here’s the problem:
jongin’s life is like a car whose battery has run dead and he can’t find any cables to jumpstart it with.
A/N: The sequel to my sekai i wrote a few months ago, Forward Motion. Someone requested this in a comment and I offer my most sincere apologies because I'm sure this isn't what you had in mind. A huge thank you to Maggie for helping me figure out what was really missing here and giving it a thorough read over.
Best if read while listening to Slow Motion and Slow [e] Motion by Epik High.
warnings: character death and possible suicide
The Speed of Memory
The last time Jongin drove a car was before he had moved to the city and so it takes him a few blocks to get a feel for the brakes and the clutch under his feet. The sun is just beginning to set behind the horizon, gilding the clouds golden against the blue sky and the city air seems to smell fresher through the open driver’s side window.
The light turns green and Jongin tightens his grip around the steering wheel, gearshift moving easily under his other hand. Luhan hadn’t even blinked when he’d asked to borrow the fastest car he had, simply handing him a set of keys and typing in the code on the garage keypad to let him in. The car is red with black accents, all sleek lines and headlights. Jongin thinks Sehun would have liked it.
Here’s the problem:
Jongin doesn’t think he’s seeing his life clearly anymore. Instead it's like those faded 70’s home movies, where he can catch the switch of each frame slightly, none of the movements on screen as smooth as they should be, and all of the colors are a little washed out. In the background he can hear the clicking of the projector as it plays, slowing from 50 to 30 to 24 frames per second.
He knows he’s imagining it, but sometimes he thinks that the film is gradually running slower and slower behind his eyes, a gradual ritardando.
He can feel the engine purr beneath his fingers as he accelerates, moving from gear to gear seamlessly, a masterpiece of engineering. He’s going so fast now that he’s begun weaving through traffic, running red lights rather than slowing down and the sound of honking is slowly being drowned out by the revving of the engine. It’s dusk now, city lights blurring past like comets and stars in the night sky and Jongin’s ears are ringing from the battering of the air through the open windows. The bridge is wide, two lanes each way, and lit with the red of brake lights suspended two hundred feet in the air by metal and concrete and wires.
He can’t see, he can’t even breathe, the suffocation of pure speed crushing his ribcage and heart along with his seatbelt. He swerves, knuckles white on the steering wheel. Instead of the screeching of tires, Jongin hears the frantic beating of his pulse in his ears. The edge of the bridge rushes up to meet him and when he looks out the windshield, there is no road, only blissfully open air.
Here’s the problem:
There are mornings where Jongin will open his eyes and everything is moving so slowly, specks of dust hanging almost motionlessly in the shafts of sunlight coming through the shades, his blood inching though his veins like the gridlock morning traffic on the roads, that he thinks, this must be it, this must be what it feels like when your life finally, inevitably comes to a stop.
Jongin doesn’t go to the funeral. He’s not surprised that he wasn’t invited — there was no reason for him to be. In fact, the only reason he knows there was a funeral to miss is because he saw it in the newspaper. The obituary said a lot of nice things about how the world had lost a promising young artist and businessman but it didn’t say anything about the way the scent of Sehun’s cold sheets never changed no matter how many times someone else’s skin rubbed against them, or how his fingers would curl hesitantly, tightly into the side of Jongin’s jacket as they walked down the street because he didn't want to hold hands but somehow didn’t want to let go either, or the unsettling evenness of his voice on his answering machine.
In fact, there is so little record of the person Jongin knew Sehun to be that sometimes, when he’s just on the edge of sleep and everything seems a bit dreamy anyway, he wonders if he just made the whole thing up.
There’s one photo that he has of them together, taken during one of Sehun’s few unguarded moments, right around Lunar New Year, cheeks not quite pressed together but both of their eyes are shining and there’s a small curl to the edges of Sehun’s mouth that helps ease the tightness in Jongin’s chest a bit whenever he breaks down enough to look at it.
Because even if it was just for that moment, he hadn’t been completely crazy about it all.
Here’s the problem:
Jongin doesn’t doesn’t know if he’s heartbroken, really. It’s just that since Sehun’s death his life has been at a standstill and he can’t seem to get it going again. He’s not sure if he can say it’s because he lost someone he loved because he’s only ever cried once about Oh Sehun and the count seems terribly inadequate when compared to the pain people describe when they talk about the breaking of a heart.
