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sehun stared at the paper in front of him blankly. 

 

exo, one of the biggest kpop groups, to continue as an 8-member boy band after the departure of the eldest member, xiumin. 

 

his eyes held a hint of sadness and anger as his mostly emotionless gaze scanned the headline countless times. he couldn't bring himself to read the article further; just the thought of losing another member was enough to make him want to through the whole dorm apart. 

 

the clock showed 3:23 am as the tiny lamp in his room provided just enough light to show the newspaper in front of him. 

 

a picture of them from their love shot promotion was plastered on the front page. there, at the center of the crowd, was xiumin's face. 

 

and sehun couldn't bear to look at the paper further. his hands reacting on his own- tearing the paper apart into bits in pieces, his own breath growing heavier as his movements got blurrier and faster. there was frustration flooding in every vein of his, anger and sadness which had seeped into his skin was suddenly pouring out. he hated it, it was like reliving the moments when kris, luhan or tao left. 

 

it was pure agony. 

 

in his hatred driven mind, he decided he hated xiumin. his umin-hyung, for leaving him, for leaving them, for leaving the band and for leaving all the exo-ls who loved him. 

 

as a stray teardrop rolled down his cheek, he started at the now shredded paper in his hands. he hated minseok.

 

 

a cold winter day, it could be best described, when minseok dragged sehun out of his bed to take him somewhere in the wee hours of the day. the rest were sleeping, exhausted from hours of practice and stress which had engulfed them as they prepared for their debut. 

 

sehun had whined constantly of the bitter cold while putting on his multiple layers of protection. minseok had only giggled, choosing to simply smile when demanded a reason to be dragged out of his bed at 6 am to go in the freezing cold. 

 

"trust hyung, sehunnie! i know you'll love it!" 

 

"aish, umin-hyung! it's so cold!" 

 

"yeah, but you'll love it once we get there!" 

 

and from there, minseok took sehun's hands in his as they both walked to the unknown location stealthily. 

 

sehun's constant cribbing has died down as he observed where his hyung was taking him. as the maknae of the group, he was used to all the things trying to take care of him; some more subtle than the others. he didn't spend that much time alone with minseok though, but something about being in the eldest's presence was comforting; the man just had a soothing aura around him. 

 

at one point, sehun had become so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't even realized they had stopped walking until minseok tugged at his hand slightly, a hopeful glint in his eyes as he asked sehun if he liked it. 

 

at that moment, sehun finally took a proper look at the view in front of him. it was the city of Seoul, covered with snow.  a glistening white city under the sun's warm rays; a certain charm that sehun had never seen before. it looked like a kingdom from a fairy tale. the contrast of the white snow with the occasional bright red or yellow car peeking out made sehun even more awestruck. how could a city covered with a snowy blanket be this colorful- the shiny undertones of frozen water bodies reflecting under the sun added glamour to the tranquil scenery. 

 

it wasn't until he felt a glove covered hand push his jaw close, that he realized his mouth was wide open- his surprise evident. minseok had an adorable gummy smile stretching on his face, his eyes filled with hope, as he asked sehun. 

 

"do you like it?" 

 

"it's beautiful, hyung" 

 

 

even as sehun lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling, he could hear slight sniffles coming from the room nearby. jongin was not coping well with the departure of minseok, no one was. all the members had returned from their personal schedules, the dorm filled once again after a good one month. even yixing had managed to spare a few weeks to spend with the rest of the group as they learned all over again to cope with the loss of a member. sehun had heard baekhyun and chanyeol crying into each other's shoulder earlier that evening. jongdae had silent tears spilling down his cheeks as he stared at the vacuum cleaner with empty eyes. sehun could have chuckled at that, minseok's obsession with cleanliness was to such an extent that his memory was automatically associated with clean rooms and bed made. but the dirty laundry piling up and the messed up beds just served as a bitter reminder of the one who had gotten away. sehun had got a glimpse of kyungsoo and junmyeon in the study room, both cuddling one another as they sat there in each other's silence. kyungsoo wasn't the one for skinship but maybe the trauma of the incident combined with the pitiful condition of the leader had led him to this situation. junmyeon looked pale, shrunk into himself, he was the one who had announced in the press conference, the details of what had happened and the decision to just continue as an 8-member band with 7 members actively promoting as exo. it wasn't easy, sehun was sure he was going to throw up during the moments leading to the press conference. sure, they had the support of shinee backstage- yet they all had isolated themselves in away. they all had bottled up their emotions as they struggled to come to terms with what had happened.

