It’s a cold, bleak day in the middle of December, the first snow of the winter season still blanketing the ground, but John stands in the park, waiting. He stares at his phone, the last few messages up so that he doesn’t have to take the gloves off of his hands to go back and forth from the home screen back to his latest messages.
Jade: john!!! :o i have big news!
You: oh yeah? what sort of news?
You: other than big, i mean.
Jade: REALLY big! ;)
Jade: i want to tell you in person though! can you meet me at the usual spot in saaay… half an hour?
You: yeah sure, i’ll be there!
Jade: see you there! <3
The "usual spot" is the park bench where they had their first kiss just over a year ago, and because it’s a good central spot between their two houses. He double checks the timestamp on the messages, then double checks the current time. It’s been exactly half an hour.
And there she is.
Jade is bundled up against the cold, scarf completely encompassing her neck to keep her warm - she’d grown up on a tropical island before moving here, and while she loves the snow, she’s never quite adapted to the cold. She wears a hat with fake dog ears on top, and John can’t help but grin. But he’ll hold off on the furry jokes just this once.
Within moments, he has her trapped in his best bear hug, warming the both of them, and she’s giggling into his shoulder as she returns it. "You haven’t been waiting here too long, have you?" she asks.
"Not too long," he assures her. "Anyways, what was your big news? I’m basically about to die with anticipation here!"
"Nooo, John! Don’t die!" Jade’s still laughing, squirming in his arms as she reaches into her pocket to pull out her phone. And then next thing John knows, he’s got the thing shoved in his face, an e-mail displayed proudly on the screen. "Read for yourself!"
It takes a moment for John’s eyes to refocus on something so close, but finally he can make out the words.
Dear Miss Harley -
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted for your applied position on the SkaiaNet Space Station, beginning January 1st…"
John doesn’t bother with the rest, because he’s too busy kissing his girlfriend’s cheeks and drowning her in affection. Jade almost drops her phone in the process, trying to tilt her face and meet his lips when she can, but John isn’t giving her much of a chance.
"That’s amazing!" he says when he finally pulls away, grinning so hard it’s almost painful. "I’m super proud of you, Jade. I mean, it’s not like this is really a surprise in the first place since you’re basically a super genius and all…" He trails off for a bit, because Jade is smiling at him, but there’s something distinctly bittersweet about it.
"Yeah! I’m really excited." Jade suddenly looks down at her feet, then back up, her brow furrowed a bit, though she’s still trying to smile. "I’m going to miss you a lot, though."
Oh. Right. "You sure you can’t bring a plus one up there with you or something?" he asks. They’ve been dating long enough, he thinks, for him to follow her past the ends of the earth and into the stars without it being too weird.
She shakes her head, smile finally falling. "No, I can’t. And I read over the thing really carefully too! You can’t even bring spouses up there without a whole lot of trouble. They’re working on making it more of just another place to live, but they’re not there yet, so they can really only support people up there who will work…"
"Right." John lets out a dejected sigh. "Well, you’ll be back down here eventually, right?"
"Eventually." She doesn’t sound hopeful.
"Well." He sighs. "I mean, we agreed at the beginning that it was fine to kiss other people and stuff, so that still goes for outer space. Just don’t mack on too many hot space dudes without me, OK?"
"Or hot space ladies!" Jade corrects, leaning in to kiss him. "No more than ten, I promise!" A pause. "You could apply too, you know."
"Jade, I’m not a super genius like you! I have no engineering background, they’d never-"
"They need all sorts of people in space nowadays, John! Like… you could cook, I bet! They’re always trying to make improvements to space food."
John rolls his eyes. "Yeah, I bet they’ll definitely hire me to be a space cook."
"It can’t hurt to try! It’s settled - I’m going to send you the application when I get home, and you had better look!"
From there they go to get hot chocolate together, the mugs warming their hands from the cold. Sure enough, when John gets home, he has an email from Jade, stuffed full of emoticon hearts and containing a link to the SkaiaNet application site.
