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me on the ground (you in mid-air)

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It happens on a crisp Tuesday evening while Minseok is getting his usual iced americano at his favorite café. 

 

In the following days, Minseok will think that perhaps he must have missed a sign or symbol as he went about his day—that there must have been something to tip him off because surely the universe at large wouldn’t be so perverse as to spring the biggest moment of his life on him without at least some warning. 

 

But as he looks back on that fateful Tuesday, he remembers he had woken up without incident and in the comfort of his own bed, fluffy pillows and comforters creating a comfortable cocoon around him. After a shower and shave, he dressed for work in his favorite shirt and tie before eating a light breakfast of coffee and toast. He bought the daily paper from his favorite stand, sending a wave and a smile to the young keeper who always blushed under his attentions, and got to work five whole minutes early. He had two meetings that day and lunch with Chanyeol and Baekhyun at the deli around the corner – nothing out of the ordinary, just his regular Tuesday Special. He clocked out promptly at 5pm and rushed to catch the 265 bus en route to the recreation center in the middle of town. Even that night’s game, while certainly fun, had been utterly unremarkable. Minseok’s team, try as hard as they might, were not able to edge out their opponents by the time the 90 minutes had run out.

 

In short, in reviewing the day’s events, there had been no cosmic sign, no message written in the clouds or in the front-page headline of that morning’s newspaper. The universe had remained cold and indifferent in its overwhelming silence, leaving him utterly unprepared for the life-changing encounter he was to have when he stepped into that café.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Hey, Minseok,” The young woman behind the counter greets him, her smile shining brightly in the creeping night. “Your usual?”

 

“Please.” 

 

Minseok can’t help but notice the barista’s matching set of clear blue eyes as he passes her a wad of crumpled notes. So young, he thinks not for the first time. He earns a grateful smile from the barista when he tosses his change into the tip jar.

 

As Minseok stands to the side of the bar, waiting patiently for his order, he catches his own reflection in the shiny surface of the overworked espresso machine. Pale skin, pointed jaw, and a set of mismatched eyes that stare pointedly back at him—on the right, hazel, and the left, a distinctive green.

 

“Here you go, Minseok. One iced americano.” 

 

He nods at his favorite barista, whose warm brown eyes never fail to make Minseok think of his favorite drink. “Thanks, Yixing,” he says, retrieving his cup.

 

When he returns to the seat where he had set up a makeshift work area for himself, he finds evidence that he’s no longer the sole occupant of the long table. Across the wood top, a couple seats down, several books have been piled high on all sides of a simple notebook, creating a kind of paper fortress. It’s owner, however, remains absent.

 

Slipping back into his chair and sliding his large headphones over his ears, Minseok re-submerges into the world of footprints, elevations, and various kinds of ferns, the soothing notes of first generation K-pop ballads serenading his ears.

 

It’s another five minutes before, out of the corner of his eye, he notices the owner of the paper fortress return with a steaming mug of coffee. There’s also a pair of delicate hands with shapely fingers that rifle through a couple of books, scribble a few notes in the notebook, and tap a chewed up pen incessantly on the tabletop. 

 

When he sees the owner of the paper fortress scoot towards him, there’s a tangle of wires and Minseok catches the pretty hands make a lot of gesturing. 

 

“Excuse me, but do you mind if I plug in?”

 

Minseok turns to his undivided attention to his neighbor, a rather cute boy with mismatched eyes—one green, the other hazel— who is smiling at him expectantly. There’s something familiar about him, something in his expression that sets Minseok’s spine straight and tugs at the corner of his subconscious. 

 

He shifts away from the wall, making room. “No, not at—”

 

In an instant, both of them cry out—loud, gasping wails full of agony. Minseok winces as a sharp pain shoots up behind his left eye, making him grab onto the edge of the table desperately. When the nausea and dizziness finally pass, he opens his eyes and blinks away the spots clouding his vision. Dread fills Minseok’s body, his movements heavy and sluggish as he turns and finds the other boy gripping his own head, palms pressed hard into their sockets, his paper fortress laid to waste across the table. With a shuddering breath, the boy slowly drops his pretty hands from his pale face and looks at Minseok.

 

The maddening thumping of Minseok’s heart pushes all the air out of his lungs and his world blurs out of focus at what he sees on the other boy’s face. A matching pair of distinctive green eyes stare back at him. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You,” the boy says in breathless wonder. “It’s you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Which way are you headed?”

 

The boy with the new green eyes—just call me Luhan!—asks while they stand outside the coffee shop. Minseok slings his bag over his shoulder and catches his reflection in the glass window. Two hazel orbs blink back at him.

 

Luhan is still waiting for him, eyes bright and curious, his hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans, as he falls in step with Minseok. 

 

“I’m over this way,” Minseok answers with a nod of his head.

 

Luhan’s hopeful expression diffuses into sheer delight. “Great! Me too. We can walk together,” he grins happily while Minseok just nods his head lamely, his feet moving home seemingly on their own accord. Minseok has never been the most socially graceful person, but at the moment he’s barely keeping it together and with Luhan looking at him so expectantly, Minseok has never felt so at a loss for words.

 

“So…where are you from?” Minseok tries after a few seconds of suffocating silence. He’s picked up on the very slight but still noticeably accented Korean that flowed past Luhan’s mouth. 

 

“I’m from China. Beijing—a beautiful city. The best,” Luhan turns to Minseok, who looks away immediately. After spending nearly three decades with those same green eyes, it’s beyond surreal to see them looking back at him. “Have you ever been?”

 

“No, I haven’t had the chance,” he answers, staring at the sidewalk as it rushes past his sneakers.

 

“We can go anytime! And you don’t have to worry because you have me now, and I can show you around—all the best places to eat and shop and cool places to go. I’ll introduce you to everybody!” Luhan is practically beaming, a nearly manic grin stretching across his cheeks.

 

Minseok swallows, forces himself to exhales slowly, changing the topic. “So, uh, what are you doing in Seoul?”

 

“I work here. I’m a translator for a publishing company,” Luhan explains, elbow brushing against Minseok’s arm and subsequently setting it on fire. “And I also teach a few Mandarin classes a couple times a week.” 

 

“Oh. That’s interesting,” Minseok replies, hand discretely rubbing over the spot Luhan had singed. He pulls his jacket tighter across his body.

 

“And what do you do, Minseok?” Luhan is still smiling at him, that same expression of eagerness and anticipation settling over his features.

 

Minseok tries to hide the blush on his face from being addressed so casually—so intimately—by someone he’s just met, but figures that <i>nothing</i> in his situation is normal. Clearing his throat, “I’m an architect,” he answers.

 

“Really? That’s so cool,” Luhan seems genuinely impressed, but Minseok has a faint suspicion it wouldn’t take much for him to impress Luhan. “Any buildings I would recognize?” he asks enthusiastically.

 

“Not unless you pay attention to landscaping and public restrooms.” At Luhan’s confused look, Minseok smiles wryly, “I’m still a junior architect so I don’t get to do the big projects yet. Just all the little things no one pays attention to.”

 

“Oh,” Luhan nods. “I’m sure you’re great at it though! And it’s not nothing because restrooms are important too.”

 

“I guess so.”

 

“I know so, trust me.” And Minseok has to turn away when Luhan goes as far as to wink at him. “Very practical and necessary.”

 

They end up walking a few blocks in silence—one too giddy to think of a proper topic of conversation, and the other still too stunned to continue the conversation. From the corner of his eye, Minseok can see Luhan shyly glancing at him and he passively wonders if these encounters are always this awkward or if he’s just exceptionally gifted at not knowing what to do or say in unfamiliar situations. They shuffle along, each of them in their own worlds, until Minseok hears Luhan chuckling softly next to him.

 

At Minseok’s wondering look, Luhan lets out a peel of real laughter. “This is crazy, right? I mean it’s incredible and amazing too, but this is… it’s just…it’s beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before.” 

 

Minseok feels himself inexplicably flush at Luhan’s words, the tips of his ears burning hot. 

 

“I never would have thought that my decision to visit Yixing tonight would have lead me to you, and yet, here we are. I can hardly believe it,” Luhan continues, shaking his head in happy disbelief. 

 

“Neither can I,” Minseok concedes with a nod of his head. 

 

Luhan moves a little closer to Minseok’s side, “I guess that’s why they call it fate. What is fated is fated and will come to pass no matter what.”

 

“Right,” Minseok mumbles under his breath. “Fate.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A handful of minutes, one suspicious look, an are you sure you live out this way and a yes, of course I’m sure later, the pair find themselves just outside of Minseok’s apartment building.

