A hushed “shhhh!” comes from the cupboard in Jeongguk’s bedroom where he keeps linens. He smiles to himself and shakes his head.
“Jia,” he calls, long and slow. “Chaeyoung.” He stands still in the middle of his bedroom and puts his hands on his hips, facing away from the cupboard. “Where could they be?” he asks loudly. “I’ve searched the whoooole apartment.”
There’s the creak of a door and a tiny, sharp gasp. He pretends not to have heard.
He gasps to himself, overly loud. “Oh no! They must have left the apartment! That’s the only possibility! I’m such a good finder, they must not even be here!”
The cupboard door is thrown open. “We’re here, dad!” comes Jia’s voice.
He turns around sharply and drops his jaw to display surprise. “Jia? You were in there the whole time?”
Jeongguk rushes over to where Jia is standing at her full height inside the giant cupboard, all the sheets and towels shoved in a pile behind her. Chaeyoung is crouching, pressed all the way against the back of the cupboard.
Jia holds out her arms and throws herself forward, and he catches her easily. “You lost,” she says and bops his nose.
He groans. “I thought I was good at hide and seek! Am I bad at this, Chaeyoungie?”
Chaeyoung shakes her head. Her eyes are wide, and she cranes her neck as if she can see over the side of the cupboard without moving her tiny body away from the back of the cupboard.
“Hop down, baby,” Jeongguk says, and Jia gets down easily. “Are you scared, Chaeyoung-ah?” he asks gently.
“No,” Chaeyoung says.
“Did Jia put you in there?”
“Come here, I’ll help you out. I won’t let you fall.” He reaches his hands out for her, and she raises her arms and spreads her little fingers wide but won’t come forward. Jeongguk lifts her carefully so he doesn’t accidentally knock her head on the top of the cupboard. As soon as she’s out, she clings to his neck. She must be sleepy.
“How’d you get in there, Jia?” he asks.
“Opened the drawers!” Jia tells him happily. “I helped Chaeyoungie up, then I climbed up, just like stairs! I kicked ‘em shut.”
Oh boy, he thinks. Jia is too resourceful for her own good.
“That was smart thinking, honey, but next time if you hide with Chaeyoungie, hide a little closer to the ground, okay? I think getting up high scared her.”
It was the right thing to say, apparently, because Jia nods solemnly. “Okay, dad. I’ll watch out for her.”
“I knew I could count on you,” he says with a smile. He walks out to the kitchen with Jia following. Chaeyoung’s head is resting heavily on his shoulder; clearly, it’s naptime. He bounces her a little. “Chaeyoung-ah, I know you’re sleepy, but do you want a snack before you go to sleep?”
She shakes her head against his shoulder. “Want daddy.”
“Daddy will be here soon, sweetheart,” he says. “Want to take a nap on the couch with Jia?”
Chaeyoung sighs softly. “Okay.”
Jeongguk looks significantly at Jia. She feels a deep sense of personal responsibility for Chaeyoung, of course, but at her age, it seems like naps are pushing it. He nods toward Chaeyoung, falling asleep on his shoulder, and widens his eyes and pushes out his bottom lip.
Jia sighs, awfully heavy and world-weary for someone who is not even seven. “O-kay, but I want a snack.”
That’s his girl. “Okay,” he laughs. “I think we still have some bunny gummies.”
Chaeyoung lifts her head. “Bunny gummies?”
Jeongguk laughs. “Oh, you’re awake now?” he teases. “Yeah, bunny gummies. Want some?”
She nods furiously, so he deposits her on the couch and Jia climbs up next to her. Jeongguk brings a pouch of bunny gummies for each of them, the expensive natural kind that Jimin started hassling him into buying sometime last year.
He watches them get sleepy as he starts dinner. Jia gets up and runs to her room for the giant teddy bear Jeongguk’s dad gave her for her fifth birthday. She’s only barely the same size as it now. She sits it nicely on the couch and snuggles into it, and Chaeyoung snuggles into her side.
Jia isn’t especially big, but Chaeyoung, five to Jia’s six and a half, is really tiny. She gets it from her dad, Jeongguk thinks, but then again he never knew Chaeyoung’s mom. Chaeyoung’s size, more than her age relative to Jia, Jeongguk thinks, is why Jia is so protective of her. He thinks it’s nice. He likes that Jia is loud and fierce about watching out for her friend. Chaeyoung has followed her with wide, awed eyes since they met when Chaeyoung was three and Jia was not quite five, and Jia has loved every moment of it.
The girls sleep long enough for Jeongguk to go back to his bedroom and finally change out of his work clothes, straighten up the mess Jia made of the linen cupboard, and get a load of laundry started. He’s putting it in the dryer when Chaeyoung wakes up and tells him she’s going to the potty.
“Did you wash your hands?” he asks when she comes out. She holds up her hands for him, probably to smell because that’s what Jimin does, but they’re still damp, so he gives her a thumbs up.
“Want some food, Chaeyoung-ah?”
“Yes, please,” she says with a smack of her lips. She climbs onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table.
“Jia!” Jeongguk calls. “Dinner’s ready.”
Jia gets up with messy hair and a frown, pushing her lips out the tiniest bit and sitting at the dinner table a little grumpily. If Jeongguk is honest, he hasn’t really fought the retirement of afternoon naptime for Jia, because she always gets so grumpy after napping, and she goes to bed easier anyway. Maybe he’s a bad dad for that, but he doesn’t think so.
Jimin gets there close to seven, long after Jia and Chaeyoung have finished eating and are sitting on the couch watching a tv show. He lets himself in, and Chaeyoung scrambles to slide off the couch and run over to him.
“Daddy!” she calls, and Jimin reaches down and picks her up.
“Chaeyoungie!” He tosses her gently, once, and she giggles. “I missed you,” he says.
Chaeyoung grabs Jimin’s face and smacks a kiss to his cheek. “I missed you more.” She says this in a grave tone that she probably learned from Jia.
“Hey, Jeongguk-ah,” Jimin says then, looking at Jeongguk with a smile.
“Hi, hyung,” Jeongguk says back. “How did the meeting go?”
“Eh.” Jimin makes a face like what can you do. “Sorry I needed you for so long today.”
Jeongguk shakes his head. “No problem.” Jimin would do the same for him. Would, and has. “Have you eaten? I still have some food left.”
“Yeah, I’m good, thank you though. This one seems kind of tuckered out, huh?”
“Jia’s a lot to keep up with,” Jeongguk says. “Speaking from experience.”
“I have long legs,” Jia calls from the living room.
Jimin laughs. “You got them from your dad, sweetie.”
“I look just like my dad.”
“Oh, yikes,” Jeongguk says. He imagines a grown up Jia, himself with long hair. She’s not wrong, though. She looks like his baby pictures, but skinnier and with long hair.
“I’m gonna take Chaeyoung home,” Jimin says. “Thanks again, Jeongguk-ah. Hey, are you busy Friday?”
Jeongguk gives him a funny look. He’s never busy on Fridays, unless he has plans with Jimin. They always get a babysitter together when they go out. “No?”
