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Mutavore.

Hoseok has her name burnt into scar tissue across his skin.

It had been a two drop battle the day he was crowned: Triptych Rose and Acheron on each other’s heels, the girls heading in first until Mutavore sidesteps the two of them. They both thought it would be easy, but the seventh hit had taken Seokjin down with a scream, shredded through his vocal chords as he bit through the pain and dragged his broken leg forward, letting Hoseok pick up the slack with their arms, with the sword and pistol.

Acheron had been out of commission. Seokjin was barely conscious, hanging on by a thread of his own willpower as he’d nailed himself onto a cross of steel, desperate to finish out the battle. Triptych Rose struggled on. 

Down a leg, waist high in water with Mutavore nearly slit open to her heart, pulsing neon blue so bright it’s been seared into Hoseok’s nightmares for years now, all he knew was that they were so young, so goddamn promising, six Kaijus to their name and not one scratch on their Jaeger until the skies had started pouring out rain above their heads, crying already.

Hoseok takes a hit to the side of the head. Triptych falls, crumbles, Seokjin a force of wind in his unconsciousness, wrapping the only responsive arm around Mutavore and taking her down with their Jaeger. Hoseok doesn’t remember anything, not even the burning (not until after), but Seokjin does and, therefore, Hoseok does too.

The two of them had been Drift Compatible since the beginning, a relationship plucked straight from the military and shoved into battle prototypes. They'd smoothed their way through Kwoon even though Seokjin had always been bigger, broader, harder to pin down, still letting Hoseok do it anyway - eyes bright, smile curling his lips.

They went to war. They won. They killed Kaijus and came home to the cameras, melded at the seams until their memories bled into each other so much it was hard to remember which belonged to who.

Then there is the catch, the thing that Hoseok has never told anyone since he’d woken to green and the lid of a glass casket opening out into the whip of rain against his forehead, that Drifting is unlike anything else. It’s wholehearted. It is impeccable, flawless, outside definition of human ability itself. He cannot explain, can only experience, and their connection is never cut - even outside the suits and metal gears and Kaiju blue.

Seokjin was still alive until the heart of their Jaeger had been crushed in, burning alive, even underwater.

Losing your co-pilot is not like losing a limb, far from it; there’s no way Hoseok can put it into words. He’d been emptied, his insides scooped out and left to rot on the ocean floor, braindead, heartdead with the rest of the world expecting him to keep living even though he’d lost his whole self in a battle he’d missed, blood pouring from his head as he’d been slammed back against the exoskeleton of his helmet.

It is like this: the fact that Hoseok hadn’t been awake for the last seventeen minutes, but he still knows everything that happened, could write it down word for story in shaking handwriting.

He knows the way Seokjin burned, alone. He can taste the way Seokjin’s leg had been shattered four times and then some, once at the hip, the knee, the ankle, the femur, every cobweb in between. Hoseok knows Seokjin shouldn’t even have been able to move at that point, but he did, dragging Triptych along by himself as he’d fought Mutavore off, blasting away at the shreds of her heart until she’d fallen, dragging the two of them down with her. 

How he'd been consumed by fear when Hoseok hadn’t responded, tearing himself from his harness to activate the escape pod for him, lurching across the metal with it ripping out of his throat as he’d cried - cried for him. And God, it hurt so bad to know: for Seokjin to know and for Hoseok to know. Know the impossibility of what had been done, the heat singing it’s way through the tempered glass of Triptych’s chest, the fear that Hoseok might not make it out alive it’s okay if Seokjin doesn’t he just needs to know that Hoseok will be safe he’ll be okay he’ll still be breathing it’s okay, love it’s really okay you’ve got so much of us already I love you I promise, Hobi, you’ll be perfect without me I can’t stand by and watch you die too you’ll be okay you’ll be perfect, that Hoseok didn’t even get to say fucking goodbye, that he was useless until the end.

That the minute he’d rushed up to the top of the water, Mutavore had failed a limb through the glass, cut through Seokjin’s suit and sent him careering to the back of the conn pod. The whole Jaeger had been sparking dangerously, and the drycell of their unventilated dashboard can exploded into flame. That the last thing Hoseok ever got wasn’t the screaming, the pain, the feeling of burning to his death alone and unknowing, but the “i love you and then-

Hoseok had woken in the medbay when they were peeling the suit off him.

His engagement ring: scarring into the skin off his finger from the heat of Triptych failing in battle. His helmet, leaving a circle of blood and bruises and third degree burns around his throat. How he still talks, it is only a miracle of modern technology, voice pitched almost three steps lower than it used to be. Quieter too, not that Hoseok talks much anymore.

Seokjin’s desperation had been playing in his head on repeat, like a broken record, already dead.

(i love you

i love you

i love you

i love you)

Hoseok didn’t want to make it through the night.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

When Jimin shows up at the wall, Hoseok beating sweaty work somewhere in Sydney, he doesn’t expect for him to ask for him back. Hoseok himself hadn’t even expected to say yes, hasn’t wanted to set foot in another Shatterdome for the rest of his life, maybe only when the whole operation gets taken down when Kaiju’s die and the Breach swallows them up whole, but Jimin’s face is haunted with age, and Hoseok cannot say no. Not to him. Not from before and especially not now.

“We’re looking to replace a copilot,” Jimin says mildly, tapping something idly on his tablet.

Hoseok looks up, surprised, a question on his lips.

“No, he’s just out of commission,” he says, glancing at Hoseok out of the corner of his eye. They both know it’s a sensitive subject; Jimin was one of the first medics on hand to drag Hoseok from the water, to hold him when he came to, piece him together again and again and pull the razor away from his skin when he’d been desperate to chase Seokjin down the same silk road. “Entire ribcage crushed, internal bleeding, punctured lung, shattered hip, what have you.”

“And you thought I’d be a good fit?” Hoseok rasps, resting his head against the back of his seat, tired already. “Didn’t I tell you I was retired?”

“You’re twenty-six,” Jimin frowns. 

“I’m twenty-six and retired.” 

“The PPDC needs you, Hobi,” he sighs, “Now more than ever.” 

“And here I thought we were losing the war.” 

“We are.”

“Shit,” Hoseok laughs, the sound startled out of him, “Didn’t think three years would change you this much.”

“We’re quarantined in the Hong Kong Shatterdome and have five working docks left with govs still trying to pull funding out from under our feet,” Jimin says, “It’s hard working Jaeger business.” 

“Damn,” Hoseok murmurs, dropping his eyes to his lap, “Didn’t know it was that bad.”

“Don’t watch the news much, do you?” he says.

“Yeah,” he sighs. Seokjin’s death changed him in more ways than one. “Never thought I’d be back here.”

He’d expected to be in a ditch by now.  

Hong Kong is bleeding from the skies when they land on the helipad.

Jimin gets out first, opening up an umbrella and holding it out for Hoseok as they wait for the elevator, workers bustling around the dock.

“Kim Namjoon,” someone says breathlessly, slipping into the lift with Hoseok and holding out a hand to shake. He looks vaguely familiar, dimples bleeding into the thick frames of his glasses as he leans into a cane, “Recently relocated to Kaiju research, and this is-”

“Kim Taehyung,” Hoseok supplies numbly, eyes wide. So awfully wide. It’s been three years and four months since they’d last met, but it’s like they haven’t seen each other for ten; the war hasn’t been kind on either one of them, and he stares down the evidence of it with his own two eyes.

“Hoseok,” Taehyung says, nodding. He readjusts his coat awkwardly, trying to hide the tattoos that have started to snake up past the collar. Hoseok doesn’t know why, not until he turns and sees Mutavore in gruesome color trailing up the side of his neck, down his arm. He feels a little bit like throwing up. Jimin is still glued to his tablet. None of them say anything, and the silence is terrible between them.

Hoseok, once upon a time, would’ve made small talk seem huge, but he's been overtaken by emptiness for a while now.

“Are the two of you,” Hoseok stumbles, rusty when it comes to conversation, “In the same department?”

“Somewhat,” Namjoon sighs, sparing Taehyung a look over his shoulder. He shoves his glasses up the bridge of his nose, “PPDC whittled STEM down to the two of us.”

“They put Namjoonie in mathematics and theory,” Taehyung says flippantly, “Which is fine because I deal with the cool stuff, you know. Kaiju specimens- taking them apart, seeing what makes them tick, etcetera, etcetera”

“Right,” Hoseok echoes, a little numb, “Cool stuff.”

The two of them hadn’t known each other very well back in the day. Hoseok had seen Taehyung a couple times in passing, nodding at each other across the mess hall and corridors of Shatterdomes only because Seokjin was friends with Jimin. Then Jimin was friends with Taehyung, and Hoseok had assumed he was friends with them both by that point. Or, at least, tentative acquaintances.

Now, all he feels is ill at the sight of him. It brings back too much of the past for Hoseok to be comfortable, because he’s spent three years in hiding, trying not to face the demons that rise up from the deep in an attempt to eat him limb, body, and brain.

“You know, I’d really like to see one up close someday,” Taehyung breathes, resting his head against the side of a, likely unsanitary, container of Kaiju guts. Hoseok then realizes he’s been talking for the past ten floors. His stomach drops uncomfortably at the admittance. 

The elevator rings to a stop. 

“A word of advice, Taehyung,” he says into the silence, eyes dropped, “I really, really wouldn’t be wishing that if I were you.”

And he sweeps out with Jimin into the rush of the Hong Kong Shatterdome.

 

⏁⏀⏂ 

 

The first time Hoseok meets Min Yoongi is in the Kwoon. 

The room brings back so much that he stumbles back with the shock of it: the visions in white and pink-purple of him and Seokjin twisting around the mat, both in lust and in battle, chests heaving. 

His feet are bare and this is a whole different country he’s been relocated to, but the floor still feels the same way when he sinks his weight down into it. Hoseok thought he’d be alone, eyeing a couple of Rangers leftover at lunch before he’d booked his way here, but finds a crowd already going, cheering with the smack of bō staffs against each other. He hasn’t sparred in a while, and the noise curls something fond up in his lips.  

“None of them,” Yoongi sighs, looking up expectantly at Jimin. His voice is low, gravelly, unexpectedly harsh, not that the lazy slope of his eyes airs anything other than boredom. “You said you’d find me a copilot in three weeks, and you’ve got two days left with nothing to show.”

“We’ve been flying candidates in-”

“Yeah, but that’s not doing anything, is it?” Yoongi says, leaning on his stick, annoyed. Hoseok’s already taken by him: maybe an inch or two shorter, thin as a rail, slightly bowlegged. It’s been a while since he’s been so interested in. Well. Anything, really, and he feels like-

“You need someone more experienced,” Hoseok finds himself calling across the room, already stripping himself out of his jacket. He folds it up haphazardly, dropping it off at the edge of the ring, the trainees staring at him, dumbstruck. He was never really a celebrity, Hoseok supposes, but his face had been around enough for them to Know. Mutavore was only a byproduct of the infamy. “Watch and learn, kids,” he says, as cheerful as he can be when he sees how young they are; how young they all are.

“Let’s set match, please,” Jimin says, and if there’s a hint of a smile in his features, Hoseok doesn’t make much of it. The crowd takes a step back. Hoseok takes a step back. Yoongi takes a step back. They tap either ends of their sticks together, both nodding in agreement, and breathe in deep as Jimin counts down. There is some part of Hoseok, a part he thought died with Kim Seokjin on the battlefield, that rises up in challenge when the numbers reach one, staring down the slight figure of Min Yoongi on the floor in front of him. 

The thing about the more experienced kind is that they both know to start slow. The crowd blurs as they circle, testing strides, appearances, recklessness. It’s not as serious as it used to be; he’s not looking for a copilot.

Surprisingly, it’s Yoongi who speaks first.

“It’s not about defeating your opponent,” he says, diving in for first strike. Hoseok parries it easily, slipping out beneath his blow with a fluid grace he still hasn’t managed to shake, even after all the years of trying to let it go stale. The body still remembers, he supposes, even if the mind does not want to, and it is the greatest curse he’s ever lived, letting his limbs slide back into his skin. “It’s about becoming partners,” Yoongi continues, “This exercise is meant to help both of you learn to trust.”

Hoseok brings his stick down, knowing that Yoongi will raise to block overhead, elbows locked. Their eyes meet for a split second before he breaks and rolls, reaching out to trip Hoseok’s ankles. He jumps, curling knees up to his chest when he lands low.

“It’s give and take,” Hoseok adds on finally, a little breathless, ducking to avoid a hit to the head. He takes the momentum and allows it to swing him around, send Yoongi to his knees. “But- one,” he says, a little smug. 

Yoongi is fierce when he looks back, made of fire in his veins.

“Two,” he returns easily, but a moment later, stepping out as he forces Hoseok back into a lunge, fingers splayed across his staff. “Better watch it.”

He nods in acknowledgement before he twists low, almost out of reach when he dives in to catch Yoongi off guard. It’s easy to bring him down from there. “Three.”

Four is an easy one. Hoseok bends back and lets Yoongi take it.

They weave easily through the blows after, the falls, catching Hoseok’s chest on the hook of a bō staff. The world narrows down to the scorpion of their own bodies, knowing without Drifting, almost like a sim that’s been matched up perfectly.  

Yoongi isn’t Seokjin, Hoseok is well aware. He’s smaller and lighter on his feet. His shoulders are just about as narrow as Hoseok’s, and he’s less stiff than Seokjin had always been. The way he fights is different, too, deadly precision and accurate to the tee, but a little rougher around the edges, like he can’t wait for textbook to follow him through, even in a classroom setting.

They prowl and hunt, maim in the night, tossing out tips that the kids soak up with eager eyes.

“And when you’re cornered,” Hoseok smiles, looking up at Yoongi where he’s been pinned to the mat, “Your partner should allow you leeway,” watching the subtle shift of weight to Yoongi’s heels, the way he knees soften just enough, as if to tell Hoseok “here”, without saying a word.

Yoongi falls back as Hoseok curves upwards.

“It’s not about winning,” Yoongi adds softly, eyes searching Hoseok’s face. “It’s about reaching a point of compromise.”

They launch back the song, the body of their bones, the shock of their limbs wrapping into apostrophes and semicolons and the steady rhythm of battle.

It’s only when Yoongi flips Hoseok over his shoulder when things start blurring into Seokjin. Hong Kong into Seoul, San Francisco. The lights flicker, brighten, flicker again. Black hair to brown, two ghosts superimposed upon each other. Hoseok begins a fall out of the bass line, expecting a blow to the left - Seokjin knows it’s his weaker response - when Yoongi goes in from underneath, lands a stinging hit to the downside of his jaw.

Hoseok stumbles, head spinning, trying to hold back the bile in his throat.

No. No. He was getting over this. This was supposed to be taken care of; he can’t be sidelined anymore, especially not when he was finally melding into something new-

Seokjin smiles, Yoongi frowns, caught off guard. Hoseok sinks to the floor, shaking his head to clear the stars, nose stinging with tears. His throat hurts, from the staff or the memories, he doesn’t know, and he wants to cry with the unfairness of it all. Fuck this shit, he thinks, fuck the PPDC, fuck the Kaijus, fuck the Jaegers.

Yoongi says his name, but the sound garbles unpleasantly in his ears. It tones upwards, higher, a little nasally, and Hoseok’s vision ripples his face with Seokjin’s again. He doesn’t know if this is memory or hallucination or a little bit of both, knocked out of their thunderbeats in one go; it hurts like burnt metal against his skin. His throat tightens with pain. One hand reaches up to circle the scar around his neck. His sweat hits the mat, soaking it dark, wet.

“Everyone out,” Jimin barks.

Hoseok is dimly aware of Yoongi dropping his staff aside so he can kneel down, ask Hoseok if he’s alright.

His ears are awash with sound, eyes with the terror of reliving Seokjin’s laugh when they’d finished a match, sparring for fun and likely ending up fucking in Kwoon at three in the morning when they’re both too keyed up to sleep. Hoseok keeps trying to stop himself from living in the past, but He just keeps coming back to knock him off kilter, even in the disparity of Yoongi’s differences.

There’d been a moment with Yoongi flying at his face, the gazelle of his limbs elongated as he’d nearly hovered overhead, crashing wood against wood and trusting Hoseok to hold the both of them up, when his vision had gone double. He’d shaken it off. He’d slipped back into the upstream.

Someone puts a hand on his shoulder. Hoseok swallows down a shriek, lands on his ass.

He hasn’t sparred with anyone for ages, at least not ones as fucking compatible as he is with Yoongi, his brain not knowing how to deal with it because he’s only known Seokjin, past; present; and future, and their Drift had been so strong, so goddamn complete, that Hoseok had really thought there was nobody else out there for him.

He’s still collapsed half on his side when he manages to focus in on Yoongi, one shoulder pressed between his collarbones, holding Hoseok up without complaint, though his jaw stretches upwards and out, looking towards the figure of Jimin leaning back against closed doors. The room is empty. It still feels stifling with two too many bodies in it.

“He’s my copilot,” Hoseok hears Yoongi say. He closes his eyes against the rush of memory from two points of view: his and Seokjin’s when they were first paired up seven years ago. It makes him want to vomit.

“I don’t know,” Jimin replies, quiet. “Look at him, Yoongi. He’s not fit for combat if he can’t make it through a match.”

Hoseok wants to sink back into his memoryhouse, let Seokjin take him back through time, live in a world where they were happy again. Where they were alive again, beautiful again.

“You saw that,” Yoongi argues, ever stubborn. Seokjin was more of a compromiser, though he did have his moot points. Doesn’t everybody? “None of the people you put me with in the past three weeks have been anything close. 

“Yoongi, I really. I don’t- I don’t think he’s ready.”

Yoongi? Min Yoongi? The kid Jimin was briefing him about on the chopper ride to Hong Kong?

“I have to go,” Hoseok slurs suddenly, lurching to his feet with terror-filled eyes. He can’t do this, not when he’d just met Namjoon earlier. He can’t be looking to replace and expecting to replace. “Sorry- Yoongi, it’s just. I need to, I need to go.” 