 

“I find it hard to believe that you live in the same exact building as I do,” Minseok deadpans but Luhan just shrugs.

 

“But wouldn’t it be great if I did?” He grins unabashedly before stepping closer. “So, are you going to invite me up or should I just kiss you goodnight here?” 

 

When he sees Minseok pale, his eyes widening in panic, Luhan lets out ring of laughter. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t resist teasing you a little. Honestly, you’ve had this deer-in-the-headlights look about you ever since we left the coffee shop. Like you’re about to bolt at any moment.” 

 

“Sorry,” Minseok blushes. He thought he was doing a much better job of covering up his anxiety.

 

Luhan shakes his head. “Don’t be. It’s cute,” he says with a grin. “I like that I make you nervous.”

 

Minseok takes a step back, needing to put some distance between himself and the overwhelming everything of the taller boy. “Look, Luhan, there’s something you should know about me. I can’t…I mean, I’m not—I don’t believe in soulmates.”

 

It takes a few seconds for it to register. 

 

“You don’t believe in soulmates,” Luhan repeats dumbly. He’s clearly stunned, the words twisting his face in confusion. “You don’t believe in soulmates?” he echoes again.

 

“I’m sorry,” Minseok says slowly. “I know you think that this,” he waves a hand between them, “means that we’re soulmates and meant to live happily ever after. But…I’m not so sure.” He swallows, bracing himself. “I thought you should know.”

 

Luhan shakes his head, looking utterly crushed under the weight of Minseok’s words. “I don’t understand. How could you not believe in soulmates?”

 

“I just…don’t.”  

 

“But...” Luhan trails off and gestures aimlessly, hands fluttering in the night air before he slips into Mandarin, a string of words that Minseok figures might be curses. “But everyone else…all around us…” he stutters when he switches back to Korean, searching for words. “Our eyes changed. They did. That means something.”

 

Minseok bites his lip, hating the way that Luhan is looking at him with such pleading eyes. He wishes that he didn’t have to do this, because Luhan seems like a decent guy and it’s unfair to him that he had to have such a crappy soulmate.

 

“I’m not denying that obviously there’s some sort of connection between us. That much is obvious,” he says carefully, trying to explain. “But that doesn’t mean we’re soulmates. That’s just what they say.”

 

What they say?” Luhan spits, hair ruffling in the wind with every shake of his head. He stands there helplessly, brow furrowed, still trying to piece things together. “Everyone knows that when you make eye contact with your soulmate, your eyes change. That’s how you know you’ve found the one. It’s not just some myth or bedtime story told to kids. It’s not even genetics. It’s…it’s—”

 

“It’s not love,” Minseok cuts in, as gently as possible. “It can’t be.” 

 

Minseok knows the story. Of course he does. Everyone was born with two different colored eyes—heterochromia, they call it—where the right eye is your natural color and the left that of your soulmate. Only when you find your own eye staring back at you do your eyes become their natural color. Minseok was well aware of the narrative. It had only been drilled into his memory, and subsequently reinforced on every level of society, since he had been a child.

 

“Why can’t it be?” Luhan asks desperately. “Do you not believe in love either?” 

 

“That’s not it. I believe in love,” Minseok sighs. It was hard to explain, and he knew he was doing a poor job of it. 

 

“Then, what is it? How can you believe in love but not believe in soulmates?” Luhan steps closer and reaches for Minseok’s hand, cradling it lightly in his grasp. “How can you not believe in me?”

 

Minseok almost breaks. He doesn’t like to be the bad guy, dislikes delivering unwelcomed news, and most of all, he hates that there’s nothing he can do to spare Luhan this kind of grief. He wants to run into his apartment building and forget this night ever happened, but the gentle pressure of Luhan’s fingers against his palm urges him to stay. Luhan, at the very least, deserves to have this conversation.

 

“I want to have a choice,” he tries, surprised at the slight waver in his voice. “Having fate determine whom I’m supposed to love? I can’t stand it. I think, with something as important as this, I ought to have a choice.”

 

Luhan pulls Minseok’s hand to his chest, squeezes gently. “But there’s no one out there more perfect for you than me,” he says softly.

 

“Please, Luhan,” Minseok’s own voice pleading and desperate. “Try to understand, I want a choice in whom I love. I want that for you too. You shouldn’t have to be stuck with me just because someone somewhere decided that the changing of our eyes meant that we’re meant to love one another. It’s your life. It’s your heart,” Minseok finishes, pressing his open palm into Luhan’s chest, hoping against hope that he’s conveyed his feelings. Still, he feels terrible when Luhan lowers their hands and lets go, long fingers falling away from his palm.

 

Luhan doesn’t say anything, just digs his hands into his pockets again and rocks back on his heels, lips pressed in a thin line, and Minseok thinks he’s proved his point. Still, it’s a bit regretful, and to Luhan’s credit, he’s taken the news fairly well, seems more composed than he should, considering the fact that his supposed soulmate has just crushed all his romantic hopes and dreams.

 

“Then choose me,” Luhan says eventually, surprising Minseok. “You said you want a choice. Choose to love me.” 

 

“That’s not…” Minseok feels so inadequate when confronted with the sheer force of Luhan’s sincerity, and he struggles to find an appropriate reply. “That’s just the thing. I can’t just pick you. I can’t just love you when I’ve only just met you. Not when I don’t know anything about you. It’s unfair. I—”

 

Minseok stops mid-speech when he notices the corners of Luhan’s mouth lifting slightly. When their eyes meet, hazel to green, Luhan no longer looks miserable. Instead there’s a knowing glimmer in his eyes that makes Minseok bite his lip in nervousness.

 

“I guess that means I just have to win you over then,” Luhan says simply, like it’s the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. “You may not love me now, but there is something between us.”  

 

And Minseok gapes, not expecting this reaction at all. He shakes his head but Luhan just catches his hand again and holds it firmly against his chest. He’s close enough that when he speaks, his breath ghosts over Minseok’s cheek. 

 

“There’s no one else better for me than you. I know it,” Luhan smiles faintly at Minseok, those familiar eyes tracing over his face. “You said you wanted me to have a choice in whom I give my heart. Well, I pick you. And it’s not because of fate or destiny. But because I was interested in you before I knew your name. <i>Before</i> I saw your eyes. And that tells me all I need to know.”

 

“Luhan…” he entreats, in full panic. He can’t make any promises, didn’t count on Luhan not giving up on him, on Luhan wanting to win him over. Minseok fumbles for words, for breath, for thought against the warmth of Luhan’s skin on his own.

 

I believe in soulmates. I believe in you, Kim Minseok,” Luhan says softly, his tongue rolling over Minseok’s name like a caress. “Give me a chance to change your mind.”

 

“Are you serious?” Minseok asks, incredulously. At Luhan’s firm nod, he can’t help but let slip, “You’re insane.”

 

Luhan laughs, and Minseok feels the vibrations against the back of his hand, still nestled against the fabric of Luhan’s shirt. “Hardly. I just think I deserve a shot before you go crushing my heart.”

 

That really wasn’t fair. Minseok grasps for something, anything, to keep him from giving into Luhan’s somber face. “I don’t know about this. I don’t think anything will change, Luhan.” 

 

But Luhan just shrugs. “All I’m asking for is one night. If you feel the same in morning, then we’ll go our separate paths and you won’t ever hear from me again.” 

 

Minseok bites his lip, ignoring the way his stomach dropped at Luhan’s words. 

 

But if you feel even the littlest bit of change,” Luhan continues, moving even closer, tilting his head forward and lowering his voice, “Then all you have to agree to is to not push me away. To give us a chance.”

 

Luhan makes his last attempt his greatest. 

 

“I have searched for you. Wondered about you, waited for you for my entire life,” he whispers slowly, eyes burning, and something twists deeply in Minseok. “Please. I can’t let you go without at least trying.”

 

It’s an odd feeling, this thing stirring in his chest. Minseok’s positive that he’s never felt this before, this overwhelming sense of fulfillment, of finality, that spreads through his body, every muscle, every nerve, awake and anticipating. Minseok takes a breath, and he finds himself incredibly calm, a peace settling over him deeper than anything he’s ever experienced in all his years. He hears nothing—not the rushing of cars on the street nor the conversations of passersby—there is nothing but infinity as he stares at this stranger who feels nothing like a stranger.

 

“When?” The word is out of his mouth even before he knows it. 

 

Luhan’s face slowly breaks into a wide smile and he takes a step back, drawing Minseok away from his apartment building. “Right now,” he tugs gently on Minseok’s hand. “Tonight!” 

 

“Wait, I-I have work in the morning and a pretty important presentation,” Minseok tries to protest even as he trails behind Luhan. “Can’t we do this another time?”

