Two hours later, Shinwoo walked into the bedroom, supporting M-21, and nearly had a heart attack. M-21 growled, his claws coming out. Tao yelped, and Takeo shoved away from him, grabbing his guns and aiming them steadily at the man standing casually inside the room. Green eyes bore into Shinwoo's own, the agent completely unfazed by the threatening postures of the other three men in the room with them. "It is good to know you survived," he said, his voice gravelly. He gave Shinwoo a large smile, flashing pointed teeth. Shinwoo just glared, his hands clenching into fists at his side.
"No thanks to you!" he snapped back. "What do you want?" He was tired, guilt-ridden, anxious, and a ton of other things that left him in no mood to play games with the enemy. "If you've come to gloat, you're outta luck. If you've come to give us a warning, we got it, okay? So go away." He was definitely going to have to talk to Frankenstein about putting some safeguards around the outside of the house.
"Now, now," he said, completely unintimidated by the men who had spread out to surround him. The only reason they hadn't attacked yet was because Frankenstein really would kill them if they destroyed his house. "I hadn't intended anything bad by what I did. I just wanted to test the blond. He really is a bit of a peacock, isn't he? He looked like a lot of fun, and I heard that he's always been such an uppity child." He smiled again, and Shinwoo frowned. This guy knew Frankenstein? Was he a Noble, then?
"I'm not a Noble," the man said, "and I'm not reading your mind. You don't shield your curiosity very well. Then again, you always were a curious child." All around him, Shinwoo could feel the others freeze. Shinwoo blinked, then took a closer look, but the man was still wearing his hood, and even with his enhanced vision, the redhead couldn't get a close look at his face.
The other man waved his hand. "It hardly matters who I am, Han Shinwoo," he dismissed his concerns. "What matters is that Crombel is actually gone this time. He wasn't before, you know," he said. "So I had to bring him to the surface. I imagine he's most displeased with me right now." His grin was rather frightening, and not worried in the least. "I just wished to make sure you were alive. I do apologize for the school and the KSA building, though I tried to make certain nobody was injured. But a man's got to do what he's got to do."
M-21 snarled and lunged for him, claws out, and the man leapt back easily, crouching in the windowsill. "Do try to not die, won't you?" he directed his question towards Shinwoo, who was trying to remember why that pose seemed so familiar to him. "I'd really hate for all my hard work to go to waste." And with that he was gone, leaving four stunned men behind him.
"What the hell was that all about?!" Tao exclaimed, always the first to break the silence. "First he just waltzes right into the boss's house like it's nothing, then he claims to know both Shinwoo and the boss, and then he just leaves after outright admitting that he destroyed the KSA building and the school? What a creep." The others nodded in agreement.
"Who's a creep? Who was just in my house?" Frankenstein suddenly demanded from behind them, his aura threatening. Tao took over the explanations, while Shinwoo stood there, completely stunned. He hadn't gotten a good look at the other man, and his voice was completely unfamiliar, but there was something about him that made Shinwoo ache with recognition. He felt like he should have known who it was immediately, and it hurt that he couldn't remember. Whoever it was, he seemed to be playing both sides. He had attacked them on the island, not to mention the attacks here, in their hometown, but he hadn't hurt anybody, either. Not really. And he had been glad that Shinwoo was alive, and that Crombel was out of his head. Who was he? And what was he really after?
A clawed hand gripped his shoulder lightly, and Shinwoo glanced at the man next to him. "Ahjussi," he greeted weakly. Silver eyes stared at him worriedly. "I'm all right. It's just, he's right. I should know him. His appearance, his eyes, that damn pose in the window, I've seen it all before. I just don't know where," he growled, tugging at his hair in frustration.
"He knew of me as well," Frankenstein said, scowling blackly. Shinwoo remembered belatedly that he had called the other man a peacock. "I don't recall meeting anybody outside of the former Lord who had the audacity to call me such names." Well, that answered one question, at least. Shinwoo didn't even try to hide his grin, cheerfully ignoring the dark look he got.
He shook his head, as if that would shake away the memories of that man. Twice now, he had come to see Frankenstein and Shinwoo. And the redhead had the feeling that those weren't the last visits he'd have from that man, either. But until he could remember, it would do him no good to drive himself crazy wondering.
"You are unhurt?" Frankenstein asked them sharply. All four men confirmed that the Union agent had done nothing untoward to them, beyond showing up in their bedroom, which was completely inappropriate. "That is good to hear. However, it is completely unacceptable that somebody should just waltz in here without an invitation." Frankenstein gave Tao a sharp look, and the man saluted him merrily.
"Right away, boss! I just bought some new toys I've been dying to test out!" he grinned, excited at the prospect of getting to use them so soon, and Shinwoo laughed. Takeo just rolled his eyes, shaking his head in fond amusement, while M-21 just sighed.
