no it's not done it's never done why do i do this to myself
He thought he wouldn't have it any other way. Of course, that's the sort of foolish thing people think at the beginning and at the end. They forget everything that happened in the middle, all of the regrets and the periods of time where it wasn't worth it.
It's always the beginning and the ending that matters though, the things people remember. They forget the details.
The mess is loud, louder than usual, full of excited chatter and students all leaning together, their uniforms a sea of blue amid their excited expressions and the snuffle of utensils. Today's lunch for the academy is simple, but the talk is not.
There's been another recruiting ship that went through, another wave of trials that were all by observation. They all knew they were being scouted, their scores from the systems reviewed, taken into account to see if any of them were worth anything. The instructors are all lined up at their table, ignoring the high strung students who all swarm around their friends, chattering and wondering 'who is it?'
Classroom 5B is the last, the latest one to get into the mess, led in by Andala as she looks towards the instructors with a keen calculating eye. It's one of the highest classes, and always runs late which is why they're the last to arrive. At the end of the line, a young boy brings up the rear, youngest in his class and peering around the room. 5B is mostly the older students, though a few younger are placed into it according to their aptitudes. The boy looks around, his eyes catching on his friends, and he ducks his head when he sees one of them wave to him.
The portions of food are small today, smaller than usual, meaning the supplies are going to the recruitment ships, to show that the colony is doing well, there's nothing to worry about.
"Did you hear?!" whispers Heine when the boy finally reaches the table, being pulled down quickly to sit at the bench. "About the recruitment scouts?"
"Yeah," the boy says, pushing his nutritional slop around his plate. It's all they need, and is altered in shape and taste daily, but it's all the same. Once, he had been given something fresh, grown from the greenhouses in the upper decks, and he'd never been more astounded as to what food could be. "They visited my class, actually."
Immediately, the table collapses in on him, and he recoils, though a small tug in his chest is pleased, proud.
Jimin is the first to ask him, eyes bright and excited, shining from his young face with soft cheeks. "What did they do? Did they talk to you?" Jimin is so close, his breath hot in the circulated air. "Jeongguk, were you chosen?"
"No," Jeongguk says, and shrinks away a bit, leaning back into Heine. "No, they just wanted to watch us. Mostly for the older students. Like Jinyoung and Hal. Or Sojin. They weren't there for me."
None the less, the other students keep asking, pulling the summary of the class from Jeongguk even as he tries to eat his lunch. He has an afternoon class with 7F and it's always exhausting, but it's also with Jimin and Hoseok, who are what gets him through, just like Seokjin is what gets him through 5B. Jeongguk explains the class, perhaps embellishing on what they usually do and smiling as it gets the others gasping in amazement.
5B has been recognized as one of the most promising pools in their sector, Andala extremely selective and with the sharpest eye out of the instructors. It's more of a headache than anything, her material flying through the screens and pushing Jeongguk to frustration every class with trying to keep up with the older students, but it's a challenge.
It's also why he likes 7F so much, though that is more of the physical side, a physical challenge. Where it's him wrestling with Liam or Creig, pushing his limits and driving his determination to win, to fight until he takes down his opponent. Though no matter how many times Jimin asks, Jeongguk always says no.
"I bet you'll get chosen," Jimin says, walking with him to the disposal bins to deposit their trays. He's just a bit taller than Jeongguk, but feels taller, a warm energy that feels so large against Jeongguk who feels nothing but skin, bones, and raw nerves. Jimin is safe, ruffling his hair and keeping an eye on him, ever since Seokjin had introduced them, and Jeongguk likes him.
Perhaps a little too much.
"I'm too young," Jeongguk says, ducking out from Jimin's hand, avoiding him. Jimin just laughs, completely unfazed by Jeongguk avoiding him, and instead pulls him closer, arm around his shoulder, walking with him back to the table.
"You're gonna leave me here," Jimin teases him, and something twists too hard in Jeongguk's gut. "Stuck on this pile of metal while you go to become one of the best names in the stars."
