Namjoon is gracelessly slumped over next week’s lesson plan when he’s dragged out of what had been, until ten seconds ago, a rather peaceful slumber.
“Appa,” Taehyung excitedly stage whispers directly into Namjoon’s ear canal, accidentally coating the entire left side of his face in a light layer of spit, “Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.”
He punctuates each “wake up” with a poke to Namjoon’s cheek. Namjoon groans in response, rapidly blinking his eyes open to see a six-year-old, clad in ninja turtle pajamas, holding a spider approximately the size of a quarter directly in front of his face.
He nearly jumps out of the chair he had fallen asleep in the night before. He manages to stay upright by grabbing onto his desk, subsequently sending his precarious stack of books and and ungraded papers (which he has been carefully avoiding for days) tumbling down. Taehyung just laughs, his eyes crinkling up, still delicately clutching the spider in his right hand.
“Tae, my man,” Namjoon manages to choke out, and gestures cautiously to the arachnid, “Who’s your friend?”
“I found her!” he says proudly, “She’s so… elegant, look at her colors!” Her colors, of course, are brown, maybe black. True elegance.
Despite his extreme distaste for the little creature in his son’s hand (truly, his heart is pounding out of his chest just knowing that he and this spider exist on the same planet), Namjoon can’t help but swell with pride at Taehyung’s use of the word “elegant.” They have been practicing bigger words together lately.
“Elegant, huh? Good word,” Namjoon says bemusedly, “But you know bugs don’t belong in here with us, buddy. They live outside.”
“I know,” Taehyung says sadly, “But you always tell me not to open the door to go outside if you’re not there, and I found her a couple minutes ago, and –”
“Hey, you did the right thing,” Namjoon says, ruffling his son’s hair, “Want to take her outside with me? I’m sure she misses her family all cooped up in here with us.”
Taehyung nods solemnly. Namjoon grabs his son’s tiny hand in his big one, and they exit the room together and head towards the balcony of their apartment.
The little balcony is a simple rectangle, a few square feet filled with various brightly-colored flowers in hand-painted pots around the periphery, mostly per Taehyung’s request. If Taehyung had his way, the entire apartment would be covered in various flora and fauna, but Namjoon is unfortunately (fortunately?) allergic, and thus they reached a happy compromise: Taehyung can collect as much assorted plant and animal life as his heart desires, so long as he keeps it outside.
Namjoon leads him outside. It’s around 6:50 AM; they are just in time to watch the dusty pink October sun rise over their little neighborhood, bathing the mismatched brown brick of the townhouses and apartment buildings in the soft light of a new day. They have to get on the subway by eight if they want to start the day on time.
“Ready to say goodbye, my man?” Namjoon asks him, somberly.
Taehyung looks utterly despondent. “No.”
“Hey,” Namjoon says, crouching down to his level so he can look him in the eyes, “You wouldn’t like it very much if someone took you away from me and never gave you back, huh?”
“No,” he says again, miserably, turning to face the spider scuttling slowly in his cupped hands. “Annyeong, geomi-yah.”
The corners of Namjoon’s lips twitch up into a small smile, despite the melancholy occasion, hearing his son switch back and forth so easily between English and Korean. Both Namjoon and Taehyung were born in New York, but thanks to Namjoon’s mother, Korean culture has never not been close by. It has always been incredibly important to him that his son learn both languages, and as an English teacher, Namjoon figures he’s rather well suited to help.
With Namjoon’s assistance (he holds his breath as the feels the tiny legs brush his fingertips but he’s an adult and he is fine ), Taehyung releases the spider onto the railing of the fire escape. It promptly scuttles away, out of sight.
“She’s going to be with her family, Appa?” Taehyung confirms uncertainly.
“Yeah, buddy” he says, ruffling his hair.
Mornings are a pleasant routine for the pair of them. Namjoon lets Taehyung pick his own outfit for school while he takes a shower and gets dressed at lightning speed. The dress code for teachers at his high school is pretty lax, so he throws on the nearest, cleanest pair of khakis and a collared shirt and calls it a day.
He rushes out of his room with wet hair and an untied tie looped around his neck at the same time Taehyung comes out of his, dressed in camouflage cargo shorts and a shirt with a lizard on it.
Namjoon shakes his head. “Uh uh, kiddo. It’s cold outside. Full length pants only.”
After only a minor tantrum and a successful wrestling match that results in no major injuries and Taehyung clad in a pair of pants – full length – the two end up at the kitchen table, eating Cocoa Krispies, with twenty minutes to spare.
Namjoon drinks coffee out of a chipped mug with a cat on it. Taehyung drinks milk out of his own favorite mug, one that says “Don’t Talk To Me Until I’ve Had My Coffee,” which he thinks is the absolute pinnacle of humor. Namjoon doesn’t have the heart to tell him the only other people who might think that joke is funny anymore are the soccer moms Namjoon gets coffee with once a week.
“Excited for soccer practice after school?” Namjoon asks.
Taehyung’s eyes widen and he nods dramatically. “Coach Hobi said that if we do the move at our game on Sunday he’ll give us a piece of candy, so I’m gonna do the move a lot. I told him I like blow pops, and my favorite is sour green apple, but that I don’t like the gum inside ‘cause it’s hard.”
“Hobi didn’t know what to call it so he calls it The Move. It’s like when you have the ball in front of your feet like this,” he says, positioning his spoon in front of his mug as a visual aid, “And then you use your foot to kick it behind you, like this, but you do it without turning around. The other team gets so confused.”
Namjoon laughs. He’s lucky Taehyung has an outlet for all of his boundless six-year-old energy. Otherwise, he’s sure the entire apartment building would be systematically torn apart by his son’s tiny hands, and they cannot afford to make the old woman in 2L angry again. Namjoon has no doubt in her capabilities; she could easily have them both destroyed with a snap of her veiny fingers, and one of her six-foot-ten grandsons could easily toss both of their bodies in the East River. He won’t risk it.
At 7:54, both clad in coats and scarves because New York in October is chilly and Namjoon will not have anyone in his family catching a cold, they traipse down the sidewalk hand-in-hand to the subway station.
Taking the train every morning with his son – the real, live, tiny person who only one short month ago reached the height requirements necessary to need his own MetroCard – is Namjoon’s favorite part of the day.
They sit side-by-side most days, or when it’s a particularly packed car, Taehyung will crawl into Namjoon’s lap, even though he is probably too big at this point. They have a half an hour commute, because Taehyung goes to a magnet school slightly out of district, but it’s worth it.
They usually use their thirty liminal minutes on the train to look over and discuss Taehyung’s homework, or share headphones, or nap. Well, Taehyung naps. Namjoon broke himself of the habit after accidentally waking up in Queens for the third time.
When they reach their stop, Namjoon nudges his son back to the land of the living, grabs both of their backpacks, and they exit the train onto the platform. Namjoon holds out Taehyung’s backpack for him and he slips his arms into it, yawning.
When they reach Taehyung’s school, Namjoon stops him before he can run off to join his friends, bending down so they are at eye level.
“Hey, the sun’s out. Is today gonna be a good day?” Namjoon asks, playing the game they play almost every morning.
“Yeah, Appa!” Taehyung says, grinning.
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
“Because the sun is happy and so am I!”
“Awesome!” Namjoon says, booping his son’s little nose, “If you’re happy, then I'm happy.”
Taehyung giggles, “School is starting!”
“Okay, okay. Have a good day, I love you. How much do I love you?”
Taehyung giggles again and pinches his fingers together, indicating a small amount. He knows how to play this game. “This much?”
Namjoon shakes his head, “Not even close, buddy.”
He opens his fingers slightly wider. “This much?”
Namjoon rolls his eyes, and opens his own arms as far as they will go. “I love you this much, and then some. Don’t forget it.”
The bell rings. “Love you too, Appa!” Taehyung says, wrapping his arms quickly around Namjoon’s neck before running inside.
Namjoon thinks about how lucky he is as he walks the remaining ten minutes to the high school where he teaches. He has a job he doesn’t hate that pays the rent – the exorbitant, unreasonable, gentrified, Brooklyn rent – teenagers he gets to inspire every day, a son he loves.
He thinks about his tiny son. Six years have passed and it still baffles him that this little person, this tiny human being, with fully functional cognitive processes, exists because of him.
Namjoon goes through his classes feeling light. He lets his Sophomores act out a scene in Hamlet, and his AP Lit students seem to really be appreciating Zora Neale Hurston’s writing style, which he’s so thankful for. He had been worried that they would hate it. It is different, but his kids seem to be welcoming the challenge, and he’s proud.
The day passes, and Namjoon teaches, and his students learn, and Namjoon answers their questions when they ask them, and then suddenly it’s 3:30, and the school day is over.
When Namjoon arrives at Taehyung’s school, he finds him waiting in the parking lot beside the gym, tiny soccer ball under one arm. He’s talking to his coach, Hoseok. The mood is heavy.
“Hey,” Namjoon says, cheeks pink from the October chill, “What’s up boys? Everything okay?”
He relieves Taehyung of the ball he’s carrying and ruffles his hair. Taehyung’s eyes promptly start to water.
Hoseok looks at them both sympathetically and places a comforting hand on Taehyung’s shoulder. Hoseok teaches fourth grade and coaches soccer on the side. He’s a good guy, and really good with kids, and one of Namjoon’s close friends. He’s dating another one of Namjoon’s close friends, Yoongi, and it’s sickening. In a good way.
“Taehyung and Jeongguk,” he says, “They hashed out some… Creative differences, today.”
“Oh?” Namjoon asks, looking at Taehyung. He is concerned, but not overly so, as his son at least appears physically unscathed. Taehyung having some sort of conflict with this Jeongguk kid is, unfortunately, not uncommon.
“I used my words,” Taehyung says miserably, “I remembered what you said about… about using my words and I did ! I did and Jeongguk used his too.”
“What’s got you so down, then, buddy?”
Taehyung is silent and Hoseok gives him a pointed look and Namjoon squirms for his son’s sake. Taehyung is so good with people and with other kids, but this Jeongguk character is apparently the only person in the entire state of New York who is annoying enough for him to have beef with. It frustrates him.
“Jeongguk said that the reason I wasn’t running so fast today was because you feed me too much sugar and that’s,” he pauses for a moment to hiccup, “that’s why I wasn’t running as fast as he was. And then I said that wasn’t true and that his teeth are big.”
Namjoon almost laughs. What kind of healthy-parenting helicopter mom magazines has this Jeongguk kid been reading?
Before Namjoon can offer his sympathy, Hoseok adds, “I tried to get Jeongguk’s dad to stay a little later after pick-up so you could all finally work things out together, but he had to bounce pretty quickly. If Tae and Jeongguk keep arguing I’m probably gonna have to get the school to coordinate a conference between the four of you. I know it’s an inconvenience, Joon, and it sucks, but it’ll probably help a lot.” He looks apologetic.
“Yeah, definitely, good. I think it’s a good idea,” Namjoon says, tiredly stroking Taehyung’s hair, “Thanks, Hobi.”
“You know your dad takes care of you really well, right Tae?” Hoseok asks Taehyung, who nods a little bit, “I’d make him pay if he didn’t.”
He pokes Taehyung on the cheek lightly. Taehyung giggles.
They say their goodbyes and thank yous and see you laters to Hoseok, and Namjoon says, “Come on, Tae, we gotta get home. I’m making sugar for dinner,” which elicits a laugh, even though Namjoon isn’t really sure if Taehyung gets the joke.
They walk to the subway station. On the train home, Namjoon makes sure Taehyung isn’t feeling sad about what Jeongguk said.
“You know you do run fast, right Tae?”
“Yeah, Appa. Jeongguk is just mean.”
“It wasn’t nice of you either to say his teeth are big. You’re gonna have to apologize.”
“Why? His teeth are big.”
“Remember how you felt last week when he said your ears were weird?”
“You probably made Jeongguk feel that bad, too.”
“Oh. I didn’t think of that.”
