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Of Life and Death

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Jungkook wonders for the billionth time why he decided to defer for a second semester, because once again he’s found himself a roof to perch upon for the day as he looks down upon the people of Seoul to see whose soul he’ll be guiding to the afterlife next. And once again, he’s bored out of his mind. Details in red ghost above their heads and Jungkook clocks their time remaining disinterestedly, arms folded on the half-wall, chin cushioned in his hand. He sighs and rubs at his eyes. No deaths of any kind - hell, not even a close call. Just -

 

Jungkook stands upright, watching as two boys round the corner and walk his way. That - that can’t be normal.

 

It isn’t normal.

 

Jungkook knows it isn’t normal.

 

He doesn’t pay attention to the boy on the left. His numbers are fine, they’re normal. The boy on the right however - Jungkook grins. Today just got interesting.

 

Bored and not always one to stray away from the dramatics (he is Death personified, as if it doesn’t get much more dramatic than that), he waits until they’re mere steps from standing directly below him, then hauls himself over the half wall and drops to land in their path.

 

“Jesus fucking Christ.” It’s the boy with normal numbers.

 

Jungkook straightens from his crouch, flicks his eyes up long enough to read the guy’s name - Park Jimin, born 1995 - then promptly ignores him. It’s the other boy, Kim Taehyung, also born 1995, that he’s here for.

 

“Are you fucking crazy?” Park Jimin tips his head back to stare at the buildings around them. “The fuck did you even come from?”

 

Kim Taehyung is calm - curious even. He grins slowly and tilts his head. “So dramatic, Jiminie.”

 

Park Jimin splutters. “The lunatic just dropped down from the fucking roof like some - “

 

“Apologies,” Jungkook says shortly. He wants the boy with normal numbers to stop talking.

 

Park Jimin bristles. “Look, kid - “

 

Kim Taehyung laughs abruptly, startling them both.

 

“What?” Park Jimin asks, frowning at his friend. “What’s so funny?”

 

“He’s not just some kid, Jiminie,” Kim Taehyung explains, grin wide and rectangular as he runs his eyes over Jungkook, head tilted in contemplation. “He’s Death himself.”

 

Now it’s Jungkook whose eyes are going wide. How the fuck does this guy - this Kim Taehyung - “What?

 

Park Jimin echoes him.

 

Kim Taehyung’s lips curl slowly. “Don’t ask how I know. I just do. But I’m right, aren’t I? You’re Death.”

 

Jungkook struggles for an answer. “Um - well -“

 

This is a very abrupt change in events, Jungkook thinks, very abrupt.

 

“We’re getting lunch,” Taehyung says, pointing up the street. “Wanna come?”

 

Now Jungkook is even more lost. How did - this guy just - what the fuck is going on?

 

“Taehyung!” Jimin flails his hands. “You can’t just - accuse someone of being Death itself - and then invite him to lunch!”

 

Taehyung shrugs and puffs his cheeks. “What?” he says defensively. “If he was here for one of us he’d have killed us by now - might not have even shown himself. Right?”

 

Again, Jungkook stalls. “Um.”

 

What the actual fuck is happening?

 

“See?” Taehyung claps his hands together then links arms with Jimin and - Jungkook splutters as he’s abruptly dragged to Taehyung’s spare side and forced to also link arms. “Let’s go to lunch. Not every day you get to meet Death.”

 

Stumbling over his feet as Taehyung pulls them both along (“Y-Yah, Kim Taehyung!” Jimin shouts, and Jungkook agrees), Jungkook sends a bewildered look over his shoulder at the rooftop he’d been perched upon - and begins to think maybe he should regret ever jumping down.

 

 

 

Jungkook blinks and flexes his hands in his lap. Across from him, Jimin glares him down over the rim of his drink, straw bitten to hell between his teeth. Taehyung is none the wiser, rambling away happily as he gazes out the window and waits for their food to come.

 

“It’s autumn,” Jungkook mutters as the waiter comes to slide three bowls of naengmyeon onto their table. “I didn’t know anyone was still serving naengmyeon.”

 

Taehyung grins. “I’ve been hunting them down.” He snips at his noodles with the scissors a few times, takes up the sugar and vinegar and adds a little of each, then digs right in. He notices that neither Jungkook or Jimin have started and raises a brow. “You two gonna eat or…?”

 

Jimin finally snaps. “Death - fucking Death - is sitting across the table from us and you expect me to just eat?”

 

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Taehyung mumbles around another mouthful, leaning away from Jimin’s disbelieving glare. “Oh - I know - Death. Introduce yourself.”

 

“You’re delusional,” Jimin hisses.

 

Taehyung hushes him.

 

Jungkook raises a slow brow and lifts his gaze again to the boy’s numbers, reminds himself why he was so eager to leap on down 20 minutes ago to meet Kim Taehyung, 1995. The name and birth year are clear and distinct, but his time remaining - his countdown - Jungkook’s eyes twitch, trying to make sense of the spinning blur of red. If he focuses just enough, he can make out the occasional digit, but then it’s spinning away from him and a completely different number sits in its place. And then another. And another. It’s like a poker machine that’s just had its handle cranked.

 

Jungkook sighs and stabs at his meal with his chopsticks. “Jeon Jungkook, 1997, Death personified, pleased to make your acquaintance.”

 

“See,” Taehyung says to Jimin. “He has a name now. And an age.”

 

Jimin heaves a long-suffering sigh and starts to eat. “So, Jungkook,” he says, and Jungkook deadpans at the sarcasm, notes the way Taehyung punches him under the table. “What do you do?”

 

Jungkook blinks at him. “What do you mean what do I do? I’m Death. Personified. Do you - do you want me to clarify…?”

 

“No that’s - that’s - perfectly ok, thanks.” Jimin actually starts to laugh, head tipping back, tension leaking from his shoulders. “What the fuck is happening?”

 

Jungkook mutters his own confusion under his breath then sighs. “I was a uni student,” he supplies helpfully.

 

“Was?” Taehyung echoes. He’s halfway through his meal. Jungkook still hasn’t started. “You some deathly genius who graduated early?”

 

“Just deferred, hyung,” Jungkook says, lips quirking. “For two semesters while I got used to the whole - “ He quirks his head, eyes drifting. “Y’know.”

 

“Wait, so you haven’t always been Death?”

 

Jimin snorts. “What, you think he was running around slaughtering people in his spiderman jammies?”

 

“Ok, touché,” Taehyung admits. “And Jungkookie doesn’t slaughter people.” He frowns. “Do you?”

 

Jungkook shrugs a shoulder, lips curling. “Maybe.”

 

Taehyung eyes him suspiciously then slowly starts to grin. Not for the first time since meeting him, Jungkook admires the strange rectangular-ness of it.

 

 

 

Jungkook thinks it’s cliche that the winds are cold and the skies are dark on a day like today. If he listens hard enough, he can hear the fall of rain on the columbaria’s roof over the din around him, and honestly, he’d liked to be wrapped in his bed back at home watching Netflix - anything to get him away from the dizzying amount of grief surrounding him in today’s funeral parlour.

 

There’s more than just grief, Jungkook knows - had known it the first day he stepped into one of these places as Death and had blacked out from the saturation of grief and longing and love and death, crumpling right there in the foyer. He’d been in Busan visiting family, and his mother had insisted they go pay their respects to their grandmother. He’d ended up sitting on the steps outside, throwing up his guts into a plastic bag his brother had managed to get from a staff member.

 

He’d quickly grown used to it.

 

Jungkook crouches in the doorway, arms curled around his shins, chin rested atop his knees. He tilts his head to rest his ear on his shoulder and watches each guest bow to the deceased and then to the family. The eldest son stands to greet the guests and accept condolences, whilst his sister is knelt beside their mother, who sobs and wails and clutches at her chest as she leans into her daughter for support.

 

Jungkook breathes a sigh through his nose and tilts his head the other way. He really doesn’t like this part of the -  he grimaces and shudders as a guest steps right through him. His insides squirm, mind spazzing, because that’s not something he’s anywhere near used to yet, this sudden ability to disappear from physical existence, so that he can’t be seen, heard, or even - another guest walks through him and Jungkook stands abruptly.

 

Nope. Time to change location.

