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 Jungkook has just never liked talking, and Jimin tells him that’s just fine.

  “You don’t owe anyone anything, petal,” he says, ruffling Jungkook’s hair fondly. “Except maybe me. You know, for taking care of you for so long.”

 Jungkook snorts and signs to him, It’s not like you had a choice.

 Jimin, affronted, leans back in his chair. “Oh please,” he says, and his tone makes Jungkook chuckle. “I did have a choice. It was either ‘let the kid waste away on the streets’ or ‘take him in and give him a life.’”

 Jungkook rolls his eyes. I could have taken care of myself, he signs.

  “That might be true,” Jimin says, putting his elbows on the table. “But would you ever have had as much fun with anyone else than you have with me?” He bats his eyelashes and tilts his head to one side, his black hair falling over his eyes a bit. Jungkook shakes his head after a moment of thought and Jimin smiles brightly. “Of course you wouldn’t,” he says. “Because I’m the best hyung you’ve ever had.”

 Jungkook nods with a close-lipped smile.

  “Now are you done eating?” Jimin goes on before checking his watch. “It’s nearly midnight. We’ve gotta get going.”

 Jungkook nods again, pushing his nearly empty plate into the center of the table. It was Jimin’s turn to buy breakfast this evening, and Jungkook had made sure to get his fill of hashbrowns. They leave the small diner together, Jimin glancing up at the night sky, slightly orange from the city, and musing out loud about when they’re going to be able to see the stars again.

  “There’s so much light pollution here,” he’s saying as they step onto the 11:51 bus, making their way to the back of the vehicle. Jungkook takes the window seat, as always, Jimin slipping in beside him. “I can’t remember the last time I saw the stars. Aren’t we supposed to be a green planet these days?” Jungkook listens to Jimin carefully, nodding as his friend goes on. “We’ve put men into space for decades and we can’t cut down on electricity to actually see where we’re sending them?” Jimin crosses his arms, huffing. Jungkook tries to hide a smile—Jimin is cute when he’s disgruntled.

Maybe we can move out of the city soon, Jungkook says as the bus roars to life once more. We’ll see the stars in the dark.

 Jimin hums. “If we ever get off of cleaning duty,” he replies with some poison.

 It’s a bit crazy, as per usual, when they get to the lab. They stand in line with all of the other workers to clock in, Jimin nodding and waving to a few of them that he’s befriended over the years. They all give Jungkook the same standoffish looks they’ve been giving him since he started there, and it doesn’t bother him anymore. He doesn’t talk, and if that sets him apart from everyone else, so be it. He really only needs Jimin anyway; that’s how it’s always been.

 Working the night shift is actually a lot more enjoyable than one might think, for Jungkook at least. It’s relatively quiet once he clocks in and not very stressful, and sometimes he’s cleaned everything he can clean and he loses himself walking through the halls, dragging his fingertips along the walls painted with galaxies and stars and planets. Outer space is something that Jungkook has always been fascinated with, longed to know more about. He’d hoped getting a job at a lab specified in study of space would help him get closer, but it hadn’t gone the way he planned. A facilities worker doesn’t often see much of space, even in a place such as this one. The closest he’s gotten so far has been satellite photos and even bits and pieces of asteroids. That’s just fine for him, for now.

 Tonight, he’s humming, mopping the floor of the research level. Jimin is a little ways down the hall, singing his own quiet tune, and Jungkook smiles to himself. It’s not a bad life, he thinks. He tells Jimin that when they meet in the middle of the hallway, and the other man pinches Jungkook’s cheek before placing a kiss there.

  “You see the world in ways I wish I could, petal,” he says, and Jungkook wipes his cheek with the back of his hand, though he secretly loves it when Jimin dotes on him like that.

 The sun rises and they go home, hopping onto the 8:34 bus back to their side of town. As the bus rumbles along, Jungkook presses his face against the glass of the window and sees the moon, still bright in the sky despite the light of the sun. He watches it for a while and wonders if the moon watches him back.

 When they make it back to their apartment, their neighbor, Seokjin, is seated in the courtyard, legs crossed at the knee and scribbling in a small notebook. Jimin calls out a greeting and when the other man looks up, Jungkook waves. Seokjin is a handsome man, despite how dull his eyes can be at times, and when he smiles, Jungkook feels happy.

  “My favorite pair,” he says, closing his notebook as they approach. “Just got off work?”

 Jimin nods and Jungkook slides onto the bench next to Seokjin.

What are you writing? he signs to the older man, leaning in close, and Seokjin holds his notebook to his chest.

  “None of your business just yet,” he says, pressing a finger into Jungkook’s cheek to push his face away.

  “Are you writing about Taehyung?” Jimin teases, and Jungkook giggles when Seokjin’s face burns bright red. Taehyung is a barista at a café down the street from their apartment complex and the sole target of Seokjin’s affections for close to a year now. Jungkook often accompanies Seokjin to the café for coffee and croissants and tries very hard to keep a straight face when the older man inevitably makes a fool of himself when Taehyung even comes near.

  “I said, none of your business,” Seokjin bites back to Jimin, standing and shoving his notebook into his back pocket. Jimin arches an eyebrow at him and Jungkook gets to his feet, patting Seokjin’s shoulder gently.

Will you let me read it when you’re done? he asks, and Seokjin curls an arm around Jungkook’s shoulders to squeeze him a little.

  “Maybe,” he replies. “If you quit bugging me about it.”

 Jimin announces that he’s going to take a bath, and Jungkook responds with I’ll stay with hyung. They watch Jimin go and Seokjin nudges Jungkook with his elbow.

  “Hungry?” he asks. “I could use some French fries.”

So early in the morning? Jungkook signs, skeptical, but Seokjin rolls his eyes.

  “It’s never too early for French fries, Jungkookie.”

 Jungkook nods, enthused either way, and says he’ll pay.

  “Nonsense,” Seokjin replies, starting to make his way to the sidewalk. “You can buy coffee after, though.”

 Jungkook follows after him with an accusatory look, one that Seokjin ignores as they make their way down the street towards the food district.

 Seokjin orders them a huge plate of chili fries at a burger joint that Jungkook isn’t prepared for, but as soon as he eats one, he can’t stop. With his mouth full, he signs, I’ll eat these till I die, to which Seokjin responds with, “Please don’t.”

 They leave three French fries on the plate and Jungkook dares the other man to eat them. Seokjin threatens to throw up on him and Jungkook says it would be worth it. They each take one more fry and split the last one. Miraculously, neither of them puke, and as they make their way out of the restaurant, Jungkook says he’s not sure he can even stomach coffee at this point.

  “It’ll help with your digestion,” Seokjin says as they approach the familiar café.

I think that’s a myth, Jungkook replies, and Seokjin scoffs when they push through the front doors. The smell of coffee and fresh bread fills Jungkook’s nose, and he somehow feels a little less full than he did a moment before. None other than Taehyung greets them as Seokjin steps up first to the register.

  “G’morning, hyung,” he says, eyes bright. He sends a polite nod Jungkook’s way and Jungkook smiles. Taehyung is a little on the quiet side but he has a blinding smile and a contagious laugh. He’s always got one long silver earring hanging off of one lobe, his other decorated with studs and hoops. He talks to Jungkook even though he doesn’t understand sign language, and Jungkook thinks if things were a little different, he and Taehyung would be very good friends.

  “Good morning,” Seokjin says, and Jungkook recognizes the other man’s tone, the one he uses only while talking to Taehyung. “Jungkook is paying so give me the most expensive thing on the menu.”

 Taehyung chuckles while Jungkook lands a playful strike to Seokjin’s shoulder.

  “Okay, ow, I’m kidding,” Seokjin whines, glaring at Jungkook sideways. “Give us two lattes please, an extra shot in mine. Good?” He directs the last word to Jungkook, who nods and pulls out his wallet, sliding a few bills to Taehyung over the counter.

  “Nothing to eat?” Taehyung asks glancing past Seokjin to make eye contact with Jungkook. They both shake their heads furiously, Seokjin grabbing his stomach with a hand.

  “Not today,” he says, and Jungkook makes the sign for death. “We barely defeated some chili fries before this. Any more food might result in death.”

 Taehyung looks amused as he hands Jungkook back his change and tells them their coffees will be out soon. He gives a particularly bright smile to Seokjin, who thanks the younger boy before promptly tripping over his own feet trying to leave the register. Jungkook grabs him by the elbow and leads him away. When they finally sit down at their usual two-person table at the back of the café, Jungkook can see how red Seokjin’s ears are. He points it out and Seokjin purses his lips and tells Jungkook to mind his own business.

He smiled at you, Jungkook says, smirking a bit. Real big.

 Seokjin continues to blush, pulling his notebook and pen out of his back pocket to scribble something onto one of the pages. Jungkook frowns, leaning forward a little bit to try and peek at the page. Seokjin flicks him on the forehead with his pen.

  “You’re too nosy for your own good, Jeon Jungkook,” the older man scolds, and Jungkook rubs the spot on his forehead that Seokjin had hit him. “Patience.”

 Taehyung arrives soon with their coffees and Jungkook notes the small cookie placed on the saucer that holds Seokjin’s mug. It’s shaped like a heart with red icing, and Seokjin only notices it when Taehyung has walked away. He picks up the cookie tenderly, glancing over his shoulder to look for Taehyung, but the younger man has already made it back to the register, talking to another customer.

That’s romantic, Jungkook signs.

 Seokjin grins, mostly to himself.

When are you going to ask him out on a date? Jungkook prods after taking a sip of his coffee.

 Seokjin doesn’t answer immediately but stares at the cookie a little longer, dragging his finger through the icing and bringing it to his mouth.

  “He might turn me down,” he says quietly, and Jungkook rolls his eyes.

He gave you a heart-shaped cookie, he signs. It’s obvious he likes you.

 Seokjin chews on a fingernail, his nervous habit, and Jungkook reaches over to pull his hand down.

  “It’s been a long time since I’ve dated, Jungkookie,” he says. “Hyung is a little out of practice.”

 Jungkook takes another sip of his coffee, raising his eyebrows over the rim of the mug.

  “Don’t look at me like that,” Seokjin goes on. “It’s easier said than done.” He examines the cookie one more time before taking a bite of it and sighing.

Is it good? Jungkook asks, and Seokjin nods.

  “Of course it is,” he replies. He finishes it in another bite and washes it down with a gulp of coffee.

 They don’t stay in the café long. Their coffee mugs are empty soon, and Jungkook starts to feel his long night catching up to him. He stifles a yawn before telling Seokjin he’s ready to go. They leave their mugs on the table and head toward the front door. Taehyung waves after them, and Seokjin nearly runs into the glass door when he lifts a hand to wave back. The barista seems to find it cute, his expression fond as they exit. Jungkook sends a wink to Taehyung over his shoulder, and the other man laughs.

 When they make it back to their apartment complex, Seokjin tells him to get some rest, and Jungkook assures him that he will. They go their separate ways, Seokjin only one door down from Jungkook’s shared apartment with Jimin. When Jungkook steps through the door, he’s immediately greeted with the sound of someone snoring. He walks into the apartment a little farther to find Jimin curled up on the couch, the TV on but muted. He’s covered by a blanket, one Jungkook had bought him last year for Christmas, and his hair is still a bit damp from his bath.

 Jungkook turns the TV off and Jimin doesn’t budge at the change. He brushes some of Jimin’s hair back with a gentle hand, and his best friend stirs but doesn’t wake, curls a little tighter under his blanket. Jungkook knows he should sleep as well, at least for a little while; he’s learned that not sleeping enough makes his job more difficult, despite working nights at the lab for a few years now.

 He goes to his room to take off his shoes and change into pajama bottoms. When he makes it back into the living room, he settles himself between the back of the couch and Jimin’s body. He has to squeeze a little but he’s soon comfortable, nose pressed into Jimin’s nape.

  “Hmph, Kook,” Jimin slurs, shifting under his blanket. “You’re too big for this anymore.”

