When Jimin was particularly disillusioned with Namjoon’s optimistic assurance and Taehyung’s ridiculous plans, he liked to think he had lived a quiet life before meeting the crew of the BTS . Of course, that wasn’t strictly true, maybe wasn’t even a little true. But he tended to get rather petty when he was being chased through a desert by some very angry space pirates.
It was supposed to be an easy job; head to the desert planet Vacre and pick up a crystal sphere from an uppity Vacren socialite for the businessman who’d hired them. In and out, he’d promised them, and that’s what they expected. At least until they stepped onto the planet and learned a crew of pirates wanted the very same sphere.
Jimin dropped to the ground in a plume of sand and dust before Hoseok even finished shouting. He tucked his bag into his side, shoved his fingers into his ears, and braced himself. Dust skittered up his nostrils and clung to his skin. Despite squeezing his eyes shut, the bright flash of light reddened his eyelids. He didn’t hear anything, but his ears rang regardless; flashers tended to do that. He hardly had the chance to collect himself before a hand wrapped around his wrist and yanked him to his feet. Taehyung pulled him along, his red hair bouncing as they ducked around heavy transport boxes and the occasional droid, their feet kicking up waves of sand that burned Jimin’s eyes until he was squinting. Taehyung threw a mischievous grin behind him. If the flasher hadn’t blinded Jimin, the smile certainly did.
By the time he realized his foot had caught on a sensor embedded in the sand, Jimin was already falling. His gaze still locked on Taehyung’s face, he saw the roguish expression morph into one of horror as Jimin’s chin slammed into the ground. Pain shot through his mouth and up to his temples, turning everything blurry. His bag crashed onto the sensor, rattling against his hip.
Taehyung’s hands were under his armpits, lifting him onto his feet. He was still dizzy, but he started running as soon as he was up. They kept on, their target the large hunk of metal they called their ship in the distance. An amalgamation of various shades of gray, black, and white, Yoongi had patched up the ship so many times it looked like it belonged in a junkyard at this point. The loading ramp was open and waiting. As they neared, Jimin could make out Hoseok standing in the high entrance, behind which the starship’s loading bay was hulking and empty without Yoongi’s little work pod.
“Hurry up,” Hoseok shouted once they were within earshot. “That flasher won’t keep them down for long.”
They were three leaps away from the ramp, maybe, when Taehyung glanced behind them, let go of Jimin’s hand, and turned around.
“Taehyung, what—” Jimin slowed to a jog, spinning to watch Taehyung sprint across the sand, jumping over a small data-collecting droid in one smooth bound.
“The sphere fell out of your bag!” Taehyung called back without slowing down. Jimin stopped by the ramp, tugging open the messenger bag hanging by his hip to find it empty. The sphere glinted by the transport box where he had fallen.
“Forget the sphere, Taehyung—” The sphere might have been the whole reason they were on this planet, but it wasn’t worth Taehyung’s life. Even Namjoon would agree with that.
In the distance, three large figures were closing in, silhouetted against the harsh sun and clear sky. The flasher hadn’t lasted long at all. Their figures blurred in the dust disturbed by their heavy boots, but Jimin didn’t have to see them to know they were well-equipped with plasma guns and T-99 Blasters. The place where Jimin had fallen was halfway between the space pirates and the BTS . Taehyung wasn’t going to make it.
Jimin didn’t realize he was running until a hand snagged the back of his collar, yanking him to a halt.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Hoseok growled, holding him still.
“There’s no way he’s gonna get there in time—”
“Then there’s no dank way you will, either. Come on.” He pulled him up the ramp.
“We can’t leave him!”
“Jimin, you black hole, have we ever left him? We need to be ready to go when he makes it back.”
Jimin fell limp, letting Hoseok drag him to the mouth of the loading bay, his eyes locked on Taehyung’s lithe figure nimbly making his way through the desert. With every step he took, the pirates took two.
Yes, life had been much quieter before he met Kim Taehyung.
Taehyung dove behind a transport box so suddenly Jimin jumped three steps forward. He couldn’t see him anymore. He must have found the sphere. Then he was up and running, sphere in hand, back toward them. Jimin let out a shuddering breath.
But he wasn’t safe yet. The pirates were hot on his heels. Jimin spun into the loading bay, looking around him frantically. All the pod holders were empty; they only ever had one pod, anyway, Yoongi’s work pod, and they’d lost that on the last planet. But sometimes Seokjin would stow weapons in the holders when he was trying to keep newer acquisitions out of Hoseok and Taehyung’s hands. Until now they both still hadn’t figured it out.
Jimin catapulted toward the nearest one, jumping into the egg-shaped holder and hitting the dark metal floor until the lid of the secret compartment popped open. A blue and white pulse sniper rifle lay in the small compartment. It was no launcher, but it was something.
“Stars, how’d that get in there?” Hoseok exclaimed from somewhere behind him.
Jimin sprinted for the ramp, dropping to one knee and lining the scope up to the space pirate for whom he had the clearest shot.
“Target identified,” said a cool woman’s voice by his ear. “Ready to fire.”
“Fire,” Jimin said.
The pirate dropped to the ground in a burst of red.
At the same time, the pinging sound of a plasma gun blast rang through the air. Taehyung went down, the sphere still clutched tightly in his hand.
Jimin dropped the rifle and ran. He heard the plasma shot before he saw it, veering sharply left so it exploded the ground next to him in a shower of sand. He tugged his own plasma pistol from his belt and fired back, once, twice, three times, unable to see if he’d landed a hit in the billowing plumes of dust that followed.
“Taehyung!” he shouted. As the dust cleared he saw him crouched on one knee behind a transport box, blood drained from his face, his leg bent at an awkward angle. The cloth around his calf was in tatters, clinging to bloody, torn skin. The leg wasn’t gone, so that was a good sign. It meant the shot had only grazed him. He would have burns, but he’d have his leg.
“Get back to the ship, Jimin, what in stars do you think you’re doing—”
Jimin ducked out of the way of another shot, firing three more in turn. He hid behind a transport box two leaps away from Taehyung, waiting. From somewhere in the distance came a high-pitched beep. Taehyung and Jimin’s eyes widened simultaneously, locked on each other’s, and then they were both dropping to the ground and covering their ears.
The explosion rattled Jimin’s bones and sent shockwaves of pain through his head. A horrible ringing was all he could hear, everything around him blurry and shaking like his very eyes were vibrating. When he pulled his hands away from his ears, they were covered in blood. He crawled from his box to Taehyung’s, sand sticking to the blood on his palms. Taehyung slumped against the box, eyes closed.
Jimin’s ears buzzed, but he could hear, in a strange, muffled sort of way, the starship whirring in the distance. They could always count on Namjoon bringing out the big guns.
“Taehyung,” he said, his voice distant to his own ears. “Tae.”
Taehyung’s eyes opened. Jimin breathed a shuddering sigh of relief.
“Oh, stars. Tae.” He turned his attention to Taehyung’s leg. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. They had burn cream that would have him better in no time. Still, when Jimin reached to peel away bits of cloth from well below the wound so that he wouldn’t tear away skin, his hands were shaking.
Taehyung’s hand came to cover one of his own. He looked up, and Taehyung was grinning. Foolish, brave, beautiful Kim Taehyung.
“What do you—” he inhaled weakly, eyelids fluttering.
“Don’t talk, you black hole.”
“What do you get when you cross a spacewalker with a Groguin?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“Space shit. You get it, ‘cause Groguins shit—”
“Kim Taehyung.” Jimin tried to sound mad. He thought he might have gotten out exasperated, at least. But then he was laughing, weak, shaky laughter. Not because the joke was funny, because it wasn’t, Taehyung’s jokes were hardly ever funny, but because it was Taehyung. And he wasn’t dead.
“’s all right.” Taehyung’s smile slipped, his words slurring. “Just a scratch, Jiminie.”
Namjoon was, of course, monumentally furious.
Jimin had tried to follow Taehyung into the med bay where he was being carried by Jungkook, but Namjoon had dragged him out and yelled at him right in the middle of the ship.
“You think you’re some kinda invincible cyborg or something, Park? You think you’re not gonna die if you keep doing rash things?”
“Tae’s the one who ran after the sphere,” Jimin grumbled, sullenly scuffing the metal floor with his well-worn boots. They were hand-me-downs from Yoongi.
“Yeah, well, I can’t yell at Taehyung when he’s unconscious. But that’s not the point. The point is, I don’t ever wanna see you do something like that again, okay? Next time you’ll get yourself and him killed.”
Namjoon had muttered some more and let him go. Jimin had sprinted straight to the med bay.
Their med bay was frequented mostly by Taehyung. In his foolishly reckless endeavors, he landed himself with various injuries more often than the rest of them. And every time he’d wake up with the same defense— hey, I made it out alive, didn’t I ? It didn’t help that their crew had no doctor, not even a med droid. They did all the patching-up themselves. Seokjin was the best at it, but they all knew their way around the med bay.
It was, necessarily, the cleanest part of the ship. Small and spare, there were two automatic, adjustable beds separated by thick curtains off to the side and one central operation table underneath bright lights. Labeled shelves and cabinets lined the walls. Most of them were empty. Medical supplies were expensive.
Jungkook stood at the sink nestled between some of the larger cabinets, washing blood from his hands. Taehyung’s leg was bandaged neatly, and he was awake now, lying on his back in one of the beds with the curtains pulled back.
