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"do you believe in soulmates?"  ten asks, eyes gleaming bright.

youngho nearly chokes on the mint in his mouth.  "that's really personal to ask a stranger," he coughs out.

"but do you?"  ten asks again.  "the idea that someone out there is a perfect match for you…  you either believe in it or you don't!"

youngho is quiet for a long time, running a hand idly through his own hair.  "i don't know," he admits.  "i think i want to believe, but for some reason i'm scared."

 

-

 

youngho goes to sleep and when he wakes up he's in a doctor's office.  but he's not him.  he's a third person entity, watching himself talk to the doctor.

they're talking about ten.  youngho listens to his own voice drag on and on, saying all the things he couldn't stand about ten anymore.  all the ways their relationship fell apart.

he shuts his eyes.  he doesn't want to be here, he doesn't want to see this.

all youngho wants is to wake up and have every last bit of ten be gone.

"he was so goddamn reckless.  spontaneity reaches a point where it's just irresponsible," youngho's voice says.  "he was like a tornado, destroying everything in his path."

youngho squeezes his eyes tighter and covers his ears.  his lies hurt even more the second time around.

 

-

 

youngho opens his eyes to find himself in taeyong's apartment.  it's no longer third person; he's here and he can feel anxiety festering in his chest.  ten wasn't answering his calls.  ten changed his number.  this isn't right, none of this is right.

"maybe you should just let him go," taeyong suggests.  "have a clean break.  it's not worth contacting him anymore."

"but i want to fix this!"  youngho is bordering on having a panic attack.  his voice is trembling.  "i need to fix this.  i'll go to his apartment.  i'll… i don't know, i just need to fix it!"

"you can't fix it," taeyong says softly, handing over an envelope.  "there's… there's nothing left to fix."

youngho stares at the envelope in confusion, before he can will himself to open it.

chittaphon leechaiyapornkul has had seo youngho erased from his memory.  please never mention their relationship to him again.

youngho stares at the words, eyes blurry with tears, until ten's name fades away completely.

"this- this isn't real.  it can't be real," youngho says, voice cracking.  he turns too quickly, knocking a glass off of the counter.  it shatters across the floor before he can even process what he's done.

as if trying to pick up the shattered remains of his relationship, he rushes to pick up the shards, ignoring the glass that embeds itself into his skin.

taeyong comes over, whispering soothing words in an attempt to comfortable youngho.  the memory is starting to warp, taeyong's words coming out as nothing more than a jumbled mess.

he doesn't want to be here.  living it once was bad enough.  he just wants ten to be gone.

staring at the blood on his hands, youngho can't help but cry.

 

-

 

youngho didn't ask for this goddamn trip down memory lane.  it's the exact opposite of what he wanted, really.

ten has a bag in his hand, a cigarette in his mouth.  youngho should have known the cigarette was bad news.

"you aren't supposed to smoke in my apartment," he says quietly.  maybe he wasn't quiet.  maybe he screamed at ten.  maybe this wasn't their first fight.

maybe youngho doesn't want to remember.

"oh fuck you," ten sneers back, angrily blowing smoke at him.  he turns away, throwing some things into the bag.  things like his toothbrush, the few spare earrings he had sitting out, youngho's old sweatshirt that was always two sizes too big on ten.  "but don't worry, i'll be out of your apartment in no time."

"i can't believe you took that ratty sweatshirt," youngho whispers, because he doesn't want this memory to end the way it did the last time.  he doesn't want another screaming match to crescendo into ten slamming a door in his face and never coming back.  he doesn't want their last words to be i hate you.

"it was my favorite, you know," ten says around the cigarette still clutched in his lips.  "it smelled like you.  you always loved when i wore it."

"why did you leave me?"

"i don't know," ten answers honestly, and the edges of everything start to seem a little faded.  "it seemed like the only option."

"i'm sorry for what i said to you," youngho offers.  he extends his hand towards ten, ready to take that awful cigarette from him and kiss him silly.  just before his hand makes contact, ten vanishes completely.

all that's left is the faint smell of cigarette smoke.

 

-

 

youngho hasn't said i love you to ten in twenty-seven days.  he learns that when he gets knocked back to the last time they said it.  youngho wonders if he'd still end up here if maybe he said it a little bit more.

youngho pauses from making dinner when ten enters the kitchen, turning to kiss his boyfriend gently.

ten smells like cigarettes and his mouth tastes like ash.

"i thought you said it was a one time thing," youngho says, scrunching up his nose in disgust when the smell of smoke washes over him.

ten shrugs, not quite meeting youngho's stare.  "i was at the convenience store.  i didn't plan on buying a pack."

youngho frowns as ten trails off.  ten's hand is nervously drumming against his thigh; youngho knows the pack is in his pocket, that he's itching for another one.  he looks skittish.