“Cool,” Jimin says. “A couple of my old friends moved back to town recently, and they want to go out. I thought it would be cool if you could come.”
“Are you sure?” Jeongguk asks. “You don’t want to catch up with them on your own?”
Jimin waves dismissively. “They’re back permanently, it’s not like it’s my only chance to catch up. I’d like you to meet them.” He shifts Chaeyoung from his left arm to his right. Then he says straightforwardly, “You need some more adult friends.”
Jeongguk opens his mouth to protest, but Jimin cuts him off.
“Adult friends that are not stay at home moms.”
Jeongguk frowns, but doesn’t argue. The last person who told him that was a stay at home mom, and she ended up introducing him to Jimin, so it’s not like he has some kind of past trauma associated with meeting other adult men. “Okay,” he says.
“Cool,” Jimin says with a wicked grin. “Otherwise I would’ve let you babysit so I wouldn’t have to hire anyone.”
“You play dirty,” Jeongguk groans.
Jimin laughs and opens the front door. “Bye, Guk. Bye, Jia.”
“Bye, Jimin-oppa! Bye Chaeyoungie!” Jia yells.
Chaeyoung waves goodbye.
That night, Jeongguk puts up the book he was reading to Jia and she rolls over to face him, blinking sleepily. “Dad,” she says.
“Yeah, baby,” Jeongguk replies, rubbing his hand up and down her arm. She always asks to have her arm rubbed before she falls asleep.
“I know you lost at hide and seek on purpose,” she whispers. “That was nice of you to let Chaeyoungie win.” Her eyes slip shut and her lips part. She looks like every embarrassing photo Jeongguk has seen of himself sleeping, and it makes his heart twist. Jeon Jia, his most special thing, his most loved person.
Jeongguk is shaking his thigh, both hands clasped under his knee.
Jimin reaches over his lap and puts his hand firmly on his quad. “Calm down,” he says. “Everything is fine.”
“Ergh,” Jeongguk grunts at him.
“You’re acting like a new dad,” Jimin tells him.
Jeongguk cuts him a side-eye. “Shut up, Park Jimin.”
“Disrespect!” Jimin says and flicks him on his head. “Hey, seriously. They’re fine. Want me to text?”
They’re using a new babysitter tonight. The one they were using for so long moved away for college, and Jeongguk is really bad about trusting Jia to people he doesn’t know.
He shakes his head. “No, you’re right. I’m fine.”
But Jimin has already texted, and a few seconds later, he holds up a text thread with ‘Hyunjin - babysitter’, tapping on a picture of Jia and Chaeyoung sitting at Jimin’s kitchen table coloring together.
Jeongguk lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. He can feel himself being annoying, and Jimin rolls his eyes, but Jeongguk doesn’t really care. “Are your friends almost here?” he asks. “I need a distraction.”
“Mm, yeah,” Jimin says. “A few minutes, probably.”
“Cool, okay,” Jeongguk says. He stands up. “I’m gonna go to the bathroom.” He’s drained his water once already and is halfway through the second glass. He sort of does that when he’s nervous.
He goes to the bathroom, and on his way back he sees Jimin standing by their table, talking to a couple guys with their backs turned. Jeongguk straightens his collar, determined to make a good impression on Jimin’s older, cooler, not-dad friends, and he’s running a hand through his hair when someone crashes into him. Like, crashes into him.
“Whoa!” he exclaims. The person stumbles, tripping over his own feet, and nearly eats shit. Jeongguk reaches forward with reflexes honed by years of catching Jia trying to jump off of very high things, and grabs the guy by the waist.
He doesn’t mean to pull him all the way against his chest, but the guy is longer and more substantial than his reflexes were prepared for, so he overcorrects, leaning back and pulling the guy upright. Jeongguk’s arms are locked around his waist.
He lets go immediately. “Are you okay?”
The guy turns to him with wide eyes, and--holy hell. That is. A face. That’s a damn good face. He’s so pretty. His face is heart shaped, with a defining jawline and an oddly delicate nose, and his eyes are smoothly shaped and twinkly. Jeongguk stares.
The sound of Jimin’s laughter breaks him from his trance. His head jerks in Jimin’s direction, still standing much too close to the guy.
“Hyung,” Jimin says, struggling to control his laughter. “This is Jeongguk-ah, my friend I told you about.”
Jeongguk feels himself go an awful shade of red. Of fucking course this is one of Jimin’s older, cool, not-dad friends. “H-hi,” he says. He swallows. “Hi.”
“Hey,” the guy says.
“Jeongguk-ah, that’s Kim Namjoon, since he apparently isn’t going to tell you himself,” Jimin says.
Jeongguk and Namjoon turn their heads to glare at Jimin at the same time.
“Stop being mean to people, Jimin-ah,” says another guy, on the other side of Namjoon. Jeongguk can’t see who he is, because Namjoon is pretty tall, taller than Jeongguk.
“Are you okay?” Jeongguk asks Namjoon again, because the guy really did almost eat shit just now.
“I--yeah.” Namjoon glances away. “I, ah, tripped. Thank you, I’m so sorry for bumping into you.”
“You’re fine,” Jeongguk says quickly.
“Okay, I think we’re about to cause a scene,” says the other stranger. “Let’s sit, huh?”
Jeongguk feels himself blush harder and scrambles to get back to his seat by Jimin. The two guys whose names he doesn’t know sit, too, leaving only the seat by Jeongguk open, so Namjoon sits there carefully.
“Anyway. You met Namjoon,” Jimin says, biting back a very obvious laugh. “This is Min Yoongi,” he points to the guy who had spoken, “and that’s Kim Seokjin.” The last guy, taller than Yoongi, shorter than Namjoon, but broader then both of them. Maybe broader than both of them combined.
“Nice to meet you all,” Jeongguk says, trying to get the blush off his face. This is no good. It’s obvious he hasn’t been out with other adults in a while.
“This is Jeongguk, my dad-friend.”
“Dad-friend?” Namjoon repeats from Jeongguk’s right.
“Friend who is also a dad,” Jeongguk says quietly.
Namjoon’s eyes widen, but Jimin didn’t hear Jeongguk’s response, so he says much more loudly, “Single dad solidarity club! That’s what we call ourselves.”
Is that embarrassing? That’s embarrassing, right?
“Oh!” Namjoon claps a hand over his mouth. “Right. Sorry.”
“Cool!” Seokjin says, worlds less awkward. “Jimin-ah, I haven’t seen a picture of Chaeyoung in ages, so kid pictures now, both of you!”
Jeongguk and Jimin exchange a glance, and without even having to discuss it, Jeongguk pulls out his phone. He pulls up a picture of Jia and Chaeyoung together at the park, Jia’s arms thrown around Chaeyoung. Chaeyoung is making a funny, forlorn face at the camera.
He hands the phone across Jimin, to Seokjin. “The older one is my daughter. But you knew that. The one that’s not Chaeyoung.” Obviously. He flushes.