 

“Work can wait and there will be other important presentations,” Luhan says with a smile as he slips his fingers between Minseok’s. “But this? This is a once in a lifetime thing.”

 

Minseok bites his lip as he tries to process the feeling of Luhan’s hand in his own and the warmth spreading through his limbs.

 

“Come on, Minseok, don’t you think love deserves a chance?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luhan takes him to Namsan Tower. 

 

Minseok is no expert on dating—having only gone on a few dates just to stave off the loneliness and boredom—but even he knows the cliché surrounding the famous tower.

 

“It will be fun, come on!” Luhan grins excitedly before urging them forward. 

 

They fall into line for the cable cars that will bring them from the mountain’s base to its summit, where the infamous tower waits, brilliantly lit with colors that change from deep red to bright blue and everything in between. 

 

Luhan looks positively ecstatic as they pile into the car, energy buzzing through him to the point that Minseok can feel his thin frame vibrating against his arm. It’s only when the car lurches forward and Luhan grabs onto his arm in a vice-like grip that Minseok sees something else clouding Luhan’s eyes: fear. 

 

“Hey,” Minseok’s voice is unsure, hesitating. “Are you okay?”

 

He watches as Luhan licks his lips and takes in a shuddering breath. “Yep,” Luhan tries to smile but it comes out wobbly. “Totally fine.”

 

But the car lurches forward again and Luhan gasps, involuntarily tightening his hold on Minseok’s arm. There’s a light sheen of sweat glistening at his temples and the color has drained from his face.

 

Even still, he tries to smile.

 

“Are you…afraid of heights?” Minseok asks although the answer is fairly obvious with the way he can feel Luhan’s fingernails digging into his arm.

 

“No,” Luhan exhales, smile pulled tight across his cheeks. “Just, please don’t make any sudden movements,” he begs. “Please.”

 

Minseok glances around the car, searching, before he pulls Luhan away from the windows and towards its center, turning him away from the cityscape sweeping underneath them and instead steps close, close enough to fill Luhan’s entire field of vision.

 

“Look at me,” Minseok says quietly, hands firm and steady on Luhan’s shoulders. “Eyes on me, Luhan.” 

 

It takes a good long second for Luhan to register what Minseok is telling him, and an even longer moment passes before he gingerly reaches out with trembling hands that land on Minseok’s waist, fisting the fabric of his jacket. Minseok rubs reassuring circles on Luhan’s shoulders until slowly, Luhan’s breath evens out.

 

They stand like that, staring into each other’s eyes, the familiar hues of green and hazel both comforting and altogether new.

 

And when the car lurches one last time at the dock, Minseok holds Luhan steady until the doors open and all the other occupants file out, leaving the pair alone.

 

“You okay?” Minseok asks, thumb rubbing over the bone of Luhan’s shoulder.

 

Luhan gives him a small smile, faint blush staining his cheeks. “Yeah. Thanks.”

 

It’s then that they realize they’re still holding each other and still in the car. Minseok pulls back and shoves his hands into his pockets as he makes his way towards the door. Luhan’s arms fall limp at his sides, feeling the warmth of Minseok touch lingering on his skin. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luhan weaves his arm through Minseok’s and leads him to the overlook overrun with locks of all sizes, shapes, and colors, and all scribbled with professions of love and adoration, their keys having long been tossed aside.

 

Minseok lets his fingers trail over the locks, some, the recent additions, are easy to spot, their colors vibrant even in the darkness. Others have been there for longer, perhaps much longer, their messages having long disappeared with the elements and the passage of time.

 

He finds himself contemplating these older locks, if the feelings of the couple remain the same as the day they hiked up the mountain top in an attempt to chase permanence. Or, like the rusted and unsightly lumps of metal under his fingertips, if they’ve decayed over time. He wonders if these couples still believe in soulmates.

 

Or if love had faded from these locks and all that was left was the burden they promised.

 

“This is great!” Luhan pipes up from next to him. “It’s so pretty up here.”

 

Minseok is about to agree because Seoul’s nightscapes never fail to amaze him, but when he glances at Luhan, the boy is looking at the locks with undisguised envy.

 

“The view it really nice from here,” Minseok states quietly. “I really like seeing Seoul at night.”

 

“Really?” Luhan perks up at the words, eyes sparkling. It is the first bit of information that Minseok has willingly disclosed—aside from the crippling nonsense of not believing in soulmates. He thinks this is progress. 

 

“Well, we can get higher. I think they’re still selling tickets to go up into the tower. If we hurry might still be able to catch the last lift.” The words flow out of Luhan’s mouth at an alarmingly fast rate, even as he glances up at the imposing height of the tower and Minseok sees panic flash across his face. 

 

“Um,” Minseok calls out gently. “We don’t really have to do that.”

 

The taller boy looks relieved before he catches himself. “But…we came all the way up here? We have to at least go up the tower,” Luhan argues.

 

But Minseok is already walking away, drawing further away from the lights of the tower and closer to the darker edge of the mountain. Luhan rushes to trail after him, and a feeling of rejection is beginning to creep into his limbs when he finds Minseok stopped in front of five stone dome-like structures.

 

“Do you know what these are?” Minseok asks when Luhan comes to stand next to him, tilting his chin towards the stone towers.

 

Luhan blinks, not having the faintest idea. In all the time he’s spent on the mountain top, he can’t recall if he’s ever even seen the towers before. He shakes his head and waits for an explanation.

 

“This is watchtower,” Minseok reveals, words carrying a hint of wonder. “During the Joseon dynasty, this mountain marked the southern most point of the kingdom. In order to protect its borders, this watchtower, along with several like it, were set up around the kingdom.”

 

Luhan stares a while, head nodding as he soaks up Minseok’s soothing voice, the two of them huddled together, there in the darkness.

 

Minseok points to the towers, “These are kind of like giant chimneys. At night, they would be lit, and they would serve as signals to other watchtowers. One burning tower meant that all was well, but two or four meant that the kingdom was being invaded, and all five meant that fighting had commenced.”

 

When Minseok stops talking, Luhan is no longer worried about love locks or catching the last lift or anything. He figures all of it pales in comparison to standing silently next to Minseok, admiring the stone towers, caught somewhere between the breadth of twinkling stars above them and the glowing lights of the city below them. 

 

“You know, you don’t have to try so hard, Luhan.” Minseok’s voice is quiet but sure, and Luhan watches as Minseok runs his palms along the cool ridges of stone. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen these.”

 

Luhan feels his breath catch in his throat when Minseok finally turns back to him with soft eyes and a gentle smile. “Thank you for bringing me here,” he whispers.

 

Basking in the fluttering in his chest, Luhan lets the warmth wash over him.

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, Chanyeol finds Minseok cursing at the coffeemaker in the break room, pushing at buttons incessantly and tapping at its sides with swift raps from his knuckles. Chanyeol lingers in the doorway, highly amused as the normally soft-spoken young architect lets out a string of swears under his breath. 

 

“You know, in all the years that we’ve worked together, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you use the coffee machine in here,” he says by way of announcing his presence. He notes, with not a little satisfaction, how Minseok startles, his whole body jumping at the sound of his voice. Something must be wrong, because at 185cm, Chanyeol is hardly someone who goes without notice. Toss in his deeper-than-should-be-allowed voice and playful nature, and there’s really nothing about Chanyeol that could be described as subtle.

 

“Careful, it’s a finicky old thing. You got have to use gentle hands,” he steps in and with a few flicks of his wrist, has coffee pouring into Minseok’s awaiting cup in a matter of seconds. 

 

“Thank you,” Minseok sighs gratefully, and he visibly relaxes as the robust fragrance of brewing coffee perfumes the air. He’s needed this. 

 

“No problem,” Chanyeol replies easily, and they both stare at the liquid streaming into the mug. “Were you running late? No offence, but you kind of look like hell.”

 

Finally, the coffee machine finishes sputtering and Minseok reaches over to retrieve his mug. “I didn’t get much sleep,” he says and it’s not an untruth. He blows unto his mug before bringing the hot liquid to his lips. “This is kind of gross,” he sighs again, trying his best not to make a face.

 

Chanyeol only laughs, clasping Minseok on the back and sending the shorter male stumbling forward. “I know it’s nothing to your triple mochachino frappe or whatever but it’s not that…” his voice trails off. 

 

Minseok peers up at him as he brings his mug back to his lips, hoping the taste improves with prolonged drinking, but Chanyeol is staring at him, open mouthed, a stunned expression on his face. 

 

“Holy shit!” Chanyeol cries, pulling back to get a better look.

 

“Hm?”

