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forever (bloom in my heart)

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“Doctor Kim! Doctor Kim!”

Minseok is at the door, settling his stethoscope around his neck when a small boy comes rushing out to him.

“Doctor Kim!” The boy skids to a stop and Minseok immediately crouches, hands on the boy’s shoulders to make sure he doesn’t fall over.

“Good morning, Jihoon-ah,” Minseok smiles kindly down at the boy. He wants to berate him for running not even a few days after his surgery, but the pure happiness on the boy’s face stops him.

“Guess what?!” Jihoon is practically vibrating with excitement and continues without waiting for an answer, “I peed on my own today!”

Minseok’s small gasp is genuine, and he gives the boy a quick hug. “Jihoon-ah, that’s great!”

“I know!” The boy rocks on his heels and Minseok gently grabs his hand, leading him back into the room and towards his bed. “I can pee on my own now!”

“I’m proud of you,” Minseok waits for the boy to climb onto the bed before walking around to grab the clipboard. He quickly flips through the nurse’s notes on Jihoon, then flips it upright and places it on the foot of the bed.

“Mom and dad are going to be here soon!” Jihoon grins, “I can’t wait to tell them.”

“I’m sure they’ll be proud of you too,” Minseok returns his huge smile with a small one of his own.

Jihoon automatically sits up straight at the sight of the stethoscope and Minseok sends him a grateful look. The boy chatters on about his morning while Minseok checks his breathing and his eyes and ears. He replies to Jihoon with sporadic hums and stops after a while, picking up the clipboard to add to the notes.

“Mom! Dad!” Jihoon’s exclamation of delight draws Minseok’s attention away from the clipboard.

He looks up and notices Jihoon’s parents rushing towards him. He gives them a moment to catch up with their son and finishes making his notes. Settling the clipboard in its place, he waits at the foot of the bed with his hands clasped behind him.

“Doctor Kim,” Jihoon’s father notices him waiting. “Hello.”

They bow in greeting and Minseok returns it. Straightening, Jihoon’s mother immediately asks, “How is my son doing?”

“Jihoon is a very strong boy,” Minseok says carefully. Jihoon puffs his chest out and grins. Minseok returns it and continues, “He’s recovering well after his surgery. His vitals are all in order and his body is adjusting well to the new kidney.”

Jihoon’s mother sighs in relief and Jihoon exclaims, “I even peed by myself today!”

Minseok laughs as his parents fawn over him in joy. He waits for another minute before continuing.

“Jihoon should be ready to be discharged in the next few days,” Minseok says, “Once he is, he needs to regularly take his medication and go for the necessary antibiotic shots. A dietician will be with you shortly to explain the diet that he needs to follow to ensure the new kidney works well.”

“Thank you,” Jihoon’s mother comes forward to clasp his hand, “Doctor, I cannot tell you how grateful we are.”

Minseok rubs the back of his neck bashfully, “It was only a pleasure to work with Jihoon. He’s a very bright kid.”

He glances at her hand clasped over his, and notices the vibrant tiger lily imprinted on the curve of her wrist. It’s a beautiful, fully bloomed tiger lily. His gaze drifts behind her, to her husband, and he sees the identical tattoo on the hand that holds his jacket.

They’re soulmates, and their soul tattoos are absolutely beautiful.

Minseok gives Jihoon’s mother’s hand a small squeeze before letting go. “I hope it all goes well for him, and for you.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Jihoon’s father bows deeply and Minseok returns it. He walks away from them and stops by the door, turning and watching the family from afar.

Jihoon’s parents are on either side of him, listening to him attentively and holding on to him as tight as possible. Minseok feels his heart swell at the wonderful sight of a family who are overcoming one of the toughest times in their lives. He exits the room, leaving them to their little bubble of joy.

He makes his way down to the reception area and checks his schedule for the day. It’s not too bad; he has a 6-hour shift in the morning, a small break and then a final 4 hours. If everything goes well, he could get enough sleep tonight and be back at the hospital even earlier tomorrow.

“Minseok-hyung!”

A voice causes him to look up from his schedule. Putting it away, he leaves the desk and walks towards his best friend.

“Junmyeon-ah,” Minseok greets with a small hug. “How long have you been here?”

“Since 4 am,” Junmyeon replies, and his calm composure slips for a minute, allowing Minseok to see the weariness in his eyes.

“Have you eaten?” They move towards an empty room and Junmyeon instantly makes his way towards the empty couch.

Junmyeon nods, “I just had breakfast. Or well,” he glances at the large clock on the wall behind Minseok, “Lunch. Brunch, more like it. The important thing is that I ate!”

“Good,” Minseok chuckles, “At least I can tell Baekhyun that I’m looking out for you.”

“He worries too much about me,” Junmyeon’s hand unconsciously moves to his ribcage, where Minseok knows rests a beautiful orchid tattoo.

“As he should,” Minseok ruffles Junmyeon’s unruly hair and pats it down in an attempt to neaten it. “You’re on call this week and it’s always rough.”

“It’s not so rough when I have my best friend checking up on me now and then,” Junmyeon’s smile is bright despite his tiredness.

Minseok moves his hand to rest on Junmyeon’s neck, and he gives it a quick rub, feeling the tense muscles and trying to soothe it.

“Man, I wish you could come home and give me a back rub,” Junmyeon groans and settles further into the couch. “What time do you finish today?”

“Around 7 or so,” Minseok shrugs. “When does your on-call shift end?”

“Thursday,” Junmyeon sighs. “I’m off on Friday and Saturday, though.”

Minseok hums in approval and drops his hand. “Get some rest, Junmyeon-ah. I’ll see you later, yeah?”

“Hopefully,” Junmyeon lazily waves to him, his eyes already drifting shut.

Minseok quietly goes to close the blinds and exits the room, making sure the door was closed firmly behind him. He hoped his friend would get enough rest before being woken by his beeper and rushed back into activity.

Checking his phone for any updates, he grabs a pair of gloves before taking a deep breath to prepare himself, and proceeds towards his day.

The sky is dark and Minseok is guided home by streetlights and the stars for light. He enters his apartment and flips on the light switch. His quiet apartment is illuminated and he immediately feels something leaning against his leg.

He carefully places his shoes by the doorway and leaves his bag on the couch. He leans down and picks up his cat, holding him to his chest.

“Hello, Tan-ah,” Minseok coos and scratches the white fur on his cat’s chest, “Did you miss me?”

Tan closes his eyes and his loud purring fills the empty apartment.

Minseok rubs his cheek against Tan’s little head. He switches on the kitchen light as he passes, briefly considering what to make for dinner. His day was long, and he is notably tired, but does he really want to spend more energy cooking?

He mulls over it and unconsciously moves towards his bedroom. His apartment isn’t very large, mainly consisting of a big kitchen (because when he’s not exhausted, he actually enjoys cooking), a living room with a decently sized TV so he can play games when he gets the chance, his bedroom, another room that merely serves as storage for extra clothes and workout equipment, and a smaller room that’s a makeshift study room.

Minseok gently sets Tan on his bed and the cat lazily moves to curl near his pillow. He gives Tan one last pet before loosening his tie and unbuttoning his shirt.

He rids himself of his clothes and pauses, fingers lightly grazing his hipbone, where the tattoo of a peony bud rests.

It’s a beautiful, albeit tiny, peony bud that was once the most vibrant of pink shades.

Too bad it’s now grey and withered, clearly dead.

Minseok is still, his hand resting on his soul tattoo. Around him, his apartment is once again silent, save for his and Tan’s soft breathing.

Soulmates have always been a concrete fact. His parents were soulmates and so were theirs. The concept of soulmates has been around forever and the tattoos only started showing up in the last 80 years, if he remembers high school history lessons correctly.

When a baby is born, a small dot appears anywhere on their body. It only becomes visible in their toddler years, and grows as they grow. By age 10, it’s common to see the stem of the flower, and by age 18, it grows into a small bud, the colours soft and noticeable.

It’s not unusual to meet one’s soulmate before the age of 18. There are many cases in which one’s soulmate ends up being someone they’ve met at a young age, or a friend who’s stuck with them since childhood.

However, the bud only blooms into a beautiful flower once they’ve met their soulmate after the age of 18.

Minseok remembers his parents’ story. They were middle school friends and continued on to the same high school. His mom turned 18 only a few months after his dad, and whilst passing each other in the hallways, their arms brushed and their buds opened.

As their love grew, so did the flowers on their arms.

It’s one of Minseok’s favourite stories, one he loved to be told as a child. It filled him with the desire to meet his own soulmate, eager to spend the rest of their lives together.

However, as it is stated, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Some people wake up on their 18th birthday to find their soul mark wilted and barren of the colour that was just there the day before. There is no pain, no heartbreak, merely a dead bud and a dead soulmate.

Minseok’s lifeless soul mark signifies his lack of a soulmate. Sometimes he wishes he at least got the chance to meet his soulmate, to know what he or she was like, if they were short or tall, what their interests were. He wishes he got the chance to at least love them.

People say it’s easier to never meet your soulmate, than to meet them and love them, only to watch them die and eventually succumb to soul sickness yourself.

Minseok supposes that’s true. He also guesses he should thank Fate, for letting him know his soulmate was dead than leaving him to ponder over it for the rest of his life.

It is easier, but sometimes it’s not. And Minseok can’t help but feel isolated from everyone around him, especially when all his friends are living happy lives with their soulmate. No one really understands the emptiness of never having to meet your own half. No one understands the weird emotions Minseok feels.

After all, how are you supposed to mourn someone you’ve never met?

Minseok simply sighs.

It was a relatively quiet day, with not many emergencies at the hospital, and whilst it was cold and rainy, Minseok didn’t mind. He worked steadily, checking up on patients, visiting the kid’s area now and again, and stopping to chat with his friends when he could.

“When is your lunch break?” Junmyeon caught the edge of his sleeve just as he exited the intensive care ward.

Checking his watch, Minseok replies, “In about half an hour?”

“I’ll see you then!” and Junmyeon is dashing away, his white coat flapping behind him.

Minseok shakes his head and smiles fondly. His head jerks to the side when he hears a nurse calling his name.

“Doctor Kim!”

“Yes, Seungwan?” Minseok’s eyebrows draw together in worry. “What is it?”

“New patient,” she replies, handing him a file. “Not critical, a boy age 9. He was rushed here by his mom and uncle because he collapsed during school. He’s showing signs of fatigue and muscle weakness, and the beginnings of a skin rash.”

Minseok flips through the thin file of Moon Jongup, noting the past doctor’s visits and medical history. It was nothing unusual for a boy of age 9, but one could never be too sure.

He follows Seungwan whilst reading the file. He only notices they were at the emergency room once he bumps into the nurse.

“Oh! Sorry,” he quickly apologises to her. Hesitating at the door, he turns and regards her carefully. “Seungwan-ah… what do you think it is.”

Seungwan also hesitates. Minseok, however, trusts her opinion and waits.

“It’s hard to say this early on but…” She bites her lip. “It looks like a case of juvenile dermatomyositis.”

A faint realisation settles over Minseok and he nods. “Thank you, Seungwan-ah.”

She smiles and motions for him to go in. “Good luck.”

Minseok steels himself before entering the room. There’s a small boy lying on the bed, a drip inserted into his arm and a nurse checking his vitals. On the side of the room is a beautiful young woman, her face red and splotchy with tears. Next to her stands a younger man with dull pink hair and tears welling in his eyes, though they refuse to fall.

Minseok takes over from the nurse and continues with the routine check-up. He is quick with the procedure, the few years of experience that he has making it easier.

The boy seems stable for now and Minseok lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

He leaves the nurse to finish up before turning towards the family of the boy.

“Hello,” Minseok bows, “I’m Doctor Kim Minseok. I’ll be looking after Jongup here.”

The woman hastily wipes her tears and replies, “Moon Jungah, his mom. What happened to him, Doctor?”

“It seems he collapsed from fatigue,” Minseok is careful with his reply. He needs to be candid with his report but he also doesn’t want to unnecessarily alarm Jongup’s mother. “He also has the beginnings of a skin rash over his elbows and knees which look like it could be severe. His muscles seem to be weak as well, and he’s slightly dehydrated.”

Jungah closes her eyes and swallows. The man beside her speaks up. “What’s going to happen to him?”

“We need to keep him here for a few days to monitor his health and vital signs,” Minseok says, “I would also like to do a blood test on him to clear any confusion regarding his health.”

“Yes.” Jongup’s mother nods frantically. “Please, Doctor, do it.”

“Have you noticed the skin rashes, Jungah-ssi?” Minseok asks. “Do you know when they started?”

“They’ve been coming and going for the last month or so.” Jungah hiccups and the pink-haired man rubs her shoulder. “Jongin noticed them first and told me about them. I took him to our GP and he was prescribed some ointment, which took them away but they’ve reappeared.”

Minseok nods. It seems as if Seungwan’s diagnosis may be right after all.

“He’s also been complaining about his muscles being sore,” Jungah continues, “The other day I had to help him up the stairs because he couldn’t do it. That’s why he collapsed at school; he almost fell down the stairs but a classmate caught him.”

“Muscle weakness,” Minseok confirms and offers a comforting smile, “Thank you, Jungah-ssi. I’ll do my best to look after Jongup and help him get better.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Jungah and the man – Jongin, Minseok assumes – bow to him. Jongin glances towards the bed, where Jongup lies, and swipes a hand across his eyes.

“You can stay for a few more minutes,” Minseok offers, “That won’t be a problem. We’ll wait for the drip to work before checking up on him again.”

The man, Jongin, turns to him and gives him a weak smile. His eyes still hold unshed tears and his cheeks are red.

Minseok thinks he looks incredibly beautiful.

“Thank you.” Jongin is full of sincerity, and Minseok can do nothing but smile. He steps back to grab the clipboard by Jongup’s bed. Tucking it together with the thin file, Minseok leaves the family with the boy and goes to request the necessary tests.

The days grew colder and shorter, with the darkness claiming it much earlier as autumn slowly gave way to winter. Minseok didn’t mind; in fact, he was a huge fan of winter. He loved the low temperatures and always looked forward to the snow.

He finishes checking up on one of his patients before heading down to the small café for lunch. At the bottom of the stairs, he stops in front of the huge glass windows and stares outside.

The sky was light grey, almost white, filled with clouds that overlapped and seemed to be one. Despite the lack of sunlight, it was bright outside.

Minseok turns away from the windows and walks to the café, absently noting the many customers. He greets the staff warmly and places his order. Grabbing his pager, he moves away from the counter and turns to look for a place to sit.

It was only then when he noticed that all the tables were occupied. Dismayed, he moves to the side of the café and tries not to look awkward, just standing there and hoping for a free table to magically appear.

Minseok nervously plays with the pager in his hand. His eyes flit from table to table, trying to discern which one would be unoccupied soon, when he felt someone’s gaze on him.

His eyes unwillingly look for the person and he was startled when he made eye contact with a young man with dull pink hair.

The man’s eyes widen slightly and he gives a small jump. A somewhat guilty look settles on him after having being caught, but he holds Minseok’s gaze steadily.

As if he was following a magnet, Minseok finds himself walking towards the man. He stops when he reaches the table and smiles, placing his hand on the empty chair opposite the man.

“Hi, is this seat taken?”

The man frantically shakes his head and Minseok bows slightly. He pulls out the chair and sits down, settling the pager on the table. He can still feel the man’s gaze on him, and frowns inwardly. He’s seen this man before, he’s sure of it.

“Ah!” Minseok gives a tiny gasp of recognition and the man jumps slightly. “Moon Jongin-ssi, right?”

The man – Jongin – smiles shyly, “It’s actually Kim Jongin.”

“My bad,” Minseok feels his cheeks heat up. “Doctor Kim Minseok.”

“Yeah.” Jongin gestures to his coat, which has a small badge with his name on it. “I know.”

Minseok suddenly feels very silly. He berates himself inwardly; he’s not usually like this.

They lapse into a somewhat comfortable silence – well, as comfortable as a silence between two strangers can get. Minseok can feel Jongin sneaking glances intermittently but he doesn’t say anything. He merely smiles softly when he catches Jongin, and the other quickly turns away with red ears.

“How…” Jongin breaks the silence with a stutter. He seems to shrink when Minseok looks at him but he clears his throat and speaks again, “How is Jongup doing?”

Minseok thinks about the adorable little boy sitting in a hospital bed a few floors up and smiles.

“He’s doing well.” Minseok muses. “His blood tests returned and confirmed our suspicions of juvenile dermatomyositis.”

Jongin blanches and Minseok hurries to reassure him. “With proper treatment and care, he’ll be happy and healthy soon.”

The colour returns to Jongin’s face and he nods. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“He’s a strong boy.” Minseok can’t stop the fondness from seeping into his voice. “He completed the blood tests well and he doesn’t complain when taking medication.”

Jongin grins and it transforms his entire face. The happiness highlights his youth and Minseok finds himself automatically warming to the pink-haired man.

“He’s the strongest kid I know.” Jongin declares proudly.

Minseok can’t stop the chuckle that escapes. “He’s lucky to have you. Are you waiting to see him?”

Jongin nods. “Class finished a bit early so I decided to grab something to eat before visiting hours. I’ll be back again later, though.”

Minseok’s pager beeps and he stands up. “He’ll be happy to see you.”

