saengiephile (saengiephile) wrote in copy_paste_work,
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saengiephile
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The Road Less Traveled - Chapter 26

Title: The Road Less Traveled
Fandoms: SS501, Super Junior, U-KISS
Pairings: KyuJong/YoungSaeng, KiBum/Kevin, TBA
Rating: PG-13, some chapters R
Chapters: 23/?
Warnings: Violence, angst
Summary: In a world destroyed by plague and war, it’s every man for themselves. To survive, a small caravan of misfits navigate through the remains of a civilization on death's door; where trust must be earned and closely-kept secrets could get them all killed






“Let’s break for half,” YoungSaeng said the next day, slowing the caravan to a halt. As much as they all wanted to keep going and catch up with the other four as fast as they could, they had to remember not to push the horses too far. Their sides were streaked with sweat from all the traveling thus far, and not giving them a break risked one of them coming up lame.

Having taken to walking behind the caravan instead of riding inside, Zhou Mi arrived at the temporary campsite a few minutes later. Since his conversation with KyuHyun, he had been polite to the other man but avoiding conversations with him. Choosing to take on any of the tasks that needed to be helped with than seeking KyuHyun out to help him.

"Anything I can help with?" Zhou Mi asked when he found YoungSaeng.

YoungSaeng was checking the horses’ hooves, making sure they hadn’t picked up any stones or tossed a shoe during the trek. Satisfied, he let the last hoof drop back to the ground. “If you’re up to it, give these guys some water. They’ve earned it,” he patted his lead mare’s neck before heading back to the caravan.

“Can I help?” JongWoon poked his head out from inside the caravan. He’d been demoted to doing the lowest forms of labor in the caravan, no one trusting him with more than that, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Zhou Mi glanced over at JongWoon, his head tilting a little to the side as he considered him. "I don't see why not. You think you can hold on without letting them run wild?"

JongWoon grinned, hopping down out of the caravan and stretching out his arms and legs from the long hours spent unmoving. “Of course I can. I’m okay with horses. I’ll take half if you take half.” He walked up to unhitch them from the caravan. YoungSaeng glanced at them in amusement before grabbing a rolled-up map to check their progress.

Taking two of the horses lead lines, Zhou Mi made his way towards the river. "So JongWoon... how are you doing?"

“I’m not tied up?” JongWoon shrugged, following after him with the other horses. “I want to say I’m glad the two who want to kill me are the ones who ended up on the other side of the river, but I’m sure someone here would take that as a traitorous thing to say and kill me anyways.”

"I'm sure you're right about that," Zhou Mi nodded. "You don't have to worry about me trying to kill you."

“I’m hoping I don’t,” JongWoon gave him a sheepish grin. “You seem nice enough. I’m hoping that if any of them start waving any guns in my direction there’ll be at least one person to stop them from filling me with bullets.”

"Don't mistake my kindness for being a shield," Zhou Mi said. "Your place here is... precarious. But there's only so much I can do for you. You have to prove yourself on your own."

That didn’t seem to phase JongWoon much, and he shrugged again. “Can only prove myself so much when I’m confined to the caravan day and night. But again, not complaining. Better than being tied up. I did think about asking them if I could go back home while we’re passing by, but considering that’s another thing I’d get shot for asking…I guess I’m out of a place to live for a while longer.”

"Well, I guess the question is... do you want to go home? After learning what you did about what people had in mind for HyungJoon and KiBum?" Zhou Mi asked. "Do you even really want to prove your worth here?"

“I might not agree with what they had planned,” JongWoon started, brow furrowed. “But it’s still the only home I’ve got, really. So yeah, I kind of want to go back. Proving my worth is nice, but I’d like being somewhere I know I’m not gonna get knifed in the back even better. Wouldn’t you feel the same? You’ve got to miss home.”

"I miss my home, yes, but for far different reasons," Zhou Mi said. "You could have a home here with these people if you really wanted to."

They’d reached the water’s edge, JongWoon keeping a careful grip on the horse’s reins as he looked for a safe place to bring them down the steep bank. “Again…I’d like my home to be somewhere I know I’m not going to get a knife in my back,” he gave Zhou Mi a wry smile.

"There's no guarantee in life that someone won't turn on you no matter where you are," Zhou Mi said. "Do you think they'll be happy to know you let the two people with the cure slip through your fingers?"