"ten, give me the pack," youngho says, holding out his hand.  ten seems to recoil away from him, and youngho pretends that it doesn't hurt.  that it didn't hurt.

"i spent my money on it."

"ten," youngho repeats, voice lower than before.  the two stare at one another for a long moment before ten finally heaves out a sigh and reaches into his pocket, dropping the pack into youngho's outstretched hand.

nearly half the cigarettes are missing from it, but youngho's too tired to even comment on it.

"i love you," he says, putting the cigarettes into his own pocket.  he'll throw them away later.  "you know that i'm only like this because i love you, right?"

"i know," ten says quietly, shoulders slumped in defeat.  he pauses, his voice hesitant.  "i love you too."

youngho turns back to the food he was making and ten steps closer, wrapping thin arms around youngho's waist and burying his face against his back.

"did you really still love me then?"  youngho asks, as the edges of the memory start to shake and fade.  

"i still do," ten replies, muffled against his back.

the arms around his waist disappear but the pack of cigarettes remain.  youngho wants to cry but he's not sure why.

 

-

 

ten crawls into bed late.  youngho has been bordering on sleep for the last hour, but he still pulls his boyfriend close and kisses him deeply.

he tastes like ash.

"ten, were you smoking?"  youngho asks; his voice comes out thick and bleary, sleep creeping in on the edges of his words.

"i'm sorry," ten whispers, and he kisses along youngho's jaw like it will distract him.  "i bummed one off of yuta.  it was just one."

"they're not good for you," youngho murmurs, pressing kisses to the top of ten's head.  "you know they're bad for you, that's why you quit.  i'm trying to look out for you."

"it was just one, i promise.  no more."

it's a blatant lie; he knew it was the first time and hearing it again only confirms it.  as he falls asleep, he wonders how many other lies ten told him.

 

-

 

youngho blinks, and suddenly he's in bed, fucking relentlessly into ten.

"you always fucked me like you hated me," ten says, his voice breathy and low.  "but you kissed me like you loved me."

youngho lets his nails bite into ten's hips as he pulls him closer, as he fucks him harder.  "i do hate you," he lies.  "you erased me, for fuck's sake."

"you're erasing me," ten offers, hands clamoring to find purchase along youngho's shoulders.

"because you did it first!"  youngho exclaims.  he fucks angrily, nails scratching at skin and teeth sinking into ten's neck.

"i don't want you to forget me," ten confesses, before his voice deteriorates to moans and he comes all over their stomachs.

youngho closes his eyes as his own orgasm washes over him.  "i don't want to forget you," he breathes out against the skin of ten's neck.

when he opens his eyes, ten is gone.  the bed is cold and empty, like youngho had been alone the entire time.  it's for the best, he tries to remind himself.  it's hard to believe that when he feels so empty, though.

 

-

 

youngho thinks this was their first major fight, though he can't quite remember anymore.  he guesses that maybe it's part of ten being erased.

"you fucking erased me!  how could you do that?"  youngho screams at ten.  

"you're doing the same to me!"  ten snaps back.  youngho knows this isn't what they fought over, that this is all in his head, but it hurts just the same.

"i'm happy you'll be gone!"  youngho lies.  "i'm glad i never have to deal with your whiny bullshit again!"

"oh, like being with you is that fucking great?"  ten yells.  "you don't trust me!  you're overbearing!  you're the goddamn worst, youngho!"

"at least i'm honest when i say that i love you," youngho says, and his voice drops.  "at least i never lied to you."

ten frowns.  "i never lied about loving you," he says, voice wavering.  he steps back away from youngho and it feels like the entire world tilts.  youngho's vision is spotty.  "how dare you say that i lied about that."

ten is gone before youngho can even apologize.  he can't quite remember, but he thinks the real memory ended just the same.

 

-

 

"you and ten have gotten really serious lately," taeil observes.  they're out at a club.  ten is currently out on the dance floor, twirling ridiculously between yuta and sicheng.  youngho has to pretend he isn't jealous of yuta's hand resting low on ten's waist as they move to the heavy beat.

"well, we've been together for awhile," youngho shrugs, sipping at his drink.  he feels wary about this entire conversation.

"he spends more time at your apartment than he does at his own," taeil points out.

"yeah, he's probably going to move in soon," youngho says, staring down into his drink.  "make it our apartment, instead of just my apartment."

taeil frowns.  "youngho, stop acting like you don't know what this is about."

"and what is it about, taeil?"  youngho snaps, slamming his drink down on the table.  he's had too many drinks to be having this conversation.

"ten is young and reckless and impulsive.  you know how he is.  are you sure you're serious about this?"

