Jimin had never wanted to have kids.
His mother used to say that it was no big deal. That Jimin was just meant to do things differently. Jimin had known deep down that his dearest mom, the one that had gone so far in order to have him and his sister, would have liked for him, by himself and by his own accord, to change his mind.
To find someone to marry and create a family with.
With her eldest daughter already married and settled down with a house and a baby, she had been afraid Jimin would remain alone.
Yet his mom had known her youngest son very well and - at times - she understood him better than what she liked to let on. She had understood that the Jimin of now, determined but stubborn, was famished of what life could offer and focused on climbing the highest mountain the world could offer. She had also known how that spark was hardly extinguishable and how hard it made finding someone who could adjust well to it.
So she had supported Jimin. Supported his decision to study abroad in order to have a better chance of finding a good job afterwards. His decision to come back and start working his ass off even when the wage was minimum, because the firm was well known and the sacrifice worth it. She had supported him when Jimin had come out to the family, and it had been evident then that having kids for him was going to be definitely more complicated, if not impossible.
It wasn’t like Jimin hated kids. He fairly liked them and even enjoyed spending time with them. Back in colleges, he had spent his breaks working at summer camps to raise some money, and had learned to take care of them and also how not to be fooled by them. Kids weren’t stupid. They knew when they had you wrapped around their fingers and not all of them respected adults that weren’t their parents (sometimes not even the latter).
He learned to play along and use small tricks and games to educate them. He had discovered he did quite enjoy the process of teaching these kids and he often got quite endeared with the ones that listened. He had a soft spot especially for kids that came from with a difficult family background. Divorced parents, single mothers, ill family members. Those kids were special. They had learned from a far too young age how life could be unfair, yet hadn’t lost their smile and neither their spark. They were the sweetest and the most hard-working ones, as if they had made their mission not to be a burden.
Jimin always made sure to give them extra hugs or extra praises. It was evident from their shiny eyes, they had always received less than what it was owed to them.
In conclusion, Jimin wasn’t a disheartened monster who hated kids.
So he didn't want kids and it wasn't because he hates them. He also doubted that his sexuality had something to do with his complete lack of fatherly instinct, since he had met plenty of gay couples willing to move mountains in order to adopt kids and build a family. Being gay didn’t have anything to do with being a flaming bachelor, as his dear uncle had once stated during a dinner (that phrase alone had banned him forever from every family gathering held by his mother).
Jimin had, simply, shaped his life according to his desires and beliefs and those just happened to not entail a family at the horizon.
He had studied hard, worked even harder, got jobs that weren't what he wanted but that left him more skilled, until the right chance to move forward came by, and now at the splendid age of thirty-one, he could say he had a nice life.
He lived in a medium sized flat in a good part of the city, had a stable job and income, and was able to achieve the little whims a man his age possessed. Which in his case were clothes, alcohol and travels.
He had reached the heavenly status where he was free to use his time however he pleased and for whatever purpose he desired since the only person to whom he had responsibilities to was, well, himself.
After all the years of hard work and difficulties he could say the yes, life was good.
He should have known good things aren’t supposed to last or, to use the words of a college friend of his, that things aren’t made to stay unmoving.
“We are always in a state of transition,” his friend had said. Those words had stayed with Jimin even after he no longer had seen him after graduating. Even after almost a decade, had gone by.
He especially remembered them, that fateful night of May.
It had been a particularly hot day that promised a very torrid summer. Luckily it hadn’t been like the humid days of mid August quite yet, so when Jimin had opened the windows as soon as he had gotten home, a gentle and refreshing breeze had welcomed him.
He had taken off his tie and had grabbed some red wine from the fridge, with all the intention of finishing half the bottle in front of the TV. It was a Friday, but he had been working for twelve hours and he remembered how he had thought that he could leave his outing for the next day. Thinking about it later, that had been a good decision.
It would have been awful if he had happened to answer his phone in the middle of a crowd and with vodka shots cursing through his body. Even though, who knows, maybe it would have helped him tricking himself into believing it was all just an illusion and not reality.
They had called a little after dinner. He still remembered the raspy yet kind voice on the receiver that asked for Park Jimin.
Jimin remembered all the words the raspy voice had said, he even remembered the shitty show on his TV, the way the bottle marveled on the floor and stained his light beige carpet forever.
He didn’t, however, remember how the heck had he managed to get out of his house, reach his garage and drive the thirty minutes long route to the hospital in barely thirteen.
The man on the phone, who turned out to be the agent that had first found them, told him that his sister and her husband were taken to the emergency room due to a car accident but didn’t elaborate further, and Jimin had thought that it was a good sign because otherwise the man would have told him. Wouldn't he?
On May 13th, a little bit past 9 p.m, his sister Park Soobin and her husband had been declared dead.
And suddenly he didn’t know what was the proper way to breathe, didn’t know how to function, how to even walk, not when he no longer was flesh and bones but just a paper doll with no heart.
He had later learned that his sister and her husband had just finished their special dinner celebration for their seventh year anniversary and had decided to take a stroll downtown, before heading back home to their daughter, when a drunk driver, who was speeding even though it was the city center, had run them over on the fucking pedestrian stripes.
Her husband, who was on the side of the car, had died instantly having received the full blown hit. His sister, who was thrown over ten meters away, was still breathing when they had rushed her to the nearest hospital. Her heart had failed her before she managed to enter the operation room.
That night had changed everything.
First of all, he had lost the last family member he had left, in another car accident yet again. Not even three years earlier their parents had died during a car crash caused by awful weather conditions.
Second of all Jimin, the Jimin who had never wanted kids, found himself becoming a father at the age of thirty-one.
Despite his tragedy, he knew he wasn't the one having suffered the most devastating and undeserving change life could offer. There was a four years old girl that had gone to sleep that night not knowing that her mom and dad were never going to come back.
Park Aeri was his niece and fruit of the love of his sister and her husband, and ever since that night, Jimin had become the only family she had left.
Jimin had never wanted kids, simply because he thought he didn't have the maturity to put aside his selfish desires and put the well-being of another human first. He wasn’t ready and he had never wanted it, yet life didn’t give a damn about his wishes and apparently neither about those of an innocent child and had decided to put her fate into his hands. So, still grieving and definitely emotionally and mentally unprepared, Jimin took her in.
She was now his to take care of.
And despite destiny having a fucking awful sense of humour, he wouldn’t have let her down only because of his inadequacies. Maybe he didn't want to be a father, but Jimin was a man of his word and he loved his family. It was going to work out simply because it had to.
It turned out that it could be a little bit harder than what he had anticipated. Ok, maybe a lot harder.
To put it in more simple words, every single day with Park Aeri was a wild ride on a roller coaster.
“Aeri, how is wearing your clothes on your own thing going?”
“I am almost ready!” she exclaimed, the ‘r’ sound of ‘ready’ coming out with a lisp. Jimin smiled, endeared.
Aside from her lisp, Aeri actually had some difficulties with her speech. His sister used to insist that it was only because their neighborhood didn’t have kids whom she could hang out with and that was why she couldn't talk well, yet. Jimin had never agreed with it, but it was up to her sister, and so he had stayed out of it. Now she was four though, almost five, and she hadn't gotten any better at it and still expressed herself poorly. A part of him hoped the lack of progress was just linked to the trauma of not being with her parents, but if that wasn't going to be the case, this time it was up to him and he would send her to a doctor if required.
Jimin quickly brushed his teeth as he checked the watch on his wrist, almost howling at the sight. They were tight on time once again. How did it happen? Ah yes, Aeri hadn't wanted to get up.
“Are you? Good girl!” he said before rinsing his mouth.
He wiped his face and walked to his bedroom before going to Aeri’s one.
“Here! All dressed!” she said, pronouncing the words with a lot of doubles. Jimin huffed when he saw what she meant with that.
“Aeri, those aren’t the clothes we picked together. That is your Halloween costume. What did we say about dressing for school and dressing for play?”
“But I like them!”
“I know you like them sweetcheeks, but this is school time and school time needs clothes for school time. So now take them off so I can help you put the right ones.” Jimin tried to reason with her.
“NO!” she shouted, stomping her feet.
Another problem with Aeri, which was far more worrisome than her hypothetical speech difficulties, was her temper. She had always been a very active baby girl, but Jimin sometimes couldn’t help but be irritated with his sister and her thoughts about giving the kids what she called “creative freedom”. Of course it was important to not come off too strongly on the kids when disciplining and not suffocating their personalities, but kids were kids. They couldn’t take charge of things independently because they didn’t have the tools or terms of comparison on which to rely.
They needed rules to follow and a schedule to respect in order to feel safe.
“Aeri, what did we say about shouting?”
“ NOOO!” she shouted even louder.
“You can shout all you want, I have all the time of the world (they didn’t). We’ll stay here until you decide to do as we agreed.”
After that she started to sob and wail like they were executing her. Jimin retreated back in the corridor, and like every time this happened, he asked himself if he was doing the right thing or if it would have been better to just give in. He certainly didn't like to see her crying, but he also believed that him being firm would allow her to learn the meaning of responsibility.
After what seemed an eternity, the whimpers quieted down considerably, by magic. He rushed back to her bedroom just to see her niece wiping her face with her hands.
It was easy to undress her then and help her dress up, and by the time she wore the pink pants she liked, she was back on smiling.
“Done! And now come here, let me hug you.” he said, opening his arms as she greedily dived in while he picked her up.
“Did you understand why I asked you that?”
“Yes,” she murmured in his neck.
“Uncle Jimin can’t go with his pajama to work even if he would like to, trust me, and Aeri can’t go with her princess costume to school either because we have clothes for--”
“School, work, swimming!”
“And they are?”
“Exactly,” he said, kissing her temple. “But for today, since it’s Monday and I know how hard Mondays are, you can keep your princess tiara, okay?”
“YES!” she shrieked, bouncing up and down in his arms.
Jimin let her down, put the tiara on her head (she insisted on doing it by herself though) and then made her grab her small backpack as he hurried to take the suitcase with his laptop. Then, together, they hurried out of the house.
Jimin didn’t have to check his watch on his wrist to know they were definitely running late.
When it had been time to choose a school for her, Jimin had strategically aimed towards the one that was on his way to work as well as equally halfway from both workplace and his house, so that he could reach Aeri easily if needed.
As they were more often than not tight with time, this turned out to be a blessing.
By the time they had arrived at school Aeri was all giggles and smiles, the little scene of the morning already forgotten. Jimin envied her recovery period because he was still a bit shaken, like any time he and Aeri had a confrontation. It could be exhausting at times, and Jimin prayed that eventually it was going to get better.
He was always terrified by the thought of handling this thing called ‘raising a child’ wrong, and he wouldn’t have forgiven himself if he had hindered her future only because he was a poor excuse of a fatherly figure.
Jimin took her to the main entrance of the kindergarten and didn’t let her go until one of the teachers hadn’t come to fetch her. Only when Aeri had waved at him and got inside, too engrossed to even notice him anymore, only then he walked back to his car.
Free from his attempt of acting like a father, he allowed himself to curse under his breath, something that he couldn’t do with Aeri there, as he pictured his boss’ face if he had caught him entering the last minute once again.
He jumped in the driver’s seat and drove to work, praying on little traffic because even when he was late, nowadays he never sped up. A whole family swiped off by car accidents. It made him want to start biking.
He arrived at work with barely one minute to spare, running to swipe his badge before the official work hours started. Once upon a time there wasn’t such a thing as coming late because Jimin was a true workaholic and arrived plenty in advance. Once upon a time he also never understood how his female co-workers with kids couldn’t organize themselves to arrive in time.
He had been an ignorant moron back then.
Now he almost wanted to get on his knees and ask them for advice, but since that wasn’t an option, he tried to mend by making sure to be extra nice to them. At least now he received their sympathetic smiles.
“Ah, Mr Park!”
“Good morning!” he chirped, attempting a smile. Of course his boss had to be the first person he had to bump into in the hallway.
What the heck is he even doing in the technical drafting department when he barely knows how to draw?, Jimin asked himself.
“You are here. Finally.”
Jimin violently forced himself to keep smiling as he swallowed down his curses. He had given this old man his best years, made his products win in market sectors everybody thought they were crazy to go after, gave him his extra time and never asked him for anything in exchange because he loved his job, and just being able to make it successfully was rewarding enough.
Yet, Jimin becoming a father had somehow erased whatever good thing he had done for the company.
It was insulting. It was also kinda sad.
Granted, when the news had come out his boss and the board had expressed their condolences and had sent flowers to the funeral in the company’s name. They had also let him take vacation so he could recover and handle the Aeri situation.
But as soon as he had gotten back it was evident, he no longer could stay till late hours or dedicate his weekends to work, the music changed very quickly and also Jimin’s estimated value. It didn't help that he had been hired on shaky premises due to his sexual orientation and had to prove himself worthy. But he had thought his hard work all those years had gained him some respect. It turned out it wasn't like that at all. As much as he loved his job, his workplace had been a huge letdown.
However, he had Aeri and he couldn’t afford to change his working circumstances right now.
“My assistant left some documents on your desk. Take a look at them and then come into my office after you are done studying.” his boss said before walking away.
Quick, rude, demanding. No greetings. Didn’t even wait for him to say something.
Jimin internally sighed as he hurried down the corridor, looking straight ahead, extra careful to not cross gazes with anyone through the Plexiglas that separated the hallway from the offices. Out of all the places, of course his boss had to stop him in the middle of the technical drafting department, the only place Jimin liked to avoid like the plague.
He always made sure to be as quick as possible when he passed by, as well as looking aloof and unattainable, when in reality his guts wrenched in angst.
There was someone that he really didn't wish to meet from there. This person probably didn’t even remember him and probably neither the steamy night they had shared since he had never bothered to text him back. Unfortunately, he remembered enough for the both of them and so he still felt embarrassed every time.
This had cemented Jimin’s conviction and showed how true his golden rules were and how he must have been completely out of his mind not to stick to them that night.
Rule number one: never mess with co-workers.
Rule number two: never fish from the ‘fresh out of college’ tank.
Considering how it had turned out, he had been completely right in his beliefs and now Jimin would have to deal with it and feel awkward and embarrassed forever. Goddamn. He was thirty-one. He had a kid to provide for. He shouldn’t have the time to feel stupid but there he was.
Luckily no unwanted chance encountered happened, and Jimin managed to reach his office safely. He sighed in relief as soon as he stepped inside, smile blooming on his face.
One of the few remaining good things of his work was that his team was awesome.
Some days after the funeral Jimin discovered that the second flower crown in the name of his colleagues had been paid with money from their own pockets. Furthermore, every single one of them from seniors to juniors, had made sure to call or text him, saying warm words that had made it hard for Jimin not to sob on the receiver.
Aside from Seokjin, whom he had known from his college days, he hadn’t been extra close with the people at work, if he didn’t count the occasional drinking outings on Thursday night. So it had come out as a pleasant surprise finding out that his behavior as a colleague had been impactful enough to cause such a feedback.
“Good morning!” Seokjin greeted him with a singing voice, yet not even bothering to take off his eyes from his laptop.
“Morning!” he replied, trying not to sigh too exaggeratedly as he spotted the pile of documents on his desk.
It wasn’t even mid-week yet and Jimin was already wishing it to be the weekend. He walked off to hang his jacket on the hanger, taking some extra time, but he knew that it was silly to postpone the torture so he eventually throttled back to his desk.
He turned on his laptop, took out his notepad from the first drawer, changed the date of the calendar hung on the wall behind his desk and then, with resignation, put his hand on the cover of the first report.
“The big boss came here asking for you like he didn’t know whether you were going to show up or not. I told him that I was sure you were on your way and he gruffed something under his breath before saying that you needed to review those urgently,” he explained, before mimicking, “Top priority Kim, top priority!”
Of course Seokjin decided to turn towards him then, so he could appreciate his facial expression mimics. Jimin chuckled loudly in appreciation and Seokjin smiled, weirdly proud of his performance.
He and Seokjin had known each other for a solid decade and had managed to keep in touch even when Seokjin, who was older than him by two years had graduated. It was him who had given Jimin a shout-out over an open position in this company and had ultimately helped him land the job.
He found out that co-worker Seokjin was different from college mate Seokjin. At work he was serious, very task oriented and nitpicky to the point of being annoying. He was also the most reliable colleague of their team, probably of the whole firm.
Jimin's position as team leader of the new experimental division had been offered to him at first, but Seokjin had refused. He had boldly stated that seniority shouldn’t be considered a requirement and that he knew himself enough to know that he worked better as an adviser and controller than a leader. He had then proceeded to suggest his name.
The story had naturally circulated at light speed inside the departments and it had made Jimin’s jaw drop to this very day. Back then it had made him accept the offer immediately, if only as a way of repayment.
“I just did the right thing for the team,” Seokjin had said when Jimin had later asked him if he was sure about his decision. “Besides I’m married with one kid on the way and we are good enough not to need more money but time.” he had concluded shrugging. Jimin had him on a pedestal ever since then.
He was just that cool. Also, he had been right. He was the best right hand someone could have ever wished for.
“Any idea of what this is all about?” Jimin asked, unsure. Seokjin usually had eyes and ears everywhere, but their big boss was also eccentric as fuck. Those could be reports of three years ago over who knew what.
“Nope, sorry. As far as I know it could be either vital or simply garbage. But don’t worry, Namjoon is on his way back with our coffees. The kid will sort those out in a snap of fingers.” Seokjin said, smiling evilly.
“Stop using Namjoon as our filling-task-boy Seokjin. Just because he is good with data doesn’t mean we should toss all the boring reports to him. Also stop using him as your personal errand boy.” Jimin commented, trying to hide his hilarity.
“I’m not doing it for my fun. Well not only for that, at least. It’s a test. Every week I come up with a different complicated coffee recipe and the kid remembers it every single time and he doesn’t even have to take note of it! I'm telling you Jimin, that smells of Mensa, so it’s my holy duty to exploit those skills.”
“Whatever you say. Just don’t be too hard on him, remember he is just twenty-two.”
Seokjin scoffed at that and went back to glueing his eyes to his laptop screen.
Namjoon was their new junior sales analyst and had been showing pretty promising skills so far. Jimin would have liked to follow him better, but he had entered their team a couple of months before his sister’s accident, and after Jimin had become a father, all the time he spent in the office was focused on the team projects and not on the single person anymore. So he hadn’t been able look after him as he would have liked.
Seokjin was the one who took him under his wing and Jimin knew it was going to be a good thing in the long run for Namjoon, yet for the time being he was going to have to tend to every little demand of his friend. Seokjin loved to challenge his pupils. Poor things.
In any case, Jimin would have been a bad example of a team leader if he had dumped a task assigned to him by no other than their boss on their younger, less experienced team member, so he opened the first folder and started to read. On the first page there was a sticky note that said “analyse this and individuate a pattern” and Jimin tried to refrain from smacking his forehead on his desk.
Jimin’s worst or best quality, depending on the point of view, was a not so subtle praise kink and very evident performance anxiety. He needed to do not only well but awesome, and he gained extreme pleasure both from having managed to bring home an impossible task, as well as being told he had done a good job. His boss knew that too well and like the sadistic gramps he was, he took great pleasure into throwing curve balls at Jimin. Now that Jimin had become a father and couldn’t spend so much time at work as before though, it seemed more like a conscious torture than a reasonable challenge.
“I love my job, I love my job.” he muttered under his breath before burying his nose in those papers.
The ironic thing was that, despite everything, he indeed loved it a lot.
Jimin had never been the type of person to check the watch when it came to his working hours. He wasn’t a workaholic per se, he used to work extra hours simply because he found it hard to abandon a task when he had it running and it was proceeding with a good pace. However, this was one of the many things that he couldn’t do anymore. He was responsible for someone other than himself, and Aeri had needs that didn’t fit adult logic.
Jimin couldn’t get out early enough to personally go fetch her, which was why he had hired a nanny, but he was going to be damned if he didn't come back home at a decent hour at least.
Aeri had always known him as the cool uncle Jimin that read her stories whenever he passed by to visit her sister. The transition from this kind of figure to a fatherly one must have been shocking for her and Jimin wanted to make sure to be there for her as much as he could to smooth the process. It was still hard, but only constancy could make it better.
Since he didn’t have anything urgent to deal with and he had managed to study the report his boss had given him that morning, as soon as the eight hours ticked by Jimin gathered his things, put away the laptop in its bag and deemed himself ready to get out.
“Jin, if something comes up leave it on my desk and we will sort it out tomorrow unless it’s urgent. In that case call me.” Jimin urged the man, who was by Namjoon’s desk doing some last minute reviews.
“Don’t worry Jimin, just go.” Seokjin replied, shaking his hand as if to dismiss him. Jimin knew Seokjin would never call him if it was up to him. He never approved of Jimin’s new habit of taking his laptop, hence his work, home.
Jimin waved his goodbye, trying not to feel guilty for leaving his team behind whereas he went home, so before he could change his mind he throttled his way towards the elevator.
The lift stopped a couple of times to collect other people, mostly employees from the administration and finance department who, aside from reporting period, usually had a pretty mellow schedule.
He took out his personal phone to check if he had received any calls from Aeri's school. They had his office number, but he had given them his cellphone number in case of emergency and he was always paranoid to find some messages announcing something disastrous or several missed calls. When he saw some texts from his best friend Taehyung who had sent him some cute pics of his new puppy, he sighed in relief.
He even allowed himself to coo at the pictures of the newly adopted resident of the Kim household and that was why he didn’t notice the small swell on the asphalt and tripped all over himself. He didn’t fall, but the shake had been violent enough to cause his phone to slip out from his hands and hit the ground with a terrible smack sound.
“Fuck! Fuck... fuck!” Jimin said squatting down immediately to look for his phone and check if it was fine. That was when the bag with his laptop slid off his shoulder and made his way to the ground with another alarming sound. Another sequence of curses ensued.
He was a walking disaster. Had always been. How could he have ever deemed himself to be competent enough to take care of another human being when he couldn’t even transition from the elevator to his car, that was beyond him.
That’s the thing Park Jimin, you never did think you were capable of it, but life happened, whispered a malicious voice in his ear.
