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Take my hands now

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A hushed “shhhh!” comes from the cupboard in Jeongguk’s bedroom where he keeps linens. He smiles to himself and shakes his head.

“Jia,” he calls, long and slow. “Chaeyoung.” He stands still in the middle of his bedroom and puts his hands on his hips, facing away from the cupboard. “Where could they be?” he asks loudly. “I’ve searched the whoooole apartment.”

There’s the creak of a door and a tiny, sharp gasp. He pretends not to have heard.

He gasps to himself, overly loud. “Oh no! They must have left the apartment! That’s the only possibility! I’m such a good finder, they must not even be here!”

The cupboard door is thrown open. “We’re here, dad!” comes Jia’s voice.

He turns around sharply and drops his jaw to display surprise. “Jia? You were in there the whole time?”

Jeongguk rushes over to where Jia is standing at her full height inside the giant cupboard, all the sheets and towels shoved in a pile behind her. Chaeyoung is crouching, pressed all the way against the back of the cupboard.

Jia holds out her arms and throws herself forward, and he catches her easily. “You lost,” she says and bops his nose.

He groans. “I thought I was good at hide and seek! Am I bad at this, Chaeyoungie?”

Chaeyoung shakes her head. Her eyes are wide, and she cranes her neck as if she can see over the side of the cupboard without moving her tiny body away from the back of the cupboard.

“Hop down, baby,” Jeongguk says, and Jia gets down easily. “Are you scared, Chaeyoung-ah?” he asks gently.

“No,” Chaeyoung says.

“Did Jia put you in there?”

She nods.

“Come here, I’ll help you out. I won’t let you fall.” He reaches his hands out for her, and she raises her arms and spreads her little fingers wide but won’t come forward. Jeongguk lifts her carefully so he doesn’t accidentally knock her head on the top of the cupboard. As soon as she’s out, she clings to his neck. She must be sleepy.


“How’d you get in there, Jia?” he asks.

“Opened the drawers!” Jia tells him happily. “I helped Chaeyoungie up, then I climbed up, just like stairs! I kicked ‘em shut.”

Oh boy, he thinks. Jia is too resourceful for her own good.

“That was smart thinking, honey, but next time if you hide with Chaeyoungie, hide a little closer to the ground, okay? I think getting up high scared her.”

It was the right thing to say, apparently, because Jia nods solemnly. “Okay, dad. I’ll watch out for her.”

“I knew I could count on you,” he says with a smile. He walks out to the kitchen with Jia following. Chaeyoung’s head is resting heavily on his shoulder; clearly, it’s naptime. He bounces her a little. “Chaeyoung-ah, I know you’re sleepy, but do you want a snack before you go to sleep?”

She shakes her head against his shoulder. “Want daddy.”

“Daddy will be here soon, sweetheart,” he says. “Want to take a nap on the couch with Jia?”

Chaeyoung sighs softly. “Okay.”

Jeongguk looks significantly at Jia. She feels a deep sense of personal responsibility for Chaeyoung, of course, but at her age, it seems like naps are pushing it. He nods toward Chaeyoung, falling asleep on his shoulder, and widens his eyes and pushes out his bottom lip.

Jia sighs, awfully heavy and world-weary for someone who is not even seven. “O-kay, but I want a snack.”

That’s his girl. “Okay,” he laughs. “I think we still have some bunny gummies.”

Chaeyoung lifts her head. “Bunny gummies?”

Jeongguk laughs. “Oh, you’re awake now?” he teases. “Yeah, bunny gummies. Want some?”

She nods furiously, so he deposits her on the couch and Jia climbs up next to her. Jeongguk brings a pouch of bunny gummies for each of them, the expensive natural kind that Jimin started hassling him into buying sometime last year.

He watches them get sleepy as he starts dinner. Jia gets up and runs to her room for the giant teddy bear Jeongguk’s dad gave her for her fifth birthday. She’s only barely the same size as it now. She sits it nicely on the couch and snuggles into it, and Chaeyoung snuggles into her side.

Jia isn’t especially big, but Chaeyoung, five to Jia’s six and a half, is really tiny. She gets it from her dad, Jeongguk thinks, but then again he never knew Chaeyoung’s mom. Chaeyoung’s size, more than her age relative to Jia, Jeongguk thinks, is why Jia is so protective of her. He thinks it’s nice. He likes that Jia is loud and fierce about watching out for her friend. Chaeyoung has followed her with wide, awed eyes since they met when Chaeyoung was three and Jia was not quite five, and Jia has loved every moment of it.

The girls sleep long enough for Jeongguk to go back to his bedroom and finally change out of his work clothes, straighten up the mess Jia made of the linen cupboard, and get a load of laundry started. He’s putting it in the dryer when Chaeyoung wakes up and tells him she’s going to the potty.

“Did you wash your hands?” he asks when she comes out. She holds up her hands for him, probably to smell because that’s what Jimin does, but they’re still damp, so he gives her a thumbs up.

“Want some food, Chaeyoung-ah?”

“Yes, please,” she says with a smack of her lips. She climbs onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table.

“Jia!” Jeongguk calls. “Dinner’s ready.”

Jia gets up with messy hair and a frown, pushing her lips out the tiniest bit and sitting at the dinner table a little grumpily. If Jeongguk is honest, he hasn’t really fought the retirement of afternoon naptime for Jia, because she always gets so grumpy after napping, and she goes to bed easier anyway. Maybe he’s a bad dad for that, but he doesn’t think so.

Jimin gets there close to seven, long after Jia and Chaeyoung have finished eating and are sitting on the couch watching a tv show. He lets himself in, and Chaeyoung scrambles to slide off the couch and run over to him.

“Daddy!” she calls, and Jimin reaches down and picks her up.

“Chaeyoungie!” He tosses her gently, once, and she giggles. “I missed you,” he says.

Chaeyoung grabs Jimin’s face and smacks a kiss to his cheek. “I missed you more.” She says this in a grave tone that she probably learned from Jia.

“Hey, Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin says then, looking at Jeongguk with a smile.

“Hi, hyung,” Jeongguk says back. “How did the meeting go?”

“Eh.” Jimin makes a face like what can you do. “Sorry I needed you for so long today.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “No problem.” Jimin would do the same for him. Would, and has. “Have you eaten? I still have some food left.”

“Yeah, I’m good, thank you though. This one seems kind of tuckered out, huh?”

“Jia’s a lot to keep up with,” Jeongguk says. “Speaking from experience.”

“I have long legs,” Jia calls from the living room.

Jimin laughs. “You got them from your dad, sweetie.”

“I look just like my dad.”

“Oh, yikes,” Jeongguk says. He imagines a grown up Jia, himself with long hair. She’s not wrong, though. She looks like his baby pictures, but skinnier and with long hair.

“I’m gonna take Chaeyoung home,” Jimin says. “Thanks again, Jeongguk-ah. Hey, are you busy Friday?”

Jeongguk gives him a funny look. He’s never busy on Fridays, unless he has plans with Jimin. They always get a babysitter together when they go out. “No?”

“Cool,” Jimin says. “A couple of my old friends moved back to town recently, and they want to go out. I thought it would be cool if you could come.”

“Are you sure?” Jeongguk asks. “You don’t want to catch up with them on your own?”

Jimin waves dismissively. “They’re back permanently, it’s not like it’s my only chance to catch up. I’d like you to meet them.” He shifts Chaeyoung from his left arm to his right. Then he says straightforwardly, “You need some more adult friends.”

Jeongguk opens his mouth to protest, but Jimin cuts him off.

“Adult friends that are not stay at home moms.”

Jeongguk frowns, but doesn’t argue. The last person who told him that was a stay at home mom, and she ended up introducing him to Jimin, so it’s not like he has some kind of past trauma associated with meeting other adult men. “Okay,” he says.

“Cool,” Jimin says with a wicked grin. “Otherwise I would’ve let you babysit so I wouldn’t have to hire anyone.”

“You play dirty,” Jeongguk groans.

Jimin laughs and opens the front door. “Bye, Guk. Bye, Jia.”

“Bye, Jimin-oppa! Bye Chaeyoungie!” Jia yells.

Chaeyoung waves goodbye.

That night, Jeongguk puts up the book he was reading to Jia and she rolls over to face him, blinking sleepily. “Dad,” she says.

“Yeah, baby,” Jeongguk replies, rubbing his hand up and down her arm. She always asks to have her arm rubbed before she falls asleep.

“I know you lost at hide and seek on purpose,” she whispers. “That was nice of you to let Chaeyoungie win.” Her eyes slip shut and her lips part. She looks like every embarrassing photo Jeongguk has seen of himself sleeping, and it makes his heart twist. Jeon Jia, his most special thing, his most loved person.

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk is shaking his thigh, both hands clasped under his knee.

Jimin reaches over his lap and puts his hand firmly on his quad. “Calm down,” he says. “Everything is fine.”

“Ergh,” Jeongguk grunts at him.

“You’re acting like a new dad,” Jimin tells him.

Jeongguk cuts him a side-eye. “Shut up, Park Jimin.”

“Disrespect!” Jimin says and flicks him on his head. “Hey, seriously. They’re fine. Want me to text?”

They’re using a new babysitter tonight. The one they were using for so long moved away for college, and Jeongguk is really bad about trusting Jia to people he doesn’t know.

He shakes his head. “No, you’re right. I’m fine.”

But Jimin has already texted, and a few seconds later, he holds up a text thread with ‘Hyunjin - babysitter’, tapping on a picture of Jia and Chaeyoung sitting at Jimin’s kitchen table coloring together.

Jeongguk lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. He can feel himself being annoying, and Jimin rolls his eyes, but Jeongguk doesn’t really care. “Are your friends almost here?” he asks. “I need a distraction.”

“Mm, yeah,” Jimin says. “A few minutes, probably.”

“Cool, okay,” Jeongguk says. He stands up. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom.” He’s drained his water once already and is halfway through the second glass. He sort of does that when he’s nervous.

He goes to the bathroom, and on his way back he sees Jimin standing by their table, talking to a couple guys with their backs turned. Jeongguk straightens his collar, determined to make a good impression on Jimin’s older, cooler, not-dad friends, and he’s running a hand through his hair when someone crashes into him. Like, crashes into him.

“Whoa!” he exclaims. The person stumbles, tripping over his own feet, and nearly eats shit. Jeongguk reaches forward with reflexes honed by years of catching Jia trying to jump off of very high things, and grabs the guy by the waist.

He doesn’t mean to pull him all the way against his chest, but the guy is longer and more substantial than his reflexes were prepared for, so he overcorrects, leaning back and pulling the guy upright. Jeongguk’s arms are locked around his waist.

He lets go immediately. “Are you okay?”

The guy turns to him with wide eyes, and--holy hell. That is. A face. That’s a damn good face. He’s so pretty. His face is heart shaped, with a defining jawline and an oddly delicate nose, and his eyes are smoothly shaped and twinkly. Jeongguk stares.

The sound of Jimin’s laughter breaks him from his trance. His head jerks in Jimin’s direction, still standing much too close to the guy.

“Hyung,” Jimin says, struggling to control his laughter. “This is Jeongguk-ah, my friend I told you about.”

Jeongguk feels himself go an awful shade of red. Of fucking course this is one of Jimin’s older, cool, not-dad friends. “H-hi,” he says. He swallows. “Hi.”

“Hey,” the guy says.

“Jeongguk-ah, that’s Kim Namjoon, since he apparently isn’t going to tell you himself,” Jimin says.

Jeongguk and Namjoon turn their heads to glare at Jimin at the same time.

“Stop being mean to people, Jimin-ah,” says another guy, on the other side of Namjoon. Jeongguk can’t see who he is, because Namjoon is pretty tall, taller than Jeongguk.

“Are you okay?” Jeongguk asks Namjoon again, because the guy really did almost eat shit just now.

“I--yeah.” Namjoon glances away. “I, ah, tripped. Thank you, I’m so sorry for bumping into you.”

“You’re fine,” Jeongguk says quickly.

“Okay, I think we’re about to cause a scene,” says the other stranger. “Let’s sit, huh?”

Jeongguk feels himself blush harder and scrambles to get back to his seat by Jimin. The two guys whose names he doesn’t know sit, too, leaving only the seat by Jeongguk open, so Namjoon sits there carefully.

“Anyway. You met Namjoon,” Jimin says, biting back a very obvious laugh. “This is Min Yoongi,” he points to the guy who had spoken, “and that’s Kim Seokjin.” The last guy, taller than Yoongi, shorter than Namjoon, but broader then both of them. Maybe broader than both of them combined.

“Nice to meet you all,” Jeongguk says, trying to get the blush off his face. This is no good. It’s obvious he hasn’t been out with other adults in a while.

“This is Jeongguk, my dad-friend.”

“Dad-friend?” Namjoon repeats from Jeongguk’s right.

“Friend who is also a dad,” Jeongguk says quietly.

Namjoon’s eyes widen, but Jimin didn’t hear Jeongguk’s response, so he says much more loudly, “Single dad solidarity club! That’s what we call ourselves.”

Is that embarrassing? That’s embarrassing, right?

“Oh!” Namjoon claps a hand over his mouth. “Right. Sorry.”

“Cool!” Seokjin says, worlds less awkward. “Jimin-ah, I haven’t seen a picture of Chaeyoung in ages, so kid pictures now, both of you!”

Jeongguk and Jimin exchange a glance, and without even having to discuss it, Jeongguk pulls out his phone. He pulls up a picture of Jia and Chaeyoung together at the park, Jia’s arms thrown around Chaeyoung. Chaeyoung is making a funny, forlorn face at the camera.
He hands the phone across Jimin, to Seokjin. “The older one is my daughter. But you knew that. The one that’s not Chaeyoung.” Obviously. He flushes.

“Oh my god, too cute,” Seokjin coos at the photo. He leans over so Yoongi can look too. “Please tell me they’re best pals!”

“They’re best pals!” Jimin affirms delightedly. “Chaeyoungie loves Jia and Jeongguk-ah. She talks about them every day and blows kisses to fly to them every night.”

Jeongguk feels like his cheeks are heating up again, but this time in a good way. He leans forward onto his elbows and presses his hands over his cheeks, smiling. “Jia either thinks Chaeyoung is her little sister or her puppy dog,” he says. “Chaeyoung follows her everywhere. She eats it up.”

A server comes to take their orders, and Jimin and Seokjin team up to order dishes for the whole table with a couple words of input from Yoongi. Jeongguk lets them, and he sits back when they finally get drinks as well, pulling his beer closer to him and willing himself to relax.

“Can I ask how old you are, Jeongguk-ssi?” Yoongi asks, pouring soju for the whole table.

“Ah, yeah,” Jeongguk says, accepting the soju that’s passed to him, “I’m twenty-six.”

“How old is Jia?” Seokjin asks.

Jeongguk messes with his glass of beer. “She’s six.” That math is easy. He and Jimin are both young dads, but Jeongguk is a younger dad with an older daughter.

No one comments on that, though. Seokjin says, “Sounds like fate that you two found each other, then.”

Jimin laughs. “If fate went by the name of Kim Eunji and was the biggest busybody you’ve ever met, then maybe so.”

Jeongguk has to grin. Eunji was the mom of one of the kids in Jia’s preschool class, and Jimin was the instructor of a pilates class she took, back then. When Eunji found out she knew not one, but two single dads who were both interested in men on some level, she tried to set them up. It’s a funny story, so he decides it’s worth telling.

“Eunji set Jimin-hyung and me up on a blind date,” he says. “She didn’t even tell us what we had in common. Hyung just started talking about Chaeyoung, so I started talking about Jia, and here we are now.”

“That was more than two years ago now,” Jimin agrees. “Thank you, Kim Eunji.”

“Wait, I’m sorry,” Namjoon says, “are you two dating?”

Jimin and Jeongguk both sputter at the same time. “No!” Jimin says. “Absolutely not.”

“Usually I would tease you for being slow, Namjoon-ah, but I was confused too,” Seokjin says. “So your blind date turned into single dads solidarity club?”

Jeongguk shrugs. He can’t deny that he had a fleeting wish, back then, that he and Jimin could be something more. But since Jia, the prospect of a romantic relationship has been awfully daunting, and he wanted something more permanent than a clumsy attempt at dating, so he’d never hoped that hard, and now he loves Jimin like his brother, and a friend he’ll endlessly support, but never as a lover.

“When you have romantic chemistry, you have it,” Jimin says sagely. “When you have dad chemistry, you have dad chemistry.”

“Oh, gross,” Jeongguk says vehemently. “Dad solidarity club is bad enough, now dad chemistry?”

The food comes, mountains and mountains of it. Hyunjin texts Jimin another photo of the girls, eating at the kitchen table, Jia with a long string of ramen hanging out of her mouth and a comical expression on her face. Jimin hands Jeongguk the phone to look at the photo.

Namjoon glances over Jeongguk’s shoulder, and when Jeongguk notices him, his eyes dart in another direction. “Sorry.”

Jeongguk just smiles and tilts Jimin’s phone in Namjoon’s direction so he can see. “That’s my girl,” he says, zooming in on Jia’s wide-eyed, noodle slurping face.

Namjoon laughs softly. “She looks a lot like you.”

“She says she looks just like me,” Jeongguk says.

“She likes to remind people of that,” Jimin says from his other side. Namjoon looks at Jimin like he forgot he was there.

Jeongguk passes Jimin’s phone back to him. “Good choice,” he says begrudgingly. Hyunjin seems to understand the need to know how their kids are doing throughout the evening, and the pictures are even better than text updates.

“Mhm,” Jimin says smugly.

“I think Chaeyoung looks like you too, Jimin,” Yoongi says. “A lot. Even when she was a baby.”

“She’s always been a cuddler, too,” Seokjin adds.

“Ohh, she is,” Jeongguk agrees. Tiny, cuddly Chaeyoung is as much a reflection of her dad as Jia is.

“We do have cuddle parties sometimes,” Jimin grins. “That’s her name for them.”

As all of them fill their plates and make sure they’ve all got enough to eat, Jeongguk asks Jimin’s friends what brought them back to the city.

“I was never gone,” Seokjin says. “It was these two.” He waves at Namjoon and Yoongi.

“We were living in Seoul,” Yoongi says. “Namjoon and I are in the music producing business. We worked with a girl group for their debut.”

“Oh!” Jeongguk exclaims in surprise. “Really? That’s so cool!”

Yoongi gives him an overview of the project, with the occasional input from Namjoon, who seems mostly content to sit back and let Yoongi tell the story. Jeongguk tries not to stare at Namjoon, especially while Yoongi is the one talking, but he’s so… so beautiful. Jeongguk has really never seen anyone like him.

He feels like he’s embarrassing himself, and forces his eyes to stay on Yoongi.

“But when we finished, and they debuted, we both agreed we really missed Busan,” Yoongi says. “And friends. Jimin, Seokjin. We’ve got jobs lined up here, but it’s lower profile work, and none of it starts for a while yet.”

“That’s still really cool, Yoongi-ssi,” Jeongguk says. “And Namjoon-ssi. I’ve heard your song before.” The first song the girl group put out as an ensemble had gotten pretty decent radio play, and Jeongguk has definitely heard it.

“Ah, you can call me hyung,” Yoongi says.

“You can call all of us hyung,” Seokjin agrees.

Jeongguk doesn’t quite mean to, but he cuts his eyes at Namjoon. Namjoon smiles like he’s agreeing. “Okay,” Jeongguk says.

“What do you do, Jeongguk-ah?” Seokjin asks.

Jeongguk messes with his chopsticks. “Right now I work at a gym in the mornings and a tutoring center in the afternoons,” he says. He’s a little embarrassed by that, especially having to say it right after hearing that Yoongi and Namjoon produced music for a new idol group. Jeongguk isn’t like Jimin; Jimin had a bachelor’s degree and half a master’s completed when Chaeyoung was born, plus he was married back then. He teaches at a small university now.

“Jeongguk is a hard worker,” Jimin says. It’s supposed to make him feel better, Jeongguk knows. It just makes him feel funnier.

“I can tell you’re a great dad,” Yoongi says.

“The best dad except me,” Jimin agrees.

Jeongguk gives a halfhearted roll of his eyes and a halfhearted shove at Jimin’s shoulder, because that’s what Jimin is angling for. He tries to shake the weird, awkward feeling settling over him. “What about you, Seokjin-hyung?” he asks, hoping to shrug the attention off himself. “What do you do? Why haven’t we met, if you live in the city?”

Seokjin tells him about his job and how he’s traveling all the time for it, and the conversation flows a little more neatly from there.

It’s been a productive evening, Jeongguk supposes to himself, if he’s successfully endured the embarrassment of three whole people beginning to get to know him. It’s a difficult process, it always has been for him, and he’s awfully rusty.

“You good?” Jimin asks as they get ready to leave later. It’s after ten, and Hyunjin has sent them a photo of Chaeyoung asleep in her bed and Jia on top of several comforters on the floor next to her. She’s a good babysitter. Jeongguk decides he’s okay with her.

“Yeah,” he says.

He lets Seokjin hug him as they make their way outside, with only a little embarrassment.

Yoongi gives him a friendly smile and says he hopes they meet again soon, which Jimin assures him they will. When he glances at Namjoon, he’s given a shy, embarrassed little smile.

“It was nice to meet you, Jeongguk-ssi,” Namjoon says. He’s speaking quietly, he has been all evening, but Jeongguk can tell his voice is low and smooth and full. “Thank you for saving me earlier.”

Jeongguk smiles. “That’s okay. It was mostly reflex, to be honest. Jia went through a phase where she tried to jump off the kitchen table and the back of the couch all the time, so.” He’s probably oversharing now.

Namjoon laughs, though. “She sounds like a character.”

Jeongguk agrees, and then they part ways, quiet and friendly. He follows Jimin to his car. “Thanks for inviting me out tonight,” he says.

“Of course,” Jimin says. “Dude. You’re my best friend. You think I’m going to let my oldest friends move back to town and not meet my best friend?”

“Your dad friend.”

“My best friend,” Jimin repeats.

Jeongguk smiles at him, feeling a little sleepy. Normally he would feel a little pathetic for being sleepy not even eleven on a Friday night, but he’s warm with just enough alcohol and good food, so he lets his eyelids droop.

They get back to Jimin’s apartment and pool babysitting cash together for Hyunjin, who thanks them politely and says the girls were good but didn’t really want to go to bed. After she leaves, Jimin hangs his jacket by the door and says, “Oh man, I’m getting old.”

Jeongguk snorts. “We’re both young, hyung.”

“I’m so tired, though,” Jimin says. He stretches out and smiles, like he’s not actually upset about this at all. “Wanna go to bed?”

Jeongguk does. They check on the sleeping girls, then go to Jimin’s room and clamber into his giant bed together.

For some reason, before Jeongguk falls asleep, he thinks about his arms tight around Namjoon’s waist when he caught him earlier. He thinks about Namjoon’s face, and his explosion of stunned awe when he saw it first.

Yeah, okay Jeongguk, he thinks. Namjoon is attractive. It’s not a big deal. There are lots of attractive guys in the world. You’re in one’s bed.

He rolls over a little closer to Jimin and goes to sleep.

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk wakes up to someone crawling over him. He peeks an eye open and it’s Chaeyoung, one knee digging into his stomach.

“Oh, god,” he groans as the knee digs into something soft. “Good morning, Chaeyoung-ah.”

“Shh,” she tells him. She climbs under the covers between him and Jimin and snuggles up to Jimin.

“Chaeyoungie, it’s early,” Jimin says without opening his eyes.

“Shh,” Chaeyoung says again.

Jimin rolls onto his back so she can grab onto his arm. He peeks an eye open and looks at Jeongguk, and they both fight back smiles.

A minute later, Jia appears in the bedroom doorway, her hair sticking up everywhere. She glares at the general vicinity and climbs over Jeongguk even less gracefully than Chaeyoung did. She looks sleepy, but she doesn’t shut her eyes.

“Why don’t you guys go watch something on tv?” Jimin asks when Chaeyoung stops being still, only a few minutes later. “Let me and Jeongguk-ah sleep a little longer, then we’ll come make breakfast.”

Jia sighs heavily, but she sits up and holds her hand out for Chaeyoung to follow. They leave the room, pulling the door shut loudly.

Jimin scoots closer and throws his arm around Jeongguk’s waist. Jeongguk leans into him, tilting his head forward until he can rest his forehead on Jimin’s shoulder.

This part of their relationship was the weirdest and took the longest to develop. Both having young daughters without a partner, they shared the same deficit for intimate touch. Not just sex, but hugging and kissing and cuddling. It was a long time after they were emotionally close before they were comfortable being physically close, sleeping in each other’s bed, holding each other.

It’s good, though. Jeongguk will never kiss Jimin, except occasionally on the cheek, and he’ll never have sex with Jimin, but that’s okay and good. This isn’t intimate and loving cuddling, it’s cuddling that makes him feel safe and watched out for, like Jimin’s got his back. He does, Jeongguk knows--Jimin’s got his back, and he’s got Jimin’s.

They stay like that for a while, long enough that Jeongguk can feel both of them wondering what Jia and Chaeyoung are up to, so they get up reluctantly. Jeongguk sits on the edge of the bed and rubs his eyes, and Jimin walks on his knees to come drape himself over Jeongguk’s back.

“Love you,” Jimin says. It comes out muffled and nasally because his cheek and nose are smushed against Jeongguk’s back.

“Love you too, hyung,” Jeongguk says. “C’mon, let’s go.” Jimin doesn’t let go of his back, so Jeongguk ends up giving him a piggyback ride to the living room.

Jia and Chaeyoung are, thankfully, actually sitting on the couch watching tv. They’re snuggling with their respective stuffed animals, and they just watch as Jeongguk dumps Jimin off his back onto the love seat. Jia claps. “Daddy, you’re strong!”

“Well, what do you think I go to the gym for?!” he teases.

Chaeyoung looks at them with wide eyes. “Dad! It’s dance class day!”

Jimin grins. “Yeah, Chaeyoungie. We have enough time to eat breakfast, though.”

Jeongguk helps Jimin make breakfast, and the four of them eat together. They head to the gym for the eleven o’clock dance class the girls both take every Saturday.

It was lucky for Jeongguk to stumble upon this gym, and get a job here on top of it; he and Jimin used to lament together about wanting to work out more but not feeling good about the childcare offered at any of the gyms they tried out. At this one, a perfectly scheduled kids’ dance class with an instructor Jeongguk knows means neither of them feel the need to worry while they work out.

When they go to the classroom after the hour and a half is up, Jimin slows his steps and grabs Jeongguk’s arm with both hands, nearly plastering his chest to Jeongguk. “Oh, shit.”

“Eugh, hyung, gross,” Jeongguk groans, pushing Jimin away from him. This attracts the attention of a guy sitting on a bench a ways down from the classroom, near where they are. When he sees them, his eyebrows raise and his eyes light up in a pleased expression.

“Park Jimin-ssi,” he says.

Jeongguk frowns. This guy is wearing jeans with a flannel button down on top of a t-shirt, inside a gym. He’s not really concerned, he just thinks it’s weird.

“Taehyung-ssi,” Jimin greets. There’s a tiny little smile on his face and he worries at the corner of his lip. “Hi, what are you doing here?” He nods significantly at the guy’s outfit.

“Oh!” the guy, Taehyung, says. “I’m waiting on a friend, Hoseok. He teaches this class.” He waves in the direction of the classroom. Then his eyebrows raise delightedly. “Is Chaeyoung in this class?”

Jeongguk elbows Jimin meaningfully.

“Ow,” he hisses. “Yeah, she is. Um, Taehyung-ssi, this is Jeon Jeongguk. Jeongguk-ah, this is Kim Taehyung. He was Chaeyoung’s preschool teacher last year.”

“Nice to meet you, Taehyung-ssi,” Jeongguk says with a small bow. Taehyung is pretty, with dark hair that curls nicely around the nape of his neck. “You know Hoseok?”

“Yeah, he’s a friend from college,” Taehyung smiles. “We were education majors together. How do you know him, Jeongguk-ssi?”

“Oh, I work here during the week,” Jeongguk says.

Taehyung nods. “That explains a lot.” His eyes flicker over Jeongguk.

Jeongguk is about to question that, cataloguing the disgruntled frown it brings to Jimin’s face, when the door to the studio room opens. Jimin pokes his head in to summon both Jia and Chaeyoung.

“Chaeyoungie! Want to come say hi to teacher Taehyung?” he asks, holding out his hand as she steps down from the slightly raised floor.

“Teacher!” she exclaims in agreement. Her eyes go wide when she sees Taehyung on the bench. She must really like him. “Hi,” she says shyly, hiding behind Jimin’s leg a little.

“Hello, Chaeyoung-ah!” Taehyung gets off the bench and crouches down in front of her. “Long time no see.”

She nods. “I miss you, teacher.” Jeongguk can feel Jimin internally screaming beside him.

Jia grabs his hand. “Dad! I learned a pirouette today.”

“What?” Jeongguk gasps. “I didn’t know you were a ballerina!”

”Da-ad,” she says, rolling her eyes like a kid at least six years older than her might do. “You’re embarrassing me.”

Taehyung, still crouching in front of Chaeyoung--or rather, in front of Jimin’s legs--laughs. “Is this your daughter, Jeongguk-ssi?”

“Yeah, this is Jia.”

“Jia! This is my teacher,” Chaeyoung says.

“Not anymore, baby,” Jimin says. “You have teacher Jo this year.”

Chaeyoung pouts, but when Chaeyoung pouts it’s much sadder and more believable than any other pout Jeongguk has seen. He has to look away.

“You got your stuff, Jia?” he asks.

Jia reaches back over her own shoulder and pats her backpack.

“‘Kay,” he says. He turns to Jimin. “Lunch?”

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees. He picks Chaeyoung up. “Good to see you, Taehyung-ssi.”

“You too, Park Jimin-ssi. Bye, Chaeyoung-ah!” Taehyung waves as they head out.

“Bye, teacher,” Chaeyoung calls forlornly.

“So, Chaeyoung’s teacher, huh?” Jeongguk asks once they’ve left the gym and are headed to lunch. He’s kind of an oblivious guy sometimes, but he’s not that oblivious.

“Hmm,” Jimin hums in a way that tells Jeongguk he’s not getting any information. Oh well.

For lunch, they go to Jimin and Jeongguk’s favorite dumpling place where Chaeyoung or Jia or both always ends up spilling soy sauce on something.

“Daddy, I want to go back to teacher,” Chaeyoung whines before the food comes.

“What did he feed her to make her like him so much?” Jeongguk marvels. Chaeyoung is really shy and only expresses attachment to Jimin and Jia, and occasionally Jeongguk.

“Charm?” Jimin suggests dryly.

Jeongguk bites back a smile. He doesn’t want to give Jimin shit about liking this guy because Jimin gets a little emo when people don’t like him back.

“Anyway,” Jimin says. “Did you have a good time last night?”

“Oh, yeah.” Jeongguk straightens up. “Your friends are. Adults.”

Jimin gives him a funny smile. “You’re an adult, Guk.”

“Adult?” Chaeyoung repeats.

“It’s how grown-ups say ‘grown-up’,” Jia tells her. Chaeyoung nods.

“Your friends are men?” Jeongguk tries.

Jimin blinks at him.

“Dad! You’re a man too!” Jia says. She pats his cheek. There’s soy sauce on her hand.

“That’s true, Jia.” Jeongguk picks up a napkin and wipes the soy sauce off his cheek, then grabs Jia’s hands and wipes them too. “No soy sauce until we have food.”

“You’re a man,” Jimin repeats.

“Your friends are… adult men with degrees in careers,” Jeongguk clarifies. He doesn’t say ‘like you,’ but the sentiment is obvious, and it hangs in the air between them.

Jimin frowns, but he doesn’t say anything, probably getting that it’s not a good time to get into this discussion.

“They were really nice,” he assures Jimin. The food comes and Chaeyoung knocks over the soy sauce bottle in her excitement.

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk doesn’t really think about Jimin’s friends for a couple weeks. A few times, fleetingly, he remembers Namjoon in the way he’s ever remembered people who struck him like that, but Jimin doesn’t bring his friends up again so Jeongguk largely forgets that Namjoon is a person who could pop up in his life again.

It’s a Tuesday, cloudy and chilly, and Jeongguk is on his lunch hour between jobs. He’s at his regular cafe, the one he goes to at least a few times a week, where they know his order and are coming up with increasingly unbelievable discounts to give him, when he runs into Namjoon.

He’s at the counter, talking with Mikyung, the woman who owns the cafe, debating the validity of the ‘cold spell discount’ she’s applied to his total and the free hot chocolate she handed him as soon as he walked in. She shoos him away with a secretive, kind smile, and Jeongguk turns around to find a table to sit at and almost immediately looks right at him.

Namjoon is sitting at a two person table tucked in the corner of the cafe by the big front window. He has a laptop in front of himself, but he’s not looking at it; he’s looking at Jeongguk. When he sees Jeongguk looking back, he smiles a little smile that looks like he’s been caught, and Jeongguk’s heart sinks to his stomach.

Goddamn. He really hoped his brain was feeding him false memories about how gorgeous Namjoon was.

Jeongguk waves, and Namjoon waves back, and what the hell. He walks over, clutching his hot chocolate. “Hi, Namjoon-ssi,” he says.

“Hyung is fine,” Namjoon says quietly.

Jeongguk wonders if he’s saying that just because Seokjin and Yoongi had the evening they met. But Namjoon is looking at him expectantly, like he’s waiting for him to approve before he continues informally. “Namjoon-hyung,” he corrects.

Namjoon smiles this one-sided smile that makes one of his dimples deeper than the other. Oh god. “Hello, Jeongguk-ah. What are you up to?”

“Just lunch,” Jeongguk says. He checks his watch. “I’m headed down the street for the rest of the afternoon in half an hour.”

“Oh, right,” Namjoon nods. “Um, gym in the mornings? And…”

“Tutoring center in the afternoons,” Jeongguk finishes. He feels embarrassed that Namjoon remembers that. Namjoon is gorgeous and successful. Jeongguk doesn’t want to meet any more of Jimin’s friends ever again. “What are you up to?” he asks.

“Ah, just,” Namjoon waves vaguely at his laptop. “You know.”

Jeongguk furrows his eyebrows and peeks around Namjoon’s laptop. He can’t interpret anything that’s on the screen, but he knows it’s a music production program. “No, you’re working,” he says. He feels his cheeks flush, realizing he’s being too nosy. “Sorry.”

“Oh you’re fine.” Namjoon laughs. “It’s just a project Yoongi and I are working on together before our next job. Our own stuff. I’ve been kind of camping out here. Living the unemployed life.”

Jeongguk smiles politely but doesn’t laugh. Only people who have made good money, safe money, can joke about being unemployed. He’s not offended or upset, though, because Namjoon looks genuinely embarrassed. “I think it’s cool that you have the time and means to work on your own music,” he says instead.

