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Watch the stars (and see yourself running with them)

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Time, like space, is just another physical dimension. A measurement, a label put onto something so big, so far beyond our comprehension that it should not be so easily summarised in just a few letters, the real implications of it squeezed tight in the spaces in between characters and spilling out where a mere word can't contain them, like colourless ink adding to an empty sheet of paper full of things we cannot understand.

Time is relative, but such has never mattered on earth; it doesn't matter that six years passed on some nameless star further away than our imagination stretches while someone made and finished their breakfast and maybe got to work. It does not matter that a lifetime here might be six lifetimes there.

Time, so it has been said, is inevitable. It runs silently in the background, like a spring that never dries or a tree that never stops growing, and though it seems to pale in comparison to phenomenons so much more imminent- hunger, poverty, suffering- in the end, it is the only thing that no one can escape.

Next to the sheer vastness of the universe, a single planet such as the earth, hidden in a galaxy comparatively small, seems terribly insignificant. But underneath layers of space and atmosphere and physical dimensions, concealed by all the hard facts and the science behind, lie the different fates of an entire population- each man, woman and child has their own. United and over time, the suffering of the single person amounted to a general state, to catastrophes on first national, then international scale. Perhaps there were too many of them, those unfortunate fates, and all together they flooded the land and drained the ocean and almost pulled time- on earth- to a stop.

Overpopulation, that was the diagnosis to a seemingly incurable disease, so many years ago. Called and predicted, years before that. In the end, not finding a cure led- leads- to gripping the disease by the root and ripping it out, forcefully so. Solutions are often found by trial and error, and this, some whisper, is a drawn out trial that has long revealed itself as a mistake.

None of this- the physical theories, the cosmology and mathematics behind, and maybe not even the past that led up to this, is of any concern to the people trapped in the now. Time, nevertheless, is the first and foremost thing on their minds. Most of them spend a considerable amount of it throwing glances at the numbers on the inside of their arms, always moving, always counting down.

Time may not be alterable, but it can be influenced in other ways, after all.

Jungkook hasn't spared his numbers so much as a look for quite a while. He takes to catching glimpses of other people's instead, an unsettling habit he can't quite shake. Right now, he's eyeing Taehyung's as the other pushes a shot glass across the table and towards him.

"My eyes are up here," Taehyung jokes, and he's smiling, but there's an underlying seriousness resounding with the words. Jungkook takes the glass and looks up to meet Taehyungs gaze.

"You're running out," he states.

"Cheers", Taehyung replies, and throws his shot back.

 

-

 

Jungkook's dreams mostly consist of numbers. Colourless and mechanic, thousands and thousands of numbers running before him like a code he can never decipher. He tells his mother, once, and she assures him he has nothing to worry about; their family won't run out of hours any time soon. Jungkook thinks of long nights spent in the other part of the city, down by the river, he thinks of bright eyes and flashed smiles and the warmth induced by alcohol and laughing for too long, and he doesn't say anything.

For all the endgame theories that people came up with back in the day, sometimes on the brink of madness, none of this was ever predicted. Not even considered. Had it been, it most likely would have been written off as sheer insanity.

Jeon Jungkook first finds out what kind of world exactly it is that they live in when he is ten years old. Growing up, he didn't much question the numbers on his arm. Everyone around him had them, his parents, his friends, his teachers. All of them had different counts glowing softly under their skin, the numbers ever-changing, but Jungkook's safely gravitated somewhere around 50, so he never felt that there was any reason for concern.

On the morning of his tenth birthday, Jungkook is awoken by the sunlight streaming into his room through the big window on the side facing east. He blinks, eyes a little bleary, not quite open yet. As his thoughts scramble to catch up, he remembers the date. In the middle of running a hand through his messy hair, Jungkook's eyes fly open. He lowers his arm, but something catches his attention. The numbers on it have jumped. The blue digits now spell out 65:138:06. Jungkook watches as the six merges into a five.

Later on the same day his father will tell him, though in the gentlest way possible: the numbers on his arm are a countdown to his death.

 

There are other things, things Jungkook doesn't learn until much later.

Once, the increase in disparity all over the world could be acredited to globalisation- a nasty side effect that may or may not have been foreseen, but that no one did anything about either way- prosper here led to hunger there, and maybe, in the end, the sought out high standard never was achieved, simply because while on one end the mighty and powerful got richer, the other end had to bear the consequences. What it boiled down to, really, was money. Now, with a currency of equal import and vital influence added, what do you think the world looks like?

 

Jungkook stays blissfully unaware for a long time. Lucky enough to be born into a wealthy family, he isn't confronted with struggles of any sort as he grows up. He barely leaves their apartment complex, much less their part of town- he has everything here, after all. He asks his parents what lies beyond the fences once and once only, but instead of an answer he gets a warning. So Jungkook doesn't pry, doesn't look, doesn't go.
It lasts for a while. But his teachers tell him about how big the world is, about how much of a history it has, of its unwavering beauty, still so breathtaking in all its wonders despite the old age. A thought steals itself into Jungkook's mind; small and hesitant at first, but it soon grows into a dream and buries its claws into his conscious.

 

The truth is this: never has the world been as divided as it is today.
Where Jungkook grows up sheltered, shielded from all the pain this world carries, Taehyung is born right into the middle of it. He learns to check his count and to calculate just how much he can spare for food without getting dangerously far into the low numbers. Out in the poor parts of the city- the country, the whole world- the people don't have money, so they pay with what little they have: time. Taehyung learns what hunger feels like, real hunger, and after the while the pain of an empty stomach and from the cold becomes familiar.

When Taehyung is fourteen years old, the cold catches hold of him. It doesn't loosen its grip, even as spring comes around and his mother stows the thick blankets away. He doesn't feel the first rays of sun; the warm meals his mother makes every once in a while don't taste like anything as time moves along. In the end, there is only a choice to make. Medicine, out here, costs more than most can afford. Time, unlike money, isn't available on loans. Taehyung's mother comes home bearing tiny bottles and packages of pills. Her arms are covered by long sleeves despite the warm weather, and Taehyung learns what loss feels like, in addition to the hunger and the cold.

 

-

 

"One day," Jimin announces as he walks in and slams a sixpack of beer onto the table, "one day I'll give everything away but a few years, two or three maybe, and then I'll leave this place. I'm gonna go and see the world, boys." He opens his bottle and looks up at them. His smug grin matches the glint in his eyes.

Taehyung laughs. "You've been saying that for years." Jungkook nods and takes a beer for himself.

Jimin shrugs. "I'm just waiting for the right time, is all."

Taehyung tilts his head to one side. It's a habit of his, one Jungkook has come to know along with many others. Taehyung is one of the most unpredictable people he's met, but he has his patterns too. When something piques his interest and he starts thinking about it, for example, he tilts his head to the left.

"When's that?" he asks. There's no mock to his voice, just genuine interest.

Jimin shrugs again. "I'll know it when I see it."

"You can't see time," Jungkook murmurs into the opening of his bottle. Jimin turns towards him.

"What was that, Kookie?"

Jungkook ignores the nickname in favour of peace and avoidance of possible unwanted hair ruffles.

"You can't see time", he repeats.

A weird look makes its way onto Jimin's face. He raises his arm, and for a moment Jungkook thinks it's for a toast, but then Jimin pushes his sleeve up with his free hand.

"Looking at it right now, aren't you?"

It's silent for a moment. Jungkook stares at Jimin's numbers. They read 07:019:05. Jungkook watches the five change to a four right before his eyes. He can feel Jimin's gaze boring into him.

Next to him, Taehyung coughs. "Where are you going first, Jiminnie?"

And just like that, the tension is broken. Because this, this is familiar territory, an old game they play every once in a while. Jimin will tell them of his plans to see the world, they'll ask him where he wants to go first. Jimin gives them a different answer every time.

Today, he says: "I'm thinking- Rome."

Jungkook raises an eyebrow, while Taehyung nods appreciatively.

"I saw it in one of your books, Kookie," Jimin explains. "The yellow one with the frayed cover."

"That one's really old," Jungkook says. He drinks a sip of his beer. "Rome's gone."

Jimin stops mid-motion. "Oh", is all he replies. He takes only a few seconds to regain his composure. "Well. Somewhere else, then."

He raises his bottle for real this time, and when they toast, Taehyung yelling something about lost empires and old times and seeing all the world has to offer, a genuine smile slowly spreads on Jimin's face, until it reaches his eyes and Jungkook finds himself smiling too. As he turns and looks at Taehyung, Jungkook thinks that maybe he doesn't mind that he will never see Rome. Maybe not even the world. There are books about the world, he's been taught about it for half his life, has memorised all the hard facts- but Taehyung is here, in this city, and the only way to memorise the way his entire face lights up when he laughs is to stay right next to him.

Later, Jungkook pulls Jimin to the side. Taehyung is in the corner of the room, crouched next to the stereo and scrolling through Jungkook's phone, undoubtedly trying to decide on which horrible oldie to play next. The speakers are still blasting something Jungkook doesn't even recognise- his music library has long been handed over to Taehyung- so there's no way Taehyung could hear them.

"Hyung," he starts, tone careful. Jimin's head snaps up. Jungkook rarely ever calls him hyung- they forgo honorifics and formalities, now. Jungkook continues before Jimin can get a word in.

"I could give you some of mine, you know? I don't mind-"

Jimin's shaking his head, and Jungkook stops. He already knows what Jimin is going to say next.

"No, Jungkook." His tone is uncharacteristically sharp. Jimin is all soft smiles and crinkling eyes and high pitched laughter, but after all, he comes from the deepest parts of the city. He partly raised himself, the dark alleys and sleazy pubs did the other part. Underneath the kind exterior lie a sharp tongue and sharper movements.

Jimin takes a step towards him. He's standing straighter now, his shoulders tense.

"Stop worrying about time." It sounds oddly like an order. Jungkook considers talking back for a brief moment only- then he nods, looking down at his feet in something akin to defeat. "Sorry, I just-"

This time he's stopped by Jimin gently placing a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't apologise, kid. You mean well. Just don't bring it up again. We have an agreement." He turns his head in Taehyung's direction. Jungkook follows, and finds that Taehyung is looking at them. The phone lies discarded on the floor by his feet. There's a thin line between his eyebrows.

Jimin's voice pulls Jungkook back. "All three of us," he says, voice low and a lot less cutting than before. Jungkook nods numbly. Jimin steps away.

 

-

 

When Taehyung is sixteen, he thinks the whole world is against him. He meets a boy one day, in a part of the city he's never been to before, and he tells Taehyung that no one has time to be against anyone- it's just that everyone is fighting exclusively for themselves. The boy introduces himself as Park Jimin, and Taehyung soon learns that Jimin doesn't really live by what he told Taehyung when they first met, down in some narrow street with water dripping from the walls reaching towards the sky.

Taehyung will tell Jungkook the same thing, much later, but Jungkook never quite believes him.

 

Among all the theories and laws that scientists have provided us with, one stands out in its utter simplicity. Murphy's Law, the rule to call out the perceived perversity of the universe: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. No one is quite sure of its origin; some say it was coined by Edward Murphy some time between 1948 and 1949, others argue that the matter had first been described- if unnamed- in a meeting report by engineer Alfred Holt from 1877. Holt wrote: 'It is found that anything that can go wrong generally does go wrong sooner or later, so it is not to be wondered that one prefers the safe to the scientific.'

Further back, on the 23rd of June, 1866, mathematician Augustus De Morgan wrote the following: 'Whatever can happen will happen if we make trials enough.'

(In reality, it is us who give Murphy's Law relevance. When life goes well, little is made of it. Do things go badly, however, we look for reason.)

Jungkook leaves his books behind and climbs over the fence at the end of their street three weeks after his seventeenth birthday. The road simply continues behind the barricades, straight ahead, away, inviting. As Jungkook follows its lead, the buildings to his left and right turn from shining white to dull grey. It is as if they duck under the weight of the world, cowering just above to ground. They look weary, too, Jungkook thinks as he walks past them. The facades are crumbling, most of the windows are smashed, the shutters hanging from rusty hinges. The asphalt beneath shows more cracks as the road progresses, until it vanishes completely and makes way for a loamy path of shingles and dirt. But Jungkook doesn't stop, doesn't turn. His feet carry him further away from home. After a while, the white fence and the houses behind are nothing more than a thin line on the horizon. With the dilapidated buidlings framing it, it looks oddly out of place; alien, almost.

Until this day, Jungkook can't explain why he went back after that first time. Maybe it was because after having seen something other than their polished complex, something seemingly much more real, returning to his books and the quiet family dinners felt oddly pointless.

The second time Jungkook goes to explore the other part of the city- because that's all it is to him, at that time, just curiosity, detached interest, maybe like a scientist observing a a new phenomenon, something unknown- that time he meets Kim Taehyung.

As is human nature, closed doors with a promise of a new world behind demand to be opened. Taehyung becomes Jungkook's gate to the other side, but in return, he tells Taehyung all there is to know about the separate world behind the fence. He soon runs out of things to account, so he starts bringing Taehyung books instead. Taehyung, with his mind always far away from where his body is, takes a particular liking to astrology, so after a while they start meeting closer to the outskirts of town, where the sky is less clouded and the stars are more visible. They make it a tradition, a routine that soon becomes as vital to Jungkook as are eating and sleeping.

 

Two years later finds them lying in the very same spot they first came to on their quest for the stars, as Taehyung calls it. Jungkook spreads his jacket on the hard concrete and sits down, then pats the empty space next to him. It's more of a habit than it is a gesture, because Taehyung has been sitting down right beside him for the past two years, and Jungkook never really had to ask in the first place.

