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the probability of (not) being yours

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Jisung hears the scuffling sound of feet walking towards him, but he doesn't need to look up to know who it is. The cadence of the steps are so familiar to him even after approximately two years of not having heard from – much more actually seen – the approaching person.

“Han Jisung.”

Minho only stops once he's standing right in front of him, his shadow looming over Jisung himself. His voice still has that naturally soft & gentle feel to it – or maybe it seems like that only because of the specific calming effect it has on Jisung, he isn't sure. It’s kind of like a chicken or egg situation.

“Lee Minho,” he answers, looking up finally to meet Minho's gaze, only for his breath to catch unexpectedly.

He had seen Minho earlier at the funeral, of course. Minho had been standing with his parents, while Jisung stayed by his brother’s side the entire time. At one point their eyes had met, very briefly, but overall the two of them had not exchanged a single word, and it's only now that Jisung is looking at him again in such close proximity. It's unfair, because of course Minho still looks absolutely beautiful—as if God, or whatever Powers That Be exist, was in the most magnanimous and inspired mood when they created him.

Minho's mouth curves into a small smile, and when he reaches over to gently ruffle his hair, Jisung doesn't protest even though he's a fully grown 25 year old man. For a second, he even leans towards the touch without meaning to—it comes naturally for him, a habit that hasn't been broken despite them having long been apart.

And then Minho retracts his hand, and Jisung lets out a soft, barely audible whine without meaning to. Minho quirks an eyebrow questioningly, but he doesn't comment out loud. He steps away, and moves to park himself on the empty swing seat right next to the one occupied by Jisung.

“How did you find me?” Jisung asks, hands gripping tightly at the swing chains as he gently kicks off the ground.

Minho shrugs. “I dropped by your house after I had dinner with my parents. Your brother said you went out—figured you'd be here, if anywhere.”

Right. Minho figured, because of course he did—because he still knows Jisung best. For some reason, the thought stings, but it makes him smile as well.

Silence takes over a while, with only the rusty squeaking of the swing chains softly echoing around them. It should be awkward, but it isn't. The quiet, and Minho’s simple presence has brought Jisung a kind of comfort that nothing else has – not the cheesecake Chan had given him for free yesterday, not the empty condolences distant relatives have been offering him all day, not even their family dog, Geum’s regular nuzzling and cosying up against him.

Still, he's the first one to break silence after he drags his heels against the ground to abruptly stop his own swinging.

“I missed you,” is what he says.

Minho remains silent, but then he offers his right hand to Jisung, and when Jisung accepts the gesture, he clasps their hands together, squeezing tightly but comfortably. That's how Jisung knows that Minho feels the same.

“How long are you going to be in town?” Minho asks.

For good, Jisung wants to say because he's tired of staying away. Forever, because he doesn't see a point to not being around anymore.

“A few days,” he answers out loud because for now that's the actual truth. He has a life away not just from this town now, but away from this country – away from Minho.

“Is Seoyeon going to be around, too?” There’s something in the way he asks – something about his tone that hints at melancholy but Jisung wills himself to ignore it. He derives no pleasure in reading Minho anymore – it's just unfortunate that it comes to him so naturally.

“Ah, no, she’s visiting her parents in Seoul this weekend, and then after I finish here, I’m joining her and then…” He trails off, and simply lets Minho assume that he’s set to fly back to Japan with Seoyeon once all his business in South Korea is taken care off.

“I see.” Minho nods, and then he falls back into silence but he doesn't let go of Jisung's hand at all. “I’m staying for the weekend too,” he offers. “With my parents.”

“Seungmin around?” Jisung isn’t really sure if he wants to know the answer, but he figures it’s polite to ask, considering Minho inquired about Seoyeon.

“He’s busy with work,” Minho says. “He sends his condolences though.

Jisung hums in response; there’s a lot more he can probably ask, but he doesn’t really want to stay on this topic anymore.

“Hey,” Minho picks up the conversation once more after several seconds of silence. “Remember when we had that cat funeral for BonBon?”

The memory makes Jisung laugh despite himself. It shouldn't be funny, not under that day's circumstances, and it certainly wasn't funny eleven years ago when the event mentioned had occurred – BonBon was Minho's pet cat from childhood, and he had been devastated when he passed – but for some reason, remembering that time makes Jisung laugh.

“I loved that cat a disproportionate amount,” Minho murmurs softly.

“Yes you did,” Jisung agrees. The day BonBon died was the first time Jisung had seen tears in Minho’s eyes, and to this day, he can still count the amount of times this has happened again, on one hand.

“Sorry about your mom,” Minho says, after a short pause.

Jisung hums. “I’m sorry too,” he says, trying to sound glib, but even he can hear the clear exhaustion in his own tone.



 

~



 

In a world where 90% of its total population manage to meet their soulmates before the ripe, young age of 30, Minho and Jisung came crashing into each other's lives when Minho was only 15, and Jisung, 13.

Literally crashing, as 13 year old Jisung, while skateboarding down the road had failed to brake just as 15 year old Minho was turning around a blind corner on his bike. They were lucky that they'd come out of the unfortunate collision with only skinned knees (Jisung) and a sprained wrist (Minho), mostly thanks to the latter who had managed to steer and swerve quite abruptly at the last second.

“We're more than lucky to be honest,” Jisung used to say, grin always toothy and cheeks always full. “We found each other, didn't we?”

The unfortunate caveat that they did learn until many years later: they aren't exactly Soulmates.

They didn't know it at the time, as soul marks don't appear on your body until the year that you turn 20. Before then, all you have is the feeling in your gut – that was something else that Jisung used to say.

(But as it happened his gut was wrong, and they were only the average type of lucky after all.)

Minho’s family was new in town when he had first met Jisung. They had moved there in the middle of the year, during summer break right before the fall school term was about to start.

Jisung – despite the very unorthodox manner by which they met – turned out to be the boy living in the house next door. They had figured this out after Jisung, guilt ridden because of Minho’s injury, insisted on taking the older boy home with him.

“My mom's a nurse,” he explained. “She would know what to do.”

And then he had led the way to his house, only for Minho to let out a surprised squeak once they made the turn to their street.

“That's where I live,” he said, pointing to the small house where he, his parents, and his beloved BonBon had moved into just the day prior.

“Oh!” Jisung's big, button eyes had grown wide, and then he pointed at the two-storey that stood next to it. “That's where I live,” he explained. “Guess it's fate we ran into each other.”

Minho quirked an eyebrow and lifted his hand to showcase his hurt wrist. “This is fate?”

Jisung at least had the gall to look sheepish as he led Minho to his house. “Fate works in mysterious ways?” He offered with obvious uncertainty. “That's what they say.”