“Hey! Are you alright?” asked a concerned voice from somewhere above him.
No. No. No.
Just his luck.
He knew that voice, had tried very hard to erase the fact that he knew how it sounded at the peak of pleasure when it had moaned his name, actually.
Jimin raised his head and tried hard not to crawl back and hide behind the closest car as his eyes met the ones of Jeon Jungkook.
Damn. He was even more handsome than the last time they had been so close. He had let his hair grow a little under his ears and it was curling around his face in a way that should have been illegal. Since when did engineers look so hot?
“Ah... yes, thank you.” Jimin replied awkwardly as he adjusted the bag back on his shoulder and opened it to check if everything was alright. He smiled when the laptop looked as fine as ever under his quick inspection. Then he realized Jungkook was still there in front of him and panicked.
He had been successfully avoiding Jungkook for months now, and every time they had happened to meet gazes in the hallways or during a meeting, Jimin had made sure to wear the perfect blank face that Seokjin swore made every newbie think that Jimin was evil.
Why couldn’t it continue to be like that till a day in the future when they were both in a happy relationship with someone else? And no, the fact that he was sure Jungkook was still single had nothing to do with any type of interest or curiosity towards the younger, it was just that their female colleagues never shut up, not even caring that someone could listen to them in the not-so-spacious coffee break room. And so Jimin knew everything he wished he didn’t about every single male under 40 that was considered handsome enough to be the subject of their colleagues’ fantasies and gushing. Jungkook was in the top three of course and that was because their little hook up at their company party had miraculously gone unnoticed and nobody suspected that number two and number four of the hit parade totally swinged the other way.
“You have my number so call me, okay?” Jimin had said as he had thrown the crumpled clothes of the night before on himself and had rushed towards the door. He had lunch with his family in an hour and he had to go back to his place and shower. He hadn’t stayed long enough to listen to Jungkook's reply. Sometimes he wished he had. Most times he wished he hadn’t given him his phone at all.
Jungkook had never called. Or texted him.
Jimin felt his facial muscle harden the moment he reminisced that and his tone of voice was rushed and dismissive when he said, “I need to go now, see you around Jeon.”
He lifted his chin as a way of greeting and passed him by as if he had fire on his tail. He didn’t manage to cover more than five steps before he was stopped again.
“Wait, Jimin!” he heard Jungkook exclaim as footsteps hurried after him. Judging from the way Jungkook almost stumbled back, Jimin’s expression wasn’t the welcoming one he had anticipated. Jimin was sure he probably looked like a dog ready to bite.
“Your phone,” Jungkook said, stretching his hand as if he were holding a grenade. Jimin dumbly stared at it, but there it was, his unscathed phone. He had never been so grateful to not be the type to easily blush, or otherwise he would have been red like a tomato. In his haste of getting away from Jungkook he had completely forgotten about that.
“Thank you very much.” he replied then, very formally. A walking disaster indeed, he murmured to himself as he retrieved his phone. He tried not to flinch when his skin met Jungkook’s, flashes of a night Jimin had never been really able to forget crossing his mind.
It didn’t help that Jungkook had been also his last sexual encounter and probably his last reference for hot fantasies for a while.
He turned back without saying anything else, marching towards his car and hoping that was going to be the last interaction with Jungkook for the rest of his life.
He should have known better than hope for destiny to listen to him for once.
There are very good days and very bad days when you are a single father raising a four years old child. No happy middle ground. Which was fine, when it was the good days turn. But it was a living nightmare when it was the turn for bad ones.
That day had already started... not well.
Aeri had been fussier than usual that morning, deciding that it was a good moment to argue about brushing her teeth even when she usually didn’t have any issue with it, and Jimin had to restrain himself from scolding her too badly even when she violently threw the toothbrush on the floor and stepped on it, smearing the toothpaste on her shoes and the carpet.
Aeri turned out to be more sensitive and perceptive than what he had anticipated, or maybe every small kid was like that and Jimin just hadn’t known.
He wished he had paid more attention to his surroundings and to his sister when she was still there and talked about her struggles as a mother. But he was self-oriented back then and also convinced that he was right in thinking that way because he didn’t want kids for the exact reason of not having to deal with worries other than his own and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
Now he wished he had listened and really, there was an unending list already of the things Jimin wished he had done better, but it was too late to patch that up.
Gone were his parents.
Gone was his beloved sister.
There was not any other person left to ask except for his best friend Taehyung, but he too was very busy dealing with his own family drama and Jimin hated to bug him with his every little insecurity.
Either way, Aeri was a sensitive kid and had probably sensed Jimin’s nervousness and restlessness – his boss had been breathing down his neck and torturing him and his team without rest – and that had probably made him more curtly. She had reacted accordingly of course, like an affronted cat that wasn’t there to deal with its owner’s shit and clawed to fight its own fear.
So Jimin held himself back even though his patience was running thin, but he was afraid his reaction to her bad behavior would not be proportional.
Hold on a little bit longer. Just a little bit longer, he told himself as he left a very pouty and nervous little Aeri at the kindergarten.
They had a meeting with this big and important high scale client for next week, and if everything went according to plan his company would get a signed contract and a big fat check, and Jimin and his team, their deserved reward along with some room to breathe.
But that was next week and the present wasn’t painting too well for Jimin.
However, despite his difficulties at home and the icy work environment, Jimin thought he could get by.
That was until his car decided it was a good day to commit suicide.
It had been a grueling day, everyone in his office was nervous and Jimin had to force himself to hide his feelings and show himself confident so that his team wouldn’t feel so terrified at the thought of sealing that big contract. Their team was a very young one, had been specifically formed keeping age in mind because the service they had to sell was very new and very technological that needed “fresh minds”. So the board had said at least, and that was why Jimin had been made team leader of his own sales team even though he was barely thirty.
“We are their guinea pigs. They aren’t sure of this new service and so they are testing it with us. If we fail, they will use it to thicken our skin, if we are successful, well, we are successful.” Seokjin had told him when he had been promoted. He had wanted for Jimin to know what he was heading into.
In any case, that day he couldn’t wait to swipe his badge on his way back to his car and head home. He was going to have to keep working hard once he was there too though, but he would do it by Aeri’s side and that was what mattered. She worried him a lot. The episode of that morning hadn't been an isolated one.
Since he had moved in and they had become a family, Jimin hadn’t had time for himself to think and grieve but he considered that a blessing. Being strong for Aeri’s sake had maintained his mind lucid and focused, and he knew he needed that for the new course his life was taking.
But for Aeri it was different. She didn’t have a job or responsibilities aside from the one of being a kid, and even that had been taken away from her.
It was hard for her to make amends with the concept of death, and how could she? She was only four for fuck’s sake. In her mind her parent's death was equal to abandonment. She could no longer see her parents, she could no longer have her mom’s hugs and her dad would no longer play with her. To her, abandonment smelled too much of rejection and rejection could only mean that she had done something wrong. Jimin was afraid she thought it was somehow her fault.
She had cried so much at first and even when she had stopped, Jimin knew things weren’t alright. Her exuberant personality was risking to take a twist for the worse. Every kid threw tantrums at home, but Aeri acted like that at school too and she wasn’t just aggressive but even violent at times.
She had thrown the toothbrush at him with intent.
A look from Jimin and his stern voice had worked and she had apologized, but she had been scowling all the way to the kindergarten and he didn't know if she had really understood that it wasn't the way to make her mood better.
Jimin had been worrying all day and that was why he had called his babysitter to give her the day off, deciding it was better if he went to fetch her from school personally that time.
He couldn’t predict however that his boss would schedule a meeting last minute and neither that the meeting would stretch for that long. It wouldn’t have been a problem because they had finished accordingly to their working hours, but that afternoon in order to arrive in time he had needed to get out a bit earlier.
It hadn’t been possible and so Jimin was now running down the stairs to reach the underground garage, too impatient to wait for the lift.
Yet, when he took out his car keys and pressed the button to unlock the car, the car didn’t make any sound and the lights didn’t turn on. A shiver of fear ran down his body but he decided not to panic and unlocked his car manually. He put the keys in and turned them to the right, the car coughed for a long, hopeful moment, but then it died.
He tried again, but to no avail. On his third try the car didn’t even bother to come to life. That was when the panic hit him full force. This couldn’t be happening.
Was it an electronic problem? Was it something more serious? He squirmed on the seat, checking his surroundings as if they could give him the answer. When his eyes landed on the switched on button of lights, Jimin almost screamed in agony.
He had forgotten to turn off the lights and now the battery was dead.
He threw his arms in the air and shook them violently in frustration. Why was this happening to him and today of all days?
He rested his head on his steering wheel.
Ok, think Jimin. Think. If it’s the battery you need the cables. You don’t have them because you are a reckless carcass. Who can have them? Who can come here to help you?
Jimin hit his forehead once again, trying to think of a quick solution and just when he was about to completely lose his shit, he heard a knock on his window. Startled, he slowly turned his head around.
He had forgotten he was technically still in a public place and that someone in the company could pass by and witness his meltdown.
It seemed like life really hated him a lot because, the one to witness all that had to be, once again, no other than Jeon Jungkook. Why couldn’t the dude be there when he was sporting his cool persona but had to fetch him in his most miserable moments instead?
Jimin would have liked to turn the engine on and just sprint out of there, but he couldn’t do that and so, with a sigh, he faced his destiny. Besides, he would have been stupid not to use this chance to get out of this mess.
He motioned for Jungkook to step back so he could get out of the car and the boy easily complied.
“Hi. You kind of looked like you were in need of help? So I came here to check just in case.” Jungkook started when Jimin stepped out of his car.
He sounded awkward and shy as if he had been the one having a public meltdown and not Jimin.
Jimin remembered how it had been this soft trait of him, more than his handsome face and hot body, that had attracted him that night. Of course he had noticed him way before, but back then he had merely appreciated him from afar, deeming him too young and probably too straight to make him really interested. Besides, his golden rules still stood strong.
However, Jimin had always been a sucker for people with charming smiles and even more a sucker for people with bashful ones.
The world had plenty of handsome guys and he himself wasn’t bad to the eyes either, but he had rarely met handsome people that hadn’t used that to their advantage or hadn’t acted a bit cocky about it.
Jungkook carried himself as if he wasn’t aware of which kind of beauty he possessed.
“It’s the ugly duckling curse,” was Taehyung’s crazy hypothesis when Jimin had later complained to him. “It happens when you aren't that cute as a teenager and you grow up hearing people saying that to you but then puberty hits you in the best way possible and bam you are suddenly Mr. Handsome but you still keep seeing yourself in the old way? Yeah, something like that.”
Jimin had eyed his best friend skeptically, but whatever might be the reason, it just had made Jungkook incredibly attractive to Jimin. He had sounded and looked warm and real that night.
That was why the rejection had stung so much.
“Actually, yes. My car isn’t turning on. I think it might be the battery. Don’t you perhaps happen to have some cables? I need to be somewhere else and it’s kind of urgent.” Jimin asked, brushing his fingers through his hair. There was no point into hiding his desperation now. Jungkook was pretty much his last hope.
“No, I’m sorry.” Jimin’s stomach sank and he was surprised to see how Jungkook was smiling instead. What the heck? “But wait! I know where I can find them. One of our warehouseman told me they kept some in case some of the couriers have battery problems. Wait here, I’ll be quick.” Jungkook said, tossing his backpack on the floor before sprinting out of there as if someone was chasing after him. Jimin was left there with his mouth wide open.
He hadn't expected such an enthusiastic and selfless reaction.
He forced himself to calm down and wait for Jungkook’s hopefully quick return. He checked his phone and cursed out loud. He was late.
He nervously looked around. He could call a tow trucker or a taxi but how long would that take and how was he going to get back to work tomorrow anyway? He decided to wait for Jungkook then, hoping for the miracle. When five minutes later Jungkook came back, hair ruffled and a bit sweaty but with the cables in his hands, the very first smile of the day blossomed on Jimin's face.
Jungkook gave him the cables as he ran towards his car and drove it there so they could connect the two vehicles. It was a quick work, and Jimin had never been so happy to hear the roar of his car.
“Thank you Jeon, you are a life saver!” Jimin exclaimed genuinely. Jungkook scratched his head, embarrassed.
“Remember, don’t let the car turn off, just keep the motor running so the battery can charge, don’t turn on the aircon and neither the radio or bluetooth, nothing. Just the lights if you can’t help it. If everything goes well you will be able to get back home without any problem. However if I were you I would bring the car to the mechanic and make a check up just in case.”
“They will probably empty my wallet, but you are right. Safety first! Thank you!” Jimin said, squeezing Jungkook’s shoulder.
He was too relieved at the moment to register that this was the warmest interaction Jungkook and him had since the night he would rather forget.
“Really, I did nothing. Let me know if you need something else, like, anytime.” Jungkook said and that was when Jimin’s smile faltered. He said it as if Jimin could actually really contact him.
And how am I supposed to do that? Yes, Jimin would forever be salty about that, sue him. His thirty-one years old pride wounded.
He took a step back then, barely nodding, but him closing up might have been evident because Jungkook’s bright expression dimmed too, like a candle light threatening to die. Jimin didn’t have time to feel guilty or any other sort of feelings.
He needed to go to Aeri. He decided to just go then, and before Jungkook could say anything else like his face clearly hinted, Jimin walked quickly back to his car. He waved at Jungkook from his seat and, without regrets, he drove out from there.
Respecting the speed limits even though late. Always respecting the limits.
He arrived at the kindergarten more than half an hour late and he already felt deeply mortified even before having to face the teachers. Due to his battery defiance he had to park in front of the gate and leave the engine running so he ran all the way inside, having to make quick even his apologies despite knowing how this inconvenience had forced the teachers to stay longer.
The teachers tried to reassure him saying that it could happen, but Jimin felt shitty nonetheless. Above all when he came face to face with Aeri.
“You are lateee!” she exclaimed, letting the teacher’s hands go and refusing to take Jimin’s.
“I know, sweetcheeks. A problem held me back and I was late. Let’s go home now, okay?” Jimin said, trying to placate her. Of course it didn’t work.
“No! Don’t want to go! You left me! All the kids went but me. You left me! You left because I was bad!” she shouted on top of her lungs and that was when she started to cry for real, like Jimin had broken her heart into tiny millions pieces and there was no way he could ever make it better.
Jimin’s heart was broken too.
He looked at the teachers a bit lost, but they could only give him sympathetic smiles because ultimately the damage had been done.
He squatted down to be at her eye level, trying to make sure she could see his face and see the earnest emotions in it.
“I’m sorry, Aeri. It won’t happen again.” he took her tiny hands in his and waited there for her, he would wait however long it took, who cared if his car exploded.
This was serious, somehow today’s incident had unleashed something in her that had been stagnating for who knew how long. Jimin had known Aeri felt lonely, but had thought that feeling was connected to his parents and not to him.
He realized then, that to her he wasn’t just the uncle that had taken her in, but also the father and the mother that she won’t ever get back.
Aeri looked at him, tears streaming down her face and small hiccups shaking her all over, but then somehow nodded. Jimin knew it was the signal.
He took her in his arms and straightened up, letting her latch on him as she buried the face in the crook of his neck. Jimin held her tight and peppered her temple with kisses with all the love he was able to convey.
“Thanks again.” Jimin said to the teachers before walking out of there with Aeri still tight in his arms.
Jimin was afraid Aeri wouldn’t like to be detached from him, but she let him accommodate her into the car seat. Her face was a mess and Jimin was quick to retrieve some tissues from his pocket to wipe her face and blow her nose. He fixed the seat belt, kissed her forehead, and hurried back to the driving seat.
She fell asleep not even five minutes into driving. Only then, Jimin allowed himself to break down a little.
Since his sister’s death, a blade had been planted in his heart and now resided in it. It kept whirling and twisting in his wound, reminding him every day of his pain.
But he didn’t want for Aeri to have a blade like that too because he was an adult, big and grown up and he could handle it. She was only four and she should be living free of worries and be happy like any child of her age had the right to be.
Jimin gripped the steering wheel tight, mentally whipping himself and promising to do better no matter what.
When they arrived home, Jimin had to wake her up. As much as he would have liked to let her rest, if he did so she was going to wake up at 3 a.m. hungry and loud. So even if it meant fifteen minutes of tantrum assured, he still woke her up.
By half past seven, after his daily hour of TV and after having played with her toys while Jimin worked a bit on his laptop, she looked better .
They ate dinner and then Jimin helped her shower and let her choose her sleeping T-shirt for the night.
By nine she was tucked in his bed with her favorite plushie lying next to her and demanding for Jimin to read her a bedtime story. He happily complied. She made him read it twice before agreeing to sleep. He knew that she would toss around for another half an hour and play silently with her plushie for another thirty minutes, but he didn’t see any harm in that so he never tried to intervene on that.
He used that time to go shower himself and for when he had exited the bathroom fresh and clean too, he went to check her and found her already asleep.
Aeri had always been an independent child and had insisted on sleeping by herself since she was three, but the first days of them living together, she had sneaked to sleep next to him a few times and Jimin understood that she needed the contact. Nowadays she didn’t come so often anymore, but it wasn’t rare to find her sleeping next to him during some week days.
Weekends were another story. On the weekends she wouldn’t even bother to sneak into his bed, she would straight up drag her pillow to his bed and sleep there without even asking.
Jimin found it endearing and he really didn’t mind, even though the first times he had been scared to move and end up crushing her with his weight. It never happened and they often slept with their hands intertwined.
When he finally went to sleep as well, he prayed for Aeri to get better and hoped that this would be the end of his shitty bad luck.
“I can’t thank you enough Taehyung! I know how busy you are but you still came here, really thank you!” Jimin kept blabbering from the passenger seat of Taehyung’s big station wagon. Aeri was chatting with Sohyun in the backseat, excited to have one of his friends on a school day.
At least she was having a good time, Jimin thought as he nervously passed a hand through his hair.
Of course when he got in his car that morning, the thing had given him some seconds of delusional hope, enough for the engine to roar shyly, before the car had turned off once again. Jimin didn’t panic only because if he had Aeri would have too. Admittedly, he had been very close to a mental breakdown.
He had some options, but the quickest one, the one that would have taken Aeri to school and him to work without too much hassle, was calling Taehyung.
Taehyung and him were best friends since they had met in high school, they had gone through their embarrassing teen years together and that bond didn’t break even when they had chosen different courses to attend and neither when Taehyung had graduated and got married.
They pretty much considered each other blood brothers and they had been there in their happiest and saddest moments. Taehyung with his five years old marriage, one daughter, a new dog and another kid on the way, had naturally been the source to go to when Jimin had taken Aeri in, yet his best friend was also the busiest person alive and Jimin preferred not to bother him.
To this day he didn’t know how Taehyung managed to be a successful entrepreneur, a good husband and soon to be father of his second kid at the young age of 31 and not having died of exhaustion.
“Please, don’t even mention it. This is actually a good excuse for me to see your face. Our schedules are so messed up that I only see you on Instagram and sometimes not even that. Besides, Hyejin was dying to see me go and get out of her face for a bit and this is her when she is not moody. I swear, that woman…” Taehyung commented, shaking his head.
“Taehyung, during Sohyun’s pregnancy you didn’t even let her get up from the couch to make her own tea.” Jimin teased him, forgetting his worries for a moment. Taehyung was so whipped for his wife.
“I even let her do some chores now! It’s not like I hover over her every minute of the day, I mean, I have to go to work and pee too.” Taehyung protested, making Jimin laugh. Ah, despite feeling bad for being a burden it was good to have Taehyung there, he always managed to lift his mood up.
“So how are you doing Jimin, are you hanging on there?” Taehyung asked then, throwing a glance at him. When things had gone down the drain his best friend had fussed over him too and not a day had gone by without receiving a message from Taehyung telling him jokes or anecdotes to keep up with him.
“I try. Working helps me keep my mind busy but it’s not easy. I am always scared that I will end doing some major…” he gestured in the air because he didn’t want to say the words ‘fuck up’ in front of the kids, “And half of the times I don’t even know what I am doing. Like did my parents have it that hard? Is it that hard for every parent or is it just me?” Jimin said, sighing.
“Welcome to the fantastic and magical parent world, Park Jimin. If it makes you feel any better, no parent knows what they’re doing half of the time. We are all here trying to climb mirrors and trying not to slide. What matters is giving our best, and as much as it sounds terrifying some trial and error are unavoidable. For you it’s even harder because you are alone, but trust me when I say you are rocking this even when you don’t feel like it.” Taehyung said, patting his thigh in reassurance.
“You think?” he asked full of doubts. Goddamn. He had never needed recognition, but there he was fishing for words that would make him feel a tiny bit better.
“Yep. I will share a secret with you though: it will get better. Eventually you will feel like you are about to piss your pants only once a week.”
Jimin shivered. He wasn’t even sure Taehyung was joking.
He exhaled loudly.
“I hope. Little incidents like these sure don’t help me. Yesterday if it hadn’t been for that Jungkook kid, who knows how I would have managed to get home.” Jimin said dejectedly.
“Wait, what are my ears hearing? Did you just say Jungkook? That Jungkook with whom you have hooked up on your company’s Christmas party, The Jungkook who is seven years younger than you, The Jungkook who is hotter than hell?”
“The Jungkook that is also a public enemy? Yes, exactly that one. So ignore I mentioned his name and let’s move on.” Jimin said, irritated with himself for having slipped that detail. He wasn’t in the mood for that kind of teasing and plus Jungkook was a subject he would rather not consider. He had more important problems.
“Not at all, you are going to tell me everything, like, this is the most exciting thing that has happened to me since the five bucks I won with that scratch card two weeks ago!” Taehyung exclaimed all giddy.
“I’m very sad for you, but anyway there’s nothing to tell. My car was dead, he happened to pass by and I asked if he had cables, he happened to know where they have them in logistics, ran all the way there, ran all the way back and used his car to bring mine to life. The end.” Jimin said, crossing his arms over his torso.
“This is not the end. Like out of all the people it was Jungkook who helped you?”
“Hello? He works there too you know.”
“But still! I always thought there might have been some misunderstanding there,” Taehyung commented.