Jeongguk wants to say I'd never leave you, or I'm not going to leave you even if they ask, but keeps his mouth closed, throwing a frown and scrunched up disapproving look instead. Jimin just laughs and knocks their heads together before pushing Jeongguk back down to sit beside Heine. Jeongguk doesn't look up again during lunch, eyes on the table and his fingers even as Jimin's laughter fills his ears.
That way no one can see the soft shy smile on his lips, especially not Jimin.
The mess is empty aside from the recruiting officers, Andala, and a few other instructors. Before them is a line up of students, standing still and silent, pulled from their classes to stand evaluation. By the door, Jeongguk hunkers down and watches, trying to bat away Skandar as he breathes down his neck. "Shut up," Jeongguk hisses, trying to hear what's happening.
One of the recruiters says something, and one of the students steps forward. She's older, in the 9G class, and Jeongguk recognizes her as the one who was champion a few months back in the tournaments, nearly killing her opponent in the final physical competitions. She nods. Jeongguk's throat is dry.
Another recruiter speaks and XingXing steps forward, then Seokjin, then Marco. "They're being taken," Skandar says, voice edged in excitement.
Jeongguk swallows down a dry throat as he watches a recruiter speak and Jimin steps forward. His eyes burn, but he watches anyway, willing the pain in his fingers from gripping the door too hard to spread and numb the rest of him.
Jeongguk doesn't say goodbye. It's not like they all don't know that some of them will leave, just waiting for it to happen.
Don't get too close
"I'll come back and visit," Jimin tells him when Jeongguk doesn't look up from his study carrel. Jeongguk doesn't answer, and Jimin leaves, looking disheartened and hurt for the first time by Jeongguk's lack of reaction.
Jeongguk presses his mouth in a thinner line, knowing that he couldn't say anything that wouldn't be, 'you're lying.'
No one ever comes back.
The line of recruiters standing before them isn't as impressive or intimidating now. For one, they're all older, the lines around their faces deeper and more frail, aged decades in just a few years. Andala watches Jeongguk sharply, as if promising a beating if he so much as opens his mouth.
Ignoring her, Jeongguk straightens his back, standing up a bit straighter and lifting his chin. It was only a matter of time before he got shipped out of here, ever since he beat Theorin's face into the ground during his tournament, he knew.
They like people who crack and will go the extra mile as pilots, to take them and train them until they're machines that will kill without mercy with the precision that will take out thousands without breaking a sweat. They want navigators to be collected, calculating, and able to absorb the shock from pilots.
That's what he figured out last year, watching them divided up and after hacking into the central systems one night too late and playing around with Mikael. Mikael had been caught, Jeongguk had not.
"Jeongguk, Class Qi," one of the recruiters says.
Jeongguk steps forward, and avoids Andala's eyes. He already knows what's in them.
The training barracks is nothing like Jeongguk expected. The people there are different, and they're nice, where Jeongguk doesn't feel like he has to constantly watch his back (though he still does). It's kind of nice though, where the other pilots in training are all a bit less high strung, feeding off of each other and knowing there is a limit to be broken. Rather than fear it, they test it, until it's all a game, a challenge, pushing and pushing and while Jeongguk loses a lot for the first time in his life, he also wins. A lot.
He does well, extremely well, and ends up branching out, playing with the mechanics sector and stumbles across some old friends when he bleeds himself into the navigators. Seokjin looks happier here, calmer and happier, among a group of men and women who all smile like they can read Jeongguk's mind and aren't afraid of him.
It creeps Jeongguk out a bit, but he doesn't let it show.
They learned never to let themselves show, none of them. Seokjin is a wall of nothing that Jeongguk can't read anymore, and while he's still warm and Jeongguk feels safe with him, he doesn't know him. Not like he did, not with Seokjin locked away behind a strongly constructed shell of himself.