 

it was at that moment that sehun decided he hated xiumin, for leaving. for dumping the responsibility of being the oldest and the leader on already stressed junmyeon. for breaking down bubbly baekhyun into an anxious wreck. for silencing the normally loud jongdae, who barely spoke a few words now. for stealing the bright smile jongin always had. for taking away the childlike innocence yixing used to have and replace it with a somber sense of knowing. for destroying chanyeol's moment- just when he was about to come out with his solo album. for crippling the normally manly kyungsoo into a lost, helpless version of himself. for leaving sehun all alone in this. 

 

and perhaps what made it even worse was that it was all so sudden, so unexpected. so unpredictable that even kris, luhan and tao had reached out and offered their sympathy. 

 

sehun felt an ache in his chest as he tried to push these thoughts apart. it was 5:36 am now, it would be better for him to just sleep rather than dwell upon what would have let minseok stay. 

 

"is this recording?" 

"jeez, yes grandpa, you can't even work a camera now, it seems."

"shut up baekhyun before i use my old man privileges to strangle you" 

"can you even reach my neck?"

"aish, you little-" 

the screen turns black for a few seconds before minseok reappears again, he's smiling and next to him a hooded figure pouts adorably. 

 

"okay, so um, hello! this is minseok or xiumin and i'm part of exo-m! tomorrow is finally the day we debut! i can't wait so i've decided to make this diary/ vlog thing so i can look back at it a few years later and just remember this moment- cause i never want to forget it!"

 

"you know for someone who hasn't even debuted yet, you sure speak like you've gotten a legion of fans behind you." 

 

A sharp sound of a smack echoes into the video followed by exaggerated whining and the camera panning out to show the hooded figure's face. it's baekhyun, adorable fetus baekhyun- who's face immediately turns into a wide smile once the camera is on him. 

behind him, there's a slight giggle- undoubtedly from minseok. 

 

"this is baekhyunie and he is always provoking me but he's lucky, he's cute otherwise i would have ended him by now." 

 

baekhyun smiles and waves before pretending to kiss minseok- causing the elder to immediately leave the scene. 

 

the footage shows minseok walking around, talking and giggling to him own self as he blabbers on about exo and himself in the video meant his eyes only. he introduces each of the members, declaring his love for each of them- some in more subtle ways than others. 

 

eventually, minseok settles down next to the maknae, his pretty eyes not leaving the camera even once. 

 

"-and this is our maknae! sehun-ie! say hi to the camera!" 

 

at the mention of his name, sehun spares a shy smile- his hyung wrapping an arm around him soon after. 

 

"hun-hun, do you want to say something?" 

 

"uh, please support exo and look forward to our music-? thank you..!" 

 

"ahh, that's nice sehunie but do you want to say anything to the future exo? this video is for us to look back on when we finally make it!"

 

"ah, hyung, you surely do dream big~"

 

"what's wrong with dreaming?!" 

 

sehun just shakes his head at the cute boy, sometimes even he finds himself questioning if he really is the maknae of the group instead of the oldest hyung.

 

"ah, nothing. well, i want to say that i hope everyone is happy and together and doing well! and that i still love all my hyung and will continue praying for them!" 

 

"aww, that's more like it, but you don't have to pray for us, just keep your dishes back in the sink!" 

 

sehun's face morphed into a fake offended one, before burying his head minseok's shoulder. his muffled voice followed after. 

 

"how could you?! even after all this?!"

 

minseok's laughter echoes again before he turns to give sehun a peck on his head. 

 

"hyung loves you sehunie!" 

 

and the video cuts there. sehun never said it back.

 

 

sehun stares at the rewards blankly, they've come a long way from where they started. but somehow, it doesn't seem like they've made much progress. sure, they are constantly being admired and loved by fans all around the world, their music is recognized throughout the world and they have enough money to just retire and spend a lavish life in the bahamas if they truly wanted. yet they still feel stuck, emotionally. like a part of them which helped them in moving forward has been ripped out of their souls- leaving an empty void, seemingly never to be refilled. no amount of money or awards can fill the tear in sehun's heart which kris, tao and luhan left. 

