Growing up, everyone has that one story that’s very special to them. Be it a book, a movie, a TV show, a comic, even a game, there’s always that parallel universe that has you wishing you could live in it, along with your favorite characters — live the same adventures as them, be their friends , wouldn’t that be amazing? Most kids and teenagers have that special place while growing up, and with Jeno it wasn’t different.
When he was 13, his parents gave him a video game console for Christmas, and a game to go with it. The game was set on space, in a sort-of Star Wars-ish vibe, and it had quite an intricate backstory for such a simple game. Space Jumpers was about a group of young runaways fighting an evil government in space. They all were incredibly smart and each had their own specialty — there was Amber, the oldest and the leader, with a knack for building little robots to help the group; there was Yeri, with her bright red hair, cheerful spirit and battle agility; Kun, the quiet, yet kind computer genius; Lucas, the loud sharpshooter; Seulgi, the strategist; and finally, Jeno’s favorite character, Minhyung, the flying ace.
Not only did the boy enjoy playing with Minhyung’s character, he also enjoyed his backstory and personality. Coming from a big family, Minhyung was a firm believer of teamwork, and according to his character’s description he was a good leader if needed. His dream was to return to his family, which was stuck in their home planet, unable to leave because of the government’s ruthless conditions.
Jeno grew up with Space Jumpers and it’s characters; throughout the years, they kept releasing sequels for the game, and he managed to own every single one of them. One week before his eighteenth birthday, he asked for the newest release — Space Jumpers Unlimited .
“Aren’t you a little too old for those games, dear?” his mother asked.
Jeno just shrugged. “I don’t think so. They’re good. And they… bring me good memories and feelings. But, like, if you can’t, it’s okay, I’ll save up and try to buy it on another occasion.”
“No, no, we can buy it. I just thought, maybe you’d like something more… I don’t know, what do 18-year-old boys like these days?”
“Girls!” his dad shouted from the other room.
“Dad!” Jeno yelled, rolling his eyes, then turned back to his mom. “They like a lot of different things, I guess. Renjun likes painting, Jaemin likes Renjun and, well, dancing too, Kevin likes- actually, let’s not count him in, he’s weird, Felix likes games just like me and Donghyuck likes music, so… boys my age are pretty diverse.”
His mom chuckled. “Okay, Mr. Diverse, I think my brain fried after ‘Renjun’. We’ll get you that new game, alright, dear?”
“Alright, mom. Thanks.”
“Now, go ask your dad when’s dinner. I’m starving.”
On the night before Jeno’s birthday, he tries staying up until the clock strikes midnight, just so he can wish himself a happy birthday on the right moment, but it’s a school night, unfortunately, and he can’t stay up late. That’s why he doesn’t see it coming — it being the arrival of a mysterious, weird figure, dressed casually in jeans and a sweater, which wouldn’t be weird if the person wasn’t floating on air, outside of Jeno’s window.
The flying person knocks on the glass a few times before it catches the sleeping boy’s attention. Jeno blinks and rubs his eyes, staring confusedly at the stranger. He gets up from his bed and carefully opens the window, eyebrows raised at the person, who he now sees is a boy, around his age, with purple hair and a playful smile adorning his youthful features.
“Hello, Jeno! Happy birthday!” the boy chirps.
“Hi…?” Jeno says, hesitantly. “Who are you?”
“The name’s Chenle. Nice to meet you.”
“Uhh… Likewise, but I-“ a yawn. “Why are you floating outside my window? Is this a dream?”
“This is very real, Jeno Boy. I’m floating because… drumroll please… are you ready?”
“For what, exactly?”
“I’m about to make an announcement.”
“Oh, okay. Go ahead.”
“I’m a genie!” Chenle uncrosses his arms to make jazz hands, smiling bright.
“Okay, I’m definitely dreaming.” Jeno makes a motion to close his window, but the floating boy sticks his arms out, desperate.
“Nooooo, I’m real, I promise! I’m here to give you your birthday gift!”
“I didn’t ask for a birthday genie, or whatever.” he rubs his eyes again. “Also, aren’t genies, like, bound to a physical object? Don’t you have a lamp, or something?”
“First of all, rude.” Chenle holds up a finger. “For your information, young sir, I come from a lineage of free genies, which means I can do what I want. I like to give people birthday gifts, so when I overhear someone’s birthday is coming up, I pass by their house at midnight to grant them a wish! Isn’t that cool?”
“That’s a little weird, and stalker-like. You might want to revise your methods.”
“Nonsense. Now, what can I get you?”
“How am I supposed to trust you? And your magic, for that matter? How can I know you’re not going to turn my life miserable by the time I wake up?”
“Are you always this skeptic? Jeez.” the genie rolls his eyes. “Okay, so, yes, you can trust me, I’m a sweetheart, and I’m the best magic wielder in my family. My mom said it herself.”
“Oh, and that’s reassuring.” Jeno chuckles, ironically.
“Do I sense sarcasm? That’s why you don’t have a boyfriend yet.”
“Hey!” Jeno frowns. “How do you know that? Also, there’s no correlation between being occasionally sarcastic and not having a boyfriend.”
“Being a genie comes with a few powers. But that’s not important! Do you have a wish I can grant? If not, I’ll just wish you a happy birthday and leave.”
“I don't think I have, to be honest.” the birthday boy shrugs. “The only thing I really wanted was the new Space Jumpers , but my mom already said she can buy it for me, so…”
“ Space Jumpers , you said?” Chenle ponders, index finger touching his chin. “I can do that. I’m teleporting you to see the Space Jumpers , how about that?”
