[Rebel Prison, Year 61xx]
“Jiminie, I know you can’t hear me right now. I know you’re probably worried. I know I was gone longer than I said I would be, but I’m keeping my promise, okay? I promised you I’d come back for you, and I’m going to come back. You know I’m a fighter. You know I’ll beat this.”
Hushed words said into the sleeve of a tattered military jacket won’t reach Jimin, who is galaxies away on the moon base Jungkook left two years ago for a mission that was only supposed to take six months. Jungkook knows this, but every night he whispers them in the hope that maybe he’ll rip a hole in the universe that will carry these words to Jimin to let him know that everything will be okay.
Two years ago… At least, he thinks it’s been two years. He and Namjoon had tried making tally marks on the walls to count the days, but nothing they have on them is sharp enough to make a mark on the sleek metal floors and walls. The men in camouflage uniforms that stomp around outside the prison door have made sure they can’t use anything to escape, let alone mark up their precious prison interiors.
That doesn’t stop them from trying, though.
Namjoon is sleeping beside him, his jacket stripped of its usual medals and buttons (the rebels had thought they might use them to escape) and wrapped tightly around his torso in lieu of a blanket. His snores, which at one time had been irritating, are now a comforting reprieve from the mechanical whirs and clangs that echo through the walls and prevent Jungkook from getting any sleep.
Perhaps anyone else might have given up in circumstances like these; after all, it’s been this long and they aren’t any closer to escaping than they had been that first day they’d been captured. But Jungkook knows that he can’t give up. It’s simply not an option.
Not when a boy whose eyes contain the whole universe is waiting for him back home.
[A colony on one of Saturn’s man made moons, Year 6098]
“Hey, Jeon! I brought you a chocolate. He didn’t have caramel, so I just told Old Man Lee to put hot fudge. Is that cool?”
Jungkook reaches over to take the ice cream, immediately sticking out his tongue to catch the melting chocolate before it lands on his new shoes. “Thanks,” he says with a mouthful of what he insists is the best ice cream this side of the Milky Way. Not that he’s had any other ice cream, but still. “Is Yejun still coming?”
Sochun bites off the top of his own cone, shrugging. “Dunno. He’d better, though. It would be lame if it’s just me and you playing.”
“It’s lame anyway.”
The artificial sun up above has already begun its slow descent toward the horizon, casting long shadows across the neighborhood park. Jungkook is sitting on the swings, just gently rocking back and forth so that his feet never leave the ground. Sochun is leaning against the support pole for the swingset, ruffling his already messy hair and finishing off the last of his ice cream while they wait for Yejun to join them.
As much as Jungkook appreciates summer as a welcome reprieve from his underwhelming first semester of secondary school, there really isn’t much else to do around the city other than play video games. Truthfully, it’s gotten a bit boring lately, but he’ll be the absolute last one to admit that in front of his friends.
And really, monotony is nice, he thinks. The war he’s learning about in school is happening all around him, and he should be grateful to live here, virtually unaffected by the destruction and death in the rest of the galaxy. Being able to play video games often enough to become bored of them is a privilege other kids his age might not have.
“Hey!” Yejun calls, finally jogging over with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder and his virtual reality goggles hung around his neck, bouncing against his chest as he runs. “Sorry I took so long. My mom was on my ass about my homework.”
“You already started your summer homework?” Sochun gapes, giving him a scandalized look. “I thought we agreed to wait until the day before the break ends to suffer in procrastination together.”
“No man left behind,” Jungkook chimes in, his earlier thoughts completely forgotten.
“Sorry. You know how my mom is. She wouldn’t let me leave the house until I could name every Galactic Minister from the past century. In order.” He shudders in horror.
“There’s only been like, what, four of them?” Sochun laughs, unhooking his goggles from his belt and wiping dust off the lenses with the bottom of his shirt.
Yejun makes a face. “Shut up, man.”
Jungkook shoves the rest of his melted ice cream into his mouth and readjusts his own goggles that had been perched on his head. “Let’s not talk about school right now,” he says through each crunch of the ice cream cone.
“Close your mouth when you’re chewing, Jeon, you barbarian,” Sochun says with his tongue out in faux-disgust. “But even with your barbaric ways, you’re right. Fuck school, let’s shoot shit.”
“Can you wait two seconds?” Yejun says, holding up his bag. “I have to drop my stuff off at Jungkook’s house. I’m not carrying this through the VR.”
Jungkook lifts himself up off the swings, taking Yejun’s bag from him. “This is why you show up on time, dude.”
Jungkook’s house is no more than a five minute walk from the park, a two-story building as old as the first settlement here. The newer homes are much sleeker, more in tune with the architecture over at the Capital, but Jungkook likes his old-fashioned house. It has character.
He greets his mother when he walks in the front door, tossing Yejun’s bag next to Sochun’s in the pile of blankets and pillows they’d set up in the living room for later.
“Don’t stay out too late!” his mother yells after him. “And be careful with those goggles! Turn the difficulty setting to the easiest one!”
“Okay, mom!” Jungkook calls back dismissively, ushering his friends out the front door. “Sorry,” he mutters once they’re out of earshot. “She’s been super weird lately, ever since that news report about the increased military activity on Jupiter.”
“That’s a whole planet away, dude,” Sochun laughs, twirling his goggles around his finger as they walk back to the park. “She needs to chill.”
“My mom’s the same way, though,” Yejun says. “She thinks we’re going to be next.”
Jungkook sits down on the lowest rung of the merry-go-round and kicks his feet out. “Adults are so dramatic. They’ve been saying we’ll be the next to be attacked for like, two years now, and nothing’s happened.”
“Nothing’s going to happen,” Sochun insists. “Let’s just play the game, I’m getting bored.”
“Agreed. Where do you guys wanna go today?” Jungkook asks, strapping on his goggles and scrolling through the warzones.
“Pluto?” Yejun suggests. “I heard the AIs are crazy there.”
“No, not Pluto,” Sochun says. “My avatar doesn’t have warm clothes.”
“That’s your own fault,” Jungkook says with an eye roll. He scrolls to Mercury, passes over Venus, then pauses on Earth. “How about this trash hole?” he jokes. “Wanna fight some rebels?”
Sochun and Yejun both sign on and nod. “I’m always down to kick rebel asses. Even if they’re not real, it still feels good,” Sochun says.