He ignores it until New Years Eve, when he kisses Jade goodbye and realizes it may be until this time next year that he even has a hope of seeing her again.
So he goes about polishing his resume, collecting references, doing everything he can to make sure that the people in HR will want to send him up, and when the snow and ice begin to thaw, John finally hits "submit."
It takes more than a finished form to get his molecules beamed out of orbit, even as a cook, so the day after John finishes his application, he begins to prepare to meet the physical requirements of the program. A response a week latertells him that his physical fitness test is in July (all too far away), giving him plenty of time to prepare.
It's a clear day in May when John pulls out his set of wheels and heads out. The daily downpours from earlier in the season have moved on and the stiff ocean breeze prevents the afternoon sun from being too unpleasant. When John had first taken up biking, he had had an early morning schedule, but that was before he met Dave Strider. Dave, who probably stays up all night perfecting his webcomics because he's never out before noon. They had crashed into each other, quite literally, at about the end of March, but they’ve put that behind them, becoming fast friends in the process. Even if most of their conversations tend to involve Dave boasting about biking skills that John is not convinced he actually has.
There’s always a tension there, an ongoing rapport of flirting and joking, and though John considers asking Dave out on a proper date, there’s always something about him that sends off a signal of "not available." It’s not until now, however, that he finally understands it.
"Hey, so I’m gonna be checkin’ out of my swinging pad at the end of the month," Dave tells him as they take a break on the side of the path, water bottle at the ready. "You need anything? This is like an open invite yard sale, exclusively for you. I’m a dying benefactor and waiting to write you into my will, come give grandma a kiss sonny boy, maybe you’ll get a memory foam mattress."
John gives him a look. "Dude. That is the worst pickup line I have ever heard."
"More like best. Haven’t you heard? Roleplaying grandma is like the second hottest trend this season after heelie shoes and hotpants."
"Well, I’m not going to feel sufficiently wooed until you break those out."
"Really?" Dave almost looks like he believes it, and John can’t help but laugh.
"No way!" He takes a long drink from his water bottle. "Where are you going anyways?"
Dave rolls his eyes. "Come on, you know this."
"Um. No I don’t."
"Like yeah, you know I’m going to space to be the star, man. It’s like that Backstreet Boys song, you know? It’s gonna be me." Dave speaks as though it’s obvious, but this is news to John and he guesses it must show on his face because Dave just keeps going. "How many times did I mention three, two, one, launch? Team Rocket’s blasting off again?" Still a blank look. "I made rocket noises, John. Rocket noises. What the fuck."
John just starts laughing his ass off, because there’s no other way to respond to that. "Yeah Dave, those were totally your stellar plans to cue me in to your going to space and not just you being a major dork! Nice try, but I am the pranking master, and you should stop trying to pull one over on me." Dave looks at him as though he’s been betrayed, and John knows he’s won this round. "If you have any hot pants, though, it sounds like I’ll need them for attracting a new biking partner.
"No, zero joke. I am heading off planet like gravity is going out of style." It's the look on Dave’s face that finally convinces John, sincerity breaking through his studied deadpan. "Also you can’t be serious about those hot pants. Come mid July it’ll be way too hot to keep this up, even without this rocking bod to raise the sizzle factor. I am serious John. John, stop laughing."
John doesn’t stop laughing.
"OK, fine." Dave is actually pouting now, which does nothing to stop John’s laughing fit. "I guess I will not magnanimously tell you that the best way to get a cool summer workout this assballs hot summer is to hit up that swim club down on 14th between 2 and 6 on Tuesdays and Thursdays."
John manages to get himself under control just long enough for one belaboured eye roll. "Gee, that wasn't oddly specific and I'm not feeling the need to question it at all!"
"Well when you’re done not questioning, how about you agree to liberate my stuff. Maybe all the way back to my place."
"Alright, Team Rocket," John says, standing to go to his bike again, grinning. "You've got yourself a deal. Let’s go."
When they get there, John digs through Dave’s extensive collection of graphic tees, and Dave finally kisses him. A month later, John goes to see Dave off before he leaves, and something about it pings him as so very familiar.
