check on their conditions and either provide them with treatment or send them on their way. Shinwoo's treatments weren't as vigorous as Takeo's, though when he had asked Frankenstein why, the blond had just smiled and explained that while the long-haired man had undergone years of advanced experiments while working for the Union, Shinwoo's temporary imprisonment there had yielded them only three days to work. Their primary focus had simply been to see how much he could take; there had been no care for his body's condition, since he was just something for them to amuse themselves with while Crombel met with Frankenstein. In all actuality, they had probably expected Shinwoo's body to break down within days. Frankenstein was correcting the damage done as quickly as possible, but it would still take some time.
Shinwoo had wondered out loud if that meant that he'd lose the enhanced vision and hearing he had now, as well as the increased strength, and Frankenstein had assured him that it was unlikely. What he was doing was intended to stabilize Shinwoo, to make it so that his body could handle the strain of the enhancements. Fortunately, he didn't require a drug like DA-4, and he didn't have to worry about a physical transformation like M-21, so his treatment was a bit easier to navigate.
Rolling out of the way as Takeo's fist slammed into the ground where his head had been a moment before, Shinwoo was back on his feet in seconds, but it was still too slow. Takeo was behind him. Shinwoo brought his arms up, crossing them over each other as he took the blow from the side, wincing as he was forced back several feet, his feet digging into the ground. His hand lashed out, but Takeo was already leaping back. With a reckless grin, Shinwoo charged, his fist heading straight for the other man's face.
Takeo stopped him by the simple expedience of catching his fist in one hand. Letting Takeo hold onto that hand, Shinwoo reversed direction and aimed his elbow at Takeo's head. When the other man shifted to dodge it, he inserted his foot between Takeo's legs and tapped him behind the heel. Since Takeo's balance was already precarious while holding onto him and dodging his higher attack, that tap was enough to send him sprawling.
Shinwoo took the chance to back away, flashing Takeo a smug smile. The other man just smirked back at him. "You do realize that if you had been fighting M-21, you would've been out of luck with that move, right?" he asked. Shinwoo nodded, acknowledging the point. After all, both Takeo and Tao excelled in long distance combat. His own abilities, and those of M-21, dealt with hand-to-hand combat. Neither of them were any good with weaponry, and relied on their own bodies to carry them through in a fight. Up close and personal, as Shinwoo called it.
"Well, yeah, but Ahjussi isn't here," he pointed out. "If he was, I wouldn't be trying to trip him, either." Then again, he had never tried to do that before, so maybe it would actually work. Once. He'd have to give it some thought, though. M-21 rarely left an opening that he could exploit, a fact which annoyed Shinwoo to no end. Then again, M-21 had said the same thing about him, so he guessed that made them even.
Shinwoo cursed, bolting to the left when Takeo pulled out his guns. The bullets themselves wouldn't do him any serious harm, but if he was hit, he would be bruised, and messy. Shinwoo's eyes sparkled; it had to have been Tao's idea to use paintball guns. That way, it was completely obvious if his intended target was struck.
Shinwoo watched for an opening, because if he could inside Takeo's strike zone, he had a chance. Unfortunately, the guns that Takeo now used were much smaller than the one he had used before, but were still just as powerful. And more than that, Takeo was fast. Not that Shinwoo wasn't, but he hadn't quite managed to compensate for the decreased effort needed when he moved, and he tended to overshoot his target, leaving himself wide open.
Running, dodging the bullets as best he could, Shinwoo waited. He'd have only a split moment to take his shot, before it would be too late. Finally, Takeo ran out of bullets. The cartridges slipped out of their casings, and Shinwoo darted in. Unfortunately, the other man had expected it, and he executed a spinning kick. Shinwoo cursed, forced to back up out of reach. By the time Takeo had finished spinning, his guns were reloaded. But that attack had given Shinwoo an idea, and he pushed forward, coming up right in front of Takeo.
The other man went to twist out of the way, his long hair sweeping around him, and Shinwoo struck. He grabbed the ponytail in a fist and yanked, dragging the other man to the ground, his hands wrapping around Takeo's throat. If this had been a real fight, Shinwoo would have attempted to disable him at that time, but since it was just a sparring match, he allowed Takeo to tap out.