“Well I wasn’t going to tell them,” JongWoon blinked. “I’m not stupid you know.”

"I'm sure you have every intention of not telling them," Zhou Mi said. "Doesn't mean you won't slip up." Stopping at the river's edge, he braced himself on the steep incline as the horse tried to pull forward a little more into the river. "Think about your situation right now JongWoon. You're close enough to home you could leave and make it before you starved to death. You could run right now and I wouldn't tell anyone."

JongWoon frowned at that, looking down at the horses he was holding onto as they drank from the rushing waters. “I could, couldn’t I,” he murmured, voice not going any further than Zhou Mi. “Go back home, forget about all this. Go back to an ordinary life around people who don’t point at me with guns. Should I go?”

"You could," Zhou Mi nodded. "But... we are going to China to get a cure. You could bring a cure back to your compound like you wanted."

“…I wonder if we can really get a cure,” JongWoon replied quietly. “If it’s even possible. What if it doesn’t happen, doesn’t work?”

"Then at least we tried," Zhou Mi said, breathing in deeply as he looked up at the sky. One of the horses, anxious to get to more water, nudge his way forward and his flank smacked into Zhou Mi's back. Already on bad footing, Zhou Mi yelped as his feet slipped out from under him and he went tumbling down the embankment into the strong water current below. The frigid water knocked Zhou Mi out pretty quickly, only able to bob helplessly once before he disappeared under the waves and swept downstream.

“Zhou Mi!” JongWoon’s eyes went wide and he dragged the horses back from following down the steep bank. “Zhou Mi!”

“What’s going on?!” YoungSaeng had heard him yelling.

JongWoon dropped the horses reins, kicking his shoes off and shrugging out of his heavy coat. “He fell in the water!” He could see Zhou Mi’s head breach the water’s surface farther down before disappear again.

“JongWoon wait!” YoungSaeng could only watch the older man slide down the incline and dive into the water.

The freezing cold knocked the breath out of his lungs. Resurfacing, JongWoon took a large gulp of air before kicking with both feet, struggling to swim faster and not lose feeling in his arms or legs. Water rushed in his ears and he bit the inside of his cheek hard, the pain keeping him focused and awake.

He’d lost feeling in his fingers by the time he spotted Zhou Mi just ahead, one arm appearing above the water again. Kicking hard, he reached out and hooked both arms under the Chinese man’s shoulders and pulling his head up above the water. “Hang on,” he gasped for breath, pushing them closer to shore.

After what seemed like an eternity in the cold river he felt ground under his feet, and dragged Zhou Mi up the steep incline. Coughing out the small amount of water he’d managed to swallow, he got the other man up on the path before letting go and falling to his knees. JongWoon held one ear to Zhou Mi’s mouth and couldn’t hear breathing.

“Come on, come on,” he ground out, linking his hands together and pressing down on Zhou Mi’s chest repeatedly. His frozen fingers struggled to cooperate as he held Zhou Mi’s mouth open without hesitation, pinching his nose and breathing into his mouth. He alternated between the two, panting heavily.

There was little response, Zhou Mi's eyes closed and his lips blue. Finally, after nearly a full minute, Zhou Mi's eyes snapped open and he sputtered water out of his lungs, heaving and choking as he tried to turn over onto his side.

“Finally,” JongWoon panted, helping Zhou Mi to roll over. He rubbed the other man’s back and arms, trying to coax warmth back into the frozen skin. “You’re okay, you’re fine. Just breathe.”

Zhou Mi was barely aware of what was going on, other than he was cold and his mouth tasted like sea water. He didn't hear the sound of hooves on the ground growing closer, or hear KiBum dismounting and rushing to their side.

"Is he okay?!" KiBum asked, dumping blankets on the ground so he could unfold them and wrap them around JongWoon's shoulders first before throwing one over Zhou Mi.

JongWoon hadn’t realized how much he was shaking from cold until after the blanket settled over his shoulders. “He’s an ice cube,” he said, rubbing the blanket against Zhou Mi’s arms and bundling it around him. “Where’s the others? He needs to get out of these clothes before he catches pneumonia.”

"They're coming, Saeng was getting the caravan packed up," KiBum said. "I'll get started on a fire, you strip him."

Nodding, JongWoon pulled the blanket away from Zhou Mi so he could get the Chinese man’s clothes off. It took a minute for his shaking fingers to cooperate, but he managed to get the other man’s shirt up over his head after a bit of fumbling.

