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jeongguk watches the ship until he sees the hull crack, just the front of it. he sees the way it splits open wide, wide, like a mouth trying to swallow something whole, and then he turns away from it. it’s a near miss. it’s always just a near miss. and there—earth behind it, framing this one last chance. all of that life gone to waste, and he can’t watch that either. can’t watch what he knows will be coming, after he’s long gone: the solar flare. like a mouth, trying to swallow something whole. this will succeed.

jeongguk watches the ship until he can no longer stomach it—the thought of everything he’s leaving behind. there’s nothing much else to watch, not yet: all that sky, all that space. all that darkness and the stars beyond and the unknown, the horrible aching of it. he takes a breath, just one. he stares out at his planet, at his people.

his mother had said—you are the future. his mother had said—you are the new earth. jeongguk feels the first tears, then, filling his eyes and then drowning him in sorrow, over and over. maybe if he looks hard enough, he can see her from here, even hundreds of miles out, and the solar flare will take her, too, like it’ll take the rest of it. he used to imagine what the apocalypse would look like, and would he know it at the end, when the earth was dying? and isn’t it ironic that it wasn’t their fault after all?

his mother had said—go, and live for us. and he presses himself against the glass of the window as he leaves and leaves and leaves her. the ship is going down and he can see it, the very last hope of regeneration. jeongguk used to sit in the back of his astronomy classes and admire the images of earth from space but this—this is something more, something different. it’s not wonder that overwhelms him but sorrow.

as he watches the ship slowly slowly slowly staying as he goes, in the only escape pod to make it out, he feels it: the desperation. it claws up like a creature in his chest, and jeongguk sobs. their planet is dying. their planet is dead. does it matter?

he presses and presses but the glass stays where it is and the ship gets smaller and smaller; he sees what might be a fire. overcrowding, they’d said. stowaways. a ship too hastily built, not enough safety precautions. when the sirens went off, jeongguk ran and he thinks of the piloting classes he didn’t pay attention during, now, the things that his father taught him as a child. put it on autopilot, the man used to joke.

he’s looking back as he moves forward, out into the stars, and he’s leaving his planet behind. he’s leaving his people behind, and now it’s just him, just jeongguk. jeongguk and the colonies, maybe, if they’re alive.

jeongguk misses his mother. he misses his father. and the sun will take care of them for him, trying too hard to warm them at night until—until.

when the hull cracks, he takes a seat on the floor, against the window. back to his dying planet, his dying people. and jeongguk lets himself cry, like a child, for the first time—not for the last. the stars will welcome you home, she’d said. you belong, you belong, you belong.

but it just feels—empty. was it cowardly to run?

is it?

jeongguk has known loneliness. has known crowded cafeterias with nowhere to sit, has known headphones in music up pretending to be busy because no one will bother him anyway. he has known the terrible thoughts of what’s the point, we’re all dying anyway. but he has not known it like this—just he and the universe. just he and nothing, his back to everything he’s ever known. he may be the very last human. the solar flare will come in three days. it will take everything with it, and the last hope has gone down, a shipwreck.

what do shipwrecks look like in space, he wonders, and where do they go and when there is no bottom to sink to, will the sun take that, too—

and what will become of his body?

it’s the inevitable, he realizes—tears and more, silent. there’s no one here to hear him cry as he knocks his head against the glass again and again, like it’ll make everything else hurt less. but he’ll die out here. there’s nowhere to go. he shouldn’t bother prolonging the inevitable.

jeongguk sits for an hour, two. the passage of time no longer matters here, where there is no sun to orbit. “i’m sorry,” he whispers, and then louder—“i’m sorry, i’m sorry.” he doesn’t know what he’s apologizing for, and who to—his parents, perhaps. they told him to go, but he abandoned them. the rest of his people on the ship, but he needed to survive. there was a little girl who watched him leave, and he didn’t take her with him, but was that his duty? and he apologizes to her anyway. he doesn’t look back, doesn’t want to see the ship in two with all of that life as its debris.

his ship flies on.

he cries, and when he has nothing left to cry—jeongguk speaks to the stars.

or—he’s trying to speak to someone. he makes his way to the control room, all of those buttons and screens and things he suddenly blanks on. he’d put the ship on auto pilot and trusts that he won’t ram right into the sun, although should he? would he rather go as they go? and anyway—his hands fumble, using this technology that is similar in so many ways. he presses the first screen and watches it light up, then lets his fingers dance along it until he finds the communications center.

he opens it, opens the link—out there, somewhere. he wonders, briefly, if earth will still pick up his signal, and if they’ll hear him calling for help: the very last of them. he thinks of his parents hearing his pleas, and then takes a breath, two. there’s a procedure this, he knows. what to say, how to say it.

but jeongguk just whispers, “help.”

then, louder—“help me, please. i’m the only one left. i don’t know where i’m going or how long i’ll last. is there anyone there? please, god—”

all he gets is silence. jeongguk wasn’t sure what he was expecting—there’s a broken ship full of people behind him, just a speck in the distance now, and a planet full of people beyond that—stranded, dying. jeongguk is speaking to the stars but the stars can’t speak back, and this time, he looks out the window at the wide expanse of the universe. he’s heading into… nothing. this maiden voyage, this lonely, lonely walk.

and still he tries, and tries again.

hello? is there anyone there? is there anyone who can hear me? my name is jeon jeongguk. i’m nineteen years old. i might be the last surviving member of the human race on earth. our planet is dying. our planet is dying. i am dying. please help me. please hear me.

this—for weeks. jeongguk sits and stares out at the stars and the darkness and does not look back. after three days, he dares to look at earth, just once, before it’s swallowed up by the sun, but even that is too painful. his mother, his father—they’re there. and he’s here. he keeps the communication link open just in case, even though, as days pass, he begins to lose hope. there’s no one out there. there’s no one to save him, no one to help him.

it’s just he and the stars, he and this escape ship. he and a slowly dwindling supply of food and fuel, and all of this loneliness. all of this aching hurting terrifying loneliness.

every hour, on the hour—hello. is there anyone there? it’s lonely work. and there’s nothing but silence, silence—the silence of the stars. there are entire musical genres based on the sounds that the planets make, but he hears nothing now, as he soars through the universe. he knows all of this, about the planets and the stars and the galaxy. he knows, too, that there was nothing for them in this solar system—maybe in the next. or the next. and maybe jeongguk will find out.

after two weeks, jeongguk loses hope. it’s like a tangible thing, the despair. he is alone in the universe and no one can hear him. and his mother said—we will be with you. what she should have said—you will be carrying millions. it’s different and worse. this wealth of knowledge he has now, the only remaining bits of earth and humanity. it feels like it’s suffocating him.

he takes to walking around the little ship, not more than the control room, a sleeping quarter, and a store room. he counts the cans that remain, the food he has left. he counts the buttons and the knobs and everything he can’t understand. he counts the stars, too, as they pass by. he can no longer see earth. he can’t decide if that’s because he’s too far away or because earth doesn’t exist anymore—apocalypse. he is alone.

he counts the days, too. seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. there’s only silence and his own voice, his own thoughts.

on day twenty, he tries again, thinks maybe—maybe. this far out.

“hello?” he says to the stars. “is there anyone there?”

nothing, nothing. the utter depravity of nothing.

hello,” he says, and it’s—useless, he knows it’s useless, but he has to try anyway. has to believe that if he just says it loud enough, someone will hear and help him. and he won’t die alone on this ship out in space and humanity won’t die with him. “hello, is there anyone—fuck, please, someone help me. please. is anyone there?” jeongguk doesn’t realize he’s crying until the first tears drop onto the control board beneath him, careful raindrops.

“please!” he shouts. “please, please, i need—help, please someone, i don’t want to die alone, i don’t want to die alone—” he gasps, overwhelmed as the tears come harder and faster, and he lets out a sob as he sinks to the ground, crouching with his head in his knees because it’s. it’s inevitable, isn’t it?

jeongguk is going to die here. jeongguk is going to die here, and he is going to die alone.

then—

hello?”

at first, jeongguk doesn’t pay attention. it’s been almost three weeks alone, with his thoughts and his worries and his fears, and he imagines things. he imagines his parents here with him, imagines what someone might say if they were to reply to him, so—

hello? are you there?

jeongguk looks up. the voice is—gritty, crackling over soundwaves and through a communications link that can’t be very strong. but it’s there, and it’s not his own.

“hello?” jeongguk asks.

hello,” the stars reply.

this time—the sob is one of pure relief.

“oh my god,” he cries, gripping the control panel as tears come and come and come—“oh my god, are you real? is this real?”

hello,” says the voice. “this is ground control.do you need assistance?”

for long minutes, all jeongguk can do is cry. he doesn’t have the words yet, just knows that this gaping hole of hopelessness is now slowly being filled in with a stranger’s voice, and there’s someone—there’s someone. he’s not alone.

finally—“yes,” he says, wiping at his eyes. “yes, i—i’m on an escape ship and i don’t know where i am. i left earth three weeks ago and i’ve just been flying and you’re the first person to receive my signal.”

you must not be far, then,” says the voice, and then it—laughs. laughter. jeongguk’s heart clenches at the sound, at the memory. there is another person out there somewhere and they are speaking to him and he is not alone. he is not alone. “what’s your name?”

“jeongguk. jeon jeongguk. i’m nineteen, i don’t know anything about flying—spaceships—”

you seem to be doing a pretty good job,” says the voice. “if you’ve been flying for three weeks and haven’t crashed or done something wrong.”

with a sniff, jeongguk whispers, “i put it on autopilot.”

and the voice—laughs again, just a little. “i’m min yoongi,” it says.

and—oh. the name is familiar. the name… is one that he hasn’t heard in years, but if he thinks about it—

“wait,” says jeongguk. “wait, are you—are you part of the last colony?”

he stares out at the stars, trying to pinpoint where the voice is coming from. which one? or is it a ship still out in the distance? and they left fifteen years ago but here is one of them, here is proof that something went right.

yes,” says yoongi. “how did you know?”

