Fandoms: SS501, Super Junior, U-KISS
Pairings: KyuJong/YoungSaeng, KiBum/Kevin, TBA
Rating: PG-13, some chapters R
Warnings: Violence, angst
Summary: In a world destroyed by plague and war, it’s every man for themselves. To survive, a small caravan of misfits navigate through the remains of a civilization on death's door; where trust must be earned and closely-kept secrets could get them all killed
The whole camp was up with dawn, soldiers walking back and forth as the group prepped the caravan for departure. Yifan had fetched them a carpenter to take a quick look at the caravan and replace a worn wheel, but YoungSaeng was relieved to hear it would make it to the shops in Shenyang. Zhou Mi’s influence as Prince had also resulted in more supplies: crates of non-perishable food, medicine and warm blankets added to their stores.
As the last of the things were being loaded into the caravan, JungMin glanced around and did a mental head count. Something had seemed off since they'd woken up but he hadn't had time to figure out what it was.
"Hey, Saeng?" JungMin called from where he was finishing saddling his horse. "Where's Zhou Mi? I haven't seen him yet this morning have you?"
"No," YoungSaeng looked up, busy hitching the horses to the caravan. "He must be talking to the general again."
"That concubine is missing too," HyungJoon said, coming around the caravan. "Him I wouldn’t mind leaving without, but no point in going anywhere without Zhou Mi."
"Agreed," JungMin said, patting his horse's neck and leading her towards the caravan. He glanced around the immediate area, blinking when he saw Zhou Mi emerging from one of the tents. "Hey... Saeng, look," he nodded towards Zhou Mi, even more confused when HeeChul came out of the same tent just behind him.
"…Well you don’t see that every day," YoungSaeng shook his head. He wasn’t even going to ask. "Good morning," he called when Zhou Mi approached. "Ready to go?"
"Yes, I just need to collect my things," Zhou Mi nodded, though he avoided looking at anyone directly. He disappeared into the tent, leaving HeeChul outside.
"There is no way I am riding in or near that thing," HeeChul said, eyeing the caravan with distaste.
"I don't get it, you're living in an army camp at the moment, how did you get out here if you haven't ridden in a caravan or on a horse," JungMin said, shaking his head at HeeChul.
"I rode in Geng's personal cart if you must know," HeeChul sniffed.
"I’m sorry my caravan is too low-class for you," YoungSaeng said dryly, finishing securing the horses. "But unless you’ve got a magic carpet, you don’t have much of a choice."
"Xi Che," a voice spoke from the other side of the caravan. A second later Yifan came into view, leading a docile-looking gelding by the reins. He stopped by HeeChul, holding out the reins with a heavily accented "for you."
HeeChul made a face as he looked at the horse, but accepted the reins. "If this thing throws me, I'm riding in the caravan."
"Better be nice to her then," JungMin said, climbing into his mare's saddle. "I'd like to be gone in ten minutes," he said loudly.
Zhou Mi emerged from the tent with his bag slung over his shoulder. "Yifan, don't let the general know we've left unless he asks, I don't need him sending someone to trail after us," he said, tossing his bag into the back of the caravan. "Is there anything else I need to know before we leave?"
Yifan frowned at that, stopping by the prince. "…I’d advise to stay on the main roads," he said. "Since your departure there has been some trouble with a new militant group denouncing the emperor and attacking groups traveling in Hubei province. Last sign of them was west of Cangzhou, but be careful."
"I'll make sure to let them know, thank you," Zhou Mi said. "I hope you're still here when we return this way, it was nice to see a familiar face out here. Take care of yourself."
"You as well, Young Prince," Yifan bowed. "There will be many happy faces in Beijing upon your return." He straightened, stepping back.
"We ready?" JungMin asked when Zhou Mi climbed up into the caravan. "You riding your horse or not Zhou Mi."
"I need to speak with YoungSaeng for a bit," Zhou Mi said. "Someone else can ride."
"Take my seat," KyuJong said, before looking at YoungSaeng. "With KyuHyun still out, wouldn't be a bad idea for someone with a weapon to be riding again. That okay with you?"
