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It Takes a Village

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Monday mornings are always the worst of all.

Junmyeon knows that it’s basically his own fault for letting his girls’ sleep schedule get out of whack on the weekends. That he lets his own schedule do the same. If only they didn’t slip up like they do, waking up to the new week wouldn’t feel half as bad. But Junmyeon has had enough worries to deal with, and his self-control is slipping up at places. Not much to be done there, until his stress levels go down a little.

He hits snooze once, twice, but that’s the absolute limit. He has to get out of bed and get breakfast going if he wants to send his daughters to school on time, and he has to drop off Yerim at the kindergarten too. At least he only has one more year to go before all his kids will be going to school. One less thing to confuse his scattered brain.

He rolls out of bed, pulls on a pair of pants and walks downstairs to go to the kitchen. He’s not much of a cook, has never been, but he makes do. He takes a look at the fridge and decides to make a Korean breakfast this morning; he’s never learnt to really understand the point of North American breakfast, because even though he’s lived in Canada since he was 11, in his childhood home they always ate Korean dishes. He knows that his girls love pancakes and the whole nine yards, but Junmyeon is a firm believer in not feeding them that much sugar on a school morning.

The rice cooker takes care of the rice for him, while he prepares a simple jjigae and side dishes. He’s done this enough many times that he doesn’t have to think too hard about it, just follow the familiar routine, and he turns on the coffee maker last before he heads back upstairs to wake up his girls.

First is his eldest, Juhyun. Junmyeon knocks on the door first before poking his head in. She’s buried deep underneath the covers, only her black hair standing out against the light sheets. “Darling, time to get up,” he calls out gently. Juhyun has hit puberty full on now at 14 years old, and she can be a little bit prickly at unexpected times. Junmyeon would rather not annoy her without meaning it. His eldest is his biggest ally in taking care of the other girls, and he needs her to be cooperative.

Fighting with his daughters is new, but he understands them. It hasn’t been easy on them since he got divorced some six months ago, or even leading up to that.

Juhyun sits up, rubbing at her eyes, and Junmyeon feels the need to go over and smooth over her mussed hair. But no, she’s a big girl, and probably wouldn’t welcome it. “The food is ready, so just go eat when you’re ready,” he says, and leaves the room.

Next are the twins, Seulgi and Seungwan. When he opens the door, Seungwan is already up and getting ready, as expected. She’s the most trustworthy, and the one who takes school more seriously. Junmyeon rarely has to really chase her out of bed.

“Breakfast is ready,” he says with a smile. “If you’d wake up Seulgi for me, sweetie? I’ll go get the rest.”

Seungwan returns his smile, and promises to get Seulgi up in a bit. The twins are still amicable with one another, but they’re now both 11, and Junmyeon has a feeling that puberty might change things soon. He shudders just thinking about the fights he’s going to have to learn to mediate somehow.

Sooyoung and Yerim share a room, because the youngest is afraid of sleeping alone, and thankfully Sooyoung hasn’t started to argue against the arrangement. They’re both fast asleep in their bunk bed, and Junmyeon walks into the room on soft feet. He has to stand on his tippy toes to reach into Sooyoung’s bed to shake her up gently by the shoulder. It takes a couple words of encouragement, but finally Sooyoung rolls over and gets on her knees before leaning over the rail of her bed. Junmyeon’s arms come up and he pulls his eight-year-old into his arms, covering her face with kisses before setting her down.

Finally, he leans into the bottom bunk to kiss awake his youngest, five-year-old Yerim. She tries to squirm deeper into her blankets, but Junmyeon attacks her with tickles to lure his little sunshine out of bed. She, too, wants into his arms first thing, and he heads downstairs with her propped up on his hip and Sooyoung holding his hand.

Seungwan and Juhyun are both at the table already, and have prepared plates for Sooyoung and Yerim as well. Junmyeon thanks them quietly as he sits Yerim down and pours everyone orange juice before finally, finally being allowed to get himself a cup of coffee. Sadly, he doesn’t have time to sit down to drink it, because he has to go and get dressed now, while the girls eat their breakfast. On his way to his bedroom he bangs on the twins’ door, and gets an affirmative noise from Seulgi to confirm that she’s awake and getting ready.

