Jinki had taken a liking to doing this these past few days — he'd stop time smack in the middle of lunch or while taking a bath, sometimes just before the stock market closed or right after his mother had left the house to go to a party. Kibum had reminded him before never to exploit his uncanny ability especially since The Academy monitored all of their activities, but Jinki couldn't help it. He didn't care if he would get caught; all he wanted was to be truly alone.
He loved the stillness and silence of things, which was why he was good friends with Minho.
Minho didn't talk much. Kibum said he was telepathic, but Jinki believed Minho just wasn't the type who'd talk a lot. He chimed in conversations occasionally, though, and the most they'd gotten out of Minho was something pertaining to how loud Kibum was. This sent them laughing their hearts out, and Jinki hearing Minho's voice for the first time.
So whenever he wanted and needed silence, he stuck with Minho.
It wasn't too long when he had been introduced to Taemin. Taemin could teleport from one place to another. It was convenient when they were running late or just trying to get out of trouble (quite literally). Kibum had taken it upon himself to watch Taemin as with all of his friends. It didn't help that Kibum could see through people and into their minds with just one touch.
It made everyone a lousy liar, even Jinki who barely had a reason to hide things from anyone.
And then came Jonghyun.
Jonghyun was different. He didn't have the power to summon things or make them move — he had the ability to negate abilities, which was why he didn't make good friends with Kibum at first. Kibum didn't appreciate the fact that he was useless before Jonghyun.
"Helpless, aren't you, Kibum?" Minho had said out of the blue. Kibum hit him hard in his side. Minho didn't budge, but only because Minho knew the 'I hate you' Kibum was muttering again and again actually meant the opposite.
Jonghyun always wore these semi-permeable gloves. He said The Academy had explicitly instructed him to never take it off for fear of not being able to control his abilities. "It's a fashion statement," Jonghyun rushed when Jinki and Minho wore worried looks on their faces.
Kibum scoffed. "It's atrocious."
Jonghyun made it a point to never let a day pass without making fun of Kibum after that.
They were paired off during the latter part of their academic years — Minho with Kibum since their abilities were pretty much aligned, Taemin with one of the immobiles so that their abilities aided each other. Jinki was paired off with Jonghyun and they were given the name 'wild cards', but everyone knew they didn't do much and wouldn't be used unless there wasn't any choice. Their abilities didn't allow for much action; what would one even do with someone who could stop time and space and someone who could stop everything else?
"So it's just you and me now," Jonghyun mumbled when they were sent out for their very first mission. It was in Japan; they had a war to stop.
Jinki nodded. "Just you and me."
The war was just about to begin. There were tanks everywhere, and people from the elementals team were positioned in strategic places. They were given a blueprint of the battle area and were briefed on what was to happen. Not that it meant much; Jinki just had to stand in one place and shut his eyes tight, then wish hard enough for everything to stop.
And it did.
"So this is where I come in?" Jonghyun asked. He'd discovered earlier that not only could he negate abilities but he could also nullify emotions. Jinki nodded in his general direction and watched at Jonghyun laid his hand on each and every person's chest, sending them down to their knees and eventually lying on the ground. It took them around ten minutes to round everything up, and by the time Jinki had released his hold on time everybody barely had any idea what was going on.
You were supposed to kill each other, Jinki wanted to say, but Jonghyun was quick to grab him by the wrist and shake his head as if motioning, no, no. Let's just walk away and pretend this never happened. And so they did, slowly making their way back to their dispatch vehicle with a silly grin on their faces.
"Good job, partner," Jonghyun whispered, beaming at Jinki. Jinki made an effort to remember that he shouldn't make any form of contact with Jonghyun so he just smiled right back and whispered to the wind, "Yeah. Partner."
Kibum and Minho were sent to Japan soon after. The Academy had said something about having to survey the area and determine the real reason behind the war. "Minho said something about settling political disputes and stuff. I couldn't make out what he was thinking about," Kibum explained when Jonghyun asked him what the Academy meant by 'retrieving the source code'.
