Actions

Work Header

voices of a distant star

Work Text:

i.

Three days into tests to balance the pressure inside their MR33 module, Jimin signs up for monthly art performances held in Node 6, Tranquility. He’s following Namjoon’s advice, after a week straight of nagging.

“Happy, hyung?” He swipes the pop-up telling him that his request has been accepted off of his watch screen. He wouldn’t usually be this rude to an elder. It’s just heavy living; too little rest and too much lyophilized coffee, his eyes burning behind the lenses of his glasses, and a considerable annoyance telling him he should think more about himself and his psychological health. Namjoon had got worried after having found him sleeping at his desk instead of in his cryo capsule for three nights in a row.

“It heals the soul, Jimin-ah,” Namjoon tells him, so sincere Jimin doesn’t have the heart to rebuff him. He wishes Yoongi hyung were here just to scoff in his stead. Souls, wherever the fuck that came from . “And besides, you deserve a little amusement, don’t you? What with all the progress you’ve done with your work.”

Jimin runs a hand through his hair and sighs. He can see the bustle of Lab 7 behind the clear polymer doors, his colleagues proofing equations and running tests. Their mission is to terraform Mars: convert its atmosphere, recreated inside their MR33 module, into something livable for humans. Building devices to alter pressure, gravity, temperature, recreate a magnetic field, devices to produce oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor on a planet where the air is more than 95% carbon dioxide. A slow-going task that will change human lives for the better, let them step on real soil once again, instead of living confined into space bases orbiting around their dying planet.

“My progress means nothing if I can’t take it further and make it mean something. I need to go back to work, hyung.” They’ve only recently started testing the progress of their pressure machine inside the MR33. Skin crawling with urgency, Jimin has to consciously stop himself from biting at his nails, a habit he left behind during his first days as a researcher.

“Sounds to me like you’re a little stressed.” Namjoon says, half a smile on his face. One of his cheeks dimples and the bags under his eyes crease up. He’s been telling Jimin he looks like death for a week, hypocrite that he is. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on, trying to scold him for not using cryo for three days, falling asleep on his desk or not eating real food, when he’s been driving himself crazy with worry over being the youngest leader of a research group in Lab 4. Making sure the BEAM habitat on Node 1 thrives enough to be a source of oxygen for half the Station.

He slaps Jimin’s shoulder and leaves his hand there for a second, heavy and warm, steady through the hum of the ever-working machinery under their feet. “I’m glad you signed up for this. I’m sure it’ll help.” Namjoon, with his stupid plants are friends shirt, holes in it and everything, has no business looking this relieved and happy about Jimin being his plus one to a night at the opera, or whatever performance art days are, but his face relaxes with real pleasure for once, and Jimin feels himself smile back up at him.

 

ii.

Space travel still has not stopped feeling weird to Taehyung, not even after three years touring with his troupe, going back and forth; Earth and then outer space and back again.

The jitters under his skin that would make him throw up during his first space voyage never went away, only became a slight vibration under his skin. The same vibration, he thinks sometimes, space cartographers use to trace their maps.

They say earth babies never really get used to space living - the constant hum of the ship’s systems, the fluorescent light strips and the void outside the windows always and forever something foreign. Jungkook, the youngest of their crew, projection technician and bodyguard extraordinary, he takes to space travel life like a fish to water, lift off making his smile glow brighter than a star. Taehyung still wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, and the kick makes his teeth and skull rattle. It’s fine though, it’s chill; these are the cool stories that he tells back on Earth.

When he walks onto the control deck at 0223 hours, the lights from the control panels are shining a soft yellow, bathing the curves of Wheein’s face and making them glow.

“We’re performing on Station 11 in fourteen hours. Farthest station from Earth,” she says, when she notices Taehyung standing there, just looking. “Last stop before we dock back on Homebase 5. You should sleep.”

His skin prickles. “Are we docking on the Station for the night?”

Just the thought has a foreboding bad taste fill his mouth. Cryogenesis, not necessary on moving spacecrafts, is mandatory on stations and space bases. Induced sleep makes him feel as if he forgot something fundamental; his parents’ names, the date of his birthday, the taste of japchae. The day he left Earth and the way the sunset reflected off of tin roofs as the starcraft he was on blasted off, particularly beautiful as if to bid him goodbye.

That blank moment, his head, hollowed out, and the sudden rush of memories flooding it back up, it all always has his hands shaking.

“Depends on what Yongsun unnie decides,” Wheein replies. Night shift is the quietest; having Taehyung or Wheein or Hyejin do it always puts them in a peculiar mood. Suspended, lucid dreaming.

Noticing her absence, he asks, “Where’s Hyejin?”

Wheein smiles. “Went to get us a snack. Are you going to check up on your babies?”

He nods. “Have a good shift, Wheenie.”

“Try to sleep some, Taetae.”

Chronic space insomniac that he is, Taehyung checks up on his frozen flowers every night. Their ship is small, completely fueled and electronic; it doesn’t have a garden to provide it oxygen, like some bigger ships and all space bases and stations do. He can’t grow the flowers his mum gives him every time he leaves Earth on their ship, only freeze them and store them in the same refrigerators they keep their perishable foods in.

He finds Hyejin in the kitchen area, spreading synthetic cheese on seaweed crackers with a bottle of soju next to her elbow. “Hey man, can’t sleep?”

“Thinking about the next performance,” he says, opening the fridge next to the counter. It’s not a lie, per se, but after three years, performance jitters are mostly gone. He kneels down to get his potted babies from the last shelf. “Are you and Wheenie ready for it?”

“Of course.” Hyejin, sounding surprised he even asked, puts a whole cracker in her mouth and gestures with her elbow at the bottle of soju. “Want some?” Crumbs spray from her mouth and her words slur together.

He laughs and puts his pot of flowers on the counter. The vase they’re in is actually a stasis chamber; all he has to do is press a button on the side of it to bring the soil back to its natural temperature. As the wispy purple petals defrost, he goes around Hyejin and takes a mug from the drying rack, pours himself a shot or two. She makes an approving noise.

“Relax, Earth baby, you’re going back home soon. You should definitely sleep more, what if you fall asleep during your monologue?” Looking at his flowers, finally bright purple, her smile curves up into something lovely and less teasing. Her cheek dimples right next to the signature mole she loves.

He pretends to gasp. “As if I would let that happen. I live for the Arts, you know.”

Hyejin snorts. “I’m going on the bridge. Don’t look at your flowers for too long, your eyeballs will dry up and fall out.”

After she leaves, he sips at his soju and looks at his flowers. Remembers purple sunsets turning a sickly color through the dust curtain on days of bad weather, where his family’s farm would feel isolated from the rest of the safe area it was built on the edge of. His mother’s voice calling him back from the hill he would stand with Soonshim and try to smell something through his face mask.

He taps his fingers on the countertop. Drinks a sip of soju. Touches the stem of his flowers and then their petals, small and soft.

One more performance until he’s back on Earth, he thinks, breathing its dying air in and wishing he never had to leave.

 

iii.

On Jimin’s first performance arts day, Namjoon swings by his quarters to pick him up and makes a face when he finds him checking up on his work, even though it’s the weekend, and weekends are technically their free days.

“It’s all about, you know, uncontrolled decompression,” he tries to explain as they make their way to Node 6. Passing through the walkways that connect different units together, Jimin always has the distinct feeling of gravity getting looser, even though he knows that’s not how it works at all. “Pression rises steadily if I work with constance, every day. It’s a natural progression type of thing, and if I let up for one day the drop in the pressure kills it.”

Namjoon sighs. “Don’t try to bullshit me, Jimin-ah. Admirable work ethic aside, there’s nothing natural in your progress if you’re killing yourself over it. And what about the pressure inside your head?”

“Hyung, don’t be dramatic. I’m not killing anyone.”

Tranquility is a large common area, with couches and broadcast screens, game consoles and entertainment systems. A big porthole spans the entirety of one wall, gazing out on nothingness and tiny, faraway prinkpicks of light; or, if the Station is angled in the right direction, the red, uneven surface of Mars.

Today the porthole is covered up by a screen, projectors and lights set up to use it as a backdrop, and everything has been moved out of the way to create a sort of amphitheatre.

“It’s all very proper and professional,” Namjoon says, sounding quite proud. “You get a real feeling of immersion this way. Usually best to sit in the front rows.”

“Sounds intense,” Jimin admits. He’s not one of those people who, in the face of extinction, swore off art completely and put all their faith into science. It just started feeling secondary at some point, something that would distract him from his work. Something he grew out of – natural progression, once again.

They sit down. Some of the station’s support staff is helping the people from the theatre troupe set up their machines. A tall guy with dark tousled hair and broad shoulders is puttering around some sort of control system in a corner, showing off bunny teeth when he smiles, sweet and a little nervous, at the girl with long brown hair helping him out.

The hustling of it all is soothing, somewhat, different from the one Jimin’s used to in lab. More organized, like something worn through and patient. He thinks he closes his eyes at some point, head leaning on Namjoon’s shoulder.

When he comes to again it’s to two voices harmonizing together, tangling and smoothing out again.

Two girls are standing in the space cleared out to be a stage, old-fashioned microphones and fans held in their hands, singing a slow song about passion and seduction. They make it fun, smacking at each other and laughing under their breaths, their voices lovely even when they break with the fun of it. The colors of the projections dancing around them bathe them in warm light, reds and pinks, like the lover’s flush they’re singing about.

“You missed the introduction,” Namjoon whispers to him once the girls are done and everyone’s clapping. “Try to yawn as discretely as possible, Jimin-ah.”

“I’m not an animal,” he whispers back, and rubs at his face with one hand.

The troupe’s performances are all different, but they flow into each other steady and sure, and it reminds Jimin of buoyancy tests, the reflux of the water passing through filters and filling the tank back up.

After the opening act there’s a skit, something funny about a tall man with bleached blond hair and a girl with an angelic face – the same girl who was helping the guy now manning the projection booth in the corner – going through a haunted house.

Jimim remembers school festivals on his Homebase, sector 5 in Earth’s orbit. The projections look familiar and bring him back the feeling of Seoyung’s steady hand holding his sweaty one, leading his sorry ass through the loud, fun mess of it all.

Not unlike his own experience, the whole skit subverts the sad knight in shining armour trope. By the end of it a new actress appears on stage, in full space ghoul makeup and sweeps the other girl off her feet. They leave together, hand in hand, the bleached blond dude left to his own devices.

After that, there’s a dance solo; just one guy with a cap on his head, moving like each joint in his body is loose and detached from the others. The music pounds a fast beat and the lights shine off of him and Jimin is mesmerized by the smooth glide of his dance, intense expression melting into a bright smile when the music stops.

He feels charmed and warm throughout the other performances – pleased, in a weird way, by Namjoon’s smug look.

Angel-face, apparently the leader of the troupe, thanks them for their attention and announces their last number for this month. Despite her smile, her tone is serious and steady when she introduces a new actor.

He can't be older than Jimin, long brown fringe falling into his eyes. When he walks to the center of the stage, his shoulders squared off against his backdrop, Jimin can see something like a shiver run through his body. Thin air bending light into ripples, almost.

The projections behind the actor form an earthly landscape, tall trees flanking an unpaved path, the gray sky up above turning him into black and white footage. His eyes are so dark, they rival the black space outside the covered up porthole. He’s holding a bunch of flowers in his hands.