“It was good to talk to you, Doctor.” Jongin’s smile this time is soft and pleased. “Thank you.”

Minseok feels like he trips on Jongin’s smile and falls, but he doesn’t hit the ground. Instead, he floats in the air and is only pulled back to reality when his pager beeps again.

He hurries to collect his food and when he returns to the table, Jongin is gone.

It’s towards the middle of his shift on a Wednesday morning when Minseok finally gets to visit the children.

It’s his favourite part of the day. Despite being in such difficult conditions, they’re always so bright and enthusiastic. The kids are full of energy and life, and it warms Minseok’s heart.

“Doctor Kim!”

Many voices blend into one to chorus at him. He enters the children’s ward and grins at the kids.

“Hello kids! Guess who’s here?”

“Only the best doctor ever,” a small girl chimes from the nearest bed.

Minseok’s grin widens, “Now, Euna, I’m not the best!”

“You are to me, Doctor Kim.” Euna’s cheerful and confident smile reveals her missing front tooth. Minseok finds the sight to be very endearing.

He goes to review her progress and sees that she’s already had her check-up earlier that morning. He ruffles her hair fondly before going to the opposite bed.

“Taeyong-ah, how are you feeling today?”

The small boy gives him a deep glare before pouting and sinking further into the bed. He exhales loudly and remains silent.

Taeyong looks so cute pouting that Minseok can’t help but smile. He reads over the clipboard at Taeyong’s bed and frowns. It seems as if his dosage of medication is too low following the surgery he had.

“Is your stomach paining?” Minseok conceals his worry when he glances to Taeyong.

Taeyong’s frown slowly melts away and he nods. Tears begin to gather at his eyes and Minseok impulsively hugs him. To his surprise, and happiness, Taeyong doesn’t push him away.

“It’s okay,” Minseok soothes him. “I’ll make sure you won’t be in pain. You’re a strong boy, right?”

“R-Right.” Comes Taeyong’s muffled voice.

Minseok pulls away and smiles brightly. “Right! Smile Taeyong-ah, your parents will be here soon.”

Taeyong gives him a small, though watery, smile. Minseok cheers quietly. He exits the ward and goes to inform the nurses about the medication. It doesn’t take long before Minseok is heading back to the ward with more painkillers for Taeyong, which the boy takes without complaint.

Satisfied that Taeyong is now at ease, Minseok goes to see the last patient for his morning shift.

“Jongup-ah!” Minseok greets warmly. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m bored.” Jongup sits up straight when he sees Minseok. “I want to dance with my Uncle Jongin.”

“Dance?” Minseok can’t help but ask about Jongin. “He dances?”

Jongup nods enthusiastically, his face lighting up. Minseok is suddenly reminded of Jongin in the café, his face lighting up in the exact way when talking about Jongup. He grins; the resemblance is uncanny.

“Uncle Jongin is the best dancer ever!” Jongup gushes. “He loves to dance and he teaches me very well!”

“Wow.” Minseok hums. “That sounds super cool.”

“It is!” Jongup nods frantically, and then sighs. “I want to go dance with him but I’m stuck here.”

Minseok frowns slightly. “I want nothing more than for you to go dance with your Uncle Jongin, but you must get better first.”

“How do I get better?” Jongup pouts and asks.

“Taking all your medication is the most important thing.” Minseok answers kindly. “I need to speak to your parents about some physical therapy, which should help even more.”

“Physical therapy?” Jongup’s eyes are wide with worry. “What’s that?”

“Think of it as small exercises.” Minseok says. “You can even think of it as some simple dance moves.”

“Dance moves?” Jongup is doubtful. “Dance move therapy?”

“Yeah.” Minseok laughs. “Dance move therapy. Then once you’re better, you can dance as much as you like with Uncle Jongin!”

“Yes!” Jongup fists pumps the air and the bed shakes with his eagerness.

Minseok steadies him and grins. “Promise me you’ll be good?”

“I promise.” Jongup’s smile is huge and brilliant. Minseok notes a few things on his file and leaves it where he found it.

Jongup is engrossed in a cartoon on the small tv screen in front of him, so Minseok quietly leaves his side. He stops at the door of the ward and glances back.

Taeyong has his eyes closed and is slipping into a deep sleep. Minseok finds gratification in his peaceful expression. Euna is at another bed, happily talking to a smaller girl. Her arm is hooked up to an IV drip, and Euna is mindful of it. There are two boys in the corner of the room, fixated on a card game. And finally, Jongup, who’s calmly watching tv.

Minseok smiles to himself. Even though they’re in pain, these kids still have the energy to smile brightly. They still enjoy making friends and don’t hesitate to consider others. They’re full of a strong fighting spirit.

They’re so incredible, and Minseok admires them so much.

It was at times like this when Minseok was grateful for being a light sleeper.

The loud sounds of SNSD, coupled with the flashing of the light emanating from his phone, filled his dark room. Minseok’s eyes snapped open and he scrambled to grab his phone.

His eyes immediately close when he tried to look at the harsh light of his phone. Opening them ever so slightly, he registers Junmyeon’s caller ID and answers. “Hello?”

“Minseok!” Junmyeon’s voice is strained and he forgoes honorifics. Minseok is instantaneously off his bed and rummaging for something to wear, quickly switching his phone to loudspeaker.

“We need you down here at the hospital,” Junmyeon continues, “I know this isn’t really your field but there was a four-way collision and – “

“Fuck,” Minseok interrupts. Alarm courses through him. He changes out of his ratty t-shirt and shorts and runs about to grab whatever necessary.

“We have two kids,” the despair is evident in Junmyeon’s voice now, “One is struggling to breathe and the other seems shaken and slightly injured.”

“I’m on my way,” Minseok promises, “Give me five minutes.”

“Ten!” Junmyeon almost yells, “Be careful, hyung!”

Minseok smiles grimly. “See you soon.”

 

The hospital is chaos when he arrives. There are sirens blaring outside and nurses and doctors are rushing around, trying to make some order out of things.

He notices Seungwan shouting orders and grabbing various supplies before darting down a corridor. He nods in lieu of a greeting to Seokjin and sidesteps Yerim, who almost crashes into him in her haste.

Minseok makes his way further and further away from the noise and towards the quieter area of the children’s ward. He spots Junmyeon sitting in a room with glass doors, his arms wrapped around a small figure.

Minseok quietly enters and the two heads snap up to look at him.

Junmyeon’s relief is palpable. He gently removes his arm from the kid, a small girl with short hair, and says, “Here’s Doctor Minseok! He’s really friendly and he’ll take good care of you.”

Minseok’s arm catches Junmyeon’s shoulders and he pulls him in for a hug. He feels Junmyeon go weak for a moment, leaning heavily on him, before the determination sets in and they break apart.

“What’s the situation so far?” Minseok nods imperceptibly at the little girl.

“I’ve stitched the worst of the scratches and cleaned up. Her vitals are good and her breathing was short at first but it’s back to normal now.” Junmyeon whispers, “Now I think she’s just in shock.”

“Got it,” Minseok nods. “The other kid?”

“Seokjin should be in surgery with him by now. He has a punctured lung.”

Minseok lets out a heavy breath. It’s only 2 am and the day is presenting the most difficult challenge early on.

“Go.” He says after a minute. “I’ll stay here with her. You should be helping out there.”

Junmyeon nods. “We took care of the worst of it, and almost everyone is here. I’ll go see where I’m needed and catch up with you later?”

“Yeah.” Minseok catches his hand and squeezes. “Good luck, Myeon-ah.”

Junmyeon gives him a small smile and leaves quickly. Minseok takes a deep breath before going to sit beside the little girl.

“Hello!” Minseok smiles softly, “I’m Doctor Kim Minseok, it’s nice to meet you.”

He gives an awkward bow and straightens, still smiling at her.

The little girl, teary eyed and sniffling, returns the bow. “P-Park Chaeyoung.”

“Tell me, Chaeyoung-ah,” Minseok smiles wider, “Who’s your favourite Disney princess?”

 

It’s around 5 am when Minseok finally emerges from the hospital. Chaeyoung had fallen asleep just under two hours ago, and Minseok had been helping where he could. The hospital had descended into the eerie calm after a storm and everything was subdued.

Junmyeon was still there, assisting one of the last surgeries for the night – or rather, morning. He promised Minseok he’d go home right after and sleep for as long as his body wanted. Minseok was sure Baekhyun would be worriedly waiting, and made sure to text him that his soulmate was fine.

Instead of heading straight home, Minseok makes his way to the back of the hospital. He finds a quiet spot in the gardens, hidden behind a large bush of roses.

Minseok sinks into the bench and rests his head in his hands. His shift at the hospital officially starts in 2 hours. He needs to go home, have a shower, eat and change and come right back. Yet he stays sitting there, just breathing in the fresh morning air.

He suddenly wishes he had a soulmate to go home to. It’s not the first time, and he’s sure it won’t be the last. It would be easy, to trudge through the door of his apartment and collapse in his soulmate’s arms, letting them protect him from the world.

Through his shirt, he lightly grazes his soul mark and sighs.

“Doctor Kim?”

Minseok glances up and blinks a few times for his vision to clear. He notices pink hair, plump lips and soft eyes and oh its –

“Jongin-ssi?” Minseok is standing up and bowing the moment he recognises the familiar face. “What are you doing here so early?”

Jongin returns the bow and awkwardly shifts from foot to foot. “Uhm, I thought I’d check in with Jongup early. I won’t be able to see him later because I have dance practice and work.”

“Dance practice?” Minseok recalls Jongup talking about Jongin dancing and nods slowly, “That sounds nice.”

“It is.” Something bright flickers in Jongin’s eyes and Minseok notes that he does have very beautiful eyes. “Why are you here so early?”

“Me?” Minseok is startled out of his sudden admiration and bites his lip to hide the oncoming blush. “There was a huge accident last night. Most of the doctors were called in for help.”

Jongin’s eyebrows draw close in worry and Minseok wants nothing more to rid him of it. The heavy look in his eyes makes Minseok sad.

“It’s all taken care of, don’t worry.” Minseok is quick to assure him. “I’m sure no one will mind you seeing Jongup early. If anyone asks, tell them you have special permission from me.”

The worry lingers faintly in Jongin’s eyes even though he visibly deflates in relief. “Okay. Thank you, Doctor Kim.”

“Hyung,” Minseok waves off the formality, “Call me hyung.”

Jongin smile so brightly that Minseok wonders if the sun switched positions. Before he could even react, Jongin bends down to pull him into a hug.

Everything seems to still for a moment. Minseok registers Jongin’s arms clasped around his shoulders and feels his breath tickle the back of his neck. All too soon, Jongin is letting him go and straightening.

At Minseok’s shocked look, he chuckles nervously. “You look like you needed a hug.”

“Thank you.” Minseok’s voice is heavy with gratitude and Jongin blushes.

“I’m… gonna go see Jongup now,” Jongin gestures in the direction of the hospital. “Please eat something, Doctor – I mean - hyung. You look like you need that too.”

Minseok can’t stop the chuckle that sneaks out. “Thank you, Jongin-ah. See you later.”

Jongin gives him a wave and a cute smile, before turning around and walking towards the hospital.

Minseok sits for a few more minutes, feeling the phantom press of Jongin’s arms around him and basking in it. He gets up and dusts his pants with a smile. His heart no longer feels as heavy. He can’t help but think that Jongin helped him let go of some of the darkness that creeped there during the night, and he is ever so grateful.

It’s slightly after 9 pm when Minseok leaves the hospital. His shift had finished at 8 but he spent an extra hour with some of the kids in the ward.

He’s on his way to his car when a loud voice distracts him.

Minseok pauses. He listens but can’t discern what the voice is saying. He follows the voice to behind the hospital and stops short.

A few feet away from the rose bushes is a bench, and on the bench are empty soju bottles. Sitting on the floor, facing the bottles is a person with dull pink hair.

Minseok gasps softly when the figure turns slightly and he recognises Jongin.

“Why do you get empty so quickly?” Jongin slurs ever so slightly, his voice lower than before.

Minseok is confused, until he realises that Jongin is talking to the soju bottles.

“It’s like,” he hiccups, “One sip! And then you’re gone! Why is that?”

Jongin’s sigh seems to drift in the air. He gets to his feet, wobbles for a moment and straightens.

“Of course,” his voice is so soft that Minseok struggles to hear what he’s saying. Minseok moves closer, hiding behind a rose bush. He peers out and watches as Jongin sways.

“It’s my fault, yeah?” Jongin tilts his head up and speaks to the sky, “It’s my fault that my soulmate died! It’s always my fucking fault! W-Why did they have to die before we met, huh? Why did Dad think it was my fault?”

Minseok’s heart stops and plummets to his stomach and – oh. Oh, no.

“Oh that’s right! Because it’s always! My! Fault!” Jongin stamps his foot to enunciate each word. He loses his balance on the last stamp and tumbles to the ground.

Minseok is darting out before he knows it. He almost runs to Jongin but the other is crawling to the bin next to the bench and hugs it.

Jongin starts swaying against the bin and Minseok wants to laugh, despite his heart suddenly aching.

Jongin stops, pulls back, and stares at the bin. “You need to lose weight.”

Minseok can’t stop the laugh that bursts forth, but Jongin doesn’t seem to hear.

“Really,” Jongin tells the bin, “I think that’s why you can’t dance properly. Even with me leading, you’re terrible!”

Jongin leans against the bin and sighs, “I’m tired now. Can I sleep here? You don’t mind? No? Thank you!”

“Alright,” Minseok chuckles and goes to him. He picks up the empty soju bottles and places them in the bin. Jongin still hasn’t noticed him.

Minseok leans down next to Jongin and places a hand on his shoulder. “Jongin-ah? Let me take you home.”

Jongin’s eyes are closing and Minseok shakes him lightly. He jerks awake and blinks up at Minseok. “H-Huh?”

Minseok repeats what he said and Jongin seems to understand slightly.

“Mmm,” Jongin hums, “Can call Noona. I live wi’ her.”

Minseok hesitates before placing his hand in Jongin’s jacket pocket and pulls out his phone. He prompts Jongin to enter in the passcode and searches his contacts for his sister.

He locates the contact, and the screen goes black.

“What?” Minseok shakes the phone and presses the buttons, trying to get the screen to light up again. After several tries, he concludes that the battery died.

“Damn,” Minseok sighs. “Jongin, where does your sister stay? Jongin?”

Jongin exhales heavily in response and Minseok sees that he’s fallen asleep.

“Damn.” Minseok repeats. He stays crouched, trying to think of what to do next. He has a sleeping and drunk Jongin with him, his dead phone and no way to get home.

“Okay, you’re coming with me.” Minseok decides and hoists Jongin up in his arms. Despite being taller than him, Jongin is surprisingly light. He immediately curls closer to Minseok’s chest, and Minseok feels his heart swoop.

He walks briskly to his car, careful not to drop Jongin, and opens the door with some difficulty. He settles Jongin in the passenger seat and buckles him in gently. Jumping in the driver’s seat, he takes Jongin’s phone and smiles in triumph when his car charger plugs in neatly.

The drive to his apartment is silent, save for the soft sounds of the radio. Minseok finds himself glancing to Jongin now and then, admiring his sleeping form.

When he gets to his apartment, he decides to carry Jongin on his back to make things easier. He’s momentarily thankful for being so fit when he manages to stand mostly upright without a problem.

Minseok forgoes taking off his shoes at the entrance of his apartment and immediately walks towards his bedroom. He gently places Jongin on his bed, takes off Jongin’s shoes and plugs his phone into his own charger.

He goes to the kitchen, fills a glass with water and pads back to his room.

“Jongin, here,” Minseok shakes him awake and tries to get him to drink the water.

Jongin drinks a few sips before falling asleep again. Minseok goes to place some painkillers on the bedside table, next to the glass of water. Picking up Jongin’s phone, he successfully turns it on and coaxes Jongin to enter in his passcode again.

Minseok closes his bedroom door slightly as he goes to the living room. He finds Jungah’s contact and presses call.

She picks up on the third ring. “Hello? Nini? Where are you?!”

“Hello, Jungah-ssi. It’s Doctor Kim Minseok.”

“Doctor Kim?” Jungah’s voice takes on a note of panic. “Is Jongin okay? Where is he?”

Minseok quickly waves his hands as he hurries to explain. “He’s fine! Jongin’s fine. He’s here with me, at my apartment. I found him falling asleep on a bench outside the hospital, and his phone died before I could call you, so I brought him here. He’s sleeping now.”

“Oh, thank God!” Relief weighs on her voice, “Thank you, Doctor Kim.”

“It’s fine.” Minseok smiles. “Where do you stay? I can drop Jongin off in the morning. He’s out cold, so I think it would be a good idea if he stayed the night.”

“Are you sure?” Jungah is uncertain. “I don’t want him to bother you.”

“It’s no problem!” Minseok reassures her. “He’s in good hands.”

“I’ll text him the address. Thank you again, Doctor Kim.” Jungah sighs, and Minseok can practically feel her relief.

Ending the call, he tiptoes back to his room and puts Jongin’s phone to charge. He rummages around for his pyjamas and a spare charger. He finds some clothes that he hopes fits Jongin, and leaves them out for him, together with a spare toothbrush.

Minseok stops and glances at Jongin. He’s curled up on the bed, his arm tucked under his head and his socked feet interlinked. Minseok quietly grabs the comforter and drapes it over Jongin, tucking him in slightly.

