Jaebum catapults up as the loud screeching of his alarm goes off in his ears. A sheet is paper is stuck to his face, cemented by his own saliva, and he’s still clutching a calculator and pen in his hands. He rubs his face and shakes his head, as if to chase the last vestiges of sleep from his body. Glancing at the time on his phone, he guesses that he probably got about three hours sleep. It’s not enough –it’s never enough – but it’ll have to do. He takes a moment to stretch before he clambers off the chair and heads towards the bathroom. His shower wakes him just enough for him to start making the doenjang jjigae and rice for breakfast before he has to go wake Youngjae. Before they died, their parents used to joke that he could sleep through an earthquake. Ever since Youngjae started primary school, it was Jaebum’s job to wake him up and get him ready; they used the excuse that Jaebum was better at it, but he knew it was because they didn’t want to spend 15 minutes every morning trying to get Youngjae out of bed.
“Youngjae, it’s time to wake up,” Jaebum says as he gently pats his brother’s chest. He does that for a minute or so before he wraps an arm around Youngjae’s shoulders and sits him upright and repeats his ministrations. It takes ages, but when he used to rush the process when they were younger, his brother would be sulky and disagreeable for half the day.
“Come on, Youngjae, it’s morning and you have to go to school.” Sometimes Jaebum wonders if his brother is really a deep sleeper or if he just doesn’t want to get up for school. Eventually, Youngjae’s eyes start to open slowly.
“Come on, it’s your last day of middle school. Just one last hurdle to jump and then you can sleep in for two weeks.” When Jaebum can see chocolate brown, he hoists him up and half-carries him to the bathroom.
“Time to brush your teeth, Youngjae.” Jaebum pats his brother’s cheek gently as he nudges the door open. He slowly releases go of Youngjae’s shoulder, watching to see if he’ll fall. Youngjae stumbles a bit but stays on his feet.
Satisfied, Jaebum goes back to the kitchen to check on their breakfast. The soup is ready but the rice needs a few more minutes. In the meantime, he sets out bowls on the low table where they usually eat breakfast. “Youngjae, breakfast!” He calls out when the timer on the rice cooker finally goes off.
“Coming!” He hears before Youngjae comes stumbling out of his bedroom. “Thanks for the food,” Youngjae says before diving into his meal.
Jaebum wishes he could set out something a bit more elaborate for his little brother’s graduation breakfast, but he only has enough money to splurge on dinner. He’ll already be losing some of his pay by taking time off to go to the graduation ceremony, but he wouldn’t miss that for anything. Biting the inside of his lip, Jaebum wishes he could do more for his brother. Even though he has to go to school in a cheap uniform and eat nothing but cheap food everyday, he never complains. He’s such a considerate boy, on his last birthday he even told Jaebum that he didn’t have to get him anything since he already did so much for him during the rest of the year. Jaebum had to force a smile onto his face when he insisted on getting something for him. He doesn’t want to think about how much more he’ll have to spend on private lessons once Youngjae starts high school, so he finishes the rest of his rice instead.
After they finish breakfast, Jaebum washes up their bowls while Youngjae goes to finish dressing and grab his bag. As they head over to Youngjae’s school for the ceremony, Jaebum reminisces on his own graduation day. For all the fights they had about school leading up to that point, his parents still let him know how proud they were of him. If he closes his eyes he can almost feel his father’s warm hands on his shoulders and his mother’s kisses. Jaebum feels weirdly guilty that they only got to see him graduate when Youngjae is a much better student than he ever could be. He’s the real pride of their family and all Jaebum can give him are the scraps he can afford.
“Hyung, I’m really happy you took the day off. Mum and dad can’t be here, but you are. Thank you,” Youngjae beams up at him, hugging his arm.
“Get off.” Jaebum turns away to hide his smile while he half-heartedly shakes the arm Youngjae is clinging to. “You’ll be starting high school soon, I can’t baby you anymore.” Youngjae pouts. “But I guess you’re still a middle schooler until you actually graduate,” Jaebum says with a roll of his eyes.
Youngjae grins and abandon’s Jaebum’s arm to wrap his arms around his side instead.
“Come on, hurry up or we’ll miss the train and be late.”
It’s been almost a decade since Jaebum graduated from middle school, but the auditorium looks the same as it did then. The ceremony is also as uninteresting now as it was then; if he had paid more attention to it when he was a student Jaebum would be a bit more confident in swearing that the same bland speeches are being re-hashed verbatim. The only thing that really marks the passage of time is the cameras that the parents use to take pictures of their children. Still, the whole dull affair is worth it just for the swell of pride he feels as he takes a picture with Youngjae holding his diploma.
“I know I’ve said this like a dozen times, but I’m so proud of you,” Jaebum says as he pulls his younger brother into a hug. “I was always a crap student, but you’re going to one of the top high schools in the country. Mum and dad would be proud too.”
“Yeah, but what about the higher tutoring fees?”
Jaebum feels the smile slip off his face. “Don’t you worry about that, that’s my job. Your job is to focus on your studies so you can get into a good university.” Jaebum hugs his brother tighter, as if trying to squeeze the negativity out of him.
“Hmm okay,” Youngjae mumbles into his neck.
“Good boy. Now, I have to head off to work, but I’ll meet you at the restaurant at 9:30. Have fun egging and flouring your uniform with your friends,” Jaebum pulls away at last, ruffling Youngjae’s hair.
“But what if it gets in my hair?” Youngjae wrinkles his nose in distaste.
“Wear a swim cap then,” Jaebum calls over his shoulder. He doesn’t have to look to know his brother is pouting at his back.
Ever since he was young, Youngjae has been a naturally introverted person. Over the years, he’s come out of his shell a bit, but he’s still not an outgoing person. Youngjae doesn’t like to get unnecessarily involved with other people, but one thing he cannot abide is bullying. Back when his parents were still alive, he had been singled out by a particularly unpleasant boy in his class. Youngjae tried to keep it from them, not wanting them to worry about him and he was doing a fair job of succeeding until the day his older brother found him crying in the bathroom while tending to a cut.
“Who did this?” His older brother’s temper tended to be quite explosive, but that day he was all cold fury. “Youngjae, who did this?”
“Lee Minho,” he mumbled. Jaebum nodded and left Youngjae alone in the bathroom. Youngjae had released a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Naïve fool that he was, he thought it was over, but the very next day his brother marched right into his classroom and kicked over Minho’s desk, with him still sitting in it.
“Don’t you even look at my brother ever again,” was all he said before he waltzed right back out the room, ignoring the cries of Youngjae’s teacher. Jaebum got yelled at by three different sets of adults for that and he very nearly got expelled from school. He didn’t seem to care though. “No-one’s bothering you at school, right?” was the first thing he asked when everything was settled.
“No.” It was true; no-one was picking on Youngjae anymore, of course no-one was talking to him at all, but Youngjae didn’t mention that.
“Good,” Jaebum smiled. “I’m a terrible student and not the best son or brother, but one thing I’ve never done is bully someone. That’s one of the worst things you can do, Youngjae, but it’s not also the bullying that’s bad, it’s the people around who see it and do nothing. Your teacher can scream at me all he wants, he saw what was happening and did nothing. I did something. Always do something, you hear me?”
That conversation has stuck with Youngjae years later. He’s never done something so bold as push someone over but he’s found that simply being there for the victim and letting the perpetrator know that he’ll tell on them has gone a long way in diffusing tense situations. Like Jaebum said, he always does something, which is why he ends up missing his train.
The small group of young men gathered by the adjacent platform aren’t being unduly rowdy, but, after glancing over at them a few times, Youngjae notices one of them looked a bit uneasy. His eyes are constantly shifting between the other three standing in front of him, he frowns a lot and he pauses a lot when he opens his mouth to talk.
Just as Youngjae’s own train finally arrives, one of the three men pushes the fourth. Releasing a breath through his nose, Youngjae turns his back on the train and trudges over to them.
“Excuse me, what’s happened here?” Youngjae bows as he approaches them. They’re all older than him and he’s found it helps to be as respectful as possible when he gets involved in such situations. He sees several pairs of eyebrows raise and two of the trio look at each other in confusion. It’s not exactly typical for a middle schooler – well technically he’s a high schooler now – to interfere in the business of university students, but Jaebum taught him not to care about age where wrongdoing is concerned.
“This Chinese rat attacked me first. The little shit probably doesn’t even have a job, he’s just come here to leech off Korea’s kindness and fuck our women since there aren’t any in China.” The third is less concerned about Youngjae speaking up; on the contrary he seems glad to have a fellow Korean to complain about the wayward foreigner. The other two, however, have taken a step back and are glancing around at the rest of the station.
