157 Mortality of Man Pt.2

    Gyuri tore her eyes away from the flower. There's no use dwelling on what-ifs. As she tucked the camellia back into her robe, something solid brushed against her palm. Gyuri glanced down and found the jade ring hanging around her neck. She blinked. With all the recent commotion, she had forgotten to show Jimin and ask him what he knew. She groaned when she realised the implications of her mistake.

    What am I going to do now?

    With heavy steps, Gyuri dragged herself back to where she had left the laundry. Despite the clear blue sky and amiable weather, everything to Gyuri appeared bleak.

    \"Chim Chim was my only lead,\" she grumbled under her breath, \"and now he's gone.\"

    Before her mood could dip any lower, an unexpected splash caught her attention. Gyuri halted. Straining her ear, she searched her surroundings and upon recognising where she was, ambled toward the source.

    I know this place. If I'm not mistaken...

    The weariness in Gyuri's gait soon eased away as she caught sight of a scrawny figure. Her eyes shone when she realised who it was.

    Dressed in a dark hanbok that was too big for him, Gyuri spotted Taehyung standing by the water's edge. A grunt parted from his lips as he hurled a pebble into the lake. It skipped three times.

    From afar, Gyuri observed Taehyung as he continued to skip stones. Each time he succeeded, Gyuri waited for his familiar, child-like cheer, but instead of his usual celebratory clap and excited laughter, Taehyung had continued with the same impassive expression. Gyuri cocked her head to the side. It was unlike Taehyung to be so taciturn.

    \"A penny for your thoughts?\"

    Taehyung jumped. He had been so absorbed in his own thoughts that he hadn't noticed Gyuri's approach. \"Huh? What?\" He swung around and upon locking eyes with her, grunted, \"Oh.\" His eyes dimmed before looking away again. \"It is just you.\"

    Gyuri frowned. \"I see you've been practising,\" she said, gesturing to the new pebble in his hand.

    Taehyung grunted again. He threw the small stone with a strong flick of the wrist. The pair watched as it hopped thrice.

    \"You're really good at this now!\"

    Taehyung shrugged.

    Not knowing what else to say, Gyuri fell into silence. It had been an age since they had last spoken to each other; she half-expected a more extravagant reunion. It was then that Namjoon's words floated to her thoughts.

    \"...He has never experienced losing anyone.\"

    Gyuri stole a glance at Taehyung.

    From three feet apart she could see that he had grown thinner. Instead of his usual child-like roundness, Taehyung appeared unnaturally angular. With sunken eyes encircled by dark rings and a pasty pallor, Taehyung was the spitting image of No-face from 'Spirited Away'. Gyuri knew she had to do something before Taehyung truly joined the phantasmal cast.

    \"Hey, Tae?\"

    \"Hm?\" Before Taehyung realised what was happening, Gyuri had slapped him on the back, causing him to stumble and fall into the lake. \"Ouch!\" He shrieked as he landed on his hands and knees. He glared at Gyuri from the shallow water. \"That hurt!\"

    \"Did it? Good.\"

    Taehyung's face scrunched up in confusion. \"Have you lost your mind? You used to complain about me being near water and now you are the one pushing me to my doom.\"

    Gyuri smirked as Taehyung stood up. \"You look like you've wet yourself.\"

    Taehyung glanced down and blushed as he hurriedly covered his lower garment. \"Argh! What have you done, you stupid-!\" He cut himself short.

    Gyuri leaned forward. \"Say it,\" she taunted, \"I'm a what?\"

    Taehyung matched her gaze before looking away.

    Gyuri sighed. \"I rather you call me names like you used to than have you hold it in.\"

    \"I do not have time for this,\" Taehyung scowled as he barged past Gyuri. \"I am in no mood to be playing games-\"

    \"I'm not playing,\" Gyuri said with equal seriousness. She obstructed his path so that she was facing him once more. \"Tae,\" she said pleadingly, \"talk to me.\"

    A look of reluctance flickered in Taehyung's eyes, momentarily breaking his cold exterior. Just as Gyuri thought he was about to profess, his face twisted into a grimace. Gyuri followed his gaze to a crimson trail that was dripping from his palm.

    \"Your hand!\"

    Taehyung hissed as he inspected his wound. \"I must have landed on a sharp rock.\"

    \"We have to bandage it quickly! It'll be bad if it gets infected.\"

    Taehyung watched in muted horror as Gyuri tore her sleeve without hesitance.

    \"What?\" she asked when she noticed Taehyung's mouth ajar. \"Don't worry. I have another one.\"

    \"That is not why I am-\"

    Gyuri peered at him and Taehyung avoided her eye.

    \"You- you should not have done that,\" he chastised. \"You will get into trouble.\"

    \"For what? Pushing you or ruining my clothes?\"

    Taehyung mumbled, \"Both.\" He turned to face Gyuri but quickly looked away again when he caught a glimpse of her exposed arm. \"But more so for flashing me...\"

    Gyuri stopped what she was doing. \"Flashing you?\" She studied Taehyung's face which had turned rosy with embarrassment. She chuckled, \"Oh, right.\"

    \"Why are you laughing? This is serious!\"

    \"Well, not really.\"

    \"How is it not? People might misunderstand. You should hurry and change!\"

    Gyuri planted her feet before Taehyung could usher her away. \"No, not until I know you're okay first.\"


    Gyuri shot him an unimpressed look as she finished tying a knot. \"It's not deep, but you should get it checked out by Physician Koh or Master Namjoon later.\"

    Taehyung's face was grim as he studied Gyuri's sloppy handiwork. \"Now that you know I am fine, go and-\"


    Without warning, Gyuri cupped his face, forcing him to listen. Taehyung blinked. In the light, he noticed how Gyuri's unyielding eyes were a beautiful shade of terracotta.

