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Shadow and Stone

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Thomas was going to murder his soulmate, no truly he was.

Not only did the damn idiot have a nasty habit of going incommunicado for weeks at a time, but he then had the audacity to write what seemed to be a farewell on Thomas' fucking arm before apparently throwing himself into an S rank fight.

It’s like Jinwoo fucking wanted to die without ever meeting him.

Well not on his watch.

He was Thomas fucking Andre, national level S rank hunter, and the world moved when he told it to.

It was a simple matter to get a private jet to take him to South Korea, getting the details of where Jinwoo was had been a tiny bit harder but not impossible if you knew the right buttons to push. And dragging along an S rank healer and private doctor wasn’t even a task.

Which is how he found himself in front of a glowing red gate in the courtyard of a school, waiting for his damn soulmate to step out.

There was an audience waiting when he arrived, a high-ranking team from the Hunter's guild along with their two S ranks, a throng of suits from the Korean Hunter's Association, a random collection of hunters that he guessed were here to raid the gate before Jinwoo had interfered, and menagerie of medics and random civilians. The press had also gathered (much faster than he thought they would) and were loudly yelling questions at him as he stalked towards the gate.

He paid little attention to anyone attempting to question him, scaring them away with fierce glares and snarls as he parked himself in front of the gate and settled in to wait.

He was getting more and more frantic annoyed with every passing minute. Red gates were notorious for being harder than their ratings and any gate that got Jinwoo's attention and fucking attempted farewell had to be S rank at the very least. The longer his soulmate was in there, the less likely it would be for him to come back out.

Finally, to his utmost relief, the gate pulsed and faded into a familiar blue, a shadowed figure emerging from its depths.

Thomas had never moved so fast in his life, he had Jinwoo in his arms before most of their audience could even blink. Jinwoo didn’t even flinch, which said bad bad things about his overall mental and physical state because Thomas knew how flighty and untrusting his little soulmate was and Thomas hadn’t exactly told Jinwoo that he would be here.

"T'mas." Jinwoo's voice was slurred with exhaustion, one hand coming up shakily to grip Thomas' shirt.

Shit, his little soulmate looked terrible. One eye was dyed red with the blood that was caked down the side of his face, his clothing was ripped to shreds, his knuckles were bloody and bruised, he was shaking and exhausted and looked about ready to pass out then and there.

"Safe."

God, if Thomas wasn’t so sure that Jinwoo had taken care of the threat himself then he would have gone right back in that gate to tear apart whatever had made his little soulmate so damn shaken or die trying. Instead, he just dipped slightly and drew Jinwoo's face into his shoulder, enveloping the younger man in his arms and shielding him from the rest of the world.

"You're safe Jinwoo," He rumbled, "Nothing is going to reach you while I'm here."

"S'good." Jinwoo murmured before going limp against him.

Thomas would deny to his very last day that he had panicked. He had not. He had simply reacted as appropriately as anyone would when their half beaten to death soulmate collapsed into their arms. Which meant that he had whipped off his own jacket to cover Jinwoo's ruined clothing, scooped his little soulmate up, stolen a blanket from a flustered medic to lie the man down on, and all but teleported over to the healer he had dragged with him for this very reason.

He absolutely did not scream at the healer to do something, nor did he move fast enough to break the ground or accidentally shatter the medic's wrist when he took the blanket. No, he did not do any of that and any footage of him doing so was surely doctored.

In any case, hearing the healer's prognosis was jarring. His little soulmate was already on the mend, it seemed that Jinwoo had a ferocious healing factor, and had numerous half-healed bones and a concussion and was apparently healing a partially blinded eye on top of all that.

Jinwoo was strong. Thomas could feel the power of that gate and for Jinwoo to come out with so few injuries and even start healing himself before he got out of the gate was a damn feat.

One day, they would fight to see who was the strongest and the very earth would tremble beneath their feet.

For now, Thomas tucked his exhausted soulmate close to his chest, making sure his jacket covered everything that needed covering, and made his way back to the car.

There were camera flashes all around them and though the screaming questions had stopped, there was still an air of pervasive curiosity that Thomas couldn’t stand. He could see that the suits were preventing the two Hunter S ranks from interfering, which was just as well because Thomas wasn’t feeling any kind of merciful right now and bones would be broken if someone dared to try and interrupt him.

Once he had Jinwoo bundled safely in the car, the younger man a light weight across his chest and lap, Thomas finally allowed himself to breathe. Here, in the relative safety of tinted windows, he used large fingers to map the delicate contours of his soulmate's face.

Even under the bruises, blood and exhaustion, his soulmate was beautiful, and beneath that beauty was an unfathomable amount of power.

