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how to talk to other humans (and other valuable life skills)

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Taehyung turns thirty the way he does most things. 

 

He’s set to take the train the day before Christmas so they do the whole show and dance the 23rd. Brunch at the fancy but delicious place on 10th. A movie screening at the park, blankets spread out and wicker basket packed with juice boxes and makgeolli alike. There’s a get together at his favorite jazz spot, an improvisation to the tune of happy birthday in his honor, and there’s a baby in a bar and that baby is Jeongguk’s, but Jinhyung is curious about everything that makes a tuba go goooooo , everyone helps keep an eye on him, and he laughs until he’s snoozing on Joohyun’s shoulder in the golden light, and Jeongguk doesn’t think himself a horrible parent once. 

 

On the walk home, Taehyung is pleased and rosy cheeked. Winter looks criminally good on him, scarf tucked up to his shadowed jaw, snow flurries melting on his eyebrows. Autumn didn’t see him take clippers to his hair but it’s artfully shorter now, framing his face in a way that makes Jeongguk wish he’d thought to pick up a camera once, drawing pens. He keeps checking that Jinhyung’s beanie is properly covering his ears and it makes Jeongguk’s heart melt, makes him feel like summer. 

 

“Thank you,” he tells Jeongguk, Namjoon and Yoongi a few paces ahead of them, off-tune singing some old ballad. A love song, surely. Most ballads are. 

 

Jeongguk adjusts a snoozing Jinhyung in his arms, lets himself set his weight against Taehyung’s chest as they walk. “Joohyun planned most of it. I just threw some money around.”

 

“I meant the whole day. And don’t do that.”

 

“Do what?” Jeongguk asks, smiling at the sudden dour look on Taehyung’s face. He barely had two drinks tonight but he’d tried his hand at Jaejin’s trombone like he drank a handle on his own, danced the foxtrot like a twenty-one year who’d waited to be of age to have his first drink. 

 

Taehyung sighs, long and drawn out like he’s about to join Yoongi and Namjoon in song. He smooths over the back of Jinhyung’s head, tucks the hood of his puff jacket over his beanie. “Don’t hide your love from me. Don’t hide your love away, baby. Don’t listen to The Beatles. Their love songs were terrible. Except George’s. George was good. A good nugget.”

 

He was only teasing, but Jeongguk quells his laugh. He forces his voice, tone serious, “Sorry. You’re right. I expect some very enthusiastic sexual gratitude when you come home next week.”

 

Taehyung laughs, hazy but mindful of Jinhyung’s snores. “Gonna give you some sexual gratitude tonight. Gotta put the little one to bed first. Then I’m gonna put you to bed,” he says, the dirty promise sounding like a love sonnet buried in Jeongguk’s body, but when they get home he stays awake long enough to help Jinhyung brush his teeth, take him on a long walk around the living room where they sing happy almost birthday! to every plant, before he faceplants in bed and has to be rolled over so he doesn’t smother himself with Jeongguk’s pillow. 

 

In the morning, Yoongi helps Jeongguk make the miyeok guk, sears the cut of beef perfectly because it’s Taehyung’s almost birthday and he’s been very good to his heart this year, never skips a gym day and eats all his vegetables. Gets told he’s loved and often. Says it back just as much. 

 

Jinhyung sticks to him throughout the morning, tastes from Taehyung’s bowl of soup, decides he really doesn’t like the taste of meat, scrunches his nose adorably in disgust. He seems to understand better this time what it means that Taehyung will be leaving for a little while. That it doesn’t mean he won’t come back. That Taehyung means it when he says he will. Whatever happens, Jeongguk will handle it better this time. He knows he can this time.  

 

“Yes, I packed enough socks. And my charger. And your three presents for my parents and- babe, this whole moneybags thing you have going on is sexy, but trust me, I didn’t even have to talk you up to them. They’ve been asking when’s the wedding since before we got together. You don’t have to buy your way into their hearts.”

 

Jeongguk’s face flames but then, “Oh! Shit!” and he disappears into the bedroom, leaves Taehyung gawk-laughing after him and Jinhyung, in his arms, shouting appa said shitz ag’in! 

 

He comes back to the entryway with a small wrapped rectangle, hands it to Taehyung without much fanfare despite the nerves dancing in his stomach. He’s not exactly sure why he’s nervous. Maybe because Taehyung said he’d like it if these were the last holidays they spent apart. Maybe because Taehyung’s parents have been wondering about when they’ll get married. Maybe because being with Taehyung has been making Jeongguk think about singing more and more, in a different way. 

 

“It’s not your only present but Jinhyung helped pick it. The wrapping paper too,” he says, like the dinosaurs holding multicolored balloons don’t give it away. 

 

Taehyung smiles, hugs Jinhyung to his chest, soft and secure, and Jeongguk is so lucky, isn’t he, that he never has to worry that his kid isn’t safe. That if he looks away for a millisecond, there’s someone there, making sure he’s okay. Still spinning, growing and laughing. “Oh man, look at those triceratops. So cool! Did you help wrap it too?”

 

Jinhyung nods, dimpling proudly. He touches the shiny paper, pokes at Taehyung’s fingers. “Appa owpen nuh, pleaseh?”

 

Taehyung does, letting Jinhyung help though it takes longer, lets him do most of the work because it helps Jinhyung learn, and he looks at the side of his face with that awed look he gets still when Jinhyung calls him that. Like it’s his favorite word. The most important one. 

 

“Oh,” Taehyung says when the wrapping paper gives way to a small book, the cover traced in leaf patterns, the lines a delicate golden, the insides painted emerald green. 

 

“I know you use your notes app but I thought it’s small enough you can carry around. For when you get ideas when you’re out,” Jeongguk explains, thinking about Taehyung off the subway with ink swirls on his forearms, the wine stained tiny paragraph carrying napkins from dinner because his phone died, the time he stopped making out with Jeongguk in the middle of Central Park for half a minute because he finally figured out what was wrong with this one section from a dissertation chapter, and Jeongguk got only a little miffed, helped Taehyung turn their popcorn bag into writing material, borrowed a pencil from a vendor. 

 

Taehyung holds it like it’s precious, like he can really feel it, the added weight to his hands. 

 

He skims through the pages, lined in gold too. 

 

Jeongguk says, “I wrote something on the first page. It’s not an inscription or anything, but I thought- it reminded me of you.”

 

Jinhyung presses his finger to the page, headbutts his cheek against Taehyung’s, asks, “Bb rrread, appa?”

 

Taehyung lets out a breathy laugh, says, you got it, bud, and reads out loud, 

 

The boy gathers materials for a temple, and then when he is thirty, concludes to build a woodshed.”

 

“I know that’s not the full quote,” Jeongguk hurries to say when Taehyung stares at the line, doesn’t look up, “or the actual passage, but this version fit better. You, or, what I was trying to say. You said thirty was supposed to be your fun decade, and I think it still can be. Even with a kid and a moneybags boyfriend. Like, the older you get, the more you know what’s important. You know so much, so now you get to choose the ones that matter. The ones that’ll make you happy.”

 

When Taehyung looks up at him, it doesn’t knock Jeongguk over. Doesn’t blind him. It does not feel like one day his love will swallow me whole . It feels like, in this love, the only thing Jeongguk can do is grow. 

 

Taehyung smiles, brilliant in the grey of December, says, “Not to knock on Thoreau, but I like this version better too.”




---




“Not gonna lie, I was starting to think Yoongi made you up.”

 

The room is too bright. Not in the grand scheme of what rooms can be, but for the type of room it is. It doesn’t fit the ones Jeongguk has been in, the image of them in his head. 

 

A light flashes on the board on the desk, long and against the glass. A stream of colors indicating different things. Volume. Trebel. Bass. 

 

Jeongguk says, “I was surprised you were still interested. I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you, I just.”

 

He doesn’t hesitate as much as he used to, but sometimes he still feels like words escape him. Like they don’t fit in his mouth. It scares him less than it used to. The words, whether to himself later or when he needs them, eventually they come. 

 

His apologies are waved away. Wheels roll on the carpet. “It’s like I told your brother. I was only interested in recording it if it was with the original singer. He said you’re not in the business? You’d be surprised how long these things can take. Projects half baked, fucked off. Picked up again months or years later and it’s this totally different thing.”

 

“And you’re okay with that? It being totally different?”

 

His thinking face is funny, so serious for someone so young. It isn’t surprising to Jeongguk, as he’d learned in his early college days, some of these producers are baby faces. Someone makes 90’s trance music and he’s barely twenty-two. Makes beats inspired by the 70’s psychedelia their parents listened to and they’re still in highschool. “Fuck yeah, bro. Every take is different, so.”

 

He plays a looping sequence and it’s already different to Yoongi’s original mix. Higher pitched, sweeter, a dreamy soundscape about it, and maybe Jeongguk can’t do this after all, maybe there’s a reason he let a whole half a year and then some go by, some half baked pipe dream, something he wants to stubbornly prove to himself. 

 

“Can I ask though?”

 

Jeongguk fidgets though the room isn’t cold. It’s nice for a studio, warm even. Jeongguk is twenty-six now and there’s nothing intimidating about this kid except that he seems to be very sure of himself in a way Jeongguk never was at twenty-one. He nods. 

 

The beat builds and builds, loops again, and is this all a dream? Is that what second chances are? “Why now?”

 

“You ever really love something and get scared you’ll lose it? Like, one day you’ll wake up and won’t be able to do it anymore?”

 

For a moment, it looks like he’ll laugh, but then his face goes eerily quiet like Jeongguk is talking about life and death. Maybe he is. “Wow. Yeah, bro. This.”

 

The weight of the headphones isn’t crushing. It doesn’t feel like he’s about to scrape his teeth when he gets too close to the pop filter. None of it’s life affirming either, like he’s being pulled back in time, back in place. It just feels. It feels-

 

“Are you more of a technical singer or emotional?”