 

“What do you mean, hm? Your eyes. Your fucking eyes!” Chanyeol is bouncing on the balls of his feet, grinning stupidly at him. “I can’t believe it! What happened?” 

 

Minseok groans. Blames his lack of awareness on his lack of caffeine that morning. Pulling at his bangs in a poor attempt at shielding his eyes, he edges away from Chanyeol. “Nothing happened.” And, again, it’s not an untruth.

 

“That’s bullshit and you know it!” Chanyeol complains as he trails after Minseok, who is pointedly trying to ignore his obvious and loud co-worker. “You can’t deny it, the truth is literally all over your face.”

 

Minseok averts his eyes from the stares they get in the hallway as they make it back to their workstations. “Please keep it down, Chanyeol,” he pleads, feeling the stirrings of a headache. “I haven’t had my coffee yet, and it is way too early for this.” 

 

“Oh no, I’m not letting you get away so easily,” he chides before his face breaks out in a wide grin. “I can’t wait for Baekhyun to find out!”

 

A full head of sandy brown hair pops up around the corner. “Can’t wait for me to find out about what?” Baekhyun asks at the sound of his name. 

 

Minseok groans again as Chanyeol loops his arm around Baekhyun’s neck. Given his height, Chanyeol was accustomed to using others as his personal armrest, Baekhyun most of all. “Hey, Baek, notice anything different about our cute Minseok?” he asks, grey eyes shimmering with barely contained mirth. 

 

Baekhyun shifts his files to his other arm as he slowly rakes his brown eyes over Minseok’s form, lips pouting in concentration, and causing Minseok to fidget uncomfortably under such scrutiny. 

 

And then Baekhyun squeaks. The stack of files fall from his limp arms and sheets of paper flutter to the ground. “No way,” he gasps in disbelief, eyes darting back and forth from Minseok to Chanyeol. “You are kidding me! Yeol, tell me I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing!”

 

“Oh, you’re definitely seeing it,” Chanyeol says, body humming in excitement, and for a moment Minseok envisions his co-workers as two over eager puppies unable to keep still, loud and jumping all over the place, tails wagging nonstop. “Our little Minnie just got himself a new pair of matching eyes. And you know what that means.”

 

In the reflection of the window, Minseok catches sight of his now hazel eyes. “You guys…” he shifts again, growing more uncomfortable with the attention. “It’s not a big deal.”

 

But Baekhyun is having none of it. He grabs Minseok’s hands and doesn’t bother with the dictations of polite conversation and tact, firing off burning question after burning question, tail wagging. “Who is it? How did you meet? Did you kiss? How was it? What do they look like? When are we going to meet your soulmate?”

 

Luckily, Chanyeol pulls Baekhyun away, letting Minseok breathe again. “Down Baekhyun, don’t overwhelm him,” he scolds before turning his attention back to Minseok. “We have all afternoon to get through all those questions,” he smirks, and Minseok knows he has no allies in this. 

 

“Kim! Byun! Park!” 

 

Minseok and Baekhyun straighten immediately (Chanyeol jumps) and turn to where their boss, Junmyeon, has his hands on his hips, face twisting in displeasure. “Why are there papers all over this hallway and why are none of you doing anything about it?” 

 

“Er—”

 

“That is—”

 

“We were just—”

 

But Junmyeon just holds up a hand to cease their excuses. “The meeting for the Exodus project starts in 5 minutes. Get this cleaned up and don’t be late,” he sighs before shaking his head and walking away. The three co-workers silently watch their boss round the corner before they scramble to gather the fallen files.

 

“This isn’t over,” Chanyeol whispers before they enter the meeting room without a second to spare. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“And that’s it? He walked you to the subway station and then you just left?” 

 

Across the table, Baekhyun practically deflates in his seat while Chanyeol is staring at him in disbelief, jaw hanging wide open as he blinks at Minseok.

 

Minseok slumps in his seat, cheeks burning as he pushes away the last of his lunch. He stills and grows warm as a memory from the previous evening comes sudden and unheeded. Luhan is gazing down at him under the streetlights, and even the shadows on his face could do nothing to diminish the beauty of his features nor the intensity of his eyes.

 

 

 

 

“I have a secret,” he says before drawing closer, and Minseok’s heart leaps in his chest when he feels Luhan’s lips brush against his ear. “I’m going to prove you wrong.”

 

 

 

 

Minseok reaches for his water glasses and promptly gulps down half of its contents, hoping to cool himself down. 

 

“This is the most disappointing meeting of soulmates ever,” Baekhyun whines and Chanyeol purses his lips, his earlier shock transformed into something of pity and sorrow.

 

Minseok clears his throat. “We, um, we exchanged phone numbers.”

 

At this, Baekhyun’s head snaps up. “So you are planning on seeing him again,” he says, and Minseok detects a hint of hope in his voice.

 

“I’m not sure.”

 

Baekhyun groans and lets his head drop, forehead smacking into the table but he seems in no hurry to move. Next to him, Chanyeol frowns, arm reaching out to rub soothing circles on the muscles of Baekhyun's shoulder. 

 

“I don’t get it. You didn’t reject him at the end of the night,” Chanyeol’s brow furrows as he tries to make sense of the situation. “Doesn’t that mean you felt something towards him?”

 

Minseok plays with the napkin draped across his lap. The date had been fine. Had been more than fine really, after Luhan stopped trying to be the ideal boyfriend and relaxed a little. Minseok had found that he was pretty decent company, which was, more than anything, the reason he gave in when Luhan had bumbled his way through asking for his phone number. 

 

“I’m still not convinced this means what you think it does,” he says eventually, fingertips curling around the linen in his hands. Minseok frowns when he hears Baekhyun sigh. “You guys know how I feel about the whole soulmate thing. I can’t just change my mind because of one night and a feeling.”

 

Baekhyun sits up so fast he makes Chanyeol jump in his seat. “So you admit there’s a feeling!” 

 

Minseok flushes as his mouth searches for an explanation.

 

But Baekhyun just grins, good mood restored. Minseok figures it must be infectious, because Chanyeol is smiling at him also, wide and big and eager. 

 

“Don’t worry, Minseok,” Chanyeol winks. “Your secret is safe with us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Friday afternoon, Minseok is thoroughly exhausted. 

 

All week he has had to endure the pointed stares and hidden smiles of his co-workers, and even Junmyeon did a double take during their weekly meeting, stuttering when he made eye contact with Minseok. In the following days, Minseok has been on the receiving end of a spattering of congratulations, some accompanied by hugs, others by high fives, and he even got a few winks from well-meaning co-workers. But even as he feels self-conscious due to all the attention and endless curiosity, by the compliments being paid on how well and fitting his eyes look, he can’t really fault the people around him for being excited. 

 

He just wishes he felt some of that excitement instead of the growing unease as the days slip by and he’s yet to come to a decision about what to do about Luhan.

 

Still, when Luhan messages him an hour later, Minseok hesitates for all of two seconds before he agrees to meet after work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then end up at the Han River.

 

They walk along its banks, opposite the current that rushes past their feet and under the bridges glowing under orange street lamps. 

 

Luhan has been unexpectedly quiet, the bold and flirtatious boy from days prior all but gone and replaced with one that is pensive, nervous, and unexpectedly solemn. Minseok keeps stealing glances at the taller boy, who seems entirely pre-occupied with staring at the ground before him. Minseok bites his lip and searches for something to say to draw Luhan out of his own world.

 

Unbeknownst to him, Luhan is in the middle of having a mini-crisis.

 

He knows that it was luck or maybe fate that Minseok hadn’t completely rejected him after their previous encounter. But instead of feeling confident that he’s well on his way to wooing Minseok, Luhan has spent the past two days in a panicked distress. He’s agonized over what he could do to change Minseok’s mind, to dazzle him and keep him interested, except he’s failed at every turn. It’s a terrible thing to wake up one morning and realize that you have no idea how to get someone to love you. 

 

It was incredibly naïve, he understands that now, but Luhan had just assumed that when he finally met his soulmate, they’d fall into each other’s arms and kiss each other’s tears away and be so full of joy as they went about living happily ever after.

 

He didn’t count on having to show Minseok all the manifold reasons why Luhan was worth his time. Or his heart.

 

But what’s prickling at his skin and churning in his stomach is the bitter recognition that Luhan doesn’t know why Minseok should stay with him. He’s painfully aware of how inexperienced he is, and for all the bold declarations he made about winning Minseok over, Luhan finds himself woefully ill prepared for the task at hand. 

 

He’s never been the most charismatic person, never been the smartest, the most athletic, the tallest. He thinks he’s funny, even if he’s the only one who does, and even if some have called him handsome, he doesn’t want to give too much credit to his family’s words. 

