Life is a stopwatch.
Tick tock tick tock tick tock…stop.
Start. Tick tock tick tock tick tock.
Some moments freeze, some pass by. It used to be, once, that all the wrong moments stopped for Minho.
Until he met Jonghyun.
'JESUS! Can't you fucking watch where you're walking?'
'Yeah, because I was the one trying to analyze my shoes,' Minho snaps at the little man in black who's attempting to untangle his scarf from Minho's bag.
The boy steps back a bit, and Minho looks at his face for the first time.
'Shit,' they both say at the same time.
Jonghyun who, his mind screams, but his heart freezes then thaws then freezes and thaws so quickly it shatters, and it's a good kind of shatter, and he feels hot tears overflowing from his eyes as Jonghyun grabs his collar and yanks him downwards.
The tears come harder as their lips meet, and Jonghyun whispers, 'Tell me who we are.'
'Jonghyun and Minho, forever.'
Life has gained meaning.
They move in together straight away. They both lived alone, before this, but that first day itself, the first thing they do is go over to Minho's apartment and pack his things.
'So much white,' Jonghyun laughs, and Minho remembers that laugh, remembers it so well, remembers nights on clouds and getting wet and the wind in his hair and the stars almost in his reach.
He's beginning to remember everything, and he doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry.
'Well, you wear so much black,' he shrugs.
'Fucking hayan,' Jonghyun mutters under his breath, and Minho crosses the room and puts a hand on his mouth.
'I never want to hear that word again,' he says, feeling like someone's strangling him.
'You needed huge windows too, huh,' Minho laughs.
'I get fucking claustrophobic down here, man,' Jonghyun sighs.
Down here is the tenth floor of an apartment building.
It's kind of funny.
As the days pass, Minho remembers more and more. He remembers meeting Jonghyun up there, for the first time, that cold fire that had run through his wings and veins.
JESUS! Can't you fucking watch where you're flying?
That voice. This voice. Can't you fucking watch where you're walking?
It's so poetic, and he thanks the High Court, he thanks the gods.
'Taemin,' he calls. 'Taemin, where are you, my little kingfisher?'
'You called, hyung?'
'Listen. I had an…accident. Today. With one of the jeom geong.'
'Holy crap, no. Tell me you didn't…'
'Well, as fate would have it, it's your Jonghyun hyung.'
'Oh dear lord.'
'Let's go to that cafe, huh?'
'The awkward first date cafe?'
'Yeah, that one,' Minho smiles.
They pick an early Saturday morning when it's still dark out and set out, hand in hand, walking around, just faces in the crowd, no longer gliding above everyone else. The air is cold, and if they'd been their previous selves, they wouldn't have felt cold at all, but these bodies are different, and so they're wearing thick jackets, and Jonghyun looks adorable with his muffler all the way up to his eyes, shoulders hunched and shivering.
'You're so tiny and cute, gosh,' Minho finds himself saying, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, under the roof of a little shop cozily lit in yellow. He pulls his gloved hands out of his pocket and pulls Jonghyun into his arms, nuzzles into the dark hair and smiles as Jonghyun shivers some more and burrows deeper into his coat.
'Can we just walk like this to the cafe, please, it's freezing,' Jonghyun says, his voice muffled by the, well, muffler.
'I wish we could. But the only way to get there and keep you as warm as we both want is to carry you, which somehow I'm sure you don't want me to do.'
'Don't question the lengths I'm willing to go to snuggle with you,' Jonghyun says sulkily.
Minho laughs, feels it in his throat and all the way down into his chest, and he kisses the top of Jonghyun's head and walks them both forward. God, I can't believe I get to stay with you.
The cafe's still the same, even though it's been twenty two years since they were last here. They're eighteen right now, not twenty, like they were when they first met.
So Taemin must be forty years old right now. God.
'Shit,' Minho says. 'Lee Taemin, sophomore, scrawny kid with weird hair?'
'I thought you'd figured it out long ago,' Jonghyun says, raising his eyebrows. 'And our math teacher? He's that leader of yours with the stick up his ass. And my Kibum?'
'Sassy gay art kid!' Minho says, realization dawning. 'I never…connected!'
'So, wait, shit, did they lose their wings too?'
