The sun was warm against the back of Yoongi’s neck as he opened his mailbox, fingers folding around the envelopes as he took a deep breath of fresh air. Rolling his neck from side to side, Yoongi tried to work out the tense pains that seemed to always be plaguing him now, after so many years of working as the local mechanic.
He took a moment to shut his eyes and just let himself be — to relax against the sun’s kiss, to let the slight breeze wrap itself around the edges of his skin like gossamer, to—
Yoongi’s eyes shot open and he let out a sigh, half-fond and half-exasperated.
“Yoonie, come quick!”
Yoongi approached his front door after shutting the mailbox and stepped inside, toeing off his shoes.
“Taehyung, I was gone for literally one minute,” he replied, stepping over an overturned bucket of toys and a stale, half-eaten biscuit on the floor.
“I remembered I have a very important question to ask you.”
“Okay,” Yoongi agreed, setting the stack of mail down on the counter.
“Star asked me to ask you to ask Gukkie if he could buy those yummy marshmallow cookies again.”
Yoongi cocked an eyebrow and looked over towards Taehyung, who was sprawled out on the floor next to Star, his huge brown English Mastiff. Taehyung was just barely longer than Star laid out, and Yoongi watched as his seven year old reached out to pet Star’s ears with his little hands, rubbing them between his fingers to feel the texture of her fur. Star didn’t even open her eyes, letting Taehyung do as he pleased.
“Star isn’t allowed to have cookies,” Yoongi said.
Taehyung looked up at him. “The cookies aren’t for Star, they’re for me.”
“Then why did Star ask if Jeongguk could buy it?”
Taehyung shrugged then plopped his head back down on his arm, cushioning it against the floor and squishing his cheek up. “Star is Gukkie’s favorite,” he answered sagely. “If Star is asking, then he’ll for sure buy them.”
Yoongi laughed and walked over, hoisting Taehyung up and under one arm like a football. Taehyung shrieked in delight, causing Star to open one lazy eye and gaze at the two of them before huffing loudly and going back to her nap.
“If you really want, I’ll buy you the cookies, Tae.”
“They’re toasted marshmallow flavored. I like marshmallow.”
“Sounds yummy,” Yoongi walked them to the bathroom and set Taehyung down on the counter to swing his legs back and forth.
“You can’t have any,” Taehyung said as Yoongi wet a washcloth and unceremoniously began wiping at his arms and legs and cheeks, trying to rub the colorful marker tattooing Taehyung's skin.
Yoongi pretended to look affronted. “You’re not going to share?”
Taehyung’s face twisted into one of consideration.
“Maybe you can have one.”
“That’s awfully generous of you,” Yoongi said dryly, setting down the now-rainbow washcloth and peeling his grease-stained shirt over his head, kneeling down against the bathtub to wash his hair under the faucet.
He heard Taehyung climb off the counter as he scrubbed his bleached blonde hair with shampoo, and then Taehyung was clinging onto his back, arms wrapped a bit too tightly around Yoongi’s neck.
“You’re gonna get all wet,” Yoongi shouted over the roar of the running water.
“When I grow up, I want my hair to be blue,” Taehyung said, hanging on and dangling off of Yoongi’s shoulders as Yoongi finished washing up and straightened, reaching over to grab a towel to rub his hair dry.
“That’s possible,” Yoongi answered. “You’d look like a really handsome blueberry.”
Taehyung laughed in delight.
Yoongi slung the now-damp towel around his shoulders and then reached back to hoist Taehyung up in the air, tossing him up a bit before catching him securely in his arms.
Namjoon always had a heart attack whenever Jeongguk and Yoongi did this, but they would never let Taehyung fall. And it was worth it, to hear the peals of laughter that it always elicited from Taehyung. It was worth it, to see Taehyung happy.
As he held Taehyung in his arms, Yoongi couldn’t help but think about how someday soon, Taehyung would be too big for Yoongi to carry around anymore. How someday soon, Taehyung would outgrow Yoongi and not constantly be looking up towards him for cuddles or advice.
Shaking the thought from his head, Yoongi blew a raspberry against the top of Taehyung’s hair and moved towards their room in search of a clean shirt.
“What do you wanna do tonight?”
“Mmm, can we do some more math problems?”
Yoongi was unsurprised by the answer.
“You sure? You don’t wanna color, or watch a movie?”
“No,” Taehyung whined. “I wanna do some more linear algebra.”
Yoongi sighed as he threw on an old flannel, then nodded, going over to the drawer and pulling out the thick textbook.
“Liner algebra it is,” he said. “But only for an hour. After, we’re going to the park, and then we’ll go grocery shopping.”
“Can’t we do two hours?” Taehyung drew his hands up and clasped them together underneath his chin, widening his eyes.
“Then the shop will be closed and you won’t get your cookies,” Yoongi said as he walked towards the living room.
“Why do shops have to close? Why can’t they just be open all the time?”
“That’s just how society works, I’m afraid,” Yoongi said. “Shops close so workers can go home and sleep.”
“But what if someone really needs cookies in the middle of the night?”
“They die a cookie-less death.”
Taehyung stopped in his tracks and leveled Yoongi with a serious look. “This is just another aspect of American society that needs to change.”
Yoongi couldn’t help but laugh at that.
For a moment, he wondered what his life would be like if Taehyung had the mind of an average seven year old.
He would, of course, love Taehyung just the same, but life would be a hell of a lot more boring, that’s for sure.
“Did you have fun at Namjoon and Jeongguk’s?” Yoongi asked the next evening, resting his chin on the soft of Taehyung’s hair and wrapping his arms entirely around the warm body sitting on his lap. Taehyung was swinging his legs back and forth, ankles knocking into Yoongi’s shins, but at this point Yoongi barely noticed it.
“Yea!” Taehyung chirped, reaching down to play with Yoongi’s fingers. “Nammie taught me a new word today.”
“Oh? What is it?”
“Nos-tal-gia,” Taehyung said. “It means to miss something that used to make you happy.”
Yoongi hummed, and the two of them were silent for a moment as the sun began sinking below the horizon. In the back of his mind, Yoongi realized that he wouldn’t mind spending the rest of his life like this, with Taehyung safe in his arms, the sunset warm and settling over their skin like a layer of watercolor paint.
“He taught me something else about it, too,” Taehyung said.
Taehyung fiddled with the ring on Yoongi’s middle finger. “He said that a long time ago, it didn’t mean the same thing it does today.”
“Oh? What did it mean a long time ago?”
“It used to mean…missing something, but not knowing what that ‘something’ is. Missing something you’ve never had before, but wanting it really badly anyway.”
Yoongi was silent.
“Do you ever feel that way, Yoonie?”
Something painful echoed in the hollows of Yoongi’s chest, desires and dreams that he’d suppressed years ago slowly coming back to life at the reminder.
Instead of dwelling on it, he twisted Taehyung in his lap so that the boy was facing him, and planted a firm kiss on his forehead.
“How could I want anything else, when everything I love is already right here?”
When Taehyung didn’t squeal with laughter the way he normally did when Yoongi pecked him, Yoongi pulled back to study his expression.
Taehyung looked back and forth between Yoongi’s eyes for a moment, in a way that, on any other seven year old, would be much too searching, much too intelligent.
Before Yoongi could say anything, Taehyung simply wrapped his arms tight around Yoongi’s neck and nuzzled his face into pale collarbones. When Yoongi felt Taehyung reach up and pull Yoongi’s necklace into his mouth, something he had grown out of years ago but still unconsciously reverted back to when he seemed to be in need of a little extra comfort, Yoongi hugged Taehyung extra tight.
When the sun said good night and the cicadas began singing, Yoongi took the both of them inside, bare feet silent against the wooden floor of the house, wishing that he could give Taehyung everything he could ever want.
Wishing that as Taehyung grew older, he would never feel nostalgic for something Yoongi couldn’t provide.
“Come on, Taehyung, or you’re going to be late,” Yoongi called from the kitchen. Morning light was filtering in through the windows, his mug of coffee left steaming and forgotten on the counter.
He heard little feet stomp towards him angrily.
“I hate these,” Taehyung said vehemently. “I’m not wearing them.”
When Yoongi looked over to see what Taehyung was talking about, he found the 7 year old pointing at his shoes, a scowl twisted on his face.
“You have to wear shoes, Taehyung,” Yoongi said, slathering jelly on a piece of toast that was slightly overdone.
“You have to wear shoes to go to school.”
“I don’t want to go to school.”
“Well Namjoon can’t homeschool you for any longer, so you have to.”
“Says the government.”
“I hate the government.”
Yoongi let out a long-suffering sigh. “Join the club, kid.”
Taehyung stared at Yoongi sullenly, didn’t even let up when Yoongi set the peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich-with-extra-jelly down on the table and gestured for him to hop up on the chair and eat it.
After staring at each other for a few beats, Yoongi simply walked over and plucked him from the ground, setting him in the chair and promptly shoving a napkin into the collar of Taehyung’s shirt as a makeshift bib. He did not want a jelly stain on Taehyung’s last clean shirt, their dirty laundry baskets overflowing somewhere behind the bedroom door.
“How long do I have to be there for?” Taehyung finally began eating the sandwich as Yoongi packed his backpack for him.
“’Til 2PM,” Yoongi answered.
Yoongi nodded solemnly.
“Who’s gonna feed Star?” Taehyung pointed towards his Mastiff, who was asleep in the corner of the living room.
“You know I take my lunch breaks at home, Tae,” Yoongi said. “I’ll feed her.”
“Then who’s gonna feed me?”
At that, Yoongi had to laugh. Reaching over, he caught Taehyung’s chin in his hand.
“I’ve packed you a lunch, baby,” he said, ignoring the way Taehyung’s face scrunched up even more at the petname. “Don’t be scared, okay? It’s gonna be fun. You’re gonna have fun.”
Yoongi didn’t know if he was trying to convince himself or Taehyung, at that point, but he tried to keep his smile genuine as he looked at Taehyung. He knew that Taehyung was just cranky because he hated change, but this would be good for him.
Yoongi wanted him to make friends his age, to learn how to socialize, to live the normal life of a kid.
A lot of times, at home, Yoongi felt like Taehyung wasn’t embracing that childish side of himself enough, instead burying himself in math books and having conversations with Namjoon that even Yoongi could barely keep up with.
So after Taehyung finished his breakfast, Yoongi helped slip on the slightly-too-big backpack over his shoulders and marched them to the bus stop, hand-in-hand.
When the big yellow bus rolled up and the doors opened, Taehyung looked into the vehicle as if it were his one-way ride to complete and certain doom.
Yoongi crouched down and kissed both of Taehyung’s soft cheeks, using his thumb to scrub away crusty jam from the corner of his lips.
The fact that Taehyung didn’t squirm away already showed how nervous he was, so Yoongi mustered up his biggest smile.
“Jeongguk will be waiting for you right here when you’re done, okay?” he said. “I’ll see you when I’m home from work. You’ll have fun, I promise.”
Yoongi knew that in times like these, when the younger was feeling lost and unsure and fidgety, Taehyung appreciated direction, so Yoongi gave him one last hug.
“Be good for me.”
When he felt Taehyung nod against his chest, he stood and ushered Taehyung onto the bus.
Yoongi stood there until the bus was out of sight, then let out a shaky breath.
Taehyung would be fine.
Turning on his heel, he quickly made his way into the small house to get ready for work.
It was during his lunch break that Yoongi got the call.
“I think you need to come pick Taehyung up for the day, Mr. Min,” the voice on the other end of the receiver had said.
Heart in his throat, Yoongi left his lunch uneaten on the kitchen table and ran to his truck. Endless scenarios flashed their way through his head — Taehyung hurt, clutching a broken arm, Taehyung crying, sobs wracking his small frame like violent waves on a shore during high tide, Taehyung distressed, unhappy, injured — and it was all wrong.
He needed Taehyung to be happy, it was the one and only thing that he was constantly working towards.
For the rest of his life, Taehyung would be the one thing that Yoongi would never give up on.
Forget the itch in the pads of his fingers whenever he passed by a music store, big gleaming pianos standing proudly on display.
Forget the twinge in his heart when he took the occasional lunch break at the local sandwich shop, sitting at a table next to a couple completely wrapped up in each other, stealing fries and sharing milkshakes and belly-laughing, casting new memories in the shade of the other person’s eyes as Yoongi ate alone.
Forget the yearning that sat at the back of his throat whenever his coworker complained about his mother stopping by with food again, for the third time that week, when Yoongi couldn’t remember the last time his mother had raised a kind hand towards him.
But the one thing that Yoongi would never let himself forget was how much he needed Taehyung to be happy, and healthy, and whole.
When he pulled up to the school parking lot, Yoongi barely had time to yank the keys from the ignition before he was striding up the steps to the office. Through the window, he could see Taehyung’s messy mop of brown hair, and when he opened the doors he didn’t have time to blink before Taehyung was on him, clinging tightly.
“Yoonie,” Taehyung sighed out miserably.
Bending down to scoop Taehyung up, Yoongi’s eyes roamed urgently for injury.
“Tae,” he breathed out. “You’re okay? Are you hurt?”
Taehyung shook his head, burying his face into Yoongi’s neck. “Hate it here.”
Yoongi sighed, half relief and half exasperation.
“Baby, what happened?”
“‘M not a baby,” Taehyung pouted.
Yoongi lifted his face from Taehyung’s hair, and looked right into the eyes of a person who looked like he was crafted from the brightest parts of Yoongi’s dreams.
The man standing in front of him held himself with a grace that suddenly had Yoongi feeling a little too rough around the edges, with his oil-stained fingertips and coveralls and heavy boots.
“Yea,” Yoongi answered, shifting Taehyung a bit higher on his hip.
“I’m sorry to call you out here in the middle of the day,” the man stepped a bit closer, and Yoongi noticed lovely, pretty things in flashes.
The silver gleam of rings on small hands.
Soft lips, soft cheeks, soft eyes.
The curve of his cheekbones, the perfect line for Yoongi to drag his fingers down, to run his lips across—
“My name is Jimin Park, I’m Taehyung’s teacher.”
A hand was stuck out in-between them, and Yoongi offered his hand a beat too late for it to be natural. Still, they shook hands, and Yoongi tried not to grimace at the way his hand was so calloused and stained from work compared to Jimin’s soft palms.
“He…showed some behavioral problems today,” Mr. Park began hesitantly.