“So when we get together with Jeongguk and his dad you’ll say you’re sorry?”
“Cool. That’s the right thing to do.”
There’s silence, and then Namjoon hears his son speak up in his little voice, as if none of this with Jeongguk ever happened. “Can we play Lightning McQueen when we get home?”
Two days later it’s Wednesday and Namjoon and Taehyung are standing outside of Hoseok’s classroom, which is the unfortunate venue that was chosen for their parent-parent-child-child conference with Jeongguk and his dad.
“Ready?” Namjoon asks. Taehyung nods solemnly, clutching his apology letter, complete with a drawing of a fucking penguin wearing a scarf, that he had carefully crafted for Jeongguk during art class. There’s no way Jeongguk won’t forgive him after seeing that.
They walk in, and the first thing Namjoon notices when he steps in the room is that there are three people already there: Hoseok, a child he assumes is supposed to be Jeongguk, and a man he assumes is supposed to be Jeongguk’s dad.
And the first thing that registers with Namjoon about the man he assumes is supposed to be Jeongguk’s dad is that he already recognizes this guy. Not only does he recognize him but he thinks – no, he knows – that he hates him. In fact, the feeling is probably quite mutual.
Namjoon can’t help but be brought back to the first time they met.
It was mid-September and Taehyung’s first game of the season. Namjoon, like any other dutiful soccer parent, had put his name on the list of volunteers to provide post-game snacks or drinks or general treats for the team.
For this particular game, he had been enlisted to bring drinks. Hydration was important. He didn’t even mind spending $12.99 on a 24-pack of Gatorade, even if he thought it tasted like flavored saliva, because he knew sweaty six year olds loved it and he loved validation from his tiny son and his tiny friends.
So after Taehyung’s team lost their first game of the season, it was no surprise that they came flocking dramatically to Namjoon and his icy cooler of Gatorades for comfort.
As he stood slightly removed from the scene, bemusedly watching the six-year-olds swarm around his cooler (which he had borrowed from his mom), he didn’t even notice that someone had sidled up next to him until he heard the tiny, but undoubtedly exasperated, huff.
He followed the sound, turning his head to the right. A guy was standing there, arms crossed, lips pursed. He let out another huff, louder this time, but only slightly.
Namjoon refused to acknowledge him. What the fuck was this guy’s deal? Was he really that bitter that his six-year-old just lost a soccer game for six-year-olds?
One more huff from the guy. Namjoon was seconds from losing every single one of his marbles. He wondered idly what kind of magic skincare regime this guy must have, as clearly he had lived his entire life with those annoying, pursed lips and still somehow managed to have no visible wrinkles.
He was beginning to think this guy’s lips were just perpetually pursed and would simply never, ever, unpurse themselves, when he, the guy, finally unpursed his lips to speak.
“I just think it’s pretty irresponsible to bring Gatorade to a soccer game for first graders,” he said, huffily, “No offense.”
Namjoon raised his eyebrows so high he felt as though they might fly – no, astral-project – off his forehead, into the stratosphere. Never to be seen again.
Before he could even think to form a reply, this guy, all high and mighty in his pink baseball cap, unpursed his pursed lips again.
“It’s just that in one of these twelve ounce bottles,” he said, gingerly holding one of the Gatorades from the cooler ( his cooler, Namjoon thought bitterly) and reading off the tiny label of nutrition facts, “there are twenty-one grams of sugar.”
He looked at Namjoon with an expectant look, as though waiting for him to drop to his knees and apologize. Namjoon did not drop to his knees, nor did he apologize, and so the guy in the dumb pink baseball cap with the dumb pursed lips spoke again.
“It’s not recommended for kids to consume more than like, fifteen grams of added sugar a day. Max.”
He continued, apparently unphased by Namjoon’s lack of response. “Sanha’s already had like, three bottles,” he said, gesturing vaguely at the group of boys, “That means he’s had sixty-three grams of sugar in the past ten minutes, which is, like, twice the amount an adult male should be consuming in an entire day .”
“Which one’s Sanha?”
“I’m a dental hygienist. Kids come in every day with cavities up to their eyes –” Namjoon scoffed; hat guy glared, “–because their parents don’t realize that these drinks – which are completely unnecessary, by the way, unless you’re a full-time athlete losing billions of electrolytes after every workout – some of these kids barely even broke a sweat – anyway, their parents don’t realize that these drinks are actually loaded with sugar and are no better than soda. Who would give soda to six-year-olds after a soccer game?”
“Listen, I hear you,” Namjoon said slowly, pushing out his first full sentence of this entire exchange, “I’m not trying to... poison them, or anything. They just lost their game, I think they’re allowed to drink Gatorade.”
The guy just shrugged, his broad shoulders heaving up and down dramatically. “Have you considered water?”
Namjoon rolled his eyes, biting back dryly, “No, never. We only drink Gatorade at our house. Sometimes we even mix in extra sugar. Sometimes we eat it straight from the bag, with spoons.”
At that point Taehyung broke away from the group, lips stained an artificial Gatorade blue, and took Namjoon’s attention away from the guy with the pursed lips and broad shoulders and pink baseball cap.
And now the guy is sitting right in front of him and he’s traded his pink baseball cap for pink scrubs but it’s definitely the same guy and his knees are drawn to his chest as he scrunches up to fit in the tiny chair meant for someone half his size.
His eyes widen at the sight of Namjoon and his dumb lips do that dumb thing, again. Namjoon is starting to think that’s just how his lips are.
Hoseok seems to notice the weird unclassifiable tension and claps his hands together only a little awkwardly. “Seokjin Kim,” he says, gesturing at Jeongguk’s dad, who looks strangely less intimidating in his scrubs and white sneakers than he did in his compression leggings and pink baseball cap, “Namjoon Kim. Namjoon Kim, Seokjin Kim.”
Namjoon almost chokes because they have the same fucking last name . Granted, 20% of Korea has the same last name. But this is New York , Namjoon thinks resentfully. This is supposed to be a fucking melting pot . He shouldn’t have to deal with the annoying dental hygienist helicopter dad from soccer practice stealing his family name.
He’s pulled from his thoughts – which were quickly spiraling – by Jeongguk’s dad (Seokjin, he corrects himself bitterly) who is carefully extending his hand to for him to shake. Namjoon shakes it firmly, equally as careful.
“Nice to finally meet you,” Seokjin says, an almost bemused look on his face. Namjoon hates him.
“You too. Is this Jeongguk?” Namjoon asks, gesturing to the boy hidden partially behind Seokjin’s left leg and remembering that this meeting is about their sons and not, actually, a Gatorade-inspired staring contest between two men in their late twenties.
Seokjin nods and makes Jeongguk acknowledge Taehyung, who is himself hiding behind Namjoon’s leg, which is uncharacteristic of him. He’s usually the life of the fucking party.
After that, Hoseok finally decides to step in and dissolve the tension, and the meeting goes well. For Taehyung and Jeongguk, that is. As soon as they exchange their handmade apology letters and Jeongguk catches a glimpse of the penguin that Taehyung drew, all animosities are immediately forgotten.
They’re currently together in a corner of the classroom playing with finger puppets.
Namjoon and Seokjin, on the other hand, are arguing about toothpaste.
“This is unbelievable. Colgate has triclosan in it. You can’t let Taehyung brush his teeth with triclosan ,” Seokjin says, aghast.
It had started innocently. Hoseok had casually let slip to Namjoon that he needed to buy toothpaste on the way home, and Namjoon had made the mistake of offering him a coupon for Colgate that he found in his sock drawer this morning. That did not sit well with Seokjin, who is possibly the most militant dental hygienist on the entire planet, Namjoon thinks.
Namjoon rolls his eyes. “I’ve never even heard of tricsolan.”
“ Triclosan, ” Seokjin says poignantly, “is a chemical that has been linked to antibiotic resistance and various cancers. They’ve done clinical studies.”
“If tricsolan –” Namjoon begins.
“Triclosan,” Seokjin interrupts.
Namjoon disregards it. “If tricsolan ,” he says, emphasizing the incorrect pronunciation just to piss Seokjin off, “is so dangerous, why does my dentist give me free Colgate in a goodie bag every time I leave? Isn’t it her job to, like, not kill me?”
Seokjin shrugs. “Dentists don’t have to take the hippocratic oath.”
“Bullshit, yes they do.”
“I didn’t know you were a dentist, Namjoon –”
“You don’t have to be a dentist to know you’re spewing lies, Seokjin –”
Hoseok interrupts nervously before Seokjin’s head has the chance to fly off his body. “It’s getting kind of late, huh? I’m sure Taehyung and Jeongguk are tired after all this, um,” he glances over at them playing in their corner, “Puppeteering.”
They eventually get up, grab their respective children, and say their bitter goodbyes. Taehyung and Jeongguk hug, which admittedly makes both parents smile and forget, for a moment, that they were just fighting over dental hygiene.
Namjoon googles “triclosan” when he gets home.
He will literally die before he lets Seokjin know, but he is properly freaked out over this triclosan business. That night, after Taehyung is in bed, he calls his mom on the verge of tears.
He’s twenty eight and his friends from college are spread out over the city partying and doing artsy jobs without a care in the world and meanwhile he’s having an anxiety attack on the phone with his mom because he’s been giving his six-year-old son poison for years oh my God what is he supposed to do if Taehyung gets cancer and he loses the most important person in his life –
“Namjoon-ah,” his mom interrupts. “Take a deep breath,” she says in Korean.
The familiar cadence of his mother’s gentle Korean grounds him, if only for a moment. He breathes and it hurts.
“What happened?” she asks soothingly.
Namjoon lets out a strangled choking noise in response.
“Have you ever heard of triclosan?” he asks, eventually.
“No. It doesn’t sound nice.”
“Well, it’s in my toothpaste. And today, this kid’s dad – this completely sanctimonious, overbearing, self-righteous, condescending, supercilious asshole –” his mother huffs at his language, “Sorry, sorry, I know – this guy – well, he basically told me I’m the worst parent in the world for not knowing.”
“Well, what’s wrong with triclosan?”
“It can apparently lower your immune system and in some cases has been linked to cancer,” he says, miserably, “How do people get informed about this stuff? My dentist literally gives me the toothpaste. How can she do that?”
“Joon-ah,” she says calmly and with so much love that he is hit with a rush of warm feelings and he suddenly misses his mother so much, “You can switch dentists. You can get new toothpaste. You and Taehyung are fine, I promise. You’re such a good father. I’m constantly impressed by you.”
“I just,” Namjoon squeezes his eyes shut tight, “What if something happens to Taehyung and it’s my fault?”
“You take him to the pediatrician regularly, right?”
“Then there’s no reason to worry. You can make him an appointment if you really think it’s necessary, but I really think it’s going to be okay.”
“Yeah. You’re a good dad, Namjoon-ah.”
“Thanks, Eomma. I feel better.”
“Who was this guy who told you about this toothpaste stuff, anyway?”
“Just this kid’s dad. His son plays soccer with Tae.”
“Well, you’re lucky he told you.”
Namjoon is silent. He dislikes Seokjin and that’s a fact but could he really hate him for this? He had been trying to help, in his own, albeit self-righteous way.
“I guess. He didn’t have to be so patronizing, though.”
“Maybe you should invite him and his son to dinner.”
“Is he cute?”
It’s Friday during Namjoon’s lunch break and he is at the coffee shop sandwiched between the library and the community garden and is eating avocado toast with Jennie, from soccer.
Namjoon met Jennie at her son Liam’s birthday party. The entire soccer team had been invited, and the Batman action figure Namjoon had helped Taehyung pick out for Liam had been a big success. This had apparently caught Jennie’s attention, because not long after, he found himself being invited to weekly coffee with the girls. It’s exclusive, Namjoon knows that much.
Liam and Taehyung are alright friends, but Jennie really isn’t bad, Namjoon thinks. She knows literally everything about literally everyone, which makes her just the person he needs to talk to right now.
“You know what I found out yesterday?” she asks, dropping her fork into her quinoa bowl dramatically.