"They — the government and the civilians — were at 'war'," Minho paused to do that quote-unquote gesture, "because the prime minister was found to know something about a source code. Our researchers say the code is so complex that if it's loaded onto different... I don't know, servers or databases, there will be a huge blackout and the economy of many different countries will go down."
"And only Japan will survive the crash?" Jinki asked. Minho took a deep breath and shrugged.
"Maybe. Possibly." Minho frowned a little. "Data travels fast. Even with tight security, Japan's servers could go down."
"And kapoof goes the world."
There was silence for a while until Jonghyun turned to Minho sharply, eyes squinted and a question written on the curve of his mouth. "So what do we do with the code once we get it?" he asked. "What gives?"
Kibum laughed for a while until Minho nudged him in his side. "We destroy it, of course! We bring it to The Academy for the elementals to destroy, and we complete the mission. As simple as that!"
Jinki moved closer to the group. "Are you sure they'll really destroy it? I mean, we don't even know what the code actually is. For all we know, it's some kind of family secret or something."
Jonghyun nodded. "You actually have a point."
They sat in companionable silence for a while until Kibum turned to Minho and pointed out that whatever Minho said earlier was the most they'd heard from him in these many years that they've known him. "I'm really liking the change," Kibum even said. Minho looked as if he wanted to retort but he bit the inside of his cheek, instead, and shook his head. Beside Jinki, Jonghyun laughed, and Jinki took a deep breath and closed his eyes, summoning all of his strength in a single drag of breath.
When he opened his eyes, time had stopped and Kibum and Minho were looking at each other silly, and Jonghyun was still laughing beside him and hitting him on the arm repeatedly, saying, "Will you look at that!"
Jinki leaned back a little and took a gander at the scene. It was a sight to behold, indeed.
It was convenient having Taemin as a friend. They'd asked him to fly them to Lebanon one time just in time to stop a death sentence from pushing through, and to Romania to fend off some dragons. Jonghyun had to fly by plane and Jinki had to stop time on both occasions so they'd make it to the locations with perfect timing. Jinki was much too amazed at first, though, when they encountered the dragons that he almost forgot that he was supposed to stop time; good thing Jonghyun was there to remind that they were supposed to be sealing off the dragons in a chamber and leaving the rest to the elementals, not ogling them.
"I've got another mission in 10, you guys! Be quick!" Taemin called out from behind the bushes, and Jinki rushed to where the dragons were. He shut his eyes tight and the dragons stopped moving. Jonghyun had come from behind Jinki by then and tucked his chin on Jinki's shoulder.
Jinki flinched a little. That felt a little... weird.
"I negate powers at will, Jinki. Don't worry, the dragons won't come back to life just because we're getting all chummy," Jonghyun whispered in his ear, and chuckled in his ear soon after that it sent all these weird and fancy tingles to his toes.
He called having cramps when Jonghyun asked why he was having a hard time walking. He'd never admit to feeling all tingly when Jonghyun came too close for the first time since they'd met. If Jonghyun found out, he'd never let on.
It was a good thing Jonghyun wasn't telepathic.
It was definitely even better that Minho never talked to anyone about it.
They'd already gone around the world by the time they were able to determine the real story behind the war.
Everything started with the election of the new prime minister of Japan. Many said the votes were manipulated so that they were in favor of the opposing candidate at first, but the opposition was bribed with the chance to obtain the source code so he stepped down. The code was given to the opposition, but stolen the very night of the proclamation. The death of the opposing candidate followed, and this had remained a hush-hush conversation topic for the past eight months.
And the code was actually called 'The Charles Babbage Project'.
"The Charles Babbage Project? Jesus Christ, that's as bad as calling your first son Abacus or something!"
"Abacus is a rather respectable name," Minho quipped and shot Kibum a glare. "Clearly, you should reevaluate your taste in names. I mean, Kim Kibum? Really?"
"Are you questioning my mother's choice in names?" Kibum had an eyebrow raised, his hands on his hips.
Minho chuckled. "I didn't say anything."
