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Trial and Freedom

Trial and Freedom

Times are changing, and all for the better. Mostly.
Writer's notes: This is not my favorite title, but it's the best I could come up with. Also, this is part six and the wrap up of the Action!verse. I'm sad, because of the end of Speed and the end of this.
Warnings: None that I can think of.


It had become oddly usual at breakfast to see JongKook in SeJoon's lap, feeding him bites, and TaeHa and YooHwan sitting shoulder to shoulder, sharing the paper. SungMin's grumble about idiots and Jungwoo's laugh just made it all the more ... homey. Taewoon wanted to share it with Chaerin, but no way would she want to move in with a bunch of guys. Not that their relationship had gotten that far, but he still hoped that it might. Sometime soon. Or at all.

They'd started to clean up when they heard a knock at the door, and SungMin went to get the door without anyone asking him to. "Hello?"

"I'm looking for Woo Taewoon," a familiar voice said, and Taewoon looked at YooHwan, not actually believing it.

"Come on in," SungMin said, and within a few minutes, he came in with a familiar figure.

"Detective Cha Hakyeon," Taewoon said, going to meet him with a handshake.

"Taewoon," Hakyeon said, and his smile looked so much less tense, so much less stressed that Taewoon could only guess that he'd had good news. "I take it you haven't heard."

"Not that you're back," Taewoon said.

"I'm not, in any official capacity at the moment. They'll be contacting you soon, too, especially SeJoon and JongKook."

"What for?" JongKook asked, turning from the sink.

"Mr. Han's trial is coming up," Hakyeon said.

"Oh," SeJoon said, and smiled. "And they want us to testify against him?"

"Yes," Hakyeon said. "I also wanted to ask if you had any way to get hold of some of those other tigers - those that survived - and see if they'd like to add their voices as witnesses."

"I can try," Taewoon said.

"I'll help," SeJoon said. "I might be able to get some updated information for them, too."

"That would be great," Hakyeon said. He looked at Taewoon. "You seem to have expanded."

Taewoon laughed. "Just a bit," he said. "This is TaeHa, our witch. You know SungMin."

"I do," Hakyeon said. "Good to meet you, TaeHa. Jungwoo, you decided to stick with these guys?"

Jungwoo laughed. "They made an offer I couldn't refuse."

"Not that he tried," JongKook teased.

Jungwoo shook his head.

"What about your superior?" Taewoon asked.

Hakyeon smiled, a cruel twist to his lips. "They didn't throw out my evidence like I thought they had," he said. "They threw me out to get me out of his reach, and then they went through everything thoroughly. He's coming up on charges too, and may possibly find himself in trouble after this trial."

"I have some comments that might help, if you need them," Taewoon said. "I didn't hear them directly, but I had no reason to not believe DooJoon when he told me."

"They say they might bring DooJoon back, too," Hakyeon said, and the cruel twist to his lips eased. "It sounds like he treated you guys well."

"We had a good partnership," Taewoon said. "Are you going to be back after the whole thing with your superior?"

"That's to be determined," Hakyeon said. "I'm campaigning hard for it."

"We'd like you back," SeJoon said.

"Yes," JongKook said, and grinned. "You can be best--"

"Ah, ah ah, none of that," Taewoon interrupted, glaring at JongKook.

Hakyeon looked at him, curious. "That sounds serious," he said.

"It's not what it sounds like," Taewoon said. "They're just ... enthusiastic."

SeJoon laughed. "He's in denial," he said.

Taewoon rolled his eyes. "Ignore them. Seriously." He frowned. "Do you know how soon we'll get notice about being witnesses?"

"No," Hakyeon said. "I don't know much about any of it. I'm out of the loop, probably on purpose."

Taewoon turned to JongKook and SeJoon. "I know you two were planning on vanishing for a weekend. I suggest you go now."

SeJoon looked at JongKook. "Now?"

"Now," Taewoon said.

"I'll finish the dishes," TaeHa said.

"Thanks," SeJoon said. He and JongKook bowed to Hakyeon and ran up the stairs.

"They're even more inseparable, I see," Hakyeon said.

"If I didn't like them so much, they'd be sickening," Jungwoo mock-grumbled.

"You're just lonely," YooHwan said, going back to the paper. TaeHa patted his shoulder on the way to the sink.

"Lonely?" Hakyeon asked.

