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Chapter Text

We must, by law, keep a record of the innocents we kill.


And as I see it, they're all innocents. Even the guilty. Everyone is guilty of something, and everyone still harbors a memory of childhood innocence, no matter how many layers of life wrap around it. Humanity is innocent; humanity is guilty, and both states are undeniably true.


We must, by law, keep a record.


It begins on a day one of apprenticeship - but we do not officially call it “killing”. It's not socially or morally correct to call it such. It is, and has always been, “gleaning,” named for the way the poor would trail behind farmers in ancient times, taking the stray stalks of grain left behind. It was the earliest form of charity. A scythe’s work is the same. Every child is told told from the day he or she is old enough to understand that the scythes provide a crucial service the modern world knows.


Perhaps that is why we must, by law, keep a record. A public journal, testifying to those who will never die and those who are yet to be born, as to why we human beings do the things we do. We are instructed to write down not just our deeds but our feelings, because it must be known that we do have feelings. Remorse. Regret. Sorrow too great to bear. Because if we didn't feel those things, what monsters would we be?



Chapter Text





Jeon Wonwoo sat at his dinner table, his parents were talking easily, easy conversation flowing from their tongues like a honey. Dinner conversations went smoothly, like a silk, but the next day if you were to ask Wonwoo what he and his family talked about, he wouldn’t be able to recall.


His mother- a frail and timid woman- worked as a synthetic food creator. His father wasn’t anything out of the ordinary either, just a bookkeeper for the local library - a task pointed to Wonwoo’s father by the Thunderhead- and he enjoyed it immensely. Then there was Wonwoo’s younger brother, Jungkook. Jungkook was everything to Wonwoo, Wonwoo would do anything for him.


Mother was saying something about her job, when there was an ominous knocking upon the Jeon’s door. Normally the Thunderhead would allerte them of someone coming in, but the Thunderhead was strangely silent, and for always being there for the Jeons it was a worrying discovery when each family member couldn’t contact the Thunderhead. They shared a look, all having heard the rumors. Rumors of how the Thunderhead only went silent when a Scythe was nearby.


Wonwoo’s mother was the first to react, hurrying from her seat to go answer the door. Hoping what she was thinking was the most incorrect thoughts. Her face fell when she saw the Scythe in bright yellow robes (as custom for each Scythe to wear brightly coloured robes, to wear black robes what prohibited by the Scythedom) His features Asian and he was very tall. He seemed young, but this day and age even the elderly did, it was easy to turn the corner and make yourself younger.


“Hello I am Scythe Airemin. Named after Ackle Airemin of 2022 who founded the artificial intelligence that cured autism.” The Scythe smiled, dimples showing happily (Wonwoo didn’t think that Scythe’s had dimples, they were to sweet, and Scythe’s brought nothing but death), “I would like to join you for dinner. May I?”


Wonwoo’s mother stared at him, mouth agape with shock. Her thoughts were probably the same as everyone else’s in the room. Was Scythe Airemin here to glean them? From the looks of it, Scythe Airemin was going to eat their food and then glean them?! Wonwoo has always had the shortest temper of the Jeon family, and the Jeons knew it, quickly Wonwoo’s father shot him a look, ‘Keep quiet Wonwoo.’ Is what it said.


“Y-yes sir of course! Let my set you a seat!” She said, making Wonwoo move, he took his bowl and moved to the double seat. As he ate his chicken broth, Wonwoo glared hatefully at Scythe Airemin, causing his brother to give a sharp kick to his shins. Wonwoo hissed at his brother and shot a glare at him also.


“How is your day Scythe Airemin?” Father asked, for a man about to maybe die, he didn’t show any fear. Instead he sat straighter, Wonwoo recognised this position, it was his father’s negotiating stance, taken only when father felt threatened.


“It was wonderful, I greatly enjoyed today, very lovely weather.” Scythe Airemin said with an even voice.


Wonwoo’s mother rushed in trying to get the hot meal to the Scythe, when she tripped over a corner of the carpet that’s always upturned. She went sprawling out, spilling the hot meal all over the Scythe. It was like time stopped. No breathes were taken, no actions. Wonwoo’s mother started to blubber her apologies, only for Scythe Airemen to raise his hand, stopping it.


All he said was, “If you want forgiveness let's first enjoy this lovely meal.”


She nodded and went to get him another bowl. She sat it down in front of him and sat in her seat, her face burning red with shame knowing she probably just killed her whole family with one mistake.


It’s funny how a mistake so small can kill you when humanity finally discovered immortality. It only goes to show how low we’ve fallen as a society.


Wonwoo glares at Scythe Airemin, but at his father’s look at him, he instantly stops. Wonwoo is but an omega, a genetic mutation that happened some time back during one of the many world wars, the 3rd to be exact. As men and women went away and were drafted, the population dropped, and to survive humanity evolved yet again. Omegas are extremely fertile and could be male or female. Alpha’s were strong, and they normally did the fertilizing, they too could be male or female. Wonwoo is mad at the world, because with these new roles came more gender rules, the most stupid being that male omegas - the most fertile and praised - were low, and must normally be married by the age of 16. In hopes to help repopulate the world. Of course in this day and age, these laws weren’t needed.


Actually the opposite was. That’s what Scythes were made for, Scythes control population from becoming to big. Long ago when humanity made the Thunderhead and uncovered immortality, they became worried that humanity would become to big, and that if no one died and people kept being born, then Earth would reach its carrying capacity and would fail to be able to go on, soon no one would be able to live, and humanity will fall back to wars over food and water. The Scythedom was made to insure this didn’t happen. Scythes were pretty much gods, they didn’t have to pay for anything, and that’s what Wonwoo hated most, the fact they went around ending lives and still didn’t have to pay for anything.


Maybe it was because Wonwoo thinks they Scythe is going to kill him and his family, but he would rather not be submissive to him, Alpha or not. Wonwoo was an omega, but that meant nothing to him.  He would much rather stand up for himself in these last few moments alive. He thinks it’s funny, that now he’s going to die, he’s finally living for himself.


“What do you work as Ms Jeon?” Scythe Airemin asks politely.


Wonwoo’s mother gives a small startle, not wanting to disappoint the Scythe anymore in fear she would kill her family. “I’m a f-f-food maker.” It’s always been a problem of hers,  every time she’s under stress, her vocabulary would shrink. She would stutter and keep her eyes down. She’s a beta, but something about her makes her naturally timid.


“That’s lovely, do you enjoy your job?” Scythe Airemin has a nice and polite voice, if he weren’t a Scythe, Wonwoo would be tempted to show the man his poems, poems he was never before tempted to show ANYONE. Wonwoo was very quiet at nature, but he also stood for what he believed in.


“Yes a lot I do, but I also wish I had more time for my kids, I love them so much.” She is a mother at heart, and all mother’s will talk about their kids when the chance arrives.


“May I inquire their names Miss?” Scythe Airemin asks.


Her eyes light up and she nods leaning forward, “Yes, my oldest,” She places her right hand on Wonwoo’s shoulder, “Is named Wonwoo. He loves gardening and reading, he’s a sweetie. He’s also very shy, which is to be expected, he’s a good omega.” Wonwoo wants to bury his face in his hands, but he knows it’s impolite. His mother is always trying to set him up with every alpha she meets. Her excuse is that he’s 15, he’ll soon reach the age where heats hit and he needs an alpha to satisfy him.


She places her left hand on Jungkook’s shoulder, he’s only nine. “This is my youngest Jungkook. He’s…” His mother stops, Jungkook isn’t a polite omega, he loves sports and video games instead of things normal omegas are supposed to like. Wonwoo decides to step in, “It shouldn’t matter if he’s a good or bad omega, the same with me. Those ideals you live by, mother , are old fashioned and twisted. You need to stop.”


Scythe Airemin raises an eyebrow, the act itself, if on anyone else, Wonwoo wouldn’t have minded. It’s the whole it being an alpha scythe. Two beings in which, Wonwoo will admit, he has a vendetta against. It takes everything for Wonwoo not to explode, and he’s only doing it for Jungkook.


He takes a deep breathe and stables himself. Wonwoo has to remind himself that he is not a violent man. Scythe Airemin takes a bite and hums to himself. Wonwoo’s eye twitches, and he leans forward grabbing his father's cup, his father understands completely though, and says nothing. When his father holds out his hand for the cup, Wonwoo is tempted to growl, but instead simply hands it over.

Scythe Airemin seems to let out a small laugh, but his face doesn’t move from that stoic look that his face seems stuck in.


Scythe Airemin finishes his meal and wipes his mouth, he places his napkin on the table. Wonwoo’s father takes a big gulp of his drink. Jungkook and mother freeze. Wonwoo glasses. The Scythe yet again raises his eyebrow. Wonwoo’s fuse blows, he slams his fists down on the table and yells, “Listen here you camel looking fuck if you’re going to kill us hurry up and do it. Stop playing with us, you remind me of my brother when he plays with his food!”


The Scythe does nothing, and actually begins to laugh. He does this for a while, not to long, three seconds at most, and with a wide smile he says, “Wonwoo, I’m not here to kill you or your family. Instead I’m here to see how a loving family talks, you may not know this, but as a scythe your family alienates you. They only love you because they think you can grant them immunity, which is showing bias. I miss it. I’m actually here to glean your next door neighbor, but she isn’t home, so instead I saw your loving family. I had a lovely meal Ms Jeon, and for this I would like to grant you immunity.”


