Title: Cold and Damp
Pairings: Hanchul, Kyumin, Kangteuk
Warnings: Somewhat gory, as always.
Summary: After Seoul becomes infested with the living dead and the government abandons them; it's only natural that they realise hidden feelings in the midst of disaster.intro
Sungmin stretched under the crispy, silken rouge sheets, wiggling his toes as he yawned widely. He felt much better than he had every other time he’d woken up, though there still lingered the shadow of a headache, and it was light outside for a change, the sun warming his face and making him squint. He sat up, feeling his head spin at the speedy change in position. He propped a few soft pillows up behind his back, sinking into them like he would in a posh hotel. Looking out of the floor length, blue-tinted windows before him he could see a smoky Seoul skyline, grey tendrils winding and twirling into the clouds, the fires of the previous few days having almost burnt themselves out. Cars stood still in the roads between buildings, doors open after the drivers had escaped, or smashed to pieces after a struggle with one of the infected. Papers were strewn all over the streets, blowing with the wind. The sun peeked out between the dirty, grey high-rise offices and other empty buildings, a warm glow falling upon the room in a little square where Sungmin sat and painting the laminate floor a deep amber.
Kyuhyun, for the first time since they’d ran from the college, wasn’t sat beside him. It was odd to wake up and find the skinny teen not there to look back at him. He'd always be bearing that perpetual look of boredom on his face before he’d push a bottle of water in his face and tell him to rest more. Odd, but he took it as a chance to think about everything that was going on, without that blank stare boring a hole into his skull. He kept falling asleep when it got to the important parts, but from what Kyuhyun had said when they’d escaped, and the snippets of conversation he’d remembered from that little meeting before he fell asleep earlier, he could guess at a few things.
For starters, he’d been knocked unconscious by his dorm room ceiling falling on top of him, giving him a concussion and one hell of a headache. He felt like a lead weight, even after three days had passed, but he was tired of sleeping all the time. Secondly, half of the world had been obliterated by the undead while he was sleeping, another reason to stay awake, or he could find himself abandoned here, surrounded by those things outside. It wasn’t like he and Kyuhyun were as close as he wished they were, and he didn’t have any reason to believe he wouldn’t just drop him and run.
And lastly, and most importantly, everyone he loved was probably dead – or half dead. His parents, his little brother, even his next door neighbour. And even if they had escaped, or been evacuated, what were the hopes they’d be going to a better place? The refugee camps were probably infested, anyway, and the infection was all over the world. There was nowhere to run to anymore.
He reached for the black duffel bag Kyuhyun had brought along that was sitting on the edge of the bed, and rummaged around for Kyuhyun’s cell phone. He never used it, and Sungmin didn’t even know why he had one, the guy never got any calls or texts. Ever. It wasn’t that no one wanted to call him, he just didn’t give his number to anyone, he felt himself to be too important for his fellow students to contact. Only Sungmin had his number, and maybe he should have felt honoured to have that little privilege. Truthfully, Sungmin thought Kyuhyun might be a bit of a megalomaniac; if his psychology classes had taught him anything, that is.
He pulled the tasteless, old brick of a Nokia out, and, upon seeing there was still signal, tapped in a well-remembered number. The dial tone rang once, twice, three times before a breathless, hurried voice answered with a booming ‘hello’ that instantly brought a smile to Sungmin’s face.
‘Sungmin?’ Shindong shouted excitedly down the line with a little too much gusto, making Sungmin’s headache just that tiny bit worse, the phone letting out a sharp static buzz. ‘You’re alive?’
‘Just about. Are you okay? There’s a lot of noise in the background - where are you?’ Sungmin frowned. The line started to go fuzzy, and he didn’t hear Shindong's reply. ‘Hey, hey! You’re breaking up,’ he said, raising his voice. Whatever Shindong tried to say in reply was completely lost underneath the buzzing and fizzing coming out of the cheap cell phone’s speakers. ‘Just text me, it must be the signal.’
He sighed, hanging up and looking at the yellowy-green screen of the phone for a few seconds, watching the little black signal lines disappear every few seconds before appearing again. Now that he thought about it, the noises and the disturbance on the line didn’t sound like a signal cutting out at all. It was as if something loud was happening on the other side, something too noisy for the microphone to transmit properly. And Shindong sounded nervous, worried; as if running from something.
The soft sound of shoeless feet against laminate drew him away from his thoughts, and he looked up as Kyuhyun strode towards him out of nowhere. He offered a smile, but he didn’t get one in return. He never did.
‘Feeling better?’ Kyuhyun asked curtly, dropping down into the seat beside Sungmin’s bed. He looked pale and tired, and a thin sheen of sweat glistened on his brow – had he even slept? Now that Sungmin thought about it, he’d never actually seen Kyuhyun sleep. He’d be on his laptop before Sungmin went to sleep, and when he woke up he’d have gone to classes already. But rather than tired, he looked sickly, as if suffering from a fever. He was fine the last time they’d spoken, though.
He smiled nonetheless, and beamed, replying, ‘Much better, actually-‘ but he paused as his eyes fell upon the arm Kyuhyun was clutching, a rag tied around it reddened with blood and he didn’t miss the pained expression that flickered over his face momentarily, his hand squeezing a little tighter for a second. ‘What happened? You’re bleeding!’ he leaned closer to examine his arm, as a sort of reflex, but Kyuhyun moved out of the way.
