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just the galaxy beneath us

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Some people say it's nature's way of playing matchmaker. Every now and then, two people are born, meant especially for each other. When they both turn eighteen, their hearts start beating in sync and they start feeling things together. If one feels joy, so will the other, no matter how far apart they might be. Sometimes they'll see visions of each other – just little flashes of eyes and hair and skin, snippets of the person that fate has chosen for them. Sometimes they'll dream of each other. Sometimes they'll look down at themselves and realize that they're getting bruises and scratches that aren't theirs, but instead belong to someone who might be on the other side of the world.

Four days after he turns eighteen, Harry feels the first skip of his heartbeat.

It's small, subtle, and he almost doesn't notice it. He and Louis are kicking a ball back and forth across a field and it's autumn and he's complaining about how he misses the summer. It comes mid-sentence, mid-word, and when he feels the pang in his chest, he freezes. The ball hits him in the face.

"Pay attention," Louis chides him, and Harry is: he's becoming quite aware of his heart and the person he's been fated for and the question what if?

He doesn't know how he know – he just does. It's the same way he knows the sky is blue and fires are hot and the earth is round, except this is a person. He knows that they've turned eighteen.

Louis will think he's odd if he says anything, so he doesn't. But later, when he's walking home and no one else is within earshot, he stops in the middle of the sidewalk and says, "Happy birthday." Only the air catches his words, but it's okay, he thinks, because perhaps they'll get carried across the world like that – to wherever his other half might be.

 

___

 

He gets his first hint during third period anatomy. The entire classroom is silent as it's apt to be whenever they're taking a test, and Harry is in the middle of filling in latissimus dorsi when, suddenly, he's not looking at his paper anymore.

It's hazy, like a camera gone unfocused. He catches a glimpse of gold and maybe cerulean, but he's not sure. Their hair is cut short and–

A sharp thwack yanks back to reality, to the classroom and the test and the irate teacher standing in front of him. "No dozing off, Mr. Styles," says the sharp-eyed woman, and Harry mumbles out an apology and picks up his pencil again.

His pulse is racing at the thought of all the possibilities, and how is he supposed to focus on the human body diagram in front of him when he would rather map out and label another?

"Fifteen minutes," their teacher reminds.

The kid next to him makes a startled noise and continues scribbling furiously. Harry takes a deep breath and goes back to writing.

 

___

 

The first bruise appears as he's leaving hockey practice, so initially, he thinks nothing of it. Then Zayn playfully nudges him with his elbow (and he had bony elbows, mind), and that's when Harry realizes that his arm doesn't hurt at all.

He distinctly remembers getting cuffed on the leg with someone's hockey stick and being checked twice, so the marks on his calf and his jaw are accounted for. He doesn't remember hurting his arm, but the bruise doesn't even look fresh; it's small and faint and looks like it's mostly healed.

"That looks like it hurt," Zayn comments. "Did I do that?" He suddenly looks worried.

"Nah, it was from practice," Harry says. The lie comes out without him really thinking about it and he's not completely sure why he's trying to keep this all a secret. He might be a little paranoid that he's overanalyzing things and deluded himself into thinking that he's finally been synchronized with someone. Just a little.

Louis and Liam are already waiting when they step outside. Zayn calls shotgun, and even though Louis and Zayn never bode well sitting so close to each other and Harry knows he'll have to endure a twenty minute car ride of them arguing over the music station, he's far too distracted to object. He slides into the back seat and crosses his arms over his bag, eyes flickering to the discolored skin.

"I hope you're okay," he says, without thinking.

The other three fall into a hushed silence.

"Did you say something, Harry?" Louis asks.

Liam and even Zayn, usually one to adopt a suspension of disbelief, looks perturbed.

"Uh," Harry says intelligently. "I said, I hope I'm not late. My mum wanted me home before dinner."

"Okay," says Louis. He doesn't sound like he believes him, but he turns back to the wheel nonetheless.

Zayn shoots him a look – it's one of his trademark expressions of concern, where you can barely tell if he's questioning your sanity or genuinely wondering if you’re okay. Harry gives him a reassuring smile, in case it's the latter. Liam shoots him a sympathetic glance too.