Flopping over onto his back next to his sparring partner, Shinwoo waited for his heart rate to drop back to normal, both men gasping for breath as they allowed themselves to relax. In a few minutes, they'd get up, assess damages, and troop their way back to Frankenstein's lab for a quick check up and some lunch.
"Ah, sorry about that," Shinwoo grimaced, apologizing. It was an unspoken rule among them that Takeo's hair was off-limits to everybody except Tao. And Shinwoo had just grabbed and yanked. It had worked, but that wasn't normally the way he won fights.
Takeo chuckled next to him. "Ah, it's fine. I've always fought long-distance, so the length of my hair never mattered. Maybe I should get it cut."
Shinwoo propped himself up on his elbow, reaching out and picking up a lock of Takeo's hair, letting the silken mass slide through his fingers. "Naw, don't do that. This is part of who you are," he murmured. "Besides, Tao would probably kill me if you cut your hair." He smiled down at the older man, who just smirked back at him.
He considered the hair for a moment. "Maybe you could braid it?" he wondered out loud. "Or shove it down the back of your shirt, so that it's out of the way when you fight." Takeo nodded; either one would work. Then he smiled.
"You do realize, though, that while I've been forced into close combat since my arrival in Korea, I've never had anybody yank my hair before? It's just not something the Union would ever think of," Takeo said wryly.
Shinwoo thought about it for a moment, then shrugged before forcing his body to stand and offering Takeo a hand. The other man accepted the offer as Shinwoo replied. "Well, then, that's just stupid on their part. They'll attack from behind, but they won't pull your hair?"
Takeo just smiled at him, and the two men set off companionably for the lab, only now registering the various aches and pains. "Hmm…my thigh is going to bruise like hell. That might've actually done some serious damage," Shinwoo murmured, fingers prodding gently through his paint-covered jeans. His side hurt too, but it wasn't covered in paint splatter, so he figured his ribs were probably just bruised. Next to him, Takeo was limping slightly, favoring his left side. Still, Shinwoo felt more alive than ever, and he resisted the urge to laugh with happiness. As always, fighting invigorated him, no matter how hurt he was at the end of it.
They were nearly at the front doors to Frankenstein's lab when Shinwoo realized that Takeo was staring at him curiously. "What's up, hyung?" he asked. Takeo blinked at the rare form of affection – other than M-21, Shinwoo didn't normally address the others so casually. Before the other man could answer him, there was a rumble of power, and Shinwoo paused on the steps, turning left and staring off into the distance. If he looked closely, he could just about see the flash of darkness as Frankenstein summoned his weapon. "Ah, Rajak must've stopped by," he noted, turning to head inside. Their exam could wait until the other man was done.
Takeo didn't move, frowning as he stared at the horizon. Shinwoo stopped, then walked back down the steps, following Takeo's gaze. "Takeo?" he asked, his body tensing in reaction to the other man's concern. "What's wrong?"
There was another clash of power, and Shinwoo finally felt what Takeo had noticed immediately. "That's not a soul weapon," he said, absolutely certain. He had felt Rajak's soul weapon before, as well as Rael's and Seira's. They had a particular heaviness to them, as if you could feel the centuries of power poured into the weapons. Frankenstein had explained soul weapons to him, so he knew that they contained the power, knowledge, and souls of all the clan leaders before the current one. They completed a clan leader's power. When Regis was of age, and Gejeutel entered his eternal sleep, his soul weapon would be transferred to the boy, who would become the new leader of the Landegre clan.
Shinwoo didn't even have to ask. He just took off running, Takeo keeping up easily at his side. If Frankenstein wasn't fighting a clan leader for sport, then he was fighting a Union member. "I thought nobody knew about this place," Shinwoo muttered under his breath.
His companion answered, "They might not know about this place. It may have just been an accident. Perhaps they were seeking an abandoned island to set up a new lab." Shinwoo snorted; how unlucky.
The two humans skidded to a stop at the edge of a cliff, looking down at the mayhem below. Frankenstein was surrounded by men dressed in the uniform of the Union. Several were already on the ground, not moving, but there were plenty more. Shinwoo looked out into the ocean and saw the battleship that the men must have arrived on. Why had Frankenstein allowed them to get so close? Surely he had defenses set up around the place? Unless, of course, he had been too busy with other things to notice.