"You got stronger," Seokjin tells him one night in the mess. They have real food here, real food and real beds and real water in the showers to wash away the grime and blood from training. Jeongguk stops in the middle of a bite of food. Seokjin laughs, and reaches out to ruffle his hair. "But you're still you."
They have practical trials in a few months. There are four components: strategic, physicality, survival, and emotional.
"I should probably work on that," Jeongguk tells Seokjin, going back to his food.
"I don't know, I kind of like knowing at least one person around here is human," Seokjin says, and looks a little sad as he goes back to his food.
"We're all human," Jeongguk points out.
"Sometimes, I'm not so sure," Seokjin says, but is still smiling. Jeongguk chooses not to think further on it, not wanting to get into the complex world of navigators, preferring the pilots who don't get into the framework of the mind and the heart, only focusing on the mind and body.
Those are safer. Jeongguk can control those.
"Ready to graduate?" one of the mentors, Ryunosuke, asks him, looking up from his list of graduating pilots.
"No," Jeongguk says, just because he can.
Ryunosuke doesn't look amused when he looks up. "Cut the crap, they don't like it where you're going."
"I thought all the dealt with was bullshit," Jeongguk drawls. Years of working in the higher teams, spending nights in the IT dorms just to keep away from his floor of near rabid pilots, has done things to Jeongguk's general communication skills. In short, he talks like one of the assholes from the mindfield specs and not like one of the pilots in soundbites of admission.
Jeongguk credits most of it to Alec, but Kyuhyun was definitely a major influence.
"Be careful who you use that mouth on, unless you want to lose your tongue," Ryunosuke tells him with a wry look. "Or your jaw, depending on who you're talking with."
There is a transport ship leaving in 72 hours, and Jeongguk is heading into one of the primary stations. They're they newest bout of pilots and navigators, replacing the most recent loss they had with the Wachau. It should scare Jeongguk that he's going into a war zone, but it doesn't.
People live, they die, more humans show up and keep trying to live instead of be slaughtered at the hands of some other force. Sometimes their own.
According to Jeongguk, it's better they have something to fight against, otherwise humans get quite ridiculous.
"I'll try to keep my tongue inside my mouth," Jeongguk says.
"Around the right people, at least," Ryunosuke says and Jeongguk pointedly ignores his smirk. "They'll put you through tests as soon as you land, so don't fuck those up or I have to get you sent back."
"You'll miss me," Jeongguk smiles.
"No," Ryunosuke says, though his face is blank. Closed. Jeongguk knows. "I won't."
Jeongguk was initially in a track to be an IT, back when he was first sent to the academy. It had been the way Andala had seen him, had projected him, pairing him in the 5B class and clearing him through all of his courses. Jeongguk had models that he wanted to follow after, to become like, the great legends they hear about that locked into the ships that they currently use to fight against the Wachau. That had been Jeongguk's dream.
That had been what was supposed to happen, to work hard and rise up through the ranks until he was put through the academy and placed in the top their sector in a primary system to control everything from behind a screen.
Then Jeongguk had met Jimin.
Jimin was being honed, along with Heine, to become a navigator. Navigators were the necessary missing pilot for the Wachau adapted ships, the ones who balanced out the pilots. They were the keystone for the ship to work, any pilot who tried to operate them alone crushed under the remnants of the alien tech until they went insane. They all died within 48 hours.
Jeongguk was supposed to be an IT, but after meeting Jimin, Jeongguk began to think differently.
Pilots were flashy, were boastful and rude and loud, they lived fast and died young and were either cocky and won the battles or obedient and saved everyone instead. There was something about them that was alluring, but not in the way Jeongguk initially wanted to be.
Pilots were simplistic, they lived on the edge, but they lived with the navigators, they breathed with them, they were kept sane by the navigators.
Jeongguk's parents talked about pilots and navigators like the current representation of yin and yang, the way the two kept a balance, one unable to exist without the other.