Namjoon clears his throat. “Thanks.” His eyes flicker over Jeongguk’s shoulder, and he says louder, “I’m lucky Mikyung-ssi hasn’t kicked me out for good by now.”

Jeongguk turns to where Mikyung has come up beside him, holding his food.

“Hmph,” she says. “You think I’m going to let a skinny boy like you leave here unfed? Ask Jeongguk-ssi how he stopped being too skinny.”

Jeongguk’s jaw drops. “Ahjumma!” he exclaims, feeling his face burn. “That’s because I work at a gym.”

Namjoon laughs and covers his mouth with a hand.

“Where do you think you get the energy to use your gym, boy? Sit down and eat. Kim Namjoon-ssi, I’m bringing you more noodles,” she threatens.

“Yes, ahjumma,” Namjoon says. He grins at Jeongguk, and Jeongguk has to physically blink himself back into the present. “Do you want to sit?”

Jeongguk checks the time, even though he just checked it a couple minutes ago. “Yeah, for a little bit. Thank you.” He takes off his coat and sits across from Namjoon, setting down the food Mikyung brought him. He tries not to stare, but it’s much harder here than when he first met Namjoon, because Namjoon is the only person he can look at. He goes back and forth making eye contact and looking down at his food, and accidentally looking at Namjoon’s chest in between.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt you,” he says when Namjoon sets his laptop aside.

“No, no,” Namjoon says quickly. “You’re fine, I--”

Jeongguk looks at him expectantly.

“I needed a break,” he finishes. Mikyung comes over and sets down a huge bowl of noodles in front of him, and he gives her a wide eyed look. “This is too much, ahjumma!”

“Cold spell,” she waves off. “Free noodles to customers over 180 centimeters.”

He shakes his head. “Let me pay.”

“Next time, boy.” She leaves.

Jeongguk smiles. “She did that to me, too, when I first started coming in here. Free food all the time. Now she just gives me random discounts.”

“She’s too nice,” Namjoon says. He tries the noodles. Jeongguk has had them before. They’re good, he knows. “You work near here, you said? Is that why you come here?”

“Yeah.” Jeongguk takes a bite of rice. “Like I said, the tutoring center I work at is down the street. I’ve been there a few years now. Lucky for me, this place is kind of right between there and the gym, so it’s not out of my way for lunch.”

Namjoon nods. “Do you like tutoring?” he asks.

This feels practiced, almost scripted. Like an interview. Like Jeongguk was supposed to come prepared to sell himself or something, even though Namjoon hasn’t said a word to place pressure on him.

“Yeah, I do,” he says. “Teaching was never on my radar, but I did pretty well in school, and I like helping people.”

“That’s awesome,” Namjoon says.

Jeongguk feels like he’s talking too much about himself. Namjoon obviously didn’t know how to respond to that. He takes a bite of too-hot chicken and then tries again. “Um, so you. Music?” Fuck, fuck him. And honestly, fuck Namjoon for being so gorgeous and so casual about it. Jeongguk is so thrown by him.

“Yeah, music,” Namjoon agrees, like he hasn’t even noticed how awkward Jeongguk is. “Honestly, I’ve, you know. Just been really lucky.”

Jeongguk forgets his resolution and stares at him. He can’t figure out if Namjoon is trying to make Jeongguk feel better or if he’s being humble or self-effacing. “Namjoon-ssi--hyung,” he corrects quickly, “I’ve heard that single you and Yoongi worked on. It’s not luck.”

“Ah,” Namjoon says, looking awkwardly down at the noodles in front of him. “Thank you.” So self-effacing, then.

Too much time passes in silence to not be awkward. Jeongguk checks the time again, which is far too conspicuous, but he still has ten minutes until he needs to leave. Fuck it, he thinks, and asks, “Can you tell me more about it?”

“About what?”

“Producing. Why you do it. What you like about it. Whatever you have to say.”

Namjoon smiles, but he hesitates. “Okay,” he says. “Well. Honestly, as long as I can remember there just… hasn’t been a question whether I want to do music. I tried to go to school as a pre-law student.” He laughs. Jeongguk cracks a smile. “It just wasn’t right. I’ve always felt like, um.” He seems to weight what he wants to say next. “I’ve always felt like everything is art. People are art. Human life is art. And, I don’t know--I just wanted to make art about that?”

“Art about art,” Jeongguk says. “Meta.”

The funniest thing happens then; Namjoon blushes. “I didn’t want to say that, but yeah. I know it sounds lame.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s lame. I think it’s,” he pauses to gather his word, “a really rare way of seeing things.”

“Ah. Thank you, I think.”

Jeongguk can already tell Namjoon is a good person, and honestly, damn him for being this handsome and this good at the same time. But he is, handsomely sitting across from Jeongguk and acting shy about himself.

He thinks there is more Namjoon could say about what he just told Jeongguk, but he seems a little embarrassed already, so Jeongguk changes directions and asks about his early projects. Namjoon speaks in this funny, almost contradictory way that’s a little rambling, but with concise wording. The act of speaking sometimes trips him up, but words themselves never seem to.

And soon, Jeongguk’s lunch is up. “I have to go,” he says apologetically, packing up what’s left of his food to take with him.

Namjoon goes visibly a little pink. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to talk that much.”

“No, no,” Jeongguk rushes, and it settles in the pit of his stomach how much he does not want Namjoon to worry about talking too much. “You were only answering my questions. It was really nice talking to you.” He stands up and puts on his coat and accidentally lingers, not knowing what to say. “Have a good day, hyung,” he settles on.

“You too. Thank you for your company.” Namjoon smiles and gives him a little wave as he leaves.

Jeongguk steps outside feeling odd and a little like his heart is in his throat. He has this urge to turn around and look back at Namjoon, but he doesn’t. He’s a little afraid Namjoon will be looking and a little afraid that he won’t.

 

 

 

 

This place is different than the one they went to when Jeongguk met Jimin’s friends. It’s busier, louder, serves less food and more drinks. It’s a little more Jimin and a little less Jeongguk.

“Just Yoongi?” Jeongguk asks as Jimin orders their first drinks. “No Seokjin or Namjoon?”

Jimin shakes his head. “They were both busy. Although Seokjin might be trying to avoid small groups of us so things don’t get uncomfortable. I don’t know.”

Jeongguk frowns. “What’s the deal with that?” he asks. The way that Jimin talks about Seokjin is just a little off, and he’s wondered.

“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Jimin says to get a rise out of Jeongguk and avoid the subject.

“Hmm,” is all Jeongguk responds, right before there’s movement beside him.

“Jimin-ssi,” someone says, coming up to their table. When Jeongguk looks up, he sees Chaeyoung’s old teacher from the gym--Taehyung, he remembers.

“Oh,” Jimin says with obvious surprise. “Taehyung-ssi. Hello.” He takes a very conspicuous gulp of his drink.

“Hi,” Taehyung says. “Oh, and hello again,” he says to Jeongguk.

Jeongguk gives him a nod. “Taehyung-ssi.” Around Taehyung, he can also see the slighter build of Hoseok, the girls’ dance teacher at the gym. “Hey, Hoseok-hyung.”

“Oh, Jeongguk-ah,” Hoseok says, stepping around Taehyung to see him. “Hey there. How are you?”

“Good.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” says Taehyung, looking sheepish. “I just noticed you over here and wanted to say hello.” His eyes drag over Jimin, and oh.

Jeongguk sits up straighter. This is his moment. He was born for this. “Are you here just the two of you?” he asks. “You should join us. We’re waiting on someone, but I’m sure he won’t mind.” Jimin’s eyes go wide, and Jeongguk gives him a significant look. He’s going to get a good chewing out over this later.

“Sure,” Hoseok says, seeming oblivious to the daggers Jimin’s staring in Jeongguk’s direction. Jimin and Jeongguk are at a four person table, so Hoseok pulls up another chair. “For your friend,” he says, and he sits next to Jeongguk. Jeongguk gives him a pleased smile.

“You don’t mind, do you, Jimin-ssi?” Taehyung asks, hesitating a little more before sitting next to Jimin.

God, Jeongguk thinks. Jimin’s blind. Taehyung wants Jimin to like him so badly.

“Oh, no,” Jimin says quickly. “Please do.”

“Maybe we should straighten things out a little,” Hoseok says. “Jeongguk is a baby. Taehyung is 95. Jimin-ssi?”

“95,” Jimin says. His eyes catch with Taehyung’s for just a second.

“Alright, Jimin-ah,” Hoseok says good-naturedly.

“Alright, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung repeats. Jeongguk watches with a delighted expression as Jimin’s face goes pink.

“Taehyung-hyung, I’m really impressed, because Chaeyoung seems to like you a lot. She’s pretty picky about people,” Jeongguk says.

Taehyung looks at Jimin.

“Oh, she loves you,” Jimin confirms. “After running into you, she pouted the rest of the day. Because you’re not her teacher anymore.”

Taehyung looks down and smiles. “I think she’s very cool, too.”

Yoongi shows up then, looking a little confused at their group. “Hey there, Jimin-ah.”

“Hyung,” Jimin exclaims and gets up to hug him. “Hey. This is Kim Taehyung and Jung Hoseok. We just happened to run into them. Here.” He motions to the chair pulled up at the end between him and Jeongguk.

Yoongi bows. “Hello, hello,” he says, then sits. “And hello, Jeongguk-ah.”

“Um, I’ll get drinks,” Jimin says.

“I’ll come with you.” Taehyung stands up quickly, leaving no time for anyone to argue. They make their way to the bar, and once they’re out of earshot, Jeongguk can’t help but giggle to himself.

“What’s that?” Yoongi asks, turning to look at him with an amused look on his face.

“They’re funny,” Jeongguk says.

Hoseok groans. “Ah, tell me about it. I guess Taehyung saw you guys at the gym a little bit ago? Then he got all mopey because he doesn’t think Jimin’s into him.”

“Jimin didn’t think Taehyung was interested,” Jeongguk says. “God, they’re both blind.”

“Huh,” Yoongi says, looking impressed and a little disconcerted. “I got left at the table with the busybodies.”

“Oh, I call bullshit,” Hoseok says. “You give off major busybody vibes.”

“Do I?” Yoongi challenges.

“Yes. Like old woman busybody vibes.”

Yoongi squawks indignantly. “We just met, and you’re already insulting me?”

“Busybody isn’t an insult!” Jeongguk says. “Me and Jimin originated from the mother of all busybodies.”

“Busybody is starting to not sound like a word,” Hoseok says. “Anyway. I vote yes to that.” He nods in the direction of Jimin and Taehyung, who are holding drinks by now, but are still just standing by the bar, talking.

“Hmm,” Yoongi says. “How do they know each other?”

“Taehyung was Chaeyoung’s teacher last year,” Jeongguk says. “She loves him.”

“That’s a pretty good review.” Yoongi studies them for a second, then turns back to the table.

“Unfortunately it only gets better from there,” Hoseok says. “Taehyung is insufferably good. It’s impossible to live up to.”

Hoseok is clearly teasing. Yoongi’s mouth presses into an unreadable line. “What do you do, Jung Hoseok-ssi?”

“I think that’ll be Hoseok-ah for you,” Hoseok says. “I’m a teacher, too. I do dance classes at a gym on the side, that’s why I know Jeongguk. The girls take one of my kid dance classes. What do you do?”

“I’m in music producing,” Yoongi says.

It doesn’t look like he’s going to say more, so Jeongguk asks him, “Are you working on anything now, hyung?”

Yoongi shakes his head. “Not at the moment, no. I’m starting a project the week after this next, but now it’s just personal stuff.”

“Ah, yeah, Namjoon said you were working on something together. I ran into him at a cafe last week.”

“Did he say?” Yoongi asks, looking mildly surprised. “Yeah. We usually work together during our free time, but there hasn’t been much of that before recently.”

“Is this a partner?” Hoseok asks.

“Yeah, business partner,” Yoongi says. “We’ve worked together for years.”

“And just moved back here, right?” Jeongguk adds.

“Yes. Need a good break from each other.” Yoongi cracks a smile that lets Jeongguk know he’s joking. He leans back in his seat. “Actually no, we lived together before. Now we don’t, and it’s kind of weird.”

“Oh, hm,” Jeongguk says. “I can’t imagine living alone. I never have.”

“Personally, I’m not a fan,” Hoseok says. “But to each his own. God, I need a drink. Are they still flirting?”

Jeongguk turns to look, and they are indeed still flirting, but by now slowly making their way toward the table. “There’s no way that’s not happening,” he says.

By the end of the evening he’s even surer about it. Jimin’s been in a couple relationships in the time Jeongguk has known him, but Jeongguk is pretty sure he’s never seen him this gone for someone before they even dated.

Yoongi leans over to speak only to Jeongguk. “I think you’re right,” he says. “I’ve never seen him like this. He must have liked this guy all year.”

“Must have,” Jeongguk agrees. “He better be as insufferably good as Hoseok says, or else he’ll have to go.”

Yoongi cracks a smile. “I like you, kid.”

“Ugh,” says Jeongguk. “You can’t call me that. I’m a dad.”

“Okay,” Yoongi says with a little laugh. “Let me meet this kid of yours sometime, alright?”

“Sure,” Jeongguk agrees. He likes Yoongi. Yoongi seems trustworthy, so he’s pretty sure he can handle that.

When they leave, Jimin scoots into the middle seat of the uber they take home and whispers to Jeongguk, “I got Taehyung’s number.”

Jeongguk laughs. “No shit?”

“Don’t make fun of me,” Jimin whines. “I like him so much, god, it’s gross.”

“Oh man, yeah, it’s awful,” Jeongguk agrees. “You two only had eyes for each other, it was so weird.”

“You were so different today. You like, talked a bunch. Started conversations.”

“I was in wingman mode. I’m a different person in wingman mode.”

Jimin pats his thigh. “Thanks, I guess. You did good.”

“I know. But I get to vet him before you start anything serious.”

“Oh yeah, I know,” Jimin agrees. “You have full veto power, and you know what? I already know he’s going to pass. It’s ridiculous.”

Jeongguk just laughs.

 

 

 

 

He sees Namjoon again the next week. He’s been in the cafe again since the first time they ran into each other, but Namjoon hasn’t been there. Not that he expected him to be. He’d just wondered.

This time, Jeongguk is sitting with his food when Namjoon walks in, his laptop bag over one shoulder and a book tucked under his arm. His cheeks are rosy from the cold.

He sees Jeongguk right away, and smiles at him. He comes closer and asks, “May I sit with you?”

So polite. Too polite. “Of course,” Jeongguk says. Namjoon leaves his things at the table and goes to order.

When he comes back, he slides into the little booth and smiles. God. Those dimples are going to take Jeongguk the fuck out anytime now. “How are you?” Namjoon asks.

“Ah, I’m good. How are you?”

“Good. Enjoying this weather pretty well.”

“You like the cold?” Jeongguk asks. He likes it when it’s chilly out, but he hates to be cold.

“Sure,” Namjoon says. “I like wearing layers. I like clouds and leaves. I think it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, and I like the rain.”

“I think rain is nice if I don’t have to go anywhere,” Jeongguk says. “So, on a Sunday.”

Namjoon smiles. “Fair enough. I like to go the library when it rains. They usually turn the other way when I bring coffee in.”

“Oh? Do you have the librarians wrapped around your finger?”

“I don’t think so,” Namjoon says. “I just ask them for book recommendations and in return, they let me bring illegal coffee inside.”

“The one down the street?” Jeongguk asks, nodding in the direction of the big library he and Jia go to sometimes. Namjoon nods. “Ah, they’re pretty nice there, I take Jia there.”

“Does she like to read?” Namjoon asks.

“Yeah. She’s not very good at it, but she really pushes through. She manages a lot of little books.”

“Good for her,” Namjoon says. He looks happy, and it’s altogether embarrassing to Jeongguk how happy he feels talking to Namjoon, and how happy it makes him that Namjoon seems the same. Each time Jeongguk sees him it gets worse, and this is only three.

 

The next time he sees Namjoon goes like that too--and the next, and the next. At this point they both seem to be comfortable with the awkwardness of getting to know someone, and they ask each other questions that are blatantly formed to get the other person to talk. Jeongguk loves listening to Namjoon talk, and he loves the attentive way Namjoon listens when he is talking. He asks questions, more and better ones as time goes on.

It’s a little clumsy, maybe, as they continue to purposefully happen upon each other at lunchtime once a week or so but never manage to take the step of actually coordinating. But Jeongguk likes it. He likes having this odd, random, interesting, handsome friend. He likes seeing someone in the middle of his workday and telling them how he’s doing. Namjoon is clearly very kind and smart, both facts that are not helping the little crush that’s been growing since the very moment Jeongguk caught Namjoon with his arms around his waist.

It’s okay, he thinks. It’s just a little crush. Nothing to worry himself over.

 

 

 

 

Jimin is calling him. Jeongguk picks up the phone, in the middle of scrambling to unlock the door to his apartment. “Hello?”

“Hey, I need your help on Friday, if you can.”

“Oh?” Jeongguk sandwiches the phone between his ear and shoulder and gets the door unlocked. Jia walks in ahead of him, taking off her coat and dropping it in the middle of the floor. “Hey, hang that up,” he tells her.

“Yeah. I… have a date.”

“Ooh. It better be with Taehyung.”

“It’s with Taehyung.”

“Okay. You want Chaeyoung to stay over here, then?” he asks.

“Can you guys come stay at my place instead?”

Jeongguk pauses. “Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. I don’t want to sleep with him on the first date,” Jimin says.

“I mean, I guess. But he has an apartment too, doesn’t he?”

“Shhh,” Jimin hisses. “I don’t need that idea in my head. Is it okay?”

“Of course,” Jeongguk says. “Are we staying over after dinner on Saturday, too?”

“Mm, we should be early enough for you guys to go home. It’s up to you, though. Thank you so much.”

“You got it. See you.” They hang up, and Jeongguk calls out to Jia, “Jia, baby, sleepover this weekend!”

She nods and flops over on the couch.

That weekend he spends Friday in the familiarity of Jia and Chaeyoung, watching a movie with them and playing along with their games. This time Jia is a dragon and Chaeyoung is a knight who has to defeat her, which means that Jeongguk is the horse. It’s a part that always hurts his knees.

He puts them to bed as soon as he can manage, struggling to deflect the onslaught of questions (“dad, how do lightbulbs get light?” “how come it makes my tummy feel funny when I drink water too fast?” “how far away is the moon?” “do they really eat snails in France?”) that always seem to come at bedtime.

Jimin gets home late and comes in to collapse on the couch next to Jeongguk.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says. “How’d it go?”

“Really good,” Jimin groans and hides his face in Jeongguk’s shoulder.

“What did you do?”

“We got dinner and just talked forever. It was after nine when we left the restaurant. And then he was like, ‘do you want ice cream?’ and I was like, ‘hell yeah I do.’ So we went and got ice cream.”

“Then you made out?” Jeongguk guesses.

“Then we made out. Which was great. I haven’t kissed someone who was like, a fun kisser for a long time.”

“Okay, I don’t want to know any more,” Jeongguk says. “I’m glad it was a good date. Am I still allowed to sleep in your bed?”

Jimin pats his thigh. “You will always be allowed to sleep in my bed.”

 

The next evening, Hyunjin babysits again and they go out to dinner with Jimin’s friends. When Namjoon gets to the restaurant, Jeongguk is surprised by the hug he gets.

“Hey, Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says with a big smile. He is unquestionably the nicest person Jeongguk knows.

“Hello, hyung,” Jeongguk says, and then Namjoon hugs him. It’s a side hug, and by all standards that is only half qualified as a hug, but it’s still unexpected and still a little exciting.

Namjoon sits next to him again. All dinner their elbow brush, and Jeongguk wonders if maybe he is going a little bit crazy.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

In late November and into December comes a series of weird weeks. Jeongguk goes out with Jimin less and babysits for him more. That’s not a problem, necessarily, but he is noticing himself getting a little jittery from not getting out. He still sees Jimin, of course--at least every weekend, if not during the week, even if he spends more frequent Fridays in the company of Jia and Chaeyoung.

Jimin’s careful not to take advantage; he gets Hyunjin to babysit often and still spends time with Jeongguk too, but Jeongguk doesn’t mind when Chaeyoung comes to stay every once in a while.

Then comes a period of time where, for almost three weeks, he doesn’t see Namjoon.

It’s disconcertingly strange, like a new gap where Jeongguk didn’t realize anything had been there. He misses seeing Namjoon at lunch once, maybe twice a week. He misses his grounding presence and personal manner of speaking. He misses him. It’s weird.

At noon one day when it’s been a while, Namjoon walks into the cafe. “Hi,” he says and he sits down across from Jeongguk.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says, surprised and very pleased. He has to take a moment to fight his curiosity about where Namjoon has been. “How are you?”

“Good. A little busy.” Namjoon gives him a half smile. “I’m working on this EP right now. It’s been a lot. How are you?”

Right--of course. Namjoon is back to work. Jeongguk tries not to be disappointed. “Oh, cool. I’m good. Been hanging out with Jia and Chaeyoung a lot, you know.”

“Oh, right.” Namjoon nods. “How’s that going? Are they official?”

“Jimin says they’re not boyfriends yet. I think he’s just trying to be careful, you know.”

“Understandable,” says Namjoon. He’s right. Jeongguk wasn’t around back when Jimin was married, but Namjoon and Yoongi and Seokjin were. They saw what happened to Jimin firsthand, so this probably means more to Namjoon than it does to Jeongguk.

“Will you tell me about the EP you’re working on?” Jeongguk asks then.

Namjoon hums. “I’d rather show you what I was doing before, if you don’t mind.”

Jeongguk raises his eyebrows. “You mean your thing?”

“Yeah, my thing.” Namjoon shifts in his seat. He’s shaking his leg.

“Of course I don’t mind,” Jeongguk says quickly. “I’d love to hear it.”

Namjoon gets out his laptop and gives Jeongguk his headphones. He pauses before he starts the song he’s showing Jeongguk. “Sorry,” he laughs. “I just don’t usually show people my personal work.”

To Jeongguk, that sounds an awful lot like Namjoon is saying he’s special. A warm, inflating feeling settles in his chest. “I’ll only listen if you want me to.”

“I want you to,” Namjoon assures him. He starts the song, and Jeongguk closes his eyes.

“Oh, my god,” he says out loud when he realizes it’s Namjoon rapping on the track. He opens his eyes and looks at Namjoon, who looks a little startled and concerned. Jeongguk closes his eyes again.

When the song finishes, he takes off the headphones and says. “Wow. You’re--wow.”

“Okay,” Namjoon says. He’s messing with the strings on his jacket.

“That’s incredible, hyung,” Jeongguk says. He means it. It’s not the type of music he listens to all the time, but it’s so Namjoon, so honest and real. “I, um. Would you let me listen to it one more time?”

“Of course,” Namjoon says.

He plays it again, and Jeongguk leans forward to rest his chin in his hands, fingers covering his mouth. He closes his eyes again and listens hard. It’s a little sad, both in the words and in the beat. It’s put together masterfully; Namjoon’s not just rapping, he’s singing, too. His voice makes Jeongguk’s fingers itch for something.

“Wow,” he says again when it ends. “The way you can… communicate emotion like that. That’s amazing.” He feels lame. He wants to give Namjoon more than that.

“Thank you,” Namjoon says. He looks at the table.

“I--you impress me,” Jeongguk says and is instantly embarrassed.

“Oh.” Namjoon looks unexpectedly pleased.

“Just generally,” he says and then forces his mouth shut.

“Thank you,” Namjoon says, breathy. “That’s too nice. You’re too nice.”

Jeongguk puts his fingers over his mouth again just in case more unsanctioned compliments come out. “Thank you for letting me listen to that,” he says against his fingers.

“Yeah,” Namjoon says. “Yeah.”

 

 

 

 

“Okay, babe, you got your books picked out?” Jeongguk asks Jia. She holds up two books, which he takes as a yes. One of them is about a mouse and the other is about worms. Jeongguk doesn’t argue. “Ready to go?”

“Give me a ride,” Jia demands.

It’s Thursday, and it’s been a long day, so Jeongguk doesn’t try to argue with her. He just picks her up and puts her on his shoulders. On their way to check their books out, Jeongguk recognizes the shape of a familiar person looking at a book display.

“‘Astrophysics for People in a Hurry’,” Jeongguk reads the title of the book Namjoon is looking at, coming up beside him.

“Oh,” Namjoon says in surprise, turning to look at him. “Hi, Jeongguk-ah.”

Jeongguk smiles. “Hi.”

Namjoon’s eyes trail up, up above Jeongguk’s head. “Hello, ma’am,” he says. “I’m Kim Namjoon. What’s your name?”

“Jeon Jia,” Jia answers, and over Jeongguk’s head he can feel her bow a little.

Namjoon grins. “Nice to meet you, Jeon Jia. What are you reading today?”

Jia holds out her books. “This is about a mouse who’s a detective. This is about worms.”

Namjoon nods. “Good choices. You have a lot of interests.”

“I know,” she says. “Are you my dad’s friend?”

“Yeah. And your friends Jimin and Chaeyoung.”

“Cool,” Jia says. “We have to go now.”

“Jia, be polite,” Jeongguk laughs. He taps her shin. “What do you say to someone you’ve just met?”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Namjoon,” she says.

“Nice to meet you too, Jeon Jia. I’ll see you later, Jeongguk-ah.” Namjoon smiles at them. His eyes are searching, taking the pair of them in.

“See you,” Jeongguk agrees. “Enjoy your astrophysics.”

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk works two jobs and for the last several months, he’s been down to only two pairs of pants that he wears to work. One are black and one are khaki. He hates the khakis, so when they start to fall apart he might secretly be a little relieved.

It’s not even the knees or the ass or something normal--it’s just the back pocket. The seam starts to rip. Jimin sees him wearing them one day, gives him a flat look, sticks his hand in the pocket, and tugs. It rips.

“Okay,” says Jeongguk.

Jimin smacks his ass. “You’re going to wear a hole in the seat of these. It’s time to retire them.”

Jeongguk groans, and then makes the mistake of saying, “But I only have one other pair of pants that aren’t jeans.”

“Oh my god,” Jimin says in disbelief. “You sound like a frat boy.”

He sighs at the judgment. “Sorry. I’ll get some new ones.” He’s not sure why he’s apologizing. It’s like Jimin is his mom or something.

“Not khakis, please.”

Jeongguk huffs. “You have a lot of opinions. Why don’t you just go get me some pants?”

“Don’t be rude. I will go shopping with you, though.”

“Sounds like fun.” He doesn’t try to hide his sarcasm.

“Uh huh,” Jimin says. “Admit it. You need my help.”

As much as he doesn’t want to say so, Jimin’s right. “I need your help.”

“Good boy.” Jimin ruffles his hair. “How about--I guess we could do Friday? We can try and get Hyunjin.”

“You don’t have a date?”

“Nah,” Jimin waves off. “Taehyung and I hang out quite a bit. We don’t have to have every Friday.”

So that’s how Jeongguk is spending this Friday. He and Jia get to Jimin's apartment a little early, and when he lets himself inside he's surprised to see Namjoon at the kitchen table with Chaeyoung. They both appear to be reading, though Chaeyoung is just flipping through a book with pictures and narrating a story out loud to Namjoon.

"Oh, hey Jeongguk-ah," Namjoon says when they come in. "Hello, miss Jia."

"Hey," Jeongguk says, taken aback by the sight of him in the same manner as usual: a ticklish pang in his stomach and a warm feeling in his chest. "What are you doing here?"

"Just hanging out," he says with twinkling eyes and a little smile directed at Chaeyoung. God. He is so beautiful. "Jimin’s in his room."

Jia goes over to sit next to Chaeyoung. She takes the book from her and flips to the beginning and starts reading, bossy and matter-of-fact.

"Jia, baby, Chaeyoung was reading that," Jeongguk says. "You can't just take things from her."

"No she wasn’t," Jia says. "She can't read."

"Honey, it's still Chaeyoung's book. You need to ask."

Jia huffs, but turns to Chaeyoung. "Can I read this to you?"

Chaeyoung nods.

Jia gives him a deadpan see, dad? look and starts to read. Namjoon laughs and gives him an amused look.

Jeongguk’s phone starts ringing right then, and it's Jimin. He frowns and declines the call, then shouts down the hall, "Jimin! I'm in your house."

A second later Jimin’s bedroom door opens and he comes into the kitchen, looking harried. "Hey. Hyunjin just texted me. She broke her arm and had to go to the hospital."

Jeongguk blinks. "What? Are you serious?" It sounds like the sort of excuse he might have used to get out of class in college, but that doesn’t sound at all like Hyunjin.

Jimin grimaces. "You know how she likes to send pictures?"

"Oh no."

"Yeah. I won't make you look at it. There’s a considerable amount of blood."

"Thanks." Jeongguk pulls out the chair next to Jia at the table. "Alright. Oh well. We can go some other time."

Jimin looks like he's going to explode. "You cannot keep trying to live life with one pair of pants, Jeon Jeongguk."

"Fine, then I'll leave Jia here and go on my own," he says.

"You would end up with a bunch of big t-shirts and no pants. I can't let that happen again."

"Um," begins Namjoon. They both look at him. "I can... I can watch them?"

He seems a little unsure.

"You seem a little unsure," Jimin says.

"No, no," he says quickly. Then much more confidently, "I can watch them. I'm not busy."

Jeongguk tries not to be skeptical, but he can't really help it. He always feels like this about the idea of someone new watching Jia.

"I'm okay with that," Jimin says and looks at Jeongguk.

He feels a little awkward for a second, but he catalogs in his head everything he knows about Namjoon.

He's smart. He's careful. He's conscientious. He speaks to Jia like she's a little human instead of a baby. "Yeah. That would be... that would be great. Thank you so much, Namjoon-hyung."

The smile on Namjoon’s face when he looks at him tells Jeongguk he knows everything that just went through his head. Not in a way that means he's offended by it, just that he sees and understands.

"Thank you," he says again, feeling the sudden need to be earnest.

"Okay, well we better get going now," Jimin says. "Hyung, I left stuff for dinner on the counter. Can you...?"

Namjoon nods. "I got it. Don't worry. Anything I need to know?"

"Don't think so," Jimin says. "We should be back early enough that you won't have to put them to bed, so no worries."

"Okay," Namjoon says with a confident nod.

"Namjoon’s gonna babysit you guys tonight, okay?" Jimin says to the girls. They mostly ignore him, with a nod from Jia. Jimin looks at Jeongguk. "Alright. You ready?"

He grabs his jacket and they leave. Jeongguk pointedly ignores the knot in his stomach.

 

When they get back just a couple hours later, Jimin opens the door to the apartment to complete silence. As they step inside, Jeongguk looks around in confusion, until they reach the edge of the living room where he sees Namjoon in the middle of the floor, lying on his back with his eyes closed.

“Wha--?” Jimin begins, but Namjoon opens one eye and hisses,

“Shh!”

Jimin presses his lips shut, and in a second there’s giggling from around the back of the couch. Jeongguk slides back around the corner, as far out of sight as he can get.

After a second, he catches a glimpse of Jia and Chaeyoung starting to sneak through the living room. Jia knocks a book off the arm of the couch, and Namjoon’s eyes fly open.

“What’s this?” he bellows, and Jia and Chaeyoung shriek. “The knight and her dragon friend thought they could sneak past ME? Wait until my GIANT FRIENDS catch up with them!” He motions at Jeongguk and Jimin.

Jimin drops his things and runs into the living room, growling at the girls, and in his surprised delight it takes Jeongguk a second to follow. He does after a second, and Jia and Chaeyoung run around the living room shrieking while Jimin and Jeongguk chase them. Namjoon sits up on the floor, watching with a grin on his face.

Jeongguk catches Chaeyoung and picks her up, spinning her around. She giggles.

Jia stands on the couch and calls to Jimin, “You can’t be a giant, Jimin-oppa! You’re not big enough!”

Jimin roars in indignance, grabbing Jia and tickling her. “The disrespect! Where did you learn that from?!”

Jeongguk sits on the floor next to Namjoon, holding Chaeyoung on his lap. “Did you have fun tonight, Chaeyoungie?”

“Yeah,” she says. “Made friends with dragon Jia.”

“And defeated a giant, right?”

“Not yet,” Chaeyoung says. She leans back into Jeongguk’s chest. “Next time.” Jeongguk is pretty sure she’s about to go to sleep, so he puts Jia and Jimin’s shenanigans on pause.

“Hyung, don’t get her wound up, she has to go to bed soon,” he calls warningly.

“Sorry,” Jimin says, chided. Jia’s on his shoulders. He lifts her off and she comes to hang on Jeongguk’s back. Jimin sits on Namjoon’s other side. “Hyung, thank you so much. Were things okay?”

“Not a single problem,” Namjoon waves off. “We had fun, right?”

“Yes,” Jia nods. “We watched Red Velvet.”

Jeongguk laughs out loud at the mental picture of Namjoon with his and Jimin’s tiny daughters, watching Red Velvet music videos. He loves it. He feels even more enamored with Namjoon right now than usual. “Go get your stuff, Jia, we’ve got to go,” he says, seeing her tiredness start to set in.

“Did you find your pants?” Namjoon asks as Jia pulls Chaeyoung in the direction of her bedroom.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says.

“His ass looks great in them,” Jimin says.

“Hyung,” Jeongguk protests. He feels his cheeks burn and prays that Namjoon doesn’t think about his ass.

Namjoon just laughs. “Good to know,” he says.

That does not mean anything, Jeon Jeongguk, he tells himself.

“Seriously though, thank you so much. Can I do anything for you? We can even pay you what we were going to pay Hyunjin,” Jimin says.

Namjoon smiles and Jeongguk knows he will not allow that. “Like I said, it wasn’t a problem. You can make me dinner sometime, though.”

“Deal,” Jimin says agreeably. “Next weekend?”

“Jia stays with my mom next week,” Jeongguk remembers. “She loves when Chaeyoung comes, so maybe she could stay with them next Saturday, and we can do dinner? Yoongi and Seokjin too?”

“That sounds like fun,” Namjoon says. He nudges Jimin’s calf with his foot. “You can bring this new boytoy of yours too. I still haven’t met him.”

“Oh,” Jimin says, sounding a little unsure. “Yeah, I guess that sounds okay.”

“If you’re worried about Seokjin, don’t be,” Namjoon says.

“Hmm,” Jimin hums indifferently. “I’m not worried. Yes to dinner, maybe to Taehyung. I’ll talk to him.”

“Okay. I’ll just plan on next weekend.” Namjoon stands up. “I’m gonna go home now,” he says.

“I’ll walk out with you,” Jeongguk says quickly. “Just let me get Jia. They probably went and started playing.”

He’s right, and has to pull an unwilling Jia away from Chaeyoung. She argues with him to the point where he carries her backpack himself. “Come on, honey. It’s time to go to bed. Dad’s sleepy.”