They spent the week after that inseparable; at first it was because Jisung offered his services in helping Minho unpack and set up his bedroom. After all, Minho suddenly didn't have much use for his right hand, and Jisung said that he wanted to take responsibility. He mostly ended up going through Minho’s manhwa library instead, while the older boy did most of the heavy lifting. Minho would complain, except he was never really the type to complain – besides, he was ambidextrous and Jisung turned out to be pretty amusing company, even though all he did was provide running commentary to the volumes of One Piece he was reading while Minho put posters up in his room and assembled a cat tree for BonBon.

When school finally started up again, the two of them had arranged to bike together in the morning. Minho’s wrist was fully functional again, but Jisung said it didn't matter – they were friends, they were neighbors, and they went to the same school, so it was simply a given they go together.

Minho had been surprised at the ease by which Jisung started calling him 'friend’ but he was the new kid in town, so he wasn't about to just knock off such gracious hospitality. He figured Jisung, from the quick and easy way he had befriended him, was just being Jisung – naturally friendly and drawn to people.

He was wrong, though, and it didn't take Minho long to realise that. At school, they were in different years – Minho was in his last year of junior high school, while Jisung was only in his first, which meant that their classrooms were at opposite ends of the same building.

Minho has never been the type to shy away from attention, and as a good looking transferee, all his classmates were immediately drawn to him. By lunch time, he had a small group of friends surrounding him, so he proudly messaged Jisung, joking that he didn't need to take any more pity on his new in town neighbor because he managed to do well for himself just fine. (He even took a picture with his seatmate which he sent to Jisung, but years later, if he’s to be honest, he would admit that he just really wanted an excuse to text Jisung at the time.)

And then lunch period had rolled around, and as Minho queued in line so he can get himself a roll of bread or kimbap, he had spotted Jisung seated in a far corner of the cafeteria, all by himself, bright red noise cancelling headphones fitted over his ears while he busied himself with something on his phone as he ate his lunch. This was not the image of Han Jisung at lunchtime that Minho had originally conjured – with Jisung’s perpetually bright and warm countenance, he had expected to see him surrounded by friends, laughing as he soaked up everyone's attention.

Minho got himself a cheesy kimbap roll and a carton of chocolate milk before excusing himself from his classmates and making a beeline towards Jisung – who didn’t even notice him at first, not until Minho took the empty seat across him and reached over to clap his hands right in front of his face.

Jisung had been caught in surprise – so startled that he almost jumped right out of his seat. Minho laughed, while Jisung hissed at him.

“Why are you alone today?” Minho asked. “Where are your friends?”

Jisung shrugged. “I like eating alone.”

“Do you, really?” Minho squinted at him.

“Sure,” Jisung shrugged. “I’m used to it.”

“Jisungie, do you not have friends?” Perhaps that wasn’t the most tactful question, but Minho has always preferred being straightforward to being polite.

Jisung blinked at him, clearly taken aback. “Aren’t you my friend?” He shot back eventually.

This made Minho smile, for some reason. He is, he’d thought. He was Jisung’s friend, so his question had been pretty stupid. “So you don’t mind if I eat here with you, then?”

Jisung had broken out the widest grin, and even then Minho had felt something stir in his stomach. He liked Jisung’s smile, and he’d do anything to keep it on the boy’s face, he had concluded.

“Suit yourself,” Jisung agreed; and then he put his headphones back on so he can go back to watching whatever it was on his phone (some old Japanese movie, Minho would later learn), and Minho would have told him off for it, but somehow, eating in silence with Jisung wasn’t awkward in any way at all.



 

~



 

Jisung is confused.

He doesn’t know how he and Minho went from quiet yet comfortable companionship at the park – mind you, the same park where they used to spend late nights at together instead of going straight home after cram school; where they used to huddle close together at the top of the slide tower if they wanted a change of pace from the swings; where they either individually busied themselves on their phones, content with the simple presence of each other, or they talked about anything and everything under the sun (moon, if one was to be technical, or more accurately a blanket of stars on nights when the moon preferred to hide) – to this.

To right now.

They’re in the backseat of Minho’s car, parked across the street from their old high school. Minho’s lips are latched onto Jisung’s skin, right at the junction where his neck and the curve of his shoulder met. He’s nipping, and nibbling and Jisung is biting down his bottom lip, trying not to make too many noises, but it’s not really working.

He’s pretty sure that Minho is leaving a mark, which he really shouldn’t be doing; to be frank, Jisung is more than aware that Minho is abusing the exact patch of skin right next the spot where his soulmark is etched, a small dotted spiral that looks like it was drawn in the darkest, blackest ink.

Perhaps he should tell Minho to stop, especially if he doesn’t want to explain hickeys on his person, but he can’t do it. Instead he keeps his fingers threaded through Minho’s hair – which is getting long now, longer than it ever was in the past, when they were younger – as he keeps him in place; as his body naturally arches towards Minho, effectively offering himself up to the older man. The truth is that he likes the idea of being marked by Minho – like he is Minho’s, and Minho is his, just as they grew up thinking—or rather, assuming.

The first time Jisung laid eyes on Minho, he’d been too panicked to really take in his appearance. Jisung had been wracked with guilt because of their little accident, and  he had nervously focused on getting Minho home so his mother could provide the new boy in town with the rightful care his injury needed.

Then the anxiety passed as his mother took care of Minho, and as Jisung relaxed, he finally managed a good look at the other boy. He doesn't know if Minho had realised it at the time (and Jisung had never clarified it any time during the decade that has passed since), but he had spent a good minute marveling at his face while his mother wrapped his wrist in cloth bandages.

Needless to say, he'd always had a crush on Minho, even before he knew what a crush was supposed to feel like. And then they'd become friends, and then best friends, and then— more.

The transitions in the stages of their relationship, even then, were blurry and confusing. It was hard to pinpoint and explain how they went from one step to the next, and if you had asked Jisung at 18, he would have said that it didn't really matter. He and Minho were he and Minho.

It’s like that even now—he wouldn't know how to explain how this happened. He wouldn't be able to say who made the first move because it didn't matter, even after two years of not seeing each other, they were still Jisung and Minho, in sync and all too aware of each other's needs and wants, even without either of them vocalising anything.

“Minho,” is all Jisung has to say, his voice low and breathy as he pushes against the older. “Hyung.”

Minho is done with Jisung's neck, no doubt having left a very telling mark, just as he'd clearly intended. The truth is this was the kind of thing they used to do on purpose when they were hormonal teens, whose soul marks had yet to reveal themselves. Minho had started doing it first, but Jisung immediately understood that it was his way of showing that they were each other’s – that they matched.