 Jungkook doesn’t respond, only scoots closer against Jimin’s back, fitting his knees into the back of Jimin’s. The other man doesn’t protest any further, sighing deep and heavy before settling back into sleep. Jungkook smiles to himself. He is, in fact, too big for this these days, but sue him for wanting human contact with someone important to him. He knows Jimin likes it, too. They have their separate rooms, separate beds, even, but sometimes, it’s nice to wake up touching someone.

 At nearly three in the morning in the dead of summer, the scientists bring in something new.

 Jungkook is halfway through cleaning one of the large experiment rooms when the automatic door hums and slides open. An older man Jungkook doesn’t recognize steps through the door, followed by Jungkook’s round, anxious boss, Mr. Lee. The man that came in first is tall and broad, maybe as much so as Seokjin, with a sharp jaw and even sharper eyes. When Jungkook makes eye contact with him, he gets an uncomfortable feeling in his gut.

  “Jungkook!” Mr. Lee says, hurrying to Jungkook’s side. He glances almost worriedly at the other man standing in the room before speaking again. “This is Choi Seunghyun, captain of the Taurus spacecraft.”

 Jungkook swallows, giving the captain a bow that he returns. Jungkook remembers when the Taurus went into space early last year; it had been a big deal, especially for their lab, because this was where the spacecraft itself had been built. There had been endless meetings and celebrations here, which had created a lot of extra work for the cleaning crew.

  “The Taurus landed last month,” Mr. Lee goes on. “They brought something back that will be kept here in the lab, in this room.”

 Jungkook nods, watching as Seunghyun leaves the room briefly only to return with a few more unfamiliar men wheeling in what looks to be a giant iron box into the room. Jungkook steps back, pulling the cleaning cart he’d brought along with him, as the men position the box in the center of the room. Mr. Lee had walked to Seunghyun’s side, assuring him that this was the best and safest place to house their cargo, for now. As Jungkook examines the box a little closer, one of the men that had come in with the rest of the group, dressed a little differently than the others in a white lab coat, steps up beside him.

  “Look but don’t touch,” he whispers with a small grin, and identical dimples press into each side of his face. Jungkook only nods in response, taking a step back but continuing to look at the box with curiosity. He wishes briefly that Jimin was here to see this, too.

  “You want to open it now?” Jungkook hears Mr. Lee exclaim. He looks over to see Seunghyun looking back at Mr. Lee with a calm smile.

  “No worries about it hurting anyone, Mr. Lee,” he says, and the captain’s voice is deep, almost sultry. “It’s a little drugged at the moment.”

 Jungkook’s mind momentarily short-circuits. The Taurus had brought back something alive from outer space? An alien? Why was it here?

 He’s pulled out of his mind by Mr. Lee calling his name. “Go on and find somewhere else to work, Jungkook,” he’s saying, taking Jungkook by the shoulder and trying to push him through the door. “This isn’t necessarily for civilian eyes.”

  “Let him stay,” Seunghyun’s voice sounds from across the room, echoing a little in the high ceilings. Jungkook looks towards the captain and sees he’s got a huge hand on one side of the iron box and he pats it once. “Let’s show him exactly what kind of alien we brought back from space, hm?”

 Jungkook can hear Mr. Lee gulp, and he feels some fear of his own as Seunghyun pulls something out of his back pocket that is shaped like a phone. When he taps the iron surface beneath his hand with it twice, one of the walls of the box falls open like a door. Jungkook braces himself as it swings to the side, and he hears Mr. Lee draw in a sharp breath when they have a clear view of what’s behind the door.

 If Jungkook didn’t know any better, he’d say it was a man; a man with shining black hair, a short, curved nose, and eyes that slant downward, making him look inherently solemn. He’s got clothes on but they hang off of his bony frame—they’re too big for him. He sits on the floor of the box, leaning back against one wall, eyes hooded and cloudy, but not closed. Jungkook blinks a few times, taking him in, and their gazes meet. The alien tilts his head, just slightly, and Jungkook mirrors him, fascinated. The alien blinks, too, slowly, and Jungkook swears that one corner of his mouth lifts up into a smile. Jungkook chews on his bottom lip so that he won’t smile back.

  “It’s been on Earth for a month and four days,” Seunghyun begins, stepping forward to begin pacing back and forth in front of the open door. “It’s already picked up Korean and speaks it like a native.” He pauses, throwing a glare in the alien’s direction. The alien seems to stiffen, mouth turning downward in a sour frown. “When it speaks.”

 Jungkook is still looking at him, taking him in: pale, smooth skin, unblemished; long-fingered hands, settled in his lap; the slightest glimmer in his dark, distant gaze. This is something—someone—from far away. Jungkook yearns to speak to him.

  “We pulled it from Jupiter’s smallest moon,” Seunghyun goes on, resuming his pacing. “It fought back but it was alone. With half a dozen men, we could get it onto the Taurus.

 The alien is watching Seunghyun walk and Jungkook sees hostility mixed with fear in his eyes. He wonders if they hurt him when they took him away.

 “It has an experiment number assigned to it for paperwork and official business, but Dr. Kim here suggested we give it a name,” the captain says with some sarcasm, motioning to the man with the dimples that had spoken to Jungkook before. Dr. Kim gives Seunghyun a nod, though he seems unimpressed by the other man’s tone.

  “Integrating him into our social society could be an important step in learning from him,” Dr. Kim says, stepping forward with his hands behind his back. “Treating him as an equal with value might do us more good than we think.” He makes brief eye contact with Jungkook and his eyes are soft; Jungkook trusts him, without doubt. “His name is Min Yoongi.”

 Jungkook turns the name over in his head, glancing back over at the alien—at Yoongi—again. He seems more at ease with the scientist in control of the conversation, but his eyes are still unfocused. Jungkook recalls Seunghyun saying he’s drugged, and Jungkook feels sympathy.

  “We don’t know too much about him yet besides the fact that he’s incredibly intelligent,” Dr. Kim continues. “Like Captain Choi said, Yoongi has picked up Korean in less than two months’ time and speaks like you and I do.” He pauses to glance at Yoongi, still slumped back against one of the walls of the iron box. “His emotions, expressions, and mannerisms are overwhelmingly human, but his heart rate is nearly twice that of a human male, and he doesn’t seem to need food to thrive. Though, he does have an affinity for grilled lamb.”

 That makes Jungkook smile, and Yoongi seems to catch it. His dark eyebrows, stark against his pale skin, raise just a little and his mouth curves again. Jungkook doesn’t let his smile die until Seunghyun steps forward again, sharp jaw clenched in a gesture of annoyance.

  “It’ll be housed here until we decide what to do with it,” the captain says sternly, shoulders square. “We might experiment on it, we might hook it up to a few machines, we might dissect it.”

 Jungkook’s heart falls in his chest and Mr. Lee sputters beside him.

 “You mean kill it?” he asks. “Why would you do that?”

 “To pull apart its brain, Mr. Lee,” Seunghyun replies matter-of-factly. “To see how it works. How it’s made.”

 Dr. Kim’s eyebrows have pulled together in an expression of displeasure, though he doesn’t say a word. Jungkook, for the first time in a while, wishes he had something to say. He lets his gaze flicker to Yoongi again, and he finds the alien looking at him, studying him. His eyes have focused a little more, aren’t as foggy as they were before, and Jungkook sees everything in them. Seunghyun is still talking but Jungkook tunes it out as he continues to look at Yoongi. He aches to speak.

 A stern call of his name jerks him back to reality, and he tears his gaze from Yoongi, straightening a little when he realizes it’s the captain speaking to him.

  “You seem intrigued,” Seunghyun says, his voice not unlike a purr. “What do you think?”

 Jungkook swallows and bites his tongue.

  “He… won’t reply, sir,” Mr. Lee says. “He’s not much of a talker.”

 Seunghyun tilts his head and narrows his eyes. “Interesting,” he says, and Jungkook is hit again with a feeling of deep discomfort with Seunghyun’s eyes on him. He feels as if he’s being hunted. “Well, I think it’s time everyone gets back to work so we can get Yoongi settled here.”

 Jungkook dips his head and feels Mr. Lee pushing him towards the door. He manages to glance back at Yoongi one last time, and the alien’s gaze is locked on him, watching him go with an expression that is so human—one of longing.

  “An alien?” Jimin spits.

 Jungkook nods, hands working quickly as he tells his friend about everything that happened that morning in the experiment room. But he looks human, he signs, his mind flashing with images of Yoongi seated in his iron box, with jet-black hair and eyes that said things Jungkook wishes he could articulate. Just like you and me.

 Jimin shifts where he sits on their couch, his feet pulled under him. “And he came back with Captain Choi?”

 Jungkook nods again. Jimin scoffs.

  “I was hoping that fucker would die in space,” he mutters. Jungkook nudges him, as if scolding, and Jimin rolls his eyes. “Oh come on, Kook, drop your sense of humanity for a minute.”

 Jungkook quirks an eyebrow to which Jimin responds with pursed lips.

  “So?” he goes on. “Did he talk?”

 Jungkook shakes his head. Apparently he’s picked up Korean, he explains. He’s intelligent. Incredibly so. He wrings his hands in his lap after he’s done, unable to shake the memory of Yoongi from his mind.

  “What are they going to do with him?” Jimin asks. “Does the government know about this? This is huge.

 Jungkook shrugs. They might test on him. They might dissect him. He feels cold goosebumps rising on his arms at the thought.

  “Dissect?” Jimin echoes with some disgust. “Meaning kill him?”

 Jungkook nods solemnly.

  “Why on earth would they do that?” Jimin continues, disgruntled. “We’ve been searching for life on other planets for decades and they want to kill the only thing we’ve ever brought back?” He runs a hand through his hair. “It’s times like this I wish I’d become a scientist.”

 Jungkook remembers Dr. Kim, with his kind eyes and soft speech. There’s someone that came with them that is… nice, he tells Jimin. A scientist. Dr. Kim. He’s gentle. Not like the captain.

 Jimin nods. “So you think Dr. Kim doesn’t want to dissect this thing?” he asks.

 Jungkook shakes his head. He’s good, he replies. He even gave the alien a name.

 The other man’s eyebrows shoot up. “A name?” he says with a tilt of his head. “And what would it be?”

 Jungkook spells it out with his hands and likes the way his fingers curl around the letters.

  “Min Yoongi, huh?” Jimin says out loud. “It has a ring to it.”

 They’re quiet for another moment before Jimin sighs and crosses his arms. He’s looking at Jungkook with an expression he recognizes; it’s the face Jimin gives him when he’s about to warn him.

  “You can’t get in the middle of this, Kook,” Jimin says. “I know you and I know how you feel about this already, I can see it in your face.”

 Jungkook raises a hand but Jimin pushes it down.

  “Don’t interrupt me,” he scolds. Jungkook pouts.

  “There’s nothing we can do about what happens to this-this Yoongi, as much as your sweet, sweet heart wishes there was,” Jimin goes on, his eyebrows pulled together in worry. “We’re the cleaning crew, petal. Not the justice league.”

 Jungkook leans back against the couch cushions, his mind racing. Jimin does have a point—they mean nothing to any of this situation. They’re just the help. But Jungkook can’t stop thinking about how Yoongi had looked, tired and lost and sad. It’s not fair. He tells Jimin as much, and his best friend sighs.

  “I know it’s not,” he replies, lifting a hand to Jungkook’s head to brush through his hair. “Not much is.”

 Jungkook spends the majority of the day in his room, curled up in his bed and looking at pictures on his phone of Yoongi’s home, Jupiter’s smallest moon: Europa.

 That evening at work, Jungkook hovers around the experiment room he knows Yoongi is housed in. He’s cleaning the floor in the hallway for the third time when Jimin walks by, on his way somewhere in a hurry. He catches sight of Jungkook, grabs him by the shoulder and looks him in the eye before glancing over at the automatic door of the experiment room nearby.

  “Stay out of trouble,” he mutters.

 Jungkook wrinkles his nose and sticks out his tongue at Jimin, who responds with a roll of his eyes and a rough pat to Jungkook’s cheek. He continues on his way, looking over his shoulder warningly as he goes. Jungkook waits until the other man has disappeared around the corner before shuffling a bit closer to the experiment room door and studying the keypad. There’s a red light flashing in the top right corner of the small screen, meaning the room is locked from the inside. Someone’s in there. Jungkook looks down the hall one way and then the other before leaning forward to press his ear against the door.

