A Taste of Compulsion

August 3, 2017 | Author: crush_kita14 | Category: Chocolate, Nature, Foods
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Title: A Taste of Compulsion Pairing: Kaisoo Rating: NC-17 Genre: Romance, Horror Length: One-shot (5,787) Summary: By the second bite, just about everything tastes like pain.

On clear days, the sun crushes slowly into the banner of a glass and steel dome on the west end of Chungmuro, bleeding an ocean of colors over the pedestrian walks. Combined with the iridescent glow of neighboring boutiques and pulsing mobs of tourists, the transparent café—aptly named something Italian that no one can quite pronounce—is dazzling at day and ethereal at night. A large teardrop perhaps, in a field of concrete and cement, lined with jaw-dropping sweet marvels and equally jaw-dropping price marks. Perfect social venue for the filthily idle and rotten rich.

But it is not for the remarkable architecture that so many reservations are made despite the exorbitant prices. It is for master chocolatier Kai’s creations: pieces of the human soul sculpted with an artist’s eye, unforgettably sweet and unapologetically bitter —not a little unlike broken relationships.

However at this hour there is no sun or buzzing audiences trying to sneak glances at the glass kitchen. All of the lights and staff are gone; what remains is an exercise in barren monochromaticity. Inside Kai sits across from a guest in torn jeans and a casual tee that seems comically adolescent sandwiched between plush velvet cushions and massive chandeliers.

“So,” The guest starts pointedly, looking over the rack of what must be a few hundred truffles and pralines, of every imaginable color and pattern.

“Have you ever heard of the perfect truffle, Junmyun-sshi?” Kai asks quietly, dark eyes glinting as he picks a piece up with knobby, thin fingers, and sets it down on the plate before Junmyun, “Because see, I’m in the line of making the perfect chocolate. It’s a tough business, though, because the problem stems from the couverture—no couverture, no ganache, no coating, no truffle—it’s nearly impossible to find one without vice.”


“But all of these,” Kai sweeps his arm over the meter-long rack, “are made from the perfect couverture. And I’d like to share them with you. Try one.”


Kai shows up to work three hours and two minutes late, not one second more or less, and with remarkable consistency week after week, for no particular reason other than that he can. He also refuses to do orders; people get what he is in the mood to make and if he is not in the mood to make anything, then he sits back and surveys how Sehun deals with public outrage.

It’s Friday night this time that Kai has decided something’s not quite in place.

“Come on Kai, please,” Sehun moans, as soon as he storms into the kitchen practically bawling, “This is the Russian ambassador who has waited two days for a truffle and you can’t just—”

“I’m not in the mood today. Tell him to try again tomorrow,” Kai shrugs, leaning back on his stool to flip through an arts magazine.

Luhan, one of the baristas, sends Sehun a wry grimace, but no one says a word because that’s just how things are. Kai has liberty to pull anything, even burn the entire kitchen down, and the management wouldn’t raise a finger against him because he is the shop. No matter the number of star confectionary chefs they hire, Kai is irreplaceable.

He is irreplaceable because in the nights that everything is in place, pieces of legendary art bloom easily from his palms. Cacao beans, cocoa butter, milk, sugar, lecithin. Singular practices in the apex of human creativity, shaped in everything from surrealist white-chocolate flamingos too beautiful to devour to simple champagne mousse adorned in delicate saffron ribbons. Pieces which redefine the palate with a mix of the most common couvertures and a touch of something beyond genius.

A crowd often gathers behind the glass walls to watch Kai whisk the ganache or temper viscosity, sculpt beauty into chocolate. There is something mesmerizing perhaps about the way he whips his spatula to produce striking and unyielding lines, breaking identity into each batch. Fluidity blends into sharp contours; mercury molds steel, smoke emancipates sand, romance dissolves horror.

But frequently, as dust storms of pulverized piedmont hazelnuts blow across layers of lukewarm praline over bourbon over mango puree, Kai’s movements freeze.

And rupture.