 

He slinks inside the room and stands up against the wall, eyes drifting over the numbers before him. He stops on the grieving widow and heaves another sigh through his nose, dropping into a crouch again. Three minutes and 22 seconds until she dies of a broken heart. How cruel, Jungkook muses, for children to lose both parents so close together.

 

But he is Death, not Fate, and he has no say.

 

The time ticks away slowly, but soon Jungkook is rising to his feet and ghosting silently to stand behind the widow. He watches the seconds tick down - then takes a breath and does his duty.

 

 

 

Jungkook exits as silently as he came, leaving the desperate cries for an ambulance behind him. He runs a hand through his hair and walks down the hall, away from the funeral rooms and into the main part of the columbaria. He catches sight of himself in the reflection of a golden plaque and knows he’s visible again.

 

That has to be the most disconcerting part, not even being able to see himself unless he’s looking right down at his own limbs and even then, they’re so transparent that Jungkook sometimes has to angle himself so that the lights catches him just - he pauses, frowning.

 

Taehyung…?

 

Jungkook frowns some more and slips his hand into his pocket, fingers smoothing over the screen of his phone. Taehyung had insisted on the three of them exchanging numbers after lunch two weeks ago, and apart from the occasional absurdly random text (Jungkook’s coming to learn that’s just a part of Taehyung’s charm and he’s caught himself smiling down at his phone more times than he maybe cares to admit), he hadn’t seen or heard from him - hadn’t really been expecting to ever see him again, if he’s honest, especially not here of all places.

 

But now he’s standing a few feet from Jungkook, numbers spinning endlessly, talking to himself quietly as he opens a glass door carefully, slips in a flower, and closes the door again - only to repeat the action for another memorial a few doors higher. And again for a memorial three doors to the left. And again -

 

“Hyung.”

 

Taehyung turns wide eyes his way. He frowns and closes another glass door. “Jungkook.” He looks at where they are and bows. “Are you - are you here to pay your respects?”

 

Jungkook shakes his head. “My family’s in Busan.”

 

Taehyung nods. He holds the flowers in his arms closer to his chest. “Mine’s in Daegu. I - “ He chuckles nervously and rubs at the back of his head. “I was going to ask why you’re here but you’re Death and asking would probably just sound weird because it’s a - a columbaria and funeral home and - ” He looks uncomfortable.

 

“You always sound weird,” Jungkook tells him, and grins at the pout Taehyung shoots him. He drops his attention to the flowers in Taehyung’s crooked elbow. “Why do you have so many flowers?”

 

Taehyung worries at his lower lip then turns away to scan the memorials again. He opens a door, slides in a flower, and closes the door again. “Not everyone has someone to bring them flowers, y’know?”

 

Jungkook’s eyes widen, brows raising. “That’s - “

 

“Corny and cliche,” Taehyung says, laughing quietly. “I know. Maybe even a little creepy.”

 

“Not what I was gonna say.” Jungkook listens to Taehyung laugh again. It echoes nicely off the tiles and glass around them, and something in Jungkook loosens and the heaviness still lingering from moments before leaves him to breathe. It’s nice to hear laughter in a place like this for once. Death doesn’t have to be all heartbreak and tears. “When’d you come up with the idea?”

 

Taehyung frowns and steps back to scan the memorials better. “I don’t know. But - I kinda - like it here, y’know? That sounds real weird and creepy too, dammit.” He looks to Jungkook and grins when he sees Jungkook’s brows raised. “Right, Death personified. You might be the only person to understand.” Taehyung breathes out through his nose slowly, eyes flittering appreciatively over the columbaria’s interior. “There’s a lot of - I dunno - power in here, I guess.”

 

And Jungkook doesn’t know what to do with that because it’s not something he’s sure he ever really thought about beyond noticing it so strongly those first few times - and he’s definitely never considered the overwhelming sensation to be that of - of power. If he’s honest with himself, he kinda stopped trying to give the whole ‘Death personified’ thing much thought after the first month.

 

(And if he’s really honest with himself, he likes Taehyung’s thoughts on the matter.)

 

He comes to stand beside Taehyung. “So you bring flowers to those that don’t get any?”

 

Taehyung blinks over at him and shrugs the one shoulder. “Yeah, I guess.”

 

“How do you know they’re deserving?” Jungkook asks, genuinely curious. “What if they were a criminal in their past life?”

 

Taehyung opens and closes his mouth. “I hadn’t thought of that.” He tilts his head at the names in front of them and frowns. “What if I’ve been giving flowers to serial killers and - what if they took like, 20 lives, and I’ve been going around merrily giving flowers?” Taehyung winces at himself. “Fuck me.”

 

“Sorry,” Jungkook says quietly, reaching out to thumb one of the petals of the flowers still in Taehyung’s arms. He’s careful to make sure it doesn’t wither under his touch, like flower petals are prone to do.

 

Taehyung’s eyes follow his fingers. “It’s ok.”

 

“I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

 

Taehyung nods slowly then frowns and looks at Jungkook. “Do you know?”

 

“Know what?”

 

“Who - who - “ Taehyung purses his lips then tries again. “Do you know how everyone died? And why?”

 

“Yes…?”

 

“Do you know - how they lived their lives…?”

 

Jungkook hesitates. “Sometimes.”

 

Taehyung looks at the flowers he’s holding then lifts his gaze and offers Jungkook a small smile. “Are you busy right now?”

 

 

 

The columbaria stretches deep. Jungkook and Taehyung move slowly, talking in quiet voices as Taehyung opens memorial after memorial and gently slides in a flower. Jungkook takes the bunch of flowers from him at some point and hands them to Taehyung one by one as he watches. It’s - it’s peaceful, he thinks, being here like this.

 

“Are you responsible for the ambulance outside?” Taehyung asks suddenly, closing the memorial quietly and stepping back to Jungkook’s side.

 

Jungkook swallows and silently hands Taehyung the next flower. They’re beginning to dwindle. “Yeah,” he says at last.

 

Taehyung nods, then must see something on Jungkook’s face, because he squeezes Jungkook’s elbow and smiles at him kindly. “That’s ok,” he says simply. He breaks the stem from the flower he’s holding and tucks the flowerhead behind Jungkook’s ear. The petals brush at his temple and Taehyung’s smile widens a little. He plucks another flower from Jungkook’s arm and starts walking again. “Do you have a job, Jungkookie?”

 

Jungkook blinks after him then reaches up slowly to touch the flower. The petals are soft beneath his fingertips, velvety and delicate, and Jungkook is scared that it’ll wither too quickly, but - but he doesn’t want to remove it yet, so he’ll just have to concentrate and be careful. After all, the flowers in his arms are ok, aren’t they?

 

“Um, no, I quit when the whole Death thing happened.”

 

Taehyung nods to show he heard.

 

“What about you, hyung?”

 

“I actually have work after this.”

 

“Oh?” Jungkook twirls the next flower between his fingers, waits for Taehyung to need it. “Where at?”

 

“A dog cafe!” Taehyung beams at him and Jungkook laughs despite himself - then quickly reaches out and catches Taehyung’s elbow.

 

“Not - not that one, hyung.”

 

Taehyung blinks at the memorial, already half way open. “Really? Why?”

 

“She - she beat her children.”

 

Taehyung’s shock softens him, shoulders falling. “Oh.” His voice is quiet.

 

Jungkook says nothing. Like Taehyung did to him before, he gently squeezes Taehyung’s elbow, then guides him to the next one. He releases Taehyung to open the memorial, then nods at Taehyung to put the flower in. Taehyung does so, fingers shaky, and Jungkook closes the memorial again - Taehyung catches his hand suddenly and squeezes.

 

“Thanks,” he whispers, eyes big and ernest as they meet Jungkook’s.

 

Jungkook is surprised, is sure it must show on his face, but again he says nothing. He was never great with words anyway. Instead, he squeezes Taehyung’s hand back and passes him the next flower.

 

 

 

“Are you hungry, Jungkookie?”

 

Jungkook looks at Taehyung. “I thought you have work?”

 

Taehyung is still squinting out at the rain pouring down around them. Though they’re under the small alcove providing shelter at the entrance, there’s a cool wind that blows a fine mist of rain at them. Grey light paints itself over Taehyung.

 

Taehyung shrugs. “I’ve got time.” He turns to Jungkook and smiles. “So, how about it, Death personified?”

