gave me no compasses, gave me no signs
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Summary: It was the one time her hunch had been wrong.
In which Han Joonhwi is acting suspicious, and Kang Sol A intends to find out why.
Word count: 3,848
Notes: Title taken from Taylor Swift’s ‘invisible string’: “Time, curious time, gave me no compasses, gave me no signs; were there clues I didn’t see?”
As promised, here is the Solhwi fic that I had hoped to be up before Episode 7 airs. I went straight to work after receiving positive feedback from an interest check post. As I mentioned there, the story isn’t necessarily dwelling on the current timeline, but is, for the most part, still canon-compliant. I totally made up all the legal jargon, so please bear with me. And, like the show, I decided to do ‘cutscenes’ instead of one unilinear fic.
I had a lot of fun with this little project for the past two days, so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it :) I’d also love to hear your thoughts, please do send me a message or feel free to comment, it would mean the absolute world to me. Thank you and let’s all look forward to Episodes 7 and 8 this week!
The fic is under the cut. As a sidenote, this fic is un-beta’ed. All mistakes are mine.
Kang Sol A swears she only drifted off for a second.
She had been burning the midnight oil for the past few days, well into the weekend, so much that the tension was radiating into her atmosphere, so much that the heat was starting to get to her head. Her Civil Code paper may not write itself, but neither could she if it took every ounce of her energy just to even sit up. So she plopped down on her bed, head heavy on her pillow, still fighting the urge to doze off.
She blinked, slowly, and as her eyes fluttered at an alarming rate, they eventually closed — just for a moment, I’ll count to ten and then wake up again — and stilled.
Birds were chirping outside her window when her eyes shot open, and that’s how she knew she messed up big-time. She woke with a start, frantically shaking off the books and papers off her person and frisking for her phone, silently praying that she wasn’t too late for her meeting with her project partner Seo Jiho, who she knows absolutely despises latecomers.
Sol A felt something vibrate from behind her, and an incomprehensible sound escaped her lips as she checked her phone. There were mountains of notifications that prevented her from checking the current time: self-set alarms, e-mails from her professors, reminders about today’s meeting with Jiho, and missed calls from a certain Han Joonhwi.
Clearing all of them at once, she finally reads: 9:07 AM. She was supposed to meet Jiho at 9:15. Sol A breathes a sigh of relief, but her momentary celebration is cut short when her phone starts to ring.
Han Joonhwi was calling again.
She didn’t even get a chance to speak yet when the voice on the other end asked, “Breakfast?”
Sol A put him on speaker phone as she packed up her things. “Can’t,” she replied mindlessly. “I have to meet with Seo Jiho and I’m already late. Eat by yourself.”
A few seconds of silence went unnoticed as Kang Sol A zipped up her knapsack and wore it over her shoulder. She finally picked up her phone and switched back to the handset. “Don’t skip breakfast, you hear me?”
Still nothing. “Joonhwi-ah.”
“Walk fast,” was all he said. And then he hung up.
That caught Sol A off guard, but she heeded the advice anyway.
She made it to the study room at exactly 9:13, only stopping by the entrance to catch her breath and tie her hair back into a ponytail. It was silent, so she half-hoped that no one would be there, but half-expected nothing less from Jiho. So she walks in, footsteps heavy, only skidding to a halt when she sees Jiho staring someone down, someone whose back looked all-too-familiar.
“You like her, don’t you?” she overhears from Jiho. “Kang So-”
Jiho suddenly fell silent at the sight of Sol A, and the man opposite him suddenly turned his head towards her. She was right about who it was — it was none other than the person she spoke with on the phone just a few minutes ago.
If Joonhwi was surprised, he didn’t show it.
But Kang Sol A did. She blinked once, and with a hint of dubiousness, she asked, “Who likes who?”
The men shared a look, and she was met with silence again, which was beginning to irk her. But she bit her tongue, took a seat across Seo Jiho, and grinned cheekily at him. “Sorry I’m late.”
“You aren’t...” Jiho replied, trailing off.