"Do HyungJoon and JungMin not count?" YoungSaeng chuckled, but nodded anyways. "Go on." He watched them switch places, waiting until KyuJong was settled on the horse before flicking the caravan’s reins. They lurched forward and started to roll, making their way out of the crowded army camp. "What’s on your mind, Zhou Mi?"
"The conversation I just had with the young soldier," Zhou Mi started, "he informed of a possibility of militia attacking travelers near Beijing. Though it is possible there are more in other places as well. We need to stick to the main roads, they're well maintained by the army."
YoungSaeng frowned, nodding slightly. "…All right, that’s what we’ll do. Is that common in China? Militia attacks instead of bandits?"
"No," Zhou Mi shook his head. "Not when I was here anyway. He said they're revolting against the Emperor, my father. Unless something drastically changed since I was here last, I can think of no reason why anyone would. I am concerned, YongSheng. I fear I brought you all into more danger."
"If we weren’t in danger here, we’d be in danger back in Korea dealing with bandits and paranoid farmers with shotguns," YoungSaeng shook his head as they cleared the camp and set off down the road. "We’ll deal. It’s a pity we couldn’t take some of those soldiers along with us, or your friend at least. Though some here may have a problem with that."
"Having the army with us would have it's uses, but it would come at a price," Zhou Mi said. "Outside of Beijing, I'm not as well known as say my brother is. Having a contingent of soldiers with us would make us a very tempting target to anyone who would want to harm my father."
"Listening to how KyuHyun would go on and on about China, it never seemed like there would be people here who hated their rulers that much," YoungSaeng mused. "But that isn’t true, is it? Are there many here who would target you?"
"I don't know, I would only be good for using as a pawn," Zhou Mi said. "Not that it would get anyone anything. I'm not the heir to the throne, and as far as my father knows, I'm already dead. If I was to be taken hostage, he wouldn't believe I was being held."
"He didn’t believe you’d come back from Korea?" YoungSaeng glanced at Zhou Mi.
"No, and I honestly didn't believe I would either," Zhou Mi said. "Going to Korea for the cure was... my last hope. But I didn't think I would have any luck since I wasn't sure what I was looking for. If I hadn't run into your caravan, and learned from Kevin about that plant... I would still be there."
"Then we’ll all consider ourselves fortunate," the caravan leader sighed, looking back out ahead of them. His eyes went between those horses he could see. "…Does your family know about your condition?" he asked quietly, voice masked to those around them by the creaking of the caravan.
"Yes, my father would never have let me leave otherwise," Zhou Mi said. "But they're the only ones besides you and HyungJoon. No one else we may come across here will know, and I thank you for not announcing it to the others. They don't need to worry any more than they already do."
"How much longer are you going to be able to hide it from them though?" YoungSaeng asked. "It’s becoming worse, isn’t it?"
"Yes, but I still have time," Zhou Mi said, glancing at him. "I've come too far to let it take me now, but if it starts to spread I will let the others know. For now, it's just a bit of fatigue and being out of breath. I'm not in any pain yet."
"…All right," YoungSaeng nodded. "Let me know if it gets worse. At the very least, Kevin could make you some tea."
"He could, but it may be best to save as many of those plants as we can, they don't grow in China," Zhou Mi said. "All else fails, I have some medicine I was able to get from the army camp. Don't worry YongSheng, I will be fine."
"You can say that, but I hope you know by now I’m going to worry anyways," YoungSaeng snorted, glancing back at him with a small smile.
"I know, but I believe there will be more important things to worry about on the road to Beijing than the state of my health," Zhou Mi said. "At the very least, most everyone seems to be getting along better than before." He made a small motion towards the back of the crava where KyuHyun and RyeoWook were. "I don't know what it is you said to them, but it appears to have worked?"
"Don’t jinx us," the caravan leader shook his head. "Never met two more stubborn individuals in my entire life. They’ve even got JungMin beat."
"Some people just don't know how to talk to each other," Zhou Mi said, smiling sadly as he looked out at the landscape. "But I believe I was right in that my... involvement with KyuHyun was a source of conflict with them. I'm sure things will improve with them, long as they learn how to talk to each other."
"It shouldn’t have become as much of an issue as it did though. That’s on them, not you." YoungSaeng nudged Zhou Mi’s side lightly. "I hope you know I don’t blame you for any of what’s happened, stubborn best friends or otherwise."
