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all these people think love's for show (but i'd die for you in secret)

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Donghyuck doesn’t think he’s a particularly good soulmate.

Or, soulmate’s the wrong word. He doesn’t think he’s a particularly good person, to begin with. Not often does he share the thought with Jaemin who likes to tell him otherwise unprompted, but sometimes he has to. It itches in his throat, the self-deprecation, and Jaemin’s the one person he ends up telling everything.

That’s the problem — he thinks sometimes, only to regret it a split second after — if Jaemin wasn’t his soulmate, Donghyuck wouldn’t beat himself up so much. The notion is as foul as it is false. He’s never liked himself much, has never felt remotely close to being enough for anyone, so why would his relationship be any different? And it’s not like Donghyuck would ever choose comfort and security in his own self over what they have; not when it’s the most precious thing in the world.

It’s just hard to live up to him, plain and simple, it’s hard to live up to someone the likes of Jaemin. Unhealthily, Donghyuck almost idolises his soulmate, loves the living hell out of every piece of Jaemin he learns of. There are better ways to love somebody than bringing yourself down for their sake. It’s not what Jaemin would want for him either, he’s not that kind of person. He’s the balance to Donghyuck’s emotional disarray, the golden mean that tames Donghyuck’s natural inclination to extremes.

He knows Jaemin will love him regardless of his flaws and shortcomings — that’s just what soulmates do. Still, Donghyuck thinks it’s unfair his soulmate has to settle for someone so undeserving. His heart aches for Jaemin who got the short end of the stick while Donghyuck selfishly thrives in getting the good side of things.

There’s no way for him to leave Jaemin, even if he wanted to. Physical proximity is one thing soulmates need and crave like an addiction. Even before they realised they were fated, Donghyuck would gravitate towards Jaemin, felt weaker, feverish, when they didn’t see each for longer than a few days. That leaves him with one solution to assuage his qualms; he has to be a better person.

Problem is, he doesn’t know how. And when he does, he’s incapable of acting out accordingly.

He doesn’t think about it all the time, but sometimes he does. When that’s the case, Jaemin doesn’t let him mull over it and regret much, pulling him into his arms and saying he’s the lucky one. Even if he had the choice, he wouldn’t want anyone else.

“If someone else was my soulmate,” Jaemin tells him, in that kind, low voice of his that is only Donghyuck’s to hear, “I’d leave them to be with you.”

It’s very much untrue and all too hypothetical, but Donghyuck can’t find it in him to care when it makes him feel so loved. The soulmate thing is just an addition to what they have, at the end of the day, and Jaemin always finds a way to remind him.

*

“Studies show there’s a forty percent chance of your soulmate being your close friend,” Renjun reads from the Buzzfeed article, the credibility of which Donghyuck can only question. “If my soulmate is one of you guys, I’ll actually off myself.”

“If any of us were soulmates, who do you think it’d be?” Jisu asks with a teasing smile on her face, knowing they’re bound to argue about it for the next half hour and hold grudges for months to come.

“I always thought it would be you and Ryujin,” Yangyang jokes, earning a glare from Ryujin and a slap in the arm from Chaeryeong, her actual soulmate. “What? I’m serious. You were always close.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Ryujin stresses, looking more at Chaeryeong than Yangyang. “If it did, you and Hyuck would be together.”

“I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative,” Donghyuck mutters from the side, but it’s muffled by his best friend letting out a strangled sound of disgust.

“God, never,” Yangyang gags. “Ew, why would you say that when I’m eating.”

“Wow, thanks,” Donghyuck rolls his eyes. In any other instance, he’d act equally revolted, the two of them being the masters of theatrics, but something irks him about the reaction. It feeds into his insecurities, ones he and Jaemin are both much aware of. His boyfriend gives him a worried look from across the table — they can’t sit next to each other, because keeping their hands to themselves proves to be more difficult than they expected.

“No offence, king,” Yangyang retracts immediately, realising Donghyuck isn’t in the mood. “You know I love you, but we’re bros.”

“What about Renjun and Jaemin?” Chaeryeong suggests, pointing between the two of them sitting next to each other. Jaemin shakes his head almost as adamantly as Yangyang did a few seconds ago. He looks at her like she’s crazy.

“Yeah, no thanks,” he winces, not once glancing in Donghyuck’s direction. Donghyuck kind of wants him to, but also not. It’s complicated like that.

“Who would you want to be your soulmate?” Yangyang asks coyly, probably thinking he's the obvious choice between him and Donghyuck.

Jaemin stares him up and down. “Hyuck. Obviously.”

“Obviously?” Donghyuck feigns cockiness but he’s got a feeling Jaemin can see right through him. And there’s the whole soulmate connection, too. There’s a nudge under the table and Jaemin looks at him like he’s trying to figure out exactly which boundaries Donghyuck wants him to break.

“I’m not dating a Libra,” he finally says, “nor an Aries man.”

