Fandom: 2PM | SHINee | Super Junior
Featuring: Junho x Chansung, Henry, Jonghyun
Genre: Action & Adventure, Bleach!AU
A/N: Some writers have less control over their stories as they think. What I originally planned to be a one-shot post-battle fic about Survivability turned into the seeds for a sequel. For those new to the series, here's the link to the first arc.
Summary: The drums of war can be heard over the horizon. Henry and Jonghyun have left the city as willing pawns on a mission.
The bus slowed to a halt.
Henry poked Jonghyun awake. "Get ready."
"Born ready," Jonghyun mumbled with a yawn.
The inescapable fact: Soul Society was mobilizing and Zhou Mi didn't like it one bit.
Over the past few months the city's spirit pressure quotient slowly but steadily rose as more and more death gods began taking posts in key areas of surveillance. What used to be single sentry stations were now manned by units of three at any given time. Although Zhou Mi and Jinki (and sometimes even Donghae) kept discussions to themselves, Henry knew things were getting serious just by the ever darkening circles around Jinki's eyes: the constant flux of spirit pressure, Jinki's prodigious sensitivity to the flows of spirit energy, not to mention all the planning... Henry could tell that the next few months were not going to be happy.
If they lived to tell anyone about it. In a sense. Of course, Henry was already... unliving?
Was that the right word? Being a spirit residing in an artificial body challenged one's semantics.
The great battle with the parasitic hollow – a single being that almost brought the death gods to their knees – shook Soul Society's world view to the point of revolution. Not exactly believers in peaceful cohabitation, at the very least they believed in reactive services: hollows that breached the human world were actively sought and purified, but hollows that remained in Hueco Mundo were no trouble and in no trouble.
A harrowing battle and the death of a lieutenant later, Soul Society began a more proactive role in this millennia-long war.
One didn't have to be a master logician to figure out what was going to happen next. And it helped that Zhou Mi had a very reliable contact from right within Soul Society itself.
"Charming," Jonghyun said beneath his breath as he surveyed the cabbage field that seemingly stretched forever. "Quaint. All those adjectives you use for small-town joys."
"Traveling pamphlets aren't meant to be sarcastic," Henry told him. "Come on. I don't want to be out on the road at dark." They had half an hour of light left at most.
Jonghyun wrestled with his backpack to fish out the map had Jinki printed for them. "Assuming that I'm not reading this upside down, we should be going that way," he said, pointing down a minor road that looked very sparsely travelled.
The landscape was... consistent. That was one way to describe it. Consistently full of cabbages. It was the kind of scenery where if you came across a farmer in the middle of the harvest, you would watch him until he was out of sight. There was nothing else for the eye to do. Cabbages left and right. It made Henry wonder if the people here grew anything else. Not even the tame red glow of sunset could make this field picturesque.
Jonghyun, for his part, didn't bother with agriculture. Nothing to see anywhere? That's fine. He'd give them something to listen to, even if there was no one around. Henry didn't count.
"Don't you ever miss it?" Henry asked after a verse of Yanni's Aria in falsetto. "The stage? The applause? The excitement of putting up a production? The music?" Because for sure Jonghyun missed the last one more despite Henry's violin and Jinki's and Zhou Mi's singing.
Jonghyun shrugged a single shoulder, the all-around expression of too many thoughts to bother putting into words.
Because for sure Henry did. Hollow or not, supernatural abilities or not, Henry grew with music under the spotlight. He grew up with callouses on his fingers, with veins popping from the back of his hands, with eyes that grew accustomed to reading music scores under the sheets after he'd promised turning in early for the night. Even under the terms of that infernal bargain he never felt truly lost. So what if he lost his powers if in return his violin could weep any music in the world?
He'd confided as much to Jinki once, who smiled and awkwardly told him his personal theories about the inertia of time. I really don't think worrying about what-ifs is productive, said Jinki at the end. I mean, when I think about it, it's like we caught him just in the nick of time, right? If he'd grown any stronger, and if you hadn't been around, the hollow could have caused even more damage. Lucky enough that he only hurt us this much, that's what I think. Henry, not exactly buoyed, was thankful enough for Jinki's sincerity.
But Jonghyun was different. Where Jinki's smiles were warm, Jonghyun's were sardonic. Where Jinki was sincere and optimistic, Jonghyun was morose and humorously cynical.
They hadn't bonded as much, not when Jonghyun still had school to go to and Henry spent too much time getting used to the various upgrades Zhou Mi kept installing in his artificial body. But then, Jinki was never exposed to battle first hand. He was always kept in the control room, always away from danger, always too valuable to risk since his powers were neither offensive nor defensive. His training was harsh – not even he was exempt from the added responsibility and Zhou Mi's exacting standards – but his training was either mental or spiritual. His life had never been endangered.
Jonghyun and Henry were a lot less lucky. And a lot more battle-scarred. Jonghyun was, at least, since Zhou Mi engineered Henry's skin to be flawlessly self-mending.
But whatever complaints they had (and Jonghyun had a lot) was all worth it.