“i remember you,” says jeongguk. “you were friends with my brother. and then you—left, just like that.” before everything got worse, before humans turned on humans. before the solar flare. “are you—where are you? did you make it? did the colony make it?”

there’s a brief pause—static over the link, and jeongguk expects the worst. he thinks: the first colony went up in flames within months, a mutiny aboard the ship ultimately causing it to crash. no survivors. he thinks: the second colony found a planet within three years, and tried to make their home there, and they were wiped out by disease and the original inhabitants of the planet not wanting colonizers. no survivors.

he thinks: the third colony lost communication after four years.

he thinks: min yoongi is alive. there are survivors.

i’m on a planet,” says yoongi, and jeongguk—almost sobs again—“it’s called elpis. orthat’s what we named it. in greek mythology, elpis is the personification of hope. we wanted this is to be the right one.”

“was it?”

i’m here, aren’t i?” asks yoongi. yes. there is hope.

jeongguk sits down again, overwhelmed with—something. hope and the future and the idea that there is someone out there. there is a whole colony out there and they are alive and he is alive and he can go—he can go to them.

can you send me your location?” asks jeongguk, and he squeezes his eyes shut, lightheaded from the whiplash of it, from the relief of it. he is not going to die alone. “although i… don’t know how to set course for there. i don’t know what the fuck i’m doing with this ship.”

luckily, i do,” says yoongi, and he’s laughing again—how is he always laughing, always finding something amusing in this situation? when jeongguk is lost and alone in space? but, maybe. jeongguk wants to laugh, too, just waiting for all of that joy to bubble up inside of him at being found, at finding hope again. there’s a beeping noise, and then yoongi adds, “i’ve sent it to you. tell me how far you are out.”

jeongguk takes one breath. then he takes another. he steels himself for the possibility that he’s too far out, that he’s gone the wrong way, that somehow, this link is a fluke and yoongi will disappear just like that—his lifeline out of his reach. then jeongguk stands up and reaches out for the screen, tapping the blinking red light that has notified him of communication.

a map of the stars appears before him. earth is labeled—but is no longer. jeongguk swallows tightly as he sees it, and then turns his eyes to the blinking white light that is barely moving through the space: his ship.

there’s a blinking red light, too, where he assumes yoongi is. his heart sinks.

“i’m so far away,” whispers jeongguk. “lightyears. thousands and thousands of them. yoongi-ssi, this ship doesn’t go fast enough, it would take me—” he breathes in, ragged. “i wouldn’t get there in time.”

jeongguk,” says yoongi, and jeongguk is already crying again—“jeongguk, listen to me. it’s not that bad. i know how to fly a ship.”

“so?”

so. every ship built on earth has hyperdrive. you can go, maybe—a thousand light years per day, if your hyperdrive is working properly?”

he stares at the blinking lights. the distance is so far, but there has to be hope: elpis. jeongguk takes another deep breath. “are we the last humans in the galaxy?”

no one else has contacted me,” says yoongi. “the other colonies—they didn’t make it. but you made it. jeongguk, you’re not the last one. i’m going to help you, okay? we’re going to get you here.”

later, when jeongguk has stopped crying, excusing himself to hide in his sleeping quarters so yoongi won’t have to hear the sobs he makes over and over (and he refuses to turn off the communications link, afraid that he won’t be able to find yoongi again, convinced that it’s still a fluke when they’re so far away from each other), he remembers what he wanted to say all along. “thank you,” he whispers, head pressed against the glass and the stars and the hope of the future. “thank you, thank you.”

“let’s get you home, jeongguk.”

yoongi teaches jeongguk the basics of how to fly the ship, getting it into hyperdrive—it’s a few hours of coaching, and yoongi is so gentle about it, giving soft instructions and waiting for jeongguk to get it right or ask questions, and always answering those questions without wondering why jeongguk can’t just figure it out on his own. it takes almost ten minutes for jeongguk to figure out where to find the information that can tell him what kind of ship it is in the first place, but he’s still shaken. there’s something buzzing inside of him, the hope of it, the possibility. yoongi chuckles soft and quiet over the communication link when jeongguk admits this, admits that he feels like a little kid again, hopped up on sugar. on moon dust.

but he does manage: he sets course for elpis, just under seventeen thousand light years away. he puts the ship into hyperdrive. after a short research period on yoongi’s part (“i know a lot about ships but i don’t know everything off the top of my head, unfortunately.”) they find that although the ship can fly a thousand light years per day, the engine and hyperdrive itself require a day of normal flight for every day of hyperspeed. something about not overheating it, not damaging it.

it’ll take jeongguk just over a month to get to elpis. to get to yoongi. he cries again, when yoongi tells him this, and yoongi is gentle about that, too.

says, “you are going to be okay, jeongguk.

he misses the stars, a bit, as he looks out the window and sees nothing but a blur of darkness and streaks of light. but he will take what he can now, letting himself grow closer and closer to freedom and hope with each passing minute. he leaves earth behind for good. there is nothing there to salvage, anyway.

then, as he sits—the emotions calm themselves. curiosity piques instead.

he asks, “do you have somewhere else to be?” he has no idea what time it is for yoongi—has no idea what time it should be for him, just going by what the ship is telling him. and if yoongi is living on a real planet, maybe he has duties or a job or other people to worry about. and as much as jeongguk doesn’t want him to leave, he’s trying not to be selfish.

but yoongi says, “nowhere but here. you’re my first priority.”

it makes jeongguk’s chest grow warm, warm.

then—“can you tell me about it?” he asks. “what happened, i mean? all i know about your colony is that we lost contact maybe… eleven years ago? but you’re alive. you made it.”

i did,” says yoongi. “we did. i’ll tell you what happened if you tell me about earth.” and he thinks—yes, of course. yoongi has been gone for fifteen years. losing communication with the colony meant that the colony lost communication with earth and he doesn’t know.

“okay. it’s a deal.”

we were still in contact with the second colony when they got wiped out,” begins yoongi, and jeongguk leans back in his chair, closing his eyes and listening and listening. yoongi has a nice voice—low, enough to lull him to sleep if he wanted. but not now, not when he needs to know. “we realized their mistakes as you probably did—they found a good planet, but they forgot that it wasn’t theirs for the taking. history should have taught them as much, but they died instead. and we looked at them and we thought, that can never be us. we are the last hope.”

it sounds a bit like what jeongguk’s mother told him—three weeks ago, as she shoved the electronic chip into his hand, his ticket to freedom and safety and life. his heart twinges at the memory, at the sound of his mother’s voice and the sad, sad way her eyes had dropped at the corners. she was giving up, but not on him.

so we talked about it,” says yoongi. “there were only about fifty of us, you know, so it wasn’t hard to have discussions like that. and we decided that were going to be smart about it, about finding a place to call home. we didn’t just stop at any planet that we thought would work—we were careful and selective. we travelled for months, sometimes years before we found a planet we liked enough, and then we would contact the people there and find out if they were willing to take us. if so, we’d set up camp for a trial period and if it didn’t work, we’d leave again, try our luck somewhere else. we tried and tried and were never satisfied for almost eight years. and then we found elpis.”

jeongguk hums, in the back of his throat. he tries to imagine it—what elpis looks like. is it green, like the earth once was, in the pictures from the history books? are there perpetual storms like on jupiter or fifty-three moons, like saturn? and what kind of technology do they have and are there other people there, the ones who were there first? and do they look like the aliens that humans used to imagine?

it’s like a paradise,” says yoongi, and there’s something wistful in his tone. “and there’s no one here.”

“you’re alone?” asks jeongguk, and thinks of—a whole great planet with only the last bits of humanity. no one else to worry about, no one to fight with. no one to make war with. maybe he’s merely gotten sick of these metal walls over the past three weeks, but it does sound like a paradise, sounds like a utopia.

it’s beautiful,” says yoongi. “i haven’t seen all of it, or much of it, really—but what i know of it makes me think you’ll like it. anyone would.”

“i can’t wait to see it.”

you’ll be here soon.”

hope flutters within him. it’s a good feeling. elpis.

“what kind of systems do you have?” asks jeongguk, ever curious. “you know, like government and jobs and things like that? and technology?”

i think that’s enough from me,” says yoongi in lieu of answering, chuckling. “you promised you’d tell me about earth. and—we have a month. i can try to send you some photos of elpis, anyway—i could never do it justice myself.

the thing is, jeongguk doesn’t want to talk about earth, not really. doesn’t want to go from hearing about this new planet, this new hope full of green and adventure and wonder, to talking about the utter despair and destruction of the planet yoongi left behind. when the colonies left, the situation was worrisome, but it wasn’t as dire as it got in the next fifteen years. jeongguk doesn’t want to break yoongi’s heart like that.

he doesn’t want to break his own.

and yet—

“i don’t know how much of earth you remember,” begins jeongguk, frowning as he picks at a rip in his jeans, “but it all went to shit pretty quickly. i guess everyone was pretty hopeful when the colonies left, thinking that we wouldn’t have to wait long to find somewhere to go and we could leave the earth behind long before it ever properly died. but right off the bat, there were people who were sceptical, doubtful. who wanted another way. but there was no other way.” he rubs at his nose a little. most of this is just what he learned in school or what his parents told him—his own memories of how awful earth got are much, much worse.

“people started losing hope soon enough,” he continues. “when the first colony went down, it was devastating. and when the second went down, it was even worse. and when we lost contact with you—” jeongguk tries tor remember it. he was eight years old at the time. “it was awful. for a few years, it was like all of humanity was truly united under this one goal of survival, and then all hope was gone. and all cards were off the table, and… nothing mattered anymore.”

he pauses, just briefly. it’s hard to talk about history that isn’t even history yet, not when it happened so recently.

“let me guess: war?” asks yoongi. jeongguk is grateful he doesn’t have to spell everything out.

“and more. we turned on each other, just like that. people do strange things when they know their planet is a ticking time bomb.”

“what happened to the earth itself?”

“we stopped caring centuries ago. but it was worse now, i guess. everyone knew they were going to die anyway, so they stopped trying to live. it was like the apocalypse hit ten years before it was predicted, and not because of some solar flare, but because humanity just… collectively gave up. i think it’s the saddest thing i’ve ever witnessed.”

jeongguk traces his fingers over the screen in front of him, knowing that he could look back on the video logs from the day that he left in the pod—yoongi told him about that, too—and he could see earth again. but he’s afraid to see it, afraid to miss it, knowing that he’ll never again have it. that’s not how an apocalypse works.