 

sehun remembers when kris told him he was leaving, sehun thought it was a joke, that it was just a dumb prank until he saw the bags and junmyeon's teary eyes. apparently, everyone else knew before him, and the betrayal hit him in shock waves. the line between his anger and sadness blurred as he found himself screaming at kris before switching to begging him to stay. but kris just looked at him with pity filled eyes and exchanged a few last words and hugs. 

and sehun knew it was over. 

 

minseok held him through the first few days and nights when one would normally expect to find sehun just relaxing in his room or sitting at the dining table, just switching between laughing and crying as the reality settled in (and seemed to mess with his emotional stability). minseok explained to him why kris did what he did, of course, it didn't completely make it easier- but minseok helped him heal, as a good hyung should. and just when things began looking up, luhan followed suit. he was done being treated like an old toy and this time, sehun had matured enough to understand why. but that didn't stop those sleepless nights and sobbing quietly in his room, it didn't stop him from not being prepared mentally when luhan finally left. he remembers the last concert as if it was yesterday, luhan hugging him and whispering a final goodbye as he disappeared into his car which would take him to the airport. and before he could crumple, minseok got a hold of him. 

 

"im your eldest hyung, sehunie. and i'm always going to be there for, remember that, okay? i love you." 

 

sehun just sobbed into his chest silently, taking comfort in the small hand which stroked his head. 

 

he should have been prepared for zitao's leave, he should have seen it coming after all, zitao was also treated like kris and luhan. but it still hurt his heart to see him go, a final moment which got over too quickly. and minseok was there again, by the doorway, leaning against the frame with a bucket of ice cream and his laptop.

 

"ready to relax with hyung, kiddo?"

 

but now? who was supposed to hold him as he cried? who was supposed to bring ice cream and binge-watch his favorite movie with him? who was supposed to make unfunny old man jokes that were so bad that you couldn't help but laugh at them? sure, the other members provided him comfort but sehun could see, they were breaking inside too. minseok's leaving had left worse scars than the other three, for his exit was so sudden and unexpected; no one could have predicted, guessed- in fact, the others would laugh if one even hinted at the mere idea of minseok simply not being there, as a part of exo.

 

 

minseok was there one day and gone the other. 

 

"hyung, are you going to join us for dinner today? it's been a while, hasn't it?"

 

"i'm not sure sehun-ah, i have a bit of a work to do. "

 

"ahh, c'mon hyung! you've been working too hard!"

 

"i just want to make some great memories with exo-l before i go to military, yeollie-"

 

"what about us hyung? you can't just ignore your members! make some memories with us too hyung!"

 

"aish jongdae, you're such a cry baby."

 

the other members can hear shuffling on the other side of the phone, before their hyung answers again.

 

"okay, i'll come. you brats better be grateful that your hyung loves you so much"

 

minseok can hear cheering on the other side, presumably from jongin and baekhyun. 

 

"okay hyung, how long will it take you?" 

 

"about 15 minutes? junmyeon, is yixing there already?" 

 

"hi hyung! and yes, i'm here, you're the only one left- come one now." 

 

"aish, you make your old hyung do so much work, fine i'm coming."

 

"yay!! also hyung, kyungsoo is smiling really widely right now and he looks so cute- ah ouch that hurts!"

 

minseok smiles at their antics, chanyeol and kyungsoo's playful antics make for an amusing show. 

 

"okay, goodbye then kiddos, I'll be there soon, love ya~"

 

"bye hyung, we are waiting~"

 

the call ends and the 8 other men go back to their drinking and laughing. it's been a while since all 9 of them have gathered together, and sehun can't help but feel extremely excited. it's like a family reunion albeit he saw a half of them like last week. he takes a sip of his beer as he looks at the clock, it reads 11:36 pm. minseok should be here at 12am, by the latest. 

 

sehun opens up his phone, he has nothing to do. he has no tears left to cry, the ache in his heart is permanent, his throat hurts so much. he feels numb, blank. like a person floating between life and death. 

 

he clicks on the article regarding xiumin, he can't help it. even though he knows the story better than any journalist, he can't stop his fingers from clicking on it. he can't stop his eyes from reading the painful news again and again. it was everywhere, it was trending everywhere. sehun couldn't escape it, the news haunted even the darkest crevices of his own mind. 

