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The Ocean at the End of the Universe

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Jeon Jeongguk is a big deal before he’s even set foot in the Venusian Interplanetary Aerospace Academy.

There isn’t a student who doesn’t know his name, though that may be the direct effect of the fact said name has made every major headline in the last week. Junior Pilot Jeon Jeongguk, 17, Flies Passenger Airship to Safety After Malfunction, Saves 3K On Board. Some are a little flashier, with bigger words and fancier fonts but the gist of them are all the same—a pilot no older than the standard intermediate academy graduate age had done the impossible: single-handedly saving three thousand lives. Three thousand lives that, at any given time, needed the supervision of up to six pilots.

“He’s coming to our school.”

“No he’s not,” Taehyung says flippantly around a bulging cheekful of breakfast, but he looks up from his focused waffle-cutting when Jimin doesn’t answer.

Across the table, Jimin reads an article. It’s projected onto the mess hall table by his comportable, and he scowls as he drags the page up slowly with an index finger. Taehyung plants his fists, still curled around fork and knife, on either side of his plate and leans forward. “Wait, you’re serious.”

“‘A miracle with no answers, or a prodigy in our midst?’” Jimin recites aloud. “‘Jeon Jeongguk, a recent graduate from the Southern Neptunian Intermediate Flight School’—hey, he’s from my planet!”

“Keep reading,” Taehyung urges, and Jimin pouts at him momentarily before continuing.

“‘...a recent graduate from the Southern Neptunian Intermediate Flight School—’”

“Heh. If you take the acronym, his school is called SNIFS. Heh.”

Jimin casts Taehyung a withering glance.

“Sorry.”

“...a recent graduate from the Southern Neptunian Intermediate Flight School manned a three-thousand, triple-decker passenger airship to safety in the Pacific Ocean of Earth.’”

“Oh, what the hell, where were they even headed?”

“Don’t know. I’m guessing a long distance if he’s from Neptune, that’s on the other side of the Asteroid Belt. Uh, where was I... ‘Engineers have tentatively deduced an air pressure malfunction, cause as of yet unknown, that occurred some time between the hours of oh-seven-hundred and oh-eight-hundred Venusian time caused the loss of consciousness of the other five licensed pilots in the cockpit. Jeon was also found unconscious by the time Earthlings reached their ship to provide aid. Everyone on board was shaken and confused but otherwise alive and accounted for.’”

Jimin looks up. Taehyung has a smear of cream on his lip in his effort to twist his head around to read along with him. “Well then,” Taehyung says with a tone of finality, as though officially closing this topic because he does not care enough to hear more. He has the approximate attention span of a goldfish on LSD. “I hope he doesn’t end up in my nautical engineering class. I don’t need another fucking kid ruining the curve.”

“Hey, maybe he’s not book smart.”

“I hope not,” Taehyung says sadly, scraping up the last bits of his strawberry jam. “I really can’t afford another C in that class.”

 

In the year 7000 there are several things that can be said about humanity. The easiest way to sum them all up would be [Jonas Brothers voice] not much has changed, but we live on all nine planets.

Not much has changed but people have learned how to breathe toxic Venusian gas, endure Mercurian heat, and survive Martian cold. Not much has changed but people born nowadays have never seen land, have lived their entire lives thousands of feet in the sky. Earthlings are some of the last humans in the universe that still remember the Landwalker generation, a time where one’s own two feet were the be-all, end-all. Their generation is the last one to complain of airsickness, the last one that still believes journeys all start with a single step while the children of the century have never known anything but clouds under their feet and wings at their sides.

So, in a universe where solid land is a foreign concept to most, there’s only one way to live—learn how to fly.

Arguably, the next best thing that could have happened would be for everyone to have sprouted wings, but would have been an evolution of Pyrrhic extents that would offend Darwinian principles to the very core, and though this is the age of new science, it will always be hard to let go of old laws. Not to mention that sleeping and any kind of back-prostrate activity would be sorely ruined, so this is how it is now: nine planets of people who are born into the skies, cities made in airships and nations built in spaceships. Those who are gifted enough are sent to the finest schools in the solar system to learn how to keep their universe alive.

And in this wide, wide universe, one insignificant boy flew three thousand of his fellow Universians to safety on an old, old planet that still boasts oceans of blue. In this wide, wide universe two boys from Neptune meet in toxic orange skies and for the first time in centuries, people remember why Venus was the ancient Earthling goddess of love.

 

The mess hall the next day is a lot busier than Jimin and Taehyung are used to for seven in the morning. Taehyung barely has three-eighths of an eye open, yawning so impressively that he could reasonably fit a small watermelon in his mouth, and Jimin thinks grudgingly that the hair at back of his head, which he’d attacked with a wet comb in the bathroom, is sticking up again like a white flag of surrender. Good. At least he looks sufficiently murderous enough for the ungodliness of the hour.

They run into someone who’s standing stationary in the middle of the walkway along the breakfast buffet, and he half curses under his breath and scoots out of his way. Taehyung, a little better-humored by nature, nods at the offender in apology before saying, “Hey, I haven’t seen you around at this hour before. Are you new? Lost, right? Don’t worry. You’ll find your way around soon enough. You should try the self-operated waffle maker, their batter is spectacular.”

“Who was that?” Jimin watches his hand lifelessly as he scoops rice onto his plate, as if it moves of its own accord.

Taehyung makes the standard “I dunno” grunt in the back of his throat as Jimin hands the sticky rice ladle off to him. “Beats me. Looked like a scared baby owl so I decided to give him some space.”

“Should’ve pushed him out of the nest,” Jimin jokes, and Taehyung snickers.

Class starts at eight on the dot. Jimin has to wake Taehyung up when he falls asleep on his engineering notes at the mess hall table, not that he can blame him, and they practically throw toothpaste and water into their mouths before rushing off to their separate schedules. They’re both busy, busy second years—though Taehyung in 4th Class studies, training to become a navigator, while Jimin is going the 1st Class route, testing for a license in passenger airships.

If Jimin is honest, staying awake is more difficult than the actual course material. He plants himself in the front just so he’s forced to pay attention, the risk of being caught dozing off too real to slack while the lecture drones on. It’s just, the seats are so cushy, and comfortable, and the lecture hall is so warm. Jimin digs his elbow into the space between the two armrests, skin pinched painfully in between the wood, and grips his pen tighter in his palm.

“Interstellar mediums,” the professor says, voice so very far away, “consist of anywhere from ten to the power of negative four to ten to the power of six particles per cubic centimeter…”

Jimin’s eyes flutter. He grips his pen so tight he feels his nails making red crescents in his palm. The rest of the lecture seems to fly by after that, the pain in his hand from his nails numbing gently, and suddenly Jimin sees the stars on the backs of his eyelids. Ah, so pretty. So pretty…

Something taps him on the arm and he jolts awake, neck burning from the whiplash when he ricochets off the shoulder he’d fallen asleep on—again, and this time it’s doubly embarrassing because it’s a stranger. Seokjin had been nice about it but this is someone Jimin doesn’t even fucking know. A burning ache is spreading through the muscles between his shoulders and he rubs the back of his neck sheepishly.

“Sorry, sorry,” he apologizes profusely, and the stranger, a boy, shakes his head wordlessly. He doesn’t say anything else, only smiling faintly, gathering up his books and making his way out of the lecture hall before Jimin can offer to like, wipe his drool off his shoulder. Which he really hopes there isn’t, because that stranger was—well. He was out of this damn world.

 

Late afternoon finds Jimin on the recreation deck.

Normally Taehyung always tags along and they play the flight simulations on advanced mode together, but Jimin didn’t have the heart to wake him up where he was asleep over his cryonics textbook, pencil still in hand, point hovering above a problem a page long.

“Fancy seeing you here alone.” Jimin has just settled down into the cushioned simulator chair, fingers curling around the joystick when the voice comes from directly above him. The chair tips backward as someone rests their weight on the back of it. “Where’s your partner in crime?”

Jimin meets Hoseok’s gaze in the TV screen, still black. He’s grinning at him, face propped up on his elbows. “Hi, hyung. He’s knocked the fuck out right now.”

“It’s four in the afternoon.”

“Yep.”

“Navigators.” Hoseok shakes his head. “Did he ever tell you why he switched from tradeship studies?”

“Nope,” Jimin says. The machine whirs with a tinny whine as it boots up, and he shifts in his seat to get comfortable. “He said the workload is still better than 1st Class studies since he doesn’t have to take as many biology classes, and there’s no way Kim ‘But What If Flowers Can Feel Pain’ Taehyung would ever go into warship studies.”

