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Further From the Sky

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In eight years of service, Officer Min Yoongi of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency hasn’t exactly distinguished himself. He’s never cracked any long-unsolved cases. He’s never done anything to get himself on the front page of any newspaper. He didn’t become a cop so he could be some kind of fucking action hero. He shows up (mostly) on time and rarely calls out sick. He follows the rules and keeps a low profile and does what he’s asked to do.

That’s it.

But back when he’d been a rookie the world hadn’t seemed quite as gray and dry as it does now and Yoongi had still been a little in awe of his chosen career. He’d spent too many nights watching Namjoon’s imported box set of the first three seasons of Law & Order: Special Victim Unit. Yoongi never believed he could be as dedicated as Stabler or as passionate as Benson, but back then he’d still thought he might end up doing some goddamn good. He remembers how excited he’d been the first time he got asked to go on a stakeout. There was something almost romantic about dressing in street clothes and sitting in a shitty anonymous car, drinking too many cups of coffee and bullshitting with his partner to pass the time. Cigarette smoke drifting out of the cracked window. Ducking into the convenience store to piss. Waiting with knife edge nerves for the suspect to finally appear.

That was then, though. Six years can wear a guy down. Now he thinks stakeouts are a big fucking waste of time.

Nothing ever happens with cinematic clarity and meaning. If their suspect does show up, everything is messier and faster and more confused than it would be in a movie. More than once he’s tried to jump out of the car only to find he’s left the door locked. More often than not, nobody shows up at all. Bad tip from an informant, someone in Records mistyping the address, suspects who seemed far smarter than the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency -– whatever the reason, it seems like most of the time the only thing he has to show for a stakeout is a sore back.

He sighs and shifts in his seat. He's not a big guy by any measure but even he gets cramped in these tin cans after a while. He rolls down the window a little more and exhales a mouthful of smoke. It's a bad habit – cancer sticks helped bring his old man down, didn’t they? He keeps meaning to quit. Maybe next year.

His phone pings and he glances down. New message from Namjoon, who wants to meet up for drinks.

Working now. Let you know later.

He and Namjoon have been trying to make plans for weeks, but Yoongi keeps bailing because he's an asshole. He knows he should go out tonight, have a few beers, whatever. Namjoon will let him complain about work and he can hear all of the exciting, glamorous things Namjoon gets to do as a hotshot producer and star-maker.

Yoongi is just so tired lately. Fucking six hours staking out a parking spot for what? Nothing important – just some sop to the Superintendent’s over-inflated ego. Month after month of this bullshit is starting to make him feel like he's being slowly ground to dust under some crushing wheel. God. Interminable days doing fucking paperwork and then he goes home, drinks a few beers, and passes out on his couch. What a life. Is it any wonder he doesn't want to meet up with Namjoon? Yoongi is fucking ashamed.

He takes another drag on his cigarette and turns to the window to exhale. And oh shit! Shit! He almost missed his mark because he's moping like some kind of prepubescent sad sack instead of paying attention.

He jams his half-smoked cigarette into the overflowing ashtray and struggles with the door. Fucking thing won't open.

"Hey! Hey! Don't fucking move!"

He pulls on the handle again, so hard he thinks the cheap thing might break. What is wrong with this car? Oh. Fuck. Locked again. He unlocks it and shoves it open, half stumbling in his haste to get out.

In the prize parking spot, the one right beside the front door that is clearly identified as reserved, a be-helmeted person of indistinct description is parking their moped. An insulated red box covered in colorful slogans is strapped to the back. From this the perp takes a order of fried chicken, bag already shiny with oil at the corners, bearing the logo of the Superintendent's favorite chicken shop.

Yoongi, panting, runs across the parking lot. Shit. He's really got to give up smoking. He's got a stitch in his side that he clutches as he approaches the offender.

"Hey," he gasps. "Hey you! What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

The delivery person slowly pulls off his ... her helmet. She shakes out her long hair and fixes Yoongi with a cold stare. She's younger than he is – maybe early twenties – and kind of pretty but the expression on her face is bored and a little mean.

"Who the fuck are you, ahjussi? You want some chicken? Call and order your own!"

She turns to go and he grabs her by the wrist. That is a mistake, he realizes instantly.

