Joe’s soulmark appears two months before he turns thirteen.
He traces the shape of it, trailing trembling fingers across the neat, slanted letters. The mark curls over the curve of his left hip, the letters trickling across the slope of his lower back.
I’m glad I met you.
It’s a common phrase and he wishes, briefly, that it was something more unique or noteworthy. Something that’s not said by dozens of people every day. Something not easily missed.
Even so, he cherishes the mark because it’s proof that he has a soulmate. That there’s someone out there who has his words written on their skin. The realization sends a thrill of nervous anticipation through him.
His mom sits him down and explains the importance of his soulmark. Joe knows already, of course. He’s seen all the movies about soulmates and soulmarks, and he’s had to sit through several classes about the history of soulmarks in school. Some of his classmates already have theirs. Others are still waiting. Joe knows that sometimes people wait decades for their marks to appear, that someone can be well into adulthood before they receive their mark.
He knows some soulmarks change. Sometimes into a different phrase, sometimes into a different language. Sometimes they disappear entirely.
He doesn’t know what he’d do if that happened to him. He wants his mark to remain the same. He hasn’t even met his soulmate, but he already knows he’ll cherish them more than anything.
“You might not meet your soulmate for a long time,” his mom says.
“But I want to meet them now,” Joe whines. He rests a hand against his hip, fingers drumming over the spot where his mark rests.
His mom smiles. “You’ll have to be patient.”
Joe sighs. He doesn’t want to be patient. He wants to know who his soulmate is, wants to know who he’ll be spending the rest of his life with. Wants to feel the prick of his soulmark turn from black to red, wants to watch the colors of each letter change in an indication that he’s found the most important person in his life.
He starts listening carefully to everything people say. Joe knows that the words on his hip might not be the first words his soulmate says to him. The words might be uttered weeks or months or years after they first meet.
Joe really hopes it doesn’t take years.
The first time he hears the words, they’re not directed at him.
It’s a day like any other, ordinary and unremarkable, and the words are nothing more than a passing comment. They’re swept away in a flurry of conversation, lost in the crowd of New York’s busy streets. He doesn’t know who says them, and he certainly doesn’t know who their intended recipient was.
I’m glad I met you, he hears, and the words reverberate in his mind with such unexpected ferocity that he almost believes he imagined them.
Yes, he wants to say, That’s me. Those are my words.
But the words aren’t meant for him, and the sudden, sharp longing that settles in his bones is almost unbearable.
He hasn’t found his soulmate by the time he enters USC. It’s not unusual, he knows. A lot of people find their soulmate in college.
There are hushed conversations in the dormitories about soulmates and soulmarks, whispers that wind their way through the classrooms and parties, hallways and gatherings. About who has already found their soulmate, about who is still looking. About who still doesn’t have a mark.
Joe keeps his words hidden. They’re easy enough to hide. Not for the first time, he finds himself grateful that his words aren’t on his hands or arms - or worse, his face. There’s a girl in one of his classes whose mark trails down the slope of her forehead, visible for everyone to see.
His friends tease him about his secrecy, ask what his words say, but he wants to keep them for himself. They’re private, meant for no one but him and his soulmate.
He hears the rumors, though, of people who keep their words hidden because they’ve given up on finding their soulmates. Of people who hate their soulmates, who think they’re better off alone. Of marks that fade over time or disappear entirely. He’s not sure which is worse and there are times, late at night in the privacy of his room, where he traces the words on his hip and wonders what his fate will be.
Who are you, he wonders, and then somewhat desperately, please have my words on your skin.
By the end of his freshman year Joe’s heard every possible variation of his words.
It hurts, hearing people say his words as though they’re nothing special. The loneliness wraps around him and seeps into his bones, makes him withdrawn and unhappy.
Which is perhaps why he allows himself to fall into a relationship he knows won’t last. A boy in his dormitory, beautiful and clever with dark hair and light eyes, smiles at him and says, “I’m glad we met.”
Joe’s so surprised that he stammers out, “Me too. You’re a good friend.”
It’s not a graceful reply, but the boy – Matt, he learns, an engineering student – pauses, and then, with wonder in his voice says, “Your words… are you…?”
“Yes,” Joe says, rushed and eager.
He so desperately wants to believe that he’s found his soulmate, and for a time he chooses companionship over loneliness and lets himself believe that his search is over. Lets himself be drawn into breathless kisses and spread out across the length of a narrow bed, sated and sore and content.
He knows they’re not meant for each other. But sometimes he pretends that the words on his skin say I’m glad we met instead of I’m glad I met you. He likes to think that two words don’t make that much of a difference.
It does, in the end.
He starts dreaming of his soulmate sometime during his senior year.
The dreams are nothing more than a flash of dark hair, a crooked smile, and an overwhelming sense of familiarity. But still, it’s something.
Who are you? he wants to ask. Where are you? What do your words say? Do you dream of me?
There are a thousand questions he wants to ask and a thousand answers he wants to receive. He doesn’t know how much longer he can wait.
Joe graduates USC and decides to try his hand at acting again.
It doesn’t go well. He spends three years working whatever jobs he can find, mostly bit parts in small movies or some one off episodes of television shows. It’s a letdown. He’s always known the best part of his career was behind him, but the rejection still stings.
In those three years, he hears his words twenty-three times. Seventeen of those aren’t directed at him. The other six don’t belong to his soulmate. His soulmark stays black, not even a hint of red in the loops and curls of the letters.
He starts to wonder if perhaps he’s not meant to meet his soulmate. If the universe is playing a cruel trick on him. He doesn’t want to end up as a statistic, as one of the few who never find their soulmate.
Joe loses track of how often he hears his words, of the number of times his reply doesn’t cause a flicker of recognition. He stares at his soulmark once, twice, three times a day, and the words make something dark and hopeless twist around his heart. They're a constant reminder that he's still alone.
Several years go by and he learns to stop expecting anything. Until he goes to Australia.
Australia is a riot of colors and noises, and the heat is already causing sweat to form at the base of his neck. The sets are in the process of being built and the production already seems larger than life. Joe shoulders his bag with a smile and shuffles into the apartment he’s been assigned for the next ten months.
He’s excited to start filming The Pacific. It’s his first real job in years and he’s eager to get back into the swing of things. He unpacks his suitcase, humming along to the music blaring from his iPod and running over the day’s itinerary in his head.
There’s a gathering with the rest of the cast later in the day before they kick off table reads and boot camp later in the week. Joe is looking forward to the table reads, not so much for the boot camp.
Meeting Rami is a pleasant surprise. Joe knows they’ll be spending most of their time together and he’s delighted when they hit it off. Their connection is instant, and they easily slip into the banter required for their characters, working as if they’ve known each other for years. Rami’s talent is undeniable and he has such a warm, engaging personality that Joe is immediately drawn to him.