“No, Chenle, that’s not what I meant-“
“Prepare to launch in three, two, one…”
“Chenle, I don’t-“
Chenle’s oblivious smiling face is the last thing Jeno sees before everything goes black and he feels a forceful tug pulling him into oblivion.
When he wakes up, Jeno is in a warehouse. A strangely familiar warehouse. He looks around, noticing he’s lying on the floor, only a piece of fabric separating him from the dirty surface. Now aware of all the dust bunnies that were keeping him company while he was unconscious, he coughs, trying to expel them from his system.
“Oh, he’s awake.” a male voice says. “Come here, guys.”
Jeno almost screams when the owner of the voice steps into the field of vision. He’d recognize that mop of dirty blonde hair, those piercings and that hideous outfit anywhere.
“You’re… You’re Lucas.” he chokes out.
“Well, yeah…? It’s been a while since anyone called me that, but that’s me.” a pause. “Wait, how do you know that?”
“He’s probably a spy.” a female voice says, and a woman walks in. Again, Jeno has to resist the urge to scream, because those fierce eyes are impossible not to distinguish. That, and the silver bracelet she always wears on her left wrist — that’s Seulgi. “I’d say we restrain him.”
“Let him explain and introduce himself first.” another voice comes in, and this time he knows it’s Amber even before he sees the short hair and the tattoos — her laid-back, yet serious tone is the same as it is in the game, even if her voice isn’t. Walking by her side, there’s Kun, in his plaid shirt and round glasses glory. He hasn’t said a word yet, but that’s expected, since he was always the quiet one.
“Alright.” Seulgi says. She turns to Jeno. “What’s your name, boy? And where are you from?”
“I’m Jeno.” he answers in a small voice. “And I’m from… Earth? This is not Earth, right?”
Lucas scoffs. “Yeah, this is definitely not Earth.”
“But we’re too far from Earth.” Amber points out. “Too far for a boy to come alone and unprepared.”
“I didn’t come alone, exactly.”
“See?” Seulgi snaps. “Told you he’s a spy. Who do you work for?”
“It’s not like that, okay?” Jeno hugs his knees. “Look, it’s a pretty unbelievable story, I wouldn’t believe if someone told me either, but-“
“Just tell us.”
“I’m here by myself, but I didn’t get here on my own. I was in my room, asleep, when a genie woke me up.”
“A genie.” Amber raises an eyebrow, skeptical.
“Do you guys have genies in space?”
“Not outside of fairy tales.” Lucas shrugs.
“Right? I thought they didn’t exist too, but then this little prick called Chenle knocked on my window and told me he’d grant me a birthday wish. I said I didn’t have any, because my mom already agreed to buy me the new Space Jumpers game, and then he said ‘oh, I can take you to the Space Jumpers universe’ and here I am.”
“Oh. That.” Jeno massages his temples. “So, there’s a game in Earth called Space Jumpers . You know video games, right?”
They all nod.
“So, Space Jumpers is a video game, and, don’t ask why, but it’s about you guys. Your story, and your journeys, and such.”
“And we’re supposed to believe that?” Seulgi asks.
“Well, I’m telling the truth. I can’t prove it, but I am.”
“If you can’t prove it, that hardly helps your case-“
“I’m the proof!” a familiar voice comes from their left, and Jeno rolls his eyes at the sight of Chenle, the genie. “Hi, Jeno. Hi, everyone else.”
“Who are you?” Amber asks.
“Name’s Chenle. Nice to meet you!”
“He’s the little prick that sent me here.” Jeno sighs.
“Show more respect, Jeno Boy.” the genie pokes his ribs. “But yeah, I’m the genie that granted his wish to come to this universe.”
“That wasn’t my wish, but okay.”
“I could sense he was having a little trouble in here, so I came to help. Everything he says it’s true, no need to hurt him or send him to prison or anything of the sorts.”
“How do we know this is not a trick?” Seulgi glares at the genie.
“Oh my, you’re even more skeptical than Jeno.” Chenle says, mouth forming an O shape. “That’s awful. How do you enjoy things being suspicious like that?”
“Not the time, Chenle.” the earthling rolls his eyes again. “Hey, can you send me back?”
“Of course not. I can’t use my magic deliberately, there has to be a wish.”
“Then, I wish to go back home.”
“Not like that, Jeno Boy. See, I’m a free genie, I don’t have masters, or a lamp , like you rudely implied back when we first met, but even free genies are bound to rules. We can’t grant random wishes, there has to be a meaning behind it. Birthday wish, falling star wish, last wish before dying, things like that.”
“So I’m stuck here.”
“For the time being, I’m afraid you are.” Chenle frowns. “I’m sorry.”
“I’d say it’s not your fault, but it totally is, so…”
“I know, okay? I misheard your wish. I should have listened with care, yadda yadda yadda, I heard it all back home when I told my family about it. They left my ears ringing.” the genie crosses his arms. “I can’t send you back, but I can leave you my contact number in case you stumble upon a wish opportunity. Okay?”
“Okay! Thanks, Chenle.”
“Also, I moved a few strings to stop time from moving while you’re here. You know, to save your parents from thinking you’ve gone missing.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
“It’s the least I could have done.”
“Still, thanks for being considerate. And I’m sorry you had to be lectured because of that mistake.”
Chenle shrugs. “I’m a teenager; I’m still learning, after all.”
“Wait, how old are you?”