Yoongi grimaced. “I’m so sorry, this is his first day at a public school—”
“Mr. Min, don’t worry, I understand,” somehow, Jimin’s voice gentled, and Yoongi found himself hit with a wave of emotion that took him by surprise at the teacher’s soft tone. It had been a while since anybody had talked to him with so much care. “I just thought that he’s had enough for today — he could try a full day of school tomorrow. But I’m not here to tell you that Taehyung is a bad child. In fact, it is quite the opposite.”
“I think—well,” Mr. Park let out a little laugh. “I think your Taehyungie is, quite literally, a genius.”
When Yoongi didn’t say anything, Jimin continued, “During our math lesson today…he kept interrupting. But he interrupted because he knew every answer, and was growing impatient with the work that I had given the class. So I had printed out a sheet of high-school level math, and he breezed through that as well. At this rate, I think…I think Taehyung’s mind is working at a college level, at least in arithmetics.”
Yoongi shifted uncomfortably.
“It’s the Trachtenberg system,” he said.
Mr. Park blinked. “What?”
“The Trachtenberg system,” Yoongi repeated, bouncing Taehyung a bit in his arms when he felt the boy beginning to fall asleep. “It’s just…a system that I taught him. Helps you calculate problems in your head at a rapid pace. With some practice, anyone’s able to do it, really.”
“But…I mean…Taehyung is seven.”
“And a half,” Taehyung interjected sleepily.
“And a half,” Mr. Park tacked on, laughing fondly under his breath.
Yoongi hated the way his next breath seemed a little harder to intake at the sight of the man’s smile.
Trust Taehyung to get a teacher that looked like he was spun from starlight, and then get called out on the very first day.
“Yoongi,” he interjected. “Call me Yoongi.”
“Yoongi,” the way Mr. Park’s voice wrapped around his name, slow and purposeful, had heat curling down the mechanic’s spine. “I believe that Taehyung is gifted. And I think that he would thrive at a school for gifted students—”
“No,” Yoongi repeated, more vehemently this time. “Taehyung is staying here.”
“With all due respect, Yoongi, I don’t know if this school has the staff or the curriculum to challenge Taehyung and allow him to grow to his fullest potential,” the teacher said. “If you’d just think about it—”
“My mind is set, Mr. Park,” Yoongi’s arms were tight around Taehyung, who had perked up at the sound of what he called Yoongi’s ‘serious voice’. “Unless Taehyung is expelled for the minor behavioral issues you mentioned earlier, he is staying here.”
Mr. Park deflated a bit, and took a step back, suddenly closing himself off at the cold air Yoongi was now emanating.
“No, of course not,” he said. “He isn’t expelled. I just wanted…to help.”
Yoongi nodded once. “Then Taehyung will be back bright and early tomorrow morning. I’ll talk to him about interrupting in class. Thank you, Mr. Park.”
Striding out of the school, Yoongi let out a shaking breath.
He didn’t speak the entire ride home, and when they got home Yoongi unpacked the lunch from Taehyung’s lunchbox, still uneaten, and laid it out on the table.
They were halfway through their meal before Taehyung spoke up.
“Are you mad at me?”
“No,” Yoongi answered. “I’m not mad. But we do have to talk.”
“Okay,” Taehyung said.
“You need to respect Mr. Park’s classroom rules, Tae,” Yoongi began. “You have to learn to adjust to how they expect you to behave there. Meaning, you can’t interrupt lessons.”
“But they were boring,” Taehyung whined. “Everybody else was learning stuff I learned years ago! And it took them so long to figure out the answers, too!”
“Not everybody can be as smart as you, Taehyung,” Yoongi said. “But that doesn’t make them any lesser than you.”
“Do you know what ‘compassion’ means?”
“To be nice,” Taehyung answered.
“Right,” Yoongi nodded. “You have to be nice to your classmates, okay? Be compassionate, even if they don’t learn as quickly as you do. Make friends. Talk about things that aren’t vocabulary or math or the meaning of life.”
Taehyung tipped his head to the side. “What else is there to talk about?”
“I don’t know. Superheroes. Cars. The weather.”
Taehyung squinted at him, unsure if Yoongi was joking or not.
“Or tell them about Star. You love Star.”
“Okay,” Taehyung said, still unsure. “I guess.”
Yoongi ruffled his hair, incredibly fond. “You’ll get the hang of it, Tae. Just…be kind. And kindness will find you right back.”
Taehyung was still looking at him as if he’d grown a second head. “You sound like Namjoon.”
Yoongi just rolled his eyes and bit into his own sandwich, pushing down the mildly miffed realization that he did.
“Yoonie!” Taehyung cheered as Yoongi walked into Namjoon and Jeongguk’s house, immediately running over and hugging him. “Guess what!”
“What?” Yoongi asked, running a hand through Taehyung’s hair as he waved at the other two adults.
It was the third week of school, and Taehyung was now pretty well adjusted, not complaining in the mornings and always happy when Yoongi came to his neighbors’ house to pick him up after work.
“Jeongguk’s been showing me pretty songs,” Taehyung said.
“Oh? What kind of pretty songs?”
“Piano songs,” Jeongguk answered. “He’s been listening to Chopin all day.”
“Is that so?” Yoongi laughed. The thought of hyper, energetic Tae sitting back and enjoying classical music amused him.
“I want to learn piano,” Taehyung looked up at Yoongi gravely. “Please, please. Can I please?”
Yoongi’s heart immediately sank.
“I want to play pretty songs too!” Taehyung said, fisting Yoongi’s shirt in his hands with excitement, then letting go and tapping his fingers across Yoongi’s stomach as if it were a piano. “Can’t I?”
Yoongi caught Jeongguk’s apologetic gaze from across the room.
At Yoongi’s tone, Taehyung’s eyebrows scrunched together. “I can’t?”
Yoongi crouched down and caught Taehyung’s hands in his. “I wish you could, Tae. I really do.”
“Why can’t I?”
“I can’t afford to buy you a piano right now, Tae,” Yoongi said softly, shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry, but it’s just not possible right now.”
Taehyung was silent as he processed. “Oh.”
When he didn’t say anything else, Yoongi breathed out harshly, hating the feeling of helplessness that washed through him. Hating the fact that if he could, he would buy Taehyung a piano in a heartbeat. Wished that he could teach Taehyung how to play himself, wished that he could feel those smooth keys underneath his own fingers once more. Wished he could sit through evenings and watch as Taehyung tapped out clumsy renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and work his way up to Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Debussy.
“I’m sorry, baby,” Yoongi said again. “Maybe in the future, when you’re older, okay? I’ll save up.”
“Okay,” Taehyung said, eyes still sad. He leaned forward and rested his forehead on Yoongi’s stomach with a little thunk.
“Well, dinner’s ready!” Namjoon’s faux-cheery voice broke through the tense silence, but Yoongi could barely lift his eyes.
Shame washed through him — what kind of caretaker was he to Taehyung? That he couldn’t even afford to let Taehyung enjoy a new hobby, one that he had seemed to excited about?
Even though Taehyung cheered up easily with Namjoon’s homemade cheese-fries in his mouth, his cup of apple juice clutched happily in his hands, Yoongi couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt.
Digging into his dinner, he vowed to be better.
“I made a friend today,” Taehyung informed Yoongi one evening.
They were in their favorite spot, on the back porch, watching the sun set over their dead grass and wilting flowers.
Yoongi strained his neck to look down at the boy in his lap, who sounded strangely shy.
“I’m glad,” Yoongi said sincerely, and he was. “Tell me about them.”
“His name is Hoseok, but he said I could call him Hobi! Isn’t that a cute name?”
“It is,” Yoongi agreed, smiling, heart warming.
“He likes math too, but not as much as me. But! He told me all kinds of stories today!”
“Yea! One of his dads is a teacher, just like Mr. Park! But a teacher that tells stories only! To big, grown up kids!”
“So like…a literature professor?”
“Hm. I guess. But Hobi knows all the stories! He told me one about a woman who had snake hair! And she turns people to stone! Isn’t that cool?”
“That is cool,” Yoongi laughed.
“I love him,” Taehyung sighed happily.
Yoongi pressed a long kiss to the top of his head, tightening his arms around him and swaying them from side to side in the seat.
“I’m so happy,” Yoongi said.
And he was, in that moment. All he could do was hope the happiness would stay.
It started off as a normal day.
Yoongi and Taehyung ate breakfast together, Yoongi walked Taehyung to the bus stop, waved the boy off, gave Star her breakfast, washed up, then went to work with a thermos of coffee in hand.
He got home, picked Taehyung up from Namjoon and Jeongguk’s, they ate dinner together, Taehyung chattered about his day, Yoongi did dishes, they hung out in the living room for a while, then Taehyung was tucked up into bed and sent off to dreamland with a few kisses.
That night, as Yoongi sat on the couch after Taehyung had fallen asleep, the TV on low, his phone rang with an unknown caller.
For a moment, Yoongi didn’t recognize the voice.
He startled at the familiar way they said his name, and he pulled the screen away from his ear to check to see if it was a number he recognized that got deleted from his contacts somehow.
“Who is this?”
The voice over the line laughed. “I see it’s been much too long.”
Yoongi’s heart dropped in realization.
“How have you been, Yoongi?”
“What—why are you calling me?” Yoongi asked. He stood, angry now, moving to the front porch so that his voice wouldn’t wake Taehyung. “What do you want?”
“I can’t call to check up on my son?”
“Where did you get this number?” Yoongi demanded.
His mother sighed over the line. “You’ve never had any manners, Yoongi. I can see that running off to America hasn’t done you any good, not that I truly believed it would in the first place.”
Yoongi took a deep, shuddering breath, feeling as if he needed to calm himself before this ugly, angry thing that lived inside of him ripped him. After seven years of not talking, from the very first moment of contact, his mother was already back to disapproving of everything he did. After having escaped a childhood full of feeling not-good-enough and being rebuked for every little thing he did, Yoongi refused to invite this back into his life.
Invite this into Taehyung’s life.
“I’m hanging up.”
“I’m coming to visit next week,” his mother deadpanned.
Yoongi’s breath stopped.
“I’m coming to visit next week.”
“You don’t know where I live.”
His mother laughed again.
“Oh, honey. You’ve lived away from home for so long that you’ve forgotten that with money comes infinite knowledge. I’ve known where you were since the moment you stepped foot into that little American town.”
Yoongi’s fists clenched.
“Don’t come. I don’t want you here.”
“I want to see my grandson.”
At that, Yoongi exploded. “It’s been seven years. Taehyung and I—we are absolutely fine without you. Don’t bother visiting. And never call this number again.”
“Are you?” his mother sounded angry now too, no longer keeping up with her cool, nonchalant facade. “Are you doing fine? That’s not what your tiny little house says. That’s not what your unpaid utility bill says. That’s not—”
“I do not need you or your money,” Yoongi gritted out through a clenched jaw. “No matter what, I would never come crawling back to you or your wealth.”
“I’m going to be honest with you, Yoongi. I don’t care what you do with your life, not any longer. I’ve long since let go of trying to get you to see that what I wanted was best for you. But Taehyung…Taehyung is a different story.”
“You will not come near him,” Yoongi threatened. “I will never let you—”
“I heard some interesting news, the other day, from his school.”
Yoongi startled. “What?”
“Oh, are you surprised? Of course I’ve been keeping tabs on Taehyung as well as you, was a bit surprised when you decided to stop homeschooling him only to send him to public school.”
Yoongi felt fear growing within him, quickly replacing the anger.
What was happening?
What was happening?
“He has his mother’s brain, doesn’t he?” her voice was deceptively soft.
Yoongi didn’t respond.
Because Taehyung did.
He was intelligent way beyond his years, was probably solving math problems at a college level, and the other day he tried to rope Yoongi into a conversation about politics with Namjoon at dinner and Yoongi quite honestly couldn’t keep up with half of the terms the two of them were tossing around.
And the other day when Taehyung told Yoongi that he loved nighttime, Yoongi asked why, and Taehyung had gone on to explain how he had read some poems by Novalis, dug up a book from Yoongi’s college days that had been required reading that college-Yoongi had found completely and utterly pretentious. Taehyung then went on a ten-minute long rant about how in the light of day, people could see differences within others that set them apart, but in the dark of night, everything was the same, and everybody was equal, and it allowed him to see the world through a less biased and judgmental lens — all while swinging his legs back and forth happily while going to town on a grape-flavored lollipop that stained his lips purple.
Yoongi hated to admit it, but he had stayed up the entire night staring at the ceiling because of that conversation.
So it was clear for anybody, especially Yoongi, to see that Taehyung was smart beyond his years.
And Yoongi was so proud, but Yoongi—Yoongi was also afraid.
Yoongi was afraid because this was exactly how his sister thought when she was Taehyung’s age.
Yoongi was afraid because Taehyung had his sister’s eyes, and her smile, and her big heart, and her all-encompassing emotions.
Yoongi was afraid because he already lost her — he wouldn’t be able to survive losing Taehyung.
“You are doing him an injustice, Min Yoongi,” his mother continued over the phone, startling Yoongi back to reality. “By sending him to that public school, you are neglecting his education, you are—”
“I am giving him the life that I believe is best for him. The life that Chanhee would have believed was best for him.”
“You are oppressing genius, Yoongi,” his mother said. “You are limiting his possibilities, his opportunities! He belongs in a gifted school.”
“Listen to yourself,” Yoongi hissed. “Taehyung is seven years old. His possibilities, opportunities — they don’t matter right now. He is a child, one who deserves to make friends, live a normal childhood that isn’t completely focused around being the best at everything, that isn’t completely centered around his own intelligence!”
“This is a form of neglect, Yoongi. If you really loved Taehyung, you would want what is best for him. Taehyung is not a normal child — normal education and a normal upbringing is not what is best for him.”
“You don’t know him,” Yoongi was vaguely aware of his loud voice echoing through the dark streets. “He is mine, and you have absolutely no say in how I decide to raise this child.”
“He is not yours,” his mother laughed. “He is not your son. He was your sister’s. I have just as much of a right to Taehyung as you do.”
“I’ve raised him for his entire life,” Yoongi’s voice was shaking. “Taehyung is my son.”
“I had hoped you would be more agreeable,” his mother sighed deeply into the receiver, making the world go staticky for a brief moment. “So be it. If you want to be difficult, I’ll play along.”
“What are you talking about?” Yoongi couldn’t hide the tremble in his voice, in his entire body.