“I am by your standards. I know you,” she said matter-of-factly. “For Seo Jiho, ‘on time’ actually means ‘thirty minutes early’. Which means I’m late.”
Sighing wistfully, Sol A added, “I learned that the hard way.”
She locks eyes with Joonhwi momentarily, but he averts his gaze, expression unreadable. Sol A ignores this and tries her luck once more, eyes flitting from Jiho to Joonhwi and back. “Who were you guys talking about?”
This time, almost with no hesitation, Joonhwi finally spoke up. “No one,” he answered. “My roommate was just practicing his cross-examination skills on me.”
He stood up, giving Seo Jiho a final staredown. “They’re very poor at the moment. Help him out, will you?”
Then, without looking Kang Sol A in the eye, he gave her a soft squeeze on the shoulder, and promptly left.
Sol A’s eyes followed Joonhwi’s back, and stayed there even after he left. His touch lingered on her shoulder like a ghost, but instead of comfort, all she felt was fear. Suspicion. Restlessness. That maybe he was hiding something, and whether it involved her or not, she was keen on finding out just exactly what it was.
“I’m telling you, Yeseul-ah,” Sol A insists. “Something’s up with him.”
They link arms, walking past the school entrance and into the lobby. Jeon Yeseul turns to her, hair falling perfectly into place as she lets out an angelic laugh. God, Sol A thinks. Even her laugh is perfect. But past the admiration for her Aphrodite-like features, Sol A feels like she’s being mocked.
She pouts. “You don’t believe me.”
“I do!” Yeseul defends. “You think he likes Kang Sol B.”
Sol A slides her left hand off Yeseul’s arm and holds her friend’s right one lightly. “So why are you laughing at me, then?”
“Unnie.” Yeseul wraps an arm around Sol A’s shoulder. “Has it ever crossed your mind that maybe Joonhwi-oppa likes you?”
Sol A almost choked on her spit. Of course she’s thought about it — after all, she’s a hundred percent certain that it was the name Kang Sol that slipped from Seo Jiho’s mouth a few days ago. But none of the evidence so far points to it being herself. And anyway, it’s not as if he’s shown any interest in Sol A as a woman. In fact, all he does is tease her. And she’s okay with that. And Sol B already likes Joonhwi. And they seem to be a far better fit than Sol A and Joonhwi. And it’s not like she harbors any romantic feelings for him, either.
She pushes the thought away before it could become bigger.
Sol A denies, deflects, and defends. “That can’t be right.”
“Why not?” her friend challenges.
“Why would he be avoiding me if that were true?” Sol A counters.
“People do that when they feel awkward around their crush,” Yeseul rebuts.
This is starting to feel like a game of chess rather than a conversation between best friends. “I think he’s just scared I’ll tell my roommate or something.” Before Yeseul could say anything else, by some stroke of luck, Sol A spots Joonhwi from her peripheral vision, walking past Lady Justice.
Yeseul smiles kindly at Sol A. She doesn’t doubt its genuineness, but she feels like it’s laced with mischief. “Should we test your theory, then?”
What does that mean?
“Joonhwi-oppa!” Yeseul shouts, waving at him from across the room.
She’s not going to ask him, is she?
Yeseul runs to Joonhwi, a light skip in her step. “I have something to ask you.”
“Wait,” escaped from Sol A’s lips, barely a whisper before it started registering on her what Yeseul was about to do. And when it does, she finally sprints. “Jeon Yeseul, wait!”
“Oppa.” Yeseul bats her eyelashes at Joonhwi. Sol A was in tow behind her, feeling small but unsure why.
“Oh, Yeseul-ah,” Joonhwi greets. His eyes lit up at the sight of his friend and classmate.
While it pained Sol A to just sit back and watch, knowing that Joonhwi had been purposefully avoiding her, she let the scene unfold, trusting that Yeseul knew what she was doing.
“You haven’t been going to the study group sessions lately,” Yeseul starts.
Sol A hoped it would get a rise out of him, seeing as he was the one who started the group to begin with, but was barely showing up these days. Instead, all he said was, “The pair project in Civil Code has been holding me up.”