 

Jungkook opens and closes his mouth, then - “You’re actually asking this time, hyung? Not just dragging me down the street against my will?”

 

Taehyung laughs, opens his umbrella, and steps out into the rain. This is something else Jungkook doesn’t need to give further thought to. He follows.

 

 

 

(That night, Taehyung sends him one of his absurdly random texts, followed up with a selfie of him and one of the cafe’s dogs. This time, Jungkook replies.)

 

 

 

Jungkook has never totally understood how he always happens to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes he wonders if it’s a subconscious decision, like he’s got some Deathly probes constantly seeking and guiding him. Sometimes he wonders if Fate is really that strong, and that makes him kind of nervous because if Fate is making all of these choices for him, then how much of his life is really his? And how many of his conscious decisions are anything but?

 

He tips his head back to look at the sign above him. A kids’ cafe. His stomach churns. This isn’t going to be easy or comfortable at all. Some poor child will have to watch their parent die - or worse, a parent will lose their child eons too early. He works his jaw and stays there on the sidewalk for some time, staring up at the sign and pondering, pondering, pondering, trying to fill his mind with - with - anything else. Something else. Just - he inhales and closes his eyes, counting to 10.

 

This has to be easier.

 

This isn’t the first - and it’s probably really fucking far from the last. He’s never understood how this Death thing started, and he’s not sure that it ever ends.

 

Opening his eyes, Jungkook calms his mind, steels himself, pushes the door open, and slips inside. The bell jingles above his head and a passing waitress, tray full of desserts, bids him a quick welcome before disappearing up a set of stairs to the second level. Jungkook scans the cafe, flicks his gaze over the numbers and dates around him until -

 

His eyes widen slightly. Kim Taehyung, 1995.

 

Jungkook takes a step forward - takes a hurried two back when three kids go sprinting past and throw themselves into a ball pit - then moves around to the left to try see Taehyung better. He’s crouched beside a boy of five, who will die of anaphylactic shock in a freak accident in precisely 4 minutes and 21 seconds.

 

Taehyung laughs and flicks a picture book open for the boy to examine. Whilst the boy carefully turns the pages, Taehyung looks over his shoulder to speak to the father - and spots Jungkook.

 

Jungkook fights the instinctive urge to retreat a step. There’s an apron around Taehyung’s waist and a heart on a spring clipped into his hair and stickers on his face in the most random assortment, yet Taehyung’s eyes have gone hard and cold. Jungkook inhales slowly, watching as the boy grabs Taehyung’s attention again.

 

Taehyung’s brows raise as he turns around again, listening intently to the boy and his questions. He grins and grabs another book from the shelf for the boy to look at, then ruffles his hair - Jungkook frowns and falls forward a step. The boy’s numbers spin wildly, like Taehyung’s do every second of every day, before they settle. Jungkook’s frown deepens and he starts to retreat.

 

This isn’t right. Not rare, but not - not right.

 

Jungkook runs his tongue over his teeth, takes one last glance at the boy’s numbers - 28 more years have been added how tell me how - and steals back onto the street.

 

 

 

“You work at a kids’ cafe.”

 

Taehyung stands and lets the flowers fall down by his side. “Jungkook.” Taehyung’s face is blank. “Yeah, I do.” The wind howls loudly outside, echoing eerily inside the columbaria, and Taehyung winces for a moment before schooling his expression again. “Were you there for one of the kids? Is that why you were there?”

 

Jungkook - Jungkook weighs his decisions. He smiles and shakes his head. “Nah, hyung. Thought I saw you through the window, so I stepped in to see if it was you. Thought you worked at the dog cafe?”

 

Taehyung relaxes and comes to stand by Jungkook’s side. He hands the flowers to him wordlessly and Jungkook points him forward.

 

“I do,” Taehyung says. “I like kids. And dogs. They’re fun.”

 

“You’re at uni too, yeah?”

 

Taehyung nods and fingers some petals. “Yup.”

 

“What’s your major?”

 

“Medicine.”

 

Jungkook’s eyes widen. “Medicine?”

 

“Yup!” Taehyung breaks a flower off its stem and twirls it between his fingers. “I thought I would do primary education for years, but then, I dunno. Medicine just - seemed right.”

 

“Where do you - what area?”

 

“Thinking trauma. Or emergency room sort of stuff. Or even neonatal.”

 

“Neonatal?” Jungkook echoes, watching Taehyung reach up to slip in a flower. He’s careful not to drop the one he broke from its stem.

 

“Yeah,” Taehyung says, closing the memorial. “Babies and stuff.”

 

“And stuff.” Jungkook nods. “Right.”

 

Taehyung looks at him thoughtfully as he twirls that same flower again. “Hey, Jungkookie.”

 

“Yeah, hyung?”

 

“What are you doing after this?”

 

“Nothing, why?”

 

Taehyung grins and tucks the flower behind Jungkook’s ear. It’s familiar, but still, Jungkook stares at him with wide eyes and Taehyung laughs. “Perfect.”

 

 

 

“This - is not what I thought you had in mind,” Jungkook admits carefully.

 

“Hmm?” Taehyung looks up at him, two pens held between his teeth, another uncapped in his right hand. He’s got a pad of post-it notes in his left.

 

“I thought you wanted to drag me to lunch again.” Jungkook waves his arms carefully, which are spread wide and covered in an assortment of ink and post-its. There’s a growing collection on his bare chest as well. “Not - whatever this is.”

 

Taehyung pulls the pens from his mouth and rolls his chair over to his desk to check his textbook once more. “You’re helping me to study. Why?” He shoots Jungkook a teasing look. “Have something better to do?”

 

Jungkook waves his arms again. “As Death personified?” Jungkook looks down at himself. Taehyung’s labelled both of his kidneys in scratchy writing. “Yeah, probably.” He frowns. “Aren’t kidneys closer to the back…?”

 

“That’s diagram 6.3.2”

 

“Diagram 6.3.2?”

 

“Yeah.” Taehyung rolls back over and catches himself with both hands on Jungkook’s waist. He plants another post-it on Jungkook, this time at his spleen. “This is Diagram 6.3.1. Or a third of it, anyway.”

 

“A third of - yah, hyung!”

 

 

 

(Jungkook soon becomes as familiar with Jimin’s shitty jokes and the inside of his and Taehyung’s shared apartment and the touch of ink on his skin almost as quickly as he became familiar with the weight of flowers in his arms and Taehyung’s absurdly random texts and the rectangular warmth of Taehyung’s smile.)

 

 

 

Jimin is laughing and looking over his shoulder, drink in hand, when he opens the door. When he sees it’s Jungkook, his face falls. “Taehyung,” he calls. “Why is Death at our door?”

 

Jungkook deadpans at him. “Still not funny, hyung.”

 

“Jimin!” Taehyung scolds, and then suddenly he appears, face flushed, grinning brightly even as he tries to scowl at Jimin. “Leave him be. Jungkookie! Come in, come in!”

 

Jimin laughs and steps back to give Jungkook space. “C’mon, brat.”

 

Jungkook lets Taehyung drag him inside the apartment, barely managing to kick his shoes off before he’s whisked into the kitchen. He’s met Taehyung’s friends before but it was during a fleeting 30 minute coffee meet up, and he remembers they’re good people and they’re funny and one of them is extremely sarcastic and another one of them is really clumsy - but he doesn’t remember the important shit, like their names.

 

So when they meet two of them pouring drinks in the kitchen, Jungkook flicks his gaze up. Jung Hoseok, 1994, and Kim Seokjin, 1992.

 

“Hey, Jungkookie,” Hoseok greets. He thrusts a drink into Jungkook’s hands and sloshes half of it all over Jungkook himself. “Drink up.”

 

“Hoseok,” Seokjin scolds, quick to grab a tea towel and pat Jungkook down. He sighs and tosses the towel aside. “Watch the sticky patch back there,” he warns. “Namjoon already spilled a drink or six.”

 

Jungkook snorts, choking on his drink, and Hoseok laughs.

 

“C’mon, Jungkookie, come play!”

 

He’s led to where the others are seated around the coffee table, playing cards laid out in an elaborate game. Jimin slaps one of his cards down and thrusts a finger in the direction of - Jungkook’s gaze skims upwards - Min Yoongi, 1993.