It was scary, it was unfamiliar, and Jeongguk himself wished he knew how to be a navigator, how to balance someone like that, until Seokjin laughed at him right before he was recruited.
"You realize pilots balance the navigators too, right?"
Jeongguk's first friend once at the primary station was a mechanic named Hoseok, who laughed too loud and smiled too wide and was overall loud. But Jeongguk liked him.
Hoseok was everything Jeongguk almost wished he could be, focused, detail specific, driven, dedicated, and extremely grounded. Hoseok was emotional, where Jeongguk had been trained to eradicate that instability from himself.
Hoseok was the best, and worst, thing that happened to Jeongguk. Hoseok reminded Jeongguk how to feel, how to make friends beyond just 'companions' and Hoseok did the worst thing he could have done for Jeongguk after hearing about his history one night when Jeongguk had been too shaken from a simulation to sleep.
Hoseok had found Jimin.
The worst thing about Hoseok is that he knows everything. This is also the best thing, because Jeongguk has friends, friends, for the first time. It started with Namjoon, who works in IT and is everything Jeongguk wanted to be, followed by Yoongi who is another pilot no one touches, and Taehyung, a corporal who downgraded to a mechanic and now works with Namjoon and designs the most terrifying weapons Jeongguk can't wait to play with. Hoseok also managed to use Namjoon to hack the general databases, find Seokjin (who has been in the rehabilitation ward for navigators after his last pilot died in action and left his brain half scrambled), and then find Jimin.
"No," Jeongguk says firmly over the mess table. The others all have a schedule, and it's six days before Jeongguk is schedule for his first round of trials to match him with a proper navigator to shunt out into combat.
"Why not?" Hoseok almost whines at him, reaching across to slap Jeongguk's hand, leaving a thin film of engine grease against his skin. "You're friends right? Or used to be, back when you were like, a fetus."
"Seriously, he probably doesn't remember me," Jeongguk says, trying to dissuade Hoseok from the topic.
"But what if he does and has missed you all these years and cries every night with his huge heart and wonders if you're still out there, missing him too?" Hoseok is almost simpering, and Jeongguk doesn't stop the slow look of distain draw over his face. "Plus, it'll be exciting to see what he looks like, right?"
"No," Jeongguk says. The boy he remembers from his youth was sweet, soft faced and softer hearted, the one who told Jeongguk it was okay to be afraid at night and care about the older boys when they got hurt. It's a twist in his gut to think of what Jimin might say if he knew what he'd become, one of the pilots to slaughter hundreds of people as his primary objective.
"What if he's really hot?" Hoseok persists.
"He can't be hotter than I am." Jeongguk isn't serious, but it still gets a fantastically disgusted look from Hoseok. Success. "Whatever, it's fine."
It takes Hoseok two days, right as Jeongguk is getting back from running cerebral scans with Namjoon and Kyungsoo, before he's found Jimin. There isn't even a moment of delay when Jeongguk sees him sitting with Hoseok in the mess, because Jimin still has the soft smile he used to have, and Jeongguk would recognize it anywhere.
It takes Hoseok about two minutes to realize Jeongguk is avoiding him, having pushed Namjoon, Jackson, and Yongguk towards a different table to avoid his bunk mate. Namjoon looks up with an expression of poorly veiled shock when Hoseok slips himself to their table, frowning at Jeongguk. "Why aren't you-"
"I wanted to sit with Namjoon, he's cooler than you," Jeongguk says, and Namjoon looks impossibly pleased into his slop of nutritional porridge.
"I found Jimin," Hoseok says, and Jeongguk barely glances up.
"Good for you."
"Who is Jimin?" Jackson asks, looking interested as he joins the conversation.
"He's a navigator, but needs a pilot, and he's one of the top in the fleet right now and also Jeongguk's long lost best friend semi-demi crush," Hoseok explains in one breath.
"I don't even know him, how can I have a crush on someone I don't know?" Jeongguk points out with a frown as he looks at Hoseok.
