The car ride is unusually subdued, and not for any number of the expected reasons.
“I won’t be around much to help anymore.”
Jimin nods, staring straight ahead – he can imagine his brother is doing the same. The windows are well-tinted so they don’t need to worry about outsider perspectives, but it’s rather just easier to not look. No eyes, no emotions.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t care, Chim, I’ll do everything I can to support you two.”
Jimin can hear the pain in his brother’s voice, but he really shouldn’t fret. Jimin understands why this has to happen. “I know,” he says quietly instead.
Jiseok sighs, and the leather twists loudly as he shuffles a bit. Jimin already knows what’s coming, before the words even leave his brother’s mouth. “It’s okay if you want to put Jihyun in care, no one would begrudge you for-”
He stops when Jimin turns away, elbow on the expensive car door, chin in hand as he stares out blankly over the small garden slowly passing by. He doesn’t care for the roses really, but it’s better than listening to the same tune played by different voices over and over.
Taehyung doesn’t make it to the funeral. He still attends – live feed through Jimin’s phone, balanced on the seat he’d reserved way back when plans needed to be made. Taehyung’s end is muted, the busy rush of an airport somewhere foreign crashing behind him.
Taehyung’s not doing this because he’s mourning, just like Jimin. He’s not doing it for the reasons Jimin is either, though. It’s a comfort to know his best friend still cares, even when there are hundreds of miles between them.
Jiseok officially steps up to the position of chairman by the end of that week. It’s of no surprise – he’s been training for this ever since he finished his business course at university, but it’s still far earlier than anyone expected. These kinds of tragedies were for tv dramas and novels, not for real life.
They’d called that night, but it wasn’t the usual light banter they’d shared back when Jiseok lived on campus at university. It’s professional, and even though Jimin can see the traces of his old brother underneath, it’s still a little jarring to watch. To pretend.
It’s agreed upon quick enough even in the sterile air. They’ll deviate from the original plan – that is, to integrate Jimin, only 21 years old this year, slowly through mediated additions of power and responsibility. Jiseok can’t run the company their parents left behind on his own, even if it means pushing Jimin through the same old methods quicker and harder.
Jimin’s okay with that. It’s not like he’s actually dealing with the workload Jiseok will have, he’ll only be acting. The business will remain under the Park name, both brothers sharing equally, but Jiseok will be the true brains behind the operation. Jimin just has to play the pretty face, attend the galas and charities, act in Jiseok’s place when the older brother can’t – or shouldn’t – attend. It’s easy work, Jimin tells himself.
No need to complain.
Jihyun doesn’t seem to notice anything’s wrong – Jimin doesn’t know whether he should explain what’s happened, or leave it until Jihyun’s a little older. He’s only young, pre-school age, and Jimin doesn’t really want to tackle the matter of death with such a tiny mind.
How does he explain to his younger brother what happened to the parents he never saw anyway? Jimin and Jiseok is all that Jihyun has ever had, so it’s no surprise that it only gets brought up once, when Jihyun sulkily asks why ‘Seokie’ is never around anymore.
Jiseok travelling is not a new concept, and it’s much easier to comfort a child who’s known only this for his whole life anyway.
At first, acting as a young single parent is second-nature for Jimin. Except for the lack of Jiseok’s physical presence, Jimin’s been doing as much ever since Jihyun could walk anyway.
The real trouble only begins when Jimin receives a court summons just two days before a major company event – Jimin’s official acceptance of his role as co-owner. It’s easy to read the letter logically; of course the system would be concerned for the health and safety of a four-year-old in the care of a newly-fledged adult. By all records, Jimin is unemployed, unqualified, underage, and alone. The only thing playing in his favour is the large wealth he possesses, and even then, the money technically isn’t in his name until the will is settled.
Jimin can’t lose Jihyun, won’t let them take custody and settle Jihyun in some group foster home where he’ll be overlooked. That’s probably why Jimin feels like screaming, even as his eyes scan the page methodically like it’s just another business report.
Jiseok picked up the call immediately, always has for his brothers. Jimin hopes Jiseok is alone, locked away in his office or the back of a company car – no respectable leader should be seen losing his cool in such violent tones.
He has no help to offer though, not that Jimin expected any better. He’s reminded that he’ll always have access to to company’s finances and lawyers, and of course, Jiseok will always be there for support.
Taehyung’s a little better, although Jimin doesn’t get a hold of him until the evening. He’s not sure where his best friend is this time; the video call reveals what suspiciously looks like a dark alley somewhere (he wouldn’t put it past Taehyung, either).
Taehyung’s got his phone close to his face, reading things out from another window instead of focusing on their call. Jimin reclines slightly in his chair, swinging his legs out. The office, tucked away in the back of their – his – apartment, is nothing special; no one who would use it was ever home enough to care. It feels somewhat more professional though, than calling Taehyung from the couch like usual.
“-a safe place for him to live, obviously you’ve got that,” Taehyung mumbles, absently poking his cheek with an index finger. “He’ll be supervised, but I guess it doesn’t count if it’s a nanny…”
Jimin hums. “I’ll definitely have to leave him with someone occasionally, it's not like I can take him to meetings and events.”