 

“That’s six sips, drink up, asshole.”

 

Jungkook looks at the final member of the group and doesn’t have to look at ghostly red to surmise it’s Namjoon. Satisfied, he plonks down next to Taehyung, pours half of Jimin’s drink into his own cup when Jimin isn’t looking, and settles in for the night.

 

“So, how’s Reaper life treating you, kid?” Yoongi asks.

 

For the second time that night, Jungkook is choking on his drink. He shoots a wide-eyed look Taehyung’s way, everything inside of him seizing in shock. He - he told them?

 

Taehyung keeps his focus on the game but slides long fingers around Jungkook’s wrist and squeezes reassuringly.

 

“Taehyung didn’t tell you he’d told us,” Namjoon surmises slowly, frowning. “Yah, Kim Taehyung. Did you even ask Jungkook if it was ok to tell us?”

 

“It’s fine,” Taehyung says, waving Namjoon away with his free hand. “Right, Jungkookie?”

 

Jungkook swallows. “…Sure.”

 

Hoseok takes pity on him and quickly sweeps up all the cards. “New game!”

 

Jimin damn near screeches in protest. “I was winning!”

 

“Yeah, well, now Jungkook’s here, so we can play something better.”

 

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

 

Taehyung leans in to whisper in Jungkook’s ear. “If you’re short on alcohol and can’t be bothered getting up, Jimin’s really easy to steal from.”

 

It feels like an apology, and it’s kind of so very Taehyung that it makes Jungkook want to smile.

 

Instead, Jungkook smirks at Taehyung and tilts his cup for Taehyung to see the contents. “Way ahead of you, hyung.”

 

 

 

Two hours later, Jungkook is feeling unexpectedly heady. He presses the heel of his palm to his forehead and closes his eyes, trying to ground himself. He wants - wants to blame the alcohol, but he doesn’t feel all there. He wants to be sick like he was that first time at the columbaria in Busan, but hopes and hopes and hopes it’s because Hoseok has put just about everything under the sun into this one drink, and not because of anything else.

 

Very specifically, he hopes it’s not because of anything Death related.

 

He swallows thickly and breathes deeply through his nose. He knows he’s grown quiet, knows he’s stopped sipping from his drink, knows he’s stopped participating in the game properly, and worse, he knows the others are watching him with concern. But he can’t ground himself, try as he might, and he doesn’t just feel heady anymore. He feels floaty, like he’s not all - not all there.

 

Taehyung is tense with worry beside him and suddenly it’s too much for him - or it must be - because he’s wrapping careful fingers around Jungkook’s arm and asking if he’s ok - but then he’s alarmed. “Shit, Jungkookie. You’re like ice. And you’re all clammy, too.”

 

Taehyung’s touch is like wild fire, hot and unrestrained and it burns through Jungkook so fast it makes his head spin. Jungkook’s heart and stomach slam into his throat and it’s that first time in the columbaria all over again.

 

He’s on his feet before he knows it, stumbling to the kitchen and tripping over furniture. His cup falls from his hands and his drink sloshes over the tiles and he feels fingers trying to catch at his shirt but he slams both hands onto the counter, doubles over the sink, and retches.

 

It burns all the way from his stomach, up his throat, and to the very tips of his teeth. His eyes water and he sobs in a breath before he’s gagging and vomiting again. There’s a hand in his hair and another slipping under the back of his shirt, pressing soothingly at his lower back.

 

Taehyung, he thinks, it’s Taehyung.

 

And just like that, Taehyung’s voice cuts through the fog for the briefest of instances. “ - ok, Jungkookie, you’re ok. Shh. Seokjin hyung, can you wet a towel and - “

 

The wild fire swamps over Jungkook again, searing across his mind and dragging more bile from the pits of his stomach. He throws up again, arms shaking, tears streaking down his cheeks to drip from his chin. And then his legs give way and he crashes to the tiles. Hands around his head stop it from cracking into the countertop.

 

He’s shaking shaking shaking and he’s scared he’s going to bite off his own tongue he knows it’s possible and there’s hands still around his head, protecting it, and he can hear Taehyung talking to him in low hushed tones and Jungkook burns so hot that he thinks he maybe screams -

 

And then it’s so very very cool.

 

 

 

Jungkook wakes and he’s standing somewhere unfamiliar and distinctly not Korea. Rain falls heavily. He looks about warily. Around him, a collection of people are also standing, waiting. It takes one look at their near transparency and the numbers above their heads to know who they are. Death. Like Jungkook, their remaining time is blurred and frozen.

 

Jungkook swallows tightly and looks ahead of him. Something big is happening if this many of them are being called. Something horrible and heartbreaking and -

 

“Is this your first disaster?”

 

Jungkook inhales sharply and looks to his left. It’s an elderly lady. She’s Korean and speaks to him in his hometown’s dialect.

 

“Y-yeah,” he manages. He can feel tears pricking at the back of his eyes. The air is heavy and stagnant, like even the sky knows, and Jungkook doesn’t like it, he doesn’t.

 

“Oh, dear,” she murmurs sympathetically. “It’s ok. You’ll get through it, I promise. You’re not alone.”

 

For a moment, Jungkook’s expression crumples and he thinks he might be about to cry. This is unnatural, unnatural, unnatural. Every fibre of him screams it at him, like his mind doesn’t already know, isn’t already saturated with fear. He wants to go home, he wants to go back to Taehyung’s apartment, he wants to -

 

Jungkook sucks in another breath. “Where - where are we?”

 

She offers him a smile. “Malaysia.” She looks ahead again, to the hill they’re all standing before. “Be ready. It’s starting.”

 

Jungkook squeezes his eyes shut, thinks of absurdly random texts and flowers and rectangular smiles, and steels himself for the worst.

 

 

 

Jungkook wakes a second time with a loud gasp for air. It’s violent and hurried, upper body arching up from the tiles as adrenaline jolts through him. He feels like he was thrown back into his body, messily and without care, and he looks about him wildly, panting for air.

 

Where - where -

 

“Shh, shh, shh.”

 

Taehyung. Taehyung.

 

“Hey, Jungkookie, you’re ok, you’re ok - “

 

Taehyung is reaching out and Jungkook is suddenly aware he’s crying, tears running down his face unchecked. He sobs loudly and claws at Taehyung, wanting, needing, him closer. Taehyung crushes him to his chest then folds them into the corner and holds Jungkook tight against him.

 

“Shh, Jungkook, shh. You’re ok. You’re ok.”

 

Jungkook cries loudly, body aching with the strength of his misery as he sobs his fear and his confusion and his horror into Taehyung’s shoulder and he thinks he might be sick again but he just wants to cry and cry and cry. Taehyung rocks him, real and warm and solid, and Jungkook clings to him with every desperate grieving ounce of strength he has.

 

“I’ve got you,” Taehyung whispers. “I’ve got you, Jungkookie.”

 

Jungkook closes his eyes and lets himself cry and cry and cry.

 

 

 

(Taehyung is hesitant to let him leave that night, but Jungkook does. He goes home and he sleeps for hours, so deeply that he doesn’t move. He wakes late to 13 unread messages and 9 missed calls.

 

Taehyung answers after the first dial tone. “Jungkook?”

 

Jungkook curls up and pulls the blankets over his head and exhales quietly. He closes his eyes. His mind is still and his chest is warm.

 

Taehyung calls his name again.

 

“I’m ok, hyung.”)

 

 

 

(A little over a week passes and no, thinks Jungkook, I’m not ok. None of this is ok.)

 

 

 

Jungkook - Jungkook - sometimes enough is enough. Sometimes enough is too much.

 

He rests his forehead on Taehyung’s door, closes his eyes, and starts to slowly pound his fist against the door. He doesn’t care if he wakes the neighbours. Hell, he could wake the whole of Seoul and not care. He just -

 

The door opens and Jungkook jerks upright, fighting not to stack it forward.

 

“Jungkook…?”

 

Taehyung stands before him, rubbing at his eyes with one hand and holding the door open with the other. He is soft and sleepy and familiar and warm and Jungkook -

 

“Hey, Jungkookie.” It’s soft, sympathetic. Taehyung is frowning at him in concern. “You ok?”

