“Jeonghan, just let me fucking think!” Seungcheol shouts, but the intent has passed only from the other male's one ear to another. The magnitude stays though, swinging his wild sentiments from left to right. Seungcheol has never screamed right at his face and Jeonghan wants to cry, to have his emotions spill in front of him, but of course he doesn't because he's not at all so lenient of how he handles his own stress. “You knew better! We're not teenagers anymore for fuck's sake.”
The anger takes place instead, making his fingers clammy as he tries to grip on whatever he can ground himself into but the first descent tumbles as much as his angry tears do. “Your impassiveness caused this!” Jeonghan shoots back, face red and veins madly protruding along his neck. “If you weren't so focused on your work then you would have noticed!”
The blame rocks inside the car, first, stilling in an artificial outgrowth of calmness but Jeonghan can hear how Seungcheol's deep breaths have become ragged and how he steps on the gas prominently. “Well,” the other answers, tone mocking and Jeonghan hates how only such word presses a salted wound on him. “If you weren't so keen about demanding and expecting from me then I wouldn't have drowned myself in this. I'm not the only male in this fucking relationship.”
It hits a chord and albeit the author wants to fight back, to have his man ego redeemed, he doesn't because Seungcheol hits right where it is supposed to be and his insecurity has already resurfaced, morphing into an ugly, monstrous anxiety that has been bugging him for months.
He straightens up through his shaking knees and thinks about maybe he should stop whatever's going to happen next. He knows it won't be pretty and he knows it will dwindle down to what his anxiety has been telling him if he ever messes up: to never have Seungcheol's pretty face beside him every morning.
And he is messing it up.
Jeonghan twists in his seat and pulls his seatbelt open. The action flicks back Seungcheol into control and he grasps on Jeonghan's wrist. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Stop the car,” he wanted the command to sound firm but it comes out wobbly and weak. “Let me out,” he tries again, this time with more force and charge than the earlier. But the older doesn't let up, only clicks the automatic lock. “Let me fucking out or so god forbid, I will fucking break this window and jump!” he screams.
“And what?” Seungcheol grits, jaw clenched, as his focus steers momentarily away from the road and into Jeonghan. This is where he realizes Seungcheol's crying too. “This is the only thing you can do, right? Fucking running away and then coming back as if nothing happened. I'm fucking spent, Han!”
The guilt rocks Jeonghan again and the image of his lover with tears running down his face disarrays everything all in the wrong places into what he can call: “hurts”.
Jeonghan sees it first and he opens his mouth to a strangled cry that did not articulate when he helplessly scrambles for the wheel but everything was too fast. An incoming truck hits Seungcheol's side just as Jeonghan jolts away from the force he never knew could be so strong.
The last thing he remembers is the smell of the heavy metal and Seungcheol's face.
The blond straggles awake to a hardwood top with his face difficulty pressed into the furniture and he almost falls off his seat. The scene of the crash slowly dissipates into warm tones and a French song named “La Vie en Rose” playing in his ears. Sharp kittenish eyes replace the tepid caramel doe ones he saw just a few moments ago. Jeonghan tries to grasp the sudden surroundings he is chucked in all the while trying not to throw up.
The male pulls his earbuds off and he hears Joshua say, “Hannie? You awake?” He's trembling but he manages a weak nod as a confirmation and he hopes Joshua won't notice the sudden agitation that has wrecked his body minutes ago.
Jihoon does, unfortunately. “You're trembling,” he announces in his voice that does not slip anything but mere concern. Jeonghan runs a hand to rub his face in a pathetic effort to also wipe away the remnants of Seungcheol pooling in his own blood and tears. “You okay, Han?”
“Yes, just a bad dream,” he confirms again, just so he can shoo Joshua, who's now looking at him with pity, away. “I've been working too much on my résumé. Few sleepless night is all,” Jeonghan adds, just for a slight justification in case his roommate may want to intrude and ask questions again.
Much to his own space of relief, the two did drop the topic, slinking back to the old banter of who gets to maneuver in the counter of the coffee shop while Jeonghan takes his time in the backroom.
Just a bad dream, he does hope so.
Bedtime stories have always claimed that destiny has its own way of punishing people because of their trespassesㅡ murderers stuck in an unending cycle of reliving their lives.