Derse Swim Club actually turns out to be a pretty nice place with convenient open hours, clean outdoor facilities, equipment and refreshments, and even specialty training workshops for prospective and returning moonwalkers.
It doesn't take John long to figure out what's so special about the hours between 2 and 6 on certain days, either. Those are the hours a certain Miss Lalonde mans the hero tower.
Rose Lalonde works twice a week as a lifeguard and attends John's flight conditioning classes. She has a reputation for catching reckless guests before they can do anything too ill-advised and for being exactly where she needs to be, when. She wears a headband with her bathing suit and black lipstick while on duty. The look she flashes John on the day he arrives shoots straight past "unnerving" and lands somewhere near "terrifying" as he quietly rethinks replaying any nostalgic pool-based pranks. But there's something comforting, almost Dave-like, about her smirk. By the end of the day, they exchange chumhandles and John’s backflipping into the road of friendship with enough force to knock three horses unconscious.
By the time Rose asks him out two weeks later, they have already begun to slip into something deeper than flirting fits and sly exchanged glances, and by the end of that first month, they are air quotes official, and John’s logging regular hours at Derse well past the date of his physical exam.
"Hey, it's about time you got here!"
"I believe that's my line." Rose's painted lips crook in a small smile as she mounts her overseer throne, and John hauls himself over the lip of the pool to duck beneath the shade of her umbrella. "You missed the noon gravi-kinesthetics class."
"Aw man, you know I'm all about mastering that inner ear limb coordination stuff! But Jade managed to get a few hours at a comm terminal and I couldn't leave her hanging."
Rose pats his damp head condescendingly when he leans it against her armrest. "And how is my esteemed metamour doing?"
"Busy! They have her working so many hours she sometimes types like she's half asleep." John laughs quietly to himself and catches Rose's hand in his. "She sounds happy, though."
Cupping his face in her palm, Rose leans down to kiss him soundly. Pulling back with a wink, she waves him off. "That makes two of us. Go grab me a drink would you?"
"Certainly, o enchantress of my heart," says John, and he pads, still dripping, towards the refreshment stand.
It's easier to talk after hours. John already knows that Rose works on probability matrixes or something, but there's conspicuous difference between the games theory math witch who talks about modeling obscure frequencies of solar radiation, the Dersian champion who lifeguards the pool, and the girl John is starting to think of as an extraterrestrial touring Earth.
Rose may know more about green suns and cosmic voids than anyone except Jade, but she forgets, sometimes, that gravity happens everywhere planetside. So John brings her watermelon lemonade in plastic cups that won't shatter and he gets used to being treated as an impromptu launch pad. He hurries to opens doors, not just because his father taught him to be a gentleman, but because Rose sometimes forgets how unautomated the great mundane is. It's always wacky times with the girl John is proud to call his girlfriend.
Which is why it's so hard to keep in mind that she's leaving. What amounts to an exotic vacation for her is now coming to an end along with the August heat wave, and soon John will be waving goodbye at the foot of another ramp and waiting on the results of his application by himself. It's hard, he thinks, quietly in case he overhears his own thoughts. It's hard and no one understands. And at the end of the season, Rose goes home.
John does too, but it somehow feels emptier when he gets there.
The weather finally starts to cool, the trees changing colors, and the stores stock up for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Usually, it’s a change that John would be excited for, but right now, he cares little for the seasonal shifts of the planet. His thoughts are entirely on space and on the people who are up there.
He reads the news, he watches documentaries. He does everything he can to find out about the space station, and his recent search terms are filled with questions like "how long does it take skaianet to process space station applications" and "when will normal people be allowed on the space station." He catches the answer to the latter in a documentary which tells him that civilian life on a space station is likely still five years out, and the thought makes him sick to his stomach.
