He runs away, taking nothing with him but the clothes on his back and a few sheets of folded paper. The papers are bunched and stuffed hastily into his sweater pocket, and he puts on another coat more appropriate for the outdoors. He wants to make sure that the people currently present at home won’t notice his exit, but his exercise at caution is wasted with all the yelling and cursing his parents are throwing at each other.
Juri dodges a bowl hurtling his way as he’s tying his shoelaces, inches from narrowly missing his face. The door opens right after Juri finishes putting on his shoes and his younger brother steps in.
“Tadaima―” the last syllable drops in tone at the warning gaze Subaru receives from his older brother. Juri takes the younger boy’s hand and pulls him right back out the door, Subaru’s protests weak at best.
“Brothers’ movie night,” Juri announces, hurrying Subaru along, his free hand on his younger brother’s ears as if it would muffle the screaming match from the main room. They walk to the train station in silence, Juri’s one hand on his phone and the other one never letting go of Subaru’s until they make it to Koki’s apartment.
The spare key is poised at the lock when the door suddenly opens, and arms wrap around the younger boys in a hug.
“I’m glad you made it safely,” Koki says into the top of Juri’s head. He lets go and ushers them inside, the smell of freshly cooked food wafting in the air. “I didn’t know what time you’d get here after I got your mail,” he tells Juri. “I made something just in case.”
Subaru lights up at the mention of food, following Koki into the kitchen. The older man lets their youngest cross the threshold first, turning to Juri with a small smile, “Happy birthday, by the way.”
Juri ignores the growling of his own stomach and heads out into the balcony, where the air is cold and crisp. The sting of it is more pronounced in his cheeks and Juri scrubs aggressively at them, belatedly realizing the presence of tears. A combination of frustration, shame, and self-loathing makes a fresh stream of tears flow anew, and Juri chokes back a sob. It wouldn’t do to alert his brothers of what he’s decided to do, even as they’re busy in the kitchen finishing preparations for the meal.
His absence would be noticed sooner or later, especially the lack of helping hands, but Juri says a silent apology as he gets the crumpled envelope from his sweater pocket, straightening it up the best he can before setting it neatly under a potted plant. He climbs over the balcony’s railings, hands and knees trembling as he prepares to jump.
”It’s now or never,” he whispers as he takes a deep breath, allowing himself to fall forward.
When he lets go, Juri expects pain. What he doesn’t expect is the warmth of another body beneath his own, and a grumbling voice in his ears. “Dammit, don’t do that!"
"You could've killed me, dude. Seriously," the stranger continues. He's of a large built, with a wide chest and broad shoulders that could easily encase Juri--and currently acting like the perfect cushion.
Juri stares, dumbfounded. The stranger he just fell on stops grumbling for a second, staring right back.
"Don't move just yet," the stranger tells Juri, easily reading what Juri wants to do next.
It's more than a little weird, being asked to hold still while lying on the pavement with a stranger who cushioned his fall, so Juri quickly makes to stand up. "Ouch," Juri winces, learning the hard way the reason for the odd request.
“I told you not to move just yet,” the other man tells Juri. There’s no real heat in those words, just genuine concern, and Juri is too surprised to even think of a retort. Then his arms circle Juri’s body, wrapping him in an embrace. Juri takes in the warmth, the questions he wanted to ask completely melting away as his eyes slowly slide close; before he knows it, Juri has fallen asleep.
Juri wakes up lying on something soft, wrapped in blankets. His head is on someone’s lap, fingers gently twined in his hair. He recognizes the place as Koki’s living room, even with the lights dimmed and only a few select pieces of furniture visible.
“Oh, you’re awake?” a voice says from somewhere close by. Juri rubs his eyes, looking up at the source of the voice, and bolts upright. The stranger is quick to lean back to avoid colliding with Juri’s face.
“How did you get in?” Juri asks, heartbeat quickening its pace, voice bordering on panic.
“Shh,” the other man shushes Juri. “You’re the only one who can see me, and your brother is resting after the fright you gave all of them,” he says, pointing to the man whose lap Juri used as a pillow. Koki. “Surely you don’t want to add to all of that tonight?”