'I don't think so,' Jonghyun frowns. 'Kibum disappears for hours on end and then comes back with cryptic weather forecasts. I'm guessing they've still got the wings.'
'So they're here because…'
'Well, Kibum's here because he loves me. Taemin's here because he's too curious about how we'll turn out, to stay up in the clouds. And Jinki's here because he's a dick.'
'Nice,' Minho laughs.
They stop at the counter and order what they did two decades ago. A macchiato for Jonghyun, caramel latte for Minho.
'Pansy,' Jonghyun says, elbowing Minho so that he almost spills his drink.
'Hey, at least I don't need to drink shit to prove my masculinity.'
They sit at the corner table, looking at the dark street outside, dimly lit, barely a few people walking around.
'This isn't so bad,' Jonghyun says after a while.
'Nope,' Minho whispers, and he takes his gloves off because his hands are warm now, and he feels a strange ache in his throat, so he leans forward and kisses the coffee off Jonghyun's lips.
'So, a little cafe,' Jonghyun says, eyebrows into his hairline. 'How quaint. It's so cute.'
'Do you have to be so sarcastic about everything?' Minho sighs. 'Can we not just get two coffees and sit and talk about shit?'
'All right,' Jonghyun says, with a bit of a smile. They walk up to the counter, and Minho waits for Jonghyun to order first.
'A macchiato, please,' Jonghyun says with a blinding grin. Minho blinks stars out of his eyes. This boy is beautiful.
'Uh, a caramel latte for me,' he says to the waiter. The boy smiles and nods, tells them it'll take two minutes.
'Pansy,' Jonghyun snorts.
'Hey, at least I don't need to drink shit to prove my masculinity.'
'Dude, there's no point in attempting to prove your masculinity,' Jonghyun laughs. 'You have swan wings, for fuck's sake.'
'Can we just sit, damn it,' and Minho takes the two cups in his hand, one little glass cup and one styrofoam monster, and leads them over to the corner table.
They sit down across each other, little shocks traveling up Minho's legs where they touch Jonghyun's under the table, and look out the window. The street is dark, not many people walking around.
'Well, this isn't so bad,' Jonghyun says after a little silence.
Considering it's humans doesn't need to be mentioned.
'Nope,' Minho says.
News travel fast in schools, and soon everywhere they go, people are smiling at them and girls are sighing, and their friends are pumping fists and wolf-whistling.
Minho and Jonghyun. Jonghyun and Minho.
Gosh, they're the cutest thing ever. They eat from the same plate!
They're always holding hands. If nothing, their pinkies are all tangled. Isn't that the sweetest thing?
I saw them kissing on the terrace!
Gosh, I'm so jealous, I wish I was a guy.
You still wouldn't have a chance, have you seen the way they look at each other?
'You know,' Kibum says to him one day, 'if you were someone else I'd give you the whole hurt my baby and die drill, but since you're you, I don't need to do that. I trust you.'
'But why would you even consider the possibility that there might ever be someone else for Jonghyun?' Minho grins.
Kibum blinks at him for a moment.
'Aish, you insolent kid,' he laughs, but his eyes are suspiciously bright, and Minho feels proud.
'We're going trekking this summer,' Minho informs Jonghyun.
'Are we, now?' Jonghyun says, not looking up from his physics textbook.
'Yes, we are. You know where we're going?'
'Paradise, altitude eight thousand feet?'
Minho blinks at Jonghyun before bursting into laughter. 'That's what Taemin told you? Paradise?'
'Yeah,' Jonghyun says absently, the word sounding weird because he's chewing on his pen. 'He said welcome to paradise, altitude eight thousand feet.'
'It's called Sa Chen,' Minho gasps. 'It's in India.'
'India? Random much?'
'Hey, you loved the place.'
Every night they can, they'll go to the terrace of Jonghyun's apartment, and yes, Jonghyun's on the last floor so he gets a private terrace, which, thank all higher powers. Because Minho doesn't know what he'd do if he didn't get to lie on his back and watch the stars.
He remembers watching them from so much closer, and thinks this is so tragically beautiful, looking at the stars for answers but never getting close enough. Then he thinks that someone must have thought this already, someone like him.
He whispers the thought to Jonghyun, and raises his eyebrows when the other boy sits up suddenly.
'What?' He says.