“Taehyung I’m sorry to break it to you, but this isn’t a romcom, he didn’t type my number wrongly because I took his phone and typed it in myself, so there’s no way he doesn’t have it. Only old women still think that dudes that don’t call have a reason other than: he is not interested .”
“Sorry to break it to you, but you are an old woman. Besides, didn’t he try to talk to you several times the first weeks during coffee break but you just brushed him off?”
Jimin grunted because that was right. Jungkook had attempted some timid approach, but given how awkward Jungkook usually was, he wasn’t really sure.
“Also didn’t he send you flowers when…?” Taehyung trailed off when he realized that might not be an appropriate example, even though the point still stood. Taehyung shut up abruptly and Jimin sighed, this time loudly.
There was something that had made this thing with Jungkook weird and had left him dumbfounded, but he was still too stubborn to swallow his pride and go ask him why he had thought of doing something like that. Jimin didn’t understand because Jungkook was the guy with whom he had hooked up after the Christmas party and who hadn’t even bothered to call Jimin back.
Jimin had been sure Jungkook didn’t think of him in any other way than a drunken night of sex.
Then he went on and did that. Something so extraordinary and so meaningful that it would have been enough to make Jimin cry if only he had some tears left.
“As a person who had once lost his family as well, I know there aren’t words in this world that could make you feel better or take away the pain you are feeling now. What I can say is that pain isn’t always a bad thing.
Pain will remind you of the good days spent together, of the little things they have done for you and you didn’t have the chance to thank them for. It will forever remind you of how they had once been there, yes, but it’s also the proof of how much you have loved each other. And I promise you that love hasn’t gone anywhere, it will stay with you forever.
These were the words in the card that had accompanied the most wonderful bouquet of tiger lilies Jimin had ever seen. It had been given to him by a courier the day of his sister and brother-in-law’s funeral.
He had never had the courage to ask Jungkook about that and the younger had never attempted to talk to him about it either. So sometimes despite his stubbornness, he couldn’t help but wonder.Because those words were imprinted in his heart and by giving pain a meaning that he could accept, they had been more than once the only thing that had prevented him from breaking down.
“Enough about that kid for now. Tell me more about Hyejin and the pregnancy,” Jimin demanded, trying to change the topic. The atmosphere had somehow turned gloomy and sad.
Taehyung gladly jumped on it because he hated anything that was upsetting, and above all everything that would sadden his best friend. So he enthusiastically talked about his wife and the baby even after they had dropped Aeri and Soohyun to their respective schools.
“Do you want me to come and give you a ride back after work?” Taehyung offered kindly once they had arrived at his workplace.
“No, don’t worry. I will probably ask one of my colleagues to give me a lift to a rentacar shop or something. I don’t have to go get Aeri today so I have time to fix this,” Jimin said trying to smile.
“As you wish, but please call me if you need anything. You know I’m more than happy to help. I mean, after all the times you’ve been there rubbing my back as I puked my guts out during college, do you really think I would leave you on your own?” Taehyung said, winking at him.
“Go away you ridiculous crackhead.”
Taehyung's cackling could be heard even after he had driven away. Yet, as soon as Taehyung was gone, so was the hilarity and the good moment. Jimin sighed.
He was late to work and if his boss had found out, he would have made it very difficult for him. Clearly, that day already promised to be as peachy as the day before.
“I can do it, I can do it!” Jimin muttered under his breath as he hurried inside the building.
“Oh, Jimin! Are you alright? Is Aeri okay? “ Seokjin fussed over him as soon as he stepped inside their office. Jimin had texted him about his delay.
“Yes all good, just a little car problem,” Jimin explained flopping down on his seat as a couple of his colleagues hissed sympathetically.
“Ah, that sucks man. You could have called me though, I would have come” Seokjin replied, pouting like a kid who was denied his favorite toy.
“Since you are offering, maybe I can ask you for a lift in the afternoon?”
“Sure, no problem. Though, now that you mention it, maybe you can ask your new friend,” Seokjin said wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“What friend are you talking about?” Jimin replied distractedly as he connected his laptop to the second monitor.
“I don’t know, maybe the young junior engineer who left a business card on your desk?” Seokjin commented with a conspiracy tone.
At those words Jimin’s eyes widened, freezing for a long moment before launching himself on his desk looking for said business card as Seokjin cackled on the sideline.
It turned out he didn’t have to search for long given that the business card lied on top of his keyboard.
It was the business card of a mechanic.
Intrigued, Jimin turned it around just to find something scribbled behind it.
Pretty good at a reasonable price. Give it a try in case of need.
“Care to enlighten me?” Seokjin inquired eagerly, eyeing the business card from afar.
“There’s nothing to talk about, you little gossiper.”
“As if! You are lucky we are drowning in work though, because you can bet I would be there squeezing the truth out of you otherwise.” Seokjin commented, the pout back on his face.
Jimin shook his head, amused by his friend’s behavior, but then his gaze fell on the business card again and his brows furrowed.
So Jungkook had come all the way to the upper level just to leave him that card? Was he a psychic? Had he just used it as an excuse to talk to him?
Ha. Don’t be ridiculous Park Jimin.
He played with the card for some seconds before reluctantly putting it away in his wallet.
He tried to ignore the smug grin of Seokjin when he saw him do that and decided that it was better to start working, instead.
“Jimin, I am telling you this once and you better listen. Use that fucking business card. You always complain about how your mechanic is a leech, so why not try another?” Taehyung had reasoned with him when Jimin had told him about the new developments.
Jimin had to agree that Taehyung's reasoning didn't lack any logic, and tried to ignore that part of his mind that felt elated at the thought of Jeon Jungkook thinking of him, instead.
In the end, Jimin just gave in and called this Jung Hoseok. The dude had sounded nice, but more than anything practical. In the blink of an eye, he had arranged for Jimin’s car to be taken to his workshop and given him an appointment for Saturday late in the morning.
Which worked perfectly with Jimin's schedule. It left him room to do some chores and enough time to leave Aeri at the Kims’. If he was lucky he could make it in time to join them for lunch.
When Saturday had finally arrived and he had gotten there with a taxi, suddenly full of doubts and hoping not to regret his decision, Jimin hadn't known what to expect. Certainly not a well organized garage, so clean and neat that it shone, and old hits of the nineties booming in the back as if it were a club.
“Good morning?” Jimin asked uncertain, as he glanced around. He heard a loud screech and then the sound of wheels scraping on concrete, followed by a handsome man that looked like he was in his mid thirties emerging from under a truck.
“Good morning!” the man said as soon as he was on his feet. “How can I help you?”
His smile was so big and bright that it made Jimin flustered. He cleared his throat.
“I’m Park Jimin, I had an appointment with Jung Hoseok around this hour to check out my car?” Jimin said, although it sounded more like a question.
“Yes, that’s me! You must be Park Jimin, Jungkook’s colleague! Nice to meet you!” he exclaimed, taking off his working gloves to shake hands. Jimin awkwardly greeted him too. He wasn’t used to ‘bubbly and warm’, he was more well-adjusted with ‘sarcastic and witty’ like Seokjin.
“Well! Follow me in the back, your car is there,” he said with another big smile, exiting the workshop and motioning for Jimin to come with him. Jimin did as he was told, trying to not let his mind overthink things.
Was this guy always so nice with everyone or was it just with him for some ulterior motive? He seemed to know Jungkook enough for the latter to inform him that they worked in the same company. Did he know anything else?
Jimin refused to even consider that hypothesis.
He was there for his car and hopefully for a good service that didn’t end up emptying his wallet.
“I changed the battery but when I checked the control unit as routine I found an error on the gas pedal, so I had to change the plaque. I don’t know if it was prior to this occasion, but if it was, you were lucky your car hasn't stopped in the middle of the street randomly. Everything is fine now, so you don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Hoseok explained as he opened a shed where Jimin’s and other three cars were parked.
Jimin fished out his keys and immediately hopped inside his car. The engine came to life at his first try, roaring healthily like always. He sighed in relief.
He drove the car and parked it at the front of the shop and waited for Jung Hoseok to close the shed and come back at the front to finalize the payment.
Jimin couldn’t help but whistle when he read how much it was.
“Is there something wrong?” Hoseok asked, a bit alarmed.
“Not at all. Like, I don’t think my mechanic ever asked me so little for anything that wasn’t the change of oil!”
“Well, whatever were his reasons they are different from mine?” Hoseok replied a bit confused.
“If this is your normal fare, with no friend discount whatsoever, you can be my mechanic for the rest of my life.”
Hoseok laughed loudly.
“No friend discount whatsoever, I swear. Even if you weren't Jungkook's colleague and he wasn't my best friend, I would have charged you the same. Everyone needs to get by and it’s completely understandable to overprice to have more gain margin/profit, but I don't lead my business like that. I charge what it really costs plus the time I worked on it, and that’s it. I found out that by being fair I attract more customers.”
“Well, that’s great.” Jimin replied, pleasantly surprised. He greeted Hoseok this time just as warmly and, with his now fixed car, he drove to Taehyung's place.
Jimin was pensive and also a bit confused once again by Jungkook's gestures. Whatever his motive was, he owed Jungkook big time. Could Jungkook have known that giving him a business card was going to contribute to making Jimin's life easier in a time where everything seemed to work against him?
Aeri, work, home and Aeri again. This was Jimin's new life and it felt old even when it still tasted foreign to him.
He loved his niece, of course he loved her. He might not have felt the impulse to coo and he might never swoon for her but it was kin, it was the flesh and blood of his late sister and hence a bit of him too.
Back then he had always tried to gift her cool things instead of the most expensive toys, he also made her listen to his music, even if it was too adult for such a small kid. She had loved the toys and had danced along to those songs, and somehow they had bonded.
Yet, being a good uncle was a lot different than being a good parent, and it was often exhausting and draining since he had to be the best version of himself for her sake, every single time.
The thing was that being this Jimin for her left little to no room to be anything else. It was already hard trying to maintain his working persona without having to add another identity. However, he felt like wanting to try. It took him a couple of days to get over his stubbornness and probably, even though he didn't want to admit to himself, gather a bit of courage. But eventually he managed to track down Jungkook at work.
It wasn't that hard really, he had known the details of his routine for a while now thanks to the kind contribution of the gossip group of ladies at the coffee break room. So he might have known that Jungkook went there a little bit after ten and that, despite the management having just bought an awesome new coffee machine, he only ate sweet things because he didn’t like the bitter taste of coffee.
That was why Jimin had done a little bit of baking with Aeri, who had a lot of fun digging her fingers in the dough and even more fun decorating the crooked star shaped cookies with icing sugar. Their kitchen had looked like a war zone after that, but it had been worth it just to hear her giggling like that (it also was a chance to teach Aeri the art of cleaning and putting things back to their right place).
The gossip ladies hadn't lied, and ten minutes after ten Jungkook entered the coffee break room for his daily dose of sugar.
If Jungkook had been surprised to find him there he didn't let it show on his face, but Jimin saw him slow down as if he was expecting an ambush. Jimin cringed thinking that it kind of was.
Jungkook greeted him with a neutral tone and went for his favourite snack. Jimin took some quick steps in his direction and stopped him before he could insert the coins.
"Jungkook, wait!" he said with the grace of an elephant in a crystals’ shop. Jungkook turned towards him this time, a little surprised by his straightforwardness. Jimin had never made any attempt to interact with him after that night.
"I called the number on the business card. And you were right, not only were they quick and efficient but the price was also fantastic. You saved me some big bucks there." Jimin spat out quickly. Almost aggressively.
He was supposed to be smart and eloquent given that he was in the sales team, but he had known for a while that none of his skills worked in front of this kid.
"Oh, I'm glad." Jungkook replied curtly as he eyed Jimin suspiciously. Jimin decided it wasn't the time to let himself be stopped by that, and since he was the older one of the two and also the one in debt, he took a big breath and handed a shopping bag to Jungkook.
"My niece and I baked some cookies. She got a bit enthusiastic with the icing, but I swear that they are good despite their weird shape. I brought some as a thank you gift. For having helped me with the car. Twice."
Jungkook took the bag Jimin was offering him as if he couldn't believe that the man was giving him a gift and not a grenade. If he were being honest it kind of annoyed Jimin how he was playing the role of the asshole when he had been the one that was stood up, but tried to comfort himself thinking that this was going to be their last interaction.
He couldn't deny that one of the reasons he had put aside his embarrassment was the letter that Jungkook had sent him.
Those words that had arrived in the most vulnerable moment of his life, had made him feel deeply understood and hence a little less lonely.
But since he would have never found the guts to address that, he had baked cookies to thank him for something far more trivial.
"Thank you! And thank Aeri for me! It's way too much for the little I did." Jungkook enthusiastically exclaimed and when he smiled, the smile reached all the way to his eyes.
Jimin couldn't help but see a bit of the charming young man that had fascinated him so much that night.
"It wasn't. So thank you," Jimin replied, starting to feel warmth all over. He didn’t know if he was talking about the car or something else. He decided it was better that he left now if he didn't want to make a fool of himself. "Anyway, I have to go. Tomorrow is an important day for the team and every minute is precious. I will tell Aeri you appreciated her culinary skills." Jimin said, trying to sound cheerful and not like the awkward mess that he was.
"I… wait, Jimin! I wanted to tell you something." Jungkook called, successfully stopping him from taking a step further. He didn't have an excuse to make it look like he hadn’t heard him, and even though he wanted nothing but to run away, he didn't like the troubled expression Jeon Jungkook was wearing.
For god's sake. I knew this was a mistake.
"Just... I wanted to tell you that I can give you my number in case you need some help with your car..." Jungkook breathed out, and Jimin couldn't believe what he was hearing and it probably showed on his face because Jungkook looked visibly uncomfortable.
Yet he also looked determined to continue whatever he had in mind, and Jimin wasn't going to let him.
"Look Jeon, I don't know what you are talking about here and neither do I want to find out. You helped me so I thanked you, and that's it." Jimin said curtly as he was really considering taking out his shoe and throwing it at Jungkook’s head.
"...Or anything else, considering that last time I erased your contact by accident and couldn't text you, so you couldn't have possibly saved my number back."
Jimin froze on his spot. No. It couldn't be. It couldn't be that all this time Taehyung had been right and Jimin had been too stubborn, his pride too hurt, to stop and consider for a moment that could be the case. He had instead opted to change direction every time Jungkook happened to enter his same room with the face of someone that wanted to say something.
"You erased my number. By accident." Jimin repeated in disbelief.
"Yes. Then I was too embarrassed to admit my dumbness. And then I was too much of a coward to come and ask you to give it to me again. And then it was just too late." Jungkook said sourly as if he was regretting every single instance.
Jimin was appalled. No, more. He was shocked.
That was why, when the gossip ladies entered the room, he used that chance to elope like the mature 31 years old man he clearly was.
Jimin went back to his desk like in trance and greedily dived in his work with the excuse of the upcoming business meeting, just to be able to silence the sirens that had been screaming in his head since he had heard Jungkook's words.
He had gone home a little dazed and had a hard time trying to fall asleep. It had little to do with his family worries and his important project, and a lot more to do with a dumb crush that had probably never gone away, which was why it had ridiculously stung so much.
He hadn't moved from his floor the next day because he had been busy delivering a successful presentation with his team to this big import client. And neither the next one, because he had felt too drained after the meeting.
But two days later Jimin was back to waiting for a little bit after ten at their coffee break room, even though he usually went there at least an hour earlier. When Jungkook entered the same room and spotted him with a pack of KitKat freshly retrieved from the vending machine just for him, he knew that Park Jimin, the monstrous rookie leader of the sales department, might have granted him a chance.
Jungkook's smile was so wide upon seeing him and his face so bright, that Jimin didn't have the heart to keep doubting him.
It could mean nothing. It could be just a friendship, or so Jimin hoped.
Yet he knew he was just denying himself once again. And if he felt all warm inside every time Jungkook laughed at one of his jokes, nobody had to know that. It was his little secret.
From then on, they started to share the coffee break together, chatting about anything and everything. Jungkook was a gamer, as the nerdy engineer that he was, but he also enjoyed working out, taking long strolls, didn't disdain wine and was very passionate about photography and movies.
It was so damn easy to get along with him and he had a type of personality that well balanced Jimin's more extravagant one, at least the one that liked to blast old R&B and hip-hop songs and sing on top of his lungs even when he didn't remember a word.
They were very energetic people but in different ways, and despite Jungkook being young, he was in no way less grown up than Jimin, and in some ways probably even more.
“I come from a modest family. We learned to take care of each other, so maybe it’s that.” Jungkook had told him when Jimin had teased him saying that he was a youngster with an old soul.
That had immediately put Jungkook in the list of cool people to admire and also made it harder for him to keep his reactions at bay.
Only shatters remained of what once was a whole heart and whatever function was left Jimin had reserved it for Aeri. Yet when Jungkook smiled at him, he felt like maybe one day the remnants could be recomposed.
And he was terrified.
Terrified of how much he wanted it and, at the same time, how he couldn't allow himself to have it. Jimin was 31, single with a kid that needed his utmost attention and all the time he could give her. He didn't know where he could squeeze Jungkook in and besides, the younger had only known the Jimin of the past, before he became a father.
If Jungkook still felt attraction, that was certainly aimed at someone Jimin no longer represented and would never be again.
It was hard to resist the pull when Jungkook was just so... himself.
After they had finally cleared the misunderstanding, all the reasons that had first brought Jimin to seduce him during that Christmas party came back full force. And whoever knew him well enough had started to notice too, if Seokjin's wiggly eyebrows were something to go by.
“Does this make me a bad person, Taehyung?” Jimin had asked him one saturday afternoon after the car events.
Saturdays were kind of their thing and Jimin always hogged Taehyung and Hyejin's kitchen trying to steal some good meals. With Aeri things didn't change and if anything his stay got longer considering how much the two kids went along. Currently Aeri and Sohyun were busy playing in the spacious garden of the Kim household, burning out the energy from their lunch. Their joyous shouts and giggles could be heard from the kitchen. One of the many things he lamented was not having enough space to offer Aeri for her to run and have fun like a kid of her age should.
“What are you talking about?” Taehyung asked distractedly since he was scrubbing sticky chocolate stains from his daughter's T-shirt. Sohyun had decided her white T-shirt needed to have a taste of the ice cream and he was quick to jump in and make her change it because “If I don't clean it now it won't ever go away,” he had said with a serious tone.
Jimin wished he had even half of his fatherly instinct and at least a quarter of his carefree sense of abnegation. It really looked like Taehyung's maximum goal in life was scrubbing off stains from his daughter's clothes.
Jimin envied him to death because he couldn't relate.
“Every day I wake up and go to work and take care of Aeri, and every day I feel like suffocating, trapped in my own clothes with no escape. I am the worst. What type of person— what type of parent feels like this?”
“Jimin...” Taehyung said with such pity and affection in his voice, it made him want to cry. This was Kim Taehyung, his best friend, yet why did he sound so much like his dad?
“She isn't the only one who lost someone. You lost them too. You lost them too and you didn't have time to do anything else but put aside your personal feelings and take on one of the most difficult roles in life. You are allowed to feel a bit salty about how things went. Even more than a bit.”
“Even if I never wanted to be a parent?”
“And yet here you are doing your best. You could have left her, you know. It was and still is an option. ”
“I could never do that! She is mine!” Jimin exclaimed, surprising even himself.
Taehyung smiled at that, and Jimin stood there speechless and confused in the middle of his kitchen. He didn't even register that his friend had already rinsed his daughter's T-shirt and was now squeezing it to take out all the water.
“From where does all this negativity come, though? My best friend senses tell me something must have happened to you. You don't usually get this tangled.”
Jimin stayed quiet because they were moving towards some dangerous and foreign territory and he didn't want to give himself away.
“So what made you reflect upon your life situation and new role? Actually let me rephrase it, who made you reflect upon this?”
“Nobody. Just thoughts in my head. They have been there for a while.”
“Unfortunately I know that. You can be such a mysterious shit when you want. But if you are so keen about it, can it be because you are starting to open up at other opportunities and this is unbalancing you?”
Jimin laughed to try and hide it all before Taehyung could catch on. As much as he liked to act goofy, Taehyung was a hawk when it came to taking out thoughts and feelings from Jimin.
“Has this something to do with a person called Jungkook?”
“Shut up.” Jimin replied, embarrassed by his inability to keep acting aloof.
His life was Aeri, work, home and Aeri. Yet in-between the hectic rhythm of his life, now there was Jungkook too.
Jungkook had come to him a couple of days earlier and had asked him if he wanted to go out and grab a drink. Jimin hadn't been prepared.
His face must have looked very surprised, because Jungkook had been quick to add a shy and embarrassed, “Only if you want to, of course.” as if him asking Jimin out had been offensive to the older.
In a way it had been, because he would have liked to say yes. But he had needed to say no.
“I can't, I'm sorry.”
“Oh,” Jungkook's face had fallen, but it had been evident how much he was forcing himself to stay neutral and not show his disappointment. “It's… I understand. Sorry for having made this awkward.” he concluded apologizing.
“No, it's not that I don't want to. I really can't. I can't just go out like this, I need to call a baby sitter or leave Aeri to my best friend Taehyung, and even then I have to check if they are available way beforehand. And Aeri doesn't take well to me staying out at night so I would rather not do it until she gets better after, you know...” Jimin had rambled on without taking a breath.
“Oh. Oh, right! Of course, you are right. I'm so dumb for not having thought about that!” Jungkook had exclaimed as if he was the scum walking on earth. Jimin had assured him that there was nothing to be apologetic for and they had spent the following minute awkwardly apologizing to each other. The summa of romanticism.
“I don't want to come in the way of your priorities, but I would really love to spend more time with you. So if you feel like it, the community center where I volunteer as a coach for the basketball team organizes a barbecue for families and kids this sunday. I'm in charge of the kids activities, so if you and Aeri want to spend a different but fun Sunday feel free to come. I would really like to have the two of you as my guests.” Jungkook had said with a giant smile by the end of it. Jimin hadn't known what to reply at the moment, but Jungkook had told him that it was okay, that he could even decide on the same day since they always cooked a lot of meat regardless.