"Takeo," he said tersely, and the other man nodded. Of course they'd go help Frankenstein. Without another thought, Shinwoo leapt off the edge of the cliff, his feet easily finding ledges as he made his way down to the beach. Takeo stayed above, and the first shot of his bullet found Shinwoo landing on top of one of the men surrounding Frankenstein, his foot kicking the other man in the head and sending him flying with a pained yell.
Shinwoo landed easily on the sandy ground. He didn't even time to greet Frankenstein before their opponents were on him. He grinned as he took one, then another down with full force punches. These guys might be trained, but they obviously weren't super-enhanced. Not on the same level as M-21 or DA-5, at any rate.
Another jump, and his foot caught a man in the throat, sending him sprawling to the ground, gasping and choking. Out in the water, shouts could be heard coming from the boat, intermingled with the rat-a-tat of Takeo's guns. Shinwoo grinned; as long as those guns were firing, Takeo was holding his own. They only had to worry if the noise stopped.
"Oh? So you did have friends," a male voice carried over the sound of battle, and Shinwoo glanced over just in time to see Frankenstein get pushed back by a cloaked figure. Was he an elder? Brilliant green eyes captured Shinwoo's own, and the man smiled, showing sharp teeth. "I'm not an Elder, if that's what you're wondering," he said. Shinwoo narrowed his eyes. "Well, I suppose you could say I'm not entirely unrelated, though."
Frankenstein swung his weapon, sending a dark blade flying at the other man. The cloaked figure blurred, then disappeared from the attack's path, and Frankenstein's attack hit the ship instead. The screams died out abruptly, and Shinwoo winced, praying that Takeo had made it off the ship in time.
A moment later, the older man landed by his side, his eyes wide with surprise. Regis was with him, the Noble looking a little worse for the wear. "Was he trying to kill us?" Takeo murmured to Shinwoo, his right arm snapping out and taking down three approaching men with quick shots of his weapon. Shinwoo shrugged, dodging a fist and slamming his own into the man's side, dropping him to the ground. Regis ignored them both, taking down two more men.
"I don't know who that guy is, but he's not someone we can handle," Shinwoo told them. They nodded; they had learned to trust Shinwoo when it came to judging an opponent's strength. "Frankenstein could probably beat him, if he didn't have to deal with these lame guys."
"Then, our duty is clear," Regis said simply. "We'll take out the weak ones and keep them away from him. When we're done, we'll help." He seemed to consider that for a moment. "If there's anything left to help with," he amended.
Shinwoo chuckled, then found himself dodging as blue bolts of power came his way. He cursed as a spike of power went clear through his shoulder. "Oh, dear. I'm terribly sorry about that," the man smiled, standing above Shinwoo. He reached for him, and Shinwoo leapt back, right into a group of men.
He managed to knock three of them back, but another blast of power landed right behind where he was fighting, sending Shinwoo and his opponents flying, skidding across the harsh sand. Shinwoo grimaced, glaring at their enemy. He was doing it intentionally, wasn't he?
The man gave him a benign smile, then leapt as Frankenstein charged him. Shinwoo struggled to his feet, his arm useless at his side. He used his other hand to cradle his elbow, holding the arm steady. He could practically feel it knitting itself back together, but it would still take several minutes that he didn't have to spare. His next kick took out one man, but another managed to grab hold of his injured shoulder. Shinwoo twisted, his elbow coming up and slamming into the other man's jaw. A fist followed, and Shinwoo took him out. His foot lashed out and caught the man coming up behind him in the stomach, then again in the throat. A quick hand chop, and another enemy dropped to the ground.
He saw Takeo trying to make his way to his side, but suddenly Frankenstein was between them, the other man forcing him back with something that looked suspiciously like the Dark Spear. Frankenstein's eyes were narrowed in anger, and Shinwoo gulped, looking at the two clashing weapons. Shit.
He hit the ground, seeing the others do the same out of the corner of his eyes as power ripped across the beach. Where it struck the cliff, huge rocks came tumbling down, kicking up even more sand as the ground shook under them. Shinwoo shuddered, then moved. Regis and Takeo followed his lead and all three of them headed for Frankenstein's opponent. The weaklings were just a distraction, nothing more, and Shinwoo dodged their attacks, not wasting energy to fight back as he closed in on the two combatants.