The bright red mark on Zhou Mi’s chest made his jaw drop. “…Oh no,” he murmured, swallowing as he lightly touched the farthest point just under Zhou Mi’s collar. The chill in the other man’s skin reminding him of what he had been doing, and he finished stripping Zhou Mi down to his underwear before grabbing a dry blanket and bundling him up in it. Another blanket went to Zhou Mi’s feet and ankles.

Settling down on the ground, he pulled Zhou Mi’s upper body into his arms and blew on the other man’s fingers, hoping to coax warmth back into the blue digits.

KiBum returned with a load of sticks and twigs in his arms, unloading them onto the ground near where JongWoon was helping Zhou Mi. "You should get out of those clothes too JongWoon," he said, searching his pockets for the flint and steel his brother had given him. "I'll have this fire going real quick."

“I’ll get out of them once the fire’s going,” JongWoon said, shivering as he focused on warming Zhou Mi up. “Don’t go swimming, by the way, it’s a little cold.”

"Wouldn't have guessed," KiBum said, looking up at them as he scraped the metal across the flint. "What happened?"

“He fell down the incline into the water,” JongWoon replied. “The current’s really bad, didn’t stand a chance.” He could hear the sound of the caravan approaching in the distance, not looking back as he tucked Zhou Mi’s hands into the blanket.

"... But you went right in after him," KiBum said. "I didn't... I didn't think you would even bother."

JongWoon looked up at KiBum from under dripping wet bangs, trying to frown but shivering too hard. “I don’t really blame you and your brother if you think I’m some sort of monster with no compassion for others. Probably makes it easier to think that way. But that’s not me. Never has been, and never will be. I would have jumped in there for anyone.”

"Just didn't seem like you cared," KiBum said, looking back down at the pile of sticks. A small flame had ignited in some of the dry leaves. "You were ready to throw me and my brother to the wolves. You sure didn't seem like you cared then."

“I didn’t know what my compound would have done to you two if you’d gone there, and that’s the truth. I just thought they needed a blood sample or something, then everyone could be cured. No more people I care about dying. A lot of people probably wouldn’t care about hurting two strangers for a cure, but Zhou Mi was right. I can’t live with that on my conscience. I’ll find another way to get a cure.”

"Maybe I've just spent too much time with my brother, but I don't trust you," KiBum said, getting to his feet. "I'm going to go see what's taking YoungSaeng so long."

“…Okay,” JongWoon nodded, turning away from Zhou Mi so he wouldn’t sneeze on the other man. Sniffling, he tried to drag Zhou Mi closer to the fire.

The caravan came around the corner a minute later, YoungSaeng ushering the horses faster. “Are you both okay?” He asked as the caravan finally stopped, jumping down off the front bench.

KyuHyun climbed over the back gate and dropped to the ground, clean clothes in his arms. “I’ll take him,” he said when he saw JongWoon holding onto Zhou Mi tightly and still in his soaked clothes. “Get changed out of those.” JongWoon let go of Zhou Mi and laid him down carefully, taking the offered clothes.

"I'll get some more firewood," KiBum said, not even looking at YoungSaeng before disappearing into the treeline.

"Can we risk moving with those two like this?" KyuJong asked from his seat on the caravan. "This will put us back another day if we have to sit and wait."

YoungSaeng helped JongWoon move to a spot on the other side of the fire, the older man’s legs not cooperating. Frowning worriedly, he looked at Zhou Mi who was still unresponsive. KyuHyun was carefully dressing him in the dry clothes. “We don’t move until they’re at least okay to sit in the caravan. They’ll need some time by the fire to recover.” If only they had some way to reach JungMin and the others and let them know.

**************************

After waiting at the bridge for nearly two days, JungMin was growing even more concerned. "They should have been here by now," he said to no one in particular. "I knew we'd beat them here but this is ridiculous."

“Should two of us go look for them?” Kevin asked from where he sat on the side of the bridge. “They can’t be too far by now.”

“We shouldn’t split up, they could have been attacked,” HyungJoon was trying to contain his worry, but the older brother had been a nervous wreck for the past day.

“If we go over and look for them we'll lose even more time," JungMin said.

"HyungJoon could be right though, what if they got attacked and are hurt or dying or something," RyeoWook said. "We can't really continue on without them anyway."