He is punished by his own trespasses, that is. Fate has wounded up a sick game where Jeonghan wakes up to different lives in successionㅡ by now he had been an author, an actor, a model, a college studentㅡ only for him to watch his soulmate die, again and again.
At a time, he lives in Manhattan, other times he has a long flowy hair and as for the latest he's in—fifth—he’s a barista, with his messy backpacks and unruly coffee creams.
“Han, you can clock out now. You look like you’re about to pass out on us,” Joshua pulls him out of his reverie, fiddling with his apron and all.
“Thanks, Josh,” Jeonghan launches himself from his seat, image of his past lover forgotten. “I’ll just cook our dinner later.”
Every life he's been in; one thing remains constant: waking up next to Seungcheol's warmth.
This life though, he doesn't.
Maybe this lifetime Seungcheol won't have to die. Maybe fate has gotten tired of punishing him.
Reminiscence is a friend, but not when it stays altogether intact even if you don't want it to.
Maybe their paths would not even meet, not at all.
And he wishes it stays at that.
Jeonghan has noticed the searing pain when he was at work. It has kicked in when he was just about to reach over for his script. He toppled a bit, he remembers, as the growing twinge has shot from his right arm straight to his chest. His cropped raven hair has curtained his face anon when he doubled over in a pathetic attempt to catch himself right on the vanity mirror in front of him.
“Jeonghan, what's wrong?” he also remembers Junhui has asked, his manager who bothered to glance over from the couch he settled himself in.
The fresh tears have caught up just as Jeonghan realizes what is happening. Junhui has stared, pity and horrified, at Jeonghan's pain-stricken face when the raw print in his arm materializes.
I'm sorry, it says.
The last thing he's going to hear from his lover before he dies.
The last thing Seungcheol has said earlier when he has so left him standing out the hall and shut the door in his face.
By now he runs, he runs like he has never run in his whole life, up the staircase into the fourth floor where the man resides and yet even though his knees hurt with the strain he's putting himself in, he feels as if not one's enough.
It is not enough, indeed.
A loud cry has left his lips when he finds the said guy submerged in the tub, much like sleepingㅡ pretty and glowing like he has always been, but snatched with the normal constant rising of one's chest. The shower is left open and Jeonghan did not hesitate to get inside to pull the lifeless body out the water.
He's soaking, make up and expensive clothes, but he could not care, not when Seungcheol's warmth is slowly dissipating. He keeps croaking out small ‘please wake up’s and wretched ‘help’s. Jeonghan waits, prays it's not going to be the same this time but he knows it’s all futile. So he sits there, with Seungcheol’s head hung on his shoulder, unmoving and devoid of all emotions.
Seungcheol has grown cold against his arms.
“It's 9:30 am,” Seungkwan singsongs from his position in the counter and Jeonghan rolls his eyes at the comment.
“Move off,” he volunteers now and he smiles at the beam Seungkwan has gave him the moment the words left his lips. “Really now, before I change my mind.”
“Thanks hyung!” Seungkwan much so literally drops his work on the floor, looks at Jeonghan sheepishly at first and darts out of the counter before Jeonghan “can change his mind”.
The tissues have clattered all over the floor and he makes a silent “thanks” that he has decided to push back the fringes of his blond hair, letting them hide in the confines of his work cap.
Jeonghan likes to deter the fact that something is totally wrong in this lifetimeㅡ with, what, Seungcheol's presence has still remained unknown. But at the same time, it's a relief that he doesn't know him and vice-versa; a much easier way to live, although not very likely.
He sometimes wishes he doesn't resurrect back to life. But that's a far cry from what reality is, whatever it presents, it's more assaultive. Sometimes he wonders if he's the only one with this kind of punishment but after he notices how Jihoon looks at his junior, the tall, tan waiter of the coffee shop, with melancholy in his eyes, he concludes maybe that isn't actually the case.
Of course fate works its own waysㅡ one when it's so unexpected.
The door of the cafe rings to booming voices of three people on a Tuesday morning (“I told you Won, Seokmin walked straight into the pole and I would have laughed but after that, he scurried toward me and asked for my fucking number!”, “Shut up, Sol!”)
“Uh, two Iced Americano and one Macchiato, please. Grande,” Jeonghan hears someone say. It was expected but he has chirped a small ‘Could you give me a minute, please?’ as he is still distracted with the tissue papers on the floor.