“He’ll be fine,” Jungkook said as soon as Jimin entered, accustomed to the worried crease in his brow that Jimin seemed to get most often when it came to Taehyung. “It’s a good thing Hoseok snatched that burn cream from the capital last time.”
“Did you sit in a pile of sugar?” Taehyung called from the bed with a cheeky smile. Jungkook and Jimin groaned collectively. “Because that ass is pretty sweet!”
Jimin dragged a stool over and sat by the bed, sighing. “Shut up.” Jungkook left and Taehyung shifted, wincing, but as soon as he realized Jimin was staring he changed his expression into a winning grin.
“Another job well done by the Bulletproof Boyscouts.”
Jimin had fully intended on fretting over him, but looking at his smug face changed his mind. Not to mention his use of the stupid nickname he kept trying to give them. We need a team name, we can’t just go by ‘the crew of the BTS,’ he always said. “Does your arm hurt?”
Taehyung frowned. “What? No, I hurt my leg.”
“Good.” Jimin smacked Taehyung’s arm before he could even react. “You. Are. Such. A. Black. Hole.” He punctuated each word with another hit.
“Ow,” Taehyung whined, cradling his arm to his chest. “I’m injured .”
“Do something like that again and I’ll throw you into the sun.”
“You say that every time.”
Jimin flung his hands in the air and stood, kicking his stool to the side. “I hope Seokjin feeds you broth.” He marched to the door.
“Hey, that’s just cruel. Wait, Jiminie, don’t go . I’ll be so bored. Jimin—”
Jimin slammed the door extra hard out of spite.
A pained groan came from the hall outside Jimin’s cabin. He sat up in bed, from where he had been deciphering Yoongi’s notes through a chip in his wrist implant on some technical issues for Namjoon. His cabin was the smallest on deck because he was the last to join them, but he didn’t mind it. It had been a storage closet before Yoongi and Jungkook fixed it up for him. The bed was fixed against the wall across from the door, stretching from one end of the wall to the other with only room for a small shelf built into the wall by the feet. A little porthole nestled near the headboard caught Jimin’s gaze more often than not, a sobering view of vast, dark space, hunks of rock floating past and orbiting in the distance. The only other thing in the room was his worktable, bolted to the ground right next to the bed. There wasn’t room for anything else. His clothes were stuffed in boxes under the bed.
“Taehyung?” he called hesitantly.
Silence. Then clattering, and a quiet, “ Shit .” Louder, he said, “How’d you know?”
Jimin rolled his eyes. He unlocked his heavy metal door and pulled it open to find Taehyung balancing himself on one crutch, a bulky brown square object tucked under his free arm. He was clearly having more than a little trouble maneuvering. Jimin stepped out into the dark, low-ceilinged hall and took the big square box from him. It was a lot heavier than it looked.
“What are you doing out of the med bay? You should have at least spent one night there.”
“I was bored . Help me inside.”
Jimin let Taehyung sling his free arm over his shoulders and held some of his weight as they entered Jimin’s room. He lowered him carefully onto his bed. Taehyung sighed with relief as soon as he was sitting.
“You’re gonna make your leg worse.”
“So what’s this?” Jimin shoved junk off his worktable to place the box there. It had a number of dials on the front, and it looked like the lid might come off.
He lifted the lid. It balanced back on squeaky hinges. Inside was a thin black circular object with a hole in the middle like a wheel, and a spoke extended out over it to rest against the edge of the hole.
“Lift that little stick thingy and pull it to the left until it clicks.”
Jimin lifted it, pulled. It clicked.
“Now put it back on the circle thingy.”
He did. Music flooded from the box. He jumped back, startled. “What—”
“It’s called a—a record player I think? I stole it from the archives last time we went to the capital.”
Jimin wanted to be surprised, but he wasn’t. “Of course you did. So what’s it do? Play music?”
“Yup. That’s it, I think.”
The sound quality was horrible, marred and muffled, as if someone had wrapped a scarf around the singer’s mouth. When the ship lurched the sound staggered. The singer sang in a language meaningless to Jimin, but he liked it. It sounded pretty.
“The archives put some kinda seal on it to keep it from disintegrating or whatever, so it should last. I thought you might like it. You’re always collecting old stuff.”
“It’s really nice, Tae.”
Taehyung grinned up at him, the big one that made his eyes disappear until he looked so sweet Jimin couldn’t ever deny him anything. He patted the bed next to him. Jimin sat, leaning into Taehyung’s side. His arm came to slip around Jimin’s shoulders, warm and comforting as always. When he’d first joined the crew of the BTS , Taehyung’s smile was the only thing that chased away the nerves.
Jimin tapped the thigh of Taehyung’s injured leg gently, well above the wound. Galaxy Patrol officers had creams to heal plasma burns in minutes. But they were just transporters for hire. They were lucky they had any kind of burn cream at all. “Does it hurt?”
“Not even a bit.”
“Who says?” Taehyung said rather fondly.
“You gotta be more careful. You could have lost your leg. And then Yoongi would have to engineer you a machine leg and you know he’d complain about that for days—”
Taehyung kissed the top of his head, shutting him up effectively. “Come on, Jiminie, you know I don’t do anything if I know I won’t make it out.”
Jimin knew that. He knew that of the two of them, Taehyung was much less likely to fuck things up than Jimin was. Jimin was the one who’d lost the sphere, after all, not Taehyung. Taehyung was the reason they’d be getting paid. But he couldn’t help it. He’d always been a worrier. Namjoon was a worrier, too, but Namjoon worried about the big things—about the ethics of the Galaxy Patrol, about their next job. Jimin worried about them.
He worried about Jungkook, who never slept enough because he spent all night working on the ship’s operating system out of fear that Namjoon would send him back to his parents if anything was less than perfect, even though they all knew Namjoon would never do that; aside from the fact that Jungkook was a brilliant hacker, he was family, now. And he worried about Yoongi, who hid behind a blasé attitude but in reality stressed about every little part of the ship, because even the smallest mistake could get them all killed, like the time he missed a gas leak that had Hoseok vomiting for three days. He worried about Seokjin, who tried too hard to stay cheerful and fun for them, but missed his destroyed planet so much sometimes he cried about it at night when he thought no one could hear him. He worried about Hoseok, who made himself ill from stressing too much, even though he tried to hide it behind positivity, and Namjoon, who thought too much, so much he was afraid of losing himself.
And mostly he worried about Taehyung, who had some kind of bone to pick with the universe after losing his family, who didn’t fear death and would do anything to make sure they completed every job even if it meant he left with his limbs less than intact.
“Stop trying to comfort me,” Jimin muttered. “You’re the one with the plasma-burned leg.”
“What’s this?” Taehyung said suddenly, snatching up a green pistol with a rather large jaw sitting on Jimin’s worktable. “How come Seokjin never gives us the good stuff?”
“Hey, put that down.”
Taehyung aimed for the wall, squeezing one eye shut.
“Don’t do that!” Jimin shrieked, snatching it from his hands. “You wanna blow up the whole dank place?”
“I wasn’t gonna shoot .”
“That’s what you said last time.” Jimin shoved the gun behind his bed, well out of Taehyung’s reach. “It’s pulsetech. Seokjin nicked it off an E’drov in a club.”
“Why does he always give you the new finds first?” Taehyung’s lips curved into a ridiculous little pout.
Jimin huffed. “Because you do stupid things like aim it at the wall.”
“I wasn’t going to shoot.”
“—last time I miscalculated the trajectory. The angle was off by three point six degrees. The ray was supposed to hit Seokjin’s pillow.”
“And you wonder why he hides weapons from you.”
“Can’t you be nice to me when I’m injured, at least?”
He was only joking, but Jimin felt bad anyway. “I’m sorry, Taetae. I just—”
“C’mere.” Taehyung tucked him back into his side carefully, his big hand resting warm and heavy on Jimin’s waist. “I’m okay, Jimin. You can stop worrying now.”
“You got hurt because of me.”
Taehyung snorted softly, breath ruffling Jimin’s hair. “Now who’s the black hole?”
“I fell. I dropped the sphere. You wouldn’t have gone back if it weren’t for me.”
“It’s not like you fell on purpose.”
“You wouldn’t have fallen.”
“Don’t do that.”
“I always mess things up.”
Taehyung’s fingers slipped through Jimin’s hair, pushing it back from his forehead, and slid down to cup his cheek. Then he tilted Jimin’s head up so they were looking at each other. Taehyung’s eyes sparkled, lips quirked in a soft smile. “Good thing you’ve got me, then, right?”
Jimin’s gaze flickered down to Taehyung’s mouth. Just a bit closer and they could kiss. He tucked his head into Taehyung’s shoulder instead. “Good thing.”
Payday meant something different for each crew member of the Starship BTS .
For Yoongi, it meant enough money to buy much-needed parts for the ship and a night spent getting drunk off his ass at some tavern, only to come back and sleep all day. Jungkook would buy new series chips he’d put in his wrist implant to watch movies scroll across his vision. Hoseok would buy more weapons and a night at an inn with someone pretty he’d find at a club. Namjoon bought novel implants to catch up on his reading, Seokjin bought more variety in freeze dried food. And Taehyung—well, Taehyung was unpredictable, to say the least.
