Humans were fickle. And damn stupid.
They were magnificent innovators, though, with a great variety of cuisines that could bring his serotonin levels back to normal. If Jisung’s metabolism operated like a human being, he’d probably be donning a pot belly and a pair of blubbery thighs by now. Not that he’d mind; soft and plump had always been his favourite adjectives.
But back to the point. Humans. Brilliant yet terribly stupid. Don’t even get him started on the debilitating politics and the startling high population of right-wingers who were primarily white men with appearances so ugly they looked like they were built like a capri sun and had ripe strawberries as noses. Then again, Jisung’s been stationed in America for a few years now, and he’s practically seen and experienced all kinds of nightmarish circumstances through his invisible form.
Good thing he became a Cupid. Though generally apathetic with anything involving the essence of love, Jisung was pretty good at his job of getting people together. He’d rather choose the melodrama of marital problems and infatuated couples than holding the responsibility and judgment of life and death at the crossroads. But being a Cupid also entailed the annoying bereft of situational autonomy.
“Are you serious?” Jisung stared at the documents in his hands. “I'm like, the least fit for this task. I’m a baby Cupid! Why would you give me the most difficult job in the entire Heavenly plane when you have more experienced Cupids ready to dispatch that’re probably more, you know, fucking efficient?”
Changbin mocked Jisung’s complaints in an obnoxiously high-pitched voice. “It’s because you’re a baby Cupid that I gave you this job, idiot. If you can get the Hwang Hyunjin to fall in love in all his loveless twenty-one years of life, you’ll impress the higher ups and possibly move up the ranks. Don’t you want an upgrade? A raise?”
“Sure. But I like my comfortable little niche and my little cherubic wings. I’ve seen those big ass wings that Chan’s got -- I bet it’s a bitch to prune those. Does he use cornstarch to clean them or his own holy spit?”
Changbin rolled his eyes. He might have been a rank higher than Jisung, but man did Jisung want to smack that sense of entitled superiority off of his face. “Just -- take the assignment. Do it. Use your little conniving mind and come up with something to get Hyunjin to fall in love. You’re good for a Cupid in the low ranks. You have potential, Jisung.”
“Oh, yeah. The potential to kick your ass,” Jisung retorted. “Get Minho to do it. He already shits sunshine and rainbows.”
“He’s being borrowed by the Department of Death. The rest of us are too busy trying to kiss ass ‘cause there’s an open spot in the council of Seraphim. Did you know they get paid seven-digits to sit around and judge people?”
At Jisung’s unamused look, Changbin cleared his throat. “Look. Practically everyone’s gone through this at some point in their lives and nobody -- I repeat, nobody -- has ever succeeded in this assignment. And because I trust you, I’m placing a stamp of permanence on this one. Well, also because I know you’ll slack off.”
“What?” Jisung rose from his white suede chair in a squawk. “Oh, no you -- “
“Goodbye and see you maybe in a few decades, Jisung!”
The last thing Jisung saw was Changbin’s shit-eating grin before he snapped his fingers and Jisung’s comfy Angel home melted into a scene of crowded streets and chaotic traffic in the middle of the afternoon. Surrounded by tall skyscrapers and terraced buildings, his little white cherubic wings preened at the sudden sensory overload.
Jisung sucked in a deep breath as he looked down at the documents he still had in his hands. A legitimate red stamp of permanence had appeared over the papers. Now, he was stuck trying to babysit and play matchmaker with a human.
He was an immortal asshole but he’d take death anyday over this. “Oh fuck you, Changbin.”
And in the far distance, he swore he heard laughter.
He studied his prey for the next few days, trying to conjure up a plan to help Hyunjin find a compatible partner -- although by studying, he meant following. The documents didn’t disclose much about his preferences, so he had to learn and deduct through observation.
Jisung learned quickly that Hyunjin wasn’t a prude or anything of the like. He had black floppy hair, was a great enthusiast of mismatched jewelry, was disgustingly tall, and dressed like a regular fashionable twenty-one year old with a polite and demure disposition that ceased to exist around close friends. He partied but didn’t drink alcohol, loved affection, and was a full-time arts student at a university. Another thing was that he belted out Linkin Park songs in the shower and shuffled around to them in the fake solitude of his apartment.
Well. Jisung cracked his knuckles. Any Linkin Park fanatic garnered his immediate respect. Time to get down to business.
1. Jisung emboldened one of the students to sit across from Hyunjin at the university library, nudging her to play footsie with him. The plan was that she would apologize, call it an accident, and flash a charming smile that’d make anyone with an existing libido swoon. But Jisung watched as Hyunjin blinked at the girl, packed up his books, and sprinted out of the library. Alright.
2. Jisung extended a foot and watched as the waiter with a weirdly attractive mullet trip and spill Hyunjin’s ramen all over his lap. Mr. Mullet Guy frantically wiped at Hyunjin’s lap with paper napkins and apologized so many times it started to sound like a nursery rhyme -- then offered Hyunjin his phone number and numerous ways to pay him back. Hyunjin tipped him seven dollars and ran out of the restaurant. Okay.
3. Not to worry! As Hyunjin sat by the bar counter, nursing a poor coca cola all alone because his friends had left him in favour of actually having fun on the dance floor, Jisung prodded a very hot twink to approach Hyunjin and flirt with him. God, did Jisung feel the sexual tension. Or maybe it was the vibrato of his screams when Hyunjin dumped his drink on him and disappeared into the crowd. Nevermind.
4. Out of impatience, Jisung shoved one of the nice goth girls into Hyunjin’s arms and made the world around them dance with iridescent sparkles and sunspots. The goth girl fell in love at first sight. Hyunjin? Not so much. He dropped the goth, panicked, and jumped over her like he was in the middle of a hurdle race and hid in the bathroom until he was kicked out.
Jisung scratched at his head, watching Hyunjin happily chew on the straw of his iced coffee. What the fuck was this guy’s deal?
At a loss despite it having been two mere weeks, Jisung turned to his friends. He begrudgingly dialed up Changbin’s residence on a Saturday night and waited for his call to go through. Once his call was answered, a large digital screen flashed into existence before him and Jisung was met with a few familiar faces -- all brilliant, eager eyes and distinctive wings carved to the individual.
“What’s up, Jisung?” Changbin asked smugly.
“My blood pressure. I swear to all that is holy that when I go back up there, Bin, you’re gonna need a military discount for all the hands you’re about to catch.”
“There’s my favourite Cupid!” Jeongin exclaimed, though was subsequently squashed by Minho. “I heard you took up the hardest case in the history of hard cases. Are you slacking off as usual?”
“Shut up. Your hair looks like magic mushrooms.”
“You're the one with blue hair.”
Changbin raised a brow. “Trouble in paradise?”
“Fuck you.” Jisung huffed. “He rejects every advance he gets. He won’t even bat an eye at big anime tiddies or, like, a nice ass. He doesn’t even watch porn!”
“A late bloomer?” Jeongin tried, shoving Changbin’s face out of the frame when he tried to hog all the limelight.
“I remember the first time I watched porn.” Minho studied his cuticles. “Sonic the Hedgehog -- that furry butt was an existence that transcended the realm of mortals and immortals.”
Everybody groaned. Jisung rubbed his temples at the imminent appearance of a headache. “Can we, like, pause the whole porn talk right now and tell me how to go on about this? I seriously don’t want to be stuck here and miss all of our Bingo nights.”
“Take him to a car wash,” Changbin supplied. “You know how it is when it’s a hot day and there’s attractive people half-dressed and sweaty and wet draped all over your car. Wee-woo, wee-woo, the temperature’s rising and so is my dick.”
“Soap isn’t an ideal lubricant,” Jeongin said, tilting his head.
“First of all, you guys have one-track minds. You expect Hyunjin to just fall head over heels over some person feeling up his car? That’s just another episode of My Strange Addiction brought to you by Pornhub.” Jisung scrunched up his nose.
Changbin said, “I’d watch that porno.”
Minho said, “I’ve watched that porno.”
Jisung smacked his hands over his face. He was a hapless chap who had a bullshit tolerance meter two inches tall, and all he got out of this banal conversation was that his friends were useless. “The day I grace your horrendous suggestions with a single one of my brain cells is the day I’m going to prison because y’all say and suggest things that only people who have lost everything would take into consideration.”
Minho shrugged, unbothered, while Changbin cackled. Jeongin called him a dickhead.
“Help an itty bitty Cupid out, guys,” Jisung implored.
Changbin grinned and wiggled his fingers. “We’ve already helped you out as much as we could, Jisung. Good luck down there ‘cause we got a Bingo game to resume.”
“Remember, Jisung!” Minho yelled before Changbin could cut the line. “If all things fail, give him Sonic the Hedgehog porn. It’s the one where he and Knuckles go at it in the middle of the woods and their big disproportionate hands try to -- “
“Wait -- “ Jisung didn’t finish when the screen went black. Jisung gritted his teeth and swiped the screen away that dissolved into light like dandelion fluff.
He grumbled waspishly, “Fuck you, Changbin.”
As soon as Jisung miraculously cleared his assignment, he was going to march right back up to Heaven and kick Changbin’s tiny ass as retribution to the misery done upon his life.
5. Jisung compelled the barista to write down their phone number on Hyunjin’s order. As soon as Hyunjin noticed their number scribbled underneath his name, Hyunjin’s face flushed a bright red. He shoved his bougie-priced grande latte into someone else’s hands and ran out of Starbucks like there was a bounty on his head. What the fuck.
6. This had to work. Jisung watched as a terrifyingly beautiful guy bought Hyunjin a drink at the bar. Then he gave Hyunjin his phone number as a way to offer his propositions. When Hyunjin rejected his request to dance and the guy left him alone, Hyunjin quickly scrolled through his contacts and deleted his number.
Jisung screeched and pulled at his hair. When Hyunjin arrived home later that night and went to fix himself a cup of barley tea, Jisung forgoed all heavenly protocol and appeared right before him, yelling, “You’re fucking impossible. Why did you delete his number?”
Hyunjin screamed and stumbled back, knocking over his bin of utensils. He blindly groped at his counter before he snatched up a spoon and pointed it at Jisung. “Who the -- what the fuck! How did you get in here? Where did you come from? If you don’t leave right now, I’m calling the police!”
“I’m Cupid and you are not letting me do my job here.” Jisung smacked the spoon out of Hyunjin’s hand and replaced it with a butterknife. “What were you gonna do with a spoon? Scoop my eyeballs out or something?”
Hyunjin stared at him, wide-eyed, before he glanced down at the butterknife in his hands. His eyes flickered towards what Jisung assumed to be his fluffy wings -- the colour of ivory with a tint of rose pink. Pricklier and definitely smaller than most angel wings since it was a dignitary appendage that signified rank. “You -- have wings.”
“Uh, duh? I’m Cupid.”
“Cupid? Cupid? Oh, God. I let a cosplayer follow me all the way home. I let a goth Cupid enter my apartment. I’m going to die, oh God.” Hyunjin dropped the butterknife and frantically combed through his hair with his fingers. “I swear I don’t have anything. I don’t even have money. I use my scholarships for tuition and I work at a supermarket to pay for this tiny apartment and -- just, I don’t know! Please leave.”
“You think I don’t want to?” Jisung scoffed. His wings lifted him off the floor and he crossed his legs midair. “I’m stuck with you until you fall in love, Hyunjin, so get a move on and fall in love already!”
Hyunjin gaped at Jisung with a paling complexion, looking as though he was about to vomit. Then his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he crumpled down onto the floor. Jisung looked down at Hyunjin’s lifeless form.
Humans were incredibly stubborn. No amount of reasonable talking could get through their armour of layered denial. Though after spinning around and singing Ave Maria in a facsimile of an opera voice out into the window but garnering no attention from the neighbours at all, Hyunjin seemed to finally believe him.
“I can’t believe you’re actually Cupid,” Hyunjin whispered, “and you’re meddling in my love life.”
“Lack of love life. It’s why I’m here.”
"Isn't it too early for Valentine's? Where's your bow and arrow? Why aren't you in a diaper? Are Cupids supposed to look so emo?” Hyunjin asked, motioning him from head to toe. Jisung refrained himself from backhanding the guy for all his stereotypical questions before he glanced down at himself. The holes in his jeans were larger than his ego, and black was the only shade he had in his closet back in Heaven because anything colourful simply entailed too much effort. “Are you an e-Cupid?”
“The fuck is that? I’m not electronic.”
“No, like! E-boys but in your case, an e-Cupid.”
Jisung stared at him. “You humans are weird.”
“Do you listen to The Black Parade when you sleep?”
He entertained the thought. “My sleep paralysis demon looks just like Gerard Way in that music video, but sadly, no.”
“Oh, great. And you’re sarcastic,” Hyunjin grumbled down at the table. “And nobody else can see you? Or hear you? Seriously? And you can’t -- leave me alone until I actually fall in love with someone? What kind of logic is that?”
Jisung sighed. “I don’t like this anymore than you do. I got assigned to you ‘cause apparently everybody else in the Department of Love has had no luck in getting you to fall in love. I don’t know why my supervisor-slash-shitty-best-friend thinks I can do it. You’re a lost cause.”
Hyunjin furrowed his brows. He had very pouty lips. “So, what? You’re just gonna force people to like me and force me to like them back?”
“Whoa, hey! We’ve got boundaries. It doesn’t work like that. We just give people that extra push in approaching their objects of affection. And then usually our clients would decide whether or not the person is compatible with them or not. Trial and error, ya know? We don’t care what happens afterwards. As soon as they fall in love, we’re outtie.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever -- no. Jesus. No. You know what? This is crazy. This is bullshit! Go away and leave me alone. I’m not doing this. No.”