His mouth easily finds Jisung's again, swallowing all his moans and whimpers, and honestly, Jisung wishes he can say that Minho hasn't changed, that he kisses like he used to – except he’s really only gotten better. It stings a little, if he's to be honest, because that implies Minho has gotten practice without him, but he also can't complain because he’s the one now benefiting from whatever upgrade in skill Minho has gotten over the time that they hadn’t seen each other.

“Hyung,” he repeats— moans, rather, out of breath and sounding incredibly needy. Minho’s hands are pushing his shirt up, and his fingers feel warm —hot on Jisung’s skin, and he wants more.

He wants as much of Minho as he can, so his own hands start to move, and he fumbles clumsily with the buttons of the older’s shirt. This all feels familiar between the two of them, both of them always eager for more of one another, with no one consistently leading. It’s always a balanced push and pull between the two of them, and that’s why it felt right back then, and why it still feels right now.

“Is this okay?” Minho whispers, because somehow his touch has left Jisung’s torso, and his fingers have now managed to unbuckle Jisung’s belt, and unbutton Jisung’s slacks. He’s looking down directly at Jisung, eyes filled with sincere and cautious concern as his hand hovers just below Jisung’s belly button, fingertips sending tiny jolts of electricity throughout Jisung’s body with the way they barely slide past his loose waistband.

At that moment Jisung wonders, is it okay? They haven’t been together like this in years, and maybe they should never have been together like this to begin with. But Minho feels good, feels comfortable—feels like home, and this is exactly what Jisung needs right now.

“Yes,” Jisung answers, his voice almost gruff with his impatience; he circles his fingers around Minho’s wrist, pushing his hand down and directing it towards where he needs it to be. “Stop asking, hyung—you know—” His breath hitches, partly in anticipation, and partly because he’s feeling way too many things all at once. “You know I want you.”

Minho knows it, of course – he always has, but his eyes widen at the admittance, anyway. A smile tugs at the corner of Jisung's lips because he expected that, and that’s exactly why he said it.

So when Minho swoops back down for another kiss, messy and eager, hand finally grabbing hold of his rapidly growing erection, Jisung is ready for all of it.

He grabs Minho’s face, holding onto him as if for dear life as he immediately moans into his mouth, and his hips automatically buck towards the older’s touch. Minho doesn’t even bother teasing him – he starts pumping Jisung quick and hard, like he knows this is how Jisung wants it right now, because of course he does. When it's just the two of them, Minho always knows what he wants.

It was just like this, the first time they had fooled around past chaste kisses – clumsy, and messy, and eager but uncertain. Except that first time, it was a hot summer evening, and they had holed themselves up in Minho’s bedroom under the pretense of a simple sleepover. They were supposed to be watching a movie – as far as Minho’s parents were concerned, they were watching a movie because they had made sure to put on one of the Slam Dunk OAVs at full volume.

But they’d seen that movie a few too many times already, and they were much more curious about each other. Jisung had embarrassingly climaxed within a few minutes of Minho touching his dick, and—

Fuck.

The tightness at the pit of his stomach uncoils all at once, sending an indescribable tingle up his spine, right before waves of pleasure wrack his entire being.

He’s nine years older now, but it just happened again.

“‘Sung—?” He hears Minho call to him, soft, gentle, but also somewhat distant.

He wants to laugh like he did when he was sixteen (almost seventeen); he wants to laugh to distract from his own embarrassment, and he wants to turn the tables back on Minho, exactly like he did back then, so he moves his hand to reach for the older – or at least he tries to, but he finds that he can’t because as good as the release felt, as nice and electric Minho has just made him feel, he realises that he also feels exhausted.

Like the weight of everything he’s been carrying recently has been lifted off his shoulders, and now he’s just spent.

“Jisungie,” Minho says his name again, and it’s only when Minho leans in to kiss his tears away that he realises he’s started to cry.

“Hyung,” he whispers, and it’s when he hears the sound of his own weakened voice that he breaks down completely, tears falling uncontrollably down his cheeks as he wraps his arms tightly around Minho, who doesn't really respond verbally.

Instead, the older returns the hold, pulling Jisung as close to him as he can, never mind the resulting awkwardness of their positions in the cramped backseat of his car.

Minho doesn’t say anything, but Jisung doesn't really expect him to; the way the older allows him to fold in his arms, his entire body shaking as he lets out quiet sobs – it’s more than enough for now.



 

~



 

Minho wakes up two minutes before his alarm is set to ring at nine in the morning. He promptly turns it off before it has a chance to sound off loudly, and then he turns on his side so he can stare at the person sleeping next to him.

Jiusng looks so tired even in his unconscious state; tired yet peaceful, and strangely almost… happy. If Minho wasn't aware of the fact that Jisung and the rest of his family didn’t just bury his mother the day before, he wouldn’t think any such painful event occurred recently for the younger man.

Unable to help himself, he reaches forward, knuckles lightly brushing against the faint beauty mark on Jisung’s cheek. He chuckles breathlessly, remembering how much Jisung used to hate having it there, at least until Minho told him he found it adorable.

He sighs, remembering how they’d driven in silence the night before – how Minho had initially parked in front of Jisung’s family home to drop him off, only for the younger man to shake his head. No words were needed for Minho to know that meant Jisung would rather go home with him, so he’d snuck Jisung in, much like what they used to do when they were fifteen and seventeen, respectively, on school nights when their parents wouldn’t let them have sleepovers.

Except this time, instead of joking around in hushed whispers until the two of them fell asleep, Jisung had wordlessly curled up in Minho’s arms, silent tears free-flowing down his cheeks until there were none left and all that remained for him to do was pass out of physical and emotional exhaustion.

This is why Minho thinks it would be most pertinent to let him continue to get rest, even though at the back of his mind he’s wondering if someone – namely his older brother, or, just as likely, Seoyeon – is looking for him.

He tries to be as careful as he can as he slides out of bed; he assumes his mother had prepared breakfast – she always cooks up a feast whenever Minho stays over, saying that it's to entice him to come visit more often. He isn't fully out of bed yet when his phone starts vibrating loudly and he mentally curses himself for not putting it on silent mode the night before.

“Hello?” He hisses into the phone after he quickly picks up the call. He had managed a quick glance at the screen before his thumb had swiped along the green accept call button so he knows who it is. “Hyunjinnie? Why are you calling so early?” He quickly shuffles out of his room, careful as he opens the door so he can step out into the hallway, and even more so as he closes it behind him.

