Chapter 9: In Memoriam
“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
An NCT mafia AU with OT23. Summary: Working for the mafia comes with many layers. There’s excitement, violence, loss, and betrayals. Yet there’s also friendship, family, loyalty, and code. The last thing it needs? Love and all the complexities it brings.
TW: violence, death, mentions of sex, drugs, and other illegal activities. If you’re uncomfortable with any of these, feel free to skip. Author’s note: This is purely a work of fiction. In no way am I supporting all the illegal activities and behaviors that might be mentioned in the story nor am I implying that any member of NCT acts whichever way I may write them here.
Chapter: 1/ First Stage
Chapter: 3/The Conductor
10 Years Ago.
Location: City of Seoul
It was dark, damp, and cold. Even with more than half of my face covered by cloth, I could tell from the stale air clinging on my cheeks that I'm currently somewhere with poor air circulation, most likely underground. The little skin exposed from my tightly bound arms was covered by a light sheen of sweat and what I can assume are bruises from the way my flesh throbbed. Above me, I could pick up the sounds of distant cars and the soft trickle of water from overhead pipes.
I tried to give my shoulders a little wriggle but stopped at the sharp pain that flashed on the base of my neck. It was a harsh reminder of the blow that I received there from the butt of a gun, the last thing I could remember before I passed out.
It was supposed to be an ordinary day out with my mother. It was a routine visit to the family's private doctor—one of the few reasons I was allowed to leave the prison I call home. Everything started the way it usually does; my mom kissing my father’s cheek who, as usual, barely looked up from the papers he was reading, her holding my hand and telling me secretly how we will snuck into the mall after our appointment, and me smiling, squeezing her hand back to thank her. Thinking back, I should have noticed the small but telling signs that pointed to the abnormality of the situation. How my father's hands tightened when my mom kissed him or the fewer number of guards that were assigned to us for our little outing.
It happened 20 minutes into our ride. Unfortunately for me, I only noticed something was off when our car spun out of control in the driveway after our driver had to step on the brakes to keep ourselves from slamming against the two plateless vans that showed up around the corner. The next thing I know, there were gunshots ricocheting around us, and there was my mother pulling me back against her chest as she tried to unlock the door on her side. She was unfortunately too slow to do it though, her soft cry filling my ears as I watched her get grabbed by the hair before her head was slammed against the window. That was the last I've seen of her before I blacked out myself.
I was brought back into my current reality by the sound of my voice breaking. I didn't know how long I had been out, but the soreness on my hands and feet could tell that it's been a few hours since we had been ambushed. I have always been warned about this kind of situation, been trained for it even, but all those don't seem to make a difference when you're finally on the spot, cold and alone.
My voice cracked as I tried to call out into the room. I could tell from the silence surrounding me that I was alone, but the confirmation that I got when no one answered me was enough to make tears prickle my eyes and mix with the sweat that has already collected behind my blindfold. I tried wriggling my hands again from behind me as desperation and panic started rising from my chest like bile. Before I even realized what was happening, I felt my chair crashing to the floor in my pointless panic and struggle. I grunted in pain and tried to roll over to no avail.
The sound of a door being unlocked caught my attention as I tried to control my quiet sobs. Whoever opened the door stopped on the threshold before finally making their way towards me.
One. Two pairs of steps. One was dragging their other leg as if they were injured, the other was wearing cheap rubber soles.
"Heh. The little princess is awake, I see."
I flinched from my spot on the floor as the man knelt in front of me. I could smell cigarette breath as well as the hint of alcohol in the air as he spoke. My legs tried to kick back to put more distance between us which caused him and the other person in the room to chuckle in amusement.
"Feisty. Just like her mother."
The mention of my mother made me freeze. It took a few seconds for the statement to sink in, before I was finally thrashing and screaming profanities in the air.
"Ah shit. Shut your trap, little girl. You're not doing yourself any favors here."
"WHERE'S MY MOTHER!"
"Back upstairs entertaining our boss. Don't worry you'll have your turn later," the other man who remained standing said in a sleazy voice that reminded me of maggots crawling on dead flesh. I thrashed harder, ignoring the pain shooting on my legs from the ropes binding me.
"You think the boss will let us have a turn on this bitch?"
The man asked his partner again, clearly unbothered by the fight I was trying to give. The other answered with a grunt before stretching up. "No idea. She'll be a good punching bag though. Probably will last longer than her mother. Mamba's getting pretty tired of the lady."
The mention of the name made me freeze. Though I haven't been fully exposed to the outer workings of the family yet, I am not entirely left out of the loop when it comes to the basics. "Mamba" is one of the names that is often dropped in the conversations of those in the higher circles, the sole competition of my father for full control over Korea's underworld. The two crime families have been toe-to-toe in the past decades, with one group always trying to do something to entirely wipe out the other. Things have calmed down in the past few years as the faction focused on overtaking parts of South Korea that my father didn't have much interest in, but it seems like the former has gotten tired of being handed scraps from the less powerful cities.
