Okay, but consider:
When Amy and Rory get stuck in New York, they try to leave at first. I mean, of course they do, they’re not idiots. If the Doctor can’t come here, why can’t they just get out of the center of the paradox? And even if he still can’t pick them up....well, no reason not to see some of the world by the slow path.
It’s just not that simple. As it turns out, the contortions of time and the way it’s adhered to them trap them physically, not just temporally. When they try to leave NYC, time goes...weird. They find themselves back where they started, or time slows to a crawl, or starts skipping and fracturing for them. They wait for trains that never arrive, or drive all day and get nowhere, or walk and find their strength sapped away. You get the picture. So...they stay. They poke their boundaries every so often, but mostly they just stay.
It’s not so bad. If you had to pick one place to be stuck in for the rest of your lives, New York City from the 1930s onward certainly won’t be boring. And River can visit, occasionally, even if the Doctor can’t. (Sometimes she leaves them gadgets to keep them equipped for any timey-wiminess that may arise, like the thing that looks like an egg timer and detects artron anergy within the city confines. They always wonder if she has a Reason for these things, but they don’t ask.)
They build their lives. Rory stays in medicine, of course, even if being a male nurse is a little more unusual in this period. Amy writes, fantasy stories about little lost girls and brave boys and strange wizards with funny blue houses.
(In her stories, children always find their way home in the end.)
After WWII they adopt a little war-orphan baby named Anthony. He, more than anything, anchors them. Life goes on. They settle, like the foundations of a house.
Until one day in the 60s when Amy (older, but not slowed down yet) bursts into the house, grabs Rory, and says “She’s going to be HERE.”
“What?” says Rory.
“1969. The Moon.” Amy waves a copy of a magazine with headlines about the space program at him. “MELODY.”
Whether or not they’ll try to find her is barely even a question, after that—potential damage to the space-time continuum, versus the fact that their little girl will be out there alone and hurting and in danger right now?
They’re Pond-Williamses. You know how this story goes.
So they start trying, again, to escape. They’re in New York, and she’ll be in Florida; they even know exactly when and where they’ll be able to find her. They’re so close.
But they can’t. get. out.
They try and try and keep on trying, as the next few years pass and the city feels more like a prison than it ever has. They do everything they can think of—which isn’t much, sadly, because they don’t have the Doctor and they can’t reliably contact River, and she doesn’t show up for these years. (They wonder if that’s a good or bad sign.) So their options are limited, and mostly consist of the blind, dogged obstinacy that’s a family trait. But...it doesn’t seem to pay off, this time.
They watch the moon landing through tears, at home on the couch, holding each other.
(They’re going to keep trying, of course, but...they won’t know where she is now. They’re back where they were when they first lost her, in a way, and it feels like reliving Demons Run.)
The next few months are...strange. Empty, almost. Listless, even as they keep testing their boundaries—because is there really a point anymore? They had their chance—their daughter’s chance—and they blew it.
And then, one night, the egg timer starts wailing. Not the usual even chime that signals River’s popped into this time, but an earsplitting wail that makes itself heard through the walls.
They stare at each other, baffled. A silent agreement passes between them. They grab the artron energy detector, head out the door, and start driving.
It’s a long, frustrating game of “hot or cold” circling through the city and arguing over whether the gadget they’re holding between them—which has dropped in volume to a quieter, fluctuating sort of alarm—is getting louder or softer. They both know they won’t go home as long as there’s any noise at all, though. Whatever this is—the Doctor? River in trouble?—they can’t ignore it.
And, finally, they find a dirty alleyway, with a little girl lying on the ground. The artron energy detector stabilizes into one long, steady keen as they near her, and Rory finally shuts the thing off. The little girl, crumpled and still, hadn’t even stirred at the noise, but he can’t take it anymore.
As he kneels down beside her, though, one hand reaching to steady her head while he checks for a pulse—then, as he gently touches her, the little girl stirs. Her eyes open, oddly fearless given the circumstances, and fixed on his. She raises her head a little, leaning toward him, and he adjusts to support her.
Then, as this little girl sits up and looks from him to Amy, her lips part, and a little breath of gold escapes.
Amy gasps, suddenly, the breath punched out of her. (Although, really, part of her already knew. But she hasn’t seen that gold in a long time.)
Their little girl smiles. “Mummy,” she breathes, and then she looks back to Rory with those same bright, fearless (trusting) eyes. “Daddy.”
And Amy falls to her knees beside Rory, and Melody flies into the circle of their arms.
“But how? How did you know where to find us?”
Melody laughs, delighted in her discovery and in being able to share it, as she was/is/will be at every age. “I read your books,” she answers. “I read Lost Songs, and Summer Falls, and the Garden of Forgetfulness. I knew it was you, Mummy. I knew your stories.”
(After all, Melody—as befitted the weapon of the Silence—had been born with a very good memory. And during those days at Demons Run, when it was only them, Amy had been the one to tell Melody her very first stories.)
So they take her home. They introduce her to Anthony, who’s in college now and takes his big sister River being reintroduced as his little sister Melody remarkably in stride. And...always wondering when the paradox might strike...they keep her.
They try not to tell her too much about her future, specifically. Spoilers, you know. But they keep her safe and well and happy, as she grows (more slowly than other children, but that’s all right). And they tell her there’s a long and twisting road ahead, but they will be there, one way or another. And she will find happiness there, and she will make them proud, always.
And they tell her that they love her. That she will always be loved.
And that’s enough, for a good while. But they’re getting older, just as Melody is. On Rory’s 82nd birthday, Melody catches him apologizing softly to Amy. She smiles and calls him an idiot, but there are tears in her eyes.
He dies at 82, and when Amy reaches 87 and suddenly starts putting her affairs in order, Melody and Anthony have an idea of what’s coming.
(It’s hard, sometimes, having parents who know the future. Even harder when they can’t change it.)
But what actually happens that year is a car accident. Amy doesn’t make it.
Melody, who was driving, doesn’t either.
At least, she doesn’t live through it.
“I don’t want you!” the little girl shrieks, twisting in her now-much-older brother’s arms. “I want Mummy and Daddy!”
“They aren’t here, Mels,” Anthony says desperately. (Last week, she was a young adult. He didn’t think this was how regeneration was supposed to work.) “They’re gone. I’m sorry, honey, but they just can’t be here.”
“I want them!” she insists. “Let’s find them!” And the tears start up again. “They said...they said they’d always be here.”
Left to himself, he wouldn’t have thought of it—he’s an adult, after all, nearly fifty, and he can survive the loss of his parents. But the little girl in his arms...well, she shouldn’t have to.
And maybe that’s what makes several childhood stories click together in his head. Some told by his parents, and some dropped by River when she hadn’t known he was listening.
(Maybe it’s just that his sister is a bad influence, he thinks in amusement.)
“Okay, then,” he says. “Let’s find them.”
The tears stop. “Really?” the little voice says, suddenly quiet and hesitant.
“Really,” Anthony says, hoisting her more securely into his arms. “Do you remember Mum and Dad ever telling you about a sleepy little town called Leadworth?”
And that’s how, in 1994, an American named Anthony Zimmerman and his adopted little girl Mels (”I was close to her parents”) settled in Leadworth, England. Mels was a little spitfire, but she promptly befriended the neighbors’ girl of the same age, Amelia. They played together, shared secrets, and when Amelia developed her obsession with her imaginary Doctor, Mels was the most eager audience for her stories.
After all, Amelia had always been Melody’s first storyteller. And Melody had always been Amelia’s first listener.
Because the most important thing about Amelia’s stories—even if Amelia didn’t know it yet—was that, in the end, the children always found their way home.
(AN: full disclosure is that I’m sure I got the bit with Amy’s books guiding Melody home from some other fic where she writes them in order to help Melody--although I don’t think it worked there? Not sure. I’m definitely not the first one to use that idea, anyway, though I do love it.)
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📖 ??? :D
I was already thinking about Verin and Essek before we knew literally anything about their relationship, but post-wrapup I've been thinking about them Particularly A Lot. I would like to write a fic where a few of the Mighty Nein (I'm thinking Fjord and Jester), remembering they have a house in Rosohna and having some sort of business there, return. Summoned to the court of the Bright Queen to be asked asked about Essek's mysterious vanishing, they do what they do best: bullshit.
"Oh. I am--so sorry," Fjord says, apologetic, a little shocked. "Essek is--we sent a messenger, I thought you would know. Essek is dead."
The court buys it. There is some sincere but distant regret expressed. Jester actually cries, not necessarily because she is a talented liar but because she imagines it hard enough to get upset. And then they go back and Jester quickly Sends to Essek and lets him know.
"That's fine," Essek says. "That's...convenient, in a way." But he does ask if they would retrieve some things from him, while they're there.
So Fjord and Jester break into Essek's tower to take some of his shit. Unfortunately, they encounter someone ELSE breaking into his tower to take Essek's shit--his little brother, Verin Thelyss. Sleep deprived, hungover if not still drunk, and fresh from the front lines of Bazzoxan, Verin is taking the grief he's convinced only he feels into the last place with echoes of Essek in it.
And he meets THESE assholes.
I imagine Fjord and Jester get increasingly (a) worse at and (b) more guilty about lying as Verin cries and is prompted into talking about his and Essek's childhood, but don't know if it's safe for Essek, so you get increasingly elaborate ridiculousness as they go through Essek's shit while Jester tries to get a sending spell off to Essek to ask what to do about it.
Anyway, I imagine this eventually falls apart and they confess Essek is alive. Verin cries more.
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Did you know that in wrestling, you get the option to choose if you want to be something called the “top” or the “bottom” wrestler? Anyway, I just think that would be fun information for Dean Winchester specifically to learn when he joined the wrestling team at age sixteen, so I wrote it. after all, what is fanfiction if not a space for me to explore teen dean’s relationship with his sexuality, the ever-moving target of “being normal”, and, of course, the inherent homoeroticism of team sports.
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Time for more sex-cursed Lan Wangji!
a messy, self-indulgent spree imported from twt and lightly edited
explicit, wangxian, 9k, canon divergence fix-it
mild dubcon because of the nature of sex curses (but like, they do their best to communicate around it), and cw for brief thoughts of self harm, no other warnings
This curse's origin is mysterious, perhaps politically guided. Someone is trying to throttle Gusu Lan's alliance prospects by removing Lan Wangji's stellar marriageability after Sunshot. It works, after a fashion.
Wei Wuxian is in the Burial Mounds, farming and hardening his heart as the resentment worsens his health, subsisting on memories of Lan Wangji's single visit.
Lan Wangji is at home in Gusu, pining away while they rebuild the Cloud Recesses.
One day, he begins to burn up with unexplained fever.
The healers examine him quickly and thoroughly and determine first that he's been cursed. This is not entirely shocking, but it of course angers the entire sect. Next they test for the curse's nature. It turns out to be a very classic, very coarse type of love curse.
The afflicted will burn up, losing all their sense and senses, and eventually die, if their body's “needs” are not satisfied by the one it craves most.
The healers are disgusted. Lan Xichen and Lan Qiren are outraged. But Lan Wangji becomes very calm at the news.
Before, he felt anxiety. The urgent desperation of a dying man waiting to be told how to live.
Now he is just waiting to die.
For you see, the choice between throwing himself at another human being—no matter who they may be—and meeting death with dignity, is an easy one.
Everyone else privy to this information disagrees. The argument that follows is short, but heated:
"Well, Wangji?" Lan Qiren begins once the initial furor has died down. "How do you wish to...go about this?"
Lan Wangji, over-warm and aching, looks up at him from the examination bed. Gusu Lan funeral rites are ancient and immutable. He does not understand the question.
Lan Qiren purses his lips and glances around. "We must find the person first," he prompts.
Ah. The person responsible. Yes, Lan Wangji does have business with them before he dies. He stands, only swaying slightly. "I am well enough to exact justice. Let us cast the rebound."
Lan Xichen steps forward then, and gently pushes him back to sitting. "It has been cast. However, justice can wait. Your health must come first."
Lan Wangji looks between his uncle, his brother, and the one doctor allowed to be present. Surely they would not be joking at a time like this.
"I do not understand," he says.
The three exchange a look. "Breaking the curse must be our priority," says Lan Xichen.
Lan Wangji is not sure he heard correctly. But it would be cruel to give him unfounded hope. "I was unaware there was another way."
"...There is not," says Lan Xichen, his gentleness unfailing.
Lan Wangji experiences a moment of deep confusion before the horror sets in.
"You cannot mean this," he says through his shock. "Surely you cannot mean to cast aside so many disciplines at the whim of a base villain."
"The disciplines are a guide," Lan Qiren says, hands behind his back, looking into the distance, "to ensure a life well-lived. They are not meant to inspire martyrdom."
Lan Wangji's mouth falls open. He stares at his uncle, mute with betrayal. He has never heard of any such leeway before, not in regards to disciplines of such a serious nature.
"You can understand, can't you?" Lan Xichen says. "That no rule is more important than your life.”
Lan Wangji disagrees vehemently. "I would not buy my life with such behavior."
Lan Qiren huffs in irritation. "We may perform a marriage in haste, if you wish."
Lan Wangji balks at him. That his uncle should speak so flippantly of...such a thing. It is unimaginable. And besides, forcing a marriage on Wei—on anyone in this way is surely only adding insult to heinous injury.
"I refuse," he says.
Lan Xichen exchanges a look with the doctor, and sits beside him. "Perhaps the other person should be allowed part of that choice."
Ridiculous. "There is no such person." Preventing this course of action is worth one lie, Lan Wangji reasons.
"With respect, Hanguang-jun, if that were true, the curse would not have been able to take hold," says the doctor.
The use of his title feels uncomfortably ironic from a woman who helped deliver him at birth. He glares at her. She smiles tiredly in return.
"Wangji," Lan Xichen says. His tone is beginning to grate on Lan Wangji's raw nerves. "You will at least try, won't you?"
Lan Wangji stares at him in disbelief, in anger, in righteous indignation.
"Never," he says.
A hand slaps his shoulder. "Apologies," says the doctor, and the world goes dark.
Lan Wangji wakes to dark wood beams dappled by lacy sunlight, and a faint smell of char in the air. His head is heavy, his limbs full of lead. He swallows around the dry thickness in his throat.
"Water," comes a familiar voice.
With effort, Lan Wangji sits up. His stomach is roiling, his mind fogged from the coma and the curse both. The doctor, crouching beside him in the carriage, offers him a bowl of water.
He takes it, and asks, "What have you done?"
"My duty," she says, "with the help of your brother."
She draws back the curtain at the carriage entrance, revealing a sea of black, twisted trees and gray tumbled walls.
Lan Wangji's blood freezes in his veins. He just barely stops himself from asking how they knew.
"Why," he asks instead, a much safer question.
She considers him. "Your brother said if he was wrong, he would beg forgiveness afterward. But it couldn't hurt to have an expert in resentment and curses look at you anyway."
A stab of sick embarrassment makes Lan Wangji’s stomach clench.
Has he been so obvious? Is he such a lovesick fool that anyone with eyes can see his shame?
The doctor pats his shoulder gruffly and he flinches, expecting more needles.
"Ah he's your brother, he's bound to know things you don't want him to," she says. "Come on. Out you get."
He allows her to tug him out of the carriage and onto solid ground. The air is stifling with resentment, but he is glad to be free of his bonds. Now he can look for his chance to get away.
There are six Lan disciples flanking them. He eyes them warily, wondering what they know. When the doctor pulls him out of earshot, and pitches her voice low, he is satisfied that they have not been fully informed.
"Your family and I agreed to give you a chance first," she says. "You have 24 hours to take care of this yourself. After that, I will personally tell Wei-gongzi of your brother's message. I have been assured he will not jeopardize your well-being if fully-informed."
Lan Wangji gapes at her. He does not know what he expected to happen, but it was not this...this...mercenary attempt at...forcing...
The curse has weakened him such that he cannot fly his sword. He can hardly walk in a straight line, let alone run. He has very little recourse now that everyone in his life has gone absolutely mad. His heart is racing with the adrenaline of upheaval, of fear, of impending death.
He wrenches his arm from her grasp and stalks off of the road, into the brush. She calls after him, but he does not mean to escape. He cannot manage that alone. Instead, he sits. He takes a deep breath. He sinks into meditation.
"Hanguang-jun," she calls. She approaches, hands on her hips. She sighs. "Well, if it's like that, then there's nothing stopping me from telling him right now."
She turns, and Lan Wangji feels a lurch of helplessness, when a new voice rings clear through the fog.
"Tell what to whom?"
Lan Wangji's eyes snap open. Wei Wuxian is standing on the other side of the carriage, the child A-Yuan in his arms, eyeing the Lan delegation with suspicion. Wen Ning is with him, and the Lan disciples shift nervously just looking at him, but Wei Wuxian sets A-Yuan in his arms, and he leaps away up the mountain.
"Might I assume this little party has come for me?" Wei Wuxian goes on, twirling his flute. His eyes are shrewd and cold, similar to the way they had looked when he had first returned during the war.
At the sight of him, at the sound of his voice, the curse...reacts.
A horrid, uncomfortable shiver of need runs through Lan Wangji's body alongside his own simple relief and joy at seeing Wei Wuxian again, looking relatively well. He fights it, keeping still among the weeds, hoping against hope to go unnoticed.
"Yiling Laozu," the doctor greets him with a deep bow. "We have indeed come to humbly beg your aid."
"I see," he says. "And what will you give me in return?"
The doctor hesitates, clearly discomfited by the context Wei Wuxian is currently unaware of. "We may...discuss that. Once we have informed you of the details."
Wei Wuxian hums, considering. Cold. Detached. "And if I am disinclined to—"
He breaks off. The doctor has moved so that she and Lan Wangji are both in Wei Wuxian's line of sight. Lan Wangji closes his eyes rather than see the moment of recognition, rather than feel the weight of Wei Wuxian's eyes on him, like this.
Lan Wangji clamps his jaw shut. It is a struggle not simply to crawl to him.
The renewed ice in Wei Wuxian's voice when next he speaks makes Lan Wangji aware of the warmth with which he had said his name. His curls his shaking hands into fists on his knees.
"What have you done to him?"
The doctor sighs. "We have done nothing. He has been cursed, which is why we brought him here. If you—"
"Daifu," Lan Wangji interrupts, his voice thin.
She stops speaking.
Lan Wangji opens his eyes, but does not look at Wei Wuxian, not yet. If he is careful, and uses his remaining strength correctly, he can perhaps...perhaps guide the situation. Toward escape. With Wei Wuxian's help.
He may have to lie to him. He hopes he will be forgiven, all things considered.
Lan Wangji stands slowly, carefully, considering each movement so as not to reveal the state he is in.
"I will speak with him," he says to the doctor.
She eyes him. "24 hours," she says.
He does not acknowledge this. He thinks they both know it will not come to that, though his idea differs greatly from hers. He judges, from the time they have allotted and his own weakness, that he has perhaps a day and a half, total, to wait them out. Doable, if he is careful and intelligent about it.
He can manage.
He walks over to Wei Wuxian, careful to keep two arm's lengths between them. This close is already too close: a fine, constant tremor has made a home in all of his tightly-locked muscles. He feels the moment his fever begins to rise further. The sides of his throat hurt, the interiors of his ears. He wonders if his hearing will go first, or his eyes.
"Allow me to explain," he says to him.
"Of course," Wei Wuxian answers.
He sounds strange. Cold, still. Lan Wangji wants to look at him, and almost slips, but manages to stop himself. He follows him up the hill, past the wards, through the resentment that clings to them both, now. He keeps his careful distance, following behind.
"What happened?" Wei Wuxian asks, as they walk.
"A curse," Lan Wangji says carefully. "Origin unknown. The rebound has been cast. I did not wish to burden you with this, but they are...they will not listen to reason. Wei Ying, if you would but help me, I would deal with this on my own."
"I...wish to seek justice. They will not allow it. But you understand. If there is another path off the mountain, if you would show me the way past them, I could—"
Wei Wuxian stops dead, and Lan Wangji, with his eyes in the ground, runs into him.
For a blazing, agonizing moment, he is touching Wei Wuxian, clinging to him, every element in his body sighing and crying out at once in satisfaction, in the torturous need for more.
He tears himself away, stumbling back, almost falling. Wei Wuxian reaches out as if to catch him, but falters.
"Lan Zhan, you can hardly stand," he says, alarmed, "and you want to go and fight someone?"
Lan Wangji draws himself up taller again, trying hard to stop his shaking. He cannot look at him. He cannot look. He is already dying, now, just from not looking. "It is my right."
"...It is..." Wei Wuxian says at length, watching him closely. "And it still will be once you're well again. Your doctors really couldn't tell what type of curse it is?"
Lan Wangji says nothing, trying to think past the way every inch of his skin feels as if it is burning clean off. The pain of it screams through him, worse than anything he has ever felt. Wei Wuxian is still speaking, but it is hard to make sense of it. When Wei Wuxian begins walking again, slowly, it is all he can do to both follow and stay away from him. This, here, now, is worse than death. If it lasts, he certainly will not be sane when the end finally comes. He lets go of any thoughts of a dignified death.
Fortunately, by the time they reach the cool dark of the cave Wei Wuxian calls home, the pain has subsided to a distant roar. Unfortunately, he hoped never to reach this point. He tries his only play again, unable to think of any new tactic.
"Please show me the way off the mountain," he says without preamble.
Wei Wuxian is quiet for a beat. "You really don't want my help that much?"
Lan Wangji is so confused by this question, and then struck by the irony of it, that he almost begins to laugh. A shivery, jittery feeling fills his chest, and he leans against the nearest solid surface. He wishes he were wearing a loose outer layer over his blue travel robes, the better to hide his shaking. He does not know how to respond.
"You haven't so much as looked at me once since you got here," Wei Wuxian goes on, digging through strange pots and objects on a table, "so I get it. But you'll have to forgive me if I disregard your objection to the kind of work I do, when it comes to your life."
"My life, my life," Lan Wangji mocks, accidentally out loud. Why is everyone suddenly so obsessed with his life? He was ready to give it freely in the war, but chance let him keep it. What difference does giving it now in the name of keeping himself clean of shame make? Why will nobody allow him this choice?
"What shame?" Wei Wuxian asks.
Lan Wangji buckles at the realization that he has said all of this out loud. He goes to the floor, to his knees.
"Nothing," he says. "The shame of not having warded off such a simple attack."
"Lan Zhan...you want to die because you didn't defend against a curse you didn't know was coming?"
Lan Wangji lapses into silence. He has said too much already. He does not know how to get out of this. He can only...he can only stay quiet. Refuse to speak or move.
"Lan Zhan...I feel like I'm missing something here. I only want to help.”
Lan Wangji grits his teeth and stares hard at the floor in front of him. He has rarely ever felt so trapped, so utterly helpless. The extended, full-body pain is dulling his mind by the moment. The hems of Wei Wuxian's robes come into view, and it takes everything in him not to fall forward into him, to plead, to beg. His breath is hitching at random intervals now, his heart tripping as it prepares to fail entirely.
There is a soft gust of air, and an odd prickling sensation across his face.
"Now let's see—oh," Wei Wuxian says. "I...oh."
Lan Wangji wilts at his stilted, awkward tone. He knows now, surely. Can see him truly.
"So that's why you want to leave, and why they won't let you. They want me to find another way to break it, to stop you from...ah."
Lan Wangji sorts through the words, trying to comprehend them.
"Sorry," Wei Wuxian goes on. "I...it's unbreakable, otherwise. A very old, airtight spell. You...will Gusu Lan start a war with me if I do just let you go...ah, handle this the old-fashioned way?"
Comprehension dawns. And with it, a way out.
Lan Wangji rushes to agree. "They—" He cuts off. Will they? If they think Wei Wuxian has willingly let him die, rather than...
He takes a breath. Another. Forces his mind past the endless litany of pleas for relief.
"Show me the way " he says, his words breathless and short, "and then tell Lan-daifu what you have done. And why. But give me time to. Get away. And you will be safe."
Wei Wuxian pauses. "How...ah. How far—how much time?"
Lan Wangji tries hard to come up with an answer for that. His progress will be slow. But he need only find a place to hide.
"Half a day," he hazards.
Wei Wuxian seems to vacillate. "Are you sure you can make it on your own?"
Lan Wangji wants to rage. To weep. To curse himself to the heavens for being so depraved toward so endlessly kind a man. His heart hurts, even as his body strains toward him.
This lie may be the worst he will ever tell.
"I will be fine,” he says.
"Alright." Wei Wuxian sounds unconvinced. "I trust you."
Lan Wangji nearly convulses, holding back a sob. How will he ever be forgiven?
He cannot think of it. Only this, only what comes next. Only keeping Wei Wuxian safe from this mess.
"Mn," he manages.
"Would you look at me, now? I haven't...used any demonic cultivation on you. It's safe, I promise I won't. I just. Can't we say goodbye properly?"
Lan Wangji has not moved from the floor. He does not move. He should try. A parting gift. Just one look.
But if he is going to leave. If he is going to succeed. He cannot.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says again, frustrated now.
Lan Wangji does not look. He is so close to freedom from the horrible pull, from the way his very veins are trying to tear themselves free to wrap around Wei Wuxian.
Wei Wuxian steps forward, and Lan Wangji's breath leaves him all at once. Suddenly, there are fingers beneath his jaw, kind but firm, tilting his chin up. He has no choice but to look.
(Inspired by this art.)
Wei Wuxian is there. Tall and strong and perfect, tiredness mixed with something bittersweet on his lovely face. Lan Wangji's entire being melts toward him, a deep, sharp tug from inside his bones, a mindless, helpless, straining need that pushes a low, wanting sound from his throat.
Wei Wuxian snatches his hand away and backs up half a step, staring at him.
"Sorry," he says, blank. Confused. "I thought it was...I didn't realize...sorry."
Lan Wangji, now that he has looked, cannot look away. He has overbalanced without Wei Wuxian's support, fallen forward onto his hands, but he cannot stop looking at him. He will look at him, and keep looking; he prays Wei Wuxian is the last thing he sees before he dies.
The most shameful part of this is that none of it is the curse twisting his thoughts. None of this is. All the curse is doing is making the way he always feels impossible to ignore.
"Wei Ying," his voice implores. He does not mean it to.
Wei Wuxian takes another step back and looks down at the bowl of powder in his hand, confused. "I was certain it was that curse," he says to himself. "If I was wrong, then maybe I could break it..."
Lan Wangji tries to scrape his composure back together. He tries. He tries. His fingers scrape on the rough stone floor. He does not reach out for him. That is something.
Wei Wuxian looks at him again, then hastily away. Lan Wangji does not ever want to know what it is he sees.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says, as Lan Wangji shakes, and shakes. "Where...where were you trying to go? I thought you...I thought you were, ah, thinking of a certain someone."
Lan Wangji's arms are weak. They are going to give out. He cannot answer him.
"I'm confused, and I...may have made a mistake," Wei Wuxian goes on, still backing away slowly, "but I just want to help. Can you tell me what was happening before, and what's happening now?"
Lan Wangji shakes his head, and the motion shatters his fragile balance. He falls, and curls tightly around himself in the dirt.
"Lan Zhan!" Wei Wuxian says, suddenly close.
Lan Wangji sees his hand reach out, then pause, and he can't stop himself from taking hold of it, just to be touching him. His body screams for it, and he gasps raggedly at the contact.
Wei Wuxian wrenches his arm free. Lan Wangji wishes he were dead.
"Fuck," Wei Wuxian mutters to himself. "I...I'm sorry. I made this so much worse, I..."
"No," Lan Wangji rasps. He cannot hear Wei Wuxian berate himself thus. His dignity has now died, and he himself will soon follow. This is all that matters. "Not your fault."
Wei Wuxian huffs, crouching beside him. "It is...at least partially my fault, at this point, I'm pretty sure. You wouldn't be...reacting. Like this. If it weren't. Is...can I...do a few more tests? To check what I got wrong, and maybe—"
"You were not wrong."
He does not mean to say it.
His need to reassure has overridden his sense, and his mind is too slow now to piece together what it will mean before it leaves his mouth. The regret once it does is instantaneous. He tries to curl himself yet smaller in the dirt.
Wei Wuxian is silent. Lan Wangji cannot stop making small, pitiful, pained sounds in the back of his throat. Everything hurts. Everything.
