"Yun-hee, Myung-hee, come downstairs please."
Yun-hee removed her one hanging earbud with an irritated sigh and rolled off her bed. It wasn't yet dinner time, and when she'd gotten home from school her father had been sequestered away in his bedroom, speaking in a low, urgent voice to someone on the phone. It didn't take much to figure out that whatever she and her sister were being called for, it wasn't normal and it wasn't good.
Even knowing this, the sight of her parents' drawn faces set an unpleasant twinge of nerves in her chest. Myung-hee gave her a confused glance, as if Yun-hee would know what was going on. Yun-hee just took a seat without acknowledging her, fighting the urge to tuck her legs up underneath herself and curl in like she'd used to when being scolded.
Her father, Eun-jae, was normally a jovial man. He told bad jokes that he laughed harder at than anybody else and had an easy, reassuring smile and warm manner. He always dressed and groomed himself neatly before leaving for work in the mornings, though he didn't shave as often as his wife half-jokingly nagged him to. Now, he was pale and serious, and his hair was sticking up from where he kept distractedly running a hand through it. His stubbly beard, unkempt hair, and tense expression reminded Yun-hee of strange men in movies, drunken bums in the subway who had seen a cold side of life, whom you passed quickly and didn't look at for some irrational fear that their bad luck would spread to you. She clasped her hands in her lap and tried not to squirm in the uncomfortable presence of her father's new face.
Eun-jae opened his mouth to address his daughters and then closed it again, swallowing thickly. Su-mi laid a comforting hand on his arm and he covered it with his own, which shook slightly. Yun-hee saw her younger sister give her another confused and worried look from the corner of her eye.
"Girls," their father said finally, "I was just speaking with your Aunt Hye. I have some bad news."
Yun-hee's heart jumped into her throat. Bad news from her aunt overseas, her parents' shaken countenances... Her mind flew to medical dramas and families gathered around some ailing person as a bespectacled doctor told them how much time they had left. She hadn't heard from Jae in a while, hadn't spared much thought to what he was doing when she sent him snapchats of her making weird faces except to send more with mock offense when they all went unopened and ignored. If his mother's health had taken a sudden turn for the worse, it made sense that he wouldn't be keeping up with his duties in the grand tradition of cousin harassment.
Her father's halting voice broke Yun-hee from her thoughts before she could really start to feel guilty about antagonizing Jae while he was having a family crisis."There was a disappearance in Arizona. A class of students on a trip." She hadn't fully processed the statement before Eun-jae continued.
"Your cousin Min-jae is among those missing."
"What..." Yun-hee was dimly aware that she'd voiced her disbelief out loud. Missing. Missing? What did that mean? That couldn't mean-
"They were kidnapped?" Myung-hee blurted out, leaning forward with her hands clenched into fists on her knees.
Yun-hee shot her a dirty look. "Of course they weren't, why would you-"
Their father raised his hand before an argument could ensue. "No one knows what happened to them yet. Nothing has been found. Hye just told me this today. It has been... it has been several days." His face was pained. Su-mi's face mirrored it. Yun-hee thought her own might too.
"No one knows anything?" She asked.
"There's nothing but speculation for now. Hye said she will call again when they have news. Your mother and I thought it would be best to tell you now."
Best to tell you now. Best to give you time to come to terms with it. Terminal diagnosis.
Yun-hee shot up out of her seat and stormed up the stairs to her room, slamming the door shut. Eun-jae began to rise as if to follow her, but Su-mi held him back.
"Let her be," she said softly. She held her free arm out to Myung-hee, who moved out of her own chair and huddled in close, clinging to her parents and biting her lips against questions that everyone knew the answer to but couldn't bear to voice.
The next phone call came weeks later, in the early hours of the morning for Seoul. Yun-hee sat cross-legged on her bed in the dark, clutching a pillow to her chest and trying to pretend that she couldn't hear her father weeping in the downstairs bedroom. He and Aunt Hye had always been closest out of everyone in the family.
In the morning, he would call them down again and try to explain. He didn't need to. Yun-hee already knew. She'd known deep down for weeks now, and she'd finally gotten her confirmation hours ago.
The video feeds were of surprisingly good quality. Whoever was recording wanted to make sure the audience could make out everything that went on.
Jae was his expected self, cursing and raging and radiating disdain. It was almost enough to bring a smile to her face until that smaller boy attacked him, ruining his leg and tearing a gash in his face. Yun-hee didn't think that she made any noise in response to the visceral scene, but she kept the lower half of her face buried in the pillow anyway, almost peeking out over the edge of it to watch.
The video links continued for some time. She could just skip to the end to see, get her answer and spare both Jae and herself any more of his suffering.
Jae was still alive. In this little slice of time, he was still alive, clawing his way back up even after he'd been brought low. At one point, as he sat on the rooftop and smoked (and wasn't there some delicious blackmail she'd otherwise be holding over his head) he glanced into the camera and their eyes met across time and space.