Frankenstein looked at the three of them. "Takeo, M-21, you should get some rest. You still need time to heal." The two enhanced humans frowned at him, but he didn't budge. "My treatments are effective, but only so long as you actually allow them to work. Running about all over town hunting for that man will not help. Now, rest." His tone made it clear that there was no room for argument, and the two men swallowed their protests. "Shinwoo," Frankenstein said, "go do whatever. Perhaps now would be a good time to visit with your friends, or to return home for a while. I know your father is overseas at the moment, so you are welcome back here at any time, but perhaps your neighbors should at least know you're alive?"
Shinwoo hid his grimace at that, sneaking a glance at M-21 who was sitting on the edge of the bed, obviously not willing to sleep while Frankenstein was still standing in the doorway. He realized that M-21 had kept his secret, and he smiled quickly in gratitude before answering the blond. "Yeah, that sounds good. You're sure it's okay?" he asked. Frankenstein assured him that he should be fine, but handed him a cell phone just in case he needed to reach them. After all, regardless of whether the Union agent had been warning them, or was on a secret mission of his own, the fact still remained that he had gotten past their defenses twice now in as many days. That was simply unacceptable.
Frankenstein excused himself, and Shinwoo did the same after making sure that M-21 was going to stay put. He wasn't happy about it, but Takeo coerced him into staying, pointing out that if he left and Frankenstein found out, he'd be bedridden for the rest of summer break. M-21 had grumbled at that, but had allowed himself to be persuaded. Before he could change his mind again, Shinwoo was gone, heading for his own room.
Throwing on a well-loved pair of jeans and a bright red t-shirt, Shinwoo waved good-bye to Frankenstein and walked out the door. He wondered briefly if Rai would be okay, but figured that Frankenstein wouldn't have left his side if he was that worried about him.
Deciding that it was still too early to go visit with his friends, and that they'd probably come to Frankenstein's house to visit everybody later, he headed for his house. There were a few things he needed from there, and now was as good a time as any. The whole way, he kept his senses on high alert, his eyes automatically scanning rooftops as well as alleyways. He didn't feel anybody watching him, but that didn't mean that nobody was.
He took a more circuitous route to his house than normal, just in case. Figuring that either nobody was following him, or they had the patience of a damn saint, he finally walked into his house, the silence as oppressive as ever. He glanced at the phone, but the message light wasn't blinking, which meant that his father hadn't called home to check on him. He hadn't really been expecting that he would – his father usually forgot that he existed – but there was always a slim chance that he'd call to make sure the house hadn't been destroyed or something.
He moved through the house, carefully choosing a few items. He didn't really have many belongings of his own that were absolutely necessary to take with him. School books, clothes, a music player, his cell phone, and a handful of pictures. There was a picture of Yuna on his dresser, and a picture of the whole group – Ik-han, Suyi, Yuna, and himself – on the low bookshelf, and a family photo album.
Grabbing everything and tossing it into a duffle bag, he tossed the bag by the front door, then wandered into the kitchen. He might as well fix himself some lunch and take care of the dishes before he left. Quickly fixing himself a couple of sandwiches, Shinwoo sat down at the table, the photo album drawing his attention. Figuring he didn't have anything better to do, the redhead pulled it closer and flipped through it. There were a couple pictures of him, and more of his friends. There were even a few of Rai, Frankenstein, Regis, and Seira, taken when Yuna had gotten her knew camera. He grinned; they really were quite photogenic.
He stopped after that. The second half of the album was filled with family pictures. Shinwoo, his brother, and their parents sat on those pages. He didn't want to see those pictures. He'd considered throwing them away or burning them before, but somehow, he couldn't bear to part with them. It was still his family, after all.
Standing to put his dishes in the sink, Shinwoo got all of two steps before he froze, a vague memory flashing across his vision. His fingers tightened involuntarily, but he hardly felt the glass cutting into his hand as the plate cracked and broke. He heard the echoes of childish laughter, and saw a flash of green eyes. Those eyes had always intrigued him, because he had never seen anybody with eyes so bright before.
As if on autopilot, he turned back to the table and flipped to the back of the photo album. About three pages in, he found the picture he was looking for. There he was, maybe four years old. His seven-year old brother was grinning next to him, holding up his fingers in a sign for victory, his arm slung over a grinning Shinwoo. Behind and to the left stood another boy, probably ten years old, green eyes bright with happiness, though his facial expression seemed almost impassive.
Baesook had been Sung-tae's best friend, and had looked after and played with both brothers. He had never seemed to mind having Shinwoo around, though he had often teased him until Sung-tae came to his defense. After the accident, Baesook had come to see him a few times, but Shinwoo had been so guilt-ridden that he hadn't paid much attention. He hadn't even noticed when the older boy finally stopped coming.
