Taesoo’s head buzzed uncomfortably. His chest felt really, really warm, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t in a good way. He cracked his eyes open, blood making his face sticky, and gluing his cheek to the cold floor.
As the buzzing started to fade, he could make out hundreds of people screaming and cheering, and a figure right in front of him, back to Taesoo, raising his fists in victory.
Oh yeah, he was in the middle of a fight… why was he on the ground?
A nauseating burning erupted in his head as he tried to focus on his surroundings, choking as he vomited blood. The burning grew worse, and he reached out an arm to stop himself from falling into the pungent mess, only to cry out as his shoulder, which he belatedly realized was painfully dislocated, took all of his weight, and he fell to the floor again.
“He’s gettin’ up!” shouted a voice from the writhing mass of spectators.
Taesoo shut his eyes tightly as his vision began to swim, whimpering as a hand wrapped around his bicep and threw him on his back.
“You want more bitch?”
Taesoo groaned in pain, squinting hazily at the dark figure above him. The last thing he saw was a heavy boot slamming onto his chest before his vision went black.
Woongcheol opened his eyes, and was greeted with darkness. A pressure against his wrists tells him he is handcuffed, tied to a chair no less.
“Sorry about the darkness” a smooth voice echoes around the room, “I’m just not sure I can trust you yet”.
“Where am I?” Woongcheol croaked out.
“One of the lower levels of the cargo ship, some men had found you with others, and were going to take all of you as shipments, but I remembered you from when I met Lee Dokwang”
“You met Dokwa– my boss?”
“I knew Lee Dokwang, I had a lot of respect for the man, and I owe him a debt of gratitude. Allow me to honor his memory by taking you under my wing.”
Inside Woongcheol was howling, but he schooled his expression and offered a hand to the man, “It would be my honor”
The Man nodded at Woongcheol, shaking his hand.
I have to find Jungmoon, this is all for Jungmoon, I have to find my Jungmoon-ie.
Shall I introduce you to our shipments? I assure you, we only provide the finest quality”, The Man said smugly.
Woongcheol jerked his head in assent, not trusting his voice. If they have touched a single hair on his head, Woongcheol thought furiously, he was gonna kill everyone on this damn boat.
Gutak growled softly as two sets of unfamiliar footsteps clanged over his head. A small skylight, his only connection to the outside world, was suddenly covered as something was thrown on top of it, plunging the cold cell into darkness.
One of the people seemed to be fussing with the thing on the floor, while the other person started to speak.
“Oh my God, did you see it, did you see the whole thing?” they said excitedly.
“Most of it” laughed the first person, “never ‘ould’ve thought it would be that close”.
“I thought Wolf had it in the bag, but this mutt sure gave him a run for his money”
“Don’t let Wolf catch you sayin’ somefin like that”, warned the first man.
“Ey don’t patch ‘im up too good, wastin’ money on a common stray”
“Yeah yeah, mind your own business kid” the first guy sniffed, as he unlocked and opened the skylight, letting the thing tumble through and hit the ground with a solid thump.
The thing groaned painfully, and as light was suddenly returned to the small cell, Gutak could make out the bloody, pained face of Jung Taesoo. Gutak blinked in surprise, before dropping to his knees and cradling Taesoo’s head in his arms.
“Taesoo-ah” Gutak hissed
Taesoo whimpered in reply.
“We’re gonna get out of here Taesoo” he whispered.
Jungmoon was dreaming. He knew it was a dream because his mother was there. Woongcheol was there too; he was holding Jungmoon’s hand. Jungmoon smiled, he was happy.
“I love Woongcheol” Jungmoon told his mother.
Jungmoon’s mother nodded and smiled, taking his hand in her own and caressing his wrist.
“Don’t worry doll”, said his mother, “You won’t feel anything in a few moments”.
And Jungmoon panicked, trying to pull his arm away from his mother, except it wasn’t his mother because the voice was deep, and husky, and his mother was dead, he had seen her body. The grip on his wrist only tightened, till it was vice like, and Jungmoon could only stare in horror as his mother spoke to him.
“A feisty one we have here”, she laughed, “you’ll get that fucked out of you in no time”.
“This one’s so cute”, said Woongcheol, “You’ll be a big hit in America, they really like the oriental type over there”.
Jungmoon shook his head furiously. No, he thought, please stop, he wanted to scream. Suddenly Jungmoon’s arm was on fire, and it hurt so much, he couldn’t hold back a pained sob.
“Shush doll”, said his mother.
Jungmoon shushed, his breathing starting to even out as the drug took effect. His head felt like it was filled with cotton balls, and he didn’t dream any more.
Someone was calling his name, Taesoo thought. The voice echoed through his head, ringing in his ears and making him wince. He whimpered painfully, noticing for the first time that his head was being cradled in warm arms, rather than the cold hard embrace of stone.
