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La Petite Mort

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When Younghoon wakes up, it’s with the feeling that something is off. No-one had barged in to chastise him for sleeping too long. That was the first clue.

His eyelids struggle for a few milliseconds too long. The sight of his bedroom barely rearranges into comprehensive shapes. Dust blowing around his head, he falls on his back to the cold feeling of nothingness. He reaches out to his side, runs a hand over where Chanhee should be. It was cold, no human indent running under the rivet of his fingers. How long had he slept for?

He lies for a little, revelling in the opportunity to spend time in bed. The warmth of the blankets, coupled with the sun beating through the window was almost too much, but Younghoon didn't want to lose it. He hadn't had a decent sleep since... shit? When did they debut?

His alarm draws him out of his warmth. Set for 10am. An alarm he's never heard in bed.

His body jolts upright. Turns it off. Throws it back on the bedside. Frowns at the empty air in front of him.

His entire body felt heavy, soupy; dragging his body southward. He tries to rub his face. An involuntary, muscle memory action, even though he knows it’s bad for his skin.

His fingers meet deep wrinkles, disgusting folds instead of his taut, groomed skin. He pushes the folds up against his skin. Lets it fall.

The drag of skin against his bones feels alien. Distant. Like his body was separate from his soul, his flesh an unknown vessel he’s forced to inhabit. When he stands, it’s with the distinct feeling of his flesh dragging off his skull, melting, dripping into the chin below.

Everything is so heavy.

He drags his bones to the bathroom.

-

Younghoon vomits over the mirror.

He can still see flickers of his reflection from the gaps in last night’s dinners sludge, winking at him between the lurid orange puke.

Somehow, his face was still more nauseating, more rancid, than his disembowelled stomach contents - dripping down into the sink below.

His flesh drooped, draped around his neck like a chicken’s jowl; a beige scarf knitted by a schizophrenic old woman. You could see the bone beneath his eyelids where the flesh had dragged, the sensitive red sclera burnt out, veins scratched with a fingernail. His upper eyelids felt loose, covering his upper iris, making him appear stoned.

Younghoon tries to blink.

His eyelids twitch, flickering with the force of his exertion.

He can feel his eyeballs drying up, the film of liquid over it throbbing in faint pain.

Younghoon considers splashing some water in his eyes.

He considers shouting for help.

He considers cleaning the puke off the mirror.

Younghoon waits, steady, eyeing his visage in the damp reflection beneath molten vomit. Empty irises meet his own. He waits. For the blink that will never happen, for someone to call his name… for his face to revert to what it once was.

There are no clocks, no watch. He didn’t bring his phone.

Nothing moving between him. No static time.

Nothing.

The air sits stoic. Mind vacant.

He slams his fist into his reflection. The wall rumbles behind the glass.

His face splinters into a million different pieces. All them alien, all opposites of him. A thousand different charactures, all him, none of them blinking back.

He spits at one shard that’s clattered into the sink.

He inhales, shaky.

Adrenaline wears off. He drops his hanging fist. Unclasps.

His fingers are drenched in red, littered with chunks of regurgitated food.

He runs the tap.

Gazes at the water.

Turns it off.

Drags his dripping hand across steel doorknob, fresh crimson staining everything underneath.

He opens the door.

-

“What a dump.”

It looked like their dorm, but it felt wrong.

It was empty. All the shapes, objects, things that made up the dorm were there, but the grammar was off. Some alien presence invading the air. Younghoon feels unsteady as he toes his way in, like something was going to catch him off-guard. Hurt him.

He looks down; his hand drips blood over wooden floorboards.

Younghoon edges his way to the kitchen. Looks in the doorway.

There’s a little brown nest of hair turned away from him, throwing buckets of clothes in the washing machine. Younghoon creeps in closer, watches as the tiny frame moves through the motions. Closing the door. Opening the powder compartment. Putting in the powder. Pouring fabric freshener. Closing the compartment.

Twisting the dial.

He takes a few seconds to consider which spin cycle to use. Younghoon’s gaze is unwavering, but they don’t feel his presence. As if he were invisible, a ghost of his former self, mincing his way through the masquerade of being alive.

