Umbra

Iris

Suho hates springtime.

Springtime with its tepid drafts of ozone and air currents, its awakening world; a plethora of green buds sprouting from the damp earth, the return of trilling birds hiding in bushes, white-pink petals that fall so gracefully from the trees, dancing and swirling in their elaborate ritual before kissing surfaces with their velvety softness.

Yeah, Suho hates that.

It’s on days like these where the atmosphere is not quite warm and not exactly cold that his insomnia starts to take stabs at him again with its butcher knife at midnight, the aching loneliness a stark reminder of the tragic ending that still reflects off of the mirrors of his shattered soul so harshly, bouncing, amplifying-- shut up.

It’s on days like these when he stares at the fibers of the second pillow on his bed longer than usual, hand coming to caress the fabric that he hasn’t slept on or replaced in four years; the amount of time that seems to have past since his eyes lost the ability to see or comprehend color, everything seeping into muted and monochromatic hues.

It’s on days like these when he takes a little longer to get ready in the morning, a little longer to brush his teeth and get dressed. And then the watch.

His fingertips barely flutter onto its glistening and intricate face, a watch much too ostentatious to suit his simple demeanor and lifestyle as he prefers neutral colors, clean and uncomplicated lines. It’s a somber and age-old nostalgia, like looking into a cracked, sepia polaroid and seeing yourself there-- or rather, the person you used to be; like flipping through memories that seem to have wrinkled skin and gray hairs, bones that look like they’re on the verge of death.  

Because it’s on days like these when he misses his first love the most.

 

-----


It’s always been easy for Suho to read others; to pick up on their emotions, little ticks and twitches in their cheeks, stiff and leisurely arm gestures. It’s not as if humans were incredibly difficult to understand or anything. In turn, it was easy for him to get along with others. All he needed to do was be kind and neutral about everything, hide his true feelings, and be diplomatic until the end.  

That is the key to his success. That is the reason why he was elected as student body president every year since elementary school without fail, the reason why he could garner so much respect at school and work, the reason why he could always keep his relationships distant and uncomplicated.

But in return for such an ideal lifestyle, there had to be a sacrifice made somewhere and his sacrifice came in the form of high expectations. People had high hopes for him and he came to accept that.

So when IRIS notified him that his spouse had been determined for him, he fully accepted that too.

But life isn’t meant to be easy, is it.

“You’re a boring guy, Suho.”

Suho stops sipping on his green tea, the jade-colored liquid coming to a complete standstill at the curve of his lips around the cup. His perfect ceramic mask retreats for less than a split-second, a desperate and chaotic evacuation of blood vessels and skin cells barely noticeable to the human eye, before morphing back into an even more formidable facade. It’s a calm and composed layer caked on top of his simmering emotions as he sets his porcelain teacup down on its matching saucer with a soft tinkle.  

A mystified miasma is swirling within him with troubled thoughts bouncing in between wavelengths of logic as he’s trying to figure out what he could have possibly done wrong and how to fix the situation. So he backtracks a bit for damage control. No big deal.

Or so he thinks.

“Why would you say that?” Suho asks carefully in an even voice.

The man in front of him smirks, a playful and profound expression that will cause Suho to flounder with worry and paranoia some time in the future but for now only causes him to be speculative. Suho watches as the other man twists the metal spoon around in between his fingers, his aura reeking of a predator watching amusedly at his prey. And Suho shivers from the icy cold trickle of water coming down the length of his spine from the look, his nerves jolted and flustered.

“When did creating someone flawless become more vital than loving yourself?”

That was the day he met Jongdae.

 

 

-----


Life suddenly became an intense and conniving game of push and pull with Jongdae gaining the upperhand and deceiving Suho into defeat in more than a fair share of the rounds-- okay, all of the rounds. Eventually, the game escalates from harmless nudges at his conscience to deceitful shoves.

Literally.

Butterflies of warmth flittering through the cool air and the soft smell of newly-fallen rain that washes the earth clean of impurities and the darkness of winter. Fleecy sunlight glittering on the looming and majestic building covered in glass and steel with pink and white blossoms and petals pretending to be little ballerinas by pirouetting down from the sky.

Through the peaceful atmosphere comes heavy breathing and rivulets of sweat racing each other down his cheeks to soak his starched white shirt tucked underneath a black suit jacket. His muscles are burning and trembling with exhaustion when he finally arrives at the southern courtyard behind the Seed Tower. After sprinting like a madman through eight floors of the massive spire, the security guards finally decided to notify him that his newlywed husband is by the fountain. Gee, thanks.

So here he is, approaching Jongdae from behind and it seems like the other man doesn’t notice him coming as he continues to stare intently into the glistening water within the magnificent fountain. Suho sighs as he stands next to his spouse. He glances into the water too, curious as to what amazing object could possibly capture Jongdae’s complete attention, but he doesn’t see anything.