The silence is grand, and Wonwoo is almost shocked. He likes to believe that Scythes are not human, because who would be able to kill someone without second thought?


Like always, his mother is the first to react, and she says, “Scythe Airemin I’m forever humbled, but instead please grant immunity to my Jungkook.” Wonwoo is a bit hurt, but he would have done the same, and if mother had tried to give it to him he would beg it to be given to Jungkook. He would like to say he understands, he does, he doesn’t understand why he’s not the favourite. He stamps down these thoughts.


“I can do that.” He holds out his hand and on it is a Scythe’s ring. With two Scythes crossed over the Library of Alexandria, this is what is on every Scythe’s ring.


Jungkook looks at Wonwoo, and Wonwoo nods at him, and encouraging smile on his lips.


Jungkook presses his lips to the ring, and it glows red, signifying that his DNA signature is now in the Scythe database, so now whenever a Scythe comes near Jungkook their rings will glow red, signifying they cannot kill him.


The scythe heads into the kitchen, and when he comes out it is with a knife, one of mother’s nice ones. She had spent a fortune on those knifes, and each one of them matched the others.


“I’ll be taking this for now, but I shall return it later on tonight.” Scythe Airemin says with a small smile.


On his way out the Scythe leans close to Wonwoo’s ear, and he whispers, “You would make a good Scythe.”

Wonwoo is greatly offended and honoured at the words. “I would never want to be one.” Wonwoo spits out like poison.


“That, my dear, is the first step to becoming one.” Scythe Airemin says leaving, waving the hand holding the knife as he walks aways to go kill their neighbor. Wonwoo become sickened imagining what the Scythe will do with his mother’s lovely knife set. But shakes the ideas away when Jungkook looks up, and says, “What’s wrong Wonwoo?”


“Nothing love, why don’t we go work in the garden until night time, then we can come and listen to our movies as we snuggle to sleep.” Wonwoo says, Jungkook nods, and they go out to the garden, and if Wonwoo looks over the fence hoping to catch a glimpse of the gleaning, well it’s no one’s business but his own.


They didn’t speak of it that night. No one spoke of gleanings - as if speaking about it would bring it upon them. There were no sounds from next door. No screams, no pleading wails - or perhaps the Jeon’s telly was turned up too loud to hear it. That was the first thing father did after the scythe left - turn on the telly and blast it to drown out the gleaning on the other side of the wall. But it was unnecessary, because however the scythe accomplished his task, it was done so quietly. Wonwoo found himself morbidly straining his ears to hear something . Both omegas listened, trying to be secretive, and feeling very guilty the whole while.


Three hours later Honourable Scythe Airemin returned. It was Wonwoo who opened the door. His yellow robes held not a single splatter of blood. Perhaps he had a spare one. Perhaps he had used the neighbors washing machine after gleaning the poor woman. The knife was clean too, and Scythe Airemin handed it to Wonwoo.


“We don’t want it.” Wonwoo told the scythe, not caring if mother became mad at his throwing away one her fine knives. “We’ll never use it again.”


“But you must use it,” He told Wonwoo instantly, “so that it might remind you.”


“Remind us of what?”


“That a scythe is merely the instrument of death, but it is your hand that swings me. You and your parents, and everyone else in this world are wielders of scythes.” Then he put the knife in Wonwoo’s hand. “We are all accomplices. You must share the responsibility.”


That may have been true, but after Scythe Airemin left, Wonwoo dropped the knife into the garbage can.

Chapter Text

It is the most difficult thing a person can be asked to do. And knowing that it is for the greater good doesn't make it any easier. People used to die naturally. Old age used to be a terminal affliction, not a temporary state. There were invisible killers called “diseases” that broke the body down. Aging couldn't be reversed, and there were accidents from which there was no return. Planes fell from the sky. Cars actually crashed. There was pain misery despair. It's hard for most of is to imagine a world so unsafe, with dangers lurking in every unseen, unplanned corner. All of that is behind us now, and yet a simple truth remains: People have to die.


It's not as if we can go somewhere else; the disasters on the moon and Mars colonies proved that. We have one very limited world, and although death has been defeated completely as polio, people still must die. The ending of human life used to be in the hands of nature. But we stole it. Now we have monopoly on death. We are it's sole distributor.


I understand why there are scythes, and how important and how necessary the work is… but I often wonder why I had to be chosen. And if there is some eternal world after this one, what fate awaits a taker of lives?



Chapter Text




Kwon Soonyoung had hurled himself out a thirty-nine-story window leaving a terrible mess on the marble plaza below. His own parents were so annoyed by it, they didn't come to see him. But Mingyu did. Kim Mingyu was that kind of friend.


He sat by Soonyoung's bedside in the revival center, waiting for him him to wake from speedhealing. Mingyu didn't mind. The revival center was quiet. Peaceful. It was a nice break from the turmoil of his home, which lately had been filled with more relatives than any human should be expected to endure. Cousins, second cousins, siblings, half-siblings. And now his grandmother had returned home after turning the corner for a third time, with a new husband and a baby on the way.


“You're going to have a new aunt, Mingyu,” she said excitedly, “Isn't it wonderful?”


The whole thing pissed Mingyu’s mother off - because this time grandma had reset all the way down to twenty-five, making her ten years younger than her daughter. Now mum felt pressured to turn the corner herself, if only to keep up with grandma. Grandpa was much more sensible. He was off in EuroScandia, charming the omegas and maintaining his age at a respectable thirty-eight.


Mingyu, at 16, had resolved he would experience gray hair before he turned his first corner - and even then, he wouldn't reset so far down as to be embarrassing. Some people reset to twenty-one, which was the youngest genetic therapy could take a person. Rumor was, though, they were working on ways to reset right down into the teens - which Mingyu found ridiculous. Why would anyone in their right mind ever want to go through their teens more than once? Mingyu is a teenage alpha and his anger sometimes gets a bit to much, and he's a gentle alpha.


When he glanced at his friend, Soonyoung’s eyes were open and studying Mingyu.


“Hey.” Mingyu said.


“How long?” Soonyoung asked.


“Four days.”


Soonyoung pumped his fist in triumph. “Yes! A new record!” he looked at his hands, as if taking stock of the damage. There was, of course, no damage left. One did not wake up from speedhealing until there was nothing left to heal. “Do you think it was jumping from such a high floor that did it, or was it the marble plaza?”


“Probably the marble.” Mingyu said, having heard it from someone in science, “Once you reach terminal velocity, it doesn't matter how high you are when you jump.”


“Did I crack it? Did they have to replace the marble?”


“I don't know Soonyoung - jeez, enough already.”


Soonyoung leaned back onto his pillow, immensely pleased with himself. “Best splat ever!”


Mingyu found he had the patience to wake for his friend to wake up, but no patience  for him now that he was conscious. “Why do you even do it? I mean, it's such a waste of time.”


Soonyoung shrugged, “I like the way it feels on the way down. Besides, I gotta remind my parents that the lettuce is there.”


That made Mingyu laugh. It was Mingyu who had coined the term “lettuce-kid” to describe them. Both of them were born sandwiched somewhere in the middle of large families, and were far from being their parents favourites. “I got a couple of brothers and sisters that are cheese and tomatoes, so I guess I'm the lettuce.” The idea caught on, and Mingyu started a club called Iceberg Heads at school, which now had over two dozen members...although Soonyoung often teased that he was using the club as an excuse to have a small revolt.


Soonyoung had started splatting a few months ago. Mingyu tried it once, and found it a monumental pain. He ended up behind on all his schoolwork, and his parents levied all forms of punishment - which they promptly forgot to enforce - one of the perks of being the lettuce. Still though, the thrill of the drop wasn't worth the cost. Soonyoung though, became a splatting junkie.


“You gotta get a new hobby, man,” Mingyu says, “I know the first revival is free but the rest must be costing your parents a fortune.”


“Yup.” Soonyoung says popping the ‘p’. “Finally they're spending their money on me!”


“Wouldn't you rather them buy you a car?”


“Revival is compulsory.” Soonyoung says. “A car is optional. If they're not forced to spend it, they won't.


Mingyu couldn't argue with that. He didn't have a car either and doubted his parents would ever get him one. The publicars were clean, efficient, and drove themselves, his parents had argued. What would be the point in spending money on something he didn't need? Meanwhile they threw money in every direction but his.


“We're roughage.” Soonyoung said, “If we don't cause a little intestinal distress, no one knows we're there.”


The following morning Mingyu came face to face with a scythe. It wasn't unheard of to see a scythe in his neighbourhood. You couldn't help but run into one once in a while - but they didn't often show up in a high school.


The encounter was Mingyu’s fault. Punctuality was not one of his strong point - especially now that he was expected to escort his younger siblings and half-siblings to their school before hopping into a publicar and hurrying to his. He had just arrived and was heading to the attendance window when the scythe came around the corner. His spotless yellow robe flaring behind him.


Once, when hiking with his family, Mingyu had encountered a mountain lion. The tight feeling in his chest now, as well as the weak feeling in his loins, had been exactly the same. Fight or flight, his biology said. But Mingyu had neither. Back then, he had fought those instincts and calming raised his arms, as he had read to do, making himself look larger. It had worked, and the animal bounded away, saving him a trip to the local revival center.