‘It’s fine. I got caught on something, It’s nothing important.’ Kyuhyun muttered coldly, looking away and glaring at nothing, but Sungmin persisted, reaching for his arm once again with all the good intentions to help.
‘Just let me have a look at it.’ he said softly. He didn’t want Kyuhyun to get an infection or something, anything could be in the air. There hadn’t been enough time after the outbreak to see whether the virus was airborne or not, if an open cut could turn you into a slobbering, shuffling ghoul.
Kyuhyun swatted Sungmin’s hand away aggressively and gave him a hard look, enough to make Sungmin shrink back. ‘What part of ‘it’s fine’ don’t you understand?’ he hissed, sharply looking off towards the windows moodily, his brows set in a deep frown. Sungmin pouted and pulled his knees up to his chest under the duvet, pushing himself back into the plush pillows.
‘I was just trying to help,’ he mumbled timidly. Kyuhyun ignored him, still looking off into the distance with a glassy gaze, his mouth hanging slightly ajar, and Sungmin risked a small smile. ‘You look like a zombie.’
Kyuhyun seemed to snap out of his daze at Sungmin’s little comment, and turned to look at the fragile boy beside him, a deep frown on his face and a nervous look in his eyes. The older boy shrunk back into his pillows, big, brown eyes wide and scared; and Kyuhyun relaxed his expression, feeling guilty for scaring him when he’d obviously done nothing wrong. He couldn’t explain it, he just felt so angry. He heard Sungmin whisper a ‘sorry’ as he looked away guiltily, and he was torn between telling the older boy what had really happened and just letting things run their course. If he told him, he’d tell the others, and they’d kill him, right?
Of course they would. It’s what he would do.
Sungmin seemed to cheer up almost instantly, though, the awkward atmosphere between the two dissipating when the smell of food flooded his senses, and with a newfound strength he practically skipped out of bed, bare feet patting against the wooden floor. He made for the restaurant up ahead, already tasting the food in his mouth, but noticing Kyuhyun hadn’t moved an inch he stopped. He raised an eyebrow and asked: ‘You’re not going to eat?’
Kyuhyun shook his head slowly, mechanically, looking through the window off into the distance once again, that same dazed expression on his face. ‘I’m not hungry.’
Sungmin frowned for a second at his roommates lack of appetite, he hadn’t seen the older boy eat in about two days, but he guessed he was just tired, and he’d rather sleep than eat right then. He turned away and carried on walking, not taking another look back.
But as Sungmin shrugged and carried on walking, Kyuhyun unwound the bloodied scrap of material wrapped around his arm. It wasn’t the fact that half of his skin came off with it that disturbed him, it was the fact that he felt absolutely nothing, not even the tiniest bit of nausea as he regarded the mottled flesh hanging limply off the bone, a sickly yellow colour surrounding the wound outlined by a bruised purple.
But there was something else, something that should have disturbed him even more. When he’d told Sungmin he wasn’t hungry, he was lying. Because truthfully, he was starving, and when he’d laid his eyes on Sungmin, the only thought running through his mind was just how delicious he looked. How easy it would be to take a chunk right out of his pale, soft flesh. The sun was blinding to his eyes as they slowly paled in colour, as his pupils blew wide like a dot of ink bleeding into paper, and he stood from his seat clumsily, his feet becoming uncoordinated as he made his way unsteadily to the ground floor.
But all the more disturbing was that he didn’t find any of his thoughts, any of his behaviour disturbing in the slightest. Not even how fast the changes had happened, he’d only been bitten two hours ago. In fact, it seemed perfectly logical. He was sick, that was all, just sick. He wasn’t turning into one of those things, definitely not. People like Kyuhyun never died first, they survived, stood superior over the other survivors. He was far superior to them, he had intelligence, they were all too caught up in their own little drama to make a plan, to get out.
He’d survive until the end, even if that meant he’d kill the others to do it.
Shindong threw his large body behind an abandoned car. His chest heaved out deep, strained breaths as he brought his inhaler to his lips, taking deep gulps as it opened his airways. All around him was a picture of a city destroyed, abandoned. Cars stood motionless in the street, alarms screeched in the distance. Some cars still contained their drivers, their passengers, heads lolling back against the headrest, or against the wheel, an endless beeping from the weight as flies swarmed hungrily through the broken windows. Others were smashed and beaten up, either from a hasty escape or an unfortunate scuffle with one of the infected.
He was slumped on the concrete, his back pressed against the rear of an SUV as he rested his sweaty forehead against the cool, black metal. The only sound he could hear was the ringing of alarms and the drone of a car horn being pressed, and, though quieter, the monotonous groan of the approaching undead, the same ones he’d been running away from all morning.
He’d been disturbed that night from his sleep by a sudden crack, a bang from outside the house he was hiding in. When he opened his eyes it was dark, the room almost pitch black save for the dim, blue light coming from the kitchen window. He couldn’t have been asleep for more than four hours. He stood up uneasily on his wobbly, tired feet and groggily made his way to the window, tripping on objects in the dark on his way.