Jimin generally stuck with a night in the tavern like Yoongi. He saved the rest, most of the time. There wasn’t much he wanted; he was too accustomed to having no more than a box of possessions like he had before he joined the crew. Sometimes he would buy clothes, but he didn’t really have anywhere to wear them. He liked having them anyway, the clothes, just in case. Sometimes he’d wear them around the ship instead of his usual jumpsuit and Yoongi would ask him if he was trying to get laid by their dust bunnies. Taehyung would wolf whistle and tell him he was pretty, but Taehyung always said that.
The day Namjoon and Seokjin traded in the sphere Taehyung valiantly rescued for a bag full of money, they headed to their usual spot: FF-77, a planet dead center between the Capitol Patrol headquarters and the outskirts of the galaxy. FF-77 was a small planet with only two major destinations, but it had become something of a pit stop for travelers of all sorts: mercenaries, bounty hunters, Patrol officers, cruise ships, pirates. An eclectic crowd.
Namjoon tried to convince Taehyung to stay on the ship and rest his leg, but he refused. In the end, Seokjin offered to stay back if they bought him all the food items he listed. Jungkook and Namjoon abandoned them for the market as soon as they stepped out the BTS and onto the dock. The rest of them maneuvered their way through the busy port full of parked ships and noisy vendors to their usual spot: Club Dorni.
Club Dorni could be found packed with visitors at any time of any day. Even now there was hardly room to move without bumping shoulders. They stood by the entrance, surveying the day’s crowd with interest. The purple-lit ambiance made it a little hard to see. The glass dance floor showed a collection of glowing neon fungal growth that lived beneath the club; in the right lighting they looked like pretty flowers. The dance floor itself was packed, but quite a few club-goers inhabited the tables on either side of the floor, gambling, drinking, and smoking Vassa pipes. Small round droids moved between tables with trays extended from their tops to serve drinks. On the far end of the dance floor was the bar, lit blue, with a particularly large R’velle bartending, a towel slung over the giant horn right on top of his head. On the opposite side, cages suspended from the ceiling, lit pink from the inside, containing dancers of various species. Jimin caught sight of a human woman wrapped around a pole inside one and a red-scaled Neti male in another, his forked tail flittering between the cage bars as he winked down at someone in the crowd.
Jimin wrinkled his nose at the combined scent of various alcohol and tangy Vassa herb. The music was loud, some kind of synthesized shit that Yoongi probably loathed. Hoseok slung an arm around Jimin’s shoulders, looking over the dance floor like a hunter searching for prey.
“We’re getting laid tonight,” he said matter-of-factly. Jimin was inclined to agree. There were more than a few attractive faces to be found.
“You do that. I’m gonna go get drunk,” Yoongi announced, taking a few steps forward before glancing back at Taehyung. “You coming?”
Jimin eyed Taehyung skeptically. He was going to have far too much trouble moving through so many people on crutches. “You really should have stayed in the ship, Tae.”
Taehyung scoffed. “Are you kidding? I’ll be a fine, just a scratch.”
He threw them a two-fingered salute before setting off after Yoongi. Jimin craned his neck to watch him sidestep an E’drov and her six arms, one of them narrowly avoiding his crutch.
“He’ll be fine,” Hoseok said pointedly. He steered Jimin toward the dance floor. “Look, that Zalkie over there’s eyeing you up and you haven’t even starting dancing yet.”
The Zalkie was tall and muscled, with blue skin and a thick tail wrapped around one of his veiny forearms, visible in his loose, sleeveless top. He had a devilish smirk and cheekbones that looked like they were chiseled by a stray asteroid. His eyes were particularly pretty, long lashes and a smoldering brown gaze. The swirling tattoos around his arms told Jimin he was probably a pirate.
On a general, day-to-day basis, Jimin hated space pirates. He kind of had to, considering their line of work heavily interfered with his. The crew of the BTS took jobs that frequently involved the transport or acquisition of expensive goods, and, well, pirates liked shiny things. But on days off, like he liked to consider paydays, Jimin wasn’t a gun-toting member of the BTS ’s transport crew. He was just Jimin.
And space pirates were really fucking hot.
He shot straight for the Zalkie pirate, fixing his expression to look coy. “Hey,” he said, stopped right in front him and taking the drink right from his hand with a wink.
In not very much time at all, Jimin headed to the bar with the pirate’s arm wrapped up in his. Hoseok was sitting with a pretty human girl. He caught the tail-end of their conversation as he passed them to reach Taehyung and Yoongi.
“Wow, a fighter? So what does BTS stand for?”
“Whatever you want it to, babe,” Hoseok answered rather dreamily, his chin in hand and eyes lidded.
Jimin snorted. That was just Hoseok’s way of saying he didn’t know. None of them did, not even Namjoon. He’d bought the ship relatively cheap after leaving his post as a Galaxy Patrol Officer for ethical reasons, and the seller didn’t bother telling him the name. All they had to go by were the letters engraved into the side.
Yoongi was already drunk. When Jimin walked up, the pirate trailing behind him, Taehyung glared at him, mouth pulled down into a scowl, and took a large gulp of wine. It was E’drovian wine, the kind that could get you drunk in two minutes tops.
“I’m leaving,” Jimin said. “I’ll see you back at the ship later, maybe.”
Yoongi waved him off, taking another shot of something that looked like it burned. Taehyung glared.
“Come on, babe,” said the Zalkie behind him. So Jimin turned away.
When he returned to the ship sometime the next morning, it sounded like there was a bulldozer running through the kitchen. He made his way from the loading bay to the small hallway off to the side through which the kitchen sat. It was a decently-sized room compared to most of the ship’s rooms, with a table and eight chairs bolted into the ground in the center. Metal cabinets and sinks of various shades lined the walls, plus their single coffee maker sitting off to the side. Most of their food was freeze-dried, because it was cheap and long-lasting, but coffee didn’t really spoil, so Yoongi always made sure to buy fresh beans. Granted, if the ship’s anti-gravity ever malfunctioned, they’d be fucked. But if that happened, hot coffee floating around would be the least of their worries.
Nearly everyone sat at the table with breakfast except for Hoseok and Taehyung. Taehyung lay on his back under one of the sinks, the source of the noise. He was drilling something. Yoongi had his hands pressed into his temples, a look of pure agony on his face. Namjoon was half-asleep. Seokjin and Jungkook looked vaguely amused. Hoseok was back, too, with a rather content look on his face.
Taehyung emerged from under the sink, rolling out on a creeper seat, injured leg balanced carefully so as not to jostle it. He tossed the drill aside rather violently. It clanked and Yoongi winced. Then he went back under and started banging at something again.
“Look who’s back,” Jungkook said very loudly, looking over at Taehyung. The banging stopped briefly only to return even louder.
Jimin slipped into one of the hard table chairs, grabbing the cup of coffee closest to him to take a swig. He realized after a moment it must have been Namjoon’s. Namjoon didn’t even react. “What’s wrong with Tae?”
Jungkook snorted. Seokjin sighed. “He’s been doing that all morning. Says he wants to fix the sink.”
The sink had been broken for months. “Huh.”
“So how was that Zalkie dick?” Jungkook said, even louder than before. Hoseok must have told them.
“Are Zalkie dicks really as big as everyone says?” Hoseok asked curiously.
“Can we stop talking about dick at the breakfast table?” Namjoon groaned, startled from his partial sleep.
“Stop fucking yelling,” Yoongi hissed, eyes bloodshot.
The banging stopped again. They all stared at each other.
“So?” Jungkook pressed. “How was it?”
“Uh, good. Thanks for asking?” Jimin’s voice turned into a questioning squeak.
“Was he a pirate? There are always so many Zalkie pirates at Dorni,” Seokjin said.
“Yeah, he was.”
Hoseok whistled teasingly. “You always like your boys bad.”
Taehyung slid out. They watched him snatch the drill up, slide back under, and begin drilling with such force this time they all winced.
“He’s gonna make it worse,” Yoongi whined.
Jimin quietly stood up and went to pour himself some more coffee.
“Hey, Jimin,” Jungkook half-yelled over the drill. “Your ass looks good.”
The drilling dropped. Taehyung rolled out. “Shut up,” he said, drill pointed at Jungkook. Then he rolled back under and continued.
Jungkook never complimented him unless he was complimenting his ass, and only expressly because it pissed Taehyung off. Which was mostly unfair, considering Taehyung complimented his ass on the regular. Jungkook snickered into his mug.
“Quit trying to piss him off.” Namjoon kicked Jungkook’s chair with enough force to send it skidding sideways a few inches.
“What kinda ancient vessel to we live on for him to be using a drill to fix the sink,” Seokjin muttered. “A drill .”
“Most ships have droid mechanics,” Hoseok said. “When are we gonna get on that level, huh?”
Yoongi slammed his coffee mug on the table so hard the edge cracked. “Listen up,” he shouted. Even Taehyung stopped drilling, sliding out very slowly to look. “You.” He pointed his mug at Taehyung. “And you.” He moved it to Jimin. “Need to get over your feelings or whatever the fuck’s going on so that some of us can laze off their hangovers in peace.” He strode toward the hall.
“Uh, there’s hangover cure in the med bay,” Jimin called after him.
He waved his thanks. Jimin glanced at Taehyung, and Taehyung stared back. Then he put down his drill, hopped with difficulty to one foot, grabbed his crutches, and returned to the table. He sat down, stole what was left of Yoongi’s coffee, and put his chin in his hand moodily.
“Time to go,” Seokjin announced, standing abruptly. Jungkook tried to protest, but Seokjin yanked him by the collar of his navy jumpsuit. Namjoon shuffled after him without question, and Hoseok threw them a few suggestive eyebrow wiggles before following.