Eyes wide and furious, she slaps him hard, the flat of her hand against his cheek. It fucking hurts, and he hunches over. Eyes watering, he reaches in his pocket for his badge.

"If you take one more step, I'm gonna have to arrest you," he says. It comes out as pitiful, winded gasp.

She looks back at him scowling, but then sees the badge and makes some effort to put a more conciliatory expression on her face. Barely. Rolling her eyes, she asks, "What can I help you with, officer?"

Yoongi closes his eyes tight. Fuck. He feels like such an idiot. He takes a deep breath. "I have to inform you that you are currently parked in the designated and reserved parking spot of Superintendent Intak Shim of the Gwangjin Division of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. If you do not move your vehicle immediately, I will be forced to take action, including but not limited to impoundment, citation, and the maximum fines allowable by law."

He ends in a half-audible mumble, staring at his feet. When he looks up, she is glaring at him with a supremely disdainful expression on her face.

"Shit," she says. "You have to be kidding me."

Yoongi squeezes his eyes shut again. "Do I look like I'm fucking kidding? Move your goddamn bike."

Malevolence rises from her in waves. Cursing under her breath, she wheels her bike a few dozen meters down to another spot. Not even deigning to look in his direction, she grabs her delivery and stalks towards the front door.

Yoongi feels a headache coming on. He opens the door of his car, drops heavily into the front seat, and slams the door shut behind him.

Scrubbing his face with a hand, he lets his head fall back against the headrest. Fucking hell. Is this what he's been reduced to? Glorified parking attendant?

The front door of the station opens with a bang. Yoongi looks up. His foe is stalking down the steps, shoving her helmet back onto her head. She jumps on her bike and backs out, catching sight of Yoongi as she does.

She flips up the hood of her helmet, mouths 'Fuck you', and gives him the finger before pulling out into the orderly chaos of midday Seoul traffic.

"Goddamn it," Yoongi says. He closes his eyes and reaches in his pocket for his phone. He pulls up Namjoon's message and hesitates a minute before typing.

What time do you want to meet tonight?

Namjoon's reply is a moment in coming. Wow. Min Yoongi. You're actually gonna come hang out? Where do you want to go?

Don't care, as long as there's alcohol. Lots of it.

*****

"It's definitely going to bruise."

Namjoon leans closer. Yoongi gets a face full of stale, beery breath and shoves him away.

"It’s not gonna bruise," he mutters, but he leans forward and stares at himself in the concave back of a spoon. He grimaces at the distorted ogre Yoongi face reflected back at him. Four red welts stand out stark against his cheek. He presses his fingers to the spot and winces. "Fuck."

It's definitely going to bruise.

They’re at their favorite bar – kind of a dive honestly, but it’s conveniently located for all of them, even Namjoon, who bought a fancy new place south of the river after one of the shitty idol tracks he wrote and produced turned into last year’s big surprise hit.

Asshole. He deserves it, of course, but he’s still an asshole.

This place is nothing fancy, but they serve decent bar snacks and there are some pool tables and a dart board. They never play any music released after 2000, and the average client is about fifty.

Yoongi likes it here, as much as he likes it anywhere.

Namjoon grins. "Who’d you piss off, hyung?"

Yoongi sighs. "Someone was parked in the Superintendent's spot the other week when he got to the office and he got pissed so he’s been parking around back and made me sit out there and wait for ‘the suspect to return to the scene of the crime’. His words. I’ve been waiting there all week and nobody shows up until today. It was the fucking delivery girl from Chicken Baengi with his goddamn lunch! I get out of the car to tell her to move her bike and she slapped me!"

Hoseok, sitting on the other side of Namjoon, nods ruminatively. "You've got this whole hangdog thing going on lately, hyung. Dark circles. You need a shave, too." He makes a vague gesture with one hand. "Maybe she thought you were a pervert. You need to cheer up. You should let me set you up on another date. I work with this really nice ..."

"No," Yoongi says. "No. Fuck. No. I am never going on another one of your blind dates again, Hoseok. Fuck. That last one? I had to listen to her talk about the laws for importing kiwi fruits for an hour. Who the hell does that?" He picks up his shot glass of soju and drains it, and then reaches for the bottle to pour himself another.