 

Jeongguk aced all of his technical modules, was always good at contextualizing how and why to make his voice go this way or that. He says, “Emotional,” not because he’s forgotten the jargon or his scales, but it’s the way he sings now, private and intimate for the two people he loves most, for the way he sings like he’s carried out by the wave of them, knows that when he hits the shore he’ll be basking in sun. 

 

He nods like that’s what he was looking for, messes with the soundboard for a moment. “Chill. Okay, so can you sing it like you’re in love? Not, like, with a person, but, like, life?”

 

The city opens up beyond the window and Jeongguk wonders if the sounds will pour in, if that’s the point of the studio’s set up. Music, not as this closed off moment of space, but for what it actually is. The way a person sees something, someone, life. Hears it. 

 

Jeongguk says, “Yes,” his voice reverberating in his ears, and it doesn’t hurt. For him, it’s the same thing. 



 

---




“Okay, so the reason we wanted to take you guys out to lunch was-”

 

“To tell us you’re getting married?”

 

The other side of the table groans while Jeongguk smirks, amused with himself. It’s Sunday, the drinks have been generous, winter is waning, and Taehyung has a trip to the capital in April which means Jinhyung will see cherry blossoms for the first time in his life, perfectly lined up with his school’s spring break. Not to mention he and Taehyung sixty-nined this morning like some real life porno, so Jeongguk has a lot to be amused by today. 

 

Yoongi gives him a very convincing stink eye. “Hilarious, d-i-c-k weasel, no. Besides,” and he jerks his chin disparagingly, “shouldn’t you two be telling us that? Seriously, Taehyung, he’s my brother, but this is the ball you wanna chain yourself too?”

 

Jeongguk glares, but the sourness on his face drops at the hand that weaves through his hair, the fingers that trail along his nape. 

 

“What can I say? Sure, he’s mouthy, but god, if he isn’t cute.”

 

Someone, Namjoon most definitely, makes a gagging noise. 

 

Jeongguk turns to say something arguably pretty mouth to Taehyung, but the look on his face stops him in his tracks, the way he’s lounging comfortably in his side of the booth but touching Jeongguk easily, because maybe Jeongguk thinks himself a little difficult but Taehyung never acts like he is, handles the moments Jeongguk goes silent by giving him his space when he needs it, cuddling him like a koala when he needs that instead. Lets Jeongguk know when he needs his own quiet, always comes back to him. Kisses Jeongguk like he wants to do wonderfully depraved things to him, but always touches him like just because Jeongguk can shoulder the world doesn’t mean he still shouldn’t be treated with care. 

 

“What?” Taehyung asks, touching Jeongguk’s jaw, his chin. 

 

Shaking his head, Jeongguk grips Taehyung’s shirt collar. “Nothing. You got crayon on your neckline.”

 

Taehyung tries to look, shrugs. He and Jinhyung have been coloring for most of lunch, the paper table cloth full of their drawings, and he’s been known to teach class with stray paint and glitter in his hair, eagerly tells his students the ages between four and seven are importantly creative, nurture your future kids if you have them to follow their heart’s pursuits until their hearts are content, don’t point them where to go but give them an arsenal of color and show them that they can go at all. 

 

There’s an annoyed squawk and then, “Earth to lovebirds,” Yoongi’s put-upon face when he’s trying to look menacing but is internally imitating a marshmallow. “It’s been over half a year. Shouldn’t the honeymoon phase be over by now?”

 

Jeongguk looks at Taehyung for a second longer, stares at the smile in his eyes, and you can’t end a phase you’ve never started, and he thinks about how he didn’t have one, last time. He’s never dreamed of destination honeymoons. Tahiti. Maui. Paris. 

 

He faces his brother with an eyeroll and it doesn’t matter than Yoongi will be thirty-five soon, also in spring. That they’re both adults who file their taxes and care about what goes on in their community, the going on’s of the world and 401k’s. He and Yoongi will always be seven and fifteen sometimes. The hazards of being brothers. “You were saying, hyung?”

 

“I was saying,” Yoongi mocks, but then he shares a look with Namjoon. grips Namjoon’s hand near his water glass, and he says, “We’re moving.”

 

“Not right now,” Namjoon adds when no one says anything. “But eventually. Soon. We’ve only started looking at places, but it’s happening. With the baby and everything.” 

 

The words hang and Yoongi looks down, his eyes centering on his hand over Namjoon’s, and there’s this hush to the way they’re around each other. Namjoon turns his hand over under Yoongi’s, squeezes their fingers together, and maybe that’s what happens when you’ve been together so long. You know and you know how to remind each other. 

 

Jeongguk stares at them and his throat clicks, anguished. It was a little after New Year’s when they’d gotten the call, still under the guise of holiday cheer, Taehyung home to celebrate too. He can still hear it, the way his brother’s voice had changed, the way he’d tried to keep it from being obvious, the wound, the hurt. In the deepest part of his heart, Jeongguk knows he can’t blame her, Marissa, 19 from Kokomo, Indiana, saffron colored hair and a love for canoeing and the New York Jets, for wanting to keep her baby. But it’s like he’s got two hearts. The other torn to shreds for his hyung. It was less than three weeks later when the agency called with a new match, like now that they’d proven they could do it, Namjoon and Yoongi had the stuff to be put through the emotional ringer over and over again.

 

Namjoon clears his throat. “And we’ve decided that, if it doesn’t work out this time either, we’re going to apply to foster.”

 

“But, hyung.” His voice comes out smaller than he means it to. Taehyung’s palm is warm at his nape. He swallows, looks between them, “You’ve always wanted a kid of your own.”

 

Namjoon watches Yoongi’s quiet expression for a moment, then he looks at Jeongguk, surprises him by smiling, genuine and real, dimples that have always made strangers ask if he and Jeongguk are the brothers. “We actually used to talk about doing it. Years ago. But Yoongi traveled so much and then with Jinhyung,” he says, says it so softly, Jinhyung looks up from his dedicated coloring, offers Namjoon his purple crayon, a leftover carrot stick. Namjoon takes both with more heartfelt thanks a used crayon and a gnawed vegetable should warrant, hearts in his eyes. “He was so little. But now that he’s older- we have the money for anything they might need and we’ll have the space. We have the time now. But we also wanted you to know so you guys can make whatever decisions you need to make.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Taehyung tightens his hold , not enough to hurt, but enough for Jeongguk to notice Yoongi finally glancing up, all the adults at the table seeming to exchange looks. Except Jeongguk isn’t not a part of that anymore. He’s at the adults’ table. Has been for a while. 

 

It’s Yoongi who says, “Taking on a foster kid can be tough. Mentally. Emotionally. It takes a lot of being strong of both and it isn’t something that can be taken lightly. A lot of these kids have been through a lot. So you have to really think about it. What it means for yourself. What it can especially mean if you already have a kid in the house. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, it just means there’s a lot to consider. And, Jeongguk,  you should get a say in the kind of potential environment you want your kid to be in.”

 

Jeongguk swallows again. “Oh.”

 

“We’re not kicking you out. Not at all. We love having you with us. Getting to be a part of helping you raise the kid- it’s meant the world to us. And yeah, the picture’s been to have a baby to be our’s. But we think offering someone who needs the space to be safe, to grow up, even if it’s only for a little while,” and Yoongi looks at Namjon, and Namjoon is already looking at him, and what’s a parent anyway. Some people trip into it without even trying while others are nurturers by nature and are never called the name. “We’d like to do that for a kid who needs it. A few, even.”

 

Around them, glass clinks. Waiters circle tables with heavy trays. The only sound from their table is crayon on paper, the rustling of Jinhyung leaning his weight on the table, him asking Taehyung to draw teeth on a majungasaurus because Taehyung is very good at teeth.  

 

“You knew,” Jeongguk tells him later while Namjoon is settling the bill, Yoongi stepping out to take a call, accusatory though he doesn’t mean it. 

 

Taehyung doesn’t react at first. Maybe that never ending Jeongguk-radar he has that seems to only grow more powerful as time wears on kicking in. He glances up from the plesiosaurus he’s helping Jinhyung color, lips curling without guilt. “They asked what my plans were once I graduate. I filled in the rest. Before you get mad, this was three days ago and I hadn’t had my tea yet.”

 

Jeongguk isn’t even thinking about getting mad. He reaches out, strokes up Taehyung’s waist until he reaches his chest. Stares at the purple-yellow spot on his collar. Reminds himself to soak it when they get home. Then he stares at his kid, the curly-q at the back of his head, his hair growing long again. They’ll cut it for his birthday. Whenever Jinhyung wants. “Speaking of, what are those plans, if you care to share with the class? Your boyfriend would like to know.”

 

“Well,” Taehyuhg says, and his smile grows in that way it does whenever Jeongguk calls him that though it’s sort of juvenile and not fully encompassing everything they are. Maybe that’s why it makes him smile that way. “About that.”




---




Snowflakes melt, long and slow. Jeongguk likes to watch them first thing in the morning, those minutes he doesn’t have to get up yet, see them track down the windows, their shapes and patterns.

 

The bed shifts and there’s a chest at his back, and even in the dead of summer he wants the heat, but it’s been so welcome these past few months, the extra warmth in his bed. He didn’t know what he was missing. In a way, Jeongguk weeps for him, the younger version of himself who didn’t know. In a different way, he’s glad for him. He thinks that’s why it’s so sweet to him now. Why he’s so ready to take care of it. 

 

“‘s Saturday. No school today,” Taehyung hums, voice sleep sticky. “What’d you wanna do?”

 

“Hmm. Work?”

 

“Nope. I’m a real boy now, remember?” 

 

Jeongguk laughs, turns on his other side so they can kiss good morning, closed mouthed and soft, get all up in his space, has his space got up in. “I meant for your students. For such an overachieving nerd, you’re really smug, you know.”

 

“Earliest dissertation submission and defense in the department.” Eyes closed, Taehyung grins, and it’s smug, sure, but he’s so earnest about it, like a kid who’s excited. About everything. About life. Thick with sleep, maybe something a little somber, he says, “I’m just really happy to be done. I know the real work starts now, but I want to use all this stuff in my brain. Help other students figure out what’s in theirs. How to say it. Not have to focus on grades and advisors and all that stuff. My own research. Have it be valid because it’s mine, you know?”