“anyway,” says jeongguk with a sigh, after the silence has gone on too long. “a few months ago, the united nations announced that they were sending one last ship out. like a last ditch effort. my parents paid an arm and a leg to get me a ticket, and then two days after we launched, the whole thing went up in flames.” he clears his throat, trying to push the rest of the images out of his mind. “i’m the only one who made it out alive, as far as i know.”

“jeongguk,” begins yoongi.

“it’s fine,” says jeongguk. he blinks away tears, though, glad that yoongi can’t actually see him.

“it must be hard,” says yoongi, and his voice is quiet somewhere, like it’s right in his ear instead of over the entire sound system—“to watch your entire planet die like that. i’m so proud of you for making it. i’m proud of you for being brave.”

what he wants to say is—it wasn’t hard. i just wanted to survive. it wasn’t brave when i didn’t take anyone with me.

but jeongguk just sniffs and nods a little. “yeah,” he whispers. “but now i have you. so it’s better.”

he swears he can hear the smile in yoongi’s voice when he replies, “yeah. it’s much better.”

☆ ☆ ☆

jeongguk holds his breath as he grips the handle, and then slowly pulls it toward him. all at once, the streaks of light disappear and he lurches into a much slower speed. he can see properly now—but here, it is still dark. here, there are still stars dotting the horizon and he is millions and billions and trillions of miles from home—both ways.

“did it work okay?”

“yeah,” breathes jeongguk. day two. yoongi is still here—yoongi is always here. the breathless expanse of the universe no longer terrifies him with loneliness, not when there’s another voice here, the promise of another body only sixteen thousand light years away.

yoongi makes a pleased sound and jeongguk heaves a small sigh. he picks up the dried fruit he was eating, taking a moment to chew on some mango or peach or something, and then presses a button on the control center to amplify yoongi’s voice throughout the entire ship. he finds his way to his bed, flopping down on his back because—he doesn’t want to see this. it’s all the same. and not moving at hyperspeed is already making him anxious.

“why can you be here?” asks jeongguk for the second time.

“i already told you—”

“no, i know, i’m your first priority. but don’t you have a job or a family or other things to take care of?”

yoongi chuckles, just quietly. “this is kind of my job,” he says. “i’m ground control for the colony and elpis now. if anyone tries to make contact, i hear it. and admittedly, no one has, not until you.”

“what was it like?” jeongguk asks, putting his dried fruit to the side. “when you first got there, i mean?”

there’s that pause again; jeongguk is afraid that yoongi will deflect like last time, but he doesn’t. he speaks and jeongguk shuts his eyes, trying to imagine it.

“we’d already tried a handful of other planets,” says yoongi. “so i think everyone was kind of losing hope or wasn’t expecting much. but we’d seen the planet from space and did as much research as we could about the atmosphere and whatnot to see if it was actually inhabitable, and when we tried to make contact with anyone on the planet, we didn’t get a response. so we touched down and everything was so… silent. and untouched. it’s what i imagine earth must have looked like before humans took over, and i guess that’s irony?”

yoongi had called it a paradise. jeongguk sees green, green, green.

“we had manuals about how to start a new civilization,” continues yoongi. “you know, systems of government and how to build things and how to grow things. so we put all of those into action, put down our roots. it worked well for a time. and—of course, not everyone survived right away. there isn’t anyone else here, but there are a lot of terrifying creatures. we had to learn how to co-exist with them, too, like—i dunno, cavemen with the dinosaurs.”

jeongguk giggles, trying to imagine it.

“we developed good systems early on. it’s not really like earth, not as advanced—of course not. we have our technology but it’s different. we have roles, not jobs. people to grow the food and people to protect us and people to govern us. it was a group effort from the start, an understanding that we were all equal and we all had to work together to make this work. i think we called it socialism.”

“and you’re ground control?”

“i’m a lot of things,” says yoongi. “i guess you could call me the knowledge keeper, in a lot of ways. i know a lot about a lot.”

“like how to fly a ship.”

“like how to fly a ship.”

jeongguk grins up at the ceiling. no doubt yoongi has books or other means to research, all of the knowledge that the colony brought with him. but he likes the idea of yoongi sitting up in some hut on a mountain, waiting for the others to come to him and ask him a question that he can answer simply by pulling information from his own mind.

and then he wonders—are there mountains on elpis?

“what’s it like?” jeongguk asks. “the planet, i mean. what does it look like?”

“it’s beautiful. there’s a lot of water, actually, but lots of land and green, too. it’s quite a small planet, compared to earth, at least. we could never hold billions of people, but i think we knew that that wasn’t what we were aiming for. if we could sustain our fifty, it was enough. the gravity is a lot lighter than earth’s, so you can almost bounce around everywhere. the animals—they’re scary, like i said. and there are two suns, five moons—like a fantasy novel. you should see it at night.”

with his eyes closed, jeongguk tries. tries to see a planet with blue and green, a sky lit up by two suns, a night controlled by so many moons. but instead, he finds himself thinking about yoongi—getting lost in his voice, in the way the vowels and consonants fall from his mouth. what does yoongi look like? he tries to remember the boy from his childhood, the one who came over to their house sometimes—black hair, small eyes. he looked like every other kid on the block.

but now? jeongguk imagines—someone strong. a sharp face, dark eyes. he tries to imagine what a toll living on a new planet would take on someone, and if the atmosphere there has changed his skin. if he has scars from run-ins with the creatures of elpis, if he’s skinnier than he should be because of bad crops sometimes.

it’s only after a few minutes that he realizes he hasn’t quite been paying attention to what yoongi has been saying, not until he hears the other laughing and saying, “have you fallen asleep on me, jeongguk?”

oh—oh, no,” says jeongguk, cheeks flushing, and he’s glad yoongi can’t see him. (is he glad yoongi can’t see him?). “i was just thinking.”

“about what?”

“do you remember when we were kids? when you were friends with my brother and you’d come over sometimes and i always wanted to play with you?”

there’s something apologetic in yoongi’s voice when he says, “i can’t recall. the things that happened on earth—it’s strange. it feels like i only know elpis now.”

it’s been years, jeongguk knows. earth probably seems like another life entirely.

“that’s okay,” he admits. “i used to call you hyung back then… can i? now, i mean?”

“i’ve only been here for a few years.”

“i’ll take that as a yes.”

☆ ☆ ☆

“are there mountains on elpis, hyung?”

“a few. i’ve never seen them myself, but i’ve heard that they’re beautiful.”

“you need to get out more, explore this planet you’ve been living on. i want the grand tour when i get there.”

“i can’t leave.”

“you could, if you wanted. i’d be okay without you for a few days, i think.”

“jeongguk-ah, two hours ago you panicked because you forgot where your water supply was and i had to remind you.”

“it’s not my fault that they didn’t put it by the food.”

“i’m not leaving.”

“fine.”

☆ ☆ ☆

jeongguk wakes up anxious—again. it’s been four or five days, he’s still in hyperdrive. there’s a nervous thrum to his heart, an uneven beat in his chest. he sits up in his bed and he feels this isolation so greatly, feels how small he is, suddenly. a lonely little ship in the middle of the universe. what if he doesn’t make it?

yoongi has been teaching him how to monitor the ship’s resources—making sure he has enough food, enough fuel. he’d been too busy taking notes then, but now, he’s afraid.

“yoongi-hyung?” he asks tentatively. what time is it on elpis? yoongi has to go home some time, has to sleep, has to focus on other things. he has friends, he has other duties. he can’t only focus on jeongguk.

and still—“yeah?”

for the first time, jeongguk’s first instinct isn’t to tease yoongi for being there already. like he was just waiting for jeongguk’s call.

“what if i don’t make it?”

yoongi seems to sense it, too, that this isn’t something for him to be exasperated about like most other times. “what are you afraid of?” he asks.

“running out of fuel. running out of food. getting hit with something. getting to elpis and immediately being eaten by some massive creature. going insane before i get there.”

“i won’t lie,” says yoongi. “those are all very valid concerns. and i can’t tell you that none of it will happen. but i can tell you that i’m going to do everything within my power to make sure they don’t.”

his mother, jeongguk thinks, would tell him otherwise. why do you worry so much? she’d ask. you are in control. don’t worry, don’t worry. it only makes you suffer twice. but yoongi—is frank and honest. jeongguk is alone in a tiny spaceship in the middle of the galaxy and there are real dangers. he might die. yoongi won’t tell him that there isn’t the possibility—and although it makes the anxiety worse right now, he’ll be grateful for it later.

“you need a distraction,” adds yoongi quietly. “tell me something. tell me about earth. tell me about your favourite childhood memory. tell me what you hated most about high school. tell me, jeongguk-ah.”

so jeongguk does.

“when i was seventeen,” he says, “i got my first tattoo. you had to be eighteen to get one without parental consent, but my older brother managed to convince the artist that he was my legal guardian and he signed for me. we got matching tattoos—the coordinates of our family home. a reminder, i think, that no matter what happened to us or our family or our planet, we would always have that one thing. that thing that tied us back together.”

he runs his finger along the numbers inked along his forearm. they mean nothing now, not when earth doesn’t even exist. but. the sentiment remains.

“i have others,” he adds. “in the end, i think i turned out to be like a lot of people. we knew that we were going to die, so we decided to go out with a bang—spend all of our money, do all of those stupid bucket list items that we never got around to before.”

“what did you do?” asks yoongi. “on your bucket list.”

“i went to paris,” says jeongguk, grinning now at the memory. “before it got demolished, i mean, by protestors and everything. ran up the eiffel tower and looked out at the city at night. and i went skinny dipping and i kissed my high school crush, but i think that was more of a pity thing. he wasn’t very good at it, honestly. it was all very cliché.”

“but it meant something to you.”

“i just wanted to live, i think, whatever that looked like. i was so angry about everything being taken away from me so young that i decided to do whatever i could to make me feel alive. getting tattoos and sky diving and partying. it helped for a while, but it didn’t take away the anger.”