"I don't understand," Wei Wuxian says quietly.
Lan Wangji lies shivering on the floor, arms locked around himself to prevent any more untoward behavior. He cannot take it back. He cannot try to explain. There is nothing he could say, regardless.
"Lan Zhan...but you..."
He can hear Wei Wuxian thinking, but it only registers in the far back of his mind. The rest of his consciousness is taken up by pain, and by ruthless restraint.
"You wanted to leave to get away from me," Wei Wuxian says, finally.
Lan Wangji does not answer. He wishes he had his sword. He would use it now to end this.
Wei Wuxian begins to back away again, and Lan Wangji’s body moves without his permission. He grips the skirt of Wei Wuxian’s robes in his fist and drags himself closer, pressing his cheek to Wei Wuxian's knee.
Shameful. Wanton. The small part of himself that is still aware berates the action. But he cannot let go. He cannot move away. The only part of him that is not howling with pain is the side of his face pressed to coarse fabric.
"Lan Zhan, you…," Wei Wuxian is trying to gently pry Lan Wangji's fingers from his hem. "You wanted to leave, remember? You don't want...you don't."
"Want," Lan Wangji croaks, pressing closer. "Wanted to spare you."
"Ah, Lan Zhan...I...I'm still not sure it's that specific curse, it could...there could be other..."
"It is," Lan Wangji says, half-crawling up Wei Wuxian's leg. He wants to stop himself. It is impossible.
"Lan Zhan...you...you shouldn't—"
"Stop me," Lan Wangji pleads, nuzzling against Wei Wuxian's thigh, "Wei Ying, I can't...please. Stop me."
There is a long near-silence filled with harsh breaths, in which Lan Wangji is almost certain he imagines the light touch of fingers brushing his mussed hair back from his forehead. Then Wei Wuxian speaks.
"No," he says. "You'll die, if I do. Lan Zhan. I won't let that happen."
He touches Lan Wangji's face. Lan Wangji whimpers into him.
He knows this will break the fragile repairs they have made to their friendship. He will likely never see him again, at least not on good terms. The thought makes him feel ill. He should protest. Refuse. Flee. He can do exactly none of these things. He reaches for Wei Wuxian's wrist, to hold his hand to his face, but Wei Wuxian flinches away.
"You can't...Lan Zhan. I'm going to help you," he says, "but you have to...you can't...you can't touch me."
Lan Wangji feels another tight clench of shame. He nods against his leg. He understands: he knows any small part of this is too much to ask, let alone bearing his unwelcome, curse-fevered grasping.
"Okay," says Wei Wuxian. He slides his fingers beneath Lan Wangji’s chin again, tipping his face up.
He looks so uncertain. So beautiful in the dim light. Lan Wangji wants to weep with it.
"Lan Zhan, I know it doesn't count for much like this, but you have to tell me. You have to tell me what you need."
Lan Wangji turns his head, pressing his face between Wei Wuxian's thigh and stomach, trying to reach into him, to feel more of him, to stop hurting just enough to think. It does not work.
"You," he breathes, into the scent of earth, and stringent soap, and Wei Wuxian.
A harsh, uneven breath ghosts across his hair, and Wei Wuxian's hands grip his shoulders. He thinks he is about to be pushed away again, but instead Wei Wuxian pulls him up, pulls him close, folds him into his embrace.
Lan Wangji sobs into his shoulder, trying at once to get closer and to hold himself apart, instinct demanding, even now, that he try to conceal his obvious, disgraceful hardness. His muscles quake under the strain of doing both and neither, and Wei Wuxian smooths one hand down his back, pressing him close, pressing them flush. Lan Wangji chokes back a shocked sound.
"Shh," Wei Wuxian soothes. "It's alright."
It is not alright. It is the end of the thing Lan Wangji holds most dear.
But he does not have it in him to argue. He is shifting against him, his overheated body begging for touch, indeed for ravishment. He is mindless with it. The pain is not subsiding but slipping sideways into something more, something different, something necessary.
He is on his knees on hard stone, breathlessly held in the arms of his beloved. He has dreamt this: sweetly, hazily, with and without hope. But never like this. Never sick with remorse, with need, dying and demanding and defiling. His deepest desire twisted into a nightmare.
He whimpers again, his lips finding the soft coolness of Wei Wuxian's throat. Wei Wuxian jerks away again, and Lan Wangji fists his hands tighter at his sides, trying, trying not to overstep again.
"I—sorry," he gasps out. He will never be able to apologize enough. But he will try.
"Don't apologize," says Wei Wuxian. "I—"
He cuts himself off. Lan Wangji does not have enough sense to wonder why. In the same moment, one of his thighs gives under the strain, and he falls against him heavily. They tip over, to the floor, and he reaches out on instinct to brace them both. When he is again conscious of himself, Wei Wuxian is lying on top of him, breathing hard, both of Lan Wangji's wrists pinned to the floor in one hand. Lan Wangji arches against him inadvertently, and turns his face into his own bicep.
"Sorry, I...so sorry," he pants, his hips flexing, searching for friction. "I have...no control...”
"I know," Wei Wuxian says, "I know, I shouldn't have..." he swallows hard. "I'm going to keep you like this. Can I?"
Lan Wangji nods frantically, his eyes shut tight. He does not care. Anything that he can do to make this any less invasive for Wei Wuxian, he will do.
Wei Wuxian pulls away then, his hold still firm on Lan Wangji's wrists. Lan Wangji squeezes his eyes shut and tries to stop moving, to stop searching for touch, to stop making such a disgusting spectacle of himself, but to no avail. What feels like centuries later, he hears the telltale sounds of talisman activation. He is too far gone in his pain to look up, to see what they are. He simply lies there, pinned and writhing, his breath catching in his throat. The sounds it makes are small, pitiful, desperate.
Just like him.
Eventually, Wei Wuxian leans back over him, a considering look in his eye. His hand hovers at Lan Wangjis belt.
"Yes," pleads Lan Wangji.
He needs Wei Wuxian's skin on his skin. He does not know how discerning the curse is about what happens now, but it feels as if he will die without it. Wei Wuxian takes what looks like a fortifying breath and unties the belt. Lan Wangji, unable to help, instead hinders the process with his ceaseless movement. But Wei Wuxian manages it with deft hands, and immediately unties each layer of robes in quick succession until Lan Wangji’s chest and stomach are bare.
The cool air of the cave does not soothe his burning. It burns like ice instead. Lan Wangji shivers, an ugly whine escaping him.
"What," Wei Wuxian asks, pausing, "what is it?"
Lan Wangji shakes his head. He will bear it. He will not make demands.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says, "you need to talk to me, I...I don't want to make this even worse, or, or draw it out longer."
Something small and dark crumples in Lan Wangji's chest. He does not want that either. He will need to speak. To ask.
"Hurts," he says, rough and thick.
"...Not...not touching me."
Wei Wuxian makes a distressed noise and lays both his palms flat over Lan Wangji's ribs. Lan Wangji groans, pressing up into them.
"Please," he whispers, helpless. "Please."
"Oh, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian murmurs, something sad like regret. He leans closer and slides one hand down. Lan Wangji shudders under him. "I'm just going to..."
Lan Wangji nods again, holding his breath to stop the whines from escaping the back of his throat.
Wei Wuxian unties Lan Wangji's trousers and slips his hand inside. Clever fingers wrap hesitantly around him, and he bucks up into them with an obscene moan. It is minor relief from the most consuming pain he has ever felt, and it is simultaneously the most intense pleasure he has ever experienced. All of these sensations, coexisting in his fallible human body, feel likely to rip him apart.
"Wei Ying," he moans again, when Wei Wuxian moves his hand.
He gasps for air, his body twisting into it, his whole being searching for Wei Wuxian. He makes another piteous sound, the torment of it all overwhelming. Wei Wuxian leans down against him then, his own robes open, pressing them skin to skin.
Lan Wangji sobs. It is something. It is something. The pain abates somewhat, and he sighs, turning toward him, his mouth brushing Wei Wuxian's hair. He has the wherewithal now to fight the urge to kiss his head properly, his face, anything he can reach. He holds himself still beneath him instead. And Wei Wuxian touches him, and touches him. The incomprehensible pleasure builds, and builds, until Lan Wangji cannot breathe. But it does not break.
Something almost like soft lips brushes his throat.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says into his ear, "this, is this...will this be enough?"
The pleasure is just another kind of pain, now. Lan Wangji shakes his head as sweat rolls off of him, as he tries and fails to get enough air to speak.
Wei Wuxian clears his throat. "What, then?"
Lan Wangji's body knows what it needs. But he does not want to tell.
"Come on, Lan Zhan, after all this? Don't get shy on me now."
He misses the joking tone he is aiming for, but the pure, unmistakable Wei Wuxian-ness of the tease sends a surge of genuine desire through Lan Wangji. He wraps his legs around Wei Wuxian's hips and pulls him down. Wei Wuxian breathes in sharply.
"You just...you want...but only..."
"Please," says Lan Wangji, barely voiced. "In—" he cannot say it. "Please."
"Ah," Wei Wuxian whispers, into his skin. "If—are you sure?"
Lan Wangji whines. He wishes he were not so very sure. He wishes he were not asking Wei Wuxian to do something so intimate, so extreme. He wishes Wei Wuxian had let him die before it ever came to this.
"Alright Lan Zhan, just hold—hold on," he says, and is gone.
Lan Wangji clamps his mouth shut on a scream as the agony slams back into him, worse even than before.
Not soon enough, Wei Wuxian returns to divest him of his boots, socks and trousers. Lan Wangji fights him without meaning to, trying to keep his knees curled up to his chest, trying to minimize the hurt. Wei Wuxian is briskly patient, handling him with aching care he does not deserve.
And then he is upon him, chest and stomach, hips and thighs, smooth and hard and exquisite. Lan Wangji almost forgets the pain in the rush of gratitude, of solace. Their robes trail off them both, gathering dust as they move together in halting fits and starts.
"Don't let me hurt you, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian grits out, a strong hand lifting one of Lan Wangji's thighs by the back of the knee.
It is nonsense. He could not hurt Lan Wangji any more than this. And Lan Wangji could not stop him now if he did.
But the kindness. Even in this. Tears prick at Lan Wangji's eyes. He will miss him. He will miss all of Wei Wuxian with all of himself. He will never stop missing him. He will never move past this regret as long as he lives. How could he? Every breath he draws will be by the grace of Wei Wuxian.
Suddenly there is slick pressure against him, against his most private of places, and he gasps, loud and wretched. Wei Wuxian exhales, uneven and deep, and pushes in, in, in. Slowly. So slowly. Lan Wangji bites down hard on his lip to keep from begging for it. His arms are pinned, as are his hips, Wei Wuxian holding him steady, holding him still. Lan Wangji loses all sense. There is only the weight of Wei Wuxian, the full, stinging press of him, the searing pain, the devastating euphoria of being this close, and yet so very far in every way that counts.
Ages pass before Wei Wuxian is fully seated inside him. By then Lan Wangji's breaths are wet and shallow; scraping, desolate things. He does not know any longer what hurts and what feels good. It is all one and the same. He only knows he needs more, in some primal, wordless way.
He asks with the arch of his back, the squeeze of his thighs. He tries, somehow, to keep quiet, but fails more often than not.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says tightly, "try to relax, I'm going to move. Tell me if it...if it's right."
Lan Wangji manages a loose nod, though he barely understands.
And Wei Wuxian moves. He rolls his hips against him, shifting inside of him, and Lan Wangji groans. Each deep, short thrust pushes air from his lungs, and he lacks the strength to catch it again. It is beyond pleasure. It is ecstatic. To have Wei Wuxian around him, inside him, panting above him. A deep, villainous part of him wants it never to end. The rest of him howls for release.
He is dripping now, steadily, onto his own stomach. He can feel it pooling on his belly, unpleasantly cool. He whimpers between desperate, panting breaths, beyond words.
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says, breath shivering across Lan Wangji's collarbone, "I can't...can't keep this up, you feel too—" his breath catches, and he pauses. "I'm going to finish. You need to come."
Dimly, distantly, the idea that Wei Wuxian should derive pleasure from this, no matter how perfunctory, gives Lan Wangji a perverse sort of satisfaction. It snuffs out like a candle at the nebulous thought that perhaps in another world, they could have had this for real.
In this world, the fact remains that this has gone on far too long. But Lan Wangji can do nothing about it. He meets Wei Wuxian's thrusts, leans into the pleasure, tries to gain the momentum to go over the edge. He should be able to. It should be easy. He has been so hard for so long, has been given more now than in his absolute wildest and wettest of dreams, and yet he hovers, scant inches away.
Wei Wuxian loses patience, his head dropping to Lan Wangji's shoulder. He grunts softly and fists Lan Wangji's wet cock, quick and merciless. Lan Wangji cries out, shuddering violently with the extended, expansive stimulation, worked both inside and out, helplessly, utterly unmade by Wei Wuxian's touch.
And still he does not crest. He is sobbing steadily now, ugly and jagged, and Wei Wuxian kisses his shoulder, his throat, his cheek.
"Were we wrong?" He asks, breathless. "Lan Zhan please, tell—show me, I...I can't...you...I can't lose you. Lan Zhan?"
Exhausted, Lan Wangji turns his tearstained face toward him, blindly seeking. Perhaps they were all wrong. Perhaps he will die now, like this. And perhaps it is selfish of him, but having heard those words, he finds his regret to be less than it should be. Everything, everything hurts. But Wei Wuxian will miss him, too. Of course he will. They are zhiji. This, miraculously, will not erase that. It is more than he deserves. Wei Wuxian has always been more than he deserves.
Lan Wangji heaves, and writhes, and cries.
Wei Wuxian kisses him. Soft, gloriously cool lips on his.
An odd, fleeting, hollow feeling.
The dam breaks. The pain goes suddenly quiet. Roaring to fullness in its absence is the killing swell of such a long-delayed climax. It is possible that he calls Wei Wuxian's name. It is impossible to know.
The world, again, goes dark.
Lan Wangji wakes to gray light and distant birdsong. A sharp edge is digging into his shoulder. He shifts, then goes still at the deep ache in his entire body.
"Hanguang-jun should drink this," says a brisk voice to his right.
Wen Qing sits there, watching him. His heart skips a beat and he looks down. But he is fully clothed once more.
Her smile is wry as she holds a cup out to him. Laboriously, he sits up to take it. It is bitter, but familiar. A restorative. He thanks her formally.
She shakes her head. "No need.” She turns to go.
"Wen-guniang," Lan Wangji says. She pauses. "How long has it been gone?"
She turns to stare at him. He knows she knows what he means.
She looks away. "You'll have to ask him."
The pang of loss he felt upon waking with Wei Wuxian gone speaks for him. "Will he let me?"
He lies on the slab of rock that serves as Wei Wuxian's bed for too long. It is difficult to tell the passage of time in the Burial Mounds, but it seems slightly brighter than it had...before. He reasons that it could well be the next morning. He wonders if Wei Wuxian slept beside him, then tosses the thought away as gross indulgence. He wonders instead, as he has many times since his last visit, if Wei Wuxian sleeps at all.
First, his excuse to tarry is meditation. He works at it, simultaneously restoring his drained core and healing himself, until the discomfort fades from his every movement to just a specific few.
Once that is done, he has no reason to be idle. But the voice in his head, Wei Wuxian's blisteringly cold one that had called him his proper name all those months ago, keeps him in place. He hears it saying all manner of things in response to seeing him now.
"What more could you possibly want of me?" Wei Wuxian sneers in his mind. And he would be right to do so.
But Lan Wangji does not intend to ask anything of him ever again.
And there is the other thing. The fact that his robes should be uncomfortable, filthy, but they have been cleaned, dried, and arranged back onto his body properly. Comfortably. Almost as if—
He dares not imagine. But at the very least it does not speak of utter contempt.
So he rises. He follows the path Wen Qing told him of. And he does something foolish. He hopes.
After no short while of walking, he comes to a slightly darker, more silent corner of deadened forest. He rounds a bend and sees Wei Wuxian crouched a little ways off, and then hears high, lilting notes as if through water. The energies are strange here, and Wei Wuxian is speaking to with them in their own language.
Lan Wangji approaches until he sees Wei Wuxian go still. He says nothing. Wei Wuxian drops his flute from his lips.
"Are you well?" He asks without rising or turning.
Wei Wuxian nods. "Your people are waiting for you."
It is a dismissal. Lan Wangji recognizes this. But he will impose just a little bit longer.
"Your core," he says. Wei Wuxian stands abruptly, still facing away, gripping Chenqing. "Can it be replaced?"
Wei Wuxian whirls to face him, anger and fear warring with the questions on his face.
Lan Wangji has other questions, too. But they do not matter. He is intelligent enough to piece together the cold, empty space where Wei Wuxian's core should be, the tired guilt on Wen Qing's face, and...
"Your scar," he says, dropping his gaze to the scorched earth.
He should not know of it. But he does, now, and he also owes a greater debt than he can ever repay. Wei Wuxian does not respond. How dearly Lan Wangji wants to see his expression. But he will not infringe on any more of his privacy.
The wind howls. He waits.
"You won't tell anybody," Wei Wuxian says uncertainly.
Lan Wangji stiffens. "I will not."
"Nobody told you?"
Wei Wuxian pauses, momentarily satisfied.
"You're not going to ask how? Or when?"
Lan Wangji would like to. He would like to know everything of Wei Wuxian, even his sorrow, his pain. But he is not entitled to those things. There is only one point that matters.
"Can it be replaced? Can the procedure be reversed?"
Wei Wuxian sighs. Lan Wangji can tell he does not wish to speak of this.
"So single-minded, Lan Zhan," he scolds, then shakes his head. "The chance of success would be small; the chance of finding a donor, much smaller."
But this is all Lan Wangji hoped to hear. It is enough. He goes to his knees, arms circled in front of his chest.
"Allow me," he says.
"Lan Zhan!" Wei Wuxian darts forward, trying to pull Lan Wangji up from the ground. Eventually he gives up and goes to his knees in front of him, pushing at his arms. "Lan Zhan, stop this," he says, panicked. "Don't be stupid, stop—Lan Zhan, you can't be serious."
"Please allow me," Lan Wangji repeats, eyes downcast.
"Stop this!" Wei Wuxian shouts. "It can't be done, and I wouldn't take it from you anyway!"
Lan Wangji flinches bodily. He had not considered...but yes. Everything in him is sullied. He bends at the waist, bowing further.
"Apologies for the offense," he says, then snaps his mouth shut. His voice is too obviously strained.
"Lan Zhan?" Wei Wuxian says, still alarmed.
Lan Wangji needs to leave. He has already overstayed. But he...he has not tried hard enough.
"This debt is too great to repay in one lifetime," he says. "Please inform this one of what he may do to begin."
Wei Wuxian sags, dragging one of Lan Wangji's wrists with him. "Lan Zhan, there is no debt between us."
Lan Wangji only just stops himself from glancing up. He does not understand.
"I owe you my life and more," he says. "You took great pains to save me, even as the situation proved me unworthy of it. I owe—"
"You owe me nothing," Wei Wuxian insists, shaking Lan Wangji's arm. "There were no great pains. Nobody is unworthy. Well...you aren't."
Lan Wangji opens his mouth to protest, but Wei Wuxian speaks over him.
"People have...desires, Lan Zhan. There's nothing unworthy about it."
"Stop," he says. He sounds so, so tired. "If you hadn't been...dying. If we—" He stops. "Just keep my secret," he says, and lets go of his wrist. "And live well."
Lan Wangji closes his eyes. The thought of going back to his home, his life, after this, had not yet occurred to him. It sinks him from his knees to the ground. How can he do this? How can he leave him this way?
"Wei Ying," he pleads. "I must...I must do something. I cannot...I..."
"Why, Lan Zhan?" Wei Wuxian asks, not unkindly. "You have responsibilities. People to protect, just like me. Live well, and count things even between us. Why not?"
Lan Wangji’s chest caves in. He does not make the sound clawing up his throat.
"You...truly, you must know why," he says. "After... you must know. I would not leave you in need. I could not."
"Ah, Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says sadly. He shuffles forward. Lan Wangji startles at the feel of fingertips on his cheek. "You're too good. But all I need is," he huffs, "political asylum for me and 40 friends? It's not your burden."
Suddenly yet slowly, like the first burst of sunrise, an idea reveals itself on the horizon of Lan Wangji’s mind. It is unorthodox. And likely unwelcome. But it is all he has.
"My uncle made a suggestion," he says. "When my affliction became known. It is true that he did not know what it would mean, but I would hold him to it. If it is not...hateful, to you."
"I don't know what you mean," Wei Wuxian says warily.
Lan Wangji steels himself. "You are perceived as the head of a sect. A proper alliance could protect your people, and Gusu Lan is in need of hands for rebuilding. The person who cast this curse upon me has given the perfect excuse, and made themselves scapegoat. If you would...I would not ask anything of you, if you agreed. It would be a marriage in name only, as you wish it."
Wei Wuxian's silence turns to spluttering. "M—Lan Zh—marriage?? What—how—"
"If the idea is odious, I will not mention it again. But as I said. My uncle suggested it. And under the circumstances, he cannot refuse."
"Your—he—Lan Zhan. Lan Zhan, look at me. Look at me, please."
Lan Wangji looks at him. His eyes are wide. Disbelieving. Concerned.
"Your uncle would qi deviate if you even hinted at such a thing," he says. "Gusu Lan is in a precarious enough position, you don't need...I have nothing to offer in return." He pats his lower stomach, empty of spiritual energy, emphatically. “Nothing. Don't be ridiculous."
"It is not ridiculous," Lan Wangji argues, certain now that he is right. "You can offer more protection for us, and we can offer legitimacy. The person who cast this curse can be seen to have forced our hands. Has—has forced our hands."
He stops himself. He should not push this. Wei Wuxian is looking at him as if he does not know him.
"You don't want to marry me, Lan Zhan."
This gives Lan Wangji pause. It is a confusing objection, to say the least. He stares, trying to comprehend. He clears his throat. Takes a breath.
"If you are under the impression..." he stops. Drops his eyes once more. "...that the...impetus of the curse. Is the whole of the way I—”
"Demonic cultivation," Wei Wuxian interrupts. "It would be unhealthy. For you. And your elders! They wouldn't let me, not if I were...attached to your sect. To you.”
A fair concern, and one Lan Wangji has been turning over in his own mind as well. "Is this your only objection?"
Wei Wuxian casts about. "Ah..."
Lan Wangji takes one last plunge. "The elders can be reasoned with, compromises can be made. I am not concerned for my health: being near you could never be harmful to me." He hears himself, then, and amends, "Though you need not. Be near me. That is not a condition."
"You would defend this?" Wei Wuxian asks, bemused.
"My cultivation path. You..."
Lan Wangji resists a sigh. "I understand the reason, now. And I believe...if you did not object. We could work toward making it safe, without stripping you of what your hard work has created."
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian says. He reaches out, then stops.
Lan Wangji stares at his hand, hovering between them. His heart is beating so hard he can feel it in his eyes, in his tongue.
"You would let me, though?"
His tone is gently mocking. His head is cocked to the side, the edge of a smile playing across his lips. It knocks the breath from Lan Wangji's chest.
"Let you?" He asks, dazed.
"Be near you."
Lan Wangji's heart stops. It is a moment before he can respond.
"I would. Always."
Wei Wuxian takes his hand, and sighs. "You don't owe me this," he says again.
"I do," Lan Wangji counters, off-kilter. "I owe you. And I want to. I would want to, even if—"
He loosens his tight grip on Wei Wuxian's hand. He is saying too much, taking too much, being too much. He settles himself. Finds the words that matter.
"It would be a thing happily given, with no strings attached, should you wish it."
Wei Wuxian laughs strangely. "Lan Zhan, you really..." He shakes his head. "I'd marry you in an instant, you know," says.
Lan Wangji's neck hurts from the speed with which he looks up at him. Hope, warm and liquid, blooms through his limbs.
"But I can't make this decision on my own," Wei Wuxian goes on. "It's not just my life. We have to talk it over with everyone."
"Yes," Lan Wangji says, surprised, and eager now that he sees the possibility of success. Of doing something of use.
"Alright," says Wei Wuxian, a smile hidden in the corner of his mouth. "I can't promise...but it...it could work."
"It will," Lan Wangji says, certain that the strength of his conviction alone will carry them through if need be.
He feels strange and dreamlike, confused but heartened by the turn in this conversation. That Wei Wuxian can stand the sight of him, let alone wish to ally with him personally, seems too wonderful to be true. Another Wei Wuxian hallmark.
"But Lan Zhan, no more talk of strings," Wei Wuxian says.
Lan Wangji sobers and nods. It is unseemly. Of course their understanding must be a tacit one, now.
But his hand is suddenly in both of Wei Wuxian's.
"You need to stop feeling guilty," Wei Wuxian says, looking down at it. "If I were your husband...if I were. We could try all that again, but without the impending doom. We could try it again any way we like, any time—all the time—and we'd—"
"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji interrupts, strangled. His heart is in his throat. He cannot comprehend what he is hearing. His ears, his face, are on fire.
Wei Wuxian smiles down at their hands, one part shy, one part mischief. "I think we could get really good at it, if we had the chance, don't you?"
Lan Wangji stares at him. "You..."
"Mn," says Wei Wuxian, meeting his eyes.
He shines so bright, even without any core to speak of. He takes Lan Wangji's breath away.
"I take it back," Wei Wuxian says, his voice suddenly urgent. "I like strings. Mine is that if this happens, I want to be your real husband. In name, in practice, in bed, and in your heart. Because you would be, in mine."
Lan Wangji's voice sticks in his throat. He feels...he feels unreal. He does not know what to do, to say. Perhaps they never broke the curse at all and he has simply gone mad. But Wei Wuxian's fingers stroking his palm, the root-knotted dirt beneath his shins, are real. He sways, unbalanced.
Wei Wuxian reaches out. Catches him. Folds him into his arms for a second time. Lan Wangji's breath shudders out of him.
He is on his knees, breathlessly held in the arms of his beloved. He has dreamt this many ways. But never has it been so real, so full of hope. He wraps his arms around Wei Wuxian in turn, buries his face in his shoulder.
Wei Wuxian huffs. "Jiang Cheng is going to be so angry."
Lan Wangji comes back down to earth. It is true he had not thought of this. He makes to pull away. "How should—"
Wei Wuxian clutches him tighter. "I don't care," he says, "I don't care, we can manage him." He pauses, then speaks more softly. "Maybe...I could see shijie's wedding after all. Or—no. It's too soon, I—"
"Yes," says Lan Wangji. "You will. We will go together."
Wei Wuxian takes a deep breath, and lets it out into Lan Wangji's hair.
"Together," he says.
It takes several serious, and at times uncomfortable, discussions, but in the end, Gusu Lan’s Second Jade is indeed thoroughly removed from the marriage pool of the great sects. The curse caster is found and punished. And everybody else lives happily ever after.
(Thank you for coming on this wildly self-indulgent journey, I hope you enjoyed it. If you’d like to read some actually nicely-polished, fleshed-out fics by me—including another sex-cursed LWJ—check out my AO3.)
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R squeezing Natasha’s cheeks and saying how cute she is in front of the avengers, they’re all shocked and scared for R but Natasha just blushes and let’s R continue cause Nat is whipped 😩
Note: Whipped badass gf 😩😩😩
“Be hold! Your favorite Avenger is home!” You announce your presence the moment you set foot to the living room; you’ve just got back from a week-long mission.
“I am my favorite Avenger.” Tony says without looking up from his phone.
Steve gives Tony a look, shrugging, “I don’t play favorite.”
Bucky gets up and pats you on your shoulder, sighs before opening his mouth, “Yeah…not mine either.”
You roll your eyes and ready to go find Natasha, but then she walks into the living room, “Why are you guys being so loud-”
“Natasha!” You raise your hands up high, “Your favorite Avenger is home!”
Natasha welcomes you with a tight hug and mumbles in your ears, “Welcome home, my favorite Avenger.”
Pulling away, you cup Natasha’s cheeks and pinch and squeeze them lightly, making her face turning into funny shapes, “Aw, I missed you! You little cutie!”
You’re too deep in your “I love Natasha”space to notice everyone in the room either gasps or turns quiet while staring at you and Natasha. Tony Stark, the atheist, whispers you a prayer under his breath.