He coughs.

The body doesn't turn around, still deciding on a spin cycle.

Younghoon's eyes wander to their knives that they keep on a magnetic rack, next to the cooker. Sangyeon only let him and Jacob touch them, with the explaination that everyone else would scratch them.

Red washes over Younghoon, blood rushing through his body, face spasming involuntarily. He storms over to the rack and yanks the biggest, shiniest one from it.

Swings it down onto the counter.

It slices through the granite top, then stops. Wedged in.

Younghoon's lips twitch into something like a grin.

Now Sangyeon will have something to get angry about.

Sangyeon will almost feel like him.

Perfect.

"Younghoon?"

Younghoon swivels his head to the voice, already knowing full-well who it is.

Chanhee gives him a tight-lipped smile. Looks towards the knife; wounded in the worktop.

"Sangyeon's gonna be mad," he says, the whir of the washing machine almost making him inaudible.

"Mhm."

Younghoon loosens his grip from the handle and turns around, arm deflating. He’d finally bled out, but there’s still smears of red from where the glass has shredded his hands. It looks gaudy against the pearl worktop, violent against the black knife handle.

Chanhee looks nonchalant. He turns away from him, rummaging through one of the cupboards.

“Lay your arm down,” he says, and Younghoon humours him, resting his botched arm on the counter. The skin on his forearm was smooth, the sinew of his muscles flexing firm beneath the flesh. He raises his other hand to his face, tentative, wondering if he’d imagined it all.

Drags of hot rubbery leather pull beneath his fingers, the flesh dripping warm and dry from cheek to neck. He drops his fingers, then touches his arm. Taut. Fine.

Something quivers in his ducts, something that was a warning sign of tears. He stalls, waiting for the flood.

Nothing comes. Only the decrepit, slow burn of his dry irises and hollowed-out eyelids, reminding him of what he looks like.

He doesn’t notice he’s zoned out, forearm a fogged-up blur in his periphery until Chanhee starts humming. His eyes refocus to the sight of his hand almost bandaged – tiny red blotches seeping out of the beige.

“Hmm, you might have to sit out practice for a few days…” Chanhee says, half to himself, as he tidies up the last few bandages. He pulls away, a small smile

Younghoon lifts his hand and twitches his fingers. He winces. They barely move in the confine of his embalmment, but he knows better than to complain.

“Thank you… where are the other guys?” Younghoon asks.

Chanhee blinks. “Oh, I told them to go practice without you. I stayed here to tidy things up.”

Younghoon’s eyebrows sloop. “It’s because of my face, isn’t it?” The words drag out from the corners of his mouth, slurred. Drool threatening to leak out, chasing the residual garble of his speech.

"Huh?" Chanhee says, nose scrunching. "What do you mean your face?"

Before Younghoon has a chance to ask, Chanhee is already out of the kitchen/

-

Everyone crowds around the knife in awe. Younghoon peers around from the doorframe, anxious, as they all take turns to try and yank it out. It remains erect, unbudging; bulging from the granite as if now fused with it, as if it were a natural part of the decor.

"Younghoon, this was you?" Sunwoo says in awe as he tries to drag the blade out. The statement meets with a woah, no way this was Younghoon , as they all scramble for a chance to yank out Solomon's sword.

Younghoon sighs and pinches his forehead, shoulders sagging under his own height. He felt giant, and the more he stood, the more he felt he was watching a group of children fighting over a toy.

Younghoon tried to sleep after the knife incident. Tried.

He couldn't get comfortable. Howver he lay, he'd end up lying on random folds of skin. He'd lay on his side and rearrange his loose skin so that it lay neatly in front him. Then the sight of his loose, empty skin in front of him kept him awake.

It's not like he'd be able to sleep, even if his skin wasn't unnerving him. His eyelids refused to cooperate, held him hostage to the light. The dorm walls burned into his pupils. He'd will himself close, close , and all his eyes would do is twitch, and bleed blotches of kaleidoscopic colour into his vision; as if forced to stare into the sun.

He gave up after an hour - or two hours, he wasn't counting - and went to prod at his face. He opened his phone camera. Turned on the front view.