“And how long are we going to wait here for them? Another day?” HyungJoon was already untying his horse from a tree trunk, guiding the gelding to the bridge. “Let’s go,” he looked at JungMin.

JungMin's lips thinned slightly as he looked at HyungJoon. "... Alright, we'll go."

Nodding, HyungJoon started to cross the bridge. Kevin hurried to get the other horses.

They didn’t make it far. Before they were halfway over the bridge (which was thankfully way more stable than the other one), Kevin shouted in relief. “They’re over there!” he pointed to horses coming around the bend in the river.

JungMin breathed a heavy sigh of relief at seeing the caravan. "Good. Get back to the other side of the bridge, I'll meet them before they cross. In case there's trouble, head to the road."

Kevin nodded, turning the horses around carefully to head back off the bridge. HyungJoon looked at the caravan for a long moment before following reluctantly.

It didn’t take long before those in the caravan spotted JungMin by the bridge. Grinning widely in relief, YoungSaeng waved at JungMin with one arm.

Guiding his horse off the bridge at the far end, JungMin waited until the caravan pulled up nearby. "Well, took you long enough," he said. "You get lost?"

“No, we stayed on course,” YoungSaeng replied, slowing the caravan to a stop and smiling tiredly at JungMin. “Zhou Mi and JongWoon decided it was a good time for a swim, we couldn’t move until we were sure neither of them were going to die of pneumonia. No problems on your end?”

"Nothing we couldn't handle," JungMin said. "Glad to see everyone's in one piece then. The bridge seems stable enough, you can make it across."

“Oh good,” YoungSaeng sighed in relief at that. “Wasn’t sure what we’d do otherwise. Lead us across?” He glanced back to see KyuHyun poking his head out of the caravan, obviously looking for someone.

"I'll let KiBum lead you across," JungMin said, lip quirking at how KiBum perked up at that. "I'll be right behind. Head on out KiBum."

"Yes sir," KiBum said, taking the team's lead line and looking to YoungSaeng. "... We are ready right?"

“Yeah, we’re good to go,” YoungSaeng gave KiBum a tense smile before exhaling slowly, eyeing the bridge. “Bring us across.”

“Maybe KyuJong should take the reins,” KyuHyun suggested.

“You go sit down and be quiet,” YoungSaeng tossed over his shoulder.

"Saeng will do just fine," KyuJong said, glancing at the water just below the bridge with a frown. "I don't think I'd be much better anyway."

“We’re just the perfect people to be in the front right now, aren’t we,” YoungSaeng chuckled ruefully before flicking the reins lightly. The caravan started forward towards the bridge.

"At least I know we'll be careful," KyuJong said. "I don't know if I'd trust anyone else right now."

"... What about me?" KiBum blinked, glancing over at them.

“We trust you, KiBum,” YoungSaeng chuckled, glancing at the younger brother. “If I didn’t trust you to get us over this rickety deathtrap in one piece, you wouldn’t be the one up here right now. Just focus on those horses, not us.”

"They seem like they're going across just fine," KiBum said.

"Horses are skittish on bridges," KyuJong said. "The smell of the river gets in their nose and they panic."

“Just don’t let them look down, keep a tight hold on those leads,” YoungSaeng sighed, holding onto the reins tightly.

Thankfully they made it to the other side of the bridge without mishap. YoungSaeng leaned back in relief as the caravan’s wheels touched solid ground again.

KiBum didn't wait long after the caravan had cleared the bridge before he jumped off his horse. "Kevin!" he launched himself at his boyfriend, trying not to knock him over.

Yelping, Kevin grinned widely and wrapped his arms tightly around KiBum in return. “You’re okay!” He buried his face in his boyfriend’s shoulder, unable to stop smiling.

“Glad to see everyone’s in one piece,” YoungSaeng smiled, looking at JungMin. “Let’s not do that again.” He could see HyungJoon standing awkwardly to one side out of the corner of his eyes.

Behind him KyuHyun was climbing out of the caravan. “Wook?” He looked around for the other man.

"I'm here," RyeoWook said, still on his horse and giving KyuHyun a tight smile. "Everyone okay?"

"Zhou Mi could probably use looking at," KyuJong said. "JongWoon too. We think they're past the worst of it, but never know."