Jongin moves to burrow deeper under the comforter and Minseok unconsciously smiles. He tiptoes back out of the room and closes the door almost fully behind him.

He silently bids Jongin a goodnight and goes to make a bed for himself on the couch.

When Minseok opens his eyes the next morning, it’s to Jongin peering down at him with large eyes.

Minseok is startled. He jumps up slightly and ends up knocking his forehead against Jongin’s. He falls back to the couch with a groan and brings his hand up to rub his forehead.

Jongin is holding his forehead, his face scrunched in pain. He stands up and hovers over Minseok, his eyes wide with worry.

“Oh no! Doctor Kim, are you okay?” Jongin waves his hands, unsure as to what he should do. “I’m so sorry!”

Despite the throb in his head, Minseok smiles and waves him off, “It’s okay.”

He sits up slowly and blinks at the light. “What is the time?”

“It’s a little after 8,” Jongin’s eyebrows are still creased in worry. “Sorry to wake you. I thought you were late for work.”

“I have today off.” Minseok replies. “How did you sleep? Do you have a headache?”

“Only slightly,” Jongin ducks his head to hide a sudden blush. “I took the tablets you left out for me, so it’s not that bad. Thank you, hyung.”

“No problem,” Minseok’s smile is bright and gummy. Jongin pauses and stares at him, and Minseok can’t help but smile wider. “Why don’t you watch TV or something while I go brush my teeth and make us breakfast?”

“Breakfast?” Jongin is confused.

“Yeah.” Minseok chuckles at his adorable expression. “I can’t let you go home starving, now can I?”

Jongin smiles timidly and settles into the other couch. He plays with the edge of his shirt and, oh – Minseok realises it’s one of his shirts that he left out for Jongin.

Minseok turns swiftly and hurries to the bathroom. He has no idea why his heart is pounding, or why his palms suddenly feel so sweaty. He shakes off any further thoughts and mechanically brushes his teeth and freshens up.

When he emerges from the bathroom, Jongin is sitting with his knees to his chest, curled up on the couch and laughing to a cartoon on the TV.

Minseok’s heart seizes at how soft and lovely Jongin looks. He’s free of the heavy weight from last night, and he laughs without restraint. Minseok wants to ask him about his soulmate but he also wants Jongin to tell him of his own accord.

“Do you like pancakes?” Minseok calls and Jongin jumps slightly.

“I love pancakes,” Jongin grins widely.

Minseok smiles in approval and turns to start mixing pancakes. It’s one of the easiest things to make and he used to make it for Junmyeon as hangover breakfast. They even served as midnight snacks during finals back in university.

“Thank you for bringing me here,” Jongin leaves the TV to come watch him in the kitchen.

“It was not a problem,” Minseok glances at him and smiles. “I’m glad I was there. I hate to think what would have happened if I wasn’t.”

Jongin shrugs. “I would have found my way home eventually. But I’m glad you were there, too.”

Minseok catches his blush and feels his heart thud loudly in his chest. He hums and turns away to hide his own blush. He’s still curious about the night before but holds himself from acting on it.

“How is Jongup?” Jongin breaks the silence that momentarily reigned.

“He’s doing well.” Minseok cracks an egg into the bowel and stirs. “The medication is working well and he’s scheduled for his first physical therapy appointment soon.”

“That’s good.” Jongin lets out a sigh of relief. “I’m glad to hear that.”

“You’re close to him?” Minseok peers over the edge of the mixing bowl.

Jongin’s enthusiastic grin lights up his entire face. “Yeah! He’s my only nephew, and since I live with my sister, we’re pretty close. His father isn’t around most of the day so he spends a lot of time with me. I love him a lot.”

Minseok can’t help the smile that tugs at his lips at the sight of the pure adoration on Jongin’s face. He looks like he could go on and on talking about Jongup, but he catches himself.

“Sorry.” Jongin laughs lightly. “He’s just a really great kid.”

“I don’t mind at all!” Minseok is quick to reassure him. “I love all the kids I work with and I love hearing about them. Jongup might be one of my favourites – but don’t let anyone hear that.”

Jongin laughs louder at the wink Minseok shoots him. He pauses, and then asks, “How is being a Doctor? You’re a pediatrician right?”

“Yeah.” Minseok leaves the batter to settle and turns to fully face him. “I love it. The kids are great. There’s never a dull day with them.”

Jongin nods and falls silent once more. A loud meow has them both glancing to the floor, where Tan walks and sits in front of them.

“Morning Tan-ah.” Minseok bends down to ruffle his fur. “I hope you like Jongin here.”

“I woke up to him sleeping on the bed.” Jongin laughs. “I think he thought I was you.”

“I hope he didn’t bother you.” Minseok suddenly feels embarrassed. “I don’t even know if you’re allergic to cats or not.”

Jongin shakes his head. “I have 3 dogs and owned a cat when I was young. I love animals.”

Minseok lets out a loud sigh of relief and Jongin giggles. Tan meows once more before leaving, presumably to eat.

“Do you also have today off?” Minseok asks. He moves to get started on making the pancakes as he casually throws out the question.

Jongin nods. “I teach ballet to kids every Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of the days, minus weekends, I help out at my friend’s restaurant.”

“Ballet?” Minseok is surprised. “Wow, I had no idea.”

“No one really expects it.” Jongin laughs lightly. “It’s really funny when I tell people and watch their reactions.”

“I hope you at least get a good laugh out of it,” Minseok’s eyes gleam as he flips over a pancake.

“Always.” Jongin grins. He pauses as he watches Minseok flip a pancake and gapes. “Whoa.”

Minseok smirks to himself and flips it again, this time moving his wrist more so the pancake flies higher than before. He catches it in the pan neatly and is pleased to see Jongin’s look of awe.

“You’re really good at that.” Jongin stares.

Minseok, despite smirking, blushes. “Thanks.”

Making the pancakes flows smoothly. Minseok goes out of his way to flip every pancake, and his smile only grows at every “ah!” Jongin makes.

Jongin devours almost all the pancakes. Minseok can’t help but eat a few and then sit back to watch Jongin. There’s just something so satisfying about watching Jongin enjoy the pancakes. Minseok finds his heart doing a weird flip, much like what he did to the pancakes. He groans inwardly and tries to ignore it.

Jongin helps him clean up, even though Minseok insists he doesn’t need the help. When Jongin says it’s time for him to leave, Minseok wants to protest.

“I better get home before Noona worries about me more.” Jongin stands awkwardly in the kitchen. “Thank you for taking care of me, Doctor – I mean, hyung.”

Minseok reluctantly smiles. “It was the least I could do.” He hesitates. “We should, uhm. We should do this again.”

“Me passing out and you dragging my wasted ass here?” Jongin raises his eyebrow.

Minseok flushes and shakes his head quickly. “No, no! This – “ he gestures frantically, and Jongin presses his lips together, hiding a smile. “Breakfast. Hanging out. You know.”

“But would you want to hang out with me?” In spite of his light tone, Minseok can sense the underlying uncertainty.

“Of course.” Minseok nods. “You’re good company; it’s not something I have enough of.”

Jongin smiles shyly. “Okay, then. We’ll do this again, soon.”

“Soon.” Minseok repeats happily.

When Jongin leaves and the door falls closed behind him, no one but Tan sees the excited victory jump that Minseok does.

“Soul sickness?”

Minseok pads after Baekhyun and settles on the chair opposite him. Baekhyun immediately goes for the porch swing and gleefully jumps onto it, swinging with a huge smile on his face.

Byun Baekhyun, physically 26 years old but mentally much, much younger.

“Yes!” Baekhyun nods when he comes to a stop. “Soul sickness. Yixing thinks he discovered something about it.”

“Really now?” Junmyeon’s eyebrow is raised as he makes his way outside. He settles a tray with a pitcher of water and glasses on the table and sits next to Minseok. “What did he find?”

“Soul sickness is, to put it crudely, people coughing up flowers.” Baekhyun says seriously.

Flowers?!” Minseok is incredulous. “That’s impossible.”

Baekhyun shrugs. “There have been reports of it. Some more vague than others. A few years ago, a girl died because she couldn’t breathe. Post-mortem revealed there were flower petals blocking her airways.”

“Where do they come from?” Junmyeon’s brows are furrowed. “Medically speaking, that’s impossible.”

“Is there a medical explanation for soulmates?” Baekhyun counters.

Junmyeon pauses. “Well, no but –“

“Exactly!” Baekhyun jumps in excitement and goes swinging. “If there’s no medical explanation for soulmates, why would there be for soul sickness?”

“It weirdly makes sense.” Minseok says slowly. “But why does soul sickness even occur in the first place?”

Baekhyun shrugs again. “Yixing says it happens when soulmates resist each other.”

“Why would they do that?!” Junmyeon gasps. “Why would anyone not want their soulmate?”

“They have their reasons.” Baekhyun’s expression is uncharacteristically sombre. His own parents weren’t soulmates; perhaps he was recalling that fact and seemed to understand. “That’s why soul sickness is so rare that it’s practically unheard of. Almost no one resists their soulmate, so the sickness doesn’t occur often.”

“How long does it take before the sickness becomes fatal?” Minseok asks.

“Hard to say.” Baekhyun frowns. “The first report occurred only two days after the girl met her soulmate. The second one, a month after the soulmates met. It’s relative to the case.”

Minseok nods, his mind troubled. “But why is Yixing looking into this?”

“His soulmate’s sister recently started coughing up petals.” Baekhyun bites his lip. “She hasn’t met her soulmate yet, though.”

“I hope she meets them soon enough.” Junmyeon’s face is grim. “I have a feeling Yixing will be able to cure it.”

“Is there even a cure for something like that?” Minseok frowns. “If it can’t be explained medically, how can it be treated and even cured?”

“Well, if it happens because soulmates resist, wouldn’t the logical solution be for the soulmates to just… stop resisting and be together?” Junmyeon says.

Baekhyun clicks his fingers and grins. “Exactly! Just let it happen naturally, as soulmates do, and boom! Cured of soul sickness.”

“It might be easier said than done.” Minseok sighs. “I don’t understand why people would resist their soulmates. They should be glad to even have one at all.”

He doesn’t miss the look Baekhyun and Junmyeon exchange over the hint of bitterness in his voice. He waves off their worried looks and sighs again.

“So, I saw you hanging out with a young man with pink hair the other day.” Junmyeon waggles his eyebrows in a way that has both Minseok and Baekhyun groaning, even if the latter’s is filled with fondness.

“Were you spying on me?” Minseok’s glare lacks heat.

Junmyeon grins as he shakes his head. “Nope. It was strange, Seungwan told me that he’s one of your patient’s uncles?”

“Wouldn’t dating him violate some doctor-patient ethic?” Baekhyun asks. “I wouldn’t strike Minseok-hyung as a rule breaker…”

“What?” Minseok exclaims. “No one said anything about dating him!”

“Then why are you blushing, hyung?” Baekhyun asks innocently.

“I’m not blushing!” Minseok is blushing. “And we were just talking! There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“I walked by three times and you didn’t even notice.” Junmyeon pouts. “You were too busy being wrapped up in his smiles. In fact, that might be a bit unethical…”

Junmyeon and Baekhyun’s giggles drown out Minseok’s groan. “You two are insufferable.”

“But you love us.” Baekhyun grins.

“That I do.” Minseok grudgingly admits. “His name is Kim Jongin and he’s actually a new friend.”

“For now.” Baekhyun sings. He giggles again at Minseok’s dark look. “Oh please, hyung. Junmyeon-ah told me how you were looking at him.”

“And how was I looking at him?” Minseok turns his gaze to his best friend, who suddenly looks like a deer caught in headlights.

Like the pink-haired man was the only person in the room. Baekhyunnie, he laughed and Minseok had the gummiest smile on his face. It was like how you looked at me when we first found each other.” Baekhyun quotes.

Minseok drops his head in his hand. “Why do you make me suffer like this?”

“Really though,” Junmyeon chuckles. “You looked really happy talking to him. I haven’t seen you look that happy in a while.”

“We’re just friends though,” Minseok stresses.

“Sure,” Baekhyun winks. “Just friends.”

Minseok groans for the umpteenth time that day. There’s just no winning against Baekhyun.

“Tell me about him.” Baekhyun offers with a small smile, and that’s how Minseok knows that Baekhyun’s intentions are good, as always.

“His nephew is a patient,” Minseok starts. “He’s a good kid, full of fight and enthusiasm.”

“Ah, Moon Jongup?” Junmyeon recalls with a jolt. “You’ve spoken about him, and I’ve seen him around the hospital.”

Minseok nods. “Jongin adores him, and he’s always visiting. We’ve had enough encounters for us to be considered friends by now.”

“How old is he?” Baekhyun tucks his hand underneath his chin, his eyes curving into a fond smile. “Where does he work? Does he have a soulmate?”

“He’s four years younger than me, he had a steady job as a dance instructor for kids and he helps out at his friend’s café in his spare time.” Minseok pauses. “And no, he doesn’t have a soulmate.”

Baekhyun and Junmyeon sit up straighter. “How do you know this?” Junmyeon is curious, if a bit worried.

Minseok bites his lip. “He may have drunkenly confessed it to me.”

Baekhyun whistles lowly. “So… you’re saying he’s not aware of the fact that you know he doesn’t have a soulmate?”

“Technically speaking… yes.”

Another low whistle. “Any idea what happened?”

Minseok shrugs. He thinks about the anguish in Jongin’s voice when he blamed himself for not having a soulmate, and his hands tighten into a fist. The urge to comfort Jongin and tell him that it’s not his fault burns like a fire within him. But he can’t do that until Jongin tells him about it, and who knows when that will happen.

“He just said that his soulmate died before they met. I don’t know more than that.”

“Does he know about yours?” Junmyeon’s eyes are filled with worry now, and he doesn’t bother to conceal it.

“No.” Minseok shakes his head, “It never came up.”

“You should tell him.” Baekhyun says. “I mean, it would be good to be honest about it. Who knows where it would take your relationship?”

“Friendly! Relationship.” Minseok chides weakly. “Okay, yeah. I’ll try to bring it up.”

“I hope it goes well.” Junmyeon smiles. “He looks like a good person and, well, he makes you happy.”

Minseok stays silent, not denying this. As new and unusual as their friendship is, Minseok can’t say that it doesn’t make him happy. Jongin is a breath of fresh air he never knew he needed. His steps seem lighter, everything seems more appealing and he’d even caught himself humming the other day.

“Yeah.” Minseok eventually says. “He does.”

Minseok rarely works during the night at the hospital. The latest he’s ever left is during the evening, and he wasn’t even working then. He tends to stay later just to speak to the kids. They’re so small, and staying in a hospital can get rather scary. He doesn’t want them to dwell on the constant beeps of the machine or the artificially clean smell that constantly permeates the air.

He’s on his way out of the hospital, his white doctor’s coat slung over his arm, when he spots a familiar head of dull pink hair.

“Jongin!”

Jongin turns so suddenly that he bumps into the corner of the wall. His face scrunches up in pain and he grips his right shoulder.

Minseok quickly rushes to him, the smile on his face being replaced by a look of worry. “Oh my god, I’m sorry, are you okay?”

His hands roam Jongin’s arm and shoulder, assessing for any damage. When he realises there’s nothing broken or hurt, he looks up into Jongin’s mirthful face.

“I’m fine, Doctor Kim.” Jongin teases. He struggles to keep the smile off his face and breaks out into small giggles.

Minseok rolls his eyes and huffs, dutifully ignoring the warmth blooming in his chest. Now that Jongin is fine, they unconsciously start walking in the same direction.

“Did you visit Jongup?” Minseok asks.

Jongin nods. “He’s doing fine. Jungah-noona is still up there. I’ll be back again tomorrow.”

Minseok smiles. “That’s good. Where are you headed now?”

“Home.” Jongin says as his stomach rumbles. He blushes. “Or maybe to eat first. I forgot to grab something after dance class.”

“Do you want to grab something with me?” Minseok blurts.

Jongin halts in his steps and gives him a shy look. Minseok feels the back of his neck heat up and starts to play with his coat. “Uhm, you don’t have to if you don’t want –“

“I’d love to.” Jongin stops him. Minseok can’t help the grin that makes way to his face.

“Okay, yeah.” Minseok takes a deep breath to clear his mind. “Food. Uhm, I don’t think any restaurant is open this late.”

“Never mind that.” Jongin’s eyes glint. “I know just the place. Come on, it’s not that far from here.”

“It’ll be quicker if I drive and you direct.” Minseok pulls out his car keys and jiggles them.

Jongin laughs and agrees. He falls back into step beside Minseok as they walk to his car. A comfortable silence descends upon them and Minseok sighs, feeling an unknown weight lift off his shoulders. He likes that there’s no need to fill the space between them with meaningless small talk. They’re content to just be next to each other, and he appreciates that.

Jongin directs him to a small convenience store just a few blocks away from the hospital. At Minseok’s raised eyebrow, he flushes and protests, “It’s the only good place that’s open this late.”

“Our first time out and you take me to a convenience store.” Minseok shakes his head as he parks the car. They jump out and Minseok takes in the flashing ’24 hours’ neon sign of the practically empty store.

“Next time we’ll go somewhere better, I promise.” Jongin declares, though Minseok can hear the underlying uncertainty.

