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I Always Lose Against You

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Donghyuck wasn’t sure when it started exactly. Maybe he’d been doing this since infancy, but every year on his birthday the guy in the cloak appeared briefly. The bet was always the same: Donghyuck could live another year so long as he won whatever challenge the cloaked man proposed. The first time he remembered was winning at Rock Paper Scissors, which was pretty much by luck considering he only did Scissors because he didn’t actually know the game yet and did a peace sign automatically. In all honesty, he thought it was a little unfair he was put in this position so young, but it seemed he had no choice.

On Donghyuck’s ninth birthday he bested the reaper at hopscotch in the neighborhood park, which wasn’t all that hard to do when the tallish, slender figure kept tripping all over his cloak.

“Maybe you wouldn’t have lost if you’d worn better clothes,” Donghyuck teased, still hopping on one foot back and forth between the squares.

The figure’s face had twisted in disapproval. “I’m a grim reaper, Donghyuck. This is what we wear.”

“Ok, well it’s dumb. How are you going to beat me dressed like that?”

The next year, when the guy appeared in loose black slacks and shirt, Donghyuck had been shocked. He’d still won the game of who could balance on one foot longer, though. Maybe because he was closer to the ground. From then on Donghyuck began to think carefully about this strange element of his life and wonder how exactly he was supposed to respond to having his own personal grim reaper.

“So you’re like, gonna keep coming around, Mr. Reaper?”

The tall, thin man had sniffed at him. “Yes. But don’t call me that.”

“Oh. Then what do I call you? Grim?”

“Doyoung hyung will do.”

 

Donghyuck’s tenth year was characterized mainly by panic and a manic obsession with becoming competent with both sabre and foil. Or, embarrassing homemade approximations of both. Equipment proved hard to come by.

“Mom! I need fencing lessons!” he’d begged, just days after his balancing victory. The reaper had left him with a strong implication that their next encounter would be at the point of a sword.

His mother...did not seem to get the hint.

“No.”

“Please! I really do!”

“Donghyuck those are expensive, you don’t need them. Find a cheaper hobby. It’s not like it’s a matter of life and death.” She hadn’t even looked up from her cooking magazine, flipping instead to a recipe for country fried steak and skimming a finger over the ingredient list.

“IT MIGHT BE.”

He didn’t get lessons. Instead, Donghyuck scoured the internet until he found a YouTuber named Jackson with a long playlist of instructional fencing videos, and wore a thinning line in his bedroom rug shuffling back and forth with a long twig in his hand. When Doyoung appeared the following June with two glinting weapons in tow, Donghyuck was as ready as he’d ever be.

“En-garde, kid,” the reaper said flatly.

Donghyuck replied, “You’re really making an eleven-year-old duel?”

“Looks that way.”

Five points later, Donghyuck learned that Doyoung had no idea how to fence at all, and won shortly thereafter with all the hits and no referee to say otherwise. Doyoung collected the sabres while Donghyuck performed a small victory dance.

“Why would you challenge me to something you don’t even know how to do?” the boy asked as the reaper made move to leave.

Black-clad shoulders shrugged. “Enjoy being eleven, Donghyuck.”

 

The basketball net hung high, high over Donghyuck’s newly twelve-year-old head in the deserted park where Doyoung greeted him the next year. Somehow, consistently, the park seemed to be empty and waiting for their next battle no matter what time the clock showed.

“I don’t play basketball!” Donghyuck informed his reaper, neck craning to look up at the woven rope.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Wanna do H.O.R.S.E. or a layup contest?”

The birthday boy flung out his arms in distress. “Hyung I’m a short theater nerd, I can’t do sports!”

“You learned how to fence from YouTube,” replied Doyoung, quirking an eyebrow accusingly, “I’m not giving hints or underestimating you again.”

“But I can’t!”

“Then perish.” The reaper tossed the basketball over to Donghyuck, his pass floaty, but the boy nearly believed he detected a spark of humor in the creature’s eyes.

Fifteen minutes later and two baskets short, Doyoung lay panting on the asphalt, Donghyuck beside him with the prospect of a thirteenth year of life ahead. “I thought you couldn’t play?” he wheezed, throwing a sore arm over his sweaty forehead.

Donghyuck turned his cheek against the warm court. “I guess gym class isn’t totally useless.” He grinned impishly, and the reaper chuckled.