 He knows the door is thick and he doesn’t expect to hear much as he holds his breath and closes his eyes. He’s surprised to hear the muffled sound of someone shouting through the metal. It’s a familiar voice—Jungkook never forgets a voice—and he soon assigns it to Captain Choi; deep, rigid, angry, on edge. Jungkook presses his ear tighter against the door, straining to listen. He can’t make out any words but Seunghyun’s voice is displeased, as if demanding something. Jungkook’s mind quickly jumps to Yoongi, and if he’s the one Seunghyun is yelling at. Something like anxiety builds in his chest and has to fight himself from pounding a fist on the door.

 Then, so suddenly that it makes Jungkook jump, a scream erupts from behind the metal, one of terror and pain. He nearly bites his tongue as it startles him, and he barely has time to step back before the motor on the door is humming and it’s flying open, Seunghyun stumbling out. Jungkook is horrified to see the captain clutching a hand to his chest, the white dress shirt he’s wearing blooming with dark red blood. His face is twisted into an expression of anger mixed with discomfort, and he barely makes it a few feet through the door before collapsing to the ground. A man Jungkook doesn’t recognize follows Seunghyun out, face pale and eyes wide.

  “Go get help, boy,” he says, and Jungkook is frozen because he sees Yoongi over the man’s shoulder, chained to a chair in the center of the experiment room, blood smeared and dripping over his lips and down his chin. The alien has his teeth bared, but when Jungkook’s gaze meets his, the aggression drops, and the split second before the other man is urging Jungkook with a shout to go find someone to help them, Yoongi’s dark eyes seem to apologize. The man turns quickly and smashes his hand into the keypad by the door and it closes swiftly. Jungkook wants to stay, wants to understand, but he steps back and breaks into a run down the hall.

 Half an hour later, Jimin has a protective hand around Jungkook’s wrist, holding it tight as a medical crew straps Seunghyun onto a gurney and wheels him down the hall. The captain was in shock and delirious by the time Jungkook got back with Jimin, Mr. Lee, and a few security guards, one of them on the phone with emergency dispatch. He kept mumbling about Yoongi, about how he was going to kill him, even trying to get back into the room, and Jimin had to take Jungkook by the arm so he wouldn’t make a move to block the door.

 When the captain and emergency crew are finally out of sight, Jungkook tears his wrist from Jimin’s grasp and crosses his arms. Jimin makes a show of elbowing Jungkook in the side, disgruntled, and before Jungkook can turn around to flash Jimin a rude hand gesture, Mr. Lee is calling both of their names.

  “Go get your supplies,” he’s saying when Jungkook looks over at him. “You’ve got a mess to clean up before sunrise.”

 Jimin looks ready to protest, but they both know better. A few minutes later, they’re hauling their cleaning carts down the hall, making their way back to where Mr. Lee is standing anxiously at the experiment room door. Their boss is glancing at Seunghyun’s blood on the floor as if it might come to life.

  “Right,” Mr. Lee says when they come to a stop in front of him. He takes a deep breath in. “Just… do your jobs and get out of there.”

 Jungkook can hear Jimin swallow thickly. “What about the alien, sir?” he asks, and Mr. Lee winces.

  “Ignore it,” he says. “Do your jobs. Get out.” With that, he turns sharply to enter a code into the keypad by the door. It slides open with a hum, and without another word, Mr. Lee hurries away, the clicking of the soles of his shoes bouncing off the walls.

 Jimin heaves a sigh, lifting his gaze to the open door. Jungkook steps forward without pause, but his friend raises an arm to stop him.

  “Me first,” he says, voice steady, and Jungkook rolls his eyes but lets him go.

 The shorter man steps over the blood pooled right outside the door and makes sure the wheels of his cart don’t drag through it as he pulls it behind him. Jungkook follows with the same caution, not wanting to make a bigger mess. When he finally steps through the door, he’s rendered motionless again by the sight of Yoongi still chained to the chair, the blood on his skin dried dark maroon, some of it staining the oversized shirt that still hangs off his body. Jimin says something but Jungkook tunes it out.

 Yoongi is staring back at him with the same intensity, his eyes shining despite the caution clear on his face. The air between them feels thick, curious, and Jungkook once again has the overwhelming urge to speak, something he hasn’t felt since… the last time he spoke, which he can’t remember.

  “Jungkook.”

 He thinks that’s Jimin saying it, his name, but he knows Jimin’s voice better than he knows anyone’s and that’s not it. This voice is deep, lilted, and the vowels are round in a way that Jimin doesn’t pronounce his. It takes him less than a second to register that Yoongi’s mouth is moving, the blood dried on his lips cracking a little, and Jungkook’s grip on his cart is so tight, it hurts his hand.

  “That’s your name?”

 Jungkook nods automatically in response, despite the rapid pace of his heart and the goosebumps rising along every inch of his skin.

 Jimin is speaking again but Jungkook lifts a hand to quiet him.

  “It’s good to see you up close,” Yoongi says, his words curved and soft like velvet. He smiles and it’s slow, gentle. “I know you’re different from everyone else here.”

 Jungkook tilts his head to one side, watching Yoongi watch him.

  “You don’t speak, do you?”

 Jungkook shakes his head in response.

  “But how do people know what you want to say?” Yoongi asks. His smile falters a little, innocently.

 Jungkook is frozen for another moment before lifting his hands up in front of him, turning them palm up, then palm down.

  “He uses his hands,” Jimin says, his voice sharp. “And me.”

 Yoongi tears his gaze from Jungkook to look at Jimin, who’s still standing a little ways away, one hand gripped tight around a mop handle. He’s scrutinizing Yoongi heavily, and Jungkook almost wants to tell him to stop being so rude.

  “You speak for him?” Yoongi asks, his tone one of pure curiosity.

  “I understand everything he says with his hands,” Jimin replies. “I translate, roughly.”

 Yoongi hums in acknowledgement and it’s so human. He looks back at Jungkook again and his smile reappears, small but tender all the same.

  “Looks like you’re here to clean up after me,” he says, his eyes flickering to the blood smeared all over the floor is front of him. “Sorry about the mess.”

It’s okay, Jungkook signs. Whatever you did, the captain deserved it.

 Yoongi watches his hands with interest, maybe fascination. He shoots a glance at Jimin, who sighs begrudgingly.

  “He said it’s okay,” Jimin tells Yoongi, pulling his mop from the water to start scrubbing at the blood near his feet. “Said whatever you did, the captain deserved it.”

 Yoongi laughs then, and it’s musical, and Jungkook feels his chest swell with warmth. He likes that sound.

  “That guy’s a bastard,” Yoongi says, and Jungkook nods slightly with amusement, still rooted where he stands. “I’d kill him given the chance—”

 He’s cut off by the sound of the experiment room door humming open again and Dr. Kim strides in, his eyebrows knitted together and mouth set in a deep frown.

  “What the fuck did you do?” Dr. Kim hisses at Yoongi, stepping through the blood on the floor to come to a stop in front of the alien. Yoongi opens his mouth to speak but Dr. Kim doesn’t let him reply. “I told you to behave! Do you want to survive here?”

 Yoongi closes his mouth, jaw clenched.

  “Do you?” Dr. Kim presses, and Yoongi nods once, curtly. “Then you can’t go around biting the fingers off of people, especially people like Captain Choi. He wants you in pieces on a lab table, Yoongi.” The scientist’s voice is thick with anxiety. “You can’t do shit like this.”

 Yoongi shifts uncomfortably where he’s still chained to the chair, arms tight to his sides and ankles shackled to the chair legs. His eyes have fallen a little, focused on something past Dr. Kim’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “Not to the captain. To you.”

 Jungkook has to smile at the specification. He glances at Jimin, who is suddenly very focused on the exact spot Dr. Kim is now standing.

  “It’s not okay yet,” Dr. Kim replies, stern. He turns his attention to Jimin and Jungkook. “And you two? You’re involved in this as well?”

 Jungkook shakes his head quickly and Jimin puts his mop into the bucket of water he’d brought along, the liquid turning a light rust color from the blood. He gives the scientist an up and down before speaking.

  “We’re just cleaning up the mess,” he says, giving Yoongi a pointed look. “We’re not even supposed to be talking to him.”

I haven’t said a word, Jungkook points out with a smirk. Technically. Jimin huffs with a roll of his eyes and pulls out a vulgar hand motion Jungkook actually regrets teaching him.

  “What did he say?” Yoongi asks suddenly, glancing from Jimin to Jungkook and back again.

 Jimin furrows his eyebrows before speaking. “He said he technically hasn’t spoken to you,” he tells the alien. “Then I told him to go fuck himself.”

 Yoongi grins, looking amused. Jungkook finds the sight of the alien smiling with dried blood on his pale skin a comedic juxtaposition.

 Dr. Kim turns to Jimin and seems to be fighting a smile. “Thank you for your help,” he says, bowing politely to Jimin and then Jungkook. Both return the gesture, Jimin holding eye contact with him a bit longer before the scientist turns back to Yoongi. “I can only save your ass so many times,” he mutters.

 Yoongi looks a bit like a dog who’s just been kicked. Dr. Kim leaves the room, Jimin watching him go. After the door slides shut behind him, Jungkook spends a moment looking at Yoongi before grabbing a clean rag. He dips it in the bucket of clean water near his feet before straightening up. Yoongi eyes him somewhat cautiously as he steps a little closer. Jungkook points to the blood on his face and raises the rag up in front of him.

  “You’re gonna clean me up?” Yoongi asks, half-sarcastic, half-incredulous. “Aren’t you scared I’ll bite your fingers off, too?”

 Jungkook purses his lips before shaking his head. He glances at the rag in his hand before looking Yoongi in the eye one more time, raising an eyebrow.

  “Yeah, fine,” Yoongi says, lifting his chin a little. “Be my guest.”

  “Jungkook—” Jimin starts, but he’s already got one hand under Yoongi’s jaw and is wiping the damp cloth over the blood on his skin.

 Yoongi’s skin feels… well, it feels warm. Pliant, flexible under his hands. Almost human. Jungkook holds Yoongi’s face steady with his thumb and forefinger at his jaw and sweeps the rag gently over his cheeks and chin. He avoids Yoongi’s eyes at first, the proximity making him a little nervous, but soon he can’t help but let his gaze flicker up to Yoongi’s, and he feels his chest tighten. Yoongi blinks, slowly, and Jungkook is suddenly caught up, unable to move, as he always seems to find himself when in the other’s presence.

 He presses his thumb a little farther into the flesh, just until he feels bone. Yoongi clenches his jaw and Jungkook feels it under his touch. He tries to focus on getting the rest of the blood off of Yoongi’s skin, but he’s mesmerized by how perfect it is under the substance, flawless and smooth and pale. Jungkook brings the rag to brush over Yoongi’s lips, where the blood is thickest, cracking where it’s dried, and the way his lips move under the material has Jungkook holding his breath. Yoongi is suddenly more beautiful than anything he has ever seen. Their eyes meet again and he’s pulled in, into Yoongi’s eyes and the galaxies they seem to hold.

 The alien clears his throat and it pulls Jungkook out of his head. He quickly finishes wiping the rest of the blood away, trying to keep his hands from shaking, and steps back, not looking at Yoongi again before putting the dirty rag in an empty bucket on his cart. He starts busying himself with mixing soap and water.

  “What’s your name, then?” Yoongi asks Jimin after some silence.

 Jimin is hesitant when he looks up, and Jungkook glances over his shoulder to give him an encouraging nod.

  “I’m Jimin,” he says, leaning against the wooden mop handle. “Park Jimin. Jungkook is my best friend. My charge, really.” He adds the last statement with a smile.

 Jungkook scoffs as he slips on some rubber gloves and soaks up some of the blood on the floor with damp rags.

  “Do you live together?” Yoongi asks, curious.

  “Yeah, we do,” Jimin replies, wringing his mop out and bringing it to the floor again. “We have, for a long time.”

  “Do you take care of each other?”