Regis managed to get behind Frankenstein, so that he could catch the other man's eyes. He only needed to stop his movements for a split second. Takeo was already spinning, his leg flying high even as he brought his guns to bear, so Shinwoo crouched and aimed low, trying to take out the other man's knees. If he ducked, Shinwoo would have him; if he jumped, Takeo would.
Frankenstein disengaged his weapon and brought it to bear once more, coils of energy reaching out towards his opponent. The resulting combined attack sent sand and water and power every which direction. Shinwoo grimaced as something sharp bit into his exposed leg, pinning him. Takeo grunted as the wind pressure forced him back away from the point of impact. He twisted, reducing the impact to avoid damaging anything vital. Regis was already moving, leaping out of the way. But Shinwoo couldn't dodge. With a wild laugh, the Union's agent gripped him by his hair and yanked. Shinwoo fought back a moan as the piece of the Dark Spear that was lodged in his shin tore a wide gash in his leg.
Before the dust had finished clearing, the man did what he'd been sent to do. Shinwoo screamed as the man took a bite-size chuck out of his shoulder then dropped him. "There's no escape," he growled. "Remember that." And he was gone, leaving Shinwoo collapsed on his side in the sand, his damaged arm clutching at his wounded shoulder, the other man's words all but forgotten under the pain.
"Shinwoo!" Takeo was suddenly there, kneeling next to him. Shinwoo grimaced, biting his lip as the blood flowed from his wound. Takeo pried his fingers away from his shoulder, then called to Frankenstein. The blond walked over, wiping blood from his face. Shinwoo didn't see Regis, but he was sure that the other boy was safe, or else they wouldn't be concerning themselves with him.
With a groan, he shifted, allowing Takeo to help him into a sitting position. Frankenstein crouched in front of him, blue eyes careful as they surveyed him. "How are you feeling?" he asked, his voice neutral and his expression giving nothing away.
Shinwoo scowled; what sort of stupid question was that? "Probably about as bad as I look," he grumbled moodily. "Shit, taken down again. This is getting old." He was seriously tired of being the weakest member on the team.
Frankenstein chuckled, then patted him lightly on the back before standing, waiting until Takeo helped Shinwoo to his feet. "Well, if you've got enough energy to complain, I suppose you aren't dying. Let's get back inside." He started walking away, and Shinwoo finally realized that the enemy was gone. There weren't even any bodies left on the sand. The water lapped peacefully behind them, the broken shards of the ship slowly sinking in the deep water. Shinwoo tried not to think about where the bodies of the dead had ended up as they made their way back to the lab.
Forty minutes later, Shinwoo was patched up and returning the favor, bandaging Takeo's injuries. Frankenstein had ignored his own injuries to check on their conditions, and Regis was healing rapidly. Shinwoo noticed the blond watching him again. "What?" he asked tiredly.
"What did that man want with you?" Frankenstein asked in return. Shinwoo blinked, confused. "He attacked me first, but the moment you showed up, his tactics changed. I want to know why. Did he say anything to you?"
The redhead thought for a moment, but then shook his head, wincing as it made him dizzy. "I'm sorry, I don't remember. I think he said something, but I can't remember what it was. Do you think he's related to Crombel?" he asked.
Frankenstein nodded, turning back to his computer and pulling up data. "I believe so. Whatever Crombel's agenda may be, it seems to involve you and my Master. However, I rather suspect that his intentions might conflict with the Union's plans." Shinwoo nodded; he had gotten that impression, too. Too many things didn't make sense. He had kept M-21's betrayal a secret. He had also hidden the knowledge that both Takeo and Tao from DA-5 were alive. Not to mention that nobody had realized that Rai was alive until the traitorous clan leaders had arrived. Whatever Crombel was up to, he was holding his cards close.
When it seemed that Frankenstein wasn't going to say anything more, Shinwoo asked his own question. "That weapon that he used…was that the Dark Spear?" he asked. It had sure as hell felt like it, but considering that Frankenstein was certain that only one Dark Spear existed, it had to be something else. Or else his information was incorrect.
The blond frowned thoughtfully. "It felt similar, but it was not the Dark Spear, no. It wasn't even minimally sentient, I don't believe." Shinwoo didn't see what that had to do with anything, but if Frankenstein said it was different, then it was.
