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stole all the air from my atmosphere

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There was that moment, when you stole all the air from my atmosphere; when my heart pounded within the might of all the planets.

It’s the third time Han Joonhwi has bit his tongue in the past ten minutes, attempting to stifle his oncoming yawns, trying not to cause any disturbance. He fights his drowsiness as best as he can, hoping that his companion wouldn’t notice — and yet, as his luck would have it, the moment he couldn’t hold it in any longer just so happened to be the exact same moment the person next to him lifted her nose from the book it was buried in.

Without looking at him, she flips another page. Tone commanding but masked with concern, Kang Sol mumbles, “Just go to bed already.”

So much for being lowkey, he thought. Joonhwi stretches himself awake, thinking of the perfect response: casual enough to make it look like he doesn’t care, but caring enough that she wouldn’t push him away. “Not until you’re done,” he finalizes.

Sol scoffs, tossing her pen lightly on the table. “You don’t even take this class.” 

Well, of course he knew that. But Kang Sol A — truthfully, he prefers to omit the distinction: no matter how many Kang Sols there are in Korea, or hell, even in the entire world, he’s only got eyes for one — is not getting anything out of him. If getting Joonhwi to admit his true feelings was her goal, she’s far from reaching it.

“You know why I’m here,” he sidetracked. 

Unconvinced, she turns to him with a provoking look, and Joonhwi already knows she’s about to go on a long-winded rant. “Yeah, yeah, I do,” she started. “You want to hang out with me but instead of just asking like a normal person, you make up this lame excuse about how I need to study even though I was already planning on doing that anyway. You practically finished studying ages ago so you just sitting there doing nothing is really rubbing salt in my wounds.” 

He watches her with both his hands on his head, suppressing a smile. Finding an opening, Sol pushes his chest lightly. “I don’t need you here. Get out.” 

She said it so weakly that he knows there’s no way she could have meant it. Making sure she doesn’t lose her balance, Joonhwi quickly takes hold of her wrists and gently places them back on the table. “You talk too much,” he breathed. 

Sol purses her lips in annoyance and propped her chin up with her hand. “Yeah, well, that’s why you’re dating me,” she pouted.

If she keeps putting him in his place like this, he might actually have to walk out, but not for the reasons she’d expect him to, like his supposed exhaustion. Joonhwi knows Sol doesn’t do this on purpose, but she naturally has a way of making him flustered, and he’s trying really hard not to lose his cool right now. 

She stomps her feet lightly on the ground, groaning. “This is too difficult,” she complains, leaning her head on Joonhwi’s shoulder. 

Really, really hard.

It’s funny how Sol can say something one minute and then completely contradict it by the next. She says she doesn’t need him there, but clings onto him like her life depended on it. Not that Joonhwi was complaining — but he does want to have a little fun with her. He wanted to stir her a bit with something like, I thought you didn’t need me here? He knows she hates being called out for snappy remarks that she only ever means as a joke.

But a quick glance at Sol, in her favorite pajamas and one of Joonhwi’s sweaters, on the very rare occasions she has her hair down, bangs falling on her eyes, Joonhwi decided against it. Her vulnerability shouldn’t be treated with ridicule; it should be met with an equal amount of softness. After all, no one else but Joonhwi gets to see Sol like this — he finds that as a privilege which shouldn’t be taken for granted. 

“Okay.” He gives in. “Let me have a look.”

Joonhwi holds his palm out to ask for the reading material, which, as usual, Sol rejects. “Didn’t we already talk about this?”

He feigns innocence. “Talk about what?”

Her head feels heavy on his shoulder. “I need to be able to stand on my own if I’m going to survive law school hell,” she reminds him. “You can’t keep coming to my rescue for every little inconvenience.” 

“So this is just a minor setback?” Joonhwi teases. He couldn’t help it. 

“No,” Sol cries, “it’s a major obstacle.” 

She snuggles up against him, and Joonhwi could literally feel the heat rising to his face. Nonetheless, he lightly holds the side of her head for support and asks, “So what? Are you just going to give up?” 

“Of course not,” she mumbles, her breath hot on his neck. Joonhwi knows the law well, but he feels like this should be illegal. 

“But sometimes I wish I was just naturally smart like you.”

He lets out a soft sigh. Like many other things, the pair have talked about this before, and Joonhwi has never denied that he and many others have had a significant head start over Sol. But this is what he’d always tell her: 

“If everyone in this school had half as much of your wit, every crime in the world would have been solved by now.” 

To which she’d grimace and respond with, “Yeah, tell that to the F I got in Criminal Code.” 

But tonight was different. Sol wasn’t coming from a place of defeat, she was saying this out of frustration. She was probably thinking that maybe, had her life choices been different, she would have had it easier. That maybe, had she been as lucky in wealth and opportunities as everyone else, she wouldn’t need to work twice as hard as them. So that maybe, like Joonhwi, she could just comfortably sit in silence with him and enjoy his company. 

Right now, he’s treading murky waters and he’s afraid that one wrong move could give Sol the wrong idea. Joonhwi has never been the type to open up to people, but she never made it difficult for him to do so. With Sol, honesty was just the default. Telling her things he’d never entrust with anyone else came as easy as breathing. 

He takes her hand and gingerly intertwines it with his own. “I didn’t have it easy at the beginning either,” he admits. “Law school wasn’t even a part of my plan, and yet here I am.” 

This is at least one thing he knows Sol could empathize with. After being betrayed by the last person he’d ever expect to hurt him, Joonhwi’s life took a turn. To an extent, he was motivated by rage. But mostly, he was just trying to find a way to turn that pain into something useful, trying to make sure no one else has to go through what he did. And call him foolish for being too hopeful or optimistic, but he believes this is something he and Sol can do for each other. They’re two sides of the same coin: the law owes Sol an apology, and Joonhwi is coming to terms with the fact that he might never get one, ultimately being robbed of the opportunity after his uncle’s untimely death. 

Joonhwi knows his words bear significant weight to Sol. There’s a lot of things he wants to say to her but right now he just settles with, “I think you’re smart enough. If anything, you need to stop going overboard. What if you get sick again?”

She lifts her head and stares at him with doe eyes.

“That’s why I’m here.” He raises their interlocked fingers to show to her. “Why do you think I’m holding your hand? It’s so I can pull you out from under when you’re drowning in all of this.”

Sol slowly breaks out into an endearing smile, trying to repress her laughter but failing. “Heol. Han Joonhwi, since when were you so sentimental?”

Joonhwi doesn’t know where this newfound bravery came from, but he kisses Sol on the forehead lightly. “Since you needed it.” 

Sol blinks, her expression unreadable, and Joonhwi fears that he may have done the wrong thing. But much to his disbelief, she instead grabs him by the collar and closes the gap between her lips and his. They crash against one another in perfect rhythm, and Joonhwi mentally slaps himself for not doing this sooner. Never has he felt more at peace than at this very moment, which was ironic considering he was supposed to be the one doing the comforting. And yet, the lines blur when he realizes that even when their methods are vastly different, they’re at their best when they’re in tune with each other’s needs.

And right now, this is what he needs the most.

Much to Joonhwi’s dismay, Sol finally pulls away; they’re both out of breath. 

Still in a daze, he musters up the courage to ask such a stupid question. In fact, he’s surprised he could even speak at all. “What was that for?” 

“You’re not the only sentimental one here. If you’re going to kiss me, do it right.” 

That was when I knew, you were worlds more, than just a first kiss.