“A few hundred. In human years, that would be, like, 16.”
“Shut up. Actually, that reminds me that I still have curfew and very strict parents, so I should get going. Sorry again, Jeno Boy. You have my number. Text me if you have a wish.”
“I will. Thanks, Chenle, sleep well, bye!”
And, with a poof , the young genie vanishes.
“Wow.” Lucas breaks the silence. “So you were telling the truth.”
“You got sent here by that 16 year-old genie?” Amber asks, smiling. “Cheers to the kid. But, anyways, you said we’re… video game characters?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“And we’re the good guys?”
“Yeah…? Are you not the good guys in real life?”
“I like to believe we are, but everyone else paints us as the opposite. So it’s a surprise we’re seen as heroes on Earth.”
“The game backstory explains why you guys are seen as criminals in here. It’s because of The Great Rebellion, right?”
Seulgi nods. “That’s about right. We’re the only group that survived. The others were either killed of broken apart.”
“Can’t tell which one is worse.” Lucas muses.
“So, your group is composed of six, right? Amber, the leader, Seulgi, the strategist, Kun, the tech genius, Lucas, the sharpshooter, Yeri, the fastest- Wait, where’s Yeri?”
A heavy weight seems to settle in the bunker. “She’s gone.” Seulgi states.
“What do you mean, ‘gone’?”
“She means she’s dead.” an unknown voice answers, from the large door on the right side of the warehouse. Jeno turns to see who it is, his brain already putting the pieces together to figure out it’s the last member of the group, coincidentally his favorite character. Still, his breath gets caught in his throat at the sight of Minhyung, still getting out of his pilot gear, flying goggles on top of his head, messing up his caramel brown hair.
“She’s not dead, Mark. Stop saying that.”
“I’m not having this conversation right now.” he sits on the floor near them. “I just blew up a base and- Who’s this?” he points to Jeno.
“I-I’m Jeno, nice to meet you…” Jeno is still a bit paralyzed. Meeting your favorite character of all times probably does that to you. “You’re Minhyung.”
The pilot flinches. “It’s Mark.”
Jeno blinks, confused, but nods. “Okay. Sorry.”
“He’s from Earth.” Lucas chimes in to cut the tension.
“ How can he be from Earth?”
Amber sighs. “It’s a long story…”
If 13 year-old Jeno could see his future self, living with the Jumpers, he would be disappointed. It’s nothing like he thought it would be — the atmosphere is dark, there’s not a lot of teamwork, not a lot of talking either, and he doesn’t get to accompany them at missions. He basically just sits around on the warehouse, plays random games at the phone they’ve lent him, reads books and sleeps. They don’t have another place to live at, since they’re runaways and wanted rebels, so the warehouse is the only place Jeno knows. There’s a makeshift kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms on the cleanest corner of the huge place to make it more “homely”, but that’s about it.
Needless to say, he’s bored 90% of the time. But that’s not even the worst part.
The biggest disappointment in accidentally teleporting through space and landing here is finding out your favorite character of all times doesn’t care for you in the slightest. Mark is silent, almost cold, and absent most of the time — he’s either flying or holed up in the study doing who knows what, so Jeno barely sees his face. It hurts, being let down like that, but he guesses it’s his fault for expecting too much.
He likes staying with Amber — she tells him about their missions and what they do when they’re away, which makes him feel like part of the team. Kun is also good company, even though he doesn’t talk much. He’s a comforting presence and has a warm smile despite the angsty air that seems to surround them 24/7, and his pancakes are great. Even Seulgi warms up to him, and they have a few inside jokes already. Her smile is really pretty, and when Jeno tells her that, she brightens up even more, pinching his cheek.
(“You’re a good kid. You remind me of Yeri sometimes.”
Jeno smiles softly. “I’m sure she’s fine wherever she is.”
“I’m sure too.”)
The one he talks to the most, however, is Lucas. Which is odd, since they don’t have much in common, in Jeno’s opinion. Still, they manage to spend hours talking about multiple stuff — mostly it’s just Lucas telling Jeno how things are in space, but sometimes the younger also has his share of stories to tell.
One day, they climb the hidden stairs that lead to a weirdly-placed balcony (Lucas’ idea). It’s spacious enough for the both of them to sit comfortably on the floor and look at the sky. It’s different here in space, Jeno notices. The stars aren’t the same, and they’re way more visible than in Earth. He stays quiet for a few minutes, only admiring, before bringing his head back down and turning to face Lucas.
“Hey, I heard Seulgi call you by a different name today. Yuk-something?”
“Yup, Yukhei. That’s my name, actually, well, the one I got from my mom. Lucas is the one I got from my dad. They all called me Lucas when I was in the Academy, because it was easier, but then I dropped out and started going by Yukhei.”
Jeno’s mouth hangs open. “You dropped out of the Space Academy?”
“Yeah, man, it was awful. Think about a bunch of old guys telling you what to do and reprimanding you for, like, sneezing in class.” he chuckles. “They didn’t say anything about me dropping out in my backstory?”
“No, the game said you completed your course with honors.”
“I would have.” the older shrugs. “But I couldn’t stand being there a minute longer.”
“Understandable. It was very brave of you to do that.”
Yukhei smiled and patted Jeno’s shoulder.
“Are you upset with Mark?”
“W-What do you mean?”
“I saw how you reacted when you first met. He was your favorite character, wasn't he?”
That makes Jeno curl in on himself, smiling sheepishly. “Yeah, he was.”