Jungkook agrees and selects Earth, then adds Sochun and Yejun to his party. Their goggles all blink blue and then their colony on Saturn’s moon disappears, replaced with the rotted corpse of Earth. The game’s renders had been taken directly from satellite sweeps of the planet, so the level of realism is almost scary in its accuracy. Jungkook has never left his colony, but thanks to their game, he feels as though he’s been nearly everywhere in the galaxy.
Earth is covered in rubble and deep craters and the ground is cracked and dry, its lakes and rivers and all other sources of fresh water having dried up centuries ago. Jungkook’s avatar takes a step forward and steps on an overturned trash can that is overflowing with sludge and crumpled plastic. The air is impossible to breathe without a mask, and so his avatar’s helmet comes sliding down over his face with a clean swoosh.
He and his friends trek across the disgusting ground, making their way through the slightly green haze that covers the area. It looks like they’ve spawned near what used to be a gym, its shattered sign knocked over and the mechanical bicep used as advertising lying in pieces.
“I can’t believe people used to live here,” Sochun says. “This is the superior planet that the rebels are fighting for?”
Yejun shakes his head in disbelief. “How do they even take themselves seriously?”
Jungkook is about to respond with a similar statement of disbelief at the rebels’ ridiculous cause, but at that same moment an alarm starts blaring on his radar.
“Rebels!” he cries, ducking for the nearest cover and readying his gun. Sure enough, a team of rebels spawns in the area, all of them a higher level than himself and his friends due to the difficulty setting being turned up all the way.
The rebels in the game aren’t modeled after real people, and each one has a similar face. They’re slightly altered between each model in small ways, but the one defining trait aside from their camouflage is the horrifying sneer contorting their mouths. Jungkook hears about the rebels on the news, in school, from the mouths of the older people in town who remember the start of the war. He hears about them constantly, about how their threat is a bigger one to the galaxy than the poisonous gases currently spreading across the surface of the earth.
On his little colony on one of Saturn’s man-made moons, all he can do is hear about them. But here, in the VR version of Earth, he has a gun weighing heavily in his hands and an avatar that’s been powered up enough to match almost any enemy in the game. Here, he’s practically invincible.
Most people say that being too overpowered in a video game makes it boring, but it has the opposite effect on Jungkook. He takes hit after hit from the rebels, jumping out from his cover and shooting wildly at them without taking hardly any damage at all. It’s exhilarating to the point that he nearly forgets he’d entered the game with his friends until Yejun starts complaining that they always end up going for the brute force approach thanks to Jungkook’s trigger-happy tendencies.
“Can’t we go for a strategic approach like, even once?” he groans, replacing the bullets in his gun for the third time as the onslaught of rebels just keeps coming, seemingly without an end.
“This is more fun!” Jungkook calls back, taking out an entire line of rebels with his obnoxiously overpowered gun. Just to be a showoff, he tosses the gun up in the air and does a backflip, catching it just in time and shooting down another line of AIs.
“I hope the boss kicks your ass,” Sochun yells at him from his spot behind an overturned school bus. “You basically broke the game.”
That much was true, but Jungkook had worked hard to reach this point, sacrificing homework time and cram school in favor of doing tedious missions in the game on his own until he’d surpassed level after level. For someone who is only 167 centimeters tall and so skinny that he has trouble shopping for clothes that fit, being able to play as an incredibly powerful soldier that can cut down countless rebels and protect the galaxy is all he has.
The boss appears a few minutes later, a slightly bigger rebel with glowing red eyes and only one weak spot: the back of his neck, which he keeps covered by a bulletproof helmet.
Usually players will work out a strategy with their teammates to distract the boss and his cronies so that one player can sneak up on the boss and disarm him to hit his weak point.
That’s what most players do. Jungkook, of course, chooses instead to charge right at him and deflect his attacks, ignoring the cries of protest from his friends while he sends bullet after bullet at the boss. What he does is essentially the equivalent of button-mashing on the really old retro games before VR became popular, but if it gets the job done, he doesn’t care. He sneaks in a couple combo shots to boost his experience points while his friends sit back and toss buffer packs at him and fend off the low level cronies.
Jungkook had just knocked away the boss’s bulletproof helmet to expose his weak spot when everything around him freezes.
“Sorry for pausing,” Sochun says, wrenching them all out of the simulation and grimacing as he rips off his goggles. “I’m getting a headache.”
“Loser,” Yejun says, taking his goggles off as well. “You always get headaches during battles.”
“It’s not my fault—”
“Whoa, guys, shut up for a second,” Jungkook says, trying to focus on the sharp swoosh he’d heard after removing his own goggles and returning to reality. “Do you hear that?” He’s so stunned by the sudden noise that he isn’t even annoyed about ending the game early.
His friends look at him quizzically until Yejun’s eyebrows shoot up his forehead and he turns his gaze up to the sky, his jaw dropping. “Look,” he says, pointing up.
There’s a flash of bright light moving across the sky, leaving streaks across the sunset that look as though someone has slashed a line across a canvas painting.
“What the hell is that?” Sochun gapes.
“Were there shooting stars scheduled for tonight?” Jungkook asks, staring after the smears of light in the sky with his mouth hanging open.
“Don’t think so,” Sochun replies.
“It’s probably just another malfunction in the simulator,” Yejun says. “Remember when that asteroid came too close and made it snow in summer?”
Sochun murmurs his agreement, but Jungkook can’t stop staring after where the shooting star had arched off to. It looked as though it had actually fallen from the sky, landing somewhere in the hills, but from here it’s difficult to tell. The more he stares after it, the more he’s starting to think that perhaps it hadn’t been a shooting star at all. The engineers who run the simulation are professionals; only severe cases like that asteroid would mess with the projections.
Before he can suggest that they go check it out, the front door of his house swings open and his mother steps out on the porch in her slippers to call after them. “Jungkook! Boys! It’s getting dark! You need to come back inside.”
Jungkook groans. “Sorry. We’ll finish up the game tomorrow, yeah?”
“It’s not a big deal,” Yejun says, starting off toward his house already. “Thanks to Sochun and his headaches, we would’ve had to start over anyway.”
“Shut up, dude!”
The shooting star, or whatever it had been, is quickly forgotten as the three of them make the short walk back to Jungkook’s house. The sun is only just barely still visible over the hills by the time they make it to the front door, but the streaks in the sky from the falling object have long since faded.
Yejun is the first to take a shower, leaving Jungkook and Sochun to set up the pillows and blankets in the living room more comfortably.