Namjoon is waiting with his coat on when Jeongguk and Jia come back to the living room.

“Bye, hyung,” Jimin says, giving Namjoon a hug and kissing his cheek. “Bye, Jeongguk-ah. Love you. Bye, Jia.”

Jia hugs Jimin’s leg and frowns, looking grumpy. It’s bedtime.

“Thanks again, Namjoon-hyung,” Jeongguk says outside. He picks Jia up.

“Dad, why ‘m I not sleeping over tonight?” she asks, going limp against his shoulder.

“We need to sleep in our own beds,” Jeongguk says. “We’ll see Chaeyoung in the morning. Say thanks to Namjoon for hanging out with you.”

She lifts her head. “Thanks, oppa,” she says with a long sigh. “You were fun.”

Namjoon looks very pleased to hear that, like maybe he doesn’t think he’s fun. “You’re welcome. You were fun too. Get some rest, you’re going to need it for dance tomorrow.”

“That’s true,” Jia says begrudgingly.

Jeongguk gives Namjoon a tight smile. He wants to say more, thank him more, kiss him on the cheek like Jimin did. He doesn’t. “Goodnight, hyung.”

Namjoon reaches out and squeezes his arm. “Goodnight.”

 

 

 

 

“So,” Jeongguk says, dipping his finger into the foam on the cappuccino in front of him.

Taehyung laughs. “So.”

“You and Jimin have been going out for a few weeks now.”

“Yeah,” Taehyung agrees. “It’s been nice.” He leans over the table like he’s about to tell Jeongguk a secret. “I liked him the whole year Chaeyoung was in my class. He’s incredible.”

Jeongguk studies him for a second. “Okay,” he says. “What about Chaeyoung?”

“Well,” Taehyung begins. “There’s no reason for you to believe me when I say this, but I would swear to it. At the very, very beginning of last school year I met Chaeyoung, and I was like who is this tiny, perfect angel child? She was quiet and sweet and always actually took naps at naptime and brought a teddy bear like, twice the size of her for show and tell. And then of course, I met Jimin, and I was like oh, okay, this is where the perfect gene comes from. As a teacher I can’t, like, play favorites in class, but there have been lots of times I’ve thought ‘wow, I will never have a kid that acts like this’ or ‘god, this kid is great, the parents are really doing something right.’ Chaeyoung was one of the second. So the fact that Jimin’s been doing things by himself for four years is incredible. It made me respect him a lot.”

Taehyung stops talking then, but he looks like he has more to say. Jeongguk waits and hopes the silence pushes him.

He hesitates. “I know it’s too soon to say this kind of thing, and I wouldn’t say it to Jimin. Not yet. But when it comes down to it, Jimin and Chaeyoung come together, and I’m cool with that. I know that… having future intentions with Jimin means I have intentions with her too. That’s how it goes with people who are parents, right? The kids always come first. Chaeyoung always comes first, and that’s how things should be. You’re a dad. You know better than I do.”

“And you’re good with that,” Jeongguk pushes. “You don’t feel like you need Jimin’s undivided attention?”

Taehyung smiles. “I love it when I have it. But Chaeyoung has it all the time, and it’s fine with me. I’m not in a hurry. It helps that I like her a lot.”

Jeongguk decides that Taehyung passes. “So are you going to ask him to be your boyfriend?”

“Oh,” Taehyung says, looking surprised. “Should I? I thought I should wait for him to ask me.”

Jeongguk snorts. “Jimin went the whole school year that you were whipped for him thinking you weren’t interested. I think you’re going to need to make this move.”

“Okay,” Taehyung says with resolution. “Does this mean I have your blessing?”

“You have my blessing,” Jeongguk affirms.

“Good. Um, I don’t want to treat that like a joke. It’s actually really important to me. You’re the closest person to Jimin and Chaeyoung.”

Jeongguk smiles at him. “Well, I mean it. And for your next assignment, I need you to come to dinner on Saturday.”

Taehyung laughs out loud.

 

 

 

 

“Hey, mom,” Jeongguk says, feeling a rush of affection as he steps into his parents’ house.

“Hi, baby,” she says, pulling him into a tight hug. It’s been a while. Jeongguk’s eyes prick inexplicably. When she pulls away, she puts her hands on her hips and looks at Jia. “Come over here, young lady!”

“Grandma!” Jia exclaims and gives Jeongguk’s mom a big hug, after which his mom picks her up and holds her close.

“It’s been way too long,” she says as Jeongguk shuts the front door and follows her into the kitchen.

“It has,” Jeongguk agrees. “I’m sorry. I’ve been busy.”

His mom squeezes his shoulder. “I know. You’re working hard. You need to take more breaks, though. Let me have this one more often.” She seats Jia at the kitchen table, and Jeongguk sits, too. He’s long since stopped trying to argue with his mom about spoiling him when he comes home.

It’s strange to be in this kitchen, sometimes. He lived here after Jia was born, until she was about two. This is a place where he was a kid, but it’s also a place where he was half an adult. It makes him feel weird, and not always in a good way.

“Are you still working both jobs?” his mom asks, bringing over a plate of cookies she doubtlessly made in preparation for his visit.

“Yeah,” he says. He breaks a cookie in half and just stares at it. “I should probably be looking for something full time.”

“It’s tough out there.”

“Guess so.” Jeongguk has been thinking about that a lot recently. Combined, he works about fifty hours a week, more when he can. He needs something full time, with better pay and benefits. What he’s getting now is minimal. He worries all the time that something is going to happen and he won’t be able to take care of Jia. He knows his parents would step in--he knows--but he doesn’t want that.

“And how are you doing?” she asks. “Are you feeling good?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk answers, almost surprised to find he’s being honest. “Yeah, I’m good. Things are good. Right, Jia?”

“Yup,” Jia says, stuffing a third cookie in her mouth. “Can I play the piano?”

“Sure,” Jeongguk’s mom says. “Finish chewing,” she stops Jia before she can slide out of her seat.

Jia obediently chews and swallows, then gets down and runs through the living room, around the corner to the office room where Jeongguk’s parents keep their piano. In a second, the discordant sounds of a musically illiterate six-year-old fill the house. She pounds for a second, then does a couple scales and starts in on a badly paced rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb.

“She seems good.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk agrees. “As funny as ever.”

“You were a funny kid, too,” his mom reminds him. “You were never as matter-of-fact as she is, but I think it’s because you were a youngest child.”

Jeongguk just smiles. He finally eats half of his cookie.

“What’s up, baby?” his mom asks. “You seem sad.”

“Ah, I don’t know, mom,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “The colder it gets the more anxious I feel. It’s the weather, I guess. The changes make me feel funny.”

“They do say that can happen. It’s nothing going on, though?”

“No,” Jeongguk says and for reasons he might never know, his mind wanders directly to Namjoon. For a brief moment he wonders if he could be feeling all sad and emo because of his weird big crush. But that’s not Jeongguk.

No, the thing he knows is happening is that his body and mind are pulling on him for a change. Tired, the both of them. Asking for a new job and better stability and more time to spend with his daughter, the most important person in his life. They’re asking him for safety, and security.

“I think I’m subconsciously trying to figure out what to do but not actually thinking about it,” he says. “I don’t want to not have enough money. I don’t want--” he cuts off, thinking he was about to say something more emotionally vulnerable than he feels like getting today. “I don’t want her to need anything I can’t give her,” he settles on, and even that feels like too much.

“Jeongguk-ah,” his mom says. “I’m not going to fight with you about this today, but I still think you should go back to school.”

Jeongguk swallows down the emotion that rises in his chest. It was about a year ago, the fight they had about this. His parents wanted him to let them support Jia, enough that he could work part-time and finish school. He refused point blank. His parents are good people, but he can’t go back to being tied to them.

“I know you do, mom,” he says. He doesn’t say anything more.

There’s a silence for a moment, and then his mom asks, “How is Jimin?”

“He’s great,” Jeongguk says. “Dating this new guy. Kim Taehyung. He was Chaeyoung’s teacher last year. He loves Chaeyoung and he’s been really good to Jimin.”

“Well good for him,” she says. “He deserves that. You let this Taehyung character know that if he puts a toe out of line, he’ll have the whole Jeon family to deal with.”

Jeongguk grins. “I will.” He’s pleased with her reaction. Initially, she’d been skeptical about his relationship with Jimin. It had taken him a while to get the reason out of her, but it ended up being that she was worried about all the time they spent together, and that they might end up becoming “too attached.” Which was her way of saying “gay for each other.” The conversation where Jeongguk addressed his bisexuality had been very uncomfortable, but his mom had taken it a lot better than he expected. His dad still seems to pretend Jeongguk is only interested in women, but he’s never said anything outright judgmental. Jeongguk can only hope that if he someday brings a man home, they’ll get it.

He thinks of a man: tall with a kind, pretty face and a small nose. Gentle with big hands. Who both speaks and handles people with care. Who his parents would surely adore.

He curses himself.

Jeongguk clears his throat. “I’ll bring Chaeyoung by tomorrow afternoon, if that’s okay?”

“Sounds good,” she says. “Dad’s going to love having both of his ninja warrior buddies here.”

“Thank you,” he says. “I--thank you.”

“I get it, honey.” She puts a hand over his. “Having kids is tough even when you are married. You need time for yourself. You and Jimin both. You’re not burdening me and dad. You never are.”

He closes his eyes just a second too long. “I love you, mom.”

She gets up and comes around the table to squeeze him around the shoulders. “I love you too, baby. Now get out of here. Go have some you time, and enjoy your time with friends.”

“Alright,” he says, and obeys after pecking a kiss to her cheek and calling out a goodbye to Jia.

The rare occasion that he’s alone in his apartment is strange. He misses Jia’s presence, and he has to settle into the peace of being alone. He spends the first couple hours cleaning, which wasn’t his mom’s intention, but it needs to be done. He vacuums, sweeps, washes and folds laundry, tidies Jia’s room a little.

Much later than he should be eating dinner, he orders takeout and watches a movie. It makes him feel a little melancholy, thinking that it would be nice to have someone to spend this Friday night with, but it’s good for him to be by himself sometimes. He feels honest and a little sad.

When Jeongguk curls up in bed to go to sleep, he thinks for the first time about Namjoon, about his long, soft body and his hands. How it would feel to be pressed against that body, how it would feel to have those hands on him. Fingers running through his hair, rubbing over his back and shoulders. The sweet tease of safety being held by someone.

He’s past hating himself for wanting that, but he’s not past being embarrassed by it. And now that it has a face and a name, a handsome face and a name his mind seems to like very much, it’s even worse.

 

The next day he spends with Jimin. They go to the gym together, issue Hoseok a last-minute invitation to dinner when they pick up Chaeyoung, and then they run Chaeyoung to Jeongguk’s parents’ house.

They get caught up there because Jeongguk’s dad is home and he wants to talk, plus his parents love Jimin and always want to hear how he’s doing. When they manage to leave, they head for the grocery store to pick up things for dinner.

At Jimin’s apartment, Jeongguk lets himself be bossed around to get dinner ready. He knows Jimin can tell he’s feeling quiet and a little subdued, but Jimin understands him, so he won’t ask or push.

Taehyung gets there first with Hoseok, giving Jimin a kiss on the mouth and Jeongguk a kiss on the cheek. Hoseok hugs Jeongguk, and something about his presence is instantly steadying to Jeongguk. When Namjoon gets there, he instantly hits it off with Taehyung and Hoseok both, asking both of them about their jobs and their families and how long they’ve been friends. It turns out to have been a long time; he gets it out of them that they’ve known each other since being assigned as roommates in university, that Hoseok spent a year after high school traveling with a dance troupe so they started college the same year and graduated together.

“We were in the same degree program so starting our third year we had pretty much every class together,” Hoseok says. “I feel like it’s a miracle we don’t hate each other after that.”

“Um, I think it’s because of all the weed we smoked together,” Taehyung says. Jeongguk laughs in surprise.

“God, why am I not surprised?” Jimin asks, shaking his head.

Yoongi and Seokjin come last, bearing alcohol. Seokjin and Taehyung talk before dinner, and distantly Jeongguk notices Jimin throwing them nervous glances.

“All of this because Namjoon babysat for you?” Seokjin teases as they sit around the table.

“I’m glad to provide an excuse for Jimin to cook for me anytime,” Namjoon grins.

“And Jeongguk,” Jimin adds.

“Right, of course. Actually, Jeongguk has to be part of the deal.”

Jeongguk smiles and tries not to blush. He sits between Taehyung and Hoseok in an attempt to not be obvious, but it puts him in the perfect spot to look at Namjoon. Unfortunately, Namjoon looks really good tonight, in jeans and a black henley with the top couple of buttons undone. Even in the late fall, he still has a very slight golden glow to him, and the black sets it off. His neck and chest are some of the most attractive parts of him, Jeongguk decides. Added to his face, his hands, his long legs, his little nose, his jawline…

He looks away, and he was looking too long. On the other side of Taehyung, Jimin’s watching him. When Jeongguk chances another glance at Namjoon, Namjoon is already looking at him. He smiles brightly, lips pressed together, with a little eye crinkle. Jeongguk bites his lip, then smiles back.

After dinner, Taehyung helps Jimin clear the table, and in the living room Jeongguk and Yoongi pour drinks.

Jeongguk tucks himself into the corner of the couch, with his legs pulled under himself, leaning toward Namjoon. He can’t help it. Namjoon exudes this calm and safe energy, that steadiness that Jeongguk always pretends he doesn’t want. He’s happy with this, he thinks briefly to himself; even if Namjoon weren’t entirely out of his league, Jeongguk would be happy with this. Namjoon’s fixed closely in his life now. He’s friends with Jimin, he knows Jeongguk’s daughter, he even seems to like spending time with Jeongguk.

He leans his head against the couch, listening as Namjoon talks with Hoseok.

Taehyung and Hoseok leave a little early, and when they do Namjoon turns to Jeongguk. “Are you alright?” he asks.

“I’m fine,” Jeongguk says. He doesn’t know how to explain that he doesn’t feel bad, just a content kind of tired and loose-limbed, not from the drinking. “Just… good.”

“Okay,” Namjoon says and smiles like maybe he gets it. He turns his body the same as Jeongguk’s, long legs pulled up underneath him, his side pressed against the couch. Jeongguk realizes belatedly that the whole time he’s been sitting here, his body language has been all Namjoon, only Namjoon. He would be embarrassed, except curiously he just isn’t.

Jimin comes back from showing Taehyung and Hoseok out, and Seokjin stands up. “Jimin-ah,” he says, “can we talk for a minute?”

For a moment Jimin looks at him and worries at his bottom lip. “Yeah,” he says, and nods in the direction of his bedroom. Seokjin follows him.

A warm and dull alarm hits Jeongguk, but neither Yoongi nor Namjoon seems surprised. “What…” he begins.

Yoongi shakes his head. “Ask him about it.”

He presses his lips together. “Jimin won’t talk to me about Seokjin.”

“Yeah, sounds like him,” Yoongi says. “Don’t worry about them, Jeongguk-ah. Seokjin’s kind of reckless, but he cares about Jimin too much to hurt him again.”

“You sure you okay, Jeongguk-ah? You look tired,” says Namjoon.

Jeongguk has closed his eyes at some point. He opens them. “Yes, but I might be tired.” He is tired, he thinks, but in a way that a weekend to himself isn’t going to solve.

“Should you go home? Do you want a ride?”

He shakes his head. “Thank you. I’m staying here tonight, actually.”

Something odd flickers in Namjoon’s eyes. “Sure.” He gets up then and walks into the kitchen.

“Is he okay?” Jeongguk asks, hearing the sink come on.

Yoongi laughs and the sound is so sharp and clear that Jeongguk can’t believe for a second that Yoongi is making fun of him. It’s an amused laugh, surprised too.

“Okay,” Jeongguk says unsurely.

Seokjin comes from the hallway, followed shortly by Jimin. Jeongguk can’t tell what happened, but Yoongi doesn’t leave time for awkwardness, he just stands up and says, “You ready, hyung?”

He and Seokjin are oddly deferential to each other, Jeongguk thinks. He’s seen them bicker and jab at each other, but Yoongi very quietly watches out for Seokjin and Seokjin very quietly takes care of Yoongi. They don’t think people notice. Jeongguk likes it.

“I’m ready,” Seokjin says. “Good to see you Jeongguk-ah, thanks for the dinner. Um, Jimin-ah.” He turns, and then Jimin crashes into him, arms tight around Seokjin’s waist. “Oh,” Seokjin says, startled. “Oh, okay.” He hugs Jimin back, looking strangely shaken.

“Love you, hyung,” Jimin says roughly and then pulls away. He crosses his arms.

“Love you too, Jimin-ah,” Seokjin says. “Okay. This is great, but I have to go.”

Jimin just smiles. “I know. Goodnight.”

Yoongi laughs and pats Jimin on the arm, ushering Seokjin out.

Namjoon comes from the kitchen. “Oh, they left?”

“Have you been doing dishes?” Jimin asks and hits him on the arm. “Shame on you.”

He looks chastised. “Sorry, thank you for the dinner. I’ll get out of your hair now.”

“What?” Jimin squawks. “Out of our what? No you won’t! Stay. Yoongi and Seokjin left the rest of the whiskey.”

Namjoon laughs. “Jimin-ah, I don't even like whiskey.”

“Right. Do you want wine?”

“I’m going to go,” he says more quietly now. “Jeongguk is tired. Thank you though, really.”

“Oh, no,” Jeongguk says quickly. “I don’t want you to leave. What are we doing, hyung? Movie?”

“We agreed on Ghibli,” Jimin says.

“Don’t try to tell me you don’t like Ghibli, Namjoon-hyung. I won’t believe you for a second.”

“Of course I do. Thank you. I could do some wine.”

Namjoon sits on the couch again and accepts the wine Jimin brings him. Jimin puts on Howl’s Moving Castle. “Oh, my god, I love this movie,” says Namjoon.

“Me too,” says Jeongguk. “One of my favorites. I’m going to fall asleep.”

Jimin makes a tch sound. “Don’t fall asleep.”

“Okay,” says Jeongguk, and less than an hour in he falls asleep. When he wakes up, Jimin’s turning off the tv.

“You want to go to bed, bud?” he asks quietly.

“Yes,” Jeongguk says, sighing sleepily. Then he realizes Namjoon’s asleep too, still on the couch. “Oh no,” he says in a breathy, whipped whoosh of air.

“Joon? Hyung?” Jimin shakes Namjoon’s shoulder. Namjoon groans a little. “Do you want to stay the night? You can sleep on the couch?”

Namjoon rolls over and doesn’t open his eyes. “What about Jeongguk,” he murmurs into the couch cushion.

“What about him? He’s sleeping in my bed.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Sit up, huh? Let me get you some sheets.”

Namjoon does sit up then. “God, sorry, Jimin-ah,” he says, much more lucid now. “I’m fine, I’m awake.”

“No need,” Jimin says. “I’m getting you sheets. No arguments.”

“Okay.”

Jeongguk watches Namjoon sit there, soft and tired with messy hair. He can’t look too long. The picture is too much. He helps Jimin spread a sheet over the couch and finds Namjoon a blanket and pillow. “Goodnight, hyung,” he says, and Namjoon smiles softly at him.

“Goodnight, Jeongguk-ah,” he says in almost a whisper. “Jimin-ah,” he adds.

Jeongguk and Jimin tumble into Jimin’s big bed, and Jimin stretches out, hugging a pillow to his chest. “This was a good day,” he says firmly.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Tell me about Seokjin.”

Jimin is quiet for a second. “Now?”

“No,” Jeongguk says. “I’m too tired. Tomorrow, though.”

“I will.”

“Okay.” Jeongguk curls up small and breathes in and goes to sleep.

 

In the morning when he wakes up and Jimin is gone, in the shower judging by the sound from the bathroom. Jeongguk feels pretty good, so he gets up and goes to the kitchen to make coffee, forgetting entirely that Namjoon is there until he sees him all stretched out on the couch. His heart stutters at Namjoon’s sleeping face, and he turns on his heel.

By the time the coffee is made, Namjoon is sitting up on the couch. “Good morning,” he says. His voice is rough with the morning.

“Morning. Coffee?”

“Please.”

Jeongguk brings a cup over and sits next to him.

“Wow, thank you. I love being waited on in the morning.”

Jeongguk giggles. “Anytime. You sleep okay out here?”

“I really did,” Namjoon says. “This is a very comfortable couch.”

“Oh man, I know. It’s more comfortable than my bed at home. I used to sleep on it like, every weekend.”

“You and Jimin are really close, though.”

“Yeah. Is that weird?” he wonders. “I don’t think it’s weird. He’s just my best friend and stuff.”

“It’s not weird,” Namjoon says. “Yoongi and I are kind of like that. Not exactly. We don’t really cuddle or sleep together, at least not that much, but it’s like. We know each other all the way, you know?”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says even as he has the sudden feeling that he might not know. If anyone knew him all the way, it would be Jimin, but there’s a part of Jeongguk that’s afraid no one will ever know him all the way.

“Are you okay?” Namjoon asks. “Sorry. I know I keep asking that. You just seem a little off.”

Jeongguk blows out a breath. “I don’t really know, hyung,” he admits finally. “I feel kind of funny. I think it’s the weather.” He keeps telling people that. He believes it less every time.

Namjoon looks at him, and his eyes are searching and too intense for Jeongguk. “Okay,” he says. “I hope you feel better soon.”

“I will,” Jeongguk says. Decisive, because he will. There’s no other option.

“Sometimes,” Namjoon says, “I forget how young you are.” He frowns at himself. “I’m sorry, that was a weird thing to say.”

I don’t forget,” Jeongguk says, ignoring the apology. “I feel so young. All the time.”

“Maybe it’s because you are. Sometimes I feel like you must be the same age as me. Or just not an age at all. You take things seriously. You’re so responsible.”

“I have to be.” A weird weight settles in the pit of his stomach. It’s strange for him to be talking about this, and even stranger to be talking about it honestly.

“That sounds tiring.”

Jeongguk drops his head against the back of the couch and looks over at Namjoon. “Yeah.”

Namjoon looks at Jeongguk like he has something to say, but he doesn’t.

Jimin comes out of his bedroom, showered and already dressed. “Hey,” he says, seeming very chipper.

“Um, hi,” Jeongguk says. “What’s up?”

“Tae asked me to get brunch. Is that okay with you guys? You can hang out here as long as you want.”

“Oh, go ahead,” Jeongguk says. He glances at Namjoon.

“Have fun,” Namjoon says.

As Jimin leaves, Namjoon gives Jeongguk a big, goofy smile and says, “I’m going to clean his house.”

Jeongguk bursts into surprised giggles. “Okay. I’ll help.”

So bizarrely, they clean. Namjoon finishes the dishes from last night while Jeongguk puts away the sheets and blankets he slept on. He makes the bed for Jimin and straightens the bathroom.

“Hey, I think we’re crazy,” he tells Namjoon when he comes into a spotless kitchen. He leans against the countertop and looks at him.

“Um, I think you’re right, and combined we’re maniacs.”

Jeongguk smiles. “I’m gonna take a shower.” He hovers a little, hoping Namjoon won’t take that as a cue to leave.

“Okay. You busy today?”

He shakes his head.

“I don’t know if we can make brunch,” Namjoon says, looking at the time, “but do you want to go get some lunch? After your shower.”

“Yes,” Jeongguk says. He presses his lips together. “Yeah. I’m, yeah. Gonna shower.”

Namjoon smiles after him. “Okay.”

Jeongguk showers. They go for lunch.

 

Jimin and Jeongguk have dinner before they pick up the girls from Jeongguk’s parents’ house, and Jeongguk asks Jimin to tell him what happened between him and Seokjin.

“Okay,” Jimin says. “Something you should know is that Seokjin now is so different from Seokjin when this happened. He’s… I don’t know what he’s done or who he’s been around, but he’s different. I mean, back then he was himself, still insufferably handsome, still allergic to expressing his feelings, but I think maybe more scared.”

“Scared,” Jeongguk repeats.

“Yeah. It was, um, a year and a half or maybe two years after Jiyeong left. Seokjin and I had been doing this weird dance for a while, this sexual tension thing Namjoon and Yoongi could not stand. Long story short, we slept together, we tried to go on dates, and it wasn’t working.”

“Oh, shit.”

“Yeah. I don’t know. If things had been different, I think we could’ve worked out,” Jimin says, which is a very strange thing to hear him say about Seokjin. “I would have loved to be as spontaneous and fuck-it about things as he was. I would’ve loved to travel, do exciting and random things. But so much of my personality has grown out of being a dad, and I just couldn’t enjoy it. I wanted stability so badly. I wanted Seokjin to want to put roots down. But I don’t know if that’ll ever be something he can do.”

“So,” Jeongguk clarifies, “you didn’t work out romantically and then… you stopped talking?”

“Well,” Jimin says awkwardly. “First I pushed him too hard to put a name on what we were doing. I wasn’t good to him. He probably felt like he couldn’t trust me.”

“You were scared,” Jeongguk says because he knows he would have been too. “You were trying to hang onto what you thought you could have.”

“Yeah I was,” Jimin agrees. “That’s what Seokjin said. He’s a lot gentler now. He told me… that he loves me and wants to be in my life and it not be weird, and that he’s happy I have Taehyung. He said Taehyung’s the person I need and the person I deserve.”

Jeongguk can hear it in his voice that he’s about to cry. “That must have been really hard for you. That Yoongi and Namjoon moved and you and Seokjin weren’t talking.”

“Yeah,” Jimin agrees. “It was. But then there was you.”

He huffs. “You did way more for me than I did for you.”

Jimin reaches over to slap his leg. “That’s what you think.”

 

 

 

 

Right after the New Year, Jeongguk starts to get sick. On Wednesday his nose is running and he can feel the drainage in his throat, gross and scratchy. He gets soup and tea for lunch and doesn't take off his coat.

Across from him, Namjoon frowns. "Are you okay?"

"Just cold," he says. It comes out like he obviously has a blocked nose.

The next morning he doesn't wake up until his third alarm, the alarm that means 'there is literally no way you'll be on time to work if you don't get up now'. He stares at the screen of his phone long enough to understand what's happening, and then he's swearing and tumbling out of bed.

He opens Jia's door. "Jia, honey, it's time to get up." Oh god. He sounds so sick. "Damn it," he mutters on a cough.

"Dad?" Jia is rubbing at her eyes.

"Let's get ready for school, honey," he says.

"Dad, what's wrong with you?"

"Dad's sick, baby," he says. "Let me see if Jimin can take you to school. Get dressed, okay?"

Thankfully she doesn't try to be difficult this morning. She gets out of bed and goes to her closet.

Jeongguk goes back to his room, feeling awfully dizzy. He calls in to the gym and lets them know he's sick and starts formulating a plan to drag himself to tutoring after lunch.

He calls Jimin, but it goes to voicemail. He's probably in the shower. Jeongguk sends a text with some words so badly misspelled that even autocorrect can't help him, and it's a stressful fifteen minutes before Jimin responds. It's a simple No worries which he takes to mean Jimin will be by to get Jia. When someone knocks on his door close to eight, he expects it to be Jimin with Chaeyoung, but it's not. It's Namjoon.

"Hyung?" he says in confusion. "What are you doing here?"

"Wow, you look terrible," Namjoon says. He takes Jeongguk by the shoulders and pushes him back into his apartment, steering him onto the couch. Jeongguk is too out of it to even feel self conscious about his tiny apartment. "Jimin texted me. He said you're sick. I knew it."

"I'm sick," he agrees. "Maybe I'll drink some vinegar," he mumbles. His eyes are closed. He doesn't know when that happened.

"Maybe you'll what?" Namjoon sounds alarmed.

"Apple cider vinegar," Jeongguk says. He can feel himself drifting, so he drags himself into an upright position and opens his eyes. He can't feel his limbs moving.

Namjoon looks like he's going to say something, but before he does, Jia comes out of the bathroom.

"Joon-oppa?"

"Hi, Jia," he says. "I'm gonna take you to school, okay?"

"You what?" Jeongguk asks.

"Jimin had a meeting this morning," Namjoon says. "He asked me to come. Let me take Jia to school."

"Yeah," Jeongguk says, feeling like his head is distant from his body.

"Okay. You need anything? I can stop by the store."

Jeongguk doesn't want to inconvenience him, but he also really needs to resurrect himself before the afternoon. "Maybe some dayquil?" he says. "And apple cider vinegar?"

"Oh my god, you're not drinking apple cider vinegar," Namjoon says. "I'll bring the dayquil, though. Now go back to sleep, okay? I'll be back."

He wants to argue, but he can barely keep his eyes open. "Okay," he mumbles. "Jia, you can't wear those pants with that shirt.” He drifts off on the couch.

 

When Jeongguk wakes up again, he's covered with a blanket and it's almost eleven. He feels like he’s pulling himself from a deep mire until he sees the time. He jerks awake. "Oh god."

Namjoon is in his kitchen, and he startles as Jeongguk scrambles off the couch. "What are you doing?"

"What are you doing?"

"Um, I took your keys so I could let myself back in," Namjoon says. He looks a little embarrassed.

"Why didn't you wake me up?" Jeongguk asks frantically.

"Because you're sick?"

"I have to make it go away!" Jeongguk says, realizing in a distant way that he’s becoming increasingly hysterical. "Did you bring dayquil? I have to be at work in two hours."

"Whoa, what?" Namjoon looks at him with wide eyes. "You can't go to work."

"Yes I can," he says. "I'm gonna... take a shower." He starts toward the bathroom, and then suddenly he's very dizzy.

A pair of large hands catch him around the waist. "You can't even walk," Namjoon says lowly. "Sit."

Jeongguk lets himself be steered back to the couch. "I'll take some dayquil and I'll be fine," he says.

"You cannot go to work," Namjoon says again.

"You don't get it," Jeongguk bites. "I have to. Oh god." He even feels dizzy sitting down. He presses his palm against his forehead and tries to ground himself. "I'm going to be fine."

"No," Namjoon says. "You need to let your body recover. You can take off today and tomorrow."

"I can't," Jeongguk whispers. He feels pathetic and he's starting to cry. "I really can't."

Namjoon is looking at him incredulously. "It's only two days. You won't even be able to stand up in the shower, Jeongguk-ah."

God, he's right. Tears start leaking out without his permission. "I have to take care of Jia," he grits out.

"Jia is going to be fine," Namjoon says. "Jimin already said he'll get her from school and she can stay at his house tonight if she needs to. Which, she does. You need to rest."

He's really crying now. "I'm a bad dad."

"You are not!" Namjoon exclaims. "You're an incredible dad. You love her so much. You would drag yourself through a workday sick for her. You would move heaven and earth for her."

"I already called in to the gym," Jeongguk says miserably.

"That does not make you a bad dad. You've got to take care of yourself." Namjoon runs his fingers gently through Jeongguk’s hair. It feels so nice. "Call in to the tutoring center before you go back to sleep," he says. His voice is low and rumbly and comforting.

"I'll text," Jeongguk says, reaching blindly for his phone. Namjoon grabs his wrist and guides his hand to it.

"Go to sleep now," he says when Jeongguk has finished texting his manager.

"I needed to get groceries today," Jeongguk says. His eyes slip shut.

"I'll go for you," Namjoon says. "Do you have a list?"

"Mm, on the fridge," Jeongguk says. "There's a--in the far right cabinet, there's a tin with some cash in it you can take."

Namjoon goes into the kitchen, and when he comes back he crouches next to Jeongguk and puts a hand on his shoulder. "Want to take nyquil?"

"Want to take dayquil," Jeongguk rejects.

"Take this," Namjoon says, handing him two huge bluish green pills and a glass of water.

"Ugh, fine," he says.

"You want some tea before I go to the store?"

"Just the water is fine, thank you," Jeongguk says. "I can't believe you're doing this for me."

"Believe it, kid," Namjoon says.

"Not a kid," he mumbles.

"Sleep."

Jeongguk fades in and out of consciousness for something like four hours, waking up briefly when Namjoon comes back from the store and then again much later.

Namjoon is sitting in the armchair, reading.

"You're still here," Jeongguk mumbles.

Namjoon looks up. "Oh, you're awake." He closes his book. "Are you ready to eat something?"

Jeongguk tries to take stock of his body. "Um. Yeah, I think so."

"Okay. I stopped by the cafe and when I told Mikyung you were sick, she sent a huge tub of soup back with me. I'll heat it up."

"Ugh," Jeongguk says. He pushes himself up to sit. "People keep doing things for me." He hugs a throw pillow to his chest.

"Surprise," Namjoon says dryly. "People love you."

Jeongguk groans, feeling small huddled up into the corner of his couch.

Namjoon brings him tea while the soup heats. Jeongguk can't smell it to know what kind it is, but when he takes a sip the sweet taste of peppermint with honey hits his tongue, and the warmth washes over him pleasantly. "Oh, that's nice," he says.

"Do you have a lot of drainage?" Namjoon asks.

"Yeah," Jeongguk says. "It's just a cold, I think. I can probably flush it out in a couple days if I drink enough."

Namjoon nods. "I'll get you more water, then."

"'M going to the bathroom," Jeongguk mumbles.

"Can you walk yourself there?" Namjoon asks. Jeongguk has to look at him to gauge whether his concern is real, and it seems to be.

"Yeah, I'm fine," he says, huffing a little laugh. It takes him a minute, but he gets there. He blows his nose so much he feels lightheaded, but when he comes out of the bathroom he can smell a little.

"Sit back down," Namjoon says, "I'll bring this to you."

"Okay," he says meekly, unable to ignore Namjoon’s direction anymore. "Do you not have somewhere you need to be?" he asks when Namjoon brings him a bowl of hot soup.

"Nope," Namjoon says. "My employment is highly sporadic right now, remember?"

Another pang of anxiety washes through Jeongguk’s chest. "Did Jimin pick Jia up?"

"Yes," Namjoon says, "and he asked about you and I said you were knocked out and hopefully you'd stay that way. He's keeping her overnight."

"She needs her stuff," Jeongguk says.

"I ran some clothes and her toothbrush over," Namjoon says, poking him in the stomach. "Eat and stop worrying about Jia. She's going to be fine."

Jeongguk gathers himself and takes a deep breath and says, "Thank you. Thank you... so much."

"You're welcome." Namjoon squeezes his knee. "I'm going to stick around through dinnertime, if that's okay with you."

"You're sure you don't have anywhere you need to be?" Jeongguk presses.

"I need to be here," he says.

Jeongguk takes a sip of the soup and groans. "Praise Mikyung," he says.

"She is the best," Namjoon agrees.

"She knows when boys need to be fed," Jeongguk says. "And also taught how to cook. She gave me a bunch of recipes back in the day."

"The real MVP," Namjoon says. "Your parents didn't teach you?"

"Nah," Jeongguk says a little too lightly. "They were holding out for me to have a wife to take care of me. Instead I had a kid that I had to take care of."