“We’re gonna get out of here Taesoo”, a voice whispered softly above him.
He thinks it was Gutak who spoke, Gutak who is holding him so carefully as if he might break.
I’m not going to break he wants to say, but for some reason his mouth refuses to move.
Hold me tighter Gutak, I don’t want to fight anymore, hold me tighter.
Gutak continues to stroke his hair lightly, barely touching him. Taesoo wants to cry.
It was harder than he thought it was going to be, touring the “cargo”. The Man spoke with pride of his prized fighter Wolf, undefeated he had said. Woongcheol had smirked inwardly, he was sure if this Wolf stepped into the ring with Taesoo he wouldn’t stand a chance.
“What… types of shipments do you usually provide?” Woongcheol asked
“The fighters are very popular, as are the prostitutes” he answered simply.
Woongcheol flinched, it had been a long time since he was involved in business like this, bile rose in his throat at the thought of the terrible things that could be happening to Jungmoon, Taesoo, even Gutak.
“–And of course if the ones we get aren’t good for that, we can always sell organs”
The Man hadn’t noticed Woongcheol’s reaction, and was still walking down the narrow corridors, before stopping in front of a heavy metal door, locked from the outside.
“This is a new batch, fresh off the streets” The Man said as he swung open the door.
He was greeted with an inky darkness and frowned, looking questioningly at the man, who nodded encouragingly. Woongcheol stepped through the door and the man followed, closing it softly behind them. He blinked a few times, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, and inhaled sharply, as what he had previously taken for objects, that lined the wall, weren’t objects, but people. Over a hundred boys were chained down, an IV in the vein, connected to huge tanks in the middle of the room, no doubt keeping them sedated.
Woongcheol thought he was going to be sick.
“Who- who are these kids?” Woongcheol asked hoarsely.
“Shipment AZ579264978”, The Man answered without hesitation, “straight to America”.
As if that explained everything, Woongcheol nodded like he understood, walking through the isles in what he hoped looked like a casual manner, desperately searching for Jungmoon.
The boys strapped to the walls, the IV’s with sedative… Woongcheol wasn’t an idiot, he knew opioids and sex dens go hand in hand. He also knew that they would take one look at Jungmoon, with his slender build and pretty face and– Woongcheol shook himself out of his panic, worrying would get him no where. If Jungmoon really was here, it would be entirely on Woongcheol to get them out safely.
“wherewherewhe–”, Woongcheol froze, the words caught in his throat. He had found him.
Jungmoon sagged against the wall; head lolling to the side, bruises on his wrists sharp against his thin pale skin. Woongcheol’s heart stopped.
“Ahh, this one” The Man chuckled, coming up behind Woongcheol, “a beauty is he not?”
Woongcheol felt his body turn to ice as the man approached Jungmoon, crouching down before him.
“Quit the little troublemaker, it was hard for us to attach him properly, he kept fighting us” The Man said affectionately, running a hand through Jungmoon’s hair.
Fire coursed through his veins at the sight of filth daring to touch Jungmoon, his Jungmoon.
“If you want to try him first, I won’t tell” The Man said, looking at Woongcheol with glittering eyes, sliding his hands to the waistband of Jungmoon’s jeans, pulling them down slowly.
“Think of it as an act of good faith, hell I might just do him after you”
Woongcheol’s vision turned red; grabbing the man by the neck, he lifted him off of Jungmoon, squeezing with all his strength. The Man gurgled, clawing desperately at Woongcheol’s hand, face quickly turning blue.
“How dare you” Woongcheol whispered, raw fury coating his words.
The Man’s eyes bugged out grotesquely, and then dulled, arms drooping to his side. And suddenly Woongcheol felt weak, dropping The Man and collapsing before Jungmoon. Gently, very gently, he eased the long needle out of his arm and pulled him to his chest, rocking slowly.
– • –
Jungmoon’s eyes flutter open, as a loud crash resounds through the room. Blinking slowly, he tries to remember where he is, and cries out sharply as he realizes he’s being held.
“Jungmoon-ie, baby, it’s me, it’s just me”
Jungmoon nods sleepily, relaxing at the sound of Woongcheol’s husky voice, before tensing as he finally realizes the crash he heard was from men wielding baseball bats crashing into the room.
“Stay here for a second baby, I’ll be right back” Woongcheol whispered, resting Jungmoon against a metal basin.
The sound of fighting echoed from the doorway, as well as the thump of many bodies falling lifelessly to the ground, like puppets without strings. Jungmoon suddenly heard heavy footfalls almost right next to him, and realized someone was trying to attack Woongcheol from behind, but clearly hadn’t seen Jungmoon. He looked around; something, he needed something to stop this guy, but what? In the dim light, his he could barely make out his surroundings, but he did see an object glinting a bit brighter against the dark floor, the IV needle. Jungmoon pulls it close and waits; he’ll only have one chance.
