It's ten on a cold, winter morning. Daylight is starting to filter through the window panes, casting shadows onto the office floor; yet Taemin is paying no attention to it. Neither does he pay any attention to the employees outside his little corner office, filing in with greetings as they start their work day.
While everyone is just starting to clock in, Taemin has been sitting focused on the computer screen in front of him for three hours. Technically, he has absolutely no need to come in so early. He just has so much to do. He's busy; there's nothing else he can say to describe his situation. There's the Spring program to finalize, the Fall program to conceptualize, and topping that off, he still has to revise the choreography he made for one of the Spring shows— so he's going to have to hit the studios after finishing paperwork.
Since seven in the morning, he has been stressing about how the program in his hand still doesn't feel right, but he only has three months to go until the start of the Spring season. The words written on paper, the rough choreography in his head and in videos from other choreographers, the design sketches—nothing's matching up to his vision.
And it's not like the program can just not match up. His creative vision is what this dance company is paying him for; if he can't make it come to life, then he's not doing his job properly. He's already getting enough flack for being the youngest artistic director in the company's history—he can't give the board of directors even more excuses to tell him that he's 'too young to have the emotional maturity required to lead this premier dance company to the peak of artistry.'
"Yah, Lee Taemin."
Taemin's little stress-out session is interrupted when his slightly ajar door is pushed open, and a figure clad in elaborate clothes as white as the snow outside walks in loudly without invitation. He doesn't even need to look up to know that it's Kibum—one of his closest friends since college, who also happens to be the board's favorite marketing director.
"Good morning to you too, hyung. And no, I haven't posted on Instagram today—or last night. Too busy to upload rehearsal videos on my personal accounts."
Kibum rolls his eyes and closes the door behind him. "Okay… But that's not why I'm here for, you workaholic."
"Then what is it?" he stops staring at his computer screen, his eyes following his colleague's movements. Kibum sits on one of the chairs across from his desk, crossing his legs.
"I just… heard some things," Kibum says. Taemin tilts his head and waits, urging him to go on.
"It's about Jongin," the older man continues. His eyebrows quirk inwards in disbelief as he leans over, continuing in a hushed tone. "I heard he's having a baby. Is that true? "
Taemin blinks. That's certainly quite surprising. Not the fact that Jongin is having a baby; that's not surprising. Jongin is his best friend since birth—and also the dancer he headlined this company with, his almost-permanent dance partner before their retirement two years ago—so he has known about it for a while now.
What surprised him is that Kibum knows about it, because he and Jongin are not very close. Now that Jongin doesn't work with them anymore, they probably don't see each other; so how the news spread out so far as to reach his ears, Taemin has no idea. It certainly didn't come out of Taemin's zipped lips.
"How did you know?"
"Definitely didn't get the news from you," Kibum snorts at his question, resting his elbows on the table. "What a nice guy, you are. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Well, it's not really my place to tell. It's his baby, not mine," he scoffs and shakes his head, returning his attention to his laptop screen. He starts typing random words to pretend to look busy, despite being unable to focus—Kibum's probing of Jongin's whole baby situation isn't helping his already slightly stressed out mind. "Besides, why are you assuming I already knew about it?"
It's a useless question, because everyone knows Taemin and Jongin are inseparable—they know everything about each other, and there's no reason he wouldn't know about this. Kibum doesn't even miss a beat before he barks out in laughter.
"Please. You're literally his husband, why wouldn't you know?"
The man opposite him shakes his head, amusement evident in his expression. Here it goes again. Kibum's 'jokes' about his very close friendship with Jongin.
"I'm not. We're—"
"Just best friends, I know," Kibum cuts him off with a flick of his finger. "But only because he's still too dumb to realize you've been in love with him since you guys were… I don't know, four years old? Come on."
Sure, Kibum's right. Taemin was in love with Jongin, at a certain point in his life; emphasis on the past tense. It was a long time ago, before work consumed him to the bone. That was a time when his world only revolved around Jongin and dance, although this friend of his still brings it up as a joke even now.
After a decade of getting teased for his feelings, it's not like Taemin's not used to the jokes. Normally he would just laugh it off, but with everything going on in his head, he's not exactly in the correct mood for that.
"Can we not keep talking about this, hyung? Please," he pleads. Slowly, he raises his head to meet Kibum's gaze. "I got over him years ago. You know that."