“Oh, you’re a rude one, aren’t ya!” Jisung huffed. Looks like he’d have to resort to Plan Z. And by that, he meant annoying the shit out of him. And by annoying, he meant singing.
And he didn’t stop. Jisung followed Hyunjin to college, to his book club, to work -- then to parties, to his friend’s apartment, to his own apartment, and to the club all the while belting out choruses from The Backstreet Boys and fucking Dolly Parton. Jisung made sure to sing (or rap) Hotline Bling very loudly in Hyunjin’s ear in replacement of his alarm clock at six in the morning. Jisung even shuffled around and did the moonwalk, flying around the place like he was figure skating in the air. Hyunjin should be grateful that Jisung was putting on an impeccable talent show for free.
“Well I’m ever upper class high society, God’s gift to ballroom notoriety,” Jisung sung, picking up a twang accent while reclining in the air with his arms cushioning the back of his head like a pillow, “The social pages say, I've got the biggest balls of all!”
“Oh my God.” Hyunjin pulled his blanket over his head and wormed around. “Stop.”
“I’ve got big balls! I’ve got big balls!”
“They’re such big balls! And they’re dirty big balls.”
“I swear to God -- “
“And we’ve got the biggest, balls of them all!”
Hyunjin let out a shriek as he exasperatedly shot up from his bed. “Stop, stop! What will it take to get you to stop?”
Jisung grinned, satisfied. Then he schooled his expression into that of playful indifference, tilting his head. “If you continue to not cooperate, I can do this all your life, Hyunjin. I don’t need to sleep, or eat, or drink, or shit, or breathe. I get to make myself visible to whoever I like and interact with whatever I want. I’m gonna poke and prod at you, sing to you like a wittle baby, steal your underwear, make you trip -- all the good ol’ stuff. Sure, I’ll be wasting most of my prime time annoying a dumb human, but as soon as you die all sad and wrinkly, I’ll be back up in heaven playing Bingo with my pedantic friends.”
Hyunjin rubbed a hand over his face. “So if I let you set me up, you’ll shut up for real?”
Hyunjin gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. He looked entirely constipated. Jisung had that effect on people.
After what seemed to be an agonizing fifteen minute contemplative session, Hyunjin let out a deep breath and threw his head back. “Fiiiine.”
“Woohoo!” Jisung threw his arms up in victory and cheered. “There we go. Now, was that so hard? Don’t you worry, Hyunjin. I may be a low rank Cupid who doesn’t quite believe in nuptial ideas, but I am exceptional at my job. The information I got about you is rather sparse, so spill the details, my man. Are you interested in cucumbers or peaches?”
“I -- huh?”
“You wanna put the dinky into the urethra hole? Pecker into the bung holeo? Rub and, ya know, garden the pit of peaches?” Jisung wiggled his brows. “No judgment. I’m from Heaven but everybody’s gay and fluid as fuck. Even God themselves can get down to the boogie woogie, but I’d be lying ‘cause I also saw Jesus, the Devil, and Jehovah’s Witness shimmying to Flo Rida in an angel rave once.”
“We can make Tinder right now. Or Grindr? I’ve no idea what the difference between the two are, but I’m sure you humans have a deeper understanding of your technological nuances. Heaven’s pretty tech-y too. It’s kinda like Earth but smaller and nicer and whiter -- I don’t mean the people -- and without global warming. Y’all suck.”
“I’m not -- “ Hyunjin paused, his face as red as a beet. “Don’t just jump to conclusions! What kind of shitty Cupid are you? I’m -- just into people. I don’t care about gender and all that, I guess.”
“I’m not shitty! You’re just a shitty human.”
“That’s what a shitty Cupid would say.”
Jisung rolled his eyes until he could see the back of his brain. “How about we shut up and spunk up this jazzy joint?”
Jisung also didn’t care much about what he was wearing on Earth since his apathy also applied to his own fashion sense -- Heaven had much more nicer clothes than Earth because at least the workers up there got paid. But he made extra effort in making Hyunjin look absolutely spiffy for his date even though the guy was already a fashionista himself.
“Why am I wearing a mesh shirt?” Hyunjin frowned, looking down at himself. “I’m not going to a club.”
Jisung exclaimed, “Mesh shirts are sexy! What if you two hit it off really nicely and he invites you to his place?”
“Why would I go to someone’s place on the first date?”
“I dunno. I’ve seen it happen.” Jisung shrugged. “But I guess we’ll save the mesh shirt for a next time. How many dates have you ever been on, anyways?”
While Hyunjin went back into his stall to change, he answered from behind the door, “Um. A few, I guess. I dated a bit back in high school and -- I dunno. I think I’m pretty boring. The least boring thing about me is my face and that’s what people usually go for.”
Jisung raised his brows. He didn’t expect such a self-deprecating response but it sounded terribly honest and actually rather pitiful, though Hyunjin had said it so matter-of-factly like he’d merely made a comment about the weather. Maybe his experiences played a factor in why Hyunjin was so reluctant to open up and reach out to make an intimate connection with people.
“I highly doubt that, man. Considering you called me a sentient sack of pubes, I’d say you’ve got a pretty spicy personality that’s far from boring. You probably met the wrong people in high school. Teens are fickle and clouded by bias and like, hormones. But I’m sure anyone who meets you will stick around wanting to get to know you better. It’s like trying on clothes! Don’t know what’ll fit unless you try.”
Hyunjin was silent for a moment. Then he quietly said, “Thanks.”
“No worries.” Jisung flagged down one of the employees to take away the unwanted clothes out of his arms. “That’s why I’m your Cupid, here to help you find love in all the right places! And also why Tinder exists. Quality through quantity, right? God, I hope the guy you meet up with isn’t some dude that goes ‘no homo’ after sucking your dick. Heaven made sure to exterminate hypermasculinity and homophobia and all that shit.”
Hyunjin choked on his own spit and didn’t stop coughing until he came out of the stall. Jisung patted him on the shoulder and scanned him from head to toe: a leather jacket worn over a nice silk blue shirt tucked into a pair of tight jeans. Jisung nodded to himself. God, he was a genius. “Looking snazzy, there. I could make a living as a stylist.“
“Yeah, right. Your clients are going to fire you when they realize you yap way too much.”
Jisung pinched him on the arm, causing Hyunjin to yelp and writhe away in pain. “Alright, smartass. Come on, let’s go pay for these clothes and take an aesthetic photo to send to -- what’s that guy’s name? Henry? Yeah, Henry!”
After rushing Hyunjin to the till and dismissing the cashier’s inquisitive looks aimed at them, Jisung handed over his credit card -- courtesy of Heaven’s generous loan of whichever correct currency angels are usually stationed at. Jisung took the bags of future outfits and hooked his arm around Hyunjin’s, dragging him out of the clothing boutique.
Jisung took him out into the alleyway that was a surprisingly well-lit area and nowhere shady, drenched in vibrant stripes of pink and yellow. He dropped all the bags and positioned Hyunjin in front of the wall, closing one eye to assess Hyunjin’s level of photogenic capacity.
“Hyunjin, you look like you’re trying to keep your shit in.” Jisung held his phone up with a frown. “You have to smile. Smileee. Dude, smile.”
“This is weird,” Hyunjin complained. “Why do I have to send him a photo? We’re meeting tonight anyway.”
“Uh, to get him riled up, that’s why! And you look good. What’s the harm?” Jisung clicked his tongue. “You’re still not smiling. Are you shy? Aw, you’re shy. Just think about something funny. I can tell you something funny.”
“You’re not funny -- “
“Alright, so. Heaven may sound pretty, but we get shit plastered. My friends got drunk as fuck this one time since we can’t die from from alcohol poisoning -- you know, Cupid quirks. Anyway. Changbin took over the dance floor by doing the macarena to Chop Suey! and Jeongin looked like he was about to hurl his remains through his asshole. Minho was -- I don’t know. He was doing something. They were starting to shrink and wither up like a dried up plant, so I shoved an IV up their buttocks to insta hydrate them. I was then titled the Ultra Ass Hydrater afterwards.”
Hyunjin blinked. He stared at Jisung with a blank expression before he burst into laughter that scrunched up his face, his crinkled eyes shining like planetariums. Jisung felt his breath catch just for a moment before he remembered to take a picture. “Ultra Ass Hydrater? That sounds like a Neutrogena face wash commercial.”
“Tell me about it. Also, see?” Jisung approached him and held up his phone, showing him the candid photo he took of Hyunjin smiling. “You have a nice eye smile. Who wouldn’t fall for that in a fucking jiffy?”
The tip of Hyunjin’s ears turned a bright red, travelling down to his neck. Odd. Did Jisung say something odd? “For a Cupid, you sure do swear a lot. Doesn’t that go against your virtues?”
“What can I say? I put my mouth where I like and that’s the potty.”
Hyunjin twisted his face into that of disgust. Jisung laughed and slapped him on the back, catching sight of Hyunjin’s mouth twitching. And for a moment, Jisung felt his chest flutter with warmth. To think he’d enjoy his job for the first time in ages. What a wonder.
Jisung sat a few tables away from them in a fancy Japanese restaurant Henry had chosen for the both of them as Jisung watched how their date unfolded, still in ear shot but maintaining a level of anonymity. He donned retro sunglasses after changing into a much more palatable outfit that consisted of a pink crewneck and skinny jeans to match the contemporary atmosphere. He noticed how incredibly nervous Hyunjin was -- from stuttering, fiddling with his utensils for the nth time and rubbing his sweaty palms onto his jeans. Poor dude.
Henry, on the other hand, was so loud and outgoing that it was severely obnoxious. Jisung wondered if he was ever like that -- not that he was known to be Heaven’s peachy keen social butterfly (he only has, like, four friends), but if so, he needed to seriously issue an apology to everyone and anyone who’s ever been in his company.
Henry also had commercial good looks. And flashy tattoos he exposed with his sleeves rolled up. He reminded Jisung of an Asian Guy Fieri. Hyunjin didn’t stop staring down at his tattoos as Henry droned on about Game of Thrones. What the fuck was Game of Thrones?
“I’m not one to be overly sappy, but wow. You’re a lot more gorgeous in real life,” Henry said with a smile. Hyunjin’s eye twitched. Jisung waved his spoon, expecting Henry to say more, but was promptly disappointed. “I’m glad we got to meet up. I didn’t expect you to be so forward over text, but I guess you’re more shy in real life, huh?”
Jisung muffled a snort. He was the one who did most of the texting. Hyunjin was the one who freaked out every time Jisung sent a message.
“I -- uh. Thank you. You’re a lot -- buffer? In real life?” Hyunjin glanced at Jisung for a tentative moment. Jisung nodded vigorously and gestured at his arms. Hyunjin looked back at Henry with a sharp intake of breath. “And I like your tattoos too, man. They’re really cool. Can I ask what that one is?”
“Oh, for sure.” Henry’s smile turned sly. Jisung squinted as Henry leaned forward and gave Hyunjin a better view of the tattoo on his left arm. “You like it, huh?”
“Yeah, the script is really neat. Is this a list of things? Does this say -- “ Hyunjin hummed in thought. “Missionary?”
“Saddling? Sixty -- oh.”
“These,” Henry said proudly, “are my favourite sex positions.”
Jisung stood up abruptly that his chair skidded across the floor.
He quickly maneuvered around the tables and approached them with fake enthusiasm once he caught a glimpse of Hyunjin’s horrified expression. Poor dude. “Hyunjin! Is that you? Oh my God, I haven’t seen you since high school. How’ve ya been?”
Hyunjin looked too shocked to even respond. Jisung took him by the arm and brought him to his feet, holding him close. “We should totally catch up over a few drinks -- my treat, yeah? I’m sure your friend wouldn’t mind. Not to be like, nosy or anything, but I think your conversation has been going pretty stale for a while now.”
Jisung turned to Henry and gave him a customer service smile. “Nice meeting you, dude, but I’ll be stealing your date now. Bye bye!”
“Excuse me? Hey, you fucking asshole -- “
They rushed out of the restaurant and booked it down the street until they rounded the corner, coming to a gradual halt to catch their breaths. Jisung looked up at the sky and the streak of stars mocking him from above. He shoved a hand down Hyunjin’s pocket, causing the latter to squeal, before Jisung took out his phone and quickly uninstalled Tinder.
“Well, that was a disaster. You humans obsess over sex way too much. We ain’t holy in that regard but at least we don’t tattoo our favourite sex positions, let alone over a conspicuous area.”
“That was a nightmare.” Hyunjin shuddered. “I had a feeling it was going to go nowhere. Did you see me? I didn’t even have the guts to hold a conversation with him -- wait.” He blinked owlishly at Jisung. “You’ve been my Cupid this whole time and I still don’t know your name.”
“Oh.” He must have forgotten to introduce himself. “It’s Jisung. Don’t call me any gross pet names and we’ll have a fulfilling symbiotic relationship.”
“Jisung,” Hyunjin mumbled as though he was testing out his name. His lips stretched into a small smile, a breathy laugh escaping his mouth. “Jisung. Thanks for saving me. Please never make me use Tinder ever again.”
Jisung wondered how no one has tried to snatch Hyunjin away from the world’s stratum of singlehood. Like, look at that smile. Listen to that squeaky laugh. What the fuck. “You’ve got yourself a deal. Why don’t we head to a bar and scope out some nice looking people?”
“Um.” Hyunjin’s face fell at the mention of that. He gnawed at his bottom lip. “That probably might not work.”
