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Parenthood

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Frankly, Gong Ji was surprised Yi hadn't asked about it sooner. Then again, their little trio was an isolated one, and questions like that took a little bit more context to formulate. Hell, Gong Ji had grown up adjacent to a whorehouse; he knew what it was like when your normal wasn't the normal normal.

"Do I have a mom?" Yi blurted out of the blue one sultry summer afternoon, while he and Gong Ji were picking bean pods from the garden vines.

"No," Gong Ji said, then thought about it for a moment. "You did. Everybody has to, pretty much. Once upon a time. But she died."

"Oh." Even at six, Yi understood died. Their lives together were good, but hard, and the ongoing war on the periphery of their territory meant that death was never far from anyone's mind. "When?"

Gong Ji shrugged a little. Truly, this should be a conversation with Din, who had been there for the details, and wouldn't just be relating everything secondhand. Then again, maybe that was what made Gong Ji the perfect person to tell it. "When you were little. Real little. Before I even knew you or your pop."

Yi frowned in concentration, putting all this information together in the abacus of his brain and trying to make sense of the solution it spat out. He continued to pick beans as he thought about it, tossing the good ones into the basket by Gong Ji's hip and pitching the bad ones into the uncultivated area beyond the garden edge. "He's my father," Yi said at last, a questioning statement open to correction as necessary.

"Yep." Gong Ji nodded. He'd never discussed with Din what they'd tell Yi, if and when he finally asked about blood and family structures, but Gong Ji felt that deflecting would give the impression that this was something to be ashamed about. "He and your mom loved each other a lot."

"He doesn't say anything about her," Yi pointed out.

"It hurts to talk about her, I think. Because he loved her a lot, and he misses her." Gong Ji sighed and straightened up a minute, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. The hot, humid weather had made his hair a fright. "That's what happens when you love someone and they die. You still love them, but they're not there to love you back. So you get sad about it. It's okay," he added, because he knew it seemed just the opposite. "And it's okay for you to be sad about her too, even if you didn't know her."

Yi nodded sagely. Death came as one lesson; grief was another entirely. "Were Pop and my mom married?"

"I--" Gong Ji paused for a moment. "I honestly don't know. I think so. Close enough, anyway."

"Are Pop and you married?"

That got a laugh out of Gong Ji, and he reached over to ruffle Yi's hair. "Nah," he said.

"Why not?"

"Why not? Well..." Shifting the basket from one hip to another, Gong Ji waved Yi to keep moving over to the next row of beans. It was hot work, but they'd make good supper when Din got back from the market that evening. "We've got each other, and we've got you. That's about all we need."

And for the parts where two men getting married to each other wasn't exactly the local standard, or how getting legalities involved in anything could catch the attention of some people who probably still wanted to know where the criminal Gong Ji was? Those could be left for a later conversation, with an older Yi, when more of the world at large made a little more sense. And that, he'd definitely leave to Din.

When Yi didn't move on, and instead stared at his feet, Gong Ji put a hand on his shoulder. "What's up, kiddo?"

After a moment of silence, Yi looked up at Gong Ji, tears rimming his brown eyes. "If you're not married, does that mean you can't really be my dad?"

Gong Ji dropped the basket of beans at his feet and swept up Yi in a giant hug, lifting the little squirt off his feet. Yi flailed for a moment, then wrapped his legs around Gong Ji's waist and buried his face in Gong Ji's shoulders. "You," Gong Ji said, fighting back emotions that made it hard to talk, "are always going to be my kid, and I'm always going to be your dad. No matter who I'm married or not married to. No matter who else loves you too. No matter how close or far away I am. No matter what. No matter anything. No matter if the cows come down from the moon and try to drag me away."

Yi laughed, scaring away the fear that had taken him, the sudden terror that he somehow might not be allowed to keep one of the two people who loved him most in the world. "Moon cows?" he asked, giggling.

"Have I never told you about the moon cows?" With one more kiss into Yi's unruly hair -- the very hair that he had of late insisted wearing like Gong Ji's, to Din's patient befuddlement -- he plopped Yi back down onto the ground. Small clean vertical lines cut through the red dirt on both of Yi's cheeks, but he was smiling now. "Well, once upon a time," Gong Ji began, "there was a farmer whose cows would only go out to pasture at night...." As Gong Ji half remembered, half invented a legend about herding among the stars, they continued their shared work, father and son together.