"Not lonely," Jungwoo said, rolling his eyes. "Just single."

"So'm I," SungMin piped up, his mouth full.

"You're about to start at university," TaeHa told him. "You're supposed to be single."

"SeJoon and JongKook I know about," Hakyeon said.

"Taewoon's dating Chaerin," YooHwan said, ignoring Taewoon's attempt to get him to shut up.

"It's about time," Hakyeon said, turning to look at Taewoon, who'd settled for shooting a murderous glare at his business partner. "Did she have to hit you over the head?"

Taewoon gaped at him.

"No, he actually said something," SungMin said. "The same day YooHwan and TaeHa started dating."

Hakyeon raised an eyebrow and looked at SungMin. "I see I need to have your phone number to keep up with everything going on in the house," he said. "YooHwan is dating?"

"Yes," TaeHa said, turning from the sink with a grin. "You sound like me. Surprised."

"Okay, enough," YooHwan said. He closed the paper leisurely with a look at Taewoon, got up, and walked over to TaeHa. Instead of grabbing the dishtowel to dry like Taewoon had expected, YooHwan kissed TaeHa.

Hakyeon snickered. "I won't tell LeeTeuk. He'll spontaneously combust."

Taewoon laughed. "That would ... be a serious loss to the police department," he said. He didn't like LeeTeuk, but he did respect him for the job he did.

Hakyeon sighed, and Taewoon glanced where he was looking. TaeHa had paused in his washing and leaned against YooHwan. They looked comfortable. Used to scenes like this, Taewoon still felt a pang of jealousy. He wished he could have a moment like that with Chaerin. Resolutely, he looked away.

"I'd better go," Hakyeon said, looking back at Taewoon.

"We're glad you're back, even if it's just for a while," Taewoon said, standing. "Keep in touch."

"I will," Hakyeon said, standing.

YooHwan whispered something to TaeHa, who chuckled and went back to the dishes. "It is good to see you again," YooHwan said to Hakyeon. "Let us know how we can help."

Feet clattered on the steps, and SeJoon came in, breathless. "I almost forgot," he said, and handed Taewoon a piece of paper. "I got as much information as I could before we go. It's not complete, but it's a place to start. We'll be back in a couple of days and I'll get more."

The paper held names and numbers, some of which Taewoon recognized. "Great, thanks," he said, taking it. "You guys enjoy yourselves."

"We will," SeJoon said, winked at him, bowed again at Hakyeon, and clattered back up the stairs.

"I'll get to work on these,' Taewoon said. "As soon as I know anything, I'll send it to you." He hesitated, brow furrowed as they walked toward the front door. "Or should I keep it here?"

Hakyeon frowned. "Send it to me, email," he said. "Yours hasn't changed, has it?" Taewoon shook his head. "I'll send you an email from my laptop and get you my new one," Hakyeon added.

"Okay," Taewoon said. "Anything else you want me to send you?"

Hakyeon shook his head. "No. Um. Do keep hard copies," he said after a moment. "I really don't know what sort of things we might run into."

Taewoon nodded. "So noted," he said. "I'll do what I can."

Hakyeon smiled at him and clapped him on the shoulder. "I know you will. I appreciate what you've done already."

Taewoon bowed. "It's been a pleasure," he said.

When Hakyeon had gone, he went back to the kitchen and sat down again. YooHwan stood next to TaeHa, drying this time, and the two of them discussed something between them. He didn't interrupt them. SungMin and Jungwoo had made themselves scarce, but had at least cleaned off the table before going. Looking over the list SeJoon had given him, Taewoon pulled a pen out of his pocket and started to mark what he recognized.

"We think we might take a night off," YooHwan said.

Taewoon looked up to find them both looking at him. "Do it," he said, without hesitation. "Get away, get to know each other better. Stay at a hotel or something tonight. Enjoy yourselves."

TaeHa grinned. "Are you going to do the same thing?"

Taewoon shook his head. "I don't know if Chaerin can get away," he said. "I might ask, though."

"Can't hurt to ask," YooHwan said, and then he and TaeHa bowed and took themselves upstairs.

Taewoon watched them go, then pulled out his phone and called Chaerin. "Hey," he said when her voicemail picked up, something he'd expected. "Hakyeon is back, which means the trial is getting close. I wanted to know if you had time to, uh, get away in the next couple of days, before we're up to our ears in trial stuff. Give me a call. Dinner tonight, either way? Let me know." He hung up, sighed, then looked at the list. He needed the privacy of his office before he could call these people.