Kibum looks him in the eye for a long second, before he rolls it away. The other man knows him all too well; he may not believe his words completely, even if it's true.
"Fine, I'll stop—but only because you asked so nicely," his friend sighs. "Since you don't want to talk about it, I'm going back to my office. You're not the only one with work to do."
Kibum gets up with a swift movement, walking back to the door after the quick conversation. Right before he steps out, though, he turns back.
"And don't forget to post on Instagram today!" he shouts, pointing at Taemin. "You haven't posted in two months—if you don't do it today, I swear I'll find someone to hack into your account."
Taemin rolls his eyes. "Fine. Prepare the caption for me."
"Good," Kibum huffs, then walks away with a wave.
The door closes behind his colleague's figure, and Taemin sighs again. Time to go back to stressing out.
Jongin's declaration came as sudden as lightning.
"I'm having a baby," the younger man announces, while cuddled under a blanket on Taemin's couch.
His best friend's mouth was full of chicken as he speaks, and nothing can be more out of the blue than dropping important news with a mouth full of chicken, in the middle of their weekly dinner. Nothing.
"What." Taemin chokes on his water. "How— when— with who— "
As per the tradition they've had since college, they're sitting in Taemin's living room, having chicken and pizza while an old movie plays on the TV, the volume turned down so it becomes background noise to their conversations about their week. They talk about lots of things during these dinners—from work to celebrity gossip—but the last thing Taemin expected to hear tonight was that Jongin's having a baby. In fact, he didn't expect it at all.
Within the split second of silence, his mind goes haywire trying to figure out what happened. He doesn't know what shocks him more—the fact that Jongin is having a baby or that he had someone he could have a baby with. It's been years since the last time his best friend dated anyone, and he definitely would have known if Jongin was with someone. He keeps track, plus he knows everything about Jongin. Everything.
Or at least he thought he did, because he didn't know Jongin was having a baby.
Jongin cuts off his train of thought with a bark of laughter, most likely reading off of his expression.
"I didn't knock anyone up, if that's what you're thinking. Relax."
A relieved sigh escapes Taemin's lips. It feels like all the air is coming back to his lungs, despite not knowing when he started holding his breath in the first place.
So, it's not like he missed too many things and didn't know that Jongin was seeing someone. He didn't have anyone.
"I'm adopting," his best friend goes on. "...As a single parent."
Taemin gapes. His mind starts whirring again.
"Is that even possible?"
"Yeah, I looked it up, and turns out it's a thing," Jongin says, casually sitting up to take another piece of chicken from the box, as if this conversation is nothing. "I'm done with all the necessary procedures, but I'm still waiting for a match."
"Wait—" Now that's another surprise. "How long have you been planning this?"
Taemin may not know anything about adoption, but he knows that it doesn't only take a week—or two weeks, or even a month—to plan out . It's surely a long process, and if everything's already done, that means Jongin has been at it for a while.
He watches as Jongin scratches his ear and avoids his gaze. His suspicions are probably right, since he's reacting like this.
"For a year? A little more, maybe."
Taemin's jaw loosens. Unbelievable. Jongin had hidden this for him for so long. He doesn't even have to say anything for Jongin to know what he's thinking. It's probably written all over his face.
"Sorry for keeping it from you," Jongin glances at him apologetically. "I didn't tell anyone except my parents and sisters… I just— I thought if I told you, you'd… I don't know, change my mind?"
Taemin doesn't know what to say to that. The reasoning isn't good enough to make his frown go away, but he gets it. They value each other's opinions more than anything; it would have been way too easy for Taemin to sway his best friend's decision if he knew.
It's still a little disappointing, though. He would have supported Jongin through thick or thin, on whatever he decided to do, with or without him; just like that time he fought hard to open his very own dance studio.
He thought Jongin knew that.
"Sorry, Taemin-ah," Jongin repeats solemnly. "I can't believe I managed to keep it hidden for so long either."
A moment of silence passes, before Taemin finally lets out a sigh.
"It's okay," he says. Then he turns his torso towards the other man, propping one of his legs up on the couch. "But Jongin-ah… Are you sure about this? This is a child, Jonginnie. A human being. Not a puppy."
Taemin reaches his hand towards Jongin's, who turns his hand palm side up and links their fingers together in a reaction as well-practiced and as natural as breathing. He looks into the other man's eyes, searching for any sign of hesitation. Anything at all.