“Why not? Just so you know, you’ve been the one deleting numbers and rejecting advances. Like, why would you do that? You deserve to be loved, Hyunjin! You gotta just accept it and go with the flow, you know?” Jisung waved his arms around. “I mean, you never know who’s compatible with you if you never try. How about your friends? Actually, you should let me meet your friends, too. I need to know more about you if I’m gonna help you find someone.”
Hyunjin looked torn between being honest and being annoyed. He ended up shrugging -- a response as useful as a screen door on a submarine. “Let’s just go home. If you seriously drag me to a bar, I’m going to stab you.”
“What? With a spoon?”
Hyunjin punched him in the arm.
Jisung grinned. They’re sitting at the bar counter underneath the dim overlights with Hyunjin angrily chugging down his soda and Jisung daintily sipping on his peach schnapp. He was scrutinizing the other residents, trying to visually pick out potential candidates for Hyunjin’s heart.
“There’s no harm in scouting love interests, you know.”
“I’m not gonna find the love of my life in a stingy bar.”
“Not with that attitude.”
Hyunjin rubbed his face with his hands, wincing when he realized how many germs he just spread all over his face. “I take every kindness I showed to you back.”
Jisung swiveled around on his tall stool. He kept his glass up to his mouth, his eyes darting about. He pointed at a particular girl with long, brown hair in a tube top. “Oooh. How about her? She’s cute.”
Hyunjin squinted. “I guess? But she looks like my ex.” He pointed randomly to a guy with surprisingly nice eyebrows. “How about him?”
“Nope. That smile of his is sleazy as fuck.”
“With all that Balenciaga? She’s too rich for your taste and your ego. And don’t even think about that dude over there. He looks like a stoner. He’s probably gonna leech off your money for weed instead of taking you out for dates.”
After a frustrating amount of rejected suggestions, Hyunjin buried his face into his arms and drawled, “I am going to design a machine that’ll throw your body down an eternal flight of carpeted stairs so you die by carpet burns and broken limbs.”
Jisung glanced at him, more entertained than alarmed. “Bold of you to assume that I can even die.”
Hyunjin sighed. He turned his head and stared up at Jisung in contemplation, his face outlined by the pendant lights hanging from above, the light catching in his clear eyes. Jisung reciprocated the hefty gaze with raised brows, waiting for Hyunjin to speak, but didn’t quite expect the question to leave his mouth: “Have you ever fallen in love?”
Jisung took the time to mull over the possibilities, but easily answered, “Nah. I see love as more of a lucrative thing than anything sentimental. After all, it is the essence of my job. I’ve seen what love does and it makes people stupid and I don’t like being stupid.”
“You are the most heartless, cynical and least romantic Cupid I have ever had the chance of knowing,” Hyunjin deadpanned before he clasped his hands together and looked up at the ceiling. “Thank you, God.”
Amused, Jisung laughed and knocked their elbows together. They ended up wasting the night away by talking instead of continuing the process of manhunting love interests. Jisung ended up sharing how the whole malleable hierarchy worked in Heaven on the basis of Hyunjin’s curiosity; Heaven was divided into different departments that contained individual ranks of their own.
Seraphim were the highest rank of all angels but specialized in the Department of Love, thus making them the main overseer of Cupids. Dominions were the overseers in the Department of Mercy, Archangels the overseers in the Department of Glory, and so on. Despite what many people would assume to be straitlaced and rigid in the whole ranking system, Jisung found that nobody gave a fuck and generally just had a great time with anyone and everyone of all sort of ranks.
Jisung, especially, was content with merely staying on the down low. He never really aspired for much and was comfortable with his small home and manageable income. Changbin was an overachiever, Chan had kids to feed, Jeongin made it his life's mission to bring happiness and fortune to everybody, and Minho just wanted to buy more adult content while flawlessly completing all his assignments.
Hyunjin said, “Your friends don’t sound like Cupids at all.”
“They’re weighed down by the woes of capitalism -- yes, it exists in Heaven too. Humans paint Cupids as these sappy magical motherfuckers when really, we’re just millennials and Gen Z’s tryna pay our bills and rent on time.”
Hyunjin shot him a quizzical glance but went on to share a bit about himself, of his hopes and ambitions and the mundane, and proved to be the most optimistic black hole of a human being that Jisung had ever met.
The night seemed to have been counterproductive, but Jisung thought that bonding with his client was also valuable. And nice. Being listened to was nice. He didn’t think he’s ever been listened to without being talked over, and Hyunjin’s bright-eyed attentiveness merely encouraged Jisung to keep going.
At this point, Jisung was sure that somehow, Changbin's status as his shitty best friend would be replaced soon enough by Hwang Hyunjin.
Though Hyunjin wasn’t subtle in hiding his irritation at Jisung’s disturbance, he was still a courteous guest who set up the couch with cushions and pillows for his comfort. And through observing his micro gestures, Hyunjin wasn’t as grumpy as he made himself out to be. He was actually rather generous. And sensitive.
See example one: buying him a container full of jalebi from the Indian sweets shop down the street after Jisung had expressed his eager taking to it.
See example two: giving Jisung full access to his impressive book collection after several theatrical spiels of how books were the source of his life.
See example three: buying ice cream for two young girls at Basken Robbins after Hyunjin had eavesdropped on their conversation about which flavour to choose if they had the money.
Though it was mostly a standard Angel’s job to determine the good and bad of humans, Jisung made a mental note to put in a good word about Hyunjin once he returned to Heaven. What a nice chap.
Otherwise, the days passed by in a blur of failed theories and unsuccessful attempts at matchmaking when one day, the truth finally surfaced.
Jisung finally let his wings out after keeping them incorporeal and groaned at how cluttered and messy they looked. He grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen drawer and handed it over to Hyunjin, who was busy reading a novel at the couch. “Looks like you gotta prune these babies for me, nerd. Do it gently and with flair, will you?”
Hyunjin hesitated. “What if I cut, like, a bone?”
“Don’t worry. If you do, I’ll bite your face.” Jisung snorted. He sat down on the carpeted floor in between Hyunjin’s legs as Hyunjin put his book aside and fiddled with the scissors. “Besides, you should have some experience. I’ve seen your potted plants around the windows. Just treat me like one of your little succulents.”
“That’s like the equivalent to ‘paint me like one of your French girls’,” Hyunjin mumbled, but got to work. Jisung hummed a litany of bubblegum pop songs and thought that he could surely become accustomed to the way the sun spooled over them in a sea of warm light.
He was comfortable with the silence, but it seemed as though Hyunjin felt the opposite when he ended up stammering out, “I -- there’s -- there’s something I need to tell you.”
“I’m considering myself annulled as a possible accessory to whatever crime you committed.”
“Shut up,” Hyunjin grumbled. “I probably should have told you this sooner because it would have saved us both the trouble but -- but. I’m just gonna say it, okay, because it’s killing me. I’m just gonna - I’m ace.”
Jisung blinked. He turned around slowly and squinted at Hyunjin. “You’re the Kpop group?”
“Wha - no! You dumbass, I mean I’m asexual.”
“Oh.” It didn’t quite click until Jisung went through his memories of Hyunjin’s startling disinterest, general discomfort with anything sexual, and overall determination to avoid potentially frisky advances by all kinds of people. “Ooooooh. Oh. Oh.” Jisung smacked himself on the knee. “Shit, man. Why didn’t I notice sooner? We could have totally avoided all of those uncomfortable situations for you.”
Hyunjin looked stunned. “What? No, no -- it’s fine. It’s not your -- it’s me. I should have told you sooner, but it was weird to bring up and it’s not like I actively talk about it either. I don’t know. It’s weird!”
“So does this mean you can’t fall in love?”
“That’s not -- I’m ace, not aro. For me, I can fall in love. I can develop romantic feelings for people, but I just -- I can never picture myself doing it. I never think about it but when I do, it makes me uncomfortable and I just, you know, don’t want to. People would think that I’d just grow out of it eventually, but it’s not a phase. It’s just me, you know?” Hyunjin winced, looking like he was internally dying at the conversation itself. “It’s hard to explain.”
“I think I got it.” Jisung nodded, following along as best as he could. “It’s okay. Sexuality is confusing and very personal. It’s not something you can easily understand at a concrete level. You don’t gotta explain it if you don’t want to.”
Hyunjin smiled a bit. He looked to the side and played with the drawstrings of his sweatpants before he sighed. “Why did you guys have to specifically target me? I’m just happy by myself and my friends and family, you know.”
“That’s what I want to know.” Jisung frowned petulantly at the situation. “Seraphim are a bunch of nosy motherfuckers. The job description fits Changbin's personality perfectly.”
(In the faraway planes of Heaven, Changbin sneezed.)
Jisung was at a loss now. His past clients were people who fell in love easily -- claiming to fall in love at first sight, entirely doused in infatuation and limerence, or immediately clicking due to incredible luck and fortune. How was Jisung supposed to help Hyunjin now? Was he supposed to be stuck in the human world forever?
“I’m guessing even if you did give Henry a chance, it would have been an inevitable failure.”
“Shut up. Do you know how many times he kept asking for nudes? And how many times he kept insisting to send nudes?” Hyunjin griped. His incoming prattle belied his utmost discomfort. “Like okay. I’ve watched porn during my crisis, alright? I’ve watched straight porn, gay porn, even Sonic the Hedgehog porn -- “
Jisung gasped. Minho's already infected the human population with the prospect of fuckable animated anthropomorphic echidnas.
“ -- and I just can’t understand. Like, how can you find this - “ he motioned at his crotch “ -- appealing? It’s so ugly. Saggy and droopy and -- and floppy! Like a sad sea cucumber without the bumps. I can’t even look at my own in the mirror.”
“Hyunjin. If you’re not taking care of your own dick, no wonder your dick looks like a sea cucumber.”
“Not with your sad, sea cucumber dick.” Jisung raised his brows. “I’m flattered at the proposition, though.”
Hyunjin hid his flushed face into his hands. “Shut the heck up. What do we do now?”
“My sweet summer child. Love is a baked sweet potato,” Jisung said as he placed his hands on Hyunjin’s knees. Hyunjin glanced up with utmost confusion. “You gotta cherish it -- hold it in your palms and nurture its warmth. So basically, we don’t really have to change our ways of finding you a compatible partner. We’d probably have to omit dating apps because most people are looking to fuck on there, but face-to-face meetings usually end up pretty okay.”
“It’s not gonna work out that well,” Hyunjin mumbled.
“And here I thought you were Mr. Sunshine-In-Your-Pants.”
Hyunjin pursed his lips. “I’m just being realistic! Everyone preaches about how someday I’ll find someone who won’t care about sex, but that’s not gonna happen. Relationships are still centered around sexual gratification in the end. I -- that doesn’t mean I don’t like affection, because I do! But just not -- beyond that. They're not gonna stick around someone who can’t give them what they want -- what they need.”
“Who’s going to give you what you want, then?” Jisung fired back. “You spend all this time worrying about the other person as if they’re first priority. If they can’t accept you and respect your boundaries, then they can fuck off with that bullshit.”
“But -- “
“Nope, nope. You’re fine the way you are and you shouldn’t change for anybody else just ‘cause they’re whining about not getting boned. Plus, they should never force you to do something you’re uncomfortable with in the first place.” Jisung puffed up his cheeks and blew out a steady breath. “I really want to hold you gently like a hamburger right now.”
Hyunjin blinked. “What?”
“You’ve got that sad look on your face like a kicked puppy. Like a deflated dumpling. Like a couch potato in the gravy boat of life, flopped dejectly on the sofa.”
“My will to live deconstructs on a molecular level whenever you open your mouth.”
“Oh, sassy. Is that how you reply to the Cupid tryna help you out?” Jisung scoffed and drummed his fingers against Hyunjin’s knee. Hyunjin relaxed a bit.
“Thanks,” he said gently. “Just, you know, thanks. It’s nice to hear those things. I mean, my friends -- they’re supportive, but they kind of spend most of their time plotting murder instead of telling me that it’s okay to be this way. Well, not that I mind the former either, I guess.”
Jisung frowned. In his field of work, he’s come across doubtful humans who lacked a sense of security in themselves, especially in the periphery of a judgmental society. No matter how much he studied back in Heaven, asked his wiser superiors, and observed in the human world, Jisung still couldn’t understand what was part of human nature that compelled them to isolate various forms of love, or the same love between the same people, when love itself was such a quintessential element of life.
It was baffling and quite frankly -- sad.
He reached forward to gently pat Hyunjin on the head, and smiled up at him in reassurance. “You’re good, man, you’re doin’ good. Progress is never linear, but you’re getting there. Baby steps, you know? You were born to be loved, to have your love reciprocated, and I’m damn sure that one day, you’ll learn to be confident in how you love too. Fuck conventional intimacy!”
Hyunjin was startled into a laugh, and though it lowered into a chuckle, Jisung deemed it a victory. Hyunjin tied the drawstrings into a bow before he pulled it apart, and asked quietly, “You really think I’ll find someone like that?”
“Of course. You’re a complete gem,” Jisung said, puzzled at the doubt. “Anyone would be lucky to find you.”
Jisung watched in amusement as Hyunjin’s face slowly caught on fire, radiating like a heat pan, and he pushed Jisung’s head around by smashing his hand against his cheek. “Have you thought about being a motivational speaker?”
“I’m the least motivated Cupid in all of Heaven to ever talk about motivation.” Jisung stroke Hyunjin’s hair back before messing it up. Hyunjin complained and swatted his hand away. “Anyway, we’ll think of something. There’s no rush. And hey, thanks for trusting me enough to tell me all this. I know it’s because we’re kind of stuck with each other, but I appreciate the honesty.”