 Jimin stops his movements and so does Jungkook, glancing up at the alien from where he’s bent over the ground. Yoongi is innocently looking back at Jimin, waiting for an answer. Jimin holds eye contact with him for a long time, longer than he has the entire time they’ve been speaking, before cracking a smile.

  “Yes,” he says quietly, lifting an arm to wipe some of the sweat away from his forehead. “Yes, Jungkook takes care of me in ways he probably doesn’t know.”

 Jungkook feels himself blush at that, and he leans over the spot he’d been cleaning again to hide the redness that’s likely staining his cheeks.

  “And you take care of him, too?” Yoongi asks further, tilting his head to the side in that curious way that he does.

  “I do,” Jimin replies, his voice fond, quiet. “I would die for him.”

 Jungkook looks up to find Yoongi staring at him from the chair, those dark eyes boring into him in a way that makes him yearn for something he can’t quite place.

  “You’d give your life for him?” Yoongi asks, narrowing his eyes as he looks over at Jimin once more. The other man nods. “Why?”

 Jimin shrugs as if it’s the easiest question in the world, looking at Yoongi with interest and intrigue. “Because he’s the most important person in my life,” he replies without pause. “I couldn’t live without him.”

 Jungkook has heard everything Jimin is saying a million times over, ever since he was fifteen and Jimin held his face in his small hands and told him that he would never leave him alone, that they would always be together, but it’s hitting him in a way he’s never felt before. He swallows, hoping it will fight the overwhelming urge he has to cry, before watching as Yoongi moves his gaze from Jimin back to Jungkook again.

  “And you?” Yoongi asks. “You would do the same for him?”

 Instead of nodding as he usually might, Jungkook leans back on his heels and makes a single, swooping hand motion: Absolutely.

  “He said he would,” Jimin tells Yoongi without a prompt. “Absolutely.”

 Yoongi seems to take a moment to think, breathing in and out deeply.

  “Are you… in love?” he asks at last, hesitantly, and Jungkook suppresses a laugh.

  “No,” Jimin says in response, his expression breaking into one of amusement. “No, Jungkook is my best friend and my adopted brother.” He shakes his head at Yoongi before shooting Jungkook a glance. “Not my lover.”

  “I see,” Yoongi replies thoughtfully, as if filing the information in the back of his brain for later. He looks ready to speak again but Jimin raises a hand.

  “We have to get this cleaned up before sunrise,” he says, glancing at the clock on the wall. “And it’s nearly five. This conversation has been nothing short of riveting, but we’ve gotta get moving.”

 Jungkook nods once, giving Yoongi a playful glance, before turning back to the now bloodstained rags beneath his hands. He thinks he hears Yoongi chuckle, but he doesn’t look up to see if the alien is smiling.

 The floor is soon clean with Jimin and Jungkook’s joined efforts, Yoongi watching them lazily. When the last rag has been wrung out and the mops put away, it’s a little after five-thirty in the morning, and Jungkook can feel the inevitable exhaustion of the night heavy on his shoulders. He runs a hand through his hair, stifling a yawn. He finds his gaze wandering back to Yoongi, who is closely focused on the tapping on his bare feet on the tile floor.

Ask him if he sleeps, Jungkook tells Jimin. His friend pulls a stool from a rickety table near the back of the room and settles on it, a few feet from where Yoongi sits.

  “He wants to know if you sleep,” he tells the alien, who looks up with interest.

  “No,” Yoongi replies, looking at Jungkook. “Closest I’ve ever been to sleep was when I was so drugged I couldn’t do much more than breathe the other day.”

 Jungkook bristles at the memory, remembering how distant and unclear Yoongi’s eyes had been the first time he saw him. He hadn’t liked it, and after seeing them tonight, bright and curious and beautiful, Jungkook hopes he never has to see them any other way again.

  “I imagine it’s nice, though,” Yoongi goes on. “To turn off your brain for a while.”

 Jungkook shrugs, settling to sit on the now clean floor. There’s still dreams, he signs. Those don’t turn off.

  “He said dreams don’t turn off, even when you sleep,” Jimin says without prompt.

 Yoongi considers that before asking, “What do you dream about?” He looks at Jungkook as he speaks, expectant.

 Jungkook thinks, inhaling long and deep.

Sometimes I dream about Jimin-hyung, he says. I dream we do impossible things, like eat fourteen pizzas.

 Jimin chuckles and translates to Yoongi, who smiles widely.

I dreamed once that I followed a whale to outer space, Jungkook recalls. It told me there were amazing things out there.

 When Jimin finishes telling Yoongi that, the alien hums again, that incredibly human mannerism, and nods. “The whale is right,” he says. “There are amazing things in outer space.”

 Jungkook’s heart jumps in his chest. You’ve seen them?

 Yoongi nods as Jimin relays the question. “Some things,” he replies. “Space is infinite, you know.”

 Jungkook scoffs a little, tapping his own temple twice.

  “You know, do you?” Yoongi sneers playfully. Jungkook sees Jimin raise his eyebrows from where he sits on his stool, amused.

 Jungkook nods, pursing his lips to hide the smile threatening to break out.

  “I can tell you about things you couldn’t even dream about, small one,” Yoongi says, almost cooing at him. Jungkook feels himself flushing at the endearing phrase and the way Yoongi’s eyes are crinkling at the corners. He moves his hands slowly, stutters a little, and Jimin looks exasperated when he has to translate.

  “He said he wants to hear about them,” he tells Yoongi.

 The alien sits up a little in the chair, flexing his fists at his sides. “Maybe when I’m a little less tied up,” he says, and Jungkook finds the joke both impressive and hilarious. Yoongi opens his mouth to keep talking but the automatic door of the lab slides open and Mr. Lee is in the doorway, his expression tight.

  “Are you two done here?” he asks sternly with a glance at Yoongi.

 Jungkook and Jimin both hop to their feet, Jimin telling him that yes, they’ve just finished up.

  “Good,” Mr. Lee says. “Clean up by the door and you’re both off early.” Their boss stands stiffly just outside the lab, waiting for them.

 Jungkook glances at Jimin quickly with some excitement—they almost never clock out before eight in the morning, and it’s not even six yet. Jimin nods once, grabbing his cleaning cart and leading the way out of the lab. Jungkook does the same, hesitating only to look at Yoongi one more time.

 The alien’s gaze is fixed on him, calm and steady in Mr. Lee’s presence, but Jungkook can see that familiar longing in his dark eyes. He scrambles for an excuse to stop walking before he kicks his own cart and lets a mop clatter to the ground. He shoots Mr. Lee an apologetic look as he bends down to pick it up. Before he does, he signs in the shadow his body casts onto the tile floor, I’ll come back for you. Yoongi glances at his hands and back to his face again, jaw clenched, eyes round and confused. Jungkook nods minutely, grabbing the mop and settling it back on his cart. Yoongi returns the gesture just as Jungkook turns away.

 That day, Jungkook dreams.

 He dreams that Yoongi takes his hand and leads him into the night sky, past comets and moons, galaxies and planets he’s never seen. He dreams they dance among stardust and through the rays of suns that don’t have names. Yoongi’s eyes reflect everything around them—beauty, light, the unknown. He pulls Jungkook close to his chest and he can hear a heartbeat, but it doesn’t sound like any heartbeat Jungkook has heard; it sounds like music, the pluck of a guitar string or the ringing note of a piano. He looks up into Yoongi’s face and the man—he’s a man, Jungkook knows it—is gazing down at him, looking at him like he’s the only thing in this vast, endless universe.

 Jungkook wakes up slowly, curls around himself in the warmth of his bed, and swears he hears the echo of Yoongi’s musical heart.

How’s Taehyung? Jungkook asks Seokjin one Saturday afternoon. He’s become a master of switching his sleeping schedules over the weekend. In contrast, that’s something Jimin isn’t particularly good at, resulting in just Jungkook at Seokjin’s apartment, on the back porch, watching his friend scribble away on his pocket notebook.

 The older man seems to be fighting a blush at the mention of Taehyung, but Jungkook doesn’t point it out this time. He straightens up a little, closes his notebook and sighs.

 “Fine,” Seokjin says. “I, uh, asked him out last week. We got dinner.”

 Jungkook nearly falls out of his chair at that, turning to face Seokjin completely. Why didn’t you tell me?! he signs furiously.

 “Chill,” the other man laughs, kicking his feet up on the faded plastic table they’re sat around. “It’s just… it was private, okay? I wasn’t gonna keep it from you.” He smiles at Jungkook, arching an eyebrow. “I tell you everything, Kook, just when the time is right.”

 Jungkook huffs, nodding. So? he prods. How was it?

 Seokjin doesn’t fight the smile that breaks on his face, tilting his head up into the sun a little. “It was great,” he says with a breath chuckle. “He’s… he’s lovely, so lovely.”

 Jungkook puts his chin in one hand and waits.

 Seokjin shifts in his chair. “We went to dinner and had some drinks and he asked about my writing,” he says. “He wanted to know what I write about, wants to read some of it someday.”

 Jungkook raises his eyebrows and Seokjin shakes his head.

  “I’m not sure I’ll show him,” he says in response. “I’m a little afraid to, if I’m honest.”

Why? Jungkook asks. Your writing is beautiful.

  “But it’s about him,” Seokjin says. “It’s all about him.” He looks nervous then, starts wringing his hands a little. “What if… he thinks it’s weird?”

 Jungkook sighs, crossing his legs underneath him on his chair. Taehyung adores you, he begins. I can see it in his eyes when he looks at you. They get all bright, like stars. He thinks about the dream he had, about him and Yoongi dancing through galaxies, stepping over supernovas. He’s got stars in his eyes for you, hyung.

Seokjin is blushing profusely now, covers his mouth with a hand.

  “We kissed the other night,” he confesses, and Jungkook can hear the smile from behind his palm. “He kissed me and I thought I was going to pass out.”

 Jungkook reaches out with a hand and grips Seokjin’s shoulder, shaking it and giving him a wide grin.

  “He’s so gorgeous and insightful and-and listens to me so well,” the older man goes on. “He cares so much, about everything.” He looks back up at the sky, and the sunlight makes the apples of his cheeks shine. “About me.”

 Jungkook feels his heart doing somersaults for Seokjin—his friend deserves this. He’s been the only person besides Jimin that has stuck by Jungkook’s side in the past, learned sign language for him, invites him over for dinner and takes him out to eat. Seokjin is likely the most deserving of love out of anyone Jungkook knows.

I’m so happy, Jungkook tells him. I’m happy you went for it, for him.

 Seokjin gives him a sideways glance. “Yeah, I’m happy I did, too,” he replies. “I guess I had myself convinced that I had to wait for some… perfect moment, you know?”

 Jungkook watches as Seokjin opens and closes his notebook, fingering through the pages. He can see flashes of words, smudged lead and scribbled doodles. There’s no perfect moment for love, he says. It comes as it pleases.

 The older man agrees with a hum. “When we least expect it, yeah?” he asks.

 Jungkook nods, looking up at the sky.

 The next time Jungkook sees Yoongi, he’s being sneaky.

 Jimin has always told him that’s his most outstanding trait, being sneaky. As a boy who doesn’t talk, who fades into the background like a chameleon, it’s almost easy for Jungkook to do things that most couldn’t even think of getting away with.

 It’s just past two in the morning when he manages to slip into the lab room where Yoongi is being kept. He’s waiting by the keypad, pretending to polish a certain section of the floor when two of the scientists he’d watched enter earlier leave with lunch bags in their fists. He times it just right; the men are out of view but the door is still open. He leaves his cleaning cart unmanned, not worried about it, and steps through the doorway right before it slides shut.

 He chuckles to himself proudly as he scans the room. It seems empty, only momentarily, until he catches sight of Yoongi in the far corner, leaning against a chair and turning something over in his hands. It’s quiet between them before Jungkook clears his throat. Yoongi tenses and his head snaps up, nearly dropping whatever it is he’s got in his grasp, but he relaxes almost immediately when their gazes meet.

  “Jungkook,” he breathes, and the sound makes Jungkook giddy. “You scared the shit out of me.”