"Hey," Hoseok says, wagging a finger. "Eunyoung is awesome. She was working on a story about the international produce trade. She's intense. I thought you'd like that. I think she even won a prize for that story. Anyway, when I set you up with Minseok you said he had the personality of a dishrag.”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. "Whatever," he says. It's not even like he wants to date anyway. Hoseok's just a persistent fucker with a seemingly endless supply of single colleagues. Yoongi had gotten sick of the nagging. "I don't need to go on a date. I just need to get taken off of desk duty."

Namjoon frowns. "Why don't you talk to the Superintendent again? I mean, the whole thing has pretty much blown over now."

Hoseok nods. “Yeah, and I mean, I don’t even get why it was such a big deal to begin with. It’s not like you did anything wrong.”

Yoongi sighs more deeply still.

A few years ago, fresh faced and eager (okay, exaggeration, but as fresh faced and eager as he’s ever been), Yoongi had gotten a promotion to senior inspector. This hadn’t been the result of any particular effort on his part; he’d simply done his time and followed the rules and been next in line for a promotion. He’d gotten reassigned away from his old station to a new posting and had to get to know a whole new set of annoying coworkers.

He’d noticed pretty quickly that something was fishy in his new station. The Superintendent had been a young man, handsome in a coarse way and overbearing. One of those men who moved through life convinced he was always in the right. Yoongi saw how the Superintendent sent the junior inspectors out on personal errands: to drop off his uniforms at the dry cleaners, to the market to get fresh seafood for his wife, to pick his daughter up after school and drive her, lights and sirens blaring, to her academy for lessons.

It was wrong, is the thing. There are explicit rules about the use of official vehicles in the Agency handbook, and Superintendent Jo Jinyoung had flouted them with shocking brazenness.

Yoongi had ignored it for a while, but it ate at him that the brown-nosing assholes who enabled the Superintendent’s worst transgressions got the best assignments. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. They were supposed to uphold the law. How could they do that when they couldn’t even follow their own rules?

It sounds now like the complaint of a very young and very stupid man. At the time, though, the injustice had bubbled up inside of him until it had boiled over, and he’d submitted a formal written complaint to the Internal Ethics Board.

It wasn’t some huge scandal. It didn’t even get into the press, as far as he knows. There was a quiet investigation at the end of which Superintendent Jo Jinyoung was demoted and a few sternly worded pan-agency memos were circulated reminding everyone about the guidelines for the proper use of agency vehicles. A slap on the wrist.

How could they punish Jo when such corruption was commonplace? They all did it: every last crooked officer stretched the rules as far as they could.

Yoongi’s complaint had one more consequence: a few months later he was reassigned from Jo’s station to a new posting in Gwangjin. It wasn’t a demotion, even though he was just a regular Inspector again. It wasn’t a demotion, but the powers that be were worried that he wasn’t going to be able to function in his old post, in light of circumstances. They didn’t want him to suffer from discrimination, and they thought the best way to avoid it would be to let him start fresh somewhere new.

Except Superintendent Jo Jinyoung had been the personal protégé of Superintendent Shim Intak of Gwangjin Station.

No demotion his ass.

So much for doing the right thing. Yoongi has wised up now and doesn’t complain about anything anymore, but Shim is still intent on taking his pound of Yoongi’s flesh.

"He hates me," Yoongi says, grumpily. "Thinks I'm a troublemaker. Fuck. I'm gonna be getting him coffee and babysitting his parking spot until I the day I die."

Namjoon shakes his head. "Hyung, just tell him you’re sorry and you’ve learned your lesson and ask him if he’ll let you get back to bringing down the bad guys."

Yoongi rolls his eyes. "I don’t want to bring down the bad guys. I'm not a fucking superhero, Namjoon."

Hoseok laughs. "But you'd look so cute in tights and a cape, hyung. One of the guys at work is having a Halloween party at this place in Itaewon. You should definitely dress up and come!"

He reaches a hand out to ruffle Yoongi's hair and Yoongi bats it away. "Cut it out. I'm not going to any stupid Halloween party."

He goes to pour himself another drink. It takes him a moment to realize the bottle's empty.

Can't even pour a drink right. Yoongi sighs and lays his head down on his folded arms.

Namjoon puts a consoling hand on his shoulder. "It'll be okay, hyung. I know how much you believe in what you do."

Yoongi closes his eyes. Goddamn Namjoon and his fucking optimism.

"I believe," Yoongi says, voice already a little slurred. "I want another fucking drink."