Shinwoo was still sitting at the table when Tao found him. He had been sent to retrieve Shinwoo, as he was the only other one among their group who wasn't still recovering. Shinwoo heard him, but it didn't really register until the other man leaned over his shoulder, wrapping his arms around him as he looked at the photo album. There was a sharp intake of breath, and Shinwoo finally spoke. "He was my brother's best friend. I haven't seen him in years. I never even wondered what happened to him." He was numb now, and he wondered if the guilt would set in later. If he hadn't been so involved in his own problems, would he have noticed when Baesook left? Would he have cared?
"Your brother?" Tao asked softly, and Shinwoo just sighed, not answering. Tao didn't push him. Instead, he just reached out and carefully closed the photo album. "Do you have everything you need?" he asked. Shinwoo nodded, then stood up, heading for the door. "Hey," Tao said softly, a hand on his shoulder. Turning around, Shinwoo gave him a small, but genuine, smile.
"I'll be fine. I was just…surprised, I guess," he said. He ran his hand through his hair. "I don't know why he's a member of the Union, but he helped us. He's still Baesook. I want," he swallowed, uncertain now. "I want to help him. I wasn't there for him when I should have been, and it might be too late, but I want to try. I have to." And as he said it, he realized it was true. If there was anything he could possibly do, he had to try. He couldn't just let the other man go like this.
His friend grinned widely. "Well, of course!" he exclaimed. "If he's a friend, then we can't just abandon him now that we know about him, right? Let's go tell the others. You know they'll help." While he was talking, he was also shoving Shinwoo out the door, pushing the photo album into his arms, and snatching up his bag. Shinwoo just chuckled; the hacker was nothing if not efficient.
The walk back was pleasant, with Tao keeping up a steady stream of chatter that didn't really require Shinwoo's attention, but was nonetheless entertaining. Mostly, he was wondering if Ik-han would be up for another hacker battle. "Go for it, man! He'd probably love it! But maybe not with the police server this time," he suggested.
Tao just laughed. "Oh? Does he do more than security for the local police force?" he asked. Shinwoo just smiled, but didn't reply. Ik-han did a lot of things, but if Tao wanted to know, he'd have to find out from the other boy. "Nice," Tao approved appreciatively. Shinwoo was glad that those two had become fast friends, brought together over their love for computers and technology, of all things.
Shinwoo found his eyes drifting across rooftops and down alleyways again. He realized that he was actually hoping to see the other man. He had so many questions to ask him, but doubted it would be so easy. He didn't know what Baesook was up to, and knew that if he wished to remain hidden, he would. At least for now. Shinwoo eyed Tao contemplatively for a moment. If it was him, he could probably do it.
"Can you still break into the Union's database?" he asked. The look Tao gave him was almost insulted. "Okay, so that was a stupid question," he amended. "I was just thinking that we might be able to get some leads, provided he's still using his same name." Tao's gaze turned inwards as he thought about it. Neither man was paying attention to their surroundings, too intent on figuring out how to go about finding Baesook, and either rescue him or lure him out.
Somebody shoved Shinwoo's shoulder, hard, and he blinked, tilting his head back to stare up at the big guy who was glaring down at him. He saw the others surrounding him, and made a quick assessment. These guys were nothing special. The only thing they had going for them was their size, and with Shinwoo's strength, even that was negligible. After all, they couldn't hurt him if they couldn't hit even him, right?
"Ah, sorry about that, pal," he apologized, his tone not apologetic in the least. "Got distracted and all that. You're not hurt anywhere, are you?" As the other man's face darkened into a scowl, Shinwoo felt the low stir of anticipation. Tao's murmured warning by his side told him that he was being overtly mocking, but he didn't care. He was so tired of being on the losing end, and if these guys wanted to start something, he'd be more than happy to finish it.
One of the men seemed to recognize him, and shifted uneasily. Shinwoo ignored him; if he didn't want his ass handed to him, he'd stay out of the fight that was about to go down. Next to him, Tao just sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "I don't suppose you gentlemen would be willing to just let this drop, would you?" A fist coming at his face answered his question, and the fight was on.
The first guy dropped after a punch to the gut, and Shinwoo landed a kick against another one's side. He was careful to avoid their faces and heads; broken ribs were more easily repaired than a smashed skull, after all. Tao just stayed out of the way, ducking the occasional enterprising idiot who thought the slender, frail-looking man would go down easier than his buddy. They often made the same mistake with Rai, too.
Shinwoo grinned as a body thumped down heavily behind him. Ducking a punch and taking down his own guy with a quick wrench of his arm, forcing him to kneel before knocking him unconscious with a chop to the back of the neck, he glanced over at Tao, who was staring innocently back at him. A huge guy was groaning on the ground at his feet, and as Shinwoo turned back to face the next batch of thugs, he saw Tao deliver a swift kick to the other man, rendering him completely unconscious.
