Authors: staypainted and weatherscenes
Pairing(s)/Focus: Nu’est, no pairing
Summary: Aron is an idiot in space
When Aron was young he hated the thought of living in space. His father, a spacer until he met Aron's mother on a rare shore leave right after he earned his first officer bar, filled Aron's childhood with stories of faraway planets and ever changing stars. His father had given up his life in space to live on Pledis Prime but he never stopped dreaming of his return. But Aron couldn't imagine living somewhere without the sun, without the sand dunes of his home, or living in a sterile, lifeless starship.
It was easy enough for Aron to ignore the signs that perhaps a move off planet was in the works. He was young boy more concerned with putting off school work in favor of spending time with friends on the sand dunes than the business of adults. It is only when household goods started to disappear as his parents sell them off in preparation that Aron takes notice. When his parents finally sit him down to explain his father's new job on a starship he is shocked and confused.
He refuses to take part in the pre-move prep. He spends his days out on the sand dunes skipping school. He yells at his parents whenever they ask him to sort his belongings so he can take the bare minimum. The family is enrolled in a class to learn Common and Aron writes i hate space, i hate my parents for every answer.
He doesn't change his mind about the move until he's been on the starship NU’EST 031512 for a few weeks. Tired of his moping about the cabin, his mother had forcibly dragged him to the ship's school wing. Once his mother leaves, with a promise from Aron that he wouldn’t run away, he stands at the door, hand hovering over the keypad, gathering the courage to step inside the classroom when he hears laughter coming down the hall. Turning, he sees a group of four boys heading his way.
There is silence for the briefest of moments as they all stare at each other.
It's not long after meeting his group of boys that Aron learns life on the ship isn't as boring as he thought. The five of them spend their days exploring the maintenance shafts and unused rooms. There is one storage room in particular they are fond of hiding out in. They only discovered it after weeks of mapping out the layout of the tunnels. There's nothing special about the room itself; it's small, barely large enough to fit the five of them and whatever food they steal from the kitchens. But it has a window that allows them to see the stars and Aron is learning to appreciate the stars in a new way.
Their hideaway becomes their go to spot for everything. During Aron’s first year on the ship when he’s feeling down about missing the harvest festival back home on Pledis Prime for the first time, the boys surprise him with their own version of the celebration. Minhyun and Ren plaster the walls with pictures they found in the database of his home planet. Baekho valiantly tries to sings all the festival songs in Aron’s home language while JR entertains them all with an interesting interpretation of the festival dances. And when Aron cries out of a mixture of happiness and homesickness they are all there to hug him.
When JR and Minhyun’s fathers, members of ship's security, are taken hostage on an away mission gone horribly wrong, they spend days hidden away wrapped in blankets waiting in silence for news. There are celebratory hugs and a minor tickle war when their fathers are returned safely to the ship after the captain successfully negotiates their return.
All of the boys, Minhyun especially, are fascinated by his stories about life on a planet. They’ve never been on a planet before; their fleet doesn’t like to grant permission to travel planet side unless crew have family living on a planet. Aron loves telling them everything about his home world. It helps him keep him connected to a place that is becoming less and less home as the years go by.
He knows once he finishes school he has to make a decision; the fleet won't allow him to stay onboard without training and a career path. But the thought of leaving all this behind, even briefly, terrifies Aron and he puts off thinking about it for as long as possible.
Taking food from the kitchens is surprisingly easy. Aron had thought it would be trickier, but the size of the kitchen works against the few guarding its edible treasures.
Ren leads the charge. JR stands watch outside – the least likely to get into trouble for loitering. They’re in and out in less than ten minutes, running breathless with laughter and full hands to the nearest utility shaft, a secret entrance to a hidden world populated solely by the five of them and fewer maintenance workers.
None of them thought to bring a bag. A ladder proves almost insurmountable.
“We could just drop the food down and then climb down.” Ren suggests. Minhyun hums.
“Maybe someone could catch it all?”
JR snorts. “That’s never going to work.”
Ren shoves at him. “It’s not like you’re coming up with anything!”
