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99th Time's the Charm

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Junhui opened his eyes as his alarm sounded. 6:30 in the morning, it was time. Junhui yawned as he sat up on his bed, turning his alarm off in the process. Still drowsy from sleep, Junhui counted down in his mind, 3...2...1...

"MORNING!!!! You want pancakes? I saved ya two. Well, actually, I ate one already, so you only have one now-" Soonyoung rambled on while carrying a breakfast tray in, setting it promptly on the small table in the middle of their room. The entire tray consisted of four plates with the classical breakfast toast, eggs, and pancakes (or at least three had pancakes on them), each accompanied by a glass of milk.

"I see, thanks anyway." Junhui smiled, pushing himself out of bed and settling down on the floor.

"Aren't you going to ask why we're not eating with the others?" Soonyoung asked, rubbing his hands together eagerly like the hyperactive child he was.

Junhui shook his head, even though he already knew the answer...

We're having a '96-liner Day!

"We're having a '96-liner Day!" Soonyoung announced proudly, digging into his breakfast, "You, me, Jihoon, and Wonwoo, we'll spend the entire day together, just the four of us!" He continued with his mouth full.

"I see, well, I guess that sounds fun." Junhui replied, also digging into the plate of food in front of him.

"Yeah! We hardly get time for ourselves, you know, it'd be fun to hang around with just the people your age for once!"

Right on cue, Junhui noticed the door open, and two figures shuffled in, taking their seats around the table.

Is it really necessary-

"Is it really necessary for this to begin so early?" Jihoon asked between a yawn as he sat down next to Soonyoung, as expected, "I mean, you two even started without us."

"Can't help it, we're roommates!"

Wonwoo took his place next to Junhui, already munching on the scrambled eggs.

"Was I the only one who wasn't informed about this until today?" Junhui asked, again, despite knowing the answer already.

Soonyoung said-

"Soonyoung said you'd be the most likely to flee or feign sickness if you were told beforehand." Wonwoo explained, now working on eating his toast with a knife and fork.

"And not Jihoon? Seriously, what exactly did you do to make him wake up so early?" Junhui arched an eyebrow at the shortest of the four, not really expecting an answer from him as he knew Soonyoung would cut in-

"Oh, that's because-" Right on cue.

And then Jihoon says-

"Shut up and eat your breakfast." While shoving food into his best friend's mouth.

If it were any other day, Junhui would be having a blast talking with his three closest friends over breakfast (well, at least Soonyoung and Wonwoo were close with him, Jihoon normally just pretends he's not there or responds with grunting noises), but it wasn't any other day, so he just sat there, bored, and watching the utterly predictable scene play out in front of him, occasionally responding with his usual "lines".

Why was this the case?

It all started one day (technically, today), when Soonyoung announced that they were doing this little "event" where the '96 liners would spend the entire day together without the others tagging along and such. Everything seemed to be going well until they made their way back at the end of the day. While crossing the road, Junhui was just a little careless with his "road-crossing procedures", and walked right into, you guessed it, a freaking truck.

In that moment, Junhui knew he was done for. So when he unexpectedly managed to open his eyes after the blackout, he thought he'd see the ceiling of an emergency room or hospital chamber, but no. He was back at his own dorm with his usual alarm sounding, indicating that it was 6:30 in the morning. Soonyoung came in, repeating the same hyper spasm, much to Junhui's initial confusion.

They pretty much repeated the exact same way as last time, aside from Junhui attempting to point out that "they've already done this before" much to the others' bewilderment.

From then on, Junhui would attempt to try different "routes" to get out of the loop, like insisting on staying in bed despite Soonyoung's protests, or suggesting to go to different locations during their outing, etc.

No matter what he did, his death by the end of the day seemed unavoidable. He's already counted 99 loops, and by now, has already succumbed to it. Maybe the trick was to not fight it, yeah. Maybe there really wasn't an answer to this like those myths said regarding the infamous time loop. Yeah.

"Well, that was fun!" Soonyoung said, his arms folded behind his head nonchalantly as the four made their way back towards the dorm after their private outing, "I can't believe it's already time to head back!"

"Yeah." Junhui smiled back at the others, one leg already on the road.

"Jun, look o-" Junhui watched sadly as Soonyoung's eyes grew wide. Yup, this was the part. Yes, Junhui had tried waiting for the truck to pass before crossing the road already, that was probably the first attempt he did. He ended up getting killed by a drunk driver who ran a red light. There was simply no avoiding it.

However, instead of the usual impact he felt literally driving the soul out of him, he felt a much smaller impact against his back, and then he felt himself hit against the cold concrete on the other side.