He stumbles his way across the room, forgets his jacket on the floor. Jimin shifts aside and holds the door open for him, eyes sad. He’s been here since the beginning, and Hoseok assumes be here until the end. He’s just that kind of soul, he knows. The ones that are pillars in the storm, immovable, impossible.

Hoseok barely makes it to the bathroom before he throws up.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“So what’s your fucking problem?” Yoongi asks, slamming the door shut behind him.

Hoseok looks up, startled, where he’s surrounded by his clothes. He’s been repacking, not that he’s had much time to unload in the first place, but he’d been mislead into believing he would get stationed for a job other than Potential Ranger Duty. He does not want to be stationed with Potential Ranger Duty, which looms more like Actual Ranger Duty with every passing day.

Namjoon had pulled him aside when he’d snuck into lab to hide from the Marshall, told him that he was happy Hoseok was so Drift Compatible with Yoongi, seriously, the little gremlin loves every drop too much to retire with Namjoon. Hoseok had nodded at the assurance, pale, a little bit shaky. He’s scared of going back into it again. He’s not sure if he’ll survive it this time around.

Jimin had cornered him too, in one of the empty training rooms that Hoseok used to dance in when Seokjin had still be around. He’d handed him a sheath of paperwork and asked him to consider the contact, getting back to his job, returning to the glory days of lugging Mark-1 Jaegers around the Pacific.

Now it’s Yoongi, furious and brilliant, staring him down from where he stands over Hoseok’s bed, not quite daring to cross the length of the room.

“Sorry?” Hoseok asks, confused.

“I said: what’s your fucking problem?” Yoongi grits out, taking a heavy step forward. If he’s trying to be intimidating, it works somehow, and Hoseok shrinks back a little against the bed for best attempts at self-preservation. He assumes that Yoongi has a mean streak in him and there’s not much room to escape if he decides he wants to pummel Hoseok to death tonight. 

“Uh.”

“You don’t wanna be my copilot?” Yoongi hisses, eyes narrowed. “Any particular reason why?”

“I mean,” Hoseok says, “Plenty of reasons I’m sure you already know.”

“So you’re just gonna let that hold you back? Something that happened three years ago?”

Hoseok’s fingers tighten on the shirt that he’s folding. He wills the rush of anger in his throat to recede, counts to ten in his head, breathes out slowly. He tries very, very hard not to get to his feet and punch Min Yoongi in the goddamn face so hard he sees stars.

“What happened three years ago, Yoongi,” Hoseok starts out, despairingly slow, “Is not something you would understand.”

“Namjoon almost died out there. I think I know at least a little of what you’re talking about.”

“But he didn’t, did he?” he asks, voice threaded thin, trembling with grief. “You didn’t get knocked out and leave your fucking copilot to drag down a whole Kaiju and your Jaeger alone into the ocean while he saved your own sorry ass for no reason.”

“Hoseok-”

The words, the misery, it pours out of him like heartbreak.

“Don’t fucking talk to me,” Hoseok says, flinging Yoongi’s hand away, “As if you know what it’s like to know that the last thing he ever saw was your own goddamn face because he kept some dumb photo of the two of you in the back of his harness- don’t you dare,” the last words comes out breathy, rasped, “Think that you’d ever understand what it’s like to wake up with your entire body on fire because he’s dead but your head knows what the knows doesn’t and you burn to ash in that conn pod with him and he’s always haunting you with the love confession, the last words he’s ever said to anyone in this goddamn universe because I loved him too and I couldn’t even be there,” he chokes on a sob. “We were supposed to die together, Min Yoongi. That’s something you wouldn’t- you’d couldn’t-”

He clutches at the bedsheets. They’re thinner than he remembers.

Hoseok breathes out harsh into the silence, his head filled with tears, trying to tell the difference between Then and Now because he’s always had a hard time with it now that he has nobody to chase the physicality with. Because he’s been alone for so long now. He doesn’t realize he’s been crying until Yoongi sits next to him and gathers Hoseok up in his arms.

“I’m sorry,” Yoongi says.

Hoseok shakes his head. He knows Yoongi’s not sorry. The sentiment might be worse though.

“I hate you,” Hoseok says.

“I know,” Yoongi says, but lets Hoseok clutch onto his shirtsleeves like a child lost at the supermarket, lets him sob into the crook of his shoulder and cling to him even though the memories go away and get worse and it hurts more than it doesn’t.

“And the only fucking one you’ve been compatible with.”

Yoongi looks away.

“You’re the strongest candidate by far,” he concedes, “But maybe we just haven’t looked enough.”

Hoseok cries, cries like he’s twenty-three and has just lost Seokjin again, ready to dive back into the water and fish him out himself.

“Okay,” he says, and it’s not acceptance nor rejection. It’s recognition.

“Okay,” Yoongi repeats, and doesn’t push the topic again.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“We could be witnessing a double event soon,” Namjoon says, hobbling over to his chalkboards. He hits the end of his cane against the white, dust shocked off of its surface with the force. “And a triple event soon after. Then, get this, the attacks have been increasing in magnitude and intelligence and my calculations show that they’ll start arriving in larger boatloads with less time in between, and the time frame for that,” he grunts, pushing himself off his ladder to hobble over to the computers, glasses slipping of his face, “Can be predicted using this equation based off of figures from the past five years.”

“A double event?” Jimin says, looking over his clipboard and up at Namjoon.

“Yes,” he says animatedly, and if it’s excitement or gruesome, it’s hard to tell. “And then a-”

“Triple event and quad event and less time in between each attack and then we’re dead,” Yoongi sighs. He slouches in the stool he’s sitting on, eyes tracking the way Namjoon comes to stand next to him, pressing close together. Hoseok swallows, looks away.

“We’ve got four Jaegers at bay,” Jimin says, mostly to himself. “If we don’t close that Breach, we’re good as done for.”

“Three Jaegers,” Yoongi fixes mildly. There’s no accusation in his tone. “One’s out of pilots.”

“Right,” Jimin nods, fixing his bangs, “Sorry.”

“So do you have any idea when the next attack’s coming or…?” Yoongi says, turning to look at Namjoon.

“In a week. If we’re lucky.”

The breath rushes out of Hoseok’s chest. He remembers when it was only nine months between each, that they were concerned when things started to shorten into something close to five instead. 

“Half a week to get me a pilot, then,” Yoongi says, not bothering looking at Hoseok. He doesn’t understand why there’s a pit of guilt sitting low in his stomach because of it. “And half a week for you to figure out how to close that fucker up.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Namjoon sighs, heavy, “Marshall’s orders I suppose,” he says, lips twisted to one side, blinking over at the sight of Taehyung sleeping in his lab apron, nearly doubled over in a pit of Kaiju blue.

“Marshall’s orders,” Jimin repeats softly, his fingers catching on the badge pinned to his lapel. It gleams in the lowlight, heavy on his chest.  

Hoseok stands. He needs to leave.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

The scar hurts to have, a phantom limb that never existed.

It chokes Hoseok awake sometimes, knocks the air out of his chest, constricts his throat so tight that he can’t breathe no matter how hard he tries to make it stop. He’ll wheeze on the floor for hours, vision blurring, tasting copper in his mouth from when Seokjin had been slammed against the walls of the conn pod by a desperate Mutavore in her dying throes, and even though Hoseok always tells himself that it was worth it, the life of millions over the life of one, he’s always hated Seokjin for not letting him die too. 

It hurts too much, being alive.

Being alone.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

Hoseok hasn’t lived in a Shatterdome for years now.

The last time he was here was after the double drop, but he’d been living right out of Med instead of pilot’s quarters. If he’s honest, he’s not sure he’s going to stay the month, but he’d assumed he’d probably finish out once Yoongi had gotten himself another copilot. Hoseok was lucky to get a single - usually kids were doubled up in these places - but he figures that there aren’t many people out there who routinely set foot in the conn pod of a Jaeger anymore. It’s not the bustle-hustle of what the PPDC used to be.

Hoseok hasn’t lived in a Shatterdome for years now, though it was easy money memorizing the route of Hong Kong’s, but it’s like riding a bike when the Kaiju alarm goes off, still half-asleep, head filled with confusion but limbs moving on their own accord, shoving himself into uniform dress and filing obediently out the door.

It’s not until he shows up at the front frame of mission control does he realize that it’s no longer 2021 and Triptych Rose is a flaming gravestone a thousand miles beneath the ocean line and he hasn’t gone through a drop in three years, four months, and two weeks. He closes one shaking hand into a fist against the door, cold metal in the morning, ready to face his shame and embarrassment and trek back to uselessness in his quarters when someone grabs his arm one step down to stop him.

“Your drivesuit’s been fixed,” is all Jimin says, eyes purple in the limelight.

Hoseok looks down at his arm where they’re latched together, back up at Jimin, who’s leaning against the frame with so much ease it’s like old routine again. 

“It’ll fit your measurements, I promise,” he says softly, peeling his eyes away from the screen to look Hoseok in the eye. “All new tech and everything." 

Hoseok doesn’t know what to say. His neck hurts. His chest starts to seize up at the sight of black and navy, the wings carved in gold against the metal chestpiece of the armor.

“I don’t have a Jaeger,” he rasps, “I’m not a pilot anymore.”

“You've always been one to me,” Jimin says, so fierce, so knowing.

Hoseok shakes his head. He still can’t come to terms with it.

"All systems online," Yoongi says, coming into view, dressed up in plating so groomed it gleams beneath the fluorescents, and something looks so right about it he’s hit with a wave of nostalgia and familiarity. He’s missed this, he has to admit, he really has. "Jung, you suiting up yet?"

Jimin was right: the design had been fixed up a surprising amount. The pads at the joints are looser, more flexible, the rest of the armor streamlined to something almost aesthetically pleasing. It presses tight around Yoongi, bulky in a way that he manages to wear well, polished black, glittering metal. He looks like an angel in the flesh; Hoseok swallows back the feeling in his chest, pulling tight around his ribs. It’d be a sin for him to deny the fact he finds Min Yoongi at least a little attractive.

“We haven’t drifted before,” Hoseok settles on saying instead, eyes big. 

“There’s nobody else here that I’d rather do it with,” he replies easily, “You’re the only one I trust with her and you know it.” 

“Her” being Crimson Fury: a gargantuan of Mark-3 Jaegers, the last of the newest, and the only one of her caliber. Her species revolve around a nuclear core and are analog, a prevention Jungkook and Namjoon had put in after more Category 2’s had shown up with electrical-based abilities, first sign of evolvement. It had cost Namjoon his piloting career and Yoongi his Drift partner and they weren’t about to do it again. 

Hoseok, however, hasn’t seen her in years. He didn’t know they’d pulled her up after Seokjin had gone to dust in her cockpit, not until this very moment when Jimin loads up scans of her, shows Hoseok the pictures before he’s greeted by her ghost in person: all 288 feet of metal and ribboned wire beneath her muscle strands. The paint job is different, her heart has been taken out and relocated and changed and what have you, the casing almost completely ripped to shreds for replacement, but he sees the technicians on those docks after getting shoved into his drivesuit and the feeling of connection is so strong he chokes back a scream and suddenly everything seems to tighten into him almost painfully, claustrophobic, stifling.

It’s everything Hoseok has been avoiding - his past growing right up into his line of sight as he struggles to put one foot in front of each other, even in his new armor, his new body. The gloves have flexion and the plating is less stiff than he’s used to, but he still can’t seem to breathe properly beneath the shadow of a monster.

It’s a harrowing journey up to the conn pod, standing shoulder to shoulder with Yoongi, knowing that this is the closest the two of them have been since their first sparring session in the Kwoon.  

“Left side looks good,” someone says, voice down an octave, but still the same lilt, same lisp, shocking Hoseok upright. “Hobi, can you test out that globe work for me? That’s your pistol arm, so let me know if it doesn’t feel right.” 

“Jungkook?” Hoseok asks, incredulous, “You’re head of fucking LOCCENT now?”

“Head of every fucking J-Tech branch, baby,” he grins, leaning back in his chair as he crosses his arms behind his head. “Hasn’t it been a while?”

“Dude,” Hoseok laughs, the relief rushing up to his head so fast he gets dizzy, “Didn’t think you’d actually make good on that promise of yours.”

“Callin’ me stupid?”

“‘M calling you nothing,” he says, head thunking back against the Jaeger harness, “Just didn’t think I’d see you or Guardian again for the rest of my sorry life.” 

“Well, isn’t she pretty?” 

“Sitting pretty,” Hoseok retorts, slipping back into ease, like no time has passed at all, “Let’s see how she runs out there and we’ll can talk.”

“I made the call to get her back from Oakland,” Jungkook sniffs, and there’s the distant sound of him clattering away at his keyboard, “Oversaw the repairs myself, Jung-man; there’s not one faulty thing about her now.”

“Sure, buddy,” he grins, the smile spreading across his face so far it hurts. “I’ll be the one making that call.”

“You’d better,” he says, “I’m not wasting my time hauling your ass back to dock otherwise.”

Arming for Jaeger deployment, the AI says, just as Jungkook slips away to oversee the rest of the technicians.

“Don’t forget,” Yoongi says, slipping the helmet on, already opening up to seek out the neural link, “We’re getting out of this one alive.”

“Like hell we are,” Hoseok says, fitting his visor on too. He turns as much as the harness will allow, just to look out of the corner of his eye at Yoongi, standing in the platform of his own across the conn pod. “We’re gonna kick Kaiju ass back through the Breach." 

“On first drop?”

“Oh hell yeah,” Hoseok says, “Haven’t you heard?” he asks, “I’m reckless as fuck out there. Who cares about their CAT rankings?”

“Jesus,” Yoongi sighs, “Where was this version of you the first time we met?” 

“Away from Jungkook, that’s what.”

Twenty seconds to first drop.

The dock doors are opening, sloshing water across the tiled flooring. The people look so tiny from down below, so small, guiding their lightsticks through the night as they guide wheeled platforms from beneath Crimson Guardian’s feet away from bay. It’s everything as Hoseok remembers, everything Yoongi’s been doing for the past five years, just with someone else in the cockpit with him, someone else rattling about his head.

“Remember, Hobi,” Jungkook cuts back in, deadly calm, “This is gonna be nothing like drifting with Seokjin,” and fuck is it like him to just namedrop so casually, “And, yeah, whatever, it might be like riding a bike, but you’re going to be shaky because you’re out of practice and haven’t really interacted much with Yoongi on base. Hell, the two of you haven’t even simmed together yet.” 

Fifteen seconds to first drop.  

“This is the first and only chance you get,” he continues, typing away, almost frantic through their earpieces, “You can’t fuck this up. Not this time, Hobi. Not this time.”

He goes quiet for a moment. The ants, the cars, the waves through the crystal glass of their windshield. 

Ten seconds to first drop.

“Don’t chase the RABIT,” Jungkook says. It’s something everyone hears, something Hoseok’s always been told, no matter how many times he’d Drifted with Seokjin, but he understands now, more than ever. “You’re doing this for him,” both their expressions are grim, “Don’t you fucking dare let Jin down now, you hear me?” 

Five seconds to first drop.

“Loud and clear, Jungkook,” Hoseok says, flickering the fingers of his left hand into a fist. “We’ll make it work, I promise.”

Three. 

Two. 

One.

Neural bridge uploading. 

And- 

Hoseok is three. He’s crying in the backyard of a birthday party, Yoongi is crying in the backyard of a birthday party, they’re both wearing bibs and crocs and screaming in octaves too high to catch in human hearing- 

There’s a boy Yoongi kisses behind the bleachers of his school. He sinks to his knees- 

Hoseok gasps as a tongue swipes across his lower lip-

Seokjin picks up a pamphlet for military service, bypasses that of the PPDC in it’s earliest days-

Hoseok is flying over San Francisco when his unit is deployed- 

The roof in Siberia crushes atop Yoongi’s head, his limbs trapped under rubble-

Teenagers smoking weed on the school rooftop, Yoongi passes around the joint with a laugh, head tipped back against his shoulders-

Hoseok, alone at a cafeteria table, as he tries to nap through lunch because he’d stayed up too late talking with-

Meeting Seokjin for the first time, the burst of lust and confusion and fuck he can see right through me, that goddamn attractive-

Yoongi drifts with Namjoon for the first time and it is nothing like he’d ever expected: all the ocean stretching out calm in front of them-

They’d been friends since preschool, joined up with the PPDC when Namjoon had seen the photo of Hoseok, the same as him and even a year younger than Yoongi himself-

I wanna be a pilot-

Will you-

The pain of feeling Namjoon’s side caving in with the metal of Eclipse Wonder when Onibaba had taken a claw to their Jaeger’s torso with one blow of his tail-

Seokjin going up in flames-

Hips shattering, legs shattering, knees shattering-

I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you- 

The emptiness of losing everything that Hoseok had ever believed in, relied on-

Both of them screaming in the med bay when they’re carted in, eyes wide, desperate, fighting the medics because it hurts, the bond hurts, and they can’t find their copilots- 

Crimson Guardian reaches an arm out into the night, searing headlights through the darkness of midnight skies, two and a half hearts melded right into one.

Neural link steady and holding.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

The thing about going to battle in a Jaeger is this: you feel fucking impenetrable. You’re a fortress of mass metal nearly three times the height of the Statue of Liberty while you wade through the ocean, you could crush life beneath your feet and not feel a thing.

Hoseok’s been long enough in the field to know what it’s like to come down from a drop. He knows he’ll want closeness, the whole world rushing in too fast to breathe, just one head rattling around in that skull of his, fingers itching for skin against skin against skin. Not necessarily sexual; that was mostly just him and Seokjin.

When he’s off-duty, it’s different. He’s different - scared of everything. He’s no hero, no legendary Ranger, nothing special to his name when he nearly hooks someone in the jaw when they sneak up on him and tap his shoulder to catch his attention (Jimin’s long learned how to duck by now), so it’s no surprise to him that, once they fall out of the Drift, he and Yoongi still don’t get along.

