pg-13 | kyumin, shichul
"run, run, as fast as you can."
"It passes the time — a thought which gives him sardonic amusement; even language cannot manage without time — and anything which helps to pass the time is no small matter when he is floating loose in a nightmare, when he is trapped in a dream in which masked men with machine guns appear but he cannot run, in which the world collapses in on him in slow motion and he knows he will be crushed, he will be pulverized, unless he can run like the wind, but he finds he is running in molasses."
Two years prior, Sungmin would have never thought he would be on board Flight 116, destination New York City en route from Paris, France. Not once did the possibility of someone hijacking the plane cross his mind. Instead, all of his thoughts were on Kyuhyun, whom he'd met for the first time in four years at the airport that same day.
Those strange faxes that Sungmin had received from Kyuhyun told him specifically where to meet him—yet, whenever Sungmin would arrive there, the other man would be nowhere in sight. He learned that those faxes were never from Kyuhyun, that someone must have accessed their secret password, I am in extremis, that at some point in time when Kyuhyun wasn't in his office, someone rifled through his bag. The bag that held the wallet that held the handwritten note from Sungmin that said, in faded cursive, "Simply say 'I am in extremis' while closing your eyes, and abracadabra: I'll appear".
"Your friend?" the passenger beside him says. Sungmin snaps out of his reverie.
"You wanted to ask me something because of your friend." A strange, thick accent coats the voice—fobby Korean overlapping what could have been a Chinese one, though he looked nothing like a Chinese man.
two hours earlier.
Sungmin's carry-on luggage feels heavier than it should. There had been nothing to take with him: a few t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, toiletries, his work, books. He'd never go anywhere without a good book. Granted he had never been the strongest of men, Sungmin had assumed he could handle one bag of luggage.
Across the table, a policeman rifles through his passport and other personal files, all of which have a picture of Sungmin looking awful because they always had the decency to call him on his worst days to take profile pictures.
Sungmin just smiles.
"Koreans have a reputation for being rebels," the policeman states, dropping the passport onto the tabletop and rapping his nails on the glass. "You travel around very much."
"Normally, that's what travel writers do, officer. In order to do my job, I have to be on at least six planes a month," Sungmin explains, switching his crossed legs around. "I spend most of my life on the road."
"Yes, but you have lived in France for two years."
It's Sungmin's turn now to rap his nails on the table. They're long, because he hasn't cut them in weeks. He chews on his bottom lip. "Not... quite two years. I've been moving around a lot. Paris is just my... homebase, you could say."
The police man crosses his arms over his chest. "Why?"
"Why did I move a lot?"
"Why did you live in France?"
A pause. "I met a Frenchman here."
"Ahhh, oui," the policeman nods, satisfied with this answer, as if he's been waiting all afternoon for it. Staring right at Sungmin, he sits up straight in his chair. "I'm glad you mentioned him. Did you know your lover is involved in espionage?"
Sungmin has to hold his tongue when he feels the urge to retort "Of course he isn't, you tete de pine". Instead, he fakes shock and leans forward onto his elbows. "Pardon?"
one hour earlier.
Stepping out of the room and into Kyuhyun was not something Sungmin had expected. The entire situation startles Sungmin to no end. Kyuhyun reaches up and caresses his cheek disbelievingly.
"It's you," Kyuhyun murmurs. "It's really you."
Something tugs at the corner of Sungmin's lips, and he feels himself pulling away unconsciously, but soon Kyuhyun is enveloping Sungmin in his arms and kissing him hard on the mouth.
When they part, Sungmin slowly turns to the policeman and says, "Spare two minutes for an old friend?" In French, he adds, "S'il vous plait?"
"Juste deux minutes, monsieur." And with that, the policeman takes a few steps back, warily eyeing the two, as is suspecting that they're plotting something.
"I saw you downtown. Number 12, rue de Birague," Kyuhyun rambles hurriedly in Korean, still stroking Sungmin's cheek. "I wasn't sure it was you, so I followed you."