Then something surprising to them happens.
“I missed you too.” Natasha says scrunching her nose and leads your hands to hold her waist, “You want to shower first? I will make you some tea.”
“Shower then cuddles?” You ask and pull her closer.
“Shower then cuddles.” Natasha pecks your lips, smiling, “Go.”
You happily accept and walk out of the living room with a little hop.
Just like that, Natasha’s lips turns back to the straight line and glares at the mouth dropping audience, “Keep staring and I’ll scoop your eyeballs out and feed it to you.”
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🧿🤠🐇🍲🍯: Lan Wangji does not think it’s safe to raise A-Yuan in Cloud Recesses after the Lans participated in the killing of his zhiji and the entire Burial Mounds community (or more accurately that it’s not safe while he himself is in seclusion and can’t watch over A-Yuan, at least) so he delivers A-Yuan to the one person who he knows did not stand against Wei Wuxian (and got away with it, bc this person has never stood against anything, since standing takes effort): Nie Huaisang.
Little Side Door - ao3
Nie Huaisang’s rooms in the Unclean Realm had a little side door that no one but him ever used.
They hadn’t originally. The Unclean Realm was a fortress, designed to maximize protection and defense; there was no better place for keeping things safe by locking them away. While it had its fair share of boltholes and escape routes, they were not common and universally difficult to access lest the enemy learn of them and use them to their advantage. Even the layout of their open spaces were carefully planned lest the attack come from the sky, a concern that only cultivators had, and not about how they themselves could escape – after all, weren’t they all Nie, ready to die rather than endure dishonor?
The little side door that led to Nie Huaisang’s room opened onto a small rock garden, left to grow wild with weeds rather than reveal its presence to more people. It existed only because his brother had ordered it constructed by those he trusted most, all in secret in the dark of the night. He had never explained why he had gone to such lengths to create such an unwelcome and inauspicious place, but then, he hadn’t needed to – Nie Huaisang had been there, too, when his father had descended into madness and they had been trapped in the familial quarters with no way out that did not take them through him. If his brother had been the one to brave his father’s rage directly, Nie Huaisang had been the one stuck in a small space that was only not claustrophobic because it was so painfully familiar.
Now, though his father was long dead and gone, Nie Huaisang had a little side door.
A little side door, and a little garden that almost no one knew about; in combination with the saber that his brother forced him to learn and the golden core he had so begrudgingly formed, he now had a way to reach the sky and the illusive freedom it represented – the freedom to flee and leave his home behind.
If it ever happens again – his brother had said once, the closest he had ever come to speaking of it.
He did not finish his sentence, as Nie Huaisang had thrown his plate into his face and stormed off, steaming mad and close to tears. He did not raise the subject a second time.
Nie Huaisang did not often use his little side door.
Although he enjoyed gardens, he preferred the aviary he’d constructed, or one of the myriad of well-tended gardens in the main part of the sect; even the vegetable gardens out back beside the kitchens were far more welcoming than that sparse straggle of land. He’d only ever spent time there when he was a child and in desperate need of some quiet, wanting to avoid adults with their arguments and their miseries; he’d taken some friends there because he thought it might impress them, but it hadn’t, and anyway his brother had put a stop to that soon enough.
He didn’t even think about the little side door, most days. It was just a part of the room, a small tucked away corner with nothing in it. Nothing to think about.
And then, of course, years after he’d put it out of his mind entirely, there came a terrible banging noise at that little side door, like someone was kicking at it furiously from the outside.
Nie Huaisang nearly fell over sideways in his scramble to get up, and then once again when he realized where the noise was coming from – almost no one knew about his side door and its little garden, and so no one had ever come to him through it. Who would be knocking now…?
He opened it.
Lan Wangji, white robes stained with blood and cheeks bright with fever, shoved something into his arms. “You have a child now,” he said through bitten lips. “Congratulations. He is called A-Yuan. I entrust you with his care, for my sect cannot be trusted with it.”
And then he turned and staggered away, mounting up on Bichen and flying off before Nie Huaisang could say anything – before he could even finish searching his memories and recalling that yes, in fact, Lan Wangji had been one of the friends he had shown the side door to, years and years before, and thus knew how to find it. Before he could even start processing the thousands of thoughts that had spring to life, fully formed, at all the information he’d just received: the bloody robes, the desperation, the reference to the Lan sect – the Lan sect! – being somehow untrustworthy…
He looked down at his arms.
“Congratulations,” he echoed blankly. “I have a child now.”
The child blinked up at him, and then smiled.
“Da-ge!” Nie Husiang howled, rushing into the sect leader’s study where his brother was doing work – luckily it wasn’t receiving hours and he wasn’t in the main hall, as that would have been unfortunate. “Da-ge, you have to help me! I have a child now!”
His brother stared at him, expression blank and mouth slightly agape. The brush in his hand dripping ink onto a now-wasted piece of paper.
“Huaisang,” he said after a moment. “What the fuck.”
Nie Huaisang nodded furiously.
“Where did you get – how – who – what did you do?!”
“I am currently unable to disclose any details,” Nie Huaisang said promptly even as his brother tossed aside the brush and got up, striding over with a storm brewing in his face. “All I can say is that I have to raise this child now. By which I mean, you have to help me raise this child now; I can’t raise children! I’m not mature enough to raise a child!”
“No kidding! Why would someone entrust – to you…” Nie Mingjue trailed off, looking down at the child with a frown that shifted from disbelieving irritation to concern. He pressed his hand to the child’s forehead. “Huaisang, this child has a high fever. We need to get him to the medical wing at once – is that blood?”
“Not his, I don’t think?”
“I don’t want to know,” his brother decided. “Move.”
Some time later, they were both sitting next to the bed in one of the spare rooms in the family quarters; Nie Huaisang thought it might even have been the same one that he’d used when he was very young. A-Yuan was sleeping, and Nie Mingjue was still holding his little hand in his own, having been clocked as the oversize comfort animal that he not-so-secretly was from the very first moment A-Yuan laid eyes on him.
The doctors had declared A-Yuan’s fever to be very severe, but they had applied plenty of medicine – the Lan sect might have more esoteric healing techniques, but there wasn’t anything like the Nie sect when it came to standard medicine for injuries and illnesses associated with the battlefield, and despite A-Yuan’s tender age Nie Huaisang would be willing to bet that his injuries were from a battlefield. They were confident that A-Yuan would make a full recovery, body and mind both intact, although they warned that his memory of the past might be impacted.
Nie Huaisang had thought about all that blood that wasn’t his, of Lan Wangji pale-faced and wild-eyed, and decided that a little bit of forgetting might not be so bad after all.
“Are you going to tell me anything more,” his brother said after a while. “Or should I just give up now?”
Nie Huaisang leaned over and patted his knee. “It’s good that you know your limitations.”
His brother rolled his eyes.
“I can’t believe this is my life,” he remarked.
“What part?” Nie Huaisang asked, curious. “The fact that we have a kid now, because obviously we’re keeping him? Or the fact that someone gave a kid to me?”
“Both,” his brother decided. “Definitely both.”
“His name’s A-Yuan,” Nie Huaisang said. “Apparently.”
“Well,” his brother said. “Obviously that won’t do.”
Nie Huaisang had the ability to be sneaky when he wanted to be. It wasn’t a matter of stealth, he had explained to his brother, but sneakiness– a completely different concept. Stealth suggested that he was doing something to conceal himself and required skills and talent, or else a lot of practice, and obviously Nie Huaisang was not going to go in for either of those.
He didn’t need people not to be able to see him in order to be sneaky. He just needed them not to care about him, or wonder where he was.
“Psst,” he said, knocking on the window to the rooms where Lan Wangji was purportedly practicing seclusion. “Psst! Lan Zhan!”
Lan Wangji had given him a child. They were definitely past the ‘Lan-er-gongzi’ stage.
“Lan Zhan!” he rapped at the window with his fan. “We need a courtesy name!”
There was some sounds from within the jingshi, mostly stumbling around. Nie Huaisang waited patiently, and after a few moments the window opened and Lan Wangji stared out at him. He was as pale as a ghost with lips as red as blood, and very clearly not in seclusion at all, but rather in the midst of healing whatever wounds had left him bloody – he probably shouldn’t have gotten out of bed to answer.
Oh, well. Too late for regret now.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Lan Wangji said, voice dull and eyes blank as he stared at Nie Huaisang. It was unclear if he meant in the Cloud Recesses generally, or here in particular, interrupting his ‘seclusion’.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Nie Huaisang said, scowling at him. “We need a courtesy name! A courtesy name for the child, you hear me? You know, of course, that Qinghe Nie don’t use personal names, not even for children – certainlynot for children older than their first year. It’d be a complete giveaway that he’s not organically ours if we call him something like A-Yuan.”
Lan Wangji raised a hand to pinch his nose. “Please go away.”
“Courtesy name, Lan Zhan. I mean, I may be the one who’ll be raising him, but please think carefully: do you really want meto be the one naming him?”
“…call him Sizhui.”
“Sizhui,” Nie Huaisang repeated. “With the characters…?”
Lan Wangji nodded.
“Uh, no,” Nie Huaisang said. “I need a bettercourtesy name. Are you joking?”
“Nie Huaisang. Go away.”
Lan Wangji slammed the window shut.
“…fine,” Nie Huaisang said to the closed window. “Be that way, see if I care. Not like we don’t need to build up a decent coparenting relationship or anything eventually.”
He thought he heard a choking sound from behind the door and smirked.
“Don’t you think you can baby-trap me and just walk away, Lan Zhan,” he said in his best ominous tone. “If you wanted someone to raise your kid without ever consulting you again, you should’ve dropped him off in the Lotus Pier with Jiang Cheng, who’d probably be too busy being confused to even question where he came frome – but no. You came to me. I don’t make decisions in the best of times, least of all good. I have questions. A lot of questions.”
He thought about it for a moment.
“Not about how you got him or anything like that,” he said. “I’m not stupid, I can tell a secret when I see one. But, you know, other types of questions. Parenting stuff. Are you a ‘go sit and think about what you’ve done’ sort of parent? Or more traditional discipline, with copying lines and occasionally strikes when they’re naughty? Do you want him to learn the Lan sect rules along with the Nie sect principles –”
There was a muffled sound from inside the house.
It sounded angry.
“…we can talk about it later,” Nie Huaisang decided. He might’ve pushed his luck a bit too much. “Talk later!”
“You have a…what?” Lan Xichen asked, his smile a little fixed and stare a little wilder than normal.
“A nephew!” Nie Mingjue gushed. “Isn’t he wonderful?”
“He’s so well behaved, too! He plays quietly by himself most of the time, drawing and even writing a little, and Huaisang’s already teaching him how to play the dizi –”
“When you say nephew, do you mean Nie Huaisang’s child?”
“Do I have other brothers?” Nie Mingjue rolled his eyes at him. “He’s obviously not yours. Anyway, I know Meng Yao is expecting one, too, but he wouldn’t be dressed in Nie colors if it was his, would it?”
“Yes, but…are you telling me that…that Nie Huaisang…”
“It’s a battlefield child, Xichen,” Nie Mingjue said patiently. “Obviously. Someone entrusted him to Huaisang.”
“Oh,” Lan Xichen said, looking relieved. “Yes, that makes more sense…wait.”
Nie Mingjue waited.
“Someone entrusted him to Nie Huaisang?”
“I know, right?” Nie Mingjue said, and Lan Xichen didn’t notice how strained his grin had suddenly become, or how thoughtful his eyes were as he surveyed Lan Xichen as if trying to find an answer to a question. “I would’ve assumed they’d go for someone more responsible, like you. Guess you never know…”
“I guess you don’t,” Lan Xichen agreed, looking down at the child with a bemused expression. A battlefield child, entrusted to Nie Huaisang… “They must have been truly driven to desperation.”
“Perhaps,” Nie Mingjue said, and then changed the subject to little Nie Sizhui’s accomplishments, of which he could list many at great length and very great enthusiasm. By the time he was done with that, Ln Xichen was so overwhelmed that he didn’t ask a single other question.
“So I’ve got an idea on how to do this whole co-parenting thing,” Nie Huaisang said, cracking nuts to eat. He was sitting next to Lan Wangji’s bedside, and dropping the shells straight on the floor, too, staring dead-eyed at Lan Wangji as if daring him to say something – which he wouldn’t, of course. “Since with Sizhui starting classes soon it’s become much more urgent, on account of me needing you to attend meetings with his teachers and discuss his progress.”
Lan Wangji looked deeply long-suffering. He’d only invited Nie Huaisang inside because Nie Huaisang had threatened to start shouting out his business loudly on account of oh but Lan Zhan, how was I to know if you could hear me in there, I just had to raise my voice just in case because I wouldn’t want you to miss any of the extremelyimportant news –
It was all Lan Wangji’s fault for being born earlier than Nie Huaisang, Nie Huaisang thought virtuously. It was merely Nie Huaisang’s lot in life to fulfill the role of annoying younger brother to everyone.
“See, it’s the music,” Nie Huaisang continued. “You do music, right?”
Lan Wangji’s ice-cold glare suggested that he did, in fact, ‘do music’.
“So your brother has been playing this song for da-ge on a regular basis,” Nie Huaisang explained, ignoring the glare entirely. “And when he’s not available, which is most of the time nowadays, he’s been sending san-ge instead. Even though, of course, poor san-ge’s so busy back at Lanling all the time…ughh, it’s so unfair, you know! Poor san-ge has to do all the work of being the heir and gets none of the benefits, and they pile even more work on him on top of that – really, he gets no respect.”
Lan Wangji’s expression suggested he didn’t care.
“And think about the inconvenience to us!” Nie Huaisang sallied forth, undeterred. “People coming and going all the time, da-ge having to interrupt his schedule of spending quality time with me and Sizhui – and sect leader work, of course, though that’s less important – in order to march over to greet them and host them and listen to them…what a pain it is!”
Lan Wangji appeared on the verge of suggesting that Nie Huaisang consider getting to the point.
“So you should come do it instead.”
Lan Wangji’s expression cracked, suggesting that Nie Huaisang had actually managed to make an impact.
“You remember,” he said, voice low and a little hoarse from all that refusing to speak he’d been doing. Really, if Nie Huaisang wasn’t around to goad him into it, he might’ve lost the voice entirely – he didn’t even have little Sizhui around to force him to speak! “That I’m in seclusion. Right?”
“You’re horribly lonely is what you are,” Nie Huisang said briskly. “You require company. Therefore, coming to take up a semi-permanent posting in the Unclean Realm to play the Song of Clarity for my brother morning, noon, and night is clearly the finest way to solve all of our problems, and for you to see little Sizhui as often as you like.”
Lan Wangji visibly wavered. “My brother,” he said, then coughed. “My brother will never believe it.”
“That’s your problem,” Nie Huaisang said. “Find a way to sell it.”
He stood, shaking the remaining shells onto the chair.
“See you in Qinghe soon, Lan Zhan..!”
Lan Wangji was trying to kill him with his mind, Nie Huaisang thought happily as he wandered off with a whistle and a vaguely silly expression. Good – he’d been inside for too long. He needed the stimulation.
“Truly,” Nie Mingjue remarked, strolling around their gardens without any apparent notice of the small child perched on his shoulders, giggling wildly at the feeling of being tall, “I feel far better than I did before! One can scarcely compare it – night and day, really. Your Lan sect’s Song of Clarity is a marvel, even if it does take a while before it kicks in.”
“Mm,” Lan Wangji said, walking slowly with his hands behind his back. He was still unsteady on his feet on account of the absolutely horrific injuries he’d incurred – but if the Lan sect’s response to everything was seclusion, seclusion, seclusion, then the Nie sect’s equivalent response was exercise. These little excursions through the gardens were the result.
Thus far, they were still only doing laps around the main gardens, but Nie Huaisang had plans to eventually force Lan Wangji to go even as far as his own little side garden. He’d made it through his side door once, after all; why not a second time..?
At any rate, Nie Huaisang still wasn’t quite sure how Lan Wangji had talked Lan Xichen into allowing him to come to the Unclean Realm, but it really did make the whole co-parenting business a lot more convenient. And his brother had had so much fun making Lan Wangji stiff and awkward over all his thanks and praise for his decision to come ‘help out’ with Nie Sizhui’s raising until finally, at last, Nie Huaisang had taken pity and revealed that Nie Mingjue knew perfectly well whose battlefield child this was.
Both in terms of who had gifted him to Nie Huaisang, and who’d adopted him originally, and of course even his original surname – The little tot’s been through enough adoptions to make anyone’s head spin, his brother had said, his voice gruff as always. There’s no point in thinking back too far, is there?
Lan Wangji had been very relieved.
“Run, bobo!” Nie Sizhui cried, pointing over at a bird. “We need to get it for Sang-gege!”
Nie Mingjue snorted like a bull but obediently quickened his feet and left the rest of them behind, heading in full charge straight at the wild pheasant that was far more likely to end up on Nie Huaisang’s plate than in his aviary. It was about even odds which one Nie Sizhui meant, anyway.
“Nie Huaisang,” Lan Wangji said, his voice low, and Nie Huaisang looked at him. “The Song of Clarity does not take time to work. These effects should have happened at once.”
Nie Huaisang opened his fan, hiding his face as he frowned. “How odd,” he said. “And after san-ge put in all that hard work.”
“Perhaps he played it wrong.”
“Odd,” Nie Huaisang said again. “When san-ge gets so very little wrong…has your brother sent any word on the Xue Yang issue?”
“…he has not.”
“He’s going to need to pick a side eventually.”
“He does not want to make things difficult for his sworn brother.”
“Does he have only the one?” Nie Huaisang asked archly, and Lan Wangji averted his gaze. “It’s awkward for us if he doesn’t back us, and is a bad look besides…truly, it’s a wonder that san-ge managed to squeeze out the time to come here.”
Lan Wangji’s frown deepened. “Indeed,” he said. “One would think his father might be tempted to stop him.”
“Wouldn’t you just?” Nie Huaisang said. “Wouldn’t you just…you know, maybe when you’re feeling better, we should go visit Lanling ourselves.”
Lan Wangji glanced at him, arching an eyebrow, and Nie Huaisang smiled, fanning himself casually.
“I’m not the only one with a little side door,” he said. “Let’s go knocking and see what we find, shall we?”
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hands to myself
summary: You and Spencer have just confessed your feelings for each other. And now, he simply can’t keep his hands off of you.
pairing: spencer reid x f!reader
category: smut, 18+ (minors DNI)
content warnings: swearing, dirty talk, making out, heavy petting, fingering, hand job, lil bit of overstimulation, penetrative sex, protected sex (no glove no love y’all), lmk if i missed anything.
a/n: this is a companion to my fic side effects may vary, but can be read as a standalone. enjoy!
a/n 2: just a quick reminder, in case you missed it above—the original fic is gender neutral reader, but this is female reader.
word count: 2.3k
song: hands to myself by selena gomez
You lift your head from his chest and look him in the eyes. “Kiss me again.”
Spencer does. He can hardly believe this is real. Yesterday he was waking up in his own bed, alone and grumpy about having to get up. Today he’s in your bed after spending the night with you. You confessed your feelings to him just moments ago, feelings that he was thrilled to inform you that he shared. And now, he’s kissing you.
You pull back eventually, and he’s about to complain, but then notices how loose the shirt you’ve slept in is. With the way you’re leaning over him, it gives him a great view right down it. He quickly looks away, but it’s already burned into his mind.
You adjust positions slightly, pulling your legs up under you to kneel at his side, then lean back down to resume kissing him. He keeps one hand on the back of your neck, but the other wanders; it eventually comes to a stop right under your breast.
You tilt your head, pressing a kiss to his jaw. “You can touch, Spencer,” you murmur.
He doesn’t need to be told twice. He immediately starts feeling you up through your shirt, then thinks better of it and moves his hand underneath the fabric. He’s so caught up in exploring what may possibly be the best pair of tits he’s ever had the privilege of touching that he doesn’t notice your hand descending his body until it’s at the waistband of his underwear.
Your eyes flick up to his, asking for permission; the way your pupils are dilated makes his heart skip a beat. There’s no denying he’d love your hand on his cock, but he still says, “Wait.”
You slide your hand away and to his waist. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing’s wrong,” he says breathlessly. “I’m enjoying this. But I realize there’s a sort of… societal expectation for women to…”
“Put out?” you offer.
He wrinkles his nose. “I hate that phrase. But yes.” He pushes a strand of hair out of your face. “I just want to tell you that it’s okay if you don’t want to, you know… go all the way right now.”
“Oh, I want to,” you answer right away. Your nails dig into his side a little. “You have no idea how much I’ve been fantasizing about you lately.”
Spencer inhales sharply. “Christ, (Y/N).”
“But likewise,” you continue, as if you didn’t just cause his brain to explode with one sentence. “If you don’t want to do this right now, we can wait.”
He doesn’t answer with words; instead, he pulls you back down into a passionate kiss.
“I’ll take that as a yes to me touching your cock,” you murmur against his lips.
“God, yes,” he corrects.
He had taken off his pants to sleep last night, so you have easy access to his dick. You push his briefs down his hips and take him in your hand. He can’t stop the groan that leaves his mouth. You take a moment to glance down and run your hand every which way across it, getting familiar with it.
“Your cock looks even better than I imagined,” you mutter as you begin to jerk him off.
Spencer throws his head back against the pillows. “Well, I definitely feel a lot less guilty for jacking off to thoughts of you now.”
You smile. “You got yourself off thinking of me?”
“More often than I’d like to say,” he admits. “But from the sound of it, I wasn’t the only one.”
“No, not at all. What would you think about?”
It’s then that he notices you grinding down on the heel of your foot. He’s had a hand on your ass, and slides it forward now, replacing your heel with his hand. “I thought about doing this,” he says, rubbing his hand up and down over your clothed pussy. “More than this, too.”
“Tell me. No, wait,” you correct. “Show me.”
He doesn’t oblige right away; instead he latches his lips to the skin right above your collarbone and sucks hard enough to leave a mark. The corners of his mouth turn up when he feels you squirm against his hand. “I’d love to,” he finally says.
Deftly, his hand moves past the waistband of your panties, past fabric, skin and hair. “Lovely,” he murmurs when he feels the wetness gathering at your entrance. The pace you’re rubbing his cock at falters a bit when he slides a finger inside. A second finger quickly follows, then he matches your movements, thrusting his fingers into you when your hand moves down his cock; pulling them out when you stroke up. He relishes in the moan you let out when he crooks his fingers to hit that spot.
“Oh, fuck, that’s so good,” you breathe out.
With his free hand, he pulls down your panties so he can watch his fingers glide in and out of you. “Contrary to what my coworkers think, I have done this before,” he murmurs.
“Doesn’t surprise me at all.” You pause in your strokes to play with the head of his cock, prompting a moan of his own. “You’re so pretty. I’m surprised more people don’t throw themselves at you.”
He shrugs. “It’s the social ineptitude, I believe.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re—oh shit,” you gasp. He’s just adjusted so the heel of his hand is grinding against your clit on each thrust of his fingers into you.
This goes on for a few more minutes, the room filled with the sound of heavy breathing, gasps, and moans. Suddenly, you stop stroking his cock. He pulls back from kissing you and looks at you questioningly.
“I want you,” you whisper.
Spencer frowns a little. “You have me? My fingers are literally inside of you.”
“I meant I want your cock,” you laugh. “I’d really like to fuck you.”
He didn’t think it was possible for his dick to get any harder, and yet…. “I’d really like that, too.”
He removes his fingers from you rather reluctantly. You cup his face in your hands, giving him a passionate kiss before moving away from him, and he wonders briefly what to do with himself as you root around in the bedside table, but the answer quickly occurs to him. When you turn back to him with a condom in hand, he’s popped his fingers into his mouth and is sucking on them.
“Oh, Jesus,” you murmur. He just smiles around his fingers, holding out his other hand for the condom. But he does, unfortunately, need two hands to open it. After taking his underwear off all the way, he uses his wet fingers to stroke his cock a few times, then rolls the condom on.
He’s about to ask what position you’d prefer, but you answer it for him, moving to straddle his hips after tossing your panties aside. You pull his shirt off of him, then take off your own. He immediately fixates on your breasts again, placing his hands on your waist and tugging your closer so he can take one into his mouth.
“You really like my boobs, huh?” you ask.
He hums an agreement against your skin. “I mean, I really like all of you. But I’m particularly fond of these.”
He keeps at it until you let out a little whine, rolling your hips against his erection. “Spencer, please.”
“Alright, alright,” he relents. He places one kiss on each breast, then leans back.
You smile in excitement, wiggling your hips a little. You take his cock in your hand and run the tip through your folds. “You ready?”
He nods. “I’m ready.”
You line him up, then sink down onto him. He’s done a good job getting you ready; his cock slides in easily. You both let out sighs of relief and pleasure when he’s fully inside you. You lean forward slightly, gripping the headboard. “God, you feel so good,” you say breathlessly.
All he can do is make an affirmative noise, overcome with the pleasure of being inside of you. You feel perfect. “Y—yeah, you… you too,” he manages to get out.
It makes you laugh. “And they say romance is dead.”
After some deliberation, he settles on putting his hands on your hips. “Who says that?”
“It’s just a figure of speech.” You press a few soft kisses on his lips, then begin to move. You take it slow at first, lifting yourself up, then dropping back down. It takes him a moment to get accustomed to it, but when he does, he adjusts his legs so he can lift his hips up to meet yours on each stroke.
“I realize I didn’t express my thoughts very well,” he says, pulling your chest down against his so he can whisper into your ear. “So just to be clear, your pussy feels fucking amazing.”
“Fuck,” you gasp. You press your forehead against his and he follows your gaze to between your legs. The sight of his cock sliding in and out of you makes him groan.
“Yeah,” you agree. “It’s a good view.”
Some of your hair has fallen into his face; his pushes it to the side so he can see better. It’s an intoxicating sight, even more so when he starts fucking up into you faster.
You brace yourself with a hand on his chest. “Your cock… it feels like it was made just for me,” you pant.
“Mmhmm,” he agrees. “It’s… oh, I’m close.”
The side of your mouth turns up. “Already?” you tease.
“It’s the first time I’ve fucked you,” he protests. “I’ve been thinking about this for months. Of course I’m not going to last as long as usual.”
He may be feeling his orgasm approach, but Spencer hasn’t forgotten about you. He slides a hand down to where your bodies are joined, gathers some of the wetness there, and uses it to rub your clit.
“Oh, Spencer, yes,” you praise, and start bouncing on his dick faster.
In general, Spencer prefers for his partner to come before he does, but he doesn’t think he’s going to make it this time. Your skin is covered in a light sweat and your hair is messy, and it’s so… charming. Naked on top of him, he doesn’t think you’ve ever looked more beautiful.
“I’m gonna cum, baby.” The pet name slips out of his mouth on its own.
Your hand finds its way to his hair—you tug—and he’s gone. He thrusts up into you sloppily as he cums, moaning your name loud enough for the neighbors to hear.
“Your ‘o’ face is so hot,” you say when he’s come down and is able to look into your eyes again.
“The ‘o face’ refers to the expression someone has when they orgasm,” you explain. “Yours is really hot.” Then your bottom lip drops out in a little pout, a clear contrast to your words. You grind down on him just a little and it clicks into place. His thumb had stopped moving on your clit when he came, and now you’re left without release.
He goes back to it rubbing your clit immediately, so suddenly that it startles you. “Spencer!” you yelp.
His free hand slides up the expanse of your back. “I’ve got you. Gonna make sure you cum, too.”
“Please,” you whimper. His dick is still inside you, and the little rocking movements you’re making cause a little overstimulation, but the condom helps and the way you clench around him every few seconds… he couldn’t pull out even if he wanted to.
Your hand grasps his; you move his fingers around a little, showing him exactly how you like it. And when he gets it right--
“Oh, shit. That’s it, Spence. That’s it. Don’t stop.”
He kisses your neck as he does just what you say—he doesn’t stop.
Shortly you’re gasping out against the skin of his shoulder. “I’m gonna—I’m gonna--”
You throw your head back as you cum. The rhythmic contractions of your pussy around his cock makes it twitch inside of you. If he wasn’t still in his refractory period, that alone could make him hard.
“There you go,” he murmurs. “Told you I’d take care of you.”