The tension seemed to seep out of Hyunjin’s body and he looked up at Jisung with a small, private smile, one that softened his eyes. “I should be thanking you.”
“Let’s thank each other then,” said Jisung. He turned back around and settled comfortably between Hyunjin’s legs. “Now, let’s get back to pruning. My babies gotta look snazzy. Then maybe we can play, like, what? Fortnite?”
Hyunjin leaned forward to cast him a bewildered look. “Cupids play Fortnite?”
“Yup. And we’re rather good at it.”
“Oh.” Hyunjin held up his scissors. “You’re on.”
He wasn't sure how to go on about his assignment now. He couldn't demand romance to happen. Hyunjin's progression towards love needed to be raw, organic -- fresh! Not forced. But with the world's main population being collectively horny, Jisung was uncertain at the likelihood of Hyunjin meeting the rare, happy-go-lucky partner who didn't give a damn about being deprived of the diddly darn dick.
He blankly stared up at the night sky on the rooftop of the apartment building. It finally made sense why Hyunjin avoided anyone who wanted to pursue him, though --- the fear of rejection because he couldn’t do the one thing most partners would want terrified him into romantic isolation. Jisung wished it wasn’t like that.
(And in all honesty -- Jisung should have seen it coming. Hyunjin barely reacted at the amount of gore in a horror movie, but he’d squeal and cover his face whenever a scene of partial nudity and semi-sex came up.)
But despite his usual cynical disposition, Jisung was -- at best -- logically optimistic. Sure, he won’t be returning home for quite a while, but it meant him being stuck an indefinite time on terrestrial earth was kind of like a vacation. He'd rather hit the Bahamas than be stuck in the middle of America, but at least Jisung got away from pretentious higher ups and an annoying amount of pestering about his livelihood.
So what if he missed all those Bingo nights? At least Jisung was spending them kicking Hyunjin’s ass at video games. Their competitive gaming sessions gave Jisung the advantage of decoding the hidden facets of Hyunjin’s personality -- he was a little sneaky and a sore loser, goofy in a good way, had the talent of making Jisung laugh, and was endearingly nerdy.
Plus, if Jisung was being honest, he’d come to enjoy Hyunjin’s company. And Jisung genuinely wanted to help him -- not because it was his mission, but because Hyunjin had become his friend at some point.
It was nice. He only hoped that Hyunjin felt the same way too.
“It’s Beowulf,” Hyunjin retorted without looking up. “And I’m heading out to grab dinner with my friends anyway, so there’s that.”
Jisung perked up and landed inelegantly on the floor. “Perfect! Take me with you too!”
“Oh, come on. I should’ve met your friends by now! I need to, you know, observe your interactions and integrate myself into your posse to get a better sense of your dynamics and what kind of character you usually get along with, and use those components to narrow down the checklist of a suitable contender.”
“That just makes me sound like some guinea pig.” Hyunjin looked at him in visceral discomfort and fear. “We haven’t even thought of a backstory to tell them. They’re going to get suspicious just -- “ he snapped his fingers, “like that. Especially Seungmin. He was born with four eyes in the front and four eyes in the back.”
Jisung scoffed without any heat. “We can wing it -- no pun intended. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated. I just want to meet the people who make you happy! What’s so wrong with that?”
Hyunjin blinked at him. Then he looked away, fiddling with the zipper of his wind breaker. “Nothing.”
“Exactly!” Jisung slapped him on the back. “Besides, it’s not like anyone’s going to take one look at me and think there’s something fishy going on. I’ve a knack for earthly social cues and trends. And I even dressed less intimidatingly emo today. See? No ripped jeans.”
Hyunjin deadpanned, “You have blue hair.”
“Oh, shut up. This hairstyle is gonna last until the second coming of Jesus.”
Hyunjin rolled his eyes. He sighed in resignation and picked up his phone. “Fine. Let me text my friends.”
Jisung cheered and hooted as he pumped his fist into the air. Hyunjin was worrying way too much. Jisung wasn’t careless or irresponsible; he kept his wings hidden from the naked eye in the company of humans. Nobody was going to suspect a thing.
Well, that’s what he thought at first. But boy, was Jisung wrong.
Hyunjin’s friends were an interesting bunch -- quiet but rowdy, which he didn’t think was a possible combination, but existed right before him. Seated beside the window of the Korean BBQ restaurant the guys often frequented to, Jisung took turns shaking their hands and learned several things:
Woojin looked like a teddy bear with an intense case of dark circles who could (and would) probably crush Jisung into a pea-sized booger; Felix had the face of a pretty butterfly but the voice of a Satanic moth, and Seungmin? Seungmin possessed some kind of omnipotent power (or was just really talented in the art of cold reading) because he had taken one meager look at Jisung, narrowed his eyes, and asked, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Jisung didn’t even say anything yet. Hyunjin was sweating bullets beside him.
“Oh. Did my accent give it away or something? I spent most of my life studying in Malaysia, if that’s what you mean.” Jisung replied as casually as he could. Hyunjin was staring at him in puzzlement at the story he was bullshitting, though it was a partial truth. “Sorry to have intruded your guys’ night out so abruptly. It’s been pretty stressful with my grandma lately and Hyunjin thought it’d be good to take my mind off of things, and -- well, he never shuts up about you all. I was a little curious.”
“Hey, don’t sweat, man. It’s great to meet you.” Felix wiggled his brows. “But that’s quite funny since Hyunjin has never mentioned you before. I wonder why is that?”
Hyunjin almost toppled over his chair from sitting up from his slouch so fast. “Whatever you’re thinking, you better unthink it right now!”
“I wasn’t thinking at all!”
Seungmin adjusted his glasses, a crafty smile forming on his face. “Or maybe they’re hiding a secret.”
“Like what?” Woojin furrowed his brows. He was pouring more soju into his glass. “Being in the business of providing chemical stimulants?”
Jisung squared his shoulders and placed his clasped hands onto the table, speaking with a formal certainty and a dead serious expression. “I can assure you that we are not drug dealers.”
“I thought he was talking about caffeine,” Felix spoke up in confusion.
Seungmin sighed. “Okay, idiots, let’s reign it all in. How’d you guys meet?”
Hyunjin shrunk a bit in his seat, darting his eyes at Jisung. His bouts of fidgeting and nervous tic of biting his lips did not help at all.
“I’m his neighbor,” Jisung said soberly. “I didn’t know he existed until he caused a power outage in our complex because of his hair dryer and he came to every resident to apologize. I mean, I was annoyed, but seeing how sincere he was drew me to his rather graceful, narcissistic ways.”
Woojin slapped a hand over his mouth to disguise a poorly hidden laugh. He ducked his head, his shoulders trembling, while on the other hand, Hyunjin nearly shot up from his seat as he yelled, “What -- “
“Is that why you were acting so weird that one week? Dude, I knew your hair dryer was a rip-off,” Felix interrupted. “It used way too many watts for the regular dryer -- of course there’d be an electrical overload. Is hair really more important than saving electricity? Saving the environment?”
Seungmin slanted him an amused glance. “Funny you should say that when you go through two tubs of hair gel in a week.”
“My hair’s a demon of its own!”
Hyunjin was about to deny all accusations when Jisung kicked Hyunjin in the shin underneath the table. Hyunjin screwed up his face and glared at him. Jisung pursed his lips and jerked his head towards the others, rapidly blinking in hopes that he conveyed his message well enough to be understood.
“You guys okay?” asked Seungmin.
“Peachy keen.” Hyunjin put on a painful smile that was obviously fake. “I acknowledged my stupidity and realized that using high-quality hair equipment was not worth the risk of causing an electrical hazard among my neighbors. I got rid of the hair dryer but gained a new friend instead! Isn’t that lovely? Hmmmmm?” He threw an arm around Jisung’s shoulder and the both of them laughed mechnically.
Felix and Seungmin regarded them skeptically. Woojin, happily oblivious, refilled their glasses of soju.
Their platters of meat and side dishes arrived, and they took turns grilling the meat. Jisung observed the rest of them as he ate and learned how weird they all were -- in a good way. A weird, silly good way. A group full of weirdos and part-time comedians. They welcomed Jisung into their group so seamlessly and he could see why Hyunjin clicked with them. If it wasn’t their openness for Hyunjin’s clingy inclinations, they were incredibly warm.
They reminded Jisung of his own group. Seeing how close and comfortable they were with each other brought upon a sense of longing because Jisung couldn’t deny that he missed his friends back home -- that he missed Changbin’s reactions whenever he teased him, Jeongin’s playful coldness, and even Minho’s analytical porn talks.
It was a little lonely without them.
The weird thing was that Seungmin kept staring at him. He had the demeanor of a puppy trying miserably to assert dominance, but his wide-eyed look could generate long-lasting nightmares. Jisung thought at first he had some kind of facial fixation of sorts and Jisung had half the wit to ask if there was something on his face, but the stifling nature of Seungmin’s heavy gaze incapacitated him from even opening his mouth.
“Please don’t get plastered,” Hyunjin implored once he’d taken a look at Woojin’s red face. “The last time you got drunk, I had to carry you and your vomit-stained pants up three flights of stairs because the elevator was out of order.”
“I’m in econ,” Woojin said. “Alcohol is in our blood.”
Seungmin scoffed. “I’m in law. Why do you think we always look so shriveled up with a stick up our asses?”
Felix chugged his guava soju down like it was his life source. Jisung took a sip of his. He liked the fruity flavour, though it was probably because of said fruity flavour that masked the caustic taste of alcohol and made people get drunk a lot faster. He felt bad for university students.
He turned to Hyunjin and, with a mouthful of food, asked innocently, “How come you don’t drink?”
“Please chew and swallow before you speak.” Hyunjin wrinkled his nose. “You look like a quokka.”
“I think that was more of a compliment than an insult,” Seungmin piped up. Hyunjin reddened and smacked Seungmin on the arm.
“It’s basically a cardinal sin for a university student to not drink, but that’s what I admire about Hyunjin,” Felix said, lifting a finger. “He does whatever he wants and doesn’t let other people pressure him. He has fun without it and that’s the best!”
Hyunjin looked touched. He held out a fist. “Bro.”
“Brooooo.” Felix knocked fists with him. “Love you.”
Woojin burped. “Can you pass the gochujang?”
Jisung passed the bottle of gochujang over to Woojin. Then he patted Hyunjin on the shoulder, genuinely impressed. “That’s actually real cool of you, man. Even commendable. You’re gonna have an outstanding liver in your later years.”
Hyunjin laughed brightly, shaking his head.
Seungmin was staring extra heavily at Jisung again. Felix coughed when he ended up snorting down his soju, and Woojin looked at them in a daze, muttering to himself, “I think I’m seeing things. The barista must have given me a shot of L-espresso-D today.”
By the time they were nearly done the food, Hyunjin got up from his seat to head to the washroom. As soon as he disappeared down the corridor, all eyes were pinned to Jisung. Seungmin scooted closer to the table, leaning uncomfortably forward. Felix paused in his systematic destruction to level Jisung a stare, and Woojin was squinting at him through his alcoholic glaze.
“Um,” Jisung started, “yes?”
Felix pointed his chopsticks at him. “Fess up. What do you want with our Hyunjinnie?”
“Do you lift, bro? ‘Cause I do. And I lift a lot. You don’t wanna mess with someone who lifts a lot.” Woojin threatened, though all Jisung saw was a broad teddy bear with red cheeks.
Seungmin cleared his throat. “Pardon our rudeness, but we’ve developed a protective streak over Hyunjin since our days in high school,” he explained. “Tell me -- what’s your ulterior motive?”
“Hyunjin’s never talked about you and for you to show up all of a sudden with him looking like he wants to hold your hand and take you stargazing on a summer night at the beach with nothing but a blanket and homemade sandwiches and to talk about life until three in the morning is quite frankly,” Seungmin said in one whole breath, throwing his hands up in the air, “suspicious!”
Felix shoved Seungmin to the side and took up the spotlight. “Also because this has happened before. People wanted to date him because of his face and not his personality. They don’t see who he really is. So if you’re looking for a nice fuck, I recommend you sign yourself up on Grindr.”
“I’ll beat you up if you’re an asshole, and I don’t wanna beat you up because you seem nice, but I’ll beat you up,” Woojin interrupted.
Jisung blinked. He was more pleasantly surprised than offended at such a caring gesture. As soon as he returned to Heaven, he was making sure that all of Hyunjin’s friends were heading straight to paradise when their life spans reached its end. But it was disappointing to hear about Hyunjin’s brief experiences in the dating scene. Since when did mankind become so heartless?
“I’m not -- look. Hyunjin is an absolute menace -- God, the most dramatic human to walk this wasteland of a planet. He’s like a hemorrhoid in my asshole. But -- his heart is kind. Despite his struggles, he tries to live positively, and he is happiest when the ones he cares about are happy.” Jisung shrugged. “He works hard. That’s what I see.”
Felix blinked at him with wide eyes, and the apprehensive stoic look he wore was replaced with that of approval. He smiled. “And that’s what I like to hear.”
Woojin let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank God. I seriously didn't want to beat you up."
“You’re serious,” Seungmin said, puzzled.
As much as Jisung liked them already, they were so confusing. “Why wouldn’t I be serious?”
“Guys,” Woojin hissed, “he’s coming back. Return to your posts!”
They jerked back and started to act as though nothing happened. Jisung watched as Hyunjin took his seat, flinging his hands to the side. “Aw man. They ran out of paper towels.” He raised a brow at the awkward silence. “Is everything okay?”