“Speaking of warships…”

Jimin pauses on the start menu. It’s not often that Hoseok’s voice turns grave so quickly. “A Martian warship was shot down barely a thousand miles out of one of its launch bases just this morning. They found no evidence of who did it in the rubble. No survivors.”

“Martian?” Jimin slips the headphones down to his shoulders. “Mars? That’s Taehyung’s home, have you told him?”

“God, no, do you think he needs this right now?”

Jimin sits back heavily in his seat. “Then—that accident, with the passenger airship, and that Jeon Jeongguk—”

“There are rumors brewing,” Hoseok confirms. “That it wasn’t an accident.”

“Why would anyone want to attack a Neptunian airship and a Martian warship? They’re on different sides of the universe.”

“Maybe someone with a grudge against the galaxy,” Hoseok says, resting his cheek in his hand. “Anyway, I’m going to bounce, I came looking for Taehyung but I’ll see you guys at dinner.”

Jimin fixes the headphones back over his ears. Damn. This kind of thing is out of his control, left up to the public officials and leaders of their planets but he has friends training to get 2nd Class warship licenses—Namjoon, and Yoongi—and this is a lot closer to home than it seems. Mars is just one measly Earth away. The concern melts as the game comes to life, filling the screen with starry darkness and he swerves violently just in time to avoid a virtual meteorite.

He’s been flying for a while in bright light, and it’s only after the screen dims when he turns the wheel that he notices a pair of eyes behind him, watching him play.

“Shit, you scared me,” Jimin says, turning around, expecting it to be Taehyung. His tongue ties itself into a magnificent diamond knot, however, when he instead comes face to face with the student he’d fallen asleep on this morning. He’s not looking at Jimin, gaze intent on the screen. Jimin glances at the pause frame and pats the empty seat beside him.

“Want to play against me?”

The boy has hair so black it glints a dull blue. Jimin feels like he’s seen that color somewhere before, but he’s moving away, sliding into the seat beside him. He looks pleased at the invitation, a mysterious little smile playing on his lips as he pulls his pair of headphones on.

“Just so you know, though,” Jimin warns, “I only play on advanced.”

Usually Jimin doesn’t need to try very hard. Taehyung isn’t exactly a stellar player with the flight simulators, they’re only built for 1st Class students, so when the words GAME OVER flash in neon yellow across Jimin’s screen, he jumps up in surprise. It hasn’t even been two minutes on the clock. He’ll strangle this new kid.

“Hey, did you exit—”

He cuts off mid-sentence when he sees the player name on the boy’s screen. Jeon Jeongguk, and the number on his score calculator are still whirring past dizzyingly.

“Oh, holy fuck,” Jimin curses out loud, eyes popping out of his face. Jeongguk laughs and it’s the first time he’s heard his voice.

“Sorry. I didn’t want—I’m sorry, it’s my fault. You seemed like you didn’t know who I was and...it’s been a while since people didn’t recognize my face.”

Jimin stares at him. God, he looks every part a seventeen year old, but he could pass as eighteen, stretching nineteen at most if he tried. He is definitely distracted by the line of Jeongguk’s shoulders in his pilot’s uniform, shoulder patches accentuating his breadth.

“I’m Jeon Jeongguk,” he continues awkwardly when Jimin doesn’t answer. “I guess you’re one of the few that didn’t know that already.”

“Park Jimin.” He scratches the back of his head. “And uh, yeah...I don’t pay that much attention to the news. I’m always here.”

“Must be why you can boast undefeated, huh?” Jeongguk says, tapping Jimin’s scoresheet as he finally shows up on the screen. “Undefeated till now, that is.”

“Why, you—I’ll have you know that—”

Jeongguk laughs again. “We should play again soon, Park Jimin!” he teases, standing up and holy shit Jeongguk is tall. Okay, he’s not that tall. He can’t be that much bigger than Taehyung, but his presence feels so much more imposing (though then again, it’s him against Taehyung, the living hedgehog). He pats Jimin’s shoulder. “Come back when you think you can beat me.”

 

“So this little wretch pats me on the shoulder like I’m a kid! And you know what he says?”

“What,” Taehyung replies, words muffled. He’s standing under the full blast of the stream of water, letting it hit him square in the face as Jimin washes out the suds in his hair.

“‘Come back when you think you can beat me! Like, are you serious! This kid is probably half my damn size—”

“Please. Anything half your damn size is still in the second trimester of fetal development.”

“Do not make me cut your dick off, I am in prime position to just reach over and do it right now,” Jimin spits.

To which Taehyung replies with, “Gay.”

“I’m so mad. I am so mad. Taehyung, I’ve beaten Namjoon in that flight simulator. Namjoon! What can Namjoon not do in terms of academia? Beating Namjoon in anything academic literally should be something you could put on your resume. Remember that time I told you I got the same score as him on the final in astrophysics? I bragged for a week. A month, maybe. Actually, I still brag about it. I cannot believe this bullshit.”

“He sounds like a supreme pisslord to me,” Taehyung says blandly.

“He is a supreme pisslord,” Jimin says emphatically, shutting off his water. “I hate him so much.”

“I don’t know. Maybe he just likes good competition. Don’t be mean to a first year.”

“Don’t be—? I’ll be nice to him when he learns how to respect a second year!”

“You don’t look like one.” Taehyung shrugs on his bathrobe. “You can’t blame him.”

“He knows I’ve been undefeated all this time!” Jimin, ever the flagrant, forgoes covering up at all, toweling his hair dry. It’s already past midnight and their floor consists of all boys, anyway. “He can’t have mistaken me for a first year.”

“Well, you just have to play him again and fuck him in the ass.”

To which Jimin replies with, “Gay.”

“I mean, you don’t really have a choice otherwise. You can continue losing to this kid or protect your crown. Knowing you, that’s a lot of pride to swallow if you keep losing, even though I keep telling you it’s a damn game and things are different on real ships anyway.”

“Don’t act all high and mighty because you’ve started your flight training already,” Jimin snaps. “It’s not like—shit.”

“Oh, shit.”

Jimin is stark naked when Jeongguk walks into the communal showers, caddy in hand. Theoretically this isn’t a problem because Jimin and Taehyung have showered together since day one and have seen probably the rest of their damn floor in the nude, but somehow Jeongguk running in on Jimin as naked as baby Jesus on Christmas Eve is the worst thing that’s happened since whole wheat bread.

“Uh,” Jeongguk says, staring at Jimin’s cock, on full display.

“My eyes are up here, asshole,” Jimin hisses, and Taehyung stomps on his foot. Jimin forces a pained smile onto his face as Taehyung holds out his own caddy at an angle, strategically censoring Jimin’s privates.

“Sorry about him, he hasn’t been walked today,” Taehyung says tightly, nodding at Jeongguk who looks like a deer caught in headlights. They shuffle past him and the door swings shut, Jeongguk still rooted to the spot.

“Really?” Taehyung asks when they’re back in their room. “He’s a kid. He’s a new kid, did you really have to call him an asshole?”

“He is one!” Jimin protests. “And don’t lecture me, you’re younger than me.”

“By like, two nanoseconds.” Jimin plants his ass on his bed, still bare, while Taehyung sighs and digs around for a pair of clean underwear. “What can I tell you? Age old adages? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

 

Jimin does not see Jeon Jeongguk after that. And he does not join him, because to quote Hamlet act III scene iii line 92, no.

In fact, it had been a miracle Jimin had met him at all. The aerospace academy has thousands of students and running into any one of them by chance was one in a million. Life moves on and the news does too, obsessing now over the unexplained attacks on assorted ships from every planet.

“Hey.”

Hoseok slides in beside a sleeping Taehyung, whose face is currently planted in a BLT sandwich. There is bacon grease on cheek and Jimin is just going to let him stew in the oil. “Is he out?” He leans around Taehyung’s head to peek at his face.

“Yeah, he just pitched forward ten minutes ago into his food,” Jimin says, unconcerned.

“I haven’t seen you at the recreation deck. You used to play the flight simulators every day for hours, what happened?”

“Grew out of it,” Jimin answers gruffly.

“The simulators? I knew you were good on advanced but I didn’t think you were good enough to grow out of them. If you don’t go back soon there’s a kid that’s going to ruin your record, you know. I think you know him, name’s—”

“—Jeon Jeongguk, I know, he beat me.”

“He—wait. You’ve met him?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Uh, he’s a really nice person,” Hoseok says, raising an eyebrow in confusion. “What do you mean, unfortunately?

“He made me feel like an idiot,” Jimin says, putting up a furious pout.

“From your track record, you probably were one.”

“Wow, hyung,” Jimin says. “I thought you would be better company than that one.”

“Oh, is that why you didn’t wake him up.”