“I understand your disappointment, but Mark, he- He’s a difficult case. He and I are the same age, but he’s seen a lot of things, lost a lot of things, and you can only take so much before you turn cold and bitter to all of your surroundings, you understand?”
“Yeah, but… I know that’s not a excuse, but he seemed so bright on the game. When I wasn’t met with the same brightness I guess I was disappointed.”
“Oh, he was bright. He was always cracking jokes, making us laugh, his eyes had this gleam of hope and determination, it was admirable. We always said that, after Amber decided to retire, he would assume the leadership, if not of our group, then of another one. But then The Great Rebellion happened.”
Jeno adjusts himself on the floor, turning fully to Yukhei to listen to his story.
“You must know that we all had a reason to join the Rebellion. I did it for the ideals, Mark and Amber did it for their families, Seulgi did it out of spite, Yeri did it by accident and Kun was born into it, literally, his parents were the heads of the previous revolution. Anyways, before the D-Day, the day all of the mutinies would happen, the Rebellion Day, Mark went to visit his family, only to find a blew up house and a pile of corpses. They were all dead. He didn’t even get to say goodbye, and that broke him in such a way that made him see red, you know? He ended up flying to the head building of the government, which was the dumbest idea he’s ever had, and he fucked up the rebellion plans because of his own anger. We don’t like to say that, but he’s the main reason we lost this battle.”
“Oh, I didn’t- I couldn’t imagine…”
“After that, we all lost something. Yeri is gone, we believe she’s not dead, but there’s not much room for optimism when she vanishes during a battle and never comes back. Because of that, Seulgi is shaken, she’s become harsher than ever — you know, they’re like sisters, so it was hard on her. Kun’s parents rejected him after the failure, told him awful things about not being worthy of the family title, shit like that. He’s quieter than usual, if he speaks something longer than a sentence it’s a miracle. Amber’s family is safe, thankfully, but the weight of leading such a dysfunctional group is wearing her down. And me… I didn’t have anyone or anything to lose, but now I get to see my groupmates, my family, growing more distant by the day. It hurts differently for all of us, and we all have different ways to cope, but Mark’s response for losing all of his hopes was complete shut down. He has a reason. We all do.”
A single tear drops from Jeno’s left eye. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’m really sorry, oh my G-“
“Hey, it’s okay.” Yukhei hugs his shoulders. “It will be. Really, don’t get so shaken up. It happened, we can’t change the past, but we can make a better future, alright? Focus on that.”
“Fine, I will.” Jeno sniffles. “It’s just… Everything is building up, you know? I just heard all of that, and I miss my family. I miss my friends. I want to go home, dammit.”
“You will, you will, don’t worry. Shh, you’re okay. We will get you home soon, alright? Relax.” Yukhei pats the younger’s hair before getting up. “I’m going to sleep. Are you staying?”
“Yeah, I want to see more of those stars. I’ll go inside in a few.”
“Alright. Goodnight, Jeno, see you tomorrow.”
And, if Jeno sleeps under the stars that night, no one mentions it.
“You want me to what?”
“Go talk to him. And make him eat his breakfast.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. He looks at me like I’m a very annoying pimple.”
“Oh, he looks at everyone like that, don’t worry.”
It’s been a week since Jeno started living with the Jumpers, and today’s nonsensical activity is Amber insisting for him to visit Mark in his room and bring him breakfast.
“He’ll kick me out, and hit me with the breakfast tray.”
“Nonsense.” Amber hands him the said tray. “He’s a grump, but he’s not a monster.”
Jeno rolls his eyes, but grabs the tray and heads to Mark’s room anyway. His door is next to Yukhei’s, and the contrast between he older’s sticker-covered door and Mark’s plain one (save from a piece of paper that says “Mark” in bold blue letters) is blatant. There is, however, a “(please knock)” under his name on the paper, and a smiley face decorating it. Jeno finds it cute, and knocks on the door.
“Who is it?” Mark’s muffled voice asks from the inside.
“It’s Jeno! I brought breakfast.”
“Oh, hang on a sec.”
Moments later, the door opens to reveal a surprisingly soft-looking Mark — oversized sleep clothes and hair in a bird’s nest, even though the dark circles under his eyes indicate he hasn’t been sleeping at all. Something funny stirs in Jeno’s stomach, but he ignores it.
“Good morning.” he greets, smiling.
“Morning. What’s for breakfast?”
“Toast, jam and a few fresh fruits, and chocolate milk.”
“Industrialized jam is the worst.” Mark cringes.
“Seulgi went to the trading center all by herself, and industrialized was the best she could get. You don’t have to eat it, but at least be glad we have it.”
“Okay, sorry, mom.” Mark rolls his eyes and takes the tray from Jeno’s hands. When the latter shows no signs of leaving, he sighs. “Do you want to come in?” he asks unenthusiastically.
“Yup, Amber told me to make sure you get some food in your system.” Jeno walks in and plops down on Mark’s bed, rolling on his stomach to face the other boy. “Have you been up all night?”
Mark hums affirmatively, taking a sip of the chocolate milk and sitting on the chair by his desk.
“Does it have to do with the mountain of papers that is covering your desk right now?”
“Someone’s curious, huh?” Mark raises an eyebrow.
“I’m an earthling in space, of course I am. Ask Yukhei, we’ve spent hours talking about the similarities and differences between here and Earth. Now it’s time to bother someone else.” Jeno smiles, hoping his little joke would lighten the mood, or even make the other smile in a non-sarcastic way.