“I picked these flowers down the road this morning,” he starts. “The air didn't smell of anything at all behind my face mask, but I could still tell their scent. I taught myself how to, the same way I taught myself how to tell the time of the day just by imagining the sun and the sky.”

A girl with long dark hair has started dancing around him, her flowy clothes tracing arcs of color in the air. Jimin can hear the actor's steady breath fill his own lungs.

“On Earth, dawn and dusk are not arbitrary things like in space. I can imagine the sun getting brighter behind the smog. At sunset, the dust in the air turns red. And after, purple.” The girl pirouettes in a whirlwind of colours as the light around them changes, red and then purple. It darkens the actor’s lips and dyes his hands, folded around wispy purple flowers. He holds them the way Jimin would hold his equations, if they had a physical form.

“Space is static but on this last bit of Earth I can breathe the air of, I remember that things are still growing and there’s more than machinery. I taught myself how to smell the scent of these flowers and remember it when cryosleep makes me forget who I am.” The girl dressed in bright colours sits down in a patch of projected purple flowers. The light all around them is changing, getting brighter, buttery yellow and pink, the same way it does in old films at sunrise.

“I can always find it in my heart, in the same place where I keep my parent’s names, the easy way my little sister knows how to make crowns out of the weeds growing in our garden. But I’m going to bring these flowers to her, make it all better, teach her how to find her memories of Earth on days she’ll be too far to remember them.”

Jimin breathes in and he swears, he swears he can smell the scent the actor is speaking of. Their eyes meet into the radiancy of the projection of the rising sun, and the air gets stuck in his lungs.

“In my mind, I guess Earth is like a lodestone,” the actor says, his words suddenly uncertain, voice unsteady like a shiver. “The magnetic field of it calling me back home in the last still place where it won’t kill me to breathe in.”

He’s still looking Jimin right in the eyes. In the silence that follows his words, bright light casting shadows all around the room, Jimin can see the his hands tightening around the stems of his purple flowers.

“I wonder,” the actor adds, “if, once Earth is just a black spot in the black universe, I’ll still feel it calling to me?”

They’re still holding eye contact. Jimin can’t breathe. Then, as if on cue, as the light fades and the room goes dark, the actor closes his eyes. His eyelashes flutter through the air, a ripple. Jimin suddenly remembers, mirage effect . It almost feels as if the sudden darkness were pressing his eyelids shut, too.


iv.

To Taehyung’s relief they’re gonna leave before night hours,even if they arrange to stay docked on Station 11 to get dinner. As Yongsun and Byulyi noona go collect their payment, Wheein and Jungkook stay behind to pack their light, projections and sound systems back up aboard their ship, and Hoseok hyung and Hyejin leave to talk to their admirers, Seokjin hyung and Taehyung hightail it to the cafeteria.

He always misses his crew’s cooking whenever he eats on a space station or base; the burnt bits of Byulyi noona’s fried eggs and Hyejin’s too spicy synthetic chicken, Seokjin hyung’s bland pumpkin noodles soup. Even though it’s made with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, thanks to the oxygen habitats on board, space food always tastes slightly plastic and fake. But then, Taehyung’s always been a picky eater. As soon as they set their trays down on a free table, Seokjin hyung starts picking the green beans out of his bokkeumbap.

People mill around the cafeteria, but Taehyung’s too busy shoving food in his face to really notice what’s going on around him, until a polite voice asks “Can I join you?”

He rises his head from his plate and almost chokes on his food. The man in front of him is beautiful, dark hair on the long side and a plush mouth, broad shoulders filling out his striped shirt. As Taehyung is doing his best not to gape, the stranger sweeps his hair off his forehead, a nervous gesture somehow turned into fluid confidence. Their eyes meet and Taehyung feels the hair at the back of his neck stand on end. Oh. He couldn’t really make out faces through the bright lights, but he recognizes those eyes.

“Sure, sit down,” Seokjin says from his side.

The man’s smile is small and sweet. He taps his knuckles on the tabletop before doing as Seokjin said. “It was a really good show.” His voice is light but there’s something to it, a depth of feeling or something. Good for singing, maybe. “Although, I wouldn’t really know. It was my first time.”

Taehyung coughs into his rice and feels his ears go red. While the stranger keeps the conversation going with Seokjin, he glances up at Taehyung from under his lashes and one corner of his mouth quirks up.

Having his full attention, once Seokjin hyung leaves to get himself a second serving of steak, makes Taehyung’s palms go damp. They’re looking at each other again and all Taehyung can think about is the man’s half open mouth and his eyes, bright with wonder, as he listened to his monologue, less than an hour ago. He usually gets attentive, even captivated people during his sets, but this man’s face, it was something else.

Right here and now, Taehyung feels as if he’s of knowing and being known, mutually at the same time. Putting yourself out to a public, it doesn’t normally have this effect, not even when the piece you wrote is about something as personal as witnessing what remains of life on your planet.

“I really liked your monologue,” the man says, looking down at his hands, heavy with rings. He doesn’t have a tray or anything to eat, Taehyung notices. He came to talk to him , and the realisation makes it a little hard to swallow his food. He puts his chopsticks down.

His voice gets stuck in his throat and it sounds scratchy when he manages to get out his thanks.

The man looks up at him and grins, teasing and impish. “Even though, you know, from a scientific point of view seeing Earth as a lodestone doesn’t make much sense. Of course Earth is a magnet but the effects of its magnetic field on humans have always been close to null. Poetic licence, I guess?”

His are lips thinning as his smile spreads out, showing slightly crooked front teeth. Taehyung stares at him. “Damn right I’m a poet. What the fuck, man, who thinks about science when they’re talking about feelings? Who even are you?”

That gets him a laugh. “Park Jimin, that’s who I am. And of course I would think about it, I’m a scientist.” He’s still smiling. His eyes are turning into crescents, cheeks pulling up, softening the sharp cut of his jawline.

“Kim Taehyung.” They shake hands. Jimin’s is rough and hot, steady, the warm metal of his rings pressing into Taehyung’s skin. It takes him a while to remember that he has to let go, but when he does he leans forwards, puts his elbows on the table and his chin on his palm, to stay close. “Are you one of those people who think art is nothing but wank? Why come watch our gig then?”

Jimin, smirk gentling into something less teasing, leans his cheek against his hand, mirroring Taehyung’s pose. “I don’t really think that. I think there’s something really beautiful and precious about what you do. Like your flowers, you know?”

Jimin’s face is so open, the words coming out of his mouth almost cutting in their sincerity. Taehyung doesn’t know what to reply to that. He used to be better with people before all the space travel bullshit started.

“Are they really from Earth?” Jimin asks.

“Yeah.” He swallows. His food has gone cold in his plate and he’s suddenly aware of people coming and going, eating around them, in the form of intrusive, strident noises. Jimin’s eyes, though, when he meets them again, are the most soothing thing he’s ever seen. Dark, one of them a little more droopy than the other. “Yeah, my mother grows them in our greenhouse. I keep them frozen while we travel from one location to another, defrost them for each gig. Can’t really grow them aboard our ship.”

“It’s a small starcraft isn’t it? No oxygen habitat.”

Taehyung nods. “I would love to have one to grow them in. But yeah, ship’s too small. It’s a pity.”

“Would you like to visit one of our habitats then? My sunbae, he’s the one in charge of one of them, he won’t mind if we take a stroll there. Access’s free anyway, it’s supposed to give us an idea of what Earth should feel like.” The way Jimin offers it, his tone easy and light, has Taehyung accepting even before he’s really done talking.

“Sure, let’s go.” He puts one last bite of bokkeumbap in his mouth and gets up. Looking around the cafeteria, he finally remembers Seokjin hyung was supposed to come back after getting more food. He finds him sitting at another table with the rest of the troupe, and as if sensing his frown directed at them, Hoseok hyung rises his head from his plate, meets Taehyung’s eyes, glances at Jimin and wags his eyebrows. Taehyung snorts.

“What is it?” Jimin asks.

“Oh, nothing. Just the nerve of some people.”

They get out of the cafeteria and Jimin guides him to an internal shuttle port. The automatic doors slide closed behind them with a soft dinging noise. “Node 1,” Jimin says. The only indication that the shuttle has actually started moving is a subtle hiss that seems to be coming from all around them. “I don’t think many people outside of our crew have visited the BEAM habitat. Hope it makes Namjoon hyung proud.” Jimin looks at Taehyung and smiles.

“I’m sure it will. Even on Earth there’s not that much vegetation, you know? It’ll probably be really weird for me.”

The shuttle dings again and the doors open. This sector of the Station looks less like a space base, no wide portholes or soft light coming from inside the walls, more pipes and control panels, naked fluorescent light strips, not fit to live in.

“This way,” Jimin says. There aren’t any people around and their steps echo through the corridors. “We’re really close to outer space. We were in the center of the Station before, in Node 6, but here we’re on the outskirts of it.”

Taehyung shivers. It’s colder in this sector, but there’s also Jimin’s voice, the calm sound of it, echoing in the quiet. It’s not any closer to space than he usually is while travelling in his troupe’s spacecraft, but there’s something about being in a hunk of metal and polymers virtually hovering in an almost perfect vacuum. “Do you ever think about the fact that if it weren’t for Mars’s gravity pull you would just… float off into space? Just gone.”

Jimin frowns. “Not really, I mean, a planet’s gravitational pull is pretty much the most reliable thing you could depend on. And we’d have far bigger problems than our Station floating off into space if it disappeared.” At Taehyung’s blank look, he waves his hand, as if encompassing everything around them, and shrugs. “It would mean that the planet itself disappeared. Since every object with mass has a gravitational pull… Our entire solar system would collapse.”

Just the thought has him looking troubled, and it makes Taehyung smile. “That was a far more sciency explanation than I wanted.”

“That’s what you get for talking to a scientist, I guess. We’re here.” They’re standing in front of an airtight door. Jimin punches a series of numbers into the control panel next to it. When it opens, Taehyung’s lungs spasm for a second.

The air inside the BEAM habitat is like a condensed version of Earth’s air on good weather days, without a face mask to stifle it. But the smell of it, it’s exactly like his mother’s greenhouse, only thicker, almost painful to breathe in.

The BEAM is dark, night mode already engaged, low light coming from thin floor-level light strips. But once Taehyung’s eyes adjust, he sees how everything is green, a controlled chaos of leaves and dirt and grass, trees growing out, tall enough to almost brush the ceiling, vegetable gardens, even clusters of flowers, their bright colors popping out into the darkness. The narrow pathways running through the room form geometrical patterns in softly glowing white lines.

The door closes behind them and Taehyung stumbles forwards. There’s this intense feeling of loss, some sort of bittersweet awe, filling up his lungs. If it weren’t for that it would feel ironic, Jimin giving him back the exact same feeling he tried to convey through his monologue. He turns towards him. “This is amazing.”

His ache of it must be showing on his face because Jimin’s shoulders square up, his tone going very gentle. “Is this the first habitat you see?”

“Yeah. I can’t believe Earth used to be like this.” He walks around, touches his fingers to the rough bark of a small tree. “It kinda fucks you up, doesn’t it? The last safe areas were built in the least damaged parts of our world, but we still need air purifiers and we can only grow plants in greenhouses. Vegetation grows too sporadically to control it… but this is what’s supposed to be like.” He looks up. The foliage has grown so thick he can’t make out the ceiling in the darkness.