I’m sorry, Jungkook replies automatically, looking at his hand dumbly when he finishes the motion. Without Jimin here, he realizes Yoongi won’t be able to understand a thing he says with his hands.

  “Sorry?” Yoongi asks, placing the object in his hands on a table nearby and making his way towards Jungkook. “That’s what this means?” He imitates Jungkook’s earlier hand movement, a small circle of a fist at his chest.

 Jungkook can’t hold back the smile pulling on his mouth. He nods, making the sign one more time. Yoongi looks intrigued, watching him a little longer, before making eye contact with Jungkook again.

  “It’s okay,” he says. “I just—you know, didn’t expect to see you, of all people.”

 Jungkook shrugs, wishing he could say something witty to make Yoongi smile. He looks up at the ceiling, where fluorescent lights sit and glare down at them like huge white eyes. Yoongi follows his gaze, sighing a little before going to pick up what he’d set down again.

  “Namjoon brought me this book,” he says, flipping through the pages absently. “He wants me to be able to read it.” He holds it up and Jungkook peers at the cover. It’s in English. He realizes belatedly that he doesn’t recognize the name Yoongi spoke, and he tilts his head in question.

  “Why are you looking at me like that?” Yoongi asks with a half-smile.

 Jungkook frowns, taking the book from Yoongi and holding it up with purpose.

  “The book?” Yoongi tries, grimacing.

 Jungkook nods. He shakes it a little bit.

  “Namjoon—”

 Jungkook snaps his fingers.

  “Namjoon?”

 Jungkook nods again.

  “Namjoon,” Yoongi says carefully. “Dr. Kim Namjoon?”

 The full name clicks in his head and he nods slowly, bringing the index finger of his free hand to poke into his own cheek and twist once.

 Yoongi smiles. “Yeah, exactly,” he says, copying Jungkook again. “Dimples. Dr. Kim.”

 Jungkook blinks, a little transfixed, before letting his hand fall back to his side.

  “He’s nice,” Yoongi continues, setting the book down again. “Nicer than the captain.”

 Jungkook agrees with a nod of his head, moving aside as Yoongi takes a few steps farther into the center of the room.

  “He’s probably the only reason I’m still alive.”

 Jungkook raises his eyebrows as he follows Yoongi. They stop together at the end of a long table against a nearby wall, littered with papers and books and handwritten notes. Yoongi shuffles through them without purpose, exhaling slowly.

  “It’s kind of boring here,” he says, looking over his shoulder at Jungkook. “I thought this planet was bustling and teeming with life.”

 Jungkook can only shrug again, settling in a chair at the table and putting his chin in his hands.

  “You’re bored, too?” Yoongi asks him, sitting in the chair opposite him.

 Jungkook nods. He decides that talking to Yoongi, or rather, having Yoongi talk to him, is sort of like being in the presence of a child, one eager to learn and understand.

 They sit in silence for a little while, Jungkook trying to keep himself from staring at Yoongi by counting the number of folders on the table in front of him. He gets to seven before Yoongi speaks again.

  “Why did you come here?” he asks, the words curious and sincere.

 Jungkook looks up to see Yoongi’s eyes boring into him, expectant and pretty. He chews on his bottom lip for a moment before saying, I wanted to see you. It’s easy enough to put together, even for someone who doesn’t understand sign language—he points to his eyes, points at Yoongi. The alien tilts his head to one side, like a puppy trying to learn a new trick, and it makes Jungkook smile.

  “To see me?” he asks, almost surprised.

 Jungkook nods. He tenses and looks over his shoulder when sounds from the lab room next door reach his ears.

 Yoongi eyes him a little longer. “You’re not allowed to be in here, are you?” He pauses. “You snuck in.”

 Jungkook nods, slower.

 “Why?”

Because I like you, Jungkook wants to say, but that’s too forward, too intimate. Because Yoongi is not human, and for Jungkook to like him is… strange.

  “Don’t think too hard about it,” Yoongi teases when he doesn’t reply, and Jungkook wrinkles his nose and shakes his head. “You just like to make trouble, don’t you?”

 Jungkook smirks and wiggles his eyebrows a bit, and that makes Yoongi chuckle. Jungkook is pleased with that, and feels his heart somersault in his chest. It’s a pretty sound, Yoongi’s laugh, more magical than any other sound he’s heard. He wonders briefly if anyone else finds the alien as captivating as he does.

 Yoongi looks ready to speak again but there are voices outside the door behind them, the familiar beeping of a code being pressed into the keypad. Jungkook freezes and Yoongi is soon on his feet, eyes wide.

 “Under the table,” he whispers, pulling Jungkook up by his shirt sleeve just to push him down again, scooting the chair back in and knocking Jungkook’s cheekbone in the process. Jungkook bites back a pained whimper, bringing a hand to his face and sliding back under the table as much as he can. He watches as multiple pairs of feet make their way into the room, four, if Jungkook counts correctly. He recognizes the captain’s voice immediately.

  “Look at you,” he purrs at Yoongi. “Dr. Kim let you loose.”

 Yoongi doesn’t reply.

  “You ever gonna talk to me, alien?” Seunghyun asks. His voice is like the hissing of a snake. “Dr. Kim tells me you talk just fine.”

 Silence.

 One pair of feet steps forward and Jungkook hears a shaky exhale. He dares to lean forward a few inches, peering past the edge of the table to see one of the captain’s huge hands, the uninjured one, wrapped around Yoongi’s throat. His fingertips press into the side of his neck, denting the pale skin. Jungkook grinds his teeth, steeling himself to stay quiet. Yoongi’s expression is one of discomfort but he doesn’t move, his hands fists at his sides.

  “If you’re so smart,” Seunghyun goes on, “speak. Tell me something I don’t know.”

  “Captain—” It’s Dr. Kim’s voice, Namjoon—

  “Last time I checked, Dr. Kim, I was in charge of this experiment,” the captain interrupts, eyes unmoving on Yoongi’s face. “Keep your mouth shut.”

 Jungkook’s gaze flickers to Namjoon. He looks half-scared, half-angry, dark eyebrows furrowed, his usually gentle features hard and poisonous.

  “Will I have to beat something out of you?” Seunghyun asks, almost sultry. “Will I have to hurt you to make you talk?” The captain sneers, slanted eyes narrowed in an expression of disgust. “You want me to take one of your fingers like you took one of mine?”

 Yoongi blinks once, attempting an inhale through his nose. The captain tightens his hold, and the alien winces. In a second’s time, Seunghyun drops his hand to reach for something behind him, pulling it from the back pocket of his slacks. Jungkook, in horror, realizes it’s a baton. Without pause, the captain pulls his hand back and strikes Yoongi’s mouth with the base of the weapon, causing him to stagger to one side. A groan leaves his lips, one of pain, and something inside Jungkook is rearing up with anger. There’s a dull thump as Seunghyun swings the baton into Yoongi’s ribcage. He’s on the ground in moments, gasping for breath and curling in on himself. Jungkook bites down on one of his hands to keep himself from making any noise, the pain of his teeth on his skin not nearly as strong as the fire in his stomach.

 He can see Yoongi’s face from where he’s hidden under the table, his smooth cheek pressed against the tile floor, mouth stained with blood darker than that of a human, almost black. Yoongi’s eyes catch Jungkook’s between the legs of the chair pushed under the table. Jungkook lets his hand fall from his mouth and feels tears burning behind his eyes.

I’m sorry, he signs, silently begging.

 Yoongi registers the movement belatedly, and one side of his mouth lifts up in the slightest hint of a smile just before the captain’s shoe collides with his face. Jungkook squeezes his eyes shut then, covers his mouth with his hand and tries to hold his breath.

  “Clean him up, Dr. Kim,” the captain’s voice sounds in the eerie silence of the room. “I’ll be back at noon.”

 Footsteps recede and the sound of the door sliding open and shut echoes in Jungkook’s ears. He feels hot tears spilling past his lids and wipes them away before opening his eyes.

 Namjoon is crouched in front of Yoongi on the floor, pulls him to sit up and holds his head between both of his hands.

  “I’m sorry,” he says bitterly. “I’m so sorry, I tried to tell him before—”

 Jungkook watches as Yoongi opens his eyes. One of them is starting to swell closed, turning bluish-green already, and he aches to comfort him.

 “It’s fine, Namjoon,” Yoongi says with visible difficulty, trying to sit himself up a little more. He’s got one hand on his ribcage, using the other to wipe blood from where it drips from his chin. “I expected nothing less from that bastard anyway.” He makes an attempt to breathe in and his inhale catches, making him cough. His gaze makes it to Jungkook, their eyes holding contact for a long time before Yoongi says, “Jungkook, come out of there.”

 Namjoon follows Yoongi’s line of vision and catches sight of Jungkook under the table. “What the hell?” he spits, dropping his hands from Yoongi’s face and looking between the two of them. Jungkook pushes back a chair with his foot and crawls out from under the table, getting to his feet. “You’ve been under there this whole time?”

 Jungkook feels sheepish, nodding his head.

  “How did you even get in here?” Namjoon asks, lowering his voice and standing to face Jungkook. “You’re maintenance, you don’t have the credentials—”

  “He snuck in,” comes Yoongi’s voice from below, and when Jungkook looks down, the alien is smirking, dark blood still oozing from a gash in his lip. “Kid can get past anyone, even scientists.”

 Namjoon looks like he’s about to scold both of them, but changes his mind quickly and runs a hand through his unruly hair. “Help me get him off the floor,” he tells Jungkook. “Then you need to get out of here.”

 They clumsily get Yoongi into a nearby chair and Jungkook tries to keep his hands from lingering on the alien’s soft, pale skin. Yoongi’s clothes, better fitted to his frame this time around, are stained with the blood falling from his face and the bruising on his cheeks and eyes is getting worse by the moment. Jungkook wants so badly to take him away from here, to make him safe.

  “Go,” Namjoon prods him sternly, seeming to pull a roll of paper towels out of nowhere and ripping one off to hand to Yoongi. “Hold that there, on your lip.”

 Jungkook holds his ground for a few seconds, looking over his shoulder at the door and back to Yoongi again. He’s dabbing at his mouth with the paper towel, eyes fixed steady on Jungkook.

  “Go on,” he says when he pulls the towel away. “Don’t worry, I’ll see you again soon.”

 Namjoon huffs in exasperation, his brows still furrowed with what seems to be permanent anxiety. “That’s not guaranteed,” he says, with a warning glance in Jungkook’s direction. “This is a slippery slope already, kid, I don’t need anyone else involved.”

 Yoongi gives Namjoon a disgruntled look before glancing at the door.

  “Get back to work before someone realizes you’re missing,” Namjoon says. “Don’t come back here tonight.”

 Jungkook exhales, his hands itching to say something that neither of them will understand. Yoongi lifts the hand he isn’t dabbing at his lips with and offers Jungkook a gentle wave. His eyes are reassuring, tell him that it will be okay, he will be okay. Jungkook nods, giving Yoongi a weak wave, before turning to hurry out the door. Thankfully, the hallway is empty when he steps out, and he looks over his shoulder one last time before the door slides closed. Yoongi is watching him go, a small smile on his swollen mouth.

 Jungkook finds Jimin on their meal break and explains everything to him in detail. His friend watches closely, expression steady, but as soon as he lifts his hands instead of opening his mouth to speak, Jungkook knows he’s upset.

Are you out of your mind? he signs furiously, short fingers working fast. It isn’t often that Jimin uses sign language, and sometimes, Jungkook regrets teaching him. Sneaking into a lab like that is absolutely against every rule you agreed to when you took this job.

 Jungkook rolls his eyes; he couldn’t care less about his job at this point.

Roll your eyes at me again, Jimin challenges, narrowing his eyes. I dare you.

 Jungkook clenches his jaw and stares down at his food tray.

  “Look at me,” Jimin hisses.

 Jungkook obeys.

We’ve been over this, Jimin continues with his hands. There’s nothing—

 Jungkook interrupts him, signing quickly. It’s not fair, he says for what seems like the millionth time, feeling his chest go tight with anger. It’s not fair that they keep him in there alone and treat him the way they do, like he doesn’t mean something, like he’s not alive, too, just like you and me.