“Hyung!” His roommate’s voice thunders over the phone line, a little too bright and perky for this early in the day if you ask Minho, but he’s also pretty used to Hyunjin and his ways by now. “You’ll be here after lunchtime, right—? I wanted to remind you that we’re out of rabbit food for Ppiri, so maybe you can drop by the pet store on your way home?”

When the two of them had agreed to room together almost three years ago now, Hyunjin had expressed an instant desire to adopt a puppy, and while Minho was somewhat amenable, he’s also always been more of a cat person. They had tried playing rock paper scissors for it, but in the end, seven months after they were unable to settle the pet situation, a school friend of Hyunjin’s had a rabbit who gave birth to a litter of bunny kittens and they had ended up with one of them. Seungmin, who was over at their apartment more often than not, had ended up naming the rabbit—Wonpil, after a university senior he apparently admired, and eventually the name had devolved into a more cutesy moniker that Minho and Hyunjin both agreed rolled off the tongue more easily.

“Oh. Rabbit food. Right,” Minho answers robotically, even though mentally he’s cursing at himself because shit, he’s forgotten that he’d told Hyunjin he was going to be back as soon as he can, and that he isn’t going to stay at his parents’ longer than necessary, not even if his mother bribes him with delicious homemade meals. The complete opposite of what he’d told Jisung— oops.

“You okay, hyung?” Hyunjin asks, no doubt sensing the clear uncertainty in Minho’s voice.

“Uh—” He chuckles while running his fingers through his messy morning hair; he’s lucky that Hyunjin can’t see because this is something of a nervous tell for him. “So about that—I might have made a commitment to stay throughout the weekend?”

There’s a pause—brief, pregnant silence over the line, before Hyunjin lets out a dramatic groan. “What about tomorrow night, hyung?”

Crap, Minho thinks, because at that moment he realises he’s a shitty friend and roommate who almost forgot about Hyunjin’s dance showcase.

“Can you give Seungmin my ticket instead?” He suggests, despite the guilt that’s brewing in his stomach.

“Seungminnie already has a ticket, hyung,” Hyunjin points out, because of course Seungmin already has a ticket. Minho should have assumed this from the get go. “Of course I got tickets for you, him and Changbin-hyung.”

Minho sighs quietly because he can practically hear Hyunjin pouting over the line, even though that’s technically impossible. “Okay, I’ll be there tomorrow night,” he promises. “Stop being a drama queen.”

Hyunjin laughs. “Okay—I’ll get food for Ppiri myself I guess. But you have to be there tomorrow night!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Minho agrees. “Look—” He’s about to end the call, but before he can explain that he needs to go and get coffee now, Hyunjin interrupts him.

“It’s Jisung, isn’t it.” Hyunjin words it as a question, but the way he says it makes it sound more like a declarative statement, prompting Minho to let out an anxious breath he hadn’t even realised he was holding. It makes sense that Hyunjin would figure it out, though, since he’s the only one among Minho’s friends who has really been witness to most of his history with Jisung. He was, after all, Jisung’s friend before he was Minho’s.

More accurately, he started out as Jisung’s self-proclaimed nemesis when they were still in junior high school. They way Jisung used to tell it to Minho – used to complain to Minho – Hyunjin was the most popular guy in their year. A prince by thirteen year old standards. Where Jisung frequently sat by his lonesome during lunch, and was always the last to be picked for teams during P.E., Hyunjin was always the center of attention, a guy’s guy and a girl’s dream.

They had butted heads more than once, and Jisung was at least self aware enough to tell Minho that it was because he was a moody prick who was hard pressed to hide his resentment towards Hyunjin. On his part, Minho initially had a hard time believing this – when they were together Jisung always had, at the very least, a hint of a smile on his face.

But then once, after Minho had moved on to high school, and Jisung was still in the third year of middle school, the younger had come to meet him at the park after school with a split lip and a bruised cheek. He had been grumpy, short, and sullen in a way that Minho had never witnessed him act like before.

Naturally, he was worried, but after Jisung brushed off his attempt to examine his face, Minho had proceeded to leave him alone, ignoring him in favor of playing with a stray cat – at least until Jisung himself caved and joined him, clicking his tongue at the cat right before he launched into a bitter monologue about the pretty boy in school who always seemed to get his way because of his looks.

“You get your way with me because of your looks,” Minho had deadpanned, and it was mostly a joke only because Jisung really did frequently get what he wanted with Minho, not because of his looks but simply by virtue of being Han Jisung. Not that Minho wanted to come clean about that, so he broke out into a huge grin right after his line delivery – and then Jisung snorted, and laughed, and that was that.

In hindsight, everything about Hyunjin and Jisung’s prepubescent antagonism just seems really petty. A year after that, Jisung and Hyunjin started attending the same high school as Minho, and they’d gotten stuck in the same class. Their adviser had assigned Jisung, who always ranked top ten in class with minimal effort, to tutor Hyunjin in Biology and somehow, as if they were characters straight out of a coming-of-age youth drama, they had emerged from that experience fast friends. Just like that, Jisung somehow finally made his first real friend who wasn’t Minho.

And because Minho and Jisung were once inseparable (even moreso during that one year of being reunited in high school), it wasn’t long before Hyunjin and Minho were just as friendly – and theirs was a friendship that had gradually strengthened over time, after Hyunjin got accepted into Minho’s university, and especially after Jisung had left them both with barely a warning, under the guise of some scholarship grant for a digital  arts and animation program at an art school in Japan.

“Jisung is what?” Minho, typical of him, feigns ignorance at what Hyunjin is saying anyway. “Didn’t you see him a couple of days ago, anyway?”

Hyunjin had paid respects and offered his own condolences earlier than Minho did, on the first day of the funeral. “Jisung looks… subdued,” was the sole update he had given Minho after he’d gotten back. He hadn’t known what to make of that, but now that he’s seen Jisung himself, he thinks he gets it.

“Me seeing him is vastly different from you seeing him,” Hyunjin points out, and because he’s right Minho can only grunt in response. “You okay there, hyung?” Hyunjin prods after several seconds pass and Minho remains without a verbal response.

“Yeah,” Minho exhales. “I’m good. Jisung and I—we’re good.”

He ignores the painful ache that wraps tightly around his heart as the fib slides off his tongue with little to no effort.



 

~



 

Minho wasn’t even gone ten minutes before Jisung had slid out of bed, and made his way out through Minho’s bedroom window. This wasn’t new for him, considering the number of times he had done this in his teens – especially the year he had turned seventeen, when he and Minho were at their peak hormonal stage.

He had then sent Minho a text message, “snuck out so we don’t have to explain.” It was ridiculous, considering they were men in their mid to late twenties, and they shouldn’t have to explain anything to anyone, least of all Minho’s parents who have always felt like a second family to Jisung. He figured it was easier this way, though.