Before it devolves into anything more violent, Aron decides to pull rank. “I think that could work.” JR grins at him, and even Ren, who has developed a hot temper and is easily irritated as his teenage years drag on, doesn’t seem that bothered.
Baekho waits at the bottom of the ladder, his shirt pulled out in front of him like a net. They take turns tossing the food down. Most of it survives the journey. Well, enough of it remains to fill them up as they laze around their hide-out. Aron stretches out on the floor and lets the hum of the engine in a nearby room rattle his teeth.
They stay there in the room until the sounds of the ship alert them to the lateness of the hour. Aron feels groggy, like he's just woken from a too-short nap. He stumbles over his feet as they walk. Baekho holds his arm until they've successfully navigated their way out of the twisting tunnels.
"I'll see you guys tomorrow." Minhyun says as they reach his family's quarters. Ren lives the furthest from him, Aron the next. They walk together unspeaking for a moment after depositing JR at his parent's doorstep.
"Have you heard anything about the cadetship?" Ren asks, shocking the silence and Aron.
He shakes his head. "Not yet." It's the first major lie he's told any of them.
Aron knows he can’t keep his friends in the dark forever. They’d probably notice if he suddenly left the ship one morning out of the blue. There just never seems to be the right moment. Every time he thinks of speaking up, saying "hey, there's something I need to tell you....", something comes up and he's caught up in a whirl of fun and laughter, and the moment passes. And Aron just can't bring himself to break it all up.
Aron's only got one bag. In it is all the clothes he'll need for three months; a picture of his family and one of his friends - absent himself, as he'd been the one with the camera. They're not particularly good shots. A bit too blurry, not everyone looking at the right time. But they're Aron's favorites, because everyone looks happy, just as he remembers the moment.
Aron tries really hard not to look back. He fails, and a quick turn of his head shows him his family and his friends, clustered together and still waving after him. He flicks his head back to the front and blinks rapidly.
There are nineteen other people on this course. Aron knows some of them by sight, others not at all. He's never really had to make his own friends. When he first came to the ship, the others had made the first move, brought him into their group. Aron hadn't done anything but be new. Nineteen, he guesses, is as good a time as any to try something new.
Except it's not so easy. Sure, they have something in common - a love for journalism, for letting others know the latest. But Aron is finding it very difficult to get anything beyond that. He's just not sure how much to share of himself, so he shares very little. The other students slot together with enviable simplicity. Aron stands around the edges.
Aron saves all his words for Minhyun and Baekho and JR and Ren. He spends hours staring at a small screen, letting them know the latest. They tell him things, as well, but there's a disconnect. Aron feels a bit left out now, when he sees the way they laugh at a shared memory, one that is unable to come across because they can't speak for amusement. Aron waits for them to get their breath back. When they finally tell him, it feels a bit of a letdown.
Aron's never felt so lonely.
Aron hits the end button with a little more force than advisable. It doesn't do anything but make him more irritable. He wants to use his hands for more than typing, more than pressing at buttons. The pain in his hand as he punches the wall is almost a comfort. It's not quite as bad as the time he'd cut it on a piece of metal protruding from the wall. They'd all been walking along, casually shoving and pushing each other as they always did, when Minhyun had pushed Aron off-balance. He'd stuck out a reflexive hand for support, and come down hard on a sharp edge that had sliced into his palm. He'd dripped blood the entire way to the medical bay. None of them had thought to wrap anything around his hand, focused entirely on speed towards their destination. Aron had gotten a few stitches and a shot of painkiller. His hand had felt weightless. Like maybe the bandage was the only thing keeping it attached to his arm.
Minhyun had gone quiet into himself after that incident, and stayed there until Aron could prove he didn't hold him at fault.
Aron lies awake that night. He’s got a room to himself, large enough for a single bunk and a small table to be crammed in, not large enough to contain all of Aron’s thoughts. He spills them out into the corridors beyond. The sounds of this ship are nothing like the ones Aron is used to. They’re a far cry from the sounds of Pledis Prime – the noises he had grown up with had been nothing more than the shift of sand and the familiar settling of the house. Aron is used to the sound of others breathing. Here, the only other breath is that of the recycled air filtering in.