Jongin may be good with children—or at least, he's good with his nieces and nephews—but doing everything all by himself sounds like such a daunting task. Even though he supports his best friend's decision, he still can't help but feel a little concerned.
"You'll have to live with this child forever. Raise them. Watch them grow," he continues, unconsciously tightening his hold on Jongin's hand. "What if… what if you find someone later on, and they don't want your child—"
Jongin's free index finger reaches out to rest on Taemin's lips, effectively cutting him off. The tiny smile on the younger man's face practically screams fond amusement; he's probably thinking that Taemin is worrying about nothing.
"I've thought about this. A lot." Jongin takes the finger off his lips and trails his hand down Taemin's upper arm, settling on top of his free hand. With both of their hands joined together, Jongin's smile fades out into a sigh. "You know how my relationships never end up working out..."
The wry look in Jongin's eyes makes him think back to his best friend's past lovers. He always thought they were horrible—all five of them—but then again, he may be a little biased.
Jongin chuckles at his unintentional eye roll, probably reading his mind.
"Yeah. See? Well, I'm… we, both of us are in our thirties now. It's way past time to start a family. You may not think much of it since you're all about your career and everything, but I've always wanted a family of my own. You know that."
Taemin nods. Jongin had always dreamed about his own family since they were children. He wanted to be a husband, a father, a grandfather; that was before they even knew how to dream about being the best dancers in the world—and that had been their dream since they were six years old.
"But I also don't wanna just… find a random person to settle with, you know?" Jongin continues. "I feel like I'll never find anyone to spend the rest of my life with—and by the time I do, if ever, it might be too late for a child."
Jongin's voice diminishes as he speaks, getting smaller and smaller, but the words still sound perfectly clear as they vibrate through the air.
An old, very old, bitterness resurfaces in Taemin's heart.
Evidently, Jongin has given up on finding someone, anyone, without considering him, the one and only person who has unfailingly supported him by his side. This always happens, time and time again, and it never fails to make him feel slightly unworthy, even though he knows that his place in Jongin's heart is miles above everyone else's.
He shakes the familiar feeling away before it festers inside him, just like all those years ago. He's over it. He has been confidently saying he's over it for six years now, and he refuses to let it come back after all the effort he put into getting over his feelings. It's not the time for this.
"Oh. So… You thought you'd just adopt. On your own."
His voice ends up sounding a little sharper than intended because of his inner struggles. Hopefully, Jongin takes it as offense towards not telling him about the whole adoption process, instead of other things.
Jongin nods. "Yeah. I'm ready, Taemin-ah. I'll love this child like he or she is my own. Don't you think I can pull it off?
Taemin doesn't doubt Jongin's readiness, not really, yet he still can't take the frown off of his own lips. That's when Jongin squeezes his hands, tightening their hold.
"Besides, if all fails, I'll still have you to help me out, right?"
His best friend's lips quirk into a lopsided smile that is so stunning it made him go blank for about a second. With just the bare minimum from this contagious smile, Taemin can already feel the corners of his own lips twitching upwards, all his bitterness fading away.
He blinks, moving his eyes towards the window behind Jongin instead, unable to look at his blinding grin. He clears his throat.
"Well, if you're playing that card—"
"I knew I could count on you," Jongin grins at him before he even finishes talking, pulling his hands away to drape one across his shoulders. He pulls him into a side hug, ruffling his hair like they used to do when they were much younger. "You're the best best friend ever, Taeminnie."
The best best friend, huh. Now that's funny. Kibum would definitely laugh.
Taemin huffs. There's nothing else he can do.
"Of course I am," he grins and wraps an arm around Jongin's waist, scooting closer to rest his head on his best friend's shoulder. "I have known you since before you were even born, after all."
Jongin's daughter comes four months later, on a bright morning in spring.
Her name is Jiyeon. She's only about a year and a half old—almost two—but apparently she's very, very smart. Despite not having met her in person, Taemin feels like he already knows her, all thanks to her newly-crowned father who has been texting and calling him nonstop just to gush about her every action.
Between Jongin's sudden announcement and her arrival, Taemin had gotten dragged around various shopping malls, choosing and buying cribs, toys, beds—a ton of baby things. Jongin basically abandoned his prized dance studio just so he could dive into renovating his apartment's spare bedroom into a little girl's room, and he never abandons his studio. Ever.