Louis starts backing out of the parking lot, and Harry touches a finger to his arm. I hope you're okay, he repeats, this time as a thought. The bruise doesn't look too serious, but it worries him anyway.

He thinks that's slightly silly, if not strange altogether. He's never met this person before and he doesn't even know if he's been matched, but here he is, worrying about them.

(Yeah, he really can't be sure if he's been matched or not, but he– he can just feel it.)

 

___

 

He falls ill for a week with no explanation.

Liam offers to give him the notes he misses in class, Zayn sends him condolences through texts, and Louis speculates food poisoning.

Harry misses a few days of school and comes back feeling and looking like shit, but it’s okay, because apparently, the bug has gone around to half the class.

In anatomy, the kid next to him shoots him a sleepy gaze. He has bags under his eyes and his skin looks a little pale, and Harry wonders if he should go home. “Hate being sick,” he says, voice sounding funny.

Harry nods in agreement. He makes a silent apology to his other half and hopes that they don’t feel as much of the illness as he does.

 

___

 

"Mum, how did you find Dad?"

It's a question he's asked thousands of times before, but the story never gets old and his parents never tire of humoring him.

His mother is tacking something on their bulletin board and his father is doing the dishes. "Well, it was in our gym class." It's his mother who starts talking. Harry can't see her face, but he hears the smile in her voice. "I turned eighteen that day. We were warming up, I was so excited telling my friends about the party that I didn't notice who was jogging behind me..."

"She pushed me into the wall," his father pitched in.

"I ran into you, and we both lost our balance," his mother amends. "Either way, I was sent to the nurse for a sprained wrist. It wasn't the next day until I realized he hurt his wrist, too. I had my suspicions, then, but I didn't want to say anything. After all, we barely knew each other."

His father chuckles. "But she talked to me anyway. That's how attracted she was."

"Excuse you," his mother says. "You were the one who apologized first."

They nose at each other's necks, and Harry hops off the kitchen table and ambles off to his room so he doesn't have to see the rest. He knows how the story ends, anyway: his parents bonded over their injured bones, started talking more, and eventually fell in love. They had every sign of being each other's match, but neither brought it up until years later, on their wedding night.

For Harry, it's proof that it couldn't be forced. His parents never had to be together; they made their own choices to pursue each other.

He hopes that when he meets his match, they'll make their own decisions, too. He doesn't want to force anyone into anything, even if such a refusal would hurt.

"I'm getting way too attached to you," he says, lying flat on his back and staring at the ceiling. His head is clearer now and he can think.

The glow-in-the-dark stickers are still there – they've stopped glowing for four years now – and they make him wonder about things. They make him wonder if the reason that people are soulmates is because when they were nothing, when they were simply stardust and floating aimlessly in the emptiness of space, their atoms happened to be a little closer to each other than anyone else. They make him wonder if they get matched because they can't help but drift closer to each other, to be as close as they once were.

They make him think frivolous thoughts.

He says goodnight to the stars and crawls under his covers.

 

___

 

His first dream goes something like this:

He’s on the coast, sitting atop a hill overlooking the ocean. The beach sits beneath him, a long, spindly stretch of sand and waterlines, shifting and changing as the waves move. A pair of arms is wrapped around him and a chin is resting on his shoulder and there is a warm chest pressed along his back.

Someone’s humming the tune vaguely reminiscent of, if this is love, love is easy, it’s the easiest thing to do, and Harry wants to turn around and look at this stranger’s face but he can’t.

He has to content himself with watching the sea, the way the setting sun’s light bounces off the water, wondering if this person behind him looked as beautiful as the view.

He wakes up slowly and languidly, like the way a feather might float to the ground or a leaf glides across water. There’s a touch lingering across his back. The bruise is completely healed now.

 

___

 

Everything blurs one after the other. It’s challenging to tell which feelings are his own and which ones are invoked by his other half, but Harry’s getting used to it.

On Saturday, he’s with Liam in a record shop when his eyes land on the array of guitars in the back and suddenly, inexplicably, he finds himself walking towards it.

“Harry?” Liam calls after him. He sounds worried, as one is wont to sound after their friend simply walks away in the middle of a conversation.