Jimin hums behind him. His head tilted sideways, almost as if listening to something Taehyung can’t hear, he says “But it hasn’t been like that for centuries. And Earth won’t ever go back to how it was before.” He’s silent for a second. When he speaks again, Taehyung can hear the small noise of his lips parting break the quiet.

“When I was a kid, I remember when the Salvage project was terminated. People were heartbroken that we were giving up on Earth, but no one stopped to think that Earth needed saving because of our own doing. Everyone was suddenly so eager to move to Mars and forget how much we’d fucked up our own planet, even if it meant we had to find a way to create a livable atmosphere on a new one.”

He walks closer to Taehyung, his voice going lower when he adds “When I’d just started out as a researcher, I didn’t even think about the hypocrisy of it. When you’re young shit like this sounds grand, building your own habitat in the least human-friendly environment possible. Pioneering, defying odds, all those stupid ideals we pride ourself for.” He clicks his tongue.

His face looks sharp and grim in the darkness, something too distant for anyone to touch. Taehyung asks, “Isn’t that the only way we know how to live, though?”

Jimin tilts his head towards him and smiles, just one corner of his mouth curled upwards.

They move around the night mode BEAM in near silence. Jimin gives Taehyung his hand to navigate around a vegetable patch, step over a spinach crop. The air around them feels too close and Jimin’s hand, dry and steady, holds Taehyung’s in a sure grip. He can feel his clothes brushing against his skin, hear the soft rustling on the grass under their feet, the whirring of the aeration vents around them. It’s too much and too little at the same time.

“Even knowing this exists,” Taehyung gestures with his free hand, at the overarching tree branches and the scent of upturned earth. “I would never be able to live on a space station. It’s just. I’m not made for it, you know? Earth is dying but I can’t even imagine not living on it.” He keeps his voice low when he says it. The atmosphere feels to heavy to break it with his voice – but he also knows that the majority of people wouldn’t understand, the idea of planetside living too foreign and opposite from everyone’s collective feeling of home .

But Jimin takes a deep breath and says “Space living is not worth it.”

It surprises Taehyung so much he stops walking, turns his entire body to face Jimin, squeezing his hand tight. They’re in a dark cluster of small trees, barely taller than them. Their shadows wash over Jimin’s face, so Taehyung can only tell a vague impression of the shape of his mouth, the arch of his neck. He can’t make out his expression at all.

“It’s not worth going your whole life living in an insulated airtight place it would only take you a couple of days to know like the back of your hand.” He lets out a laugh, sounds rueful and sharp. “But you know, even if we’re not made for it, we’ve grown so attached to it. The idea of planetside living is scary now - planets are too big, too dirty. The idea of a sky overhead and unfiltered air is terrifying. Some people say they won’t leave their space bases even after Mars has been terraformed.” He squeezes Taehyung’s hand back. “In a way, I understand. Evolution and the ability to adapt, just fucking us right up.”

His voice has gone unbearably low and desolate. Not knowing what to say, Taehyung tugs him out of the patch of trees and towards the muted colors of closed flowers, drawing careful circles with his thumb into the back of Jimin’s hand. Getting closer, the smell around them gradually changes, the indistinct green smell of vegetation turning into something sweeter. Surrounded by other plants there’s a shrub of small white flowers, blooming as if it were daytime.

The scent is familiar and foreign all at the same time, too sweet. Taehyung touches the petals of one of the flowers and bites his lip. “Night-blooming jasmine?” He lets go of Jimin’s hand to crouch in front of the shrub.

“It’s lovely, isn’t it? The scent.” Jimin crouches next to it, their knees pressing together.

“Yeah, but… It’s not right. My parents grow them in their greenhouse and the smell is different. I didn’t know space flowers would smell differently.”

“Must be the difference in air and dirt pollution. Lots of variables,” Jimin says. He leans forwards to put his face next to the jasmine flowers, taking a deep breath. Even crouching down, he’s got his feet touching at the heels but spread out in a v shape. Impressive, perfect balance, Hoseok hyung would say. “It’s still lovely.”

Jimin is smiling when he turns towards him. His beauty, the brightness of it, cuts through the darkness, makes it sweeter, not unlike the smell of the night blooms in front of them. Looking at him makes Taehyung feel dizzy with some sort of moonstruck feeling.

“Nah, Earth flowers are better.” And then, on the same reckless impulse it takes to run through a dust storm, he says, “I’ll bring you some of my parents’ night-blooming jasmine next time we have a show here. You’ll see.”

Jimin’s smile grows even brighter, his delighted face like a punch to Taehyung’s gut. Like it’s the most natural thing in the world, he reaches out and touches Taehyung’s wrist, as if feeling for his jumping pulse. “I’d love it if you did.”


v.

Jimin’s night shifts are mostly self imposed and run deep into night hours, the halogen clock on the wall blinking red numbers that increase with the speed of his pulse.

The anxiety of sleeplessness and too much focus making his eyes cross over and his hands shake. Or maybe it’s just too much coffee and too much responsibility, something to do with the thought of small starcrafts flying back to Earth, the smell of night flowers, something he shouldn’t think about.

After his night shifts end, brain and body feeling both fuzzy and electric, Jimin goes to the gym room next to the cryo quarters, usually so quiet and empty at this time of night hours you could hear a pin drop. It’s a big room with a porthole and a variety of machines, always washed in soothing purple lights, the better to calm the mind and stimulate the body, or something along those lines. To Jimin, it always looks like a bad throwback to space movies from last century, the feeling of isolation and pretty neon lights.

As he warms up, he tells himself there are too many people in space right now to be really isolated at all. Space is just a matter of data points anyway, even when you’re living the farthest from Earth any human ever has.

He turns on a treadmill and punches at the settings, until the incline and the speed make him feel as if he were trying to breathe in, without a suit, on the surface of Mars. His rubbery muscles make his pace awkward, until at some point, runner’s high, he forgets about having muscles at all, feeling as if he were floating outside his body, looking out on Mars through the porthole in front of him.

He’s just running and running and thinking about the blueprints of the gravitational unit they’re planning to install in the MR33, how they’re still a little wonky, the circuitry still not right. Thinking about how the pressurizing machine already in place there needs to be recalibrated almost every day because of overwork.

And, mixed with more practical, rational thoughts, there are flashes of something he’s trying not to think about too much: the smooth feeling of Taehyung’s hand in his, his solemn voice when he promised to bring him back flowers from Earth. Parts of his monologue keep flashing in and out of Jimin’s consciousness, I taught myself this and this and this.

Always trying not to forget, but doesn’t the melancholy get too much like that? Teaching yourself how to miss something in all its little details. Jimin would rather keep himself flexible and ready to give himself to something, someone else.

His watch beeps at him, it’s 0500 hours, the latest Jimin will let himself stay up if he’s not still in the lab. He switches the treadmill off and gets off of it with shaky legs. His watch reminds him, also, that it’s one day before the weekend, that a month has almost passed. He’s been avoiding thinking about it so much, he almost missed the recurrence of it.

He’s probably seeing Kim Taehyung again tomorrow. It shoots off a frisson of something up his spine, and he tells himself, chill the fuck out, Park Jimin . But his mind is buzzing with it now, even as he steps in and out of the sonic shower and changes inside shorts and a shirt, lies down in his cryo capsule. He’s thinking about Taehyung’s long fingers and pretty mouth when the countdown to cryogenesis starts, thinking about his deep voice turning scratchy with emotion, I’ll still feel it calling to me? and I’ll bring you some . The thought goes into stasis with him and it’s the first thing he opens his eyes to when his capsule disengages at 0730 hours.

He groans. His body doesn’t feel rested, his mind is like a series of freeze-frames when he gets up, gets dressed. He fumbles his way to the shuttle that will take him to Node 4, and work.

He survives the day with the help of great quantities of coffee. He does his job and he does it well, because that’s what he’s promised to himself, but by 2200 hours his hands are shaking too bad to even type, his eyes clouded over with a haze of exhaustion. Solji noona, his direct superior, tells him to go get some sleep, and warns him she’ll lock him out of the Lab if he doesn’t go to sleep.

He feels suddenly adrift, a meteroid breaking free of a planet’s orbit, left floating. He knows that sleeping would be best, and that working in the condition he’s in now would only be counterproductive. But he can’t bear the idea of cryosleep, the feeling of not having done enough today waking up with him, a freeze-frame of disappointment caught in his mind, and the idea of the night’s performance nagging at him.

So he does something he hasn’t done in a while and visits Yoongi hyung, down in Node 8, the comms’ room. When its doors slide open in front of him space noises flow out, a long, vibrant hum, followed by static crackling. When he's doing a solo shift, Yoongi never uses headphones.

“Hello, hyung?” he asks poking his head inside. As he thought, Yoongi is alone, slouching in his chair and logging data points into a graphic, creating a loose trajectory of sorts around Mars – probably meteors, space debris.

Yoongi looks up from his work and blinks at him behind his glasses. “What are you doing here, looking like death? What the hell, Park Jimin.”

He steps inside. “Sorry. Working, you know.”

Yoongi tsks at him. “You got kicked out of your lab, haven’t you.” He turns back to his work without sparing Jimin another glance. “Well, have a seat. You can chill here until you fall asleep and start drooling all over yourself.”

“I think you’re talking about yourself, hyung. You’re the one who’s known for falling asleep under a table in the cafeteria.” He does take a seat though, spins back and forth in his chair a couple of times before going still, relaxing one muscle after another. Space is quiet tonight – just the usual crackling and whistling of charged particles and radio waves bouncing around Mars’s magnetic field, broken up by the occasional whistling of something passing by.

Yoongi works in silence. It reminds Jimin of one of his favourite memories: sitting in this room, just the two of them, Yoongi mapping out the trajectory of a comet entering Mars's orbit. Just remembering the noises it made still gives Jimin goosebumps, clicking and gurgling, almost like laughter.

Right now though, if he closes his eyes, Mars’s soft and eerie sounds whooshing around him, it feels like floating in an isolation tank, his mind going dark and still. But memories of darkness and quiet now remind him of his evening in the BEAM with Taehyung.

His deep breaths and smooth hands, the gentle way he cradled the jasmine flowers even as he frowned at them, his low voice. His words and his face washed with colors during his monologue, dark mouth and eyes and hands. It made something resurface inside of him, something so deep down Jimin he hadn’t thought it would still be there. As if Taehyung had brought it back to light, the same way humans dreamed of doing with ruins of ancient civilizations under Mars’s surface.

He doesn’t like it. He opens his eyes in a rush, the same way he does when, in that place between lucid dreaming and natural sleep, he’s on the brink of having a nightmare. The low lights of the comm room are bright enough to blind him for a second, leave him blinking until the world comes back into focus. Yoongi is still slouching into his chair, squinting tiredly at the control panels in front of him. Jimin feels as if there’s not enough air in the room.

He blurts out, “I think I’m reverting to my teenaged bullshit, hyung.” Yoongi is usually the best person to go to when you’re feeling like you’re acting like a child. He’ll just listen and dismiss everything you already knew was stupid with a few words, slurred with tiredness and thick with his accent.

So when Yoongi hums, sarcasm dripping from it, almost sneering, and says “It’s your fault for acting like a hermit for so long,” something inside Jimin actually goes still.

“I’ve never done that.”