Pulling back the thick curtains and lifting the lacy netting, he realised just how bad of an idea it had been to stop running, to sleep without securing his shelter. At least ten zombies stood outside of the house, steadily drawing nearer on their unsteady feet. One had its mangled face pressed against the glass, its long, gnarled fingernails scratching at the clear panel between it and Shindong, slowly and aggressively steaming up the window with every laboured breath. They must have followed him when he’d ran from them only a few hours ago, and he guessed he should have been thankful they’d taken so long.
He let the material fall from where it was bunched up in his hand and slowly walked backwards to where he’d been sleeping moments before, and he sat, resting his elbows on his knees and his head atop his hands, thinking, formulating a plan. Food. He needed food. He wouldn’t get far on an empty stomach, and all he’d eaten since he’d been abandoned was snacks. Lots of them, but still snacks. He got to his feet and walked into the kitchen, grabbing the ratty backpack he’d dragged along with him since he’d ran from college on the way.
He scavenged through the cupboards in the dim light, all half-empty after whoever lived here had stocked up and ran. A few cans of beans sat at the back of the cupboard behind all the seasonings and perishables, and he took them along with a few tins of mackerel and a multi-pack of chocolate bars – just in case he needed a quick boost of energy. He opened the fridge and recoiled, scrunching up his nose at the smell of mouldy cheese and out of date milk before grabbing a cool bottle of water and taking a generous swig. He shoved everything deep into his bag, leaning against the marble counter top to take a deep breath.
To anyone else, maybe he’d have looked calm and collected, but he could feel his hands trembling ever so slightly, and his heart was seconds away from bursting out of his chest. You see, Shindong didn’t really know what to do when it came to working alone, especially in such an alien situation. With Ryeowook and Jongwoon leading the way, he didn’t have to think about what to do next. He didn't have to worry about whether he was seconds away from being zombie meat. He knew someone would be there to back him up. But alas, he wasn’t part of their plans, and they’d left him to rot.
He didn’t blame them, though, he’d have done the same if he was in their position. He was just holding them back; eating all of their supplies, slowing them down with his asthma – three days to prove he was worth bringing along, and all he'd proved was that they’d have been better off leaving him behind. Maybe if it was just him and Jongwoon, just the two of them alone, he’d be in a much better situation. He knew it was Ryeowook’s idea to leave him behind.
He should have gone looking for Sungmin the minute he’d heard the gunshots on campus. Sungmin wouldn’t have left him behind. He probably didn’t survive that night, though. He doubted his room mate would’ve saved him, he doubted his room mate even noticed anything was going on outside of that stupid computer screen. He shrugged the feeling of loneliness and dejection from his shoulders, though, and focused on the problem at hand. How long would it take for them to break in? They were pounding on the glass now, pounding on the front door, too. It sounded like more had gathered, the moans had got louder, as if seeing his face had given them a whole new sense of determination. Five minutes? Ten? Probably long enough to jump in the shower, if the water worked, but it wasn’t worth the risk – he’d gone longer without washing, it was no big deal.
A smash resounded through the house, the curtains in the front room being tugged out through the window as an old lady pulled herself through, her left leg mauled and bloody as she dragged it over the ledge and fell to the floor; and he decided it was probably time to get a move on. He grabbed the rucksack off the counter and went to twist the handle of the back door, but it was stiff and wouldn’t budge. Locked.
‘Shit’ he cursed, and he looked nervously back into the living room, seeing the old woman drag herself slowly and limply towards him, the others following her through the window but getting stuck as they all tried to climb in together, obviously too braindead to understand teamwork. He frantically pushed the handle up and down before giving up and rushing around the kitchen in a panic, pulling open every drawer, checking every ledge. He let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding as his hands found something cold at the back of a drawer, and he pulled out the keys, smiling to himself as he turned and coming face-to-face with the old woman, her prune-like face a sickly yellow as saliva dripped from her puckered lips.
He head butted her. Completely on reflex, and she collapsed to the cold kitchen floor as he clutched at his forehead in mute agony, silently praising himself for surviving. He didn't think about the fact that he'd just head butted an OAP, and seeing the others finally getting through the window, all falling to the floor in a big, tangled zombie mess, he rushed back over to the door, pushing the keys in and twisting them before pulling the handle down and sprinting out of that place.
It was a long way back to the main road, and the only way out of the maze of houses was over the fences. So he jumped them, putting his agility to the test, though a few toppled over at the sudden addition of his weight, and he was momentarily thankful he had no one there to see him make a fool of himself. Thirty fences and a multitude of splinters later, and he was back on the street; long and steep and packed tight with cars and vans and taxis and overturned bikes with the wheels still spinning. Shop windows were cracked or smashed, half of them looked like they’d been hit hard by the disaster shoppers, the ones who stocked up on useless things when the apocalypse came to their doorsteps. One window was cracked and bloody, red handprints smeared across the glass.
The entire street was silent, not even the sound of moaning could be heard, and he relaxed. Maybe he’d lost them? He took the moment of peace to take a look around. Walking down the sidewalk, he could see just how badly it must have been for people when everything had fallen apart. With so many people trying to evacuate, the traffic must have been immense, and it was so easy for someone to get infected without even expecting it. They could have their sick grandmother wasting away in the back seat, only to have her take a chunk right of their unsuspecting neck, secured in place by a nice, tight seatbelt and no one insane enough to help. A few of the cars looked like the drivers had died from the off, though, their bumpers all crushed up from behind, and a generous amount of blood splashed against the windscreen. The lucky ones.