The man’s leg comes into view, and Jungmoon pounces, stabbing the thick piece of metal deep into the back of the man’s knee. He yelps in pain and falls to the ground, Jungmoon is on him in a second, swiftly slicing into his jugular, and holding him down until he gurgles his last breath.
Wasting no time, Jungmoon begins to search the body, stripping the man of his coat and belt. It has to be here, it has to be here, it has to be– there. His hand closes around cool metal, Jungmoon grins.
– • –
Woongcheol throws the last one to the ground, eleven in total. His heart began to speed up as he tried to make his way back to Jungmoon. He knew, of course, that Jungmoon could take care of himself, but especially in his current weakened state, Woongcheol furrowed his brow in concern, if he only saved Jungmoon tonight, he would be satisfied. Woongcheol turned the corner to find Jungmoon leaning back tiredly, covered in blood, and a dark figure crumpled at his feet.
“Jungmoon-ie, are you ok?”
Jungmoon started at the sight of Woongcheol, and nodded slowly.
“C’mon we gotta hurry, they’ll find the bodies soon enough”
Jungmoon nodded again, standing quietly and following Woongcheol through the door. Woongcheol could have sworn he slipped something into his pocket, but he wasn’t going to question it. Right now the main priority was leaving the damn ship alive.
“Are we going to find Taesoo and Gutak?” Jungmoon asked softly.
Woongcheol didn’t answer, grabbing Jungmoon by the hand and pulling him down the halls instead.
“We need to hurry, we gotta get out now”, Woongcheol said gruffly, pulling Jungmoon down several corridors.
“What we need to do is find Taesoo and Gutak” Jungmoon said insistently, “I’m not leaving without them”.
“Jungmoon-ie–” Woongcheol began, eyes narrowing slightly.
“We are finding them”, Jungmoon said quietly, glaring fiercely back.
Woongcheol sighed in exasperation, “they keep all of their victims on this floor, we just have to figure out which room…”
“This room has bars on the floor”, Jungmoon looked at Woongcheol sharply, “Do you think?”
Woongcheol pulls the door open, examining each cell, most of which were empty.
“Taesoo” hissed Woongcheol
I soft thump behind him made Woongcheol turn, in time to see Jungmoon fall against the wall and slide down with a soft groan. He was reaching out to help him, when a voice from one of the floor cells called his name.
“Woongcheol, is that you?”
Jungmoon’s eyes widened and he looked at Woongcheol helplessly, nodding in the direction of the voice.
“In here, quickly”, the voice hissed.
Woongcheol peered into the darkness of the cell.
Oh Gutak’s eyes glowed up at him.
“Taesoo’s unconscious, he’s badly injured, I can’t–” Gutak looked at him imploringly, “He needs medical attention badly”
Woongcheol hesitated, before dropping down and breaking the lock of the cell, and pulling open the door.
“Can you lift him up a bit, I’ll pull him the rest of the way… then I’ll help you”
“Be gentle”, Gutak whispered, his voice cracking, “His shoulder, his ribs… I don’t know if he will survive Woongcheol.”
Woongcheol said nothing, reaching down to lift Taesoo out of the hole, and laying him gently on the ground.
“Woongcheol we have to hurry, help Gutak up, we need to go”, whispered Jungmoon, looking about nervously.
Woongcheol shook his head, “I can’t”
“Woongcheol, Woongcheol, please, take his hand please”
The look on Jungmoon’s face almost made him change his mind… almost.
“That bastard” Woongcheol hissed, “deserves to rot here for an eternity”
Tears welled up in Jungmoon’s “Please don’t, not for me, not– It’s my fault please, take his hand, please– I can’t”
Woongcheol felt his rage crumble at Jungmoon’s pleas. Growling, he turned to the cell, clenching his fist around Gutak’s wrist and pulling him forcefully out of the cell.
“This is for Jungmoon you bastard” Woongcheol spat, throwing Gutak to the floor. His head cracked against the hard stone, and he grunted in pain. “If it was up to me you would be dead right now”.
Woongcheol turned to Taesoo, sprawled weak and bloody on the floor, and lifted him onto his own back. Ignoring Gutak, he faced Jungmoon assessing his condition.
“You’re gonna have to walk Jungmoon-ie, I can’t carry both of you” Woongcheol sighed, brow furrowing in concern.
Jungmoon nodded, “I don’t think we have long, they must have found the bodies by now–”
No sooner had the words left his mouth, then a siren started to wail through out the ship. Woongcheol tensed, eyeing the nearest door sharply. Catching Jungmoon’s eye, he nodded towards the door.
