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lonely, lonely, lonely whale.

 

 

*

 

 

 

"you were just here, you know." yoongi mutters.

 

"sorry," jungkook says but does not quite look it.

 

"tch." with a litmus board trapped between his teeth, yoongi can't say much else. for someone with such large hands, he does meticulous work and that's probably why namjoon always comes to him. well, that and they're friends. well, that and they both know jungkook.

 

knew him.

 

under his blink-fast fingers, jungkook is shockingly still. 

 

yoongi will never get used to it.

 

his eyes narrow, dark slits of scrutiny as he searches out the explanation for jungkook's less than perfect state. he finds it eventually: the blood red wire that has snapped clean off. how jungkook even managed such a thing is beyond yoongi. anything severing that line ought to have gone clean through the others as well. what's more, it's not the first time he's seen this precise kind of damage and while yoongi knows it's not possible, knows it goes against all the codes and regulations as they know them, sometimes yoongi wonders. 

 

he repairs in silence but jungkook never seems to mind; and well, why would he.

 

the faint flicker sound of the joiner fusing two red breaks into one red whole is loud in yoongi's garage.

 

sometimes it sparks but mostly the process is not a long one. yoongi is the best after all. when he finishes, he leans back, removes the litmus board from his mouth and presses it hard enough against jungkook's skin to leave a mark. waits. eventually the board lights up, red to blue slowly slowly. satisfied, yoongi removes it and tosses it in what is only one of a multitude of plastics on his work table.

 

jungkook is also on yoongi's work table.

 

like this, yoongi is a little taller.

 

without thinking, he rests his hands on jungkook's knees and it's familiar. so damn familiar. 

 

but also not.

 

jungkook looks up at him and yoongi sees the expression there in code: red red blue blue red.

 

he thinks about the snapped wire and his hands fall away.

 

"you're all set," he says and jungkook's lashes flutter in a blink that now means nothing but once meant a great deal. 

 

"thanks," he says and slides off the table, lands light as rain. out the corner of his eye, yoongi is struck dumb by how beautiful he is; how jungkook looks drawn rather than born and oh if that were only the case. 

 

"jungkook," yoongi starts but cannot finish. jungkook looks back over his shoulder, waits. yoongi sighs. 

 

"yes?" jungkook tilts his head. it reminds yoongi of the other things that belong with that movement: a toothy smile, a quirked brow, a look with no name made for yoongi alone. it reminds him and it fights him and yoongi's hand is a white knuckled grip on the side of his own table as he says:

 

"nothing. get going." 

 

the boy hesitates. yoongi watches and catalogues all the familiarities; cannot let them go, though he watches jungkook go.

 

go.

 

go.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

"he refused payment," jungkook informs namjoon as he settles into his seat, adjusting the earphone and the mouthpiece, the fuzzed crackle of old machinery an up-and-down lull throughout their connection. he hears, through that haze, namjoon's sigh.

 

"asshole," he says and doesn't mean it. "guess we'll bring him more parts," he says and means it. 

 

"he seemed disappointed," jungkook says. 

 

where namjoon is seated, he raises his head, something sharp in his look despite not being able to see jungkook from the cockpit.

 

"what makes you think that?"

 

if namjoon listens close enough, he thinks he can hear more than the silences that happen every time he asks this kind of question. if namjoon listens close enough, he thinks he can hear jungkook's soft "hm" underscored by the trickle of a laugh or a huff of air. if namjoon listens close enough, he thinks he can hear jungkook as a past a present and a future. 

 

"his words implied that i'm there too much."

 

"he's just saying you're careless," namjoon says and halfway means it.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

jungkook was careless.

 

but if jungkook's heart, if jungkook's memory could Remember, he would tell them this:

 

"i'd do it again."

 

sometimes yoongi looks into his cupboards, sees two of everything, and breaks down.

 

jungkook was careless but yoongi blames himself.

 

"please don't die," he'd begged and begged and though jungkook doesn't Remember, yoongi does, remembers jungkook bleeding out of his mouth and saying,

 

"so save me."

 

to this day, yoongi thinks what he did is the opposite, but namjoon insists on one crucial other truth: jungkook knew what he meant.

 

knew what he was doing. asking.

 

even at the end.

 

 

*

 

 

drifting through space, they do not often encounter hostile strangers but when they do, namjoon is grateful that jungkook is on his side. with an unparalleled aim, they rarely need worry and these days, jungkook's shot seems even deadlier, which namjoon supposes makes sense.

 

an enemy bursts into so much silent fire and over the intercom, namjoon hears jungkook sigh.

 

"you okay?" he asks, habit.