“Ah, is that so?” Youngjae asks, keeping his face as neutral as possible. “Well you should report it then. There are cameras all over the station, I’m sure the CCTV footage will support you.” Like Youngjae expects, his expression goes blank.
“Minguk, the train is here, let’s just go.”
“Yeah, it’s not worth it.” The other two grab him by the arms and they run off to get on the train.
“Ha, I have to admit, that was impressive.” Youngjae jumps a bit at the voice, for a moment he had forgotten the person he was defending.
“Um, thank you,” Youngjae responds in English. Now it’s the stranger’s turn to jump as he turns to look at Youngjae.
“You speak English?”
“Um, not native level but it’s okay.” Youngjae blinks, “Wait a minute, you speak English? I thought you were Chinese.”
“I’m from Hong Kong,” the stranger says with a frown, his stern features looking even more severe.
“Isn’t that in China?” Youngjae asks with a shrug. The stranger doesn’t answer, instead he stares at Youngjae with his tongue rubbing against the inside of his cheek. “Um, anyway are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’ve just been blah blah by blah blah blah blah in a train station, but otherwise I’m just fine.” The stranger takes his snapback off his head and runs his hand through his hair before placing it back on his head.
“Um, I only understood half of that,” Youngjae says with furrowed brows.
“Well I don’t know how to say it in Korean yet,” he says, scratching the back of his neck. Youngjae stares at him for a moment before he gets the idea.
“You speak English well, right?” He asks with wide eyes.
The stranger looks unnerved but doesn’t run away. “Yeah, fluently.”
“You could be my teacher!”
“And I could teach you Korean!”
“Kid, I’m not an English teacher.”
“Please be my teacher! My brother work so hard to make money to make me learn English.” Youngjae falls into a ninety degree bow. He feels hands grabbing at his shoulders, pulling him up out of his bow. Youngjae falls to his knees instead. “Please!”
“Okay, okay, okay. Just get up. People are staring...”
“Thank you. Thank you so much, Mr. um…”
“Jackson. My name is Jackson Wang.”
“And my name is Youngjae.”
“My train is coming,” Jackson says in Korean, with a glance over Youngjae’s shoulder. “Thanks for helping me out by the way.”
“Thank you for the help,” Youngjae insists. Just as Jackson turns to walk away, Youngjae grabs his arm. “Wait! You should give me your phone number.”
“Oh right.” Jackson quickly punches his number into Youngjae’s mobile phone before he turns and runs through the train’s closing doors. As the train starts to pulls away, Youngjae sees him wave from inside. Smiling, he waves back. As the train moves out of sight, Youngjae sends his new teacher a text. He then puts his phone back in his pocket and looks up to see that he has missed his train again.
“You’re late. It’s not like you to be late, especially for a special occasion,” is the first thing his brother says as he collapses into the seat in front of him at the restaurant.
“I was delayed trying to help someone at the train station. Some guys were picking on a foreigner because he’s a foreigner,” Youngjae pants. His brother’s frown lightens in its intensity; he can’t be angry with Youngjae for that.
“Oh, well, well done then.”
“Speaking of which, he said he’ll be my new English teacher,” Youngjae says before stuffing his mouth with meat and rice.
“Wait, what? He runs a hagwon?”
“No, but he speaks English, and we were communicating so well. I felt so comfortable speaking in English with him, more than I’ve felt with any of my other teachers. I think we formed a bond in the short space of time that we met,” Youngjae rushes to get his pitch out before his brother starts moaning.
“Youngjae, you don’t know anything about him. It’s not just that his qualifications, he could be a drug dealer for all you know.”
“That one teacher at that place you thought of sending me to turned out to be a child molester,” Youngjae mutters around a mouthful of rice. He can feel the piercing glare of his brother on his face, so he keeps his attention on the food in front of him. It’s been a little while since he last had bulgogi and he intends to treasure each mouthful.
“How much did he say it would cost,” Jaebum asks after a long silence.
“We didn’t get to discuss all that, actually. I sent him a text saying that he should meet with you to work all that out and he replied saying to tell him a time and place.
“Could he come now?”
Youngjae blinks in surprise. “Like right-right now?”
“Yes right-right now. I only have time off for today and with the hours I work it might be difficult to find free time to meet him otherwise. Call him and ask if he could meet us now.”
“Uh, okay.” Youngjae expected him to put up more of a fight. Money must be really tight if he’s giving in this easily.
“Hello?” Jackson answers on the first ring.
“Um, hello, it’s Youngjae.”
“Youngjae from the train?” Youngjae wants to ask if he’s met any other Youngjae’s since they parted but he doesn’t quite have the vocabulary for it.
“Yes, I was talking to my brother and, uh, can I switch to Korean now?”
“My brother says he wants to meet you to talk about you becoming my teacher. He says-” the phone is pried out of his hands before he can continue.
“This is Youngjae’s brother. If you’re serious about this teaching job you need to come and see us now.” Youngjae cringes where he sits. His brother’s rough edges may have smoothed somewhat, but he can still come across as cold and unapproachable to people who don’t know him. Youngjae worries Jackson will just hang up.
“Alright, I’ll text you the address of the restaurant we’re at. Be here in thirty minutes or less,” Jaebum says before he hangs up the phone.
‘He’s not a pizza,’ Youngjae thinks to himself as he chews.
Jackson must be nearby or be really determined to get the job because he shows up twenty minutes later. He also seems to be in a much better mood than he was before.
“Hey, Youngjae, what’s up!” He calls out as he bounces up to their table. Youngjae nervously shifts his eyes between Jackson and his brother; Jaebum has a deep wrinkle forming between his eyebrows and his mouth is pinched.
“I thought you said he was a foreigner?” He asks.
“He is; he’s from China.”
“Hong Kong,” Jackson corrects as he sits down.
“Ah,” Jaebum says noncommittally as he looks their new companion up and down. “How old are you by the way?”
“Korean age or real age?”
“Let me rephrase. What month and year were you born?”
“Ah, so you’re a year younger than me.” Jackson chuckles as he rests his head in his hand, his elbow resting on the table top. “What’s so funny?”
“Korea is such an interesting place. You asked me my age before you even asked me my name.”
“Alright, what’s your name?”
“Jackson. Wang Jackson,” he says with a cheesy grin and a wink. Jaebum turns to Youngjae and gives him an incredulous look. Youngjae shrugs helplessly in return.
“What are your qualifications?” Jaebum asks.
“He wants to know what makes you suitable to teach me,” Youngjae adds helpfully.
“Ahh, well I speak English and I’m good at helping my juniors. I’ve never taught English, but I have taught fencing. It can’t be too different.”
“Fencing?” Jaebum seems genuinely interested.
“Yeah, I’m a fencer. I’m in training for the next Olympics.”
“Really?” Jaebum and Youngjae ask at the same time.
“Yeah,” Jackson nods.
“Are you any good?” Jaebum asks.
Youngjae smiles slightly. His brother never had any real regard for academics when he was a student, but he always respected athletes.
“I qualified for the Olympics for the first time two years ago; it was one of my first times in a senior competition. I placed fifth for my individual event, and I got a bronze medal in the team event. I know I can seem too playful, but when I’m serious about something, I’m serious,” Jackson says solemnly.
Jaebum looks down at the table before downing the rest of his drink, and Youngjae knows he’s won his brother over. “What would be your salary expectation?”
“Hmmm about 20,000 won an hour?”
“That’s awfully low,” Jaebum points out.
“Well, I’m not desperate for money. And anyway, Youngjae said he would help me with Korean in exchange.”
“Did he?” Jaebum asks with a sideways glance. Youngjae blinks innocently at him. Jaebum sighs a bit and scratches at the table with his finger. “Alright, you’ve got the job.” Jackson grins brightly. “When are you available?”
“I’m fairly flexible. During school hours, I’ll be training and teaching fencing, but I’m free in the evenings. My schedule is even more flexible on weekends.”
“How does two two-hour sessions per week sound?”
“Sounds fine, just tell me the time and day.”
“Alright,” Jaebum nods solemnly. Jackson holds his right out to Jaebum; he hesitates for a moment before he takes it and they shake on it.
Despite the rocky start, Youngjae was sure Jackson had won his brother over, but at this confirmation he can truly relax. They still won’t be able to live like kings on their budget, but having such a relatively cheap tutor for one subject should make his brother’s life a bit easier.
“Well it looks like you’re celebrating something,” Jackson says with a glance at the table, “So, I won’t stay any longer. Youngjae, you have my number. JB, it was nice to meet you. Later!” With a final salute, Jackson is gone as abruptly as he arrived.