He had been on the way home from work, lights blurring in the train windows as dusk fell, the air still muggy and hot even without the sun, and his arm was beginning to ache from the way he had to grab the handhold as he tried to stay upright in the crowded car. There had been a small boy, no more than four or five years old, with his face pressed up against the glass of the window as he stood on the seat next to his mother, watching the buildings as they sped past. His dark hair was cut straight around his head and when the train careened around a corner he let out a happy laugh. His mother had tugged at the back of his sweater to get him to sit down and he had clapped his hands at her, crowing happily, “Faster! Faster!"
The words had cut him. He’d felt split open and raw, not in pain but dried out, fragile like an old newspaper, disintegrating slowly, almost imperceptibly, into dust. All the times Sehun had said that to him, fingers twisted into the sheets or Jongin’s hair or clawing at the floor, pulling hard as though to bring his own orgasm closer, ran through his mind. It was as if his memory had narrowed Sehun’s entire existence down to one word.
Nothing had never gone fast enough for Sehun, not sex, not lines at the supermarket, not the cars he designed — not even the train. If it had, instead of rolling off the tracks and wrecking itself across the intersection, it never would have landed, flying off with all it's passengers into the sunrise instead, never to be heard from again.
Jongin hadn’t even realized he was crying until he reached up to rub at his eyes and his fingertips had come away wet, and when the boy was pulled off at the next stop by his mother, he had caught sight of his own reflection in the window. His face was the same, cheeks still shining with half-dried tear tracks and skin terribly sallow in the fluorescent lights, but as he watched the silhouette of his head, motionless against the backdrop of all of Seoul flying past at sixty miles an hour, he had hardly recognized himself at all.
Here’s the problem:
Jongin’s life is like a car whose battery has run dead and he can’t find any cables to jumpstart it with. He goes to work and comes home and has meaningless sex with Luhan because all he had was meaningless sex with Sehun and tells himself that he’s nothing if not consistent.
Because if he doesn’t have consistency, then what does he have.
Jongin and Luhan met in college. His father owns a company that makes jet engines or something, and so for Luhan, living is easy, gold-plated, helped along by the fact that he’s generally pretty pleasant and has the face of an angel.
Luhan has a glamorous, jet-setting sort of existence, but he always remembers to call Jongin whenever he comes back to Seoul. Tonight they’re at a club sipping drinks that Jongin can’t afford and Luhan is complaining about how his father is insisting that he stay in Seoul for the time being so he can start learning about the business side of things.
“Thrust and turbofans and stuff don’t mean anything to me. The only part of the business side of things I care about are the company galas,” he pouts, lower lip sticking out beautifully, and Jongin can’t bring himself to care. Luhan has always made it his mission to like whatever his father doesn’t. It was the reason they had become friends in the first place — Luhan had been “slumming it” at one of the rougher bars near the university and recognized Jongin from one of his classes, stealing his cigarette and demanding someone teach him how to play pool.
Since then, Luhan has gotten a useless degree in Chinese history, had a semi-public scandal with one of his professors, gotten into trouble with the police for everything from illegal street racing to vandalism, and had sex on almost every continent (Antarctica, he insists, is still a work in progress).
“I don’t understand how your father hasn’t disowned you yet,” Jongin says, stabbing at an ice cube in his drink sullenly. Luhan’s life is fast, just like how he speaks, but not anything like a vehicle spiraling out of control down a hill towards a final crash and a dramatic explosion.
“He just wants me happy. Sometimes he looks at me and tells me I’m the spitting image of my mother. I think that’s why he tries so hard actually.”
He lives as quickly as a boat gliding down a river, slipping over rapids and whitewater, not caring if there’s a waterfall up ahead, just waiting for the boat to meet its edge. Jongin feels himself frown at the mental image, picturing the flotsam and jetsam of a person’s life battered to pieces by the force of the waterfall, the scraps washing up aimlessly on the shore of the pool below.
His friend looks at him strangely. “What’s wrong?”
Jongin shakes his head, more to rid himself of the image than in response to the question, fingers tight around his glass. He won’t look up and it’s hardly even surprising when Luhan leans over and kisses him, sugary lipgloss smearing on Jongin’s mouth. Luhan has never liked being ignored and he bites at Jongin’s lips as though to prove a point.
Then he sits back, eyes glittering in the low lights. “Sorry,” he says, not sounding sorry at all. “I just hate seeing you seem so unhappy.”
And it’s probably the truth, albeit in a very backwards way, because Luhan is almost always happy and can never seem to understand why other people aren’t because unhappiness is something that little rich boys like him rarely have to deal with.
