The smell is still there, pungent and all too real as he breathes in. It lingers, clinging and haunting, a ghost of his past that isn't really his past at all.
It's his future. The one he wishes he could change.
The one he needs to change.
And behind his closed eyelids, the sky is lit up in embers and flames, flickering orange and yellow. Too bright, too hot. The sky isn't the thing that pains him to see, that takes his heart and sets it ablaze like the container he'd been trapped in.
No, it's him.
Through the black, the toxic burning as it fills his lungs and making his chest ache with every inhale. Through the heat haze, like a wall of water separating them with the way it manipulates the air surrounding them both. The look in his eyes, the fear and devastation. The acceptance. The longing to live.
The desperation to reach him.
Among the scent of fire, the scent of gasoline and smoke, his senses are overwhelmed with the smell of burning flesh too. And through the climbing flames, the black of the smoke, he can see it's Namjoon's skin. His hand that's reaching out, blistering from the unrelenting heat. He must be in agony, it is agony. The fire is unforgiving and unrelenting, the air is too thick to properly breathe in. The roof is creaking, ready to fall on them both at any moment.
There's no escaping this fate. The only comfort is knowing he'll go back again. Knowing that the end of his life simply resets the clock.
But it hurts, it hurts . The fire ravaged his body, melting the fabric of his clothes to his skin. It hurts so badly, the knowledge that he can’t reach Namjoon, can’t hold him. It hurts to know that they’ll die together, completely trapped within this container, and yet the flames roaring between them will leave them both to perish completely alone.
It hurts. It hurts.
Namjoon’s lips move saying only one word, one final word, screaming it into the night, crying out loud in the chaos and confusion and terror. And it’s probably the most painful thing of all. Worse than the flames licking at his skin, worse than the toxic black filling his lungs and stinging at his eyes.
A shattering of glass, and then all is black. And the past that isn't quite his past is a distant dream, and Seokjin is weeping alone as he wakes up again. He reaches for his phone, opens his eyes to look.
April 11, 2022.
For a while Seokjin just stays exactly where he is, mourning the love not really lost. His mind is filled with Namjoon, just him. Always him.
His Namjoon, his sweet Joonie. A boy who was always too mature for his age, too smart for his own good. Even back in school, back in that musty classroom they’d come to call a home away from home.
Yoongi would be trying to teach Jungkook piano, and Hoseok would be cuddling his little Jiminie close. Jimin always was Hoseok’s favourite, although he’d never admit to it.
Then Namjoon would be there, Taehyung at his feet just clinging to every single word Namjoon said, not even realizing that Namjoon was taking care of him. It would always be subtle, Namjoon would offer to split his food with the younger boy, and then he’d sit back and watch him eat. Poor Taehyung was always too hungry to even notice that Namjoon hadn’t eaten at all. Namjoon was the big brother Taehyung had never had, the big brother Taehyung desperately needed.
Every now and then Namjoon would glance up, meet Seokjin’s eyes, and just smile. Those dimples Seokjin had always adored gracing his cheeks, eyes crinkling with the sincerity of it. That smile always made Seokjin’s heart pound in his chest, always did make his stomach flip. Seokjin didn’t realize it then, and didn't know what he was feeling. But that day, the day he sold out their space to save his own skin, the day everything changed. That's the day he knew. That’s the day he realized that Namjoon was everything he ever wanted, everything he’d ever needed.
That was the day he knew he loved him.
But that was the day everything fell apart.
After that Seokjin was gone for a long time, but his heart always beat to the sound of Namjoon’s voice in his mind, to the way Namjoon would call his name. There was nobody else, Seokjin doubted there ever could be. And when he returned, he had to face the carnage he’d left behind him all those years ago.
Jungkook was dead, Yoongi was dead, Jimin and Hoseok were nowhere to be found, and Taehyung was a killer. Namjoon hadn’t escaped this fate either, locked up for attacking a guy. And Seokjin had known it was all his fault, that his actions had been the catalyst that triggered it all.
Seokjin was given a chance though, somehow. An opportunity to fix it, to save them all.
Time and again he failed. He wasn’t fast enough, he’d made a wrong choice.