 

"i'm always okay," jungkook says and it would be sassy if it wasn't so confused sounding. namjoon sighs this time.

 

"i mean…is there something wrong?"

 

a beat, a heartbeat. namjoon's heartbeat.

 

"no," jungkook says after a while and well, he can't lie, so namjoon lets it go.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

they say a robot cannot hurt a human; that it is a rule hardwired into their system. but 'human' has a loose definition these days and jungkook isn't a robot anyway; he's just not really human anymore either. the day he, yoongi, and namjoon barely escaped a random attack, jungkook did not really escape. jungkook bled from so many injuries that his skin seemed star white. he'd been trying to reroute power from shields to boosters and just barely succeeded -- saving them -- when the hardest hit came, obliterated parts of their ship, and jungkook with them.

 

namjoon remembers trying to stop the blood, remembers yoongi's hands on jungkook's face, remembers yoongi's full bodied sobs as he promised to try and do what jungkook asked.

 

remembers how jungkook isn't the only one who died that day.

 

his earpiece crackles and jungkook says, "something's coming."

 

lifting his face from his hands, namjoon feels years, feels lost, but simply says, "i see them."

 

 

 

*

 

 

most of jungkook's body appears human, though one of his eyes is gray now instead of brown, a complete artificiality which sharpens all of his observations, arrow-like and light-fast.

 

yoongi kept as much of him as he could.

 

and it kills him to admit: it probably wasn't enough.

 

 

*

 

 

so jungkook travels just with namjoon who loves him even knowing what he no longer is. and it's not that yoongi doesn't love him, but yoongi can't move forward, can't stop looking in his dreams and in his music boxes for the jungkook who was warm and laughing in his hands. and namjoon gets it.

 

namjoon does.

 

but namjoon also cannot let go, if in a different way. to him, if they let this jungkook go, jungkook is gone forever; gone for real.

 

in the end, he would rather have this than nothing at all.

 

it's an argument not worth having with yoongi who, while he never calls for them, can always be called on.

 

this, namjoon knows, means something.

 

maybe everything.

 

 

*

 

 

the jungkook who stares at stars for all the hours namjoon sleeps looks like the old jungkook, sounds like him, moves like him. once namjoon asked him to sing and the sound was so old, so real, so jungkook, that namjoon cried almost to the point of hysteria. jungkook's hands on his shoulders were cold because they are always cold now, but something in his gaze was almost…warm.

 

really, namjoon knew better than to believe it, but there's a saying that "hope is for fools" and he thought back then, trying to get his wits back about him: well sign me up.

 

later he asked jungkook if he remembered the song and when jungkook apologized politely, said no, namjoon could only nod and look as far away as possible.

 

 

 

*

 

 

space is lonely but earth was lonely too. humans maybe are the lonely things and the location is just happenstance. yoongi plays a piano he rescued from a museum on a colony long forgotten, plays a song that reaches back a year or so and chases it into the dark.

 

 

*

 

 

they are fixing up the ship, docked at a station several stars out from the old Saturn (now dark, her rings ghosts of planetary remnants), and namjoon has music on because namjoon always has music on. jungkook is doing all the hands-on stuff while namjoon passes him the requested tools, a book in one hand that has nothing to do with any of it.

 

"do you like it?" jungkook asks, eyes not leaving the sparking wires under his working hands. namjoon looks down into the stomach of his ship where jungkook is a crouched figure and it's questions like these that make it so hard. because a robot won't ask these things; even an android can be programmed not to. and yes, again, jungkook isn't technically either one. but this sort of thing reeks so strongly of Human that namjoon feels that terrible hope burn a bit brighter, daring to be brave.

 

he can't help it.

 

"kind of. it's sad but it feels like a song. i like that," namjoon answers as if jungkook is a hundred percent the jungkook he met so long ago and tries not to be disappointed with the response.

 

"but 'sad' is bad."

 

hope and then loss. a cycle. a circle. namjoon bears the old old ink of a sparrowhawk on his forearm, black, with colors melting out from it like magic from a fairytale. jungkook's skin had to mostly be replaced; namjoon remembers because he stayed with yoongi back then, both of them waiting to see what would come of it. but on his back the left side was left mostly unscathed and so the dark ink of feathers remains.

 

sad is bad, this jungkook says and namjoon thinks he's not right and not wrong.

 

"sometimes," he says and jungkook looks up, his gray eye spinning as if it can read more into what namjoon means. the brown eye only blinks. he stares for so long that namjoon thinks maybe he's glitching, maybe something is wrong after all, but then jungkook goes back to work, does not speak again for an hour or more.

 

"yoongi is sad," he says and namjoon thinks he must have misheard him.