"of course i'm serious about-"

"so what happens when you get sick of ten's recklessness?  you're really going to stick with him through all those crazy impulses he gets?  and you think he's going to want to stay with you when you shoot down every idea he has?"  taeil questions.  he looks serious, lips turned down into a frown; his cheeks are red and blotchy, a clear sign that he has also had too much to drink.  youngho really wishes he joined ten on the dance floor instead.  "you guys are both my friends, you know.  i don't want either of you getting hurt.  i just want to know that you're making the right decision."

youngho thinks about all the arguments they've been getting into lately.  stupid things about their personalities that clashed just enough to make them snap.  he thinks about sleeping on the couch one night because he couldn't stand to be in the same bed as ten anymore.  he thinks about how ten sometimes smells like cigarettes but youngho's afraid to call him out on it, scared that maybe he's wrong, maybe it wasn't ten who was smoking.

but he also thinks about ten, eyes glittered as he smiles up at youngho.  he thinks about the drama they watch every wednesday, audio muted so they can make up their own dialogue.  about the way that youngho can wrap his arms around ten's slim waist and rest his chin on top of ten's head, like they're two puzzle pieces destined to end up pressed together.

"he's like my soulmate, taeil," youngho says quietly, voice barely audible over the bass blaring through the speakers.  "i could never leave him, not even if i tried."

 

-

 

the heavy bass music slowly fades out and suddenly there's the quiet hum of the radio as everything gradually comes into focus.  there's the faint smell of food wafting from where youngho forgot the boiling pot on the stove.

ten is pressed close to him, arms wrapped around his neck and fingers curling into the short hairs at the nape of his neck.  youngho's hands rest gently on ten's soft hips and he leans his head down to press his forehead against ten's.

they sway in time with the music, ten occasionally singing along to the few lines he knows.  mostly he's just leading the dance, giggling whenever youngho loses his footing.

it's a breath of fresh air against the petty arguments they had been getting into lately.  youngho is flooded with a sense of relief, finally able to hold ten again.

the music starts to warp; youngho stumbles completely as it starts to skip like a scratched cd.  even holding ten close, he feels like they're a million miles apart.

"please let me keep this memory," youngho whispers, the lights in the kitchen starting to dim.  "just this one, please let me keep this one!"

the music stops and youngho finds his arms empty.

the pot on the stove boils over.

 

-

 

youngho is in the kitchen again, making breakfast for the two of them.  he hears the quiet padding of ten's footsteps as the younger makes his way through the apartment and into the kitchen.  youngho glances over and his jaw goes slack.

ten is standing there in nothing but one of youngho's old sweatshirts.  it's obnoxiously pink and a little torn up around the collar from years of wear.  it hangs perfectly on ten's small frame; the neckline stretches wide enough to show off his collarbones while the sleeves fall just beyond ten's hands, only his fingertips sticking out.  the hem lands along ten's thighs, the pink color contrasting brightly against the warm honey skin; youngho wonders if ten has anything on underneath.

"you don't mind me borrowing this, do you?"  ten asks, voice still husky from sleep.

"have i ever told you how hot you look when you wear my clothes?"  youngho asks, stepping towards ten so he can pull him close.

ten grins.  "it never hurts to hear it again."

"you look so hot like this," he murmurs, leaning down to kiss at ten's neck.  "god, i miss when we didn't fight."

youngho finds out that ten wasn't wearing anything underneath when he picks ten up onto the counter and fucks him hard, their breakfast long forgotten.

 

-

 

youngho blinks and suddenly he's trailing behind ten as they stroll through a park.  ten glances back and smiles at him, beaming so bright and beautiful.  he's the complete opposite of the flirty and dangerous ten he had just been with.  thinking about all the different sides of ten, youngho suddenly doesn't understand how he could ever want to erase him.  he needs to stop this immediately.

"i don't want to do this anymore!"  youngho screams, at the sky.  "do you hear me?  i'm telling you to stop this procedure, i don't want it anymore!  i don't want to forget him!"

he waits for a moment, but the memory continues on, ten trotting just ahead of youngho.

youngho remembers this date; ten kept wandering off, so excited at the prospect of having a real picnic.  youngho found himself chasing after ten nearly the entire time.  they argued about it later, about how ten is too careless and unaware, but right now, youngho can't imagine getting angry at ten.  all he can feel is an overwhelming fear that ten is going to slip away again before he can ever really catch up to him.

"please don't leave me," he whispers, hands extending to grab onto ten, but once again, he is already out of arm's reach.

 

-

 

ten bursts into the apartment, practically buzzing with excitement.  "look what i got!"  he exclaims, clamoring over to when youngho is sitting on the couch.  he points excitedly to his ear.  youngho stares for a minute.  the ear is red and and a little bit swollen.  youngho doesn't understand what he's seeing until the light hits just right, and a piece of metal glints brightly.

ten got a new piercing.