 

The air was thick with impending rain and afternoon languor when Donghyuck met Doyoung next, pool noodle still under his arm from his recently ended party. His swim-trunks still clung damply to his legs and his tank top felt sticky, the sick-sweet feeling of a stomach full of birthday cake not quite passed.

“Happy birthday, Donghyuck,” smiled Doyoung. “I’ll race you to the end of the block.”

Donghyuck’s fear felt nearly as sluggish as his limbs. He looked down, and back up. “I’m wearing flip flops.”

A dark laugh broke out from the reaper’s lips. “Donghyuck, when will you learn to start being prepared for anything on your birthday?”

Perhaps it was the untethered potential energy of the coming thunderstorm, its promise of lightning sparking inside Donghyuck’s bones, or perhaps the growing concern over his yearly threat of death, but the boy’s composure slipped and he snapped.

“Oh, sure, that makes sense. I’ll just take a ski mask and boxing gloves to my pool party. ‘What do you want for your birthday, Duckie?’ Gee mom, could I please have Nascar driving lessons, and a pair of shoes from every major sport? I just don’t know what Good Ol’ Grim is gonna ask of me next year.”

“Wow,” blinked Doyoung, “you can wear my shoes, then, damn. Puberty’s really making you salty.”

“Well what do you expect, hyung? I’m thirteen and have the strongest existential dread of anyone I know.”  

A sudden somberness overtook Doyoung’s face, and he unfolded his hands from behind his back, arms hanging limply. “My shoes will likely be a bit big on you,” he said quietly, after a moment.

Donghyuck sighed. “Forget it, I’ll run barefoot. You call it.”

The pair lined up on the low side of the sidewalk curb, facing a stretch of concrete banked at the far end by a faded red stop sign. The boy kicked off his sandals and dropped his pool toy beside them. He felt short and wobbly next to the leggy reaper, his skin prickly in the humid air as he gathered whatever energy he could find inside him to run.

Donghyuck looked resolutely ahead. Doyoung looked at Donghyuck.

“Ready, set...go,” said Doyoung, and off they went.

In the end, Doyoung tripped over a rising bit of cracked sidewalk, and Donghyuck high-fived the stop sign with a whoop and a clang, then threw up birthday cake into the grass.

“You had the advantage, knowing the terrain.” Looking away with a grimace, Doyoung gulped in air. Donghyuck absently wondered why a grim reaper needed to breathe.

He wiped the back of his arm across his mouth and grinned. “Nah, you’re just clumsy, hyung.”

 

With age came maturity, Donghyuck thought, taking his fourteenth year one day at a time and with intentional determination to be prepared. In advance of June, he gathered items from around his home and borrowed this and that from his friends, and wondered with suppressed anxiety when his luck would run out. He googled soccer tactics when it got too overwhelming.

The morning was unexpectedly cool when he went to meet Doyoung in the park, approaching noisily with a backpack stuffed to bursting and making his teenage back strain under the weight. But he was ready.

“Literally I’m carrying every possible outfit, shoes, sports gloves...whatever you can imagine, I’m ready,” stated Donghyuck with confidence, chin held high as he met Doyoung’s eyes. He offhandedly realized he didn’t have to look up nearly as much as before to do so.

The reaper eyed the bag, and broke into a gummy, wide smile. “I was thinking checkers.” He held out a slim cardboard box, black and red.

“...to be honest, perhaps I’d rather die.”

He didn’t.

 

“Okay. I’ve put up with some weird shit from you. And I’m not saying it isn’t a relief to have something that takes less effort. But...what the hell. Who’s gonna be judge of that?” Donghyuck complained, gripping his cell phone tightly. He wasn’t even entirely sure if a grim reaper could take a selfie, if that was allowed, if the guy would even show up in a picture. But Doyoung had proclaimed his fifteenth birthday challenge a selfie contest, and there wasn’t anything he could do but whine.

“Language, Donghyuck. I brought a judge,” Doyoung clarified unexpectedly. A moment later a boy about Donghyuck’s age stepped out from behind his back, and Donghyuck wracked his mind to guess whether he’d been there the whole time.

“Hey. I’m Jaemin.”

Donghyuck went blank, emotionally speaking. “Oh. So, he’s gonna pick who’s cuter?...isn’t it kind of biased of you to bring your own judge?”