"I thought pilots don't have emotions," Yongguk says, frowning at Jeongguk.
"That's a common misconception," Namjoon says, leaning towards the mechanic and launching into emotional repression and its psychological repercussions.
"Anyway, I'll go get him," Hoseok says finitely.
"Yes! Go get him!" Jackson interrupts Jeongguk before he can try to dissuade his friend. "What?" Jackson asks, turning to face Jeongguk's glare. "I'm doing you a favor. You need a navigator to like you, and Jimin sounds cool. Plus, old history might give you a leg up in trials."
"Business," Jeongguk states.
"And it's funny you have a crush," Jackson adds, grinning widely. "It's cute, and hope for all of us that even prodigal human rocks can become cute sappy kittens."
Before Jeongguk can answer Jackson, Hoseok is back, Jimin trailing behind him and looking curious and slightly shy. Jeongguk swallows, and tries to look back down at his tray, but keeps staring. "This is Jimin," Hoseok announces, as if they don't already know. "He's going to sit with us, so I have someone to talk to and Namjoon doesn't dominate the conversation."
"I don't dominate it," Namjoon protests.
"It's hard to dominate a conversation when he's the only one talking," Jeongguk points out, and Jackson laughs over Namjoon's offended look. Jeongguk just offers Namjoon a small apologetic smile instead as Jimin laughs and sits with Hoseok. Hoseok runs a quick introduction, and finally ends on Jeongguk.
"Wait," says Jimin, and his eyes widen. He's filled out, and even if Jeongguk is just looking at him in swift glances, it's hard not to notice the changes. His face is slimmer, older, his body stronger, his eyes darker with the hardships of space, and he's handsome. Cute, still cute, but handsome as well. "Jeongguk? As in-"
"Hi," Jeongguk says, hoping that-
"From Class Qi," Jimin persists, and his eyes brighten, voice rising in excitement. "We were-"
"Friends," Jeongguk says, quietly even as the whole table watches in varying degrees of subtlety. So far, only Yongguk has mastered subtlety, Namjoon stealing obvious glances while Hoseok and Jackson just outright stare. "Yeah."
"What are you doing here?" Jimin asks, and laughs. He sounds so happy. Jeongguk feels an old faint twist in his gut and breaths, focusing on the heat in his blood, his body, to burn it out.
"I'm a pilot," Jeongguk explains, and watches as Jimin's eyes widen slightly, his laugh faltering. "I just got in a little while back." He doesn't ask what Jimin is, doesn't push the conversation, and only answers in the smallest sentences he can when Jimin asks him questions, not giving up.
That was the thing with Jimin that made Jeongguk admire and also avoid him: he was persistent. He was extremely persistent, and would latch onto things and push and push and push to the point of insanity until he managed success. Apparently, that hasn't changed.
By the time they leave for their schedules, Jimin is friends with everyone at the table, and has promised to go to Jeongguk's trials to cheer him on. "You don't have to," had been met with such vehement insistence that Jimin would be there Jeongguk wishes he'd never spoken at all.
It has Hoseok laughing later when Jeongguk comes back after a double training practice he took to let off steam. Hoseok is still in his mechanics garb, lounging on his bunk and reading through the new schematics for something Taehyung designed from one of Ben's trashed plans. "Seriously, it's not that big of a deal."
"Whatever," Jeongguk answers, stripping out of his training suit to get into the shower.
"He's a nice guy! I like him," Hoseok calls as Jeongguk turns on the water. "Plus, he's really cute." Jeongguk tells himself he doesn't move even as he hears Hoseok's laughter following his silence.
The trials end just before another attack. The pilots are scrambled, shipped out with whatever navigators are available, and Jeongguk ends up in a ship with Seokjin, much to his surprise. Seokjin is gaunt, ashen face, and his voice sounds rough as he comes in over the headsets.
"First time out here?" Seokjin asks him, voice tinny through the headpiece.