"You may not, but I always will," Zhou Mi said. "My desire to help people or even get close to someone put us in harm's way. I won't make that mistake again."
"Helping others and getting close isn’t a mistake." YoungSaeng sighed, seeing there was little he could do to convince Zhou Mi otherwise. Especially when most of the camp still didn’t talk to him.
They traveled until a couple hours till dusk, stopping for breaks along the way. It wasn’t anything unusual for them to travel all day, but it was clearly something HeeChul wasn’t familiar with. As he made known loudly and as often as possible to whoever had the misfortune of riding anywhere within earshot. By noon YoungSaeng had needed to order JungMin farther up the road before he could strangle their ‘guest’.
"We’ll check the area, boss." HyungJoon quickly handed off his and JungMin’s horses to Kevin and KiBum before steering the older man away from HeeChul.
"I'm surprised that guy is still alive," KiBum murmured to Kevin as they led the horses towards the picket line. "He's obnoxious."
"I don’t understand how YoungSaeng hasn’t snapped and yelled at him yet." Kevin stopped at the line, tying his two horses to it and turning to take off the saddles. "He’s quite something when he’s mad, maybe that would shut the guy up for a bit."
"Maybe, but YoungSaeng doesn't get really mad often," KiBum said. "Look at how long he put up with some of the things my brother did, and even then he didn't get mad at him. Not like how he got mad at RyeoWook the other day."
"You could tell he was upset about KyuHyun and RyeoWook for a long time though…at least your brother is mostly nice now." Kevin glanced around to make sure JungMin and HyungJoon were gone before turning back to KiBum with a grin. "I totally told you so, by the way. About your brother and JungMin. Just putting it out there."
"Yah, don't rub it in," KiBum made a face at him. "He probably got hit upside the head one too many times, hit some of the mean out of him."
"Or maybe your no-nonsense, ‘Everyone is the Enemy’ brother actually has feelings after all," Kevin teased, placing the saddles to the side and grabbing a brush.
"I will never believe that in a hundred years," KiBum said. "Never. He never showed that kind of warmth towards me, still doesn't. Maybe it isn't even my brother anymore, maybe it's just someone who looks like him."
"…Are you actually listening to what you’re saying?" Kevin was trying not to laugh. "Someone who looks like him? What, like a demon doppelganger?"
"... I don't know, maybe," KiBum said, sulking a little. "He's just... different. I don't know how to handle it."
"I thought you’d be happy for him?" Kevin watched KiBum over the back of the horse he was grooming.
"I thought so too," KiBum said, idly brushing his horse's back. "I thought if he just got laid he'd calm down, and I guess he has... but it's just so weird. I never thought he'd act like this."
"Act like what? Happy?" HyungJoon had laughed at something JungMin said over dinner the night before. It hadn’t been very loud or long, but thinking about it afterwards Kevin couldn’t even remember hearing HyungJoon laugh before.
"Is that what it is? Being happy?" KiBum's hand slowed to a stop and he looked up at Kevin. "I've never seen him happy before, I guess I didn't even know what it looked like."
"…I guess now you know." Kevin smiled at him. "I’m glad. I mean…you’re happy too, right? You’re both happy."
"I guess so, it's... a weird feeling, good, but weird," KiBum said, returning the smile. "The best part, is he didn't even really see it coming, cause I sure didn't."
"That’s probably a good thing," Kevin snorted, going back to brushing the horses. "Cause if someone had told him what was gonna happen, he probably would have fought it tooth and nail."
"He would have," KiBum chuckled, glancing around at the camp as it was being set up. KyuJong and YoungSaeng, though trying to be subtle about it, were throwing each other sidelong glances as they went through crates. RyeoWook was helping KyuHyun ease down from the caravan to take a bit of a walk, the younger man still healing from his extensive injuries. "Everyone seems a little happier though, don't they?" he said before his eyes landed on Zhou Mi who was setting a fire up. It struck him at that moment as he watched Zhou Mi look up and towards where KyuHyun and RyeoWook were briefly before looking away again, just how alone the man looked. "... You know, I don't think I've seen anyone really talk to Zhou Mi, like just talk to him about things. He seems kind of lonely."