They lie back, crossing their arms behind their heads, and Taehyung talks about the universe; about stars and galaxies and black holes and everything far away. He points his fingers at the sky, from time to time, as though to indicate the general direction of whatever he's talking about. Jungkook hasn't followed his motioning hands for quite a while now. Instead he takes to watching Taehyung's profile as the other looks up at the sky and speaks of planets millions of light years away.

Jungkook doesn't have much use for things that intangible, though. Taehyung is right here, just an arm's reach away, and he has the stars in his eyes and the sun in his smile.

 

-

 

The three of them do have an agreement. They don't talk about their counts. Jungkook remembers reading about an old expression when he was younger, one that has long since vanished from common vocabulary. Something that, long ago, was said without a second thought: 'to give someone some of your time'. No one says that anymore, not when it has taken on an entirely new meaning. People don't give time. Most have none to spare, and those who do know best to keep it to themselves. Jungkook doesn't much care about these conventions, though, so a while after he first meets and befriends Taehyung, he transfers some of his years to the other boy. Back then, it seemed only logical; Taehyung's count had been dangerously low and Jungkook's had always been unwaveringly high. He had no reason not to share, Taehyung was his friend, after all.

Taehyung, free from social norms as though he normally is, had a different opinion on that.
Jungkook recalls quite clearly the way Taehyung's entire demeanor had changed, how his features hardened and his eyes turned icy.

"Don't ever do that again, Jungkook," he'd said. He hadn't even been looking at Jungkook, just stared straight ahead, mouth pressed into a thin line.

Jungkook doesn't, after that. He never quite gets why Taehyung won't accept his help, but he doesn't ask. Instead, he takes to helping in other ways; buying food and other necessities with his time, mostly under the pretense of needing them for himself.

 

When Jungkook is eighteen years old, his mother catches him on his way to Taehyung. He's just about to climb over the fence at the end of their street when he hears his name being called.
He doesn't listen as his mother scolds him, doesn't argue either. After that, he doesn't see Taehyung for more than a month. His mother watches him closely. Jungkook fills his empty days and nights with reading up on astrology. After sundown, he sits outside on the veranda- the summer nights are mild- and watches the stars. It makes him feel a little closer to Taehyung, but at the same time, Jungkook has never felt so alone.

The next time he sees Taehyung, their surroundings muted by the night over their heads but relief clearly tinting Taehyung's features in nothing but warm colours, Jungkook makes a decision. A few weeks later he packs his belongings, takes as much money as he can, and climbs over the fence for the last time.

 

One night, more than a year later, Jungkook asks a question that has been burning on the tip of his tongue for too long.

"Taehyung," he begins carefully, deliberately not looking at the other. He can feel Taehyung shift beside him, turning his attention away from the sky and focusing on Jungkook.

"Yeah?"

"Why-" Jungkook swallows and licks his lips. He starts again. "Why won't you let me give you any of my time?"

Taehyung's arm is touching his. It tenses as soon as the question is out, the words hovering heavy in the air between them.

"Jungkook", Taehyung sighs. He sounds tired. Jungkook forgets sometimes, forgets where Taehyung comes from, forgets what he's lost.

"Can't you just accept it? Like a present? My parents used to give me time for my birthdays all the time, you know."

Taehyung sits up. He's looking down at Jungkook, now, and Jungkook suddenly feels very small.

"And do you want to be like your parents?"

It stings, although Jungkook can't quite put his finger on the reason. He takes a deep breath, ready to fire back, but then he just exhales instead. The sky above them is cloudy tonight, the stars barely visible.

"I thought me running away from them made the answer quite clear." He closes his eyes, then, because he's afraid Taehyung will see the unspoken words in them. I left them for you, is what Jungkook doesn't say. It stays silent for a while, after that. Jungkook tries his best not to listen for any sound of movement from Taehyung, but with his eyes closed and no noise other than the far sounds of the city, it's hard. There's shuffling, after a while, and when Jungkook finally opens his eyes again, Taehyung is standing on his feet. He's offering Jungkook his hand, and his expression is kinder, now. "Let's go," he says, "Jimin's probably waiting."

That, Jungkook knows, is the end of this conversation. To his surprise, Taehyung speaks up as they walk back through the narrow alleys, shoulders brushing every other step.

"It'd be like taking life from you. Like giving you a wound, not bad enough to kill you, but enough to shorten your life a little."

Jungkook stops mid-step and turns towards Taehyung.

"That's not- that's not how it is, though."

Taehyung comes to a halt too. His eyes are as dark as the night sky above when he looks at Jungkook. Then he looks down, hefting his gaze to his own feet. His worn out shoes are almost the same colour as the dirty ground.

"What is and what isn't doesn't change how I feel about it", he murmurs.

"But everyone takes time from others, all the time," Jungkook protests. "When I go to the market and buy food, does that make the cashier a murderer?"

Taehyung lets out a little laugh. "Maybe", he says.

Behind them, a lantern flickers. A door slams, and a few young men stagger out of a pub. Jungkook peeks inside; the room itself is probably darker than the street they're standing in.

"So we're all murderers", he concludes jokingly.
Taehyung is still smiling, but it isn't audible in his voice when he replies. "Maybe."

 

Jimin greets them wearing only boxers and a thin blanket that's hanging off his shoulders. In response to Jungkook's raised eyebrow, he says "what, are you missing your parents proper attire?"

"There are moments when I do", Jungkook replies. Taehyungs laughter sounds loud and infectious through the flat.

"You missin' the cooks and maids too, Kookie? I could put on a maid costume, if that comforts you." Jimin has that look on his face now, all mischief and suppressed laughter. Jungkook chokes, Taehyung snorts.

For all Jungkook is concerned, it could've aways just been the three of them. After he befriends Taehyung, getting closer to Jimin comes naturally. Somewhere between him leaving home and falling in love with Taehyung, he becomes friends with Jimin, too.

They give each other something to hold on to. Each of them has been alone, before, in their own way respectively. Taehyung lost what little he had- his family- too early. Jimin left home to come up for what he needed on his own, simply because he couldn't bear seeing his parents cut back and suffer, all for their only son. Jungkook, though he had both security and family growing up, was nothing if not lonely for the first seventeen years of his life.

The three of them do the best they can. Part time jobs and Jungkook's savings get them through. In a city as big as this, a gaping hole that swallows people alive if they get too close to the center, having friends like that might just save you. Sometimes, though, when Jungkook goes out to watch the stars with Taehyung, he feels more lost than ever before. Taehyung asks, him once, about the wistful and faraway look in his eyes. So Jungkook tells him. Tells him how growing up, he wasn't the slightest bit aware of what's out there. No- he corrects himself- not 'out there'. Right outside his door. Just a step out of it, a few down clean streets lined by tall, proud houses. A jump over the fence.

He tells Taehyung that now that he knows, how could he not feel- and that's where he stops.

"Feel what?" Taehyung inquires.

"I don't know. I was going to say empty, maybe, but that's not it." Jungkook pauses and thinks. "It's not sadness, either," he adds. Taehyung is silent, so he continues. If he can't name the feeling, maybe he can make Taehyung understand in some other way.

"When we come out here, to the edge of the city, and stand on the roofs, and I can see past all the gray and the concrete-" Jungkook shifts under Taehyungs gaze, suddenly conscious of every single word he says. "I just wonder. If it's the same, out there. All over the world. And then I realise that I know the answer."

He looks at Taehyung searchingly, almost pleadingly, wordlessly asking him if he understands. Taehyung simply watches back. His hair is sticking up from when he rested his head on the ground to look up, and there's a bit of dust on his cheek. Between his brows is a small line, one that Jungkook categorises into Taehyung considering what to say. He finds himself unable to look away. Taehyung licks his lips, then he speaks up.

"Jimin knows that too. And yet he wants to go out and see it for himself. Maybe he's looking for something that isn't... like this. I think that's a form of hope."

Jungkook's tongue feels heavy in his mouth. He swallows.

"I just dont- I don't see it." His voice cracks a little, and he breaks Taehyung's gaze to look back out at the mountains instead.

"That's why I look at the stars," Taehyung says, but for once he's not watching the sky, he's watching Jungkook.

 

-

 

"The stars are old," Taehyung tells Jungkook, once, over a shared bowl of soup. It could be summer or winter or any season, then or now- it doesn't matter. "They're so old, the earth must seem terribly young and insignificant to them."

Jungkook sets his spoon aside to refill his glass of water.

"You make it sound like they have a conscious. Like they're alive."

"Maybe they are. Who would know?"

Jungkook smiles. "You're the one sucking astrology's dick. You tell me."

Taehyung, with a spoonful of soup halfway to his mouth, shrugs. Some of the soup spills onto the table, but he doesn't notice. "There are some things science can't explain."

The scientific side to it is this:

Stars are luminous spheres of plasma held together by nothing but their own gravity.
A star's life begins with the gravitational collapse of a gaseous nebula made of material composed primarily of hyrdogen, along with helium and traces of other, heavier elements. Its internal pressure prevents the star from collapsing further under its own gravity.

Once the hydrogen fuel at the core is exhausted, any star with at least 0.4 times the mass of the Sun expands to become a red giant. It evolves into a degenerate form, recycling a portion of its matter into the interstellar environment, where it will contribute to the formation of a newer generation of stars with a higher proportion of heavy elements. (Meanwhile, the core becomes a stellar remnant; a white dwarf, a neutron star, or, if it is sufficiently massive, a black hole.)

Jungkook sometimes wonders how many nebulas had to collapse in order to create someone as bright as Taehyung. Taehyung often tells him about the stars, when they're lying on a rooftop during mild summer nights, the concrete beneath them still warm from the sun of the day, or sometimes- and those are Jungkook's favourite occasions- when Jungkook gets home late from work, with a troubled frown on his face and the weight of the misery he sees day in day out on his shoulders.

One night he gets home and walks past Taehyung with barely so much as a greeting, ignoring Jimin's offer of leftover stew and heading straight to bed. Jungkook curls up under the blanket, facing the wall, and forces himself to take deep breaths. He can't close his eyes, because unbidden images will drown him if he does, so he stares at the tinted white of the old tapestry. He doesn't blink for too long, and it crumples, shifts, and rebuilds itself- it reminds Jungkook of the white noise on the TV back at his parent's house, now. Not long ago, he would have called it home. Jungkook blinks as his eyes start to water, and there's a chink in the wall from when Jimin had thrown a bottle straight at it, and then bed dips under the weight of someone sitting down next to him. Jungkook doesn't react.

"Hey, Guk. You alright?"

It's Taehyung. His voice is hushed, but the concern rings clear through it. Jungkook makes a non-committal sound. Taehyung sighs and shifts until he's lying down next to Jungkook.

"Hey," he says again. Two fingers tap Jungkook's shoulder, once, twice, like a heartbeat. "I know it's hard sometimes, but we've got this. I do, and you do too. And if you dont-", Taehyung pauses, taps his fingers against Jungkook's shoulder again- "then I got you."

His voice is low and has a calming quality to it that has been drawing Jungkook in ever since he first heard it. He turns to lie on his back and stare at the ceiling instead of the wall.

"Yeah. But that's not it."

"Okay," is Taehyung's answer, simple and enough, because he's always understood Jungkook even without many words.

His fingers still, not leaving Jungkook's shoulder. Jungkook, eyes still fixed on the ceiling, counts to three, then he turns to face Taehyung. He's greeted with a smile.

"Hey," Taehyung whispers, for the third time in only a few minutes. "Wanna hear about the stars?"

There are a million things on Jungkook's mind, more, he thinks, than the amount of stars and planets and galaxies Taehyung could name, but he says yes, because this is what he knows.

And Taehyung tells him about the first star chart to be written and the first supernova to be observed (1534 BC in ancient Egypt and 185 AD in China). He tells him about the historical importance of them, how the stars have always been grouped into constellations and asterisms. And when Jungkook, after watching him talk for a long time, ducks and rests his head against his chest, Taehyung pauses for a bit, before he says:

"Did you know that binary and multi-star systems consist of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound, and generally move around each other in stable orbits? It's said that when two such stars have a relatively close orbit, their gravitational interaction can have a significant impact on their evolution."

 

-

 

Being aware of a problem doesn't automatically give you a way to fix it. Jungkook learns this, somewhere between anger and resignation. For a while, he takes to reading about the old society and all the ways it was different from theirs.

"They were free. The people might have suffered, but that hasn't changed. All that's different now is that our freedom has been taken away."

Jimin sets down his cup of coffee and eyes Jungkook through his fringe.
 

"What makes you think we're not free?" he asks.

"The span of our lives is dictated by others. There's no freedom in that", Jungkook grits out.

Jimin looks absolutely unaffected. "People die, Jungkook." He picks his cup back up and takes a sip from it. When he looks back up at Jungkook, his expression is kind, almost empathetic. "The world isn't yours to fix."

He tells Taehyung the same thing, later, when they're standing in the kitchen next to each other, Taehyung monitoring the rice and Jungkook stirring sauce. It's late, and the city just outside their window has fallen eerily quiet. Heavy clouds dim the moon's light, the stars aren't visible.

"You know," Jungkook starts, pointedly keeping his focus on the sauce he's making instead of Taehyung, "I've been reading a lot about the old world."

"I know."

Jungkook takes Taehyung's short answer as a cue to go on.

"And I've been thinking. The counters were originally meant to be a solution that benefits all, right?" He adds a few slices of chilipepper to the sauce, stirs, and tastes it. Then he continues: "And now it's all gone to shit. The people are even worse off than before."

Taehyung hums. It's silent for a while, only the sound of boiling water and the occasional cling of a spoon hitting a pot filling the empty flat. Jungkook patiently waits for Taehyung to say something.

"I think you got the wrong idea." Jungkook does turn, now. Taehyung is already looking at him. "The 'solution'-" he makes air quotes with his fingers- "that you speak of wasn't meant to benefit anyone. It was never supposed to cure hunger and illness and poverty. It was meant to prevent this planet from bursting at the seams."