Kibum tackled Minho to the floor and what ensued a few seconds after was an all-out tickling match. Jinki watched in pure amusement as Minho laughed his heart out, and beside him Jonghyun laughed lightly. He'd have almost forgotten that they were supposed to decode the code when Jonghyun grabbed him by the wrist.
"Leave the love birds there. We have a code to crack."
Jinki nodded and followed in mute obedience. He normally wasn't the type to blindly follow, but Jonghyun was leading him so steadily to the next room and there was a seat conveniently positioned nearby. That, and the number of times Jonghyun had initiated contact was increasing at an alarming rate. Jinki tried not to read into things; maybe this was Jonghyun's way of saying that he was fine with Jinki being his parter.
Yeah, that's right. They were a really solid team.
"Hey Jinki, are you even paying attention? I've been going on about Charles Babbage for at least five minutes already!"
There was irritation in the trace of Jonghyun's features, but something about the curve of Jonghyun's mouth told him Jonghyun was concerned about him zoning out more than anything else. He shunned the thought away and nodded lightly, offering a small smile, saying, "Ah, yes, the project, right? It holds all the secrets of the world?"
Jonghyun grinned. "You were listening after all."
Jonghyun had replaced the semi-permeable gloves with spray-on ones one day. Jinki walked in on him applying them, and it was quite the awkward event. It wasn't like walking in on Jonghyun naked — no, not at all — but the way Jonghyun almost jumped from the floor to the bed and dropped the can was enough to leave a weird and sinking feeling in Jinki's stomach.
"I'm just preparing for battle!" Jonghyun defended.
Jinki's eyes darted from his bare chest to his unzipped pants, and eventually to his spray-stained hands (they had an unusual glow; the effect of the spray was hard to miss). "Mhmm. Right."
Jonghyun slapped him on his arm. "Asshole. Go away, I'm getting ready. I'll be out in five."
Jinki chuckled. "You're such a girl."
It took Jonghyun another five minutes to get ready. When he'd come out of the room, he said something about doubling the application for the spray-on gloves and, "Silly abilities." Jinki laughed to himself because he knew better than to poke fun at Jonghyun and have his abilities suppressed until the end of the day.
He laughed a second time, this time nervously, when Jonghyun put an arm around his shoulder and pulled him close. "You don't tell anyone about our little secret," Jonghyun whispered in his ear. He held his breath and nodded.
"Yes. Our little secret."
There was another civil war in Japan, and this time they weren't able to prevent it.
Minho had called it out too late, but then it wasn't entirely his fault since he was in another country, doing another mission that The Academy deemed more important that time. Kibum was shouting into the receiver when Jinki took the call, saying, "Whoa, whoa, slow down! The line's choppy!"
"War," Kibum began. There was some static before he continued, "Japan. Now. Too many civilians dead. You've got to get there quickly! You—"
Some more static, and the call was cut off.
Jinki closed his eyes quickly and stopped time.
The children running around them were frozen in their tracks. There were balls of paper hanging in the air. Jonghyun walked a few steps closer to him. "I can drive the chopper," he said. "I mean, I'm not trained for it but I'm sure we won't crash." There wasn't any other way to get back to Japan as quickly as possible (good thing they'd gone back to the headquarters — Myungdeong wasn't too far a cry from Tokyo), after all.
When they arrived at Tokyo, Jinki couldn't help but take a step back.
There were wounded people all around them, each one having a distinct mark on their napes. They'd have passed it off as nothing at first had they not seen the intricacy of the patterns that it was so hard to mistake it for a random bruise or cut.
Jinki inched closer to the bodies. "These four— When you put the characters together, you'll get the ancient inscription for 'code'." Jinki took out his phone and took a picture of the characters. "It's weird. Anyone who must have done this knows about the ancient language and the code."
"And these people might have known about it, too." Jonghyun took a deep breath. "I mean, why would they be killed if they didn't have anything to do with it?" Jonghyun turned one of the bodies over. There were scribbles on the body that neither of them couldn't make out.
"Looks like we'll have to send this over." Jinki took a few more pictures and sent them to The Academy for processing. "And err, Jonghyun, your, um, glow. It's wearing off."
Jonghyun looked at his hands. "Aw, shit."