The realization made ice slowly creep through my veins. This isn't a normal kidnapping. This is the long overdue war between the two biggest groups operating Korea's criminal underbelly, the one people from my own family had been regarding with watchful caution for years.
My fear and shock must have been so obvious that it caught the eye of the two guards above me. To my horror, the one with the sleazy, hair-prickling voice shuffled closer to me again and bent over to get a closer look at my terrified state.
"That's right. You realized it now too, doll?" he sneered in a tone that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand. I felt the back of my chair roughly lifted up from the ground before his hot breath fanned on my face.
"You and your mother are never getting out of here again. So I suggest you start praying now before we—"
I reared my head back and slammed it blindly against him.
A loud shout ripped through the room. I couldn't see, but judging from the crack I heard, I must have made a good target on the asshole’s nose. I didn't get the chance to do anything else though as a backhanded slap made my cheek snap sideways.
"You slut! I'll make you pay for that, you goddamn whore—"
I could hear the faint sound of a gun's metal being pulled from a holster. I couldn't care less though, even when blood started trickling from the corner of my lips that caught the ring of my attacker. There was only one thing going through my mind again and again, like a chant and a prayer to whoever god is listening.
My mom. My mom. I need to get out of here with my mom.
"What are you doing? Don't be stupid. The boss said not to touch her until he says so," I heard the other man say above the heavy breathing of the man in front of me.
"SHUT UP. Bitches like this one need to be taught a lesson. Put them in their place."
"You'll be the one put in your place if you kill her now."
"I won't kill her. I'm just going to put a hole in her leg."
The soft cocking of a gun screamed back at me in the split second of silence that followed his warning.
My body froze at the sound of a bullet slicing the air. Another one tore through the room and for a moment I wondered where I was shot.
But there was no pain that assaulted my senses. Instead, I could hear hurried footsteps running towards me before my blindfold was pulled up from my eyes.
"Noona! Are you okay?"
"Come on, we don't have time."
I blinked back quickly to gather my senses as the boy of 16 dipped out of my vision to undo my binds. My eyes found the owners of the voices earlier sprawled on the floor with matching holes on their foreheads.
"—go. We need to go."
My attention snapped back to Taeyong who was currently trying to haul me up from my seat. His face was pale even in the dim light of the room but there was a definite set on his brows that shook me back to attention.
I tried to stand up and stumbled a little, my balance off after being tied to the chair for god knows how long. He lifted my arm pressed against him and draped it over his shoulders to steady me as we both wobbled to the door. The moment we got out of the room where I was being held, I was suddenly assaulted by the sound of shouts and gunfire echoing around us. An explosion from upstairs shook the whole building and rained dust over the two of us.
"Shit. We don't have time. I'm sorry can you run? We really need to get out of here."
"Taeyong, my mom. Mom is still here. We need to get her."
"Jihoon is taking care of it—"
"Jihoon—but did he get her already? She was—I heard — she was with the boss," I pressed, my voice rising as the pair of us emerged from the basement and started making our way to what I can assume as the exit. Taeyong gritted his teeth and suddenly pushed my head down to shoot at someone behind me.
"Just a little bit more, you'll be safe outside," he said as he hauled me up again to my feet.
"Give me a gun."
"I can still shoot, just give me one!"
He shot me a torn look before pulling a handgun from his holster. I quickly grabbed it and tried my best to steady myself on my feet as we both made our way to the exit.
We were able to escape through one of the backdoors of the building which opens up to a clearing fringed by a dense area of trees. The first thing I noticed when I broke through was the number of cars parked outside and the crowd of people weaving between them. Men—my father’s men to be exact. Before I could take in everything though, Taeyong pulled me towards one of the vans, guided me inside, before slamming the door behind us.
Panic rose on me again when he started the engine. My hand shot to grab his arm, forcing him to look at me.
"Wait! My mother—"
"Noona, Jihoon's assigned her. We can't go back even if I want to, your father said I need to get you back as soon as possible."
"I'm not leaving until I make sure she's safe!"
"Please. Your radio—just please let me make sure she’s safe first."
He hastily pulled his right earpiece and handed it to me. I pressed a small button to the side and quickly talked through it.
"Jihoon. Where's mom? Are you two out of the building?"
Nobody answered at the end of the other line.
I looked up at Taeyong with eyes filled with fear. He turned the other piece that's still on his ear to echo my question, only to be met with the same silence
"I don’t understand. He should have found Goomah by now," he said through gritted teeth as he grabbed for his gun again.
"How—maybe he couldn't. We need to go and help him."
"I checked and both of your trackers were intact before we broke in. She was on the top floor," Taeyong quickly explained as he unstrapped his seatbelt again. It took me a few seconds before his words sunk.
Why were we being tracked?
...like everyone knew we were going to be taken?
I didn't have enough time to dwell on my question as the line cackled and came alive. Both Taeyong and I froze as we listened to it.
"Sir, Mamba dragged Goomah with him into one of his safe holes. We can't break through it right now."