It was odd, he thought, how no one at college had known what was going on outside. Not even a whisper or rumour had passed around from friend to friend. They knew nothing until they were shot down, not even knowing why it was happening. Sure, they knew about the accidents happening around the world, but they were young, who actually paid any attention to the news? It was treated the same way as UFO sightings, meaning, it was ignored, laughed at. Just a media scare.
Suddenly, Shindong felt his leg shake violently, a buzzing followed by what felt like the loudest noise he’d ever heard as his trouser pocket started singing one of his favourite pop songs. Shit. He didn’t even have to look to know he’d just woken up a whole nation of undead, he could hear them well enough. He didn’t stand around, ducking and diving behind the cars before throwing himself behind a big, black SUV and pulling his flip phone from his pocket, cutting off the song he’d really started to hate.
‘Hello?’ he shouted into the receiver. The zombies were setting off car alarms all over the place, he couldn’t hear a thing.
‘Shindong?’ came a crackly reply, but he recognised the voice, and he would’ve jumped up and cried aloud if he wasn’t about to get ripped apart by bloodthirsty cannibals. Sungmin was alive. He didn’t believe it, he wasn’t completely alone after all. He voiced his incredulity as to whether his best friend was really alive or not, but at that moment another car alarm went off close by, screeching and whirring and making his eardrums thud and throb. He heard Sungmin calling to him down the line, but he needed to move, they were getting closer. ‘Just text me, it must be the signal.’ were the last words he heard before the line cut out, replaced by a rhythmic beep. He cursed under his breath, he really had no luck at all.
He went to run, already mid-sprint when he heard a buzzing, a humming of sorts from above, distinctive over the moaning chorus of undead. He looked up, squinting as the sun burned at his tired eyes, and what he saw made him nearly scream with joy.
Sungmin felt his stomach growl urgently as he padded barefoot into the first floor restaurant. The lights were off, but, like the rest of the floor, lengthy windows filled the room with a deep amber glow. The quiet rumble of conversation could be heard from the far corner of the restaurant where Heechul, Hankyung, Jungsu and Youngwoon were sat on the two adjacent plush, coffee coloured sofas there. Four steaming mugs of coffee and a plate of toast sat between them on the clear glass table. Everyone looked fresher, cleaner, and not just because they'd all found a change of clothes. He wondered if there was a shower here or something.
Youngwoon had his arms folded on the table, his head resting atop them and his tensed shoulders visible through his white t-shirt. He was oblivious to the scathing scowl Heechul was burning into his skull from across the table, legs crossed and arms folded over his chest. Hankyung and Jungsu were deep in conversation, mugs of coffee in hand and serious expressions on their equally handsome faces, and only when Sungmin sat timidly beside Hankyung did they pause in their exchange, focusing their attentions on him.
‘Feeling better?’ Jungsu asked, a polite smile in place, and Sungmin nodded, almost diving for the cold toast Jungsu pushed his way. ‘We didn’t make you any breakfast, I didn’t know if you’d be well enough.’ He said, but Sungmin was too busy cramming the toasted bread down his gullet to reply.
‘Were you bitten at all?’ Hankyung asked Jungsu, apparently continuing their conversation. His tone was conversational and light, but Sungmin didn’t miss the implications of what he was asking, nor how serious a question it was.
Jungsu shook his head, ‘No,’ he said, ‘Thank God. Heechul got it before it could do anything.’
Hankyung nodded in – what Sungmin could only define as – relief, and Heechul sat smiling smugly beside him. Sungmin looked between the three of them with a lost expression, waiting for an explanation which, at length, Jungsu gave him. Apparently he’d been caught off guard during the night, nearly bitten while he was showering, but Heechul heard him scream and got there in time to snap its neck. How he did it, how he knew how, they didn’t ask or explain. Hankyung said he didn’t know how it could have got in – or even worse – how he’d missed it. And if it really was already inside, why had it waited so long to attack? Hankyung had been in the building for over five days, yet he hadn’t so much as heard anything moving around.
Sungmin wasn’t paying attention, though. His eyes fell to his hands, palms down on his knees, trembling slightly. Kyuhyun was on watch after Jungsu and Heechul, wasn’t he? Surely… surely he’d have told them if he’d been bitten. Right? He wouldn’t put Sungmin in danger like that, would he? Maybe he really was just looking out for himself, maybe bringing Sungmin along was just a force of whim, or worse, bait. A decoy. But he’d said that wound on his arm was an accident, that he’d caught himself on something – why would he lie?
He looked up abruptly, wide eyes staring into those looking back. Heechul and Jungsu wore worried looks – well, Heechul looked more amused than worried – and as always, Hankyung looked at him blankly. It was as if the Chinese man knew exactly what was running through his mind. It scared him.
‘Sungmin, are you sure you’re feeling okay?’ Jungsu asked, leaning closer and gently placing his hand atop his own where it sat on his knee. ‘You’ve gone terribly pale,’ Jungsu continued, and Sungmin shook his head dismissively.
