Like, if someone is having sex, he’d illustrate. I’d want to be in that room. If they make each other feel good, I’d wanna watch.

If only, Lee thinks, his wistful smile tempered by a sip of lukewarm tea.

A sleepy Jon would flounder into the room, dragging his feet and scratching his head. mm-morn… he’d mumble, then dump his weight onto the nearest stool. And when he’d lean his thought-heavy head, without a second thought, onto Lee’s waiting shoulder. When he’d do that—

If only…

namsan, then and now

Lee walks up a steep slope. “What a shit day,” he says to no one. It’s quiet, and windy, and not his favourite walk to take. The buses are rare. The trees are rustling. The sky is threatening. He runs a hand over his hair, then presses it flat before replacing the baseball cap. “A shit, shit day…” he mumbles.

Jon would weave their arms together and suggest, with a tiny nudge, that they can spend an unrestricted number of hours afterwards, doing nothing but watching TV. They can order fried chicken, open a special bottle of wine, drink microwaved instant soup from cups, he’d say, and not do the dishes until tomorrow.

But let’s not quit here, he’d set his terms. Let’s go all the way to the top first.

So Lee goes. And later, everything Jon promised would come to be. They’d watch a poorly made horror film with vampires bursting out of coffins, prowling the night for unsuspecting young women to bite. Lee would giggle at every supposedly scary shot, and Jon would describe how he’d like to be if he were a ghost: well-groomed, with a good fashion sense, not interested in haunting but very much interested in what goes on behind closed doors.

Like, if someone is having sex, he’d illustrate. I’d want to be in that room. If they make each other feel good, I’d wanna watch.

Lee snorts at that. “Saying things just to make me laugh…” he chides the wind. This same wind had once told him that somewhere in the apartment, Jon was frowning. It’d told him to go, to press his thumb to the other’s forehead and wipe the frown away. He’d listened. He always listened. And always, from a field of overgrown worries Jon would emerge to kiss his hand and say it’s OK. I’m OK.

Later, when the moon was full in the sky, their fingers would smell of magnolias.

Lee is still the same. Jon, somewhere, is also the same. What changed is the wind, the mountain, the weather. What changed is this city and its sky. The moon. The world. All their friends and family. Everything changed, leaving the two of them stubbornly fixed on memories of evenings spent, sprawled on the sofa.

“Ah… what a shitty day,” Lee massages the stitch in his side. A rain-washed Seoul shimmers against his sight.

on grass, suddenly barefoot

The people who gather in the park must separate at some point. If not now, if not today, then maybe in a few years.

Lee takes solace in that thought and lays on his back, soaking in the damp ground through his picnic blanket. A dog runs past, spitting grass in his direction. He scoffs, brushes his shirt clean and folds his arms under his head.

Next to him, Jon would twist onto his elbows and peel a mandarin. With every segment swallowed he’d offer one to Lee. With every seed collected, he’d swing his feet up and hum a happy tune. His heels would be spotted red, like a pomegranate. His shirt would smell of cologne and whatever food he spilled earlier in the day. You know, he would start a profound thought on lips that tasted sour from their encounter with fruit. You know, he would start but never finish, because their favourite dachshund would bound over to flash sad eyes up at them.

Ohhh, my pretty one, Jon would coddle her. What’s wrong then, hmm? What’s wrong with my baby roo-roo?

If Lee twists now he’d see the world the right side up again. If he flops onto his stomach and cranes his neck to the side, waiting to be fed, the fruit would be sweet this time. He would swallow the seeds and tell Jon to expect a tree in a few months. A silly argument would ensue about what’s going to happen on the drama they’ve been following recently. Lee would theorise about the main character’s past and Jon would call out the inherent misogyny in the script.

They would giggle and tease and whine about something insignificant. Then they would pack up their stuff and separate.

The people who gather in the park, who secretly pick flowers to gift their lovers, who push themselves on swings until a guard or a grumpy mother tells them off, they don’t know yet.

How nice, to be blissfully unaware like that. How nice.

no empty chair

Nine steps out of the study. Thirteen steps up the stairs. Nine more, to the dining table.

Jon would spread his arms out in a magnanimous gesture. Army stew, he’d announce, then bow in his chair. By yours truly. It’d bubble in a large pot, issuing a thick steam and a thicker aroma. Cloves and garlic. Maybe even thread onions. Spam and fish cakes arranged like a circular fan. Sausages cut in the shape of octopuses. Slices of cheese unwrapped and held at the ready.

Do the honours? Jon would offer.

Lee would cover his eyes in equal parts amazement and amusement, walking to the chair across and settling in for a long satisfying meal. Over the sound of the simmering stew, they would talk. They’d talk about their days, they’d toss out ideas for the weekend, they’d consider inviting friends for drinks.

Oh shit! Speaking of drinks, Jon would say before making a beeline for the fridge, returning with chilled cans of beer. I forgot about these!