"What I really want to know," he pointed out, "is how he got here. Was it coincidence that he just happened to show up on this island while we were here? You said this place has been abandoned for centuries." He didn't really want to know why Frankenstein was so certain about that, since that would mean revealing just how old the other man actually was, but it was a valid concern.
"The answer to that might lie in whatever he said to you," Frankenstein rebutted, and Shinwoo grimaced. So in the end, it might be his fault after all, huh?
He flopped back onto the table with a sigh. "Fantastic. Well, when I figure it out, I'll let you know, okay?" He ignored Takeo's and Regis' concerned looks, frowning up at the ceiling. Frankenstein left him to it, bringing Takeo and Regis with him to go prepare a late lunch while Shinwoo racked his brain, trying to remember what the man had told him. His shoulder throbbed in time with his breathing, reminding him sharply of the reason he couldn't recall the man's words.
He gave up after a while and slipped out of the lab, heading for the kitchen. Since this place was a lab first, and a residence second, it had very sparse furnishings. Not that Shinwoo minded, but it was interesting to see the difference between this place that belonged solely to Frankenstein and the home which he had built for himself and Rai. Of course, the man had built an entire school for his Master, so a nice home shouldn't surprise him.
Shinwoo sniffed appreciatively, smelling steak and fresh bread. He was sure there was probably a salad in there somewhere, too, since he could smell onions and peppers. "Smells terrific," he complimented merrily as he sauntered into the kitchen. The low exclamation of surprise alerted him to the fact that they weren't alone anymore. Frankenstein just smiled at him, and Shinwoo scowled back before turning to face Tao and M-21. "Hey, what're you two doing here? Is it time to trade off already?" he asked, grinning.
Tao answered him, since it seemed as if M-21 wasn't going to speak. "Well, we had been coming here to trade off, but after we heard what happened, it's been decided that I'll stay here with Takeo and Seira. She's down at the battle site," he added, which explained why she wasn't here. Shinwoo nodded his understanding as M-21 approached, taking in his battered condition.
"Ah, it probably looks worse than it feels," he grimaced. M-21 just shot him a dark look, but under that was fear, and Shinwoo felt his expression soften. "Hey, I'm all right. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting him to take a chunk out of me, but it could have been worse, right? I just hope he didn't have rabies," he muttered. Tao snickered.
Hands reached for him, and Shinwoo stood still as M-21 touched the bandages where they covered his arms and ribs. He stopped the other man from going any lower by the simple expedience of hopping onto the counter and propping his leg up on a stool so that the other man could examine it without having to kneel on the floor.
Seemingly satisfied, M-21 sighed. "Why is it always you?" he muttered. "I mean, the others get in trouble, too, but not like you do."
Shinwoo laughed outright at that, unable to help himself. M-21's glare was almost insulted, which didn't help him to sober up any. He tried to gasp out an answer, but finally gave it up and just rolled, nearly sliding off the counter. His ribs and shoulders protested the movement, but it wasn't until he couldn't breathe properly any more that he was able to calm himself. "Ah, sorry about that," he chuckled, wiping tears from his eyes as he toned it down. "This is coming from the man who can't keep his mouth shut to save his damn life. If I attract trouble, you outright invite it over for tea and cake."
"Hmm…he does have a point," Frankenstein said, his tone completely guileless. Takeo and Tao nodded, grinning as they agreed. M-21 just scowled, then turned his back on all of them. Shinwoo would bet anything that he was probably blushing.
Unfortunately, there was no reprieve for the older man, as Regis had come in behind him with Seira. The two Nobles blinked at him, and then Regis smirked. "I can't believe you just got told off by a child." M-21 growled at him, and the two were off and snarking at each other. Shinwoo slipped off the counter, shooting the irritated blond an apologetic smile, and wandered off after them, pausing just long enough to steal a fresh biscuit off the pan.
Regardless of what else might be going on, Shinwoo enjoyed watching M-21 and Regis verbally spar with each other. M-21 was naturally abrasive, and Regis' arrogant pride made him a good match in terms of the range of insults he had at his disposal. The smaller boy was learning from M-21 and vice versa, and Shinwoo found himself suppressing laughter more often than not.