“I am willing to fight for custody over Taehyung. It is clear to me now that you don’t see the error of your ways, therefore, it is within my duty and my right as his grandmother to take over. I’ll be seeing you soon, Yoongi.”
The call cut off, and Yoongi fell to his knees on the porch.
His throat felt tight, and he realized that he was sweating underneath his sweater despite the cold air.
A warm hand against his back, another in his hair. “Are you okay? What happened? I heard you yelling from my house…”
Yoongi vaguely recognized Jeongguk’s voice, but he didn’t have it in him to look up at his friend.
He kept his gaze on his own fists, propping himself up against the floor of the porch, his entire frame trembling with the thought of Taehyung being taken away.
Of a house empty of Taehyung’s toys, of Taehyung’s chattering, of Taehyung’s cute little doodles that were hung up against the fridge and taped up on the walls.
When Jeongguk hoisted his body up into a sitting position, kneeling next to Yoongi on the hard floor, Yoongi leaned forward in a rare moment of weakness, buried his face in Jeongguk’s neck, and shook.
Namjoon, awoken by the lack of Jeongguk by his side, ran over and joined them sometime later, still smelling of sleep, and wrapped himself around Yoongi’s other side.
For the next hour or so, despite the night raising goosebumps on their skin, despite all three of them having to get up early for work the next morning, Yoongi’s two best friends caught his fears in their trembling hands and pressed some of it away into themselves.
A week later, Yoongi felt a presence sit across from him in the booth he was sat at in the local bar. His hand was wrapped around a mug of beer, weeping with condensation at the sides, wetting and cooling his palm. When he looked up, he was shocked to see Taehyung’s teacher.
Mr. Park still had on his work clothes, but his shirt was undone at the collar, sleeves rolled up towards his elbows. Yoongi immediately tipped his head back and swallowed more of his drink at the sight of pale smooth skin, at the necklaces winking at Yoongi from the hollow of the teacher’s throat. Yoongi relished in the bubbly warmth that slid down his throat.
“I just wanted to apologize,” Mr. Park blurted out, fidgeting.
Yoongi blinked. “What?”
Mr. Park fiddled with the rings on his fingers, twisting them around and around.
“About…about the whole thing with Taehyung. I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to tell you what to do with your own child. That wasn’t my intention at all. And I get it — after thinking about it a bit more. You want Taehyung to have a normal life, a normal childhood. And I respect — admire your decision. I can see that you love him a lot, so…I’m sorry. I hope you’re not angry with me.”
Yoongi stayed silent.
Firstly, because he hadn’t even really been angry about it, and secondly, amidst all of the drama that ensued after the phone call last night, Yoongi had come here to forget, just for a second, about the possibility of Taehyung being taken away.
“I’m not angry,” he finally said.
Mr. Park bit his lip, searching Yoongi’s face. “…You sort of look angry.”
“I just said I’m not,” Yoongi snapped.
The teacher recoiled a bit, and Yoongi immediately deflated, guilt immediately pushing his shoulders down.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Park,” Yoongi said, bending his head down a bit so he could run a hand through his messy hair. “I’m truly not angry. I'm just…stressed. With other stuff going on.”
“Jimin,” the teacher whispered. “You can call me Jimin.”
“Okay,” Yoongi whispered back.
Jimin made no move to leave Yoongi’s booth.
The two of them stared at each other, at a standstill, both of them wondering who was going to break the silence first, address the tension lining every dip and curve of Yoongi’s body.
Letting out a shaking sigh, Yoongi pressed his thumbs hard into the corners of his eyes. “It’s just. Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Jimin was quick to respond, voice soft. “Are you…is everything okay?”
“You don’t have to get involved,” Yoongi was quick to deflect. “Truly.”
“If there’s any way I can help, I’d want to,” Jimin said sincerely.
And that sincerity was what broke Yoongi, a little bit. He was so unused to opening himself up to people who weren’t Namjoon, Jeongguk or Taehyung, and he was unused to others opening themselves up to him as well.
But Jimin — Jimin was leaning forward, looking for all the world like he wanted to reach out and place a hand on Yoongi’s arm in comfort, looking like he really, truly cared.
So Yoongi opened his mouth and said, “Taehyung might be going to a gifted school anyway.”
Jimin’s brows furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean? If you don’t want him to, then surely you can just keep him at our school…”
Yoongi shook his head. “I don’t want him to. But my mother does.”
Jimin nodded his head slowly, trying to follow. “Okay. Does her opinion matter that much to you? In the end…it’s up to you what you decide to do with your child.”
“She’s fighting for custody,” the admission left him a little bit breathless. Yoongi hated saying it out loud — hated reminding himself of how real this situation was, how terrifying.
“What?” Jimin looked horrified. “But…aren’t you his father?”
“His uncle, technically,” Yoongi sighed, running his hands over the dirty wood of the table, carved in with initials and hearts and twitter handles, just for something to concentrate on other than Jimin’s pretty, concerned eyes. “He’s my sister’s kid.”
Jimin nodded slowly. “Oh.”
“She killed herself, a few months after Taehyung was born. The life…the family that we were born into…it came with a lot of responsibilities. Expectations that were…are impossible to fulfill. In the end, it was just…too much for her. So she took her own life, and Taehyung’s never really known her beyond pictures and stories.”
Yoongi didn’t know why he was still talking.
Didn’t know why he was telling Jimin all of this — Taehyung’s teacher out of all people.
But there was just something in the way that Jimin looked at him, with so much of that god damn sincerity, that had him baring a little piece of himself that typically hid itself away.
“That’s horrible,” Jimin whispered, voice tight. “Yoongi…I’m so sorry.”
Yoongi shrugged, taking another sip of his drink to disguise his watery eyes.
“Tae’s been with you his entire life, then,” Jimin said. “He’s yours. They can’t…they can’t just take him away from you.”
“They can if they believe I’m not giving him the best life,” Yoongi said. “And my mother doesn’t approve of the way I raise him. Wants him to advance, wants to send him to that special school, send him to extra classes, to fully take advantage of his mind. Says I’m ruining Tae’s life by wanting him to…to be a kid. She’s never even met Taehyung, and yet…”
“It won’t happen,” to Yoongi’s surprise, Jimin’s voice was heated, and when he looked up, Jimin was looking at him with with angry eyes. “The court wouldn’t take him away from you.”
Yoongi shook his head. “My mother has all the money in the word. I don’t. Money speaks.”
Jimin seemed to have nothing to say to that, eyes pained. But when he tentatively reached out and took one of Yoongi’s hands, Yoongi let him.
“Yoongi, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Yoongi whispered, even though it was not fine.
Not fine at all.
Jimin nodded, but he still looked off into the distance for a bit, chewing on the inside of his cheek.
When they separated that night, a little bit awkward, hands shoved in pockets and gazes trained on hesitant feet, Jimin stepped forward and pulled Yoongi into a quick hug, letting go before the man had a chance to react.
Then, he grabbed Yoongi’s phone from his jacket pocket, quickly putting in his number before locking the screen the putting it back.
“If you ever need anything,” Jimin murmured, avoiding eye contact.
Before Yoongi could say anything, Jimin was walking away towards his car.
The entire drive home, all Yoongi could think of was the pretty pink that rose high on the apples of Jimin’s cheeks and the way his heart felt just a tiny bit lighter.
Yoongi startled awake, sweat lining the back of his neck and the insides of his knees and dripping from his temples down to his jaw.
He was gasping for air, tears immediately blurring his eyes, and he sat up, immediately moving to the kitchen with purpose, desperate for something to do, for something to distract himself from the anxiety creeping up on him in overwhelming waves.
He focused on the sound of his soft footsteps on the floor, the sound of water hitting glass, the glide of liquid rolling down his throat, cooling its way down into his stomach.
Images from his dream taunted the back of his mind, and Yoongi shook, hands braced on the kitchen counter, eyes closed but still seeing his sister’s face, full and plump with childhood and happiness and innocence, then having to watch as it was weighed down with expectations and sadness and too many responsibilities. His heart ached, missing her, wishing he could pick up his phone and call her, tell her about the nightmare he had, about her, about her dying, about her leaving him to deal with their mother all alone, about her leaving Yoongi to face the world alone, leaving Yoongi to somehow raise Taehyung to be a good man when Yoongi barely even knew how to be a good man himself. Yoongi wished that his dream was just that — a dream. Wished that it weren’t an actual memory leaking its way into his subconscious.
Limbs heavy with sorrow, Yoongi shuffled back into his and Taehyung’s shared room and made his way over to Taehyung’s bed, finding comfort in the boy’s deep breathing, in his sprawled limbs.
Yoongi reached down to straighten the blankets and press a kiss against a warm forehead, smelling Taehyung’s shampoo.
He didn’t sleep for the rest of the night. Visions of Taehyung growing up only to plant sadness in the flowerbeds of his heart the exact same way his mother did made it impossible for Yoongi to calm down, to find peace.
As he sat awake, staring at the numbers on the clock tick by, watching as the sky slowly lightened, a pretty gentle thing, Yoongi couldn’t let go of the fear that one day Taehyung would lose his light, and it would be all Yoongi’s fault.
When Yoongi picked Taehyung up from school the next day, he collected his daily reunion hug and then told Taehyung to play for a bit longer, saying that he needed to talk to Mr. Park about ‘adult things’.
Taehyung had shrugged and wandered back over to the few classmates that were still waiting to get picked up, plopping back down and immediately joining a game of Bubble-Gum.
“Is everything okay?” Jimin stepped a bit closer than he needed to, voice low and concerned. His eyes searched Yoongi’s in a way that had the older man resisting the urge to look down towards his feet.
“Yea, everything’s fine,” Yoongi said. “Still figuring things out, but…you know.”
“Yea,” Jimin said softly, voice so fucking gentle that Yoongi felt his heart pick up. “I’m glad. I’ve been worried.”
And the thing was — Yoongi knew that Jimin meant it. Yoongi could just tell that Jimin was sincere in everything he did and said, so when he said he was worried, it wasn’t just something he said to make Yoongi feel better, or to make himself seem like a good person.
Park Jimin was just genuinely, outrageously, beautifully kind.
And that kindness was something Yoongi felt as if he’d been searching for his entire life — in himself, in Taehyung, in people who loved him and people who hurt him, in the entirety of the world.
And he found it wrapped up in one single person.
So that’s why he opened his mouth before he could think twice, and stuttered, “Listen, I know this isn’t exactly…I mean…you’re Taehyung’s teacher, I know, but I just…”
Jimin waited patiently for Yoongi to get to the point, leaning against the macaroni-art decorated classroom wall as Yoongi stumbled through his words.
“I just…think you’re really beautiful. And kind. And you’re good with Tae, you’re so patient with him, I was really worried about him coming to school because I was scared people wouldn’t understand him, but you do, and you—that night at the bar you didn’t have to listen to me ramble on about my shit but you did, and—”
“Yoongi,” Jimin interrupted, a faint smile pulling at his lips.
“Are you trying to ask me out?”
Yoongi blinked. “Yea. I guess—I guess I am.”
“You guess?” Jimin teased. “You don’t sound very sure.”
“I mean, is it okay? You’re Taehyung’s teacher, and I’m me, and you’re…”
You’re you, Yoongi wanted to say. You with the smile that could make entire steel-framed skyscrapers swoon, you with the heart that is a safe space for everyone you meet, you with the power that could potentially ruin me for anybody else in the world.
“Yoongi,” Jimin interrupted for the second time. “Please put both of us out of our misery and just take me out to dinner tonight.”
Yoongi felt something fond and giddy rising in his chest. “Yea?”
Smiling, the teacher did a little shoulder-shrug. “If…if that’s what you want. I’d want it, too.”
And that sounded so close to ‘I want you, too’ that Yoongi finally caught his breath.
“Okay. I’d love to take you out to dinner tonight.”
“You’re sure this is okay?” Yoongi fiddled with the napkin laid underneath his silverware between his thumb and forefinger.
Jimin tilted his head to the side a bit. His hair was parted and pushed back, and Yoongi was having the most difficult time meeting the teacher’s eyes. Somehow, underneath the dark of night, outside of the cheery yellow classroom walls and proper teacher attire, Jimin lost some of his softness. Clad in tight black jeans and a shirt that exposed his collarbones, pronounced like treble clefs underneath his smooth skin, with boots that sounded with every step, Jimin’s presence felt more — intense. The way he was looking at Yoongi, as if he wanted to devour him whole or know his deepest darkest secrets or both, had Yoongi flushing underneath his jacket.
“I basically asked you to ask me out, didn’t I?” Jimin laughed.
Yoongi shook his head. “No. I mean…the fact that you’re Taehyung’s teacher. Isn’t this a question of ethics, or some shit?”
“Sorry, fuck. Shit. Sorry. I don’t—I’ve been trying to kick the habit. Of cursing.”
Jimin looked at him, amused. “You know that just because I teach seven year olds doesn’t mean I am one, right? You can curse around me. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before.”
“It just feels…weird cursing around you. Feels like how I feel when I curse and turn around and see a scandlized old lady.”
Both of Jimin’s brows raised and a little laugh escaped his throat.
“Is that how you see me? The same way you see old ladies?”
“What? No,” Yoongi let out a laugh, a little bit mortified and a little bit glad at the fact that Jimin was playful, like this. Yoongi hadn’t bantered with somebody back and forth like this since…ever. “Absolutely not.”
Jimin held his eyes for a beat, then nodded once.
“Good. I think we have a lot to learn about each other, Min Yoongi. But as for the school finding out…” Jimin reached out and sweetly entwined his fingers with Yoongi’s, the gentle gesture completely opposite to the devilish smile growing on the teacher’s face. “I’m good at keeping secrets. Are you?”
A thrilled shiver licked its way down Yoongi’s spine, and he squeezed Jimin’s hand. “For you, I could be.”
For Jimin, Yoongi thought to himself, he supposed he could be anything.
They broke apart when the waiter came to take their orders. For the rest of the night, the more Yoongi learned about Jimin, the less he wanted to be apart. The more he learned about Jimin, the more he wanted to know. From his biggest dreams to his worst fears to meaningless little things like if he slept with the blinds open or closed, if he liked sitting facing away from or towards windows, if he held his phone in his left or his right hand. Time passed by faster than either of them wanted it to, and Yoongi couldn’t help but lean in closer, and then closer still.
Closer to the pretty laughs that kept escaping Jimin’s mouth, closer to the way his eyes crinkled up when he smiled, open and happy and free, closer to the way Jimin shared his food with Yoongi even though Yoongi had his own plate, closer to the way Jimin would sometimes pause and stare at Yoongi the way people looked at flowers underneath buttercup sunlight.