The fight – if it could even be called that – was over in less than two minutes. The guy who had recognized him, and about five of his friends, had surrendered without much fuss, and Shinwoo waited to make sure that nobody was dead before continuing on his way. He smiled sweetly at the dark-haired youth, who swallowed hard. "This is our little secret, right?" he asked. The other boy nodded, and Shinwoo smiled with satisfaction. There was no need to draw attention to themselves, after all. Besides, what self-respecting gang would admit that they'd had their collective ass kicked by two pretty boys?
"Feel better?" Tao asked, his voice heavy with sarcasm, but there was an undercurrent of amusement, and Shinwoo realized that while the 24-year-old might not approve of him taking out a bunch of humans just because he could, he had enjoyed the fight just as much as Shinwoo.
He shrugged. "A little, yeah. But there was no challenge in that, and you know it. Hmm…no wonder you guys always took on huge armies. It would take a lot more power than those idiots had to hurt me. Maybe that's why Rael always looks so disgusted when he's in town."
Tao laughed at that. "I think there might just be something wrong with his personality," he argued playfully. "I mean, if he's not complaining about the humans, he's trying to kill us. It's a good thing Seira's here, and him. That reminds me…the short-tempered blond hasn't been around since your enhancements, has he?"
Shinwoo thought about it for a moment, realized Tao was right, and shrugged. "Then I suppose he's in for a surprise next time he shows up. Unless his brother told him. Do you think Rajak would have?" he wondered out loud. The older blond might tell Rael, if only to keep him from doing something stupid, but he was equally likely to keep it a secret and let his younger brother find out the truth on his own. Shinwoo hoped it was the latter; he wanted to see Rael's face when he realized that there was another "human toy" around.
Frankenstein's house was in sight, and Shinwoo looked up on the balcony. Frankenstein was standing there, leaning casually against the house, alternating between watching the two men on the balcony and scanning the street. M-21 and Takeo were leaning against the railing, facing outwards. Takeo lifted his hand in greeting, and Shinwoo waved back. Tao chuckled suddenly, and Shinwoo glanced at him curiously.
Tao waved one hand dismissively. "Oh, it's nothing, really. Just…doesn't the boss kind of look like a worried parent, keeping an eye on his sick children while waiting for the others to come home?" Shinwoo looked back up at Frankenstein, who was watching their steady approach. Thinking about it, Shinwoo wondered how often had he heard the blond call them all his 'children'. Perhaps Tao wasn't so far off the mark.
"Haha. Yeah, he kinda does," he admitted. "Shall we go say hello, then?" Checking both sides of the street, Shinwoo leapt easily from the street over the gate and into the yard. In a few strides, he was under the balcony, looking up at M-21, who was staring back down at him. With a grin, Shinwoo bent his legs slightly underneath himself, then leapt, his hand reaching out to snag the balcony railing as he passed by it. He flipped himself easily onto the balcony, Tao only a split second behind him. "I'm home!" he exclaimed merrily.
There were murmured greetings in return. M-21 was staring at him intently, but Shinwoo pretended not to notice, watching as Takeo welcomed Tao home. The hacker reached up and ran his fingers through Takeo's long hair. Shinwoo wondered who the gesture was meant to soothe. Maybe both of them, a physical reinforcement that they were both there and okay. Curious now, he moved over to the two men, who watched his approach, completely at ease. Without bothering to ask for permission, he reached out and grabbed a handful of Takeo's hair, careful not to yank on it. This was the first time he had really paid attention to the texture.
Takeo's hair was softer that he'd imagined, and cool to the touch. Somehow, he'd been expecting it to be warm, though that seemed like a silly thought now. It's not like hair was the same as flesh. Shinwoo's own hair was rough in comparison. Takeo just watched him, but didn't pull away, and Shinwoo released his ponytail after a moment. He eyed Tao contemplatively, and the other man just sighed. Grinning, Shinwoo reached out and grabbed the strands that fell near his chin. Tao's was smoother than Takeo's softness, more silky.
"What's with the sudden interest in hair?" M-21 asked from behind him. Shinwoo shrugged; he really wasn't sure himself, but since the other man was standing so close, he reached out and touched his hair as well. M-21's hair was coarse, making Shinwoo think of dense fur. He wondered if the werewolf heart had anything to do with that.
Wondering what Frankenstein's hair felt like – and more importantly, Seira's – he shrugged. "I'm not really sure. I was just watching Tao, and then I just kind of wanted to, you know? Don't you have that sometimes, this urge to just do something, without really caring about the consequences?"
The other three men looked at each other, but it was M-21 who answered him. "I have some instincts from the werewolves," he admitted. "But it has a lot more to do with running and hunting and fighting, not –" he waved his hand vaguely, indicating Shinwoo's hand which was still gripping his hair. Shinwoo let his hand drop and sighed.