"I think I see a house," Jonghyun said, forgetting Henry's question on purpose. But Jonghyun had his own penchant for melodrama; he wasn't Jinki (nobody could do melodrama like Jinki), but it was innate in being an artist. Henry saw the defiance in Jonghyun's eyes, in the way he stood resolutely looking forward.
Even if you called it a tactical retreat to gather strategic resources, running away didn't feel right. Not for them.
Henry heard Zhou Mi and Donghae last night, heard Donghae confirm that the city was about to be put on spiritual quarantine. They had to get out before Soul Society's legions took over.
Henry squinted. The dying light challenged him more than the distance. "More like a barn. But hey, housing is good. How far away is the town proper?"
"Not that we have any means to measure distance," Jonghyun reminded him. "But at the rate we're going, it'll definitely be dark by the time we reach it. Or we could check the barn and if there's no one there... I mean, we have supplies, right?"
Gone were the times when Henry was concerned with trespassing. Having an upcoming war looming over one's head did wonders for his perspectives on social rules.
"Or we could call Jinki," Henry suggested.
They stared each other, each one assured that they were on the same wavelength.
"I'm pretty sure we're safe," Jonghyun said after a beat. "I mean, Zhou Mi didn't train us to be wussies, right? That's why he sent us on this mission, right?"
Henry grinned. "I don't know about him but Donghae was satisfied with our last training. I mean, sure, he trashed us to hell and back, but it took him five minutes to do it this time."
"Then to town we go," Jonghyun cheered.
A different pair of people this time. A different set of heartbeats.
Their beat wasn't that steady in the first place, but after living with each other for so long Junho felt more than he saw the disturbance in Chansung's demeanour.
Chansung stared at the door a couple of seconds too long for Junho's comfort, but before he could follow up Chansung just shook his head and went back to chopping the potatoes. "I thought I saw a roach on the wall," Chansung muttered with a grin, which earned him a carrot peel to the face.
"Don't say things like that in front of food, it's disgusting," Junho chided. He pushed the tray of carrots to the other side of the table. "Here, chop these. I have to season the chicken."
Chansung pouted at him, but then Junho was the master of the kitchen, much like how Chansung was the master of the garden. Junho didn't question how Chansung sectioned their vegetable patches, Chansung did as he was told when Junho was cooking dinner. Chansung didn't touch the kitchen whenever he cleaned their one-room hut in the middle of nowhere, and Junho always made sure there was food on the table.
The window above the stove overlooked the garden. For countless mornings Junho just stood before it with a cup of coffee in his hand, watching Chansung as he watered the radishes or spread the mulch or harvested the garlic or any of the never ending things to do. And he was sure that Chansung did the same whenever Junho had to step out of the house in search for additional seasonings, just to make sure that Junho didn't lose his footing and stumble on the tomatoes or trip on a loose root and squash the cantaloupes.
But that was during the day. At night they could see the light from Uibong's hut several meters away. But more important than that, the darkness outside turned the glass pane into a grey mirror, and through it Junho saw Chansung glance at the door again and again. Chansung was very easily transparent: he fumed when he was mad, he giggled when he was excited, he bit his cheeks when he was contemplative, he fidgeted when he was worried. It was like Chansung never thought he had to hide himself, never thought he had to put filters between himself and the world. It was... endearing as much as it was naïve, but it was Chansung and Junho could live with that.
But then, Chansung was never ever worried. Not even when summer took too long to end and they had to work extra hard to draw water from the pump. Chansung was always about quiet, unyielding assurance that everything will turn out okay. He was a man of faith. Not in any particular deity, but just pure and simple faith.
"Spiders on the wall this time?" Junho asked calmly. Unlike Chansung, he knew all about filters.
"Yeah, thought I saw some," Chansung muttered. Though they kept house well enough to keep pests away, Chansung insisted on letting spiders be as long as they weren't poisonous. Like many who knew how to till the land, Chansung recognized the importance of natural bug control even if it meant using other bugs.
Junho would have frowned. But that would have upset Chansung even more and it looked like he was upset enough as it was. Still, Junho didn't like lies. Even the white ones.
Dinner was a subdued affair. Like the hundreds of nights before, Junho told stories of what the students were up to at the local high school where he worked as a part time dance instructor slash general errand boy, while Chansung listened with eating as an automatic function. On the other hand Chansung didn't need to tell stories about his day, not when everything was so routine in the wet market. Still, Junho liked to listen to his day, not for the stories' sake but because of the storyteller. Then when the tales were over and the words have run out, they would eat in silence and they didn't mind. Words were important, but there were more important things.
(The nights of dinner being an adventure of knowing each other became rare over the days, and Junho had worried at first, worried that Chansung would become bored and boredom begot regret... but maybe three hundred days of worrying about the same thing meant he'd been worrying over nothing.)
Right now, Junho thought the important thing was how Chansung was only half listening. "-and it turns out that Jinhi has a black belt in taekwondo and she knocked Hanjeong out with a roundhouse kick. That'll teach him to be inappropriately grabby. Then they climbed aboard a magic carpet ride and flew away into the sunset."