His brother didn’t bat an eyelash at him when he entered through the kitchen door that morning—just reminded him to make sure to refill the coffee pot if he was going to have any.

Seoyeon, meanwhile, had just looked up at him as soon as he entered his childhood bedroom where she was in the middle of packing her suitcase. The way she had looked at him, with utmost scrutiny mixed with a dash of understanding—had it been almost anyone else, he probably would have felt sick to his stomach. But Seoyeon was his Fated, his destiny-assigned Soulmate, and despite the very many complexities of what they truly are to each other, the matching soul marks on their necks are something neither of them can deny, and with that came a guttural kinship that offered instant comfort.

“Are you alright?” Seoyeon asks as she sits on her suitcase; as usual she’d packed haphazardly and inefficiently and Jisung has to stifle a chuckle as he automatically moves  towards her to help her zip and lock her luggage.

“As alright as can be,” he says, shrugging as he collapses to sit on the floor, cross legged across Seoyeon, who purses her lips and narrows her eyes at him, clearly reading him carefully before she smiles and playfully bops his nose.

When Jisung was growing up, he had been obsessed with the concept of soulmates. His  own parents were Fated, with matching curlicues printed just above the inside of their right elbows. For as long as Jisung can remember, he was witness to his parents’ magical and destined love – all consuming, yet steady in the way it provided both of them with necessary light and warmth.

Jisung was never really good with people – at school he was always either a little too loud, or a little too sullen and his classmates never knew how to deal with him. “Your son is a bit of a wild card,” he remembers hearing his third grade teacher explain to his mother once.  “The other kids don’t know how to act around him.” He wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but it had stung deep. At first it helped that he was very smart and talented—he used his grades, because he always managed top marks with minimal effort, to make himself feel better and build his own confidence. The problem was that this only served to alienate himself more, so instead, he retreated into the world of fiction, watching movies and reading books to keep himself preoccupied, and whenever he felt any type of loneliness he’d think about his parents. He would remind himself that his Fated Other Half is out there, and that one way or another they would find each other because that is how the universe is generally designed.

“Had fun last night?” Seoyeon’s tone switches to a teasing one, and Jisung is confused at first. And then, with a smirk, she reaches over to poke Jisung’s neck, and Jisung remembers, as he instinctively moves his hand up to cover it, the mark that Minho had placed there last night.

Shit.

“I—” There’s no use lying to Seoyeon, and all the guilt he had been keeping at bay right from the moment he kissed Minho last night (or was it Minho who kissed him? He can’t be sure) comes rushing in.

“‘Sung, stop looking like you’re about to pee in your pants,” Seoyeon berates him with a chuckle. “I told you already—I don’t care who you fuck. I don’t care who you date, or fall in love with.” She smiles, teasing but fond, and she reaches over to squeeze his knee. “We are what we are, and even though we've decided it's fruitless to pursue anything romantic—” At this she makes a show of visibly cringing before laughing, and continuing, “—that's never going to change. We kinda have no choice on the matter.”

Jisung laughs along; Seoyeon is right, and he appreciates her for so many things, not least of all this constant understanding that they have. And yet, despite what she's telling him, Jisung feels guilty.

For one, as far as he knows, Minho has Seungmin. His relationship with Seoyeon might be purely platonic, but he isn’t the only one who has met his Fated, and deep in his gut he knows last night was completely unfair for Seungmin, which makes him feel awful.

But even more than that, even taking out the unknown variable of the nature of Minho’s relationship with his Soulmate, Jisung feels guilty because he wants to keep Minho to himself. He wants to keep the memories of the previous night, and he wants to not have to explain any of it to Seoyeon. Frankly, she does know who Minho was to Jisung, and she always has. But Jisung has always talked about Minho with her as if he was from the past, as if that's where Jisung intends for him to stay.

To be fair, as far as intent goes, it wasn't a complete lie. Jisung was the one who left, after all, and Jisung was the one who had planned to stay away. It’s true what people say about best laid plans and how they're for naught – all it took was for him to be ten feet away from Minho again, and Jisung was once again a goner.

So now the problem is, Minho is once more a part of his system, filling in all the tiny nooks and cracks with his essence, making Jisung feel a little less incomplete just like he always has.

It’s a problem because that's what Seoyeon, as his Fated, is meant to do for him and he doesn't know how to explain any of this to her.

Jisung's older brother's birthday isn't until the end of the year, and his soul mark, printed under his left ear was slow to darken, taking almost twelve months to transform from a faint, blemish-like blob to the deep, burnt looking G-clef that it is today.  Jisung was 14 when this happened, and according to his personal research, marks that take extra slowly to fully form—marks that take until one's birthday to really show—indicated a later in life meeting with one's Fated. (Sure enough, Younghyun is now in his early 30’s and still Mateless; there are brief pockets in time, usually when Minho crosses his mind, that Jisung feels a tinge of jealousy over his brother. Funny how life works sometimes.)

His brother had always been unfazed by the slow burn of his mark; Jisung, on the other hand, was frustrated on his behalf. He had met Minho at the park later that night, past their bedtimes. He had snuck out with leftover birthday cake, pretending that it was for Minho even though he knew full well that the older would maybe have one bite before letting him finish the rest of it.

Minho wasn’t even done swallowing his one bite when Jisung just blurted out,

“Do you ever think about the day when you meet your Fated?”

Minho blinked at him, rapidly—almost comically, but Jisung was quite earnest in his inquiry, so Minho took a pause, and swallowed properly before humming in thought.

“I used to,” the older boy admitted. “That's normal for most people isn't it? I don't think about it too much, though.”

Jisung exhaled audibly. “I think about it a lot.”

“Oh? Can't wait to get your soulmark and begin your quest in looking for your soulmate?” There was teasing in Minho's tone, but truthfully, he had been a hundred percent correct.

“I—I mean—” Jisung stammered, flustered for reasons he could not fathom at the time. “Yes?”

Minho laughed, and reached over to ruffle his hair, and Jisung had visibly relaxed because at that point, Minho’s touch already had such an effect on him.

“Why?” The older boy had then asked, and Jisung was caught off-guard.

“W-why?” He croaked, and for the first time in years he had pondered the question. Why was he so eager to meet his Fated?

“Yeah, why?” Minho prodded. “It's a nice idea that we'll eventually find the person who fits us so well, that we'll want to be with them for the rest of our life—” He laughed softly. “But personally, it also feels so absolute, you know? I can wait. For now I want to enjoy my youth and my choices.”

Jisung huffed, petty annoyance bubbling in him. “Easy for you to say,” he whined.