Jimin sighs, hanging his head and peering into his unfinished lunch like a sad swan, looking over the edge of a pond. “I mean, I guess I shouldn’t have called him an asshole.”

“Did you seriously?”

“It was an accident! He was looking at my—it was an accident.”

“You know what people do when they make a mistake?” Hoseok says, picking bits of bacon off of Taehyung’s sandwich. He snuffles in his sleep, settling in deeper on his bread pillow when Hoseok jostles him.

“What?”

“Apologize.”

 

Pft. Apologize. Jimin hasn’t heard of anything quite so ridiculous. Once he had apologized to Taehyung on Hoseok’s urging, though he really was at fault that time because Taehyung had worked all week on that mold culture, but Taehyung had merely stared at him and asked him if he was feeling okay and what he was saying sorry for, so.

The line up to the flight simulator is longer than Jimin has ever seen it. The fact there is a line at all is strange because no one ever plays the flight simulator, complaining that it felt too much like studying, too real to be used for unwinding. Jimin queues up and stretches up onto tiptoe, and there is a telltale head of blue-black hair peeking over one of the seats.

“Here to meet Jeongguk?”

Jimin blinks at the person in front of him. “What?”

“He’s really good,” he says, and Jimin just stares. “You know he’s undefeated? I don’t even know how to play, I’m in 3rd Class tradeship studies, but I wanted to meet him.”

“Oh,” Jimin says dumbly. “He’s really not a big deal.”

“What? You know him?”

“Uh.”

No, Jimin doesn’t actually know Jeongguk. But he knows him enough to have an apology under his belt already, and by the time the line snails forward enough for it to be Jimin’s turn, he’s already considered turning around and running for it.

“What level?” Jeongguk asks, not even looking at Jimin when he drops into the ever-so-familiar seat beside him. “I hope you don’t mind playing advanced, because—” He turns his head and jumps out of his seat like it had electrocuted him. A hush falls over everyone that’s around them.

“I don’t mind playing advanced,” Jimin says, eyes trained resolutely on the screen so he doesn’t turn tail and run at the sight of Jeongguk’s face. He’s gotten this far. He goes hard. He has no fear.

He can feel everyone’s eyes sliding from Jeongguk to him, back to Jeongguk, but Jimin just focuses on typing in a new challenger name. Defeat is imminent, out of practice for a week now and against someone like Jeongguk, who had hardly needed two minutes to kick Jimin’s ass in a game he ruled at.

He gets closer to Jeongguk’s score than anyone else. It’s not a tight race but murmurs rumble through the crowd when Jimin loses. He didn’t know what he expected but when he gets up, Jeongguk does too, uncertainly and skittishly.

But Jimin just holds a hand out and smiles.

“Good game.”

 

“So you didn’t actually say ‘sorry I called you an asshole and acted like one in the showers’? Jimin, you are a failure—”

“I mean, I shook his hand and said ‘good game’! It was suave and meaningful! I was a good sport!”

Taehyung drags his hands down his face and groans at such a high pitch people look around in alarm, mistaking it for a drill siren.

“Don’t,” Jimin says when Taehyung finally fixes him with a look like he’s ready to give him a talking-to. “I absolutely will not take lectures from you.”

Taehyung blinks so slowly at Jimin he’s practically opening his eyelids in every other decade. He looks at something just beyond Jimin’s shoulder, and that is when there’s a nervous tap on Jimin’s back. He tenses like a bow.

“Uh, hey. Can I talk to you for a second?”

“Uh,” Jimin says turning, looking over his shoulder. “Uh, yeah.”

Taehyung stands up as Jimin does, pressing his pilot’s cap down over his hair. If Jimin recalls correctly, he has an on-board training session today, and Taehyung salutes him solemnly before disappearing down the other end of the hall.

“Can we walk?”

“Yeah, we can.”

Jimin shoves his hands into his pockets as they do, other students brushing past them. It’s almost noon, and Jimin will have class soon, but Jeongguk doesn’t seem like he’s going to talk first.

“I’m sorry for what I said to you in the bathroom that day.”

“I,” Jeongguk replies ineloquently. “Yeah. I’m sorry too. You’re fine. I walked in on you and you reacted in surprise. I was just rude to you.”

“I thought you were trying to provoke me.”

“I guess I was.” Jeongguk sighs. “I’m sorry for that, that’s how things were in my flight school. We climbed all over each other to get to the top.”

“In an intermediate flight school? Competition was that bad?”

“The worst. I didn’t even feel sorry leaving Neptune. I didn’t actually have close friends, because all we did was use each other as stepping stones. I regret that, really, after that flight on the airship—I thought I was going to die friendless.”

Jimin is quiet. He doesn’t know what to say to that. From what he already knows, Jeongguk doesn’t like bringing that up, so he just settles on, “I’m from Neptune too!”

“Wait—you are?” Jeongguk eyes him up and down, and Jimin feels so very small again, until he says, “Oh, I can hear it in your voice! You speak like me. Your hair is so light, I wouldn’t have guessed.”

“Effects of being on Venus, you know. Your hair gets bleached. I used to have hair as black as yours. That guy you saw me talking to, Taehyung, he used to have brown hair. He’s Martian. Two years on Venus and he’s a carrot top now.”

Jeongguk smiles at the floor as they walk, and Jimin has to tear his gaze away from him. He doesn’t want to see stars from the other side of the galaxy in Jeongguk’s eyes, or see his own home etched into Jeongguk’s face, because it has been so long since Jimin has seen Neptune.

“You sure were kicking ass back there.”

“I thought I could make friends that way,” Jeongguk mutters. “But everyone just wanted to see the hero, not, well...me.”

“Then at least you have me!” Jimin says cheerfully, clapping a hand on Jeongguk’s back. “I couldn’t even recognize you even though your face is probably better known than the president’s right now.” He snatches his hand away when he comes to his senses and realizes that he shouldn’t be so physically comfortable with strangers.

“Yeah,” he says, and Jimin is surprised. He’s not so sure why but something tells him that Jeongguk is not a person easily swayed. “I have you. Can I call you Jimin?”

Jimin frowns loudly. “Call me hyung.”

“Nah,” and Jeongguk smiles deviously, “I think I like Jimin.”

 

And as infuriating as Jeongguk’s disregard for proper honorifics may be, they become inseparable—Jimin and Jeongguk, Jeongguk and Jimin, two boys from Neptune that destroy anyone who challenges them in the flight simulator game. After a few weeks the crowds thin out after the charm wears off. Jimin loses so many games to Jeongguk that his recent scoreboard looks worse than it did when he first came to this school.

“How are you do good at this?” he whines. Jeongguk just smirks when he unscrews his bottle of water and drinks. “I’ve been playing this for over a year now, how do you just blow through advanced flight routes like they’re nothing?”

“Everything in a game is based on algorithm,” Jeongguk says evenly. “Everything in space is random. You can guess and calculate predictions to what might happen but you can never say something will happen.”

“Okay, so tell me what might happen in the next ten seconds.” Jimin grins at Jeongguk, who blinks blankly at him.

“Uh. You’re about to say something supremely dumb and/or embarrassing.”

Jimin’s hands dart out and curl round the back of Jeongguk’s neck. The hair even at the nape of his neck is soft and silky, and Jimin marvels for a split second how smooth the skin is under his fingers. He giggles, tightening his arms as though to gather Jeongguk forward and puckers his lips obnoxiously.

Jeongguk tenses when he realizes what Jimin is doing. For a second, the same deer-in-headlights look crosses Jeongguk’s face again and Jimin thinks for a wild, dreamy moment that Jeongguk is seriously going to let this happen. But then he’s laughing too, wrinkling his nose in mock disgust, hands snaking up between them and planting flat against Jimin’s chest. He’s stronger than Jimin takes him for and successfully shoves him away, and Jimin’s hands fall back to his sides.

“Well, I guess you’re right,” he muses aloud. “You used what you’ve seen to predict what I’d do, but no way in hell could you have said what would happen.”

“You are crazy, Park Jimin.”

Jimin lets his smile fade and he reaches out, excruciatingly slowly, and Jeongguk never takes his eyes off his face. He stays perfectly still until Jimin pinches a lock of his hair between his fingers and rubs, the strands rolling across each other in his fingertips.

“Your hair is getting lighter,” he murmurs, and Jeongguk rolls his eyes up, trying to focus on Jimin’s hand so close to his head. “Are you sad about that?”

The spell is broken when Jeongguk swats him away. “A little, maybe. Not too much. People told me being on Venus would be a lot different from being on Neptune. Desert environment, always in a drought, hot every day of every year, no seasons. At first I didn’t want to come. Even as lonely as life would have been on Neptune. Even after I did come I didn’t want to stay.”