Jungmoon raced to the door, flinging it open, Gutak hot on his heels and Woongcheol not far behind. He was met, almost immediately, with a metal bat swinging towards his face, only barely missing him as Gutak shoved him to the side in time, grunting as it clipped his shoulder. Gutak threw the attacker to the floor and glared at Jungmoon.
“Be more careful kid” he snapped.
Jungmoon doesn’t meet Gutak’s eyes, hurrying them through the endless halls. They meet surprisingly few guards, but just as they sprint across the gangplank, the unmistakable sound of bullets ricocheting off metal reverberates through the ship. Jungmoon turns in horror, to find at least ten men at the end of the long hallway, running towards them. Woongcheol had noticed, racing down the pier even faster. He starts after him, stopping when he realizes he no longer hears Oh Gutak behind him. Jungmoon turned to face Gutak, cold dread creeping up his spine.
Oh Gutak stood facing the oncoming attackers.
It’s only when he hears Jungmoon scream, does Woongcheol know something is wrong.
“Detective please, Detective Oh, Oh Gutak!”
Woongcheol turns to find Gutak facing the ship, and Jungmoon on his knees behind him.
“You go, I’m the trained officer, I’ll hold them off”
“You bastard” Woongcheol growled, “We don’t have time for this shit we need to–”
Another round of bullets ping against the metal containers on the pier, Woongcheol flinched as he noticed the armed men were getting closer to them.
“Gutak, don’t please”
Woongcheol feels his heart twist unpleasantly at Jungmoon’s caring tone of voice, and clears his throat roughly.
“C’mon Jungmoon-ie, we can’t stay here–” his voice trailed off as Jungmoon shot him a glare. Woongcheol cleared his throat and tried again.
“They’re getting closer, we’ll be dead any sec–”
Woongcheol is immediately drowned out as the sound of police sirens erupt around the pier. Five cars screech to a halt barely ten feet from where Woongcheol stands, and Yoo Miyoung steps out.
“I got your text”, she said, looking straight at Jungmoon.
Jungmoon smiled, pulling a small phone out of his pocket, “That’s good” he said faintly. His eyes fluttered closed, and he crumpled to the pavement, any strength he may have had seemingly gone as police rushed onto the boat, and began disarming and arresting the thugs.
Woongcheol blinked owlishly at Miyoung, before turning to Gutak and noticing he too was stunned.
“When– how?” Woongcheol began.
“Jungmoon texted me, told me he had been drugged, and guessed that you guys were on a cargo ship. Said he had heard someone talking about it heading to America, so we made a few cross checks and came up with this place, used for international travel by human traffickers and drug gangs alike.”
Woongcheol blinked again, finally noticing paramedics trying to ease Taesoo from his strong grip, and set him down gently on a gurney.
“He’s really smart, that one”, Miyoung said fondly, watching as Jungmoon was placed on another stretcher.
Yoo Miyoung couldn’t help but heave a great sigh of exasperation, as she entered Woongcheol’s room to find that once again, he had removed his IV and snuck out. Considering she had found him in Jungmoon’s room the past three times, she felt it was safe to assume he would once again be residing there. She glared at the officers who were supposedly “guarding the Mad Dogs” and breezed past them without a word as they stuttered out apologies.
As she passed Taesoo’s room, she heard soft muffled voices coming from within. She considered barging in and throwing Detective Oh out, but decided against it even though she knew Taesoo wasn’t fully recovered yet.
Honestly, she thought with a scowl, she can never catch a break with these idiots. Taesoo had been lucky to have only a mild concussion, but combined with the sprained ankle, two broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and a fractured jaw, Miyoung couldn’t believe that after barely a week he was even able to move again, let alone chat up the detective. Detective Oh hadn’t retained any serious injury, a couple of bruises seemed like the worst of it, but when Miyoung had seen the look in his eyes at the dock, when he was ready to die to let the others escape, he looked like a dead man walking.
She hesitated as she reached Jungmoon’s room, wondering if she should walk in or turn back. She knew that Jungmoon and Woongcheol were… intimate, but she hardened her resolve as she remembered the way he stared blankly around when she found him, pupils dilated and dull. The boy needed rest not distractions.
She turned towards the officers, “wait here for me” she said sharply. Miyoung turned to the door again, and twisted the knob.
The sight that greeted her as she cautiously opened the door was not what she had expected; Jungmoon was fast asleep in the hospital bed… as was Woongcheol. The younger boy was held protectively to Woongcheol’s chest, the steady beeping of the heart monitor the only sound in the pastel, sunlit room.
Miyoung felt her cheeks flush at witnessing the private moment, backing quietly out of the room and closing the door softly.
“Nobody goes in here without my express permission”, she snapped at the officers, walking past as they gave her a hurried bow. Only when she was a safe distance from the room, did she allow her face to soften into a smile.
The afternoon sun warmed the sky.