Title: Heavy Hangs the Albatross
Fandom: RPFS, K-Pop, 4minute
Notes: for unniedearest's halloween challenge, prompt: slasher/serial killer
Warning: death/murder, violence, blood
Fandom: RPFS, K-Pop, 4minute
Notes: for unniedearest's halloween challenge, prompt: slasher/serial killer
Warning: death/murder, violence, blood
|Keep walking, her brain screams at her. Walk past all the faces that shouldn't have faces. As far as she's concerned, the mantra of the day is—
Is it even daytime anymore? It might be nighttime by now. The urge to keep walking overpowers curiosity about anything else. She's surrounded by people in a building she doesn't even remember—
Going, going, gone.
The rattle of a phone shaking against wood startles her from what she realizes is a fitful sleep, if it could even be called that. It's still only half past ten.
Her hand shoots out to grab the phone and she shakes away as much of the dream as she can. Ghosts this time; ghosts of people she might have known in another lifetime.
"Yes?" Gayoon sits up, phone against her ear and tries to untangle herself from the sheets.
"So it's true, you're back in the country."
Gayoon doesn't throw the phone across the room like her instincts want her to, but the next words from Jihyun makes her wishes she did.
"Come by my office later, we should talk."
She doesn't meet up with Jihyun, not right away at least.
Time alone to herself is the last thing she needs but she wants it anyway, wants the time to be able to sort out what all the doctors and therapists can't seem to figure out. With nothing but the discordant mess of her thoughts ringing in her ears, her house feels even more stifling than usual.
Her phone rings every few hours. The number is blocked but she knows it's Jihyun.
Sweet, persistent Jihyun who just wants to help and in turn be helped.
It's going to get her killed one day.
The sudden intrusion of Jihyun's call makes everything seem messier than usual.
Time blurs together, she can't tell if she's awake or dreaming or just seeing things again. The clock keeps striking twelve over and over yet it never seems to be noon nor midnight.
She sleeps as little as possible. It's a solution that time and again never seems to work but it's better than waking up covered in sweat and frantically searching for an anchor to reality.
The flashes are quick but they come more often, clearer and crisper.
Just because she stops sleeping doesn't mean she stops dreaming.
It takes two weeks of Gayoon ignoring Jihyun's calls for her to show up unannounced on her doorstep.
"Hello," Jihyun beams at her and it's so genuine that Gayoon can't help but let her in.
She steps in and heads for the kitchen like she knows the place and Gayoon automatically gets coffee for them. For a moment, everything feels like it was before, normal, or more normal, all things considered.
She can feel Jihyun's eyes on her as she looks for clean mugs. The feeling of being watched is all too familiar by now.
Jihyun doesn't speak until Gayoon sets down the fresh coffee and sits across from her.
"How are you?"
"How I always am," she says with a shrug and hides behind her mug.
Jihyun regards her for a moment, mouth crinkling slightly at the edges before asking, "Did you figure out what you needed to?"
"Would I have come back if I did?"
"Yes," she shoots back without missing a beat.
Gayoon doesn't have anything to say to that. She doesn't know how Jihyun can be so sure, doesn't like that Jihyun presumes to know her so well when she can't even seem to get a grasp on her own life.
"Jiyoon's been asking about you," Jihyun says after a long while.
"How is she?" Her fingers tighten around the mug and she tries to ignore the thought that Jihyun probably saw that, saw her twitch.
"Good," Gayoon murmurs and takes a long sip. She winces, it's too strong, it always is if she wants to stay awake.
"Look, I know you think you're..." Jihyun doesn't finish, just waves a hand like it will fill in the blank.
Gayoon knows what she's thinking, knows what everyone thinks when it comes to her. Unstable, crazy, dangerous. It's what they're all thinking but are too afraid to say it.
"I could really use your help on a case I'm working."
Gayoon looks up at Jihyun sharply, the reply is out of her mouth before she can even think. "No."
Jihyun rests her elbow on the table, looks at her with her head tilted and her chin in her hand.
"There are at least five others in this city alone who can help you."
"No," Jihyun says evenly, "they can't do what you do."
"That's the point." She thinks her hands are shaking, her grip on the mug is so tight her knuckles must be white.