Time and again he’d awoken in his bed, the date April 11th, 2022.
That's how he'd found himself there once again, the same gas station that always started it all.
The very same gas station he'd found himself staring up at time and again from his car, waiting patiently for Namjoon to appear. Maybe this time he should let it play out? Let Namjoon act out and wind up in a cell? It would be better than the alternative, better than Namjoon winding up six feet under.
But Seokjin couldn't do that, Namjoon deserved to live. And he deserved to live freely.
A car pulled up, and suddenly there he was. Tall and handsome, even in his dirty work clothes. A sucker between his lips as his calloused fingers gripped the pump, filling up the car as the driver waited.
God, Namjoon was so beautiful.
Seokjin felt his heart clench and break in his chest.
Namjoon was moving and so Seokjin did too, pulling in behind the other car just as the driver threw the cash out of the window and onto the ground. Namjoon looked so small as he glanced down at it, shoulders slumping in defeat. It was humiliating, someone so smart and capable being treated like less than dirt, less than human, because of his job.
Under different circumstances, in a different world, Namjoon could have really been something. A scholar, a professor. An artist, a philosopher. He could have been anything he wanted to be. Because Namjoon truly was the most intelligent man Seokjin had ever met, his brain bursting at the seams with knowledge in a million different subjects.
A different path was chosen for him, however. Because money makes the world go around, and Namjoon simply couldn't afford to dream.
With a sigh Namjoon bent forward, fingers reaching out to grab the crumpled banknote from the floor, but Seokjin beat him to it.
"You're a piece of shit, you know that?" He told the driver, holding the money between two fingers. "You think that car gives you the right to treat people that way? Get out of here."
"Fuck you." The driver huffed, clearly annoyed that Seokjin had ruined his good time, and screeched out of the gas station lot.
Seokjin watched him go, taking a moment to keep himself together before he looked at Namjoon. He could feel his palms sweating, his heart pounding wildly inside his ribcage. And then he turned, raising his eyes to meet Namjoon's.
"Hey, hyung. It's been a while."
Just like that, the cycle began again.
This time Seokjin followed the same pattern.
He had Joonie save Jungkook, he had Jungkook save Yoongi, he found Hobi and Minnie, and he saved Taehyung.
Exactly in order, exactly as it should be.
But he didn't allow Namjoon to get close, instead keeping a careful distance between them. But Seokjin wasn't blind, wasn't stupid. He could feel Namjoon trying to get close, and could see the hurt in his eyes as Seokjin pushed him away each time he moved a step closer.
It was killing Seokjin inside.
Everything was exactly the same, exactly as it should be.
Only this time Seokjin wasn't allowing Namjoon to fall in love with him, instead he suffered through the same scenarios only to stop the times they got a little closer before it could happen.
For every time they had made love the last time, this time it was a fight.
For every time they had previously touched, it was Seokjin flinching away from Namjoon's hands.
And slowly but surely Seokjin could feel himself turning into someone else, losing himself in a love he'd not really lost.
What he didn't realize that was Namjoon could feel it too.
There was something tugging at Namjoon's subconscious, something distant and unidentifiable, everytime he looked at Seokjin. He could feel his heart ache, although he couldn't understand why, but it hurt all the same.
Watching Seokjin withdraw, becoming a shell of the man he once was, was all too devastating anyway. But with the feeling he didn't understand pulling at him, tearing and ripping as he tried to understand where it was coming from, it made him feel so much worse.
Sometimes he'd dream of them both.
His mind would fill with visions of him and Seokjin together, laughing and loving each other without a single care. And Seokjin was his usual self, his old self, so pretty and sweet. Even when Namjoon awoke, the dream fading slowly with the night sky as the sun arose, it would still feel real. Like a memory instead of a trick of the mind.
Spring came and went quickly, turning to summer with long days and warm nights. Namjoon loved it, even with how fast the time flew, because he had his boys back. Of course there had been fall outs and fights, harsh words and punches thrown, but why were all together again, healing and growing.
All thanks to Seokjin. He'd been the one to bring them back together again after all.