It wasn't supposed to be funny, but the worry written all over Jonghyun's face was hilarious enough to send Jinki chuckling, then giggling, then laughing his heart out when Jonghyun had assaulted him with tickles. There was a slap on his arm, maybe even two, and only thirty minutes after, when Jinki had released time and they were making their way back to Myungdeong did he realize that Jonghyun hit him with his bare hands earlier.
And time still stood still.
They'd been working overtime recently, and Jonghyun's fascination for coffee had just gone three notches higher. The usual two cups of coffee a day had become five, and by the time they were back to their normal and rather manageable working routine Jonghyun had a hard time reverting to the good 'ol two cups. "You need a shrink," Jinki commented flatly, and Jonghyun glared at him hard.
"I just love coffee this much, okay," Jonghyun said through gritted teeth. "And shut up, you're no different from me when it comes to lollipops."
Jinki swiftly removed the lollipop he'd been licking for the past ten minutes (his third one in an hour) and threw it away. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Their tirade lasted until Jinki's phone buzzed in his pocket. He fished for it, and Minho's name was flashing on the screen. "Oh, hey, what's the—"
"No matter what, Jinki—" Minho's voice was choked and choppy. There was a pause, a long one, and Jinki held his breath in anticipation as Minho's breathing became more ragged with each passing second.
"—don't turn in the code."
Jonghyun had been contacting Kibum and Minho for the past hour and a half but to no avail; the two weren't answering calls and texts, and they couldn't even be located via GPS.
"They're not on the map anymore," Yoochun, one of the best retrievers of The Academy, said. "Either they've sealed their abilities off completely or they're dead. There's nothing we can do about the latter."
Jinki gulped down hard. "They can't be dead. I can still feel them, somehow."
Yoochun shrugged. "Then maybe they aren't."
Jonghyun took a few steps forward. "Would you have any idea what they were doing before we lost contact with them?"
Yoochun shook his head and said nothing further, then excused himself as he had 'more important matters to attend to'. It was just strange, Jinki thought, that they received the news that Kibum and Minho were missing shortly after that strange phone call from Minho. "Don't turn in the code..." Jinki mumbled, and Jonghyun turned to him sharply with curiosity in his eyes.
"What did you say?"
"The last phone call, Minho said not to turn in the code no matter what. What did they find out about the code?" Jinki worried his lower lip. "More importantly, how did they find out what they found out?"
Jonghyun and Jinki quickly turned on their heels and saw Taemin who had Kibum and Minho on either side of him. Minho was visibly wounded, and Kibum was fashioning a look of shock and horror combined. "They were there already — at the parliament. Not too far away from here, really. They got the code, but for some reason the elementals shot them down the moment they laid their hands on it. I'm guessing Kibum saw something even before he got hit with the beam. They must've been freaked out when they realized Kibum could read and see through things with just one touch." Taemin laughed lightly and shook his head. "He won't talk, though. We need Minho to know what exactly happened."
Jonghyun frowned as he looked at Kibum and Minho from head to toe, then leaned in to check their bruises. "They'll need tending first, though. We should bring them to the hospital."
"No, it's too dangerous," Taemin rushed. He laid Minho and Kibum near Jonghyun. "Stay here; I'll fly someone in. Just need to go to Romania..."
It took Taemin no less than five minutes to return with a woman — is that Jinri, Jinki asked in his mind — and with their fingers intertwined, even. When Jonghyun gave Taemin that look, Taemin was quick to defend himself with, "Close contact with someone is most helpful in teleportation, you know that." Jonghyun smiled, a teasing curve in the corner of his mouth.
"Anyway, this is Choi Jinri. She's one of the healers. You can trust her."
"I can see that," Jonghyun quipped, still eyeing their hands. Taemin snarled at him. "How can we be so sure, though?" Jonghyun rushed. Jinki nodded fervently beside him.
"Let's just say she almost got killed by The Academy after she turned in part of the restored document where the code is written on."
"Restored?" Jinki quickly turned to Taemin. "You mean her healing isn't only for life regeneration? It's also for restoring things?"