"Are you sure you're supposed to even be out here?" Jeongguk asks him, unable to keep the waver from his voice. This is the part where it gets real, where as soon as they're out of the docks, it's them against the black, against the Wachau, and hoping they are the ones that come back alive.
"I'll be fine," Seokjin tells him. "Just don't panic, and I'll keep things on my end stable. As long as you don't give me the whole ship, I'm good."
"I won't," Jeongguk promises. "I'd rather like to keep living."
"All units report," comes Han's voice, clear and cold through the comms. Seokjin rattles off the command reports as Jeongguk checks through the systems, running through the motions in his head, and pushing down the racing in his heart. He's not scared, he's excited, though there's a large part of him that realizes the adrenalin in his blood can easily turn to terror if he's not careful.
It's a fine line.
"Units stand by," Han tells them all just as his copilot's laughter cracks through the system.
"Try not to get roasted to all the fresh meat we've got dragging along today," Dae calls, his voice laughing and raw, almost cruel in it's realism. "Remember, you die out here, you're dead. No more sims, this is the real shit."
"Are you ready!" screams through the ship comms just as the final launch sequence cues up. Jeongguk takes a breath as he flips through all the switches, the engines powering up as Seokjin mirrors him in the opposite side of the cockpit.
"Ignore Dae," Seokjin says, though his voice is tight. "Just-"
Whatever he'd meant to say is cut off as the engines roar, Dae's voice bellowing through the headsets along with the other seasoned copilot squads, their launch into the void, into the attack. Jeongguk doesn't realize he's joined in until his voice is raw, aching and the flash of lights, of weapons illuminating the black silence of space, are burning against his vision.
There is no sound, the cockpit almost completely silent aside from the machines and he and Seokjin throwing commands back at each other and the pounding of his heart. There is no sound of explosions from the vessels, and while every so often another ship's voice flies over the channel, it's quiet. It's eerily like the simulations Jeongguk run, where his focus narrows down, it becomes nothing but the control of the ship, the weapons, the mechanics as he narrows in on Wachau after Wachau, taking them down with Seokjin taking care of the ship and covering the mainframe and secondary weapons. It's silent, only the sound of breathing as they get flagged by a fighter, chased around in a complicated slip of loops and spirals, trying to reverse to fire back at the ship that's trying to destroy them.
"We've got you!" shouts through the comms, almost scaring Jeongguk as he maneuvers another spin with Seokjin. "We'll get this fucking parasite off your back."
It's a newer voice, one Jeongguk isn't used to hearing, but he feels Seokjin's surprise through the interfacing. "What are you doing here?" Seokjin all but barks, voice tense.
"Saving your sorry ass," growls back, though it's warm, almost teasing and Jeongguk flips through the streams, manipulating one of the weapons Taehyung had outfitted the newer fighters with to aim before-
The ship behind them, bearing down, explodes into twisted metal and rubble, a silent burst of light and color in the openness of space. It's almost beautiful as Jeongguk looks at it through the monitors and the windows in the hull, caught by the image even as the comm erupts with noise. The ship behind them, their own unit, flashes past them, darting straight into another fight, and it's not until Seokjin is barking at him to focus Jeongguk realizes he's been distracted.
"Sorry," Jeongguk stumbles, racing back to follow into the fight, the image of the destroyed Wachau ship burned into his mind. It's less beautiful now, more suspended, gruesome, and haunting. Silence. "Sorry." His heart pounds, and the adrenalin doesn't taste as sweet.
"It's okay," Seokjin says, his voice in a soft chuckle. "He can have that effect on people."
By the time the fight is over, the legion of Wachau are gone, if not retreated then at least hiding and small enough in number they won't bother. The enemy had lost forty two ships. The fleet lost sixteen, and Jeongguk arrives back after hours of non-stop fighting, limbs shaking and blood too thin, feeling weak and faint. Seokjin sits with him in the docking bay, silent in the cockpit, just breathing.