"oh!"  youngho exclaims, leaning closer to inspect the piercing.  it's a long barbell sticking through the shell of ten's ear.  "why did you get this?"

"well, i decided to walk a different route today and there was a tattoo parlor so i just went in!  the piercer was available and i figured why not,"  ten explains.  he's still bubbling with excitement, obviously waiting for youngho to compliment him.

"just like that?  you just strolled in and got a piercing?"  youngho doesn't mean to sound unenthusiastic but he can help it.  there's something about ten's recklessness that unnerves him ever so slightly.  if he could get a piercing on a whim, who knew what else he might do if the impulse struck?

"do you… do you not like it?"  ten asks, and youngho can see him visibly deflate.  all that excitement and energy, gone in barely two sentences.

"no, hey, no!  i love it!"  youngho lies, grabbing ten's hand.  "really, i love it.  i'm just surprised, that's all."

ten immediately picks back up, beaming brightly.  "if you're ever feeling reckless, maybe we can get you some piercings as well."

youngho laughs but he can't help the disdain he feels as he watches ten wander off to admire his new piercing.

 

-

 

the memories start shuffling faster.  there's a brief moment of them eating together, before youngho finds himself sitting alone.  there's another flash of them on a date.  before youngho can press a kiss to ten's lips, he's gone, leaving youngho leaning into empty air.  over and over, youngho finds himself alone as the word seems to crumble around him.

before he can even register what the next memory is, youngho grabs onto ten's hand and starts running.  he holds on tight, afraid ten is going to slip away again.  youngho doesn't know what he'll do if he loses ten now.

"where are we going?"  ten whines as he lets youngho tug him along.

"away from here.  i don't know where," youngho says, pulling ten to go a little faster.  "i don't want them to take you away from me."

"maybe if you just focus really, really hard, you can hang onto the memories you want," ten suggests.

youngho tries to focus.  he holds onto ten's hand and focuses as hard as he can on keeping ten here with him.  for a brief moment, everything around them seems to still.  just when youngho is ready to declare that it's working, the walls collapse all around them.  they take off running again, before the debris can catch up to them.

"okay, maybe we can hide,"  ten offers when it's clear that the first plan didn't work out.

the two skid to a halt as the floor in front of them falls away.  "hide?"  youngho asks.

"they're only erasing memories with me in them," ten explains.  "we just have to find one i'm not a part of, and hide there!"

youngho nods.  he starts to think about what memories he has but he's flooded only with thoughts of ten, ten, ten.  the room shakes around them.

"come on, youngho, we don't have much time," ten says, squeezing his hand.  he sounds nervous.

youngho focuses as hard as he can.  faintly, the sound of a woman singing swirls around them.  the room around them fades and shifts and suddenly youngho is back home in chicago, tucked neatly into his bed.  his mom sits on the edge of the bed, singing quietly as she brushes his hair off of his forehead.  ten is curled up next to him, pressing warmth into youngho's back, but he barely even notices him.

his mom kisses his forehead before she makes her way out of the room, and youngho sighs contently.

ten curls closer, nosing gently at his neck.  "this is such a nice memory."

"i wish i took you to the states," youngho says wistfully, wrapping his arms around ten.  there's a heaviness to his limbs as sleep starts to creep in on him.  "my parents would have loved you, you know."

"we just have to hide here until morning," ten reminds him.  "then, when you wake up in the morning, go find me.  we can start over, and you can take me to meet your parents then."

youngho hums in agreement.  "that sounds wonderful," he mumbles sleepily, pressing gentle kisses to the crown of ten's head as he starts to doze off.  "i'm glad i don't have to forget you."

 

-

 

he wakes up curled next to ten and for a brief moment, he thinks their plan actually worked.  but then he takes note of their surroundings; they are not in his childhood room in chicago anymore.  they are in youngho's shitty apartment where the paint is peeling off the walls and and the sink never stops dripping.

ten shifts next to him, burrowing closer into youngho's side.  he's shirtless, the smooth expanse of his chest out on display.  youngho remembers this moment.  it was the first time ten stayed the night in youngho's apartment.  previously, every time they would have sex, ten would awkwardly redress and find an excuse to head back to his own apartment.

him staying the entire night was a huge show of intimacy.  youngho feels a swell of warmth deep in his chest, immediately followed by the crushing realization that ten is still being erased.

"ten," youngho whispers urgently.  the younger boy lets out a small grunt, arms curling tighter around youngho's waist.  "ten, you gotta wake up.  it didn't work."

slowly, ten's eyes open.  he looks blearily up at youngho.  "what didn't work?"  he asks, voice thick with sleep.