"I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important," she says softly. Jihyun pulls a folder from her bag and sets it on the table. "Just think about it, okay? If your answer is still no in twenty four hours then the next time I come back here it will only be for your burnt coffee."
The folder gets pushed towards her and Jihyun stands and lets herself out.
She looks through the files, the notes, the detailed photographs made even more painfully detailed by her mind.
She goes through it all once before picking up the phone and dialing Jihyun's number.
It takes her fifteen minutes to actually press call and less than a second to hang up.
No matter how hard she fights it, she falls asleep.
Tonight's backdrop is courtesy of Jihyun's case.
Stalk the alleyways; be swift, quiet, faceless.
A syringe presses against her wrist, hidden under the inconspicuous coat. There's just enough tranquilizer for the target, no, prey. Prey suggests a fight, even if the fight is short lived and favors one party even before it begins.
The tranquilizer is always exactly measured out for the intended. Always enough to knock out but never too much to cause a premature death. The madness is in the precision and the precision allows for other plans to be carried out, plans that require a tranquilized body that is very much alive.
Efficient, calculating, patient.
When the moment is right, reach out and grab. Timing is everything. Grab the shoulder for leverage, jam the hypodermic near the jugular, and wait for resistance to turn into resigned limpness.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
When she jerks awake, she's tangled in the sheets again, hands swinging in front of her at nothing.
There are still flashes at the edge of her vision, flashes of struggling. She's swinging at nothing and the only way she knows for sure is that she's not actually hitting anything. For now at least.
The clock on the nightstand glares at her. Half past six. She managed a whole four hours this time, so there's that.
The thing about dreams is that you could get lost in them.
Fall too far into the rabbit hole and it becomes difficult to get out.
The thing about dreams when it comes to Gayoon is that her mind doesn't treat them as what they are. To her they're scenarios: open playgrounds for every slash and gunshot to be committed to memory by a mind that's already cursed with attention to detail.
She could see, hear, and feel it all.
"Victimology suggests the killer is male. Everything points to solo jobs so he has to be strong enough to be able to lug these girls to and away from the scenes on his own, but also unassuming enough to be able to get near them in broad daylight. And he's definitely approaching them in broad daylight."
Jihyun sips her coffee, eyes flickering between the pictures and Gayoon. Not once does she say anything about already figuring as much from the information that they have, any rookie at the academy could have told her all that verbatim.
"The kills are too clean."
Jihyun sets her coffee down, fiddles with the cup but gives Gayoon her full attention even when she knows she hates it.
Gayoon averts her eyes. She can't keep contact for too long, never learned how.
"What do you mean by too clean?" Jihyun asks and leans back against the chair, her years of training likely taking over on instinct. Look casual while asking questions to appear nonthreatening. Subtly coerce the subject into being more cooperative, like it's their idea and not the interrogator's.
"It's likely there are other victims you haven't tied to him yet. Messier, probably. It's all just practice until he moves on to the next stage."
Gayoon can make out Jihyun's jaw, it's more pronounced, tightened. She probably didn't come all the way to her house to find out that things would only be getting worse.
"Think you can stay one step ahead of him?" Jihyun stands and offers a hand, a glint in her eyes she hasn't seen since they were in school together.
"Good enough for me."
The halls of the headquarters are unchanged from when she was last here. Same drab office feel, same stuffy air.
"I can grant you a special consulting status so that you can be out in the field," Jihyun says as she leads them through the corridors. "But in order to do that, you have to have a psych evaluation."
If Gayoon didn't know any better, she'd think Jihyun almost sounds apologetic. Gayoon knows the protocols, knows who the in-house psychologist is. There's really no reason for Jihyun to be so worried.
They stop in front of Jiyoon's office and Jihyun looks like she wants to pat her arm but thinks better of it.
"Just—" Jihyun apparently changes her mind and actually does pat Gayoon, albeit awkwardly. "Try to be nice?" She gives Gayoon's shoulder a squeeze before walking away.
"I'm always nice to her," she says to Jihyun's retreating back.
She is nice. Out of all her forced social interactions, she tries the hardest with Jiyoon.
Even though she's probably been briefed about it, Jiyoon still looks surprised to see Gayoon walk through her door. She stands abruptly, hands smoothing out nonexistent wrinkles on her clothes.