It’s a breathtaking sight when metal tongs fly across the room, creating a smattering of brown over the glass walls and immediate spider webs under. And it’s equally breathtaking to see the almost-perfect creation, radiating with luxury, tossed carelessly into the trash.

But what takes the cake is Kai’s blank frown—even if it’s a pretty common sight on the face of someone addicted to an elusive concept. One that is forever just a little out of reach.


The food critic, Kim Heechul, has something crossed between ecstasy and shock as he savors the way Kai’s chocolate simply slides away on his tongue, leaving traces of something coyly sweet albeit scathingly spicy. A remarkably delicate balance of spices that would only be tasted in the final round of an international competition, and Kai treats it like just another batch heading for the garbage.

“Milled sugar, dutched cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and—is this?”

“Ginger,” Kai provides, barely looking up from his notebook, even if Heechul’s probably the most influential critic on the continent. He continues chewing on his thumb, a habit born of something between anxiety and frustration probably, gaze skittering across the rows of cryptic shorthand scribbles.

“Ginger,” the critic parrots eagerly, “That’s it, ginger. Of course. Gives off just the right sting but subtle, subtly done for an oriental touch. Great texture and presentation, Kai you are a genius—”

“I know.”

“Christ this tastes perfect,” Heechul repeats, already reaching for another piece when finally Kai peels his eyes off the fraying pages and stops him midair with a dark glower.

All of the other kitchen hands catch their breath in sadistic glee as Kai slaps shut his notebook, and shoves the box of sweets Heechul had been fawning over into its original destination—the garbage, muttering, “Perfect? You ought to get your tongue checked.”

Almost everyone hears the critic sneering loudly about why are the best chocolatiers such fucking assholes on his way out, though no one is surprised to see a ten out of ten in next morning’s papers. After all, if Kai isn’t perfect, then nobody is.


No one knows who the new customer, dressed in department store accessories and a stupidly bewildered stare, is. No one cares. For all they know it’s probably just another tourist, too poor to afford anything, too unprofitable to be served. Sehun doesn’t even bother looking up from his phone as the boy works his way up slowly from the glass displays of all of Kai’s sculptures. Ships, trains, tsunamis in shades of brown, black, white. His fingers swirl along the glass cases and every once in a while his whole face lights up.

And no one notices that there is someone studying the boy just as intently as he studies the works of art, somewhere from the midst of chaos in the kitchen. One straight line of lethal tension from one pair of eyes to another.

“Why don’t you use any colors?” The boy asks, as soon as he reaches the front desk.

Sehun takes an extra second to roll his eyes before looking up with scarcely veiled exasperation, “It’s our master chocolatier’s artistic statement. Simplicity for elegance. Adding unnecessary decorations may corrupt the taste.”

“But they look kind of lifeless like that.”

“Do they,” Sehun nods, arched disbelieving brows for the sarcastic bite. Even the pickiest of chefs and cruelest of critics have never found a single thing lacking in Kai’s work. It’s almost too cruel to see a poorly dressed commoner make an idiot out of himself. “So what can I help you with?”

“I’d like a box of…” the boy seems to suddenly realize that he hasn’t actually seen the menu yet.

Sehun jerks his thumb in the direction of the white names chalked over the glass walls, without bothering to add anything because it’s not as if the boy can afford any of their products.

“What is in your—” the boy starts, and trails off when a still-liquid rack of chocolate truffles is slammed down over the counter.

Sehun nearly flips out of his chair, phone clattering across the fountain floors, while Kai smiles for what must be the first time in ever. It’s the most natural and genuine smile, not a hint of the usual mockery, but Sehun still can’t help feeling a little disturbed by the way Kai’s mouth stretches upwards.

“I wouldn’t recommend the boxes, as they are,” Kai mutters, “for an embarrassing majority, leftovers.”