Jungkook shifts uncomfortably. He wants to escape Taehyung's inquisitive look by pretending to add something else to the sauce, but he's pinned in place. This Taehyung, the one that isn't sporting a boxy smile and crinkly eyes, scares him sometimes.

"Who wants to live in a world like this?" Jungkook wonders, and it's less of a qestion directed towards Taehyung than it is him vocalising his thoughts. Taehyung answers nonetheless.

"Would you rather not be alive at all?"

Jungkook looks at Taehyung; really looks at him. His hair is falling into his eyes. There's a bit of sauce on his cheek.

"That's stupid, Tae", he says quietly. Taehyung hums again.

"Is it really?"

"I've got a lot to live for."

The sound of laughter down in the street reaches them through the open window. The rice might be about to be overcooked, Jungkook thinks absentmindedly. Taehyung blinks a few times. He takes a deep breath, looking like he's about to say something, but then he closes his mouth again and turns back to the stove.

Taehyung is right, even though he doesn't speak the whole truth. Years upon years ago, when a decision was made, part of the plan had been to reduce the suffering induced by, amongst other factors, overpopulation. The original plan as it had been laid out to a choice comittee had spoken of a temporary solution, but Taehyung doesn't know this, and neither does Jungkook. Even if one were to search the books for an account, there is a gap in history, wide and yawning. A clean cut, starting with a single decision on worldwide scale. It sounds simple, in the books of today, clinical almost. They don't tell of how the day the new order was made public, it was as though the world collectively held its breath for a few seconds, and through the silence rang the dull thud of a hammer being slammed down on a pult to announce a sentence for an entire planet. Whether that sentence was one of mercy, punishment, or death, is for you to decide.

 

A side effect to a counter visualising one's life span is forgetting that it is, in fact, not the definite life span. Rather than that, it is the maximum achievable at the moment; no one is safe from getting run over by a car or being stabbed in a back alley.

The first time Jungkook sees someone die, he's out on a grocery run with Taehyung. They're wandering the streets talking about nothing in particular, round a corner, and suddenly there are silhouettes stark against the light falling in from the other side of the alley, and the very first thing Jungkook sees is a knife being buried in one of them. It looks oddly surreal, in the light of the setting sun. Its last rays are drenching everything in a warm orange, serene almost, but then one of the silhouettes falls to the ground, and red begins to mix with the orange. It looks dirty on the cobble stones. The two other figures run away, while Jungkook stays frozen in place. He's distantly aware of Taehyung tugging at his arm.

"Let's go. Jungkook, let's go."

Jungkook is already walking towards the body, though. When he reaches it, his eyes immediately zero in on the man's arm.

The green numbers on it are frozen on 13:098:15. Jungkook chokes.

 

Later, after Taehyung has dragged him away and back home, Jungkook asks him what will happen to the man's time. He's sitting on the kitchen counter, watching Taehyung as he whips up something to eat with their leftovers. His fingers are clutched tight around the edges of the counter. Jungkook's entire body feels a bit unstable, and he has to concentrate on his words so his voice doesn't crack.

Taehyung shrugs. "Don't know, actually. I guess it's going back to the bank."

Jungkook nods numbly, and Taehyung must see in his face that he's still feeling the aftermath of the inital shock, because he comes over and rests his hands on Jungkook's before gently prying them off the counter's edge. Jungkook's arms fall limp at his sides, but Taehyung keeps their hands locked tight together.

"Hey," he says quietly. "It's alright, Guk. You're okay."

Jungkook reasons with himself that it really is alright, as alright as it gets around here. Jimin's voice echoes through his thoughts as Taehyung places his trembling hands in his lap and gives him a friendly pat on the shoulder, before turning back to the stove. People die.

 

Three weeks later, a rumour starts and spreads through the city. Not quite like a wildfire, because tales around here are only told in dark corners and hushed voices. Instead, it spreads like a disease, slow and crawling, until it reaches Jungkook, Taehyung and Jimin.

Jimin is the first one to hear it. He tells them, rather offhandedly, when they're sitting on the floor, backs resting against the couch, sharing dinner after a long day of work.

"Word is that someone's found a way to steal time. Not from the banks, but directly from the people. Like sucking the numbers out of your arm, or something."

Jungkook stops and puts his chopsticks down. Taehyung keeps eating.

"Yeah? Who told you that?", he asks around a mouthful of food.

Jimin sighs and stretches his legs. "Yoongi", he says. Taehyung raises an eyebrow.

"Trustworthy source, that", he comments. Jimin throws him a sideway glance, but doesn't bother with a reply.

The topic is discarded after that, but Taehyung brings it up later, when it's just the two of them lounging on their ratty couch. He paints Jungkook a vivid picture of deserted lands and lightless cities, of breathing fear like it's air and losing all that makes one human- sympathy and empathy, trust, friendship, love.

"If what Yoongi told Jimin is true," he says, turning to face Jungkook, "we're well and truly fucked." He lets his head fall back against the cushions and exhales audibly. "Everything would go to shit."

Jungkook can't help but snort. "Things are shit already," he comments. Taehyung turns his head, never lifting it from the cushion, instead just eyeing Jungkook from an odd angle. "System's shit, yeah. But have you ever imagined a society without any system? That's utter chaos."

It's quiet for a bit. Jungkook is studying the cards spread out on the flat wooden surface of the table when Taehyung speaks again.

"Have you ever heard of the theory of chaos? Back in the day, it was a field of study in mathematics that studies the behaviour and condition of dynamical systems sensitive to inital conditions. They might seem nothing but chaotic at first glance, maybe at the second, too, but there's a pattern to them, so they're deterministic. The thing is, their deterministic nature doesn't make them predictable."

"I thought that only applied to natural systems."

Taehyung hums. Then he says: "Do you know about the butterfly effect? According to it, even the slightest change in a starting point can lead to completely different outcomes."

Jungkook considers all that Taehyung's told him for a while. "And you think- you think that this, whatever it is that sucks people's time directly from them- is a catalyst? An inital condition."

Taehyung shrugs. The material of his sweater scrapes against the worn out surface of the couch.

"Looks like one to me."

 

Two weeks later, Jimin returns from work later than usual. Jungkook is sitting on the couch, absentmindedly leafing through a book, while Taehyung is looking for something edible in the kitchen. Jungkook only looks up when Jimin's greeting comes out a little too shakily.

"You okay?"

Jimin is about to reply, but the sound of footsteps from the kitchen stops him. Taehyung, holding two bowls of cereal, halts in the doorway and gives them a quizzical look.

"Hey," he says, but it sounds more like a question than a greeting. Jimin doesn't move from where he's standing. They remain like that for a few long seconds, before Taehyung shrugs and makes his way over to Jungkook, carefully balancing the bowls as he sits down next to him.

"What they say is true."

Taehyung, who had been about to dive his spoon into the cereal, looks up sharply. Jimin continues.

"I saw something on the way home. I took the usual shortcut, and then there were-" he pauses, runs a hand through his hair. "There were two men. One was gripping the other's arm, and at first I didn't make much of it, you know? But then the other just collapsed. I went to see, to help maybe, and I wasn't really paying attention to anyone but that man lying on the ground and-" Jimin speaks rushed, a pitch to his voice, the words coming out breathless. He inhales, audibly so, and messes his hair up some more. "He was dead. And his counter showed nothing but zeroes. When I looked around, the other guy was gone. Just vanished."

There's something in the way Jimin is looking at them that Jungkook doesn't quite understand. He turns to seek out Taehyung, but the other is staring down at his food. The knuckles of the hand clutching his spoon are beginning to turn white.

"He could've just run out. They could've been friends. It happens, Jimin."

Jimin shakes his head. "Why would he just run away? I'm serious. I just had this... really uneasy feeling the whole time. Something absolutely wasn't right about the whole scene."

They leave it at that, because neither Taehyung nor Jungkook say anything, and Jimin has nothing to add. There are many unspoken words hanging in the air between them, but no one dares to reach and pluck them from where they're dangling, just an arm's length away, to take them and throw them at the others. Jimin gets himself the last cereal from the kitchen, complains about not having enough milk, and that's it.

Later, though, when everyone's long gone to bed, Jungkook lies awake and thinks about what Taehyung told him, weeks ago. His thoughts are interrupted when his bed dips with the weight of someone sitting down.

"Guk, you awake?" It's Taehyung's voice, warm and soothing in the dark.

"Yeah," Jungkook whipsers, and then he waits. A few minutes pass, or maybe they're only seconds. Finally, Taehyung lifts the covers and lies down next to Jungkook. They aren't touching, not really, but they're close enough, and Jungkook can feel the warmth radiating from Taehyung.

"If what Jimin says is really true, if it's not all just a rumour," Taehyung starts, nothing more than a low whisper, "then we have to be careful."

Jungkook nods, even though Taehyung probably can't see it in the dark. "I know."

Silence settles between them again, and Jungkook wants nothing more than to reach out and pull Taehyung closer, sneak his arms around the other and bury his head in his chest. He does nothing.

"Promise me you'll be careful." There's an urgent tone to Taehyung's words now, even though he still hasn't raised his voice. A lump forms in Jungkook's throat, but he swallows around it and tries to keep his voice even when he answers.

"As long as we stick together, we'll be okay." He does waver a little on the last syllables, and Taehyung inhales sharply before abruptly pulling him in, pressing Jungkook's head to the junction of his neck and shoulders.

"We will be," he says, voice muffled by Jungkook's hair. Jungkook closes his eyes and forces himself to keep his breathing even. There's nothing more to be said, just actions left, and Jungkook is- has been, will be- to scared to follow up on them, so he stays still and hopes Taehyung won't leave. He doesn't.

 

-

 

They are okay, for a while. Things continue as they were before; they work during the day andspend their evenings and nights together, holed up in their flat with cards and alcohol on the table. Jungkook makes several messes trying to cook, until Taehyung puts him on cleaning duty and promises to take care of all the meals in exchange. Jimin finds a new destination and excitedly tells them about it over a late night dinner, all flying hands and lit up eyes. Taehyung continues to read everything astrology related he can get his hands on. Him and Jungkook still go to the edge of the city, now equipped with jackets since the nights are getting slightly colder, and watch the stars. They hear whispers, here and there, of another crime, another body, some of them said to have been robbed of all their time. Jimin brings news from Yoongi, sometimes, every other week or so- first that there have been more killings, then that authority's picked up on it, and then that the government has started actively searching for the culprits. As much as Jungkook hates the higher ups, he does admit that he's siding with them on this one, so he silently crosses his fingers and hopes they'll get down to whatever it is rather sooner than later. Because as much as they hold on to their routines- they've all been more wary, these days, turning their heads at every noise and every fleeting shadow down in the streets.

When it happens, there are neither suspicious sounds nor barely-there shadows. Jungkook and Taehyung are on their way back home after a few hours spent sitting on a rooftop talking about everything and nothing. They slender down some back alley, shoulders bumping from time to time, and Jungkook feels more at ease than he has in a long time.

"Let's go to a bar," Taehyung suggests, turning towards him and flashing a smile. Jungkook shrugs, nods. There are plenty bars around, just a door and a few downward stairs away, and they could use a night spent somewhere other than their flat for a change.

"What about Jimin?" he asks, as an afterthought.

"Went to see Yoongi, I think."

Jungkook feels a small shiver run down his spine at the mention. He knows Yoongi- everyone does- but just as everyone else, Jungkook prefers to avoid him. People come to Yoongi for business, and nothing else. It's not wise to try and stick around.
He's ripped out of his thoughts when Taehyung grabs his wrist and abruptly pulls him towards a door.

"This one looks promising," he says, a grin sitting at the corners of his mouth. Jungkook throws a glance inside; it's not too crowded, there are a few people dancing to a song he can't make out beyond the heavy thumping of the bass. The bar itself doesn't look too dirty. "Fine," he gives, and let's Taehyung leads him inside, fingers still tight around his wrist.

A wave of hot air hits them as soon as they enter. Taehyung lets go of him to shrug out of his jacket, and Jungkook opts to do the same.

"You got any money on you?" Taehyung asks.

"Didn't bring anything."

"We're gonna have to pay with time then, I guess." Taehyung's tone doesn't give anything away. In truth, Jungkook doesn't know how the other feels about it, paying with time, watching the counter skip a few numbers on it's way to zero, then continue to tick away. It's always made him feel uneasy.

Taehyung is already walking over at the bar, and Jungkook watches him as he follows. He orders drinks from the bartender, an exceptionally friendly looking guy considering the place, then he takes the small device the man hands him, taps in a number, and runs it over his arm. Jungkook looks away. It can't be more than a few hours being taken from Taehyung, maybe a day, and it's not like paying with time is an uncommon occurrence- on the contrary. Jungkook does it on a weekly basis himself, yet for some reason he could never stand to see Taehyung do the same.
But then Taehyung is in front of him, offering a drink and a smile, and Jungkook forgets about all his worries for a while.

One drink and a smile turn into many drinks and loud laughter as the hours tick away. The volume of the music has been turned up at some point, so they have to lean into each other's space to keep talking. A song Jungkook doesn't recognise starts playing, but Taehyung must know it, because his smile widens and he motions towards the dance floor. It's fuller now, more crowded, and Jungkook gives Taehyung a nod instead of yelling over the music. The dance floor is closer to the speakers, and Jungkook can feel the blood in his veins pumping in time with the bass. He finds that he doesn't mind the stuffy air and the bodies bumping into him. He just feels oddly relieved, free, and he doesn't care if it's courtesy of the alcohol, he'll take what he can get. A hand settles on his waist, and when Jungkook turns around he comes face to face with Taehyung, hair messy, eyes alight, a smirk playing on his lips. He feels the pace of his heartbeat pick up, speeding up until it's faster than the music. A pull, and then he's close to Taehyung. Taehyung makes it fun, free and careless, as he always does. Jungkook's laughter mixes and blends with the music as Taehyung grips his hand and spins him around. A thought crosses his mind, then, fleeting only- the only thing missing is the open sky, the stars- and Jungkook leans in, lets his breath ghost along Taehyung's neck, and tells him: "I want to spend my life under the stars."