“And yet,” Yoongi replies. He types something on a data pad, then swipes it off of the screen. “Don’t you feel like you’re missing something, Jimin-ah?” He doesn’t look at him when he asks, just keeps working with that steady, efficient way of his, leaving Jimin staring at his moving hands, too big for his wrists, typing and measuring and twisting knobs, sending out signals, converting data into audible sound.

Missing something.

Quick snapshots of his brother’s smiling face, still like a photograph because of time and distance. Holding hands. Dancing, long hours in his school’s club room, the absolute control on every single part of his body. His friends’ faces, people he doesn’t talk to anymore. Deep roar of waves crashing ashore. The feeling of being helpful, of being needed. Kissing and hugging and being close to someone. Doing something for someone else.

The comm room is filled with a high pitched, trembling hum. It feels safe to speak over it, his voice scratchy and low enough that he doesn’t feel like he’s disrupting the quiet. “I guess I just miss people.”

Yoongi finally turns towards him. He doesn’t look kind, exactly, his expression still blank with just a sort of vague interest animating it. But his voice does sound soft when he says, “Why do you think Namjoon wanted you to go to his soul healing bullshit? He thinks this thing you’re doing, existing in a single-minded selfless pursuit, it’s not good enough for you.”

“Namjoon hyung, what a fucking hypocrite,” Jimin says.

That makes Yoongi laugh. “Yeah, you’re right. Namjoonie is an idiot. But he knows isolation is possibly the worst thing you could do to yourself.” His face turns serious at that. He doesn’t look like he’s trying to teach him a lesson anymore, or make fun of him. He suddenly looks just tired and almost anxious, worried his point won’t get across. Jimin touches his knee, the only reassurance he can think of, here, I’m here .

“Obviously,” Yoongi says, “giving yourself to the first person you meet that makes you feel something is just a shitty idea. But there’s also that thing about kindred spirits – closeness and understanding and shit, it only happens when you meet someone who feels as dead inside as you.” He’s looking Jimin straight in the eyes. It’s not something Yoongi does, this soul sharing, whatever it is; it usually passes through work, through space sounds. He’s awkward and stilted, but there’s real emotion behind his voice when he adds, “So good luck, Jimin-ah.”

And the next day Yoongi’s words weigh heavy on his bleary, just woken up mind, blinking slowly up at Kim Taehyung in the flesh, blocking his coffee-bound shuffle towards one of the many synthetisers in the cafeteria.

“It’s the afternoon, why did you just wake up?” Taehyung asks, looking amused and curious, hands inside the pockets of his loose pants and dyed green streaks in his fringe. Jimin blinks again.

“You look like a piece of seaweed.”

Taehyung pulls an offended face, touching his head gingerly. “It’s for my new role, alright? As if you've got room to talk. You look half dead. Fully dead, like a space zombie. Are you haunting this Station, is that what’s going on?”

“Haunting the surface of Mars itself, actually.” He rubs his hands over his face. Taehyung is still snickering at him. “Oh, shut up. I used to be a morning person, you know? My little brother would always tell me I was unbearable first thing in the morning, the brat.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, I grew up and acquired a work ethic.” He finally makes himself coffee, grabs Taehyung’s arm to tug away from the synthetiser when he’s done. He’s exactly as tall and big as he remembered him, golden skin and moles on his face, the loose cutaway collar of his sweatshirt gaping open at his collarbones, his eyes with their clear, transparent quality. “What are you doing here so soon? Isn’t your show in the evening?”

“Byulyi noona got us this new type of fuel, better quality or something, makes us travel faster. Jungkookie, our youngest, he’s so happy about it, it’s almost gross. You know in old movies dogs would stick their heads out of a moving car’s window? He was basically like that.”

Jimin laughs. “That sounds like an unfair comparison, considering how much you look like an overgrown puppy. You get space sick?”

Taehyung twitches and looks at his feet. “Well, yeah. Earth baby and all that, never gonna get used to space.” His mouth twisting and eyes downcast, he looks so ridiculously bitter about it and trying to do his best to hide it that Jimin just has to give into the impulse, pat the back of his head where his hair is the softest.

For lack of anything to say, he offers him his cup of coffee. Taehyung looks bashful when he takes a sip, smiles and looks at him through his eyelashes once he’s swallowed. “I’m glad I’m seeing you again. I kept my promise, you know? Come with me to Tranquility for a second, let me show you.”

He grabs Jimin’s hand and tugs him out of the cafeteria, guiding him through the people milling around. His steps are confident but his hand is shaking with nerves. It makes Jimin smile.

Tranquility hasn’t been put together for tonight’s performance yet, only the porthole has been covered up. There are still people using the various entertaining systems, the props of Taehyung’s troupe tucked into a corner, waiting to be set up.

Taehyung lets go of Jimin’s hand, lets him finally drink his coffee as he digs through a duffle bag. He takes out a stasis capsule. Jimin puts his mug down. Inside the transparent tube there are green stems and small white flowers, already in bloom. Taehyung bites his lips, hands fidgeting around the tube. He pops the top of it off. “Here.”

The sweet scent of jasmine reaches him the moment he closes his fingers around the capsule. It’s much heavier than the one in the BEAM, something metallic to it making it sharper. His hand doesn’t fit inside the tube, and he has to carefully shake the jasmine flowers out. They fall into his palm, give him the feeling of cradling something precious.

When he looks at Taehyung, he’s smiling so big and shy it makes Jimin think of shared happiness, of complicity and trust and coming home.

“They’re beautiful.” He smiles up at Taehyung. Brings the flowers closer to his face and breathes in. All his purple-tinged avoidance hours, filled with too much caffeine and the anxiety Taehyung would turn out to be nothing but pretty words and a smooth voice, all of it wasted on someone who keeps his promises, postures too much and looks so soft underneath it all. “Thanks for bringing them to me.” He almost feels annoyed, on the brink of falling into an unbearable fondness.

Taehyung’s voice is shaking when he laughs. “I wanted you to have them. Don’t they smell better than the ones in your habitat?”

Jimin takes a deep breath. He wants to tell Taehyung so many things, suddenly, all of them pressing up at the back of his throat, the one in a million possibility of meeting through time and space, kindred spirits. Isolation, isolation lemma , Jimin thinks, nonsensically. Narrowing down the number of solutions to a problem to one.

Just looking at each other feels like it’s enough, the scent of the blooming jasmine almost cutting, so close to his chest.

 

vi.

Going back to Earth after his second time meeting Jimin fills Taehyung with a deep melancholic feeling he’s never experienced in this capacity before.

It’s the same feeling he gets looking at a sunset when the dust curtain is not a suffocating yellow wall but just a buttery haze. Like there’s a gaping hole at the pit of his stomach, a queasiness that has little to do with the shaking, humming panels of the starcraft around him. Usually it’s a feeling that comes as he gets farther from Earth, not closer.

It’s uncomfortable, makes him feel guilty. Wakes him up in the middle of night hours and jolts him into wanting to cry while he’s just chilling. But just the thought of Jimin’s flushed face hiding behind the flowers he brought him, his smile as he told Taehyung he’d see him next month, it makes it all better.

Soothed to the point of incoherence, after drinking a little too much with Hyejin one night, he wakes up the next day with the crew all smirking at him. Seokjin hyung and Yongsun noona make fun of him mercilessly, Byulyi noona and Hyejin look pitying and smug at the same time whenever he’s in their near vicinity, Hoseok hyung wiggles his eyebrows at him like the old man he is.

He’s spared from Wheein and Jungkook’s teasing though, the most unbearable of them all, thanks to the outbreak of the worst prank war the troupe’s ever witnessed. This way, at least, he gets to laugh with everyone else when Wheein somehow manages to dye Jungkook’s hair white and make him look like a grandpa.

He practices a lot of avoidance and watches clips of old plays to improve, writes down ideas, thinks about Jimin, tries not to think about Jimin. He wonders if he would be able to comm him from Earth, or while on tour, just get to see him, hear his voice. Talk a little bit.

He’s so wrapped up in thinking about how to do it and refusing to admit to himself that he wants to do it that he’s startled when, during beta shift, while he’s is just watching a movie in his and Hoseok hyung’s quarters, Seokjin hyung pops his head in and says, “Taehyung-ah, go to the comms booth, there’s a call for you.”

“What? Is it from my family?” It’s not unusual for them to call him, but the strange way Seokjin came to get him, the mischievous curve of his mouth and tilt of his head make Taehyung weary.

Seokjin just smiles and gestures at him to get a move on.

It makes Taehyung suspicious, worried about a prank, until he steps inside the comms booth and finds Jimin’s face, serious and half hidden by the fall of his hair, projected on the holo message screen. He’s tapping something out on a datapad while waiting for Taehyung.

“How did you even know how to reach me?” he asks, and he knows he sounds breathless. He feels like he has an excuse, though. He's starting to think Park Jimin may be able to do anything, with his sciency powers and the pure intensity he seems to live off of.

Jimin rises his head. His pleased smile, eyes squinted shut and small crooked tooth, it makes Taehyung’s knees go weak. “A hyung who works the comms was kind enough to patch me through to you. I just thought getting to talk would be nice.” he says, and swipes his hair off his forehead, full attention on Taehyung. “How long until you’re back on Earth?”

He lets himself fall into a chair. Get a goddamn grip, Kim Taehyung. “Less than a week. We made good time this tour.”

He squints at the shaky pixels making out Jimin’s sharp face and kinda feels like choking on his own tongue. He's as intense through broadcast as he is in real life, it’s amazing and terrifying. Taehyung knows he won't be able to take it if Jimin pushes his hair away from his face in that way he has again. “I’m gonna see my family soon, I can’t wait.”

“Ah, that must be nice. My parents send me care packages during the holidays, but it’s not the same thing, of course.”

“Are they living on a base? You told me you have a brother, too.”

“Yeah, my brother and I are fifth generation. Born and bred in space.” Jimin fiddles with something out of frame and purses his lips, a perfect plush pillow Taehyung wants to touch.

“I can’t imagine that,” he says, and he hopes the comms system won’t pick up on his croaky voice. “Space living is already awful enough. Like, I miss Earth air while in space? My lung can’t handle purified air sometimes, it’s too much. I feel like choking.”

“Ah, I get it. It was the same for me when I came back from Earth, when I visited.”

That almost jolts Taehyung out of his chair. “You visited? When? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Jimin laughs. He sounds bright but tired, a balance between the lovely pitch of his voice and how much he slurs his words. “I don’t know, it’s not usually the kind of thing I talk about. But yeah, when I was thirteen. Everyone in my family visits Earth at least once in their lives, we still love Earth culture, you know. Five generations are not many.”

He stretches his arms up and leans his head against the headrest of his chair. Taehyung has to swallow looking at the veins of his neck, the thin skin of it. “So when my brother was eleven we went,” Jimin says. “We’re from a place on the coast. Badly polluted, toxic water, we had to wear our face masks the whole time. But it was beautiful, you know, the ocean. Everything was so big , once we got back home everything felt claustrophobic and unbreathable. I remember holding Jihyun’s hand and thinking I was so glad he got to see it.”

Jimin rolls his head further back and stays like that for a while. It almost looks like he’s fallen asleep, his eyelashes fluttering, the curve of his broad shoulders stark against the black fabric of the backrest. Even though Jimin is so big, inside and out, Taehyung can imagine him and his little brother, small figures against the vastness of the shore, the ocean breaking and breaking and breaking on it, one huge, long breath. He can see it so vividly he almost feels as though he could touch the memory of it.