“Oh,” the boy stammers, blinking rapidly though it doesn’t seem to make him any less dazed. It’s quite a sight, his blatant perplexity up against Kai’s crushing, inexplicably breathless excitement. And it’s just as amazing how he still manages to find his words, despite Kai’s smoldering and unmoving stare, “Ah. Okay. Thank you. But my boyfriend doesn’t like caramel.”

“Wrap up one of each.”

“Each what?” Sehun blinks, and cringes when Kai turns his impatient stare on him.

“One of every single batch we have.”

So Sehun ransacks more than five dozen boxes, and per Kai’s orders, rings the package in for an eye-popping sum—which for some reason Kai pays out of his own wallet.

What follows after that, as Sehun recalls to Luhan with babbling mystification, is really history.


Seoul in the summer is bustling full of life, colorful language and street-side music mixing between bright colors and LED screens on skyscrapers. Busy traffic at all hours and endless bodies scattering in all directions. But none of it matters because as Kai rips down the street in his black convertible, looking to either crush or run over the boy carrying a box of luxuriously wrapped confections over his rusty bicycle worth maybe half as much, all that seems to exist in the world is just the two of them. No colors, no music, no sky or air or the nasty chorus of disgruntled drivers who are more or less shoved out of the way by the speeding convertible.

“Hey,” Kai calls out, as soon as he catches up to the boy who seems to be perpetually shocked one way or another. Wide eyes and parted lips, deer in the headlights.

He switches to the other lane to close the distance, elbow jaunting out of windowpane and inappropriately bright beam over his cheeks, “Lifeless Chocolate-sshi!”


“My name is Kai,” he declares, almost ramming into an incoming bus because he’s driving on the wrong side of the street. Ignoring the shrill honk and a blaze of vulgarities, he continues, “What’s your name?”

“Um,” the boy stammers, “Um, um—shit—I don’t…” and runs into a tree, bike and chocolate and laughter falling all over the place.

“Well no, I usually remember my name—it’s not a memory problem,” Kyungsoo explains later as they sit cross-legged and barefoot on the floor of Kai’s tremendously oversized penthouse apartment, an endless expanse of white marble tiles and a black dot of leather furniture here or there. Colorless and spotless. It’s supposed to be a flawless snapshot of modern art and human loneliness, which seems to warm with Kyungsoo’s flushed cheeks and nervous chuckles.

Kai presses his hand onto Kyungsoo’s, and explains “Your ice pack is falling,” when Kyungsoo almost jumps out of his own skin in surprise. Kai’s fingers are colder than the ice pack, and sharp as chiseled diamonds.

“It’s just when I get nervous, I kind of go blank. You know.”

“Are you insinuating that I make you nervous?” Kai frowns, though his grip over Kyungsoo’s hand doesn’t loosen.

“You were kind of driving against incoming traffic,” Kyungsoo explains, a lame mutter. Kai almost doesn’t respond, but when he does it’s a surprisingly adolescent snort. The night sneaks away between ringlets of laughter, and friendship between Kyungsoo the nervous grad student and Kai the genius chocolatier crystallizes before dawn strikes.

Except maybe it’s not really a friendship. It’s more of an intrigue.


One day Kai drags Kyungsoo, stammering and protesting, into the kitchen. Luhan almost drops his egg beater at the sight of a foreigner in the kitchen and Chanyeol, the clumsy intern, does drop his egg beater. And a whole box of toffee bricks when Kai doesn’t even react to the loud chattering around him.

But none of it seems to matter, as Kai flings out all of the jars and boxes, bangs open old barrels and tears the labels off of new deliveries, makes sandstorms out of milk powder and nets out of caramelized sugar, pots of bubbling syrup, and probably some four, five dozen batches of everything the kitchen has seen and hasn’t seen. He doesn’t stop until his nail beds are painted in spices and the fridge has been emptied of a whole month’s worth of stock ingredients.

“Try it,” is the first thing he says after six and a half hours of blind fixation, a little breathless but low and steady per usual. Perhaps a hinge of anticipation by the edges.