They head to med together, arms linked at the elbows, sit on the same exam bed, strip obediently, and refuse to make eye contact. They don’t talk, not because they don’t need to, but because they don’t want to. Or Hoseok doesn’t, at the very least. 

Things are a little stilted, like they’ve discovered things about each other that they don’t know what to do with. Copilots are privy to each others secrets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re compatible outside the Jaeger, and it’s impersonal to admit, but they both know this relationship is purely business, professional.

They’ll have each other’s back in the conn pod, out in the blue of tide waves and cresting Kaijus, but a foot out of that cockpit and it’s down to the necessity of Drifting that keeps them close.

“Namjoon and I aren’t dating, you know,” Yoongi says suddenly, breaking the silence. It’s the first time they’ve talked aloud. Hoseok usually sits alone at mess now, barely leaves his room. He stares over at Yoongi, not sure what to say. 

“Can I come in?” Yoongi asks, eyeing the way Hoseok has swung the door to his quarters halfway open.

Hoseok startles, as if he wasn’t expecting the question.

“Oh, yeah, sorry,” he says, stepping aside to let Yoongi through. He snaps the lock shut behind him, leaning back against the metal as Yoongi pokes around for himself in person. He’s seen Hoseok’s place enough times in the Drift, but it’s still different when you’re actually there, he knows, so he lets him.

They patter about in relative silence, Hoseok worrying awkwardly as his lip, unsure what to do. Yoongi seems so fucking composed all the time, even with his myriad of secrets cracked open and bleeding for Hoseok to sort through (not that he does, not that he wants to) and Kaijus trying to take over the fucking world, a little sleepy at the edges, ghosting his way through everything like he’s always got something better to do.

“I’m not dating Namjoon,” Yoongi says again, appearing to be engrossed in one of Hoseok’s more detailed renditions of a Kaiju. The cartoon eyes are comically large, teeth poking out uncharacteristically cheerful as it grins up off the page. He has two fingers holding himself up as he leans on the surface of the desk, not even bothering to turn around. Hoseok doesn’t need to look at him to know; he can feel residual emotion through the Drift, even now. 

“Okay,” Hoseok says. He’s seen. They’d die for each other, yeah, but they’ve never kissed, never seen each other as more than platonic. The most terrifying thing Yoongi’s ever experienced was nearly losing his copilot, and Hoseok knows what the fear of it is like too.

“Okay,” Yoongi says, putting down Hoseok’s drawing.

When he turns, he knocks a couple off the pile on his desk.

“Shit, sorry, I got it,” he says hurriedly, eyeing the way Hoseok lurches forward, eyes wide. He gathers up the drawings, the dumb pictures Hoseok had manhandled his way through without thinking, trying to pass the time and avoid as many people as possible. He left them on top, left them for the world to see, but everything underneath: his nightmares, his daymares, his-

“Is this Seokjin?” Yoongi asks, and it feels like the whole world has been pulled to a standstill, the hourglass milking slow around this moment with only the two of them in Hoseok’s quarters, quarantined in the Hong Kong Shatterdome.

He’s clutching a piece of paper in his hand, the sheet out of a thousand that holds painstaking replication of Seokjin’s features, his face, his body, the slope of him in the mornings after sex, facing out at the window as the sheets pooled almost too low for decency. The intimacy of his eyes, the way his eyelids curved and his lips tilted, recreated after years of memorizing the way they’d moved, barely three inches away from his own face. Hoseok spent most of his hiatus drawing, trying to ease the ghost of him out from beneath his eyelids and into physical manifestation, hoping against hope that it’d somehow bring him back and get rid of the hurt, stupid to ever think he’d get see him again.

The paper that Yoongi holds up to the light has the shade of Seokjin’s profile, the jut of his jawline, his full lips. It’s nothing special by Hoseok’s standards - he’s drawn that piece of him so many times he could do it with his eyes closed now - but Yoongi looks like he’s stumbled on something precious. The rest of the sketches are scattered in the sides, the corners, outlines of his nose and his mouth, the span of his shoulders, the veins beneath his wrist. Hoseok’s mapped every part of him, even the skin behind the knees and the gentle turn of hair behind his ear, but he’s never let anyone but him and the gulls see it. 

“Yeah,” Hoseok says, throat tight.

“Where’d you learn to draw?” Yoongi asks.

“It’s a,” Hoseok falters, “It’s- a hobby.”

“To pass the time." 

“Uh. Yeah.”

Hoseok watches as Yoongi puts aside the paper, digs his fingers deeper into the mess of Hoseok’s head, pulling out sketch after sketch after sketch. His eyes seem to smooth over the figure of Seokjin almost intrusively, and the taste of it should be unpleasant in his mouth, but Hoseok finds none of it rising up in his chest, just stands there, stands and watches and waits as Yoongi peels Hoseok’s dreams apart by layers.

“Is this what it felt like?” Yoongi asks suddenly, softly, breaking delicate into the silence, turning to face Hoseok with a stack of drawings clutched in his hand.

Hoseok flinches at the sight. Shit. He’d forgotten. Both his three perspectives: the real; the true; the recreated, all the things he wants to forget. Yoongi holding up the nightmares of Hoseok’s present with an unreadable expression.

It is the detail of Seokjin, tall and broad, gleaming in his drivesuit, but crumpled in on himself like he’s been crushed underfoot. His face is contorted, grotesque, coated in blood, mouth open as he screams into the heat of the sparking conn pod, the way the water had rushed in and put out the flames but choked the char of his body to dust beneath the pressure. How Triptych’s heart had been flattened full in, neck snapping back against consoles and metal in the heart of their Jaeger.

It’s the recreation of his broken leg, all the bones barely held together by his suit, the way his knee had been twisted in shrieking pain when Mutavore had slammed her dying body into Seokjin’s, time and time and time again. It was the monster and the man, no gods alive to witness the way he'd slipped away, so quiet, so loud, away into the crevices of the deep with nothing else to show. It’s how his still-dying corpse has been ejected alone into the ocean, pressure crushing his skin in so fast it was almost painful. It was fast, but not fast enough for Hoseok to miss the memory of seeing Mutavore tangled up between the fibers of Triptych’s body, the image burnt against the scar around his throat.

Hoseok has drawn all of this, over and over, nearly as much as he draws the freckles on Seokjin’s hip, the bony material of his ankles, his knobby knees. He draws when he cannot sleep, breaking tips of pencil when he opens his mouth to scream even though Seokjin’s already stolen the sound from his lips. He draws when he’s desperate for relief, ready to slit his own throat open on a fucking bedspring if he has to, draws when there’s nobody else sitting beside him and holding his hand and waiting to kiss him at sunset.

“Tell me about him,” Yoongi says, voice cracking. He understood before, but he understands it better now, “What was he like?”

Hoseok feels dizzy with the question, the world tilt-shifting under his feet like he’s on the deck of an unsteady boat. He fumbles his way to the bed, Yoongi grabbing his arm as he reaches out blindly for something to hold, the first time they’re touching outside post-Drift recovery. 

“Jin?” Hoseok rasps, fingers shaking, “You want me to-?” he swallows, “About him? Are you- you’re sure?”

Yoongi shows him the sketches of Seokjin that he’d drawn: by the window, framed with cloth, hair in the breeze, his smile - face half-tilted to one side, the way he’d look after missions, his cheeks when they kissed, his mouth curving around the taste of laughter. Yoongi puts a calloused hand over Hoseok’s, threading their fingers together to stop the trembling. He nods. He asks. 

“Uh, he was,” Hoseok starts, the words tumbling out of his throat like a confession he’s been keeping for too long. "Real fucking pretty.” 

The way Seokjin shown up in the doorway, four inches taller than Hoseok and have as broad as he’d been where they’d left off three years previous, but he’s looked much the same since then - at least to Hoseok. He still remembers. He’ll always remember. 

“And I had goddamn braces until year two of training,” he says, the sound catching wet in his throat. He squeezes back when Yoongi’s hand tightens around his, feeling the knot in his neck ease with the touch. “But he didn’t fucking care. Asked me to join the PPDC with him when we both got accepted.”

The way Seokjin had bounced where he’d been sitting on Hoseok’s bunk, begging him, overdramatic, asking him to at least consider it, please please please Hobi please don’t make me go do this shit alone-

“Then we were fucking Drift compatible,” Hoseok rasps, turning a little to flick his eyes up to Yoongi’s face. “And the rest is,” history - is what he wants to say, that they were one of the firsts to suit up in Mark-1’s, freshly eighteen and already trusted with the fate of the human race, had articles written about them when they didn’t know what it would come to mean a couple years down the line, but it sounds wrong when he tries to taste out the words in his mouth. 

Yoongi’s lip curves slightly, cheek hiccuping as Hoseok talks about Hundun and Trespasser and Kaiceph, the way Seokjin looked when he was suiting up, how he was always first one out of the bunk and dragging Hoseok across the floor when attack alarms went off at five in the fucking morning, gorgeous with his back to the sunsets.

“His eyes are beautiful,” Yoongi murmurs, tracing the shell of a blown up monolid with a steady finger. Hoseok’s mouth snaps shut with an audible noise, neck tensing. “Sorry,” he amends hurriedly, moving to put the sketches away. Hoseok’s hand shoots out to stop him. “I shouldn’t have-”

“You talked about him in present tense,” Hoseok says fast, eyes so big.

Yoongi stumbles uncomfortably under his gaze. This is the first time Hoseok’s looked at him with so much goddamn life in his lips, and he’s starting to realize this is the Ranger he’d heard so much about in the past, the copilot who was nothing like the person he’s been dealing with for the past two months.

“You’re the first person besides me to,” Hoseok admits quietly, “Say that.”

He adjusts his grip around Yoongi’s hand, the one with their fingers laced together, and it’s silent gratitude, relief almost palpable in the charged air between them.

If Yoongi’s being honest, he could say that he thinks it’s because half of him is now Hoseok too, that they’ve Drifted enough for these turns of phrase to be residual, copilots picking up each other’s habits - verbal and physical - but if he’s being really honest, he knows that it has nothing to do with their neural link. It’s got nothing to do with Jaegers or Kaijus or Jungkook melding their minds together from his cushy seat in LOCCENT, and it has everything to do with the fact that Kim Seokjin still hasn’t died after all these years.

“Well it’s- he’s not, he’s. But he’s not,” Yoongi stumbles over his words, for once, face heating up. “He’s gone,” he says, “But he’s not. Not dead. Not really.”

It’s silent for a moment, like all the air has been punched out of Hoseok’s chest.

Then: “Oh,” he breathes, like he’s finally come to rest, eyes closing. He tilts over, curving into the curve of Yoongi’s own spine, head dropping to the ledge of his shoulder, Yoongi feeling like he’s been granted something precious, cradled so careful in his hands he’s afraid he’ll ruin it with a fall. “Yeah.”

Yoongi murmurs something quiet, his palm against Hoseok’s head.

Hoseok nods, just barely a dip of his chin.

“Yeah,” he repeats again, turning so his cheek rests more comfortably against Yoongi’s shirt - black, faded.

They sit, fingers trailing down Hoseok’s temple to brush over his closed eyes, picking off a stray eyelash from his cheekbone. It’s a comfortable quiet between them, laying heavy in the air, as if there’s no need for anything but This, not anymore.

“He talks to me here, sometimes,” Hoseok murmurs, “And here,” he says, reaching across his own body to cup Yoongi’s face, touch soft. It’s tender, what they’ve reached, like Hoseok’s finally done with the mistrust, done with holding on so much. 

They’re so close, Hoseok’s breath fanning sweet across Yoongi’s cheek, his nose, as if Hoseok’s asking without words. He has one hand curved around Yoongi’s face, the other skittering across the blankets until Yoongi reaches a shaking hand to rest on Hoseok’s waist, the sharp jut of his hips. 

Yoongi hasn’t kissed very many people in his life, not in the way that happens when he leans in to kiss Hoseok now, like they’re two points of earth and wind and sea, unsure if it’s because they’ve Drifted before or if it was always supposed to be this way, but it extends beyond the trust in battle that they share. It’s no necessity. It’s a want, it’s want, it’s what they want.

Hoseok is soft to touch, careful when he’s kissing and being kissed. Yoongi follows his lead, mouth barely opening until Hoseok tips his chin back and up, letting him in. They speak without speaking, move without moving. Hoseok knows and Yoongi knows and feels him strike a knife through the diamond casing of his own heart and open for him like red water and primrose.

It’s lovely. Quaint, soft, a tea parlor in low afternoon sunlight.

Hoseok’s eyes are still closed when they finally pull apart, pressing their foreheads together. His expression is pinched, but he doesn’t seem inclined to move, comfortable where he’s grown into the negative spaces of their bodies.

“Yeah,” he murmurs again, specter soft, and feels the scar tissue of his chest unravel in the gloom.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

Buildings fall and cities burn and people are dying on the streets and in the water and there is no time for something like love when it comes to fighting a war. Hoseok had forgotten. It will cost him his life.

 

⏁⏀⏂ 

 

Hoseok punches Kim Taehyung, hooks a mean right, and slams his fist into the side of his cheek so hard he stumbles back with the force. 

Taehyung lands on his ass, bangs askew, one hand pressed to his cheek as his mouth hangs open in shock, looking up at Hoseok with wide eyes, almost moons in the orbit of his face. Lips: they open, they close, they open, they close.

The room bursts into chaos. 

“Hoseok!” Jimin yells, shifting up to his feet in one smooth glide, arms sharp when he makes his way across the space. He’s brushed off.

“Don’t you ever say that again,” Hoseok growls, eyes burning fierce. He reaches down and seizes Taehyung by the lapels, forces his stumbling feet around and slams him against the nearest wall, knuckles bruised white with the force. “Do you fucking hear me, Kim Taehyung? You never say that shit again if you want to live to see another goddamn day.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t think-”

“You keep your fucking mouth shut,” Hoseok hisses, expression narrowing in, “Until you step foot inside a fucking Jaeger and have to fight a Kaiju yourself." 

“I. I, yeah I get it, totally- one hundred percent, of course, yeah, I’m sorry about your loss, I didn’t mean-”

“I don’t need your fucking pity,” he says, biting on every syllable. He yanks his hands off Taehyung’s stupid fucking jacket, stalking back to where he’d been standing earlier, back to where Taehyung had started talking about Mutavore’s weaknesses and how he and Seokjin should’ve fought because it’d minimize gas use and maximize cannon force and kill zones and Hoseok had stood there and shaken apart, fingers tightening around the fabric of the inside of his pockets. 

There are no secrets in the Drift. Hoseok knows there was no way they would’ve both made it out of that one alive. It doesn’t matter how many fight simulations or Kaiju patterns the two of them could’ve studied, how many things could’ve gone right, which technicians to repair what, what to fix, how to stop panicking - it just didn’t matter. Seokjin was dying in that conn pod already, and he would’ve, had Mutavore not killed him in the water, burning up by himself. Shouldering the neural load alone would be too much of a strain, especially with the old Mark-1’s like Triptych. Hoseok had experienced the initial round of testing firsthand. He’d seen the way they died.

So he stands there, in the center of the fucking room, with all the eyes on him, trying to close his ears against the anger and the guilt, washing ashore in his chest. It climbs up his throat, sears the stitching of his scar, hands shaking.

“Hoseok,” Yoongi says, breaking into the silence. His head snaps in response to the call, the two of them both standing, but Yoongi’s posture is loose, at ease. One hand’s been shoved into his pocket, resting limp against the fabric; the other hangs by his side.

“Yoongi,” he replies, voice starting to wobble. There’s always an air about him that seems to shake him deep, somewhere low, and Hoseok can’t run from it, no matter what he does.

Yoongi moves close, then, moves until he’s standing in front of Hoseok and pulling his unresisting shoulders into a hug, a first for public contact. Hoseok can see the way Jimin stiffens, how Namjoon fumbles with his mug of tea. It’s awkward, being in front of them, Yoongi stroking light down the rounds of his spine.

“It’s okay,” he murmurs. There are no secrets in the Drift. “It’s not your fault.”

Hoseok chokes on his breath, eyes closing against the tears.

“I know you didn’t mean to,” he says, quiet, low, almost too soft for anyone else to hear, but sound travels in the hunk of a labspace, and Hoseok can see it in the way Jimin’s eyes give way beneath the hard shell of it. “But you can’t take it out on Taehyung. It’s not gonna bring him back.”

“I know it won’t,” Hoseok says stubbornly, and his voice is trembling. “He was just-” 

“He wasn’t blaming you.”

“I know.”

“He was talking, Hobi, you can’t get mad at someone for that.”

“I can if I want to,” he hiccups, petulant, grabbing onto the material of Yoongi’s shirt as the tears roll, hot and beading and fast. Seokjin’s dead. Seokjin’s gone. Hoseok laid claim to his soul so long ago, so; so long ago and nobody gets him anymore. Not now and not fucking ever. It’s the definition of goddamn selfish, but it’s the only way he’s learnt how to live since Mutavore. He’s mine, Hoseok wants to scream, shriek it so loud his throat goes down bloody with the words.

Taehyung doesn’t know what Seokjin tasted like, how he felt - like butter and sand beneath Hoseok’s fingertips - he doesn’t know how to love him right, how to make him laugh, what made him cry. The intimacy of celebrities is all an illusion, and yeah maybe there are thousands of biographies about Kim Seokjin out there and a thousand and one news articles about him too, interviews and televised appearances, but he’ll never really understand the way Hoseok does, down to the very core of his being.  

There are no secrets in the Drift.

“Then you should have no right to me when Namjoon’s around,” Yoongi points out, hooking his chin over Hoseok’s shoulder for something to rest on.

He shakes his head. It’s not like that. That’s different, that’s special, he’s still alive-

There are no secrets in the Drift.

“I’ve felt it, Hobi, I know what it’s like,” he murmurs, head lolling to one side so their temples knock together.