You settle down completely against him, chest to chest, and he listens as you catch your breath. “Thank you. Not everyone… well, every man, will do that.”
“I’ll always finish you off,” he promises, and presses a kiss to your cheek.
You lay there together for five blissful minutes, running fingers across each other’s bodies and whispering sweet nothings. But then you push yourself up with a huff. Naturally, Spencer immediately protests. “Where are you going?”
“Gotta go pee,” you say with a shrug. “The chance of a UTI trumps cuddling with you right now. Sorry.”
“Well. Understandable,” he concedes. He watches his now-soft dick slide out of you as you get up; it’s rather captivating. He starts cleaning himself up as you walk off towards the bathroom, carefully rolling the condom off and tying it off.
He looks up. You’re standing in the bathroom doorway. “Yes?”
“You know how earlier I said I had been trying to get you into my bed for weeks?” you ask. “And I said that I didn’t mean it that way?”
“Well, that was only half true.”
The side of his mouth turns up. “Clearly.”
Your little bashful smile makes his heart flutter. But then you say, “You should thank your psychiatrist the next time you see her. You know, for prescribing you a medication that made you fall asleep, and subsequently led to you getting laid.”
Heat rises to his cheeks. He clears his throat before speaking. “You know, I think I’ll keep that to myself.”
tell me what you thought here!
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Written for @drarrymicrofic: love letter
The first letter came with a coin. The second came with a stamp. The third came with an Earl Grey tea bag, the parchment suffused with the faint, citrus fragrance of bergamot.
Draco held the tea bag close to his nose. The tea leaves rustled between his fingers; the scent lingered in his nose.
“I have been receiving letters,” he said one day to Harry.
Harry looked up from the cook book he’d held in his hands.
Harry nodded. He came to the library every three or four days and poured cook books over the tables: Indian lunches, French pastries, dishes for breakfasts and afternoon parties. Draco had not thought, before becoming a librarian, that being enamored with recipes encompassed frequent visits to the library. He reckoned he was wrong.
“From whom?” Harry asked.
“The letters weren’t signed.”
The library was small and quiet, but the high ceilings created the illusion of space, of myths. Of echoes. Sunlight streamed in through the tall windows on warm days and laid golden bands across the wooden floor. There was a small patch of garden in the back; it had been a barren, tangled, withered mess, but Draco had tidied it up, had grown bushes of red roses that now spilled and overflowed the tiny corner with blooming, crimson roses as big as dinner plates.
He’d shown it to Harry. Privately, secretly, because patrons were not allowed in the back garden, really. He had done it as a regular’s benefit.
“Why roses?” Harry asked.
“Le Petit Prince,” Draco said.
Harry smiled, helpless and confused. “What?”
“The Little Prince,” Draco said again, helpless, too, to the tiny crease between Harry’s brows. He cleared his throat. “Do you know the story?”
“You like that story?”
“It’s your favorite?”
“I suppose so.”
The next letter came with fresh rose petals, crimson and creased at the edges. Draco held them lightly between his fingertips as though they would fall apart. Carefully pressed them back into the envelope. Carefully placed the letter with the rest, a pile in his drawer: folded parchment with paper cranes and leather bookmarks and buttons.
“It’s quite old-fashioned, isn’t it,” Draco said, dangling his feet on the wrought-iron bench. They were in the back garden. Harry was watering the roses; he’d offered.
“That’s not really a question, is it?”
Draco hummed. “Depends on how you look at it.”
“You like things old-fashioned.”
“But this.” Harry finished, flopped himself onto the bench beside Draco. “This, you like it old-fashioned. Slow.”
“Yes,” Draco said.
“Draco.” Harry looked him in the eye. Earnest; honest. A clarity that struck like glass. “What are you so scared of?”
Draco felt colors rise in his cheeks. Felt his fingers tremble. Felt the shape of the truth, the secret, thrumming in the space between them.
“Of being the rose,” he said. Then,
“Of being left behind.”
He was not brave. He did not know how to say goodbye. He did not know how to look at the depthless darkness of the galaxy and search, hopeful and hopeless, among the specks of light for a silhouette for the rest of his life. He could not.
“But he came back,” Harry said.
“It’s letting go,” Harry continued, “and trusting they will come back. Knowing they will come back.”
Draco let out a laugh, a dry huff. “Is that what you will do? Come back?”
Harry slipped his hand into Draco’s. Twined their fingers together, loose and warm.
“We are not the little prince and his rose.”
He did not let go.
“I won’t leave at all.”
His face was close. His eyes were close. The dark curls of his hair falling on his glasses—close. Everything was warm; it was hard to focus.
“I knew,” Draco said, the words slowly tumbling out, “I knew it was you.”
Harry laughed. It was close, too.
“Did you like them? The letters?”
“Mm,” Draco said. “I like things old-fashioned.”
Harry leaned in and kissed him. Draco closed his eyes. The brush of lips; the brief deepening. Draco’s fingers twitched in Harry’s hand. Harry squeezed, warm and tight.
“There,” Harry whispered. A tether. A promise.
“Yes,” Draco said. He kissed him again.
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After the war, Rex does a lot of thinking about the entire thing, about how it was unnecessarily bloody, how it cost the lives of millions of innocents (Jedi and clones combined). He thinks about his brothers and their sacrifices, about how they’d thought they were made to protect the Jedi but were never meant to be anything more than their executioners.
Rex has many regrets. He knows there’s no use in dwelling on what could have been, but if there was one thing he could change, it would be that he listened to Fives the first time around, both during Umbara and in that decrepit warehouse.
Rex comes to the conclusion that Fives had always been smarter than him. He’d been the best of them all, willing to do whatever it took to save as many lives as he could.
Fives had indirectly saved Ahsoka and Rex and any other clone who got their chip out, but Fives himself had been killed for attempting to save others. No one had been able to save Fives.
It pains Rex to think that Fives will be forgotten over the course of time, that Fives would only ever be a speck in the entire course of history. Fives was a great man, possibly one of the greatest to ever live in Rex’s opinion, and great men deserve to be remembered. Rex knows he himself will also only ever be a speck on history, but he resolves to do what he can to make sure that this great man is remembered.
He writes down every detail he knows about Fives: from Domino Squad, to Rishi, to the 501st, to the promotion to ARC after the Battle of Kamino, to the Citadel and losing Echo, to his bravery on Umbara, and finally to Ringo Vinda and the discovery of the chips. Rex doesn’t know all the details of Fives’ private life, of course, but he writes what he observed.
He makes sure that whoever stumbles upon this will know that Fives was passionate, brave, kind, funny, loyal, and incredibly intelligent. Rex notes his penchant for impassioned speeches with a chuckle. He never understood how Fives came up with those on the spot, but he supposed the ARC had always been a natural leader. Fives had been a voice that his brothers had always rallied behind; Rex always admired him for it. He had always been sure of himself and his brothers, even at times where Rex couldn’t find that confidence in himself.
Rex keeps what he’s written about Fives with him at all times. He sends a copy of it to Echo one day, knowing that Fives’ twin will be glad to have it. The days on Seelos with Wolffe and Gregor become monotonous, and he catches each of them reading the memoir at some point. One has to pass the time somehow, anyways.
When Rex joins Ghost Crew, he regales them with tales of his brothers. He talks about Fives the most and practically begs them all to carry on his memory. He can see a piece of Fives in each of them, especially in the young Ezra Bridger.
On Endor, after the Empire has been defeated, Rex meets one Luke Skywalker. They mourn and remember Anakin Skywalker together, but later Luke begs him for stories about the Clone Wars. Rex cannot help but speak about Fives, and when he mentions the memoir, Luke asks if he can see it. Rex readily agrees, and decides to ask Luke a favor. Rex knows that his time is running short, and soon there will be no one left alive who knew Fives. He asks that Luke pass on the story of the greatest man Rex ever knew, and Luke easily agrees. Rex leaves his writings and the old holopic of himself, Cody, Fives, and Echo with Luke and passes on a few months later.
Luke tells his family of Rex and Fives. They all read the manuscript, awed by the stories held within. Young Ben Solo adores the escapades of Fives and wants to be just like him when he grows up. Luke decides that Leia can keep the manuscript and holopic so that she can read Ben stories from it while he’s younger, but it stays with her even after he’s joined Luke’s school. Besides, Ben has read the stories so many times that he no longer needs the words in front of him. He joins Luke in telling his peers of the greatest man to ever live and asks them all to carry on the memory as well.
Things don’t go quite as planned. Ben does not grow up to become like Fives, but instead becomes the very thing Fives had fought so hard to destroy. He forgets the stories and kills almost everyone who would remember them.
The manuscript and holopic, however, remain with Leia. She keeps them to herself, waiting for the right person to share the stories with. She finds that person in a deserter stormtrooper who doesn’t quite know how to find his place in a world he’d never set foot in before. She gives him the manuscript and holopic and asks him to carry on the memory of the person inside.
Finn, too, is amazed by Fives. He finds a kinship in him— clones and the stormtroopers of the First Order are not all that different, it seems. He resolves to pour the same passion that Fives had into his own work with the Resistance. Without realizing it, he even picks up Fives’ tendency for passionate speeches, which amuses Leia to no end.
Finn spreads Fives’ story to his friends and many other members of the Resistance. The phrase “same heart, same blood” takes root in its members, inspiring them all to fight against tyranny.
One day, a wayward clone trooper finds his way into the Resistance. To say he is shocked to hear his dead brother’s name spoken with such reverence is an understatement, but soon he gets the story out of Finn. Kix nearly breaks down into tears, never imagining that one of his brother’s legacies could’ve lasted this long.
Eventually, the First Order is defeated, and the galaxy can finally rest. The Resistance puts up statues of its heroes from both the original Rebellion and the new one. One, however, stands out from the rest. It is of a clone trooper.
The statue of Fives stands tall and proud in the center of Coruscant. The holopic had been useful in capturing his likeness, as had directions from Kix. Fives stands with his helmet tucked underneath his left arm, his right arm held up in a salute. There is a relaxed smile upon his face, one that reassures anyone who gazes upon it.
Underneath it is a plaque that reads:
Not Just Another Number
But A Great Man”
I got emotional about how no one would remember Fives and this is what happened. I have zero (0) regrets and I hope you enjoyed this! At first I was just gonna write an analysis but I thought this would be better expressed through a fic. I wrote it all on tumblr and I’ll post it on Ao3 sometime but it’ll be a bit. I know the ending sounds like that quote from Captain America but it’s what fit haha, it’s not intended to be a reference to that at all. Thanks for reading!
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okay i’m obsessed with obi-wan being tired/exhausted/maybe not feeling 100% and he gets much more touch-needy than usual- he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it but he brushes his hand over cody’s arm when he passes, his shoulder leans a little more into anakin when they sit waiting for battle, he would MELT if anyone caressed his cheek (of course he doesn’t think that would ever happen) etc etc etc etc
It was a few days after the second battle of Geonosis that Cody started to notice it.
He hadn't been there when the transport went down at Point Rain—hadn't even seen Obi-Wan until he was collapsed against a storage crate, covered in grime and blood and Geonosian dust—but he knew it had been bad. Kix had begrudgingly discharged him from medbay the night before. But they'd both seen the pallor in face and unsteady way he stood, and Kix had shot Cody a look and mouthed the words:
"Keep an eye on him."
And Cody did. Well, even more than usual, that is.
So he was watching now, as the holograms of the Jedi Council flickered out and Obi-Wan exhaled shakily. The meeting had gone long, and he'd been growing more and more pale—looking much like the holos that surrounded them. Cody's eyes narrowed.
"Sit," General Skywalker said, quickly pulling up a chair. "That was a long time for you to stand."
"I'm fine," Obi-Wan replied. But he sank into the chair anyway, folding forward with his elbows on his knees.
Skywalker sat down beside him.
And when Obi-Wan's head started to bob sideways before landing lightly against Anakin's shoulder, Cody pretended not to notice.
But the next time, he couldn't pretend.
They were doing paperwork while the ship hurdled through hyperspace. General Skywalker had insisted on meeting in Obi-Wan's quarters instead of the conference room—that way he could "rest and keep comfortable," as per Kix's orders—so Cody and Obi-Wan now shared the couch, while Skywalker spread out his work on the floor.
It was just the two of them now—Skywalker had gone off to train with Commander Tano, leaving them in comfortable silence. Every once in a while Cody felt his eyes slide sideways, watching Obi-Wan scroll and type into his datapad, occasionally pausing to rub his eyes.
He looked down to their empty mugs on the coffee table. "More tea?"
Obi-Wan blinked, as if disoriented. "No, I—I think I'll just get some water. Do you want any?"
"I'll get it," Cody said, moving to stand.
"No, let me."
He stood. But as he did so—
Obi-Wan had squeezed his wrist.
He supposed that wasn't too out of the ordinary—he'd seen Obi-Wan casually reach for General Skywalker's shoulder plenty of times. But he also knew that Obi-Wan wasn't one to do much of anything casually. Only when he really wasn't himself—
Obi-Wan was returning before Cody could finish the thought, passing him a glass of water with unsteady hands. When he sank down to the couch again, though, this time he was closer. His shoulder pressed lightly against Cody's. He could feel the warmth against his arm.
Cody forced himself to stare at the datapad.
But beside him, Obi-Wan didn't bother lifting his own. He was staring into the glass of water, looking dazed, his eyes dull and empty.
Cody moved his elbow just so, bumping Obi-Wan's lightly. Obi-Wan almost seemed to lean into the touch. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Obi-Wan said, blinking quickly. As if to shake himself back to the here and now. "I'm sorry. I just—haven't been sleeping well."
Cody exhaled. "Since Geonosis?"
Obi-Wan hesitated before he nodded. "The pain...well, it flares at night."
Cody knew better than to say anything. If he suggested medbay, Obi-Wan would just wave him away and this brief moment of honesty would be gone. So instead he just nodded. Looked down at his knees. Pretending his wasn't watching Obi-Wan out of the corner of his eye.
Sometimes he thought he had his General memorized—from his voice to his mannerisms to the way his eyes changed depending who he was looking at (not that Cody was looking into his eyes, but...well—)
And so he noticed. He noticed when Obi-Wan's posture began to droop, and his eyelids started to flutter more slowly each time he blinked, until they were nearly closed.
Cody turned as Obi-Wan started to sway sideways. And then, before he could stop himself or even knew what he was doing, Cody's hand went gently to Obi-Wan's cheek.
He was just trying to catch him—stop him from falling and startling awake in panic. But when Obi-Wan's eyes fluttered lightly open, he didn't startle. He didn't pull away.
He leaned into the hand on his cheek and moved closer.
When Cody trusted himself to speak, he swallowed. "You should try to sleep."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "I shouldn't. Not now. I'll mess with my sleep cycle, you know how it is in hyperspace—"
But he was still letting Cody's thumb rub against the hair behind his ear, tucking a few graying strands back where they belonged. "Maybe," Cody said, unable to stop himself from smiling. "But it looks like you're about to do it anyway."
And no sooner had he spoken, Obi-Wan's eyes were closing again. His weight fell fully against Cody, and his breathing grew deep and rhythmic, and his hands fell limply at his sides.
Cody huffed a quiet laugh. And though he supposed he could move away—let Obi-Wan have the full couch to himself, as he probably should have—he didn't.
And when Anakin would find them later—Cody's arm resting on Obi-Wan's shoulders, quietly dozing away—he pretended not to notice.
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Always a Bridesmaid
While Harry’s friends are all getting engaged or married, he’s nowhere near walking down the aisle to his own happily ever after.
The night before his best friend’s wedding, Harry falls into bed with a silver haired stranger who makes him wonder what his own forever might look like.
Louis/Harry | 30K Words | Explicit | On Ao3
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A fic that answers two questions no one was asking: (1) why was dean drawn to the ballet shoes and (2) what if mary had her own inherent homoerotic team sports experience?
Or, in other words, dean might’ve learned what kind of “man” he was supposed to be from his father, but he learned he was supposed to perform “man” in the first place from his mother.
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A Hundred Golden Urns
Explicit, 7.5k words
Read it on AO3
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Little Red’s Shadow Part 1
Pairing: Werewolf Pero Tovar x Female!Reader
Word Count: 8000+
Summary: I posted an idea about werewolf Pero and this fic grew from there. Hope you like it 💖
Warnings: no beta all mistakes are my own, language, werewolf/shapeshifter AU with little red riding hood elements, pining, angst, Reader has a crush and is oblivious to the obvious, Pero’s got a secret so he’s a bit grumpy, injury description with blood, death of a rabbit, setting and time period? who knows lol it is what it is
Author Note: First time writing Pero and there’s been a lot of interest in this fic so I’m nervous posting cuz this is super self-indulgent. Originally I wanted to post the fic from start to end, but this week hasn’t been a good one and posting fics always makes me feel better so yeah. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 is a few scenes away from being done.
“The gaze of the wolf reaches into our soul.” – Barry Lopez
Twilight is fast approaching as you walk along the forest trail between your village and the neighboring one to the north, glimpses of a dark purple and red sky visible overhead through the branches of pine trees bracketing either side of you. There is a chill in the air, the last lingering side effect of the winter season, and you adjust your scarlet-colored cloak tighter around your body, fighting back a shiver.
Being in the woods this late isn’t a wise choice and you’re sure to receive a lecture from your father when you get home about time management, but in your defense once Mrs. Tate starts talking, it is virtually impossible to make the widow stop until she talks herself into a state of unconsciousness. You were held hostage in her living room for hours listening to her prattle on about a variety of topics ranging from a drought that occurred forty years ago to a new recipe of cake she’s eager to try baking.
Fortunately you’d had the forethought of completing your other deliveries before taking Mrs. Tate her new sewing kit, otherwise you would be making the walk home completely in the dark.
Although twilight isn’t much better, you think to yourself after tripping over a stick obscured in shadow, accidentally untying one of your shoelaces in the process. You bite back a curse, knowing that walking through the woods with untied shoes is a guarantee you’ll wind up with a sprained ankle. A lesson you’ve unfortunately learned the hard, painful way more than once over the years.
Sighing, you bend down to retie the knot only to freeze when it occurs to you just how quiet the woods have become. The air has frozen still, not even the faintest of breezes ruffling the tree branches. You strain your ears to hear anything over the anxious thumping of your heartbeat, but it is as if the whole world has been turned on mute.
The hairs on the back of your neck prickle, and you become very uncomfortably aware of someone’s gaze watching you. You swallow thickly, dread forming a heavy stone in your stomach, regretting dismissing your father’s advice of carrying a knife with you for protection.
“There’s nothing dangerous out there,” you had told him, pulling the hood of your cloak over your head while concealing an eye roll. “Just rabbits and squirrels and deer.”
What is that saying about hindsight?
The logical part of your brain is screaming at you to take off running, to try and put as much distance between yourself and the threat as possible. But you’ve always been a slave to your own curiosity, that insistent pull in your chest telling you to investigate, and right now it wants you to turn around and find out who or what is about to potentially kill you.
Mentally counting to three, you slowly twist your shoulders to look behind you, trembling like a leaf about to be blown away from its branch, and scan the foliage for unfamiliar shapes or shifting shadows.
Nothing immediately stands out as dangerous or suspicious looking. You start to think your imagination is playing tricks on you, only to gasp when a twig snaps, echoing like a gunshot. A bolt of fear strikes your chest, adrenaline surging through your veins, and every instinct you possess is on high alert.
The wind picks up again, nearly knocking you over with a strong gust, and as you struggle to maintain balance you think you hear a quiet huffing sound right before a clump of bushes shake in front of you. Like something brushed past them.
You wait a few more seconds before finishing tying your shoelace, no longer feeling eyes upon you. Whatever it was watching you had left, apparently deciding you weren’t worth killing.
There is barely enough sunlight left to guide you home, but your curiosity has not been sated yet, pulling you in the direction of the bush. You crouch and push away the branches, squinting to make out the shape of pawprints in the dirt, a bit messy and overlapping like the animal had backed up quickly.
“Oh my God,” you murmur, stunned to realize a wolf had been spying on you. No way a regular dog could leave behind tracks larger than the width of your hand.
But what is a wolf doing so close to the village? You can’t remember hearing about sightings of one in the area anytime recently. It’s probably just a rogue passing through, you think as you start walking again, but the sensation of its intense gaze upon you continues to linger the entire journey back, replaying on loop within your mind.
When she was still living, your mother taught you not to believe in coincidences. There are some encounters too strange and remarkable to have occurred by random chance. They are instead controlled by the strings of fate, as inevitable as the changing of seasons each year.
When you reach your village at the end of the trail, you pause for a moment to look over your shoulder into the dark depths of the forest. Your heart weighs heavily in your chest, burdened by a sense of certainty you can’t ignore.
The wolf was intended to cross your path.
And you can’t shake the feeling it will happen again.
“Wolves in shells are crueler than stray ones.” ― Gaston Bachelard
When you’re not out delivering orders, you can usually be found behind the counter as the cashier of your father’s trading outpost. Years spent helping your father has made you a master at recognizing faces. Whether the person is a frequent visitor or they only swing around every few months, you take pride in recognizing each customer and trader that comes through the door, greeting them by name with a smile.
You’re in the middle of reading a field guide on woodland animals you’d plucked from the shelf of mishmash genres in the corner when the bell over the door jingles, signalling a new arrival. You look up, a welcoming remark ready on your tongue, only to be caught off guard by the haggard appearance of a stranger.
The man is a couple of inches taller than you, broad-shouldered and thick with the sort of muscle mass that comes only from harsh work conditions. His dark brown hair is long and in desperate need of a thorough washing, and the bottom half of his face is concealed by a thick, bushy beard of the same coloring.
He carries a bundle of pelts with him, slamming them down upon the counter in front of you with a heavy thud, confirming his employment as a hunter. Up close you notice a nasty looking scar dissecting his left eye, the mark slightly raised and pinkish red. A couple months old, maybe. You wonder what caused the injury, if it was an animal or another human.
“I didn’t come to be stared at,” he says bluntly, accented voice rough and scratchy with disuse, almost like a growl.
Your cheeks flush with embarrassment and you avert your eyes to the pile of furry pelts. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t mean any offense.”
The stranger walks away wordlessly, perusing the stocked shelves with a scowling face like he’s dissatisfied with everything he sees. You keep a subtle eye on him as you start sorting through the pelts, identifying all the creatures in the collection. The majority are rabbits and squirrels, but your father will be happy when you show him the few badgers and foxes that have been skinned in perfect condition.
“I’ll need your name to complete the transaction,” you tell the bearded man when he returns to the counter and sets down a handful of items, including a new knife and pair of leather boots.
“What are you reading?”
You blink at the non-sequitur, then follow his gaze down to the open book in front of you. “A field guide,” you say, moving to push it aside only for him to snatch it away with unexpected swiftness.
Impossibly, his scowl seems to intensify with every line of text he reads, lips twisting into what you can only label as a snarl. Coupled with his shaggy hair, he resembles more of a beast than a man at the moment.
“Careful,” you tell him mildly, the corners of your lips curling into a teasing smile. “You might get stuck with that face.”
The stranger’s eyebrows shoot up with surprise, dropping the book as if it burned him, before he lets out a dry, humorless chuckle. “If only you knew,” he mutters cryptically. Then he gathers up his selected goods and heads for the door, only pausing long enough in the entryway to say, “It’s Pero,” before he leaves as mysteriously as he came.
It takes you an embarrassingly long moment after he’s gone to realize he’s given you his name.
“Nice meeting you Pero,” you say to the empty room, scribbling down the name. It’s as unique as the man himself, easy to commit to memory.
You reach to shut the field guide and then change course, instead pulling it back across the counter to look at the page Pero had been reading. The way he’d scowled and glowered made you think he wanted to set the whole thing on fire if he’d possessed the power.
The eyes of a gray wolf stare back at you, sending a shudder down your spine. You trace your finger along the outline of the triangular shape of its ears, its sleek and furry torso, all the way down to its bushy tail.
How strange and remarkable, you think, closing the guidebook and putting it away. A thorn of disappointment digs into your chest when you wonder if this was the second encounter with the wolf you’d been anticipating.
A paper wolf crumples in comparison to a real one.
“Some girls are full of heartache and poetry and those are the kind of girls who try to save wolves instead of running away from them.” ― Nikita Gill
The ground beneath your boots is muddy and slick from the overnight rain. Every step threatens to send you tumbling to the earth, making you exceedingly cautious even though the consequence is your delivery trip is taking twice as long. A thin layer of fog has settled over the forest this morning, giving your surroundings an almost mystical appearance. Everything is a bit blurry, like looking through your father’s spectacles, forcing you to rely on the mental map of the trails etched into your brain to keep you from getting lost.
A low, rumbling growl has you stopping dead, heart lodging in your throat.
There is no mistaking the wolf’s presence even if you can’t see him. No other living thing inhabiting the woods could produce such a fierce and throaty sound. Clutching the parcel tighter against your chest, you peer into the dense undergrowth, searching for signs of movement.
Another growl weaves through the trees, but this time there is an audible note of pain laced within it. The wolf is hurt, you realize, a wave of worry crashing into you.
After a beat of hesitation, you set the parcel on the ground and step off the path, ignoring the warning bells in the back of your head, angry with you for disobeying your father’s strict instruction about never veering away from the trail. The trail meant safety and certainty, the quickest route from Point A to Point B. By entering the woods, especially with the present fog, you risk never being found again.
But it is not in your nature to abandon someone in need of help. Even if that someone is a wolf of all creatures.
You push through a tangle of thorny bushes, muttering a curse when they snag on the fabric of your cloak, and stumble into a small grassy clearing with all the clumsiness of the village drunk.
Then you see the wolf.
Describing it as big would be offensive. It’s colossal, hackles raised and ears drawn back against its skull, all its teeth bared in a threatening snarl. The color of its fur is a shade of brown so dark it could pass for black, except for around its right hind leg which is coated in a sickening amount of crimson blood.
The metal spikes of a hunting trap embedded in its flesh keep it from lunging at you, slicing through muscle and sinew right into the bone. Blood seeps out of the wound, staining the blades of grass beneath the wolf’s leg, and it takes all your self-control not to gag at the disturbing sight.
“Damn it,” you breathe, unsure what to do, fingers clenching and unclenching restlessly. You have no medical expertise, especially not for helping massive predators who can tear off your hand with one bite of its sharp fangs.
You inch closer a step, only to immediately tense when the beast’s low growl intensifies in volume and it snaps at the air in your direction. Raising your hands in a pacifying gesture, you slowly crouch down low, trying to appear as non-threatening as physically possible. It isn’t a challenging feat considering you’re about as dangerous a threat to the wolf as a baby deer has the potential to be.
The wolf’s growling ceases, amber-gold eyes glinting with suspiciousness. You never knew animals could express human emotions so clearly, almost as if there is a human soul trapped beneath all that fur. You toss the ludicrous idea out of your mind instantly, shaking your head at your own foolishness.
“So you stepped in a trap, huh,” you say, biting your lip as you study the ugly piece of metal, convinced whoever invented it is a sadistic monster. “That’s not good.”
The wolf huffs through its nose and tilts its head, looking at you like you’re the biggest idiot it has ever encountered.
You stare back at it incredulously. “Wait. Do you...understand me?”
For a long moment, the wolf just stares at you, nose faintly twitching as it scents the air, then eventually dips its muzzle in a nod.
Honestly, you don’t know whether to be amazed or frightened by the confirmation. Or perhaps even a mixture of both. You’ve read wolves are intelligent creatures, capable of learning new skills to help them survive, but learning human speech beyond simple commands is a talent you never could have guessed was possible.
“Well, alright then,” you say, wetting your lips and trying to find the right words. “If you really can understand everything I’m saying, then…” You look him straight in the eye. “I want to help you get out of here. But to help you, I’ve got to move closer, okay?”
The wolf remains wary, hackles still raised with alarm, but it doesn’t try to lunge at you again when you creep forward and you think a tentative bridge of trust is starting to form.
There is an iron chain attached to the trap wrapped around a nearby tree trunk acting as an anchor, keeping the wolf from escaping with the hunter’s equipment. The wolf silently watches you unwind the chain, loosening the tension of the trap, then looks between its still-ensnared leg and you as if to ask, What’s next?
“My father used to take me hunting when I was a kid,” you explain, moving in close enough you feel the heat emanating from the wolf’s body. The stench of blood floods your nostrils and your stomach clenches with nausea. “I know how to get you out, but it’s going to hurt. Please don’t rip my face off.”