“You silly person…” Lee shakes his head at the single dish in the sink. His eyes rove around the kitchen for more to do. “Always a nightmare cleaning up when you cook.”

They’d talk for hours. If Jon would use words Lee didn’t know, if he didn’t try to look up their meaning, he’d still understand. The context would be the same, every time. A man, in love with him, devoted to the life they share, sitting before him and speaking to him. Opening himself up and letting what swims inside him spill out, in drops or in streams. Sometimes in floods. So what if he isn’t always easy to follow.

So what, really?

Lee would tell the sun to not rise. The dim light under their paper lantern would be enough. The clash of their happy breath would be enough. He’d tell the hands of the clock to fall out of their formation and join the table, there’d be room enough for them all. Weeks would go by, then months and years. But time wouldn’t pass. Time would remain in their night. Everything else would be set, as if in glass.

And the only sound worth listening to, would come from Jon’s throat.

at midnight, looking

Wait, Jon would whisper. His fingers would sweat. His palms would gasp. His breath would slip.
Wait, wait. Their shadows would tangle in each other’s darkness, ready to embrace gentle blindness that comes immediately following the light switch.
Hey, Jon would plead, struggling with buttons.
Hey, he would insist, ridding himself of the weight of clothes.
Hey, wait, he would continue to beg until he was allowed a barely coherent

come here.

And then spring would bloom between their tongues.

Lee learnt a long time ago that mouths are made for more than speaking.
He trained himself to use it as a vehicle, riding it over the plains of hands or the terrains of lips; the valleys of spines or the inclines of thighs. He taught his mouth to leave deep tracks, colouring everything with the emblem of his love.
It’s one of his many skills, and he uses it the way it was always meant to be used—to later count the marks and kiss their names onto them.

“This one is blue, this one purple, and this one…”

He’d look up at Jon for suggestions, only to be met by a shy laugh and a hiding face.
Persistent, Lee would tickle the other’s feet, to be greeted with kicking and squirming and more laughter.
Never ready to give up, Lee would fill his hands with other parts of Jon, other means of coaxing answers to his questions.
But here he would fail, and Jon would only let out confessions disguised as exhales.
Overwhelmed, he’d accept defeat.

Then his anchor would find a place on Jon’s seabed.

If only, Lee thinks with a quiet smile. The kettle hisses for attention. The rice cooker sings an alerting tone. He goes to each one, touches each one, leaves his wild imagination on all the empty surfaces of this wide, wide kitchen. Eventually he must exit the room. Eventually he must walk out of the house. That’s the only way he can start again. Riding the subway, slaving at his desk, momentarily becoming another person. These are the ingredients to create the perfect sterile fantasy he sells his friends at every hangout.

If only, if only, his shoulder calls out for a head to rest against it.

(lovers come)
(as strangers)
(and stay)
(as halves)

mine, only

The sun would set but its blaze would remain under their skins. And all the stretch marks of their bodies would burn silver, like medals won in the battle of youth. Their fingers would stroke each one. Their lips would reward each one. Each one, in answer, would glow brighter still.

Lee says: Tired?
Jon says: Hmm…
Lee says: So sleep.
Jon says: If I say no?
Lee says: Then I’ll put you to sleep. With boring things.
Jon says: Like what?
Lee says: Like…

Their joint weight would sink into the depth of the pillows. A sea of cotton and down would surround them. Where a palm would push down, it’d leave a dark mark. Where a torso would lift, it’d reveal a navy imprint. They would dye the bed cobalt, sapphire, midnight. And where their skins happen to touch, they’d exchange colours until the shade evened out.

Lee says: Like how many types of rocks there are in the ground. I can list them all… should I?
Jon says: Yes… or. No.
Lee says: Choose one.
Jon says: I already choose you.

When, inevitably, Lee would lift him up and pin him against the stars, he’d see jealousy on the moon—that a quiet man could be more blue than any sky, that a low temporal being could hold more silver and gold in him than the horizon. That every indigo sound in his human voice was more treasured than any birdsong. Lee would see the moon bubble with envy and hide Jon from its guile.

(i’d pity me too)

One day, like today, the clouds will be thick in the sky. All the roads that lead home will be dark, too dark to walk alone. Jon will let Lee hold his hand and start a determined walk. All the trees and rivers they pass will watch and whisper. They will talk in undertones about the way Lee’s arms sometimes seem too tight around Jon. They will spread rumours about the way Jon stares at the side of Lee’s face. They will see the thoughts these two travellers share. They will see the dark shapes of their twin limbs; see the early spring their ritual tries to summon. And they will conspire.

Lee is still the same. Jon, somewhere, is also the same. What changed is anger, and shame, and forgiveness, and desire. What changed is the seam in their hearts, opening wider and wider the fuller they grew. What changed is eyes and mouth and fragrance, turning sour like mandarins. What changed is the nature of forbidden words, once ardent, now poisonous. What changed are the colours, from blue and purple and gold, to a meaningless vermillion that sits in a shallow bowl, untouched.