"What happened?" RyeoWook asked, his brow furrowed a little.

"Let's get a camp set up and we can catch up on what we missed," JungMin said. "Already a day behind, not like it'll matter if we take another day before we get going. KiBum, Kevin, make up kisses later, get to work."

“Didn’t even get to the kisses yet,” Kevin mumbled into KiBum’s shoulder, holding onto his boyfriend tightly before reluctantly pulling away.

“Let’s get away from the bridge before making camp,” YoungSaeng said, looking up at the sky.

KyuHyun walked over to RyeoWook instead of back to the caravan. “What’s this, not even coming down to say hi? Mind some company?”

RyeoWook looked away, fussing with the reins in his hands. "If you want. Not like I'm really doing anything. You should go be with Zhou Mi, he needs the company probably more than me."

"Yah! KyuHyun! We're moving out, you planning on walking all the way?" JungMin called before turning to YoungSaeng. "What's up boss, think it's going to rain?"

YoungSaeng glanced up at the overcast sky. “Can’t be too careful, I’d rather be away from the river all the same. Before someone else ends up taking a swim.” Seeing KyuHyun wasn’t going back to the caravan, he flicked the horse’s reins to get them going. Kevin was already climbing up onto KiBum’s horse with him; YoungSaeng hadn’t doubted that would happen for a moment.

Looking at the others, KyuHyun easily swung himself up onto the horse behind RyeoWook. “I think JongWoon’s keeping Mi company pretty well right now. You should see them both trying to fit on that tiny bed.”

"I'm sure I will in a bit," RyeoWook said. "I thought you didn't like riding horses."

“I’ll put up with it.” KyuHyun shifted a little uncomfortably before resting his hands on RyeoWook’s waist. “Hey. I’m glad you’re okay.”

"... I'm glad you're okay too," RyeoWook said. "Didn't know if you'd make it without me keeping you out of trouble."

“Right,” KyuHyun chuckled. “Can’t look after each other on opposite sides of the river, can we?”

As they headed out, HyungJoon drew his horse level with KiBum’s. “You okay?” he asked quietly.

"Yeah, I'm okay," KiBum nodded, smiling at his brother. "I was really worried about you... the both of you," he said, looking at Kevin over his shoulder. "He wasn't mean to you was he?" he asked Kevin.

“No,” Kevin laughed at HyungJoon’s quiet protest. “He wasn’t mean. He showed RyeoWook how to hunt, and me a little after JungMin was convinced I could start a fire and not burn the forest down.”

"He did?" KiBum blinked at that and looked at his brother. "That's... great. I'm really glad. Thanks for looking after him hyung."

“…No thanks needed,” HyungJoon mumbled, turning a little red as he steered his horse away to take up the other side of the caravan.

“And we embarrassed him,” Kevin chuckled, resting his cheek on KiBum’s shoulder and closing his eyes.

"I think that's the first time I've seen him embarrassed like that," KiBum said. "I'm glad you're okay... I was so worried about you."

“I was worried about you too,” the younger man replied, arms tightening a little around KiBum’s waist. “I mean, HyungJoon and JungMin were with me, and you were stuck on the other side of the river with…that guy.”

"I know," KiBum's expression soured. "Zhou Mi keeps saying we should give him a chance... but I just can't bring myself to."

“You sound like your brother,” Kevin murmured. “But I don’t really want to give him a chance either. Not with your life.”

"Me either. I may disagree with hyung about a lot of things, but the way he looked at us when he found out who we were, and what he was saying," KiBum shook his head. "He wanted the rest of you to just hand us over to him, like we were animals."

“You’re not animals,” Kevin looked up at the back of KiBum’s head. “None of us is going to let anything happen to you, or HyungJoon. No one’s taking you away, ever.”

KiBum chewed a little on his lip, his hand covering Kevin's arms around him. "Maybe I'm just being paranoid.. but I don't really trust Zhou Mi either. He didn't mention anything about a cure until after he found out about me and hyung. What if he's just leading us somewhere so he can trap us like... like others have done."

“…YoungSaeng wouldn’t follow him into a trap,” Kevin frowned at that. “Do you think we should talk to him about it? Or JungMin and HyungJoon?”

'I don't know, if we talk to hyung he's just going to tell me he told me so and insist we leave," KiBum said. "JungMin will just follow whatever Saeng wants and I think Saeng believes JongWoon. I don't know who to trust anymore... other than you."