"Great," he muttered. "So I'm weird even for you guys. That's exactly what I needed to hear right now." Like he didn't have enough problems to be dealing with. Hearing voices, he watched as a group of teenagers passed by in front of Frankenstein's home. He didn't feel the urge to go down and touch their hair. So it wasn't an instinct, exactly. He still wondered what Frankenstein's hair would feel like, though.
Tao tapped him on the shoulder, picking up Shinwoo's bag from where it had been dropped. "Let's go inside. We've got a friend to rescue, after all," he smiled. The other two looked interestedly at them, and Shinwoo smiled back at Tao. Turning away from Shinwoo, Tao slung a shoulder over M-21's shoulders, leaving Shinwoo to accompany Takeo. "You two are gonna love this!" he laughed. "That weirdo that keeps popping up is a childhood friend of this guy," he said, jerking his thumb in Shinwoo's direction. The younger man showed his maturity by sticking his tongue out.
Frankenstein was waiting for them inside, and Shinwoo felt a brief flash of sorrow. The picture didn't seem complete somehow. They were missing Rai's quiet, elegant presence. Regis' snarky comebacks as he argued with M-21 were deeply felt in their absence. There was no scent of Seira's awesome cooking, and their human friends weren't there to greet them, either, snacks spread out all across the table while they chatted and goofed off and in general made a nuisance of themselves.
Blinking away the maudlin sentiments, Shinwoo set the album carefully on the table and opened it, flipping through a few pages until he reached the one he wanted. The other men – with the exception of Tao, who had already seen it – crowded around the table to get a good look at the picture. "So the intruder does know you," Frankenstein murmured.
Shinwoo nodded. "Yeah. I knew he was familiar. I just didn't recognize him." He waited for the question that he knew was coming, wondering who would ask. M-21 glanced at him, then back down to the photo, then back up at him. Shinwoo furrowed his brows, wondering what the hell the other man was up to. "Ahjussi?" he asked.
Silver eyes lifted and held his steady as M-21 spoke. "The other boy. He's your brother." It wasn't a question, but Shinwoo nodded in confirmation. Takeo and Frankenstein both twitched, taken by surprise. Tao was silent, having already heard this part before. What he didn't know was what had happened, why Shinwoo had never said anything about having a brother before.
Shinwoo didn't satisfy their curiosity. He pointed to the other boy in the picture with them. "This is Baesook. He was hyung's best friend. We used to hang out together all the time. I didn't even notice when he left town," he admitted, frowning as he stared down at the three grinning boys in the picture. It seemed like something that had happened a long time ago, in another lifetime.
The others must have sense his reticence, because they didn't point out the obvious. Frankenstein nodded. "It looks like the same man, but we have to be certain." M-21 grimaced, still sore over the M-24 imposter. Shinwoo swore that when he found the one responsible for giving M-21 hope and then destroying it, he'd bury them twelve feet under.
Shinwoo nodded. "Yeah, I know, but I haven't got any ideas. I was hoping that maybe Tao could find something, but if they're trying to fool us, then the data will be false anyhow, right?" he asked.
Tao nodded, but didn't seem too concerned. "Yes, but you forget, I'm the best there is. I'm Tao," he stated simply. "Since I know to look for falsified data, I'll be able to find anything that's been manufactured or tampered with. There are certain tricks that give them away to a professional like me." He was bragging a little, but Shinwoo knew that he wouldn't have said it if he didn't believe it. Besides, he trusted him in this.
"He doesn't seem like a bad guy," Takeo offered up the quiet observation. Shinwoo gave him a grateful smile; the other man had just let him know that he was fully on board with whatever Shinwoo decided to do. He already knew that M-21 would help, even without the man saying it outright. For all that M-21 might try to pretend otherwise, he cared deeply, and he understood the value of companions, and the desire to save them, regardless of the consequences.
Frankenstein leaned over his shoulder to get a better look at the boys in the picture, and Shinwoo moved before he realized what he was doing. His fingers brushed Frankenstein's hair, and then the world tilted around him. Gasping, he stared up at the other man, completely dumbstruck. Frankenstein gave him an innocent look. "I'm sorry, Shinwoo. I'm afraid I may have overreacted. I thought perhaps Crombel wasn't gone, after all." In other words, it wasn't his fault, huh?
Shinwoo snorted. "Yeah, yeah, whatever," he grumbled. He allowed M-21 to help him to his feet, glad that Frankenstein had only physically thrown him. Silver eyes glittered with amusement, and Shinwoo flushed. His hands twitched at his side, restless. He saw Tao nudge Takeo, and the other man just arched his eyebrows before sighing and walking over to Shinwoo. The redhead watched his approach carefully, then grinned when he realized that Takeo was putting himself between Shinwoo and Frankenstein. With M-21 on his other side, Shinwoo couldn't touch the blond without going through at least one of them.