"hiding you didn't work, you're still being erased," there's no reason to still be whispering, but he can't bring himself to speak any louder.  like saying it out loud will make ten disappear faster.

ten lets out a small whine, propping his chin on youngho's chest to stare up at him.  "hide me somewhere deeper."

"hide you- what?  how?"  youngho asks, eyebrows furrowed.

"put me somewhere deep down.  like buried ass deep in your subconscious or something," ten suggests.  "somewhere embarrassing."

youngho tries his best to think of something embarrassing.  he briefly thinks about the time he threw up on the girl he liked in the third grade, but he's laughed at the story too many times for it to truly be embarrassing.  maybe the time his mom caught him jacking off to gay porn and he was forced out of the closet sooner than he expected.

ten just keeps staring up at him with doe-like eyes.  before youngho even realizes it, he's standing with his back pressed against a wall.  ten is on his knees, staring up at him with that same doe-eyed expression as he enthusiastically blows him.  youngho think they're in the bathroom of a restaurant, but it's hard to remember.  he has one hand clutching ten's hair while his other hand grabs the counter next to him, trying to find balance.  he watches the way the lights around them flicker and fade out while ten sucks him off.

just before youngho can come, the bathroom door opens and taeyong enters.  or it's supposed to be taeyong.  his face is blurred, and the startled explicit he let out come out as nothing but a garbled mess.

"you were supposed to think of memories without me," ten chides, still kneeling in front of youngho.  he at least had the decency to tuck youngho's cock back into his pants.  he looks at the blurred mess that was once taeyong.  "i think this memory got erased already."

"ten, i know i'm supposed to hide you but i don't think i can do it," youngho says, voice shaking.  "all i can think about is you and… and i'm so scared of losing you."

ten stands up and wraps himself around youngho.  "it's okay, youngho.  we'll figure something out."

the lights finally flicker out completely, and the bathroom goes dark.

 

-

 

"you have to quit smoking," youngho says, nose scrunching in disgust as the smell wafts over to him.  youngho remembers he was walking ten home from a date when he had pulled out a cigarette.

ten pulls the cigarette from his lips.  "you're not the first person to tell me that, you know."

"what if i don't kiss you again until you quit?"  youngho suggests.

"is that a threat?"  ten asks, eyebrow raised.  youngho still hasn't gotten used to the way that ten flirts in everything that he does.

"if you want to keep kissing me, it is," youngho levels.

ten takes one final drag from his cigarette before dropping it to the ground and crushing it under his foot.  "okay.  no more cigarettes.  but you gotta get rid of all those damn mints."

youngho bites into the mint in his mouth, crushing it up.  "alright, deal."

when they make it back to ten's apartment, ten pushes him up against a wall and kisses him recklessly.  they still haven't gotten used to their height differences, so ten is up on his tippy-toes while youngho's neck cranes down awkwardly.  the kiss tastes like mint and ash.

"to breaking habits," ten suggests, and kisses youngho again.

youngho remembers that getting rid of the mints was easy.  ten was more addictive than anything else he had ever done; he just replaced one bad habit with another.

sometimes he wonders what ten replaced his bad habit with.

 

-

 

youngho had honestly forgotten about their first kiss.  kissing became such a routine part of their relationship that being afraid to kiss ten seems like a foreign concept to youngho.

the kiss is not on a sandy beach like ten had attempt, and it's not romantically on ten's doorstep like youngho had hoped.

instead, it's pressed against the outside passenger door of youngho's car as rain falls heavily around them.

for a first date, nothing has gone the way youngho was hoping it would.  from the unpleasant weather to the accidental flat tire, youngho feels like it's been one failure after another.

but ten smiles at him, warm and gentle despite the downpour around them, and youngho can't help but push him back against the door and kiss him breathless.  ten lets his fingers curl into the damp locks of youngho's hair, kissing him deeper.

they're both drenched to the bone by the time they stop kissing, but neither can seem to wipe the smiles from their faces.

"kissing you was like kissing a damn iceberg," ten giggles.  "all those mints."

"i ate like thirty that night," youngho confesses, pressing his nose against ten's cheek.  he lets his eyes flutter shut, basking in the feeling of ten so close to him.  "i kept thinking about kissing you and getting stressed out.  i wanted it to be perfect."

ten turns his head to press another kiss to youngho's mouth.  "it was perfect," he reassures.  the kisses they share now are nothing like that first kiss; they're well-practiced and purposeful.  "you were so perfect."

ten repeats it over and over like a mantra, kissing all over youngho's face.  gradually, ten's words seem to blend into the pounding sound of the rain still falling all around them.

ten's kisses gradually slow until youngho opens his eyes and finds himself standing alone in the rain.