One of the wolf’s ears twitches in acknowledgement, but the gesture doesn’t inspire much confidence. What the hell do you know about wolf communication though? Maybe an ear twitch is a promise of good behavior.
Mentally bracing yourself, you drop onto your knees next to the trap, the pool of blood seeping into the fabric of your pants. You swallow a noise of disgust, closing your eyes briefly to focus and bring to mind the details of your father’s explanations about the mechanics of a foothold trap. There are two coiled springs exerting force onto two levers which hold the trap’s serrated jaws closed. To free the wolf you’ll need to depress the levers and release the pressure on its leg.
The metal is slick and warm with the wolf’s blood, and your fingers struggle to keep a tight grip. You curse under your breath when you accidentally jostle its leg, a stream of scarlet oozing out of the shredded wound. The wolf’s breath hitches, muscles shuddering along its flank, but it doesn’t snap at you.
You try again, carefully grasping the levers on each side of the trap, and pull with all your strength, arms burning with strain. Slowly, groaning with reluctance, the jaws open little by little until there is enough space for the wolf to slip its leg free. You turn away, not wanting to see the mess of torn flesh, and toss the trap aside with a grimace.
A wet nose touches the side of your neck, just under your ear, and you nearly jump out of your skin. You stare straight ahead, lips pursed to hold back the whimper in your throat, as it scents you, snuffling softly. And then that nose becomes a warm, rough tongue licking a long line from the base of your neck up to your jawline.
You’re unable to keep from gasping. “You—you’re welcome,” you stammer, all the thoughts in your head dissolving into static. What do you do? Should you turn around and face the wolf? Or push away its snout first? You don’t think it will hurt you, but the risk of losing a finger or two makes you hesitant.
Before you can make up your mind, the wolf moves away and goosebumps rise on your arms as it takes its warmth away with it. You tilt your head towards your shoulder, wiping away the spit with your cloak.
“Look,” you start to say, turning around, “I—”
The wolf is gone. No sign it was ever there except for a trail of blood drops disappearing into the foliage.
“The wolf changes his coat, but not his disposition.” — Proverb
The blacksmith’s workshop is distanced from the other buildings in the village due to the risk of causing a fire from its blazing forge. Its owner, William, is the type of friendly man who has never met a stranger in his life, eager to help anyone who asks him to create weapons or horseshoes or even cooking utensils. And as long as he’s lived here—almost five years now—he’s always worked alone.
Which is why, when you arrive at the shop early in the morning to pick up supplies for the outpost and come face to face with a different dark-headed man wearing a leather apron and gloves while hammering away at a horseshoe, you raise an eyebrow of suspicion and confusion.
For all your pride when it comes to your talent for recognizing faces, it’s not until the man’s lips twist into a scowl at being stared at that you realize he’s not a stranger at all.
“Pero,” you say blankly. He’s cut his overgrown hair since the last time you saw him a few days prior, and also sports a neatly trimmed mustache and a faint dusting of scruff along his chin instead of an unkempt beard.
Oh, good Lord, you think, taking in the sight of his sharp jawline and the flexing of his biceps as he adjusts his grip on the hammer. He’s gorgeous.
Did the temperature suddenly rise a thousand degrees?
His brown eyes glow golden, reflecting the firelight. “You remembered,” he says, mocking your bland tone. His brow furrows when he looks at your cloak, a flicker of an emotion you can’t identify crossing his face. “What are you wearing? You look like the stupid little girl in the fairytale.”
“Does that make you the big bad wolf?” you retort, crossing your arms over your chest and simultaneously fighting back a wince when you realize how sweaty your underarms have become in the mere minutes since your arrival.
Pero smirks then, mean and teasing, making you feel like prey about to be consumed. When he speaks, the rough edges of his voice send a chill down your spine despite the intense heat pressing down on you from all sides. “It just might.”
You roll your eyes, unamused. “What are you doing here anyways?”
“Mr. Tovar needed a place to stay and I needed a second pair of hands. It’s funny how life is sometimes, isn’t it?” William shuffles in from the doorway connecting to his house at the back of the shop. He slaps Pero companionably on the shoulder as he passes by, eliciting a grunt from the Spaniard.
“Hilarious,” you agree, looking between the two men, different as night and day from each other. You estimate the arrangement lasting three days. A week, at most.
“His skills are almost better than mine,” William admits. He pinches his index finger and thumb together. “Almost.”
Pero shakes his head, mock reproachful. “Careful pissing someone off who's holding a hammer, amigo.”
“I thought you were just a hunter,” you say, an accusation laced within your tone.
He turns back to you, a shadow of that same teasing smirk making a reappearance. “Can’t a man be two things at once, little red?”
You tell yourself the sudden burst of warmth inside your stomach is a side effect of possible heat stroke and not because of how the nickname rolls velvety smooth off his tongue. “Anything’s possible, I suppose.”
He grunts, as if he expected that response, and returns to his abandoned task without another word.
You’re starting to think the man actually likes coming across as odd and mysterious.
William attempts to reclaim your attention by gesturing towards the corner of the room. “I have your father’s order ready, if you’d like to take a look?”
You nod, but instead of listening to the blacksmith’s excited rambling about the tools he had crafted, your gaze keeps being pulled over your shoulder to look at Pero as he moves to grab tongs to handle the horseshoe.
He’s limping, you realize, immediately noticing the odd way his right foot drags along the ground and how he barely leans any weight upon it. His injury reminds you uncomfortably of your wolf, alone and hurt, somewhere out there beyond the pine trees. You hope it's alright.
Against your own better judgement, you find yourself mouthing a quiet prayer of healing for both of them.
And then immediately wonder when the hell did you start thinking of the wolf as yours?
“The wolves in the woods have sharp teeth and long claws, but it’s the wolf inside who will tear you apart.” — Jennifer Donnelly
A month passes and you do not see your wolf again—it’s officially your wolf now, if only to properly distinguish it from any other wolf in existence—but not for lack of looking though. With every delivery that takes you through the forest, you keep your eyes peeled for the slightest of movements and examine every animal track you come across. Except you’re only met with consistent disappointment when every rustling bush is caused by the wind and the marks in the dirt belong to the local creature inhabitants. The hunters passing by the outpost haven’t reported any news or rumors of a wolf in the area either, living or dead.
In a way, you’re glad your wolf has seemingly vanished. It probably means the beast has moved on to find somewhere devoid of cruel hunting traps. You try to keep a positive attitude, although you’d be lying if you said you didn’t stay up late worrying. Is it eating enough? Is its leg bothering it? Is it safe?
The only thing interesting enough to distract you from these questions swirling round and round in your head is Pero.
You catch glimpses of him throughout the village, buying groceries and delivering orders for William and handling other day-to-day tasks. He’s quiet and more than a little intimidating, but he’s also polite to the village elders and doesn’t bother anyone by causing unnecessary trouble. His injured foot seems to no longer be an issue, but when you try asking him about how he hurt it he brushes off your concern, says he wasn’t watching where he was going and he won’t make the same mistake again.
Whenever you stop by the blacksmith workshop to pick up orders and supplies, you’re continuously surprised to find William actually seems to enjoy Pero’s sarcastic quips and gruff countenance. Listening to their banter quickly becomes something to look forward to and sometimes you even find the courage to toss in a witty remark of your own, enraptured by the dimpled smile appearing on Pero’s face as a result.
There is something magnetic about Pero that makes you want to be near him. You’re curious about Pero in a way you’ve never felt about anyone else before—certainly not the other village boys. And you hope, more than anything, this crush you’re developing isn’t totally one-sided.
William isn’t at his shop today when you arrive to collect a box of hardware pieces needed to make some repairs around the trading outpost. Without his presence, there is fortunately nobody around to witness your horrible attempt at flirting.
“So,” you drawl, rubbing your palms on your pants. “You’re not from around here.”
Oh God. You grimace, wishing the ground would open up and swallow you.
“Was it the accent that gave me away?” Pero asks sardonically from across the room, back facing you as he double-checks the contents of your package are all packed. “Or my roguish looks?”
“You know, when we first met I pegged you as the silent and brooding type,” you say, aiming for coyness while looking him over from head to toe as he approaches the counter. “But surprise, surprise you’ve got quite the sharp tongue too. What else is there to learn about you, Pero? You seem like a man who conceals many secrets.”
You mean to peer at him seductively through your eyelashes, only instead you’re caught off guard by the way Pero suddenly appears...young. Expression raw and open, lips slightly parted. A tuft of his dark hair sticking to his sweaty forehead. Then he blinks and shakes his head hard enough you fear his neck snapping.
When he finally looks back at you, his searing gaze burns through your clothes, setting your skin ablaze, and you nearly choke on your spit as he says, “If you want to see me naked you’ll have to do better than that, little red.”
Did he...really just say that?
“I…You...” Your mouth opens, then falls shut with an audible noise, cheeks flaming.
And then he lets out a low, raspy breath of laughter, shoulders shaking and crow’s feet appearing at the corners of his eyes, amused by your naivety. Hurt slices through your body as if he’s stabbed you with one of the weapons lying about. You can’t believe you thought for even one second that maybe he could be different from the rest of the village assholes. God, you feel like such an idiot.
“Fuck you, Pero,” you spit at him, grabbing your package and spinning on heel towards the exit.
You don’t look back. Not when he pleads for you to wait, not when he calls your name, and not even when you hear an angry curse followed by the deafening clang of metal striking metal.
“Even a wolf knows how to be polite when animalistic humans have no clue about politeness.” — Munia Khan
You hum quietly a few notes of a song your mother used to sing, weaving together wildflowers you’d collected on your walk into a crown. The forest is quiet around you, leaving you to work peacefully in the same grassy clearing you’d encountered the wolf over a month ago.
Still angry with Pero, you’ve started spending longer hours within the sanctitude of the woods, the only place you feel you can hide from him. Not that he’s even tried to seek you out at the outpost or your home to apologize which is just further salt in the imaginary wound leftover from the incident.
Sunlight filters through the overhead branches and your red cloak lays discarded at your side, too hot to wear the extra layer. If Pero were with you and saw it, he’d say some stupid line like About time you used what little common sense you possess because he always scolded you for risking heatstroke by wearing it in the forge.
But Pero isn’t here with you.
“And ain’t that a good fucking thing,” you mutter under your breath, ignoring the tightness in your chest.
A twig snapping to the right of you has you freezing as you’re reaching for another flower. Out of the corner of your eye you catch a shadow of movement and you slowly turn your head to look just as a familiar, gigantic wolf steps into the clearing just a few feet away from where you’re sitting.
Your breath stills in your lungs. That’s your wolf.
It stares back at you, silent and unmoving with its head slightly ducked, almost like...it’s nervous? Your gaze roams over its body, noticing the wound on its hind leg has mostly healed since your last encounter, just the faintest bit of scarring the only evidence there was ever an injury at all.
“You’re back,” you say, needlessly pointing out the obvious. Its ears twitch at the sound of your voice. “It’s good to see you’ve been staying out of trouble. I’ve been worried about you.”
Your wolf perks up, tongue lolling out of its mouth and tail wagging as if it’s a puppy and not a two-hundred pound behemoth.
You are unable to resist cooing at it, finding the attempt at smiling adorable despite the sharpness of its teeth. And then that coo shifts into a gasp when the wolf closes the distance, a few feet becoming a few inches until it’s close enough to nuzzle the side of your face, cold nose rubbing against your cheek.
You hesitate to move or breathe, thinking of all the violent stories you’d heard growing up from hunters and trappers who said wild animals couldn’t be trusted. It’s a dog eat dog world and predators will always choose to go down fighting to the bloody end.
But then, almost like an unseen force is controlling your limbs, you lift a shaky hand to brush against the thick, dense fur of its neck. Your wolf practically melts at your touch, a pleased growl rumbling from deep within its chest, and all but collapses across your lap, burying its face against your middle.
Laughing, you start scratching along its shoulder and flank, and the smile on your face grows wider when your wolf tilts its head to lick at your chin, as eager to return affection as it is to receive some. “You’re pretty adorable for a ferocious beast,” you say, awe and wonder slipping into your tone. “How did I get picked to be so lucky to meet you?”
Your wolf lets out a low half-whine, half-grunt in response and licks at the veins along your wrist.
An hour passes with your wolf lying pressed against your leg, massive head resting atop your thigh, watching you craft a few more flower crowns you hope to sell at the next Market Day for some extra pocket money. For your own entertainment, you gently set one of the crowns upon your wolf’s head. Its ears swivel a bit, grazing the petals, and a heavy sigh passes through its nose like it’s exasperated with you, but otherwise the animal doesn’t seem to mind the accessory.
If you could, you'd spend another five hours in the woods with your furry companion, but the sun is starting to descend in the sky and your father will be expecting you soon.
“I’ve got to start heading back home.” You stand up and stretch your legs to get blood flowing again after such a long time spent sitting. Your wolf’s golden eyes follow your every movement as you pack away the flower crowns and slip your arm through the basket’s handle to rest it in the crook of your elbow. You pet its head one last time. “Hopefully we meet again soon.”
Not even twenty steps away from the clearing, you spin around when you hear movement behind you and find your wolf sitting in the middle of the trail, obviously following you.
“Are you going to be my shadow all the way home?” you ask incredulously.
“Do I have a choice in the matter?”
You shake your head at its antics, but a smile tugs at your lips, betraying your inner amusement. You could never really be upset with someone so adorable. “Well, come on then, Shadow. Let’s at least walk side by side as equals, okay?”
Your wolf trots forward, snout grazing against your elbow as softly as a kiss, and doesn’t leave your side until the trail’s end.
A new routine develops over the next two weeks between you and your wolf. Shadow becomes your new delivery escort, greeting you when you enter the forest with a toothy grin and then spends the next few minutes nuzzling and rubbing against every inch of your body. You realize after the third time that he is scent marking you, claiming you as his own by making sure you smell like him. You don’t mind the aggressive cuddling session, thinking it is a much better experience than being peed on everyday.
The more time you spend with Shadow, the more you start opening up and sharing your thoughts and secrets with him. You’ve always been a lonely soul, feeling like nobody truly understood you, especially after your mother passed away, but with your wolf at your side you don’t feel quite so alone. He listens to everything you have to say, responding in his own quirky way with growls and whines, so eerily humanlike with his expressions.
You want to know more about him, where he came from before entering your life and how long he’s been on his own. According to your books, there isn’t a single good reason or explanation for a wolf to be traveling without a pack. But whenever you try to ask him about his past he gives you the silent treatment, pointedly turning his gaze away from you until you change the topic.
Whatever happened, clearly the pain is still fresh for him.
“I don’t like to talk about the past either,” you tell him, your mother’s face flashing through your mind.
Shadow makes no noise, but licks at your hand in acknowledgement, coating your fingers with saliva.
“Aw, wolf spit!” You wipe your hand on your pants, face scrunched up in exaggerated disgust. “Gross!”
He circles around you, quicker than your eyes can follow, and catches hold of the hem of your shirt.
Your eyes widen. “Hey, no, Shadow don’t you dare—”
One strong tug and your balance is lost, falling backwards onto your rear at the same time the fabric rips. Shadow wastes no time pushing his face against yours, noses briefly smooshing against each other, wagging his tail when you start giggling. His lips pull back into a grin, tongue lolling out, and it’s your only forewarning before he starts licking you in earnest. Unthinkingly, you bare your throat when he dips his head to lap at the tender patch of skin right above your collarbone.
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry, you sensitive and giant furball,” you say in-between bouts of laughter, shoving at his chest to push him away. The effort is pointless, like trying to physically push against a brick house, but Shadow takes pity on you, rumbling a noise not unlike a raspy chuckle.
A sense of familiarity pricks the back of your mind, but the feeling doesn’t linger long, dismissed as easily as a thrown away splinter.
You look down at your torn shirt with a sigh. This will be the fifth piece of clothing you’ll have to mend with your sewing kit. Your father’s been suspicious lately of your extra spending on thread and your list of plausible excuses is dwindling alarmingly quick.
“I could probably blame Pero somehow,” you mutter to yourself, but there is no real heat in your tone. Instead there is just a faint pang of hollowness beneath your ribcage. “Can you believe I actually miss talking to that asshole? I thought maybe he liked me, but I found out the hard way I was wrong.”
Shadow whines, sensing your change in mood.
“Love is easy for wolves. You find your perfect match and then you’re bonded for life,” you say quietly, running a hand over his head. “But it’s different for humans. It can be so beautiful and sweet, but it’s also messy and difficult and confusing...” Your voice trails off as a connection is made, two puzzle pieces clicking together in the back of your mind.
“Maybe humans are meant to experience both. The dark and the light. Love isn’t skin deep, after all. If you fall in love with someone, you’ve got to be willing to love their inner monster too.”
"Have you seen what wolves do to their prey? But they do mate for life." — Donna Lynn Hope
Spring always seems to bring out the best in nature and people. Flowers start to blossom, as if eager to greet the humans who have been tucked away within their warm homes for so long, and your neighbors in the village wear friendly smiles upon their faces, reveling in the sunshine.
During Market Day, the village square becomes a hive of activity with people coming from dozens of nearby towns to check out the rows of vendor stalls. You’ve been shopping less than an hour and already your basket is full to the brim of a plethora of unique goods.
The crowds are always thick once the last stubborn traces of winter have finally disappeared and you’re having to nudge people aside with your elbows in your quest to reach a seller known for their honey buns. Your goal is within sight, closer with every step, and you can practically taste the sweetness on your tongue only to instead collide face first into a broad chest appearing out of nowhere.
You let out a quiet oof of surprise, stumbling backwards on your heels. Large hands reach out and hold onto your upper arms to steady you.
“Careful, little red.”
You straighten up in an instant, eyes wide, and choke out a hoarse, “Pero.”
It’s been weeks since you last spoke to him in the blacksmith workshop, but he’s still just as unfairly attractive as you remember. He wears a red flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, baring his toned forearms to the world, and dark trousers. On his feet are the leather boots he traded his collection of pelts for when he first arrived.
He looks nervous, you think, watching the way his tongue swipes at his bottom lip and how he seems reluctant to maintain steady eye contact.
“I haven’t seen you in awhile,” he says at last. “You stopped coming by the forge.”
“I’ve been busy making deliveries elsewhere,” you reply stiffly, clasping your basket in front of you with both hands. Pero’s expression spasms, as if he restrained himself from wincing.
You don’t like it—this whole kicked puppy look he’s conveying. Pero’s the one who hurt you by behaving so mean before, laughing at you like you were the last person on earth to have a chance with him, and yet you can’t help feeling guilty for being cold towards him.
He clears his throat. “You’re mad at me.”
“Because I was an insensitive ass.”
“Two for two, do you want a gold star?”
Pero’s eyes flash, either with anger or hurt, you can’t tell. He crosses his arms, glancing around the square like he’s wary of anyone overhearing your conversation. You keep staring at him, knowing everyone is too caught up in their own shopping to pay either of you any attention longer than a passing glance.
He clears his throat and says with all the bluntness as a punch to the sternum, “You’re too good for someone like me.”
You blink once, twice, then arch an eyebrow at him. “What does that even mean?”
“It means,” he says slowly, like he can’t believe you’re dumb enough to ask him, “I’m not someone you should waste your time on. You deserve better.”
Realization clicks in your brain, followed shortly by a burst of anger, red hot and boiling.
“I’m a grown woman, Pero,” you say despite fighting the childish urge to stomp your foot. “I can handle rejection. If you don’t have feelings for me then just tell me so.”
Pero runs a hand through his hair, mouth twisting with frustration. He probably had hoped you’d just take his excuse and carry on with your life, but you refuse to let him get off easy. He’s not wrong: you do deserve better.
“I didn’t say that.”
Your whole body goes still, because if that means what you think it means then—
Pero won’t meet your eyes, his discomfort clear. “I just...can’t be with you, little red.”
So it hasn’t been a one-sided attraction all this time. He has feelings for you, but he made the preemptive choice to crush them rather than let them keep growing and evolving into something potentially serious.
And he also made that choice for you.
“Hell no,” you blurt out, startling him. “I’m not letting you give up on future us with that piss poor reason. I deserve better than you can’t.”
“Future us?” Pero echoes, head tilting. “You really think…?”
You wait a beat for him to finish the trailed off sentence, but he seems incapable, staring at you like he’s having trouble believing you truly exist.
“Yes.” You take pity on him, nodding your head. “Yes, I think you’re different from anybody else I’ve ever met. Yes, I think you are grumpy and sarcastic to prevent people from getting to know you. And yes, Pero, I think you and I could have a future if you’d quit making bad decisions trying to push me away.”
Pero’s lips purse into a thin, angry line. His brown eyes have turned hard, frigid cold. “You think I’m different from everyone else? That’s because you don’t know shit about me. I’m a liar and a thief. There is blood on my hands, little red. More than you could possibly fathom. I have become something no one—not even my own mamá—could ever love.”
He’s looming over you now, breathing hotly against your face, and you can only stare straight ahead over his shoulder, unable to think of something to say.
“You don’t belong in my world. Is that a fucking good enough reason for you?”
You swallow, carefully arranging your thoughts before answering. “It’s better,” you admit, because it’s true. For the first time you’re aware of the possibility he could be dangerous. That he’s someone you should run away from instead of chase after.
Unwittingly, Shadow comes to mind. You think about how he’d snarled at you when you first approached him, when he’d been trapped and cornered, lashing out instead of accepting the help he needed. You think about how you’ve developed a bond with him now, the way he smiles instead of growls, protecting you against nonexistent threats on your walks. You’d never have that bond if you’d chosen to run away from him.
“My choice hasn’t changed though.” You tilt your head up and he’s close enough your noses lightly graze each other. It takes all your self-control not to smirk at his sharp inhale of air. “I still want to take the risk, even if it’s true I’m not fit for your world. Just, tell me one thing, Pero. Are you going to break my heart on purpose?”
Pero’s already shaking his head before you finish, looking lost and pained. “What? I—That’s not—” He cuts himself off, looking away to gather his composure. When he looks at you again, he’s not quite as panicked, but the pain persists in the lines of his expression, “No, never purposefully. But—”
You press a finger over his lips, silencing him. “I’ll see you tonight at the tavern. You better not keep me waiting for our first date or I’ll tie you to a tree and let the wild beasts eat you.”
Pero stares at you, expressionless and frozen still, and just when your anxiety is about to consume you, he smiles, a soft, precious little curl of his lips. He takes your hand and presses a featherlight kiss upon each of your knuckles, maintaining steady eye contact the whole time. Your heart starts beating so fast you feel it in your throat, the sweetness of the gesture sending a pulse of warmth throughout your whole body.
“I’d prefer your company over any wild beast’s, little red.”
"There is no greater love than the love the wolf feels for the lamb-it-doesn’t-eat." — Hélène Cixous
You’re grinning like an idiot as you enter the forest, eagerly looking forward to your date with Pero later that evening. You can’t remember ever feeling so giddy before, like your blood has become electric, and you swear there are literal sparks shooting off your bare arms.
You expect to see Shadow waiting for you at your usual meetup spot by the grassy clearing, but there is no sight of him as you approach. Your steps slow to a stop, telling yourself not to worry just yet about his absence. He’s a wild animal, not a pet, and there are dozens of justifiable reasons for him to be missing.
But still...This change in routine is more than a little unsettling. Shadow has always been the one patiently waiting for you to arrive.
You hesitate for a moment, torn between waiting a few minutes longer for Shadow or carrying on with your task, when you hear a noise behind you. Thinking it’s your wolf, you spin around with his name on your tongue, except your heart nearly leaps out of your chest instead.
Shadow lopes up to you with a bloodstained muzzle and a dead rabbit hanging from his mouth. He looks as smug as a wolf can be as he drops the prey at your feet and puffs his chest out, clearly expecting praise.
Gross, you think, biting your lip to refrain from grimacing. The kill is fresh, blood still oozing out of the gaping wound on the rabbit’s neck where Shadow’s teeth tore into it.
“Is that your lunch? It looks, um, tasty,” you say before the silence stretches too long. “My mother used to make rabbit stew, but when I try to copy her recipe it never tastes the same, you know?”
Shadow tips his head with a low whine, like he does understand your nostalgia for the past, and then nudges the carcass closer towards your feet with his nose.
You look from Shadow to the rabbit, then back again. “Are you...giving this to me?”
His happy bark of confirmation has your stomach feeling queasy. Not just because the offering is disgusting, but also because of what it represents.
This is step one of a wolf’s courting ritual. You’ve read about it in field guides where a male wolf will present a fresh kill to a female in order to prove himself as a strong and suitable mate.
But a male wolf presenting a courting gift to a human girl? You doubt there’s any book out there that will guide you through this scenario.
“Shadow,” you begin, nervously holding the package in your arms tighter against your chest.
Your wolf’s happiness fades, tail drooping and going still. His eyes narrow with wariness as he senses the impending bad news. Your heart crumples at the sight.
“I know what this gesture means. And it’s sweet, really.” You reach out your hand slowly, threading your fingers through the soft fur on top of his head. To your relief, he leans into your touch rather than ducks to avoid it. “I can’t accept it though.”
He whines, a heartbreaking sound that cuts right through you, and his ears fall flat against his head, as if to quit listening to the rejection.
“I love you,” you say, your voice shaking, the beginnings of tears forming in the corners of your eyes. “But what you want, it won’t work.”
Shadow’s entire body seizes up as a ripple of some unseen force washes over him from nose to tail, and his eyes close shut. He pulls away from your hand, shaking his head hard enough you worry about him hurting himself.
With his head hung low, he peeks up at you, eyes flickering in the sunlight from amber to a soft shade of brown. What the hell, you think, wondering if you’re imagining the change.
Then he’s gone, sprinting off into the trees, leaving behind the dead rabbit and you feeling far more lost and confused than you’ve ever felt before.
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madame Jin gets fed up with jgs and just,,, leaves one day, takin jzx with her. she'd prob go to lotus pier cause yzy and they would just be like "madame Jin? she's not here, I thought she was with you, she didn't say anything about visiting" anD THEN JZX GROWS UP WITH THE YUNMENG TRIO AJDJDNDN
“So,” Jin Zixuan said.
“Oh no,” Jiang Cheng said at once.
“Be nice,” Jiang Yanli said.
“No, Jiang Cheng’s right,” Wei Wuxian said. “That’s definitely an ‘oh no’ sort of ‘so’. A-Xuan’s got a terrible idea again.”
“Says the master of terrible ideas?!”
“I,” Wei Wuxian said with dignity, “get away with mine.”
“Only because the sect leader’s soft on you!”
“Let’s not get into that,” Jiang Yanli intervened, not for the first time – today. Or any day. “A-Xuan, what are you thinking?”
Jin Zixuan ducked his head. “…it’s a terrible idea.”
“Well, now you have to tell us,” Jiang Cheng said impatiently. “You can’t make us curious then drop it! Anyway, if you’re going to have terrible ideas, you might as well share them with us.”
Jin Zixuan had once interpreted Jiang Cheng’s scolding as anger, and gotten angry in turn. That was back when he’d first come to live at the Lotus Pier, his mother having divorced his father in such an ostentatious manner – she’d even made some claims about his own parentage, which at the time his father had been so enraged as to accept without question and only belatedly realized were obviously complete nonsense, but either way it had enabled his mother to get him to go with her. Now they were in the middle of the lawsuit to reclaim his father’s rights to him, which was being so snarled up in the courts that Jin Zixuan estimated that he’d be very nearly of age by the time it was resolved: just in time for him to be able to claim his inheritance, really, and that made him think that it might have been his mother’s plan all along. At any rate, he’d been very twitchy back then when he first arrived, nervous and alone and used to the two-faced-ness of Jinlin Tower, and he hadn’t understood anything at all.
Luckily, at some point some switch had flipped and he’d figured out that all that scolding was nothing but care – he smiled shyly at Jiang Cheng, who promptly turned red in response.
“Get on with it!” his friend scolded him, and Jin Zixuan grinned.
“Well, all right,” he said, even though it really was a terrible idea. “I heard some rumors from the dockworkers – about this place not far from here, called Yunping City…”
“Perfectly nice place,” Wei Wuxian put in. “Pretty clothes, pretty women, pretty whores, but not much else. Why do you want to go there?”