“But you did,” Jimin says, bewildered. “You stayed. You’re here.”

And Jeongguk grins. “Yeah,” he says. “And no one could have guessed that would happen.”

 

But Jimin understands why Jeongguk would feel so strange here on Venus after living all his life on Neptune.

Everything is different. Crossing the Asteroid Belt, in any way from anywhere, is already considered long-distance travel, flights manned by at least half a dozen pilots. Those who make a home out of the cold, bleak gas giants look like ghosts themselves, living years and years away from the sun. The first time Jimin arrived he marveled at this thing called natural light, at how much of it Earthlings and Venusians got without much effort at all.

On Neptune, Jimin would barely be even one tenth of an orbit old. Namjoon says that, on Earth, Jimin would be nineteen now. On Venus, he’s already thirty orbits.

Jeongguk’s hair is already losing its watery, bluish sheen. He’s tanner in his cheeks and hands, skin glowing golden. Jimin is around him every day, so he can’t quite detect the minute changes that happen, but Taehyung meets Jeongguk only every so often and says he looks like a different person every time.

“Your hair is red.” Taehyung reaches out and finger combs Jeongguk’s bangs with something like wonder, and Jimin cannot help the shock and pang of jealousy when Jeongguk doesn’t even flinch. He always, always smacks Jimin’s hand away when he does that. “Your hair was dark brown the last time I saw you. How much time are you spending in the sun?”

“More than usual these days. I have labs out in the warships.”

This catches Jimin’s attention. “You’re in warship labs already? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering—but I’m in a warship lab this session too! We should take our practical together.”

“Wait, no you’re not,” Taehyung protests, looking up from his books. “I am too, I haven’t seen you. Why didn’t you tell me you were in warship labs this session! I would have taken mine with you, my lab partner is Namjoon and he breaks everything he touches—”

“I thought you were a navigator,” Jeongguk says.

“Flies three thousand people to safety and doesn’t even know how aerospace academy works,” Taehyung mutters, and shakes his head. Jimin barks with laughter and Jeongguk slaps him on the shoulder, but he can tell that Jeongguk likes that Taehyung doesn’t take him seriously. It’s a nice change from people scooting around him like he’s too high and mighty to be spoken to. It happens less now, but it still happens. “Classes build on top of each other. To fly airships, you have to learn how fly navigator ships. To be a navigator you have to learn to fly warships, and to fly warships you need to learn to fly tradeships. You’ve got a long way to go.”

 

“I really do have a long way to go.”

Jeongguk is staring out the window of the library, papers in a messy pool around him, and Jimin lifts his book off his face to peer at him out of the corner of his eye. He really shouldn’t be napping—especially not leaning over the back of his chair with an old library book in his face, it’s bad for his spine—seeing as mid-session exams are coming up soon.

“You’re only a first year. By the time you’re our age—actually, you’ll probably graduate early, if you’re in warship labs already.”

“I don’t know if I want to be an airship pilot.”

This has Jimin lifting the book from his face entirely. “You don’t want to do 1st Class studies?”

“I don’t know what I want.”

Jimin purses his lips. He’d been in a place like this once. It had taken a while and so many sit-ins with hyungs like Namjoon and Seokjin to figure out where he wanted to go.

“Do you know what you want to do?”

“I thought I did,” Jeongguk rolls his pen in his hands and Jimin watches it jump and whirl in the spaces between his fingers. “But I still have dreams about that day on the ship.”

Jimin searches Jeongguk’s face. He barely ever talks about what had happened, so if he’s going to, it would be the least he could do to listen.

“Nightmares, like what if I hadn’t been able to do it. Three thousand people, hyung, at least four hundred of those were people from Neptune. More from here, Venus, and Mercury, Earth, even, Jupiter, and Saturn—nightmares like, what if I was the only one who lived—”

The last word out of Jeongguk’s mouth is muffled. Jimin presses a finger to his lips, so hard that he can feel the outline of Jeongguk’s teeth on his skin. It must be the first time, because Jimin is feels just as surprised as Jeongguk looks when he doesn’t jerk back from Jimin’s touch. Then his hand is on Jimin’s wrist, gently pushing it away until it rests in Jimin’s lap again.

“You could be a navigator,” Jimin suggests. “Like Taehyung.”

“Would I still be able to fly with you?”

Jimin feels the ground tilt under him. “You want to fly with me?”

“Well,” Jeongguk shifts uncomfortably, like someone who’s just shared an unsavory secret. “I wouldn’t mind.”

This is new information. This is new information that Jimin frankly wants to hear more of. “You wanted to be in 1st Class just so you could fly with me?”

“Space flights are long,” Jeongguk says, still refusing to meet Jimin’s gaze. “I wouldn’t mind spending it with company I enjoy.”

“You enjoy my company? Aww, Jeongguk!”

“Don’t hug me,” Jeongguk warns.

“I won’t hug you,” Jimin says, but he itches to throw his arms around Jeongguk’s middle and squeeze tight. “You know navigators have to fly with airship pilots anyway, though? 1st Class studies don’t cover all the nuts and bolts of the science of air travel. If we were going to fly to Saturn from here, well—we couldn’t do it all alone.”

“I don’t know,” Jeongguk says uncertainly. “I wish I could go to sleep and wake up knowing what I want. People tell me what I should do and I do it but I feel...just as lost as space dust. Meteorites. Floating in space, kind of.”

“What do you know?” Jimin asks. “What do you know for sure?”

Jeongguk, for all his averseness to being touched, says a lot of things that shake Jimin’s heart. “I know I want to fly with you. To Mercury or back to Neptune or to the ends of the universe. I want to do it with you.”

 

“Hey, Taehyung.”

“Mmm?”

“How do you know if you like someone, and conversely, if that someone likes you?”

Taehyung doesn’t immediately answer, uncapping a marker with his teeth and scribbling furiously across his notes. Jimin watches him patiently, knowing that whenever Taehyung doesn’t talk means he’s probably thinking. Taehyung never stops talking.

“You’re practically in love with Jeongguk,” he deadpans, and Jimin squawks aloud. “And Jeongguk...I think he likes you. He’s very hard to read.”

“I did not say anything about Jeongguk!”

Taehyung looks up at Jimin with eyes so lifeless he cowers a little and says meekly, “Okay, okay.”

“Why do you ask?”

“He’s—well. Like you said, he’s hard to read. I just wanted to know.”

“What are you going to do now that you do?”

“I can’t be sure, are you kidding. I’d be an idiot to trust everything that comes out of your mouth.”

“Fine,” Taehyung says. “Don’t believe me.”

“What do you know?”

“More than you.”

“Wait, what did he tell you? What do you know?”

“He didn't tell me anything.”

“Come on, Taehyung, you’re my best friend!”

Taehyung eyes Jimin one moment more before looking back down at his work, and Jimin watches as he meticulously makes two copies of everything he’s writing down.

“Two copies?”

“Namjoon didn’t show up to lab today,” Taehyung explains. “Emergency student board meeting. Did you hear about the Saturnian and Neptunian ships that were shot down near the Asteroid Belt? They were passenger ships.”

Jimin feels his heart sink. Over the table, Taehyung casts a long, quivering shadow from the sunlight that streams in through the window. It lights their hair red and gold and Jimin stares through the glass out into the fiery orange sky. He feels lost when it comes to Jeongguk and yet his problems are so, so small.

“What’s going on out there?”

“I’m not sure I want to know.” The rustle of paper is loud between them. “But if I were you I’d say what I wanted to say to Jeongguk sooner rather than later.”

 

Jeongguk’s face is grey and tired when he comes out of his Universian politics class sometime in the next week, but surprise dusts across his eyelids when his gaze falls on Jimin, who straightens up from where he leans against the wall.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says. He runs a hand down his face and then through his hair, pushing back russet bangs and letting them fall lock by lock into his eyes. “I don’t know if I can hang out right—”

“No, it’s okay. I was—I wanted to ask, did you hear about the Neptunian ships?”

Jeongguk nods. “Yeah, I heard. I didn’t know anyone on them. Did you?”

Jimin shakes his head. “No. That’s all I wanted to ask.” He shuffles his feet. It’s a lie, he didn’t need to ask this question at all. He knew from practically day one that Jeongguk cared for few outside his family on Neptune. It’s a filler, a place holder, a bad excuse to see Jeongguk more than he needs to. Mid-session exams are in full swing and Jeongguk, a first year, is going through his roughest set of classes yet.

“Okay,” Jeongguk looks bewildered, but also too exhausted to inquire further. Jimin scuffs his shoes on the floor again and he’s turning away already when Jeongguk says, “Hey, let’s—let’s study together.”