As summer turned cooler and fall arrived in the air, Namjoon grew more and more impatient. No, not impatient. Concerned. While the boys grew closer, closing chapters on the pain they felt and the wars they'd had amongst themselves, Seokjin remained distant. It was like he was sitting on the sidelines watching it all unfold, afraid to get closer and to let himself heal with them.
Sometimes Namjoon would catch him staring wistfully his way, eyes wet with unshed tears. But then Seokjin would meet his gaze, blink away the tears, and would grow cold once more.
"Hyung." Taehyung leaned against him one day, camping out in the container Namjoon called home. "Why don't you just talk to him?"
"Who?" Namjoon had replied, snatching the beer from Taehyung's hand to take a deep drink of his own.
"Jin-hyung. I saw you both, you know. In a dream I had once."
"Yeah?" Namjoon had smiled, shooting the younger a glance as he took another swig from the can they shared. Taehyung had always had wild dreams. "And what did you see?"
"You and him together." Taehyung told him matter of factly, shrugging his shoulders. "You were in love. I think you probably still are."
"You know what I mean." Taehyung grabbed the can, drawing the last of it before crushing it in his palm and tossing it across the container as Namjoon rolled his eyes. "I think you're in love with him, and I know he's in love with you."
"How can you possibly know that?" Namjoon had squinted, watching as Taehyung moved away to get himself comfortable on Namjoon's bed.
"I told you, I dreamed about it. Talk to him." And with that Taehyung closed his eyes, ending the conversation as he fell into slumber.
As Namjoon watched him sleep, reaching out to poke at the yellowing bruise underneath the younger boy's eye, he thought about his words. Thought about how he felt.
The truth was that he did love Seokjin, and if there was a slight chance that Seokjin loved him too, he wasn't letting it go.
The date was September 30th, 2022, and Seokjin didn't leave his apartment that day.
Instead he lay in bed, watching the sky move and change through the window as he texted Taehyung over and over again.
Invite Namjoon out tonight.
Don't let him go home.
Trust in hyung. Keep Namjoon with you.
Don't go to the containers.
Taehyung didn't reply, although the messages were sent and read. Seokjin at least took comfort in that. He closed his eyes a few times, tried to let sleep take hold, but it was useless. He'd just awaken again in a cold sweat, chest heaving and cheeks wet as he relived that night, this night, over and over again.
The rumbling in his stomach became too much to ignore, and he finally dragged himself up as the sky grew dark outside to pad into his kitchen to find something to eat. He shot off another text to Taehyung as he went, tossing his phone onto the sofa as he passed it.
The instant ramen he made was tasteless on his tongue, his mind too busy for him to even register the food he ate. He prayed to himself that Namjoon was somewhere safe, somewhere he couldn't get hurt again. Somewhere that would allow Seokjin to wake up the following day instead of in the past.
A rapping on his door filled the apartment as he drank down the soup of his noodles, making him jump as he almost dropped the small pot. He froze, staring at the door until the knocking began again, and he pushed himself up out of his chair to investigate.
"It's probably Taehyung." He mumbled to himself, feeling his heartbeat quicken in panic. He reached for the door handle, pulling it open to find…
"Hyung, we need to talk."
No, no, he couldn't be here. Not tonight. Seokjin stumbled back, shaking his head as he stared at the boy stepping into his apartment. Namjoon was here, he was here and Seokjin could feel himself breaking all over again. He couldn't be here. He couldn't.
"Namjoon, I can't do this tonight."
"I'm not leaving, hyung." Namjoon kicked the door shut behind him, tucking his hands into his pockets as he stared back at Seokjin's wide and frightened eyes. "Like I said, we need to talk."
" I can't." Seokjin's voice quivered as he spoke, emotion threatening to spill over as he tried to get past Namjoon to open the door behind him. Namjoon matched his footing, blocking the way.
For a moment he simply looked at the older boy, noticing how scared he looked. Seokjin had always been such a dominant character, such a strong and powerful presence to be around. But recently, since he'd come back into Namjoon's life, he'd been a husk of the person he once was.