Jongin blinks, and before he can lick away the gloss left on his lower lip, Luhan has moved onto his lap, legs on either side of Jongin’s hips. It takes him a moment to focus on Luhan’s face because he’s suddenly so close and the other man takes Jongin’s chin in his hand, fingers slim and cold against the skin of his face. Luhan ruts a little into him, a long, hard drag against his zipper, and says into his ear, “Why don’t you let me make you feel better?”
Luhan’s fingers slip under the hem of his shirt and Jongin lets himself become caught up in the current. Without Luhan pulling him along, he’ll just be stuck, motionless. He digs his fingers into the flesh of Luhan’s thighs in an attempt to hold on, because it’s been ages since he’s moved this fast and he knows he can’t keep it up by himself.
Here’s the problem:
Every day Jongin gets up, takes a shower, gets dressed, picks at his bowl of cereal while watching the news and leaves just in time to catch the morning train downtown, because it wasn’t the train’s fault Sehun was dead really — Sehun had once said so himself — and it feels silly to hold a grudge because of something that was an accident.
Sometimes, though, he lies in bed at night, remembering the way Sehun’s skin looked shimmering with sweat, the taste of his own cum on Sehun’s tongue, the hot feel of Sehun’s cock in his hand as he jerked him through an orgasm, the desperate moaning, keening tone his voice took on when he begged.
The small sounds Luhan makes during sex are endearing, his enthusiasm admirable, his mouth slick, hot and talented, but Jongin knows that he’ll never find someone that was as good in bed as Sehun was.
Even now, he tries to remember all the details, because getting the chance to fuck Oh Sehun was a once in a lifetime experience.
Except that’s lie, because it was never about the fucking, at least for his part.
Here’s the problem:
Jongin feels frozen in time, like a wax statue in a museum, his body dripping and melting in his clothes, slowly disintegrating in the summer heat.
When he sleeps, sometimes he has this dream, and he and Sehun are standing out on the balcony of Sehun’s fancy apartment, high enough above the ground that the people and cars below look like children’s toys. There is a fast breeze and the sun is setting, a glowing blood orange in the sky, its heat warming Jongin’s face and making sweat break out along his hairline. Sehun is leaning against the railing, eyes closed in the breeze, and the way his hair flutters makes it seem like he’s moving, flying fast through the air.
Jongin steps up to him, wrapping his arms around Sehun’s middle and pressing kisses onto his neck, skin hot from the sunlight under his lips. Sehun tries to push him away, saying playfully that it’s too hot for hugging but Jongin holds on, shutting his eyes and burying his nose in Sehun’s hair. The struggling goes from playful to frantic, fists beating at Jongin’s chest, and suddenly, the smell of burning hair fills the air.
Jongin’s eyes snap open.
The sun has gone from a bright fruit hanging in the sky to a burning sphere, swallowing the horizon until there’s no blue left. The unbearable heat has made Sehun’s body slick with sweat and Jongin clutches at him, trying to hold on. The skin underneath his hands is unnaturally shiny and sticky and as he takes his palms away, Jongin watches in horror as Sehun’s skin follows, like the stretching of bubblegum. He looks at Sehun’s face, watches as the flesh of his cheeks melts, sliding off his bones, until all that’s left is a bloody puddle on the ground, the rest slipping through Jongin’s fingers and smearing the surface of his arms. Sehun’s eyeballs burst one by one as they fall, the clear liquid inside spilling across the concrete of the balcony, and Jongin’s stomach begins to heave, sweat pouring down his face and stinging his eyes.
The sun is now so close and bright he’s blinded — and then he wakes up.
Regardless of how he feels, Jongin knows that he isn’t actually moving any slower than he was before Sehun’s train wreck. His boss praises him for meeting all his deadlines and his schedule is the same it’s always been.
Catch the train.
Go to work.
Laugh at Chanyeol’s jokes.
Catch the train again.
Come home and go to bed.
Sometimes he’ll get dragged out to eat by a couple of friends, sometimes he won’t. Nothing is different, but somehow everything is, because instead of living, Jongin feels like he spends most of his life on his phone, thumb hovering over the call button, Sehun’s name shining up at him from the display.
“You should just call,” Chanyeol says one day, on his way back from the breakroom, and Jongin jumps, hand fumbling his phone a little.
“Whoever’s number you’re looking at. You should just call them and be done with it.”
Jongin shakes his head. “I already know they won’t answer.”
Chanyeol had never met Sehun, none of his friends had, just like he had never known any of Sehun’s friends. What they had been was never like that and now it’s like it had never existed at all.