 

"what?" he leans over, stares down, holds his breath.

 

"yoongi is sad," jungkook repeats. namjoon treads as if on ice.

 

"why do you think he's sad?"

 

in the past jungkook's shoulders would have shrugged, he would have paused, he would have tilted his head or lowered it a little in shame for maybe over-sharing something kind of private, would have hummed in precursor to his words.

 

in the present, jungkook simply says, "i don't 'think' he's sad. i know."

 

with any other hybrid creature, namjoon would argue but with jungkook he can't help but imagine connotations in his words, memories in his conclusions. so all he does is nod, murmur something like 'ah' and goes back to reading his book.

 

by the time jungkook has finished the ship's repairs, namjoon has accidentally fallen asleep, his glasses all the way down his nose, caught on his upper lip. jungkook climbs cat-like out of the engine room and slots the cover back in place, then slides namjoon's glasses back up, also in place. then he stares at his captain for a while. maybe an hour or two. three. four. time doesn't mean anything to him except on a deadline or mission. he looks at the book in namjoon's sleeping hands.

 

the little prince.

 

 

*

 

 

 

he has no reason to, which should negate the action; should. but doesn't. jungkook reads the book and something happens.

 

when namjoon wakes up, he finds jungkook slumped in a motionless heap, the book fallen just out of reach.

 

 

 

*

 

 

"he was reading a book." yoongi repeats namjoon's words back hollowly, spares the book itself one dark look and returns his focus to the prone body on his table. "you're sure that's all?"

 

off to the side, namjoon runs a hand over his face, then back through his hair. anxious anxious anxious.

 

"as far as i know? i fell asleep and when i woke up he was just…" his swallow is audible in the otherwise silent garage and yoongi shakes his head.

 

"i never should've done this," he says but gets to work in spite of it, scans jungkook's arms, legs, body, his head and where his heart exists half and half. behind him, namjoon grabs at his own arms for lack of anything else to grab onto, digs his fingernails in so hard they cut right through. when yoongi notices, he pauses, then throws a random shred of cloth at him, which namjoon catches out of reflex more than anything else. "you might as well sit down," he says, leaning in so close his nose almost touches jungkook's. "this is going to take a while."

 

what he doesn't say: he's not sure what he's looking at anymore.

 

it's been a good few months since jungkook's last checkup, which yoongi took to mean he was doing better, and even though yoongi wasn't, well, he'd hoped maybe he could live with that.

 

now with jungkook still as death on his table, he thinks he should have known better.

 

replacing most of a person is not like replacing an arm or a leg. it changes them because of course it changes them.

 

mostly, they aren't them anymore, period.

 

but it seems whether human or not-so-much, jungkook excels in defying what science Knows.

 

 

 

*

 

 

several hours in, yoongi starts to cry.

 

but he won't stop working.

 

this, namjoon knows, so instead of trying to pull him away, he rests a hand on yoongi's back.

 

says, "he trusts you."

 

can almost hear yoongi correct him: trusted.

 

 

*

 

 

five years ago yoongi met a boy named jungkook. he and namjoon were bounty hunters when the need arose and drifters when it didn't. five years ago yoongi fell in love more deeply than stories or songs could have ever explained to him. as fate would have it, jungkook fell in love with him too. five years ago, yoongi built a home and worked jungkook into every single part of it.

 

namjoon remembers how nervous jungkook was beneath his shortlived bravado -- a runaway tagged by the police on several channels. he remembers too how jungkook's eyes lit up whenever he looked at yoongi but how he also seemed to have a smile just for namjoon himself. how the three of them should not have worked; should have been at an imbalance, but somehow weren't.

 

he still doesn't know why it worked then but maybe he knows why it works now.

 

 

*

 

 

yoongi's hands are shaking so violently that namjoon has to make him take a break but yoongi fights him.

 

"let go! i'm not done. i still---"

 

"you can't even hold onto anything right now. jesus. just come here." yoongi struggles in his arms but namjoon holds on tight until he feels yoongi more or less collapse against him, long shivering breaths the only proof he's even still conscious. it's been over 24 hours and a small miracle they are both remotely coherent but needs must.

 

the boy on the table is more than part dead but still holds every single card.

 

"yoongi, yoongi," namjoon says and tries to say a hundred things about one thing by simply not letting go.

 

 

*

 

 

on a planet that never stops raining, jungkook and yoongi waited for namjoon.

 

they kept their cloaking device on and watched the rain make rivers down the glass panes of the cockpit.

 

"you think he's okay?" jungkook asked, leaning back into yoongi's arms, his own hands wringing themselves anxiously.