If Hoseok was faster, maybe. If he was stronger, a better fighter, quicker to react. If he’d kept his head right and fought the whiplash and didn’t let Seokjin go into those last seventeen minutes alone, heading Triptych solo into the deep, protected the girls when he could’ve, so it wasn’t a one Jaeger job by the end of the battle. If, if, if, if. Taehyung simply supplying more of them to mull over. More regrets to keep him awake at night.

“I’d never blame you for it, you know that right?” Yoongi asks, “Even after knowing all of that, I’d never fucking blame you.”

Hoseok didn’t read the articles about him when he’d first got out of the hospital. There’d been so much debate, the controversy tending to point fingers in his direction no matter what sort of evidence got drudged up in his favor.

He hadn’t paid the interviewers attention because they hadn’t been the ones in the suit or battle and the only places of weakness they’d found in Jaeger armor were after months of painstaking strategy analysis. They hadn’t known the fear roiling hot and heavy through Hoseok’s stomach when the visibility was low and the panic through the Drift was so high and the pain of fighting was blinding, blinding and how they had no luxury of time to slow things down and plan something out in such lewd detail. 

There are no secrets in the Drift. 

“It’s not your fault.” 

It’s his fault.

“You can’t go back and change things now.”

He should’ve changed things back then.

“I don’t blame you for anything.”

There are no secrets in the Drift.

Hoseok’s knees buckle, one at a time, but Yoongi catches him, helps them to the floor, kneeling against the cold cement. It’s mercifully clean, seeing as they’re on Namjoon’s side of the lab, surrounded by fluttering papers and gray computers and pens on the floor.

Hoseok’s crying in earnest, uncaring that he’s loud, because he could be screaming and it still wouldn’t stop hurting. It’s the anniversary of Mutavore’s death and it fucking hurts, the ring of scarring around his throat like a brand Triptych left on his skin, warning him remembrance for the rest of his goddamn life. His chest is expanding and decelerating with the expanse of his lungs, face blotching red as he tries to gasp out something coherent. It’s pitiful to see him like this, crumpled up and walked all over, when he ends up hiding it up under the covers on the bad days.

Taehyung swallows, blinking slow, like he’s trying not to start up too, Namjoon worrying at his lip.

“You’re forgiven,” Yoongi murmurs, reaching one hand up to bury in the back of Hoseok’s hair. “Always and completely forgiven.”

There are no secrets in the Drift.

“I don’t,” Hoseok struggles out, gasping for the sound, “I don’t need your. Pity.”

There are no secrets in the Drift.

Yoongi does not say anything. He just holds Hoseok, holds him until his soul has become dried gourd in the morn, knocking their heads together with the roll of comfort.

There are no secrets in the Drift.

Hoseok closes his eyes around the truth of Seokjin’s words.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

The Kaijus, they return.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

The curious thing about Jung Hoseok are the rumors that Yoongi’s heard since both he and Namjoon got fitted into the Jaeger business.

They were a year after them after initial deployment, but a year is a long time when it comes to active duty. Yoongi had heard of Hoseok, but only in passing from the rarity for two drop battles back then, both Jaegers usually stationed on either end of the globe. Not all heroes happened to be friends, after all.

It wasn’t until the disaster of Triptych and Seokjin’s death (first in the line of service to a goddamn Kaiju) when things started to spiral back towards him. Jung Hoseok, wunderkid extraordinaire, had lost his copilot in a staggering defeat of Kaiju intelligence. Namjoon had been desperate to meet him then, wanting to milk him dry of the details that Anchorage Shatterdome’s research department got before he did, but all Yoongi did was cling to him and tell him no.

He’d seen Hoseok on television plenty, back when they were both still kids and Jaegers were the next best toy everyone wanted, all bright eyes and big smiles. Yoongi had taken to his copilot more, a softer laugh and somewhat kinder on the eyes - though Seokjin was better looking than the average human being regardless.

He’d pegged Hoseok for a partier, life of the dance circle, doing body shots and screaming into the crowd as he’d climb up on a table. Most of the talking didn’t seem to dispel the rumors, at least not at first.

Then Yoongi had seen the way he’d looked when he’d been discharged, the look on his face as cameras swarmed when he’d climbed into the van, needing a hand up because he was limping so bad. Hoseok’s face had been gaunt, yeah, thin that comes with too little eating and too much stress, but the hollow had been most in the eyes - the gray around his skin. He looked like the death air had come for him, a funeral home of his own as he’d killed the halo of light about his head. 

He had been wearing all black instead of his fatigues, the gloves, the mouth mask. His hair was pushed haphazardly under a beanie, shoulders caving into the cavern of his chest. Hoseok had looked like Mutavore had eaten out his heart with her fangs too, eyes glazed over as he didn’t even bother to wave to the cameras as he did in the past, literally pushing microphones aside as he shoved headphones on to block out the questions. 

His PR team would’ve briefed him on the situation, would’ve told him what to do to get the most sympathy from the press, but Yoongi knows he wouldn’t have cared. They didn’t understand what it meant to lose your copilot. Your anchor, your meaning, the only thing that kept you standing when it was three hundred miles into the dark.

Hoseok looked ugly then, better in the Kwoon, healing now.

Yoongi knows he gets nightmares, the two of them had both stumbled from sleep the first couple nights once they’d Drifted together. They’d yelled for the first time when Hoseok had been purposely stubborn, Yoongi standing over him with a bō staff and telling him that, tough luck, Seokjin’s been dead for three fucking years, better start getting over him if you want to get out of the next alive, Jung Hoseok, I’m not having any of your whiny baby bullshit anymore.

Hoseok had hit back, finally, hit back hard enough that he doesn’t sit alone during mess anymore, takes his meals with Yoongi and Jimin and Jungkook, sometimes Taehyung if he’s pulled his ass out of Kaiju guts long enough for Namjoon to drag him down to lunch. It wasn’t until their third drop when Yoongi starts getting strangely possessive, pulling Hoseok aside to sit in on Guardian’s repairs, legs dangling a hundred feet in the air as he tried to coax Hoseok out into the open. 

“I’m scared of heights,” he’d said, clutching onto his tray with a look of poorly concealed fear, Yoongi feeling something stir through the Drift. 

“You?” he’d laughed, the reaction shocked out of him as he’d turned to hands and knees, clambered up to walk in his direction, wiping his hands down on his pants. “Hotshot Jaeger boy? Routinely out there, two hundred feet above dry land, fighting off water monsters from another world? Scared of heights?”

Hoseok’s mouth had been pulled down into an unhappy triangle, but Yoongi was going to take anything at this point, most of Hoseok had been a steady shade of boring gray when it came to emotions for a while. Yoongi hooks his chin on Hoseok’s shoulder, grins up at him, smile widening when Hoseok’s eyes flicker down to meet his, then look away awkwardly, flush starting up on his cheeks. He’d squirmed a little under the attention, nose wrinkling as Yoongi takes his tray from him, settling it down next to his half-eaten dinner by the edge of the platform.

“Come on, Hobi, it’s literally half the size of your precious Mark-1’s.”

“Yeah, but when I’m in a fucking Jaeger,” Hoseok hisses defensively, “I’m strapped into the conn pod, dumbass.”

“Aw, baby, baby,” Yoongi coos, relishing in the way Hoseok stomps his feet. “My big baby, here to save me from all the scary Kaijus waiting to gobble me up.” 

“Hey,” he glares, crossing his arms.

“Hobi,” he sighs, holding out a hand and waving it impatiently, even as Hoseok takes a tentative step in his direction, jerking back when the catwalk groans under his weight. Yoongi gets up and decides to walk him over himself.

Even then, it takes him five minutes to get seated, looking like he’s going to throw up, eyes hardly daring to flick down to the feet below, all the mechanics and technicians and Jaeger parts being stitched back to place with careful surgeon hands. 

“I’m not gonna let you fall,” Yoongi murmurs, feeling Hoseok pull both their hands into his lap, playing with his fingers. He tips over, resting his weight against the solid bulk of Hoseok’s side, somehow still gaining the back muscle he’d lost after initial resignation. He stares at Guardian sideways, head laid horizontal on Hoseok’s shoulder, breath coming easy. Easier than it has in a while.

“I’m not afraid of that,” Hoseok says, still refusing to meet Yoongi’s eye. The bond shifts like a live thing beneath them, sharing emotion, secrets, intimate in a way that almost hurts. I’m not afraid for myself, is what he doesn’t say, or at least doesn’t need to. 

Hoseok still harbors guilt, enough for three, in that head of his.

No; no he is not afraid of falling, of flying, of heights. He’s afraid of being the reason why, but unable to stop it - terrified he’s going to send Yoongi into something he can’t save him from.

Yoongi doesn’t need to ask him what happened when it came to Triptych, how Mutavore even managed to rip those bulky Mark-1’s to pieces, sending Seokjin careering out into the pressure-cooker of a boiling ocean. He’s felt it all, fingers tightening in Hoseok’s, knows exactly what happened, down to the last burst of blur.

“Not you,” Hoseok murmurs, sighing it out so quiet Yoongi wonders if he even heard it in the first place. He turns his head to press a kiss to the top of Yoongi’s head, the mess of his dark hair. “Never you.”

I promise. 

They have no daylight left when it comes to love. The sun always setting, just past the horizon.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

Hoseok’s always been bad at asking for what he wants. Yoongi too, though he’s more straightforward about it. 

“Please,” Hoseok asks, eyes so wide, gleaming in the half-dark. He’s curled up against the corner of his bed, pushed into the meeting point of two walls in his personal quarters, one of the eight occupied in the pilot sector. He’s pulled the blankets up into his chest, like he’s cold, but tries to kick out half of it to cover the rest of the bed when he speaks. 

Stay, he’s saying. It’s not out loud, but Yoongi hears it anyway.

Yoongi turns, looking back over his shoulder, slow. It’s not that he doesn’t want to, but it’s that he doesn’t know. He swallows, hard.

“Then I need to know,” is what he ends up saying, quiet.  

Hoseok drops his eyes.

“Am I replacing him?” he asks, turning in the doorway.

One of Hoseok’s hands fists uncomfortably tight in the thin material of his blanket, and he looks up and then away. His throat works. His eyes stutter.

Someone walks past the door, down the hallway, makes a left. Yoongi doesn’t move, just watches Hoseok, considers the creature of him. The clang of metal is quiet here, like a time capsule sealed and tossed out to sea, the white noise filtering in through the muffle of the bedroom walls. It’s not the best insulation: warm when it’s hot, cold when it’s freezing, but it’s good enough for the kids who live with a foot half in their Jaegers, riding the crest of humanity’s demise.

Yoongi asks, although he knows the answer already. They’ve been in each other’s heads time and time again; they are each other’s heads - hearts, souls, and spirits too, everything in between, thrown out into the great white Drift. 

“I,” Hoseok’s voice cracks. He shakes his head, lets it fall back off his shoulders and hit the wall with a thump. “I don’t know,” he admits, dropping his eyes to look at Yoongi in the corona of light.

He doesn’t say anything for a while, knowing, Yoongi neither dismissing nor agreeing with Hoseok, simply acknowledging. He understands, he does. 

“Okay,” he says, reaching out behind him for the doorknob.

“Okay,” he says, too.

Yoongi turns the handle, pushes the metal open until the hinges squeal.

Hoseok looks at him. 

“Goodnight,” Hoseok murmurs, drawing up into the shell of his blankets.

“Night,” Yoongi says, dipping his head low in recognition. “See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” he breathes, and watches the way he shuts the door behind him, wondering why it feels so much like goodbye.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

Not all beautiful things are sad, and not all sad things are beautiful, but Hoseok manages to be both at once, slipping away in all the small moments. 

Yoongi cannot catch him. Yoongi cannot even bring him home.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“Okay, so,” Taehyung says, pressing record on his tinny device and sliding it into the front pocket of his greased button up, “Kaiju-Human Drift experiment: trial one, in which Kim Taehyung hopes that there he will live to perhaps oversee or partake in a trial two,” he grunts, straining to drag metal tubing across the lab floor. “But best hopes is that there will be no need for a trial two because trail one will be so fucking kickass and give me all the damn information a Kaijuologist would ever need,” he glares at the samples, floating in viscous fluid, jarred up and glowing in the dim of the room. “When it comes to defeating this Breach.” 

He struggles, spinning around to lug the pieces together backwards, back hitting the glass that holds Kaiju remains, preserved nicely by- actually, he doesn’t know who. The PPDC’s research team is literally just him and Namjoon, and before Namjoon was full-time it’d been him, and before him there had been no PPDC at all. Taehyung sniffs, a little self-righteously, adjusting his shirt with an almost smug grin. 

“So the piece of Kaiju brain in here,” Taehyung hits the meaty part of his fist against the glass, “Is actually damaged, because this is the best we could do with funding and whatever- I told Dawn to be careful when they took him down, but the girls either don’t like me-,” he nearly trips on his way to grab the headpiece, cobbled together crudely with supplies J-tech had tossed aside, losing his train of thought along the way. “Or we just don’t have enough funding when it comes to…huh.”

Taehyung clears his throat, reaching out to grab the remote, a gargantuan hunk of metal and plastic, hands shaking.

“Anyway- yeah, sorry Namjoon, if you’re listening to this, I’m,” he mumbles, scratching the back of his head, “But hopefully I’ll live and, uh, you won’t have to deal with a corpse in our- well, technically your, lab at that point.”

His thumb hovers over the deploy button, rusted over with red paint. It wasn’t the swankiest thing he could find, but it would do the trick. 

“In three, two,” he inhales, squeezing his eyes shut, “One.”

Taehyung’s mind goes up in blue flame.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“Taehyung,” Namjoon gasps, struggling to his knees. He tosses the cane aside and ignores the pain that shoots up his leg when he gets down to the floor, hands remarkably still even with the fear coursing through his chest. “Tae. Tae,” he says, frantic, trying to slap him awake.

He reaches one arm around to turn off the Drift globe, peeling it away from Taehyung’s face with a wince, grabbing one shoulder to shake him back and forth. His nose is bleeding, so Namjoon presses the sleeve of his jacket to stop the flow, wipe it away as he peels back Taehyung’s eyelids to check his sclera, all the broken vessels beneath his pupil.  

“Babe, come on,” he hisses, cupping Taehyung’s face with both his hands. “Wake the hell up.”

He pats him down, trying to see if there’s anything he can do. Smelling salts. Does anyone fucking carry smelling salts with them anymore? But then again, it’s Kim Taehyung he’s dealing with, and he’d been sporting a pair of unboiled eggs in his front shirt pocket for a week at some point in time, then an unused condom, although opened, and part of a chair leg that had splintered off, so. It’s a long shot, but Namjoon’s a little pressed for time.

“-part of a hivemind, they’re job is to come through the Breach and to colonize Earth, the reason why they’re identical is because they are clones of each other - at least the ones that have been sent to investigate the planet first,” Taehyung gasps, jerking awake. His eyes fly open, so wide that Namjoon startles backwards, Taehyung latching onto him with almost inhuman strength. “I was right when I pointed out the fact that their DNA is similar, the one from Sydney and Taiwan, oh my god.” 

“Taehyung,” Namjoon says weakly, trying for a smile. “Taehyung, please my leg.”

“Shit, shit, sorry,” he says, stumbling forward so he can shove his arms under Namjoon’s and haul him standing, sticking a trembling leg out to search for his cane. His motions are stuttering, aborted, like he’s had too much coffee in the past twenty four hours for it to be healthy.

Despite his strangely erratic behavior (definitely leftover from that fucking Drift experiment he’d been on about for ages now), he manages to help Namjoon to the couch, fumbling for his cell phone and failing to dial Jimin’s number three times in a row. Namjoon takes the device from him gingerly, smooths a cool hand over two of Taehyung’s, and calls Jimin for him.

“I’m coming,” is the first thing he says when he picks up.

Only four people on base have his line. Five, if you count Hoseok, and Taehyung’s never paged him before in his life.

“So you’re saying that you Drifted with a fucking Kaiju-,” is the first thing Jimin says the minute he bursts through both doors, out of breath from running down from LOCCENT.

“No, no no, I’m saying I Drifted with part of a Kaiju brain. Doing the whole thing would’ve killed me if I shouldered that neural load alone.”

“Taehyung,” he snaps, pinching his nose between two fingers. Even with the impeccable shoulders of his suit, the coat he wears like a fucking cape, there is still something to be read from his body, the tense line of it. “You Drifted with part of a Kaiju brain? Should I ask why?”

“You can ask all you want, and I can tell all I want, but you’re just gonna think I’m crazy,” Taehyung shakes out, unable to even get a cup of water to his mouth without spilling it down his shirt.

Namjoon takes the mug out of his hands and holds it up to his lips for him.

“But I was in there with that Kaiju,” he says, hardly pausing for breath. “And the whole point is that- that, that they’re raised by these overlords, think of them as, you know, but- and then, they. They’re bred, the ones that come through the Breach, they’re bred for battle, except there are different kinds of them. Clones with different purposes.”

Jimin’s eyes narrow in with his brows, his full lips. He leans forward in his chair and flips open his tablet. HIs fingers fly over the holoboard. Taehyung’s not sure if Jimin believes a word he’s saying, but he knows they both trust in the Drift, and this experiment has been no lie.

“Their first- first run was way back with the dinosaurs, but they got nowhere with that; the atmosphere and the environment and the fact they weren’t the top of the food chain with all those animals wandering around,” he says, “But then they came back. They returned to San Francisco with that CAT 1, you remember?”

Jimin nods. He’d been first responder in one of those aircraft. He’d been one of the kids to bring it down.

“And we thought it was a one time thing, which it was. Kind of. Sort of. Because, you see, the next Kaiju they sent nearly ruined us too, but the whole point was just to scope out the territory. See if it was okay to colonize, and oh, are these aliens colonizers.”

“Breathe, Tae,” Namjoon murmurs, lacing their fingers together. Taehyung flashes him a shaking smile, barely anything at all, but it warms Namjoon from his toes up, smoothing a shaking hand down Namjoon’s thigh. It’s a poor attempt to ground himself, teeth chattering together as his eyes flicker back and forth subconsciously as he tries to deal with the sensory overload. Namjoon press his lips together, swallows, says nothing.