With something akin to awe.
Yoongi stared right back.
When Yoongi got another call from the school, it felt a bit like déjà vu.
Again, he was half-frantic, wondering if Taehyung was hurt, if he was ill, what had happened?
When he arrived, he found Taehyung sitting on a chair, swinging his legs, pout on his face.
He immediately made his way over, crouching in front of Taehyung, and sucking in a sharp breath when he found Taehyung’s knuckles bruised.
“What happened, Tae?” Yoongi asked, running a gentle thumb over the bruises.
Taehyung immediately teared up, lips pursed into a large pout.
“You’re gonna be mad,” Taehyung sobbed out.
“No, no, I’m not mad,” Yoongi soothed. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“He was—he was being mean,” Taehyung hiccuped.
Yoongi heard footsteps approach them, and he turned to see Jimin coming towards them, frown on his face.
“Yoongi, sorry to call you away from work again,” Jimin said, reaching out and running a hand down Yoongi’s back.
“It’s okay,” Yoongi said, relaxing a bit under the touch. “What happened?”
Jimin sighed. “Taehyung—well. Taehyung broke another student’s nose.”
“He was being mean!” Taehyung defended. “He—he was calling Hobi mean names, names that you said I should never call anyone, Yoonie! And he was pushing Hobi down on the playground!”
Yoongi sighed, letting his head fall forward until it was resting on Taehyung’s thighs for a brief moment.
“I’m sorry,” Taehyung muttered miserably.
“You can never do this again,” Yoongi lifted his head to show Taehyung how serious he was. “No matter how mean anybody is being, unless it is in self-defense, you should never raise a hand towards another person. Do you understand me, Taehyung?”
Taehyung nodded, tears rolling sadly down his cheeks.
Yoongi reached out and wiped them away. “We’ll talk more once we’re home. Hey, I’m not mad, alright? It’s okay.”
Rising, he looked towards Jimin.
“I’m so sorry about this…”
Jimin shook his head. “The other kid’s parents are furious. Taehyung is suspended for three days, I’m afraid.”
Yoongi nods. “Okay, I understand. I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Jimin softened. “Yoongi, I know how difficult this is. Raising a child on your own, I—I don’t want you to beat yourself up over this, okay? Things like this happen.”
Yoongi pursed his lips, but said nothing.
“I’m serious,” Jimin did a quick search to make sure they were alone before he reached out again and placed a warm palm on Yoongi’s cheek. Yoongi leaned into the touch with no hesitation. “Speaking from a non-teacher perspective, Taehyung was very brave for standing up for Hoseok like that. It’s not very often that people stand up for someone else being wronged, even as adults. I admire that in Taehyung.”
“Yea,” Yoongi felt a part of himself relax.
Jimin swiped a gentle thumb against Yoongi’s skin, a smile making its way onto his lips. “And he must have learned that kind bravery from somewhere, right, angel?”
Yoongi froze at the sudden term of endearment, warmth blooming in his stomach at an alarmingly rapid pace, but before he could say anything Jimin had stepped back and exited the office with a quick ruffle to Taehyung’s hair and a short ‘see you both soon’.
When Yoongi looked back down towards Taehyung, Taehyung was squinting at him through wet lashes.
“What?” Yoongi asked.
“Hm,” Taehyung hummed.
“Your face is all red, Yoonie.”
“’S just hot in here,” Yoongi muttered. “Let’s go home.”
“Alright, Hoseok,” Yoongi walked into the living room to find Taehyung and Hoseok sitting smushed together, giggling as they tried their hardest at seeing who could build the highest Lego tower. “Your dad’s gonna be here in five minutes. Should we start cleaning up?”
“Nooooo,” Taehyung looked up at him, pouting. “Can’t Hobi sleep over?”
“Maybe next time, Tae,” Yoongi reached out to ruffle both their messy heads of hair. “But Hoseok has to go home and eat dinner with his dads tonight, yea?”
“Next time,” Taehyung nods, deflating only for a second before brightening up once again at the vigorous nod and smile Hoseok sends him in agreement. The boy is the happiest child Yoongi’s ever met — and that’s saying something, considering he knows Taehyung — but every time he had looked over to check on the two Hoseok was almost always laughing.
And it made Yoongi so glad, seeing that Taehyung was always laughing along.
When there was a knock on the door, Yoongi went to open it, and a tall man dressed in a fitted suit steped inside.
“Hello, Yoongi? I’m Hoseok’s father, Seokjin Kim. We spoke on the phone, I believe?”
Yoongi reached out to shake the man’s hand, smiling politely. “Nice to meet you, Seokjin. The boys had fun. Thanks for letting Hoseok come over.”
“Thank you for having him,” Seokjin laughed, running a hand through his gelled hair. “He wasn’t too rowdy, was he?”
Yoongi let out a joking, long-suffering sigh. “Next time, you can oversee their playdate. Taehyung is more than enough to handle on his own.”
Seokjin laughed, and Yoongi was endeared to note that his laugh was squeaky and carefree, loose in a way that didn’t fit his suited appearance.
“Of course,” he agreed easily. “My place next time.”
When his father called his name, Hoseok barreled into him, all of his happy limbs wrapped around the tall man.
Just as they were saying their goodbyes, Taehyung attached to Yoongi’s hip, waving mournfully at Hoseok despite the fact that they would see each other at school the next morning, a car pulled up into the driveway.
Yoongi’s heart dropped at the familiar face behind the wheel.
“Taehyung, go into the bedroom and lock it,” Yoongi said urgently, gently pushing Taehyung in the direction of their room, barely even noticing the way Seokjin’s face twisted in concern at his sudden shift in tone.
“Huh? Why?” Taehyung just squeezed in tighter, confused.
“Taehyung, please. I’ll be right there in a few minutes, okay? Go.”
Taehyung gave him a look, glanced at the strange woman getting out of the car, but at Yoongi’s tone, quickly turned and ran for the room.
Yoongi relaxed slightly when he heard the quiet click of the lock.
“Yoongi? Is everything okay?” Seokjin was holding Hoseok close, eyes trained on the woman walking towards them.
“You should go, Seokjin,” Yoongi urged.
“Who is she?” Seokjin ignored him, tensing as the woman came closer.
But it was too late for Seokjin to make a graceful escape, because by that time Yoongi’s mother was right next to them, peeling the sunglasses off her face to glance around Yoongi’s property with critical eyes.
And he knew what she saw — a dying lawn that Yoongi couldn’t afford to water everyday, a run-down house, Yoongi’s beat-up truck.
“Yoongi,” she greeted him coolly. “You don’t look very pleased to see your own mother.”
“Mother,” Yoongi’s jaw was tight. “I told you not to come.”
“A mother cannot visit her own son? A grandmother cannot visit her own grandson?” she asked innocently.
Yoongi shook his head. “You haven’t given a single shit about us until the school called you. And after our phone call, you aren’t here for a family reunion, that much I know.”
His mother’s face tightened into one of distinct disapproval.
“You know why I am here, Yoongi. Honestly, what were you thinking? Raising Taehyung here? Sending him to a public school?”
“I’m thinking that I am giving him the best life I can,” Yoongi raised his voice — he couldn’t help it. Just being around his mother was bringing back old memories, ones that spoke of suffocation and endless tutors and imposed rules. “I’m thinking that I am giving Taehyung a childhood, one that Chanhee would have wanted for him, one where he can play and make friends and—”
“Is that all life is to you? About playing?” her voice was cold. “I suppose I’m not surprised, given that you dropped everything to come and live in this shack. As I said before, what kind of life you want to live does not matter to me, Yoongi. What does matter is that I can give Taehyung a much better life, with me, in Korea.”
“And as I told you over the phone, no,” Yoongi seethed. “Taehyung is my son. I raised him. You have no right to take him from me.”
He could feel Seokjin and Hoseok glancing between the two of them, Hoseok clutching at his father’s suit in fear of the tense atmosphere.
“He is not your son,” she spat. “He is your nephew. You have no greater claim over him than I do.”
She then let out a sigh. “Listen, Yoongi. Let’s not make this difficult for yourself, okay? We both know that once we go to court, you will lose. You don’t have the money to even pay for working sprinklers, let alone to pay for a good lawyer. Either way, Taehyung will be coming back home with me. It’s better for you to just take the easier path.”
“I’ll find one,” Yoongi’s hands were in fists, and a desperate anger was swirling in his gut, making his ears ring. “Whatever I have to do, I will not let you take Taehyung away from me.”
“Where are you going to find one?” his mother laughed, mocking. “Where are you going to get the money to pay for one? How will you—”
“He’s already found one,” Seokjin interjected, voice steely. “I’m his lawyer, and I would advise you to get off of Yoongi’s property before I call the police.”
Yoongi’s mother blinked, and looked over at Seokjin as if it were the first time she noticed him standing there.
“Who are you?”
“As I’ve told you,” Seokjins’ voice was smooth, confident. “I’m Yoongi’s lawyer. Now get off my client’s property, because I do believe your presence is very much unwanted, therefore, you are trespassing.”
Yoongi gaped at Seokjin.
What was the man doing?
He kept his mouth shut as he watched his mom look between him and Seokjin, lips pinched tight in disapproval. It looked as if she wanted to say more, but Seokjin’s angry face sent her huffing to her car, her heels clicking on the pavement.
“I’m afraid we’ll be seeing each other in court, then,” she called to the both of them before slamming her door shut and driving away.
“What was that?” Yoongi rounded on Seokjin, confused and embarrassed and, strangely, a little bit angry.
Did the man lie just because he took pity on Yoongi?
Why didn’t he just leave when Yoongi had asked him to?
Seokjin let out a sigh.
“Hoseok, go play with Taehyung for a bit longer, okay? I think Yoongi and I need to talk.”
Ten minutes later, the two of them sat at the small kitchen table, mugs of coffee in-between them. Seokjin had stripped his jacket, and loosened his tie, and Yoongi couldn’t help but notice that the other man looked tired.
Yoongi had just finished explaining the entire situation to Seokjin, who actually did happen to be a lawyer. The older man had listened intently.
“The worst part is…she doesn’t even care about Taehyung. Not really. She just wants to use him, wants to have the pleasure of boasting about a grandson with a genius IQ.”
“Does he really have a genius IQ?”
Yoongi sighed. “He hasn’t been officially tested, but I’m almost sure that he does. He thinks at a rate that exceeds other kids his age, and the school tried to send him to a school for gifted children, claiming that he would be better off there. And his mother…my sister. She was the exact same way. Smart beyond belief.”
“I see,” Seokjin said quietly. “You love him a lot.”
It wasn’t a question, but Yoongi nodded anyway.
“Of course I do. He…it’s hard. The whole parenting thing,” Yoongi let out a half-laugh. “I’m sure you know. I can’t escape the constant fear that I’m somehow ruining his life, that what I’m giving him isn’t enough.”
“It’s something every parent feels, I think,” Seokjin replied. “But it must be harder for you, doing it alone. I can’t imagine how difficult it is.”
Yoongi was silent for a bit. “Taehyung is all I have. I don’t know…”
“Where’s Taehyung’s real father?”
Yoongi shrugged. “I don’t know. It was a one night stand, between him and my sister. When she called him up afterwards to let him know that she was pregnant, the bastard didn’t give a shit.”
Seokjin let out an angry breath from his nose at the news, eyebrows pulled together.
The silence stretched on — even Taehyung and Hoseok were being particularly quiet in the bedroom.
“Listen, you should go home to your husband, eat dinner,” Yoongi eventually stood. “You don’t have to feel obligated to help just because of what you said to my mother in the heat of the moment. It’s okay. I get that you’re a busy man. Thank you for standing up for me regardless.”
“Yoongi, I’m going to help you.”
“I’m going to help you. I’m going to do my best to make sure that you keep your son.”
Yoongi was already shaking his head. “I truly can’t afford to pay you, Seokjin. Thank you for offering, but I really can’t.”
“I’m not doing this for the money, Yoongi,” Seokjin’s tone was soft. “The thought of anybody ripping Hoseok away from me…I don’t even know how devastated I would be. How afraid. But you’re not alone, okay? I’m going to help you keep Taehyung.”
To his complete embarrassment, tears filled Yoongi’s eyes. “I can’t…”
“Please. From a father to a father. I want to do this.”
Yoongi contemplated, and realized that he had no choice.
No choice but to rely on this kind, near-stranger.
“Okay. Okay. Thank you,” he choked out.
Seokjin reached out and placed a hand on Yoongi’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Yoongi. Taehyung is yours. And it’ll stay that way — I’ll make sure of it.”
When Taehyung saw who had come over for a visit, his face brightened.
“Mr. Park!” he hollered, scrambling up in delight at seeing his teacher outside of school. “You’re in my home!”
“I sure am, buddy,” Jimin laughed as Taehyung barreled into him for a hug, despite having seen him earlier in the afternoon. “Is it okay if I stay for dinner today?”
Taehyung pulled back, eyes wide.
“Really?” he whispered.
“Only if it’s okay,” Jimin nodded solemnly.
“Yes!” Taehyung screamed, bouncing up and down and looking over at Yoongi for confirmation. “It’s okay, right Yoonie? We can feed Mr. Park! He’s hungry!”
Yoongi laughed and made his way over to them, ruffling Taehyung’s hair.
“We can feed Mr. Park, you’re right,” he said, a teasing lilt in his voice.
“Will you stay and play for a little after, Mr. Park?” Taehyung peered up at Jimin with wide, shiny eyes, and Jimin had to physically hold himself back from clutching at his own chest.
“Of course, Tae,” Jimin said softly. “And when we’re not in school, you can call me Jimin, okay?”
Taehyung broke out into a huge smile. “Okay!”
Taehyung, so easily excited, had talked throughout the entire dinner, legs swinging happily against his chair.
When Jimin reached out to gently wipe Taehyung’s mouth free from sauce with a napkin, Yoongi’s couldn’t hold back his smile.
Taehyung knew that he noticed more things than other kids his age did.
Jeongguk liked to called him ‘observant’.
He didn’t think so — he just liked to watch people.
Especially people he loved.
Which meant that he watched Yoongi a lot.
Which meant Taehyung saw things, things that he filed away in his mind but rarely spoke about.