    \"It's nice that you're always worrying about me, but it's unfair that you don't give me a chance to worry about you.\" Gyuri's grip on his cheeks loosened as she reminded him, \"I'm your sister, aren't I?\"

    Taehyung reluctantly nodded. Only for now.

    \"Can't we have a chat first?\" She released her hold on Taehyung and beckoned him to join her on the grass.

    Taehyung grudgingly followed.

    \"You know, someone once taught me that even if wounds heal without a trace, you never forget the pain that caused it.\" Gyuri gestured to Taehyung's hand as he sat down beside her. \"I hope yours doesn't leave a scar.\"

    \"If it does,\" Taehyung murmured, \"then I guess I have you to thank.\" He raised the shabby cloth which was mottled red. \"I will remember you every time I look at it.\" To Gyuri's surprise, Taehyung grinned.

    Relieved to see a glimpse of the old Taehyung, Gyuri smiled back. \"I guess you will.\"

    The pair glanced at the lake together, an unspoken understanding passing between them. Unlike before, the silence between them was comfortable now.

    \"You need not worry about me,\" Taehyung eventually said, breaking the enchantment. \"In contrast to what everyone thinks, I am doing fine.\"

    \"Are you, though?\" Gyuri tossed him a questioning look.

    Taehyung paused. \"Yes.\"

    \"If that's true, then why are you here?\"

    \"What do you mean?\"

    \"You only come here when you're feeling down,\" Gyuri explained and Taehyung stiffened. \"Don't you remember? You brought me here to cheer me up last time.\"

    Taehyung focused his attention on the grass, his fingers reaching out to play with it. Soon he began pulling up blade after blade. Gyuri watched in silence as Taehyung engaged in his nervous habit, a tell-tale sign of his troubled mind.

    \"Did you know that stars are linked to our birth?\"

    Baffled by his utterance, Gyuri shook her head. \"No, I didn't.\"

    \"Some astrologists say that when a child is born, a star falls from the heavens to join the earth. That is why children are heaven-sent.\" He smiled wryly. \"But when people pass away, do you know what happens next?\"

    Gyuri shook her head again.

    \"Neither do I.\" Taehyung sighed as he looked up. \"I tried to search for answers in Tutor Wentai's scrolls but found nothing.\" He reached out as if he could touch the endless blue. \"And it made me think, what if they turn back into stars?\" He closed his fist. \"At least then, Father would be up there with my mother and my brother's mothers. They would be together, reunited as constellations.\"

    \"Oh, Tae...\"

    \"Father passed on alone.\" Suddenly, Taehyung brought down his trembling fist and pounded the grass. \"When I am reminded of him, all I could think about is how frightened he must have been in his final moments. Even with his faults, he did not deserve to pass in solitary. We should have been there.\"

    Gyuri scooted closer to Taehyung as he hid his face in between his knees.

    \"I realise now how fragile life is,\" Taehyung croaked. \"One by one we are plucked from this lifetime like fish from a lake. What if I wake up one day and find that everyone I care about has left me behind?\"

    Gyuri gently held Taehyung's shivering frame. \"That won't happen.\"

    \"How do you know?\" Taehyung turned to face her, his eyes brimming with unshed tears.

    \"Because,\" Gyuri said with determination, \"I'll defy death. I'll become immortal so I'll never leave you.\"

    A tear that was threatening to fall slid down Taehyung's cheek. He wiped it away. \"You are just saying that to humour me.\"

    \"It's true,\" Gyuri insisted, \"haven't I already proven it to you?\" She jerked her thumb and pointed to her back. \"I protected you with no weapons or anything. That just shows I'm untouchable.\"

    Taehyung let out a dubious scoff.

    \"We'll grow old together,\" Gyuri vowed. \"You, me and the orphans. You'll never be alone because I'll be with you even when you're a wrinkly, old prune.\"

    Beguiled, Taehyung asked, \"Truly?\"

    \"Of course!\"

    Taehyung's lips showed the beginnings of a genuine smile. Even when he knew that Gyuri's words held no weight against the mortality of man, a part of him couldn't help but believe her. Talking to Gyuri was like a remedy that healed the wounds his father's departure left behind.

    \"Thank you, Gyuri. Why do I always feel better after speaking with you?\"

    Gyuri jokingly answered, \"Maybe it's because you like me.\"

    Immediately, Taehyung froze.

    Upon realising what she said, Gyuri gasped. \"Crap! I didn't- F- forget I said that! That was a bad joke-\"

    \"It is true.\"

    Taehyung held his nerve as he leaned in, causing a flustered Gyuri to retreat.

    \"But those words...\" His eyes trailed down to her lips before locking eyes with hers. \"I want to say them to you when I am a man.\"
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