Before anybody could speak, there was the sound of the doorbell ringing, and Shinwoo chuckled. Tao grinned widely, and even M-21 cracked an affectionate smile. The "children" were here. Frankenstein was the first to leave the room, pressing the button so he could see Ik-han standing there with Suyi and Yuna. He unlocked the gate, then opened the door. The three students came tumbling in, passing greetings all around. Suyi and Yuna each had a bag of snacks, and Ik-han had his laptop case across his shoulder. It looked like they were planning to spend the day here.
Shinwoo pulled Ik-han in a headlock, ruffling his hair as the other boy struggled ineffectually. Suyi and Yuna ignored their antics as they greeted Principal Lee and the older men. Shinwoo saw Yuna blush as she addressed M-21, and Shinwoo finally made the connection. She was attracted to him! He released Ik-han, moving to stand not-so-subtly between the two of them. He got some strange looks for his interference, but nobody said anything.
Tao was talking with Ik-han, and Shinwoo had no doubt that soon the two of them would be hunched over the younger boy's laptop, discussing security and hacks and viruses. Suyi and Yuna, having discovered that Seira wasn't here, offered to prepare lunch. Since Rai wasn't here, they could have something that wasn't ramen. Shinwoo liked ramen well enough, but the Noblesse's obsession with it confused the hell out of him. What had the dark-haired Noble eaten before he had woken up in Korea? Surely he had eaten foods of a much higher quality than a bunch of reconstituted noodles. Not that Shinwoo was complaining. Ramen was cheap and plentiful, after all.
Yuna was the first one to notice the photo album, which was still open on the table. "Oh! Are these friends from when you were younger?" she asked innocently. Shinwoo ignored the look of consternation that M-21 shot him. He hadn't told the others about his sibling. Only M-21 knew the whole story; the others knew that he had a brother, but nothing more. And his friends didn't know anything at all.
He walked over to the album and picked it up. "Yeah, Sung-tae and Baesook," he replied casually, pointing to each boy in turn. He was lucky that his brother didn't have the same red hair as him, having inherited more of their mother's coloring than their father's. He flipped back several more pages, until he was at the more recent photos, hoping to distract them.
Yuna smiled happily at the pictures of the group. Ik-han and Suyi, curious about what had captured their attention, wandered over as well. "When did you take all of these? Or rather, who did you have take them for you?" Ik-han asked, pointing to some of the more recent ones. Most of them were candid snapshots, taken while they were going about their day. Shinwoo himself was in several of them, so the other boy knew he couldn't have been the one to take those. When they were younger, the others' parents had snapped pictures and made sure everybody got some. But they hadn't done that for years now.
Shinwoo smirked. "I'm not telling," he informed them primly. This set off a guessing game, and Shinwoo found himself writhing on the couch while Ik-han tickled him. Tao had cheerfully offered to hold him down, and was pinning his wrists. Suyi and Yuna joined in, until Shinwoo was laughing so hard he was crying, his abdomen cramping up as he gasped for air. Still, they showed no mercy, and Shinwoo finally gave up. "All right, all right, already!" he managed to choke out. "I'll tell you. Just…stop already!"
His friends looked at each other and then nodded, their fingers moving away from his ribs and stomach. Shinwoo shuddered, catching his breath for a moment before answering them while they waited impatiently. "I showed Seira how to take them," he admitted at last. "And Ahjussi. I think Principal Lee might've taken some, too," he admitted. Probably the ones that had Rai as the main focus.
Ik-han looked back down at the picture that was currently showing. He, Shinwoo, Yuna, Suyi, Rai, and Regis were walking down the sidewalk. Shinwoo and Ik-han were laughing about something or other. Regis was as indifferent and 'elegant' as ever, his head tipped up as if he could sense the camera's lens on him. Or perhaps he could just feel whoever was taking the picture. Rai was in the middle of the group, his taller form standing out just as much as Shinwoo's bright hair and Regis' silver. The two girls were in the back, their hands gesturing as they spoke with each other in low voices. Shinwoo remembered that picture. It had been the first one that Seira had taken. M-21 had been standing next to her on the roof, watching over them.
As a thank you, Shinwoo had given Seira a copy of the picture. She had seemed both surprised and pleased with the gesture. He had no idea what she had done with it, but knew that she'd kept it.
Ik-han flipped the book to the very front and laughed. It was a picture of the four of them in the hospital, after they had been poisoned. They were on their hospital beds, eating food and chattering away while Regis and Seira brought them more food than they could ever hope to finish. It seemed so long ago, though Shinwoo knew it had only been a few months since then.
"Who took this one?" he asked. Shinwoo thought for a moment, and then shrugged. He had no idea, to be honest. Whoever it was had been sneaky about it, though. The picture had just shown up on his bedside table the same day they had been discharged. Seira and Regis had been bringing food. Rai had been too worried to try something like that, and Frankenstein had been inconspicuously hovering over his Master. Tao and Takeo hadn't known about the camera, and M-21 hadn't done it. Shinwoo didn't remember anybody else being there. He wondered if he should be worried.