"How serious were you about getting away?" Chaerin asked that night when the waiter took their plates away.

"Very," Taewoon said. "SeJoon and JongKook left this morning, and TaeHa and YooHwan disappeared without even a farewell earlier this afternoon. I don't know where any of them are, and I don't really want to know. SungMin can take care of himself, and Jungwoo is there if something happens. I just remember, from the thing with the other white tiger, how little time we had because we were thoroughly involved. This is going to last longer, especially for JongKook and SeJoon."

Chaerin nodded. "I don't know," she said. "I took a look at my schedule, but ..." She frowned. "You know what, yes. I can be done mid-afternoon on Friday. What did you have in mind?"

"Somewhere nice and out of the way," Taewoon said. "I hadn't picked anything specific yet."

Chaerin smiled. "Well, let's get dessert and then go back to my place to find somewhere to hide for a weekend."

Taewoon smiled back and squeezed her hand. "Sounds like a plan."

They'd gotten back to her place when Taewoon's phone rang. He frowned at it, because he knew he'd turned it off, then the caller ID registered, and he answered. "Jungwoo? What's up?"

"SungMin's gone," Jungwoo said, his voice sounding... stressed. "I'm following the tracker I put on him, and I think I know where they're going."

Taewoon swore and looked at Chaerin. "His grandparents?"

"That's my guess," Jungwoo spat. "I'll call you when they stop." The phone went dead.

"What happened?" Chaerin asked.

"Someone made off with SungMin," Taewoon said. "I'm sorry ...."

She pressed a finger to his lips. "Don't be. I'll find us a place. You go get him back." She moved her finger and kissed him. "Keep me updated. Text if it gets too late."

"You're the best," Taewoon said. "Thanks."

Chaerin smiled. "Hurry."

He kissed her again and left, cursing in his head as he ran down the stairs, calling a cab on the way.

He'd nearly gotten home when the phone rang again. "They're at his grandparents house," Jungwoo said, sounding exhausted. "I'm here as well."

"I'm on my way. Send me the address." Taewoon leaned forward to tell the driver to turn around, heading back to the main street. As soon as the address came through, he told the driver the new address.

He asked the driver to stop as soon as he spotted their van, paid the man, and climbed out. As soon as the taxi left, he opened the back door and climbed in. "What's going on?" he asked, looking narrowly at Jungwoo.

"They've got someone in there trying to get the trackers off," Jungwoo said, looking exhausted. "I'm sure we'll have a call from TaeHa soon, too, because I think they're trying to strip him of any and all."

"How successful will they be?" Taewoon asked. He helped Jungwoo into the passenger seat of the van, careful not to distract him too much.

Jungwoo went limp, no longer having to focus on the outside of the car. "Depends. As long as SungMin wants the trackers on him, they'll stick. We did it that way on purpose. I have no idea how they'll change his mind, or even if they know that they need to do that."

"If the sorcerer is good, he'll figure it out," Taewoon said. "How much--"

His phone rang and he snatched it up. "Taewoon, someone's trying to strip the tracker off SungMin," TaeHa said. Behind him, he could hear YooHwan moving around.

"We're at his grandparents' house now," Taewoon said. "They took off with him while I was at dinner."

"We'll join you there," YooHwan said.

"You don't--"

"Yes, we do," TaeHa said. "Text us the address." He hung up before Taewoon could respond.

"They did it now, on purpose," Jungwoo said, his voice as dreamy as it had been the day the couple had come to visit SungMin to see where he was growing up. "They knew we'd be off guard, would be thinking about something else, the trial, mostly. They don't expect us to drop everything - they think they have time."

"How do you know?"

"SungMin's telling me," Jungwoo said. "He's a lot calmer than you'd think, focused on keeping those trackers, no matter what they throw at him. His grandparents aren't happy about it, either."

"Good. Not happy means rash." Taewoon frowned and tapped the steering wheel. "Can you and TaeHa work directly together? I know you can layer spells, but...."

"Probably," Jungwoo said. "It helps that we're friends, that we've worked together for a while. What do you have in mind?"