“Jaemin would rather die a second time than judge a cuteness contest non-objectively.” The look that the reaper gave the boy at his side seemed almost proud, and Donghyuck felt a twinge not unlike jealousy. A moment later, Doyoung’s expression soured to something more offended.

“That’s right,” confirmed the Jaemin boy. “Also there’s literally no way he can win this, you’re cuter by about a thousand percent.”

“Hey!”

“I cannot lie, hyung.”

While Doyoung stewed and Jaemin produced a silvery camera phone of his own, Donghyuck idly wondered what had killed the other boy to put him in such a position, at the right hand of a grim reaper. Had it been badminton? Perhaps...spitting watermelon seeds? Leapfrog? What game did Jaemin lose, at an age that couldn’t be any older than Donghyuck? When Donghyuck finally lost, would he end up with the same fate?

“Let’s see your pout, Hyuckie,” Jaemin teased, bringing Donghyuck back to his present task as he looped a lanky arm around the shorter boy’s neck. The touch felt eerily cold. Then the camera clicked, and his wide-eyed image showed back. “Nice.”

Doyoung’s picture proved, as expected, “far less adorable,” in Jaemin’s words. Still, Donghyuck thought it had been pretty cute. For a reaper. Doyoung sort of reminded him of a bunny.

“Guess Gen Z triumphs through technology for one more day,” mumbled the birthday boy. He cast a sideways glance at Doyoung, the reaper still glowering at his losing selfie. Feeling like it probably wasn’t allowed, but being as stealthy as he could manage, Donghyuck sidled up to Jaemin.

“Hey. Um, you died. Right? How did that...like, when it happened, what game were you...or was it a contest? Was it hyung that came on your birthdays, too?”

The other boy gave Donghyuck a look like the question was instead whether he painted the sky himself or if it was computer generated.

“Speed skating,” he replied easily.

Donghyuck’s jaw dropped. “He better not ask me to do that. We don’t even have a rink in town!”

Jaemin shook his head. “No, no, it wasn’t like this. It was an accident, for me. Doyoung hyung escorted me out of the hospital...or, my soul, I guess. First person I met in the afterlife. Haven’t been able to get rid of him since.”

“It’s not smart to chit-chat with the living, Jaeminie, you’ll get all attached,” scolded the reaper, stepping over and laying a hand on Jaemin’s shoulder. Donghyuck got the strangest feeling he’d do the same to him, if the touch wouldn’t immediately separate Donghyuck’s soul from his teenage body.

Donghyuck tightened his jaw around a thin smile. “See you in three-hundred and sixty-five, hyung.”

The reaper nodded. “And a quarter.” He turned, arm sliding to hang over Jaemin’s shoulders as the boy gave Donghyuck a friendly wave, and the two walked out of the park while Donghyuck watched. He was just fifteen that day, but he felt one-hundred.

At the edge of the grass, and nearly out of earshot, he heard Jaemin ask: “Hyung, while we’re here, can we go see my mom?”

Donghyuck’s stomach dropped to his feet, but he didn’t hear the answer, and a second later, they vanished.

 

On his sixteenth birthday, Donghyuck had a party waiting for him, and he was eager to get to it. In the twilight he stood a few steps from Doyoung, both persons concentrated on glowing cell phone screens.

“Done. Look.”

“God you...you found all of them? In eight seconds?”

“What, like it’s hard?” Donghyuck held up his phone, the sequence of emojis in perfect order in the typing box.

“Okay, Elle Woods. Congratulations, you get to live another year.”

Donghyuck bounced on the balls of his feet, leaning to peer at the reaper’s screen. He hadn’t found much. “...did you even find the snowman?”

“I know where the snowman is, I just...wanted to look at this...wavy thing…a little longer.”

Doyoung’s protests were met with laughter from the teen, enough that he had to shake his chocolate-brown hair out of his eyes and wipe tears from them. When he looked up again, he swore he caught the edge of a warm smile as Doyoung quickly turned away.

Exhaling into the darkening air, Donghyuck checked his screen again for the time, then peered down the street looking for the car that was supposed to pick him up soon. But Jeno was notoriously late, so he figured he still had time. He almost jumped to realize the reaper was still beside him.

“Um, is there a part two this year? A second round or something?”

The reaper shook his head, black hair held in place by a cap of the same color over it. If not for his deathly pale skin and impossibly black attire, he almost looked like any random young adult in town.