“Oh my god, too cute,” Seokjin coos at the photo. He leans over so Yoongi can look too. “Please tell me they’re best pals!”
“They’re best pals!” Jimin affirms delightedly. “Chaeyoungie loves Jia and Jeongguk-ah. She talks about them every day and blows kisses to fly to them every night.”
Jeongguk feels like his cheeks are heating up again, but this time in a good way. He leans forward onto his elbows and presses his hands over his cheeks, smiling. “Jia either thinks Chaeyoung is her little sister or her puppy dog,” he says. “Chaeyoung follows her everywhere. She eats it up.”
A server comes to take their orders, and Jimin and Seokjin team up to order dishes for the whole table with a couple words of input from Yoongi. Jeongguk lets them, and he sits back when they finally get drinks as well, pulling his beer closer to him and willing himself to relax.
“Can I ask how old you are, Jeongguk-ssi?” Yoongi asks, pouring soju for the whole table.
“Ah, yeah,” Jeongguk says, accepting the soju that’s passed to him, “I’m twenty-six.”
“How old is Jia?” Seokjin asks.
Jeongguk messes with his glass of beer. “She’s six.” That math is easy. He and Jimin are both young dads, but Jeongguk is a younger dad with an older daughter.
No one comments on that, though. Seokjin says, “Sounds like fate that you two found each other, then.”
Jimin laughs. “If fate went by the name of Kim Eunji and was the biggest busybody you’ve ever met, then maybe so.”
Jeongguk has to grin. Eunji was the mom of one of the kids in Jia’s preschool class, and Jimin was the instructor of a pilates class she took, back then. When Eunji found out she knew not one, but two single dads who were both interested in men on some level, she tried to set them up. It’s a funny story, so he decides it’s worth telling.
“Eunji set Jimin-hyung and me up on a blind date,” he says. “She didn’t even tell us what we had in common. Hyung just started talking about Chaeyoung, so I started talking about Jia, and here we are now.”
“That was more than two years ago now,” Jimin agrees. “Thank you, Kim Eunji.”
“Wait, I’m sorry,” Namjoon says, “are you two dating?”
Jimin and Jeongguk both sputter at the same time. “No!” Jimin says. “Absolutely not.”
“Usually I would tease you for being slow, Namjoon-ah, but I was confused too,” Seokjin says. “So your blind date turned into single dads solidarity club?”
Jeongguk shrugs. He can’t deny that he had a fleeting wish, back then, that he and Jimin could be something more. But since Jia, the prospect of a romantic relationship has been awfully daunting, and he wanted something more permanent than a clumsy attempt at dating, so he’d never hoped that hard, and now he loves Jimin like his brother, and a friend he’ll endlessly support, but never as a lover.
“When you have romantic chemistry, you have it,” Jimin says sagely. “When you have dad chemistry, you have dad chemistry.”
“Oh, gross,” Jeongguk says vehemently. “Dad solidarity club is bad enough, now dad chemistry?”
The food comes, mountains and mountains of it. Hyunjin texts Jimin another photo of the girls, eating at the kitchen table, Jia with a long string of ramen hanging out of her mouth and a comical expression on her face. Jimin hands Jeongguk the phone to look at the photo.
Namjoon glances over Jeongguk’s shoulder, and when Jeongguk notices him, his eyes dart in another direction. “Sorry.”
Jeongguk just smiles and tilts Jimin’s phone in Namjoon’s direction so he can see. “That’s my girl,” he says, zooming in on Jia’s wide-eyed, noodle slurping face.
Namjoon laughs softly. “She looks a lot like you.”
“She says she looks just like me,” Jeongguk says.
“She likes to remind people of that,” Jimin says from his other side. Namjoon looks at Jimin like he forgot he was there.
Jeongguk passes Jimin’s phone back to him. “Good choice,” he says begrudgingly. Hyunjin seems to understand the need to know how their kids are doing throughout the evening, and the pictures are even better than text updates.
“Mhm,” Jimin says smugly.
“I think Chaeyoung looks like you too, Jimin,” Yoongi says. “A lot. Even when she was a baby.”
“She’s always been a cuddler, too,” Seokjin adds.
“Ohh, she is,” Jeongguk agrees. Tiny, cuddly Chaeyoung is as much a reflection of her dad as Jia is.
“We do have cuddle parties sometimes,” Jimin grins. “That’s her name for them.”
As all of them fill their plates and make sure they’ve all got enough to eat, Jeongguk asks Jimin’s friends what brought them back to the city.
“I was never gone,” Seokjin says. “It was these two.” He waves at Namjoon and Yoongi.
“We were living in Seoul,” Yoongi says. “Namjoon and I are in the music producing business. We worked with a girl group for their debut.”
“Oh!” Jeongguk exclaims in surprise. “Really? That’s so cool!”
Yoongi gives him an overview of the project, with the occasional input from Namjoon, who seems mostly content to sit back and let Yoongi tell the story. Jeongguk tries not to stare at Namjoon, especially while Yoongi is the one talking, but he’s so… so beautiful. Jeongguk has really never seen anyone like him.
He feels like he’s embarrassing himself, and forces his eyes to stay on Yoongi.
“But when we finished, and they debuted, we both agreed we really missed Busan,” Yoongi says. “And friends. Jimin, Seokjin. We’ve got jobs lined up here, but it’s lower profile work, and none of it starts for a while yet.”
“That’s still really cool, Yoongi-ssi,” Jeongguk says. “And Namjoon-ssi. I’ve heard your song before.” The first song the girl group put out as an ensemble had gotten pretty decent radio play, and Jeongguk has definitely heard it.
“Ah, you can call me hyung,” Yoongi says.
“You can call all of us hyung,” Seokjin agrees.
Jeongguk doesn’t quite mean to, but he cuts his eyes at Namjoon. Namjoon smiles like he’s agreeing. “Okay,” Jeongguk says.
“What do you do, Jeongguk-ah?” Seokjin asks.
Jeongguk messes with his chopsticks. “Right now I work at a gym in the mornings and a tutoring center in the afternoons,” he says. He’s a little embarrassed by that, especially having to say it right after hearing that Yoongi and Namjoon produced music for a new idol group. Jeongguk isn’t like Jimin; Jimin had a bachelor’s degree and half a master’s completed when Chaeyoung was born, plus he was married back then. He teaches at a small university now.
“Jeongguk is a hard worker,” Jimin says. It’s supposed to make him feel better, Jeongguk knows. It just makes him feel funnier.
“I can tell you’re a great dad,” Yoongi says.
“The best dad except me,” Jimin agrees.
Jeongguk gives a halfhearted roll of his eyes and a halfhearted shove at Jimin’s shoulder, because that’s what Jimin is angling for. He tries to shake the weird, awkward feeling settling over him. “What about you, Seokjin-hyung?” he asks, hoping to shrug the attention off himself. “What do you do? Why haven’t we met, if you live in the city?”
Seokjin tells him about his job and how he’s traveling all the time for it, and the conversation flows a little more neatly from there.