“How do you mean?” Minho seemed genuine, and not mocking so Jisung took a deep breath so he could gather enough wits to explain.

“Everybody loves you, hyung. It's easy not to feel lonely when everybody wants to be your friend,” he pointed out petulantly.

He was initially met with silence, and when he looked up to meet Minho's gaze, he was faced with hurt and uncertainty that had him reeling.

“You feel lonely, 'Sung?” Minho asked softly.

“I—”

It was even more of a surprise to Jisung when he hesitated to answer. It was the first time he'd had to inspect his own feelings like that and it hit him that for the last year or so, he hadn’t really been feeling any of that crippling loneliness that had persistently haunted him as a child.

“Not when I’m around you,” he found himself admitting because Jisung has always had trouble keeping his personal truths at bay.

Happiness and relief had washed across Minho’s expression, which in turn prompted a wide grin to spread along Jisung's own face. He doesn't know what it was about Minho, but as he inspected his own feelings at that moment, he realised that Minho, right from the first moment they met had been making him feel safe, content— at home. All buzzwords he had frequently read from years of looking up soulmates and soulmarks and what Fated people feel when they find each other.

“I do wonder what mine will be,” Minho volunteered, without verbally returning Jisung’s admittance. He surprisingly had not minded, because the smile Minho wore was more than enough to assure Jisung thay the older boy felt the same. “My soul mark, I mean,” Minho clarified, as he stole another bite of cake.

Jisung grinned, and took an even bigger piece of cake for himself. “I wonder, too,” he agreed.

I bet yours will be the same as mine, he found himself thinking at the time, his grin growing even wider for it.

It breaks him now because he really shouldn't have put so much faith in that notion.

“Earth to Han Jisung,” Seoyeon drawls, shaking his shoulder and pulling him completely out of his nostalgic reverie. “You went somewhere there for a second. Or two. Or sixty,” she jokes, laughing. “You sure you're okay, 'Sung?”

“Yes!” He near yells, cranking up his volume to assure himself more than anyone else.

Seoyeon flinches in surprise, and then she gives him a scathing glare—she tries to, anyway, before she ends up laughing

“Yah!” She shouts back. “You're noisy!”

“So are you!” Jisung returns, and with a yelp, Seoyeon moves to put him in a headlock. Jisung whimpers – she's a tiny one, but she knows how to control her strength enough to overpower Jisung at times.

“Mercy!” He cries out, not even bothering to fight back, and Seoyeon just as easily lets go.

“Weak,” She teases him.

“I let you win,” he declares. And then, after a beat, “Are you sure you don't want me to take you to the train station? I can borrow hyung’s car.”

“No, I’m fine, I’ll call for a cab,” Seoyeon assures him with a shake of her head. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?”

Images from the night before flash in Jisung’s head, playing like a disorienting movie montage, and it does nothing to help quell Jisung’s unease. “Don’t worry about me,” he tries to assure Seoyeon, but it takes all of his meager self-control not to physically wince. “I just have to finish going through some documents with my brother and my Dad—and then I’ll meet you at your parents, Monday—Tuesday at the latest. I’ll call when I’m sure.”

Seoyeon stares at him, studying him, and Jisung feels his cheeks heat up from the scrutiny because he’s sure that Seoyeon can tell that he’s hiding things from her. He’s ultimately grateful when she doesn’t further prod.

Instead, she scoots over, encroaching into his immediate personal space, and wraps her arms around him in a tight hug. The gesture makes Jisung smile despite the torrential mix of emotions he’s experiencing; it takes him a second, but soon enough relief wins out and he allows himself to relax and feel comforted in his Soulmate’s hold.

He returns the gesture, his own arms going around the tiny female to give her a grateful squeeze.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, burrowing deep into the crook of Seoyeon’s neck; somehow she always smells faintly of watermelons, which he knows is the flavor scent of her preferred body wash. It had a calming effect on him, and he knows the inherent connection that the universe has bestowed upon the two of them plays a big part in that—but it confuses him completely, knowing that Minho has a very similar, and just as powerful—if not, God forbid, more—effect on him.

For now, however, all he can do is try not to think about that as he does his best to ignore the distracting ache in his heart that comes from a constant longing for Minho.



 

~



 

“Hi.”

When Jisung opens the door just as Minho is about to knock, raised fist and all, this is all he can say, too caught off-guard by the younger’s sudden appearance. He can’t help but wonder if Jisung had realised she was at their doorway—if Jisung had somehow felt that he was there before he could even announce his presence, especially as Jisung just stands there, looking like he’s simply waiting for Minho to say more, and not at all like he’d opened the door with any other purpose.

“Hey,” Jisung greets back.

“Have you eaten yet?” Minho asks, glad that his voice remains steady; he’s hopeful that means the nervous pitter-patter of his heart has not been betrayed.

“Not yet,” Jisung answers, curiosity and confusion battling on his features. Minho can’t blame him. “We’re probably going to just order in,” he adds.

And that’s his cue, Minho thinks as he immediately holds up a paper bag filled with food containers.

“Courtesy of my Mom,” he explains. It isn’t a complete lie only because it’s all his mother’s cooking – she had prepared all of Minho’s favorites just like she always does when he comes home, and like always she had made too much. The idea is to let Minho take most of it back to Seoul, but this time around, Minho had reasoned that the Han family next door probably needed it more. What he doesn’t explain to his mother, however, is that he mostly wanted an excuse to go and see Jisung – it felt silly, considering how the Hans’ place functioned almost like a second home to Minho during his teenage years.

“Oh, thanks!” Jisung grins at him as he takes the paper bag. Minho easily notices the tired sadness in his eyes, yet despite that, he also recognises the genuine gratefulness mixed in there. It renders Jisung’s expression sweet, and just like it always had, Jisung’s smile easily puts one on Minho’s face as well.

“They’re for your Dad and your brother,” Minho finds himself explaining. “And Seoyeon,” he adds after a beat, and Christ, he thinks because he really isn’t as slick as he wishes he could be.

“None for me?” Jisung asks, arching an eyebrow as he meets Minho’s gaze, clearly expecting some kind of sassy or teasing follow-up from him. Understandable, because under normal circumstances, Minho probably would have had some kind of barb ready and waiting.

But the circumstances aren’t really normal, so he blurts out instead, his tone a little too earnest, “No—go out and have dinner with me instead.”

This wasn’t really a planned invitation, but it’s out there now, and Minho feels sick with nerves as he waits for Jisung’s answer. It’s strange how both anxious and calm Jisung makes him feel sometimes, but he’s long ago learned to stop questioning the way only Han Jisung is able to make him experience a whole plethora of feelings all at once.