"Mhmm. Pretty useful, I'm telling you." Taemin took a deep breath. "The Academy exploited her abilities, they did. Had her restore more than twenty documents once, all pertaining to the code."
Jinki's features lit up. "Then you must know about it, somehow!"
There was a bitter smile on Jinri's lips as she took a deep breath and looked up at them . "I would if they didn't purge my memories every time I finished restoring a document." When she ended, she was smiling almost wistfully, and this made Jinki wonder what exactly happened.
"So, um." Jonghyun cleared his throat. "Minho and Kibum are dying."
"Ah, yes!" Jinri quickly crouched beside the two and extended her hands over them. She closed her eyes tight, and Jinki wondered for a moment if that was how he looked like whenever he tried stopping time.
"The only thing I know about the code is that it's long and impossible to memorize."
After tending to Kibum and Minho's wounds, Jinri told them anything and everything she was able to remember about the code. Among the key points of her narration was the part where the document about the code was immediately snatched from her the moment it was fully restored, and she was sent to a reclusion chamber and locked in for two months until she swore she couldn't remember anything about what she'd just restored.
"I mean, what's so important about knowing about the history of computers and servers? It was boring and irrelevant. At least, that's what I can remember from reading the title. 'The Charles Babbage Project', that's what they called it. Said the Abacus was a powerful tool and was the key to everything."
"It's the key, alright. They had the elementals kill us right after we figured out how to use the Abacus for the code," Kibum mumbled. He'd managed to regain his senses shortly after receiving treatment from Jinri. "They were smart to purge that part, though. That's about everything I can remember. The rest is a blur."
"Quite literally," Minho quipped. He winced lightly as he stood from his seat and moved closer to the group. "The blinding light made you pass out. Good thing I was there to save you."
"I do not need saving, Choi. You should've just left me there."
Minho chuckled. "Yeah. And you'd be dead right now if I did. Show some gratitude, will you?"
Jinki watched as Minho and Kibum went on with their friendly banter (but not quite). He'd grown accustomed to this already, but something about the faint smile on Minho's lips, that very subtle curve of the mouth that told him something was up.
And if Jinki squinted hard enough, he'd see Kibum smiling a little despite the furrowed eyebrows too.
"It's rude to stare," Jonghyun whispered in his ear. He swore he almost jumped in his seat, but he was quick to hold back and just turn his head in Jonghyun's direction. It wasn't the best of moves as they were now much closer, Jonghyun's lips just barely a centimeter away. He held his breath.
"Especially if it's not in the right direction."
They had decided to set out on their journey to retrieve the code tomorrow. "We need to prepare for this," Jonghyun had reminded them, and Kibum and Minho blindly agreed since they needed more rest than necessary, after all. Taemin and Jinri had tucked themselves somewhere near, excusing themselves to go research about the code, but everyone knew they were just going to go on a date for what would seem the last time, if ever they wouldn't survive the battle tomorrow.
Jinki gulped down hard, then heaved a sigh. He definitely needed more time to prepare.
Jinki turned around quickly, almost abruptly that he almost fell off the ledge. They were staying at one of the abandoned houses for the night, and he was well sure that everyone already went to bed, but there Jonghyun was, slowly and steadily walking towards him with a silly grin on his face. "Pretty deep in thought, huh? Worried about tomorrow's battle?"
Jinki shrugged. "Maybe. Probably."
"Y'know, I've been dreaming about this my whole life." Jonghyun was wearing that soft and almost dreamy smile that Jinki found so interesting one too many times. "Going into a really big battle, saving the world and all that crap." Jonghyun chuckled, then continued, "When it comes from me, it's really hard to take seriously, but trust me when I say it's my lifelong dream."
Jinki nodded. "I can see that," he said, then laughed a little. "I can definitely see that."
They sat in companionable silence for a while, with Jonghyun's lips slightly parted as if he was trying to say something. Jinki's eyes were fixed on the sky, but from the corner of his eye he watched as Jonghyun fumbled with the hem of his shirt, then worried his lip, and finally said, "Tomorrow, after the battle—"
"We'll emerge as victors, and the whole world will call us heroes." Jinki turned to Jonghyun and smiled. "And we'll save the day."