This was easier when there was still two parents to do this, but Junmyeon isn’t going to complain. He has a system set up; while the girls eat, he gets dressed and burns his tongue on his hot coffee, before he goes to get his two youngest and gets them changed and does their hair. One of his biggest challenges was to learn how to do their hair, because when his wife was still around, he was never allowed to. He used to pull on the brush too hard, was too rough, and his fingers were clumsy and couldn’t hold the silky strands like he was meant to. It took several Youtube tutorials and a lot of practice, as well as some help from Juhyun, until he figured it out.

He can’t say that the girls have the nicest hairdos in the world, but at least they don’t get sent home for looking like mountain trolls. Six months into single parenting, he’ll take every victory he can take.

Alongside with the taking care of the youngest two, he helps the twins, if they need him with anything. They’re pretty self-sufficient, but he feels warm inside every time they ask him to do something for them. He makes sure that everyone has their bags packed, everyone looks decent, so forth. He runs through his mental checklist, tries to remember if there is anything special scheduled for the day for the girls like school trips or meetings at the school that he should come to. He tends to forget a lot of it, but his girls are smart cookies. They remind him, act as his little helpers.

It used to be easier, but Junmyeon has no place to complain.

Time always flies by, and before he knows it they’re all close to running late. He herds his kids downstairs, makes last minute checks, and gives them all hugs and kisses before he chases the girls out the door in time for their school bus. Sometimes, if he had to argue with Juhyun or one of the twins, they will refuse his usual show of affection, but he tries not to let it get to him. It’s okay. It’s normal if they’re mad at him sometimes; he’s mad at himself all the time, anyway.

Yerim he whisks into his car and drives her off to kindergarten, listening to her babbles and singing obnoxiously loud in the car with her. It always lifts up his mood, no matter how close to pulling his hair out he came over the course of the morning. Today’s not terrible, there were no arguments, no screaming, and as far as he knows, he didn’t even forget anything. But still, Yerim is an endless source of happiness, and while sending her off to school will make mornings less hectic for him, he’s going to miss this private time with her in the car before he zooms off to work.

And at last, he drives off to work, the caffeine making his ears ring and his hands a little bit jittery. He has time to catch a bite of something in the break room or at his desk while he waits for his computer to turn on, so it’s nothing to worry about. It’s fine. For as long as his girls are fine, he’s too.

He heaves a quiet sigh as he sits down, sipping on a new cup of coffee. As the head of his department, there is always plenty of work, especially if he wants to go home on time. And he has to, because there’s no one else there to cook dinner for the kids, pick up Yerim from kindergarten. Their godfather Jongdae helps out a lot, but Junmyeon doesn’t want to be a burden to him, or to anyone. Maybe things will get easier once the mother of the girls gets a place somewhere closer, somewhere big enough where she can have the girls over; right now she’s living in a small condo on the other side of the city, she said, so she can’t do much. It’d be such a hassle, she said. The girls’ lives are all there, in the neighbourhood, and it’s best that they get to stay there. In the house that they were all born in. She just needs some more time to sort everything out.

Junmyeon doesn’t doubt her, doesn’t blame her. She will make a bigger effort to be present in the girls’ lives at some point, he knows, but right now she just needs time to herself.

It’s Junmyeon’s fault that she hasn’t had any for the past 15 years, so it’s only fair that he’s patient.

It’s another Monday morning now done, and he only has to do this again tomorrow.

*

Junmyeon comes home in the afternoon, Yerim in tow, with as many groceries as he can carry. The girls are already home from school and are probably starving, so he’ll get started on dinner straight away. But as he gets out of the car and glances over to the neighboring house that’s been empty for a while now, he actually sees people busy moving in- there’s a moving truck parked in front of the house, and people are going in and out, carrying boxes and furniture. Aside from the employees of the moving company, there are two men who come in and out of the house, and any possibility to mistake them for just roommates goes out the window when he sees them exchange kisses on the footpath.
Not that it would make much sense for roommates to move in this part of town. It’s a family neighbourhood, full of kids and couples waiting to have kids, but Junmyeon supposes that a gay couple fits in pretty well either way. Maybe they’re going to adopt, soon.

The taller man spots him standing there, and actually puts down the box he was carrying on the veranda to jog over to the fence that separates the properties. His partner follows behind him, hands in his pockets.

“Hello! I think that you must be our new neighbor,” the tall one says, and Junmyeon holds his hand over the fence to shake his, as well as the short one’s when he arrives. “We’re just moving in, as you can see.”

