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Another Time

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The lift is broken.

"Of course," Yoongi groans, shifting his briefcase onto his good shoulder so he can pass his bag of groceries into his left hand. "Of fucking course."

Seven days had never passed so slowly. A client demanded redraws after their budget shrank and needed new plans in two days; when Yoongi blinks, he can still see AutoCAD's toolbar. To make things worse, he’d gotten caught in a spring shower on his way home and now he’s soaked, shirt clinging uncomfortably to his skin and hair dripping with water. He hates April. All he wants is to take a hot shower and to be horizontal for ten plus hours, but the concrete stairwell yawning above him is a much bigger obstacle to his fourth-floor apartment than the lift is. He sighs, pats his face with his free hand, and starts to climb.

On the second floor, he stops to take a call, dropping his groceries. It's his supervisor, Sungmin, asking if he doesn't mind coming in tomorrow morning to sit in on a consultation. Yoongi does mind, actually, but as a lowly architectural assistant there's no way he can say that to the man who can fire him at will. Instead, he tells him yes and ends the call, grumbling as he sets his alarm for six am and pockets his phone.

It's while he's steeling himself to start the trek again that he hears a loud screeching noise. He smacks his head a couple of times, glancing worriedly at the fire alarm, and that's when the child collides with him.

Collide is an understatement. The child slams straight into his knees, knocking him off balance and leaving him teetering on the top step. With reflexes he had no idea he possessed, he grabs the child by the hood to stop them hurtling down the stairs and cracking their head open; the other hand clamps onto the stair railing as he flails heroically. The child screams gleefully as it dangles from his grip, legs wrapping tightly around one of his own like some sort of high-pitched yellow monkey. After several tense moments, he manages to regain his balance, crumpling onto the landing as the child giggles, entirely convinced that he is about to have a heart attack. The cause of said heart attack hits his shoulder and says, "Again, again!" Her hair is gathered into two gravity-defying bunches, secured with orange bobbles. Her yellow raincoat's hood is shaped like a duck's head. It's all violently adorable and a little too much for him to process right now.

"Who do you belong to?" Yoongi asks dazedly.

"Papa!" Oh. Well. That makes sense. A child would belong to its parents.

"Where is he?"

The little girl points up with impeccable timing. A man comes clattering down the stairs at high speed, and if that didn't tip Yoongi off, the sheer relief on his face when he sights the little girl does. Papa is Yoongi's age or younger, wearing a misbuttoned shirt and one house slipper. Yoongi thinks about being a father at such a young age, and feels vaguely ill. He can hardly remember to feed himself sometimes.

"Bitna-yah!” The little girl detaches (Yoongi discretely shakes his leg out) and runs to her father, leaping into his arms. "Where were you?" He buries his face in her hair, and Yoongi, feeling like an intruder, retrieves his groceries and makes to leave as the little girl chatters.

"I went downstairs to say hello to Mrs Lee but the ajusshi was in the way and we almost fell but he grabbed me, like Superman. I went 'whee!'" The little girl swings from her father's shoulders; he lets out a surprised shriek. Only when Yoongi has exited the stairwell do their voices fade.

He had a Jeolla accent, though Yoongi can't tell exactly where he's from. It's strange. Most people he knows that weren’t raised in the capital drop their accents in favour of the standard Seoul dialect; the only reason he hasn't quite managed it yet is because all the people he went to college with and the people he served with spoke in dialect too.

His door swings open to reveal an empty apartment. Yoongi stares at it blearily. He needs to put away his groceries and vacuum the floor and scrub the counters and clean out his fridge.

But.

Well, he just narrowly escaped death by toddler, didn't he? He deserves a drink, a shower, and some sleep, not necessarily in that order. There's a can of Gangseo left in the fridge from the last time Seokjin came over, and it's calling his name...

 

"What the fuck," Yoongi complains, two days later. Someone is knocking on his door at nine in the morning like a fucking animal. It's a Sunday, his only day off this week, and – well, it could only be Seokjin or Namjoon. Maybe Zhoumi. Hunchul, at a push. They're the only ones who would brave him before noon.