“The whole point is to overtake our world- a world, any world, really,” Taehyung continues, the whites of his eyes stained red, “CAT’s one to four? That’s fucking nothing by their standards. Those are just meant to be the vermin killers, exterminators, the Kaiju’s who’re stuck with those low-end jobs picking trash up off the street or like. Like, like- movie theater floors or-” 

Jimin hums encouragingly.

“But now they’re gonna send in the big guys,” he says, words stockpiled together, “CAT-5’s and upwards are meant to get rid of us for real,” his abnormally large eyes are ever larger, unblinking as he stares Jimin down, “They’re here and they’re ready and they’re going to come up through the ocean for months, I don’t know, just to wipe us all out completely.” 

“And there’s nothing we can do?” Jimin asks tersely.

“Not unless you know how to close that Breach,” Taehyung shrugs. “There’s no other option.”

Jimin stands. The chair skitters out behind him, shrieking on the concrete flooring.

“Then I need you to do it again,” he says curtly. He doesn’t sound like he’s going to take no for an answer.

Taehyung gapes after him. Namjoon is half up to protest.

“I-I can’t,” Taehyung breathes, shaking bad. A pause. “Not unless you have another Kaiju brain that I don't know about laying around somewhere.”

Jimin simply looks at him, expression unreadable. It’s as much admission has he lets on, even past the strange quirk of his lip.

“Or,” Taehyung swallows. The sound is nearly audible. “Do you?” he asks.

The only response he gets is the sight of Jimin turning on his heel, coat flying out behind him.

“My office. 1900 sharp,” he says. His shoes click neatly on the floor as he heads out, not even bothering to speak over his shoulder. “Ever heard of a man named Hannibal Chau, Kim Taehyung?" 

His voice, it carries for days.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

Daegu, 2014. Min Yoongi. Eight, running, desperate for his life.

Yamarashi chases tail through an abandoned city, screaming, snowing with ash. The dust chokes in his lungs, his nostrils when he tries to breathe, tripping over rubble and toppled buildings, anything to make it out alive.

Yoongi’s feet are bleeding, but he can’t stop running. His legs are burning as he flails, arms the only thing driving him forward as the fear and adrenaline surge like sparks through his veins. He is crying, he must be, his face is wet and his vision is blurred, but what can one expect from a child about to die? 

He spares a glance beside him. Mistake. It forces his foot to catch on loose brick, and his shoe flies off, sending him spinning over one shoulder. Yoongi tucks his head into his chest and rolls across metal and debris with a whimper.

Yamarashi screams behind him, mouth open and spitting blue everywhere - the storefronts, the windows, the treetops. The stone turns to waxwork, the metal screeching to gas beneath its touch. The ground trembles, and it is an earthquake leveling the scene of ghost chaos around him.

Yoongi cries out, sobbing hard as he tries to get to his feet, legs giving out under him each time. The Kaiju looms closer, nearly above him now, its shadow creeping up over his head as he roars. It rears back with a steaming hiss. Reaching out blindly in front of him, Yoongi scrabbles for his shoe and doesn't even bother to put it on when he slips up to his feet, socks giving out under his weight, holes already torn into the bleeding sockets of his elbows. 

Yoongi starts sprinting, clutching his arms to his chest, fat fingers shaking as his body threatens to collapse beneath his sixty pound weight, chasing away death. He cuts a clean diagonal across the street, ducking behind cars as he tries to outrun, outsmart, as he traces a jagged path away from the destruction.

The Kaiju screams, three octaves at once, and Yoongi screams with it too, lifting both arms up to cover his ears as he ducks into the nearest alleyway. He feels so exposed with all four of the Kaiju’s beady eyes focused on him, head snapping in his direction as his winter coat trails out behind him with the speed.

“Please,” he begs, crying so hard his eyes are almost shut, snot running. He wipes messily at his nose, hair flying back against his face as he hurries in the dusk.

He has lost both his parents and his own life in one go, and he ducks behind the dumpster, heart leaping up to his throat when he sees that the alley is a dead end. There is something awfully hollow building up in his chest, a feeling he’s foreign to, being only eight and already facing the jaws of a monster alone.

Yamarashi pauses when Yoongi scurries from its sight, the shadow of his snout tipping up as it sniffs the air. His eyes so wide, breath hardly passing his lips as it keeps it mouth half open. He’s afraid of making noise, but he flinches with every one of the Kaiju’s movements as he tracks the silhouette of it on the far wall of the apartment buildings.

The earth vibrates with its footsteps, and Yoongi can’t tell if it’s Yamarashi walking towards or away. He curls up tighter to himself, trying to make his whole body disappear into the void, wishing that if there’s a God out there like everyone says, he’d let me fly away, please let me fly away, please help me, please.

Yoongi whimpers, squeezes his eyes shut, presses the heel of his dirty shoe to his chest, the sole of it imprinting the back of his jacket’s zipper into his skin. Later, it will turn into a rip, it will turn into blood, but he does not know that yet, desperate for any chance of escape. The fear roils in him, spilling from his lips in tiny noises, tears streaking down his face.

He shakes, head jerking left and right as if that alone will help him track Yamarashi’s scent.

Then the air: impossibly still.

Yoongi dares to open his eyes, but does not dare to move, his muscles corded so tight, stomach sinking against his spinal cord.

The world, like it has come to a stop.

It is Yoongi who stirs first, eyes second, neck third, shoulders last, barely peeking out from behind the dumpster when he drops his shoe, the fear overwhelming as he’s faced with the skin of a Kaiju in the flesh, barely twenty meters from his face, mouth steaming as Yamarashi opens his lips, the spiked lotus blossom of his tongue-

Yamarashi opens its mouth and screams.

(“Yoongi!”)

He is eight, eight and sobbing, and trapped somewhere in the streets of Daegu with nowhere else to go.

He holds his hands out in front of him when he stumbles back, tripping on his feet again and again and again as the Kaiju rams its face between the opening of both skyscrapers, pieces of rubble raining down on Yoongi, narrowly missing his slight frame, his child-body.

Yoongi shrieks, the sound twisting out of him as if driven in by a knife, the bloody sort of scream that curdles in the air around him. It’s a noise that comes hand-in-hand with pure terror. He feels it rise up from the depths of his chest like a tsunami, pulsing out his lips.

(“Yoongi! Listen to me!”)

He is eight and about to die, shielding the light from his face as Yamarashi dives back in on him, ears ringing with the force of his attack. 

(“Yoongi, please, it’s just a memory, you have to wake up. Yoongi!”)

He feels like vomiting, the tears coming so fast his arms are trembling with it. His whole skeleton trembling with it.

(“I’ve got you, it’s okay. You’re okay. You’ve just got to wake up- Yoongi!”)

Yamarashi, it crushes in again, Kaiju blue dripping off the sides of its face as it scrapes skin down to the fleshy meat of its cheeks, the gaping maw of his mouth-

(“Jungkook, pull the fucking plug!” Hoseok screams, shredding himself out of the harness out of sheer willpower alone. It’s not meant to be exited when one’s in Drift, just as a precaution out in the thrust of battle, but Yoongi’s so far gone that he pulls from the adrenaline rushing through both their heads and snaps the pieces of his drivesuit off with the metal, his only thought caught up with the sight of Yoongi and his wide-open eyes, unseeing.)

Yoongi hears the Kaiju shriek again, and he’s backed up so far against the wall, but it’s cold to the touch and there is nothing, there’s only space, why is there only space, this isn’t right, it isn’t right, he-

(Everything in the Shatterdome powers down at once.

“It’s not working,” Jungkook yells, yanking cable after cable off LOCCENT dashboards. “His connection’s too strong! He’s in too deep,” he throws his voice to catch on the mic, “Hoseok, you have to be the one to get him out; you’re his fucking copilot, and Guardian’s analog- there’s nothing we can do.”) 

Yoongi hears the sound of something powering up, and his arm reaches out on its own accord, no longer shaking. His fingers are spread wide, and he’s confused - where did he learn all this? Why is he remembering it, why is he, what is he-

(“Hoseok, Guardian’s plasma cannon is online,” Jungkook grits into his desktop mic, metal biting into his fingers as he yanks tight, closer to his lips. “You need to get him to stop or everyone in this fucking Shatterdome is going to die.”)

Yoongi’s chin tilts up, so far up, just to look Yamarashi in the eyes, memorize the way a Kaiju looks up close before it swallows him down whole.

The air warms as he inches further back against the wall-

(“Everyone out! Out, out, out!” Jungkook screams at his branch, “Don’t fucking take anything with you, we don’t have time to pack things up. Just get out! Out!”) 

Kaiju breath stinks. Yoongi will never forget the way it smells, the way its skin leathers, creases and wrinkles, the gloss of its eyes, so inhumanely flawless.

The whirring, it continues, grows-

(Hoseok yanks Yoongi’s helmet off his head and pulls him from the harness, pulls him forward and kisses the hell out of him-)

Daegu dissolves into fog-

Yoongi’s eyes burst into sight, legs giving out from underneath him as Hoseok rips through his drivesuit’s attachments to the exoskeleton of the conn pod. His arm lowers, crashing to his side, and they both watch as Guardian’s plasma cannon mirrors him, the whole world glowing back to its normal colors.

“Yoongi,” Hoseok says, voice cracking. 

He drops to his knees to catch him as he collapses on his side, both their chests heaving, breath coming fast.

Yoongi's unable to form words, just clutches weakly at Hoseok’s arm where it’s wrapped tight around his side, his chest, his waist. Both their heartbeats are synced up, and he can feel it even through the padding of their suits.

“Yoongi,” Hoseok repeats, and his voice is full of relief. No judgement, no hatred. He brings one hand to his mouth and tears his gloves off with his teeth, quick to work at the other, tangling their fingers together as soon as there’s bare skin on both of them. “I’ve got you- I. I got you, I’m.”

He looks up, vision blurred, into the mess he’s made, head jerking unsteadily to one side as he shakes. He tries to make it stop, but it won’t.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Hoseok says, the words so possessive in his chest. The Drift, it’s still strong between them, always there, pulsing like a bridge between their bodies. “Yoongi, you hear me?” he asks, voice firm.

He nods. It’s trembling and weak, but it’s there. All his limbs feel like mush, plaint under Hoseok’s grip, the way he presses in almost bruising, but he doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter anymore.

“Hobi,” he rasps, when they come. The technicians, Jimin, Jungkook.

“They won’t touch you,” Hoseok says, fierce, burning with it.

Yoongi closes his eyes, dry and aching. He licks his chapped lips, tongue swiping out to wet them just for something to do with himself. Hoseok’s hand tightens around his. 

“Please,” he breaks, head lolling back against the steady material of Hoseok’s drivesuit.

“They won’t,” Hoseok repeats, but softer this time, just knowing, and Yoongi closes his eyes against the feeling of relief simmering low in his stomach. “They don’t get to.”

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“You’re not replacing him,” Hoseok murmurs into Yoongi’s hair, afterwards.

They’re both half asleep, tangled up together in a way that seems familiar now, comfortable, when it hadn’t been before, right after their first drop.

“What?” Yoongi says, voice low and drawling. He’s exhausted, curling up without complaint in Hoseok’s arms. 

“You’re not replacing Seokjin,” Hoseok manages to say his name without flinching, “You’re- mmph.”

Yoongi turns around, lighting quick, and cranes his neck up, holding Hoseok’s chin in place as he drags him down for a kiss. When he pulls away, it’s with a relatively quiet noise, wet, but the sound is abnormally loud in both their ears.

“Thank you,” he sighs, rolling his head back against the pillows. “For finally getting your head screwed on straight, Jung Hoseok.”

“What?” he asks, ears are aflame. 

Yoongi rolls his eyes.

“I already knew what you were gonna say,” he says, pulling Hoseok’s arm back around his waist impatiently.

Hoseok splutters. “How’d you figure it out before I did?”

“It’s because I’m a genius,” Yoongi grins, slow and sleepy, lazy at the corners of his eyes. “And because you were just too chicken to admit.”

“Hey!” he says, shoving at Yoongi’s shoulder. His mouth is pulled down unhappily.

Yoongi’s expression softens at the sight, and he reaches a thumb up to smooth it gently over Hoseok’s lips, trying to erase his frown. He bumps their noses against each other.

“It’s okay,” Yoongi says, ducking in for a kiss. Then two, three, four. “Seokjin would want you to be happy, you know. Just seems like that kinda guy.”

Hoseok looks away, swallowing against the lump in his throat. Yoongi skitters his fingers down Hoseok’s back, counting the bones of his ribs.

“’M sorry for before too,” Hoseok sighs into the quiet, pressing the side of his head into the pillow. 

“I know,” he murmurs, and draws him close to his chest without complaint, eyes falling shut. 

It’s the first time Yoongi sleeps through the night in years.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“LOCCENT?” and that is Jimin’s voice, coming tinny in through the speakers on his intercom board.

“Sir,” Jungkook breathes, and the formality is still foreign on his tongue, a little bit. Jimin had uptaken in rank, but they’d grown up together, hopping Shatterdome to Shatterdome for years in this childhood; it’s still tastes raw.

“Can you give me ETA? Data? Name?” he asks, curt and businesslike, loafers clicking evenly in the background of his voice. “I’ve gotten Guardian up, do we need anyone else?”

Jungkook tries to speak, no words leaving his mouth as he enlarges his readings, the scaling, zooming in on geographical location because it can’t be. Namjoon predicted it, but those were just. Just predictions, nothing more, just numbers on a page, it can’t be. 

“We need everyone on deck,” he breathes. “My readings are pointing to CAT-4, but activity is still coming up from the Breach. It might not be the,” his voice is thin, “Most accurate.”

“I’m heading up to LOCCENT now,” Jimin says. “I’ll call tech to get them prepped.”

“Right,” Jungkook says faintly.

The Breach is stabilizing, the mouth of the passageway heaving with the strain of delivering Kaiju across its border.

“This is Jung,” Hoseok’s voice filters in suddenly, crackling at the edges like he’s breathing too hard into the mic. “Guardian’s suiting up now. Can you brief us before we go in?” 

Jungkook drags the mic closer to his mouth, pinches and pulls his fingers apart around the readings from his holographs. He takes the cup of his palm and turns it in three directions, flipping it right side up and then back again, then slaps the whole map spinning in his frustration.  He sits back in his chair, watches the way LOCCENT devolves into organized panic beneath his jurisdiction.

“Yeah,” he says, voice suiting up sharp. “You’re dealing with CAT-4’s.”

Someone slips a paper to him, pager screen lighting up simultaneously.

“Codenames: Leatherback and Otachi, both headed straight to Hong Kong port. Watch for electrical capabilities,” Jungkook leans forward more, grips the stem of his mic, eyes aglow with Kaiju readings. “Oracle Hunter and Victory Dawn are assists on this mission. Do what you can, keep it in the ocean, the typical drill.”

Jungkook picks up his cup of coffee, one of them, and raises the ceramic to his lips. He closes his eyes, lets out an exhale. He downs it in one go.

From the glass casing of the world below, he watches as people scramble to their places. He still has to make the announcement; all they know is that three of four Jaegers are being deployed for a mission involving a CAT-4. There is confusion there, but obedience, and Jungkook wonders if they still trust Jimin, LOCCENT, the higher ups who couldn’t secure them more funding when it mattered more than ever.

“Namjoon was right, you guys,” he says, so rough, half of him abandoned to the sea.

His second coffee goes down black. He rolls over to one side in his chair, pushing through the hesitation as he slams his fist down on the Shatterdome-wide intercom button, stretching for mic delivery. 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, voice crisp, unwavering. “Please move quickly to your stations; we need everyone available to undock Jaegers Hunter, Dawn, and Guardian from their bays.” 

Jimin storms through LOCCENT doors, cutting through the crowd until he’s standing behind Jungkook, one hand braced heavy on his shoulder.

“Our reports indicate that two Kaijus have currently passed through the Breach.”

Otachi roars, screaming into the sky. 

Jungkook looks up at Jimin, if for approval or reassurance, he does not know. He inhales, holds the feeling of flame in his death.

“We are currently witnessing a double event.” 

And Leatherback. He grows.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“Oracle, watch your left,” Yoongi says.

The battle has been carried in the choppy waters, sinking up to almost the chestplate of all three Jaegers now, visibility low.

“I’m turning on headlights,” Hoseok says, though a bit uselessly. He flicks through the console above his head, playing with the buttons until a burst of brightness cuts through, temporary. “Our tracking system can’t find him, Jungkook.”

“He’s moving too fast,” Luna hisses. Oracle Hunter turns with her, neck craning as she and Amber try to jerk out of a tail, sliding uncomfortably against the knee joint of their Jaeger. “Shit. Dawn, you got eyes on him? Guardian?” 

“Negative,” Yoongi says, ducking low as he peers into the waters. There is only a burst of brilliance before it fades, betraying the blue scaled teeth of a Kaiju biding its time.

“LOCCENT,” Seulgi grits out, fingers tightening. “We’re fighting fucking blind out here, there’s nothing-” she cuts off with a scream, Leatherback shrieking as he pinions out of the ocean, seawater curdling off him in currents. Her muscles seize up when he roars, slapping down on the ocean surface as he electrocutes the hell out of their Jaegers, the pain of a machine into the pain of the people.

Yelling fills the headsets as the six of them grit their teeth and wait it out. The earthquake pushes past their Jaegers and floods into the city, the Shatterdome. The city’s lights are blown out like a candle on a cake, flickering twice before shutting down completely, Jimin and Jungkook disappear from their ears in one go. 

“Shit,” Jungkook swears, slamming a fist against the console of his desk. He rushes to his feet and tries to check connection, flicking switches so fast it’s dizzying. Jimin stands aside and lets him work, carved of marble. 

“Dawn?” he asks, sharp, “Oracle? Are any of you online?”

There is no answer. Both the Mark-2’s stand, waist to chest deep in the recesses of the ocean, barely off shore by Kaiju standards, like broken lighthouses. Their pilots struggle for movement, but the Jaegers are offline. They’ve frozen.