There's always pesterchum, of course, and now that the weather’s nicer, he’ll go out what once was his and Jade’s "usual spot" to read their e-mails.
dear john -
hi!!! i hope that everything has been ok! things have been super fun here! <3 i know i keep on saying it, but theres a window that looks out into space here and it is suuuuch a good date place! i am dying to take you! any word back on the application yet?
well anyways im sure theyll accept you since you passed your fitness thing and your cooking is soooo much better than our current guys! but ill try and put in a good word or two for you if i can ;)
or more good words anyways
things are good here! im glad you told me to look for a dave too, he is very funny! :o he told me the best joke the other day and i will tell him to send it to you over email because i cant remember the good parts…
anyways, take care john! i hope i will see you soon! <3 <3 <3
hey if jade asks if i sent you the joke just tell her yes im not sure genius is gonna strike a second time sorry bro but tempus fugit dont cry or anything ill send down some beats to compensate you for your loss
also a little birdy told me that you listened to my swim advice
good going see if youll ever doubt me again
like i hate to say that i told you so but hell i fucking told you so i might as well have inscribed that shit into some holy tablets and brought them down from some mountains thats how good you were told
anyways rose says hi
Would it be odd to say that I miss you already? Does that ring as too cliché? Too desperate for your attention? Have you already moved onto greener pastures as I waste away in ponderous orbit?
I’m joking, mostly, though it seems that you’ve been involved with more people in space than the average Earthling. Speaking of which, I cannot believe that I did not choose to make Jade’s acquaintance until you told me she was among my co-workers. She is every bit as brilliant as you say and I cannot remember the last time that I’ve spoken to somebody who is so… engaging. Also, she has excellent headcanons about the Squiddles.
I have put in a good word for you with the woman I know in recruiting, and I hope they’ll process your application soon. Still, this is space where moving forward is held back by layer upon layer of bureaucracy. It cannot be helped.
I hope you are doing well. I hope to hear from you soon.
It’s when a real chill hits the air that he finally gets the e-mail he’s been waiting for. When he sees "SkaiaNet" in the subject line, he feels his heart stop. This is it. This is the big moment.
He opens the e-mail.
Dear Mister Egbert -
"We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted for your applied position on the SkaiaNet Space Station, beginning January 1st…"
His heart comes back to life, beating in his chest like a toddler banging together their favorite toys. He’s going to see them again.
He’s going into space.
Space orientation, John realizes, is a lot like college orientation, only instead of peppy orientation leaders there are drill sergeants, trying to sneak out at night will definitely get you killed, and the food is marginally better. Marginally. Jade isn't wrong about where his kitchen skills rank, at least station-wide.
Still, it’s worth it.
Back on earth, a massive winter storm is terrorizing John’s hometown, but there’s none of that in space - only stillness and his three favorite people. When John makes it to the space station, they’re all waiting to see him. John had seen them all off individually, but somehow it feels right to have all three of them waiting together now, holding hands at the loading dock. His breath catches in his throat.
"John!" Jade is the first to break from the group so that she can throw her arms around him, holding him tight and immediately planting a kiss on his chin. He thinks she was aiming for his lips and missed. Dave is next, dropping the act for once to pull him into a tight hug, and soon enough Rose is by his other side, squeezing his arm.
"We missed you," she tells him. "I take it your trip went well?"
"Yeah, it was fine," he says. "Just wish it could have gone quicker. I’ve missed you guys too."
"Well, you’re here now," Dave says, pulling away and ruffling in his hair much in the way that Rose always would. "And I hear you got one of the coolest dudes around as a bunkmate too."
John laughs with surprise and mirth. "No way, how did you swing that?"
"Might have scared off my last roommate with some, uh, frequent visitors." He nudges Jade with his hip and she giggles uncontrollably, not the least bit sorry.
"Anyways, let’s get you unpacked," Rose says, pulling away and grabbing one of John’s suitcases. "And then we can go and visit that one window Jade is so enamored with."
Jade follows Rose’s cue and pulls away as well, grinning up at him. "You’re going to love it, John," she tells him. “You can see anything you could want from there."
And John looks from Jade, to Dave, to Rose, and then back to Jade again, and he can’t help the dumb smile plastered across his face. "You know? I bet I can."