There was uncertainty in Jonghyun's features for a while until he found himself smiling and saying, "Yeah, heroes." He liked how it sounded coming from Jonghyun, because Jonghyun had just come from a moment of confusion yet didn't sound quite like it; there was always confidence at the tip of Jonghyun's tongue that anything that rolled off it seemed so believable and real. "You and me, Jinki. We're partners, right?"
Jinki took a deep breath, then nodded, then ignored that undertone in Jonghyun's voice that said 'I can't do it without you'. "Partners," Jinki whispered as he high-fived with Jonghyun. "You and I both, saving the world.
They shouldn't have expected to make it alive the following day, but it was a rather nice thought to have in mind when they tucked themselves in at three in the morning.
It was around six in the morning when Jinki woke up to the sound of a blast nearby. He bolted, quickly got to his feet and took a look at what had just happened from the window nearby. There were no tanks, nor guns and the like. There were people — around fifty of them — all soldiers who had fallen in a trance, face void of emotion.
These were people they had worked with before. Friends, not foe.
"Wake up, guys! Wake up!" Jinki quickly rounded everyone up, careful not to trip on their legs. Kibum was the first to get up, followed by Jonghyun and Taemin. Minho shifted in his position for a while, but snuggled back into the blankets soon after. Jinri slowly got up, a small frown on her lips.
"We're... under attack."
It wasn't the best way to wake up someone or anyone, especially Minho, but it was effective enough to have Minho open his eyes sharply and everyone get to their feet and into their battle gear (something decent because they can't go battling in their jammies). Minho took a look outside and heaved a sigh, which Kibum's eyebrows furrowed at the sight of the army of ability-wielders heading towards them.
"We don't have to kill them, do we?" Kibum asked, worry evident as he choked on the last bit.
Jinki shrugged. They wouldn't if they could. "Maybe, maybe not."
"No time for drama now, guys! They're fast approaching!"
Minho and Kibum rushed outside the house, prepared to take the initial blow. They agreed to save the time-stopping for later, when they were sure they had closed in on the enemy already since stopping time would mean everyone but Jinki and Jonghyun being immobilized. Minho raised his hands in the air, making several gestures as he controlled the materials all around him and launched them onto the enemies. Kibum stayed rooted in a spot, eyes narrowed as he probed into the minds of the soldiers, convincing them to stop. They were successful for a while, until the soldiers started regenerating themselves and coming back to life.
"What the actual fuck— Did we just waste our powers on these blokes?" Kibum face was framed with beads of sweat, and his breathing was heavy and ragged. Minho was clutching at his knees, his arms giving away a little. "Seriously, this is all a joke!"
"Wait," Taemin quipped, then looked around him. "Have you guys seen Jinri? She—"
There was another explosion and Kibum and Minho didn't have much time to shield themselves from the blast, but Taemin was quick to get them out of the way. "Jesus Christ," Taemin said, voice drifting off as they rose higher into the sky, the entire picture of the war they were in becoming much clearer and frightening. "Jesus Christ, where is Jinri when you need her? Jinri!" He looked around; it was much easier looking for people from the sky. "Jinri, where are you?"
"Taemin, look out!"
Jinki's warning was a far and distant cry, but for some reason it resonated louder than all the other sounds Taemin heard at the moment. A few seconds after, all Taemin felt was that he was crashing to the ground with Kibum and Minho on either side of him and Jonghyun and Jinki's shrill and resounding 'no' ringing in his ears.
Jinki closed his eyes tightly one moment, and the next thing he knew time had already stopped.
It wasn't entirely on purpose as they had agreed to not stop time until they found the code or whatever it was that could unlock the code, but he just couldn't bear to see Taemin, Kibum and Minho falling to the ground and him not doing anything about it. Beside him, Jonghyun's breathing was heavy and his eyes were wide open, horror in the trace of his features.
"Oh God, that was intense! You ever think of holding back, Jinki, and I swear to God I'm gonna kick your sorry ass!"