Harry reaches one of the guitars – sleek, polished acoustic – and reaches out, letting his fingers run along the strings. There’s a feeling in his stomach, and it’s warm and fuzzy and makes him want to impulsively pick up the instrument and start strumming away, but it’s ridiculous. He doesn’t know how to play the guitar.

“Do you?” he murmurs with a bit of a smile.

“Hey, Harry.” Liam stops next to him. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Harry tells him, and he is. He files away the piece of information and turns to his friend with a slight laugh. “Sorry, I got curious.”

Liam raises an eyebrow. He gestures back to the boxes of records and Harry dutifully follows, but not without sending the guitar a second glance.

 

___

 

It becomes a regular occurrence.

He’ll be walking down the sidewalk when he passes the pet shop and feels an irrational want to look at the birds. He knows he’ll be late for dinner, but he takes five minutes to look around anyway, because the resulting flutter of happiness in his chest is worth any lecture his parents could give him.

He meets Zayn and Louis by the park, where they proceed to raid the empty playgrounds. They make a competition out of climbing the tallest piece of equipment, and Harry usually wins by perching on top of the slide, but he starts losing. Halfway up, he feels something queasy in his chest, and he can’t look down without thinking that he’ll fall. So he sits out and offers to judge.

He goes out to eat with his family and spend a good ten minutes browsing the menu, his eyes gravitating towards meals he can swear he’s never tried before. When their server comes, he finds himself blurting the name of some unknown dish and his parents only stare at him, somewhat proud. (He ends up liking it.)

In music theory, his teacher hands out various instruments for hands-on learning. By chance, Harry ends up with a guitar, and that same fluttery feeling arises. He positions his fingers along the neck and strums, and the room goes quiet as he plays Fly Me to the Moon.

Afterwards, some blond boy approaches him, eyes excited. “That was my favorite song, you know,” he says, and Harry thinks his name is Niall or something. “I didn’t know you played the guitar.”

“Neither did I,” Harry laughs. He realizes too late that that doesn’t make any sense, but the other boy seems to find it funny enough and laughs with him.

He remembers these things. He tucks them away into the safest parts of their memory so that later, when he meets his soulmate, he can take them out to dinner and order peri-peri chicken, or take them to a zoo and show off how much he learned from endless Google searching of birds. He would take them to an amusement park so they can hold hands, but he wouldn’t force them to ride the Ferris wheel. He would ask if they could teach him how to play the guitar, and maybe they could sit the way they did in his dreams.

You haven’t even met them yet, Harry chides himself. Yet it feels like he has and that they’ve spent eternity together and— this, he wonders again as he stares at the ceiling: Are they feeling the same things I am?

 

___

 

The worksheet helpfully points the sclera and iris and pupil and cornea, and the eye diagram is kind of cruddy, but Harry sees blue, blue, blue.

Third period anatomy is the worst.

“Hey,” whispers the student next to him. Harry tenses, but it’s just Niall. Just Niall. “Can I borrow a pencil?”

Harry passes him a spare and averts his attention to the paper again, rubbing his eyes until he can concentrate. The dreams having been coming more frequently and the visions less so, and it’s torture to know so much about someone, yet never know them at all.

There’s time, he reminds himself firmly. I’ve got the rest of my life. It seems so far away, though, when he has half a year left of this class.

“Ow,” Niall mutters next to him, and Harry bristles in irritation.

He almost snaps something, but he remembers that the poor kid’s done nothing to deserve it – he’s got a paper cut – and tries to busy himself with the worksheet. It isn’t until the bell rings and half of the class is out of the room that he notices the new scar on his thumb.

 

___

 

He starts learning how to do his hair with his eyes closed.

Looking at his own reflection has become a thing to avoid. He can get away with a quick glance, but if he stares too long, he feels irrationally happy to see himself. It’s akin to seeing his favorite band or watching his favorite actress, and that’s the part that scares him: it’s like adoration, and it makes him feel like a narcissist.

Liam is the only one he consults about this. The entire story comes tumbling out, but Liam doesn’t sound too surprised; Harry thinks he’s known for a while.

“Maybe it’s not you,” Liam offers.