"Ah," Namjoon says awkwardly. He looks like he's sorry for asking about it.

"No worries," Jeongguk says. "It's just that they thought pretty traditionally. They're supportive of me. They never tried to stop me from being Jia's dad. They love her. They love me, they love Jimin and Chaeyoung. It’s cool."

“I’m really glad,” Namjoon says. “I’m glad to see the support you have.”

“It’s big.” Jeongguk tips his head back. “Before Jimin I wasn’t sure if I could keep going. I thought it was just a matter of time until I ended up back at my parents’ house.”

“Jimin’s special,” Namjoon says. “He has this way of making you believe you can do anything. There were times I wouldn’t have made it through college without him.”

“Wow.” Jeongguk can’t hide his surprise. “I didn’t realize you’d known each other that long.

“Mhm. We met my junior year. Before Yoongi graduated.”

“Before he got married,” Jeongguk marvels. “Before Chaeyoung.”

“Oh, hm. I can see how that would be weird for you to think about.”

“Yeah. I never knew him when he was married. Or without Chaeyoung.”

“Has he told you much?” Namjoon asks. “About… that?”

“He brings up Jiyeong every once in a while,” Jeongguk says. “Just in passing. He didn’t tell me anything about what happened there except that she just picked up and left.”

“Yeah. It was messy.”

“I can’t imagine.” He knows Namjoon will get that he doesn’t just mean how messy things were, but the idea of being left behind by someone you love.

“No, me neither,” Namjoon agrees. Then he changes the subject. “So. Do you want me to get out of your hair? Because otherwise, I think we should watch a movie.”

Jeongguk laughs at the very idea of wanting Namjoon out of his hair. Just his presence makes Jeongguk’s sick, exhausted body thrum with comfort. He feels like he could melt into the couch and know he’s being watched out for. The thought sobers him; he might be sick and a little fuzzy, but he can’t allow his guard that far down. “A movie would be good,” he says.

Namjoon leaves sometime before nine. He helps Jeongguk get all the things he needs in his bedroom, and as Jeongguk sits on the edge of his bed with his head starting to pound a little, he says, “If you’re comfortable with it, I’d like to come back tomorrow morning.”

“You don’t have to,” Jeongguk says.

“I believe my exact wording was ‘I’d like to.’ I’m really just asking your permission.”

“Yes,” Jeongguk says. “It’s fine. I mean, thank you. For everything.”

“It’s no problem,” says Namjoon. Jeongguk almost believes him.

 

By Saturday, he’s almost completely better, just with some residual tiredness and congestion.

Rent is due soon, so with a knot of nerves he faces the state of his bank account. He should be okay--his parents have persisted in giving him extra money for his birthday for years, and he usually puts it away in a savings account. This month, though, he had to pay for the semester of Jia’s after school care, so a couple times he has to fight off catastrophizing tears and calm himself down a little.

His head clears enough for him to realize that all the cash he had in his emergency cash tin is still there. Namjoon bought his groceries.

Namjoon stops by in the early afternoon to check on him, and Jeongguk feels a lot more awake and put together and worried.

“How are you?” he asks when Jeongguk lets him in.

Jeongguk worries his lip and looks at him.

“What’s wrong?” Namjoon asks.

“You paid for my groceries.” He feels sick to his stomach.

Namjoon lets out a breath. “I… did.”

Jeongguk shakes his head, feeling a rushing in his ears and tears pricking at his eyes. Namjoon doesn’t say anything.

“Namjoon-hyung,” Jeongguk says in a tight whisper.

“Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says, avoiding his gaze. He looks up after a second. “Can I--I just want to,” he cuts off. He steps forward and pulls Jeongguk into his arms, just like that.

Jeongguk goes rigid on impulse. “I--you--” he hits Namjoon weakly on the shoulder and leans forward into him.

“I know,” Namjoon says, “I’m sorry. I knew you wouldn’t want me to and I did anyway. I’m sorry.”

The tears happen without permission as Jeongguk wraps his arms around Namjoon’s waist and presses his cheek into his shoulder. He’s telling himself to quit and pull away, but he can’t get himself to. “I’m gonna pay you back,” he says, through tears still falling. “I’m gonna pay you back. Thank you for being here for me, but I’m going to pay you back.”

“I’m going to let you, because I know you feel like you have to. I just wanted to…” he trails off and doesn’t finish, doesn’t act like he’s going to. He just moves a hand and starts to pet Jeongguk’s hair.

Jeongguk has an experience like he’s coming back to his body, and he realizes his cheek is resting on Namjoon’s shoulder and his forehead is pressed to his neck and one hand is pressed to Namjoon’s back and the other is clutching his shirt. He lets go gingerly, lifts his head, and steps back. “Sorry,” he says and sounds congested. “Do you want to come in?”

“You’re fine,” Namjoon says. He reaches out for Jeongguk’s hand and squeezes it. “I understand. And yeah, are you hungry?”

Jeongguk considers. “Uh, yeah. Yes.”

“Okay. I’m going to make some food.”

He frowns. “You’re going to what?”

“Hey.” Namjoon pokes his chest. “I know what food is in this house, and I’m going to cook right now, and you’re going to sit your ass down and let me.”

Jeongguk chews at the inside of his lip to try and hide his smile. “Ah, hyung,” he says.

Namjoon is already in the kitchen. “Sit your ass down,” he repeats.

Jeongguk feels like he’s going to cry again. His chest feels big and warm, and Namjoon’s in his kitchen, and he has the terrifying thought that maybe he is falling in love.

He sits down at the counter bar and watches Namjoon cook. “Thank you for everything,” he says, even though he’s already thanked him. “You did so much already. I don’t even know what to say.”

Namjoon pauses at the stove, but he doesn’t quite look at Jeongguk. “I wanted to, Jeongguk-ah. I don’t know about you, but being sick alone is the worst for me.”

“It makes things go a lot slower,” Jeongguk says. “I feel like I’ve been moving like a sloth for days.”

“You looked like you were going to fall over every time you stood up on Thursday.”

“I was. I was… lucky you were here.”

“Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says like he doesn’t know how to respond, like maybe Jeongguk is calling him out on something he doesn’t know about. So Jeongguk stops being all gooey and just watches him as he works. This is very sweet, possibly the sweetest thing that’s happened to him in years.

“Hyung,” he says quietly. Namjoon looks at him. “One more time. Thank you.”

Namjoon comes over. He puts a hand on the back of Jeongguk’s neck. It’s overwhelming. “Jeongguk-ah. You’re welcome.”

 

Jeongguk gets better and Jia comes home and he goes back to work, feeling this weird flurry of emotions he doesn’t quite know how to deal with, doesn’t quite have time to deal with. He sees Namjoon once during the week, at lunch, and it doesn’t make it better.

Finally on Friday he sees Jimin. He wants Jimin to talk him out of this crush. He wants Jimin to tell him he’s crazy. He wants Jimin to knock some sense into him. He knows Jimin isn’t going to, but anyway he needs to talk about it or he thinks he might burst. He gets in bed with Jimin and turns to look at him.

“Hyung,” Jeongguk says.

“Hmm?”

“Am I too old to have a crush?”

There’s a pause, and then Jimin asks, “What?”

“Like,” Jeongguk tries, “just--a crush. You know. The kind where you like someone more and more all the time even though you try not to. Look up to them. Think they’re really good.”

“I don’t know if you can just be ‘too old’ for those,” Jimin says. “I think they just happen.”

Jeongguk considers. “I have one now.”

Jimin rolls over to look at him. “On Namjoon?”

Jeongguk can feel himself blush. “It’s obvious, huh?”

“Only because I know you so well. But Jeongguk-ah, have you considered--”

“No.” Jeongguk cuts him off. He’s not positive what Jimin was going to say, but whatever it is he’s not prepared to hear it.

Jimin is quiet for a second. “Okay.”

Jeongguk rolls onto his back, and whether he would let Jimin say it or not, he can't quite stop thinking about it.

 

 

Chapter Text

When Jeongguk looks back on the next several weeks, eventually he’s going to have to come to the conclusion that he was willfully ignorant, that he looked at all the signs and then he looked away.

He can analyze it all he wants, he can categorize his emotional hangups later and try to understand how he managed to subconsciously stay like this. And he’ll give himself a break, sure, because at no point was he really ready to approach this, not without coming face to face with it.

It just so happens that he does come face to face with it.

 

It goes like this.

One Friday in January it snows a bit and ices pretty badly, so the tutoring center closes. It’s not ideal for Jeongguk, but he ends up with the afternoon off. He takes a couple extra hours at the gym, and by the time he leaves he’s awfully hungry, so he goes to the cafe.

Namjoon’s there. He often is on Fridays, but today he probably assumed Jeongguk wasn’t going to show since he missed his lunch hour. He’s got a cup of hot tea in front of him and he seems to be working on something. He doesn’t look up when Jeongguk walks in, doesn’t seem to see him until Jeongguk comes and sets his things down at the chair across from him.

“Oh,” he says, surprised. “Hello. What are you doing here?”

Jeongguk smiles crookedly. “Tutoring center’s closed today. I worked a little long today, and now I’m hungry.”

“So you’re off the rest of the day?” Namjoon clarifies.

“Yeah.”

Namjoon looks at him like he’s trying to figure something out. Jeongguk can’t be sure whether he figures it out or not, but finally Namjoon asks, “Do you want to come over?”

Jeongguk blinks. “What?”

“Do you want to come over?” he asks again. “It’s cold and snowy. You have the rest of the afternoon off. I live pretty close to here, we can watch a movie or something.” He looks like he’s about to start justifying his question, which Jeongguk doesn’t really want him to do.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’d like to. Thank you.”

“Did you order yet?” When Jeongguk shakes his head, Namjoon closes his laptop and says, “Get it to go, then?”

“Sure,” Jeongguk agrees. He goes to the counter, where Mikyung’s already waiting for him.

“You and Mr. Kim have been spending an awful lot of time together,” she says.

“Sure,” he says. “We’re friends.”

She gives him a dead look. “He took care of you when you were sick.”

“Are you trying to say something?” Jeongguk asks. The straightforward question puts them at an impasse.

She doesn’t say anything. “Hmph. You want soup today?”

“Yes, please,” he says. She charges him full price, but adds a container of dumplings. Her questions make him roll his eyes, but they also make him a little nervous. She’s the first person to actually call him out on this, even though he must be very obvious. Surely Namjoon must have some idea of how Jeongguk feels.

When she gives him his food, she pats his hand and reaches for Namjoon’s cup, which she refills with tea. “Have a good afternoon, boys,” she says.

Namjoon’s apartment is nice. It’s bigger than Jeongguk’s, a two bedroom with a nice sized kitchen and an open living room. The kitchen is pretty clean and mostly devoid of personal effects except the unwashed French press and dirty mugs on the counter, but the living room is scattered with different reading materials and notebooks and movies. There are blankets tossed over the furniture, plants on a side table by the window, and candles in seemingly random places. The walls are decorated eclectically, with vinyl cases and photos of varying quality and a few written notes. There are sticky notes by the front door and by the light switches and on the fridge with varying reminders on them.

Jeongguk takes his shoes and coat off by the door and turns to Namjoon, who looks a little abashed. He feels a rush of affection for him. He loves this place. It looks like the contents of Namjoon’s mind have been spit out into a physical place. “I love it,” he says, looking at a sticky note that says, “February 18 - Hoseok.”

“It’s kind of messy, sorry.”

“No, it’s,” he’s about it say ‘it’s very you,’ but he can see where Namjoon might take it the wrong way, and he feels like explaining it might give him away. “It’s fine,” he finishes. “It’s great. It’s warm in here.”

“Well, uh, you can eat wherever you want,” Namjoon says. “The couch is fair game. To be honest, I eat there more often than I eat in the kitchen.”

Jeongguk grins and goes to sit himself on the couch, where he opens up his food. “Seriously, your place is so nice. This couch is so comfortable.” It’s a leather couch, so it’s also cold. He shivers a little and wiggles closer to the corner, hoping to warm it up.

Namjoon notices. He comes to sit next to Jeongguk and puts a blanket over his lap.

“Thank you.”

“Mhm.”

There are three cushions on this couch, and Namjoon stays on the middle one, next to Jeongguk, even though they have the whole couch, even though there is other furniture here. The whole time, Jeongguk tells himself not to overthink it.

But the truth is, he doesn’t give any of it enough weight--not Namjoon inviting him over, not Namjoon meeting him for lunch any day he can. Not Namjoon sitting next to him, or pulling the blanket onto his own legs so they’re sharing.

Not the fact that they don’t end up putting on a movie, they just talk until Jeongguk goes to pick Jia up, and not the fact that before Jeongguk leaves Namjoon gives him a tight hug and looks at him like he wants to say something.

 

Next it goes like this.

They’re sitting in the cafe, just talking. Jeongguk is wrapped up extra tight in his coat and scarf, having felt extra cold all day. He glances from his food to Namjoon every once in a while, and each time Namjoon is looking at him with a fixed and earnest expression.

“You okay?” is the only neutral question he can think of to ask. His impulse is to ask ‘why are you looking at me like that?’ but he stops himself.

“Yeah, I’m good. Hey, can I ask you something?”

Jeongguk looks at him. “Of course.”

Namjoon licks his lips and leans forward. “If it’s not okay for me to ask this, just let me know. I just, uh, just wanted to know about Jia.”

The question is obvious, but for the first moment Jeongguk doesn’t get it. “Jia?” Namjoon knows Jia. He doesn’t quite see what he’s asking.

“About… her mom,” Namjoon says, and of course. “I mean, how did you get to be her dad?”

“Oh,” Jeongguk says. “Oh, no, not a bad question. There’s no weird emotional stuff there, it’s a pretty simple story. Her mom was my first real, serious girlfriend. She was my first a lot of things, really. We were in college. We weren't careful."

"Mm," Namjoon acknowledges. "You were twenty?"

"Nineteen," Jeongguk says. "Um, almost nineteen when she was made, I guess." He feels his cheeks go pink. "I turned twenty a few months after she was born. She’ll be seven in April."

"And, her mom...?"

"Wasn’t ready to be a mom," he finishes. Then he gives Namjoon a put-on bewildered look. "Not that I was ready to be a dad, or something. But, she had life plans and I had, I don't know, this deep sense of moral responsibility to be Jia’s dad?" Jeongguk shakes his head. "I don't know. I never really questioned my decision, I just decided. I thought it was stupid that Sehyeon had to carry all that responsibility when I had, like,” he feels his face heat up, “probably more to do with the, uh, Jia happening.” He considers. It feels a little weird to tell this to Namjoon, but not in an uncomfortable way. “I didn’t blame Sehyeon for her decision, ever. Jia was always mine. I didn't give birth to her, but I named her and she left the hospital with me."

"Wow," Namjoon says. "I know you say you never questioned it, but. That's a really big thing for a nineteen year old to do."

Jeongguk smiles a tiny smile. "I don't know. If it was her responsibility it was mine just as much.”

“I mean,” Namjoon says, “I agree. But still, you were a kid, almost. The fact that it was your responsibility doesn’t mean it wasn’t a hard thing to do.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. “I lived with my parents the first year and a half or so. That was okay, but it also felt like I was stuck between being a parent and being a kid, so. Once I could afford an apartment, we moved here, where I live now."

“But it’s hard,” Namjoon says.

“It was hard.”

Namjoon leans on his hands and looks at him.

“It’s hard,” he revises. He gets the way Namjoon is looking at him, but he’s not sure he gets why. “But,” he says, putting a hand on the table to hopefully lighten the mood, “I love her more than anything else in the entire world, and I wouldn’t go back for anything.”

Namjoon smiles with his fingers over his mouth, chin resting on his palm. “I know.” Then he licks his lips. “One more question. Um. When we first met, you said you and Jimin met on a blind date?"

"Uh huh," Jeongguk agrees.

"So you... you like...?"

Embarrassingly, Jeongguk does not understand what he’s asking. For as much as Namjoon knows him these days, which he feels is a lot, second only to Jimin right now, it hasn’t crossed his mind that Namjoon could be unaware that he’s interested in men. So he asks, “Do I what?”

Namjoon clears his throat. “You like men?”

“Oh,” he says. “Oh. Yeah, yes. Yeah, I do. Bisexual.” That’s weird. “Surely you knew that.”

“Well, I mean, I had the idea, I guess,” Namjoon says. “Just wondering.” He doesn’t look at Jeongguk. “Me too. Bisexual.”

“Cool.” God, that’s embarrassing. “Wow, sorry. I’m awkward.”

“Oh, god,” Namjoon laughs. “Not any more than me.”

“More than you,” Jeongguk says with a little wince.

That seemed like such a pointed line of conversation, almost weighted. But Jeongguk’s lunch is up, and he has to go. As he stands up and grabs his things, he reaches out and puts his free hand on Namjoon’s. “I’ll see you.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says and gives him a closed-mouth, dimpled smile. “See you.” He turns his hand over and squeezes Jeongguk’s. It’s a very smooth movement and it makes Jeongguk’s heart stutter.

“See you,” he says again as Namjoon lets go of his hand. He makes a face at himself as he walks out.

 

Then it goes like this.

They’re at dinner, and Namjoon’s across from Jeongguk. Every once in a while he catches his eye and smiles. Jeongguk’s stomach feels funny.

Yoongi is telling a story that makes Seokjin laugh every few lines, his high-pitched laugh that makes Jeongguk giggle too. After a while, Jimin leans over and says to Jeongguk, “Every time you smile, he stares at you.”

Jeongguk forces himself not to look at Namjoon. “No he doesn’t,” he says. Even if Jimin’s right, he doesn’t think he can deal with what that means, so he doesn’t think about it.

 

 

 

 

“Thank you for coming to speak with me, Jeongguk-ssi,” says Ms. Choi.

“Oh, sure,” Jeongguk says awkwardly. It was sort of a problem for him to find the time to come and meet with her, but she’d been pretty insistent that they needed to talk this week. “Is everything okay?”

“I guess it depends on what you mean,” she answers cryptically.

Jeongguk sighs to himself. He’s always hated meeting with Jia’s teachers, and Ms. Choi has been the worst yet. She only gets around to making her point when she feels like it. “What did you need to speak with me about?” he asks as straightforwardly as he can.

It doesn’t work. “I know your situation is a bit… different to most of the other families here,” she says, as if she thinks that Jeongguk could possibly be unaware of this.

“Yes,” he says, wondering what behavioral problems she’s going to attribute to his single parenthood today.

“I’ve worked with children from single parent families before, and they really all come to this point.”

“What point?” Jeongguk asks, feeling impatient.

“The point where they start to ask about their mothers, Jeongguk-ssi.”

“What?” he says, alarmed. “Has Jia been asking you about her mom?” He can’t understand where that would come from, or why Jia would ask her teacher instead of him. He gets it--a kid figures out that people usually have a mom and a dad and starts asking why they don’t. But Jia knows that already. She’s too no-nonsense not to.

Ms. Choi frowns. “Well, no,” she says. “I assumed she had been talking about her with you. She’s exhibiting the same kind of misbehavior I’ve seen in children who are starting to have those questions.”

Jeongguk feels his impatience and indignance reach a peak. “Choi Hyeri-ssi, I have addressed and will continue to address any family issues privately with my daughter. Please let me know what behavior I need to speak with her about, and I will deal with it.”

She gives him a hard look. “Jia has been exhibiting some hostile behavior toward her classmates. She doesn’t like to share, she gets frustrated quickly when others try to play with her or talk to her, she often corrects them harshly. Even with classmates she seemed to be friends with.”

Jeongguk wishes he could say he’s surprised. But Jia’s always been a strong personality, opinionated, occasionally impatient, and kind of a know-it-all. Her past teachers have always said so, though not usually in so many words. But he doesn’t think this recent behavior has anything to do with her mom. It probably has more to do with the fact that her dad doesn’t have enough time to spend with her.

“Okay. Thank you for letting me know. I’ll talk to her and we’ll see if we can get to the bottom of it. Please let me know if there are any instances I should be aware of.”

“Is that all?” she asks as he stands up to leave.

He pauses, an annoyed frown on his face. “I’m sorry?” he offers.

“Hmm,” she says, pursing her lips.

He can’t do anything right with this woman. “Thanks, Choi Hyeri-ssi.” He leaves.

At home, after dinner, Jia sits on the couch and starts flipping the shiny pages of a book about deep sea creatures. He sits on the floor in front of her and leans his elbow on the couch.

“Hey, baby, I need to talk to you about something,” he says.

“‘Kay,” Jia says, not looking up from her book.

He takes it from her gently and sets it aside. “Look at me, honey.”

She does. She frowns. “What, dad?”

He looks at her. She looks unhappy. She hasn’t been like this before. “Is something bothering you?”

“No,” she says.

He gets up from the floor and sits next to her. “Hey. You can tell me if you feel bad or sad, ever. Even if you don’t know why.”

Jia looks at her lap with her eyebrows furrowed. After a moment of silence, Jeongguk picks her up and starts to pull her into his lap.

“Stop,” she says and tries to wiggle away.

“Jia,” he says. He can’t quite hide the wound in his voice.

“No!” Jia starts to cry.

First it’s big, angry, awful sobbing that’s almost a fit. Then it’s sad, hiccupping sobs she can’t seem to help or stop.

“Baby,” Jeongguk says, and this time when he lifts her she lets him. He pulls her against his chest, his tiny girl, and she just cries. “It’s okay. You can cry.” Jia does. She holds his sweater in one fist and gets it all wet with her tears. Jeongguk holds her and breathes with relief, struggling not to cry too.

Jia’s just young, and she doesn’t like to cry, but she’s not embarrassed of it. So eventually her sobs start to die down, and she just sniffles with her cheek pressed against Jeongguk’s chest. Just trusting her dad.

It reminds him suddenly of an old photo he has--he could probably find it if he tried, in some photo album on his phone with the rest of his old pictures of Jia. He’s just about twenty in the picture, and he’s asleep, crashed on the couch at his parents’ house. Jia is just a baby, with fluffy messy black hair, and she’s asleep on his chest with her tiny baby legs in a frog position, clutching his index finger with one fist. It makes him want to cry every time he sees it.

“Do you know why you’re crying?” he asks Jia when she starts to calm down.

She shakes her head and doesn’t lift her face.

“Okay,” he says. “That’s okay. We don’t have to talk about it now. I love you, Jia-yah.”

“I know,” Jia says against his shirt.

“I love you to the moon and back,” he sings, high and a little goofy like he does only when she’s upset.

“I know, dad,” she says again. “I love you too.”

Jeongguk hugs her tight, and when she goes to sleep still lying on him, he doesn’t stop her. He just holds her for a long time, then takes her and puts her to bed.

 

 

 

 

It’s with stacks of things on his mind that Jeongguk goes to Jimin’s apartment that Friday. Jimin notices, he’s sure, which is probably why he suggests that Namjoon keep him company for the evening. Jeongguk thinks he is getting tireder, and he thinks it’s getting more obvious that he’s tired.

Namjoon is already there, with Jimin for some reason or another, and when Jimin says, “Hyung, why don’t you stay? I don’t want Jeongguk to be alone all night,” he looks to Jeongguk.

“If you’re not busy,” Jeongguk says. Of course he wants Namjoon to stay. He always wants Namjoon to stay.

He thinks Namjoon also wants to stay, because he smiles and goes to the kitchen to start getting dinner ready for the girls. Jeongguk waves Jimin off and goes to try and help, but Namjoon makes him sit at the kitchen table with Jia and Chaeyoung, saying, “I’ve got it.”

“Dad, did you know pangolins are the only mammals covered in scales?” Jia asks him.

Jeongguk blinks. “Did I know that… what are the only mammals covered in scales?”

“Pangolins,” Jia says. When Jeongguk just frowns, she repeats slower, “Pangolins.”

“Pangolins,” Chaeyoung says.

“Pangolins,” Namjoon says. “Hey Jia, I don’t think your dad knows what pangolins are.”

Jia huffs and pushes over the book she was looking at. The animal on the page he’s looking at looks like an armored anteater, with huge scales.

“That’s a pangolin?”

“Yes. Their scales are made of the same thing as fingernails.” It looks like she’s right, because the book says the same thing.

Jeongguk gives her an impressed look. “Wow, Jia. That’s really cool. Where do these guys live?”

“Asia, Africa.”

“Okay, but like, where? Because this is Asia, and I’ve never seen one.”

Jia gives him an annoyed look.

Jeongguk holds his hands up in surrender. “Okay, I hear you. I’ll look it up myself.” He does, and reads off the article he finds. “Looks like they live in India, China, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Cool.” He looks at Jia’s book again. “They’re kind of cute, I guess?”

“Okay, dad.” Jia pats his hand.

He laughs at her patronizing, and he can see how she comes off as a know-it-all.

“Chaeyoungie, what’s your favorite sea creature?” Jia asks.

“Nemo,” Chaeyoung says. She’s copying her name and Jimin’s over and over on a sheet of paper.

“No, not Nemo,” Jia corrects. “Clownfish. Say ‘clownfish.’”

“Clownfish,” Chaeyoung says.

“Good choice,” says Jia. Jeongguk wonders if she’s this gentle with her classmates. Probably not; he can’t see Jia being as gentle with anyone as she is with Chaeyoung. “Dad?” she prompts then.

“Umm, maybe jellyfish?” Jeongguk says. “Or turtles, I think sea turtles are very cool.”

“Okay. Joon-oppa?”

“Crabs,” Namjoon says with no hesitation. “I love crabs.”

Jia fixes him with an intense look. “What do you know about crabs?”

“Well,” he begins, looking a little more uncertain now. “Not that much, I guess. I like to try and catch them at the beach. I like hermit crabs and sand crabs.”

“Okay,” she says, sounding a little suspicious but like he’s passed.

“Maybe you can teach me about crabs,” Namjoon suggests.

“Sure, but not today,” Jia says. “I have to finish learning about pangolins first.”

“Right, of course. You know a lot of things.”

“Yeah, but not enough things,” she tells him.

“Well, you’ll get there,” Namjoon says.

Jia doesn’t seem convinced. “Yeah, maybe.”

After dinner, Jeongguk and Namjoon play with the girls in Chaeyoung’s room. Jeongguk teaches Namjoon the little voice he uses for the little, squashed looking people toys they play with. It sends Namjoon into desperate giggles at first, but he eventually gets the hang of it. He continues to laugh at the nonsense words Jeongguk calls cars and boats and animals in his little people voice, and Jia rolls her eyes at him and informs him that her dad is not that funny.

Jeongguk finds himself grinning at Namjoon, not even feeling self-conscious about it. He’s so good with Jia and Chaeyoung. He lets himself be bossed around by Jia a little and doesn’t talk to her like she’s a baby. He’s patient with both of them and takes time to understand what they’re both thinking when they get impatient with him. They both seem to find Namjoon interesting in a way they don’t quite find their dads anymore.

When Jeongguk gets them ready for bed, Chaeyoung hands Namjoon a stack of three books to read to them. Namjoon gives Jeongguk a bewildered look, to which Jeongguk just grins and waves for him to continue, so he does. He does funny voices that make Chaeyoung giggle and Jia roll her eyes and pretend not to laugh.

After the girls are in bed, Jeongguk starts to clean up in the kitchen. Namjoon comes in seamlessly and starts washing the pots and pans, for which Jeongguk shoots him a grateful look.

Jeongguk is putting things away in a cabinet when Namjoon reaches around him, casual but maybe intentional, and his whole front presses to Jeongguk’s side. Jeongguk feels his breath hitch at the closeness, and Namjoon looks down at him with something close to concern, but something more, too. He moves away.

“Do you want a drink?” Jeongguk asks when the kitchen is clean. “I’m sure Jimin has some wine around here somewhere.”

Namjoon wrinkles his nose. “I’m not really in the mood. I’ll just have some tea.”

Jeongguk follows his lead, so after a few minutes they sit in the living room, two grown men on a Friday night, babysitting together and drinking tea. He doesn’t mind.

“Your kid is awfully smart,” Namjoon says. He sets his tea on the coffee table and makes himself comfortable on the couch.

“She sure is,” Jeongguk agrees. “I wish I could take credit for that, but. She might look like me, but the smarts are all her mom. The animal thing too. Her plans were to be a doctor, but I know it was tough for her to decide not to go into veterinary medicine. That and the, you know. The independence. I never had that strong of a personality.”

“You’re independent,” says Namjoon.

“Only because I learned to be. I would’ve been happy never having to fight for that. With her? She just has it.”

“She’s really special.”

“She sure is.”

“Her mom,” Namjoon says. “Sehyeon?”

“Yeah.” Jeongguk doesn’t think about Sehyeon much. It’s strange that he and Namjoon have spoken about her even more than once.

“Did you date? After Jia was born?” He pauses and frowns. “That’s a really personal question. I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Jeongguk says. “I really don’t have a problem talking about her. We didn’t date. We saw each other a few times, but I always thought the idea of dating scared her. As if she would be dating a family. As if we would have to get married. I don’t think we would’ve gotten married even without Jia.”

“You don’t?”

“No.” It’s weird, maybe good for him to talk about this. These are things he’s thought but never said out loud to anyone. “When I was living with my parents it was a weird time. I thought about it a lot. I missed her a lot then. I think we loved each other, but I don’t think we would’ve worked out.”

Namjoon studies him. “Do you miss having someone?”

Jeongguk wraps his hands around his mug of tea. That’s a loaded question, and he can feel it. He doesn’t quite look at Namjoon when he says, “Yeah, I do.”

It gets harder to breathe, like the air in Jeongguk’s lungs is wet with humidity, as Namjoon moves closer. “Do you want to have someone?”

Something stirs low in Jeongguk’s stomach. “Yes,” he manages, and it comes out small and affected.

Namjoon shifts on the couch, and then suddenly he is so much closer. His face is right there, right there. “Anyone specific?”

“Namjoon-hyung,” Jeongguk says, trying to keep his voice on the edge of disapproving.

“Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says. It sounds like I’m going to kiss you. He reaches out and takes the mug from Jeongguk’s hands and sets it on the coffee table.

“Hyung,” Jeongguk says again, and he means for it to come out like a warning but it so, completely does not; it comes out like please kiss me, so Namjoon does. He puts a hand on Jeongguk’s cheek and kisses him.

Jeongguk’s mind and body disconnect for the first moment of the kiss. He loses his breath for the space of several heartbeats before he manages to kiss back, and at first it’s just slow: he kisses back and then Namjoon’s parted lips rest against his like he’s waiting for Jeongguk to let him know he wants it. And he does, so badly, so he leans in, presses back. He can feel it in every breath he takes, how much he wants Namjoon. Jeongguk shudders and his stomach tingles, a sweet little tendril of nerves and excitement.

It’s overwhelming, the most overwhelming kiss Jeongguk thinks he has ever had, even though it’s slow, even though it’s gentle. Namjoon strokes his fingers over Jeongguk’s jaw, and he tilts Jeongguk’s head back a little and kisses him a little harder. It gets deeper and wetter and open-mouthed. Jeongguk leans closer into Namjoon and clutches at his shirt. A little groan happens, down in Jeongguk’s chest, when Namjoon darts his tongue over his lower lip.

Namjoon pulls away then, fingers still brushing Jeongguk’s cheek, the other hand settled gently at the top of his thigh. “Jeongguk-ah, I like you so much,” he says, sounding hoarse and affected. “I have never had a conversation with you or learned a thing about you that didn’t make me like you more. If you… if you are interested, I really want to date you.”

Jeongguk squeezes his eyes shut and drops his forehead against Namjoon’s shoulder. He tries to catch his breath and right his head. He feels like this can’t possibly be real.

“Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says when too long has passed. He moves his hand and starts running fingers through Jeongguk’s hair.

“I like you so much too,” Jeongguk says, not lifting his head. “God,” he whispers into the crook of Namjoon’s neck, nose brushing the skin there. “Yes. Yes, please, I want to date you.”

“Oh my god,” Namjoon says in relief. “Okay. Okay.” Then he starts to laugh.

“Shh,” Jeongguk says. He lifts his head and hits Namjoon’s stomach gently.

Namjoon grabs Jeongguk’s wrist and holds his hand there. “Can I kiss you again?” he asks.

“Oh, god, yeah,” he breathes, and Namjoon does. They kiss and they kiss--they make out, and it overwhelms Jeongguk enough that when Namjoon moves his hand from Jeongguk’s jaw to the back of his neck, he whimpers.

“Are you okay?” Namjoon murmurs very close to his mouth.

“Yeah, I just,” he doesn’t quite finish. His hands are on Namjoon’s shoulders, and when he takes stock of his body he realizes he’s got a leg over Namjoon’s lap.

Namjoon whispers, “Your eyes are closed.”

“Yup,” Jeongguk whispers back. A very nice kiss is pressed to his mouth.

“Would you open them?”

“Not yet.”

Namjoon laughs a breathy laugh. He takes Jeongguk by the waist and pulls his leg further over his lap. “Can I keep kissing you while I wait?”

Jeongguk leans forward with his eyes closed and his mouth lands on Namjoon’s chin.

“Oh,” Namjoon says in an endeared tone. He puts two fingers under Jeongguk’s chin and tilts it up and kisses him.

It’s heavy and wet and deep and sweet. Namjoon’s holding him so nicely, urging him closer even as Jeongguk inches further onto his lap. Jeongguk moves his hands from Namjoon’s shoulders and wraps his arms around his neck, and Namjoon holds him around the waist. He keeps pulling him closer, until they’re pressed together. Jeongguk runs his fingers through Namjoon’s hair, and when he scratches his fingernails over the nape of his neck Namjoon groans.

The groan makes a thrill run through Jeongguk and sends a shiver down his spine. Namjoon’s voice is so deep and the sounds he makes in his throat are too sweet. Jeongguk presses forward more to get a taste of them, to get a taste of Namjoon’s mouth.

“Hey, hey,” Namjoon says in a breath against his mouth. “Slow down, huh?” His hands are soft and soothing and guiding.

“Sorry.” Jeongguk presses another kiss to his lips and then pulls back and opens his eyes.

“Good,” says Namjoon. He blinks. “What? I mean. You’re good. That’s… that was. Hello.” He’s looking right at Jeongguk, right into his eyes, and his expression is distracted and heavy.

“Hi.” Jeongguk’s on his lap, which makes him feel a little self conscious, but it feels good. Namjoon’s hands on his waist feel good. The way Namjoon is looking at him feels good, good, good. Jeongguk runs his fingers through the front of Namjoon’s hair and pushes it away from his face. The emotion he feels is too big for his chest. “You’re so gorgeous,” he breathes. He can’t help it.

Namjoon makes a funny little sound in his throat. “You’re perfect.”

A little laugh bubbles out of Jeongguk. “No,” he says, looking at Namjoon and feeling the adoration shine in his eyes. “But I do like you. A whole lot. God, I like you, Kim Namjoon.”

