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Hand in Hand

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            Yoongi didn’t expect to get a call from the social worker as soon as they did.

            Actually, he didn’t think they would get placed with a kid at all, really. He did the classes and got the certificate to become a foster parent mostly for Joon’s sake – since he himself was a foster child. But, Yoongi was a realist. They were a gay couple who had never fostered before and Namjoon was technically disabled. Yoongi expected to be at the bottom of the list of who the social workers would call to place.

            He expected that maybe, eventually they would look into adoption. And being a foster parent would make that process easier. But, that was a milestone so far on the horizon that it didn’t even blip on his radar.

            But, at almost eleven at night when Yoongi was trying to get a song out of his head and into his computer, they got a phone call from the social worker.

            “Hello?” Yoongi answered as he moved a beat around on his program.

            “Is this Mr. Min-Kim?” The social worker, Seokjin, asked. Seokjin had been the ones to do the final interview and walkthrough of their house, certifying them to become foster parents to begin with. He was nice guy with a light sense of humor. Yoongi liked him.

            “Yes.”

            “I have a child that needs placement.” He sighed. “If you have room.”

            Yoongi froze with shock, his eyes looking towards the door of his studio. Namjoon was in the living room, watching television and grading papers. “A child?”

            “He’s five and deaf.” Seokjin said. “He’s…been neglected. He was found during a meth lab bust.”

            “Oh my god.” Yoongi said, his heart skipping beats in his chest. He moved to the living room. “Is he okay?”

            Namjoon looked up from his papers on his lap and signed “what’s up?”

            “Yes,” Seokjin said. “He’s a little malnourished and upset, obviously. But, healthy otherwise.” Seokjin made a noise. “The only thing is…he doesn’t really have a language.”

            Yoongi’s eyebrows furrowed as he froze in front of the television, placing his hand on his waist. “What do you mean?”

            “We’re not really sure how deaf he is, but we’re pretty sure it’s almost completely. But, he doesn’t know sign – or at least he doesn’t know the little bit I know.” Seokjin said. “But, he also doesn’t know English. We tried Korean. Even Spanish. He just…doesn’t have a language. I’m guessing there is some milestone delays because of it.” Seokjin said. “But, I thought of you guys since your partner is deaf.”

            Yoongi chewed on the inside of his cheek as he tried to imagine a five-year-old unable to communicate. At all. How do they handle with a child who had no language? None of the one hundred hours of classes they took prepared them for that.

            Namjoon was on his feet at Yoongi’s expression. “Yoongi,” He signed Yoongi’s name sign – a ‘y’ combined with the sign for music. “What’s going on?” He asked and signed at the same time.

            “Um,” Yoongi said. “Can I talk to Namjoon and get back to you?”

            “Okay,” Seokjin said. “But, I really need an answer soon, otherwise I’m going to have to call another family.”

            “I’ll promise it’ll be quick.” Yoongi said and hung up the phone.

            “Yoongi,” Namjoon groaned. Namjoon learned to speak later in life since he didn’t really have the support to get into speech therapy early on. His accent was thick and he didn’t really like speaking if he didn’t have to. And Yoongi didn’t make him usually – unless Namjoon was worried over him. Like now. “What’s going on?” He signed again.

            “That’s was Seokjin.” Yoongi signed. “There’s a deaf kid that needs a home.”

            “Deaf?” Namjoon’s eyebrows shot up.

            Yoongi nodded “He was found in a drug bust.” He said and shook his head and glanced down their hallway. Yoongi was a songwriter and producer. Namjoon was a professor that taught ASL at the community college. They had a three-bedroom house. One of the bedrooms was a makeshift storage room. And the other had been recently turned into a bare-bones child’s room – a twin-sized bed, a dresser and a student’s desk. For the certificate they had to have space for a child.

            They could take him. The child with no language.

            “What did you say?” Namjoon demanded, his eyes lighting up. Namjoon was really excited to be a dad. Especially to a deaf child. A child that he could give the childhood he never had to.