“And why bother me?”
Jeno shrugs. “The opportunity came up.”
“Right. I’ll entertain you.” Mark turned to him. “These are projects and studies for a new flying ship. A small one, for two people, at max.”
“So, like, a fighter?”
That elicits a smirk from the older. “Exactly. How do you know that?”
“A few years playing video games builds some knowledge.
“Ha. Anyways, Yukhei and I are planning to build it from scratch. I've been scavenging some abandoned deposits for parts and he's taking charge of the engineering and maths and all the things he learned in the Academy. We’ve got almost all that's needed, but we're struggling with the flying algorithm and the blasters. There's just something wrong with our formulas, but we can't figure out what it is.”
“So, you're having problems with the theoretical part.”
“And that's keeping you awake at night?”
Mark nods, puffing out his cheeks and tapping with his pencil on the desk.
“I'm sure you two will get it right, eventually.” Jeno offers a sympathetic smile. “Well, I see you're done with breakfast, so my job here is done. Good luck.”
“Thanks, and thanks for breakfast.”
“Wow.” the earthling mocks surprise. “Stone cold Mark being polite?”
“I'm human, sometimes.” Mark chuckles. “And you're good company.”
“I thought I was too curious for your liking.”
“You are. But you're nice, you know your stuff and you're considerate.”
“The rest of the team is all of those things, and you still isolate yourself from them whenever you can.”
Mark's expression hardens. “They hate me.”
“They don't. They care for you, and I understand why you prefer to lock the door and not talk to anyone, but everyone is dealing with their own monsters and helping each other in the meantime. They're all willing to help you. Don't shut yourself off.”
“You have a lot to say for someone who's been here for a week.”
“I'm only trying to help.”
“Then leave me alone.”
Jeno huffs, annoyed. “Think about what I said.”
He takes the breakfast tray and leaves, closing the door with a roll of his eyes. Amber notices his mood and approaches him.
“Nothing. He was being nice to me, and I said a few things about how bad it is that he isolates himself from you guys, and now he’s pissed.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have said that so… early in your acquaintanceship.”
“Well, I did, and now the damage is done.” Jeno frowns. “Sorry.”
“If he decides to shut off even more out of pettiness, it’ll be my fault.”
“You were trying to help. No need to be sorry. Your heart is in the right place, Jeno, it really is.” Amber pats his shoulder. “Now, do you want round two of breakfast? There’s still toast.”
Jeno smiles and reaches for the plate of toast on their table.
Surprisingly, Mark leaves his room during breakfast the next day and joins the group on the table. He grumbles out a “good morning” and spreads some industrialized strawberry jam on his piece of toast. All eyes turn to him, to which he responds with a “What?”
“You’re eating with us.” Seulgi points out. “You never do that.”
“Well…” his eyes flicker momentarily to Jeno’s direction. “I needed a change.”
“Jeno is such a good influence.” Yukhei laughs. “We’re glad you’re here, you know that, right?”
Mark only shrugs, still a little grumpy and sour, but willing to break down the wall he built around himself.
“We missed you, Mark.” Kun says, smiling.
“Missed you too.”
One day, when the whole group is taking the day off, Jeno is in his room, relaxing and listening to music — turns out this galaxy’s music is not that different from Earth’s, and it makes him feel closer to home. Then, there’s a knock on his door, and Yukhei’s voice can be heard.
“Can you help Mark and I with something?”
“Sure. Hang on.”
He turns his music off, puts on some shoes and opens the door. Yukhei greets him with a smile and motions for Jeno to follow him. He leads them to the study room, where Mark is already sitting on a chair, slumped over a desk. Lots of scribbled paper sheets litter the floor, as well as some sheets that were crumpled into little balls.
“Worry not, I brought reforces!” Yukhei announces, motioning to Jeno. Mark looks at him and rolls his eyes.
“He’s a kid, how can he help us with advanced calculus?”
“I’m 18.” Jeno protests.
“Do you know advanced calculus?” Mark raises an eyebrow.
“No… But don’t go rejecting my help like that!”
“Fine.” he sighs. “Come take a look, then.”
Jeno walks closer to the desk, in which there’s a sheet of paper filled with numbers and weird symbols. His brain hurts just by looking at it.
“Wow, that’s… A lot.”
“Told you. We tried everything, even the hardest formulas, but they just don’t work.”
Jeno points to the pencil in Mark’s hand. “May I?”
“What, you wanna try? Okay, suit yourself. Have fun.”
The younger crouches over the paper, scribbling a few numbers and simple signs, and finally finding a solution. “There. I hope it’s correct.”
Mark snatches the paper and inspects what Jeno wrote. “What the f- I think this actually works? Yukhei, come take a look.”
The sharpshooter looks over the numbers and turns to Jeno. “Have you been hiding a cyborg brain from us this whole time? Like, how did you get this right?”
“This is simple highschool maths. You said you tried the hardest formulas, so I thought, maybe it can work with easier stuff. The end of the last line looked like something my teacher showed the class once, so I just tried to remember what he said and went from there.”
“You just saved our asses, man!” Yukhei wraps Jeno in a bear-hug. “I’m going undercover to buy pizza for us tonight, and I’m buying you an extra one. It’s what you deserve.”
“I didn’t do much, though.” Jeno rubs the back of his neck, cheeks flushing.
“You did.” Mark says. “Really. Thank you.”
There’s a genuine smile on his face as he holds out his palm for a high-five, and the earthling snaps their palms together with pink cheeks and a swarm of butterflies in his belly.