“The judge isn’t gonna care that you’ve got money to hire a nanny though,” Taehyung points out. “Mostly because you don’t.”
“Not officially,” Jimin huffs. He supposes he shouldn’t feel so cheated by the delay on his inheritance – he already had access to the money, and the company, so nothing’s changed really.
“The law is official, Jiminie,” Taehyung responds, eyes shifting back and forth as he scans the webpage he’s browsing. “They’re not gonna care if you say you got the means if you can’t prove it, ya know?”
“So there’s only really a few things you can do.”
Jimin nods. He’d done his own research the past few hours, but none of the solutions were very applicable. “Even if I submit an appeal-thing, they’ll still take him away until it’s processed.”
“That wasn’t what I was talking about, but I guess it’s a possibility.”
Jimin raises an eyebrow. “I can’t quit to become a stay-at-home parent, Tae.”
“Try again,” Taehyung says, pulling the phone back from his face a bit and staring into the camera. At this angle, his face is far less distorted, and even Jimin can see the humour fluttering about.
“They said they’re doing their best to process the wills…”
Jimin trails off, because even he knows that’s not what Taehyung’s talking about. He’s assuming they’ve both been to the same website, then.
“It would only be for a little while, until the case is settled,” Taehyung says, as if he can tell where Jimin’s mind is.
“I can’t marry someone, Taehyung, that’s ridiculous,” Jimin retorts, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Who would even…I don’t know anyone who I’d date, let alone marry.”
Taehyung jostles his phone, standing up from where he’d apparently been sitting all along. He’s moving further down the alley now, but Jimin doesn’t bother questioning it. There’s a strap across Taehyung’s chest, so Jimin assumes he’s got his camera with him too – makes more sense that way. “You don’t have to love them Chim, just pay them to pretend they love you.”
“I can’t trust anyone enough to do that, who’s to say the stranger living in my house, taking my money, wouldn’t run off to the media?” Jimin argues, pushing off from the floor to spin in his chair. The movement sickened him a little, but less so than the idea of getting married for convenience just because the courts couldn’t see how Jimin had raised his brother all along anyway.
“No one said they had to be a stranger, don’t you have any friends that you could ask?”
Jimin snorts. “Taehyung, will you marry me?” he says, in his best blank tone – which isn’t very good, considering his wobbly smile and crinkled nose.
Taehyung looks to consider it for all of three seconds, before brushing Jimin off. “You’ll have to do better than that, I have all kinds of rich suitors after this hot bod,” he says, gesturing at his neon purple sweater printed with ducks. “Seriously though,” he adds, on a more serious note, “I’d totally be down for marrying you, but it wouldn’t work, not with my job.”
Jimin moans, loud. “I know man, this sucks. Where do I find someone unemployed – or willing to abandon their career – who I trust enough to literally become part of my family?”
Taehyung hesitates. “You’d – uh – you’d definitely be willing to pay, right? Let them live there, feed them, and add a little extra on the side?”
“Yeah?” It’s a cautious kind of affirmation though – one can never be too careful when dealing with Taehyung speaking in such tones.
“So, let’s say, you’d be willing to fund their start-up as a producer – music, that is.”
“Depends on how broke they’ll make me,” Jimin shrugs, playing along. He’s trying to calculate all possibilities in his mind, but draws a blank. He only knows one producer, and she’s well on her way to stardom by now. He’s not even sure Taehyung would know her – which means whoever Taehyung is thinking of, Jimin must not know them. He’s not sure if that’s a good or bad thing yet.
Neither, apparently. “Do you remember Namjoon from high school?” Taehyung asks nonchalantly, nibbling on the end of one of his fingernails.
Jimin hisses and leans forward, glaring into the camera. “Of course I fucking remember Namjoon,” he spits out, closing his eyes. “I swear to god Taehyung-“
“No, okay, I know, but hear me out, he’s changed,” Taehyung rushes out, as Jimin opens his eyes just enough to squint at the screen.
“I don’t care if he’s changed, Tae, he’s a definite no.” Anybody but Kim Namjoon, that was a part of Jimin’s life he’d really care not to remember.
“Chim, he just lost his job, and he’s really hopeless, and-”
Jimin frowns. “How do you know all this?”
“He’s a friend of a friend, only figured that out like six months ago,” Taehyung says, waving his hand around. “Listen, he’d totally be down for some kind of arrangement if you said you could help him fuel his dreams, and like, you remember what he was like? I bet Jihyun would love him.”
Jimin groans. “Kim Taehyung, you’re a nightmare.”
Taehyung winks, grinning wide. “Is that a yes? I can text him, he’ll be free anytime to catch up with you because that guy has no life I swear-”
Jimin laughs bitterly. “Sure, Tae, message him for me. I’ve only got a booking at three tomorrow for a final suit fitting, let me know what he says.”
And please don’t let him say yes, Jimin adds silently.
Screw all predisposition and stereotypes that tell how a young businessman should look and act – Jimin is panicking.