“Sorry,” Jimin says eventually, voice slow and thick. “I haven’t slept yet, I’m a little,” he moves his hand in a loose circle. Taehyung’s thought process gets stuck on his lovely rings laden fingers for a second. “unhinged. I shouldn’t have commed you right away.”

“It’s fine,” he says, and tries to make it as sincere as possible, not as awkward as his usual teenaged ways would. “The first time you saw me, I was pouring my heart out on stage. So it’s fine.”

Jimin laughs a little. “I guess.”

“Is this why you think people aren’t made for space living? The reason you believe in your job so much?”

He wants to swallow the words back up the moment they leave his mouth. He doesn’t have a right to ask, not really, he’s only met Jimin twice. But the first feeling he had of him, of knowing and being known, has burrowed too further down inside him to allow him a filter. He looks at Jimin’s pixelated face and sees him bite his lip.

“Maybe, yeah. But there’s also just…” He scratches at one eyebrow and says, eyes downcast and dark, full of static through the broadcast, “You have to give yourself to people if you live the way we do. I guess… I guess our planet’s dead and the one we’re factually trying to colonize is so hostile to us I will die before I get to freely breathe on it, and so, all we have, really, is each other.” He meets Taehyung’s eyes through a distance so big he can’t even begin to understand it. “And also, you know, the knowledge that the place we came from is so much bigger than us.”

Taehyung can’t really breathe. He wants to touch the sweet curve of Jimin’s cheekbone and his soft mouth. Wants to keep talking, one long conversation fading into silence, from deep into the night to dawn – on Earth, where real time still exists and you can see the sky change colors, sometimes, if you’re lucky enough. Want and want and want, but in the end he can only look at Jimin’s staticky face and feel grateful for having met him.


vii.

Jimin used to spend a lot of time telling himself he's not living on hope. When he was younger he was so sure that, if he worked hard enough, he could eventually just live off of his own self confidence and all the basic notions he'd learned – about space, the forces of attraction and gravity. Too much hope back then felt like smoke in his eyes, clouding them up along with his thought process.

But since he started working on the MR33 project, he’s realized it’s also something fluttery and full in his chest, fizzing through his bloodstream up to his brain. He’s working on terraforming a planet. He’s started to see how humanity itself has been living on hope for so long, and he’s not any different.

During this past year, he'd only let himself consider hope as his last thought before cryosleep. But after meeting Taehyung it's started sneaking up on him a lot; while he's working, eating, looking out of a porthole while walking around the Station. While they’re comming late into night hours, when Jimin feels almost outside of his body with tiredness and affection.

He’s started to realize that hope works, if you work with it. So he’s trying to manipulate it, making it into something he can work with. He tries to factor hope into his equations, comparative data analysis with hope as a constant data point. He's been praised for his unorthodox, fluid approach to physics repeatedly, after all.

"You look like you have a will to live again," Yoongi tells him when Jimin is visiting during his night shift. In his absence he’d almost forgot how much he loves the comm room, the screens outlining pitch frequencies like lines on heart monitors, computers translating collisions between bouncing particles and space matter into data and then into sounds.

The feeling of submersion is almost too soothing for Jimin to want to give Yoongi shit for his backwards way of caring about people. Almost. “It’s because seeing how energetic you are makes me feel alive, hyung.”

Yoongi is slouching so low in his chair, it’s giving him a double chin and making his chest look hollow, the expression on his face blank with concentration and vague fondness, maybe. He looks old as balls. The sideway glance he gives Jimin isn’t even annoyed, just an assessment of his mood. “This is exactly what I meant when I said will to live. The Park Jimin annoyance factor.”

“You truly know me better than myself, Min Yoongissi.”

And then, a week after his third time meeting Taehyung, the pressurizing machine inside MR33 shuts down for good. Overwork, even in a habitat only just big enough to accommodate one person. Mars’s pressure, recreated inside the module, winning out on human effort.

At first he feels nothing, mostly, like a person in shock. He’s not angry, not even upset. In the end the fatalistic attitude of Lab 7, told-you-sos, it was always going to break, it gets to him.

He does feel like the pressurizing machine was always going to break. But that’s just the odds of the job, going where no one has ever gone before. It’s just that there’s guilt deep down inside of him, the guilt of being taken in into something that wasn’t his work, thinking about something else. Thinking about Taehyung and late night conversations, the isolation lemma he’d been looking for.

Bullshit . He goes back to working enough to have Namjoon breathe down on his neck. He tells Taehyung about the machine breaking and, like the good friend he is, Taehyung doesn’t press him about comming anymore, just sends him scattered messages Jimin finds on his wristwatch and reads before going into cryosleep, the times he actually goes back to his capsule to get some real space rest.

When performance arts night comes around again it finds Jimin elbows deep inside projection graphs, trying to find the goddamn variable that will keep the pressurizing machine and gravitational unit working in harmony.

He almost jumps out of his skin when he hears Namjoon’s voice cut through the silence of the weekend-empty lab. “Jimin, come on, it’s about to start.”

Jimin blinks up at him. He sees all the smudges on the lenses of his glasses before his eyes focus on Namjoon’s pinched face. “Hyung, I’m working.”

“You’re not close to anything except an exhaustion induced collapse.” He’s never heard him sound this harsh. As researchers, they’ve always had a similar work ethic, a mutual understanding of the need to push limits.

“I’m not-”

“Taehyung got here three hours ago. He wants to see you.”

It stings like a slap to the face. “Taehyung can survive without me just this once.”

He’s about to go back to his graphs when Namjoon grabs his wrist. It’s a firm hold, but gentle. It feels foreign coming from Namjoon hyung, who’s always been so clumsy and careful about touch. Jimin looks up at him properly. There are creases of exhaustion in his forehead and around his mouth, eye bags so dark they look like bruises.

“Jimin-ah,” Namjoon says, and he doesn’t sound pleading, but there’s… something. Reminds Jimin of his little brother’s voice, staticky through the comm line, calling him when he’d be late for dinner, too busy with dance practice. Calling him back home.

“Jimin-ah, come on. We’re late.”

So he goes. Tranquility is dark and quiet when they get there, Seokjin and Byulyi’s voices the only ones echoing during some sort of skit Jimin can’t focus on, still thinking about circuitry and algorithms. The only thing stopping him from vibrating out of his skin is Namjoon hyung’s hand, still holding onto his wrist.

Taehyung doesn’t have a monologue this time, just comes onstage as a minor character, then to sing a song with Hoseok and Hyejin. His voice, deep and steady, sounds best during slow performances, where he can get his bearings and go with the flow.

Jimin can’t really pay attention to any of it.

When the show ends Taehyung makes his way to him, weaving his way through the people still milling around the room until he’s in front of Jimin. “Hi,” Taehyung breathes, “How are you?”

“I’m okay.” He probably hasn’t slept in something close to thirty-six hours. “I’m always okay.”

“You look so tired.” Taehyung touches his face very gently, cradles one of his cheeks in his palm. His thumb touches the thin skin of his temples. It almost hurts, premonition of a headache. “I’ve never seen you with glasses.”

“I only wear them when I work long hours.”

“So, always?” He smiles thinly. It’s difficult to tell in the still low lights but he looks tired too, almost sickly and washed out. His hair, lighter than it was the last time Jimin saw him, looks downy where it falls over his forehead.

“It’s different this time. I told you how the pressurizing machine broke.” He moves his head and Taehyung’s hand falls away. “I only came tonight because of Namjoon hyung. I should go back to work.”

“You should sleep.” Seeing him shake his head, Taehyung makes a small pained noise. “Jiminie, please. I’m tired too. Let’s chill. Sleep for a bit.”

It makes him snort. “What, together?”

“Together. Real sleep in an almost real bed.” Taehyung takes his hand, holds it loosely and puts it over his chest, keeps it there. Jimin can feel his thumping heartbeat, amplified by the hyperaware feeling of touching Taehyung again. “You can come back on our starcraft with me. Let me just talk to Yongsun unnie for a second, we can stay docked on Station tonight. We’ll pretend like we used cryo.”

Jimin should really go back to work. But looking at Taehyung’s face brings back that feeling of being discovered, of being known, deep down. There are painful knots of fatigue all over his back and neck, and even in his fingers. “Alright.”

The ten minutes it takes Taehyung to sort things out with Yongsun is the only moment he lets go of Jimin’s hand, before he comes back and takes it again. They walk together to the shuttle that will take them to the hangar in Node 15.

Taehyung’s spacecraft is small and painted green on the outside, dark and somewhat outdated on the inside. The fluorescent light strips crackle when Taehyung turns them on. “Want something to eat?”

Jimin shakes his head. “Too queasy from caffeine. You should eat, though.”

“Nah, I’m fine. Ate before our gig started. Let me show you to mine and Hoseokie hyung’s quarters, then.”

It’s just a narrow room with two beds bolted to the walls and an entertainment system in a corner. “Hobi hyung is a pretty clean guy. Always on my ass about picking up after myself.” Taehyung scratches at the back of his neck and nudges Jimin towards his bed. “I’m just gonna take a quick shower, okay? Make yourself at home.” He opens a panel in the wall and takes out some clothes before going out of the room.

Jimin sits down on Taehyung’s bed. The sheets are mussed around the pillow and he smooths the creases out. Stuck to the walls there are a series of real photos, the old fashioned, developed kind, instead of holo portraits.

He looks at them while he waits, studies the faded smiles and bright eyes of Taehyung’s family, the unfamiliar structure of an earthly house, the fluffy fur of a white puppy sitting in front of an outside pen.

“That’s Soonshim,” Taehyung says. He’s wearing a loose pink shirt with a long rip at the bottom and a pair of shorts, his hair tousled from the sonic shower. Now that he can see him properly, Jimin notices the dark circles under his eyes. “She’s five years old now, I should get a new photo of her.”

“She’s cute,” Jimin says. “Very cuddly-looking.” Not unlike Taehyung right now, he doesn’t say.

“She is. Do you want some clothes to change into?”

He shrugs. “It’s fine.” He gets up to get out of his shoes and pants, shrugs off his sweater and shirt. Taehyung is looking a little red around the ears, and Jimin tries not to laugh about it. He’s too tired for it, anyway. He takes off his glasses and wristwatch, leaves them on his pile of clothes in a corner, easy to find in the morning.

Crawling into Taehyung’s bed feels somewhat awkward, but he’s too tired to dwell on it. He looks at Taehyung puttering around with the entertainment system in the corner through his eyelashes. “What are you doing? Come here.”

“Just putting on some music.” He sounds endearingly nervous. “Can’t wait to have me there with you?”

“Stop bullshitting and just hurry up.”

“So impatient.”

The music starts low and soothing. It’s last century music, slow and chill with a distorted voice waving through it. Not something Jimin would have expected Taehyung to listen to, but so weirdly fitting, speaking directly to his overworked hindbrain. It makes his eyes flutter shut.

“Nice, right?” Taehyung asks in a low voice, climbing into bed next to him. “My grandma used to listen to this a lot.” The pillow deeps with the added weight of his head, and Jimin can feel his body heat on his naked skin. They’re pressed close together but not touching, and Jimin kinda wishes they were.

He nods and he can fill his hair fill with static electricity where it rubs against the pillowcase. They fall into silence, the music flowing between them like the currents. To Jimin it all feels like cheating, this slow unwind, his closed eyes and mind going lax, and for Taehyung to give him this, when Jimin had been so distant.