Thomas could hardly believe that this was all his, just as he was all Jinwoo's, but a soft sound from the sleeping man on his lap as the car jolted forwards reminded him just how real this was. He tucked the man in a little tighter against his chest and reveled in how Jinwoo curled in closer. Even asleep, the other man had Thomas wrapped around his dainty little fingers.

Thomas was thankful that the majority of the press weren't at their hotel when they arrived, but that didn’t stop him from curling one large hand around Jinwoo's head, pressing it into his shoulder and shielding the man from the prying eyes and bright camera flashes. The other arm was hooked under Jinwoo's thighs and held him secure as they entered the lobby and proceeded to the private lift to the penthouse.

The journey was mercifully short, and Thomas instructed both the healer and the doctor to check await his orders before dismissing them for the moment. He had no desire for anyone but himself to see his soulmate's body when he got Jinwoo changed into something more comfortable for sleeping.

Thomas remained professional as he removed the tattered remains of Jinwoo's shirt, replacing it with one of his own boring black dress shirts. As he was easing Jinwoo's arms through the sleeves, he caught sight of the crown of stone and fire enveloping the other man's forearm, proof of their meeting and solidified bond. Glancing down, he saw the crown of shadows enveloping his own forearm. He took a brief second to trace it lightly with one finger before turning back to his task.

The shirt was so large on his little soulmate that it came down to his knees, providing ample coverage as Thomas removed Jinwoo's shoes and socks before tearing away his tattered jeans.

Finally, Thomas laid his soulmate out on the large bed, tucking the covers around Jinwoo's still form before calling in the doctor to set up any equipment needed to monitor the other man and make sure he didn’t take a turn for the worse. The doctor was quick and professional, as she should be given how much Thomas paid her, and soon he and Jinwoo were alone once more.

Thomas stroked one hand through that inky black hair once more before turning to leave, but a soft tug on his shift had him pausing and whirling back around to stare down at his very much awake soulmate.

"Stay," Jinwoo's tone was pleading, eyes hazed with exhaustion and pain and fear, "Stay."

Thomas moved forwards to hush him, gently getting under the covers beside his exhausted soulmate and drawing him close before pressing a kiss into inky black hair; calling his vice chairman could wait, Jinwoo was more important.

"I'm not going anywhere Jinwoo, just rest, I'll be here when you wake up."

 


 

It was common knowledge that, when you awaken, your bond with your destined soulmate awakened too.

Except that was a fucking lie because, as all things seemed to be, soulmate bonds were reliant on power and rarely awakened in those D rank and below. Which meant that, for the lowly "Weakest Hunter", having a soul bond was an impossibility.

That is, until Carthenon.

When he awakened as a player, Jinwoo didn’t have a soul bond. In fact, Jinwoo was so caught up in wondering what the fuck was going on that having a soulmate didn’t even cross his mind until he woke up one day, after the fiasco with Jinho and murdering 8 people, to writing on his arm that he certainly didn't put there.

His first thought, when he looked down at the letters that were definitely not in his handwriting and the little "TA" that now marked his wrist, was to note that the letters were in English. His second thought was that oh shit he had a soulmate and that meant that it was someone who was meant for him and they probably wouldn’t leave him to die in a temple all alone and that this meant that he could maybe trust someone again and-

It took Jinah half an hour to coax him from the panic attack that had him hiding under his bed. Then it took her another half hour to convince him to actually read the damn message that was still scrawled across his arm.

"My name is Thomas Andre. I am looking forward to knowing you."

And that send Jinwoo into another spiralling panic because Thomas Andre, Thomas Andre, national level S rank hunter, was his soulmate.

His.

Jinwoo's.

Fuck.

What if Thomas didn’t like him? Jinwoo wasn’t ready to face being abandoned again. Part of him screamed that this was his soulmate, of course they would work out. But another, larger, scared part of him screamed that he wasn’t ready, wasn’t strong enough to face another betrayal. He was getting better, he was getting stronger and Jinah had found him some self-help books and he was starting to feel more like a person again and less like something small and scared stuffed into human form. He would be ready someday, but not today. So, for now, maybe they could just communicate without Jinwoo revealing his name to the other man, just for a bit?

Jinah was staunchly against that but huffed and relented when he promised that it was only until he worked up the nerve. Soon, he promised both her and his soulmate, soon.

The time passed rapidly, Jinwoo didn’t tell Thomas his name, not yet, but they talked a lot. Jinwoo's English got better and better each day and Thomas was being remarkably understanding about the whole thing. Contrary to popular opinion, the man was possessive about what he deemed his but endearingly shy when it came to his soulmate.