Internally, Jimin fist pumps. “Really?”

“Yeah. I’m going mad by myself in the library.”

The walk to Jimin’s room is long and Jeongguk is uncharacteristically quiet. Jimin worries his bottom lip in between his teeth the whole length of the trip there, Taehyung’s voice echoing in his ears. He shakes his head hard but it does nothing and the words just bounce off the insides of his skull.

The room is quiet and messy, drawn curtains burning salmon pink in the evening sun. Jimin hops nimbly over a pile of books, Jeongguk following him inside more carefully. Jimin shoves the mess off his desk with a clatter. “Here! You can sit here.”

Jeongguk frowns. “Where are you going to study?”

“Floor. Bed. I’ve studied in places where no studying should ever happen, you don’t have to worry about me.”

“Why do you have to make everything sound so vaguely sexual,” Jeongguk gripes, and Jimin just offers a wink.

When Jeongguk drops his bag on the desk, Jimin reaches down for his meter stick that rests haphazardly against a half-broken model of Jupiter’s moon system. He brandishes it it over his head, jumping back and pointing it in Jeongguk’s face.

“En garde, fuckboy!” he shouts, and Jeongguk just stares at the end of it where it hovers an inch away from his nose. “You’ve met your match!”

A ghost of a smile stretches across Jeongguk’s lips and he reaches into his backpack. There’s a flash of metal and for a second Jimin thinks he’s actually pulling a deadly weapon on him, until he realizes it’s a folding wind sock peg. It springs into form when Jeongguk releases it. Honestly, it looks a lot more dangerous than a flimsy meter stick.

“I think you’ve met yours,” he says, grinning, laughter bubbling out of his mouth when Jimin narrows his eyes and lunges playfully.

It’s a bad sparring match. It’s a bad sparring match but it makes Jeongguk laugh and that’s all Jimin needs, even if Jeongguk manages to jab him lightly in the ribs. Jimin makes the ugliest, most dramatic face of tragic death, clutching at his ribs, and mocks one final swipe at Jeongguk. He blocks it easily.

Meter stick crossed against wind sock peg. It isn’t the least bit poetic but Jimin’s breath catches in his throat, and Jeongguk seems to realize at the same time how close they are, nose to nose, clunky science supplies the only things separating their bodies.

“Uh, sorry—”

Jimin is turning away, stepping back, cursing himself for ruining even this, when Jeongguk reaches out and yanks him forward until they crash together again. Body to body, a stellar collision. Jimin has to wrap an arm around Jeongguk’s frame to keep him from toppling at the impact, because Jimin is a lot heavier than his height gives him credit for.

“En garde, fuckboy,” Jeongguk mutters. He seems so ready to say something, do something more—but it’s Jimin that closes the distance first.

Jeongguk is not an artful kisser. Jimin attributes this to his age but where he lacks in finesse he makes up with enthusiasm. The peg clatters to the floor but the meterstick is caught between them even as Jimin reaches up, fingers curling at the curve of Jeongguk’s jaw and in his hair. It’s lost so much of its silkiness since he came here but Jimin doesn’t have time to lament about it just yet, because this is Jeongguk biting on his lower lip and sucking as he pulls away.

Jimin searches his face but Jeongguk refuses to look at him, blinking down towards the general vicinity of Jimin’s belly (or lower, but he doesn’t let himself believe this because they are going to talk before anything else conspires). He does the only thing he can think of reaches out, tipping Jeongguk’s chin up until he’s forced to meet Jimin’s gaze.

“Hey. My eyes are up here, asshole.”

“I know,” Jeongguk says through gritted teeth. “Close them for a second, goddammit.”

Jimin does, and this time Jeongguk is the one to kiss him—so he’ll let him slide this one time.

 

Dating a seventeen-year-old 1st Class pilot in training by the name of Jeon Jeongguk is a little like a faraway pipe dream that Jimin, at least, doesn’t want to wake up from. If it wasn’t for the fact Taehyung pretended to retch into his rice every time they sat down with him together in the mess hall Jimin would think it really is one.

Talking had been difficult, mostly because Jimin does too much of it when he’s nervous while Jeongguk goes mute when faced with the same situation. Thankfully, though, Jimin has been around Taehyung for enough of his life to know that forcing people to talk by a.) sitting in their laps or b.) kissing them insistently is usually an effective method. Usually and eventually. So Jimin owes Taehyung one this time.

“Your hands are bigger than mine,” Jimin says as he fits Jeongguk’s palm against his. Taehyung is in one of his three default states of being, set right now in “asleep facefirst in lunch,” so they don’t need to deal with his teasing jibes. Jeongguk hums in his throat, wiggling his fingers on Jimin’s until they thread together. He frowns over his work as Jimin ignores his, and his food, to play with Jeongguk’s hands—until the news screen on the mess hall wall catches his attention.

It’s too loud to hear the audio playing but the words are enough to make Jimin feel that familiar sinking sensation in his belly. Remnants of Plutonian Ship Found, No Evidence of Struggle. There are pictures of what are unmistakably ship flotsam floating past in space. Jimin tugs on Jeongguk’s hand and points.

“It’s happening more,” he murmurs. “What have you heard? Have you heard anything?”

“Professors have said that they’re considering halting flight training for all Classes,” Jeongguk says. “But how is that going to fix anything?”

Jimin has heard this too.

“Seokjin hyung was talking about how he’s probably not going to graduate this year,” Taehyung said in the shower last night with a headful of lather, rare instances that he and Jimin have alone now. “He’s in his last session of navigator studies and his license has never been farther away.”

“Seokjin, huh,” Jimin murmured. Seokjin, the upperclassman that was so collected and calm. “Where’d he hear that?”

“Senior co-pilots,” Taehyung replied, backing into the stream and letting the water run down his face, eyes squeezed shut. “They don’t even want him out in the ships anymore.”

So, Jeongguk has a point. Keeping students out of the training ships won’t change the fact that these attacks are real and show no sign of stopping.

“I think they’re all connected.” Jeongguk squeezes Jimin’s hand in earnest, folding his other hand over the back of Jimin’s and propping his chin up in the tangle of fingers. “What happened to me. The Martian tragedies, the Neptunian attacks. Something is out there.”

“The cryonic engineers are looking for ways to make the ships safer,” Jimin muses. “That’s why Taehyung’s been asleep every chance he gets.”

“What can cryonics do if a ship is attacked?”

“When the temperature is low enough, and just right, the human body will float in a place between life and death,” Jimin explains. “It’s called cryosleep. A long time ago it used to be in all sorts of Earthling science fiction. All ships are equipped with emergency cryonics equipment but definitely not enough if an entire airship were to be attacked. If they can get it to work just right—maybe there could a way for people to be saved if this keeps up.”

“He’s working with cryonic engineers?” Jeongguk asks dubiously, casting a look at Taehyung, half of whose face is obscured by a mess of shredded lettuce and parmesan cheese. “Taehyung hyung? Are they...getting anywhere?”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t believe you either,” Jimin agrees. “But I really, really hope so.”

 

After mid-session exams finally, finally end, Jimin suggests they go to one of the haunted aircraft tours for Halloween. It’s a holiday that’s held strong even after all these centuries.

“You? You want to go on a haunted aircraft tour?” Jeongguk asks disbelievingly. “You’re the biggest pussy I’ve ever met.”

“Wow, okay, see if I ever kiss you again,” Jimin pouts, but Jeongguk just laughs and catches him in a headlock. Jimin stays resolute, even crossing his arms tightly over his chest, until Jeongguk kisses his hair at the crown of his head and he’s so, so weak.

“Let’s go, you giant baby.”

“I’m older than you!”

The line is long and people stare. People whisper. Jeongguk actually says, “Do you want me to stand two people behind you,” to which Jimin rolls his eyes so hard they establish an orbit in his skull, and he just grabs Jeongguk’s hand and tugs him in close so that they’re standing elbow to elbow.

“Hyung,” Jeongguk hisses. “We’re outside.”

“I know the anger is real when you call me hyung,” Jimin says, pretending to wipe away anime tears. “Do it again.”

“No,” Jeongguk snaps, but he doesn’t let go of Jimin’s hand, even when they pay at the ticket office and queue up outside the door of the run-down ship that’s been wasting away for centuries outside their aerospace academy. Every year around this time it opens, and Jimin’s always wanted to go but Taehyung always told him that if he wanted a real scare, he had to go to Earth. "The most fucked up place in the known galaxy!" Taehyung claims.

Jimin doesn’t know what kind of shit it takes to scare Taehyung, or frankly Jeongguk, because everything that jumps out at them inside makes him shriek at the top of his lungs and claw for Jeongguk’s hand. At one point, a scream issues from above them, followed by an echo of child’s laughter. Jimin is basically crying, hugging Jeongguk around the middle from behind and refusing to move.