“Yes, indeed. I didn’t know that the house had been sold already, but it’s nice to have people move in. It’s nice to have a next-door neighbor again,” Junmyeon replies. “My name is Kim Junmyeon, and I live here with my five daughters.” There’s no hiding the truth, so he might as well get it out there now. He avoids seeing the looks of surprise and most probably pity by turning to the car again and lifting Yerim out and into his arms.

“And this is my youngest, Yerim. Yerim, say hi to our new neighbors.” Yerim beams like the small sun that she is, and waves both of her hands at the two men.

“Wait, are you actually Korean?” the short one says in Korean, and Junmyeon’s eyes widen in surprise. It’s been ages since he’s last spoken Korean with someone who wasn’t family. He speaks Korean with the girls when it’s just them, but English when there are other people around, and that’s what he did just now to introduce his baby girl as well.

“Yes, I am,” he replies, also in Korean. “So you’re both…”

“Both Korean, as well,” the short one says. “I’m Kim Minseok, and this is my partner, Kim Jongin. Not married, just share the same last name.”

“It’s a small world, especially for us Koreans living abroad,” Junmyeon laughs softly, kissing his daughter on the forehead. “But I’m really glad. My girls will be excited, too.”

Minseok and Jongin smile widely at him, Jongin’s arm coming around Minseok’s shoulders. “We can’t wait to meet them, too,” Jongin replies. “But now, I’m afraid we have to carry on with moving in, if we want to have a place to sleep in tonight.”

“As if you couldn’t sleep anywhere and everywhere,” Minseok says with a roll of his eyes, and jabs Jongin in the side with his elbow. “But he’s right, we shouldn’t keep you. You’ve just gotten back from a day of work, I assume, and have your children to tend to.”

“Yes, I do,” Junmyeon says, and something burns uncomfortably in his stomach. In the back of his throat, it tastes like exhaustion, the whole burden of having to take care of his children all on his own, but he shoves that away. It’s his fault for ruining his marriage that he’s in this situation now.

That's what his ex-wife said, anyway. He can’t say he doesn’t believe her.

But it’s Monday, and Mondays are always the hardest, so that’s probably why he feels like this. He’s fine, everything’s fine.

They say goodbye, and Junmyeon sets Yerim down so he can take the bags of groceries inside. Yerim runs off to find Sooyoung, while Junmyeon heads straight to the kitchen. None of the girls are to be seen anywhere, but it’s not unusual. They mostly spend time in their rooms, these days. Ever since the divorce.

Junmyeon shakes his head to get those thoughts out of his head once more, brews himself a cup of coffee, and gets to work with the dinner.

As expected, the girls are somewhat intrigued by the news about their new neighbors. “It’d be nice if they had kids,” Sooyoung sighs, “so we could play with them. But uncles are fun, too.”

“Do you think they go to the same church as us?” Seungwan wonders. It’s not an unreasonable thing to assume, because there are only so many Korean churches nearby, but Junmyeon doesn’t know how to tell her that Minseok and Jongin probably don’t feel that welcome in a lot of churches.

He, too, would rather stop going to church. He never wanted to, in the first place, but his ex-wife insisted. She is Christian, and wanted to raise the children as such, and Junmyeon agreed. He’s Buddhist, but not very devout, so he didn’t really mind. But now, it seems so pointless, and he feels like such a liar sitting there by himself with his girls, the tragedy of his marriage out in the open for everyone in the community to judge. But he keeps going, every single week, because the girls enjoy it. They have friends there, and it’s a part of a routine. So Junmyeon keeps going, just trying his hardest to be a good dad. Anything for his daughters.

Although he thinks that Juhyun might ask not to go any time now. Junmyeon is not going to force her to go, either, even though he knows that her mother would have done that. But that doesn’t matter now, when the mother is not here.

“Even if they don’t, I’m sure we’ll get to see them a lot,” Junmyeon says instead, and reaches over to help Yerim cut her food into smaller pieces. “They seemed nice, and excited to meet you all. We could bake cookies on the weekend and bring them some, as a welcome gift. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Juhyun gives him an unamused look. The teenager probably finds this a ridiculous idea, but the rest of the girls are enthusiastic about it. Four out of five is still a passing grade, Junmyeon thinks to himself, and sighs quietly.

Everything’s fine. He’s fine.