Carefully minding his injured leg, Shinwoo followed them outside and settled himself on the porch, waiting to see if their verbal sparring would turn physical. M-21 was tense, and Regis was pushing all the right buttons. Neither one would seriously hurt the other, but a little sparring helped to blow off steam, and was more productive than, say, destroying a room in Frankenstein's home or something.
M-21 had noticed him following and waited until there was a small break in their argument before informing him that he probably shouldn't be out with his injuries. Shinwoo snorted. "Oh, yes, I should be inside and not putting any strain on my body, just like Ahjussi." Regis chuckled, and M-21 scowled at the both of them.
"That's different," he said. Shinwoo blinked, then narrowed his own eyes. Climbing to his feet again, he stalked forward, ignoring the slight protest of his healing leg. He didn't stop until he was right in M-21's face. Regis had fallen silent, watchful. If it came to blows, he'd probably intervene, but Shinwoo didn't plan on letting it get that far. Besides, he was injured; M-21 wouldn't attack him when he couldn't properly defend himself. They were friends, after all.
Realizing that he was nearly the same height as M-21 now, Shinwoo hardly had to look up to meet the other man's silver eyes. "Look, Ahjussi. I don't know what you're thinking, and it doesn't matter. I'm well aware of what my body can and can't take. I don't need you to mother me, and I certainly don't need you to think you know what's best for me. I've been taking care of myself for years without anyone's help."
He would have continued, but M-21 interrupted. "But you shouldn't have had to!" he snapped back. Shinwoo blinked, caught off guard. What? "How often are your parents actually home?" M-21 asked, his voice softer, gentler now.
Shinwoo frowned, wanting to hold onto his anger, because it was easier. M-21's words had triggered memories that he would much rather have forgotten. "What does that matter?" he demanded. "Even if he was home, it wouldn't change anything!" And…he hadn't meant to say that. Damn.
Something flickered in those silver eyes, and suddenly the anger was back. "Don't you dare pity me," he hissed. "At least I have a father, and a home to go back to!" M-21 reared back as if he'd been slapped, and Shinwoo froze, suddenly realizing what he'd said. "Wait, I didn't – " he trailed off. He didn't what? Mean to say that? But he had, or else it wouldn't have slipped out.
Before he could form an appropriate apology, M-21 was gone. Shinwoo blinked as the breeze blew past him. He had forgotten just how fast the other man could be when he had to. He felt the presence behind him and swallowed, turning to look up the stairs at Frankenstein, who stared at him, his face carefully blank. "Lunch is ready. Regis, please come inside. Shinwoo…" he trailed off, and the redhead nodded. He'd take care of it. It was his fault, after all.
Heading in the direction M-21 had disappeared to, Shinwoo moved quickly, his leg nearly healed. If nothing else, he really enjoyed the benefits of improved regenerative capabilities that was a trait in most enhanced humans. Of course, the fact that Frankenstein was the one treating him helped immensely, as it did with the others. Shinwoo might not have realized what they were when he first met them, but he had sensed them growing stronger, and his admiration had only grown.
He found M-21 standing at the edge of the cliff, one hand in his pocket and the other at his side. The breeze ruffled his hair as he stood there, gazing out over the water. Shinwoo smiled softly; M-21 had always liked high places, for as long as he had known him. The older man didn't move as he approached, and Shinwoo felt an inkling of hope. As long as the other man didn't run from him again, they could work this out.
"I'm sorry," were the first words out of his mouth. He was ignored, but then again, he hadn't expected this to be easy. "I didn't mean it, not like that," he sighed. Time to find out if honesty really was the best policy. "I almost think it would be better not to remember that I have a family," he muttered bitterly. M-21 didn't look at him, but his head turned slightly in his direction.
Shinwoo walked to the edge and sat down, his feet hanging over the ledge, his hands gripping the edge as he talked, staring out at the ocean rather than looking at the man by his side. "It was great when I was younger. My mom and dad were always home, and I had friends. I did all right in school, and it was good. Until my older brother died." He felt M-21 go still beside him, but refused to look up. He hadn't told this to anybody. "It was my fault," he admitted in a low voice. "I was kicking a ball outside with some friends, and it went into the street. Like an idiot, I followed it, and didn't pay attention."