“Spiffy,” was Felix’s answer. “We’re gonna need to supervise Woojin here or else he’s gonna up a technicolour yawn.”
Seungmin let out a laugh. “Weakling.”
Needless to say, it was an interesting night.
“I can’t believe you’re doing actual work,” Changing remarked in awe. “I thought you would’ve given up by now.”
“Nice to know how much you believe in me,” Jisung scoffed. “I’ll have you know that I am making exceptional progress. Hyunjin’s finally opening up! He laughs at my jokes unlike you holy goblins, prunes my wings, buys me food when I complain enough, and he’s really trying to put himself out there more among his peers. It’s great. Amazing. I’m amazing.”
Changbin narrowed his eyes in thought. “Why does he sound like a sugar human?”
“You know. Sugar. Glucose daddies, glucose babies. Boom.”
Jisung had to control himself from stabbing Changbin in the face with the fish ball skewer. “How in the fucking world do all those things accumulate to the assumption that Hyunjin, who’s the same age as me, is my sugar fucking daddy?”
“He laughs at your jokes! That’s suspicious in itself.”
Jisung grumbled, “I am a talented comedian, you rotten egg. And for the record, there is no sugar in our relationship.”
“Oh.” Changbin’s eyebrows shot up so high that it almost reached his hairline behind his bangs. “So you guys have a relationship now?”
“He’s a client! Don’t be weird.”
He put his hands up in defense. “Hey, I’m not being weird. I’m just surprised at how close you two seem to be. I mean, the last time I tried to befriend my client, he almost decked me in the solar plexus and called the cops on me.”
Jisung nibbled on his fish ball, nodding at their shared experiences. “Hyunjin was gonna stab me with a spoon.”
After midterms were finished and Hyunjin’s schedule returned back to its usual cycle of suffering and dying, Jisung followed after him to his university on a whim one day -- also because he was bored as fuck, considering there were only so many times Jisung could reread The Picture of Dorian Gray before he lost his mind. He stayed invisible, though. He didn’t need Hyunjin making a fool of himself by appearing to be talking to a ghost.
Jisung had to admit that campus was rather lovely and verdant, what with all the old architecture, vast fields of towering trees and well-maintained gardens. There was a little forest off to the far edge of campus that led to a stream according to the campus directory, and Jisung supposed humans weren’t too bad when it came to maintaining the rawness of nature.
Jisung followed Hyunjin all the way to his classes, floating mid-air during one of his lectures. His excitement soon turned into ennui as the professor droned on and on about old as fuck literature and its themes. Hyunjin looked completely invested, which was cute, but Jisung was barreled with knowledge he’d learned back in Heaven’s cram courses. The professor’s mediocre lecture and flat tone of voice didn’t help much either.
Anyone who submitted themselves under this literary torture was highly questionable. Bee wolves were so boring.
The professor released the class from his dull clutch and told them to grab a partner for an activity to do in class. Jisung perked up as he watched Hyunjin shyly reciprocate the smile his seatmate had sent him.
The guy -- Jinyoung -- had a princely look to him: clear eyes, neat parted hair, and an air of intellectual sophistication. He was quiet, too, but wasn’t shy at all from the way he engaged in conversations, and appeared stoic over his warm personality. And Hyunjin looked seconds away from collapsing in admiration.
Jisung’s eyes widened and he almost fell to the floor when he scrambled upright from his recline in the air. Hyunjin might have been the type to try and hide his feelings, but boy did Jisung see right through him.
“Oh my God,” Jisung whispered. He vigorously shook his fists in the air as he cried out, “Fucking finally!” He pointed at the ceiling. “Just you wait, motherfuckers, ‘cause I’ll be coming back soon to reclaim my Bingo throne.”
He watched their interactions for the rest of the class until it ended. As they were packing up their things, Jinyoung smiled at Hyunjin and waved farewell, and Hyunjin sputtered out a clumsy goodbye. Jisung was practically vibrating with enthusiasm. Hallelujah to university!
And overjoyous at the prospect, Jisung followed after Jinyoung to make sure he was a credible candidate.
Jinyoung was straightforward and blunt in his parlance, but was an urbane and considerate guy. He never seemed to make any lewd comments nor did he have any indication of having such thoughts, respected people’s boundaries, respected women, and never batted an eye at appearances. Plus, he was quick-witted. Intelligence was known to be universally attractive.
Jisung was baffled as to why Hyunjin’s never mentioned Jinyoung before, but he didn’t pay much mind to it as he zipped back to the apartment and almost subtracted twenty years from Hyunjin’s life span when he threw open the door and scared the lad into dropping a whole pot of coffee.
“Fuuuuck,” Hyunjin complained as he looked down at the mess on the floor. “I’d be so pissed at you right now if it wasn’t for the fact that I feel totally dead.”
Jisung cackled and bounded towards him, taking him by the shoulders. “Forget the coffee, dude, I think we’ve hit fucking jackpot! Well, more like you’ve hit the jackpot, but jackpot baby!”
“What are you even talking about?”
“Who I’m talking about,” Jisung corrected him smugly. “Jinyoung.”
Hyunjin blankly stared at him. His zombie-like disposition slowly turned into utter horror, and he sprung back to his usual dramatic self by wailing, “Were you stalking me?”
“Um. I wouldn’t say stalking. I’m not that obsessed with you,” Jisung said. Hyunjin pursed his lips and angrily threw a towel down on the floor as he cleaned up the spilled coffee with little success.
Seeing that Hyunjin made every attempt to cancel out the conversation by appearing to be huffy, Jisung relentlessly prodded at him. “Oh, come on. I was bored as hell. Basil Hallward is a prissy little bitch! If I had to read that shit one more time, I would’ve lost it.”
“Basil Hallward is a prominent symbol of human nature! Of duality! His fall to moral depravity and corruption is every literary dream, along with the heavily percolation of homoeroticism --”
“And he’s a little bitch.”
Hyunjin dumped the coffee pot in the sink before he went to grab a mop. While furiously scrubbing the floor, he said, “I can’t believe you followed me to class and saw that and -- and went on to formulate some kind of outlandish assumption between me and Jinyoung. We’re just classmates! Almost friends! He likes books and he’s really smart and cool. Why wouldn’t I be a fucking doofus around him? Smart people are intimidating.”
“What are you talking about?” Even though it wasn’t an insult to Jisung himself, he still felt offended. “You’re smart too.”
Hyunjin sputtered, “Well, you’re dumb.”
Jisung dismissed the comment. “Look, I’m not telling you to marry the guy or anything. I just got excited because it seemed like you really liked him, whether it be platonically or romantically. Friendship is the foundation of all relationships, after all! You should try to get to know him better. If nothing happens, nothing happens. If something does happen, don’t ignore it. Try to understand it and pursue it, you know? Life’s all about takin’ chances. Why let fear overpower you from ever reaching for the possible impossibilities?”
“I think that’s the deepest thing you’ve said to me ever since you followed me all the way home.”
Jisung rolled his eyes and flicked him on the head. Hyunjin pouted and smacked his hand away. He seemed perturbed from the way he was chewing his bottom lip, but after a short while of contemplation, he finally relented. “Fine, fine. I’ll try not to run away from the prospect of a budding friendship with him.”
Jisung beamed. He knocked the mop out of Hyunjin’s hands in the process of throwing his arms around Hyunjin’s waist, shaking him like a ragdoll that brought forth a tide of complaints. “That’s the spirit!”
“You’re so annoying.”
“Hey! Be a little more grateful to your literal wingman. I get paid the size of a macaron for this.”
Hyunjin pitched his voice an octave higher and wrapped his arms around Jisung’s shoulders, rubbing his head against Jisung’s in a cloying display of affection, and cooed, “My favourite little wittle blueberry Cupid! The best in the country, the best in the world, the cutest of patooties! So cute, so cute!”
Jisung yelled and wrestled his way out of their hug. He scrambled for the door when Hyunjin chased after him with coffee-stained grabby hands.
God, Jisung was a genius.
For the past few weeks, Hyunjin’s friendship with Jinyoung had gradually developed into something more mutual, more inviting, and definitely into something a lot less awkward. Hyunjin didn’t seem like he’d fallen just yet, but Jisung could tell they were going places.
He assumed the timing of Jinyoung’s miraculous appearance was a present from one of the universe’s many deities of luck after seeing Jisung constantly tear his hair out from stress, and Jisung was fortunate enough that everything was clicking into place after being stuck in a stalemate.
Though happy he wouldn’t be stuck on earth any longer, he was even happier that perhaps, finally -- Hyunjin found somebody who would grow to love him for who he really is.
Jisung tilted his head when he felt his chest surge with something he couldn’t quite pinpoint. It was new -- an inexplicable feeling, dull and aching in the backdrop of nonchalance. Strange.
Confused by his own feelings, he didn’t hear the footsteps approaching his way. A hand came down on his shoulder and a voice asked him, “Are you supposed to be here when you’re not even a student at all?”
Jisung yelled and whirled around, nearly dropping his bag of cheetos. Seungmin had his hands raised in surrender, though he didn’t look anywhere near guilty. He had a glint of deviltry in his eye, contrasting the innocent smile on his face. Jisung’s learned to look out for those kind of humans. Goddamn.
Felix, on the other hand, was all bright and peppy as he waved at Jisung.
“You scared the shit outta me, man,” Jisung groaned. “And for the record, I’m an upstanding citizen. I came here to, like, tell Hyunjin I borrowed his copy of Jane Eyre. But seeing as he’s busy, I was just about to leave.”
“Right.” Seungmin looked unconvinced. “You could have just texted him that.”
“Not everyone has advanced technological devices.”
“Meaning -- you don’t have a phone?”
“I broke it.”
Seungmin still looked unconvinced. His uncanny shrewdness was starting to grate on Jisung’s nerves. Felix smacked Seungmin’s arm to grab his attention and asked, “Is that Jinyoung? I didn’t know he and Hyunjin were close. That’s kinda a nice surprise.”
Jisung latched onto the opportunity. “Ooooh. I mean, they look kinda good together, don’t they?”
“What are you insinuating?” Seungmin narrowed his eyes at him. “That anyone Hyunjin’s smiling at and having a good time with automatically means that Hyunjin wants to do the diddly darn dirty, put the coin in the lottery, dance like he’s got fruits down his underwear, and yearn like some kind of long-lost lover of sorts in the middle of the ocean after being separated and deprived of that briny dick?”
Jisung stared at him. Felix stared at him. Seungmin cleared his throat and crossed his arms. “Because they look like perfectly good friends to me, thank you very much.”
“You’re like a shock absorber,” Jisung said to Seungmin, “but instead of impact, you absorb fun.”
Seungmin had on an expression that could curdle milk. “When I pass my bar exam in ten years, I’m going to sue your ass in five different languages.”
Felix snorted behind a hand and wrestled down a laugh. “Don’t mind him, Jisung. Seungmin’s just protective. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way. It’s just nice to see Hyunjin making a friend without being a worrywart. Jinyoung’s an honest nice lad! I’d let him feed me vitamin C tablets that tastes like oranges and makes my urine glow like a chernobyl sunset.”
“Wait,” Jisung said, surprised, “vitamin C does that?”
Seungmin rolled his eyes and sighed. “Every year this group becomes dumber and dumber. C’mon Felix. We’re supposed to meet Woojin by the student union lobby.”
Felix shrugged. He saluted Jisung. “Well, guess we’ll be going then. See ya around, man!”
Seungmin was still in a good mood enough to send Jisung a wave. As the two of them left, Jisung glanced at the cafe, where Hyunjin was sitting alone after Jinyoung had excused himself to the bathroom.
He was smiling down at the table, a fond look in his eyes. His dimples showed when he smiled hard enough.
Jisung stared for a moment longer. His heart wondered if this was a good idea at all.
Jisung’s lost a lung or two from having the heebie jeebies scared out of him when he woke up to a tall, ghastly figure looming over him -- but no, it was merely Hyunjin hugging a pillow close to his chest and asking, “Can I sleep here? I’m still thinking about the pervasiveness of courtly love in The Canterbury Tales and if I have to hear my head recite those obsolete lines for the nth time, I am going to lose it.”
“There’s tales about cranberries?” Jisung asked sleepily, scooting closer to the couch to make room. Hyunjin settled beside him. Him and his damn legs hogged most of the space, but otherwise, Jisung found it warm and comfortable.
“Canterbury, not cranberries.”
“Uh, no it isn’t.”
Jisung groaned and pulled the covers over their shoulders. He patted Hyunjin on the face and said, “It’s too early to have a debate. Just sleep. Don’t think about cranberries. Think about sleep. Sleeeep.”
“I’m trying,” Hyunjin complained. “I’ve been lying in bed for three hours straight. I’m so tired but my mind feels so awake. Do you think I should, like, put an energy drink in black coffee so I can black out when I stand up too fast?”
Jisung let out a sigh and forced his eyes open. He was totally not going to get the remaining hours of his sleep. “Hyunjin, no. That’s gonna have the opposite effect on you. You’re gonna be bulldozing around like a chipmunk and badly crash in a lecture. Do humans who submit themselves under academic torture always make such silly choices?”
“I am the epitome of bad choices,” Hyunjin mumbled. He threw an arm over Jisung’s torso and rested his cheek against his shoulder. Jisung learned the hard way that if Hyunjin wasn’t hugging something to sleep, he wouldn’t sleep at all. The pillow apparently didn’t work tonight.
“You’re making a pretty good choice right now with Jinyoung.”