"You made it," Seokjin tells him, and looks over with a weak smile. "You look terrible."
"I feel terrible," Jeongguk admits, feeling small, young, vulnerable for the first time since he was back in the academy in 5B.
"You get used to it," Seokjin says with a soft chuckle. "Though usually pilots don't reach the point of realization until they've had their first loss."
"I guess I'm special then," Jeongguk sighs, looking at the controls before him. They'd been roughed up a fair number of times, trading back and forth with the other ships, getting more and more drawn out and frantic as the fight went on until it all seemed to lock down; everyone realizing and getting on the same wavelength.
"That might not be a good thing," Seokjin tells him, and sounds almost sad.
Things look different after a fight. The other pilots are all the same, laughing and joking and boasting, but Jeongguk becomes harder. It hadn't scared him, being out in space and taking down the Wachau one explosion against the silent black at a time, but it had sobered him. The pilots act like they're invincible, but Jeongguk knows better. Instead of the pilots in his group, he spends time with those older than him, especially the copilot units, who all burn the candle at both ends.
They're a bit terrifying, especially Lu Han and Jongdae, the leading team, who look ready to fight at any moment and who talk without any cushion to their words. But Jeongguk likes them, finding their realism comforting in a strange way, just like how Yoongi, the pilot that saved him and Seokjin in the earlier part of the battle, is calming to talk with. None of them are disillusioned about the war, and it helps to put things in that perspective.
It makes Jeongguk train harder, but also helps him smile, bringing back the old life. They're going to die anyway, at some point, somehow, and so they may as well go down without a fight. Some of them, like Jongdae and Yoongi, test the limits more than others, playing in the private sectors with Yixing and Hoseok and drag racing to feel their blood pound. Others, like Jackson and Jaebum, are just driven, focused on training and making sure when they get taken out in battle, it's on their terms.
The greatest consolation for Jeongguk is probably Taehyung, who likes shows and excitement from afar. He's more realistic, but spins it in a way that makes it easier for Jeongguk to sleep. "If we don't blow up the Wachau, they blow us up and eat our flesh and stuff like that," Taehyung explains. "Even if it's toxic for them. Crazy mother fuckers. May as well get them first; it's just logical."
Jeongguk doesn't ask why Taehyung knows this, or get into details. All he knows is Taehyung is from one of the old outer colonies that doesn't exist anymore. All he knows is Taehyung has seen things Jeongguk won't and doesn't ever want to see.
The hardest part is the navigators though. Seokjin is one thing, being paired with him (for reasons Jeongguk later finds out are entirely Hoseok pulling strings) and being one of the few people who keeps Jeongguk a secret. "You're not like them," he says with a sort of knowing smile when he trains with Jeongguk. "You're more like me, or Namjoon. You just are good at hiding behind your walls."
"I am what I am," Jeongguk answers him with.
"Don't tell Namjoon that," Seokjin laughs. "You'll be stuck in a conversation for hours."
The thing that sets Jeongguk apart is that he wouldn't mind being stuck in that conversation for hours. The thing that sets Jeongguk apart is that he stays awake at night not just thinking about the fights, but he thinks about the ships lost, on both sides, mind turning over the terror on either side, the loss of life, knowing why they fight but still feeling the acute sense of loss. Pain, terror, fathomed needless killing that he's still doing. It's not like in the cockpit, where he knows if he doesn't fight, he'll die. It's not like being in the stations and knowing if they don't defend themselves, they'll die, he'll die.
Jeongguk knows why he fights, why they die. It just doesn't make the ache any less.
Hoseok knows, and a part of Jeongguk has begun to realize just how much Hoseok knows but never lets on about, how much Hoseok hides and never says despite how loud he is. Hoseok knows, but Hoseok also gets it. That's probably why Hoseok is one of the few people Jeongguk lets touch him, grab him around the neck and wrestle lightly, why he hasn't requested to move into a bunk with Seokjin as his copilot, and why Jeongguk doesn't question when Hoseok gets back too late, totally silent, and curls up to sleep without a word.