Now, at the sudden encounter with the scythe before him, Mingyu had the odd urge to do the same - as if raising his hands above his hands wound frighten the scythe away (not that it was needed, Mingyu was over 6 feet and was still growing). The thought made him involuntary laugh out loud. The last thing you want to do is laugh out loud at a scythe.


“Could you direct me to the main office?” the man asked.


Mingyu considered giving him directions and heading the opposite way, but decided it was to cowardly. “I'm going there,” Mingyu said sounding a lot more brave then he felt. “I'll take you.” The man would appreciate helpfulness - and getting on the good side of a scythe wouldn't hurt.


Mingyu led the way, Passing other students in the hall - Students who,  like him, were late, or just on an errand. They all gawked and try to disappear into the wall as he and the scythe walked by. Somehow,  walking through the hall with a scythe became less frightening when there were others to bear the fear instead - and Mingyu couldn’t deny that it was a bit heady to be cast as a scythe’s trailblazer, riding in the cone of such respect. It wasn’t until they reached the office that the truth hit home. The scythe was going to glean one of Mingyu’s classmates today.


Everyone in the office stood the moment they saw the scythe, and he wasted no time. “Please have Kohl Whitlock called to the office immediately.”


“Kohl Whitlock?” said the secretary.


The scythe didn’t repeat himself, because he knew she had heard - she just wasn’t willing to believe.


“Yes, Your honour, I’ll do it right away.”


Mingyu knew Kohl. Hell, everyone knew Kohl Whitlock. Just a junior, he was already risen to be the school’s quarterback. He was going to take them all the way to a league championship for the first time in forever.


The secretary’s voice shook powerfully when the made the call into the intercom. She coughed as she said his name, choking up.


And the scythe patiently awaited Kohl’s arrival. The last thing Mingyu wanted to do was antagonize a scythe. He should have just slunk off to the attendance window, gotten his readmit, and gone to class. But as with the mountain lion, he just had to stand his ground. It was a moment that would change his life.


“You’re gleaning our star quarterback - I hope you know that.”


The scythe’s demeanor, so cordial a moment before, took a turn toward tombstone. “I can’t see how it’s any of your business.”


“You’re in my school,” Mingyu say. “I guess that makes it my business.” Then self-preservation kicked in, and he strode to the attendance window, just out of the scythe’s line of sight. He handed in his forged tardy note, all while muttering about how stupid he was under his breath. He was lucky he wasn’t born when a time when death was natural, because he’d probably never survive until adulthood.


As he turned to leave the office, he saw a bleak-eyed Kohl Whitlock being led into the principal's office by the scythe. The principal voluntarily ejected himself from his own office, then looked to the staff for an explanation, but only received teary-eyed shaking of their heads.


No one seemed to notice Mingyu still lingering there. Who cared about the lettuce when the beef was being devoured?


He slipped past the principal, who saw him just in time to put a hand on his shoulder. “Son, you don’t want to go in there.”


He was right; Mingyu didn’t want to go in there. But he went anyway, closing the door behind him.


There were two chairs in front of the principal’s well-organized desk. The scythe sat in one, Kohl in the other, hunched and sobbing. The scythe burned Mingyu a glare (Mingyu could tell he was rubbing the other alpha to annoyance, but he couldn’t bring himself to care). The mountain lion, Thought Mingyu. Only this one actually had the power to end a human life.


“His parents aren’t here,” Mingyu said. “He should have someone with him.”


“Are you family?”


“Doesn’t matter?”


Then Kohl raised his head. “Please don’t make Mingo leave,” he pleaded.


“It’s Mingyu.”


Kohl’s expression shot to higher horror, as if this error had somehow sealed the deal. “I knew that! I did! I really did!” For all his bulk and bravado, Kohl Whitlock was  just as scared as anyone else would be, like a small child afraid of the dark. Is that what everyone became in the end? Mingyu supposed only a scythe would know.


Rather the forcing Mingyu to leave, the scythe said, “Grab a chair then. Make yourself comfortable.”


As Mingyu went around to pull out the principal’s desk chair, he wondered if scythe was being ironic, or sarcastic, or if he didn’t know that making oneself comfortable in his presence was impossible.


“You can’t do this to me.” Kohl begged. “My parents will die! They’ll just die!”


“No they won’t,” The scythe corrected. “They’ll live on.”


“Can you at least give him a few minutes to prepare?” Mingyu asked.


“Are you telling me how to do my job?” Yes, that smell was very obviously an alpha’s anger.


“I’m asking you for some mercy!”


The alpha scythe glared at him again, but this time it was somehow different. He wasn’t just delivering intimidation, he was extracting something. Studying something in Mingyu. “I’ve done this for many years,” said the scythe, “In my experience, a quick and painless gleaning is the greatest mercy I can show.”


“Then give him a reason! TELL HIM WHY IT HAS TO BE HIM!”


“It’s random Mingyu!” Kohl said, “Everyone knows that! It’s just fucking random!”


But there was something in the scythe’s eyes that said something different. And so Mingyu pressed.


“There’s more to it, isn’t there?”


The scythe sighed. He didn’t have to say anything - he was, after, all a scythe, above all laws in every way. He owed nobody an explanation. But he chose to give one anyway.


“Removing old age from the equation, statistics from the Age of Morality cite 7 percent of deaths as being automobile-related. Of those 31 percent involved the use of alcohol, and of those 14 percent were teenagers.” Then he tossed Mingyu a small navy blue calculator from the principal’s desk. “Figure it out yourself.”


Mingyu took his time crunching the numbers, knowing that every second taken was a second of life he bought for Kohl.


“.303 percent,” Mingyu finally said.


“Which means,” said the scythe, “That about three out of every thousand souls I glean will fit that profile. ONe out of every three hundred thirty three. Your friend here just got a new car and has a record of drinking to excess. So of the teens that fit that profile, I made a random choice.”


Kohl buried his head in his hands, his tears intensifying. “I’m such an IDIOT!” He pressed his palms against his eyes as if trying to push them deep into his head.


“So tell me,” the scythe said calmly to Mingyu. “Has the explanation eased his gleaning, or made his suffering worse?”

Mingyu shrunk back into his chair.


“Enough,” said the scythe. “It’s time.” Then he produced from a pocket a small paddle that was shaped to fit over his hand. It had a cloth back and a shiny metallic palm. “Kohl, I have chosen for you a shock that will induce cardiac arrest. Death will be quick and painless and nowhere near as brutal as the car accident you would have suffered in the Age of Mortality.”


Suddenly Kohl thrust his hand out, grabbing Mingyu’s and holding it tightly. Mingyu allowed it. He wasn’t family; he wasn’t even friends with Kohl - But what was he saying? Death makes the whole world kin . Mingyu and wondered if world without death would even make everyone strangers.  Mingyu squeeze Kohl's hand tighter - A silent promise he wouldn't let go.


“Is there anything you want me to tell people?” Mingyu asked.


“A million,” said Kohl, “But I can’t think of ‘em.”


Mingyu resolved that he would make up Kohl’s last words to share with his loved ones. And they would be fine words, comforting ones. Mingyu would find a way to make sense of the senseless.


“I’m afraid you’ll have to let go of his hand for the procedure.” The scythe daid.


“No,” Mingyu replied.


“The shock could stop your heart too.” The scythe warned.


“So what? They’ll revive me.” Then he added snootily. “Unless you’ve decided to glean me too.”


Mingyu was aware that he had just dared a scythe to kill him. In spite of the risk, he was glad he had done it.


“Very well.” And without waiting a further instant, the scythe pressed the paddle to Kohl’s chest.


Mingyu’s vision went white, then dark. His entire body convulsed. He flew backward out of his chair and hit the wall behind him. It might have been painless for Kohl, but not for Mingyu. It hurt, it hurt more that anything. But then the microscopic pain killing nanites in his blood released their numbing opiates. The pain subsided as those opiates took effect, and when his vision cleared, he saw Kohl slumped in his chair and the scythe reaching over to close his sightless eyes. The gleaning was complete. Kohl Whitlock was dead.


The scythe stood and reached out to offer Mingyu his hand, but Mingyu didn’t take it. He rose from the flood on his own, and although Mingyu felt not an ounce of gratitude, he said, “Thank you for letting me stay.”


The scythe regarded him a little to long, then said, “You stood your ground for a boy you barely knew. You comforted him at the moment of his death, bearing the pain of the jolt. You bore witness, even though no one called you to do so.”


Mingyu shrugged, “I did what anyone would do.”


“Did you see anyone else offer?” The scythe put to him. “Your principal? The office staff? Any of the dozen students we passed in the hall?”


“No…” Mingyu had to admit, “But what does it matter what I did? He’s still dead. And you know what they say about good intentions.”


The scythe nodded, and glanced down at his ring, sitting on his slender hand. The scythe doesn’t look to old, and he’s honestly not an ugly alpha. “I suppose now you’ll ask me for immunity.”

Mingyu shook his head. “I don’t want anything from you.”

“Fair enough.” The scythe turned to go, but hesitated before he opened the door. “Be warned that you will not receive any kindness from anyone but me for what you did here today.” He said, “But remember that good intentions pave many roads. Not all of them lead to hell.”