 

Jeongguk doesn’t, but he can appreciate the sentiment. He can appreciate that Taehyung wants to know what he thinks. “I know. I’m proud of you.”

 

“I’m proud of me too,” Taehyung laughs, just because, against Jeongguk’s chin to avoid his mouth, but Jeongguk doesn’t mind. He’s used to Taehyung’s morning breath, always stale but weirdly still minty. “I got another offer. Just checked my email.”

 

“During the weekend?”

 

“Well. On Friday. But I’ve been ignoring my email since Tuesday, you know that.”

 

Jeongguk does know, witness to Taehyung’s cavalierness the moment he stepped out of the assembly hall he’d defended in, wilfully ignorant to the months before the semester was truly over, safe in the assurance that should a student or fellow colleague need him, they could just text him, smoke signal him surely. 

 

He lets his lid flutter like he’s getting ready to fall back asleep, rests his forehead on Taehyung’s shoulder. It’s early and it’s Saturday. No school. No work. They have all day. Heart thudding, he asks, “Where?” He’s already gotten a few, a couple of different places, and Jeongguk really wants it, Taehyung reaching for, not even the stars. Wherever Taehyung wants to go. It’s just the logistics of it. If he’s already up there, he just needs to figure out how to pivot, how they’ll make sure they’re in the same orbit. 

 

Taehyung says, “Columbia.”

 

Jeongguk opens one eye. Peers up. The room is shadowy but morning streams in, giving Taehyung’s jaw a purplish hue. “The country?”

 

With a groab, Taehyung sputters in laughter, rolls them over until Jeongguk is on top of him, all up on him in the most literal sense. “No. Sadly, an entire country in South America isn’t hiring me for my linguistic prowess.”

 

“Their loss,” Jeongguk says, the grin dancing on his mouth. He sleepily bites it into Taehyung’s collarbone. It’s right in front of his face. It’s only polite. 

 

They get a little distracted, hands and mouths in that lazy early morning way. It’s Saturday. They’re not in any rush. 

 

Taehyung presses his sticky forehead to Jeongguk’s stickier chest. They’ll fit in a shower before Jinhyung wakes up. If they’re lucky, they’ll take it together. If not, there’s always next time. “I’m gonna take it.” 

 

Jeongguk’s heart is soothed, but really, it already was. He curls his fingers in Taehyung’s hair, and in this light, all of him looks purple-golden, sunkissed. “You sure? You don’t want to wait for Cambridge? I’ve been thinking about it and you’d look great in a peacoat all the time. Jinhyung could grow up with an English accent. I could totally pretend to have one and drive you crazy with it.”

 

“Seeing as I didn’t apply to Cambridge, I can’t really wait for them,” Taehyung says, his smile knocking into Jeongguk’s heart. He drags his hands up Jeongguk’s waist in that way that makes Jeongguk feel silly, melty and young, says, “This’ll be good. Fuckers don’t even have a graduate program but they have a joint research initiative with NYU. And I’m pretty sure I’ll get that fellowship. So I’m good. I’m set. Staying in the city.”

 

And it’s what Taehyung wants. It just so happens it’s what Jeongguk wants too. “Okay. But let me know if I should practice my accent. I’ll have you swooning over my James Bond impression in no time.”

 

Taehyung laughs like he can’t wait. Sells it when he says, “Well, baby, what are you waiting for? Swoon me.”




---




“Appa?”

 

“Yes, baby?”

 

“How bbb why mmm …” Jinhyung makes a noise, thoughtful like when Jeongguk has stared at the computer for too long, when Taehyung reads a line in a book he’ll spend the next five minutes mulling over. 

 

The living room  floor is covered in old sheets, perfect for catching drips of paint. It’s just the two of them today, a large stretch of paper roll between, water colors of every shade Jeongguk has been able to find in the art shops in town, online stores.

 

Jeongguk paints a wide arc of green. He’s not really painting any one thing. A nebula. A monarch butterfly. The northern lights. Tangles of leaves and flowers. A T. rex with some elaborate tattoos. He feels like a little kid again, making things just to make them. “What is it, Jinhyun-ie? You can ask appa.”

 

Jinhyung is quiet. Then, “How am I here if’z I don’t gots a mommy?”

 

He doesn’t drop his paintbrush. Clutches it tighter. The smile freezes on his face, freefalls all the way to his stomach. 

 

The number of conversations Jeongguk has thought about when to best have with his kid started the moment he held him. How to explain stranger danger. How to explain where his trust with others should always end. How to explain how to wash his hands after going to the bathroom by himself. How to explain the best way to choose things: the right hobby, the right sport, the right clothes, the right career. How to pick the right person to love. 

 

The same way Jinhyung won’t end up picking the person he loves, the same way there isn’t a right anything, Jeongguk hasn’t and won’t always get to choose the right time to have these conversations. The right place. The perfect moment. 

 

All Jeongguk will hopefully teach him is how to tell when it is love. What love doesn’t look like. What it can look like. What it hopefully should feel like. 

 

Resting the brush on the plastic water color holder, Jeongguk asks, “What makes you say that?”

 

Jinhyung blinks his big eyes at him and Jeongguk can already see the places where he’ll look different than Jeongguk when he’s older. Nose a little more arched. Brows thicker. Mouth less of a cupid’s bow. But those eyes. Jeongguk could recognize them anywhere. “‘Cuz there’z no mommy here.” 

 

Out of all those conversations, this is the one Jeongguk has thought of the most. Some would say feared, but right now he isn’t terrified. It isn’t that he doesn’t feel anything, it’s more that he’s feeling everything. It doesn’t matter how many books he’s read, how many “this is how i explained why my kid has a single parent” vlogs and sugar-sweet hopeful movies he’s watched. He wishes Yoongi and Namjoon were here. He hopes for Taehyung to walk through the door this second. 

 

Tilting his head, Jinhyung says, “An’ at school David said all peoples come from a daddy and a mommy. Even peoples wit’ two daddies or two mommies or more. An’ I have a daddy and a daddy, so tha’s two daddies. An I hav’ a Yoogi anddd a Joonie too. But no mommy?” He says this last part like a question, like it’s wrong or something he hasn’t figured out yet and Jeongguk has the answer. “Was David not’e telling th’ trus’th?”

 

It’s his favorite word lately. Truth . For some reason, Taehyung thought Jinhyung was old enough to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and while most of the political commentary sailed over his beautiful tiny head, he latched onto the ideas of some things being real or true and some things being not true. False. Jeongguk doesn’t know if it means he has a future scientist or lawyer or the world’s first and only honest politician on his hands. A wunderkind who’s all three Just a person who wants to know things as they are. 

 

He thinks of his words carefully. Then Jeongguk says, “No. David was telling the truth. You do have a mommy.”

 

“Oh,” Jinhyung says, voice small. He sounds calm, curious. He’s strong for a four year old but he’s really not like Jeongguk. Goes at life teeth first. Had proudly explained to classmates how he used to talk with a b all the time and now he doesn’t need it as much anymore, had gotten the other kids to talk about how they make zzzzz sounds or still go peepee in the bed or haven’t figured out how to tie their shoes yet. How he knows all about dinosaurs and stars and the things under the ocean too. How he says it’s okay to get scared because big people get scared too. Even strong daddies and he has two of them. Now, Jinhyung shrugs, comically casual, and says, “Ohkay. Mmm. Where is she?”

 

“Your mommy,” Jeongguk says and trails off because he’s never figured it out, in all the times he’s imagined this conversation. How it goes. Where it goes. 

 

And for the first time, Jeongguk genuinely believes that Taehyung is right. Not because he hadn’t believed in Taehyung until now. Theories tend to go over Jeongguk’s head. He’s the type that needs to work with his hands. Believes things as he sees them. Pavement to run instead of a stationary bike. Fake money posing as debt. Bets and where to place them. 

 

Love, too. 

 

Maybe that’s all life is. Everyone trying to tell each other stories. Maybe it really is why people started making noise with their mouths all those thousands and thousands of years ago until two of them found they were making sense. Cave paintings just couldn’t cut it anymore. Hands and eyes better suited for other ways to talk. A different way to say I want you, I need you, I love you. 

 

He scoots to the other side of the scroll, closer to where Jinhyung sits, where the purple paint is. Picking up his paintbrush, he asks, “Want to paint the ocean with appa?”

 

Jinhyung nods. Sits himself against Jeongguk’s chest, drags his green-blue smeared brush across the paper in the motion of waves. 

 

The words come. Maybe they’re not enough. They’re the best ones he can think of.

 

“You know how we all take care of each other? You and me and appa and Yoongi and Joonie? We all help each other, make sure everyone is safe and okay?” 

 

“Yea’.” 

 

“When people love each other, when they’re a family, that’s what they do.”

 

This time it’s a head wiggle, soft hair ruffling against Jeongguk’s shirt. 

 

“Sometimes,” and here Jeongguk’s voice breaks, but it doesn’t fully give in. Holds on. He holds on. “Some people can’t take care of someone else. Because they’re the ones who need taking care of.”

 

Jinhyung bumps his head back, looks up at Jeongguk with questioning eyes upside down, and those eyes. Sometimes they feel like his ruin, but really, they’ve always been his salvation. 

 

“Like babies. Like you, when you were a baby. You were too little to take care of yourself. You needed us to take care of you for everything and you couldn’t take care of anyone else yet.”

 

“Bu’ not now ‘cuz I’m all big. Bu’ not as big as Joonie.”

 

“Right,” Jeongguk says, laughs. Jinhyung nudges his motionless hand with his own, so Jeongguk dips his brush, paints some purple against Jinhyung’s green-blue. Who says the ocean can’t be purple anyway? “So sometimes big people are like babies that way. They can’t take care of anyone else. They weren’t taken care of when they were babies or they never learned how to take care of someone else. And sometimes those people are daddies or mommies.”