“who were you angry at?”

“god?” asks jeongguk. “or the universe? i don’t know. i was just angry. why couldn’t i have been born even just a hundred years earlier, when i could have had everything? i could have grown up and had a family and not worried about this.”

yoongi doesn’t speak at first. as the silence stretches on, jeongguk thinks he might still be angry. because he is alive, but is this living? and what will he find on this new planet when he lands and will it matter, will they be able to sustain humanity?

“you can still have that,” yoongi finally says. “it just looks different.”

instead of thinking about it, jeongguk keeps talking. he tells yoongi about his brother, about his childhood, about what it was like to watch the colonies leave and then hear about their progress and then hear nothing. to watch the slow descent of his world into despair and madness. about the happy things, too—finding friends in the end, or learning about the last ship that would be leaving earth. about dancing in the kitchen with his parents only days before the end, how they still tried to find happiness. how his father told him that that was always the most important thing, no matter where he was or who he was with. as long as he was happy.

and he thinks—he is happy now, just a little. as happy as he can be in this situation, with yoongi. a friend. a companion. the constant voice in his head now, reminding him of things and helping him and keeping him distracted when he needs to be. it could be worse. of course it could be worse.

☆ ☆ ☆

“i’m sick of dried fruit and dried meat and canned things,” says jeongguk—ninth day. he’s been away from earth for a month already, with three more weeks to go.

“you’ll have to suck it up.”

“aren’t you supposed to coddle me?”

“when have i ever coddled you?”

jeongguk pouts. “what kind of food do you eat?”

“i’m not a fan of much,” says yoongi, “but here, we have a lot of crops and garden things that we had on earth. we brought them with us but the soil is good to grow in, for the most part. they have seafood, too. at first, we tried killing the creatures to eat but it’s too difficult and they don’t provide much. it’s a vegetable-based diet.”

“i can see why you don’t like it that much. i’d kill for some steak right now.”

“is that what you’re missing from earth? steak?”

“if i think of what else i miss, i’ll start crying, hyung. i don’t think you want to witness that.”

“you were literally crying yesterday.”

“because i stubbed my toe, not because i was sad!”

“sure,” says yoongi, and there’s that fucking smirk in his voice. jeongguk wants to hate it, but he can’t. he really can’t.

still—it reminds him, somehow, that he still doesn’t know what yoongi’s real smirk might look like. he’s been trying to put a face to the voice for a week now and he always comes up short.

“send me a picture of yourself,” says jeongguk, slumping into the control chair with yet another can of dried meat. it’s all he has, so he might as well eat it.

“are you asking me to send a nude?”

“hyung, no,” complains jeongguk, but he’s giggling anyway, swivelling around in the seat to face the screens before him. “we haven’t gotten that far in our relationship yet. i just want a selfie or something. i want to know what you look like.”

“i don’t really look like anything.”

“don’t be modest, hyung. there has to be a picture of min yoongi somewhere.”

“let me find the best one,” says yoongi. “put min yoongi’s best foot forward.”

jeongguk waits. he feels something coiling tight in his stomach, something like nerves—which makes no sense because this is just yoongi, whom he’s been talking to constantly for a week. but yoongi has a nice voice and maybe jeongguk wouldn’t mind listening to it forever and seeing him is so different from just hearing him.

the screen in front of him blinks to life, suddenly. there’s a red blinking light in the corner, an indication that he’s received information from somewhere.

“try that,” says yoongi. “does the great min yoongi live up to your standards?”

he lurches forward, pressing his finger against the blinking light. and then—an image fills the screen, just like that. he leans back slightly to take it in, to take in the man in it. it’s—yoongi. it can’t be anyone else. but jeongguk finds himself swallowing tightly. he was right about a few things—his small eyes, almost feline in nature. the sharp face, his jaw. but yoongi’s hair is platinum blonde, shockingly so. it looks like someone else took the picture before he was ready, lazy and heady eyes looking up at the camera with a curious glance.

jeongguk’s mouth goes a little dry.

“so?” says yoongi. jeongguk realizes it’s been too long since he last spoke.

“uh—yeah,” he says. “yeah, that’s. nice, i guess. you look—human.”

yoongi snorts, crackling over the soundwaves. “thanks,” he says. “what do you think of the colour?”

“i like it. it looks good.”

jeongguk continues to stare. there’s something almost unearthly about yoongi’s face, something mystical and strange. maybe it only makes sense that he’s essentially an alien now, with his sharp features and dark eyes and careful stare. jeongguk shivers, and then saves the photo to the ship’s memory, keeping it for later.

“your turn,” says yoongi, then. “it’s only fair that i get to know what you look like, too.”

“but i look like a thumb. i haven’t showered in three days.”

“and whose fault is that?”

“i wasn’t expecting anyone to see me.”

“i’ll take back the picture.”

“no!” exclaims jeongguk instantly, and then—his cheeks burn. “wait, you can’t do that.”

“are you sure?” asks yoongi, teasing.

the truth is—he’s not. so jeongguk huffs, rearranging himself in the chair properly and opening the recording device on the ship’s screen. he takes a little too long making sure his hair is somewhat acceptable and trying not to get an angle where he has a double chin, but when yoongi starts singing the jeopardy theme—a true relic of earth, and jeongguk thought that yoongi’s life from before was just a vague memory—he quickly snaps a picture and sends it off for yoongi to see.

and he can’t explain the way his stomach ties itself into knots, but.

“cute,” is all yoongi says, voice warm like jeongguk’s cheeks.

☆ ☆ ☆

“have you ever considered dyeing your hair a bright colour?”

“what, like blue?”

“or something. i had magenta hair once, you know.”

“hm. i can’t imagine it.”

“it looked good, i think. people used to call me a cherry because of it.”

“it’s not like we have hair dye here, anyway.”

“yeah, but if you did—”

“sure. blue might look good.”

“i’ll dye your hair when i get there, then. somehow. can’t you do it with some sort of plant?”

“the little you know about how things work astounds me. how are you still alive?”

“i ask myself this question every day.”

☆ ☆ ☆

jeongguk is in the middle of his daily exercise when it happens—he’s flying at a normal speed, on a day off. it’s been two weeks, two weeks, and he’s halfway there. it’s the only motivation that gives him hope, the only thing that keeps him from despairing. he is so far from home. he thinks of his parents sometimes, but mostly, he tries not to—would they be proud of him? would they still love him?

but it’s just he and yoongi now.

he’s doing pull-ups, sweating with the exertion of it all, and then—something collides with the ship. for a moment, jeongguk only feels the impact as he’s thrown from the pull-up bar, body flying through the air in a strange moment of… nothing. and then, all at once, everything crashes into place. in only moments, jeongguk’s body hits the opposite wall of his sleeping quarters, crying out with pain as something jabs into his shoulder, but he has no time to think when he hits the ground as the entire ship is sent spinning. the room is full of chaos, objects crashing against the walls as the ship careens and careens and jeongguk lets out another cry, trying to find something to hold onto as he feels the trajectory worsen and worsen.

his shoulder screams with pain as he grabs onto a door handle, the one that leads to the control room, and he knows he has to get there—to stop the ship from spinning so madly, and there are horrible screeching sounds from within the ship, metal on metal. there’s another collision and he’s jerked forward this time, crashing into the door before he thinks to yell out, “hyung! yoongi-hyung!”

he has to be here, has to be here, he needs yoongi—yoongi will know what to do. yoongi always knows what to do. jeongguk finds himself ignoring all of the pain, tears welling his eyes as he opens the door and lurches into the control room almost to be knocked out by a silver panel that has come unattached from one of the walls.

yoongi-hyung!” he screams, and—

“what’s wrong?” yoongi’s voice is steady as well. “jeongguk-ah, what’s happening?”

“i got hit!” there’s a siren in the ship, the control room suddenly bathed in red light as something starts flashing, and they’re still spinning, the stars outside only a blur as jeongguk presses himself against the wall and makes his way to the front of the ship that way. “the ship is just—fuck, it’s out of control and there are sirens going off and i can’t—i don’t—”

“take a deep breath,” says yoongi, and somehow, his voice is the loudest, even with the siren. jeongguk’s reaction is instant, forcing himself to listen to yoongi as he breathes through it—the pain and the panic, ducking as left over cans of dried food whip through the compartment.

jeongguk lurches forward, finally able to latch onto the captain’s chair. his head hurts, growing dizzy from the spinning, and he winces as there’s another vague crash from outside of the ship. the sirens are still screaming. everything is red red red.

he closes his eyes. he whispers, “help me.”

“take the ship off autopilot,” says yoongi.

“i can’t—hyung, i can’t fly a ship!”

“jeongguk, you have to take it off autopilot. you can’t get back on course if you don’t.”

he balls his hands into fists. he takes a deep breath. and then yoongi adds, “trust me. trust me, jeongguk-ah. i won’t let you get hurt.”

jeongguk presses the button before he overthinks it, and the ship is still spinning but instantly, two handles rise out of the sides of the chair he’s sitting in.

“take the handles,” says yoongi, because of course he knows the exact procedure, and jeongguk turns off his mind, turns off his panic—he takes the handles, knuckles white against them as he holds on and holds on and holds on.

“the right one is for horizontal and vertical movement. the left is for tilt. can you tell if you’re spinning flat or not?”

“i—i don’t know.”

“that’s okay. we’ll use the right one first. which way are you spinning?”

jeongguk closes his eyes and lets himself feel it. his stomach lurches. the sirens are so fucking loud.

“counter-clockwise.”

“yank the handle to the right, hard. brace yourself.”

jeongguk does. he feels the change instantly—the ship attempts to screech to a stop, or at least in the other direction, and he’s thrown with the lurch of it again. the handle fights against him but jeongguk grits his teeth, keeping the handle all the way to the left as the ship finally begins to slow its terrifying spiral.

“it’s working,” he mutters, gritting his teeth as he puts all of his weight behind it, and then—the ship stops spinning. he lets go of the handle, trying to slump back in his chair although everything is being thrown to the right, now: all of the lose objects in the cabin.

which can only mean—“are you upright?”

“no. i think i’m—tilted to the right, a lot.”