"Hi," Gayoon says simply, approaching her desk. She probably sounds sheepish, she feels sheepish. Jiyoon keeps smoothing out her clothes and Gayoon has no idea what to do with her hands.
"Hey." Jiyoon pauses, clears her throat. "Hi."
For a moment it's a silent standstill. Gayoon feels Jiyoon staring at her and she tries her best to not seem like she's avoiding eye contact, even though Jiyoon knows all her habits, knows what she's like. She's probably the only person other than Jihyun who does.
"It's good to see you," Jiyoon finally says, a grin breaking out on her face.
It gets easier after that once Jiyoon takes the lead.
"You don't really have to be here," Jiyoon says seriously, official evaluation papers lying forgotten on her desk. "Jihyun shouldn't have asked you."
"You could say no."
It feels like they're going in circles. She feels antsy, on edge. It's not the first time she's felt like this around Jiyoon and it won't be the last time she wonders why it doesn't bother her as much as it should.
"Did Jihyun force you into being here?" Jiyoon looks concerned, worry lines creeping on her face.
"No," she says and Jiyoon relaxes a little. "I said no, past tense. And now I'm here, present tense. I'm here. And you're here."
"I am," Jiyoon says and smiles. Her hands grip her desk like she wants to get up. After a beat they ease up and Jiyoon stays put. "Remember that, okay? I'm here."
Jiyoon clears her for field duty even though it looks like she would prefer not to.
An hour with each other for the first time in close to a year and Jiyoon is still clutching to her role as Gayoon's... whatever. She's never been completely sure of Jiyoon's role in her life. Protector is too primitive, boxes them into being the kinds of people who need rather than want. Gayoon doesn't think Jiyoon feels like she needs to protect her from the world.
Jiyoon wanting to shield her from everything is wishful thinking so Gayoon doesn't think that either.
The newest victim brings them to a hotel room.
"Female. Roughly the same height, weight, and hair color as the others." Jihyun walks briskly, forcing Gayoon to keep up. This case is getting to her and she can't figure out why. "The scene's been preserved as best as possible. No one has been in or out since it was called in."
Jihyun still knowing how she operates should be comforting, but instead it makes her skin crawl in dreaded anticipation of what's next.
They let her, and only her, into the room.
The walls are painted a deep, jarring red. Red everywhere and all Gayoon can focus on is the void near the bed. The body's been removed but she knows it was there; it's all she can see.
It's late but no one in the lobby bats an eye. That's the nice thing about hotels, people can come and go at all hours and it's normal. What's worse is that it's normal to be half dragging a girl towards the elevator. Everyone just assumes it's the aftermath of a long night spent drinking.
Her face is never caught on any of the cameras. From the lobby to the elevator to the room, there's never a chance for any of them to get a good glimpse.
Swift, quiet, faceless.
The girl stirs. Not enough tranquilizer this time. Intentional?
Yes, everything is always planned out to the smallest detail. A smaller dosage means the intended wakes up when she's meant to, gives her the opportunity to fight back.
The struggle is short lived and soon screams are muffled and then no longer possible at all with a slit carotid.
When Gayoon finally stumbles out of the hotel room, Jihyun is immediately by her side.
She spies Jiyoon standing idly behind her. The hallway gets impossibly smaller and her vision tunnels. No one told her Jiyoon would be coming to the crime scenes.
Gayoon grips Jihyun's arm and starts walking. She needs to get outside, needs air more than she needs to know why Jiyoon is here.
"What did you see?" Jihyun asks after a long while.
"Escalation," Gayoon breathes out. From the corner of her eye she can make out Jiyoon slowly making her way towards them.
Jihyun looks at her pointedly, a question in her eyes.
Gayoon shrugs and Jihyun signals for Jiyoon to come over. Maybe now she'll find out why Jiyoon is even here.
"What do you mean?"
"Why a hotel?" she shoots back tiredly. "The other bodies were found in isolated areas. Hotels are only isolated if you can get to the room without being seen. Why take the risk? He's taunting you."
"It's a challenge," Jiyoon offers quietly.