He doesn't pull back, just turns instead, to look at Taehyung. Jungkook watches as Taehyung figures out what he said. The joy on his face never disappears, but something is added to it- wonder, maybe. Their eyes meet, and there's a tiny tilt to Taehyung's head now. Everything around Jungkook seems to dim, simmer down, the music, the people dancing right beside them, until it's just Taehyung. Taehyung, who is looking at him with so much in his eyes that Jungkook can't decipher, but there is a way to the stars hidden somewhere in them, and Jungkook finds himself reaching out. His hand slides up from Taehyung's shoulder to his neck, eyes never leaving his face- Jungkook thinks he couldn't look away if he tried. He can feel Taehyung's breath against his lips now, and for the first time in months, years maybe, he feels like there's nothing separating them. Not spatial- there's more to it; Jungkook feels as though all barricades have fallen down. He can't tell whether they're Taehyung's or his own, but they're gone, and all he's got left to do it take that one step. He's not sure if there's a line where the barricades were before, a line he'll cross, but Jungkook has spent a good part of his life climbing fences just to see Taehyung, and this suddenly just seems like a last step, the last part to an equation that's been waiting to be solved for a long time.

So Jungkook takes the step. It's so many things at once, like a jump of a cliff, and he's both flying and falling. His lips meet Taehyung's and it only takes a few seconds before Taehyung reacts and brings his hands back to Jungkook's hips, the touch light only for a few short moments before they settle and Jungkook finds himself being pulled closer. He breaks their kiss, pulls only a few inches back. A small smile spreads on Taehyung's lips as soon as their eyes meet, and Jungkook wants to taste it, capture it, so he leans back in.

Someone crashes into them, then drops to the floor. Taehyung's touch turns into a grip and he yanks Jungkook with him as he jumps to the side. Jungkook is acutely aware of Taehyung's hands on his waist as he stares at the lifeless body on the floor. In the dim lights of the bar, the softly glowing numbers of the counter are almost mocking.

A long time ago, back when the idea of regulating an entire population's life spans was still just in its earliest developing stages, several ways to go about it were considered. For a while, a system similiar to military service was developed- only, instead of going to serve in the army at a set age, men and women would have gone to nothing short of an execution once they reached the age of fifty. The idea was discarded after a while. Reports from that period of time, although now mostly terminated, say that the method needed was a subtle one, one that required minimum effort from authorities or any other institution, but was no less effective. A man whose identity has long since been lost- or eradicated- passed in a concept on January 14th in the year 2117. Along with a written manuscript came a small capsule filled with clear liquid, and a timer. 'For practical trial', said the note attached to it. The capsule was to be injected. The timer, directly wired to it, was to be placed right under the skin.

Time was tight and the operation unmonitored, so animal trials were forgone. Instead, an innoccent man, no family, no relations, was picked from the streets, and the timer set to a low number before being implanted. On the 21st of January, 2117, H.A. Wells woke up in a cell with numbers on his arm. Only a few minutes later, nothing but zeroes were on display, and his entire body went into spasms. Later, the protocoll would read 'change poison'.

More nobodies disappeared, more vials were injected, more counters set. On March 5th, 2117, R. Smith dropped to the floor as soon as her counter hit zero. No spasms, no cramps, no signs of pain on her face. The body was discarded along with all previous protocols. She was referred to as 'the last one', the last trial, but in truth, R. Smith was just the first one to fall in a long, long line.

The man lying on the floor in front of Jungkook and Taehyung is nameless, just like everyone else in the line. His count adds to the infinite number of zeroes that have amassed over time.

Jungkook is distantly aware of the chaos that breaks out around them- a small taste of the chaos that Taehyung predicted not long ago, he thinks, only fleetingly- and then Taehyung is gripping his wrist again, so tightly it almost hurts, fingers digging crescents into Jungkook's skin.

"Run."

Jungkook doesn't react.

"Run!"

And this time Taehyung's voice is loud and piercing, enough to slice through Jungkook's haze and reach him. A jerk goes through his body, and then Taehyung is pulling him along, maneuvring through the scattered masses of people. The music has stopped now, exchanged for panicked screams, names being called, and it's all Jungkook can hear other than his own blood rushing through his veins. He tries to focus on nothing but Taehyung, who is trying to push his way through to the entrance. Taehyung doesn't turn, not even once, but his fingers are wrapped securely around Jungkook's wrist.

By some miracle, they do make it to the door. Taehyung busts it open with his left shoulder, never stopping his long strides. Together they stumble onto the narrow street. Behind them, the door falls shut. All the noise from inside the bar is strangely muted now, as though it's far away. Their heavy breaths resound from the walls of the houses around them. Taehyung finally lets go of Jungkook and bends forward to rest his hands on his knees, and when he looks up at Jungkook through his bangs, and there's something in his eyes Jungkook has never seen before.

"Are you okay?"

Jungkook nods. "Shocked. What the hell was that?"

Taehyung straightens, runs a hand through his messy hair. "Pretty obvious, isn't it? At least we can be sure now. There's no mistaking it."

Jungkook briefly entertains the thought that whoever dropped onto the floor back in the bar might have simply been out of time- but he discards it. "Right," he murmurs. He casts a look at Taehyung. The other looks a little out of it, now, despite having reacted so much quicker than Jungkook before. Jungkook walks a few hesitant steps and touches Taehyung's arm, just fleetingly. "Let's get away from here," he says.

 

Their flat is about twenty minutes away, but Taehyung and Jungkook never make it that far. Two streets away, everything already seems back to normal. People are standing outside houses and bars, talking and drinking. Jungkook releases a long breath, clenches and unclenches his fists. They round another corner, step onto an empty side street. There are no bars here, and most houses seem either vacant or abandoned. Only three people are standing next to an entrance and talking. Taehyung starts to say something, but he doesn't get to finish his sentence. Just as they're passing the small group, two men and a woman- one of the men drops to the ground. The woman screams. Jungkook stops dead in his tracks. Time seems to shudder to a halt, all motion ceasing. He becomes acutely aware of the woman's ragged breathing, the choked sobs, and then footsteps. It's the other man running away- and soon, when he has taken a turn into the next street, there are more footsteps. They sound quickly increases in volume, its echoes trapped between the high facades. It comes from a group of men in uniform, crest of the government stitched into the dark grey material, right above the heart. Seeing them means trouble either way, Jungkook knows this as much as anyone, and now they have their guns raised and pointed right at them.

"Don't move!" Someone shouts.

Everything in Jungkook screams for him to run, legs twitching with it, but he stays where he is. So do Taehyung and the woman a few feet away from them. She's still shaking, sobs wrecking through her body, but she chokes them down and keeps her mouth tightly shut. Jungkook's heart is back to the rapid yet stuttering pattern it was beating with before.

One of the officials steps out of the line they have formed and towards the body on the ground. He crouches down and turns his arm over. The others never lower their weapons. Jungkook forces himself to breathe. The man gets back up but remains where he is. His sharp eyes pierce into each of them, one after the other.

"We're taking you with us. All three of you are prime suspects. If you resist, we will not hesitate to shoot."

The woman lets out a choked wail. "I didn't-" she starts, but the man doesn't let her finish.

"Tell us back at the basis. For now, you're coming along. Now, and fast."

Jungkook is about to obey, about to force his shaky legs to cooperate. And then Taehyung steps in.

"She's innocent." He pauses, slowly lowers his arms. Turning to Jungkook, he says: "And so is he."

And Jungkook- Jungkook has lost his courage somewhere between here and the bar. All words get stuck on his tongue. He opens his mouth, closes it. Stares. Taehyung's eyes are still on him, dark in the dim light and so incredibly intent. He lowers them, just for the fraction of a second, and bows his head, the movement almost imperceptible. Then he turns away, facing the guards.

"They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." He takes a hesitant step forward, then another one. Six guns are pointed at him. Taehyung continues. "They're no one. Let them go home." He turns his head to the side and speaks into their direction.

"Go home."

Jungkook knows it's directed at him alone. Before he can react, Taehyung is squeezed between to of the guards, tight grips on both his arms. They don't have to force him into the handcuffs; he hold his wrists out for them to take. A few rough pushes, and he's stumbling with them, further and further away from Jungkook. One of the guards casts them a look over his shoulder.

"What are you waiting for? Leave."

The girl runs. Jungkook stands and stares until long after they're out of sight. Taehyung didn't turn, not even once.

 

-

 

If there was a center of the city, it wouldn't be a place- it would be a person. Min Yoongi, they say, is rooted right to the middle of the swirl that draws people in and swallows them alive. As Jungkook is standing in front of him, taking in the other's appearance, he wonders if Yoongi ever really drowned in the city, or if he always just coexisted with it.

"Jeon Jungkook." The way he drawls the name makes it sound like an insult. Yoongi draws out his syllables and sounds an odd mixture between drunk and exhausted, and he never uses more words than he needs to. The scowl etched onto his features make it seem like he's made it his mission to give all things bad back to the world tenfold.

"There's been word about you, recently. What brings you down here?"

Jungkook tries not to look at the knife that's very obviously sticking out from behind Yoongi's back. He subconsciously raises his shoulders, feeling small under the other's scrutinizing look. Jungkook gathers his courage and takes a deep breath before he answers.

"I need a job done."

He gets a raised eyebrow in reply. There's noise from the outside contrasting the silence in the room. Yoongi makes an impatient motion with his right hand, after a while, urging Jungkook to continue.

"My friend's been taken by the higher ups. They've thrown him into prison. Life sentence." Jungkook pauses, licks his lips. "I want to get him out."

Yoongi doesn't say anything for a bit. Then, he gestures towards a pair of chairs in a corner of the room. It's the furthest away from the single small window that allows light to fall in and illuminate countless particles of dust floating in the air, and Jungkook eyes the dimly lit corner apprehensively, not moving until Yoongi sighs and walks ahead. He plops down onto one of the chairs and looks at Jungkook expectantly. Jungkook presses his lips together as he walks over and sits. Yoongi is mustering him with an unreadable expression.

"What's he do, your friend?"

"Nothing."

Yoongi snorts. "No one here has done nothing." He uses his fingers to put quotation marks around the last word.

"They accused him of murder. By stealing time."

For the first time since Jungkook has entered the room, he sees something other than passivity on Yoongi's face. Yoongi still hasn't broken his gaze, and Jungkook tries his best to hold it, because for some reason he feels like he can't be the first one to give in.

"I got bad news for you, Jeon Jungkook." If Yoongi is trying to conceal his amusement, he's doing a poor job of it. "Sucking time isn't punished with a life sentence. Long shot from it, actually. It's death."

Jungkook feels the words like a fist knocking all air out of him. A fist to the gut, or maybe to his throat. He does break their eye contact now, because the only thing he can do to prevent himself from choking up is staring up at the ceiling.

"Fuck," he murmurs. Then again, louder.

"I assume you still want to get him out?"

Jungkook snaps his head back to Yoongi. The man still sounds so impassive, so bored, so utterly unaffected.

"Can you do it?"

Yoongi makes a humming sound, as if he's contemplating the answer. There are no clocks in the room, but Jungkook swears he can hear one ticking as he waits. His hands are clutching the edges of the chair. It's not warm, autumn has long since chased summer away with biting wind and cold nights, but Jungkook feels too hot all of a sudden.

"I know a guy," is what Yoongi says finally. "That's gonna cost you a lot, though."

That isn't unexpected. Jungkook mostly just feels beyond relieved. There is a way to get Taehyung out. It doesn't matter what he has to pay for that, never did.

"How much?"

Yoongi leans back in his chair. He clicks his tongue a few times, lets his eyes dart around.

"175."

Jungkooks fingers automatically find the chair again.

"One hundred seventy-five," he repeats. "175.000 Won?"

Outside, a dog barks. The wind hits the window, making its frame creak.

And Yoongi laughs.

"Years."

 

-

 

There is a wall where the white fence used to be. Jungkook stares at it blankly as he stands in front of it. The wall, uninviting grey cement marred by just a few scratches here and there, stares back. On top of it is a thin wire, gleaming in the evening sun, and Jungkook has no doubt that it's charged.
 

The guard standing at a trespass a few hundrer meters down the wall eyes him with nothing short of contempt. Jungkook forces himself to keep walking towards the man. He's still a good fifteen steps away when a snide voice cuts through the silence.

"You're not allowed through. Go back to where you came from."

A small, bitter smile makes its way onto Jungkook's lips. He look down at his washed out black jeans, torn at the knees, before his eyes wander to his jacket- Taehyung's jacket, the fabric a faded blue and the edges of the arms frayed, threads poking out and tickling his skin.

"This is where I come from," he replies. The distance between them is only a few steps now, and Jungkook stops. The guard snorts. His right hand lingers over the holster holding his gun.

"Right. Get lost kid, before I make you. With so many people dying, no one cares about another dead nobody."

Jungkook tries his best to keep all expressions off his face.

"Not nobody. Jeon Jungkook," he says, and it's easy after that.

 

It's his mother who opens the door. Her eyes widen and her hand flies to her mouth, maybe to cover her gasps, and Jungkook's heart is threatening to burst out of his ribcage when she pulls him into a crushing hug, over the doorstep and into the house. Later, when they're standing in the kitchen, she takes some time to muster him carefully, eybrows drawn together and mouth pressed into a thin line. Jungkook becomess acutely aware of his appearance, the worn out clothes, the scuffed dirty shoes and all the frayed edges. The dark circles under his eyes, the messy and unwashed hair.