The warehouse’s weird balcony must be a good place to let out your feelings, Jeno thinks, because one day he goes up to stargaze and finds Mark sitting on the floor, back against the wall and head buried in his arms. The earthling startles, not only because he’s not used to find the balcony already occupied, but also because Mark is never in that kind of state.
The boy looks up, wiping his eyes and sniffling. “Hi. What’s up?”
“The sky.” Jeno jokes. “Sorry, just trying to… lighten the mood… Ignore me. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Okay. Do you want to talk about anything else?” the younger sits on the floor as well, keeping a distance from Mark so he doesn’t feel uncomfortable.
“I don’t know.”
They stayed in silence for a few minutes until Mark spoke up again.
“It’s been a year.”
“The Rebellion. One year since I lost everyone and fucked everything up.”
“Thanks.” it was a dry response. “Yukhei told you what happened, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, not long after I arrived. He told me everyone’s story, not just yours. I didn’t even imagine what you guys have been through. And I really admire every single one of you for staying strong and not giving up.”
“We’re not really staying strong, are we? That failure broke all of us. I’m only opening up to people now, and Yeri is still gone, and we lost, and we’re wanted on the whole galaxy-“
“Mark.” Jeno interrupts him. “You were dominated by your feeling that day. What happened was not your fault. I would’ve done the same, and I think everyone else in here would too. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“Jeno. I blew up the plans of the whole Rebellion. Not one group, not two, not three — all of them. Do you know how many people died because of me?”
“And do you know how many people are still alive because none of you gave up? Mark, there’s bravery in resisting, even if you’re doing it silently. You guys still go on missions, you’re still fighting, and that saves lives, that inspires hope. It’s not over. You’re making up for your mistake, which can be justified, really.”
Mark breaks down crying because of that. Instinctively, he clings to Jeno, surprising the earthling. “Thank you. I needed that.”
“Anytime.” Jeno smiles. “I should probably leave you alone, right? Have some time for yourself, and all of that.”
He makes a motion to get up, but Mark holds his wrist. “Stay. Please.” his eyes look so big and shiny under the stars, it makes Jeno’s heart skip a beat. He probably shouldn’t be thinking that under the circumstances, but Mark’s hand is so soft, he wants to hold it for a long time.
“Alright.” the earthling sits back down, this time closer to the other boy. “Hey, can I tell you a really cool Earth fact?”
“There are those animals called ‘cats’. They’re amazing.”
“I know what cats are, Jeno.”
“Didn’t anyone tell you this galaxy is relatively similar to Earth? Domestic pets are a thing, you know.”
“Oh my God, alien cats . I need to see one.”
“You’d need to travel a lot for that, but they exist.”
“If I had my phone with me, I’d show you pictures of my cat. I have a folder dedicated only for him.”
“What’s his name?”
“Ziggy. He’s a big baby, a little grumpy, but I love him a lot.”
“He sounds great.”
Jeno hums in response, and they stay in silence after that. He feels a weight on his shoulder, and looks down to see Mark drifting off to sleep. His heart swells at the sight, and he shakes the other awake.
“We need to go back down. Get some sleep. You’re dozing off already.”
“Fine, mom.” Mark stifles a yawn. “Let’s go.”
When they part ways to head to their own rooms, Mark squeezes Jeno’s hand, a meaningful look in his eyes. “Thank you. For what you said back there.”
“No need to thank me. We’re all here for you, alright? It’s okay to feel down.”
“Still. You’re a good guy, Jeno. So thank you.”
“You’re just as good, and you’re welcome. Goodnight, Mark.”
After that, their bond seems to grow stronger. They spend more time together and with the rest of the group, and while they like to joke that Mark’s progress in opening up and being less bitter is Jeno’s doing, it really isn’t. Jeno just gave him the pep talk — thinking about it and giving it a try was all Mark’s own actions. He stills has his bad days, in which he locks the door and doesn’t talk to anyone, but they’re less frequent than before, and everyone congratulates him for that.
One day, on Jeno and Yukhei’s “bro-nights” (Jeno despises that name), the older asks Jeno a question.
“You like him, don’t you?”
Yukhei smiles ironically. “Who?”
“Mark? No, I don’t!” the earthling turns bright red at the suggestion. “Why would you think that?”
“You look at him with the softest expression I’ve ever seen. It’s a little disgusting, actually. Makes me want to hit you in the forehead and yell at you to get a grip.”
“Good to know the way I look at him incites your hidden violent tendencies.”
“You’re ridiculous. How long have you liked him? You’ve been here for a while.”
“I don’t like him! Stop putting words in my mouth.”
“Guess you’re still in denial. Well, you have my blessing. Just don’t do gross couple things in front of me.”
“You’re insufferable. I don’t like him like that.”
Yukhei smiles knowingly and proceeds to eat his pizza in silence. Kids these days…
The ship Mark and Yukhei were building is finally finished. The two boys call everyone to their workshop to see it starting for the first time, and it’s beautiful — the fighter looks a little funny, with reused parts from other machines, but the fact that they built it makes them overlook the appearance.
“Now, we need to fly this baby.” Yukhei says. “Who wants to try?”
“It should be you and Mark, you’re the ones who built it after all.” Amber suggests.
“Oh, but I’m so tired… Jeno, why don’t you go with Mark?”
“You helped us with the formulas, it’s only fair.”
“Are you scared?”
“A little, but you should be doing the honors!”