 

For what feels like forever, the thin hairs of their brushes scratch on the scroll. The ocean takes this dream-like color. Something out of a love story. A fairy tale. 

 

“Mmmm....so’oh… my mommy is no’ here ‘cuz she don’t know how t’ take care of us?”

 

It’s like a wave rising inside of him. Like instead of giving up his first love, his vocal cords got ripped out, exchanged them for legs, for the love of another person instead. It’s his ribs coming apart. The simple way Jinhyung puts it. The simple thing it’s always been. 

 

And Jeongguk knows that they’ll have this conversation again. That when he’s older, Jeongguk will have to explain the specifics, the who, the why, the how. That it’ll be his responsibility to make sure that Jinhyung never for a second of a doubt ever believes it had anything to do with him, who he is as a person. 

 

He shifts, sits so Jinhyung is in his lap, his arms caging him in. And he’s so much bigger than his kid, tough and veiny where Jinhyung is still sort of newborn, a few scars from running in the park, but they hold their paintbrushes in the same way, like every speck of paint matters, spilled for a reason. 

 

“Yeah. That’s why she’s not here.”

 

Jinhyung makes a small hum, then he’s quiet for a long while, too thoughtful for a four-almost-five year old. He starts painting what looks like coral. Maybe a sea monster. Jeongguk is about to speak when he asks, “Bu’ someone’s is taking care of her now? Righ’? They’re showing her how t’ take care so she can know’z how? So she can take care of her too?”

 

For a moment, Jeongguk shuts his eyes. The back of them feel wet, but it isn’t sadness. He lifts his head, brushes Jinhyung’s hair out of his face, looks at the sweet little boy life has given him, all the best parts of him. All the best parts of her. Like life took all the good pieces of both their hearts and left out all the broken ones. “I hope so, baby.”

 

Jinhyung nods like that’s enough. He grips onto Jeongguk’s fingers, his own painted blue and green, Jeongguk’s a mix of purple and orange and a few other dozen shades. “Daddy?”

 

“Hmm?” He doesn’t blink at the way Jinhyung toggles between daddy and appa, but he tends to stick to calling both him and Taehyung the same thing, clings to both of his languages in different ways.

 

“Can big peoples forget? How to take care of someone?”

 

The ocean gets a little blurry, but his voice doesn’t waver as Jeongguk answers, “Sometimes. Sometimes life makes them. But they can learn how to again. You can always learn.”

 

Jinhyung keeps holding his hand, alternates between watching his own work and staring at the colors on Jeongguk’s fingers, his own. He stretches his feet so they knock into the bottom edge of the paper, sock clad toes scrunching the scroll a little. He’s wearing one of Yoongi and Namjoon’s Christmas presents, bright pink Peppa Pig sock on his left foot, an E.T. sock on the right from Taehyung just because. His newfound love for all things space might be signaling a second extinction of the dinosaurs. It might not. It’s one of the magical things about being a kid. You can love things suddenly and immediately. You can love a lot of things. People. Love isn’t a four walled room to a kid. It’s a growing, expanding thing. A kid can love beyond what could physically fit inside their hearts.  

 

“But I want you to know, I’m always going to be here to take care of you. Even when you’re big and you won’t need me to anymore. I’m always going to take care of you, Jinhyung-ah.”

 

“I know,” Jinhyung says like Jeongguk just said something very silly, something so truthful it doesn’t have to be said out loud. “Yoogi say’d when you were little like me you took care of him. His happy. So I know you know how t’ take care of peoples when you were a baby. And you take care of me ‘cuz I’m littler than you but you take care of daddy an’ Joonie an’ Yoogi too and they’re all big so’z I know you know how’z care big peoples too for when I’m big’s too.”

 

His laugh is wet, but how lucky is Jeongguk, that he gets to laugh during this conversation. Make sounds of joy. He owes his brother more than he can ever repay. 

 

He’s glad it’s just him and Jinhyung home now, the way this conversation was always supposed to be. 

 

Little face concerned, Jinhyung twists to look at him, pets at his damp cheeks. “Daddy’s sad?”

 

Jeongguk laughs again, shakes his head. Hugs him close, kisses the top of his head. “No. I’m happy. Sometimes big people cry when they’re happy.”

 

“I don’ like that,” Jinhyung grumbles but he lets himself be hugged, holds Jeongguk’s arms around him, gets blue and green on Jeongguk’s thumb.  

 

Jeongguk asks, “Do you have any other questions?”

 

Jinhyung wiggles his shoulder. He crosses his legs, bony knees tiny on top of Jeongguk’s. His coral has grown fangs. Definitely a sea monster. Maybe from the mesozoic era. Maybe the dinosaurs will stick around for a while. “Wha’ was’z sh’eh like?”

 

The past tense gives Jeongguk pause but Jeongguk decides that’s another conversation for another day. Maybe that’s the only way Jinhyung can think of her. He had a mommy once. Maybe one day he’ll think of her differently. Maybe it won’t matter. He has a Yoogi and Joonie and a daddy and a daddy. It’s enough. Jeongguk will spend his life making sure of it. 

 

The truth is, it’s the way Jeongguk thinks of her too. She was what felt like his first real laugh in a very long time. She made him think it was okay to dream. She made him think anything was possible until she stopped believing that herself. 

 

He wonders if she’s gotten herself back to being that. At least a little bit. He hopes for it with the same intensity he once loved her with. 

 

Resting his chin lightly on Jinhyung’s crown, he watches as he works diligently on turning the inside of the sea monster’s mouth into something that looks like a sun being born, fiery and bright, like it could take out a world as much as give life to it. Jeongguk says, “She really loved to dance.”  

 

“Like tha’ nutcrack?”

 

He means The Nutcracker, his first ever ballet this past Christmas. It feels hard sometimes, all the time, juggling the customs of the world he’s growing up in and the one he comes from, but his favorite part had been the sword fighting, how it was different but still looked like bon kuk geom beop and maybe Jeongguk should worry a little less. He’ll have a mix of worlds. Maybe he’ll always find similarities where most would insist on the differences. “Yeah. Just like that.”

 

Jinhyung ohhhh’s and that seems to be enough, more important is all the creatures in the ocean, the stars sunken deep beneath it, how there might be the last of the dinosaurs down there. 

 

A thought occurs to Jeongguk, and cautiously, he asks, “Did David explain how mommies and daddies get babies?”

 

Jinhyung mmm’s and dread fills Jeongguk’s stomach because he hasn’t quite figured out how to have that conversation yet, and he says, “He sai’dh an alien brings them.”

 

This time, his laugh isn’t wet, but it fills his belly so nicely. His heart. Swims in his ribs and it doesn’t matter if luck is real. Whatever it is. Jeongguk has it in spades. 

 

Jinhyung laughs too, loud and brash and beautiful and airy. Like anything, everything, is possible. 

 

The ocean is purple and softly Jeongguk asks, “Wanna know something else about your mom?”

 

Giggling, Jinhyung nods.

 

And Jeongguk smiles and says, “You laugh just like her.”




---




The trash always comes on Tuesdays. 

 

He takes his time dividing the recycling, colored glass from plastic from metal. The night can’t decide if it wants to be too cold or warm for spring. The housecoat he’s wearing over his sweats is just enough. It’s Taehyung’s because of course it is, bright yellow with a dramatic feather collar that looks like a dead bird but thankfully isn’t it. 

 

After he slams the last bin closed, he stands there on their stoop and breathes. Thinks. Wraps the coat around himself and stares out into the bright darkness, the way this city really never sleeps, even on quiet residential streets. 

 

He could be inside, warm from Taehyung’s arms instead of his coat, and he will. He will be. He’ll go back inside in a second, but he sits on the cold stone of their stoop, presses his knees to his chest as he pulls out a wrinkled folded over envelope from one of the coat’s pockets, and he rips the seam of the envelope open, pulls out the pages, three, and before he can shove them into the paper bin, he’s taking in the words.



  My dearest Jeongguk,

 

Haeundae beach held a lantern festival for the coming Chuseok. I lit one for you, the end of your twenty-fifth year, the beginning of your twenty-sixth. 

 

You’ll never know how sorry I am. 

 

I’ve tried to write you this letter many times but no word ever seemed right or enough. When you were little you never seemed to run out of them. I wondered how you could be mine, I, a woman of so few. I regret not learning how to find them. I regret not learning how to when I could, when I had you and you were mine. 

 

Your brother sends pictures of you and little Jinhyung-ie. I hope this doesn’t make you angry though you have every right to be. Please do not be cross with him. For a long time, I told myself your father and I had done the right thing. That you would grow and see what a hard thing being a parent is, so young and on your own. Now, I see that you were the one who was right. I thought you a child but you did the adult thing when no one else expected you to. I wanted the best future for you but I see now I never should have worried though possibly you’ll forgive me this one thing as I could never help but worry about you. As your mother it was, and is, all I could do. 

 

Jinhyung is beautiful and you have turned out to be everything and more than I could have dreamed of. 

 

You’ll never know how much I regret it. 

 

Regret is a part of life, Jeongguk-ah. 

 

Make yours the sort you can live with. 

 

Take care, my son. 

 

I’ll love you until long after my last breath. 

 

Mom 



He sits for long minutes. He’s not thinking. He’s not anything. 

 

Everyone is inside, home, asleep. His family is okay, safe. There’s isn’t anything else Jeongguk has to do tonight. 

 

When he gets up, his knees crack like they’re frozen over. 

 

He goes inside, makes sure the front door is locked. That all the lights are out. Checks that Jinhyung is sound asleep. 

 

In the bedroom, Taehyung is sleeping. His glasses are still on his face, a book and his phone with the screen opaque next to him. He’s doing that funny thing he does with his mouth, a snore that shows all his teeth. Jeongguk slips the house coat off, heart swelling at the sight of him. 

 

He checks on the monstera plant as he approaches the bed. It’s a new addition from the few that have made the trip down from the loft. Taehyung uses it mostly as a study now, an urbanized greenhouse. Sometimes he’ll stay up late reading, fall asleep up there, and Jeongguk won’t notice until he’s crawling into their bed at five in the morning, reaching for Jeongguk’s body like his hands were empty as he slept and woke up wondering what they were missing. 