            “I said I needed to talk to you.” Yoongi signed back. “He doesn’t know sign.”

            “That’s okay.” Namjoon’s eyebrows furrowed. “A lot deaf kids don’t know sign if their parents aren’t deaf.”

            “He doesn't know English either. Or any other language.” Yoongi signed. That caused Namjoon’s hands to stop midair. He flexed his fingers and then dropped them.

            They just stared at each other – frozen and undecided – the same question hanging between them. Could they take a child with no language?

            Could they?


 

            “Hi,” Namjoon said and signed as soon as Yoongi opened their front door, a big welcoming smile over his face. “Hi, baby.” He signed.

            Hoseok was his name. He was in Seokjin’s arms, clinging to him like a spider monkey clinging to a tree. Yoongi noticed right away that the child was extremely small. Like more like a big toddler than a five-year-old. And thin – his arms so skinny that they looked like they would snap if he was breathed on wrong. Yoongi himself was a small-boned child growing up, so he knew that it wasn’t atypical. But, this wasn’t small bones. This was malnourishment. This was neglect.

            He looked apprehensive – his dark eyes sparkling with fear. He made a noise and buried his face into Seokjin’s neck. Yoongi and Namjoon stepped aside to let the social worker in.

            “How much sign does he know?” Namjoon asked and tried to pry Hoseok’s arms from around Seokjin’s neck. Yoongi cringed. Don’t break him.

            “He knows ‘milk.’” Seokjin made the sign for milk. “And ‘please.’ As far as I know, nothing else.” Seokjin said. “His parents were so strung out, his mother was unresponsive. The father was combative, he ended up being tased. They found him in the bathtub. They figured out he was deaf when he didn’t shield his ears from the sirens.”

            Namjoon looked to Yoongi, who interpreted for the social worker.

            “Oh my God.” Namjoon breathed as he finally detached the child and pulled him in his arms. He made another noise – leaning out of Namjoon’s grasp towards Seokjin – his fists opening and closing.

            “I came with cookies and he’s decided that we’re BFFs.” Seokjin said and patted his back as he handed Yoongi a Walmart bag of all of Hoseok’s worldly possessions and his file. “He ate a snack a couple of hours ago, but I only got a little into him.”

            “I have some noodles going on the stove.” Yoongi volunteered.

            Seokjin sighed. “Thanks, guys.” He nodded. “I know he’s in good hands.”

            “Absolutely.” Namjoon said and pushed Hoseok’s hair out his face even though he was leaning so far out of Namjoon’s arm, Yoongi was afraid that he was going to fall.

            Seokjin left and Yoongi closed the door behind him, deadbolting the lock.

            And then Hoseok screamed.

            It was a piercing, shrill, horribly loud noise. It was a volume that Yoongi was convinced that only deaf children had – noise just rocketing out of him and atom bombed everything around him. His face turned red and his fists clenched through it. Yoongi had to take a whole step back as he cringed away from the sound.

            Namjoon even winced, balancing Hoseok on his hip as he played with the volume of his hearing aids. “Buddy,” Namjoon said and moved him to his other hip to adjust the other one. “It’s okay. Shhh. It’s okay.” He touched his head gently, petting his hair down.

            The screaming evolved into loud sobbing, punctuated by noises that were made through his nose. He pointed to the door, his eyes full of fear and confusion. And then let out a bloodcurdling scream again. A scream so loud, it left Yoongi’s ears ringing and tingles running up and down his spine. Yoongi stepped back, trying to get away from the noise.

            “It’s okay.” Namjoon patted his chest. “Look. O.” He made the sign for ‘o.’ “K.” He signed ‘k.’

            Hoseok made another scream and started to wriggle, trying to get out of Namjoon’s grasp. Namjoon placed on his feet on the floor before he toppled out of his arms and Hoseok tore off at a dead sprint. Yoongi felt a spike of panic arc through him.

            “Where is he going?” Yoongi signed.