“Gemini’s an ass sign,” Yangyang argues, or more so whines, his pride clearly wounded. He should walk a minute in Donghyuck’s shoes. “Plus Donghyuck? Over me?

“Over anyone?” Ryujin joins in on the teasing and Donghyuck knows it’s harmless — they’re all friends and that kind of thing never affected him before. It’s been over a year, too, you’d think he’d be over things now. But he’s not. It’s not that simple.

Jaemin doesn’t look too happy either; he can’t seem to contain the scowl on his face. They’re protective of each other and moments like these it’s impossible to keep it in. “Yeah,” he says, “over anyone. Especially here.”

And that’s final.

On the way back home, Jaemin presses their thighs together on the bus. In the lift, he doesn’t hold back from pulling Donghyuck into a hug. “It’s you for me,” he says. “No one else needs to know.”

“We’ll tell them one day.” Donghyuck plays off their discomfort as a joke. “Imagine how it’s gonna fuck them up, they’re gonna feel so stupid.”

Jaemin laughs with him, not letting him go once in the hallways until they reach their flat. “We gotta watch them when the wedding invitations come through in the mail.”

“And when would that be?” Donghyuck asks with his eyebrow raised, leaving their keys on the coat hanger and moving to the bathroom to wash his hands. Jaemin joins a second later, his reflection in the mirror grinning back at Donghyuck.

“If I were to have it my way—” Jaemin never finishes the train of thought, choosing instead to pinch Donghyuck’s sides with his fingers still wet and press a string of kisses to his temple as he squirms under the touch. Still, if there’s one thing Donghyuck is good at, it’s reading between the lines.

*

There’s no tell-tale sign that someone is your soulmate. There are hints, obviously, ones people were forced to rely on years ago before the tests came to be. Soulmates often have the same circadian rhythm, sometimes they share dreams. Not only are they inclined to gravitate towards each other, but every touch exerts some kind of physical reaction. It can be goosebumps running up the skin, or an overwhelming kind of static tickling on the nerves.

For Jaemin and Donghyuck, the first thing they pick up on are the beauty marks. They are identical for the two of them, in size, colour and placement. Donghyuck is the one to notice, and if it is because he tends to stare at Jaemin when his friend isn’t looking, well—it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.

When he points it out, Jaemin doesn’t seem worried or upset. They spend the evening comparing patches of their skin only to realise Donghyuck is definitely onto something. The following weekend, Jaemin takes his brother’s car and drives them to a clinic to do the test. They don’t tell their family or their friends in case it’s a fluke. The procedure is rather short and easy, with the results coming in less than an hour.

In the waiting room, Jaemin holds his hand for the first time. Soulmates are particularly sensitive to each other’s emotions, so he must have picked up on how stressed Donghyuck is and acted accordingly. He doesn’t say a word, but he doesn’t have to — just his touch is comforting enough. That is when Donghyuck acknowledges they have to be soulmates; there is no need for the test any more.

They still wait, though. And the results come back positive, just like he expected. Jaemin looks at him with such relief in his eyes and Donghyuck’s first reaction is to wonder why. Why, when it’s just Donghyuck, why, when Jaemin should have aimed higher.

At Donghyuck’s request, they don’t tell their close ones. For someone who craves to be the centre of attention so bad, it is an unexpected choice. Jaemin, ever accommodating, agrees, even though he doesn’t quite understand yet. If it hurts him, he never lets it show.

They are a good couple away from the prying eyes of others. It doesn’t take them long to adjust to each other and their newfound relationship. It’s hard to keep them away from each other, and neither of them likes it much. Tired of sneaking through the windows of each other’s childhood bedrooms in the late of the evening, they move in together after just a few months.

He’s happy with Jaemin, he’s happy to share his space with the person he loves. Their lives become their life, and Donghyuck doesn’t mind it in the least. There’s something to the water dripping from their mugs beside each other in the dish rack, takeaway menus from his and Jaemin’s favourite restaurants pinned to the corkboard in the living room, Jaemin’s shoes placed parallel next to his sneakers that Donghyuck kicked off haphazardly on his way in.

“I love you,” Jaemin says one day, when he’s hanging up their laundry.

Donghyuck turns off the vacuum cleaner, thinking he misheard. “What?”

“I love you,” Jaemin repeats.

“Of course you do,” Donghyuck says.

“I mean, regardless of the soulmate thing,” Jaemin insists. “I love you.”

“Oh,” Donghyuck understands what he means. “I love you, too, then.” And he turns the vacuum cleaner on again, returning Jaemin’s smile — not as bright, but just as sincere.

*

The question is not if Jaemin loves him, because Donghyuck can tell he does. But sometimes, he thinks it would have been better if they weren’t soulmates in the first place and Jaemin still ended up choosing him, like he claims he would. Maybe then Donghyuck would believe Jaemin is happy to love him.