“Next time will be better planned.” Minseok confirms. Jongin’s smile is brilliant and chases away the chill of the night air that settles around Minseok.

They enter the brightly lit store and greet the sleepy cashier. She looks alive for a split second before wearily glancing back to her phone.

Jongin tugs at Minseok’s sleeve and eagerly rushes to one of the aisles. Minseok laughs and follows him, only to be greeted with rows of cup noodles.

“Classic.” Minseok shakes his head. Jongin playfully rolls his eyes and surveys all the flavours, before picking up the spiciest cup noodles and holding it firmly in his hands.

“Are you sure?” Minseok raises his brows but Jongin nods defiantly. Minseok shrugs. “Okay, but that’s really hot.”

“I’ll be fine.” Jongin is stubborn. Minseok shrugs, hiding a smile, as he settles for one with less spiciness. He motions for Jongin to go heat them up and waves off his protest. He quickly pays for the noodles and joins Jongin at the small table at the back of the store.

Minseok drums his fingers against the cup noodles as he waits for them to get done. He drags his eyes away from the steam curling in the air to stare at Jongin. His pink hair flops down his forehead and he’s stirring his noodles with chopsticks. His face is pinched in concentration despite the trivial task. Minseok figures that’s how Jongin tackles almost everything – with an intense attentiveness that ensures perfection.

“Let’s go sit outside.” Jongin exclaims, breaking Minseok’s musing. He doesn’t seem to notice Minseok’s staring and shuffles on his feet in excitement.

Minseok checks his own noodles and agrees. They make their way outside, to the nearest table and settle on opposite sides. The tables outside are small and cosy; they’re quite fitting for the two of them.

From where he’s seated, Minseok can practically smell the spices emanating from Jongin’s noodles. He presses his lips together in worry.

“I’ll be fine!” Jongin sees his apprehension and immediately waves his hand. “I love spicy food!”

Minseok watches, transfixed, as Jongin grabs a huge amount of noodles with his chopsticks and proceed to stuff it into his mouth. Jongin’s cheeks are slightly puffed out, his lips are shiny and puckered, and his eyes are bright. He beams at Minseok and chews slowly, and then swallows.

“See?” Jongin says when he finishes. “I’m totally f– “

It’s that exact moment when the spiciness of the noodles hits.

Jongin’s mouth falls open and his face twists into an expression of pain. Tears form at the corner of his eyes and he starts coughing.

Minseok jumps up in alarm and crouches next to Jongin, one hand on his back and the other already handing him the water bottle he secretly purchased. Jongin swiftly unscrews the cap and gulps down at least half the bottle in one go.

He’s breathing heavily when he’s finished and there are slight beads of sweat gathering at his temple. Minseok slowly rubs his back and worriedly asks, “Jongin-ah, are you alright?”

Jongin’s smile is punctuated by a wince. “Yeah, I’m okay hyung. Thanks for the water though. Did you not have faith in me?”

Minseok laughs at the pout on Jongin’s face. He returns to his seat and finally starts eating. “Not really, no. I’ve had those noodles before, didn’t last long. I bought more water just in case.”

Jongin grins sheepishly. “They’re strong but they’re really good.”

Minseok huffs out a disbelieving laugh and keeps an eye on Jongin as he eats. After a few bites, Jongin will slump back in his chair, looking utterly defeated. Tears will form but won’t fall. He empties one, two, three water bottles and tugs at the collar of his sweater when he feels too hot.

“Come on, champ,” Minseok pushes back his empty cup and grins. “You can do it.”

“Here, hyung.” Jongin’s smile is less pained and more conniving. “Have a bite.”

Minseok protests but Jongin waves his chopsticks between them. He’s quickly realising that he is weak to Jongin’s demands and sighs resignedly as he accepts the noodles from Jongin.

They’re really delicious; and then the fire hits the back of his throat and Minseok almost chokes in his haste to drink water. Jongin is laughing at him, a full-body laugh that has the table shaking. Minseok thinks his suffering is worth it when he sees the pure joy on Jongin’s face.

“It’s always better to suffer together.” Jongin smiles lopsidedly at him. Under the low lighting of the convenience store, his features stand out more. He’s soft in his pastel sweater; his pink hair is tousled and he’s slumped back in his seat. He is so beautiful, Minseok thinks, and oh, oh

“Hyung,” Jongin says, pulling Minseok out of his whirlwind thoughts. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” Minseok breathes deeply to hide his inner turmoil. “Is everything okay, Jongin-ah?”

Jongin hesitates. “There’s a business awards show happening next month; one of the kids’ parents from my dance class asked me if I could do a solo act at the beginning.”

“Jongin, that’s amazing!” Minseok exclaims. “Congratulations!”

“Thank you.” Jongin is humble and ducks his head slightly. “Uhm, I was wondering if you’d come. As, uh, my plus one? You don’t have to if you don’t want to but I’d like you to see me dance and you’re a good friend and uh –“

“Jongin-ah.” Minseok cuts in, halting his rambling, and smiles. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Great,” Jongin breathes. “Thank you, hyung.”

“I can’t wait to see you dance.” Minseok says. “I’ve been curious ever since you told me you teach dance classes.”

“You can come watch me practice any time!” Jongin says quickly. He blushes and leans back. “I mean, whenever you’re free and I’m practicing. You can always stop by.”

“Okay.” Minseok readily agrees. “I’ll surprise you one day.”

Jongin groans and hides his face in his hands. “Give me a fair warning at least! I don’t want to be a mess when you see me.”

“Okay.” Minseok says again. “It’s a deal.”

Jongin smiles sincerely and repeats, “Thank you.”

 

It’s just after 11 pm when Minseok gets home. He switches on the lights in his apartment and goes to get a glass of water. Tan rubs himself against Minseok’s calf and he bends down to pet his cat.

“Hello, Tan-ah.” Minseok coos. “Sorry I left you for so long; I was out with Jongin.”

He fills up Tan’s food bowl, changes his water and goes to have a quick shower. His doctor’s coat is placed on a hanger and left out so it doesn’t crease. He grabs his shorts and a shirt before heading to the bathroom.

Minseok is taking off his shirt when it starts.

It hits him with a force that has him doubling over. He watches himself on the sink and avoids falling down. The coughing racks his body and he gasps for air.

He wheezes as his throat contracts to push out air. He’s starting to feel lightheaded when he feels something tickling the back of his throat. He coughs more, hoping to get whatever’s stuck there out.

The coughing ceases when Minseok spits something into the sink. He heaves for air, his mind returning to a conscious state. Minseok stares at the sink, utterly confused.

He feels okay now, albeit slightly breathless and a bit pained. There’s no urge to cough again. If it were not for the pain and the thing in the sink, it would be as if the coughing fit never happened.

Minseok doesn’t move, transfixed by the thing he coughed up, which now lies delicately in his sink.

It’s a small, soft pink petal.

The petal stays on his mind for the next two weeks. He had carefully wrapped it in a tissue and placed it in his bedside table; he hasn’t coughed up anything ever since then.

Minseok can’t stop thinking about what Baekhyun said about soul sickness. Him coughing up the petal is the main symptom of the sickness. But it makes no sense at all – Minseok is without a soulmate. How can he be infected with soul sickness if he doesn’t even have a soulmate?

He finds himself touching his soul mark at any given opportunity. He rests his hand on his hip when he’s talking to someone, his fingers graze it when he’s changing, and he wakes up in the morning to find his hand covering the dead peony tattoo.

If anything, the petal prompts him to dwell on his soulmate even more than usual. He never forgets about his dead soulmate but these past two weeks sees him thinking about what ifs and whys.

There’s this achingly empty feeling inside of him that he doesn’t like to think about. He wonders what life would be like with his soulmate. What would their job be? Would they want kids? Would they like Tan? What would it be like to come home after a stressful day at the hospital and fall into open arms? Would they be messy and irritate Minseok, who liked things clean? Would they love Junmyeon and Baekhyun as much as Minseok did?

Too many times did his thoughts drift to Jongin. He finds himself wishing that Jongin was his soulmate more often than not. But alas, the universe wasn’t so generous.

Minseok is so wrapped in his thoughts during his break, that he doesn’t notice Junmyeon until he bumps into him.

“Whoa, Minseok-hyung, are you okay there?”

Junmyeon’s hands are warm and firm on his shoulders, steadying him. Minseok shakes his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts.

“Yeah.” Minseok tries for a nonchalant smile. “I’m okay. Sorry I didn’t see you there.”

“What’s on your mind?” Junmyeon’s eyes are filled with worry. “You look pale. Are you feeling sick?”

Minseok shakes his head. “Junmyeon-ah, I’m okay, really. I’m just having a tough time with the kids, is all.”

Junmyeon nods slightly, still unconvinced. “Okay. Is there anything wrong with them?”

“Jongup’s physical therapy isn’t going so well.” Minseok sighs. “I was thinking of asking his therapist to increase his activities.”

“I trust you’ll make the right decision.” Junmyeon’s voice is laced with a confidence that Minseok is grateful for. “When is your break?”

“Now actually.” Minseok frowns slightly. “I have to get back to work soon.”

Junmyeon pouts. “Okay. I guess I’ll see you on Sunday? Baekhyun said I must ask you if you’ll bring Jongin.”

Minseok blanches. “We’re not even dating! It’s too soon, Junmyeon-ah.”

“Alright.” Junmyeon laughs. “But don’t blame me if he pushes. How is Jongin by the way?”

“He’s busy preparing for an awards show.” Minseok bites his lip to stop a smile from overpowering his face. “He asked me to be his plus one.”

“That’s great!” Junmyeon grins. “Are you going to go? Of course you are! What are you going to wear? Do you want me to come suit shopping with you?”

“No!” Minseok laughs at his friend’s eagerness. “I have a perfectly good suit to use and yes, I’m going. Speaking of Jongin, that reminds me to visit him later today.”

“Ooh!” Junmyeon waggles his eyebrows, much to Minseok’s dismay. “Have fun, hyung.”

“Hush.” Minseok grumbles. “It’s nothing like that. I’m only going to watch him practice.”

“Whatever you say, hyung.” Junmyeon smirks.

Minseok rolls his eyes and lamely retorts, “You have fun with Baekhyun!”

Junmyeon’s smirk intensifies. “You know I will.”

Minseok makes a face and fails to come up with a good comeback. He shakes his head as his friend breaks into loud laughter beside him. Minseok bids him farewell when he’s done and goes about his day, making a mental note to visit Jongin later.

Minseok stares at the large building in front of him, and glances back down to his phone. He’s pretty sure this is the address Jongin texted him before. He gnaws on his lip for a moment before pushing his phone back to his pocket and walking up the stairs.

He has Jongin’s directions committed to memory, and carefully follows them. The interior of the building is large and beautifully designed, with minimalistic paintings hung in entrance. He goes deeper into the building, following winding hallways and soon hears the distant sounds of music.

The building is empty; so much so that Minseok’s breathing is the loudest thing there. He’s quiet as he follows the music. It’s a haunting piano sonnet, with violins backing it for added effect. It’s loudest when he stops in front of an open doorway and sees a body languidly moving in the air.

For a moment, Minseok forgets how to breathe.

He first sees Jongin in mid-pirouette. It’s as if he’s suspended in air, before his invisible wings close and he falls gracefully to the floor. His bare feet touch the ground ever so lightly and he bends low, almost crouching.

The violins stop and it’s just the piano playing now.

Jongin’s eyes are closed and he’s wearing nothing but a pair of sweatpants and a tank shirt. The ends of his hair are wet and sweat trickles down the side of his face. He pushes his body upwards, raises his hand up for a second before bringing it back down in an arch and jumps forward. He twirls so fast that he resembles a mini tornado in the room.

He comes to a stop with one hand on the floor and the other hand on his knee. He breathes heavily in the deafening silence of the room. Jongin stays like that for a drawn out moment, and then raises his head and locks eyes with Minseok.

“Oh! Minseok hyung!”

Minseok startles. He barely even registered that the music had ended. The silence was just as loud as the sonnet. He’s transfixed by Jongin, even as he smiles brightly and pads to the doorway.

“I’m sorry; I didn’t even notice you were here.”

“That was beautiful.” Minseok blurts. “Your dancing, and the music – and your dancing, oh my god. It was all just – so beautiful.”

He’s never seen such art before. This shy, modest man before him holds so much of raw talent that it leaves Minseok breathless.

“Thank you, hyung.” Jongin is now red from exertion and blushing. He awkwardly scratches his neck before beckoning Minseok to come into the room.

Minseok is slowly coming back to earth. With no music and dancing Jongin to distract him, he focuses himself by studying the room. It’s spacious and filled with light, with a wall of mirrors that give the illusion of the room being bigger than it is.

Jongin takes a towel and wipes his face. He takes a long swing from a water bottle and Minseok struggles to look anywhere but at Jongin. It’s no secret that Jongin is well-built; he hides behind oversized sweaters and scarves, and Minseok now sees his defined muscles without anything to conceal it. To say he’s having a hard time is an understatement.

“Thanks for popping in to see me.” Jongin says when he finishes the water. “I needed a distraction.”

“Are you okay?” Looking closer, Minseok can see that Jongin is rather tense; his fists are unconsciously clenched and he seems hunched, as if something is physically weighing on him.

Jongin shoots him a tight smile. “Just some family problems, is all.”

Minseok pauses. It’s the first time Jongin has mentioned anything about his family, save for his sister and his nephew. The only thing Minseok knows is that Jongin’s father didn’t take the news about his soulmate lightly, and Jongin is unaware that Minseok holds that information.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Minseok asks carefully. If there’s one thing he’s learnt about Jongin, it’s that he holds people at an arm’s length always. Minseok would like to think that he’s one person that Jongin is allowing to cross that boundary and draw closer.

Jongin heaves a sigh and stares at Minseok. He’s still holding his now empty water bottle and he has his other hand on the towel. Minseok can see the battle waging on in his head – he only hopes that Jongin trusts him enough to confide in him.

After a moment of contemplation, Jongin puts the water bottle down next to a bag that Minseok didn’t notice. He keeps the towel with him and crosses the room. Minseok follows him as he sits down with his back resting against the mirrors. Without the illusion they create, the room seems relatively normal-sized and unintimidating.

“My parents and I…” Jongin looks straight ahead and begins slowly. “We’re not exactly on the best of terms.”

“I gathered as much.” Minseok confesses. “You never speak about them.”

“There’s nothing I have to say about them.” Jongin’s laugh is bitter. “My father is Kim Soogeun.”

Minseok’s eyes widen. “Potential presidential candidate Kim Soogeun?”

“The very one.” He smiles humourlessly. “We haven’t spoken since I was 18. My mom speaks to me now and again, when she can be bothered to remember me.”

Jongin leans his head back against the mirror and closes his eyes. Minseok wants to reach out and draw him into his embrace but he holds himself back.

“This is why.” Jongin says, before sitting up and turning his back towards Minseok. He pulls his shirt up and, if the situation were different, Minseok would be blushing and admiring his sculpted back.

However, what lies there leaves Minseok with sadness.

In the middle of Jongin’s back, in between his shoulder blades, lies a tattoo of a dead baby’s breath bud.

It’s striking in its ruin. The bud is big and, despite being withered and dried, it stands tall and dark against Jongin’s smooth skin.

Minseok unconsciously stretches out and ever so gently grazes the tattoo. Jongin shudders beneath his fingers. Minseok catches himself and pulls away, allowing Jongin to let his shirt cover his back and turns to face him.

“Oh my,” The knowledge he holds doesn’t lessen his feelings in this moment. Seeing Jongin’s soul tattoo leaves him winded. He understands what Jongin has been through, however. And he thinks that Jongin resembles his tattoo – despite suffering, he still stands strong with a fierce determination.

“Yeah. My dad blames me for the death of my soulmate. As if I could control it.” Jongin scoffs. “He refuses to speak to me or even acknowledge me. He kicked me out when he found out, and I’ve been living with Jungah ever since.”

Minseok searches for words. He has so much that he wants to say but he doesn’t know how.

“It’s hard.” Jongin sighs. “I feel like I agree with my father. Sometimes I think it actually is my fault for not having a soulmate.”

“No.” Minseok’s vehement response shocks both Jongin and himself. “It is not your fault.”

Jongin’s eyes are wide as Minseok carefully lifts up his sweater and reveals his own withered peony bud. His gasp is amplified in the silence of the room.

“Y-Your soulmate is also dead?”

Minseok sees the turbulent emotions in Jongin’s eyes and nods woefully. “Yes. I’ve never met them, either. All I have is the knowledge that I had a soulmate, but they’re not deceased.”

Jongin sits back. “Wow. Who would have thought…”

“I’ve learnt to live with it.” Minseok shrugs. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m glad we at least know about them being dead, you know? It saves us the pain of false hope.”

“I’ve never really thought about it.” Jongin says. “I’ve only ever looked at this tattoo as a curse. If my soulmate was alive, things would be much easier.”

Minseok shifts so that he’s facing Jongin slightly more. “I think about it a lot. The thought of my soulmate never leaves me. I’ve missed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of loving someone who the universe chose for me. It sucks, doesn’t it?”

Despite the sombre tone, Jongin’s laugh is brighter. “It does suck! It’s like the universe wanted to kick us in the ass. Why did we get the short end of the stick?”