“I’m tired, Jenojam, I’m going to take a nap. You and Mark have fun!”
He leaves, not before shooting Jeno a wink and finger guns, which he thought were discreet, but really weren’t. The other three leave as well, and it’s only Jeno and Mark in the room.
“Are you really scared?” Mark asks, in a quiet voice.
“A bit, because I’ve never been in one of those before, but I trust you and I trust Yukhei, so I guess it’s fine?”
“We’re not going to die, if that’s what you’re afraid of. We’ve built it thinking of keeping the tripulants safe, so no need to worry.”
“Well, then… Let’s go!”
Jeno can’t say he’s not giddy about flying with his former favorite character, current friend. If Mark is as good as flying in real life as he is in the game, this is going to be great.
And it is. The first minute is a little terrifying, because it’s Jeno’s first time flying in space, but then he relaxes and enjoys the moment. At one point, he looks at Mark and his heart stutters — he’s smiling so big, his eyes are so bright, he looks like he’s at home.
Mark was born for flying, and Jeno is in love.
Oh shit, he really is in love.
Mark turns to him for a second and smiles, and Jeno smiles back, because he can’t help it. He cherishes that moment in his heart, because it feels like there are fireworks inside him.
They go back after a few minutes, not wanting to demand much of the fighter on it’s first flight. When they’re taking off the flying gear, Mark asks Jeno how was his first time flying in space.
“It was a little scary at first, but it was great. Really. I enjoyed it a lot.”
“I’m glad.” Mark smiles. “Let’s tell the others what they missed, yeah?”
In an act of pure dumbassery and maybe a little bravery, Jeno plants a kiss on Mark’s cheek. Realizing what he’s done, he turns bright red and runs away, but is stopped by a hand around his wrist. Mark’s face is a little pink and he looks exasperated, eyes wide and unbelieving.
“What was that?”
“What was what?”
“Don’t do that. You kissed me. Why?”
“I kissed your cheek.” Jeno tries to dodge the conversation.
“Yeah, but why?”
“I don’t know, okay? I’m dumb, you’re cute, I was happy so I did it!”
“Yeah, I think you’re cute, what about it? If you’re gonna make fun of me because of that, save it, because Yukhei already does. Everyday.”
“I wasn’t.” Mark says, in a small voice. “Do you really-“
“I think you’re cute too. And very kind and caring. And funny. So… yeah.”
“Is this like, a confession?”
“Do you want it to be?”
“This is so weird. This is really weird.”
“Why? Can’t I like you?”
“Oh my God. You like me?”
“That’s what I was trying to say!!”
“But we’re doing it wrong! Confessions don’t work like that!”
“Who cares! I like you!”
“Well, I like you too!”
“What the fuck, stop yelling.” Seulgi screams from the other side of the warehouse. “And congratulations, lovebirds.”
Jeno sighs. “I really like you. A lot.”
“Me too. A lot.” Mark takes the earthling’s hand in his. “Is this okay?”
A soft smile. “Very okay.”
“Hey.” Jeno pokes Mark’s cheek. “When’s your birthday?”
“I don’t know. Time works weirdly in space.” the older rests his cheek on Jeno’s shoulder. “Why?”
“To give you a present, duh.”
They’re trying to cook something in the tiny makeshift kitchen. Well, Jeno is. Mark is just hugging him from behind and asking to taste whatever’s being cooked.
“I don’t remember when’s my birthday. I remember I was born on the 99th year? I think it’s 1999 on Earth. You can look it up, though. Every citizen of this galaxy has registered info on a database. It’ll be easy to find me because… Well, wanted criminals have a separated folder.” he chuckles.
“Don’t joke about that.” Jeno slaps his shoulder. “We can look it up later.”
Later, they find out Mark’s birthday is, on Earth terms, on the 2nd of August. A little more of research on online calendars tells them that, also on Earth terms, August 2nd is…
“Tomorrow!” Jeno screams, tapping incessantly on Mark’s leg. “Your birthday is tomorrow! Mark, you’re turning 19!”
“We need to do something!”
“We really don’t. We don't celebrate stuff like that in here.”
“But you should! Look, we can bake a cake, I’ll go to the trading center-“
“You’re absolutely not going to the trading center by yourself. That place is full of scoundrels.”
“There are plenty of those on Earth too. I’m not scared.”
“Jeno. It’s fine. We don’t have to do anything.”
“But I wanted to. It’s a special day.”
“Special! That’s it!” Mark beams. “A birthday wish!”
“What?” Jeno raises an eyebrow. “I’m not following.”
“That genie friend of yours. You told me he gave you his contact for whenever you have a wish opportunity, right? I’ll use my birthday wish to get you home.”
“Don’t say things like I’m wasting my wish. I know how much you want to go back to Earth.”
“Yeah, I miss it there but...” Jeno looks down.
“Jeno, your family is on Earth. Your friends.”
“But you’re here. All of you. I don’t want to choose.”
Mark hugs him tight, saying nothing.
“Come with me.”
“Yeah! It’s kind of shitty, but it has it’s perks. You’re not a wanted criminal on Earth, and my friends are cool. All of you can come with me.”
“And where will we live?”
“I don’t know, we can figure it out! Please. I can’t choose between you guys and my home. I’m not leaving anyone behind, unless they want to stay.” Jeno looks up. “Do you want to stay?”
“I want to go where you go.”
“Then get ready for Earth, Flyboy.”
Jeno texts Chenle about Mark’s birthday wish, and the genie pops up almost immediately, bright grin adorning his face.