The slap was just as jarring as the electric shock - even more so because Mingyu wasn’t expecting it. It came before lunch, as he was standing at his locker, and flew in with such a force the small beta knocked him back, making the row of lockers resound like a steel drum.


“You were there and you didn’t stop it!” Marah Pavlik’s eyes filled with grief and righteous indignation. She looked ready to reach up his nostrils with her long nails and extract his brain. “You just let him die!”


Marah had been Kohl’s girlfriend for over a year. Like Kohl she was a highly popular junior, and as such would actively avoid any interaction with a sophmore like Mingyu. But these were exceptional times.


“It wasn’t like that,” Mingyu managed to blurt out before she swung again. This time he deflected her hand. She broke a nail but didn’t seem to care. If nothing else Kohl’s gleaning had given her perspective.


“It was exactly like that! You went in there to watch him die!”


Others had begun to gather, drawn, as most are, to the scent of conflict. He looked to the crowd for a sympathetic face - someone who might take his side - but all he saw in the faces of his classmates was communal disdain. Marah was speaking, and slapping, for all of them.


This was not what Mingyu had expected. Not that he wanted pats of the back for coming to Kohl’s aid in his last moments - but he wasn’t expecting such an unthinkable accusation.


“What, are you nuts?” Mingyu shouted at her - at all of them. “You can’t stop a scythe from gleaning!”


“I don’t care!” She said, “You could have done something, but all you did was watch!”


“I did do something! I… I held his hand.”


She slammed him back into the locker with more strength than he thought she could possibly have. “You’re lying! He’d never hold your hand! HE’D NEVER TOUCH ANY PART OF YOU!” And then, “ I should have held his hand.”

Around them the other kids scowled, and whispered things that they clearly wanted him to hear.


“I saw him walking in the hall with the scythe like they were best buddies.”

“They came into school together this morning.”

“I heard heard he gave the scythe Kohl’s name.”

“Someone told me he actually helped.”


He stormed to the obnoxious kid who made the last accusation - Ralphy or something. “Heard from who? No one else was in the room you moron.”

But it didn’t matter. Rumours adhered to no logic but their own.


“Don’t you get it? I didn’t help the scythe, I helped Kohl.” Mingyu insisted.


“Yeah you helped him to the grave.” Someone said making others nod their agreeance.


It was no use - he had been tried and convicted - and the more he denied it, the more convinced they’d be of his guilt. They didn’t need his act of courage, what they needed was someone to blame, they couldn’t take their wrath out on a scythe. But Kim Mingyu was the perfect candidate.


“I’ll bet he got immunity for helping.” A kid said - a kid who had been Mingyu’s friend.


“I didn’t!”

“Good,” said Marah with absolute contempt. “Then I hope the next scythe comes for you.”

He knew she meant it - not just at the moment but forever - and if the next scythe did come for him she would relish the knowledge of his death. It was a darkly sobering thought, there were now people in this world who actively wished him dead. It was one thing to not be noticed. It was something else though to be so hated. And for the first time Mingyu didn’t wish to be the meat but instead the lettuce.


It was only then that the scythe’s warning came back to him: that he would receive no kindness for what he had done for Kohl. The man had been right - and he hated the scythe for that, just as much as the others hated Mingyu.

Chapter Text

  1. 2042 It's a year that every schoolchild knows. It was the year when computational power became infinite - or so close to infinite that it could no longer be measured. It was the year we knew… everything. “The Cloud” evolved into “The Thunderhead” and now all there is to know about everything resides in near-infinite memory of the Thunderhead for anyone who wants to access it.


But like so many things, once we had possessions of infinite knowledge, it suddenly seemed less important. Less urgent. Yes, we know everything, but I often wonder if anyone bothers to look at all that knowledge. There are academics, of course, who study what we know, but to what end? The very idea of schooling used to be about learning so we would improve our lives and the world. But a perfect world needs no improvement.  Like most everything else we do, education, from grade school through the nights if universities, is just a way to keep us busy.


2042 is the year we conquered death, and also the year we stopped counting. Sure, we still numbered the years for a few passing decades, but at the moment of immortality, passing time ceased to matter.


I don't know exactly when things switched over to the Chinese calender - Year of the dog, year of the goat, year of the dragon and so on. And I can't exactly say when animal activists around the world began calling for equal bilking of their own favourite species, adding year of the otter, and the whale and the penguin. And I can't tell you when they stopped repeating, and when it was decreed that every year hence forth would be named after a different species. All I know for sure is that this is the year of the Ocelot.


As for the things I don't know, I'm sure they're up there in the Thunderhead for anyone with the motivation to look.



Chapter Text




The envelope came to Wonwoo and in early January. It arrived by post - Which was the first indication that was out of the ordinary. There were only three types of communications arrive by post:  packages, official business, or letters from the eccentric - the only type of people who still wrote letters. This appears to be of the third variety.


“Well open it.” Jungkook said,  more excited by the envelope than Wonwoo was. It had been handwritten, making it even odder.  true, handwriting was still offered as an elective, but, aside from himself, he knew few people who had taken it. He tore the envelope open and pulled out a card that was the same Sunshine yellow color as the envelope, then he read to himself before reading it aloud.


The pleasure of your company is requested at the Grand Civic Opera, January 9th, 7 P.M.


There was no signature, no return address. There was, however, a single ticket in the envelope.


“The opera ?” Said Jungkook. “Ew.”


Wonwoo couldn't agree more.


“Could it be some sort of school event?”  Their mother asked.


Wonwoo shook his head. “ If it was, it would say so.”


She took the invitation and the envelope from Wonwoo to study them herself. “Well, whatever it is, it sounds interesting.”


“It's probably some loser’s way of asking me on a date because he's too afraid to ask me to my face.”


“Do you think you'll go?” His mother asked.


“Mom... A boy who invites me to the Opera is either joking or delusional. This Alpha must be out of his mind.”


“Or he's trying to impress you.” Mother said in a sing like voice. She was always trying to set Wonwoo up.


Wonwoo grunted and left the room, annoyed by his own curiosity. “I'm not going!” He called out from his room knowing fully well that he would.



The Grand Civic Opera was one of several places where anyone who has anyone went to be seen. At any given performance, only half the patrons were there for the actual Opera.The rest were there to participate in the great melodrama of  social climbing and career advancement. even Wonwoo, who moved in none of those circles, knew the drill.


He wore  the suit he had bought for the previous year's homecoming dance.  he would be invited by some Alpha, instead no one had invited him because no one wanted a smart Omega. And he was just that, if one wanted to find Jeon Wonwoo one would only have to go to the library, the complete opposite of Wonwoo’s younger brother, and if you wanted to find him the best place was to go to the gym.


When he put it on, he was pleased. It had still fit him.


In his mind, he had narrowed down the possibilities of his secret admirer. It could be one of five, only two of whom he would actually enjoy spending a evening alone with. The other three he would endure for the sake of novelty. There was, after all, some fun to be had spending all evening pretending to be pretentious.


His father insisted on dropping him off. “Call when you're ready to be picked up.”


“I'll take a publicar home.”


“Call anyway.” He said. He told him he looked beautiful for the 10th time, then he got out and he drove off to make room for the limousines and Jungkook Lies at the drop off queque. He took a deep breath and went up the marble steps, feeling as awkward and out-of-place as Cinderella at the ball.


Upon entering he was not directed toward either Orchestra or  the central staircase leading to the balcony. Instead, the usher looked at the ticket, looked at him, then looked at the ticket again before calling over a second Usher to personally escort him.


“What's all this about?”  He asked his first thought was that it was forged ticket and he was being escorted to the exit. Perhaps it had been a joke after all, and he was already running a list of suspects through his head.


But then the second usher said, “A personal escort is a customary for a box seat, miss.”


Box seats, set your called, where the ultimate exclusivity. They were usually reserved for people tor elite to sit among the masses. Normal people couldn't afford them, and even if they could, they weren't allowed to access them. As he followed the usher up the narrow steps to the left boxes, Wonwoo began to get scared. He knew no one with that kind of money. What is this an invitation had come to him by mistake? Or if there actually was some sort of big, important person waiting for Wonwoo, what on Earth were his or her intentions?


“Here we are!”The usher back the curtain of the box and revealed a boy his age already sitting there. He had dark hair, pale skin and even sitting down was incredibly tall.  He stood up when he saw Wonwoo and Wonwoo could see that his suit revealed a little too much of his socks.





And the Usher left them alone.


“I left you the seat closer to the stage,” he said.


“Thanks.” He sat down, trying to figure out who this was and why he had invited him here.  he didn't appear familiar. Should he know this boy? He didn't want to let on that he didn't recognize him.  At the very least so he wouldn't rude.


then out of nowhere the other boy held out his hand and said, “Thank you.”


“For what?”

he held up an invitation that looked exactly like Wonwoo’s. “I’m not into Opera, but hey, it's better than doing nothing at home. So... Should I, like, know you?”


Cut your left out loud he didn't have a mysterious admirer; It appeared they both had a mysterious Matchmaker, which sets Wonwoo working on another mental list - At the top of which were his own parents.  this was one of the sons of their many friends - but this kind of subterfuge was pretty obtuse, even for them.