 

Jungkook swallows and drops his gaze to stare at Taehyung’s bare feet instead. Taehyung is too soft, too pure, to look at right now and Jungkook is so - tired. “There was a factory fire in Gangwon-do two nights ago. And a bus crashed on its way back from Everland today,” he husks. “And - and that night, last week - there was was a landslide in Malaysia and - “ His lashes are getting damp.

 

“Bring him in, TaeTae.” It’s Jimin, his voice familiar from where it comes deeper inside the apartment.

 

“Y-yeah,” Taehyung says, reaching out to wrap warm fingers around Jungkook’s upper arm and draw him into the apartment.

 

Jungkook stumbles after him, manages a bow and a mumbled greeting and apology in Jimin’s direction, and lets Taehyung take them to his room. His desk lamp is on and his bed is made. There’s study materials all across the desk and Taehyung’s laptop is open, playing something quiet and indiscernible.

 

“You were studying?” Jungkook starts to retract his arm from Taehyung’s hold. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have interrupted. I’ll - “

 

“Hey, hey, hey,” Taehyung says quickly, pulling Jungkook back in place. “I wasn’t so much studying as testing the quality of textbook pillows. 2 in 1 deal, y’know?” He offers Jungkook a nervous smile. “Stay. I want you to - stay.” He swallows. “You look like you need to - to be around some - “

 

“Someone living,” Jungkook says bluntly, eyes lifting by habit to watch Taehyung’s forever scrolling numbers.

 

“Yeah,” Taehyung says softly. “That one.” He squeezes Jungkook’s arm then goes about helping to get Jungkook ready for bed. He gets Jungkook under the covers then grabs his laptop, notebook, and textbook, and sits on the mattress next to Jungkook. “I really was supposed to be studying,” he admits.

 

Jungkook nods and twists so that he lays on his stomach, cheek rested on the pillow, eyes drawn to Taehyung’s screen. He follows the words without reading them, until his eyes dry out and start to close, and under the gentle ministrations of Taehyung petting over his hair and twirling the strands around his fingers, Jungkook starts to nod off.

 

But he can’t. Not before - not before - he needs to tell Taehyung -

 

“You want to work trauma or ER, right, hyung?”

 

Taehyung’s hand stills in Jungkook’s hair. “Hmm?” He smoothes Jungkook’s hair back from his forehead then starts to play with the strands again. “Uh, yeah. That’s right.”

 

Jungkook closes his eyes with a sigh and curls a hand up by Taehyung’s hip. “Don’t.”

 

 

 

Jungkook wakes to minimal lighting and soft sheets and an empty bed. He curls up under the blankets, disorientated, then rubs at his eyes and rolls onto his other side. Taehyung’s drawn the curtains for him, keeping the room as dark as possible. There’s a glass of water on the bedside table for him too, and he reaches out to sip from it just as the door opens, slow and quiet, and Taehyung slips in, eyes on the textbook held open in his hands.

 

“Hyung,” Jungkook calls quietly, careful not to startle him.

 

Taehyung blinks up at him then smiles. “Jungkookie.” He slides the textbook onto his desk. “How you feeling?”

 

Jungkook sits up and rubs over his chest. “Yeah, good.” He slides nervous fingers over the rim of the glass. “Sorry about last night. And - and last week, too.”

 

Taehyung hums. “You don’t need to be sorry, Jungkookie. You should never be sorry for something like that.”

 

Jungkook nods slowly. “Did you manage to study much after I fell asleep?”

 

“Uh…” Taehyung rubs the back of his head. “Next question?” He laughs. “I was out not too long after you.” His eyes widen suddenly. “Are you hungry? You must be starving. Want me to get you something?”

 

“It’s all right, I’m not hungry enough for breakfast.” He smiles. “Thanks though, hyung.”

 

“Breakfast?” Taehyung laughs. “Jungkookie, it’s a little past 3 in the afternoon.”

 

Jungkook’s eyes go wide. “Eh?”

 

Taehyung beams at him. “But - “ He holds his textbook up for Jungkook to see - and there’s another diagram and Jungkook groans and flops back onto the mattress because god no not again. “You woke up at the perfect time!”

 

 

 

Jungkook lies on the bed, shirt off, whilst Taehyung kneels beside him and studies the textbook in his lap. The post-its on Jungkook’s chest are starting to itch and the fumes from the markers are getting to his head. He was never quite aware of just how many major veins and arteries were located in the human body. Now they stand out in black, blue, and red on his skin.

 

“Does this actually help, hyung?”

 

Taehyung flickers his gaze up from his textbook. “You think it doesn’t?”

 

Jungkook lifts his head to try look down his torso, frowning. “Well, with you, who knows.”

 

“Yah.” Taehyung laughs and jabs Jungkook’s side with his pen. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“You do some strange things for fun, hyung.” Jungkook fights not to wriggle when Taehyung starts drawing on his skin again. It tickles. “Hyung,” Jungkook whines. “Why do you keep making me do this? Why not Jimin? He’ll help you.”

 

“He won’t let me anymore,” Taehyung admits, slapping another post-it note down onto Jungkook’s chest.

 

“Wonder why,” Jungkook says dryly. He sighs and directs his gaze to the ceiling. “Wanna grab dinner after?”

 

“Sounds good.”

 

“You got long to go?”

 

“Are you hungry?” Taehyung leans over Jungkook on all fours so he can look him in the eye. He smiles. “I can go grab something for you if you’d like.”

 

Jungkook finds it hard not to fidget with Taehyung leaning over him like this. He wants to reach up and push Taehyung’s hair back from his eyes, or run his thumb along the lower lip of Taehyung’s smile. Jungkook swallows. “It’s good, hyung. I can wait.”

 

Taehyung tilts his head then smiles some more and shrugs. “All right. Let me know though! And I’ll be as quick as possible, promise.” He sits back on his haunches and examines his textbook again. He turns a page. “Actually…”

 

Jungkook props himself up on his elbows. “What?”

 

“Hey, Jungkookie…”

 

His tone makes Jungkook wary. “Yeah, hyung?”

 

Taehyung twists his textbook for Jungkook to see a diagram of the human brain. “Can I shave your head?”

 

“Can you shave my - “ Jungkook splutters and shoves the textbook away from him. Taehyung collapses in peals of laughter. “Hyung!”

 

 

 

Taehyung finishes 20 minutes later and hunts down some wet tissues at the bottom of his desk drawer. He chatters away happily as he scrubs the marker from Jungkook’s skin but eventually he goes quiet and cleans the marker away more gently.

 

“It’s persistent,” he mutters to himself, thumbing over one particularly stubborn mark on Jungkook’s rib. He frowns and scrubs a little harder. “Maybe I should have used board markers instead.”

 

Jungkook raises a brow and looks away from where he’s scrubbing at another spot just beneath his shoulder. “You used permanent marker?”

 

“…Maybe.”

 

“Hyung,” Jungkook groans and throws the wet tissue aside, only to grab another from the packet. “You got non-toxic markers, though, right?”

 

Taehyung scoffs at him. “Please. I want to be a doctor, remember?” He sighs and stands, stretching out his calves, before attacking another spot. “How you doing, Jungkookie?”

 

It’s murmured so softly that Jungkook can hardly discern the words at all, isn’t all that sure he actually heard anything, but Taehyung is making a point of not making eye contact and is pursing his lips and - Jungkook knows he’s worried. Jungkook looks down at the wet tissue in his fingers and starts to tear it apart.

 

“I’m ok, hyung,” he says quietly. He cracks a small smile. “You don’t need to be worried.”

 

“Is that why your smile is so sad, Jungkookie?”

 

Jungkook’s eyes snap up to meet Taehyung’s. “I - “ Jungkook grins, this time a little more in earnest. “Honest. I’m fine.”

 

Taehyung looks unconvinced and mumbles under his breath about not believing Jungkook and Jungkook being stubborn and - Jungkook’s grin grows more and more because he is fine - now, at least, because Taehyung - because Taehyung -

 

“You’re just a kid, Kook,” Taehyung murmurs. His fingers keep smoothing nervously over the one spot on Jungkook’s chest.

 

Jungkook takes Taehyung’s face in both hands and forces him to look up, laughs at Taehyung’s wide eyed stare and squashed cheeks, and gently shakes his head about. “Hyung,” he says, as clear as he can manage through his grin. “Thank you.”