“Jeon Jeongguk, I like you so much,” Namjoon says. He kisses him again. A deep mm sounds in his throat as he does. Then he pulls back. “Okay. When can I take you out? I don’t want to leave without setting a date or I won’t be able to sleep tonight.”

Jeongguk licks his lips. “I’m sitting on your lap,” he says, realizing suddenly. “Sorry.”

He starts to move and Namjoon grabs his waist. “No, don’t.” His hands are so big. His fingers are so long.

“I’m heavy.”

“You are not too heavy for my lap. Do you want to go out?” Namjoon sounds less certain now. His hands rest a little lighter.

“Yes,” Jeongguk says quickly. “Oh my god, yes, do you?”

Namjoon pretends to consider. “No, I just want you to sit on my lap.”

“Shut up,” Jeongguk says with a huff.

“Give me a day and a time, baby,” Namjoon says with a smile on his face and touches his nose to Jeongguk’s.

Jeongguk’s breath hitches at the name. He tries to ignore the warm, aroused feeling it gives him and strokes the back of Namjoon’s neck. “Okay. Um.” He hesitates. “Saturday? I’ll ask Jimin what he’s up to, but if he’s busy I’ll get Hyunjin.”

“I can pay her,” Namjoon says. “If I’m taking you out. I can pay.”

“No,” Jeongguk says. “You’re sweet, but no. I’ll take care of it. Saturday?”

“Saturday,” Namjoon agrees. He grins, wide and happy. “Wow.”

“Hyung,” says Jeongguk and touches his hair again. It feels good between his fingers, soft and thick and finer than his own. “I think I’ve liked you the entire time I’ve known you.”

Namjoon smiles and kisses at Jeongguk’s jaw, winding his arms around his back. “Would you be upset if I said I thought that might be the case?”

“Only a little,” Jeongguk says. He presses a hand to his mouth. “God, that’s embarrassing. I knew I must be so obvious.”

“Are you kidding?” Namjoon laughs. “I was obvious. Don’t be silly.”

Jeongguk flushes. “I’m oblivious.”

“You’re busy,” Namjoon corrects. “You have a lot going on. You don’t need to look at me all the time.”

“But I do look at you all the time. One time,” he says, and he runs his fingers down Namjoon’s neck and tugs at the neckline of his shirt to trace his collarbones, “you were wearing this one black shirt. I couldn’t stop staring at your neck and your chest.”

Namjoon smiles with his tongue caught between his teeth. “At Jimin’s, right?”

Jeongguk feels his cheeks go pink. “Yes.”

“God, you looked so good that day. You had your shirt tucked into your jeans.”

“Did I?”

“Mhm.” Namjoon’s voice is low. He skims his hands up and down Jeongguk’s sides. “That was a revelation, let me tell you. This waist.”

“Hush,” Jeongguk laughs.

“Nope.” He squeezes Jeongguk’s waist and then before Jeongguk knows what’s happening, Namjoon’s slid his hands up his shirt. “Oh, oops, how did that happen?” he asks cheekily and bites his lip.

Jeongguk yelps in surprise and jerks forward. His chest hits Namjoon’s. “Hey, you,” he chides. Namjoon’s hands are warm and feel good against his skin. “There’s only so much flirting I can handle in one evening.”

“I hear you,” Namjoon says. He moves his hands and rests them instead on Jeongguk’s thighs. “So Saturday.”

“Wow. That’s real.”

“I know.” Namjoon puts a hand on the back of his neck and pulls him down for a kiss. It’s good, just as good as before. Namjoon presses his free hand to Jeongguk’s lower back, right above his ass, and Jeongguk wiggles with intention, which Namjoon grasps almost right away.

He slides the hand down and Jeongguk shudders, kissing him harder. Jeongguk lets out a breathy sound into his mouth, and Namjoon grazes his lower lip with his teeth, which startles a real moan out of him. “Feels so good,” he breathes.

“Mhm,” Namjoon agrees. He moves the hand on Jeongguk’s neck to his hair, threads his fingers through it and tugs a little. “Good, good,” he repeats and sounds absent, like he can’t control his mouth. “Mm.” He kisses deeper and squeezes Jeongguk’s ass.

“Okay, wow,” Jeongguk gasps. “Maybe… maybe less, the--the girls.”

Namjoon jerks back and his hands hover in the air. “Holy shit, sorry.”

“No, no.” Jeongguk kisses him again. “That was--that was so good, god. I can’t wait to go out with you. Goddamn.”

Namjoon laughs. “You’re the sweetest. I can’t wait either.” He looks at Jeongguk, and Jeongguk can feel how much he likes Namjoon all out in the open. “I should go now,” Namjoon says. “Or I’m going to get carried away.”

“I’d probably be right there with you,” says Jeongguk. He pecks Namjoon’s lips, dry and quick. “Don’t leave. I can possibly get off of you.”

“Possibly?”

“It might take some convincing.”

Namjoon just looks at him. There’s a soft little smile on his face.

“What are you looking at?” Jeongguk mutters when it’s been too long, feeling a little abashed.

“You,” Namjoon grins. He kisses Jeongguk one more time, then lifts him under his knees and behind his back and settles him back on the couch.

Jeongguk’s brain short-circuits at being manhandled. “Oh, wow, okay.” He blinks.

“I’m sorry,” Namjoon says. “Wow, my bad, sorry for that.”

“Nope, nope, that was fine.”

“You okay?”

“Yes. I’m just… a little turned on.”

Namjoon laughs in surprise. “I don’t think you’re helping this getting carried away situation.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Jeongguk says. He flops down on the couch, trying to pull himself together a little. It’s not really working.

Namjoon nudges him over, then cuddles up behind him, between Jeongguk and the couch.

“You don’t really fit back there, do you?” Jeongguk says.

“This couch probably wasn’t made for two grown men to spoon on it,” Namjoon says. “Here, move.” He nudges Jeongguk until Jeongguk sits up with a put out groan, then stretches out on his back.

“Hey,” Jeongguk complains. “What about me?”

He’s quickly silenced by Namjoon pulling him down so that Jeongguk lies on top of him, his head on Namjoon’s chest.

“Are you sure I’m not too heavy for you?” he asks, trying to prop himself on his elbows and giving up with a blush when it ends up feeling pretty suggestive.

Namjoon huffs and wraps his arms around Jeongguk. So Jeongguk lets himself relax, his whole body laid out on top of Namjoon.

“Okay, this is good,” he mumbles, head turned sideways so his cheek is pressed to Namjoon’s chest.

“I agree.” Namjoon runs a hand over Jeongguk’s back, comforting and soothing. “I’m gonna--” he makes a strained sound as he reaches up to the back of the couch for the throw blanket there and struggles to pull it over them. “Okay,” he puffs when he manages it.

Jeongguk giggles. “Need to get in some cardio?”

“Oh my god, don’t even,” Namjoon says.

Jeongguk closes his eyes and smiles. He’s so comfortable. He’s imagined this, being able to have Namjoon close, have Namjoon touching him. That was all shadows, he thinks; this is Plato’s ideal. “Hyung.”

“Yeah, sweetheart?”

“I like you so much,” Jeongguk murmurs. He can feel himself drifting.

Namjoon says, “I like you so much too,” and Jeongguk drifts.

 

“Hey, babe,” says the voice of the person ruffling Jeongguk’s hair. “Listen,” it whispers, “I have never, ever been sorrier to wake someone up in my life, but I need you to wake up.”

“Huh-uh,” Jeongguk grunts and turns his head. He remembers the person beneath him is Namjoon and nuzzles his chest, which will embarrass him shortly.

“I’m sorry.” The voice comes again, and Jeongguk realizes it’s Jimin.

“Oh,” he says, lifting his head. His hair flops messily over his eyes. “Oh my god.”

Jeongguk’s just in time to see Namjoon slowly blink awake, focusing in on Jeongguk, then glancing at Jimin out of the corner of his eye. The arm of his on the side of the couch cushions is resting loosely around Jeongguk’s waist, still under the throw blanket.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Namjoon says, low and throaty and sexy.

Jimin is crouched beside the couch, just sort of studying them.

Jeongguk pushes himself up, awkwardly moving back until Namjoon can sit up and slide out from underneath him. “Sorry,” he says to Namjoon.

“I--” Namjoon starts, looking embarrassed. “Sorry.”

“Do you two know any other words?” Jimin asks, glaring at them. “You can’t be sorry! I’m sorry! I’m really fucking sorry! I’m going to my room! Good night, hyung!”

“Good night, Jimin-ah,” Namjoon says, looking small and soft and a little chastised. When Jimin’s in his room, he looks at Jeongguk and says in a voice higher than usual, “I’m so sorry, I fell asleep, oh my god.”

“Okay, not your fault,” Jeongguk says, poking him in the chest. “First of all, I was on top of you,” (his cheeks flame a bit) “and second of all, I fell asleep too.”

“I put you on top of me,” Namjoon insists.

“Hey, shut up,” says Jeongguk. He leans in to kiss Namjoon, but at the last second he hesitates. Namjoon meets him in the middle with a little smile on his face. “Okay, nice,” Jeongguk breathes when he pulls back. “That’s still a real thing.”

Namjoon laughs--Namjoon giggles-- and pecks his lips again. “Well, as we established earlier, we do both like each other pretty well.” He stretches his arms out and then gets off the couch. “I better actually go now. Don’t forget, we’re going--oh, okay, stop that.”

Jeongguk has pulled the throw blanket around himself, snuggling into it. He blinks up at Namjoon. “What?”

“You’re so cute.” Namjoon sits back down next to Jeongguk and wraps his arms around him, blanket and all.

“Well, you’re pretty,” Jeongguk shoots back, closing his eyes in sleepy content. “Do you think Jimin can hear us?”

“Oh, my god, I hope not.” Namjoon squeezes Jeongguk’s arm and lets go of him.

By the door, Jeongguk stands a little bleary as Namjoon gets his shoes on. He just watches him, tall and tired and soft, hair a little messy. Jeongguk’s pretty sure he’s never been attracted to a person this much and in this many ways.

“Goodnight, Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says. He gives Jeongguk a good, tight hug and then kisses him, a sweet goodbye. He leaves.

Jeongguk just stands by the door for a moment before he can get himself to move. He goes to Jimin’s room, where Jimin is in his pajamas, sitting on his bed.

Jeongguk gets on the other side of the bed and curls up in a tiny little ball. Jimin reaches out and puts a hand on his head.

“Bud,” Jimin says. “Please tell me that was what it looked like.”

“It was what it looked like,” Jeongguk says. He presses his hands over his eyes. “Yup. We kissed. We kissed a lot.” He still can’t quite believe that.

“Aaaaaaah,” Jimin whisper-screams, throwing himself on top of Jeongguk. “So?” he urges.

“So we’re going on a date Saturday.”

“He likes you!” Jimin exclaims loudly. He shakes Jeongguk’s shoulders.

Jeongguk whines and hides his face. “I like him so much, hyung.”

“Yeah,” Jimin says. He pets Jeongguk’s hair back from his face. “Did you tell him that?”

“Of course,” Jeongguk mumbles against Jimin’s shoulder. “Like three times at least.”

“Can I get the story? Or later is cool too.”

“No, yeah, I’ll tell you.” Jeongguk sits up and crawls under the covers. He holds one of Jimin’s pillows to his chest. “We were just,” he takes a deep breath and blows it out. “Sitting on the couch, talking. And. Ugh.” He hides his face in his knees.

“Bud,” Jimin laughs, rubbing his hand across Jeongguk’s back.

Jeongguk lifts his head and scrunches his nose. “I think he was teasing me? I was telling him about Sehyeon a little, and he asked if I missed having someone, and I said yes, and he asked if I wanted to have someone, I said yes, and he said ‘anyone particular?’ and then he kissed me.”

“Oh my god, that’s so cute,” Jimin says. “Jeongguk-ah, I really can’t think of anyone I’d trust more with you.”

Jeongguk laughs. “What? Trust with me? Hyung, what are you, my dad?”

“No, hush,” Jimin says. “You just haven’t had a serious relationship in the time I’ve known you. I can’t help feeling protective of you, so get over it.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk says with a smile. “Just this once I won’t argue.”

Jimin hugs him tight. “All I mean is Namjoon is one of the best people I’ve ever known. And you’re really special to me. That’s all.”

“You’re really special to me too,” Jeongguk says, feeling suddenly like he might start to cry. “Okay, conversation over. We’re going to sleep now.”

Jimin laughs and kisses his temple. “Okay. I love you.”

“I love you too,” Jeongguk mumbles, burying his face in his pillow.

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday, Jeongguk gets a text from Namjoon during his morning shift at the gym.

Kim Namjoon
Hey, I know we have plans for Saturday, but I really want to see you
Lunch today?

Jeongguk was planning to go by the cafe today anyway, but when he sees the messages he smiles to himself. He and Namjoon have never coordinated their lunches before, Jeongguk just took note subconsciously of the days he tended to be there, and he thinks Namjoon did the same.

Me
Lunch today :)

When he gets to the cafe, Namjoon is already there. He stands up and smiles, and Jeongguk feels his chest warm. He reaches out for him without realizing it, and Namjoon grins and squeezes him around the waist while Jeongguk hugs his neck.

“Hello,” Jeongguk says. He has to push himself up on his toes a little to hug Namjoon like this.

“Hey, hey,” Namjoon says, sounding a little breathless and tightening his fingers at the curve of Jeongguk’s waist.

It’s too public a place for it, but Jeongguk wants to bury his face in Namjoon’s neck and stay there. He thinks he recognizes now the over-inflated feeling he has tended to get on seeing Namjoon; it’s this, the desire and need to be touching him like this, to be held gently but firmly by Namjoon and have his arms around him.

It takes all the self-control Jeongguk has to let go of him.

“I know we’re going out on Saturday,” Namjoon says again, “but can I get you today? I really want to.”

For a second Jeongguk wants to say no. He gets the same strange feeling he got when he realized Namjoon paid for his groceries, but he manages to breathe himself down. “If we can call this a date.”

Namjoon frowns and pouts a little, which is unbearable. “I want us to have a romantic first date.”

Jeongguk scrunches his nose. “Well, that’s precious. Okay, I can compromise today.” He pokes Namjoon in the chest. “Don’t make a habit of it, mister.”

“Promise.” Namjoon holds up his pinky finger, and Jeongguk gives a little giggle and links his with Namjoon’s.

Mikyung gives Jeongguk a pointed raise of her eyebrow when they order together. He raises an eyebrow back and Namjoon gives him a funny look.

“What was that?” Namjoon asks when they sit.

“She called me out on my crush on you a couple weeks ago,” Jeongguk says.

“Oh, cute,” Namjoon says. “Do you think she’s going to give me the talk?”

“No, but Jimin might.” Jimin won’t, or if he does it won’t be serious.

Jeongguk leans forward and holds his chin in his hands. He just looks at Namjoon. He thinks he might be even prettier today than the day they met, the day Jeongguk was entirely taken aback by him. His eyes are shiny and deep and sweet. There’s so much in him, depths and eternities and so much that is good and beautiful.

“What are you looking at?” Namjoon asks.

Jeongguk widens his eyes at him. “You,” he says, “you’re real pretty.”

“You stop that,” Namjoon says with a put-on glare. “And thank you.” His cheeks are pink, which makes Jeongguk think he isn’t used to being told that. He makes a mental note. “You are too.”

Jeongguk doesn’t move, but he stops looking quite so hard. He can look more later.

“Hey, so,” Namjoon begins, and is interrupted when Mikyung comes and sets their food down with an extra order of dumplings. “Thank you, ahjumma,” he says. “You really ought to stop giving us food we don’t pay for.”

“We’ll see,” she says and walks away.

“Thank you, hyung,” Jeongguk says quietly, picking up his chopsticks.

“It’s just lunch,” Namjoon says. “This is not the real event.”

“You’re very nice.” Jeongguk puts his hand on top of Namjoon’s, and it’s curiously soft so he doesn’t feel very inclined to move it.

“Well, actually, I just like you a lot.” Namjoon eats a dumpling, then puts his chopsticks down, looking distracted. “Okay, I was going to ask. Um. I was trying to be like, a competent adult and figure out Saturday myself, but it was making me kind of nervous. So I just wanted to ask. What do you want to do?”

Jeongguk smiles at him. It’s incredibly sweet of him to ask that, but Jeongguk has no idea what he wants. He wants to say, ‘I just want to be with you,’ but he manages to stop himself. “You know, I don’t really know. I haven’t been on a date in,” he thinks, and he can’t quite remember. That’s embarrassing. “God, a long time.”

Namjoon gives him a look of disbelief. “How?”

He points at himself. “Dad, remember? Dating’s weird. Dating involves babysitters and figuring out how things work with a kid. Sometimes people don’t know what to do with the idea of a kid. Sometimes people just want sex and then when a kid comes into the picture, things get weird.”

Namjoon looks alarmed.

“What?”

“I don’t want that,” he says. “Just sex, I don’t. I would never.” He looks spooked.

“Oh, my god, no, I know,” Jeongguk says quickly. “Oh, I wasn’t saying that, not even close. I know. The only thing I said that’s true with you is that it involves babysitters.”

“Okay,” Namjoon says. He nods. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be weird, that scared me a little.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “I should’ve thought before I said that. You’re different than anyone I’ve ever dated.” He wants to tell Namjoon all the ways he’s different and good, but it’s quite the laundry list and he thinks it could be overwhelming for both of them, so he decides to hold off for now.

“Um, so, back to the question,” Namjoon says. He seems flustered. “I need some input from you.”

“I don’t know!” Jeongguk says in a high pitched voice. “Hyung. No offense, but I don’t really care. I mean, not like I don’t care, just. I just want to hang out. As long as you’re there, I’m good.”

“And as nice as that is, that leaves us with not one, but two indecisive people. Give me something. What do you like? What do you miss doing?”

Jeongguk considers saying sex, but judging from the way Namjoon reacted to what he said a minute ago, that’s a conversation for another time. “Dogs,” he says. “I really like dogs.”

Namjoon brightens. “Puppy cafe?”

Jeongguk laughs in surprise. “Okay! Yes.”

“Puppy cafe, then dinner. Okay?”

“Sounds good,” Jeongguk says with a smile. “We could do five-ish?”

“Yeah, I’ll pick you up then. Thank god, finally, a breakthrough.”

“If this has been that stressful for you, I’ll plan the next one,” Jeongguk tells him givingly.

Namjoon takes it in stride, even though Jeongguk realizes with a flash of nerves that he sort of just asked for a second date. “Okay. Sounds good,” he says, then with a laugh, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to drag you to lunch to plan a date.”

“You didn’t.” Jeongguk shakes his head. “I wanted to see you too. What are you up to this week?”

Namjoon finishes a bite of food, then says, “Finishing some final mixing on that EP I was working on a while back. Then I don’t have anything going on until Yoongi and I start on a new project at the beginning of next month.”

“Oh, so just a couple weeks.” Time is sneaking up on them. It’s nearly February.

“Yeah. I’m excited for that one, though. It’s lowkey, but it’s more our style. What about you?”

Jeongguk shrugs. “Same as always. Work, work, Jia. My parents are on my case to come home again soon, so maybe I’ll take Jia over to stay some weekend soon.”

“Oh, yeah,” Namjoon says casually. “Yup. Sounds great.” He clears his throat, and Jeongguk bites back a laugh. “Do they live far?”

“No, it’s just a hassle to get to. They live in the suburbs, so it takes close to an hour for me to get there. Jia likes visiting, though. My parents are a lot different as grandparents. They spoil her.”

Namjoon smiles, and his eyes do this faraway thing. “That’s really nice.”

“Yeah, it is.” Jeongguk checks the time and feels his eyes bug out. “Oh, shit, I have to go. I’m sorry. Thank you for lunch.” He gathers up his things quickly, and he’s ready to leave when Namjoon stands up and catches him by the waist. “Oh, hi,” Jeongguk murmurs.

Namjoon pecks his lips, a brief little goodbye kiss. “Have a good afternoon. I’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah.” Jeongguk feels a little dazed. “I’ll see you.”

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk will never admit it, but he has trouble sleeping on Friday night. He keeps thinking about Namjoon, with nerves and excitement stirring in his stomach, among other things. He wants to be careful with himself, but he knows in a worryingly real way that he likes Namjoon too much already. He likes Namjoon so much.

Jimin offers to babysit, saying he and Taehyung were just going to spend the evening hanging out with Chaeyoung anyway. But Jeongguk doesn’t want the hassle of either having to take a sleeping Jia home or spend the night at Jimin’s and inevitably have to talk to him and Taehyung about the date. He wants the privacy to process, wants Namjoon to take him home and kiss him at his front door and get in bed and think about him without having to answer any questions. So he declines.

Hyunjin gets there ten minutes early as usual. Jeongguk is endlessly thankful for how responsible she is. She doesn’t even seem to realize, but it puts him at ease.

When Namjoon knocks on his door, Jeongguk is wringing his hands and hoping he’s dressed well enough; he didn’t want to wear something he wouldn’t want dogs rubbing up on, but he still wanted to look good, so he went with a pair of dark, tight jeans and a maroon sweater.

“Hi,” Namjoon says when Jeongguk lets him in, and his eyes drag down Jeongguk’s body, which lights something up in his stomach. Namjoon has never been this overt about being physically attracted to Jeongguk before, and it feels good.

“Hi,” Jeongguk says back, standing still a moment too long before accepting a hug from Namjoon.

Namjoon comes in for a moment, just to say hi to Jia. She tells him a few quick crab facts, and it makes Namjoon look around and scramble with a genuine looking urgency for some paper to write them down on.

As soon as the door closes behind them, Jeongguk laughs and kisses Namjoon’s cheek. He’s giving the list one more glance. “Hyung, you’re so cute.”

“Hey, she knows a lot of stuff,” Namjoon defends. “I don’t understand how she remembers all of this.” He folds the paper up and puts it in the pocket of his jacket, then looks at Jeongguk. “Okay, sorry, I was distracted. Come here.”

Jeongguk does, feeling butterflies when Namjoon leans in to kiss him. He hums. “Nice.”

“Nice,” Namjoon repeats with a laugh. “Let’s go pet some dogs.”

It turns out that petting dogs with Namjoon is, in itself, an overwhelming activity. Namjoon seems to love the dogs as much as Jeongguk does, and they love him too. He gets licked on the cheek more than once and giggles every time. Both of them pay more attention to the dogs than to their drinks, but they seem to be among good company.

“Did you ever have a dog?” Namjoon asks as a big, fluffy one presses her face into Jeongguk’s shoulder.

“Yeah, when I was a kid,” Jeongguk says. He puts his arm around the dog and ruffles her ears. “I think he died when I was thirteen. But he was the best dog. Did you?”

“No, my parents don’t like them. Someday, though. My building allows pets, but I figure I better wait until my schedule is less sporadic to make any decisions like that.”

“You should do it, hyung,” he says. A dog fits perfectly in Jeongguk’s mental picture of Namjoon’s home.

Namjoon smiles. “It’s in my five-year plan, don’t worry.”

“You have a five-year plan?” Jeongguk asks, feeling curious about that.

“No,” Namjoon laughs. “That was a joke. But in five years, if I don’t have a dog, I probably will see it as a personal failure.”

Jeongguk wrinkles his nose. “I’ll be over thirty in five years. Thirty-one.”

“And Jia will be almost twelve,” Namjoon adds.

“Oh, you’re right. That’s much weirder. I’ve heard worrying things about twelve.”

“I mean, I’ve heard worrying things about two, and three, and four, and five, but here you are.”

“Hmm,” Jeongguk hums. “You’re right. I’m just taking each age as it comes. Hell, each day.”

Namjoon pats his knee. “That seems to be working out for you.”

“I had to talk with her teacher the other week,” Jeongguk says. “She said Jia’s behavior in class hasn’t been so great.”

“Really?” Namjoon asks, sounding surprised. “She always seems good with you and Jimin, and even Hyunjin. And me.”

Jeongguk shrugs. “I couldn’t tell you why. I talked to her, and I think she’s just going through a weird phase.” He doesn’t mention his thoughts that he works too much. That conversation isn’t lighthearted enough for this, Jeongguk’s first date with someone he likes like crazy. “She’ll be fine, though. She’s great.”

“I think so,” Namjoon agrees.

After they manage to leave the dogs behind with reluctance, Namjoon leads them in the direction of the restaurant he chose. They get outside, and Namjoon takes Jeongguk’s hand almost right away.

Jeongguk smiles to himself and feels his cheeks heating. He threads their fingers together.

“I thought this might be good, since it’s pretty casual and not usually that busy, so it won’t be a big deal if we smell like we’ve been petting dogs,” Namjoon says outside the restaurant, a little Thai place. He has his free hand in his pocket and is shifting back and forth.

“Works for me, hyung,” Jeongguk says, squeezing his hand and letting go reluctantly to walk through the door as Namjoon holds it open for him.

Namjoon offers whatever Jeongguk wants to drink, but Jeongguk forgoes alcohol for the evening and orders a Thai tea. He likes the sweetness of it, so he finishes it quickly, and Namjoon orders him another one with a suppressed smile.

“You don’t have to, hyung,” Jeongguk says.

“Oh, my bad, I thought I did,” Namjoon says with a little sarcastic bite.

Jeongguk holds the sleeves of his sweater over his hands subconsciously, and he presses a hand to his mouth. He feels a little shy, just a little. Namjoon is so good, and Jeongguk likes him so much.

Namjoon just looks at Jeongguk, seeming like maybe he’s a little shy too. “So hey,” he says after a moment. “I never asked you this. I know you were in college before Jia was born, but what were you there for?”

“I was a finance major,” Jeongguk tells him. “Not that interesting.”

“But did you like it?”

“I didn’t really dislike it,” Jeongguk says. “But I also did it mostly because my parents wanted me to. They both grew up not having much money, so they were kind of self-made people, and that was the deal with me going to college. They wanted me to pick something safe.”

“Same with mine,” Namjoon says and then laughs. “Then I did the music thing. God, they hated that.”

“Well, damn, it sure worked out,” Jeongguk says.

“I mean, it worked out okay,” Namjoon says, a little self-effacing. Their food comes then, and he gives the server a smile and a polite thank you.

“You know it worked out better than okay.” Jeongguk takes a bite of his food.

Namjoon glances to the side and deflects. “Is it good?”

“Mm, yes,” Jeongguk groans. “I haven’t had Thai food in a while. Good choice.”

“Okay.” Namjoon takes a breath. It’s really endearing. “Good.”

They stay at the restaurant a long time, just talking. Namjoon gets dessert for them and another Thai tea for Jeongguk, and Jeongguk feels spoiled in a way that makes him pleased and warm and a little embarrassed.

“You’re so sweet, thank you,” he says as they leave the restaurant. He puts his arm around Namjoon’s waist and uses the proximity to snuggle into his side and kiss his cheek. “That was good. And really nice. I’m so full.”

“I’m glad you liked it,” says Namjoon and puts his arm around Jeongguk too. “Is there anything you want to do? It’s only nine. I mean, I can always just take you home--”

He’s starting to babble. Jeongguk cuts him off. “I mean. Yeah, there’s something I want to do.”

Namjoon groans. “Jeongguk-ah. I was trying to make this cute.”

“Making out is cute,” Jeongguk protests. He can’t help but grin. He squeezes Namjoon’s arm to let him know he’s teasing. “Can you show me more of your music?” he asks.

“Oh, well, yeah,” Namjoon says. “I guess. In the car, so we can use the sound in there.”

“Drive us around?” Jeongguk asks, moving his arm from Namjoon’s waist and taking his hand so they can both walk a little easier.

“Sure,” Namjoon agrees.

Jeongguk really likes this. He really likes driving around at night, especially with music playing, especially with someone else. He’d rather be behind the wheel, but it’s okay. Namjoon looks kind of sexy when he’s driving.

“I’m just going to show you a couple things I worked on,” Namjoon says as he pairs his phone to the car’s bluetooth system. “I think I’d feel awkward if you listened to something I rapped on while I’m here with you.”

“Okay,” Jeongguk agrees reluctantly. He likes what Namjoon plays him; it’s all good, interesting, and obviously high quality music. It differs in genre and tone, and Jeongguk likes the indie pop sounds the best but he enjoys all of it. “Hyung, you’re so cool,” he tells him after a few songs. He pulls his legs up underneath him and turns his body so he can look at Namjoon.

Namjoon tries to hide a smile but fails, and when his dimples appear Jeongguk takes pleasure in poking one. “Thank you,” he says. “Maybe this is cool?” He taps his phone. “But the rest of me is pretty normal and awkward.”

“That’s the part I have a massive crush on, though,” Jeongguk reminds him.

Namjoon glances away from the road very briefly to look at him. “Massive, huh?”

“I’m not saying it again.”

“I have a massive crush on you too, don’t worry.”

“That’s lucky,” Jeongguk says. He runs a hand absently over Namjoon’s upper arm.

“Okay, hold on,” Namjoon says in a strained voice. He exits the highway and in only a few minutes, they’re parked out near the ocean, walking trails and pier nearby lit dimly.

“Oh, I didn’t realize we were so far ou--”

Namjoon cuts Jeongguk off by taking his face in his hands and kissing him. Jeongguk makes a surprised noise but kisses back right away. “I’m sorry, that was rude,” Namjoon says, pulling back a bit.

Jeongguk growls a little in dissent and kisses him again. He runs his hands up and down Namjoon’s neck and over his shoulders and Namjoon squeezes at the dip of his waist, both of them inching closer to the center console until they can’t get any closer.

“Ugh, cars,” Jeongguk mutters. He kisses Namjoon three times in rapid succession, prompting a funny noise in Namjoon’s throat.

“You can say that again,” Namjoon mumbles against his mouth. “I almost kissed you so many times before last weekend, Jeongguk-ah.”

Jeongguk doesn’t respond, doesn’t know how to respond without feeling a little like he’s on fire, so he just kisses Namjoon. It’s different from their first kiss, so much heavier and a little desperate. Neither of them can get enough, and this time neither of them seem to be worried about that.

“Hyung, you’re so gorgeous,” Jeongguk says, running his fingers through Namjoon’s hair.

Namjoon lets out a breathy sound that’s too high to be a groan and too low to be a whine. “Stop, stop that,” he pants.

“No.” A kiss. “You’re so pretty. I thought so the first second I ever saw you.”

“Jeongguk-ah, shut up,” Namjoon says lowly. He sucks Jeongguk’s lower lip between his and grazes his teeth over it.

They kiss for what feels to Jeongguk like both forever and not nearly long enough. “I can’t believe you parked here because you wanted to make out,” he teases after a while, breathless and flushed and wriggling in his seat, trying in vain to not be obvious about how turned on he is. “I thought you were trying to make this cute.”

“You set me up for this,” Namjoon accuses. “You pretty much told me to.”

Jeongguk can’t help but grin. “Yeah, you’re welcome.” He strokes Namjoon’s hair and then can’t quite stop. He kisses right under Namjoon’s jaw, then a little down his neck. When he sucks the skin there a little, Namjoon jerks and pulls back.

“Hey, remember that carried away thing?”

Jeongguk makes a disappointed sound in his throat, but he admits, “Yeah, you’re right, it’s time to call it a night.”

“Only because I don’t want to start anything,” Namjoon says. He leans back away into his own seat.

“What if I wanted to start something?” Jeongguk complains, tugging teasingly at his shirt.

Namjoon gives him a kiss. “Then we would be in the same boat, but I am not having sex with you in my car.”

“So that’s like a universal veto?” Jeongguk clarifies.

“Universal veto,” Namjoon says.

“In a bed, though?”

Namjoon makes a low sound in his throat. “Whenever you want.” He kisses Jeongguk, and on the back of the exchange they just had it makes Jeongguk’s stomach tickle and his arousal grow.

“Okay, time to go,” Jeongguk says against his lips. He moves back into his own space and takes a deep breath to calm himself down.

“Ugh,” says Namjoon. His hands hover over the steering wheel. “Right. Right. Okay.”

When they get back to Jeongguk’s apartment, he pays Hyunjin, and as soon as she leaves Namjoon kisses him against the door. Jeongguk gets his arms around him underneath his jacket, pulling him so they’re chest to chest.

“I better go,” Namjoon says. His hands are on Jeongguk’s hips like he’s going to either push him away or pull him closer but hasn’t quite decided.

Jeongguk kisses his cheek. “Thank you. Can we do this again?”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Namjoon says. “Of course. Whenever you’re free. I’m up for whatever.”

“Okay.” Jeongguk can’t hide his smile. “Except car sex. Right?”

“Right.” Namjoon kisses him, gives a long pause of hesitation in which he just looks at Jeongguk, then slips out the door.

Jeongguk locks the door then leans back against it. He presses his cold hands to his overheated face.

Before he goes to bed, he checks on Jia. She’s hugging a stuffed shark, a gift from his parents at Christmas, out like a light. On her bedroom door is a post-it note, addressed to Dad. It says, “Goodnight. I love you.” with a drawing of a crab underneath. Jeongguk pulls it off the door and takes it with him, sticking it to his bedside table. He stretches out in bed and lies awake for a long time.

 

 

 

 

Namjoon has been more of a constant in Jeongguk’s life over the last few months than he realized. Being with him is easy. It feels like it makes sense.

The couple of weeks after their first date don’t make it easy for them to see each other, but they manage. First, Namjoon brings over dinner for Jeongguk and Jia on a weeknight, Jia spends the evening talking to them about sharks, and then after she goes to bed they cuddle on the couch and kiss a little.

The Friday after the date, they go out with friends, and Taehyung lets them know that he’s “So happy you two are together!” which makes Jeongguk blush furiously. He felt funny about the idea of coming out tonight, a little nervous, and he fidgets in his seat. He would have happily just gone out with Namjoon again or spent a quiet evening with him, or an evening doing, you know, whatever.

“Thank you, Taehyung-hyung,” Jeongguk says quietly as he sits next to Namjoon. He wants a kiss, but he’s too shy for it. Namjoon reaches over and squeezes his hand under the table.

Yoongi gets there a little late. He sits next to Jeongguk, squeezes his shoulder and says, “Hi, Jeongguk-ah.” And he leans over and tells him quietly, “You know, the evening we met you I think Namjoon already had a crush on you.”

“Hyung,” Namjoon protests from Jeongguk’s other side.

“Well, to be fair,” Jeongguk says to Yoongi, “I had a crush on him the second I saw him.”

“When he almost crushed you.”

Jeongguk laughs. “When he almost crushed his face.”

“Can you not?” Namjoon glares at them.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk says, not feeling sorry at all. He smiles at him. He still wants a kiss.

Yoongi feeds both of them. He and Seokjin both grill meat for the table, and Yoongi fills Jeongguk and Namjoon’s plates to the point Jeongguk has to beg him to stop. It’s the sweetest form of approval Jeongguk has gotten.

He goes home with Jimin. He and Namjoon don’t manage to get a kiss in.