Jimin slipped into a seat across from Taehyung once they had all shuffled out. He watched Taehyung stare into his mug, swirling coffee around, a frown tugging at the corner of his mouth. Jimin didn’t want to be irritated but a part of him was; they’d talked about this. They’d been over it. It wasn’t as if Taehyung didn’t fuck around in clubs, too, probably would have this time if he hadn’t been injured.
“Taehyung,” he said quietly. “We’re crewmates.”
Taehyung’s fingers tightened around the handle until they were white from pressure. “Yeah. I know.” He sighed, let go, and looked up. “Was that an earthquake—”
“We’re in space.”
“—because you just rocked my world.”
“You’ve used that one before.”
“Stars,” Taehyung murmured, a wry smile tugging the corners of his lips. “I’ve been chasing after you for so long I’m running out.”
Jimin didn’t have an answer to that.
Taehyung and Jimin danced around each other like two asteroids that came within an inch of each other every orbit but never closer. Every time a collision would seem imminent, but always they moved on past, that tiny sliver of space left between them. Always crossing, never touching.
It was inevitable, perhaps, with the way they fit together when Jimin first arrived. He’d been so nervous around everyone. Hoseok was so friendly, but sometimes he’d get into these moods. Jimin hadn’t gotten used to Yoongi’s dry humor yet. He and Jungkook teased too much. Namjoon had a tendency to lose himself in his thoughts so he couldn’t look after Jimin as well as he maybe wanted. Seokjin was so busy taking care of everyone else. But Taehyung—Taehyung had molded himself to Jimin’s side like he was always meant to be there.
But relationships among crewmates were risky at best. At worst, they could tear an entire crew apart. They were nomadic transporters; they lived on the BTS , they didn’t hop on it when it was time for a job and say their goodbyes when it was over. In a way, they were family. And the hold between them was absolutely imperative for their lifestyle to work out.
So they kept on orbiting, passing within a hair’s breadth every now and then—a kiss that got too close to being intimate, a look that was a little too fond, a bout of jealousy that couldn’t be hidden. But they were very careful to avoid an impact event. They didn’t get any closer than that.
Taehyung’s leg had healed by the time Namjoon booked their next job. They were getting antsy cooped up in the ship, running out of money and with nothing to do. The other day Namjoon and Jimin had argued over a pair of misplaced shoes.
“I can’t believe this,” Seokjin groaned, dropping his head on the kitchen table with a rather painful-sounding bang.
“Listen, you were supposed to find us a job, not a dank death sentence.” Yoongi jabbed a finger in Namjoon’s direction.
Taehyung, from where he sat with his legs kicked up on the table (encroaching into Jimin’s space, to his irritation), was the only one grinning. “So when are we going?”
Generally, they tried to stay on the right side of the law. They didn’t take any jobs that involved stealing or murder or smuggling. Not necessarily out of any moral perplexities—when one made it into deep space most of the travelers you ran into were rather morally ambiguous anyway—but because going through the Galaxy Patrol courts was a bitch. And they wouldn’t be especially kind to them with Namjoon being an ex-officer.
But sometimes they took jobs that were a little, well, shady. Conducting a transfer of ancient artifacts between two notorious crime syndicates seemed to fall under that category.
“You want us to step on Ahn Syndicate land? Over my dead body, Namjoon,” Hoseok said.
“Dead’s what you’re gonna be if you do,” Jungkook chimed in helpfully.
“Look, I told you, it’s all sorted out. The Ahn syndicate lost some kind of deal so they owe the Jung syndicate artifacts. But obviously they don’t trust any of the Jungs on their land to pick it up. We’re just a go-between.”
“Is this legal?” Jimin muttered, pushing Taehyung’s legs to the side so he could rest his elbows on the table.
“Don’t worry, Jiminie,” Taehyung cooed, reaching for him. “I’ll protect you.”
“Fuck off.” Jimin shoved his arms away.
“This is all well and good for you to tell us, Namjoon, but you’re not the one who’s going to be getting off the ship. That’s us.” Hoseok jerked his head toward Taehyung and Jimin. “Do you have any idea how heavily guarded Ahn land is? If there’s any kind of problem, we can’t defend ourselves. We’ll be dead in seconds.”
“There’s not gonna be any kind of problem. I talked to the head of the Ahn family about all the details and she was absolutely clear that—”
“Wait,” Jungkook leaned forward, eyes wide. “You met Hyejin? One of the biggest mob bosses in the dank galaxy? You didn’t mention that.”
“What was she like ?”
“I heard she once killed three men with nothing more than well-placed kicks.”
“I heard she served a man his own penis once.”
“I heard she hacked into the Patrol’s mainframe when she was a kid and changed all their screens to say good morning, Groguinfuckers .”
“Jungkook, is that where you got the idea to program the entrance to say welcome, Groguinfuckers every time we walk in?”
“Shut up.” Namjoon banged on the table to get their attention. “That’s not the point. The point is, this is a really good job and we’re getting a fuckton of money for it. So are you all in or what?”
“I don’t like it.”
“As long as I don’t have to hack them, their defenses are probably crazy.”
“If you make me set one goddamn foot off this ship, Namjoon, I’ll wring your neck.”
“This is going to be fun .” That one was Taehyung, of course, leaning forward with sparkling eyes. “Everyone says Ahn syndicate thugs carry the latest J360 laser machine—”
He was met with various shouts of denial.
“Kim Taehyung,” Jimin said, grabbing his shoulder. “Unless you want us to get killed, you cannot steal their weapons .”
Taehyung sat back with a pout. “Not even a little one? A little nanotech bomb? A teensy tiny F18 plasma—”
“ No .”
“Fine,” he grumbled. “Well, I’m in. Another life-endangering mission for the Bulletproof Boyscouts!”
“Stars, stop using that stupid nickname—”
“You make us sound like fucking five-year-olds —”
“Whatever you do, that name will literally never stick.”
Jimin slipped into Taehyung’s cabin with the record player tucked to his chest, held in both arms. Taehyung sat on the edge of his bed, shirtless, a small vial of green liquid in hand. Jimin stood in the doorway for a moment and watched as he poured the liquid into his cupped hand and held it over a thick, raised scar across his abdomen. He tilted his hand and the liquid trickled onto the scar, spreading across every bit of it and stopping at the edges of raised skin. It fizzled and changed colors, then disappeared.
He’d gotten the scar on one of the first jobs Jimin went on with them. They were supposed to transport a person, something they didn’t ordinarily do. A Galaxy Patrol officer’s daughter went to school on a different planet than her family lived; his ship broke down days before he was meant to pick her up for vacation. Namjoon happened to know him back from his days as an officer and took the job as a favor. It turned out there were some space pirates—pirates, it was always the dank pirates— looking to kidnap her for ransom.
What had followed was, for Jimin, a pretty frightening way to get inducted into the crew. That’s when he had first seen Taehyung’s reckless side. In the midst of a firefight they took shelter on the top floor of an abandoned house. Taehyung had seen a way to defeat the space pirates all in one go— if he could just make it to the pulse grenade one of them had dropped out in the middle of the street, then he could toss it at them and they’d be goners.
But running into the street left him open. I can do it, I’m fast , he’d said. Hoseok and Jimin watched him dash from the house and down the street, dodging plasma shots every which way. They had picked off any pirates they could from the distance while Hoseok yelled at Namjoon in his comm to hurry up. In the end a plasma shot had grazed Taehyung’s stomach just as he reached for the grenade and threw it.
He spent three days unconscious in their med bay with third degree burns. They had enough medicine to keep him alive but not enough to make him better. They’d had to fly to the capital and sell half of their possessions to get him proper medical treatment. But they didn’t have enough for the good kind, the kind that would have him healed in a day with no scar to show.
Still, at least he was alive.
When Taehyung told the story, he grinned and said, hey, I got those dank space pirates, didn’t I ?
“Does it still hurt?”
Taehyung glanced up. “Nah, not even a little.”
“Then why are you putting medicine on it?”
Taehyung opened his mouth to form an excuse, probably, then shrugged. “Don’t tell me you broke the player already.”
“Not yet. Look, I figured something out.” He cleared off Taehyung’s worktable to set it there. His room was an identical copy of Jimin’s, only larger and messier. “If you put the little stick thingy all the way on the edge it plays different songs. And then it’ll keep spinning until it moves all the way to the middle. Isn’t that wild?”
Jimin placed the stick on the edge and a sweet melody began to play. “I like the first one.”
“It’s pretty. We should bother Jungkook with it.”
“Maybe we can figure out a way to get it to loop automatically and then hide it outside his door.”
“Can you imagine his face?”
“This one time, before you got here, we had to take a job with some hotshot intergalactic corporation leaders. We had to get all dressed up and go to this party where everyone was slow dancing and talking about how interspecies racism was helping their businesses.”
“Sounds like a grand time.”
“This song kind of makes me think of that. Like, people slow dancing and stuff.”
“Is that you trying to say you want to slow dance right now?”
Taehyung grinned. “Just remember, you suggested it.”
He stood up, coming to stand in front of Jimin so their toes touched, Taehyung’s feet bare and Jimin’s in fuzzy socks. Jimin hated it when he stood like that because it meant he had to tilt his head to look up at him and he felt shorter than ever.
“Aren’t you gonna put a shirt on?”
“Why would I?”
Taehyung slid his arms around Jimin’s waist.
“How come you get to hold my waist?”
“Because you’re shorter.”
