Title: But We Have Only Just Begun
Length: 3,000 w
Summary: A year after Jaejoong stumbles into the slums, another young boy is found.
Warnings: Violence, but nothing too serious.
Notes: Hello, I had fun with this remix, so I hope you like this. * v * ♥
Remixee author: corellianrogue/envious_muses
Title of work you remixed: Don't Worry, It's All in your Head
Link to work you remixed: http://envious-muses.livejournal.com/9084.html
A year after Jaejoong stumbles into the slums, another young boy is found. Junsu greets him at the gates of an abandoned warehouse between the city and the slums, where all new wanderers are held, and jerks his thumb at a quaking figure inside. This one is small and thin and curls his lanky frame into as pitiful as tight a ball as possible but nothing can stop the light from sparking off his skin. He must be one of the more powerful, because Yoochun is standing close, twisting tendrils of wind around him, high on alert.
Jaejoong flicks into the boy's mind because he cannot help himself, because he is what he is – admired envied feared – expected of him and he doesn’t know yet how to stop. He doesn’t know what to expect from this thin, ailing boy, there are always secrets upon secrets hidden in the depths of any human's mind, but he does not expect to find himself, flesh melting, skin blistering; skull screaming out from his face. Jaejoong flinches back, a pained gasp escapes, and Changmin jolts as though burned. He drops to his knees, "Don’t do that, please don’t do that, please don’t touch me."
When no one else dares approach him, Yunho squats down in front of the boy. Jaejoong can feel hesitance rolling off him in waves, that nauseating suspicion that every of them has when facing outsiders. Even then, his hand never falters as it reaches out – Changmin glances up, scoots back – to rest atop Changmin’s head.
"Whatever it is you’re hiding," Yunho tells him, "we probably won’t care at all. We've probably all seen and done worse."
Even in the dim of the street light, there is a star burst of white scar tissues visible at both sides of Yunho's neck; Changmin lifts his head and even in the dark he can see faint noughts and crosses of surgical scars and torn stitches running down his bare arms. Yunho stands. His hand at Changmin’s shoulder should weight him down but it seems to draw him up instead. "Come on," he says, walking off with the utter surety that Changmin will follow.
Of course, Changmin does. The new strays always do, too tired of having their existences abused or ignored. It is hard to resist the first honestly kind smile aimed their way.
"It's too late to go through the slums now, but we'll head back first thing tomorrow morning." He smiles. "We’ll get you fixed up, okay? Before that, maybe you can tell me what you’re hiding."
After much coaxing, Changmin finally admits this: "They thought I was an electric type," Changmin tells them, "there was one in the lab in a – jar. He was stuck in bell jar and I saw what they’d done to him, what they wanted to do to me and I had to fight back. They weren't prepared – I'm not an electric type at all, so I accidentally… you know." He ducks his head and stares down at his hands. Palms upturned, they begin to glow white, and the air around them warps in the intense heat.
"Melted them," Jaejoong mumbles. He has a fist tight in his hair, trying to ward off a headache. "He melted them."
Flinching, Changmin hunches his shoulders and bites down hard onto his bottom lip. He can't say anything, because Jaejoong is right, he had, to escape he had melted everything –
"Cool," says Yunho. He snaps his fingers and a tinny flame dances in his palm. "So did I."
Changmin's attention jerks towards him, and his eyes widen. "You don’t feel bad about it?"
Yunho runs a hand through his hair and weeps it off his face. The scar on his cheek revealed in the moonlight is a severe ridge. "Violence isn’t the solution to anything," he says carefully, "but at that time, what choice did I have? What choice did any of us have?"
To this, Changmin cannot find an answer.
In the morning, Changmin wakes up and the warehouse is lit by murky sunlight filtering through dirty windows. Almost everyone is gone. Blearily, Changmin rubs at his eyes – he jumps when Junsu is right in front of him, when he lowers his hands.