 

But more than that, Minseok is an utter mystery to him. Even if Luhan felt he had something to offer, he doesn’t know Minseok enough to say for certain whether he would even be interested.

 

Luhan has half a mind to just back out of this whole hopeless thing.

 

“You’re doing it again,” Minseok hums from his place at his elbow. “Just be yourself.”

 

Luhan startles, having been so caught up in his own thoughts he’s forgotten himself. “Sorry,” he apologizes, rubbing his neck and already lamenting their poor start. “I’ve wanted to talk to you since forever, about so many things, and I just keep messing it up.”

 

Minseok lets the moment slip by before glancing at Luhan and saying, “I don’t think you’re messing anything up.” 

 

There’s something in the way that Luhan looks at him, and it’s too unguarded a moment, too vulnerable and altogether too overwhelming that Minseok has to turn away.  

 

Still, again, he doesn’t flinch or pull away when he finds Luhan’s fingers shyly brushing against the back of his hand. Says not a word when those same fingers wrap around his palm, idly tracing patterns across his skin.

 

“I can’t believe this is real. That this happened,” Luhan says more to himself than to Minseok. “I don’t even know where to start.”

 

“You could tell me more about yourself,” Minseok offers helpfully. 

 

Opening his mouth, the words stall in Luhan’s throat, but Minseok has always been patient—together they keep walking down the path, drifting to let others slip by, and Luhan’s thumb continuing to run against the back of his hand.

 

Eventually, Luhan shrugs his shoulders and gives Minseok a weak smile. “There’s not much to tell. I came to Seoul to study, and after that was done, the publishing company I was interning at offered me a job I couldn’t refuse. So I didn’t.”

 

“But don’t you get lonely?” Minseok asks innocently, peering up at Luhan, his head tilted to the side in concern. “Don’t you miss home?”

 

“Sometimes,” Luhan answers honestly, voice grave as he stares out over the water. And the depth of the sigh that follows lets Minseok know just how much Luhan misses his hometown. “But it’s not so bad here. Actually, it’s not bad at all. The trick is to not think about home, absolutely can’t let yourself think of specifics—no matter how small or mundane they might be— because then you’ll start missing everyone and everything.” 

 

His voice pauses and fades. “That’s when it’s the most lonely.”

 

They walk on in quiet contemplation, their footsteps lazy and echoing against the cement at their feet. Minseok finds himself drawing closer to Luhan, the temperature at night dropping considerably with the changing of the seasons.

 

“I try to keep busy enough so I don’t get an opportunity to think of home too much or too often,” Luhan says finally. “But I don’t want you to think I’m miserable, because I’m not. I like it here, and I’ve met some good friends in Seoul, so that helps.”

 

Minseok nods, an unknown emotion bubbling up his throat, foreign and strange. “What kinds of things do you like to do to keep busy?”

 

A small smile returns to Luhan’s face, much to Minseok’s relief. “I like to travel to different parts of Korea. Get away to the isolated areas that you don’t find in travel books.”

 

“Doesn’t that make you feel more lonely?” Minseok asks. He knows what waits for a person in the countryside and he can’t imagine that it would be appealing for a traveler who didn’t have family or friends or even a reason to visit the remote stretches of farmland or the far off mountains that crop up all over the country. 

 

Luhan looks at him through the corner of his eye, a knowing smile toying on his lips. “It’s a different kind of loneliness,” he explains. “It’s just you and nature. And your thoughts. And your demons. You discover a lot about yourself, and after awhile it becomes really peaceful.”

 

Minseok thinks he’s never known that kind of peace.

 

“And you get to meet all kinds of people out there. Great people. Kind-hearted people who welcome you into their homes and are quick to share their stories. It’s amazing,” Luhan continues fondly. 

 

“I’ve never done anything like that,” Minseok admits. “I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything even close to that.”

 

Luhan looks at him pointedly. “Maybe one day we can go together.”

 

Minseok chooses to let his eyes wander over the stars reflecting over the breaking waters of the Han River. What would it be like to see the same stars without all the light pollution of the city? 

 

“Maybe,” he replies softly. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They settle down on a nearby bench and lapse into a comfortable silence, Luhan stretching his legs in front of him. Although only a few centimeters above Minseok's own 173 (174 in the mornings), Luhan’s thin frame makes him seem taller than he really is. And with large doe eyes and gentle mannerisms, he also seems so much younger than his twenty-seven years. 

 

It’s a little unfair, Minseok thinks and sits up straighter.

 

“Did you ever wonder about me?” Luhan interrupts his musings, a curious glimmer in his green eyes. “Or were you hoping this day would never come?”

 

“It’s not that I hoped this day wouldn’t ever happen,” Minseok begins slowly, choosing his words carefully. “And it wasn’t that I never thought about you, either. It’s just…I know that a lot of people take comfort in the idea that they’re bound to someone by some cosmic force. But for me, it has always been slightly…unsettling.”

 

“Unsettling?” Luhan tilts his head, brow furrowed. “How so?” 

 

“Well,” Minseok shifts in his seat, “When you begin to think about the person you’re bound to as something other than the ultimate love of your life, the whole idea is a little scary. You’re just plodding along until the day fate decides to bring you and this other person together and, what, you’re just supposed to immediately embrace this utter and complete stranger?” 

 

Yes, Luhan wants to say, but bites the word back.

 

“And, to be honest, I didn’t see the point in wondering about you or what you were like. Daydreaming about our meeting or fantasizing about you wasn’t going to change anything about the reality of you. Or the reality of me,” Minseok shrugs and glances at Luhan who appears contemplative as he rest his elbows on his knees, eyes unfocused as they stare at the river.

 

“I guess that makes sense,” he says quietly, the tip of his shoe pushing idly at the soft ground underneath.

 

Minseok hates the tension that has settled over them, and that he’s the cause. He grasps for something to relieve to somber mood, and it takes several painfully long seconds before an idea comes to him. “What about you? What did you think I would be like?” he tries.

 

At this, Luhan actually laughs, but it’s a hollow sound. He glances at Minseok, “You really want to know?”

 

“Yes,” Minseok nods enthusiastically, he shifts, turns, and his knee accidently brushes against Luhan’s thigh.

 

“It’s silly.”

 

“You can tell me. Come on,” Minseok urges, partially because he’s curious, but mostly because he doesn’t want Luhan to think that his feelings don’t matter. He may be the one ruining all of Luhan’s fantasies, but that didn’t mean he was going to be insensitive about it.

 

Luhan smirks. “Well, for starters, I thought you’d be a little more cooperative,” he says and Minseok chuckles. He can’t really hold that against Luhan. 

 

“I just—I guess, I just,” Minseok watches as Luhan grows more contemplative, mouth opening and closing around half-formed words. When Luhan finally raises his eyes to meet his, he’s surprised by the softness reflecting in them.

 

“I’m an only child,” Luhan confesses quietly. “My whole life, I’ve never known what it was like to have close relationships, to share a feeling of intimacy with someone.” 

 

The smile he gives Minseok is full of wistfulness and melancholy, and it pierces straight through his heart. “You asked me before if I felt lonely being out here on my own. But the truth is, I’ve always been alone.”

 

“When I was younger, I used to imagine that we would be great friends. That we’d have the same favorite color, like the same comic book heroes, even enjoy playing the same sports—oh, the fun we’d have riding our bikes down to the river together!” Luhan shakes his head, lips twitching wistfully. 

 

“So, when I think of you—when I thought of you—I guess what I imagined most was finally finding my place in the world,” he finishes quietly.

 

Overwhelmed by the vulnerability in Luhan’s face and desperate with the need to be connected, this time it is Minseok who reaches for Luhan’s hand, warming cold fingertips in between his palms. 

 

“I didn’t tell you that so you could pity me,” Luhan frowns, trying to pull his hand away. But Minseok holds fast.

 

“This isn’t pity,” he says, pulling Luhan’s hand into his lap. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday afternoon, the pair finds themselves aimlessly wandering down forgotten streets, peering into novelty shops that cater to tourists and locals alike and restaurants that never close. It’s after they’ve taken another turn down a snaking road that Minseok finds them standing at the gates to a local university.

 

Cocking an eyebrow at Luhan’s direction, the taller boy just grins unabashedly. “You said you wanted to know more about me,” he says before spinning on his heel, leading the way through campus. “I have something I want to show you.”

 

When they enter the university library, Luhan waves to the librarian behind the counter and ushers Minseok through a short maze of hallways before passing through wooden double doors labeled special collections.