Jimin huffed. He wrapped his arms around Taehyung’s neck anyway. The height difference meant he had to press up closer to Taehyung’s bare chest than he would have liked. Taehyung wasn’t built like Jungkook was, cut muscle and defined abs; he was lean and sinewy, strong in a lithe way. Sometimes when Jimin had trouble putting a filter on his thoughts, he would think about how beautiful Taehyung was. Sharp jaw and curved cheekbones, pouty mouth and slender eyes. Sometimes, when he couldn’t help it, he’d wonder what it felt like to run his lips along every sharp angle and soft curve of Taehyung’s body.
The soft melody filtered through the air, curling around them like a warm blanket as they turned around the room. There was no real rhythm to their movements, just steps that were hardly in sync, muffled laughter when they stepped on each other’s toes or bumped into a stray object.
In one Earth day they would be within the Ahn Syndicate’s airspace. One of the biggest crime syndicates in the galaxy was not worth placing their trust in, even if Namjoon said he had worked everything out. Jimin was scared, but mostly he was scared for Taehyung. Because he knew Taehyung would do anything to get a job done, and more than that, he would do anything to protect the rest of them. Family was everything to him. He’d lost his real family once—Jimin knew he would rather die than lose them, too.
The song switched into a faster one. They shuffled to a stop but didn’t pull away from each other. Jimin’s gaze traveled over Taehyung’s long lashes and straight nose and down to his lips, like they always did. Slipped past, down his broad chest and to the scar stretching across his abdomen. Jimin dragged his hand from Taehyung’s neck down to the scar, brushing his fingers along the raised skin with a feather-light touch. He watched in fascination as goosebumps rose all over Taehyung’s skin. He glanced up. Taehyung was looking at him, eyes dark.
“Were your parents thieves?” he said. “Because they stole the stars and put them in your eyes.”
It was the first time any of Taehyung’s ridiculous pick-up lines made him blush.
“Jimin,” Taehyung murmured, and then he was leaning forward.
Jimin turned his head away. Taehyung’s lips brushed his cheek. He pulled back, wrapping his arms around himself, and looked down at his feet so he wouldn’t have to see the betrayed expression on Taehyung’s face. “Tae, we can’t.”
“Why does it matter so much?” Taehyung’s tone was frustrated, something he didn’t get often. “So what if we’re crewmates? People do it.”
“Listen to me for a lightsec. There are crewmates who have relationships, it’s not like it’s impossible. And the others—they all know about us. They wouldn’t care.”
“What happens if we break up? What then? We live together.”
“Why are you talking about ending when we haven’t even started?”
Jimin didn’t answer, staring resolutely at the gap between his socked toes and Taehyung’s bare ones.
“You know, it kind of seems like you’re just using this as an excuse. What are you so scared of?”
“I’m not scared of anything. I’m just being logical.”
Taehyung snorted quietly. “Yeah, whatever. I’m gonna take a nap.”
He turned away, falling face-first onto his bed. Jimin moved for the door, face burning, eyes prickling.
“At least take the dank record player, Jimin, unless you don’t want that, either.”
“I want it. It’s mine,” Jimin muttered.
He stomped over, picked it up, and walked out.
Jimin had already armed himself to the teeth when Namjoon said the Ahn thugs would probably disarm them before letting them onto their land. He started removing his various weapons with an irritated grumble. Hoseok stood beside him, testing his wrist implants and comms to make sure they wouldn’t lose contact with Namjoon at any point.
“You wouldn’t have to do all that if you’d just waited for Namjoon to debrief us first,” Taehyung said snidely, watching Jimin unstrap a knife that could eat through steal from his thigh. “It’s only logical .”
“The only reason you’re not armed yet is because you overslept, you piece of Groguin shit.”
“I did not oversleep. You’re the one who takes a light year to get ready every time we go anywhere.”
“Sorry I’m just trying to be thorough, unlike you. You always forget everything.”
“I’m not the one who forgot his dank ID implant last time we went to the capital.”
“That was one time.”
“Can you both shut the fuck up?” Hoseok hissed, spinning around to face them. “You know we’re about to go on a job that could get us all killed, right? And you’re arguing about useless shit?”
The reason they hadn’t let themselves go further than distant glances was to avoid problems like this—things that could tear the team apart. And here they were, arguing anyway. Taehyung seemed to come to the same realization.
“Sorry,” he said, and came over to Jimin’s side with a hand outstretched. After a second’s hesitation, Jimin looped their elbows and tapped their fists together, the universal sign of truce.
“Let’s go over the plan again,” Namjoon said.
“We’ve gone over it three times.”
“And I still don’t trust your reckless ass, Taehyung. Okay, so we’re going to park the ship right outside Ahn Syndicate land. They’ve got walls around all parameters. Every league is protected airspace, so once you guys have stepped inside those walls, you’re on your own.”
“Still think this is a fucking ridiculous idea,” Hoseok muttered.
“They’re sending two of their cronies to meet you at the gate. They’ll lead you to the main house, where Hyejin will meet you with the shipment. Inspect it, match it up with the list the Jung Syndicate gave us, and make sure everything’s in order. Then they’ll lead you and the goods back to the gate, where we’ll come and get you. In and out, all right? Should be quick and painless.”
“Supposedly,” Jimin said.
“Quit being so dank negative. I wouldn’t send you in if I wasn’t confident. And you all agreed to this.” He turned to Taehyung, jabbing a finger toward his chest. “Your life is important, you hear me? If the job goes south, leave it. Don’t do something fucking stupid to salvage it, even if you think you’ll make it out.”
“Got it, Captain.” The lopsided grin that accompanied Taehyung’s two-fingered salute wasn’t reassuring at all.
They weren’t over exaggerating the gravity of the Ahn Syndicate. In a galaxy so large, crime syndicates held a great deal of sway. The Galaxy Patrol did a fair job of controlling them, but some of them were out of their reach, the Ahn and Jung Syndicates being two of those. Some of the most notorious assassinations and thefts fell under the Ahn Syndicate’s jurisdiction, not to mention that they ruled over nearly half the galaxy’s drug trade.
In Jimin’s mind’s eye flashed an image of Taehyung, kneeling by the transport box with the tatters of his pants embedded into his burned leg. He remembered the way he had fallen like dead weight when the plasma shot grazed his stomach and how long it had taken him to emerge from unconsciousness. How if they hadn’t made it to the capital in time, hadn’t scrounged for every last scrap of valuables they could trade for his treatment, Taehyung might have died.
And he remembered the way Taehyung looked when he finally told Jimin the story of his family; of how the Galaxy Patrol razed his town to the ground for suspected drug trade, and he’d hidden in the forest and watched his home burn to the ground. How maybe if he had been a little braver, he could have done something. I won’t lose you all like I lost them .
Moments before they left the ship, Jimin grabbed Taehyung’s arm and pulled him inside. “Tae,” he said, unable to hide the wobble in his voice. “Taetae, be careful.”
Taehyung scoffed, making as if to tug his arm away, but then he looked, really looked at Jimin’s face, and softened. “Jiminie, don’t worry so much. Doesn’t suit you.”
“Don’t do anything reckless, okay?”
“I’ll be fine. I’m always fine.”
“Tae, please.” His grip tightened, eyes imploring, willing him to understand. “Promise me you’ll be okay. Promise.”
Taehyung’s hand slipped down to thread his fingers through Jimin’s, his big hand engulfing Jimin’s tiny one. “Promise.”
“Let’s go,” Hoseok called, standing in the entryway with a hand on the lever to lower the ramp.
Taehyung’s eyes were gentle, sparkling. Jimin squeezed his hand once, then let go, fingers sliding against Taehyung’s palm as he moved away.
New Titan was a small, marshy planet. Technically speaking, the Ahn Syndicate didn’t own all of it; realistically speaking, they probably did. Their main base sat across leagues of land surrounded entirely by a twenty foot metal wall equipped with the galaxy’s best security. An invisible shield started at the parameters and stretched across all their land, forming a dome of protection to keep any unauthorized air vehicle from entering. Even birds couldn’t fly through that shield.
A human woman and a tough-skinned R’velle with a jeweled ring hanging around the horn in his head, both heavily-armed, met them just outside where they had parked, a league from the platinum doors of the wall’s only known gate. They scanned them with their wrist implants, a bright laser passing over their bodies from head-to-toe to make sure they were unarmed.
A sleek, black, and circular hovercar awaited them a few steps away. The inside boasted cushy red seats and a wine bar. It gave them the illusion of traveling to the base in style, but in reality it was to keep them in the dark; the hovercar had no windows. They wouldn’t know when they passed through the gate, or what they passed to reach the base.
Taehyung, Hoseok, and Jimin sat in the roomy backseat while the two guards sat up front. The hovercar drove itself. No one talked. Hoseok’s knee bounced up and down, and Jimin’s foot tapped restlessly; Taehyung, between them, reached out and placed a calming hand on both of their legs. They all exchanged a glance, steeling themselves. In and out, Namjoon had said. It would be fine. They had no reason to be afraid other than the Syndicate’s reputation; there really was no reason for them to be harmed. They were only here to transport goods, that’s all.
A short ride from the BTS to the base later, they were standing in front of a mansion. Jimin didn’t know what he had expected the base to look like, but he supposed if Hyejin lived here, it would have to be something fancy. Built like the mansions of old Jimin had only seen in pictures hanging in the archives, marble columns stood in front of a large gilded door, holding up a second-floor balcony with a matching marble fence. The house itself was made of gray stone, light windows and wings curving around a central fountain. Golden lighting filtered through the many windows.
