Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
Warning: Contains descriptions of psychological manipulation and abuse of power.
It was just a light kiss, nothing more than a fleeting touch between Fang Chi and Gao Zhun’s lips. Indignant and vexed, Fang Chi tightened his hands on the steering wheel. He did not want to recall that image. He was terrified, so terrified that his fingers had gone cold. Obediently leaning back against the front seat, Gao Zhun gazed at him with watery eyes, like a child waiting to open a present.
Fang Chi was trapped. Gao Zhun had captured him with honeyed blades and poisoned webs. Despite having struggled as hard as he could, he was reaching his limit now – while his naïve and innocent predator waited by his side, ready to dig in. Glancing at Gao Zhun out of the corners of his eyes, Fang Chi made a right turn. “It’s still early. I’d like to carry out some in vivo exposure training1 with you.”
Gao Zhun’s eyes widened in obvious disappointment. “We aren’t going home…?”
“We are.” Bitterness welled up from the very core of Fang Chi’s being. He hated Gao Zhun’s sweetness and vulnerability; he resented the devastating ease with which the other man had entered and wrecked his life. “We’re going to your home.”
Gao Zhun did not understand Fang Chi at first. Slowly, the car pulled into Gao Zhun’s estate and turned down the lane leading to his apartment block. Then, instead of stopping outside the building, the car glided into the underground parking garage. Gao Zhun’s hands instantly tightened into fists. Staring out of the window with panicked eyes, he shrank into his seat and curled up on himself. “Doc- Doctor Fang!”
Fang Chi was very pleased; the sadistic thrill of torture rushed through his veins, and the taste of sated vengeance lingered on his tongue. “Today, we’ll work on overcoming your fear of parking garages.” He parked his car deep in the garage, pulled on the hand brake, shifted into park, and turned off the ignition.
The world stilled. All was quiet except for the sound of Gao Zhun’s tremulous pleas, “No… I don’t…” He leaned toward Fang Chi, shaking helplessly as tears welled up in his eyes. Pitiful and desperate, he begged his therapist for help, “Can we go up… please?” Fang Chi responded by unfastening his own seat belt instead. Gao Zhun became frantic. Knowing that the therapist would no longer listen to him, Gao Zhun rushed to undo his seat belt as well. He had to keep up with the other man, a subconscious instinct told him, or else he would be left behind all on his own.
“Tell me how you’re feeling right now,” Fang Chi instructed. He wanted the other man to soak in the fear for a while.
“This place reminds me of that night, makes me think of that man…” Gao Zhun tried to reach for Fang Chi’s hand – but the therapist pulled back from his touch. The blatant rejection was too much for Gao Zhun; his voice rose into an uncontrollable scream, “He bullied and hurt me!”
“Do you mean that he had sexual intercourse with you?”
Gao Zhun responded with an indignant nod. “What about the things we do at night then?” Fang Chi asked in return. “How are they any different from the things he did to you?” Gao Zhun froze, stunned into silence. The therapist continued, “All these acts are ultimately the same in nature. What’s different is your reaction to them: sometimes you find them frightening, sometimes you find them… pleasurable. This shows that the problem doesn’t lie with the sexual act itself, but your interpretation of it.”
“But that’s because I was with you!” Gao Zhun was driven to the brink of tears. “It’s because I was with you that I…”
“You’re with me now. What’s so terrifying about this place?” Fang Chi got out of the car and slammed the door behind him. A violent shudder tore through Gao Zhun. Then, scrambling to escape the confines of the vehicle, he stumbled out after the other man. The world outside was one of steel and concrete, lit with pale, feeble lights while the faint smell of gasoline and mineral lime hung in the air. Gao Zhun lost his bearings all of a sudden. His memories came back in a rush: the sounds of footsteps and keys, the low buzz of machinery… Gently, Fang Chi placed his hand on Gao Zhun’s back. “Where is your car?”