Ik-han looked at him suspiciously, but Shinwoo just held out his hands and gave him an innocent look in return. He honestly didn't know who had taken that picture. Ik-han turned back to the album, and the children forgot all about lunch as they flipped through the book, commenting on each picture. They slowly drew in M-21, Takeo, and Tao as well. Even Frankenstein was coaxed to answer a few of their questions.
Shinwoo stopped them before they got to the family photos, because that would bring up too many questions. They let it drop, but not before he promised to make sure that they each got a copy of all the pictures of the group. He was sure Frankenstein could probably duplicate them easily.
His stomach growling caused his friends to laugh, and he blushed. Yuna and Suyi stood up and politely asked for permission to use the kitchen. Frankenstein granted it without any visible hesitation. M-21 and Takeo followed – they'd keep up with the dishes while the girls cooked. Tao engaged Ik-han in a conversation about various hacking adventures.
Shinwoo excused himself and brought his photo album to his room. His bag was already there, and he spent a few moments unpacking. It didn't take long, and Shinwoo stretched, running his fingers through his hair. He paused, frowning, then tugged his fingers through his hair again, getting the same result. Walking down the hallway and into the bathroom, Shinwoo looked at himself in the mirror. Yeah, he had been right. His hair had grown. It wasn't really noticeable to other people, only being slightly longer than normal, but he noticed. He was always very careful to keep his hair a certain length, so he could get just the style he wanted.
Doing some quick math in his head, he realized it had been about two months since his last haircut. He supposed he was probably due for another one. Deciding not to worry about it until he was sure it was an issue, Shinwoo headed back down the hallway. He was stopped by Frankenstein before reaching the living room.
"Shinwoo, please come with me," Frankenstein asked politely. Shinwoo heard the order underneath and shrugged, following the blond down to the lab. They didn't normally come down here while the human children were in the house, so Shinwoo was curious. Either this was really important, or Frankenstein was positive that Shinwoo's friends were thoroughly distracted and wouldn't notice an extended absence on his part.
Gesturing for Shinwoo to hop onto one of the tables, he asked, "Have you noticed anything different lately? Any changes that we weren't expecting?" He had discussed possible changes in Shinwoo's condition several times, and so Shinwoo didn't panic when something happened, unless it didn't line up with the expected transformations.
He shook his head, slipping out of his shirt and swinging his feet up onto the table. "Umm…not really," he said. "I mean, I've been feeling better lately, but you said that would happen as my body stabilized." He flexed his hands. "I'm getting a little stronger, but that's from training. And Crombel's finally out of my head," he smiled, pleased. He might not have approved of the method, but the end result was the same.
Frankenstein nodded. "Yes, that is certainly a relief. At the very least, it prevents him from obtaining additional data on your progress and condition," he murmured, then switched the topic. "This friend of yours, Baesook, you trust him?" he asked. He pressed a button on one of the workstations, and Shinwoo lay down as the machine lit up, sliding him into the tunnel while it scanned him.
Shinwoo thought about Frankenstein's question while the machine did whatever it was that it did. When he was released from it, he sat up, taking his shirt back from Frankenstein but not putting it back on yet. His hand reached up and rubbed absently at his shoulder. The wound was gone, but he could almost feel the ghost of teeth sinking into his flesh. He nodded. "Yeah," he replied. "I trust him. Even if he's different now, he's still Baesook. I can't explain it, but I'm pretty sure he's on our side." Then again, hadn't M-21 been certain about the imposter M-24 as well?
Frankenstein took him at his word. "Very well, then. We shall see if we can't aggravate the Union just a little bit. I must admit, I am curious to know where he got his information from in regards to myself."
Shinwoo grinned. "You mean the bit where he called you a peacock? Or where he said you were uppity?" Frankenstein glared at him, his aura curling around him, but Shinwoo ignored it, hopping off the table with a soft tap of bare feet. "He works for the Union. You said the Lord called you that, right?" he asked. Frankenstein nodded, something almost wistful passing through his eyes for a moment. "And there are Nobles in the Union now. Perhaps one of them said something. Roctis, perhaps?" He had heard of the traitor by name only, but both Rai and Frankenstein had been concerned when they'd realized that the Clan Leader was now part of the Union.
"Quite likely," Frankenstein murmured. "In which case, I shall have to give Roctis an appropriate punishment for his infraction." Shinwoo snorted; like the blond hadn't been planning the Noble's demise since he had realized that Roctis was one of the traitor clan leaders who had tried to take his master's life.
The blond shook himself out of his thoughts and smiled at Shinwoo. "Your body seems to be doing very well, considering the state it was in when we retrieved you. I am having the machines run a few tests, but you needn't be present for those. I will share the results when they are completed. In the meantime, go spend some time with your friends," he advised. "Things are quiet now, but I don't expect them to stay that way. Once the Union makes their moves, you may not get to see them for a while."