Leatherback screeches happily at the sight, turns his head towards Otachi and turns a circle when motioning to the dying heart of Hong Kong, eyes curved when she turns, diving smoothly into the water with four legs, sagging at the stomach.

“Guardian, are you-” 

“We’re still online,” Hoseok grunts, pulling his leg up when Yoongi does, arms jerking out to the sides when Leatherback threatens to topple them over. “We’re gonna take care of this one, right now, that swimmer’s gonna have to wait.” 

“Do what you have to, Guardian, we’re gonna try and rewire to auxiliary power, but he might’ve taken everything out with him.”

“Just keep us updated,” Yoongi says, distracted.

“Fuck,” Hoseok swears, stumbling back awkwardly as the Kaiju swarms at their legs, arching up out of the water to scream in their face. Its open mouth spits blue across their armor, but they don’t flinch, elbows locked out in front of them as they dive for his neck. 

They aim for the spine first, bucking up with the Kaiju as they close in, and Yoongi draws his fist back - again and again and again - aiming for whatever facial feature that lines up with his knuckles.

Hoseok struggles to keep Leatherback in place, neck straining with the force, rocking back in his harness when the Kaiju disproves the assumption of an easy catch and tries to slip out of their hold like a fish in the cage. He chokes out his frustration and pinches his brows together, teeth clenching as he tells Yoongi to please hurry the fuck up, there’s only so much he can do with one arm.

They retreat with a hiss, letting the Kaiju flip himself over and uses the momentum to drag the electric organ off of his back. Guardian tosses it aside as he roars. His tail splits into their waist when he snaps it in, the flexion of his muscle overpowering as he wraps two hands across their waist. The Jaeger tumbling head over heels like a grossly overpowered frisbee across the Hong Kong ports.

They careen wildly in their conn pod, slamming painfully against bridges and trucks and cargo boxes lining the dock. Yoongi feels Hoseok tighten up in fear, anxiety starting to bud up in his chest with the joyride, and he grabs his hand in the Drift, pulls him together as Guardian crashes into the cement, smoking in the rubble.

Leatherback is not far behind.

He pounces on them the minute feet land ashore. His mouth steams as he hisses into the night sky, the darkened lights of Hong Kong’s nighttime escapades. The Kaiju crushes hands into their shoulders, both of them grunting with the pain, pushing forward against his weight until they’re standing too, outweighed and outfitted.

Yoongi presses his mouth together and braces for impact when it turns tail to charge in their direction. He curses, digging their heels into the ground to try and slow their descent. Hoseok too, trembles with the strain, glass of his suit fogging up as he sweats, works, arms drawn back with the action.

“Come on,” Yoongi hisses, brows furrowed, lips pulled back to the skin of his teeth. “Just get out of the fucking way.”

Leatherback’s chest is already flayed open to his ribcage, but Guardian keeps pulsing into the blue, the blood. Even maimed so heavy, he manages to overthrow them, tossing Jaeger, pilot, and all over his shoulder and forcing them to sink to one knee, an arm extended out in front of them to slow the rush.

The Kaiju shrieks, galloping in their direction, already glowing with death. Where he gets the energy to push forward, they don’t know, lifting Guardian to their feet with ease, six eyes so close to the conn pod, glaring in through the eye sockets of their Jaeger as he bashes his sharpened teeth together, twisting his neck to one side.

“The plasma cannon,” Yoongi grits out, busy distracted as he slams a fist into Leatherback’s head, continuous, still trying to break through the armor.

“Got it,” Hoseok says, fingers deft as they fly over command keys, reaching above him to flip switches without practiced ease.

Plasma cannon, loading.

Leatherback groans, shrinking back as he dodges Yoongi’s next blow, tilting to one side. Hoseok draws an arm back, yelling at Yoongi that he’s depending on him to keep the Kaiju distracted, the metal of Guardian’s left arm melding into the barrel of a gun.

Plasma cannon, loading.  

“Hoseok!” Yoongi screams, desperate as Leatherback squirms out of his hold.

Plasma cannon, loaded.

Hoseok draws back like he’s notching an arrow, then, draws back and shoots Guardian forward, stumbling away from the Kaiju as he aims for the heart. Its heart bursts open, but he keeps firing, the cement of the dock screeching under their feet, Leatherback’s face twisted ugly with rage. 

Hoseok aims, the sky glows, they are chased back against the water. 

“Empty the clip!” Yoongi yells, watching his face shutter closed with concentration. “Empty the fucking clip, Hoseok!”  

Plasma cannon, unloading.

The Kaiju stumbles, jaw slack as Guardian spreads out the blue wave of his guts.

“Shut the hell up, motherfucker,” Hoseok bites out, arm jerking with every blast. His face is pink around the edges, and tinged with sweat.

Leatherback, as if he’s heard, gurgles in his torn up throat, hind legs crashing to the floor. His head lolls back against his shoulders as he collapses. It wails, neck split open all the way to the inside as Hoseok finishes the round in his face.

Plasma cannon is now empty. Replacements can be found with J-Tech engineering group number 217. Please report to loading dock immediately for repairs. 

“Guardian,” Jungkook’s voice makes them both jump, surprised. “Otachi is in the open, downtown,” he says, tone brokering no room for argument, “Kill her before she kills you and the rest of that goddamn city.”

Yoongi glances over at Hoseok.

“Roger that, LOCCENT,” Hoseok sighs, pulling out a two finger salute even when he knows Jungkook can’t see him. “Let’s go end that fucking son of a bitch.” 

They turn to heft a longboat in their hands and make quick work of stomping into the city.

“Choppers, do we have visual? Over.”

“This thing’s moving too fast,” Yoongi says, the lights of his helmet cutting sharp into his cheekbones. “I can’t find it anywhere.”

The ship drags out behind them, groaning and screeching as it hits on lampposts.

Yoongi keeps his eyes glued to their tracking screen, lip caught between his teeth as he trusts Hoseok to keep their Jaeger walking. His expression is unsettled; this Kaiju is too goddamn elusive for his liking. 

The city has started lighting up again, the neon signs flickering through the stained glass of Guardian’s eyepiece. The skies begin to bleed with the pollution, and Yoongi, being closer to them than he’ll ever be again, breaks his eyes away to look up at the rain, out into the mass of Hong Kong’s fishing district.

Then it is Otachi, crashing through the side of the nearest skyscraper and into their sides. The echo of its noise shaking down the highway.

“Watch it!” Hoseok warns, throwing his arm out in response. They bring the boat up to their chest, elbows locking in deep as the Kaiju surges at them, mouth spiraling open.

They ship careens shakily into the side of Otachi’s head. The Kaiju jerks. It shakes them off, pushes back. The two of them wrestle in the streets and crush ghost vehicles underfoot.

Hoseok raises his fist, crashing the flat side of the metal against the Kaiju’s teeth. It roars in response, and Yoongi thinks all that did was get it more angry than it had been, but the blunt trauma is better than nothing, he supposes.  Otachi pushes back to push forward, slamming bodily into the cross of Guardian’s arms as they drop hold of crude weaponry in the haste to move to defense instead. Their Jaeger is sent through all hundred-something floors of an office building, shattered glass crunching underfoot.

When the blur barely rights itself from confusion, Jungkook yells something unintelligible in both their ears. Yoongi can feel Hoseok’s dizziness, and tunes LOCCENT to try and pull him back.

“You see anything?” Hoseok asks, eyes refusing to leave the landscape in front of him. Yoongi shakes his head.

The building to their right shatters to life.

Hoseok swings their left hand up with a yelp, an automatic response. The arm of the Kaiju struggles violently with the Jaeger’s, surging close as Hoseok does his best to fight it off with brute force alone. Yoongi duck out of the way, barely miss a slap to the face. Their Jaeger trembles with the effort, and Yoongi takes the time to sink a foot in Otachi’s stomach.

“I’ll hold it off,” Hoseok grits, straining to get the words out. Claws snap, dangerously close. His arm shakes.

“Vent the coolant!” Hoseok yells, voice curling up at the end as Otachi redoubles its efforts, twisting violently at the air above their shoulder.

Fuck,” Yoongi chokes, quick to quit navigation and return to the main page. He’s venting the coolant, he’s venting the coolant, he’s venting the coolant. 

He can feel the way Hoseok’s arm burns with the pain; he’s going to be out of commission after this if he ends up pulling a muscle, if forced to hold things back any longer.

“I’m emptying everything!” he shouts, hitting wildly at the confirmation switch.

Coolant, venting.

Hoseok yells back a reply, pushing his arm up further as he tries to keep the Kaiju off, their Jaeger slamming into glass.

Otachi shrieks, sends a shot of Kaiju blue they barely manage to dodge. It melts the world it touches behind them: the unreinforced glass, the metal skeleton of the skyscraper, the office chairs, the papers.  

Yoongi reaches out to grab its tongue while its mouth is still open, pulling out with a rush of anger he didn’t know he’d previously possessed. It’s not easy, tearing into the muscle, but he thinks about the way Hoseok’s arm aches in the gleam of his drivesuit and clenches his jaw to soldier through.  He swallows back a noise when it closes in, beady eyes staring right through the conn pod as if it knows all of his past.

The Kaiju jerks against him, mouth flowering like Yamarashi’s, and while Yoongi knows that no two Kaiju are identical, they’re so similar that it’s easy to imagine doing this to him too, screaming raw with a child’s cry as he flings the tongue aside. The tear had been messy, spilling blood everywhere, but he doesn’t care what it feels like, as long as it hurts. 

Then it surges at their Jaeger before they have time to recover, arms spread wide as it topples them over, talons digging into the sparking line of Guardian’s spinal cord. It sits back on its heels and snaps open a pair of wings with a howl. 

The vertical bodies become bullets in the bluelight.

Altitude, critical. Jaeger not equipped for travel beyond 10,000 feet above sea level.

“Guardian, you’re losing oxygen fast,” Jungkook bursts in, sounding like he’s been running circles around LOCCENT. The rain lashes through the audio. “You need to get yourself down now, or you’re not going to make it out of this one alive.”

“We know,” Hoseok says, pressing frantically at his control screen. The stats aren’t good, bars dropping fast with every second that passes. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“Guardian!” Jungkook yells. 

“We fucking hear you, LOCCENT,” he yells back, balling a fist against something on his harness. “We’re trying here- there aren’t many options left.”

12,000 meters. 14,500 meters. 16,300 meters.

Oxygen levels: critical. Immediate descent necessary. 

“Our plasma cannon’s gone,” he says, arms careening wild as they try to shake themselves off. “There’s no ammo left. We’ve go no weapons good for close combat usage.” 

Something tightens in Yoongi’s chest.

“No,” he finds himself saying, voice overpowering Hoseok’s.

It’s so easy. So, so easy. Just a button to press and then: 

Sword, ready for deployment.

“Confirm it,” he snaps, his left arm already shooting out in anticipation for the ricochet of loose metal. It’s a harrowing moment before the weapon solidifies, the blade a master of two ton steel and titanium core. Yoongi can feel the gears lock into place, see the way its ridges would gleam brilliant under the moonlight.

The weight of it is familiar. His parents. His brother. His friends. The rubble of his home and hometown, Daegu shattered to pieces as the old Mark-1’s had been stuck in transit, arriving too late but to save the child who’d never made it to an underground shelter.

He hefts the weapon into his hands and eyes the span of Otachi’s wings, nose flaring with the guilt and the pain.  His mouth hangs open as he struggles to swallow past the marble that’s lived in his throat since he was eight.

Hoseok doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t need to. He knows everything Yoongi needs him to know, and he is here to hold him through the flame, the fire.

“Guardian!” it is Jungkook again.

Yoongi curls his left hand into a fist. He stares at the Kaiju through the glass of the conn pod, the monster looking right back at him, as if it already knows. He rears the blade back. It is heavy, but the lives are heavier. Guilt is heavier, and he has been carrying that burden for seventeen years now. 

“This,” he says, and the words echo around the chamber with the hurt, “Is for my family.”

Yoongi spears Otachi clean through the chest: again. again, distantly aware of the fact that he’s crying, tears pooling uncomfortably at the bottom of his helmet.

The noise rushes fast in his ears, and whether it’s a product of the freefall or the adrenaline, Yoongi doesn’t know - he doesn’t particularly care.

The Kaiju breaks to three pieces around them, monster and man plummeting to the ocean floor, blood blowing past both their limbs as Guardian eagle spreads out in an attempt to slow down.

Altitude loss: critical. Immediate stabilization necessary.

“Uh, guys,” Jungkook says, fingers flying over the keyboard.

“Again, dude, we know,” Hoseok says, a little bit panicked. “We’re in the Jaeger, LOCCENT. No need for you to tell we we’re- too fast, too fast.”

Approaching 9,000 meters. Immediate stabilization necessary.

Fuck. Guardian, listen to me,” Jimin says, shoving Jungkook aside roughly. He grabs onto the microphone, his free hand splayed out on the cold counter of the console. “You need a continuous burst from that chest reactor and then to calibrate with your Jaeger’s gyroscopes.”

“We what now?” Yoongi yells.

“This is the only thing that’s been calculated to get you back here in one piece,” he grits out, “And unless you’re one of the seven mathematicians I have onsite feeding me their numbers, then I’m sorry, you need to listen to me and do as I say. We can’t lose the two of you at a time like this, especially with Victory Dawn out of commission.” 

“They-?” 

“Drowned,” Jimin confirms grimly, “But that’s not important. We’ll discuss that later.”

Gyroscopes activated.

Yoongi looks at Hoseok. They’ve passed through the cloud cover. Hoseok’s finger hovers above his own monitor, mouth pressed thin.

Chest reactor activated.

Crimson Guardian rights herself with a scream of metal, the water still approaching at an alarming rate. She’s no longer horizontal, but threatens to topple backwards instead, both her pilots struggling to keep her chest upright. 

“We’re still coming in too fast, LOCCENT,” Hoseok yells, their arms scrabbling for purchase and finding nothing. “Pilots bracing for impact.”

3,000 meters

The metal burns orange in the darkness.

Jungkook watches with bated breath on the deck of the Shatterdome, rainwater and seawater whipping against his face as it blows his hair back off his forehead, radio clutched like a prize egg in his hands.

Jimin stands beside him, tall and lithe, a beacon of stillness in the lashing hail. He, too, has his eyes fixed on the shape of Crimson Guardian stumbling through the sky, dropping like a comet-bullet from the clouds above. The red light of its heart reactor glowing.

“LOCCENT, do you have eyes on us?” Hoseok shouts, Jungkook presses the slats of noise directly to his ear.

Approaching sea level 

Jungkook’s heart leaps in his throat as the Mark-3 crash lands, blowing up a wall of ocean water in their faces, blinding, misting, obscuring everything except his hand less than a foot in front of Jungkook’s face. His chest is a mass of anxiety, searching deep for any semblance of movement in the ocean beyond.

Jimin brings his binoculars up to his eyes, hardly breathing.

There is nothing. There is nothing. 

“Marshall!” someone yells, slapping him on the shoulder. Jimin turns, looks up into the waiting face of Kim Namjoon.  

His arm is outstretched before him, eyes squinted from beneath the soaked lens of his glasses, the sleeve of his parka dripping with water.

The skyline of Hong Kong settling into view.

The mist dissolves to dust. 

Crimson Guardian emerges into the light, and stands tall in the shadow of her own glory.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

Hoseok and Yoongi leave medical with a crowd screaming their names.

There is something encoded into the thrill of a fight that seems to key up the smiles on their faces, fingers brushing with every step. The drivesuit is a little banged up on the back joints, and Hoseok’s left arm is impossibly sore, but the claustrophobia is gone somehow, just narrowing in on the press of Yoongi by his side.

Then: “Jungkook,” Hoseok says, and rushes to pull him into a hug.

“That was incredible,” Jungkook whispers, drawing back to look Hoseok in the eye. He clutches at his forearms, then at Yoongi, reaching one hand up to brush hair from Yoongi’s face, bangs still damp from their impromptu wade in the ocean. 

The crowd’s volume doubles, and Hoseok bumps shoulders with Yoongi, grin starting to creep up again. Yoongi stares right back at him, trying for impassive, unimpressed, but there’s a faint rush to his cheeks that says he’s not altogether unaffected. The Drift says he’s embarrassed, and Hoseok’s inclined to agree.

“You’re fucking insane,” is all Yoongi says, rolling his eyes as he shoves out of Hoseok’s grip.

They make their way across the bay before stumbling on the a figure in all in black, expression unreadable. 

Jimin. 

“Sir,” Jungkook says, face blanching. Hoseok frowns, since when did Jungkook address him by rank? Sixteen years as friends doesn’t often constitute to formality.

“Jungkook,” Jimin says, settling into his legs, arms clasped in front of him. For once, his ever-present tablet is missing, but the creases under his eyes haven’t yet gone away. 

“Marshall,” Hoseok realizes then, voice a little choked. Park Jimin, a whole goddamn year younger than him and running this freakshow by himself, no one else heading the ship except his own two hands. 

“At ease, Ranger,” Jimin says, looking amused. “There’s no need to go overboard. I’m your commander, not a king.”

“Sir,” he says, climbing awkwardly to his feet. “Uh. Congrats on the promotion.” 

Jimin smiles back at him, shoulders pulling back. 

The look he flashes Hoseok soon after is a private one, just a rind of fear shaking the cornea of his pupils. If it were anybody else, they would not have noticed - the tightening of his lip, the way he blinks, deliberately slow - but Hoseok knows, and he notices. Jungkook knows, and he notices. He lowers his chin in recognition then. It’s belief. Trust. Reassurance.

“Congratulations are in order for you too, don’t forget,” Jimin says, something genuine growing with his smile at the resounding cheers. “You guys piloted well out there. I’m proud.”

They sit in the noise for a golden moment, Jimin holding up a hand to stop the sound after it drags on too long. The grin drops off his face. The wind blows deep against the walls of Guardian’s loading bay.