 

He tries to be quiet, not disturb him as he places the glasses and book on the night table, the phone in its charger, but Taehyung can be a light sleeper, always has an ear out for cries or a tiny hand reaching for their doorhandle or a faint appa

 

“Was’ wondering when you were comin’ to bed,” he says, voice scratchy, slurred. His mouth shapes around a yawn. Gaze bleary, he holds an arm out. “Come ‘ere. Need ta’ hold you.”

 

Jeongguk doesn’t question it, goes. Curls himself into Taehyung’s chest, his arm draping across his back. He’s wearing the new fuzzy sweater he got on their last outing to a thrift shop because Jinhyung needed new pants, and the fuzzies stick to Jeongguk’s lips but he doesn’t care. He needs to be held too. 

 

Taehyung says, “I was dreaming ‘bout you.”

 

Nuzzling his nose into the fuzziness, Jeongguk chokes out, “Yeah?”

 

“Mhhm.”

 

“Was I doing something cool? Or sexy?”

 

Taehyung laughs lightly. His hands have started working at the muscles in Jeongguk’s back, threading through his hair. On Jeongguk. Where he likes to think Taehyung’s hands belong. Where they say the most. “Don’t know. Can’t remember. But I woke up, and I knew I needed to be holding you.” 

 

He tries to keep his sniffles quiet but Taehyung hears them. Of course he does. 

 

Sleep tripped fingers sliding across Jeongguk’s face, careful but eager to make sure, assure, himself or both of them, he asks, “Gguk?”

 

Jeongguk lets it wash over him. The anguish. The hurt. “I read the letter. The letter I got. Last summer. Do you remember?”

 

“Yeah. ‘course.”

 

“It was from my mom. It wasn’t- Taehyung, it was my mom.” 

 

Taehyung doesn’t stop touching him. Asks, “Are you okay?”

 

And the dam should break, wreak sobs from Jeongguk’s throat, but nothing comes out. Dries it all instead. He shakes his head against Taehyung’s softness. Nods after, because he is that too. Okay and not. 

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

Jeongguk pulls back to look at him, still so close. “Yes,” he says, but then, “But not tonight.”

 

Taehyung says, “Okay,” like that’s enough. 

 

Like it really is okay.  

 

Hands at his back, Taehyung starts stroking back and forth, like he’s trying to get his blood flowing a little faster, chase the frozen out. 

 

“You’re cold,” he says quietly. 

 

Jeongguk hums, face in his neck, lips dusted in fuzzies. They’ll bother him later but not now. It’s too little, against all the other things that matter so much. “So warm me up.” 

 

And maybe they talk to each other in dreams. Maybe they look at each other and just know. Maybe none of that’s true. Maybe it’s just that they’ve made it this far, that they’re here, that they’re together. 

 

Maybe that’s enough. 




---




They visit the cherry blossoms in April. 

 

He tells Jinhyung about the Jinhae Gunhangjae festival, the bus ride to the port city. How you can step off the train in Hwagae and see them immediately. Tells him how he used to think of Busan as the center of the world. Ocean. Forest. Song. Anything a little boy who dreamed could need. 

 

Jinhyung takes it all in with wonder. Catches the delicate pink flowers in his palms, shows a shy boy, younger and smaller, that it’s okay to walk through the fallen ones. How it makes it easier to catch them, toss them in the air so they fly again. 

 

“He’s going to be prom king as a junior if he keeps this up,” Jeongguk says, watching as another kid comes up, pigtails weaving, gasping when a caterpillar makes it’s away from the flower in Jinhyug’s palm to the tip of his finger, and did you know flowers came from stars? did you know everything does? “I’m blaming you for that.”

 

Taehyung’s laugh is good natured. Sweet. “I’ll take that blame. But I was never prom king.”

 

Jeongguk quirks a brow. Despite his rough start, Taehyung ended highschool well liked. Well loved. Jeongguk can’t imagine him any other way. 

 

“I may or may not have been on the homecoming committee,” Taehyung concedes, shoulders shrugging, guilessly. “But I was never king.”

 

He doesn’t sound bitter about it but Jeongguk still knocks their shoulders together, throws him an obnoxious winky face from his side of the trunk they have their backs pressed to, cherry blossoms all around them. “Don’t worry, I can totally make you my king.”

 

Grinning, Taehyung squints at him, holds a fist to chest. “You always get me. Right here.”

 

Jeongguk scoffs, laughs. “Why?”

 

“Because,” Taehyung says, and with all the cherry blossoms, he looks like a Goryeo era prince, a warrior from the Joseon dynasty, “you’re already mine.”

 

Up and down the path, people look at the trees, gaze out at the river, and the Potomac looks nothing like the Han River, like the sea near Busan, but it’s comforting, that there are places that are so different yet remind him of home anyway. People too. 

 

Three days in D.C. hasn’t really been much for its face value but it’s all the other things. Jinhyung’s excitement on the plane, the little apartment off Dupont Circle, buying souvenirs for Namjoon and Yoongi, taking Jinhyung to explore the space museum while Taehyung was at his conference, the wonder on both their faces when they saw the Natural History museum all three of them together. They’d even gone to a show at a festival and the music was loud and fast and wild, Jinhyung sitting on Jeongguk’s shoulders, towering and giddy above the crowd. 

 

Now, he’s thinking about getting Jinhyung his passport. All the places they could go. Busan, even. Someday. 

 

Now, he finds a cherry blossom petal in Taehyung’s hair. Sweeps the bangs on his forehead behind his ear just because. Because he can. “You keep sweet talking me so often, you’re going to run out of things to say.”

 

“Not possible,” Taehyung says, smiles like he knows something Jeongguk doesn’t. “We’ll be old and wrinkly and I’ll still find fresh ways to say the cutest shit to you.”

 

And Jeongguk doesn’t know if that’s possible. He’s excited to find if he can hold Taehyung to that. When they’re old. And wrinkly. 

 

When they head back to the apartment, they ask Jinhyung where he thinks he’d like to go next, what he wants to see, explore. They walk hand in hand, their kid between them. 




---




“- so I’ve still got another year left.”

 

It’s barely May, but summer is in full bloom. 

 

Jeongguk turns his eyes to slits. It’s hard to see with all this sun. He smiles, asks, “How salty are you he beat you to it?”

 

Instead of a sharp look, the arch of a perfect brow, Joohyun laughs. “Oh, completely salty. But he’s such a nerd, I can’t hold it against him.” She looks out to where Jeongguk is scanning the crowd, teeth edged but in an endeared way. “He’s been working towards being Dr. Kim Taehyung since before I even figured out I wanted a Ph.D. He can have this one.”

 

“But only this one?”

 

“Only this one,” she confirms, presses her stacked heels into the unstable grass. Jeongguk has seen her in all sorts of dress over the years but it’s strange to see her so put together versus the pile of sweaters she was in her shared office with Taehyung he first knew her as. Like the trip down memory lane is clear on his face, she says, “You know, I was really happy for him when he said you two were together.”

 

Jeongguk is only surprised because it’s been almost a year now. Just about. They’ve crossed paths more than a few times, at dinners, at the occasional not-very-swanky-at-all jazz club performance, the lunch dates that always end in Jeongguk dropping Taehyung off at his office. “Really?”

 

“Really. You make him smile. I mean, he’s Taehyung, so he always smiles, but it was like he had something to smile about.”

 

“He makes me smile too,” Jeongguk says. Feels it on his face. Lots of things do now, but Taehyung’s just really good at it. 

 

Then she says, “Speaking of.”

 

Jeongguk looks up and it’s like the sea parts or something and the sun is that much sunnier, Taehyung with Jinhyung hanging off his back emerging from the crowd, Taehyung’s graduation cap threatening to slide off his much smaller head. 

 

“Appa! We met de’ dean!”

 

Taehyung swings Jinhyung from off his shoulders, sets him on his hip and helps him slide down when he gestures downward because Jinhyung’s a big peoples now, he only needs to be held sometimes. It only kills Jeongguk a lot. “Yep. And he was only kind of a k-c-i-d.”

 

Jinhyung sounds the letters out. Frowns at Taehyung. Points to himself. “K’id? Appa, I’m a kid.”

 

Jeongguk winces at Taehyung’s grimace but then he just laughs. They seriously need to find an effective way to swear around Jinhyung. Maybe not swear at all. Maybe just swear, let it be less of a shocker when he inevitably hears it yelled across the playground, on some random video online he’ll figure out how to get past the parent blocker to watch. The spelling has got to go though. He’s already starting to read. Slow, but surely. He’ll be eating up all sorts of books about dinosaurs and asteroids and legends about gods and princesses and everything else before Jeongguk knows it. 

 

Raising a hand, Jeongguk pokes the edge of the cap, fixes Jinhyung’s dress shirt collar where it’s stuck up. He looks like a mini Ralph Lauren commercial, pocketless khakis and oxford style shoes because it was daddy’s big important day, daddy! and he insisted on dressing himself to the nines. “Were you very polite to appa’s colleagues?”

 

Jinhyung nods, beams a smile. Then he asks, “Appa? What’s a collyyygueh?”

 

While Jeongguk explains, Joohyun gives Taehyung a noogie despite being almost an entire foot tinier than him. “Congrats, shithead!” she says, because her philosophy is to never mince words around children and she and Jeongguk have reached a compromise that the line is drawn at anything that starts with a c, an f, or involving the word ass. “You get to be paid to be a nerd now. Livin’ the dream, boy wonder.” 

 

Taehyung grunts, clearly put out but even more clearly ecstatically happy. His eyes land on Jeongguk and the happiness is just as ecstatic, if quieter. More grounded. 

 

“Hey, Jinhyung-ah,” Joohyun says, finally setting Taehyung’s head free. She doesn’t have a hair out of place and while she’s way less terrifying than when Jeongguk was a kid crying in her office, he’ll always be mystified by her. He’s pretty sure that’s how she likes it. “Want to go find your uncles? Pretty sure they said they were getting you a snack.”