*

Minseok and Jongin seem rather busy over the next few days, arranging their new home. Junmyeon spots them outside a couple of times, but he’s always in a hurry to go somewhere, and doesn’t get the chance to make any more small talk with them. But a part of him is curious of the couple, and a part of him craves to talk to them. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, and the ones he has he doesn’t see very often, and ever since his wife left he hasn’t had that many opportunities to talk to adults, much less in Korean. He lays awake at night in bed where he can see the lights still on in the neighboring house, and wonders how their lives are like, how happy they must be having just bought their first house together, preparing to start a family of their own.

It was 15 years ago that he went through it, and it feels like it was in a different life altogether.

He does keep his promise to the girls, and on Saturday he has four girls in the kitchen with him, ready to bake cookies. It’s a hopeless hassle, especially because Junmyeon is not very gifted at baking, but at least the twins are old enough to kind of know what they’re doing. It’s a big help, and Junmyeon just tries to act as the supervisor, and keep Yerim and Sooyoung from eating too much of the raw dough. The girls are all giggling with excitement and bursting with energy, as activities like this are far and few between, and Junmyeon is once more reminded of how lacking he is as a father. He supposes that fatherhood only means making futile promises of a brighter future, but never following through with any of those.

But he does enjoy watching his girls work together. Seungwan is a natural leader, easily taking the reins and assigning work to the others, but avoids being bossy about it. Seulgi is so silly, even if the others don’t find her sense of humor that amusing- but Junmyeon is partial to her, because she takes after him the most as far as jokes, puns and the like are considered. Sooyoung and Yerim are his little sunshines, his mischievous angels, who are constantly bickering and playfighting with one another. Despite being three years younger, Yerim holds her own really well, and so Junmyeon doesn’t see the need to curb their fun too much. Juhyun is more serious than any of them, has always been, but deep down she’s just as soft and loving as the rest of them.

They’re such a hoot, and sometimes Junmyeon finds it really hard to believe that they could all be his own offspring- that these bright, beautiful girls are somehow related to dull, boring him.

It takes them probably twice as long as should be reasonable and the kitchen looks they had a snow fight with the flour, but by the end of it all they have successfully made cookies. Junmyeon promises to take care of baking them and sends the girls off to wash up while he cleans up the mess they made in the kitchen. He should make the girls help, but he doesn’t want to ruin their fun with practicalities such as that.

He finishes baking all the trays of cookies, and calls out to the girls to come and have some, pouring milk into glasses for them. Even Juhyun comes downstairs with them, tempted by the sweet treats, and sits down with her sisters to enjoy their snack. Junmyeon just brews himself a cup of coffee, feeling the weight of sleep deprivation heavy on his shoulders, and skips the cookies- his mother tells him he should watch out for balding and putting on weight, because if he lets himself go then how is he going to find another wife?

Junmyeon doesn’t even have time to think about dating, but he doesn’t want to argue with his strong-spirited mother.

Once everyone feels sated and happy, Junmyeon suggests that they head on out to finally greet their neighbors properly. Juhyun grumbles a little about it, but Junmyeon coaxes her to come, and they leave the house all six of them, Seulgi carrying the plate of cookies as their welcome gift. At least both of the couple’s cars are parked outside, so they ought to be home. Sooyoung gets the honors of ringing their doorbell.

Jongin comes to open the door, and he breaks into a wide grin as he sees Junmyeon there with all of his five daughters. “Hi!” he says with a wave, before turning around slightly back towards the house. “Minseok hyung! Our neighbors are here, come see!” He speaks in Korean, even if in his soft accent Junmyeon senses a slight edge of unfamiliarity- perhaps Jongin’s Korean is not as confident as that of someone born and raised in Korea, but Junmyeon is not one to judge. He knows that his girls, too, have a different relationship with the language than he himself does.

Minseok emerges from somewhere in the house, and his smile reveals his pink gums as well, his almost feline eyes crinkling up prettily. “Wow, hi, everyone. What a surprise, really!”

Junmyeon bends his upper body forward, his body immediately slipping into Korean body language together with the spoken words, going for a more formal bow even though Minseok and Jongin both greeted them with casual waves. He finds himself a little bit flustered, a little bit winded. The couple looks so idyllic, so perfect there in the door way, and something sharp jabs at him but it’s gone before he can analyze it further.

“My girls all wanted to meet you very much,” he says, “and we wanted to welcome you properly. Let me introduce them. This is my oldest, Juhyun-”

“Irene,” Juhyun says, frowning slightly. Right. Junmyeon fights off the urge to grit his teeth.