The kitchen ceases to breathe. All attention migrate to Kyungsoo as he reaches out with a shaking hand to pick up the first of a whole russet battalion, still bleeding caramel and sputtering bourbon and vodka fruit puree.

“It’s um,” Kyungsoo doesn’t close his eyes or tilt his head back like Heechul or their normal customers. He doesn’t swoon and he doesn’t flutter. He simply bites his lips, endearing and awkward, “The filling thing is um, it’s sweet but… not really?”

“Okay,” Kai nods, and pushes the rest of the endless brown ocean a little closer.

Glancing at the sheer number left, Chanyeol almost feels sorry for Kyungsoo. But then again, there’s nothing bad about tasting through an afternoon of priceless paradise.


“Sehun told me that this is the first time you’ve…?” Kyungsoo struggles to find the right expression, fingering the tip of Kai’s unused apron absentmindedly. His knuckles crack. Kai doesn’t move. The pungent scent of coddled liquor and warm cocoa fills their lungs to the brim, thick as smoke and clear as the night.

“Invited anyone into my kitchen,” Kai fills in, drizzling caramel off the ends of an open-ended whisk into neat patchworks. Dribbling art and fire and gunpowder from the fingertips.

“Why me?”

“There’s something about you,” he looks up from the rows of little chocolate pebbles, picking a still-wet one up carefully, “It’s very right,” and places it between Kyungsoo’s lips, pulling his fingers away to suck off the liquid lingering, “and very, very addictive.”

Kyungsoo forgets to swallow. A weak sigh escapes his lips, one that he can easily blame on the decadent scent of cloying sweetness in the air. Kai reaches forward and covers his eyes with a little whisper, “That look is going to drive me insane one day.”

Everything combusts with the spark of dawn.

Riding on a wave of impulsivity and bravado, Kyungsoo tears Kai’s hand from his face and pulls away. Throws Kai’s hand away as far as possible.

“I—I’m in a relationship. I have a boyfriend. We’re not going to break up.”

The emptiness clouding over Kai’s features as he nibbles on his thumbnail is so frightening that Kyungsoo doesn’t realize he’s gasped in relief when a smile cracks. All teeth and easy kindness, “Don’t worry yourself, Kyungsoo-sshi; it is nothing of that sort. I do not want or need to be your boyfriend. I do not deviate towards you. I deviate towards perfection.”


With time Kyungsoo becomes a regular member of the kitchen, the first and probably only person not thoroughly scrutinized, torn apart, and lynched with Kai’s harrowing criticism. Not to anyone’s surprise he is also the only one who the chocolatier solicits advice from, even if it’s strange that someone with almost no professional culinary training is allowed to be anywhere near Kai’s compulsive habits.

When Luhan brings up how strange it is that Kai even puts extra hours in lately, working well into the night, Sehun simply shrugs and explains that Kai has probably always wanted to put in the extra hours.

“Knowing Kai, he probably just didn’t know what to work on, since all anyone ever tells him is that he’s flawless. And now he does.”

“Still weird,” Luhan quips. Sehun can’t really help but agree. Then again, it’s not like Kai would be hitting on Kyungsoo, since it’s clear that Kyungsoo has a boyfriend. After all, every time Kai tells him to bring a batch home, he always comments on how much Junmyun would enjoy them.

“Plus, Kyungsoo knows Kai well enough. You can worship or hate him, but you can’t really love him. Can’t love someone who doesn’t differentiate want and need.”


Amongst the many things Kyungsoo lends Kai—his flabby t-shirts when Kai comes to sleep over on his couch and dig through piles and piles of his old pictures; words of advice about getting along with the kitchen staff; bits and pieces of himself when they come in with the winter breathing down their necks—of utmost importance is companionship, probably. It’s remarkable what companionship does to a person; away with the winter frost thaws Kai’s blank stares and sudden outbursts. He’s almost approachable now. The café displays are filled with obscenely vibrant chocolate sculptures and the critics call it a new era in confectionary design.