‘I’m fine,’ he lied, ‘I just felt a bit dizzy.’
Jungsu smiled and sat back in his seat, noticing Sungmin’s apparent discomfort with his rather ‘touchy-feely’ approach. Hankyung gave him a slow, pointed look before, at length, he spoke up, asking, ‘Where’s Kyuhyun? He’s been glued to your side since you two arrived.’ he leaned forward slightly, watching Sungmin squirm, ‘It’s odd seeing you two apart. Is he tired?’
Sungmin could only nod, feeling sweat forming at the nape of his neck from the suggestive question. The atmosphere dissipated, however, when a short, sharp beep sounded from his pocket. He hadn’t bothered to change out of his jeans, and he’d forgotten to return Kyuhyun’s cell phone. Fishing it out, he unlocked the screen and selected the flashing envelope icon, opening the message he’d just received.
He read the word aloud, and knit his brows in confusion. He checked the number, and, as he’d assumed, it was Shindong. But what did he mean?
It seemed the others were thinking the same thing, and he held the phone out, all three leaning in to read the screen.
‘What does it mean?’ Heechul asked. His tone of voice made him seem a lot less interested than his expression implied.
‘It’s off my friend, Shindong.’
‘Shin Donghee?’ Jungsu asked, and Sungmin nodded. ‘I thought he went off with Jongwoon and Ryeowook?’
‘I don’t know.’ He shrugged, ‘But I called him this morning. I could hardly hear a thing he was saying, but I think he was alone, and it sounded like he was in trouble.’
At that, Hankyung’s tightly knitted brows shot up, and he smiled. ‘I think I understand,’ he said, and looking at Heechul he signalled him to follow, already up and out of his seat, weaving his way through the many tables and chairs to the exit with a confused – and oddly obedient – Heechul tottering behind.
Hankyung didn’t explain what he understood, only serving to confuse Sungmin further as he read the word over and over.
‘I’m going for a walk.’ He announced after a few minutes of silence, making Jungsu jump slightly before he nodded and smiled, watching him leave.
After Sungmin was gone, an awkward silence grew thick between him and Youngwoon, who still hadn’t moved. He hadn’t even so much as looked at Jungsu since he’d woken up, and he guessed he was still brooding from the events of that night, having had his manly pride severely wounded. After a few moments of quiet sighs and slow sips of coffee, Youngwoon let out a loud huff and stood abruptly, his chair screeching as it pushed back against the laminate. He slammed his large palms down on the table before straightening up.
‘I need a drink.’ He hissed under his breath before he turned and walked out of the restaurant, leaving Jungsu alone, four cups of cold coffee and an empty plate of toast on the glass table before him.
Shindong’s sore, tired feet landed heavily with every step as he sprinted towards the nearest alleyway, his thick thumbs pushing frantically at the buttons of his cell phone. He’d been running again, ever since his phone had gone off and ruined his moment of peace. He didn’t know where he was going, running anywhere to get away from the mass of undead hot on his tail.
He’d barely managed to send his message before he heard the all too familiar noise, and he threw himself against the rough brick of the alleyway, shuffling along until he was in the middle, away from the entrance and exit. The echo of the moans reverberated through the narrow space, he couldn’t tell whether they were behind or in front. He held his breath and just hoped they wouldn’t see him in the shadows.
He wondered if they’d hear his heart beating, it was thudding so loud, so fast. He could see from the corner of his eye one of the undead pass by the entrance of the alley, oblivious as it shuffled past. More followed, and soon a whole group was passing by. Maybe he could escape, it didn’t seem as if they could smell him or anything weird he’d expected a zombie to be able to do. He readied himself to run, already turned in the direction of the end of the alleyway, but he should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. Another group of ghouls had gathered, and started to pass by at the other end of the alley, blocking off all means of escape. Maybe if he just stayed still, silent, they’d keep going and wouldn’t notice him.
But he’d never been the kind to be lucky in desperate situations, and he cringed at the sound of his cell phone, a dull, long sound echoing in the tight, dark space, and his pocket flashed a bright blue. His battery was low, apparently.
It took a split second for them to look for the source of the nose, and unanimously they growled and groaned at the discovery of new, fresh meat. They were faster than before, he thought to himself. As soon as they started coming for him, it was as if he lost all hope. He just gave up on the spot, his mind disconnected from the situation. Was he in pain? He should have been, they’d already ripped his arm to shreds, but he couldn’t feel it. His vision started to blur.
He couldn’t help but wonder if things would have been different if he’d been with Sungmin, if he’d found him. Surely he wouldn’t be in such a dire situation, being mauled by bloodthirsty, mindless cannibals. He should have gone looking for him that night. He wondered how Ryeowook and Jongwoon were doing, if they were in the same boat as him.
He must’ve passed out, blood loss or otherwise. Maybe they’d actually killed him, or maybe he was one of those who turned rapidly. Either way, the last thing he saw were the contents of his stomach spilling out onto the concrete. There was no way he’d survive that.
He’d never know just how close he was to Sungmin, to safety. The Galleria stood but only thirty feet away, and if he’d fought his way through the horde surrounding the building, maybe he’d have got inside. Just maybe.