At this moment he looked small, lost. Namjoon wasn't going to let this go. He'd walked out that door too many times, and had let Seokjin shut down once too often. Not this time.
"Please, Namjoon. Please. Just leave me alone. Just go."
"Don't do that to me again," Namjoon stood firm, arms folded across his chest as Seokjin shoved at him weakly. He barely rocked on his heels, rolling the lollipop he sucked on across to the other side of his mouth. "Don't close me out. I'm not leaving this time."
"Namjoon, I'm fine. Please, just leave me alone."
"Stop! I know something's up with you. I know you, Seokjin. This isn't like you."
"You don't know anything about me."
"You're right." Namjoon countered immediately, stepping further still into Seokjin's space. "I don't know anything about you. I know everything about you. What I don't know is what is happening to you, and I want to. I want so badly to know so I can help you. Let me in, Seokjin. Don't push me out again."
"I-I can't ."
"Can't what ?" Seokjin looked so defenceless, so desperately afraid. He looked defeated, broken. His eyes held such pain, something deep and yet so distant. Like he'd lived a thousand lifetimes in his own short existence. Namjoon stepped forward, reaching out to gently run his fingers through Seokjin's hair, combing it back away from his face as he pulled the sucker from between his lips and tossing it across to the coffee table. "What are you so afraid of, hyung? What happened to you?"
*What happened to me?" A laugh escaped Seokjin, soft and yet so cold. Humourless. "I died ."
It was useless to fight it anymore, Namjoon wasn't going to let this go, and Seokjin was so tired of lying to him.
Lying to everyone.
He'd tried to save them all so many times, but who was going to save him? He could only last so long without crumbling, and Namjoon always was the only one who really understood him.
"I died , Namjoon. I died on this very night, I died in agony. My skin was burning and melting off my fucking bones. I couldn't breathe, every single time I tried it was just black. Every inhale was of black, black smoke." Seokjin shifted, a tear slipping down his pale cheek, and he finally looked Namjoon in the eye.
"Do you want to know the worst part though? It wasn't the pain, it wasn't the burning in my lungs. It wasn't the screams around me and the chaos. It was you."
"Seokjin-hyung, I don't understand?" Namjoon blinked, taken aback.
It all sounded so far fetched, so absolutely delusional. There wasn't a single mark on Seokjin's perfect skin, no indication of a fire at all. Namjoon looked over him, pulling his arm up to push back his sleeve. There was nothing there. Not one tiny sign that there was truth to Seokjin's story.
And yet Seokjin seemed so sure that Namjoon had to believe him.
"You died with me that night." The elder turned away, padding quietly over to a table to gently touch the petals of the gorgeous flower Namjoon had been so curious about the first time he'd been to Seokjin's apartment.
"In the dark, in the fire. You reached for me, you know? But we were so far apart, those mere inches felt like miles . Do you know what your last words were, Namjoon? Do you want to know what the last thing you said to me was before it all ended?"
"You screamed my name."
For a split second time seemed to freeze around them, sucking the oxygen from the room and leaving Namjoon breathless. Then he gasped, gulping a huge breath of air as an icy chill ran down his spine. The words Seokjin had spoken had triggered something in him, deep in the very back of his mind. It didn't seem like a story any more, but instead a memory. Something hazy and not quite there.
"I was trying to save you, you know? The only reason I was there that night was because I saw the fire rising in the sky, and all I wanted to do was get to you."
The hand touching the petals began to shake, and Seokjin closed his eyes tightly as he recalled what had happened to them. He didn't want to relive it again, and didn't want to hurt Namjoon this way, but he had to know.
"How- what happened to us? How did we..."
"Die?" Seokjin finished for him. "It was my fault, I think." Seokjin moved away from the table, shuffling into the kitchen and leaving Namjoon for a moment. He returned with a glass of water, placing it on the table with the flowers as he sat down. "I ran to your container. Ran through the flames just to find you but you weren't there. I was going to leave again but then something fell, blocked me in."
"That must have been terrifying…"
"It was, but I was more afraid when I saw you standing outside. You looked at me and started running, followed me right inside. There was no saving me, Namjoon. I was trapped, but you could have lived. You could have gotten out. The entrance was right there."