*****

"Chief is looking for you."

"Eh?" Yoongi looks up, alarmed. He's a half hour late to work, and his head is killing him.

Yungsoo smiles placidly at him over the divider that separates their two desks. He's an older guy, around the age Yoongi’s father would have been, and he's worked in Gwangjin station since before Yoongi was born. He’s got two daughters in high school, a wife who owns a nail salon, and is an enthusiastic fan of the Lotte Giants. There are a dozen orange and black pennants hung up over his desk. He's a nice enough guy and all, but Yoongi doesn't really have too much in common with him.

"Minjoon came around earlier," Yungsoo says in his slow, calm way. "Said Superintendent Shim needed to talk to you. I told him I'd let you know when you got in.” He frowns. "That's a pretty nasty bruise, Yoongi. What happened?"

"Pissed off a perp," Yoongi mutters under his breath. “Fuck.” He sits down and pulls open his desk drawer. It's a muddle of pens, paper clips, packets of sauce from to-go orders... everything except what he wants. Way in the back of the drawer he finds his bottle of aspirin. He can't get the safety cap off. He struggles, and then finally it comes off with a pop. Pills scatter all over his desk. "Shit."

He takes two and swallows them dry. He'll clean the rest up later.

Normally, Yoongi takes the long way to Shim’s office, going through the break room and around the copiers. It’s stupid, but it lets him avoid the desk of Lee Dokwang, the current darling of Gwangjin Station. He’s already late now, though, and he doesn’t dare risk pissing off Shim more than he already has, so he steels himself and, head held high, walks right down the aisle between the two rows of cubicles.

Lee, whose desk is at the very end of the row near the window, looks up as Yoongi approaches. He’s a strikingly handsome guy a year younger than Yoongi who by all accounts is the very picture of a skilled and dedicated officer. While he was at the National Police University, he set all kinds of records that still stand and he volunteers on the weekends at an orphanage. Everyone says Lee is marked for great things and whisper about how he’s Shim’s hand-chosen successor.

Like his benefactor Shim, Lee is also a huge asshole.

“Injured in the line of duty, Officer Min?” he asks as Yoongi passes his desk, which is neat as a pin and devoid of any personal effects. Lee’s hair is glossy and perfectly parted, and every button on his uniform gleams.

“Huh?” Yoongi blinks tiredly. He hadn’t even had time for coffee, and he feels barely sentient.

Lee gestures at his own razor-sharp cheekbone.

Oh. Right.

“It’s nothing,” Yoongi mutters.

Lee smirks. “Those delivery girls from Chicken Baengi are ferocious. I’m surprised you made it out with your life.”

Of course the story has spread.

Yoongi makes a rude gesture at Lee.

He can hear Lee and his cronies laughing still as he rounds the corner to the Superintendent’s office. Shim’s secretary, Minjoon, is diligently typing away as Yoongi approaches. He's a nice kid just out of college who always has fresh flowers on his desk. He once told Yoongi at an office party that he’d wanted to be a landscape painter, but his mother had insisted on the civil service. Yoongi hadn’t confessed that he too had once harbored artistic aspirations, but he’d thought about it. They might be friends, if Yoongi bothered making any friends here.

"Hey Minjoon," he says. “Good morning.”

Minjoon glances up and then smiles. "Ah hyung. Yungsoo passed along the message?"

Yoongi nods.

Minjoon's cheerful smile fades. "What happened to your..." He gestures vaguely at his face.

Yoongi closes his eyes. "Don't want to talk about it," he mumbles. "Is he free now?"

"Let me check," Minjoon says. He picks up his phone. "Hello, sir? Yes... Yes. I haven't heard back from him yet, Sir." A pause. "Sir, Officer Min is here to speak to you. Yes. No. Yes." Another pause. "Okay, Sir. I'll send him in."

Minjoon hangs up the phone and leans forward conspiratorially. Yoongi frowns and ducks closer.

"He's in a pretty bad mood," Minjoon whispers. "Good luck."

"Oh great," Yoongi says, under his breath. He braces himself and opens the door to the office of Superintendent Shim Intak.

Superintendent Shim frowns at Yoongi from beneath his bushy, graying eyebrows. He is a large, solid man of advanced years, gone a little to seed now but still strong and powerfully built. He has worked in Gwangjin Police station since time immemorial and been chief for twenty years at least. There is nothing he resents more than outside interference in the workings of his little fiefdom.