Jinki blinked a few times, his vision finally coming into full focus. Jonghyun was still talking, but it was silent everywhere else.
He successfully stopped time.
"I... don't know what to do."
Jinki's head was hung low, but he could see Jonghyun from the corner of his eye, the surprised look on his companion's face imprinting itself in his mind. Jonghyun, who had always been so confident and happy about leading him and enabling him to do things, looked so shocked and almost aghast at his sudden loss of knowledge on what to do. Jinki had always been the strategist, the problem-solver; Jonghyun was the cheerleader, and Jinki needed Jonghyun's words to encourage him now more than ever.
"What do you mean you don't know what to do? You always know what to do! You—"
"Things didn't go as planned!" Jinki was now facing Jonghyun. "You have Taemin, Minho and Kibum hanging in the air, Jinri disappearing, all our friends turning into soldiers — I wasn't prepared for this, Jonghyun. I didn't sign up for this!"
Jonghyun's hands fell to his sides.
"I'm sorry. I'm being selfish. I guess I'm just not prepared for a lot of things, even if I can very well stop time to figure things out." Jinki laughed, bitterness in its aftertaste. "I'm sorry."
Jonghyun walked closer to him, and they were now a few centimeters apart, Jonghyun's heavy breathing prickling his skin. "I'm not a genius at strategies, but I'm an expert at stopping everything, even stopping you from going all emo at a time like this." Jonghyun offered a small smile, then punched him on the arm lightly, and a few seconds after Jinki saw clarity in his thoughts, the steady grip on his hand lending him a bit of balance. "And if it makes you feel better, I don't know what to do, too."
"I can't even warn Taemin properly..."
Jonghyun put an arm around his shoulder. "Hey, you stopped him good. The only problem is getting them down safely."
Jinki almost laughed at Jonghyun's poor excuse for a joke. He shook his head; they shouldn't be joking around right now, especially in the middle of a war.
Yes, that's right. They were in the middle of a war.
"I just had the weirdest idea," Jonghyun said out of the blue. "What if we just erase everything, pretend that this didn't even happen? It solves the problem, right? No more wars, no abilities to begin with. It's a win-win situation."
"How can we be sure this won't happen ever again, though?" Jinki frowned, then looked over his shoulder, out into the vast destruction they've caused. "Besides, we shouldn't tamper with the past. First rule of time suspension."
Jonghyun's eyes lit up. A soft chuckle escaped his lips, and this was enough to send Jinki wondering.
"They were right about putting us in one team."
Jinki narrowed his eyes a bit, careful not to overdo it because Jonghyun hated people being overly critical of him, even if it was purely unintentional. "You said we can't tamper with the past. That doesn't mean we can't tweak the future, does it? We can change things from this point on. I mean," Jonghyun paused, shook his head. There was a moment of silence before Jonghyun continued.
"It's all so simple."
Jonghyun started walking in circles. "You stop time, I 'nullify' everything a.k.a. save Taemin and the lovebirds from falling and make people forget why they're even fighting, people wake up without a clue as to why their houses are even wrecked in the first place. On top of that, we get to save these soldiers who are just being used! Profit! It's fool-proof!"
"And the code?"
"We don't even know what it really is, and we never will. It's like starting anew."
"At what cost?"
"Jesus Christ, Jinki! Don't you have faith in people?" Jonghyun's fists were now shaking and his teeth were clenched. "You're always so afraid to take risks. Can't you just do something without thinking?"
I can't, Jinki wanted to say, but instead he bit the inside of his cheek. Jonghyun was right — he had so many fears and he always thought he'd get past them through careful planning and strategizing, but there were some things that he simply couldn't get through by carefully planning his moves. This was one of them — not all superheroes acted on logic, after all.
"Okay, so I hold time as much as I can while you erase everything. What's next?"
Jonghyun smirked. "Who knows?"
Jinki shook his head as Jonghyun gave him one last pat on the shoulder before they executed the plan. Jinki took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and felt a surge of energy travel to his fingertips. He stretched out his arms, palms facing the ground, and the next thing he heard was a battle cry from Jonghyun.