Namjoon quirks his eyebrows from behind his avocado toast.
“Helen has been lying to everyone at PTA meetings for months. You know that vegan pinto bean chili recipe she swears has been in her family for generations?”
Namjoon nods. Oh, he knows the chili, all right. It’s all Helen’s been talking about for weeks.
“She’s been buying it from the deli down the street the whole time,” she says.
“You’re joking. Where’d you hear this?”
“Saw it. With my own eyes.”
“No way. When?”
“Yesterday, I told you. I can’t believe she didn’t even bother to leave the neighborhood to try and scam us. Like, she knows everyone goes there.”
“Helen sucks. The chili isn’t even good.”
She laughs and takes a sip of her iced vanilla soy latte.
“Hey. I’m switching dentists. What kind of toothpaste do you use?” Namjoon asks after a lull in conversation.
“I make my own.”
“Jesus Christ,” he says, putting his head in his hands, “I’ve been using Colgate.”
“I read somewhere that Colgate has this, like, really bad toxin in it. So you should probably switch.”
“I know,” he says, “Why am I the only one who hasn’t heard of this?”
“Wow,” she says, “Who else has told you about the toothpaste toxin?”
“Oh, you’ll never believe it,” Namjoon says.
This time, she’s the one quirking her eyebrows from behind an overpriced vegan snack.
“The other day I had a disciplinary conference with Jeongguk and his dad because he and Taehyung got into a fight at practice the other day. And the guy absolutely tore me to shreds for using Colgate. At a disciplinary conference for our kids .”
“You had actual one-on-one contact with Seokjin Kim?” she asks, completely disregarding the fact that Namjoon said his son had gotten into a fight with another kid at soccer practice, “I’ve been trying to invite him out for months, but he’s always busy. What’s he like?”
“He’s a total dick.”
“Huh, never got that vibe. He’s so pretty, though.”
“Well, he is.”
Jennie laughs. Namjoon backtracks, saying. “He is. A dick, I mean. Not pretty.”
He takes a sip, spitefully, of his three-pumps-of-caramel latte. He thinks absently that Seokjin would probably tell him he’s going to get cavities.
“So, like. You know things about every parent. What’s his deal?” he eventually asks, very, very, very nonchalantly.
“He’s single, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Well, he is. He never comes with anyone to any function, except sometimes this little guy who I’m pretty sure is his brother, ‘cause they’re the same type of pretty.”
“He basically said I was a shit parent for letting my son drink Gatorade.”
“Well, he’s not wrong. You know how much sugar is in Gatorade?”
Namjoon groans into his coffee. It tastes too sweet, suddenly.
The train ride to see their new dentist (the one that Namjoon had selected after extensive research) is fairly short, but that doesn’t prevent Taehyung from attempting to reenact the entire documentary about cane toads that he watched today during science.
“And then, there was really, really, scary music, and the cane toad got bigger on the screen,” he says excitedly as Namjoon holds lightly onto one of his little backpack straps, “and he just…” Taehyung makes a little popping noise with his lips, “ate a bee! He just ate it!”
“A bee?” Namjoon asks, eyes wide, “That’s brave.”
“Yeah,” Taehyung says, “It was kind of sad though because I love bees.”
Namjoon nods sagely. “And bees are really important. We need bees. I’m glad there are no cane toads in New York.”
“You’re a cane toad, Daddy!” Taehyung says, laughing.
“Daddy, huh? I thought I was Appa.” Namjoon says.
“No one else calls their dad Appa,” Taehyung says and shrugs.
“Not even Jeongguk? He’s Korean.”
“Jeongguk calls his dad Daddy!” Taehyung says, “And Jeongguk is my best friend. So I’m calling you Daddy, Daddy.”
Of course Seokjin has fully ditched his Korean roots in favor of Western assimilation, Namjoon thinks, irritated. Then again, he and Taehyung had Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner last night, so he decides to stay quiet. He doesn’t know Seokjin’s life.
“So you wanna call Halmeoni ‘grandma’ now, huh? I don’t think she’d like that very much.”
Taehyung wrinkles his nose. “No. Halmeoni is Halmeoni. And you’re Daddy.”
Namjoon laughs. “Okay, bug. That’s fine, call me what you want, I can take it. In fact, just call me cane toad, it’s what I deserve.”
Taehyung lets out a shriek of laughter, which prompts some guy around Namjoon’s age in a navy suit to look up from his Wall Street Journal (gross) just to send him an annoyed look.
Namjoon hates that look. The “shut your child up” look that he receives from teenagers and grandmothers alike, telling him to get his offspring under control, to stop being an irresponsible single dad.
It’s not even as though Taehyung is crying, or throwing a tantrum. He’s laughing, Jesus Christ.
Luckily, they arrive at their stop at that moment, and Namjoon shuffles his son off the train while still managing to throw the Wall Street Journal asshole the dirtiest look he can muster.
Taehyung visibly grows more subdued with each step drawing them closer to the dentist’s office, and once they’re checked in and sitting in the waiting room he practically grows cold.
“How’re you feelin’, kiddo?”
Taehyung hums. “Don’t wanna go.”
“Hey, it’ll be fine. You’re the bravest kid I know,” Namjoon says, stroking his son’s hair, “And look! They have puzzles. You wanna do one while we wait?”
He nods and squirms out of Namjoon’s lap into the designated corner full of toys to pick a puzzle. He chooses a 100-piece one with sea creatures on it, an ambitious choice given his appointment is in five minutes, but Namjoon doesn’t stop him.
He and Taehyung are diligently working on the part of the puzzle with the purple octopus when a voice from above them says, “Ooh, what’s that?”
And the voice is familiar and Namjoon doesn’t need to look up to realize it’s Seokjin. Hath God no mercy?
Taehyung, however, simply answers excitedly, “It’s a octopus!” He looks up, and when he realizes who it is, gets even more excited. “Hi, Jeongguk’s dad!”
His scrubs are still pink but this time they have little red hearts printed all over them and it evokes an emotion in Namjoon he doesn’t particularly want to classify.
“Tae,” Namjoon chides, “Be polite.”
“Hi, Mr. Kim,” Taehyung corrects himself. Namjoon simply waves because this is so awkward and he doesn’t know if he should call him Seokjin or maybe he should also be calling him Mr. Kim but Namjoon’s students call him Mr. Kim so it’s weird –
“It’s okay. You can call me Jin,” Seokjin simply says with a smile. Jin, huh? That’s kind of pleasant, Namjoon thinks. “I’m here to take Taehyung back for his cleaning,” Seokjin – Jin? – continues.
Taehyung remembers what he’s here for and frowns.
“Hey, buddy, look at me,” Namjoon says, dropping the octopus tentacle piece he had been holding, “It’ll be really fun and you’ll get a sticker afterwards. Isn’t that cool? And I’ll be there with you the whole time.”
“No,” Taehyung says stubbornly, “I want to go by myself.”
“Are you sure?” Namjoon asks, taken aback.
“Yeah. I have to do this alone,” Taehyung says, dramatically, “It’s what Lightning McQueen would do.”
Namjoon isn’t sure how Taehyung associated Lightning McQueen with being brave for the dentist but he certainly is not going to complain. Whatever gets him through.
“Okay, my man,” Namjoon agrees, “I’m so proud of you for being brave.”
“Thanks, Daddy, but it’s Lightning McQueen you should be proud of,” he says, very serious.
“I’m proud of him too.”
Taehyung turns to Seokjin and grabs his hand without a second thought. Namjoon wonders where kids get their confidence from.
“I think it’s super mature of you to do this, Taehyung,” Seokjin says, “You’re gonna get the coolest sticker.”
Taehyung lights up at that, and he and Seokjin wave goodbye at Namjoon, who suddenly finds himself alone in the waiting room surrounded by scattered deep sea creatures.
He has papers to grade but he decides to finish the puzzle.
He can’t help but feel a little sad. Taehyung is only six and apparently barely needs him anymore. He figures the minor crisis he’s currently having is common for parents but holy shit he didn’t know Taehyung wanting to get his teeth cleaned without having him there was going to sting like a slap.
He’s absentmindedly trying to fit two puzzle pieces together that clearly do not belong when a shadow appears over him. He looks up and it’s Jin – of course it’s Jin – carrying a backpack, presumably having just clocked out for the day. Namjoon feels like a child who’s been caught doing something wrong.
“I don’t think those go together,” Seokjin says, laughing a little bit.
Namjoon finally realizes he’s been trying to fit a shark fin on a whale’s head for the past five minutes and laughs, too.
“Distracted?” Jin asks, sitting down on the floor across from him, criss cross applesauce.
“Yeah, a little,” Namjoon admits.
“‘Cause Taehyung wanted to go in by himself?”
Namjoon forces himself to elaborate, despite normally being a man of few words. It might be good to vent, even if it’s Seokjin he’s venting to.
“I know I should be excited. And I am, seriously, because I’m trying so hard to raise him right, and I’m so proud of him,” Namjoon explains. “But now suddenly I’m sitting here surrounded by toys and I feel like a useless old dad. And soon he’s going to be in high school and I’m going to, like, offer to drive him to prom, or something, and he’s gonna say, no, dad, Jason’s driving. And I’m gonna say, who’s Jason? And he’s gonna shrug and say, none of your business, dad, stay out of my life. And I don’t know if I’m equipped to handle that.”
Namjoon doesn’t talk much to people outside his close-knit circle of friends and family. And right now, he’s about to physically fight himself, because who overshares like this to a near-stranger – borderline arch-nemesis – in the fucking waiting room at the dentist’s office?
Seokjin, however, just laughs, and it doesn’t sound mean.
“Who is Jason?” Seokjin asks, thoughtfully, rhetorically, jokingly.
And suddenly they’re both laughing, on the carpeted floor of the waiting room, surrounded by puzzle pieces.
It’s cathartic, and suddenly Seokjin isn’t bad at all.
“I don’t know,” Namjoon admits, “I just said the first white boy name I could think of.”
Seokjin laughs again and nudges Namjoon’s knee with his own. The touch is light enough to be casual but just there enough to be real.
“You know, you seem like a good dad.” Seokjin says after a moment of silence.
“Oh, do I?” Namjoon asks, raising his eyebrows impossibly high, like he did during their first conversation on the sidelines of the soccer field, “Even though I let my son drink Gatorade?”
Seokjin has the good sense to blush and duck his head down, soft brown hair falling in front of his eyes. “Yeah. Sorry about that. I was pretty high strung that day. And Gatorade does kind of suck. But stuff like that’s okay in moderation, you know? Sometimes being around all these young hipster parents does my head in. I shouldn't have jumped down your throat. I didn’t even know you.”
“So we know each other now?” Namjoon asks, almost smiling.
“Kind of,” Seokjin says like it’s nothing. “You know what Taehyung said when I took him back?”
Namjoon hums a little, questioningly.
“I told him it was really cool of him to go in by himself, and he just said, ‘Daddy is tired today so I let him nap in the waiting room’. Can you believe?”
Namjoon’s heart threatens to burst.
“Oh my God,” Namjoon says, almost blushing, “That’s so cute.”
“Yeah, he’s really sweet,” Seokjin says, “So am I interrupting your nap time? Should I leave?”
“Oh, no, you’re fine. I just have some papers to grade but I wasn’t planning on doing that here, anyway.”
“You’re a teacher?”
“Oh, yeah. High school English.”
“Huh. That explains the man purse.”
“It’s actually just a purse. I got it in the women’s section. There’s no point in my pretending otherwise. It holds my shit. It’s 2017. Accessories shouldn’t be gendered.”
“You’re right. These scrubs are a woman’s 3XL. I have broad shoulders and they don’t make heart-print scrubs for men, so,” Jin shrugs (and now that he mentions it, Namjoon notices that his shoulders are very, very broad), “You gotta do what you gotta do.”
Namjoon suddenly imagines Jin in the women’s section at the scrubs store (seriously, where do people buy scrubs?) perusing the wide array of tacky prints, and it makes him smile.