That’s when Jongdae points into the water slowly, eyes still trained on a spot somewhere a couple of feet away. “Do you see that?”

“See what?” Suho responds, focusing his eyes onto the area where Jongdae’s finger is pointing in.

That. Don’t tell me you don’t see that. Look harder,” Jongdae insists, pointing more vehemently and putting his hand on Suho’s shoulder for emphasis.

Suho leans in closer to the fountain, eyes squinting hard for whatever it is that his partner-- and into the water he goes with a resounding splash coupled with a gurgled shout that gushes liquid in every direction. Lungs scorching from the invasion of water and arms thrashing rapidly to keep him afloat as an obnoxious burst of laughter ebbs and flows through his half-clogged ears. There’s an abrupt tsunami of anger that crashes into his chest in that instant. It almost causes him to rupture in a typhoon of fury when he realizes that he was tricked.

“You should see your angry face right now! I wish I recorded that!” Jongdae chokes through his gleeful cackling, arms wrapped around his ribcage and doubled over from the strain.

They’ve been married for less than an hour and Suho’s already slogging home in drenched clothes after running all over the premises in search of Jongdae. Things can’t get any worse, right?

Well, they do because Suho is so gullible.

 

 

-----

 


“Jongdae, what’s this?”

“Did they not have chickens yet when you were born, old man? Did the chicken really come after the egg?” Jongdae teases with a mischievous smile, sliding into his seat across the dining room table from his husband.

“No, I mean--”

“--So they didn’t have chickens. Okay, gotcha. Let’s replace our stove with a hole in the ground with sticks and--”

Suho interrupts loudly with an exasperated sigh, eyes narrowing into a highly suspicious glare at the man in front of him. Jongdae smiles cheerfully, happiness sticking to him like a magnet as he soaks up Suho’s annoyed appearance because it’s a celebratory moment whenever Suho’s not acting like the plastic doll he usually is.

I mean, why is there a number ‘1’ on my omelet?” Suho amends, nervousness starting to spread like wisps of fire injected into his veins.

Jongdae shuffles his utensils around, laying a napkin next to his spouse’s hand (which earns him a polite thank you despite Suho’s annoyance) before adjusting his own omelet with a giant ‘2’ written on it with ketchup. “You see, one of these omelets has a whole container of salt in it.”

The anxiety spreads like an inferno through his expression before he can control it and it becomes distinctly apparent on his eyebrows as Suho’s staring down at his omelet. Trepidation appears from a black hole as he glances up at his husband’s absolutely evil face.

Suho doesn’t doubt that he’s the son of Satan.

And Jongdae chuckles a bit in delight. “Okay, okay, detective. How about I eat yours and you eat mine?” Jongdae suggests, switching the plates smoothly.

There’s a minty tingle of relief on Suho’s skin as he’s now looking at the large ‘2’. Jongdae wouldn’t purposefully sabotage his own omelet, right? That would be downright idiotic... unless he wanted this to happen. He knew that they would end up switching plates and thus put the salt in the omelet with the ‘2’ on it! Suho peeks through his lashes at Jongdae who is now stabbing his fork into a piece and is getting ready to steer it into his mouth innocuously.

“Actually, I want that omelet,” Suho says, an accomplished grin slicking over his face.

Jongdae stops and frowns. He switches the plates so that the number ‘1’ is back with Suho. In his overly eager joy, Suho stabs into the omelet and shoves a rather large portion into his mouth as if to seal the deal.

Lunch ends with Jongdae chortling uncontrollably and Suho chugging water all afternoon.

 

 

-----

 


He shouldn’t have let Jongin talk him into working in the Cell Reconfiguration Department (because it’s more rewarding than lubing stomachs and staring into s all day, he said).  

And he was enjoying it for a while until a particularly stressful day has things unravelling in ribbons of torment that have been winding around him and choking him since before his train of memory began. It’s a chaotic mass of hormonal patients waiting for cell reconfiguration and maybe he would be this haggard if Jongdae and him were able to reproduce.

But it’s an unnecessarily rude confrontation that really has him slipping off of his seat. Are you trying to kill him? We paid good money for this. It quickly landslides from stern accusations to irrational yelling with Suho calmly trying to reason with the patient but only getting pressed further and further.

The confrontation ends with a fist in Suho’s face and Jongin demanding he take a week off.

So here he is, entering the security code to his house with a fiery cloud of sludge and residue clinging to him in dusty grains. As he’s removing his suit jacket and trudging up the stairs, Jongdae comes out of their bedroom with a basket full of laundry.