A humanoid droid opened the gilded front doors for them, welcoming them in a chipper tone. They entered a marble foyer, circling staircases stretching out on either side, a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. To the left they moved through a small door and into a darker, windowless hallway. They passed an open door, what looked like a control room, screens and keyboards around all four walls. As soon as the woman inside noticed they were looking, she kicked the door shut.
At the end of the hallway, an open door took them into a high-ceilinged storage room, not nearly as nice as the rest of the house. The ceiling and walls were unbuilt, bare rafters and wooden walls. A number of transport boxes, large and plastic, crowded the room, presumably the shipment they were supposed to be taking. Hoseok was already pulling up a hologram of the list of goods via his wrist implant.
A woman stood at the room’s front with hand on one of the boxes, dressed in a red jumpsuit, a gun strapped to her hip. She looked like she was their age, round cheeks and short blonde hair. Jimin was just thinking she must have been Hyejin’s daughter when she raised a hand, waved, and said, “Hi, I’m Hyejin.”
Jimin glanced at the others; Hoseok’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed nervously, and Taehyung’s mouth dropped open.
“You probably thought Hyejin was my mom, right?” she snickered.
“Uh,” Jimin said, coherently.
Hoseok stepped forward and held out a hand for her to shake. “Nice to meet you. We’ll just grab everything and be out of your hair as soon as possible.”
She smiled, eyes narrow. Her smile was kind of mesmerizing.
“ You’re Hyejin?” Taehyung blurted, finally unable to hold back. Jimin and Hoseok smacked his arms simultaneously.
“Last time I checked, yup.”
“But you’re like—you’re like—”
“Tae, shut up,” Jimin hissed.
“Like?” Hyejin pressed, an eyebrow raised, small smirk playing at her lips.
“I dunno, a kid. How’d you get a reputation so young?”
Hoseok groaned, burying his face in his hands. “This is it,” Jimin heard him mutter. “We’re dead.”
Hyejin rolled her eyes. “If I’m a kid, you’re a kid, too.”
“Sorry about him,” Jimin said with a nervous laugh. “He’s, uh, never met a mob boss before?”
“Jimin, you black hole,” Hoseok hissed.
“We’ll just take inventory now,” Jimin continued weakly.
“Uh-huh,” she said, but she looked more amused than irritated.
Hoseok was seconds from opening the first box when the bone-rattling sound of an explosion hit them. The ground shook, sending them stumbling, and dust flew from the rafters. It was close, just outside judging by the way it made their ears ring. Hyejin and her two lackeys ran from the storage room immediately.
"Stay here," Hyejin shouted over her shoulder before slipping into the hall.
Hoseok straightened from where he leaned over the box, glancing between Jimin and Taehyung uncertainly.
"Let's go," Taehyung said, and strode for the door, his long limbs taking him there too quickly for Jimin and Hoseok to even react.
"I don't think that's a good idea-"
"Maybe we should just stay put-"
"And miss all the fun? As if." Taehyung shot them a cheeky grin and disappeared into the hallway.
With collective groans, they followed.
The control room door was open again when they passed, alarms ringing and buzzing with frantic activity. "How the fuck did they breach us?" Jimin heard someone yell.
They followed Taehyung back into the foyer, where a few men and women of various species were running out the door. No one paid them any heed. They found Hyejin standing with the others in the lawn, looking at the wreckage of the exploded hovercar they had just ridden there. Hovering above the house was an airship, one built for battle rather than transport like the BTS. Two massive guns adorned the front, along with gun ports lining the sides.
"Take cover," Hyejin shouted, just in time for a plasma blast to send the fountain into ruins. Shards of stone flew every which way. Jimin dove to the ground, covering his head with his arms, hoping the others had done the same.
A hand grabbed his waist, dragging him closer. It was Hoseok. "We gotta get out of here," he hissed into Jimin's ear. "Fuck the dank job."
"How?" Jimin returned. Behind them he could hear people yelling. Another blast rocked the ground, the vibrations rattling his teeth. Dust sprayed over his head. He risked a glance up, saw a piece of the house’s left wing demolished, as well as part of the entrance. They were using relatively low-grade shots; despite the closeness, none of his eardrums had burst. "We don't even know the way back to the gate."
Taehyung crawled over to them, wiggling forward on his elbows and belly. "The hovercar carried us for approximately fourteen minutes. Didn't feel like there were a lot of turns, but it was hard to tell."
"Pretty sure we veered left about halfway. Namjoon," Hoseok said into his comm. "Bad news."
"Saw the starship come your way, what's the situation?"
"It's not an Ahn ship. We're getting shot at."
"Get the fuck out of there."
"The shields were breached. Can you get through?"
Another blast, further away this time. Jimin didn't understand what the ship was trying to do; they were all sitting ducks, essentially, running around the lawn and taking cover near the house. But the ship wasn't even firing at them.
"On three," Hoseok said. "Run around the back of the house. Less people there, they might not pay attention to us."
Jimin braced himself, palms flat against the ground, waiting with baited breath as Hoseok counted. As soon as he hissed go , Jimin pushed himself to his feet, sprinting around the right wing of the house to the back lawn.
"Make for the shed," Taehyung said.
They shot for the old-fashioned red shed a quarter of a league from the house, with a door hanging open on rusty hinges and squares cut into the sides that served as windows. He could feel Hoseok and Taehyung at his heels, hear their ragged breath and thudding footsteps. Taehyung pulled out ahead of them, his long legs always lending him an advantage over the other two. He was just bounds from the door when Jimin heard it- the telltale beep of a starship’s plasma shot.
"Taehyung!" he shouted.
Jimin saw his eyes widen, saw him leap backwards as realization hit him. The shot came right for the shed. It exploded before their eyes, wood flying every which way, pieces striking Jimin's chest and arms as he threw them up to guard his face. As soon as he could, he pulled his arms away to check for the others, his ears ringing. Hoseok had skidded to a stop behind him, cheek bleeding from a stray splinter and covered in sawdust but otherwise unharmed. Taehyung had fallen to the ground. Jimin flew to him, uncaring of the starship above them that could fire at any moment.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Taehyung was saying, his hand pressed to his side. Jimin didn't see any blood. "Just bruised, Jiminie, I'm fine."
Jimin had hardly realized his hands were flying all over Taehyung, checking for wounds. He stopped himself, taking a breath, as Hoseok dropped to his knees beside them. The shed was on fire, flames licking through the collapsed wood.
"Why the fuck didn't it aim for us?" Hoseok said. "We were right there."
"Scare tactic?" Jimin suggested. "It's only aiming for buildings. Not living things."
"Whatever they're doing, we need to get out."
As if on cue, Namjoon's scratchy voice came through the comm. "We can't breach the airspace. The shield's still up. I don't know how the other ship got in, but you're gonna need to get out of there before we can get to you."
"We don't even know where we are," Jimin hissed. "How the fuck are we gonna get out?"
"Fourteen minutes by hovercar," Taehyung repeated, wincing as he struggled to sit. "That'll take us hours to run."
"The fuck else are we supposed to do?" Hoseok snapped, running a frustrated hand through his hair, eyes locked on the ship. It had turned to face the front again, firing a shot that exploded the pathway leading to the house.
"What is this dank ship doing?" Taehyung muttered, brows furrowed. "Why did it just shoot the path?"
"It's a Kim ship," Seokjin spoke up from the comm, his voice startling all of them. "Snapped a picture when it flew past us a while ago, just in case. I cross-referenced the logo on the side and it's definitely a Kim."
"Another syndicate?" Hoseok swore. "I don't know jack shit about mob politics but that can't be good."
"Maybe we can wait it out. Run somewhere away from the main base, hide in the trees over there or something. It's not like they're trying to kill anyone," Jimin suggested.
"Yet," Taehyung said.
Someone from the Ahn side had started to fire back. A few weak plasma gun shots grazed the side of the ship. Then a larger one followed a few moments later, sending the ship stuttering back in the air.
"The control room," Taehyung said suddenly, hopping to his feet. The heat from the shed's fire had them all sweating. “We have to turn the shields off."
Hoseok and Jimin exclaimed in horror, their jumbled protestations falling over each other, but the look on Taehyung's face told them he had already made up his mind.
"Taehyung, you can't, the ship literally aimed for the dank house-"
"You go in there, you're dead, you black hole-"
"Listen, I've got a shot. They've only hit the left wing so far. They're focusing on the lawn right now. I'll be in and out."
"That's what this whole dank job was supposed to be."
"You don't even know how to turn the shields off, what if there's a passcode-"
"I can figure it out. I'll comm Jungkook if I have to, he can hack anything."
Taehyung had started walking, deliberate steps back toward the house. Another plasma shot knocked the ship back a few more feet.
"Fine, go, you fucking black hole! Get your fucking self killed!" Hoseok shouted, the raw fury in his voice rattling Jimin to the bone. He spun around, hands twisted into his hair, and then back, the anger melting. "At least let us come with you."
Then they were both running to catch up. Taehyung looked back, ready to protest.
The next shot sent them all flying. The ship had aimed two steps from Hoseok, the very last of them. Jimin fell on his face painfully, covered in dirt and grass, coughing up dust. His elbow had slammed into the ground, sending jarring pain through his arm. He pushed himself up at the same time Taehyung did and crawled over to Hoseok, who lay groaning in pain. His leg was twisted painfully beneath him.