“This is my first big role,” Rami confesses. They’re getting lunch together, taking an opportunity to get to know each other a bit better. “It’s a bit intimidating.”
Joe smiles reassuringly. “We’ll get through it together.”
Rami smiles, patting him on the arm before letting his hand drop back down to his side. Joe misses his touch almost immediately.
Oh no, he thinks, heart pounding, this is going to be a problem.
Joe barely has time to adjust to his sudden crush on his costar before they’re thrust into boot camp.
It’s run by a genuine marine drill sergeant, the same person who trained the cast of Band of Brothers. He puts them through their paces, teaches them how to survive in a warzone, how to rely on each other. They sleep in foxholes, eat meals that come from packets and tins, learn how to hold a gun and run with forty pounds of equipment on their backs.
Joe has never been a method actor, but he finds the experience does help him get into character. It helps him grow closer to the rest of the cast, but as the boot camp comes to a close, he finds an unexpected bond forming between him and Rami.
“You’re a good partner in the field,” Joe says.
Rami laughs and rolls his shoulders, working out the kinks in his muscles. “This isn’t what I expected when I signed my contract.”
He’s shirtless, relaxing on the sand next to Joe as they watch the rest of the cast mill about near the ocean. Against his better judgment, Joe takes the opportunity to look for a soulmark. He doesn’t know what compels to invade Rami’s privacy, but there’s a small measure of relief and disappointment when he doesn’t find a mark. He chooses not to examine those feelings too closely.
He clears his throat, pulling his eyes away from Rami’s tanned skin and taut muscles. Not the time, he thinks. He’s always been cautious about relationships with costars. He’s seen too many film sets become fractured by relationships that don’t end well and he wants to avoid that at all costs.
And yet, there’s something pulling him in Rami’s direction, some deep-seated need to never let Rami out of his sight. To grab onto him and never let go.
“What are you thinking so hard about?” Rami asks, poking him in the side.
Joe yelps in surprise, torn from his thoughts. He color and ducks his head, trying to remember the thread of their conversation. When he does, he offers Rami a smile.
“Things could be worse, you know.”
Rami raises an eyebrow curiously. “How?”
“I spent my ninth birthday being chased by velociraptors before whacking my head on a kitchen cabinet. Boot camp is nothing compared to that.”
Rami stares at him. “You were in Jurassic Park?” he asks in disbelief.
“Yes?” Joe honestly thought he knew. It seems like everyone else on set does.
“Shit,” Rami says, somewhat dumbfounded. “I used to dream about being chased by dinosaurs.”
“Nightmares from seeing the movie?”
“No,” Rami says, brows drawn together in thought. “It happened when I was older.”
There are a hundred questions Joe can read on Rami’s face, and he’s almost ready to give the same practiced answers he shares with anyone who asks. But then Rami smiles and says, “Well, if I ever land a role where I need to scream in terror at some animatronic dinosaurs, I’ll know who to call for advice.”
The laugh that bursts out of Joe is loud and unexpected, and he laughs until he has tears in his eyes.
Joe falls a little in love with Rami after that.
It’s hard not to, in all honesty. Rami is a strange mix of confident and self-conscious, shy but still outgoing, and incredibly private yet overwhelmingly affectionate. Joe finds it fascinating. He wants to know everything about Rami, wants to learn every facet of his personality and every detail of his life.
They work together in a way Joe’s never experienced with anyone else. They understand each other without having to speak, can predict each other’s movements as though they’re on the same wavelength.
It’s never more clear than when the day Joe has trouble getting into character. He crumples the script in his hand frustrated. He thinks about asking for a short break, but he doesn’t want to hold up the rest of production.
“Focus on me,” Rami says. He steps into Joe’s personal space, forcing Joe to meet his eyes. “Think about what we rehearsed last night. It’s just Sledge and Snafu. Focus on the two of us, nothing else.”
“Okay,” Joe murmurs. He lets his eyes rove over Rami’s face, takes in the dark curls and his suntanned face.
“Just relax,” Rami says, and his voice dips into the slow, accented drawl he uses for Snafu. “Concentrate on my voice.”
Joe immediately thinks of cigarettes and gunpowder, tinned food and combat boots.
“Thank you,” he says later, once they’re finished for the day. He’s sitting on the bed in Rami’s apartment, legs folded beneath him. HBO has rented an entire apartment complex for the cast, and Rami’s room is conveniently right next to Joe’s.
Rami shrugs, toweling his hair dry. Joe tries not to stare at his bare chest, at the water droplets running down the flat planes of his stomach. He licks his lips and looks away, staring intently at the pattern on the blanket covering the bed.
“You’d do the same for me,” he says.
Joe leans back on the bed. “Of course I would. That’s what friends are for.”
The bright smile Rami sends him feels like more of a gift than it should. Joe’s so focused on the sudden pang of want and longing in his chest that he doesn’t even notice the way his soulmark starts to itch.
They start spending most of their free time together.
At first, Joe thinks it’s intimacy borne from the close relationship between the characters they’re portraying. But as the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, Joe slowly comes to realize there’s something else at play.
He knows what it is.
His soulmark burns and throbs whenever Rami’s near, but he doesn’t want to get his hopes up. Not yet.
Filming is more difficult than Joe expects.
It’s not lugging around forty pounds of equipment or having to film in the heat and humidity that bothers him. It’s not even having to reenact battle scenes, with shells firing around them and the sound of rigged gunfire and explosions ringing in his ears.
Instead, it’s the times where he’s required to go to a dark place, where he has to act out something that makes him recoil in horror, where he has to say lines that make him want to weep. He’s not the only one who feels this way on set, he knows, but he feels so alone sometimes, feels as though he’s suffering under a weight of expectation that is insurmountable.
But however bad Joe feels, Rami has it worse. Out of everyone in the cast Rami perhaps has it the worst.
Joe watches him with worried eyes, watches as the mental strain he puts himself through becomes almost unbearable. He sinks into the role with a relish that’s admirable, but it takes something from him each time, and more than once Joe has caught him weeping after a particularly brutal take.
“It’s okay, you know,” he says one day, after he accidentally stumbles upon Rami wiping a few stray tears from his face.
“I’m being stupid,” Rami says. He’s curled in on himself, his expression a picture of misery.
“You’re not.” He sits beside Rami, lines up their shoulders and thighs so they’re pressed together. He debates for a second before he slings an arm around Rami’s shoulder. “You’re not the only one feeling this way. Filming has been rough on all of us.”
Rami sighs. It sounds bone deep and weary, like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. “All of this is pretend. I’ve never been near a war. I don’t know why I’m so upset.”