"Coming!" He hops out of bed. The knocking continues, only more quietly. Yoongi contemplates putting on a shirt and brushing his hair, and concludes that there's no point, they've all seen each other buck-ass naked by now, who cares. He wrenches the door open with rather more force than is strictly necessary. "Alright, I'm here, I'm alive, what's wrong – oh." That is not Namjoon, or Seokjin, or Zhoumi or anyone who cares enough about Yoongi to come to his apartment.

It's the father from yesterday, who is politely ignoring Yoongi's lack of attire (he hopes fervently that the sweatpants he's wearing aren't the ones with a hole in the waistband) and bed head. "Min Yoongi-sshi?"

"The one and only," Yoongi manages as he fumbles around on the coat rack behind the door to grab a hoodie. He tugs it on as the little girl studies him from behind her father's legs. Her hair is down today, held back by a glittery hairband with butterfly antennae. "Who are you?"

"It’s a pleasure to meet you! I'm Jung Hoseok." He extends his hand to shake it. Yoongi does so, limply, largely not awake. The cold band of a ring presses into his fingers. "This is my daughter..." The little girl stares up at him mutely. He wonders where all the screeching vanished to. "C'mon, sweetie. Say hello to the nice gentleman."

"...Bitna." She presses her face into her father's thigh. Her hairband sparkles prettily just like her name. Yoongi rubs at the back of his head and crouches down. She meets his eyes for a second, then looks away, evidently a little scared.

Though it opposes all the instincts he formed as a tiny, chubby-cheeked, fluffy-haired twerp in the underground rap circuit, he tries to look less menacing. He lets his shoulders slump and relaxes his mouth into something he hopes is agreeable. "It's nice to meet you, Bitna. How old are you?" After a pregnant pause, she holds up four fingers. "Four?”

She nods. He peeks up at her father, who is smiling a little. It's a charming smile; it opens up the rest of his face, reaches his large eyes, so like his daughter's. "Bitna has something for you.”

"You do?"

"Mhmm." A piece of paper sticks out from her clenched fist; she presses it into his hands. "Thank you for not letting me fall down the stairs. I won't run down 'em anymore."

Yoongi unfolds the drawing carefully, only to see blobs. He squints and they gradually resolve into figures; a person in black and white, a purple cape streaming from their shoulders, with something yellow and orange dangling from their hand.

Oh. Of course. It's him, even though he wasn't wearing the cape. Papa is in the corner perched on stairs, mouth open in a big pink O.

"Thank you." He refolds the paper with care. "Look where you’re going next time, okay?"

"Yes." Her head pops out again. "Ajusshi, does your shower work? You can use ours."

Yoongi raises an eyebrow, more at the question than being addressed as ajusshi; twenty-six is ancient to a four-year-old. Hoseok makes an embarrassed noise. "Yes. Why do you ask?"

"You got a drawing on you." She frowns. "Is it in pencil? I have a real good eraser you can use. It’s made like a star."

"No, thank you," Yoongi says smoothly. "Though it's kind of you to offer. It's supposed to be there."

"You can get drawings on you?" Bitna gapes up at her father, asking for confirmation.

"You can. They're called tattoos. They draw them in special ink that stays on you, so only grown-ups can get them." Yoongi is faintly impressed by how clearly Hoseok explains it. He loves his parents but they rarely explained anything to him; it was up to him to sate his many curiosities, trawling through encyclopaedias and his brother's textbooks. "Bitna-yah, will you go home so Papa can talk to Yoongi-sshi? I'll be there in two minutes and then we can get ready."

"Okay!" she chirps. "Goodbye, ajusshi." She wiggles her fingers at him and darts away at high speed to enter the apartment two doors down, the one with the plants outside the door.

"You live on this floor?" Yoongi straightens up, back protesting. Hoseok is a little taller than he is. He muses, bitterly, that he should probably be used to it by now.

"Yep." Hoseok watches the door swing shut behind his daughter. "Moved in last year."

Yoongi knows all the units on this floor are one bedroom, and Bitna seems too old for a cot. He doesn't say anything about it. "How'd you know my name?"