“Honey, we’re speaking in Korean. They can pronounce your name, you don’t need to use your English name with them.” He gives Jongin and Minseok an embarrassed look. “She prefers being called Irene by her friends at school but, she goes by Juhyun at home.”

Junmyeon isn’t against the girls using English names. It’s not something that he sees as offensive or negative, but he does insist on only calling them by their Korean names. He and their mother chose them with great care, and they’re very dear and precious to him. Even if he’ll be the last person on earth to use those names, he won’t give up on them.

Neither of the men seems that confused, and so Junmyeon moves on. “And these are my twins, Seulgi and Seungwan, who also goes by Wendy at school. And my second youngest, Sooyoung, who goes by Joy. And you already met my youngest, Yerim.”

The girls are all smiles and waves, and they only do little bows at Junmyeon’s prompting. Minseok and Jongin seem impossibly amused by all this.

“Such beautiful girls,” Jongin says, and it sounds one hundred percent genuine, not just something that he’s saying to be polite. Junmyeon beams back at him, proud of his daughters. They’re indeed gorgeous, and only get prettier by the day. Where such beauty has come from, he’s not sure, because it sure isn’t from his genes.

“We made cookies,” Sooyoung declares, and Seulgi reaches out to hand over the plate proudly. “Thank you so much, darlings,” Minseok says with a smile as he accepts the offering. “It’s so nice of you, and your father, who I’m sure helped out some.” He winks at Junmyeon over the girls’ heads, and Junmyeon can’t help but feel a tiny bit flustered. He blames it on how handsome their new neighbors are.

“Would you guys like to come in? We could eat these cookies together, and we’ve got ice cream,” Jongin suggests, looking at Junmyeon with a slightly raised brow, asking for his permission. The girls all spin around as well to look at him with pleading eyes, and Junmyeon can’t possibly be the killjoy.

“I guess more cookies can’t hurt, or ice cream,” he sighs feigning reluctance, and they’re all guided inside and ushered into the kitchen.

The house is in a lot ways similar to theirs on the outside, but the new residents have definitely added their touch on the interior. The smell of fresh paint still lingers, and the wallpapers look new as well. There are a lot of empty spaces still waiting for furniture, and boxes yet to be emptied. But just looking at it, Junmyeon can tell that the couple has a modern, a bit minimalistic taste.

“We still haven’t gotten around to finishing everything yet,” Minseok shrugs as he notices Junmyeon looking around curiously, and Junmyeon smiles in response. “No, I wasn’t judging,” he hurries to say. “I was just thinking about how nice it will look once you’re all done. Is this the first house you’ve lived in?”

“Yeah, so we don’t have all the furniture yet. It’s being shipped to us, though, but we’re still figuring stuff out. Where to put what, so forth. It’s a big shock, after living in apartments for so long,” Minseok says with a quiet laugh. Jongin is already getting the girls seated in the kitchen, entertaining them with questions about them to break the ice. He’s clearly a natural, despite appearing years younger than Junmyeon himself. But some people just are talented with kids, have that magic touch.

“I can still remember that vaguely,” Junmyeon replies, but his laughter comes out more bitter than he intended it to. It just really has been a long time since he last lived in an apartment, even if the memories of it are all fond.

Minseok frowns minutely, but the look is gone as soon as it came. Clearly, the man knows not to pry too soon. But instead, he reaches around Junmyeon and wraps his arm around his middle, fingers solid against his hip in their grip as he steers Junmyeon towards the kitchen. It’s a surprising gesture, and sends a warm tingle over Junmyeon’s skin.

“You can call me hyung.” It’s not a subtle change in topic, but it definitely works. Junmyeon gives Minseok a confused look, trying to formulate an appropriate answer. Minseok laughs at him, goodheartedly, and squeezes him closer. “I could bet anything that you’re younger than me,” he explains.

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Junmyeon admits. “You look 25.”

Minseok laughs even louder, and Jongin gives them a surprised look as they walk through the kitchen door way. “Junmyeon here thinks I’m 25. What a charmer,” he explains, and now it’s Jongin’s turn to laugh. The girls watch on silently, clearly puzzled by what is so funny about any of this.

Junmyeon blushes, and wow, that feels strange in itself. Adult men shouldn’t blush, he thinks, which only makes him blush even harder. “Then how old are you,” he insists, crossing his arms over his chest. Minseok lets go of him and slides in next to Jongin to help him with handing out the bowls of ice cream to the girls.