“Because you’re a dedicated actor,” Joe says. He slides his hand under Rami’s jaw, cradling his chin and forcing Rami to meet his gaze. “There’s nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed. We’ve all been there. If you need someone to talk to, I’m here for you. You can’t do this all on your own and I won’t let you suffer in silence.”
Rami smiles weakly and leans into Joe’s touch. His curls brush the underside of Joe’s jaw and it takes all his strength not to bury his face in them, to not place a kiss on the top of Rami’s head.
“I’m glad you’re here. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” Rami murmurs.
Joe sucks in a sharp breath. He’s learned to stop listening for his words - and while these aren’t quite accurate - it doesn’t stop his soulmark from sending a searing spiral of pain down his leg.
Later, when he’s alone in his apartment, he stands in front of the mirror, heart heavy and hopeful. He peels away the fabric covering his words slowly, hands shaking in anticipation.
He stares at his soulmark for a long time.
The words are the same, but the black lettering has started to change into a deep maroon.
Rami is his soulmate.
He hasn’t said Joe’s words yet, but Joe knows.
It has to be Rami. He wants it to be Rami.
Joe thinks of Rami - about his shy, crooked smile, the way his dark curls fall messily onto his forehead, how he automatically leans towards Joe whenever they’re in the same space - and he’s never wanted someone this much before.
He’s taken to checking his words at least once a day, reassuring himself that they’re still there, that they haven’t changed from black to red yet.
Joe has never been a patient man. But now that he has an inkling of who his soulmate may be, he finds himself even less patient.
It rains for three days straight in November. Filming is cancelled until the weather clears, which means most of the cast end up partying to relieve their boredom. HBO doesn’t seem to care as long as no one causes any damage, and Joe wonders if this is what they expected when they shoved a bunch of twentysomethings into an apartment complex.
Joe wanders from apartment to apartment, darting in and out of the rain in his search for Rami. All the doors in the complex are thrown open, people gathering in whatever rooms have pizza and alcohol.
Joe picks up a slice of pizza in one of the rooms and wrinkles his nose at it. “This is not pizza,” he says to anyone who’ll listen. “This is an affront to pizza.”
“You going to rant again about the superiority of New York pizza?” Jacob says, grinning. Joe scowls at him, still annoyed that Jacob purposefully let him fall during a trust exercise at the beginning of boot camp. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get over it.
“I don’t know, it tastes okay to me,” Martin says. He takes a bite of his slice as if to prove a point. Joe grimaces.
“Heathens, all of you,” Joe says, dropping the pizza back into the box. “I’m going to find someone who appreciates my taste in pizza.”
“Rami’s in James’ apartment,” Martin says with a smile.
Joe huffs at being caught out, but he makes his way across the complex anyway. He finds Rami sprawled out in a chair, a red plastic cup clutched in one hand. He waves drunkenly at Joe.
“No one appreciates me,” Joe complains. He slinks onto the floor beside Rami, leaning up against his legs.
“Poor Joe,” he says, clumsily patting his hair. “What was it this time?”
“Pizza,” Joe grumbles. “Specifically the brilliance of New York pizza. They shouldn’t even call what they have on this continent pizza. It’s an insult to pizza everywhere.”
Rami laughs. He slips out of the chair and sits on the ground beside Joe, leaning his head against his shoulder companionably. He holds out his drink to Joe, who obligingly takes a sip before handing it back.
“I’m sure you were very convincing,” he says dutifully.
“Where have you been all my life?” Joe asks. “You’re the only one who understands me.”
“In LA,” Rami replies wryly, flicking at Joe’s shoulder.
“Getting up to shenanigans with your twin, no doubt,” Joe teases.
Rami’s mouth ticks up into a smile. “Among other things.”
“I can’t believe you have a twin,” Joe says, and it’s not the first time he’s marveled at the fact. “One of you is more than enough.”
“Can’t believe you’re such a ginger menace,” Rami says.
It’s not a great comeback, but it makes Joe laugh. “It’s a gift.”
“If you say so.”
Joe smiles, nudging at Rami’s side. “I want to meet him one day,” he says. At Rami’s confused look, Joe elaborates, “Sami. Your twin. I want to meet him.”
Rami studies him for a long moment, and there’s a quick, fleeting flash of something indecipherable in his expression. “I’d like that,” he says softly. He places a hand on Joe’s thigh, fingers running small, gentle circles into the fabric of his jeans. His face is soft with affection.
It feels like the air has been sucked out of the room, the mood changing from playful to serious in a handful of seconds. Joe sways into Rami, eyes dropping down to his lips. Rami tracks the movement, breath catching.
“I want to know everything about you,” Joe whispers.
Rami blinks at him, his lips twisting into a small, pleased smile. He traces the line of Joe’s collarbone, and his voice is slow and languid when he replies, “I’d like that too.”
We’re going to kiss, Joe thinks wildly.
Their lips brush, brief and fleeting, but it still makes Joe’s stomach clench with need and desire. He curls a hand around Rami’s neck, fingers tangling in the hair at the base of his neck, and watches with fascination as Rami’s eyes droop with pleasure.
There’s a crash from the next room, startling both of them. Rami jerks away, his eyes wide, and just like that, the moment is broken.
That night, Joe dreams about Rami.
He wakes aching and flushed, and feels only a tiny curl of shame when he slides a hand down between his thighs. Joe brings himself off as he thinks about the feel of Rami’s lips when they kissed, as he imagines how Rami’s hands would feel on his body, how nice it would be to share his bed.
He imagines them naked and splayed out on the bed, the red letters of their soulmarks only visible from the moonlight streaming through the window.
He wants this. Oh, how he wants it.
When Joe comes, he whispers Rami’s name into the night air.
Rami watches him closely over the next few weeks. They don’t discuss their kiss, but they don’t share another either. Rami hasn’t shied away from Joe since they kissed - in fact, he’s become more affectionate - but he’s started watching Joe as if he’s a puzzle he’s trying to solve.
“You keep touching your hip,” he says. His voice is nonchalant, but his eyes are sharp and curious.
Joe throws caution to the wind and says, “It’s my soulmark.”
It’s not exactly taboo to speak of marks, but Rami stares at him with shock nonetheless. His hands twitch in the direction of Joe’s hip before he looks horrified and pulls back, shoving them into the pockets of his jeans. Joe wants to grab his hands, wants to press each finger against the mark seared on his hip.
He thinks of his recent dream about Rami and flushes. “I’ve had it since I was a child,” he says hastily. “I suppose touching it comforts me.”
Something peculiar crosses Rami’s face. “Is your mark in English?”
Joe frowns. “Yes?” he says, though it comes out more of a question. He’s surprised when Rami looks briefly upset, but the moment passes before Joe can comment on it.