“use the left handle for that. carefully move it to the left until you feel stable again. the ship should tell you.”

jeongguk does that, too, breathing heavily as he watches the slight movement of the stars outside of the window. more than that—he’s finally able to sit properly, things that were resting against the walls clattering the ground. once the ship is back in a proper position, the sirens stop, too.

and—jeongguk breathes. he sits in his chair and he heaves a great sigh, letting go of the handles as though they’ve burned him. he’s not moving anymore, just watching as some massive chunks of what looks like rock disappear into the distance. that’s likely what collided with him.

then, yoongi’s voice again—“are you okay?”

“my shoulder hurts like a bitch.”

“i’m proud of you. you did it.”

“i just turned some handles. and—the lights are still red. there’s a lot of flashing stuff on the screen, too, i think—the ship is damaged? yoongi-hyung.”

“okay,” says yoongi. “tell me what’s wrong with it. we’ll figure it out.”

this is it: the left side of the ship is damaged. not badly, not enough to be worrisome, but damaged nonetheless. the ship keeps warning him about low pressure in some area that yoongi says they’ll have to fix at some point, and the glass on the back of the ship has been cracked, which they’ll definitely have to fix. the fuel tank hasn’t been damaged, though, and neither has anything internally, other than jeongguk himself. it’s a mess, which it isn’t the worst result.

after he cleans up, putting things back in their proper order and assessing whether or not his shoulder is bleeding—it’s not, but there’s already a massive purple bruise—jeongguk sits back down in the captain’s chair and puts his head in his hands.

“i want to get out of here,” he says, more to himself than anything. “what if i get hit with something else? i know it hasn’t been a full day, but—i’m going into hyperdrive.”

jeongguk carefully grabs the handle in the middle of the control panel, pushing it forward and waiting for the tell-tale lurch of being thrown into hyperspeed. but—nothing happens. eyebrows furrowed, he brings the handle back down and then forward again, but… still. nothing.

“oh my god,” he whispers, staring at the handle. “oh my fucking god, no, no, oh my god—”

“what?”

“hyung. hyung, it won’t go into hyperdrive. it won’t go, i’m stuck—”

“what do you mean?”

“it won’t go! i keep pushing the handle but it won’t go and i’m stuck here, oh my god, i—i can’t be stuck here, i don’t wanna die here—” suddenly, jeongguk can’t breathe. the panic sparks inside of him, all of that loneliness and terror coming back again. he can’t make it to yoongi without hyperdrive.

he can’t survive without hyperdrive.

“jeongguk-ah—”

“hyung, i’m gonna die here.”

“jeongguk. listen to me.”

“hyung, what do i do?”

“we can fix it.”

“how? how the fuck do we fix this?”

when yoongi doesn’t immediately answer, jeongguk lets out an aborted cry, hand pressed to his mouth. there are tears already. this is a death sentence.

“i’m stuck here.”

“no, you’re not. jeongguk-ah, it is my only priority to keep you alive. i’ll—i’ll figure it out. i’ll figure out how to fix it. it must have gotten damaged by the asteroid, but there’s always a way to fix it.”

jeongguk is already leaving the room, heading to his lonely little bed. his deathbed.

“jeongguk-ah?” yoongi is still asking. “jeongguk, do you trust me? i’m going to fix it.”

he stops listening when he pulls the blanket over his head. the end.

☆ ☆ ☆

jeongguk dreams of earth. the warmth of the sun, far from trying to take his parents and friends from him, and the ocean. he loved the ocean as a child, wanted to be a sailor if he could. wanted to explore the world for the rest of his life because there was always so much. he looked to the stars, too, but it was nothing like what the earth had to offer.

in his dream, he’s with his parents. they’re on a boat, sailing over the calm sea as the sun beats down on them. someone is laughing. everything is good and good and there’s nothing to be afraid of. his mother tells him, our little captain. his father tells him, take us home.

he tries. instead, he wakes up, and—he sees metal first. remembers the rest of it later, how there is no earth and his parents are dead and he is so far from home. he is so far from elpis. he’s stuck.

then. the first thing jeongguk hears when he wakes up and calls out yoongi’s name is—“i figured it out. i figured out how to fix it.”

and—jeongguk stops. he swallows, mouth dry. his shoulder aches, and it’s the only reminder of what happened yesterday. somehow, he almost forgot. the ship is hardly moving after he disappeared without even bothering to put it back on autopilot, but that’s not what he’s focused on. he’s focused on yoongi’s voice, ever present.

i figured out how to fix it.

“what?” asks jeongguk.

“i figured it out. i know what’s wrong with the hyperdrive and i know how to fix it.”

somehow, jeongguk’s first reaction is to ask, “do you ever sleep?”

and yoongi, like always, just laughs. “no,” he says. “i don’t need sleep when i have to take care of you. now do you want to get back into hyperdrive or not?”

it’s this: there’s some sort of energy core in the engine of the ship that controls the hyperdrive, that allows the ship to jump into hyperspeed in the first place. it was damaged in the collision, and yoongi guesses it’s because something was jostled inside of the engine that managed to cut the power to the core directly. he gives jeongguk a ten minute pep talk about crawling underneath the floorboards of the ship, finding the engine, and fixing it.

and he does. with yoongi’s slow, careful instruction, he takes the strange little emergency tool box shoved in with all of the cans of food and makes his way below deck. there aren’t so many wires or pipes with this technology, but he has to navigate it carefully, anyway, having taken special earbuds so that yoongi can speak directly into his ear since the communication link doesn’t reach to the bottom of the ship.

it’s careful, restless work. he undoes a lot of screws, assesses a lot of damage. in the end, the base of the core that was damaged, and he does his best to repair it with the tools he has. it’s all yoongi, anyway, using big, fancy words that he must have learned from some manual about escape pods and other such ships. there’s a lot of tinkering and waiting and manual labour. the core itself burns white hot, some sort of energy source when the ship is actually in hyperdrive, but luckily, he doesn’t have to worry about losing a hand now.

jeongguk patches the base up as best as he can. it doesn’t look good as new, but he has to admit it’s better than before.

“think it’ll work?” breathes jeongguk once he’s finished, staring at the patched up base of the core.

“it will,” says yoongi. “but you’ll have to take a lot more rest days now. that patching isn’t going to hold forever and you’ll have to repair it a few times, too. i think to be safe, you should take maybe three rest days for every day you’re in hyperdrive now.”

jeongguk wipes at his sweaty forehead. he’s too exhausted to fully comprehend what it means.

“so,” he says. “i’m not two weeks away.”

“no,” says yoongi. “it might take you a few more months. but it’ll be worth it. if you overuse the hyperdrive and blow the core, it won’t be able to be fixed at all. a few more months of travel is better than never getting here, right?”

yoongi has a point. jeongguk knows this. and yet—“yeah,” he breathes, taking one last look at the core before he climbs his way back into the control room of the ship. “thanks, hyung. for helping me.”

“take another rest day,” says yoongi. “put the ship on autopilot and we’ll go from there. you’ll be okay, guk-ah.”

it’s only later, when jeongguk is back in bed and trying to stave off the disappointment and sadness at the prolonged journey, that he realizes it’s the first time yoongi has used a nickname with him. it’s the only thing that keeps him from feeling so awful about everything that he shuts down entirely.

☆ ☆ ☆

he loses track of the days. all he knows is one hyperdrive, three not. one two thee four and it stretches out so long before him, over and over—the agony of it all over again. the loneliness. what hope he’d held previously about making it to elpis and surviving begins to dwindle again. and he will make there—three months is better than never, but he’s shaken. what if he gets hit with something again? what if he runs out of food or fuel? he counts his resources constantly, worry gnawing at his feet, his heart, the backs of his knees. it’s never been about survival the way it is now. and that’s what this is, isn’t it? some post-apocalyptic nightmare, the only human left this side of the galaxy. he’s trying so hard to get to yoongi but he’s tired.

and something more—has it been two months from home already? how long as he been wandering through the universe? he’s forgotten. he should have made marks in the walls or somewhere. he should have stayed on earth.

it’s what plagues him now, as he sits in his bed and stares at his hands—he should have stayed on earth. he should be sleeping. instead, all he can think of is his mother’s eyes and how they had looked when they’d said goodbye and how they’d looked when he used to ask her what would happen to them and how they’d looked the first time he remembers them at all.

the loneliness. oh, the loneliness.

“jeongguk?”

he doesn’t lift his eyes from his hands. yoongi’s voice has always been comforting, a reminder. now, it just makes him feel worse. yoongi is so fucking far away.

“jeongguk, i know you’re awake.”

he rubs at his eyes. “how?”

“i can hear you.”

“i’m not even making any noise.”

“you usually snore when you’re sleeping.”

and it—should be funny. he should laugh at that, because yoongi isn’t entirely wrong but he’d never thought about yoongi being able to hear him even when he’s asleep. except it’s not funny. and jeongguk feels tears pooling in his eyes suddenly, and he wipes them away because he doesn’t want that.

“i can’t sleep,” admits jeongguk.

“why not?”

jeongguk searches within himself for the answer. for a way to put all of this aching and wanting and suffering into words, and words that yoongi will understand. it occurs to him, suddenly, that he hasn’t touched another human in months. he hasn’t been touched in months, and he used to thrive on it. used to cling to his friends, hug his parents at every chance. his father used to tell him that as a baby, he would cry every time someone tried to put him down, so they held him. they always held him.

maybe that’s what he needs now—to be held. but he is alone in a tiny vessel in the middle of the universe. and yoongi’s voice is nice, but it’s not the same.

“i’m lonely,” jeongguk finally says. “i’m so lonely. you’re here but you’re not really here because you’re just a voice. i keep tricking myself into pretending you’re just in a different part of the ship because it makes me feel less isolated, but that’s not the truth.”

“there can be a lot of consequences to not having human interaction for long periods of time.”

“that’s not helping.”

quietly—“sorry.”

jeongguk rubs at his eyes again, wiping away the warm wetness there. “whatever,” he says, and then flops back onto his bed, pulling the covers up high and high. “just let me sleep.”

“jeongguk.”

“hyung, really, you don’t have to worry about me.”