He was joking, of course. While Jin Zixuan’s father had a notorious reputation regarding women, being both a notorious whoremonger and a lech to boot, Jin Zixuan himself was extremely shy – it sometimes came across as aloofness to those that didn’t know him well, but his arrogant silence was more often than not a complete inability to stutter out the slightest sentence.
“A whore,” Jin Zixuan said unexpectedly, and then, when they all stared at him, turned bright red and spat out: “Not for me!”
“…the sailors said she was my father’s favorite for a long time,” he said. “Long enough that she bore him a son – but that he never bothered to redeem them.”
Jin Zixuan’s father was a wretch. Despite having been raised in Yunmeng since the age of about eight, Jin Zixuan felt profoundly guilty over all his father’s actions, as if he were the father and his father the son.
“You can’t afford to redeem anyone,” Wei Wuxian pointed out, and Jin Zixuan ducked his head and glared at the ground. “Not even an old whore.”
“Not her. The son. As long as she didn’t sell him, it doesn’t matter if I can’t buy her – he can still come back here, with us.”
“Would he want to?” Jiang Cheng asked, frowning – but taking the suggestion seriously. “Without his mother…”
“She might want him to better himself,” Jiang Yanli said, already calculating how much money they could scrap together between all of them, and how much they could extract from their parents. “And we could always go back to pick her up later, once we’ve had time to show his worth.”
“You don’t mind?” Jin Zixuan said anxiously. “You don’t think it’s a terrible idea?”
“Oh, it’s terrible,” Wei Wuxian said cheerfully. “Profoundly, awfully terrible; I couldn’t have thought of a better idea myself. Let’s figure this out! Do you know the boy’s name?”
“No. But his mother is said to be called Meng Shi…”
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Toph learns the sound of all her friends' footsteps very quickly.
She's never had friends before, so many new footsteps to learn. Usually when this happens it's when she's facing a new opponent, and she's thus associated the sound of footsteps not belonging to her parents with how best to take advantage, calculating height and weight and fighting style, how hard they will go down and why and when.
Aang's footsteps are usually the easiest. No one in the world walks like the Avatar. Light on his feet is a good expression, but there's also power there. It would be wrong to think otherwise, no matter how he danced about like a leaf on the wind. She'd sensed it from the moment he'd entered the ring, saying he'd only wanted to talk to her, which was absurd at the time because who in the world would want to talk to her?
Sokka walks like a moose lion rumbling through dense forest. Big feet, big mouth, that's nonbenders for you. She swears she can hear his footsteps from miles away. Sometimes she doesn't hear them though, and she reaches out her hand, to feel a larger arm entwine with hers. Right here, Toph.
Yeah, I knew it was your meat-breath making all the foxrabbits flee their burrows. She feels the heat of him next to her, steady and there.
Katara's footsteps are lighter than her brother's but heavier than Aang's, although not by much. Her movements are fluid in the way that remind Toph, sometimes, of descriptions of beautiful ladies in stories. Sometimes Toph will decide to make her mad just to feel the vibrations in the earth. Ladies in stories never stomp off in a furious, hilarious bluster while still trying to maintain what was left of their dignity, and neither did Lady Beifong. Sometimes ---
Remind me never to let you talk me into a stupid pedi-whatever again, Sugarqueen.
Zuko's footsteps are...erratic, to be honest. At first it was kind of hard to figure out. Sometimes he's like an angry komodo rhino mixed with an ostrich horse that's been stranded in the desert. Toph knows that feeling, the ground always shifting beneath your feet, and you try to pretend it's not like that but then when you reach down all you feel is sand falling through your fingertips. Sometimes she takes his hand so he doesn't try and reach for the sand.
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Maybe You’ll Like the Way I Am by lululawrence
Harry Styles/Louis Tomlinson | 56k | moodboard by @rishimaaaaa
Harry stood on his doorstep, waving a little as he shuffled his feet. “Hi, I brought you some cookies.”
Louis finally realized Harry was holding a plate with at least a dozen chocolate chip cookies.
“How’d you know chocolate chip was my favorite?”
Harry scrunched his nose. “I, uh, they’re actually peanut butter chocolate chunk, so I really hope you don’t have a peanut allergy. There’s a lot of peanut butter and chocolate in these. But also, I just hoped that was something you liked because I actually have a favor to ask?”
When Louis' alpha neighbor asks him to pretend to be his omega for a week, Louis immediately says no. He has too much he's dealing with on his own, and he swore to himself he'd never get that close to an alpha again. Unable to hold to that resolve once guilt sets in, Louis finds that maybe fumbling his way through a fake relationship for a week was exactly what he needed to finally be able to move on.
Written as a part of @1daboficfest
Buy me a coffee?
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Yelena Belova Masterlist
Requested by Anon: Yelena + Y/N kiss 22 (kiss leading to more but they're interrupted) . They're interrupted by Nat who is obviously incredibly protective of her little sister and gives Y/N the big sister threat/talk! Thank you!!! ❤️
Word Count: 1.2k (fluffy and featuring scary!sister!Nat)
A/N: this is part of my attempt to get back into writing, just a lil blurb to help my confidence, up and coming are some updates on some series and a really angsty and nice Yelena oneshot
"Sneaking around was definitely worth this." You said, smirking as your hands slid up to Yelena's neck, tugging her closer to you. She laughed in response, her nose leaning forwards to nuzzle yours, her hands trailing gently up around your waist, pulling you closer to her.
Golden light leaked through the windows of your room, glinting in her green eyes which were fixed on you, her features filled with adoration as her hand came to brush the hair away from your face. Her smile was gentle, her touch soft, scared you might fall apart under her touch.
You showed her otherwise as you leaned into her, your forehead resting against hers. The secret date had ended long ago, having been a simple lunch then a movie. You couldn't find it in you to leave her, giggling with her like teenagers in love as you stumbled through the compound, thankful you didn't run into anyone.
Your fingers played with the baby hairs on the base of her neck, giggling as you felt goosebumps arise under your touch. You knew the effect you had on her, you saw every blush dusting across her cheeks, every shy smile she sent your way, the way her eyes widened when you caught her staring.
You loved it all.
You loved it most when her lips met yours, gently moving against yours, pulling you towards her. You adored the way she sighed when you kissed her, relieved you were still there. Her hands tugged you closer to her, sliding up to your shoulders, eyelashes fluttering against yours.
The sunlight couldn't tell your bodies apart, you melted into her when she pulled you down to the bed. Smiling into her, feeling her hands in your hair, tugging you closer to her. You doubted it was even possible, when her legs wrapped themselves around yours, feeling you closer to her.
It all stopped when the door opened.
You jumped back from her, breathing heavily, cheeks ablaze, hiding your face behind your hands. Yelena sat up on the bed, cheeks dusted with a bright blush, lips were swollen and palms sweaty. Natasha stood near the door, her eyebrow raised, her eyes glancing between you and your girlfriend.
She licked her lips as her eyes ran over you, examining you. Her eyebrow raised as she turned to Yelena, speaking something quickly in Russian. A frown quickly covered the blonde's face as she protested to the command, her shoulders tensing as she got up to stand in front of you.
Natasha's eyebrow raised higher at the action, nodding her head for Yelena to leave the room. The blonde looked between you to her sister, sending an apologetic glance your way. Her protective nature slowly cracking and giving way as she exited the room, glaring at the cause of the interruption.
Yelena looked guiltily at you before she closed the door behind her. The click of the door resounding in the quiet room. Fidgeting with your fingers, you looked up to Natasha, expecting her to say something. The silence carried on as she moved to sit on the bed, patting the spot next to her.
"Sit." She commanded, watching carefully as you moved to sit down next to her. A smirk made its way onto her face at your newfound fear of her. Mischief glinted in her green eyes when she saw you fidgeting in your seat next to her. Deciding not to torture you further, she began to speak.
"So you're the one my sister has been so happy about lately?" Natasha asked, crossing her legs, leaning forward in her seat to observe you. She watched as heat rushed to your cheeks, you looked down in embarrassment as you fidgeted with your fingers. Incoherent mumbles escaped your lips, slowly turning into words.
"I think so?" You said, your tone sounding more of a question than a statement. Her smirk threatened to turn into a grin at your shy response. Trying to keep from flustering you more, she thought of the point she was getting to. You made it hard to focus when you tried to come up with feeble reasons for avoiding her.
"Don't worry," She stopped your incoherent rambling, clearing her throat. "I already know why Yelena wanted to keep it a secret."
Your eyebrows furrowed, confusion pasting itself across your face at her response. It was clear you didn't know why you had to sneak around like teenagers when you could just date as normal people did. You glanced away from Natasha, trying to avoid her piercing gaze.
Her green eyes felt like they were staring through your soul, nitpicking through all your insecurities, all the beauty you saw in yourself, everything Yelena saw in you. Judgment was present on her face as she continued to examine you. She licked her lips before continuing, letting you agonize over her words for a few more moments.
"Yelena was worried I would," Natasha paused, trying to think of the right word to use.
Your eyes widened in response, shifting away from her as she merely chuckled at your reaction. Her words were doing nothing to help the nervousness that had taken over you the second she walked through that door. If anything, she was making you more nervous.
Natasha's approval meant too much to Yelena for her to cast it aside. You were determined to be deemed worthy to date her sister, even if that meant standing up to her sister, who could probably kill you in your sleep. You just had to hope she didn't want to.
You fidgeted in your seat when she began talking about how she had already known Yelena had been dating someone. The smile only grew when she rambled about how she had been smiling more and talking excitedly about something you did that day that you were proud of, even if it was just making a batch of cookies.
For a spy, she really didn't try to hide your relationship. Natasha noticed the quiet smile forming on your face, she couldn't help but smile herself. It was clear you made her happy, happier than she's ever been. She knew you'd never hurt her sister, not on purpose, however, you still needed to be told.
"Anyone can see happy you make her," Natasha said with a smile, her face slowly turning more serious. "But if you ever hurt her on purpose."
You gulped visibly, moving further away from her. Silence stretched through the room as Natasha thought on her next words, a smirk turning up the corner of her lips at your nervousness. She didn't blame you, but she couldn't help but enjoy it a little, she rarely got to threaten people over her sister.
"Just know that I can invent new ways to kill someone."
Natasha smiled at you, a sickeningly sweet smile, patted your hand, and left the room. You were still sitting on the bed, your face had lost some of its colors as you stared blankly at the wall in front of you. Yelena rushed into the room after her sister, asking you what was wrong and what she said to you.
When you didn't respond for a few moments, she thought the redhead would have scared you off. You grabbed her wrist, pulled her down next to you. Tilting your head to the side, you observed her features, eyes lingering on her smile before you spoke.
"Your sister is terrifying."
A/N: please tell me what you think! The more the feedback the better i feel the better my writing is
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Jin Zixuan knows what he wants, and that’s to be the next pretty but useless Madam Jiang. All that he has to is 1) pass his title of heir to his new brother, 2) convince JYL to fall back in love with him, 3) not embarrass himself. Three easy enough goals, right? -🙃
Jin Zixuan was almost – almost – not surprised to open his eyes and find himself sixteen again.
Instead of, you know, dead.
Honestly, it just seemed like the perfect capstone of his life of happenstance: born an idiot, raised an idiot, continued to be an idiot, realized he was an idiot, remained an idiot but a better class thereof, and somehow despite all that managed to hit the jackpot of luck not only once but twice – the first in being born in the right womb, the second in convincing Jiang Yanli to give him a second chance despite the aforementioned unbroken streak of lifelong idiocy.
Possibly because of. She thought he was cute.
Anyway, as if to make him pay up for that amazing streak of luck, just when he’d finally achieved all the things he’d ever actually wanted – a wife that loved him and who he loved in return and a son to dote upon – he had, for the first time in his life, grown up and decided to not be a complete idiot…only to immediately die.
Being reborn seemed pretty much part and parcel with the whole stupid tragedy.
Not that he regretted inviting Wei Wuxian to come visit. That’d been the right thing to do, and Jiang Yanli had been so happy – it hadn't even been his fault; it had been Jin Zixun’s ambush that had ruined it all, really. Jin Zixuan wasn’t even entirely sure what it was that had actually killed him, whether it was a stray arrow or a misplaced sword or even the Ghost General gone berserk, but he was sure that if his stupid cousin hadn’t decided to attack, Wei Wuxian would have come and left in peace.
If he hadn’t rushed out by himself to try to fix things, to make sure the one thing he’d ever managed to do right by Jiang Yanli worked out well, then maybe he wouldn’t have ended up leaving her and Jin Ling behind.
In Lanling City.
He shuddered even to think it.
Jin Zixuan knew that there were people who loved their sects – passionately, devotedly. Jiang Cheng had been one of them, defying death itself to resurrect the Jiang sect in his parents’ honor and reestablishing it as one of the Great Sects. And then there was Lan Xichen, the steadfast and honorable, who had sacrificed everything, even honor, to make sure his sect’s books survived what they had feared would be the end. And all this was to say nothing of Nie Mingjue, who had come to power painfully young and had played the game of politics that he so despised in order to stay the course, to avenge his father and keep his sect strong…
Jin Zixuan did not love his sect.
He did not love his city, he did not love his people. He had wondered if it was a failing in himself, but then looked at the rest of his family and realized it was just his blood running true. Lanling Jin had a soul of rot and a heart of stone, each one of them careless and indifferent in their own way – his father couldn’t give a damn about his sect except in the sense that it aided his personal power, his mother the authority it gave her whether through her husband or her son, his cousins the impunity they could derive from it…
Jin Zixuan had told Jiang Yanli about it when she agreed to marry him, worried that she'd change her mind when she learned the truth but even more worried that she'd wake up one day to find herself trapped and disappointed in him. But she was as ever the luckiest thing that had ever happened in his life: she’d said that she would be fine because she had him by her side, and he would be fine because he had her, and they would balance. He’d accepted that argument – and then, of course, he’d gone and died, like the idiot that he was.
And yet, somehow, he’d been reborn, granting him another chance to change his fate, and this time, this time, he wasn’t going to deceive himself.
After all, it seemed pretty clear from his last life that he was never going to not be an idiot, and that fate wasn’t too happy about him trying to stick his nose into politics or major events.
This time around, he wasn’t going to struggle against his destiny – Jin Zixuan was going to accept it.
He was going to be absolutely useless.
He sat up in his bed, observing that he was in the Cloud Recesses, and that his eye hurt; it must be not long after his fight with Wei Wuxian, which meant his engagement was broken. He’d have to win Jiang Yanli again – still, he’d somehow managed it last time around, so that wasn’t what he was worried about.
No, the main problem was definitely how he was going to manage the whole “be useless” part of his ambitions – and for that, he needed the advice of an expert.
“Nie-er-gongzi, can I ask you for some advice?” he asked.
Nie Huaisang blinked blearily at him. “Jin-gongzi? It’s the middle of the night.”
“It’s important,” Jin Zixuan said apologetically. “It’s something that only you can help me with.”
“Yes, you. I need to learn how to be a good-for-nothing.” Jin Zixuan thought about it. “Also, I need to get in contact with Meng Yao. He’s at the Unclean Realm now, right? Someone needs to inherit Lanling Jin, might as well be him.”
Nie Huaisang blinked owlishly at him.
“…okay.” He pulled open the door. “I think you’d better come inside.”
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You look hideous on me
❥ Bad boy Sunwoo x reader, 15.6k | AO3
❥ Soulmates AU, college AU, fluff, some humour
❥ Warnings: mentions of bruises, swearing, references to mature subjects, a... pretty suggestive scene towards the end
❥ Is he a bad boy because he's bad at everything...? You had simply rolled your eyes when he'd zoomed by on his skateboard, trying to show off. You'd found it hilarious when he ended up falling face first into a fruit stand. But it's not so funny anymore when the bruises start to show up on your body right after.
"Hey, Juyeon, do you think it could be this guy?" You nudge your friend, turning your laptop screen so he could see from where he sat on the floor beside your bed. "That guy right there—Sangyeon. Do you see that bruise on his upper arm?"
When you roll up your sleeve to show him, there's a similar splash of blue on your arm that gives you a pang of hope that you'd finally found the one. You almost prayed to the OTP gods to please let this Sangyeon guy be your soulmate because he was good looking and broad and—if he were actually your soulmate, one look at his handsome face might just erase all the hate you'd been harbouring all these years.
Hatred towards your soulmate.
"It does look similar," Juyeon says slowly before leaning towards the laptop screen until his face is almost touching it. "It looks like he also has one on his collar though; do you have that one as well?"
You heave a sigh. "No."
It's another day that yields no results on the soulmate front, which shouldn't be surprising at this point, but it's a growing frustration that the continuous stream of bruises on your body left no clue as to where your soulmate could be.
Boxing has never been an interest of yours but ever since the bruises started appearing, Juyeon had suggested that your soulmate might be a boxer. It had been a joke at first but seeing as the bruises never stopped as you waited year after year to find this soulmate, your last resort was to try and look for them anywhere you could. It led you to watch boxing matches quite regularly, but the boxers' bruising patterns never quite matched yours, and the timing of your bruises didn't quite match theirs.
Soulmate—the one person in the world that shared your bruises, whose body displayed all the blues and purples of your pain like watercolour on a canvas. The concept sounded beautiful, and sometimes you could indeed see the beauty in Juyeon and Hyunjae's shared glances as congruent spots bloomed across their skin simultaneously. You saw it in the way every mark told a story, how each one was a reminder that there is someone to share your pain and that they are never too far away.
But as nice as the idea of a soulmate sounded in theory, you didn't know how to feel about the fact that your soulmate was out there getting their body battered. Were they playing a sport that involved frequent injuries? Were they actually a boxer or maybe even a stunt actor? Were they super clumsy? Or were they just—you definitely did not want to imagine the other scenarios that could possibly lead to such frequent bruising, especially when certain locations of the bruises shared a little too much about this annoying soulmate's actions.
The point was, you didn't understand how someone who was constantly getting their body bruised like that would possibly be compatible with you, an innocent student just trying to graduate from college and get a job. Though at this rate you might as well become a professional makeup artist with the amount of makeup you were wearing on a daily basis just to cover all the bruises. All that just made you more determined to find this hell of a soulmate and maybe give them a punch of your own.
"Hang in there," Juyeon says gently, pulling you out of your thoughts. "You'll find them soon."
"What did I miss?" Hyunjae comes into you room with his face entirely blocked by the bags of snacks he was carrying in his arms. He settles in between you and Juyeon, perched comfortably on the edge of your bed as he starts munching on chips. "No progress again today?"
"I thought that it might be this Sangyeon guy." You point at the screen where the boxer is walking by after a match that he won. It really would've been a good day to have him as a soulmate. "But now I'm even angrier at my soulmate for not being him."
"Oh, he's hot," Hyunjae nods. "But why, did you fantasize about having him as your soulmate or something?"
"Shut up. Not all of us are lucky enough to have hot soulmates, you know."
"Yes, please don't remind us that you once liked my hot soulmate." Hyunjae puts an arm around Juyeon possessively and you have to resist the urge to smack him.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."
"But wait. Is that a new bruise?" He manages to poke your cheek before you swat his hand away and give him a glare.
It's your right cheek today instead of the usual left, but the timing isn't unusual for the bruises to start showing up. You sigh again, grabbing your phone to check in the camera, and just as he pointed out, the hints of blue-green hues are starting to make their way across your skin.
"It's okay," he says nonchalantly, "look on the bright side, at least it's not at a weird location."
"Um." You did not want to discuss weird locations. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"You know. Like your neck or stomach. Or thighs." Hyunjae pauses for a second as a teasing expression slowly spreads across his face. "Though I guess if they were on your thighs you wouldn't exactly be telling us about them or showing us."
"Hyunjae!" Juyeon elbows him for you. At least one of the soulmate duo has some sense.
You don't say anything in response as you grab another chip, pretending as if your privacy—or was it your soulmate's?—hadn't just been violated by your supposed best friend. You did not want to be picturing your soulmate doing questionable things with other people.
"Wait... don't tell me you've actually gotten them there before. Y/N!"
You push him off the bed.
The morning flies by in a rush of insistent knocks on your door by the soulmate duo, running around your room to pack your bag for class, and then completely forgetting about putting on your safety net of a cake face to potentially cover up the evidence of your soulmate's injuries. Maybe that should've been your warning sign to skip class entirely today, but the soulmate duo reassures you that everything would be just fine. Hyunjae states that the chance of your soulmate getting beat up at this early morning hour was low, and on the other hand, Juyeon says you look perfectly gorgeous without makeup.
While you appreciate their efforts, you know they don't quite understand your reasoning for covering up the marks you get. You've seen the way they wear their bruises proudly, as a sign that their soulmate exists and as a statement of that bond just like a promise ring. That's naturally what happens when they've known each other since elementary school, where a fall on the playground resulted in a matching bruise on a classmate.
One day, if you ever find your soulmate, you wished to be able to boldly show off each and every mark too. But for now, you hated even the thought of possibly wearing your soulmate's ugly black eye like it's a fashion statement.
Campus is calm and quiet so early in the morning, a nice change from the bustle of crowds you usually see on the way to your afternoon classes. Clubs are just beginning to set up their tents for the club fair, including the pop-up farmer's market that comes to your school every month. In the distance, you could already see the bushels of various fresh fruits and vegetables set up on the stands, and there's a small bakery section at the very end filled with what looked like pastries and coffee shop drinks.
"Are we too late to even stop for coffee?" you groan, already imagining the suffering you'd be doing in lecture when the professor's monotone voice lulls you to sleep.
"Unfortunately." Juyeon gives a wry smile.
Hyunjae shakes his head at you. "You should've slept earlier."
"I had so much work to do for tutoring," you whine. "Anyways, coffee run after class please. Hyunjae, you owe me."
But just before you could hear his snarky retort, there's a roar of wheels against the sidewalk followed by a loud gust of wind.
Only a few inches away from you, so close that you could smell his cologne as he winks at you with a smirk on his face. A skateboarder, his dark hoodie and beanie blurring together as he zooms by. It nearly makes you fall despite how he didn't actually bump into you.
"You okay?" Juyeon grasps you just in time.
"Yeah, thanks." You quickly get back on your feet and subconsciously brush the shoulder that the skateboarder nearly touched. "But wow, how rude. You're not the only one who's late, asshole."
"Look at the way he's showing off now," Hyunjae snorts and when you follow his gaze, you could see the skateboarder continuing to weave his way through the students on the sidewalk, occasionally doing those jump tricks off the curb. The rumble of wheels on concrete fades as he gets farther away, but you don't miss the way he makes a few other students nearly fall as they scrambled to move out of his way.
"Must think he's so cool—" you start. And then stop. Because right then, karma literally manifests and catches up to said skateboarder faster than the blink of an eye. Maybe there was a rock on the sidewalk or some sort of ledge in between the cracks because the next thing you know, the guy is sent flying off the skateboard. It makes him tumble quite a distance, and what's absolutely hilarious is the way he lands. Right in the fruit stand that the farmer's market had set up.
Face first, straight into a bushel of apples.
"Ouch, that's got to hurt," Hyunjae says. It only takes one glance at him for the two of you to burst out laughing.
"Is he a bad boy because... he's bad at everything?" you say amidst the giggles.
"But did you see the look on his face?" Hyunjae holds onto your shoulder as he doubles over in laughter, only coming up when there are tears at the corners of his eyes. "Oh wait, only the apples could've seen that!"
The skateboarder slowly gets up as the people at the farmer's market gather to watch, their expressions equally divided between sympathy and amusement. You don't feel bad about laughing at all. Besides, this was totally karma for giving you and everyone else such a scare on the skateboard earlier. Especially that wink at you; who does he think he is?
Juyeon shakes his head. "Well, it's a terrible day to be his soulmate. Imagine waking up to that giant bruise on your face."
"It's probably a terrible day to be his soulmate every day," Hyunjae cackles again.
The fall of the skater boy causes the three of you to be late, though it was worth it. By the time you finally make it to class, the professor was already droning on about something on the next assignment, so you sneak in quietly and sit at the back while he's not looking.
"Maybe going to morning classes isn't such a bad idea when you can see stuff like this happen," Hyunjae whispers as he settles into his seat. The grin is still there, with teeth and all which was a rare occurrence.
"Are you suddenly awake now?" you whisper back.
He pulls out a notebook and writes the date, giving you a thumbs up enthusiastically. "Awake and ready to take on the day." It's not the correct date but you don't bother telling him.
When he turns to you again, he freezes. There's a look of confusion on his face that tells you he might've realized that the date he wrote was wrong or that he might've forgotten something important. But it soon turns into realization and then horror in under a second as he simply stares at you.
"What is it?"
Hyunjae's expression changes again and this time his lips curl into a mischievous smirk that could only mean he's up to no good.
"Nothing. Nothing at all. It's just that," he leans over to whisper in your ear, "you happen to be developing a nasty bruise right on your face."
Maybe you die a little inside.
Suddenly the idea of falling face first into a bushel of apples doesn't sound so funny anymore.
Hyunjae teases you about your supposed soulmate for the rest of the day. It's not surprising, really—he still teases you about your former crush on his soulmate after all, even though it's been years since freshman year of high school. And although you assure him that there's no way the skater boy is your soulmate, that it had to be a coincidence, you could still see the curl of his lip whenever he looks your way.
You're sure he would've dragged you over to wherever this rude skater boy was, determined to put an end to this mystery while getting a new reason to tease you. But he didn't have to. Because when you go back to the farmer's market tent after class for some fresh coffee and baked goods, the rude skater boy is there.
Only this time, he's not on a skateboard, nor is he falling into the fruit stands. This time, he's working there.
A blue vest covers his black hoodie with an obnoxious looking name tag that says "Sunwoo" when you get close enough to read it. There's a collection of colourful stickers on his cheek that conceal an area matching the one you'd smeared with emergency makeup on your own face, and his beanie is pulled low as if trying to cover as much of his face as possible.
A coincidence, you tell yourself. Besides, your actual soulmate had also given you bruises on the upper arm and lower shin yesterday, and you're sure this skater boy wouldn't have those.
"Y/N, where are you going?" Hyunjae singsongs like he's enjoying your misery. "Weren't we going to get coffee?"
"Um, let's go visit Younghoon instead?"
But he comes up to your group before you could effectively escape.
"Hey. Welcome to," the skater boy pauses, glancing back at the sign, "the farmer's market. Can I help you with anything?"
"Holy shit, he's actually working here," Hyunjae whispers to you so loudly that you're sure this Sunwoo guy could hear what he said. "How did that happen?"
The rude skateboarder scowls at the three of you, looking very disinterested. "They wanted someone hot to be the new face of their organization. Obviously."
"Couldn't have been a very nice face with that giant bruise on it," you whisper back to Hyunjae, just as loudly.
Although that's what you say, you can't help but notice that it was actually quite a nice face—plump lips, big eyes, and a sharp jawline that could cut someone. He was good-looking and he definitely knew it, perhaps a little too well because who brags about that to complete strangers? Why were all the good-looking ones like this?
"Ah, that's where I remember you guys from." The skater boy nods in Hyunjae's direction, "Definitely couldn't forget the pretty boy."
"Juyeon, are you hearing this?" You sigh, crossing your arms. "Can we g—"
"Oh, he's matched?" The Sunwoo guy raises a brow and then glances at Juyeon. Looks him up and down. "To quite the looker too, wow. Guess it's true what they say about hot people having hot soulmates."
"Bet your soulmate can't look too nice with all the bruises they get," you retort.
The skater boy sighs. "You really got to witness that moment, huh." He picks up a few of the fruits on the counter and sorts them in the baskets on the shelf. "Damn, really should've taken the motorcycle instead. But you see, I'm actually not that terrible at skateboarding. It only happened because I got so distracted by your beauty," he nods your way. "I guess you could say... I fell for you." And then there's the wink that you definitely saw coming—it's already his second wink at you and you've only been in his presence for a total of a minute.
"Are you kidding me? You nearly ran me over on your skateboard and you have the audacity to say stuff like this?"
You raise your hand jokingly as if to punch him, but then Juyeon's holding you back and shaking his head. "Hitting him won't do you any good, Y/N. Just in case he's... you know."
"Nah, we don't have to worry about that because there's no way he's my soulmate."
"Soulmate?" Sunwoo asks, eyes bouncing between you and the two others.
