It was a Saturday morning, and not for the first time, Sungo and Dohyun were having an argument.
Their arguments hadn't changed over the years. They had always been short and explosive, with long periods of simmering tension in the days or weeks beforehand. Dohyun had been expecting this one for months now.
Before him, Sungho looked at him with eyes full of hurt. Nobody else could do that kicked-puppy look as well as he did, but for once Dohyun felt nothing in response.
"I promise," Sungho said.
"You promise what?"
"I promise I won't hurt you."
Dohyun wanted to laugh.
He couldn't imagine anything less threatening than the sight of Sungho right now, carrying handcuffs in one hand and rope in the other.
He wished that it wasn't so painfully obvious that Sungho hadn't thought this through. Dohyun still woke up sweating and shaking sometimes from the thought of being tied up again. Sungho had been there, sometimes a comfort, sometimes his nightmare in the flesh. That was what happened when your lover was also your worst enemy.
"No," he said. "That's final, Sungho. No. Don't come near me with that."
Sungho stopped five feet away and came no closer. Dohyun could feel the time sliding past them both, every second like a drop of water on his skin. He shivered. He felt frozen. Sungho wouldn't let him go. He couldn't get out of this situation. Not unless -
"Put that down." He tried to sound in control. He tried to sound reasonable. Sungho would listen to reason, wouldn't he?
Sungho's fingers tightened on the rope. "Dohyun, I -"
"Sungho, I'm dead fucking serious. If you don't put that down right now, I'll -"
He knew it was a mistake as soon as Sungho's eyes narrowed. "You'll what?" Sungho asked quietly, dangerously, as Dohyun's own voice faded away into nothingness.
Threatening to leave was a surefire way to set Sungho off. Dohyun wished that he had kept his mouth shut. Anything was better than this, this frozen time where he couldn't move and could barely breathe. He had to find a way out of this, only, he couldn't even figure out why they had gotten into this situation in the first place.
He had to do something.
"Sungho," he whispered. "Please. I'm scared. Those things scare me, still."
"That's what I'm trying to fix," Sungho's voice cracked with frustration. "Whenever you see me near rope or metal, you almost always flinch away from me. Dohyun, we've talked about this. You won't go to therapy with me, and you told me to deal with it myself. I've been trying, Dohyun. I'm sick and tired of it. I can't go on like this, Dohyun, with you treating me like a monster."
Rage fountained up in Dohyun's throat before he could stop himself. He hated being lectured. It reminded him of all his years as a child under the disappointed gaze of an adult who thought they knew better.
"You are a monster," he said.
Instantly, he knew that it had been the wrong thing to say. Sungho had never been good at taking insults well. They always went straight to his heart, dug into him like his skin was nothing more than the film of a soap bubble. He popped open at a touch, at a word. And Dohyun had done it again.
Sungho turned away, furious. "I knew it," he said. His eyes had gone cold and distant; he had gone where his pain wouldn't show, where it had been buried so deep that nothing was left on the surface.
Dohyun knew that he should shut up. He knew that he should just back down, say soothing words. But he was trembling now. He was terrified, and furious at being terrified. He wanted to make Sungho hurt as much as he himself did.
"Of course you're a monster," he said. "Or did you forget the number of times you raped me in that warehouse? The number of times you threatened to hurt me?"
Fear shot through him as Sungho moved, but it was only just to toss away the handcuffs and the rope into a far corner of the room. Dohyun wished that he could breathe easy again, but he couldn't.
"I know," Sungho said bitterly. "I knew this would never work."
They stayed there, frozen, for another eternity. Dohyun wondered distantly if time would ever move for him again.
He had once heard the saying that time didn't exist in hell. Was that where he was right now? Was that why, despite being together for so long, he and Sungho still hadn't managed to take a single step forward?
He was afraid of Sungho when he was angry. As a kid, Sungho had never gotten angry, not really. There hadn't been this dark, bitter, twisted side to him. But now, the room could become suffocating when Sungho wore the expression that he did now - all blank menace and distant fury.