 

 

 

 

It’s been a long time since Jeongguk has had sex with someone. When he was a little younger, he was more or less satisfied with drunk hookups in club bathrooms, maybe going home with a one night stand every once in a while if he was really feeling it. He and Jimin did that a few times when they first started hanging out--went out to clubs together, that is. Not hooked up.

As Jeongguk has gotten older, though, he finds that he wants sex less for just sex and more for a connection. He hasn’t hooked up with anyone in probably at least a year now.

Jeongguk doesn’t mind. He’s pretty sure he was always going to become this kind of person anyway. It’s just that fumbling hookups and one night stands have been his only experience with guys. And he wants to have sex with Namjoon. He wants it so much that embarrassingly, he sometimes gets excited just thinking about it.

He’s just a little nervous.

It happens sooner than he expects. They go on a second date that’s shorter and more casual than the first, and Jeongguk gives in and lets Jia hang out at Jimin and Chaeyoung’s for the evening. It’s Sunday, so he needs to take her home and get her to bed and he and Namjoon say goodbye early.

During the next week, though, a school holiday means two of Jeongguk’s tutoring students cancel on him, so he gets off early. On impulse, he texts Namjoon.

Me
Hi, I’m off work, are you home?
Can I come over?

Kim Namjoon
Um I’m not home but I can be in 7 minutes, so yes, come over

He heads in the direction of Namjoon’s apartment building and suddenly gets a little worried.

Me
Hey hyung
I got off work early so I’m going to hang out with Namjoon
Do you think you could pick Jia up from school? I won’t be later than dinner

Jimin
Mmmmmm get it bud

Me
Noo stop!

Jimin
No worries, I’ll get her :)

When Jeongguk gets to Namjoon’s apartment, Namjoon opens the door looking bright-eyed and a little of breath.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says and can’t help but laugh. “Is everything okay in there?”

“Yes, fine, come in, hi.” Namjoon pulls him in by the hand. “How are you?”

“Really good now.” Jeongguk reaches out for a hug, which Namjoon accepts. He lets Jeongguk snuggle into him. Jeongguk isn’t used to being able to do that and it feels good.

“Yeah, me too,” Namjoon breathes. “Are you hungry? Do you want coffee?” he asks when he pulls back

“Not hungry, but yes to coffee, please.” Jeongguk takes his jacket and shoes off. “I really love your apartment, hyung.”

“Thank you,” Namjoon says. He sounds a little bewildered, but takes the compliment. He starts heating water for coffee, and Jeongguk starts looking around his apartment.

He slips down the hallway, past the mostly empty second bedroom and guest bathroom and into Namjoon’s room. He didn’t see it the first time he came over, so now he looks around. It has big windows that let in nice light. There are more books in here, crammed onto a bookshelf and sitting randomly on whatever surface is available. The bed isn’t made, the light grey comforter ruffled and cozy looking. There are clothes on a chair by the window and what looks like a tangle of several pairs of earbuds on the dresser.

Namjoon comes up behind him and wraps his arms around his waist. “Hey, nosy.” He presses a kiss to the side of Jeongguk’s neck.

“Hi.” Jeongguk puts his hands over Namjoon’s, holding them in place and leaning back into his chest.

“I’m happy to see you. You’re always so busy during the week.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk agrees. His eyes slip shut. “I really wanted to see you. Say thanks to the kids that canceled.”

“Thanks, kids.” In the kitchen, the kettle starts to whistle. Namjoon lets go of Jeongguk. “Do you want to just make yourself comfortable? I can bring the coffee in here. You look tired.”

“I do want to make myself comfortable in here,” Jeongguk says. “Thank you.” Namjoon ruffles his hair away from his face and kisses him, and as he leaves, Jeongguk flops onto his bed and rolls over. The comforter smells like laundry detergent and Namjoon. It’s lovely. Jeongguk raises his arms above his head and stretches out, arching his back and then relaxing in content.

When Namjoon comes back into the room, he pauses, then sets down the French press and the pair of mugs he brought.

Jeongguk looks up to see him looking both flustered and focused. “What?”

Wordless, Namjoon comes to the bed and crawls over him. The hem of Jeongguk’s shirt has lifted so his stomach shows, nearly up to his belly button, and Namjoon slides his hands up it.

“Oh no,” Jeongguk says when Namjoon starts to move in for a kiss.

“What?” Namjoon asks, disgruntled.

“This is not sexy. I’m in my work clothes.”

Namjoon kisses over his jaw. “Jimin was right when he said your ass looks good in those pants.”

Jeongguk gasps and hits him playfully on the shoulder. “You were looking at my ass that long ago?”

Namjoon laughs and kisses him. “You bet I was.”

There on Namjoon’s bed, with the light of the bright afternoon coming in through the windows, Jeongguk gets worked up quickly with Namjoon’s body firm and gentle above his. He lets Namjoon undress him, and he undresses Namjoon, and the both of them run their hands over each other’s bodies and touch and touch and drink in the feel of skin on skin.

Jeongguk tries to keep up but his head goes too fuzzy too easily, and he gives in to the pleasure of Namjoon’s hands running over him firmly, touch aimed at making him feel good and taking him apart. Namjoon goes slow and kisses the whimpers out of his mouth, seeming to revel in the sounds and the involuntary, pleased twisting of Jeongguk’s body.

“Baby, you look so good,” Namjoon says as he kisses down Jeongguk’s throat and over his collarbones. He gives Jeongguk one last stroke and he comes, falls apart with his fingers tangled in Namjoon’s hair.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk breathes when he manages to come down, body lax on Namjoon’s bed.

“Sorry why?” Namjoon kisses him. “You’re so pretty. Look so good. Are you okay?”

Jeongguk’s head is a little muddled, and he can’t think of how to say that he’s sorry for getting so lost in that, for trying to touch Namjoon too but giving up as his hands trembled. “I’m really good,” he says, and when he thinks about it he knows it’s true. He’s lying here naked and he hasn’t had the urge to get up and put clothes on. He wants to stretch out, wrap his body around Namjoon’s.

Namjoon is still hard, and Jeongguk can feel him against his hip. He tilts his hips and carefully, avoiding friction on his own sensitive cock, Jeongguk grinds toward him. Namjoon chokes, and then whines. Jeongguk bites back a smile.

He pushes Namjoon onto his back and starts to kiss down his stomach and over his hips. “Hyung, I’m going to suck you off,” he says.

“Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon gasps as Jeongguk takes him into his hand, and then into his mouth.

When Namjoon finishes he looks so beautiful, head tilted back and eyebrows drawn together and lips parted. Sated and tired and panting, his chest rising and falling heavily, skin golden with the glow of the light from the windows, hair messy and overall looking incredibly soft.

“Wow,” Jeongguk says, sitting back on his heels. He’s gorgeous, stretched out, long and lean with miles of smooth skin Jeongguk could touch forever.

Namjoon puts a hand on his knee. “What?”

“You.” He moves forward and kisses Namjoon, runs a hand over his bare torso. “Do you have tissues around here somewhere?”

Namjoon grunts. “I’ll get something.” He rolls off the bed and moves for the bathroom. Feeling a little jittery and not wanting to be away from him, Jeongguk follows. They clean themselves up, then in their underwear, they get in bed and cuddle.

“That’s got to be some pretty strong coffee by now,” Jeongguk says, pointing at Namjoon’s French press.

“Damn, you seduced me away from my coffee.” Namjoon pulls him closer until Jeongguk tucks his head into the crook of his shoulder.

Jeongguk drapes his arm over Namjoon’s chest and traces his collarbones lightly with his fingertips. “I was wearing my work clothes. There was no effort put into that.”

Namjoon just presses his nose into Jeongguk’s hair. “And that was okay?” he asks.

“Yeah.” Jeongguk kisses the skin nearest to his lips, at the curve of Namjoon’s neck. “So good. I promise I didn’t come over for that.”

Namjoon laughs. “I know. I’m pretty happy with it though.”

“Mhm.” Jeongguk closes his eyes and feels himself become overwhelmingly sleepy. “I can’t fall asleep,” he murmurs. “Jia is at Jimin’s. I need to go get her.”

“Okay. Are you busy this weekend? If you have a free afternoon, let’s go to the aquarium. With Jia, I mean.”

Jeongguk opens one eye and looks at him. “Really? You’re cool with hanging out with Jia?”

Namjoon frowns. “Yes, are you kidding? I love your kid. She’s awesome.”

Jeongguk’s heart feels big and warm. He hugs Namjoon close. “Okay. That sounds great. You’re the best.”

“Oh.” Namjoon blushes. “Thank you.”

Jeongguk gets dressed and manages to drag himself to Jimin’s. He looks as put together as he did at the start of his day, but Jimin still sees right through him, giving him a wink and waggling his eyebrows at him.

“Bye, hyung,” Jeongguk says as he and Jia leave, rolling his eyes.

When they get home, he asks Jia, “Hey. You want to go to the aquarium this weekend?”

Her eyes go wide in a heartbreakingly earnest expression. “Really?”

“Yeah. Namjoon invited us. Does that sound fun?”

She runs to her room without answering. When she comes back, she has several books about sea creatures that she places on the kitchen table. She pulls one from the stack and opens it up to read. It’s about crabs.

 

 

Chapter Text

“So we should probably talk, huh?” says Namjoon.

Jeongguk looks at him over Jia’s head. She’s asleep, worn out from an afternoon of running around the aquarium. She was completely enamored, and at dinner she completely crashed.

“Not right now,” Namjoon clarifies. Jeongguk digs his keys out of his pocket to unlock his door, and Namjoon takes them and does it for him. “I just mean, we should talk.” The door shuts behind him and he looks awkward. He doesn’t move very far into the apartment.

“Um,” Jeongguk begins. He doesn’t know what Namjoon is asking to talk about, but he feels like he’s supposed to. That makes him feel silly. “Just a minute, okay?”

Namjoon nods, and his eyes soften as he looks at Jia. She’s a messy sleeper, all splayed limbs and open mouth and tangled hair. It’s cute.

“You can sit,” Jeongguk tells him quietly as he takes Jia down the hall to her room. He puts her to bed, and when he comes back out Namjoon has sat obediently in the living room.

There is a man in his house. Jeongguk thinks about that. He’s hardly dated anyone since Jia was born, and the people he did date rarely spent any time around Jia. Some of them didn’t even meet her. Namjoon is already such a comfortable part of Jeongguk’s life, only months after meeting him. So much so that inviting him into the private parts of his life was something Jeongguk didn’t question.

“You wanted to talk,” he says, sitting next to Namjoon.

“We don’t have to now,” Namjoon says. “I won’t stay long.”

“No, let’s talk,” says Jeongguk. He sits with a pillow on his lap and looks at Namjoon expectantly. “What’s up?”

“Well, I,” Namjoon seems to lose momentum. “I want to keep dating you.”

Jeongguk smiles and rests his head against the back of the couch. “I want to keep dating you too.”

“Okay,” Namjoon says, and he laughs a little awkwardly. “Good. Great.”

Jeongguk waits, expecting Namjoon to say something more, but he doesn’t act like he’s going to. So Jeongguk leans in to kiss him.

Namjoon puts a hand on his chest. “Wait, wait.”

“Yeah?”

“What I mean to ask is, what are your boundaries? For our relationship, I mean.” His cheeks are flushed. “Like. With life. With Jia.”

That’s a good question. Jeongguk leans back. “Honestly, most people I’ve dated before barely even met her,” he admits. “So. I’m not sure what to do here.” He regards Namjoon carefully. “She likes you a lot. It would suck for me to let her get attached to you, and then something happen where you weren’t around anymore.”

Namjoon nods. “Yeah. I understand. She’s the priority. I wanted to ask so I don’t overstep any boundaries.”

“Eventually I know I’ll have to tell her we’re dating. Or actually, she’s probably just going to figure it out. She’s always been like that. But I don’t know.”

Jeongguk thinks briefly and in a way that he can feel is catastrophizing, a little self-sabotaging, that maybe he rushed into this. Maybe he should have gotten a handle on this crush, maybe he shouldn’t have agreed so easily the moment he found out Namjoon was interested. Things have been moving very fast. And all this, after what? After he was just thinking he needs to spend more time with his daughter?

He takes a second and breathes.

“Are you okay?” Namjoon asks.

“I think so,” Jeongguk says. “I’m okay.” He picks at a loose thread on his jeans. “Let’s say, ah. When we go out on the weekends, only Saturday or Sunday. The other one is just me and Jia.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Namjoon agrees.

“And, maybe when you hang out with us, we should do more things like today. Aquarium, park, whatever. Or with Chaeyoung too, here or at Jimin’s.” He’s not sure how to say he why he needs that: because the picture of Namjoon here with him and Jia is too domestic, makes his heart ache a little, makes him feel too much like he’s standing on the edge of a cliff.

“Sure,” Namjoon says, more softly this time. “Lunch is still okay?”

“Of course,” Jeongguk says quickly. He loves their lunches more than anything. “Yes. Anytime.”

Namjoon nods. “Anything else? Anything for you? Just. Life. Feelings. Touching.”

Jeongguk wrinkles his nose. “There’s nothing I can think of. I mean, just so you know.” He clears his throat. “I’ve never had… anal sex…” He feels his cheeks go pink and scrunches his eyes shut. “I’ve really only done hands and mouths with guys.” Jeongguk giggles a little, partly to diffuse the awkwardness of sharing this and partly because he really feels like it’s funny.

“Ah, so that’s why you’re so good at that,” Namjoon teases.

“I’m very determined.” Jeongguk grins at him, then hides his face in the crook of his elbow. “But also, I’m up for it.”

“Up for it?” Namjoon repeats.

“That’s all I have to say on the subject,” Jeongguk says. “Anyway!”

“Oh!” Namjoon exclaims. “You’re saying you’re up for penetration?”

Jeongguk covers Namjoon’s mouth. Namjoon licks his hand.

“Say it, Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon goads. “Verbal consent. ‘I’m up for penetration, hyung.’”

Jeongguk fake-sobs against Namjoon’s shirt. “I’m up for penetration, hyung,” he says. Namjoon giggles. Jeongguk rolls his eyes, but he’s glad to be having this conversation, glad to be talking openly about sex, and not in a sexy way, establishing what both of them are okay with.

“Good,” Namjoon praises. He pets Jeongguk’s head.

“But yeah,” Jeongguk says. “There’s nothing else I can think of. I’ll let you know if I do. Thank you for asking.”

“Yeah. Um, I want you to stay over sometime, though. Maybe when Jia stays with your parents, I don’t know. That would be, like, a special occasion.” Namjoon looks at his hands and huffs. “Just. Yeah.”

He seems nervous, and it makes Jeongguk smile. “You already got me in your bed once.”

Namjoon goes a little pink. “Hey, you don’t even know how you looked lying there.”

“You can show me sometime.”

Namjoon pokes him disapprovingly in the ribs. It tickles. Jeongguk jerks away and giggles.

“Oh my god, you’re ticklish,” Namjoon says and his face lights up.

“No,” Jeongguk says immediately. “Do not.”

“Only because I don’t want to wake Jia up,” Namjoon says. He grins and pecks Jeongguk’s lips. “I don’t just mean for sex, by the way,” he says when he pulls back. “We don’t need to do anything. I was mostly thinking about sleeping in the same bed as you.”

“I am very into that,” says Jeongguk, “but sex isn’t exactly a no-go for me.”

Namjoon smiles. “Okay.” He leans in to kiss Jeongguk.

They kiss a little before Namjoon leaves, with the promise of seeing him at lunch this week.

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk’s mom is thrilled when he brings Jia to stay the weekend just a couple weeks later, still shortly after he and Namjoon started dating.

He has a moment of guilt before he leaves. He feels like he shouldn’t be leaving Jia for a whole weekend. He stalls before he leaves, and his mom comes to kiss his cheek and say, “Go take some time for yourself, baby. She’s fine.”

That sparks different guilt, about something else, about the man he’s seeing this weekend, like he should be honest with his mom. But he doesn’t tell her about Namjoon.

It’s odd, because he thinks that his parents would really love Namjoon. He’s so smart and gentle and respectful. They would certainly see what Jeongguk sees, even if it might be hard for them to accept he’s with a man. But he just doesn’t tell her.

They’re doing dinner at Namjoon’s apartment this evening. Jeongguk gets there a little late, and Yoongi opens the door to let him in.

“Hi, hyung,” he says and comes inside. It’s different to see this place full of people, when he’s only ever been here just him and Namjoon.

“Hey, Jeongguk-ah,” Yoongi says. He squeezes Jeongguk’s upper arm. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Jeongguk says automatically. His head is pretty jumbled though, and he’s not sure if it’s true. “You?”

“Good. Come on.”

He follows Yoongi to the kitchen, where Seokjin and Taehyung are helping Namjoon get everything on the table.

Namjoon stops everything when he sees Jeongguk walk in. He sets down the plates he’s holding and comes over. “Hi, sweetheart,” he says quietly enough that only Yoongi can hear, and he thankfully turns his head. The out of place privacy of the greeting makes Jeongguk’s stomach flutter.

“Hi,” Jeongguk says and accepts the kiss he leans in for, then ducks his head, shy at the expression of affection.

“You look good.” He’s teasing; Jeongguk has changed shirts, but he’s still wearing his work pants.

“You hush,” Jeongguk laughs. He kisses Namjoon’s cheek and goes into the kitchen. “Hi,” he says, approaching the table where Jimin and Hoseok are sitting. He rests his chin on top of Jimin’s head.

“Hi, bud,” says Jimin. He grabs Jeongguk’s wrists and pulls his arms around himself.

Taehyung shoots him a smile and squeezes his arm as he passes.

They sit down to eat, and Jeongguk sits between Namjoon and Hoseok. Namjoon sits close to him, but it’s nothing overwhelming or overbearing, just a reminder of his presence. If Jeongguk leaned over he could rest his head on Namjoon’s shoulder; he won’t, but it’s nice to know he could.

Jeongguk helps Namjoon clean up after dinner, mostly for an excuse to be alone with him; Taehyung and Hoseok take off, and the other three go to the living room, rather unsubtly leaving the two of them together.

Namjoon sends Jeongguk a little half-smile, that funny one he has that turns up only one corner of his mouth, triggers only one of his dimples, and is generally unbearably cute. The smile is part an apology, part a ;what can you do?. Namjoon’s hands are wet as he wipes down the table, so Jeongguk goes over to put a hand on his hip and kiss his cheek.

The whole cleaning thing ends with Jeongguk’s back to the counter and Namjoon’s arms around him, kissing lazily, pushing it just a little with their friends just in the other room.

“Jeongguk-ah?” calls Jimin’s voice.

They pull apart. Namjoon steps back from Jeongguk, and when Jeongguk looks in the direction Jimin’s voice came from he doesn’t see anyone. “Yeah?”

Jimin comes around the corner. “Sorry.” He presses his lips together like he’s trying not to smile. Jeongguk feels a rush of gratitude for him, for as small a thing as warning Jeongguk about his presence before coming in. “I just wanted to see if you’ll be ready to go soon?”

“Yeah, I’m ready,” Jeongguk says. He feels a little reluctant, but he’ll see Namjoon tomorrow, anyway.

They say their goodbyes to Seokjin and Yoongi, who look very comfortable on Namjoon’s couch, and Namjoon walks them to the door.

“Hyung, thank you for dinner,” Jimin says. He kisses Namjoon’s cheek and slips into the hallway.

“Bye,” Jeongguk says. He kisses Namjoon’s cheek, too.

“You can’t just kiss my cheek,” Namjoon says. “Jimin kissed my cheek.” He grins teasingly.

“Hmm,” Jeongguk says contemplatively. “That’s an interesting take. Maybe Jimin should come over tomorrow too, then.”

Namjoon pulls him in and kisses him softly. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you.” Jeongguk hugs him, then goes to leave.

Jimin’s waiting for him, looking at his phone. He looks up as Jeongguk comes out. “God,” he says. “You two are, like. Ridiculously sweet with each other.”

“Shut up,” Jeongguk says. He feels himself flush. Jimin just laughs.

In the car, Jimin asks, “Am I taking you home?”

“Mm, no,” Jeongguk says. “I’ll come home with you, if it’s okay. We haven’t hung out in a while.”

“Aw,” Jimin says. “I miss you too, babe.”

“Be nice to me,” Jeongguk whines.

Jimin grins. He pulls into his building’s parking. “I love you, bud,” he says. “Have you and Namjoon been spending a lot of time together?”

Jeongguk shrugs. He unbuckles his seatbelt too soon, which makes Jimin side-eye him. “I don’t know if ‘a lot’ is right, but we see each other. We already, uh. Already had lunch at least once a week.” He shifts awkwardly. “We still do that.”

“Really?” Jimin raises his eyebrows. “I knew you guys were hanging out, but every week?”

“I don’t really know when that started happening,” Jeongguk admits. They get out of the car. “I just know I ran into him a couple weeks after we first met, and after that I just… saw him sometimes. I don’t know when it started being every week. But we’ve only been on a couple like, dates. We just hang out.”

Jimin hums. “I get it. You spend time together, but not always organized. That sounds more like you, anyway.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk agrees. Now that he thinks about it, he thinks that does work better for him. He likes the low pressure of just hanging out. Even their dates have been like that, just an excuse to spend time together. Namjoon really seems to understand Jeongguk.

Jimin unlocks the apartment. “So, are you doing okay?” he asks after he pays Hyunjin and she leaves.

Jeongguk doesn’t really want to answer that. He doesn’t like to think about this, and he doesn’t really know how to explain what he’s feeling. “I don’t know,” he admits. He sighs and says again, “I don’t know.”

He hates that. He should be fine, shouldn’t he? Happy. He’s a little tired, but he loves Jia so much, and he has Jimin who is the best friend he’s ever had, and he’s dating Namjoon, who he’s liked from the moment they met.

“What’s up?” Jimin asks, an invitation to talk. He sits on the couch and motions for Jeongguk to sit, too.

“I’m tired,” Jeongguk says finally. “I don’t know. I’ll be fine.”

“Hey, no,” Jimin frowns. “What do you mean, tired?”

Jeongguk tips his head back and closes his eyes. He takes a slow breath in, and then says what he’s only said once, to his mom. “I want a different job. One job, not two. I need room to… to breathe. And be a better dad.”

Tears are stinging at the back of Jeongguk’s eyes when Jimin pulls him over so Jeongguk’s head rests on his shoulder.

“You’re a great dad,” Jimin says. “You’re an incredible dad. You put Jia before everything, babe. Let me just make that clear, okay?” He pets Jeongguk’s hair back out of his eyes. “But also, room to breathe is important. You need to take care of yourself. The way you feel isn’t wrong. You feel how you do because what you’re doing right now isn’t sustainable.”

Jeongguk wants to resist that idea. He wants to believe if it’s for Jia, he can do anything; wants to believe if it’s for Jia, he can do what he’s doing now as long as he needs to, until she’s eighteen and goes to college or longer.

But he can’t. He knows he can’t. His body and mind have both been telling him for months that he can’t. “Damn it,” he says in frustration. “I know. You’re right.”

“So look for something, huh?” Jimin combs his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair. “Knowing your limits is the opposite of shameful, Jeongguk-ah. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.”

“Yeah. I will.”

“I don’t know if you know this, but you are very capable.”

“Shut up,” Jeongguk says, a little bit hoarse.

Jimin laughs lightly. “Okay. Hey, permission to help a little bit? I’ll stay out of it if you want me to.”

Jeongguk closes his eyes. “Permission granted.”

 

 

 

 

It seems like Namjoon was serious about his motivation of sleeping in the same bed as Jeongguk, because he doesn’t start anything.

Jeongguk gets to his apartment in the late afternoon. Namjoon pours wine and cooks for them; he tries to make Jeongguk relax while he does, but Jeongguk won’t let himself be stopped from helping. He checks ahead on Namjoon’s recipes and beats him to help with a step or two, laughing as Namjoon growls at him to sit back down. He wraps his arms around Namjoon from behind, and Namjoon doesn’t hide his smile.

Over dinner, Namjoon says, “So, you’ve had a lot on your mind lately, huh?”

Jeongguk shrugs. “I guess.”

Namjoon looks at him. Nothing in his expression says he’s trying to figure Jeongguk out, but Jeongguk knows he is. “Anything you want to talk about?”

And Jeongguk thinks about it. He really does. He thinks about telling Namjoon about everything that’s been worrying him and distracting him lately. Everything that’s been keeping him awake at night. But he doesn’t.

He second guesses himself a little. He tells himself it’s just because he wants to spend this weekend not thinking about it, just spending time with Namjoon, but somewhere inside he knows he’s just scared for Namjoon to see that part of him. Or, that is, more of that part of him than he did when Jeongguk was sick.

That part of him is small and tired and vulnerable. He doesn’t really want to bring him here, because he thinks if he does he will just want to curl up with Namjoon holding him. And maybe cry. Maybe he needs that. But just the idea of it makes him tired.

“I’m okay, really,” he says softly. Then with a little more strength, “Thank you, though. You’re sweet.” Then the moment feels heavy; the moment feels a little sad in that Jeongguk thinks Namjoon wanted more from him. He deflects a little. “You said you were starting a project. What’s that?”

Namjoon lets him change the subject, and he talks about the music he’s working on, gets Jeongguk to listen to some things he hasn’t before. Jeongguk loves the way Namjoon gets when he talks about music. He so obviously loves what he does. He talks and Jeongguk sees someone who is really living, who’s who he wants to be. The way he is is so comforting to Jeongguk.

Namjoon continues to not start anything, so it’s when they’re on the couch after dinner that Jeongguk takes things into his own hands. He lies over Namjoon’s lap with his head on the arm rest of the couch.

“Well hi there,” Namjoon says. He places a hand on Jeongguk’s stomach and smiles down at him. His eyes twinkle; they always sort of do. He is so, so pretty.

“What’s up,” Jeongguk says and reaches up for his face. He pulls Namjoon down.

Namjoon comes, and kisses him. “You,” he says between presses of his lips, “are so beautiful.”

“You’re nice,” Jeongguk says. The sincerity of the compliment makes him blush. He makes a little humming sound in his throat.

They kiss slow and long. Both of them seem to have a taste for lazy kissing that settles well with Jeongguk; he opens his mouth and lets Namjoon take whatever he wants, Namjoon giving back with slick presses of his lips. They kiss like that until the angle is too awkward for Namjoon to keep up, and then he shifts out from under Jeongguk’s torso and lies over him, one leg between both of Jeongguk’s.

It’s good; it’s the kind of making out that could really just be making out, for the rest of the evening, soft and slow. Jeongguk likes that. He’s not opposed to it. And there will be time for that, but right now he knows what he wants. He bites lightly at Namjoon’s lower lip, then starts to kiss wet and open-mouthed at his neck.

Namjoon makes a sound that sends a thrill through Jeongguk. He pulls Jeongguk’s mouth back to his. Jeongguk can’t help smiling into it. He feels so content. He loves being with Namjoon.

Namjoon’s hand sneaks up and starts at the buttons of his shirt. Jeongguk grabs at his collar and pulls him close, urges him in case Namjoon has any questions whether he’s into this removal of clothing. It’s just a minute before Namjoon has all his buttons undone and is smoothing his hand over Jeongguk’s chest and stomach.

“This is ridiculous,” he says.

“What?” Jeongguk asks.

“You.” Namjoon runs his fingers over Jeongguk’s stomach, then squeezes his thigh. “You’re so strong, what the hell.”

“You like it?” Jeongguk teases.

“I like you.” Namjoon’s voice is deep and almost growling. “This isn’t exactly a turn-off, though.”

“Nice.” Jeongguk slides a hand under the hem of Namjoon’s shirt. “What do you say we take our clothes off, then?”

Namjoon pulls away enough to laugh. His eyes are closed. “You dork.” He pecks Jeongguk’s lips. “I think I could handle that.”

Jeongguk sits up underneath him and can’t stop smiling. He can’t believe how comfortable he is here, after such a short time. “Come on,” he says, feeling breathless. Namjoon’s still sitting, and Jeongguk grabs at his sweater and pulls it over his head.

For a second Jeongguk is taken back to a couple weeks ago, when they got naked in Namjoon’s bed just for a hand job and a blow job, just because they wanted to touch each other. It makes his stomach thrill with happy nerves. He didn’t think he could be this comfortable with someone seeing his body so soon, but he wants Namjoon to look. He wants Namjoon to look, even if it makes him nervous and even if it makes him feel hot all over.

Namjoon holds onto Jeongguk’s hand as they make their way to his bedroom. Inside, he pushes his unbuttoned shirt off his shoulders and pulls him close by the belt loops of his pants.

They kiss, kiss until both of them are half-hard and in only their underwear. Jeongguk pushes Namjoon onto the bed, just so he can look at him. His legs are so long. Jeongguk runs his hands over his thighs, and the muscles twitch. He smooths them back up, up his stomach and over his chest.

Everything about Namjoon seems to Jeongguk surprisingly solid for as long as he is. His thighs are thicker than Jeongguk could ever tell under his clothes, and his chest is sturdy, just defined enough to make Jeongguk’s mouth water just a little.

Namjoon pulls Jeongguk down on top of him, then rolls them over so he can press Jeongguk back into the bed and kiss him. He sneaks his hand into Jeongguk’s underwear, and Jeongguk lets out a moan into his mouth when Namjoon wraps his fingers around his cock.

“What do you want to do?” Namjoon asks, breath hitting the underside of Jeongguk’s jaw.

“I want,” Jeongguk begins. He knows what he wants. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, then asks for it. “Would you fuck me?”

“Oh, god, yeah,” Namjoon groans. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Jeongguk says. “I’m, like.” He covers his eyes in embarrassment. “Uh, prepared for that, so.”

Namjoon laughs, but it’s not a mean or even teasing laugh, just surprised and happy. “Really? Because so am I. If you wanted to fuck me.”

Jeongguk giggles a little too. His cheeks still feel hot with embarrassment, but it’s duller now. He feels something hot curl in his stomach and has to try not to think of Namjoon thinking these possibilities through too--has to try not to think about fucking Namjoon. “Well, I guess we’re going to have to compromise. And by compromise, I mean you fuck me.”

Namjoon huffs an amused breath. “I guess I could stand that.”

Jeongguk feels his nerves diffuse a little. “That’s very generous of you.” He pulls Namjoon back down to kiss him.

Jeongguk hasn’t had much up his ass before, just enough to know that he doesn’t hate it and just enough to know that he probably wanted Namjoon up his ass. He tries to contain his embarrassment as he passes on this information. (Namjoon’s response is just a smile that he bites down on and a “That’s okay, I’ve got you. Tell me if you want to stop or slow down.”)

This is uncomfortable at first; he’s really tight, even though preparing for this had included a finger just to make sure he still felt okay with the feeling. He’s thankful Namjoon is going slow. Namjoon’s careful to make sure he’s feeling good; he touches Jeongguk’s cock, too, and he never adds a finger without asking first.

He is steady handed and good at this. He opens Jeongguk up on his fingers, slow, slow, familiarizing himself with Jeongguk’s body, putting the most perfect pressure on Jeongguk’s prostate. Jeongguk knew it felt good to touch his prostate, but it was always too much work for him when he was by himself. It feels good, it feels so good, that tendril of pleasure making his legs shake, but it’s still a shock when he suddenly becomes sure he is going to come.

“Hyung, hyung, Namjoon,” he pants, head tossed to the side. “You have to stop or I’m gonna--I think--”

“Do you want to come?” Namjoon asks. He’s propped over Jeongguk, kissing his shoulder and chest and working his fingers inside him. He moves up to kiss Jeongguk’s mouth. “Do you want to come like this?” His breathing is uneven. “Because I really want to make you come like this.”

“No,” Jeongguk groans. He laughs breathlessly. “That’s--so great,” he babbles, feeling entirely more desperate than he ever has during sex, “but no, please fuck me.”

Namjoon does. He rolls on a condom and gives Jeongguk a little, unbearably sexy smile that has Jeongguk shaking his head in mild disbelief. He fucks Jeongguk slow on his back, in measured strokes at first, pressing Jeongguk’s leg back as he does, looking to find the slide into his prostate. It gets smoother and more overwhelming, and Jeongguk is trembling and whining under Namjoon. He thinks with rather distant embarrassment that he might cry.

This orgasm is a slow burn, building from when Namjoon had his fingers inside Jeongguk and on, keeping him on the edge for so long, until he finally tips over.

Namjoon fucks him through it, shallow, gentle thrusts, and strokes his cock a few times as he comes down, then stills and starts to pull out. He’s panting, a sheen of sweat on his golden skin, eyes bright with effort. “You good?”

Jeongguk feels boneless. He’s never felt like this before. He can hardly move, thinks he can hardly speak. “Holy fuck,” is what he manages first. “I’m good, I’m--fuck.”

“Good fuck? Bad fuck?” Namjoon asks, and then seems to realize what he said. He looks vaguely shocked at himself. “I mean the exclamation.”

Jeongguk giggles. “Good fucking job, hyung.”

“No,” Namjoon groans. “Don’t do this to me.”

Jeongguk pushes himself up. Namjoon moves off of him and to the side. Jeongguk still feels all tingly, tingly and pretty tired, even though he didn’t do anything. “Do you want me to suck you off,” he mumbles and finds his face pressed to Namjoon’s pec.

“I don’t know, you sound pretty tired,” says Namjoon. “I wouldn’t want you falling asleep on the job.”

Jeongguk doesn’t know when his eyes slipped shut, but he opens them to glare at Namjoon. Then he flicks his tongue out over his nipple.

“Oh Jesus,” Namjoon exclaims, high in his throat. Jeongguk, pleased with the reaction, laves his tongue over the nipple. He’s very sensitive there, and he likes that Namjoon is too.

“I wonder if I could get hard again,” Jeongguk says casually. He stretches his body out so he can get over Namjoon more, kissing over his chest and sucking and biting whenever he feels like it.

“Do you want to go again?” Namjoon asks. He sounds a little incredulous, but it might just be his breathlessness.

Jeongguk laughs. “No. It would probably take like, an hour, and I’m not leaving you hanging for that long.”

“Thank fuck,” Namjoon says. His voice cracks as Jeongguk nips at the skin below his collarbone.

Jeongguk slides his hand down Namjoon’s chest and takes his cock in his hand. What Jeongguk is doing must really have him going, because he’s very wet. It makes something heat up in Jeongguk’s gut, and he has the fleeting thought that it might not actually take an hour for him to get hard.

Jeongguk does suck Namjoon off. He sucks him off, teases him and takes his time, and he loves it. The other times he’s blown guys, almost always random guys, it’s just been something to get through. But this is so enjoyable, with his hands on the soft body underneath him, drinking in every sound Namjoon makes, more invested in this than any blow job he’s ever given. He’s good at this not because he can use his throat, but because he really knows how to use his tongue and lips, and his hand with them.