“What's so funny?”  asked the other boy, and he showed him his Identical invitation. didn't make him laugh. Instead he seemed a bit troubled, but didn't share why.


He introduced himself as Mingyu, and they shook hands just as the lights dimmed, the curtains went up, and the music exploded to lush and loud for them to be able to hold a conversation.  The Opera was Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, the Force of Destiny, but it clearly wasn't destiny that ha hurled these two together; it was a very deliberate hand.


The music was rich and pretty, until it became too much for Wonwoo’s ears (omega’s biological had better ears to make it easier to find their young when they were crying). And the story, while easy to follow even without knowledge of Italian, had little resonance for either of them. It was, after all, a work from Age of Mortality. War, famine, murder -  all the themes on which the tale was strung - were so removed from modern reality, few could relate. Catharsis could only gather around the theme of love, which, considering that they were strangers trapped in an opera box, was far more uncomfortable than cathartic.


“So, who do you think invited us?” Wonwoo asked as soon as the lights came up for the First Act intermission. Mingyu  no more blue than Wonwoo did, so they shared whatever they could that might help them generate a theory. Aside from them both being male, they had very little in common. He was from the city, he from the suburbs. He had a small family, he was large, and their parents professions couldn’t have been further apart.


“What’s your genetic index?” He asked - a rather personal question, but perhaps it could have some relevance.




The alpha smiled, “69 percent PanAsian descent! Good for you! That’s really high!”




The alpha then told Wonwoo that his was 3-1-35-31-31. Wonwoo thought to ask him if he knew the subindex of his other component, because  31 was pretty high, but if he didn’t know, the question might embarrass him.


“We both have 1% in our code?” The alpha sounds like he’s jumping for straws.


Then toward the end of intermission, the answer stepped into the box behind them.


“Good to say you’re getting acquainted.”


Although it had been a few months since their encounter, Wonwoo recognized him immediately. Honourable Scythe Airemin was not a figure you could soon forget.


“You?” Mingyu said with such severity, it was clear that he had a history with the scythe as well.


“I would have arrived sooner, but I had… other business.” He didn’t elaborate, for which Wonwoo was glad. Still, his presence here could not be a good thing.


“You invited us here to glean us.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement of fact, because Wonwoo was convinced it was true - until Mingyu said, “I don’t think that’s what this is about.”


Scythe Airemin did not make any move to end their lives. Instead, he grabbed an empty chair and sat beside them. “I was given this box by the theater director. People always think making offerings to scythes will prevent them from being gleaned. I had no intention of gleaning her, but now she thinks her gift played a part.”


“People believe what they want to believe.” Mingyu said, with a sort of authority that told Wonwoo he knew the truth of it.


Airemin gestured toward the stage, “Tonight we witness the spectacle of human folly and tragedy,” he said, “Tomorrow we shall live it.”


The curtain went up on the second act before he could explain his meaning.


For two months, Mingyu had been the school pariah. An outcast of the highest order. Although that sort of thing usually ran its course and diminished over time, it was not the case when it came to the gleaning of Kohl Whitlock. Every football game rubbed a healthy dose of salt in the communal wound - and since all those games were a lost, it doubled the pain. Mingyu was never particularly popular, nor was he ever the target of such bullying before, but now he was cornered and beaten on a regular basis. He was shunned, and even his friends actively avoided him. Soonyoung was no exception.


“Guilt by association, man,” Soonyoung said. “I feel your pain, but I don’t wanna live it, plus Jihoon is pregnant with my kid, meaning if I’m guilty he is and he’s a helpless omega and he can’t fight them off.”


Even the principal hated him, and had once told him he should just move schools.


Then one day, Mingyu gave in to the pressure. He stood on the table and told everyone the lies they wanted to hear.


“That scythe was my uncle.” He proclaimed. “I told him to glean Kohl Whitlock.”


Of course they believed every word of it. Kids began to boo and throw food at him, until he said: “I want you all to know that my uncle’s coming back - and he asked me to choose who gets gleaned next.”

Suddenly the food stopped flying, the glares ceased, and the beatings miraculously stopped. What filled the void was… well… a void? Not a single eye would meet his anymore. Not even his teachers would look at him - a few would actually started giving him A’s when he was doing B and C work. He began to feel like a ghost in his own life, existing in a forced blind spot of the world.


At home things were normal. His stepfather stayed entirely out of his business, and his mother was preoccupied with other things to give his troubles much attention. They knew what happened at school, and what was happening now, but they dismissed it in that self-serving way parents often had of pretending anything they couldn’t solve it actually a problem.


“I want to transfer to a different high school,” He told his mother, finally taking his principal’s advice. Her response was achingly neutral.

“If  you think that’s for the best.”

He was half convinced if he told her he was dropping out of society and joining a tone cult, if she’d say, ‘If you think it’s for the best.’


So when the opera invitation arrived, he hadn’t cared to sent it. Whatever it meant, it was salvation - at least for an evening.


The male omega he met in the box seat was nice enough. Pretty, confidant - the kind of omega every alpha wanted but couldn’t have because they already had one, though the other never mentioned anything about it, nor did another scent hang off him from a mate. Then the scythe showed up, and Mingyu’s world shifted back to a dark place. This was the man responsible for his misery. If he could have gotten away with it, Mingyu would have pushed him over the railing - but attacks against scythes were not tolerated. The punishment was the gleaning of the offenders entire family. It was a consequence that ensured the safety of the revered bringers of death.


At the close of the opera, Scythe Airemin gave them a card and very clear instructions.


“You will meet me at this address tomorrow morning, precisely at nine.”


“What should we tell our parents about tonight?” Wonwoo asked. Apparently the male omega had parents that cared, and that made sense, even Mingyu’s own parents cared for their male omega offspring, because when they got married, the parents always got money.


“Tell them whatever you like. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re there tomorrow morning.”


The address turned out to be the Museum of World Art, the finest museum in the city.  It didn’t open until ten, but the moment the security guard saw a scythe coming up the steps of the main entrance, he unlocked the doors and let the three of them in, no questions asked.


“More perks of the position.” Scythe Airemin told them.

They strolled through galleries of the old masters in silence, punctuated only by the sound of their footfalls and the scythe’s occasional commentaries. “See how El Greco uses contrast to evoke emotional yearning.” “Look at the fluidity of motion in this Raphael - how it brings intensity to the visual story he tells.” “Ah! Seurat! Prophetic pointillism a century before the pixel!”


Mingyu was the first to ask the necessary question.


“What does any of this have to do with us?”

Scythe Airemin sighed in mild irritation, although he probably anticipated the question. “I am supplying you with lessons you won’t receive in school.”

“So,” began Wonwoo, “You pulled us out of our lives for some random art lesson? Isn’t that a waste of your valuable time?”

The scythe laughed, but Mingyu found himself wishing he had been the one to make him laugh. It was a pleasing laugh, like he didn’t use it much, a bit husky from misuse, but soothing.


“What have you learned so far?” Scythe Airemin asked.


Neither had a response, so he asked a different question.


“What do you think our conversation would have been like had I brought you to the post-mortality galleries instead of these older ones?”

Mingyu ventured an answer. “Probably about how much easier on the eye postmortal art it. Easier and… untroubled.”


“How about uninspired?” Prompted the scythe.


Not wanting to be an idle omega like his mother so wished him to be, Wonwoo placed his opinion in, “That’s a matter of opinion.”


“Perhaps. But you know what you’re trying to look for in this art of the dying, I want you try to feel it.” And he led them to the next gallery.


Although Mingyu was sure he’d feel nothing, he was wrong.


The next room was a large gallery with paintings hanging floor to ceiling. He didn’t recognize the artists, but that didn’t matter. There was a coherence to the work, as if it had been painted by the same soul, if not the same hand. Some works had religious theme, others were portraits, and others simply captured the elusive light of daily life with a vibrant that was missing in post mortal art. Longing and elation, anguish and joy - they were all there, sometimes commingling in the same canvas. It was in some ways unsettling, but compelling as well.


“Can we stay in this room a little longer?” Mingyu asked, which made the scythe smile.


“Of course we can.”


The museum had opened by the time they were done. Other patrons gave them wide berth. It reminded Mingyu of the way they treated him at school. Wonwoo seemed to have no idea why the scythe had called them - but Mingyu was beginning to have an idea.


He told the kids to dinner, where the waitress sat them immediately and brought the menus, ignoring other customers to give them priority. Perk of the position. Mingyu noticed that no one came in once they were seated. The restaurant would probably be empty by the time they left.


“If you want us to provide information on people we know,” Wonwoo said as his food came. “I’m not interested.”

“I gather my own information,” Scythe Airemin told her. “I don’t need a couple of kids to be my informants.”


“But you need us, don’t you?” Mingyu said.


He didn’t answer. Instead, he talked about world population and the talk of the world’s scythes, if not level it, then to wrangle it to a reasonable ratio.


“The ratio of population growth to the Thunderhead’s ability to provide for humanity requires that a certain number of people be gleaned each year.” He told them. “For that to happen we’re going to need more scythes.”


Wonwoo began to catch on, and he didn’t like it. He’d heard of where he thought this was going. Scythes would pick an omega and an alpha and breed them, then when the pups(pups are those born of A/O relationships) got there they would glean the parents (or keep them for more pups) and raise those pups as scythes. They did this because they themselves couldn’t have children.