This was why Jimin was now having a crisis in Taehyung's kitchen.
He had wanted so much to say yes right off the bat.
Of course he hadn’t. He had just nodded, smiling and hoping that Jungkook would sense his thankfulness in finding someone so understanding in him.
“He invited me to a parents and children gathering at the community center he volunteers at,” Jimin murmured after a while.
“Told you it was all a misunderstanding,” Taehyung chirped and Jimin couldn't do anything but grunt in disdain.
“So what are you going to do?” Taehyung insisted with no intention of dropping the subject any time soon.
“I don't know. In a way it's just an innocent gathering, but somehow... actually I don't really want to think of what other thing this could mean to him. Or to me.” Jimin concluded, pained. It was all so confusing. He was appalled by this unexpected development, or maybe he just lacked imagination.
Honestly it wasn't that his heart was empty. It was just filled to the brim.
“Don't wrap your head over something that hasn't happened, yet. It's a gathering not a date between you two. So go. It might do you and Aeri some good. There's no crime in enjoying some company. Let yourself have a little bit of comfort too,” Taehyung said again with a typical fatherly tone.
Jimin tilted his head, still uncertain.
He didn't decide on that moment and neither later that night when he tucked Aeri to bed.
But when he woke up the next morning and looked at Aeri peacefully sleeping by his side, everything for a moment looked calm as if this was how it was supposed to be, and he felt like wanting to try something different.
So he got up from bed, making sure not to wake her up so that he could use that time to quickly shower and dress up, and by the time Aeri had padded out of the room looking for him, Jimin had already prepared breakfast and took out her favorite outfits.
When she saw the three dresses, Aeri stopped rubbing her eyes and snapped them open in delight.
“We are going out sweetcheeks!”
“Yes! Out!” she exclaimed with a bit too much enthusiasm, but Jimin just smiled endeared. So they ate calmly and thoroughly, Jimin checking the news on his phone just how he liked to do when he got up while Aeri watched the cartoons on the TV.
Jimin didn't like for her to watch a lot of TV, but on Sundays she was allowed to watch at least three episodes of her favorite series. It always gave Jimin the time to fold and iron the laundry.
A bit before lunchtime, both of them were ready to go. Jimin texted Jungkook telling him they had decided to go and received a message that sounded so excited that it was hard to refrain himself from smiling like an idiot. That kid was going to be the death of him.
They stopped by a supermarket on their way because Jimin didn't want to go empty handed, leaving the task to choose the small cake she liked best to Aeri. Of course she chose a small pink cake with strawberry and cream.
On their way there he put on some pop music that Aeri and he sang together. His niece liked music a lot and that was a thing that had always brought them together. His sister liked to take videos of the two of them dancing. Sadly, Jimin only had a couple of them since they had been stored in his sister's phone, which got trashed that same night.
They arrived there with a sore throat and an aching tummy from laughing too much and the wild singing.
Jimin wasn't familiar with this part of the city, but it looked nice and neat with a lot of green scattered everywhere. Jungkook had assured him the kids would have had plenty of space and what he had seen so far looked promising.
The door of the spacious building was open and a group of women were by the entrance, checking the people in and welcoming them.
They smiled at him kindly and cooed at Aeri, who hid behind Jimin's legs. Despite loving the praises, Aeri got shy in front of people she didn't know. But if the women kept praising her for her round cheeks and cute ponytails, it wouldn't have taken long to win her over.
When she acted like that, Aeri reminded him so much of his sister, of how she loved to pose in front of the mirror when she was a teen and Jimin snickered at her as he tugged at her long braids.
He felt a mini constriction to his chest even though he was smiling.
Pain will remind you of the love you had for each other.
Jimin took Aeri by the hand and led her in the backyard, where the ladies had just told him where the gazebos and the tables were.
Despite knowing nobody, Jimin greeted everyone as he looked for Jungkook, who was nowhere near in sight.
He had texted him before getting off the car but he hadn't replied yet.
Then, just when he was starting to get a bit nervous, he finally spotted a familiar face.
There, standing by the barbecue, stood the mechanic Jung Hoseok.
Despite having seen each other only once, Jung Hoseok smiled at him as if they were long term friends.
“Hello! Nice seeing you here!” he exclaimed, patting his shoulders.
Just like the first time he had met him, the guy had such a warming aura that he seemed to emit heat. Jimin did his best to greet just as warmly as he introduced him to Aeri.
“Sweetcheeks, this is mechanic Jung, the one I told you has repaired our car!” Jimin explained to her, at which she nodded shyly in understanding.
“Hi Aeri! I’m mechanic Jung, but you can call me Hobi if you prefer.” he said, squatting down to greet her properly.
“Hi Hobi,” she said cutely, but she seemed to have no intention of leaving Jimin's leg any time soon. Hoseok didn't seem to mind, and if anything he cooed harder. Jimin deduced he probably was the type of guy who liked kids.
“Jungkook gave me clear instructions in case he was held somewhere else by the time you made it here,” Hoseok told Jimin once he got back to his feet. “So follow me, I'll show you around a bit and introduce you to some people in the meantime. Jungkook had to run and buy some supplies for the kids’ treasure hunts, he will be back in a few minutes,” he concluded, winking at him and causing Jimin to wriggle internally. Why did he feel like Hoseok was treating him as if he was some type of guest of honor?
In any case Hoseok showed him around even though, aside from the courtyard and the big park, it didn't seem like there was too much to see. He introduced him to some moms and dads who greeted Jimin kindly, smiling even more warmly after Hoseok said that he was Jungkook's friend.
It seemed like by being Jungkook's acquietance, gave you some extra kudos in people's eyes. Just what type of person was Jungkook that these people talked of him as if he had hung the stars upon the sky?
He and Aeri had just sat on one of the tables when someone called his name with such genuine joy that it made Jimin almost blush.
He was a grown ass adult goddamn, yet this kid made him feel like he was a teenager dealing with his first crush all over again.
He came running towards him with a giant smile plastered on his face.
“You are here!” he said as if he couldn't believe Jimin had actually come. To his credit, it wasn't like he had treated Jungkook very fairly those past few months. Family situation or not, Jimin knew that it wouldn't have changed his prejudice towards him.
“We are here,” Jimin said, unable to formulate something more eloquent. Jungkook didn't look like he noticed because as soon as Jimin used the word ‘we’ his eyes immediately went to check on the other little guest, who was now ravishing the bread on the table as she eyed the newcomer suspiciously.
“Hi!” Jungkook said with a kind smile as he took a seat next to her. “I'm Jungkook. What's your name?”
Aeri didn't seem to have intention to stop munching her bread any time soon to dignify him with a reply.
“Hey, he asked you a question, sweetcheeks. What do we do when they ask us something?” Jimin said, looking for her gaze.
“I'm Aeri,” she replied after she had swallowed. Jungkook smiled at her with such warmth that even Aeri’s mood couldn't stay immune.
Jimin caressed her head, before retrieving one of the water bottles that stood in the center of the table and filling a paper cup for her to help her swallow.
“Well Aeri, later we are going to have a huge treasure hunt and a lot of other games. Will you join us?”
She shook her head and Jimin felt a bit bad for Jungkook’s failed attempt to warm up to her. But Jungkook's smile never faltered.
“What if I told you that whoever takes part in the game can win a prize?” he asked her. At these words he had Aeri’s whole attention. She nodded rather fiercely.
Jimin laughed at that, as he pinched her plump cheeks. This little demon of his.
After that though, Jungkook didn't seem to be interesting to her anymore because she got distracted by one of the kids seated not too far from there, who was playing with soap bubbles.
“She is a bit shy, but she has a lot of energy and loves to play games. If you call her she will come later,” Jimin explained as he saw her trying to get closer to the other kid.
It was such a cute sight.
“She is adorable, she resembles you a lot,” he commented, to which Jimin tilted his head in surprise. “She has the same eye shape as you and the way she looks at people resembles you a lot too! Exactly like you do at work. She is going to be a leader just like her uncle, trust me.” Jungkook commented endeared.
“How do I look at people at work?” Jimin asked, shocked.
Jungkook smiled cheekily, which earned him a glare from Jimin's part.
“See? Exactly this look! Do you even know how it makes people feel?”
“How does it make people feel?” Jimin insisted, almost offended.
“As if you are in the presence of passion personified. You leave a strong impression on the rest of us commoners,” Jungkook replied then and his eyes sparkled while saying those words.
Jimin couldn't deny just how much he liked the way Jungkook was looking at him. With admiration and softness as if Jimin was one of a kind.
“It's just stubbornness. But please feel free to keep transforming my flaws into qualities. I would love to hear more,” Jimin said, making Jungkook laugh.
They chatted a bit more about little things, Jungkook seemed eager to make Jimin and Aeri’s presence at this community center as comfortable as humanly possible, telling them that they were free to wander and that if they wanted to have some taste of meat he was friends with one of the grillers so Jimin just had to ask.
However he wasn’t able to stay for too long before someone came to call for his aid. Jimin got kind of the impression from the moms there and how the other staff treated him, that Jungkook was the soul of the center as well as someone very much loved.
It made him feel all sort of fuzzy inside and it was hard to keep his eyes off his retreating figure when he walked away. Jungkook had left his hoodie next to Jimin as if he was afraid someone would steal the spot (even though logically nobody knew Jimin enough to particularly demand to sit there too).
“He is good,” commented one of the old ladies sitting at their table. Jimin turned towards them, smiling a bit bashfully at being caught ogling.
“Do you know him well?”
“Like the palm of my hand. His gramps used to bring him here every Sunday. You know, this isn't only a place for kids to have fun and learn, but also a place for elderly to socialize, mostly by putting wild bets on cards,” the woman said laughing at her own words.
“How was he as a kid?” Jimin inquired further. This old lady looked like she was dying to spill whatever she knew and Jimin couldn't deny to be very curious.
As co-workers and hook-ups of a night, his impressions of Jungkook were just bi-dimensional, and their coffee encounters were far too short to satisfy his hunger for knowledge. Considering how counted his free time was, this was most likely his only chance to dig a bit further. He tried to ignore the reason behind this eagerness.
“His gramps was one of the original founders of this place. Jungkook and he used to live in this part of the city in the big house just at the end of the street. After his grandpa passed away and Jungkook had to sell the house, we thought we wouldn't see him anymore since his gramps was his only family, but that kid kept coming back to help and now he is the leader of most of our initiatives and activities. He is such a blessing.”
Jimin smiled at her, while he tried very hard to keep his shock at bay.
He didn't know. Of course he didn't know and he hadn’t even bothered to ask because he had been – again – too much of a coward to face Jungkook over the matter. It seemed like Jungkook was an orphan too, and if that was really the case, then it made sense that he could understand Jimin’s pain so well.
Luckily as soon as the other ladies had sensed they were talking about Jungkook, they immediately butted in and started talking about him, and Jimin had the pleasure to hear some interesting adventures of Jungkook as a kid and also distract himself over dwelling on such sad thoughts.
In the meantime, Aeri had bonded with the kid with the bubble soap and was now playing with him and his sister. Aside from Jimin checking up on her from time to time, she seemed fine. Actually she looked more happy and excited than what she had been in a while and Jimin suddenly was glad to have agreed to come here, if just to make her mingle more with kids her age.
Hoseok joined him some time later, the mechanic deciding to sit in front of him, bringing even more laughter to the table. He seemed to be one of the ladies' favorites too.
Not long after, Jungkook was back by his side and the first trays full of meat and grilled potatoes were brought to their table. One particular tray with wurstel and hamburgers, the children's favorite, was delivered just in front of Aeri's seat.
The meat was excellent, juicy and very soft, but no matter how tasty everything was, Jungkook was the one responsible of his awfully good mood.
They kept bumping elbows next to each other and Jungkook made sure to fish the most well roasted potatoes and the softest pieces of meat for Aeri, not discouraged by her cold shoulder or her hostile looks.
At the end, his good attempts were rewarded by a small smile that made Jungkook beam like a kid on christmas morning.
It was endearing to say the least.
By afternoon, with their bellies that were threatening to burst, Jimin accepted with good grace the invitation of Hoseok to go and lay down on the grass by the soccer field to enjoy a particularly warm sun of late September.
The kids had been playing for a while now, very busy jumping and running through the field trying to find the golden cards that Jungkook and the other teachers had hidden beforehand. Some were simple cards, some were special cards that made you play some game in order to have more gold. Whoever found the most in the span of thirty minutes could bring home real gold.
Hoseok had assured him it wasn't anything of value but just chocolate shaped coins, which in the kids' eyes was still a treasure.
Jungkook’s jumping and playing along with the kids made him look even more boyish, but also more carefree and bright. Watching him roll in the grass and being chased, made him look more shiny than the golden color of the cards.
Yet when a hoard of kids jumped on him as they formed a pyramid on his back, Jimin cackled just as loud as Hoseok.
“I'm going to help him, he looks too pitiful now!” Hoseok said, trying to muffle some of the laughter with a hand.
He saw Hoseok help Jungkook stand up, his white shirt now sporting a very distinctive stain of grass, and after they exchanged a couple of words Jungkook looked in his direction. It didn’t take him long to reach Jimin.
He threw himself just next to Jimin, landing on the blanket that Hoseok had put there as he turned on his belly and rested on his elbows to be able to look at him.
“Hey,” he said a bit out of breath. Even with greengrass in his hair and a veil of sweat on his forearms, which were popping very attractively under his weight, he still looked hot.
Jimin was trying very hard to ignore impromptu flashbacks of their night together. He had a good knowledge of what those arms and hands were able to do.
“Hey, you are still in one piece. That looked rough.” Jimin commented, giggling.
“Nothing that I can't survive to. I was once tackled down by the whole basketball team, and let me tell you they weight a tad bit more than those kids.”
Jimin laughed at that, trying to imagine Jungkook getting smoldered by a bunch of very tall and muscled teens.
“You seem to enjoy this,” Jimin said after he managed to stop his laughter.
“You mean the treasure hunting?” Jungkook asked with an eyebrow raised, boring his eyes into Jimin and making the older squirm under that gaze.
“No I meant all this, the community center, playing with the kids. There aren’t a lot of people who would genuinely enjoy being tackled in the mud and grass. Or look as happy as you did playing paper scissor rock.” Jimin elaborated, a smile on his lips.
“It's not that difficult, really. Hoseok teases me and says it isn't hard for me to mingle with kids because I am a grown up baby myself, but the thing is, I just like taking care of them.”
“They are lucky to have you,”Jimin said, trying to convey all his sincerity.
Jungkook blushed at that.
“Ah...no. You praise me too much. It's the opposite, I'm lucky to have them. Without the kids and this whole place, I would have probably felt a lot more lonely.” Jungkook said sitting upright and looking somewhere else, suddenly shy.
“When my grandpa died I suddenly had too much time on my hands and nobody to share it with, so yeah...” Jungkook added trailing off. Jimin felt this sudden urge to curl around him and protect him but he did nothing of that, didn't even extend his arm to touch him despite dying to do so. He simply listened, because it seemed like Jungkook hadn't had someone to do just that in a long time.
“How old were you, if I can ask?” Jimin asked tentatively, ready to drop the subject at the first sign of discomfort from Jungkook.
“Almost nineteen, freshly graduated from high school. My mom died when I was a kid and as for my father, I have never heard from him all my life. It was grandpa who raised me and taught me everything I know. Gratefulness and a hint of regret. Those were the feelings laced in Jungkook's words and Jimin could understand them so well.
Winning his own shyness, Jimin finally dared to put his hand on his arm and squeeze it. Jungkook raised his gaze once again, and their eyes met.
It was the first time they had touched in a while.
Jimin opened his mouth, struck by the need to address Jungkook over his letter, but the sound of a whistle distracted him and by the time he looked back at Jungkook, the latter was already raising up to join the kids once again.
The hunt had finished and Jimin could see the kids jumping up and down, each of them claiming to be the winner.
Jimin sighed. Maybe another time. He followed Jungkook in the middle of the field and as soon as Aeri spotted him she ran towards him. Jimin opened his arm and she jumped right in time, latching on him.
“Look! I have sooooo many carrrds!” she exclaimed with her little lisp on the ‘r’. “Count them! Count them for Aeri!” she asked, shoving the cards almost in his nose. Jimin laughed at that and together they found a place where they could count them in peace. Aeri didn't win but she got third and third position got some chocolate coins as well, and so she wasn't too upset.
As he saw her happily enjoy her chocolate and even share some of it with the other kids, Jimin couldn't help but be glad he had come. Days like those were rare in their perfection.
They stayed for a bit longer, but it was evident that Aeri was starting to get tired and Jimin decided it was time to call it a day.
“Thank you Jungkook for inviting us here, we really did have a great time,” Jimin said, as he held Aeri in his arms. She was awake but Jimin knew that the moment he started driving she would doze off in less than a minute.
“I'm glad you both had fun. We do this gathering once a month so feel free to come next time too. I would invite you to visit the center as well but from what you told me it's rather far from your home and I don't want to cause inconvenience to you and Aeri.”
“Unfortunately yes, but coming here once a month doesn't seem too difficult so I will take you up on that invitation.”
Jungkook smiled, all teeth and scrunched nose, looking so young yet being so reliable. What he had heard and seen of him that day, had given him plenty of material to dwell over and if he had been confused before, now he was literally slayed.
This young man, barely 23, indeed had a lot to teach Jimin. To a lot of people actually.
“I really had a good time, Jungkook. Thanks again for everything,” Jimin repeated once both him and Aeri were sitting in their respective car seats.
“Any time. Text me when you get home. And well… text me if you need anything else too or just want to chat. It would make me really happy,” Jungkook dared to say.
How could Jungkook, barely twenty three, say and act always to his heart’s content? Jimin envied him a lot, admired him a lot, but his throat instead felt dry and his words died before they could come out.
Jimin nodded. He just nodded because there was so much he wanted to say so he decided not to say anything.
He could see the lonely figure of Jungkook getting smaller and smaller in his rearview mirror and wished he could turn the car around and say what he hadn’t said. Feel what he shouldn't feel.
Then his eyes dozed off to the sleeping figure of Aeri and he knew that it was the right thing to do. He kept driving even when he felt prickly all over and recognized the symptoms of feelings.
Oh, he was so screwed.
The thing was that Jimin was trying to bite more than he should.
He was Park Jimin, single parent of a four years old girl.
He was team leader Park of the new sales division.
And now he was also the Jimin that wanted to go out with Jeon Jungkook. He was trying to keep up with three different versions of himself, but it was getting tiring. He could feel the exhaustion sinking into his bones due to the major effort of trying to balance everything. All of that, only to end up with the result that he was sucking big time at all three of them.
He couldn't see Jungkook as many times as he wanted. He couldn't keep up with the same amount of work he used to do and it showed. And then, the most excruciating thing,since it was supposed to be his top priority: he was making Aeri suffer from his inability to carry on his duty.
“Maybe you should consider changing jobs, Jimin,” Taehyung had suggested the weekend after his barbecue at the community center.
“I can't. Putting aside my own ambition, I can't just quit and put myself on the hunt. I can't risk it like that when I have a mouth to feed and a mortgage on my apartment to pay. Besides, changing jobs wouldn't necessarily make my situation better. At least here I have a team and I know what I have to do. Getting a new job would mean having to work harder and longer, even if the pay were supposedly better. And I can't take out even more hours from my time with Aeri. She is already suffering from that. No, I have only one option here.” Jimin said, and he didn't even try to suppress his sigh.
“I like Jungkook, though.” Taehyung argued stubbornly.
“You haven’t even met him.” Jimin retorted, squirming on the worn down couch of Taehyung’s living room.
“And whose fault is that?” Taehyung scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I have very good reasons. It's way too soon to start mixing things, besides considering how I should let all of this go it was probably for the best that you've never met him,” Jimin said tiredly.
“I still think you are over complicating this. It's true that I have never met him, but I'm not blind and I can see the look on your face when you talk about him. He does you good Jimin,” Taehyung tried to reason.
“But it is complicated Taehyung, you more than anyone should know just how much.” Jimin countered back a bit harshly.
Taehyung closed his mouth, and even though Jimin felt guilty he didn't apologize and neither did he correct himself.
“Maybe it's better if Aeri and I go back home for today,” Jimin suggested then throwing a glance at Aeri, who was playing in a corner of the living room with Sohyun's toys. Taehyung's wife and daughter had gone to stay at Hyejin’s mother’s place for the weekend. Taehyung was supposed to go as well but an emergency at work had held him back, and that was why he had asked Jimin to come over with Aeri and spend the rest of the day with him.
“There's no need to change plans. You are right, I definitely know that it's complicated, it wasn't my intention to downsize your feelings Jimin, I'm sorry,” Taehyung said with far too much kindness.
“No, I am sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that. I'm just stressed. That's all,” Jimin said ashamed. Taehyung nodded, even though they both knew that Jimin was lying, yet his best friend knew that it was also useless to push it.
They ate dinner early, with Aeri snatching all of their attention with her chatting and silly faces. She was an awesome entertainer when she was in a good mood, and Jimin wished she would soon feel as comfortable as she was in that moment every day of her life. By the time 9 pm rolled around, she was starting to doze off on the couch and Jimin knew it was time to leave.
He carefully picked her up, draping a jacket around her shoulders to keep her warm and making her lean her head gently on his shoulder. She wrapped herself all over him like a koala and hugged his neck. In moments like these, Jimin felt so endeared that he didn't know what to do with himself.
He had never known that parenting, having a small creature in his arms, could be like this.
When he raised his face he realized that Taehyung was observing him attentively with such a sweetness, and maybe even some pride, that made Jimin squirm.
“You are a good person Jimin,” Taehyung said, caressing Aeri’s hair very lightly not to wake her up. Jimin didn't know what to say at that so he just smiled, trying to swallow the knot in his throat and push back the tears that were starting to wet his eyes. No, Park Jimin never cried.
He whispered a good night after that and brought Aeri back home.
Was he really a good person? Jimin didn't think so. He felt like someone that was desperately trying to patch things up instead of having his shit together and facing life, but he couldn't confess this to anyone. And even if he had, he was afraid that they wouldn't get it.
