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They’ve been in the sky for thirty minutes now, and the airplane is cold and dry.

Jungwon sits in the window seat beside Jay, Heeseung to his right. He is talking in tired tones, low and hushed in fragmented conversation with Jay. Ni-ki sits in the seat behind Jungwon, Sunoo and Jake unconscious to the right of him. He’s unable to sleep, so he listens. 

“If you could though, hyung,” Jungwon is pointing out quietly, his fingers outstretched toward the sliver of sky he can see through the crack provided from his window. It burns bright blue, the clouds rolling into themselves. Mornings in Seoul are vibrant to a fault. “You wouldn’t go to the moon.”

“What makes you say that?" Jay mumbles back. "I’m not afraid of outer space." He reminds, stubborn even while a quarter conscious. "I’m not afraid of things that can be proven.” 

“It's also pretty much proven that life on space is all known to be extraterrestrial.” Amusement is flagrant in Jungwon’s voice. “Save for mankind.” He adds. 

“I’m aware.” Jay says, already sounding uncertain. “So?”

Jungwon hums. “It doesn’t need to be proven for me to know you’d be afraid if you came across an extraterrestrial being.” 

Ni-ki swallows as Jay argues back in good nature, tunes them out into burning radio static.He presses his neck against his own window and watches as they climb past levels, sink through skies.

.。.

On his first airplane trip when he was 6, Ni-ki thought that the more altitudes ascended, the closer his brain was to exploding into particles of the sun. He told his mother this, frantic and teary, gripped his head and pressed small fingers flat around his skull as if that would help contain his potential disintegrating cerebrum. 

“Am I dying?” He whispered to her. He wondered if everyone around him was aware that they were going to explode, if everyone had made their peace with it before him. When had they found the time?

His mother had only smiled. “Ri-ki, don’t be silly.” She wiped his tears with the hem of her silk blouse, pulled Ni-ki close to her shoulder and stroked his hair with stable fingers. “This is just what happens when you fly on airplanes and you go high up into the air. This is normal.” 

Humankind might be too generous, Ni-ki hypothesizes. How is it possible to create such substantial structures, to test the durability of a measly life, shoved against every odd? If anything, so many aspects are left at stake. Who ends up being the outlier, the person who doesn’t get another breath when the others reap the benefit of their sacrifice? Who falls while the others fly? 

(Sunoo had rolled his eyes. "Are you asking who made airplanes, or are you speaking generally, because either way, that’s just physics.")

Heeseung-hyung had taken a swig from a half-empty bottle of soju. "One year older and we’ve already got ourselves a philosopher," He mused. "I told you we shouldn’t have watched The Martian," Sunghoon-hyung had snapped to Sunoo. "Right," Jake-hyung agreed. "It’s his birthday, we should be watching something horrifying."

Jay-hyung had approached him with a small smile while the others lapsed into argument, honey-brown eyes swimming with wonder. He glowed under the white flashing credits from the living room television, party hat strung around his neck like a cheap necklace.

"I think about that too, sometimes." Jay pressed knees in the couch cushion to Ni-ki’s left, hummed his words close to his face like a secret. He smelled like pumpkin seeds. "I’ve always wondered who really gets the reward, in the end."

Ni-ki stared back, breath catching in his throat. "Wouldn't it be the person who lives?" He managed to respond. He was a little stunned at the genuine curiosity brewing in Jay-hyung’s voice, the way his eyes twinkled in interest, like he was considering all the odds just for Ni-ki’s sake. 

"Right," Jay nodded, scrunching his chin up in concentration. "But then there's the guilt aspect to it, isn't there? Everyone suffers."

"Not if you're not aware of what's happening." Ni-ki countered. "Ignorance is bliss, and all that." 

"Don’t encourage him, hyung," Jungwon chided from the side, crossing the room to hover before them both. He looked at Ni-ki with an unreadable expression when he didn't join in on the laughter, biting his bottom lip and pressing cold fingers against his forehead. "Are you feeling sick? "

Ni-ki pushed his wrist aside roughly. “I’m fine,” He grit out.  

There was a split second of bone cold silence. 

"Maybe you should go to bed, birthday boy," Heeseung hyung suggested before anyone could make a comment. 

"I don’t think you’re eligible to give that advice," Jay-hyung retorted immediately, breaking thick air with a gurgling laugh.

"Ni-ki," Jungwon started quietly, but Ni-ki cut him off. "I’m tired," he decided, took himself to bed and stayed awake until he couldn’t. 

Who really gets the reward? His mind echoed Jay-hyung’s words. What really counts as a reward?

.。.

“You wouldn’t survive, hyung.” Jungwon is murmuring cheekily. Ni-ki sees his head inch closer to Jay’s shoulder, watches them smile through the gap in their seats. “Personally, I think I’d be okay in space.”

Jay cuts back, “Of course you’d be okay in space, you’re an alien yourself.” He’s fond, it’s unfair. 

They don’t ask Ni-ki, but he wonders to himself anyway, and comes to the conclusion that he, like Jungwon, would be alright in space. Ni-ki’s reasons are different, though. 

He doesn’t want to be an alien. He wants to be inanimate, like the particles that float in the space between the stars and the atmosphere. The world would look small above the clouds if Ni-ki was cosmic dust, far away and unknown, but he supposes that’s the selling point, the part that makes it easier. Sacrifices and breaths and stakes and gravity wouldn’t matter if he wasn’t a living being. The sun would pass through to his chest and the stars would sink deep in his skin, and he would live through mere sensation, never have to feel.

("Someone shut him up," Sunoo groaned when Ni-ki let these thoughts ramble this morning on the drive to the airport.)