He saw how Yoongi was hard to make smile, except when he was with Taehyung. He saw how Yoongi would wash dishes after dinner as Taehyung was sent off to play with tired shoulders and glazed eyes. Taehyung saw how Yoongi held himself differently than other parents did, shoulders a little hunched, using his sunglasses and serious eyes as a mask from what he was truly feeling inside.
Taehyung saw the front that Yoongi put up around other people because, Taehyung knew, he was bracing himself for mean words, and judgmental, questioning stares. Yoongi pretended to be unaffected, pretended that nothing mattered to him other than Taehyung, but it wasn’t true.
Taehyung saw when Yoongi would pinch at the skin between his eyes when he was looking at pages with big, big numbers on the kitchen table. Taehyung saw when Yoongi looked at Jeongguk and Namjoon with a weird look in his eyes that Taehyung couldn’t quite place yet.
But now, Taehyung saw a shift.
It’d been some time since Yoongi and Jimin had started going on what Yoongi called ‘dates’, and Taehyung saw the way Yoongi smiled every time he looked at his phone now. Taehyung saw Yoongi laugh very very loudly whenever Jimin was around, saw Yoongi smile so hard his eyes crinkled up and all his teeth showed. Taehyung saw Yoongi run his hand through Jimin’s hair in a way that he usually only did with Taehyung. Taehyung saw the way Yoongi looked a little bit less angry when Jimin was around, walked with his head held a bit higher.
Taehyung saw that Yoongi loved Jimin a lot, so Taehyung loved Jimin a lot too. Anybody who could make Yoongi laugh as hard as Jimin made him laugh was somebody worth loving.
Plus, Jimin always baked them cookies, and sometimes would sneak Taehyung extra apple juice during snack time.
So both Taehyung and Yoongi’s list of loved ones grew by one, and both of them were much, much happier for it.
Two months pass, and Yoongi’s days were filled with work and Taehyung and unbearable law jargon during his meetings with Seokjin and dinners at Namjoon and Jeongguk’s and Jimin Jimin Jimin.
The more time he spent with Jimin, the more Yoongi liked him.
Liked everything about him, from the mole on the nape of Jimin’s neck to his soft soft skin to his tiny crooked tooth to the way he sounded singing in the shower to the way he looked under streetlights to the way he could knock back shots like it was nobody’s business to the way he had barely-discernible freckles smattered across his nosebridge like little starlit kisses to the way he played with Taehyung to the way he seemed to trust Yoongi with every single part of himself, placed his beating heart inside Yoongi’s hands even though they were rough and clumsy.
Now, Yoongi and Jimin sat on a checkered picnic blanket as Taehyung ran around the park, collecting flowers in his hands and bringing them back to the blanket, alternating between who he handed them to. Next to the both of them were growing piles of blooms, and Yoongi watched fondly as Jimin cupped a hand over his pile when a breeze made its way by, ensuring that none of his flowers would fly away.
The day was fading around them in orange streaks, and Yoongi savored the slowly cooling air, breathing deeply as light faded slowly from the sky.
A hand was suddenly in his hair, and Yoongi let out a sound of contentment as Jimin scrunched it between his fingers, a little makeshift massage.
“You good, angel?” Jimin checked.
“‘Course,” Yoongi muttered. “Any time spent with you is good.”
Jimin was quiet until Yoongi opened his eyes to look at him. “I don’t mean right now…I meant…in general. With everything going on.”
It was still a bit foreign to him, to have someone other than Namjoon and Jeongguk check in on him, and even when they did — it was different to this.
It was different to the way Jimin held eye contact, not letting Yoongi shy away from the sudden attention, not letting him change the subject. It was different to the way Jimin asked it in a way that had Yoongi envisioning the younger man holding his hands out, waiting for Yoongi to drop the most painful pieces of his fragmented fears into open, accepting palms.
Yoongi didn’t know what to say, not really wanting to get into it with Taehyung a few feet away, and also not really even knowing how he was doing. Days had been passing by quickly and busily, and Yoongi didn’t allow himself time to really think.
So he shrugged and averted his eyes, picking up an orange flower and twirling it between his fingers.
Jimin’s hand moved from his hair to his cheek, and he felt the other man’s warmth shift closer. Jimin’s other hand was on Yoongi’s hip, now, and everything felt slow and warm and Yoongi didn’t understand why things like this made his heart ache.
“Hey,” Jimin called.
A thumb, light as a falling petal, brushed against the thin skin right underneath Yoongi’s eye.
“No matter what, I’ve got you, okay?” Jimin said. Yoongi looked up again, and Jimin’s eyes were serious. “I’m gonna be right here.”
“Okay,” Yoongi whispered. Paused. “‘M scared,” Yoongi let slip, the words a tiny thing that made a home in the furrow of Jimin’s brow.
“I am, too,” Jimin confessed, moving closer. “But everything will work out. You’ll see. Because you’re brave. And kind, and—you are fighting for Taehyung out love pure love. The same cannot be said about your mother. I want you to remember that.”
Yoongi tipped forward, his forehead meeting Jimin’s collarbone. Felt utterly safe in that space, found beauty in the way the few remaining dregs of sunlight curled around the dips of Jimin’s shoulders and neck like satin.
When he felt Jimin press a kiss against his temple, Yoongi sagged, and Jimin laughed as he squeezed his arms around the mechanic.
“It’s cuddle time?” Taehyung appeared, placed his handful of flowers into Yoongi’s pile and then crawled over, tracking dirt onto the blanket. He squished his way in-between Yoongi and Jimin’s bodies, wriggling like a worm, a small foot lodging its way into Jimin’s crotch and a flailing elbow into Yoongi’s sternum.
The two men laughed through their pain as Taehyung got comfortable, nuzzling his head into Jimin’s neck the way Yoongi had been doing moments earlier.
The three of them sat there until it was well into twilight, and Taehyung began to shiver.
They made their way to Yoongi’s home and ate dinner and then Jimin was helping Taehyung with his night routine, tucking him in under safe warm covers, and Yoongi swallowed thickly at how natural it was for Jimin to be there, with both him and Taehyung. He stayed in the kitchen and let the two have their moment, and began to boil water for two mugs of tea.
Meanwhile, in the bedroom, Jimin leaned down to press a quick kiss against Taehyung’s sleepy head, and when he pulled back Taehyung’s arms looped around his neck, preventing him from going.
“Jimin,” Taehyung said, voice slurring from fatigue. “Love you. Can you stay forever? Even when…even when you’re not my teacher anymore?”
Jimin’s heart twisted. He reached back and removed Taehyung’s arms, giving each of his hands a quick peck before tucking them inside the blanket, too. “Oh, Taehyungie. I love you too. I’m gonna stay for as long as you and Yoongi want me to.”
“Yoonie wants you to stay forever, just like me,” Taehyung said, convinced, eyes only half-open.
Jimin let out a quiet laugh. “If that’s true, then I’ll stay forever.”
Yoongi was tired.
Yoongi was exhausted down to his bones, and he was pretty sure that if he let himself sit down he wouldn’t be able to get back up.
The lead-up to the court date was draining.
Days filled with paperwork, stuck in Jin’s office talking through all of their resources, all of their back-up plans, all of the possibilities and realities that they could be facing after the judge’s verdict.
And thinking of all of those realities — having to entertain the idea of Taehyung having to leave — gutted Yoongi to the core.
So when he came into the living room after spending some time meal prepping in the kitchen, a hot wave of irritation made its way through his body when he saw the living room, Taehyung and Star and all their furniture covered in mud.
“Don’t what me, Taehyung. We’ve gone over this. Please.”
“Gone over what?”
Yoongi’s eyes hardened. “The mud, Taehyung. Look around.”
Taehyung looked around, but then shrugged his shoulders and continued with the puzzle in front of him, Star a muddy lump by his side. “We were just playing in the sprinklers, Yoonie. You said we could.”
Ever since Yoongi had told Taehyung of what was going on — the possibility of him having to go live with his grandma who he’s never met all the way in Korea, the possibility of him having to leave Yoongi, and Jeongguk, and Namjoon, and Jimin, and everything else he knew and loved, Taehyung had been a bit difficult.
Yoongi knew it was because he was scared, and stressed, and simply confused. This was his life — the only way Taehyung knew. This was his home, and suddenly a stranger was trying to come and break it all apart? It didn’t make sense to him, and Taehyung didn’t understand how to deal with the sudden loss of security.
“You’re allowed to play in the sprinklers, Taehyung, but I’ve told you multiple times that if you get muddy, you have to clean off before you come inside,” Yoongi tried to be patient, knowing that the both of them were overwrung with emotions and stress.
“I’ll clean off later,” Taehyung huffed.
“There is dirt all over our living room, now, Taehyung. Do you know how difficult it will be for me to clean this out?” Yoongi knew that arguing with a seven year old would do nothing. Knew that what was done was done, and there wasn’t really a point in continuing to point out Taehyung’s mistake, but he was tired, and cranky, and the last thing he wanted to do was spend the rest of the night cleaning mud out of their sofa and carpet and dog.
Star hated baths, and the thought of having to wrangle the stubborn 130 pound dog into the tub already had Yoongi’s arms trembling with exhaustion.
When Taehyung didn’t respond, Yoongi felt a burst of anger flow through him, a spark eating up its fuse.
“Taehyung,” he snapped. “Go wash up. Now.”
“I don’t want to yet!” Taehyung snapped back. Yoongi knew that he hated when Yoongi took on this tone with him, the angry-strict-parent tone, and in all honestly Yoongi hated it too. But this time, he was beyond caring, just a little too weary to reach for the patience he usually had around Taehyung.
“Fine,” Yoongi said shortly. He walked over and immediately used an arm to sweep the puzzle Taehyung had been working on back into its box, ruining the progress Taehyung had made.
“Hey!” Taehyung screamed.
“You can’t play until you go wash up,” Yoongi said calmly.
When Taehyung whirled to pull out another puzzle, Yoongi took that from him too.
Taehyung was crying now, hot tears of frustration making little rivulets down his muddy cheeks, revealing the flushed skin underneath.
“Taehyung, please stop being difficult,” Yoongi growled when he had to grab a third puzzle from Taehyung’s hands.
“You’re being difficult!” Taehyung sobbed out. “You, you, it’s you! You’re being mean!”
Yoongi’s heart dropped, and he sucked in a large breath.
There was always a thin line that he walked when parenting, never knowing how strict to be, not wanting Taehyung to grow up believing there were no rules, but never wanting to hinder Taehyung’s freedom, either.
There were times when Yoongi had absolutely no clue what the right thing to do was, how to properly handle a situation.
There were times, like this, when Yoongi let his emotions get the best of him.
And it was hard.
Because it was just him.
There was no one to fall back on, no one to get a second opinion, no one to tell him, Hey, cool off for a bit, and no one to shake their head at him when he spoiled Taehyung a little too much.
There was no one but Yoongi.
Letting the puzzles drop to the ground, Yoongi accepted it as his legs gave out and he was sitting on the floor, across the coffee table from Taehyung.
He placed his head in his palm and shut his eyes, the guilt building when Taehyung didn’t stop crying.
“We never play together anymore,” Taehyung sniffled miserably. “I have to play with Star all by myself, and—and I didn’t even notice we got so muddy, and now you’re mad and you’re not gonna play with us ever again, and it’s not fair.”
Yoongi reached out and hauled Taehyung over the table and into his lap, uncaring of the mud that smeared across the wooden surface and now onto his clothes.
“And I was almost done with that puzzle,” Taehyung wailed, body wracking with great big sobs. “Now I have to start over.”
And Yoongi understood, he did.
He remembered when he was young, and sometimes everything felt like it was all too much, but his parents never took him seriously.
They saw his problems as kid problems, but to him, back then, his problems were real, and overwhelming, and no less painful, even if they seemed immature and ridiculous to those older than him.
So Yoongi had always tried his best to treat Taehyung’s emotions seriously, to remember that to Taehyung, the things bothering him were real, and simply because they were childish to Yoongi didn’t mean that he should undermine the actual struggle and sadness that Taehyung felt from skinning a knee, or losing his favorite coloring book, or having to start over on a puzzle.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Taehyungie. We’ve all been a bit stressed, huh? I’ve been neglecting you a bit, hmm?”
“Yea, neglecting Taehyungie, you meanie,” Taehyung sobbed out.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. I really didn’t.”
“You still did it,” Taehyung said stubbornly.
“I won’t do it again, okay?” Yoongi ran a hand through the clumps of mud collected in Taehyung’s hair. “Let’s go clean you off, hmm? Then me you and Star can all play for a bit. I’ll help you finish the puzzle again.”
“Kay,” Taehyung said miserably. “Sorry for being muddy. Star jumped into the mud first, though. I couldn’t just let her play by herself.”
And at that, Yoongi didn’t have the heart to stay angry.
The social worker watched as the child in front of her, Taehyung Min, her chart read, sat across the table from her and doodled with the markers set out before him, humming under his breath.
He was a precious thing, with big eyes and thick lashes, skin that showed a lot of play time under the sun, and a mop of messy almost-too-long dark brown hair.
“Taehyung,” she called his attention. “If I ask you a few questions, would you be up to answer them?”
“Okay,” he chirped.
“Does Yoongi treat you nicely?”
Taehyung looked at her as if it were an odd question. “Yoonie is the nicest.”
“I’m glad. How is he the nicest?”
“He—well,” Taehyung frowned at his doodles in thought. “He makes me sandwiches! And—and—he helps feed Star because I can’t lift her food. It’s heavy. And sometimes if he’s extra tired I can talk him into giving me just cookies for dinner.”
A mark on the chart.
“And even though I got mad at him for making me to go to school, that’s where we met Ji—I mean, Mr. Park! And I love Mr. Park!”
“Mr. Park is your teacher, correct?”
“And how is school? Who’s your best friend?”
“My best friend! It used to be Nammie, and Gukkie, and I guess they still are my best friends, I love them a lot a lot,” Taehyung said, picking up a yellow marker and scribbling violently across half the page. “But! At school my best friend is Hobi. He has a heart-shaped smile and he tells me stories and even though one time he made me cry because he wouldn’t give me his last pretzel I still love him a lot.”
“So Nammie and Gukkie were your best friends before Hobi,” the social worker nodded. “Did Nammie and Gukkie move away?”
Taehyung looked at her with question marks above his head. “No? They live next door.”
“Oh? Did they transfer out of your class? Is that why you don’t see them at school anymore?”
Taehyung threw his head back and laughed cutely. “Silly! Nammie and Gukkie are old! As old as—as you! And Yoonie! They don’t go to school.”