“Hyung, it’s fine, come on.”

“No! You go on without me!”

“Oh my God, don’t be ridiculous, if we keep moving we can get out of—”

An animatronic girl in white, covered in fake blood, springs out at them to their right and Jimin unintentionally Heimlichs Jeongguk so violently he can feel Jeongguk physically choke under his grip.

Apparently this is the part of the tour that gets captured on photo, so when they finally get out, Jeongguk massaging his ribs ruefully, Jimin holds up the print with a half-sheepish, half-amused grin as it develops in sunlight.

“This is priceless,” Jimin says, swishing it in the air. Jeongguk shades his eyes, squinting hard, still unaccustomed to the blazing light of Venus even after his time here. “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry.”

“I thought I was going to cough up my spleen,” Jeongguk comments. “Wow, I’m so beautiful. Look at my bulging eyes.”

The picture captured Jimin mid-assault, his cheek pressed hard into Jeongguk’s pack, face screwed shut and mouth open in a scream. Jeongguk, on the other hand, just looks like he has so many regrets about agreeing to this.

“I’m putting this on my wall,” Jimin declares. They are glad to get out of the heat afterwards, and as the photo develops further throughout the day, it doesn’t get any less embarrassing—but Jimin has to appreciate that Jeongguk humored him.

“The only decor in this room and it has to be that picture,” Jeongguk chunters, but there is no real acid in his voice. “Where’s Taehyung? It’s late, isn’t it?”

“Cryonics lab,” Jimin says. “I’ve been bringing him and Seokjin hyung food periodically because all the navigators are cooped up in there trying to crank out a makeshift solution for ships as the senior engineers figure out a way to build them safer.”

“There haven’t been any reports of attacks recently, right?”

“Not recently,” Jimin says, fiddling with the duvet under his legs before reaching out and pulling Jeongguk towards him. He gives easily, but doesn’t reciprocate, and Jimin frowns up at him when he doesn’t go further. Jeongguk smiles maddeningly, enjoying Jimin’s petulance.

“Aren’t you going to do anything?”

“Do you want me to do something?”

Jeongguk searches Jimin’s face, deliberately, then slides his gaze down, down, down, like he actually is undressing Jimin with his eyes. Jimin shudders involuntarily, and Jeongguk slides his hands out of Jimin’s and runs them up his arms. The bed dips on either side of Jimin as Jeongguk sinks down into his lap, straddling him as his hands finally come up to rest around Jimin’s neck like that day Jimin first jokingly attempted to kiss Jeongguk right at the flight simulators.

“Yes,” Jimin breathes, and then Jeongguk is kissing him.

He’s gotten better at it, though anyone who spends all his free time—which wasn’t much, admittedly—kissing Park Jimin has no excuse not to be an A+ kisser. At least for effort and enthusiasm, because Jeongguk still clacks his teeth against Jimin’s, but Jimin will ignore that for the feeling of Jeongguk sliding his fingers up his neck, sinking into the hair at the base of Jimin’s head.

“How’s this for doing something?” Jeongguk asks, dragging his lips down Jimin’s chin, laving at the skin on the underside of his jaw before gliding lower, leaving a burning trail down to his collarbones. Jeongguk has to undo the top button of Jimin’s shirt for his lips to reach, and the sound of the button popping from the linen is loud even over how hard Jeongguk sucks hickeys into Jimin’s skin.

“So much,” Jimin manages, finding the ability to snake his arms around Jeongguk’s waist to flip them, so he’s lying under Jimin on the bed. “More than I could have asked for, actually.”

“Is this how we’re going to do it,” Jeongguk asks dryly as Jimin is unbutton his shirt, Jeongguk zipping down his pants. “Like this, under a picture of you screaming in a haunted aircraft?”

“Can we not talk about that when I have a boner?” Jimin asks, pulling Jeongguk in close again and dragging Jeongguk’s shirt up and off his body. “Fuck.” He rests his hands on Jeongguk’s shoulders and drags his nails down the smooth expanse of skin, drawing thin red lines down Jeongguk’s chest and stomach. It tenses under Jimin’s touch and Jeongguk is batting his hands away, but Jimin doesn’t miss the quiver in his hands. He smirks because now at least he knows this much he can undo Jeongguk with.

Jeongguk pushes him back into the pillows, and they rut against each other until they’re gasping into each other’s mouths more than they’re actually kissing. Jeongguk’s breath is so hot on Jimin’s tongue and he can taste him, drink him in, until Jeongguk chokes, “Fuck this,” reaching down with fumbling hands to pull Jimin’s pants down.

“Hang on, let me see,” Jimin says, nudging him off, and Jeongguk grunts as he tumbles to the bed, and Jimin goes to rummage through the closet. “There has to be lube somewhere in here from that one time—”

“Do not continue whatever you were going to say,” Jeongguk says, slinging an arm over his face. He seems to be embarrassed by his cock standing at full attention and Jimin just laughs.

“Aha! Wait, just kidding. This is the industrial chemistry lube…”

“Park Jimin, I swear to Andromeda if you accidentally use industrial aerospace lube on my dick I will literally rip your intestines out from your asshole.”

“This is cock lube, I swear!” Jimin protests, climbing back onto the bed and waving the tube around. “See, look, ‘scented for maximum—’ wait. Your dick?”

“Uh,” Jeongguk stutters. “I mean, I don’t know, it’s up to you, really.”

“I can swing that way,” Jimin says, grinning, uncapping the tube with a plasticky snap and squeezing a dollop into his palm. “Lie back.”

Jeongguk is so responsive under Jimin’s hands, hips jumping easily under his touch. He watches hungrily as Jimin slicks him, then fucks himself open on his own fingers, letting him watch, until Jeongguk drizzles the lube on his own fingers and says, “let me, let me try.” He gets Jimin so close, too close and Jimin has to pull away, push Jeongguk’s hands away before he comes.

“I can’t believe I’m letting you do this,” Jimin mutters as he holds Jeongguk’s cock to his entrance, steadying himself. “Hold on tight.”

Jeongguk whimpers in the back of his throat as Jimin settles down into his seat, and Jimin winces as he gets used to the stretch. To take the edge off the sting he circles his fingers around Jeongguk’s wrists, pitching forward until they’re pinned over his head. Jeongguk pries his eyes open and stares up at him, hair sticking to his temples, mouth hanging open.

“Hyung, move.”

Jimin shivers at the honorific, so sparingly used, and of course Jeongguk would choose this moment to use it. Fucking devil. Jimin almost doesn’t listen, just to make him miserable, but the feeling of Jeongguk pulsing in him is too much to ignore.

Jeongguk is nice and vocal, which Jimin appreciates as he likes a good meter of how good of a job he’s doing. He rides Jeongguk hard, and Jeongguk might not be all that seasoned in sex either because he doesn’t exactly ram his hips up in rhythm, but it’s okay. It’s okay because Jimin’s got him.

Jeongguk comes so hard his body actually curls, thighs jumping and knocking into Jimin’s back, stomach tightening as he sits up. His whole frame quivers and he can only cling on until Jimin makes it over the edge too, painting lines of come over Jeongguk’s belly.

“How’s that,” Jeongguk pants against Jimin’s neck, “for doing something?”

“More than I could ask for.”

It’s weird showering with Jeongguk and not Taehyung because on the one hand, Taehyung doesn’t have a problem being around Jimin’s dick in non-sexual situations, while Jeongguk does the thing where he goes mute in high-anxiety situations. As if he hadn’t be balls-deep in Jimin half an hour earlier. Which is fine, because Jimin is very sleepy so they cuddle up naked under the covers after washing up, skin still tingling and sensitive from the warm water.

Jimin jolts awake in the middle of the night after an infuriatingly vivid sex dream involving Jeongguk that didn’t even end with an orgasm, to his extreme chagrin. He turns his head in the darkness, the dim red sunlight indicating that it can’t be past three in the morning.

Jeongguk is lying on his stomach on top of the covers, body completely bare, curve of his back apparent even in the darkness. Jimin traces the line of his body with fingertips, starting at his shoulders, skittering down the bumps of his spine until he reaches his ass. He sighs, moves away slightly so that he won’t wake Jeongguk, and then tightens his fist around his cock and pumps dry.

He closes his eyes, thinks of Jeongguk’s skin on his and Jeongguk’s mouth on his body, biting down hard on his lip to keep quiet. He think he does a pretty damn good job of it, too, but even so he feels a warm hand joining his after a few moments and his hips buck up in surprise. Jeongguk awake, blearily so, eyeing Jimin’s erection in his fingers before pumping it in earnest.