“JB?” Jaebum mutters to himself.
“It’s a nickname, because your name is Jae-Bum.”
“I know that! But what kind of person gives someone a nickname the very first time they meet?”
“Someone like Jackson,” Youngjae says with a shrug.
“I really hope I didn’t just make a huge mistake,” Jaebum sighs.
“I don’t think you did.” Youngjae isn’t just trying to pacify his brother; he truly believes Jackson will be a good teacher.
“Well, that’s enough talk of that. For now, let’s just celebrate this milestone you’ve achieved today.” Jaebum holds up his drink with a proud smile. Youngjae beams at him before lifting his cup of tea to meet him.
Im Jaebum is a very proud, stubborn man, but he can admit and own up to his mistakes. Thinking Jackson wouldn’t be a good teacher has turned out to be one of those mistakes. English has always been one of Youngjae’s favourite subjects, but he tended to be weak in speaking it due to lack the confidence. But on his brother’s first report card, he was commended for his enunciation.
“Hyung, my teacher says if I keep improving the way I have then I’ll sound almost like a native speaker by the time I graduate,” Youngjae had beamed as he held up his report.
“The kid’s a genius, he could even study abroad if he works at it,” Jackson chimed in. He was usually gone by the time Jaebum got home from work, but that day he had hung around to show off Youngjae’s progress.
“Abroad? Wow…” Jaebum bit his lip. He didn’t feel very comfortable about his brother packing up and leaving the country for university, but if it’s what he really wanted then he’d swallow his uncertainties and see him off with a smile.
Ultimately, Jaebum is glad Youngjae insisted on having Jackson for a teacher. He’s never home to listen in on any of their sessions, but sometimes he’ll hear Youngjae in his room going over some passages and phrases Jackson assigned for him. Aside from a few occasions, Jackson and Jaebum hardly cross paths, which is why he’s so surprised to look up and see the other man standing right in front of him. For the first time since they’ve met, he’s not wearing a hat. Jaebum isn’t sure why that particular detail stands out so much in his mind. At any rate, he’s so surprised to see the other man that he drops the glass he was holding.
“Shit,” Jaebum swears, before he rushes to get the broom.
It’s not long before the manager comes out of the back room to glower at him.
“Whoops, that was my bad. Sorry, Manager-nim, I’ve had a few,” Jackson slurs loudly.
The manager narrows his eyes and purses his lips, but he walks back without any further comment. He’s got some sharp ears to hear glass breaking over the sound of the music.
“Thank you,” Jaebum breathes. He would have had his pay docked for that, and while his budget isn’t as tight as it used to be, it’s definitely still tight.
“No problem,” Jackson says before taking a seat.
“What’re you doing here anyway?” It comes out a lot snippier than Jaebum planned, but he really is that thrown by the other man’s presence. Fortunately, Jackson doesn’t seem to notice, or if he does then he isn’t offended.
“My fencing buddies wanted to go out and unwind. I wasn’t really feeling it, but I decided to come with them to make sure they don’t cause too much trouble and get back home safely. So, you’re a bartender?”
“Among other things,” Jaebum says coolly.
“How many jobs do you have?” Jackson asks with a frown.
“Just enough to keep Youngjae fed, educated, and warm. Are you going to order anything? I get paid to make drinks, not to talk.”
“Aren’t bartenders supposed to make conversation with theirs customers? Anyway, surprise me. Make something that you’d think I’d like.”
Jaebum squints at him for a moment before mixing him up an appletini with a generous amount of vodka.
“Wow, JB, did you forget that I’m trying not to get drunk tonight? Are you trying to have your way with me?” Jackson grins cheekily and winks.
Jaebum starts and almost drops the bottle of vodka as he moves to put it back on the shelf. “No,” he chokes out.
“Relax man, it was just a joke,” Jackson says, rubbing jaebum’s forearm, but there’s a glint in his eyes that puts Jaebum on edge. For a few minutes Jackson says nothing else, too busy sipping his drink and occasionally looking over his shoulder to check on his friends. As he pours out two beers for another customer, Jaebum thinks that he is half-tempted to keep plying Jackson with drinks if that’s what it takes to keep him quiet.
“Well, that was a good guess. Now, could I get some water?”
“Sure, just wait a minute.”
“Do you like being a bartender?
“I suppose I don’t hate it,” Jaebum says noncommittally.
“What did you want to be when you were younger?”
“Doesn’t matter, I can’t do it now.” Jaebum hopes Jackson heeds the shortness of his tone, but of course he’s not so lucky.
“I just can’t, alright?”
“What are you going to do with yourself when Youngjae graduates? When he gets a job and moves out?”
“That’s none of your fucking business, alright!”
Jackson’s big brown eyes get wide with shock and hurt, and his mouth drops slightly open. Jaebum immediately regrets losing his temper, and he’s about to try to apologise when the back door opens again and a gravely voice calls out to him.
“Im Jaebum, come to my office. Now.” The manager is glowering at him once again, and this time Jackson can’t save him.
“Yes, sir,” Jaebum addresses him, eyes firmly on Jackson. He’s hoping his face shows the apology he can’t verbalise right now. He glances back at Jackson one more time before he follows his manager into his room, but he can’t read the other’s expression from afar.
Jaebum ends up losing his job. He’s not surprised; the man has wanted to fire him almost immediately after he hired him. Jaebum’s more surprised it took this long for it to happen. He’s also more surprised at how calm he feels about the whole thing. Maybe he’s just numb now and the pain will catch up later when the next batch of bills comes in.
He doesn’t see Jackson as he walks out the bar for the last time. He’s not surprised at that either, but he’s still disappointed. He doesn’t think the other man will be so petty as to stop teaching Youngjae, but he’d rather be on good terms with him than bad. Even if he was being nosy, he did have good intentions.
“Jaebum!” Jaebum nearly jumps out of his skin at the hand grabbing his forearm. It’s Jackson. Jaebum stumbles back and trips over something, falling right on his ass. “What are you doing on the ground, you doughnut?” Jackson laughs, offering a hand to help him up.
“Don’t just jump out and frighten me like that,” Jaebum chides him as he takes the offered hand.
“Look, I just want to apologise for getting all up in your private business and getting you fired, from the looks of it.”
“Okay and I’m sorry for raging at you like that. Even if you were interfering, it was a bit much, and just look at where it’s gotten me,” Jaebum holds out his arms sarcastically. He's not trying to make Jackson feel guilty, but he cringes anyway.
“Shit, man, I’m really sorry.”
Jaebum shrugs in response, and for a moment they just stand there silently.
“Ah, I have an idea. Walk with me.” Jackson links his arm with Jabeum’s and pulls him along until his feet catch up.
“What is it?”
“You say you don’t mind being a bartender?”
“Uh, no, it was alright. Mixing up the drinks is kind of fun, I guess,” Jaebum says with a shrug.
“Well, I haven’t been in Korea for very long and I don’t go clubbing often, but I know that bartender jobs pay a lot more at certain places when you can speak English.”
“But I don’t speak English,” Jaebum points out the obvious drawback to that plan.
Jackson stops walking and turns to look at him as if he’s said the stupidest thing in the world. “Hellooo, English teacher, right here!” Jackson says, gesturing to himself. “And a damn good one if I do say so myself.”
“I don’t think you can help me. Youngjae’s smart and loves to learn, but I was always a terrible student,” Jaebum says feeling self-conscious.
“Nonsense, you’ve single-handedly come up with ways to keep you and your brother from starving for like eight years. Not just any idiot can do that. Besides, how much English do you really need to work in a bar?”
“I won’t be able to pay you for that.” It’s a weak protest and he knows it. He’s going to give in Jackson before long.
“Please, don’t insult me. And you can take over my Korean lessons so Youngjae can fully focus on his studies. It’s a win-win situation. Come on, JB.”
“Alright,” Jaebum sighs, looking up at the stars in the sky.
Jackson whoops before he jumps forward and pulls Jaebum into a hug. As Jaebum inhales, he breathes in the scent of vanilla and something else as Jackson’s hair tickles his nose. Right as Jaebum id about to take a deeper breath to try to figure it out, Jackson pulls away from him. Jackson’s smiling brightly at him, his brown eyes shining. cJaebum coughs.
”What is it?” Jackson tilts his head.
“Nothing, you just look really different without one of your many hats on.”
“Good different or bad different?”
“I don’t know, just different. Like, when you have the hat you seem kinda wild and uh, sexy. But without the hat, with your hair out like that, you look um, cute I guess,” Jaebum shrugs.