 Jimin’s face changes as he nods, running his fingers through his hair. “I know,” he tells Jungkook quietly. “I think that, too, Kook. I don’t like it either.” His voice is gentle now, less tense than his hands had been.

Then we can do something, Jungkook says. We’re in this lab almost as long as anyone else and we don’t know how much longer we have before the captain decides to cut Yoongi open. He exhales harshly, trying to pull himself out of the uncharacteristic fury that’s clouding his vision. We could get him out.

And how would we do that? Jimin signs from across the table. Captain Choi would have you fired if he sees you touching Yoongi. Maybe even kill you, both of you.

 Jungkook huffs, sitting back in his chair. He knows Jimin is right but he can’t bring himself to think of anything else but Yoongi’s dark, round eyes, the way they long for something that Jungkook so desperately wants to give him.

I don’t know, Jungkook tells him. Not yet.

 Contrary to both Jimin and Namjoon’s warnings, Jungkook sees Yoongi as often as he can.

 He memorizes the schedules of the scientists in the lab room, slips through the door when they take their meal breaks or leave for the night. Sometimes he worries he’ll come into the room to find Yoongi bruised and bloodied, torn apart on a table or unconscious on the floor. The relief in his chest each time he steps into the room and sees Yoongi waiting for him is like cool water on a burn—relief.

 Yoongi tells Jungkook about the captain, how he interrogates and demands information about where he’s from, how he threatens to kill him if he won’t speak. He tells Jungkook how he has spoken, but spoken lies. Jungkook worries, and it must be evident on his face because Yoongi only pats his knee and says, “It’s okay. I’ll be okay.”

 Jungkook’s hatred for the captain grows, especially on the day he finds a brand burnt into the thin flesh of Yoongi’s forearm. When he gestures to the wound, Yoongi shrugs.

  “He wants to own me, I guess,” he says. “Thinks I’m his property.”

 Jungkook runs his fingers over the burn, two long, thin, horizontal lines.

  “It doesn’t hurt anymore,” Yoongi tells him. “Pain leaves quickly with me.”

 Jungkook is happy for that, at least, and when he smiles, so does Yoongi.

 The rest of the time they spend together consists of Yoongi talking and Jungkook listening. The alien asks endless questions, usually wants to know what the sign is for every object he can get his hands on. Jungkook teaches him—book, paper, chair, clock, shoes, table. He picks it up quickly, effortlessly. If Jimin were there with them, Jungkook could teach him so much more. But if Jimin knew he was there, it’s likely he wouldn’t see Yoongi at all, so Jungkook resorts to mouthing the words he wants to say as much as he can. He doesn’t do that with Jimin or Seokjin, not anymore, but it’s better than nothing with Yoongi, and the alien reads his lips just fine.

 One early morning, when their meetings are as regular as clockwork, Jungkook is cross-legged on the floor with Yoongi at his side, looking through a book he found in the library over the weekend. Jungkook has done it for weeks now, a different book every time. Sometimes it classic novels, like Wuthering Heights or The Catcher in the Rye, other times, he’ll bring encyclopedias, books on the ocean or animals or foreign countries. Today, it’s a book on the solar system, and Jungkook currently has his finger on a line about Venus.

 “‘As one of the brightest objects in the sky,’” Yoongi reads aloud, “‘Venus has been a major fixture in human culture for as long as records have existed.’” Jungkook moves his finger to brush it over the photo of the planet in the book, similar to Earth but without the green and brown of land. “‘It has been a prime inspiration for writers and poets as the morning and evening star.’” Yoongi’s voice is a gentle rumble in his ear and lifts goosebumps on his skin. He focuses hard on the words the alien is reading, but is distracted immediately as Yoongi settles his chin on Jungkook’s shoulder. “Interesting,” he mumbles. Jungkook can feel the breath of the word on his neck. “That planet has always been kind of a dump.”

 Jungkook gives a surprised huff, turning his head to give Yoongi an incredulous look. Yoongi moves his eyes from the book and grins.

  “Don’t look so surprised,” he says with amusement. “You humans don’t know as much as you think you do.”

 Jungkook narrows his eyes for a second before moving them back to the page in front of him. He taps it twice and Yoongi continues reading, leaning a little heavier on his shoulder. “‘It is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and is the second-brightest natural object in the night sky, after the Moon. Venus never appears to venture far from the Sun, similar to Earth, but it is radically different from Earth in other aspects.’” He hmm’s and hums to himself as he scans the rest of the paragraph, telling Jungkook to turn the page when he deems the rest of the information uninteresting.

 Jupiter is next, the huge orange planet taking up most of the new page. Jungkook has always liked Jupiter, liked to think about just how big it is and how strong the winds in its huge storm are. Yoongi sighs and reaches out a hand to touch the page, his pale, slender fingers brushing over where the planet’s three moons are pictured. Jungkook feels a strange ache in his chest. He glances at Yoongi sideways again. The alien’s gaze stays settled on the page for a while longer before moving to look at him.

Home?

 He mouths the word in hopes that Yoongi will understand and makes the sign slowly, a movement of pinched fingers from the corner of his mouth to his ear.

 Yoongi smiles, sad and fond at the same time, and nods.

 “Yeah, home,” he replies softly, mimicking the sign.

 Jungkook looks at the photo of Europa, the rusty lines and the smooth white of the surface. It’s the smallest of the planet’s four moons, and he’s not sure if he’s biased or not, but he finds it the most appealing.

It’s pretty, he says, the sign for the words a circular sweep of his fingers over his face.

  “Pretty,” Yoongi echoes. “It is, isn’t it?”

 Jungkook nods as Yoongi starts to read about Jupiter out loud.

 Jungkook longs to ask him questions; what is it like where he’s from? What has he seen and heard? Does he want to go back? Does he have anyone there that misses him? He wants to know Yoongi more, learn him inside and out. He’s fascinated by him. He loves him, he realizes then and there, listening to him read about the gaseous contents of the biggest known planet in their solar system. Jungkook loves him like he hasn’t loved anything in a long time. Maybe ever.

  “Are you listening?”

 Yoongi’s voice breaks through his thoughts and he refocuses on the book in his lap. He nods absently, blinking a few times.

  Yoongi lifts his chin from Jungkook’s shoulder and leans back a bit. “You know, Jungkook,” he says. “Sometimes you think so hard, I’m anxious you might explode.”

 Jungkook feels Yoongi’s gaze heavy on him and when he looks over, the alien is watching him intently, like he’s trying to memorize him. He could say a million things now, but many of them would be things Yoongi couldn’t understand. So they just look at each other, as if doing so speaks words, and Jungkook thinks it just might.

 Jimin eventually puts it together that Jungkook is sneaking, because that’s always what Jimin has done best.

 Jungkook is halfway through teaching Yoongi the colors of the rainbow in sign language when the keypad outside the lab room beeps unexpectedly. The pair nearly fall over each other scrambling to hide, and Jungkook thinks this may be the end when he hears the door slide open. To his immense relief and simultaneously, his dull horror, it’s Namjoon that is stepping into the room with Jimin at his heels.

 There is a thick silence between the four of them for a few moments. Yoongi, who had been in the process of climbing into a nearby computer chair, gets onto his feet again. Jungkook watches his eyes flicker from Namjoon to Jimin. He opens his mouth to speak but Namjoon beats him to it.

 “Save it,” the scientist says, and Jungkook notes the sharp edge in his voice. “It’s not important.”

 Jungkook looks at Jimin from around the corner of the wall he’s clinging to, and instead of the anger he expects on the other man’s face, he finds worry. He sees Yoongi tilt his head.

 “Captain Choi has your dissection scheduled for Wednesday of next week, three-thirty AM sharp.” Namjoon’s words are blunt and heavy, like he’s reading them from a book. He’s looking right at Yoongi. “He’s deemed your live existence not enough. He wants into your brain.”

 The information registers in Jungkook’s mind and even if he could speak, he wouldn’t know what to say. His gaze meets Jimin’s across the room and his best friend’s eyes are sad as he looks back.

 “He wants me to do it,” Namjoon says, voice wavering. “He threatened to hurt me if I refused.” His expression has changed to one of pain, and he runs a long-fingered hand over his face. His eyes drop to the tile floor and squeeze shut. “I’m sorry.”

 “There’s nothing you could have done.” Yoongi replies, strangely calm and steady. “You’ve done all you can for me, Namjoon.”

 The scientist shakes his head. “I should have talked to him more, tried to convince him,” he says. “I should have—”

  “Namjoon.” Yoongi’s voice cuts through the room, stern yet gentle. “It’s alright.”

It’s not, Jungkook finally manages, stepping forward to face Namjoon and Jimin. It’s not alright, they’re going to kill him!

  “I know, petal,” Jimin says. “But there’s nothing—”

You’re wrong, he signs to Jimin, nearly baring his teeth. We could save him, it’s not impossible.

  “What’s he saying?” Namjoon asks Jimin, who opens his mouth to explain but Yoongi speaks first.

  “He wants to save me,” the alien says quietly, looking over his shoulder at Jungkook. His dark eyes speak volumes, so many things Jungkook wants to hear.

  “You understand?” Jimin asks in disbelief.

  “No,” Yoongi replies. “I just know.”

 Jungkook steps to Yoongi’s side, so their shoulders touch, and looks at Namjoon head-on.

We can stop this from happening, he says. I know we can, just trust me.

  “He wants you to trust him,” Jimin tells Namjoon, glancing up at the taller man. He’s hesitant, like he doesn’t quite believe what Jungkook is saying is true. “He says we can stop this.”

 Namjoon looks from Yoongi to Jungkook and back again, furrows his eyebrows and exhales, long and deep. “We could all get hurt,” he says at last. “The captain is violent, Jungkook. Obsessed.” He looks at Jungkook hard, shoulders square. “You saw.”

 Images of Yoongi’s bloodied face flash in Jungkook’s head, and he thinks about the brand on the alien’s arm, the captain’s attempt to own him. It only upsets him more, fuels his fire.

We’re stronger than him, Jungkook signs. All of us, together. He feels Yoongi looking at him and it gives him courage. You know saving him is the right thing to do.

 Namjoon glances at Jimin.

  “He says you know that saving Yoongi is right,” Jimin says. “We’re stronger than the captain.” He looks at Jungkook then, a flash of resolve on his features. Jungkook can see it in his eyes—Jimin’s in.

 Namjoon thinks.

  “Okay,” he says quietly. He looks at Jimin, as if for support. Jimin gives him an encouraging nod. “Fuck. Okay.”

 Jungkook leans into Yoongi’s side in relief. He’s warm. Jungkook’s hand finds Yoongi’s between them and squeezes tight. The alien doesn’t look at him but squeezes back once, slow and gentle.

  “But how?” Namjoon asks, beginning to pace. “What will we do if we even make it out of the lab?” He throws his hands up in frustration. “Do either of you drive?”

 Jimin and Jungkook shake their heads.

  “Well, we can’t outrun the captain, or anyone else that comes after us,” Namjoon goes on. “He’ll have everyone in this lab on our asses in a second if he sees us bolting on foot.”

 Something clicks in Jungkook’s mind and he snaps his fingers.

I know someone who drives, he says, making eye contact with Jimin. His friend raises his eyebrows for a moment before it clicks for him, too.

  “Seokjin-hyung,” he says.

 Jungkook nods. Seokjin-hyung.

 That night, Jungkook goes to Seokjin’s, knocking on the door three times. The older man answers quickly, smiling when he sees it’s Jungkook.

  “Hey, kid—” he begins, but Jungkook pushes past him gently, motioning for Seokjin to close and lock the door. He does so, looking confused, before following Jungkook farther into his apartment. Jungkook smells something baking in the oven, and he would normally go check it out, but he’s got too much on his mind.

  “What’s up?” Seokjin asks, sensing obvious tension. Jungkook tells him everything, about Yoongi and the captain and how they treat him in the lab. He paces back and forth in the living room, hands moving quickly and precisely. Seokjin nods the whole time, watching intently. Jungkook ends with how Yoongi is scheduled to be dissected, killed and picked apart. When he’s finished, Seokjin runs a hand through his hair, sighing. “That’s… wow.”