"I'd call DooJoon or Hakyeon if they were available, but they aren't. DooJoon sent me an email that he was gone, and Hakyeon isn't officially back yet. We don't have a liaison with the police department that I know I can trust."

"So we can't call them," Jungwoo said dreamily. "We're on our own."

"Again," Taewoon muttered.

A taxi cab pulled up next to their van, and YooHwan and TaeHa got out. YooHwan paid the driver, then he and TaeHa climbed into the back seat. "What's the plan?" YooHwan asked.

"I want to go in and get him out," Taewoon said. "I want to do it before they catch onto what we've done."

"We need a lawyer," TaeHa said.

"Yeah," Taewoon said. "I don't know where one is that we can trust."

"Are we just going to go in and get him?"

"Yes," Taewoon said, but he didn't move for another moment. "I... need someone to stay out here and keep an eye on Jungwoo."

Someone knocked on the window, and Taewoon started and looked over. Staring in disbelief at the man standing at his door, he rolled the window down. "What are you doing here?"

Hakyeon grinned. "I got a text from Jungwoo there. How can I help?"

Taewoon opened the door and stepped out. "We're not going to do anything exactly legal," he said.

"I figured," Hakyeon said, more easily than Taewoon would have expected.

"I don't want you caught up in this."

"So don't tell me," Hakyeon said with a shrug.

"He can watch Jungwoo. If nothing else, he can say that he found him here, we were already gone, and stayed with him until he felt better," TaeHa said.

"Didn't take him home?" Hakyeon asked.

"No keys, and he didn't feel well enough to move," YooHwan said. "And, moving a sorcerer when he doesn't want to be moved is not a good idea. Most people recognize that. If he won't tell you why, well, that's his business, right?"

"Works," Hakyeon said, and slid around Taewoon and into the driver's seat. He rolled the window back up, then handed the keys out to Taewoon. "Be careful."

Taewoon grinned, resigned and cheered by the unexpected help. "Aren't we always?" He looked past Hakyeon to Jungwoo. "Do we expect anyone else?"

"JongKook and SeJoon are on their way," Jungwoo said, his voice still dreamy-sounding. "I almost didn't call them, but SeJoon made me promise."

"Okay," Taewoon said, and shut the van door. TaeHa and YooHwan had already gotten out and joined him on the sidewalk. He glanced at his phone, then at TaeHa. "Can you tell how close they're getting?"

TaeHa shook his head. "No. It's a steady pressure, but they haven't stopped trying to find a way around it."

"Which means they haven't figured out how to get it off?"

"As far as I know," TaeHa said.

"Good." Taewoon sighed. "Come on." They walked down the street toward the address Jungwoo had given them, silent but in the open.

Taewoon's phone beeped with a text, and he glanced at it. "Take pictures," Jungwoo had sent. Right under it he saw another text. "Just passed the van," from JongKook.

"Here they come," Taewoon said, and seconds later, JongKook ran up to them, SeJoon a white ghost shape in the darkness.

"Sorry it took so long," JongKook said, barely out of breath.

"You got here," Taewoon said, and smiled. "Let's see what they've got for security."

The driveway had a gate on it, locked, with an intercom. They carefully stayed off the driveway. Taewoon eyed it, and then the wall it stood in. "TaeHa, can you see any cameras?"

TaeHa closed his eyes, one hand on YooHwan's arm. "Yes," he said. "One on the driveway, a couple others around the grounds. Also a couple of sets of motion-activated lights."

Taewoon nodded. "Okay." He eyed the wall again. "I wish we knew if the opening of the gate turned all those off."

"Probably turns them on," YooHwan said.

"Huh," Taewoon said. "Okay, so we go in a frontal assault and hope they're too wrapped up in SungMin to pay attention to us."

YooHwan snorted. "You want us all killed?" he asked.

"No, I knew that was stupid," Taewoon said. "Spread out ... you know what?" He smiled evilly. "I'm going to go in the front gate. The rest of you do your best to sneak in."

SeJoon snorted.

"Are you sure that's what you want to do?" JongKook said.

"No, but if I go in this way, there are fewer ways for you to set off alarms," Taewoon said.

"Go," YooHwan said, and gave JongKook a shove.

Taewoon waited until he couldn't see them at all, and then he walked up to the gate and smacked the intercom button. "I'm here to see SungMin's grandparents," he stated, putting the anger he felt into his words.