Jackson considers this for a moment. “So, do you prefer me with or without the hat?”
“I don’t have a preference. You look fine either way. I mean, just do what you want.” Jaebum slaps his face with his hand, wondering when he became so inarticulate.
“Alright, then. Come on, I’ll treat you to a late night snack,” Jackson chuckles, pulling his arm again.
“What happened to your fencing friends?” Jaebum suddenly remembers why he and Jackson crossed paths to begin with.
“Oh, them? I sent them home in a taxi.”
“Will they be alright?”
“Sure they will; they’re big boys. Now, do you want chicken or pizza?”
“For a late night snack it has to be chicken.”
“Alright, let’s go.”
Jaebum hardly knows Jackson, but it’s quite easy to fall into conversation with him. He’s very talkative and very funny, and with him it's easy for Jaebum to forget that he’s just been fired. Instead, he does something that he hasn’t done for a long time, he lets loose and enjoys himself.
‘Tired’ seems to be the word of the week. Youngjae and all his classmates are tired from studying extra hard for the exams before winter break. He’s always heard of the stresses of high school, but it’s a whole other thing to personally experience it.
His brother is tired from work, but that’s nothing new. He’s been running himself ragged trying to keep them both from starving after their parents died. His mood actually seems to have improved recently. Youngjae can only guess that’s it’s due to all the time he’s been spending with Jackson; the man is like a vitamin boost in human form. But even he has his limits.
He apparently has a fencing competition coming up, and so his training has picked up and gotten more intense. It’s actually a bit unnerving to see him slumped on the sofa, hand propping his head up and eyes drooping, when normally he would be bouncing around the room.
“Maybe you should take a day off before your competition starts. I don’t think I’d fail if you missed one session with me,” Youngjae offered one day when he saw Jackson stifle a yawn for the third time.
“Don’t be silly,” Jackson said while patting his cheek.
This morning Youngjae woke up feeling even more tired than usual. His head felt heavy, his nose felt like it was stuffed with cotton and his body felt weak. In retrospect, he should have realised that he was sick, but even if he had figured it out then, he probably would have still pushed himself and gone to school. He can’t afford to miss out now.
“You alright, Youngjae? Your face looks a bit pale.” Jaebum asked that morning at breakfast.
“Yeah, I’m just tired from studying is all,” Youngjae mumbled around a mouthful of rice he tried to force down.
“It’s good that you’re working hard, but try not to overdo it, okay?” Jaebum pat Youngjae on the head before getting up to wash his empty bowls. If he had brushed Youngjae’s forehead, it’s possible he would have noticed his elevated temperature and made him stay home at that point. Alas, he didn’t, and instead Youngjae left for school, pinching himself so he didn’t drift off to sleep on the train.
His classmates were all too worn out themselves to notice his poor countenance. It wasn’t until his maths teacher asked him to come to the board to solve a problem, and Youngjae found the ground rushing up to meet him, that anyone realised anything was wrong.
“Youngjae? Youngjae? Can you hear me?” he hears a muffled voice ask.
“Un, yeah,” he mumbles.
“Youngjae, I’ve called your brother. He says he can’t come to take you home, but that he’s sending someone named Wang Jackson in his place. Do you know someone named Jackson?”
“Yeah, he’s my tutor,” Youngjae mumbles, trying to force open his eyes. He hasn’t been to the infirmary since the year started, but they look the same at all schools. He shifts his neck slightly to see the nurse standing by the bed he’s lying on.
“Alright, you can go back to sleep. I’ll wake you went he gets here.”
Youngjae closes his eyes for what seems like a few seconds before he feels a hand patting his chest. Opening his eyes, he sees Jackson’s face hovering over him. For a moment, he’s not sure why he’s there. “Don’t you have a competition today?”
“Forget about that, let’s get you home.” Youngjae nods, too drained to argue.
Jackson grabs his school bag and helps him put on his jacket before he lifts him out of bed and carries him out of the infirmary bridal style. Youngjae would be embarrassed, but it actually feels kind of nice. He hasn’t really been held like this since his parents died.
“Watch your head,” Jackson says as he lifts Youngjae inside a taxi in the car park.
Youngjae closes his eyes as they set off, curled up in the backseat with his head resting on Jackson’s shoulder. That position hurts his neck after a while, so he shifts so that he’s lying in Jackson’s lap instead. Youngjae drifts off again to the feeling of hands brushing through his hair.
“We’re here; time to get up, Youngjae.” Jackson shakes him awake.
To be frank, Youngjae is getting tired of being woken up.
“Come on, you just have to make it inside and then you can sleep for hours.”
“Alright,” Youngjae sighs before sitting up. Jackson pays the taxi driver and helps him out of the car and into his house.
“Get changed into your pyjamas. I’ll make some soup and get your medicine ready,” Jackson says before he kicks off his shoes and runs off into the kitchen. Youngjae removes his shoes at a much slower pace before he shuffles into his room.
His head feels even heavier than it did this morning, and he can barely lift his arms to fumble with the zips and buttons of his jacket and uniform. A wet cough racks his body right as he finishes getting both off and he has never felt so miserable in his life. His body is freezing for every second he goes without covering, but he can barely make his hands work well enough to pull on his sleeping clothes. His legs give out and he has to pull on his pyjama bottoms while sitting on his bed. Just as he finishes, he falls back, ready to sleep again.
“Soup’s ready. Come on, Youngjae, just drink your soup and take your meds and then you can sleep.”
“Help me up, please,” Youngjae sighs. He feels the bed dip beside him before a muscled arm wraps around his shoulders and pulls him up.
“Do you need me to feed you to?” Jackson asks.
Youngjae senses that he’s being sarcastic, but he pleads with his eyes anyway.
“I do not get paid enough for this,” Jackson says with an eye roll. Still, he dips the spoon into the bowl of soup and blows on it before lifting it to Youngjae’s mouth.
It takes a while, but eventually Youngjae manages to finish most of the soup before he refuses any more. Jackson hands him two nondescript tablets and a glass of lukewarm water, and he downs both before he’s finally allowed to burrow into his blankets and sleep.
After Youngjae falls asleep, Jackson takes the bowl and glass out to the kitchen and washes both before he turns on his phone and calls his father. He answers on the first ring.
“Jackson, where the hell did you go? I tried to stall for you, but the officials had you disqualified.”
Jackson was expecting as much, but he can’t help but sigh at the news. “I’m sorry, daddy, but had to help a friend. The boy I tutor collapsed at school and had to be taken home, but there was no-one else to do it. I couldn’t just leave him.” His dad sighs on the other end, and Jackson can picture him rubbing his face.
“I wish you had at least told me where you were going. Next time, don’t just disappear on me like that.”
“Yes, daddy,” Jackson nods.
“Is your friend aright?”
“No, he’s really sick, but I made mummy’s chicken soup for him.”
“I thought you wanted him to get better.”
“Daddy,” Jackson whines.
“When will you be coming back?”
“I’m not sure. His brother works long hours and I don’t want to leave him alone in his current state,” Jackson says as he sits on the sofa.
“Well, keep me posted,” his dad says before he hangs up.
Jackson releases a breath, glad the conversation went alright. He knows he mostly got away with it because the competition isn’t a big one. It's not long before his phone buzzes with a text from Jaebum asking about his brother.
‘did u get hm home? he alright?’
‘he’s got a fever and a cough but i’ve given him soup and medicine. he’ll be fine.’
Almost immediately after he sends off his reply, Jaebum texts back.
‘update me every hour’
Jackson's first impulse is to tell him that’s a bit much, but then he remembers that Youngjae is Jaebum's only family; he’s probably still freaked out from getting a call from his brother’s school telling him he fainted in class.
‘sure, but don’t worry too much. i’m here for him.’
‘ok i trust you’
Jackson feels a rush of heat flood his body, ultimately settling in his face. He’s been getting along quite well with the older man after their encounter at the bar, but it’s different to see it literally spelled out in writing. When his phone rang earlier, he was more than a little surprised to see JB’s number flash on his phone, and he was further taken aback at his panicked tone.
“Youngjae’s school called me and told me he collapsed in the middle of class, but I can’t leave work for at least another three hours. I know you have your own schedule, but could you, could you possibly..?”
“I’ll be ready to go in like ten minutes,” Jackson said, phone cradled in his neck as he started to take off his fencing gear. “Where’s Youngjae’s school?”
Jaebum rattled off the address, sounding slightly calmer. “Thank you so much,” he said, his voice thick.