Seokjin would have kicked him and most likely made Namjoon do a powerpoint presentation about how much of an awesome father Jimin was.
Meanwhile Taehyung would have praised his every act and told him that there was no such thing as a perfect parent.
Jimin understood both, but neither of them had been the brother of such an awesome mother.
His sister couldn't conceive kids naturally. She had gone to great lengths and sacrifices to have Aeri and when she was born, she had considered her as a little miracle. She had loved her child fiercely and had never wavered in her role of a mother. She had always known what to do when it came down to her daughter.
“I don’t know, mom. Jimin still freaks out whenever I drink from his water bottle even now, I don't think you’d want him to have kids.” she used to tease him in front of their parents when they were all still alive. It had been a recurring joke and they had laughed over it together. But those words had come back to haunt him in his dreams and they felt like a rock on his stomach. It hadn't hurt back then when he had been dumbly proud of finding a valid excuse for not being a father. It hurt like hell now that he had become one.
No, Jimin didn't feel like he was a good person. Above all, not when Aeri’s teacher called him a couple days later to have a little chat with him.
“I won't hide that I am worried, Mr. Park. Aeri is an energetic kid, full of life and with an obvious talent with her hands. I have never seen a child be so creative with paint, colors or clay. But despite being a good student, she is a little bit behind in other aspects compared to the other kids her age. She often can't focus for long, she is easily distracted and doesn't react well to rules and teacher's demands. There's also the problem that she still does not articulate words well and still sticks to screaming or crying instead of voicing out her thoughts. I don't think it's because she isn't able to, but because she doesn't want to. In conclusion Mr. Park, I think she needs prolonged attentive support for a longer time than you are already dedicating her.”
It had felt like a slap in the face.
Because how was he supposed to do that when he was already giving her all the time he could possibly give her? He couldn't cut down more work hours and he was a single parent, there was nobody that could take care of her except him. No uncles, cousins or grandparents.
Nobody Jimin could rely on, except his friends who were even more busy than him. And the teacher knew that, goddamnit.
It's not her fault that I am inadequate. It's not her fault I never bothered to get to know my niece better, suggested his brain.
31 years old bachelor Jimin, after a day like that where he had to leave his office early under the scolding gaze of his boss just to go and be crushed by Aeri's teacher, would have gone out to get drunk. But that option wasn't exactly available now.
So he just took Aeri back home and played with her in hope to stop thinking for at least a bit. He had always known that Aeri was struggling, her adjustment hadn't gone smoothly and their first weeks together had been grueling. But he had hoped she was doing better, that they were doing better.
That night he allowed Aeri to watch half an hour extra of TV and even let her sleep in the same bed as if it was a weekend.
He wanted to indulge her and pamper her, because he desperately needed to see her smile.
“You look distracted,” Jungkook told him the next day during their coffee break.
“A bit, sorry. I have a lot running in my head,” Jimin replied with a tight smile. After the awesome Sunday at the community center, Jungkook and Jimin had texted a lot, more than his original plan of “Letting Jungkook Go” should have allowed.
Jimin couldn't help it. As long as they didn't go out, his brain registered the texting and the coffee breaks as harmless, and if at night he let his mind relive their sex encounter, nobody needed to know.
In any case as long as he didn't lead Jungkook on, if the young engineer was really interested in him, nobody would have gotten hurt except for him. So it was acceptable.
“Want to talk about it?” Jungkook asked, concerned but also ready to back up at Jimin's first command. Jimin tried not to melt under such delicate attention.
“Maybe another time. It's not because of you really, it's just me. I think I wouldn't be able to stand talking about it,” Jimin confessed, finishing his coffee and relishing in the bitter aftertaste.
“It's fine, I understand. Sometimes there are feelings that are way too tangled to be voiced. But maybe I could help?” Jungkook offered.
“Unless you know some billionaire willing to marry me, I am afraid not. Even though I guess a bottle of alcohol could do, at least for a while. If it weren't for the fact that technically I should be a responsible parent. Which doesn’t seem like to be the case,” he grimaced at the bitterness of his tone.
Jungkook’s brows furrowed as if he didn't agree at all with Jimin's last words, as if he had just said something deeply wrong, but didn't comment on it any further. He came to Jimin with an offer that was very hard to refuse instead.
“Do you think you could spend a couple of hours with me on Saturday morning?”
Jimin’s brows hit the ceiling.
“As in going out?” he asked, instantly regretting having said that. It had sounded so skeptical and reluctant even when there was nothing Jimin wanted more than spend time with him. Jungkook brows furrowed again.
God, if only this kid knew.
“Sort of. I mean technically speaking we have to go out, but I actually wanted to help you with the whole want-to-forget thing,” Jungkook said, trying to keep the conversation relaxed and chill.
Jimin felt bad for Jungkook and how unnecessarily hard he was making it for him.
If Jimin had still been the Jimin of one year ago and if he had this Jungkook so close and so willing to spend time with him, Jimin would have climbed the tree in less than a minute.
It also meant that their story would have probably lasted less than a month because Jimin tended to burn everything way too fast. But who knew. Jungkook didn't seem the type of guy that liked to be chewed on and then spat out. He looked like a chaser. He looked like someone that would have had a real chance to tame 31 years old impertinent bachelor Park Jimin.
However that future had extinguished before it could start, firstly due to Jimin’s dumbness and secondly because destiny had decided that he needed a life revolution.
“If it's Saturday morning, I think I can arrange that. I think I could do it.” Jimin heard himself say.
What the heck am I doing?, he berated himself, but then Jungkook smiled at him as if Jimin had just told him that he had won the lottery and the older felt weak in the knees.
He couldn't help but keep staring at his happy face. His nose crinkle, his thin lips stretching in a giant smile, the mole adorning his nose and the one on his jaw. He must have been staring for a while because he saw Jungkook’s facial muscles relax, his lips get a bit wet, his gaze turn intense and... Jimin had to take a step back at that point, unless he wanted to pin young Jungkook to the vending machine and make out with him. CCTV or not.
Of course that was when his boss decided to pass by. Out of all the people that could have walked by, it had to be him.
“Sir, good morning,” Jimin greeted him, taking several steps back this time. The man eyed the both of them, his judgmental gaze landing heavily on Jimin before he grunted back a greeting.
When the man turned the corner, only then Jimin dared to breath.
“It's better if I go back to my office,” Jimin murmured, sighing under his breath.
Jungkook looked at him a bit puzzled.
“Maybe I’ll tell you about this some other day, but if I can give you a suggestion… be wary of that man.” Jimin explained.
“I really think you have a lot of interesting stories under your belt and I'll make sure that you tell me the funniest ones at least. About Saturday?”
“I think it could be arranged. I will text you, bye Jungkook.” Jimin said trying to smile. Jungkook looked still perplexed but let him go nonetheless, probably too happy that Jimin had told him yes.
Jimin ran back to his office. He already had his plate full, he didn't need that homophobic ass of his boss being on him as well.
Jimin had left his first job at a very prestigious firm because somehow his boss had found out that he swung that way and the bastard had made him terminate his internship under the tag of morality. When his current boss had interviewed him he had asked him why a prestigious firm like that had let him go so abruptly when he had such outstanding marks. Jimin had been naive enough to tell him the truth because he had not been able to think of anything else. The man had scrunched his nose in disdain and Jimin had thought that was it, he was never going to work again, but he was called a month later and told that as long as he kept it down and under control he could work with them.
Jimin had been so thankful and so relieved that he had promised to give it his all for this place and the man that had finally granted him an opportunity. He had been too innocent back then to think that only because the man had hired him, it didn't mean that he also respected him.
He had forced Jimin to stay in the closet and he couldn't deny that one of the reasons why he had been so salty about the mishap with Jungkook was that he had gone out of his way, had challenged his boss’ diktat just to be deceived.
In any case, despite his reluctance and his intentions, Jimin had ended up making those arrangements and on Saturday morning he found himself waiting at the entrance of their apartment complex for Jungkook to pick him up. Aeri was long gone to the Kims and Jimin had to feign innocence and put on a blank face to all the smirks and knowing smiles that Taehyung had thrown his way.
This isn't a date, Jimin had told Taehyung.
“This isn't a date,” he muttered to himself as he waited. Yet, when Jungkook parked in front of him and hopped off the car to come and greet him, hair neatly parted to show his forehead with black jeans and dark blue shirt, Jimin somehow wished it was.
“Where are we going?” Jimin asked as soon as he climbed on. The car was spotless and smelled nice, and it was clear that it had been cleaned out very, very recently.
It was hard not to think that the effort had been done just because of him. It also made it hard not to feel a little bit elated and endeared by the attention.
“First we are going to grab the biggest and fluffiest breakfast you have eaten in a while. Then, well, you'll see.” Jungkook said cryptically, laughing a bit when Jimin raised his eyebrow at him, clearly not satisfied with the vague reply.
Jimin didn't take surprises very well, but he had to admit that if the price to pay for allowing Jungkook to act all mysterious was that breakfast he wasn't going to complain.
Not only everything was double sized, but that ended up being the most awesome coffee, orange juice and eggs he had eaten in such a long time.
“Jungkook, this is the best thing that has happened me in a while. Which is kinda sad now that I think about it, but also so awesome. I swear food never tasted so fantastic. I have to bring Aeri at least once,” Jimin praised as he pleasantly reclined on his seat. He felt like a cat ready for his afternoon nap.
“I'm glad you liked it. They also have a menu for kids and they have a small playground area for kids in the backyard, so I believe Aeri would definitely enjoy it,” Jungkook kindly informed him. No mentions of tagging along or imposing his presence, always going along with whatever pace Jimin settled.
Jungkook was unbelievable.
“I see, thank you for letting me know,” Jimin said with a grateful smile, their gazes locking for a moment. If this were a date, Jimin would have taken his hand in his and gently yanked him forward so that he could lean over the table and kiss him, and who cared about the rest of the world.
Yet it wasn't, it couldn't be, so Jimin just tore his gaze away and leaned further back on his seat as he put some space between them in order not to succumb to the pull.
“Well, this part is done. What is this place you’re taking me to that is supposed to work better than a bottle of alcohol?” he asked, attempting to resort to some teasing in order to clear out the weird and charged atmosphere between them.
“Please don't say it like that or I will feel awfully pressured,” Jungkook said with a bashful smile.
“As you should. I am high maintenance. My kid and I want only the best.”
“That's fair,” Jungkook smiled, and he said like he meant it, like he really thought that Aeri and Jimin deserved the world. Jimin laughed hard, if only to cover up how touched he felt.
He shouldn't have felt like that. He was an adult and older by eight years. Kids shouldn't have been able to fluster him so much. But this wasn't just a kid, it was Jeon Jungkook.
How many nights had he spent mentally kicking himself for having ruined such a golden opportunity with drunken sex? Far too many.
Once they got back to the car Jungkook drove for a while, and after half an hour had passed Jimin finally recognized where they were heading. It was the community center’s neighbourhood.
“Jungkook, what...?” he trailed off as the younger parked not too far from the center.
“This is actually a very beautiful neighborhood, there are almost no condos and all the houses have a porch and backyard. Some are really old, the good old that have classic lines. We should take a walk, I want to show you something,” Jungkook said without really explaining why he had brought Jimin here.
“I've been living here since I have memory. Spent all my afternoons playing with the kids of the neighborhood, pulling pranks on the grannies around here, stealing the petals from their bushes of roses and chasing cats up and down the streets,” Jungkook started as they walked down the road. Jimin had no idea where this was going but he found himself enraptured by Jungkook's voice and tone. He sounded so calm and at peace with himself even when he was disarmingly sharing such personal pieces of himself.
“Despite not having parents, I didn't lack love because grandpa was there for me. He took me in when nobody wanted to, not even my father, and definitely not my uncle who claimed he didn't have time to deal with the unwanted child of an unmarried couple. He took me in and raised me as if I were his own, and every day was wonderful even when we were barely able to get by. We only had one huge but unbelievably old house and the money that my mother had left, paired with whatever my grandpa had saved. We were happy though.” Jungkook said as his eyes and nose wrinkled, probably remembering the good old memories.
“Yet, growing up with old people is a bit bittersweet. As I became older and taller, my grandpa grew frailer, seemingly shrinking in size to the point that a wisp of wind would have been enough to sway him away. When I reached twelve, it finally hit me just how old grandpa had become. I decided there and then that I had to grow up quickly so that I could go to work and look after him. I wanted to give him everything he had sacrificed in order to raise me. I wanted to make his last years golden.
I was so desperate. So stubborn. But you already know how it went, he died before I could do even the tiniest little thing for him. I felt like life had cheated me big time. It felt so fucking unfair and I screamed on top of my lungs on the day of his funeral.”
Jimin felt like he was being ripped to pieces.
He knew. He knew all too well how it felt to feel inadequate, undeserving, and still feel so selfishly lonely when he was allowed to still walk on this earth instead.
Without even thinking about it he found himself grabbing Jungkook's hand, as if it had been a muscle reflex. If Jungkook had been surprised by the gesture he didn't show it on his face, he just kept staring straight ahead as he intertwined their fingers together.
“He left me the house. Not to my uncle but to me, so that I could have something to hold onto. More than anything else, so that I could have something to trade. It was like he had known what I harbored in my heart all along, because in his testament he said it was for me to keep moving forward and become the capable man he always knew I was. I cried buckets. Sometimes I still do. Here, we have arrived.” Jungkook said, and in front of them stood an elegant house from whose backyard came the giggles and shouts of kids running around and playing.
“He had wanted me to sell it so that I could pay my college tuition and I did. Let me tell you that letting go of this house was the most painful thing I ever did because these walls keep the memories of my life spent together with him. When I signed the papers I felt like the most useless human being on earth. I couldn't forgive my lack of resources and my own incapacity. It hurt. But grandpa was right. There was no point in holding myself back. So every time I feel like I am not enough or fear that I failed him, I come here and look at it from afar. A family lives there now, it's a couple with three kids and a dog so there's noise and laughter every time and I can't help but think that despite everything, despite my regrets, this is how it was always supposed to be.”
“Why did you bring me here? Why are you telling me this when we barely know each other?” Jimin asked, an uneasy feeling seeping through his body against his will.
“I brought you here because you needed to see it too. That everything can continue.” Jungkook concluded, turning to stare at him with gentle eyes and squeezing his hand.
Jimin felt like being pierced through his soul.
How dare he? How dare he dissect him, look through Jimin with such disarming easiness and strip him down of all his layers? This young man, barely twenty three, who was supposed to just be the hook up of a drunken night, but was so kind instead. So, so precious.
“I want to go home.” Jimin said then. He unclasped their hands, not unkindly but also without hesitation.
Jungkook looked at him, maybe a bit sad or maybe a bit of something else, but nodded nonetheless. They walked back without exchanging a word, sharing only tentative glances at best.
It wasn't like Jimin didn't appreciate or didn't understand what Jungkook had tried to do there. He had unfolded his heart for him, shared his painful experience in order to give Jimin a common ground that could help him feel less isolated.
But he wasn't ready. He wasn't ready to face all that, and he didn't know if he was ever going to be ready to face what he harbored inside himself.
They stayed in silence even for most of the ride back, some silly remarks here and there in a bland attempt to act like responsible adults.
“Thank you, Jungkook. Don't think that I didn't enjoy my time with you,” Jimin said with his hand on the door handle but still determined to voice some of the things crossing his mind.
“But? It feels like there is a but in there,” Jungkook commented, his eyes roaming his face as if he was searching something.
“It's complicated, Jungkook. It's so complicated that I don't have time to think of anything but my responsibilities.” Jimin confessed.
He had told Taehyung that he couldn't do everything, that he was bound to let go at least one of the things that he was so desperately holding onto and that Jungkook was the logical choice. However it wasn’t easy to let go of something that had the potential to bloom so beautifully.
“I like you Jimin. I like you a lot. I just want you to know that even if you decided not to do anything about it, I would still like you,” Jungkook said with the determination of someone that had decided that he couldn't keep it to himself any longer.
Jimin would have liked to scream, run, rip his hair, or simply lean over the rear gear and kiss Jungkook all over, on his cheekbones, his eyelids, his mouth, everything. But he couldn't. Why was he making it unnecessarily hard for him? Why? Why?
“I enjoy your company.” it was all Jimin was able to say. All that he would ever be able to give Jungkook. A couple of good minutes during coffee break.
Jungkook smiled at him as if it were enough, even when it certainly wasn't.
Jimin nodded then and clumsily climbed out of his car, standing on the sidewalk and watching Jungkook's car get back on the main street and leave.
He could almost see him, Jungkook as a kid, nine years old but already so sure of what he wanted to do once he was old enough. He would have been one of those kids that Jimin would have specially taken care of and smothered in attention during summer camps. One of those kids with broken wings but sparkling eyes. One of the kids that used to be Jimin's favorite.
But even though Jungkook was an adult, and in some ways more mature than the people his age and probably even Jimin himself, he was still too young. Had still to make all the mistakes and adventures of his twenties and Jimin couldn't bring him into his mess.
He wouldn't be able to handle the inevitable heartbreak that their failed relationship would bring.
So he turned around and went back to his house.
Things didn't change.
They still hung out at the vending machines and they still texted. They now threw glances through the Plexiglas, Jimin would wave at him and Jungkook would smile back. But that was all.
He didn't tell anyone about what had happened that day because he was afraid of receiving words of encouragement and it was already hard enough as it was to let go without his friends plowing against him.
He couldn't blame Seokjin for teasing him and Taehyung for cheering for him because they didn't know.
Despite being close, Jimin hadn't opened up to them ever since the funeral. He just couldn't. He was terrified, scared to death that if he opened that door and dared to open his mouth, a river of ugly and hurtful things would come out and he was going to regret them all.
They didn't need to know about his failures, about his inadequacy, about his regrets and fears. They didn't need to get contaminated by his nasty mind and feelings. But more than anything, Jimin knew he wouldn't recover from the disappointment he was surely going to cause them.
So he repressed it, tampered down his feelings, secluded his secrets and dumped them in the farthest recess of his mind hoping that they would go away. Hoping he could stay strong enough to be able to keep them there forever.
In the meantime he was still trying to understand how to help Aeri. He had found a therapist specialized in development psychology but they had told him there was nothing worrisome with her. Sure she was a bit slower than others when it came to learning, but a lot of kids were a bit late and almost all of them caught up in time for primary school. They told him that reading stories was a good thing for her and so was making her talk about topics that could interest her in order to get her used to express her opinions.
Her having lost her parents didn't have an impact on her growth development, but it had certainly affected her emotional sphere.
“You always just call her Aeri or my niece, but never your daughter. And it's completely understandable given the circumstances. But in order for Aeri to move forward, you have to allow yourself to move on too Mr. Park. Let it happen,” the therapist had talked with such kindness that it hurt more than if she were to scold him. She had then suggested therapy for the both of them and for Jimin to make more time for Aeri to settle their bond.
Jimin had nodded at that because there was little if anything that could be done.
So Aeri’s problem wasn't a physiological one but an emotional one, and it seemed to be related to him. To his inability to accept change. And letting go.
Wasn't that the same thing Jungkook had told him?
But how was Jimin supposed to let go without ruining on the same pavement and never getting up?
It crushed him knowing that among the bad things that had happened to Aeri, apparently he was the worst one.
“So, are you going to bring a plus one?” Seokjin asked him, managing to get him out of his thoughts. It was true that after the big deal they had sealed there were fewer urgent matters, but Jimin shouldn't have been spacing out during work hours. His boss could have entered any moment, and despite their last positive result he wasn’t completely out of his radar yet.
“Of course. A beautiful lady on top of that,” Jimin replied very convincingly.
“You are kidding me,” Seokjin commented, left eyebrow raised.
“What gave me out? The fact that I have a plus one to bring or the fact that it's a lady?” Jimin huffed.
“You know I have some friends of mine that are single, I could arrange a meeting maybe—”
“Thanks Seokjin, but no. I doubt I can be dating material nowadays and besides I won't be of any company. I'm already hating the party just because it’s mandatory,” Jimin said irritated.
Twice a year their company liked to throw big galas to show off their wealth to the world. Not only were providers and clients invited, but also competitors. It was a good chance to sniff each other up and do some networking, so of course the company wanted all of them there and on their best behavior. Whereas the administration department could be excused, that wasn't the case for sales, which was the face of the company.
“I know. There parties are always so vain and boring, but at least there's alcohol and fancy food. And since this time I managed to book the babysitter in time, I can also take my wife,” said Seokjin, looking at Jimin with pensive eyes.
Jimin squirmed under his gaze.
“What about Jeon Jungkook though?” Seokjin asked him all of a sudden.
“What about him?” Jimin said, faking nonchalance.
“I thought he could be an option. You are friends and you seem pretty cosy,” Seokjin continued, intertwining two fingers to underline the concept.
“Like you said we are just friends. And colleagues. Above all colleagues. Wouldn't want to cause him trouble,” Jimin vaguely commented.
“I still think you should have sued our boss for even daring to say something like that to you. Who the heck does he think he is to tell you to keep it down? As if you were contagious!” Seokjin exclaimed as he barely contained his anger.
“Shhh! Do you want the whole department to hear you?” Jimin hissed as he looked around. Luckily their teammates were somewhere else and they were the only ones in the office.
Some weeks ago Seokjin had asked him what was the deal with the boss and why Jimin acted so compliant with him as if he feared some sort of rebuttal. Jimin decided it was time to tell him that part of the story, and naturally Seokjin had reacted as outrageously as Taehyung had when he found out.
“He is a piece of shit, and if I didn't love this job so much I would have sued him myself!” Seokjin said again, this time more of a whisper.
“You and Taehyung sound like twins separated at birth, I swear sometimes you say the same things.”
“That's because we both love you,” Seokjin said winking at him. Despite being very different, Seokjin and Taehyung had bonded very easily over their shared love for fancy cars and wine, and Jimin couldn't have been any happier. They didn't hang out together often since their schedules rarely collided with their families and jobs, but their most exciting outings had been when they had managed to meet up.