"Don’t be rude," Jay-hyung had scoffed in Ni-ki’s defense. He stared at Ni-ki intently. "I get it," he said, and Ni-ki could tell he really did. "But why would you want to avoid feeling everything? Isn’t that what would make the whole hypothetical experience fun?"

“It’s the palpability of it that makes it fun, hyung." Ni-ki answered, contemplating it himself. "Wouldn’t it be nice to stop-" Ni-ki felt his skin prick, watched the winter sunrise spill over Jay-hyung’s face in stripes of purple and red. "Wouldn’t it be nice to stop being attached to certain things?"

Jay blinked. "Ah, I don't know." His eyebrows furrowing in what Ni-ki realized belatedly was concern. "Are feelings really that burdensome to you?"

Yes. "No," Ni-ki lied through his teeth. He looked away, let his voice trail off. "Just.. Just a thought, hyung."

Heeseung interrupted. "It is 5 in the morning," He'd announced unbidden from the front of the car. "What does palpability even mean," Sunghoon hyung grumbled from behind him, half asleep. "Fuck if I know," Sighed Jake with his head shoved in between his knees. "Seriously, put the two of them in another car next time." 

Jungwon didn’t say anything, just watched them talk with bleary, bloodshot eyes, shoulders stiffening up at the suggestion.

.。.

Ni-ki's the one watching, now. 

He watches as Jungwon's head bends toward his seatbelt, watches as Jungwon lets out a breath, watches Jungwon part his lips to speak quietly. “But maybe if I went with you,” He is saying lowly, like he’s bashful. "You'd be okay."

Jay doesn’t respond immediately, just turns his chin to the side a little to look at Jungwon face on. Ni-ki’s breaths flow bated. “Wow, I’m so lucky,” He snorts, but it’s- still fond. Still unfair. It’s always going to be unfair. 

Jungwon doesn’t move away, not even when their faces are so temptingly close. “You’ve always been lucky,” He points out lightly. Ni-ki can practically hear pretty eyelashes beating against equally pretty skin. Yang Jungwon, the pretty boy. Ni-ki swallows and feels sick, completely frozen in his seat. 

“Have I?” Jay stares for a second more, makes to move away. Jungwon's hand drifts outward in a flash, grips the fabric on Jay's sweater.

“Hyung,” He pleads, threadbare. Jungwon, the pretty fucking boy, pretty in everything he does, every word he coos, all the breaths he takes. “Don’t.”

Jay gulps, stays put. Jay doesn’t.

Ni-ki wants to laugh. What was he expecting? Jay's always been a sucker for Yang Jungwon. 

Their lips meet when the sun shifts, they pull away when it melts into the sky. Ni-ki looks on and away, on and away, feels his skin burn and his eyes burn and his brain burn, to ash and rock and rubble.

.。.

Ni-ki agrees with Jungwon, though. Thinks Jay-hyung isn’t fooling anyone- he’d be absolutely terrified in space. 

But Ni-ki, too, thinks Jay would be less scared with him. Ni-ki would float beside Jay and guide him with both hands, try his hardest not to tease him when he moves too fast and coughs up gulps of stardust. They’d toe the Karman line, hold the moon in sun-scorched fingers, talk into forever about everything for as long as Ni-ki will learn to remember. 

(Because though Ni-ki would abandon all feeling if he had a choice, he’d keep everything about him if that’s what Jay wanted.)

The plane seems to breathe when he blinks. Once, twice, again- and that’s right, Ni-ki thinks to himself with a humorless smile. They’re on a plane, not a rocket. 

Before him, his hyungs pull away. They are dancing suspended in air. A routine so ardent and so silent, a play so foreseeable it’s funny. 

.。.

“I think I’d go with Jay-hyung, too,” Ni-ki had muttered to Jungwon a few weeks ago. They were walking home from the convenience store, aimlessly talking about who they’d go to space with from the 7 of them. Jungwon had chosen Jay instantly. So had Ni-ki.

Jungwon raised his eyebrows. His eyelashes and strands of silky black hair were dusted with snowflakes, he looked heaven-sent. Truly, so pretty. “You like him that much, huh?” His smile was ugly. 

Ni-ki turned away, stomach in his chest, December sun scalding his forehead. “He’s my hyung.” He muttered. “Of course I like him.”

Jungwon barked out a laugh, pointed and solid above the earth. “Does he like you, too?” He asked in a manner that felt callous. 

Ni-ki set his jaw, wound up his fist in his pockets. “He’s my hyung.” He breathed out again.

Jungwon’s mouth curled. He stepped inward, eyes sharp, right into Ni-ki’s breathing space. Ni-ki stood his ground. “Yeah, but you know what I mean.” 

Ni-ki stared at him hard. “Jungwon-hyung.” He warned.  

Jungwon glanced up at the sun and squinted. “You have to fight for what you want, Ni-ki,” He spat eventually, striding ahead. 

.。.

“What if someone sees us?” Jay is whispering. 

“Let him,” Jungwon whispers back sharply, ducks back in. 

Ni-ki isn’t surprised that Jay doesn’t process Jungwon’s words. Heeseung snuffles in his sleep, and Sunghoon coughs from across the aisle. Jake stretches, eyes shut. Sunoo’s still out cold.

After all, he thinks, gravity clawing at the skin inside his throat, he is another person on a plane, another person who has to have made their peace. Another outlier, another sacrifice, another breath stolen.

(In 40 light years, though, were they to survive time beyond earth and spend what they know as life well into the nebulas, Ni-ki vows that it is then when he will have Park Jongseong.)