“No problem,” Jackson said before hanging up and jumping into his street clothes and into a taxi. He made a quick stop at a convenience store to get some stuff to make soup and medicine before he directed the driver to Youngjae’s school.
The younger boy looked so weak and frail that any lingering reservations at missing his competition fled at the sight of him. Jackson understands a bit more why Jaebum feels he has to put himself through so much stress to care for the boy, why he snapped so fiercely at him all those months ago at the bar. He’s only been looking after Youngjae for one day and feels even more attached to and protective of him while Jaebum has been doing it for years. Getting up and going to the fridge, Jackson pulls out a cold pack he bought at the convenience store. He creeps into Youngjae’s room and places it on his forehead before slipping back out.
The rest of the day passes pretty monotonously. He flips through channels on the television to find something to watch before he makes his hourly check-up on Youngjae and sends his progress report to Jaebum. Later in the evening he gets hungry and orders some chicken because he doesn’t feel comfortable to eat even a single pack of ramen from Jaebum’s cupboard.
After he’s finished eating, he decides to take Youngjae’s temperature to see if his fever’s finally broken. Jackson doesn’t want to wake Youngjae after he promised him he could sleep in peace, so he takes care not to wake him as he gently pries open his mouth and holds the thermometer in place under his tongue. Removing the thermometer from Youngjae’s mouth, Jackson notes that although his fever has finally broken, his temperature is still high.
Jackson takes a dampened flannel and uses it to wipe the sweat off Youngjae’s face and neck. He then replaces the cold pack on his forehead with a new one form the fridge. While he’s placing the old pack back in the fridge to cool, he hears the front door open.
“Jackson?” Jaebum's voice comes from the entrance.
“Shhh, Youngjae’s resting. Keep your voice down,” Jackson says as he walks into the living room. He immediately feels sorry for chiding the other man so quickly because he looks like a walking train wreck.
“How’s he doing?” Jaebum asks in a quieter voice.
“He’s still got a fever, but his temperature is going down.”
Jaebum nods and heads for his brother’s room. Jackson’s first impulse is stop him, but he smothers it; Jaebum is Youngjae’s guardian and only family, he’s allowed to check on him when he’s sick. Still, Jackson can’t stop himself from hovering by the door, watching Jaebum gently run the back of his hand across Youngjae’s face.
“There’s some chicken and some soup left; if you want, I could heat it up for you?” For a minute Jackson thinks he said it too softly for Jaebum to hear. Just when he’s about to repeat himself, the other man finally looks away from his brother and nods.
As Jackson heats up the leftover soup and chicken, he tries not think about how domestic this situation feels. Jaebum isn’t going to stroll into the kitchen, wrap his arms around Jackson and lay his head against Jackson’s head, so there’s no point in imagining it. After the soup is finished re-heating, he placing the bowl on a try and takes it out into the living room. To his surprise, Jaebum is sitting on the sofa with his head buried in his hands and his elbows on his knees.
“Here’s your soup, the chicken’s on the table.”
“Thanks. It’s good,” Jaebum says after the first mouthful.
Hearing that pleases Jackson a lot more than he wants to admit. “It’s one of three things that I can cook without burning it,” he says with a shrug.
After Jaebum finishes eating, he sets the tray on the low table and slumps back onto the sofa. “Thank you,” he says tiredly.
“No problem, it was nothing,” Jackson says because, to him, it wasn’t.
“No, really, thank you. And I’m not just talking about the food. It means everything to me that you gave up your competition to take care of Youngjae when I couldn’t be there for him.” As drained as he must be, Jaebum makes the effort to push himself up to his feet so he can properly bow to Jackson.
“There will be other competitions but there’s only one Youngjae,” Jackson mumbles with a shrug, scratching the back of his neck.
“You know, I'll admit that had my reservations about you initially, but I’m really glad Youngjae asked you to be his teacher,” Jaebum says softly as he eases himself back onto the sofa.
“If you’re that tired you should just go to bed,” Jackson says as he watches Jaebum struggle to keep his eyes open.
“Hmmm can’t, Youngjae…” Jaebum mumbles sleepily.
“I can continue to look after him; it’s really not a problem for me.”
“Mmmm, alright.” Jaebum must be even more tired than Jackson first thought if he’s giving in this quickly.
“Okay, here, let me help you,” Jackson says as he wraps his arm around Jaebum’s back. Jaebum slumps on him tiredly and Jackson takes a second to push all thoughts of his warmth and his cologne out of his mind. Shaking his head, he focuses his mind on the task of getting him into bed. To sleep!
“What?” Jaebum mumbles into his neck. Jackson tries not to shudder.
They slowly but surely make their way from the living room into what must be the main bedroom. Flipping on the light switch, Jackson takes a look around the room. Aside from a few posters and a shelf with dance trophies, it doesn’t really look like the room of a twenty-something young man. As he sits Jaebum down on the bed, he notices a framed photograph on the bedside table. It’s an old photo of a middle-aged couple and two young boys. It hits Jackson then that the room must have originally belonged to Jaebum and Youngjae’s parents.
As Jaebum lies on the bed, still dressed in his work clothes, Jackson stares down him for a moment. It can’t be comfortable for him, but Jackson doesn’t feel he has the right to undress the other man without asking. “Hey, JB,” he whispers, “Do you mind if I help you into your pyjamas?”
“Hmm ‘kay,” Jaebum mumbles.
Jackson wonders if he’s even half-awake; maybe he’s just talking in his sleep. But then Jaebum starts fumbling with the button of his trousers. While he works on that, Jackson looks around to find his sleepwear and a blanket. When he turns back, Jaebum’s shirt and pants are unbuttoned, but it seems like he’s fallen asleep again. Feeling a bit like a pervert, Jackson finishes undressing him, trying – but failing – not to drink in his toned, muscled body before he has to cover it up again with fleece and wool. When he’s finished, he all but runs out of Jaebum’s room and steps outside for a moment. The cold night air goes a long way in diffusing the heat that had been accumulating in his body, some parts more than others.
“I am so fucked,” Jackson sighs, watching his words take the form of wispy white swirls.
After taking a few moments to collect himself, Jackson heads back inside. He open’s Youngjae’s door to check on him and sees the younger boy sitting up in bed, blinking sleepily.
“Ah, you’re awake,” he notes.
Youngjae nods. “I need to pee,” he yawns and rubs at his face cutely, making Jackson feel a rush of affection for him.
“Here, I’ll help you up. It’s time for you to take another dose of medicine anyway.”
Jackson wraps his arm around Youngjae’s side and helps him trudge across the living room into the toilet. He waits for Youngjae to look about his business before he walks him to the sofa and sits him down. He goes back into the boy’s room and retrieves the blanket, covering him with it, before he goes to get water and more medicine.
“Are you hungry?”
“No, not really,” he mutters.
“You should at least have some bread and tea with the medicine so you don’t hurt your stomach.”
“Alright,” he mutters dutifully.
“Is my brother home yet?” Youngjae's voice faintly drifts into the kitchen.
“Yeah, not too long ago actually. He was dead on his feet so I sent him off to bed.”
“Thanks for taking care of us,” Youngjae says as Jackson pushes a mug of tea into his hands.
“No problem,” Jacksone says, for what must be the tenth time that day. “Will you be alright tomorrow? I can come stay with you if you want.”
“You’ve done a lot today already. I can survive on my own tomorrow. I’ve had to do it before,” Youngjae shrugs.
“But you don’t have to do it again. What time does your brother leave for work in the morning?”
“We usually leave at the same time around seven.”
“That’s so early. I’m normally still asleep at seven,” Jackson groans. Youngjae shrugs in response. “I may as well just sleep here then.”
“You really don’t have to go through that much trouble,” Youngjae protests with wide eyes.
“I’ll make it worth your while. I’ll help you study so you can ace your exams when you get well.” A crease forms between Youngjae’s brows. “And, before you ask, it’s a free service. The fencing season is over and I’d have nothing else to do anyway.”
Jackson waits to see if Youngjae has any other protests. The young boy opens and closes his mouth a few times but no words come out.
“Alright, well I’m going to make a quick trip home to pack an overnight bag. Just watch tv and try not to get into trouble while I’m gone or your brother will have my head.”
Jackson heads out, leaving Youngjae in his blanket cocoon on the sofa, and he sends a quick text to his dad explaining the situation.
‘You’re too kind for your own good,’ is the reply he gets.
‘it’s how you raised me :3’ he sends back.
At home he throws his toothbrush, some pyjamas and a clean set of clothes into a duffel bag. He also takes the time to have a quick shower and eat a sandwich before he heads back to Jaebum and Youngjae’s place. When he pulls open the door, he’s somewhat surprised to see Youngjae still awake, watching a drama on the tv.