“My parents’ marks are in Arabic,” he explains. He laughs, a little awkwardly, and rocks back on his heels. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I asked.”
Joe doesn’t mind. It’s not something he ever considered. His family is fluent in Italian, but even his parents have marks in English.
“It’s okay,” he says, and he feels like he’s sharing some great secret when he adds, “I don’t mind talking about it.”
“Have you met them yet?” Rami asks.
Joe hesitates, eyes flicking over Rami’s face, before he shakes his head. “Not yet, but I think it’ll be soon. What about you?”
There’s something so unbearably sad in Rami’s voice when he says, “No. I haven’t.”
I think you’re my soulmate, Joe wants to say. But the words die on his tongue and what he says instead is, “I’m sure you’ll meet yours soon.”
Rami doesn’t look convinced. It breaks Joe’s heart a little, sends a chill of foreboding through him, and he chooses not to examine that feeling too closely. He doesn’t want to imagine a world where Rami is his soulmate, but he’s not Rami’s.
They share a flight back to the States for the holidays. Joe has a layover in LA before he catches his connecting flight to New York.
“I want to sleep for a week,” Rami says while they’re waiting for the car to take them to the airport. He leans against Joe, and lets out a pleased noise when Joe rubs at his back. Rami has become more physically affectionate over the past couple months, and Joe delights in every little touch shared between them.
“You can sleep on the flight,” Joe says.
“I’m going to use you as a pillow,” Rami says.
“I’m honored. It’ll be my greatest role to date,” Joe says, nudging him when he spots their car approaching.
“You can put it on your resume,” Rami teases. “Maybe you’ll win an Oscar for it.”
True to his word, Rami falls asleep almost as soon as they’ve boarded their flight, shuffling across the small airline seats to settle himself against Joe’s shoulder. He’s warm and comfortable and it makes Joe realize how much he’ll miss Rami over the next few weeks.
When he’s sure Rami won’t wake, Joe manages to dig his digital camera from his backpack and awkwardly maneuvers himself into a position until he can get a picture of Rami sleeping on his shoulder. He feels foolish and a little like he’s doing something he shouldn’t, but he desperately wants to remember this moment.
Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, Rami’s hand drifts towards Joe’s hip, his fingers brushing over the spot where Joe’s soulmark rests.
His mark flares up like it’s been set on fire.
“I think I’ve found my soulmate.”
His mom looks at him in surprise. “Oh, honey, I’m happy for you.”
“He hasn’t said my words yet, but I’m positive he’s the one.”
The words have been bubbling up inside him, bursting to be said. He needed to tell someone, and his mom is the only person he trusts with the news. He tells her about Rami, watches as something contemplative and cautiously happy spreads over her face.
“Are you sure?” she says gently. “I know you’ve been desperate to meet your soulmate, but don’t rush into anything. You’ve always fallen in love too quickly.”
“I can feel it,” Joe says. He doesn’t know how to describe the way his soulmark burns whenever Rami is near, how he knows deep in his heart that Rami is the one for him. “Rami is my soulmate.”
His mom rests a hand on his head, stroking through his hair. “Does he make you happy?”
Joe smiles. “More than anything.”
“Then I hope he says your words soon. You deserve to be happy.”
He calls Rami right before midnight on New Years Eve.
“Happy 2008,” he bellows into the phone.
“I’m three hours behind you,” Rami says, though he sounds pleased that Joe’s called. “It’s only nine here.”
“It’s not my fault you’re on the wrong coast,” Joe says. He slips away from the party he’s at, leaving the bustling, noisy crowd behind him for the sanctuary of the balcony. He shivers in the wind and looks up at the fireworks exploding in the sky. “I wanted your voice to be the first thing I heard in the new year.”
“Joey,” Rami murmurs. His voice is soft and fond, and even though they’re miles apart, Joe feels as though Rami is there beside him.
“Happy New Years, Rami,” Joe says, swallowing back the confessions threatening to spill forth. “I can’t wait to see you in a few days.”
“Me either,” Rami breathes, and there’s a promise in his voice.
Joe flings himself at Rami when they’re reunited on set, hugging him as though he hasn’t seen him in a year rather than two weeks.
“Did you miss me?” he asks.
“Not at all,” Rami says dryly. “I had two weeks of peace and quiet.”
“You must have been miserable.”
Rami wraps his arms around him, burying his face in Joe’s shoulder. “I did miss you,” he whispers, and it sounds like a confession.
His soulmark throbs and Joe thinks, Soon. It will happen soon.
“You seem different,” Martin observes.
Joe keeps his eyes on Rami, who’s patiently waiting for the makeup department to apply some more dirt and grime to his face. Joe marvels at how beautiful he looks even under layers of filth.
“I don’t know if that’s an insult or compliment,” Joe says.
Martin snorts and follows his gaze. “Are you ever going to tell him?”
Joe rears back in surprise. “What?”
“Everyone knows you have a giant crush on Rami. You’re not at all subtle.”
Joe relaxes. For a moment, he was worried that Martin had figured out his secret. Despite telling his mom, Joe doesn’t want anyone else to know. It doesn’t feel right. Rami should find out first.
“I’ll tell him soon,” he decides. It’s not exactly a lie, not exactly the truth either.
Rami smiles at him from across the way, bright and happy, and Joe’s hand drifts to his soulmark out of habit.
Martin slides a look over at him, realization dawning on his face. To his credit, he doesn’t mention anything about it, just asks, “Before filming ends?”
“I hope so,” Joe murmurs.
Rami points up at the sky and says, “What’s the word for sky?”
“Cielo,” Joe says. He rolls over to look at Rami. “And in Arabic?”
It’s a game they’ve started playing, translating words for each other in their respective languages. Joe sounds out each Arabic word Rami says, repeating it and ignoring the way Rami laughs at his mispronunciation.
There’s something intimate about these moments. He has yet to ask Rami anything more about his soulmark, but sometimes he wonders if maybe it’s in Italian. If perhaps that’s why Rami suggested they learn bits and pieces of each other’s languages.
Rami looks over at him with a soft smile, curls falling into his face as he props himself up on one arm. Joe’s struck with a sense of longing and love, and he wants to reach out and take Rami into his arms. Wants to trail a line of kisses over his jaw and under his eyes and across the bridge of his nose.
He wants and wants and wants.
“Anima gemella,” Joe says before he can stop himself.
“What’s that mean?”
“Soulmate,” Joe whispers. Rami’s smile slips from his face. Joe reaches out to trace the back of Rami’s hands watching as his eyes grow dark. “How do you say it in Arabic?”
“Taw'um alruwh,” he says, voice no more than a whisper.
“Taw'um alruwh,” Joe repeats.
Rami watches him with heartbreakingly sad eyes.