“I’m sorry about this month,” he says in the end. He doesn’t feel guilty but he is sorry.

“Don’t apologize,” Taehyung says. “Your work is important, I know that. But you should be kinder to yourself.”

Jimin makes a noncommittal noise. “You look like shit right now, too. Don’t be a hypocrite."

“Ah, yeah. But I’m probably getting sick, it’s different.”

Jimin opens his eyes to check up on him, then. Without him noticing, Taehyung had lowered  the lights to 10%, leaving only a coppery glow to illuminate the room. It makes Taehyung’s normally dark skin turn golden. It’s a very nice sight to look at, straight nose and pretty eyes, and the fatigued creases around them. The path his moles form his bottom lip, tip of his nose, right eyelid, marked so clearly Jimin wants to follow it with his lips. He rests his hand on Taehyung’s forehead instead, and then on his neck, where he can feel his pulse pound under thin skin. “Space getting to you?”

“Probably. Homesickness, filtered spaceship air, who knows?”

“You should get some rest.”

Taehyung laughs. “Who’s the hypocrite now?”

Jimin shrugs and keeps his hand on Taehyung’s neck. It’s nice to feel his warmth, his heartbeat. Isolation lemma, right there under his palm.

They just stay in silence, looking at each other for a while. When Taehyung moves closer, his scent rises up from his bedsheets, a mix of make up, hair products and sweet flowers, a whiff of Jimin’s very own night-blooming jasmine.

“I heard this story,” Taehyung says. “About a town up in Alaska, first quadrant. This was before the second Space Race, mind you. Only 217 people lived there. And it was cold as balls the whole year, and always snowing and freezing. So all these people ended up living in the same building. There was everything inside of there, stores and a church and even schools. Some people only had to take an elevator to get to work.”

“Sounds familiar,” Jimin comments.

“Yeah. But the people there, they weren’t used to knowing the entire world as just one building, I guess. So they went batshit crazy. Real proof of isolation.”

Jimin sighs. Tangles their legs together, one smooth slide of skin against skin. “Don’t go batshit crazy, Taetae.”

He realizes he’s closed his eyes once again, doesn’t bother opening them. Music feels like waves washing over the both of them, distorted voice singing something about moving on. “I heard a story, too. About a spaceship malfunctioning and its crew spilling out like silverfish out of a can.” He feels Taehyung’s pulse speed up under his hand. He caresses his neck, soothing. “Did you know that, if you found yourself attracted by the gravitational pull of Earth, you would look just like a shooting star, falling through its atmosphere? People would wish on you.”

He lets his eyes flutter open. Taehyung is looking at him with an uncertain, open face. When he falls forwards, jasmine and warm skin, their noses knock together once, laughter filling the blank before their mouths find each other, slow and present and here.

His hand is still resting on Taehyung’s neck when they fall asleep.


viii.

Earth seasons go from unbearably cold to mildly warm, a few days at the peak of summer so hot you can’t really get out of your house. The air is too humid on good weather days and too dry on bad ones, which are far more common.

When Taehyung gets home after his fourth time meeting Jimin it’s the middle of winter, a couple of weeks shy of his twenty-second birthday. The creeping numbness that he’d been feeling for a while had settled fully on his shoulders at the beginning of the month and he still hasn’t been able to shake it off.

When he disembarks from the shuttle the particles of yellow dust float in front of his eyes almost like snow. There’s a thick layer of debris on the ground, cleaned up and melted off by their landing all around the shuttle.

The air feels very still. Stepping out of the spaceport, bag slung on his back, he can feel all the points where his face mask touches his skin, almost chafing; his fingers and the tips of his ears starting to hurt straight away because of the extreme cold. The sky is a uniform yellowish gray.

His father’s truck is double parked down the road, engine idling with a low rumble. Where in space all noises are somewhat rhythmic, predictable – clanging of pipes on a spaceship, whirring of light projectors resetting their trajectories, crackle of a comm coming online – here on Earth everything is chaotic and organic, the addled patterns of yellow dust motes swirling around him in the still air.

“Hey, dad.” He closes the truck door behind himself and his father is enveloping him in a hug before he has time to settle on his seat. Through his face mask Taehyung can’t really tell his scent, but he just knows it, he’s taught it to himself – the earthly scent of the greenhouse, the smell of house dust and pencil shavings, cooked food, clean skin. His dad’s hugs always feel the best, no matter how much time has passed or how much he’s grown. It almost feels painful to let go, shake out the cramps from holding onto the back of his dad’s coat too tight.

“Welcome back.” His dad says. He disengages the handbrake and the truck hiccups a couple of meters forwards, before he presses down on the gas. They slide smoothly down the road, the landscape around them flat, nothing for kilometers around the spaceport area.

“No one else was free to come with you?” He tries to make a joke out of his dejected tone. Last time they talked Jimin told him about missing his brother, and then, in that insightful, I see you Kim Taehyung way he’s developed, “But people keep existing even when you leave, their lives won’t be put on hold to give you a sense of belonging.”

“Sorry, Taehyungie. They were all busy working or studying, but they’ll be there for you when we get home.”

“Don’t worry, it’s fine.” He smiles at him. His dad glances at him and smiles back. The things you teach yourself when you’re an earthling, how to tell how much sadness is there in a smile half hidden behind a face mask. He has to take a deep breath before he asks, “What about Soonshim?”

“She’s fine. Still not eating much. Didn’t want her to exhaust herself by coming to pick you up.” Soonshim had gotten sick while he was coming back to Earth, the air filter of her outside pen malfunctioning, something similar to poisoning. His brother had commed him in tears about it, in the middle of his shift on the bridge.

“Of course, that was the best thing you could do. Let her rest.”

His dad puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes without taking the eyes off the road. “She’s gonna be so happy when she sees you.”

Taehyung smiles, leans his head against the passenger window. They turn on the local radio station. Weather bulletin, incoming dust storm warning. News about farming and this year’s vegetable crops. The remote control programmes of a synthetic meat factory in the third quadrant malfunctioning and having to send humans in biohazard drones to fix them. Traditional songs about passing fancies. His dad, not one for small talk, reassures him everyone is fine and they fall into a gentle silence.

The landscape around them begins to change as they enter the proper settlement, a sprawl of old worn buildings tinted yellow and pink by air pollution. The four air filtering towers at the edges of the city standing tall like guardians keeping watch. They pass through the main streets, snapshots of life, people hurrying to get to their destination, some carrying grocery bags and other holding hands. From inside the car it feels like a series of movie stills.

Once they get out of the city perimeters the dust particles start hitting their dashboard more frequently. They’re big enough they make a soft noise. The windshield wipers swing back and forth on the glass with a squeaky noise. The road in front of them is getting steeper. There used to be a river here, a long time ago, but now its river bed has become nothing but a series of gentle hills.

All of it, the roads and the landscape and the silhouette of his family’s farm in the distance, it feels like a chalk drawing on old concrete.

They get out of the car and make a run for the front door, the first gusts of wind of the incoming dust storm freezing their faces and dusting their shoulders and hair yellow. When they get inside, his family is all there, waiting to hug him, welcome back Taehyung-ah , Soonshim raising up on her rear paws to frantically try to lick at his face. His older sister ruffles his hair and his younger siblings cling to him and demand piggyback rides and it’s all so warm, so much, it echoes through him like it would through a hollow space.

Is it because he’s getting older? Is it because space living, neat and precise, everything fixable and reusable and not to go to waste, has desensitized him to to the beauty of impermanence he’s been obsessed with all his life? He wonders what Jimin would say about it.

He plays with his siblings and helps set the table. The togetherness of it all finally calms him down, the voices of the people he loves the most washing over him like a caress. But later that evening, when he wishes the dust storm would calm down enough for him to run to the greenhouse, see his parents’ flowers, he feels like an empty husk, filled with nervous energy.

“Taehyungie, is everything alright?” his mother asks him when she comes to the kitchen and finds him sitting idle at the table, playing with some gonggi stones his little brother gave him, Soonshim sleeping at his feet.

He smiles up at her. He knows he’s been looking sick for a while, Hoseok hyung has been telling him repeatedly, in that nagging way he has. “Take care of yourself while you’re home, dude, seriously,” he’d said at the shuttle port on Homebase 5, touching the back of Taehyung’s head almost gingerly, as if he’d been afraid he’d just break in his hands.

“I’m fine, mum. Just can’t sleep.”

She hums. Instead of filling a glass, she pours water inside an electric kettle, putters with tea bags and sugar cubes. “That’s unusual. You usually can’t wait to get to bed.”

“Yeah. I haven’t been feeling it, lately.”

She puts a mug of tea in front of him. This kind of homely comfort makes him feel even sadder, like he’s effectually tricking his mother into taking care of him simply because he's being a baby. He feels so grateful he could cry.

“Is your job going well? How about space sickness?”

“I’ve been getting used to it. And yeah, my job’s fine, my troupe is great and I meet good people when on stations.” He fiddles with the string of the tea bag in his mug. He can’t look at her when he says, “I’ve been thinking about home, and it’s always been Earth and all of you, but lately I’ve-” he trails off. He doesn’t want her to hear his voice break.

He looks at his mother’s hands, folded on the table, steady and lined with age and work. She’s very quiet, waiting for him to go on. When he was a kid it drove him up the wall, the way his mother would just wait for him to finish talking, either when he was confessing to something stupid he did, or just to some strange feeling, some type of sadness. There’s solace in it now, space to think.

“For years I’ve been going on and on and on about how the fact that Earth could disappear at any moment makes it all the more beautiful. Maybe I’ll never see a sunset again, all of that. And I’ve been so scared of it, like… like it was just this loop I was stuck into, paralysis, whatever. But now I realize everyone has been living this way for centuries. Earth is dying and space bases are floating around in nothing and there’s such a long way to go and people are so brave you know? In a way they’re so brave. But here I am, just pointlessly going on about the beauty of Earth centuries ago and now that it’s dying and what am I doing with myself?”

His voice is definitely gone to shit now, deep in his throat, clogged with tears. “It’s such a childish thing, just going around the colonized universe to tell people my little lesson about teaching myself how to obsess over something that’s dying and forgetting to live.” He’s definitely crying now. There are tears falling into his tea. Soonshim has woken up and put her head on his knees, looking up at him with big sad eyes. How ridiculous.

“Oh, baby,” his mother says, in the end. She gets up and comes to sit beside him, taking one of his hands between her own. He can’t really look at her but he knows the face she’s making, pure love and concern, the same way she would look at him when he was sweating off a high fever in his bed. “Taehyung.”

“It’s so stupid, I’m a grown ass adult.” He doesn’t even know if he’s hiccupping or laughing, the idiocy of it is just too much. Soonshim whines softly at him from her place between his legs.

“What does that have to do with anything?” his mother asks him. “Do you think adults don’t cry?”

“Not to their mom in the middle of the night about how wrong they were about everything.”

She laughs a little. “You don’t know about that.” Wiping his tears away, while she draws circles into the back of his hand with her thumb, she says, “It’s true, you know. That we’re all living in this sort of witching hour where everything is temporary and dying. And if you feel that you’ve been looking at it the wrong way, that’s nothing but a shift in perception, Taehyung-ah. There’s still value in your memories and everything you believed in before, even if just to remind you to be better.” She squeezes his hand. He still can’t look at her, doesn’t want to show her his shameful red eyes and tearstreaked face, even if he knows that it’s actually just there , for everyone to see.