 

At the mention of food, Jinhyung immediately takes her hand, carelessly throws a bye daddy! bye daddy! over his shoulder, leads the way, Joohyun nudging Taehyung’s side playfully. 

 

Jeongguk sighs after them. “Abandoned for a fruit bar.” He watches the confident way Jinhyung walks, shoulders tall and back straight, and the circle of people Jeongguk trusts with his kid isn’t that much wider, but so far it hasn’t hindered Jinhyung at all. 

 

Taehyung laughs. Shakes out his hair. He tucks his chin towards his chest, looks up at Jeongguk, shy but cute about it. “Hi,” he says. 

 

“Hi.” Jeongguk smiles. Bigger than his face can contain. Surely, bigger than his heart can. “I’m really proud of you. You did well.”

 

“Thank you,” Taehyung says and his voice does that thing Jeongguk only really noticed with Jinhyung first, soft and careful. Deliberate. 

 

Running the back of his hand along Taehyung’s honors sash, he gestures to his commencement gown, fancy dress shoes poking out of the bottom. “So. How’s it feel to be back in one of these?”

 

“Surprisingly comfortable. Polyester’s a lot more breathable than I remember.”

 

“It’s weird seeing you in a graduation gown. All studently. You’re like Professor X in my mind. Or Magneto. But cooler. And way hotter.”

 

“Oh, I’m so hotter but they’re both still cooler. I can’t bend stuff with my mind. Or read them.”

 

Jeongguk’s shoes crunch over grass. The edges of Taehyung’s robes graze him but he doesn’t mind. He’s never minded the summer heat. Sun. “I don’t know. You’re pretty good at reading mine. And who needs to bend stuff through mind-control when they’ve got hands like yours?”

 

The laugh Taehyung pushes into his mouth doesn’t taste like summer. Like cool flowing water in the middle of a forest. It tastes like Taehyung’s mouth, wintergreen toothpaste and citrus tea. The bagel he had for breakfast this morning because it’s his big day. He can have whatever he wants. 

 

“So, Dr. Kim Taehyung,” he says against Taehyung’s chin, his cheek. Ignores Taehyung’s not that kind of doctor because that joke got old fast. “Now that you’ve won the academic world series, what are you gonna do? Go to Disney World?”

 

Taehyung grins. “Sure, if that’s what Jinhyung wants. Wouldn’t mind some Minnie Mouse ears myself.”

 

And that’s really sweet but Jeongguk lingers, asks, “No, really. What do you want?”

 

Taehyung actually thinks about it, gaze narrowing consideringly, before he smiles again, says, “A lot of things. Mostly just to look at you for another second because, yeah, the world’s my oyster or however it goes, but you’re still the best thing I’ve ever seen. But, hey. Are you ready?”

 

Jeongguk straightens out. Stands tall. He isn’t ready. Maybe that means he is. He asks, “Should we get Jinhyung?”

 

“I told Yoongi to bring him out front in a bit. I just- I thought it’d be more comfortable for him if you met them first.” 

 

Warmth fills Jeongguk’s veins. His heart sings. “Okay. I’m totally not ready but let’s do it anyway.”

 

With an easy laugh, Taehyung takes his hand, knots their fingers together. The swooping sleeve of the graduation gown hides them but with the way they walk so close together, it isn’t hard to tell they’re holding hands. 

 

They walk up to the brick path, students and faculty milling by. Jeongguk asks, “How annoyed will you be if I ask how likely is it you think anyone remembers I was your student once?”

 

Taehyung tugs on his hand, but he doesn’t let go. “You’re already asking the annoying question, babe. And probably no one seeing as you graduated from the soul sucking business school.”

 

“Aww, but you like it when I suck.”

 

“Yeah, but not right now,” Taehyung bites out, mushes the words lovingly against the side of Jeongguk’s face, and says, “Now, wise up, darling. I’m still looking at you ,” and then he looks ahead, smiles even wider, “Hey! Is that one of those terrible Kim boys, I see?”

 

A woman turns and she has Taehyung’s eyes, and the man standing next to her has his jaw, and then there are four boys, some of them almost men, and in pictures they look exactly like him, but in the flesh they’re each their own person. 

 

Someone says, “Hyung!”

 

Jeongguk smiles. 




---




The street is lined by trees, perfectly pruned domes of shade. Perfect amount of light. 

 

“Can’t believe you’re doing this to us, hyung.”

 

“I am doing shit to you.”

 

“No, really. Of all places? You could’ve at least moved us to Queens.”

 

“Everyone knows Manhattan is dead and gone. Last one to figure that out is apparently you. Now, pick up at least another two boxes. I know those muscles aren’t just for pony showing.”

 

They aren’t but Jeongguk gives a long suffering sigh, picks up another three boxes just because. 

 

Yoongi pulls the back of the truck closed but doesn’t lock the latch. It’s so quiet here, traffic a distant afterthought. It feels like the kind of place where nothing happens. Just quiet people living quiet lives. It almost makes Jeongguk want to fuss, fidget. 

 

He follows Yoongi up the steps, sets the bottom two boxes in the living room, carts the last one into the kitchen. It’s spacious than their current one but sparse. Jeongguk wonders if they’ll get a wine cooler, if Namjoon will fill it with bonsai, a bigger herb garden. 

 

“Brooklyn’s not that bad.”

 

The backyard is visible from the kitchen nook’s bay window. Flowered shrubs. A young crabapple tree shoots up from the ground. Maybe they can fit some chairs under it. A hammock. 

 

“Good schools. Good food.Sure it’s gentrified as shit, but what isn’t in our lives at this point?”

 

Jeongguk hums. He turns, asks, “When did you say the furniture movers are coming?” 

 

“Saturday,” Yoongi says, stares at him for a second. Then he gestures with his shoulder, backs out of the kitchen. “Come on, pack mule. Let’s get the rest.”

 

They unload the rest of the truck and then they get sorbet pops from the parlor a block away, walk back at a leisurely pace, and the neighborhood is nice, brick fronted buildings and tons of places to eat. A bookstore and a clinic and a pet groomer. 

 

“Maybe Brooklyn’s not that bad,” Jeongguk concedes as they sit on the front stoop, eat their treats. Lemon orange drips on his knee despite how fast he’s eating. Maybe this will finally be the hottest summer of his life. 

 

Yoongi snorts, shade catching on his cheek as he wipes it with the sleeve of his t-shirt, a Japanese bear cartoon on the front. Definitely Namjoon’s. He says, “You haven’t unpacked anything.”

 

“I know,” Jeongguk says, rubbing at his knees. It’s been a gradual process of moving. Months of Namjoon and Yoongi going to see places. Almost saying yes five times before they finally did. Actually moving has been even slower. Today was round two of bringing stuff over. Even Jinhyung has been more diligent about packing, making sure he has the right box for the kid telescope Taehyung got him in celebration of completing a whole year of preschool. 

 

“Have you and Taehyung talked about-”

 

“We’re on a timeline,” he says because they are. They’ve talked about it. Tentatively looked at places. Dreamed a little. He stares at his popsicle, a strange feeling lacing around his ribcage.

 

“Jeongguk-ah.”

 

It’s the seriousness in his brother’s voice that makes him look up, but when he turns to Yoongi, he’s smiling. It’s small, barely lifts the corners of his mouth but it’s so there on his face, it might as well be all teeth and gums. 

 

“Life doesn’t have a timeline. You’ve been going after the things you want again. Don’t stop now just because it’s something you really want and it’s scary.” 

 

Because of course Jeongguk does. A house. A home. He has one. He knows he could have one with Yoongi and Namjoon still. But he’s basically moved Taehyung into his bedroom, has made space for him in all the places that matter. It’s not so crazy to want to create a space that’s just their own with him too. 

 

“What if it ruins us? Doing the actual grown up thing?” he asks, not because he doubts Taehyung and him, but because he doesn’t. Everyone always says they doubt, so is it okay if Jeongguk doesn’t? 

 

Yoongi pokes him with the dried end of his popsicle stick. Gets melted green tea on Jeongguk’s shorts anyway. “You and Taehyung have been co-parenting a kid for three years give or take. You’ve raised plant babies together. You guys have been doing the grown up thing for a while. Now you’ll just send a monthly payment to a homeowners association. Pay a co-op fee if you’re lucky.”

 

“Shouldn’t you be telling us to rent before buying? Walk before you run?”

 

Shrugging, Yoongi bites into the last of his pop, the edges around his mouth green. “Whatever floats your boat, little brother. But you and Taehyung have been speeding and then suddenly trying to stop when you realize there might be a cliff drop. Pretty sure you two will catch each other if you fall, though I doubt you will. You have great reflexes and he’s tougher than he looks.”

 

“Hey, Taehyung’s tough,” Jeongguk defends. “He can totally do thirty-five pound bicep curls without whining now thanks to me. It’s really great.”

 

And it is. Most days Taehyung does his circuits at the gym on his own at 6am but sometimes they go together on weekends. Some mornings they’ll skip and exchange sloppy kissed up handjobs in bed instead. They go on distance runs if the weather is good enough or hit the active parks around town with Jinhyung, watch him toddle the courses in his cool as shit running shoes. It’s all great. 

 

“My point,” Yoongi entones, and Jeongguk really doesn’t have to be fantasizing about Taehyung’s biceps right now, does he? “Is that Taehyung hasn’t unpacked either.”

 

And then Yoongi turns to the street, watches a girl walking her dog go by, a bird jump from branch to branch. He doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get Jeongguk to finish his sorbet, to get on the road, back to the apartment, to go. 

 

Maybe life is slower in Brooklyn. Maybe Jeongguk won’t get to find out, occasionally visit this slower life instead. 