"Junsu-shii," he greets nervously, "are we going back to… what are we doing today?"
Tilting his head, Junsu squints at him, confused. There is no recognition in his eyes until, "Oh, you're the new arrival!" Junsu - the man with Junsu's face - he smiles. "I'm Junho. It's about time I head to sleep, so you wait right here while I call him out, okay? And just call him Junsu."
"Ju-junsu?" Changmin tries.
For a moment, Junsu's expression is blank. Then he slumps, and Changmin thinks he is going to topple over - Junsu catches himself at the last moment, and blinks sleepily. When he spots Changmin, he smiles sheepishly. "Good morning, Changmin-ah! Sorry you had to see that."
"N-no." Changmin tries a smile. "It's okay. It was pretty cool actually."
Surprised, Junsu laughs and thumps him on the shoulder. "You are going to fit right in," he announces. "Come on, let's go find the others."
The slums that loop around the outskirts of the city are a sprawl of old decrepit buildings and scattered businesses that have survived years despite never seeming to have customers. Everyone here is poorer than poor, and there is just enough money circulating in this community that everyone survives. For Changmin's sake, the other boys point out the stores with the cheapest food, the old woman at the bakery that gives out the leftovers at the end of the day, the school yard with oddly burly teachers watching out as the children play.
"Each and every one of the inhabitants are... freaks," Yoochun drawls, a proud little tilt to his smirk. "Either that, or they're normal people with a parent or a child or a spouse that's a freak. You know, the families that don't toss out their loved ones in fear or disgust."
Changmin's expression stutters at that, he tears his gaze away from the children playing in front of a convenience store to stare at his shoes. Junsu winces. "Hey, we don't mean your parents or anything -"
"My parents didn't!" It must sound desperate, Changmin realises with a frown. He bites down on his bottom lip. "They thought they were paying to have me cured. They didn't know those men were going to take me away. I was kidnapped."
"That's cool, but I can't say I'm not sure about the cure part..." Jaejoong laughs, "I don't remember anything my own family, right? So I won't make any assumption about yours." He slings an arm around Changmin's shoulder when the boy looks up, distraught. "Don't make that face, that was four years ago! I'm fine now and i didn't even have any scars so..." He shrugs. "It couldn't have been that bad, right?"
Now that he has an audience, Jaejoong grins, and pitches his voice stronger. "There are a lot more of us than they think, you know? Look at all this, we're not freaks, and we've adapted to survive even after all the shit they try to run us over with. We're not freaks, we're capable, we're at least equal with them, hell, we're better -"
A hand lands heavily on his arm. "Don't," Yunho warms. Huffing, Jaejoong slides out from under his hand, takes it in his instead, and twines their fingers together. He grins cheekily; Yunho rolls his eyes, but lets him.
At the end of the of the alley there is an overhanging fire escape, and much like the rest, its rusting ladder dangles from its broken holster. Jaejoong yanks it straight, and shakes it in some sort of undeterminable pattern until there is a loud click. With a grunt, he pulls himself up onto the lowest rung, and then scampers up it without any hesitation.
"You next." Yunho pushes Changmin to the front, urges him up the ladder with a hand at his back. "Don't worry, we'll teach you that trick later."
There is another set of twists and turns in the largely empty building, and then finally, there is a door, painted bright red. Yunho rummages in his pockets, pats himself down, and then Junsu sighs loudly before passing him a set of silver keys. With a laugh, Yunho unlocks the door and throws it open.
To Changmin, he announces with a wide grin, "Welcome to your new home."
Home is a small three room apartment with scavenged furniture, just barely big enough to fit all of them. Changmin doesn't know how he can squeeze himself into this room, this tight knit group of boys, this life – but he manages. The other four make sure of that.
Junsu’s bandages drag across the table, nearly dripping into the plastic container of kimchi. Jaejoong slaps it away. It’s a tight squeeze at the table. The rickety old thing is small, square, and just nice or four people with tiny plates but useless for five.