"I didn't want to leave you."
"You didn't. And I tried, Joonie. I begged you but you stayed and tried to reach for me. You were so close but then the roof fell in and I woke up back at the start again."
"April eleventh, 2022."
"The day you came back to us."
"It always starts with you. I suppose everything starts with you, really. You were my beginning, and trying to save you became my end."
"Why didn't you tell me any of this, hyung?" Namjoon dared a step forward, just one. "I could have helped you. You wouldn't have had to be as afraid as you are now."
"It isn't that simple."
"I'm not saying it is! But you pushed me away, forced me to step back every time I got close. Why didn't you just let me love you again?"
"Grief is a terrible thing, Joonie, do you know that?" Seokjin took a deep drink from the glass in front of him, the water spilling from the corners of his lips as his hand shook violently. He took a breath, swiped at his chin with his sleeve, and closed his eyes. "I suppose you probably do. We've all lost someone we love. But you haven't lost anyone you been in love with, have you?"
Seokjin knew that pain all too well. Losing Namjoon that night, knowing as he took his own last breath that Namjoon's last had come too. It haunted him, ate at him day and night, with every single waking thought. He loved Namjoon, his heart belonged to Namjoon.
His heart had died that night along with Namjoon.
"It's like the grief you know, the grief everyone will know at some point. At first it's...it's like drowning. It's like your head is underwater, every sound muffled and distorted in your ears as the reality washes over you in constant heavy waves. It consumes you, surrounds you. A heavy blanket that you can't escape from beneath.
And the water, the water that isn't water at all, has filled your ears and lungs and you try to breathe, Joonie, but you can't. You can't breathe and your chest aches and burns and you feel nauseous. The world is spinning too fast, too hard, and you can't keep up."
"But then it stops. The waves are gone, the weight is lifted, and everything becomes clear again, too clear. The world around you is still spinning but it's not moving so fast anymore. It's just- it's so loud. Every sound, every word, is so... it's skull crushing. It's too much to handle, too much to really bear. The water that filled your lungs is pushing up and up and the nausea becomes a need to throw up.
It pushes and pushes and you can either swallow it down or let it out. You know what the worst part of it all is, Joonie? It's cold. It's so fucking cold and you could set your fucking body alight and you'd still be cold because you know that nothing will ever be as warm as the arms that used to hold you close."
"But Seokjin, Jinnie...I'm not dead. I'm here, I'm alive. Look at me." Namjoon dropped to his knees, shuffling forward until he sat at Seokjin's feet. He raised up on his knees, reaching out to touch Seokjin's face, to hold it in his sweating palms, to let Seokjin feel that he was there. That he was alive. "Hyung, please look at me. Touch me. I'm here ."
"That's the worst part of this, Joonie." Seokjin raised his hands, placing them over Namjoon's as he looked up into those beautiful brown eyes. "You are alive, and you are right here with me. But I have to grieve anyway, I'm stuck with the pain, the agony, of losing you."
"I'm not gone…"
"But you were , and I had to live every single day seeing your face and knowing what it feels like to lose you. I had to carry on knowing just how badly it hurt to have you gone."
Seokjin's voice broke off in a sob, his eyes closing as tears finally slipped down his cheeks. The composure he'd worked so hard to keep crumbled and he was left broken and vulnerable in front of the only boy he'd ever loved, and the only boy he'd ever lost.
"I can't breathe, Joonie. How am I supposed to breathe ?"
Arms wrapped tightly around him and Seokjin slumped, shaking violently like a loose leaf in the breeze, trying so hard just to hold on. Lips pressed in soft kisses to his ear, sweet words mumbling against it. Namjoon held him close, encouraging him as Seokjin attempted to calm down. Slowly, steadily, Seokjin's breathing evened out and Namjoon pulled back just a little, just enough to place a warm hand against his cheek.
"Hyung, I won't leave you again. I'm not going anywhere, okay?"
"You can't know that…"
"You're right, I can't. But I do know that the only place I want to be is by your side. If I'm with you, I can't disappear."