“But just because we have fought off the Kaiju once more,” he says, turning to address the rest of the crowd. “Does not mean that we have time for a celebration.”

Jungkook straightens beside Hoseok.

“I know we are proud of Crimson Guardian for what they’ve accomplished tonight,” Jimin continues, voice echoing across the chamber, “But we’ve lost both Victory Dawn and her pilots,” the cymbal passes by a low tone of unease, “And our research division has determined the next Kaiju attack to be sooner than we have time to anticipate. So this means that I need all units working in loading docks four and five to repair our remaining two Jaegers for battle. People are counting on us to keep them safe.”

Yoongi’s hand finds its way to Hoseok’s, holding so tight it hurts, but neither of them lets go. Sleeping together later tonight is going to be a mess of limbs and exhaustion from both ends of the Drift.

“I need you two in my office now,” Jimin murmurs, “We have to brief.” 

Hoseok’s breath catches uncomfortably in his throat. 

Jimin looks away.

“Reset that clock,” he says sharply, and watches the crowd of onlookers dissolve into flurry.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“You want to do what?” Yoongi asks, his mouth dropping open.

“We’re going to strap a thermonuclear warhead with enough firepower to wipe out three countries and then some onto Oracle’s back and send her through,” Jimin repeats, expression mild as he looks up from his papers to Yoongi’s face, full of anger and indignation.

“Sir, with all due respect,” Hoseok says, leaning forward in his chair, “We’ve hit that thing with just as much before. Nothing goes through. What makes you think it’s going to work this time around?”

“I have my reasons,” he replies, and his tone is dismissing. It’s clear the conversation is long over before any of their questions have been answered. “And that’s all you need to know.” 

“Jimin-”

“I just need the two of you ready,” he cuts off, holding a hand up to stop whatever else Yoongi is about to say. “Is that going to be a problem, Rangers?” 

He’s always been somewhat of a cold shoulder when it comes down to it; he wouldn’t have risen so far up the chain of command otherwise. The way he’s controlled, holds himself with easy poise. His anger is a frozen thing, eyes cutting when he tosses his gaze between both pilots.

“I repeat, is that going to be a problem, Rangers?” he asks, voice sharp.

“No, sir,” the two of them mumble, rising to their feet.

Yoongi sways with the movement, and Hoseok catches his elbow to keep him steady. Once upon a time, Jimin would beat hasty to help, but he buries himself back in his papers now, hardly sparing them a glance as they file out the door.

“I don’t like this,” Yoongi murmurs, pitched low as they wind through the hallways.

“I don’t either,” Hoseok sighs, glancing back at the door behind them.

It hurts, getting locked out. It hurts more to know that this will be the end: no matter which side of the victory they stand on.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

When they kiss that night, it feels too much like goodbye.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

Hoseok puts Yoongi to sleep and sits awake at the desk, the lamplight the only thing that glows in the darkness of their quarters.

He pulls out a pencil from one of the drawers, and touches it to paper pulled from a Shatterdome no longer in commission. The last time he’d been here, it was Seokjin in the bed, the two of them exhausted from training with Jimin, giggling as they made their way through the shower and into sleepwear, eyes slipping shut as they kissed in the dark. 

It is similar, but not the same, Hoseok thinks as he applies his pencil to paper, starting out on the line of Yoongi’s bare shoulders, the blanket slipping low to the milk-skin of his arm.

I’m going to keep you safe, he promises quietly, shading in the curve of Yoongi’s eyelashes. Whatever it takes, Yoongi, I’ll do it. I swear.

When he finally stirs, the room has been emptied, save for the mess of papers on the table, the shape of his whole life sprawled out in fading graphite. Yoongi’s shoes, his hair, his laugh, his lips. 

Yamarashi recreated in the same painstaking detail as Hoseok had drawn out Seokjin’s death, Mutavore’s teeth ripping into the flesh of their Jaeger. Triptych Rose sinking into the ocean like a shipwreck in the dark. He sees himself: past, present, and future, the strange enigma of his own existence.

Yoongi is already hissing with soreness. His eyes catch. They blur. Hoseok has done him well in these, at least, done him truthful in a way he hasn’t met in years, no matter how long he’s stared at himself in the mirror.

It’s only when he’s reaching over to pick up his shoes does he notice the paper that Hoseok’s crumpled into a ball, missing the waste bin entirely. It’s fairly nondescript and Yoongi knows it could be nothing of real value, but his fingers still shake as he makes quick work of it, presses a shaking hand to his lips when it falls open like nightflower beneath the moon. 

Hoseok had drawn the way Yoongi had fallen in love.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

The Kaijus: they call.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“When you Drift with someone, you feel like there’s nothing to talk about,” Hoseok says, eyes fixed on Yoongi, unblinking even as the tears spill over his lashes, cheeks, and chin. They’re standing next to the harness of Crimson Guardian’s conn pod, biting the inside of their cheeks.

Yoongi nods, understanding. He doesn’t need to touch for Hoseok to know that he’s there, the Drift bridging the gap between their lips easy, easy.

“I just hope the things I never said,” Hoseok struggles around a gasp. His heart aches. “That you- I don’t regret anything, that-”

“I know,” Yoongi murmurs. His expression is more tender than anything he’s ever worn before, staring down the glow of Hoseok in the funeral march, the casket already armed. “It’s okay.” 

Hoseok’s mouth trembles pitifully, eyes closing up around the tears, scrubbing the material of his gloves against his skin to absorb the wet.

“I’ve never really thought about the future either,” he chokes out, feeling like his throat has been made of lead. “Until now.”

Pilots, please prepare for loading.

The two of them climb into their harnesses, buckling the straps in, tugging on the restraints to check their hold. Yoongi takes a couple steps, swings his arms side to side, testing the range of motion after repairs. 

“But I never did have very good timing,” Hoseok admits, turning his head to look at Yoongi. He holds the gaze, and it would be uncomfortable for anyone else but the two of them. This is the moment he takes to consider Yoongi, consider him quietly and wonder why he ever fell in love.

Yoongi stares right back at him: in through the soul.

“Okay,” he says softly, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Simply understanding. 

“Okay,” he says softly, too.

Hoseok looks. He knows.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“LOCCENT, we’re in,” Yoongi says after the drop. 

Crimson Guardian flanks Oracle Hunter, both their arms wading through the water as headlights flicker on.

“Got you loud and clear, Guardian,” Jungkook says, speeding between keyboards, “Oracle, how we doing?”

“Systems functioning at full capacity,” Luna replies, curt.

The two Jaegers are making slow procession through the sea, a struggle to push through the sheer pressure of water caving down above them.

“Visibility’s zero,” Yoongi says. He flicks a button on his console. “We’re switching over to manual instruments.”

“Keep at eye out for those Kaijus,” Jungkook warns.

Visibility’s zero,” Yoongi grits out again, “We have all lights on, but we can’t fucking see anything, LOCCENT.” 

“We’ll just head straight for the Breach then,” Luna cuts in, shaking her head. “We can deal with them when we get there, but there’s not much else we can do right now.”

“Eyes on the prize, Oracle,” Yoongi grins, “Jung and I’ll cover you two.”

“Sweet,” she says, the light of their Jaeger spilling side to side as they survey surroundings.  

The two slip down even lower, closing in on the Breach.  

“Two thousand ’til target detonation,” Yoongi says.

Hoseok flashes their shoulder lights at full capacity for a moment. Still nothing. There’s no reply from the Shatterdome’s end.

“Hello? LOCCENT?” Yoongi asks impatiently, “You reading us?”

“Yeah, sorry, sorry,” Jungkook replies, sounding harried and breathless, “We’re reading you and two Kaijus,” the pit of Yoongi’s stomach drops. “Guardian, careful on your three ‘o clock- six. Eight. Twelve, fuck it’s moving too quick for me to pin; this is fastest one on record.” 

A tail whips around in the water below their knees, the calves of their Jaeger.

“Keep up boys,” Amber says, “We need to deliver that payload.”

They push forward. 

The ocean is formidable when it wishes to be, hiding every sign of Kaiju except the ripple of water, the air bubbles, the tides. Yoongi refuses to let down his guard in the dark, fingers tensing with every movement that brushes past their Jaeger. 

“Eight hundred until drop.”

They keep moving, inching towards the red light that cracks open from the skin of the Earth.

“Rangers, the Kaijus are stopping,” Jungkook cuts in, “Why are the hell are they stopping?”  

“LOCCENT, I don't know,” Luna replies, shouldering forward, “And I really don’t give a damn as to why right now; we’ve got six hundred until drop, and we are delivering this fucking payload if it’s the last thing we do.”

“They’re circling you, Oracle,” Jimin cuts in, severe, “Watch it.”

“It’s like they’re waiting for something,” Yoongi murmurs, still a step behind the other Jaeger.

“Park's right, we don’t have time for theorizing,” Jimin cuts in, “Just get in and out of there as soon as you can. We can deal with the Kaijus later.”

The doors to LOCCENT burst open with a yell, Taehyung pushing past workers on his way in. His hair is a mess and his clothes are half-melted with Kaiju blue, shoes splattered with mud. Namjoon is not far behind, sprinting as fast as he can with a leg out of commission and a cane that catches on the webbing of the floor. 

“Move, move, move,” Taehyung screams, knocking people over in his mad rush to Jungkook’s desk, “Get out of fucking the way!” he shoves at Jimin to clear out space for two, grabbing onto the stem of the microphone as Namjoon struggles to his side, their shoulders pressed together.

“It’s not going to work!” is the first thing he yells into the pickup, scrabbling for words. “Guys you need to stop, you guys are not gonna be able to get through that Breach like that.” 

“What?” Yoongi yells back, the water starting to churn faster, heating up as he eyes the temperature readings on the stats screen. “Then how’re we supposed to do this?”

Jungkook’s computers start whirring again, coming back to life.

“The reason why they're are able to get through is because the Breach reads their DNA as they pass through back to their world,” Taehyung says frantically, words clustered together. “So you’re gonna have to fool it into thinking that you’re a Kaiju before you can get in.”

“It’s like a machine at the supermarket,” Namjoon picks up, “They have to scan the barcode before it lets you leave the store- the bomb’s just going to bounce back and blow all four of your pretty faces off if you don’t.”

“And how’re we supposed to get away with that?” Luna shouts, inching in closer to their target, face lighting up in oranges and reds as Oracle Hunter nears the fault line. 

“You’ll need to take a Kaiju with you,” Namjoon says, “And then detonate the payload once you’ve gone through to their side.”  

Jimin pushes him aside with a glare, yanking the microphone in his direction again.

“Now you’ve heard that,” he says, “You still need to get through the Breach as soon as possible-”

Seismic activity, detected

“The fuck,” Jungkook says, chair flying out behind him as he scrambles to the nearest console, printer spitting out graphs.

Guardian stops moving, head twisting back and forth as Hoseok guides the shoulder lights forward.

“We still can’t see anything,” Hoseok says, harried, annoyed - moreso at the circumstances of the situation itself rather than the people involved. “Guys, you need to give us more than just “activity in the Breach” because we’re running completely blind here.”

“Two hundred until drop,” Amber says sharply. Oracle Hunter’s already toeing the line before the fall. They stand in the enormity of the ocean, the water crushing in on them like an overfilled snowglobe, lit up by the lights of another world. 

“No,” Namjoon says, peering through the lenses of his glasses at the readings that blink up from Jungkook’s holographs. “Oh my god.”

“What’s going on, LOCCENT?” Yoongi grits out angrily, “Stop playing vague, you guys. We need intel, and we need it fast.”

“Readings are indicating there’s another life force emerging from the Breach,” Jimin says.

Jungkook tears off the graph, wraps it around his neck like a scarf. He sticks an arm through his projection of the ocean floor, the little glowing dots of Jaegers and Kaijus sitting like chess pieces at his mercy.  

He reaches into the hologram with both hands and enlarges everything, zooming in on two Jaegers and a new light.

“Kaiju signature, rising,” he reads aloud, looking up at back at the trio clustered by his desk. 

The Breach groans, shifting to give leeway to the mass of swirl that threatens to erupt from its depths. Oracle takes a step back and sinks into a lunge, raising their arms in preparation for attack. 

“It’s a triple event,” Jungkook breathes, hardly daring to believe. “Namjoon’s predictions were right.”

His fingers are a blur over his desktop: the screens, the instruments.

“We have size stats yet?” Luna asks, eyeing the mass rising from the ocean deep. It’s still hard to tell, the crown of its head having barely risen.

“Yeah, one sec,” Jungkook grunts, reaching lengthwise across the console to flick switches, free hand still working the keyboard. The holograph shifts, ripples, and enlarges. Jungkook sits up in his chair to work the readings. Text scrolls by fast, but he catches it - the seismic counter, previous data, preliminary information that the PPDC’s managed to perfect over the years of the war.

Guardian shifts to the defensive, the Kaiju’s stilling, but not completely still. Their tracking system is more or less functioning, but everybody’s been running blind since their descent into choppy waters.

“LOCCENT,” Amber grits out, voice rough. “We need you.” 

The shape of the Kaiju begins at the eyes, the nonexistent nose, the chin.

“It’s a Category five,” Jungkook breathes, sitting back in his chair as he stares up at Jimin, eyes closing with grief.

Jimin stares right back. Then he leans down, hesitating in the slightest.

“It’s a CAT-5,” he rasps, “The first ever.”

Slattern pulls itself completely from the Breach, landing on all fours with a snarl. 

Guardian, she sees too.

“Oracle, we’re coming to your aid,” Hoseok says, pushing their Jaeger forward, “Stay where you are, try and keep it occupied while-”

Scunner slams into their side.

“Shit, this CAT-4’s fucking insane,” Yoongi yells, the world blurring by as they’re tossed bodily against the cliff face, head spinning.

Plasma cannon, loading. 

Hoseok aims for the side of Scunner’s head, taking him apart, piece by piece. It swallows the blows and dodges the rest. The hits they do get in aren’t fatal, and Yoongi grunts, failing with the punches. The Kaiju closes in on them, looming overhead as Guardian struggles to both legs, arms held strong. Yoongi’s about to go in for more, but Scunner cuts him off faster than anything he’s ever fought in his entire life and latches onto the Jaeger’s bicep. 

Its teeth sink into the shoulder joint as Hoseok screams with the pain, head knocking back against the harness as the Kaiju pulls, tears. Rips.

“Hoseok!” Yoongi yells, trying for a hit, desperate to dislodge the Kaiju before-

Scunner rends off their right arm completely and spits it aside.

There are no secrets in the Drift.

“Fuck,” he says feelingly, struggling to keep up the pace. “Yoongi, get your head out of your ass, I’ll be fine.”

The Kaiju howls at them, rushing forward for more.

Yoongi raises his arm and slams the blunt end of Guardian’s fist into the fleshy part of his cheek. He cuts into him, so fucking angry, knowing that Hoseok’s forehead is beading with the pain, teeth gritted as he pushes forward to match Yoongi stride for stride. 

“Get the hell outta here,” Yoongi growls, slamming his elbow into Scunner’s jaw. It doesn’t do much but make the Kaiju roar in response, teeth bared as it drops out of reach, tail lashing against their legs.

It’s so fast, Hoseok thinks faintly, eyes darting from screen to windshield to Yoongi.

They spin a full 360 to check for movement, but the canyon swallows up light, even with the Breach glowing six hundred meters away.

“LOCCENT, you see anything?” Hoseok shouts, trying to move his fingers. “This thing’s just completely dropped from our visuals.”

“He’s headed off somewhere else,” Jungkook replies, “You guys are in the clear, but that thing's so fast you need to keep your guards up.”

“Our guards have been up since yesterday,” Yoongi hisses at him, flexing his fingers.

Guardian stands in the midst of the battlefield, yet cannot find the enemy.

Then: “Six ‘o clock!” Jungkook yells out, so sudden. 

They turn, fast but not fast enough, as Scunner barrels into them again, this time aiming for their knee, Hoseok biting through the pain with a barely-contained noise, as his leg goes limp. His calf explodes in red, Yoongi choking on the aftertaste of blood when Hoseok doubles over.

“Sword,” Hoseok chokes out, “Kill it while it’s still occupied- Yoongi!

Sword, ready for deployment.

His hands seem to know what they’re doing before his head even registers the fact that the blade has finished calibrating. Yoongi raises his arm and brings it down with an inhuman noise, the sound wrenched from his throat as Guardian stumbles.  They try to shake the Kaiju off, but its teeth are clawed firmly into the meat of their Jaeger’s thigh.

“Guardian, you need to work fast or you’re not going to be able to walk soon,” Jungkook warns, flicking his wrist as he draws up diagnostics of their Jaeger.

“I’m fucking aware of that, thank you,” Hoseok yells back, neck straining against the pain as Yoongi curves down into its bones.

He cuts low into Scunner and finally peels it away, coughing out blue into the seawater. He sinks the blade straight through the Kaiju’s ribcage, again and again and again, enough so when it goes limp, he keeps going, lips curled back. The neon curls up softly into the dark, but Yoongi pays it no mind, saving it no pity because he knows a ll they're good for are hurting: his parents, his town, Namjoon, Hoseok, the people he’s sworn to protect.  He’s done with being powerless. He’s taking back the goddamn crown.

“Yoongi,” Hoseok says, snapping him from the dizzy. His voice is calm, unwavering. He knows. There are no secrets in the Drift. “We need to go. Oracle’s waiting for us.”

Yoongi blinks the haze out of his eyes. He pulls the sword from Scunner’s waiting corpse. 

“LOCCENT, we have the Kaiju carcass,” Hoseok yells, somehow turning their Jaeger around with Yoongi still rattling about his own head. “We’re heading to them to help deliver the payload.”

The pawn of Guardian is slow moving when it limps towards the fissure.

Jungkook leans forward in his chair, Jimin following him in haste. The two peer into the holograph, mouths moving with the readings. 

“Both Kaijus, converging on Oracle fast,” Jungkook spits out, fingers white knuckled against the tabletop. 

Raiju and Slattern circle overhead, ignoring their Jaeger completely.