Yoongi still doesn’t know if his reassignment to Gwangjin was orchestrated by Shim as a way to extract revenge for what Yoongi had done to his favorite, or if he’d been foisted on Shim as a punishment of some kind. Either way, Shim has made it his mission to make Yoongi's life just a little bit more miserable every day.

"Good morning, Superintendent," Yoongi says, forcing a smile on his face. "How are you today?"

"Officer Min. Nice of you to join us," Shim says. “Did you sleep well? Get plenty of rest?”

Yoongi winces. He hasn’t been great about getting into the office on time lately, and Shim has already warned him about it. He hadn’t meant to drink so much last night, but Namjoon had been buying and the numb dizzy oblivion of alcohol had been so preferable to anything real in Yoongi’s life.

Before Yoongi can apologize for his tardiness, Shim growls, “Sit,” and gestures at the chair across from his desk. His desk is a Gwangjin legend. It’s huge, made of one massive slab of some dark, expensive wood. Supposedly he took it from the office of a notorious local gangster he’d brought down years before. It’s very shiny and absolutely bare. Yoongi doesn't think he's ever seen as much as a piece of paper on it. Minjoon says he has to polish it three times a week with special imported wax.

"Sir," Yoongi says, sitting. "You wanted to see me?"

Shim nods. It's an abbreviated gesture, like he's worried he might show a little too much enthusiasm if he nods all the way. "How long have you been with us, Officer Min?"

Yoongi pretends to take a moment to think about it. "Two years, sir."

"And you've been restricted to desk duty for most of that time, correct?"

"Yes, sir."

Shim leans back in his chair. "I heard that you found and confronted the delinquent who has been parking illegally in my reserved parking spot." He raises those bushy eyebrows slightly. They look like two fat caterpillars.

"Yes, sir," Yoongi says, keeping his voice carefully neutral.

"Not without some collateral damage, it appears." Shim’s expression betrays absolutely no amusement. Asshole.

Yoongi grinds his teeth. "Just a little bruise, sir," he mutters.

Shim nods in a self-important way. "Good," he says. "In light of your satisfactory performance, I've decided to give you a field assignment."

Yoongi's heart suddenly soars. A field assignment? He hadn't expected this at all. He figured he was just getting called in here to get reamed out again for not fucking ironing his shirt well enough or something equally inane. He smiles now, a genuine smile. "A field assignment, sir? That's great news."

Shim nods. "A very concerning matter has been brought to my attention by City Hall. I'm sure you're aware, being a young person yourself, that young people these days are all very taken with this singing and dancing business I see so much of on the television?"

Yoongi nods. He doesn't know where this is going, but his elation his dimming. "Yes, sir. A close friend of mine is a producer, actually."

"Exactly," Shim says. "All these kids think they're going to be the next Seo Taiji. Nonsense, I say. One of him was more than enough." He shakes his head. "Not surprisingly, given the superabundance of depraved and lawless scoundrels in the world, there are people looking to take advantage of these foolish children. The Fraud Investigation Unit has been on the trail of one of these groups for a while. They’re the usual sort – low-lives, gangsters, and thugs. I've gotten report that they've moved into our district." He snorts. "If any son of mine wanted to audition for an entertainment company, I'd make it clear he had better get that song and dance nonsense out of his head, but..."

He spreads his hands in silent protest at the degenerate parents and youth of today.

"Our station has been given the directive to investigate and bring down the person or persons behind this operation." He makes a frustrated noise in his throat. "I personally don’t believe the case merits this much attention, but I have been told that because of the sensitive identities of some of the individuals who got caught up in this scheme, we are to give it top priority. I’m sure you understand.”

Yoongi nods. Namjoon has told him about some of the shady ass shit that goes down in the entertainment business. Sounds like some rich spoiled son or daughter got taken in by some kind of scam or something. "I understand, sir," he says. "What do you need me to do?"

"Isn't it obvious, Officer Min? The only way that we can bring this group down is from the inside. You're going undercover."

A weird hot feeling crawls up Yoongi’s spine. "Under... cover?"

Superintendent Shim comes as close to smiling as Yoongi has ever seen him.

"You're going to audition for this entertainment company, Officer Min. You’re going to be a trainee.”