“I would like to think that I really like you. You’re nice, and neat, and your eyes are really something,” Kai confesses one night, shouting over the loud roar of fire and crackling oil as Kyungsoo dumps a multitude of things from the fridge into a wok. A recipe for disaster, probably.

“I’m probably the only person you’ve ever tried to like, Kai,” Kyungsoo hollers back. His voice booms a little too loudly within the tiny bachelor’s studio. Though small, with creaking floorboards and thick windows that can’t compare to Kai’s penthouse of white tiles and glass walls, it’s neat and organized by a neurotic hand that Kai finds hilarious.

Kai chews on his thumb a little, unwinding into the armchair that Kyungsoo always takes up and picks up a little of the scent of Kyungsoo’s fabric softener, “My name isn’t Kai. It is Kim Jongin.”

“Why do they call you Kai then?”

“It has an artistic air, a combination of the simplicity and the hard consonants,” Kai says, and it’s only half a lie because Kai isn’t about the artistic air, the simplicity or the hard consonants; it’s about plastic distortions and distractions. An exercise in hiding his soul because underneath all the frenzy there is nothing. Chocolate not so much an art but an illusion for the empty ganache center.

“I think Jongin sounds better though. It sounds natural,” Kyungsoo shrugs as he brings a plate of soggy-looking noodles and vegetables out of the kitchen, sets it by Kai’s foot with two pairs of chopsticks and flips on the television almost on instinct.

“What is this?” Kai demands, gaze flickering uncertainly over the food as if assessing for toxicity.

Kyungsoo notes his hesitation and scoffs half-heartedly, attention mostly on the new sitcom episode, “Kimchi spaghetti.”

“I will order pizza,” Kai dubs without sparing another second, and Kyungsoo immediately drags him back into the chair with a hand on his wrist. If he weren’t staring so intently at the television, he would have noticed the startled flush over Kai’s cheeks.

“Try it,” he mutters.

Kai does, and when he remarks how surprisingly okay it tastes, Kyungsoo merely chuckles and flips off the television, “I cook with care and joy.”

“I do too.”

“No, you cook with pride and expectations.”


“You should ask your customers for opinions,” Kyungsoo proffers, a few weeks later on a Thursday night. The café has become a distillation of transparent emptiness on nights like these, inflated occasionally by the bangs of cookware, “The other cafes do that, like they have customer favorites and stuff, and weekly promotions…”

The lights are off and Kai works hastily through the moonlight, soft acapella that Kyungsoo brought him streaming through the speakers behind, coursing in and out of the silver rays. Occasionally Kai has a lethargic swing, as if slowing down to savor the moment, such as now, “Because they don’t have any idea what tastes good until you show them. Additionally, you cannot do promotions on art; what a sweeping insensitivity.”

“I see, but why do you talk like that?” Kyungsoo crops up, rather abruptly, and mocks Kai’s deeper voice to make a point, “what sweeping in-sen-si-ti-vi-ty. Like a book. You talk like a textbook narrator.”

Kai pulls his hands out of oven mittens and leans back on the glass wall, almost pensive, “I don’t know, I suppose I don’t talk to people a lot.”

“I can tell. You talk to chocolate, don’t you?” Kyungsoo mutters, and if it isn’t for that grin on his lips and the glitter in his eye, Kai would have probably tossed a mitten at his face.

Instead Kai holds back and produces a small, corner-store chocolate bar from his pocket. The wrapper is wrinkled and opens to a half-melted, soppy mess, which Kai thrusts into Kyungsoo’s face, “Have a bite of this.”

“Hmm,” Kyungsoo nods, swallowing back with a sip of water.

“Well? What do you believe it tastes like?”

After a cough, Kyungsoo says, “Tastes like love to me,” though the words are clipped off as soon as his smile bursts into an openmouthed laugh that breaks across the silence under the glass dome, as easily as it had that night in Kai’s apartment.

Kai doesn’t share his joy, however, only squinting and returning back to his work with a small, “You’re a freak.”