Or ever again, Shinwoo's mind added unhelpfully. He knew he could die at any given time. Stronger didn't mean immortal, and he hadn't had years of training like the others, nor did he have the abilities of a werewolf like M-21. Frankenstein had been around for centuries, and not only was he strong, but he was experienced, thanks to his numerous battles with those who should have been stronger than himself. And Rai was in a league of his own. The only one he might be able to compare with was Regis, who hadn't had his coming of age ceremony yet, and who wasn't yet a Clan Leader, as Gejeutel still held that position.
Shinwoo nodded and left the room, aware that Frankenstein had headed in the opposite direction, probably to check on his master. It had been less than twenty-four hours since Rai's collapse, and Shinwoo had no idea how long recovery would take, or if Rai would simply wake up whenever he felt like it. Since the Noblesse had slept for more than eight centuries, Shinwoo was certain that he would not allow himself to sleep that deeply again, not while the Union posed such a threat, and not while the rest of them were still around.
Shinwoo wandered mindlessly into the living room, and it wasn't until he heard the embarrassed exclamations that he realized he had never put on his shirt. His eyes widened, and he hurriedly finished dressing.
Pulling his head through the collar, he glanced around, gauging everybody's reaction. Yuna was staring at him with a stunned look in her eyes, her cheeks flushed a light pink. He realized that it had probably been years since she'd seen him without his shirt on. It's not like they ever went to the beach or anything, and now that they were older, changing in the same room simply wasn't appropriate. Next to her, Suyi was blushing as well, smiling as she watched Yuna's reaction. Ik-han was just staring at him with wide eyes, his brow furrowing like he couldn't settle on a single emotion.
Takeo just raised an eyebrow at him, then turned to look at his lover as Tao gave a low whistle. "Damn, I've seen it, but it's still quite impressive," he laughed, gesturing at Shinwoo's – now covered – torso. He grinned at Takeo, but didn't say anything. The others didn't know about their relationship. Shinwoo just sighed, shaking his head in fond exasperation, his eyes seeking out M-21, who was very carefully not looking at him, his face as expressionless as he could make it. Shinwoo started, realizing for the first time that perhaps the attraction went both ways.
Filing the information away to ponder later, he turned back to the rest of the room, deciding to not push just yet. M-21 might go on the defensive if he tried to push him with so many people in the room, and then he'd never get a chance to figure out what was going on between them. Instead, he turned back to face the rest of the room. Striking a pose, Shinwoo boasted, "What? Like you all didn't already know I was uber-hot."
This earned him a bunch of shocked, disbelieving stares, followed by cries of mock outrage as his friends converged on him. Shinwoo just laughed, dancing around the room until he came to the table where the food was. Suddenly ravenous, he stopped dead, forcing Ik-han to halt or run into him. Looking at the spread before him, he smiled, his eyes widening with delight. "This looks delicious! And it smells so good!" he flattered the two females, who smiled with pleasure at the honest praise. "Can we eat?" he asked, just as Frankenstein walked back into the room. The other man was agreeable, and so the entire group sat down to eat.
"Oh! I meant to ask earlier, but then forgot," Yuna spoke up as they filled their plates. "Where is Rai? And will Regis and Seira return soon?" Shinwoo glanced at Frankenstein, but the blond seemed unconcerned, so he dropped his eyes to his plate and let the other man answer her inquiry.
"Yes, they should be returning shortly. He decided to accompany Seira and Regis back to their home when they went for a visit, and he will return with them." Shinwoo found it funny that Frankenstein managed to avoid calling Rai anything other than 'master'. Then again, it's not like he hadn't had lots of practice. The only time Shinwoo had heard the Noblesse's nickname spoken by Frankenstein was the first day Rai had transferred into their school. The confusion in his voice as he had tried to figure out why they called him 'Rai' had been rather amusing, actually. But since Rai himself had agreed to the name – or at least hadn't spoken up to disagree with it – there wasn't much that Frankenstein could do about it in his role as Principal Lee.
Shinwoo felt an odd sensation, almost as if he was being watched, but it wasn't threatening. He looked around the table, but nobody else had seemed to notice, so he shrugged it off. Surely M-21 or Frankenstein would have noticed if there was a trespasser anywhere near them. Since they had given no indication that anything was amiss, he dismissed the notion entirely, digging into the food with relish.
It wasn't until they were finished and he walked out to the living and saw the picture lying innocently on the table that he started to worry.
Note: For their names, I tried to put together that sounded reasonable, but not being familiar with Korean names, I ask your forgiveness if I really messed them up.
Sung-tae: Sung = achievement, Tae = great (Great Achievement)
Baesook: Bae = inspiration; Sook = light (Inspiration & Light)