"Think I- think I broke it," he gasped, face red, tears squeezing from his eyes.
"They're firing for people now," Taehyung said, panic clear on his face.
Jimin very carefully reached for Hoseok's leg. As soon as he touched it, Hoseok cried out in pain, batting his hand away. If they weren't sitting ducks before, they would be now. There was no way Hoseok could walk like this.
“Splint it,” Taehyung said. He tugged a roll of write from inside his jumpsuit, the kind that coiled to be smaller than their palms but could unroll to three leagues and was strong enough to hold thirty tons. Jimin snatched up a piece of wood that was about the right size from the shed’s wreckage.
Together they stabilized Hoseok’s leg, tying the wood to the side of his calf with the wire. His face was red with pain the whole time, veins in his neck popping from strain.
"I'm going in," Taehyung said when they finished. "If we don't get the ship here, we're fucked."
"Jimin." He put a hand on his shoulder, turning him so their eyes were locked. "Jimin, you know this is the only way."
“Go,” Hoseok said, voice shaking.
Jimin didn't want to admit it. He didn't want it to be the only way. But a part of him knew it was the best chance they had, that maybe Taehyung could find someone to threaten who'd turn the shields off, or figure it out with Jungkook's help. Jungkook really could hack anything. And someone had to stay with Hoseok. There was a line of trees in the distance; he could carry him there. The chances of the ship's attacks hitting the trees were low. They seemed to only be focusing on the base's immediate vicinity.
"Fine," he found himself saying. "Go."
"Be careful." Hoseok's hand reached out to grab Taehyung's, squeezing tight before letting go, his face still scrunched in pain.
Taehyung stood, his expression morphing into that particular look of stubbornness he got when he was focused on something. When he was ready to make something happen. A shot hit the ship once more, and this time it sent a shard of metal flying in the opposite direction, embedding itself in the ground. Jimin stood, too.
"Tae," he started, and stopped. He could see him, lying in the middle of the street on Jimin's very first job, blood and singed skin across his torso, unmoving. Could see him on the stretcher as they brought him inside, unmoving. Could see him writhing in pain in his unconsciousness for the three days it took them to reach the capital.
Could see him, unmoving, dead, if he hadn't made it out of the countless situations he put himself in, like in every one of Jimin's nightmares.
"Tae," he said, again, choked.
And even though the shed behind them was on fire, Hoseok was lying on the ground with a broken leg, and the ship had just fired another shot into the front lawn, Taehyung grabbed Jimin's arm and pulled him close. "What do you get when you-"
"Shut up," Jimin said.
So Taehyung kissed him. Quick, chaste- they didn't have time for anything else- but full of the same raw emotion that flooded Jimin like it did every time he came close to losing Taehyung. And when he pulled away, hardly even a second later though it felt like ages, he said, "Jimin, I'm in love with you. And we're gonna talk about it when I get back."
Then he let go, turned around, and sprinted for the house.
When. When I get back.
Jimin held onto the words like a lifeline.
He returned to Hoseok, crouching beside him. "You gotta stand." He put an arm behind Hoseok, helping him sit. Once he was sitting on his own, Jimin slung his arms under Hoseok's armpits. "Tell me when you're ready."
Hoseok straightened his unhurt leg, taking a deep breath to prepare himself, then said, "Go."
Jimin pulled him up so he was standing on one leg, the splinted one hanging straight. He cried in pain, leaning heavily against Jimin's side. "I can't carry you without hurting your leg too bad. We're gonna have to hop there."
"Go," he said, again, the word a choked gasp.
The trees were awfully far away. And at the pace they were bound to go, it would take them a while. Jimin glanced back at the house, one last time, before taking a step, Hoseok hopping beside him with a deep groan of agony.
"We'll make it," he murmured. Them and Taehyung both.
Taehyung was thirteen when the Galaxy Patrol destroyed his home. He'd lived on a small planet on the edges of the galaxy, a quiet place. He'd been too young to understand the rumors that floated around of drug trafficking on the planet, passing through their little town. The day it happened his mother sent him off to the woods to play after he got underfoot one too many times. He had climbed a tree and perched in a branch, peeking over at the bird's nest in the neighboring one, when he saw the soldiers pass below him. Everyone knew black and silver suits were Galaxy Patrol, and in their part of the galaxy, Patrol soldiers had a bad reputation. When he looked back on it, he thought it would have been easy to climb down and run back home. He had played in this woods since he was old enough to walk; he knew enough routes to get back undetected. But he'd stayed there, frozen in fear, until he heard the blast.
It would have been easy to warn his family, but he didn't. By the time he made it back, the town was on fire. Everything he'd ever known up in flames. He was just a kid; Namjoon, when he first heard the story, told him to be more forgiving of himself. What could he have done, thirteen years old, helpless? But he knew he could have done something.
So when Seokjin picked him up off the streets three years later, and they both ran into Namjoon, the desolate ex-Patrol officer, together much later, he vowed not to let anything happen to his new family.
They found Yoongi first. He worked in a junkyard taking apart scraps to sell for a bitter Groguin who was never pleased with anything he did, even though his remarkable talent as an engineer was clear to anyone. He and Namjoon got drunk together in a tavern and talked about life, and the next thing Taehyung knew, he was a part of their little group. Their ship had desperately needed an engineer, anyway, Namjoon and Seokjin's past ship experience enough to get them by but not for long.
Jungkook came after that, a terrified runaway and a brilliant hacker who promised he'd do anything as long as they didn't send him back to his parents. Namjoon had pretended to act tough in front of him, but Taehyung knew Namjoon enough to know the moment he saw Jungkook he wasn't going to let him go. After Jungkook loosened up a little, Taehyung and he got along splendidly, pranking the other members on the regular.
Then came Hoseok, who left his job on another transport ship because they had started to take jobs that involved smuggling people involved in trafficking and he didn't want anything to do with that. He was exactly what they needed- experienced, level-headed, and almost painfully optimistic. Taehyung had learned a lot about combat and weaponry thanks to Hoseok.
They'd been all right after that, Hoseok and Taehyung and sometimes Namjoon or Seokjin taking the hands-on jobs while Jungkook and Yoongi took care of the ship. But then one day they stopped on VP113, a tiny hunk of rock that orbited the very outskirts of the Galaxy Patrol’s jurisdiction, and found Jimin serving drinks in a tavern where it seemed as if the worst dregs of the galaxy frequented. Taehyung would learn later that his space pirate father had abandoned him there when he was barely a teenager, and the tavern owner hired him because he was pretty. He was leaving his night shift when Namjoon saw a particularly nasty mercenary who had come into the tavern earlier corner him and asked him, in much more lurid terms, to come home with him. Jimin had kicked his legs out from under him, pinned his wrists behind his back, and stolen his plasma pistol. Namjoon asked Jimin to join the crew right away. Stubborn, beautiful, kind-hearted Jimin. Taehyung fell much harder than he'd ever expected to.
Over the years they'd become family to him; no one could replace his true family, but they were the best he had. He'd do anything to keep them safe and well-fed. If they didn't get paid, if their jobs were abandoned, they suffered for all the time it took them to find another job. Taehyung hadn't died yet; that's what he kept telling himself. He could do it. He could always do it, even if the odds were stacked against him.
So as he ran back toward the Ahn mansion, he knew he'd be coming back.
The front lawn was a mess. Various Ahn lackeys fired at the ship, others scrambling around yelling into comms. Half the house was demolished. Hyejin stood at the center of it all, shouting orders, a massive plasma rifle perched on her shoulder. Taehyung glanced at the house, then at her, and suddenly had a rather brilliant idea.
"Hyejin!" he shouted, running straight toward her.
She glared. "What are you doing?"
"I have a proposal," he said between gasps of breath, resting his hands on his knees as he stopped right in front of her.
"I'm kind of in the middle of something."
"Turn the shields off. Let my ship in. We've got guns. We can take out this one in a lightsec. Me and my friends take the shipment as planned and get back on our ship, no questions asked."
"How do I know you'll do as you promise?"
One of the lackeys fired at the ship; the noise of impact was a weak ping.
"You need us. You're clearly not equipped to handle this." Although he couldn't imagine why; he'd expected more from the Ahn Syndicate, but they hardly had any firepower at all. "I'll put my captain on the comm. He'll promise you himself."
She stared at him, eyes narrow, for so long he started to think it was hopeless. Then she stood, tossing her rifle to a nearby woman, and strode toward the house with a jerk of her head for him to follow.
He caught up, trying to contain his utter relief. "Don't you have fighter ships? Tanks? Something to fight back?"
"We usually do," she said as they stepped through the rubble of the destroyed doorway, maneuvering their way through chunks of rock and piles of dust. "Everyone's away today on a job. They timed this well."
"It's the Kim Syndicate, right?"
She glanced at him, surprised. They turned into the same dark hallway as before, thankfully not yet destroyed. "No, it's my mother."
He stopped dumb, pretty sure he was gaping. She waved him on in irritation. "Your mother?"
"She's got some Kim ships she stole. This one's unmanned. She's probably controlling it from a different planet through a virtual reality system."
So that's why she wasn't firing at any of the people, only the buildings. "Why is your mother trying to destroy your base?"
Hyejin sighed, long-suffering. "I fell in love with someone she doesn't approve of. She's trying to threaten me into submission, I think."