 

They end up sitting in between the book stacks, knee to knee, with giant codices in their laps, gentle fingers turning their yellowing pages, and only Luhan’s soft voice their only other company. Luhan reads tales of conquest and bravery, of star-crossed lovers, of mythological beginnings, the cadence of his words is wonderful to Minseok’s ears as it slopes and slips and peaks in a language he doesn’t understand. And then Luhan will pause and suddenly Minseok finds himself nodding along when Luhan translates from Mandarin to Korean. 

 

Minseok is in the middle of admiring the delicate and hand-drawn illuminations of butterflies on the page when Luhan begins to explain the importance and necessity of matchmakers in these societies.

 

“I know that you hate the idea of soulmates and being matched,” Luhan teases, nudging Minseok’s shoulder with his own. “But you can’t just dismiss these kinds of things.”

 

Luhan closes the book slowly, carefully tucking it into his lap. “Matchmakers, arranged marriages, soulmates—they all exist for the same reason. To find the best possible outcome. You can’t begrudge parents for wanting that for their children.”

 

“But why is it left for parents, matchmaters, or fate to decide who is the best fit for them?” Minseok questions with the raise of his brow.

 

“The idea is that people can be swayed—especially by our treacherous hearts. People can fancy themselves in love with someone who is attractive, wealthy, athletic. They can mistake lust for love. Attraction for something more,” Luhan counters, fingers toying with the book’s fraying binding. 

 

“We only see certain sides of ourselves,” he continues, the words falling from his lips deliberate and measured. “In so many aspects, we are blind to our own vices, our own desires, our greatest strengths. We can’t see ourselves the way others—our parents, friends, matchmakers, fate—can. We are limited in our own self-awareness.”

 

A gentle smile tugs on Luhan’s lips as he speaks. “At twenty, all I wanted was adventure. To get out of my hometown and the ever constant roster of characters and places of my life. To break routine. To live a little recklessly,” he laughs. “If left up to me, I would have wanted to be with someone as unchained as I was.”

 

“My parents though, they hope I would end up with someone disciplined, someone who knew what it meant to be responsible. And not because they wanted to chain me down, but because they knew that no matter what I said, what I actually needed, the me at the core of my being, wasn’t someone reckless. It was someone steadfast.” 

 

Luhan’s green eyes are soft in the afternoon glow. Again, he reaches for Minseok’s hand, and, again, Minseok lets him take it, accustomed to patterns over his palm. “It’s trusting in those closest to you, the ones who know the things about us we cannot see, the essential things, the intimate things.”  

 

A shiver shoots up Minseok’s spine as Luhan’s touch burns his skin, and his breath grazes his cheek. 

 

“And who is in a better position to bring two people together than fate herself?” Luhan muses. 

 

Minseok finds he doesn’t really have an answer. 

 

“I’ve read stories of places where people weren’t born with different eye colors,” Luhan continues, thoughtfulness on his brow. “The people in these stories had to pay attention to signs, to what fate was telling them, in order to find the person they were meant to be with.”

 

“And the terrible thing is that they were always guessing. Always making every happy accident into something more than mere coincidence. A woman would turn a corner and crash into a man who was wearing a scarf in the particular shade of blue that was her favorite, and she fancied herself half in love, caught in the grip of fate.”

 

Minseok listens attentively, palm opening to welcome more of Luhan’s attentions. “But what she didn’t understand about herself was that specific shade of blue reminded her of her favorite dress from her childhood—the time she was happiest and felt most like herself.”

 

“As it turned out, the woman on the street was neither in love with man wearing the blue scarf, nor was she caught in the fate’s web,” Luhan pauses, sadness and pity heavy on his words. “Rather, their meeting was entirely coincidence, the result of the man waking up late and having to rush to catch the bus, and she was more in love with the residual and nostalgic memory of her childhood.”

 

Next to him, Minseok hums, “People will take any chance occurrence and call it fate.”

 

“I can see how, in that world, someone could be so desperate or lonely or full of longing that they could easily confuse accident for fate. That being said, I don’t think they were willfully misunderstanding things. I’m sure they believed whatever they felt was real and true. Everyone, after all, just wants to be loved.”

 

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Minseok shift, pulling his knees up to his chest. “They don’t have the luxury of fate on their side. Not like we do. We don’t have to go looking for signs—we’re born with them on our faces. And I know you hate it, but I find it nice. Reassuring. We don’t have to live like the people in these stories. We don’t have to spend our lives guessing.”

 

Minseok isn’t nearly as convinced. “How can you be so sure that our eyes changing isn’t just another random accident?” he questions. “What makes you so certain that we’re not like the woman and the man in the blue scarf?”

 

“Look around us, Minseok. There are happy couples who can give testament to the fact they’re in love with their soulmates.”

 

“Or, they think they’re in love with their soulmates. But how do they even know what love is? How does anyone know when they have no other romantic love to compare it to? How do they know they’re not just in love with the idea of soulmates? That they’re just settling for this person because they’ve bought into the myth?”

 

Minseok looks him dead in the eye. “Do people just believe in soulmates because the alternative is too devastating to bear?”

 

What he fails to mention is that he doesn’t want to think of Luhan as the man with the blue scarf. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following morning, Baekhyun intercepts Minseok in the hallway, looping his arm around Minseok’s shoulders and steering him into the break room.

 

Once the coast is clear, Baekhyun pounces. “Okay, what happened?” 

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

“You’ve been a mess all morning,” Baekhyun says with some pity. “You even mistakenly called Chanyeol, Sehun, which he’s still really upset about, by the way.”

 

Minseok laughs, making a mental note to soothe Chanyeol’s wounded ego later.

 

 “Are you sure you’re alright?” Baekhyun asks, feigning innocence. “Your spaced out behavior has nothing to do with…Luhan, perhaps?”

 

For a moment, Minseok considers avoiding discussions about Luhan at any cost, but one look at Baekhyun’s brown eyes, a reminder that not only has Baekhyun found his soulmate, but that he’s considerably more experienced than Minseok in all things soulmate-related, has him sighing and collapsing onto one of the plastic chairs, , Baekhyun eagerly joining him. 

 

“Can I ask you what was it like, when you guys met?” he asks, peering at Baekhyun through his fringe. “I mean, I know what I saw,” he teases, smiling at the memory of Chanyeol and Baekhyun showing up at the office as new interns and the chaos that ensued when they met at the new-hire orientation—remembers the panicked yells and shouts of surprise and all the crying as the two clung to one another in the middle of the conference room. They had been the talk of the company for weeks thereafter. “But what was it like?”

 

He watches as the tips of Baekhyun’s ears flush pink. “If you repeat anything I say, I’m going to deny it all and then make your life miserable, so help me, Kim Minseok,” he threatens, Baekhyun’s delicate fingers tapping against his mouth. 

 

Minseok raises his hand in a silent oath.

 

Deflating into his seat, Baekhyun sighs, recalling memories of years gone by. “It was…the best day of my life,” he says easily, dreamlike smile on his face. “The best moment.” 

 

“But I mean,” Minseok clears his throat, and the chair squeaks with his shifting. “Did you feel different? Did you get along immediately? Did you automatically share thoughts or whatever?”

 

Baekhyun hums, head tilting as he considers his words. “I guess the easiest way to put it is that everything felt right. Like being with Chanyeol was where I was supposed to be.”

 

“It was a little strange at first, working out all the mechanics between us and getting to know each other’s habits and peeves, but everything just… got easier. And I don’t mean just between him and me, but everything. It felt like breathing a huge sigh of relief for the first time in my life.” 

 

Baekhyun shakes his head, like he can’t believe he admitted such things aloud. He licks his lips, and Minseok has learned over the years that it’s a tell-tale sign that Baekhyun is nervous. “I know you have a lot of reservations and worries about soulmates,” he says gently. “But I wish you wouldn’t think of Luhan as a burden to your life, because, from what you’ve told me about this guy, it seems far more likely that he’ll actually be the opposite.”

 

“I can honestly say that I’m better because Chanyeol is in my life,” Baekhyun continues, more gentle and sincere than Minseok has ever seen him. “And it’s not because he’s worked a miracle and made me better. I didn’t need saving. I wasn’t some incomplete soul waiting to be made into a perfect whole. But with him, I’m easier with life. Less angry. More forgiving. In some ways, more cautious too. More than anything, I want to be decent. He makes me want to be worthy of the way he looks at me.”

 

By now, Baekhyun’s cheeks have joined his ears in flushing red, and Minseok is just a little bit in awe of the grown up sitting across from him. This man, who looks like a child, and is, on most days, silly enough to be one, who carries these tremendous feelings of love and gratitude—the depth of which Minseok is only barely witnessing. 