 

-

 

"i didn't expect to see you here," ten says, eyes wide with surprise when youngho arrives at the coffee shop he works in.  youngho would never admit to ten how many tries it took before he found the right one.

"i had to see you again," youngho says bluntly.

ten blinks and his surprise shifts to something akin to a frown.  "why?  you ran away from me."

"i know, and i'm sorry.  it was stupid and i was just embarrassed.  i didn't want it to end like that.  i still don't want that to be how it ended."

ten nods thoughtfully.  "so then what do you want instead?"

"you."

ten chuckles fondly, something that certainly didn't happen in the original memory.  "you were so forward.  i'd never had someone be like that before."

youngho manages a laugh too.  he knows they're close to the end now.  "i thought i was too blunt.  i was worried i would scare you away."

"you sounded so sure," ten says, reaching out to rest his hand against youngho's cheek.  youngho nuzzles fondly into the familiar contact.  his hands are chilly, nothing like the warmth ten usually radiated.  "i think this is when i fell in love with you."

 

-

 

youngho wakes up on the beach.  he knows this is the end.  there's a heaviness in his chest.

he doesn't want to go through this again.

but he finds himself strolling along the shore anyway.  the sun is warm and the sand tickles against his feet.  he finds the small pier, and waits, feet dangling over the edge.

he's sucking nervously on a mint when the smell of cigarette smoke washes over him.

"you shouldn't smoke in public like that," youngho chides.  "it's a terrible habit."

ten plops himself down on the pier next to youngho.  "i can't believe that's the first thing you said to me."

"you were so beautiful," youngho reasons.  "i panicked and said the first thing that came to mind."

"you certain caught my attention, scolding me like a little kid," ten says with a smile.  he slips his hand into youngho's and holds on tight; despite the heat, his skin is cold and youngho knows they don't have long now.

despite the ticking clock, he finds himself content to sit in silence, holding ten one last time.

"where did we go wrong?"  he asks quietly, feeling the gentle spray of water as the tide inches higher and higher.

"i don't know," ten frowns.  "i was scared to love you.  i was scared to be loved."

"i'm scared to lose you," youngho says as water splashes higher up his legs.  "we don't have much time left."

youngho can feel the pier falling apart, piece by piece.  if they stay here much longer, the ocean is sure to swallow them whole.

when ten reaches over to wrap his arms around youngho, the older boy thinks that drowning might be a little less painful than losing all of this.

"i'm sorry i erased you," ten whispers, tucking his face into youngho's neck.  the older boy fights to hold back his tears.

"i'm sorry too."

 

-

 

"do you believe in soulmates?"  ten asks, staring up at the stars.  a small campfire crackles away next to them.  it's hard to believe they've spent so much of the day together already.

"that's really personal to ask a stranger," youngho says, sitting up in the sand so he can stare incredulously at ten.  he ran out of mints hours ago, giving him nothing to take his mind off the nervousness ten makes him feel.

"but do you?"  ten presses, shifting his gaze from the stars to youngho's face.  "the idea that someone out there is a perfect match for you…  you either believe in it or you don't!"

"i don't know," youngho says honestly.  he feels nervous and he has to tear his stare away from ten.  "i don't know what i believe in."

ten sits up.  "how can you be so uncertain?"  he asks, leaning close.

youngho feels dread knot in the pit of his stomach.  this is it.  ten will lean in even closer and youngho will run away like he always does.  he'll ruin this for himself just like he's ruined everything else.  youngho wishes they could end on a better note.  he doesn't want to go.

but ten doesn't lean closer; the memory shifts and youngho can hear the waves crashing closer and closer.

"you never said goodbye to me," ten sighs, lying back down on the sand.  their small campfire is dying, and ten feels icy cold to the touch.

"i was too embarrassed," youngho admits.  "you tried to kiss me and i panicked.  i didn't mean to run away."

"i wish you didn't leave," ten says quietly, playing with youngho's fingers where they interlock with his.  ocean waves splash at their feet; soon enough, they'll drown them completely.

"i don't want to leave," youngho admits.  it was true then and it's true now.  ten is just as addictive as his personality; youngho could never quit him.  maybe that's how ten felt about cigarettes.

"you don't have to this time," ten offers quietly.  "we can make up our own ending.  one final goodbye."

"i love you," youngho declares, leaning in to kiss ten hard on the mouth.  the waves are inching up their legs, creeping up the shore.

"you would end on a cliche," ten laughs, but it comes out a little choked as he starts to cry.  the water hits their waists.

"for the record, i still don't know if i believe in soulmates, but i know i believe in you."

ten pulls him closer as the waves push even higher.  "we'll find each other," he promises against youngho's mouth.  any other words are lost in the sound of crashing waves as the tide finally overtakes them.  