He swallowed hard, his voice shaky as he continued. "I didn't even see the truck until it was too late. He shoved me out of the way, but couldn't get away himself. He died on impact; they didn't even have time to get him to a hospital." The only sound for the next few minutes was the wind blowing against his heated face and through his hair. When he felt ready, he continued. "After that, my parents started leaving me in the care of neighbors. They started traveling with their jobs, and I rarely saw them. When I did, it was as if they didn't see me anymore. I might as well have died when he did. Three years later, my mother died. They said it was of a broken heart."
Shinwoo brought his knees up to his chest and curled his arms around them. "I promised myself that nobody would ever die because of me again," he said. "And then I met you, and M-24." He didn't finish, because they both knew what had happened. M-24 had died protecting him and his friends. Another loss.
"I…don't ever want to feel like that again," he choked out. "And so I say stupid stuff sometimes, especially if I get too close to someone." He felt M-21 look at him, and knew what he wanted to say without him asking. "It's different with Ik-han, and Yuna and Suyi. They're my friends, yes, but they don't know what happened. They don't even know that I had an older brother. It's a secret that I keep from everyone, but I guess…I'm angrier at my parents than I thought," he chuckled darkly, the sound rough and grating, like broken glass. "And so, whenever people bring them up, or pity me because they're never home, I get overly defensive."
He shook his head. "Look, I know it's not much of an apology, but for what it's worth, I really am sorry. I hadn't ever meant to hurt you, and yet I said the most hurtful thing I could to you in a fit of anger. I guess I really am still a child, huh?"
He felt M-21 behind him, but didn't move. If the other man wanted to push him off the edge, he wouldn't mind. He'd probably even survive it. Instead, he felt a hand fist in the back of his collar and drag him up and backwards, until his back was pressed against M-21's chest. "Stupid boy," M-21 growled, his face buried in Shinwoo's shoulder. The redhead blinked, confused. What was going on? Had the other man finally lost it?
M-21's arms were around him, and Shinwoo relaxed into the other man's embrace. Since the other man hadn't transformed his hands into claws, or hit him, he was probably okay. "It's not your fault. You were a child. That's what fences are for. And parents. But your brother's death is. Not. Your. Fault." He emphasized his words with a small shake, and Shinwoo felt something inside of him break. Nobody who knew the truth had ever said that to him before. His parents had blamed him, even if they wouldn't outright say it. His neighbors had never spoken of it, but he could see it in their eyes.
As he grew older and started getting into fights, which had only grown worse and more frequent after his mother had died, the neighbors had grown fearful of him and refused to watch him, and he had been left more or less on his own. It hadn't been until he met Ik-han that he had found someone without that accusing look in his eyes. In fact, Ik-han had looked up to him, something that had surprised – and delighted – Shinwoo endlessly. He wondered what the other boy would say if he learned the truth, but shook his head. It didn't matter now.
Shinwoo twisted around, turning to bury his head in M-21's chest, his shoulders shaking as he suppressed his sobs. He wouldn't cry, not now. The other man's arms wrapped around him tightly, one hand stroking soothingly between his shoulders. No words were spoken, and Shinwoo eventually got himself back under control. Releasing one last shuddering sigh, he pulled away, and M-21 let him go.
"Ah, I was sort of supposed to tell you that lunch was ready," he said, flushing in embarrassment. M-21 just nodded and turned away, heading back the way they'd come. Shinwoo followed him, knowing that the others would be waiting. And afterwards, he'd be heading back home. He wondered when the other shoe would drop.
There's no escape. Remember that.
Shinwoo froze, then dropped to the ground with a moan, his fingers tangling in his hair as he clutched his head. "Shinwoo? What's wrong?" M-21 was there beside him, fingers firmly pulling his hands away from his head, surprisingly gentle for all the strength they contained.
Shinwoo looked up at him, his eyes wide with horror. "We have to go back. All of us. Now," he insisted. "I remembered." M-21 looked at him, his words not registering. "They're coming," Shinwoo said, and watched as M-21 finally got it, his eyes filling with the same horror as Shinwoo was feeling.
He was up and moving before Shinwoo could take another breath, and the redhead just followed him, pushing his body as fast as it would go. They had to warn the others. The Union was coming, and it was targeting them. He just hoped they weren't too late.