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe it’s her or him.” His friend motions around them. “Whoever your other half is. Maybe they like seeing you.”

“That’s impossible,” Harry says, because if it’s true, it must mean that he knows his soulmate – or, at least, that his soulmate knows him.

Liam shrugs. “Why not?” he returns, and Harry hesitates.

Why not? his mind echoes agreeably, but it would be too easy, too convenient. He can’t afford such hopeful thinking.

 

___

 

The bottoms of his shoes scrape noisily as he runs through the hall. He’s moving too fast, too hurriedly, so when he turns the corner, he completely misses the smaller boy and runs into him.

“Sorry!” Panic jolts up his spine, and Harry scrambles to pick up the fallen notebooks, practically shoving them into Niall’s arms. “Here. Sorry, sorry.”

And he’s about to turn around and sprint the rest of the way to his car, but he realizes that Niall hasn’t moved from his spot and he looks like he’s—in pain?

Guilt washes over the panic and Harry walks over, trying to assess the damage. Niall is cradling his arm, but nothing looks broken. “Are you okay?” he asks quietly. “I— I’m really sorry. I wasn’t looking.”

The other boy looks up at him and when their eyes meet, Harry’s breath hitches and he wonders why he never noticed them before.

“I’m fine.” Niall gives him a wan smile. “I hurt my arm a while back, but it still gets sore, so…”

Harry stares. “When?”

“Uh, my party. Went swimming with some friends, and I slipped.” Niall laughs. “Apparently, I thought turning eighteen also meant being invincible.”

And Harry just keeps staring because he can’t believe it.

“Is your finger okay?” he asks, for a lack of anything else to say. He suddenly feels dizzy and he wonders if Niall has come to the same conclusion. He wants to reach out and put a palm against the other boy’s chest and check if their hearts are beating in tandem, but the sheer— feeling he gets just from finally looking at him like this— it might just be enough of an answer.

Something dawns in Niall’s eyes, realization, and his fingers twitch on the edges of his books. “Ah,” he says, this soft sound that makes Harry want to do things to him.

“You and me?” he says. He remembers the week he was ill and the guitar and the mirrors. He wonders if Niall saw him the same way he did. He wonders and wants to ask but instead all that comes out are those three little words: “You and me.”

Niall’s expression softens and then he’s laughing, his eyes lighting up in a way that Harry’s only seen in his dreams. “I guess so,” he says, and he doesn’t sound like he regrets a thing.

Harry wonders how he never realized any sooner. Niall’s eyes are so blue, God, and his lips look so soft and Harry wants to tell him that he’s kissed him a hundred times in his dreams and he wants to kiss him a thousand more in real life. This feels like the first proper conversation they’ve ever had and it’s ridiculous that Harry’s heart is already trying to beat its way out of his chest, but…they have time, right?

“Sorry about all the bruises.” Niall grins, and that’s the last straw, really. Harry closes the distance between them and rests a hand on his waist with every intention of kissing him, but he stops. His hand fits well, just like they’re meant to be.

Niall blinks up at him with those goddamn eyes.

“You’re shorter than I hoped,” Harry tells him, and Niall makes an indignant noise and tries to squirm out of his grip. It’s Harry’s turn to laugh and the sound echoes in the empty hall. “Kept seeing you in my dreams, anyway,” he adds honestly, liking the way the other boy’s cheeks flush and how this all feels so easy. Natural. “I was starting to feel like a creep.”

“It’s because we’ve been meant for each other,” Niall says solemnly, mirth tailing the edge of his voice. “You know, ever since we were born.”

“Even before that,” Harry agrees, just as solemnly. “Probably back when we were stardust.”

“Because we loved each other so much, right?”

“Right,” he says, and he kisses Niall at that moment and it’s everything and nothing like he ever imagined. Mine, he thinks, I’ve finally found you and you’re mine. When he pulls away, it’s not by much; still close enough that he can see the flecks of azure across Niall’s irises. “You love me?” he teases.

“No,” Niall answers, of course, but then he adds, “not yet." Harry takes it as an invitation.

 

___

 

No, definitely not yet— but it's okay. They’ve got all the time in the world.