His heart hurled at the sight. He was used to his face looking picture-ready, to being the embodiment of the flawless filter-free plasticity of stardom. Instead, his face was so sagged, so strained from its own weight that his phone camera didn't register him as human. The drag had gotten worse: the jowl around his neck reached the tip of its chest, leaving the blood-red flesh from underneath his cheeks naked.

He held his phone with one hand, pushed his skin up to his face with another. He looked normal, almost. Like a victim of palsy, or a stroke sufferer, bit still human.

He lets his hand fall.

With it, fell every wrinkle of skin, like the slow cascade of water over ocean rock. Each droop made his skin ligaments rip against his flesh, every slight movement a deep needle of pain.

He threw his phone at the wall. Didn't flinch at the crash.

Fell back down in his bed.

Forced himself to stand up, at the sound of the door unlocking.

Walked himself, unsteady, to where the most bustle would be.

The knife.

"Can you pull it out?" Sunwoo asks, curious.

Younghoon tries to collect his dripping skin before he replies. Sunwoo notices no difference. Younghoon struggles to meet his eye.

"I dunno. Haven't tried." His voice sounds alien. Carved out, hollow.

He clutches to his face, his sutures unravelling in his fists.

Absconds to the soundtrack of voices behind him.

-

"The knife?"

Younghoon mumbles from behind his pillow.

He'd slunk back to his bed, pressed a pillow on his face. It blotted out the light enough that his body began to sag, slipping into the first stages of sleep.

He was almost there, until his door blasted open, Sangyeon bleating through the silence.

"And the bathroom mirror? Care to explain that?"

Younghoon clutches to the pillow.

Footsteps thump into the room. Something tugs on his pillow.

Sangyeon's looming figure blots out the light but he still flinches, covering his face with his bandaged forearm, still dotted red.

He peers under it. Sangyeon looks furious, bright red skin blistering from the bedroom heat.

"Do you know how much that cost me-"

"Sorry."

"An apology won't fucking cut it," Sangyeon snaps.

You could cut the tension with a blade.

Younghoon curls up.

Sangyeon's face falters. He closes his eyes, collects his breath. Younghoon tries to attune himself with his breathing. In, out... in out. It doesn't work, his chest jittering in discordance with his lungs.

"I..." Younghoon says, turning his face away. His sagged flesh pulls against his face. Tears tug at his dry corneas, making him grit his teeth.

"Why did you do it?"

Sangyeon sounds distant. Younghoon's fingers claw deeper into his folds.

"I..."

Sangyeon is stoic.

Younghoon's chest heaves, deep. His eyes can't cry, but he can feel liquid leaking down his wrinkled cheeks.

"I," he croaks out, "I hate my face... I... I..."

Younghoon's throat roars and snaps shut, his body entombing itself. He worms himself away from Sangyeon's eyes, falling face-first on where Chanhee usually lay. The fabric underneath is unwrinkled, cold, inhumane.

He can hear nothing but his ragged breath, forcing its way out his molten lips.

"Your face?" Sangyeon asks.

Disquieting silence beats between them.

Stops.

Nothing.

"What's wrong with your face?"

Younghoon wails.

-

Younghoon can’t blot out the talking. Either they think he’s sleeping, or they think the walls aren’t as thin as they are. Their voices crack through the plaster, each splinter clawing into Younghoon’s stomach.

He can half-make out words, as much as he tries not to. Eccentric… unstable… his face… knife… mirror… leave… kick out. He can hear Chanhee’s faint, high pitch squeak interjecting on occasion, defending him.

Younghoon should feel something. Love, for Chanhee? Pride? Should he feel betrayed by the rest of the members? Anger?

Methodical, he filters through emotions in his head. They all fade out of his brain, replaced with the throbbing numb of mandatory existence. The walls of the bedroom close in around him, trapping him in an agnostic, mental sepulchre.

Sometime between now and never, the door cracks open. A familiar bushel of chestnut hair wanders into his eyesight.

“Did you hear…?”

“Mmph,” Younghoon answers, trying to close his eyes. It doesn’t work. Why would it?

Something pets his arm, soothing. Younghoon flinches at the touch. It withdraws.