 

yoongi reached around him to hold his hands still, nosed jungkook's hair and murmured, "joon keeps his promises."

 

jungkook smiled and said, "true."

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

in the dorm of the ship, a machine not quite machine and a boy not quite boy, sleeps.

 

according to yoongi, he may sleep forever.

 

according to namjoon, it is worth the wait.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

somewhere the boy tells the machine: i remember.

 

somewhere the machine tells the boy: but i don't.

 

jungkook, never one to do things in halves, goes for the heart.

 

 

 

*

 

 

while namjoon has a bird on his arm and jungkook has a wing on his back, yoongi has a talon on his nape.

 

 

 

*

 

 

in yoongi's garage, a music box plays indefinitely, an off-key warbling pitch of song that feels like water, like rain, like running.

 

 

 

*

 

 

resolved to stay onboard until jungkook wakes up, yoongi lives with namjoon again and it's not the same but it's not entirely different either.

 

they check the dorm daily and yoongi scans him once in the morning and once at night.

 

namjoon asks, "any change?"

 

and yoongi says, "not yet."

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

"this book says the Earth rains when something called 'Mother Nature' cries," jungkook said and yoongi scoffed.

 

"that's not true."

 

"how would you know?" jungkook prodded him with the corner of the book. yoongi knocked his feet off the table.

 

"a planet rains. a person cries."

 

"if a person can cry a planet can cry," jungkook came right back at him with the book again. yoongi stopped it mid-attack with one broad palm.

 

"does it really matter?"

 

"well," and jungkook looked down this time, lowered the book, shrugged. "i just thought: a planet is alive too. how are we supposed to know how it works if we aren't planets too." the way his voice petered off was indicative of him becoming less and less sure of his words, and yoongi didn't want that of all things, so he leaned forward until he could rest his hands on jungkook's knees, perched his chin on jungkook's head, ignored the mild protest of 'hey!' and said,

 

"technically," a pause. "anything's possible." another beat. "but isn't it kind of sad to think that the Earth had to cry to survive?"

 

under him, jungkook shifted, covered yoongi's hands with his own and replied, "well look at what happened to her."

 

fair, yoongi thought, and was done working for that day.

 

 

 

*

 

 

sometimes yoongi goes into the dorm where the sleep stasis shell holds his most precious person. sometimes he goes in, sits next to him, and talks to him about nothing special. sometimes he goes in, lies down on the bed to his right and pretends it is one bed and that not so many things have changed.

 

 

 

*

 

 

this, namjoon sees but never comments on.

 

he too spends hours with sleeping beauty from time to time, reads him a poem or not; tells him a story or not.

 

anything at all.

 

 

 

*

 

 

when what remains of jeon jungkook wakes up, the first thing he notices is how warm his hand feels.

 

a look to his right explains why.

 

when jeon jungkook wakes up, he sees min yoongi holding his hand, feels his warmth, and has this thought:

 

i know you.

 

i know you.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

what transpires after this, science cannot wholly account for and yoongi misses jungkook too much to keep struggling for the pragmatic sense he was raised with.

 

it happens in small moments or big moments; happens even though perhaps it oughtn't. jungkook will catch a smell and turn to namjoon and ask him if he remembers the planet where every forest was an apple orchard and namjoon will turn to him and say that yes, yes he does. jungkook will get shot protecting yoongi from rival hunters and as yoongi patches him up will ask him if he remembers the last time this happened and yoongi will look up through the thick of his eyelashes, stare, and whisper that it would be hard to forget. jungkook sleeps -- actually honest to god sleeps even though science says he doesn't need to; and jungkook, according to how he moves and speaks in his sleep, dreams.

 

"what did you do?" namjoon asks him one night, a hand tight on yoongi's arm as they both watch jungkook toss, turn, murmur through his slumber.

 

"i…i thought…" yoongi trails off. swallows a sharp fear. "i don't know," he amends. "i thought i only saved his body, his logic, his physicality. memories…old ones i mean, shouldn't…" he shakes his head, tugs his arm free and walks over to jungkook's bed -- yoongi's bed actually but yoongi can't sleep lately so no matter there. he rests a hand on jungkook's head, cards fingers through his hair and it hurts to do this; it hurts to hope for impossible things even when those things seem to be happening right in front of him. under his hand, jungkook's distress subsides. yoongi bites his lip until it bleeds.

 

"he wasn't like this before." it's an observation not an accusation and namjoon continues, "but you tested him. he seems…healthy?"

 

yoongi nods sharply.

 

"all blue," he confirms softly.

 

"all blue," namjoon repeats, says it almost prayer-like. reverent. willing.