But it’s not like that and Donghyuck shouldn’t waste his time creating hypothetical scenarios in his head. Not when he should focus on what’s in front of him, a healthy relationship with the guy he loves to pieces. He should be happy, grateful — and he is, just not all the time. He should be, really, but it’s so very Donghyuck to wallow in self pity instead of appreciating what he’s been given. It’s fucked up, almost as fucked up as hiding Jaemin.

That’s how Jaemin finds him, struggling to finish a glass of water over the kitchen sink at three in the morning. Donghyuck has good days, now more often than not, but he still has bad ones, too. Tonight is relatively mild, really, he can be much worse. Jaemin cards his fingers through Donghyuck’s hair nonetheless and rubs circles into the small of his back. There’s only so much he can do to help, they both know that.

“Do you wanna go out for a walk?” Jaemin asks. “Clear your head?”

Honestly, Donghyuck is too tired to do anything that requires an ounce of his effort, so he shakes his head. “Nah, let’s go back to sleep. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Jaemin says, watching him pour the water back into the sink. Pointing to the couch, he asks, “do you need space?”

Of course, he means taking it himself for the night, but Donghyuck hates to watch him play martyr. “No,” he sighs. “Space is the last thing I want.” He’ll get better on his own, but it’s easier with Jaemin, it’s easier not doing things alone.

*

“I can’t believe it’s been two years,” Donghyuck muses on their second anniversary. They chose not to celebrate it with anything more grand than an evening spent together in their flat.

Somehow, this one is even scarier than the first. One year isn’t much but two — it’s plural. The more time passes, the more real it becomes. He’s not gonna wake up in the morning only to realise he’s made it all up in his head. It’s a prevalent kind of fear that only grows with the years.

“It has,” Jaemin smiles from the other side of the balcony where he’s sitting on a deck chair with his legs crossed.

“Are you bored of me yet?” Donghyuck asks, wondering if the people on the street can tell they’re together. Probably not.

Jaemin thinks it’s a joke, or plays it off as one, “how could I be? The one thing you are is entertaining.” Donghyuck understands. It’s hard to convince someone as pertinacious and single-minded as himself that his belief system is flawed and Jaemin knows him well enough to choose his battles wisely.

“Is that your favourite thing about me?” Donghyuck continues.

“No, I don’t think so,” Jaemin leans back to think. “I don’t have a favourite.”

“I like the way you talk to me,” Donghyuck offers, nudging Jaemin’s shin with the tip of his flip-flop, “when it’s the two of us. The words you use, the tone of your voice. I like that it’s just mine to hear.”

“I’ll talk to you then,” Jaemin promises. “Until you beg me to shut up.”

Donghyuck laughs, hooking their legs together. He’s the talkative type, but Jaemin makes him want to sit back and listen. It curbs any urge to let out the ‘I love you’ lingering on his tongue, also in his favour.

“Are you upset?” He asks. “That I don’t want to tell the others yet?”

“I don’t care if the others know, as long as you do,” Jaemin answers. “When I show you I love you, it’s for you, not for anyone else. We can wait till we’re forty for all I care.”

It’s strange to think they’re almost halfway through their twenties. It’s stranger to think Jaemin still bends backwards to accommodate Donghyuck’s selfish whim of hiding their relationship. But he can’t stand the thought of anyone else realising that he’s not good enough for Jaemin, it’s better if he’s the only one aware.

He’s getting better, though. It’s not always crippling self-doubt, he has good days. Today is one, partly because Donghyuck doesn’t want to self-sabotage their anniversary, partly because he’s enjoying himself. It’s a warm summer evening, reminiscent of the first one they spent together as soulmates. Not ready to come back home after getting the result, Donghyuck had Jaemin take him on a drive under the guise of getting to know each other better. They had been friends, but not that close yet, so Jaemin distracted him with stories of his past and questions about Donghyuck’s own. The setting sun was the fiery kind of orange that time, Donghyuck remembers, just as it is today.

They know almost everything about each other now, but it never gets boring. Jaemin’s presence never gets any less comforting. And they’ve grown, Donghyuck realises, they’re light years away from their past selves, both of them for the better. Hopefully, in a couple of anniversaries, he’ll look in the mirror and know he’s enough, just like Jaemin’s been telling him. It’s a long way to go, but it seems doable.

“I think they might figure out by the time we’re forty,” Donghyuck snorts. “Also, if we’re not married by then, I’ll actually assume you hate me.”

Jaemin grins. “Well, you know me. I keep saying we should elope, but noo—

Shut up,” Donghyuck whines, half amused, half flustered. Jaemin must find it particularly endearing, because he pulls out his phone to take pictures of him. A new addition to the ever-growing folder of Donghyuck candids in his gallery is always welcome, much to Donghyuck’s chagrin.

It hits him sometimes, that he and Jaemin have a future. That he has a future himself. He hopes that one day it will be as easy for him to love himself as it is for Jaemin. For now, though, it’s enough just like this; Jaemin opposite of him, as content as Donghyuck’s ever seen him. Yes, that’s enough to keep him happy.