"I think Sangyeon's overreacting... that knife cost him 1.5 million won, Hoonie. I'll talk to him again in the morning."

"Mhm."

"They're not gonna kick you out over a knife, Hoon. I'll make sure."

"Hm."

Younghoon wills him away.

"Hey, I think I know how to make you feel better..."

Chanhee rolls Younghoon on his back. Starts taking off their clothes. Younghoon lets him, unresponsive. His dick is unresponsive to the sight of Chanhee's naked body. He feels nothing as Chanhee gets him hard, kneeling over him - fingers in his ass while he jerks him off.

He yawns as Chanhee slides down on him, the tightness of his hole almost hurting.

He forces himself through the motions.

He gazes up at Chanhee, lacklustre. It's scripted, a tedious repeat of something he'd done a million times before. It never felt so meandering before.

He looks at Chanhee. He feels nothing.

His body gets closer and closer. He tries to say as much, grunting along with his thrusts.

Chanhee speeds up, and he gets there.

A short burst of white-hot pleasure.

It comes as quick as it goes.

It washes over him. His eyes snap shut. Younghoon jolts in surprise at the darkness; the sudden velveteen comfort of his eyelids.

The jolt must feel good. Chanhee moans, and something warm splatters on Younghoon's chest.

His eyes slip open at the feeling. He tries, determined, to shut them.

It doesn't happen.

He raises a hand to his face. The flesh drips around his finger, like curdled butter. It smears around the bone of his skull like playdough. Nauseous, Younghoon throws his arm back down.

He looks at Chanhee, who's levering himself off his dick. Younghoon's cock flops on his thigh, cold.

He looks at Chanhee. And for a brief, jerk-spasm of his heart, he's aflame with hatred.

He hates Chanhee.

He hates him more than anything.

Pretty, perfect Chanhee.

He wants to hurt him. Claw at his face. Make his bleed.

For a second, he despises him.

For a second, then it disappears. Numbness replaces him.

He wonders if he felt it at all.

Chanhee falls over, snoring the moment he hits the pillow.

The snore drills into his head. He's exhausted.

But he can't sleep.

He can't close his eyes.

The white of the ceiling taunts him.

-

He hurls a packet of sleeping pills down his throat. No water.

He doesn't trust himself with a glass.

Waits. He slides down on the couch sideways, expecting sleep to visit. It doesn't come.

His eyes burn to the back of his sockets, unblinking. His body feels worn out, ready to collapse. But his body refuses to sleep. It felt like his face was hanging down to the ground. He was afraid to stand up, lest he falls over himself.

The faint moonlight illuminated the room. He could see the droop of sickly-green flesh falling over the couch. It seems extended, longer and more stretched out with the qualms of the day. He raises a drooping arm, draws his finger to the loosest part of the skin. Runs over it.

It felt like sagged, old leather; fabric that had wrinkled with heat and age. It didn't feel like his. He could feel it under his fingertips, but he couldn't feel the touch on his skin. Skin that should be his.

He pinches. Nothing. He drags a fingernail over the skin, waiting for a hurt that never comes.

He thinks about the knives. Wonders if he still bleeds red.

He thinks about Chanhee.

Pretty, perfect Chanhee. Who still had his face, who didn't have to worry about his career. Who still had fans.

Who would move on without him.

Who would find someone new. Someone unmutilated. Someone younger, more rich, more talented, a bigger dick.

Who would reminisce with his new man about how he dated a monster. Laughing at him. About him.

Something snaps inside him.

He stands up. His drooling skin beats around his body.

Walks to the kitchen.

The knife is still there, unbudged.

One step.

The entire dorm feels unmoving. Suspended in time. Like it had stuck, and he was wading his way through the soupy air.

He toes close to the knife. Extends his bandaged hand.

Runs his fingers over the handle.

Tugs.

It slides out.

It falls in his palm.

Younghoon grips it tighter. Holds it up to his eyes.

He remembers how it felt when he came. The small jolt of hatred. The urge to hurt. To make Chanhee, someone, feel like him.

His fist tightens.

He walks towards their dorm room, blade shining against the inky black of dusk.

The door is unlocked.

It always is.