Namjoon doesn’t move for some time after he comes, groaning and splaying his limbs out. Jeongguk puffs in amusement at him. He still feels melty too, so he sprawls out on his stomach with an arm flung over Namjoon’s stomach. The comforter is messy, and so is Jeongguk’s stomach, and so is Jeongguk’s ass.

“You okay?” Namjoon asks eventually. He smooths his hand over Jeongguk’s bare back.

“‘m good. You?”

“Great. Please don’t move.”

“Sounds great,” Jeongguk mumbles. “Actually this is kind of gross, though.”

“I know,” Namjoon groans. “I’ll change the sheets.”

“Can I take a shower?” Jeongguk asks.

“Yeah, of course.” Neither of them move. “Now?”

“In like five minutes.” Jeongguk shuts his eyes. His eyelashes brush Namjoon’s shoulder.

He keeps having moments of remembering they’re naked, which is strange; they just had sex, of course they’re naked. It’s just, he thinks, that he’s never felt this comfortable with someone. Sehyeon was the closest, the only other person he’s really dated, but even with her it was so so different. And while it’s an odd thing to think about, Jeongguk doesn’t think he’s actually… been naked with anyone. Not since he’s had Jia, not up to now--or more specifically, not up to a few weeks ago in this same bed, thinking nothing of it.

Or, almost nothing. Almost nothing because of how Namjoon had looked at him, and how Namjoon has been looking at him today, dragging his eyes over him distractedly like Jeongguk is this beautiful thing laid out in front of him. He’s unabashed, and even Jeongguk doesn’t feel like he can look at Namjoon as openly as Namjoon looks at him.

Like now, like when Jeongguk gets off the bed after much longer than five minutes, probably closer to fifteen, and says, “Where are your towels?”

“Cabinet above the toilet,” Namjoon says, and when Jeongguk looks over he’s wearing a pair of boxers and sitting on the edge of his bed. He’s looking very fixedly at Jeongguk. His eyes flicker from where Jeongguk’s ass was before he turned.

Jeongguk feels heat rise in his cheeks, but at the same time he likes the feeling of Namjoon looking at him, so the heat rises in his stomach too. “Why are you looking me like that,” he mumbles, feeling a little shy.

Namjoon smiles and gets up from the bed. He looks so good with his messy hair and pink cheeks. He comes and wraps his arms around Jeongguk, even though Jeongguk is very naked.

Jeongguk sighs into the hug and relaxes. Namjoon feels unsubtly over his bare skin, like even though he’s had Jeongguk naked for a while now and even though he fucked him, he’s not quite done touching him and getting familiar with his body.

After a moment, Jeongguk giggles. “Good fuck.”

Namjoon groans. “I didn’t mean that,” he says. “That’s so crass.”

“Oh, sorry. Good lovemaking.”

Namjoon tickles him.

“Stop, no,” Jeongguk cries out and jerks away as much as he can with one of Namjoon’s arms still around him. “That’s not fair, I’m naked and vulnerable.”

“Go take your shower,” Namjoon laughs. “But hurry up.”

“Don’t miss me too much,” Jeongguk says and immediately gags at himself.

“I’ll try, dear.”

By the time Jeongguk gets out of the shower, Namjoon has changed the sheets on his bed and isn’t in the room anymore. Jeongguk ventures out to find him.

He’s in the kitchen. “Do you want anything to drink?” he asks when Jeongguk comes in.

“Just some water, please,” says Jeongguk. He hops on one of the counter barstools and spins around on it.

“Sure. Okay, so, I have ice cream, do you want it now?”

Jeongguk makes an interested noise. “Here I was thinking we already had dessert.”

“That’s so greasy,” Namjoon says with a wrinkle of his nose. He’s so cute.

“Ice cream now, if you’re up for it too.”

“I’m always up for ice cream. My sweet tooth is an affliction, really.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Jeongguk leans forward on an elbow. He watches Namjoon move around the kitchen, feeling very content.

They eat ice cream on the couch, where Jeongguk flings his legs over Namjoon’s to keep them off the cold leather. Namjoon puts on a movie for them, but they get distracted by lazy kissing and Jeongguk feels too sleepy for it to keep his attention. So they move back to Namjoon’s bedroom for cozier, sleepier, lazier kissing.

Jeongguk has wanted for some time now to know what it feels like to go to sleep being touched by Namjoon. When the sweet, slow catch of their lips turns too sleepy to continue, Jeongguk tucks his face into Namjoon’s neck and kisses just above his collarbone and just feels. He gives it five stars.

 

 

When Jeongguk wakes up, it’s to a dark room and gentle jostling.

He moves involuntarily and takes in a deep, waking-up breath.

“I’m sorry,” whispers the person doing the gentle jostling. “It’s early. Go back to sleep.”

Jeongguk reaches out and fists his hand in Namjoon’s shirt. He hears a little huff of a laugh and responds with, “Shhh.”

Namjoon takes the hand fisted in his shirt and pulls it across his stomach. Jeongguk curls in closer to him, and Namjoon tugs until Jeongguk tucks his head into the crook of his shoulder.

“Did you go to the bathroom,” Jeongguk mumbles against his shirt.

“I went to get water. Go to sleep.”

Jeongguk is warm, and Namjoon is soft and smells good, and this is very comfortable, so he does.

The next time he wakes up there’s dim light coming in the window. It falls on Namjoon’s face. He’s still asleep, turned on his side now so he’s facing Jeongguk. He looks all glowy and lovely.

Jeongguk doesn’t say anything or do anything. The only thing that seems right is just to look. He feels a strange sort of calm, like he’s in a boat being lulled gently to sleep.

Eventually Namjoon opens his eyes, like he can feel Jeongguk looking at him. “Hello.”

Jeongguk reaches out without realizing he’s doing it, and splays his fingers over Namjoon’s neck. “Good morning.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon agrees. “Do you want coffee?”

“No. Not yet.” He rolls onto his other side. “Spoon me.”

Namjoon’s chest rumbles with a pleased hum as he presses up against Jeongguk’s back. “Good decision.”

“Mhm.” His eyes drift shut again. “What are you doing today?”

“Whatever you want.” Namjoon presses a kiss to the back of his neck.

“I don’t want to do anything.”

“That’s fine too.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Namjoon says. “I’m happy if you just want to stay here until you go get Jia. We don’t need to go anywhere.”

“You didn’t plan a day to romance me, hyung?” Jeongguk teases.

“Uh.”

“I’m kidding.” He puts his hand over Namjoon’s, on his stomach, and laces their fingers together. “But really, if you don’t mind that sounds nice.”

“Of course I don’t mind. You don’t do a lot of nothing, do you?” Namjoon says.

“No. You should feel honored.”

Namjoon presses a smile into the top of his spine. “I do.”

Eyes closed, Jeongguk snuggles back into Namjoon’s chest. His limbs feel melty. He doesn’t want to get up, not ever.

“Did you go back to sleep?” Namjoon asks some moments later. His voice rumbles deep with the morning.

“No,” Jeongguk mumbles. It’s half a lie. He turns over and kisses Namjoon’s chin. “Hi, good morning,” he says even though they have already greeted each other this morning. “Your voice sounds so sexy in the morning, did you know that?”

Namjoon presses his smile into his pillow. “That’s not something I had observed about myself, no. But thank you.” He gets his arm around Jeongguk and pulls so he moves in closer. “I was right about this,”

Jeongguk hums. “Right about what?”

“Sleeping in the same bed,” he says, letting it out breathy. “Really good.”

That seems like such an absurdly honest thing to say. There was no questioning or second-guessing how to say it, either, not like if it had been Jeongguk’s thought. That makes it a bit easier for him to say, “I agree,” and lean in until they’re pressed together.

God. God, he loves this so much.

When Namjoon asks again if he wants to get up and have coffee, Jeongguk says yes, but neither of them move for a very long time.

 

 

 

 

The thing about Jeon Jeongguk is that in the years since his daughter was born, he has more or less conditioned himself not to need much, and when he does, those needs are not exactly at the forefront of his mind. So maybe it’s not surprising that when he starts to become really, truly overwhelmed, he doesn’t notice until it takes over.

It sneaks up on him.

He’s between tutoring appointments when the call comes. It’s the principal of Jia’s school, asking him to come get her.

For a moment Jeongguk’s brain freezes like he’s never felt it freeze before; it just goes blank. He needs to say no, but he can’t.

“Jeongguk-ssi?”

“Sorry, Principal Song, I’ll, um.” He pauses. “I’ll head that way,” he says finally. After he hangs up, he goes to his manager’s office and awkwardly tells her he needs to go get his daughter from school. She tells him to go on and she’ll take his last few students, so woodenly he makes his way toward her school.

When he gets there, Jia is sitting in the principal’s office and looking angry and indignant, the way she looks when she’s done something wrong and doesn’t want to admit it.

“Please take a seat, Jeongguk-ssi,” Principal Song says.

Jeongguk does. He sits on the chair next to Jia’s and feels suddenly like he is the one being scolded. He wonders if he’ll ever stop feeling like that.

“Jia-yah, would you like to tell your father what happened, or shall I?”

Jia frowns. When she looks at Jeongguk, he thinks he is probably the only person in the world who could tell she’s about to cry. “Youngjin said I’m stupid and weird.”

Jeongguk can feel his jaw work. “And then what happened?” he asks her, trying to be gentle.

“I bit him.”

He nods, feeling distant.

“And then what, Jia-yah?” Principal Song prompts.

“Then he pulled my hair, so I kicked him.”

Jeongguk looks to Principal Song for confirmation. He nods, seeming maybe a little surprised by Jia’s straightforward version of the story.

“I think it will be good if Jia takes a few days away from school, Jeongguk-ssi,” Principal Song says.

A rush of warm indignation settles in Jeongguk’s chest at the way he speaks flippantly about Jia right in front of her.

“Principal Song, can we continue this conversation while Jia waits outside, please?” he asks.

Principal Song’s lips press into a disapproving line. Jeongguk ignores it. “I suppose so.”

Jeongguk stands up and leads Jia into the small waiting room between the principal’s office and the administrative assistant’s. There is a couch and a couple chairs. “Sit here, honey,” he says.

She takes a seat in an armchair.

“Hey,” Jeongguk says. Jia looks at him with hesitation and a defensive frown. “I’m not mad at you. We can talk about it in a minute, okay? I’ll be right back.”

Jia looks down at her lap, but nods.

“Principal Song,” Jeongguk says when the office door is shut, “where is the boy who called Jia names?”

“Dealt with and sent home,” Principal Song says shortly. “In the time we were waiting for you, Jeongguk-ssi.”

That’s a nice jab, Jeongguk thinks. He doesn’t have a car, he couldn’t have gotten here any quicker. “Was he given a suspension as well?”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

“It’s my business,” Jeongguk says. “It sounds like what he said started the incident. Jia didn’t respond correctly, but I would hate to think you let your students here call each other names and get away with it.”

Principal Song studies him for a moment. Then he sits back in his seat. “Alright, Jeongguk-ssi. If there’s another incident with Jia, you can expect a suspension. I’ve been informed of her consistent hostile behavior, and I recommend monitoring it before things get out of hand.”

Jeongguk is so tired of people at this school disliking him for no reason. This is as good as it’s going to get.

“Thanks,” he says. It feels dry in his mouth. “Have a good evening,” he tells Principal Song robotically and leaves the office.

Jia is still sitting on the chair he left her in. Jeongguk goes over to her and reaches out a hand. She takes it without saying anything, and they leave the school.

“Dad,” she says when they’re outside.

“Yeah, baby?”

Jia frowns and reaches her arms out, like she hates to ask.

“Waah,” he says and picks her up. “You’re almost the size of a grown-up now, but I guess this is why I go to the gym, right?”

The teasing makes her more like herself. She pinches the soft skin of his arm.

“Don’t pinch me,” he says. “Be nice to me.”

Jia lays her head on his shoulder. She’s extra subdued, and she’s not just trying to be cute to get him to go easy on her. She doesn’t do that sort of thing, she just gets stony.

“I love you. We can talk about what happened after dinner, okay?”

She nods against his neck.

When Jeongguk asks her if she knows why what she did was wrong, she tells him yes, and because we don’t hurt people, not even if they hurt us first. She says she’ll apologize to Jinyoung, and that’s that; Jeongguk doesn’t know what else to do. There are times, being a dad, that he feels desperately like he’s drawing a blank.

Does he punish her for this? He thinks the answer is yes, but she was defending herself. She knew it was wrong and she’s going to apologize. What more does he ask for? How does he address the attitude people are saying she has in class?

He’s tired, more tired than he usually is on work nights, by the time he gets to bed. In a deep down but very real place, Jeongguk is afraid he’s failing at parenting. He’s terrified he’s going to ruin Jia because he’s so out of his depth. He made her. He has to take this seriously.

Even though he’s dead tired, Jeongguk can’t sleep. He lies awake forcing himself not to look at the time and trying and failing not to think about what to do.

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk’s figurative other leg gets knocked out from under him a few days later.

It’s just a Tuesday. It’s been a good day, really. Jeongguk is leaving a lunch during which he and Namjoon abandoned all pretenses of not being way too into each other and sat on the same side of a booth with their legs pressed together, and the weather outside is warm enough he doesn’t even need to put on his jacket on his walk to work.

When he gets to the tutoring center, things seem a little frantic. His manager asks to speak with him, and she looks apologetic. He gets a twisting feeling in his stomach.

She tells him they’re moving to a new, centralized main location. This one will stay open, but with limited hours; it’s going to close earlier. She knows what it means for Jeongguk, she obviously does. She looks sorry.

It doesn’t quite settle in. Jeongguk goes through the motions of the rest of his workday trying not to feel like he’s in shock, trying not to catastrophize, trying not to panic. He’s going to have to quit. It’s not going to be enough; it’s barely enough as it is.

When he finishes, he goes to get Jia feeling like a robot. At home, he sets her up in front of the tv, goes to his room, and sinks into a heap on the floor.

“Shit,” he says to himself. “Shit, shit, shit. Oh god.” He’s scared in a way that makes it feel like something’s cutting through him. Twisting his guts.

He doesn’t cry. He’s not going to cry.

He pulls himself together and goes to make dinner for Jia.

 

 

 

 

The hardest work Jeongguk does over the rest of the week is managing his anxiety. His mental capacity for doing anything other than going to work and taking care of Jia becomes nonexistent. He feels jittery and shaky for every moment his hands aren’t occupied.

Jeongguk hates the way he can’t stop obsessing over the situation. He still has a couple weeks until his hours get cut. So finally he gives in, and on Thursday he text Jimin, Something happened and I don’t know what to do. Can you please come over, I need to talk

So Jimin comes over. He takes one look at Jeongguk and pushes him over to sit at the kitchen table.

He doesn’t try to touch him, doesn’t try to do anything, he just sends Jia and Chaeyoung to Jia’s room and makes Jeongguk eat. Jeongguk forces some food down and tells him what happened and after Jimin leaves, he lies in bed awake and doesn’t fall asleep until nearly four.

The next day things start to get worse.

Kim Namjoon
Hey! Can I have you for a bit this weekend?

The text makes Jeongguk nervous. He has so much he’s worrying about, so much keeping him awake. He remembers the Jeongguk he didn’t want to bring to his weekend with Namjoon, the worn-out one he was afraid would cry. If he sees Namjoon this weekend, he thinks he will not be able to leave that Jeongguk behind.

Me
Hi hyung, this weekend would be kind of hard, I’m sorry

Kim Namjoon
No worries, babe
Are you okay?

Something grips low in his stomach. This scares him. It’s okay for him to want to go to Namjoon. He can want to go to the man he’s dating. Right?

And he really does.

He can’t quite pinpoint what it is about him--what ideology he created for himself over the last seven years--that tells him he can’t want to be supported or comforted, that makes him feel very small and exposed and vulnerable if he does want those things, ready to run at the prospect of getting hurt. The physical part of this has come so easily. It’s like he’s trying to hide parts of him he thinks are tenderer than all the tender parts of his body Namjoon has already touched.

Everything Jeongguk knows about Namjoon tells him that, if he would let it, the emotional parts of this would come nearly as easily as the physical parts.

Namjoon is such a steady person. When Jeongguk was sick, he took care of him and made him feel like things were going to be okay. He’s been straightforward about wanting to be in a relationship with Jeongguk, about liking Jeongguk. Everything about him says he will be happy for Jeongguk to let him in. But Jeongguk thinks he might fall to pieces.

He thinks that he wouldn’t be able to handle the comfort Namjoon would offer. It would be so gentle. He would be so understanding. He would hold Jeongguk as much as he wanted and let him cry his shock and fear and god, he would probably help him if he asked.

Jeongguk wouldn’t ask, but if he did he knows Namjoon would. The idea of falling apart with Namjoon scares Jeongguk bigger than the fear that he will not figure out what to do about his job. He doesn’t know what to do.

So he doesn’t do anything. He composes what feels like a hundred and one texts that say something along the lines of Hey, don’t worry about me, there are just some things I have to take care of, sometimes with an added, I’ll be busy for a while but I’ll call you soon. They all feel too impersonal for someone he’s dating, for someone he likes this much, and he can’t come up with anything better that doesn’t make him want to cry, so he doesn’t do anything.

He doesn’t do anything, and every time he thinks about that it sends a pang of panic through him, like he’s doing something wrong that gets harder to fix and scares him more every hour.

Over the weekend Jeongguk pulls a curveball on even himself and goes to his parents’ house. He doesn’t tell them about his job, but he knows they can tell something is wrong.

Jeongguk sleeps in his old room and Jia sleeps in his brother’s old room and he stays up late looking at the balance in his bank account and scrolling through every website he can think of that lists full time jobs.

He submits his CV for everything in reasonable distance from where he lives, then thinks about it and submits a few unreasonable ones. Sometime late Saturday night, Jimin sends him an email with a link for an office position at the university he works at. There’s no text, only the link. Jeongguk bookmarks it, but he doesn’t apply.

Namjoon sends him one more text late Sunday after he gets home, saying I’m going to be out of town a few days this next week but if you’re not busy let’s do the weekend?

The last text before that is the one saying Are you okay? and he thinks Namjoon is too patient for his own good.

Me
Hey hyung, I have some things going on right now but I’ll let you know if anything changes

He adds a smiley face, then deletes the smiley face. He adds the smiley face again and then deletes it again and sends the message. He doesn’t want to make Namjoon think he did something wrong, but he feels like he can’t let himself step out of this distant place, not yet.

He gives in.

Me
:)

 

 

 

 

By the end of the next week Jeongguk has two interviews set up for jobs he doesn’t want, one of which lists its pay and one of which doesn’t, praying it won’t be a complete waste of his time. He’s going to have to take time away from the gym to go to them, so he talks to his manager about picking up Sundays until he figures things out.

It feels like defeat. It feels terrible. He needs to spend more time with Jia and now he’s giving up his only free day with her just to hold things together. He tells himself the reason he’s not reaching out to Namjoon because he doesn’t have time, and it would be a distraction, and he has a lot to do.

Later, he can think about how it was really because he was afraid of the emotional vulnerability, but for now he doesn’t; for now he can’t. For now when he sleeps he does his best not to think of being with Namjoon, in bed or on a couch or even standing, with arms around him, feeling… safe. Good safe, the kind of safe he’s wanted for as long as he can remember.

He hated himself for that when he was younger. He felt weak and vulnerable and hated himself for wanting to be with someone who let him be weak and vulnerable.

Jeongguk doesn’t hate himself for that anymore. He knows there’s nothing wrong with him. But it embarrasses him. It makes him feel small and exposed, more and realer the closer he has gotten to Namjoon.

It’s scary to have worked this hard for this long on his independence and then have to face that it is not really what he wants. It scares him more the more he understands that he wants the safety and stability and comfort of another person more than he wants it to be just him and Jia. He wants a person in his space, constant and comforting--in his bed, someone whose arms are open for him, someone he can get lost in.

Now, looking that in the face, corporeal and non-hypothetical, seeing a person who represents everything he’s scared of wanting, he’s even more afraid. Having known Namjoon just for this pocket of time, Jeongguk was fine when he seemed like unreachably everything he wanted, but now, the chance to have what he wants is open and warm and here in front of him and so attractive.

He knows he can have it, he knows if he asks, Namjoon will be there. But Jeongguk isn’t going to let himself ask.

He’s been taking care of himself for a long time. He can take care of this.

 

 

It gets to the point, gradually, where Jeongguk knows he’s ghosting Namjoon. He couldn’t handle how gracefully Namjoon would step back if Jeongguk let him know he needed space to figure things out. He can hardly handle how gracefully Namjoon is stepping back now.

Namjoon doesn’t text often, just once during the week to ask about lunch on a day Jeongguk has one of his interviews (to which he responds that he’s busy, with no smiley faces), and once on the weekend to ask if he has any time free.

Jeongguk thinks about telling him what’s going on every time he texts. He thinks about the offer he knows he would get, if you need a break, come over and do you want me to watch Jia? and he thinks about how gentle he has always known Namjoon to be and how he would not try to help unless Jeongguk asked for it.

Even the support of his presence would make Jeongguk fall apart, he thinks. He needs this distance to keep things together, and that’s the long and short of it.

(That’s the long and short of it, but it doesn’t stop Namjoon from being one of the things keeping Jeongguk up at night. His parenting, his job, this month’s rent, Namjoon. He knows there’s nothing he can do lying awake, he knows. But he can’t sleep anyway.)

 

 

One more text, one Is everything alright? that Jeongguk can’t find it in himself to respond to.

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk is on his way to the tutoring center for the last day before his hours get cut. He’s been telling himself he didn’t choose to work his usual lunch hour at the gym so that he wouldn’t go to the cafe and run into Namjoon, but he never believed it.

As he gets closer to work today, Namjoon’s familiar figure comes into view. He is wearing a big sweater and tucking his arms around himself as if he could make himself smaller, and when he sees Jeongguk he looks at him with some kind of resignation in his eyes.

Guilt washes over Jeongguk, with an undertone of panic. If he hadn’t already thought he was falling in love with Namjoon, he would know it right now, in this moment. Which is awful. It’s a terrible moment.

That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it, Jeon Jeongguk, he thinks--realizes: self-sabotage.

This is good until you have to be vulnerable, right?

Right. That’s how things work with you. You let this man look at you naked, but the second you need to let him in you take ten steps back.

“Hyung,” he says softly as he approaches.

“No,” Namjoon says. “No, I--I’m going to talk.” He looks upset, he looks nervous.

Jeongguk is viciously afraid he is mad, and he feels so horrible over how upset Namjoon looks that his muscles tense; it makes him shiver. “Okay,” he says. His chest tightens.

“You obviously need space,” Namjoon says, getting out quickly like he hates to say it. “I’m really starting to feel silly. I don’t know what’s happening, but I know something is, and I can’t. I can’t help you if you don’t let me.” He takes a deep breath in and nods like he’s resolving himself. “I’m going to go. When you want to talk, let me know.” He holds himself like he feels silly being here and saying this, like Jeongguk is jerking him around or something.

With a weird shortness of breath, Jeongguk nods. He needs to get out of here. He’s going to cry, and he is maybe going to fall over.

“Stop looking like that.” Namjoon’s voice is as gentle as Jeongguk has ever heard it. He reaches out and squeezes Jeongguk’s arm. “You’re fine. I mean it, when you’re ready to talk I’m ready to listen.”

Jeongguk reaches up for the hand on his arm but all his actions are delayed, so by the time he does the hand is gone; the hand is gone and Namjoon is stepping away, and away and away.

“I’ll see you, Jeongguk-ah.”

Jeongguk feels small. Smaller, probably, than he would have if he’d let Namjoon in in the first place. And god, this is so much worse; this is like Namjoon acknowledging that Jeongguk has been ghosting him and allowing it.

When he gets inside his hands are shaking. He goes to the bathroom to try and calm down, and when he realizes he’s about to cry he sits down and holds his head in his hands to push it back. It works, but not really. He doesn’t cry, but he feels worse than if he had.

 

 

 

 

The next week is strange. Jeongguk feels like he’s being worked harder than before, but his days are ending sooner. His first interview didn’t pan out and he’s still waiting to hear on the second one, but he hasn’t gotten any calls back.

He finally submits an application for the position Jimin sent him. Jimin asks if he can push the application through and get Jeongguk an interview. Jeongguk wants to say no, but he rethinks, and says ’maybe later.’

He’s invited out with Jimin and Taehyung and the rest of the usual suspects, but he declines. He doesn’t want to make a perfectly good night awkward, and anyway he thinks he doesn’t really have the stomach to go out right now. He and Jia hang out. They watch Miraculous Ladybug and read books and eat snacks. She reads him a book about jellyfish, and he thinks about the jellyfish room at the aquarium they visited with Namjoon.

Jeongguk knows he did this to himself. He knows he’s responsible for removing himself from those people and the support they offered. It makes him feel very tired. Jia falls asleep on the living room floor and Jeongguk lies on his back with his head turned, watching her sleep.

This is about Jia, he reminds himself. He can worry about himself when he knows she’s taken care of.

 

 

 

 

On Saturday, right after Jeongguk and Jia get to Jimin and Chaeyoung’s, Jeongguk’s mom calls.

He misses the call, and she leaves a voicemail saying “Honey, dad and I need you to come home right away. Don’t bring Jia. Text me, okay?”

His alarm spikes. “Hyung,” he says to Jimin, “I think something happened at my parents’, can I leave Jia here?”

“Yeah, of course,” Jimin says. He looks as concerned as Jeongguk feels.

Jeongguk texts his mom that he’s on his way, but she doesn’t respond. His mind races the whole way there, trying not to think the worst. He doesn’t know what his mom could have called him for, and he doesn’t know why she wouldn’t follow up.

When he gets in sight of the house, his heart is pounding. He’s confused to see a figure he doesn’t quite recognize sitting out on the porch.

As he nears, though, he realizes who it is.

“Oh god.” He leans forward and braces his hands on his knees. “What are you doing here?”

“Ushering in the end of all things, apparently,” she grimaces. “Sorry.”

“No kidding,” Jeongguk groans. “I thought something happened to my parents. God. Okay, give me one second and I’ll be shocked to see you.” He takes a deep breath as she laughs a little awkwardly. Then he straightens up. “Wow, hi, Sehyeon-noona.”

“Hi, Jeongguk-ah.” She steps off the porch, holding herself like she doesn’t know what to do.

He figures they can hug. “God. Okay. Sorry, I promise I don’t think of you as the apocalypse.”

She laughs. “That’s only your parents, huh?”

“Seems like it.” He walks up the porch steps and opens the door to let them both in.

His parents are both in the kitchen, looking a little tense.

“Hey mom, here’s some constructive criticism: ‘Jeongguk-ah, this is mom. Please come by the house, don’t worry, dad and I are fine. Sehyeon is here.’”

She looks a little guilty. “Sorry, honey.” Her hands are hovering over the empty kettle. “Can I get you two some. Some tea or something?”

Sehyeon shakes her head. “Thank you, Mrs. Jeon, but I really didn’t come to impose. I just wanted to talk to Jeongguk.”

Jeongguk feels all jittery. He has all these things going on in his head, and he thinks he really is not properly processing Sehyeon’s presence. “I’d like some tea, please, mom. Are you sure, noona?”

She shifts a little awkwardly. “Okay. Thank you.”

Jeongguk’s mom puts the kettle on and for a moment the four of them stand in awkward silence. Then Jeongguk says, “You know what, mom? I’ve got this. You and dad can go, uh, watch tv.”

His mom nods, and the two of them escape into the living room. It’s still only a room away, so as soon as the tea is finished Jeongguk beckons for Sehyeon to follow him outside.

They go into the backyard and sit at the patio table. Jeongguk thumps his elbow on the glass tabletop and holds his head in one hand. “I need something stronger.”

“Ah,” Sehyeon says like she’s not sure if that’s a personal jab.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk says, realizing he’s been rude. He sits up.

Sehyeon is studying him, so he studies her back. She looks different only in that she’s older, that her face is thinner. She still wears her hair back in a loose ponytail, she still has baby hairs wisping out by her ears, she still has glasses. She’s grown into her nose just enough, like Jeongguk did. Poor Jia never stood a chance.

“I’m sorry if it wasn’t okay for me to come here,” she says. “I would’ve contacted you directly if I knew how. I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

“You could have looked me up on Facebook.”

“You have Facebook?” Sehyeon asks doubtfully.

“I’m a dad, I have to have Facebook. It’s the rules.” Sehyeon stares him down. “No, I don’t have Facebook,” he says.

“Uh huh.”

“So what are you doing here?”

“Well.” Sehyeon hesitates. “I’m engaged.”

Jeongguk knows. He saw the ring. He nods. “Doctor?”

She smiles a crooked smile. “How’d you know?”

He shakes his head. That fills him with a bitter humor. He never would have been good enough for her. This is why he was sure, still is sure, they wouldn’t have ended up together even without Jia.

And he’s still a kid with half a college degree, still fighting and barely making things work. Maybe it’s because he feels so deeply at the heart of things like he’s still that boy that he believes he’s not good enough for Namjoon, either. Namjoon is too good, too steady, has things too right. He deserves more than a scared dad who can’t let him in.

“Just a guess,” he says absently. “So you came here… what? To tell me you’re getting married?” He pauses and frowns. “You don’t want Jia to be like, your flower girl or something, right?”

“No!” Sehyeon exclaims. “God, no. That would be so fucked up, what the hell.” There it is. She’s always had a mouth on her.

“Just checking.” He raises his hands in retreat.

“I didn’t come just to tell you I’m engaged,” Sehyeon says.

“That’s good. Because no offense, but I wouldn’t come to the wedding.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to.” She shifts awkwardly.

“So,” Jeongguk prompts.

“I guess…” she sighs. “I guess I came to see… you. To see if I ruined your life. I don’t know.” She winces. “Phrased badly, I realize.”

Jeongguk stares at her. “To see… if you ruined my life. Noona. What the hell? What if you came here and you were like, ‘shit, I did ruin his life’? What would you have done?”

She looks guilty. “I hadn’t gotten that far. I just felt like we never got closure. I felt like I drove you away. I know I drove you away. I wanted to see how you are.”

Jeongguk used to be mad that he and Sehyeon never got closure too. He had to get over that. She never had that; she never had a daughter she gave her life for, she didn’t have to grow up emotionally like he did. Not like this.

So he decides he’ll humor her. “Things are a little shaky right now,” he says honestly. “But generally I’m really good. Jia is just fantastic. I love her more than life. She’s really smart. She’s really no-nonsense. She doesn’t take anyone’s shit.” He reaches over and flicks Sehyeon’s nose. “We both owe her an apology for her nose.”

Sehyeon smiles. “Kid of the big nose? Damn. I’m sorry to Jia.” It looks like the name is strange on her tongue.

Jeongguk stops talking. He doesn’t know what else to say and he’s afraid she’s going to start asking for something--ask to see Jia, try to start knowing her now, as she begins her safe new doctor life with her safe doctor husband. “Listen, noona,” he begins.

“No, don’t worry,” she says quickly. “I don’t want to see her. I mean, I do,” she amends. “Of course I want to. She came out of me. But I wouldn’t do that to you.”

He nods thankfully. “Someday if you want, that can be her choice. Right now it’s mine, though. So thank you.”

“Yeah.” Sehyeon is quiet for a second. “Jeongguk-ah,” she says, “I’m sorry.”

“Hey, don’t apologize,” he tells her. “You made the right decision for you.”

“But you made the right decision for her,” she says quietly.

Jeongguk dislikes that. He dislikes the idea that there’s a scenario, an alternate universe out there, where Jia is with Sehyeon and not him. He feels himself get a little tense. “Do you really regret it?”

“No,” Sehyeon says. “You’re right. I made the right decision for me. And you’re the dad she needed.”

He has to believe that. For his sake, he has to believe that. “And you’re getting married,” he reminds her. “You’ll have kids you’re ready to be a mom to. You’ll do a good job.”

She looks very serious. “Thank you.”

“Yeah.” They sit in silence for a moment. Jeongguk feels calmer now. He feels oddly removed. It’s like talking to Sehyeon has made him step back from all the chaos he’s got going on now.

“What about you?” Sehyeon asks. “You dating anyone?”

That’s a hard question, as things are. “I…” Jeongguk begins. “Yeah. I’ve been seeing this guy.”

Sehyeon doesn’t try to hide her surprise. “A guy?”

“Yeah.” Jeongguk folds his arms over his knees. “Really great… really incredible guy. I like him a lot.” Guilt squeezes at his stomach just thinking about Namjoon.

“Good on you, Jeon,” Sehyeon says. “I didn’t know you liked guys.”

“Hmm, yeah.” He doesn’t feel like he owes her an explanation, so he doesn’t offer one.

“You sure you’re good?” she asks. “You have a lot on your mind, huh?”

He gives her a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m not so great now. But things will be fine.”

He keeps saying that. He keeps pushing other people out of his problems like they don’t belong there--and maybe Sehyeon doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone who does. It’s time he stops doing that, starting with his parents, then Jimin. Then Namjoon.

Sehyeon squeezes his thigh. “I’ll get out of your hair now. Thanks for talking to me.” She lets go and stands up.

Jeongguk stands. “Sure. It was weird, but it’s cool.” He walks her back through the house, pointedly avoiding the living room, and outside.

She turns to him. “Maybe someday we’ll be friends, huh? You and me. We can drink wine together and talk about our husbands.”

It’s with a shock that Jeongguk realizes she’s alluding to the guy he told her he’s dating. To Namjoon. Something pangs in his stomach at the idea of Namjoon as his husband. It feels forbidden. He knows she doesn’t mean it to hurt, but it does, a little. “The day that happens, I will call you up and we’ll drink together,” he promises.

“Okay.” Sehyeon smiles. “Sorry this was weird. Sorry I came here on a bad premise. I’m sure it all seems very childish to you, mister dad.”

Jeongguk shrugs. He won’t pretend it doesn’t feel a little juvenile that she came looking for closure on a relationship that ended so long ago, but he gets it. She’s getting married soon, and once upon a time she had a baby with her college boyfriend. He’s sure she couldn’t help but think about it. “I get it. We’re in different places of life, but that doesn’t mean the way you feel is less valid.”

She huffs and shakes her head. “Yah. Which one one of us is older? Tone it down on the wisdom here, Jeon Jeongguk.”

He squeezes her arm. “Goodbye, noona. Congratulations on the engagement. I wish you happiness.”

“You too.” She nods and gives him a hug. “You deserve it. Bye.” And she walks down the porch steps to her car, gets in, and drives away.

When Jeongguk goes inside, his parents are waiting for him at the kitchen table.

“Baby, are you okay?” his mom asks.

“I’m fine, mom,” he says.

“What did she want?” His dad frowns. “Money?”

A laugh bubbles out of Jeongguk. “What? Dad, why would she come to me for money? We haven’t talked in six years.”

His dad shrugs.

“You sure you’re okay?” Jeongguk’s mom asks.