“38,” Minseok admits readily. He doesn’t look a day over thirty, Junmyeon could swear, but he keeps that to himself. He’s not out here trying to flirt or anything.

“Jongin is the baby, he’s just 34,” he continues, and bumps his hip against Jongin’s who whines a little but then relents and grants his boyfriend a kiss on the cheek. Juhyun and the twins are staring, but the two youngest literally couldn’t care less.

“So you are hyung after all.” Junmyeon hasn’t called anyone hyung in ages, save for his real elder brother, but he hardly ever sees him. The word sits all too easily with him, like most things Korean do.

“Told you so,” and Minseok’s tone is lilting, light, fond. “How old are you exactly, Junmyeon-ah?”

Now all the girls do look up. They’re not used to hearing their dad addressed like so, ever, and neither is Junmyeon. His blush really isn’t going away any time soon. “37.” He can almost hear Minseok and Jongin doing the math in their heads, for how young he must have gotten married to have a child fourteen years of age already. He’d be the first to admi that he indeed married young, but his ex-wife is older than him, at least.

“So it’s settled then. Call me hyung.” Minseok winks at him again, and Junmyeon has half a mind to dunk his face into the ice cream to calm down his warm cheeks.

When they head home, the girls are all quite smitten with the new neighbors. Even Juhyun has a favorable expression of them, and Junmyeon trusts her judgment probably the most of all. And quite honestly, he’s looking forward to getting to know them better, even if he doesn’t quite know when he’ll have the time to do so.

Next day is Sunday, and Junmyeon wakes up his girls for church. Juhyun agrees to come along, still, and Junmyeon is glad for it. Not for her, but because he doesn’t feel ready to explain to anyone at the church why his eldest is not coming.

As he gets dressed in his most casual suit, he wonders when he started to care so much about what other people say. When did he become so concerned about such stupid things? And he thinks about his ex-wife, how she always took such great care to make it seem like their marriage was perfect, their kids were perfect, their house was perfect… until it all fell apart so suddenly.

He shakes his head, tightens his tie. Soul searching can wait. Some other time, when he doesn’t have five girls in his hands and a deadline to be somewhere all too soon.

He gets everyone in the car, and the twins and Juhyun are all arguing before they even make it off the driveway. Junmyeon’s peace-loving nature can’t be at ease listening to bickering such as that, and it soon escalates into yelling and name calling. A migraine begins at the back of his left eye, and he knows that the pain will explode all over his skull like wildfire soon enough.

“Girls,” he says, glancing at Juhyun who’s riding shotgun next to him. Oldest child privileges. “Please don’t use such names for one another, alright? It’s not nice.”

“But Seungwan started it!” Seulgi yells from the backseat, and Junmyeon can hear how upset she is. He lost the actual point of the winding argument long ago, so he doesn’t know who started what, can’t make a clear judgment on anything. The pain behind his eye socket intensifies, and for a moment he considers just pulling over. But no, they have to make it to the beginning of service on time.

“It doesn’t matter who started it,” he replies, doing his best to remain calm even though it’s hard to even have his voice heard. “I want you all to apologize to one another now, and then calmly settle whatever is upsetting you. You’re all big girls.”

The girls mumble their apologies after he almost wrestles those words out of them, and he knows that the truce isn’t likely to last, but they pull up at the church now and he can get all the girls out of the van. It dissipates some of the tension, especially as the girls wander off to their own groups of friends. Only Sooyoung and Yerim stick with him, both girls holding onto his hands, as they walk inside and find a place to sit.

The service begins, but Junmyeon can barely hear a word. The headache is in full swing and it throbs, hurts, feels like molten lava inside his skull. His migraines have gotten more frequent, and he knows that it’s stress related- there’s just nothing he can do about the stress, so it’s completely useless knowledge. He closes his eyes and hangs his head down, trying to simply focus on breathing and giving his girls noncommittal responses if they nudge him or whisper anything to him.

Sooyoung can read very well for her age, and can read the lyrics to all the songs. Yerim on the other hand barely knows the alphabet, so she’s singing with her own made up lyrics when she doesn’t know the words by heart. It’s usually very adorable and makes Junmyeon feel all soft and warm inside, but right now all the noise is grating on his nerves.