“I don’t know.” Minseok finds himself laughing too. “But Jongin-ah, you’re not alone. Your father was wrong to blame you for something beyond your control and he was especially wrong for turning you away in your time of need.”

Jongin refuses to meet his gaze and mumbles something. Minseok gently grasps his chin and Jongin’s eyes rise to meet his.

“This is not your fault.” Minseok repeats softly. “Don’t believe what anyone tells you. You’re without a soulmate, and that doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you. You’re not the only one either. As much as I wonder what it would be like to have a soulmate, I know it’s useless. Yearning and crying and avoiding it won’t bring my soulmate back. It’s something I’ve come to accept.”

“It’s so hard though.” Jongin whispers and Minseok sees the tears forming. “I’ve never had anyone understand what it’s like. Hyung, it’s been so hard.”

Minseok’s heart breaks as the tears start to fall.

“Oh, Jongin-ah.” Minseok sighs and pulls him close. “You’ve had a hard time, but it’s okay. I’m here, let it all out.”

Jongin falls against him and buries his face in the crook of Minseok’s neck. He’s taller than Minseok but in this moment, he seems even smaller as he curls around Minseok’s body.

Minseok rubs circles into his back and feels Jongin’s body wrack with sobs that he’s suppressed for years. Jongin cries, and cries, and cries, and Minseok holds him close, wanting to take away his pain.

“There, there, it’s okay.” Minseok whispers, ignoring his own tears that are falling as he too grieves. “I’ve got you.”

“It’s okay, Jongin-ah. I’ve got you.”

The sky is an empty white canvas, with a few snowflakes dropping out intermittently before the snow falls surely and steadily. It’s during times like this when Minseok is grateful for his apartment on the fourth floor. He thinks about people getting up earlier just to shovel snow off their driveway and counts his blessings yet again.

However, he still has to get up early to avoid the morning traffic. The days are colder and the warmth of one’s bed has never been more alluring. Many succumb to the invisible pull and sleep longer, inadvertently getting late for work and school. By braving the cold, and snow, Minseok doesn’t mind getting to work earlier than much, much later.

“Hey Junmyeon-ah,” Minseok doesn’t have to raise his voice in the empty passageway for his friend to hear him.

Junmyeon stumbles out of his office, his white coat uncharacteristically creased and a few strands of hair sticking up. Minseok assumes he was catching a quick nap in between shifts.

“Hey, hyung.” Junmyeon coughs to clear the sleep weighing down his voice and smiles feebly.

Minseok winces. “How long did you sleep for?”

“20 minutes?” Junmyeon glances at his watch but it’s on the wrong wrist. He shrugs. “Give or take.”

“Go home, Junmyeon-ah.” Minseok says gently. “Doesn’t Baekhyun have Fridays off?”

Junmyeon nods. “He’s probably still sleeping now.” At the mention of his soulmate, Junmyeon straightens and smiles, colour returning to his face and his eyes looking more alive. “My shift ends in a few hours, I’ll see him then.”

Minseok laughs. “Look at you, being energized by the thought of Baekhyun.”

Junmyeon blushes and Minseok shakes his head fondly. “Speaking of him, did he say what his friend said about soul sickness?”

“His soulmate’s sister hasn’t showed any more signs of the sickness.” Junmyeon spends a moment to remember what Baekhyun said. “But he’s working very hard to prove his theory and to find a cure.”

Minseok heaves a sigh and it causes Junmyeon to peer at him with worry. “Hyung, is there something wrong.”

“No, nothing is wrong.” Minseok is quick to reassure him. “I was just… thinking.”

“Well, don’t think too hard.” Junmyeon laughs. “I’ll catch up with you later, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Minseok nods and waves, his mind already miles away.

“Oh, wait!” Junmyeon turns on his heel and rushes back to him. “I almost forgot! Hyung, did you hear about the Chimera Project?”

“The what?” Minseok furrows his eyebrows. “What is that?”

“It’s created and run by Doctor Bae Joohyun. She’s a brilliant scientist but she’s caused a lot of controversy with her experiments.”

“Ah.” Minseok’s mouth twists. “The one about communicating with your soulmate even though they’re dead?”

“Yeah.” Junmyeon nods. “But she’s finally done it! And she’s calling it the Chimera Project.”

“Would it still be a chimera if she managed to achieve it?” Minseok isn’t sure why he’s so scornful. “What is it about?”

“It’s a psychological based simulation in which the person talks to their soulmate.” Junmyeon says. “I’m not sure how successful it will be, but Doctor Bae is confident. I think she’ll start the simulation within the next 2 weeks.”

“That’s … soon.” Minseok frowns. “How is this even possible? There is no way to manipulate the soul tattoos to find one’s soulmate if they’re alive. What makes her think she can do it if they’re dead?”

Junmyeon shrugs. “She says it all has to do with physics and astronomy. Some are calling her insane, others brilliant.”

“I think she’s reaching for the stars when all she has is the clouds.” Minseok scoffs. “She shouldn’t play with people’s feelings like that.”

“Hyung…” Junmyeon bites his lip and hesitates before squaring his shoulders and continuing. “I think you should sign up.”

“What?” Minseok is shocked. “Junmyeon-ah, why do you say that?”

“You look so sad.” Junmyeon says softly, and Minseok’s insides twist. “Don’t pretend like you don’t know it. Sometimes it’s when you’re with Baekhyunnie and I, other times when you see two people holding hands or doing trivial things together. I don’t know what it’s like not to have a soulmate, and I can’t imagine what you go through every day. So maybe just… give it a try?”

“Oh, Junmyeon.” Minseok sighs and grabs his friend’s hand. “I’m sad yes, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t accepted it. There’s nothing I can do, nothing that will change the fact that my tattoo is withered and dead whilst yours is beautiful and alive.”

“But –“ Junmyeon’s lower lip trembles. “Don’t you want to know?”

Minseok shakes his head. “Ignorance is bliss, sometimes. I don’t want to know because it won’t change anything. I’m without a soulmate and honestly? I don’t mind; I’ve learned to live with it.”

He squeezes Junmyeon’s hand, and Junmyeon quickly wipes away a few stray tears. “Okay, hyung. If you say so.”

“Thank you, Junmyeon-ah.” Minseok releases his hand. “I’m happy now, though. Jongin is the main reason for that.”

“Tell him I said hello, later.” Junmyeon’s smile is sunnier, and Minseok is grasps at the opening.

“Later?” Minseok easily changes direction to the safe topic of Jongin. “Why do you think I’m going to see him later?”

Junmyeon laughs and he seems more awake and active now. “Because that’s almost all you ever do nowadays. Baekhyun is still angry that we haven’t met him yet. I hope you’re not neglecting Tan for him!”

“As if!” Minseok protests. “Tan loves Jongin. Sometimes I think he likes coming over just to see Tan and not me.”

“I can’t believe Tan met him before your best friends.” Junmyeon clutches at his heart. “What kind of betrayal.”

“Oh, hush.” Minseok laughs. “You’ll meet him soon.”

“I’ll hold you to that!” Junmyeon pulls him in for a quick hug before darting away. “My break is over, see you later hyung!”

Junmyeon rushes off and leaves Minseok with an amalgamation of feelings and thoughts he doesn’t want to go near.

Minseok’s creased brow throughout the day is the only outward indication that he has a lot on his mind. He tries to focus on his actions but finds his mind wandering to his conversation with Junmyeon. There is a storm cloud in his head and it’s raining in his heart but he doesn’t have an umbrella to protect him, or shelter to hide under.

The sun breaks through the clouds towards the end of the day, and Minseok is resolute in the face of it. He’s had many years to come to terms with not having a soulmate; why should one chimera change that?

It’s only when he’s almost done with cooking dinner and there’s a knock at his door, does the aftereffects of the storm strike.

“Hello Tan-ah!” Jongin exclaims as he sweeps the cat up in his arms. “Did you miss me?”

Tan stares at him for a moment before meowing loudly and squirming. Jongin lets him go with a laugh and slides his way towards the kitchen.

“Hyung!” Jongin greets him with a hug. “I perfected my dance routine today! I just need to practise more and I’m all ready for the show!”

“That’s great.” Minseok misses the warmth when Jongin pulls away. “Did Taemin approve?”

“Yeah.” Jongin grins proudly. “He didn’t just approve – he’s so jealous that I invited you instead of him to watch me. He says it’s too good to miss.”

Minseok’s cheeks warm. “Tell him that I’m happy to take his place.”

Jongin’s laugh fills his apartment with something he didn’t know it needed. It doesn’t seem as empty as before; there’s now happiness and laughter hidden in every corner and it seems fuller somehow.

Minseok enjoys spending time with Jongin. The younger is always bursting at the seams with stories about his dance classes and his best friend, Taemin. He paints pictures with his words and Minseok finds himself utterly enraptured with every work of art.

Today, he’s reminiscing about when Jongup first started school. Minseok tries to pay attention to how Jongup didn’t cry at all and instead made friends with everyone, but it’s hard. His attention is drawn to the way Jongin’s eyes curve into small crescents when he smiles, and how his nose scrunches when he laughs too hard. It’s hard to focus on the art of Jongin’s words when Jongin’s every action and movement create the best masterpiece of all.

Jongin ends his story with another laugh and Minseok’s heart lurches as he realises what’s been bothering him all day. He’s not worried about himself – he’s worried about Jongin.

“Jongin-ah…” Minseok begins slowly. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Yes, hyung?” Jongin smiles sweetly at him, and Minseok is unsure if he should be doing this. But he doesn’t want to deny Jongin this, even if he wants nothing more than to protect him.

“Have you heard about… the Chimera Project?”

“No.” Jongin frowns slightly and Minseok wants to thumb away the little crease in between his brows. “What’s that?”

“It’s,” Minseok pauses before diving in, “It’s a psychological simulation that allows you to communicate with your dead soulmate.”

“What?!” At the edge of the incredulity that Jongin’s voice drips with is a smudge of hope.

Minseok nods and reaches to stroke Tan, who had curled up in between him and Jongin. “It’s created by Doctor Bae Joohyun and it begins soon. I haven’t looked into it and frankly I’m not sure how safe or credible it is but… it seems credible enough for her to be going ahead with it.”

Jongin draws back and blinks fast, as if trying to clear the sudden fog in front of him. “Wait, so you’re saying it’s actually possible for this to happen? How certain is she about this?”

“I have no idea.” Minseok shrugs. “I’m not interested in it. I’ve long since accepted and learned to live without my soulmate. But I thought you should know of this project.”

Jongin is silent. He sinks back into the couch, staring at a random spot in front of him. His eyes are glassy and his hands shake ever so slightly.

“I-Is it really possible, hyung?”

His voice is a soft whisper that makes Minseok shiver. “I don’t know.” Minseok repeats. “But… I could go talk to Dr Bae and find out, if you want me to. Do you, Jongin-ah?”

“I don’t know.” Jongin sounds strangled and out of breath. “I – really? Will I really be able to talk to my soulmate?”

Minseok’s heart sinks and he knows that Jongin’s already got one foot in the project.

“That’s what she says. Jongin-ah, do you really want to do this?”

“I don’t know.” Jongin sounds frustrated now, and unsure. “Can I come with you when you speak to her? I want to hear what she has to say.”

Minseok sighs; he is honest when he says that he really cannot deny Jongin anything. “Yes. I’ll make an appointment with her as soon as possible and let you know.”

Jongin’s eyes shine with a careful hope. “Thank you, hyung. Thank you so much.”

Where there is hope in Jongin’s heart, there is pain in Minseok’s. He feels it suddenly, all too much, all at once. He knew what Jongin’s answer would be and yet he still asked. Maybe he was hoping that Jongin would surprise him and dismiss the idea; the bigger part of him knows that Jongin cannot let go of his soulmate.

“Anything for you, Jongin-ah.” Minseok means it so, so much. Even if it means hurting himself.

 

Minseok wakes up at 3 am. He lies in bed with his eyes wide open, wondering why he is awake at such an hour. The apartment is silent and Tan stretches lazily near his feet. He hears his laboured breathing and then coughs so violently that he is pulled into a seating position.

“S-shit.” Minseok curses through coughs. He stumbles out of bed and into his bathroom, barely managing to switch the light on.

It’s almost as bad as before. Minseok feels tears prick his eyes as he coughs and coughs and eventually it subsides when he manages to cough up 3 soft pink petals. The largest one has its edges lined with a plum colour; the smaller ones are just developing their colour.

The petals are taunting in their beauty. Minseok doesn’t recognise them, and stares at them with confusion welling up inside of him.

He stays awake for an hour, before falling into bed with his eyes closed. No more coughs trouble him throughout the night.

He dreams of pink petals falling from the sky.

“Jongup’s new physical therapy is going well.” Seungwan says in lieu of a greeting.

“That’s good.” Minseok is relieved. He takes the file from her and looks through the notes she’s made. It seems that not only is his therapy going well, but the new medication that Minseok had requested is also working much better.

“He’s not complaining of pain or fatigue anymore.” Seungwan smiles. “It might be too early to say but I think will end well for him.”

“I hope so.” Minseok replies. “That would make me very happy.”

Seungwan takes the file back from him and follows Minseok as he goes to check on Jongup. The boy is in a deep sleep and doesn’t stir as Minseok checks his vitals. Careful not to wake him, Minseok closes the curtain by his bed and makes his way to the next patient, a small girl named Jisoo.

Minseok’s mind strays to the email he had received in the morning. It was in reply to the one he sent not even a day ago. Doctor Bae Joohyun had agreed to meet him in the afternoon at her laboratory, where the Chimera Project was said to take place.

He had phoned Jongin, knowing full well that if he texted Jongin, he wouldn’t see it until much later. They’d agreed to meet when Minseok was finished at the hospital and go together.

The day’s activities pulled Minseok out of his thoughts and he sunk further into checking on patients, assisting wherever he could and spending time with the kids. Before he knew it, it was time for him to clock out and meet Jongin.

His stomach resumed its twisting from the morning and Minseok took a deep breath, steadying himself. He removed his coat and draped it over one arm, grabbed his car keys and made his way down.

He spots Jongin’s pink hair easily enough. It’s faded even more, so now it looks like a pinkish-silver colour. He has his back to the entrance of the hospital and he’s amongst a small crowd, but Minseok knows he could find him anywhere. His eyes gravitate towards Jongin without even trying.

“Hey.” Minseok taps him on his shoulder. “You ready?”

“Hyung!” Jongin’s eyes light up when he sees Minseok, and he catches him in a fast hug. “How was your day?”

“It was okay.” Minseok can’t help the faster thumping of his heart as Jongin grabs his arm and walks almost flush against him. “Jongup is doing very well.”

In fact, it’s something Minseok has been noticing more often. Jongin is… tactile, to put it simply. He digs his chin into Minseok’s shoulder when he’s cooking, his hand is always holding onto Minseok’s arm or coat, he drapes himself over Minseok when they’re watching TV together, the list goes on. Minseok doesn’t mind; in fact, he revels in it. Each touch tugs on his heart until it’s almost falling into Jongin’s open hands.

“I saw him earlier.” Jongin grins and tugs at his sleeve excitedly. “I hope he can come home soon?”

“If he gets an all clear, he can,” Minseok returns his grin.

Jongin cheers softly and Minseok’s heart soars. They reach his car quickly and Minseok punches in the address to the laboratory in his gps before putting his car in drive and following it.

Jongin fiddles with the radio and rubs his palms together. He alternates between staring out the window and playing with his phone, opening and closing random apps. Minseok reaches out at a red light and places his hand just above Jongin’s knee, squeezing lightly. His hand lingers, and he hears Jongin inhale sharply.

The light changes to green and Minseok removes his hand to place it back on the steering wheel. Jongin is quieter, calmer, and he taps a thank you into Minseok’s arm as he hums to a pop song on the radio.

The laboratory is heavily guarded and Minseok has to wait at the gates while his visit is confirmed. Another guard meets him when he parks his car and takes him into a large building with wide glass windows. He follows the guard down winding passages and past white rooms, to a locked room deep in the building.

Jongin grabs onto his hand while they wait for the guard to punch in the code. His shoulders are hunched and he almost curves over Minseok. His palms are slightly sweaty but Minseok laces their fingers together and gives his hand a soft squeeze.

They enter the room and Minseok blinks, trying not to stare into any of the fluorescent lights that make the room almost white with light.

His eyes are drawn to a woman in the centre of the room. She stands tall, with a white coat reaching her knees. Her hair is drawn up into a tight bun and her blood red lips curve into a soft smile when she sees them.

“Ah, you must be Doctor Kim Minseok.” Her voice is melodic and fills the room as she walks closer and bows. “Doctor Bae Joohyun. To what do I owe this honor?”

Minseok and Jongin return her bow, the latter almost bumping into Minseok. “It’s nice to meet you, Doctor Bae. This is Kim Jongin.”

“Hello.” Doctor Bae turns her eyes to him and Minseok feels Jongin shrink into his side.

“We’re here about your…” Minseok licks his lips and carefully says, “Your Chimera Project. We want to know more about it.”

A spark of realisation ignites in her eyes and she dips her head in understanding. “Of course. Here, let me show you first.”

It is just the three of them in the huge room, the guard having left as soon as he arrived. Doctor Bae turns and cranes her neck to the side, allowing them to see a decaying rose bud tattooed in the back of her neck, sloping into her shoulder.