“Just two single dads, singlehandedly destroying gender roles,” Namjoon says, nodding sagely.
This time, Jin is the one raising his eyebrows, and Namjoon realizes his mistake.
“Oh, no – not to assume – oh my God, sorry,” Namjoon babbles awkwardly, “That’s so presumptuous, I’m sorry, oh my God –”
Jin just lets out a laugh, a sound that Namjoon is coming to realize is very unique (but he kind of really doesn’t mind, and now he’s gone and made things weird, fuck –)
Jin says, “Dude, calm down. I am.”
“You are what?”
“Single. So. You don’t have to apologize,” he says. Now both of them feel awkward.
“Oh. Nice. Me too.”
“Yeah, I figured, from, you know, what you said.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot I said that.”
“Stop being awkward. It’s not a big deal.”
“You’re being awkward too. You stop.”
Easier said than done.
“Let’s both stop. I’m going to ask you a question and you’ll answer it like a normal person and we won’t even remember we were being weird five seconds ago.”
“Okay, can do.”
“Uhhhh,” Jin says, stalling for time (yeah, he said he was going to ask a question to relieve the awkwardness but his mind is drawing a blank and fuck this is just getting more awkward). His brain desperately grasps at various conversation topics and finally settles on something familiar, easy. “Favorite food?”
“Hmm. I don’t wanna say. You’ll probably yell at me if I say something with more than, like, five grams of sugar,” Namjoon says, falling back into the swing of normal conversation easily.
“I’m really not that bad, I promise,” Jin laughs, “I’m telling you. It was just a bad day. I actually really like food.”
“Huh, yeah, alright, sure. So, my favorite? Maybe like, kalguksu, or something,” he says, and then suddenly remembers Jin might not know Korean and backtracks, “Uh, Korean knife noodles. My mom used to make it all the time but I can’t really cook Korean food, or any food, so. It’s a treat.”
Jin lights up. “Oh my God, I forgot you’re Korean. My halmeoni would make dak-kalguksu every time I got sick when I was little, I love it. She taught me how to make it, too.”
“Fuck off, don’t brag,” Namjoon says, and then promptly realizes he’s in the children’s section of the waiting room, and looks around to make sure the coast is clear. It is, thankfully, and then he adds, “Everyone in my family tried to teach me how to cook. Many times. They gave up after I almost lost a thumb.”
Jin’s eyes widen and the corners of his mouth quirk up as though he wants to smile but isn’t sure if he’s allowed.
“It was kind of sink or swim after Taehyung was born, though,” Namjoon says, “I couldn’t just feed him cup noodles. So I can cook some things, now.”
“Maybe you can have dinner with us this week. I like to cook, and I’m not bad at it,” Jin says, shrugging like it’s not a big deal. As though they hadn’t been annoyed at the very sight of each other until half an hour ago. He adds, “The kids would love it, probably. Jeongguk has been begging for Taehyung to come over for like, weeks.”
“That sounds really great, actually,” Namjoon says, deciding to be spontaneous (partly because talking to Seokjin is nice and partly because he had been planning on having macaroni and cheese leftovers for the next two nights), “I’m down to my last box of Kraft mac and cheese.”
Jin looks aghast.
“How about tomorrow night?” he asks, nudging Namjoon’s knee again with his own, “I’ll make a lot and you can take some home because, dude, seriously. Kraft is so bad. The chemicals in that powdered cheese...”
He shudders. Namjoon rolls his eyes. “Tomorrow works. I’ll ask Tae, but considering Jeongguk is like, the only thing he talks about, I don’t think we’ll have a problem.”
“Does six work?”
“Yeah, six works.”
“Can I text you the address?”
Namjoon gulps. This morning, if someone had told him he would be giving his phone number to Seokjin Kim on the floor of the waiting room at his son’s new dentist, he would have choked on his Cocoa Krispies.
He types his number into Jin’s iPhone and sends himself a text. This is the first time he’s given someone his number for a non-work or Taehyung-related reason in months and it makes him feel big feelings, for some reason. He needs to get out more.
After the deed is done, Taehyung conveniently comes out of the door connecting the patient rooms to the waiting room, escorted by a woman this time, with a giddy smile on his face and a sticker on his shirt.
He runs straight to Namjoon and into his arms. He worried for nothing, he thinks. Taehyung loves him. Jin was right. Everything is great.
“There’s my brave little man!” Namjoon says, “How’d it go?”
“No cavities, Daddy!” he says, smiling extra wide to show off his teeth.
“That’s great, Tae!” Namjoon says, “Wanna show me and Jin your sticker?”
Taehyung seems to finally realize that Jin is still there, and waves happily.
Eventually they all stand up, and Taehyung points at the “Princess and the Frog” sticker on his chest excitedly, saying, “They had so many to choose from! But I chose Tiana because her dress is so pretty.”
“That’s so cool, dude,” Namjoon says, ruffling his hair. “Her dress is pretty.”
Jin nods in agreement and asks, “Is Tiana your favorite princess?”
“Yeah!” Taehyung says, “But I have more favorites, too! I like Mulan and Tiana the most, but there were no Mulan stickers and plus Tiana has a prettier dress anyway. I also like Moana and Spiderman, but Spiderman isn’t a princess. But he could be, maybe, if he wore a pretty dress.”
“Woah, that would be so cool,” Jin says, “Halloween is coming up, maybe you can go as Princess Spiderman.”
Namjoon groans inwardly, knowing it’s going to be up to him to craft and sew the entire elaborate costume, but it’s fine.
Taehyung lights up like a Christmas tree. “Really?! Can I? Can I? Can I?”
Namjoon nods, and says, “Of course, kiddo. You’ll be the coolest spider princess in Brooklyn.”
Maybe he can get his mom’s help on the costume.
Taehyung is busy telling Jin about the spider he found the other day, the one that he had so lovingly shoved in Namjoon’s face at six in the morning, when Namjoon decides it’s time to get this show on the road.
“Hey, I think we’ve kept Jin long enough, huh? I’m sure he has to get home to Jeongguk and we have to get home to make dinner,” Namjoon says, and then suddenly remembers: “Oh, speaking of which. Jin invited us over for dinner with him and Jeongguk tomorrow. Do you want to go?”
Taehyung almost combusts. “Really?! Yeah!” he says, bouncing up and down. “Jeongguk is my best friend,” he says matter-of-factly. As if he hasn’t been saying it every other hour since the disciplinary conference.
“Cool! I’m so excited!” Jin says, giving Taehyung a high-five, which Taehyung returns with such force that he almost stumbles backwards.
Jin and Namjoon and Taehyung finally say their goodbyes, and Namjoon, who never knows what to do (should he shake his hand? That’s too formal, but he can’t just give him a hug. They just squashed their animosities, like, an hour ago) is saved from awkwardness when Jin touches him on the arm and says “see you tomorrow” and his soul all but flies out of his body.
Jin leaves, and Namjoon goes up to the counter to pay the copay for the cleaning, makes sure Taehyung puts his jacket and scarf on, puts his own jacket and scarf on, and then finally deems them ready to go.
The whole walk to the subway station is filled with Taehyung’s excited ramblings about Halloween, and dinner with Jeongguk and Jin, and “ooh, I wonder if Jeongguk likes Spiderman, Daddy”, and “ooh, I wonder what Jeongguk’s favorite food is, Daddy”.
They get to the station and swipe their MetroCards and go down the stairs to wait for their train and suddenly Jin’s there, waiting for the same one.
His headphones are in and his hands are in the pockets of his puffy North Face and his cheeks are flushed from the cold and his lips are pursed, but Namjoon doesn’t mind that anymore, because Jin is pretty . And nice, and funny, and invited him and his son over for dinner, and fuck .
This doesn’t happen to Namjoon often. He doesn’t have to face his feelings all that much. He just has to wake up and love his son and teach literature and call his mom and Hoseok and Yoongi and love his son some more and then fall asleep and repeat.
Namjoon doesn’t usually have to face his feelings, so for now he will ignore his brain when it tells him that Jin’s lips are perfect for kissing and being kissed.
Taehyung drags him by the hand over to where Jin is standing and taps him on the arm. He jumps a little, but when he realizes that it’s Taehyung, he pulls his headphones out of his ears and smiles.
“Are you guys taking the G?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Namjoon says, as Taehyung nods excitedly, “We live, like, four stops down.”
“I have to pick up Jeongguk from my brother. He’s babysitting. He lives a few stops past yours,” Jin says, smiling.
The train arrives right then, and Namjoon and Jin make sure Taehyung gets on safely, both of them holding onto his backpack straps. It’s nice, Namjoon thinks.
Once they’re situated and Taehyung is squished in-between them, half on each of their laps, Taehyung asks, “What were you listening to before we came, Mr. Jin?”
“You can just call me Jin, buddy,” Jin says, laughing.
“What were you listening to before we came… Jin?” Taehyung corrects himself, the informality tasting funny on his tongue.
“Nothing special. Just instrumental stuff, wanna listen?”
Taehyung nods his head and Jin looks to Namjoon. “Can I give him an earbud?” he asks. Namjoon nods.
Jin pops one earbud in Taehyung’s ear, and then suddenly, to Namjoon’s surprise, he feels fingers pushing the other one into his own ear.
Sharing music has always been an intimate ritual for Namjoon. It’s the highest honor: if he likes someone, really likes someone, then he’ll let them listen to his playlists. And now Jin just popped an earbud into his ear like it was nothing. Jesus Christ.
The music starts and it’s nice. It’s relaxing – ambient sounds and mellow beats. Namjoon likes it, and likes that Jin is just staring at him, almost shyly, as though he’s waiting for approval.
He’s just about to give it to him, when Taehyung makes a face. “This is boring,” he sighs dramatically, always so dramatically, and carefully takes the earbud out of his tiny ear and hands it back to Jin, who luckily, is smiling and is not ostensibly offended.
“Not your thing, huh?” Jin asks, putting the earbud in his own ear. Namjoon is suddenly hyper-aware of the fact that they are, for all intents and purposes, sharing headphones.
“Sorry,” Taehyung says, sheepishly, and begins to pull out his DS from his backpack.
“Taehyung,” Namjoon scolds, “We only have one more stop. You can play when we get home.”
Taehyung pouts and puts it back, but makes a big show of zipping up his backpack and huffing loudly.
“Do you like Mario?” Jin asks Taehyung as a distraction, probably noticing the Mario keychain on his backpack. Namjoon silently thanks him. He’s too busy being literally connected to Jin via a single white wire for his brain to function at top speed.
“Yeah! I like Mario, he’s okay but my favorite is Toad. And Princess Peach.”
“Oh, I love her. Hey, what about you?” Jin asks, nudging Namjoon’s thigh with his own, “Who’s your favorite?”
“Waluigi,” Namjoon says absentmindedly, still not able to detach from the fact that he and Jin are doing the most intimate thing humanly possible on the fucking train and yet everyone around him manages to stay so calm. How does everyone stay so calm?
He is not, however, out of it enough to miss the look of absolute disgust Jin gives him.
“Waluigi?” Jin asks, utterly sickened, “Unbelievable.”
“Hey,” Namjoon protests, “He’s cool. I always win Mario Kart with him.”
Namjoon laughs and makes a Waluigi noise: “Wah!!!”
Taehyung even joins in: “Wah ha ha!!!”
“This is your stop. Both of you, get off before I make you,” he says, his playfully disgusted facade cracking as he smiles.
It is, actually, their stop. So Taehyung hugs Jin extra quick, and Namjoon stands up too fast with the headphones still in and accidentally yanks them out of both of their ears, which elicits an “ow!” from Jin, which Namjoon feels guilty about for the rest of the night.
The next morning, while the apartment is dark and quiet and Namjoon is not entirely in his right mind, he takes a deep breath and texts Jin.
wah h a ha ha ha!!!!!!
You’re uninvited. Enjoy your kraft mac n cheez
ok no pleas i am sorry dont do this
wats ur address
82 Clinton St apt 2L
Are you sure you’re an English teacher?