“but i do,” says yoongi. “i always do. talk to me. please.”

jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut as a fresh wave of tears come. and like this, he can pretend that yoongi is here. he can pretend that yoongi is sitting beside him in bed, hand hovering just over his hair. jeongguk always liked having his hair played with, always calmed him down. and he can pretend that yoongi can make him his favourite meals and ask him about his favourite songs and they can travel the expanse of this great universe together, properly.

it’s an ache.

“there aren’t words,” he finally whispers. “it’s just this terrible feeling in my chest. this need to have more than this, but i can’t fix it because i’m the only one here. i’m the last one. but it’s more than that, it’s just—i miss it. i miss earth and i miss my friends and i miss m-my parents.” he sniffs, trying to stop the flow of his tears but he can’t, he can’t. “i miss them so fucking much, hyung, and i don’t—i didn’t let myself think about it before, but they’re dead. and i’ll never see them again and i’ll never have anything that i had and i don’t know what to do. i don’t wanna forget them.”

“jeon hyejin,” says yoongi instantly, and jeongguk’s breath catches in his throat. “jeon seungjae. born march fourteenth and november eighth, respectively. married july twenty-first. high school sweethearts, voted most likely to get married first, and they did. also voted most likely to have ten kids, and that didn’t quite happen, but they didn’t need anyone else after you.”

“how do you know that?” breathes jeongguk.

“i know a lot about a lot. i have files on everyone.”

jeongguk knows this—about his parents. knows their story like the back of his hand, knows every detail about them. but there’s something about hearing yoongi talk about them, like he’s relearning their parts and nooks and crannies that makes everything ache a little less. so he waits. and then yoongi continues.

“hyejin-ssi—an engineer. she worked on the ships that sent the colonies out and they offered her a spot on one of them because she knew those ships like the back of her hand. they needed someone for repairs. but she refused it, because she didn’t want to take her family from earth. she was afraid of what the stars would offer her. seungjae-ssi—elementary school teacher. plant enthusiast. the kids in his class used to give him succulents as presents because they were so rare at the end. he didn’t want to be part of the colonies because there were no plants on board the ships.”

jeongguk thinks of them—his mother and father. they were good parents. not perfect, but good, great—they loved him. they raised him to fight for himself and for what he loved, and maybe that’s why he’s here. he wanted to live so badly for them. he still does.

and he ignores his tears, curling his hands desperately into his blanket as he stares at the wall opposite him and listens to yoongi rattle of facts about his parents—where they got married, when their sons were born. all public records. it’s the personal things that only jeongguk knows.

“my dad wanted to be a doctor,” says jeongguk. “but he and my mom wanted to get married and start a family as soon as they could, and he didn’t want to go through schooling and everything with a young family. so he gave up his dream. and my mom always told him that he should be a doctor, that he didn’t have to worry about his family like he did, but he refused. he never wanted to spend a day without us. even when i went to summer camp or started university, he didn’t want to let go of me when we said goodbye. that’s how it was at the end, too. it was so hard.”

“he’d be proud of you.”

“you never really knew him.”

“i don’t have to know him to know he’d be proud of you.”

“i used to want to be so independent,” says jeongguk. “i hated living at home when i was in high school because my parents had rules and curfews and i wanted to do my own thing. i couldn’t wait until i was out on my own and could do everything i wanted without having them breathe down my neck. and now i’d just—give anything. to have them here again. how is that fair?”

“it isn’t. i don’t think it’s supposed to be. but that’s what’s meant to fuel you now. to live for them and to do right by them. they couldn’t make it, but they gave up their lives for you, in the end.”

jeongguk takes a shaking breath. “i don’t know if i deserve that kind of hope and confidence.”

“you think too lowly of yourself, guk-ah.” yoongi’s voice is soft, soft over the sound system. he’s usually so busy teasing or berating jeongguk that the younger boy is almost shocked by it. but it makes him feel better anyway. “you got out here all on your own. you found an escape pod when you needed to and you got it to fly and you figured out how to get help. you might think that i’ve been doing everything for you from here, but that’s true. you’re the one who saved the ship when you got hit and who fixed the core of the hyperdrive. i’m just the one who found the information for you. you’re the one who put it into action.”

“thanks, hyung,” mumbles jeongguk.

“you’re more than that. you’re smart and creative and kind and lovely. and pretty.”

jeongguk’s cheeks darken, just a little. “you haven’t even met me properly.”

“i can’t wait to.”

he knows what yoongi looks like now. but it’ll still be strange to see him properly, to touch him. to know him after months of only knowing his voice. and jeongguk is afraid of becoming dependant, having recognized the ways he clings to yoongi, but this is all he has now. and in the darkness of his loneliness, he can’t bother to loosen his grip.

“what are we gonna do?” asks jeongguk. “when i get there. i don’t want to—keep looking back. i need something to keep me going.”

yoongi hums, the sound vibrating through jeongguk. “we’ll go to the mountains,” he says. “and hike all the way up. and it’ll be hard, but it’ll be worth it at the end, because the view is incredible. and we’ll look out at the beautiful, untouched planet that is all our own.”

“just ours?”

“just ours. we’ll go out on the water and sail for days and days until we hit land and we’ll explore all the parts of this planet that no one has seen yet. we’ll discover new plant species and new animal species and we’ll name them after ourselves like pretentious scientists. we’ll take our ships and fly over the clouds and see the sunset and see the moons and wish on them over and over until we get what we want.”

i want you, jeongguk thinks suddenly.

“we’ll make our home here,” says yoongi. “and we won’t just survive. we’ll live. and we’ll start over, and if nothing becomes of us, then so be it. we are the last of humanity and we are not here to be burdened with the future. there is so much distance between us, but there won’t be. and when there isn’t, we can do anything we want.”

“together,” mumbles jeongguk.

“we’ll find berries that stain our skin bright blue and then use it on our hair. we’ll find animals that don’t want to hurt us and raise them as our own. we’ll find everything here, in this paradise. like treasure planet or el dorado. like a book or a film. and you know what, guk-ah?”

“what?”

“we won’t be lonely,” says yoongi. “we will never be lonely again.”

it’s like—jeongguk breaks through the surface of the sea he’s been drowning in, gasping in a breath as it hits him. and hits him and hits him again and again, like this: he will be on this ship for only months. but he will be with yoongi for the rest of his life. he will be with the last hope of humanity, with the last colony, with elpis. and this suffering seems so small, suddenly, so insignificant compared to what is waiting for him. all he has to do is make it through the rest of this long journey.

he turns his face into his pillow to hide his sobs even though he knows yoongi can hear him. he wants it now—wants the future, wants the security. there’s still billions of miles. he has never felt the distance like he has now, no matter if he knows the beauty of the end.

yoongi doesn’t say anything, not for a long time. he lets jeongguk cry and jeongguk does cry, and he thinks: we will never be lonely again. never never never never never—

“i’m going to take care of you,” says yoongi. “now and when you’re here. every day. okay?”

jeongguk finally turns his face away from the pillow, breathing in a hiccupped sigh. the pillow is wet. so is his face. but he closes his eyes and imagines he is with yoongi anyway, here or there—it doesn’t matter much.

“okay,” he breathes. “okay, hyung. you can take care of me.”

“you deserve to be happy. i promise.”

“i’m not happy.”

“but you will be. you have come so far, jeongguk. and you will go even further. and in the end, it’ll be worth it.”

jeongguk is exhausted. and he craves—something. human touch, more than the food he’s eating, ground to walk on. he craves so much and more. but this is what he has: a thin blanket to wrap around himself, the sounds of his ship steadily flying on and on into the dark sky, toward somewhere. toward home.

and he has yoongi’s steady voice, reminding him of what he’s waiting for.

it’s not much. but it has to be enough.

☆ ☆ ☆

“i’m going to run out of food.”

he’s staring at the store of food. the cans are dwindling. it’ll take him two and a half more months to get to yoongi. “hyung? i’m going to run out of food.”

“no, you’re not.”

“i am. i don’t have enough.”

“eat less.”

it’s not a joke.

“i’m going to starve. i’m going to starve before i get there.”

“ration it properly,” says yoongi. “count the days left and divide the food and tell me what you eat every day when you eat it. i’ll keep track of it. i’ll hold you accountable. you’re not going to starve.”

as if on cue, jeongguk’s stomach growls. he closes the door.

☆ ☆ ☆

“do you like music, gukkie?”

jeongguk lifts his head from where he’s been lying in bed, under the blankets. there’s nothing else to do now, not with this fear and desperation. he used to spend his days checking and rechecking his stock of food, fuel, working out. making plans. talking to yoongi about anything and everything. now—is there a point?

“guk-ah. baby. do you like music?”

jeongguk makes a humming noise, affirmative.

“i found some old music from earth, proper relics. stuff like the beatles and seo taiji and mozart. do you wanna listen?”

he doesn’t say anything. and he knows that yoongi is trying—has been trying for weeks now, always coming up with new ways to lift jeongguk’s spirits. but yoongi is so, so far away. and jeongguk is hungry and tired and wants to be off of this goddamn ship. what was it like before, he wonders, when it was only supposed to take a month to get to elpis and there were stars in his eyes and he was excited about this journey?

and this, now, is the true meaning of survival. the gnawing of pain and fear and worry in the back of his mind, the possibility of something else coming along to ruin his hopes. his planet is dead. his parents are dead. everything is dead and maybe he’s moving toward life, but the distance the distance the distance—

“i’m gonna play some for you. not too loudly.”

jeongguk still doesn’t say anything.

he hears yoongi sigh quietly, the sound vibrating through the room. yoongi is trying. he’s trying so hard. jeongguk knows this—but he turns into his pillow anyway, tugging the blanket up higher to his chin.

the careful sounds of symphony sing him to sleep, another haunting reminder of earth, of everything he’s lost.

☆ ☆ ☆

jeongguk divides everything into good and bad days. good days: being in hyperdrive, feeling closer and closer to home. talking to yoongi first, eating enough, thinking about earth and not feeling the ache in the middle of his chest.

bad days: stagnant, moving in that slow, creeping way. hunger, thirst. missing home, missing people, feeling distance and silence and hopelessness like a monster under his bed. having monsters under his bed.

today is a good day. a month and a half from elpis, from yoongi. the stars are but streaks of light around him and he’s flying, hurtling through space. there’s something light in his bones, and he sits in his captain’s chair with his feet propped on the control desk and grins up at the ceiling.