Juri stops. His tone drops in volume. “I don’t understand, what happened?”
“As far as your brothers are concerned, tonight they saw you climbing over the balcony’s railings and they stopped you,” the stranger explains. “One of them hit you in the face to keep you from struggling and falling over the edge.”
“Huh? That’s impossible; the last thing I remember is falling from the balcony’s edge… I jumped―”
“―and I caught you,” he cuts Juri off. “More specifically, you landed on me.” His grumbling tone, albeit whispered, has made a comeback. “Seriously, dude―that hurt. You’re going to be the death of me when I’m technically no longer alive.”
Juri just stares at him again, curious and dumbfounded at the same time. “You’re telling me all these things and I don’t even know your name.”
The other man catches himself, puts a brake on the ranting. “Right,” he begins. “I’m Shintaro; I’ve been assigned as your Shinigami.”
“Shinigami?” Juri repeats, uncomprehending. “Are you for real?”
“Of course I am!” Shintaro replies, indignant. “I may not like the work, and I may not look the part, but I’m a Shinigami.”
“Okay, okay, I believe in you,” Juri concedes. “I mean, if you’re a Shinigami, then why did you save me? Aren’t you supposed to take me away?”
“There’s a time and place for that, and tonight wasn’t it,” Shintaro says simply. “Besides, I have to make sure that you know―if you kill yourself, you may never be reborn,” he warns. “Suicide is a serious crime; you may even go to hell for it.”
“I don’t care. I’d risk going to hell if I could just… leave.” Juri meets Shintaro’s eyes for a moment. “There’s nothing for me here. I just,” he looks to his older brother, sleeping still, and continues, “I just want them to be happy. I wouldn’t be able to give them that anymore, and if I continue on, my existence will bring them nothing but pain. I don’t want―”
Juri reels back from the impact of Shintaro’s palm on his cheek, but not far enough to collapse into Koki’s lap and rouse the older man.
“Oops. My hand kind of slipped,” Shintaro says, not in the least bit apologetic. Juri looks up to glare at Shintaro, but what he sees in the Shinigami’s face makes him stop. He watches a multitude of emotions flit in Shintaro’s eyes, and he almost loses himself in them.
He finds himself standing up to wrap his arms around the Shinigami, somehow drawing comfort from the gesture as much as it’s meant to give one. “Don’t get me wrong,” Juri says into Shintaro’s shirt. “I’m gonna get you back for the slap you gave me, maybe later. Right now, I just want to do this.”
“You’re weird,” Shintaro tells him. The words don’t have much bite, and Juri feels the Shinigami’s arms hug him back.
Strong arms pull at Juri’s wrists. He’s walking home from school, letting his mind fly from random thought to another random thought, when it happens. The next thing Juri knows, he’s being pulled further into the sidewalk, closer to the walls, Shintaro hovering beside him.
“Will you stop trying to off yourself before your time? I already said there’s a time and place for that,” the Shinigami complains. “You're too close to the road, what if a car suddenly swerves and hits you?”
Juri pouts. He hadn’t even thought about killing himself. “Calm down, old man,” he tells Shintaro. Juri stops at a park and finds a secluded place to rest in, sitting on the grass.
“Excuse me!” Shintaro protests indignantly. “I’ll have you know I’m only seventeen!”
A giggle escapes from Juri’s throat, turning into a full-bodied laugh at the look of indignance in Shintaro’s face. “Seventeen, my foot!” Juri snorts, disbelief and awe in his tone.
Shintaro pouts, crossing his legs to sit down and hovering all the while, and Juri finds the act so far removed from the mature―and, heck, even manly―image he has of the Shinigami that he laughs even harder.
“Are you done laughing?” Shintaro grumbles. He sits on the grass with Juri, slowly lowering himself until he lands on solid ground.
“I’m sorry,” Juri breathes, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes when he has somewhat calmed down. “You’re kind of cute like that; makes it easier to believe you’re actually just seventeen.” Juri resists the urge to pinch the Shinigami’s cheeks.