Aron stares at the ceiling and wills himself to dreamless sleep.
Aron dreads checking his messages. The others have taken to starting off every call not with a hello but with an eager, "have you heard yet? Are you coming back to us when you're done?" On the one hand he cherishes the idea that they miss him, that they consider him an important part of their lives. But on the other it breaks his heart every time he has to give them a negative answer.
He’s in the cafeteria trying to eat and study at the same time when his data pad beeps to signal an incoming call. He considers not checking, he has a midterm in a few hours and he’s still trying to make heads and tails of the material, but he’s pulling out the data pad before he can think it through fully. It’s Minhyun’s number that’s coming through this time. Aron tries to bury the guilt creeping up when he hits the ignore button. He tells himself it’s because he needs to study and not that he is avoiding them.
He spends the next few days buried under the weight of classes and physical training. At the end of the week, he is tired and existed and maybe a little homesick for both Pledis Prime and the NU’EST. They have the afternoon off from training and Aron plans to nap away his frustration. He is on the verge of sleep when he hears the familiar beep of an incoming call.
He answers without thinking.
“Have you heard...” Aron cuts them off before they continue with a terse, “Don’t you think I would’ve called if I knew anything?”
He regrets it before the words are even finished leaving his mouth. He can’t take them back and he’s suddenly at a loss for words. The silence on the other end drags on for what feels like hours, but in reality is mere seconds.
It’s JR who says a quiet, “Maybe we should, um, call later.” The call is disconnected before Aron is given a chance to respond. He kicks at the blankets on his bed in angry frustration. An image of himself as a young boy on Pledis Prime writing I hate space, I hate my parents surfaces. This time he thinks it’s the fleet and their slowness he hates the most.
Three months is a quarter of a year. It seems at once incredibly long and startlingly short. When Aron checks the calendar, he’s more than halfway through. And he still doesn’t know where he’s being placed.
Thoughts of this are pushed to the back of his mind in the flurry of action that accompanies their break.
Aron leaves most of his clothes in his room. After all, he’s only going for a few days. Still, it feels strange to be leaving things behind, even though he knows he’s coming back. Every other time he’s had to pack up everything. He’s had to scour around under the bed and in corners to make sure nothing was left behind, that all his possessions were crammed into suitcases and backpacks for easy transportation.
The entire trip back to NU’EST 031512 Aron sits with his hands tight on his knees. The last time he made this trip he was nervous, but this is a different set of nerves. This is what comes from six days of no contact with his best friends. Six days of saying the bare minimum, keeping all his stories of the day to himself. Aron’s never gone so long without them. The longest fight they’d ever had was when he was thirteen and they were all eleven and Aron was trying to get his bones to fit properly within his skin. Constant aches had made him short-tempered. He remembers being angry at them for their teasing at his suffering.
Aron shoulders his bag and steps out into the hangar. There are his parents, waiting. Aron doesn’t quite run but he does rush to them.
Aron puts his bag in the room still designated as ‘his’. It’s emptier than he’s comfortable with but there’s not much reason to fill it; after all, he’ll be going again soon.
His parents look up from their work as he walks out into the main room. “I’m going to go on a look around.” Aron tells them, and they smile their acknowledgement. Aron loves them – the way they don’t ask questions or lead him, that they let him find his own way.
He knows where he’ll end up eventually but for now he lets his feet find their own path. Using a mix of utility shafts and regular walkways, Aron rediscovers the feel of the ship he had called home for almost half his life so far. It’s been only a month and a half but he’d already forgotten the sound of the engine as it hums through space.
The sound of familiar laughter signals the arrival of Aron at his destination. Down a short ladder and he’s there, the conversation falling silent at his appearance. The faces in this room are engraved upon Aron’s heart but he’s never seen them look so hesitant.
“Sorry I’m late.”
It’s only one week before the end of training that Aron is informed of his placement.
It’s not on NU’EST 031512.
He salutes his superiors and walks back to his bunk with measured steps.
Aron’s first call is not to his parents.