"Yeah," she says, nodding at Jiyoon. She looks away abruptly, the nonexistent walls feel like they're closing in again. "The room, it was a mess. He's precise and calculating but the room was a mess because the victim fought back. And the only way she was able to do so was because he let her."
"He wants a fight," Jihyun says with a frown.
Back at headquarters, Gayoon skulks around Jiyoon, follows her wordlessly to her office. She lingers by the door, flashes of the hotel room replaced with doubts about what she's doing. She wants to talk but doesn't know what she would even say.
Jiyoon makes her mind up for her and grabs her hand, tugs her into the office with ease.
"I wanted to make mandatory sessions with me a stipulation of your field service," she says without preamble. "Jihyun didn't think you'd go for it."
"She was right."
"Then why are you here?"
The question catches her off guard but Jiyoon looks at her kindly.
"Because no one is making me," she says truthfully.
"You don't have to keep consulting for us," Jiyoon says with a frown. The lines on her face make her look older, tired. "One way or another, we'll catch this guy."
"Stop making it seem like I was coerced into this, I'm here by choice." It comes out a little more forceful than she means to but Jiyoon doesn't flinch.
"But do you want to be here?"
Something is happening, Gayoon just doesn't know what. All she knows is the tightening of her chest and the threat of the visions coming back. Jiyoon continues to stare at her patiently and it does nothing to calm her; she feels like an exposed nerve.
"I don't know yet," she finally answers and means it.
Two steps forward and one step back behind the starting line.
Another body in another hotel. It's wrong, everything about this feels wrong. He wanted them to get a message and they did, the girl in that first hotel should have been enough. There's no logical reason for him to be taking unnecessary risks this far into the game.
"He's toying with us," Jihyun says in a clipped tone.
"Didn't you used to say that arrogance is always the path to downfall?"
"And you said it didn't matter as long as they were good at what they did."
Gayoon shrugs and steps past the tape and into the room. Far be it from her to try and introduce a little optimism.
The girl's body is still in the room.
Besides the tape outside the door, it doesn't look like anyone's been inside. That must mean forensics must not be at the scene yet.
Bruises around her neck, arms, and legs. She put up more of a fight than the previous girl. There's blood beneath her nails but it's likely her own and not the killer's. He's treating everything like a game but surely he wouldn't be that careless.
It doesn't take long for her to piece together the fight from the mess in the room. Furniture knocked over, blood streaked on the walls, painting a message that's received far too late.
But—the bed, the bed is different. It looks worn in, used.
He spent the night in the bed while some girl's lifeless body was on the ground next to it.
"And what's this supposed to mean?" Jihyun rubs the bridge of her nose; she's gone from tired to exasperated. "He's making sure to get his solid eight hours of sleep in between killing?"
Gayoon almost cracks a smile. "That or he's getting really arrogant."
A forensic tech pokes his head out the room and beckons them. "We found something you guys might want to see."
On the bed underneath the blankets is a note. Dirty brown text. Blood.
A familiar scenario: Gayoon storming out of an active crime scene and having nowhere to go. No means of transportation, no real ties to anyone in town, just a pocketful of money that could only take her so far.
Parked across the street is a typical agency assigned black sedan. Jiyoon steps out as soon as she spots her and makes her way towards her.
Gayoon starts walking in the opposite direction. Not necessarily to get away, but to do something.
On impulse she wants to swing back around and glare at Jiyoon as if this is somehow all her fault. The thought scares her and she walks faster. All the various faces she's been exposed to while on this case swim at the edge of her vision; all of them different but in the same exact way.
She ignores all of them and tries not to think about knowing how they all died.
Jiyoon catches up, she always does.
They walk in silence. It isn't until they're stopped at a particularly long light that Jiyoon says anything.
"Have you been to the park at all since you've been back?"
Gayoon's never been a nature person but it's something she imagines herself getting used to.
Jiyoon takes her by the hand, leads them towards familiar grounds: a weather beaten bench in front of a pond. Being reminded of the places they used to frequent should irritate her but instead it calms her. There are a lot of things about Jiyoon that affect her in ways she doesn't understand, doesn't want to even begin trying to understand.
"There was a note in the room," Gayoon finally says once they were sitting. "Alekhine's gun."
"Does it mean anything?"