"Put the dishes on the table, Yunho suggests, "you can eat with your own bowls on your laps. I’ll take the counter. Changmin, take my seat."
And Changmin does, so reluctantly to intrude that it shows in the slump of his shoulders. Yunho – directly behind him – plants his feet on either side of Changmin’s stool, trapping him in places. When Changmin fidgets with a badly concealed sulk, Yoochun has to laugh and ruffle his hair.
The simplicity of Changmin’s appreciation as he wolfs down food is relaxing. Jaejoong blurts out, "I am going to cook all the time now."
Immediately, Changmin's aura runs cold with suspicion. "Uhm," he mumbles, conflicted. He pokes at his rice. "Thank you?"
The silence returns as they eat, only broken by the clinking of cutlery. Now however, Changmin – filled to the brim with questions he'd been too busy to ask – finally bursts.
"So yesterday," Changmin starts, but Junsu kicks him under the table so he swallows his food before continuing, "There are a lot less people here than yesterday." "
"We split up into groups, it's safer this way, you know? Us, we have brains and brawn and firepower and a decent look out." At the last one, Yunho points at Junsu. Changmin furrows his eyebrows together in confusion.
"You saw by now, right? Junsu is also Junho, so he doesn't ever sleep," Yoochun explains. "When he needs to rest, Junho takes over. And I –" with flourish, Yoochun waggles his fingers and the steam above their food swirls in the air into a heart. He puffs it towards Changmin, smirking. "– I can control wind."
Changmin blinks at that, but doesn't chase it further. Instead, he furrows his eyebrows together. "And what am I? I mean, what can I do?"
"New," Yunho interrupts from his perch. Rice spills from his lap to the floor. Jaejoong scowls so Yoochun sweeps it aside and out from under anyone's feet, with a swift blast of wind. "We'll find a role for you later. For now, you'll just be our maknae, okay?"
"Uhm, okay?" stutters Changmin. He pauses, he cannot help but add, "But maknae isn't a role, that's not fair, I should do something too, I have to –"
"We're not going to throw you out," Jaejoong interrupts. Bits of Changmin's memories fleck behind his eyelids, and Jaejoong catches glimpse of long hours bent over homework, I can't burden my family, I have to be useful, please don't send me away. "You don't have to worry so much. We're not like them."
This time, Changmin doesn't flinch, but he does turn to Jaejoong so slowly that it is eerie. "You can't keep doing that! It's rude!"
"Then maybe you should stop thinking about them so loud!" Jaejoong sticks his tongue out at him.
"I was not! You can't – okay, you can, but you shouldn't!" Lower lip jutted out, Changmin turns to the rest for back up. However, they're used to Jaejoong knowing things he shouldn't, so no one says a thing. Changmin stares at Jaejoong, eyes rounded with worry. Impatiently, Jaejoong snaps, "hurry up, eat your food!" and flicks his chopstick at him.
As Changmin jerks back to avoid being splattered with sauce, his knees bang into the table, upsetting the food, his back knocks into Yunho's leg and topples the plate balanced on it.
There is a crash, no, there are many crashes.
Afterwards, it is silent, Changmin looks stunned, wrecked - Yoochun burst into laughter, and Junsu follows suit. Changmin tries to stutter out an apology but Yunho slaps him upside the head, and then turns his hand to rustle his hair.
"Don't encourage him! Make him clean up this mess!" Jaejoong yells over the din, but even he has the constipated look of someone desperately trying to swallow his laughter. Junsu snorts so hard at his face that he topples off his school, and squashes the rice beneath him.
As chaos erupts in front of him, Changmin finally laughs.
Friday is groceries day or, Friday is when they make the dangerous journey back into the city to arrange for supplies, head ducked low in case anyone recognised them, ever so careful not to let slip any sign of powers. As the least obvious of the five, Jaejoong and Junsu are usually sent on these quests.