“If you boys need anything to eat, I left some money on the counter for delivery,” Jungkook’s mother says, turning off the light in the kitchen and shuffling over to her bedroom. “Just don’t stay up too late.”
“Okay,” Jungkook says. “Thanks, mom.”
Once they’re all showered and lounging around in their pajamas, Jungkook activates the monitor on the wall and the three of them burrow into the pile of blankets like groundhogs to watch some action film that had gone viral for having part of a scene filmed on Earth despite the dangerous conditions.
Halfway through the movie, a ship crash lands onto a fictional planet and appears on the screen like a star falling from the sky, bringing thoughts of the shooting stars from earlier back to the forefront of Jungkook’s mind. Even though he’d been the one to suggest the movie in the first place, for the final hour of it he finds himself completely distracted.
The film’s credits begin to roll and Sochun’s eyelids are fluttering while Yejun tries to stifle a yawn, so Jungkook waves the lights off and settles into the blankets, allowing silence to fall over his living room.
“Guys,” Jungkook begins once the silence has stretched on for a few minutes. “I’m not the only one who can’t stop thinking about those shooting stars, right?”
“Nope,” Yejun says. “I wanna know where they landed.”
Sochun yawns. “Me too. I wanna know what they really are.”
Jungkook cranes his neck to get a look at his mother’s bedroom, squinting through the darkness to see if her door is closed. It is, and there isn’t any light coming from underneath to indicate that she might still be awake. “We can sneak out and go check it out,” he suggests, looking at his friends.
“Won’t your mom get mad?” Sochun asks.
Oh, definitely. “Nah,” Jungkook says. “Besides, we’re not gonna get caught. We’re just going to see the crash site and then head right back. We should be back here before the sun even comes up.”
“If you say so,” Yejun says, pushing the blankets back. “Let’s go, then.”
When it comes to homework, getting three fourteen year old boys to finish on time is nothing short of a miracle. When it comes to sneaking out of the house to investigate a mysterious crashed object, though, it barely takes them a couple minutes to grab their jackets and gather around the front door.
Jungkook holds his finger to his lips and slowly pushes the door open. They all stand there frozen, but when the alarm doesn’t go off after thirty seconds the three of them breathe out a collective sigh of relief, pushing through the door and closing it behind them.
“What do you think they are?” Jungkook says, hanging back on the porch to lace up his shoes.
Yejun, who had already bounded into the street after Sochun, holds up his tablet. “Dunno, but we’re gonna find out.”
“What if it’s the rebels?” Jungkook jokes, dusting off his jacket.
“Hilarious. Now get your ass over here, Jeon. We don’t have all night.”
“Yeah, my mom’s probably gonna wake up soon. She has a sixth sense or something.”
He makes it about two steps from the house before he hears one of his friends say, “What the hell are those?” and the sky starts raining fire.
Tiny bombs the size of baseballs, raining down around them and exploding on impact, sending debris flying everywhere and filling the air with a rancid burning odor. Jungkook is frozen in place, for a moment unconvinced that this is happening, but then Sochun’s shouts jolt him back into reality and he starts to run.
Everything he’s learned about air raids in school had been so far removed from his daily life that in this moment he forgets everything he’d been told to do in the event that one happens. He doesn’t seek cover, he doesn’t head for the bomb shelter, he doesn’t think, he just runs.
A bomb lands in front of him and detonates before he can reach his friends, lifting him off his feet and flinging him backwards until he lands with a sickening crunch against the side of a car. He slumps down on the pavement, blood trickling down his forehead and cheek, his skin feeling as though it’s on fire. He can’t move, can barely think straight, can only watch as something not even his worst nightmares can compare to unfolds in front of him.
The bombs stop falling, though his ears keep ringing, and that’s when the old rusted sirens at every street corner start blaring to signal the start of an air raid.
Too late, Jungkook thinks as the sound of the sirens is overpowered by the thundering of boots against pavement, guns firing, people screaming. It’s a cacophony of noise that reaches a crescendo when he hears his mother’s shriek before everything falls completely silent.
It’s so quiet that Jungkook thinks he’s died, but he can still see through his hazy vision and steadily clouding mind, can still see the fiery hellscape that’s become of his home. He tries to call out, to lift himself up and see if anyone has survived, but he’s immobile, his body having shut down and his brain attempting to follow suit.
A set of footsteps approaches him and a pair of dark boots comes into view. A man dressed in camouflage leans down in front of him, and he has in his hands a gun that he’s probably just used to kill everyone Jungkook loves. His face is blurry, but he’s inspecting Jungkook closely, watching for the rise and fall of his chest.
“One of them’s still alive,” the man’s voice calls out to someone behind him, his voice sounding like it’s coming from above water while Jungkook is submerged below. “A kid.” Maybe he gets a response, maybe he doesn’t, but either way he lifts his gun and points it at Jungkook, who at this point would just be content with any way to leave this nightmare.
A shot rings out and Jungkook almost lets himself let go, welcoming his death, but he feels nothing new save for a wet spatter of blood across his face, nothing like how he’d ever imagined death to feel like. The man in front of him clutches his chest that’s been torn apart and then falls over into the dirt.
The last thing Jungkook sees before he finally loses consciousness is a man in a striking black uniform holding a gun that’s still smoking from the end.
[Location unknown, Year 6098]
Jungkook is running. He’s running as fast as he can, his breathing hard and his throat dry, all to get as far away from the blazing heat of the explosions behind him. Ahead are his mother and his friends, lined up on the horizon and calling out to him for help. They’re calling for him, but no matter how fast he sprints toward them, they aren’t getting any closer, remaining hazy silhouettes far ahead.
The fire behind him closes in at the same time that the figures on the horizon crumple like rag dolls one by one, shot down in a rain of bullets that all somehow miss Jungkook.
Their screams fill the air and he trips, falling flat on his face as the explosions rain down around him and he waits for his death but it never comes, it never comes, and all he can do is lie there and hear their screams over and over again until his eyes shoot open and he realizes the screams have been his all along.
“He’s awake,” a distant voice says in an accent that he doesn’t recognize.
“It must have been a nightmare from the trauma,” another voice says in that same unfamiliar accent. It’s so bright in the room that Jungkook can’t see, blinded with white and panting hard, his throat ripped raw from his screams and his entire body aching all over like he’s been hit by a truck. “Poor kid. Being the only survivor ain’t gonna be easy on him.”