Looking up as well at that, Kevin followed KiBum’s gaze. "…He does," he said softly. "I’ve seen YoungSaeng talk to him, but no one else. I thought you didn’t like him," he glanced at his boyfriend.
"I wasn't sure about him, once he found out about me and hyung," KiBum said. "But he hasn't said anything to me or him since then. Hasn't even looked at me. I think if he was going to hurt us, he had an opportunity back at the army camp with all those soldiers who would have run if he snapped his fingers. He's not going to hurt us."
"I didn’t think he would." Kevin looked back out at Zhou Mi as he placed his brush aside. "Maybe we should talk to him."
"We? I wouldn't even know what to say to him," KiBum said. "What do you say a to a prince anyway?"
"…I forgot about that." Kevin’s shoulders slumped. "Most important person I’ve ever met was the compound leaders. But…I don’t see anyone else talking to him." His expression brightened after a moment. "He’s good with medicine. My mom was teaching me medicine. That’s something in common."
KiBum's lips thinned slightly at that and he looked away. "Well then I guess you can talk to him about medicine," he said, brushing his horse's mane.
"It’s a start, need something to start a conversation," Kevin replied. "Is there anything you’re interested in? Learning Mandarin? Finding out what it’s like being a prince? Maybe the Emperor has gold teeth or something cool like that."
"... Maybe we shouldn't bum rush him?" KiBum said, looking over at him. "Maybe he doesn't really want to talk to anyone, he might not appreciate both of us talking to him at the same time you know?"
Kevin pouted a little. "…Fine. I shall go be sociable while you hide with the horses." He stepped around the animals, circling his arms around KiBum’s waist and kissing him softly.
"Well someone has to finish the chores before we get yelled at," KiBum replied, returning the kiss.
"They’re just about done. Maybe we can get HeeChul to do them next time, what do you think?" Kevin chuckled, pulling back to smile at his boyfriend. "I’ll be right back."
For all his bravado, he wasn’t sure exactly what to say as he approached Zhou Mi by the fire. He hadn’t been sure what to say to the man before finding out he was the son of the Emperor. Seeing all those soldiers bowing to him had been a little nerve-wracking; was he expected to bow too now?
"Hi, hyung," Kevin stopped on the other side of the fire pit, crouching down. "Uh…do you need help?"
Zhou Mi looked up, a little startled at the sudden appearance of Kevin, though the smile that spread across his features was warm. "I think I can manage, though I hear you may need the practice."
"…I’m getting better, I got the last one started in a few minutes," Kevin protested, face flushing. He looked down at the fire pit, rubbing his hands together slowly to warm them up. "So…you really think this guy we’re going to see can make a cure?"
"... I do," Zhou Mi nodded, looking back down at what he was doing. "I know some here think it's just blind faith, but... I have to believe him. It's the only thing that's kept me going."
"I want to believe it too," Kevin sat down properly across from him. "Is he a doctor or something?"
"He is my father's personal physician," Zhou Mi said. "I don't know if he was a doctor before, but he has helped my father, and myself, more times than I count. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have found the delay."
"Sounds like a miracle worker," Kevin nodded slowly. "So…you’re his assistant? If, uh…if Princes can be assistants, I don’t really know much about royalty."
"I wouldn't say assistant, but I spent a lot of time with him and learned things from watching," Zhou Mi said. "That and we had various books in the library about medicine and anatomy. My father didn't exactly encourage me to learn these things but, I have always found it fascinating."
"Don’t blame you. Can you imagine all the medicine and stuff they had before the virus? They could cure almost anything." Kevin rolled a stick between his fingers. "My ma wasn’t a doctor anything, but she was like magic with herbs. Could make all sorts of medicine for colds, sores…I know she wanted to teach me more, but well. The virus had other plans."
"It's cruel like that," Zhou Mi said, sitting back once the fire was going. "I may not know magic, but if you were still wanting to learn, I could show you a few things that I've learned."
"I would like that," the younger man looked up at him with a smile. "A lot. I doubt I know anything that you don’t already know, but I wouldn’t mind showing you what she taught me either."
Zhou Mi didn't reply to that right away, poking at the fire. "Maybe if there's time, but it may be more prudent to let me teach you. You learning will do more good than me at this point."
"Why’s that?" Kevin blinked. "Unless you already know most herbal stuff…or alternatives."