Jisung laughs, probably immediately aware of the spontaneity of the invite, and Minho can’t help but think of how much he’s missed that sound so much.

“You can eat with us,” Jisung offers as he peers into the paper bag, pulling out one of the food containers and squinting at it as he tries to identify what it is. “These all look like they’re your favorite dishes anyway, hyung,” he observes as he repeats the action with two more food containers.

“I can,” Minho agrees, but he takes one step away from the door instead of towards it. “Or you can go with me, and I can have you all to myself.” Absurd confidence – yet another thing he feels tenfold when he’s around Jisung.

Jisung laughs again, but this time he pushes the door open wider, clearly doubling down on his offer instead of acquiescing to Minho’s. “Hyung’s friends took him out for a breather, and Seoyeon already left for Seoul earlier today,” he reveals. Minho feels slightly better about his bold invitation knowing that Seoyeon had already left, but he's well aware that he's still a complete tool for selfishly wanting some of Jisung's time while assuming that Jisung's Fated is still around. He figured he was already an asshole for the night before though, so he might as well go all out with his conceit.

“Come inside and have dinner with me and Dad—and then we can take a walk after,” Jisung says.

Minho considers the offer; he can’t help but wonder if Jisung is maybe being cautious about being alone with him now, nervous after they got so easily carried away the night before. He doesn’t really know what he expects to happen if he gets Jisung to himself – he just knows that he craves Jisung’s presence. They’re going to say goodbye again the next day anyway, so he might as well take what he can. (It’s a fucked up notion, he knows, but he can’t help himself.)

Jisung is looking at him, waiting for an answer, and with a nod, Minho acquiesces that Jisung’s offer is as good a compromise as can be.

After they close the door behind him, Jisung calls to his Dad, his voice loud and clear as it rings out through the entire house. Minho has to bite the inside of his cheek, trying not to smile too as he recalls how Jisung’s mother was always needing to tell her youngest off for always expressing himself in megaphone levels of loudness.

That was just how he is – when he’s quiet, he’s really quiet, but when Han Jisung gets loud? He’s always the loudest in the room, no matter who he’s with. Minho used to tease him for it, telling him that he truly was an overachiever in most things, including decibel levels.

“Good evening, Mr. Han,” Minho greets Jisung’s Dad when he appears in the dining area just as Minho and Jisung finish setting a table for three. “My mother didn’t want you to starve so she sent over some food.”

Jisung’s father looks somewhat better compared to when Minho last saw him the day before. Granted, there’s still barely any light in his eyes, but it isn’t as if Minho had expected otherwise. The way Jisung used to talk about his parents, he always made it apparent that they were the centers of each other’s lives. Having lived right next door to them for a good amount of his formative years, Minho can easily attest to the truth in that.

“Thanks for dropping by, son,” Mr. Han tells Minho as he takes the seat at the head of the table. “How are you doing these days? Your father tells me that you don’t drop by as often as your mother would like.”

Jisung laughs before Minho can answer. “I bet ‘Ma said that about me too,” he muses.

His father looks at him sharply, but after a mere split second his expression softens. “Well that’s why she called you every day,” he points out. “She did that with your brother too, last year, when his company sent him to Japan for six months.”

Minho smiles. “I try to call home as much as I can,” he explains, “but work has been especially busy recently.”

“Right—your father also tells me that you got a new job a while back?” Mr. Han continues to prod even as they all start to dig into the food.

Minho nods, and from the corner of his eye, he notices Jisung perk up.

“You did?” Jisung asks, brow furrowed as if surprised that he missed such an update about Minho’s life.

“Several months ago,” he explains. “I moved to a private PT clinic—pay’s better than when I was still working at a hospital. The hours are better, too. We work with a lot of dancers, so that’s… something.”

“Ah, right—you used to dance, didn’t you?”

“He was the captain of the school’s dance team,” Jisung interjects, pride in his tone; and then he freezes as if surprised at himself, and he looks down, going back to stabbing meat with his chopsticks.

“I did,” Minho nods. “In high school, and the first few years of college.” For a very brief window of time during high school, he had allowed himself to dream of becoming a professional dancer, but after he had an unfortunate accident with his knee in his third year of high school, he’d entered university with dancing relegated to mere hobby status, and his future goals completely retooled.

The rest of dinner is spent with Minho mostly just talking about his work. He tells Jisung and his father about the professional dancers who are a part of the clinic’s clientele, and he advises Mr. Han on what he can do about the stiff neck he’s been regularly waking up with recently. He talks about his favorite patient, an old woman with whom he has scheduled home visits twice a week, and who requested his services after he had helped her young, idol trainee grandson heal completely from a near disastrous knee injury. He talks, and talks, and talks – and normally, Minho would love to shine the spotlight back on Jisung and his father, but as it is, they seem to be quite grateful to just listen about someone else’s life for now. He supposes that’s understandable, considering the recent tragedy their family has gone through, so Minho gladly performs.

“You know, that's the most I've heard him converse with anyone this last week?” Jisung shares with him some time later, after they’re finished with dinner and Mr. Han has left the two of them to clean up in the kitchen by themselves. “The entire funeral, he would mostly just nod wordlessly whenever people approached him and offered their condolences—and even with me and Younghyun-hyung—I could tell he’s been trying, especially with me here, but he always just looks so… sad? Pained? So we just try and let him be. But you—” Jisung chuckles softly as he brings a stack of bowls over to the sink, where Minho is waiting. “It was nice seeing him be more like his usual self, hyung. Geez—” He smiles and nudges Minho’s hip with his own. “You really do have a way with people, hyung.”

Minho glances at him as he rolls his sleeves up to his elbows; he isn’t sure how to answer Jisung’s words because he doesn’t particularly feel that getting along with people is any kind of special talent, but he knows better than anyone how much Jisung used to struggle in that area, so he just smiles.

And then, when Jisung opens the tap, Minho is overcome with a sudden urge to splash water at  the younger male, so he does just that, palm slapping the water stream to launch it towards Jisung,  laughing playfully as he does so.

“Hyung!” Jisung screeches when the water hits him square on the face, and then he tries to retaliate by doing the same – except Minho is quick and he manages to quickly flip the water nozzle off. Jisung does the only thing he can think off to get back at him by shaking his head, his wet hair spraying water droplets at Minho’s general direction.

“Stop—” Minho chortles, quickly reaching over to hold Jisung’s face to get him to still. “Stop,” he repeats, so Jisung does, only to look up, and meet his gaze directly. “Stop,” he says yet again, except this time, the word leaves his mouth in a whispered tone as he’s struck with an eerie sense of déjà vu.