 

Taehyung blinks at him owlishly a few times then manages a nod in Jungkook’s hold. “You’re welcome?”

 

Jungkook grins even wider.

 

 

 

Taehyung treats him to samgyeopsal for dinner, takes him to one of those unlimited servings places. Jungkook manages three whole platters of meat at Taehyung’s very stubborn persistence but eventually can’t eat no more. Laughing, he fights Taehyung and the tongs away with his chopsticks and spoon. When he slams the lid down on his rice, thinking that’ll end it, Taehyung merely tries force feeding him.

 

“Yah, hyung,” Jungkook splutters through his laughter, turning his head away from the lettuce leaf stuffed full of food pressed up against his mouth. “I’m not - “

 

Taehyung crams the food in past his teeth and smiles, satisfied.

 

When they do eventually leave, they’re met with cold winds and the beginnings of a downpour. They race to the convenience store across the road, almost slip on the tiles inside, and purchase an umbrella.

 

“It’s - very bright,” Jungkook says, looking at Taehyung’s choice.

 

“Isn’t it cool?” Taehyung exclaims, and Jungkook thinks Taehyung is much too excited about a yellow umbrella. “Let’s buy it. This is the one. This is the one, Jungkook-ah.”

 

Jungkook doesn’t argue any further. They purchase the damn thing then crowd underneath it when they step back out onto the streets.

 

“Fuck, the wind is just blowing it right under,” Jungkook says, teeth beginning to chatter. It’s cold and it’s wet and he’s not that much of a fan, really. He shrugs further into his jacket and shoves his hands into his pockets and shuffles after Taehyung, making sure that Taehyung is staying as dry as possible even if Jungkook’s left shoulder is getting wet.

 

“Thanks for today,” Taehyung says as they meander home. “It really does help, I promise.”

 

“That’s not the promise I care about, hyung.”

 

Taehyung makes a confused noise and looks at him with furrowed brows.

 

“Promise me you’ll use board markers next time.”

 

Taehyung laughs, links his arm with Jungkook’s, and nods. “Ok, ok, I pro- fuck!

 

Jungkook flails as he cops a face full of cold sharp rain. The wind has turned the damn umbrella inside out and Taehyung laughs and laughs as he tries to grab the edges and pull it back the right way. The rain is plastering his hair to his forehead and Taehyung is laughing too hard to be of proper use - but it’s contagious, and try as he might, Jungkook isn’t much help either because he’s trying really hard not to start laughing too.

 

“Hyung,” he says, shoulders shaking. “Hyung, grab - no not there - just - “ Jungkook gives up and turns his face to the sky, laughing. “It’s fucking cold, hyung! Hurry up!”

 

“Ok, ok, it’s done,” Taehyung tells him breathlessly, pulling Jungkook back to his side and under the cover of the umbrella. “There. Nice and dry. See?”

 

Jungkook snorts. “Don’t know about nice and dry, hyung, but sure, you - “ Jungkook cuts off, head swivelling to look out over the main road. He steps away from Taehyung, out from under the umbrella, and onto the curb. It’s raining hard, so hard that it’s really damn stupid of them to try walking home right now, but Jungkook pays the rain little attention. He can see the numbers. There’s about to be a multi-car pile up.

 

“Jungkook?”

 

Jungkook looks over his shoulder. Taehyung’s dropped the umbrella by his side and is squinting at him nervously through the rain.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

Jungkook whips his head back in the direction of the traffic. Taehyung - Taehyung can’t see this. Jungkook doesn’t want him to see this. He swallows. “Hyung.”

 

“Kook - “

 

“Hyung, I need you to trust me. You need to go.”

 

Go?

 

Jungkook nods jerkily. Maybe - maybe someone else will deal with it. But he’s here and he knows he - he’s supposed to -

 

“Jungkook, hey, talk to me. I don’t - “ Taehyung cuts off. “Is something going to happen?” It’s quiet. “Is that why you don’t want me here?”

 

Jungkook bites his lip. Time’s almost up. He turns quickly, focuses all his attention on Kim Taehyung, 1995, the boy with the scrolling numbers. His hair is dripping water into his eyes and he’s shivering from the cold and the umbrella is bright by his right thigh as he clutches at it with pale knuckles and Jungkook is drowning in adoration for this boy and -

 

“Close your eyes.”

 

The words come out raspy. Jungkook doesn’t even recall crossing to Taehyung, but he’s got Taehyung’s free hand clutched in his.

 

“Wh-what?”

 

“Close your eyes, hyung.” Jungkook licks his lips and tries for a smile. “Quickly.”

 

Time - time is -

 

Taehyung closes his eyes -

 

Jungkook holds Taehyung’s hand tighter -

 

Brakes screech behind them -

 

Metal grinds on metal -

 

Taehyung’s shoulders hunch up by his ears, lashes fluttering, eyes threatening to open -

 

Jungkook slides his other hand into Taehyung’s hair and crushes their mouths together.

 

 

 

(Jungkook walks Taehyung back into an alleyway, whispering “don’t look hyung don’t look” between trembling presses of lips. He cups his face in his hands and kisses him one last time, then makes sure the umbrella is held above his head again before Jungkook steals out onto the street to do his duty. 12 minutes later, he coaxes Taehyung into blinking open his eyes, links their cold, shaking fingers, and takes him home. Sirens blare behind them.)

 

 

 

Jimin opens the door before Taehyung can get his key in the lock. His face goes through a myriad of expressions and his gaze eventually settles on their saturated clothing and pale faces.

 

“I - I was gonna go meet Yoongi…” He trails off. “But I can - “

 

“We’re ok, hyung,” Jungkook says. He lifts Taehyung’s arm to show the umbrella dangling from his grip. “We bought a cheap umbrella. Didn’t help much.”

 

Jimin nods but doesn’t look entirely convinced until Taehyung pipes up with, “but how cool is the colour!”

 

Jimin laughs and steps out to let them in. “Hurry up and get into a shower, before both of you get sick.” He helps to hold the door open. “Oh - did you guys hear about that pile up a few blocks over?”

 

“Oh,” Taehyung says quietly. “Yeah. We - we - “

 

“I heard it from here,” Jimin says, eyes focused on Jungkook. Jungkook meets his stare head on, gives nothing away. “Sounded awful.”

 

“You’re taking the subway, aren’t you, Jiminie?” Taehyung murmurs. He twists his fingers around the umbrella nervously, gaze trained on its bright yellow handle.

 

“Yeah, Tae. Why?”

 

Taehyung nods slowly. “Good. The roads are slippery tonight.” He looks up and gives Jimin a tired smile. “Stay safe, Jiminie.”

 

Jimin frowns and nods once. “Sure, Tae.”

 

“C’mon, hyung,” Jungkook says quietly, tugging him away from the door. “Let’s get you warm and showered. See you, Jimin hyung.”

 

Jimin lets the door swing shut and Taehyung lets out whatever breath he’d been holding in a shaky exhale. His fingers slide anxiously over the umbrella and then he tries to shake it out, wetting the floorboards. He kicks off his shoes and Jungkook watches quietly, wonders if Taehyung will try shimmy out of his own skin next because he looks close to trying.

 

“Shower?” Taehyung croaks. He winces and rubs at his throat. He still hasn’t put the umbrella down.

 

“Taehyung…”

 

Taehyung stills at his name.

 

“Hey, hyung, you good?” Jungkook inclines his head to try see his expression better. His shoulders sag, voice softening even further. “Hyung…”

 

Taehyung sets the umbrella down carefully, leans it up against the wall, then clenches his hands together in front of him. “You didn’t have to stop me from seeing, Kookie.” He rolls his lower lip between his teeth. “If I want to work trauma or the ER then - “

 

“I told you not to,” Jungkook murmurs, and he doesn’t care how unfair it sounds. Taehyung - Taehyung shouldn’t have to see what Jungkook sees.

 

Taehyung doesn’t say anything else, just lowers sad tired eyes to stare at his clenched fingers before he turns and starts to shuffle towards the bathroom. Jungkook follows wordlessly. They stay silent, even as they strip down and climb into the shower together, letting the water thaw them out. Jungkook can’t stop staring at Taehyung’s numbers, watching as they spin and spin and spin and -

 

“Kook?”

