After The Fire

Kim closes his eyes to the burning building, its ashes showering his shoulders and its explosions spitting heat into his face. At first glace, this all-engulfing inferno isn’t unlike others, it can be extinguished. Not with any ease, he admits quietly, but it can still go out. It’s possible.

When he opens his eyes again he is sitting across from Jon in a meeting room. Short fingers fiddle with the corner of a thick set of drawings before pushing it towards him. Kim doesn’t show eagerness, he waits until Jon is fully ready to share.

“Shame it burned down,” he comments when he is pouring over the detailed plans and complex sections and elaborate elevations. He thumbs through the reams and doesn’t stop until he is at the end. “Shame it fell apart,” he looks up at Jon who looks worn out, like the fire is still blazing.

“Can you help?” he asks in the softest voice. A timid and sad voice that Kim nearly doesn’t hear. But the meeting room is quiet. The rest of the office is probably listening in and no one makes any sound, lest they miss something. “Please help,” Jon repeats, and he is not crying but his tone seems oddly watery.

Kim closes his eyes again, remembering other buildings that have been decimated. Some lost their roofs, so he tried sealing them off. Some lost their walls, so he tried holding them together. Some were showered with old panes of glass, some buckled under crackling beams. So he tried to keep them upright. He tried very hard, every time they came to him and asked for his help. He repaired and rebuilt, and even when the fire was taken care of, he often failed.

Some things cannot be fixed.

Seeing it for himself now, he can tell this time is worse than any he’s seen before. There is nothing left but concrete dust—as if the fire he witnessed was the last in a line of several. As if a thousand fires have erased the structure out of existence. A few remnant embers glow in warning, retelling the story of how they devoured brick and swallowed steel. What can Kim do here? How can he help? What power does he hold against such inconceivable destruction?

Eyes reopened, they stand in the ashes. Jon leads the way, keeping his attention to the ground. And Kim follows, watching his back intently. There is nothing left in this place. Even the charred earth is no longer hot and pulsing, it has allowed the cold air to rush in and settle. People are gathered by the safety fence around the site— staring, whispering, pointing their fingers. People talk and shake their heads disapprovingly. Kim returns the stare before he is called.

Jon beckons. So they turn their backs on the world and wade deeper in.

“I’m scared,” Jon says to his feet. “What if—what if we rebuild it… and there’s another fire?”

“That’s always a possibility,” Kim replies honestly. “It doesn’t matter what we make. It doesn’t matter how much we protect it. Everything can be destroyed.”

“So…” Jon looks at him with a hopeless gaze. A gaze that was once as bright and fierce as an erupting volcano, but seems to have fizzled out now. “So what if I close it up?” he asks. “What if… what if I make it the way it used to be. But I don’t let anyone near it?”

“What purpose would it serve then?” Kim reasons. “It exists because others need it. It exists to give shelter, to offer respite, to be a place people return to when they’ve been gone for years. They always have a function. If you build something that means nothing…” he shakes his head. “It won’t fix the problem.”

“I don’t want it to be fixed,” Jon refuses, pleads. “I don’t want—don’t want it to be taken away again.” He nearly takes a step back, but stray rebar catches in his pant leg and he begins to fall.

Kim moves forward and reaches out to stop the fall, stop another fire, stop another disaster from striking. He moves, not knowing if he will make it in time. He closes his eyes and hopes he does.

When he opens his eyes—no. He doesn’t open his eyes again. He keeps them shut. Jon is still under him, still holding on, still shuddering and whimpering and gasping his name. Jon is still burning. And while Kim tries to put out the flames, kissing the man’s temple and neck and shoulder; while he tries with all his might, he doesn’t know if he can stop the fire. He doesn’t know if he can stop it from consuming both of them. He doesn’t know if they will survive its advance into their lives as they hold onto each other for every breath.

He doesn’t know if he can fix Jon. But he continues to love him.

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Vi. 30. Ace. His walls may still stand a hundred feet tall and unyielding, his sentries may still keep their guns trained on possible intruders. His gate may be locked shut and his moat may be filled with beasts that could tear Jinki to pieces should he so much as dip a toe into the black depths. But everything else that makes Kibum has fallen to pieces. His indomitable fortress protects nothing. There is no one to save and no one to keep alive. He is completely emptied. He belongs completely to Jinki.

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