“And you’re speaking normally,” Kyungsoo adds. To his delight Kai turns back to glare at him with a twinkle of a beam, and maybe Kyungsoo heart skips a few beats, “But you are in love with chocolate.”

“What about you?”

The silence is uncomfortable. Kyungsoo’s answer only makes it worse, “Junmyun.”


“I don’t think you’re there yet,” Kyungsoo mumbles with bitter spring breeze snapping in his hair and slamming into his face. Kai offered to take him out for a spin on his convertible, but it feels something more like car race. Peeling down the high ways reckless and angry. Striving to prove that there is no dead-end in this path by sailing off of cliffs. “I think you’re missing a lot of things. I think you’re brilliant but you—you need—you need feelings.”

“Feelings,” Kai echoes vaguely. Bob Dylan tunes curls up between them, but a temporary existence whipped away instantly by the wind.

“Like a passion for something—other than chocolate, I mean—like love, maybe. Loving someone, maybe—?”

“I love perfection,” Kai responds pensively, swerving around a corner and Kyungsoo hisses when his neck cracks from the sharp turn. He thinks that Kai is a little like this. All pointed turns and impulses, blunt thoughts. He’s as much a creator as a destroyer of perfection, and when the day comes that he runs out of things to destroy, he may as well destroy himself. Feed his limbs and heart and soul to a suicidal concept because no matter his brilliance, at the end of the day Kai is not perfect. At the end of the day there will always be a dead end.

“No that’s not quite…”

“That’s the only way,” Kai decides, and his eyes latch onto Kyungsoo’s.

But Kyungsoo says nothing. Kai has always been like this: searching for an inexistent entity and falling, apart.

-“Doesn’t loving something that won’t love you back—something that you can’t even grasp—hurt?”

“Isn’t that the definition of love? By the second bite, everything tastes like pain.”


As the year passes, Kai begins spending nights in the kitchen, waking up to work through another day and experiment through another night. Fraying notebooks are thrown away because there is never enough time for all his ideas. He pulls proportions and new spices out of thin air and sheer brilliance, back-wheeling for an end that no one can quite understand and defining, redefining, scratching, perfecting, reprefecting perfection.

Sometimes Kyungsoo comes in to visit him during the nights, ghosting along the glass walls to surprise him with a home-cooked meal or a new music album. After spending so many hours with Kai, the kitchen has become something of a second home and he’s tasted so many confections that it wouldn’t be a surprise if what runs through his veins is chocolate instead of blood.

“What are you trying to make?” Kyungsoo asks, when Kai is stooped over the counter once again, going on his toes to tip over Kai’s shoulders even if it doesn’t work.

“The Kyungsoo truffle,” Kai says, jotting a series of numbers down in his notebook.

“Very funny, Jongin.”

“Close your eyes and open your mouth,” Kai orders. Kyungsoo obeys, not without a little hesitation at first.

A pregnant pause, before something smooth and cold meets Kyungsoo’s tongue. He chokes back a startled cackle, “This…kimchi spaghetti—”

Kai clips him off, “No, care and joy.”

Kyungsoo almost opens his eyes, but Kai cups one hand over them and shoos him back into the darkness. Something softer and warmer touch his tongue this time, overpoweringly saccharine and a little greasier, “Isn’t this from—”

“It tastes like love. Cornerstore chocolate, cornerstore lights, cornerstore romance by the cigarette counters,” Kai reminds him. Kyungsoo remembers melted chocolate bars and Kai with oversized mittens and Thursday lethargy. He begins to comment and that is when Kai feeds him the last piece. Supple, cool, wet, a hint of cigarette smoke and cocoa powder and lithium and compulsion, a whole lot of bitter and a veil of sugar and Kai. Kai. It’s Kai.

He’s tasting Kai.

“What about this one?” Kai asks, when he removes his hands from Kyungsoo’s face and neck and traps him instead with his legs. Knees bumping. Air heavy. Dark eyes.

Kyungsoo is a beat too slow, so Kai answers for him, “Like an addiction. You taste like an addiction.”