“Hey, my eyes are up here, asshole,” he jokes sleepily, and Jeongguk chuckles too. “Sorry, I—ah, fuck—did I wake you?”

Jeongguk looks at him. “With you shouting my name so loud, how the fuck did you expect me not to?”

“What? I w—fuck. I wasn’t—wasn’t saying anything.”

“Really?” Jeongguk’s eyebrows knit together, pace not slowing. “Odd. Maybe I dreamed it. But I swore I heard you calling my name.”

 

Jimin wakes up to Jeongguk slung over half his body, thigh pressed up against his morning wood, and Taehyung lying stomach-down on his bed across the room with a pencil still in hand. He’s drooling into a cryonics textbook and Jimin almost flings Jeongguk off of him in panic.

“Jesus shit,” Jeongguk hisses, jumping back into his clothes. “I don’t think you could wake him with a gas storm siren if you tried.”

Yes, well. That doesn’t change the fact that Taehyung still walked into the same room where Jimin and Jeongguk had a lot of sex and probably saw them sleeping in the same bed, for Christ’s sake. For the most part, though, Jeongguk is right—even when Jimin pulls the book out from under Taehyung’s face, all he does is groan and roll over, curling up into a tight ball.

“He looks bad,” Jeongguk comments as they make their way down to breakfast. “How hard must they keep working if the attacks haven’t occurred in the last few weeks?”

“Prime time to get something together?” Jimin reasons. “But I agree. He looks like death.”

But for a while, things are quiet in the Milky Way.

 

“What do you think it’s like on Earth?”

Jimin’s hair rustles on Jeongguk’s pillow.

“I thought you were asleep.”

“I had bad dreams.”

“Oh.” Jimin knows what that means. “I don’t know. I’ve never been there. I’ve heard it’s freezing compared to Venus. A desert compared to Neptune.” He looks back up at the ceiling, Jeongguk’s hair tickling his cheek. “I hear the skies there are blue, like their water. None of this orange and red shit. There are things called clouds, white and fluffy and cotton candy-like. The air tastes like flowers if you find the right places.” He pauses. “Why do you ask?”

“I wanted to know what you thought of it,” Jeongguk says, breath puffing across Jimin’s neck. Then, “I was on land for the first time on Earth.”

“How was that?”

“Shitty,” Jeongguk says. “It was...it was so strange. It was like everything I felt was being dragged down, my heart, my everything. I had to stay in their hospital for a week before they let me leave. Every day I felt so far away from everything, I couldn’t sleep, and sometimes it felt like I couldn’t breathe. It was like falling. The feeling is too solid under your feet. Like you are at the lowest of the low. The absolute bottom. I felt so heavy.”

“And now?”

Jeongguk leans his head heavily on Jimin’s chest.

“Weightless.”

 

Final session practical schedules are posted without delay not long after. Taehyung is finally eating and sleeping like a normal person again, the cryonics department having called a temporary slow-down of lab work in light of the quietude in the universe and the upcoming exams.

“Hey, we’re all in the same practical!” Jimin exclaims, pointing at Taehyung’s and Jeongguk’s names under his. “Us and Seokjin, he’s going to be our senior pilot.”

“Seokjin?” Taehyung asks, face lighting up. “Oh thank fuck, he’ll grade us easy.”

“In your dreams, Kim Taehyung,” comes Seokjin’s voice as he checks for his own schedule. “I have my own navigator’s final license practical the same day and if I fail I will not be in a good mood.”

“But you won’t fail, so you’ll be in a good mood, so you’ll grade us easy!” Taehyung deduces with a glittering smile. When Seokjin is out of sight and earshot, though, he lowers his voice. “I really hope he does, though. I’ve been in cryonics work for so long and I skipped so many warship labs...I’m fucked, guys, I’m going to fail.”

“You have us!” Jimin chirps. “And pilots don’t fly alone. Jeonggukkie and I will carry you.”

Taehyung just smiles tiredly and Jimin sees then how much all those nights in the lab must have taken out of him. Normally he would have expected Taehyung to insist that he needed none of their assistance, but his silence is unusual of him. He puts an arm around Taehyung’s shoulders, the other hand still clutched tightly in Jeongguk’s.

“It’s going to be fine.”

But Jimin can understand why he’s scared. There are practice and review flight trainings and when Jimin actually sees, live, the dials and cranks and buttons on the dashboards, the flashing numbers and circles on the control panels, he feels overwhelmed even with all his studying. If Jeongguk feels the same, he doesn’t let on. He’s wordless during most of the trainings, while Taehyung rocks back and forth over his notes, muttering under his breath to himself.

The night before the practical, Taehyung falls asleep on his books again and Jeongguk leaves their room early to get as much sleep as he can cram in before the morning. Jimin sees him off at their door, expecting a peck on the lips and a wave. Jeongguk, though, leans an elbow on the wall beside Jimin’s head and closes in until their foreheads rest together, eyes shut. Jimin blinks, then whispers, “What?”

“I get to fly with you tomorrow. It’s not...real, I guess. But it’s real to me.”

“Oh,” Jimin says, closing his eyes too, feeling Jeongguk’s warmth for what it is. “Yeah. The first step in flying home to Neptune together, maybe?”

“Definitely.”

 

It’s always interesting to observe the students of the Venusian Interplanetary Aerospace Academy on practical days, just to see how everyone reacts to stress. For example, Jimin deals with it by tying his tie in every knot known to man, Jeongguk runs his hands through his hair so much that it starts to stay fluffed of its own accord, and Taehyung just goes right back to sleep on his food.

“No, no, you need your energy,” Jimin says, waking him up after he nods off over his toast. “Eat.”

Jeongguk runs his hands through his hair for the millionth time. The sun is shining through the windows already, and his hair is such a fiery shade of cherry now that it casts a reddish-gold glow over the table. “Don’t make him eat if he doesn’t want to, or he’ll throw it up later,” he says.

“Are you guys ready?”

Seeing Seokjin in full pilot’s attire, pilot's cap pinned under his arm, sends adrenaline rushing into Jimin’s blood because reality is setting in now—he and Jeongguk and Taehyung are being tested to launch an entire war vessel into space and they have one try to get it right. Seokjin pats Taehyung on the back, and he jerks awake before his eyelids droop down again. “You guys will do fine. I’ll see you in an hour. Don’t eat too much if you’re not feeling well because vomiting during a practical is automatic fail!”

“Thanks for the pro-tip, hyung,” Jimin says weakly, and Seokjin gives him a thumbs up. It really should be a illegal for someone to be so positive before the last license test of their aerospace academy career, but maybe after four long years of nerve-wracking tests, anyone is as well-seasoned as Seokjin.

“One hour,” Jeongguk says. “It’ll be over soon.”

Curiously enough, Taehyung is the most collected out of the three of them when they board the warship, climbing up the steel ramp into the belly of the vessel. Jeongguk brings up the rear, being the youngest. They stand in a neat row before Seokjin, saluting over the brims of their pilot caps, and receive one in return before Seokjin nods and backs away from the control panels.

“Whenever you guys are ready,” he prompts, sitting down towards the rear of the cockpit with clipboard in hand. It's impossible to read what mood he's in, so whatever happens, they'll have to do well.

Jimin blows out a breath, trying to slow his heart rate. He glances at Taehyung and Jeongguk, both paused over their stations. They nod.

“Three,” Jimin counts down, “two...one…”

The ship rumbles to life under his hands when he cranks the engine joystick up to max transmission. Behind him there is rapid clacking as Taehyung flips on all the switches on the dashboard, and when the ship lurches into the air it turns slowly in place as it rises.

“All systems are go, runways are clear.”

All in all, takeoff is smooth. The three of them work well together, hardly needing to speak, only using a few short words here and there when needed. Seokjin calls out gentle instructions, requests to demonstrate turns and basic maneuvers. They get through them easily. Jeongguk mans the steering wheel and Taehyung watches the numbers calibrate on the control panels, head turning back and forth to take everything in.

The ship bullets through the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere. It’s just starting to break through Venus’ heliosphere, stars winking to life in the windshield of the cockpit when Seokjin starts asking them to do harder and harder turns and controls. He poses scenarios, like “A fast-moving meteorite is headed towards you at a thirty-five degree angle. Execute a starboard turn without jerking.” Or, "You encounter a Jupiterian trade ship flying towards you from port side. What are three ways to avoid collision?"

Jimin feels his palms sweat on the controls as the commands get harder and harder, but Taehyung is unnaturally calm and quiet, and Jeongguk moves so slowly and surely that he can’t find himself to feel too panicked.