Joe hangs on every single word Rami says, waiting and hoping that the next phrase to leave his mouth is I’m glad I met you.
January turns into February and still nothing. As March trickles on and April appears on the horizon, he starts to worry that maybe he was wrong. That maybe Rami isn’t his soulmate.
There’s a connection between them, that much he knows. He’d bet his life on it.
He looks at Rami and thinks, I want to kiss you and I think I’m already in love with you and I don’t know what I’ll do if you’re not my soulmate.
Filming starts to wrap up by early May.
Joe convinces Rami to head down to the beach on one of the days they’re not scheduled to be on set. Joe’s leaning up against Rami’s side, eyes closed and his face tipped up toward the sun. His face is a little pink, the beginnings of a sunburn spreading along his cheeks and down the column of his nose.
“This is nice,” Joe says. His voice is soft and lazy, almost quiet enough that it gets drowned out by the waves washing up on the sand. Rami’s answering hum of agreement is equally as quiet.
They’re both a little tipsy, making their way through a case of cheap beers they picked up at one of the markets. Joe rustled up a container of cut mango and papaya before they ventured down to the seaside, and it’s currently nestled in the sand beside them.
Rami looks down at him with a soft smile. He reaches out to run a finger along Joe’s cheekbone, his touch so tender and gentle.
“I’m glad I met you,” Rami murmurs.
Joe’s heart stutters and the mark on his hip sends a shock of pain and desire curling though him.
Rami doesn’t react, acts like nothing has changed, and Joe doesn’t know how to tell him that everything has changed.
When he looks at his mark later, the letters on his hip are bright red. They’re the loveliest sight Joe has ever seen.
Maybe I haven’t said Rami’s words yet, he thinks hopefully. We still have time.
The last day of filming comes and goes, and Rami doesn’t say anything. Sometimes he looks at Joe thoughtfully, sometimes wistfully. Sometimes he seems so utterly miserable, despair evident on his face when he thinks no one else is looking. He starts pulling away from Joe, avoiding spending time alone with him, skirting out of the way when Joe tries to touch him.
Joe tries to be patient, tries to stay optimistic. But his impatience gets the better of him and the day before the wrap party, he corners Rami and pulls him into his apartment.
“We need to talk,” Joe says. He takes a deep breath, gathering all his courage. “You’re my—”
“Joe, don’t,” Rami interrupts.
Joe feels a sinking feeling in his gut. No, he thinks, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
“I know what you’re going to say,” Rami says. His eyes are sad, his expression painfully apologetic. “But it can’t be true.”
“Why not?” Joe argues. His fingers flutter over the mark on his skin. He doesn’t miss the way Rami’s eyes track the movement.
“Don’t make me explain,” Rami pleads. “Please. Trust me.”
“Rami, I don’t understand.” Joe cups Rami’s face in his hand, dismayed when Rami turns away.
“Joe, please. Just forget it.” There’s so much pain in his voice, but it’s undercut with a thread of longing.
“All that time we spent together,” Joe says helplessly. He feels reckless and wild, unsure of what’s happening.
“I care for you, you have to believe that,” Rami says a little desperately, “You’re so easy to love, but I can’t be your soulmate.”
Joe takes Rami’s hand and presses it against his hip. There’s a sharp intake of break and Rami looks like he wants to cry. He wrenches his hand away as though it’s been burned.
“Maybe I haven’t said your words yet,” Joe begins, “but you’ve said mine. We just have to wait it out and then—”
“I don’t have a soulmark,” Rami says.
The words are sharp and bitter, and Joe swears he feels his heart shatter in his chest.
Rami disappears the next day, off on a flight back to LA. He doesn’t say goodbye to Joe. Doesn’t leave him a letter or a text, just disappears as though he was never there at all.
The disappointment swirls around Joe and consumes him to the point that he feels like he’s drowning. He flies home to New York, curls up in his childhood bed and lets his mom fuss over him.
“I’m not Rami’s soulmate,” he tells her. It’s all he can manage to say, the words thick and heavy in his throat. He feels like screaming until he can no longer speak.
His mom is sympathetic, reminds him that it’s not hopeless, that maybe one day things will right themselves. “Not everyone gets their soulmarks at the same time,” she says, stroking his back like she did when he was little. “Don’t give up yet.”
Joe doesn’t believe her. He looks at the mark on his hip and the red words seem to mock him, telling him he’s unwanted, unlovable, undeserving of a soulmate.
Joe attempts to call Rami a month later.
His cell phone goes straight to voicemail. Joe doesn’t leave a message and instead tries calling his house in LA. Rami’s brother picks up and his voice is wary when he tells Joe that Rami’s gone off to Argentina.
“He needed some time alone,” Sami says, and though his voice is kind, there’s a warning beneath the words. “I’m sorry. He said he doesn’t want to be disturbed.”
Joe knows when he’s not wanted. He traces the lines and loops and curves of his soulmark and says, “Tell Rami I’m the one who’s sorry.”
“It isn’t what he wanted, you know,” Sami says. “He couldn’t stop talking about you when he came home for Christmas. Whatever happened, he did care about you. If things were different...”
“But they’re not,” Joe says.
“No,” Sami says sadly, “they’re not.”
Joe closes his eyes and tries to ignore the way the words pierce his heart. They sting more than he thought they would.
“Give him some time,” Sami says, voice soft enough that Joe can almost believe it’s Rami talking to him. “Things may work out.”
Rami eventually emails him. It’s short and to the point: I’ve spent my entire life knowing I don’t have a soulmate. I’ve fallen in love before only to see them leave once they find someone who shares their words. One day you’ll find someone who has your words on their skin, and one day that person will say the words on your skin. You’ll be happy and I can’t stand in the way of that. I won’t let my own heart get broken and I refuse to break yours. You deserve better.
Joe doesn’t agree, but no amount of emails or texts or phone calls can persuade Rami otherwise.
He doesn’t see Rami for almost two years. As much as he wants to be angry, he’s also slightly relieved. It gives him time to heal, to move on from spending days pining over something and someone he’ll never have.
They talk on occasion through emails and text messages. Their burgeoning careers keep them busy and Joe rationally knows that’s the reason behind their separation rather than anything to do with soulmarks and soulmates. But still, Rami apologies, Joe accepts, and they try to move forward. Neither one of them are at fault and Joe knows why Rami reacted the way he did. He probably would have reacted the same way. It doesn’t make it hurt any less, though.
Joe’s mark is still red, and he’s taken to covering it up out of shame and guilt. He doesn’t want a reminder of what could have been.
They see each other at the premiere for The Pacific, and again at the Emmys and Golden Globes. They’re friendly both times, but the awkwardness lingers between them.