 

when he asks jungkook what he dreams about, jungkook tilts his head, rubs the back of his neck, and says, "i don't know. yoongi i think. sometimes. and you. i think there's also a lot of rain. but also fire. are all dreams like this?"

 

namjoon considers his question the way he always would have -- the way he always will -- and says, "more or less."

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

the more time passes, the more jungkook becomes who he was and yoongi does his best. he does. he keeps him at arm's length, he's kind but not loving; he does his best.  but one day jungkook shuffles into his space. he perches on the temporary work table namjoon set up for yoongi in one of the extra bays of the ship, peers down at yoongi and says, "in my dreams we hold hands."

 

yoongi is so caught off guard he drops his pen which rolls somewhere out of sight. he watches jungkook decisively not look at him, watches jungkook cross his ankles, watches him worry his bottom lip the reddest of pinks.

 

"why?" he asks, quiet, careful, so human. and yoongi is the best, but he might have put more heart into jungkook's body and brain rebuilding than even he understands. how programmed history can result, given enough environment, given the right triggers, in genuine feeling; can catalyze unwritten memories. jungkook should not dream these things, should not wonder, should not ask yoongi why but he does.

 

and yoongi, well, yoongi could lie to him; probably should lie to him.

 

but.

 

he doesn't.

 

"you do it with someone you like," yoongi says.

 

jungkook hums acknowledgment, is silent, perhaps processing the response, and eventually says, "do you not like me anymore?"

 

the laugh that daggers out of yoongi's mouth is all teeth and no humor. "no. i like you too much."

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

a few days later when jungkook reaches for yoongi's hand, yoongi lets him.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

they are on the planet that never stops raining again, this time a mere cargo exchange, but their transfer is late, so the three of them sit in the cockpit and watch the rain.

 

"what--" jungkook's voice stirs both yoongi and namjoon from their mild dazes, and when they turn to glance over, they stare.

 

because jungkook is crying. he touches his face, fingertips coming away wet, and looks down at them like he's never seen fingers before.

 

"i'm raining," he says.

 

after laughing with a crying sound, yoongi explains to him, taking jungkook's hands in his own.

 

"i told you. planets rain." he takes a deep breath. "people cry."

 

"why?" jungkook asks, says, almost inaudibly, "i don't remember."

 

and well, that's more normal than anything else that has been happening.

 

but it's not enough to sink what hope they have so namjoon says, "depends. you can cry for sadness but you can cry for anger too, or happiness. people are funny. we use the same thing for different reasons." he pauses, rubs at the sparrowhawk on his arm and adds, "it doesn't always make sense. but it doesn't have to."

 

for a while then it's just the patter patter patter of the rain, all of which sluices down the glass in a way that makes something in jungkook hurt. though to look down he can find no injuries. strange.

 

human.

 

but the most jungkook part of jungkook whispers to the rest of him: you are.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

once in a while, jungkook looks at yoongi and is incredibly sad.

 

but mostly when jungkook looks at yoongi he is incredibly happy.

 

he wonders if he's supposed to be, and when yoongi catches him staring and asks, "what's wrong?" jungkook surprises himself by saying:

 

"nothing."

 

which is to say: jungkook lies.

 

and yoongi, because he Knows jungkook, sees this. catalogs it in a long list of things that make this whole situation so impossible to navigate. what jungkook's limits are supposed to be: the memories yoongi programmed into him, his physical capacity at the age he is and no other, similarly his other mental faculties. what jungkook's limits actually are: maybe none.

 

because jungkook looks at yoongi the way he used to, and it takes everything in yoongi's power to not reach out, to not pull jungkook into the curve of his arms, to not kiss him on the mouth and will him to remember that too.

 

the smile jungkook gives him? is love.

 

but yoongi wonders if he knows it.

 

is fairly certain he doesn't.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

"so you live here again," namjoon points out to yoongi one afternoon, sitting cross-legged with an archaic book of poetry on his knee. where namjoon keeps finding Actual Paper Books is beyond yoongi, because last he checked, all hardcopies were burned along with their castles many many years ago. yoongi suspects bounty trades but doesn't care enough to pry; if it makes namjoon happy and it's not hurting anyone, well, why not.

 

yoongi, working on fine-tuning the parameters of the ship's shielding capacities, mumbles something around the miniature torch in his mouth.

 

"he says 'since when don't i'," jungkook offers without looking up from where he's eying something not-quite-right with the core energy source. because he does not look up, he misses the way both namjoon and yoongi glance down through the missing floorboard at him. he also misses how they then look at each other, varying degrees of question on their faces, degrees which only rise when jungkook adds, "i thought we always lived here."