“How is Taehyung doing by the way? Has Hyejin strangled him yet? I swear Yon would have smothered me in my sleep if I had dared to breath down her neck all the time while she was pregnant,” Seokjin said letting out a laugh. Jimin laughed too and gladly changed topic.
If Seokjin noticed the abrupt change he didn't comment on it, but Jimin was glad he had let it go. Jungkook was going to be at the gala too and Jimin didn't know if he was going by himself or with a plus one, but the times he had thought of asking him he realized that he kind of didn't have the right to do so.
Maybe it would have been a good thing if Jungkook came with someone else. Maybe that way Jimin could have accepted the fact that he couldn't have him and moved on.
He is too young. He is too young and precious. Just like Aeri, he was innocent and Jimin had to learn to let him go.
They were going to be friendly and what would remain of them would be only the memory of a night that had long gone and passed.
At least the gala had conveniently been scheduled for Friday and Jimin, not knowing when he was going to get back, had asked Taehyung if Aeri could sleep over, to which he had happily agreed.
“Of course I will do it. Sohyun will be happy and don't worry about Hyejin, her pregnancy is going smoothly so far so it won't cause us any problem if that’s what you are worrying about,” Taehyung said when Jimin asked him for the favor.
“I don't know what I would do without you, Kim Taehyung.”
“Probably live a very boring life Park Jimin.”
Jimin had laughed.
“Go have fun for once, don't worry about us. We will be fine.”
“I… thank you,” Jimin replied, feeling his throat dry.
Taehyung had always known what to say, read him like no other. It had taken time at first to adjust, being two passionate teenagers that were both petty and stubborn, but not even once in all the years they had spent as friends — and the numerous fight they had — not even once had Jimin thought of leaving Taehyung's side. If Jimin would have been a girl or Taehyung gay, it wouldn't have been so wrong to say that they would have worked out as a couple.
But who knew. It was probably better that way, at least as friends they would always have a forever.
“Pretty!” Aeri told him as soon as he stepped out of the bathroom all dressed up in his suit.
“Thank you, sweetcheeks,” he said smooching her cheek and making her giggle. He felt a bit angsty at the idea of leaving her alone that night, even if technically she was going to be under the beloved attentions of the Kims, but given how shaky their bond was Jimin would have preferred to stay at home with her. He felt like he hadn't made any progress since his talk with the therapist and he felt like the time they spent together was reduced.
“Don't go!” she shouted. They were at the porch of the Kim household, Taehyung and Hyejin were both standing there as they tried to reassure her but Aeri was still holding Jimin's pants, twisting the fabric with her tiny fingers so hard that Jimin was afraid she would hurt herself. He told himself he should have expected that, yet it was still hard to face.
He squatted down to look at her in the eyes. With Aeri it was important to make eye contact because it made her feel like she was being taken seriously, and Jimin was more than glad to comply with anything that made her feel safer.
“I have to go now, but I will come back I promise. Tomorrow I will bring pancakes and we will eat them together. You stay here, be a good girl and listen to everything Taehyung and Hyejin say and it will be morning before you even realize it. Can you do that for me?” Jimin asked her. He didn't know if Aeri understood why she had to stay out that night, but he hoped she understood that it was just temporary, that Jimin wasn't leaving her.
“Pinky promise?” she asked cutely and Jimin’s heart melted.
That was something his mother had taught him and his sister when they were toddlers and his sister might have taught it to Aeri. Jimin was happy she had done so, in a way with that small gesture it felt like all their family was there.
“Pinky promise,” he said before intertwining their pinkies. He leaned in to kiss her nose that made her giggle and then let out the cutest high pitched squeal before she ran inside.
“If anything happens, call me immediately,” Jimin said to the two adults still standing there.
“Of course Jimin, we will take good care of her,” Taehyung said with a smile.
“Both of you... thank you,” he said before hurrying to his car.
He really was hating this gala party, but there was nothing he could do about it except hope that everything would go smoothly, both for him and Aeri.
By the time he arrived at the place he was still a bit tense, but he tried his best to conceal his features.
He looked at himself in the main entrance’s glass door reflection of the venue where the party was being held at.
He indeed looked good at least. Pretty, had said Aeri, because that was the word she associated with beauty since Jimin always told her that.
He went through the doors and, after signing himself in at the reception, he entered the big hall.
He had to recognize that their marketing and events team had done a pretty awesome job.
The decorations and the flowers were gorgeous and everything had been arranged with a richness that didn't hinder the good taste.
Jimin looked for the table number they had assigned him at the reception and surely his team members were already sitting at their table alongside one of the walls.
He waved at them, hurrying his steps to reach them and hoping to not cross path with his boss or else he would have been forced to greet him. He tried not to look around too much, yet his eyes still managed to wander here and there. They ended up landing on something, more specifically someone, that would have been better if he had done it after an entire bottle of wine. At least he could have pegged the reaction he felt erupt in his body to the alcohol then and not to the attraction that he felt towards him.
Just a little down the wall, sitting at the technical department table and talking with one of his colleagues, stood Jungkook.
He was wearing just a simple black tuxedo with a white shirt underneath, yet he looked like he was straight out of a magazine. His hair was styled to leave his forehead free and somehow that made him look more manly, almost dangerously so. Jimin felt himself slowing down on his steps so that he could admire him better. Admire him a little longer.
Then, as if he had felt his eyes on him, Jungkook turned towards his direction slightly and their gazes collided.
Jimin felt transfixed, like those eyes were devouring him, and indeed they were when they moved from his face to scan the rest of his body.
He felt flattered. He felt hot. He felt like needing to go towards his own table unless he wanted to run towards Jungkook and dive in his embrace.
They had been normal, as normal as two people that had an unblossomed attraction and bottled up feelings could be, but despite Jungkook's words, the younger had never really showed him how much he was interested in any other direct way.
Until that moment that is, when he saw the flame of desire sparkling in his eyes that burnt in Jimin’s stomach as well..
“Jimin!” came Seokjin’s voice to his rescue. Jimin felt relief rushing through his veins. He was safe. For now.
Luckily his teammates and their plus ones were a good distraction. They were loud and happy and they all wanted to eat and drink and forget that this was nothing but a boring strength display of the company.
However after the first course, both Seokjin and he stood up as the seniors and went to greet some people. First was their boss, who complimented Seokjin’s attire but almost completely ignored Jimin; after they were done greeting the board members, they moved to greet some representatives of their suppliers, and of course their top clients.
Jimin had made sure to check their info and refresh their names in advance because it always left a good impression behaving as if they remembered them like they had just met yesterday.
It was good for their relationships and could help them expand their network.
At some point though Jimin had felt a bit stuffy and he excused himself, going towards the less noisy part of the hall. Everyone was either chatting or watching the small band their company had hired to animate the dinner in-between speeches and servings. But Jimin just wanted to find a secluded place where he could call Taehyung to wish Aeri a good night.
He was glad to hear her be chattier and relaxed, as if the angsty goodbye they shared had never happened.
He talked with her for a couple of minutes before hanging up. He sighed in relief.
He felt like a bit of the weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Passing a hand through his hair he decided that a little fix of alcohol wouldn't hurt.
He had already chatted and buttered up all the people that mattered so he was allowed to get loose.
He got closer to the bar then and ordered a gin tonic, and just when he was about to turn back and return to his table he bumped into someone, almost risking to spill the glass on them.
“I'm sorry, I didn’t see you there,” Jimin said as took some napkins from the barstool and looked at the man’s chest to check if there were stains. Luckily there weren't.
Jimin raised his gaze at his name being called, and how great was his surprise as he recognized his old college friend in the man in front of him. So much that he stumbled back and almost knocked over his drink for real.
“Min Yoongi? What are you doing here?” Jimine exclaimed and he was sure his eyes were as wide as saucers.
The young man in front of him chuckled as he cooly adjusted the tie on his neck.
“Let's sit over there and I will tell you,” Yoongi said signaling two chairs by the bar.
Jimin nodded, as he thought that he had the right to spend some time catching up with an old friend.
Yoongi had been a good friend of his during college, he used to be a very reserved and private person but also laidback and reliable. He gave great advices and he knew when to scold and when to smooth edges.
His words had been the ones that Jimin had treasured the most along the years and he had been sad when their paths had inevitably parted.
Now several years later they crossed again and in the last place he thought he would ever find him. It turned out that Yoongi had come back from the States two years ago, since he was hired in an American company that had a very important division in their city.
Yoongi was one of their associates and it was really no surprise considering how sharp his mind was. His college friend, pretty lazy and indolent for most things, was instead very maniacal when it came to things he deemed important, and if there was someone who would power work his way into the highest position, that would have been him.
“I was invited by your company so me and another couple of my colleagues came to snoop around. Since this is a new division we are still expanding and we are always looking for new opportunities. Actually I was sent here to see if we could spot some people worth recruiting. I didn't know the Park Jimin everyone was talking about was you,” Yoongi said sipping from his glass of whiskey.
“I don't know what you’ve heard but I hope they were good things,” Jimin said, trying not to sound nervous.
“The best really and I'm not saying this just because we were friends in college. You are on a lot of lists Jimin, and for good reasons. It didn't go unnoticed how it was your team that signed that contract for the launch of your new company product. Just so you know, we were in competition for that same deal too,” Yoongi said, tilting his head.
“I won't say that I'm sorry,” Jimin replied as he attempted a teasing smile.
Yoongi laughed under his breath.
“Jokes aside. Would you be interested in switching teams if there were a possibility?” Yoongi asked him all of a sudden.
Jimin almost choked on his cocktail.
Yoongi patiently waited until he was done coughing.
“What?” he asked surprised.
“You wouldn't be the leader of a sales team immediately, but we are an across countries company and we don't lack capital so your wage would be higher than the one you have now, of that you can be sure. Plus you'd work in an international environment with the best equipment and tools at your disposal and I think the board would be glad to comply to your demands if they are reasonable. So yeah, think about it,” Yoongi said in a pretty laid back manner as he sipped from his glass once again.
“Are you serious?”
“But we haven't seen each other in years and you’re proposing me a job? I could have changed since the last time we met, I could be—”
“I wasn't kidding when I said you are on many lists, Jimin. If you're really the Park Jimin leading the team that outdid us, then I definitely want that Park on my board.”
Jimin looked at him appalled, as if he couldn't believe his ears.
“What if my circumstances have changed? What if I had someone that came before my work and I needed for my schedule to adjust to that?”
“We are a big company Jimin, I think a compromise can be found if both parts are willing?”
“What about my sexual orientation though? Have you heard about that too?” Jimin asked, unable to stop himself. Yoongi had known him in college and he was aware that Jimin was gay, but given how it had gone with the two companies that had found out about his sexuality, he didn't exactly feel like going through that again.
“What the heck does you sleeping with men have to do with your working abilities?” Yoongi asked confused.
“You'd be surprised,” Jimin said downing the remnants of his cocktail.
“It sounds to me that this encounter was a lucky one, if I'm reading this well. I'm sorry if this has been your experience till now, but I can assure you that in our company nobody gives a damn about what you do behind closed doors. You could be fucking a lamppost and nobody would give a flying fuck,” Yoongi said downing his whiskey as well.
Jimin was too shocked by Yoongi's words for a moment, but then he couldn't help but burst into laughter as he processed them.
“Here. Take my business card. Think about it and call me, even if you aren't tempted. I would still be happy to hear from you,” Yoongi said patting his arm.
“I... well, thank you. Even if things stay the same I am happy to have met you again,”Jimin said sincerely, putting his hand on Yoongi’s arm as well.
“Okay I will go now, I think I spotted Seokjin earlier and I have some catching up to do with him as well. Besides, there's a guy from your company that is heading over here with an air of storm, so I better run before it hits me. Good night, Jimin.” Yoongi said with a mysterious smile before walking away.
Jimin didn't even have time to ask what he meant with that, let alone to interrogate him further about what he had just sprung on him, that he had already stormed out and only his business card was left. He was quick to snatch it from the counter and he merely had the time to securely put it away in his pocket that a shadow loomed over him.
Such a simple word shouldn't have sounded so warm, but somehow it did, and when Jimin raised his head he was hit full force by the vision of the stunning figure of Jeon Jungkook.
On a closer look he was even more gorgeous and Jimin's mind, which was already agitated, completely shut down.
“Is everything alright? You looked a bit worked up,” Jungkook asked with concern in his voice.
He was standing very close, but despite making the attempt to touch Jimin’s arm he didn't. He kept himself at a gentleman distance as if he wouldn't dare to touch him only because of their acquaintance. His eyes bored into him with passion.
“Hi, yes. Everything is good, I was just surprised by a chance encounter. Met with an old friend from college,”
Why was Jimin telling him all that? Why was he feeling the need for Jungkook to not misunderstand?
“Is that so? Hope it was a good reunion then,” Jungkook replied, facial features relaxing enough to show a smile.
“Yes, it was,” Jimin said, suddenly embarrassed. It felt like that night was Jungkook's night, because everything he did or said, even just standing there, was managing to make Jimin speechless.
“ Remember that I like you, Jimin. I like you a lot.”
“Well, if you are good then...” Jungkook trailed off trying to continue the conversation, but Jimin was seemingly tongue tied.
Jungkook was the piece of his life that he couldn't piece together. He was the one thing he had to give up. Because his hands were already full.
He didn’t think he could handle the rhythm, the time, the space that Jungkook’s presence would demand. But more than anything he couldn’t handle a whole heart, because loving someone only to lose them hurt too much.
“I just wanted to check. I will go then,” Jungkook said smiling. His smile didn't reach his eyes.
“Wait, you can stay if you want. I would love to have your company Jungkook, so stay.”
What are you doing, what are you doing, what are you doing?
Jungkook looked at him, evaluating and maybe even a little fearful, but like Jimin unable to resist the pull.
“Good. Because you look gorgeous tonight. It would have been hard to stay away from you,” Jungkook replied with a bit more confidence.
“You don't look so bad either,” Jimin whispered back. God. Was he really doing this? Since when had his flirty technique become so rusty? But then Jungkook blushed. He downright blushed and Jimin found himself a goner. Maybe he had been a goner since day one.
“You look gorgeous tonight too, Jungkook,” he continued using Jungkook's words.
Just one night. I will have this one night for myself and then everything will be forgotten in bubbles of sparkling wine and tomorrow I will be back to being a responsible adult. But just tonight. Please.
They stayed by the bar a little longer, taking another cocktail even though it was most likely a bad idea.
“Did you bring a plus one?” Jimin asked casually after they had successfully downed half of their drinks.
“No,” Jungkook said glancing at him. “You?” he added trying to sound even more casual.
They sounded like two teens fresh out of the closet trying to execute some weird mating bond, which could possibly excuse Jungkook who was 23, but non Jimin who was 31.
“No,” Jimin admitted, nervously playing with the straw of his drink.
“Would you have liked to have one?” Jungkook asked tentatively and Jimin knew where this was heading to and did nothing to stop it.
“I don't know. Maybe. The circumstances of my life don't leave enough room to do as I please. There are some things that are more important than my desires.”
“But you do have desires, don’t you?” Jungkook inquired him further.
Jimin bit his lips hard because really, what good would this do to the two of them? They were at a company gala and they had already established, well more like Jimin had, that they could just be colleagues and anything more was a bad idea.
“What difference would that make?”
He saw Jungkook’s fingers hold on the glass get tighter and then saw him exhale a loud sigh.
“You are right, this is just me being selfish. I know I should let you be. Even after we cleared out the misunderstanding, I knew that you didn't want any of the things I had to offer. And it's fine, god it's fine, because I completely understand your reasons. They are excellent reasons and I'm just being bratty. Which I assume is not exactly the trait a man like you would be looking for in a partner. But I can't stop thinking about you. I like you. I admire you. I honestly think you are exemplary, so I beg you. Tell me no. Crush my hopes and desires once and for all. Because it's the only language my heart understands.”
Jimin felt like there was no sound around them, like it was just him and Jungkook in this world and this wasn't a party and he wasn't supposed to let him go, that he was just a person that liked another person very very very much.
Now he was given the possibility to act according to his plan, to severe the bond and go down the path he had chosen for himself.
And he found himself unable to do so.
“I'm sorry,” Jimin said, watching Jungkook nod in acceptance. “But I can't do that.”
He shouldn't have said it. He should never have said it but Jungkook was there, young and beautiful and so open and just too much of a temptation.
Jungkook raised his head, eyes huge in amazement and wonder.
“Why can't you?” he asked, voice barely above a whisper over the sound of the music.
“I like you too. I like you too a lot. Too much… I—” he saw Jungkook take a step closer, completely uncaring of the place and the circumstances.
Jimin took a step back and nervously looked around.
Nobody was watching them, but it still was a risk for them to be so close. Jungkook tried to move but Jimin's hand on his arm stopped him.
“This is still a work environment, Jungkook. It's better if there's some space between us.”
“I don't care if they assume things about me, not when you’re saying this. Goddamnit Jimin, I would jump you right now. I would pepper you in kisses all over your sensitives places. I still remember the—” Jungkook said shamelessly. It was like he had transformed. Gone was the bashful young man, in front of him stood someone that knew exactly what he wanted.
“Well our boss cares. The board cares. And you don't want to have them breathing down your neck, trust me,” Jimin replied bitterly. Jungkook brows furrowed in confusion.
“It's better if I go back to my table and you should do the same,” he said, even though Jungkook's last admission had made him felt hot all over.
“Jimin,” Jungkook pleaded him.
He was weak. Weak for this man. Weak to his heart.
“Later. After dinner, we can talk.” Jimin managed to blurt out before retreating.
He felt dazed as if his body was made of ice and he was melting. He went back to his seat, downed the wine in front of his plate even though it was stale and tried to recompose himself.
“Met someone interesting?” Seokjin asked him as soon as he sat down.
Jimin cleared his throat nervously.
“You mean Min Yoongi? Did he come to greet you too?”
“Yeah, he did. It kind of shocked me, he looked the same as in college, not even a wrinkle. Has he always been so short?” Seokjin asked then, conspiratorially and teasing.
“Considering that he and I are the same height, I would not use that as a mean for a joke,” Jimin said adjusting his tie and serving himself more wine in the attempt to look less flustered than what he felt.
“It's not my fault you are both pocket sized.”
Jimin glared at him which had no effect whatsoever on Seokjin.
“Anyway I wasn't referring to him, but the young engineer with whom you were eyefucking at the bar.”
Jimin, who had brought the glass on his lips, almost let it fall from his grip.
“Relax, I was the only one who noticed and only because Yoongi pointed at you,” Seokjin added, this time less teasing.
“Are you sure?” Jimin asked a bit terrified as he looked around. They hadn’t done anything except stand really close, but things could easily be misinterpreted.
“Yes I am. Stop looking so alarmed. I didn't comment on it with the purpose of making you uncomfortable, I was just trying to introduce the topic with a light and fun tone. It clearly backfired, me and my big mouth,” Seokjin said a bit apologetically.
“We were just talking anyway,” Jimin said, relaxing a bit. This was just Seokjin. It was safe.
“Sure you were. I feel like you haven't been telling me things properly, Jimin. Which I understand, but it also makes me a bit sad. You know I would never judge you. Whatever this is, I would never do it.” Seokjin said and his smile indeed looked crestfallen.
“Please don't think that I don't trust you.”
“I know you do. But I also know that you look like someone who is on a one way mission to keep beating themselves up over things they can't help,” Seokjin said and there was a little bit of scolding in his words.
“Everyone keeps saying that,” Jimin huffed, shaking his head.
“Maybe you should listen.”
“Or maybe people shouldn't say things when they clearly don't have the full picture. It just hurts me.” Jimin said bitterly. He regretted the words as soon as they came out. Seokjin was just worrying over him. “Sorry. I shouldn't have said that,” he immediately apologized.
“No, don't be sorry. This is the most honest you have been in a while, and you owe it to yourself to be honest Jimin or you will implode. I know you are going through a lot and I know you are not ready to talk about it with anyone, not even Taehyung, and it pains me but I get it. Just... remember that things happen. The bad ones. The good ones. Don't give up on the good ones.” Seokjin concluded with a kind, hopeful tone.
“ You learn of what to let go. And you also learn what to keep holding on, Jimin.”
Jimin blinked several times as his sister’s last words echoed in his head like a mantra.
However, before he could react and say something more intelligible than a shaky exhale to Seokjin, they were interrupted by the booming voice of one of the board members speaking from the stage.
Jimin barely paid any attention. His mind was whirling full of thoughts that were fighting each other for dominance. Aeri, his job, the proposal, Seokjin and Taehyung, his sister.
He threw a glance at his table and there he was seated. Looking back at Jimin.
He knew then that all his plans for the night had gone down the drain. It was as if there was a noise in his head. He couldn't focus. He distractedly chatted with his colleagues. The dinner came to an end before he could even realize it and his heart was pounding like crazy in his chest.
He should have never confessed. But it was too late. When people started to disperse and the board and seniors were more drunk than keen on keeping an eye on the employees, his gaze met for the millionth time with Jungkook that night and Jimin knew he had to go.
He wished a goodnight to his table, squeezing Seokjin’s shoulder as if to ask forgiveness for not having opened up to him all this time, but then without further ado he exited the hall.
Jungkook was following, he could feel his eyes on his back. He went towards the bathroom, he had eyed some private resting areas where they could have talked in peace and put an end to this ordeal. A part of Jimin still hoped this could end civilly like the two adults they were.
Clearly, the two of them stopping in a secluded corner which was not even well illuminated when they were both possibly tipsy and worked up by their last confrontation hadn't been the smartest idea.
“Jimin...” just his name whispered as a secret in the night was all it took for Jimin. To surrender. So little.
Jungkook read the invitation in his eyes and so he didn't stop at a comfortable safe distance. When Jimin raised his hands it wasn't just to shove him back, but to grab the hems of his jacket and pull him closer.
He didn't know who kissed the other first. Maybe it was Jimin who made their lips collide, or maybe it was Jungkook that had leaned in. He only knew that it felt wonderful to have Jungkook’s lips on his, that they were just as perfect as he remembered.