“I’m sorry,” Rami says. He truly does sound apologetic, and Joe still knows Rami well enough to know that he’s not lying.
“It’s not your fault,” Joe says, and means it. “The universe just doesn’t want me to be happy.”
“Or me,” Rami adds.
Rami brushes his fingers against Joe’s hand, his touch light enough that it makes Joe shiver. “I wish it had been different.”
“Me too,” Joe says, his voice breaking on the last word. He looks down and tries to calm the ache in his heart. It would so easy to reach out and return Rami’s touch. To ignore the mark on his hip and take what he so desperately wants.
“Maybe your mark will change,” Rami suggests, and his voice is so gentle, so understanding.
“No. I don’t think it will.”
Rami hesitates and takes a step closer to Joe. “We could try again? I know I was a coward before, but maybe?”
Joe shakes his head.
He doesn’t think he could survive being with Rami - kissing him and holding him, curling around him in bed at night, waking up to him in the morning - while knowing that Rami would never bear a mark with his words.
His heart is already broken. He doesn’t want to break it further. He can’t live a lie.
They keep in touch over the years. Joe follows Rami’s career, keeps him updated on his own. He shows up to the premiere of Rami’s new show, and Rami returns the favor and shows up to the premiere of the first movie Joe directs.
It gets easier with each passing year. They form something resembling the friendship they shared on The Pacific, but it never returns to the intimacy they once shared. Joe misses it, yearns to go back in time when things were simpler.
Joe tries not to look at his soulmark whenever he talks with Rami on the phone. Tries to forget that he has a soulmate out there who will never belong to him.
Joe’s in New York when his soulmark fades from a sharp, crisp black to a pale grey.
“No,” he says, voice rising in horror. “No, no, no. Please no.”
He stares at the words in the mirror, and he can feel the anguish settling into the pit of his stomach, the panic starting to curl around him. He remembers the rumors he heard as a child, of people whose words faded away to nothing, people whose soulmates died long before they had a chance to meet. People who fell out of love and found another soulmate.
This can’t be his ending.
He fumbles for his phone, dialing Rami’s number without a second thought.
“Are you okay?” he asks, rushed and panicked.
“Yes?” Rami’s voice is confused. “Are you okay?”
No, he thinks. He manages to come up with a poor excuse, and though Rami clearly doesn’t believe it, he doesn’t question him.
Joe hand hovers over his hip as he tries to sleep that night. His heart pounds in terror and he falls into a fitful sleep, hoping that his mark will still be there tomorrow.
When he wakes, the words have disappeared completely. Joe traces the shape of them in the spot they used to reside with shaking fingers and tries not to cry.
It takes several weeks before his words reappear. He stares at the red letters with relief and it takes him longer than it should to realize that there’s a second mark on his right hip.
The second set of words are a deep, dark black. The worst part isn’t that there are new words on his hip, but that he can’t read his new soulmark.
أنا سعيد لأنني التقيت بكم
The words are a jumble of sharp, thick lines and curves, a scattering of dots and marks that mean nothing to him.
This isn’t right, he thinks wildly. I don’t want another soulmate.
He tries not to panic.
He doesn’t succeed.
Arabic. His new soulmark is written in Arabic.
He spends hours trying to translate the words on his own before he gives up and takes a picture to post online. He gets a translation immediately.
I’m glad I met you.
The words are still the same, but the language has changed. Joe’s never heard of such a thing happening before, but he’s not going to complain. It’s fate, he thinks.
There’s only one person he knows who speaks Arabic. Joe’s convinced that this is his second chance, that it must be a sign that things will change for the better.
That, despite all the odds, Rami is still his soulmate.
Two days later, he gets a call about Bohemian Rhapsody.
Joe flies out to London full of trepidation. He doesn’t know if he’s brave enough to face Rami again. More than that, he doesn’t know if he’s brave enough to get his hopes up, only to have his heart broken once more. He knows he won’t be able to survive it a second time.
You have another chance, he reminds himself. He touches the second soulmark, the one on his right hip, and smiles.
He desperately wants to believe that ten years have allowed them to grow and change. That maybe they weren’t ready to be together all those years ago, but now they are.
When he arrives on set, Rami pulls him into a hug, sinking into his embrace without a moment’s hesitation. “I’m glad you’re here,” he murmurs, oblivious to the surprised glances happening around them, to the way Joe heart leaps hopefully.
Joe wraps his arms around Rami, the marks on each hip sparking to life and prays that this time will be different.
They fall back into old patterns fairly quickly.
Joe’s always been able to look at Rami and know what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling, and he knows now that it’s something that goes far beyond soulmarks and soulmates. He thinks that even if they never were soulmates, they’d have this same connection, this same synergy linking them together.
“I thought you might not want the role after everything,” Rami says.
Joe peers at him over his sandwich. They’ve discovered a pub a few blocks away from the studio, and they always eat there when one of them is getting overwhelmed with rehearsals.
“Things change. People change,” he says.
He doesn’t miss the flicker of disappointment on Rami’s face.
“I’m sorry,” Rami says, and it sounds so very much like the apology he gave ten years ago that Joe’s hand trembles.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” he says, keeping his voice neutral. “We’ve already been over this.”
“I treated you horribly,” Rami says. He swallows, looking uncomfortable. “I was terrified.”
Joe doesn’t know how to respond, and he fumbles with his napkin, threading it between his fingers. He can’t look at Rami, doesn’t dare see the emotions running across his face.
“When you said I was your….” he trails off, looking away, unable to even say the words. Joe wants to reach out and comfort him, but he stays on his side of the booth, keeps his hands to himself. “I’ve spent over three decades with no soulmark. You can’t imagine how hard it is growing up knowing there’s no one out there marked as your other half. And then you came along and you were so kind and funny and warm, and I thought maybe we could have something. It was so hard denying you. I thought at first it was just mutual attraction, but when you confessed I knew nothing could never happen. Not really.”
Joe’s quiet, processing Rami’s words. “You still don’t have a mark?”
Rami shakes his head. “No. I’ve given up hoping for one.” He looks up at Joe, misery etched into his skin. “I never wanted to hurt you, Joe. But I had to protect myself. What if you found someone who had your words and left me behind? I couldn’t hold you back like that. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time. ”
“It was,” Joe says softly. He didn’t understand it then, but he does now. In his years of moping and pining, he never once stopped to consider how Rami felt. How miserable it must have been to spend his entire life as one of the few without a soulmark, knowing that whoever he fell in love with would eventually leave him.
“Is your mark still the same?” Rami asks, though he looks like he doesn’t particularly want to hear the answer.
Joe considers his words, and he pauses long enough that Rami starts to look at him with concern. “It changed recently,” is what he settles on.