"You look tired," she says. It's not an accusation. There's genuine worry resounding with the words, and Jungkook thinks that despite all their differences, he could never truly hate his mother.

"I am tired," he confirms, forcing a small smile to take a bit of force from the statement, but it comes out more deprecating and resigned than he'd intended. The line between his mother's eyebrows deepens.

"You're not back for real, are you?"

Jungkook swallows around the lump in his throat and shakes his head.

"I need your help."

She turns around, distracts herself by pushing some unwashed dishes on the counter back and forth. "What do you need?" she asks, not facing Jungkook. "Money? Time? Is that what you came back for?"

And Jungkook would like to say no, wants to tell her it's good to see her, that he's missed her, despite everything- but ultimately, the truth is that he didn't turn up at his own parents' doorstep until he needed them for what they have, not for who or what they are.

"My friend is- he's in trouble." He takes a deep breath. "Have you heard about all the deaths? About time being stolen?"

Her back stiffens. "You saw the wall, didn't you? Of course I heard. We all have. These are hard times."

Bitterness rises in Jungkook's throat. He tries his best to swallow it down. His mother is a good woman, and she never meant anything but well- nonetheless, like all others from this side of the fence, she's always chosen to turn a blind eye to the rest of the city.

"It's always been hard," Jungkook murmurs. She still doesn't turn, doesn't show any reaction, so he continues. "My friend, he's been imprisoned. The charges are disrespect to authorities, theft, and murder." He hears his mother inhale sharply. "They say he's one of them. One of the people who take time. Who suck the life directly from others. And they've sentenced him to death."

His mother puts a plate into the sink, turns on the faucet, starts rinsing it. She raises her voice a little so the running water doesn't drown her out.

"And is he guilty?"

Jungkook closes his eyes for a few seconds. "No." Taehyung is the best person he knows, he wants to add. Taehyung would never hurt anyone, would rather suffer the damage himself than put it on others. "No," he repeats.

"This friend- is he the one you left home for?"

"Yes."

The plate clatters as she lets go of it. Jungkook flinches. His mother turns. Their eyes meet, and her expression is closed off, unreadable.

"He must mean a lot to you." Her voice doesn't give anything away either. Jungkook shrinks under her inquisitive stare, feels his facade slip.

"Yes," he replies shakily.

"So what did you come for? What do you need?"

There's no more stalling left to do. Jungkook clenches and unclenches his fist, takes a deep breath.

"Time." It's uttered silently, on an exhale, but with the faucet turned off and the house so quiet- always so quiet, almost devoid of life- it's still too loud. "I need time. To get him out."

"How much?"

He averts his eyes, looks down at the ground instead. The marble tiles are spotless, his dirty shoes a stark contrast against them.

"175 years. And I don't-" his voice cracks and he stops. Reaches to pull his sleeve up and twist his arm so his counter is visible. "I don't have enough. It's just not enough, mom."

His mother is staring at his counter. "God, Jungkook," she whispers, choked now. The indifferent mask falls off her face. Tears are gathering in her eyes, and although Jungkook knows they'll remain unshed- she doesn't cry, never cries- the flood of emotion that hits him is still overwhelming.

"It doesn't matter," he starts. "It's not for me, not at all. I don't care how low I have to go. I just need him out of there."

She nods. "I can't... I can't give you much, Jungkook. Even if I wanted to. As I said, these are hard times." She pauses. The house is still quiet, so quiet. Jungkook wonders when his father will come home. Wonders if he wants to see him, or if he'd prefer to sneak back out not having talked to him at all.

"Hundred years. I'll give you hundred years." She sounds so apologetic, sad, and Jungkook can't help but take a step and envelope her in a hug.

"Thank you," he whispers, face pressed into her shoulder. "Thank you, mom."

She brings up a hand to stroke his hair, the touch feather light. It's something she's always done, ever since Jungkook was little. They stay like that for a while, before his mother carefully pushes him back.

"You'd better go," she says. Her composure is regained, mask back in place. Her tone betrays her.

"You'll have the time by tomorrow. But get going, fast."

Jungkook nods numbly and utters one more thank you. Then he stands, unsure of what to do. Another long look is exchanged, and his shoulders suddenly feel heavy. Unspoken words weigh him down, and so do goodbyes. Last time, he didn't get to say one. This, Jungkook thinks, has an unsettling finalty to it.

"Bye, mom," he says. His smile is genuine this time. She smiles back.

"Good luck."

Jungkook leaves the house behind, and he doesn't feel anything. It has stopped being his home a long time ago. Maybe it never quite felt like one. For a while he thought that his shared flat with Jimin and Taehyung was his home- but then, one night under the stars, he looked at Taehyung and realised that his home was right here, next to him. It lies in crinkly eyes and bright laughter, but also in quietly hummed melodies and tired smiles. It's Taehyung, nothing but Taehyung, who in turn has made himself a home in Jungkook's heart, a carved out space that feels empty whenever he isn't around.

Perfectly trimmed lawns and clean, pristine houses pass, but Jungkook doesn't spare them a glance. He doesn't turn to look back, either. The guard by the wall lets him walk through without a word this time, and Jungkook doesn't acknowledge him.

 

-

 

Jimin isn't home. For the first time, the flat feels unwelcoming. The blank walls press in on Jungkook, the ceiling is too close to his head, and he feels suffocated. Ripping all the windows open doesn't help. Jungkook can't remember ever having looked at his counter so frequently and so many times in just a few hours. He watches the numbers change and merge under his skin, and never has he felt quite so much like the time is running through his fingers like quicksand, steadily forming a pit at his feet that's sucking him in, pulling him down, swallowing him whole.

A hundred years are a lot, especially out here- but it's not enough. Not by far. He spends the night sitting on the kitchen counter, looking out of the window and into the sky- the stars are covered by clouds tonight- downing coffee after coffee and running options through his head. No job can possibly earn him enough in the short time he has. Selling the apartment is just as impossible. It's in a good state, but most people prefer to live in one of the abandoned, rundown houses instead of spending anything on a proper home. Jungkook goes to bed when the sun rises, the first rays of light falling in through the glass and hitting the papers scattered on the counter, full of numbers and scratched out scribbles. Exhaustion pulls him into a dreamless sleep.

In the evening of the same day, he goes back to Yoongi's place. The city dives deep, and Jungkook's knees ache by the time he's stepped down the last stairs.

Min Yoongi is sitting behind a desk, this time, feet propped up onto the table's surface. He looks as though he's been waiting.

"Back already?"

The room is still just as dark. Jungkook tugs on his sleeve and opts to stand, ignoring the chair in front of him.

"I don't have 175 years," he says, voice small. Yoongi keeps a straight face. He twists his wrists, joints cracking.

"The price isn't negotiable."

Jungkook knows that all too well. Min Yoongi doesn't deal. He makes offers, and the only options are accepting them or leaving. Standing in the dimly lit room now, Yoongi's sharp eyes piercing him and nailing him on the spot, Jungkook isn't sure why he even came back. But he knows that he doesn't have any alternatives.

"Isn't there anything else I could give you instead?" He's aware of how desperate he sounds. He's also way past caring.

Yoongi snorts and shifts, taking his feet off the table. "What, you think I'm gonna ask for your soul or something?" He shakes his head, grinning to himself, then his expression sombers a little. "I'm sorry, kid. It's a tough business. 175 is already the lowest I can go without actually having deficits."

"Is there any other way to get him out?"

Yoongi scoffs. "You mean besides bribing the guards? What, you wanna break in there yourself? You know as well as I do that that's impossible. So either you gather the payment, or the deal's off."

Jungkook understands that as his clue to leave, but for some reason he finds himself unable to walk out just yet. Yoongi is mustering him with something akin to interest. A stray ray of milky light makes its way all the way through the window, across the room, and to Yoongi. It hits his bleach blond hair, illuminates half of his face, and suddenly Yoongi looks like he doesn't belong here. It's an odd thought, because Jungkook was always convinced that if anyone was born for times like these, it had to be Min Yoongi, unbowed, unbent, unbroken. Unrelenting.

"You're a friend of Park Jimin's, aren't you?"

The question catches Jungkook off-guard. Nevertheless, he nods in affirmation.

Yoongi leans forward in his chair, out of the light, rests his elbows on the table and taps his fingertips together a few times. Jungkook waits for him to speak, but man just looks at him silently for a long time.

Then, he says. "How far are you willing to go?"

Jungkook doesn't have to think at all, suprisingly. Before he even registers it, he's said the words:

"I'd do anything."

And Yoongi nods, already standing up, and reaches into his drawer.

 

-

 

Stellar collisions, so it has been said, occur about once every 10.000 years in our galaxy. Among all the stars in the universe, there is not a single one that can't be involved in one- whether dead or alive. In 1746, an astronomer named Charles Messier discovered a cluster of stars that would later, centuries into the future, be dated 13 billion years back. However, among the old stars were some significantly younger ones, leading astronomers to conclude that stars could not only collide, but merge also. It was hypothesized that such a fusion would give the two stars in question more fuel and energy, while the stars around them started going out.

 

-

 

Jungkook holds death in his hands.

The device itself is light, just a tiny display and three buttons on a silver square that is small enough to curl a fist around it and make it disappear. But it weighs heavy on his mind, drags him down, making his shoulders slump and his footsteps drag.

Going back to the flat isn't an option, not tonight. Jungkook couldn't bear to face Jimin, not now, not with what he's about to do. No, staying away is better, because it gives him less time to think. His skin is crawling at the mere thought of what he holds in his hands, what he'll do. Oddly, though, Jungkook knows that no matter how much he considers his course of actions, doubts and despises himself for it- ultimately, he'll still do it.

Time is tight, so he might as well start now.

He pushes away from the wall he'd been leaning against and rounds the corner, walks into the next alley. The daylight never quite reaches this part of the city; the buidlings are too high and the streets too narrow. The dusk lulls him into a state of calm, gives him a false sense of security. The grey-tinged buildings and dirty streets numb him, somewhat. Jungkook walks past people on their way home from work or maybe headed to the nearest pub, ready to sit at the bar for hours and drink away the grey and the numbers and the worries. They blend so well with the city, lights long gone out, subdued and dull now. Taehyung's lively eyes and wide smile invade his thoughts, and for just a moment Jungkook thinks that in order to save someone as bright as him, any means is acceptable.

 

Over the past few months Jungkook was mostly with Taehyung when he was out, and among all the blurry, every-changing faces of the city, he was a constant, standing out like sun on a winter day. Jungkook had given all his attention to Taehyung, had never really seen anyone else around them.

But now, walking through the streets alone, he is suddenly painfully aware of every single man or woman rushing past him. He wonders if the tired looking man in inconspicuous brown linen has a family he's returning to after a long day of work, if he has a wife that will greet him with a soft kiss and kids that will come running into his arms and pull a smile out of him despite the apparent bone deep exhaustion. He wonders about the young woman, probably not even past her mid-twenties, who brushes his shoulder and apologises hastily, not really looking at him. Wonders if she still has her parents, or if she's got family that is more than just blood. If she has found her dreams, if she has had any chance to fulfill them.

Jungkook's skin itches. The knowledge of what he's about to do weighs heavy on his shoulders, dragging him down, deeper and deeper into the city.

He ends up in a bar. This one is different from the one he went to with Taehyung- it's lodged deep in the jaws of the city, roof crooked and rotten, sunken in between all the other fangs discoloured with age and use. Jungkook knows they still cut. Places like this one are a gaping pharynx, luring people in with the promise of security and momentary calm, and once they're in, they clamp down on them and grind them between their fangs. One is either swallowed whole or spat back out nothing but remains, dirt and dust, left to blend with the rest of the city.

The bartender doesn't look friendly like the one the other night did. He isn't friendly either. He fixes Jungkook with an apprehensive look as he takes his order. Jungkook briefly wonders what might be going through his head. Does he note that Jungkook is young, way too young to be alone in a place like this? Does he waste thoughts on why and how, or is Jungkook simply another face blending into the crowd, skin just as ashen, eyes just as sunken? Jungkook catches his reflection in the mirror behind the lined up bottles as he swirls his drink. Dark eyes stare back at him, out of a face that isn't as familiar as it used to be. They aren't empty though, not just yet. A certain defiance lies in them still, and where there is the will to fight, there is also hope.

Looking around, Jungkook sees only empty and lifeless eyes. It's one of the reasons Taehyung has always stood out to him- the stars reflected in his eyes even when the sky was clouded.
A man drops onto the chair next to him, slumping over as soon as he sits. Jungkook turns towards him, takes in thin hair, wrinkles that stem from frowning for a majority of life. He looks old, but Jungkook knows he can't have lived as many years as his appearance suggests. People around these parts rarely ever make it past forty.
The man orders two drinks, downs one as soon as he gets it, then starts sipping the other. His eyes stay fixed on the dirty counter, and it is then that Jungkook decides that this man has long since stopped fighting. He's the picture of resignation; shoulders slumped, forehead wrinkled with past worries instead of age.

It's easy, after that. Jungkook edges a little closer to him as he continues to drink, and soon they sit next to each other in silence, drinking together instead of alone. A few words are exchanged, nothing more. Jungkook doesn't find out whether the man has a wife, children, anything worth living for. He doesn't want to. His hand trembles a little when he slips it into his jacket pocket and closes his fingers around the small device. The trembling increases once he reaches across the table, but then his fingers meet the mans arm, close to his counter. Jungkook taps his fingers on the cold skin a few times.

"Next round's on me," he says. He doesn't smile, because smiles don't mean much in places like this. Any appreciative response fails to come, because the next second, the man falls over, face down onto the dark wood of the bar. His half empty drink spills, and Jungkook leaves, forcing himself not to rush.

His erratic heartbeat and the nausea overcoming him when he steps outside are a reminder that he's alive.