Jongin makes a small noise next to him and tightens his grasp on Minseok’s hand. Minseok, despite his racing heart, maintains his composure. “Same here.” He says and lifts up his shirt slightly, showing her his own soul tattoo.

“Of course.” Bae Joohyun raises her eyebrow slightly. “Would you like to sign up for the project?”

“No.” Minseok doesn’t waver in his confidence. “But I would like to find out more about it.”

“How does it work?” Jongin blurts next to him, and Doctor Bae glances at him. “How is it even possible?”

“Our simulation works with your tattoo and your mind.” Doctor Bae Joohyun gestures for them to sit across her as she takes her own seat. “First, we analyse your soul tattoo and find someone in the world with the same one. Someone who’s not alive anymore, of course. Then we tap into your cognitive process and generate images and analogies during a mental simulation and create a hologram of your soulmate, allowing you to communicate with them for a short period of time.”

Minseok’s mind races to catch up with her. “Have you even tried this on anyone? What is the success rate?”

“The first volunteer was myself.” She says. “And yes, it did work. Two others also experienced the simulation and it was a success.”

As appealing and realistic as it sounds, Minseok is still not swayed. He remains true to his decision. Glancing to Jongin, however, Minseok sees the doubt and hope in his eyes.

“And, what did they say?” Jongin’s voice is barely above a whisper.

“They died in a car accident before we could meet.” Doctor Bae’s voice lacks any sadness or regret. “We spoke for a while and then the simulation ended. It doesn’t work twice.”

Minseok’s eyebrows furrow. “Is the simulation based on your real soulmate or your idea of them? Is this not just manipulating someone into thinking they are actually talking to their soulmate when in fact it’s just a computer simulation based on their thoughts and feelings?”

Doctor Bae Joohyun’s eyes narrow dangerously. “If you read my research, you will know that is not true.”

Jongin glances between them, torn between wanting to believe and doubting. “If we did want to sign up…”

“Let me know!” She smiles brightly at him. She’s beautiful and charming, and Minseok is not fooled by any of it. “I’ll make sure you are bumped to the top of the list.”

“Thank you, Doctor Bae,” Minseok stands, pulling Jongin with him. “Thank you for your time but we will not be signing up for the Chimera Project. I wish you all the best, though.”

She stands with them and bows her head slightly. “Of course. And if you change your mind, you have my number.”

The walk back to Minseok’s car is quiet, both of them wrapped up in their own thoughts. Minseok starts his car but leaves it in park, exhaling loudly and startling Jongin.

“This is not real science.” Minseok is angry. “She really is playing with people and giving them false hope.”

Jongin frowns slightly. “Do you really think so?”

“Yes.” Minseok nods. “What do you think, Jongin-ah?”

“I think it might be good to go for it…” Jongin says slowly. “I don’t know. It won’t change anything but I just… I might want to sign up.”

Minseok’s heart rattles behind his ribcage. “Jongin-ah…”

“It’s silly.” Jongin rubs his hands together in frustration. “But I need to know, hyung. I –“

“Sleep on it.” Minseok gently places his hand over Jongin’s, and his touch soothes the other. “Let me know if you really want to. But you’re right, it won’t change anything.”

Jongin’s eyes are troubled. He smiles at Minseok half-heartedly and nods.

“Want to come over for dinner?” Minseok offers, finally putting his car in drive and leaving the facility.

“Not tonight…” Jongin says softly. “I still have some practise for the show to do. Can you drop me off at the dance studio, please?”

Hands gripping the wheel tighter, Minseok nods. “Of course, Jongin-ah.”

It’s only a week before the awards show when Minseok gets sick.

At first, it’s normal flu symptoms. He wakes up with a fever and his throat feels like he ate a lot of sand. Simply inhaling and exhaling, feeling the air travel up and down his scratchy throat, has him wincing.

He stumbles out of bed and struggles to walk to the kitchen. He manages to drink a glass of water and falls into the nearest seat, exhausted.

It’s after a few minutes when he manages to drag himself back to bed. He grabs his phone and calls the hospital to let them know he won’t be coming in today. Then he shoots Junmyeon a text and locks his phone, placing it on the table next to his bed.

He wants nothing more than to go back to sleep but he knows he should take some medication before he does. So he sighs and gathers what little strength he has and picks himself up, shuffling to the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth, then to the kitchen to see what medication he has.

He takes something for his fever and throat, and a painkiller for the headache that’s building behind his eyes. He falls back into his bed and sighs, wrapping himself in his blanket even though he’s sweating profusely.

Sleep catches him with both hands and drags him under. It releases him a few hours later, during which he takes a cold shower and has more medication. It pulls him in again and when he is fully awake in the evening, his fever has broken and he can breathe easier.

Minseok is lying in bed, wondering how he got so sick, when he hears a knock at his door and then it creaks open softly.

“Minseok-hyung?” Junmyeon’s voice fills his apartment and he unknowingly relaxes.

“H-Here.” He rasps out and winces. His throat is still a bit sore. “My room.”

Junmyeon’s worried face appears at his doorway, and his expression only deepens. He enters the room, holding two packets in his hand, and says, “Hyung, you look awful.”

“Thanks.” Minseok’s chuckles turn into violent coughs which subside within seconds.

Junmyeon places a hand on his forehead and hums. “You’re hot but not too hot.”

“I’m offended.” Minseok pretends to pout. “Not that hot? Junmyeon-ah, how could you.”

“I didn’t mean it like that!” Junmyeon sputters. “Hyung, come on!”

“Okay.” Minseok laughs lightly. “Thank you for coming over.”

“Any time.” Junmyeon helps him stand up. “Come, I brought take out. Baekhyun is also on his way over.”

Minseok feels ten times better than he did in the morning. He can’t remember when was the last time he was sick; between him and his best friend, it was Junmyeon who got sick more often.

Takeout turns out to be seolleongtang from one of Minseok’s favourite restaurants. Junmyeon instructs him to sit and busies himself in Minseok’s kitchen, grabbing glasses and bowls from here and there.

“Why didn’t you call Jongin?” Junmyeon asks offhandedly as he sets the table.

Minseok furrows his eyebrows. “He’s been busy with practise for the awards show. It’s next week.”

“And?” Junmyeon turns to him and stands akimbo, with his eyebrows raised. “There’s more, right?”

“And…” Minseok sighs and runs a hand through his sweaty hair. “He’s been avoiding me, I think. Ever since we went to see Doctor Bae Joohyun. I think he wants to sign up for the project.”

“He does?” Junmyeon frowns. “Did he say so?”

“No, but…” Minseok hesitates. “I see the doubt in his eyes. Avoiding me gives him space to think about it. I won’t hold it against him if he does.”

Junmyeon’s next words are cut off by a loud, melodic knock and the door swings open.

“Hello? Minseokkie-hyung? Are you here?” Baekhyun booms as he closes the door behind him.

Minseok winces and Junmyeon is quick to quieten him when he comes into view. “Baekhyunnie! He’s sick, lower your voice.”

“Sorry.” Baekhyun shoots him a sheepish smile and Minseok waves off his apology. “Oooh! Seolleongtang! I’m hungry, let’s eat!”

Minseok laughs and allows Junmyeon to help him to the table. He doesn’t need the support, but after being alone all day it’s nice to have someone with him.

The conversation about Jongin fades away as Baekhyun tells them about his day and how he saw a bird fight happening outside the window by him. Minseok is grateful for the distraction and laughs at almost everything Baekhyun says; it’s at times like these when he’s secretly glad that Baekhyun and him are friends – Baekhyun is the sun and stars that brighten up one’s day and night.

Minseok swallows down some liquid too fast and it burns his throat. He coughs, trying to clear the burning sensation but it only worsens.

“Hyung?” Baekhyun’s eyes are filled with concern. “Are you okay?”

“I’m – fine,” Minseok manages between coughs. “Be right b-back.”

He stumbles to the bathroom and feels his friends’ worried gazes on him. He makes sure to lock the door before gasping into the sink, trying to clear what’s tickling his throat. A cold shiver runs through him when he coughs for 2 minutes straight and ends up with more pink petals.

Minseok stares at the petals in his hand, wondering for the umpteenth time what the hell is going on. He knows he should see someone, anyone about this, but he’s so, so scared.

“Hyung?” Junmyeon’s voice breaks through his musings. “Is everything alright?”

“Yeah.” Minseok quickly wraps the petals in a tissue and throws them in a bin. He unlocks the door and steps out. “I’m okay now.”

Junmyeon doesn’t seem convinced but Minseok really does feel better. As worrisome as the petals are, once they’re out of his system he feels much better.

Before Baekhyun and Junmyeon leave, Minseok pulls Baekhyun aside.

“Hey, that friend of yours, Yixing?” Minseok starts. “Can I have his number?”

“Okay, I’ll forward it to you.” Baekhyun narrows his eyes. “Why do you need it?”

“No reason in particular.” Minseok smiles, trying to reassure him. “Thank you, Baekhyun-ah.”

“Take the medication I brought!” Junmyeon interrupts them. “And go to sleep immediately! And I don’t want to see you at the hospital tomorrow; I’ll get Seungwan to chase you home, okay?”

“Yes, yes.” Minseok laughs. “I got it. See you guys! And thanks for coming over.”

He falls back into bed after cleaning up, breathing easier and feeling lighter than before. An hour later, as he’s falling asleep, his phone lights up with a text from Baekhyun.

here u go hyung! [contact: Zhang Yixing]

Minseok gets better, but the cough refuses to leave him.

It’s only two days before the awards show when he decides to call the number Baekhyun had given him. He stares at it for a moment, heart thudding in his chest, and presses the green call button before he can change his mind.

It rings for a few seconds before a sweet voice is picking up.

“Hello,” Minseok licks his lips nervously. “Is this Zhang Yixing?”

“Speaking.” The voice is cheerful. “How may I help you?”

“I’m a friend of Baekhyun’s.” Minseok says. “Kim Minseok.”

“Ah!” Yixing makes a noise of recognition. “He said I should expect a call from you soon. Would you like to come in to see me later?”

“That… That would be great, yeah.” Minseok nods, and then remembers that Yixing can’t see him.

Yixing gives him his address and they set a time before ending the call. Minseok is lucky that his shift at the hospital is short today. It gives him enough time to meet Yixing and discuss… he doesn’t know what he’s going to say, really.

Minseok coughs up petals almost daily now. He’ll wake up in the middle of the night, feeling the petal practically clawing its way up his throat. He’s at the hospital and he’ll have to excuse himself and rush to the bathroom, locking himself in a cubicle and endure the burn in his throat and chest.

Junmyeon’s eyes are constantly worried whenever he sees Minseok. He says Minseok is looking too pale and that he’s getting thinner. Minseok can barely eat a lot without wanting to throw up and he feels so exhausted all the time.

His condition worsening pushed him to finally contact Zhang Yixing. It’s with a thundering heart and sweaty palms that he walks up towards Yixing’s apartment.

He knocks and the door swings open after a full minute. A man slightly taller than him, with pale skin and wavy brown hair greets him.

“Hello.” He bows lightly. “Kim Minseok?”

Minseok returns the bow and steps into his apartment. It seems like it’s big enough for two people, with light beige walls and minimalistic decorations. He spots a few frames with photos of Yixing’s friends, and even sees Baekhyun in some of them.

“It’s nice to meet you.” He follows Yixing to a small room with white couches and a television. Yixing gestures for him to sit and clasps his hands in his lap. “Would you like anything to drink?”

Minseok shakes his head and decides to get to the point. “Baekhyun told me you were researching soul sickness.”

Yixing’s eyes widen and he tilts his head in confusion. “Yes, I am. But why would that interest you?”

“I think…” Minseok bites his lip. “I think I may have soul sickness.”

“Oh.” Yixing leans forward in concern. “Have you met your soulmate? Do you know why they’re resisting you?”

“That’s the thing.” Minseok frowns. “I don’t have a soulmate.”

“Huh.” Yixing makes a confused noise. “That is… interesting. What makes you say you have soul sickness if you don’t have a soulmate?”

“This.” Minseok says and reaches in his pocket to pull out a tissue. He opens it and shows Yixing the beautiful pink petals that have caused him so much of pain and worry.

Yixing’s sharp inhale is loud in the small room. He stands and crosses the short space to sit down next to Minseok and carefully touches the edge of a petal.

“My soulmate is dead.” Minseok lifts his shirt and watches as Yixing’s eyes widen even more at the tattoo. “And recently I’ve start coughing up these petals. They hurt like hell and I don’t know what to do.”

Yixing says something in Mandarin and it sounds like a soft curse. He stands and paces around the couch, hand on his hip and the other running through his brown hair. Minseok waits patiently, watching him without any expression.

“Are you seeing anyone right now?” Yixing stops and sits down next to him.

Minseok’s thoughts take a sharp turn to Jongin. They’ve never exactly defined their relationship beyond friends but… Minseok likes him. And Minseok likes spending time with him.

“I’m not sure.” Minseok admits. “There is someone…”

“Are you in love with this person?” Yixing prods, his eyes wide with urgency.

Minseok thinks of Jongin settled with his head in Minseok’s lap as they watch TV, Jongin absentmindedly playing with his fingers. He thinks about Jongin wrapping his arms around Minseok’s waist as he watches Minseok cook dinner. He thinks about them falling asleep in Minseok’s bed without knowing, too tired to wake up from each other’s embrace then rushing out the door the next morning, Jongin late to the café and Minseok late to the hospital.

Jongin, with his faded pink hair and loud, body-wracking laugh. Jongin, whose eyes hold so much of expression. Jongin, who dances like his life depends on it and puts more effort than is required into anything. Jongin, who Minseok wants to offer his heart to.

“Maybe.” Minseok says after a drawn out moment. “I don’t know. I think so. It’s hard to say.”

“Do they have a soulmate?” Yixing asks.

Minseok shakes his head. “He doesn’t have a soulmate either. His is also dead, like mine.”

“Does he love you?” Yixing’s voice is gentle now, understanding slowly seeping into it.

“I don’t know.” Minseok answers honestly. “We’ve never spoken about it. We’ve never even defined our relationship.”

Minseok looks up and meets Yixing’s eyes, which are full of empathy. “This is unusual.” Yixing eventually says. “It is possible that you love him but he’s stopping himself from loving you.”

“He’s stopping himself?” Minseok’s heart stops, and then slowly starts again. “Why would he be doing that?”

“Many reasons.” Yixing replies. “He could be in denial of his feelings or he could still be holding onto the idea of his soulmate. This is really unusual. People can fall in love if they don’t have a soulmate, nothing like this has happened before.”

“I feared as much.” Minseok rubs his face and sighs. “Is there a cure? I feel awful, flu medication isn’t working on me, and I want to throw up flowers more often than not.”

“The most obvious cure would be for him to love you back.” Yixing rests his hand on Minseok’s shoulder. “Do you know of anything holding him back from doing so?”

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the Chimera Project.” Minseok huffs out a short bitter laugh. “He’s thinking of signing up for that.”

“Of course I have.” Yixing’s face darkens. “I’m against it. It’s not good and she shouldn’t even be doing this. I can see why he’s resisting now.”

“He believes it will work. That he can actually talk to his dead soulmate.” Minseok scoffs, not unkindly. “He’s also been avoiding me. It’s gotten worse since then, actually.”

“He’s suppressing his feelings because of that project and as a result, your soul sickness has deteriorated.” Yixing concludes with a grim set of his mouth.

“Well, if you put it that way…” Minseok shrugs. “Am I going to die? Because I feel like it, sometimes.”

Yixing’s eyebrows draw together and Minseok wishes he didn’t look so worried. He has the face of someone who should be smiling instead of frowning.

“If it isn’t cured…” Yixing hesitates. “And your condition doesn’t get better… Then yes. You just might die.”

“Just might?” Minseok laughs but it lacks humour. “That’s good to know, I guess.”

“Minseok-ssi,” Yixing voice is pained. “You should tell him about this. Maybe if you do, he’ll forget about the chimera thing and let go of his soulmate.”

“No.” Minseok says immediately. “I don’t want to twist his feelings like that. It will hurt me to do that to him. I’ll wait till he goes for the Chimera Project, which he probably will, and then tell him.”

Yixing looks at him with pity. “Will you make it till then?”

“I have to.” Minseok nods. “I will.”

“Oh, Minseok-ssi.” Yixing pulls him into a hug and Minseok is surprised. “I hope things work out for you and the one you love.”

“Me too.” Minseok can’t help but pat his back. “I hope so too.”

Yixing draws away and wipes a stray tear from his eye. “Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. This soul sickness is mostly relative to the case, as each one is so unique.”

“I understand,” Minseok offers him a comforting smile. “Thank you, Yixing-ssi. You’ve helped me more than you know.”

Yixing bows low. “Please, do keep in touch.”

“I will.” Minseok smiles and hopes he sees more of Yixing. He’s kind-hearted and Minseok would like to be friends with him. He hopes their friendship will flourish one day.

 

Minseok’s phone starts blaring the chorus of SNSD’s Snowy Wish when he exits Yixing's building and he glances at the caller ID in confusion before answering. It’s Jongin.

“Jongin-ah?” Minseok greets. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes hyung!” Jongin’s voice is distorted through the phone but it still brings Minseok comfort. “Are you busy? Can you stop by the studio when you’re not? I’m bored and if I practise again I’m going to forget everything!”