It takes five minutes for him to straighten up, grab three cups and with a muttered apology and a marker poised on the rim, he asks, “Your name?”
The said marker clatters on the floor.
He is greeted with tepid caramel doe eyes and Jeonghan chokes back a sob. Blood rushes up straight to his head and he sways a bit when the world tilts on his heels. He dumbly stares at the customer's face, solace and anger rolled together into one before he begins to cry, but with his lips turned up into a pained smile. “Seungcheol,” Jeonghan says it for him, his name sweet in his tongue, and the air must have made a good thwacking job in his lungs that it gets harder to breathe every second he stares at the man, who's now solely confused as to why is he crying in front of him.
“Is he an ex?” One of them asks Seungcheol and the other one jabs him in the ribs with his elbow.
Seungcheol sports a stark silver hair in this lifetime unlike the blond or raven ones Jeonghan has also came to love. He also now has piercings in his right ear and maybe he might just also learn to love those.
Maybe the next move he did was wrong, but just as the want and need collides together in a heap of emotions he has been stalling and denying, he reaches over the counter and touches Seungcheol's cheek with his thumb. The male flinches away and Jeonghan pretends the action did not crumple his heart out a bit.
Joshua has resumed Jeonghan's shift for him.
Jeonghan jolts awake to frantic calls in the middle of the night. At first, he thinks maybe it's his alarm but the Manhattan horizon in his ceiling-to-floor glass windows does not give away any signs of the sun yet. It's Seungcheol, good old Seungcheol missing his voice again in this godforsaken hour even though they have FaceTimed yesterday. He still can stall his calls for a few minutes.
It is not Seungcheol, much to his confusion, he realizes, when he picks up the phone hoursㅡ should have been only minutesㅡ after. The room contrasts a good dark hue around him and he takes a split reflex action for his eyes to settle into the caliginous surroundings. The dirty white (‘weird, he had yellow ones’) confines of his bed is screaming sleep but the nervousness creeped out upon looking at Jihoon's name on his phone.
“Hyung, hyung, hyung,” the static call repeats and this time his mind finally lodges to register it isn't Jihoon but Chan. His voice is croaked and he seems to be crying. Jeonghan fully goes into attention as his heart starts to thump inside his ears. He wasn't given time to reply though as he hears someone shouts at the younger from the other line and some sort of noises follow afterㅡ probably grappling for the phone.
“Han.” It's Jihoon this time and Jeonghan sits up almost immediately that the room swims around him in his sudden head start. “Are you at home? Could you first sit down while I tell you- “
He cuts him off and somehow, he realizes what's happening. “Tell me,” he says, anything but firm as the anxiety wholly swallows him.
For what felt like ten minutes, only silence followed and Jeonghan allows himself to believe nothing has come wrong, that he's still okay, that this is not happening again but just as his first sob wrecks in his chest, Jihoon whispers with strain in his voice, “We got into a car crash. Everyone's in a stable condition now but Soonyoung, Mingyu, Minghao and Seungcheolㅡ” A sharp halt from Jihoon confirms it.
Jeonghan chuckles, albeit the tears streaming down his face. “This is a prank, right?” He knows he's lying through his teeth but it's not so wrong to protect himself from the fact that he just lost Seungcheolㅡ again. “Seungcheol just.. he just, he just wants me to come home, right Ji? This joke is not even funny!”
“Dead on arrival,” Jihoon's voice is eerily placating and there's finality to it. Sometimes he thinks of how he does it, like he never actually gets attached to whatever his life has managed to give him to. Jeonghan drops the call and withers in his own bed.
Only then he crumples on the floor when he gets up to turn on the lights. Seungcheol has snatched away the colors he has given to Jeonghan the first time they met, in this lifetime.
Everything's back to black and white, even Jeonghan's red hair.
“Aren't you tired?” Jeonghan looks up from his coffee cup after minutes into staring at nothingness and materializing the growing heavy dread on his chestㅡ the fact that it's going to happen again at any given time.
Jihoon looks at him dead-on and Jeonghan looks away, “Uh, I made time for sleep last night so I'm good.”
“That's not what I mean.” The smaller presses a palm on the table and Jeonghan braces himself for the words. Jihoon has never filtered; he likes things straight to the point, a hard contrast on Jeonghan who despises confrontation. “I’m just as stuck as you. Your dreams aren't just dreams, right?”