By association, Taemin, too, had to reschedule some meetings for their shopping trips. He didn't really have to, but he did it anyway, to show his support.
"You may say you're over him, but you're whipped," Kibum told him, when he called in to cancel their lunch meeting for the third time, but he respectfully disagrees. He's not whipped; it's just extremely hard to refuse Jongin when he uses his puppy eyes on him. Jongin may be four years past thirty, but his puppy eyes are still as powerful of a weapon as when he was seven.
All this come with consequences, of course. After skipping and rescheduling his meetings, he only had two weeks to finalize touring plans for the summer with the rest of the staff. Besides that, he also had to work on the Fall program, and monitor rehearsals for the shows in the Spring program. Busy was an understatement; and that is why it took him three whole weeks to find time to meet the famous ball of sunshine, Kim Jiyeon. Nickname courtesy to her father.
"You sure it's okay for me to meet her?" he speaks quickly into the phone. He's already parked in the guest parking lot at Jongin's apartment, but he can't help feeling a little unsure. "It's only been three weeks—wouldn't it be overwhelming for her to meet more people?"
"It will be fine. She warms up to new people quickly," Jongin tells him on the phone, chuckling. "Besides, I've told her all about Uncle Taemin who helped decorate her room. She's really happy with it, by the way. Right, Jiyeonnie?"
A little girl's giggle chimes on the other end of the line, and Taemin can't help but smile despite all his unnecessary worries.
"Okay, then. Since you're so sure..."
Well, he's already downstairs anyway. It's not like he's going to turn around and leave after driving all the way to Jongin's apartment.
Taemin listens to Jongin coo at his daughter through the phone as he grabs the prettily wrapped gifts on the passenger's seat. He made a pit stop at the toy store earlier in the day, to buy a couple of toys for the baby girl.
This is nerve-wrecking, to say the least. He can't stop thinking of the worst case scenarios. What if she hates him? He won't be able to spend time with Jongin anymore, with him being so busy with his daughter. Plus, he can't help but feel attached to her already. Going on all the shopping trips made him feel like he's turned into a father himself. He ended up choosing half of the stuff in Jiyeon's bedroom, for god's sake; he was pretty much already as involved in her life as Jongin was, despite not meeting even once.
Taemin rings the doorbell when he arrives at Jongin's door, juggling the boxes in his arms so he can reach for the button. Usually, he would just walk in—the password is just Jongin's birthday, nothing complicated—but baby Jiyeon might not be used to it. It's probably better to give them a little heads up before barging inside.
Noise from inside the room faintly reverberates through the door, heavy footsteps sounding closer and closer until the door finally opens.
"Hey, come in," Jongin says, grinning very widely as he holds his door. "I'm telling you—she's really excited. You have no reason to be worried."
Taemin steps inside. He chuckles nervously as he toes off his shoes, looking up at his best friend. "You sure you're not just making this up to make me feel better?"
"Of course not, don't be stupid," Jongin rolls his eyes, before he calls out towards the living room. "Jiyeonnie, guess who's here??"
All his nerves fly out the window when Jiyeon waddles into sight, crossing the couple steps it takes to reach them. Her little pigtails bounce as she walks over unsteadily, running to grab her father's outstretched hands to steady herself before she could fall.
Chuckling, Jongin picks her up, bringing her to Taemin's eye level.
"Jiyeonnie, say hi to uncle Taemin," Jongin says brightly, taking her tiny hand to make a little wave. "Hi, uncle~"
"Hi~" she echoes innocently.
Taemin chuckles. "Hello, Jiyeonnie~"
He frees one of his hands to take hers, waving it around a little. The toddler giggles, and she looks so radiant it makes him feel like he's going to melt.
"Uncle Taemin got Jiyeonnie presents," he continues after letting go of the girl's hand. It's a little awkward to be speaking in baby-talk, but it doesn't matter because this baby is smiling at him. "Does Jiyeonnie like presents?"
Jiyeon looks at the colorful boxes Taemin waves in front of her face, then up at Jongin, who is looking at her encouragingly, then back at the boxes again.
"Yeah!" she exclaims excitedly.
Without any more hesitation, she reaches out towards the boxes in Taemin's arms. However, she ends up looking a little frustrated, since she's being held up in the air, and can't struggle out of her father's hold.