“Incoming object from a thousand meters northwest,” Jeongguk says suddenly. “It’s traveling at—one thousand, a thousand thirty, a thousand fifty kilometers per hour. Abnormal speed for an asteroid, too large for a meteorite.”

“Pull up,” Taehyung says, voice stern and steady. “Move out of trajectory.”

“It’s not working,” Jeongguk says, slipping out of terminology. “It’s—it’s following us—

“I see it,” Jimin says, cranking the joystick to turn the external telescope around outside the ship. “It's another ship. And it's not flying any colors. What's going on?”

“Wait,” Seokjin says, standing up. The clipboard clatters to the floor from his lap, forgotten, and his face is white. The three of them turn to stare at him. “Wait, that’s not—wait, get down—!”

It happens in slow motion. Jimin turns back to look out of the windshield. Taehyung and Jeongguk are to his left, doing the same. He’s so hyperaware of both of them at his side, and an orange fireball appears not a hundred meters outside their cockpit window from a steel and titanium-plated warship not unlike theirs, flying no colors. Fire fills up the sky, a tiny sun hurtling towards them in the star-studded blackness.

Seokjin’s voice is so far away.

Down, get down!

In slow motion he sees Jeongguk being knocked onto the floor, Seokjin’s body caging him in him, and Jimin does the only thing he can think of—he throws himself to his left, and heat fills up everything he knows when his body hits Taehyung’s.

 

Jeongguk has his arms up over his face until he establishes that he still has all four limbs attached to his body. He squirms, and Seokjin rolls off of him, face covered in soot and Jeongguk immediately coughs in the acrid smell of melting metal.

“Jimin!” he shouts through the haze. “Hyung! Taehyung hyung!”

Seokjin coughs, holding his arm up over his nose and pulling Jeongguk back down onto his feet when he tries to stand up. The ship is spinning out of control in space right now and the best they can do is try to stay low before the oxygen runs out.

“Jimin!” Seokjin shouts into the smoke. It’s so thick Jeongguk that can’t even see his hands where they support him on the burning floor. “Taehyung-ah! Jiminie!”

“Hyung!”

Jeongguk’s eyes are watering. Seokjin has his hand crushed in his own as they crawl across the deck. Jeongguk runs right into Taehyung’s body more than he actually finds him, soft and giving under his palms and knees.

“He’s breathing,” Seokjin says, holding a finger under his nose and ripping scraps of his linen uniform away to tie around his mouth. His own eyes are streaming, washing clean streaks down his cheeks. “Find Jimin, don’t let him inhale too much smoke.”

Jeongguk is getting dizzy and sleepy, but he inches forward. Jimin can’t be that much farther than Taehyung, they were standing shoulder to shoulder. He feels smoke sear his throat and he coughs so hard he feels like his lungs are going to give, until his fingers close around something hot and sticky.

It’s Jimin’s 1st Class pilot's cap. The gold 1 and the plated star underneath is charred black around the edges, plastic bill of the hat is melting away, sticky blue burning holes in Jeongguk's hands.

“Jimin!” he shouts into the smoke.

“I’m here,” comes the weak answer, finally, finally. “Jesus, no need to shout. I heard you the first time.”

“Hyung!” Jeongguk says, near tears, dropping his arm from his nose against his better judgement. “Hyung, I thought—”

“I’m fine,” Jimin says, and Jeongguk almost cries in relief but then the smoke clears a hair and he sees that Jimin is not fine at all.

Jimin is conscious, which is better off than Taehyung, who had blood running down his face in rivulets. Jimin is conscious and that’s the most Jeongguk can say because there is a very large, glittering shard of windshield glass embedded in Jimin’s stomach.

“Oh, my God,” Jeongguk says, and it feels like being on Earth all over again—heart dropping out of his feet, feeling like he’s falling with no sign of stopping. He drops the pilot cap at Jimin's side. “Oh, no, no, hyung, no—”

“Keep calling me hyung, I like the sound of it,” Jimin laughs.

“Don’t laugh!” Jeongguk cries, and he’s not sure if the tears in his eyes are from the smoke or from his panic. His hands scrabble uselessly at the blood that’s staining through Jimin’s navy uniform, badges slick with red. “Don’t laugh, you idiot Jimin, don’t laugh, I’ll get Seokjin—”

“Hey,” Jimin says so softly that Jeongguk is loath to slow down, stop crying. Jimin is talking. Jimin is talking but Jeongguk can feel the blood trickling through his fingers even now as the ship capsizes through space. “My eyes are up here, asshole.”

Jeongguk’s face crumples and tears wash down his face. They evaporate off his skin before they can even drip off his chin and land on Jimin’s body beneath him. He’s holding his hand so tight. So tight for someone who’s losing so much goddamn blood. The warship is burning down around them, metal melting and oxygen escaping out of the vessel and Jimin is blinking slow, once, twice, smiling even as his eyes slide closed. Jeongguk is crying and Seokjin is shouting something at him as he appears again from the smoke, hands covered in Taehyung’s blood. Navigator, Jeongguk hears. Cryonics. Freeze him. We can save him.

“Jeongguk, move!” Seokjin shouts, everything speeding up to real time again. “Move! We can save him, move!”

And Jeongguk, one insignificant boy from one cold, cold planet, scoops up Jimin in his arms and follows him to the ends of the universe.

 

Jeon Jeongguk is a big deal before he even sets foot back in the Venusian Interplanetary Aerospace Academy.

This time around, though, he shares the fame with three other people: Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung, and Kim Seokjin, the first survivors of what is now called The Terran Inquisition, a bloodthirsty Earthling regime to take control of the known solar system.

The warship department springs immediately into action, building a naval fleet nearly overnight. Jeongguk has never seen Namjoon and Yoongi so angry.

It takes two days for Taehyung and Jimin to come out of cryosleep in the hospital where Jeongguk and Seokjin are treated for their injuries.

Jeongguk doesn't remember too much about what had happened on the warship. He does remember that he dunked Jimin into a tank of liquid so cold that he disappeared as soon as he dropped him, the nitroclathrate bubbling furiously and obscuring him from view. Seokjin slammed the lid shut and shoved them into the escape pods before Jeongguk could hesitate a moment longer. Mecurian navigators had gotten to them first, Jeongguk wheezing in the escape pod, lying against Seokjin’s side with drying blood stiffening on his skin. The cryonics tank floated past them in the escape pod next to them and it was all Jeongguk could do, hope against hope that they would live.

“I heard you cried over my dying body,” Jimin jokes as Taehyung steals bits of food off his tray with his good arm, the other bound up in a sling, sitting in a wheelchair beside his bed. “Man. I wish I could have remembered that.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to, it was sad and gay. Like Brokeback Mountain,” Taehyung says, mouth full of food, and Jeongguk can’t even find it in him to roll his eyes.

“You were in a tank of freezing liquid, shut up,” Jimin retorts, wincing when he tries to laugh.

“We passed, by the way,” Jeongguk reports. “The academy saw it fitting that we, as the survivors, deserved that much.”

“Damn,” Taehyung says. “And I was thinking we were going to have to go in for a retest.” He snatches more tempura off of Jimin’s plate until a nurse has to come and shepherd him back to his own bed for his afternoon shot of meds, and so he doesn’t fuck up Jimin’s antibiotic-to-food ratio.

Jeongguk sinks down on the bed beside Jimin, who smiles despite the pain that probably bothers him with every movement. He props up his head up, fist on his temple, elbow sinking into the pillow behind Jimin's back.

“Rough first flight, huh,” he murmurs.

“Mmm,” Jimin hums. He presses a hand to his belly, swathed in bandages up to his armpits. “I’m going to have a big scar.”

“Yes,” Jeongguk agrees flatly. “It will be ugly and terrifying. It will never go away. I will probably have to stare at it when we have sex.”

“Thanks. You’re the real MVP, Jeonggukkie.”

“But it will be part of you. It will be proof you lived and that you’re undeniably still here. And it will be an eternal reminder to me that I could have lost you and didn’t.”

Jimin pauses with his fork in his mouth, then twists his head to look into Jeongguk's face.

“This is unbearably gross even for me, Jeongguk,” he points out playfully, and Jeongguk buries his flaming cheeks in Jimin’s blankets and feels weak fingers run through his hair.

But it is true. It is true. Because there are nine whole planets that Jeongguk could have gone to school to. Nine whole planets of people he could have met and he somehow managed to meet Jimin, a piece that fit so wrong but also undeniably right. Ridiculous Jimin, a person Jeongguk wants fly with—no matter airship, warship, or as navigator, he’d do it. Maybe back to Neptune, like they always say they will one day. Or to the Andromeda. Or to see the sparkling nebulas that Taehyung is always studying.

Or to the ocean at the end of the universe.