Things look different after the fight, after Jeongguk has calmed down, people look different.
Jimin is the same though, Jimin smiling and laughing and friendly, so friendly. Jimin has wormed his way back into Jeongguk's circle of friends so deeply until Jeongguk can't get away, Jimin's warm there and just easily waiting for him to curl up in it. But Jimin looks different, too. Jimin, who was the navigator to Yoongi, keeping himself and Seokjin alive when they'd nearly been lost to the black. Jimin, who looked hewn from stone when Jeongguk had seen him exit his cockpit. Jeongguk knew he looked terrible, weak and shaking, but Jimin-
Jimin looked like he'd been filed down to perfection, a human weapon, hard eyes and a stern mouth, his eyes sharp and movements making him bigger, stronger, filling up the room as he waited for Yoongi. Jimin had looked like nothing Jeongguk imagined the navigators were supposed to be. He didn't look soft, or the calm to a storm, he looked strong, immovable. Deadly.
He looked like a pilot.
It makes Jeongguk nervous, even if he won't admit it, but the same admiration and draw he'd had back as a child is back, but worse. With it comes the competition, where Hoseok picks up on the shift for motivation when Jeongguk comes back from double training too late and worn out.
"You know, it's just Jimin," Hoseok tells him one night after he's gotten back late, leaving Seokjin to clean up with Yoongi. "You could just tell him you think he's cute. What's the worst that would happen?"
"Well, for one, he could hear me," Jeongguk says without thinking, too tired to argue as he strips for the shower.
"Remind me why that's a bad thing," Hoseok laughs at him, laughing louder as Jeongguk's shoulders tense. Pilots aren't supposed to develop attachments or emotional connections.
"You know why."
"You realize regulations are all guidelines, right?" Hoseok is smirking when Jeongguk turns to him. "And you realize the more you push Jimin away, the harder he'll fight to get closer."
"So I should try harder," Jeongguk says flatly.
Hoseok doesn't answer, just rolls his eyes and wanders to bed, letting Jeongguk shower and regulate his breathing.
"You know Jongdae and Lu Han fuck in their cockpit," Hoseok tells Jeongguk casually as Jeongguk walks back from the shower, curled up on his bunk and watching Jeongguk.
"No, and I didn't want to," Jeongguk tells him, feeling warm even as his hair drips cold and wet against the back of his neck. "Thanks for nothing."
"And you know-"
"I don't want to know," Jeongguk says loudly over Hoseok.
"I'm just saying, it's not uncommon that the whole 'pilots have no feelings' thing is really just downright bull shit," Hoseok says as Jeongguk climbs into his bunk, intent on ignoring him. "Besides, Jimin likes you."
"Jimin likes everyone."
"But he really likes you," Hoseok presses. "You could always-"
"He has a pilot," Jeongguk snaps.
There is a pause right before Hoseok explodes into laughter, kicking at the underside of Jeongguk's bed. "You mean Yoongi?" he wheezes. "Jeongguk, I know you like to think you're intimidating and shit, but sometimes you're really damn cute."
Jeongguk opens his eyes and it takes Hoseok about three seconds before he screams, running as Jeongguk darts after him into the hall before locking him out of their bunk. Jeongguk pauses in the silent room, heaving for breath, before slumping against the door and dragging a hand over his face.
Trying to slow his breathing, Jeongguk closes his eyes and wills himself to calm down, to keep his heart from beating too fast and too hot, burning him up from the inside out. It doesn't work, and when he collapses back into his bunk to try to sleep, he can still feel the slow throb of heat through his blood and the uneasy drumming beat of his heart.
just for a frame of reference, this starts when Jeongguk is 12 and progresses rapidly in years until he's 19. I'll probably add more idk
You're up ceeri!