"To me personally? No, not yet anyway." She eyes the ducks gathering by their feet looking for food. She holds back a sigh, something is terribly wrong if she's envying how simple animals have it. "It's a chess term," she says after a while. "A strategy that almost always ensures victory. A queen and two rooks lined up in a single file. It's good for weakening the opponent and usually indicates the beginning of the end."
"So, what? Is he supposed to be the queen?"
Gayoon thinks it over before replying, "Maybe. Or maybe he's the gun."
Jiyoon's hand tightens its grip on hers and it's only then that she realizes Jiyoon never let go in the first place.
Jihyun doesn't make a big fuss about her sudden departure but she does look at her warily, like she's a petulant child.
"I don't remember you ever being a big chess player," she mutters to no one in particular.
"You forget that you don't actually know me all that well."
"Because you won't let me," she says sadly.
Gayoon, taken aback, doesn't have anything to say to that. She sits quietly instead and waits for Jihyun to look up from her papers.
"Is this what you meant about all those kills being practice?"
"Not this exact situation, but yes, something to that effect. He's preparing for his endgame."
"The final round and we're not ready. Great."
Her brain is screaming at her to keep walking again.
Somewhere along the way she was taught to walk past the dreams and visions masquerading as dreams. Walk past everything until there's only reality.
The problem is that she never learned to distinguish between the two.
She's back at the park, with the bench and the ducks. It almost looks like a nice scene, like something on the back of a postcard. Something is off about the weather, something is always off this time of year.
Gayoon, on the bench, sitting stiffly next to Jiyoon.
Jiyoon. The realization makes her heart constrict.
Jiyoon is there. No one she knows personally has ever shown up in any of these so why now?
On top of that, she's not looking at Jiyoon from next to her on the bench, she's looking at a version of herself sitting next to Jiyoon.
The first thing she does when she jerks awake is blindly reach for her phone to call Jiyoon.
It's four in the morning but Jiyoon still answers with a huskily mumbled, "Hello?"
"Don't go into work tomorrow," is all Gayoon says before hanging up.
Jiyoon calls back, of course. Gayoon wouldn't have had it any other way. Sometimes she thinks Jiyoon is predictable in all the worst ways.
"What was that about?"
"Just," Gayoon fists the sheets in her free hand, wonders if she should be worried they all started something they can't finish with this case, "don't go to the office tomorrow." A beat. "Please," she adds hastily. It's irrational and just a gut-wrenching feeling, but she still needs this from Jiyoon, needs to know that she won't risk going in even though a part of her is telling her she's being paranoid about nothing. It wouldn't be the first time.
"Okay," Jiyoon says softly after a while. "I know you're not going to explain why, but okay. I trust you."
Gayoon can feel her heart clenching tighter in her chest. This isn't what she wanted, she thinks, blinking up at the darkness. Before she can work up the nerve to say something, anything, Jiyoon hangs up with a tired, "Good night."
She lets the phone fall to the floor, knows full well Jiyoon won't be calling again.
Gayoon doesn't sleep for three days.
The usual actions take their courses. She gets restless, anxious. She wonders if Jiyoon heeded her warning, wonders if Jiyoon even thinks about her outside of work.
The killer, still at large, doesn't strike all week. No new girls left beaten and bloody in hotel rooms, no new messages with cryptic threats aimed at no one and everyone. Gayoon had been expecting it, she thinks she knows what the direction of the master plan might be.
She doesn't know exactly what the plan is but she might know roughly where it's going.
"You look like hell," Jihyun says to her when she finally makes it into the office a week later.
Gayoon ignores the quip, takes a seat across from her. "I've been wondering about something since you brought me on this case: why is this getting to you so much?"
Jihyun stares back at her, confusion on her face.
"I know you get a little too attached sometimes but this is different. Something about this case has been getting to you and I can't figure out why. Then I realized, maybe he's not queen or the rook in this scenario. Maybe it's you. And us. You're the queen and we're the rooks defending you, carrying out attacks."
This causes Jihyun's eyes to flicker, she glowers at Gayoon. "Just what are you implying?"
"I don't know. Nothing, yet. I don't have anything, really. I'm just going by what I know about you, and what I know about the killer. That's exactly why you brought me here in the first place, right? You've been letting this case get personal because it is personal, because I think you know who it is. Alekhine's gun. He knows you know. You've got the short path to victory and all you have to do is pull the trigger."