It’s been a productive evening, Jeongguk supposes to himself, if he’s successfully endured the embarrassment of three whole people beginning to get to know him. It’s a difficult process, it always has been for him, and he’s awfully rusty.
“You good?” Jimin asks as they get ready to leave later. It’s after ten, and Hyunjin has sent them a photo of Chaeyoung asleep in her bed and Jia on top of several comforters on the floor next to her. She’s a good babysitter. Jeongguk decides he’s okay with her.
“Yeah,” he says.
He lets Seokjin hug him as they make their way outside, with only a little embarrassment.
Yoongi gives him a friendly smile and says he hopes they meet again soon, which Jimin assures him they will. When he glances at Namjoon, he’s given a shy, embarrassed little smile.
“It was nice to meet you, Jeongguk-ssi,” Namjoon says. He’s speaking quietly, he has been all evening, but Jeongguk can tell his voice is low and smooth and full. “Thank you for saving me earlier.”
Jeongguk smiles. “That’s okay. It was mostly reflex, to be honest. Jia went through a phase where she tried to jump off the kitchen table and the back of the couch all the time, so.” He’s probably oversharing now.
Namjoon laughs, though. “She sounds like a character.”
Jeongguk agrees, and then they part ways, quiet and friendly. He follows Jimin to his car. “Thanks for inviting me out tonight,” he says.
“Of course,” Jimin says. “Dude. You’re my best friend. You think I’m going to let my oldest friends move back to town and not meet my best friend?”
“Your dad friend.”
“My best friend,” Jimin repeats.
Jeongguk smiles at him, feeling a little sleepy. Normally he would feel a little pathetic for being sleepy not even eleven on a Friday night, but he’s warm with just enough alcohol and good food, so he lets his eyelids droop.
They get back to Jimin’s apartment and pool babysitting cash together for Hyunjin, who thanks them politely and says the girls were good but didn’t really want to go to bed. After she leaves, Jimin hangs his jacket by the door and says, “Oh man, I’m getting old.”
Jeongguk snorts. “We’re both young, hyung.”
“I’m so tired, though,” Jimin says. He stretches out and smiles, like he’s not actually upset about this at all. “Wanna go to bed?”
Jeongguk does. They check on the sleeping girls, then go to Jimin’s room and clamber into his giant bed together.
For some reason, before Jeongguk falls asleep, he thinks about his arms tight around Namjoon’s waist when he caught him earlier. He thinks about Namjoon’s face, and his explosion of stunned awe when he saw it first.
Yeah, okay Jeongguk, he thinks. Namjoon is attractive. It’s not a big deal. There are lots of attractive guys in the world. You’re in one’s bed.
He rolls over a little closer to Jimin and goes to sleep.
Jeongguk wakes up to someone crawling over him. He peeks an eye open and it’s Chaeyoung, one knee digging into his stomach.
“Oh, god,” he groans as the knee digs into something soft. “Good morning, Chaeyoung-ah.”
“Shh,” she tells him. She climbs under the covers between him and Jimin and snuggles up to Jimin.
“Chaeyoungie, it’s early,” Jimin says without opening his eyes.
“Shh,” Chaeyoung says again.
Jimin rolls onto his back so she can grab onto his arm. He peeks an eye open and looks at Jeongguk, and they both fight back smiles.
A minute later, Jia appears in the bedroom doorway, her hair sticking up everywhere. She glares at the general vicinity and climbs over Jeongguk even less gracefully than Chaeyoung did. She looks sleepy, but she doesn’t shut her eyes.
“Why don’t you guys go watch something on tv?” Jimin asks when Chaeyoung stops being still, only a few minutes later. “Let me and Jeongguk-ah sleep a little longer, then we’ll come make breakfast.”
Jia sighs heavily, but she sits up and holds her hand out for Chaeyoung to follow. They leave the room, pulling the door shut loudly.
Jimin scoots closer and throws his arm around Jeongguk’s waist. Jeongguk leans into him, tilting his head forward until he can rest his forehead on Jimin’s shoulder.
This part of their relationship was the weirdest and took the longest to develop. Both having young daughters without a partner, they shared the same deficit for intimate touch. Not just sex, but hugging and kissing and cuddling. It was a long time after they were emotionally close before they were comfortable being physically close, sleeping in each other’s bed, holding each other.
It’s good, though. Jeongguk will never kiss Jimin, except occasionally on the cheek, and he’ll never have sex with Jimin, but that’s okay and good. This isn’t intimate and loving cuddling, it’s cuddling that makes him feel safe and watched out for, like Jimin’s got his back. He does, Jeongguk knows--Jimin’s got his back, and he’s got Jimin’s.
They stay like that for a while, long enough that Jeongguk can feel both of them wondering what Jia and Chaeyoung are up to, so they get up reluctantly. Jeongguk sits on the edge of the bed and rubs his eyes, and Jimin walks on his knees to come drape himself over Jeongguk’s back.
“Love you,” Jimin says. It comes out muffled and nasally because his cheek and nose are smushed against Jeongguk’s back.
“Love you too, hyung,” Jeongguk says. “C’mon, let’s go.” Jimin doesn’t let go of his back, so Jeongguk ends up giving him a piggyback ride to the living room.
Jia and Chaeyoung are, thankfully, actually sitting on the couch watching tv. They’re snuggling with their respective stuffed animals, and they just watch as Jeongguk dumps Jimin off his back onto the love seat. Jia claps. “Daddy, you’re strong!”
“Well, what do you think I go to the gym for?!” he teases.
Chaeyoung looks at them with wide eyes. “Dad! It’s dance class day!”
Jimin grins. “Yeah, Chaeyoungie. We have enough time to eat breakfast, though.”
Jeongguk helps Jimin make breakfast, and the four of them eat together. They head to the gym for the eleven o’clock dance class the girls both take every Saturday.
It was lucky for Jeongguk to stumble upon this gym, and get a job here on top of it; he and Jimin used to lament together about wanting to work out more but not feeling good about the childcare offered at any of the gyms they tried out. At this one, a perfectly scheduled kids’ dance class with an instructor Jeongguk knows means neither of them feel the need to worry while they work out.
When they go to the classroom after the hour and a half is up, Jimin slows his steps and grabs Jeongguk’s arm with both hands, nearly plastering his chest to Jeongguk. “Oh, shit.”
“Eugh, hyung, gross,” Jeongguk groans, pushing Jimin away from him. This attracts the attention of a guy sitting on a bench a ways down from the classroom, near where they are. When he sees them, his eyebrows raise and his eyes light up in a pleased expression.
“Park Jimin-ssi,” he says.
Jeongguk frowns. This guy is wearing jeans with a flannel button down on top of a t-shirt, inside a gym. He’s not really concerned, he just thinks it’s weird.
“Taehyung-ssi,” Jimin greets. There’s a tiny little smile on his face and he worries at the corner of his lip. “Hi, what are you doing here?” He nods significantly at the guy’s outfit.