 

Morning arrives clad in a blood red sunrise. With the light come thoughts, doubts, fear. Jungkook forces himself to keep walking, tries to focus on nothing but his steps. His feet carry him back to their flat on autopilot.

He's greeted by empty rooms and more silence. Jimin must have gone to work already, and Jungkook almost drowns in the waves of relief that mingle with the floods of dread and disgust. The currents follow him on his tail, no matter how far he walks. There's no sense in running. Jungkook falls asleep on the couch, still clutching cold metal.

 

Ten years. That's what he's gotten from the man. It's quite a lot, for someone from these parts, but it's also nowhere near enough. Jungkook's mind supplies that the logical course of action would be to go for someone with more to give, next- someone younger. His feet barely carry him to the bathroom before hes retching, dry heaving more than anything because he hasn't eaten.

 

No matter how terrible Jungkook feels, regardless of how his hands won't stop shaking and how he keeps throwing anxious glances at the doors and windows- he is no fool. It would be nothing but a waste if he gave up now, decided he couldn't take it. Because the truth is, he can. He's done it once, so he can do it twice. Jungkook keeps repeating that to himself, over and over. Maybe he accidentally says it out loud, but there is no difference between the quiet of the apartment and the gaping void in his head, so he doesn't even notice.

Jungkook goes back out on the very same night, and it doesn't get easier. His hands are still sweaty, his grip on the device unsteady. His breathing still doesn't go back to normal even when he's long since crossed a good part of the city, stumbling away from the crime scene. His pace quickens from time to time until he's almost running, but Jungkook repeatedly forces himself to slow down again. He isn't running from potential persecuters- he knows. It's himself he's running from, his own guilt. Jungkook closes his eyes and imagines that his only escape lies in Taehyung's arms.

Jimin is home when he enters the flat, half stumbling in through the door. There's not much of a chance to consider his next move, because as soon as Jungkook has straightened himself and looks up, he gets a mouthful of Jimin's hair as the other pulls him close.

Jungkook waits for something, anything- words, probably- but it doesn't come. Jimin simply keeps his arms around him, silently allows Jungkook to rest his head on his shoulder. He doesn't let go. It gives Jungkook time to think, all of a sudden. Time for everything to sink in. He lets out a shaky exhale, against the fabric of Jimin's sweater. He feels the arms around him tighten, and his lips are quivering now, eyes filling with tears. Then, Jimin carefully pushes him back. Jungkook doesn't look up, but he can feel his friend's eyes on him. He wonders what he would find in them, were he to look up. Sadness? Pity? Questions?

Jimin seems intent on letting him break the silence, be the one to determine what they talk about. So Jungkook takes a deep breath, clears his throat, and speaks up.

"Sorry I didn't come to you."

His voice breaks on the last syllables. Jungkook cringes.

"God, Jungkook," Jimin murmurs. "Don't apologise. Not for that. You-" he hesitates, shuffles. "I hope you did whatever felt right at the moment. If that didn't involve seeing me, that's fine."

Jungkook forces himself to look up. When his eyes, slowly dragging up, finally reach Jimin's face, he has to fight to keep his expression relatively neutral. Jimin looks- he looks like a wreck. His lower lip is split from worrying it between his teeth. His eyes are puffy, the skin around them irritated. Realisation hits Jungkook like a comet a sleeping planet.

"You're wrong. That's selfish." He swallows and wets his lips. His throat feels like sandpaper, all of a sudden. "What if you needed me? Who cares what I'd rather be doing, you're- you're all I've got left. Fuck, Jimin. You're my only friend here. And I left you alone."

Jimin doesn't say anything for a while. Then he steps forward, an arm already raised. He lightly rests a hand on Jungkook's head, just for a bit, before ruffling his hair. Jungkook stays silent.

Later, they're holed up on the couch, surrounded by blankets and pillows, a bag of chips in Jimin's lap and a shitty old movie running on their equally shitty old TV. Jungkook had, after dinner and more uncomfortable silence, announced he'd be going out again. He'd received a flat out no as an answer. "Come on, kid. Let's take a break," Jimin had said, smiling softly. And Jungkook couldn't say no to that, not with how Jimin still looks like he's been broken one too many times and how he balls his fists so tight his knuckles turn white whenever he thinks Jungkook isn't looking.

"You know," Jimin starts. "I was worried about you two, after a while, I'd heard nothing and you had been out for too long, it must have been the next day already. I don't really know why, but I ended up at Yoongi's, somehow. And he told me."

Jungkook has stopped crunching on his chips, a hand hovering right before his mouth.

"Wouldn't tell me a lot, though. It's Yoongi, after all. He said you'd been there, told him about Tae, asked for help. That's it."

Jungkook swallows and tries not to stiffen. Jimin continues.

"I... as I said, I'm not mad, and there's still no reason to apologise. But why didn't you come to me? You just ran off to Yoongi, and on that day I thought maybe you'd get back later- but then three days passed, and there was absolutely no sign of you."

Jimin deserves the truth. He deserves honesty, but Jungkook can't give him what he deserves, because old habits die hard. So he settles for half of the truth, maybe less. Still, it feels like he's tearing his chest open to lay his heart bare.

"I couldn't have standed talking to you. Fuck, I still barely can." Jimin looks alarmed, so Jungkook hurries to explain. "You wanna know how it happened? Tae went with them to protect me. Just me.

And I didn't- I did nothing."

"You feel guilty?"

"I am."

 

-

 

Jungkook sneaks out in the morning. He throws a glance at his counter as he carefully closes the door behind him. 161:02:14:08 is the numbers he sees, and Jungkook walks out into the city knowing what he has to do.

The next time he meets Jimin is two days later.

Jungkook is on his way back from another kill, 172 years written on his arm, when he runs into him. Belatedly, he realises that the way he's taken crosses Jimin's way home from work.

His friend takes one look at him, heavy breath and restlessly flitting eyes, and he knows. It's late and Jungkook is running on very little sleep, constantly feels like he's on the verge of breaking. The picture of some nameless man lying motionlessly in a back alley is burnt into the back of his eyelids. It only takes on sharp question from Jimin, and he tells him.

Jimin looks at him for a long time; just looks at him. There are too many emotions reflected in his dark eyes for Jungkook to name them all. The most prominent are hurt, sadness. Pity. For a few long seconds, Jimin looks as broken as Jungkook feels.

"Hyung," Jungkook says, barely more than a whisper. His voice sounds like it's about to crack.

"Please."

Something shatters and breaks between them, and Jimin takes a step towards him before enveloping him in a hug. His hands come up to rub Jungkook's back, and Jungkook presses his face into the other's shoulder, if only to make the tears threatening to spill from his eyes less obvious. It's the first time in days that he feels anything other than numb, and the force it hits him with is so overwhelming that his knees almost give out. So he clutches to Jimin, hands fisted in the back of his shirt, unwilling to let go.

"Oh Jungkook," Jimin whispers, and it sounds broken. Jungkook says nothing.
Jimin pushes him back after a while, but he keeps a hand resting lightly on his shoulder.

"You know I don't have much I can help you with. I'm sorry." He does sound sorry. It's written in his eyes, in the dark circles underneath and the thin lines around his mouth. Jimin has always been an open book. Taehyung once said 'He won't only let you read him, he'll let you rip out the pages so you can keep some of them for yourself after you leave.'

After what Jimin says next, Jungkook finally begins to understand what Taehyung meant by that.

"I'll give you what I have. All but one year. It's more than enough."

Jungkook stares. He opens his mouth, but nothing but a shaky breath escapes.

Jimin continues. "I'll give you what I have and leave. I'll finally go and see the world, Guk." His voice is starting to break now, too, and he let's out a breathy laugh. The light from the lantern above catches his eyes as he tilts his head back, and Jungkook can see unspilled tears shining in them.

"Jimin, no." There's no force behind it. Jungkook doesn't even know if he means it or not.

"What do you expect me to do? Let my best friend die, just like that? I've always told you two that one day, I'd spend my years on god knows what and leave this godforsaken city with just enough time left to see what else, the world has to offer. What better way to spend the last years I have? I'll be okay."

Jungkook is still shaking his head. "Taehyung wouldn't want you to sacrifice so much for him."

"He doesn't need to know. I won't tell him. And I don't think you'll tell him what you did for him either." The words have a sharp edge. There's nothing threatening to them, just truth, cutting and cold. Jungkook shifts from one foot onto the other.

"No," he says finally.

"So let me do this."

Jimin's eyes never leave him. It becomes too much, and Jungkook exhales forcefully, then turns away to look up at the wall next to them. He traces the bricks, against the flow of the water running down the morose stones, up to the roof and into the sky. The last rays of the setting sun are just behind the triangular gable extending from the front part of the roof, drenching its edges in a warm orange. The windows are thrown in and cracked, grey with settled dust and dirt. The curtains inside are half drawn back, moving only slightly in the gentle breeze. The house seems just as empty and abandoned as the rest of the street. Jungkook finds himself wondering what happened to the people who lived in it before. When the sun sinks a bit further and the bright light starts to blind him, he turns back to Jimin.

"Okay."

Jimin blinks a few times. If he feels anything other than suprise, he doesn't show it. He simply nods. "Promise not to tell Tae."

The sun and its warm rays have vanished now. The only source of light are the flickering lanterns lined along the street. With the day gone, it's become slightly colder. Jungkook resists the urge to wrap his arms around himself.

"I won't."

"Good. What you're gonna tell him is this: I left right after they got him. You didn't see me again. Didn't hear of me, either."

Jungkook stares. "What?" It comes out too quiet, so he repeats it. "Jimin- what?"

And Jimin smiles. It's warm, nothing but genuine. Jungkook feels something within him break.

"I can't hide my low count from him for as long as I live. Besides, he might not-" he stops. The smile has gone brittle. "Nevermind. I'm scared, Jungkook. I don't want to see Taehyung mad at me right before I leave, because you and I both know I'm not going to be back. There's no time for returns."

Jungkook doesn't protest. There's little use in arguing the truth.

"I'm also scared because there's a possibilty that you might fail. And I can't be here when you give all you have away for nothing. I can't stay here and lose both you and Taehyung."

It's the most honesty Jungkook has ever gotten from Jimin. When he was a little younger, back when he had just met Jimin, he'd thought the older boy was fearless. Invincible and unafraid. He got to know Jimin better as the weeks turned into months and then into years. With time passing he learned that no one is invincible and that with vulnerability, fear is a given. But the Jimin he knows is courageous, and when he isn't, he puts up a front, conceals his weaknesses with a mask of plastered on smiles that don't reach his eyes. This is the first time Jimin has ever told Jungkook, word for word, that he's scared.

"Don't think of me as selfish, Jungkook." It's too close to pleading. Jungkook wordlessly shakes his head. Jimin is anything but selfish. The Jimin he's gotten to know shares everything he has, no matter how little that may be. The Jimin he met more than two years ago agreed to share food and shelter with him when they barely knew each other. The Jimin he knows now is willing to give away the most valuable thing anyone possesses, for nothing but an uncertainty, barely a possibiliy.

"I love Taehyung, just like I love you. And I couldn't bear to see you suffer."

"Hyung," Jungkook murmurs. He's not even sure if Jimin hears him, so tentative and choked are his words. The other stops, though, eyes still hefted onto Jungkook.

"I know." It's so little. Jungkook owes Jimin so much, especially now, more than he could ever possibly give back- and all he offers is this. He repeats it. "I know."

But Jimin has always gladly taken whatever he -they- offered him, and he does the same, now. The smile slips back onto his lips, spreading slowly until it has reached his eyes.

"Okay," he says. He pushes his sleeve up and wordlessly extends his arm. Jungkook understands.

 

-

 

The door to the building Yoongi lives in has never looked more unsettling yet promising at the same time. Jungkook's pulse flutters as he knocks before stepping in. His counter flashes in the dim light.

Yoongi is once again sat behind his desk, arms crossed and looking at the door as though he's been expecting his arrival. A few brisk steps take Jungkook right before him. There's no time for hesitance, not now. He speaks before Yoongi does.

"I have it. The time you want."

Jungkook crouches so he's at eye level with Yoongi, then places his arm on the table, revealing his counter. The numbers remind him of their origin, of faces that Jungkook is already forgetting again, and he has to swallow down the wave of nausea that threatens to overcome him. Not now. He's closer to getting Taehyung back than he has ever been before. There is no time to look back, much less to regret.

Yoongi's eyes widen a fraction when he finally breaks Jungkook's gaze to glance down at his arm. He leans forward, and then, before Jungkook can react, he locks one hand tight around his wrist, pins him to the table. The other hovers over the counter for a bit, almost hesitant, before lightly touching down. Yoongi runs two fingers over the numbers and Jungkook tries his hardest not to flinch back.

"God, kid. You actually did it." The usual lethargy and disinterest colouring his voice a dull note are almost entirely gone, replaced by something else, something sharp. Jungkook finds himself unsure of what exactly it is, but it sounded strangely akin to wonder.

"I threw the timetaker away," Jungkook finds himself saying. The words come out jumbled, stutters interrupting them. Yoongi raises an eyebrow. He lets go of Jungkook's arm, but stays close, propping his elbows on the table.

"Stupid move," he counters. It doesn't sound like he's angry. Not even like he's surprised.

"I used it on Jimin, last."

The tiniest ripple runs through Yoongi. It's almost unnoticable, but Jungkook catches the way his fingers twitch, just once, before he goes back to immobility.

"Where is he?"

It's a question, but it sounds like a command, one Jungkook wouldn't dare ignore. Sharp eyes pin him in place, an odd glint to them.

"He's alive. He left the city."

A pause.

"He always said he would," Yoongi murmurs. Questions burn on the tip of Jungkook's tongue, more pressing than ever before, but he doesn't voice any of them. Not now.