“I’ll wait with you,” Doyoung said simply, “till your ride comes. It’s getting dark.”

No matter how Donghyuck peered up at him, he couldn’t read the reaper’s face, couldn’t fathom the reason he’d do something like that. Perhaps he didn’t want something else to kill Donghyuck before he got the chance to win one of their games. Perhaps he was just bored. Either way, it was nicer waiting with someone else than alone, so Donghyuck shrugged and asked the question that had been bugging him all evening.

“What does a Reaper need a cell phone for?”

“Google Maps.”

 

Nothing was more laughable than the concept of a Try-Not-To-Laugh contest, and yet that was exactly what Doyoung chose the very next year. Donghyuck couldn’t help but wonder if the reaper was slowly losing his mind, bit by bit each year, choosing ever more absurd challenges.

He wasn’t even remotely surprised when Doyoung lost almost immediately.

“Doyoung...hyung, pull it together. It’s been like an hour. I have to leave for camp tomorrow, can we please be done now? See you next year? Doyounnng...it wasn’t that funny, everyone’s seen the “fresh avocado” vine six thousand times—”

“Wel-welcome. T-to...oh god...d-del taco!”

As the grim reaper, supposed Harbinger of Death and Omen of Ill-Fortune, rolled on the grass in fits of laughter, Donghyuck reached over and shut the laptop, rolling his eyes as he did so. The sun sat high, the sky clearest blue, he was seventeen, and he was going to live another year. His personal grim reaper had a laugh like music and warm, round eyes and would be back again next year like clockwork. Oddly, Donghyuck found himself looking forward to his birthday, and thought that maybe he had for a few years now.

 

It rained so hard on Donghyuck’s eighteenth birthday that he took the risk of rain boots to find his way to the park—if Doyoung wanted to play soccer this time, Donghyuck would have to manage. He inhaled deeply, expecting petrichor and the heady scent of damp wood chips, but got an unexpected breath of tangy, wet, rusting iron and truck exhaust, the rain making it difficult to see more than across the next street. A sense of foreboding crawled through his veins suddenly, and a nervous energy spurred him forward, replacing his earlier excitement.

He was not surprised to find the park empty. Even without the rain, he knew no one would have been around, for as long as Doyoung stayed present. He’d long ago filed this away as some subtle reaper effect, a rule of their world anytime they crossed into the living.

The grim reaper swung in gentle, creaking motion on the park swing, draped once again in his obsidian cloak after eight years without it. He looked up as Donghyuck approached, and from under the heavy hood the emptiness in his gaze sent shivers shooting down the boy’s spine.

“What’s with the get-up, hyung?” he asked, raising his voice above the rain. Doyoung stopped swinging and leaned his head against the chain, looking somewhere far to Donghyuck’s right.

“I’m a grim reaper. This is what we wear,” he replied, monotone.

Donghyuck blinked, wading inside his own confusion as the rain seeped through his shorts and jacket, the material of the latter slowly but surely defining the difference between ‘water resistant’ and ‘waterproof’.

“I guess it is. What’s on the menu for today? Tiddlywinks? A staring contest? Jumping jacks?”

The swing jerked back as Doyoung rose from it, the hem of his cloak bunching heavily at his feet and soaking in the mud and rainwater. As Donghyuck observed this, he noticed for the first time a long black staff lying beside him, at its top a sturdy knot of bone securing a razor sharp, curved blade. Instinctively, Donghyuck faltered a step; his reaper had never brought his scythe before.

“None of that,” said Doyoung, leaving the scythe where it lay and lifting an arm, one ghostly pale hand protruding from the black cloth up to his skinny wrist. Donghyuck recognized the motion right away, the loosely clenched fist achingly reminiscent of the first of their encounters in his memory.

“Oh, but we’ve done this before.” It felt almost silly to point it out, but he said so anyway.

“It’s not like we can’t repeat. Let’s just...hurry up and do it.”

“Hyung...are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” said Doyoung, in a tone the opposite of fine. “Shoot, or no shoot? Let’s get this done.”

Donghyuck twisted his wet fingers together anxiously, pushing the subject. “I don’t think you’re fine. What’s wrong?...is it...did I do something?”

Doyoung sighed like he was the one who might die.