 

“Hyung?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

Shoulders rising, he almost tells him about what their mom said in the letter. About Jinhyung and the pictures, how their mom knows what her grandson looks like, how much he looks like her own son. He almost points out that it’s been a while since Yoongi’s called him kid, a whole conversation even. He almost tells Yoongi he’s proud of him too, the man he is, the man he’s becoming. The brother he’s always been. 

 

He looks at his brother, says, “The house is really beautiful, hyung. I’m really happy for you guys.”

 

Yoongi grins, beams really, and most people wouldn’t call his brother a bright person, but most of them don’t know him the way Jeongguk does. Not even Yoongi himself. “Back at you, Gguk-ah.”




---




“How much further?”

 

“Just a bit. Watch your step, there’s trash on the curb.”

 

“Babe. It’s New York. There’s trash on every part of every curb.”

 

That’s true, but Jeongguk has other things to worry about right now. Like, making sure Taehyung doesn’t trip. Making sure they get to where they’re going. All sorts of directional type things. He’ll look up some local clean up initiatives when they get home. Figure out what thier probably overpaid government reps are doing about this. Jeongguk is a well informed person. He’s a dad. He cares about these things. 

 

But mostly, he’s just trying to keep Taehyung upright. 

 

Foot missing his next step, Taehyung stumbles, and from behind him, Jeongguk tightens his grip on his arms, guides him toward the inside of the sidewalk away from the road. 

 

Taehyung makes a belligerent complaint or five while Jeongguk checks on the scarf he has wrapped around Taehyung’s eyes, messes with the knot at the back of his head. “Are you sure you can’t see? Wait. How many fingers am I holding up?”

 

“Seeing as I almost ate shit, no, Jeongguk, I can’t. And you could be holding your dick in front of my face and, trust me, as much as I’d want to, I still wouldn’t be able to see.”

 

Jeongguk hmmphs, kisses Taehyung’s nape exposed by his shirt, the collar all swoopy and exposing his neck down to his collarbones, and man, Jeongguk really loves summer. “Quit being a baby. We’re almost there.”

 

Taehyung digs his heels for a second, laughs when Jeongguk easily pushes him forward the next. “Fine. But if this is some creepy sex thing I’m going to end up enjoying a lot, you’re going to have to make it up to me.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. You like all the sex things with me.”

 

All the sex things ? Can you believe I’ve never corrected your grammar? I must really like you, huh? You should definitely be nicer to me all things considered.”

 

And Taehyung can complain all he wants but he’s literally told Jeongguk grammar is an ever evolving living breathing system and people who act like it’s a set in stone structure suck and he’s the first person to put up a fight if Jeongguk is ever less than painstakingly nice to himself, so Jeongguk is definitely going to ignore most of everything he says for the next five minutes. 

 

It’s another two blocks and then he stops them, pivots Taehyung to their right, stops again. “We’re here.”

 

“Cool. Can I take the blindfold off now?”

 

“Nope. Now hold your breath and take ooooone giant step.”

 

Taehyung actually goes through the motion of inhaling, his chest rising, before he stops, his disdain almost palpable, and wow Jeongguk loves him so much he might explode from it. “You know, I’ve never regretted being in love with you, and I still don’t now, but this is making me think about thinking about it.”

 

“Mhhhm. Move it, sparky. To infinity and beyond and all that jazz.”

 

Taehyung guffaws but he sounds delighted about it and he lets Jeongguk guide him up the steps. Waits patiently while a lock clicks, follows Jeongguk’s hands on his, guiding him forward now. 

 

Jeongguk stops when they reach an open space, keeps Taehyung’s hands in his. 

 

Again, Taehyung waits, that tiny wrinkle in his forehead, and the curiosity is sparking off his body, but still he waits, thumbs stroking the back of Jeongguk’s gently. 

 

Jeongguk draws a breath but all of a sudden he’s so calm. He doesn’t know what he was so worried about. He can say anything to Taehyung. It’s okay to want things with him too. He and Taehyung will figure it out. “Okay. You can say no, to this, or the entire concept of it, but I want this with you. I think we’re ready for it- actually. I don’t know if we are. If anyone ever is. But I want it. I want it with you.”

 

“Gguk,” Taehyung says, and his voice isn’t shaking, but it’s like every sound smacks against his tongue, makes it resonate. “If you don’t take this blindfold off me I’m going to think it’s the sex dungeon thing again and I already told you, my jealousy is massively in check now and you’re completely in your right to your sexual fantasies, but I can’t share you with anyone else. Or share me with anyone else.”

 

There’s lots of things Jeongguk could do now. Roll his eyes. Laugh. Smack Taehyung lovingly upside the head. Instead, he draws his fingers through Taehyung’s hair, grabs the back of the fabric covering his eyes, pulls. 

 

Vision regained, Taehyung blinks. Says, “Hey! That’s my scarf.” Then he blinks again, everywhere. “ Oh .”

 

Like something out of a movie, he gives a slow spin, skims his eyes along the high arched ceilings, the strategically placed windows so light comes in but it doesn’t feel like the whole street can stare in. He ends up where he started, looking at Jeongguk, actually seeing him this time. 

 

Lips tugging upward, Taehyung says, “Was kind of expecting you down on one knee.”

 

Jeongguk raises a brow. “Should I be?” 

 

Taehyung hums, shakes his head. Asks, “What are we doing here, baby?” even though it’s obvious. 

 

So it’s obvious, and Jeongguk says, “Move in with me. Let’s move in together. Here or somewhere else. But I want a place that’s just ours. Your’s and Jinhyung’s and mine. I don’t care what it looks like as long as it gets a lot of sun, but I want us to start our lives together. I want us to have a home.”

 

Taehyung goes to speak, but Jeongguk holds a hand up, says, 

 

“I’m going to quit my job. Not now, obviously, but some day. And, uh, the app’s live-”

 

“It is?” Taehyung asks, eyes wide, and it’s not the most romantic thing in the world that he’s pulling his phone out right now, but he’s doing it because of Jeongguk so he’ll let it slide. They’ve seen each other feverish with flu, sick with almost hangovers, puffy eyed with too much sleep. Romantic means different things to different people. Maybe the things they find romantic are only so to them. 

 

It isn’t Jeongguk’s life work or anything. Not yet anyway. But he wants to use the things he’s learned, the deep underbelly of how the rich get richer, for something good. Even if it’s just giving the people who most need it the tools on how to do more than just survive. “Yeah. But the point is- I want to go after the things I want. I want to actually do them. And I want to ask for them. And I know we talked about the right time and money and rent is crazy, But we’ve both been responsible and Columbia’s so desperate to have you make their dumb non-linguistics department look good and your book’s coming out, and yeah. Why wait? I don’t want to live by fear anymore. I want to grab life by the bull or whatever, you know?”

 

Taehyung looks up at him, glances back down at his phone for a second, and Jeongguk isn’t nervous anymore but he feels split open, like his ribs have finally cracked. Then Taehyung turns his phone over and at first Jeongguk blinks dumbly at it, but then he realizes what he’s seeing. 

 

Oh .”

 

“I haven’t gone to see any of them. Wanted to get a couple listings together before talking to you,” Taehyung says, his phone screen showing multiple places for rent, a few to buy, and despite the night hour the apartment is bright but it can’t show up Taehyung’s grin. “So, yeah. Let’s move in together.”

 

“Okay,” Jeongguk says, his own smile close to vibrating on his mouth. “Now?”

 

Taehyung chortles, teeth on display as he laughs. Grabs his hands. “Okay. Let me check the place out first before I sign my name on the lease, though.”

 

It’s not a huge space, two rooms and a study that can pose as a third, but the open plan gives the sense that this is the sort of space where you can breathe, ceilings up high, wrought iron stairs leading up to a loft that hangs overhead. Airy. Solace in the city. 

 

They end up in the kitchen which seems like the biggest room in the apartment, and Taehyung stops, makes a curious noise. 

 

“Hmm. There is a bed in this kitchen.”

 

“Yeah, some European guy from the office was living here for a few months. He really didn’t want to make it a permanent thing. Ended up being sent along to the office they opened in Brussels apparently.” 

 

“Hmm,” Taehyung says again. Kicks at the plastic covering, less of a bed, more of a mattress in the middle of the dining room, not an eating table to be seen. He shoots Jeongguk a look, dark and bright, their fingers tangled hotly together. “You said was living?”

 

Jeongguk narrows his eyes but his heart kicks, Taehyung’s thumb tracing the middle line in his palm, and when their eyes meet, heat is already pooling in his belly, and he says, “I mean, we have a blindfold and everything,” and he isn’t sure if he means it, but it makes Taehyung laugh, makes him yank Jeongguk forward, bury his tongue in his mouth. 

 

They don’t end up using the blindfold, but they do end up on the mattress making a mess of each other. Hot hands getting just the right amount of clothes out of the way, searching mouths everywhere else. The plastic covering makes it hotter so it’s almost not worth it, until it very much is, a stray packet of lube pulled out of Jeongguk’s wallet because when you have an almost five year old, finding time ot have sex is an art and there might as well be a reason the bathroom at the tiny black and white theater they’ve had more than a few dates at is a single cubicle. The whole thing is squeaky and loud. They laugh too much, giggly teeth scraping skin, Jeongguk’s leg cramping from trying to hold his knee against his shoulder with half his pants still on, Taehyung soothing the hurt with his mouth.  

 

After, they stare up at the ceiling, catching their breaths, the sudden quiet startling but not awkward or unwelcome. Warm, really. It’s one of Jeongguk’s favorite things about Taehyung, about them. They can talk but they can also just share space, their silences sweet. 

 

Eventually, Taehyung sighs. Reaches over, plays with the hair at the top of Jeongguk’s head. “Guess we have to say yes to this place now. What with marking our territory and everything.”

 

Jeongguk makes a happy noise, eyelids fluttering, the soothing motions in his hair. They can’t fall asleep here but he can close his eyes for a minute, press into the warmth of Taehyung’s hand. “Only one who marked anything was you.”

 

“Nah. Pretty sure that’s your cum on the tiles. It’s definitely all over my scarf.”