 

-

 

youngho doesn't know what he's doing.  he wakes up with a pain in his head and an emptiness he can't explain in his chest.  his apartment feels too big, too empty all by himself.  there's something missing, but everything in his apartment is exactly where it's meant to be.

youngho thinks about going to work.  he feels nauseous.  there's something clawing at the back of his mind that he can't quite catch.

somewhere between leaving his apartment and driving to work, youngho finds himself parking at a train station instead, buying a ticket to go to the beach.  it's a horrible idea, but his head hurts a little bit less now as he sits down on the train.  it slowly clunks its way to life before picking up speed.  youngho crunches into the mint in his mouth and stares out the window, watching the world blur past him.

the beach is cold.  there's snow in the brush along the edges.  youngho watches his breath puff out like smoke and disappear into the air.

he's inexplicably nervous.  he throws another mint into mouth.  the cooling sensation stings in the cold air, but he can't bring himself to mind.

in the distance, he catches sight of someone sitting alone on a small pier.  the person is wearing an ugly pink sweatshirt, much too thin for the icy air that surrounds them.  youngho pulls his parka closer, trying to stay warm.

it takes all his strength to look away.  his heart aches when he finally does.

 

-

 

youngho is doing one last lap along the stretch of beach, hoping to find some sense of closure to whatever it is that he's feeling.

there's a speck of pink moving closer and closer towards him.  even from a distance, youngho can tell that he's beautiful.  youngho is nervous again, throwing yet another mint into his mouth.

the two pass each other like parallel lines; so close to one another, yet with no hope of ever actually crossing paths.  despite that, the boy in the pink sweatshirt smiles brightly at him as they pass.  

youngho doesn't think he's ever been in love before, but seeing that smile makes him think that he might be.

 

-

 

when youngho goes to get lunch, he glances up from his table to see a ratty pink sweatshirt just across the diner.  he watches the boy flirt with the waitress, then pour a copious amount of alcohol into his coffee when she turns away.

he looks up, catching youngho's stare, and winks.  it's greasy and exaggerated; youngho has to look away as his cheeks flush.  he's afraid that if the boy smiles at him again, he's going to fall in love.  he makes sure not to look up for the rest of his meal, fearful that the other boy might still be watching.

 

-

 

youngho can feel eyes boring into the back of his head on the train ride home.  he finally builds up enough courage to glance back, his vision immediately assaulted by a ratty, pink sweatshirt.

the boy wearing it is staring at him, unabashed even at being caught.  youngho's eyebrows furrow, and the boy takes it as an invitation to move closer.

he flops down in the seat across the aisle, holding out his hand.  "i'm ten," he offers with a smile.  there it is, that smile again.  youngho knows he's a goner for sure.

"ten?  like the number?"  youngho asks curiously as he tentatively shakes ten's hand.  he thinks his question might be rude, but he's too overwhelmed to even think straight.

"this is the part where you tell me your name, not question me on mine," ten says, but there's no bite to his words and he grins mischievously.

youngho finds himself nervously unwrapping another mint.  "i'm youngho," he says finally, throwing the mint into his mouth.

"so youngho, what brought you to the beach on this cold, winter day?" ten asks curiously.

youngho shrugs.  "i don't know," he admits.  "it was an impulsive decision."

"are you always this reckless?"  ten giggles.

"no.  i'm just a little out of sorts today."

ten nods, like he knows the feeling.  the two sit quietly for a moment, youngho wishing he was better at conversation.  realizing he's already chewed up the mint in his mouth, he unwraps another.

"are you a smoker?" ten asks.

youngho scrunches his nose up in disgust.  "absolutely not, why would you think that?"

ten shrugs.  "you pop mints like someone who is trying to quit," he says, stealing one himself.

"are you speaking from experience?"

"just quit last week," ten says with a nod.

"that's good," youngho replies, before they both fall silent.

youngho keeps stealing tentative glances at ten.  he's beautiful, with ears full of piercings and a sharp undercut.  there's still a red flush dusting his cheeks from being out in the cold so long.  youngho stares and stares; he can't explain why, but he wants to give the world to ten.  similarly, he can't figure out why ten is even giving him the time of day.

"do you believe in soulmates?"  ten breaks the silence after a few moments, eyes gleaming bright as he cross the aisle and sits directly next to youngho.

youngho nearly chokes on the mint in his mouth.  "that's really personal to ask a stranger," he coughs out.

"but do you?"  ten asks again.  "the idea that someone out there is a perfect match for you…  you either believe in it or you don't!"

youngho is quiet for a long time, running a hand idly through his own hair.  "i don't know," he admits.  "i think i want to believe, but for some reason i'm scared."