What changed is love.

fighting, fighting, breathing

Jon would carry a suffocating weight. On his head, on his arms, on the line between his chest. On his lonely back, on his anxious waist, his suspicious sides, his stubborn knees. He would carry thunder and lightning. He would carry unwieldy mountains. He would heft up all the seasons and pauses. He would carry the sea and the sky and the stars and moon and planets and. And it would tire him so much he would throw it all down in a single move where it would land, unfailingly, into Lee’s hold.

The blows he would deal would hurt but leave no marks. Every fall of the fist, every slap to the face, every hit and strike would be worded and shaped crudely. But aimed with precision it would nonetheless bring pain. Lee would break. He would splinter, crack, give way to the weight. He would let it crush him. The grains of his strength would disperse to accept Jon’s attacks.

Then they would return, gathering once more when Jon’s punches turned inward.

Stop, Lee would say, breaking the weight into a thousand imperceptible pieces. That’s enough, stop. Sometimes it’d work. Jon would collapse. Sometimes it wouldn’t. Jon would fight harder. Sometimes they would both remain broken for days, staying in their own corners of the ring until a referee was called. A soothing Min, a pitying Gee. In the worst cases, a reproachful Tae. Friends who, to this day, come at a moment’s notice.

They’re kind. They say all the right things, let Lee hear all the right condolences. What they don’t say is too obvious.

How strange then, that he accepts their silence as an act of mercy. How strange: something that once made smithereens of him now lets him enjoy moments of peace. None of his devastation remains visible. None of his fractures are anywhere to be seen. I’m OK, he says, and now. Now people believe him. I’m OK, really.

“I talked this thing in my chest to turn into a rock. So it could stop breaking.”

Those who shed tears around him don’t understand. They don’t get it. They’re too detached, too distant to see it as clearly as he does. It’s fine. Not their fault. Lee is more used to it than they are. He’s used to… all of it. The mechanical five stages, the handy breathing exercises, the meditation soundtracks, all that shit. It’s fine. He takes the suggestions with outward gratitude, reserving them for dismissal when he’s on his own.

confessions, one hundred

On his way home from work, the moon is high.

He doesn’t immediately recognise it. At first glance it looks like a strange dot, a smudge on the perfect canvas of the night. Something is missing from its light, some important feature that keeps Lee bound in its fist. Its scars are too deep. Its face is too pale. Its colour is too ashen. It seems farther than it has ever been.

When Lee thinks of the distance between his hand and its uneven sphere he suddenly… suddenly can’t breathe. Every draw of air scrapes the walls of his lungs, refusing to be caged in his body. “Oh…” he gasps, and sinks down to the flower bed, just below the letterboxes. “Oh,” he sobs, desperately trying to live, trying to breathe, trying very hard to retain control of his existence in this moment.

What’s this?! Beaten by a little bit of walking! Jon would shake his head. See? You need more exercise. Told you not to cancel the gym card. Eh? Are you going to have a heart attack, mister? he’d joke. Should I call 119? We can tell them you’re much older than you look.

The neighbours’ cat slinks into view, stopping in its tracks when it notices a figure squatting in the dark. Despite familiarity, it doesn’t come any closer. It sits down and watches, disinterested, as a man comes apart under the forceful press of moonlight.

Moonlight that pushes into his crown with the tip of a knife. It is cold and hot at the same time. It swamps and burns at the same time. It flails and drowns at the same time. It pushes and pulls and shakes him… until he begins losing the beads of his mind, one by one. He scrambles to pull them back inside. But even when they’re secured, he can’t be sure they’re his anymore. Something else coats them, like a wrathful nacre.

Really. Why are you like this? Jon would touch his head, hug it to his stomach, hush him until he calms down.

Somewhat placated, Lee throws a handful of dry leaves at the annoying animal, but it remains undeterred and unmoved. “Aren’t you enjoying this too much?” he accuses. At its silence, he huffs and gathers himself, continuing the walk home.

(lovers come)
(as strangers)
(and leave)
(in pieces)

(wasteful imagination)

One day, like today, Lee will make a habit of stopping at the plaque on the corner of S road: the one lauding a language that doesn’t realise its own limitations. Jon would stop there with him. He would loop his arm across Lee’s shoulder and try to pronounce difficult foreign words, chuckling at his own failures.

“If only,” a cloud of cigarette smoke blows towards the TsandNs of Lee’s longing.

He will be like those pronunciations. He will be special. He will be above the rest of the vowels and consonants. And he would’ve remained special all his life. He would’ve remained shining, beautiful, bright. He would’ve remained proud of himself. Maybe some day he would’ve grown into a wise old man, worth more than most others. But Jon will not allow it. He will be the knot that ties Lee to the ornery. The unadorned. The simple limitation of being blue. And so.

Lee will be the same. Jon, somewhere, will also be the same. What will change is everything in between.

This story was about: Gender Identities Sexuality

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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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