"The building ajummas – well, if you do the recycling properly and carry their laundry for them, they'll tell you everything you need to know." Hoseok leans against his doorframe, a comfortable smile settling on his face. "They're like the NIS in floral trousers and gilets. They had a lot to say about you."

"They did?" Yoongi, on principle, tries to keep to himself, but perhaps his silence has spawned more rumours. It's not his fault he looks so intimidating; it's the only way he can make up for his slight frame.

"They’re worried about how pale and skinny you are. They're all conspiring to marry you off to one of their daughters so they can feed you properly." Yoongi lets out a sharp bark of laughter. Hoseok's eyes sparkle. "Your architect's salary has nothing to do with it, of course. Do you want me to tell them about the tattoo and scare them off?"

Hoseok is still smiling pleasantly, but Yoongi wonders if he'd actually do it. "It's okay," he mutters. "I'll just get a boyfriend and parade him around."

"Oh, they've considered that – then they'd try to marry you to one of their sons." Yoongi laughs properly this time; it takes him by surprise, makes his ribs creak. Hoseok's grin widens.

"I had better go show my face," Yoongi says. "Quell the rumours." He pauses, and before he can talk himself out of saying it, adds; "Maybe I'll meet you down there?"

"Maybe. Thank you again, Yoongi-sshi. I'm sorry for waking you. Sometimes I forget that the entire world doesn't run on toddler time."

"It's okay." It really is. Now that he's up and awake he can get the day started early, carve out some previous time for music. "Nice meeting you, Hoseok-sshi."

He doesn't watch him leave; he turns into his own apartment, and wonders how different the Jungs' is. Are there toys all over the floor? Is there a bunch of flowers on the sideboard? Are Bitna's drawings pinned to the fridge?

Speaking of. There's an unused magnet on the fridge from Seokjin's last trip to Japan, a metal box of Pocky. Yoongi, after a long pause, smooths the drawing out and pins it up on the fridge door.

He examines it, the characters of her name – 정 빛나 – clearly shaped by her father's guiding hand, but still messy. Something pinches tightly in his chest. He's the baby of his family, so he’s never had to deal with small children before, and he'd never given them much thought, outside of being confused when he saw a child on campus or becoming irritated whenever he got stuck on a bus with a wailing toddler.

But Bitna, he supposes, is cute. This is what he tells Namjoon when he spots the drawing on his fridge the next night and asks him, flatly, what the hell it is. Yoongi explains the entire thing, from Bitna's near-manslaughter on the stairs to Hoseok, leaning on his doorframe like he belonged there.

"Cute?" Namjoon looks blankly confused, before a smirk twists his lips. "Or is it her dad that's cute?"

Yoongi makes a dismissive noise. Jung Hoseok may be cute, but he’s a morning person, and an obnoxiously cheerful one at that. Yoongi will not tolerate anyone who has the energy to be that bright on a Sunday morning, no matter how much he likes their smile. "Not my type."

"Yeah, you like tough guys."

"And tough girls," Yoongi adds, in the interest of clarity. "And tough everything in between."

Namjoon snorts. "Never change, hyung. Hey, get his birthday and Seokjinnie hyung can do out his natal chart and check if you're compatible." Yoongi splutters and coffee comes out his nose. "Hyung, that's disgusting."

"Shut up," Yoongi gasps, dabbing forcefully at his face with the napkin Namjoon hastily hands him. "Does he believe in that shit?"

"I dunno, man. According to him, it's because of his rising sign."

"I thought people only had one sign?"

"No, you have one for every planet. I think. I just tune him out after Mercury, usually."

"How do you date him," Yoongi says, sincerely curious. Namjoon smiles that smile that means he's trying not to smile, but he can't help it, his dimples betray him. "Okay, upon further consideration, I don't think I need to know. Do you want me to help you with that mix or not?"

 

His headphones hate him.

"God damn it," he swears, as they unpair from his phone, filling the gym with the dulcet tones of Orange Caramel. Yoongi is a self-professed music snob but for some reason he can’t work out without girl group music. Seokjin theorises that it’s a holdover from his two years in the military. He jabs ineffectually at the screen of his phone, trying to run and not 'oye hoi hoi!' along simultaneously and doing an awful job at all three. "There," he sighs, as his headphones cooperate, silencing Catellena mid-chorus.