Yeah, right, she thinks. A second-round judicial exam passer and a former police academy student having a hard time in Civil Code? Why do I find that hard to believe?
Sol A scoffs, and Yeseul pinches her side. “Sol-unnie and I are meeting the others for lunch. You should come join us.”
“Ah,” Joonhwi drawled out slowly, as if coming up with an excuse to say no. Sol A expects it to be his next move. “I wish I could, but-”
“Kang Sol B will be there,” Sol A blurts out, fully aware that it’s a total lie. Still, she had to try.
Something in Joonhwi’s mood changed, and his face hardened. Still not making eye contact with Sol A, he excuses himself from Yeseul. “I’ll take a rain check today, okay?”
And without another word, he left again, leaving Sol A with the same emptiness that she had felt in the study room the other day.
Yeseul finally turns to Sol A, crossing her arms. “You’re right. He’s being weird.”
A few more days without Joonhwi’s company, and Sol A was starting to feel its ill effects on her. She hadn’t realized just how much she took him for granted until he was no longer around to challenge her ideas, to annoy her over the littlest of things, to calm her down when she’s freaking out, to be her drinking buddy, to be someone she could tell any and every stupid story to, with the utmost confidence that he’ll keep it to himself or that he wouldn’t belittle her for it.
They’d been through too much together now, and even their fateful first meeting all those years ago didn’t faze him from her. In fact, her little scheme, no matter how deceitful at the time, brought him closer not just to her, but to Byeol, her mom, and to an extent, even Dan.
So what changed? What on earth did Seo Jiho say to him, and what on earth did she walk into, that made him close himself off from her? Proximity may not breed familiarity, but right now she wishes nothing more than to be in his orbit again.
Arguably the worst consequence of the lack of Joonhwi in Sol A’s life right now is having no one to eat with.
During one of her all-nighters at the dorm, she found herself with an intense craving for some ramyeon. She removed her earphones, partly to pull herself back to reality, but mostly to ask her roommate to have a meal with her. As if Sol B would say yes, but it was worth a shot.
“I’m going downstairs for a bite. You wanna come?”
No response, as expected from Kang Sol B. Sol A inwardly rolled her eyes, spinning in her chair to tease her roommate, only to find the desk empty.
She scratched her head while walking, wondering where Sol B could be at this time of night. And without a heads up, too… She was getting worried.
But it seems like her concern was all for naught, because Sol B was right where Sol A was headed.
And she was there with Han Joonhwi.
She was laughing. It was the first time that she saw Sol B laugh, maybe ever, and to see that Joonhwi could be someone who could do that for her, made Sol A feel proud. Like knowing Han Joonhwi was a privilege, not only because of the way he could make people comfortable around him, but also because Sol A had once been on the receiving end of it herself.
She should be relieved. In fact, she should be happy. Because it means that her guess was right, which means she doesn’t have to keep digging anymore. She could just tell Joonhwi that his secret’s safe with her, and they could finally go back to the way they were before... Right?
And yet something about witnessing the pair interact as a mere bystander didn’t sit right with Sol A. There’s a pang in her chest that she can’t quite comprehend — maybe she just misses him, or maybe it’s something else completely. Because if Han Joonhwi has feelings for Kang Sol B, and they’re together right now, then that leaves only one explanation: he must be avoiding her, and for a completely different reason.
It was the first time her hunch had been wrong.
Needless to say, Sol A lost her appetite and trudged back upstairs lifelessly, a bitter taste in her mouth and an ache in her stomach that she couldn’t quite place where it even came from.
Come Friday, Sol A was too exhausted to even think about Han Joonhwi. Between the endless deadlines and papers to write, her job in the copy room, and the Seo Byungju case, her energy had been too depleted and her social battery too worn out to even care that her relationships could be falling apart.
The only thing she has going for her now is the Legal Clinic, the one place where she could bury her nose deep in case digests and law readings and she would absolutely never get tired of it, because it’s the one place where she feels like she’s making a real difference, especially when people’s lives are at stake. It was the remaining part of her life where Sol A felt like she was in control, so these days, all her emotionally-charged passion was focused on this one thing.