“Oh!” the guy, Taehyung, says. “I’m waiting on a friend, Hoseok. He teaches this class.” He waves in the direction of the classroom. Then his eyebrows raise delightedly. “Is Chaeyoung in this class?”
Jeongguk elbows Jimin meaningfully.
“Ow,” he hisses. “Yeah, she is. Um, Taehyung-ssi, this is Jeon Jeongguk. Jeongguk-ah, this is Kim Taehyung. He was Chaeyoung’s preschool teacher last year.”
“Nice to meet you, Taehyung-ssi,” Jeongguk says with a small bow. Taehyung is pretty, with dark hair that curls nicely around the nape of his neck. “You know Hoseok?”
“Yeah, he’s a friend from college,” Taehyung smiles. “We were education majors together. How do you know him, Jeongguk-ssi?”
“Oh, I work here during the week,” Jeongguk says.
Taehyung nods. “That explains a lot.” His eyes flicker over Jeongguk.
Jeongguk is about to question that, cataloguing the disgruntled frown it brings to Jimin’s face, when the door to the studio room opens. Jimin pokes his head in to summon both Jia and Chaeyoung.
“Chaeyoungie! Want to come say hi to teacher Taehyung?” he asks, holding out his hand as she steps down from the slightly raised floor.
“Teacher!” she exclaims in agreement. Her eyes go wide when she sees Taehyung on the bench. She must really like him. “Hi,” she says shyly, hiding behind Jimin’s leg a little.
“Hello, Chaeyoung-ah!” Taehyung gets off the bench and crouches down in front of her. “Long time no see.”
She nods. “I miss you, teacher.” Jeongguk can feel Jimin internally screaming beside him.
Jia grabs his hand. “Dad! I learned a pirouette today.”
“What?” Jeongguk gasps. “I didn’t know you were a ballerina!”
”Da-ad,” she says, rolling her eyes like a kid at least six years older than her might do. “You’re embarrassing me.”
Taehyung, still crouching in front of Chaeyoung--or rather, in front of Jimin’s legs--laughs. “Is this your daughter, Jeongguk-ssi?”
“Yeah, this is Jia.”
“Jia! This is my teacher,” Chaeyoung says.
“Not anymore, baby,” Jimin says. “You have teacher Jo this year.”
Chaeyoung pouts, but when Chaeyoung pouts it’s much sadder and more believable than any other pout Jeongguk has seen. He has to look away.
“You got your stuff, Jia?” he asks.
Jia reaches back over her own shoulder and pats her backpack.
“‘Kay,” he says. He turns to Jimin. “Lunch?”
“Yeah,” Jimin agrees. He picks Chaeyoung up. “Good to see you, Taehyung-ssi.”
“You too, Park Jimin-ssi. Bye, Chaeyoung-ah!” Taehyung waves as they head out.
“Bye, teacher,” Chaeyoung calls forlornly.
“So, Chaeyoung’s teacher, huh?” Jeongguk asks once they’ve left the gym and are headed to lunch. He’s kind of an oblivious guy sometimes, but he’s not that oblivious.
“Hmm,” Jimin hums in a way that tells Jeongguk he’s not getting any information. Oh well.
For lunch, they go to Jimin and Jeongguk’s favorite dumpling place where Chaeyoung or Jia or both always ends up spilling soy sauce on something.
“Daddy, I want to go back to teacher,” Chaeyoung whines before the food comes.
“What did he feed her to make her like him so much?” Jeongguk marvels. Chaeyoung is really shy and only expresses attachment to Jimin and Jia, and occasionally Jeongguk.
“Charm?” Jimin suggests dryly.
Jeongguk bites back a smile. He doesn’t want to give Jimin shit about liking this guy because Jimin gets a little emo when people don’t like him back.
“Anyway,” Jimin says. “Did you have a good time last night?”
“Oh, yeah.” Jeongguk straightens up. “Your friends are. Adults.”
Jimin gives him a funny smile. “You’re an adult, Guk.”
“Adult?” Chaeyoung repeats.
“It’s how grown-ups say ‘grown-up’,” Jia tells her. Chaeyoung nods.
“Your friends are men?” Jeongguk tries.
Jimin blinks at him.
“Dad! You’re a man too!” Jia says. She pats his cheek. There’s soy sauce on her hand.
“That’s true, Jia.” Jeongguk picks up a napkin and wipes the soy sauce off his cheek, then grabs Jia’s hands and wipes them too. “No soy sauce until we have food.”
“You’re a man,” Jimin repeats.
“Your friends are… adult men with degrees in careers,” Jeongguk clarifies. He doesn’t say ‘like you,’ but the sentiment is obvious, and it hangs in the air between them.
Jimin frowns, but he doesn’t say anything, probably getting that it’s not a good time to get into this discussion.
“They were really nice,” he assures Jimin. The food comes and Chaeyoung knocks over the soy sauce bottle in her excitement.
Jeongguk doesn’t really think about Jimin’s friends for a couple weeks. A few times, fleetingly, he remembers Namjoon in the way he’s ever remembered people who struck him like that, but Jimin doesn’t bring his friends up again so Jeongguk largely forgets that Namjoon is a person who could pop up in his life again.
It’s a Tuesday, cloudy and chilly, and Jeongguk is on his lunch hour between jobs. He’s at his regular cafe, the one he goes to at least a few times a week, where they know his order and are coming up with increasingly unbelievable discounts to give him, when he runs into Namjoon.
He’s at the counter, talking with Mikyung, the woman who owns the cafe, debating the validity of the ‘cold spell discount’ she’s applied to his total and the free hot chocolate she handed him as soon as he walked in. She shoos him away with a secretive, kind smile, and Jeongguk turns around to find a table to sit at and almost immediately looks right at him.
Namjoon is sitting at a two person table tucked in the corner of the cafe by the big front window. He has a laptop in front of himself, but he’s not looking at it; he’s looking at Jeongguk. When he sees Jeongguk looking back, he smiles a little smile that looks like he’s been caught, and Jeongguk’s heart sinks to his stomach.
Goddamn. He really hoped his brain was feeding him false memories about how gorgeous Namjoon was.
Jeongguk waves, and Namjoon waves back, and what the hell. He walks over, clutching his hot chocolate. “Hi, Namjoon-ssi,” he says.
“Hyung is fine,” Namjoon says quietly.
Jeongguk wonders if he’s saying that just because Seokjin and Yoongi had the evening they met. But Namjoon is looking at him expectantly, like he’s waiting for him to approve before he continues informally. “Namjoon-hyung,” he corrects.
Namjoon smiles this one-sided smile that makes one of his dimples deeper than the other. Oh god. “Hello, Jeongguk-ah. What are you up to?”
“Just lunch,” Jeongguk says. He checks his watch. “I’m headed down the street for the rest of the afternoon in half an hour.”
“Oh, right,” Namjoon nods. “Um, gym in the mornings? And…”
“Tutoring center in the afternoons,” Jeongguk finishes. He feels embarrassed that Namjoon remembers that. Namjoon is gorgeous and successful. Jeongguk doesn’t want to meet any more of Jimin’s friends ever again. “What are you up to?” he asks.