Hyunjin fell quiet. Jisung almost thought he clocked out until Hyunjin spoke up in a whisper, “I’m not sure if I am.”
“What’s a relationship without doubts?” Jisung mumbled. “Ya know, my friends back in Heaven -- have I mentioned Chan? Okay, I’ll talk about Chan. He’s like, I dunno, a prodigy but calling him a prodigy kinda undermines his crazy work ethic, but long story short -- he’s a genius Cupid. He got promoted to fifth tier in less than two months. But he was the token straight friend until he called Minho a hot-tea after Minho actually poured hot tea on him. So he’s not really straight. And their relationship is kinda on the grey area. You can imagine how much Chan agonizes over it ‘cause their status is vague. I dunno what goes on in Minho’s mind half the time, but they’re still pretty in-somewhat-love if not adoration. You get what I’m sayin’?”
“No,” Hyunjin said, “because you literally just slurred half of your words.”
Jisung scoffed. His eyes were drooping again. “The harbingers of love needs their fair share of sleep too, dummy.”
“I think Jinyoung’s just good friend material.”
“Things could happen.”
“Things are already happening, and it’s friend things.”
“Hey,” Hyunjin murmured, “do you think you’d be able to see love as something more than lucrative?”
Jisung frowned. His body felt like lead and he was waning in and out of consciousness despite fighting to stay awake. “Dunno, man. Wouldn’t count on it.”
If Hyunjin replied, Jisung didn’t hear it. He drifted off before he even realized.
He was more reserved than usual, a lot more cranky -- which, insinuated many trivial arguments in the morning -- and sulked the entire way through his sleepless nights of completing assignments at the last minute. Plus, he didn’t laugh at Jisung’s jokes anymore, and Jisung was starting to second-guess the level of hilarity of his comedic gold comments.
It was weird. Ultra weird, but more so concerning. Ever since that night at the couch, Hyunjin either acted like a deer caught in the headlights or somebody who was called a waste of testosterone and good genes. Rather than filling Jisung to the brim with the warm fuzzies, Hyunjin was making him tiptoe on eggshells.
Even as Jisung followed Hyunjin to his hangouts with Jinyoung, Hyunjin didn’t even laugh. Jisung missed his laugh. He also kind of missed Hyunjin geeking to him about his favourite authors or some new trivia tidbit he found from Googling random thoughts. Well, Jisung missed his voice in general, because the apartment was too quiet.
Jisung didn’t say that out loud, but he definitely felt it enough to the point of it becoming tangible.
“Like, did I do something wrong? Did I say something offensive? The only thing I can think of is when I said his adult credentials dropped like the sea level every time he tried to adult, but that wasn’t so bad.”
The trio listened intently to Jisung’s rant while he was eating the last of the lemon bars kept in Hyunjin’s half-empty fridge. Changbin was stroking his nonexistent beard, Minho was nearly falling asleep, and Jeongin seemed like the only one who paid Jisung any ounce of attention.
“I think your mere existence pushed him to the brink of madness,” Jeongin said, ever so helpful. “Who wouldn’t, honestly.”
“Maybe he’s mad that you’ve been forcing Jinyoung on him, you know, as a love interest,” Minho spoke up lazily. Suddenly, he was reading a book in his hands. The book was upside down. “He’s expressed multiple times that it’s better that they’re just friends, but you and your tiny pants keep pushing that Jinyoung’s the one.”
“Didn’t you guys see that photo I sent to Changbin? Didn’t you see how Hyunjin looked at him?” Jisung flung his hands around in the air. “Homeboy looked like he was ready to propose to him right there and then with nothing but eighty-two cents in his pockets and a bag of half-eaten Reese’s Pieces!”
Changbin snorted. “He looked like he was just havin’ a good time with a buddy. I don’t see anything special about that.”
Jisung was flabbergasted. Was everyone just selectively ignoring how endeared Hyunjin looked? Was Jisung the only one who noticed the compatibility, the connection, the sparks?
Then again, maybe Jisung had been too eager. He’d expressed before that there was no urgency for these kind of things yet -- here he was, egging Hyunjin on to form a connection capable of being something more with Jinyoung. All the teasing, the pushing, the disregard of Hyunjin’s own feelings about the matter -- oh, God. Jisung was a total fucking idiot.
“But if that’s the case,” Jisung said, confused, “why didn’t he say anything about it? He’s always been so vocal about how I’m such a first rate festering dicksore. And he seems to really like Jinyoung too even if I didn’t intrude.”
“Hyunjin seems like the type to maintain harmony, and considering that this getting together thing is a huge part of your mission, maybe he didn’t want you to feel burdened by the fact that you’re gonna be stuck on earth for an extra three years or so when he rejects Jinyoung,” Minho said flatly. “Let’s be real -- you celebrated over Jinyoung like you won a Guinness Record. Any compassionate person would hesitate to be upfront about their disagreement on the arrangement.”
“Wow.” Changbin stared at Minho in awe. “Are you actually being helpful? I can’t believe you’re actually being helpful.”
“I can’t believe you haven’t talked about porn yet,” Jeongin piped up.
“Oh, if you want me to talk about porn, I’ll talk about porn.”
“Do not talk about porn,” Changbin interrupted curtly.
Jisung gnawed on his bottom lip as he studied the lemon bar in his hand. Perhaps he did go overboard with the whole Jinyoung affair. Jisung wasn’t sure if he was more surprised at Minho’s benevolent disposition or the fact that this was the most range of emotions Jisung has ever experienced in the last decade. Jisung didn’t realize his usual apathy had slowly dwindled away into something more -- something that propelled him to genuinely be invested in Hyunjin’s life. Maybe too invested, seeing as Jisung had pissed Hyunjin off beyond universal comprehension.
“Well, fuck,” was all Jisung could say.
“That is such a mood,” Jeongin said.
“As much as you’re a nice asshole, you’re a dumb asshole too,” Changbin said. “Talk to the guy, Jisung. Communication really goes a long way. You should know that by now considering our area of work.”
“That’s because I’m at the sidelines when that happens and I’m not the actual recipient of it,” Jisung grumbled. He took in a breath and sighed deeply, before shaking his head to rid himself the tension. He mustered up a sincere smile. “But thanks, guys. I appreciate it. Seriously. I’ll fix things somehow.”
“The bingo throne is still waiting for its king’s return,” Jeongin beamed, waving both of his hands. “Come home soon, Jisungie!”
Jisung waved back. After they exchanged farewells and the screen had disappeared, Jisung sat back in his seat and stared up at the ceiling in thought. The pungent aftertaste of the lemon was starting to leave behind bittersweet remnants over his palate.
Over the next few days of tiptoeing around Hyunjin like a professional ballerina, the only idea Jisung could come up with to fix things was to apologize, talk things out like scrappy men, and to hell with interpersonal conflicts! They were a team at this point, and for their beneficial symbiotic relationship, it’d do both of them good to be on manageable terms again.
Jisung nodded determinedly to himself. The plan had a 99.9% success rate. It’ll work. Totally.
But on a Friday night of endless skittering around, Hyunjin came home and beat him to it.
“Jinyoung invited me to his friend’s party,” Hyunjin announced while heading to his room to change. Behind his closed door, he asked, “Do you want to come?”
Jisung stared bug-eyed at the door. It’s been a while since Hyunjin actually somewhat properly acknowledged him. “Uhhh. I know I’m a fun person and I’m all for the free booze, but I literally don’t know anyone, including Mr. Prince himself.”
There was a bit of shuffling, cursing, and the sounds of tripping over furniture before the door opened. Hyunjin had switched out of his work uniform into a pair of jeans and a tucked-in turtleneck. His hair was messy and the dark circles underneath his eyes were horrid.
“It’s okay,” said Hyunjin. “You know me.”
“Duh. That’s obvious.” Jisung winced belatedly at his lack of delicacy. He studied Hyunjin’s enervated frame and pursed his lips. “Dude, not to be be a pooper of the aforementioned party, but are you okay? You’ve been -- weird. And distant. You can punch me in the face if it makes you feel better, because if it’s anything I’ve said or done, I’m --”
“No, it’s fine.” Hyunjin smiled but it was a rather forced one at that. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Just -- I don’t know. Don’t apologize. It’s fine. Let’s just go to the party. I told Jinyoung I’d go, and he said to bring someone along if I wanted to, and since you’re already here, I might as well.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” Jisung agreed tentatively. That didn’t go as planned.
Jisung threw on the wool scarf Jeongin had knitted for him a year ago, when the youngun had taken upon knitting as a hobby to decrease his levels of cortisol amidst practicums. Dubious, Jisung eyed at Hyunjin’s lack of outerwear, but figured that any kind of good willed nagging would not end well.
It was stifling. And awkward as fuck.
The bus ride consisted mostly of Jisung cracking jokes and Hyunjin halfheartedly replying to them. Although he could see Hyunjin’s effort in making the ride to the party as least uncomfortable as possible, Jisung wanted to crawl out of his own skin and astral project himself to avoid such an excruciatingly awkward situation. And Jisung was the king of defusing awkward situations. But this? This was on a whole other level, and Hyunjin looked too troubled to care about the awkwardness at all.
The walk to the party, which took place at the host’s rich as fuck mansion, was uncomfortably silent, and Jisung missed their comfortable silences. Jisung could only agonize along the way how he fucked up and how he had no idea what he fucked up on.
In his peripheral vision, however, Jisung took notice of the fine tremors of Hyunjin’s shoulders and the way he bunched in on himself against the autumnal -- nearing wintry -- cold. Their breaths came out in white plumes that dispersed into the air, back into nonexistence, and the sallow street lamps casting its sickly glow across Hyunjin’s profile caused an ache in Jisung’s chest.
Jisung tugged at Hyunjin’s sleeve to make him stop. Ignoring Hyunjin’s confused look, Jisung unwounded the wool scarf from his neck and threw it over Hyunjin’s. Jisung wrapped the scarf around him snugly to keep him as warm as possible. “I think we need to go on a shopping spree again. All those clothes and not even a coat for the weather?”
Hyunjin stared at him with wide eyes. His hands came up to play with the ends of the scarf. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Right, and watch you freeze to death?” Jisung scoffed. He jerked his head forward. “Cupids get cold but not as cold as humans do. I’m as warm as a melted popsicle with this leather jacket. C’mon, let’s go.”
Hyunjin ducked his head. “Thanks.”
When they arrived at the mansion amidst an obnoxiously affluent neighborhood, Jisung realized that the host of the party was some dude named Jackson, which Jisung found hilarious because there was also a Jackson back in Heaven who threw a lot of house parties too. Perhaps Jackson was a universal house partyer, found in all planes and dimensions.
“Those jeans are so tight I can see his religion,” Hyunjin muttered as he watched someone pour wine into the pool before diving into it at the cold buttfuck of night. “Jinyoung said it was supposed to be a small gathering.”
Jisung threw him a startled look. “How gullible could you be?”
“I’m not gullible.”
“Okay, whatever you say.” Jisung snorted. “Why don’t you go find Jinyoung? Explore the place -- get to know his friends, maybe.”
At the mention of Jinyoung from Jisung’s mouth, Hyunjin’s expression soured and he looked away. “I don’t need you to tell me what to do.”
Jisung blinked. Hyunjin left him standing there by the gate as he moved towards the front entrance and disappeared among the crowd. Fuck. It was about Jinyoung.
He groaned and scratched his nape out of frustration; was he supposed to dawdle around like an idiot in a place full of rich strangers while he groused to himself over his alarming display of poorly executed mental acrobatics?
Apparently, the answer was yes, and Jisung ended up sitting outside of the mansion on the steps because he felt too out of place to go in to steal booze. He griped about his lack of proficiency in the business world. Golly gee whiz, humans were so difficult and passive aggressive!
Fix things his ass.
Jisung spent most of his time outside thinking about Hyunjin. And Jinyoung. Hyunjin and Jinyoung. It made him feel uncomfortable, which didn’t make sense because he was continuously eager about the whole progression. And though there had been a pang of uncertainty in the early stages of their friendship-slash-relationship, it only fueled Jisung’s blind eagerness which -- in turn -- backfired at the very end.
And at some point, Jisung found himself worrying about Hyunjin who was stuck in such a sweaty and crowded place, surrounded by drunkards and rowdy university students and the inevitable peer-pressure of alcohol. But at least Jinyoung was there, and he was a nice and scrupulous guy, so Hyunjin should be okay.
No, wait. Hyunjin was his client, his assignment, his friend, and Jisung was the one who was supposed to be looking after him instead of brooding over his lack of communication skills. He sprung up from the steps ready to head into the party, but stopped when coincidentally enough, he saw Hyunjin hurry out of the mansion right when Jisung was about to go in.
“Oh, good. I swear we have, like, the same wavelength or something ‘cause I was just about to look for you,” Jisung prattled on as he watched Hyunjin almost trip when he scuttled down the stairs. He looked rather frantic and out of breath, as though he’d just finished a marathon. “Whoa, hey. Are you okay?”
Hyunjin extended his arm. “Give me your hand.”
“Give me your hand,” Hyunjin said, looking at Jisung so earnestly it surprised him, “please.”
Jisung nodded, a bit confused. He tentatively wrapped his hand around Hyunjin’s and found that Hyunjin’s hand was warm compared to his cold ones, cracked and dry from washing dishes in hot water without gloves on. His grip was firm but he was shaking gently -- the kind of shaking that came from a realization, a confirmation, rather than fear.
Hyunjin stared down at their linked hands. Underneath the disorderly scrawl of the moonlight and the mansion’s bright, gleaming lights, Hyunjin’s eyes seemed watery. And Jisung couldn’t look away even when Hyunjin smiled up at him, an underlying hurt peeking through his strained features.