"Jimin asked me to tell you something. It doesn't make much sense to me, but maybe you'll know what it means." Jungkook clears his throat. "He said he's going where the flowers haven't stopped growing."

He'd expected some kind of reaction from Yoongi, anything- confusion or recognition, maybe sadness- but he doesn't get so much as a nod. The other's face remains impassive. The clock on the wall behind Yoongi ticks, one, two, three seconds.

"Alright," Yoongi says finally. His voice sounds distant, moreso than normally. Usually, he seems detached in emotion and yet dangerously present, but now, just for this one word, it seems as though he's somewhere far away. Then the moment breaks and Yoongi opens a drawer, fishes out a scanner and holds it out to Jungkook.

"Time to pay," he says. Jungkook is already punching in his code and swiping the scanner over his counter. The volume of the clock increases, the second pointer cracking loudly through the silence. Jungkook sucks in a breath when his numbers start changing rapidly, running from nines down ones over and over again. He holds it until all movement ceases. His lungs ache when he finally exhales. A hazy feeling overcomes him, all of a sudden, almost as if it had been blood taken from him, not time. Yoongi gives him instructions, a place and a time, and then Jungkook stumbles out into the evening, legs unsteady, blood soaring, and Taehyung's name running through his mind on repeat.

 

-

 

Gravity is responsible for many of the structures in the universe. All things with energy- stars, planets, galaxies- gravitate towards one another.

On earth, it simply gives weight to physical objects, but in general, the same rules apply: gravity is infinite in its range. It has been said that gravity is less of a force and more of a consequence, but most commonly it is thought of as a force that makes two bodies of mass attract each other- a phenomenon that is considered to occur over an unlimited range, regardless of the effects being visible of not.

Gavity is the weakest of the four fundamental interactions of nature, and yet it is responsible for the earth and all other planets in our galaxy orbitting the sun. It has caused, causes, and will cause the formation of tides and stars, the evolution of galaxies.

Even in the dark of the unlit tunnel, Jungkook's eyes immediately zero in on Taehyung. He's only vaguely aware of the man walking behind, guiding him to the exit with a hand on his shoulder, not bothering to attach the name Yoongi had told him before he left. His mind is full of Taehyung, nothing but Taehyung. Jungkook digs his teeth into his lower lip and shifts his weight from one foot onto the other. He has clear instructions. Avoid drawing attention, wait by the exit of the tunnel, take Taehyung away from the base and home as soon as he's there.

"Jungkook?" The name halls through the tunnel, bouncing off the walls. It's barely above a whisper, and it holds just as many emotions as Jungkook feels the second he hears it.

"Yeah," he whispers back, and then Taehyung is standing right in front of him, looking tired and incredibly relieved, eyes flickering and the edges of his mouth twitching as though he's not quite sure what expression to settle for. Jungkook stares back for a few drawn out seconds, aware of the fact that everything- everything, unfiltered, stripped bare- must show in his eyes. Then Taehyung crashes into him, hooks his arms around his shoulders and buries his face into the junction of his neck. His breath hits Jungkook's skin, exhale for exhale, and he shivers despite its warmth. He tilts his head downwards to press his lips to Taehyung's hair.

"Taeyhung," he murmurs, more of a reassurance to himself. It takes him a while to gather his mind. "Taehyung," he repeats, "we don't have time. We have to leave."

Taehyung nods against his neck and inhales deeply one more time before he pulls back. His eyes immediately seek out Jungkook's. The unspoken words written in them are a language Jungkook isn't quite sure he understands. Reluctantly, he forces himself to turn towards the man who brought Taehyung here. The guard who works with Yoongi. The man is looking at him already.

Jungkook had always thought of everyone working for the authorities as crude and brutal, mindlessly power-hungry and corrupt as the government itself. Looking at the man before him, he suddenly feels all his pent up hatred subside. Warm eyes and a kind face, a small smile playing at full lips. He looks like just any other worker, merely a few years older then Jungkook and Taehyung.

"Thank you," Jungkook says simply, because he can't think of anything else to say. The man bows his head.

"Yoongi assured me he was innocent."

Jungkook nods in affirmation and wonders if that was a contributing factor. If this man knows what he did to get the years he demanded as a price.

"You better get going."

Jungkook nods again, puts a hand to the small of Taehyung's back to push him in the right direction. Taehyung turns his head to look over his shoulder on the way out.

"Thank you," he says. He gets a small laugh in response.

"This wasn't a favour. I'd like to be that good a man, but sadly, we all abide the rules."

Taehyung doesn't reply, he just turns back, an unreadable expression on his face. They walk out, Jungkook's hand wanders from Taehyung's back to his wrist, then further down, until he's grazing his fingertips as they walk. Taehyung interlaces their fingers.

Neither them nor the guard say goodbye.

Crossing half of the city has never been more of a blur. Jungkook finds himself ducking instinctively, rushing through alleys and deserted market places, gripping Taehyung's wrist every now and then to pull him around a corner. His perception is feverish almost, everything moving too fast, yet Jungkook keeps pushing and pushing, his feet hitting the asphalt in staccato, his shadow racing ahead of him on the walls to their sides. In the middle of it all is Taehyung, either right beside or just behind him, and all of Jungkook is focused on him even when he isn't in his field of vision.

Taehyung stops him after a while, puts a hand to his shoulder and stems his feet into the ground. Jungkook reels back a little with the sudden force of it. He turns around with a question on his lips, but Taehyung beats him to it.

"Stop running, Jungkook. You're gonna collapse."

Jungkook shakes his head, but his irregular breath and instable legs betray him. Taehyung lets his arm fall back to his side. He looks anything but calm, hair messy and unwashed, a few scratches and bruises littering his face, contrasting the crisp white shirt and pants he's wearing. His eyes are wild, wider than Jungkook's ever seen despite the obvious signs of fatigue painted across his features.

"I'm here now," Taehyung says quietly. They're alone, but his words almost get lost in between the high walls of concrete and molder. "You got me right here. You can stop rushing."
Jungkook bites his lip, nodding, and pulls his sleeve further down his arm.

 

Jungkook's hands are trembling as he's fumbling with the lock of the door to their flat. He mutters a curse and takes a deep breath. Taehyung takes the key from his fingers, keeping a hand on his to steady him- he's pressed close to Jungkook's back now, arms encircling him, and when Jungkook turns and their eyes meet, he feels his breath stutter for a second. Taehyung's lips twitch into a small smile, hesitant and tired but genuine- and Jungkook realises, in that very moment, that he doesn't just want Taehyung- he needs him.

But Taehyung looks worn out and the skin of Jungkook's arm itches, right where his numbers are, where time is ticking, dwindling away, so he doesn't move an inch until the door swings open in front of him.

The flat is empty, of course it is, and Jungkook wants to say something to fill the deafening silence, but he can't find a beginning to something he would actually be able to finish. It's Taehyung who speaks up first.

"Where's Jimin?" An unassuming question, one he was guaranteed to ask, and Jungkook wants to grip his hair, pull, scream.

"He left," he says. Maybe his voice shakes. Jungkook bites his lip.

"Oh," is all Taehyung says. Jungkook can see the empty space where Jimin should be, a hole ripped into the air, a black hole in the middle of space, right where a star used to be. Jimin's voice rings through his head, the last few sentences he said to Jungkook before he left mixing with his own frantic thoughts. They're standing in the living room and it doesn't feel like home. Jungkook looks at the bare walls, the ratty couch and the old TV in front of it, the table with one leg shorter than the other three. The tapestry must have been white at some point, but it looks faded and dirty now, the years having worn it out and smoke stains just under the ceiling. It feels unwelcoming. Jungkook doesn't look at Taehyung, in fear that he'll see more of the same.

"You must be hungry," he says, and even to him it sounds like the words don't want to leave his throat.

"Starving, actually." Taehyung lets out a small laugh. "I didn't even notice how hungry I was, but now that all the excitement's wearing off..." he trails off. "Jungkook," he murmurs then, and Jungkook tenses. "You got me out."

Jungkook shrugs, laughs, forces himself to look in Taehyung's direction at least. "That I did."

Taehyung lets out an audible sigh and walks towards him, but Jungkook moves before he can reach him.

"Let's get something to eat, yeah?" he blurts out and pushes past Taehyung into the kitchen. His hands are still unsteady as he opens the cabinet and takes out two plates. He opens the fridge and sees what must be Jimin's leftovers, and it takes him all he has not to slam it shut immediately. Taehyung is hovering in the door between the kitchen and the living room, watching him wordlessly- and Jungkook wants to scream at him to do something, tell him a trivial story about how some galaxy was discovered or about a book he read, to sit on the counter and chatter about his day. But his mouth remains shut, and Taehyung stays where he is.

They take their plates and sit on the couch. For a brief moment, Jungkook considers playing some music or switching on the TV, just to fill the silence, but Taehyung has always been the one in charge of music and the TV has shown nothing but static for years.
Only when they've finished their food does Taehyung speak up. He puts the empty plate onto the

ground next to his feet, then he sits back and sinks into the cushions, looking smaller and more defeated than he ever has.

"I'm aware that you had to pay a price to get me out," he says, and Jungkook knows from the tone of his voice that it's only the start. "I didn't need to hear the guard say it to know that. And I'm-" he falters, runs a hand through his hair. "I'm more than indebted to you already. But I need to ask one more thing." He pins Jungkook in place with his eyes. "Do you know how they carry out a death sentence? They take a bit of time from you every day. Just a bit. They ration it, there's proper fucking calculation, all depending how much you have in the first place. I'm not sure why they do it. I guess it's some form of mental torture, psychological warfare-" he let's out a breathless laugh- "I swear, day by day you get more restless, like you're gonna jump out of your skin. The guy in the section next to me had been there for longer, and one day when they came to him, just like any other day- he went fucking crazy. Screamed his throat raw. They took him away and he didn't come back. They do it just like that. Take time from you day after day, not always the same amount, so you can't fucking calculate it-"
Jungkook doesn't let him finish.

"How much do you have left?" His voice is sharp, but it barely masks the fear, the desperation. Taehyung swallows. His expression doesn't change as he lifts his arm and finally pushes his sleeve up. Jungkook's eyes flit from his face down to his counter, and he feels al breath get knocked out of him at once, leaving him heaving, reeling, gasping for air.

"I'm sorry," Taehyung says softly. Jungkook is still fighting the chokehold on his throat. Taehyung continues. "I hate to- you know I would never ask you for time, but this..." he trails off. Inside, Jungkook's walls are crumbling, dissolving into dust, the skyscrapers around him falling apart, collapsing, leaving the ground beneath his feet quivering in their wake. Outside, he doesn't make a sound. Nothing does.

But he can see the world shift and tilt in Taehyung's eyes when he finally holds out his arm, too, and pulls up the sleeve of his sweater. They widen, flash with emotions that change too quickly for Jungkook to decipher them all, and then Taehyung is covering his mouth with one hand, quick exhales hitting the skin.

Jungkook doesn't realise he's apologising until Taehyung tells him to stop.

"You did this for me. If anyone should be apologising, it's me." It's the first time that Jungkook has heard him sound genuinely tired; the defeated kind of tired. Taehyung looks sad- like he's stopped looking at the stars even while standing amidst chaos- and time is running out, and Jungkook wants nothing more than to see the shadows gone from Taehyung's face.

"I chose to," he says quietly. Taehyung says nothing. "Shit, Tae. I'd do it again, over and over, if I had to. Even if I'd be left with only an hour, it'd be okay as long as-" he stops to catch his breath.

"As long as I'd get to spend it with you."

There are theories, about stars colliding and not splintering, falling apart into a million pieces upon impact, but instead melding together. There is a hypothesis called the Theia Impact that suggests that approximately 4.5 billion years ago, the earth collided with an astronomical body the size of Mars, named Theia after the mythical Greek titan who was the mother of Selene- the goddess of the moon. It is said that the debris of the indirect collision formed the moon as we know it now.

Jungkook expects Taehyung to call him cheesy, tease him, and before, he would have. But before has made way for after, for now, and now Taehyung grips Jungkook's shoulders, reels him in, and kisses him. All stories, theories, facts vanish from Jungkook's mind as he freezes, just for a split second, before he reacts and pushes closer, pulls Taehyung in with one hand on the back of his neck and the other around his shoulders. The kiss tastes like desperation- but Taehyung also tastes like Taehyung; like summer nights spent under an endless sea of stars and winter nights spent in a fort of pillows and blankets. His hands on Jungkook's skin feel like the breeze that catches Jungkook's hair on the roofs when summer draws to a close and like a warm blanket enveloping him in winter after a long day out in the cold. Taehyung feels like home.


Jungkook pulls back and his eyes catch on Taehyung's lips, a deeper colour than normally, shining with spit under the unforgiving neon lights. There's a cut to the left side of his lower lip. Jungkook leans forward and presses a close mouthed kiss to it, finger's hooking under Taehyung's chin to keep him in place. He lingers only for a few seconds, tempted to dive back in and kiss Taehyung with all he has, but Taehyung leans back just slightly and Jungkook can feel his eyes boring into him, so he looks up.


Jungkook wishes he could say that he feels nothing but pure and utter relief and bliss at the moment, but there are claws digging into his gut the longer he pointedly doesn't look at their exposed counters and his heart is trapped in a cage, painfully pressing against the bars as he looks at Taehyung and it speeds up. Some of it must show on his face, because Taehyung suddenly lets go of his shirt, carefully takes his wrist and lifts Jungkook's hand, never diverting his eyes. Jungkook, in turn, has to close his as the softly glowing numbers come too far into his vision. He scrunches them shut and tries to tune it all out, tries to wash his mind of the phantom blood that still sticks to his hands and to forget what it feels like to drown in an empty room, nothing but his own thoughts as a soundtrack. Taehyung is here, his warmth spreading and seeping back into Jungkook's bones as it always has. Jungkook doesn't open his eyes when he feels Taehyung's lips on his arm, right where he knows the numbers are moving under his skin. A simple exhale is the only response he shows. Taehyung breathes several soft kisses into his skin, and the tension starts melting off Jungkook's spine.