Hyunjae nudges you lightly, lips curling in amusement. "We're only stopping you from inflicting visible damage, but there are always other options. For example, bruises on legs are much easier to hide."
"Hmm, you're right. A kick should do it—"
Of course you weren't actually going to kick him. But even before you could finish your sentence, the rude skater boy is already turning his body away, dodging you while holding his hands out to protect himself.
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I was just kidding," he pleads, running back behind the pop-up tent for protection. "But please don't; I just got a bruise there."
Juyeon tilts his head, brows furrowing. "Hey, Y/N. Maybe you're right that he's not your soulmate after all, since he has bruises that you don't have."
Yeah, thank goodness, you wanted to say. But you could only stare back at your friend in silence. Time seems to slow down.
Because when you lift your pantleg the slightest, it reveals the new bruise that you had noticed this morning. The same splash of aqua on your lower shin that has now deepened in colour and covers a little more area than before.
You feel like you're going to throw up.
In front of you, Sunwoo looks like he's about to faint.
Most people may not be lucky enough to have a nice meet-cute with their soulmate, but it felt like yours was more of a meet-ugly... literally.
No one talks about it this time, which you're very thankful for. But instead of the jokes and teasing that you expected to hear, there's a very obvious silence about anything to do with soulmates, as if Hyunjae and Juyeon were walking on eggshells when it came to the topic. It makes the whole situation feel too real when you were just trying to avoid thinking about it, and so, maybe the awkwardness wasn't better than their teasing after all.
Heading to the tutoring center after a study session with the soulmate duo has you walking by an area you don't normally pass by, and even from afar you could see just who hung out here. Their table stood out against the grassy fields and students scattered around, a monochromatic speck of dark hoodies and leather jackets amongst a sea of colour. You don't look too closely at the faces around the table, but it fit Sunwoo's image so well that it would've been a little surprising if he wasn't there.
And sure enough, he is there. You notice the girl sitting beside him first, so obviously flirting with the way she bends over as she laughs at something he says, her long hair falling over his shoulder. The way she clings to his arm and presses her whole body against him, and the way she hits him cutely. It's almost funny how she manages to get him right on the bruise on his arm, one that only you knew about. And only you could see the way he holds back a wince. But in the next moment, he looks up and suddenly his eyes are meeting yours.
Sunwoo blinks a couple of times before a knowing smirk appears on his lips. For a moment, he smiles back at the girl beside him; there's a twinkle in his eyes as if he's purposely turning up the charm, an abrupt change from the indifference that you'd seen just seconds earlier. She beams, nodding enthusiastically at everything he says. But to your surprise, she soon leaves their table looking the slightest bit disappointed.
And then he leaves the table to catch up to you.
"Hey, soulmate," he says. The smile on his face looks the same as when he smiled at her with the artificial sparkle in his eyes and all, and you want to hurl at how fake it is. Then there's how gross the word 'soulmate' sounds coming out of his mouth like it's just a joke to him, like he's rubbing this terrible situation in your face and laughing about it.
Typical fuckboy behaviour.
You speed up your steps a bit to shake him off. "Bye."
"Hey, wait up!"
"Don't you have somewhere to be?" you ask, still refusing to look at him or slow down your steps. "Like, with one of your girlfriends?"
"Aw, are you jealous? Don't worry, I'd rather be hanging out with you, soulmate."
You don't react to that, letting the silence fill the air between the two of you as he matches your quick stride without missing a beat. It feels strange to be walking beside him, like there are more eyes trained on you today as they pass by, more turning of heads.
"So how've you been? I haven't seen you around in a while."
"I was doing well until now," you say dully.
"Aren't you happy to see me?" he teases.
"In your dreams."
"I do hope you'd visit me in my dreams tonight, soulmate."
"So are you just going to keep following me?" you finally turn to ask when you're halfway across campus and he's showing no signs of leaving.
Sunwoo shakes his head. "Nah, I'm going that way too."
"If you say so."
The conversation, if you could even call it that, continues the same way the whole time he's by your side and it reminds you why it was so difficult to talk to him in the first place. The brief curiosity you had after your last meeting with him quickly fade, replacing itself with the original anger and annoyance you had towards him instead.
He tells you about some party happening this weekend (you tell him to take one of his girlfriends), then he invites you to go for a spin on his motorcycle (you tell him you don't trust him, especially not after that skateboard fall), and finally he asks for your number (you say it's the number of the local animal shelter because they take strays, not you).
The most you give him is your name, so that he might stop calling you by the S-word that you've come to hate so much. Though now you're not so sure if the S-word is soulmate, Sunwoo, or skater boy.
And then you finally arrive at your destination.
"Waitwaitwait." Sunwoo's eyes widen with realization once your steps finally stop, nearly walking right into the door of the tutoring center. Unfortunately, he stops in time. He looks at the sign on the door and blinks multiple times. "This is where you're going?"
It takes all your effort to hold back your laugh. "Yeah. Didn't you say you were going this way too?"
"Um. Right, yeah. Let's go."
To your surprise, he actually enters the room first.
"Hey," Jacob—the head tutor and administrator—greets as the two of you enter. He turns to Sunwoo, "Are you here to get tutored?"
"Um, I guess?"
"Alright." Jacob goes to grab the clipboard with the list of the tutors. "I'll see who's available today."
Sunwoo's eyes widen a considerable amount. "Wait, can't I be paired with Y/N?"
"Y/N is already paired with—"
"Hey, Y/N." As if on cue, Younghoon shows up. He takes a seat in his usual spot as if Sunwoo hadn't been standing right there, then sets a coffee cup on your desk. "I made you your favourite today."
"Aw, thanks Younghoon." You pop the lid off to take a look, and just as you expected, the usual heart design is floating at the top. "Wow, as pretty as always."
Sunwoo scoffs. "Younghoon? Why the fuck are you here?"
"Well look who it is." Younghoon glances at him up and down. Smiles a bit. "I told you about this long ago, but you just said it was for losers."
"When did I say that?" Sunwoo mutters under his breath, the frown on his face growing. "But how do you even know Y/N?"
"We were paired for a project in bio last term," you answer, finally sitting down beside Younghoon.
"Oh, was it the project?" There's a teasing smile on Younghoon's lips when he looks at you. "Didn't we meet at the coffee shop when you spilled your drink all over me?"
"I—wait that was you?" you ask, the embarrassment threatening to show on your cheeks at any moment. While you do recall having spilled a drink on a cute barista the first time at that new cafe on campus, you never made the connection that that cute barista had been him. "And you still remember that?"
Younghoon chuckles. "How could I forget? It's not every day when a customer spills a drink on the barista."
"Ugh, don't remind me; that was so embarrassing."
Sunwoo visibly stiffens. The frown on his face deepens with every second that goes by, turning into a permanent scowl as you continue to chat away with Younghoon while ignoring him. It makes for such an unbearably funny sight that you have to bite down on your lip several times to stop from bursting into laughs, and Younghoon wasn't doing much better.
"Yeah... so anyway, I'll be your tutor today," Jacob says brightly, pulling Sunwoo away from where he'd planted himself at your desk. Part of you felt guilty because Jacob probably has no idea what he was getting himself into, but one look at the betrayed expression on Sunwoo's face says it's all worth it.
The session goes well but the highlight was definitely seeing the skater boy's fuming expression every time you look at him.
"You should've called me!" Hyunjae pouts, waving around his phone in your face. "I would've walked right out of that group meeting and run across campus just to see the look on his face."
"You can come with me today," you joke. "Maybe he'll show up."
Getting the soulmate duo caught up on the latest skater boy story had Hyunjae laughing so hard within your first few sentences that the three of you get kicked out of the library—not that it was the first time something like that has happened. So you'd relocated to the courtyard and then told them about the way Sunwoo fumed at Younghoon and then scowled at you for a whole hour after getting ambushed by that tutoring session.
Talking about him makes you realize that maybe you didn't hate him. He'd become somewhat akin to the popular boys back in high school; someone who always annoyed the girls and never did their work. Someone you'd never fall for, of course, but someone who made life a little more interesting. Besides, he was just playing around, and you never saw him as a soulmate anyway.
Juyeon wiggles his eyebrows. "Was he jealous of Younghoon or something?"
"Nah, he's just mad he didn't get a chance to make me fall for him like everyone else does," you mutter. "He's just playing."
"Wait, look here." Hyunjae suddenly reaches over to gently cups your chin, turning your face towards him and then proceeds to observe closely at various angles. "Y/N... I think your boy has gotten himself into another altercation."
It's nothing new, but there's still a sinking feeling in your heart. You had been beginning to think that maybe you had some kind of positive influence on Sunwoo since no significant bruises had appeared after meeting him. That maybe simply knowing who and where his soulmate is would make him back off from the reckless behaviour a bit, for your sake.
But as the beginnings of purples appear on your face and knuckles with no signs of stopping, it seemed like all that had just been wishful thinking. Why did you have so much faith in him in the first place? Why did you think that meeting your soulmate would be so impactful on both of your lives?
In the end, he's still the same person that he's always been. Maybe you'd just have to consider it as his payback for being roped into a tutoring session.
You heave a sigh. "Okay, I guess I'll get going now since I need to look presentable and all. Jacob would freak out if I showed up like this."
"If skater boy goes today, try not to kill him, okay?" Juyeon gives you a sad smile and ruffles your hair.
"I see no reason not to," you groan. Then point at your own face, "How can people like him when he goes around looking like this?"
"Hey Y/N, we're only trying to save your own image here." Hyunjae glances at you up and down, pressing his lips together as he shakes his head. "Bruises or not, I don't think you can afford to be any uglier."
"And this is why I hate you." Getting up, you quickly sling your bag over your shoulder. Juyeon gets a soft pat on the head while you make sure to give Hyunjae the hardest flick you can muster. "Bye loser."
"Shut up; you love me."
What surprises you first when you get to the tutoring center is the worried look on Jacob's face. His eyes flicker to you the moment you step into the room, and then every few seconds as he organizes the files on his desk.
"What?" you finally ask. "Is there something on my face?"
An ironic question because yes, there are bruises are your face today. Though you made sure they were covered nicely with the emergency makeup you always carry with you.
"No." He hesitates only for a moment before walking over to you. "Y/N, that guy from last time..."
"Yeah him," Jacob nods slowly. "Um, if he's bothering you or anything like that. Just let me know? We can get him kicked out or banned from here."
You nearly choke on your own spit. "Is that what it looked like?"
"Well, he spent the entire session looking like he wanted to murder you—or maybe it was directed at Younghoon; I'm not sure—so um, yeah."
"Nah, Jake. He's—" my soulmate, you were about to say. But something about acknowledging it makes your stomach twist. "He's just someone I know. Who probably needs better grades." You shoot him a quick smile. "Thank you for worrying about me though."
You half expected Sunwoo to not show up since he got baited into the last session after all, but for some reason, you find yourself constantly glancing over at the door. And for some reason, he does show up.
There's a relaxed smirk on his face this time—a complete change from the startled then bitter looks of the last time. Though not much of his face is visible underneath a baseball cap and the hood of yet another black hoodie over it.
And then you realize why.
There are splotches of colour around his eye and trailing down his cheek until his jaw; the same ones that you worked so hard to cover up just minutes earlier. There are a few small bandages around his fingers, and his knuckles are red with fresh wounds.
"Hey soulmate." Sunwoo casually sets his bag down on your desk and grabs a nearby chair, setting it down right beside yours. "How've you been? Where's my hug?"
"Not in this nation," you say dryly. You open your notes slowly, refusing to look at him despite the way he peers at you.
"Oh? Then which?"
Sunwoo laughs loudly as if you'd just said the funniest thing he'd ever heard. "You're funny, soulmate. If you keep this up, I'll be falling for you in no time."
"Y/N, is Younghoon coming today?" Jacob holds up the clipboard, checking off the list of students in the room.
"Um, I'm not sure—"
"He's not coming," Sunwoo answers for you. Then adds quietly, "You're stuck with me, soulmate."
You ignore the last part. "Did Younghoon tell you that?" Their interaction had been quite strange last time but you're sure they knew each other somehow. The way they talked made them sound like friends, though rivals could also be a fitting description.
An easy shrug. "He didn't have to."
"What does that mean?"
"Younghoon won't be coming anymore."
"Did you say something to Younghoon to make him stop coming here?"
The corner of his lip twitches the slightest.
"What, did you threaten him or something?"
"What makes you think I had something to do with him not showing up?" Sunwoo says innocently. He leans back in his seat and there's a faint smirk on his face that makes him look satisfied, contradicting his words. "The last I checked, he seemed to have gotten good enough grades to not need to study with you anymore."
There's something about the lack of a text from Younghoon paired with Sunwoo's relaxed demeanour that doesn't sit right with you. As much as you wanted to believe him, the fresh bruises on his face and hands told of a more complicated story.
You sigh, finally turning to the rude skater boy. "Alright, fine. Why are you here?"
"To see you, soulmate," he drawls lazily. You really hope that Jacob doesn't hear any of this conversation because you would be quite mortified.
"So do you think your grades don't need the help?"
Sunwoo smiles a little. "Okay, I know I'm hot and all but that doesn't mean I'm stupid."
"You think you're hot with all those bruises?" Standing up so suddenly earns you a concerned glance from Jacob. "You know what? Come with me." You take Sunwoo's hand and pull him out of the classroom with you, not once looking back at him.
It's empty in the stairwell when you finally stop and turn to him. Dropping his hand immediately.
"You're cute when you're angry, you know?"
"I'm only telling the truth," he shrugs.
"Then tell me, how did you get all these?" Your fingers ghost over the patches of deep blues on his face and he flinches. Looks away. "Did you... get into another fight? Perhaps with Younghoon?"
His gaze snaps to your face.
Sunwoo groans, leaning back against the wall behind him. "That fucker is totally into you."
"You're my soulmate," he says bluntly, frowning back at you.
"So? What, are you jealous or something?"
"What if I am? What then?"
"I don't buy that," you scoff, crossing your arms. "You've clearly never cared about me at all."
His eyes flash. "What do you mean?"
"Have you even once thought that your actions might affect your soulmate as well? I've always had to wear layers of clothing and makeup to cover up these hideous patches just to look like a normal person. Seriously, how can you think that a fight would solve anything?"
Sunwoo is silent now, gaze back to the ground where he kicks around some dust.
You sigh, turning to leave. "But if you do care, then maybe try getting your life together first. You aren't going to be anyone's soulmate at the rate of which you've been getting those bruises all your life."
More than a week has passed since that incident with Sunwoo, and you hadn't seen him around at all—not in person nor in the form of bruises. It was as if the words you'd spoken to him had completely vanished him from your life, just as you had wanted. But even though he'd been out of sight, he hasn't been off your mind for a moment because of your growing sense of guilt. You'd spent so much time building up these angry feelings towards your soulmate that it became hard to see from other perspectives, and maybe things were not as straightforward as you thought. Maybe he didn't deserve the harsh words you'd thrown at him, and he didn't deserve to have such negative energy coming from someone who barely even knows him.
Because before being soulmates, you guys were merely strangers.
You spot him the moment he walks in the lecture hall. Face half covered by his hood and bag casually slung over one shoulder, he walks in nonchalantly a minute before the lecture is supposed to start. It isn't until he's at the front of the lecture hall that the chatter in the room dies down, getting noticeably quieter. The way his eyes scan the crowd slowly makes you shrink into your seat a little, and you keep your head low just in case. But it's no use.
The hush in the room turns into whispers echoing off the walls when he slowly walks up the steps, but he doesn't seem to pay them any attention when his gaze is fixed on you. A casual stare, without intensity. Somehow, it still makes your stomach twist.
And just as you'd been dreading but expecting, he stops right in front of you and sits in the seat beside you.
"What are you doing?" you hiss at him in a low a voice as you could muster.
He gives you a confused frown. "I'm coming to class?"
In the background, your name was already being thrown around amidst the whispers just like that day he walked beside you across campus. You could only imagine what the rumours about you would look like—would you be known as Sunwoo's new fling? Someone that others would be jealous of? A new tally on his body count?
You sigh and rephrase the question. "Why are you sitting here?"
"It was an empty seat."
"Are you even enrolled in this class? I've never seen you here before."
He raises an eyebrow. "Oh, so were you looking for me?"
You roll your eyes, ignoring the urge to facepalm. The feelings of guilt you'd had earlier completely disappear with his reminder of why you'd snapped at him in the first place. What was the point of talking to him when every response was either a joke or straight up flirty? "Yeah, you wish you were that important."
"I figured it'd be easier for you to see me here instead of looking for me at the tutoring center."
"I—hey! I was not looking for you."
Sunwoo doesn't reply but a small smile appears on his face, the first genuine smile that you've seen from him in the couple of weeks since you've known about his existence. There's none of the fake charm and rough persona that he tried to project before; all of a sudden the harsh lines and black and whites of his image blur and soften, melting into an image of a soulmate that almost makes you forget to breathe for a second.
Maybe he was too distracting for his next words are so soft that they have you second guessing if you heard correctly.
"Y/N, I'm just kidding. I've actually decided to stop skipping class from now on. I'm going to get my shit together and do better."
There's a playful twinkle in his eye. "I'm going to be so perfect after this that you will have no choice but to fall for me."
Soon class starts and Sunwoo doesn't say anything to you for the rest of the lecture, diligently taking notes in his messy scrawl across pages. Sometimes you can feel his eyes on you, glancing over briefly from beneath the edge of his hood and turning away just before you could ever catch him staring.
You're not sure if he would've said something to you after lecture ends, but you don't give him the chance to as you quickly leave to meet your friends at the library.
Though when you get to the library, Hyunjae and Juyeon are among those people who turn and gawk at you as you enter.
"Are the rumors true? Did he actually show up to class and even sit beside you?" Hyunjae whispers with the excitement in his voice and eyes filling to the brim. "Did he say anything?"
Oh. So that's what it was about.
Juyeon's eyes gleam with just as much anticipation, leaning forward to hear everything you'd say. "Is he even in your major? I've never heard you mention him before."
You sigh. "Yeah."
"To all of the above?" Hyunjae's jaw drops. "Details, Y/N. Give us the details."
Turns out it was Eric, a loud guy in your class, who told his friend Changmin, who then told Hyunjae about it. With pictures too! Not that they were good quality photos, but even from the pixelated images you could tell that sitting beside Sunwoo slouching in his hoodie with the hood up makes you look much uglier in comparison. Great, not only is he making you look hideous with the bruises, but now he's also making you look ugly just by being beside you.
At this rate, Eric and Changmin have probably told everyone about today's events, but it didn't really matter to you since sooner or later they'll all find out about you guys being matched anyway.
"So." Hyunjae furrows his brows, a puzzled look ghosting across his face after hearing about all the events that had happened between you and the rude skater boy. Which wasn't much, really, despite how the shifting of his face through all these different micro-expressions may have suggested. "He's really trying for this, huh?"
"What do you mean?" you counter. "That's exactly what fuckboys do. Duh?"
But your sarcastic remark is not met with one of Hyunjae's usual joking responses. In fact, he doesn't say anything at all and there's a brief pause as the soulmate duo exchange a look, making you very aware that you're the third wheel. For once, you can't tell what they're thinking. What was the big deal about the story you told? Surely, they couldn't be thinking that the skater boy was genuinely interested in you, because that's simply ridiculous.
Hyunjae waves dismissively and then his usual, easy smile is back on his lips. "You're right. Never mind. So," he leans in super close until you could count the number of eyelashes he has—which are very long and make you all the more envious—and then peers into your eyes, "are his tactics working?"
"Are you kidding me?" You push his face away and finally open the textbook sitting on the table. The one that you were supposed to be studying from this past hour. "I refuse to be swayed by a fuckboy. Even if he is my soulmate."
"Sometimes even fuckboys catch feelings," Juyeon says, shrugging before turning to his notes.
If you'd thought Sunwoo's tactics would've just ended with him actually attending class and sitting beside you in it, you were entirely wrong. Somehow your days quickly become filled with his teasing 'hey soulmate' at every turn from where he waits outside your dorm to walk to you to class, to when he monopolizes your time at the tutoring center. It's a mystery how he even figured out which dorm you lived in—Juyeon had shrugged innocently while Hyunjae had simply laughed and said that Sunwoo follows you around like how you followed Juyeon around all those years ago.
You're definitely glad the soulmate duo stay away whenever he's around though; picturing Hyunjae pretending to vomit was all too easy when he wrinkles his nose and pulls Juyeon away every time he spots you with Sunwoo.
"I got you your favourite today," Sunwoo announces as soon as he walks into the tutoring center. There's an air of confidence today despite the way he looks the same as usual in his black hoodie with the hood up. His loud footsteps make Jacob look up alarmingly, though you suspected that the head tutor has gotten used to your annoying student by now. "Just for you, soulmate."
Then he sets down the coffee cup on your desk. A familiar gesture, though just not from him.
"What?" Sunwoo says when notices how you're just staring at the cup in front of you. "It's your favourite latte or whatever." And when you still don't answer, he continues, "You're looking at it as if I poisoned it or something."
You look up. "Did you?"
"Oh please. The worst I could've done is spit in it."
You could only stare at him.
"Hey, spit isn't even that bad—it would just be the same as kissing me, you know." He settles down in his seat beside you and leans back, crossing his arms. "Which you'll be doing eventually anyways."
"How are you so sure about that?" you ask dryly.
"Because you're going to fall for me," he says with certainty, a pleased look on his face. "Very soon."
When you turn your attention back to the cup, the first thing you do is pop off the lid. A habit now, from when you used to check what Younghoon had drawn each time he brought you a drink he made. Though the unexpected leaf floating at the top today makes you realize that he'd mostly been drawing hearts for the past while.
Sunwoo snorts at the frown on your face. "Well obviously I'm not going to let him send you hearts in your drinks anymore. You'd think that with all the hearts you've gotten, you might've noticed his big fat crush on you by now."
"I thought he drew those in everyone's drinks," you mutter, quickly putting the lid back on the cup and filing that information away for another time. "But is that why you decided to get me this?"
"Hey, can't a guy do something nice for you?" He switches to perching on the desk beside you, swinging his legs back and forth. "But I mean. This way you won't need to see him ever again."
You shoot him a glare and he just cackles.
Similar small gestures continue throughout the term. It's as if he took an entire crash course on how to be a gentleman, or the closest he'd ever come to being one anyways. But while his actions say one thing, his lips say another as he constantly throws around the 'have you fallen for me yet,' even upgrading the 'where's my hug?' to 'where's my kiss?'
And the worst part is, you find yourself letting him do all this. You let him take your hand, let him swing your arms as you walk across campus like a typical campus couple. You let him pull you in for the briefest of hugs in front of your residence building before parting ways. You let him send you the good morning and good night texts, even if you don't reply most of the time.
You let him because you knew there should be no risk of falling for him.
"Are you cold?" Sunwoo asks when walks you back to your dorm after class one night.
It's already dark outside and for once you're grateful to have a walking buddy even if he wasn't your first or second choice. Though your first and second options have been ditching you more frequently—even the study sessions in the library with them became few and sparse when Sunwoo happened to be in your major while they were not.
"Nope," you respond, more out of habit than anything. It's a lie; the cool breeze seems to blow right through your clothes with every step, and for once you can't make fun of Sunwoo's fashion since that beanie would at least be keeping him warm.
He laughs. You shoot him a glare.
But in the next moment, he's taking your ice-cold hand between his warm ones. Warming your hand with his breath a little before he laces your fingers with his, and then placing them both in his pocket.
"If you wanted me to hold your hand, you could've just said so," he breaks into a grin, the usual teasing sparkle in his eyes as he gives your hand a squeeze, "soulmate."
"Hey—I did not!"
It might be because your view is obstructed by the wind induced tears, but for a second there seems to be something in his eyes that's a little softer than usual; a slip of brightness between the cracks of the walls he's always had up. If it were from anyone else, you might've said it was a look of fondness.
"Anyway," you quickly change the subject a few moments later, glad to have already arrived at steps of your residence building. "This is me."
Sunwoo nods and pulls your hands out of his pocket but doesn't let go. He shifts slightly so that he's on the step below the one you're standing on, spinning you around so that you're face to face.
It's then when you notice that he's quite tall. Maybe you never realized since you've always been hanging out with the soulmate duo, but now that he's in front of you, the step puts you that much closer to his face. Close enough for you to see his round eyes, his plump lips, and his beautiful sun-kissed skin, no longer hidden under the prominent colours of bruises and swelling.
It's supposed to be annoying—wasn't this was practically the same as Hyunjae always being up in your face, trying to annoy you? You're supposed to push him away, roll your eyes, laugh it off.
But for some reason, you can't. His gaze seems to pin you to the spot, making you unable to do anything except stare at the way his fluffy hair lands near his eyes. It makes you forget everything except for the way he swallows, the way he wets his lips before pressing them together. None of this makes it feel like he's the popular boy at school annoying you anymore.
"You're beautiful," Sunwoo says quietly, breaking the silence. "Can I... have a kiss?"
It's something he always says but this time, it doesn't come out sounding like a joke.
The kiss—it was really meant for his cheek. Something compels you to close the mere centimeters between you, an act that is done all too easily when his face is right there. But as your eyelids flutter shut just as the warmth of his skin was all but against your lips, he moves. Shifts ever so slightly so that the heat of his cheek is actually the heat of his lips. On yours.
You quickly jump back, not giving yourself a chance to find out if they're as supple as they look.
"H-hey!" is all you manage to get out.
The playful smile is back when he gives your hand a squeeze before finally letting go. "Just a little teaser of what we could be doing."
Without another word, he gives you a bit of a wave and leaps down the stairs. Leaving you standing there, wondering if your shivers are because of the wind and if the slight flush on his cheeks was from the cold.
Sk8ter boi: u up?
You: if this is some kind of booty call then no
You: call one of ur other girls lol
Sk8ter boi: you're the only one for me
Sk8ter boi: soulmateeee <3
Sk8ter boi: come out for a while?
You leave him on read, even putting your phone away and turning off the light. Closing your eyes. But it soon becomes apparent that there's no hope for sleep to come with there's a small nagging in your stomach. It compels you to throw on a jacket and get out of your dorm, the same kind feeling that compelled you to actually kiss him the other day on these very steps.
Though you don't count it as a kiss. It was definitely more like a brush of lips—hardly even touching for longer than a millisecond. Besides, he'd totally tricked you.
He's waiting on the steps in his usual getup, kicking around a rock aimlessly, and it takes you a second to recognize his backside without the hood on.
"Sunwoo, it's so late. What are you doing here?"
He meets your eyes with an easy smile. "Just wanted to see you."
"At this hour?"
"Every hour is missing Y/N hours," he teases, and you come very close to pretending to barf. "How are you? Are you cold?"
"I am not falling for that again." You glance him up and down warily.
"I wanted to show you something." Sunwoo shrugs, taking a few steps down and then beckoning you over. You don't even reach the bottom of the stairs before you realize your hand is back in his.
The 'something' that the skater boy wanted to show you turns out to be an old building on campus, one you've never had class in but one that you've walked through many times during your time here.
"Um, what's so special about this?"
Sunwoo's smile seems to grow at your question, and he simply points up instead of answering. Following his finger leads you to a ladder at the side of the building, going up to the roof. He gently tugs you, and soon enough the two of you are standing at the base of the ladder.
"The roof? You want to go up there?"
He probably catches your wide-eyed stare. "Aw, is Y/N a bit of a scaredy cat?"
"Then go ahead," he says, gesturing towards the ladder.
"I just don't know why this is what you called me out for." You give him a glare and finally put a hand on the cool metal. "But if I fall and die, I hope the marks make you so ugly that no one else will like you ever again."
Sunwoo barks a laugh at that. "Don't worry. I'll catch you if you fall." He pauses briefly then adds in a quieter voice, "And I don't need anyone else to like me."
The climb up isn't too bad since the building isn't particularly high, and you don't get a chance to look down. Though your hands still grip each rung of the ladder as tightly as possible.
You had expected a nice view once you reached the top just based on how Sunwoo wanted to come here, but it really wasn't impressive. All you could see were the fields and trees on campus, though there's a gentle breeze in the air that makes it seem a little more thrilling.
"Come sit." He settles down on sort of platform, gazing at you with a sparkle in his eyes.
You can hear the quiet hum of electricity so surely this roof was supposed to be for building maintenance or something? And surely, being here is already breaking some sort of rule on campus? But tonight, maybe you decide to trust him.