“Do you like your school, Taehyung?”
Taehyung looked bored of the markers and paper set out in front of him, then, and turned his head to look at the door.
“Can I go back to Yoonie now?”
“Just a few more questions, sweetheart.”
Taehyung pouted. “I don’t wanna. ‘M tired.”
“A few more, and I’ll give you a treat, hmm? Do you like your school?”
Taehyung let out a sigh, still eyeing the door as if will alone would make Yoongi enter through it. “Yea, I guess. I like Mr. Park and I like the big toy at recess and I like Hobi and the other kids in my class. But there are things I don’t like, too.”
“I don’t like classtime, because it’s boring,” Taehyung scrunched his nose. “I know everything Mr. Park teaches already. But art time is fun! And sometimes we have music class, and that’s the most fun.”
“Is there anything else you don’t like about school?”
“I don’t like Jaebeom. He’s mean!”
“Jaebeom is one of your classmates? He’s mean to you?”
“Mean to Hobi! So I hit him!”
Twenty minutes and a few more questions later, Taehyung was bounding out of the room with an apple-flavored lollipop stuck between his teeth, and the social worker watched as he skipped right up to Yoongi Min, who had stood as soon as the door opened.
Yoongi ruffled Taehyung’s hair, but his eyes were on the social worker.
Expression unreadable, Yoongi stared until the door shut between them.
“So,” Namjoon said. “Mr. Park.”
Yoongi tore his eyes away from Jeongguk and Taehyung, the younger of the two sitting precariously atop Jeongguk’s shoulders as they spun in wild, dizzying circles around the living room to the Tangled soundtrack.
Yoongi debated pretending not to hear what his friend just said, but sighed and then met his eyes. “What about him?”
“He’s been coming over a lot, is all,” Namjoon shrugged, sly smile hidden behind the can of beer he held in front of his face. “It’s just interesting.”
Yoongi rolled his eyes. “Interesting, huh?”
“Just never thought that of all the people you’d fall for, it’d be Taehyung’s teacher,” Namjoon teased. “The scandal!”
Yoongi hid his face in his hands with a groan and didn’t come out.
“Hey,” Namjoon bumped him gently with his shoulder. “You really like him. I know.”
“How do you know?” Yoongi muttered, a bit petulant.
“Because you let him around Taehyung,” Namjoon said. “You let him eat dinner with you guys and the other day I swear I saw Jimin’s car stay on your driveway overnight. You don’t let just anybody around Taehyung for that long.”
Safe within the darkness provided by his own hands and the sound of Jeongguk and Taehyung’s singing and laughter, Yoongi let his mind wander to Jimin.
The scent of Jimin’s skin, the freckle on the back of his neck that was soft under Yoongi’s lips. The way Jimin’s voice sounded in the morning, the way Jimin humored Taehyung’s long-winded ramblings and games, always. The way Jimin tasted after coffee and before dinner and right before bed.
“Hey,” Namjoon nudged him with a socked foot when he was silent for a while. “I’m happy if you’re happy, truly. You know that.”
“Yea,” Yoongi murmured.
“You are, yes? Happy with him?”
Sighing and letting his head fall onto Namjoon’s lap, he nodded, the coarse material of Namjoon’s jeans rubbing against his beer-warmed cheek.
“I like him a lot.”
“That’s good,” a hand carded through his hair.
“I think maybe I even love him.”
“Even better,” Namjoon squeezed him affectionately.
When Yoongi lifted his eyes to see Jeongguk staring at him fondly, he knew that his younger friend heard the conversation, too.
Jeongguk just smiled at him, infinitely gentle, before swinging Taehyung up again into a swaying mimicry of a waltz.
“Yoonie,” Taehyung said gravely.
They were at the park, as it was one of the rare afternoons that Yoongi got off early, and the playground was empty save for the two of them.
“Mmm,” Yoongi said. He was sitting in the middle of one of the big toys, watching as Taehyung tumbled and slid and skidded all over, the accumulated static from the plastic of the tunnels and slides making his hair stick up every which way.
Taehyung’s bare feet padded over and he plopped down in Yoongi’s lap, a bit sweaty.
“Should I start calling you ‘Dad’?”
Yoongi blinked, surprised at the sudden question. “Tae…I’m not your real dad, though. You know this.”
Taehyung shrugged. “Yea, but…all the kids in my class think that it’s weird I don’t call you Dad. And so I started thinking about it, and you do all the things a Dad does. You make me yummy breakfasts, and you buy me presents when I’m good, and you give me goodnight kisses, and—and—you get mad at me when I curse.”
Yoongi shot Taehyung a strange look. “I’ve never heard you curse.”
Taehyung nodded solemnly. “Yes, because cursing is bad, Yoonie, but if I did curse, you would be mad.”
Yoongi, all too used to the unique and expansive paths of Taehyung’s mind, nodded along, agreeing.
“So if you do all the things a Dad should do, you are my Dad, aren’t you?”
Yoongi shifted Taehyung closer, heart aching for reasons he couldn’t specify.
“Tae,” he said. “I haven’t asked you to call me Dad because I technically am not your father. If you want to start calling me Dad, you can, of course you can. But don’t feel like you have to just because some kids in your class questioned you about it.”
“But you love me just as much, don’t you? Just as much as if you were my Dad?” Taehyung peered up at him with hesitant, unguarded eyes.
Yoongi smiled. “Taehyung. I love you more than you’ll ever know. Out of everything in this great big world, you can count on that.”
“We can just be Taetae and Yoonie,” Taehyung said after a beat of silence. He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Yoongi’s neck. “I’m happy just being Taetae and Yoonie.”
Yoongi held him closer. “I am, too.”
And this—this was it.
Moments like these were what made it worth it. Moments like these, when he felt as if he could hold the entire weight of the world on his shoulders if it meant Taehyung would thrive, when he felt Taehyung calm and happy against him, when he saw that the azure sky was endless and beautiful and realized Taehyung breathed blue into his heart.
It was worth it, everything, everything.
There were some nights when Taehyung would crawl into bed with Yoongi, little limbs warm and sleep-soft as he let himself sink underneath Yoongi’s covers.
It was a habitual thing for him when he was smaller, and even though it pained Yoongi to do it, the older man had to put his foot down eventually, stating the importance of Taehyung sleeping in his own bed.
But this time, when it happened, Yoongi didn’t protest.
The trial was tomorrow, and Yoongi needed the reassurance just as much as Taehyung did.
So he just lifted his arm as a safe place for Taehyung to crawl into.
Just held Taehyung close in the peace of their room, wondering if this was the last time they would be able to fall asleep together.
“Are they going to take me away?” Taehyung whispered into the cotton of Yoongi’s shirt.
Yoongi didn’t know what to say.
He didn’t know — everything was too much, and too little, all at once. Too much fear and worry, too little time, too little opportunities to fix things. Too much expanding space in the distance between him and Taehyung, too little strength left in him to run after the child he loved with his entire heart.
When Taehyung looked up at him, Yoongi could see the tears in Taehyung’s eyes, and felt his heart burn painful in his chest at the way Taehyung fisted his shirt.
So he pulled Taehyung close, secure, and shook his head.
“No, I won’t let that happen,” he said. “It’s me and you forever, Tae.”
“Do you promise?” Taehyung’s voice was unsure, vulnerable.
Yoongi’s arms tightened. “I promise.”
Jeongguk let out a shaky sigh as he turned out the light and burrowed into Namjoon’s warmth under the covers.
Namjoon wrapped his arms around his frame and Jeongguk blinked into the warmth of his neck.
In the darkness, all Jeongguk could see was Taehyung, and Yoongi.
All he could think of was the time when Taehyung was four, and had come down with a fever, but Yoongi couldn’t afford to take a day off to take care of him, so the man had knocked on Jeongguk and Namjoon’s door at 5 in the morning and begged them to watch him for the day.
And they did, of course they did.
Taehyung was sweaty and clingy and weak, whining about being too hot one moment then too cold the next, and Jeongguk had spent the entire day feeding him medicine and water and soup, heart aching at the sadness and fatigue in Taehyung’s eyes, so unused to the energetic boy being so listless.
When Yoongi came to pick Taehyung up that evening, Taehyung had perked up from his blanket cocoon on the couch, immediately reaching out for the man.
Yoongi had went straight for Taehyung, arms hoisting him up and hugging him tight, and it was written all over his face that he hated how he couldn’t be with Taehyung when he needed him most.
Jeongguk remembered turning away, retreating to the kitchen as Yoongi held Taehyung that evening and cried.
And even earlier than that, when Taehyung was even smaller, pudgy and cuddly and cooing at everything and everyone with his huge, bright eyes.
They had all been relaxing in Jeongguk and Namjoon’s living room after dinner when Taehyung had looked over to Yoongi from where he was playing on the floor, hoping to catch his attention.
Taehyung was making tiny little whines in his throat, but Yoongi had been so distracted talking to Namjoon that he didn’t notice.
Taehyung had just frowned, baby fists landing once then twice on the floor next to him, and then: “Yoon!”
Yoongi’s head had whipped around so fast Jeongguk would have found it funny if his hadn’t done the exact same.
“Did he just—”
“His first word!” Jeongguk had exclaimed, warmth filling his heart.
Yoongi had flown over to pick Taehyung up, kissing his warm, sticky cheeks, laughing, smiling larger than Jeongguk had ever seen him smile.
“Can you say it again, baby?”
“Yoon!” at the positive reinforcement, Taehyung said it again confidently, happy now that he had Yoongi’s attention.
Namjoon had clicked a picture on his phone, then, of Yoongi’s ocean-wide smile, his proud gleaming eyes, Taehyung held high in his arms.
That picture had been printed out and framed, and it still sat on Yoongi’s bedside table.
“They can’t take Taehyung away,” Jeongguk suddenly whispered into the night, hands gripping Namjoon’s shirt. He was filled with rage and sadness for his friend. The thought of strangers dressed up in stiff suits and bullshit regulations taking Taehyung away from Yoongi when — when they didn’t know.
They weren’t here for the nights Yoongi stayed up when Taehyung was sick.
They weren’t here for the times Yoongi had cradled Taehyung in his arms as they watched summer days end in a glow of familiar love and tangerine skies.
They weren’t here for the lazy bath times, in which Taehyung would squeak his rubber ducky at Yoongi to make him laugh, in which Yoongi would play peek-a-boo with Taehyung using the shower curtain.
They weren’t here on the days where life just got extra heavy for Yoongi, when laughter became a bit more difficult to find, when it was easier for him to get stuck in his own head and dwell on the dusty dark creatures that occasionally came to haunt him. They weren’t here on those days when Yoongi was tired and sad but still smiled for Taehyung anyway, still sent him to bed with a gentle kiss, with a wish for him to have magical dreams.
They weren’t here for those summer weekends in which Yoongi would take Taehyung out to their little backyard to plant violets, just so he would be able to see Taehyung’s huge smile a few weeks later when purple dotted their garden.
They weren’t here for a single day, because if they were — they would have seen, instantly, how much Yoongi did for Taehyung. How much he loved Taehyung, how he went above and beyond to make Taehyung happy. They would have seen that for Taehyung, his best life was with Yoongi.
“It’s not fair,” Jeongguk said in the darkness. “It’s not fair.”
“It’s not,” Namjoon agreed, voice as sad as Jeongguk was feeling. “But there’s nothing any of us can do, now. We just need to do as we always do, starting tomorrow.”
“And? What is it that we always do?” Jeongguk whispered to the dark.
Namjoon pulled him closer, and whispered the secret into a warm kiss placed on Jeongguk’s forehead.
“We always keep going, despite it all. If happiness needs to take a little break, we keep moving forward. We have to hold on to the knowledge that it’ll always catch up once it regains its breath.”
Jeongguk listened to Namjoon breathe, letting the minutes tick by, letting the words sink in.
“Do you really believe that?”
Another kiss, a brief squeeze. “I found you when I needed you most, didn’t I?”
The court date came.
Yoongi didn’t get a single minute of sleep the night before.
He dressed mechanically into his suit and tie, hugged Taehyung extra long, extra tight, before leaving him with Jeongguk and driving with Namjoon to the courthouse.
The next few hours passed in a blur, marked by his sweating palms and frantic heart.
Then the gavel met sound block and the world became a haze of voices and touches and too many lights.
We’ve come to a compromise.
Compromise, compromise, compromise.
The word ran its ugly course through Yoongi’s mind.
Promise, promise, Yoongi had promised—
Promised that he would keep Taehyung.
Promised that no one would take him away.
Most of the logistics went over his head.
Taehyung will live with a foster family…once he’s 12 he can come back to court to appeal to live with you again…only 30 minutes away…Taehyung will live with a foster family…a foster family…
Yoongi felt Jin’s steady hand under his elbow, firm and comforting.
“Yoongi, do you understand?” the lawyer asked gently.
He understood all too well: he had failed Taehyung, and his sister, and himself.
Yoongi had failed in keeping the one thing in life that mattered to him most of all.
He had failed in keeping his promise to Taehyung.
Yoongi had failed.
Yoongi’s mother flew back to Korea without even a goodbye.
Not that Yoongi would have wanted one.
When he thought of her, he found it hard not make her body a home for all his blame.
Blamed her for his shitty childhood, blamed her for putting so much pressure on his sister that she decided life worth wasn’t worth living, blamed her for tearing Taehyung away from him, blamed her for everything.
A deep seated hatred burned in Yoongi’s gut whenever he thought of his mother, her selfishness, her greed.
But even worse than that, what overpowered that ugly, thick poison, was his own yearning.
Yearning for a mother who had gentle hands and encouraged through patience and understanding instead of insults. Yearning for a childhood that blurred together like a supercut of honey sunny days, dirty knees, mackerel skies, water parks and winter beaches and pennies tossed into fountains and ice pops sweet on thirsty tongue and nights spent tracing made-up constellations with little hands. Yearning for the security of the knowledge that he would get to walk Taehyung to the bus stop every morning, and spend every single birthday with him, and take him to the pool on balmy summer days, and be there to see him grow taller and stronger and more confident than he already was.
Yoongi yearned for so many things that were out of reach.
Yoongi constantly stretched his hands out, only to grasp nothing but thin air.
Yoongi zoned out as the potential foster parents, Jihyo and Hanbin, kept talking.
Throat tight with emotion, he looked around.