 

sometimes this happens and jungkook notices but far more often jungkook doesn't and yoongi has felt the same terrible hope namjoon has described; has had moments where he believes, somehow, some impossible way, this is real. in every sense of the word. namjoon says they have to believe because what's the point in questioning it?

 

a gift, he's fond of telling yoongi, is a gift.

 

the same as crying. the same as dreams. there isn't always a clean-cut why.

 

but it sure happens anyway.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

some things are the same through and through. namjoon flies. jungkook shoots. yoongi fixes.

 

and jungkook knows so much, indeed seems to feel so much, remember so much, that it's easy to get comfortable.

 

get human.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

finding jungkook lying down in the sleep capsule is something of a wakeup call. yoongi only realizes he's conscious by the time he has his hands curled around the glass edges and is leaning down, his face just inches from jungkook who stares up at him with the wide eyes yoongi knows so well. one is artificial, yes, but yoongi could pick this gray eye out of a thousand like-colored ones; knows it because he chose this eye for jungkook the way he chose everything he had to replace: with love, because it could be yesterday or it could be 5 billion days from right now and yoongi wouldn't know how to do it any other way. there are only so many ways to say: You are part of Me; there are only so many ways to say Always.

 

yoongi stares down at jungkook and says, "jungkook."

 

jungkook stares up at him, "rain" leaking from the corners of his eyes, lifting a hand to frame yoongi's face and says, "yoongi."

 

"what are you trying to do?" yoongi's mouth is soft against jungkook's hand. muffled. ardent.

 

"there's something wrong with me," jungkook says, no, whispers.

 

yoongi's heart falls.

 

"there's nothing 'wrong' with you," yoongi promises, but his hands are sheet white where they cannot stop gripping the glass.

 

"but something's not 'right'," jungkook insists and the tears still trickling down his skin corroborate.

 

"can i help?" yoongi frees one of his hands to reach down and mirror jungkook's gesture. under his hand he can feel jungkook shake, feels him angle his face more heavily to rest against yoongi's palm as he sighs.

 

feels him say, "i don't know….i don't know."

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

"what should we do?" namjoon asks, quiet so as not to wake jungkook, now asleep in yoongi's bed, tucked into yoongi's blankets.

 

yoongi shakes his head, elbows on his knees, hands clasped for lack of anything to hold.

 

"i don't even know what we're dealing with anymore," he says, gaze floorbound.

 

"i caught him crying again. the music box on your work station? he opened it. i think he remembered something. or almost remembered."

 

eyes still on the floor, yoongi has a few guesses as to what that might be but namjoon doesn't ask, so yoongi doesn't tell.

 

says instead, "i offered to reprogram him. a hard reset."

 

the silence between them could be a world but time has always been a liquid thing with them and now is no different.

 

"but he refused."

 

yoongi nods. "completely. says he doesn't want to be different. he just wants…"

 

namjoon waits. blinks. "wants…?"

 

when yoongi answers, his voice is so low, so quiet, namjoon wonders if he made it up.

 

"to understand."

 

 

 

*

 

 

the next day, jungkook wakes up and finds both of his hands warm, finds namjoon to his left and yoongi to his right, both on the floor, their hands covering jungkook's on either side of him as they sleep with soft exhales. one of the visions from his dreams comes to him and without thinking, jungkook acts it out, leans to his right, curls down, and kisses yoongi's head, mumbles with a sleep riddled voice, "morning."

 

 

 

*

 

 

   

once upon a time there was a boy who ran away from home. he ran until he found a new home and gave everything he had to them. once upon a time, a boy died for the love of the two people that had made his heart whole, died and even came back.

 

but only in pieces.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

the day jungkook asks yoongi, "what am i missing?" yoongi fits his hands to jungkook's face, draws him close, and says,

 

"nothing."

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

the day yoongi asks jungkook, "what am i missing?" jungkook leans his chin on yoongi's shoulder and says,

 

"nothing."

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

"be careful," namjoon tells him and yoongi, knowing he's right, knowing he means it, says,

 

"i am."