But the alpha just reached into his pocket a scythe ring identical to the one on his finger.


“Three times a year, scythes meet at a great assembly called a conclave. We discuss the business of gleaning, and whether or not more scythes are needed in our region.”


Wonwoo’s eyes widen, he is not about to get breed by anyone, righteous fury starts to bubble, and Wonwoo himself felt his going to explode soon.


“I’ve returned from the last winter conclave and they want me to take an apprentice.”

Wonwoo let out a sigh of relief and said, “Mingyu can do it, I’m not interested.”


Mingyu turned to the omega, and says, “What makes you think I am?”

“I’ve chosen both of you!?” Airemin said, raising his voice. “You will both learn the trade. But in the end, only one of you will receive the ring. The other may return home to their old life.”

“Why would we compete for something that neither of us wants?” Wonwoo asks.


“Therein lies the paradox of the profession.” Airemin says, “Those who wish to have the job should not have it… and those who refuse to kill are the only ones who should.”


He puts the ring away, and Mingyu lets out a breathe, not even realising he had been holding it.


“You are both made of the highest moral fiber.” Airemin told them, “And I believe the high ground on which you stand will compel you into my apprenticeship - not because I force it upon you, but because you choose it.”


Then he left without paying the bill, because no bill was, or would ever be, brought to a scythe.


The nerve! To think he could impress them with airs of culture, and then reel them into his sick little scheme. There was no way Wonwoo would ever, under any circumstances, throw away his life by becoming a taker of other people’s lives.


He told his parents what had happened when they got home that evening. His father embraced him and he cried into his arms for being given a terrible position. Then His mother said something Wonwoo was not expecting.


“Will you do it?” She asked.


The fact she could even ask that question was more of a shock then seeing the ring held out to him that morning.




“It’s a difficult choice, I know,” His Father said, “We’ll support you either way.”


Wonwoo looked at them as if he had never truly seen them before that moment. How could his parents know him so little that they would think he’d become a scythe’s apprentice? He didn’t even know what to say to them.


“Would you… want me to?” He found himself terrified of their answer.


“We want what you want, honey.” His mother said. “But look at it in perspective. A scythe wants for nothing in this world. All of your needs and desires would be met, and you’d never have to fear being gleaned.”

And then something occurred to Wonwoo. “ You’d never have to worry about being gleaned either. A scythe’s family is immune to gleaning for as long as that scythe’s alive.”


His father shook his head. “It’s not about our immunity.”

And Wonwoo realized he was telling the truth. “It’s not about yours… it’s about… Jungkook’s.” Wonwoo said.


To that, they didn’t have an answer. The memory of Scythe Airemin’s unexpected intrusion into their home was still a dark specter haunting them. At the time, they hadn’t known why he was there. He could very well have been there to glean Wonwoo or Jungkook. But if Wonwoo became a scythe, they never had to worry about that again.


“You want me to spend my life killing people?”


His mother looked away. “Please Wonwoo, it’s not killing, it’s gleaning . It’s important. It’s necessary. Sure nobody likes it, but everyone agrees it has to happen and that someone has to do it. Why not you?”

Wonwoo went to bed early that night, before supper, because his appetite was a casualty of the way. His parents came to his door several times, but he told them to go away.


He had never been sure what path his life would take. He assumed he would go to college, get a degree in something pleasant and settle down, spending his life reading. Could he possibly find greater purpose in the gleaning of human life? The answer was a resolute, “NO!”


But if that were the case, then why did he find it so hard to sleep?




For Mingyu, the decision wasn’t quite so difficult. Yes, he hated the thought of being a scythe - it sickened him - but what sickened him more was the thought of anyone else he knew doing it. He didn’t see himself as morally superior to anyone - but he did have a keener sense of empathy. He felt for people, sometimes more than he felt for himself. It’s what drove him into Kohl’s gleaning. It’s what brought him to Soonyoung’s side every single time he splat.


And Mingyu already knew what it was like to be a scythe - to be treated separate and apart from the rest of the world. He was living that now, but could he bear to live it forever? Maybe he wouldn’t have to. Scythes got together, didn’t they? They had conclaves three times a year and must befriend one another. It was the world’s most elite club. No, he didn’t want to be part of it, but he had been called to it. It would be a burden, but the ultimate honor.


He didn’t tell his family that day, because he didn’t want them to sway his decision. Immunity for all of them? Of course they’d want him to accept. He was loved, but the only one among a group of other beloved things. If his sacrifice could save the rest, the greater familial good would be served.


In the end it was the art that did it. The canvases haunted his dreams that night. What must life have been like in the Age of Mortality? Full of passions, both good and bad. Fear giving rise to faith. Despair giving meaning to elation. They say even the winters were colder and the summers were warming in those days.


To live between the prospects of an unknown eternal sky and a dark, enveloping earth must have been glorious - for how else could it have given rise to such magnificent expression? No one created anything of value anymore -  but if, by gleaning, he could bring back a hint of what once was, it might be worth it.


Could he find it in himself to kill another human being? Not just one, but many, day after day, year after year, until he reached his own eternity? Scythe Airemin believed he could.


The following morning, before he left for school, he told his mother about how a scythe invited him to be his apprentice and that he’d be dropping out of school to accept to position.


“It you think that’s for the best.”

Chapter Text

I had my cultural audit today. It happened only once a year, but it's never any less stressful. This year, when they crunched each cultural index from those I gleaned over the past twelve months, I, thankfully, came up well within accepted parameters:


20 % Caucasoid

18 % Afric

20 % PanAsian

19 % Mesolatino

23 % Other


Sometimes it's hard to know. A person's index is considered private, so we can only go by visible traits, which are no longer as obvious as they had been in past generations. When scythes’ numbers become lopsided, they are disciplined by the High Blade, and are assigned their cleanings for the next year rather then being allowed to choose for themselves. It is a sign of shame.


The index is supposed to keep the world free from cultural and genetic bias, but aren't there underlying factors that we can't escape? For instance, who decided that the first number of one’s genetic index would be Caucasoid?



Chapter Text



‘Forget what you think you know about scythes. Leave behind your preconceived notions. Your education begins today.”



Wonwoo could not believe he was actually going through with this. What secret, self-destructive part of himself had asserted its will over him? What had possessed him to accept the apprenticeship? Now there was no backing out. Yesterday - on the third day of the new year - Scythe Airemin had come to the Jeon’s house and gave them each a year of immunity. He added several months to Ben’s so they would all expire at the same time. Of course, if Wonwoo was chosen to be a full scythe, their immunity would become permanent.


His parents were tearful when he left. Wonwoo wondered whether they were tears of sorrow, joy or relief. Perhaps it was a combination of all three.


“We know you’ll do great things in this world.” his father had said. Wonwoo wondered what about bringing death could be considered great.


“Do not be so arrogant as to think you have a  license to glean. The license is mine and mine alone. At most you have… shall we say… a learner’s permit. I will, however, require at least one of you to be present at each of my gleanings. And if I ask you to assist, you will.” Scythe Airemin had told him.


Wonwoo unceremoniously withdrew from school and said goodbye to friends in awkward conversations.


“It’s not like I won’t be around, I just won’t be at school anymore.” But who was he kidding? Accepting this apprenticeship put him on the outside of an impenetrable wall. It was both demoralizing yet heartening to know life would go on without him. And it occurred to him that being a scythe was a lot like being the living dead. In the world, but apart from it. Just to witness the comings and goings of others.


“We are above the law, but that does not mean we live in defiance of it. Our position demands a morality beyond the rule of law. We must strive for incorruptibility, and must assess our motives on a daily basis.”


While he did not wear a ring, Wonwoo was given an armband to identify him as a scythe’s apprentice. Mingyu had one too - bright green bands bearing the scythe’s unique coat of arms. That symbol would become a tattoo on the arm of the chosen apprentice. Not that anyone would ever see a scythe without their robes.


Wonwoo had to tell himself that there was an out. He would fail to perform. He would be a lousy apprentice. He could sabotage himself so completely that Honourable Scythe Airemin would be forced to chose Mingyu and return him to him family at the end of the year. The problem was that Wonwoo was very bad at doing things half-assed. It would be much harder for him to fail then to succeed.


“I will not tolerate any romantic notions between the two of you, so banish the thought from your mind now.”


Wonwoo had looked over at Mingyu, an alpha, and saw him for the first time. He was handsome, the kind of person, if not in this situation, Wonwoo wouldn’t have minded mating. But all Mingyu did was shrug.


“Not a problem.” He said, which irritated Wonwoo. At the very least the alpha could have voiced some minor disappointment.


“Yeah,” Wonwoo said. “Not a problem, and no hope for that with or without the rule.”


Mingyu just grinned at that, which made the omega even more annoyed.


“You shall study history, the great philosophers, the sciences. You will come to understand the nature of life and what it means to be human before you are permanently charged with the taking of life. You will also study all forms of killcraft and become experts.”


Like Wonwoo, Mingyu found himself unsettled by his decision to take this on, but he was not going to show it. Especially to Wonwoo. And in spite of the blasè attitude he showed Wonwoo, he was in fact, attracted to the omega. But he knew even before the scythe forbade them that such a pursuit could not end well. They were adversaries after all.