"Let's just say that where I'm going, no one will need it," Zhou Mi said, giving Kevin a strained smile. "But I will be happy to show you what I know. As well as teach you some mandarin, if you were interested."
"That would be nice," the younger man looked up and smiled in return. "Maybe…would you be able to teach KiBum too? I think he’s curious."
"I'll teach anyone willing to learn, it's not n easy language by far," Zhou Mi said. "And as long as he's not still afraid of me."
"I don’t think he is," Kevin shook his head. "I mean…you’ve done so much for us. And gotten a pretty crappy reaction from everyone. You could have tattled on them ages ago…but you didn’t."
"I don't think they were afraid of who I was going to tell," Zhou Mi said, looking towards where KiBum was brushing down the horses. "They were afraid I was going to try to cut them open. I don't blame them considering what I've seen and been through myself."
"I don’t blame them either. But you’re not going to cut them open," Kevin replied, watching him. "I’m just glad everyone’s finally on the same page. Got enough to worry about…it’s nice to know we can all trust each other."
"Well, for now anyway," Zhou Mi said, straightening up now that the fire was burning steadily. "We've got a ways to go still. You never know what can happen."
"Yeah." Kevin exhaled slowly, looking down at the fire. Then he looked back up at Zhou Mi, smiling brightly. "What should I learn first?"
Meanwhile, KyuHyun and RyeoWook had half finished their short circuit of the clearing, farther away from the others. It was quiet, aside from the distant calls of birds migrating south for the winter (and HeeChul bothering YoungSaeng farther away). KyuHyun for his part seemed entirely focused on putting one foot in front of the other, skin still sickly pale and shirt bunched slightly where the fabric had caught on the bandages underneath. If it weren’t for RyeoWook helping him he would have fallen on his face, the lack of depth perception throwing him off and making his feet catch on things in his path.
"Stop a second." He rested the hand that wasn’t holding onto RyeoWook for support against a tree, breathing in and out deeply.
"Maybe you should sit down," RyeoWook said, nodding towards a fallen tree. "You're doing really good so far, you don't have to push yourself."
KyuHyun was silent for a moment before nodding. "…All right." He let RyeoWook help him towards the tree, carefully lowering himself down to sit and clenching his jaw at the stabs of pain.
"You're doing a lot better," RyeoWook said, trying to remain cheerful for KyuHyun. "Maybe by tomorrow night you'll be able to do this without having to stop."
"Doubt it," KyuHyun replied, watching the wind blow through the tall grass. "Took this long to get out of the damn caravan."
"But you made it out of the caravan, that's better than you were last week," RyeoWook pointed out. "I know it's frustrating, but you are getting better."
"…I guess." It wasn’t clear if KyuHyun actually believed him or was just agreeing for the sake of agreeing, voice flat. He leaned forward a little to pluck a blade of grass by his knee, overshooting it a little before he adjusted his reach and grasped it between finger and thumb. With a short motion it snapped farther down it’s stem and he leaned back, rolling it between gloved fingers.
RyeoWook's shoulders slumped a little. Their conversations over the past few days had amounted to much of the same. KyuHyun didn't seem very interested in talking, despite RyeoWook's attempts. Warming his hands slightly together to ward off the chill, he glanced around the camp at the others. "Looks like your prince is finally making friends," he remarked, seeing Kevin and Zhou Mi sitting by the fire and talking.
"He’s not my prince." KyuHyun’s eyes went to the two by the fire. "Good, he deserves better than being alone."
"Yeah, but it's not like he was really trying to talk to anyone," RyeoWook said. "Except for you. You two would talk all the time together, what kinds of things did you talk about?"
"…We talked about the caravan, where we’d been, where we were going. How things are in China, what he had been doing in Korea. How you and I met, how we ended up with these crazy people."
"Is... he easier to talk to than me?" RyeoWook asked, chewing a little at his lower lip. "Or was it just cause you got to talk in chinese that you were talking to him."
"What would it matter?" RyeoWook was sitting on KyuHyun’s blind side, but he didn’t turn his head to better see the other man. "I’m not talking to him anymore."
"Because you're not really talking to me either, I'm just trying to figure out how he's able to talk to you and I can't," RyeoWook said. "Are you mad at me because of him?"