Minseok laughs, something akin to relief lifting him up. “I’m free now; I’ll head over in a few minutes.”

“Great! See you soon, hyung.” He can picture Jongin ending the call with a huge smile on his face and sighs happily. He feels strength return to his bones and his throat is free from a lingering urge to cough.

 

Minseok greets Jongin with a bag of takeout chicken, and he’s not sure if Jongin is more excited to see him or the chicken.

“You brought chicken!” Jongin squeals and dives for the hug. In his excitement, he presses a kiss to Minseok’s cheek and runs into the room with the chicken.

Minseok is still before he blushes liberally and follows Jongin. “I assumed you would have practised so much that you forgot to eat.”

Jongin smiles sunnily up at him. “Hyung, you know me so well.”

Minseok returns his smile and sits down next to him. He shakes his head when Jongin offers him some chicken and settles to watch him eat. He doesn’t bring up the fact that Jongin has been avoiding him; what matters is that they’re here now, together.

“Are you ready for the show?” Minseok asks, grabbing the towel from around Jongin’s neck and using it to dab at his forehead.

Jongin groans around a bite of chicken. “Hyung, I’m so nervous that I’m having trouble sleeping. Sleeping!”

Minseok laughs. “That says a lot, Jonginnie.” He doesn’t miss the way Jongin’s lips curve up at the endearment. “Take care of yourself.”

Jongin grins at him and Minseok bites his lip to stop an oncoming blush. He’s content to watch Jongin devour the chicken and he’s glad he stopped at Jongin’s favourite restaurant to get it, even if it was on the other side of the area.

A sudden coughing fit has Minseok leaning forward and closing his hands around his mouth. Fear is in the form of an ice cold bucket of water that is abruptly poured over him, making him shiver forcefully.

“Hyung? Hyung!” Jongin scrambles towards him, chicken forgotten in its container. “Minseok, are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Minseok turns away from Jongin and waves a hand in the air. “Just a little – little cough.”

Jongin’s hand settle behind his back, the other wrapping around his shoulders and drawing him close. Minseok coughs once more and feels a strange sensation. The petal that he’s sure is struggling to come out… suddenly disappears into nothing, and the coughing ends.

He grips onto Jongin’s thin shirt and breathes heavily. He has so much of knowledge within him but he is absolutely clueless as to what just happened.

“Minseok? Minseok hyung?” It takes a moment to realise that Jongin is trying to get his attention. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Jonginnie.” Minseok pulls away and tries to stand. However, his legs are weak and he ends up falling backwards into Jongin’s open arms.

Jongin holds him close, his arms strong and making Minseok feel very secure. “I don’t think you are.” He frowns. “Minseok, is there something wrong?”

“No,” Minseok shakes his head again. It feels heavy, as if it’s about to fall off, and he winces. “It’s just some lingering aftereffects of the flu.”

Jongin doesn’t look convinced. Minseok feels brave and kisses his cheek softly. “Don’t worry, Jonginnie. I’m okay.”

“Okay.” Jongin repeats and releases him, blushing hard. He doesn’t step far, one hand hovering near Minseok in case he falls again. “Will you be okay for the awards show?”

“Of course!” Minseok is confident. “I wouldn’t miss that for anything!”

Jongin grins. They settle back on the floor, Jongin telling him about his and Taemin’s joint class from earlier, and Minseok desperately hopes that he’ll be okay.

On the morning of the awards show, Minseok wakes up to petals scattered on his bed. He groans and tries to sit up, only to fall back with a hiss.

He’d been fading in and out of consciousness ever since last night. He felt like his bones were weighing him down, chaining him to his bed. His constant coughing made his ribs feel bruises and it hurt to breathe deeply.

He couldn’t even make it to the bathroom when the petals emerged. He lied in bed, coughing up petal after petal. Their beauty mocked him. He couldn’t even tell how many they were; they were almost everywhere he looked.

Minseok groaned, brushing off petals as he tried to stand. He needed to do something, anything, so that he could make it for the show today.

He almost bumped into Tan on the way to the bathroom. Tan meows and butts his head against Minseok’s calf. Minseok tries not to let his smile turn into a grimace and bends down to pet his cat. It takes more effort than he would like to do so.

After a hot shower, he feels much more energized. His limbs still feel heavy and his chest hurts, but he can walk without drawing any attention to himself, and that’s all he needs.

He grabs his phone and sends a quick text to Jongin. He doesn’t even know if Jongin will see it, with his inclination towards forgetting about his phone.


to: Jonginnie ❤
I hope you slept well! I’ll see you later, try not to be too nervous. Fighting!



Minseok sets his phone on his bed and drags himself to get something to eat so he can take some medication, Tan following close behind him.

Time slips like sand through his fingers and it’s suddenly time for him to get ready. He coughs up a small petal and discards it thoughtlessly before going back to his room to freshen up and change.

He wears his best suit and styles his hair in a way that Baekhyun taught him. He’s putting his tie on when there’s a knock at the door and he frowns, pausing to go open it.

“Wow.” Baekhyun whistles when the door opens. “I don’t think I’ve seen you look this good since… you always look good but wow.”

“Thanks, Baekhyun-ah.” Minseok’s soft laugh dissolves into a cough and he covers his mouth quickly, hoping a petal doesn’t emerge. “What brings you here?”

Baekhyun peers at him closely. “Hyung, are you okay? You look kind of sick.”

“I’m okay.” Maybe the more Minseok says it, the more he’ll believe the lie.

“Okay,” Baekhyun frowns slightly, but then it’s gone. “I came over to help you get ready! Which… you’re almost done with but oh well. Come on, let’s do your makeup!”

“Baekhyun.” Minseok protests lightly. “I don’t need makeup.”

“No, you don’t.” Baekhyun agrees. “But let’s take Jongin’s breath away, okay?”

Minseok hesitates for a second before he finally gives in. “Does Junmyeon ever say no to you?”

“Nope.” Baekhyun’s eyes twinkle. “He never does.”

Minseok makes a face at Baekhyun’s smirk and says. “I don’t want to know. Come on, I’ve only got half an hour before I go pick up Jongin.”

“I can work with that.” Baekhyun grins and tugs Minseok to his room. He lightly pushes Minseok to sit down and grabs a small bag Minseok didn’t notice he was carrying. He sets it down on Minseok’s table and pulls out various items that Minseok recognises and settles in front of him, hands on his hips.

“You’re too pale.” Baekhyun narrows his eyes. “Have you been eating properly? You’re still a bit sick, am I right?”

“A little.” Minseok says reluctantly. “I have a cough that I haven’t been able to shake.”

“Doctor Kim Minseok.” Baekhyun tuts. “Just like Junmyeon. You doctors can take care of everyone but yourself.”

Minseok smiles and shrugs slightly. Baekhyun tells him not to move and he sits still as Baekhyun dabs his face with something and hums as he works.

He opens his eyes when Baekhyun instructs and tries not to wince when Baekhyun swipes under his eyes with a brush. Baekhyun is quick, his expert hands working faster and more efficiently than Minseok ever could.

“And we’re done!” Baekhyun steps back and claps his hands. He has a smear of something dark on his hands and he’s wearing a proud smile. “They grow up so fast.”

“I’m older than you, Baekhyun.” Minseok deadpans and turns to look at himself in the mirror.

His breath catches in his throat. Baekhyun did the bare minimum to his face and only focused on his eyes, making them look sharper and more alluring. He looks great, amazing even.

“Thanks, Baek.” Minseok turns to his friend and offers him a soft smile. “I love it.”

“I know.” Baekhyun pretends to wipe a tear from his eye. “And you don’t look that sick anymore! Now, what are you waiting for? Go sweep Jongin off his feet!”

Minseok stands and grabs everything he needs while Baekhyun clears up. He puts on his coat and turns to Baekhyun. “Will you be okay here? You have my apartment keys? Or does Junmyeon?”

“Junmyeon is picking me up just now.” Baekhyun bends to pick up Tan. “We’ll lock up, don’t worry. Now go!”

Minseok laughs. “Okay, okay. Thanks again, Baekhyun-ah. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“You better!” Baekhyun shouts after him as he leaves.

He’s nervous as he drives to Jongin’s. He feels the urge to cough but bites down. He refuses to let this soul sickness ruin tonight.

Jongin is waiting for him outside, with his hands in the pockets of his pants and a backpack slung over one shoulder. His hair is styled up and he takes Minseok’s breath away.

Minseok parks his car and jumps off, going around to greet Jongin. “You look amazing.” Minseok says, being brave and pressing a soft kiss to Jongin’s cheek.

Jongin’s cheeks have a faint tinge of pink when he pulls away. “T-Thanks. You too, hyung. You, wow. You look great.”

“Thanks.” Minseok grins to hide his own blush and holds the car door open for Jongin. “Shall we?”

The drive to the venue is quiet, with Minseok humming the same tune Baekhyun had and Jongin fiddling nervously. Halfway there, Jongin grabs Minseok’s hand and holds onto it tightly. Minseok smiles softly and doesn’t look at Jongin, instead using his thumb to rub the back of Jongin’s hand.

It’s a very fancy event. There’s a special place for them to park the car and they’re ushered through a long hallway filled with people dressed in tailored suits and expensive dresses. Jongin grips his hand and takes in all the people, gulping audibly.

“You’ll be fine, Jongin-ah.” Minseok whispers. “I believe in you.”

Jongin turns to him, eyes shining as his nervousness slowly melts away. “Thank you, hyung.”

A lady with a clipboard shows them to their seats and offers them a drink. Jongin refuses and Minseok hesitates before accepting. Jongin bounces his knee while they wait and Minseok places his hand on his thigh, squeezing lightly. Jongin quietens and absentmindedly plays with Minseok’s fingers.

“Hyung?” Jongin glances up and looks at Minseok through his eyelashes. Minseok hums and he continues. “Do you like me?”

Minseok raises an eyebrow. “Of course I do, Jongin-ah.”

“Do you like like me?” Jongin blushes and looks down at Minseok’s hands.

Minseok uses his other hand to lightly touch Jongin’s chin, causing him to look up. “Yes, Jonginnie. I more than like like you.”

“You do?” Jongin’s eyes are wide and his bottom lip sticks out cutely. “Why?”

“You’re amazing.” Minseok smiles. “You’re talented and passionate and you care about your family. You’re beautiful and I don’t know how you did it, but you made a space in my life that I don’t want to be empty anymore.”

“Hyung –“ Jongin is interrupted by someone tapping his shoulder and telling him to go get ready. He turns back to Minseok, a hundred words ready on his tongue.

“Go.” Minseok gently pushes him. “Go steal the spotlight out there, dancer boy.”

“Okay.” Jongin is grinning. He swoops in and presses a kiss to the corner of Minseok’s mouth, giggling at the surprised look on his face. “For good luck.”

“For good luck.” Minseok repeats, heart hammering in his chest. Jongin leaves with his backpack and Minseok leans back in his chair, smiling to himself.

He feels the tell-tale sensation of a petal at the back of his throat and clenches his hands into fists, nails digging into his palms. He gulps down his drink and tries to will the petal away. He will not let these damn petals stop him from being here tonight.

A wave of dizziness hits him and he grips the edge of the table. The lady on his right shoots him a weird look and he turns to the other side, closing his eyes and breathing deeply through his nose.

The lights go out and an excited silence falls upon the hall filled with business people alike. Minseok opens his eyes to see a single spotlight slowly lighting up the middle of the stage. Jongin stands there, his back facing the audience and his head bowed. He’s wearing tight dark pants and a loose white shirt. Slowly, music trickles out of the speakers and Jongin raises his hands, turning to face the audience.

It’s a piano piece similar to the one Minseok first saw him dance to. Except this one is different. It’s less melancholic and fills Minseok with warmth.

Jongin starts to dance, and Minseok forgets how to breathe again.

It seems as if the entire hall is holding their breath as Jongin dances. He curves his body and jumps, twisting in the air and landing lightly on his feet. He dances from the tips of his fingers, to the top of his head and down to his feet. He flies across the stage, telling a beautiful and brilliant story as he paints the hall with his dance.

The music gets louder and louder, and Jongin’s dancing gets faster. It draws to a loud note and Jongin is suspended in air, his head thrown back as the music flows through him. He falls to the ground as the music stops and slowly stands.

Even though he’s seated far away, Jongin still manages to catch Minseok’s eye. He holds his gaze and Minseok struggles to decipher the emotions in his eyes. Jongin smiles, surreptitiously, just for him, and the music resumes.

Jongin dances as if his life depends on it. He’s fierce and bold when he dances and Minseok drinks up every movement, throat dry and eager for more. The story slowly draws to a conclusion and Jongin leaps once, for the last time, and spins.

His hard work is clear when he comes to a stop in the middle of the stage once again, falling to his knees and squaring his shoulders. He breathes heavily, sweat dripping down his sides, and everything is silent. Then people stand and the hall is filled with everyone clapping their hands and whistles from several people.

Jongin stands, his eyes shining. He bows low and allows the applause and appreciation to wash over him.

Minseok stands as well, clapping his hands, with pride filling every part of him. His heart feels so full and he thinks he could burst right now with happiness and love.

Jongin looks at him and Minseok grins wide, holding his thumbs up. Jongin returns his grin and bow again, before slowly leaving the stage.

“Wow.” The lady next to him says. “That was beautiful.”

“Yeah.” Minseok agrees. “It really was.”

They settle back in their seats as the mc for the night appears and tells them a little about Jongin. Minseok stops paying attention after she starts the awards ceremony and taps along his thigh, waiting for Jongin to return.

It’s not long before he’s sliding into the seat next to Minseok, hair tousled and cheeks red. He’s not sweaty anymore and it looks like he rushed with putting his suit back on.

“What did you think?” Jongin whispers as he beams at Minseok.

“That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” Minseok answers honestly. “Jongin-ah… that was incredible. You’ve worked hard. Well done!”

“Thank you.” Jongin smiles wider. “Hyung, there’s something I need to tell you. Hyung? Minseok hyung!”

Minseok’s eyes widen as he feels his throat constrict painfully. His lungs are on fire. He can’t breathe.

He stands and stumbles towards the exit. Jongin’s hands are on the small of his back, making sure he doesn’t fall.

“Minseok!” Jongin helps him out of the hall. “What’s wrong?”

Minseok starts coughing vehemently, tears pooling in his eyes. These aren’t petals clawing their way up his throat – this is an entire fucking garden.

He falls to his knees outside the hall. There’s no one around except him and Jongin. He doubles forward and coughs hard, his hands steading him on the floor.

“Minseok!” Jongin repeats. He sounds as if he’s on the verge of tears. “Fuck – I need help here!”

Minseok’s heart twists at the anguish in Jongin’s voice. He feels his hands on his back, running up and down, unsure what to do.

He manages to pull out his phone and shoves it at Jongin. “C-Call Junmyeon.” Minseok rasps out. “T-Tell him… Yixing.”

“Yixing?” Jongin’s eyes swim with confusion as he dials the number. “Hyung, what’s happening?”

Minseok shakes his head and cries out as he feels his insides twist. Jongin fumbles with his phone and presses it to his ear.

“Come on.” Jongin’s other hand strays to Minseok, holding up steady. “Pick up, damnit!”

Tears flow down Minseok’s face as the first petal appears. It’s bigger and more vibrant than any he’s ever coughed up. Jongin’s eyes widen when he sees it fall to the floor.

“Junmyeon hyung!” Jongin cries when the call connects. “Minseok… There’s something wrong with Minseok! I – I don’t know! He’s coughing up flower petals. Please, come help. Hurry!.”

Minseok can do nothing but struggle not to fall completely to the floor. He feels like dying; he just wants this pain to stop.

“Minseok!” Jongin is crying. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do.”

It’s okay, Minseok wants to say, Please, be okay. I love you.

Jongin doesn’t leave his side, and soon there’s a guard with them. Then there are two guards. Then someone is shoving water in his face and Jongin is shouting at them. Minseok tries to drink from the glass when Jongin holds it but he can’t open his mouth without wanting to throw up even more.

“Junmyeon!” Jongin shouts, and Minseok feels so, so weak.

He feels his grip on the floor loosening and he pitches forward, falling into Jongin’s strong arms.

“Minseok!” Jongin yells. Minseok wants to wipe the tears away from his eyes and to comfort him so badly. “Stay with me, hyung. It’s going to be okay, Minseokkie…”

The rest of his words are lost in a sea of sounds. Minseok is floating, floating far away from him. There is an entire ocean stretched out between them, and the waves pull Minseok further away.

Jongin says something else, but he’s too far away for Minseok to hear.

Minseok closes his eyes.

Chapter Text

Minseok is still at sea, except it’s calmer now, and he can see the gold glittery sand on the shore.

He reaches land and opens his eyes.

The first thing he sees is bright white light and he immediately closes his eyes again. He swallows and becomes aware of the soft beeping of a heart monitor. He lets his hands wander around him and finds he can only move one of his hands.

The other is being held by another hand – another person.

Minseok slowly opens his eyes, letting them adjust to the light. He breathes evenly and deeply, and is surprised to find his breathing is effortless.

He recognises the hospital ward and looks down to see himself covered in a blanket. He is alone in the room, save for the person holding his hand.