This is exactly how the moments leading up to their first kiss had unfolded.

From the way Jisung’s eyes widen, and the way he suddenly purses his lips, Minho can tell that he’s recalling the same thing. Ten years ago, in this very same kitchen, it had been Jisung who made the first move. Minho had been laughing, too amused by the drowned rat appearance of his best friend, and Jisung had huffed and whined in annoyance; when Minho wouldn’t stop grinning, Jisung had grabbed him by the neck, leaning in and invading his personal space in a matter of mere seconds—and then his lips were on Minho’s, hard and forceful at first, at least until Minho had reached around his waist, hand settling against the small of his back to steady Jisung as he attempted to return the kiss.

Jisung had automatically relaxed, and just like that, their lips had slotted perfectly together. Following days after that, Minho would sometimes wonder if he should have been more surprised, because he wasn’t at all. It would have been a lie to say that he saw the kiss coming, because he absolutely didn’t, but the moment Jisung’s lips touched his, it simply made sense.

When they had pulled apart, Jisung had broken out into a huge grin – and then he’d laughed as he excitedly raised a closed fist in the air as if he’d won some kind of ultimate prize. Minho could only laugh, endeared. He was only 17 then, and he had no idea what being in love was supposed to feel like, but in that moment he had been so sure – he was in love with his best friend. Not even falling in love, because he was already there, at the bottom.

This time, he’s the one who reaches for Jisung, hand cupping one of his full cheeks. And then he moves forward, slowly and very cautiously, giving the younger more than enough time to turn away before their lips finally meet.

It isn’t the inexperienced, awkward pressing of lips like it was ten years ago, nor is it the frantic open-mouthed kiss from just last night when Jisung was clearly just desperate for some form of comfort from him.

This time, it starts very gently, Minho’s lips moving against Jisung’s own in an almost lazy manner; he bides his time, allowing Jisung to return the kiss in a pace he sees fit. When their mouths part, they do it at the same time, tongues curling around each other; the kiss escalates slowly but surely and steadily, and by the time they pull apart minutes later it’s because they’re both in desperate need of air.

Jisung whimpers, head resting against Minho’s shoulder, while Minho moves a hand to rest it against the back of Minho’s head. It’s scary, he realises, how easy it is for the two of them to gravitate towards each other like this, despite knowing full well that both of them have long connected with their destiny-picked partners.

Minho wonders if that means there’s something wrong with them—with him, especially, because ten years later, and the one thing he’s sure of—the one thing that kiss just now confirmed—is that despite the four tiny stars drawn on the inside of his left wrist that perfectly matches the mark etched on the inside wrist of someone who isn't Han Jisung, he’s as in love with Han Jisung now, as he was ten years ago.



 

~



 

True story: Han Jisung is the one who introduced Lee Minho to his Soulmate.

It happened at the beginning of the fall term of his second year of university. He and Minho were in a pretty good place at the time – they went to separate universities, but their schools were a mere half an hour’s worth of commute away from each other, give or take, depending on how heavy the traffic is. More than that, they lived together, because funny enough, a little over a year earlier, after Jisung had (finally) graduated high school, a bed at the boarding house Minho resided at, had opened up right during the week that Jisung had set aside to look for Seoul accommodations.

“The universe truly loves us,” Jisung had joked. “A true sign that fate is on our side.”

And then midway through his second year of university, he found himself in the same Korean History study group with one Kim Seungmin.

They had been sitting together at the library one afternoon – they were still waiting for the last member of their group, a freshman named Jeongin, but Seungmin had already taken it upon himself to start divvying up reading and discussion chapters.

As he diligently marked pages with post-it tabs, Seungmin’s sweater sleeve had rode up and Jisung caught a glimpse of the inside of his wrist. Immediately, he had been able to identify the design drawn on Seungmin’s skin, deep red in color and all too familiar to Jisung – it was the exact mark that he had been patiently waiting for, regularly checking the inside of his own wrist on a daily basis for the last couple of months.

“How the—'' Without thinking, Jisung had reached over and grabbed Seungmin’s wrist, pulling it closer to him so he could take a better look.

“Huh?” Seungmin, unsurprisingly, was quite miffed at the suddenness of Jisung’s action and had immediately shaken off his hold.

“That’s—” Jisung’s breath hitched; suddenly his heart was racing and he didn’t know how to calm it down. Somehow, distracted by the comfort and happiness just being with Minho brought him over the last few years, it had slipped his mind to even consider that someone else might end up being tattooed with Minho’s identical soul mark.

Not even the faint, faded spiral that was beginning to appear on his neck had alerted him to the possible reality that Minho was not his Fated. (In retrospect, Jisung easily identifies his persistent denial, but most things are easily identifiable in retrospect – life has a way of making you feel stupid like that, Jisung has since then learned.)

Seungmin had given him a strange look, and he’d twiddled with the cuff of his sleeve, pulling it down so he could cover the red stars. “Do you always get this weird when you see other people’s soul marks?” He huffed.

“Ah.” Jisung blinked; he couldn’t focus enough to articulate himself, the thunderous pounding of his heart against his rib cage way too distracting.

Seungmin’s scathing expression softened, and instead morphed into a display of concern. “You okay there—? You look kinda pale.”

Jisung unconsciously placed his hand over his heart, and lightly massaged his chest, inhaling deeply to try and gather his own wits.

“I—” He stammered, and he had to take yet another deep breath to further calm himself, before he spat out in a single exhalation anyway, “I know who your Soulmate is.”

If the circumstances had been different, he would have probably enjoyed the way Seungmin’s eyes had widened, and his jaw had dropped – it was quite the funny sight, and again, if things had been different, Jisung would have laughed then and there.

As it was, things hadn’t been different and Jisung’s world, as he knew it,  had just turned upside down.

When he was younger—before Minho, when he still used to spend  most of his free time reading up about Soulmates, and Fated and Destiny—he used to read about an ever present ache that Marked Adults experience before they unite with their Fated. The Study of Soulmates was not an exact science, and so journal articles and online thought pieces had widely varied in their descriptions of this so-called ache—some defined it as a sharpness in their chest, like hundred of prickly little needles piercing their heart all at once, and others described it as a dull ache in their gut, like phantom walls collapsing into nothingness.

The one thing all the descriptions had in common, however, was they way they deemed the pain to be chronic – always there to the point where you just get so used to it, until one day it just disappears, and you find yourself finally connected to the one person that the universe has deemed as the one made just for you.

Even now, Jisung would dare say – he doubts any kind of ache or pain or hurt could ever compare to the kind of heart-wrenching agony he had felt that day, as he promised to arrange a meeting between Seungmin and Minho.