Sungmin sets his lips in a line. "You followed me?"
"You're a pro at disappearing," jokes Kyuhyun. "Why are you here in Paris? I mean... I..." he trails off, unable to find the words to continue.
"You should know, Kyuhyun."
But the policeman lets out a deep sigh and uncrosses his arms from his chese. "Monsieur, I must insist," he interrupts, clearing his throat.
Sungmin lowers his voice and, in his native tongue, tells Kyuhyun, "I was heading to the Conciergerie." He can sense that, by the way his—former?—lover frowns in confusion, that he's just as lost as he is.
"Did something happen?" Sungmin has no answer. He looks Kyuhyun in the eye to see if he's joking, or if he's serious, but he soon discovers it's the latter.
Shaking his head, Kyuhyun touches Sungmin's cheek. "Min, what the hell is going on?"
forty-five minutes earlier.
Sungmin is under the assumption that he was escorted by the policeman out by Gate 12, because he has absolutely no recollection of travelling from the room to here.
He keeps his gaze locked on the plane out through the window and watches tiny ant-sized people scurry around like insects. Startled when someone taps his shoulder and whispers, "Min?", he whirls around.
"Thank God it's you," Sungmin sighs, relieved. "I thought it was the police again." He leans against the window, comforted by the cool surface against his back. "Why are you here, Kyuhyun?"
"I'm flying to New York," Kyuhyun tells him, frowning lightly.
"Because you sent me a fax that you were as well, but I only got it a few hours ago. I've been following you for three days." He takes one of Sungmin's hands, and then the other, and entwines their fingers together.
"Why didn't you meet me at the Hôtel de Sully?"
"In the Sully?"
"In the bookshop."
"What do you mean?"
"You asked me to meet you there."
Kyuhyun starts shaking his head. "Wait, stop. This is too confusing. I... why are you in Paris? Why are you here, Sungmin?"
"Because you faxed me."
"Fax you? How could I fax you?"
Confused as well, Sungmin leans back, eyes a little wide. "Your fax said In extremis, and that I should come immediately to Paris. Signed with your name."
Kyuhyun laughs incredulously. "I don't even know what country you're in half the time. You didn't leave me a phone number. No address, no—"
"Swear to me that you didn't fax me, Kyuhyun," Sungmin says desperately, tightening his hold on Kyuhyun's warm hands. "Swear it."
Instead, Kyuhyun bends over and claims Sungmin's mouth, tongue starting a vicious battle of dominance, a kiss so hungry that Sungmin feels that his knees might detatch from his body, and soon, Kyuhyun pulls away, kissing his forehead. "If I had your number, I would have faxed you every day."
"Kyuhyun, please don't lie to me," Sungmin pleads as he drops his head against Kyuhyun's shoulder. "Just give me that. Don't lie to me."
"I swear to you, Sungmin. I swear it."
"Then why did the police tell me you were involved in espionage, and trafficking on the side?"
"That's bullshit," he laughs, and then decides to change the subject. "When does our plane leave? I want to get a seat next to you."
Shaky, but more composed than five minutes ago, Sungmin murmurs, "Fifteen minutes," into Kyuhyun's shoulder.
thirty minutes earlier.
The two of them are informed later on that the plane is way behind schedule, and that they can relax. So when they finally board, Sungmin squeezes Kyuhyun's hand. "After take-off, I'll sweet-talk my neighbor into switching."
But his neighbor, who takes the seat next to him, in seat 11B, doesn't look like he'll be persuaded easily.
"Hi," Sungmin starts conversationally. "Were you held up at interrogation, too?" The man doesn't say anything, so Sungmin surveys him. Seemingly tall, with tanned skin, and lips that curl up like a cat's grin. Definitely Asian, but judging from the way he dressed, he'd probably lived in America for some years. Why did he seem so familiar?
Frowning in concentration, Sungmin tries again with, "Did they make you check your hand baggage in?", for the man didn't carry anything with him on the plane.
