This City

Artwork by Akshay Jose

This city is ancient. So ancient, it’s rotting. Pieces of it fall apart at every second, revealing corroded rebar and cracked brick. That mall, over there, bulldozed because it couldn’t sell anything in a whole year. And that hospital to the left, right there, yeah— another victim of an infectiously shrinking economy. The shops and offices further down in that lane, you see them? Those were evacuated because someone reported a health hazard, when in fact the developer hit bankruptcy. Ah, this city is old, and soon it will crumble to dust, left in its pile of death and abandonment.

“This is a little exciting for me,” Kim grinned, their steps matching side-by-side. The soles of their fancy shoes aren’t meant to withstand all this sharp gravel and broken glass, but they still casually stroll through it all like it’s nothing. “Is that weird?”

Tae smiles and shakes his head at his lazily advancing feet, hands sunk deep in his pockets. He’d dressed himself in a suit for this date, wearing his best cologne and setting his hair with a lot of care and attention. He’d gone all out to make sure the pattern on his tie matched the exact shade of his black trousers. Kim K from design and consultancy had asked him out. Him. Lee Tae, just a junior assistant in accounts. Of course, he couldn’t just wing it.

Dinner was fine, perfect even. And the long drive out of Seoul was strangely romantic in its own way— soft music, a gently humming engine, streetlights whipping across their visions as if dancing away into the past. And all Tae had wanted was for them to stop at a cliff somewhere high up in the hills, lie on the front of the car and stare up at the moon. That would’ve been perfect, don’t you think?

Which is why he really doesn’t understand what they’re doing walking through a dilapidated part of the suburbs.

“It’s just that…” Kim starts, and then blushes. It’s such a sweet expression, probably matching Tae’s own. But it’s so incongruent against their surroundings. Right now, all attention must be focused on any looming threats. Everybody knows this part of town is overflowing with those… anti-social youths. You know, those knife-flinging gun-slinging vandals who aren’t afraid of the police. The sort of people who’d jump at the sight of two corporate types like him and Kim. You know the kind.

“It’s just that I’ve only ever seen places like this in the movies.”


“You and I: we grew up too protected,” Kim continues, but stops walking in the middle of what looks like the entrails of a multi-storey car park. Imploded to smithereens, blackened from an angry fire, steel reinforcing bent away from the centre of the blast. “We had to travel the world with our imaginations, didn’t we? Anything considered too dirty or too dangerous was… frowned upon. Out of the question. Which is why I’ve always felt like I missed out on a big part of life.”

Tae agrees, but not every experience is a good one, you know? “I wanted a skateboard once,” he manages to supply weakly. Kim grins in appreciation.

“You probably think I’m insane.”

“That… would be the appropriate reaction, wouldn’t it?” Tae asks, being gifted with loud laughter. He chuckles at the sight of Kim throwing his head back without a care in the world, hands clapping and voice barking. Like nothing could go wrong in this crazy, fucked up, precarious part of the world.

And he decides this is probably what falling in love feels like. There’s nothing significant to mark the moment, and it doesn’t mean he sees fireworks, or hears beautiful music in his head. There’s no tingling under his skin, that would actually be annoying. The air isn’t suddenly filled with the fragrance of roses or anything. It just… feels really nice. Validating, you see?

“But hey, this is what makes us human,” he gestures around them. “Our curiosity. We want to know and understand what we’ve never known or understood before. We’re drawn to new things and odd experiences. That’s what makes us… real, I guess.” He nods at the other, who slowly sobers up at his words and then smiles, the jacket of his own suit flapping in the gentle breeze.

“Yeah…” he smiles.

“So,” Tae nervously chews on his bottom lip. “It’s not really scary, it’s. Uhm. Electric.”


“I don’t know..that’s the only word I can describe it in.”

“Hmm. Come here,” Kim suddenly beckons with a jerk of his head. Tae apprehensively steps forward, hands sweating in his pockets, eyes wandering everywhere except to the other’s perfect form in perfect moonlight. His throat itches like he wants to let out a happy giggle, but he just clears it out nonchalantly and keeps walking. Until he’s pulled in by his tie, a loud surprised gasp ruining the image of coolness he was trying to project.

And then finally. Finally. Their lips meet. And finally, Tae doesn’t really care. About his shoes, or the neighbourhood, or the time, or the fact that there’s a big performance review meeting at nine tomorrow morning and he is absolutely unprepared. This world is changing, this city is changing, and every time a tongue swipes across his mouth, he is changing. Every inch he covers with his sneaking fingers, every button he flicks open, Kim is changing, too. It’s all finally turning around to look at him, and now he can really smile.

That is, until he feels the knife sink into his soft, heated, perfect flesh.

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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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