He may have turned around, said something about the need to go home and the fact that this is wrong, but it may have been swayed by a few moans, the shuffling of feet and glances through lashes, hands grasping waists and lips to the back of necks. Something sharp slices into his palm. Papercut from the notebook.

“No, Jongin listen, this won’t work,” Kyungsoo mutters, a little squeamish with Kai’s breath running down his neck and chest tight against his back.

Kai traces a curling line from his elbow to the cut on his palm, with something of an artistic whimsy, before picking up his hand and pressing the plane of his tongue to it, “It will. It will. You’re perfect, Kyungsoo.”

And maybe the thick sensuality in Kai’s eyes is contagious, because when he looks into them, everything slows down just enough for Kai to remove his mouth from Kyungsoo’s hand and replace it over his lips. Kai’s hand molds his hips and he doesn’t remember turning back around but maybe he did. Noses bumping, fingers grasping, loosening, catching, falling. Palms clamping throats and teeth breaking flesh, blood smearing down the line of Kai’s arm and thumbs probing moans and gasps, flickering august gazes molding loud quivers and silent pleas.

It’s not quite a kiss, by Kyungsoo’s definition, because it’s too rough and urgent and Kai is eating him alive with his hands and mouth and unfaltering gaze, leaving not enough in tact for him to refuse what follows.

Then again, no one refuses an artist when it’s sculpting you like this. Not into a romance, but into a masterpiece. Thoroughly deconstructed and inspected. The texture of his voice. The flavor of his skin, glistening with sweat and spittle and streaks of white and the way he breaks, the ‘snap’ and the finish on the palate. Rebuilt and reconstructed. Displayed in the great glass dome.


The problem with Kai is that unlike typical addicts, he doesn’t let obsession drag him through the dust. Instead he jumps to the wheel and drives the motherfucker to pieces, even if it costs him an arm or leg—or with Kyungsoo, his sanity.

Muttering loudly about, “maybe it was too much, maybe too soon,” he paces up and down, in and out of the glass kitchen. Tries to focus on the recipe on hand. Melt unsalted butter and bitter Guayaquil. Add egg yolk. Make merengue by egg white and sugar. Mix. Freeze. Bake. Doesn’t fucking work. Once again. Melt, whisk, freeze, bake, repeat. Something is not quite in place. Kyungsoo.

It’s been two weeks since he’s last seen Kyungsoo and things have never been like this. Kyungsoo has always picked up his calls. Opened his door. Joined Kai when he asked. What changed?

The world is all lucid but Kyungsoo makes no sense. Kyungsoo’s silence makes no sense. To Kai who only registers personalities as ingredients—good or bad, Kyungsoo comes up as a blank. A whole lot of emotions and no conclusion. Only frustration. Maybe the bad kind. Kai makes comparisons to chocolate because, after all, that is the only thing he understands. Maybe Kyungsoo wasn’t properly melted, maybe he rushed the tempering. Maybe he was molding sand. Was Kyungsoo defective?

So when Kyungsoo finally calls back, Kai drops everything—even a handful of sliced almonds—and frightens himself doing it because how can anything outweigh chocolate—but the thought doesn’t last because as soon as he hears Kyungsoo’s voice everything ends and everything else starts.



“Jongin. I, um,” Kyungsoo stammers, and bile surges to the back of Kai’s throat. The nausea of an imminent screw-up coming in slow-motion. He feels awfully like stabbing something with a tong, “I um, you know that—it’s just—I’ve been meaning to tell you… for a while… Junmyun and I…”

Beat. Kai grasps at the corners of his soul but nothing is left other than overturned skin and blood in nails.

“We’re engaged. We’re going to be engaged. The party is next weekend.”

What Kai hears next are not distinct words or specific requests. He understands everything that Kyungsoo has said about Junmyun really likes your truffles and I know it’s terrible of me—but it would be really special—he thought if we could ask for a—you know, um, something like an engagement assortment to distribute at the party and—honestly you don’t have to—I understand, I understand, I’ll just tell Junmyun that you’re busy, this is just ridiculous of—I’m sorry because, I just, you just, are we okay? Are you okay? But they’re only shadows of something greater.