 

"-xiumin, from the popular kpop boy group exo, reported dead on 5th may, 5:07 am, in a supposed freak accident. the other driver is still under investigation-" 

 

he still remembers the call like it had been still going on. they were hammered, it was 3 am and they had forgotten where minseok was. minseok had called them up later and told them he'd be about an hour late- due to some unexpected work. but he was sure that he'd make it. and they naively believed him. 

 

junmyeon's phone rung at 2:56 AM, an unknown caller they would have ignored otherwise had it not been for their intoxicated minds. but it didn't last long, junmyeon's highly attitude dropped quickly, his voice turning grave- attracting the attention of the rest around the table. 

 

"....sorry?....are-are you sure?....listen this isn't funny, please-....okay-okay, yeah...."

 

the rest sobered up rather quickly as they noticed how his voice had begun to crack, his eyes filling with tears and he stood up suddenly, ending the call before parting a curt goodbye to the caller. 

 

and sehun will never forget the moment he turned his head to look at the rest of the confused members with red eyes which seemed broken inexplicably. 

 

his voice was barely above a whisper, "we need to go."

 

the trip to the hospital was as anxious as one would imagine. the caller was a police officer informing junmyeon of a freak accident on the highway, caused by a sleep-deprived truck driver who had rammed into a car presumed to be minseok's, they had reached junmyeon from minseok's emergency contact, he had been the first one to take the impact. he was barely hanging onto life. no one said anything as jongdae drove through most of the red lights, his normally rash driving which would have called for criticism was barely noticed by the other members whose heartbeats were louder than the zooming of the car. 

 

all of them desperately prayed that it wasn't minseok, that they were mistaken, that minseok was still stuck in traffic- going to arrive at the place and then call them disgruntled that they left without him. then they'd go back and hug him and hold him and never let him go. all of them couldn't help the tiny glimmer of hope- telling them that the officer was mistaken, that he had called the wrong person, that it was someone else- anyone else- but minseok who was dying. 

 

they all ran into the hospital, the car parked in front of the hospital- ignoring the calls of the security guard as they begged to see him. 

 

"he's in surgery, he'll be for a while." 

 

the waiting room was white, the normally serene color seemed to suffocate sehun as tears filled up his eyes. the rest were crying, he could see, even chanyeol was shedding silent tears as he stared up at the blank ceiling. the rest of them were leaning against each other while baekyun sat by the floor, his face buried in his hands. sehun could feel his lungs closing up, his soul falling apart, his mind raced with thoughts he didn't understand, his eyes worked like a broken recorder, his ears heard everything yet understood nothing. he was beginning to forget what his own voice sounded like. 

 

he hated white, a mocking reminder of the turmoil his life was thrown into- ironic. 

 

but perhaps, what he hated the most was when the doctor entered the waiting room, shaking his head as it hung low.

 

"minseok-ssi was a fighter, i'm sorry. he's brain dead."

 

and loud wails echoed through the room, as sehun crumpled to his knees; not even realizing that these wails were his own. 

 

they pulled the plug at 5:06 AM, minseok's mother made the decision over the phone, she couldn't bear to see her son's vegetative body- she refused to subject him to the pain of artificial lungs when he had no chance of surviving and entrap him in this sorrowful existence. 

 

sehun still remembers seeing his hyung as he flat-lined a minute later, the insistent beeping merging into an unbearably loud sound, his hand tightly gripping minseok's small lifeless one. his body was covered with bruises, his lip was bleeding. bandages and gauzes wrapped around his middle, his leg in a cast. his hands littered with deep cuts which had formed when he fell through the windshield as the truck rammed into him. he wondered what his hyung felt in his last moments of being conscious, did he feel pain? did he remember the memories of exo and all the members and his family? did he feel scared as the truck seemed to come closer and closer as he realized it was too late to break? did he want to cry as he was suspended in mid-air for a good few seconds? did he see a light, a hand to guide him to heaven? did he see millions of exo-l cheering into him- the light of their lightstick forming a glowing ocean? did he feel loved and content with his life as he took his last breath? 