What? Okay, this was different...

Junhui looked back, and was absolutely horrified to see Jihoon's crushed body lying in the middle of the road as Soonyoung and Wonwoo ran towards him. Junhui stayed frozen in his tracks. This definitely wasn't part of the sequence. What was going to happen now?

"Jihoonie?" Junhui walked hesitantly towards the broken figure, looking extra small and fragile as it laid on the cold ground.

Sometimes he forgets how truly small and fragile the boy was because of the tough exterior he puts up, sometimes he forgets that they're the same age because of his mature demeanor, sometimes he forgets just how much of a burden that tiny body takes as SEVENTEEN's music producer, and sometimes he forgets how much it needs protection.

"Jihoonie-"

Darkness again.


6:30. Check.

Soonyoung screaming. Check.

Breakfast with Soonyoung, Wonwoo, and Jihoon. Check.

As the four headed out, they were greeted by the rest of the members eating their breakfast in the dining room normally, shouting "Have fun!" to the four as they stepped out the door.

Nothing much had changed, and Junhui would have passed it off as just a bad dream he somehow had despite being in the time loop. However, it never hurts to test things out...

"You know what, guys? Let's head to the bridge." Junhui suggested after they've made their usual "rounds".

"Oh, the bridge we used to pass on the way to school? Good idea!" Soonyoung said excitedly while clapping his hands eagerly.

Thus, the four made their way to the bridge, just in time to see the beautiful sunset, too. The four stood in silence, just admiring the view. Junhui waited for Soonyoung's going-home-announcement, which was sure to come as he remembered making this suggestion before in the initial time loop.

"All right, time to head back!"

The other three nodded, and right on cue, Junhui felt his feet slip, and his body toppled dangerously overly the edge before a hand quickly reached out to steady him. Junhui looked down in shock at Jihoon as the smaller boy took his place over the edge, falling into the freezing water.

Sometimes he forgets that behind that cold exterior, he had the warmest heart.


And so it continued. On, and on, and on, and on. It was even more unbearable this time as instead of himself dying, Junhui had been forced to watch Jihoon die over and over and over again, always in his stead. Always. Near the construction site, at the beach, picking the wrong way to go home and ending up horribly lost in a shady neighborhood, always.

Sometimes he forgets that he's always watching.

Sometimes he forgets that he was always looking back.

Sometimes he forgets that...

"Jihoonie!" Junhui slowed down his pace, falling back so that he was walking parallel with Jihoon while Wonwoo and Soonyoung walked ahead.

Jihoon looked visibly surprised at Junhui initiating conversation with him one-on-one, "Hey..."

"So, uh..." Junhui made sure that the other two were out of earshot before continuing on, "Do you by any chance know about... the time loop?" He half wished and expected Jihoon to look at him like he was crazy, but he was only met with a cool gaze instead.

"So it's true you've been trying to kill yourself on purpose."

"What? No, I mean, sure, the last couple of times, but not the first time."

Jihoon's lips pressed into a hard line, "I'd be troubled if you died."

"...Thanks?" Junhui wasn't sure where the conversation was going so he just let it drop. Just one last question, "Since we're apparently in the same boat, uh... do you know if there's any way to get out of this-"

"Jun!" That scream sounded familiar...

Before Junhui could react, a splash of warm red liquid splattered onto his cheeks, and he was met with a horrific bloody scene with Soonyoung playing the main character as large shards of shattered glass drove through the latter's back.

"What... where..." Junhui's eyes briefly caught the sight of a shattered window behind Soonyoung before blanking out again.

That was different again. Coincidentally, that was just after the 98th time he saw Jihoon die.


 

After Soonyoung, Wonwoo stopped him from falling into a pit, but lost his balance and fell in himself, mouthing the words, "Value your life."

Then it was Chan, secretly tagging behind his hyungs on their outing and pushing Junhui off a train track, "I look up to hyung the most, not because it's my duty as a maknae."

Then Hansol, also acting as a stalker, pushed Junhui out of a malfunctioning elevator just in time, "I like talking to hyung the most."

Then Minghao, taking Junhui's place as he fell down the stairs headfirst, "You're my strongest support and rival."

Junhui then witnessed Seungkwan falling off the roof in his stead, "I'd be at a loss without my Chinese teacher."

Mingyu stopped Junhui from eating poisoned food, and then foolishly ate it himself just to prove his point, "There would be no Mingyu of China without hyung."

Seokmin saved Junhui from a fire that broke out in a department store, he didn't say anything but smiled as he was engulfed by flames.

Joshua patted Junhui reassuringly on the arm before stepping onto the road in front of a drunk driver.