But of course that had to fall apart too, when Professor Yang asked for her to stay after class.
He cut right to the chase. “I’ll be meeting with my defense lawyer today so I need you to consult with the client in my stead.”
Count on Yangcrates to always give Sol A a heart attack in under two seconds.
“M-me?” she stuttered.
The professor’s face twitched, ever-so-slightly, which Sol A took as a sign to backtrack and confidently proclaim that she’s up to the task. She knows there’s nothing Yang Jonghoon hates more than a quitter.
“Ah, yes, of course,” she accedes, with a little more verve.
He nods once in her direction. “And take Han Joonhwi with you,” he commanded.
She’s doomed. Not that she wasn’t doomed before, but now that Professor Yang had to drag her personal life into this, she was really in shambles.
Sol A clears her throat. “With all due respect, Sir,” she laughs nervously, “don’t you trust me?”
Professor Yang takes a moment to think about it. Sol A wonders if today’s the day she finally gets a definitive answer. But Yangcrates is as sly as ever. “This is your chance to get back at him for the Bad FaMa case. Make him your assistant this time.”
He walks away, leaving Sol A dumbfounded once again, but not before he adds, “Under my orders, of course.”
Sol A’s knees buckled at the thought. Normally, she would find this predicament to be absolutely funny, a chance to bicker with Joonhwi and learn something from him at the same time. But he’s angry at her, and she doesn’t even know why, and even merely approaching him has turned into a problem.
Everything in Sol A’s life right now is a problem. She wonders if it's getting Joonhwi back that would fix everything.
Upon leaving the classroom, she spots him getting a drink from the vending machine. She has to slap herself twice, just to mentally prepare herself, to muster up the courage to approach him again.
“Come on, Sol,” she whispers to herself. “This isn’t hard.”
Shaking off the nerves, she takes a step forward, but in a momentary state of weakness, takes another step back. “So what if he’s mad? That’s his problem. I’ve never given him a reason to be angry. He should suck it up. Not me. Come on. Just do it.”
A step forward.
“Just do it.”
A step back.
One final step back to boost herself forward, and she’s running towards him, pretending to be as casual as possible. “Han Joonhwi!” she calls out to him.
His eyes widen at the sight of her, knowing he has nowhere to escape.
“Did you get my text? Professor Yang needs our help at the Legal Clinic.” She smiled at him. “Let’s go.”
Joonhwi scratched the back of his head, and Sol A just knows it’s about to be another lame excuse. “I can’t. I’m meeting Sol B for our Civil Code term paper.”
He can’t even look at her, and Sol A wonders just how bad she had hurt Joonhwi for him to feel like this towards her. But that only lasted for a second, when she realized just exactly what he said. Then, her pity turned into irritation, as she accused, “Liar.”
Sol A crossed her arms, and glared at Joonhwi. “Did you forget that I’m her roommate? She went home today.”
Sol A sat across Joonhwi inside the Legal Clinic, her eyes narrowed to slits. A profound silence enveloped the room, interrupted only by a sharp inhale from her.
“You like Kang Sol B, don’t you?”
The only response she got was Han Joonhwi’s signature smirk, playful and taunting, one that said, ‘You don’t know me, and you never will’.
She hated that.
She slammed a hand on the table, and pointed at him accusingly. “Don’t look at me like that. I would have kept your secret if you just asked. Is that why you were avoiding me? Because you think I’d tell her or something?”
The same smile painted on his face, Joonhwi exhaled defeatedly. “Kang Sol A, I thought I taught you to never make any claims with unfounded bases.”
An eyebrow perched up on Sol A’s end. “It’s not unfounded,” she argues.
“Where’s your evidence, then?” he dared her.
Sol A had been waiting for this. She listed everything he had ever done — or refused to do, which was spend time with her, speak to her, or even look at her, which was absolutely the bare minimum — since the incident with Seo Jiho up to this very moment.