Rami’s entire body slumps and the dejection is clear in his voice when he says, “Oh. Well, that’s good, I guess. A fresh start.”
“A fresh start,” Joe agrees, and knows they’re both talking about different things.
After their conversation Rami seems to have come to some internal decision, and he starts spending more time with Joe, seeking him out whenever they have a spare moment to themselves. It’s so reminiscent of their time in Australia and Joe can’t deny the curl of pleasure he feels at every second he spends in Rami’s company.
They even return to sharing snippets of each other’s languages. It becomes even more of a game this time around, shouting out random words and phrases in Arabic and Italian. Gwil and Ben look at them like they’re crazy.
“You could offer up some Welsh,” Joe suggests.
“I don’t think I want to get in the middle of this,” Gwil says, gesturing between Joe and Rami.
“Your loss. I’m amazing at languages.”
Rami snorts with derision and Joe wrestles him into a headlock until he gives him and breaks away, heaving with laughter.
“You two are close,” Ben remarks, an eyebrow raised.
“I know you’re jealous, Benny,” Joe teases.
Joe enjoys Gwil and Ben’s company, and he’s thrilled that all four of them slot together perfectly, that Gwil and Ben have the same type of humor as he does. He’s jokingly started referring to their little group as “the band”.
“We’ve known each other for ten years,” Joe adds. He nudges Rami with the rolled up script stuffed into the back pocket of his jeans.
“We were in a show together,” Rami adds. He smiles at Joe, a small, private thing that makes Joe flush.
“Is that all?” Ben asks. He points his own script at them and says, “There’s not anything else going on?”
“Nope,” Joe says, popping the “p” with a grin. “But if there is, you’ll be the first to know.”
Rami sends him a surprised look that Joe pretends not to notice.
“Are you going to tell anyone?” Rami asks.
“Tell them what?” Joe asks, eyes on the sheet of music he’s supposed to be learning. It’s a song they don’t plan to include in the movie, but one his music coach wanted him to learn all the same. Joe thinks there’s a certain level of irony in the fact that the chosen song is “One Year of Love”.
Rami gestures to Joe’s hip and Joe’s eyes widen in understanding. “No, I don’t think so,” he says. He glances over at Rami consideringly. “Unless you want me to?”
Rami smiles sadly. “I don’t see the point. I just wanted to be prepared.”
Joe lets out a low breath. His fingers itch to trace over his words, but he restrains himself. He won’t subject Rami to that. It’s not fair to either of them.
“Does Sami have one?” he asks without thinking. He winces as soon as he says it, knowing how rude it is, but Rami doesn’t seem offended.
“He does. He’s already met them. One of the teachers at his school,” he explains.
Joe doesn’t press any further. He flounders for another topic of conversation.
“He’s always said I’m probably a late bloomer,” Rami says, voice lilting thoughtfully. “Maybe he was right.”
Joe shifts uncomfortably. He knows what he wants the answer to be, but he also knows how much false hope can destroy someone. I hope you get a soulmark and when you do, I hope it will be my words on your skin, he wants to say, and the words are there on the tip of his tongue. He chooses not to say them.
“I hope he is right,” he says softly. “I hope you get a mark one day.”
“Even if it isn’t your words?” Rami asks carefully.
Joe’s heart hurts at the thought. “I only want you to be happy.”
Rami’s face softens and he lays a hand on Joe’s thigh and squeezes. “You deserve to be happy too.”
Joe gazes at Rami’s hand on his leg and says, “I will be.”
They get drunk one Saturday night.
It’s just him and Rami, passing back a handle of whiskey and playing some dumb drinking game that Joe doesn’t remember the rules to. Their both well past tipsy, lounging on the sofa, their socked feet brushing up against each other whenever they change positions. Joe hasn’t been this content in a long time.
“What does your new soulmark say?” Rami asks. His voice is slurred, his eyes glassy with the amount of alcohol he’s consumed.
“I don’t think you want to know that,” Joe says. He swipes the whiskey from Rami’s hand, figuring he’s already had enough to drink if he’s starting to become maudlin.
Rami shuffles over on the sofa until he’s leaning into Joe. His breath ghosts against Joe’s cheek, making him shiver.
“Joey, I need to know. If it’s changed, I need to know,” he says, and he sounds so sad and miserable that Joe almost gives in and tells him.
“No,” he says firmly. “You don’t need to know.”
Rami slumps into him, burying his head in the crook of Joe’s neck. “I want a soulmark,” he says. “I want someone to belong to.”
Joe cards his hand through Rami’s hair, the curls soft and silky against his skin. “I know, sweetheart,” he murmurs.
I want you to have one too, he thinks.
Rami mumbles something in Arabic, but it’s too soft for Joe to hear. His hands hover over the mark on his right hip, but he doesn’t feel any spark flaring to life.
When he looks later, nothing has changed.
“I need your help.”
Sami sighs on the other end of the line. Joe doesn’t need to see him to know he’s pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “What is it?”
“I need you to translate something for me.” Joe puts the phone on speaker so he can send Sami a text. “I just sent you an image.”
“Got it,” Sami says, and then he goes quiet.
“Joe,” he begins slowly, “this is Arabic. Can’t you have Rami translate it?”
“It’s my soulmark,” he says bluntly.
“No,” Sami says forcefully, and for a moment Joe worries he’s going to hang up. “I’m not getting in the middle of this. Not again.”
Joe feels slightly guilty for asking Sami, but he doesn’t know who else to turn to. “Please, Sami. I already know what it means, but I just need to know how it sounds.”
Sami sighs, and Joe knows in that moment that he’s won him over. “Okay,” Sami says.
He pronounces the words, over and over until Joe has the sound of them memorized. When he repeats them, they feel awkward and heavy, but Sami doesn’t tease him about it, just calmly corrects him with the patience of a saint.
Joe feels a flush of pleasure rush through him each time he hears the words said out loud. He can only imagine how it’ll feel when Rami finally says them.
“Thank you,” he says.
“You’re lucky I like you,” Sami replies. His voice softens into something resembling affection. “You’ve always been good for Rami. If he wasn’t such a shithead ten years ago, maybe you’d both be together by now.”
Joe smiles. “I’m working on it. Soulmark or not, I want him in my life.”
Sami promises not to tell Rami about their conversation, but Joe catches Rami watching him sometimes, sees the way he hesitates before he shows Joe any sign of affection. The way he pauses before he translates something into Arabic per Joe’s request.
Joe’s also not blind to the speculative looks both Gwil and Ben throw his way whenever they stumble upon Rami and Joe together. Joe knows he should keep his distance from Rami until things are sorted out, but he finds it almost impossible. Now that Rami is back in his life, he wants to keep him nearby. He wants his second chance.