“Guys, we’re coming to your aid,” Yoongi yells, willing their dragging leg to move faster. They’re using his sword as a cane, leaning on it for support as they dig through the sand and mud and dirt on the bottom of the ocean floor.

“Stay the fuck back, you two,” Luna shouts, voice raw. “Get as far away from us-”

“We can still make it in time-”

“Listen to me!” she screams, desperate, “You get the hell away from the Breach while you still can. You’re the only Jaeger that can finish the job.”

Taehyung’s head jerks, “What is she saying?” he asks, frantic. “What are they doing?”

“Fucking listen to me!” Amber cuts in now, eyes so big as Oracle’s head turns, trying to keep track of both Kaijus in their line of sight. “You know exactly what you have to do; Guardian’s nuclear. You need to take her to the Breach-”

“Hoseok, please,” Luna begs, her finger already hovering. “Take Yoongi back with you. You’re the chance we have at winning this fucking war.” 

Hoseok swallows, sets his jaw.  

Jimin lowers his eyes. Two Jaegers at once; he’s the one who commanded their death sentence.

“Oracle Hunter, we hear you loud and clear,” he says, voice defeated. 

There are no maybes when it comes to war. He had forgotten, and it will cost him more than his own life. His hand falls from the switch he’d been pressing two fingers against.

“LOCCENT, Crimson Guardian is changing directions and heading for the Breach.”

He looks at Yoongi, trying not to cry.

“Now.”

“What’s going on?” Taehyung demands, caught on the way Jungkook and Jimin both sink back into their own weight, Jungkook’s nostrils flaring as he chokes on his own throat. “Guys, what are they talking about?”

“They’re riding Guardian through,” he says, starting to unravel.

Detonation in thirty seconds. 

“Oracle’s blowing their payload to buy them time.”

“No.” 

“Five hundred meters until drop,” Hoseok says, voice rough.

Guardian limps heavily, dragging Scunner’s death behind them, the weight of the Kaiju awful behind them. The Breach lights up the line of their vision, still steaming, blowing air into from beneath in streamers of sunset yellow. 

Jimin breathes in, teeth shaking, chest shaking.

Detonation in fifteen seconds.  

“Four hundred meters until drop.”

The blinking dots of both Raiju and Slattern circle in tighter, tighter, closing in like a hurricane on the unwavering statue of Oracle Hunter and both her pilots. She is a pillar in the gloom, head high as Amber hovers a hand above the deploy button. The package is armed and nuclear in nature, but it still needs both pilots’ manual confirmation before the whole thing goes up in firework.

“Three hundred meters until drop.”

Detonation in ten seconds.

Guardian has skirted away, choking on the bile, Hoseok turning back in futile attempt to catch a glimpse of Oracle before they leave. 

Jimin closes his eyes. His hands close into a fist on the table, head lowered in respect. Agony. Grief. 

Detonation in five seconds.

“Rangers,” he rasps, “Thank you.”

Four. Three.

“It has been an honor serving with you.”

Two.

“No,” they say, smiling at each other across the conn pod, “It was all ours, Marshall.”

One.

Guardian closes her eyes and drops to a lunge as they brace for impact.

Oracle Hunter stands tall in the dark.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

It’s been a while since Hoseok’s wondered if it was worth doing all of this.

The first time was when he’d been in a hospital bed, strapped down at the arms and legs and chest, screaming until he coughed up blood, straining against the leather. He hadn’t been gagged, but it was probably a close thing: his grief has always been a bright and explosive and hurt as much as it felt.

He’d felt so small back then, like the whole world was rushing in too fast to stop.

Since Seokjin’s death, his life had shattered apart in sixteen points, and the rest of the world didn’t do much to help. The fingers were pointed, the blame was shifted, and suddenly the enemy of a Kaiju attack was nowhere near as great as Jung Hoseok, the Ranger who’d ejected early from battle and left his copilot to die. Alone. His name had been cast aside, even past what the PPDC had put out there.

The greatest regret of his life was not being able to save Seokjin. He wonders dimly, distantly, if it will be the same with Yoongi. The two great forces of his life, pulling him apart at the seams.

Hoseok hadn’t made any public statements, but Jimin did what he could to salvage the pieces.

Crimson Guardian limps along the ocean floor, the enormous cavity of the Breach finally laid bare.

“LOCCENT, we’re heading in,” Hoseok says, breathing hard. Yoongi is a steady presence by his side, easing the pressure some when it comes to sharing the neural load.

He said he’d keep Yoongi safe. He’d promised, and he doesn’t intend to break it, even when Slattern crashes into view, howling as it drags itself across their field of vision. How it didn’t burn to pieces with Oracle, Hoseok doesn’t know, but it doesn’t matter - there is a monster between him and the future, and he will not let a Kaiju stop him now.

Rear jets, activated

“Keep that sword out!” he warns, flying headfirst into the chaos of Slattern’s stomach.

The two of them slam into each other with enough momentum to send them well over the lip of the Breach, hanging above the swarm until it sucks them in like Earth mother. 

The Kaiju shrieks, its tails wrapping tight around Guardian’s waist as it pummels at the spine of the Jaeger. Yoongi swings his arm forward and slides the sword through the ridge of Slattern’s spine, driving in deeper, deeper, holding back the buck and riot of its attempts to get away.

Reactor core, activated

Something sparks painfully in Yoongi's suit, and he jerks with the shock.

The Kaiju screams with the pain. Yoongi pulls him close, pulls the heart of a machine and the heart of a monster together. It’s almost like melding in the Drift, both veins beating at the same pace, up until Slattern convulses and goes limp. The weight of a Category five is enough to send them all the way through to a world of hazy blue.

“Yoongi’s oxygen is down,” Jungkook says. He rushes between computers, holographs, chair scuttling across the floor.

“Can you reroute it manually?” Namjoon asks, hardly breathing. 

“I can try,” he replies, head jerking unsteadily to one side, mouth thin. 

Oxygen levels: critical. Left hemisphere at 15%

His arm falls, the action so slow against the loss of gravity, Guardian mirroring his descent. Yoongi's  breathing is loud, labored, face illuminated by the lights of his helmet and it is otherworldly.

Oxygen levels: critical. Left hemisphere at 10%

Immediate evacuation necessary.

Hoseok promised Yoongi anything. Anything. He reaches down slow, like he’s moving through honey, limbs hardly working as he struggles to undo his oxygen cord. He attaches his pack to Yoongi with painstaking speed, listening to the snap-click of its connection. 

“Hey,” he whispers, and it is so tender. One of Hoseok’s hands rests against the curve of Yoongi’s helmet, still polished and gleaming into the red lights of the conn pod.

“He’s giving him his oxygen,” Jungkook says, hushed.

He cannot meet anyone else’s eyes.

“I can take it from here, okay?” he murmurs, letting his hand slide heavy down the length of Yoongi’s arm, desperate for closeness, even now. “Don’t worry about me, Yoongi; all I gotta do is,” he swallows, looking down at the world beneath their feet. The fear is in the foreign, but more fear is in the, “Fall.” 

Hoseok has always been afraid of heights. From birth, in death, every moment in between. He’s always stood away from the ledge, skipped out on rollercoasters, the mountain climbing. He’d even closed his eyes on the way down when Yoongi’d cut them from Otachi’s grip.

“But I won’t be scared this time, I promise,” he says firmly, reaching out to undo everyone of the clasps on Yoongi’s harness. He stretches to activate the escape pod. “‘Cause I don’t need anyone to hold me up anymore, and I’ll-,” he croaks, voice cracking, “I’ll be able to take care of myself now, don’t worry." 

His hand bangs clumsily against Yoongi’s helmet as he watches him floats up into the waiting arms of his evac. The bottom slides in secure, all the locks clicking.

“They’ve deployed one of the pods,” Jungkook says, gripping onto his computer screen, arm shaking.

“Detonation?” 

“Not yet.”

Hoseok waits until the red lights go white and blue, watches as Yoongi’s waiting soul is shot up into the wilting lily of a Kaiju world.

Hoseok scrubs the liquid off the faceplate of his helmet and calls into Jungkook’s speakers.

“LOCCENT, do you still read me?” he asks, voice warbling a little with the dissonance. “I’m going to start reactor meltdown now.”

Manual override required.

Crimson Guardian is screaming at him to get out, get out now, the seawater pouring in like raindrops through the roof. The sky is bright, even when the Heavens are crying.

“Please just watch out for Yoongi when he comes up,” is the last thing he says as he makes quick work of the release mechanisms. “And tell him,” he swallows, blinking past the tears. “Tell him that he can always find me- in the Drift.”

The connection is patchy when he’s gone so far down, and Jungkook’s yelling something in his ear, but Hoseok’s low on oxygen and he’s tired and the service is terrible, really, someone needs to make improvements, and he can’t quite find the energy to decipher what he’s saying, sorry, man, gotta do what you gotta do. 

The Jaeger shifts, falling horizontal now, as it plummets through the skies. Guardian is a steeping tea leaf, somehow delicate in its indelicacy, floating unevenly to the ground.

Hoseok falls on his face the moment he takes a step. The conn pod rocks with every vibration, his helmet smacking against gears and levers. He scrabbles for purchase as he crawls across the floor of the cockpit. Reaching a hand out, he barely manages to latch onto the handle of the control panel, pulling down as he waits for it to clang to a stop, fingers are fumbling when he grasps onto the knob for self-destruct, gloves slipping against smooth metal.

Core meltdown in 60

“Core meltdown,” he heaves, flopping over onto his back. “Initiated.”

Hoseok considers lying there for a moment, just closing his eyes and thinking of the way things used to be when he was a kid. When there were no Kaijus, no Jaegers. How it was just his two feet on solid ground and the birds up in the big blue.

He thinks of Yoongi and his eyes, Seokjin’s smile, how he no longer sees them in double vision, but each standing within the glass cages of their own selves. How Hoseok stopped defining himself by copilot, but rather Ranger instead, distantly satisfied with the knowledge of it.

He never did have very good timing, after all.

Hoseok heaves himself to his elbows, then his knees, then crashing back into his harness like a drunk man, vision going blurry with the lack of air. 

He wipes again at the glass of his helmet, hoping it’ll help him see better as he locks himself back into place, his arm shaking as he activates his escape pod.

Core meltdown in 30

His Jaeger takes him up into the casket. He closes his eyes and breathes in deep, searching out for Yoongi’s presence and wills his heart to settle into the same rhythm. He reaches out into the Drift and pulls Yoongi close, tucking him up in the space next to his heart. He nestles into Hoseok's ribcage like he was always meant to be there. Since the beginning, the birth, the growth.

Core meltdown in 20

Hoseok’s evac pod is ejected out into the water.

The flotation bags inflate, and it careens him around unsteadily, though still upwards towards the Breach.

He’s dizzy, struggling to breathe, but he manages to catch sight of his Jaeger as she falls, one arm spread by her side, both legs opened out past the joints of her hips. Hoseok feels his throat close up at the sight, so beautiful - the bright. So brilliant, her heart going up in flames as he rushes away, casting slow blinks to the pastel of the Kaiju world. 

Core meltdown in 10

Fall. Break. Fly.

Hoseok closes his eyes and lets the birds take him back to the skies. 

-one.  

He is unconscious by the time Crimson Guardian goes up in the brilliance of a thousand suns.

 

⏁⏀⏂

 

“We have location on one pod,” Jungkook says, looking back at Jimin expectantly. “Vitals signs are good. Yoongi’s still breathing in there.”

The trackers jitter wildly as they search the rest of the ocean for another.

“Send the choppers now,” Jimin says, slamming a palm across the Shatterdome mic. “Now, now, now!”

The sound of footsteps, ringing onto the helipad.

The cap of Yoongi’s evac pops off with a hiss, and he jerks awake, disoriented. His head hurts a little, the seawater and sunshine filtering in uncomfortably after hours in the dark.  

The memories of Hoseok come rushing back to his head so fast he knocks his chin into the way his pod opens to let him sit up, drivesuit dripping with condensation. His breath is coming fast and uneven, ragged to his own ears even above the surf.

He stands, staring out into the ocean as fear swells in his chest.

When he’d Drifted with Hoseok for the first time, he’d gotten a touch of the fear that’d he’d gone through the minute Triptych had sunk under the waves with only Seokjin in the conn pod, shouldering the neural load alone. Yoongi had understood the pain before, just the guilt, the knowledge that what he’d gone through with Namjoon and Onibaba had been barely scratching the surface of a hard truth.

Yoongi knew but he didn’t know.

“Hoseok,” he calls, scanning the waves, the water. There is something so empty with the realization he might not have made it out of that one alive, and Yoongi hadn’t even been there to  fight with him at the end.

「 "Together, or not at all,” Yoongi had said, clasping Hoseok’s hand fierce across the conn pod, the two of them still waiting for orders to suit up. Hoseok was the only one. The first one, the last one.

He’d gotten a smile back, coaxed so brilliant from his lips that Yoongi felt like the sun was rising somewhere low in his heart. It hurt away the ache like that as he stared down at his copilot with his ribs thudding hard against the shell of his drivesuit. 

“Together or not at all,” Hoseok had repeated, jerking his head down into a nod-

“I’m not gonna let you fall,” Yoongi murmured, pulled in close to share Hoseok’s warmth-

Hoseok was never very interested in sex, even after missions. Yoongi always tucked him up into his arms, kissing his cheeks, his nose, his lips. It was always very soft, and very tender. He did it reluctantly at first, but lovingly at- 

I’m going to keep you safe, Hoseok promised quietly, shading in the curve of Yoongi’s eyelashes. Whatever it takes, Yoongi, I’ll do it. I swear- 

“I love you,” Hoseok had burst out one day, when it was just the two of them in the Kwoon, having ended a sparring match-

“Be careful with him,” Jimin warned, pulling Yoongi aside after a drop with Hoseok, expression ice and glass when he glares at him. “You weren’t around when Seokjin died, but he won’t survive another heartbreak, Min Yoongi, you hear me?”

“Loud and clear,” he swallowed, eyes dropping low-

“Yoongi, I’ve got you- I. I got you, I’m,” Hoseok stuttered, pulling him out of the Drift, out of Yamarashi’s lips.

He’d let his eyes fall shut with a sob, curling into the warmth of Hoseok’s arms-

(There are no secrets in the Drift)

“Just watch out for Yoongi when he comes up,” is the last thing Hoseok said as he made quick work of the release mechanisms. “And tell him,” he swallowed, blinked past the tears. “Tell him that he can always find me-”

“So what’s your fucking problem?” he asked, and slammed the door shut behind him. He didn’t understand why Hoseok would have refused a partnership like that because their sparring was faultless until he’d doubled over at the end- 

“It’s beautiful,” he whispered against Hoseok’s skin, kissing delicately along the scar that branded his throat ugly-

“Not you,” Hoseok murmured, sighed it out so quiet he wondered if he even heard it in the first place. He turned his head to press a kiss to the top of Yoongi’s head, the mess of his dark hair. “Never you-”

“You are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven-”」

(There are no secrets in the Drift)

“I’ve got coordinates on the second pod,” Jungkook says, but his shoulders are still tense as his head lowers slightly, almost in defeat. “But I’m not getting any vitals signs.”

The sound of something rising to the surface jerks Yoongi around, his eyes darting to the noise. His heart throws itself up his throat the minute he realizes it’s Hoseok’s evac.

He kicks his helmet aside and dives easily into the water, uncaring that the drivesuit is dragging him down. He swims to Hoseok’s side, gasping for air when he comes up above the waves. His hair is dripping, and he’s pretty sure his fatigues are completely soaked, but he doesn’t care. Fuck, he doesn’t care.

He scrambles to sit on top of the pod, the mount of the metal.

Yoongi tears his gloves off with his hand and tosses them aside. His fingers scratch at the handle of the glass until the latch catches and it bursts off, floating demurely twenty-some feet away.

Hoseok, his still lips, his bleeding skin. His eyes are soft in his slumber, and Yoongi rushes in, trying to fit as close as he can with the pod in his way. 

He fits two shaking fingers under Hoseok’s jaw, eyes wet as he breathes through the sobbing.

“I can’t find his pulse,” he chokes out, both hands moving to cup Hoseok’s jaw, desperate for anything. “I don’t think he’s- breathing.”

Jimin lets out a shaking exhale, pressing one hand tight to his mouth as he muffles the noise that leaves his lips.

Jungkook looks away, looks back, leans into the mic.

“Yoongi, listen,” he says, ribboning his voice with steel and slender, “It could be that the sensors aren’t working. You’re in a lot of shock right now, so just wait it out until the choppers arrive, and we’ll get him checked out by medical.”

“But he’s not breathing,” Yoongi sobs, wrapping both arms around Hoseok’s shoulders and pulling.  

Where he gets the strength he does not know, but he crushes Hoseok’s limp chest to his, one arm cradling the back of his neck, hair impossibly soft even after the trauma. He is so close to Hoseok, but not close enough - the bond tightening them into each other like an overstretched elastic.

Jungkook’s still saying something in his ear, but Yoongi can’t hear, the whole world filled with static.

“Don’t go,” he pleads, voice so small. So, so small. “Hoseok, please don’t go.”

The wind whips across their island in the ocean, driving up seafoam against their bodies, the evac pod. 

Yoongi is aware he’s crying hard, the tears staining the side of Hoseok’s head with wet, the orange tendrils of his hair.

“Don’t go,” he wails again, feeling the carcass of his heart split open beneath the touch of skin to skin.

(There are no secrets in the Drift) 

“They're on their way, Yoongi, just hold on a little longer,” Jungkook promises, still busy at his console, tracking numbers and signatures with deadly precision. “ETA is two minutes.” 

The sky is impossibly blue overhead. Blue and cloudless for miles and miles, all that he can see.

Please,” Yoongi begs, so broken, not even sure what he’s asking for anymore.

The skies are blue and they are cloudless and the sun is beaming bright down on their two backs, but there are no birds; there is no song.

(There are no secrets in the Drift) 

“Come home to me.”

And the choppers: they fly in overhead.