The breakthrough in their relationship came just after the red gate, when Jinwoo had stood before Baek Yoonho and hadn’t wavered an inch. He had felt strong, confident and put together and had faced things other hunters couldn’t dream of and it was like standing in front of an S rank hunter had finally brought that home for him.

That night, half delirious from his realisation, Jinwoo had written his name and phone number on his arm.

The response had been almost instant, his phone lighting up and letting out a jaunty tune that Jinah had chosen for him when he'd first gotten it. Jinwoo's hands had barely shook as he answered the call, his accent was a little thick but he’d answered in clear and unwavering English,

"Hello?"

"I've waited so long to hear your voice."

Jinwoo collapsed backwards onto the bed, all the apprehension flooding out of him and leaving him drained. He ended up telling Thomas a lot that night, not about being a player or the system, but about his own fears and doubts, about how that double dungeon had hurt him more than he’d thought, how the betrayal of people he had hunted with for years had cut deep, and how he was getting better now, how he felt strong and confident and comfortable in his own skin in a way he’d never experienced before.

Thomas had understood, had known what it was like to go from nothing to being at the top of the world in what felt like no time at all. They had chatted for hours that night, well into the early hours of the morning. They’d held little back from each other, and it had brought them closer than Jinwoo ever thought possible.

After that Jinwoo was eager to meet the man, and fight him, the last few months had shaped him into someone who craved a good fight, and a national level hunter would surely provide one. But he had obligations in South Korea just as Thomas had obligations in America, ones that neither of them wanted or could set aside for the moment. They had both waited for this, they were both impatient, but they decided to wait just a little while longer. They both knew that that first meeting wasn’t something that either of them wanted to cut short.

But then there was the demon hunting dungeon and the revelation that there was something that could cure his mother, and a member of Thomas' guild being beaten to a pulp by some unknown ex-human monster that the hunter's association in America refused to give more information on, and getting re-evaluated as S rank, and the offer from the hunter's association, and saving the B team from the Hunter's guild, and then actually curing his mother (something he cried to Thomas about for an entire hour after Jinah and his mother had gone to bed that night), and then the massive Jeju Island Raid (that Thomas had all but dared him to go on, the cheeky bastard, which had led to Jinwoo saving the Japanese teams skins (literally)).

Between all that they had little time to talk, let alone meet, and soon Jinwoo was staring down the ticking counter of the Carthenon temple key and wondering if he had just signed his fate to die without ever meeting his soulmate.

He had been so sure that he would be strong enough, he had practically cleared the S rank Jeju island solo, but Carthenon was something else. Something that awakened an almost primal fear inside him and took him back to that day where he lay bleeding on the altar, one leg gone, vision failing, clutching a sword, and pretending to be brave whilst screaming in his head for his raid team not to leave him.

It was that fear that had him scrawling out a hasty letter on his arm, it was not farewell he would deny that to his dying breath, but he needed to say something. Anything.

It spoke to his, still very much present, trust issues that he was surprised to find strong arms around him when he stepped back through the gate. It spoke to his bone deep exhaustion, both physical and mental, that he didn’t have the energy to flinch, even though the movement had startled him.

His hand shook as he gripped that god-awful printed shirt, only one man he knew had taste that eclectic and he didn’t even need to look up to know whose arms he was in right now.

"Thomas." He breathed, the name coming out slurred from exhaustion and no small amount of pain. Jinwoo ached, and any other time he would put up a strong front and limp his way home before collapsing but Thomas was here and if Thomas was here then that meant it was safe.

He didn’t even realise that he had spoken out loud until he was being gathered into a strong chest, head tucked firmly into Thomas' shoulder as the other man rumbled reassurances into his ear.

"That's good." Jinwoo sighed, finally letting himself slump fully into Thomas' arms. God it was nice to just be held, he was so used to being the protector and provider that it was nice to know that someone was there to protect him for once.

What happened next was a bit of a blur, Jinwoo remembered floating and shouting and being cradled against a strong chest. He remembered the jolt of fear as something moved beneath the lap he was seated on and being pulled closer and soothed. He remembered fingers brushing against his cheeks and jaw and a hand cradling his head, shielding him from harsh flashing lights. He remembered hands on him, being dressed in something silky and comfortable, and laid down on something soft and plush. He didn’t really wake again, comfortable floating in that hazy nothing between consciousness and dreams, until the safe presence he'd been relying on drew away.

Then he snapped awake, his arm aching as he reached over to grab at Thomas' shirt,

"Stay," I feel protected with you, I haven’t felt protected in a long time, I need this just for a little while longer so please, "Stay."

Then the warmth was back, and Thomas was pressing a kiss into his hair, rumbling reassurances once more while smoothing one large hand down his back.

Safe, Jinwoo thought, I'm safe, and sunk into the darkness.