“And if you feel like you did us a disservice when you started questioning home,” she adds, her voice very low and calm, and she squeezes his hand tighter when he tries to take it out of hers, run away, “just know that home can be something you never imagined it to be.”

Taehyung finally looks at her. He knows his eyes are brimming with tears, but his mother’s face is serene and open, and yeah, that’s the look. Cool hands on his forehead and her smile through the haze of his fever. His voice sticks in his throat and comes out in a sob.

“Taehyungie,” she says, and touches the tips of his dyed hair, “you look like a dandelion like this, very fragile. But I know you, and I know you always try your best. And there are so many people here for you, wherever you decide to go.”

The hollow feeling in his chest feels full to bursting. She kisses his forehead and stays with him until he’s ready to go to bed. His head crashes on his pillow, and when he unlocks his tablet the harsh light hurts his red rimmed eyes, the darkness of his room all around him making his hands look like those of a stranger.

Greetings from this fifth last part of Earth , he writes to Jimin. I think I’ll be a different person when I see you again .

He falls asleep to the cursor of their chatroom blinking and blinking and blinking like an endless heartbeat.


ix.

Taehyung’s body is solid and hot when it collides into Jimin’s chest, and he puts his arm around him on instinct, pulling him close in tight.

“You were so good,” he breathes into Taehyung’s ear.

Tranquility is dark around them, the voices from the girls of Taehyung’s troupe weaving around them. The amphitheater has turned into a dance floor, all the spectators moving slow and languid to the rhythm of their song.

They found each other in the near darkness, catching each other’s eyes in the blue beams of light coming from the projection booth. Taehyung smells like make up and clean sweat, and some sort of fancy fragrance that makes Jimin want to put his face in the crook of his neck and breathe in. He’s got his hands, broad palms and long fingers, pressed into the small of Jimin’s back.

He laughs, still breathless from the improv song he did with Hoseok and Hyejin. “Thank you. I did my best.”

“Of course you did.” They swing from one side to the other, slowly. Jimin can feel Taehyung’s legs tangling with his. The pulse of the music passing through them. “Happy birthday, Taetae. You’re finally not my dongsaeng anymore.”

Taehyung huffs at him. “Should I reply to how it’s been a month already or to how I was never your dongsaeng in the first place?”

“Felt like I should congratulate you in person, you know? Congratulations for being alive and with me right now. I’m very thankful.”

Taehyung buries his face in the crown of his head and takes a deep breath, holding him tighter. “Thank you.”

Jimin caresses his back, raises his hands up, ends up tangling his fingers in the hair at the back of Taehyung’s head. They’re rocking against each other, makes Jimin think of the colliding particles Yoongi spends his life listening to. “You got me worried with that message you sent me from home. You never explained what was going on with you. Were you feeling lonely?”

Taehyung lowers his head so he’s got his cheek pressed against Jimin’s temple. His breaths ruffle his hair and tickle his neck. “I was having kind of a spiritual crisis. Feels like I understood some things.”

He knew this was coming. Taehyung hasn’t been distant – but it was like something had gone very still inside of him, the steadfast feeling of a choice being made. “What things?”

Taehyung takes a deep breath. “I don’t think I’m coming back to space.”

Jimin lets him go, slowly. Takes a step back, keeps one of his hands on Taehyung’s arm for mutual reassurance. Taehyung’s face, washed in blue light, looks back at him. His lips are trembling. Jimin smiles, tilting his head a little bit. “Finally decided to stay on Earth?”

He reaches out to take Jimin’s other hand, slots their fingers together. “I thought a lot about what you said. About… a lot of things.”

“And?”

“And I’ve been an idiotic asshole all my life, I guess.”

It makes Jimin laugh. “Nah. You were just a kid.” He ignores Taehyung smacking his arm. “It wasn’t good for you anyway, all the pining and longing and remembering.” It kinda looks like Taehyung might be on the brink of crying. “Ah, don’t be like that. It’s a good thing you’re doing for yourself, Taetae.”

There’s always been something so peculiar about Taehyung’s nostalgia, Jimin feels as if he’s watching one of the laws of physics he’s known all his life manifest right in front of his eyes. Earth’s magnetic field calling Taehyung back, just as he’d said during that first monologue that made Jimin want to talk to him, no matter how scientifically inaccurate the metaphor is.

The music around them finally stops. People are clapping, but Jimin is still looking into Taehyung’s face, the lights around them brightening to a light blue.

“What does your troupe think? Have you told them already?”

Taehyung nods, clears his throat. “They’re all very supportive. Jungkook cried.” He looks Jimin in the eyes, his hands fidgety and awkward when he says, “Jiminie, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

They’re still holding hands. It feels so good, just knowing that Taehyung is here for a while, keeping contact, staying close. But it doesn’t hurt that he’s going – Jimin remembers when his best friend left their Homebase for military training, the way Seoyun hugged him tight, said, “You love people so good you won’t even let yourself feel sad about them leaving, if you think they’re doing the right thing.”

“You’ll figure it out, Taehyung-ah, I know you will.” He’s got so much faith in it, it could probably fuel Taehyung’s spacecraft all the way back to Earth. “Since outer space is basically vacuum, when you’re out there you can do nothing but confront yourself. You know, there you are. And sometimes you find out you’re just made to go home.” He squeezes his hand, tight. “We’ll comm, right?”

So they do. Late night calls, Taehyung looking for something to do on Earth, Jimin with algorithms and test simulations without a definite result.

Jimin’s work, pressurizing machine back up and running, t-minus ten days to the gravitational device being installed in the MR33 – it feels like it makes more sense now, thinking about his brother in their Homebase, thinking about Taehyung on Earth.

“I just want to do something good, you know? It just feels right, you said it too. But the planetside acting scene is mad weird, Jiminie.”

They stay up talking into night hours and it often feels as if Jimin could fall asleep just like this, in his chair, conversation with Taehyung the most soothing thing in the world. Stories about lost astronauts and earthly space station prototypes replaced by ones about walks through Taehyung’s settlement center and the hills around his family’s farm, Soonshim always by his side; or about something in Jimin’s Lab catching fire in the haste of mixing chemical elements.

The gravitational device, imperfect and still in need of maintenance, gets installed and works with the pressurizing machine well enough.

This type of serenity feels strange after such a long time feeling ill-fitting and too big for his skin – but even then, when monthly performance art night comes around, Jimin isn’t ready to not see Taehyung there. Hyejin and Wheein wave at him after the performance is done, when they see him, kind smiles that still feel somewhat teasing.

He comms Taehyung first that night. It’s still early evening on Earth and Taehyung looks like he just got out of the shower, the tips of his hair damp and the stretched out collar of his shirt messy around his clavicles. “Jiminie, I was about to comm you.” He looks so pleased to see him Jimin’s chest goes a little tight.

“Got here first. How are things there?”

“Everything’s fine.” Taehyung’s smile is bright even through the shaky quality of the transmission, makes Jimin feel wistful and a little bit better about everything. “Went out with my noona today, she’s teaching me how to drive.”

“Finally,” Jimin says, even though the concept of cars is weird, just like the concept of houses instead of quarters.

“Listen, I’m only twenty-two, I’m not too late for it.” Taehyung shakes his damp hair out of his eyes. When his fringe parts in the middle of his forehead he always looks older; around forty, maybe. It makes Jimin giggle. “Ah, here we go. The Park Jiminie diss.”

“It’s like you took styling tips from my Yoongi hyung when your hair does that.”

“You’re on fire tonight,” Taehyung comments, drily. They just sit smiling at each other for a second or two. Feels stupid and juvenile, but it’s alright. Jimin’s found some sort of inner peace with it.

“What’s up?” Taehyung asks in the end, sounding way softer than before. Always the most perceptive when Jimin wishes he’d just let it go.

“Nothing. Just miss your stupid face.”

“Bet it’s not the only thing you miss.” He looks up at Jimin through his eyelashes. Then he ruins it by wiggling his eyebrows.

Jimin snorts. “Yeah, right. Miss your sweet talks, Taehyung-ah. What did you tell me last week, wait, let me reenact it for you.” He moans a little, pitiful, “ Oh god Jiminie, you look so good .

Taehyung’s ears go instantly red. “Listen, I’d had to drink with my dad, my defences were lowered. Don’t laugh, I swear to god.”

“Okay, okay.” He looks down at his hands, clasped on his belly. Fiddles with the ring on his thumb. His bad mood is gone, but now he just feels soft, like if Taehyung pressed him to talk about it it would hurt like a fresh bruise. “But yeah, miss you. Maybe it’s the fact you brought me flowers. Makes me have all these bullshit old fashioned thoughts. Like how I wish I could sleep in a proper bed, put those flowers under my pillow, smell you as I go to sleep and first thing when I wake up.”

He’s made Taehyung look just as soft as he’s feeling. “You're making the stupidest face right now.”

And the memory of this softness carries Jimin through, life on a space station following repetitive patterns, work and cryo and eat and work, his mind running through the hustle of it all, this place he’s found himself confident in.

He hopes Taehyung is alright, light years away. Sometimes, when they comm, he looks tired enough to fall asleep right there, dark circles under his eyes, dark roots growing out and streaking his dandelion hair. “Planetside life getting rough?” Jimin asks.

It’s difficult to find yourself on a dying planet as it is in outer space, turns out. “Sometimes I feel like I’m just… this tiny light blinking at you. Morse code, hello Jiminie, how are you doing? Still saving humanity? Like… I’m just a voice from a distant star.”

“Taetae,” Jimin sighs. The frustration of not being able to reach out and touch nags at him, but he finds sometimes the best thing to do is just distract Taehyung, tell him, “You know Earth is not a star, right? It’s a planet .” Feels like there’s too much and not enough distance at the same time to say, even if we’re so far apart, even if it took years for your voice to reach me, I would still hear you .

“Wish I could just kiss you again,” Taehyung says, his eyes sweet and dark through the holo feed.

“Someday, I’m sure.”

In these moments he wishes for the thing Taehyung calls normality, waking up every day instead of just coming out of stasis, his smell and his touch. It doesn’t mean that he’s waiting, but he feels as though something is about to give, some sort of premonition, those things no space-dweller believes in anymore.

He gets woken up one day but his cryocapsule suddenly going out of stasis, blinking red lights and alert sirens overlapping with his freeze-frame memory of Taehyung’s last good night message.

He stumbles out of his capsule and almost falls to the floor, squints at the control panels next to his quarter’s door. Without glasses the words take a  painfully long time to come into focus.

Evacuation alert , the panel reads, collision course with asteroid cluster detected.


x.

Hyejin’s face looks pale and stricken when she picks Taehyung up from the hangar of Homebase 5, reaching out to him as if worried he would just collapse in front of her.

“Are you alright?” she asks, at the same time Taehyung starts to say, “Thank you so much.”

Hyejin lets out a bark of laughter. She grabs his arm and pulls him away from the crowd of people getting out of the shuttle, giving them weird looks for just standing around.

Taehyung has been feeling numb and electrified at the same time for what feels like hours now. Rationally though, and it’s in Jimin’s voice that he thinks it, not much time has passed at all, barely an hour since he got back home to find a weird hush, his little sister taking him to the living room to see the news broadcast.