"Tae," he murmurs. It's neither a question nor a demand. Taehyung drops his hand and shifts until he's close enough for Jungkook to feel his breath hitting his lips.

"Two days are more than enough," Taehyung says, barely above a whisper.

They stay in the flat. There is nowhere else to go, and Jungkook has everything he wants right here. Taehyung is tired- they both are, but in a silent agreement they don't sleep at all, instead open the window in their kitchen and watch the sun rise, Jungkook seated on the counter and Taehyung standing between his legs, leaning back against him. They don't speak, but the silence isn't heavy now, just serene. They drink the last two bottles of soju, and it's only noon when Taehyung snatches Jungkook's wrist and drags him away from the couch, pulling him to his feet and then closer. He swipes over the screen of Jungkook's phone with his free hand and the stereo comes to life, a shitty and upbeat song from way back blasting through the speakers. There's barely any time for the disbelieving looks Jungkook wants to shoot Taehyung- the other has already let go of his hand and is performing some ridiculous dance. His head is thrown back, mouth opened in a laugh and eyes crinkling closed. Taehyung looks careless, despite everything, or maybe more than ever. Jungkook watches, mesmerized, but then Taehyung steps up to him with an expectant look in his eyes, mirth and mischief written in the curve of his smile.

Noon finds them dancing, Taehyung spinning around Jungkook but never letting go of his hands. When they're done, Jungkook's face aches from smiling, and the fatigue in his bones has turned warm and mellow, pleasant almost. The entire afternoon is spent talking, Taehyung lying back between Jungkook's legs, hands restless as he recalls nights spent drinking and laughing. Some of them aren't far back, but Jungkook listens nonetheless, comments from time to time or adds a story of his own. Taehyung doesn't carefully edge around Jimin's name like he does, but he doesn't ask any questions either. Jungkook wonders if Taehyung really is able to let everything go simply because he knows he might be experiencing a last time wherever he turns. Taehyung has always tried to make the best of what they had or didn't have. Maybe it's just logical for him to do the very same thing now.

Jungkook has always found it hard to throw aside all sorrows, however miniscule they may be. When his mind wanders too far, he leans forward to mouth at Taehyung's neck, then carefully tilts Taehyung's head, and captures his lips in a kiss. Taeyhung melts into him, not caring to finish the sentence caught mid way in his throat, instead transforming words into quiet moans.

Between day and night, sun and moon in the same stretch of sky, Jungkook spreads Taehyung out on messy sheets, makes him fall apart under his fingers before they fall together. The last rays of sunlight seep in through the window to their left and hit Taehyung just so, golden skin contrasting the white of the pillow, hair spread out like a dark halo. Jungkook's breath stutters and he pauses to kiss Taehyung, open mouthed and breathless, pouring all his feelings into it.

 

Afterwards, Taehyung rests his head on Jungkook's chest and traces patterns onto his arm with his fingers, the touch light, barely there. Jungkook's eyes are starting to close, everything hazy in the dim, golden tinged light. Only when Taehyung's hand stills and drops onto the blankets does he jerk out of his reverie.

"Tae. Don't fall asleep," Jungkook says quietly. Taehyung's hair is tickling his neck. He gets a hum in reply.

"Come on, we shouldn't waste our time."

Taehyung shifts, props himself up on his elbows and looks at Jungkook.

"You call this a waste of time?"

"No," Jungkook protests, "I just..." He trails off. Taehyung musters him for a bit, then he leans down and touches his lips to Jungkook's in a chaste kiss.

"Relax, Guk. Let us have this. There won't be another chance," he murmurs, still close.

Jungkook wants to protest, but a bigger part of him wants to tuck Taehyung back into his side, drape one of the blankets over them and hide away from the world. Outside the sun has gone down, made space for the moon and thousands of stars.

"Wake me up as soon as you're awake, okay?"

Taehyung gives him a small nod. "Promise," he says.

It's Jungkook who wakes up first, in the middle of the night. Taehyung is sleeping peacefully beside him, an arm draped over him and their legs entangled. For a while Jungkook considers waking him up, but then he simply watches Taehyung sleep, chest rising and falling calmly and rhythmically, eyelashes fluttering from time to time. At some point he sinks back into a dreamless sleep, still facing Taehyung.

They're awoken by the morning sun. Jungkook is so captivated by Taehyung's tan skin in the warm light, his tousled hair and hooded eyes, that for a moment he forgets everything else. He doesn't look at the numbers on their arms as he trails up Taehyung's spine with his mouth, doesn't listen to the clock ticking away in his mind when Taehyung lets moans spill from his lips, Jungkook's name and pleas mixing into them.

It all comes rushing back at him when Taehyung gets up, later, tells him he's going to get breakfast. He gently pushes Jungkook back against the pillows when he makes to follow.

"Rest," he says, "I just sat in a cell for days on end. I'm pretty sure you had to do some running to get me out of there." Taehyung is smiling and his tone is playful, but Jungkook can only swallow and mutter a choked off 'alright'.

Taehyung comes back with rice and soup on a tray. Jungkook hasn't put clothes on yet, and before he can do or say anything Taehyung has already stripped down to his boxers again, a mischievous grin on his face.

"Gotta stick to the breakfast in bed protocol," he explains. They eat sitting next to eachother, propped up against the pillows and shoulders pressing together. Taehyung spills rice all over the bed and Jungkook flicks some at him, which he retaliates by splashing soup onto Jungkook's bare chest. Jungkook manages to look offended for all of ten seconds, biting down on his lip with his teeth, but then Taehyung dives forward and licks it off, and Jungkook can't help but burst out laughing.

"So," Taehyung says later, "what do you wanna do?"

Jungkook tries not to look at the counter, he really does. But his eyes are drawn to it, and seeing the remaining numbers is like a punch to the gut.

"Don't know," he manages. "What do you suggest?"

Taehyung shrugs, contemplates. Then he lights up. "Let's go to the rooftops," he says. "I want to see the stars."

"It's day."

"So let's spend the day there. And the night."

The implications of it don't need to be voiced. Jungkook straightens out the dirty sheets before they leave, closes all the windows and puts their dishes into the sink. Taehyung watches him wordlessly, a small frown on his face, but Jungkook catches him looking at everything for a little to long before they close the door behind them. Jungkook leaves his keys inside.

Neither of them really look around when they walk through the city. Everything looks the same brand of miserable, always has, ever since Taehyung was born and since Jungkook first set foot onto the broken pavement of the narrow alleys. Up from a rooftop at the edge of the city, though, the scenery stretching beneath them almost looks peaceful.

They don't speak much. There's an infinite amount of things they have yet to say, some more pressing and others irrelevant, but Jungkook can't swallow the lump in his throat that's blocking his words, and Taehyung seems content alternating between watching the sky, the city, and him. The numbers on his wrist count down and Jungkook monitors them. With each minute that passes, the confessions burning at the tip of his tongue sting a little harder.

When the sun begins to sink, he breaks.

"I had to take time from others to get you out."

Taehyung, who had been talking about something insignificant, stops. Jungkook continues, afraid of silence and even more afraid of what Taehyung might say.

"It would've been impossible- I tried everything, but there was no fucking way other than this one. I went back to my parents and they gave me some, but it wasn't enough." He takes a deep breath.

Taehyung's lips are pressed into a thin line, almost turning white with the pressure.

"The worst part is that I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I don't even remember their faces, but I see them when I close my eyes. They're just nameless bodies, like a fucking stray dog without a tag. My skin won't stop itching and my fingers tremble whenever I stop focusing on the present, and I did all that to get you out, to get you back, but now I don't deserve you anymore. I'm a fucking murderer, Taehyung." His voice breaks on the last syllables, cracks and fails. Jungkook hasn't really cried in a long, long time, but now he can feel tears gathering in his eyes, blurring his vision.

Taehyung hasn't stopped looking at him. His expression is stiff, but it's not resentful. The silence stretches on for too long, and it takes Jungkook all the control he has left in him not to get up and run. Finally, Taehyung speaks.

"You're not a bad person, Jungkook."

Jungkook snorts. "I killed six people."

Taehyung exhales forcefully and tilts his head back to look up at the sky. "The government kills people every day. So what? Last month at work, I had to swipe five years from a woman who had little more than those and a few days. That probably fucking killed her. What you did was- it wasn't right, and it was selfish- but I don't care. Let me be selfish too. I don't want to care."

Jungkook stares. His mouth is too dry, his palms too sweaty. "You don't care," he repeats.

Taehyung huffs out a humorless laugh. "I don't have the time to care." He scoots a little closer and fits a hand to Jungkook's neck, simply resting it there. He looks at Jungkook even though the other still can't quite face him.

"That probably makes me a bad person, right?" He sounds less brisk now, a little shaky instead.

"But you, Jungkook. You've never been bad. You're so- youre so good, a part of you always aches whenever you see someone suffer. Anyone. I know you've given some kid on the street a year of your time before, just because it was hungry and sick. No one from around here does that. We wouldn't even think of it. But you're different, yeah? And that's good. You're good. That won't change, not in my eyes, whatever you do."

Jungkook really does break, then. Taehyung pulls him in, not saying a word, just comforting him with light touches.

This time it's Jungkook comes undone beneath his fingers, shaking both with the bite of the wind and Taehyung's warm breath hitting his skin.

Night falls, and Jungkook still has so much to say, but some of his confessions are written on Taehyung's skin now, the column of his throat, his chest and abdomen where Jungkook had traced a path down, between his thighs. He pants a broken attest to his love into Taehyung's open mouth, and Taehyung kisses him in response.

"Let's kiss until the end of time," Taehyung says, later. Jungkook glances down at the numbers on his arm, sees the two at the end merge into a one, and recalls all the theories about the final fate of the universe that Taehyung has told him about, night after night, lying underneath an endless sea of stars.

 

-

 

In physics, the concept of spacetime combines space and time into a single interwoven continuum; an abstract universe. The one applicable to our universe has historically been interpreted to consist of thee spatial dimensions- length, width, height- and one temporal dimension- time. By combining space and time into a single manifold, physicists have significantly simplified a large number of physical theories, as well as described the workings of the universe in a more uniform way, both on supergalactic and subatomic levels.

Jungkook knows all this- Taehyung has told him, picked figures and abbreviations apart for him to understand. Looking at Taehyung, he feels a sudden apprehension towards categorising everything, all phenomena of the world, our galaxy, the universe, into physical dimensions, facts and theories. Taehyung is unlike anyone or anything he's ever known, and Jungkook doesn't want an explanation. He doesn't want the algorhythms behind his thoughts, nor does he want the measurements and facts behind his beauty.

There are other proposed spacetime theories that include additional dimensions- normally spatial, but there exist some speculative theories that include additional temporal dimensions, and even some that include dimensions neither temporal or spacial.

Jungkook, as he watches Taehyung turn back towards him and flash a bright smile, would like to think that Taehyung has a place in one of those unexplained, undiscovered dimensions, or maybe that he helps Jungkook create their very own spatial component in a world where the three dimensions of space have long since been overruled by that of time.

Physicists say that time is treated as universal with a constant rate of passage that is independent from the state of motion of an observer, but that, as it is so often, is just the science behind things. Reality is different. Never has time passed as quickly for Jungkook, almost running through his fingers like sand of an hourglass, as it did in his last hours with Taehyung. It runs and runs, ahead of him, away from him, and then, all of a sudden, the universe comes to a shuddering halt. All clocks in Jungkook's world spell out 00:00:00:00, and time is standing still.

 

Some are sure that the future is carved out, like the intricate plot of a novel whittled into the stone of rocks, mountains and skyscrapers over thousands of years coming to a close with very little left to do or to see- but I disagree. It is a given that everything has a start and an end, but in what form that end appears is unpredictable. Scientists have speculated about the end of the universe, but after all is said and done, theories remain theories. Each is certain of their own, but certainty alone does not guarantee an outcome. It has been estimated that the era of the universe as we know it will come to a close approximately thirteen billion years from now- and what do we gain from that knowledge? We know there is an end to everything. There comes a time when we run out of pages, the once white and blank paper almost entirely black with tiny letters written onto it in ink, some of it neat, some of it barely more than a messy scribble. There comes a time when the last grain of sand trickles through the stricture of the hourglass, leaving one half entirely empty and the other much too full. Maybe the sun will go down and never rise again, leave us in darkness. Or maybe it will rise and never sink from the height of the blue skies again, intensifying all colours until they fade. The end comes in different shapes and forms everywhere.

For Jungkook and Taehyung it comes in form of a sunrise, a last shared smile, a final exhale gifted to the other.

It will look different for Jimin, who is right now standing at the foot of a tall tree, sharing silence with nothing but birds and the wind, eyes resting on a handful of flowers.

Min Yoongi is bringing his last chapter a little closer, slim fingers carefully tapping a code into a device, then watching his years decrease. In a few hours, Jimin will look at his counter in awe, sat between flowers that Yoongi told him about months ago, and he will let his head fall back against the bark of the tree he is leaning against and let out a breathless laugh. Maybe he will return to the city with dried petals in between the pages of a book, later- he has more time now, enough to go back.

Maybe the rule of time will end, one day, years from now. It might take blood, tears, lives- because rebirth has its price.


There are many legends about reincarnation, some of them long forgotten, but Jungkook has always liked the ones involving stars best. He tells Taehyung, somewhere between midnight and dawn when the world is silent and grey, says that they will leave, soar towards the sky, and then they can finally be among the stars. Taehyung looks at him for a long time, the smile gone from his lips but tucked away in his eyes. Then he says:

"I already am."