Jeongguk chews at the corner of his lip. “Can I stay for dinner?” he asks finally. He hasn’t been with his parents like this, just the three of them, in so long. Years.

“Of course.” His mom pulls him close and kisses his temple. She’s so much smaller than him, but her touch makes him feel like he’s the small one. His eyes sting with tears.

Jeongguk helps them get dinner ready. His mom makes kimchi fried rice and the smell takes him back to the end of high school. His dad cooks the meat, and they let Jeongguk make ramen just so he can feel like he’s helping. They all sit around the table together.

“I should tell you something,” Jeongguk says after a few moments of pushing his rice around and not quite being able to eat any.

His parents look at him. His dad’s eyebrows draw together. His mom says unsurely, “Okay.”

Jeongguk feels their alarm. “It’s not… like, Jia is fine? I’m fine too.” They relax a little. Jeongguk takes a sip of water and a deep breath. “Um, I’ve been seeing someone. He’s a man.”

They both look at him for a long moment. His mom’s eyes flicker to his dad, like she’s nervous about how he’ll react.

Jeongguk’s dad nods once, twice. He takes a bite of his food. “And his name is?”

Jeongguk can feel his chest deflate. He starts breathing again. “Namjoon,” he says. “Kim Namjoon.”

His dad doesn’t look at him. “What does he do?”

“He’s a music producer. A successful one,” he adds awkwardly, afraid they’re going to dislike that. “He’s… he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. I like him a lot.” He looks down at the table, feeling distantly mortified that he just told his parents that.

Jeongguk’s mom clears her throat. “Do you have a photo?”

“Oh,” he says in mild surprise. “Yes.” He pulls his phone from his pocket and searches for a picture he took of Namjoon several weeks ago. He holds it out.

“He’s very handsome,” his mom says.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk agrees. It comes out so soft it’s almost a whisper.

She takes his phone and holds it out to Jeongguk’s dad. He studies the photo for a moment and hands it back wordlessly.

Jeongguk takes the phone and scrolls to another photo. “This is us together.” It’s a photo Jimin took of them just after they started dating. Namjoon is smiling and Jeongguk is laughing so big, looking at him with the starriest fucking expression on his face.

When his mom passes this one to his dad, his dad takes the phone and looks at it for a drawn out moment. Then he sets Jeongguk’s phone down, rests his elbow on the table, and rests his head in his palm, hiding his eyes.

“Dad,” Jeongguk says in alarm.

His dad is crying. In twenty-six years of life, Jeongguk doesn’t remember ever seeing his dad cry. That’s what finally does it; after all of this that’s what finally makes Jeongguk cry.

They’re sitting at the kitchen table, a grown man and his parents, all three of them crying. With dinner in front of them, crying.

Jeongguk’s dad picks up the phone again. He wipes his tears and nods once, then hands Jeongguk his phone.

His mom squeezes his arm. Her eyes are shining. “Dad thinks it looks like you’re really happy with him.”

Jeongguk hides his face in his hands. “I messed up with him,” he says. He bites back a sob. He can’t believe he’s crying in front of his parents. “I think we’re on hold. I hope we’re just on hold.”

“What happened, baby?” His mom rubs his arm, like she used to when he was a little kid, to put him to sleep.

“My job,” he says. “Uh, you know, the one that pays better.” He laughs bitterly.

“Tutoring,” his mom says.

“Yeah.” Jeongguk sighs. “They had to cut my hours by way too much.” He leans back in his seat. He’s suddenly cold. His mouth is dry. “I’m going to have to quit. So I got really scared. I didn’t know what to do. The longer I waited to talk to him the more it scared me how much I wanted him to be there. I kind of ghosted him.”

“Ghosted him?” his dad frowns.

Jeongguk huffs a little laugh. “It means I brushed him off when he tried to see me. He asked me if things were okay and I didn’t answer because I was scared.” He doesn’t know how to explain the kind of scared he felt to his parents. They have never been as vulnerable as he is every day. “I think I hurt him.” He’s quiet before he can decide what he wants. “I think I want advice.”

“You talk to him, Jeongguk-ah,” his dad says quietly. “I don’t know this man, but anyone who makes you look like that, you talk to him.”

 

 

By the time Jeongguk gets back to Jimin’s, it’s dark and Jimin has put both Jia and Chaeyoung to bed. His heart clenches at the feeling of being watched out for entirely without question.

“Thank you,” he says, and leans into the hug Jimin gives him. “I didn’t mean to stay so long. I was just talking to my parents.”

“Is everything okay?” Jimin asks.

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. He laughs softly. “Sehyeon came to talk to me. So my mom acted like the world was ending.”

Jimin pulls back to look at him. “Sehyeon?” he says in alarm. “Jia’s mom?”

“Mhm.” Jeongguk shrugs off his coat and lies in the middle of the living room. He feels kind of fuzzy.

“Uh. What for?” Jimin asks carefully. He sits down and looks at Jeongguk with visible concern.

“She just wanted to talk.”

“Okay.” Jimin sounds unsure, but anyway he just lies down next to Jeongguk.

For a while, they just lie in silence. Then finally, Jeongguk says softly, “Jimin-hyung. I think I ghosted Namjoon.”

Jimin turns his head to look at him and raises one eyebrow. “And you think I don’t know that already?”

Jeongguk closes his eyes. It seems like the guilt is here just under the surface now, waiting for any moment he has his guard down. “You didn’t say anything.”

“I thought when you were ready to talk about it, you would.”

“I’m ready to talk about it,” Jeongguk whispers.

“Okay,” Jimin says. “I’m listening.”

Jeongguk is quiet a long moment, trying to gather his thoughts into something resembling coherence. "Do you ever just..." he begins, trying to find the words for what he wants to say without making himself feel silly. "I mean. You are a dad too." He feels his cheeks heating up with the embarrassment of trying to articulate this.

"Yeah," Jimin agrees slowly. "Yeah, single dad solidarity club."

"Right. And like. Your life revolves around your kid, like mine does. You go to work and you come home and take care of her. And I know we've both gotten a lot better at making sure we're healthy and taking time for ourselves."

"And asking each other for help."

"Yeah, and asking each other for help. Which I'm super thankful for, I’m super thankful for you."

"But?" Jimin prompts.

"But do you ever just. Want someone to," he stops.

Jimin rolls over to face him. "Take care of you?" he asks softly and more seriously.

"Yeah." He licks his lips and stares at the ceiling.

"Yes," Jimin says immediately. "More than anything sometimes."

"I feel like I’m not supposed to feel that way,” Jeongguk whispers. “It embarrasses me a lot. It makes me feel vulnerable.”

Jimin is quiet for a moment. He doesn't just say 'don't be embarrassed,' which is good, because it wouldn't help Jeongguk anyway. "I'm not surprised," is what he finally says. "For you of all people to feel that way and not be comfortable with it doesn't surprise me at all."

"Okay," Jeongguk says unsurely after a minute of waiting for Jimin to expand.

"Does Namjoon make you feel taken care of?"

The question sends an odd vulnerable shiver down Jeongguk’s spine. "Yes," he says and feels at least as embarrassed by that as his initial question. "Always. It scares me.”

“It scares you?”

It takes Jeongguk some contemplation to decide how to word what he feels. “It’s my responsibility to hold myself together.”

“No,” Jimin disagrees. “It’s your responsibility to make sure you and Jia are taken care of.”

“I have to hold myself together to do that,” Jeongguk argues.

“You don’t have to do it by yourself.”

That sends a rush of indignance through Jeongguk. But he knows Jimin is right. He knows that sometime over the years he picked up this destructive tendency to avoid emotional openness in the name of holding himself together. “I felt like if I went to Namjoon I was going to fall apart,” he says finally. “I felt like I was just going to let go.”

"And would that be a bad thing?" Jimin asks. Jeongguk finally looks at him. His eyes are soft and serious.

Even though Jeongguk knows the right answer, he has to think it through. Namjoon is a good person, one of the best people Jeongguk has ever met. He has been straightforward about what he wants in their relationship, about wanting a relationship with Jeongguk. He was the one to ask Jeongguk about his boundaries, on an emotional level or a physical level or related to Jia.

So he settles on, "It would require a lot of trust."

"Okay," Jimin says. "That makes sense. And with the trust, is it something you don't feel like he's earned, or...?"

"No," Jeongguk says immediately. That's not something that has crossed his mind for a second. He can’t think of anyone he’s ever wanted to trust so soon after meeting them.

"So it's maybe that you're not willing to give it."

"Yeah.” It makes Jeongguk feel guilty to know that’s right.

He has been self-sabotaging, he knows. He can’t say he’s sure what he’s trying to protect himself from: whether it’s the vulnerability of allowing someone to take care of him, or having to admit that he wants that, or the idea that he can just… have it. Not have to fight himself or anyone else, just have it.

For a while they just lie there, and Jeongguk just thinks; he thinks about Namjoon and how he always feels warmest when he's around, how much nicer it feels when he stops fighting how comfortable it is to be with him.

Then Jimin rolls onto his side and slides his hand across Jeongguk’s stomach. "I feel the same," he says, tucking his chin into Jeongguk’s shoulder. "With Taehyung. Sometimes I feel like it's wrong for me to trust him as much as I do. Or like I should be more careful with giving out trust because of what's happened to me, and more importantly what's happened to Chaeyoung."

"How do you get past feeling like that?" Jeongguk asks.

Jimin gives a soft laugh that’s tinged with melancholy. "I don't know. Knowing them as well as you can? Trusting yourself to view the situation as objectively as possible and knowing you will do that because you're a dad?"

Jeongguk makes a frustrated noise. "Then I should be fine."

“Me and Taehyung are a lot different than you and Namjoon, though. I have to kind of ask for what I want from Tae, you know? I think that makes it easier for me.”

Jeongguk makes a questioning sound in his throat.

“I mean that it’s harder for you to process. Namjoon is Namjoon. He gives you the kind of comfort you want without questioning it. Maybe without realizing it. And you don’t have to ask for it, so maybe that makes you wrestle with it more under the surface. Because you never have to be overt about wanting it.”

He has to consider it, but eventually Jeongguk says, “I guess that makes sense. It’s hard for me to… let people give me things.”

“I know.”

“I feel like I have to work for everything.” --or I won’t deserve it, he thinks, but doesn’t say. He doesn’t want Jimin’s pity.

“I know.” Jimin takes his hand. “You have gotten better at asking me for help, but only me, babe. You won’t accept anything from anyone else. And I know it’s going to be hard for you to hear this, but Jeongguk-ah. Someday you’re going to have to let those walls down for someone other than me. If it’s not now, with Namjoon, it’s going to be later, with someone else.”

That strikes Jeongguk with a visceral fear. “I don’t want anyone else,” he says, so quiet it’s almost a whisper.

“Then you need to talk to him.” Jimin squeezes his hand and runs his thumb over the back of it. “You need to be open with him about the way you feel and that you want to get better. You have to let him see you. Not just when you feel good, when you’re happy, but when you feel scared and confused and small, too. You have to let him be there for you, and you have to let him call you out when he knows you’re being dishonest.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says. “Yeah. You’re right.” He squeezes his eyes shut against the tears that threaten to fall. “He’ll want to talk to me, right?”

“I think you know the answer to that.”

Jeongguk does, of course. Namjoon told him that when he was ready to talk, he’d be ready to listen.

“I’ve known him for so long, you know. Since college.”

The thought Jeongguk immediately has is that Jimin is so lucky. He wishes with so much of himself that he could have known Namjoon for that long. Longer.

“I’ve seen him date people. People of all genders, all kinds of people. But there’s no one I can remember him liking the way he likes you.”

“I’ve never liked anyone like this either.”

“I know, bud.”

They lie on the floor so long Jeongguk almost falls asleep.

 

 

 

 

Monday morning, Jimin sends Jeongguk a text that says Let me get your application pushed through.

He texts back Okay. Jimin loves him. Jimin’s got his back. The only thing Jimin wants here is stability for Jeongguk, and Jeongguk knows that. He’s okay. He’s okay.

They call to set up an interview with him that afternoon. He goes outside around the back of the gym to take the call.

After he hangs up with them, Jeongguk decides he’s waited long enough. He crouches against the wall, all tucked into himself, and pulls up Namjoon’s contact.

His thumb hovers over the call button for a lot longer than he realizes. He almost just goes to his messages and sends a text instead, but he doesn’t let himself. He closes his eyes and steels himself and calls. He thinks--possibly hopes--that Namjoon won’t pick up. His heart is thumping irregularly.

Namjoon does pick up, of course. “Jeongguk-ah?”

Jeongguk wants to cry at the sound of his voice. “Yeah, hi.”

“Hey. Are you okay?”

Jeongguk laughs and it comes out as a sob instead. “Not really.” He puts a hand over his eyes and tries to calm himself down. “Better than before.”

“Okay. I’m glad you’re better. Jimin told me what happened with work.”

“Yeah.” He takes a deep breath. “I want to talk. Do you still want to talk?”

“Yes,” Namjoon says. There is feeling in it. “Of course.”

“Okay.” A tear is rolling down Jeongguk’s cheek. He rubs it away and makes himself talk. “I’m free Thursday.”

“Thursday is good. Seven?”

“That’s good,” Jeongguk breathes. “Okay. I’ll see you then.”

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk asks Jimin to pick Jia up from school on Thursday, so by the time Namjoon gets there he’s been waiting alone and freaking himself out for a couple hours. He’s still terrified Namjoon is going to want to end things, even though the more reasonable part of him is saying that that’s not going to happen.

“Hi, hyung,” he says. Namjoon looks horribly soft in a button down with a big cardigan over it and the round framed glasses he told Jeongguk he wears only when he’s forgotten to buy contact solution. Jeongguk wants a hug from him more than anything, but Namjoon doesn’t move so he doesn’t either.

“Hi, Jeongguk-ah.” Namjoon presses his lips together so that his dimples pop out. It’s almost a smile, but not quite, which is disappointing.

“I, ah. Do you want to come in?”

Namjoon hesitates. “Ah. Would you rather--maybe we could walk?”

Jeongguk feels himself stall.

“No?” Namjoon says.

“Well, I just,” Jeongguk begins, “don’t really want to, uh, cry in public.”

Namjoon looks alarmed. “Are you going to cry?”

“I don’t know,” Jeongguk bluffs. There are already tears stinging at his eyes.

“Okay, yeah, hey, I’ll come in.”

Jeongguk’s body language must be screaming about how nervous he is, because after Namjoon takes off his jacket, he puts his hands on Jeongguk’s shoulders and says, “Hey. Calm down.”

“I am calm,” Jeongguk mutters.

Namjoon studies him. “Before you talk, Jeongguk-ah,” he says, “I want to make something clear.”

Jeongguk’s heart rate picks up. “What?”

“I want to be your boyfriend,” Namjoon says. He moves his hands to Jeongguk’s neck, then seems to second guess himself and drops his arms.

For a second, Jeongguk can’t find any words to respond. What comes out is, “Are you sure?”

Namjoon’s brow crinkles. “Yes, I’m sure. I feel like it’s important for my feelings to be out there. I don’t know what you want.”

Jeongguk shakes his head. “I want you to be my boyfriend. Are you kidding?”

Namjoon is quiet. They look at each other for a moment. Then, “Are you sure?” he repeats. It’s soft and questioning.

“I think I better talk now,” Jeongguk says.

“That would be good, yeah.”

Jeongguk shifts uncomfortably on his feet. “Do you still want to walk?”

Namjoon’s face betrays a hint of a smile. “Not unless you do. How about sitting?”

“Sitting,” Jeongguk agrees. He hovers for a second before he can get his body to move into the living room. He sits on the couch, tucked into the corner with his knees pulled up, feeling small. Namjoon sits on the opposite end.

Jeongguk isn’t sure how to start. He’s thought through all the psychoanalysis he and Jimin have done on him over the past few days and picked out what he thinks Namjoon needs to hear, but he could never figure out where to begin.

“Do you want me to ask questions?” Namjoon asks.

Dry mouthed, Jeongguk nods.

“Okay. Did I do something that made you not want to see me, or was it because we aren’t close enough yet?” Namjoon messes with his own fingers, pushing them back like he’s trying to crack the knuckles. “I felt like I might have been overstepping my boundaries. I’m sorry.”

Jeongguk feels his mouth open in something like disbelief. Surely Namjoon knows a false dichotomy when he says one? “Neither,” he says. “Neither at all. You didn’t do anything wrong. It was all me.”

Namjoon scoffs. It’s alarming, coming from him.

“No, I mean it,” Jeongguk exclaims. “Not like ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, just. I didn’t push you away because of anything you did.” He gives a frustrated huff. “I did it because I was afraid of how much I wanted to rely on you.” Saying that gives him a weird mixture of feelings; it makes him want to cry, and it makes him feel so tired of himself. He wants to get out of his own head.

“Jeongguk-ah, I want you to feel like you can rely on me,” Namjoon says. “I would have stayed out of things. I just would’ve liked to be there for you.”

That makes Jeongguk ache. “I know. I don’t know if you understand…” Here it comes. Here comes the crying. He has to shut his eyes. “I don’t know if you understand how much I trust you, or how much I like you, or how much I want to be with you. I want you so much, and it scares me,” he whispers. “I have to hold things together, especially right now, and I thought if I was with you I was going to fall apart.”

Jeongguk puts a hand over his eyes, feeling so embarrassed for saying that. Uninvited, the fear that Namjoon doesn’t feel as strongly about Jeongguk as Jeongguk does him comes washing over him.

Namjoon puts a hand on Jeongguk’s knee. It’s not to get him to look up, it’s just a touch to remind him he’s there and he’s listening.

After a minute Jeongguk can open his eyes without crying. He looks up.

Namjoon is looking at him with these ocean eyes. They are deep, churning with something to say, something spilling over. They’re asking Jeongguk for more.

“You feel really safe to me,” he says. It tightens some coil in his stomach. “I feel like I can only be safe if it comes from myself. But I know that’s a problem. And I trust you.”

“I trust you too,” Namjoon says. Jeongguk thinks he probably doesn’t deserve that. “And I want you too. I think you don’t know how much I want you either.”

Jeongguk huffs and tries not to cry, pressing his fingers to his cheeks. “I don’t think I’m what you signed up for, hyung.”

“Signed up for?” Namjoon repeats incredulously. “I didn’t sign up for anything. I just asked out a really sweet boy who I like more than anyone else I’ve ever dated. I want to be your boyfriend,” he says again.

Jeongguk groans loudly at himself as he starts to cry. “Sorry,” he says, “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

Namjoon smiles and leans toward him. “Can I touch you?”

“Yeah,” says Jeongguk. His throat is scratchy. “A hug, please.”

Namjoon kisses his temple and wraps his arms around him. Jeongguk tries not to cry, but Namjoon strokes his hair and says, “You can cry.”

Jeongguk laughs wetly and remembers saying the same thing to Jia. “I don’t want to,” he says with a hint of petulance.

“Up to you.” He feels Namjoon’s smile against his hair. “Do you want to talk about what happened?”

“Yeah.” Jeongguk wipes the tears from his face. He sits up. Namjoon doesn’t move away, and he keeps his arm around Jeongguk, on the back of the couch. “Hyung. I was scared. I’m still scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“I know, Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says. “I know you think you have to look like you have a handle on things, but you don’t. Things are going to be okay, and even if they’re not okay right away there are people on your side. You’re going to be okay.”

“I know.” Jeongguk drops his head to Namjoon’s shoulder. “There are a lot of things I need to work on. I don’t know how to let people help me without feeling vulnerable.”

“I think just because it’s uncomfortable for you doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s okay to be vulnerable with people you trust.”

“Yeah,” Jeongguk says softly. “Then hyung, please hold me. I don’t know what to do.”

Namjoon pulls him up a little, and into his chest. Jeongguk feels himself stiffen, but he relaxes and closes his eyes. “Don’t worry about it,” Namjoon says. “Not right now. You don’t have to do anything on your own.”

“Thank you,” Jeongguk says.

“I didn’t do anything special,” Namjoon tells him.

You’re special.”

“Shh,” Namjoon laughs and squeezes his arms around Jeongguk’s waist. “We’re okay, yeah? You and me.”

“I should be asking you that.”

“But I’m asking you.”

“We’re okay,” Jeongguk says. “We’re really okay.”

“Okay,” Namjoon says. “I’ll give you space while you work things out if you want, but I’d really like to be with you.”

“No, I don’t want space from you. I’m sorry.”

“You’re okay.” Namjoon starts to run his fingers through Jeongguk’s hair, scratching a little at his scalp. It’s so soothing. “Jeongguk-ah. I knew,” he says softly.

Jeongguk gives a questioning hum but doesn’t raise his head.

“I knew what you were going to need from me. Or, I had an idea. Before I asked you out.” He runs his fingernails gently over the skin of the back of Jeongguk’s neck, then smooths his hand over his back. “I want to be your boyfriend as someone who likes you, but also as someone who supports you. I know you didn’t like that I saw you sick, but I’ve known ever since then that I want to take care of you.”

“Damn,” Jeongguk says. His voice is still wet from crying. “Damn it. Who are you? How do you always know things?”

“I notice a lot about you. One time you said you look at me all the time. I look at you all the time. You might not say a lot, but your body language does.”

“My body language says ‘take care of me,’ huh?”

“Or something like that,” Namjoon says. “But I’m not going to try to be something you’re not ready for me to be. Whatever I might think, I won’t do anything until you tell me it’s okay.”

Jeongguk starts to cry a little more. It’s just tears running quickly from his cheeks to Namjoon’s shirt. He can only say “I don’t deserve you,” because he’s not looking at Namjoon.

Namjoon lets out a breath that is disbelieving. “What do you know?” One of his arms tightens around Jeongguk and the other comes up so his fingers thread through his hair. He tugs a little, just a suggestion. “Hey, look at me,” he says softly.

Jeongguk raises his head slowly. Looking at Namjoon he feels again the fear that he first felt when Jimin told him if he didn’t do this now, with Namjoon, he would have to do it later, with someone else. “I’m sorry,” he says again.

Namjoon puts a hand at his jaw and thumbs over his cheek. “I hear you, and you’re okay, and you don’t need to apologize again.”

“Okay,” says Jeongguk. “I like you so much.”

“I like you too.” Namjoon kisses the underside of his jaw. “But you didn’t need to be scared. If you wanted me to be there I would have. But it’s up to you. Nothing has to happen all at once.”

“That was childish of me,” Jeongguk says. “I acted like it was all or nothing. I don’t really know how to do this.”

“Hmm?”

“Dating. I’ve never done the real deal as an adult.”

“That’s okay,” Namjoon says. “I’ve never dated a dad. So we’ll both have some things to figure out. But the last thing I want you to worry about is whether I can handle how you feel. I can. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know I could.”

He is just exceptional, Jeongguk thinks. He’s so special and just wonderful.

A big part of Jeongguk can’t fathom how much Namjoon has obviously thought about him, not just in the last few weeks but since they’ve known each other. Jeongguk has a space in Namjoon’s thoughts, something as much and as fond as the space Jeongguk has for him. That is just wild to him. It’s barely believable.

Jeongguk sits up and puts his arm around Namjoon’s neck. He pushes closer so they’re chest to chest. He kisses Namjoon softly, with a little hesitance, not because he’s afraid to kiss him but because this feels like something he’s supposed to treat gently. Namjoon kisses back just as softly.

“I believe you,” he says. He can’t stop thinking he doesn’t deserve this, he can’t quite shut it down.

“I see you thinking, stop thinking,” Namjoon tells him. “You’re so special, okay? So remarkable. I don’t know anyone like you. No more worries. I…” he pauses and licks his lips. “I want you to know how I think of you.”

Jeongguk hugs him. “I feel okay,” he says decisively. He doesn’t feel like he’s going to cry anymore. He takes a deep breath. “Yeah, I feel okay.”

Namjoon huffs a little laugh. “Okay. I like that.”

“It’s not bad. I feel better with you here, Namjoon-hyung.” He relaxes and allows himself, finally, into the mindset of being comforted.

Namjoon pulls him close. “I’m here as long as you want me to be, whenever you want.”

“A little while longer, then.”

“Yeah,” Namjoon agrees. “Sounds fine to me.”

Jimin brings Jia home late that evening, after Namjoon has gone. He’s got a kid on each hip, both of them sleepy, and he gives Jeongguk a questioning look as he passes Jia off.

Jeongguk nods a little nod to say everything is okay.

Jimin gives him a hug as well as he can with both their arms full. Jeongguk takes a deep breath with his eyes closed. There’s still so much he’s nervous about, still so much to think through, but he feels okay. He still feels okay.

After Jimin leaves, Jeongguk takes Jia down the hall to get her ready for bed. She takes his face in her little hands and says,

“Dad. Are you better now?”

He feels bad that his daughter, the one he was trying to protect, knew that things were not good. He smiles at her. “Yeah, I’m better. Are you?”

She nods. “I don’t want you to get sad again. Can we have a sleepover?”

Jeongguk almost says no because it’s a school night, but he decides against it. “Okay.”

They build a sheet blanket fort over Jeongguk’s bed. It’s impressively high, almost like an actual tent. Jia brings in a bunch of stuffed animals and snuggles into a pile of them.

“Did your special friend come over?” Jia whispers when the lights are off.

“My special friend?” Jeongguk repeats with a smile, turning on his side to look at her. “What does that mean?”

She shrugs. “That’s what Jimin-oppa said. Namjoonie-oppa is your special friend. Jiminie-oppa is special too though.”

“Jimin is special,” Jeongguk agrees. “He’s like my brother. But Namjoon is going to be my boyfriend now, Jia.”

She frowns, a little frown that’s contemplating rather than displeasured. “Okay,” she says finally.

“Okay? You think that’s okay?”

“Yeah. He’s pretty smart.”

“Yeah, he is. He also thinks you’re cool.”

“That’s nice,” Jia says. “He’s a nerd.”

“Jia,” Jeongguk says in surprise, having to push down very hard on his laugh. “That’s not very nice, don’t say that to him.”

“He is!” Jia defends. “He’s silly and he knows a lot of things. He reads big books.”

“You’re silly,” says Jeongguk. “And you know a lot of things. You read more books than Namjoon. Doesn’t that mean you’re a nerd?”

She pouts, pushing out her lips. “Maybe,” she agrees, looking disgruntled. “Can we go to the aquarium again?”

“Maybe,” Jeongguk says. “Your birthday is coming soon. Maybe we can go then. Grandma and grandpa might like to come.”

“Okay.” Jia closes her eyes. “Goodnight, dad. Don’t feel sad anymore.”

“Okay, Jia. Goodnight.”

 

 

 

 

Jeongguk is just getting off the phone when he arrives at the cafe. His hands are shaking.

“Hey, what’s this?” Namjoon says in alarm, grabbing his hands as he stands up from the table he’s secured.

“Sorry,” Jeongguk huffs. “Um. I got the job Jimin’s university interviewed me for.”

Namjoon’s eyes wide. “Great! That’s great. Right? Why are you shaking?” He squeezes Jeongguk’s hands.

“It is great, you’re right,” Jeongguk laughs shakily. “It’s more than great, actually. It’s just an office position, but they… they let anyone who works there take classes? For free?” He shakes his head. It still seems too good to be true. “I can finish my degree?”

Namjoon laughs. “Why does that sound like a question? You can! Jeongguk-ah. You look like you just swallowed a basketball. This is good! Smile!”

Jeongguk does. He smiles, manages to contain the tears that sting at his eyes, and accepts Namjoon’s hug. “I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal,” he mumbles, having to wipe a little at his wet eyes when he pulls back. “But I feel like my stomach is flying away in relief or something.”

Namjoon makes a tch sound and flicks at Jeongguk’s nose. He wrinkles it. “This is a big deal, babe. Just because job things have been easier for me doesn’t mean I don’t get that. This is the break you deserve.” He takes Jeongguk’s hand and pulls him over to the counter. “Mikyung-ssi! We’re celebrating,” he says loudly.

“Good boy,” Mikyung says curtly when Namjoon tells her about Jeongguk’s new job, as Jeongguk’s cheeks heat. She sends them to their table without even allowing them to order, much less pay, telling them she’ll bring over their favorites.

“I need to call Jimin,” Jeongguk says when they sit down. He fumbles to get his phone out of his pocket, hands still shaking. Namjoon takes them both in his again, and Jeongguk looks down. The look of Namjoon’s hands, just barely bigger but finer looking, around his is very comforting. He calms down, swallows, and gives Namjoon a nod. “You were right. Everything is going to be okay.”

Namjoon’s smile is wide. He pulls up Jimin’s contact and presses the call button for Jeongguk. He keeps a hand on top of Jeongguk’s free one, thumb rubbing over it.

 

 

 

 

Jia’s birthday comes around in April, and she wants to have a party with Chaeyoung, Jimin, and Namjoon. When she tells Jeongguk that, his heart just swells.

When he was her age, his parents probably would have pushed him to have a party with school friends, but he decides he won’t do that with Jia. She’s happiest with Chaeyoung and Jimin.

Jia agrees that Chaeyoung’s Tae can come, and Mr. Hoseok too, so Yoongi and Seokjin are a natural progression after that. They show up last to the party at Jimin’s apartment, carrying a giant stuffed animal each, Yoongi with a shark and Seokjin with a jellyfish.

It makes Jeongguk feel emotional. He’s spent the least time with Yoongi and Seokjin of any of these friends, and he’s touched that they were so thoughtful. Yoongi hands him a gift bag full of books on their way in. His eyes fill with involuntary tears that catch him off guard, and the two of them notice and hug him together.

Yoongi smiles and pats his cheek, then goes with Seokjin to present Jia with their stuffed animals. Chaeyoung sits on top of the shark, looking a little grumpy at all the gifts Jia’s being given.

Namjoon comes up behind Jeongguk. He puts an arm around him, hand coming across Jeongguk’s stomach. “Hi there.”

“Hi,” says Jeongguk. He turns his head to peck Namjoon on the lips.

“You look like you’re going to cry.”

“I’m just,” Jeongguk begins, looking from Jimin and Taehyung in the kitchen to Hoseok, Yoongi, and Seokjin in the living room. “Looking.” He leans back against Namjoon’s chest. No one is looking his way for this moment, so he takes it to just relax.

“Good?” Namjoon wraps his other arm around Jeongguk and hugs him tightly from the back, just for a moment. But he knows how Jeongguk is about being affectionate in front of other people, so he steps back.

“Really good.” Jeongguk thinks he surprises him when he reaches around his neck and pulls him close enough to tip his forehead against Namjoon’s temple. He doesn’t stay there long, just an affectionate little gesture. He’s already had a pretty good hug from Namjoon this evening, when he first got to Jimin’s apartment, but today being this close to him makes Jeongguk want to hold onto him.

They gather around Jimin’s table for a dinner in which Jia is unquestionably the center of attention. It’s surprising and delightful to see Yoongi draw the sass out of her and Hoseok laugh and encourage her. She loves Hoseok; she’s known him a while as her dance teacher but never enough to just have fun with him. They get along very well.

When dinner starts to wrap up, Jeongguk goes into the kitchen to get Jia’s cake. He’s not surprised when Namjoon meets him there.

“Come here,” he says with a soft smile. Namjoon does, so Jeongguk wraps his arms around him and leans into him. He feels relaxed and content completely. “Let me tell you a story.”

“Hmm,” Namjoon hums.

“This one time,” Jeongguk begins in a low, quiet voice, “I was going out with my best friend, you know. I was meeting a bunch of his adult friends for the first time. These… these men. It had been a while since I met new people who weren’t from work or school. So I was kind of nervous.”

“Oh?”

“Mhm. So I went to the bathroom before they got there. And on my way back, this guy just crashes into me.”

Namjoon presses his smile to Jeongguk’s temple. “Sounds like a clumsy guy.”

“Sure, maybe,” Jeongguk agrees. “Almost fell, but I grabbed him around the waist. Kind of like this.” He squeezes his hold around Namjoon’s waist. “Then I saw his face, and god. He was so pretty. I couldn’t stop staring. His eyes, his jawline, his nose.”

“Nose?”

“Nose,” Jeongguk repeats. “It’s very delicate. I have a big nose, you know.”

“I love your nose.”

“And later,” Jeongguk says quietly, in almost a conspiratorial whisper, “I didn’t understand why I kept thinking about him. I was like, there’s no way he’s actually that pretty, you’re just remembering him wrong because you liked him.”

“Stop,” Namjoon says with an embarrassed tinge to his voice.

Jeongguk ignores him. “Then a few weeks later when I ran into him again, and I was like, oh no. I had it the wrong way around. I didn’t even remember him as pretty as he really is.”

“Hush.” Namjoon pinches the skin of his arm.

“You always say that when I tell you you’re pretty. Do you prefer handsome?”

Namjoon turns. Jeongguk looks at his face and thinks with a little half-smile, pretty. “I’m just shy,” he says quietly. His eyes dart down.

Jeongguk smiles. He presses Namjoon into the kitchen counter and kisses his jaw, his neck, and right above his collarbone. “You’re gorgeous.” When he raises his head, Namjoon is looking at him distractedly.

“What’s gotten into you this evening?” he asks, running a hand up over the back of Jeongguk’s neck.

Jeongguk just shrugs and kisses him. Namjoon doesn’t hesitate to kiss back, pulling him closer with his grip on Jeongguk’s neck. He might be the one questioning Jeongguk, but clearly he was bluffing.

Then,

“Dad! CAKE!” from the other room.

Jeongguk pulls back. Namjoon laughs and pecks his mouth. “Coming, baby,” Jeongguk calls.

They bring in the cake with candles lit, and the apartment fills loudly with voices as they all sing to her. Chaeyoung sits on Taehyung’s shoulders, wearing a paper crown crafted by Hoseok and colored in by Jia and Taehyung’s joint effort so she doesn’t feel left out.

Jeongguk cringes in Jimin’s direction as Jia blows a little spitty to put the candles out. Jimin grins and ruffles his hair, pulling him over and knocking their heads together.

“Ow,” Jeongguk laughs. He feels a rush of affection for Jimin, leaning over to him and saying softly, “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“This,” Jeongguk says. He wants to tell Jimin I would have none of this without you. He holds onto the words for now. Jimin knows what he’s saying. “Everything.”

“Thank you back,” says Jimin quietly. “I love you lots, bud.”

Cake happens a little chaotically, with Jia demanding to be waited upon and Chaeyoung feeding bites to Jeongguk and Taehyung. Hoseok smears frosting on Seokjin’s nose and Seokjin turns to Yoongi asking him to lick it off. Yoongi gives him an unimpressed look and plonks some more on.

Namjoon is sitting beside Jeongguk, as usual close enough for Jeongguk to touch if he wanted to. And right now he does. He reaches over to take his hand under the table. He smiles and threads his fingers through Namjoon’s.

It happens with a nervous, happy thud in his chest: an ’I love you’ catches in his throat.

For now, he keeps it there; not yet, he thinks.

But soon.