"That sounds eventful," Chansung said mechanically as he poked at his carrots.
"Hey." Junho nudged him gently. "Anything on your mind?"
"No, nothing, I was just-" and the last few seconds clicked "-magic carpet what?"
Junho grinned. "Yeah, we always keep one in the school. You never know when you have to fly somewhere because of an emergency."
Chansung squinted at him, which was followed by a belated grin and a huge mouthful of rice. He caught how Junho was looking at him... sighed and pressed his fingers against Junho's hand. "Don't worry about it, it's no big deal." But he couldn't do anything about how his smile was crooked at the edges.
"Or you could just tell me what's going on," Junho said even as he pressed his fingers against Chansung's palm.
Chansung brought those fingers to his lips and kissed softly, but his eyes betrayed the conflict in his mind.
The knock on the door startled Junho off his seat. "Too much coffee, Lee Junho," Chansung teased even as he got to his feet and went to the door. Cautiously, because though they each had friends from work none were intimate enough to trudge through the night and seek them out uninvited. Bad things were hailed by unexpected guests.
He opened the door just wide enough to look outside. There were two people, both boys, both shorter than Chansung (but then, a lot of people were shorter than him so that was nothing special). City boys by the way they dressed. "Yes?"
"Good evening!" One of them, the dark-skinned one, greeted cheerfully. Too cheerfully it seemed by how even his companion flinched at the decibel. "We are two tired travellers on our way to a quiet vacation away from the noise of the city when our car broke down not too far down the road. Can we, two strangers who mean you no harm, humbly ask for your hospitality tonight?"
The shorter boy coughed discreetly. "You don't think this overdoing it?"
Chansung rolled his eyes and shut the door.
"Travellers?" Junho asked. There was no way he didn't overhear.
"More like weirdoes," said Chansung as he tromped back to the table.
"We're serious!" the loud-mouthed one bellowed from outside. "Are you really going to leave us out here to die of hunger in this cold, cold night? For shame, good sir! How could-"
"-you turn your back on the needy when they knocked softly on your door? What happened to the days of undying hospitality-"
"What? I'm cold! And seriously, weren't you paying attention when he opened the door? Their dinner smells delicious!"
Junho's sudden grin told Chansung that the two strangers may have found a potential ally. He trudged back to the door and yanked it open. "What." It wasn't a question.
"Good evening!" the obnoxious one – Jonghyun, apparently – greeted again. "We are two tired travellers from the city when our car broke down on our way to vacation and-"
"Oh god," the other boy said as he held his head in his hands and crouched in embarrassment.
"You, shut up," Chansung said, pointing at Jonghyun. Then to his companion, "You. Talk."
Henry surfaced from his defeated reverie and the fiercely exasperated glance at Jonghyun said it all. "We're seven hours away from Seoul and we've been walking for the past hour. It's too cold out here, not to mention it's too dark, we haven't eaten since lunch and you just had a glimpse of one per cent of what I had to endure and will have to endure for the rest of our trip. Can you please - I am begging you - let us in so we can explain in the warmth?"
Chansung felt a pang of sympathy, a huge part of it at the thought of being stuck for days on the road with someone as loud as Jonghyun. He was about to open the door wider when Jonghyun said the wrong thing.
"By any chance," Jonghyun said with his shit-eating grin, "are you Lee Junho?"
The door slammed shut before either Henry or Jonghyun could react.
Limbs tangled in bed, heartbeats racing but slowing down, the night's burst of fiery passion cooling to a stable glow. This was the scene a few years ago.
"What if we run away together?" It was an honest question, something that just popped into Chansung's mind from who knows where. A traitorous thought, one that he should have squashed without even entertaining the possibilities... but then this was Junho. He and Junho were all about possibilities that Chansung had never considered before. "We can buy some time. We can hide. We can go somewhere people won't even think to look for us."
"You already have all the time in the world," Junho countered, but already Chansung knew that Junho's own heart resonated with his. "Where would we run to? Your people have no limits. They'll find us. We'll hide for how long, how far before we have to go back?"
"Go back?" Chansung repeated, not comprehending.
"Chansung... forever doesn't exist. Not for people like us."
"Who cares? We can try. We can try and that's what will matter... right?"
"Chansung." The defeat in Junho's voice was almost enough to break Chansung's heart.
"No, dammit! We're not done trying. It's not over. It's nowhere fucking close to over." On the other hand, the vehemence in Chansung's voice almost lifted Junho's hope again, but maybe that wasn't such a good thing.
"All according to plan," Jonghyun sniggered as he rubbed his hands together and Henry couldn't stop his jaw from dropping.
"Trust me. This way is easier-"
"-the fuck? Are you going to use that trick? Zhou Mi forbade that! Don't do it, Jjong, don't-"
Jinki sighed in irritation back in the city, a hundred and sixty-two miles away. "That boy just never listens."
[To be continued]