Jeonghan's face contorts into a fight of denial and shock, “What are you talking about, Ji?”
“You called me Ji,” Jihoon successfully picks the dead end and this is where Jeonghan's facades starts to dissolve. “The last time you did, you had red hair.”
“Stop,” he slams his hand on the table and it shakes, more so from Jeonghan himself rather than the action. “I did not have red hair. I've been blond since I was born.”
“You do. You had red locks, Seungcheol had brown.” Jihoon continues to prod. “In that life where you went to New York for college. I have watched him die four times already Jeonghan. I was with him in that life.”
The blond wants to sink into the fake warmth of his hood or conjure up lies he has been so practiced to say but how Jihoon looks at him with sorrow makes the sane part of him malfunctions in so many ways. “This can't be helped.”
“What did you do in your past life?”
Jeonghan stands up, wanting to get out of the suddenly suffocating room, to go back to the front counter or to have anything that he can do without being prodded by his past mistakes; without being reminded by the argument he had with Seungcheol inside the carㅡ his very first death.
But Jihoon maneuvers himself around the table and holds him back. He flicks the accusing arm off and grits, “I'm being punished by my sins. This is what I deserve.”
“But not Seungcheol,” Jihoon retorts, straightening up his back like he means business. “You bring him death, Jeonghan. You know what that means.”
The older has wildly turned around his heels, yanking his apron off himself and throwing it at Jihoon. “What the fuck do you know about us? You don’t have the fucking right to tell me how should I feel because it is not you,” Jeonghan charges at him and jabs a finger on his chest, emotions spilling in bigger doses than he intends to. The voice inside his head is screaming on top of his lungs and the burn in his chest digs a hole deeper, cutting towards his guts. “It is not you who gets to relive loss and pain over and over again,” his voice trembles. “It is not you who gets to stare at his void face just before he dies. My loss is not your loss, Jihoon.”
“Jeonghan,” he hears Seungcheol's breathy voice through the phone.
Jeonghan runs down the staircase, complaining inside his head about how the elevator is not functioning again and making notes of how he should convince his boyfriend to change their apartment building. “Cheol, are you on the way home? I'm just coming down. I'll pick you up,” he answers, hair dripping wet from his afternoon shower. “Please tell me that you managed toㅡ” Jeonghan finally notices the silent treatment from the other line so his jogs slow down just as he steps into the August chill. “Hey babe, what's wrong?”
“I.. I'm in 8.” The familiar raspy voice comes through.
He registers confusion just as his neighbor, Soonyoung, beams a good greeting at him. Soonyoung has flowers in his hands and he waves at the male as he walks down the road, dismissing him immediately and answering with a, “You're in what?” to Seungcheol.
“8 minutes, Han.”
The falter in Seungcheol’s voice rises up bile in Jeonghan’s throat. “What happened?” he asks, as he starts to run, the ticking millions of numbers in his wrist starting to only blur just as much as the road in front of him. Is he crying?
“I got robbed.”
Jeonghan grips on the phone harder, as if holding onto it also holds Seungcheol close to him. He makes a sharp turn, breathing coming in spikes and reveling the throbbing of his blood. “Listen to me, where are you?”
“Two blocks away.” Just as Seungcheol responses, he sees the other down the road, considerable meters away from him.
They both start to run towards each other. Jeonghan runs like the wind has despised him so much. He runs, albeit he knows what’s bound to happen. He runs through his clouded eyes and memorizes Seungcheol’s dark raven hair—his favorite—and gray button-up... just in case.
“Listen, I love you, okay?” he hears the other say through his phone and this hits him as goodbye.
He cries out, chucking the device out of his hold and he screams just as Seungcheol is meters away from him. “Don't fucking tell me that! You're going to get in here and I'm going to give you my time! We're both going to live through this!”
Seungcheol doesn’t. He hits Jeonghan’s body squarely, toppling them together into the ground. Lilac covers most of Jeonghan’s vision and he has never scorned his long hair this much as he scrambles to take Seungcheol’s wrist into his. He twists them both but the transfer doesn’t happen.
Young model, Yoon Jeonghan, mourns for the loss of his long-time lover, Choi Seungcheol, says the wet and crumpled paper that was left unattended on the floor of Jeonghan’s—once shared with Seungcheol—penthouse.