The man at the other end hesitated, apparently not expecting such a reaction. "I'm sorry, who?"

"Mr. or Mrs. Choi," Taewoon said icily.

"They're not available righ--"

"They took off with my ward," Taewoon interrupted. "I'm perfectly willing to call the police if you want, but I thought they might like to settle this without their interference."

Another pause, then the gate clicked and began to swing open. "Come on up. They will meet you at the house."

"Thank you," Taewoon said stiffly. He slipped through the gate and walked up the drive even before the gate had finished opening all the way.

Lights came on as he passed them, bright enough to blind him if he hadn't been prepared for them. He kept walking, keeping an eye out for the armed people he guessed were there, and even caught sight of a couple. He guessed they had more that he didn't see.

The heavy wooden front door opened as he mounted the porch. Framed in the light he could see a young man, probably a butler, who ushered him in. Taewoon shed his shoes and put on the slippers the man offered him, and followed him into a well appointed room, mostly decorated in antique furniture and paintings.

The whole thing probably cost more than his grandmother's house was worth.

He didn't sit down, waiting for his hosts with his hands clasped behind his back. Whatever the Chois thought they could do, he knew the rest of his team would stop them if something happened to him.

SungMin’s grandparents came in together, matching sour expressions on their faces. "How can I help you?" Mr. Choi asked.

"I want SungMin back," Taewoon said flatly.

"He isn't here," Mrs. Choi said.

"Yes, he is. I know you haven't removed the tracking spells yet." Taewoon folded his arms over his chest and glared at them. "My sorcerer and my witch know he's here, and they know you're trying to take them off."

The two exchanged glances. "He wants to be here," SungMin's grandmother said.

It took a great deal of Taewoon's willpower not to say something he might regret. "Prove it."

"One moment," Mr. Choi said, and half turned toward the door.

"Nope," Taewoon said. "I'll come with you. I don't trust you."

Mrs. Choi scowled. "Why not?"

"Because you kidnapped SungMin," Taewoon pointed out. "Honest people don't do that." He walked toward them. "Lead the way. I really don't want to have to call the police."

Mr. Choi frowned, then gestured imperiously. "Follow me," he said.

Taewoon followed, checking behind him at least once to make sure no one followed him. He really didn't trust them. As long as they focused on him, the rest of his team could get in and get this taken care of.

They wound up in a small room, probably a guest room, on the main floor. SungMin sat in a chair, looking tense, another man staring at him. "This man will tell you the key to ending the spells," Mrs. Choi said, indicating Taewoon.

Taewoon laughed. "You think I know that?" he asked. I don't know anything about magic. I'm as normal as he is." He gestured at SungMin, and then turned to look at him. "Are you okay?"

"I've been better," SungMin admitted, relaxing slightly. "This guy won't leave me alone." He gestured at the other man in the room.

Taewoon guessed he was the sorcerer. "So they told me," he said.

"He's our grandson," Mrs. Choi started.

"He also made it quite clear that he wanted nothing to do with you," Taewoon said before she could go on. "And he said it in front of witnesses." He glanced back at the man concentrating on SungMin, frowning. He looked familiar.

Mr. Choi snorted. "Witnesses. Not one of them would stand up in court."

Taewoon raised an eyebrow. "Why not? Jungwoo, TaeHa, and JongKook are all human. YooHwan is well known for not telling a lie. And SeJoon has already helped put someone away."

Mrs. Choi waved her hand negligently. "A tiger," she said. "No one of any importance."

"You know," Taewoon said, taking his phone out of his pocket when it buzzed, indicating a text, "that's what the tiger and his human friend said about all the humans they played with and killed." He quickly opened the camera, and took a picture. He knew that guy.

"A call you have to take?" Mrs. Choi sneered.

"Oh, no," Taewoon said, and stuck the phone back in his pocket. "Sorry. That was rude." He gave a short bow. "Now. I'm taking SungMin with me, and we're going."

"He is our flesh and blood," Mr. Choi snapped. "I will not let him hang around the likes of you."

"You don't actually have a choice," Taewoon said, drifting toward SungMin. As he got closer, he could feel the spell keeping his friend in place and mostly quiet. Apparently, he had to be addressed directly to be able to talk. Nasty spell. "This is unlawful imprisonment, and will get you a hefty jail sentence."