“What could you possibly do? I see you once a year, we do a contest, you get to keep living, you deserve to get to keep living, honestly this whole thing is massively stupid...but of course it doesn’t matter what I say, no, I’m just a mid-level reaper in a multiple millennia-old bureaucracy, probably get farther trying to ride Cerberus up to the fucking Fates themselves...no. It’s not you. You’re just a kid.”

As Doyoung’s voice grew in volume Donghyuck watched his eyes, transfixed as tongues of actual flame flickered and bloomed behind them, his skin blackening around the sockets and cracking like rapidly drying charcoal. A hiss of steam sizzled in the air above the reaper, the rain reaching his hood only to become vapor seconds later, and Donghyuck shuddered as he was hit with the reality of their games again so hard that he lost his breath.

“...I...I really do have to die one of these times, don’t I?” he gasped, cold as ice despite the hot June air.

Doyoung’s flames turned on him and dimmed quickly, the black around his eyes fading back to smooth pale skin. His arms hung loosely, and he looked so, so sad. “Donghyuck...I’m sorry."

“Is this it? Is this the last one?” He didn’t think to text his friends. His room needed cleaning, he couldn't just leave a mess behind. Oh god, he didn’t even tell his mother goodbye before he left the house!

With a slow shake of his head, Doyoung assuaged an ounce of Donghyuck’s fear. He smiled—the sympathetic kind. “Technically...you could always still win again. It’s not impossible. But...I can’t keep tilting things in your favor anymore. My boss...the stakes have to be fair. Your scales are weirdly balanced at a perfect fifty-fifty all the time, which is why we do this. Most people have an expiration date, but it’s like the universe couldn’t decide on you.”

“You’ve been...cheating for me?”

“When you were a baby, I made up the dumbest contests. ‘Laugh first, Donghyuckie. Which of us is better at being a cute infant? Oh you are? Wow. I’m bested. Whoever is actually alive, wins. Oh no, I’ve lost again.’ It was so easy to lose like that.” Doyoung laughed gently, then dropped his gaze. “Doesn’t matter, I can’t anymore. Fair games only, from now on.”

“Hyung…”

Unthinking, Donghyuck reached out a hand, his palm open face-down as he stretched to find a way to soothe the sadness and anger from his friend. In an instant, Doyoung’s hand shot forward to meet his, stopping just an inch below, his fist tight to white knuckles below the summer tan of Donghyuck’s skin.

“Ah, you picked paper. I do tend to do rock a little too often. Maybe this wasn’t as fair as I thought.” As Donghyuck stood stunned, his heart racing inside his chest, Doyoung bent and picked up his scythe. The murderous weapon dripped soupy mud as he walked past Donghyuck, pausing only a moment at his side. “I’ll see you next year, Donghyuck. Stay healthy, till then!”

Donghyuck stared at his hand, raindrops rolling off its back, till finally his mind snapped free. He turned, quick, to find Doyoung at the edge of the park and his vanishing point.

“Hyung!”

His shout cut through the rain and the reaper paused, standing a moment before turning to meet Donghyuck’s burning stare. Although he was soaked through, Donghyuck felt nothing of the water on his skin, nothing of the drops sliding down his legs to pool inside his boots. He clenched both fists in determination and shouted again.

“I’m going to beat you, hyung! Every time! I’ll win them all!”

Even from the distance, he could see the wide crack of Doyoung’s smile. Although it couldn’t have been more than a whisper, Donghyuck caught the melodic reply:

“Of course, of course you will. I always lose against you.”

 

Over the years of his life, Donghyuck hadn’t considered much how he always new what time to end up in the park. At nineteen, he guessed it was something instinctual, or some kind of inkling sent from Doyoung that prompted him to make his way to the field of grass and playground. He did wish that, on this birthday in particular—after an eve of pre-birthday and schools-out drinking—the inner call hadn’t come at scenery-still-loading-o’clock in the morning.

Nevertheless, he trudged to the park in the early morning light, noting with an achy heart the distinct difference in atmosphere to his last encounter there. He pulled in a long breath through his nose as he walked, summoning energy through the scent of dew on early summer flowers, and forced his eyes open wide.

Doyoung stood next to the old drinking fountain, dressed in simple black slacks and a collarless button-down. He held no scythe, and faced away from Donghyuck, but the young man would know his reaper anywhere.

He stopped a few feet away, and Doyoung turned, his smile close-lipped and knowing, companionable.

“Happy birthday, Donghyuck.”