Jimin buried his fingers in Jungkook's locks and apparently that was the signal for the other to snap as well. He found himself pressed against the wall, Jungkook’s hands sliding down his body to caress, to map, to remember.
“Tell me to stop.” Jungkook whispered in between kisses as his lips moved over his jawline and his neck like feathers.
Jimin didn't. He didn't utter a word.
Whatever strand of reason he thought he had left was completely annihilated by this young man.
He wanted him. Jimin wanted him, and so he let himself have him .
Let Jungkook take his hand, lead him outside and take him to his house and there he let him do everything he wanted with him. Everything Jimin himself wanted.
No matter how much alcohol he had downed. How much Jungkook had drunk himself.
There was no way that he wouldn’t remember how Jungkook kissed his skin, licked his sensitive parts, grabbed him with longing and adoration. There was no way he wouldn't remember.
So in a way, there was no way this wouldn't hurt.
Jimin woke up feeling sore in every muscle and with a heavy head. He wasn't foreign to the feeling of hangover of course, but he had promised himself when he had reached 27 and it was clear that his body couldn't stand such wild activities anymore, that he would be careful.
Yet he still slipped from time to time. Like that last Christmas party.
Like the night before.
The night before…
He bolted down the bed and it hurt him in many ways, from his limbs protesting and his head throbbing painfully, but nothing was as hurtful as the possibility of how his carelessness could have been the cause of a mess.
Unfortunately his foot got tangled in the bed sheets, which made him crawl hard on the floor. It hurt like hell and he even let out a hiss, yet he didn't stop. He made his way towards the clothes that he saw scattered everywhere on the floor, trying to ignore the murmurs and sighs coming from the bed, the clear signal that someone was waking up.
With his sight still blurred out from the slumber, he tapped and bustled around until he found his pants and, with his heart threatening to burst from his ribcage, he stuck his hands in the back pocket to fish his phone out.
The time on the screen made his blood freeze in his veins. It was almost midday.
With trembling fingers he unlocked the device and saw the many messages and calls from Taehyung.
He jumped on his feet, as a whimper of defeat and fear left his mouth.
He dialled his best friend’s number and kept collecting his clothes all scattered on the floor.
Holy hell. He had fucked up, he had fucked up big time. Not only he had acted like he had promised himself not to, but he had completely shut down his brain forgetting that there was a place he needed to be at, the next morning.
The phone kept ringing as he tried to put his legs in the pants, not even bothering to put some boxers on first.
“Jimin!” called Taehyung. The relief was evident in his voice and, if possible, Jimin felt even worse.
“I'm alive! Sorry, last night was messy to say the least, and I forgot to put on the alarm!”
“It's... I understand. I was just worried something had happened. I'm glad it's not the case,” Taehyung said, letting out a big sigh.
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!” Jimin frantically said on the phone as he tried to zip up his pants.
“It doesn't matter now. Just come here as soon as you can, okay? She has been waiting,” Taehyung replied understandingly but stern, like the father that he clearly was unlike Jimin.
“I am coming, wait for me,” Jimin said with finality, before hanging up.
“Jimin?” another gentle voice, still hoarse from sleep and from the wielding done the night before, called him from the bed.
Jungkook’s head was slightly tilted to the side, his hair a messy nest of locks and his body covered in bruises and bites of pleasure and despite that, or in spite of it, he looked gorgeous.
Young and untainted like only the warm breeze of spring could be.
Jungkook had asked Jimin to help him quit. And Jimin had done the exact opposite and here they were at the antechamber of chaos.
“I have to leave, go back to sleep Jungkook.” Jimin said out of breath as he ran around, looking for his shoes as he threw his shirt on at the same time. It was all wrinkled up, but it was going to have to work. He didn't have time.
“Wait Jimin, you don't need leave so soon, we can—” Jungkook started, rubbing his eyes to try and disperse the sleep.
“Oh no, trust me I gotta go. Yesterday was… fun. Yes. Awesome. But I can't do this. I definitely can't do this— for fuck's sake!” Jimin shouted frustrated.
His shoes had somehow landed under the bed and right in the middle of it. He wanted to rip his hair out.
“What? Are you hurt?” Jungkook asked, now seemingly fully awake.
He was getting out of his bed, which was the last thing Jimin needed right now because he had already fucked up, and he was about to fuck this up even more. He didn't want to be the bad guy because he wasn't one, and maybe in an alternative reality this would have gone differently, but they were in this universe, with these circumstances; and Jimin was a horrible planner, an irresponsible adult and he didn't deserve Aeri the same way he didn't deserve Jungkook.
Of course he decided to act frustrated rather than vulnerable.
“Why the heck did we decide that in order to fuck we had to splatter our clothes everywhere is beyond me. I don't need this now, I gotta go!” Jimin exclaimed as he desperately tried to stretch his arm out to the fullest.
Another arm extended right next to his, long enough to reach his shoes. When they emerged from under the bed, Jungkook had them in his lap as if they were his hostages.
He only had his boxers on and he was looking at Jimin as if he was ready to play his last card.
“You don't need to run out like a thief in the night, Jimin. Dress up. Take a shower. And let me take you to your car, I would be happy to do that. Just— don't run away like this.” Jungkook said, trying to find a compromise with him.
Jimin wasn't listening, though. Couldn't listen.
“Oh my god. I left my car at the venue’s parking lot yesterday. I'm not just stupid, I'm a complete moron,” he murmured fishing out his phone. Jungkook grabbed his wrist and Jimin stopped then, allowing himself to truly look at him for a moment.
“I can't do this, Jungkook. I really can't. I can’t juggle myself between you and my responsibilities. There's a person who is waiting for me right now and is hurting because I lost myself in you and forgot my duty. Maybe someone more whole and sane than me could, but I can't. I'm sorry.” Jimin said, standing up.
He was determined to go out even barefoot if necessary.
“I know you have a lot on your plate. I've always known, but... I like you. I already told you, I like you a lot. I want to stay with you, if you would just let me.”
“No, you don't know and you don't get it. This isn't about you and me anymore. I am not the Jimin of that party and neither the Jimin from work, those are different people. I am the Jimin with a kid, the Jimin that has to be with her because she needs me. Hanging out would be difficult at best, making time for you almost impossible. Trust me, you don't want this Jimin.”
“Don't go around deciding for me and assuming what I want! I pursued you even when I knew all too well who you were and the responsibilities that you have. So you were reckless yesterday I get it, that could have been done better, but don't blame the circumstances when you are just scared to give yourself a chance!”
Jimin stared at him, shattered pieces of his heart stinging and cutting from the inside. He looked at the ground and walked out.
Jungkook trailed behind him not even some beats after. “Jimin please, I… please let me take you to your car at least. I’m sorry. I shouldn't have said that, I—”
“Jungkook, you’re twenty three. You are young and have a lot of dreams that you want to achieve. Now look at me in the eyes and sincerely tell me that you always wanted to be a father at this age!” Jimin spat back crossing arms on his torso.
Jungkook looked struck, as if Jimin had just slapped him. Maybe it would have been less cruel and unfair if he had done just that. He forced himself not to tear his gaze from the sight of Jungkook folding on himself. Of course Jungkook stayed silent, because he couldn't lie.
“I wouldn't either, Jungkook. At twenty three, I wouldn't want it either and that’s fine. You aren't at fault for thinking and feeling like this. But this is exactly the reason why we could never work. Goodbye, Jungkook.” Jimin said, and he would never understand how he had managed to look so calm and collected when he was aching all over.
He retrieved his shoes from Jungkook’s hold, who didn't put up any resistance. He wore them quickly, buttoned up his shirt and walked out of Jungkook's apartment without looking back.
Only when he was safe in the elevator did he allow himself to bend in half from the pain he had just caused.
He was an undeserving human being. A disgrace, he said to himself as he bit his bottom lip to the point of bleeding. Yet, this disgrace had a mission to complete.
He somehow collected himself enough to call a taxi that would take him to the parking lot and to his car.
He was still appalled by how he had forgotten to take it with him. When he had finally put his car on the move, Jimin didn't feel any better. He still had no idea about what kind of scenario awaited him once he reached Taehyung's house.
However, despite the nervous pounding of his heart, nothing would ever convince him to push his foot on the gas pedal to go faster.
The Kim house appeared in sight twenty minutes later, and Jimin was able to see curtains moving even from where he had parked. He was being waited on.
He gave himself an adjustment even though his appearance was kind of a lost case, and with the heart threatening to burst, he walked the small distance that separated him from the person that he had come to consider the most important one of his pathetic life.
He didn't have to ring the bell because Taehyung was there to open the door himself as soon as Jimin stepped on the doormat. He was holding Sohyun in his arms and, both the kid and him, gave Jimin an once-over that he totally deserved.
“She is in Sohyun's room and Hyejin is keeping her company.”
Jimin just nodded and quickly passed him by.
He heard the calm voice of Hyejin talking to Aeri and once he reached the threshold and peeked inside, he saw that they were both seated on the fluffy carpet and that Hyejin was helping her do a puzzle.
If gazes could kill, then the glare that Hyejin threw in his direction once she spotted him would have definitely been effective.
Jimin ignored her for the time being, focusing on his niece.
“Aeri?” he called her, and he sounded doubtful and shaken even to his own ears.
When she raised her head and saw him there, her face scrunched up in fury. Yet her bottom lip was wobbling and she was squeezing the piece of puzzle so hard that she was probably crushing it.
“Aeri, I'm here.” he tried again, taking some steps forward.
And in that moment he knew. He knew that, not even in the future, nothing would ever make him feel more of a failure than this moment as he saw her jump on her feet and run to the other side of the bedroom.
“I hate you!” she shouted at the top of her lungs with all the anger she was able to collect, but her shoulders soon started to shake and then sobs wracked her tiny body. If he had thought that the crying during the kindergarten incident had been bad, this was ten times worse.
Back then at least it hadn't been his fault, but just a matter of shitty luck.
This time he had made a promise to her and he then went back on his words.
Jimin didn't have to think twice. In two strides he reached her, knelt down and hugged her, holding her tightly to his chest.
“I'm sorry I made you wait. I'm here, I will always be here.” he muttered as he kissed her temple again and again. He felt her fingers dig into his wrinkled shirt as she buried her face in his chest.
Jimin kept caressing her head and murmuring words of reassurance until she slowly started to calm down. When the sobs turned into small hiccups, he sat on the floor so that he could accommodate her to his lap.
He lulled her for a while then, until he heard her breath turn steady and calm. When he looked down to check if she was still crying, he found out that she had fallen asleep.
“I'm sorry you ended up with me sweetcheeks, I'm sorry. I will do better, I swear I will do better.” Jimin whispered.
He carefully stood up and lifted her bridal style so that he could easily lay her down on Sohyun's bed. Luckily she didn't stir, probably too exhausted by the emotions of the day. He kissed her head, being careful not to wake her up and then walked out of the room.
He padded his way to the kitchen from where he heard some light noises coming in, only to feel awkward when he saw Taehyung's family having lunch. Since Soohyun was a kid they couldn't let her lunch wait, and so had probably decided that it was better to leave him and Aeri be.
“Taehyung, Hyejin, if possible I would like to take a shower while she is still taking a nap in Sohyun's room if that’s okay with you. I will go soon after. I don't want to impose on you any further,” he asked, almost shyly.
“Sure, let me take a towel,” Taehyung said, downing his glass of water.
“No, I'll go. You always mess up the order of our towels so it's better if I go,” Hyejin said standing up. Jimin visibly gulped and even Taehyung seemed alarmed, but neither of them had the courage to deny the woman.
She led the way towards their bedroom without saying a word, and even when she browsed in the wardrobe she didn't speak. But when she gave him the towels and they were close to each other enough for her to smell the alcohol on his suit and see just how big his eye bags were, she opened her mouth to let out a sigh.
“Jimin, I won't deny that I am angry with you because this was such a careless thing to do. But I think I’ve never seen you so exhausted in all the time we have known each other. It has nothing to do with whatever you did last night. I can read it in your eyes. Taehyung always praises you, telling me how well you’re doing and I was really happy to hear that, yet now I think that maybe we were a little too compliant and blind. If you are hurting, if you've been hurting all along and yet for some reason you couldn't open up to Taehyung, be aware that my door is open too. You are family to me as well. Don't forget it.” she said, cupping his cheek before walking out the room.
Jimin had to fight hard the violent urge to break down and cry. He sniffed, but he straightened up his shoulders and marched towards the bathroom.
They were all so kind, why were they all so kind to him even though he continued to fuck up repeatedly? From Taehyung, to Jungkook, to Aeri and now even Hyejin.
They were all eager to welcome him in, whereas Jimin felt like a dead leaf about to unbond forever from his house tree.
Jimin hit the tiles of the shower stall, shaking all over in the effort of violently suffocating a scream that was tearing him apart from the inside.
The next day he went to work just to organize the plan for the week and communicate that he was going to take three days off.
He didn't even care anymore if his boss grunted. His team had just sealed a fantastic deal, he still had some vacations day left and Aeri needed him. And to tell the truth, he needed this break as well. When Seokjin asked him if everything was alright, for the first time Jimin answered with an honest and simple: no.
“But I am working on it,” he added soon after, which didn’t contribute to ease the creases on Seokjin’s forehead in the least and it was evident he would have liked to help, if only Jimin had let him.
Jimin was ready to admit his shortcomings now, but he hadn't gotten to the part of opening up with the people he cared for yet, so he didn't elaborate further.
“If you need anything, please call me. Don't you dare think of yourself as a burden.” Seokjin said with that assertive and bossy tone of his that masked tons and tons of love and concern.
Jimin couldn't promise him anything, but he smiled at him in thankfulness.
As he passed by the engineering department to go home, Jimin this time tried to look for a familiar face in the chaos of cubicles and desks, but he didn't find it.
After asking his colleagues where Jungkook was and being told that he was in a meeting, Jimin had to surrender to the fact that he was going to have to wait for his return. He didn't think he deserved his forgiveness, but he owed Jungkook an explanation at least. And a fucking huge apology. Maybe things were bound to finish regardless, but Jungkook hadn't deserved that treatment and neither those harsh words.
The following days were the most calming and rewarding days he had spent in awhile.
Aeri was ecstatic to have him at home giving her his whole undivided attention, and his mood and disposition stayed good and calm almost all the time.
To the point that Jimin started to evaluate his options.
He hadn't forgotten about the business card Yoongi had handed him during the party, and the more he witnessed Aeri being content and relaxed with him being around often, the more the card weighted and felt hot in his wallet. Could that really be a feasible chance for him?
Jimin was torn, afraid of moving forward only to realize later on how wrong the step taken was. Yet despite his doubts, he felt the need to act out and do something in his bones.
Sometimes you just have to learn to let go.
Those words, given to him with so much care, still sounded foreign to Jimin. He didn't know how to interpret them because he couldn't imagine that Jungkook was suggesting him to leave his responsibilities behind.
Letting go to him only had the other meaning of giving up. And he had thought his personal life was going to be the one to burn on the altar for the sake of his family. Both the dead and the alive one.
Yet as the days passed and he had time to reflect with a lucid mind, even with Jungkook out of the picture, his problems didn’t magically solve themselves. On the contrary, they were still there and he was unhappy on top of that.
The way he had decided for that night to happen had been wrong.
But Jimin couldn't regret falling into Jungkook. It hadn't been just the undeniable chemistry they had, the way their bodies completed each other, how both of them seemed to know what the other person liked, which could have been enough to drive even a sane person crazy. It was how Jungkook had held him close, had nuzzled in his neck. It was how Jimin had loved to dig his fingers on his back and feel like he belonged there.
He tried not to sigh too loudly as he set apart the book that he was trying, and failing, to read. He felt Aeri squirm by his side.
He was letting her sleep with him those days. In the morning she found herself back in her room, but it looked like she needed the comfort of an adult in order to fall asleep peacefully. It was something she needed at the moment and he didn't have the heart to deny her that, not when he had contributed to this further discomfort she felt.
“Hey, you should sleep sweetcheeks,” Jimin said, patting her head gently.
Aeri opened her eyes and looked at him. She looked sleepy but also stubbornly determined not to fall asleep. Whatever was keeping her awake, it must have been important.
“Wanna tell me what's wrong?” Jimin muttered.
She shook her head as she hid her face under her arm. Jimin caressed her back, trying to calm her down.
“You can tell me everything, Aeri. Whatever it is, I promise I won't get angry.” he tried to reassure her.
She reemerged and peeked at him.
“I am scared.” she admitted with a tiny voice.
“Tell me about it and we will fight whoever makes you scared!” Jimin was quick to reply.
“I'm scared of Dad!” she said, burying her face again on his side.
“You are scared of your dad? Why are you scared of him?” he asked, a bit confused. Aeri shook her head. “Sweetcheeks, I know for sure that wherever he is now, he still loves you. He will love you forever. He would never get angry at you.”
“Even if there is you?” she asked, and Jimin for a moment thought she had expressed herself wrong.
“What do you mean Aeri? Explain to me so I can understand.”
Aeri then whined and fumbled on the bed before sitting up, making Jimin sit up as well. Her cheeks were red and she looked so determined that it made his heart ache.
“Mom, the kids, and also teachers said that a dad is the one that takes you to school. That plays with you with the ball, that ties your shoelaces. That works outside and comes home tired! That dad always always stays with you and gives you kisses, gives you presents. Dad is the one you love. And you do all that and I love you! So... you are dad too.”
Jimin was at loss and he was there with his mouth open like a fish in search of water.
“But if you are dad, then my Dad will be angry. Like Aeri is angry when you are out and she is not there. I don't want dad to be angry!”
“Aeri,” he called her, trying to control his voice. “I can stay as uncle Jimin if you want,” he tried to suggest, but it was the wrong answer because she started crying right there.
“No! I don't want an uncle, I want you as dad!” she shouted, tears streaming down her eyes.
He took her in his lap and hugged her.
“Shh, shh. I'm sorry if I made you upset. If you want me to be your dad, then I will be super happy to be so.”
She nodded against his T-shirt, but Jimin was still able to distinguish the word scared leaving her mouth.
“Then it's settled. I am Aeri's dad from now on and I promise you that your first dad won't be angry at you. Never. He loved you a lot and he wanted nothing but for you to be happy. I know he misses you a lot just like how you miss him. I know him not being here makes you sad, it makes me sad too, but his love was so big that it will stay with you for all your life and it will be a part of you forever. Even if you get a second dad. Besides, didn't we say that sometimes it can happen that kids have two dads or two moms? This is no different, sweetcheeks. It's really no different. It just means that you will get double the love.” he said, kissing her temple.
She didn't say anything, but he felt her body go lax in his hold as if a big weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Jimin asked himself if this confusion and fear was what had been troubling her all along and if he could have avoided it if he had just accepted change since the beginning.
Sometimes you have to just let go.
Jimin tightened his jaw in a desperate attempt not to break down. He felt it coming, crushing at him like a wave fifteen meters high and this time he knew he couldn't avoid it.
He endured it. After a while he tucked her back under the covers and this time when her eyelids fluttered she didn't fight back, and in a matter of minutes she was sound asleep.
Jimin got down from the bed then, tiptoed outside of the room till he reached the living room. Only when he thought there was some safety distance, only then did he crouch on the floor and broke down in tears.
They stemmed from those feelings he had so violently repressed all this time, that he had tried so hard and for so long to ignore but had never disappeared.
His body was shaking, internally imploding as he still forced himself to keep at least quiet since he couldn't stop this. He dragged himself to the coffee table where he had left his phone to charge, and once he got there he grabbed it and frantically typed Taehyung's number.
He would have never ever ever wanted to be a burden to any of his friends but he was beyond his limits, and if there wasn’t anybody to collect the pieces, he doubted he would have been able to recompose himself on his own this time.
“Jimin? Is it you? Did something happen?” came the calm voice from the other side of the line.
“ I happened, Taehyung.” Jimin replied letting out a shaky laugh. Then he sniffed in an attempt to stop his racking sobs.
“Jimin! You’re at home, right?”
Jimin shakily muttered a yes.
“I'm coming,” he heard Taehyung whisper something, probably talking to his wife. Jimin felt bad for disrupting their evening.
“No, don't come. Just stay here on the phone. To listen,” he tried to say in his most even voice.
“Of course I will stay on the phone. But I'm also coming. No buts, Park Jimin. No buts.”
Jimin found himself letting out a watery laugh again as he slid down and brought his knees to his chest.
“Okay. I… Taehyung… I'm sorry—”
“Nope. No apologies either. Now you are going to stay on the phone with me and you will listen about my working day like a good boy, how I almost choked one of partners during a meeting. And how I magically solved the situation.”
And so they did. Jimin stayed there listening to Taehyung telling him about his crazy day as he waited for him to reach him, like a kid would be waiting for a parent’s return.
He felt small, insignificant, as he was crouched down on his living room carpet and unable to move even a muscle.
Luckily Taehyung had the presence of spirit to imagine the worst of his current state because he opened the door himself when he arrived. He had a set of keys in case of emergency, but it was the first time he was using them.
“Hey,” he said as he stared at Jimin from the entrance. Jimin raised his head, but even with his best friend there he didn't know what he was supposed to say or do. He was still clutching the phone.
“Hey,” he replied, voice coming out weak.
Taehyung covered the small distance between them and crouched down next to him, making him lose his grip and carefully putting the phone on the coffee table.
Then, despite not having done that even once in all the years they had known each other, he took Jimin’s hands in his.
“It's okay. Let it out.” he simply said as if he knew, as if he had always known that Jimin had been holding himself back for a very long time.
Sometimes you just have to learn how to let go.
And so he did.
He cried all the tears he hadn't poured at his parent's funeral, at his sister's funeral, because he thought he had to stay strong even when the weight of his grief made his shoulders curve. He cried out his loneliness and his youth because as long as he had someone older, wiser, by his side he had felt safe and he had felt cared for.
He cried for his sense of inadequacy that hurt him every day, and he cried for the fear that gnawed him from the inside. And for the pieces of his broken heart that he didn't know where to start patching back from.
His best friend hugged him like he hadn't been hugged in such a long time. Like family.