Gao Zhun calmed down. “Zone C, lot 028.” Fang Chi gave a little push, signaling for Gao Zhun to walk ahead while he followed behind in silence. It was evident that Gao Zhun was terrified; he moved falteringly, stopping in hesitation after every few tentative steps. Whenever he paused in his movements, Fang Chi would move close and assure him, “Don’t be scared. I’m here for you.”
Don’t be scared. I’m here for you… Fang Chi had spoken these words many times, so many times that they had become a magical spell that could bring peace to Gao Zhun’s mind at once. “I want a reward,” Gao Zhun said all of a sudden, bracing himself as he bargained with Fang Chi. “Be nicer to me… at night.”
Fang Chi was surprised. “Haven’t I been nice enough to you?” Standing behind Gao Zhun, his eyes fell on the other man’s reddening nape. He felt an urge to take hold of that delicate neck before him, but he stopped himself.
Then, Fang Chi heard Gao Zhun breathe out his reply, “Be even nicer.” Fang Chi did not respond. He followed Gao Zhun to Zone C, walked down the designated row, and came to lot 028. A top-of-the-range Cayenne stood in the allotted space. Its Prussian blue surface was coated with a thick layer of dust, while its driver’s seat was completely down. The sight was most bizarre and unsettling.
“How long has it been since you last moved it?”
“Since that day…” Gao Zhun took a deep breath.
Fang Chi supported him from behind, worried that Gao Zhun would not be able to bear it. “How did you make it to the hotel?”
“I walked.” Even now, the mere thought of the experience made Gao Zhun shiver with pain. “It hurt so much…”
Fang Chi patted the sides of Gao Zhun’s legs. “Do you have your car keys with you?”
Gao Zhun turned, wanting to burrow into the other man’s arms, but Fang Chi twisted him around by force and pinned him to the door. “Remember to bring them tomorrow.”
The front of Gao Zhun’s suit was smeared with grime from the car. “My clothes…”
“A rapist wouldn’t care about what you’re wearing.” Fang Chi was deliberate in his roughness. “Now, think of me as that man. Imagine that I’d appeared behind you without warning, ready to assault you.”
Gao Zhun trembled; it was very clear that he was already immersed in the horror of the unfolding scenario. Uncontrollably, Fang Chi’s eyes ran down the other man’s straightened spine, sweeping over his narrow shoulders and tiny waist before reaching the swell of his ass under the hem of his suit. “He…” Fang Chi swallowed. “He grabbed your neck, is that right?”
Gao Zhun nodded, so Fang Chi reached out with his right hand and clasped the other man’s nape. Lightly. “Like this?” he asked, not daring to exert any force on the other man. But Gao Zhun began twisting a little, trying to shake off the constraint around his neck, and Fang Chi strengthened his grip in response. “Back then, were you… writhing like this as well?”
“No…” Even Gao Zhun’s voice was quivering. “He was very fast and shoved me into the car before I knew what was happening.”
Fang Chi was enraged all of a sudden, though he could not tell for sure what he was feeling right now – fury or jealousy. Pain, sharp and urgent, tore at his gut as images of that night played out in his mind. He saw a man in a baseball cap grip Gao Zhun by the neck and force him into the car. He watched the man straddle Gao Zhun, riding him, tearing at his clothes in a frenzy, raining blow after blow on his body… Fang Chi’s heart ached to its core. He hurt so much for Gao Zhun that he could not help but throw his arms around the helpless man before him.
“Ah!” Gao Zhun cried out in fear, but Fang Chi did not let go. “He didn’t do this,” Gao Zhun whimpered, twisting and struggling. “Don’t…” Yet, imagining himself to be the rapist, Fang Chi began tormenting the man in his arms. Like a beast determined to ruin a powerless woman in his grasp, he ravaged Gao Zhun’s body through his clothes, groping every inch of his shivering flesh with insatiable hands, yanking hard on his fragile nerves with every move.