“Oh, you’re home-- what happened?” Jongdae gasps as he takes in the hideous bruise of a black eye blossoming profusely on his husband’s milky skin cells. Suho ignores him, not in the mood to play games today as he enters the bedroom and loosens his tie. Jongdae sets the basket down and hurries to prepare an ice pack. “Are you okay?” he asks softly, pressing the ice pack gently against the other man’s face.

“Do I look like I’m okay to you?” Suho growls menacingly, his composed disguise wavering like static electricity, zinging and popping as it zaps its surroundings before the circuit breaker snaps and unleashes the lightning. “I’m sick and tired of this! All of this! Do I look like a plaything to you? Is it that much fun to take advantage of me just because I don’t fight back? Is that it? Tell me!” Somehow, the curves of a suppressed smile tips Jongdae’s lips upward and Suho’s rage intensifies. “What’s so funny?”

Unable to hold out, Jongdae breaks out into a spurt of laughter, the luminous sound a stark and overbearing contrast to the smoky tone of anger slithering through carbon dioxide and nitrogen. “I’m really happy! Doesn’t it feel good to say what you think?”

Everything stops. Everything inside of Suho stops like a door slamming shut to the outside, blocking out the wind and rain with the coming tornado and everything seems to get drenched in a tranquil dew, calming his mind with relief. Gravity is suddenly becoming more merciful and it feels like he’s finally at peace with himself and only himself. It’s the comfort of finally being accepted by someone despite voicing his opinions and he likes it.

“You’re an interesting guy, Suho.”

He likes it a lot.

(He actually loves it but doesn’t know it yet.)

 

 

-----


Jongdae peeks his head out into the living room as the setting sun is painting red and orange watercolors onto the walls with its magical paintbrush. Ripples of purples and blues start to smear into the edges of the palette, soaking the whiteness with color and life. He spots him sitting on the couch like he always does on Sundays, a heavy volume of text in his hands with his reading glasses perched high on his nose like an owl on lookout duty.

Jongdae’s signature mischievous smile slips into his lips as he shuffles closer quietly, knowing that his husband is too focused on his reading to notice him standing right in front of him, close enough to almost feel the tickle of his hair on his nose. He’s trying to stifle a giggle as he reaches out with his hands to lay both palms on Suho’s shoulders, receiving a surprised flinch. And Suho turns his face upwards just enough for Jongdae to plant a kiss on his lips.

Perfect.

“Gotcha,” Jongdae sings, sticking his tongue out and trotting away merrily.

It takes a moment for Suho to soak up the situation, the kiss still massaging itself into his lips over and over again. And when he does, his dumbfounded expression transforms into a startled blush that imitates the setting sun, shades of red reflecting onto his skin. Or maybe it’s his own emotions that are coloring the walls rather than the other way around.

Their days pass by with Jongdae continuing to steal kisses in between the pages of Suho’s books and the documents on his desk.

(Is it really stealing if they’re given willingly?)

Soon, the lighthearted mood is foaming with sugary lollipops and freshly-baked cookies with Suho entranced as he’s laying in bed one day, having woken up before his spouse today. He stares intently at the sleeping face for a moment, feelings parachuting onto his pillow cases and making the bed sheets sparkle. He leans in to press his lips against Jongdae’s lovingly. After a second he feels them kissing him back as a thrill of emotion strikes his chest. The kiss deepens with needy fingers weaving through hair strands and soft mewls into wet mouths.

There’s a reluctant sigh when they part and Jongdae laughs, turning his head away from the other man and bringing a hand to his face. “Your breath stinks.”

Suho laughs too. “You’re not one to talk.”

“Well, I guess it’s okay because the only person you really need to impress is me, right?” Jongdae smiles.

Suho pauses, realizing that he’s right.

 

 

-----

 


There’s a very expensive-looking wristwatch on the table.

Suho wonders what Jongdae’s done to it.

So Suho pauses, setting his utensils down carefully and wiping his mouth with his napkin slowly before finally speaking. “What’s this?”

Jongdae grins. Suho shivers. “I know, I know. Back in the day, you told time by the position of the sun but this is called a ‘watch’. Now say it with me. Waa--”

“--Okay. I get it but...” Suho’s wary and scared of what’s going to happen this time especially because they’re in Suho’s favorite restaurant celebrating his birthday today. Oh wait, what a perfect opportunity to pull a prank on him. “Can’t you wait until we get home before you pull something on me, Jongdae?”

“How rude.” Jongdae pouts cutely with puppy-dog eyes. They won’t trick Suho the sixth time. Last year’s birthday present was an electrocuting alarm clock (at least you’re awake now, Jongdae said) so what if there’s a detonation device somewhere that would make the extravagant watch spit ink into his face?

He wouldn’t be surprised.

“It’s not going to eat you,” Jongdae sighs, taking a sip of his champagne.