"Hah," Mrs. Choi said. "Hardly. The law won't touch us, no matter what you do."

Taewoon walked toward SungMin, moving closer to the sorcerer as well. Even if he had to tackle the guy.... "Why's that?"

"Friends in high places," Mr. Choi said. "Stop moving or I'll have him expand the spell to include you."

Taewoon ground his teeth and did as he asked. He was nowhere near close enough to the sorcerer to break his nose. He just needed a distraction....

Shouting from outside the room made SungMin's grandparents turn, and with a glance at her husband and a huff, Mrs. Choi left, closing the door firmly behind her as she went. One down, one to go, and if he could just get that bloody sorcerer to stop, he could get SungMin out of there.

A large rock soared through the largest window in the room, shattering it, and seconds later, SeJoon followed it. He barely hesitated, pouncing on the sorcerer and growling at him. The man gave a shriek and went down. JongKook came in after SeJoon and stepped lightly through the glass.

"Don't put a spell on him," JongKook said to the sorcerer when he moved his hand. "You really don't want the fallout from that." The sorcerer put his hand back down.

SungMin got up and shuddered hard. "Thank you," he said, and looked like he wanted to cry but wouldn't, not in front of his grandfather.

"Are you okay?" JongKook asked, took SungMin's arm, and started walking him back toward the window.

"I'm better now that you're here," SungMin said, and he sounded as young and fragile as he had when he'd shown up on Taewoon's front step three years ago.

Taewoon caught Mr. Choi moving out of the corner of his eye, and grabbed his arm before he could get close to SungMin. "I don't think you realize what sort of trouble you're in," he said quietly. "I know you think you can get out of this. I know how you feel about me and the others. You're just going to have to get used to the fact that SungMin will never be yours, no matter what his blood says. In our heart, he's ours, and we won't let him go."

Mr. Choi narrowed his eyes. "We will have restitution for this," he said. His eyes followed SungMin as he and JongKook climbed back out the window and into the yard. They broke into a run and disappeared.

"Only if you want to bring up why we broke in here in the first place," Taewoon said easily.

The door opened and they both turned; from the crestfallen look on Mr. Choi's face, he didn't expect to see his wife between YooHwan and TaeHa. She kept shifting away from YooHwan, and every third step, TaeHa shoved her back over.

Looking amused, YooHwan didn't change his position at all. "Here is the other one," he said.

"Thank you," Taewoon said. "I hope you don't try that again," he added, looking at them. "We don't really like it when people attack us, and we can get pretty vicious. SeJoon, that's enough. Come on."

SeJoon snarled and backed off the sorcerer, showing his teeth to SungMin's grandparents before he bounded through the broken window after JongKook and SungMin.

"We'll leave you to clean it up this mess," Taewoon said.

They stared at him with the kind of look that would have killed him if possible, but he merely bowed to them and took himself out. TaeHa and YooHwan followed him to the front door, and then down to the gate, which had opened to let them out.

SungMin sat in the backseat of the van with JongKook, answering Hakyeon's questions. Hakyeon stopped asking as they all showed up. It was a measure of SungMin's feelings that he hugged SeJoon tightly when the tiger slipped in to sniff him over.

With minimal discussion, they split up again, calling taxis to take them back to where they had started the evening. Taewoon called Chaerin once he'd gotten SungMin and Jungwoo into their respective beds. "I'm sorry," he said.

"It's fine," she told him, sounding happy and drowsy. "I found us a place to go, if you want to get out of down, and a place to stay in town if you'd prefer that."

Taewoon sighed. "You are a treasure," he told her. "Thank you."

"Take care of SungMin, and call me tomorrow. I want to hear the whole story."

"I will. Thanks, Chaerin."

"Good night, Taewoon," she said, and he listened until she hung up.

He had no idea how he'd managed to get her to fall in love with him, but he would treat her like the treasure she was as long as she'd let him.




By the next Monday, Taewoon had started to call the numbers SeJoon had given him. For the most part he had some success in reaching the tigers; finding were-tigers to testify came harder. Even the promise that SeJoon would be doing so didn't seem to do anything. Still, he made sure they had the dates for the trial, made sure they knew what they needed to do and who they had to contact, and went on.

SeJoon and JongKook went out a lot. The only thing that made Taewoon not worry about them was that they were together, and they were not the people he'd first met. They inevitably came back with news, at the very least, and often further contact information for another tiger caught in the pit.