Yun-hee pointed two fingers at her laptop screen as though she were pointing a gun. Their own private salute, since they were kids.
Jae looked away from the camera, and Yun-hee mimed pulling the trigger.
Alex Parker was hungover. This wasn't necessarily a rare occurrence, though it had become less and less frequent since his one alcohol poisoning scare back in his sophomore year of college. He'd had a pretty good reason to want to drink lately, anyway.
Rolling over to glance at the digital clock at his bedside informed him that it was around 1 p.m. and sent early-afternoon sunlight stabbing into his eyes from the half-closed blinds. Alex muttered a curse and squeezed his eyes shut again for a minute before beginning the arduous task of getting out of bed and dragging himself to the shower. Feeling somewhat more human once he was clean and his headache began to recede, he pulled on some underwear and sweatpants and shuffled out to the kitchen, intent on scrounging up whatever was left of the pizza he'd ordered a couple nights before.
This magnificent crusade came to a halt about one and a half steps through the doorway. Faith was sitting at the kitchen table with her laptop, and at Alex's appearance she started and reached up as though to quickly close it. One look at her inexplicably guilty expression told him everything he needed to know and more than he'd wanted to.
Alex liked Faith. Loved her, maybe. They'd been together for nearly three years now, and she'd always been open and interesting, the way people from big cities up north tended to be, at least in his thoughts. He'd been fascinated by her when they first met, trying to figure out why someone would leave Seattle for Phoenix, why they'd ever express interest in moving somewhere even smaller and more distant after graduation. She made him a better person, sometimes by berating him when he let slip with an insult or thoughtless comment, and more often by just talking and listening equally openly about people and how they ought to be treated. He trusted her more than pretty much anybody else on this garbage planet.
And here she was, guiltily hunched over her computer with her earphones in, though she rarely bothered with them normally. Trying to keep something from him.
He had a pretty good idea of what "something" was.
"...Hey," he said finally, after the silence had stretched between them for several moments too long.
"Morning," she returned.
"It's afternoon," he replied without thinking, and she wrinkled her nose at him. "Whatcha got there?"
Faith broke eye contact at that, her gaze sliding away from him to focus on a spot on the kitchen wall to his left. "Um."
Alex stayed in the doorway, unsure if moving closer to her would make it better or worse. "...What did you find?"
"So," she said, without directly answering his question, "your cousin. What was his name again?"
Alex closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the headache threatening to return in force. He'd need some ibuprofen in hand with that cold pizza, at this rate. "Min-jae."
"Oh," Faith said quietly, confirming everything with one small utterance.
Silence again. To his surprise, Alex felt a lump forming in his throat.
"He's not dead," Faith interrupted. "Not..." Not yet. "He got hurt, but he seems to be doing alright."
Alex and Min-jae had rarely gotten along, between the age difference and the weird tension between Jae's parents and the rest of the family. Alex was pretty sure the main reason Ethan and Hye had decided to get married when Jae was about four was out of spite at relatives who still thought they might break it off. Spite was the order of the day with Jae himself a lot of the time too, spite at being younger, at the awkwardness with which the adults handled him and his mom, at whatever teenage malice Alex had decided to direct towards him that particular day. There were a lot of things Alex had felt justified doing or saying at the time, back when they were kids and Jae was little more than a mouthy annoyance. A lot of things he regretted and probably wouldn't have a chance to apologize for, whether Jae would have accepted his apology or not.
"He, um," Faith continued, jerking Alex out of his thoughts. He raised his eyebrows at her, signaling to continue. "He got a kill."
Something about the phrasing, more than the statement itself, sent a shudder of revulsion through him. Got a kill. Like it was a goddamned video game or something. Scored a point.
His sullen, artistic cousin was a murderer. And he'd passed step one to coming home.
There were what, a hundred kids on that trip? How many were left at that point?
"I need a drink," Alex said faintly.
Faith frowned but didn't stop him as he strode over to the fridge and pulled out one of the remaining beers. He dug around in the cabinet for the bottle opener and took a swig. It didn't do anything for his headache.
"Why are you even looking at that shit?" He mumbled.
Faith sighed. "I dunno, I was... curious, I guess. I felt like somebody in your family would want to know what happened, even if they didn't watch. And you know, it's just kind of ironic I guess, this kind of thing happening again in some place I've lived..."
Alex was halfway through another gulp of beer when that statement sunk in and he nearly choked, swinging around to look at her with alarm.
"Seattle," she reminded him.
"Shit, yeah. I, you- Did you...?" Alex sputtered.
"I didn't know any of the kids from last time, no." Faith smiled thinly. "Seattle's a big city and I went to private school. I guess I never imagined it happening somewhere like your hometown."
Alex leaned against the countertop, feeling weak. "It's bullshit, is what it is," he muttered.
"Fay, could you... I don't want to watch it, okay? I can't."
"I'll keep you updated," she said, meeting his eyes.
Alex nodded and took another gulp of his beer, unable to think of anything else to do.