“I’ve breathed you in,” Tae claims. Such a claim is heavy to make—heavy as lead tied to the feet. Like she’s training to run. Training to climb. Like she’s trying to swim up and break the surface but the weight has her down, keeps her struggling. When she does rise out and drink in a lungful of air, she’s dripping with fear. She’s shuddering from the fear of judgement, from the anticipation of coldness.

Her confession is burning by comparison. Her stomach isn’t frying the words anymore—they’ve been spat out onto the table between them. Now all that rises from her mouth is smoke. Overheated oil. And the over-fried, overdone words are neither delectable nor appealing to look at.

But to have let the words out—to have served them like this—it isn’t enough for Tae to keep her guard up. She feels safe against the admission. She feels the steam of their heat waft to her nose and remind her of home. Of summer days spent on the grass. Of hours lain against stacks of books and months donated to the cause of being together.

On Min’s face is an unreadable book—unreadable because it is in an entirely different language. Tae broadens this out, stretches like dough to assign as the definition of Min. A foreigner with strange expressions, odd exclamations, weird wardrobe and awkward behaviour. Min is wild, unfamiliar, uncharted. And Tae is tame and quiet, a domesticated cow in comparison.

Don’t force this, she tells herself now as they both stay seated at the table. Don’t say any more. Don’t ask for an answer. Don’t beg, don’t expect, don’t raise your aspirations. Let those four words be your piece. Now that you’ve said it, let it be a swansong among conversations between the two of you. Walk away. Let this go.

“A lungful?” Min begins and breaks Tae’s conviction. Breaks her will. Makes her stay. “Or just a sniff?”

How slippery her words are, Tae marvels. How easily they slide out of their boxed mieums and bieups, forming puddles as she watches—puddles of frustration, of disillusionment and despair.

“I’ve breathed you,” she maintains as an answer, and this time, begins gathering her things. It’s time to go.

“And did some of me stay?” Min inquires again, holds her back again. “Did you keep some of me, before breathing out?”

Tae wants to climb over the table, stretch across it and take hold of Min’s sweet little face. She wants to kiss her with every secret that lives in her chest, watch it wriggle down the other’s throat as she swallows each utterance before decrying Tae’s true form, the one she hides from the whole world. Because who would respect her then? Who would take her seriously if they knew? Not Min. Not even this sweet, pretty, perfect, beautiful friend who has so much love to give it flows out and touches places it isn’t meant to spill onto. Not even her.

“Is some of me still in there?” Min stares at Tae’s chest.

With a sigh and tug at the strap of her bag, Tae flicks her chin in question. “What do you think?”

“I think…” Min continues like leaving and staying aren’t things she understands. Like she will keep talking even after Tae leaves. “I think that sometimes. We see dreams that we wish were real.” Her eyes are like brown pools of affection. “Sometimes we think things we wish were true. That’s what makes us so… human,” she nods as if she’s talking to herself. “I think what Tae is going through is human.”

“Are you human too?” Tae says with more challenge than she intends to place in her tone.

Here Min falters, for the first time in a long time. Assured, confident, brilliant Min is replaced by uncertain, cautious, measured Min. “Do you want me to be?” her tone lowers with her gaze.

“That’s not how this works,” Tae bites. “You either want me or you don’t.”

Min worries her lip before smiling. “I want Tae… to be happy,” she says. “No matter what. I want that for you. You’ve always been so kind, and your heart is so big. You don’t want people to know but—” she assures with another nod. “But I can tell. Tae is very loving.”

“Answer the question. Do you want me or not?” she persists despite beginning to lose her hope.

Min’s fingers press against her coffee cup. Her eyes glow with light and secrets of their own. Her breath is so soft, so slow, it’s like she’s trying to make as little sound as possible. She purses her lips, looks down at the tabletop, at the charred mass of a confession that leaves the wood singed. Then she looks up at Tae again, opening her mouth to say—

This story was about: Comics Identities International 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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