“Let him rest,” says a third voice, but this one is different than the others. It’s softer, higher, gentler, and Jungkook can hear the same lilt of his vowels that he’s grown up used to hearing. “I can take care of him.”
Jungkook tries to squint to find the source of this voice, and he can just barely make out a face, the bright white behind him acting like a halo around his soft features. Jungkook catches full lips and dark eyes before his head begins to throb and he has to close his eyelids again.
He must be dead now, he thinks. He’s dead and this is an angel that’s come to help guide him to the afterlife. That wouldn’t be too bad. If it will rid him of these nightmares, he’d gladly go wherever the angel wants to take him. He loses consciousness again soon after, but the nightmares still don’t end.
Time doesn’t feel real anymore. Jungkook wakes up shrieking countless times, but each time he does, the angel is there to calm him and offer kind words in his familiar accent.
Finally, after what feels like an eternity, his eyes can remain open for longer than a few seconds without making him feel as though his skull is being sawed apart. It takes a moment for his pupils to adjust to the sudden flood of light, but the first thing to come into focus is the angel’s face. His lips, his cheeks, his eyelashes, his hair, everything about him looks so soft. Jungkook reaches a hand up to touch him, not convinced that he’s real. He doesn’t get very far, as trying to lift his arm had proved useless; both of them are heavily bandaged and his left arm is held against his torso in a sling.
He isn’t dead. He’s injured, though to what extent he isn’t sure, and he’s very awake in this room with this very real boy.
Being alive means that the memories in his nightmares had all been real, though, so this revelation is one that Jungkook would rather not have made. They’re dead, all of them. Everyone he loves. He’s completely alone in this unfamiliar place.
“Where am I?” he croaks, the sound of his own voice sounding foreign in his ears.
The angel— no, Jungkook can see now that he’s just a boy— brushes his hair from his face, his tiny hands so warm that they make his eyelids flutter. “You’re safe now. Don’t worry.”
“But— The air raid, the guns, the—”
“Shh.” The boy’s voice is so soothing. “There’s no air raid here. You’re safe. Everything is going to be okay.”
Jungkook’s heart rate slows back down, his breathing steadies to match the boy’s comforting tone, and his muscles begin to relax with every stroke of the boy’s hand against his forehead, his cheek, his arm. And when the boy says that he’s safe, somehow Jungkook believes him.
[Lunar Base, Year 6098]
The boy’s name is Park Jimin, and he’s sixteen years old, an apprentice at the medical unit. He’s been the one taking care of Jungkook while he’s healing from the injuries he sustained during the attack on his colony, or at least that’s what Jungkook thinks Jimin had said. It’s difficult to focus on anything while he’s slipping in and out of sleep due to the painkillers he’s been prescribed.
The nightmares haven’t gotten better, but at least now that he has someone to talk to (or at least listen to while they talk at him), he has something else to occupy his mind with.
There have been others who stop by the medical ward to check on him, but they’re all adults in uniform who speak in that harsh dialect that Jungkook doesn’t recognize. He much prefers Jimin’s voice, which reminds him so much of home that when he’s particularly out of it he thinks for a moment that all of this had been a bad dream.
As the days pass, though, he slowly regains the ability to stay conscious for more than a few minutes, and with that consciousness comes the reality of his situation. He doesn’t have a home anymore. His home had been destroyed. He remembers the man who had almost shot him, and even more faintly he remembers the man who had saved him, but everything between that moment and the first time he’d woken up here in this room is completely missing from his memory.
Once he’s lucid enough to speak, he waits for Jimin to come back and watches him portion out his painkillers and what looks like burn ointment. He’s so careful and precise for being so young, almost like he’s already a practicing medical officer.
“How did I get here?” Jungkook asks, his voice still coming out more like a wheeze, his lungs tightening when he speaks. Jimin looks over, his soft black hair falling in his eyes, and smiles sadly.
“Lieutenant Kim Seokjin saved you,” he says. “He brought you here.”
Jimin must be speaking of the man dressed all in black, the one who had been standing there at the end of Jungkook’s last memory of his colony. “Where is here?”
“A military base,” Jimin says, sitting down beside the bed and gently moving Jungkook’s head to peer into his eyes. “On Earth’s moon.” He marks something off on the tablet sitting near the medicines he’d brought in, then reaches for the small black object Jungkook sees him holding every time Jimin comes in. He presses a button, making the object glow a soft blue, and then hovers it above Jungkook’s chest until it makes a small beep. “Your heart rate is getting better. You’re really strong, you know that?”
Jungkook doesn’t feel very strong lying here covered in bandages, unable to move or even remain conscious for very long, but there’s admiration twinkling in Jimin’s dark eyes. “If I was strong, I could have done something. All I did was sit there while…” Jungkook trails off before the memories become too painful again.
“Hey,” Jimin says softly, setting the medicine down and sitting beside him, placing his hand over Jungkook’s heart. “You’re here. You survived. You pulled through, even though when Seokjin brought you in here they said there was no point. But your heart's still beating. If that’s not strength, I don’t know what is.”
Jungkook doesn’t know how to respond to that, but Jimin doesn’t appear to require a response at all. He brushes Jungkook’s hair away from his forehead and holds out the medicine. Jungkook opens his mouth dutifully and swallows it, wincing at the bitter taste. Whatever it is, it’s fast-acting, and his eyelids grow heavy almost immediately. Once again, he slips into unconsciousness.
The next time he wakes up, Jimin isn’t there. The man who had saved him back home, the one Jimin calls Lieutenant Kim Seokjin, is sitting in one of the chairs against the wall talking with an older man wearing a uniform with far more medals adorning his lapels and breast pocket.
“Oh,” Seokjin says, making eye contact with Jungkook. “He’s awake.”
The older man turns and crosses the room, standing over Jungkook’s bed with his arms folded behind his back. “It’s good to see you’re doing well,” he says, his accent making him sound much harsher than he probably means to. “None of us thought you’d actually pull through when Seokjin dragged you in here.”
“I did, Captain,” Seokjin says, joining him at Jungkook’s bedside. He’s so young, Jungkook realizes with a jolt. His features are youthful and handsome; he can’t be older than twenty. He looks to Jungkook when he speaks next. “You’re a real fighter. You were thrown ten feet through the air, smacked into a car, and have severe burns all over your body. But you survived; that’s almost impossible.”
“What’s going to happen to me?” Jungkook croaks.