KyuHyun released the blade of grass he’d been holding on to, letting it flutter to the ground. "And if I say yes? Are you going to run away from me again?"
"Should I?" RyeoWook's expression hardened. "I don't want to, but you're really making it hard for me to want to stay. How can we be friends if you don't talk to me?"
"Answer my question!" KyuHyun’s hand clenched. "If I give the answer you don’t want to hear, are you going to run again!"
"... I'm not going to run away, but if you say you're mad at me because of him, then I don't see a reason to continue trying to be your friend," RyeoWook said. "I didn't do anything wrong."
"Of course not, you never do anything wrong, do you?" KyuHyun snapped, looking at him finally. "You want to know why I have trouble talking to you? Your damn answer is why! If I don’t say what you want to hear every time you ask a question, I lose your friendship again. How is that talking?"
"It's not about you saying what I want to hear!" RyeoWook replied, getting to his feet. "It's about what you are saying, and what you have been doing. You didn't respect him enough not to use him, and you sure as hell didn't respect me enough as your friend to not play mind games!"
"I wasn’t playing mind games! I made one mistake of not talking to you directly and couldn’t apologize enough for it, but what about all the other times, huh? Every single time I tried to talk to you and got shot down! Every little snide comment you made about Zhou Mi when it wasn’t his fault!"
"No, it wasn't his fault, it was yours," RyeoWook snapped. "You wanted to make me jealous, well guess what, it worked! I was jealous that he could talk to you so easily, that you shared something that I never will. I was jealous and upset that you showed him interest so easily but it took you so long to tell me, even if the interest you showed in him was a damn lie! Why was it so much easier for you to lie than to tell me the truth?"
"I tried to tell you! But you didn’t want to hear it. I tried to share what I knew with you, but you just brushed me off. I tried to talk to you even though it’s fucking hard for me to do, and you ran away." KyuHyun rested his elbows on his knees, back hunched and head lowered. "I might be the most screwed up person ever, but I tried."
"You're not the most screwed up person ever KyuHyun, I am," RyeoWook sighed. "I know you aren't the best at talking... that's just... that's why I thought you and him were better together than you and me," he said, sitting back down. "I didn't believe you when you said you weren't interested in him. As long as you and I have known each other, you didn't talk to me the way you talked to him. I thought you... even if you said you liked me, you and him were better off together. I'm sorry... I was pushing you away because I thought you were better off without me."
KyuHyun didn’t look up at RyeoWook, hands shaking and clasped together so tightly his knuckles had gone white. "I told you how I felt. Every single way I knew how, I told you."
"I know, but I didn't think you actually would really like me," RyeoWook said quietly. "I never thought I was good enough for you, and this whole thing just proves I'm not. You deserve better than me."
"I don’t want to do this anymore, Wook," KyuHyun said, voice cracking, worn and distressed. "I don’t want to play this stupid game where I’m your friend one day and you hate me the next…" He pushed his hands through his hair and covered his face, fingers shaky around the gauze taped over his eye.
"I don't want to either KyuHyun," RyeoWook replied. "I wanted to start over with you and be friends, I still want to do that. I'm trying right now. But I don't know if that can happen if you're going to stay mad at me. How do we fix this? What do I do?"
"I don’t know," KyuHyun murmured. "I just…I don’t know."
"Well, I guess we'll just have to take things as they come," RyeoWook said, looking around the camp. Even if people weren't staring now, he knew they had heard most of that argument by the way they were avoiding looking anywhere near them. "I want to be your friend again, if you want me to be."
"I never said I didn’t want you to be," was the reply. "Ever."
Getting to his feet, RyeoWook moved to stand in front of KyuHyun, holding out his hand. "Good, because I've really missed you," he said. "Let's get you back in bed."
It took a moment for KyuHyun to respond, finally lifting his head out of his hands. His expression was drawn as he looked up at RyeoWook, the edges of his eye too red. He dried a gloved hand on his pants before taking the offered hand, shakily standing.
Nothing else was said between them as they finished walking around the camp before disappearing back into the caravan. It was unlikely things were truly solved between the two, RyeoWook could see it in KyuHyun's eyes, but he wasn't going to give up. This was a mess, mostly of his own creation, that he wanted to fix before he lost his only friend.