Min opens the door and smiles. But the smile is only a performance. Sitting behind it is another expression, another body with faces that clearly reveal the truth. He smiles but his smile hides what he really means to say. And what he means to say cannot be said, at least not in the languages known to him. What he means to say is sheltered by the sterilized sweetness he presents to his visitor, holding the door open wider.
“You’re here,” he whispers happily.
They exchange pleasantries at the threshold, talking about the weather and how unreliable the subway can be even on the weekend. Then a pair of shoes is slipped off, a coat is shrugged away, and the door clicks shut.
You’re here, he repeats with his fingers.
Kim’s shoulders tolerate him for a moment. They are deceptive, broader than they look and housing more than the weight of the man’s sighs. Their skin is cool to the touch. Sometimes when they pin Min down, he thinks he sees stars. Sometimes he likes to lean his head against them and will himself to sleep. Sometimes there is just enough time for him to dream on their span.
“Let’s eat. What did you order?” the other brushes past, fingers mussing his hair. He is never gentle, never willing to hold any fondness out long enough for it to be appreciated. Someone like Kim doesn’t throw kindness around for someone like Min. Theirs is not that kind of bond. Even if Min were made of fine porcelain, even if he needed to be handled with care, Kim would fling him without any thought for where he landed. Theirs is not the kind of love that clamps them together in an unyielding embrace or joins their lips in a honeyed greeting. They come together only to separate.
“You’ll see,” Min follows the other in.
“Ginseng chicken?” Kim gasps as he leans over the pot bubbling on the stove. “Uwaaah~ this smells just like home! Where did you get it from?” He must know already. He must see the ingredients stashed away in the corner, must notice the lines of sleeplessness on Min’s face. He must know who made his meal and why. But he chooses to ignore it all for the sake of distance and Min chooses to allow him that self-defence.
“Nearby. I’ll take you there someday,” he smiles.
“Mm, can’t wait to taste this!” Kim claps his hands like an excited young child. It deserves a chuckle. They have that, at least. Kim can make Min laugh until his stomach hurts. He can make Min sob until his breath is smothered. He makes Min feel angry and jealous and protective and secretive. If they have nothing else, they have that.
“I’ll serve you. Sit,” Min motions to the island.
They’re quiet when they eat. On days like this he wishes days like this never ended—that Kim wouldn’t have to make an excuse to leave or make an excuse to stay. He would simply choose to remain at Min’s side, in Min’s sight, on Min’s mind. But if Min is a scarf, Kim’s fingers exist only to unravel him. If he is a fragrance, Kim wears him to wash him out the next day. If he is wet soil and happy rain, Kim avoids him. He stays indoors, sheltered, dissociated from the slightest chance of being smeared if he didn’t move away quickly enough. He is always like that, changing and shifting, pushing and pulling. He is always that cold.
Of course, Min would never ask for more than that. All he can present is a contented smile.
“Aah, so full…” Kim rubs his stomach. “What’re we doing later?”
“You have time today?”
“A few hours. Oh! We could watch that movie I was telling you about.”
“That really weird art film?”
Kim pouts. “Just say no if you don’t want to, what’s with all the—?”
“Fine, fine, we’ll watch it,” Min relents. “I’ll probably fall asleep anyway.”
The movie is fine, it’s not terrible. But Min can’t keep his mind still when Kim’s arm is looped around him. It’s strange to be held like this. It feels like he belongs in this bracket, between the other’s side and fingertips. It feels like the right breadth and curvature, as if Kim was especially designed to hold Min. Could that be true, he wants to ask. Could it be that you have something more you could give to me? Could it be that you’re saving it for later? He wants to ask but he is afraid—not of the answer, but the possibility that Kim wouldn’t give him one.
“Hmm…” Min slowly lays his head in the other’s lap.
“Should I leave you alone?”
He blinks up at the other, draws circles on his chin. “Do you want to?”
“I was actually hoping for dessert.”
When their eyes meet Kim gives him half a smile. It’s been a while since he asked so nicely. It’s been a while since he asked at all. Most of their nights are an inebriated haze, most of their days are casual brushes of acquaintance. But every time Kim asks it gives Min renewed hope.
“You were,” he confirms.
Min is good at smiling because his smile is a carefully designed lie. He builds it out of all his undeclared thoughts, all the what ifs that would immediately alert Kim—that his smiles are not really smiles, but silent pleas. Min smiles because if he didn’t, Kim would know. He’d immediately be able to tell how broken Min is. And that can’t happen. He mustn’t know. When the slightest hint passes over Min’s face, when it ascends from the middle of his chest towards his mouth, he muzzles it with stupid jokes or childish insults. He keeps it trapped behind all the other meaningless things that cross the distance between them.