No answer. But then the man looks at him, his deep, smoldering eyes burning coldly into Sungmin's, and he can't help but feel some small sense of hostility. Perhaps he hadn't understood him.
"Vous avez dû enregistrer vos bagages à mains?" Sungmin tries in French, and that's when the man smiles at him. But the smile slices through Sungmin's heart like a guillotine. He holds his gaze for a little longer, until Sungmin finally feels the hostility slipping away, replaced with charm and warmth.
The man touches his arm softly. "I'm sorry," he says in perfect Korean. "I got caught in traffic, and I thought I'd miss the plane."
Now Sungmin is curious. "You speak Korean, but you have something else. Something... Chinese?"
He laughs, a rich, pleasant sound that delights Sungmin. "I studied in China for a few years. But I also studied other languages too. English. French. German. I travel, like you."
Sungmin leans back a little. "What makes you say that?"
"I'm just guessing. Your English and French are both very good, so you probably travel."
"I'm a travel writer. And I lived in Paris a couple of years." He held out his hand to the man. "I'm Sungmin, by the way."
A smile, and shake in return. "Shiwon."
They're both silent once the plane takes off—Shiwon reading a magazine, and Sungmin a novel. When the flight attendants pass out the peanuts and drinks down the aisles, Sungmin closes his book. "I have a favour," he starts quietly, turning to look at Shiwon.
Smiling again, Shiwon meets his eyes as he holds his thumb in the place where he stopped reading. "Yes?"
"I have a friend sitting farther back, and... well, we were just wondering, because we haven't seen each other for years, if you could—"
He's interrupted when a stewardess passes by, because Shiwon is now asking for a glass of water. When he reaches for the glass, his sleeve rides up his arm, and Sungmin sees the tattooed S on his wrist. And his breath catches in his throat, because he knows he's seen that before.
"Your friend?" Shiwon asks him. "Whom you haven't seen for years?" But now he's not speaking in Korean. He's started in French. Ton ami? Que tu n'as pas vu depuis des lustres?
A sense of fear and confusion builds up in Sungmin's gut, but not because a total stranger had addressed him as tu, but more so because those words sounded so familiar.
Suddenly it all came back. Kyuhyun, Shiwon, and a cold, unlit stairwell.
It was during one of his first wintry months with Kyuhyun. The weather had been bitterly cold back then, and Sungmin was the only one with a decent heater on his apartment, so Kyuhyun stayed with him for a while.
Down the stairwell, Sungmin vaguely catches sight of Heechul, his neighbor, and greets him. Annyoung, Heechul. Annyoung, Sungmin. That's when Sungmin notes that he's with his boyfriend, who Sungmin has never seen face to face, but catches his grin sometimes in the dark. He has an S tattooed on his left wrist.
"Kyuhyun!" Heechul calls out in surprise. Astonished, Kyuhyun gapes.
"You two know each other?" Sungmin asks in shock. He hadn't expected that.
"It's been a while," Heechul says with a smile. "Tu vas bien, Kyuhyun?"
"Ça va," he laughed. "Et toi?"
On the stairwell, Heechul's boyfriend slips his hand over Heechul's, which is on the banister. "Ton ami?" he inquires of Sungmin, smirking.
Kyuhyun stiffens visibly, and Sungmin touches his wrist gently. "Don't worry about it. Just let it go." They watch the other two descend the stairs, and Sungmin shudders when the boyfriend glances up and smirks at him.
"Your friend," Shiwon, in Korean, prompts him.
Sungmin blinks. "What?"
"You wanted to ask me something because of your friend," he explains, as he unfastens his seatbelt and relaxes in his chair. He's smiling at Sungmin, because, Sungmin realizes, he remembers him.
Stupidly, he asks, "What does the S stand for?"
"It stands for Simba," Shiwon reveals, smiling. "The leader of the pride. King of the lions," and then there's an announcement over the intercome that due to turbulence, passengers must stay in their seats, but there is no turbulence, and Sungmin ignores the voice and stands up with a quick "Excuse me", but then everything speeds up and Shiwon, codename Simba, is pulling something silver out of his shoe and pressing it to Sungmin's throat so that it's just a prinpick against his skin.