Jeonghan hugged Junhui affectionately before letting himself fall off the balcony.

Seungcheol pulled Junhui out of a hijacked bus before getting "done in" himself.

Finally, Junhui was at the old road once more, the truck was just a bend away. It was going to happen anyway, right...?

"Jun."

"Please, not again..." Tears were brimming in Junhui's eyes as he saw Jihoon already standing in the middle of the road, the other eleven members stood behind the former, all ready to pull him back from death.

"The truth is, you're the only one who wouldn't care if you died," Jihoon continued, ignoring Junhui's protests, "but the rest of us are all willing to give their own in exchange for yours."

"Because you're important to us, you idiot." Soonyoung added, his grip on Junhui's shoulder tightening as the truck came closer, "Now hurry up and wake up from this stupid coma, don't give up on us so soon!"

"Coma...?"

"Come back to us." Jihoon whispered, extending a hand and letting out a crack of a smile before taking the blow, "Come back to me."


Junhui's eyes shot open this time and quickly glanced towards the side at the clock next to him. 6:30. Junhui let out a groan.

"No, wait... that's not an alarm clock..." Junhui looked around, this definitely wasn't his room. The walls were white, and pretty much everything besides the curtains was white.

"OH MY GOD, HE'S AWAKE!!! YOU'RE AWAKE!! GUYS, HE'S AWAKE!" Soonyoung screamed, dark eye circles could clearly be shown underneath his eyes, it seemed that he hadn't slept for days just waiting for Junhui to wake up.

"We heard you, we heard you." Seungcheol sighed, patting Soonyoung on the back, then looking down at Junhui fondly, "Sorry he had to be the first thing you hear."

"Rude."

"How are you feeling?" Hansol asked as the rest of the group poured into the room to surround Junhui's bed.

"Surprisingly... good." Junhui replied, ears still slightly numb from Soonyoung's screaming.

Junhui smiled understandingly as the rest of the members rambled away about how worried they were and how happy they were now that Junhui was out of his coma, and obviously, still alive.

"It's great to see you all, but... where's Jihoon?"

"Oh?" Wonwoo arched an eyebrow, "It's rare for you to single him out."

"Just answer the question."

"Yeah, missed you, too." Wonwoo ignored Junhui's eye-roll, indicating towards the doorway, "I think he's still outside, probably composing himself."

"Why?"

"He sort of had a mental breakdown when we got the news about you getting into an accident, and then had another meltdown when they said you fell into a coma, so... maybe he's having another meltdown now."

"We're talking about Jihoon, right?"

"Yeah, man. I'll bring him in."

Junhui watched as Wonwoo struggled to drag the younger boy in, the moment he entered Junhui's vision, the current patient couldn't help sighing in relief, thankful that he was still in one piece. Meanwhile, Jihoon's eyes darted everywhere but at him, suddenly very interested in the curtain's fabric.

"Hey, Jihoonie."

"Hey." The response was curt, but Junhui could detect just a hint of a tremble in his voice.

"We'll give you guys some privacy." Seungcheol said immediately, ushering the others out as the younger members plus Soonyoung whined but followed their leader's orders.

The room instantly grew quiet after the absence of the eleven boys as Junhui waited patiently for Jihoon to initiate some sort of topic.

"You know what's funny? I think I dreamed about you and the others while I was in a coma."

"You can't dream in a coma." Jihoon replied dryly.

"Well, I did. Anyway, it was weird, you guys were trying to stop me from dying."

"What's so weird about that?" Jihoon's tone raised sharply and his breathing grew uneven as he glared up at Junhui with fiery eyes, "Did you actually want to die? Huh? If so I can grant your wish right now-"

"Whoa whoa, calm down!" Junhui grabbed Jihoon's shoulders, rubbing them comfortingly, "I understand, okay? I mean, I guess I didn't really care that I was going to die, but I've changed my thinking, okay?" He ran his hand through Jihoon's hair softly, "I've decided to stay alive, for you."

Jihoon's body continued to shake for a good few minutes before finally calming down, allowing himself to lean into Junhui's chest, returning the tight embrace.

"I really thought I was going to lose you... I regretted not talking to you more, always shaking away your show of affection, distancing myself on purpose..."

"You know what? I realized a lot of things as well." Junhui said, cupping Jihoon's face in his palms tenderly so that they were looking straight into each other's eyes, "So many that it'll take an entire lifetime to tell, so you better stay with me."

"Stop."

"Too cheesy?"

Junhui flashed a teasing smile, but it was quickly wiped off as Jihoon leaned in to plant a kiss on Junhui's lips.

"Shut up."