 

“Shhh.” He blindly paws at Taehyung’s mouth, grunts when Taehyung traps his fingers between his teeth. “I’ll buy you ten new scarfes. Just let me nap for a second. Two seconds.”

 

Plastic squeaks and Taehyung’s heat is closer, his voice warm when he says, “Okay.” Soothes Jeongguk’s fingers with a kiss, lets Jeongguk’s hand flop over his cheek. “You can have ten.”

 

The ten seconds go by. A whole minute. Longer. Maybe Jeongguk falls asleep and that toughness Taehyung covers up with his gentleness shows its head and he carries Jeongguk some of the way home, calls a car when his arms get tired a few blocks out. 

 

There’s a hand touching Jeongguk’s face. A voice says, “Hey.”

 

Jeongguk rubs his face into what he’s leaning on, where he expects hard plastic is soft cotton, a softer chest. “Nnngh?”

 

“Hey. I want to ask you something. You can say no, to the whole concept if you want, but I have to ask. Want to do that thing you said. Grab life by the bull. You know, the horns. The balls too while I’m at it.”

 

Sleepily, Jeongguk’s heart skips. His ribs unfurl, let go of expectation. Fear. Doubt. 

 

He opens his eyes. 

 

His heart calms.

 

There’s no daylight, but the room is full of sun. 




      ---




On their last night in the townhouse, Jeongguk sits alone in his bedroom.

 

He’s the only one home. Namjoon and Yoongi have taken Jinhyung to that new history of color exhibit at the Natural History Museum, Taehyung at a club performance. 

 

It’s not his bedroom anymore, hasn’t been so for months, always thinks of it in terms of theirs. Taehyung’s books stacked neatly on the small bookshelf they found at a shop near the farmer’s market. The flowering green nephthytis and the pots of golden pothos. A framed poster of Sun Ra, his signature in looping script at the bottom. But he feels nineteen again, the last night in his childhood home, how at the moment it would never have occurred to him to think he’d never be back. 

 

He stares at his phone. 

 

The last of the boxes are packed. All of Jinhyung’s things put away, the canvas Jeongguk and Namjoon painted for him rolled up and ready to hit the road. He has to meet everyone for dinner soon, get across town during rush-hour. 

 

And still, he stares at his phone. 

 

He picks it up. Taps over to his contacts. Scrolls and stops on a name, the script spelling it out both foreign and not.

 

Hovering over the contact details, his finger lingers over the last line, the one that tells you whether someone has been blocked or not, the window that pops up to ask if you’d like to unblock this caller, warn you that should you block them you won’t receive calls, texts, anything from them. They might as well not exist. 

 

Jeongguk presses on the screen. Then he presses it again. Holds the phone up to his ear. 

 

It rings. It rings and rings and Jeongguk’s ribs don’t feel heavy. He doesn’t feel heavy. He doesn’t feel like a heavy thing to be carried, a burden bitterly supported, put up with. 

 

The ringing stops. There’s a high pitched inhale, a voice that trembles like howling winter. “Jeongguk-ah?”

 

The world isn’t so heavy either. 

 

Jeongguk says,

안녕 엄마.




---




The lights aren’t blinding. 

 

In his childlike memory, they have the brightness of a million suns. All encompassing heat. For the longest time, the only thing Jeongguk could see, the thing always in his mind’s eye. 

 

He’d wanted this so much. He’d ached for this so much. 

 

Lights to blind him. Nothing but his voice to carry him home. 

 

“So...I’ve never done this before.”

 

His breath hits the mic and the room erupts in static. Wincing, he reaches for the stand, adjusts the height, tries again. 

 

“That’s better, right? More like a voice, less like a computer dying.” A few people are nice enough to laugh and he smiles, centers the weight on his lap, his own weight better on his seat, the stool more flimsy than it first looked. “Yeah, so, like I said, I’ve never done this before. In front of a crowd, I mean. The guitar thing, especially. It’s a new skill I’m trying! Trying to learn with my kid who picked it out as his instrument of choice. Yeah, bond with your kids, man. And yes, I am old enough to have a kid. I just look crazy young. Asian genes are, like, legit, man.”

 

Laughter again, heartier this time. 

 

His eyes land on the table nearest to the front, the different sets of eyes there with varying degrees of mortification and softness. A pair in particular encouraging and bright, like someone dipped them in the sun’s least harmful rays before sticking them in his eye-sockets. 

 

Jeongguk gives a little laugh, says, “I’d apologize, but it’s open mic. You all know what you signed up for! But I will ask you to be just a little nice. The loves of my life are here and I’d like to not fully embarrass them. And before you say anything, one of them is my son, and before you say anything to that, it’s all ages and one pm on a Sunday, what are most of you doing here, shouldn’t you be at brunch?”

 

Someone yells fuck brunch , man, and Jinhyung, instead of delighting in the free reign of cuss words, makes swinging motions with his hands, a clear get on with it dad! like he can tell how nervous Jeongguk is, a gentle push forward needed. Next to him, Yoongi is scanning the crowd, glaring at whoever just yelled, his hands securing the tiny body to his lap, his phone in even tinier ones, color of light from whatever game he’s playing swirling across his tiny face. Namjoon pays no mind, angling his camera at Jeongguk, ready to record every second of his first performance glory, and it isn’t how Jeongguk imagined it, the various ideations of it. No KBS film crew, make up caked over his face, a routine he could do blindly, even in his sleep. No smoky club in the alternative student district. No festival lineup shouting his name. No late night tv host saying and now for the first time making his television debut!....

 

Tomorrow, he’ll wake up. Go to work. Make some rich bastard even richer, even more of a bastard. Pick his kid up from school, talk about their days, take him to swim practice. Meet Taehyung at home, make dinner together, help Jinhyung with his homework while Taehyung corrects essays and tries not to pop a vessel, laugh himself silly at the things freshman think they can get away with, get stupified at the amazing ways some of their minds can think, see language, use it to try and say what they mean. He’ll log on his desktop, try to figure out this one bug on the stock watch page on the app, have a late meeting with their translator coding the AI in Spanish, listen to Soohyun prattle on about how they have to have a Chinese version too because everything’s in China, man, we gotta be in China. Then he’ll crawl in bed, Jinhyung already asleep in his, and maybe he and Taehyung will read side by side before falling asleep, watch an old movie, some dumb show. Make out a little if they’re up for it. They usually are.

 

But that’s tomorrow.

Today, now, he twists one of the pegs on the guitar, comes close to the mic. “Okay. I’m being told this isn’t a comedy show. It isn’t so I’ll get to it. I wrote this first song myself- I promise, the rest are covers! It’s called Han and there isn’t a direct translation in English and there’s actually some contention of what the concept means, but I’ve come to think of it as that suffering, you know, the sad stuff, is a part of life. That the beauty isn’t the sadness, but the acceptance of it. Thank you for listening. Here it goes.”

 

He strums the first notes and his fingers stumble and it takes over half the song for his voice to stop sounding like it’s confused as to why it’s coming out through speakers, amplified and all around him, but Jeongguk steadies his voice, steadies himself, sings through it. Figures it out.

 

He finds Taehyung looking at him, the smile quiet but there on his mouth.

 

Jeongguk will figure it all out.

 

He’s looking forward to it.  




---




He’s at the kitchen counter peeling carrots when a body comes up behind him, sturdy chest pressing to his back. 

 

Taehyung hums against his neck, says, “It’s here.”

 

One of his hands rises from behind Jeongguk, a package wrapped in brown parcel paper, stamps at the top corner. 

 

Jeongguk drops the knife. Orange stained fingers rip the paper up in seconds. 

 

“That was scarily close to dropping on your toes,” Taehyung laughs. He hangs his hands off Jeongguk’s waist, lets him do as he pleases. 

 

“Shut up, oh my god, Taehyung. Taehyung? This is so great. It’s so…”

 

He trails off, doesn’t actually ignore Taehyung saying but I love your toes, babe , you gotta be careful with them pulls the last of the covering off carefully to reveal the hardcover bound pages.

 

The foreground is dark, midnight blue almost giving to purple, the design modern and sleek, the title focused in the middle and bookended by, well, everything. Nebula and galaxies. Stone tools. Scripture scrolls. Sauropods and carnivores. Ferns and crawling leaves. The first person to walk tall, back straight, shoulders held high. 

 

The title in thick font reads, 

 

Words and Their Power

Or:

How Everything is a Story

Including You and Me and Every(thing)one We Kn(ew)ow

 

Jeongguk holds it close to reverent. It’s heavy in his hands. Weighted. He bumps his temple against Taehyung’s gently. “You know, now that the hardcover edition is out, it means you’re a big shot, right? You have to make everyone address you as Doctor Kim , now. It’s your right.”

 

Squeezing his sides, Taehyung hmm’s . “You guys gonna be okay while I’m gone?”

 

From the living room, music blares.. The tv playing something else on low. It’s a lot of noise, but Jeongguk doesn’t mind it. He likes the quiet but he likes this too. A little bit of chaos. A home alive. 

 

“Definitely. Same thing I said the last five times you asked. It’s only two months.”

 

“It’s only two months,” Taehyung repeats. “It’s just last time you dropped me off at the airport, you cried and I almost didn’t get on the plane.”

 

“Yeah, but this time I’m not dropping you off at the airport. We’re way past that part of the honeymoon phase. Besides, this will be great one on one bonding time for me and Jinhyung, and with Daehyung coming into town, he’ll have another uncle in town. It’ll be great.”

 

“Can’t believe you’re taking my little brother to see colleges.”

 

“Yeah, and you taught our kid how to read. I think that’s a fair trade off.”

 

It earns him a pinch to his waist, and Jeongguk laughs. Taehyung does too, kisses his cheek. Says, “I love you,” like he knows Jeongguk will end up taking him to the airport anyway, but he won’t cry this time. Knows that Taehyung knows exactly what he’s coming home to. 

 

Jeongguk turns in his arms, kisses him back, on his mouth this time. Says, “ I know ,” and Taehyung smiles, all sun, like he knows that’s isn’t what Jeongguk is saying at all. 




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