 Jungkook nods, plopping onto the loveseat in Seokjin’s living room. The tears that have been burning the backs of his eyes all day threaten to fall but he steels himself—no crying, not yet. Jimin has always told him that one should only cry when hope is lost. There’s still hope here, Jungkook thinks.

  “And what?” Seokjin asks, stepping forward. “You want to… save him?”

 Jungkook chews on his lip and nods his head. Of course I do, he says. He deserves to live.

 Seokjin moves to sit on the couch across from Jungkook. “You don’t seem to care that the captain could have you fired or-or killed for meddling in this.” He’s looking at Jungkook expectantly, as if he’s waiting for him to argue. But Jungkook just looks back at him steadily. “You don’t care, do you?”

 Jungkook shakes his head.

 Seokjin studies him a little longer before speaking again. “How are you gonna do it?” he asks.

 Jungkook shrugs, exasperated, and gets to this feet to start pacing again. I’ll have to do some planning, he tells Seokjin, trying hard to imagine the lab in his head, the entrances and exits, where the cameras point and where they don’t. I’ll need your help. And your truck.

 Seokjin knits his eyebrows together, folding his hands between his knees. “I don’t know, Kook,” he says. “I’m not really looking to get arrested.”

 Jungkook purses his lips. You know what it’s like to love someone, he says. You would do this for Taehyung, wouldn’t you?

 Seokjin tilts his head in the silence between them. “You love Yoongi?” he asks eventually, voice low.

I do, Jungkook replies. He never really thinks too much about it, what he feels for Yoongi. He is beautiful, smart, captivating, looks at Jungkook differently than everyone else does, like he’s made of something bright. Jungkook thinks it’s true—he does love Yoongi. He loves him strangely, in a way he doesn’t recognize. But he does all the same.

  “Why?”

 Seokjin watches him closely as he waits for his answer, hands still wrung together between his legs. Jungkook sits back in the loveseat, breathing deep once, in and out. He thinks, just for a moment longer, before lifting his hands.

When he looks at me, the way he looks at me… he doesn’t know what I lack, how I’m incomplete. As his fingers curl around the words, he feels their truth. He sees me for what I am, as I am. He’s happy to see me. He smiles a little, tries to fight it and fails. Every time, every day. And now… He swallows, clenching his jaw and looking at Seokjin hard. I can either save him or let him die.

 The older man’s eyes rest on Jungkook for a long time, might be glistening with tears; then again, it might be the light of the lamp in the corner of the room. Seokjin looks down at his own hands, tangles and untangles his fingers a few times before glancing up at Jungkook again.

  “Can I read you something?” he asks abruptly. When Jungkook nods, albeit a little hesitantly, he gets to his feet and pulls open a drawer in his coffee table, pulling out the familiar pocket notebook. He opens it, flips through a few pages before finding what he’s looking for and glancing up at Jungkook, who nods again.

  “‘Unable to perceive the shape of you,’” Seokjin reads quietly, lips wrapping around the words carefully. “‘I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love—’” He pauses and takes a deep breath. “‘It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.’”

 Seokjin’s voice seems to echo in the quiet of the apartment, and Jungkook can hear his own heartbeat.

You wrote that? he asks eventually.

 Seokjin nods. “And I get it, Jungkook, what you’re saying about Yoongi,” he says, closing the book and putting it back in the drawer. “I see them in your eyes.” His lips curve up in a smile. “The stars.” Jungkook blinks, recalling the conversation they’d had weeks before, about the way Taehyung looks at Seokjin with stars in his eyes. Maybe that’s what love could be, Jungkook thinks. Stars.

  “I’ll do whatever you need,” Seokjin says. “Anything, for this.”

 Jungkook hugs him, arms tight around his waist, and his friend hugs back. When they break apart, Jungkook breathes out an exhale, the hope in his chest blooming warm.

Thank you, he says to Seokjin.

 The older man chuckles gently, pats the side of Jungkook’s face. No, he signs. Thank you.

 So this is how it goes: they wait.

 Seokjin waits just around the corner from the lab, seated in his huge black truck, lights off, fingers tapping his knee in anxious beats. He sends a text to Taehyung, though it’s nearly three-thirty in the morning and the other man is not awake: “I adore you,” it says. “I’ll see you soon.”

 Yoongi waits in the lab room that has been his home for weeks now, pacing back and forth, back and forth. He’s put all of his trust in four humans, and somehow… somehow he knows that it was right of him. He thinks of Jungkook, and he thinks of a line from one of the books the young man had brought him weeks before. The Great Gatsby, was it?

  “… and in my heart, I love her all the time.”

 He repeats it in his head, over and over, and only sees Jungkook.

 Jimin and Jungkook wait, one of Jimin’s small hands gripping the keycard Namjoon had pressed into his palm. Jungkook breathes deep, glances at the clock on the wall nearby. Ten minutes. Ten minutes and they’ll move.

 Namjoon is the only one of them who is not waiting. He’s seated in Captain Choi’s office, hands folded in his lap, pretending to absorb every word out of the other man’s mouth.

  “It should be quick and easy, Kim,” Seunghyun drawls, leaned back in his huge leather rolling chair, angled eyes narrowed. “Inject him, wait until his heart stops, and get into his head.” He pulls a syringe full of clear liquid from a drawer in his desk and passes to Namjoon over the dark wood.

 Namjoon nods and takes the syringe. All he can think about is how he can’t wait to throw it away.

  “Once his brain is free, you finish up and call me,” the captain goes on. “Your bonus is being processes and you won’t have to come back here after this morning.” His expression is smug, like he’s certain his plan has unfolded perfectly. “You’ll be free to move back from wherever it is you came from, get your old job back.”

 Namjoon nods again, clenching his teeth. “Yes sir.”

  “Good,” Seunghyun says, sitting back in his chair again. He glances at his watch. “It’s five minutes till go-time, Doctor,” he says with a tilt of his head. “I’ll be awaiting your call.”

 Namjoon gets to his feet and nearly makes it out of the room before the captain speaks again.

  “Hey, Kim,” he calls out.

 Namjoon pauses, looking back over his shoulder. He’s certain his heart has stopped beating. “Yes?”

 Seunghyun leans his elbows on his desk. “I’ve seen you looking at that Park boy lately,” he says, his voice dripping with something that Namjoon hates. He thinks of Jimin, his pretty crescent eyes and quiet laugh. “I’d watch yourself. Pretty sure Jeon has had that faggot wrapped around his finger for years.”

 Namjoon has to fight a bitter laugh. He gives a polite bow. “Thanks, Captain,” he says, trying to keep his voice level. “I’ll keep my eye out.” He feels the slight weight of the syringe in his palm and decides then that it might end up having a different destination than the garbage can.

 Seunghyun smirks before twisting his chair away to face the two huge monitors on the wall behind him. Namjoon exhales a breath he didn’t know he was holding before stepping all the way through the door.

 Yoongi is dressed in a maintenance jumpsuit far too big for him when Namjoon arrives. Jungkook nearly has a heart attack when the door slides open, and Jimin’s worried expression brightens a bit as Namjoon makes his way towards them.

  “We don’t have a lot of time,” he says quickly, pulling a cap from his back pocket and fitting it onto Yoongi’s head. “Also, there’s a slight change of plans.”

  “Pardon?” Jimin yelps. “We don’t have room for that!”

  “What kind of change?” Yoongi asks, pulling the bill of the cap farther down over his face.

  “I’m… probably going to kill the captain,” Namjoon mutters, and Jungkook’s jaw drops. Jimin begins to sputter and Yoongi chuckles.

  “A dark twist, but I like it,” he says, glancing at Jungkook with his eyebrows raised. Jungkook closes his mouth and grimaces. That definitely wasn’t in the plan, but with the way Namjoon’s eyes have grown hard and determined, he thinks there’s probably no going back.

  “What are you talking about?” Jimin asks Namjoon, incredulous. “You kill the captain and you don’t have a job!”

  “That fact is the same both ways, Jimin,” the scientist replies, checking his watch. “He’s paid me seven million won to kill Yoongi and get the fuck out.” He smirks. “Whether the captain lives or not, I’m still home-free.”

 Jimin looks at Jungkook, who shrugs.

  “Look, you’ve gotta move,” Namjoon goes on. “You know where the cameras are. Avoid them.” He looks at Yoongi. “Keep your head down.”

 Yoongi nods.

  “Seokjin’s ready?” Namjoon asks.

 Jungkook gives him a thumbs up. Where and when we planned, he says.

 When Jimin is done translating, Namjoon sighs. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll be here until you guys give me the signal. Then…” He swallows, and sets his jaw. “I’ll try to make it to you.”

 Yoongi reaches out a hand to grip Namjoon’s shoulder tight. The scientist gives a nod, slow and long, almost a bow. The exchange is wordless but not without meaning. Namjoon ruffles Jungkook’s hair when he follows Yoongi to the door, and Jungkook wrinkles his nose but reaches out to squeeze his wrist once. He glances briefly over his shoulder as Jimin takes a step towards Namjoon, looking up at him gravely. Jungkook nudges Yoongi, gesturing with his head to the pair behind them.

  “Give them their privacy, Jungkook,” the alien says with a roll of his eyes, placing a warm palm on the back of Jungkook’s neck.

 It’s no surprise that Jimin and Namjoon had grown soft spots for each other through all of this—Jungkook was not unaware of how Jimin’s eyes would linger on the taller man whenever they were in the same room or saw each other in the hall, and Yoongi told him that Namjoon had called him “Jimin” on accident more than once. Jungkook had asked his best friend about it before bed one night, and all Jimin had done was blush and fail to bite away a smile.

 Jungkook peeks over his shoulder again despite Yoongi’s touch and sees Namjoon’s hand fall from Jimin’s face. He turns around again, noting Yoongi’s amused smile. When Jimin steps up to Jungkook’s side, they all exchange the same look: one of determination.

  “Heads down, boys,” Jimin mumbles. “You know the way.” He hits the button on the wall by the door, and it begins.

 Now, Namjoon waits.

 His feet feel like they’re on fire and he’s desperate to pace, but he needs to compose himself. He needs to be ready.

 It’s three forty-five when he makes the call on his lab-issued cellphone. Seunghyun picks up on the second ring.

  “All done, sir,” Namjoon says. “He’s ready.” He feels sick to his stomach—he’s never been a good (or successful) liar.

  “Perfect,” the captain purrs from the other end of the line. “I’ll see you in five.”

 Namjoon hangs up the call and glances at the syringe on the table in front of him. The fluorescent lights of the room shine through the liquid inside, making it sparkle, just a bit. He takes it between his thumb and index finger, takes the cap off and examines the needle. He knows what it is. He knows how to use it.

 Now he just needs to act.

 Jungkook thinks they’re going to make it to the back unnoticed with Yoongi squeezed between him and Jimin, each of them pulling along a cleaning cart. They’ve been taking their mapped route through the building, avoiding the majority of the cameras, and making sure Yoongi’s face is out of sight when they do have to pass one. It’s taking a long time—the lab is huge and it seems like there’s endless employees milling around. Most of them take no notice of the three of them as they make their way along the halls.

 The back door is in sight and Jungkook shoots Jimin a hopeful glance. His friend purses his lips and Jungkook can see him clenching his jaw; they’re not out of the woods yet.

 Yoongi is tense beside Jungkook, walking as carefully as he can with his head down. The cap on his head casts a shadow on his face, and Jungkook sort of misses it. He can’t wait to get out of this place. He’s not sure what will happen when they do, but he’s itching for the outside, and he’s certain Yoongi is, too.

 They pause in front of the back door, Jimin leading his cleaning cart into a nearby walk-in closet. Yoongi follows while Jungkook leans casually against the wall, one heel kicked up on the edge of his cart. He crosses his arms and tries to look distracted, inspecting a callus on his palm. He can hear Jimin and Yoongi talking in the closet, brief, quiet words, and he glances down the hallway they’d just walked through. It’s nearly mealtime for the night shift, most of the employees clearing out to the cafeteria a floor down. Jungkook’s building anxiety starts to cool down, that is, until he hears a shout echoing in the hall, bouncing off the plastic tile floors and the painted brick walls.