 

sehun could only hope that minseok hyung's last memory wasn't of the trick ramming into him, but of the phone call, they had shared. of the promise they made- to stick by each other and share sorrows and joys until the end of time. sehun could only hope his last thought wasn't of registering the pain as glass shards pierced through him but of the moments they had spent together laughing, of the memory when they first stepped on the debut stage, of the moment when they went to collect their first award, of the moment when all of them gathered in the living room- squeezing themselves into the couches as they mindlessly watched some tv show- just enjoying each other's company as they got increasing drunk with each passing moment. 

 

sehun wished when minseok saw his life flash in front of his eyes, he would only remember the happy moments, the stupid jokes, the late-night talks with the members, the countries they visited for the first time with a child-like wonder. In the midst of crumpling next to minseok's bed, his gaze shifted from the deceased's face to the other members. He'd noticed all of them were crowding around the body, chanyeol had his face buried in minseok's blanket, baekhyun rubbing his back as he leaned against him. jongin held onto baekhyun, hand hovering over minseok's body as if unsure to whether he should touch him or not. jongdae sat by the foot of the bed, just staring at him, his eyes looked numb and emotionless; next to him kyungsoo lay next to him, tears running down his face and his face crumpled up. sehun felt someone rub his back, making out yixing's face from the corner of his eyes- he had tears running down his face too, before suddenly burying it in sehun's back, feeling the tears soak into his shirt. junmyeon sat next to the bed, stroking minseok's hair. it was grey, minseok had joked about being a grandma, pretending he would be dying soon. it wasn't so funny anymore. 

 

A knock on sehun's door startled him, jolting him awake from the nightmarish dream of watching minseok flatline again and again. 

 

jongin peeked in, his eyes bloodshot and puffy. 

 

"sehunnie, are you awake?"

 

sehun rubbed his eyes, before nodding. 

 

"yeah, i am."

 

"did you sleep well?"

 

"yeah" it was a lie, he wasn't able to sleep more than half an hour- minseok's face kept popping in his head; guilt drowning him out as if he were the one to cause his demise instead of the other driver. 

 

"junmyeon hyung was planning to...to go to hyung's resting place. would you-would you like to come?"

 

jongin looked as though saying those words out loud was the most strenuous thing one could have ever done, finally managing to get them past his lips and out in the open. 

 

it took sehun a moment to process the words, his words getting caught in his throat. he knew he would cry hard if he saw the grave, but he had to. he had some things he still wanted to tell his late hyung. he managed to give a rigid nod, which jongin returned before closing the door to sehun's room and disappearing behind it. 

 

the death was so cruel and unexpected that when the word got out, it seemed to be trending everywhere. regardless of the fact if kpop was popular there or not, it seemed to dominate every countries' news. all the news stations managed to at least mention the incident even if it were for a moment only. so perhaps when luhan called them a few hours later, it wasn't that unexpected. 

 

luhan's voice was coarse and heavy as if he had been crying previously. he asked them what had happened, demanded an explanation as if that would heal the wound left by the sudden death. a few sniffled replied to their low voices as they described the nightmare they found themselves in. the shattering sequence of events wasn't something one could simply cope with so perhaps when he whispered his condolences and promised to be there for his funeral, it wasn't that big of a surprise.

 

kris called a few minutes after him, his voice loud and filled with disbelief. he begged them to just stop playing this horrible prank and to just be honest. but when junmyeon's broken voice told him that this was a reality, that the good do die young- kris' sobs broke through. he kept whispering sorry, like a broken record. taking pity on the equally sorrowful condition of the man, the members told him the details of the private funeral and hung up. perhaps they would have laughed at the fact that how broken the confident man sounded if they, themselves, weren't close to losing their grip on reality either.

 

tao's call came in a little late but came nonetheless. he was crying when they picked up, he had always been on the more sensitive side. he didn't say much, instead of asking if the driver had been convicted or not. he sounded angrier than broken, unlike the previous members. the call came to a curt end after both the sides had gone silent, momentarily. but no one could find themselves to feel shocked when such a horrible dark cloud loomed over them. 

 

condolences from their friends, family, staff, and acquaintances came pouring in. exo-ls were crying online, some reaching out to them to pay their respects. not that the members cared at that moment, they just wanted their eldest hyung back. they would do anything to get him back, give up everything they had achieved till now if it meant they could keep him from death's cruel grip. 