“I figured you’d be asleep by the time I got back.”
“I’m tired of sleeping,” Youngjae says, wrinkling his nose.
“That’s not what you were saying when I picked you up from school. ‘Wah, let me sleep, Jackson. I’m so ti~red’,” Jackson says with a put-on high-pitched voice.
“I don’t sound like that,” Youngjae protests.
“Yes, you do,” Jackson says solemnly, placing his hands on Youngjae’s shoulders.
Youngjae kicks at his leg, and Jackson puts him in a headlock.
“Is this how you treat a sick child?!”
Jackson simply laughs in his ear.
Youngjae’s still weak from the flu, but he wiggles his body as hard he can. It’s nowhere near enough to dislodge Jackson’s arms; all he manages to accomplish is knocking the remote off the sofa.
“What’s going on?” A sleepy new voice asks.
Jackson feels his breath stop as he watches Jaebum saunter into the living room, his hand carding through his sleep tousled hair.
“Sorry we woke you,” Youngjae says apologetically.
Jaebum walks over to them and rests his hand on Youngjae’s forehead. “You’re still feverish. You should be in bed.”
“I’ve slept all day,” Youngjae pouts.
“You can stay up for two more hours, but then it’s back to bed. You can’t get better if you don’t rest,” Jaebum says reasonably.
“Alright,” Youngjae concedes.
It’s such a brotherly moment that Jackson feels like an intruder just for being there. For a minute he wonders if he really should have bothered with his plan to stay over.
“I promise we’ll be quiet, so you should go back to bed, hyung.”
Jaebum nods and moves to head back to his bedroom, but stumbles on the second step. Jackson shoots up and catches him before he can fall. Jaebum' skin radiates warmth that’s different from the feverish heat that plagues Youngjae.
“Thanks,” he mumbles with a soft, sleepy smile.
“No problem,” Jackson says, too hypnotised to look away.
He helps Jaebum into bed for a second time and makes his way back to the living room. His plans to peacefully watch dramas and variety shows for two hours are dashed at Youngjae’s next words.
“Do you like my brother?”
He’s hoping Youngjae will give up if he’s unresponsive, but the younger boy gets up and places himself right in Jackson’s line of sight. There’s no judgement in his face, only curiosity, but Jackson still feels his stomach drop. The worst case scenario would be to be sussed out by Jaebum himself, but this is only marginally better.
“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, I was just curious,” Youngjae says as he takes a seat on the sofa again. “If it’s any help, I’d support you if you wanted to date him. I like you and I think it would be good for my brother to have someone like you in his life.”
Jackson just sits and processes this as he watches the people in the show blur into a big blob of colour.
“Yes,” he whispers a while later. Youngjae rests his head on his shoulder and Jackson feels something in his chest relax.
One and a half shows later, he tucks Youngjae back into bed. He should probably try to sleep as well, but his confession has got him feeling too wired to sleep. On a whim, he decides to go out to a convenience store to get items to make a Western style breakfast. He grabs his jacket and Youngjae’s house keys before he locks the door behind him and makes his way to the store. There, he buys eggs, cheese and tomatoes for an omelette, flour and milk for pancakes, and finally bacon and orange juice. Jackson is pretty crap at cooking in general, but his breakfast spreads are always passable at the least.
When he gets back, he puts away the food. Then he tip-toes into Jaebum’s room takes his phone with him into the living room. There’s probably an alarm set on it for him to wake up obscenely early, but he’ll get to sleep in for once tomorrow. His work done for now, Jackson makes himself comfortable on the sofa. He normally has trouble falling asleep in other people’s houses, but it’s not long before he drifts off to sleep.
Jaebum wakes to the sound of metal clanging and the smell of meat being cooked. At first he thinks someone weirdo broke in and decided to eat their food for some strange reason, but then he hears a familiar voice swear loudly in Chinese and he relaxes. It’s just Jackson. But what the hell is Jackson doing in their house so early in the morning?
“My ear's candy, sweet like honey. Your voice softly melts me away~,” Jackson sings as he tends to something on the stove. When Jaebum hugs him around the waist and sings the next line in his ear, Jackson jumps a mile high.
“Ouch, shit that hurt,” Jaebum moans, holding his nose in pain.
“Oh shit, sorry,” Jackson swears in English. Jaebum hears the fridge door open and close, and then a cold pack is being pressed to his face. “You know, scaring the shit out of me aside, you have a lovely singing voice.”
Jaebum opens his eyes to see Jackson’s face right next to his. He’s not wearing his hat again, and this time he’s got a pair of glasses framing his face. He blinks in surprise before a jolt of pain shoots through his nose.
“Gee thanks,” Jaebum deadpans in English. He’s found that some things just don’t carry the meaning he wants when it’s said in Korean. Maybe that’s why Jackson slips into English and Cantonese every so often.
“And you said you wouldn’t learn,” Jackson grins, proudly.
Even though he his nose is aching so badly that he has to breathe out of his mouth, Jaebum can’t help but smile. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“I stayed the night. I figured it was easier since I’ll be staying to look after Youngjae,” Jackson says, turning back to the stove. “Ah the bacon hasn’t burned, praise the lord!”
“You don’t have to-”
“I know, but I’m doing it anyway. Breakfast is almost ready by the way. Go brush your teeth and wash your face and then you can eat.”
“Yes, dear,” Jaebum snorts, again in English.
He quickly brushes his teeth before he stops to check on Youngjae. His brother feels less feverish but his skin is still pale, he also coughs wetly in his sleep. Jaebum once again feels thankful for Jackson. There’s no way he would feel comfortable leaving his brother alone in this state.
After his shower, he heads back into his room to pull on his work clothes. He forgot to take them with him to the bathroom, but he figures there’s no harm in walking back to his room in just a towel. It’s a short trip and he and Jackson are both guys anyway. Even so, when he makes eye-contact with Jackson on the way, he pauses in shock and all but runs back to his room.
After he’s finished dressing he heads back to the kitchen where Jackson seems to be finished cooking. On the table in the living room are foods Jaebum has only seen in American movies. Jackson spots him coming out of his room and directs him to sit at the table.
“Hurry up and dig in, it’s twenty minutes to seven.”
“What?!” Jaebum looks up in shock.
“I hid your phone so you could get a bit more sleep. Here it is, by the way.” Jackson holds out his phone and Jaebum takes it from him. He narrows his eyes in annoyance at Jackson before biting into his food. “I was only thinking of you. I even went out of my way to make you breakfast,” Jackson pouts, spreading his arms to gesture at the food sitting on the table.
‘Fair enough,’ Jaebum thinks. “Thank you, it’s good,” he says while chewing. “Breakfast here is usually so plain. This is an interesting change.”
Jackson beams at him, his brown eyes sparkling behind his glasses.
“I’ve never seen you wear those before,” Jaebum says, gesturing to the black, square frames.
“Uh, yeah, I don’t usually wear them in public.”
“Why? It’s not like you look bad in them,” Jaebum says before he can stop himself.
“So, hat or no hat? Glasses or no glasses?” Jackson asks with a cheeky grin.
Jaebum just chuckles and shakes his head. “I like you however.”
For a second he pauses eating, wondering if he really just said that out loud. He chances a peak at Jackson and sees that the other man is focusing on his food. Jaebum follows suit. The atmosphere isn’t exactly awkward, but it’s definitely not as comfortable as it was before Jaebum’s comment. Out of habit, Jaebum moves to collect their dirty plates after they both finish eating, but Jackson swats at his hands and pushes him to the front door instead.
“I’ll do that, man. You just go to work.”
Jaebum has to admit that if feels good to be looked after like this. “Alright, see you when I get back?” This whole morning has felt a bit surreal from the start. He half expects to open his eyes to find that he dreamed the whole thing up.
“Yeah, now go and have a good a day.”
For half a second, Jaebum gets the wild idea to kiss Jackson goodbye. Some passing spirit posses his body and makes him lean in a bit before he catches himself and runs off, throwing a goodbye over his shoulder.
Eyes wide and mouth gaping, Jackson watches him go. He could’ve sworn that for a second it looked like…
‘I like you however’ he said, is it possible he meant…like that? Jackson wants to hope, but hope can be a dangerous thing. He bites his lip and shuts the door at last. He turns around to see Youngjae huddled up in his blankets, waving his fists.
“All in all I’d say breakfast was a success,” he cheers.
“How long have you been awake?”
“Your screaming woke me up, but I stayed in my room to give you and my brother some alone time. I couldn’t help but overhear you two flirting. Is there any food left for me?”