Kim’s lips touch each of Min’s fingertips as he continues to stare. His eyes can get so dark they’d easily be mistaken for the middle of the night, drilling holes with their intensity.
“Pancakesor shaved ice?” Min teases, still smiling, still pretending.
“Yah,” Kim flicks his forehead. “Don’t play with me.”
“What? You said you want dessert, so I’m asking you what kind.”
“Are you really going to be like this?” the other demands, shifting Min’s weight across his legs. “Are you really going to make me say I want to fuck you?”
Min grins, clicking his fingers in victory. “Kim, you sick pervert.”
His mirth is cut short when the man closes a playful set of teeth on his fingers. He makes a startled sound before trying to roll off the sofa, but he’s tackled to the ground instead. They wrestle, pushing and kicking and twisting around in a juvenile game for control. Their elbows smash against the table. Their knees knock into tiles. They play and laugh until their eyes tear up. This is how it always ends. They manufacture these contests to soften the severity of what will come after. Each man participates in the lie Min begins with his smiles, because they are both equally desperate. One will not take another step closer, and the other cannot bear to take a step back. This is how it always ends—in both their defeat. The lie has won again. It has breathed new life into the expanse between them. Now Min can stay broken and Kim can keep avoiding his sharp edges, favouring only the perfectly curved centre.
“Yes or no,” he asks as his teeth continue to attack Min’s waist.
“Yes shaved ice, no pancakes—hey! What’re you—?!” Min tries to shrink away.
“Yes or no,” the other presses on. His head breaches Min’s shirt before he sucks on a soft nipple.
“W-wait—that’s—!” Min stutters, eventually managing to pry them apart.
Kim’s face is flushed. He pants as he crawls closer, stopping beside Min’s ear and pulling on it with his lips. “Yes or no,” he repeats in a whisper.
“What does it matter what I want.”
The utterance is a mistake. A terrible, terrible slip-up. Kim sits back and frowns at him. Or maybe he isn’t frowning but concentrating. Maybe he’s searching for a breach in Min’s lie. Maybe he’s going to peel it off with his teeth, tease it apart with his tongue, lap at it like it is an open wound. Maybe he’ll try to heal it despite his own taciturn self. Or maybe he’ll take one look at what Min is concealing and he’ll leave. He’ll never come back, then. And all this cheerful dishonesty, all the attempts to cling on to this husk of a relationship will be for naught. Maybe Min will break to an irreparable extent, far beyond the capacity of any kind of love.
“Is that how you think?” Kim murmurs. “About us?”
Min purses his lips, unwilling to render any more damage. But there are embers in the other’s gaze. They singe him where it hurts most. He turns away from the question and yet Kim persists in his curiosity, branding his heat everywhere it lands.
“Tell me,” he touches Min’s cheek.
A shake of the head precedes a smile. It is precarious, unstable. It isn’t mendacious enough on its own, it needs support. “Just a joke,” Min says.
This is how it always begins. But Kim doesn’t look like he’ll allow it. Min recognizes it on the lines of his face. He has accidentally divulged a corner of reality. Kim won’t concede until he’s seen every single inch of it now. He’s going to force all the deceit back against the walls until he has the remaining space to himself. This isn’t how it begins, not this time. This is a new ending.
“What is it that you want?” he asks.
Min hesitates. “Nothing, let’s just—”
“Should we stop?” he is interrupted. The silence following that question is more piercing than a dirge. Min’s heart jumps up to his throat. He panics and grips the other’s sleeve.
Kim moves closer again, nudging their noses together. “I’ll do everything as you say. Should we stop?”
Min feels his breath jolt for a moment before he confesses. “No.” Then he is devoured by a kiss.
Kim’s body is always colder than his hands. He scorches all the parts of Min he touches before soothing them. Waves of heat and ice splash on Min. He groans, against the rising fever, against the surfacing thirst, against the slide of Kim’s burning fingers weaving in and out of him. Nestled in his sheets, his vision swims. “Don’t stop,” he pleads with the air in his room. “D-don’t stop.” And Kim obliges. The drink he brings to Min’s lips doesn’t quench. It only lengthens desire. Sweat beads on their arms and neck. Their heat bucks and rears. Their senses are caught in a mist. Kim pulls and pushes, as always, but he is so tender. His every action is so potent with sympathy. Min had never once expected any form of comfort from the other but today he is kind beyond reason.