One day there is a van, white and nondescript with tinted windows, gliding slowly up the street they are on.
As it passes by – Jaejoong falls to his knees because he catches a glimmer of familiar nightmares, memories, and suddenly he can’t breathe. Pain flares in vibrant crimson bursts even as his vision whites out. His knees buckle but before he hits the ground, Junsu has an arm tight around his waist, hauling him straight up and onwards.
"Jae," Junsu hisses, resisting the urge to turn towards the white van. He can just feel it slowing down, it must be watching them. He tosses his head back and laughs in a dramatic display, but to Jaejoong, his voice swerves low and urgent. "You have to get up, hyung, please."
They hobble down the street, Jaejoong manages to steady strides. He remains over, but the arm Junsu has draped over his shoulder, holding him up, Junsu pretends that he is pressing him down instead, guised as boyish play fighting.
His ruse doesn't work. The van slows and continues to follow them. Then a window rolls down and a hand emerges, clutching a -
"Duck!" Junsu screams, tackling Jaejoong out of the way. The bullet ricochets where their heads had been. Another shot is fired, they are running before they can think, survival instincts kicking into gear. The next narrow they swerve into, there is the screeching of tires as the van jams its break behind them. The sliding door opens, and men in dark clothes spill out.
"Shit!" Junsu wheezes for air, fear strangling him. Looking back, he finds the men hot on their tails. He has to do something to escape, but his power isn't the offensive type. "Jaejoong, Jae hyung, I need you to stop them – at least slow them down!"
Grasping at his head, Jaejoong stretches an arm out behind him. He squeezes his eyes shut, trusting Junsu to lead him, and then screams. The men echo him, screaming and clutching at their heads, but only one falls. The rest are only enraged as they give chase. Jaejoong hurts too much to try again.
There is a crash overhead, Junsu cracks a grin. With Changmin close behind him, Yunho leaps down from the fire escape, hands blazing. Yunho slashes a violent streak of fire in front of their path. One more man is down, hair on fire, but the others barrel through, singed but still moving. The only other way Yunho knows is to kill them – with a curse, he joins the two, wraps an arm around Jaejoong and hauls him faster down the alley.
"Look away!" Changmin shouts. He gives them exactly one second, then flares. White light floods the alley behind them and the screams of pain as eyes burn fill the air.
Still, still, there are two men after them, pistols drawn, hateful and furious. Fucking sunglasses. Changmin races back to the other three's side. There is a fork in the alley up ahead; taking advantage of their pursuers' temporary blindness, they swerve right, and duck behind a dumpster.
“How many left?” calls a voice, just loud enough to be audible. They look up, and Yoochun is perched on a window sill a floor above them.
“Two left!” Junsu whispers back. “Chunnie, blow them away!”
Yoochun lifts a hand ready to blow them away, but Changmin stops him. He shoves them all back behind the dumpster, and then hisses, "blow them our way."
Yoochun stares at him with disbelief, but there is a fierce determination about Changmin. With a grunt, Yoochun raises a hand, curls his fingers into tangible tendrils of wind, and yanks.
Their pursuers are ripped down their alley by an invisible force, and they skid across the asphalt. With a pained shout, they land only a foot away from the dumpster. Furious, they stumble back to their feet. "Quick, they must have gone the other way!" one yells, and they sprint down the other alley.
"Nice!" Junsu cheers quietly.
"Don't thank me yet, come on, let's go!"
Once the men are out of sight, they heave forwards, and sprint back into the safety of the slums.
When they are far into slums territory, and safe, only then does Jaejoong lift his head. His headache is gone and suddenly the world has sharpened into terrifying clarity. He’s seen the van before, he knows exactly who is driving it. Jaejoong freezes abruptly in the middle of the streets.
When the four have turned to look at him, Jaejoong tells them with a quiet, furious intensity in his voice, "I remember everything."