Like Wonwoo, Mingyu had stood beside Scythe Airemin as the man held out his ring to each member of his family, offering them immunity. His brothers, sisters, half-siblings, grandma, and her all too perfect husband husband, who Mingyu suspected might actually be a bot. Each in turn knelt respectfully and kissed the ring, transmitting their DNA to the worldwide immunity database that the Scythedom held separate from the Thunderhead.


The rule was that all members of an apprentice’s household would receive immunity for one year, and there were nineteen people in Mingyu’s sprawling household. His mother had mixed feelings, because no one would move out for at least a year, to make sure their immunity would become permanent once Mingyu received the scythe’s ring - if he got the ring.


The only glitch had been when the ring vibrated, giving off a little alarm, refusing immunity to his grandmother’s new husband because he was a bot after all.


“You shall live as I do. Modestly, and subsisting on the goodwill of others. You will take no more then you need, and waste nothing. People will attempt to buy your friendship. They will lavish things upon you. Accept nothing but the barest of human necessities.


Airemin had brought Mingyu and Wonwoo to his home to begin their new lives. It was a small bungalow in a run-down part of the city that Mingyu hadn’t known even existed. “People playing at poverty.” The scythe told them. No one was impoverished anymore. Austerity was a choice, for there were always those who shunned the plenty of the postmortal world.


Airemin’s home was Spartan. Little decoration. Unimpressive furniture. Mingyu’s room had space for only a bed and a small dresser. (His legs didn’t fit totally on the bed, so he took of the end railing and let his feet hang). Wonwoo at least, had a window, but the view was of a brick wall.


“I will not tolerate childish pastimes or vapid communications with friends. Commitment to this life means leaving behind your old life as fully as possible. When, a year from now, I choose between you, the unchosen one can return to his former life easily enough. But for now consider that part of your past.”


Once they were settled in, he didn’t allow them to brood over their circumstances. As soon as Mingyu had unpacked his bags, the scythe announced that they were going to the market.


“To glean?” Mingyu asked, more that a little sick at the prospect.


“No to get food for the two of you,” Airemin told them. “Unless you’d prefer to eat my leftovers.”


Wonwoo smirked at Mingyu for asking - as if he hadn’t also been worrying the same.”

“I liked you a lot more before I knew you,” Mingyu told Wonwoo.


“You still don’t know me,” Wonwoo answered, which was true. Then he sighed and offered up something more than attitude for the first time since the opera. “We’re being forced to live together and forced to compete at something neither of us wants to compete over. I know it’s not your fault, but it doesn’t exactly put us in a friendly place.”

“I know,” Mingyu admitted. After all, Wonwoo didn’t own all the tension between them. “But that still doesn’t mean we can’t have each other’s backs.”

Wonwoo didn’t answer him. Mingyu didn’t expect one. It was just a seed he needed to plant. Over the past two months he had learned that no one had his back anymore. Perhaps no one ever did. His friends had pulled away. He was a footnote in his own family. There was only one person who shared his plight. That was Wonwoo. If they couldn’t find a way to trust each other, then what did they have beyond a learner’s permit to kill?

Chapter Text

The  greatest achievement of the human race was not conquering death. It was ending government.


Back in the days when the world’s digital network was called “the cloud,” people thought giving too much power to an artificial intelligence would be a very bad idea. Cautionary tales abounded in every form of media. The machines were always the enemy. But then the cloud evolved into the Thunderhead, sparkling with consciousness, or at least a remarkable facsimile. In stark contrast to people’s fears, the Thunderhead did not seize power. Instead, it was the people who came to realise that is was far better suited to run things better than Politicians.


In those days before the Thunderhead, human arrogance, self-interest, and endless infighting determined the rule of law. Inefficient. Imperfect. Vulnerable to all forms of corruption.


But the Thunderhead was incorruptible. Not only that, but its algorithms were built on the full sum of human knowledge. All the time and money wasted on political posturing, the lives lost in wars, the populations abused by despots - all gone the moment the Thunderhead was handed power. Of course, the Politicians, dictators, and warmongers weren’t happy, but their voices which had always seemed so loud and intimidating, were suddenly insignificant. The emperor not only had no clothes - turns out he had no testicles either.


The Thunderhead. Quite literally knew everything. When and where to build roads; how to eliminate waste in food distribution and thus end hunger; how to protect the environment from the ever growing human population. It created jobs, it clothed the poor, and it established the World Code. Now for the first time in history,  I was no longer the shadow of justice, it was justice.


The Thunderhead gave us a perfect world. The utopia that our ancestors only dream of is our reality.


There is only one thing the Thunderhead was not given authority over.


The Scythedom.


When it was decided that the people needed to die in order to ease the tide of population growth, it was also decided that this must be the responsibility of humans. Bridge repair and urban planning could be handled by the Thunderhead, but taking human life was an act of conscious and consciousness. Since it cannot be proven that The Thunderhead had either, the Scythedom was born.


I do not regret the  decision, but I often wonder if the Thunderhead would have done a better job.



Chapter Text



While a trip to the market should be an ordinary, everyday occurrence, Wonwoo found that food shopping with a scythe carried its own basket of crazy.


The moment the market doors parted for them and the three of them stepped in, the dread around them was enough to raise Goose flesh on Wonwoo’s arms. Nothing so blatant as gasps or screams - people were used to scythes passing through their daily lives. It was silent, but  pervasive, as if they had just accidentally strolled onto some theatrical stage and fouled the performance.


Wonwoo noticed that, in general, there are three types of people.


  1. The deniers: These people were the people who forged on and pretended the scythe wasn't there. It wasn't just a matter of ignoring him -  it was actively, willfully denying his presence. These people reminded Wonwoo of how the way very small children would play hide and seek, covering their own eyes to hide think that that if they didn't see you then you couldn't see them.
  2. The Escape Artists: These people were the people who ran away but tried to make it look as if they weren't. They suddenly remembered they forgot to get eggs, or began chasing after running child that didn't actually exist. One Shopper abandon a cart, mumbling about a wallet he must have left at home, despite an obvious bulge in his back pocket. He hurried out and didn't come back.
  3. The scythes pets:  These were people who went out of their way to engage the scythe and offer him something, with the secret (not so secret) hope that he might grant them immunity, or at least glean the person to their right instead of them some day. “Here your honour, take my melon, it’s bigger. I insist.” Did these people know that such sycophantic behavior would make a scythe want to glean them even more? Not that Wonwoo would level a death penalty for such a thing, but it he were given the choice between some innocent bystander and someone who was being nauseatingly obsequious about their produce, he’d choose the melon-giver.


There was one shopper who didn’t seem to fit the other three profiles. A woman who actually seemed pleased to see him.


“Good morning, Scythe Airemin,” she said as they passed her near the deli counter, then looked at Wonwoo and Mingyu, curious. “Your niece and nephew?” Wonwoo was rubbed the wrong way, since the gender roles, people use female pronouns for all omegas, even the males, and that always infuriated the male omega.


“Hardly,” he said, with a bit of disdain in his voice for relatives Wonwoo had no interest in knowing about. “I’ve taken apprentices.”


Her eyes widened a bit. “Such a thing!” she said in a way that made it unclear if she found it a good or bad thing. “Do they have a penchant for the work?”


“Not the slightest.”


She nodded, “Well then, I guess that’s all right. You know what they say: ‘Have not a hand in the blade with abandon.’”

The scythe smiled. “I hope I can introduce them to your strudel sometime.”


She nodded at the two of them. “Well that goes without saying.”


After she had moved on, Scythe Airemin explained the beta was a longtime friend. “She cooks for me from time to time - and she works in the coroner’s office. In my line of work it’s always good to have a friend there.”


“Do you grant her immunity?” Wonwoo asked. Mingyu thought the scythe might be indignant at the question, but instead he answered:


“The Scythedom frowns upon those who play favourites, but I’ve found I can grant her immunity on alternate years without raising a red flag.”


“What if another scythe gleans her during the off years?”

“Then I shall attend her funeral with heartfelt grief,” he told them.

As they stopped, Wonwoo chose some snacks that the scythe eyed dubiously. “Are those really necessary?” he asked.


“Is anything really necessary?” Wonwoo responded. He was worried this might tip them off that he was going to turn 16 soon, and that meant heats would soon begin, and he could feel it.


Mingyu found it amusing how Wonwoo gave the scythe attitude - but it worked. He let Wonwoo keep the chips.


Mingyu tried to be more practical, picking out staples like eggs, flour, and various proteins and side dishes to go with them. Mingyu can’t lie, cooking was one of his few passions.


“Don’t get the chickenoid tenders.” Wonwoo said looking at Mingyu’s choices. “Trust me, my mother’s a food synthesis engineer. That stuff’s not actual chicken - they grow it in a petri dish.”


Mingyu held up another bag of frozen protein. “How about this?”


“SeaSteak? Sure, if you like plankton pressed into meat shapes.”


“Well then, maybe you should pick your own meals instead of grabbing sweets and snacks.”


“Are you always this boring?”


“Didn’t he say we have to live as he lives? I don’t think cookie dough ice cream is part of his lifestyle.”

Wonwoo sneers at him, but switches out the flavour for vanilla.