“Jongin?” Minseok croaks. His voice is rough and he wonders how long he’d been out.

Jongin stirs gradually. He stretches, never letting go of Minseok’s hand. He hums, and Minseok’s heart flutters at the sound. The heart monitor beeps faster.

“Huh?” Jongin opens his eyes and looks at the monitor. He frowns and turns to Minseok, then freezes when he realises he’s awake.

“Minseok!” Jongin jumps up and grips his hand tighter. “Oh my god, you’re awake.”

Tears form in his eyes and one slips out. It trails down his cheek and Minseok notes how pale he is. His hair is dishevelled and he looks like he hasn’t slept properly in days.

Minseok stretches his free hand out and wipes the tear away. “Jongin-ah.” He says softly. “I hope you’ve been taking care of yourself.”

Jongin grabs his hand and holds it against his cheek. “Idiot hyung.” He sniffles. “You’re dumb, you know that?”

Minseok surprises them both by laughing loudly. His laugh breaks off into a cough and he unconsciously squeezes Jongin’s hand.

“Wait.” Jongin is alarmed. “Let me go call Junmyeon-hyung.”

He moves to rush out but Minseok holds him by his hand. “Jongin-ah.”

Jongin turns to face him and Minseok smiles, trying not to grimace instead. “How are you?”

“I’m okay now.” Jongin answers. “I’m okay now that you’re awake.”

Then his hand is slipping through Minseok’s and he’s alone.

Minseok settles back in the bed and stares at the ceiling. Talking hurts his throat a little. It still feels raw and his chest hurts a little, but it’s not as intense as before. He wonders what happened after he passed out.

The door opens and Junmyeon steps in, Jongin close behind him.

“Junmyeon-ah.” Minseok’s smile is better this time. “How long have I been out?”

“Kim Minseok-ssi.” Junmyeon greets formally, coldly, and Minseok frowns. “You’ve been unconscious for three days and 13 hours. Let me check your vitals.”

Minseok raises his eyebrows and Junmyeon avoids his gaze. He catches Jongin’s eyes, and Jongin struggles to hide his smile and shakes his head instead.

Junmyeon makes some notes on the clipboard he’s carrying and checks Minseok’s heartbeat.

“How is your throat?” Junmyeon asks, and Minseok catches the worry in his eyes.

“Sore.” Minseok says. “But not as sore as before.”

“Do you feel weak? Is there any signs of dizziness?” Junmyeon continues, staring at the clipboard.

“Junmyeon, my face is not on the clipboard.” Minseok says dryly. “I feel fine. Will you tell me what happened?”

Junmyeon looks at him and Minseok sees the pain and anger there. “I thought you were going to die.” He hisses.

“I’m sorry.” And Minseok is. He didn’t mean to make anyone worried. He didn’t know it would get that bad.

“Looking at you…” Junmyeon sets down the clipboard and runs a hand through his hair. “Lying there in Jongin’s arms. It was as if you were already gone. Do you have any idea how scared I was?”

“Junmyeon-ah.” Minseok sighs. “I really am sorry. I had no idea that was going to happen.”

“When were you going to tell us you had soul sickness?” Junmyeon’s eyes narrow dangerously. “When it consumed you? Why did you tell me? I had to find out from Yixing!”

“I was going to handle it.” Minseok whispers. “I thought if I took medication and rested and… I could endure.”

“I thought you were going to die.” Junmyeon repeats and rubs some tears away. He takes a deep breath and steadies his trembling hands. “But you’re okay now, by the looks of it. And Jongin says you’re apparently cured.”

“What?” Minseok frowns. “I am?”

“Yeah.” Junmyeon instantly drops his icy façade and grins mysteriously. “But I think he should tell you about that.”

“I should?” Jongin’s eyes are wide and he’s inching towards the door. At Junmyeon’s stern gaze, he ceases trying to escape and sighs. “I should.”

“Alright!” Junmyeon claps his hands and picks up the clipboard again. “I’ll leave you to it. Jongin-ah, let us know when you’re done so I can send in Baekhyun and Yixing. They’ve been here for an hour already.”

Minseok gapes as Junmyeon winks and retreats hastily. He shifts his gaze to Jongin and says, “Well, that was weird.”

“Yeah.” Jongin laughs awkwardly. “Weird.”

Minseok gestures for him to sit and waits while Jongin settles in the chair next to him. Without being prompted, he leans forward and takes Minseok’s hand in his.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?” Jongin whispers, looking at their clasped hands. “I was so, so worried. I couldn’t stop shaking. They wouldn’t let me see you for hours. And when I finally saw you… Hyung, you were so pale.”

Minseok feels as if he stepped on his own heart and frowns. He wishes he could kick himself, honestly.

“And then Yixing arrives with Baekhyun. He says you have soul sickness. But that’s impossible, since you have a dead bud tattooed on your hip.” He raises his head to meet Minseok’s eyes.

“I’m sorry.” It’s all Minseok can offer. “I didn’t want to tell anyone until…”

“Until what?” Jongin’s eyes shine. “Until you were dead and I couldn’t tell you how I really felt?”

Jongin drops his head on top of their hands and sighs, his hot breath hitting Minseok’s wrist. He shivers at the feeling and cards his free hand through Jongin’s hair.

“I didn’t want to burden you.” Minseok says softly. “You had your awards show to practise for and then there was that Chimera Project… I figured I’d tell you once you volunteered for the project.”

“I wasn’t going to.” Jongin raises his head and Minseok’s hand falls to his side. “I made my decision before the show. I wasn’t going to volunteer because I had you.”

“What?” Minseok says for the umpteenth time. “You didn’t want to go for the Chimera Project?”

“No.” Jongin smiles wryly. “And when I sat here waiting for you to wake up, I realised something.”

“And what is that?” Minseok’s throat is dry but it is not uncomfortable anymore.

“I tried to imagine what my life would be like without you.” Jongin takes a shuddering breath. “And I was scared. You’re not my soulmate but… I can’t even begin to describe how you make me feel. I’ve never been that scared before.”

“I’m sorry I made so scared.” Minseok squeezes his hand. “And I feel the same way, Jongin-ah.”

“Hyung.” Jongin smiles tentatively. “You said that I’ve made a space in your life that you don’t want empty. If you’ll let me… may I have that space?”

“It’s already yours.” Minseok laughs and pulls Jongin up and towards him. Jongin falls on him and he wraps his arm around Jongin, holding him close.

Jongin is the anchor that keeps him on the ground, making sure he doesn’t float away. He’s the sun that chases away the darkness threatening to creep up on him. He reminds Minseok of everything beautiful and pure in the world.

“Oh yeah!” Jongin pulls away. “I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?” Minseok raises his eyebrows. “What is it?”

“It’s what cured your soul sickness!” Jongin grins and pulls down his sweater.

Minseok is about to ask him what on earth is he doing when he sees it.

On the stretch between Jongin’s collarbone and heart lies a tattoo of a growing daisy bud.

“Oh my god.” Minseok’s jaw drops. “Did you get a new tattoo? How? And when?!”

“I noticed it the day after you collapsed. It’s beautiful, right? And you know what the best part is?” Jongin’s grin widens. “You have a matching one.”

“Oh my god!” Minseok almost shrieks and pulls down the hospital gown. Indeed, true to Jongin’s words, there lies an identical growing daisy bud.

Minseok stares at it for a long time. It really is beautiful; it’s dark against his skin and it looks like it’s going to flourish into a striking huge daisy. And it even looks like the petals are going to be pink.

“Wow.” Minseok stares at Jongin in awe, and feels happiness bubble within him. “So, does this mean we’re soulmates?”

“We have no idea what you guys are.” Baekhyun bursts into the room, making them both jump. “But apparently the universe thinks your love is strong enough to declare you two accidental soulmates.”

“Accidental?” Minseok scoffs. “There’s nothing accidental about my love for Jongin.” He avoids the fond and happy look Jongin shoots him and tries to hide his blush.

“Think of it as a second chance.” Yixing appears behind Baekhyun. “No one really knows how to explain it. It’s a miracle, really.”

“We’re soulmates?” Minseok feels his eyes burn as he looks at Jongin.

“Accidental soulmates.” Jongin giggles. “But yes, soulmates. You can’t get rid of me now, hyung.”

“I wouldn’t dare.” Minseok beams.

“Ugh,” Baekhyun groans loudly. “How am I supposed to deal with a sappy Minseok hyung? I can’t get used to this.”

“Deal with it.” Minseok sticks his tongue out at Baekhyun and grins at his gasp. “It’s going to get a lot worse.”

“I’m glad to see you’re doing better.” Yixing lightly shoves Baekhyun and smiles at Minseok. “There’s no way to truly explain what happened to you… but the closest thing that I could gather is that once Jongin finally admitted he loved you and he decided he won’t volunteer for the project, your sickness was cured.”

“And the tattoo!” Jongin interjects, his cheeks red.

“And the tattoo.” Yixing chuckles.

Minseok nods, taking it all in. Yixing’s words make sense and he’s just really glad that he won’t be coughing up petals ever again.

“What matters is that I’m okay now.” He grips Jongin’s hand and smiles up at him. “We’re okay now.”

“Yeah.” Jongin returns his smile. “We are.”

“Gross!” Baekhyun wails. “They’re just looking at each other, so why do I feel so weird?”

“Hush, Byun Baekhyun.” Minseok laughs. “Think of it as payback for all the times I had to leave the room while you and Junmyeon carried on like teenagers, forgetting I was even there.”

Baekhyun colours and Jongin laughs loudly. “Oh man,” Jongin grins. “This is going to be so fun.”

“Dancer boy.” Baekhyun narrows his eyes. “I’m older than you, watch it.”

“He’s older physically.” Minseok whispers loudly. “Mentally though, definitely not.”

“Hey!” Baekhyun’s protests are drowned out by their laughs.

Yixing comforts Baekhyun and Minseok uses the opportunity to tug Jongin closer.

“Hey, soulmate.” He whispers.

“Hi.” Jongin says shyly. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Minseok grins.

There is a burning sensation on his chest but it is not unpleasant. When Minseok looks at it later, he’ll see that the daisy grew a bit more. Soon, it will stand tall, the petals growing so large that most of his shirts don’t even cover it.

Minseok smiles at Jongin and feels his heart thunder in his chest. He catches a glimpse of the future and a thousand emotions swirl within him.

It’s beautiful and bright and flowery.

And most importantly, Jongin is right there with him.

“So, whatever happened to the Chimera Project?” Baekhyun asks.

Junmyeon grabs his glass of wine and takes a long sip before saying, “Doctor Bae Joohyun shut it down herself.”

“Did she now?” Minseok’s raised eyebrow speaks volumes of judgement. “Why?”

“She realised her research was all wrong.” Junmyeon replies. “It was bordering on fictitious. The simulations were based too much on the person’s expectations and it ended up being nothing more than figments of their imagination come to life for a few minutes. Once she realised her mistake, she tanked everything.”

Minseok whistles lowly. “Well, I’m glad. I told her as much when I met her.”

“Well that’s over and done with!” Baekhyun claps his hands together and turns to Jongin. “How is Jongup doing?”

Jongin, in the middle of sipping from his glass, freezes. He raises his head to look at Baekhyun and flushes when he notices everyone looking at him.

“He’s doing okay.” Jongin says bashfully. “He’s back home and as long as he keeps up his exercise and treatment, he’ll be fully recovered.”

“That’s good to hear.” Junmyeon smiles. “Minseok hyung was very attached to Jongup.”

“He’s a nice kid!” Minseok grumbles. “I get attached to almost all the kids I help.”

“Yeah.” Baekhyun giggles. “One of the smaller kids even called Minseok appa for a few days.”

Jongin’s loud laughter surprises and pleases Baekhyun. Minseok is glad to see them getting along. He wasn’t awake to witness their first meeting and they somewhat bonded while he was unconscious. He knew his friends would love Jongin but seeing them laugh and smile together eases his heart.

“Jongin-ah.” Junmyeon finishes his wine and sets his glass down. “When is your next dance show? Baekhyun and I would love to see you dance.”

“And I didn’t exactly get to tell them how it was.” Minseok rubs the back of his neck. “You know, almost dying and all.”

“Actually…” Jongin glances to Minseok’s hand and plays with his fingers, “One of the people at the awards show contacted me. She said she’s the owner of an art gallery and there’s some famous artist that’s going to showcase his work at her gallery. She asked me to dance at the opening.”

“Jongin!” Minseok gapes at him. “That’s amazing!”

“Are you going to do it?” Junmyeon asks, and smiles when Jongin nods. “Congratulations, then!”

“Yay more wine!” Baekhyun dives for the bottle and pours himself a generous glass. “To Jongin! I hope we’re invited!”

“Yes, you all are invited.” Jongin beams and Minseok can see him slowly opening up to his friends. “I’d love for you guys to be there. And for Minseok to not pass out afterwards.”

Baekhyun laughs loudly and Minseok rolls his eyes. “Well, we can just tell everyone that you were so talented and amazing that I fainted.”

“Yeah.” Jongin intertwines their fingers and smiles at him. Baekhyun and Junmyeon start to bicker next to them but Minseok and Jongin are looking at each other and they go ignored. “We can go with that.”

“Taemin!” Minseok bows low to him. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Taemin returns his bow and straightens, pushing his blonde hair out of his eyes. “Likewise,” He smiles so brightly that he suddenly looks much younger than his age. “Jongin has told me a lot about you.”

“Nothing bad, I hope.” Minseok nudges him and grins.

“Nothing too bad.” Taemin’s eyes twinkle. “Just that when you saw his first performance, you were so blown away that you actually fainted.”

Jongin bursts out laughing at Minseok’s scandalised expression. “Hyung, we agreed on it! And besides, Taemin is just kidding.”

Taemin and Jongin reach for each other at the same time but Taemin is the one who ends up in a headlock. Jongin playfully rubs his hair, messing up the blonde locks as Taemin wails loudly. Minseok laughs as Taemin manages to tickle Jongin and is let go immediately.

“I’m just kidding.” Taemin admits breathlessly. “Jongin told me the truth.”

“Taemin is still yet to meet his soulmate.” Jongin is equally as winded. “But I think he’ll meet them soon.”

“Whoever they are, I’m sure they’ll be perfect for you.” Minseok says sincerely. “After all, the universe has a funny way of working.”

“That it does.” Jongin’s smile contains secrets only visible to Minseok, and he shivers lightly.

“That it does.”

“Hey, hyung, I was looking up flowers yesterday.”

“Hmm?” Minseok hums to let Jongin know that he’s listening and pulls him closer, burying his face in the crook of Jongin’s neck.

“And I came across daisies. You know, like our soul tattoos. Do you want to guess what they mean?”

“No.” Minseok pulls away and blinks sleepily at him. “What do they mean, Jonginnie?”

“New beginnings.” Jongin’s eyes shine brighter than the sun in the early morning. “Purity and loyal love. Don’t you think that’s fitting?”

Minseok considers this and hums once again. “Yeah, that is pretty fitting.” He agrees.

“They also ideal for babies being born.” Jongin continues.

Minseok furrows his eyebrows and looks at Jongin in bewilderment. He absently plays with a lock of Jongin’s dark brown hair. He’d gotten it dyed two days ago and Minseok is still trying to get used to it. He misses the pink hair but he likes the darker colour on Jongin. He secretly thinks that any hair colour will suit Jongin, really.

“Babies being born?” Minseok repeats dryly. “Are you trying to say something?”

“No.” Jongin grins. “But that is also a new beginning! That’s what the website said, anyway.”

Minseok rolls his eyes playfully and shuffles closer to Jongin. “Isn’t Jungah pregnant? We’ll be sure to give her daisies soon.”

“Yeah.” Jongin smiles and his arms tighten around Minseok. “We’ll do that.”

Lying like this, with his legs intertwined with Jongin’s and his head resting on Jongin’s shoulder, Minseok feels as if he’s floating on a cloud. A large fluffy cloud that has dark brown hair.

He shuffles slightly closer so that he’s tilted on top of Jongin. This way, their soul tattoos line up perfectly. The daisies on their collarbones stretch to touch each other, bright and tinged with pink.

Minseok sighs happily and closes his eyes.

“Hyung, don’t you have work?” Jongin mumbles sleepily.

Minseok hums. “I do.” He agrees. “But lying here with you is much more comfortable. Guess I’ll have to call in sick.”

“But what if they need you?” Jongin is more awake now. “Call in and say you’re coming late.”

Minseok pouts against his skin. “Fine, okay. I’ll do that.”

“Sometimes it feels like you’re the younger one.” Jongin laughs and it’s beautiful enough to stop Minseok from slipping back into sleep.

“You’re wise beyond your years.” Minseok lifts his head to beam at Jongin, and then collapses as they both burst into laughter.

The room is suddenly brighter, their laughter bouncing off the walls and Jongin happily grinning next to him. Minseok glances to his soul tattoo. It’s breath-taking and beautiful against the pale skin of Jongin’s chest.

Jongin, his very own flower that bloomed so beautifully. Jongin, his soulmate, the love of his life.

Minseok smiles and wraps his arms around Jongin, burrowing deeper next to him. It’s worth missing work for.

Maybe they’ll go see the sunset later. Or they can go to a nice fancy place for dinner tonight.

Whatever it is, Jongin will be by his side, and Minseok thinks nothing will be better than that.