 

Jungkook jerks to attention. “Sorry, hyung.”

 

“You ok?” It’s soft.

 

“Fine, just - thinking.”

 

“No, I mean - “ Taehyung catches water in his hands until it flows over. “After - after tonight. With the accident. Are you - “

 

“Am I, Jeon Jungkook, personification of Death, ok with tonight’s deaths?” Jungkook asks, and he means to be gentle about it but Taehyung’s face scrunches up like he’s eaten something sour. “I’m ok, hyung. Promise. But thank you for asking.”

 

But just like earlier today, Taehyung doesn’t look satisfied or convinced, so Jungkook turns off the shower and wraps a towel around Taehyung’s shoulders and focuses on getting them both dry before moving them to the bedroom.

 

They change into pyjamas then Jungkook suggests they venture into the kitchen to make popcorn but Taehyung tugs on his shirt and forces him back into place and - Jungkook tilts his head, expression calm, as Taehyung rakes his gaze over him. It’s heavy with concern and deep thought and it makes Jungkook smile.

 

“Hyung, you worry too much.”

 

“I’m always going to worry about you,” Taehyung mumbles, cheeks puffing momentarily as he pouts. He meets Jungkook’s gaze, eyes dark and knowing. “Just like you’re always going to try to protect me.”

 

Something in Jungkook goes still - then stirs violently. “Taehyung - “

 

Taehyung’s fingers curl into the collar of Jungkook’s shirt and then he’s crushing their mouths together much like Jungkook did not even an hour ago and something in Jungkook just - unravels. His hands find Taehyung’s waist, tugging him closer as his lips part beneath Taehyung’s. Taehyung’s tongue, hot and slick, is quick to map out Jungkook’s mouth, paying close attention to the back of his teeth and the roof of his mouth and -

 

“Off,” Taehyung pants between messy kisses. They stumble for the third time so far but neither pay any mind to it because Taehyung is pulling at the hem of Jungkook’s shirt and they’re separating long enough for Taehyung to tug it up over Jungkook’s head before they’re crashing back together again.

 

Taehyung’s shirt follows shortly after and then Jungkook’s lowering them both to the bed and nipping at Taehyung’s collarbones. Taehyung squirms beneath him, laughing breathlessly about how it tickles, before he’s dragging Jungkook up for another kiss.

 

Jungkook threads his fingers into Taehyung’s wet hair, tangles the strands around his knuckles, and tugs gently, turning Taehyung’s head to the left so that he can mouth at the pulse point beneath his jaw.

 

“F-fuck,” Taehyung breathes, heels pressing into the back of Jungkook’s thighs before he’s using them to pull Jungkook’s weight onto him.

 

“Hyung - “

 

“Top drawer,” Taehyung says, dipping his head to press open-mouthed kisses to Jungkook’s chest.

 

Jungkook doesn’t question it, just leans over to pull the drawer open and rifle through it until he finds a packet of condoms and some lube. He drops them onto the mattress by Taehyung’s head then kisses Taehyung again, licking into the back of his mouth as he rocks his hips down against Taehyung’s.

 

“Shit, Kook,” Taehyung hisses.

 

Jungkook grins, bites gently at Taehyung’s bottom lip, and rocks his hips again.

 

“Off,” Taehyung says again, but this time he’s pushing at the waistband of Jungkook’s sweats.

 

“What?” Jungkook teases, stripping Taehyung of his pants before dealing with his own. “These too?”

 

Taehyung grins up at him for the briefest of moments, all teeth and sharp edges, before he’s searching for the lube with one hand and pushing up to kiss Jungkook with the other.

 

For a moment it puts Taehyung’s spiralling numbers right in Jungkook’s line of sight - but then Taehyung’s pushing at Jungkook to fall back onto the mattress and Jungkook loses himself in the boy with the numbers that spin and spin and spin.

 

 

 

“Does this mean I can label you naked next time I need to study?”

 

Jungkook hums sleepily and turns his head, knocking foreheads with Taehyung. The room is dark and cool and Jungkook can feel sleep calling.

 

“The next time I study,” Taehyung says on a breath, curling up closer to Jungkook. “Can we - “ Taehyung breaks off to yawn loudly and Jungkook laughs quietly, turning onto his side to pull Taehyung into his chest.

 

“Sleepy, hyung?”

 

“You just fucked me into the mattress,” Taehyung says bluntly, “after having me walk home in the rain. So yeah, a little.” Taehyung’s lips brush over Jungkook’s shoulder. “How did you know, Jungkookie?”

 

It’s quiet. Jungkook hums at him, asking for more information.

 

“The crash. How did you - how did you know it was about to happen?” Taehyung’s fingers draw patterns on Jungkook’s skin. “Do you just get this feeling or - or what?”

 

Jungkook thinks it over, holding Taehyung to him closer. He nuzzles their noses together in thought. “Everyone has an expiration date, hyung,” he murmurs.

 

“That’s morbid…”

 

Jungkook laughs and presses his fingers into the spaces between Taehyung’s ribs. “No, hyung, I mean literally.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

Jungkook drags the tip of his nose over Taehyung’s cheek. “Well,” he whispers. “Everyone has these - numbers. Like a timer, I guess.”

 

“And you can see them?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Taehyung nods, satisfied. Jungkook waits for more, but it doesn’t come.

 

“You’re not going to ask, hyung?”

 

“Ask what, Jungkookie?”

 

Jungkook hesitates. “About your numbers.”

 

Taehyung chuckles quietly and presses a kiss to the underside of Jungkook’s jaw. “Why would I, Kook?”

 

Jungkook isn’t aware his eyes have closed until he’s blinking them open to stare at the red spiralling mess that is Taehyung’s counter. He rests his chin on Taehyung’s head and watches it spin. “Why indeed…”

 

 

 

(“I’m sorry that you can see them Jungkookie,” Taehyung whispers to him sometime later, sure that Jungkook is asleep just as Jungkook was sure Taehyung was asleep.

 

Me too, hyung, Jungkook thinks.

 

Lips linger at his temple.)

 

 

 

The heater is blasting strong inside the columbaria, leaving the air dry and stifling. Taehyung and Jungkook ditch their layers and drape them over their arms before wandering into the building’s depths. Jungkook guides Taehyung to the memorials they haven’t visited in a while, then holds his hands out to take the flowers from him.

 

“I’ve got most of the week off from class next week,” Taehyung says as he examines the flowers and picks his first. He plucks it from the group and bops Jungkook on the nose with it. “Let’s hang out, if you’ve got time.”

 

“Sure, hyung,” Jungkook mumbles, rubbing at his nose.

 

“Do you know how to make flower crowns, Jungkookie?”

 

Jungkook snorts. “I’ve already told you how careful I have to be not to wilt these flowers, hyung. Do you really think a flower crown is ideal for Death personified?”

 

“That’s neither a yes or a no,” Taehyung points out, selecting another flower. He bops Jungkook on the nose again and grins. “So, which is it?”

 

Jungkook grumbles and rubs at his nose once more. “I guess? I don’t know, hyung, I’ve never really tried. I think I know the concept of it.”

 

“Yes or no, Jungkookie.”

 

Jungkook heaves a sigh. “No, hyung.”

 

Taehyung gives his own sad sigh. “Shame. Neither do I.”

 

“Well if you really desperately want to make them, there’s this thing - I’m sure you’ve heard of it - it’s called the internet,” Jungkook says, and he starts to grin, because Taehyung’s already giving him a very bemused look, “and it has this other thing, called YouTube, and I’m sure if you’re clever enough - “ Jungkook comes to a stop.

 

“Jungkook?” Taehyung calls quietly. He steps up beside Jungkook and follows his gaze. “Did you know him?”

 

Jungkook shakes his head. “I - I - “ He frowns. “He was - he was one of mine.”

 

“Oh,” Taehyung says, and immediately opens the small glass door to slip a flower inside. It joins the photo frames and flowers and incense and expressions of love already crowded inside, and Taehyung smiles at the sight. “Was it - bad?”

 

“No,” Jungkook says. “It wasn’t. It was - easy. He passed in his sleep. His wife had passed two years beforehand. His son’s wife had just given birth eight months earlier to their third child, making it five grandchildren. He was - happy. But he was ready. And he was kind,” Jungkook adds softly, voice barely carrying.