“Ah, just,” Namjoon waves vaguely at his laptop. “You know.”
Jeongguk furrows his eyebrows and peeks around Namjoon’s laptop. He can’t interpret anything that’s on the screen, but he knows it’s a music production program. “No, you’re working,” he says. He feels his cheeks flush, realizing he’s being too nosy. “Sorry.”
“Oh you’re fine.” Namjoon laughs. “It’s just a project Yoongi and I are working on together before our next job. Our own stuff. I’ve been kind of camping out here. Living the unemployed life.”
Jeongguk smiles politely but doesn’t laugh. Only people who have made good money, safe money, can joke about being unemployed. He’s not offended or upset, though, because Namjoon looks genuinely embarrassed. “I think it’s cool that you have the time and means to work on your own music,” he says instead.
Namjoon clears his throat. “Thanks.” His eyes flicker over Jeongguk’s shoulder, and he says louder, “I’m lucky Mikyung-ssi hasn’t kicked me out for good by now.”
Jeongguk turns to where Mikyung has come up beside him, holding his food.
“Hmph,” she says. “You think I’m going to let a skinny boy like you leave here unfed? Ask Jeongguk-ssi how he stopped being too skinny.”
Jeongguk’s jaw drops. “Ahjumma!” he exclaims, feeling his face burn. “That’s because I work at a gym.”
Namjoon laughs and covers his mouth with a hand.
“Where do you think you get the energy to use your gym, boy? Sit down and eat. Kim Namjoon-ssi, I’m bringing you more noodles,” she threatens.
“Yes, ahjumma,” Namjoon says. He grins at Jeongguk, and Jeongguk has to physically blink himself back into the present. “Do you want to sit?”
Jeongguk checks the time, even though he just checked it a couple minutes ago. “Yeah, for a little bit. Thank you.” He takes off his coat and sits across from Namjoon, setting down the food Mikyung brought him. He tries not to stare, but it’s much harder here than when he first met Namjoon, because Namjoon is the only person he can look at. He goes back and forth making eye contact and looking down at his food, and accidentally looking at Namjoon’s chest in between.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt you,” he says when Namjoon sets his laptop aside.
“No, no,” Namjoon says quickly. “You’re fine, I--”
Jeongguk looks at him expectantly.
“I needed a break,” he finishes. Mikyung comes over and sets down a huge bowl of noodles in front of him, and he gives her a wide eyed look. “This is too much, ahjumma!”
“Cold spell,” she waves off. “Free noodles to customers over 180 centimeters.”
He shakes his head. “Let me pay.”
“Next time, boy.” She leaves.
Jeongguk smiles. “She did that to me, too, when I first started coming in here. Free food all the time. Now she just gives me random discounts.”
“She’s too nice,” Namjoon says. He tries the noodles. Jeongguk has had them before. They’re good, he knows. “You work near here, you said? Is that why you come here?”
“Yeah.” Jeongguk takes a bite of rice. “Like I said, the tutoring center I work at is down the street. I’ve been there a few years now. Lucky for me, this place is kind of right between there and the gym, so it’s not out of my way for lunch.”
Namjoon nods. “Do you like tutoring?” he asks.
This feels practiced, almost scripted. Like an interview. Like Jeongguk was supposed to come prepared to sell himself or something, even though Namjoon hasn’t said a word to place pressure on him.
“Yeah, I do,” he says. “Teaching was never on my radar, but I did pretty well in school, and I like helping people.”
“That’s awesome,” Namjoon says.
Jeongguk feels like he’s talking too much about himself. Namjoon obviously didn’t know how to respond to that. He takes a bite of too-hot chicken and then tries again. “Um, so you. Music?” Fuck, fuck him. And honestly, fuck Namjoon for being so gorgeous and so casual about it. Jeongguk is so thrown by him.
“Yeah, music,” Namjoon agrees, like he hasn’t even noticed how awkward Jeongguk is. “Honestly, I’ve, you know. Just been really lucky.”
Jeongguk forgets his resolution and stares at him. He can’t figure out if Namjoon is trying to make Jeongguk feel better or if he’s being humble or self-effacing. “Namjoon-ssi--hyung,” he corrects quickly, “I’ve heard that single you and Yoongi worked on. It’s not luck.”
“Ah,” Namjoon says, looking awkwardly down at the noodles in front of him. “Thank you.” So self-effacing, then.
Too much time passes in silence to not be awkward. Jeongguk checks the time again, which is far too conspicuous, but he still has ten minutes until he needs to leave. Fuck it, he thinks, and asks, “Can you tell me more about it?”
“Producing. Why you do it. What you like about it. Whatever you have to say.”
Namjoon smiles, but he hesitates. “Okay,” he says. “Well. Honestly, as long as I can remember there just… hasn’t been a question whether I want to do music. I tried to go to school as a pre-law student.” He laughs. Jeongguk cracks a smile. “It just wasn’t right. I’ve always felt like, um.” He seems to weight what he wants to say next. “I’ve always felt like everything is art. People are art. Human life is art. And, I don’t know--I just wanted to make art about that?”
“Art about art,” Jeongguk says. “Meta.”
The funniest thing happens then; Namjoon blushes. “I didn’t want to say that, but yeah. I know it sounds lame.”
Jeongguk shakes his head. “I don’t think it’s lame. I think it’s,” he pauses to gather his word, “a really rare way of seeing things.”
“Ah. Thank you, I think.”
Jeongguk can already tell Namjoon is a good person, and honestly, damn him for being this handsome and this good at the same time. But he is, handsomely sitting across from Jeongguk and acting shy about himself.
He thinks there is more Namjoon could say about what he just told Jeongguk, but he seems a little embarrassed already, so Jeongguk changes directions and asks about his early projects. Namjoon speaks in this funny, almost contradictory way that’s a little rambling, but with concise wording. The act of speaking sometimes trips him up, but words themselves never seem to.
And soon, Jeongguk’s lunch is up. “I have to go,” he says apologetically, packing up what’s left of his food to take with him.
Namjoon goes visibly a little pink. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to talk that much.”
“No, no,” Jeongguk rushes, and it settles in the pit of his stomach how much he does not want Namjoon to worry about talking too much. “You were only answering my questions. It was really nice talking to you.” He stands up and puts on his coat and accidentally lingers, not knowing what to say. “Have a good day, hyung,” he settles on.
“You too. Thank you for your company.” Namjoon smiles and gives him a little wave as he leaves.
Jeongguk steps outside feeling odd and a little like his heart is in his throat. He has this urge to turn around and look back at Namjoon, but he doesn’t. He’s a little afraid Namjoon will be looking and a little afraid that he won’t.
This place is different than the one they went to when Jeongguk met Jimin’s friends. It’s busier, louder, serves less food and more drinks. It’s a little more Jimin and a little less Jeongguk.
“Just Yoongi?” Jeongguk asks as Jimin orders their first drinks. “No Seokjin or Namjoon?”