            “I don’t know.” Namjoon signed back and they both hurried after him. He made a turn down the hall, managed to get into Yoongi and Namjoon’s room and into their bathroom where he found a dead end. He hit the far wall which housed their bathtub and sunk down onto his butt into a tight fetal position – his eyes still wide and terrified.

            Yoongi felt simultaneously heartbroken and anxious. How were they going to handle a fearful, language-starved, neglected child? How were they going to bridge the gap and get it through to him that he was okay here?

            “Don’t get too close.” Yoongi signed at Namjoon, stopping him. “Don’t freak him out more.”

            “I’m not.” Namjoon squatted near the door, giving Hoseok plenty of space. He was still screaming – random outbursts exploding out of him peppered with random, muted vocalizations. His eyes darted around – looking for another escape or possibly his parents. Tears made angry red lines down his face. “It’s okay.” Namjoon signed over and over, his eyebrows pulled into concern and worry. “It’s okay.”

            Yoongi just watched his tiny child huddle himself against their tub, cowering away from the people who were supposed to help him. And they couldn’t tell him that they weren’t going to hurt him. They couldn’t tell him that they were going to keep him safe. They didn’t know his language, because he didn’t have a language.

            He knew milk.

            Yoongi waved to get Hoseok’s attention. “Hoseok,” He said. “Do you want some milk?” He signed milk – his fist squeezing like he was milking a cow teet.

            Hoseok froze. The screaming seized, but he was still making noises – apprehensive, fearful noises. He looked between the two of them, indecision in his eyes. He finally signed “milk please” back at them, his little hand rubbing a shaky circle over his chest.

            Yoongi ran from their bathroom to the kitchen. “Please have milk.” He chanted. “Please have milk.” They usually didn’t buy it, since none of them drank it. But, they did have half a gallon from when Yoongi made casserole the other night. Thank God. He poured a little in a coffee mug and brought it back to the bathroom.

            Hoseok took the mug with both shaky hands, sipping it with his eyes closed. He drank the whole thing and then handed the mug back to Yoongi.

            “Are you hungry?” Yoongi asked and signed at the same time. He pointed to his mouth. “Eat?” He mimed like he was eating from a bowl, chewing and swallowing.

            Hoseok just responded with a small “please” over his chest again. Yoongi guessed that was affirmation for Hoseok. They would have to teach him the actual signs for ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But, not tonight. Tonight’s goal was for Hoseok to realize that he was safe here. That he was going to be loved here.

            “Can you make up a little bowl for him?” Yoongi signed.

            “Do you want to try and bring him to the kitchen to eat?” Namjoon signed back.

            “I don’t want to make him upset again.” Yoongi signed. “He can eat here. Just for tonight.”

            Namjoon got to his feet and left the bathroom. Yoongi turned back and smiled at Hoseok, trying to show him that Yoongi wasn’t going to hurt him. Now that Hoseok wasn’t squirming or running or screaming, Yoongi could see how cute he was – his little ski-tipped nose, his wide eyes that were full of sparkles, his apple cheeks. And then Yoongi’s heart broke for the tenth time that night. Who would neglect you?

            Namjoon hurried back. “Dinner.” He announced with his voice, since his hands were full.

            Yoongi took the bowl from him. “Dinner?” He signed to Hoseok.

            Hoseok moved to his knees, his eyes growing curious. He made a couple of noises before shuffling forward to peer at the contents of the bowl. It was some farfalle pasta tossed with butter and a little parmesan cheese. Bland and safe for a little kid, Yoongi assumed.

            Hoseok sat back on his heels and opened his mouth, pointing at it. He reminded Yoongi of a baby bird.

            “Is that hungry?” Yoongi tried to discern out loud. “Are you telling me you’re hungry?”

            Hoseok just signed “please” over his chest. Yoongi poked some noodles into his mouth. He ate them and swallowed and opened his mouth and signed “please” again. Yoongi put more food into his mouth.  

            “Oh, baby.” Namjoon said as he squatted, hesitantly placing his hand on Hoseok’s back. “What a day you’ve had.” He signed with one hand.