“I have big bones, okay.” Shintaro says, still indignant.
Juri grins, and this time he doesn’t hold back, taking Shintaro’s cheeks between his fingers and pinches. “So cute~”
The Shinigami takes Juri by the wrists and easily puts him in a playful headlock. Juri laughs and begs for mercy while Shintaro tickles him like crazy. They end up in a tangle of long limbs, arms tight around each other; their laughter loud and carefree until they run out of air.
He wakes up to an incessant beeping noise, and Juri finds himself lying on a starched-up and entirely unfamiliar bed. There are contraptions on his face, his chest, and his arms―none of which he can readily name―but he knows where he is. The ceiling is bare of anything other than bright fluorescent lamps, and he’s already missing his own room. At home, where the glow in the dark stickers of his own made-up constellations are beginning to peel out, is where he wishes to be.
“It’s not me this time,” Juri tells his visitor. Shintaro doesn’t even try to hide himself or be discreet in the presence of Juri’s parents, both of whom are fast asleep on the sofa bed mounted in a corner of the room. “All I remember is pain,” Juri continues, “and then there was blood everywhere. I was bleeding from my nose; I didn’t know what to do.
“Is it time yet?” Juri asks.
Shintaro shakes his head, his expression closed off and unreadable. “Your body is going against you, but no; it’s not your time yet,” he tells Juri. His eyes betray that jumble of emotions, however, and Juri remembers seeing the exact same thing in Shintaro’s eyes the first time they met.
It doesn’t make sense to him, the same way that it didn’t make sense the first time he saw it, but Juri is too frustrated to care. “Then when is the right time?” he demands, “When I’m nothing but skin and bones? When everything my parents have worked hard for end up being exhausted in exchange for extending my life? I’m ready, and you’re almost always there for me. So why the wait?”
Shintaro doesn’t answer. His lips are tightly shut, but another voice speaks for him. “It’s never easy for us,” the voice starts, “to usher souls into the afterlife.”
A delicate-looking young man shows up not far from where Shintaro had come out. Juri raises his head to see properly. “And who are you?”
“I’m Taiga,” the young man introduces himself. “As I’ve said, it’s never easy for us.”
“Explain,” he demands even as his speech becomes sluggish. Juri feels himself starting to fall asleep, eyelids heavy as they slide shut again. Shintaro tucks his blankets, fingers lingering over Juri’s body for a fraction of a second longer than usual in place of a proper hug.
“Later,” Taiga tells Juri as he comes closer. Juri soon feels gentle hands on his shoulders, soothing some of the tension out of them. “You need your rest. We’ll talk some more when you wake back up.”
When he’s barely awake, Juri feels the slow trickle of whatever medication they’re giving him through his veins, the slight burn of it irritating him. He doesn’t even try to pull them out now, tired of expending the energy to do so only to have it inserted again. He’s learned his lesson when a nurse almost broke his eardrums with a loud shriek during one of his last attempts.
For days, Juri slips in and out of consciousness. His waking moments are an exercise in torment―he barely has any appetite for food and can hardly keep down anything he manages to take in. His arms are bruised and they feel bigger than the rest of his body, pelted by needles at any given time of day.
He remembers, in bits and snippets, warm and gentle hands. They’re soothing circles down his back; pressing a cool towel over his forehead; holding out food to his lips, one spoonful of it at a time. They’re patient but firm, not taking any shit from Juri when it’s all he can possibly give, and returning it tenfold with love.
“You look like shit,” Shintaro greets him on a lucid day. It’s taken days for Juri to at least be able to sit by himself, weeks still to even begin to stand up. Treatment has been progressing rather well, his doctors would tell him, but the greeting is the most accurate description of how Juri currently feels.
“Thanks,” Juri says back, relaxing into his seat by the window. There’s no trace of sarcasm there, even if it’s very easy to inject into his tone. “I don’t even understand how I’m able to even get up; I feel like death warmed up… wait―that came out wrong.”