Jimin shakes his head. “They were both busy. Although Seokjin might be trying to avoid small groups of us so things don’t get uncomfortable. I don’t know.”
Jeongguk frowns. “What’s the deal with that?” he asks. The way that Jimin talks about Seokjin is just a little off, and he’s wondered.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” Jimin says to get a rise out of Jeongguk and avoid the subject.
“Hmm,” is all Jeongguk responds, right before there’s movement beside him.
“Jimin-ssi,” someone says, coming up to their table. When Jeongguk looks up, he sees Chaeyoung’s old teacher from the gym--Taehyung, he remembers.
“Oh,” Jimin says with obvious surprise. “Taehyung-ssi. Hello.” He takes a very conspicuous gulp of his drink.
“Hi,” Taehyung says. “Oh, and hello again,” he says to Jeongguk.
Jeongguk gives him a nod. “Taehyung-ssi.” Around Taehyung, he can also see the slighter build of Hoseok, the girls’ dance teacher at the gym. “Hey, Hoseok-hyung.”
“Oh, Jeongguk-ah,” Hoseok says, stepping around Taehyung to see him. “Hey there. How are you?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” says Taehyung, looking sheepish. “I just noticed you over here and wanted to say hello.” His eyes drag over Jimin, and oh.
Jeongguk sits up straighter. This is his moment. He was born for this. “Are you here just the two of you?” he asks. “You should join us. We’re waiting on someone, but I’m sure he won’t mind.” Jimin’s eyes go wide, and Jeongguk gives him a significant look. He’s going to get a good chewing out over this later.
“Sure,” Hoseok says, seeming oblivious to the daggers Jimin’s staring in Jeongguk’s direction. Jimin and Jeongguk are at a four person table, so Hoseok pulls up another chair. “For your friend,” he says, and he sits next to Jeongguk. Jeongguk gives him a pleased smile.
“You don’t mind, do you, Jimin-ssi?” Taehyung asks, hesitating a little more before sitting next to Jimin.
God, Jeongguk thinks. Jimin’s blind. Taehyung wants Jimin to like him so badly.
“Oh, no,” Jimin says quickly. “Please do.”
“Maybe we should straighten things out a little,” Hoseok says. “Jeongguk is a baby. Taehyung is 95. Jimin-ssi?”
“95,” Jimin says. His eyes catch with Taehyung’s for just a second.
“Alright, Jimin-ah,” Hoseok says good-naturedly.
“Alright, Jimin-ah,” Taehyung repeats. Jeongguk watches with a delighted expression as Jimin’s face goes pink.
“Taehyung-hyung, I’m really impressed, because Chaeyoung seems to like you a lot. She’s pretty picky about people,” Jeongguk says.
Taehyung looks at Jimin.
“Oh, she loves you,” Jimin confirms. “After running into you, she pouted the rest of the day. Because you’re not her teacher anymore.”
Taehyung looks down and smiles. “I think she’s very cool, too.”
Yoongi shows up then, looking a little confused at their group. “Hey there, Jimin-ah.”
“Hyung,” Jimin exclaims and gets up to hug him. “Hey. This is Kim Taehyung and Jung Hoseok. We just happened to run into them. Here.” He motions to the chair pulled up at the end between him and Jeongguk.
Yoongi bows. “Hello, hello,” he says, then sits. “And hello, Jeongguk-ah.”
“Um, I’ll get drinks,” Jimin says.
“I’ll come with you.” Taehyung stands up quickly, leaving no time for anyone to argue. They make their way to the bar, and once they’re out of earshot, Jeongguk can’t help but giggle to himself.
“What’s that?” Yoongi asks, turning to look at him with an amused look on his face.
“They’re funny,” Jeongguk says.
Hoseok groans. “Ah, tell me about it. I guess Taehyung saw you guys at the gym a little bit ago? Then he got all mopey because he doesn’t think Jimin’s into him.”
“Jimin didn’t think Taehyung was interested,” Jeongguk says. “God, they’re both blind.”
“Huh,” Yoongi says, looking impressed and a little disconcerted. “I got left at the table with the busybodies.”
“Oh, I call bullshit,” Hoseok says. “You give off major busybody vibes.”
“Do I?” Yoongi challenges.
“Yes. Like old woman busybody vibes.”
Yoongi squawks indignantly. “We just met, and you’re already insulting me?”
“Busybody isn’t an insult!” Jeongguk says. “Me and Jimin originated from the mother of all busybodies.”
“Busybody is starting to not sound like a word,” Hoseok says. “Anyway. I vote yes to that.” He nods in the direction of Jimin and Taehyung, who are holding drinks by now, but are still just standing by the bar, talking.
“Hmm,” Yoongi says. “How do they know each other?”
“Taehyung was Chaeyoung’s teacher last year,” Jeongguk says. “She loves him.”
“That’s a pretty good review.” Yoongi studies them for a second, then turns back to the table.
“Unfortunately it only gets better from there,” Hoseok says. “Taehyung is insufferably good. It’s impossible to live up to.”
Hoseok is clearly teasing. Yoongi’s mouth presses into an unreadable line. “What do you do, Jung Hoseok-ssi?”
“I think that’ll be Hoseok-ah for you,” Hoseok says. “I’m a teacher, too. I do dance classes at a gym on the side, that’s why I know Jeongguk. The girls take one of my kid dance classes. What do you do?”
“I’m in music producing,” Yoongi says.
It doesn’t look like he’s going to say more, so Jeongguk asks him, “Are you working on anything now, hyung?”
Yoongi shakes his head. “Not at the moment, no. I’m starting a project the week after this next, but now it’s just personal stuff.”
“Ah, yeah, Namjoon said you were working on something together. I ran into him at a cafe last week.”
“Did he say?” Yoongi asks, looking mildly surprised. “Yeah. We usually work together during our free time, but there hasn’t been much of that before recently.”
“Is this a partner?” Hoseok asks.
“Yeah, business partner,” Yoongi says. “We’ve worked together for years.”
“And just moved back here, right?” Jeongguk adds.
“Yes. Need a good break from each other.” Yoongi cracks a smile that lets Jeongguk know he’s joking. He leans back in his seat. “Actually no, we lived together before. Now we don’t, and it’s kind of weird.”
“Oh, hm,” Jeongguk says. “I can’t imagine living alone. I never have.”
“Personally, I’m not a fan,” Hoseok says. “But to each his own. God, I need a drink. Are they still flirting?”
Jeongguk turns to look, and they are indeed still flirting, but by now slowly making their way toward the table. “There’s no way that’s not happening,” he says.
By the end of the evening he’s even surer about it. Jimin’s been in a couple relationships in the time Jeongguk has known him, but Jeongguk is pretty sure he’s never seen him this gone for someone before they even dated.
Yoongi leans over to speak only to Jeongguk. “I think you’re right,” he says. “I’ve never seen him like this. He must have liked this guy all year.”
“Must have,” Jeongguk agrees. “He better be as insufferably good as Hoseok says, or else he’ll have to go.”
Yoongi cracks a smile. “I like you, kid.”