"I loved you so much. I still do." Seokjin sniffled, dropping his gaze and tilting his head down. "I don't think I'll ever stop. To be loved by you is a dream, and I'm afraid that I'm going to have to wake up again."
"So don't. Let me love you again, hyung." The hand on Seokjin's cheek shifted, a finger pressing under his chin to raise his head again. His eyes met Namjoon's own, as teary as Seokjin's own, and Namjoon leaned in a little closer. "Let me love you like you deserve. Let me be here for you."
A quivered breath and a slight nod was all it took for Namjoon to close the distance, pressing his lips to Seokjin's ever so softly. He moved slow, gently, letting Seokjin lead him as the kiss grew a little more intense. An alarm somewhere in the apartment rang out, and Seokjin pulled back to close his eyes tightly.
"Why do you have your alarm set, hyung? Do you need to go somewhere?"
"No." Seokjin sighed, shaking his head. "This is when the fire starts."
Pushing gently at Namjoon's chest, Seokjin got to his feet and walked to.the window. There it was, just as he remembered it. Smoke rose high in the sky, flickers of orange embers dancing against the dark of the night. He raised a hand, pressing his palm against the cool of the glass as he stared, watched as the fire raged across the city. He almost jumped when arms circled his waist, Namjoon's chin coming to rest on his shoulder.
"I'm so sorry, Joonie." He whispered, eyes never leaving the devastation before him.
"Why? It's not your fault."
"That's your home." The arms around his waist tightened for a split second, and then Seokjin was being turned, only to find Namjoon smiling at him. The younger boy's gaze shifted to the window, and he shook his head.
"That was material, Jinnie. It was a place to stay." Namjoon's eyes moved to stare into Seokjin's once more. "Home is where the heart is, right? Well my heart is here with you. You're my home."
"Will you stay with me Joonie? Just tonight?" Seokjin's voice was barely above a whisper, his delicate fingers gripping at the front of Namjoon's jacket. "I don't think I could handle it if you walked out that door."
"I'm not going anywhere, hyung. I'd stay forever if you'd have me." He leaned in again, pressing another soft kiss to Seokjin's lips. "Let me love you, hyung. Let me make love to you."
Seokjin didn't answer with words, instead closing the gap once more to kiss Namjoon again. This time it felt different, like they were balanced on a pin point and ready to fall, like their fate was hanging on by a string, being pulled tighter and tighter with each slide of their lips.
Namjoon tasted like red, sweet cherry and all the passion of the fire raging outside. Seokjin was desperate for it, holding on hopeless and helpless as he let Namjoon drag him to bed. The jacket Seokjin clung to was the first to go, hitting the floor with a soft thud as Seokjin shoved it from Namjoon's shoulders. And then that thin white shirt Namjoon always wore, followed by Seokjin's own.
Piece by piece their clothes came off, until finally they were bare and drinking each other in.
"You're so beautiful, hyung. You were always so, so beautiful." Namjoon whispered, his calloused fingers slipping down Seokjin's sides to grip his waist in his palms. "I think you always will be."
"So are you." Seokjin smiled, his own hands sliding up to grip at Namjoon's biceps. "Although you weren't always this big."
"Kiss me again, hyung. Kiss me and forget, just for tonight. Kiss me and make a new memory, a one that doesn't hurt anymore."
They lost themselves in each other, between the sheets. Namjoon taking Seokjin apart and piecing him back together with every single touch until they fall asleep, curled together and holding tight with a prayer that they'll still be this way when morning comes.
Seokjin awakens to sunlight streaming in through the window. For a while Seokjin just stays exactly where he is, ignoring the empty space beside him in the bed. He keeps his eyes closed, afraid and unready to face the morning, trying to lie to himself that the warmth of the sun on his face is simply a dream.
But a dream it isn't, and he carefully opens his eyes and reaches for his phone.
He checks the date.
October 1st, 2022 .
Rubbing his eyes, he checks again. Locks his screen, unlocks it and checks a third time. He looks to his side, the bed empty but slept in, and looks to his phone once more. He doesn't hear his bedroom door opening, only looking up when he hears a sleepy voice addressing him.
"Good morning, hyung."
The cycle continues.