You text like a teen
U text like a dad. I gotta stay current
I teach teens so I need 2 know how to communicate
it’s either eat or be eaten
You used both the number 2 and the word “to” in that one sentence
anyway i gotta wake up the boy
see u tonight !
Can’t wait :p
Namjoon spends his lunch break, as he does most every other day, in the teacher’s lounge with Yoongi eating hot pockets.
Yoongi teaches music and exudes general “don’t talk to me or I’ll deck you” vibes. When Namjoon had first started teaching at their school, he had avoided Yoongi at all costs (as a simple act of self-preservation) but they eventually bonded at the vending machine over their shared love for peanut M&Ms and now Namjoon knows he’s just a piano-playing dork who wears mismatched socks and is soft for his boyfriend.
“So Hoseok’s on this exercise kick,” Yoongi says, biting into his hot pocket. Cheese oozes out of the side. “He signed us up for couples kickboxing at the gym.”
Namjoon almost spits out his coffee.
Yoongi nods gravely.
“Sucks that I love him,” Yoongi says, casually, “‘Cause the worst part is, I don’t even mind going. ‘Cause I know it’ll make him happy. Gross, huh?”
“Super gross, dude.”
“Anyway, how’d that conference with that one kid’s dad go? Hoseok told me he had to intervene before you ripped each other to shreds.”
“Oh. We’re cool now. Tae and I are going over to his house for dinner tonight.”
“Ohhh. So it’s going to be a tense, ‘I hate you but our sons are friends so let’s share an awkward meal for their sakes’ dinner?”
“Well, not really,” Namjoon says, rubbing the back of his neck, “We ran into each other at the new dentist’s office last night, and it turns out he works there, and we had a little chat and he just… Invited us. So. Might be fun.”
Yoongi looks doubtful. “Hoseok said he had never seen you so upset.”
“Well, he did tell me that I had been giving my son toothpaste with a poisonous toxin in it for years. So I was a little defensive,” Namjoon says lightly, “But I was mostly just stressed for Taehyung’s sake. But now we switched dentists and use different toothpaste, so. I actually owe Jin.”
“Seokjin. Jin for short.”
“He’s Korean, huh?”
“Yeah. It’s pretty cool.”
“Why do you keep saying that?”
“No reason. So are you bringing wine to dinner?”
Namjoon pales. “Should I?”
“I don’t know. Should you?”
“What does that even mean?”
“My wise grandfather Min once told me: ‘Yoongi-yah, if you want to woo a lady, bring her a bottle of the finest wine you can afford.’” he says, ostensibly trying to mimic an old man’s voice, “Granted, he didn’t know I was gay, but it probably works on guys too.”
“Who says I’m trying to ‘woo’ Seokjin? I don’t even know if he likes dudes,” Namjoon splutters, “And plus, you have no room to give advice about ‘wooing’ anyone. You met Hoseok on Grindr.”
Yoongi smiles fondly, unphased, “So our sex life is great and we drink wine every night.”
“Wine isn’t gross, it’s classy.”
“Fuck off, you know what I meant.”
“I’m just saying. Bring wine.”
“Our kids are going to be there.”
“So? You’re not gonna be putting any alcohol in their sippy cups. They get juice, or whatever.”
“They’re six, they don’t use sippy cups.”
“Huh,” Yoongi says, puzzled, “Glad I don’t have kids.”
“You love Taehyung.”
“Yeah, because I can just waltz in with some legos and I’m suddenly his favorite person in the world. I thrive off that validation.”
Namjoon throws his hot pocket cardboard at Yoongi’s face (he misses) and makes a mental note to stop by the liquor store before he picks up Taehyung.
U r going on a dinner date w Jeongguks DADDY?>????/
After the Toothpaste Debacle to which i was forced to bear witness??/?
ummm whatever yoongi told u was prob an extreme exaggeration
Tae and i r going to his house for dinner/a playdate
Thought u hated him tho what happened
we had a chat
at the dentists office
turns out he doesnt suck
we shared headphones on the train
Thats like, second base for u
U wanna DATE jeongguks daddy !!!!!!
Ur life is the real life dad dating simulator i m screaming
Which 1 is u and which one is Jin ?
I want u to be the goth one with the waistcoat . Second from the left
Jin is the hot prep in the middle
LMao holy shit
anyway im not acknowledging this but if i were. Id clearly be third from the right
but where r the bi asian dads i want representation
Ur right , also notice how there r like 3 poc dads but the blonde white one is the focal point?
anywya. Ur bringing wine right
yeah. ur man told me to
Wow my man knows whats up huh?
Anyway, heres some more advice: “accidentlaly” spill something undr the table at dinner
Get under there to “clean it up”
And suck his dick
Will be. RIGHt TH ere
There is a lot of wine at the liquor store.
“Can’t pick?” the lady behind the counter asks.
“Yeah, I – uh, there are so many,” Namjoon says, pathetically.
“Any particular occasion?” she asks.
“A dinner… party?” he says, unsure.
The lady quirks her eyebrows.
Namjoon elaborates: “I’m going to my kid’s friend’s dad’s house for dinner, and I wasn’t even planning on bringing anything, but my friend told me I had to bring wine, and I don’t want to look like a complete scrub in front of my kid’s friend’s dad, but I really don’t know anything about wine, so I guess I kind of am. A complete scrub.”
The lady laughs, but Namjoon is mentally berating himself for oversharing to a stranger for the second time in two days.
“How about a sparkling wine?” she asks.
Namjoon looks back blankly.
“Sparkling means it has bubbles,” she says.
Namjoon shrugs. “Sounds good to me. I like bubbles.”
She asks for his ID, which is a small ego-booster for him, because he’s two years away from being three whole decades old and the passage of time haunts him.
He pays for whatever she recommended, and thanks her profusely.
“No problem,” she says, smiling, “Good luck with your kid’s friend’s dad.”
Namjoon blushes, stumbles out, and vows to go to never so much as pass by this liquor store ever again.
Jin lives in a neighborhood about 25 minutes away by train. Considering all five boroughs of New York comprise about 300 square miles, it’s not bad at all.
Jin’s building is nothing special. It’s nestled comfortably between two other buildings of similar stature – three stories, neat siding, two large bay windows on each floor – and has the standard tiny concrete fenced-in yard.
Puffy yellow dandelions poke out of the cracks in the cement and begin to curl around the wrought iron fence, providing a pleasant Dr. Seuss kind of ambience. The scene is rather picturesque, Namjoon thinks, if you toss aside your preconceptions about perfection being a white house with black shutters and a green lawn in the suburbs.
Namjoon stands with Taehyung, almost comically still, on the stoop, trying desperately not to overthink the situation. His right hand hovers over the buzzer, while his left hand awkwardly cradles the bottle of wine he suffered low-level embarrassment to acquire.
Taehyung has a bottle of apple juice. Namjoon couldn’t let his son come to a dinner party empty handed.
“I’m preparing myself.”
“I want to do it! You’re so slow.”
“Can you maybe ask politely?”
“Can please I ring the buzzer, Appa?”
Namjoon doesn’t know if Taehyung called him Appa deliberately to soften him up, or if it was a genuine slip of the tongue, but he melts immediately (good parenting) and hoists him up with his right arm so he and the buzzer are at eye level.
“You know which one to press?” Namjoon asks.
Taehyung shakes his head.
“Can you find the one that says 2L for me?”
Without even asking for his father’s confirmation, Taehyung smashes his little hand on the button he deems to be 2L (luckily, it’s 2L) with all his strength.
Namjoon assures himself that the irregularity of his heartbeat under his (favorite) striped sweater is simply his trusty social anxiety and not some pathetic dad crush on Seokjin.
Then he hears Seokjin’s strangely pleasant voice through the crackly static of the intercom (“Hey guys! Come on up!”) and he’s not so sure.
They climb the stairs and make a left and there’s the door, a big “2L” emblazoned on it. It’s a classy door, Namjoon thinks. A real showstopper.
And then the door opens without him having knocked first and suddenly Seokjin is standing in the threshold and he’s wearing an apron that says “Mr. Good Lookin’ Is Cookin’” and Namjoon can’t help but agree.
“Hi, I brought this,” Namjoon says quickly, gesturing to the wine in his hands, “I didn’t think I should show up empty handed. You don’t have to, uh, drink it, obviously, but yeah. I brought it.”
“And I brought this too! But I actually want to drink it,” Taehyung says, practically bouncing up and down, brandishing the bottle of apple juice in both hands like a two-handed sword.
“That’s so cool and considerate of you guys!” Jin says, inviting them inside. “How about I go put this in the fridge and you can go find Jeongu–”
Jin doesn’t need to finish his sentence as the aforementioned Jeongguk literally astral-projects out from behind his dad’s sturdy (not that Namjoon noticed) body and into Taehyung.
“Hi Mr. Tae Tae’s dad,” Jeongguk says, shyly.
“Hi, Jeongguk!” Namjoon says, “You can call me Namjoon, though. Cool shirt, by the way. I love Iron Man.”
That draws a smile out of him. “Me too! He’s my favorite. Do you want to see my action figures?”
“Yeah! I’d love to,” Namjoon replies. Jin shoots him a genuine smile, the kind where his nose scrunches slightly, and practically pries the wine out of his hands before Jeongguk drags him away to his room.
Jeongguk shows Taehyung and Namjoon his action figures for a little while. His collection is, by anyone’s standards, impressive, and even though Taehyung has never shown express interest in action figures before, Namjoon knows as soon as they leave he’s going to receive a billion whiny requests for as many as Jeongguk has.
Soon enough, though, he’s being forced out of Jeongguk’s room.
“Dad, you have to go now.”
“What? I just got here. I want to play with Jeongguk’s action figures.”
“Sorry, Mr. Namjoon,” Jeongguk says, smart enough to at least attempt to sound remorseful, even though he’s doing a pretty bad job of stifling his giggles.
“We have private, very secret, very important business to talk about. Go talk to Jeongguk’s dad. He’s probably sad out in the kitchen all alone,” Taehyung says.
“Okay,” Namjoon says, sighing dramatically, “I know where I’m not wanted. Have fun, kiddos.”
And that’s how he finds himself walking to the kitchen, where he knows Jin is making kalguksu because he can smell it, which makes him feel shy, suddenly. He’s absurdly and ridiculously touched by the fact that Jin remembered his favorite food, let alone wanted to make it for dinner.
“Hi,” Namjoon says, leaning against the threshold of the kitchen. “They kicked me out.”
Jin laughs from beside the stove. “You wanted to stay in Jeongguk’s Iron Man themed room the whole night?”
“Yeah, I assumed we’d be eating in there,” Namjoon says nonchalantly.
Jin laughs again. “You want a drink?”
“Yeah, sure,” Namjoon says, “You got gatorade?”
Jin tears his eyes away from his precious pot on the stove to give him the most piercing look humanly possible.
“You come into my house,” he says, “And I’m here, slaving away in the kitchen to make your favorite food – which is literally glorified chicken noodle soup, by the way – and you bring up the incident that will haunt me for the rest of my waking days? Yah. I should kick you out.”
“Don’t do that, please, my tiny son and I are hungry. If you turned us away I’d have to take him to McDonald’s.”
“Remember when I said I thought you were a good dad? I was lying. You suck.”
Namjoon smiles and so does Jin.
“Really, though. Can I help? I’m not as useless as I look.”
“The food’s basically done, so I can’t exactly put you to work, as much as I’d love to,” Jin says. “You can pour me a glass of wine, though. Glasses are in the cabinet.”
Namjoon pours them both a glass of the wine he brought and desperately hopes it doesn’t taste bad. The scene is achingly domestic, and reminds Namjoon of the last boyfriend he had simply because it’s so completely the opposite of what they used to do.
Not that he wants Jin to be his boyfriend, of course.
“Sorry if it’s bad,” Namjoon says sheepishly, holding a glass out to Jin, “I don’t know anything about wine.”