He looked at the bedroom that could soon be Taehyung’s, one that he wouldn’t have to share with Yoongi. He looked at the shiny stair banisters and the high ceilings and the well-lit kitchen, complete with stocked cabinets full of kid-friendly snacks and a fridge full of juice pouches. He looked at the large flat-screen TV, one that Taehyung wouldn’t have to sit inches away from in order to be able to see, like the tiny one Yoongi had at home. He looked at the swimming pool in the backyard, the tidy flowers that lined the steps, the clean tall shelves void of bugs and dust and dirt.
He looked at everything that he had wanted to give Taehyung but hadn’t been able to.
And lastly, stepping into the grand living room, Yoongi looked at the piano. Shiny and perfect, with a tall bench that Taehyung would grow into, with keys that would soon know the warmth of Taehyung’s clumsy fingers.
Willing the tears from his eyes, he looked back towards the foster parents, forced a smile, and nodded.
A week later, Yoongi was back in that living room, but this time with Taehyung by his side.
Taehyung had been silent the entire ride there, and silent even now as he took in his new home.
Yoongi watched carefully for his reaction, but Taehyung’s gaze flew right over the chandeliers and large rooms and grand piano and landed right back on Yoongi’s face.
“I don’t want to stay here.”
Yoongi crouched down on his haunches to be equal with Taehyung’s height.
“I’ll come visit every month,” he soothed. “We’re only thirty minutes away from each other. I’ll call, and—”
“I don’t want to stay here,” Taehyung repeated, voice trembling now, fists balled up by his sides. His lip was wobbling in a way that had Yoongi reaching out, and he rubbed his hands up and down Taehyung’s arms.
“Just for a few years, then we can try again,” Yoongi said desperately. “If you still want to come back to me, the court said we can try again when you’re 12, okay?”
“No,” Taehyung sobbed. “I want to come back with you now. Please.”
Yoongi shook his head, wanting with everything inside of him that he could say yes, that he could scoop Taehyung up in his arms and take him to the truck and drive them home, stop by Jeongguk and Namjoon’s for dinner, invite Jimin over for a night of board games and dance parties in the living room, let Taehyung call Jin and have Hoseok over for a sleepover.
“You’ll be happy here, Tae,” Yoongi tried again. “You’ll have Star, and look, there’s a piano over there, and you’ll have your own room—”
“I don’t want my own room!” Taehyung cried. “I don’t want my own room or a piano or these people! I just want you, and I want Jimin, and I want Nammie and Guk and Hobi and—”
“We’ll all come visit, Taehyung, we all love you, okay? Just—”
“You promised!” Taehyung said. “Yoonie, please! You said I wouldn’t have to leave!”
Taehyung was crying violently now, chest heaving in a way that looked painful, small hands wrapped tight in Yoongi’s shirt.
“I’m so sorry,” Yoongi said, hands shaking. “I didn’t have a choice, Taehyung. You know I want you with me, always.”
“So take me home with you,” Taehyung cried. “I’ll be good. I promise, I promise, I won't get muddy, please, Yoonie, I don’t want to stay here, I’m scared, I’m—”
“Perhaps it’ll be best if you just go,” Hanbin interrupted from behind Taehyung. “I don’t think prolonging it will make it any easier.”
Yoongi bit his tongue, having to stop himself from lashing out at the man for telling him how to handle Taehyung.
Instead, he rose to his feet, hating himself for having to ignore the way Taehyung cried out, reaching up for him the way he did when he was smaller, rising onto tiptoe and making grabby hands to be held.
“I love you, Taehyung,” Yoongi said. “More than anything, I love you.”
With that, turned his back and walked out the door, tears finally spilling down his cheeks when the front door closed shut behind him.
He could hear Taehyung screaming for him from inside, and refused to look back. He slammed the door of his truck shut and only made it about two blocks before he had to pull over, guilt and pain and loneliness seeming to eat away at him, starting at the very center of his heart.
Yoongi muffled his cries into the crook of his arm, despite there being nobody around to see or hear him.
By the time he made it home, it was dark, and the silence was unforgiving.
For dinner, Yoongi ate leftover soup, not even bothering to turn on the kitchen light, and then dug through the cabinets for a snack. When his hand wrapped around a package of toasted marshmallow cookies, he noticed the sticky note on it, bright-pink and penned over with, “Taetae’s cookies! Yoonie, don’t eat!” in messy scrawl.
He twisted violently and threw the half-full package into the trash can, heart aching in a way it’s only ached once before.
The moonlight washed over Yoongi’s skin and made him look a little more ephemeral than he did in the day.
A little bit like something part of a vision, something foggy and beautiful and delicate that Jimin could swipe his fingers right through.
Jimin carded his hands through Yoongi’s hair as the older rested his head in Jimin’s lap. Moved one hand to cup Yoongi’s flushed cheek, to wipe away a stray tear.
“Maybe this was the right thing to do,” Yoongi whispered, eyes trained on the stars. He wondered if Taehyung were looking out his window, then, staring at the same sky. “They had everything Tae could ever need.”
“Taehyung doesn’t need anything but you, Yoongi,” Jimin said softly. “He doesn’t need new clothes or a big house to be happy. You know that. Deep down, you know that.”
Yoongi stayed silent.
“The court was wrong in doing this,” Jimin continued. “They look at financial stability, they look at healthcare plans and house sizes and school ratings. But that’s all they have to go off of, Yoongi. They don’t look at what’s really important.”
“And? What’s really important?” Yoongi whispered.
“The way you love him,” Jimin whispered back. “The way you have every single Abba record because they’re Taehyung’s favorite, even though you hate Abba with a burning passion. The way you let him paint your nails. The way you always have a backup jar of jelly in the pantry. The way Namjoon always has a new book for him to read. The way Jeongguk never runs out of new songs to show him. The way Taehyung finds home not in your house, or in your shared room, but in you. Anywhere you are is the environment best for Taehyung to grow up in. Because you can grow up with all the money in the world, all the yummy foods and privileged schools and ivory pianos, but if you don’t have love…the world is just a little colder. And you’ll grow up nostalgic for a warmth you never knew.”
Yoongi’s eyes fluttered shut, then, delicate eyelashes on delicate cheeks.
‘Nammie taught me a new word today. Nos-tal-gia.’
‘Do you ever feel that way, Yoonie?’
‘How could I want anything else, when everything I love is already right here?’
Yoongi carried the platter of cupcakes Jimin had made with one arm, a large box filled with goodies for Taehyung under the other.
It was Taehyung’s 8th birthday, and Yoongi had been saving since his 7th birthday to be able to get him as many gifts as he could.
The collection of math books and puzzles and little stuffed toys rattled within the large box as Yoongi shifted to press the doorbell of the house.
He braced himself for Taehyung to come running, looking forward to the familiar weight of little arms wrap around his waist, to feel Taehyung nuzzle his face against his stomach, to feel Star lick at his ankles.
But when the door opened silently and Hanbin stepped out, a grim look on his face, Yoongi’s heart dropped.
“What’s wrong?” he asked immediately. “Is Tae okay?”
“He’s quite alright, Yoongi,” Hanbin reassured him. “It’s just…”
Yoongi stared at him. “It’s just what? If he’s ill, I can go and bring back the soup he likes from—”
“No,” Hanbin shook his head. “I’m afraid you can’t come in, Yoongi.”
Yoongi blinked. “I don’t understand.”
This was Yoongi’s time — his first allotted once-a-month visit.
And it was Taehyung’s birthday.
Yoongi had wrapped the gift 3 times over the night before, clumsy with the wrapping paper and scissors and tape but wanting it to look perfect for Taehyung.
Yoongi had helped Jimin frost the cupcakes, with purple cream cheese frosting, adding star sprinkles on top.
Yoongi had — Yoongi had been looking forward to this day since the day he’d dropped Taehyung off a month ago.
“He doesn’t want to see you, I’m afraid.”
Yoongi was thrown.
Taehyung never didn’t want to see him.
Even when the younger was angry with Yoongi, he would petulantly accept cuddles, just avidly avoiding eye contact to let Yoongi know that he was still upset.
Discomfort and confusion and something a little bit like self-consciousness twisted in his stomach.
“Did he say that to you? Taehyung — he always…”
“He’s still a bit upset at you,” Hanbin shook his head, a pitying look on his face. “It’s only natural, Yoongi. I hope you understand. Jihyo and I are trying to make this as easy for him as possible…the transition, I mean.”
Yoongi was silent.
“I hope you understand,” Hanbin repeated.
Yoongi waited for him to say something else — anything else.
Ask him to come back again next month.
Ask him if he’d like him to go back and ask Taehyung again.
But Hanbin just continued to stand there, blocking the door.
And for a brief moment, in his head, Yoongi imagined shoving the man aside, striding into the house and straight to Taehyung’s new bedroom. He imagined swooping Taehyung up in a hug, presenting him with the cupcakes and the gifts and more hugs and kisses than he could bear.
Instead, all Yoongi could do was swallow thickly as he shoved the cupcakes and box into Hanbin’s hands, then spin on his heels and march back to his truck.
His truck, parked next to Hanbin and Jihyo’s matching Mercedes, dented and scratched up compared to the shiny gleam of their luxury cars.
It hurt Yoongi more than he cared to admit.
With shaking hands, he unlocked his truck and began driving home.
Was Taehyung truly that upset with him?
That he didn’t even want to see Yoongi’s face?
The thought made Yoongi’s heart sink.
It seemed as if no matter what he did, no matter how hard he tried, he could never end up doing the right thing.
Yoongi thought of his sister, the way he had failed her, the way he had promised to himself that he would never fail Taehyung in the same way.
It was a promise he wasn’t sure if he could keep.
Taehyung was a promise he wasn’t sure he could keep.
Yoongi’s hands shook the entire way home.
Days passed slower without Taehyung around.
Quieter, sadder, dimmer.
Like the marine layer covering the ocean and the sun before dawn never getting a chance to melt away.
Before this, Yoongi savored every moment of peace he could get. Not that he didn’t love Taehyung’s chatter and conversation, but Yoongi had appreciated the quiet, as well.
Now, he hated it.
Couldn’t bear to be alone with his own thoughts, because they always cycled back to Taehyung.
Wondering if he was eating enough, if he was making friends at his new school, if he was happy.
Jimin would come over almost every day, and that eased the ache some.
Yoongi found comfort in Jimin’s warm hands, in his soft lips, in his mere presence. Found comfort in making dinner together, in falling asleep together, in their whispered conversations in the late nights and early mornings, in their shared breaths.
Found himself even forgetting the Taehyung-shaped hole, sometimes, when he woke up to Jimin dressed in only one of Yoongi’s flannels, sleepy-eyed and beautiful, flicking on the coffee pot and giving him a kiss even though he hadn’t brushed his teeth yet. When he came home from a late shift and found Jimin at the kitchen table, grading papers with a red pen, Yoongi’s dinner wrapped and waiting by the microwave to be heated up.
But Yoongi wouldn’t forget, not for long.
Though he still found brief moments of happiness, it wasn’t complete.
He wasn’t complete.
Days passed slower without Taehyung around, and when Yoongi watched the sunset, all he could think about was the old definition of nostalgia.
Longing for something, but not knowing what that ‘something’ was.
For Yoongi, he knew. He knew all too well what he missed.
And he couldn’t decide which was worse — wanting something unknown, or wanting something that was so familiar to him being held just out of his reach.
Either way, they were impossible desires.
But he couldn’t help but think to himself — perhaps he was yearning for something that was never meant to be his in the first place.
Jimin deflated a bit as the last of his students bounded out the classroom door with a cheerful wave.
The door shut behind them, and suddenly his ears were ringing in the silence.
Jimin always found something a bit sad about the classroom once everybody but him went home — the sun peered in through the windows and coated its Midas limbs all over the desks and the crayon doodles pinned up on the walls, but despite the warmth, the classroom, meant to house over a dozen happy little hearts and smiles, was lonely when it was just Jimin within it.
And even lonelier still, because Taehyung’s little desk was still sitting there with his name tag taped to the top of it, still full of his workbooks and eraser-shavings.
Jimin ran a hand over the cool brown desk before sucking in a harsh breath, berating himself for tearing up.
He had to be strong.
He missed Taehyung, and yes, in a way he had lost Taehyung as well, but he had to be strong for Yoongi.
Soothing Yoongi’s pain was Jimin’s main priority.
So he shut the blinds and tidied his desk then made his way to the grocery store, determined to buy ingredients for Yoongi’s favorite meal.
He was tugging a cart from its resting place when a bright piece of paper caught his eye.
Whirling towards it, Jimin abandoned the cart and tore the flier from where it was taped onto the notice board in front of the store.
English Mastiff up for adoption. Call this number for details. Comes with food and kennel.
Hands shaking, Jimin fished his phone from his pants and dialed Yoongi’s number, clutching it in-between his ear and shoulder as he held the flier with one hand and searched for his keys with the other.
“Jiminie,” Yoongi greeted.
“Yoongi, I thought you told me that Tae’s foster parents were okay with keeping Star? Isn’t that one of the main reasons why you chose them?”
“Hmm? Yea, they are, why?”
Jimin practically threw himself into his car, starting the engine and cursing when the music blasted, causing him to jump.
“I’m coming over.”
“I’ll be there in ten.”
When Jimin arrived, his eyes were panicked in a way that had Yoongi striding towards him immediately, hands coming up to rub up and down his arms.
“Are you okay? What happened?”
“Hey, breathe,” Yoongi cupped Jimin’s chin in his hand and caught his eyes. “What’s got you so distraught?”
“I don’t know…if Taehyung’s foster parents are as good as you thought they were,” Jimin said hesitantly, reaching down to withdraw the paper from his bag.
Yoongi took the flyer from him, and stiffened at what he saw on it.
On it was a picture — grainy, but definitely, unmistakably Star.
“What the fuck,” Yoongi cursed.
“Taehyung would never want to give her away, right?” Jimin pressed. “He would never.”
“He would never,” Yoongi emphasized. “They’re—no. They can’t do this. They said they wouldn’t do this.”
“And on Taehyung’s birthday…I mean…you didn’t hear Taehyung say that he didn’t want to see you, right? Do you think…?”
Yoongi stared at Jimin, horrified.
“If they lied about Star, they could have lied about other things,” Jimin continued. “Yoongi…”
“Fuck,” Yoongi cursed. “I’m calling Jin.”
“I have a bad feeling,” Jimin brought a hand up to his stomach, and Yoongi could see that it was shaking. Yoongi stepped forward and wrapped an arm around Jimin’s neck, bringing him into his chest as his other hand pressed his phone against his ear.