“Jinyoung’s just a friend. It’s all he’ll ever be, because -- I think, since the beginning, I’ve already found somebody else.” Hyunjin gave a wobbly laugh that waned into a bare whisper, “Sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Then he was gone.
Hyunjin was gone and the next thing Jisung knew, he was back amidst the white, pristine walls of Heaven’s HQ, staring at a frazzled Changbin holding a pile of documents with a party hat on his head.
The rest were also wearing party hats, holding party horns in their mouths and poppers in their hands, but their expressions of absolute shock contrasted the to-be festive atmosphere. Even Minho looked starkly awake for a Cupid who was perpetually sleepy and horny all the time.
Jisung, on the other hand, was lost as shit. “Can someone tell me what the fuck is going on?”
Everybody darted their eyes to Changbin. He cleared his throat, looking like he’d rather be dying six feet under than delivering the message. “Uh, well. Welcome back, dude. We’ve got good news and bad news for you.”
Jisung waved for him to elaborate.
“Good news is -- congrats! Hyunjin is in love!”
Jisung threw his hands up, spinning around uselessly. He didn’t understand why no one else was reciprocating his feelings of triumph. “My fucking people! Did you hear that? This calls for you to pull those strings and go pop, pop, poppin’ up this place!”
He shook his head and turned back around to Changbin who was straight-faced. “What’s the bad news, bro? Hit me. There’s no way the bad can overshadow the good. Like, hello. I did what y’all couldn’t. Not that I’m bragging, but --”
“He’s in love with you.“
Time didn’t so much as freeze, but everything went dead silent that a pin dropping from the hundredth floor could be heard. Jisung stared at Changbin, not quite processing the impact of his disclosure, until Jisung’s last memory of Hyunjin laughing self-deprecatingly at himself -- at the hopelessness of it all -- flickered before his eyes.
Laughing, because he’d seen it coming. Because Jisung had admitted, in ignorance, that love was nothing but a source of profit for him.
“Oh,” Jisung breathed. “Fuck me.”
As the cherry on top, Jeongin pulled the popper and blew the party horn in his mouth that deflated into a pathetic clown noise.
He was the only one who celebrated Jisung’s achievements as a Cupid and failures as a friend.
He was forcibly moved out of his comfortable little niche into a condo after he was promoted from a second tier to a fifth tier. Now a high ranking Cupid, Jisung was bestowed upon with cringeworthy luxury and a pair of grand, white wings he didn't think he frankly deserved.
He had liked his small apartment. It was cozy and intimate in comparison, and having all this condo space to himself after being accustomed to sharing a unit with Hyunjin felt unfamiliar and alien. He woke up everyday expecting to hear Hyunjin shouting in his ear or curled up against him, but was greeted with none other than a permeating emptiness. And perhaps, if he was being dramatic enough -- a hole in his chest too.
Jisung wondered if Hyunjin was doing okay -- if he was eating properly, sleeping properly, not bathing in coffee. If he was still friends with Jinyoung. Jisung wondered about Hyunjin’s friends too. Seungmin would probably kill him, Felix would also probably kill him but kindly, and Woojin would probably get drunk first before trying to clobber him for the nth time.
God, Jisung was awful. Not only did he drive Hyunjin to do something he was still uncomfortable and uncertain about, Jisung was also absolutely oblivious to the signs of Hyunjin developing feelings for him. Him. And he just had to top it off with cynical remarks about love that demolished Hyunjin’s morale.
But when did it happen?
Jisung sat up from his brooding state in bed. He couldn’t think of why Hyunjin fell in love with him. Jisung was an emo-looking dumbass who somehow got too caught up in a human’s life that pierced through his fortress of indifference after spending most of his lifetime feeding off of the coolness that cynicism offered. It was too overwhelming -- too scary -- how a simple creature could bring so much colour, so much feeling, to his life.
Stupid humans. Stupid Hyunjin. Jisung covered his face with a pillow and wormed around in frustration.
At some point during his return to Heaven with fruitless recognition from other Cupids and the Seraphim, Jisung decided to take initiative. He headed to Changbin’s office at HQ without bothering to knock, and found Chan seated across from Changbin with six, ivory wings.
Jisung stared at him. “Oh, dude. Duuude.”
“Duuuude,” Chan laughed as two of his wings covered his mouth. His eyes were sparkling. “Ya boy’s a Seraph now, baby! I’ll buy you drinks, mate. We haven’t hung out in a while.”
Jisung grabbed Chan into an one-armed hug before marbling over his new opulent wings. He heard Changbin clear his throat, looking somewhat jealous but ultimately proud. Chan grinned and sat back down, his wings curling around his body at the bend of his shape. It was kinda cute. He looked like a cocoon.
“I guess you didn’t kiss ass enough, huh,” Jisung commented. He dodged a pencil to the face.
“Shut your yap, you dick,” Changbin grumbled. “Did you forget all of your manners or something? I was in the middle of processing Chan’s paperwork for his change in position.”
Jisung preened. He straightened his shoulders and tilted his chin up, but looked elsewhere. “My manners are still in tact, thank you very much. They only cease to exist in your presence, but anyway. I came here to, uh, use some of my rank privileges.”
“And that is?”
“Monitoring?” Jisung said with uncertainty. At Changbin’s narrowed eyes, he reluctantly added more detail. “Fine. Human surveillance. Fifth tiers can access the system and like, spy on any kind of human right? I just -- you know. I just wanna check up on him and see if he’s doing okay. I mean, I know it’s no longer my business, but we were a team, and I -- you know. Yeah.”
Chan peeked at him behind the tapestry of feathers, donning a sympathetic smile, and Changbin’s scowl softened into that of understanding. Changbin sat down and Jisung unconsciously mirrored it with the chair beside Chan.
“What if he isn’t okay? What are you going to do, then?”
Jisung shrugged. “Call it a day and go back to bed?”
“Jisung, you’ve been in bed for the past two weeks,” Changbin said, unamused. “You don't even come to Bingo nights anymore despite whining about it. Did you even shower before coming here? Your hair’s turning all green and yellow now.”
“It’s like a technicolour yawn,” Chan perked up.
Jisung stared at him. ”Do you know a Felix? Even if you don’t know a Felix, I’m pretty sure another you knows another Felix.”
“Hey, hey,” Changbin said, snapping his fingers to get their attention. “Let’s not digress here. Point is -- Jisung, you’re a mess. I’m not British, but you are a bloody mess. Whether you admit it or not, I know it’s because of Hwang. And honestly, if spying on your human is the only thing you could come up within two weeks of sulking in bed, then I’m fucking disappointed.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that this is the first time I’ve seen you genuinely interested in something -- in someone. It’s the first time I’ve seen you actually enjoy your field of work and it wasn’t even because of the work, but because of him,” Changbin said, a vein popping in his forehead from wasting his breath on Jisung’s lack of tact. “You probably wouldn't have even noticed your own feelings since you’re so out of tune with feelings itself! And you know what? I always noticed there was something different about you each time we video called. It didn’t click until I realized -- ‘ah, this guy. He’s happy. He’s really fucking happy with him.’”
Jisung blinked rapidly. He opened his mouth but closed it again when he realized he had no snarky reply to that.
Chan darted his eyes between them. His wings unfurled a bit, revealing his relaxed poise and earnest expression. “He’s got a point. I’ve seen the files -- you're good for each other. He listens to you, engages with you, and handles your quasi-nihilistic mindset without being a dick. You don't ask for what he can't give and you accept all parts of him without a second thought. It’s every Cupid’s dream to see that kind of natural growth between two people."
“It’s not gonna last,” Jisung said bluntly. “Me and him -- it’s not gonna last. Especially because of me. You know how I am with these things.”
“I think it’s important to keep in mind not to fret over the permanence of love, but the beauty of it, don’t you think?”
“I know I always give you shit about being complacent all the time, but tell me. Do you love him?” Changbin asked, arching a brow. “I’m asking for honesty, Jisung. Your defense mechanism of being sassy ain’t gonna work on us.”
Did Jisung love Hyunjin? That was a hard question. Jisung felt something overflowing to the point of being unable to put it into words, but he wasn’t sure if love was the right label.
Falling in love meant the possibility of falling out of love. There were so many different kinds of love, so many consequences of love, so many deceptions of love. Jisung didn’t think he was capable of feeling so deeply and so intimately about another person.
But he remembered Hyunjin’s little kind gestures that could have been overlooked by anybody else, but was a clear exemplar of how he was always thoughtful about Jisung’s boundaries. He remembered the warmth of his voice, the warmth of his laugh and his hands that came to rest around his shoulders, the warmth that filled the forgotten potholes constituting Jisung’s entire being.
He remembered Hyunjin’s desperate grip around his hand, as though he’d come to realize this would happen and had willed Jisung to stay. Jisung remembered his teary laugh too -- a sound made by somebody who’d already given up.
Hyunjin was the world’s hidden gem. And he, too, was the first of many people in Jisung’s life to make him want something for once.
“It’s not -- love. Not yet, at least,” Jisung admitted quietly. “But I know he's important to me. And I’d watch over him for eternity if I have to."
Chan smiled and patted him on the shoulder. Changbin looked surprised yet satisfied at the answer, nodding his head in approval. If Jisung looked hard enough, he swore he saw him tear up.
“You’re such a pain in the ass, Jisung,” Changbin croaked. Yup, he was tearing up. “I can’t believe you’re making your best friend cry, you sentimental dickbag! I don’t even care if it’s a human. I mean, the Seraphim might, but I don’t -- we don’t. Jesus! Fuck you. Chan, think you can help him out?”
“Oh, you bet.” Chan gave them a cute rendition of jazz hands. “As a newly appointed Seraph, I’ve got a load of rare privileges I can grant to y’all, and that includes unlimited free access to earth whenever and however you want.”
Jisung looked at him, nonplussed. “Wait, you mean I can just, like, hang out on earth without being assigned anything? I can just travel between the two realms like a twenty-minute commute?”
“Bro,” Jisung breathed. “I can give you and Minho free couple counselling sessions as a token of my gratitude, if you want.”
Chan shrunk a bit, cheeks turning red. “I mean -- sure. Okay. Sometimes I can’t tell if he really likes me because I’m really serious about our relationship, and I know Minho is hard to read and I don’t want to assume the worst of him because he’s a really nice and sweet guy, but --”
“Hey,” Changbin barked, flapping his hands at them. “Pay attention! Can we please stay on the damn topic for once?”
Chan patted Changbin on the shoulder with one of his wings and Changbin childishly swatted it away. Jisung laughed and shrugged.
This time, he’d try to fix things for sure.
One look around Hyunjin’s apartment reminded Jisung of the time he visited a farm. It was a pigsty. Hyunjin’s apartment was worse than the farm.
The dishes were piling up in a haphazard hill in the sink, the coffee pot looked unwashed but still used, and a messy string of clothes were flung around the furniture. Either a thief broke in and decided to trash the place, or Hyunjin had forsaken the virtues of cleanliness.
Jisung sighed. He picked up the books strewn across the floor and placed it on the kitchen table. Maybe he should have retained his unhygienic state too. He made himself look specifically spiffy just for this unpredictable reunion; he even re-dyed his hair back to its bright blue colour.
Dallying around the place, Jisung stared out the window and watched light scatter across the sky as dawn made its reign. As soon as Hyunjin walked through the door, looking absolutely terrible and dishevelled from his graveyard shift, he stopped mid-step and stared at Jisung sitting cross-legged in the air. A prolonged silence stretched between them, neither one daring to make the first move and break the ice.
Jisung quickly took in his appearance: weary and rather haggard, Hyunjin didn’t look like he was doing too well, and Jisung felt the weight of guilt crush his ribs once more. But he noticed that Hyunjin was still wearing his scarf -- the one Jeongin had knitted for him among his bundle of clothes. It made Jisung feel somewhat touched.
With a sharp intake of breath, he mustered up the courage to smile and wave, albeit awkwardly. “Uh. Hey, bro.”
Hyunjin stared even harder. Then he dropped his bags, turned around, walked out of the apartment, and slammed the door.
Jisung blinked. Then he scoffed, “Rude.”
Alright, that didn’t go as planned. Time for Plan B.
“Seriously?” Changbin exclaimed through the screen as he sent out Hyunjin’s coordinates, which showed him heading to the university library at buttfuckery o’clock. “I know your work ethic is questionable, but did you even try?”
“Of course I did, moron. He ran outta there before I even had the chance to get past a greeting,” Jisung grumbled as his wings took him across the neighborhood. He was starting to like his current ranking -- not for the prestige itself, but for the practicality it gave him. Lower rank Cupids couldn’t travel as far or as quickly, but God was Jisung zipping through the air like a bird in a hieroglyphic flock.
“I wouldn’t hold it against him. One look at your face could scare off scarecrows.”
“That was lame.”
Jisung rolled his eyes and flicked away the screen. He’d deal with Changbin’s whining later.
It was eight by the time he arrived at the university library, and Jisung was surprised to see how many students there already were occupying the spaces. He donned a corporeal appearance and searched around the building, stepping over a pair of stretched legs in an aisle that belonged to someone knocked out cold in a blanket of crumpled notes. Oh hey, it was Woojin.
Jisung gathered the notes around Woojin’s shoulders, trying to keep the big guy warm albeit flimsily, and as he rounded the corner of the shelves, he spotted Hyunjin seated at one of the empty tables burying his head deep into the crook of a large text book. Jisung didn’t give much thought to what he was going to say as he approached him -- he was just going to do what he always did: be a smartass.