Of course Namjoon had said yes – of course he had, Jimin’s been repeating sourly to himself. Of course of course of co-
“So you’re working for your- working in the business now,” Namjoon muses, and Jimin’s not blind. He can see how uncomfortable the fact of Jimin’s parents passing makes him, even if Jimin himself had reconciled with this new world just days after it happened.
Namjoon isn’t questioning Jimin – it’s rather clear that he’s working higher now, even if Jimin hadn’t already given a brief overview on his life. The Park Jimin they knew in high school would never have gone anywhere without his snapback, and yet here Jimin sits three years later, even if it’s what he’d call a relatively informal outfit.
Namjoon clearly hadn’t expected it, not when Jimin had finally arrived at the café they (Taehyung) had chosen to meet at. If it weren’t for the fitting this afternoon, Jimin would’ve had no idea where to begin with clothes – was this sort of thing a formal meeting? They clearly weren’t friends anymore; Jimin and Namjoon hadn’t spoken much beyond high school graduation.
However, his appointments for the day forced him into his ‘comfort’ wear zone – so Jimin really can’t understand Namjoon’s surprise.
Namjoon, who is really rocking that sweater, and keeps accidentally knocking his knees against Jimin’s. Namjoon, who’s apparently dyed his hair into a washed out pink hue. Namjoon, who has never really left that classic Joon spirit behind.
Jimin’s going to kill Taehyung, even if he wasn’t necessarily lying. Of course Namjoon has changed, it’s been three years; it’s just really rather unfortunate that he’s only grown better. Jimin could always give Taehyung the benefit of the doubt, but that was also a reward far too high for his best friend. No, Taehyung certainly has not forgotten about Jimin’s awkward little phase in high school – if anything, he’s probably acting on this knowledge.
Jimin hadn’t really known himself until that second last year. A sleepover with Taehyung, a drunk night with Taehyung, a night of making out with Taehyung (for science, obviously). Jimin’s first kiss with a boy, but never his last.
(Taehyung had been very proud to know that his research had turned Jimin gay; clearly he was a top notch scientist)
And then there was Namjoon. In the way that all first crushes usually go, Jimin made an absolute fool of himself, over and over and over for the remaining seven months of the year. Taehyung still brought it up occasionally, the way Jimin, newly gay and ready to get some, would positively fawn over Namjoon.
Jimin’s past that now. Namjoon was a year older, so he’d graduated earlier – and taken Jimin’s embarrassing crush with him. Hell, Jimin had even had a short and sweet relationship during his final year, didn’t that prove anything?
“Taehyung said you had an offe-”
“Kim Namjoon,” Jimin blurts out, palms flat on the table as he leans forward. “Will you marry me?”
Taehyung keeps snorting, enough so that Jimin has pulled the phone from his ear, leaving it on speaker as he continues sorting out the spare bedroom.
“I just…I cannot…”
Jimin hums. He’s pretty sure his face is still red, even twelve hours later now.
“What the fuck…”
“I know, Tae, I know,” Jimin mumbles, carefully extracting the blankets from their covers, and tossing them in the growing pile by the door.
“You asked…you asked him to marry you…what…oh man I wish I could’ve seen his face,” Taehyung coughs out. Jimin’s glad that at least his misfortune can bring smiles to other people’s faces. It certainly isn’t doing any wonders for him at the moment.
Jimin sighs. “It was so awkward, he just did a fish-mouth thing at me. I thought that only happened in movies,” Jimin says, rubbing at his face. “I don’t know why-”
“He’s still cute though, isn’t he?” Taehyung cuts in, with that tone – the eyebrow wiggling, shit-eating grin tone.
“Yeah.” Taehyung’s laughter starts up all over again at Jimin’s wistful voice, but Jimin doesn’t even bother calling him out on it.
It’s totally true.
“So, how’s it going?” Taehyung cuts, and Jimin can imagine him leaning forward, chin in palm. Taehyung has never passed up an opportunity for gossip, not for as long as Jimin’s known him.
Jimin coughs, hand tightening its grip on the phone. “He’s moving in tomorrow.”
“Friday?” Taehyung pauses. “Jimin, you’re not even going to be there tomo-”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Jimin kicks at the pile of linen; the cleaner won’t be coming until tomorrow night, and Jimin really can’t be bothered washing and drying such an enormous load. There must be a spare set somewhere he can use.
“It’s for the best, probably,” Jimin says, wandering out from the spare bedroom. He’s been setting it up for the better part of an hour now – not that it needed much done, but it gives Jimin purpose where none exists. “I don’t have to find someone to take Jihyun, I’m already working on getting them both into the gala.”
Taehyung stays silent, although Jimin can hear the faint clicking of a keyboard in the background.
“It’ll be okay, Tae, it’s not like I’ll let Namjoon be alone with Jihyun or anything.”
“Be careful, Jimin,” Taehyung mumbles finally. “He’s not like you.”
Jimin snorts softly. “I know, don’t worry. I’ll take care of it, it’s only until the custody is settled.”
Only until the custody is settled – how hard can it be?