Family.

Fireplace.

The room suddenly turns dead silent as the sound of Kibum’s muffled sobs come to an end. It has been almost an hour now since they came back from the funeral service. Jinki looks at s, at the ones he has for so long considered brothers. He takes in their equally drawn features and feels a pang in his heart. He feels like he is looking at a reflection of himself. He shifts in his chair as the weight of the silence leaves him no more means of distraction. He knows he should be saying something, but in this moment, no words seem right.

‘’ How could he do this to us? ‘’ The words hit the air with poignancy, harsh and brutal.

Jinki dares to look to his right, where Taemin wears an expression that matches his words. His gaze then travels to the couch facing them, where Kibum is wiping off the last of his tears, and Minho’s jaw clenches with tension. His stomach churns with anxiety. He suddenly wishes for the silence to come back.

Fortunately, no harshness ensues. Instead, a sigh leaves Kibum’s lips. ‘’ He hasn’t done anything to us… He was just… in too much pain… ‘’ The words leave his mouth uncomfortably, his tone splattered with guilt and sadness.

Taemin snorts as he lays back into his chair. ‘’ Yeah, sure, that’s convenient. Let’s act like he had no other choice. Let’s just act like he didn’t screw us over for life, ‘’ he goes on with a dark gaze pointed at no one.

There is a pause after that. Jinki holds his breath as he waits for all hell to break loose. He had known it would’ve eventually come to this. They had had to keep it all in for days and now that there were no more witnesses, their masks could fall off.

‘’ How can you be mad at him? He is dead, ‘’ Minho suddenly chips in.

The intended emphasis on the last word makes Jinki cringe, but he shows no trace of his discomfort. He feels like the spectator to an unfolding tragedy. He wishes he could intervene to prevent the horrible ending, but the story is already written.

‘’ Yeah, and we’re still here. We’re the ones who have to deal with all the crap now, ‘’ Taemin points out as he finally settles his gaze on his older brother’s face.

Jinki finally feels himself breathe again as the words fade into another silence. An intermission is always necessary.

‘’ We’re going to get through this… ‘’ Kibum lets out feebly. He is looking down at his hands, and jumps slightly when they are suddenly covered by Minho’s larger one.

Jinki smiles in his head. Yes, support is needed.

‘’ We have to, for him, for us, for SHINee, ‘’ Minho reiterates in a more convincing tone. He then looks at their leader, waiting for his seal of approval.

Jinki can read the fear in his big brown eyes. He is scared, and so am I. Jinki can’t guarantee they will get through this. Nothing is sure anymore.

‘’ SHINee is dead, ‘’ Taemin sharply states.

Goddammit, Tae. Jinki doesn’t look at him this time, he can’t. His heart throbs in a painful manner, which at least reminds him it’s still there.

‘’ SHINee will always be alive… all that we’ve accomplished… all those years… they are eternal, ‘’ Minho argues on the spot. ‘’ Our legacy will live through us and the fans… ‘’ he goes on as he stares into their past. He takes a deep breath as he feels his eyes sting again.

Kibum squeezes his hand before looking at the two others. ‘’ We have to send out some words to the fans… Just so that they now we’re still here, ‘’ he points out.

Jinki’s eyes close. 1,2,3…

‘’ The ? ‘’ Taemin explodes.

Boom. Jinki keeps his eyes closed, tension building up more and more at the center of his chest.

‘’ Do you really care about the fans right now? ‘’ Taemin pushes on, now consumed by his anger.

Jinki can’t see anything, but he knows Taemin isn’t the only one mad now. He can almost feel electricity in the air.

‘’ Why wouldn’t I? ‘’ Kibum snaps with a matching tone. ‘’ They’ve been a focal part of our lives for the past decade, ‘’ he then reminds.

‘’ Yeah, they must be in shock too… ‘’ Minho voices in a more gentle tone.

‘’ Who the cares? It’s not like they knew him, ‘’ Taemin keeps on, his voice getting rougher with every added sentence.

‘’ They didn’t know him, but they supported him, they supported his art and they fell in love with the parts of himself he was willing to share, ‘’ Minho argues once again with assurance.

Jinki silently approves with a nod, finally letting himself open his eyes.

‘’ What does it matter now? It’s not like that saved him in the end, ‘’ Taemin says, tone dripping with contempt.