“Then you can just leave a message. You’ve been moping over that thing for weeks. Grow some balls and do it, just like ripping off a band-aid.” Chanyeol pats him on the shoulder encouragingly and moves on to his own cubicle and Jongin swallows, not sure how to say that there’s no use leaving a message when there’s no one left to listen.
Here’s the problem:
It’s as if Jongin’s heart has stopped, gone still, blood slowly flooding each chamber, and he’s dying — only there’s no defibrillator for this kind of heart attack.
He calls Sehun once, strangely calm until Sehun’s even voice comes through the speaker — You’ve reached Oh Sehun, you know what to do — and then the beep sounds and Jongin’s throat is closed tight, vocal cords twisted up and silent, because Sehun was so wrong. He really doesn’t know what to do at all.
He doesn’t think Sehun would have known what to do either though, because people aren’t cars, hearts aren’t combustion engines and blood isn’t oil. If Jongin were a car design, he thinks Sehun would have torn the plans off the table, crumpling them up and throwing them away, because the world has no use for a vehicle that doesn’t move.
The sheets on Luhan’s bed are changed too often to smell like anything except for fabric softener, egyptian cotton like a breeze against the skin of his cheeks and mouth as he lies with his face pressed into a pillow. Jongin likes to pretend that this is what a bed of won would smell like, like clean crisp paper and expensive. Luhan is in the shower and the sound of the water splashing against the tiles echoes through the open door of the en suite bathroom like a sudden downpour. He fists his fingers into the edges of the pillow, and wonders idly if suffocating under something that smelled like money would make death any easier than being crushed against the seats of a dirty public train.
A damp towel hits his back. “You shouldn’t sleep like that,” Luhan’s voice says over Jongin’s head. “What if you suffocated or something?”
The bed dips and Luhan’s wet hair brushes his shoulder. Jongin rolls over. “Bet you’d have a hard time explaining another dead body to the maids.”
Luhan’s lips are curved into a frown when Jongin’s eyes open. “You’re awfully mean today.”
He shrugs and Luhan props himself up on one arm, looking down at him.
“You’re starting to get lines around your eyes too. Don’t you listen at all when I talk about preventative skincare?”
Luhan traces his dark circles, fingerprints brushing his eyelashes until Jongin bats his hand away. “Fine. Get old before your time. See if I care.”
When Jongin was a teenager, his grandmother had once told him that wrinkles were just smudge marks death left while writing your name in the ledger of the underworld. His mother had said they were penance for all the wrinkles you had left unironed in your life. His first and only girlfriend had said they were the skin’s version of a ticking clock.
Jongin thinks wrinkles look like sheets of metal collapsing in on themselves in slow motion
“Maybe you should try driving,” Luhan says thoughtfully, snuggling into Jongin’s shoulder. “My father always tries to get me to use a chauffeur, but I like to drive. Helps reduce stress.”
“I live in the city,” he says. “I don’t have a car.”
“Well, I’ve got tons. You can borrow one.” Luhan sounds flippant, like any other spoiled rich boy that lends out cars the same way other people lend out DVDs.
Jongin remembers the curve of Sehun’s spine under his fingers, like the streamlined silhouette of a sports car. The feeling of life moving fast enough to make his hair stand on end; Sehun speaking in his ear about engines going from zero to sixty, fast enough to steal a person’s breath from their lungs.
Leaning across his chest, Luhan kisses him, and Jongin holds his breath, pretending it’s the suffocation of pure speed.
There is a moment of terror in the weightlessness Jongin experiences as the car bursts over the edge of the bridge, a natural human reaction to the removal of gravity, but then he looks through the windshield. The sky is dark now and starless, indistinguishable from the surface of the river and he feels like he is gliding through outer space.
He wonders if the passengers on the train had felt the same way during the accident, the body of each car rolling until they had looked out the windows and thought they might be falling into the morning sun.
Hands clutching the steering wheel, Jongin’s dream flashes through his mind, the flesh of Sehun’s body turning liquid under his fingers, melting away like candle wax, and his bones are the wick, leaving nothing but ash and trails of smoke in the air.
He wonders if Sehun had been cremated, ashes black and loose as they were carried away, as fast as the wind.
The weight of the car is pulling away now, the seatbelt the only thing holding Jongin back from floating, moving faster than he’s ever gone, so fast he can’t be stopped.
Sehun is with him then, ghostly fingers twisted into the fabric of Jongin’s sleeve as he speaks quietly in his ear,
You know what to do —
And Jongin takes his hands off the wheel, and just lets himself fly.