I froze at the sound of Jihoon's voice. He clearly wasn't speaking to us. I was about to jump in and bombard him with questions when another voice answered him.
"How secure is the safe hole?"
"Level three resistance. But probably can be taken down when we blast the whole building."
"Does it have an escape route?"
There was a moment of silence.
"It leads to an underground road, sir. Goomah's tracker says they are headed there now," Jihoon answered, his tone emotionless.
My heart jumped to my throat. I looked at Taeyong who was staring ahead, eyes etched with foreboding.
"You can't get her before they escape?"
"It will take a while...sir."
The line went quiet. It was only for a few seconds, but it was enough time to make my world start to crumble around me. When the voice spoke again, it decimated everything to ashes.
"Bomb the whole building before they leave."
This time, the line went quiet for good.
A blinding flash and explosion knocked me back to my seat before I could fully haul myself out of the car. My ears rang from the explosion as the ground beneath me shook.
I couldn't hear or see anything, but I knew; I was screaming.
I almost jumped up from my covers at the sound of the voice above me. The light in my room was on but even its blinding glare didn't stop me from turning my head wildly, my hands grasping for something to hold. Something grabbed my arms and I hurriedly took purchase of it, my fingers closing in on a set of shoulders.
"Hey, it's okay. It's okay. You're alright."
My eyes finally locked at the man in front of me. Taeyong sat on the edge of my bed, looking equally shaken.
"Yes, it's me. It's just me. You're safe. You're here with me," he said softly as his eyes scoured over my face. I felt one of his hands move towards my back to gently rub circles on it. Before I could say anything else, he gently pulled me towards him and pressed my face against the crook of his neck.
"I'm sorry I barged in. I heard you screaming and I just had to check…" he explained quietly as he continued rubbing my back. I kept quiet as I tried to calm down my breathing, still shell-shocked from my nightmare. Before I could stop myself, I reached out a hand to grab onto his shirt.
"What was it…?"
I kept quiet. It took me a while to notice how much I was shaking until Taeyong took my free hand and held it on his own. He didn't say anything but his silence was enough to tell me that he knew exactly what my nightmare was about. It's been years since he had to calm me down like this, but it has always been the same dream, the same memory.
"It's okay… You're safe… It's just a nightmare."
My face crumpled and I pressed my face closer to him.
"It's happening again."
"I'll lose someone—you"
He stilled for a few seconds at my words. How long has it been since we found ourselves in this kind of situation? When was the last time I was this honest and vulnerable, and him this open?
The past few years spent covering up everything seemed to fall away like paper blown away by a gust of wind. All those years that I spent trying to live my life differently as I left everything behind... All those moments he tried to keep up with my silent request for us to act nothing more than simple associates. All of them, gone.
"You're not going to lose me. You've never lost me…" Taeyong answered quietly as he buried his nose into my hair.
"Then don't do it. Don't let him use you."
"We don't really have any other choice."
"We do. I can tell him—"
"You're not going to tell him anything you don't want to do… We both know that."
That made me stop. Tears started pooling in my eyes again and I felt him hold me just a little bit tighter.
"I'm so sorry… I'm so selfish."
"No, you're not. You have your reasons," he stopped briefly before speaking again. "And I have mine too."
I slowly pushed myself from his hold so I could look at him. Taeyong spoke gently, as if he's trying his best to explain everything without adding to my doubts.
"I want to do this for the people who mean a lot to me. Yes, I didn't want to at first but then I realized, if I win this, everyone will be happy, right? You, our friends, even me… So don't beat yourself up over it. Okay? And you’re not going to lose me. Because I’ll win. I know I will."
I didn't say anything. When Taeyong squeezed my hand that he was still holding though, I felt myself squeezing it back.
"How can I help?"
The smile he gave me was enough to chase away some of the heaviness on my chest.
"Just stay with us… with me. A mafia head needs a good wingwoman, right?"
I felt my lips twitch into a small smile despite myself. I will probably regret letting this honest moment happen between the two of us after trying to keep a distance for so long, but for now, this is enough. I nodded and gently moved my hand that he was holding between us. While he didn't pull me back, I felt his touch linger for a little while longer before letting me pull away.
"Taeyong! Where are you?"
The two of us looked at each other one last time before turning to the door of my room. He must have left it slightly ajar when he barged in because we could hear voices from the first floor living room float to where we were.
I wiped my tears with the sleeve of my shirt and tried to fix myself before following him outside. We both stopped on the second floor to peer at the crowd of people that had collected downstairs, Taeil standing out from the crowd. He looked up to us and lifted a folded piece of paper.
"We have a letter from Jihoon."
Taeyong and I exchanged glances briefly.
"Let me see," he said, turning to go down the stairs to join the rest. He hadn't made two steps before Taeil stopped him though, his voice quiet.
"It's not for you," he said quietly before his gaze slowly landed on my unmoving form. "It's addressed to her."
Tag list: @hen-marks99, @negincho, @nctisthecity <3