“Neither do I,” Jin shrugs, “But this looks like it has bubbles in it, which is cool.”
They clink glasses and Namjoon tries not to notice that Jin’s lips look so, so good when he drinks.
It turns out that Jin doesn’t just “know how” to cook, but is actually a really fucking good amateur chef. The kalguksu is better than Namjoon’s mother’s – not that he’d never tell her that.
No matter how hard Namjoon tries, he can’t seem to detach himself from the fact that this hot dad with broad shoulders just made his favorite food and he had the honor of getting to eat it.
Dinner is a fun, albeit new, experience for him. Taehyung and Jeongguk mainly dictate the discussion, which he doesn’t mind. They talk about school, soccer, pokemon, Wonder Woman, Cars 3. It’s productive dinnertime conversation. They make the decision to go trick-or-treating together. Halloween is in a few weeks, but it’s never too early to plan.
After dinner they eat popsicles and Namjoon teases Jin about the sugar content. Jin shoves him lightly with his socked foot from the opposite end of the couch.
(“They’re organic. I got them at Trader Joe’s.”)
A sticky trail of coconut-flavored juice flows steadily off the popsicle stick in Namjoon’s hand and down the edge of his thumb. He doesn’t notice, as he’s currently have trouble focusing on anything else but Jin’s lips wrapped around his own popsicle. It’s almost indecent.
“You’re dripping,” Jin points out. Yeah, he fucking is.
Jin grabs a napkin from the coffee table, leans over on the couch, and wipes his thumb for him like it’s nothing.
The boys are in Jeongguk’s room. It would be so easy for Namjoon to kiss Jin right now, to push him up against the back of the couch and and part his lips and lick into his mouth and taste sticky, sweet pineapple on his tongue –
“Hey,” Jin says, interrupting Namjoon’s thoughts, “What does one icicle say to the other icicle before leaving?”
“Bye-cicle!” Jin continues without missing a beat, and then erupts into giggles.
Namjoon pokes him with his foot this time. “Did you read that off your popsicle stick?”
“No. I’m just funny.”
“You know, dad jokes are only funny when you’re not actually a dad,” Namjoon says, shaking his head, “Once you’re a real dad and you start telling dad jokes, people will just call you lame, and then your kid and his friends will laugh at you.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
They finish their popsicles soon enough and switch to wine – the natural progression.
They’re not wine drunk yet – not with their six-year-olds in the other room – just loosened up. They still sit on opposite ends of the couch, but their bodies are angled inwards, towards each other, so their legs are almost intertwined.
“Hey,” Jin says from his spot on the couch, “Did you switch dentists because of what I said?”
Namjoon blushes. “Yeah. I was, uh,” he says, “actually really scared about it.”
Jin nudges him with his foot. Jin is a scarily tactile person, especially compared to Namjoon, who has trouble getting comfortable with people enough to ever consider looking at them for too long, let alone to nudge them casually with his feet.
Namjoon is afraid Jin might breach the gap of the middle couch cushion and try to cuddle him if he has one more glass of wine. He’s not sure if he could avoid kissing him under those circumstances, and he’s done a pretty good job exercising self-restraint so far.
“I’m sorry for scaring you,” Jin says, “and for being a dick about it.
“Don’t be. I’m not gonna take any chances when it comes to Taehyung and cancer. He’s genetically predisposed, we both are, actually so I owe you big time, actually.”
Jin frowns. “Genetically predisposed?”
“My dad,” Namjoon says. Jin’s eyes widen and he immediately feels bad for bringing his heavy shit to dinner, for talking about his dead father in front of the guy he might be starting to have a pathetic crush on.
He continues, because the air is heavy and everything feels incomplete. “He got sick and passed away when I was really little – like, four. I don’t really remember.”
“Cancer sucks,” says Jin, “I’m so sorry.”
“I was raised by a bunch of really cool women though – my mom and her sisters – so. I learned a lot.”
“So that’s why you’re smart?”
“Who says I’m smart? I didn’t even know what triclosan was.”
“You’re smart. I can tell. English teachers are always smart.”
“You’re smart. What’s your favorite book?”
Jin makes a little choked noise, like a scoff. “I can’t tell you that. I’m shy.”
“Mine’s Les Mis. By Victor Hugo. It’s real good shit. The musical’s good too, but I’m talking about the book, specifically.”
When Jin doesn’t reply, Namjoon continues, “You know there are these characters, two of the, like, student revolutionaries – wait, you’ve at least seen the musical, yeah? The movie with Russell Crowe?”
“Yeah, duh. Everyone has. It was good.”
“It was good, you’re right. Anyway, so there are these two student revolutionaries – well, in the book, Victor Hugo focuses on these two specifically – and he uses all these metaphors comparing them to gay Greeks, like, Patroclus and Achilles and stuff, right? Like the most overt gay shit, especially considering it was written in the 1800s. And they clearly have a thing for each other. And so in the end, they die holding hands. And when I was seventeen I just thought it was the coolest shit. I still think it’s the coolest shit. It’s what got me into books and stuff.”
“Gay social justice warriors dying holding hands?”
“Yeah. It’s when I first realized people have been writing cool shit for centuries. Literature isn’t just for straight white boys coming of age.”
“That’s actually really cool.”
“So you wanna tell me your favorite book now?”
Jin hesitates, but Namjoon smiles encouragingly, and so he finally says, “Crush by Richard Siken,” and hides his face in his hands. “It’s poetry. I read it in college. It’s the only book that’s ever made me cry.”
“Can I read it?”
“You don’t even know what it’s about.”
“If it moved you to tears, I think it’s worth reading.”
“It’s what finally made me admit to myself that I was gay.”
That is the last thing Namjoon expected to hear tumbling out of Jin’s too-plump lips. Too much information for Namjoon to process. Jin? Gay? Lips? Plump? Poetry? Gay?
“So, Jeongguk...?” Namjoon trails off, already hating himself for prying.
“I had an incredibly depressing, incredibly drunk, incredibly in-the-closet one night stand. With a girl. In my last year of college. I was trying to prove myself,” Jin says, almost laughing at the memory. “She got arrested like a year later for selling, like, a bunch of prescription drugs and I got custody of tiny baby Jeongguk.”
He continues, shrugging like it’s nothing, “It was the best thing to happen to me, so. I’m not mad, but it was weird. Like, I got disowned by family for being gay, but then suddenly I had this kid. They all thought I had lied to them about being gay.”
“That’s so shitty. Did they un-disown you?”
“Not really. You know how traditional Korean parents are. Being a single dad isn’t much better in their eyes,” he says. “But my brother, Jimin, lives here in Brooklyn. We’re close.”
“Where are you from originally?”
“Woah, weird. I’ve never been.”
“It’s crap. Cacti and scorpions. I got into NYU and then just… never came back.”
“Are you happy here?”
“Yeah,” says Jin, smiling. It’s genuine, as though he’s just scraped gum off the bottom of his shoe and couldn't be more excited. “It’s home.” He continues, “Where are you from?”
Namjoon laughs. “Ridgewood. Queens. It’s like, half an hour from here if you take the 38 bus.”
“Cool. I always wanted to grow up in a city. There are so many opportunities that I never had. That’s why I feel so lucky to be able to raise a kid here, you know? Jeongguk can go to a magnet school and can thrive and he’s surrounded by a bunch of different cultures and can have a – a gay dad, and. I don’t know. I was really isolated as a kid.”
Namjoon hums in agreement and sympathy. “I guess I was pretty lucky. My mom’s parents didn’t want her to marry my dad, because he was a teacher and they didn’t think he would make enough money to support a family. She married him anyway, cause she’s really cool like that, and just sort of disowned herself. So I never really got that stereotypical strict Asian upbringing, ‘cause my mom never wanted me to feel the way she did.”
“She sounds really nice.”
“She is. When I told her I was bi she just said ‘it’s about time’ and flicked me on the forehead.”
“She sounds a lot like you.”
Namjoon hums. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.”
“Hey,” says Jin, nudging him with his foot. Namjoon suddenly realizes how close to each other they’d drifted over the course of this conversation. Their legs are practically overlapping on the little couch. “You wanna play Mario Kart?”
“Yeah. I’m Waluigi, though.”
“Fine with me, if you wanna lose.”
Namjoon does lose. It turns out Jin is really good at Mario Kart. He comes in first in every course they play, with the exception for one freak accident on Rainbow Road that causes him to come in third. It doesn’t really matter, from a competitive standpoint, considering Namjoon is in tenth place anyway.
They’re playing and laughing and sitting close and nudging each other, comfortably, like they’re allowed to, until suddenly Namjoon gets a text and looks at his phone and it’s nine-thirty.
“Oh, shit, oh my god,” says Namjoon, kind of embarrassed but mostly just surprised, “Taehyung’s bedtime was like, half an hour ago.”
Jin drops his controller, equally as shocked and offended at the passage of time, and looks up at the clock above the TV. “Oh, no. I’m so sorry, it’s a school night, I shouldn’t have kept you guys.”
“Nah, it’s not anyone’s fault,” says Namjoon who is sadly faced with the task of pulling his right leg out from underneath Jin’s left one as he stands up.
“I’d offer for you guys to stay the night, but Taehyung doesn’t have any of his school stuff with him, does he?” asks Jin.
“No, he doesn’t,” Namjoon says, sighing. “Yeah, I gotta get him home.”
“Next time we’ll do this on a weekend and you guys can sleep over,” says Jin, like it’s nothing.
It’s definitely not nothing. Namjoon definitely notices that Jin not only assured there would be a “next time” but he also said “you guys” instead of just “Taehyung” which definitely implies he wants Namjoon to spend the night.
“Yeah, for sure,” Namjoon chokes out.
They find Taehyung and Jeongguk on the floor of Jeongguk’s room, passed out cutely on top of each other, surrounded by scattered toys. Namjoon and Jin both pull out their phones to take a picture at the same time.
Namjoon knows once he wakes Taehyung up there will be no time to give Jin the thanks he so clearly deserves, so he does it now.
“Hey,” Namjoon says, pushing himself out of his comfort zone and touching Jin’s arm lightly. “Thank you so much for dinner. It was the best kalguksu I’ve ever had. I’m not kidding.”
Jin blushes. “No problem, thanks for coming. It’s fun having people to cook for.”
“I had a really good time,” Namjoon says, awkwardly because that’s what you’re supposed to say after a date, but this wasn’t a date, just dinner with their kids. Fuck.
“Me too, says Jin.
And suddenly they’re hugging, still kind of awkwardly, but it’s nice, and Jin is warm but not too warm, and his shoulders are really broad but he’s still shorter than Namjoon by a good three inches so his arms go around Namjoon’s waist and Namjoon is granted the honor of wrapping his arms around those shoulders, and it’s just nice.
It’s weird to cling onto your kid’s friend’s dad for too long, so Namjoon pulls away sooner than he would have liked.
“Gotta wake them up, I guess,” he says.
Namjoon gently shakes his son’s shoulders from his spot underneath Jeongguk on the floor. “Hey, bug. We stayed too late, it’s past your bedtime. We gotta go.”
Taehyung blearily blinks his brown eyes and grumbles softly.
Namjoon gives up on trying to coax him to stand and simply picks him up, settling him on his right hip. He’s six, which is almost too old for it, but Namjoon is strong and Taehyung is skinny. It won’t hurt just this once.
Taehyung’s arms instinctively wrap around Namjoon’s neck, his head resting lightly on his chest.
“Can you say thank you to Jin for dinner?”
“Thank you for dinner, Jin,” Taehyung says from Namjoon’s arms, his eyes still closed.
“Thank you for coming! I had a lot of fun tonight,” says Jin from the floor, where he’s coaxing his own son to wake up.
“You wanna say bye to Jeongguk too?”
“Bye, Jeongguk,” says Taehyung, waving his little hand.
“Bye, Tae Tae! See you at school,” Jeongguk says from the floor, finally having decided to sit up after hearing Taehyung’s voice.