Sitting across from Hyunjin, Jisung leaned forward and asked, “I don’t know if I should feel flattered or insulted that taking one look at my face prompted you to scurry off and study. I’m supposed to evoke feelings of rebellion!” He picked up the textbook to peek at the cover. “Why are you reading a chemistry book?”
“Oh no. Oh nooo,” Hyunjin covered his face with his hands. “I’m starting to hallucinate. I’m losing it. Studying isn’t working. I need to sleep. I’m going to sleep.”
“I’m not a hallucination.”
“That’s what a hallucination would say,” Hyunjin muttered and dropped his head into his arms. “I’m sleeping. Please don’t eat me.”
“Nor am I your sleep paralysis demon,” Jisung grumbled. He poked Hyunjin in the shoulder and ruffled his hair. “Look. If I was a hallucination, would I be able to touch you? Mess up your god awful greasy hair that’s glistening like a nose hair after a sneeze?”
Hyunjin squinted up at him, suspicious. “Hallucinations are supposed to be realistic. You’re dumb and chatty for my imagination.”
“That’s my point. I’m not your imagination! It took me a while to come down here ‘cause my higher ups had to approve my permit for earth visitations. Cupids aren’t allowed to come down here unless they have an assignment, and -- you remember Chan? He became a Seraph, that son of a beautiful bitch, and pulled some strings for me. So now, I can come down here whenever I want. I’m also a semi-professional couple counsellor, but that’s a story for another time.”
Hyunjin blinked. He rubbed his eyes with his sleeves, blinked some more, and stared at Jisung rather fretfully, as though he couldn’t will himself to believe that Jisung was really there in front of him. “You’re real?”
“I’m as real as your stinky breath.”
Hyunjin’s face shuttered immediately. He glared at Jisung for a good moment before he snatched his textbook, flipped to a random page, and pointedly ignored Jisung’s presence. Jisung sighed, tugging the textbook again but to no avail as Hyunjin kept a tight grip on it.
“Hyunjin,” Jisung said gently. “Come on.”
“I’m studying. I have an exam in two days! Go away.”
“You’re not even taking chemistry,” Jisung said, puzzled. “Don’t you think we should talk about what happened?”
“Um. About you making me disappear because you realized you were in love with me?”
Hyunjn’s face went beet red. He grabbed his textbook away from Jisung’s useless tugging and covered his face. He hissed, “So what if I’m in love with you? Mind your own fucking business!”
Jisung blew out a slow breath, tilting his head as he watched Hyunjin sink further into his seat. He stood up from his seat and reached forward to tug on Hyunjin’s ear instead. “Hey, come on. Let’s go somewhere else that’s less crowded.”
After another onslaught of goading, Hyunjin finally relented with a dramatic eyeroll and sigh. They stepped out of the library but not without Hyunjin quickly snapping a photo of Woojin passed out on the floor, and found that the sun had risen to its highest peak, burning bright in the midst of frozen sidewalks and icy billows of wind. Jisung glanced at Hyunjin to make sure he was warm, and fixed the wool scarf around his neck that had been thrown on carelessly.
Hyunjin blinked down at the scarf in realization. “Shit. Fuck -- “
“Shit the fuck up. I forgot to give it back,” he muttered.
“Keep it. Burgundy’s a nice colour on you.” Jisung turned around. “Come on, already.”
Jisung took him to one of the many benches that was carved accordingly to the human spine -- a nice ergonomic touch -- near the outskirts of campus in a wide garden-like pathway, located a few minutes away from a small bakery. Nudging Hyunjin to sit down, Jisung quickly headed to the bakery to grab a large cup of tea because lord knows Hyunjin needed it.
The pathway was quiet, save for the occasional runners that passed by them, but otherwise was peaceful and empty. Jisung returned and sat down beside Hyunjin, handing him the tea.
“Is this coffee?” Hyunjin studied it with comical intensity.
“Jesus no,” Jisung said. “It’s rooibos and passionflower. Great for fatigue and stress.”
“Teas other than green are gross.”
“That’s because you’re addicted to caffeine,” Jisung retorted. “Just drink it, you whiny baby.”
Hyunjin stuck his tongue out after taking a sip, but didn’t complain again. Jisung watched him for a moment before he looked away, and settled his gaze on the tall row of stark poplar trees aligned down the road.
Jisung was rarely nervous. The only time he could remember where he felt some form of apprehension was when the Seraphim threatened to confiscate his collection of fine rosé because he wouldn’t comply with the company policy of wearing strictly white. But he supposed the genre of feelings was nerve-wracking in itself. He’d never seen a human pour their most inner thoughts out without experiencing any kind of frenzic worry.
He tucked his hands into the pockets of his jacket. But Hyunjin was just Hyunjin. There was nothing to be afraid about.
“I’m sorry about Jinyoung,” he began softly. “I should have respected your friendship with him rather than enforcing the idea that he would be the one for you. I got too eager because, I guess -- my subconscious thought it was the right thing to do when I started to feel weird about it. But I hurt you.”
Hyunjin slanted him a wry smile. He looked away again. “I think I hurt myself more. I just wanted to make you happy because you were so eager and you wanted to go home, and I knew how I truly felt wouldn’t amount to anything."
“I’m a Cupid. We’re happy with just five dollars in our savings account. But humans are different. More complex. You don’t have to sacrifice your own happiness and comfort for somebody else.”
“Wasn’t coming down here for me a sacrifice?”
“No,” Jisung said, “it was a gain.”
Hyunjin didn’t reply to that.
Jisung was certain that at least one of his friends was spying on him because nobody up there understood the concept of privacy, which made Jisung an accidental voyeur at times. But he supposed if he were to be rejected or murdered by Seungmin out of nowhere at the slightest possibility, at least he’d go down with dignity, style, and justice.
“I still don’t understand love,” Jisung said bluntly. He saw Hyunjin jerk in surprise from the corner of his eye. No point in beating around the bush. “Your love, I mean. I understood my parents’ love, my friends’ love, but when it comes to this love I don’t stand it. I had relationships too, you know, but it felt like my feelings were muted and dim in comparison. I liked the affection, but the expectations were burdensome. That’s why I started seeing love as just a job. I didn’t think I needed it, but I suppose it’s more of a ‘want’ thing than anything, right?”
Jisung found a stray thread sticking out from tear in his jeans and started to play with it. “Look. I’ll never be like your typical partner. I’m not human, for starters, and there’s gonna be times where I won’t be emotionally available or -- understandable to you. I’ve been told I’m rather distant with these kind of things.”
“Fuck conventional intimacy,” Hyunjin piped in quietly. “Your words, not mine.”
Jisung laughed at the parroting. He turned in his seat so that he was leaning his elbow against the back of the bench and facing Hyunjin who wouldn’t look at him directly in the moment. “I’m kind of a hypocrite. Cupids aren’t saints.”
That earned him a small smile from Hyunjin. Deeming that a victory, Jisung grinned and glanced up at the crystalline blue sky. A nice day for a heart to be transparent.
“Hey.” Jisung tilted his head to Hyunjin. “To me, you feel like an old friend, a best friend, but something more too. I can’t say I reciprocate the extent of your feelings, but I do like you. Quite a lot.” He smiled a bit. "And you are the person I want to know how love is like with. If it means anything, you’re a first for me.”
Hyunjin blinked with wide eyes. He was still for a moment, periodically glancing at Jisung like he was searching for words in the midst of their honest quietude.
Then he puffed up his chest with a pretense of bravado and asked, “Why?”
“Uh. Why I like you?” Jisung scratched his cheek. That was not the response he was expecting. “Well. I mean. For starters, you’re interesting. I’ve never seen a human ingest an ungodly amount of coffee and still be standing the next day all nice and spiffy. Also, you have great hair, and your hair follicles would be a magnificent breakthrough in our scientific research back in Heaven.”
Hyunjin stared at him.
“And you strike me as someone who is idealistic in a realistic way. You’re thoughtful and nerdy. I like nerdy. You’re a cup of positivitea and I like that too.” Jisung brought his feet up to his seat and hugged his knees. He blinked at Hyunjin’s agonized face. “Too early for puns? Alright. But I was serious. You make me feel things I haven’t felt before. It’s like whiplash but, like, with the feels. I probably wouldn't have noticed it myself if it weren't for my disappearing act."
Hyunjin winced with his whole body. “That was absolutely terrible. And kind of corny in a dull way.”
“I live for vapid cheesiness.” Jisung shrugged smugly. “But I know you loved it.”
Hyunjin laughed and lowered his eyes. After a beat of silence, he said, “I like that you never look at me, but you just see me, and you stay for that. You don’t have any pre-existing perceptions of me. You’re honest. You're genuine. You’re like everyone’s hypeman but ten times smaller.”
“Did you just call me short?”
“No,” Hyunjin said, which was an obvious lie, but he continued on before Jisung could say anything, “I called you a hypeman.”
“Well, your hypeman is not a very reliable lover.”
Hyunjin looked at him suddenly all bright-eyed and awake. “Lover?”
“Did you not get the implications of what I’ve been saying for the past nine minutes?”
“No, I got it, jackass. It’s just -- you know. The word. The status. Lover.”
“Aw, you’re a hopeless romantic,” Jisung cooed, reaching forward to stretch Hyunjin’s cheek. “But I’m serious. You really want to, like, be associated with my lazy ass for an indefinite amount of time? I can’t cook. Or drive. I mean, I can fly, but I don’t think that’s an ideal medium of transportation on earth. I will also frequently submit myself to moments of solitude, so that’s an already big ‘X’ mark on my compatibility level to your clingy ass.”
Hyunjin harrumped, sticking a hand out. “Deal.”
“Is this a business transaction?”
“Yes, of love.” A pause. “And yet-to-be love. We can take it one step at a time.”
Jisung shook his head, laughing fondly, and sealed the deal with a handshake. “You’re such a dweeb.”
Hyunjin’s mouth slowly curved into a wide grin, one that made his eyes shine through its crescent shape and made his dimples appear. Jisung gently poked his dimple and in return, Hyunjin took his hand in his again but this time, held it close to his chest.
“Hey,” he said, “can I?”
Jisung stared at him in question and nodded. Hyunjin lifted their intertwined hands and pressed his lips gently against the back of Jisung’s hand. He blinked at him in surprise. And blinked again, when Hyunjin leaned forward to give a soft peck on his cheek.
Unable to properly process the tender gestures, Jisung blurted out the first thing he had in mind to diffuse his wonderment, “You’re academically certified to swoon my pants in bee wolves.”
Hyunjin laughed, bright and contagious and uncontained, and Jisung felt fortunate to be able to hear it again and for many more days, months, years to come.
Sure, humans were fickle. And pretty stupid.
But Jisung didn’t regret coming back for one.
“Wait. So we’re not killing him?”
Felix chewed on his tapioca pearls, pointing at Seungmin with his drink. “Seungmin, no.”
“You guys were planning to kill me?” Jisung asked with a gasp. They were at a bubble tea shop as a way to celebrate the end of exams. “I don’t know whether to be flattered or not that you guys kept me in your thoughts after I left Hyunjin unsupervised and unintentionally miserable.”
“Seungmin, you’re in law,” Hyunjin said plainly, narrowing his eyes.
“Sometimes you have to break the law to do what’s right! And what's right is hunting down the vile creature that hurt our friend." Seungmin frowned, as though he was upset he couldn't plot murder against Jisung anymore. "What was right, at least."
Woojin sighed and patted Seungmin on the shoulder. He looked a lot more awake and healthier than the last time Jisung saw him; he supposed it was the post-exam relief and fresh taro milk tea that rejuvenated Woojin’s sense of purpose and functionality. “Well, the right thing to do right now is to congratulate them on their budding relationship. Jisung’s part of the crew now. The posse. The ragtag bunch. The Pussy Destroyers.”
“The Pussy --” Hyunjin squawked in disbelief.
Jisung threw an arm around his shoulder and said, “That’s a cool name. I was thinking more, like, The Meat Grinders? ‘Cause I was like a beautiful piece of room temperature Canadian beef and Hyunjin was a colony of E.coli that grew on me. It perfectly sums up our relationship.”
Hyunjin threw his arm to the side. “Why am I the bacteria?”
“I thought we were called the The Last Supper with Jesus,” Felix said, confused.
“Woojin’s into pussy and not in the socially acceptable way,” Seungmin muttered.
“I heard that, butterballs!”
“Guys,” Jisung said, “I’m Cupid.”
“Yeah, right.” Seungmin darted him a stinky look. God, the level of sass. “And I’m Dumbledore.”
Felix asked goodnaturedly, “Does that mean you can get us Hallmark discounts?”
Hyunjin sent Jisung an expression that said I told you so. They had this conversation multiple times already; he wanted Jisung to be honest about his origins since Hyunjin felt guilty for having lied to his friends. Jisung didn’t really care about revealing himself as long as he didn’t get fined for breaking Heaven’s policies, and with Chan’s help, Jisung was approved for selective revelation. Having a Seraph friend had its perks.
Jisung sighed and glanced up at the ceiling. Seungmin reminded him a whole lot of another person -- one who was specifically protective and whiny -- and that only brought forth a new idea that sent sparks flying and cogs turning. Hyunjin, on the other hand, took one look at Jisung’s mischievous face and groaned into his hands.
“Hey,” Jisung said as he grinned at Seungmin and steepled his fingers. “How about I prove it to you?”
Changbin’s been a lonely chap for a while. He might kill Jisung, he might not, but he’ll definitely thank him later.