“So, you got yourself a boyfie?” he nudges Jeno’s elbow.
“We haven’t talked about labels yet. We’re just… Together.”
“So cliche. When’s his birthday?”
“Tomorrow. And he wants to go to Earth with me, and bring the group as well.”
“Me? Teleporting six people at once?” Chenle makes an scandalized expression. “Just because you’re my friend. Also, you’re paying me extra for the effort. I want to be compensated with food.”
Jeno chuckles. “Fine, whatever Your Majesty wants.”
The genie sticks out his tongue.
The next day, they’re a little anxious. The whole group have a talk about leaving or staying. It’s understandable that, after being part of the Rebellion for a while, there’s a weird feeling in leaving it all behind. The team, however, gets Mark’s reasons: it’s not only Jeno that’s adding to the equation — ever since The Great Rebellion, he has lost his focus and his motivations.
Seulgi decides to stay to keep looking for Yeri, and Amber does as well because of her influence in the Rebellion. Someone needs to keep recruiting forces, and she volunteers to do that.
Kun is quick to say he wants to go to Earth. He’s curious, mostly, and tired of the weight of the Rebellion on his shoulders. As much as he enjoys fighting for a greater good, it’s not the same anymore, and between doing something while feeling burdened and teleporting to a new planet to discover new things… There’s not much to think about.
Yukhei takes the longest to decide. He can stay, and keep doing what he’s always done, or he can go and restart everything. After a while, he smiles at Jeno and says he’ll be joining the “Earth Gang”.
(Everyone rolls their eyes at that name.)
Things ready, Amber hands Mark an electronic device that looks like a phone.
“So we can keep in contact. It should work within a three-galaxy radius, so Earth is included. Please text us whenever, okay?” she smiles, a hint of sadness in her voice.
“You better steal a cargo ship with enough fuel to travel this whole universe to visit us.” Mark hugs her tight. “Or one of those cool ones with hyperspace jumps.”
“We’ll do our best.” Seulgi grins, and it doesn’t sound like she’s joking at all.
Hugs are exchanged, tears are spilled and goodbyes are said. Chenle watches them all from afar until it’s time for him to teleport everyone. He turns to Mark.
“Just for formalities and logistics, can you tell me your wish?”
“I wish for all of us to go back to Earth, Jeno’s home.” the birthday boy holds Jeno’s hand.
“Alright, get ready. I’m concentrating so I don’t send you to the wrong place.”
“Hey.” Jeno whispers. Mark turns to him, and is met with a soft kiss on the lips. It’s just a peck, but it sends both of their hearts spiraling. “For good luck.”
“You don’t need luck for teleporting when you’re not doing any of the work.” Kun points out.
“Right? They just want an excuse to kiss.” Yukhei cringes.
“Shut up, all of you.” Chenle says. “I’m doing it. Three, two, one…”
“Here it comes.” Jeno sighs.
And everything goes black.
Back on Earth is a little weird, because there are three guys and a genie on Jeno’s room, and his parents can’t find out. Under promise of more food for Chenle, and the fact that time hasn’t passed and it’s still April 23rd, Jeno’s birthday, the earthling argues that he has the right to another birthday wish, since him meeting the Jumpers wasn’t a wish at all. For his (legitimate) birthday wish, he wishes for Mark, Kun and Yukhei to have a place to live and a stable life here on Earth. Chenle rolls his eyes and starts mumbling about how Jeno has a too-soft heart.
A few days after they get back, the boys get a message from Seulgi: she had found Yeri. She had been hit by a battle device that sent her to an unknown planet, but luckily enough she ended up in a nice woman’s house, that let Yeri stay and gave her a job as a waitress on her restaurant. Seulgi sent a selfie — Yeri is now wearing her hair short, and a dark brown, and they look happy to be reunited.
One week later, Jeno texts Chenle (they decided to keep in contact) and asks him to visit his house for support. What support, you may ask? Well, Jeno decided to tell his family the whole story so he can introduce Mark to them, and Chenle can be very convincing.
After Jeno’s mom awakes from her passed out state after seeing a floating purple-haired boy, both of them tell the adults everything, Chenle serving as proof that they’re not lying. Fortunately, Mark being from space is the issue, rather than him being a boy, so Jeno is happy.
The doorbell rings, and the boy smiles, because he know who it is. He opens the door to reveal a sheepish-looking Mark, who waves shyly to Jeno’s parents. Jeno grabs his hand and drags him inside to introduce them formally.
“So, Mark, are you staying for dinner?”
“Actually”, Jeno chimes in. “We were going out. Like, right now.”
“I see.” his mom says. “Where are you going?”
“Nice pick. Have fun then!” she kisses Jeno’s forehead.
“I’ll be back after 11.” the boy smiles.
“It was nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Lee!” Mark says from the door when they’re heading out.
“Likewise! Take care!”
When both of them are gone, Mr. Lee turns to his wife.
“See, you wanted him to enjoy things like the other boys do instead of space games, now he has a space boyfriend.” he jokes. “Also, you owe me 30 bucks.”
“Wow, you two bet on him getting a boyfriend?” Chenle, who’s still floating on the living room, asks.
“We did.” Mrs. Lee admits.
“Well, then, you’re welcome, because without me none of this would’ve happened.”
“Thanks for making me 30 bucks richer, Chenle.”
The genie smiles. “Anytime!”
(Jeno asks Mark to be his boyfriend, formally, under the stars that night. Mark cries for a whole minute.)