Gayoon stands, feels lighter than she has in a long time somehow.
"You know how to stop all this so stop it."
Another week passes and still no activity from the killer.
Gayoon doesn't know what she was expecting, but it's not this: awkward tension at the office where she can't tell who's avoiding who. She gives Jihyun her space, but she can tell Jihyun hasn't done anything yet about the situation. Gayoon wants to be angry, wants to shake Jihyun and yell at her about all those girls she can't get out of her head.
She doesn't. She doesn't do anything besides try to block it out and hope Jihyun fixes it.
Jiyoon starts looking at her like she's worried, like this whole thing could go south at any moment and Gayoon would snap or something.
It's the same look that made her leave in the first place.
"You're doing that thing again," Jiyoon says matter-of-factly after she bursts into the temporary office Gayoon's been using. "Stop it," she continues and slams the door behind her. "I can't do this again, I can't watch you shut me out again and fall so deep into whatever hole you've put yourself in that you won't let anyone help. And then when you think there's nothing to be done, you just run. You disappear without saying anything and I can't deal with that again."
Jiyoon's standing directly in front of her now, shaking. She looks angry, mouth curved down, brows furrowed, fists clenched.
Gayoon looks away. It's the first time she's ever seen Jiyoon so... distressed.
"It's not fair," Jiyoon murmurs quietly.
It occurs to her in that moment that Jiyoon never once asked why she left in the first place. It's both comforting and saddening to know that Jiyoon knows her well enough to not ask, even after all this time and everything that's happened.
"I didn't have a choice," she says simply. "What was I supposed to do? Pretend that I wasn't going out of my mind trying to figure out what is and isn't real?"
"You could've talked to me."
"Not unless I thought you were just another figment of my imagination playing out yet another crime scene before my eyes."
"Look at me," Jiyoon bends until they're level, cups her face and turns her so they're eye to eye. "I'm real, okay? I'm here and I'm real."
She wants to say, "That's what I'm afraid of." Instead, Gayoon leans forward and gives her brain another reason to tell her to run: she grabs Jiyoon by the front of her shirt and kisses her.
Jiyoon meets her halfway, hands falling from her face to grip her shoulders.
Gayoon pulls Jiyoon down into her lap, lets go of the breath she hadn't realized she was holding and exhales into Jiyoon's mouth. She tangles her fingers in Jiyoon's hair, pulls them closer together until she felt Jiyoon swaying in her lap, breathing hard and uneven.
Her head stops telling her to run.
Stay, stay, stay.
The case is closed not with a bang but with a resignation.
"You were right. I knew more than I was letting on."
Turns out it was someone within the agency the whole time. Not someone on the official payroll—a consultant—but an associate of the agency nonetheless. Less than a friend but more than an acquaintance of Jihyun's, someone who was already long gone even before the investigation began.
"You don't have to do this," Gayoon says with a frown on her face. Leave it to Jihyun to do the nobly stupid thing. "I wouldn't have sold you out."
"No, I do. It... it was still obstruction of justice. If I had come forward with my suspicions earlier we might have been able to stop a lot of things."
Jihyun smiles at her with a sadness in her eyes she doesn't know how to fix. "Thank you, though. For everything."
"Don't thank me just yet," Gayoon replies, frown firmly in place. "I'm not letting you throw away your career over some misguided guilt."
Jihyun rolls her eyes and squeezes Gayoon's shoulder. "I forgot you could be a good friend sometimes."
"Would you have done the same thing?" Gayoon asks idly, watching Jiyoon splay her fingers across her abdomen. "Hold off on finding out the truth when you suspect something about someone you know?"
"I guess," Jiyoon starts, fingers tracing lazy patterns on bare skin, "it would depend on the person."
Gayoon laces their fingers together when Jiyoon doesn't offer anything else on the subject. She lifts her head, covers Jiyoon's mouth with her own and tries to kiss into Jiyoon all the things she doesn't know how to say.
Jiyoon kisses back like she knows, like she always knew.
This is Gayoon with the words on the tip of her tongue and her eye through the scope down the barrel of a gun.