Hakyeon got back to Taewoon about the picture he'd managed and the information he'd gotten from SungMin. "There's a connection here I hadn't seen," he said in the voicemail message. "I won't go into anything right here. Thank you for that missing piece."

Taewoon didn't have time to puzzle through that message. Everything was shaping up, and more than a few people were interested in the trial.

"A lot of them came back to Seoul," Taewoon heard SeJoon say, and he hurried down the stairs to catch the rest of the conversation. "I don't know if we can call on them, but they want to know what's going on and how this is going to turn out."

"It won't be good if Dongil and Han are acquitted," JongKook said. "I don't know if the two of them will survive."

"Would that be such a bad thing?" SungMin asked.

"It could be," JongKook said. "This is a really good opportunity for the were-folk, to show that they are part of this world and this society. Killing Dongil and Han might not be such a great reflection on them."

"Not that anyone would blame them," SeJoon growled. "At least, no other were-folk would. JongKook's right, though. It would reflect badly on all of us, in the human eyes."

SungMin nodded slowly, and grinned up at Taewoon. "Hey. There's still food if you want it."

"I do," Taewoon said. He filled a plate and sat down. "Did you say that a lot of the tigers have come back to Seoul?"

"I've seen a few of them, and have heard of others," SeJoon said neutrally.

"Well, if they don't want to testify... I hope we can do it with what we've got," Taewoon said. "I'd rather not force them into anything."

SeJoon smiled and relaxed. "I know. I keep telling them that."

"Good. I hope it turns out for the best," Taewoon said.

"I hope so, too," SeJoon said.

Chaerin called him later that afternoon. "I have been seeing a lot of familiar faces in the office today," she said. "Did you know that some of the tigers have come back?"

"I'd heard something about it, yeah," Taewoon said. "I told them about the trial. None of them are going to testify, at least not right now according to the lawyer. I hope some of them change their minds at some point."

"I don't know if they will. Will it be enough if they don't?"

"I think so," Taewoon said. "I hope so. How do they look?"

"A lot better," Chaerin said. "They're thriving. Those that are fighting say it's all voluntary. It was... good to see how much better they looked."

"That's good," Taewoon said.

"What's your schedule like?" she asked.

Taken off guard, Taewoon hesitated a moment. "I don't have much today. Tomorrow is more hectic. You?"

"I'm off this evening. Dinner at my house?"

"I'd love to," he said. "And you can show me what you found."

"It sounds like this will be either a celebratory get away, or the consolation prize," she said wryly.

"Celebration may not happen until the trial is over," he agreed. "I want you to know that you are not a consolation prize."

She laughed. "Thank you," she said. "I do know it."

"Besides," he said, "it won't come to that. We will celebrate."

"Agreed," Chaerin said. "See you at six?"

"What would you like me to bring?"

"Something to drink," she said. "Surprise me."

Taewoon chuckled. "I will," he said.

When he'd hung up, he sat and looked at the phone on his desk, and thanked anyone listening that he'd met her.




Possibly the worst part of the trial prep was the nightmares. JongKook started awake, as he had every night for the last week, and stared up at the ceiling. SeJoon, aware of him even in his sleep, snuggled closer.

It didn't help. It didn't hurt, either. JongKook closed his eyes and snapped them open again immediately. The images of SeJoon, injured and bleeding out on the sands, had seared themselves onto his eyelids. In the dream he'd watched but hadn't been able to go and help, hadn't been able to move, and he'd had to watch SeJoon die.

It didn't matter what came later, and actually nothing ever had; he woke up too soon. Watching SeJoon die over and over made him want to take his boyfriend, run for the hills, and never come out until they'd heard that Dongil and Mr. Han were dead.

"You should sleep," SeJoon mumbled into his hair.

"I can't," JongKook said.

"Why not?" SeJoon sounded more awake now.

"Nightmares."

"What of?"

JongKook sighed. "Your last fight," he said. "Only I couldn't get there, and you died, and I couldn't do anything, I just had to watch."

SeJoon's arms tightened around him. "That sounds horrifying," he said.

"I can't... It's like the last three years never happened," JongKook said. "I don't know... I don't know how this is going to work, I'm just... I'm so scared. I just hide it really well. I thought I was done with this."