“Don’t worry about that right now,” the older man says. “I just need to ask you a couple questions, and then I’ll let you get back to resting.”
“Captain…” Seokjin starts, looking concerned, but the man ignores him.
“Your name is Jeon Jungkook, correct?”
Jungkook tries to nod, but it causes such a sharp pain in his neck that he has to close his eyes for a second and wait for it to pass. “Yeah.”
“Were you born on Saturn, or did you move there?”
“No, I was born there. I’ve never left the colony.”
The man nods to himself. “And the air raid, when did it start?”
Jungkook inhales sharply, the memory of his friends, the three of them sneaking out, the sudden change in atmosphere during the seconds before the first round of bombs had fallen all making him dizzy with grief. “I…”
“Captain, this can wait,” Seokjin interrupts, still speaking respectfully but with a more firm tone to his voice this time. “You don’t need to interrogate him right now.”
The older man looks as though he wants to argue, but he spares another glance toward Jungkook, and he must really be a pathetic sight because the man sighs in resignation and steps back. “You’re right, Lieutenant. My apologies. We’ll continue this another time.”
He gives Jungkook a small nod and turns to leave the room. Seokjin hesitates a bit before following after him, and Jungkook calls out. “Wait,” he says.
“What’s wrong? Do you need me to call a nurse?”
“No,” Jungkook says. “I want to thank you. For saving my life, I mean. You didn’t...you could have just left me there.”
Seokjin smiles at him. “I could have,” he agrees. “But I joined the military to help people, not leave them to die.” With that, he follows the older man out of the room and leaves Jungkook alone again.
That’s the last that Jungkook sees of anyone other than Jimin for a long time, but he doesn’t mind. Seokjin had been kind to him, but his military uniform and the way he carries himself with such confidence makes him a bit intimidating. Jimin, on the other hand, is close to Jungkook in age, and just his mere presence is enough to calm Jungkook after even his particularly bad nightmares.
Jimin keeps him updated on his condition as the days drag on into weeks, never hiding anything from him or acting as though he’s too young to be told the truth, and Jungkook appreciates that immensely. He’s been through hell, to be sure, but rather than treating him like a child, he thinks that after an ordeal like that he deserves to be spoken to with honesty. When he’d attempted to sit up in bed despite Jimin’s warning that it was too early, he’d received a glare and been snapped at. Jimin is kind, but he’s not afraid to tell Jungkook exactly what he’s thinking.
“You’re looking a lot better,” Jimin comments one day after removing the old bandages on Jungkook’s legs and unwrapping the new set. “Your burns have almost completely scabbed over.” The burns he’s referring to are the ones decorating his entire lower half, a result of the fire that had been burning beneath the car Jungkook had been thrown against.
“Will it leave a scar?”
“On the smaller ones, I doubt it,” Jimin tells him, replacing his bandages with ease, lifting his leg slightly to reach his thigh. “But the one on your chest is probably going to.”
When he was twelve, and had first made his avatar in the VR, he’d given himself loads of scars. One across his eye, countless ones across his back and arms, all for the sake of looking badass, like he’d been through more battles than even the real life soldiers he heard about on the news.
His scars here in real life might be badass, if they didn’t carry the memories of everything that’s been plaguing his nightmares for weeks now. He won’t complain about his injuries, though. Not when he’s still alive, something no one else on his colony can say for themselves right now.
Jimin ties off his fresh bandages and sits back in his chair. “Do you mind if I stay here for a while?” he asks. “I understand if you want to be alone, though.”
“I want you to stay,” Jungkook tells him.
That earns him a smile, and Jimin relaxes in the chair, fiddling with the armrest. “Thanks,” he says. “There aren’t really that many people to talk to out there. It kind of sucks.”
“You don’t have any friends?” The question comes out harsher than Jungkook had intended, but Jimin doesn’t seem to mind.
“No,” he says. “Having a lot of kids at a military base would be bad, right?” He smiles sadly. “The only one close to me in age is Yoongi, but he’s eighteen already so he’s off doing adult stuff.”
“I’m probably not a great alternative to a friend,” Jungkook laughs weakly, “ since I’m stuck in bed. Sorry.”
“No, no, I like talking to you,” Jimin says, making Jungkook’s entire chest feel warm.
Truthfully, even though he knows now that Jimin is not the angel he’d thought him to be back when he’d been delirious and only partially conscious, even though he knows now that Jimin is just an average sixteen year old boy, he can’t help but think of him as an angel, even now. Seokjin had been the one to bring his half-dead body here, but as far as Jungkook is concerned, Jimin is the one who saved his life.
“Jimin?” Jungkook says, not quite sure how to put what he’s trying to say into words. Jimin hums out a “Hmm?”, waiting for him to continue, so he settles on, “Thank you.”
Jungkook coughs, suddenly embarrassed. “For, um. For being here. I mean, being my doctor. You know, with the bandages and stuff.”
Jimin beams at him. “I’m not a doctor,” he says. “I’m just an apprentice. You’re actually my first patient.”
“But I barely ever see the doctor. You’re doing most of the work.”
“I’m just doing minor stuff, really,” Jimin insists, a blush growing on his cheeks. “They told me to be here while you’re awake, because, um. You always do better when I’m here, for some reason.”
“So you’ll keep coming?”
Jimin nods. “Of course. You’re my patient, remember? Until you get better, I’m not going anywhere.”
To Jungkook’s immense relief, Jimin is true to his word. Every milestone he reaches on the road to physical recovery, Jimin is right there with him to encourage him with a gentle touch and a smile.
(Even though his mental state hasn’t improved much, with nightmares wracking his brain every time he closes his eyes, Jungkook finds that Jimin is always there when he wakes up, too, and that makes it all a little more bearable.)
The day that Jungkook finally is able to remove his cast and move his arm, it’s so stiff and sore to bend, but the ecstatic look on Jimin’s face spurs him to make a goofy face and pretend to flex his bicep. The giggle that bubbles up from between Jimin’s lips makes the ache that pulses in his arm for hours afterward all worth it.
Next to come off are the bandages on his legs, finally. Like Jimin had said, there aren’t noticeable scars anywhere on the skin beneath the gauze, just patches of new skin that’s sensitive and stings when he presses on it. He tries to bend his knee and is stunned when he finds that he’s too weak to even move his limbs.