When he replaces his fingers with himself, Kim stops. Coiling an arm around their front, he squeezes a ring on Min’s arousal and lets his wrist play for a moment. His mouth sighs on Min’s shoulder, murmuring something unintelligible before nudging with his hips.
The air is suddenly heavy, too heavy to breathe and too heavy to keep in his lungs. Every time Kim moves Min’s spine arches deeper and deeper until he is almost a bow offering himself to the earth. Every time Kim scrapes his teeth on the back of his neck Min’s voice turns to gravel. He tumbles forward. Propping himself up with his arms, he tries to follow their oscillating dance. But the air just won’t stop driving him down. He sinks onto his face. And he chokes. He claws at the sheets and he chokes. A palm flattens on the small of his back. Another secures its place around his hipbone. Cheek pressed into his bed, he gasps as Kim jolts through him.
He isn’t fast. He isn’t reckless. He isn’t how he usually is. When his wet lazy kisses climb along Min’s back, when his thick salty sweat drips onto Min’s skin, when his hips draw slow needy circles, he isn’t the Kim he always tries to be.
This Kim digs into him. This Kim takes hold of him by his rear and stops for an instant. This Kim inspects years’ worth of guile for what it is and brushes it away. “You’re mine,” this Kim declares. “You’re mine.” Min braves a look back as the other covers him, looping a possessive embrace under his arms, touching his mouth for permission, stealing his digits in. And another Min is created. Another Min grunts under the weight of his admission as it slips out between Kim’s probing fingers. Another Min wants to profess all that he wishes were true. This Kim forces this Min to be truthful.
Something leaks from his eyes. Something else falls off his tongue. He is coming apart. One breath at a time he is falling to pieces.
Maybe Kim is listening close: he twists Min up and gathers the confession into his own mouth.
It’s hard to say what time it is when Min wakes up. The light outside his windows isn’t completely gone, but it is much dimmer than he had expected it to be. The room is cold. His feet are freezing. Feeling around himself, he finds his phone and brings it close to his face. Past seven. He grumbles and hides his face in his arms.
He doesn’t need to look around and make sure—he knows Kim is gone. The apartment is empty again, and so is he. It was as he’d expected. Admitting how he felt was a stupid thing to do. He should’ve kept his mouth shut.
“Idiot,” he berates himself.
The shower reminds him of other things, other responsibilities. That’s right, he thinks. There’s other stuff to worry about. This isn’t the end of everything, I need to keep living my life. But he is acutely aware of the fractures in him, of how they’ve retained their shapes. This isn’t the end of everything, but it is the end of some things. That is the price he needs to pay.
The dishes are washed. The kitchen is cleaned. Kim has left him a parting gift. This is his gratitude—the removal of all traces of him ever being here. Min stands in the unkind aftermath and considers what he should do next. Part of him wants to call the other. Part of him urges him to move on. Each side presents its case with growing conviction. Kim was a vile man, one says. He kept more than one lover at any given time, caging them all up inside him and keeping them hostage until he remembered what he needed from them. But Kim was the only man, another side points out, who fit the measurements of the cage inside Min. He was always what Min wanted.
Maybe if Min were more beautiful, maybe if he were smarter and nicer and more loving than he is, Kim would’ve stayed. Maybe if Min were not Min, Kim would’ve liked him enough to not leave. Maybe if—
The door to his apartment beeps, declining entry to whoever is trying to get in. After three tries it finally opens and activates the lobby light. Plastic bags crinkle, shoes squeak, coat buckles jingle. Then a tired-looking Kim staggers in. He raises his arms to show his offerings before setting them on the island. Letting go of a heavy sigh, he puts his hands on his hips.
“Yah. How could a thorough guy like you use the wrong laundry detergent?” he demands. “You could ruin all your clothes like that, you know?” he signals to the bags. “Anyway. I bought you the right one. Oh!” he points. “The market near your place is really huge. I thought I’ll get lost in there! But…” he shrugs. “I could only find pancakes, so let’s have some after dinner? And then I was thinking—what?” he stops when he notices Min. “Why’re you looking at me like that?”
“Y-you’re… you’re here,” an incredulous Min states.
Kim blinks at him in confusion for a minute until he understands. Then he smiles a genuine, blissful smile.
“I’m here,” he assures.