Kyuhyun leaned against the cold glass door leading to the entrance lobby, his arms folded loosely over his chest. He looked a mess, blood on his shirt and the makeshift bandage around his arm a vibrant red. His wavy brown hair was a tangled, curly mess atop his head, greasy tendrils clinging to his cheeks and forehead. A thin sheen of sweat clung to his face and neck, and his lips were pale and cracked.
Hankyung had closed the shutters over the glass doors of the entrance earlier that morning, and he stared at the grey metal, listening to the sound of hands pounding against the glass and the endless moans of the undead.
It had been almost five hours since he’d been bitten – at least 9am – and he knew it wasn’t long before he’d join those things outside, mindless and hungry and so, so angry. If there was one thing he craved, it was control. He didn’t drink alcohol, or take drugs, because they took away that control, loosened that firm grip he had on life. It was why he loved gaming. He was in control of what he did, how he played, and – sometimes – who he killed. But this was different, he couldn’t control this. If he changed, he’d be just like them, no control, nothing.
He barely jumped when he felt Sungmin gently tap his shoulder out of nowhere, standing next to him silently and following his gaze.
‘It won’t be long before they break the glass if they keep pounding on it like that.’ he commented after a while, and Kyuhyun made no sign that he was listening.
‘You got bitten, didn’t you?’
Kyuhyun’s eyes widened considerably, and he looked straight into Sungmin’s chocolate brown ones with a mixture of shock and rage in his own. He already had a lie forming on his tongue, but Sungmin shook his head, a small smile in place.
‘It’s okay,’ he said, ‘I won’t tell. Just let me look at your arm.’ He looked pointedly at his wound before looking up at him pleadingly; and after a few seconds of silence he nodded, albeit reluctantly, and Sungmin beamed up at him, taking his hand and pulling him towards the pharmacy.
Heechul kicked open the heavy metal fire doors with a grunt, making a loud bang as they hit the wall, and he stepped out onto the roof, dropping the four tins of paint he was carrying onto the concrete. It didn’t matter that he’d taken the elevator, and he’d only had to walk a few steps – he was out of breath anyway. He leaned against the wall beside the doors he’d just came through and let out a huff; sinking to the floor. Hankyung stood far away, in the centre of the wide space of the roof. He was looking up at the sky, a hand raised to shield his eyes from the blindingly low February sun. The wind was strong, his shirt rippling and his short hair waving this way and that.
‘Why did you need all this paint?’ Heechul shouted over to him. He usually said no to any favour asked of him that involved effort of some sort, especially from people he hardly knew. For some reason, he hadn’t even felt the tiniest spark of defiance when Hankyung had asked him to bring the paint.
Hankyung started to pace back and forth, walking the width of the building twice, and Heechul opened his mouth to ask again, thinking he hadn’t heard him, however the Chinese man stopped and faced him before the words left his mouth.
‘What Sungmin’s friend said – Sungmin said it was noisy on the line, and he sounded rushed?’ Heechul nodded, a bored expression on his face. ‘Then he must’ve been outside, in some sort of danger.’
‘Get to the point.’ Heechul moaned, leaning his head back against the wall.
‘If he was outside, he’d be able to see the sky.’ He punctuated his point by motioning to the pale blue sky stretching out above them.
‘So he saw a helicopter?’
‘I think so, yes. He must’ve been in too much of a hurry to explain properly.’
Heechul lifted his head again, cocking it to the side and smiling in a patronising manner. ‘And you think the helicopter will come and save us?’ he laughed without humour, ‘We probably look like ants from up there, they won’t see us.’
Hankyung walked briskly toward him before leaning uncomfortably close. He grinned as Heechul went wide eyed and a pretty shade of red before tapping one of the tins of white paint beside him.
‘That’s what these are for.’
Sungmin walked over to where Kyuhyun was sat, head drooping, arms limp at his sides on one of the sleek marble benches just outside of the marketplace. He knew it was a bad idea to keep Kyuhyun’s condition a secret, it kept gnawing at him in the back of his mind, but he ignored it. He told himself it was because he owed him something for saving his life that night, but he knew he was lying to himself.
He sat down and swung one leg over the other side of the bench, straddling it as he faced Kyuhyun. He had to repeat his name several times before he registered Sungmin’s presence, and Sungmin took it as a sign things were getting worse. Barely twenty minutes had passed since they’d been stood at the entrance, but his face looked even more drawn and pallid, his skin growing clammier. The sweat was visible as it rolled down his neck. He pulled Kyuhyun’s wounded arm to rest on one of his legs, palm upward. He spared a glance at Kyuhyun’s face before he set about fixing his bandage up, and sighed at his blank, distant expression. He could barely remember ever seeing the boy show anything other than boredom or indifference. The only time he saw him smile was if he was mocking something. They’d been roommates for nearly two years, yet they knew nothing of each other. He was risking his life for this... stranger.