NMOs entering in a collision route with Mars. Damaged Stations in sectors 9 and 10. Station 11 appears to have lost one of its Nodes. Evac procedures ongoing.

“Ship’s that way,” Hyejin tells him, taking him out of his haze, pulling him along. His feet feel clumsy and pinched. Looking down, he realizes he’s put on his sister’s running shoes. They’re a pale peach color. Seokjin hyung would love them.

In this constant state of low flying panic, all his thoughts feel jumbled and jagged like broken pieces of glass. There’s a list of things to do right now, he knows. But he can only put a feet after the other, get to Hyejin’s starship, just go.

The first moment of denial, trying to reach Jimin, had been the worst. He’d wondered if this is how it would feel to fall into the ocean. Cold and poisonous and all at once, breathing it in like too-dense air. Their chatroom window had kept refreshing, giving out the same message over and over, impossible to connect , Park Jimin unreachable . He’s been trying to stay afloat in toxic water since then.

They cross the hangar, bustling with activity. His eyes can’t focus on anything. Just seeing someone with dark tousled hair passing next to him has his sense memory go crazy. He can’t close his eyes without feeling the soft skin of Jimin’s chest under his hands. Feels like hands squeezing his lungs tight every time.

Hyejin’s starship is possibly the smallest he’s ever seen, a cutter, dynamic and new. Seeing it gives him a sense of relief so intense he almost feels nauseous.

“Hyejin, I’m sorry,” he says, finally. Her round face looks sharp and intense in the harsh lights of the hangar, eyes like dark metal. “You don’t have to do this.”

She clicks her tongue. “This is the craziest thing you’ve ever asked me to do. Wheein is gonna be so mad when she realizes where I’ve gone without her.”

“Well, you should-”

“We’re going. Flying to Mars in the middle of an asteroid storm? Easy.” She opens the main airlock of the starship and gestures at him to go in. “Move your ass, Earth baby.”

When he’d finally stopped trying to reach Jimin his first thought had been to put his head between his knees and breathe. But he’d already started feeling numb then, this unbelievable calmness he never thought he’d reach, the boy who’d cried until he lost his voice when his big sister’s appendix burst. Conscious thought went from not being able to reach Jimin to having to meet him halfway.

He’d been lucky. Shuttles from Earth to Homebase, sector 5, had still been active, one every hour. And the only person he could think about was Hyejin, with her family of space racers and mechanics.

“Isn’t this a race cutter?” He asks as he ducks his head to fit inside the tiny cockpit Hyejin is already calibrating to her liking.

“Yeah, fastest we have. Slightly illegal warpcore and all. Wheeinie’s gonna be so pissed .”

“Not your dad?”

“Why would he be mad? Ship’s mine anyway, have you seen the pink paintjob? My dad would approve, as long as I don’t fuck it up too bad. Wheein, on the other hand…”

Taehyung sits down in the copilot seat. His legs are too long and knocking into everything. He watches his shaking hands with curious detachment as he looks up the latest news on his tablet. All Stations evacuated. Number of casualties still unknown. All Station personnel moved to Moon Base 1.

“Most violent asteroid storm since 2026, the news said,” Hyejin comments, when he reads out loud. “Grazing the side of Mars and possibly moving over to Earth next. Good thing planet’s got all those bases around it to protect it, yeah?”

She’s setting coordinates and warpspeed. The holo screen in front of her flashes orange, Caution, asteroid storm 0.75 light years away. Flying discouraged. Engaging warpspeed over level 2 discouraged.

“Hyejin, I’m-”

“You asked me.” She puts her hand on his arm. Her long nails, always slightly terrifying, dig into the soft skin of the inside of his elbow. “Taehyung, look at me.” He finally does. Dark curls fall around her temples, her face soft but her eyes fever bright and as harsh as her voice when she says, “Either put up or shut up, because I’m doing this. If Wheein was in the middle of this shitstorm and you had the means to take me to her, I would ask you too, and you’d probably do it, you asshole. So here we are. Hold on tight. Warpspeed at level 5. Set course for Moon Base 1.”

Action discouraged.

“Overrule,” Hyejin says. Her voice is low and clear like a bell, laced with dark humor when she adds, glancing at Taehyung, “This way, if a nice asteroid catches into our trajectory, there won’t even be anything of us left to cry over, you know.”

It makes his hands go cold. He has to swallow when he says, “Wish I’d told my family where I was going, kinda.”

Hyejin laughs. “Yeah, me too. Hwasa moving to hangar door 42. Ready for lift-off.”

The spaceship hovers to the hangar door. Hyejin gives Taehyung’s arm one last squeeze before grabbing onto the joysticks. The hangar door opens with a loud noise of screeching metal against metal. Space outside is nothing but black vacuum.

“This is the first time I decide to really go in space on my own volition. Also first time at warp speed.” Deep down he’s eager for the leap, for the swooping feeling of his stomach and brain being a second behind his body.

It’s already been almost two hours since the asteroids hit Station 11. Number of casualties still unknown could mean nothing or everything. Deep down, he feels as if Jimin were with him right now, beautiful and whole, the best part of Taehyung.

“What a first time, then.” Hyejin laughs.

When the Hwasa jumps forwards, his teeth rattling inside his skull, space warping in front of his eyes, all Taehyung can see are Jimin’s eyes the last time he saw him in person, blue light reflecting in his irises, deep black and endless and limpid. His sharp face, the smell of his hair, beautiful hands. The resonance of his voice deep inside Taehyung’s head. When you confront yourself with outer space, Jimin says, there you are.

xi.

The first asteroid had hit while Jimin was running to Node 4. All shuttles had been rewired to just go to the hangars. At the time, it had made perfect sense. Get to the prototypes, take the datafiles, go to the evac shuttles. Easy.

When the asteroid hit, he was thrown into the wall panels, his shoulder cracking against the metal with an ominous noise and a bright rush of pain. There had been no people around him, but still he heard someone scream, far off in the distance. The alarm sirens, which had already been blaring, increased in pitch and frequency, a metallic voice inviting them all to stay calm, hurry to the hangar. Node 1 has been hit and lost pressure, cut off from the rest of the Station. 50% of oxygen supply lost.

Breathing had already become painful because of his shoulder. The pain made it hard to think straight. He told himself Namjoon hyung surely had already been out of it. He’d probably gone to the hangar the moment the red alert started, like a sensible person. Jimin got up off the floor but the flashing red lights were hurting his eyes and he didn’t know where to go. Whatever direction’s good , he told himself, you’ll get there.

That was when the second asteroid hit. He was already holding onto the wall, so he managed to stay standing. Node 1 has broke free from the Station. Please hurry to the hangar .

Please everyone be okay.

After what felt like years, Jimin had finally stumbled onto a shuttle. The lights inside of it were off but it was still working, he could feel the sound of it moving in the darkness, along with his wheezing breath. The pain was everywhere in his left side, starting from his chest. It was ridiculous.

The third asteroid hit right as he got off the shuttle. Loopy with pain, the pressurized doors of the hangar opening slowly in front of him and the floor under his feet shaking, he could hear the unique shrill noise of alarm the MR33 should have done only in case of near-collapse.

Of course . The hangar doors finally opened. He fell inside, someone grabbing his arm and stopping his fall. Through glassy eyes he could see Namjoon hyung, hair all over the place, crooked glasses, looking stone cold crazy. For some reason seeing him made Jimin think of the jasmine flowers Taehyung had given him, probably lost forever inside their stasis capsule, still inside Jimin’s quarters.

“Hyung, hurts. Need to go back.”

“Need to go , Jiminie, Jesus Christ.”

Their shuttles was one of the last to leave. As Namjoon hyung held his arm still and someone got the shuttle’s first aid kit to get something for his broken collarbone, Jimin looked out at the Station growing smaller and smaller, the debris of a place he’d been living in not even an hour before, floating all around space.

He misses the moment someone actually injects him with painkillers. He wakes up what feels like hours later, already on Moon Base 1, clavicle already healed but still cradled in a sling, his whole body feeling tender.

The casualties are still unknown. People are missing and headcounts are taking a long time. He sees Yoongi hyung on a bed in the infirmary, his datapad cradled next to his face, talking through comm with the softest voice he’s ever heard him use. Namjoon hyung is sleeping nearby, sprawled on two chairs pushed together.

He finds the head of his Lab in the waiting room outside, strawberry blond hair tousled and hands still shaking. “Solji noona, are you alright?”

She smiles thinly at him. “Nothing broken.” She rakes a hand through her hair, lets out a deep sigh. “Starting from zero all over again, yeah?”

He nods. When he woke up it felt to surreal to think about, but it’s starting to come into focus now, all he worked for floating off into space, to be redone. When the pressurizing machine had broken it had felt too big to contemplate; now it all feels small, something backwards about this feeling of sadness.

“Oh yeah. Before I forget, Jimin, someone was looking for you at the spaceport,” she tells him. “They’re probably still being held up there. Flew all the way from Homebase 5, can you believe?”

A very familiar feeling shoots up Jimin’s spine. “Seriously?” Solji nods. “Thank you for telling me, noona. I’ll see you later.”

He has to ask for direction to get to the spaceport, busy people milling all around him and looking at him like he should just go back to bed.

He spots him right away when he gets to the spaceport. Pacing around a bright pink spaceship, his hair the darkest he’s ever seen it, rumpled clothes. Hyejin, for some reason, is sitting on the ground next to the starship, cheeks pale and eyes bright.

“Sorry, can I go through?” Jimin asks one of the people from the Base’s military personnel. The guard just looks at him, takes in stock his grubby clothes and sling, and shrugs.

The same way he did so many months ago, when Taehyung surprised him in the cafeteria, the day he gave him the jasmine flowers, he asks, “What are you doing here?”

Hyejin smiles at him from the ground. Taehyung whips around. His eyes, already wet and wide with panic, go even wider. “Oh my god.” It sounds kinda like a whimper. He hugs Jimin, and it feels like he’s trying to climb inside him, folds all his angles around him like a piece of origami paper, shaking so badly Jimin almost can’t wrap his good arm around him, hold him as tight as he can, his fingers cramping with how hard he’s holding onto the back of his shirt.

Taehyung’s lips are touching the crown of his head, his temple, the corner of his eye. He feels frantic, hands moving up and down Jimin’s back, very careful of his left arm.

“How are you? Are you alright? What are you gonna do now?”

“MR33 broke, it’s gone.” Jimin says. “Need to do everything all over again. I’m fine. Thanks for coming to me.” He smiles up at Taehyung. He still looks pale but so, so happy. “I lost our flowers, though. I’m sorry.”

“I’m gonna bring you new ones. Even better ones. You know the purple flowers from the first time you saw me? They’re called Blazing Stars, appropriate, right?”

Jimin laughs. The sound cuts through the bustle of the spaceport, the constant hum of Moon Base’s machinery, keeping them alive. “Yeah. What are you gonna do, Taetae?”

“Maybe I’m gonna be a space racer. What do you think, Hyejin?”

“I think don’t talk to me while you’re being gross with your boy.”

Taehyung just smiles. He cradles Jimin’s face in his hands and leans their foreheads together. Jimin sighs and closes his eyes. Everything is loud around them. His hand is still holding onto Taehyung’s shirt. Isolation lemma, Jimin thinks, one last time. Wherever they go from now on, he’s found it, the algorithm to that one solution, narrowed down to the press of Taehyung’s forehead against his.