“Jin? Jimin just found something,” Yoongi spoke into the line after the man had picked up.
As they were talking, Namjoon and Jeongguk pulled up into their driveway, and walked towards them, concerned at the way Jimin was shaking in Yoongi’s arms, at the way Yoongi’s face was pinched into an expression of fear.
“What’s happening?” Jeongguk ran a hand down Jimin’s back, pressing his head in close to hear who Yoongi was talking to.
“Yoongi?” Namjoon asked.
Yoongi paused in his conversation with the lawyer, eyes blazing.
“We’re getting my fucking son back.”
This time, when Hanbin opened the door, Yoongi simply shouldered his way inside without a word of greeting.
The man’s protests were met with the glaring faces of Jimin and Jeongguk, who stayed by the door as Namjoon stuck right on Yoongi’s heels, marching right past a protesting Jihyo as well.
“Taehyung!” he called into the house, and found that his voice echoed.
Though the house was grand, and immaculate, and clean, there was something so un-homey about it that Yoongi had to suppress a shiver. It looked as if they had just walked into a model home, and looking at it now Yoongi knew that Taehyung wouldn’t be comfortable here, wouldn’t get to play in the front lawn and track mud in with star, wouldn’t get to eat his toasted marshmallow cookies while laying across the couch.
“Taehyung?” Yoongi went straight to the room he knew was designated for the boy and opened the door.
Taehyung was there, and for a moment Yoongi let himself drink the younger in.
Was he imagining it, or had Taehyung gotten a bit bigger within the past month and a half?
Yoongi’s shoulders drooped in relief when he saw that Taehyung looked healthy and unharmed. But then he took in the rest of the scene — Taehyung was sitting at his desk, legs dangling from his big desk chair, quietly filling out worksheets. Leaning against his desk was a man Yoongi’s never seen before with glasses and a stern-looking face.
“Who the fuck are you?” Yoongi asked.
The man bristled at Yoongi’s tone. “I’m Taehyung’s tutor. Who are you? Are you meant to be bursting into his room like this?”
And this is exactly what Yoongi didn’t want.
He didn’t want for Taehyung to be stuck in his room all day, being taught by some middle-aged tutor who thought they knew what was best for Taehyung, when he should be being a kid, playing in the sun and singing songs and working his way through video games and books.
“Taehyung, let’s go,” Yoongi wondered why Taehyung hadn’t turned around to look at him. Had Hanbin been telling the truth after all? Did Taehyung really not want to see him?
He walked up to the desk and placed a gentle hand on Taehyung’s back. “Tae?”
Yoongi leaned forward to catch Taehyung’s eye, and saw that Taehyung was crying.
“Baby,” he whispered.
At the term of endearment Taehyung used to be so adamantly against, Taehyung sagged and let out a loud sob.
“Stop,” Taehyung cried.
“Stop what? What’s wrong?” Yoongi asked.
“Are you here to take me back?” Taehyung wailed. “Why didn’t you come see me on my birthday? I don’t, I don’t—” a hiccup cut him off, and Taehyung kicked a leg out in frustration.
“Hey, breathe, you’re okay,” Yoongi soothed, heart aching, anger filling him at the realization that Hanbin had been lying about Taehyung not wanting to see him.
“I don’t want to have to watch you leave me again,” Taehyung sobbed out. “It’s not fair. I don’t want to be here.”
“Taehyung, listen to me, okay?” Yoongi rucked his sleeve over his hand and patted Taehyung’s cheeks dry. “We’re going home. I’m so sorry I left you here. I’m so sorry.”
“We’re going home?” Taehyung looked up at him then, eyes brimming with tears and hope.
Yoongi felt his own throat close up and simply nodded.
Taehyung launched himself at Yoongi then, wrapping his arms around his neck and his legs around Yoongi’s waist, clinging tightly.
Yoongi hugged him back just as tight, breathing in Taehyung’s familiar scent.
Namjoon placed a long kiss to the back of Taehyung’s head before they walked back out towards the front door.
Taehyung lifted his head from Yoongi’s neck and saw Jimin and Jeongguk, who were still glaring at Hanbin and Jihyo as they talked angrily by the front door.
“You weren’t upholding your part of the deal,” Yoongi heard Jimin say. “Yoongi has visiting rights, and you can’t just lock Taehyung up like some animal just because you know that Taehyung would never love you like he loves Yoongi.”
“Mrs. Min was right,” Hanbin said. “Taehyung’s mind is one that needs to be paid close attention to. We simply wanted—”
“Quite frankly, I don’t give a damn what you wanted,” Yoongi spat. “We’re taking Taehyung and we’re going.”
“The court will be hearing about this,” Jihyo said stiffly.
“The court will be hearing about how you prevented Yoongi from seeing Taehyung, and how you gave Star away even though you said during trial that you would absolutely keep her as a source of comfort for Taehyung,” Jeongguk hissed.
Taehyung reached out for Jimin by the time they were close enough, and Jimin let out a shaky sigh, looking as if he were holding back tears, reaching out to pull Taehyung into his arms.
The five of them shuffled towards Yoongi’s truck, and Namjoon drove them all home.
The entire way back, Yoongi apologized, pressing kisses into Taehyung’s hair.
By the time they were home, Taehyung seemed happier, lighter, giggling at the things Jimin was whispering to him and softly singing along to the songs on the radio with Jeongguk.
When they pulled up into the driveway, Taehyung hurriedly took off his seatbelt and then looked up at Yoongi, beaming.
“Do you still have my marshmallow cookies?”
Yoongi laughed, and felt his bones settle.
He felt as if he had finally, finally righted himself, gotten his feet back under him, after weeks and weeks of tumbling directionless within a cold, black wave.
“Welcome home, Tae.”
The following months were stressful, court-wise.
Yoongi didn’t know what he would do if Jin weren’t there with him throughout the entire process.
But this time, the court could see that Taehyung was happiest and healthiest with Yoongi, and was a bit traumatized from the bad experience with his foster parents.
So finally, finally, finally, Yoongi gained full custody of Taehyung.
Taehyung was well and officially his.
The morning after Taehyung had come home, Yoongi, Taehyung and Jimin had made their way over to the pound, only for Taehyung to cry tears of relief when they found out that Star had been set to be put down just the next day.
Yoongi looked over at the other two dogs that had the same daunting date scrawled in Sharpie on the paper stuck to their kennels, and let out a long-suffering sigh.
They came home with Star happily curled over Taehyung’s lap, along with Pancake, an aging Pitbull with a slight limp, and Picasso, a tiny Yorkshire Terrier.
Taehyung loved all three of the animals with his entire heart, and he doted on them equally. Yoongi did, as well, though he would never admit it.
As for Jimin, he was glad to have Taehyung back in his class, getting to watch him and Hoseok play together during recess and finger-paint during art class. He was gladder still as Yoongi came to collect Taehyung a bit earlier than the rest of the students, always with a sly wink and flirtatious smile, to drive the younger to the one college lecture that Taehyung insisted he wanted to take.
And laughter lines and sun-kissed hearts were so easy to come by, now.
Taehyung was happy.
Come to think of it — Taehyung was usually always happy.
Except for when he had to live with those strangers in that big, bright house.
He wasn’t happy then.
But now, now he was happy.
Even when Yoonie was being a little bit annoying and even when Star, Pancake and Picasso woke him up by licking his face and even when Jimin stepped on his favorite action figure and broke it.
And he wanted Jimin and Yoongi to be as happy as he was, and in his mind — there was only one way to do it.
Taehyung saw the way they looked at each other.
Yoonie constantly looked at Jimin as if Jimin had just presented him with his favorite cookies, even if Jimin wasn’t doing anything except sitting on the couch reading.
And Jimin laughed at the things Yoonie said even when they weren’t even a tiny bit funny.
And that, Taehyung supposed, was true true love.
The true true love that Nammie and Gukkie had.
“Chim! Yoonie! Come here, quick!”
Jimin was the first to arrive, eyes a bit frantic with a grading pen stuck behind his ear as he made his way into the living room. “Tae? You alright?”
Yoongi wasn’t far behind, only one sock on his foot, hair messy as he had been getting changed.
“This is a serious matter,” Taehyung said gravely.
Yoongi made his way over immediately, bringing a hand up to cup Taehyung’s cheek. “You feeling okay?”
“Of course,” Taehyung sniffed. “Yoonie, I actually need you to go into the kitchen for a little bit.”
“I need to talk to Chim alone.”
Sharing an extremely confused look, Yoongi made his way slowly to the kitchen, the dogs following on his heels.
“Tae? What’s going on?”
Taehyung didn’t say anything as he took Jimin’s hand and led him over to one far corner of the living room.
“Trust me,” Taehyung said.
He quickly reached under the table and pulled out a bucket full of all the materials he had gathered.
First and foremost, a flower crown made of violets.
He picked it up gently, glad that none of the petals had been crushed, and then bounded over to Jimin, motioning for him to bend down before he put the flowers on his head.
“What is this for?” Jimin was laughing a bit now, confusion still lining his features.
Taehyung didn’t say anything as he made his way over back to his bucket, yanking out a roll of Christmas-themed wrapping paper that he had taken from Jeongguk’s closet.
It had a cartoon version of Santa’s face printed all over it, but Taehyung would have to make do with what he had. Starting at Jimin’s feet, Taehyung rolled the wrapping paper out, a makeshift aisle.
“What are you doing?” Jimin was laughing fully now, even more amused at the completely serious face Taehyung was sporting.
“Hush, I’m working,” Taehyung berated him.
Taking a marshmallow cookie from the package sitting on the table, Taehyung stuffed it in his mouth whole before moving to the front door.
Opening it silently, he put a finger to his lips, then ushered people inside.
Jimin grew ever-more confused as Namjoon, Jeongguk, Seokjin and Hoseok quietly shuffled their way in, all of them wearing suits, hair slicked back formally.
They all muffled their giggles behind their hands as they made their way over to the couch, sitting down without a word.
Taehyung nodded at them once before moving to the record player.
He put on Abba — specifically, Money Money Money, his favorite song by them.
Taehyung didn’t completely understand what the song was trying to say, but it was fun to sing, so he cranked the volume up.
“Wait here,” Taehyung told the room.
He walked into the kitchen to find Yoongi sitting on the ground, tossing a toy back and forth for the dogs to tussle over, still with only one sock on.
“Ready?” Taehyung asked.
“Come on, stand up,” Taehyung said, huffing. “Let’s go.”
“What is going on, Taehyung?”
Taehyung all but shoved him out into the living room.
Yoongi looked at the wrapping paper lined out on the floor, then at the record player blasting his least favorite Abba song, then to the guests on the couch, and then to Jimin, sporting a crooked flower crown on his head.
“You’re getting married! Surprise!” Taehyung squealed in delight.
“Surprise!” Hoseok echoed merrily.
Both Jimin and Yoongi’s jaws dropped.
“Go on, walk down the aisle, Yoonie!”
Yoonie looked down at the Santa wrapping paper.
Then to his friends, who were red in the face on the couch trying to hold back their laughter.
Then back up at Jimin.
By now, Jimin was looking at him too, eyes amused but smile so, so soft.
“Do you need me to hold your hand?” Taehyung asked seriously.
Looking down at him, Yoongi felt a sudden, overpowering sense of euphoria.
Letting out a soft laugh, feeling like someone had stolen the breath from his lungs, he nodded.
So Taehyung took Yoongi’s hand in his, and they made their way down the makeshift aisle, absurd crinkling nosies following their every step.
“Hi,” Yoongi said once he was within arms’ reach of Jimin. Reaching out, he righted the crown.
“Hi, angel,” Jimin laughed.
Taehyung motioned behind his shoulder, and Namjoon got up, clearing his throat. He took a random book from the shelf on his way over and blindly opened it, holding it in both his hands.
“Do you, Jimin Park,” Namjoon began in a loud voice, barely to be heard over the music. “Take Yoongi Min as your lawfully wedded husband?”
Taehyung and Hoseok were grabbing at each other now, squealing behind their hands as they watched, Jeongguk and Jin guffawing on the couch, clutching their stomachs.
Looking into Yoongi’s smiling eyes, Jimin breathed out a sigh, grinning from ear to ear, playing along.
“And do you, Yoongi Min, take Jimin Park to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
Yoongi maintained prolonged eye contact with Jimin.
“You really want to get unofficially married to Abba?” Yoongi asked.
“Yoonie!” Taehyung said. “That’s not part of the script!”
“I wasn’t given a script,” Yoongi said dryly.
“Okay, okay,” Yoongi sighed. Stepping forward, he took Jimin’s hands in his, squeezed them twice. “I do.”
Taehyung made his way over with his bucket, reached into it and pulled out two rings, taken right off of the nightstand Yoongi and Jimin shared.
When Yoongi had asked where his usual rings had gone earlier that morning, Taehyung had stayed silent, carrying his bucket outside to prepare for the big day.
Jimin was shaking with silent laughter as Yoongi slipped one of them onto his finger, and then returned the favor.
“Now kiss!” Taehyung squealed, barreling into their legs and hugging them both.
And they did, in the warmth of their home, surrounded by music and flowers and people that they loved the most, people that supported them and cared about them and were there with them through the ugliest parts of life and through the most beautiful.
When they pulled apart, Jimin’s eyes were shining with tears, flower crown crooked again, and Yoongi reached down to pull Taehyung up onto his hip.
“I love you both,” Yoongi said.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this happy, felt this secure and safe and loved.
“Love you both,” Jimin echoed, tipping forward to rest his forehead against Taehyung’s.
Watching the two of them grin at each other, Yoongi realized that the constant yearning that had swallowed up his organs and choked him from the inside out since he was a child — it was gone.
Yoongi knew that he wasn’t perfect. Wasn’t the perfect boyfriend (turned unofficial husband?), the perfect friend, the perfect father. But he’d come to realize that it didn’t matter.
What mattered was knowing what he had, knowing what made him happy, and doing everything in his power to make sure he kept that happiness. Doing everything in his power to treat it with kindness, protect it with tender, moonlit hands, make sure that happiness stayed and make sure he gave some of that happiness back.
Because right there, in that room, with only one sock on and Jeongguk complaining about an entire wasted roll of wrapping paper and Namjoon hushing him with a quick kiss and ‘Money Money Money’ transitioning into ‘Dancing Queen’ and Seokjin and Hoseok clumsily waltzing around the living room and his entire world wrapped up in the two beaming bodies in his arms…Yoongi had everything he would ever need.