 Jimin’s head appears around the door of the closet, eyes wide.

  “What the fuck was that?” he hisses. Jungkook doesn’t have time to respond before the noise comes again, louder. It’s a voice, a voice he knows. He never forgets a voice.

  “Namjoon.”

 Yoongi sounds scared, a tone Jungkook hasn’t heard from him yet. The alien peers around the door, over Jimin’s shoulder. Before any of them have time to speak again, the sound of heavy footfalls growing closer sounds in the hall.

  “Go!” comes Namjoon’s voice, and suddenly he’s rounding the nearest corner, sprinting at full speed towards them. “Go, run!”

 Yoongi is the first to obey, grabbing Jungkook’s hand before turning to make a mad dash for the back door. Jungkook barely has time to register the three security guards turning the corner behind Namjoon, one of them armed. He sees Namjoon reach Jimin, pulling him by the wrist. Blood is rushing in his ears and he’s not even sure he’s running of his own accord. The guards are yelling and he swears he hears a few shots at them from behind.

 Jungkook and Yoongi burst through the double doors, Namjoon and Jimin close behind. The night is warm, a little wet, and dark. They know exactly where they have to go. Jungkook runs with Yoongi’s hand still gripped tight in his as they weave through the back alleys, over puddles of water and past huge garbage dumpsters. The only sound is the smack of their feet on the pavement and the heaving of their breaths.  Jungkook recognizes Seokjin’s truck when they break out into a clearing, tugging Yoongi along.

 “There, go!” Jimin’s voice sounds, breathless, and the four of them make it to the truck in a few moments, pulling open the unlocked doors and leaping into the backseats.

  “Drive!” Namjoon shouts, and Jungkook looks up to see Seokjin throw the car into gear and press the gas. The wheels screech on the pavement, but the truck is powerful—they go from zero to fast in a just few moments, Seokjin navigating carefully with the headlights off. Jungkook’s head is buzzing with adrenaline and his chest is bursting, but he still feels Yoongi’s hand wrapped around his. He glances over at the alien and sees his bright eyes looking back, glowing softly in the dark. Yoongi blinks once and the light is interrupted briefly before returning. Jungkook can only look, captivated.

 They drive for a long time, out of the city. They’re all silent, almost in awe that they made it out alive. Jimin is curled into Namjoon’s side next to Jungkook, the scientist leaning his head back against the headrest. Yoongi doesn’t let go of Jungkook’s hand.

 It isn’t until the bright high-rises of the city turn into farm houses and patches of forest that Seokjin slows down. They all heave a simultaneous sigh of relief as the truck crawls along at a leisurely speed through the early morning.

  “I thought we were supposed to have a relatively peaceful departure,” Seokjin says, breaking the silence.

  “That was before Namjoon decided he needed to kill someone,” Yoongi replies, and Jungkook almost chuckles at the smile in his voice.

  “Kill someone?!” Seokjin echoes, whipping his head back to look at Namjoon. “I’m harboring a murderer in my truck?!”

  “He deserved it,” Namjoon muttered back.

  “Jungkook!” Seokjin screeches, and Jungkook shrinks into Yoongi’s side. “You didn’t tell me anyone was going to die today!”

I didn’t know! Jungkook signs to Seokjin’s glaring eyes in the rearview mirror.

  “None of us knew,” Jimin pipes up. He sounds exhausted. “Last minute decision.”

 Seokjin huffs but returns his eyes to the road.

  “So what happened?” Jimin asks Namjoon. “You did it? He’s dead?”

 Jungkook looks over with curiosity, feeling Yoongi lean into his shoulder to listen, too.

  “Yeah,” Namjoon sighs. “Yeah, I, uh, he gave me this syringe of ketamine for Yoongi, to stop his heart so I could—you know.”

 Jimin, Jungkook, and Yoongi nod.

  “I was supposed to call him when I was done, so I did, and when he walked in, I just…” The man shrugs, making a stabbing motion with his hand. “… put it right into his neck.”

 Jimin winces and Jungkook chews on his lip. Yoongi chuckles, seeming amused. Seokjin, listening from the driver’s seat, makes a weak sound of distress.

  “What I didn’t know was he had someone coming along with him,” Namjoon goes on. “So that guy was a witness, and I should have—I don’t know, knocked him out or something? But I just ran.” He shrugs. “I took the route we planned and the guards were alerted, of course, so it was just… I just wanted to get back to you guys, make sure you made it alive.”

 Jungkook watches Jimin settle a hand on Namjoon’s knee, and this time, he looks away, only to meet Yoongi’s face very close to his. The tip of the alien’s short, broad nose brushes his cheek.

  “Looks like you did it,” he whispers, the words warm on Jungkook’s skin. Yoongi’s eyes are still glimmering with light in the dark, and Jungkook doesn’t question it because it’s pretty, just like Yoongi is, has been, likely always will be. “Saved me.”

 Jungkook feels himself blush but he doesn’t move away. He’s happy there, under Yoongi’s gaze, so close to him, out of the lab. Finally.

I did, he confirms with a simple dip of his head.

 Yoongi unexpectedly presses his lips to Jungkook’s cheek, not letting them linger very long, and the noise it makes is soft, the sound of skin brushing skin.

  “That’s how you humans do it, right?” Yoongi mumbles in his ear. Jungkook can hear the smile curling around his words. “When you like each other?”

 Jungkook nods again, the place where Yoongi’s lips had touched his face burning warm.

 The darkness outside the car window is growing thinner as they drive farther and farther into the countryside, almost to the mountains that line their province. Seokjin parks the truck on the outskirts of a pine tree grove, putting his keys in the cup holder and turning off the headlights.

  “Now what?” Jimin asks, reaching up to turn on one of the ceiling lights above them. “I honestly didn’t think we’d make it this far.”

 The light falls on the four of them and Jungkook fights a smile: a scientist helping a mute and his best friend sneak an alien out of a space lab. Something out of a sci-fi film.

  “We obviously can’t go back into the city,” Namjoon says. “They saw me, they saw all of us.” He furrows his eyebrows. “They’ll have us arrested.”

 Seokjin glances at them from the front seat. “Thank God they didn’t see me,” he sneers. “I’ve got a face no one can forget.”

 Jimin pretends to shove a finger down his throat and Namjoon laughs harder than Jungkook has ever seen him laugh.

  “We could rent a hotel room… or two,” Seokjin says eventually, looking between the two pairs of them.

  “We can’t live in a hotel forever,” Jimin says with worry.

  “Can we figure this out in a few hours?” Namjoon asks, looking out the window. Jungkook follows his gaze and sees that the sun is starting to rise over the mountains, painting the dark sky a pale orange. “I really need some sleep.”

 Jungkook yawns in agreement, a sudden wave of exhaustion hitting him at the mere mention of sleep.

  “I’ll be the lookout,” Seokjin says, picking up his phone to unlock it and tap the Solitaire app Jungkook knows is on the first screen. “Get some rest and we’ll figure something out when you wake up.”

 The backseat of the truck is spacious enough for them to get comfortable, besides Namjoon, who decides his legs are too long and sprawls out on the floor. Jimin curls up on one side of the long leather seat, slowly reaching out a small hand that Namjoon takes. Yoongi sits up straight and guides Jungkook’s head into his lap on the other side of the seat, fingertips already brushing the skin of his neck in a physical lullaby.

  “Since I don’t sleep, I’ll just watch you,” he tells Jungkook, looking down at him. “Is that okay?”

 Jungkook closes his eyes and nods his head, Yoongi’s body solid and grounding beneath him. He falls asleep to the feeling of Yoongi’s warm knuckles brushing over his face and the faint sound of a heartbeat he swears sounds like the twinkling notes of a piano.

 Two days after their escape, they run.

 Namjoon manages to find some cheap sedan for sale and uses his bonus from the lab to purchase it. The license plate is from out-of-province. He takes Jimin and Jungkook to their apartment and they gather their clothes, some blankets, whatever else they find the most valuable. Yoongi is fascinated by Jungkook’s room, brushes his fingers over the mattress and gazes at the posters on the walls.

  “I wish I could stay here,” he tells Jungkook quietly. “I like it.”

 Seokjin stays, bids them farewell with tears in his eyes and one of Taehyung’s long arms around his waist. The younger man gives Jungkook an unexpected hug, looking like he might cry himself.

Take care of hyung, Jungkook tells him when they part.

 When Seokjin translates, Taehyung gives him that same blinding smile. “Of course,” he says softly. “Always.”

 Jimin takes Seokjin’s face in his hands and presses on his cheeks, making his mouth pout dramatically. “We’ll be back to see you one day,” he tells his friend. “Don’t worry, hyungie.”

 Seokjin seems to be fighting a sob but with the way Jimin is squishing his face, he laughs instead.

  “Get your hands off me and go,” he says with mock poison, leaning down to pull Jimin into a hug. “Before I find it in me to beg you two to stay.”

 They drive out of the city, the four of them, Jimin in the front seat messing with the radio and Namjoon waxing poetic about escape. Jungkook watches the city get smaller behind them, and Yoongi puts a comforting hand on his shoulder. It’s strange, to leave his life behind but also have it touching him at the same time.

  “Things are going to be… different,” Yoongi says quietly, loud enough so only Jungkook can hear. “Aren’t they?”

 Jungkook nods, turning his head to look at Yoongi. But I have you, he says, mouthing the words slowly. And that’s good.

  “Just ‘good?’” Yoongi teases, pulling a smile from Jungkook.

Very good, Jungkook emphasizes. He reaches over with a gentle hand to trace Yoongi’s nose with his finger and settle the tip on his lips.

  “You sure are cute, Jungkook,” the alien says. “Isn’t that the word?”

 Jungkook grins, making the sign for cute with his free hand.

 Yoongi mimics him. “Cute,” he mumbles. “Indeed.”

Six Months Later

 It must be close to midnight, but Jungkook has lost track of time with Yoongi’s hand in his.

 They’re lying on their backs in the middle of a field, one Yoongi had insisted they drive to and watch the stars. They’d left Namjoon and Jimin at home, asleep on the couch, where the pair always inevitably end up on weeknights. Jungkook technically stole Namjoon’s car, and he doesn’t even really know how to drive, but the older man has been giving him driving lessons lately—he won’t mind, especially if he never finds out.

 “They all look so different from here,” Yoongi muses, lifting the hand not holding Jungkook’s up to measure the space between two stars with his pinky finger. “So far away.”

 Jungkook heaves a sigh in agreement. When he lived in the city, he never saw the stars. But he’s always wished the stars were closer, the ones that still burned, anyway. He wishes he could see the galaxies and the planets like they are in the books, colorful and huge and filled with things he can’t fathom.

  “But they’re pretty,” Yoongi goes on quietly. “Still bright.”

 Jungkook nods, and he feels his heartbeat kick up. Like you, he thinks, turning his head sideways. The moon is full tonight and its silver light falls on Yoongi’s pale face, his nose and eyelashes casting shadows and dark curves on his skin. It’s times like these that Yoongi looks exactly as he is: ethereal, not of this world. Of space.

 It’s Yoongi beside him, on this clear, slightly chilly night, with the stars watching, that prompts Jungkook to do the one thing he has never felt he had reason to do: speak.

  “Do you know love?” he asks Yoongi, and he should be startled by his own voice, but it’s almost like he’s always spoken this way, with a voice, out loud.

 Instead of dropping his jaw or losing his breath like Jungkook thought he might, Yoongi replies, immediately, “Yes.”

  Their gazes meet in the dark and Jungkook sees the tell-tale curve of Yoongi’s lips in a smile. They turn into each other at the same time, noses nearly brushing as Yoongi pulls Jungkook’s hand to his lips and speaks into his skin.

 “Because I know you,” he whispers, “I know love.”

 And Jungkook couldn’t look away even if he wanted to, because Yoongi’s eyes are glowing, pulling him in, and he feels like he’s caught in some gravity, stuck, by his own will, in an orbit around Yoongi, one he doesn’t ever want to fall from.