‘’ Neither could we… ‘’ Jinki austerely remarks. He feels the weight of everyone’s gaze on him, but continues despite. ‘’ We couldn’t even save him… ‘’ I couldn’t…

Another intermission follows, all three of his brothers deep in thought. Jinki is once again grateful for the break, especially from the escalating anger of the youngest.

But that break is short-lived.

‘’ We knew he was going through stuff… ‘’ Minho lets out as he now bows forward between his knees.

‘’ There were so many signs… ‘’ Taemin continues in a calm tone.

Jinki looks at him with surprise before the surprise becomes a heavy current of sadness. He now sees the guilt, the hurt and the confusion that had been hiding all the while behind all his bursts of anger.

‘’ But we failed to see it was that bad… ‘’ Kibum completes as tears start sliding down his face again. He tries to wipe them off quickly, but they keep coming and soon enough, he just gives up, his head dropping to conceal the mess he currently is.

‘’ Someone should’ve seen… someone should’ve… ‘’ For once, Taemin is at a loss for words, overwhelmed. He pauses, trying to regain control, trying to make sense. And then realization just strikes him.

The youngest abruptly turns toward the oldest. ‘’ Weren’t you the last one to see him? How could you not see? ‘’ he accuses. His anger is once again in full bloom, his expression hard and unforgiving.

Jinki feels nauseous. He swallows hard against his excruciatingly dry throat. I was too engulfed in my own misery to see his…

‘’ You’re crossing the line, Tae… ‘’ Minho says in a warning tone.

‘’ Why? Because I’m saying out loud what we are all thinking? ‘’ he instantly retorts. And with that, he gets up, clearly distancing himself from their leader. His arms cross over his chest again in a defying manner, ready to counterattack.

‘’ No one is thinking that, except you, ‘’ Minho squarely disputes. ‘’ I know you’re angry, Tae, but you’re going too far. Apologize. ‘’ Minho’s order is followed by a threatening stare.

Taemins scoffs at him. ‘’ Why would I apologize to someone who can’t even stand up for himself? First, he stains our reputation by being careless and second, he fails to see that one of his friends is about to kill himself… If you ask me, I would say that person is pretty useless. ‘’ He spits out the last word like venom, fully intending all the damage he knows it will cause.

Jinki barely has time to emotionally register the words that a ruckus takes his full attention. In the matter of seconds, Minho is up to hit Taemin, but before his fist lands on his younger brother’s face, Kibum steps in to put some distance between them.

‘’ STOP , ‘’ he screams as tears are still falling down his cheeks.

Jinki holds his breath, waiting. He exhales again when Minho steps back.

‘’ I’m sorry, ‘’ the tall young man mutters before letting himself drop on the couch. He stares blankly into space, shocked by his own behavior.

‘’ Tae… ‘’ Kibum manages to utter between sobs. ‘’ We only have each other… we’re family… ‘’ He puts a trembling hand on the youngest one’s shoulder, mustering up enough control to stare right at him.

Taemin scoffs again. ‘’ What kind of family lets one of his own take his life? ‘’ he harshly voices right before stepping away from the other’s hold.

Kibum’s eyes widen for a split second before he buries his face in his hands, crying even harder.

Taemin doesn’t mind him, holding on to his vendetta. He looks at all of them with a chilling rage. ‘’ We’re not family anymore, ‘’ he ends before finally leaving the room.

His lacquered shoes echo loudly against the wooden floor until he slams the door they had all come through earlier.

Silence falls again, but only briefly.

‘’ Jinki… what Taemin said… it’s not true, ‘’ Minho says in the most reassuring voice.

Yes, it is. Jinki wants to shy away from the other’s gaze, but he manages to keep on a brave face. ‘’ Don’t worry, I understand. He’s in too much pain so he is lashing out… If me being the bad guy helps him right now, so be it, ‘’ he resolutely states. Even if he had failed as their leader, he still couldn’t give up his title just yet.

Ignoring the other two’s shocked expression, he goes on. ‘’ I need you guys to call him later, to make sure he is safe, ‘’ he gently orders. If Jinki is sure of one thing, it is that Taemin doesn’t want to lose those two.

They both nod in acknowledgement, knowing better than to argue.

‘’ You two should try to get some rest, ‘’ Jinki then indicates. We all need some space.

Kibum and Minho nod again before getting up in sync. ‘’ Are you staying here? ‘’ the latter asks.