Dohyun felt so cold that he might die. The chill spread through his lungs and his limbs. He wondered if he would ever stop shivering.
There was another way he could fix this, even though he hated doing it. But he was suffocating, and he needed a way out. He would have to soften his tone, like a Sungho was an angry bear throwing a childish tantrum. He would have to beg.
Sungho ignored him. That, more than anything else, shot a cold bullet of fear into Dohyun's gut.
"Sungho," he said desperately. "Sungho, please, come here."
"Are you sure you want me over there?" Sungho asked harshly. "You were calling me a monster just a minute ago."
Sungho was a monster. But he was warm. And Dohyun felt so very cold.
"I'm sorry," Dohyun whispered. He felt ice in between his fingers, and curled them together into a pleading motion. "Sungho, I'm cold. Please come over here."
Sungho looked at him with an expression that Dohyun never wanted to see again.
"I'm afraid of what I might do to you," he said. He didn't move.
Those words froze Dohyun to the spot. He couldn't move either.
In the end, Sungho was the one who left. He couldn't bring himself to meet Dohyun's eyes, and even though Dohyun knew why, it still stung.
They stayed away from each other for several days, afterwards. What did you do after an argument like that? Kiss and make up? That was for normal couples and their normal arguments. But honestly, Dohyun didn't even have anyone to ask if this was normal or not. Hey, my lover used to tie me up and now he wants to do it again. How do I get him to stop?
He had no one left. Just Sungho, and now even that was being threatened.
In his apartment, Dohyun crushed his cigarette against the ashtray and kicked the table as hard as he could.
Fear was rising up in him again, a dark, choking cloud that burned the inside of his throat. He tried to burn it out with anger instead.
How stupid did Sungho have to be, to think that this had even the slightest possibility of working? What was going on in that head of his? Why would he ever think that it was okay?
He wondered if he would ever have a normal relationship with Sungho. Was it really impossible? Where had they fucked up? Or was it doomed from the start?
For a while, Dohyun fantasized about being single. He wouldn't have to deal with this uncertain pain anymore. He could have a clean break, move away from anything that reminded him of Sungho.
He could become a farmer in the countryside, far away from people and the city. His life could be peaceful, filled with sunshine and quiet. When he got hungry, he would eat. When he got tired, he would sleep. There would be none of this waiting, wondering if it was really okay to do these things without Sungho by his side.
He could become his own person again, and no one could stake a claim on him. No one would own him.
What would he have to do to get there? Dohyun fantasized about getting up, buying a ticket, quitting his job. He imagined the look on Sungho's face when he was told that Dohyun was leaving. There would be no time for goodbyes. Dohyun would be here one day and gone the next. Sungho would have to learn how to live without him.
He imagined the pain on Sungho's face, imagined the silent crack he would hear, like the air itself was splitting in two.
Hours later, he was still there, staring up at the ceiling above him. A ceiling fan spun lazily, its blades barely stirring the air. The weekend was passing him by, a weekend that he had planned on spending with Sungho. They had been planning on making food together, trying to change Dohyun's eating habits away from the spicy junk food he was used to eating.
He felt cold, and numb, and empty inside. It was a different kind of hell, this feeling. But still, he felt like he was frozen in time. He was going to be driven mad by this constant waiting.
I wonder what Sungho is doing right now.
Sungho was the one to cave first. He always was.
Dohyun came downstairs to find him standing in front of the door, wearing a face like death. His black jacket and dress pants only cemented that impression further. He had never really liked bright colors. His eyes were dull with lack of sleep, and he looked miserable.
It was an old, familiar sight. Dohyun thought that he might be able to tell when, exactly, Sungho had gone from anger to resignation, then to desperation. He thought he might be able to tell what words would come out of Sungho's mouth next.
But despite all that, overwhelming all else, was a sense of relief.
And all of a sudden, time started moving forward again.
"What is it?"
"Can we talk?"
Dohyun stood in the doorway and considered him for a long time. He knew that he had been thinking about Sungho earlier, but he couldn't recall any of those thoughts now. All he could see was Sungho.