“Thanks again, Jin,” Namjoon says sincerely, turning to him. “We’ll do this another time, yeah?”
“Oh, for sure,” replies Jin. “You gonna be okay getting home? Want me to call you a Lyft?”
“Ah, no, that’s okay,” says Namjoon, exuding an aura of calmness for his sleeping son’s sake even though his heart is fucking palpitating. “We like the train.”
“Okay,” Jin says, “But will you text me when you get home?”
And that’s it. That’s all it takes. Namjoon is so fucking gone.
“Yeah,” he chokes out, and makes to walk away, but Jin is pulling him into another hug, one-armed this time, and then it’s over before he can blink.
Namjoon feels as though he’s holding his breath during the entire walk to the subway station and as soon as he’s in a seat with Taehyung asleep on his lap he exhales, finally.
He’s in deep shit.
For the next few weeks, Namjoon feels like he’s oscillating. He can’t shake the feeling that his life is on the verge of something monumental, something really fucking big, but every time his conciousness dares to think about it, it ebbs away, out of reach, on the tip of his tongue.
It sucks. He’s been busy giving midterms, which takes a lot – it’s a real bitch trying to create an English exam that won’t take years off his life to grade but will still gauge how much his students have learned – and then he gets home and he’s tired, so fucking tired.
Immediately after the dinner at Jin’s, he admittedly had some stupid, idealistic, and completely unwanted thoughts. He had basked in the residual closeness of Jin’s warm but not too warm hug and thought that naturally , that feeling would be enough to initiate something .
And maybe it would have been enough if they were seventeen; if the anxiety weighing heavy on their chests stemmed from looming college application deadlines instead of having to buy new clothes for their rapidly-growing kids, or the past-due bills lurking in the kitchen drawers, or fucking triclosan in their toothpaste.
He can’t help but feel disappointed, and that nauseates him. He’s tormented by it; the fact that no matter how much he knows he shouldn’t have a certain thought, his brain will go right ahead and think it whether he likes it or not.
He likes Jin, and they’re adults, and adults can be open and honest with their feelings; adults can date casually, date seriously, date however they want. But responsibilities make it hard. They have jobs, and kids, and they don’t live in the same neighborhood, and they don’t have mutual friends, and relationships aren’t convenient.
It’s fucking with Namjoon’s sense of self, how dismal it feels to not see Jin, this guy he’s talked to maybe five times. He doesn’t have the time, or the right, to be messed up over someone he’s had dinner with once – and not even in a date-setting. But he can’t help thinking about how it felt to sit on Jin’s grey couch and talk about his dead father and his favorite book, and how it felt to hear Jin talk about his family and Arizona, and how it felt to find out that he was gay.
It just felt really great, and in fact, Namjoon feels that everything about Jin is just really great. That’s why it nauseates him to know that missing Jin feels like shit and that there’s nothing he can do but feel it.
It’s the weekend, now, and Taehyung has been invited to some soccer team slumber party, so Namjoon is all alone in their apartment, which is why he has the time to let his guard down and actually think these thoughts in the first place.
He thinks he should be happy, as a single dad in his twenties, to finally get some alone time. But he just feels lonely, and unnecessary, and as though he doesn’t matter at all.
It’s probably his fault for, somewhere along the line, allowing his six-year-old son become his best friend, but Namjoon just loves Taehyung so much, and so he misses him, and he misses Jin, and it’s all just a lot.
He’s sitting, uncomfortably, in the most comfortable armchair in his apartment, trying to read his book – a biography of some Civil War general he picked up at the school library – but it is proving to be a fruitless endeavor. He takes a sip of a forgotten beer sitting on the coffee table, and it tastes sad, and flat. He doesn’t even like beer.
He wonders idly what Jin is doing, because lately, his mind automatically defaults to Jin when he has a moment of downtime. He’s been trying not to have much downtime.
Did Jeongguk get invited to the soccer sleepover, too? Is Jin alone in his apartment, sitting on his grey couch, drinking wine? Is he reading a book, too?
It’s all too much for Namjoon and he’s tired of feeling like he’s expanding one second and shrinking the next. So he texts Jin.
is jeongguk at that soccer slumber party
Yeah he is! Feels weird not having him here
This is his first sleepover
It’s tae’s first too
does it make u feel old? I feel old
Uhhhhh I’m not old and I never will be
But i know what you mean
Lonesome dad club
yeah it feels like my worst nightmare
(some white kid named jason driving taehyung to prom)
gets closer n more threatening every day
Are you free right now? Maybe we should hang out
Lonesome dads get together to be less lonesome n all that
yeah im embarrassingly free
wanna come over?
So suddenly, Jin is coming over, and it’s that easy.
Namjoon has whisked the half-finished beer bottle off the coffee table and into the recycling bin, and is beginning a cursory visual sweep of the apartment for anything that might embarrass him when he hears the buzzer by the door.
He’s still in his pajamas.
He didn’t think Jin would get here so soon, and well, he didn’t exactly think he’d have a reason to get out of his pajamas tonight. Except maybe to go down the street to the laundromat and get some laundry done if he had felt up to it, which he probably wouldn’t have.
It’s too late now. Namjoon isn’t too worried about it. In fact, if Jin doesn’t like the fact that he’s currently donning a pair of too-short flannel pants and a paint-stained Columbia sweatshirt that he cut the hem off in college, then it’ll save him a lot of time. Namjoon can’t afford to let himself get hung up on guys who don’t appreciate loungewear.
He presses the intercom button, says, “Hey, Jin,” and lets him up.
Then there’s a knock on the door, and Namjoon opens it, and Jin’s there and Namjoon had been worried for nothing because standing in front of him is a man who clearly appreciates loungewear. He’s wearing dark sweatpants, the cool kind with the tapered ankles that models and famous people wear, which are coupled with a big pink hoodie, which is peeking out from under his puffy North Face. He looks soft, and good.
Namjoon feels cold air around his exposed ankles, suddenly. It’s cold. He should put on socks, he thinks.
So he says, “Hey Jin, make yourself at home. I have to go put on socks. I just realized it’s cold.”
And so he goes to his room and makes his bed, for some reason, and picks out the lumpy maroon socks his mom knit him, and puts them on. He feels better.
He comes back out, and Jin is sitting on the couch with his shoes and jacket off, now in just his cool tapered sweatpants and pink hoodie and yellow socks, looking a little lost. It’s endearing. Namjoon sits on the opposite end of the couch, again, and it feels familiar.
“Hi,” says Jin, which is the first thing he’s said so far.
“Hey,” replies Namjoon. “You got here fast.”
“Yeah, I contemplated getting dressed. You know, like putting on real pants. But it’s cold, so I didn’t, and that saved me time.”
“I contemplated putting on pants too. But this is my house. So I decided against it."
“It’s cute in here, by the way. You’ve got weird taste.”
He guesses Jin is probably referring to the utter lack of any general cohesive theme in his interior decoration choices. That’s valid. He has some weird impressionist art on the walls that he found at the thrift store and liked, and of course the place is completely plastered in Taehyung’s paintings and drawings, and there’s a framed picture of Blanche from the hit 1980s sitcom “The Golden Girls” on his coffee table.
“I’m taking that as a compliment. You like Blanche?” he asks, gesturing to Blanche.
“I’m more of a Dorothy fan,” Jin says.
“Ah, me too,” says Namjoon, smiling, “But Tae loves Blanche, so. Sacrifices.”
“I’m glad you texted me,” says Jin. That’s a non-sequitur. He continues, playing with a pink hoodie string, “I’ve been so busy the past couple of weeks. I just realized I kind of missed you.”
Namjoon, being the person that he is, can truly do nothing but splutter. There is no other option.
“Yeah,” he finally gets out, too emotionally stunted to voice the words ‘I missed you, too,’ even though just an hour ago he was sitting sadly in his armchair wondering if Jin was as lonely as he was. “I’ve been winning at Mario Kart lately, but that’s only because I’ve been playing against Taehyung exclusively, and I refuse to go easy on him just because he’s six. I need someone to absolutely wreck my shit.”
Namjoon wonders if Jin realizes that he wants him to absolutely wreck his shit in more ways than one.
“I can absolutely do that.”
So he does, and they play Mario Kart, again, and for a while, it’s nice to not have responsibilities. Namjoon finally beats Jin a total of one (1) time, which is a new record for him, so he throws down his controller dramatically and refuses to play again.
“That’s it. We’re done,” says Namjoon. “I told myself, in my head before we started, that we’d play until I won. I’ve been barely clinging to my life for the past half hour. You want a snack?”
“Uh,” Jin says dubiously, “Maybe, what do you have?”
Namjoon rolls his eyes. “I have weird craft beer that my friend gifted me. I can put crackers artfully on a plate. I think there are some gushers in the pantry.”
Jin just looks at him. Gives him the most withering stare. “Gushers,” he says, shaking his head. “Unbelievable.”
Namjoon shrugs. “Sorry for my limited selection. Tomorrow’s grocery day.”
“We can postmates something?”
“We don’t postmates in this house,” Namjoon says. “Pizza or nothing.”
“What’s wrong with postmates?”
“I feel like too much of a millennial,” explains Namjoon. “Like, I’m a dad, I should be ordering food like a dad, ineptly over the phone. None of this new fangled app shit.”
“How old are you?” Jin asks.
“Twenty-eight. How old are you?”
“That’s a kind of rude question, Namjoon. I’m not gonna answer.”
“You asked me first.”
“I don’t recall. Anyway, let’s get pizza.”
They get pizza. They also end up drinking the weird craft beer that Yoongi gave Namjoon last week, and it’s kind of gross but it feels right to drink it, so they do.
They’re in the kitchen, now, because there’s nothing better to do, and they’re slightly drunk, because they’re allowed to be. Namjoon leans back on the counter, playing with the slightly damp label on his beer bottle.
“I wonder how strong I’d have to be to just break this bottle with my hand.”
“Not that strong,” says Jin. “I’m pretty sure it’s not hard to break a beer bottle.”
“Oh. Well what I’m trying to say is that my hands are really strong.”
“Oh. Weird.” Pregnant pause. “How strong?”
“Super strong. It’s weird. The rest of me, like my arms and shit – super weak. It’s just my hands that are strong.”
Jin nods, sagely, like he’s familiar with the phenomenon.
“When I was in high school, I would make people play this game with me so I could show off how strong my hands were,” says Namjoon, realizing he’s rambling embarrassingly but also surrendering to the fact that he’s in too deep. “I called it the hand game. So like, the other person and I would grab each other’s hands and lace our fingers together and stand face to face and then I’d just kind of… use my hand strength until the other person caved. It was like arm wrestling but for hands.”
The corners of Jin’s mouth twitch up, as though he wants to laugh but isn’t quite sure if he should.
Namjoon continues, still rambling, “It started out as a weird, proving my strength kind of thing, but then I would start doing it with people I had crushes on. So I could like, get closer to them. Because I was awkward and couldn’t just say, ‘can I hold your hand’ like a normal person.”
Jin finally does let himself laugh, and the sound is so pleasant to Namjoon that he might drop dead then and there.
“That’s cute,” says Jin. “When I had crushes in high school, I usually just cried. ‘Cause they were always on boys and that wasn’t allowed.”
“What was your first kiss like?”
Jin makes a face. “Bad. I took this girl to see American Psycho when it had just come out in theaters – well, we were like, fourteen, so we snuck in. And, she was kind of, like, alternative, so she really loved all the weird stuff that went down. But I was really scared the whole time, because dating her felt bad and wrong, but also because the movie is terrifying, and she kept laughing at the gory parts. So I’ll never forget, right when Christian Bale is literally hacking into that guy with an axe, and blood is all over his face, and that Huey Lewis song is playing in the background, she kisses me. It was so traumatic.”
Namjoon has to set his beer bottle on the counter so he can laugh. “I’m sorry for laughing,” he says, “but holy shit.”
“I know,” Jin says, messing up his hair with his fingers.
Then they just kind of sit there, in a silence that’s not uncomfortable, but is charged, like a wire; as though there’s an electric current connecting their bodies that prevents them from being completely at ease.