 

sehun managed to drag himself to his closet to put on something half decent that then old sweatpants he had been wearing for the past few days and his soft cotton shirt which had tear and snot stains littering it. He pulled out black jeans and a random Cowan shirt. he could care less about whether the combination matched or not, as long as he looked like a human. he brushed his hair and trudged out of his room. baekhyun and jongdae were sitting on the dining table, their hands laid in front of them. chanyeol sat in front of the television, folded into himself- making his normal huge self look small and tiny, the look on his face made him look further delicate and fragile. yixing sat on the couch, next to him. his eyes blankly locked on his phone. jongin and junmyeon were yet to get out of their room and change. this would probably be the first time all of them were going to the grave at the same time since the funeral. 

 

"sorry, it took a bit of time. but if everyone's ready...let's go" 

 

junmyeon was rubbing his hands on his thighs as he looked at all of them, a sigh leaving his mouth as motioned towards the door. everyone looked at him and jongin trailing behind him before getting up slowly and wordlessly. a van waiting for them outside the lobby, they didn't need two anymore, they could all squeeze into one now. the drive there was wordless except for baekhyun occasionally whispering directions to the driver. 

 

by the time they all arrived in front of the graveyard, it was nearing noon and the sun was shining brightly as if mocking their stormy mood. it was comfortable, the sun warming them up slightly yet none of them could bask in that sunny glory. a florist sat by the entrance, offering flowers at a decent price for the grieving. chanyeol quickly walked over, buying 8 bouquets so they each could lay flowers on his grave. 

 

pink carnations, for they would never forget the 9th member of exo.

 

although the graveyard was the size of a pool at the best, the walk to where he lay was begrudgingly slow- almost as if they were trying to lull themselves into a reality where minseok would be sitting by a stone, smiling as they would approach him and then laugh at their miserable states before ruffling their hair and giving them hug. sehun could almost make himself believe that his hyung would pop out of nowhere while mocking him for believing the whole ordeal and they'd go back to the form or minseok's house and he won't have to let go of the smaller man- if only it wasn't for the bitter reality to bring him out of the ideal world where his hyung would only be gone for his military service. 

 

he didn't even realize they were in front of the grey gravestone until his body crashed into chanyeol's. the older man seemed to pay no heed- his eyes too busy boring holes into the faded letterings on the grave. 

 

here lies kim minseok 

1990-2019

a smiling, happy soul who could harm no one; forever to be missed by friends and family and his hundreds of admirers. 

 

in his countless years of knowing the members, he had never heard such silence. even when the three chinese members had left, sobs and angry mutterings had filled the atmosphere. yet with minseok being gone, no one dared to say anything. even the occasional sniffle seemed to be muffled by the thick silence draped over them. in the empty space where minseok was lay, was now filled with nothing but a suffocating sort of sadness and quiet, a dull moment of realisation that it really was over and there was nothing left anymore, nothing except the endless void and oblivion at the end. 

 

the flowers were placed wordlessly, tears streaming down chanyeol's and jongin's faces. junmyeon looked eternally exhausted as if it were a permanent part of him now. jongdae and baekhyun's loud nature was unnaturally quiet as if their vocal cords had been ripped out- leaving only whispered as loud as the gust of wind behind. kyungsoo kneeled a few steps in front of the grave, his hand covering his mouth as the occasional sniffle escaped him. yixing sat by him, a blank look on his face- his eyes stone cold. 

 

with heavy steps and bones which seemed to weigh more than what the earth could take, sehun managed to make it in front of the grave before abruptly dropping to his knees. his eyes were watering, blurring his vision yet he could make out minseok's bright smile in the picture frame they had put in front of the grave for time being. 

 

minseok looked so young, so full of life, maybe this was why everyone assumed him to be the youngest of exo, for his youthful appearance and bright eyes making him look like the maknae since they debuted. it was a sort of inside joke between them, considering the number of times people would point out that he looked like the youngest, they would often joke that one-day minseok would stop aging and become the maknae. 

 

but the cruel irony of faith, they never knew how close that day actually was. and now, thinking that in a few years, sehun would be older than minseok, the river in his heat seemed to overflow. 

 

as sobs escaped his mouth and a few hands flew to his back to comfortingly rubbing them, sehun placed the flowers; whispering softly as if it were something he only wanted minseok to hear.

 

"i miss you, hyung, and i'll search the universe until i can find you again"