Gwil notices, of course. Joe suspects that Ben has also noticed, but Gwil is the one who approaches him first.
“You have a mark, yeah?” Gwil asks.
Anyone else and Joe would consider telling them off, but he can’t summon the energy to be annoyed at Gwil’s impertinence. He knows it’s kindly meant.
“Yeah. It appeared when I was thirteen,” he says. He doesn’t mention the second mark. Sami is the only one who knows about it, and Joe wants to knowledge to stay with him.
Gwil lets out a low hum. “Red or black?”
“Red,” Joe says slowly, eyeing him.
Gwil nods as if he expected the answer. “It’s Rami, isn’t it?”
Joe stares at him. He shouldn’t be surprised someone guessed. After all, it’s not the first time and he doesn’t think it will be the last.
“Yes,” he says steadily. “Rami’s my soulmate.”
“You know,” Gwil says and his voice is too casual to be a coincidence, “Brian was telling me that it took decades for Freddie to receive his soulmark.”
Joe looks down, trying to ignore the sudden rush of emotions that overtake him. Gwil clasps him on the shoulder, his grip firm. It goes a long way toward anchoring Joe and calming the rapid beating of his heart.
“Thank you,” Joe says.
“Don’t give up hope. I think you two are meant to be together,” Gwil says.
“Didn’t realize you were such a sap,” Joe teases.
Gwil’s lips quirk. “Of course I am. Hard to have a soulmate and not be one. Aren’t you?”
Joe’s gaze drifts over to Rami, who’s chatting with Ben over something in the script. “Yeah,” he says, unable to look away from the curve of Rami’s smile, “I guess I am.”
Rami seeks him out the night before they film Live Aid.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” he says. He worries at his bottom lip, and his complexion is waxy and pale from stress. Joe worries that he’s already this stressed out and filming hasn’t even started. He remembers what Rami went through during The Pacific and he doesn’t want to see him breakdown again.
“I know you can do this,” Joe assures him. He gives into temptation and runs the back of his hand down Rami’s cheek. Rami leans into the touch, eyes fluttering shut. “We’ve gone through so much together. I believe in you.”
“You always have, even when I didn’t deserve it.”
“You’ve always deserved it. You’re amazing, Rami.” Joe brushes a thumb across Rami’s chin, across the small, shy smile that graces his lips. “You’re the most important person in my life.”
To Joe’s utter surprise, Rami’s eyes go wide and he jerks back as if he’s been slapped. His right hand goes immediately to his left wrist, circling and clutching it so tight that his knuckles turn white.
“What’s wrong?” Joe asks.
“Nothing,” Rami says, his voice strained. “I need to go.”
Joe watches him bolt from the room in confusion.
Rami shows up to set the next with both his wrists wrapped in cloth.
He meets Joe’s eyes and looks away and Joe knows.
He waits for Rami to approach him.
Rami is skittish and unsure so it takes a few days before he slinks into Joe’s trailer. His arms are conspicuously covered and he’s curled his hands in the sleeves of his jacket, pulling them down over his knuckles.
“So,” Rami begins uncertainly.
“So,” Joe replies, trying his best to bite back a smile.
Rami fidgets, his gaze jumping to different areas of the trailer. He’s adorably nervous, biting down on his lower lip and shifting from foot to foot. Joe takes pity on him and reaches out to grasp his hand. Rami makes to pull back, but Joe shoots him a gentle look.
“Let me,” he says. They both know what he’s planning to do.
He pushes up the sleeve of Rami’s jacket. The red letters are vibrant against Rami’s skin, one letter looping into another until they spell out: you’re the most important person in my life. Joe glides the pads of his fingers over them reverently.
“You are, you know,” he breathes, “you’re the most important person in my life.”
Rami shivers and the look on his face is so longing, so desperate. Joe tugs him forward, wrapping an arm around his waist as he pulls Rami close.
“I’m glad it’s you,” Rami says. He leans his forehead against Joe’s, eyes closing as Joe scatters kisses across his face. “I wanted it to be you.”
“I told you we were meant to be together,” he says. He bends down to kiss the mark on Rami’s left wrist, smiling against his skin when it makes Rami tremble.
“It’s not the only one I have,” Rami admits. He slowly lifts the sleeve on his other wrist, and Joe isn’t the least bit surprised to see the curling, sloping lines of Italian on his skin.
Rami looks at him worriedly. “I don’t know what this means.”
Joe smiles and touches the mark. “It means we match.”
He stands up and pushes down the waistband of his pants, until the red of his soulmark appears.
“Oh,” Rami says breathlessly. His touch is light as he skims over the words. Joe takes Rami’s hand in his, raising it to drop a kiss on his palm, before he moves it over to his right hip. The words there are still black whorls and dots, but he knows they won’t stay that way for long.
“It’s Arabic,” Rami says surprised. When he looks back up at Joe, his expression is full of disbelief and relief and so much love. “Arabic and Italian.”
“Say them,” Joe says. He needs to hear them, needs to know how they sound in Rami’s voice.
Rami’s voice is barely more than a whisper when he says, “Ana saeid li'anani ailtaqayt bikum”.
They both watch as the mark bleeds from black to dark grey then maroon to bright red. Joe cups Rami’s face in his hands as he returns the favor, his voice gentle when he says, “Sei la persona più importante della mia vita.”
“Joey,” Rami says, and his voice breaks into an overwhelmed sob.
Joe hugs him, stroking his hair and pressing a kiss into this hair. “I know,” he says. “It’s a lot.”
“I never thought I’d have a mark and then I get two at once. And of course it’s you. Of course it is. You’re all I’ve ever wanted since we met all those years ago.”
“And now we belong together,” Joe says. He raises their joined hands and says, “We belong together twice over.”
“I love you,” Rami says.
There are a hundred emotions in his voice and Joe feels every single one of them.
“I love you too.”
When they finally kiss, soft and sweet, it feels like coming home. It feels right.
It feels like the other half of his soul has finally slotted in place.
Much later - after they’ve explored every inch of each other’s bodies and after they’ve told their families and friends - they sit side by side in chairs in front of an interviewer. Bohemian Rhapsody is long since finished, packed off to the editing bay and ready to be released to thousands of theatres around the world.
“This movie was a pretty big undertaking,” the interviewer says, leaning forward in their chair. “You’re portraying a legendary icon, which I imagine must have been intimidating. But it also must have been incredibly fun. What was the best part of the experience?”
Rami smiles at Joe and reaches out to hold his hand, turning his wrist so that his soulmark is on full display. Joe will never get tired of looking at it, of seeing the confirmation that they were always destined for each other.
“Finding my soulmate,” he says.
Joe smiles back at him, thumb brushing over the red words on Rami’s skin. Yes, he thinks, this is how it was always meant to be.