He unwrapped a clean bandage from the small first aid kit he’d found on the desk at the entrance of the pharmacy, the one Hankyung had used only a day before. He began cutting it to size and laying it out over his other knee before picking at the frayed, upturned edge of Kyuhyun’s blood-stiffened rag. As he peeled it away he had to hold his breath, the smell becoming more and more pungent until he finally revealed the gruesome sight of Kyuhyun’s wound. He’d expected it to be bad, but not this bad. He had to clench his teeth the quell the nausea rising in the pit of his stomach as the last of the material came away, pulling with it a great wad of Kyuhyun’s skin. The area around where he’d been bitten was bruised black and yellow, dried blood and puss hard and crisp around the edges of the deep, puce wound. The smell was unbearable, though, so much more than the sight. As if something had died, or had been dead a long, long time.
He fought the urge to heave, though, schooling his expression and dabbing at the wound with a cotton swab doused with antiseptic. As he pressed the soft cotton to the mess of Kyuhyun’s arm he spared a glance at the teen with every application of pressure, looking for any sign of pain or discomfort, but his face remained the same, almost unblinking.
‘Doesn’t it hurt?’ he asked, pressing a gauze to the now-clean bite wound and slowly wrapping the fresh bandage around it tightly. Kyuhyun shook his head a few seconds later, off beat, and his eyes rose from where he was previously staring at Sungmin’s ministrations, meeting Sungmin’s gaze.
His mouth ran dry as he looked into Kyuhyun’s blank eyes, not a hint of moisture coating what used to be his deep brown pupils. They’d turned pale, tiny specks of blue bleeding into the darkness of his iris. The skin around his eyes was a sore, angry red against his pallid skin, and his pupils were blown wide, getting closer and closer and blurring before his own eyes faltered and fluttered shut at the sensation of cold, cracked lips against his own warm, soft ones, desperate and rough.
How long had he wanted this? He sighed into the kiss, breathless with its suddenness. It was violent and needy.
It was like saying goodbye.
Jungsu shimmied out of the gaudy pink pyjama bottoms he’d been too tired and shook up to object to wearing last night, and pulled on a pair of beige Chino’s he’d grabbed from the male clothing store he was currently in. Though they were much less comfortable than his almost uniform pair of baggy grey sweatpants, he had to admit they looked a lot better, especially after he’d ditched his favourite knitted sweater at the request of Heechul. He combed through his short chestnut hair with his fingers in the dressing room mirror before letting out a sigh and pulling back the curtain.
Youngwoon was still in a mood – which made no sense. If anything, Jungsu should have been the one in a huff, finding out he hadn’t been able to look after his best friend at all over the past few years. Finding out the man he loved really hadn’t changed as much as he’d led himself to believe.
He took the escalator steps two at a time on the way down, the rubber of the hand rail squeaking as he ran his hand along it. Even if the elevator was still working he wouldn’t have used it. He’d always had a certain discomfort about them, wrought iron cages ready to break down and trap you inside at any time. Even worse in this situation, trapped in a tiny space, the undead scratching at the metal as it barely separated you from death.
His shoes squeaked against the polished laminate as he stepped out onto the ground floor, heading for the market – the liquor aisle, to be precise. Hopefully Youngwoon wouldn’t be drunk yet, though he doubted it. It was surprising how much alcohol that man could ingest in such a short amount of time. He wasn’t a friendly drunk at all, and even thinking about it made him ghost his fingers over the bruises now revealed by his short-sleeved shirt, faded but still there. He’d looked after Youngwoon enough times to know how aggressive he could get from just a sip of beer, he couldn’t handle his liquor at all. He never complained though, because they rarely hung out when he was sober.
He rubbed his hands up and down his arms to warm himself up as he walked down the chilled drinks aisle. He probably should have grabbed a jacket, it being February and all, but it was so warm in the department store that it hadn’t sprung to mind.
Youngwoon was nowhere to be found, but a six-pack of his favourite brand of beer was missing off the shelf, so he deduced he’d at least paid a visit. He sighed and walked back out of the market. Looking around, they could probably stay here for a pretty long time considering the amount of food. Well, as long as the power didn’t cut out completely.
He passed the pharmacy at the far end of the market, en route to Heechul’s attempt at a campsite, but two figures in his peripheral caught his attention, and he grimaced. He’d guessed Sungmin and Kyuhyun had something going on, if the way the younger teen doted on him all of yesterday meant anything, but he’d never so much as seen the two make eye contact back at college, never mind practically maul each others faces off.
He turned on his heel with haste, leaving the two entwined behind him. He lifted a sagging length of material from the entrance of the mess of a camp Heechul had thrown together, manoeuvring his way over duvets and mattresses in the dark in search for the bulky shape of Youngwoon, but the space was empty. He inhaled deeply, bringing his hands to his temples and rubbing gently as he sat down on the expensive, soft sheets. He was tired. He’d barely slept five hours, not enough to relieve his fatigue from the previous four sleepless nights; not to mention a throbbing headache, and he kept hearing a sort of groaning noise in his ears. He shrugged it off as stress, it was pretty plausible. If anything, he wasn’t stressed enough – none of them were. They were trapped in a department store surrounded by mindless zombies,’ yet they were all so calm. Barely a day had passed since he and Youngwoon had arrived and he was already itching to leave.
The groaning noise rumbled in his ears, followed by a rhythmic thud.
It wasn’t in his head, no, it kept getting louder.
He jumped to his feet, swaying slightly at the dizzying sensation the sudden movement brought on, and staggered out of the make-shift tent. He stepped carefully out into the empty showroom, still lit by the flickering candles. He made his way to where the noise was coming from, an alcove to the far left of the room, and edged his way around the wall, peering into the darkness around the corner.