Beyond Kyungsoo’s little concerns and quivering voices, Kai feels the sparks of hope on his tongue. When the dust settles what remains is no longer a mirage. He hasn’t been this excited in a long time. His knees crack as he stands up, fingertips gliding across the recipe book. Cryptic lines of numbers and notations. Kyungsoo has never been deficient.

Kai just hasn’t been looking the right way.

“No, we’re okay. We haven’t been better. I’ll make you the perfect truffle.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’ll need your participation.”

Because Kyungsoo is an ingredient. The most essential ingredient.


People define perfection as a fleeting concept. It is something which simultaneously attracts and repels its suitors. Perfection is the only unrealizable dream, because how can the lacking create something unlacking?

Kai decides, as he showers Kyungsoo in vodka and rum, pumps him full of bourbon and champagne, that it’s not about creation. Hunting perfection does not involve making incompletes out of a handful of nothings. It’s about using the right ingredient. The problem with chocolate isn’t the mind or the method, but the basic material.

So he solves it by lighting a match and sparking Kyungsoo’s lifeless eyes. In the depth of the night, everything combusts with the glow of dawn. From a little further down the street, it’s almost as if the glass dome has swallowed the sun.

And his chocolate comes to life, with a whisper of humanity.


90g purée de kalamansi, 110g 35% liquid cream, 40g glucose, 155g couverture madirofolo, Tahiti vanilla berries, 150g couverture Ghana, 30g trimoline, 10g orange zest, 3 g lemon zest, and a pinch of Kyungsoo make the ideal praline.

A pinch of Kyungsoo to make the ideal everything.

With the morning comes a crowd, gathered behind the glass walls to watch Kai whisk the ganache and temper viscosity, sculpt beauty into chocolate. There is something mesmerizing, perhaps the way he whips his spatula to produce striking and unyielding lines, breaking identity into each batch. Fluidity blends into sharp contours; mercury molds steel, smoke emancipates sand, romance dissolves horror.

And as dust storms of pulverized piedmont hazelnuts blow across layers of lukewarm praline over bourbon over mango puree, Kai’s movements only become faster, more reckless, stunning and furious. So stunning and furious that no one notes the thick scent of something, not quite cinnamon or chai—maybe a little like meat, in the air.


“Have you ever heard of the perfect truffle, Junmyun-sshi?” Kai asks quietly, dark eyes glinting as he picks a piece up with knobby, thin fingers, and sets it down on the plate before Junmyun, “Because see, I’m in the line of making the perfect chocolate. It’s a tough business, though, because the problem stems from the couverture—no couverture, no ganache, no coating, no truffle—it’s nearly impossible to find one without vice.”


“But all of these,” Kai sweeps his arm over the meter-long rack, “are made from the perfect couverture. And I’d like to share them with you. Try one.”

Junmyun nods and says a hasty ‘thank you’ before taking a bite. Immediately something between a frown and a confused smile surfaces on his lips, “Um this…”

“Is the taste of compulsion,” Kai grins back, all soft lips and hard eyes as he takes a piece for himself. Chews. Swallows. Another. Another.

“Go on, help yourself.”

Even though he tries his best to hold his smile up, Junmyun is trying not to gag and Kai can tell by the pallor of his cheeks. His voice trembles as he says, “No that’s okay, it’s, thank you, but I just—I have another appointment?”

Long after Junmyun has left, perplexity scribbled all over his countenance, Kai can still be seen sitting in the exact same spot, savoring his ultimate masterpiece with all of the time in the world, because he has finally captured flawlessness.

Closing his eyes, Kai thinks of the texture of Kyungsoo’s voice. The flavor of his skin, glistening with sweat and spittle and streaks of white and the way he breaks, the ‘snap’ and the finish on the palate.


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