            Yoongi handed the fork to Hoseok and watched him shovel noodles into his face as fast as he could, eating like he hadn’t had a real meal in weeks. Yoongi wondered when his last meal even was. He wondered what he sustained on and then glanced at his little skinny arms and his angular collarbone that was sticking through his shirt and decided that it was probably not much.

            Yoongi inspected his clothes as he gobbled his dinner. He was wearing an Old Navy t-shirt that was threadbare and a pair of jeans that were holey at the knees. His shoes were kid flip flops. Yoongi didn’t have any clothes for a child and by the light weight of the Walmart bag, he was sure that he didn’t come with pajamas. He guessed one of their t-shirts would be fine to sleep in tonight.

            Hoseok made a noise and shoved the bowl back into Yoongi’s hands. “Please” he signed, punctuated by noises.

            “More?” Yoongi put the bowl on his lap and signed. “Do you want more?” He pointed at the empty bowl.

            Hoseok watched his hands. And to Yoongi’s surprise, he mimicked the sign for “more” – his little fingers tapping together - and then pointed at the bowl. He signed “please” again. Namjoon rose to his feet and took the bowl to dutifully refill it.

            Yoongi took the couple of moments to show him another sign – “dad.” He pointed to himself and made the sign for “dad.” Yoongi’s lips pursed as he deliberated over whether that was crossing some sort of line. He technically wasn’t his dad. But, at the same time, teaching him ‘Yoongi’ or even his name sign might be too complicated. ‘Dad’ was fine for now, he surmised.

            He repeated the sign a couple of times, always pointing to himself afterwards. Finally, Hoseok mimicked the sign, the thumb of his open hand tapping on his forehead. But, then he pointed to himself.

            “No,” Yoongi shook his head and signed at the same time. “You are Hoseok.” He poked his chest and very slowly spelled ‘Hoseok.’ “I am Dad.” Yoongi pointed at himself and signed “Dad.”

            Hoseok watched him. He made a low noise before signing “Dad” and pointing at Yoongi.

            “Yes.” Yoongi smiled and shook his head ferociously, making the sign too. “I am Dad. You are Hoseok.” He signed. “Good job.” He ruffled his hair. Hoseok’s hands smoothed it back down and he made some noises that didn’t sound like he was about to start screaming again. That was a small improvement.

            Namjoon came back with more noodles and Hoseok inhaled this second bowl as fast as he ate the other one.

            “I taught him ‘dad.’” Yoongi signed to Namjoon. “He has a sign for me, at least.”

            “That’s good.” Namjoon stretched his long, long legs out in front of him as he watched Hoseok eat. “We need to get him clothes.”

            Yoongi nodded. “And kid-friendly foods.”

            “Some toiletries too.” Namjoon signed. “I went through the bag. There was only a stuffed animal and a jacket in there.”

            “Target tomorrow?” Yoongi asked.

            “I guess so.” He signed as they watched him finish the second bowl. He held it out with both hands and Yoongi took it from him.

            “More please.” Hoseok signed, his little hand rubbing over his chest.

 


 

            Namjoon woke up way before his alarm went off – half-anxiety from having a tiny, helpless human in their house, half-nerves from getting him calmed down enough to go to sleep the night before.

            Namjoon rolled over to face his husband. He pushed Yoongi’s hair – which was currently a silver gray color – out of his eyes as he slept with his face smashed into the pillow and his knees pulled up to his chest. Namjoon could tell he was snoring by the way his nostrils flared, but he couldn’t hear him.

            Namjoon wondered what Yoongi’s voice sounded like. It was low – he knew that much. Low enough that it was in the range of pitches that Namjoon couldn’t hear even with his hearing aids on.

            Hoseok’s voice, on the other hand - well, his screams - were at the correct pitch and decibel level that Namjoon could hear them with his aids on. Not as loud as Yoongi could – who flinched every time Hoseok opened his mouth the night before – but he could hear them. He could hear the fear in them, the confusion, the frustration.

            Namjoon knew it well.