“show me the picture of you,” he says, giggling.

“no.”

“show me!”

“fuck off.”

he giggles again, tipping back in the chair. somehow, they’d gotten onto the topic of terrible pictures and yoongi had made the mistake of revealing that there was a picture in his possession of himself in a maid’s costume. jeongguk has a feeling it wouldn’t be the worst picture of yoongi in existence—probably one of the better ones—but yoongi is embarrassed about it.

it feels good to laugh.

“please, hyung?”

“no.”

“i’ll get on my knees and beg.”

“i won’t even be able to see that, idiot.”

“i’ll sing for you.”

“i don’t want you to break the sound system.”

he’s giggling again, even though he’s trying not to—trying to be mad about it. he has a lovely voice. but then yoongi is laughing along with him, like the first time they met and that was one of the very first things he heard after three weeks alone. he tries to imagine what yoongi looks like when he laughs—if his eyes get all crinkled and his nose wrinkles up, all teeth on display. if he crouches over or throws himself on anything he can.

maybe jeongguk would rather see that.

hyung,” he begins. “you either show me now or show me when i—” he stops when there’s a loud beeping noise and he sits upright immediately, feet on the ground. “what was that?” he looks at the screens in front of him as the beeping sounds again, and then the screens fill with writing, a notice.

“energy and fuel low,” he reads. “survival mode activated.”

jeongguk frowns at the screen.

“oh shit,” says yoongi.

and then the lights turn off. he’s bathed in darkness immediately, but before he can panic, other lights turn on—low lighting, the sort of ambience that makes him feel like it’s the middle of the night no matter where he is. the sounds of the ship quiet and he’s still staring at the screen.

“what the fuck does that mean?” he asks.

“escape pods are only supposed to be used for short periods of time,” says yoongi.

“is it going to take me out of hyperdrive? yoongi-hyung, i can’t—”

“jeongguk, calm down. it’s not going to do that. your hyperdrive is part of a different system entirely. it’s just—everything else.”

jeongguk is already pressing at the screen, trying to find his fuel resources. it is low, heart clenching as he tries to count the days. how far away is he from elpis?

“it’ll probably turn your heat off,” says yoongi, “and your lights. it won’t affect hyperdrive, but your regular speed will likely be slower, too, to preserve fuel. it might not let you do a lot of things with the ship either. you’re basically just… a hunk of metal.”

the fear spikes in him again—“what if it cuts off communications?”

yoongi doesn’t answer.

today is—a bad day, he realizes. it’s a very bad day.

“it shouldn’t,” says yoongi quietly. “but if it does, i’ll send you all the information you need about landing the escape pod and where to find me and what to expect when you first land.”

a month and a half. it’s so, so long.

“okay,” jeongguk whispers. “okay.”

“okay.”

☆ ☆ ☆

a month a month a month a month it’s jeongguk’s mantra as he shivers against the cold, pulling the blanket tighter around his body. he makes himself small in the bed, trying not to give into it. he’s skinnier than he’s ever been, only eating half or a third of what he should in order to stretch the food rations until the end. the ship hardly moves when he’s not in hyperdrive. there’s almost no heat. he sits and waits every day and that’s all that’s all that’s all he can do.

a month.

a month.

“it’s so cold,” breathes jeongguk. “hyung, it’s so cold.”

“i know,” says yoongi. “i know, baby. it’s okay. have you eaten today?”

“n-no. don’t wanna run out.”

“you have to eat at least a little bit. if you run around a bit, it’ll increase your body temperature.”

jeongguk groans, turning his face into the pillow. “too cold.”

“jeonggukkie,” says yoongi, and there’s that same worry in his voice as when this slow decline started. he’s always so soft now, so gentle. reminding jeongguk to eat, reminding him when to put the ship in or out of hyperdrive. keeping him alive.

jeongguk needs him. he can’t do it without him, the only hope, the only thing he’s going toward.

“tell me about it again,” jeongguk whispers, closing his eyes.

yoongi knows, without having to ask. it’s been their routine for two weeks.

“the sky here is pink sometimes. something in the atmosphere—i never bothered to find out. but sometimes it’s pink and everything is cast in this warm, soft glow. that’s what it’s like right now, actually. everything is pink and lovely and soft. everything looks different, but a good kind of different. like a dream. on those days, when the night comes, the moons aren’t white but pink, too, or sometimes blue, or sometimes orange or red. they called that a blood moon on earth, but here, it’s just normal. you never know what you’re going to get.”

jeongguk sighs, feeling himself melt into the bed. he still shivers, teeth chattering together, but there’s a sort of warmth in his chest that can’t come from the ship or the blanket. it’s hope. it’s a reason to not give up in this fight for survival, so far away from earth. he’s only a month from home.

“when you get here,” says yoongi, “we’ll go to the hot spots. they’re little pools of water and they’re always warm. and you can sit there and forget about the cold on the ship and you’ll never have to feel that cold again. jeongguk-ah, it’s always warm here. it’s the two suns—they’re not as big as the sun from earth, but they always keep us warm.”

“warm,” he whispers.

“and you know what, gukkie?”

“we will never be lonely again.”

“that’s right.”

for the first time, jeongguk thinks—i am not lonely. i am not lonely because you’re with me and this is all i want. it’s a shock to him, like another blast of cold under the blanket—jeongguk doesn’t care about elpis because of what it means. he doesn’t care that it means survival or warm or real food. he doesn’t care that it means walking on real ground and finding a new piece of humanity that will ensure his safety, his survival. his life.

jeongguk cares about elpis because of yoongi. he wants yoongi—wants to be with him, wants to be near him. wants to see him in person and memorize the details of his face. wants to trace them with his fingers and feel yoongi under his hands: his hands, his face, his body. wants to know that he’s there and can’t be anywhere else. wants to hear his voice through something other than this amplified speaker.

he has never had yoongi, not in any tangible way, but that’s what he aches for now—not earth, not his parents. yoongi. it’s all yoongi: this one lifeline, this one thing that has been keeping him alive for almost four months. his heart, his home. he wants to hold yoongi’s hand when they go to the mountains and sit in their house and drink tea and laugh about all of this. he wants to explore elpis together, wants to relearn how to run and play and laugh. jeongguk wants all of it with yoongi—something more. wants to be the last of humanity together, even if nothing will become of them.

he wants to grow with yoongi. he wants to die with yoongi. he wants humanity to die with them, because it will, but he wants it to die with them together.

jeongguk opens his eyes. the room is dark—always dark, always cold—and yoongi is still talking to him. soft and careful. full of love. how did jeongguk not see it before?

yoongi has been taking care of him from the beginning. there is always something more.

we will never be lonely again.

“guk-ah? are you listening?”

“yeah, hyung,” whispers jeongguk. “always listening.”

“are you okay?”

it’s a loaded question. he’s cold and hungry and tired and part of him wants to give up, but—the realization, this epiphany has his heart beating double time. he needs to hold on ever tighter. in only a month, he will not need to sleep alone. this desperation, this longing will find its other half, will find its end. it will find its end in yoongi.

“yeah. m’okay.”

“i’ll send you the picture of me in the maid’s costume if it makes you feel better.”

jeongguk chuckles, breathy. “i don’t wanna move.”

“i’ll send it anyway. when you go back to the control room, you can look at it.”

is this love? selfless, self-sacrifice, as simple as offering an embarrassing picture to keep someone’s heart from breaking?

“thanks, hyung.”

“you’re welcome.”

“call me baby again.”

“you like that?”

jeongguk sighs. he’s so tired, shivering lessening as he closes his eyes again. he doesn’t need to say it, thinks that yoongi knows. he has no interest in being embarrassed about it because it’s the truth, and he wants that warmth. wants to believe that yoongi is waiting for him to come home for the same reason that jeongguk is waiting to come home.

“baby,” says yoongi quietly. jeongguk shivers, but not because of the cold. “are you falling asleep on me?”

“no,” he mumbles. “tell me a story, hyung.”

“okay, baby.” jeongguk is warm, warm. he’s asleep before yoongi even begins.

☆ ☆ ☆

the ship cuts off communications the next day, in the middle of yoongi reviewing the procedure for landing.

jeongguk doesn’t have enough energy to cry.

(a month a month a month a month)

☆ ☆ ☆

jeongguk sits and stares out of the window. his breath is caught in his throat, heart pounding louder louder in his ears. he can’t escape it now—it takes up his entire view, and there’s nowhere else to look. for hours, he’s only had this fear and worry, adrenaline keeping his mind occupied as he struggled to ensure his own safety. it’s not easy piloting a ship when he’s had no real instruction other than what yoongi told him—

yoongi.

he was right, jeongguk thinks, as he slowly gets out of the captain’s chair and moves closer to the window, peering up and up. the sky is pink sometimes. it casts everything in a warm, careful glow. there are two suns. twin souls, circling each other in a binary system—he learned about those. never thought he’d see one.

he’s on elpis. he landed here, right where yoongi instructed him to a month ago. he’s surrounded by green and trees and he only needs to get off of the ship and walk a few miles to where the village is, where yoongi is. jeongguk has been travelling for almost five months, has been trying to survive, and now—here he is. now. here is his chance at health and happiness again.

but. jeongguk doesn’t move. he continues to stare at the sky, unsure of what to think. it’s been a hard month with no communication, no yoongi to keep him sane. a cold, hungry month. he’s afraid he won’t be able to walk. he’s afraid that one of the creatures of elpis will swallow him whole before he even gets to the village. he’s afraid—he’s afraid. he’s been in space for five months, hasn’t seen another human being for five months. hasn’t breathed fresh air or touched solid ground.

all at once, he feels tears welling in his eyes. he did it. he made it. against all odds, jeon jeongguk is alive.

and now—now. everything that he and yoongi wished for, dreamed of, spoke about—it’s just a few miles away. yoongi is here and they will never be lonely again.