Donghyuck huffed, shifting his shoulders to loosen himself up and trying not to laugh. “Thanks,” he said, “I really hoped I’d be taller than you by now, hyung. But whatever.”

“Good thing that’s not the contest, then.”

A brief moment passed as they both giggled, softening then into silence broken only by chirping birds.

“Well,” Donghyuck finally asked, “what is, then?” He’d readied himself this time, in case it was the time. Not in any way to scare his family and friends, but enough to satisfy himself. Enough to be sure they knew he loved them.

Doyoung grinned at the question, a smile Donghyuck recognized as his most devilish.

“Ready for some times tables?”

“You’re not fucking serious,” Donghyuck immediately groaned, “I just finished school for the year! Calc kicked my whole ass!”

“Well, then some measly multiplication should be a breeze. And watch your language. Alright, best two out of three?"

 

::Epilogue::

 

No one played in the park on that warm, mild Sunday in June. No one dug in the white sandbox, or spun in the fast-turning wheel. The tennis court didn’t echo with a single hit and no bicycle chain whirred along the running path.

A man in black sat on the park bench, hands folded in his lap with perfect propriety and eyes closed to the sun. He looked young, healthy except for the unearthly pale of his skin, and impossibly still.

He wasn’t alone for long.

The one who walked slowly, carefully to the bench and sat beside him, just out of reach, was not young. White hair peeked out in fluffy hints from under a large sunhat and his deeply tan skin wrinkled and creased with years in the sun and air. He gripped a cane in his hand.

When he looked up to meet the gaze of the man in black, however, his brown eyes sparkled with life.

“I have a contest for us, this time, hyung.”

The man in black laughed, opening his eyes. “That’s my job.”

“In ninety-four years, don’t you think I can pick once?”

“I suppose, although it does seem like a good way to cheat.”

The old man tilted his head forward and winked. “You would know.”

“Get on with it,” laughed the man in black again, his teeth bright white against red gums. “What game will we play this year, Donghyuckie?”

Setting aside his cane and clasping his wizened hands over his knees, the old man smiled at his feet.

“I put a lot of thought into it, what I wanted to play if you let me choose. I really like what I came up with, so I hope you like it too.” He turned his gaze back to the man in black, and the grim reaper nodded at him to continue.

“It’s pretty simple. Whoever looks the most like they wash their clothes in charcoal, wins.”

The reaper blinked, a crease folding in his brow. As though he forgot what he was wearing, he glanced down at his own black pants, shirt, and shoes, then looked over the old man as well, taking in his bright orange hat, tie-dyed shirt and white shorts, sandals a splash of green. On the old man, there was not a speck of black.

“Oh, Donghyuck…” breathed Doyoung, eyes beginning to shine.

“No, don’t give me that tone,” chided Donghyuck, shifting slightly, “I’ve lived so long now. I know that despite what you said all those years ago, you’ve always been tipping things my way. No one has luck like this for an entire lifetime.”

“If anyone does, it’s you.”

Donghyuck chuckled. “Fair enough. But now I’m ready for it to end. I’m not a kid anymore, and I’ve seen most of my family pass away. You can’t keep me alive forever, you know.”

Doyoung heaved a sigh, nodding. “I know. And...you would see Mark again. You must want that.”

“So much.” The old man’s voice was heavy, pleading.

“There’s a lunar eclipse at the end of the month...I can come for you then.”

Lifting his eyes up to the sky, the sun forcing him to squint, Donghyuck shook his head, disagreeing.

“No,” he replied firmly, “there’s no need. Another month is all the same. And I want to die in the sun.”

Shoes scratched against the pebbly concrete as Doyoung moved, standing only to sink to a knee in front of the aging man, close but not quite touching. Donghyuck looked down at the sound, the sunhat once again shading his face, and with it the face of his oldest friend.

“We’ll go quietly, you won’t even feel it.”

“Doesn’t matter, I trust you anyway.”

“You can be sixteen again, if you want to.”

Donghyuck laughed. “I’ll ask Mark what he thinks. If he’s still twenty-nine, he might have a problem with that.”

They both laughed together, like they had so many times, and finally Doyoung held out his hand.

As Donghyuck reached for it, the reaper couldn’t help but ask, “Why does it still feel like you’re beating me again?”

Warm, tan-wrinkled skin met with cool, pale skin, and as their fingers clasped Donghyuck smiled a last time.

“I did tell you I would always win, hyung.”

-