Juri hears Shintaro snort, and the Shinigami comes closer, seating himself by Juri’s feet and leaning his head into Juri’s lap.
It feels kind of weird having Shintaro like this, but somehow they fit nicely together; and before he realizes it, his fingers twine into the Shinigami’s hair.
“Aren’t we weird like this?” Shintaro wonders aloud.
“It’s only weird if you talk about it,” Juri grumbles, running his fingers through Shintaro’s hair just to (not) make a point, and the Shinigami melts into his hands.
The sky’s clear when he sets out with a few of his closest friends from high school, the last of spring’s chilly air drifting in the early morning wind. He’s tired from the previous day’s flurry of activities―a celebration of many things―but Juri is determined to push through this trip to see the ocean.
It had been a year since that fateful night―of finding out about his illness, of his attempt to end his life, of meeting Shintaro. Especially of meeting Shintaro. Juri hadn’t seen the Shinigami after that early evening in the hospital; he’d been determined to keep fighting for the people he loves, and he didn’t need saving from a premature death of his own doing.
He rides shotgun as Shouki drives, while Jesse and Hokuto squeeze in at the backseat. They pretend the seating arrangement is awkward, with the younger two being not-quite lovers, and Juri rubs it in their faces that he can choose because it’s birthday boy privileges.
“But your birthday was yesterday.” Jesse pouts from Hokuto’s lap, where he’s already made himself comfortable. His tone is playful, like he said the words just to be cheeky, and it makes Juri smile at the youngest.
He sticks his tongue out at Jesse, playing cheeky brat as good as he can get. Hokuto just laughs at them, the sound carrying throughout the car. Shouki grumbles at them to shut up, I’m trying to concentrate, and that makes Juri raise his eyebrows almost comically, laughter following immediately after.
Juri’s all smiles today, determined to let neither pain nor exhaustion ruin this precious time with his friends. It helps that he’s taken this morning’s dose of medications, and he’s brought more in his bag just in case. He takes short naps during the car ride, doing his best to keep up with his friends’ conversations, and the next thing Juri knows is his sleep-addled self being tucked in a proper bed, the warmth of his three best buds lulling him right back to sleep.
In the morning, the group of four makes it to the beach. Juri slowly steps out of the car, weak in the knees and very obviously exhausted. Jesse rushes to Juri’s side to help up, and Juri flashes him a grateful smile.
Shouki and Hokuto stretches for a bit before unloading the bento boxes they bought prior to arriving at the beach, along with a cooler of various drinks.
Juri helps himself into the chair Jesse has laid out and the youngest starts helping Shouki and Hokuto set up camp. His hands are in the pockets of his sweater in an attempt to keep warm, yet the papers he’s stuffed in there before leaving for the beach do nothing but make his blood run cold.
“Well, it’s a late greeting,” Shouki says, startling Juri out of his musings, “but happy birthday, Juri!” He grins, popping open a can of beer and giving it to Juri.
“We can indulge, just this once, because you’re legal now. Congratulations!”
“Like you weren’t there to celebrate with me, idiot,” Juri grumbles. The furrow of his brows softens into a small smile as he accepts the can.
Hokuto looks on in envy and Juri catches that longing gaze. Jesse is handed a couple sodas, and that’s what he offers the other man as he pats Hokuto in the back, “Tomorrow, Hokku, tomorrow.”
Juri almost laughs at the sight, their youngest consoling Hokuto and the older of the two continuing to pout.
Shouki raises his own drink, and they all do the same. “To friendship! To us!”
Everyone clinks their cans together, taking a sip of their respective drinks. They start the meal in a relatively peaceful manner, and Juri watches. He takes in the sight of their faces and their every move, committing it to memory.
The sun has risen relatively higher, warm enough now to remove a few layers of their clothing and venture out into the shoreline. Shouki and Hokuto take off to play in the shallow waters, Juri and Jesse following suit at a slower pace.
“What are you planning to do, Juri?” Jesse asks, all-innocent.
Juri stops in his pace, a little panicked, and he tries to not let it show. “What do you mean?”