            He sighed and rolled to his feet, tip-toeing across the hallway to Hoseok’s room. He let himself in and very, very carefully sat on the edge of the twin-sized bed where Hoseok was curled underneath the yellow duvet, being careful not to wake him.

            Hoseok looked so tiny with both of his hands pressed under his little cheek, sleeping hard with his eyebrows pinched. His nose was red from crying and the little bags under his eyes were puffy.

            After Hoseok ate his first dinner in their house on the floor of their master bedroom – all three bowls of it – he fell into what Namjoon assumed was a half-carb coma, half-emotional exhaustion state of lethargy. He turned sluggish and didn’t fight when Namjoon got him into the bath. He didn’t even play with the toys that Yoongi dropped into the water or strawberry-scented bubbles. He just laid with his head on the lip of the tub and let Namjoon clean the layer of grime that was on the surface of his skin, turning the water a sickly gray color.

            They dressed him in a pair of Yoongi’s boxers knotted at the waist and a t-shirt. He swam in the clothes, his arms disappearing almost completely into the sleeves and the neckline falling off his tiny shoulders. His only outfit was promptly thrown into the washer.

            They got his teeth brushed with an extra toothbrush they had in their bathroom drawer and into bed. He was out before he hit the pillow – his feather-light hair turning into a black halo around his head.

            Namjoon and Yoongi then went through the file they were given – which was minimal since he was just found that night – and tried to game plan for how they were going to take care of him. The first step was obviously to get him clothes. Yoongi wanted to get him a doctor’s appointment ASAP to make sure he was physically healthy. And then a hearing test eventually to see how deaf he actually was.

            He was five, but he looked and acted like he was three or four. He was definitely not ready to be enrolled into school. Especially not knowing how to communicate. When he was ready, Namjoon wanted to get him into the deaf school across town, the private one that was endorsed by Gallaudet University.

            Hoseok stirred his eyelashes fluttering and sparkling in the morning light. His eyes opened and focused on Namjoon’s face.

            “Good morning.” Namjoon signed and smiled. He wanted to run his fingers over his soft hair, but refrained. He didn’t want to crowd him on his first official day.

            Hoseok sat bolt upright, his face twisting as he looked around the unfamiliar bedroom. His mouth popped opened and his face heated red. Namjoon couldn’t hear him, but he assumed he was screaming and Namjoon’s guts twisted into knots.

            “No. No. No.” Namjoon signed quickly. “You’re okay. Look at me.” Namjoon tried to get Hoseok’s eyes on him. He wanted to show him they were the same. They were together in this. “Baby, don’t scream. It’s okay.” Namjoon signed. He touched his shoulder and rubbed gently.

            Some movement caught Namjoon’s attention and he looked up to Yoongi in the doorway – his silver hair sticking up on end and his eyes a little delirious from being yanked out of sleep. He leaned on the doorway with one hand. “What’s going on?” He asked, his finger flicking off his chest with the sign.

            “I’m sorry.” Namjoon signed remorsefully at his husband. “He just woke up and started to scream.”

            “It’s okay.” Yoongi spoke and signed together – simcom was the official term for it – his lips pursing into a little pout. “Is he okay?”

            Namjoon glanced back down at Hoseok, who was curling up his little body under the duvet. His mouth was still open and his cheeks were heated red and he was crying again. Namjoon sighed. “He’s…awake.” He signed slowly.

            Yoongi approached the bed on the other side, taking a seat next to Namjoon. He patted Hoseok’s leg. “Hoseok,” He said. “It’s okay. You’re okay with us.” He said, Namjoon reading his lips.

            Hoseok’s eyes fell on Yoongi. “Dad.” He signed and scrambled into Yoongi’s arms, pressing his face against his shoulder. He linked his fingers together behind Yoongi’s neck, his lip trembling with his tears.

            Yoongi pressed his lips into Hoseok’s hair and was murmuring things to him. Namjoon rubbed Hoseok’s back. “Breakfast?” He signed with his other hand.

            Yoongi looked at his husband as he continued to talk into Hoseok’s hair – his black eyes flashing. The same thought running through his head – we can do this right?