As they continued to shop, it was Wonwoo who first noticed two suspicious-looking teens who seemed to be tracking them through the store, lingering behind them, trying to look like they were just shopping. They were probably savories - people who found enjoyment in activities that bordered on the fringe of the law. Sometimes unsavories actually broke the law in minor ways, although most lost interest eventually, because they were always caught by the Thunderhead and reprimanded by peace officers. The more troublesome offenders were tweaked with shock nanites in their blood, just powerful enough to deter any scoffing of the law. And if that didn’t work, you got your own personal peace officer 24/7. Wonwoo had an uncle like that. He called his officer his guardian angel, and eventually married her.


He tugged on Mingyu’s sleeve, bringing the unsavories to his attention but not to scythe Airemin’s. Wonwoo won’t admit it, but he moves a bit closer to the young alpha, this heat is coming fast. At most a month, and living with not one, but two capiple alphas might even be speeding it up.


“Why do you think they’re following us?”

“They probably think there’s going to be a gleaning and they want to watch.” Mingyu suggested, and the alpha instinctively put his arm around Wonwoo, neither of them noticed. The unsavories however, had other plans.


As the three of them waited in the checkout line, one of the unsavories grabbed Scythe Airemin’s hand and kissed his ring before he could stop him. The ring began to glow red, indicating his immunity.


“HA!” said the unsavory, puffing up at his strategic triumph. “I’ve got immunity for a year - and you can’t undo it! I KNOW THE RULES!”


Scythe Airemin was unfazed. “Yes, good for you,” he said. “You have three hundred sixty-five days of immunity.” And then, he looked the beta in the eye and said, “And I’ll be seeing you on day three hundred sixty-six.”


And the beta teen’s smug expression dropped, as if all the muscles that held up his face failed. He stuttered a bit, and his friend pulled him away. They ran out of the store as fast as they could.


“Well played,” said another man in line. He offered to pay for the scythe’s groceries - which was pointless, because scythes got their groceries for free anyway.


“Will you really track him down a year from now?” Mingyu asked.


The scythe grabbed a roll of breath mints from the rack. “Not worth my time. Besides, I’ve already meted out his punishment. He’ll be worried about being gleaned all year. A lesson for both of you: A scythe doesn’t have to follow through on a threat for it to be effective.”


Then a few minutes later, as they were loading the grocery bags into a publicar, the scythe looked across the parking lot.


“There,” he said, “you see that woman? The one who just dropped her purse?”


“Yeah,” said Mingyu.


Scythe Airemin pulled out his phone, aimed the camera at the woman, and in an instant information about her began to scroll on screen. Naturally ninety-six years of age, physically thirty-four. Mother of nine. Data management technician for a small shipping company. “She’s off to work after she puts away her groceries,” the scythe told. “This afternoon we will go to her place of business and glean her.”


Wonwoo drew in an audible breath. Not quite a gasp, but close. Mingyu focused on his own breathing so he didn’t telegraph his emotions the way Wonwoo had.


“Why?” He asked, “Why her?”


The scythe gave him a cool look. “Why not her?”


“You had a reason for gleaning Kohl Whitlock…”


“Who?” Wonwoo asked.


“A kid I knew at school. When I first met out Honourable Scythe here.”


Airemin sighed. “Fatalities in parking lots made up 1.25 percent of all accidental deaths during the last days of the Age of Mortality. Last night I decided I would choose today’s subject from a parking lot.”


“So all this time while we were shopping, you knew it would end with this?” Mingyu said.


“I feel bad for you,” said Wonwoo. “Even when you’re food shopping, death is hiding right behind the milk.”

“It never hides,” The scythe told them with a world-weariness that was hard to describe. “Nor does it sleep. You’ll learn that soon enough.”


But it wasn’t something either of them was eager to learn.

That afternoon, just as the scythe had said, they went to the shipping company where the woman worked, and they watched just as Mingyu had watched Kohl’s gleaning. But today it was a little more than mere observation.


“I have chosen for you a life-terminating pill,” Scythe Airemin told the speechless, tremulous woman. He reached into his robe and produced a small pill in a little glass vial.


“It will not activate until you bite it, so you can choose the moment. You need not swallow it, just bite it. Death will be instantaneous and painless.”


Her head shook like a bobblehead doll. “May I…. May I call my children?”


Scythe Airemin sadly shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. But we shall pass on any message you have to them.”

“What would it hurt to allow her to say good-bye?” Wonwoo asked.


He put up his hand to silence the omega, and handed the woman a pen and piece of paper. Wonwoo’s temper began to flare, and Mingyu, the ever kind alpha, placed his arm back around the omega. A calming scent washed over the omega and with the many hormones making way through his body, he slowly calmed back down.


“Say all you need in this letter, I promise we shall deliver it.”


They waited outside her office. Scythe Airemin seemed to have infinite patience.


“What if she opens a window and decides to splat?” Mingyu asked.


“Then her life will end on schedule. It would be a more unpleasant choice, but the ultimate result is the same.”


The woman didn’t choose to splat. Instead, she let them back into the room, politely handed the envelope to Scythe Airemin, and sat down at her desk.


“I’m ready.”


Then Scythe Airemin did something they didn’t expect. He turned to Mingyu and handed him the vial. “Please place the pill in Mrs. Becker’s mouth.”


“Who, me?”


Scythe Airemin didn’t answer. He simply held the vial out. Waiting for Mingyu to take it. Mingyu knew he wasn’t actually performing the gleaning, but to be an intermediary… the thought was debilitating. He swallowed, tasting bitterness as if the pill were in his own mouth. He refused to take it.


Scythe Airemin gave him a moment more, then turned to Wonwoo.


“You, then.”

Wonwoo just shook his head.


Scythe Airemin smiled, “Very good,” he told them. “I was testing you. I would not have been pleased if either of you were eager to administer death.”

At the word “death,” the woman took a shuddering breath.


Scythe Airemin opened the vial and carefully removed the pill. It was triangular with a dark green coating. Who knew that death could arrive so small?


“But… but I’m only ninety-six.” The woman said.


“We know,” the scythe told her. “Now please… open your mouth. Remember, it’s not to swallow; you must bite it.”


She opened her mouth as she was told, and Scythe Airemin placed the pill on her tongue. She closed her mouth, but didn’t bite it right away. She looked at each of them in turn. Mingyu, then Wonwoo, then finally settled her gaze on Scythe Airemin. Then the slightest crunch. And she went limp. Simple as that. But not so simple at all.


Wonwoo’s eyes were moist. He pressed his lips together. As much as Mingyu tried to control his emotions, his breath came out uneasily and he felt light-headed.


And then Scythe Airemin turned to Wonwoo. “Check for a pulse, please.”


“Who, me?”


The scythe was patient. He didn’t ask again. The man never asked a thing twice. When the omega continued to hesitate, he finally said, “This time it’s not a test. I actually want you to confirm for me that she had no pulse.”


Wonwoo reached up a hand to the woman’s neck.


“Other side,” the scythe told her.


Wonwoo pressed his fingers to the woman’s carotid artery, just beneath her ear. “No pulse.”


Satisfied, Scythe Airemin stood.


“So that’s it?” Wonwoo asked.


“What were you expecting?” said Mingyu. “A chorus of angels?”


Wonwoo threw him a halfhearted glare. “But I mean… it’s so… uneventful.”


Mingyu knew what he meant. Mingyu had experienced the electrical jolt that had taken his schoolmates life. It was awful, but somehow this was worse. “What now? Do we just leave her like this?”

“Best not to linger,” Scythe Airemin said, tapping something out on his phone. “I’ve notified the coroner to come collect Mrs. Becker’s body.” Then he took the letter she had written and slipped it into one of the many pockets on his yellow robe. “You two shall present the letter to her family at the funeral.


“Wait,” said Wonwoo. “We’re going to her funeral?”


“I thought it was best not to linger.” Said Mingyu.


“Lingering and paying respect are two different things. I attend the funerals of all the people I glean.”


“Is that a scythe rule?” Mingyu asked, never having been to a funeral.


No, it’s my rule,” He told them. “It’s called ‘Common decency.’”


Then they left, Mingyu and Wonwoo both avoiding eye contact with the dead woman’s coworkers. This, both of them realised, was their first innitiation rite. This was the moment their appreniceship had truly begun.


Wonwoo layed awake and realised he couldn’t sleep without someone in bed with him. He had never before slept alone. When he was a baby his parents let him sleep with them, but after Jungkook was born Wonwoo slept in the same bed as Jungkook. To say Wonwoo didn’t love his little would be one of the biggest lies ever told.


He couldn’t sleep, and that meant he thought of what had been happening this whole day. And he didn’t want to do that.


Making a hard decision that if later asked about he would blame on hormones, he grabbed his teddy bear, and went to the room next to his.


Mingyu was laying in bed on his side facing the door, so when the door opened, he saw who it was. He had many young siblings, and he almost thought it was one of them, but mentally kicked himself remembering he wasn’t at home any longer.


“C-can I sleep with you?” Wonwoo asked, his cheeks burning red as he looked at his white socks.


Mingyu said nothing, simply moved over and patted the bed. Wonwoo rushed to fill the place provided.


“Don’t get any ideas! This is just until I can get used to sleeping on my own!” Saying this, Wonwoo knew he wouldn’t.


Mingyu laughed and turned to face the wall. But the next morning, when the two woke up tangled together, neither of them commented, and went to go make breakfast before Scythe Airemin woke up.