It was obvious that Sungho hadn't been eating or sleeping well. Dark bags hung under his eyes, his shoulders were tight with tension. He looked older than he really was. It took Dohyun aback sometimes to realize that they were the same age.
His hands were loosely curled at his sides, but they were anything but relaxed. Dohyun eyed them warily before he realized what he was doing, and jerked his eyes guiltily back up to Sungho's face.
It was too late. Sungho had caught that look, and his expression had changed. Even after all this time, Dohyun was still afraid of him. The taller man turned to leave.
"No. Wait -" Dohyun reached out without thinking. His hand has caught Sungho's sleeve, and now Sungho stood completely still as if that touch weighed a thousand pounds. It was slightly too chilly outside, and they couldn't stay with the front door open forever.
"Come in," he said, and then tugged a little more insistently. "Sungho, come on, don't be stupid. You said you came here to talk. Let's talk."
They ended up sitting awkwardly around Dohyun's cheap wooden coffee table. Sungho's knees barely fit underneath it, even as he sat cross-legged.
Sungho fiddled with his mug of tea, looking away from Dohyun's hostile stare.
"How have you been?" Sungho asked. He cleared his throat a bit. "Have you been eating well?"
"I'm fine," Dohyun lied. He hadn't eaten in days. "You?"
Sungho's head dropped down. He seemed to be deciding whether or not to lie. Something about the sight melted Dohyun's frozen heart. He found himself wanting to reach out, to trace his fingertips against Sungho's face, to tell him that everything would be okay.
The silence dragged on for so long that Dohyun began to fear that he had somehow slipped into a pocket universe where time no longer moved.
"Sungho, if you have something to say, say it."
Sungho looked up to meet his gaze, and Dohyun recognized the look on his face as a man who was mentally bracing himself for the worst.
"Dohyun," he said. "I think we should break up."
An agonized moment passed as Dohyun was sent reeling by that statement. Suddenly, time was passing by far too quickly. He wanted it to go backwards. He wanted to pretend that those words had never come out of Sungho's mouth.
Before him, Sungho was still explaining. "We said that we would try, but it's clear that we're not working out. I don't want to hurt you anymore, Dohyun. I don't know if we should -"
His voice broke. Dohyun was lunging across the coffee table before he even knew it.
His full armed slap caught Sungho right on the right side of his face. Hot tea splashed across the table and the carpet.
He had wanted an apology, not this. This was Sungho running away.
"Finish that sentence," Dohyun hissed. "I dare you."
He was easily thirty pounds lighter than Sungho. It would be trivially easy for the other man to sit up and dislodge him. Even if Dohyun used all of his weight, he wouldn't be able to hold Sungho down. It had taken a long time for Dohyun to understand that, and ensuing realization had been ugly.
But as the tea cooled on the carpet, Sungho stared up at him silently, and didn't move. He seemed to be holding his breath.
"Are you giving up on me?" Dohyun asked. "Now? Of all times? Because I can't stand the sight of you with handcuffs and rope in your hands?" His voice was dripping with scorn, and Sungho flinched slightly, as if some of it were poison that had touched his skin.
"I'm not giving up on you," Sungho said a little desperately.
"Then what the fuck is this?" Dohyun spat. "You kidnap me, you lock me up, you hurt me, all because you said you couldn't let go of me. Because of your twisted love. And now you think you can just drop me and leave?"
If things were ever going to end, they were going to end on his terms. He felt more than a little unhinged. He couldn't stop the sick, shaky feeling inside him from consuming him.
His fingers curled into Sungho's collar. Inside, he felt like screaming. Don't leave me! Don't leave me alone!
Sungho stared up at him, shocked. "Dohyun," he breathed.
To his horror, Dohyun felt tears in his eyes. He couldn't look at Sungho, but he couldn't let him leave either. So instead of saying anything else, he just buried his face in Sungho's chest, and tried not to let his despair swallow him whole.
When he felt Sungho's fingers against the side of his head, Dohyun fought not to shiver.