“Ugh,” says Jeongguk. “You can’t call me that. I’m a dad.”
“Okay,” Yoongi says with a little laugh. “Let me meet this kid of yours sometime, alright?”
“Sure,” Jeongguk agrees. He likes Yoongi. Yoongi seems trustworthy, so he’s pretty sure he can handle that.
When they leave, Jimin scoots into the middle seat of the uber they take home and whispers to Jeongguk, “I got Taehyung’s number.”
Jeongguk laughs. “No shit?”
“Don’t make fun of me,” Jimin whines. “I like him so much, god, it’s gross.”
“Oh man, yeah, it’s awful,” Jeongguk agrees. “You two only had eyes for each other, it was so weird.”
“You were so different today. You like, talked a bunch. Started conversations.”
“I was in wingman mode. I’m a different person in wingman mode.”
Jimin pats his thigh. “Thanks, I guess. You did good.”
“I know. But I get to vet him before you start anything serious.”
“Oh yeah, I know,” Jimin agrees. “You have full veto power, and you know what? I already know he’s going to pass. It’s ridiculous.”
Jeongguk just laughs.
He sees Namjoon again the next week. He’s been in the cafe again since the first time they ran into each other, but Namjoon hasn’t been there. Not that he expected him to be. He’d just wondered.
This time, Jeongguk is sitting with his food when Namjoon walks in, his laptop bag over one shoulder and a book tucked under his arm. His cheeks are rosy from the cold.
He sees Jeongguk right away, and smiles at him. He comes closer and asks, “May I sit with you?”
So polite. Too polite. “Of course,” Jeongguk says. Namjoon leaves his things at the table and goes to order.
When he comes back, he slides into the little booth and smiles. God. Those dimples are going to take Jeongguk the fuck out anytime now. “How are you?” Namjoon asks.
“Ah, I’m good. How are you?”
“Good. Enjoying this weather pretty well.”
“You like the cold?” Jeongguk asks. He likes it when it’s chilly out, but he hates to be cold.
“Sure,” Namjoon says. “I like wearing layers. I like clouds and leaves. I think it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, and I like the rain.”
“I think rain is nice if I don’t have to go anywhere,” Jeongguk says. “So, on a Sunday.”
Namjoon smiles. “Fair enough. I like to go the library when it rains. They usually turn the other way when I bring coffee in.”
“Oh? Do you have the librarians wrapped around your finger?”
“I don’t think so,” Namjoon says. “I just ask them for book recommendations and in return, they let me bring illegal coffee inside.”
“The one down the street?” Jeongguk asks, nodding in the direction of the big library he and Jia go to sometimes. Namjoon nods. “Ah, they’re pretty nice there, I take Jia there.”
“Does she like to read?” Namjoon asks.
“Yeah. She’s not very good at it, but she really pushes through. She manages a lot of little books.”
“Good for her,” Namjoon says. He looks happy, and it’s altogether embarrassing to Jeongguk how happy he feels talking to Namjoon, and how happy it makes him that Namjoon seems the same. Each time Jeongguk sees him it gets worse, and this is only three.
The next time he sees Namjoon goes like that too--and the next, and the next. At this point they both seem to be comfortable with the awkwardness of getting to know someone, and they ask each other questions that are blatantly formed to get the other person to talk. Jeongguk loves listening to Namjoon talk, and he loves the attentive way Namjoon listens when he is talking. He asks questions, more and better ones as time goes on.
It’s a little clumsy, maybe, as they continue to purposefully happen upon each other at lunchtime once a week or so but never manage to take the step of actually coordinating. But Jeongguk likes it. He likes having this odd, random, interesting, handsome friend. He likes seeing someone in the middle of his workday and telling them how he’s doing. Namjoon is clearly very kind and smart, both facts that are not helping the little crush that’s been growing since the very moment Jeongguk caught Namjoon with his arms around his waist.
It’s okay, he thinks. It’s just a little crush. Nothing to worry himself over.
Jimin is calling him. Jeongguk picks up the phone, in the middle of scrambling to unlock the door to his apartment. “Hello?”
“Hey, I need your help on Friday, if you can.”
“Oh?” Jeongguk sandwiches the phone between his ear and shoulder and gets the door unlocked. Jia walks in ahead of him, taking off her coat and dropping it in the middle of the floor. “Hey, hang that up,” he tells her.
“Yeah. I… have a date.”
“Ooh. It better be with Taehyung.”
“It’s with Taehyung.”
“Okay. You want Chaeyoung to stay over here, then?” he asks.
“Can you guys come stay at my place instead?”
Jeongguk pauses. “Are you sure?”
“I’m positive. I don’t want to sleep with him on the first date,” Jimin says.
“I mean, I guess. But he has an apartment too, doesn’t he?”
“Shhh,” Jimin hisses. “I don’t need that idea in my head. Is it okay?”
“Of course,” Jeongguk says. “Are we staying over after dinner on Saturday, too?”
“Mm, we should be early enough for you guys to go home. It’s up to you, though. Thank you so much.”
“You got it. See you.” They hang up, and Jeongguk calls out to Jia, “Jia, baby, sleepover this weekend!”
She nods and flops over on the couch.
That weekend he spends Friday in the familiarity of Jia and Chaeyoung, watching a movie with them and playing along with their games. This time Jia is a dragon and Chaeyoung is a knight who has to defeat her, which means that Jeongguk is the horse. It’s a part that always hurts his knees.
He puts them to bed as soon as he can manage, struggling to deflect the onslaught of questions (“dad, how do lightbulbs get light?” “how come it makes my tummy feel funny when I drink water too fast?” “how far away is the moon?” “do they really eat snails in France?”) that always seem to come at bedtime.
Jimin gets home late and comes in to collapse on the couch next to Jeongguk.
“Hey,” Jeongguk says. “How’d it go?”
“Really good,” Jimin groans and hides his face in Jeongguk’s shoulder.
“What did you do?”
“We got dinner and just talked forever. It was after nine when we left the restaurant. And then he was like, ‘do you want ice cream?’ and I was like, ‘hell yeah I do.’ So we went and got ice cream.”
“Then you made out?” Jeongguk guesses.
“Then we made out. Which was great. I haven’t kissed someone who was like, a fun kisser for a long time.”
“Okay, I don’t want to know any more,” Jeongguk says. “I’m glad it was a good date. Am I still allowed to sleep in your bed?”
Jimin pats his thigh. “You will always be allowed to sleep in my bed.”
The next evening, Hyunjin babysits again and they go out to dinner with Jimin’s friends. When Namjoon gets to the restaurant, Jeongguk is surprised by the hug he gets.
“Hey, Jeongguk-ah,” Namjoon says with a big smile. He is unquestionably the nicest person Jeongguk knows.
“Hello, hyung,” Jeongguk says, and then Namjoon hugs him. It’s a side hug, and by all standards that is only half qualified as a hug, but it’s still unexpected and still a little exciting.
Namjoon sits next to him again. All dinner their elbow brush, and Jeongguk wonders if maybe he is going a little bit crazy.