“You’ll need to practice walking a few times a day to wake your muscles up again and get your strength back,” Jimin tells him, seeing the frustrated grimace Jungkook had been making. He bites his lip, glancing over his shoulder at the door. “I’m not supposed to do this, but...do you want to try taking your first steps right now? I really want to be here when you do.”
Jungkook nods, scooting to the edge of the bed and swinging his useless legs over the side, holding his arm out so that Jimin can lift him up to a standing position. His knees immediately buckle under him when his numb feet touch the ground, but Jimin keeps him steady, holding him up.
All this time spent with as much distance as the bed had forced between them, and now Jungkook is so close to Jimin that he can count his eyelashes, can smell his floral-scented shampoo, can see the lights reflected in his dark eyes. His heart begins to race.
“You good?” Jimin asks.
Jungkook nods. “Uh-huh.”
“Okay, try moving your foot for me.”
He tries, but his limbs are so numb from disuse that his foot twists at an odd angle when he tries to take a step and he collapses against Jimin again, cursing under his breath.
“I’m sorry,” he says, but Jimin shakes his head.
“Don’t apologize. Try again, I know you can do this.”
Jungkook does try again. He tries again, and again, and again, until finally he’s able to take one step forward. Granted, he’s still heavily leaning on Jimin, and it’s possibly the shakiest step he’s ever taken in his life, but it’s one step closer to being able to finally leave this bed.
“I did it,” he says, his lips splitting into a grin. He hasn’t smiled this hard in a long time, and the triumphant hug Jimin gives him only makes his grin widen to the point that his cheeks begin to hurt.
“I knew you could.” Jimin releases him, though he still keeps him held up so that he won’t fall. “Do you want to try some more?”
By the time his legs eventually give out from exhaustion, he’s able to take a couple steps without Jimin’s help at all, and for the first time in several months, he doesn’t feel completely helpless.
Jimin has to leave him shortly afterward so that he won’t be caught staying in Jungkook’s room far later than he was supposed to, but Jungkook knows he’ll be back soon.
For the next week, Jimin comes to help Jungkook practice walking, and by the end of the week, he can finally walk again entirely on his own. It almost doesn’t feel real, after having been trapped in that bed for so long, and Jungkook can’t help himself; he throws his arms around Jimin and hugs him with every bit of strength that he has. Jimin doesn’t hesitate to return the hug, his warm arms wrapping around Jungkook and making him feel so, so safe.
“You’re going to be able to leave here soon,” Jimin tells him, holding him at arm's’ length and smiling proudly. “I can take you around the base, and you can eat actual food, and we can look at constellations, and—”
“I get it,” Jungkook laughs. “I can’t wait.”
The day he’s set to be discharged, the door opens and Jungkook sits up excitedly, expecting Jimin to come in and tell him that he can finally go outside, but instead his eyes meet those of the older captain.
“I’ve been told you’re being discharged today,” he says. “That’s good news. I’m sure you’re pleased.”
“I am,” Jungkook says warily, remembering how their last meeting had gone. The nightmares haven’t stopped, and he hasn’t been forced to talk about what happened in so long, but he isn’t stupid. He knows why the captain is here. He probably couldn’t care less if Jungkook’s recovered or not; he just wants to hear the details of the attack on his colony. “You want to hear about what happened, don’t you?” he asks, cutting out whatever pleasantries the older man might have prepared to buffer his eventual goal for this visit.
Looking as though he’s been caught red-handed, the captain clears his throat. “Well...yes. You are currently the only person that I can ask. Any information you give could be vital in the war against the rebels.”
Jungkook sighs, picking at the edge of the stiff hospital sheets. “Okay,” he says. “What do you need to know?”
He spends the next hour recounting every last detail of the attack, down to the type of bombs used and an estimate of how many rebels had attacked. Of course, Jungkook barely remembers things like that, as most of his memories of the attack are blurred, panicked, horrified. He hadn’t taken the time to count each rebel that had gone stomping past him, or even had the chance to see what type of ship the rebels had landed in. To Jungkook and his friends, it had looked like nothing more than a shooting star, after all.
The captain’s disappointment is clear on his face, but Jungkook doesn’t feel bad. Even sitting here telling this man in uniform about how his entire home, his family, and all his friends have been destroyed is making his migraine flare up unbearably, his eyes watering and his head swimming.
“I’m sorry,” Jungkook gasps. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Can I please go? I want to see Jimin.”
The captain stops recording on his little earpiece and stands up, handing Jungkook a small tablet. “Here’s your discharge paperwork. Show the secretary at the door, and then you’ll be free to go.”
Jungkook eagerly takes the tablet, examining the screen that reads “Discharge Pass” and lifts himself from the bed. It’s happening at last. He waits for the captain to leave first, muttering his insincere thanks for Jungkook’s help, and then Jungkook grips the tablet tight and darts out the door after him.
The halls of the medical ward are as plain and white as his room, but he doesn’t care about the interior of the medical ward. He’s seen the inside of these white walls for far too long; he just wants to get outside at last.
Barely stopping to give the woman at the front desk his discharge pass, Jungkook spots the front doors and sprints through them, nearly running directly into Jimin in his haste to get outside.
“Jungkook!” Jimin exclaims, ruffling his hair. “You’re out!”
“I’m out!” Jungkook cries, his voice much louder than he’d intended, but he likes the way it echoes in the open air, so he yells again. “I’m out!” He can barely contain his elation, gripping Jimin’s hand while he breathes in the fresh air and looks everywhere he can, drinking in his surroundings.
It’s a military base for sure, the buildings all two stories and nearly identical: gray and mostly windowless, the only exception being one building nearby that’s painted a calm beige with a row of high windows facing east. The sun is blazing high in the sky, which is a pleasantly clear blue, only a few fluffy clouds floating here and there. There must be an atmospheric projection here, too, Jungkook realizes.
This place is nothing special, not particularly interesting, and it doesn’t look like there’s all that much to do, but it’s worlds away from the confinement Jungkook had felt in his hospital room, so he’ll take this drab gray military base any day.
“Are you ready?” Jimin asks, linking his arm in Jungkook’s. “I’ll be your tour guide around the base today.”
Before Jungkook can play along, the two of them are approached by a pair of soldiers who look bored and a little annoyed. The one closest to Jungkook looks down at him and says gruffly, “You Jeon Jungkook?”
“Yes?” Jungkook glances at Jimin for an explanation, but he looks just as confused.
The soldier grunts and ushers Jungkook over. “Come on, son. It’s time to go.”
Jungkook freezes. “What? Where am I going?”