After a little while, Jin breaks the stillness: “Wanna play the hand game?”
Namjoon snaps out of his daze and he lands back on earth, in his kitchen, with Jin. “You really wanna play the hand game? Against the undefeated king of the hand game? The actual inventor of the hand game?”
Jin shrugs. “Maybe you’ve finally met your match. Or, if not, you’ll just win and redeem yourself for losing so badly at Mario Kart.”
Namjoon shrugs right back. “That’s fine with me. If you’re really up for it.”
Jin just stands in front of Namjoon and grabs his hands in his own, lacing their fingers together. Namjoon repositions their hands, so they can play properly, as though his heart isn’t currently burning a hole in the middle of his chest.
The minute Namjoon starts using his hand strength, Jin’s fingers buckle.
“Ow, what the fuck?” Jin says. “You’re so strong?”
Namjoon just sighs. “I told you.”
“No, I want to play again. I know what I’m expecting now.”
So they play again, and Jin holds his own this time. It’s hard to describe the hand game. They’re just there, in the kitchen, battling for hand-strength-dominance, and Namjoon ends up sort of pushed up against the counter, and they’ve been at it for a little longer than a minute so they’re both a little out of breath.
By the time Namjoon finally wins, they’re both panting, and Jin’s head is bowed and sort of pressed into Namjoon’s chest, for leverage.
They stand there for a few minutes, breathing, and Jin doesn’t remove his head from Namjoon’s chest.
And then, he does remove his head, and he looks up. And Namjoon looks at him, and the eye contact is so intense he feels it, like a physical jolt, as though he’s been struck by lightning or punched in the back of the head.
And it simply feels like the natural progression to kiss, so they do, and then they’re kissing, and their hands are still intertwined.
Jin’s lips are really soft, as Namjoon had thoroughly expected, and although he kind of tastes like green peppers because that’s what they got on their pizza, Namjoon is sure that he tastes the same way, so it’s not a big deal.
Jin is really nice, he thinks, as he pulls one of his hands away so he can lace it in his (really nice) hair. And then he pulls his other hand away too, because it feels really important for him to have both of his hands in Jin’s hair right now.
And then suddenly, just kissing isn’t enough, and he needs to be closer to him somehow, so he flips them around, so Jin’s the one backed up against the counter, and he lifts him up a little bit so he can sit on it. His legs wrap around Namjoon’s waist, which Namjoon likes a lot.
Now, Namjoon has full access to Jin’s neck, and is taking full advantage. He’s careful not to leave any marks as he kisses down Jin’s jaw, and over his jugular, and on top of his collarbone, because hickies are for fifteen-year-olds, and they are mature, adult, dads. Jin giggles when Namjoon grazes over a certain spot towards the base of his neck, and mumbles the word “ticklish” before letting him resume.
They’re kissing and laughing and occasionally gasping for breath when suddenly there’s a loud thud from a little to the left, and Namjoon jumps back like he’s been burned.
It turns out to be the beer bottle he had set on the counter earlier, only now it’s not on the counter, and is instead all over Jin’s pants. His cool, tapered sweatpants.
Namjoon can’t help but laugh. Which makes Jin laugh. And then they’re both laughing in the kitchen, covered in gross craft beer, lips red and swollen from kissing.
“Sorry,” Namjoon says in between laughs. “I’m really clumsy.”
“It’s fine,” replies Jin, also between laughs. “It’s really fine.”
“You want some new pants? I’ll find you some, come here.”
So Namjoon leads Jin into his bedroom, and he’s suddenly really glad he made his bed earlier, because Jin seems like the type to appreciate a nicely-made bed.
Namjoon quickly starts rummaging through his drawers for something casual but also fashionable and minimally embarrassing that Jin can wear. It’s harder than he thought it would be, and he suddenly realizes that he owns a lot more corduroy than he thought he did.
Meanwhile, Jin’s gone and taken off his pants already, like it’s nothing, when it most certainly is not. He’s standing casually, messed up sweatpants in one hand, clad in green and yellow striped boxer briefs, with his legs just out in the open, for Namjoon to see, and holy shit, is that a fucking tattoo?
Namjoon does a tiny double take from in front of the dresser, his hands still inside the drawer. Lo and behold, placed absurdly high on Jin’s left inner thigh, is a tiny tattoo that he Namjoon can’t make sense of at this distance. So he can’t not ask about it.
“You have a tattoo?”
Jin looks surprised, as though he forgets about the permanent ink on his left leg often. “Oh, yeah,” he says, craning his neck down to look at it. “I forget about it sometimes. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
Namjoon pulls out a pair of clean sweatpants, finally, and he hopes Jin thinks they’re suitable. He’s almost disappointed as he hands them over. He wants Jin to stay in his pink hoodie and striped underwear forever.
Jin takes them, but doesn’t put them on, and instead just sits on the bed.
“So what is it?” Namjoon asks.
“Come here,” says Jin, opening his legs slightly so the tiny tattoo is visible, “You can see it.”
Namjoon feels as though his heart shouldn’t be vibrating out of his ribcage at the sight of Jin’s inner thigh, seeing as he’s a grown, adult man, and also just spent the last twenty or so minutes kissing him against the kitchen counter, but sometimes life is just like that.
He sits on the bed next to Jin. He can see the tattoo clearly, now. It’s a tiny little butterfly.
“It’s so bad,” says Jin, leaning back against the headboard and sitting cross legged, like he owns the bed. “I’m really embarrassed.”
“It’s really not that bad,” Namjoon says, laughing. Which is kind of a lie, honestly. It’s small enough to be innocuous, but the tattoo itself has some crooked lines, as though it was done with a shaky hand, and the concept of butterfly tattoos in and of itself is rather unsavory to begin with. It’s a bad tattoo, but on Jin, Namjoon doesn’t mind at all.
“You don’t have to lie, I know it’s bad,” Jin says, “I got it in college. I had this boyfriend – although, I didn’t want to call him my boyfriend at the time, because I didn’t really label myself as gay back then, even though I was super gay – but yeah, I had this boyfriend who got me drunk and told me it would be really cute and would make my parents mad, so obviously I let him drag me to the tattoo place. And like, also, it was 2004. Butterflies were trendy.”
“So did it piss off your parents?”
“Ah, I was so dumb for falling for that line. It was like I suddenly forgot that my parents literally disowned me after high school. So yeah, no, they never even saw my face, let alone my tattoo. The only person it pissed off was me.”
“I think it’s cute.”
“My tattoo? Or my face?”
“Both, I guess.”
Jin smiles a surprised and simultaneously smug little smile and looks straight ahead, at the ceiling.
“Can I kiss you again?” Jin asks casually, now almost completely splayed out on the bed, propped up on one elbow, looking like he was made to be there.
Namjoon just nods because he’s afraid that if he speaks he might just embarrass himself.
And so they spend the rest of the night in Namjoon’s bed.
There’s a point at which Jin’s lips – his perfect, pink lips that he can’t believe he hated, once – ghost over his nipple (they lost their shirts ages ago) and his whole body shivers. And at that exact moment, for the first time in a long time, Namjoon feels that cosmic feeling; that absolutely atmospheric sensation that he’s been chasing for as long as he can remember.
He’s no longer waxing and waning, no longer perpetually growing larger only to shrink back down again like he’s nothing. He feels, right now, like a human person, and he likes that.
So he tells Jin, because it feels really important.
“I like you,” he says, kissing Jin’s jaw, “So much.” In practice, his words are slightly less sophisticated than what he feels, but that’s fine.
Jin rolls them over so he’s straddling Namjoon and he groans slightly because the friction is so good but then Jin takes his face in his hands and kisses his cheek and he really almost dies.
“I like you, too,” he says, kissing Namjoon’s other cheek, “and I want to,” kisses his forehead, “take you out,” kisses his nose, “and cook for you again,” kisses his chin, “and take our kids to the park,” kisses his left eyelid, “and take them bowling,” kisses his right eyelid, “and trick-or-treating,” kisses his cheek again, “but right now I really,” kisses his other cheek again, “really,” kisses the corner of his mouth, “really wanna fuck you.”
That’s the first time Namjoon’s heard Jin say a legitimate curse word, which turns him on more than he ever thought possible. So he lets Jin touch him all over and carefully work him open and fuck him deep and slow – but not before he says “gross, don’t mention our kids right before you say you wanna fuck me,” to which Jin replies by kissing him hard and laughing against his open mouth.
They wake up the next morning impossibly close, a tangle of arms and legs and blankets and sheets. The sun streams through the blinds, projecting a striped pattern of shadows onto Jin’s bare chest. The sight almost knocks the wind out of Namjoon.
“What time did you tell Taehyung you’d pick him up?” Jin mumbles in a groggy, morning voice.
“Eleven,” Namjoon croaks back, groping in the sheets for his phone. He finds it finally, stuck under Jin’s back, battery on 4%. He checks the time. It’s only eight.
“It’s eight. Wanna shower?” he asks, feeling grimy. Not because of the sex they had – that was nice, and great – but because he didn’t brush his teeth last night or wash his face and he doesn’t really want to be greasy and smelly around Jin.
“Mmmm. Wanna sleep,” says Jin, now that he knows he’s not late to pick up his son, and burrows back under the covers.
“I’m taking a shower,” Namjoon says, attempting to extricate himself from Jin’s arms. “You can sleep.”
Jin looks at him, in disbelief. “Without me?”
“Gross, don’t say that.”
“Will you carry me? To the shower?”
“No way,” says Namjoon, indignant. “I bottomed. You should be carrying me.”
“But you’re tall and strong. I’m dainty.”
“Bye!” Namjoon says, still trying to extricate himself from Jin, and the blankets.
“No,” Jin says, attempting to sit up under the mountain of blankets pinning him down. “I’ll walk. Just pull me up, please, I want to suck you off in the shower.”
Namjoon falls off the edge of the bed. “Jesus Christ, yeah, fine, come here.” He pulls Jin, who, despite his broad shoulders, actually is kind of dainty, out of bed, wraps him in a hug, and kisses his (kind of greasy) hair. He’s not really sure if that’s allowed, but Jin doesn’t seem to mind.
It takes them forty minutes to shower, because Jin insists on teasing Namjoon until he’s practically weeping, and then Namjoon insists on teasing Jin right back. By the time they get out the water is cold, and they’re shivering, but happy.
“Hey,” Jin says through a mouthful of french toast that he’d managed to make successfully despite Namjoon’s bare kitchen. They’re sitting cross-legged on the couch in t-shirts and underwear, knees touching. “So was this a one time thing?”
Namjoon chokes a little on his toast. Does Jin want them to just go back to normal? Is that even possible at this point?
“Do you want it to be a one time thing?” Namjoon asks.
“No,” says Jin casually. “But if you don’t want to date me, tell me now, because my New Year's Resolution was to not let guys play me. And I’ve stuck to it so far.”
“I don’t want to play you. Do guys play you?”
Jin shrugs. “Not anymore.”
“Well I want to date you. Are you cool with that?”
“Yeah,” Jin says, and smiles, and pokes him with his fork. “And you already probably know this, because you have a kid and probably feel the same way, but I should let you know anyway that Jeongguk comes first.”
Namjoon smiles at that. “I agree. Finding time to date might be hard, are you okay with that?”
“Yeah. We’re busy. But I like you and you like me, so we can make it work, I think.”
Namjoon suddenly remembers how much he disliked Jin when they first met, and laughs. “I used to really dislike you. That’s crazy.”
“Stop bringing that up. I feel really bad for yelling at you,” says Jin, burying his face in the back of the couch.
“You know there’s probably more sugar in this french toast than there is in one bottle of gatorade.”
Jin groans extremely loudly, loud enough to probably piss off the lady in 2L, and shoves him with his foot.
It feels domestic but for the first time Namjoon doesn’t try to ignore it, doesn’t feel guilty about it. He just lets himself smile and breathe and bask in the limitlessness of it all.