"Aw, no, I was kinda enjoying it," someone says amusedly.

Yoongi almost face plants, but he has just enough presence of mind to hit the emergency stop before he breaks his nose. "Uh – Jung Hoseok-sshi?"

"Good morning!" Hoseok is wearing a translucent white t-shirt and a headband. "Enjoying your run?"

"Not really, no," Yoongi mumbles, grabbing his water. "I, uh. Don't usually run into you in here."

"Yeah, well." Hoseok moves over to the rowing machine. "My old gym membership ran out last week, and I’d go running but I don't like leaving Bitna alone, so..." He bites his lip. "I mean, if I'm bothering you while you work out, I can leave. I get it."

"No, 's fine. You pay rent same as I do. I'm not that much of an asshole." Hoseok’s arms are defined and muscular and he’s vaguely envious. Yoongi doesn’t enjoy working out, but his doctor had recommended it to him to aid in the rehabilitation of his shoulder, still aching eight years later. (The sole advantage of his injury was that it had landed him a cushy military service; they’d put him managing artillery guidance systems. Yoongi would trade it all to be able to lift heavy things without almost dying.) Perhaps Hoseok can help him out. "You might be motivational, actually."

Hoseok smirks cartoonishly, and flexes a little. Yoongi snorts, shoves his headphones back over his ears, and starts the treadmill up again.

Hoseok isn't really a distraction, though Yoongi can’t resist sneaking the occasional glance at him. He's listening to music too, humming along to something that sounds suspiciously like SISTAR. His forehead, bared by the headband that Yoongi had thought silly but is now rather jealous of, gleams with sweat.

Eyes forward, Min Yoongi. He glances at the screen of his phone, which cheerfully informs him that he only has ten minutes left to work out before he needs to go get ready for work. He runs on, steps off when he's done, wishes Hoseok a good day and thinks no more of it.

Until Hoseok is there the next morning, and the next, doing crunches and squats and burpees and lifting twenty kilos more than he can. Yoongi swallows his pride and asks for tips.

He gets them, and more besides, and before he knows it he's got a workout buddy, Jung Hoseok with the never-ending collection of headbands and the careful hands that prod him into place when he's deadlifting and the encyclopaedic knowledge of girl group dances. Me Gustas Tu is Yoongi's personal favourite, purely due to how hilarious Hoseok looks when he's trying to skip and smile attractively and make eye contact and hit high notes all at once.

The actual dancing is impressive, though, if a little hard-hitting for girl group choreo. That's because Hoseok’s a professional dancer; he teaches at a studio in Gangnam. "It's convenient," he tells him, as he does another pull-up. His knuckles whiten with strain. "I know Shiah and Junsun from college and they let me keep an eye on Bitna while I'm teaching. The kids love her."

Bitna seems rather difficult not to love. Hoseok talks about her like Yoongi talks about sleep – with infinite, unending affection. Every week he has a new photo of her as his lock screen – one of her gnawing mutinously on celery, the next of her sticking her fingers up her nose, and, currently, one of her doing what Yoongi can only describe as disassociating, gazing vacantly at the camera with a two-thousand-yard state he has only seen in pictures of soldiers from the Korean War. It’s unnerving and funny for reasons he doesn’t care to understand.

Yet, through all the hours they spend in the gym, not once does Hoseok mention a mother. Yoongi hates to pry, but with each good morning he gives to Bitna as he and Hoseok return to their respective apartments, he gets a little more curious. Hoseok is so young – by Yoongi's reckoning he can't have been much older than twenty, perhaps twenty-one, when she was born. When Yoongi was that age, his biggest concern was finding clean clothes to wear each morning. That Hoseok made the decision to have a child – or beyond that, made the decision to keep said child – at such a young age still astounds him. Surely he didn't make that decision alone? He thinks he was wearing a ring the first time he met him, but there’s no guarantee it was a wedding ring, and he hasn’t worn it since. Did she leave him, unable to deal with the responsibility?

Or was she never in the picture at all?