 

He thinks, maybe, that he’s underestimated soulmates all along.

 

“I swear on everything you love,” Baekhyun blurts, finally having his fill of embarrassment and the thoughtful way Minseok was gazing at him, “if this gets out, I will not hesitate to kick your ass,” he repeats, but like so much of Baekhyun, he's more bark than bite.

 

Minseok laughs, the atmosphere between them lifting significantly. “Thanks for sharing that with me, Baekhyun,” he says, “You’ve given me some things to think about.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a few taps of his mouse, Minseok sends off his project to his supervisor and sits back in his chair with a sigh. It’s the end of the day, a Tuesday, and a quick glance at the clock tells him he’s got a few minutes to collect his things before heading out for his weekly soccer match.

 

“Here you are, Minseok. I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” 

 

He is jerked from his thoughts by the very voice that follows him into his dreams. Except he’s fully awake now, and the voice is accompanied by an innocent face peering down at him. 

 

“Luhan?” he gasps, shooting out of his seat and nearly turning it over in the process. “Wh-What are you doing here?” To say he’s surprised is an understatement, the prickling and heating of his skin something all at once familiar and strange.

 

But Luhan seems oblivious to how flustered Minseok is, just smiles sweetly at him, green eyes sparkling as he stands by Minseok’s desk. “I was in the neighborhood, and thought we could go to the recreation center together,” he replies, gesturing to the bag strapped to his back.

 

“Right. Okay. Um, let me just—” Minseok absently shoves whatever he finds on his desk into his bag, hands fumbling over objects as he rushes to get himself and Luhan out of his office as soon as possible.

 

It hasn’t escaped his notice that Luhan, statuesque and striking even as he does nothing but wait for Minseok, is drawing a lot of notice from his corner of the company, his co-workers peaking at them from their workstations. One Park Chanyeol included.

 

And directly in front of him, not more than three feet away, sits Byun Baekhyun with a shit-eating grin on his face, not even pretending that he’s not watching their every exchange with undisguised glee. Not for the first time does Minseok lament having to share his workspace with Byun Baekhyun. 

 

“Come on, Luhan, we don’t want to be late,” he says, tossing his bag across his body and reaching for Luhan’s hand, pulling him away from Baekhyun’s knowing gaze. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pcWHY: You never mentioned he was cute! 

 

Baek_is_the_best: I can’t believe you didn’t introduce us to him :(

 

pcWHY: You guys were adorable together, btw!

 

Baek_is_the_best: I mean, I was sitting right there, Minseok :(

 

pcWHY: Have fun on your date! Hope you "score" ;)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday, they sneak into one of the buildings Minseok helped design the year prior. It’s Minseok’s turn to pull Luhan through hallways and backdoors, flashing smiles at passersby like he owns the place.

 

Luhan keeps trying to stop and take in the different rooms, to compliment Minseok’s work—the vaulted ceilings, the glass enclosures, the choice of paint color or the textures on accent walls—but Minseok is having none of it, just keeps urging Luhan along.

 

They end up on the rooftop.

 

Luhan can’t help but tease about how romantic it all seems, golden rays of sunshine fading on the horizon under a watercolor sky. Minseok shakes his head, ignoring both how lovely Luhan looks with his skin aglow and humor dancing in his eyes, and instead explains how what he likes the most about this building is how it seems to blend in seamlessly with its environment, doesn’t take anything away from the peaceful and almost wild surroundings which seemed altogether out of place in the city. 

 

Minseok settles on the ledge, pulls a bottle of water and a sandwich from his bag and tosses them to Luhan, who smirks. “A beautiful sunset and dinner?” he teases, eyebrows raised. “Be careful, Minseok, or I might just think you like me.”

 

It’s meant to be a joke, something to laugh off easily, but with how Minseok has been feeling this week—unsettled, conflicted, lost—he finds he doesn’t have it in him to join in when Luhan chuckles. 

 

“I never said I didn’t like you,” he frowns, confused as to why he should feel so distressed.

 

“I know you didn’t,” Luhan sighs, leaning against the ledge. “I didn’t say that to upset you.”

 

He thinks it’s too much for Luhan to be so considerate of him—to be comforting him, when Minseok is the one who stepped all over Luhan’s delicate feelings and effectively put them in this nebulous, undefined space where both of them were perpetually dissatisfied.

 

They stay silent, tense and at a loss, until the sky turns from pink to a deep and dusty purple.

 

“Do you think you can ever really know a person?” Minseok whispers, words drifting with the wind.

 

Luhan stays so quiet, so still, gazing off into the distance, that Minseok wonders if he’s heard the question. But it’s only when the sun has sunk completely over the edge of the horizon that Luhan opens his mouth to speak. 

 

“Yes,” he says, still fixated on one point in the distance. “People are always changing, but I think the essentials remain the same.”

 

Minseok shakes his head, eyes falling shut. “But what about…you said yourself that we can’t always see ourselves for who we are,” he opens his eyes and pins Luhan with his stare. “What if we’re all just trying to be the best version of ourselves, and our real selves are crude and disappointing.”

 

“I hardly think anything about you is crude or disappointing,” Luhan smiles gently. “You don’t have to worry.”

 

“What I mean,” he shoots Luhan a pointed look, which earns him a cheeky shrug of his shoulders in reply, “is that…we are bound to someone by some cosmic force. But the thing is, we don’t know how fate decides how to pair us all up, right? Everyone is so quick to label each other soulmates, like it’s some great thing. But what if that person you’re bound to isn’t the perfect person for you, but the devil in disguise?”

 

Frustrated, Minseok continues on, desperate for answer he knows he’ll never get. “There are no guarantees that your soulmate will make you a better person. That they’ll bring happiness. And yet, your fate is inescapable. Isn’t that terrifying?”

 

Luhan is quiet for a long time. 

 

“Can I ask you something?” he says eventually, letting the slight breeze run across his cheeks.

 

It’s a sad, disparagingly chuckle that leaves Minseok’s lips. “Sure.”

 

“What do you believe in?”

 

Something in Minseok’s chest pinches and twists.

 

“I already know what you don’t believe in. That much is clear,” he says with a tilt of his shoulders. “You keep separating yourself—it’s you and them. The non-believer and the believers. But by denying the existence of soulmates, in rejecting the hand of fate…you also say that we, the believers, have access to the cosmos, that we’re linked to something otherworldly, super-natural...” Luhan looks at him sadly, “And that you're not.”

 

“I keep thinking about what world you live in, where you’re cut off from the magic of the universe. And I can’t help but think that it must be lonely.” 

 

Minseok has to look away, the twisting in his chest pulling tighter and tighter, burning his eyes.

 

“And I figure you must believe in something. Something to make it less lonely for you, in your world without magic,” Luhan straightens and faces Minseok. 

 

“So what do you believe in?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Staying late again?”

 

Chanyeol is standing by his desk, for once, subdued and grave, the hair on his head sticking up in all directions, the result of too many frustrated passes. In his hands are his wrinkled suit jacket, discarded tie, and a file which he places on Minseok’s desk.

 

Minseok glances at the clock on the wall, the hands inching ever closer to 9pm. There’s hardly anyone in the office now, just him and Chanyeol on their floor, his desk lamp making the dark circles of Chanyeol’s face even more severe. “I shouldn’t be too much longer,” he guesses. 

 

It’s not that he has a lot to do—not like Chanyeol, who sways from fatigue on his feet—it’s just that he hasn’t been the most productive at work, and he discovers that it takes him almost thrice as long to complete a simple task. 

 

From the edge of his vision, Minseok sees Chanyeol drop into Baekhyun’s unoccupied seat. “Baek told me you guys had a heart to heart,” he begins, small smile on his face. “Have you figured out what you’re going to do about Luhan?”

 

Minseok hums. And maybe it is because of the late hour and the shroud of darkness on their shoulders, or maybe it is because of how lost and alone he feels, but Minseok finds himself leaning across the worktop. “Can I ask you a question?”

 

“Fire away.”

 

“What do you believe in?” he asks, eyes trained on the surprised look on Chanyeol’s face.

 

“I’m not sure what you’re asking,” Chanyeol replies slowly, confusion on his brow. “Can you be more specific?”

 

Minseok drops his head into his hands. “It’s nothing, forget it,” he sighs. He knows what Chanyeol believes in. It’s him that’s in question.

 

He’s been so on edge for the last few days, ever since Minseok dropped that bomb of a question on him. What do you believe in? What do you believe in? What do you believe in? As desperate as he’s been to find answers—an answer, any answer—he just keeps circling back to one thought.

 

He doesn’t know. 

 

And that terrifies him.