“We weren’t flirting. And no, there’s no food for sneaky little brats,” Jackson says he begins to clear the dishes.
“I’ll tell my brother that you’re being mean to me,” he whines before Jackson rests a plate of food in front of him.
Youngjae wanting to eat is a good sign. At this rate, he should be well enough to go to school by the end of the weekend.
“Do you really think I have a chance?” Jackson can help but ask.
Youngjae grins, looking as though he was waiting for this question. “Yeah, definitely.”
“Your brother, he likes guys?” Jackson asks so softly he’s practically whispering.
“No, but he likes you.”
“Oh, okay then.” Jackson can’t help but still feel a bit uneasy.
“Come on, trust me,” Youngjae declares in English.
“THR-ust me?” Jackson mocks him with an exaggerated lisp.
“I didn’t say it like that. My pronunciation is much better than that,” Youngjae throws head back and laughs with his mouth so wide open Jackson is worried something will fly inside.
“Finish eating and then go get your books so we can study.”
Although he planned to help Youngjae with as many subjects as possible, Jackson gets so confused by everything but English that that’s what they spend most of the day doing. For lunch, Jackson orders chicken for the both of them, and he puts some away in the fridge for Jaebum, ignoring the smirk on Youngjae’s face. When Jaebum gets back from work, he greets Jackson brightly, with none of the awkwardness that tinged their last interaction. He thanks Jackson for the chicken as if he had made it himself and Jackson catches Youngjae smirking into his tea again.
“Thanks again for staying to look after Youngjae. I have Sunday off so you don’t have to stay over again tonight,” he says as he digs into the food.
“Oh, okay then.” Jaebum probably thinks he’s relieving Jackson of an inconvenience, but Jackson just feels like he’s being kicked out.
Around 10:30 pm, Jackson grabs his duffel bag and gets ready to leave. Jaebum walks him to the door and thanks him once again before he pulls him into a hug. Jackson blinks in surprise, but quickly wraps his own arms around Jaebum. He can see Youngjae making kissy faces over Jaebum’s shoulder, so he closes his eyes to block him out and enjoy the feeling of Jaebum’s strong arms around him. Too soon, Jaebum pulls away and bids Jackson a goodnight. This time Jackson’s knows he isn’t hallucinating Jabeum glancing at his lips because he does it like five times. Reflexively, Jackson licks them before he waves goodbye and turns to leave.
As he walks back, he feels a smile tug at his lips and hope bloom in his heart.
Jaebum’s mood lifts with each day approaching the new year. He’s always been glad for the three day holiday, and this year has felt especially draining. The only downside is that he won’t see Jackson until the week after; he’s going back to Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. Jaebum will miss him while he’s gone, but he knows Jackson is looking forward to seeing his mother and brother, especially since he wasn’t able to see them on Christmas. He caught Youngjae’s flu and couldn’t fly out like he was originally scheduled.
“This is exactly why I had my reservations about you looking after Youngjae,” Jaebum said when he visited him with soup. “Youngjae made a card for you, by the way.”
Jackson’s usually bright eyes looked weak, but some life returned to them when he saw the inscription on his brother’s card.
Jaebum sat beside Jackson on his bed and slowly read the English script aloud. “‘Here’s to hoping you get some in the new year!’ Get some what?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Jackson shook his head, his face turning red.
“Your fever might be getting worse. You should lie down and rest,” Jaebum frowned as he placed his hand on Jackson’s forehead and felt heat radiating from it before he even made contact. Before he left, he placed the card on the bedside table and gently pushed Jackson back under the covers.
Earlier in the afternoon, Jackson had texted to say he wanted to come over for a change of scenery.
‘i’m not feeling great but i promise i’m not contagious. my dad’s driving me mad with his hovering. i’m touched that he cares so much but really! >:|’
‘if he says it’s alright, you can come’
He shows up on their doorstep two hours later, almost unrecognisable in his wrappings save for the ‘852’ cap adorning his head. Standing right beside him is his father, holding a duffel bag.
“Ah, hello Mr. Wang,” Jaebum greets him with a bow.
“I just wanted to make sure he got here safe,” he nods before handing the bag to Jaebum. Then he lifts his hand in a wave and makes his way back to a waiting taxi.
“Bye, daddy,” Jackson’s goodbye is muffled by his scarf, but his father seems to hear him anyway.
“See you tomorrow, Jackson.”
Jaebum opens the door wider, letting him in with a laugh.
“Shut up,” Jackson drones.
“No, it’s sweet. You’re his youngest child, it’s no wonder he feels protective of you.”
Jackson opens his mouth to reply to that, but he’s cut off by Youngjae bounding up to hug him.
“I heard you caught my flu,” he says when he lets the older man go.
“Yeah, I did. Thanks for that, by the way. Most people just give ties or books or socks to others for Christmas, but you went above and beyond to get me a virus.”
“You were the one who insisted on watching me.”
“And now you throw that kindness back in my face. Ahhh, kids these days, so ungrateful.” Jackson shakes his head as he hangs up his jacket and scarf and makes his way into the living room. “Now, go and fetch me some tea,” he says as he makes himself comfortable on the sofa.
“You’re here so often you’re not even a guest anymore. You could make your own tea,” Youngjae grumbles, but obediently goes to fix him a cup.
“So, what have you been up to today?”
“Well, since tomorrow is a holiday, today was a slower day at work. I even got off earlier than usual. I took the free time to go through one of Youngjae’s old English textbooks like you suggested.”
“Are you feeling confident enough to apply for that job we talked about?”
“Hmmm, maybe not yet.”
“Come on, JB, I think you should at least try. Interviews are 60% bluffing anyway. Just put out a confident exterior and not only will the employer feel surer of you, you’ll feel surer of yourself.”
“Thanks, guru,” Jaebum snorts while Jackson nods solemnly.
Soon after, Youngjae comes back with tea for the three of them.
“What a good boy you are,” Jaebum praises him as he sips his tea.
They spend the rest of the night watching television specials and chatting about the similarities and differences between Korean New Year and Chinese New Year celebrations.
“Chinese New Year in Hong Kong is amazing but one day I want to go to Times Square in New York and watch the New Year’s ball drop,” Jackson says while eating chips.
“Why would anyone want to wait out in the cold for hours in a crowd with a bunch of strangers just to countdown ten seconds?”
“It’s the atmosphere, JB. The thrill of anticipation!”
“Well I much prefer the atmosphere that I get from being in the warmth and comfort of my home with my friends and family,” Jaebum snorts.
“Alright, grandpa,” Jackson sneers. “What about you, Youngjae?”
“The same, to be honest,” Youngjae says with a shrug. Jaebum holds his hand out for a high five as Jackson rolls his eyes at them. “Although, there is one American tradition that I find interesting,” Youngjae pipes up.
“What’s that?” Jaebum asks.
“The one where people kiss at midnight to bring in the New Year,” Youngjae says with a weird glint in his eyes.
“Oh, really? Like, couples?” Jaebum asks, surprised.
“Couples do it, but friends and even strangers will do it too.”
“Ah,” Jaebum hums before he gulps down the rest of his tea. “Have you ever done that?” he asks Jackson without looking at him.
“Um, yeah, once when I was living in L.A. I kissed one of my friends to celebrate the new year. It was um, it was the first time I kissed a guy,” Jackson says the last part of that sentence in a rush.
It takes a second for Jaebum to register what he said. “Really?” he asks, finally turning to look at the other man.
“Yeah, it was nice,” Jackson mumbles, eyes on the ceiling.
“Ah,” Jaebum nods before he heads to the kitchen to make himself some more tea.
When he walks back into the living room, Youngjae and Jackson are rolling around on the floor with their hands covering each other’s faces.
“Do I even want to know?” he asks as he steps over them to reclaim his seat.
“No,” Jackson says firmly as he detaches himself from Youngjae.
Somewhere around 11:30 pm Youngjae starts to nod off. Jaebum thinks it’s odd, and for a moment he wonders if his flu has come back. Youngjae assures him that he’s fine, that he just tired himself out after a day out with his friends.
“Just relax and enjoy the rest of the night,” he says with a smile as he heads off to his room.
“Alright,” Jaebum says, a niggle of worry still at the back of his mind.
“Goodnight, hyung. Goodnight, Jackson.”
“Goodnight, Youngjae, Jackson says blandly.
Youngjae leaves and then it’s just the two of them. He and Jackson just look at each other for a moment before an idea comes to mind.
“I don’t usually have adult company to celebrate special occasions with, but now seems like a good time,” Jaebum says as he gets up to rifle through a special cupboard. He places a half-full bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label on the table.