He waves his hand dismissingly. “That’s all speculative.”
If his goal was to rile her up, then it’s definitely working. “Then what about what I heard Seo Jiho tell you that one time? And most importantly, you straight up lied to my face.”
“Circumstantial,” he quips. “That would never hold up in court, especially not when the only witness is yourself. How are you going to be both the defense lawyer and the sole witness?”
Han Joonhwi should be at the edge of the precipice here, and yet he has managed to flip the situation over and turn it into an interrogation for Kang Sol A.
Nothing can hide her frustration anymore. “I would never be the lawyer in my own case. Look, it’s still evidence. You asked, and I gave it. Seriously, Han Joonhwi, what’s with you?”
Instead of a direct answer, he points out, “You rely on your emotions too much.”
Almost immediately, she shoots back, “And you rely on the law too much. This isn’t a courtroom. This is a human conversation.”
He purses his lips, unable to say anything, and Kang Sol A continues. “You’re too stubborn.”
“And you’re too nosy.”
“You’ve benefited from it more than once.” Sol A’s patience is getting thinner by the second. “Can’t you just tell me what I did so that I can either apologize for it or call you out for being wrong?”
“You and Sol B are hardly friends. What reason would I have to be afraid?” Amusement gleamed in Joonhwi’s eyes; Sol A was astounded by how he could stay so nonchalant about this. “Think.”
She glared at him, but still ceded. Damn his tenacity. “Fine, I’ll play along.”
She rolled her eyes, and in a blasé manner, started to think out loud. “I overheard Jiho ask you if you liked Kang Sol, and then you started avoiding me. Yeseul asked you to join us for lunch, and when I said Sol B would be there, even though she really wasn’t, you declined. So I thought it was her that you liked. But it doesn’t make sense, because I saw you two hanging out at the cafeteria that one night-”
His arrogant expression changed to one of shock. “You did?”
“-and then you straight up lied to me about your plans. Unless you two are already dating-”
“We’re not,” he interrupts once more. Sol A eyes him with suspicion. “We’re not,” he repeats indignantly.
“-it could only mean that you do like Kang Sol…”
Joonhwi starts slowly nodding, face a little flushed, but somehow urging her on to continue.
“...just not B. You like-”
“Kang Sol A.” Professor Yang enters the room, calling out her name.
She’s sure her professor asked her to do something, but she was unmoved. At this point, she doesn’t think anything could pull her out of her reverie for the rest of the day.
A veil that covered her eyes was lifted, and she had never been so pitiful of the blindfold that Lady Justice wore. The scales Kang Sol A carried, as heavy as the burdens she was facing, balanced with Han Joonhwi holding them up with her. She wanted nothing more than to take his hand right at that moment, to feel the heaviness in its entirety, and thank him for staying anyway.
They don't talk for the rest of the day, but Kang Sol A is unbothered.
Her questioning attitude may have always gotten her in trouble in school, but this was the one time she was glad to be wrong.
Han Joonhwi fell asleep on his desk again.
He normally finishes up all his revisions early, but because of his agitation, the cold table seemed to be more inviting than the bed, where he simply ends up tossing and turning.
Despite the stiff neck it was bound to cause, he’s been doing it for days, only being woken up by his constant 8:30 alarms. This time, however, it was his gracious roommate Seo Jiho who finally interrupted him from his slumber.
Jiho slammed a sealed instant ramyeon pack on Joonhwi’s desk. He groggily looked up at his friend, whose hair was still disheveled, and asked, “What’s this?”
“It’s from Kang Sol A.” Before walking away, he deadpanned, “Do your own bidding next time. I’m not your messenger.”
Joonhwi took the cup ramyeon, spotting the bright yellow sticky note on it, not unlike the ones he’d put on Sol A’s notebook, or occasionally, her forehead. He smiled to himself as he read the message, walking out to heat up some water for breakfast, but not before carefully displaying the note on his bulletin board for the whole world to see.
For a second-round judicial exam passer, you can be so dense.
I like you back, you idiot.
Now stop sulking and have breakfast with me.
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