Taehyung gaped, trying to wrap his head around the utter nonsense coming out of Hyejin’s mouth. Hoseok had a broken leg. They were all covered in cuts and bruises. They could die, maybe, lose the job at the very least. All because Hyejin’s mother didn't approve of her lover. "Who in stars did you fall in love with?"
"The Jung Syndicate's head. Wheein." She kicked open the door to the control room. It was empty by now, all the workers fled into the lawn or elsewhere. With a calculating look, she turned to the largest screen and bent over the control panel beneath it, keying in a number of combinations. Taehyung sent a silent thank you to the stars because there was no way he could have hacked that by himself.
"You're kidding." The Ahn and Jung Syndicates had the most intense rivalry among the four major crime syndicates of the galaxy. She'd fallen in love with Wheein, their notorious head. "I thought Wheein was old, too."
"Listen, just because we have a lot of power doesn't mean we're old. She's the same age as me. Hand me that card over there." She waved an impatient hand over at the keycard hanging from a hook by the door. Taehyung fetched it, and she swiped it through the control panel. A series of beeps followed. Outside, the ground shook from another blast. "Done. Tell your captain to get his ass over here before Mom destroys my entire house. I spent a lot of money on this place, you know."
Taehyung relayed the plan to Namjoon through the comm. Hyejin ran out to warn the others not to fire at the soon-to-be incoming starship. "We'll be there in a lightsec," Namjoon told Taehyung, and he was sighing in relief. He'd done it. They were safe. Now he only had to hope Jimin had made it to the woods without aggravating Hoseok's leg too much.
He was walking into the foyer when the blast hit.
Jimin crouched in the underbrush, Hoseok propped up against the trunk of a tree just next to him. Sweat from pain beaded his forehead and he was breathing hard, but at least he wasn't crying out from exertion now. Supporting him from there to here had been a true struggle. And then they heard Taehyung's voice over the comm, asking for Namjoon, and the tension left their shoulders in relieved sighs.
Until Jimin saw the plasma shot aim right for the middle of the house.
It happened so quickly he hardly realized it. The ceiling of the house's center caved in, a plume of dust rising above it, crumbling into rubble. It was only after it had fallen, Jimin and Hoseok staring at it in horror, that he realized if Taehyung had gotten the shields he must have still been in the house.
A choked sob tore from Jimin's throat. He reached back, and Hoseok reached for him, their hands squeezing tight until Jimin lost all feeling in his. All this time Jimin felt as if he had been standing on the edge of a steep cliff, wobbling each time Taehyung came back to him injured, waiting for the inevitable slip. And now he was falling, his every nightmare of losing Taehyung come to reality.
When I get back.
"Coffee," Seokjin intoned. Jimin whizzed by him, only to whiz back and take the steaming mug from his hands. He moved toward the kitchen door; Seokjin yanked him back by the collar of his jumpsuit. "Store this in one of the cabinets while you're there." He pushed a box full of clean tissues into his free hand.
"Can I go now?" Jimin muttered, even though he appreciated the care.
"Yeah, yeah. See you in twelve hours, probably. Just, make sure to eat lunch this time, okay? I don't want you want you dropping dead on us."
"Sir, yes, sir."
"Don't sass me, Jimin."
Jimin just grinned. Seokjin ruffled his hair as he left, making his way through the starship to the med bay, where Taehyung lay unconscious on the bed that might as well have had his name on it by then. He didn't expect Taehyung to be awake when he entered, he hadn't been for three days, but a part of him still braced himself as he looked over. They'd dressed Taehyung in nothing but a pair of underwear, nearly half his torso wrapped in bandages that were around his wrists and forehead, too. One of his legs hung suspended from the ceiling in a cast. He was breathing softly, and if Jimin didn't know better he might think Taehyung was just sleeping. But he wasn't just sleeping.
The chair he had sat in nearly nonstop for the past three days was next to Taehyung's bed, right where he had left it. He stowed away the tissues then plopped down in his seat, taking a sip of coffee and turning on a series implant to watch the Intergalactic Cup for Football. He switched it to projection mode so the game flashed onto the wall behind them from his wrist implant. Taehyung had been looking forward the tournament's start for days. Even if he was unconscious, Jimin would make sure he wouldn't miss it.
"Stars, Taehyung. I know you like sleeping, but it's getting really boring here without you," Jimin murmured. "Jungkook's trying to pretend he's not upset by burrowing himself in his computer programs but I know he really misses playing games with you. Namjoon won't leave the cockpit, he feels too guilty for taking the job. And you'll never believe it—Hyejin sent flowers. Like, real flowers. They smell so good. I put them on the operation table. Yoongi made a vase from some spare parts for it."
He sighed, resting his forehead on the bed by Taehyung's hand. He let his eyes drift shut. He hadn't slept much since they left New Titan. They all knew Taehyung was going to be okay, none of his injuries were life-threatening. But they were serious, that was for sure, numerous fractures and internal bleeding. It would take him a long time to heal. Jimin didn't want to watch the stupid game without Taehyung there to shout insults and whoop so loud Jimin's eardrums nearly burst every time his favorite team scored.
Gentle fingers slipped through Jimin’s hair, soft and slow. For a moment he thought he was imagining it. Then his head shot up, knocking the hand off, to see Taehyung looking at him, eyes lidded. A weak smile curved one corner of his mouth upwards.
“Is that a comm in your pocket?” he murmured, hoarse.
“Because I swear that ass is calling me.”
A laugh bubbled up Jimin’s throat and out before he could stop it, half-hysterical. Suddenly there was a lump in his throat and his eyes were burning and Taehyung was awake, he was all right, even though Jimin knew he would be there was always, always, always the chance that he wouldn’t.
“Taetae,” he said, voice cracking. “Taetae, you fucking black hole. Do you have any idea—any idea how worried I’ve been?”
Jimin patted roughly at his own cheeks to keep himself from crying because the last he wanted to do was cry in front of Taehyung. “His leg’s doing good. He’ll heal up pretty fast, I think. He’s using your crutches.”
Taehyung’s hand curled over his own, playing with his smaller fingers. “What happened?”
“The plasma shot hit the house right where you were. Namjoon and the others came just after that. We had to—we had to fish you out of the rubble. You’re lucky you’re alive, you know.”
“Hyejin said—” He paused to breathe, a ragged sound. “Hyejin said it was her mom controlling the ship. She didn’t want to kill anyone.”
“We cleared things up with Hyejin. She gave us, like, twice the amount of pay we were supposed to get because she felt bad, and we didn’t even take the shipment. I think her mother thought there was no one in the house after she came out.”
“Too bad.” His eyes drifted shut again.
“Are you hurting? We used the pay to buy some grade A pain medicine, do you want some?” He reached up, trying not to sound as frantic as he felt, and brushed stray locks of hair from Taehyung’s forehead.
“I’m fine, baby.” His eyes opened again just as Jimin flushed. He patted the bed next to him on the side of his uninjured leg. “Come here.” Then he scooted sideways, wincing as he did, his movement limited because of his suspended leg.
“Don’t move, you’ll hurt yourself.”
“Quit worrying so much. Makes your face look ugly.”
“Shut up,” Jimin said, but he was grinning. He lay down next to Taehyung, an uncomfortable fit, half his ass hanging off the side of the bed. But Taehyung put his arm around him and kissed his head and suddenly he didn’t mind so much. He rested his arm gently across Taehyung’s waist to keep from hurting him. “Did you mean it?”
“Mean what? That your face looks ugly? ‘Course.”
He smacked his stomach lightly. “No, you black hole.”
“Ouch,” Taehyung whined. “I’m injured. An invalid. I deserve love and kisses, not injury.”
“Mean what, Jiminie?” But the way his voice changed told Jimin he knew exactly what he was talking about.
“What you said.”
“What’d I say?”
“You know. Before you went back.”
“I can’t seem to remember,” he teased, his hand drawing circles on Jimin’s back. “What exactly did I say?”
“I must have hit my head. Can’t remember a thing.”
“Tae.” But it was obvious Taehyung wasn’t going to bite until he did. “When you said you loved me,” he mumbled it quick into Taehyung’s side.
“What’s that? I didn’t hear you.”
“When you said you loved me.”
“I think I burst an eardrum, you’re gonna have to—”
“When you said you loved me!” he shouted, propping himself up to glare. Then he let go and lay back down so they weren’t looking at each other, flushing.
“Wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t mean it.”
Jimin fiddled with the bandage on Taehyung’s wrist, reaching across his torso to do so. They were crewmates. But other people did it, sometimes. They’d known each other long enough to put the crew over any petty arguments they might have. They already did that. And if they broke it off—well, that was a matter for the future. Hyejin was willing to risk falling in love with the leader of a rival mob, causing her mother to blow up her whole house. Their situation, at least, wasn’t as dire as that.
“Give us a chance, Jiminie.” His hand slid up to Jimin’s nape, playing with the hair there, sending a shiver down his spine.
“Okay,” he said.
“Really?” The sudden excitement in Taehyung’s voice made him laugh.
“Taehyung.” He hesitated, slipping his fingers through Taehyung’s, clasped across his stomach. “I love you,” he said, very quietly.
He pushed himself up on his elbow so he was hovering over him, taking in his sparkling eyes and bandaged forehead and bruised cheek and insufferably beautiful smile. Loving Taehyung meant loving all the scrapes and bruises that came with him, and Jimin wasn’t sure he had the emotional fortitude for that. But he wanted to try. “I love you,” he said, loud and clear.
Then he leaned down and kissed him.