"It's like having to learn all over again that we aren't alone," SeJoon said, brushing JongKook's too-long bangs out of his eyes. "I know. It scares me, too."

JongKook rolled onto his side and buried his face in SeJoon's chest. "I don't want to do this. I want to go away and hide with you somewhere that they can't find us."

"That would be nice, huh," SeJoon said, sounding wistful, arms tightening again.

"But we can't," JongKook said after a while. "I mean, what if they end up taking the baker at the cafe next time? Or that kid that just started at Sami's? Or someone else we know? Or someone else just like them? I can't let them do that, I just can't."

SeJoon sighed gustily. "Yeah," he said. "I know. It doesn't keep me from dreaming about running away."

It helped, in an absurd sort of way, to have SeJoon on his side in this, and JongKook's eyelids started to feel heavy. "I can sleep now," he said. "Thanks, SeJoon."

SeJoon kissed the top of his head. "Go to sleep," he whispered. "I'll keep the nightmares away."

"I'll keep yours away," JongKook whispered back, and then fell asleep.

Everything ramped up as the trial date grew nearer. JongKook's dreams got worse and worse. It helped to have SeJoon there, and sometimes he managed not to wake SeJoon. He still felt fragile, more and more as the date got closer. Not only fragile, but his awareness of SeJoon, the need to know where he was at all times, came back. He felt like he had immediately after they’d been rescued from the pit.

"Are you okay?" Taewoon asked one afternoon, sitting on the couch next to him.

JongKook watched SeJoon pace in the backyard, taking out his stress in his own way. "Yes," he said.

"Are you sleeping okay?"

"It's... rough," JongKook admitted. "I'm having nightmares."

Taewoon nodded. "You look like you're not sleeping very well."

"I've had better nights," JongKook said. "I'm just... I want this over with, I want them in jail, I just... want it done."

Taewoon patted his shoulder. "I wish I could make it end right now," he said. "I'd do it if I could."

"Just... skip the time until it's over, even," JongKook said with a sigh, and smiled. "I think it'll help once the thing starts. I hate this waiting part. We're as prepared as we can be."

"Just about," Taewoon said. He frowned. "I'd expected to hear something from SungMin's grandparents by now, but... nothing. It makes me nervous."

"Is there any place he and TaeHa can hole up for a while, away from here?" JongKook asked, relieved to get the focus off him for once.

"I don't know," Taewoon said. "I hadn't thought of that."

JongKook watched him lean back and relax, trying to think. He thanked the universe again for throwing him in with this man, with SeJoon, with the rest of them, all of them so caring and willing to help that it just... it sometimes made him want to cry. "Can Jungwoo put wards up around the house that only we can get through?" JongKook asked.

"I don't know," Taewoon said, and grinned. "We can ask both Jungwoo and TaeHa if either of them can do that. It would be incredibly helpful to at least give us a warning, should something like that happen again."

"Have you talked to Hakyeon about it? About SungMin's parents trying to take off with him," JongKook added at Taewoon's curious look.

Taewoon shook his head. "I haven't, because he's really busy. This isn't connected."

"Are you sure?"

"No. I also don't have the proof that it is connected."

JongKook sighed. "You may have a point there," he said.

Taewoon got to his feet. "Come on, let's go see what the two magic people have to say about wards or something to keep unwanted people out."

JongKook got to his feet to follow Taewoon, casting one last glance at the white tiger pacing in the backyard before he left the room.

In the end, it turned out they didn't have anything that would be strong enough; all they could do was keep the trackers on SungMin and hope that his grandparents didn't try to take him again. Not a great hope, but all they had.

"We'll probably come to the trial every day anyway," SungMin said. TaeHa nodded.

"I don't know about that," Taewoon said.

"Why not?" SungMin asked.

Taewoon shook his head. "I don't know, but I'm sure there's a good reason."

"If you think of one, we'll consider it," TaeHa said. "I promise not to spend all my time watching YooHwan, either."

JongKook noted Taewoon's amusement as YooHwan looked down. "There's nothing wrong with that," he protested. YooHwan looked up at him with a long-suffering look. SeJoon snickered.

"You're not helping," YooHwan said to him, but he didn't pull away when TaeHa nestled into him.

"I'm not supposed to help in this situation," JongKook said, grinning. "I'm here to help embarrass you."

Taewoon snorted, then burst into laughter.



To Part Two

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