It feels like it’s never going to end, and he’s so resigned to the endless suffering that he doesn’t even notice when it finally does. Yerim and Sooyoung shake him, both with such concerned looks on their faces, and Junmyeon feels bad for making them worry. He grants them both plenty of kisses and lifts them up in his arms to carry them outside, their pretty dresses such a stark contrast against his dark suit and white shirt.

The yard is a minefield of people trying to make small talk with him. Everyone wants to chat with him to get the latest gossip of his new bachelor life, and women who happen to be single are already trying to make moves on him. He would have assumed that his five girls would act as a deterrent for anyone interested in dating him, but he supposes he was wrong. Maybe there’s something so pitiful about him, so pathetic about his situation, that women just feel compelled to come to his rescue. But he honestly doesn’t want any of that, isn’t ready, or interested.

He gets the two girls in the car, but has to wait for the three other girls to say goodbye to their friends. He leans against the side of the van, eyes closed against the September sun, counting down the beats of his heart and the painful throbs of his migraine. There’s an odd sense of peace there, somewhere in that pain, but he does wish for it to be over. All of it.

The girls don’t hurry one bit to get back, but eventually they shuffle their way over to the car. Junmyeon ushers them in with a thin smile, tells everyone to put their seatbelts on, and drives off.

The bickering starts again as soon as the girls are forced into such close proximity, and this time it’s really, really wearing his patience thin. It’s not easy to make him snap, not at all, a flaw in his personality that he knows the girls take advantage of in the regular, but this is just moving onto the side of too much.

He tries to ignore it, tries to push it aside. It’s nothing, the girls mean nothing with what they say. It’s normal for siblings to argue. He shouldn’t yell, he’s only tense because of his headache. It’s not fair on the girls… He keeps repeating this to himself, all the way home, following through the routine of driving home because his focus is not there. He’s lucky that they don’t get into an accident on the way.

But when they get home, the girls start to pester Junmyeon to take sides. All three surround him right there on the driveway, all looking up at him with accusatory looks in their eyes like he has somehow failed them already. And in their eyes, he reads simply endless disappointment, for who he is as a father. Useless, useless, useless.

“But Juhyun said that-” “I did not say that! It was Seulgi!” “Okay but it’s Seungwan’s fault-” “No it’s not!”

“Enough!” Junmyeon suddenly yells, clapping his hands together loudly once to startle them into silence. “That’s enough, all three of you! I’m very disappointed in your behavior today. That is no way to talk to each other and you all should know better. I want everyone to go to their room except Seulgi will go to mine, and I want you all to reflect on your words and actions until you understand what you did wrong. I will come and talk to you when I think you’ve had enough time to think about this.” He points at the house, glaring at the three teens standing in front of him.

“Not fair!” Seulgi screams and stomps her foot before marching off. “Not fair I can’t go to our room! Not fair!”

“Dad is so stupid,” Seungwan choruses her, as she too stalks off. Juhyun stands there a little bit longer, a murderous look in her dark eyes, staring Junmyeon down in a way that makes him feel so, so small.

“You’re so mean! All you do is yell at us now! You never yelled when mom was home, I want mom back!” she declares, pointing an accusatory finger at him, before spinning around on her heels and running towards the house as well, slamming the door shut behind her.

Tears rush into his eyes and he closes his eyes, turns his head away so that Yerim and Sooyoung don’t see. This is not the first time the girls have said such things, and he knows that it’s just that they’re grieving… But it hurts, it hurts so much because it’s all true.

“You can go and watch cartoons in the living room, dad will be right there,” he forces out, his voice unsteady. The headache has increased tenfold. “Dad’s not mad at you, sweeties, alright? You didn’t do anything wrong. Dad is sorry that dad yelled.”

“It’s okay,” Yerim says softly, and hugs his thighs. Junmyeon feels his tears fall, hot and shameful, and so he doesn’t look at her, just urges her to go with Sooyoung with the promise that he’ll follow them soon, will prepare lunch for them all. He listens to them walk away and it’s only after he hears the door close that he wipes at his cheeks, angrily trying to get rid of the evidence of his weakness.

When he opens his eyes, he sees Minseok standing in his own yard, staring at him with wide, worried eyes. He doesn’t even have to ask to know that he just witnessed everything. The shame is like a punch to his gut, and he only manages a weak wave of his hand, his sobs making his shoulders tremble. Oh god. He marches off and into the garage to hide, where he crouches down to cry into his hands hopelessly, crushed to the ground mentally and physically.

He’s not fine, he’s not fine, nothing’s fine.