“It could do other things to me,” Suho responds cautiously, glancing up at his partner. Jongdae chuckles.

“Just try it on. I promise I didn’t do anything to it.”

So Suho hesitantly removes it from its pristine case and latches it onto his wrist, marveling at how well it fits despite not having the wristband links adjusted first. He turns his wrist, watching as the light reflects off of the intricately-designed surface and across the metallic frame. He smiles genuinely, happiness thumping through him from the present. “Thank you.”

“Happy birthday,” Jongdae replies, eyes twinkling because seeing Suho’s joy always tickles his heart. “Out of politeness, I won’t ask how old you are, you prehistoric dinosaur.”

“I think that this might be the first time you’ve done something nice for me,” Suho says, picking up his fork and knife again.

Jongdae gasps dramatically, bringing a hand to his chest in mock offense. “How dare you! I’m always doing nice things for you!”

Suho laughs elatedly because the cold surface of his soul is starting to shift into orbit next to a planet with an abundance of sunshine and radiance, paradise finally coming into view in the form of tight hugs and butterfly kisses against skin.

Too bad he’s only weeks away from it colliding with a supernova and catastrophically exploding into asteroids.

 

 

-----

 

 

Their day starts out normally but ends in anguish.

 

The turbulence started with Jongdae complaining about a weird chemical smell originating from their kitchen and proceeded with Suho promising to call a repairman after work. A tender kiss goodbye and whispers of embarrassed I-love-you’s before Suho’s off to the hospital.

 

Jongdae doesn’t work on Tuesdays.

 

(Suho will later wish that he did.)

 

Because it happens in a kind of fluid trance while Suho’s walking down the clean hallways, flipping through a manila-colored patient file on his way to his next general health appointment. His pager goes off with bright chirps and then there’s a speedy rush of despair as he flies down the stairs five at a time to the first floor. Panic. Only panic as he slams the emergency room door open and the world stops.

 

It’s only his heavy breathing in his pounding ears as everything else is blurred-- because nothing else matters-- as he’s stumbling towards the gurney, the white sheet strewn over it a terrorizing sign of what’s underneath. The smell of ashes and soot is smearing the film of reality as his shaking hand lifts it slowly.

 

Maybe he stays there for hours, holding onto Jongdae’s charred and blackened hand, having been stuck in between the flames that engulfed him in an explosion of power. And Suho wishes that it was him in there, the fire at his flesh and his soul out of him, because at least he’ll be with Jongdae.

 

It seems as if life goes on after that but it definitely feels like death. Lunches with Jongin and Yixing become more frequent but he’s lost his sense of taste. The sun still sets and the moon still shines but time doesn’t mean anything for someone so displaced from it.

 

It’s not until four years later do the droplets of pink hues and the blizzard of white petals return to his life, genuine smiles rippling through the barren wasteland that had become his heart in a rendition of the springtime that held his first love.

 

He can feel himself slowly thawing from the cryogenic freeze that had taken place when Jongdae passed away and he wants to cherish it well this time, enjoying every moment with this new love in tender bliss, making sure that every moment mattered.

 

But it’s a sinful love. A love that sprouted from a seed of interest that was planted when his close friend sent chilly signals of rejection and cruelty through the soil; hell bent on ruining the precious flower that had bloomed. Soon, the hypnotic and tantalizing promise of being able to start again, of being able to feel again in the same way that Jongdae had taught him made him continue despite the thoughts of betrayal towards his friend.  

 

Soon, Suho learns that everything dies sooner or later when the tender assurances of a pleasant future are yanked away just as suddenly as they came. He’s left here alone again in this world of expectations that are slightly too high and his sixteen-hour work days that, more often than not, become twenty and sometimes even forty when his bloodshot eyes forget to remind him to go home.

 

For Suho, everything happens during the springtime. His first love, his first heartbreak, his second love, his second heartbreak. So he’s here in front of the grave that represents the man whose ashes he spilled into the snow-capped mountains, a bundle of irises in his hands (because Jongdae was never one for simple white roses anyway).

 

And as he turns to leave after giving his prayers, he hears footsteps on the gravel beside him.

 

“Oh, you’re here too?” Yixing notes, also carrying a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

 

Suho smiles sadly. “Yeah, thank you for coming.”

 

“Of course. He was my friend too,” the other man states, laying the bouquet down and offering his prayers before turning to Suho. “I heard about Kyungsoo. So, are you available now?”

 

“What? Yes?” Suho answers, interpreting the question in two ways. Is he asking me out?

 

“I mean, do you want to grab a bite to eat or something?”

 

There’s something impulsive inside of Suho that makes him accept and Yixing grins wonderfully at him.


Because springtime is just the beginning.

 

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