he can feel the pain again, the ache that has been eating away at him for a month. that loneliness, that desperation. but all it takes is remembering yoongi’s voice to spur him into action, jamming his hand down on the button to open the door so that he can finally, finally be free. free to live, to move. to be with yoongi. to love him. because he does—it’s the one thing he’s come to terms with in his loneliness.

he never wants to part from yoongi, never again.

jeongguk takes nothing with him as he carefully steps out and out and onto a planet for the first time in five months. he takes a deep breath. yoongi had said that the gravity here is lighter, and he can feel it already—feels like he can run all the way to the village with the map he’s memorized. yoongi made sure he landed in an area that isn’t known for any dangerous creatures, so… jeongguk takes his first step out into the wilderness. and then he goes.

what he thinks is: yoongi. yoongi’s voice like his conscience, yoongi’s laugh vibrating through the ship. finding out what yoongi’s smile looks like when jeongguk is the one to bring it out, what yoongi’s hands will feel like holding his. and despite his weakness, his hunger, despite months of being trapped in a metal tube—jeongguk feels stronger than ever, picking up the pace until he’s running through the trees toward the village. under this pink sky, he finds his way home.

when jeongguk spots the first building, his heart launches into his throat. he crashes through the last line of trees, stumbling to a stop when he sees what yoongi told him he would see: the village. the massive spaceship looming in the distance where they parked it. the little sign they made as a welcome as though anyone else would see it.

i’m in the furthest house to the north, he’d said. it’s got a red door.

jeongguk cares less about the rest of the village, the rest of the people. so he goes, heading straight into the thick of it as he searches for where yoongi is, the house with the red door, the house with the red door, and—

he’s so busy searching that it takes him too long to realize that the village is… empty. there’s not a single other soul out on the streets, no noise from inside the buildings. the plants on front porches have died and withered long ago, and there’s no sign of other life anywhere—no technology, no work.

it’s a ghost town.

he moves slowly, then, eyebrows furrowing as he tries to understand it, but—yoongi had never really spoken about what the rest of the colony was doing. maybe they’ve moved on, maybe it’s just yoongi here and—that’s enough. that’s enough. he puts it out of his mind, hurrying down the path to the north end of the village in search of what he knows he’ll find.

there.

the house with the red door.

jeongguk runs, forgetting about ghost towns and months of starvation and cold and struggle. “yoongi-hyung!” he yells, running for the house. he doesn’t bother to wait for an answer, just bursts through the door with something breathless caught in his chest. “yoongi-hyung! hyung! where are you?” he takes in no detail of the house, simply rifling through it as he searches the rooms, searches for yoongi. he’s not in the kitchen, not in the bedroom, and he keeps going, maybe yoongi is out for the day? maybe they’ve all gone on some trip, maybe that’s why the village is—

“jeongguk-ah?”

he freezes, heart skipping one two three beats in his chest before kick-starting again. it’s yoongi’s voice. it’s yoongi.

“hyung!” he calls, turning and following the voice; he finds stairs as his name is called again and he thunders up them, something squeezing tight inside of him because this is it, this is it, this is yoongi, this is the man he’s fallen in love with. the man who has kept him alive for all of these months, the one hope that kept him going.

at the top of the stairs is an open room, like an office—there’s a large desk littered with papers and other technology, massive screens and other software set up so that it takes up nearly the entire room. and—

no yoongi.

“yoongi-hyung?” he asks, confused as he spins around and tries to pinpoint where yoongi is hiding, in another room, there has to be another room—

“jeongguk.”

he turns around again, facing—nothing. there’s nothing, but yoongi’s voice is here, so he has to be here.

“where are you?” he asks.

and the voice says, “i’m right here.”

jeongguk looks.

and then—he sees.

or, rather. he understands.

the screens. the wires, the software. the ghost town.

“yoongi-hyung,” he whispers. there’s something thick in his throat. “what are you?”

“i’m ground control,” says the voice. and then—one of the screens flashes to life, images and words flashing across them. “i’m elpis’ knowledge keeper. i am a helper.”

“what are you?”

for a while, the voice doesn’t say anything. like he doesn’t want to admit to the truth, even when it’s staring jeongguk right in the face. and then—“i’m min yoongi’s consciousness.”

jeongguk—sits down on the floor. he puts his head in his hands. he tries to breathe tries to breathe tries to breathe.

he has only one thought:

he thinks—he thinks of every conversation they’ve had in the past four months. thinks: yoongi doesn’t need to eat or sleep. he knows a lot about a lot. he was able to figure out how to fly jeongguk’s ship despite not having been on earth for fifteen years. he’s never seen elpis, not really. he’s only been here for a few years. he doesn’t look like much of anything. he has files on everyone. he doesn’t remember earth. he can’t leave.

because he’s not fucking real. and doesn’t it just make sense?

yoongi—is artificial intelligence. he’s an ai.

“jeongguk-ah?”

“what does that mean?” he asks through gritted teeth. palms pressed to his eyes, trying to keep himself from crying, breaking down. if he can just. stay in this moment. he will never have to move to the next.

“min yoongi is my creator,” says yoongi—says the ai, because he’s not yoongi, he’s not—“he built me four years ago in an attempt to help the colony. he programmed me with the single objective of keeping humanity alive. over a year ago, he and the rest of the colony were forced to flee.”

jeongguk sniffs.

“i don’t know why. but yoongi made the decision to save me rather than himself. he told me that there was a good chance that he wouldn’t come back or that something would happen to him and the rest of the colony. so before he left, he transferred his consciousness to me. i am him. just not how you might have been expecting it.”

it’s stupid, jeongguk thinks. he fell in love with artificial intelligence. he lived for the past five months so that he could one day make it to elpis and meet—this. this bunch of wires, this technology. his yoongi. his yoongi, who is nothing but a voice.

“what happened to them?” he asks, pressing harder and harder into his eyes because he can’t cry, he won’t, he won’t.

“i don’t know,” says the ai. “they just left. they all had tracking devices with them but they went offline within a few months, and i’ve spent the rest of that time trying to find them and waiting for someone to come back. and then you called for me and you needed help. and you became the last piece of humanity, the one thing that i’ve been programmed to keep alive. so i kept you alive.”

“you lied to me.”

“i didn’t lie to you, jeongguk. i am min yoongi. i have his thoughts, i have his memories. i have his feelings.”

“but you’re not him.” jeongguk finally looks up. he looks at the screens. that’s all he has now, and it’s not—what he wants. it’s never going to be what he wants.

he realizes, quietly, that they might be dead. the real yoongi might be dead. they might have found another way to survive, might have escaped whatever forced them to flee. or jeongguk might be alone, again. he might still be the only human left in this entire stupid galaxy, and everything he has been living for has been ripped away from him, just like this.

there isn’t a point anymore, is there?

“i have to find him,” says jeongguk quietly. to himself.

“you can’t,” says the ai.

“you don’t know that. you can’t even fucking move, so how do you know that they’re not just a few miles away?”

a pause. then—“i don’t.”

“exactly.”

“but, jeongguk, you have to understand—you could look for him. and if he’s alive, you could find him. but whatever you find, it won’t be what you want.”

jeongguk bristles, wiping angrily at his eyes. “what do you mean?” he asks.

and the ai sighs. if jeongguk closes his eyes, he could pretend that yoongi is actually here, that he’s real, just like he did on the ship. but he can’t stop seeing the betrayal.

“i told you that he transferred his consciousness to me. so what do you think became of him? when he built me, i was just knowledge. i was information. but he wanted to preserve more than that, and he wanted me to be the last of us if he needed. so he gave me all of his human bits. the ability to feel emotion, to feel empathy and pain. to love. to think as more than just a computer. jeongguk, if you go out there and you find him, he won’t be me. he’ll just be… a shell. all logic. it’s like we switched places, but he’s still the one with a body.”

and that’s—it.

jeongguk spent five months travelling across the stars—first for himself, then for yoongi. he searched for a home, for a place to survive. he left everything he knew behind and watched as it was destroyed, only clinging to yoongi as his hope and his lifeline. and now he’s come to find that there is no home here. there is no hope.

humans believed they could cheat death, that they could cheat the apocalypse. and all it’s done is prolong the inevitable.

it’s just jeongguk and yoongi. jeongguk and the ai.

he sits and cries for longer than he cares to track. it’s silent, for there is no one here to comfort him—not the way that he needs, or craves. he’s the last. the very, very last. he put all of his hope into a life that would be spent with yoongi, all of his hope into this beautiful, wonderful world—where they would go to the mountains and sail the seas and be together, even if it was just the two of them. and now jeongguk is… alone. alone alone alone that’s all he’s ever been, all he’ll ever be.

he loves yoongi. he loves yoongi and yoongi isn’t even alive, not really. there’s always going to be something missing.

but what else should he have expected?

“okay,” he finally whispers. he breathes in a ragged breath, lifts his head. “okay.” the thing is—this is all he has now. he’s only had yoongi’s voice for months, and that’s all he will have, but maybe it’s better than nothing. and maybe he will die here, and maybe he will die alone. but this. this is something.

carefully, jeongguk picks himself up from the floor. he grabs one of the chairs at the desk, dragging it toward the screens on the walls. he sits.

he asks, “can you show me him? from before, i mean.”

the ai—yoongi, he’s still yoongi—says, “only if you sing for me. you promised.”

jeongguk lets out a wet laugh, wiping at his drying eyes again. “yeah. i will.”

there’s a moment where he thinks that yoongi is going to make him sing first. nothing happens, and then yoongi’s voice is soft the next time he speaks, careful here. they’re so close.

“i missed you,” is what yoongi says. “i’m really glad you made it.”

jeongguk thinks about it. thinks about five months alone on a ship, thinks about watching his planet go up in flames. he says, “you know what, hyung?”

“what, jeongguk-ah?”

“you’re right. i’m not lonely anymore. i never was with you.”

if he could, maybe yoongi would smile at that. that’s enough. it has to be. and jeongguk has no idea what’s going to happen to him now. if he’ll survive, if he’ll be able to find the rest of the colony even a year after their disappearance. he’s survived this far. and he has yoongi. maybe not in the way he wanted, but—the way he’s always had him.

it’s enough, it’s enough. and he will never be lonely again.