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

on the nights when yoongi can sleep, jungkook will usually rest in the stasis capsule. but almost a year after waking up from his own strange coma, jungkook finds himself bypassing the capsule, carefully lifting yoongi's blanket, and crawling in next to him. warm, jungkook thinks, and falls asleep to that thought, his nose pressed soft against yoongi's shoulder.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

jungkook used to fall asleep against yoongi's shoulder all the time, and yoongi used to wake up to jungkook holding onto him for dear life, all the time. yoongi woke up, inhaled the particular twist of scent he only ever connected with jungkook, pulled him closer.  some mornings they would stay late in bed until namjoon kicked them both out, told them he couldn't fly the ship on his own and would they ever so kindly deign to help a captain out, please and thank you. other mornings they stayed late in bed and namjoon let them be, and yoongi would tell jungkook stories or jungkook would sing him songs. but whatever kind of morning it was, they would eventually get up and while jungkook showered or yoongi brushed his teeth or what-have-you, each of them found himself marveling -- silent, soft, sacred -- at what it was to be happy.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

the day jungkook's body starts to shut down, yoongi creates a patch that, once integrated into jungkook's faux biology, will help. not for long. it changes the few days he might have had into a week, or thereabouts.  he scans him over and over, looking for the problem to be different than his first diagnosis but it isn't; it's exactly what he thinks.

 

namjoon pulls him aside midday, faces them both towards the stars and asks, "how long?"

 

yoongi says, "days," and his voice is glass underfoot.

 

they look out at the stars they are moving through and then back at the boy sitting on the work table and then at each other.

 

it's not lost on namjoon that yoongi might not survive this, that when all is said and done he might not have either of them.

 

glancing back at the stars, namjoon says, "you knew this could happen." and yoongi, who can't stop staring at jungkook -- the shaking that goes thinly through his whole frame -- nods once, curt, quiet.

 

"i knew."

 

 

 

*

 

 

while jungkook lay dying in yoongi's hands, under yoongi's rain, namjoon's half-obscured sun trying to save him, the sparks in their ship seemed to him like falling stars. he asked yoongi to save him and meant in any capacity; and although he hadn't the life or the ability to tell him so, yoongi knew. because yoongi always knew with jungkook. yoongi kissed jungkook's paralyzed lips and breathed air into him with firelight bursting all around them and jungkook wondered, falling into the dark, if this was the same as kissing the sky.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

on day two jungkook loses feeling and dexterity in his dominant hand.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

on day three jungkook can only see in his artificial eye and yoongi aches for how the last brown is now cobwebbed in white.

 

 

 

*

 

 

on day four jungkook tries to get out of bed.

 

and can't.

 

 

 

*

 

 

on day five as yoongi tries to sneak unnoticed out of bed, jungkook's left hand tangles in his shirt, holds him in place shaking, shaking and says,

 

"if i could, i would miss you."

 

that self-awareness is so jungkook that yoongi collapses back in bed, encircles the frame he knows so well. likewise he knows it's fucked up as he caves, as he stops settling for just holding jungkook's remains, as he kisses his shoulder, then his neck, then just below his blind eye, as he grates out apologies on his skin. along jungkook's back, yoongi traces where one wing is always folded, the feathers always drawn with gravity, and thinks: i miss you every day.

 

in yoongi's arms, jungkook feels cold because jungkook is always cold now; but in his arms, jungkook feels warm.

 

when he tells yoongi this, yoongi shakes -- a stifled storm -- and thinks maybe this is how the raining planet feels after all.

 

 

*

 

 

on day six jungkook loses his voice. but his mind remains shockingly sound. and even though namjoon knows the time limit they are working with, he procures one of his many ancient paper manuscripts and teaches jungkook about a thing called sign language.

 

shows him first: love. second: i remember. and third: forever.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

on day seven yoongi's scans show complete vitality in the brain but jungkook won't 'wake' up.

 

and maybe if he could have stopped crying just once, he'd have noticed sooner but he's in the twenty-third hour of the day when he sees it -- hears it. jungkook's 'brainwaves' in a very specific pattern. a code. an old transmission from a long dead star.

 

... .- ...- .  -- .

 

... .- ...- .  -- .

 

... .- ...- .  -- .

 

 

namjoon, red eyed and haggard as yoongi feels, lifts his head slowly at yoongi's stillness.

 

"what's he saying?" he asks, even unable to hear any of what yoongi hears, the earpiece jammed in under his trembling fingers.

 

the way yoongi swallows is as if around a thousand words but all he says is what he's been told once before.

 

"'save me'."

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

"get in get in get in!"

 

the door of the ship slams shut when yoongi is halfway up the walk, which sends him careening into namjoon, which means they both get thrown headlong into the wall and land in a heap of limbs, bruises, and muttering.

 

"that hurt!" yoongi complains mildly.

 

Then You Should Have Been Faster.

 

from his place on the ground, namjoon has the good humor to laugh.

 

"told you."

 

"this's what i get for being thorough."

 

You Are Both Unharmed Otherwise?

 

namjoon surveys yoongi while the other does the same for him and when they both murmur confirmation, the third party sighs.

 

Please Try To Stick To The Schedule. It Is For Your Safety.