“That is special,” Jackson says, sounding impressed. Jaebum gets two glasses and he pours a drink for each of them.
“To the new year,” Jaebum proposes.
“Cheers,” Jackson touches their glasses and they both drink.
“How long has that been sitting in there by the way?” Jackson asks.
“Ages, my dad originally got it as a present from a business partner before Youngjae was even born.”
They finish their drinks in silence, Jaebum checking his watch every few minutes. At ten minutes to midnight Jaebum finally admits to himself that he wants to kiss Jackson. At seven minutes to midnight he worries his bottom lip and wonders if Jackson would kiss him back. At three minutes to midnight he decides to go for it. And at one minute to minute he finally puts his glass down.
“Hey, Jackson,” Jaebum softly says as he stares at his watch.
“What is it?” Jackson asks, equally softly.
Jaebum musters up all his courage, real and liquid, and wraps his arm around the other’s waist, pulling him closer. Jaebum pulls the hat off Jackson’s head and removes his glasses from his face, Jackson staring at him the entire time. He inhales deeply before leaning in slowly. At the very last minute, he begins to doubt himself, and he stops. Just when he’s about to lean back and blame his odd behaviour on the alcohol, Jackson leans forward and licks the words right out of his mouth.
Jaebum’s eyebrows rise in surprise, but he wraps his arm more solidly around Jackson and leans back, taking the other man with him. Jackson falls into his lap, arms wrapping around Jaebum’s shoulders. As he shifts around, their groins make contact and Jaebum feels explosives go off in his head.
Eventually he needs to breathe, and so he pulls back, staring at Jackson with what he guesses to be a dopey expression on his face. The other man looks downright beautiful as he is lightly bathed in purple light, that changes to green, then yellow and then red. Glancing over his shoulder, Jaebum sees fireworks going off in the distance.
“Happy New Year,” he smiles.
“Happy New Year, JB,” Jackson grins back before leaning down to kiss him again. “Haha, you are so gonna catch my flu.”
Youngjae wakes the next morning and sees his brother fixing up breakfast in the kitchen as usual. Youngjae looks around the living room for their guest before he asks his brother where Jackson went. Jaebum's cheeks turn red when he says that Jackson is sleeping in his room. For a moment, Youngjae gapes at him. He was hoping they would finally get together, but he didn’t think they’d get that far so soon.
“You shut your mouth. I know what you’re thinking and we didn’t, we didn’t do that, okay?” Jaebum stammers as the red spreads to his ears.
“Okay,” Youngjae mouths before he starts eating. He gets the impulse to ask how far they actually did get, but he might get something thrown at him so he stays quiet. He resolves to ask Jackson later.
About an hour later, Jackson saunters into the kitchen, stretching and scratching.
“Morning,” he mumbles sleepily before he walks up to Jaebum and kisses him lightly on the lips.
“Morning,” his brother says lowly in reply.
Youngjae feels his smile threatening to split his face. Jackson blinks in surprise when he catches sight of Youngjae sitting at the table, but then he carries on and sits down across form him.
“Hello, beloved new step-son,” Jackson says solemnly while cradling Youngjae’s hands. Jaebum chokes and a laugh explodes out of Youngjae.
After breakfast, they all get dressed and head down to the Han River where Jackson challenges Jaebum to a game of basketball. Youngjae alternates between being a cheerleader and trying to assist one of them, but getting in the way.
“Oh my God, Youngjae! How do I end up doing worse with a two-on-one advantage? Just sit on the sidelines and cheer!” Jackson shakes him off after he fumbles yet another pass.
After he loses, he sends Youngjae to get them drinks as punishment for holding him back. After he leaves, Jackson joins Jaebum on a bench and wraps an arm around his shoulder, pulling out his phone and holding it up in front of their faces.
“What are you doing?” Jaebum asks with a laugh as Jackson puffs out his cheeks.
“Being cute. Now shut up and smile, this is out first couple selca.” Jackson sees Jaebum smile indulgently in the screen before he takes the photo of the two of them.
“You know, normally you look cuter without the hat, but you actually do look really cute with it today. Did you brush your hair differently before you put it on?” Jackson cracks up but Jaebum actually looks like he’s serious. “No, really,” he says. And Jackson would kiss him if they weren’t out in public.
When it’s time for Jackson to leave later in the evening, he spends a good five minutes kissing Jaebum at the door, unwillingly to go just yet.
“Not that I want you to leave, but if you don’t soon your father will probably be suspicious,” Jaebum says against Jackson’s lips.
“Alright,” Jackson pulls back fully, but still doesn’t leave.
“You know I love you right?” Jaebum says softly, looking down at him.
“I didn’t actually,” Jackson says, his words belied by his grin. “I suppose I love you too.” Jackson kisses Jaebum one last time, just because he can.
“So, it’s graduation day at last,” Youngjae says as he takes a seat at the low table for breakfast.
“Yeah,” Jaebum sighs.
“How’re you feeling?” that’s such an odd thing for Youngaje to be asking. He’s the one who’s graduating after all.
“I’m so, so proud of you, and I’m happy for you, but of course I’m not looking forward to you leaving for university.”
“To be honest, I’m nervous about it too, but Australia isn’t too far away; you could fly out and see me for Chuseok.”
“Ah, my little baby is all grown up and leaving the nest,” Jaebum sighs as he ruffles Youngaje’s hair fondly.
“You know, I wouldn’t be going to Australia if you didn’t have Jackson,” Youngjae says softly.
“Youngjae, I’m touched, but you should live your life for yourself. That’s what I’ve worked so hard and sacrificed for you to be able to do.”
”I know, but I don’t think I would have the peace of mind to leave if I was leaving you alone,” Youngjae mumbles eyes on the table. “You’re my brother who has looked after me all my life; I’d worry too much if you didn’t have someone to make you happy while I was gone.”
“Well, that’s a moot point now, so let’s not dwell on it anymore.”
“Where is Jackson by the way? Didn’t he stay over last night?” Youngjae resumes finishing his breakfast.
“He went to the florist to get ‘the biggest fucking bouquet I could possibly carry’,” Jaebum says with a roll of his eyes and a smile tugging at his lips.
Youngjae giggles, still not used to hearing his brother speak, let alone curse, in English. “Don’t forget to tell him not to cheer and make a scene at the ceremony,”
“I will, but who’s to say that will make a difference.”
Jackson actually manages to be quiet for the entire ceremony, but as soon as it’s over, he jumps up and cheers loudly, pulling Youngjae into a congratulatory hug. The teachers and parents look bemused, but Youngjae’s classmates seem to find it amusing.
“I’m proud of you, baby!” Jackson pulls Youngjae’s forehead down so he can lay a wet kiss on it.
“Hyu~ng,” Youngjae whines with his face scrunched up, but he doesn’t try to pull away. Jaebum knows Youngjae will miss him too.
Outside at the school gate, Jackson makes Youngjae hold the ridiculously oversized bouquet while he takes a picture of him and Jaebum. He passes off the camera to one of Youngjae’s classmates and asks her to take a picture with all three of them. She looks a bit confused but seems to remember him as the one who made a scene at the end of the ceremony. She chuckles a bit as she snaps the photo of Jackson in the middle with his arms wrapped around both brothers.
“I’ve got to get to work and Jackson has a class to prepare for, so we’ll be heading off. See you at dinner later.”
“Later, hyung. Later, Jackson.” Youngjae waves before he runs off to find his friends. Jaebum watches him go, blinking rapidly.
It’s months away still – one good thing to come out of Youngjae going abroad to study – but he doesn’t know how he’s going to be able to say goodbye to him at the airport. Just as Youngjae gets out of eyeshot, Jaebum feels a warm hand holding his, their fingers lacing together. He squeezes the hand gently and takes a deep breath before turning to look at the man standing beside him. He had his hair slicked back with a side part for Youngjae’s graduation, and so it looks even glossier than it usually does.
“I’ll be alright, Jaebum. He’ll be alright, you’ll be alright, everyone will be alright!” Jackson says before grabbing his shoulders and shaking him lightly.
“I know,” he smiles despite himself.
“I know he’s technically too young still, but I think we should let him have a drink tonight at dinner.”
“Sure, why not?”
“That’s the spirit! You’ve really loosened up, Im Jaebum. Personally, I think it’s all thanks to me,” Jackson says with a hand on his chest.
“I actually have to agree with you,” Jaebum laughs as they walk, hand-in-hand, to the train station. Jackson grins, looking quite pleased, and Jaebum understands what Youngjae meant about having peace of mind. He’s got plenty of that now.