“You’re a refugee, aren’t you?” the soldier says, tugging on his arm. “We’re dropping you off at the refugee camp. You don’t need any more medical attention, so there’s no reason to keep you here any longer.”
Panic courses through him and he clings to Jimin’s arm, his heart racing with fear and betrayal. Back home, he’d heard about refugee camps and the horrors that befell people there. Meager food rations, everyone crammed in small rooms like sardines, promises of a better life that never come. The captain had set him up to believe that everything was going to be alright, only to ambush him with his real fate the moment he set foot outside the hospital.
“No,” he whispers. “No, please don’t take me there.”
Jimin fits his arm around Jungkook’s waist, holding him tighter against his body as if to protect him from the soldiers that tower over the both of them.
“It’ll be fine, kid,” the soldier says, exasperated. “Look, you can’t stay here, so you might as well just cooperate. Who knows, you might be able to reunite with someone you know there.”
It’s a lie. Jungkook knows the man is lying. He’d heard them before, when he’d been in the medical unit: no one was found alive on that moon aside from himself.
“Why can’t he stay here?” Jimin asks. “Why do you have to take him?”
“I don’t need to explain that to you, Park. You know we’re tight on rations as it is. We just don’t have room for him.”
Jimin hugs Jungkook tighter to his chest, placing a hand on the back of his head. “He can stay with me. I’ll share my room and my rations.”
The soldier scoffs and turns to his colleague beside him. “Are you hearing this?”
“I can help,” Jungkook adds, having been so overwhelmed at Jimin’s passionate case for his staying that he’d forgotten he could speak. He doesn’t let go of Jimin, but he faces the soldiers head-on, drawing himself up to his fullest height. It admittedly isn’t very much, but he feels less like a helpless kid this way. “I can help in the medical ward. I’ll do anything he asks. I don’t mind.”
The other soldier clicks his tongue in annoyance and looks to his superior, who just shakes his head. “Fine. I’ll talk to the captain, but I can guarantee he’s not going to want a refugee to deal with at his base.”
The two of them march off, and Jimin doesn’t let go of Jungkook even long after they’ve disappeared inside the military building.
“I won’t let them take you,” Jimin says, stroking his hair. “I promise.”
“You don’t have to keep doing all this for me,” Jungkook tells him. “If it’ll get you in trouble—”
“Stop,” Jimin says. “Seriously. I know what it’s like to have no one, okay? I’m not going to let that happen to you. Just trust me.”
Jungkook wants to protest, but the look on Jimin’s face is enough to keep him quiet. He nods and slips his arms around Jimin’s waist to hug him. He’d never been one for hugs or physical affection back home, but he doesn’t really have to think about it with Jimin. It’s like he’s drawn to him automatically, like his arms have found a home around Jimin’s middle.
When they pull apart, Jimin softly suggests that they go do that tour of the base while they’re waiting for the adults to talk amongst themselves. Jungkook agrees, grateful for Jimin’s ability to provide distractions whenever things get rough. His fingers intertwine with Jimin’s and the two of them walk across the outskirts of the base, Jimin pointing out what lies within each building and what the best places to go stargazing are.
There’s the hospital, which Jungkook is all too familiar with at this point. There’s the military building, where the high ranking soldiers’ offices are, and where all the soldiers’ dorms are located. There’s the armory, which Jimin has never been allowed inside but has a morbid curiosity about just how many missiles they actually have. There’s the kitchens, a decently sized building and one of the only ones with windows, where everyone gathers to eat. There’s the school, the smallest building, Jimin explains. Hardly any kids ever end up here, so there is only one teacher, and all ages are taught together. Finally, there is the civilian building, where anyone who isn’t a member of medical or military staff stays. It’s also where Jimin’s room is, he adds.
By the time they circle back to where they’d started, the soldiers are there waiting for them.
“When they decide to let you stay, we can go to the roof of the civilian building,” Jimin promises quickly. “I stole a telescope from the school when we first moved here, and it’s powerful enough to see past the artificial projections. We can see real stars and planets.”
“Are you sure they’re going to let me stay?” Jungkook whispers as the soldiers silently lead them into the military building.
“Yes,” Jimin whispers back. “My father is a captain here. I know he’ll fight for you.”
Jungkook has never seen Jimin’s father before, but he’s able to easily pick him out from the soldiers standing in front of him in the office they’re lead to. Even aside from the fancier uniform with far more medals compared to the others, it’s his face that Jungkook sees first. Jimin’s eyes are reflected on that face, just with wrinkles at the corners. He’s tall and intimidating and has a serious expression on his face, but Jungkook feels a comforting squeeze from Jimin’s hand and tries to relax.
Jungkook is glad that Jimin is here. It’s unsettling to sit here among all these adults in stiff uniforms who had gathered to discuss Jungkook’s fate. He supposes he should be grateful that they’d allowed him to stay this long to finish his medical treatment, but the idea that he might have to leave after all of this, that he might be sent to the refugee camp all alone… It’s just nice to be able to have Jimin’s hand here to hold onto.
“I think we should send him to the camp,” one soldier says. “The base is no place for a child, especially one with no guardian.”
“My son has offered to watch over him,” Jimin’s father says.
“A sixteen year old boy is hardly an appropriate guardian for a fourteen year old,” another captain argues. “Where will he sleep? What will he eat? Do we expect him to just roam the base freely?”
“As I said, my son will watch over him,” Jimin’s father says again. “He’s proven himself to be more than capable in the medical ward; you can ask any of the doctors.” Jimin shifts in his seat, embarrassed, and Jungkook squeezes his hand. “Jimin has also offered to split his rations and train him to help with his duties at the medical ward.”
That seems to appease a few of the soldiers, but the other captain isn’t convinced. “And what of the other refugees?” he demands. “Are we going to take them in now, as well? We’re not running a charity here, Captain Park. We’re at war.”
“Last I checked, it is because of the war that Jungkook was brought here,” Jimin’s father says slowly. “If the issue you have with the boy staying is a personal one, Captain Jung, then please take it up with the Admiral later. I have yet to hear a substantial reason why the boy cannot stay.”
There’s silence during which the other soldiers whisper amongst themselves while the other captain glowers with his arms crossed. The Admiral’s eyes are fixated on Jungkook for a second, and then he turns back to Jimin’s father.
“Very well,” he says. “The boy can stay. It would expend more resources getting him to the refugee camp than just allowing him to stay with Park’s son. You are all dismissed.”