“I mean what I asked, what are you planning to do?” Jesse faces him, staring intently into his eyes, and Juri can’t stare back for too long. “Is there something you’re hiding from us?”
“I actually wanted to tell you guys something,” Juri starts, and the other two begins to approach them, worried that they’ve stopped pacing. He waits until Hokuto and Shouki gets to them, and he shows them all the envelope. “I got this from the hospital a couple days before my birthday,” Juri confesses. The other three watches him with bated breath.
“It’s back, and nothing short of a miracle will help me now.” He turns away, not wanting to see the expression on their faces, but Juri can feel their anguish. He can hear a low voice going, ”No, no, no… it can’t be.”
“It got to my brain. Sooner or later, I’ll be nothing but a useless vegetable.” Juri finds comfort in not mincing his words, even as his friends react differently to it.
“So I’ve decided. I’ll leave today, I―” somebody tackles him to ground in an embrace, and the trail of tears that soak into his shirt tells Juri it’s Hokuto.
“How can you say that?” Hokuto weeps. His fists are curled into Juri’s shirt, shaking him weakly.
“I already have it planned, Hokku,” Juri says in the most resolute voice he could muster, with as much dignity as he can while in such a vulnerable position in Hokuto’s arms. “Nobody is going to implicate any of you three, I’ve already made sure of that.”
“Bullshit,” Shouki speaks up. “You seriously think we’d allow you to… die right before our very eyes?” he practically spat the words like absolute filth.
“But I’ve already been dying, Moro. This past year alone, I’ve been dying,” Juri says. His breathing begins to grow shallow, and pain clouds his vision.
He looks at each of them in the eyes, collecting himself with deliberately deeper breaths before he continues. “I want to go while I’m still myself, is that too much to ask? I’ve suffered enough, everyone has suffered enough.”
Jesse kneels beside the tangle of Hokuto and Juri, and Juri feels the backs of their youngest’s fingers wiping at his already-wet cheeks. The younger man helps them upright, where they end up seated on the sand.
“I’m sorry I won’t be around when you become of age, Hokku,” Juri says. “I won’t be there when you become legal enough to finally drink alcohol.”
Hokuto snorts through his tears, the sound coming from his throat wet and odd. “What are your priorities, man.”
Jesse chokes back a sob, trying and failing to speak with a steady voice. “I trust your judgment. It’s difficult for me because I actually don’t want you to go,” his voice breaks at some point, and it’s a short while before he can continue to speak through his tears. “I have no right to refuse you anything, and at the same time I don’t want you to go by yourself.”
Juri’s eyes widens at that, the implications of Jesse’s words weighing heavily on him.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Jesse clarifies. He explains himself in between sniffling and scrubbing at his eyes with his shirtsleeves, “I’m not about to kill myself too. I just―I really don’t want to leave you alone at the last moment.”
They stop swimming when their feet can no longer reach the bottom, a good distance from the shore. It feels so wrong to have Jesse swim with him into the depths, but there’s also relief and gratitude in Juri’s mind and heart.
“You ready?” Jesse asks, looking at him in the eyes, and Juri nods resolutely. In his hand are three doses of his medication. A single dose is usually already strong enough to knock a fully grown man, but the pain Juri endures is stronger. He takes that first dose.
They both take a deep breath, and slowly, they begin to descend. Juri works on emptying his lungs of air underwater, Jesse holding his breath and looking at Juri’s face. Jesse leans close to his face, and Juri feels the younger man’s nose on his forehead.
The second dose is already on Juri’s lips, and swallowing is an obvious struggle with the pressure of water pressing in on all sides. He breathes in and he doesn’t feel suffocated as water fills his lungs instead of air.
Juri never makes it past the third dose, his eyes slipping shut as he sinks further into the ocean’s depth.
From behind Juri, a pair of strong arms wrap around him in an embrace. With what little strength he has left, Juri opens his eyes, finding himself being turned around and leaning into a muscular and very familiar torso.
Juri looks up to find Shintaro smiling down at him, and he returns it with a small smile of his own. Warm lips press down onto his cold ones, and Juri is finally at peace.