'Nothing,' Jonghyun smiles, but something's a little bit sad in that smile, and Minho closes his eyes when Jonghyun bends down to kiss his forehead. 'My beautiful swan.'
Minho thinks this is nice, moments like these when Jonghyun makes Minho feel young. Loved. Protected. All his life, this one and the past, Minho's always been the strong one, and once in a while, he likes to sink into the warmth of Jonghyun's embrace and close his eyes and just breathe.
He snakes an arm around Jonghyun's waist and places his ear right above Jonghyun's heart, inhales the smell, the way Jonghyun is so human, so tangible, so solid. Jonghyun sighs and places a light hand in Minho's hair, just places it there, a presence.
In his peripheral vision, the stars twinkle and the moon shines dully, forever too far.
Some days, he'll get flashes of memory when he's doing the silliest of things.
One day he's brushing his teeth when he remembers Jinki saying we will not let this happen.
He feels dull, dirty anger and resolves not to complete his math homework.
'Hey, kingfisher, wait up,' Minho calls after Taemin, who's walking out of the school doors.
Taemin stops and turns around. 'Me?'
'Yeah,' Minho says, jogging up to him. 'Remember me?'
'Yeah, uh, Choi Minho from the track team-'
'No, Tae,' Minho says softly, smiling down at him. 'Remember me?'
Taemin pauses for a second before a brilliant smile lights up his face.
Professor Jinki calls him in one day.
'Minho,' he starts.
'You wanted me to be happy, didn't you?' Minho says.
Professor Jinki, or rather, just Jinki, sighs, pinches the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses down. 'Minho, I-'
'Tell me, why didn't you come down here as a student? Just so that you can get us expelled for something or the other, right?' Minho can't help it, this bitterness in his voice, this anger somewhere in his sternum, inside the bone marrow. Jinki was his friend.
'I was looking out for you, Minho,' Jinki says earnestly, and Minho actually believes him, knows that he's right in his own twisted way. 'They would've torn you apart. The jeom geong-'
'Have black feathers. Does that make them demons?'
'No, you know what makes demons who they are?'
Jinki closes his eyes.
'People like you, Professor Jinki.'
'Jinki, please, let me go, I'm begging you,' he sobs, trying to yank his wrist free of the diamond shackle around it. 'I'm begging you. You can banish me from the hayan. I'll live in exile. I'll do it. Just let me go to him, please.'
Jinki stares ahead, eyes cold.
'Jinki-yah,' Sekyung begins-
'Quiet,' Jinki says. 'He knows not what he says.'
'I know what I'm saying,' Minho whispers. 'I know what I'm doing. Please, Jinki, please, let me go if you have ever cared for me. Let me go to Jonghyun, I can't live without him.'
This is pain like he has never felt before, every synapse hot and cold with agony, hellfire in his veins and frost in his arteries, and he can't live without Jonghyun, he can't, and they're never going to let him go.
He wakes up sobbing hysterically, Jonghyun wrapped around him like a blanket.
'Minho, jagi, jagi, shh,' Jonghyun's saying, and Minho turns to bury his face in the other boy's chest, drawing in huge breaths and choking out half-formed sentences, words that don't make sense put together.
'I can't live without you' is the first sentence he can string together, and he says it over and over like a prayer, like a chant, sobbing and gasping and crying until he thinks he's going to die.
'Shh, shh, I'm here,' Jonghyun croons, and Minho wonders how it's possible to miss someone who's right there with you.
He wakes up at noon the next day, eyes burning and throat clogged.
'Morning, sleepyhead,' Jonghyun says from where he's leaning in the doorway, arms crossed.
Minho smiles tentatively, and something changes in Jonghyun's face. He straightens and makes his way towards the bed. Minho automatically shifts as Jonghyun lifts up the blanket and slides under it. Then he curls towards Jonghyun and finds the crook of his neck, rests his forehead there.
'Sleep a little more, jagi,' Jonghyun whispers. 'God knows you need it, and I'm not going anywhere.'
Not this time.
'We had eternity once,' Jonghyun whispers one night.
Minho opens his eyes and turns to look at Jonghyun, who stares determinedly up at the sky, refusing to meet his eyes.
'Yes, but today, we have now,' Minho smiles.
Life is a stop watch. And the least count is infinity.