"It's not so bad up here, right?" The wind ruffles his hair, and you suddenly realize that you've barely ever seen him without some sort of hat or hood on. He's never shown the world more than just a sliver of his face and you don't understand why because his hair is beautiful. His curls look so soft under the moonlight, and it makes you wonder how they would feel between your fingers. If they're as soft as they look.
"How did you even find out about this place?"
"There was a ladder, so I climbed it," he laughs. "Then I started coming up here whenever I needed to think. It's quite peaceful."
"Can't say there's much of a view though."
Sunwoo gasps dramatically, looking at you with wide eyes. "What? No, the view is amazing. Come here, I'll show you." He waves you over and then leans back until he's lying down, staring up at the sky.
You follow suit and make sure to leave a small distance between the two of you. But instead of your head meeting the rough surface of the platform like you expected, it lands on the softness that's Sunwoo's arm instead. He moves, pulling you in until you're settled in the crook of his shoulder.
"Look, it's the big dipper." With his free hand, he points to the sky just towards your left. "And there's Aries," he points to a patch of sky just above you, "and there's Capricorn."
Looking at the sky where he points reveals nothing except for the dots of light from airplanes in the distance and wisps of cloud. The moon seemed to be the only celestial body in the sky that you could see.
"Um. I'm not sure if you need your eyes checked, but there's actually nothing there," you say, giving up on the lack of a view and turning to him instead.
"Wow, couldn't you have just agreed?" He whines, lips forming a pout. "This is fake star gazing; I point at something that's not there, and you say you see it too. And then we marvel at its beauty."
"Why would you marvel at something that you can't see?"
"Hmm. Maybe you're right." Sunwoo suddenly turns to face you. "Why look at the sky when I could be staring at you?"
"You want to play a game?"
"Yeah? And where is this going?" You definitely did not trust him with this.
"Let's do twenty questions. We'll take turns asking and if you can't answer something, then hmm," he pauses. Hums as he thinks. "Then you owe me a kiss."
"Sure. That's easy."
His eyes widen, "You want to kiss me that bad?"
"No! I meant the questions," you say dully. "And what if you can't answer something?"
"Then I'll give you a kiss, of course," he singsongs. "Hmm, have you ever had liked anyone? Other than me, obviously."
"Who says I like you? But yes, I have," you say bluntly, sputtering with disbelief at why he would start with this. "Why, have you not?"
"Well, yeah. But nothing too serious because I knew it wouldn't work out. Everyone's only interested in finding their soulmates in this world." The last part comes out sounding bitter.
"Yeah, I get it. I had a crush on Juyeon when I first met him, but it was—quite obvious that that wasn't going to work out."
"Juyeon? The pretty boy's soulmate?" he asks with sudden interest.
"Um. Please don't go beat him up?"
Sunwoo simply cackles at your words.
"Seriously, please don't. Hyunjae would kill you, you know."
"You don't think I could take on both of them?"
"I'm just joking with you," he laughs. "Don't worry. I'm not going to get into any more fights, Y/N. You are going to live bruise-free for the rest of your life."
"I didn't mean—"
"Well, unless you want me to mark you up sometime."
"Alright, next question. Have you ever looked for me?"
"Yeah," you admit. "It was not a fun time."
His eyes are unreadable for the most part when you tell him about the boxing matches, the interest in stunt acting. The days the patches of colour on your skin acted like little puzzle pieces, hints to where your soulmate could be.
It's only after you tell him that you start to think maybe you shouldn't have. Maybe he thinks the whole soulmates thing is stupid. Maybe he thinks you're stupid for believing in it.
"You thought I could've been a boxer?" he chuckles. "That's cute."
You roll your eyes at him. "Well, who thought you'd be some kid getting into fights all the time for no reason."
"So were you disappointed when you met me?"
You open your mouth with a sarcastic reply ready at the tip of your tongue but for some reason it doesn't seem appropriate to say anymore. His voice was still light and casual, but there's a dreading feeling in your heart with the fear that the conversation is really going to go down the slippery slope that you both have been dancing around. One that you both may never come back from.
"Don't worry," he says when the silence stretches a little too long, "you can tell me the truth, you know."
"I guess you already know the answer to that based on what I said to you that time in the stairwell." You focus on the curve of his lips instead of meeting his gaze. "I was disappointed that you turned out to be a popular fuckboy on the verge of failing out of school."
"Hey—give me some credit. I haven't hooked up with anyone since meeting you," he says hotly. "And I'm not on the verge of failing out of school. The popular part is correct though."
"Wow, congrats. You get a gold star for that." The sarcasm drips out of your voice, but he doesn't show any signs of acknowledging it as he laughs. "But Sunwoo, I'm not disappointed. I was surprised and in denial at first, and let's be real, the first few times we met went quite terribly. I don't know, I guess I was too harsh to judge you like that right away."
This time it's his turn to stay silent.
"Wait, that wasn't even supposed to be my turn!" You give him a push.
"Oh, oops." There's a bit of a smile on his face but his wall of indifference was still up. "Okay, you can ask me anything."
You take a deep breath. "Do you even believe in soulmates?"
"Oh," he says slowly, frowning. "No one's ever asked me this before. But to be honest, not really. Or at least I didn't before." Sunwoo pauses and you think that's it for his answer, but to your surprise, he continues. "I guess it's because my parents aren't soulmates, so I thought it was whatever at first, that it didn't matter. But when things started getting bad between them, I kind of just gave up on the idea of love completely."
It wasn't unheard of to spend a lifetime without meeting your soulmate, and marriage between non-soulmate pairs wasn't exactly rare either. It just wasn't something that you'd really thought about, seeing as the people in your life had all found their perfect matches.
He tells you about the happiness of his childhood, the way the concept of soulmates wasn't even introduced to him until he started school. How his parents got strange looks when people noticed their marks didn't match, how he became determined to forget about the whole soulmates thing. He tells you about lashing out at the world, watching love fall apart and then grow together in different ways, hating how the world made the whole soulmates thing seem inevitable. Hating the fact that he had one, and then refusing to believe he did.
"I still think that this whole soulmate thing is bullshit though, in general. People should be allowed to love whoever they want to, and besides, love can bloom anywhere. It shouldn't be just limited to soulmates," he states, brows furrowing. "But the bruises sure are annoying as fuck; I'm sorry I never realized that you'd be suffering through the consequences of my actions."
There's a stillness that lingers in the air as you quickly turn to blink away the tears that were threatening to spill out. This reveal of a more vulnerable side of him has you stunned, not knowing what to say or how to react when he's never let you see this side of him before. It makes the seed of guilt grow: the guilt that you blindly judged him and hated him for a lifetime, that you probably still would if you hadn't had the chance to meet him and get to know him like this.
But now that the first step has been taken down this path, there was no going back. There was something that you had to ask.
You turn back to him. "Does finding your soulmate change anything?"
He seems to hold his breath as he thinks. Face impassive. "I don't know, Y/N. Does it? Do you want it to?"
Thoughts fly at a thousand miles per hour through your mind, each possible answer threatening to throw you off the edge of the cliff you were cautiously teetering on. You'd known that this was going to be a conversation that your undefined relationship would never recover from, but you were not ready for it to hit you like this.
So you grab him and then your lips are meeting his.
He makes a sputtering sound from the back of his throat, definitely not expecting your bold move. But he quickly goes to kiss you back a moment later. You pull away.
"Have you fallen for me yet?" Sunwoo whispers after catching his breath. The casual line he keeps throwing around no longer seems so casual now. As he searches your eyes for an answer, you could see how full blown his pupils are and how dark his gaze has become as it gradually trails down to your lips. Dark with a sparkle from the reflection of the moon, just like the starless sky.
"And what if I have?" you repeat his words from the time in the stairwell. It no longer sounds like a taunt. "What then?"
He doesn't answer but then his mouth slowly curves into a smile.
And then he's kissing you.
His mouth is hot and his lips are everything you imagined with how soft and supple they are, fitting so well against yours. He pulls you closer until there's no space between you, until you can feel his breath hitch, until you find out that his hair really is as soft as it looked. Beneath the smell of his cologne is a faint sweetness that's so distinctly him that it's like you're breathing in Sunwoo Sunwoo Sunwoo. And—you didn't know that it could feel like this. You didn't know that kissing someone could be so overwhelming that it makes the world spin and makes your heart feel like it would jump out of your chest. You didn't know his every touch would feel like electricity running through your veins, that the muffled moans he makes would be so addicting.
It was exhilarating. It was scary. Maybe this is what it's like to be with a soulmate. Maybe this is what it's like to be in love.
You break the kiss and pull away from him. Gasping to catch your breath as everything rushes to you all at once.
Sunwoo gives you a bit of a questioning look before the wall of indifference is sliding back into place. There's a gentle smile, not the kind he showed the world but not the ones he'd secretly shown you either. It doesn't quite reach his eyes.
"We should probably get going," he murmurs, sitting up and reaching for your hand. "It's late and you have morning class."
It's only when you're back in your dorm that you realize neither of you answered each other's last questions.
Sunwoo doesn't text you.
He doesn't read your texts either, for that matter; the couple of short messages you sent remain unread and unopened for the next few days. For once, your phone is awfully silent, and it makes you wonder if this is what it felt like to be ghosted by him. If this is what it felt like to be anyone other than his soulmate.
It's like he disappeared from your life as quickly as he'd entered it.
Maybe he finally decided that he's had enough, that he's lost interest in you. And maybe it was a good thing because you didn't know how things could possibly proceed after last night. How could you possibly pretend like there was nothing between you after everything that's happened? How could you possibly endure seeing his flirty facade when you now know he's so much more than that?
There's only silence in replace of the comforting presence to walk to you class, and an empty seat next to you in your shared lecture. The stares and whispers are back this time, and even Eric sends you a questioning glance to which you respond with a shrug.
Jacob gives you worried looks throughout your time at the tutoring center when Sunwoo doesn't show up, though he never outright asks. Which you're grateful for, because you're not quite sure how it would feel to acknowledge the problem that's been eating away at you.
Because when you think about it, you hadn't even realized just how much of your life Sunwoo had taken up—all of your waking moments had consisted of him trying to worm his way into your heart. How he was constantly being up in your face, throwing around cheesy lines and the ever so casual 'soulmate'. There were the small gestures like getting you coffee, walking you up to your door, heck, even the fake stargazing. Holding your hand, warming it up. Lips fitting so well against yours. The genuine smiles he'd shown you, different from the fake ones he'd plaster on for the rest of the world. And then there was the seemingly daily check-in of have you fallen for me yet?
You'd fallen for him.
He did it. He won. He got you to fall for him just as he wanted, just like he'd joked about every day.
And your heart sinks at the realization.
"Okay, spill." Juyeon sits you down at cafeteria after class with a platter of fries in front of you. Comfort food, he'd said, shooing away Hyunjae's hand when he tried to steal one. "What's been bothering you?"
You heave a sigh and then begin with the last time you saw Sunwoo on the rooftop. A night that had started with breaking the rules and mediocre views, ending with deep talks and kissing. You had to admit that it'd been romantic at some point, but had it been a date? Had anything between you two been... anything?
"So you guys kissed?" Hyunjae's eyes fill to the brim with excitement as he leans towards you. "Like, with tongue and all?"
"Okay, ew. Just because you're comfortable sharing things about your sex life does not mean I am." You push his face away just as Juyeon turns into a mess of coughs.
"Sex life?" Hyunjae repeats, entirely ignoring the way his soulmate is now sporting a furious blush. "Who said anything about sex life? Are you saying you had s—"
"Shut up," you quickly cover his mouth for your own sake. And Sunwoo's. And Juyeon's. "That is so not the point of this conversation."
Juyeon clears his throat. "So he hasn't contacted you at all since that night?"
"He has not," you sigh, reluctantly letting go of Hyunjae. "Guess he ghosted like the typical fuckboy? I shouldn't have expected anything from him."
"But it doesn't sound like he's afraid of commitment though," Juyeon says slowly, deep in thought. "He's made the effort to start going to classes and to get to know you."
"Doesn't he do that with everyone he flirts with?" you mutter under your breath.
"But he hasn't," Hyunjae crosses his arms, "flirted with anyone else since meeting you."
"That's a lie; I totally saw him—"
"He's afraid of being rejected by you," Juyeon finally says.
Juyeon nods and even Hyunjae is staring at him with confusion.
"Okay, what do you know that I don't?" Hyunjae blinks at his soulmate, peering at him intensely.
"It was just something Eric said," Juyeon shrugs. "He was mostly making fun of Sunwoo for how much he's changed since meeting you," he nods your way, "but he also said that Sunwoo thought he wouldn't be good enough. Like he was afraid you'd never see him as a soulmate."
"Since when did you become so wise?" Hyunjae says, patting Juyeon on the head. Then his jaw drops when the words sink in. "Wait, you're only telling Y/N this now?"
"Only because Y/N still doesn't believe that lover boy's feelings are genuine," Juyeon huffs, crossing his arms. "The universe was supposed to straighten itself without my interference."
"So much for being confident that I would fall for him."
"But," Hyunjae says deliberately, "didn't you?"
"No—" you start, and then stop.
As if he could see exactly what you had been ruminating about for the past few days, Hyunjae's jaw drops even lower than the previous time. "Oh my god."
"Okay, fine!" you confess only because he already saw right through you. "But it's not a good thing."
"You had no qualms with falling for someone who's not your soulmate but now you're worried about falling for your actual soulmate?" Hyunjae raises an eyebrow and then cocks his head over at Juyeon.
"Ugh, you're never going to let me live, are you?" You stifle a groan from where your face is buried in your hands. It's not usually embarrassing whenever Hyunjae teases you about your former crush on Juyeon, but this comparison makes your cheeks immediately heat up. Maybe because there is some truth to it. "I'm sorry that Juyeon is too hot for you?"
Juyeon laughs while Hyunjae glares at you.
"Not the point," Hyunjae gives a dismissing wave. "It should be easy, Y/N. It should be like falling into place with someone, not falling off a cliff like how you're making it sound."
"It's scary though. With someone who's not your soulmate, you might not care as much because maybe it won't work out anyway. But with your soulmate, this is like the one chance of your lifetime."
"You're right, but you have one who genuinely cares for you. What's the danger in that?" Juyeon asks.
"The danger is that he doesn't even believe in soulmates." You finally take a fry, already cold by now but comforting, nonetheless. And then you think back to that night on the rooftop. What he'd said about soulmates, then what he'd asked you.
I don't know, Y/N. Does it? Do you want it to?
A question you hadn't answered.
"Just make it clear to him how you feel," Juyeon continues when you don't say anything else.
"Easier said than done," you whine. "It's like he completely disappeared. No one knows where he is and he's not answering my texts either."
"Oh that's easy." Hyunjae's lip quirks up, holding your gaze as if distracting you from when he goes to steal a fry. "All you have to do is go talk to Younghoon, and then Sunwoo will suddenly appear to beat him up again."
You don't know whether to laugh or cry at that comment. "Um. I was going to tell you to shut up, but you know what, that's actually hilarious. I'll accept it."
"Why, thank you." Hyunjae smiles. Stuffs the fry in his mouth. "But anyways, don't worry too much about it. Lover boy will be back in no time. Especially when every hour is missing Y/N hours."
"Remind me to never tell you anything ever again," you say, reaching to stuff a handful of fries in his mouth to shut him up. "But I don't even know if that's a good thing though. Him... coming back."
"Why not? Be in love with your soulmate freely, Y/N," Hyunjae gestures dramatically as he chews. "You didn't go through all those years of ugliness for nothing."
"I think I'll go talk to Younghoon and see if he knows anything." You put the platter of fries in front of Juyeon, "Thank you for your help, bestie." Then turn to Hyunjae and knock him on the head, "And just so you know, I still hate you."
"It's okay to admit it, you know. That you loveme."
"Keep us updated, okay?" Juyeon pokes you gently. "Let us know if we can help with anything."
"Yeah, let us know if you need us to beat him up for you. Well, if you don't mind having some extra bruises for a while," Hyunjae says, waving his fists arounds.
"Thanks, but it won't be necessary."
Heading to the cafe has you shivering at the cold wind against your skin; the sun had disappeared with the clouds quickly moving in, darkening the sky with the incoming storm. If Juyeon were right that Sunwoo wasn't ghosting you, then there would have to be another reason for disappearing so suddenly. An unsettling feeling that makes your stomach clench.
Luckily for you, the cafe seems emptier than usual when you head over. Younghoon's there chatting with a co-worker—Kevin, if you could read his nametag properly—and he turns to the door at the sound of the bell.
"Oh, hey Y/N!"
Kevin whispers something to him and then gives you a quick smile before going into the backroom, leaving the two of you alone.
"I'm glad you stopped by, actually. I wanted to apologize for um..." he trails off, running a hand through his hair awkwardly. "Causing you all that trouble. Not knowing about you and Sunwoo."
"Don't worry about it; you already texted me about this." You wave a hand at him dismissingly. "And besides, the important thing is that you're okay. I would've beat up Sunwoo myself if you weren't."
That makes him laugh, though the usual twinkle in his eye isn't there. "We can still be friends, yeah?"
"Yeah, of course." Then you pause, not knowing how to approach the subject. "Actually, that's kind of what I wanted to ask you. Do you know where Sunwoo is?"
Younghoon hesitates. "There were some... people looking for him a while ago. He said he was going out of town to deal with them, but that's about all he told me."
"He didn't want them to find him here." Younghoon bites his lip. You could tell that he clearly knows more but you're suddenly unsure of whether you wanted to find out at this point. "Y/N, it's probably best if you don't know."
But who would be looking for Sunwoo? Just what kind of people were he involved with? The way Younghoon spoke about it sounded like there would be danger involved; that Sunwoo was being chased by a gang or thugs. That there would be fights, weapons, and maybe even car chases, just like in the movies.
It just confirmed the sad fact that you knew nothing about him. You were completely clueless when it came to what kind of person he was, what his hobbies were, who his friends were. And yet, he knew all those things about you. He knew your schedule, your favourite coffee order, how you met your best friends. In the couple of months that you've known him, he already knew you inside and out.
"Hey, is everything okay?" Younghoon asks, gaze instantly softening at what must be quite a sad looking frown on your face. You barely manage to shrug in response. "Sunwoo might act like an asshole sometimes, but he's not a bad guy. I don't know what he's said to you, but he really does care about you."
"I'll keep you updated if I hear from him."
When the silence of your room greets you, this time you're scrubbing off the makeup to look for clues. The marks that you once dreaded now became your hope because at least then you'd have some sort of sign. A tiny splash of blue as proof of his existence, a patch of purple to know that he's somewhere close by, that maybe the connection you had with him wasn't a fabrication of your imagination but rather something tangible.
Because maybe you did miss his presence. Because maybe you didn't hate it as much as you once thought you did, and maybe you actually never hated it at all. Maybe you've gotten used to it and maybe the way your heart soars and the way it sinks is the very definition of what it means to be soulmates.
There were no marks. A good sign, you supposed, if this meant he hadn't been getting into fights while he was gone. But something about seeing the clean slate of your skin makes you miss the familiar sight of marks, as if they were a piece of his presence you carried around.
It's already hard to believe you'd once hated them so much.
When your phone finally vibrates, you almost think you're imagining it. That it has to be some figment of your mind that you were projecting too hard.
Sk8ter boi: open the door soulmateeee <3
But when you open the door, he's there. It doesn't even matter how he knew which unit you lived in or how he made it past the front door of the building or why he decided to come. It doesn't matter that he's dripping water onto your floor from his soaked clothes, or that he drops his helmet and jacket by the door.
"Sorry for taking so long," he says softly as he closes the door behind him. There's a glimpse of a smile but it doesn't match the turmoil in his eyes. "You can see my handsome face all you want now."
"Are you okay? Where did you go?"
"Let's just say there was some unfinished business with some people I knew."
"Did you..." you trail off, not knowing how to ask what was on your mind or whether if you should be prying at all.
He shakes his head and some water droplet fall from his soaked hair. "I'm not going back to that kind of life, Y/N. Had to cut off ties with some people, that's all. Everything's done now. I'm all yours."
You let out a breath of relief that you didn't even realize you'd been holding.
Strands of his hair curl at the ends, and water droplets fall. Then you notice that the white tee he has on is see-through with how soaked it is, and the way it clings onto his body leaves little to imagination.
You slowly force your gaze away. "Oh."
"Were you looking for me?"
"I—yeah," you admit. The sight of him in front of you, alive and well, was enough to wipe away all of the snarky responses you once had in mind and make you finally decide to be real with him. To finally confront your feelings. "Yeah, I was worried about you. I was afraid you'd gotten into an accident or some sort of fight and—"
He shakes his head again, showing you both sides of his arms. Turning his head and pointing at his cheeks. "Not a scratch. See? I know how to resolve things peacefully. I promised you that there would be no more marks, Y/N."
"But Sunwoo, do you mean that? I was afraid you'd left because of what happened that night. That you decided you were done with—this," you gesture vaguely. "Sunwoo... are you just playing with me?"
"What? No." His eyes fill with confusion, and he finally crosses the room. "Y/N, is that what you thought? Is that what it seemed like?" Then he's right in front of you, gently brushing away a tear that you hadn't even realized was on your cheek. "Hey, I'm sorry for taking off like this. I wasn't trying to ghost you, I was just... afraid. Afraid of what you'd say if you answered that last question because I wasn't ready to be rejected by my own soulmate." He takes your hands in his and gives you a sad smile. "I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt, but now, I've come to terms with it. And it's okay because I promised you that I'd get my shit together and I'm going to make it happen."
Then you're burying your face in his chest, arms pulling him closer despite the wet clothing, despite how you thought you hated him all your life. Because somehow, hating him first makes you like him even more now. And somehow, wanting to get rid of him at first makes you want to cling to him tighter now, to hold him closer and let this moment erase your guilt of ever pushing away someone who now seems to fit so well against you.
"You know, you were right to be mad at me for never thinking about you or about how my actions would affect you and the people around me. I hadn't really cared about anything in the world and didn't think about possibly meeting my soulmate in this lifetime. And even after we met, I didn't think anything would change. You were right that I was only interested in fooling around with you—only at first though." He pulls back just slightly, and you could see the honesty in his eyes, steady, unwavering. "But things did change. I usually don't give a shit about people's feelings or opinions, but for some reason, I care about yours. And I find myself wanting to get to know you, to be good enough for you. To not screw up one of the biggest chances in my life."
He caresses your cheek so delicately as if afraid this moment could shatter with a touch too strong.
"Wanting to love you and be loved by you."
If you'd been treading carefully around him before, now you find yourself drowning. Drowning in the warmth of his body against the coolness of his clothes, drowning in the sincerity in his words, in the hope that had begun to bloom in your heart so fast that it aches and yearns.
"Sunwoo, I should've told you that night."
There's a brief flash of fear in his eyes that's quickly replaced with a glimmer of hope that mirrors yours.
"Because I would've told you that I do want this to change everything. I want you to believe that soulmates can exist, and love can be real, and that the possibilities are endless if you're willing to experience it all. And that I do want you, as a soulmate."
He lets out the shaky breath he was holding. "Have you fallen for me?"
And this time when he asks, you're not afraid to answer.
"Yeah, Sunwoo. I have."
Then waves crash and surround you as his lips meet yours, dragging you into the depths and you're sinking, sinking, deeper and deeper. His mouth is hot as he kisses you hungrily, pulling you infinitesimally closer as hands get tangled in your hair and in his tee. Sunwoo's breath hitches when you press your palms against the bare skin under his shirt and there's heat sparking from everywhere you touch like a live wire. His every touch feels like air, a lifeline always keeping you alive and wanting, craving for more as you drown in his body.
He comes up for air first, pulling back the slightest, breathing hard.
"Sunwoo, you're freezing," you whisper.
"Then warm me up."
This time his lips veer from yours, creating a blaze of fire on your skin as they trail to your jaw, your ear, and down your neck that makes your breaths quicken. His shirt comes off with some effort and the bit that was left to your imagination turns into reality when your fingers trace his sun-kissed skin, following each line of his abs, each dip and curve until he's stifling a moan against your neck.
When there's a pause, his pupils are full blown, cheeks flushed as he searches your eyes. Searching for an answer for not only what would happen next, but for an answer about what would happen to the two of you. What you were and what you would become.
And then Sunwoo's kissing you again. Clothes are flung, teeth clack, and then he's pulling you with him until there are silky sheets and the heat of his body against you. Soft moans that you'd gotten a taste of that night now fill your ears as lips and hands are everywhere. His mouth trails down every inch of your body as if learning your every memory, your every bruise that had left you wondering over the years. Erasing then rewriting the stories through splashes of pink hues that darken into the blues and purples of watercolour on a blank canvas.
When the sun peaking through the curtains wakes you up in the morning, there's a disorientation in your head as if a fever dream that only lingers at the edges of your memory. The first glance at your body makes your heart sink as you realize you're covered in marks yet again, but then the memories flood back so fast that it takes a moment to catch your breath.
It's hard not to stare when he's right there. His long eyelashes, his high cheekbones, the way his lips curve into a small smirk as if knowing you're staring.
"Oh?" he mumbles, giving you a teasing look. He reaches over and pulls you even closer, until all you can see are those beautiful eyes. "Are you surprised I'm here?"
"No, but I was just afraid you... left."
He softens instantly into the brilliant smile that you'd seen only a few times so far. "Hey, I would never do that to you, soulmate. I was serious about what I said last night."
You nod, not trusting your own voice just yet. There's a tenderness in his eyes and fondness in his hands as his caresses your cheek, a softness that feels like warm sunlight trickling between the cracks. And when he kisses you this time, it feels like a first kiss. Whereas the night before was rough edges and stormy seas, this time it's filled with the innocence of a first love, the sweetness of a summer's day. His lips are gentle but what you notice most is the small smile that lingers on them like he can't contain his happiness.
This time the bruises that you see on your body aren't a sight that annoys you. They're not a sign that your soulmate is out there being reckless or fooling around; these are marks that your soulmate made directly on your skin. This time they're a reminder of what happened last night, not only a sign that he exists, but also a sign of how much he wants this too.
This time just before you head out, you're about to reach for your makeup bag before ultimately deciding against it. Because this time, you don't need to question who your soulmate was, where they were, or where the marks were coming from. It definitely feels different when you look over at Sunwoo and see the matching pale pink mark peeking out from the edge of his collar.
Maybe now, you can finally wear the bruises proudly.
The matching marks are the first thing that the soulmate duo stare at when you and Sunwoo walk into the cafe. You could see the way their eyes bounce back and forth between the two of you; Hyunjae giving you a very mischievous grin while Juyeon beams as if he were the matchmaker himself. Maybe he was, in a way; maybe the universe would've straightened itself out without his interference like he'd said, but he certainly helped.
There's a fifth seat saved for Younghoon, but it remains empty as you heard that he's been busy with the soulmate that he had found only recently. It's ironic that that fight with Sunwoo had been the solution for finding his soulmate all along—the bruises on his face had also showed up on a classmate of his. You were just happy that he's met someone he could finally channel all his love towards.
"Oh hey, pretty boy," Sunwoo nods towards Hyunjae when the two of you join them at the table, then turns to Juyeon, "and Y/N's ex-crush."
You elbow him lightly. "Please. Not you too."
The three of them laugh and for a second it feels so natural. You're glad to have brought them together even if their source of entertainment was from teasing you.
When Hyunjae looks at Juyeon, there's a particular look they exchange. A glance that said neither of them has ever doubted that your relationship with Sunwoo would work out, that they know all too well what the soulmate bond feels like and perhaps how its pull is inevitable.
You see it in the way Younghoon glows when he walks in with his soulmate later—Minji, he said her name was. The affection in his gaze when he looks at her, the way her eyes twinkle when smiles back at him. There's no denying their bond when it's all so different from how he looked at you before.
And you see it in all of Sunwoo's soft smiles and the crinkle of his nose and the way his eyes curve. The smiles you once thought were rare are now all you can see when no longer hidden beneath a facade. Maybe he's right that soulmates don't actually exist, and that love can bloom anywhere at any time. Maybe it's the choice to believe in it that makes the love for that person stronger than anything else. But on the way home when you see him subtly look at the marks on his skin with such fondness in his eyes, you knew that it didn't matter.
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