“No! Please… let me go!” Gao Zhun begged between sobs. “Can we stop this training? No more. Please… no more…” But this was not training at all. This was nothing but Fang Chi’s whim to toy with the other man. A single impulse thrilled through his entire being: he wanted to take things further, to flip Gao Zhun over, devour his lips, pry his body open…
Just as Fang Chi was losing himself to his desire, however, a young couple emerged from the elevator lobby. They passed by, bantering, but froze in their tracks when they heard Gao Zhun’s cries for help and saw what Fang Chi was doing. The couple gaped at the men, stunned in astonishment. Panting, Fang Chi released Gao Zhun, straightened himself, and ran a ragged hand through his own hair. The young man put down the plastic bag in his hand, darting his eyes between the two men by the car. Then, in a wary tone, he confronted Fang Chi, “What are you doing?”
“I…” Fang Chi found himself at a loss for words.
The young woman took out her phone. Lowering her voice, she asked the man beside her, “Should we call the police?”
Although Gao Zhun had buried himself in Fang Chi’s arms, stricken with shame, he stirred immediately at the mention of the police. “No, don’t call the police,” he entreated in a tiny voice, peering up from the embrace. “He’s my doctor.”
The couple did not believe him in the least. Inching towards the car, the couple continued to coax, “He was assaulting you, wasn’t he? Don’t be afraid of his threats. We can help you.”
“No, you’re wrong.” Gao Zhun, guarded and hostile, stepped in front of his therapist as if the couple were trying to take Fang Chi away from him. “Go away! Mind your own business!”
Gao Zhun’s emotions were spiraling out of control. Fang Chi pulled him back. “I’m indeed his doctor – his therapist, to be exact,” he explained to the two kind souls. With an air of sincerity, he continued, “We’re in the middle of a behavior therapy session, but I’m very heartened by your willingness to step out in a situation like this. Thank you. Your actions will help many others in distress.” He easily convinced the young couple with ease: he looked so trustworthy, and his manner was so impeccable in its frankness that there was no room for any doubt.
After politely saying their goodbyes, the couple left. Frightened out of his wits, Gao Zhun clung on to Fang Chi’s clothes and refused to let go. “Will they guess… guess that I was r-ra…”
“No, they won’t,” Fang Chi soothed as he took the other man into his arms again. “They’d think it was a mugging.”
“No…” Gao Zhun remained inconsolable and unconvinced. “My voice… I sounded really weird!”
At this, an inexplicable sense of agitation rose within Fang Chi. “Even if they thought we were gay, so what?”
Stunned, Gao Zhun stared blankly at the other man. “They thought we were…” He paused, biting back the phrase that had come to him out of the blue: “an item.” A blush bloomed over his face at the very idea. He had never thought of them this way – never thought that he could be “an item” with Fang Chi. Foolishly, he asked instead, “Can we…?”
The question rendered Fang Chi speechless. He could only stare back at Gao Zhun, their gazes locking together in silence for a long, heavy moment.
- In vivo exposure therapy: A form of behavior therapy and desensitization, more commonly known as flooding therapy. It is a technique used to treat phobias and anxiety disorders, including PTSD.
- Based on the principles of Pavlov’s classical conditioning, flooding compels patients to alter their behaviors (i.e. reactions to and feelings about the trauma) by exposing patients to their most painful memories.
- Under controlled conditions, with the aid of relaxation techniques, patients undergo their traumas repeatedly with minimal assistance from their therapists, until their feelings are replaced by feelings of relaxation.
- Though proven to be effective in many instances, repeated exposure is often scarring for the patient.
Although flooding therapy aims to condition a patient’s emotional and physiological responses to trauma, Fang Chi’s behavior in this chapter should not be taken as an accurate illustration of the technique. His redirection of blame onto Gao Zhun, as well as the pleasure he gains from the exercise, are both ethically questionable.