Kevin rested his cheek back against KiBum’s shoulder. “You can trust me. You can trust the others too, you know they wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. I bet the others are keeping an eye out just in case we’re being led into a trap too, or at least JungMin and HyungJoon are.”

"Yeah, doesn't mean we can't keep an eye out too," KiBum said. He flinched a little when a raindrop hit his nose, and he looked up at the sky.

"We should stop here Saeng, looks like the rain's starting," JungMin said. "Joon, get the extra tarps out, we'll have to set up a lean to against the caravan."

YoungSaeng pulled the caravan to a stop, climbing down off the front bench. He watched HyungJoon go into the caravan for the tarps as he unhitched the team horses.

When HyungJoon came back out, he looked a little confused. “Are those two all right?” He put one tarp down so he could start setting up.

“They’ll be fine,” YoungSaeng replied. “Come on guys, let’s get this done before that rain really comes down. KyuHyun, that means you too.”

“I’m going!” KyuHyun dropped down from behind RyeoWook, gathering together the other horses to take care of.

By the time the rain started to pour in buckets, JungMin and HyungJoon had their shelter set up. Long sticks propped up against the side of the caravan with a couple of tarps lashed together made for a good cover from most of the rain. RyeoWook set up his cookfire on the side of the lean-to where the rain was shielded by the caravan, only getting slightly damp when he had to stir the stew pot until it was ready. To keep themselves dry, JungMin had insisted on laying down a bit of the horses straw on the ground, even if it made for uncomfortable sitting.

"So KyuHyun, I think you've got some competition when it comes to the hunting," JungMin said, cradling the warm bowl of stew in his hands and sipping at it. "RyeoWook got this rabbit all by himself, even skinned and dressed it."

“Oh really?” KyuHyun blinked, looking at RyeoWook in surprise. He smiled widely after a moment. “So I should take you with me from now on?”

"No, I can hunt by myself just fine," RyeoWook said. "I don't need to be anyone's helper."

“…okay,” KyuHyun frowned at the tone of the other man’s voice. “Suit yourself.”

Blinking, Kevin looked between the two of them in confusion. He’d thought they were super-close. Sipping from his own bowl, he looked at YoungSaeng. “So…what happened with Zhou Mi and JongWoon?” The two were still resting in the caravan.

“Zhou Mi fell into the river while watering the horses,” YoungSaeng replied, glancing at the caravan. “JongWoon jumped in and fished him out. They were both blue for a while, we didn’t want to risk taking them away from the fire until they were safe to travel.”

"They got lucky then," JungMin said. "Fall in a river at these temps can kill a man if he isn't careful. Rather surprised JongWoon did anything."

"Yeah, me too," KiBum said, his eyes lowered.

"That's because none of you even bothered to get to know him," RyeoWook said. "He's a decent guy, I don't know what it'll take for you people to see that. Saving someone's life wasn't enough?"

“We’re giving him a chance,” YoungSaeng replied. He looked at JungMin beside him. “At any rate, we’ll be going easier on him once he’s at full health again. He could have just as easily died in that river.”

"If that's what you want boss," JungMin said, his gaze going to HyungJoon briefly before looking away. "First thing tomorrow, you and I should talk in private," he said, keeping his voice low so only YoungSaeng could hear.

Frowning, YoungSaeng nodded after a moment. “All right,” he murmured in return. Looking up at the rain coming down heavily, he gave a forlorn sigh. “Who’s volunteering for watch tonight?”

“I’ll do one half,” HyungJoon said, focusing on his stew.

"I'll take first," JungMin said. "Hopefully this rain doesn't last into tomorrow. I don't want to be stuck here any more."

“Don’t want to have to push the caravan out of mud either,” KyuHyun muttered.

“We’ll be doing that anyways,” YoungSaeng eyed the muddy ground around them. Finishing his stew, he stretched out his arms. “Need help cleaning up, Wook? Everyone might as well take an early night tonight.”

"No, I think I got it," RyeoWook said. "Can't really wash anything out proper with it raining like this. Might as well let the rain do most of the work."

**********************************

Thankfully, dawn brought clear skies without a cloud in sight. Being all together again was a weight off of YoungSaeng’s mind, and he knew he wasn’t the only one who slept better that night. Even if it could have been a little less humid and dreary.