 

“If I can offer you a word, as someone who’s been through this before,” Chanyeol says gently. He’s not looking at Minseok, is instead staring at a picture of him and Baekhyun, taken only a few months after they had met, which sits in a place of honor on Baekhyun’s desk. 

 

“Even if fate had gotten it wrong, if our eyes hadn’t changed, it wouldn’t haven mattered to me. I know, without a doubt, that there’s no one else for me besides Baekhyun. He’s not my soulmate because our eyes changed, Minseok.” 

 

At this, Minseok raises his head, looks up at Chanyeol who is staring wistfully at the photo.

 

“That’s the secret,” Chanyeol says as meets Minseok’s curious gaze. “I never felt like I had to love Baekhyun. It came so naturally. It was the easiest thing in the world to love him.”

 

Chanyeol sits back and offers Minseok an encouraging smile. “My advice is simply this: whatever it is that you’re feeling, don’t fight it. Allow things to fall into place naturally. In my experience, the less you resist, the better it gets.”

 

“I don’t know if I can do that,” Minseok frowns.

 

“But you have felt something, haven’t you?” Chanyeol raises his brow. “I know you have. Otherwise you wouldn’t be this torn up over Luhan, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

 

Minseok watches wordlessly as Chanyeol stands, gathers his things once again. “Whatever you decide, I hope you figure it out soon. For both your sakes.”

 

Chanyeol leaves Minseok with a lot more than an empty office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Do you think we’ve met before?”

 

Luhan averts his eyes, toys with the handle of his mug between his fingertips. “I mean, like, past lives.”

 

It’s Sunday evening and they’re back at the café, Yixing ever diligent behind the counter, and a subtle cloud of tension hovering in the air.

 

Minseok crosses his arms and looks out the window into the quiet depthless half-light of the moon. It was the first time they’d made contact since that afternoon on the rooftop, and sick with longing, Minseok was the one who gave in and called Luhan, who showed up smiling and windswept, even if his eyes didn’t shine as bright. 

 

“Have you ever heard of eternal return?” he asks quietly instead of answering.

 

Luhan shakes his head.

 

“It’s the idea that events will repeat themselves infinitely—that they return eternally,” he explains, voice soft and soothing and curling into Luhan’s ears. “If soulmates exist, if past lives exist, you could say, based on the theory of eternal return, that soulmates will meet each other in all lives. And this act of repetition, of eternally returning, gives the meeting weight. The more times soulmates meet across lives, the more the meeting gains significance, the more weight it has on the grand scheme of things.”

 

Luhan lets it all wash over him, enthralled by the sound of Minseok’s voice as much as the meaning of his words. He hesitates a moment before his hand travels the short distance between them, idly toying with Minseok’s hand as he waits patiently for the other boy to speak up again.

 

“The other idea is that events don’t return at all. That everything happens exactly once,” Minseok continues, welcoming Luhan’s touch. “And if things happen only one time ever, then they lose all significance. These events don’t have weight. They mean nothing in the grand scheme of things.” 

 

Luhan catches Minseok’s eye. “What do you think?” he asks meaningfully.

 

“I don’t know,” Minseok whispers brokenly.

 

Almost immediately, Luhan pulls away, shaking his head, and Minseok nearly cries out from the loss of contact. “You don’t know,” he mutters, sighs. 

 

“Luhan, please,” Minseok begs. “I’m trying.”

 

So am I,” Luhan retorts, just as desperate. “But I can’t keep doing this. We can sit here and have this debate, but to me, it just comes down to faith. What you believe. But you never know.”

 

“You know what I believe? I believe in the soul. That we’re more than just skin and bones and organs. And I believe our existence is more than just a perfectly timed accident. More than anything, I believe the universe conspires to bring two souls together.”

 

“And I believe I was meant to love you, Kim Minseok. I believe that our meeting has a purpose. Even if I don’t have all the answers, I know that our eyes changing means something.” Angry frustration twists his features, uneven words pushing forcefully past his lips. “Not because I’m afraid of being alone. I’ve been alone my whole life, I’m fine on my own.”

 

“I know it means something because I’ve looked at thousands of faces in my lifetime. I’ve traveled far and wide, but here, on this tiny peninsula, on the most ordinary of nights, in this far corner of the world, I have found you—you, the one person who, with nothing else but a shy glance, have done to me what no one else has been able to do.”

 

Minseok wants to look away, away from Luhan’s pleading eyes and heartbroken words.  

 

“It has nothing to do with our eyes, Minseok,” he continues, gentle now as he reaches for Minseok’s fingers, brushing the back of his hand. “I didn’t need your eyes to tell me it was you. I felt it in the way my soul sighed at the sight of you. Finally, finally. You were here.” 

 

Please, Luhan,” Minseok begs. He’s so frazzled, his emotions splinter while his thoughts fragment and nothing feels real, except the touch of skin on his palm and the weight sinking in his chest.

 

“That’s what I believe,” Luhan whispers, before standing and tugging on his coat. Minseok panics, not wanting Luhan to leave, not yet. Not now. He grasps at Luhan’s sleeve, grip firm even as his whole body shakes.

 

Luhan spares Minseok one last suffering look. “I'm not asking for everything. I just need to know that you could believe in those things too.”

 

Whatever it is that you’re feeling, don’t fight it.

 

“Luhan?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Allow things to fall into place naturally.

 

Minseok stands on wobbly legs, takes one thudding step and then another until he reaches Luhan, the tips of their shoes touching. His arms tentatively wrap themselves around Luhan’s waist, bringing him closer, and Minseok wiggles into his chest until he’s settled in just right. Past the scent of Luhan’s cologne and the rapid-fire beat of his heart, Minseok is aware of one thing.

 

It feels right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Minseok wakes the following morning, the crisp morning air chilly on his back and he burrows closer to his source of warmth. He feels more than hears the deep chuckle that follows, and he cracks an eye open to find Luhan awake and gazing affectionately down at him, amusement shining in his green eyes.

 

Absently, Minseok wonders if his own green eye had ever sparkled as beautifully in the morning light, or if there was just something about Luhan. 

 

“Hi,” Minseok ventures, voice cracking. 

 

“Hi,” Luhan returns, brushing the hair from Minseok’s eyes. They’re cuddled up on his sofa, having spent most of the night talking until their voices grew thin and reedy. “You know, you’re really cute when you sleep,” Luhan says, smiling. “You look like a baozi.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luhan watches as Minseok pulls out his phone and thumbs through his contacts before settling on a name and making a call. He finishes setting the table and waits patiently while Minseok taps away on his laptop, cradling his phone against his cheek.

 

“I know, I’m sorry to do this to you last minute, Baekhyun,” Minseok says. “I just sent you the file for the presentation.”

 

Luhan smiles happily when Minseok sits himself down at the table, and almost immediately, he’s reaching across the table for Minseok’s hand, fingertips already tracing those familiar patterns on his skin.

 

“Yes, I owe you. I know. Big time,” Minseok laughs, rolling his eyes. “Tell Joonmyun I’ll explain everything tomorrow.”

 

Luhan’s breath hitches when Minseok blushes and glances his way. “Yeah, okay. I’ll tell him. Thanks, Baek. You too. See you tomorrow.”

 

“Everything alright?” he can’t help but ask when Minseok gets off the phone. “Your face is awfully red.”

 

“Yeah, fine,” Minseok replies with a wave of his hand. “Baekhyun wants to meet you.”

 

“Was he the one that kept grinning at us without blinking?”

 

Minseok laughs again, amazed at how easy it is to be here with Luhan. “That would be him. Chanyeol wants to meet you too, he’s Baekhyun’s other half. Literally. I think Baekhyun ended up being short so Chanyeol could be tall.” 

 

Luhan chuckles, picking up his chopsticks. “I can’t wait to meet your friends.”

 

They settle down to his humble offering of rice and fish and some soup, Luhan’s free hand still toying with Minseok’s.“You do that a lot,” Minseok observes with a nod. “The hand thing.”

 

It’s Luhan’s turn to blush, a deep red crawling up from his neck. “A nervous habit, I guess.”

 

“You don’t have to be nervous around me,” Minseok says breezily, and Luhan nods shyly. Minseok doesn’t mention that he’s figured out, ages ago, that the patterns traced on his skin aren’t random at all. 

 

They’re declarations of love, of faithfulness, and of hope written in a script he doesn’t know but understands nonetheless.

 

Minseok doesn’t have all the answers, doesn’t know what fate has in mind for him and Luhan, if anything. But should anyone ever ask him what he believes in, he knows exactly what to say.

 

 

 

 

 

He believes in Luhan.

 

 

fin