Roughly, Shiwon drags him into the aisle, and Sungmin watches in slow-motion as men with pig masks and machine guns storm out of first-class, and then there is screaming and gunshots and then blackness when Sungmin falls.
The next time Sungmin wakes up, it's with an intense fever. His eyes are blurry, his throat is sore, and his mouth tastes like dishsoap. When he raises his hand to his neck, he feels dried blood. His elbow brushes against something hard, and suddenly Sungmin is drowning in panic.
"Move!" someone yells, and Sungmin is brutally shoved out of what he assumes is a van. He doesn't remember the plane landing. His head feels like it's inside a jar, when it's really only a helmet, and Sungmin takes a second to think, why the fuck does he have a helmet on his head?
Someone kicks him from behind, as if to say "Get up", but Sungmin's legs won't support him when he's on his feet, and he slips like a scarf to the hard asphalt. He sees boots, and machine guns, and pig masks, and other bodies, and Sungmin feels like hurling as someone picks him up and tosses him like a sack in the back of a jeep.
Over time, Sungmin faints, gains consciousness, then faints again. He isn't sure what comes first. All Sungmin knows, as his head hits the floor from the jarring bumps the vehicle is going over, is that he's on a jeep heading straight into hell.
Again and again and again his head slams against the floor, and when the jeep starts slowing down, he's helped to his feet. Sungmin can hear another jeep somewhere outside.
Then there's whiplash, and a loud, painful screech of breaks.
The helmet is yanked from Sungmin's head, and he breathes in the fresh, cool air, and oh God, isn't that Kyuhyun he sees over there? Everything jostles when he's hit on the lower back with the butt of a gun, and he stumbles forward. Somewhere in the sky fireworks go off—maybe gunshots—and soon there're actual gunshots going off in the air, and Sungmin hears cheering men.
"This is the end of Flight 116," announces a voice in English. "Welcome to Pyongyang. Welcome to Pyongyang Airport." Sungmin knows that voice. But why are they in North Korea?
Memories flood back to him: Kyuhyun, Simba, crying children, screaming, gas masks, guns. Sungmin is so confused, so lost, so detached from reality until a hand slides into his. Kyuhyun. They slump against each other in relief, weak with joy.
"Ten of you," Simba says, "have been handpicked by me personally to live. Everybody else on that plane is going to die today. It's that simple, and you'd better say your prayers."
Somebody cries out, "What do you mean, they're all going to die?", but one of the hijackers puts a bullet into his head, and there's screaming and madness, and Kyuhyun's hand leaves Sungmin's when he's hit upside the head with a gun butt.
"You're all going to live, don't you understand?" Simba is saying again. "You'll all be famous. Your names and faces will be all over newspapers around the world."
He's speaking normally, but Sungmin hears his words as blurred. As he's ushered into a velcro suit and boots and gloves, he hears Simba. You have just been issued protective suits and mitts, and fresh gas masks with fresh filters. Sealed into protected space, after which... in agony, as you already know... if you removed your gas masks... any part of your protective clothing... you will die.
Gunshots sound in the air, and a man is yelling something in Korean. He can understand it, as can Kyuhyun, though he doesn't know where he is. Simba translates, but Sungmin isn't listening anymore.
Instead, Sungmin is looking around for Kyuhyun, yet he's unable to tell because of the masks. Tears well up in his eyes, because he doesn't believe Simba for a second that he's allowing them to live. He thinks they're all going to die, everyone from Flight 116.
Sungmin's legs are moving again, and he thinks there is a word for this, this feeling of sinking, drowning, going under. The word doesn't come to mind; instead it is lost in the sea of words swimming in Sungmin's mind: rue de Birague, in extremis, sarang hae, Conciergerie, Pyongyang, je t'aime, Black Death, Simba, the king of lions, explosions, searing heat, pain...
Triage, that is the word.