It’s now Jinki’s turn to nod. ‘’ Just a while longer… ‘’

‘’ Okay then… we’ll talk later, ‘’ Minho awkwardly concludes. He then gestures to Kibum to start walking, which the other does before giving Jinki one last look.

Jinki knows Kibum is very worried for him. He wishes he could tell him that there is no need to worry, but he has never been good at lying.

The door closes again and Jinki lets out a long sigh of relief. Finally. He has been waiting forever now to be alone and now that he is, it almost feels unreal. This is the real intermission he needed.

His lids rapidly fall over his eyes, plunging his world into darkness. For a moment, Jinki gets wrapped up in nothingness, but not long enough that he can truly forget himself and the world. Soon enough, reality hits him in the chest with a few hurtful words. ‘’ How could you not see? ‘’

And then Jinki sees again. His eyes open on the void Jonghyun has now left in his life. The shield of denial he has been protecting himself with for the last few days suddenly shatters like glass and he feels overwhelmed. But he can’t cry, he can’t get angry, because he just can’t be. I can’t go on without you… The words fall like a judge’s verdict, final, irreversible. But the trial is not over. There are still questions to be asked.

Why you? Jinki asks as his airway constricts. He feels light-headed, sick. It was supposed to be me… His world falls into darkness again, his mind diving into the last moment they shared together.

‘’ Wow, SM didn’t tell me we were going for a shaggy dog concept this time, ‘’ Jonghyun banters as he takes seat in front of his friend.

Jinki can’t help but smile. ‘’ Actually the concept we are exploring this time is shame ‘’ he answers.

Jonghyun looks at him with a pout of disapproval. ‘’ We have nothing to be ashamed of, ‘’ he counters instantly.

Jinki knows those words are meant to put an end to his self-deprecating ways, but he has gotten so used to them over the years that he fears he’ll never get rid of them. ‘’ As much as I wish that were true, I brought shame not only upon myself, but upon us… ‘’ He is truly shameful now, avoiding his brother’s fixed gaze.

Jonghyun doesn’t let him get away with it. In the matter of seconds, he is kneeling in front of him, his soft hands resting on his knees.

Jinki can’t really avoid him now without feeling ridiculous so he meets his eyes. He can read sadness and worry in them, but most of all, he feels love.

‘’ The situation is very unfortunate, but that’s because as public figures we aren’t allowed to make mistakes, we can’t let our guard down… people look for any opportunity to rip us apart and that… that … ‘’ the younger one finishes with a voice almost down to a whisper.

Jinki is taken aback by Jonghyun’s words, by the seriousness that has settled on his pretty features. He wants to say something, but words fail him. This is another one of the many times where he feels like Jonghyun is the wiser one.

‘’ You have to be strong, Jinki. You need to come back, ‘’ he goes on whilst his expression softens.

‘’ Do I? ‘’ the older one instantly questions. ‘’ I mean… I have no difficulty seeing SHINee doing fine without me… ‘’ As soon as those words leave his mouth, a wave of sadness washes over him, leaving him shivering and vulnerable.

‘’ Oh, Jinki… ‘’ Jonghyun moves closer to him before engulfing him in a tight hug. ‘’ How can you say that? SHINee needs you, you are our rock… ‘’

A chill runs down Jinki’s spine as the softly spoken words vibrate against his eardrum. He wants to believe this is true, he wants to believe it so bad…

Jinki returns to the world abruptly, cut off from his memory by the buzzing of his phone in his pocket. He looks at it in panic, but relaxes when he sees that it’s just an alarm he had forgotten to switch off. Today was supposed to be the day he made his first public appearance with SHINee again. Right now, he would’ve started to get ready to leave his apartment, thus why he had set a reminder to make sure he wouldn’t be late. This would’ve been the moment he would’ve told himself what Jonghyun had told him before. You have to be strong…

Jinki felt none of that strength anymore. If he had ever been a rock to anyone, he wasn’t anything now. Jinki had always felt like Jonghyun was the real pillar of the group. He had been their heart. If anyone was responsible for them being a family, it was Jonghyun. Being around him had always been like being in front of a fireplace. It had always felt warm and cozy… it had felt like… home. Now that their heart was gone, how could they go on living?

Jinki ponders the thought, staring at nothing. He feels weary, dead. But unfortunately, he is still alive.

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