"Daddy," she pouts up at Jongin after her struggles fail, tugging his shirt with one hand as she points at the boxes in Taemin's hands with the other. "Daddy~"
Taemin can't help the chuckle that escapes his lips at this sight. Her gestures and the little whines are simply adorable.
"Yeah, daddy, let her get to the presents," he teases Jongin with a wiggle of his eyebrows, getting an eye roll in return.
Not waiting for the pair, Taemin walks ahead of them to the living room—to Jiyeon's unsatisfied whine, because her presents are being taken away—and places the gifts on the floor, kneeling down next to the little pile.
Jongin stoops down across from him, and lets Jiyeon stand on his knees. "Shall we open the presents, Jiyeonnie?"
"Yeah! Open!" she nods, trying to echo Jongin's words as he spins her around to face the gifts. Her pronunciation still isn't very good, but it's cute. She then grabs one of the boxes—making sure to pick the biggest and most colorful one—and directs a wide-eyed stare at Taemin, pushing the box she's holding towards him.
Taemin quirks his eyebrow, and points to himself.
"Me?" he says, to the little girl's vigorous nods.
"I'm not your daddy." But he takes the box from her anyway, before pointing at Jongin. "Your daddy is over there, Jiyeonnie."
Her gaze follows Taemin's finger, but she doesn't care—she abandons her actual adoptive father and wobbles in Taemin's direction, following the colorful box.
"Daddy," she repeats, this time with a pronounced pout. She points her finger at the box and unsuccessfully tries to rip off the wrapping, when she sees that he isn't making a move. "Daddy~ Open~"
"Fine, fine, I'll open it for you, okay?" Taemin says. She cheers, and he starts carefully ripping the gift wrap off. While his hands are at work, he redirects his gaze towards Jongin, who has been sitting in silence, amusedly watching them.
"Why is she calling me her dad?"
"Who knows?" Jongin shrugs. "Maybe she thinks we look alike."
"...That actually sounds convincing."
Taemin continues peeling off the gift wrap from the little box, with Jiyeon cheering him on and Jongin observing their interactions. Finally, he finishes with a loud rip.
"Yay!" Jiyeon cheers, immediately reaching for the clear box containing a baby princess doll, complete with a colorful outfit to play dress-up with. Taemin hands it over to her, and she runs back to her father, giggling excitedly. "Daddy, look!"
"Yeah, I'm looking," Jongin replies, pulling her into his arms. "Do you like it, Jiyeonnie?"
"Yeah!" she giggles, looking at Taemin's direction.
"You haven't even opened the box yet," he mutters to himself, shaking his head in amusement. He doesn't even think the girl understands what he's saying.
Even so, Jiyeon seems to have caught onto his meaning—that they're not finished opening her gift yet—because she turns her head up towards Jongin, impatiently shaking the box in her hands.
"You want daddy to open this for you?" Jongin asks. Then, his mischievous eyes lock with Taemin's and with a grin, he asks another question.
"Do you want this daddy to do it…" he trails off, then points at Taemin. "Or the daddy over there to do it?"
Taemin snorts and shakes his head. "I already did most of the work. You're her actual dad, you do the rest."
"I'm asking her, not you."
Jiyeon doesn't seem to care; she's just bouncing on her father's lap with the box in hand. Jongin ends up doing the job, opening the box for his little girl as she waits for her baby princess to be freed from her clear plastic cage. Before long, Jongin pulls it out of the box, and Jiyeon immediately grabs it away from him, hugging it while cheering all the way through.
A soft smile graces Taemin's lips at the sight, warmth spreading through his veins from seeing the happy father-daughter pair. He really didn't need to worry about anything—not about Jongin not being able to pull it off, and not about Jiyeon not liking him. Everything is working out perfectly, at least right now, and he's very glad.
"Go say thank you to uncle Taemin," Jongin teaches his daughter, pointing at Taemin again. "Thank you, uncle Taemin~"
Jiyeon's eyes follow her dad's finger to meet Taemin's eyes. In the end, she only manages to make some incoherent noise that sort of sounds like 'thank you' but the dazzling smile on her face is good enough to make his day.
Taemin scoots closer to the father-daughter pair, and reaches out to squish the baby's soft, chubby cheeks. He smiles brightly; brighter than any of his smiles in the past couple of years.
"You're welcome, Jiyeonnie."