“You make it sound so easy, don't you? You know I envy you, Jeonghan. You get to be loved by the person you want and I'm stuck reliving this life, where I watch mine love someone else, just because of one fucking mistake,” Jihoon takes a step where it hits and Jeonghan sinks back to whatever havoc he has been dishevelled into. “Every loss is unfamiliar just as not having the same shoes as you but you can't invalidate mine just because yours almost killed you. I've had it worse.”
If Jeonghan hadn't look pathetic earlier, this time he does, as tears finally leak down his pretty face and as he tries his very best not to sob in front of the younger. He stands idly in the middle of the room and he takes whatever jab he can take from Jihoon.
“You humans are ingrates, hypocritical. I've had it served in front of you, Jeonghan, and yet all you do is run away from it…”
“This is the only thing you can do, right? Fucking running away and then coming back as if nothing happened.”
“All your lives, you let pass not telling Seungcheol anything. What if he's been also living this hell, Han?”
"I'm fucking spent, Han!"
“He's not,” Jeonghan iterates through his teeth but the slight waver in his voice gives in to his doubt and sudden realization.
“You did not think about the magnitude of the mistake you caused. All you ever think about is having to be with Seungcheol. Don't you think that's selfish?”
But the words of the other has dulled into the background, numbing a pang in his chest, as the scenes of his lover's death comes rushing back into his view. Jeonghan staggers, knocking over a stool, and helplessly clams for Jihoon's help when the first intake of lungful air doesn't registerㅡ it hurts.
Jihoon just watches. “In this lifetime, you don't deserve any place in Seungcheol's life and I will make sure of that.”
The blond blacks out.
He doesn't know if it's the drag of heavy metal against asphalt or the hung up stench of burning rubber scraping through his nostrils that makes everything a bit disconcerting. He doesn't know what's happening except the numbing pain all over his body and cold hard pang of nausea swinging him like a shot of straight vodka, taken on a Friday night along with a pinch of guilt.
He can't move.
It's a bit incongruous to be straight up calm when he starts to notice a mass of people huddling towards them. Maybe it's the angel, who's lying across him with a faint smile of something he can't decipher against the glow of the moon and the halo of blond locks around him, the same stranger who silently cried in front of him in a coffee shop. He's running his soft fingers through Seungcheol's hair as if saying ‘it's okay, nothing hurts’, only this time he does say something.
“I’m sorry,” he’s been repeating it again and again, before the ringing in Seungcheol’s ear took over.
He realizes they're both lying down in their own pools of blood. He also realizes he doesn't care.
“Made the same mistake again?” Jihoon chirps from his side, arms hogging what looks like chips against his chest, as he walks along the cramped hallway of the building.
The familiar and unsightly young boy turns confusingly at him, innocence and pure surprise ghosting momentarily in his scrawny face before it morphs into a small smile.
“Do you also think what I'm doing is a mistake because I've heard my friends told me that a million times?” The boy's eyebrows shot up, hiding in his black fringes and Jihoon realizes he doesn't remember anything anymore.
There's amusement in the back of his eyes as he says, “No, not at all. I thought you were someone.” He lets the handler bring the young boy inside the training room and Jihoon just might have smiled as he follows the newbie wearing a soft pink t-shirt that says “정한”.
“Kids! Listen here!” One of the managers say and Jihoon sinks back into the group of meager teenagers, boys and girls, who immediately stop whatever they have been doing to accommodate the authority.
“We have a new trainee today.” Someone hollers from the back and this hypes the whole batch into also hollering their greetings as they finally meet the rumored newbie. They waited for hours. “Yoon Jeonghan.”
Jeonghan smiles, young and impeccable, blurring off the backdrop of mirrors and speakers behind him.
The manager's face contorts as he begins to conceptualize that the whole huddle won't be settling down any sooner. They're all in front of the new boy now, gushing at him and asking questions that doesn't really matter. He dwindles to his last resort as he coughs and steals back the attention when he says, “Seungcheol, please introduce all of them one by one to Jeonghan.”
And then he's off, fast on his tail, leaving the kids all by themselves.
Maybe they're both bound to each other, whatever lives they're in, Jihoon admits, and if he does see, he doesn't say anything about the invisible red string that connects Seungcheol's pinky to Jeonghan's.
Of course fate works its own waysㅡ one where it's so unexpected.