But it was just the light pressure of fingertips, nothing more. For the longest time, they just lay there, afraid to move.
"Dohyun," Sungho said quietly. "I'm giving up on me. I don't know how to make you happy anymore."
His promise rang in Dohyun's ears. I want to make you happy.
Sungho went on, his voice filling with pain. "You flinch every time you look at me, you still have nightmares about what I did to you. I'm trying to replace those memories with better ones, but you won't let me."
Dohyun's breath caught. That was what Sungho had been trying to do?
Distantly, he recalled the thread of all their last arguments. They had all sounded the same - Sungho accusing him of running away again, trying to pretend like nothing had happened even though the scars were still there and haunting him.
Dohyun had wanted to start over. Sungho had wanted to move forward together.
And suddenly, he realized that last week, the last time they saw each other, he had totally misunderstood Sungho's intentions.
"Oh," Dohyun got out weakly. He tried to think. His mind moved at a snail's pace, like it was dragging through honey.
"I don't want to hurt you anymore. I'm sorry, Dohyun, but if I'm going to hurt you no matter what I do, I shouldn't - I can't be near you anymore."
Dohyun wasn't listening to him anymore. Relief was a warm tide washing over him. Something eased in his chest, sliding loose like a barrel of stones from a cart.
Sungho was staring at him like he was the only thing that existed in the world, like he was a mirage that was about to disappear, taking everything along with it.
"Dohyun?" he whispered.
Dohyun kissed him.
He didn't even think about it. The warm taste of Sungho's mouth replaced all of his logic with burning, crushing relief. Sungho made a startled sound beneath him, and his entire body jolted in reaction. Straddling him, Dohyun could almost feel the way his heartbeat sped up. They were a drumbeat beneath his hands, uneven booms of thunder that he could hear with his whole body.
Pulling back, Dohyun almost went lightheaded from the look Sungho gave him. There was confusion in those light eyes, but hunger too, and enough desperation to swallow a man whole. And something soft, tender enough that it hurt to see, even buried behind all those layers.
"I don't care if you don't make me happy," Dohyun said. "I've never been happy. This world is too full of shitty people, there's too much shit going on. Don't try to make me happy, Sungho. It won't happen. Just don't leave me. Promise me that, promise that you'll stay by me forever, and I'll forgive you."
It took Sungho a moment to process what he had said.
For a long time, they just stared at each other.
"You deserve to be happy," Sungho said finally. His pulse was an erratic drumbeat under his skin. Dohyun wished he could listen to it forever.
Dohyun twined their fingers together. He slid his body down on Sungho's, letting the whole of his weight bear down on the other man. "Not everyone gets what they deserve."
Sungho breathed in sharply, but it was too late. This close together, there was no way Dohyun could miss the hardening length beneath him. Sungho fought to ignore it, his eyes going wide and his entire body going stiff, but Dohyun just kissed him again.
In the end, forgiveness was too big of a bait for Sungho to give up.
He reached for Dohyun's face and kissed him gently. Somehow, despite his arousal, it was a strangely innocent kiss. Everything was slow and dreamy, like they had gone back into a hazy memory when things were simpler and easier to understand.
Dohyun knew, then, that he'd let Sungho tie him up. He'd let Sungho do anything to him, now. There really was nobody else for him. Maybe it was sad, maybe it was pathetic. But he had made his decision now, and they had made a deal. He would never be alone again.
Sungho made another desperate inhale as Dohyun pressed down harder on him, reveling in the heat of his skin and the taste of his lips.
"Stop," he said breathlessly. "Dohyun, please."
Dohyun bit down a burst of anger, and took it out by biting down on Sungho's neck, hard enough to bruise.
"Why?" he asked.
"I'm afraid of what I might do to you."
Dohyun laughed, sharp and uncaring.
"I don't care," he said, feeling lighter than he had in months. He felt lost, adrift, like he was floating in the sky with nothing to tether him down. Maybe he was going mad, maybe he had just signed away his soul, but he really didn't care anymore. "Do whatever you want."