 

“He must have been excited to see his wife again,” Taehyung says. He links his hand with Jungkook’s and gently pulls him further down the corridor.

 

Jungkook laughs. “You have no idea.”

 

Taehyung smiles at that and glances back at the memorial. His smile fractures. “Jungkookie… the ones we give flowers to. Do you - do you think some of them don’t get any flowers because they have no one to remember them?”

 

“Hyung…”

 

“What if one day no one remembers me, Jungkook-ah?” Taehyung whispers, coming to a stop. He rolls his lower lip between his teeth, lashes fluttering. “I don’t want to be forgotten…”

 

And Jungkook doesn’t know what to do, what to say, because suddenly Taehyung is so bare to him and his fear is so, so real, so tangible, that Jungkook can taste it in the air, so thick he could choke on it. He looks down at the flowers in his arms and chooses the nicest, brightest one. Then, wordlessly, he passes the rest of the bundle to Taehyung. He pulls the flowerhead from its stem, and then carefully, carefully, carefully, he curls his fingers around it until the flowerhead sits enclosed in his fist. He concentrates hard, knowing that he can’t fuck up the timing.

 

“Jungkook?” Taehyung says quietly, voice thick with sadness. “What - what are you -“

 

Jungkook opens his fingers slowly and smiles, relieved. It worked. The flower sits in his open palm, perfectly pressed and dried. He takes Taehyung’s hand and gently tips the flower into it.

 

“I - I don’t understand. What - “

 

“Now you know that someone will always remember you, hyung.” Jungkook meets Taehyung’s gaze, honest and sincere. “Always.”

 

Taehyung’s eyes widen and then they’re dropping to stare at the flower in his palm. He gnaws at his lower lip, looking caught between smiling and crying. He settles on a watery laugh. “There’s - there’s a laminator at uni.”

 

“Yeah?” Jungkook says quietly, smiling as Taehyung runs a gentle finger over the flower in awe.

 

“Y-yeah. I’ll take it to class with me tomorrow. That way - that way, it’ll stay safe, y’know?” Taehyung is biting at his lip again. He smiles shyly at Jungkook. “Thank you,” he whispers. “With every fibre of my being, thank you.”

 

Jungkook smiles back at him, then takes back the flowers and nudges him onwards.

 

 

 

Two nights later, Jungkook goes around for chicken and beer. Sitting on the kitchen counter with Taehyung’s phone, wallet and keys is the flower Jungkook gave him, laminated with care. Jungkook looks at Taehyung with wide eyes and Taehyung laughs, pulling Jungkook to the couch where the others are already waiting.

 

Jungkook looks back at the items over his shoulder.

 

They’re all the essentials Taehyung never leaves home without.

 

 

 

As promised, Taehyung organises for himself, Jungkook and Jimin to catch up the next week, and Jungkook finds himself in Itaewon because apparently Taehyung is ‘seriously vibing for some seriously fine foreign cuisine’. Jungkook snorts when he reads the text, pays the cab driver, and climbs out onto the curb. It’s a bright but windy day, and Jungkook huddles into his jacket and squints against both the sun and the wind as he takes the moment to get his bearings. He starts to walk.

 

Soon Jungkook can see Taehyung on the other street, crossing the road with Jimin to the subway exit they agreed to meet at, and Jungkook starts to smile at the sight of Taehyung bundled up in a long coat, scarf wrapped around the column of his neck, and head tipped back in laughter.

 

And then everything in Jungkook freezes in terror.

 

Taehyung’s numbers are still.

 

Jungkook stares, feels everything in him go weak with complete and utter horror because no, god no.

 

41 seconds.

 

That’s all - that’s all Taehyung has.

 

Jungkook feels the instinctive need to retch - and then he runs. Runs and runs and runs as fast as he physically can. Taehyung has made it to the curb - but he’s ducking back onto the street, going to pick up the - the - damn it Taehyung!

 

Jungkook regrets ever fucking giving Taehyung that damned pressed flower.

 

“Taehyung!” Jungkook yells, shoving through the crowd. People run 100 metres in less than 11 seconds. Jungkook doesn’t understand how Taehyung is so far away. “Taehyung! Jimin! Jimin grab him grab him grab him!

 

Taehyung stands from his crouch, pressed flower in hand, and looks in Jungkook’s direction. He spots Jungkook and grins, raising an arm to wave. The flower is held tight between his fingers. Jungkook sobs, bursts through a group of tourists - Taehyung’s counter - his counter - Jungkook sobs again, can see it happening at 33 seconds, can see the bike tearing around the corner through a red light, ready to sweep Taehyung off his feet and throw him on his head so hard he dies of severe cranial haemorrhaging in mere seconds.

 

No.

 

“Taehyung!”

 

No, no, no, he can’t lose him, he can’t - he can’t - he -

 

The bike tears around the corner.

 

Taehyung’s counter hits 35 seconds -

 

34 seconds -

 

33 seconds -

 

Taehyung!”

 

Everything inside of Jungkook screams in agony and he doubles over with the pain of it, releases it with an earsplitting agonised scream of his own, before he’s running again, bursting out onto the same street -

 

And barrelling straight into Taehyung’s living, breathing form. His counter spins and spins and spins.

 

“Jung-Jungkook,” Taehyung manages, staggering as he struggles to counteract Jungkook’s sudden weight. The bike continues on its dangerous path, weaving in and around cars, but long past the point of impact. “Hey, Jungkookie - what - “

 

But Jungkook just shakes his head and crushes Taehyung to him, one arm tight around his shoulders, the other cradling his head, and Jungkook sobs his relief and confusion and panic into the crook of Taehyung’s neck.

 

Jimin is beside them suddenly. “Is he ok?”

 

“I don’t know,” Taehyung says, one hand coming up to the small of Jungkook’s back. “Help me get him off the street.”

 

And Jimin does, hand sliding next to Taehyung’s as he helps the pair off the road, ignoring the honk of irritated drivers. And Jungkook doesn’t care, and doesn’t let go, even if it makes moving awkward, even if they trip getting up onto the curb - he isn’t letting go he’s not - he’s not -

 

“Hey, talk to me,” Taehyung murmurs, fingers pressing soothingly at Jungkook’s waist. “Is it like last time?”

 

“Your numbers,” Jungkook rasps, and instantly feels the jolt of fear that rocks through Taehyung. He shakes his head, holds Taehyung closer. “They’re fine, you’re fine. You’re ok.” He gasps for a breath and releases it with another sob. “Fuck. Fuck. I thought - I thought - “

 

“What’s he saying?” Jimin asks.

 

“I - I - “ Taehyung clears his throat and weaves his fingers into Jungkook’s hair. “He’s ok,” he eventually manages.

 

And as Jungkook starts to calm down, he starts to think because how, how, how - and then he starts to laugh through his tears because it just clicks and holy shit, it’s the only answer.

 

Taehyung’s numbers aren’t frozen and blurred like Jungkook’s, he can’t be Death, not with the way his numbers spin, and spin, and spin. But - but the attraction to the power found in funeral homes and cemeteries and columbaria, the way he identified Jungkook as Death so easily, the affiliation for medicine and children and animals and fauna - and - and -  fuck, the boy in the kid’s cafe -

 

And the way his numbers spin, and spin, and spin.

 

Jungkook keeps laughing, presses kisses all over Taehyung’s clothed shoulder, because of course, of course -

 

“Are you sure he’s ok?” Jimin mutters doubtfully. “I think he’s cracked.”

 

Jungkook ignores him, because now he knows, he knows.

 

Jeon Jungkook, 1997, is Death.

 

And Kim Taehyung -

 

Kim Taehyung, 1995 -

 

Is Life.

 

 

 

(Kim Taehyung, 1995, Life personified, smiles softly at him and uses the end of his scarf to gently dry the last of Jungkook’s tears. “You hungry, Jungkookie?”

 

Jungkook manages a watery laugh and nods.

 

“Good, because I’m fucking starving,” Jimin says.

 

Taehyung beams at them. “Let’s go, let’s go,” he sings, turning on his heel.

 

And like everything else with Kim Taehyung, the boy with the numbers that spin and spin and spin, this is something Jungkook doesn’t need to give further thought to. He follows.)