After HyungJoon woke them up, he let the younger man take a quick nap while everyone dismantled the camp. “How’re you feeling, JungMin?” he asked, finding him after checking on the two inside the caravan.

"Like I'm ready to not be in charge," JungMin said, stretching his arms out. "I hope you know I'll never take you being boss for granted. Ever."

YoungSaeng laughed at that, grinning. “They’re all here and in one piece, so I’m sure you handled it just fine. What did you want to talk about?”

Expression dimming, JungMin glanced around them as he pulled YoungSaeng away from the camp a little. "Not really sure how it started, but HyungJoon and I got into it a bit. I don't think I was wrong about him, he's still a liability to us, himself... and his brother. Even if he means well and wants to the best for his brother, he doesn't think clearly when it comes to KiBum."

Blinking, YoungSaeng frowned a bit. “Why do you say that?” he asked. “What happened between you two, Min?”

"He and were just talking and it got... bad really quick," JungMin said. "He was real worried about KiBum while we were separated, I understood that, but it's like he wasn't even listening to me. I tried to tell him that you and KyuHyun would keep KiBum safe, but I couldn't get through to him. It's how he's been no matter where we're at... if he doesn't have KiBum in his direct line of sight he goes batty. I think I lost my temper a little with him."

“Oh,” YoungSaeng looked away, brow furrowed a little. “Well…maybe it’ll be easier to talk it over with him now that we’re all together again. I agree with you that he’s a liability, but I never really expected him not to be. It’s like KyuHyun and horses; he’s handicapped when it comes to his brother’s safety. KiBum was out of sorts on our side of the river too, it makes me wonder if they’ve ever been separated from each other for such a length of time before.”

"I don't think they have," JungMin said. "HyungJoon will move heaven and earth if he thinks it's possible. He just doesn't care who's in his way if they get between him and KiBum."

“…I think trying to understand is the only way any of us are going to be able to help.” YoungSaeng rested a hand on JungMin’s arm. “He is reckless and a liability when it comes to KiBum…but only time will fix that. They went through a lot and he is getting better, even if it’s slowly. I consider it a victory he didn’t try to jump the broken bridge.”

"I'm sure he thought about it," JungMin said. "He did go after RyeoWook when RyeoWook forgot how to ride a horse." Sighing a little, he ran his hand through his hair. "I'm trying to be patient when it comes to Joon... I really am. I just don't know how to handle people like that I guess. If they can't think clearly about what's going on, it makes me nervous."

“I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as bad if you weren’t already uncomfortable with being in charge,” YoungSaeng quirked a wry smile. “Because the person in charge has to keep a clear head no matter how badly others are panicking.”

"You'll have to tell me your secret," JungMin snorted. "Soon as I show you how not to be afraid of heights."

“Well since we know that’s not happening,” YoungSaeng smirked, slinging one arm around JungMin’s shoulders and dragging the taller man down to his height to do it. “Are you and him gonna be okay, Min?”

"Dunno," JungMin said, putting his arm around YoungSaeng's waist to keep them both steady. "Could be worth it to try though. How are you and prince charming doing? He feeling... up to anything yet?"

“No,” YoungSaeng rolled his eyes, flicking JungMin’s ear. “He’s been getting some much-needed rest, like he should be doing. That’s more important than whatever you are thinking about.”

"Hey, it was an innocent question," JungMin huffed, rubbing at his ear. "Just wanted to know in case I have to tell the children what those strange noises are coming from the forest again." JungMin didn't wait around to get hit again, ducking out from under YoungSaeng's arm and taking off.

“Yah!” YoungSaeng managed to land a kick on his rear as he ran, flailing to regain his balance before he could fall into the mud.

“Decided to try ballet, boss?” KyuHyun snorted, seeing his rather ungraceful hopping around.

“RyeoWook, don’t give him any breakfast!” YoungSaeng huffed, stomping off.

"Don't be mean, boss," Ryeowook said, though he did pass KyuHyun by as he passed out bowls of leftover soup. "He can earn his breakfast like the rest of us by helping out, right?"

“…I have been helping out,” KyuHyun muttered, frowning at the ground.


Tags: fandom: ss501, fandom: super junior, fandom: ukiss, fic: road less traveled, pairing: hyungjun/jungmin, pairing: kibum/kevin, pairing: kyujong/youngsaeng, rating: r
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