Jungkook lets out the breath he’d been holding and slumps back in his chair in relief.
“Told you so,” Jimin murmurs, though Jungkook had heard him exhale when the Admiral had spoken, too.
The soldiers begin to disperse, and Jimin’s father makes his way over to them after they’ve gotten up out of their seats.
“In case you didn’t catch that, they’ve decided to allow you to remain here for the time being,” Jimin’s father tells Jungkook. “You’ll stay with Jimin and help out at the medical ward.”
Jungkook bends over at a near ninety degree angle, bowing toward Jimin’s father with his eyes squeezed shut. “Thank you,” he says, the relief still flooding over him in waves. “Thank you so much, sir. You won’t regret this.”
Jimin’s father grips his shoulder gently and guides him up out of the bow, shaking his head. “It’s nothing.” He turns to his son next, who is beaming at his father with sparkling eyes. “Jimin, you’re responsible for him,” Jimin’s father says. “If he gets into any trouble, that will look bad on me, so keep an eye on him, won’t you?”
“I will,” Jimin assures him. “Thank you, papa.”
Jimin’s father smiles and ruffles his son’s hair. “You really do take after your mother, you know that? I’m proud of you.”
Jimin smiles and ducks away from his father’s hand, embarrassed. “I try.”
It isn’t until they’ve left the military building that the reality of his situation fully settles in. This is his home, now. He’s being allowed to stay here. In the hospital, everything had seemed so removed from reality, like he was on a very long, very painful vacation, but the fact is that his old home is gone. This military base on Earth’s moon is where he lives now.
This military base on Earth’s moon has Jimin, though, so Jungkook sees no reason to even want to leave.
“You’re hungry, right?” Jimin asks. As if on cue, Jungkook’s stomach growls loud enough for both of them to hear. Jungkook grins sheepishly, and Jimin laughs. “Okay, let’s go to the kitchens. I promise the food there is way better than at the medical ward.”
Jungkook doesn’t think that could be too difficult, since everything he’d been given while still in the hospital had been so bland and tasteless that it felt as though he hadn’t eaten anything at all.
The food at the kitchens is just as good as Jimin had said, and there’s so much to choose from that for a few minutes he just stands there staring in awe at everything in front of him until Jimin laughs and pokes him with his chopsticks.
Once he’s wolfed down as much food as he can possibly fit in his stomach, his pants feeling a bit tighter, night has fallen outside. The sky outside is clear thanks to the artificial projections, the stars twinkling by the billions overhead.
This morning, he’d had no idea what was going to become of him, or even where he was going to sleep. Now, he’s walking behind Jimin to his bedroom, their bedroom, where he’s going to be allowed to stay with the one person who has made the past few months worth living. It’s almost unbelievable.
Jimin’s room is small, with a bed that had definitely only been designed for one, and it’s scarcely decorated. There’s a monitor on the wall across from the bed, and a tiny dresser with only three drawers. On top of the dresser are two photographs of what looks like his family, a small mirror, and a stack of notebooks on top of a medical textbook.
Jimin procures an outfit for him to wear from the dresser, clicking his tongue when Jungkook shrugs out of the starchy clothes given to him by the hospital. He isn’t embarrassed at changing in front of Jimin; he figures that he’s already seen him in various states of undress while he’d been in the hospital, and what does he have to hide?
“You’re so thin, poor baby,” Jimin says, handing him the pajamas to change into. “These are going to be too big on you.”
He’s right. The two of them are the same height, but Jimin has a much fuller figure, whereas Jungkook is practically skin and bones. Jimin’s clothes are oversized on him, but they’re comfortable and soft and almost smell like the laundry detergent his mother used back home. He has to resist the urge to lift the collar of the shirt up to his nose to inhale that familiar scent.
“I’ll take your clothes over those nasty hospital ones any day,” Jungkook says truthfully.
Jimin chuckles and digs in his dresser for another pair for himself, tugging his clothes off and changing into pajamas that look as soft as he does. Jungkook has to ignore the urge to reach over and feel the fabric.
Once he’s changed, Jimin tosses him a small capsule, sticking a similar one in his own mouth and chewing. Jungkook catches the capsule and stares at it quizzically.
“Oh, that’s a new gadget the Capital rolled out recently. It cleans your teeth for you.” He opens his mouth, clenching his teeth together as proof. “See?”
Jungkook pops the capsule in his mouth, biting down and finding that it has a similar texture as chewing gum. Once it’s dissolved, he checks his teeth in the mirror on Jimin’s dresser, running his tongue across the front ones. Sure enough, they’re completely cleaned. It even flossed for him.
“This stuff is cool,” Jungkook says, while Jimin pushes back the blankets on the bed. “Do you usually get new stuff from the Capital?”
“Sometimes,” Jimin grins. “Depends on how much the rations ship brings us.”
Jungkook hesitates at the edge of the bed, watching as Jimin snuggles into the blankets and rests his head against the pillow, his dark hair fanning out behind him. Jimin looks over and pushes back the blankets, so he carefully joins him.
The bed is so small that it’s impossible for them to both lie there without being tangled up together. There’s only one pillow, so when Jungkook lies his head down, their noses are almost brushing together.
“Sorry,” Jimin says, his breath tickling Jungkook’s face. “I know there’s not a lot of room.”
Jungkook tries to shift to give Jimin more space, but there really isn’t any leeway at all, and Jimin has to pull him closer to stop him from falling off the bed. “Thanks,” he murmurs. “I don’t mind being close. You’re warm.”
It’s dark, but even with the tiny bit of light coming from the glow of the monitor Jungkook can see Jimin blushing a bit. There’s silence for a few moments, but it isn’t an uncomfortable one at all.
“I’m from Saturn too, you know,” Jimin says in a sleepy voice.
Jungkook, who had been minutes away from falling asleep himself, perks up. “You are?”
“Mhm. My dad was called in to help fight the rebels, so we had to move from our colony to the base a couple years ago.”
“I knew I recognized your accent,” Jungkook says. “Everyone else here sounds so weird.”
“Most of them are from Mars,” Jimin explains. “It even took me a while to get used to, so don’t worry. Whenever you start missing home, just talk to me.”
Jungkook murmurs an “okay” and buries his nose in Jimin’s neck, sighing deeply and closing his eyes. For one brief moment before he falls asleep, he wonders how he could miss home when he’s got a piece of it right here in his arms.