There was a door, dimly lit by the word ‘Exit’' glowing above in a bright green. The banging was much louder now, a constant thudding from the other side of the metal. He could see the wrought iron door denting ever so slightly, and a cold sweat started to break out at the nape of his neck.
He backed away before spinning on his heel and sprinting for the escalator, putting his fitness to the test as he clambered up the steps with impressive speed. He shouted for Kyuhyun and Sungmin as he went, breathless.
He needed to find Youngwoon.
Though it was already past midday, the sun still sat high in the sky, pale and bright against the screen of a cloudless blue. Rain water still coated the handrails lining the perimeter of the roof from the downpour the day before, and the concrete Heechul sat on was still slightly damp. He’d watched as Hankyung had taken bucket after bucket of white paint, pouring the thick fluid all over the grey asphalt, spelling out something Heechul couldn’t decipher from his position, before the Chinese man came to join him on the floor.
He shivered ever so slightly, his back pressed against the cold, hard wall behind him and his arms bare in his short sleeved t-shirt, goose pimples rising along his skin. He’d made the same mistake as Jungsu in not wearing a jacket, but he didn’t regret it in the end. Hankyung wrapped a warm, strong arm around him and pulled him a tiny bit closer, and he felt his temperature rise considerably, for more than one reason.
He didn’t miss the slight smirk pass over the Chinese man’s face.
‘We might be out here all night,’ Hankyung said, ‘You should grab a jacket.’ But Heechul shook his head.
‘I’m fine like this.’ He said. In fact, he was more than fine. He was perfectly content with this.
Jungsu’s sock-clad feet slipped and slid along the laminate flooring of the first floor, running here and there in frantic search of his alcoholic companion, toppling over a few displays on his way. He wasn’t surprised at all when he found him sprawled face-down on the bed Sungmin had been sleeping in only a few hours previously, five cans of beer lying on their sides on the floor around him. They were all empty. One was still clasped tightly in his hand, dangling precariously over the edge of the bed, droplets rolling out and hitting the wooden floor every few seconds.
Jungsu grumbled to himself, collecting up the empty cans on reflex and setting them neatly on the dresser beside the bed. He pried Youngwoon’s fingers off the half-empty can, and he sat down softly on the bed beside him, letting out a heartfelt sigh. He shook the can, and swigged the remnants in one gulp.
‘If only you liked me as much as you liked your booze.’
He stood again, giving a thoughtful glance at the can in his hand before shaking his head and tossing it on the floor. He’d wake Youngwoon up later, give him time to sleep the alcohol off. He’d still be drunk, but not as much. Surely those things outside – he still felt odd calling them zombies – wouldn’t break the door down too soon.
He headed for the roof, assuming Hankyung had a plan. He always seemed to be thinking about something, watching them all talk and asking them weird questions. He surely had an escape strategy. Surely.
He hadn’t seen how Youngwoon’s limp, sleeping form had stiffened as he’d sat down; or how his shoulders had tensed at his softly spoken words.
Suddenly, Youngwoon felt like being sick, and he was sure it wasn’t because of the alcohol.
Hankyung jumped slightly as the doors to the roof were flung open, barely missing him as they slammed against the outer wall where he was sat beside Heechul. Apparently, neither Jungsu nor Heechul knew how to open a door.
The skinny man emerged, breathless, and stood before the two sat closely together on the floor. He looked a lot less 80’s than the first time he’d seen him, Hankyung thought. Sweatier, too. In fact, he looked rather distressed.
Heechul scoffed from beside him, ‘What’s wrong with your face?’
Mean as it sounded, Hankyung didn’t think he meant it in a nasty way. A quirky, defensive way of showing concern. Heechul’s eyes raked over Jungsu’s new attire in silent appraisal, and Hankyung could tell he was congratulating himself inside his own head for the transformation.
Jungsu leaned against the now-closed doors, regaining his breath and waiting for the ache in his legs to fade. ‘They’re going to get in,’ he said urgently, ‘there’s a door-‘
Hankyung cursed, cutting Jungsu off. He’d left the staff door open when he’d let Kyuhyun and Sungmin in, only closing the door on the inside of the building. There must’ve been tons of them all packed into the tiny corridor between doors, pushing and pushing.
As he thought, Heechul and Jungsu watched him expectantly. Heechul was in a state of disbelief at just how careless this man was. He’d said he’d secured the building, that it was safe, yet there was no end to how penetrable this supposed fortress was turning out to be.
‘Is anyone still on the ground floor?’ Hankyung asked, getting to his feet, eyebrows furrowed.
‘Kyuhyun and Sungmin.’
‘He’s on the first floor. Asleep. And drunk.’
There was an audible sigh from the ground where Heechul was still sitting. Jungsu was expecting worse.
‘Trust Youngwoon to get pissed when we’re all about to die.’ He grumbled, ‘What are we going to do, then? Lock all the doors and wait until they break through and maul us to death up here?’
Hankyung scratched his nose absent-mindedly, a quiet chuckle sounding from his throat before nodding his head with what Jungsu could only assume was shame.
‘That’s the plan.’