 

at this, the captain and his first officer both smile. it's not a happy smile; there's too much sadness in it.

 

but it's fond. committed. real.

 

"will do," namjoon says.

 

Thank You.

 

 

*

 

 

they say cats have nine lives. jeon jungkook has had three.

 

as a boy he fell in love. as a hybrid he learned to be human.

 

these days, he is learning about other things that do not fit into just one word. if a sentient spaceship can miss anything, he misses a body he could follow with; as a vehicle he is too unwieldy, but then again he is more than this; is a transport but is also a home and it's in his programming to do his very best.

 

to convey these two men safely in their travels, to protect them in their sleep, to be there when they come running back -- even when they are late.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

as with the first time, yoongi could not save everything.

 

so jungkook the ship does not know that, in fact, he's done all of those things in every life he has had.

 

what he does know: sometimes when yoongi is working on repairs for him, he says 'sorry', and sounds like he's talking about a lot more than some glancing blows on the ship's left side. and sometimes when namjoon pilots rather than letting it go cruise control, he sings a song that he says belongs to jungkook, and sounds like he means it always has.

 

 

 

*

 

 

they rarely bring anyone else onboard, but when they do it becomes a kind of a game. reactions to the Living Ship vary from terror to awe and all the things in between. often jungkook will scold which sounds a little funny in his more mechanized voice but beneath it, still jungkook.

 

You Want Them To Be Afraid Of Me?

 

yoongi snorts. "no." he pauses. "i want them to remember you."

 

 

 

 

"

 

 

 

namjoon is soloing on a separate errand on a planet whose climate might be too harsh on a ship as old as jungkook. he's passing through a cornerstar diner for caffeine when he over hears a few guys.

 

"they say it talks."

 

"like…pre-recorded though, right?"

 

"no, no. like. it's you know. alive!"

 

"don't fuck with me."

 

"i'm not!"

 

"what's it called?"

 

they argue a little more and namjoon hides a smile behind his coffee as he walks by them on his way out, hears the first saying, "john? i think? or june?"

 

chuckling, namjoon says low but loud enough to hear, "jungkook. his name is jungkook."

 

he doesn't look back to see if they've heard or if they even believe him.

 

but years pass and the name 'jungkook' travels even farther and wider than he does.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

on another night when yoongi cannot sleep, the first officer shuffles to the cockpit and sits where jungkook liked to sit -- the arm of the captain's chair. he sits where jungkook used to sit, and leans his cheek on the top of the chair. it smells like namjoon of course (who else) and yoongi is grounded by it, anchored.

 

You Are Awake Late. Sleep?

 

"can't," yoongi says. the ship seems to almost vibrate with a barely-there impression of a hum.

 

Namjoon Taught Me A Song.

 

memorizing things is one matter. learning is another. especially with music. but jungkook the boy sang more beautifully than anyone yoongi has ever known, so maybe this isn't too unprecedented.

 

"go ahead." yoongi says and jungkook does.

 

Sing For You--

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

it's a song namjoon and jungkook wrote, and yoongi would have been more jealous if it wasn't so good.

 

the way this jungkook sings has limits. but yoongi can honestly say he loves it just as much.

 

namjoon teaches jungkook other songs, and sometimes yoongi hears them singing together.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

far in the future yoongi whispers to jungkook that he has a song for him too. whispers, "thank you", and means i love you.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

farther still, jungkook has learned songs and sadness, love and loss.

 

without namjoon, without yoongi, his life is lonely.

 

but he makes good on what was left to him, unending.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

there are bedtime stories and there are ghost stories. there are fairytales and there are folktales.

 

the rumor of a ship that sings through the stars is perhaps all of these.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

from a distance, jungkook is a ship made of starlight. in proximity, he is a song. and no two people ever agree completely on what they saw or what they heard but they can rally around one thing for certain.

 

"he's real."

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

one boy who hears the song sees starlight but also the shape of something like an animal. he remembers reading about this animal in his classes, how it was one of only a few animals on Earth who needed air but lived in the water. it takes him several tries to find the name properly.

 

whalien.

 

or whale?

 

his references contradict each other.

 

the boy draws the shape he saw, watches it become a whale found only in moving constellations, and hums the song he heard only once but knows he will never forget.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

when the boy is a man, he sings those words across radiowaves, which somehow never died out even though television did.

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

call it magic. call it a miracle. call it nothing at all; but lightyears away, jungkook 'hears' it.

 

jungkook hears their song and at long last, -- the lights of his stars going out one by one by one -- feels a little less lonely.

 

says,

 

I Remember.

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

I Remember You.

 

 

 

*