"i'm scared too," ten admits quietly, before turning away.

they're quiet after that.  the only sound is the rhythmic clicking of the train rolling along the track underneath them.  youngho feels like this should be weird- to sit in silence so close to someone he doesn't know.  yet somehow it's comfortable.  like this is exactly where he's meant to be.

youngho certainly doesn't voice these thoughts, fearful of being too forward.

after a long stretch of silence, the train announces youngho's stop.  ten rises to get off as well.  they don't say anything more as they get off, letting the crowds part them.  youngho thinks he should have at least said goodbye.

he's unlocking his car door when he spies ten walking by, still wrapped up in that too-thin pink sweatshirt.  maybe he doesn't have to say goodbye yet.  before youngho can even think about what he's doing, he's calling out ten's name.

"can i give you a ride, at least?"  he calls, when ten glances over.  "it's too cold for you to walk home in that!"

ten seems to pause, shuffling awkwardly back and forth on his feet for a moment before sprinting over to youngho's car.  "yeah, yeah that'd be nice."

ten explains the directions to his apartment while youngho's car takes its time to heat up, and youngho can see ten struggling not to shiver as he explains where to go.  when youngho begins to drive, turning his attention the the road, he sees ten finally start shivering in his peripherals.

"what were you thinking, wearing such a thin sweatshirt in weather like this?"  he chides, pushing the heat as high as it can go.  his car is old, vents wheezing out air that can barely be considered warm, but it's enough to start raising the temperature.

"i guess i'm just a little more reckless than you," ten says, fiddling with his sleeves.  "i don't know why i wanted to wear it so badly, i don't even remember where i got this ugly thing."

"it looks good on you," youngho blurts out a little too quickly.  he's glad he's driving, so he doesn't have to look at the smug expression that's sure to be on ten's face.  "i mean, if you're into that messy thrift store vibe."

"are you into that messy thrift store vibe?"  ten asks, and it sounds like he's flirting.  youngho clutches the steering wheel a little bit tighter, knuckles practically turning white.

"i'm into you," youngho says, then promptly bites his tongue.  it's blunt, too blunt.  ten is going to be freaked out because youngho has no idea how to properly communicate.  any second now, ten will yell at him to stop the car, to let him out, something, anything.  youngho briefly wonders why he has to ruin everything for himself.

for a moment, the only sound in the car is the wheezing of the vents, pumping out warm air.  youngho wishes his radio still worked.  he feels himself suffocating in the silence as he waits for ten to freak out.  instead, ten starts to giggle.  he doesn't say anything, but somehow his laughter lifts the entire mood.  they fall back into silence, but it's less awkward now.  youngho basks in the warmth finally flowing through his car and the smile he can see resting on ten's face.

he parks in front of ten's building and ten turns to look at him.  "do you want to come in?  have a drink or something?"

youngho smiles.  "yeah, i'd like that a lot."

 

-

 

ten's apartment feels familiar, like youngho should know his way around, but he can't quite remember it.

ten makes them coffee and the two sit quietly, slowly sipping at their drinks.  every time they make eye contact, they seem to turn away, blushing and embarrassed.

"you know, you never really told me if you believe in soulmates," youngho says, putting his mug down on the table.

ten scoots closer to him on the couch, eyes sparkling in amusement.  "that's really personal to ask a stranger," he mimics.

"are we really still strangers at this point?"  youngho counters.

the other boy practically glows, he smiles so brightly.  "no, i suppose we aren't anymore," he beams.  he puts his own mug down on the table and moves even closer, the side of his thigh pressing against youngho's.  "i don't know if i believe in soulmates, really.  i do think there are people in this world who are destined to meet.  what happens from there is all up to them."

"do you think we were destined to meet?"  youngho smirks.

"are you asking if we're soulmates?"  ten asks, smile still pulling at his lips.  youngho shrugs casually, as if his heart isn't on the verge of beating right out of his chest.  he doesn't even notice that ten is leaning closer until suddenly there are lips pressing against his own.

kissing ten feels exactly like home, like it's exactly where youngho was always meant to be.  their lips move together perfectly, as if they've practiced before.  youngho's hand finds its way to ten's cheek, stroking across the smooth skin.

"so are we soulmates?"  youngho asks when they pull away; he's a little out of breath, resting his forehead against ten's.

"you said you don't believe in soulmates."

"maybe not, but i think i believe in you," youngho says quietly, lips brushing against ten's in a not-quite kiss.

ten is quite for a long moment and youngho almost thinks he's ruined it all, but then ten is smiling brightly; he's brighter than all the stars in the sky and youngho doesn't know how anything can ever compare to him.

"okay," ten breathes out.

"okay."

ten kisses youngho again, and this time he knows he's exactly where he's meant to be.