"Let's do this!"
The ground started shaking. There was a flash of light and a high pitched sound, the one you hear when rockets are being launched. Jinki tried hard to keep his stance, but the tremors were so strong that he eventually fell on his knees. He felt something pierce his skin — rocks, they must be rocks. And the excessive movement proved that his hold on time was slowly wearing off.
"Just a little more!"
Jinki clenched his fists and cried out, surrendering everything that he had to time. In a flash of light, one more blinding than the first, the tremors were calmed, and silence filled the air.
And Jinki passed out.
Jinki had taken a liking to doing this these past few days — he'd stare at any moving object and if he concentrated hard enough, it would stop moving. He'd only been able to stop an object from moving for five seconds, though, and even such a small feat amused him so much. His mother told him not to get a hang of it, though, because it was weird and kids his age — he'd just turned six — wouldn't want to play with someone who could stop something from moving.
"You want to stop your playmates from going down the slide, dear? Or stop their swing from swinging?"
Jinki, a bit hesitant, frowned. "No, umma. Of course I don't want to."
His mother gave him a light pat on the head and a rather stern smile. "That's my boy! Now, head back to the house in ten minutes, okay? The cookies are almost done!"
He nodded and smiled a little, enough to convince his mother that he was going to do as he was told. It wasn't as if he'd disobey his mother completely; he was just going to test out his so called 'powers' some more, and then go back inside the house.
He focused hard on the bicycle passing by. He squinted his eyes, and by now his fists were balled. There was a sharp flash of light, and the next thing he knew the bicycle had stopped, and that the person riding it didn't seem to be breathing.
"That's really creepy," a voice came from behind. Jinki jumped in his position, and the bicycle started moving again.
"You ruined my moment! I made that bike stop!" Jinki frowned, eyebrows furrowed at the person who had just come in. "Go away, I don't like you. I don't like to be your playmate."
The child scoffs. "Who even said I wanted to play with you? And you made the bike stop?"
Jinki nodded enthusiastically, a trace of pride in the way he cocked his head. "Mhmm! Do you want to see how I did it?"
The child nodded. "Sure."
Jinki did his routine — he focused hard on something, and this time his victim was a bouncing ball. He clenched his fists, his lips pressing tight against each other, but to no avail — the ball was still bouncing, this time away from them. The child laughed lightly beside him, and he'd have almost stomped away if the child hadn't called him back.
"Hey, what's your name?" The child called out. "I still want to see you stop that ball."
Jinki didn't want to tell him his name at first, but then he figured he could use a new friend since all his other friends found him too weird and never even showed the slightest interest in his 'ability'. "Jinki. Lee Jinki. My mom baked cookies. You want to try them?"
"Mm, sure! And I'm Jonghyun. Kim Jonghyun. Bet your mom's cookies aren't better than my mom's!"
Jinki chased Jonghyun across the street and back. It was weird how the wind didn't blow against his hair when he ran, or how only Jonghyun's shadow moved when they moved around. He'd have made more observations, but then Jonghyun grabbed him from behind and tackled him to the ground, and the next thing Jinki knew they were laughing and Jonghyun was helping them up and they were walking to Jinki's house.
("You're ogling the kids, Jinki. It's creepy."
"Hey," Jinki began, "It's not everyday you get to see your six year-old self from behind a tree trunk, okay. Besides, we still have time until the next time warp."
"How much time?"
"Thirty seconds tops."
Jonghyun scowled. "Damn, I hate time traveling. The price you have to pay for interfering with time."
Jinki chuckled and put a hand on Jonghyun's shoulder. "Think about it this way: we get to see many mini me's in our short life. It's like watching ourselves in a movie!"
"Whatever, Jinki." Jonghyun was smiling now, though. "Whatever."
A ball of light had appeared in front of them, and Jonghyun was the first to step inside it. "Come on, Jinki, before it closes! You can't get stuck here forever!" Jinki took a deep breath, looked over his shoulder to see little Jonghyun and Jinki for one last time, and stepped inside the ball of light.)
And the wind started blowing once more.