Half an hour later, although it could have easily been weeks, they were both sitting on the carpet in a less tense and uncomfortable position. There was a steaming cup of tea in their hands, back resting on the lower part of the couch, shoulder by shoulder like two kids sharing secrets.
“My sister and my brother in law had very few chances of conceiving a kid. They both had fertility problems and the doctor said that they barely had a fifteen percent possibility of being successful. I know for sure my sister suffered a lot because of it, but she never showed it to me. She was always cheerful during all the troublesome process of fertilization. When it failed the second time, I thought that she was going to give up. She didn't. She told me later she knew that this one was going to be her lucky try. She was right, and nine months later Aeri was born.
My sister… loved Aeri so much. Maybe too much. She permitted her everything, she sacrificed everything for her. She was blinded by the love for her own family in a way that was hard for me to understand but that I couldn't deny.
“He cheated on you!” Jimin shouted.
His sister and he had never been the ones to spare each other, in good and in bad. They were always painfully honest.
“He told me that he didn't. He was just texting with her and confessed everything to me before he could do something that he would regret. He came back to us.”
“Even if it were true, how can you overlook something like this?” he inquired without mercy.
And that was when he saw her transform. She looked at him and he could see her soul lying bare behind her eyelids.
“I'm not you, Jimin! I can't live without a family! I fought so hard and I endured so much even when my insides felt like burning! He is my husband and the father of my daughter, if he wants another chance I will give it to him! “
A heavy silence followed the outburst as Jimin tried to calm down and wrap his head around what his sister had just said. He didn't understand, he couldn’t.
“You don't have to force yourself to do that. I would support you and Aeri regardless if you needed.”
“And then what, help me raise Aeri? You are just a brother Jimin, not a father.”
Jimin didn’t know what to reply because what she said wasn't untrue. He didn't have a family of his own because, in the end, he had chosen to live a life that didn't entail having one.
“One day you'll understand that there are things that are worth fighting for. Let me do that.”
“My sister and her husband had gone to a make up dinner that night. It was their way to begin again. Instead, they only managed to die together.”
Taehyung squeezed his hand. Jimin was like a river in flood and there was nothing holding him back.
“Those words tormented me. I always knew that I was inadequate, but I thought my flaws would never damage anyone because I chose not to have anyone relying on me. But then the unthinkable happened and I found myself orphaned and with a kid to raise.
And I keep fuckign up, Taehyung. I fucked up since the beginning! The first weeks Aeri could only pee but I didn't give it too much thought because my sister told me that she had that problem. But the thing got so severe that I had to bring her to the hospital and give her medicines to make her go to the toilet. That was the first failure that happened.
She is exuberant and needs a lot of attention, and yet I am always busy and can't even follow her like any kid that has lost their parents deserves. And despite knowing that she needs me and despite loving her, because I'm not a monster and I love her so very much, I can't seem to bring myself to do things right. I'm resentful. About destiny, about circumstances, and instead of mourning my family I think that I mourn over myself more than anything else.
I died that day too, Taehyung. And she doesn't deserve someone who is already broken. Yet Aeri, sweet, wild, and strong Aeri, still had the courage to look at me and find in me a father. She wants to call me dad now. How am I supposed to cope with that? I don't deserve that. I don't deserve to share my sister's parenthood. I am a disgrace. I am—”
“A person who lost his dearest ones and is trying to do his best,” Taehyung concluded for him. “Stop it, please stop it. You never allowed yourself to mourn, and even if it's over your past self that’s still fine. You are allowed to mourn what you aren’t anymore. But that's the thing, Jimin. You tried so hard to reconcile everything that you were with everything that you feel you have to be, that you didn't realize how you were already there. It's not about leaving behind but about becoming another version of yourself, Jimin. You moved forward, you are moving forward and Aeri is doing it too because kids aren't like us, they don't have a significant past to stop them from stepping into the future. They grow and they accept and they keep going forward. You are Jimin with all your beautiful qualities, and you are also a dad now. Accept it with no regrets and no guilt. Because aside from your fear of being a father, never once have I heard you refuse. You always had Aeri's wellbeing in mind. Your sister was right when she said that you couldn't understand then. But you can now. You need to forgive yourself. Sometimes you just have to let go, Jimin. There's nothing wrong in moving on.”
Why? Why did everyone keep telling him that?
He remembered Jungkook, how sad he had looked when he told Jimin of how time had cheated on him and deprived him of his only purpose since he was a kid. He thought about how he had looked to what life had brought to him with courage. How in the end, he had understood that the only way to keep honoring all the love he had received was to let go of the legacy that love had left behind for him. And it wasn't a betrayal. It was just life.
I think your grandpa knew, Jungkook. I think he was just happy for having had the chance to love you.
That was what he should have told him when Jungkook had opened up to him.
“I hope she knows, Taehyung. I hope she knows that despite everything, despite my inadequacies and the hard times, I am happy for what she has gifted me. How her battle changed my life too.”
“She knows, Jimin. Your sister knows. And I bet she is proud of you wherever she is now.”
They sat there for a long time. As Jimin let those words sink, and finally somehow allowed himself to feel a bit of hope.
“Elly loved her tricycle and insisted on bringing it everywhere. Since she was very stable, that morning I let her ride it by my side since I just had to go to the bank, it was just around the corner of our house. I don't know how it happened, but one moment she was riding the tricycle next to me, the next one she decided to run it down the high sidewalk and she was falling face down on the asphalt.
When she raised her head she was copiously bleeding from her chin. I was so shocked and frightened that I took her into my arms and started to run with all the intention of reaching the closest hospital, which was like two kilometres away. I ran with her for several blocks before a woman, probably concerned by seeing an hallucinated man with a bleeding kid in his arms, decided to call me a taxi. It turned out it was just a small cut on her chin, the blood was so copious only because the face has a lot of blood vessels. She ended up having two stitches and a free ice-cream while I got the scare of my life and my wife's scolding, which I gladly welcomed. I was so ashamed knowing that my daughter got hurt under my watch, I swore that if she would ever feel uncomfortable with her chin’s scar or face in the future, I would pay for whatever plastic surgery she will ask no matter how expensive!”
It was then that Jimin spluttered some drops of orange juice and almost choked on the rest of it. Seokjin patted his back, unfazed, as if what he had just said wasn't the most ridiculous oath a father could have made.
“Really Seokjin?” Jimin asked dumbfounded once he had managed to recover.
“Yes really,” he said defiantly as looked at him. Jimin nodded then, finding Seokjin's ridiculous concern endearing. As much he liked to be extravagant, Seokjin might have really thought that was the end of the world.
“Thank you for sharing this with me, I appreciate it,” Jimin said albeit a bit shyly.
“I always wanted to find the right girl for me, get married and have kids. I don't know how you managed to come to the conclusion that wanting to have kids ever since you’re young, qualifies you as a better dad than other people who came into fatherhood in other ways. You just needed to ask, dumbhead.” Seokjin scolded him, but there was no bite in his remark and he was still smiling when Jimin looked back at him.
After the break down in his living room, Jimin had promised Taehyung not to censor and silence his concerns and thoughts anymore, at least not with the people that cared about him.
He had told Jimin that keeping his fears to himself wouldn't make him any stronger, but just more desperate.
“Besides, we can help you. Nobody can do everything by themselves, Jimin.” Taehyung had said.
So Jimin tried. It wasn't like he felt a man born anew, but certainly having let his guard down once and somehow having survived that unscathed, made it easier to try again.
A couple of days after he got back to work, he worked up his courage to invite Seokjin to a small gathering. Seokjin ended up staying till dinner and even after, listening to Jimin and trying to make him feel his closeness even though technically it had been Jimin who had kept everyone at arm length distance.
After that somehow it got better. Jimin still felt like he would never get the hang of being a dad right and still felt like he was going to fuck up again, despite his best efforts, yet sharing this burden helped him feel less like he was drowning and more like he was floating. Made him feel like he could learn to swim properly one day.
Jimin didn't know that coming clean to his friends would make him feel so grateful or so rewarded. He felt ashamed of not having had a little bit more faith in the people who, standing by his side in the good and in the bad, had given him back the meaning of family.
That epiphany hadn't only warmed his heart, but also put his mind at ease. He was free to think about his life and his choices without being guided by fear or misconceptions. After opening up with his new family, he decided it was time to do that other thing that was a source of angst and problems.
So even if it pained him a bit, he decided to finally call Yoongi and see about that new job opportunity. Yoongi had been ecstatic to receive his call and he didn't waste time in fixing him a job interview. It went extraordinary well and he was immediately signed into a second final interview with the big boss to finalize the details.
It felt so terrifyingly easy to witness how it had been sufficient to let go of one of his weights for the other pieces of the domino to fall one after another.
He didn't delude himself into thinking that the future would be bright and clear from then on, but it gave him some hope.
That tiny flame which was born that night seemed to keep on feeding and blooming.
He asked himself then if that had been all along the real meaning of letting go Jungkook had talked so much about.
Having the courage to leave your old self behind, bringing with you just the good lessons and not the regrets.
Like selling the only house you knew as home and where you first received love in order to size your future.
Jimin couldn't deny that he had been thinking about Jungkook every single day now. He thought about him in the most inconvenient times. Even during meetings when he was trying to solve an issue, yet his mind conjured the memory of Jungkook's gorgeous face at the peak of pleasure.
He thought about him every time he looked at Aeri and he was reminded of their walk together, hand by hand, as Jungkook unveiled to him his heart to him.
He thought about him in the nights when he felt lonely and needy and he squeezed his eyes shut so that he could remember how it felt to be held by him.
He thought about him a lot, and was haunted by the last gaze the two had shared when Jimin had left him with the cruelest words. When Jungkook had been nothing but kind.
“And what about you?” Seokjin said, managing to bring Jimin back to his reverie. Jimin had to blink a couple of times to focus and notice how Seokjin had almost finished his sandwich. He must have been spacing out for a bit.
“What about me, what?”
“Are you really doing it? Are you aware that just because you put yourself into motion it doesn't mean that you have to let everything loose?” Seokjin asked him before sticking the last and big piece of sandwich into his mouth.
Jungkook had managed to successfully avoid him for almost a week before Jimin had finally found him alone. He could have called him or texted him, but somehow he felt that he needed to face him since he was about to ask Jungkook to spare him some time.
Despite his face being hardened into a careful blank mask, Jungkook had taken upon his request and they had agreed to meet at that same coffee shop where Seokjin and Jimin were having lunch right now.
Jimin needed all the encouragement that he could gather to take that one last step, even when he thought it wouldn’t be enough. How could you possibly finish something that hadn't even started?
“I mean… you are finally working on finding your balance, accepting the changes and even taking the first step forward together with Aeri. I love our job and I know you love it too, but even I know this place is not the best solution for you and it's actually a good idea for you to let it go, but—”
“I still don't know if I will get through the final interview though, besides it had to match my requirements otherwise changing wouldn't make any sense,” Jimin retorted back in a desperate attempt to sway from this conversation.
Seokjin flapped his hand.
“Just a formality. Yoongi's colleague has already ventilated you to the possibility of a more elastic schedule and they already know you are a single father. Besides, they would be crazy to let you go, given how you were the team leader that won over their last fumed deal,” Seokjin retorted equally fast. “But anyway, what I said still stands! You are not obligated to change everything just because you have refused to do it till now. You don't need to go after any ridiculous compensation. And Jungkook doesn't necessarily have to belong to the box of things to leave behind, Jimin. That kid is too precious and let me tell you, you don't meet people like that often.”
Jimin let out a heavy sigh as he sagged down in his spot.
He knew that. He knew that all too well. He knew Jungkook was made of gold. But ultimately that was the reason why he couldn't bring himself to snatch him for himself.
Jungkook deserved a life full of beautiful things, deserved to fly high, to conquer mountains and receive complete and devoted love and attention.
And Jimin knew he couldn't give him that, no matter how much he would have liked to.
And really, it was better that way even if it wasn't.
“I know that. But I also know I am afraid that I'm in no state of mind to keep up with him. Jungkook has a spirit made of wings, while I am a tree that is putting down roots.”
They looked at each other's eyes for a long moment before Seokjin looked somewhere else as a deep sigh left his lips.
“I don't agree with you. But I know that it's your choice, not mine. Just… well, if you need a hug, a meal or just someone to look after Aeri while you drink some old, dusty, red wine of a bottle in my kitchen cabinet, know that I am available for you. For free!”
Jimin couldn't help but cackle at that. Ah, Kim Seokjin.
“Thank you,” he said as he wiped a tricky tear from his right eye.
“Anytime Jimin, anytime.”
Seokjin had stayed for another half an hour, enough to drink his coffee and take a slice of cake before going and leaving Jimin alone.
Jimin still had another hour left before Jungkook showed up and he thought that he could maybe take a walk around there and then come back.
Yet not even ten minutes after he had exited the coffee shop he was already back in. Walking around and having some leisure time seemed unbearable, and even though coming back meant spending the time left squirming in his seat, Jimin decided it was a slightly bearable option.
He ordered a tea then, hoping it would help him calm down, and waited.
The minutes ticked by and he was ordering his second cup of tea, chamomile this time, like a kid seeking out for a good night of sleep, and then Jungkook stepped through the main entrance.
He looked young and soft in his blue faded jeans and white cotton sweater, his hair was fluffy and had fallen in messy waves on his forehead. His eyes were still big and innocent and gorgeous, and Jimin thought he had never done something as difficult as what he was about to do now.
Those bright eyes scanned the room looking for him and when their gazes finally met, it felt like time had hiccuped in its unfolding and for a moment it was just them.
But it was a trick of their mind that wasn’t destined to last. When they blinked it was gone. Jungkook tore his gaze then, staring at the ground like a kid that had been caught doing something that he shouldn't have. Jimin could reckon. He felt like that too.
Jungkook decided to walk to the counter and order something before getting to him, and Jimin used that little time to try and collect himself and quickly go over his prepared speech. However, when Jungkook finally reached him with his big caramel macchiato in one hand to sit in front of him, Jimin felt like he couldn't do this anymore. Even if he had to.
“Hi,” Jungkook said with a calm voice. Jimin nodded and looked at him, truly looked at him, caressing him with his eyes as if it was the last time.
He realized then that he might have started to feel something deeper for this young man. In between their coffee breaks encounters, stolen glances and shy smiles, in between the whispered word of passion exchanged in the night, and even in between their confrontations, Jimin's heart, the one he had thought in pieces, might have started to function again. As if it needed to be whole in order for it to break one more time.
“I'm so sorry Jungkook,” Jimin said as a greeting, and his words sounded so sincere that Jungkook's grip on the mug almost failed. He didn't end up spilling it on the table only because of his good reflexes.
He put down the cup and looked at Jimin. Pained.
“Jimin, you didn't need to apologize. I was supposed to be the one doing it,” he said with a sigh.
Jimin shook his head, the apologetic smile that he felt tugging at the corner of his lips already feeling so bitter.
“No. In my book you haven’t done anything that deserves an apology, while I have. I shouldn't have said what I said. I was frustrated and angry and even then, it's no excuse. I took it out on you and hurt you deliberately when it was just my fault.”
“What have you said that wasn't true, Jimin? Because I thought about your words over and over again and in the end, I came to the conclusion that you were right. I don't know anything about parenthood, I know nothing about what being responsible of another human being means. I felt like I could get it because we had both tasted grief, but I only ever had myself to take care of back then, while you aren't even allowed to do that. I got blinded by desire and so, even though I knew that you didn't need me in your life, I still plunged in, forcing you to have me even when your hands were already more than full. You say it's your fault, but the truth is that I made you hurt yourself. I can't forgive myself for that.” Jungkook said in one go, as if he had been dying to tell this to Jimin all this time.
“Who am I to blame you though, Jungkook? After all, I was the man that never wanted to have kids. No, you didn't force me to do anything that I didn't already want to pursue myself. The thing is… the reason why it hurts so much and it got so tangled, is that I might like you a lot more than I was ready to admit,” Jimin closed his eyes, trying to gain some courage, as if not seeing Jungkook's face could make it easier for him to say what he needed to say. “I like you. I like you a lot. Maybe a bit too much.”
He opened his eyes then, to see the way Jungkook's face shone of happiness for a glorious second just to fall in deep somberness, because he knew what was coming. He had read it in Jimin's eyes as soon as he had stepped over the threshold and their had gazes locked.
“That's why I followed you. That's why I couldn't tell you no. And that is also why I should do it now.” Jimin finally said.
Jungkook stayed frozen for a long moment, eyes casted down as Jimin's words sank into him. Then, with what looked like a tremendous effort, he nodded.
“I guess our timing was really bad, and I will forever regret not having chased after you earlier. Yet, even if things went like this, I have still some happiness left because I know this means you’re moving forward. And this is all I have ever wished for you since the day I learned about your loss,” Jungkook's eyes disappeared in happy, satisfied slits, and Jimin felt his heart aching.
Yet it didn't break, because reciprocated hearts know no death, just pain.
“Your words. On that postcard. Some days they were the only thing that managed to wake me up in the morning.” Jimin took the young man’s hand in his. "Thank you. For taking care of me.” he said before leaning in and kissing Jungkook on the cheek, unafraid of their surroundings, because he was done hiding and nobody was ever going to make him hide what he was and what he felt again.
He pressed his lips with all the feelings that he was able to muster and then stood up, caressed Jungkook’s chin one last time, and left.
Trying with all his might not to look back.
“Sort out the terms of your current contract, Park Jimin. Then come here to work with us. We can sign a pre-contract in the meantime and go into the details with the final one once you are free from your obligations at your current workplace,” the man in front of him said. He was older than him, but definitely at least fifteen years younger than the boss of his previous company.
He looked practical and logical and he had gone over Jimin’s requests, his need for a flexible schedule and the fact that for over an year he wouldn't be able to work as a front man, without batting an eye.
The salary offered to him was way higher than the one he had now, the place looked nice and made by dynamic people with an open mind.
It actually looked a bit too good to be true. Jimin swallowed the knot in his throat that this promising situation was causing, then after a few seconds of pause, he decided to put his foot down for one last request.
If they were okay even with this one, Jimin would go and kiss Yoongi for the opportunity.
“I have one last issue that I would like to discuss with you. It's something that has created me a lot of complications in all my previous jobs and along with a more flexible schedule, it's something I look forward to being accepted for in a new job place. I don't want to have to hide my sexual orientation. It doesn't mean I will go around with card boards saying that I'm gay or having some irrational behavior. I just want to be free to bring a male plus one at the company dinners.”
The man and possible future boss straightened in his chair, intertwining the fingers under his chin, and as he looked at him dead serious, he said:
“Mr. Park, let me speak frankly then. You could be dating a lamppost and still I wouldn't care. What I want from you is your professionalism and your hard work. The rest is none of my business. We don't discriminate in this company and neither accept that kind of behavior from our collaborators. So you are more than welcomed to bring whoever you want at our company dinners.”
Jimin felt like floating in the air.
After all the denigrating interviews in which he was asked why he had failed his internship, and after having to swallow down the remark of "keep it down", it felt like a dream to find a place where this wasn't considered an issue, but merely a personal life choice.
They left each other with a handshake and an appointment for a couple of days later for the pre-contract.
Jimin realized then that his life was about to change again. But this time — hopefully — for the better .
He was going to work as a senior sales analyst and strategist, a behind the scenes work but also a more flexible and easily followed at home one. His new workplace had assured him all the equipment he needed to operate by home if required. They would even go as far as to send a technician to mount a desk in his apartment.
The working hours were flexible and, as long as he completed his tasks in the time required, it didn't matter if he worked ten hours or four. He was sure the new job would bring its challenges, but for the time being it looked like the perfect accommodation for him and Aeri.
He would be able to work his schedule around her necessities and be able to be there for her more. For all that time he had tried so hard to keep everything going on like nothing had changed, trying to be the same old Jimin and the caregiver of Aeri. But he had changed. He had already changed and morphed into his new skin, even if he had denied it and hurt himself in the stupid attempt of fighting it.
He had needed the confession of a four years old kid to realize it. Jimin was a father, but more than anything, Aeri was his daughter.
There had been nothing wrong with the Jimin he was before Aeri, and there was certainly nothing wrong with the Jimin he was now. But refusing to acknowledge changes for fear or guilt, had only brought him dangerously close to his limit and he had almost ended up hurting her too.
She had embraced his new self before even he himself could do it. She was the best person Jimin had the luck to meet.
Maybe he was imperfect, maybe he had never imagined of having this, maybe he would always feel inadequate. But even if that was the case, he was only going to work harder, learn from his mistakes, and adjust to both their needs.
Moving forward, hand in hand with Aeri.
Sister, wherever you are, I hope you forgive me. I hope you are happy for us. And thank you, thank you for having fought for her. Because your battle has changed my life. For the better.
“Aeri, how are you doing with your thing?” asked Jimin from the bathroom.
It was a Monday morning again. Exactly three weeks later after he had resigned from his position.
His boss hadn't exactly taken the news well.
He hadn't made a scene only because the old man was too prideful, but he took him out of all his projects at the speed of light and stopped greeting him. Actuall,y he basically stopped acknowledging his existence all-together.
Jimin couldn't say he expected anything less and he would have taken this really. After all, he was going to be at the office for just a month and spending the next month at home since he had a lot of unclaimed vacation days.
Of course it couldn't just be that simple. Barely a couple of days after his resignation, the whispers and not so subtle insulting comments started, and suddenly the information about his deviated sexual orientation spread in all the departments at the speed of light.
It was a shallow and cowardly move, and Jimin didn't file a complaint form to the HR only because he wasn't going to see these people ever again. Yet it stung. It stung and it angered him to know that people were so quick to judge and look at him differently.
“Yes, we are very handsome, you can stop staring now! Keep moving!” Seokjin said, raising his voice at someone standing behind Jimin's back.
“Stupid pricks. I swear the next time I see another one of them ogling so rudely, I will just make sure to dig my shoe in their ass so deep that—”
Jimin covered his mouth, as the red face of Seokjin almost made him laugh. It was endearing how Seokjin defended him at any opportunity, but Jimin didn't want for his presence to hinder his friend's future.
Seokjin never made it to the second interview at Yoongi's place, because he himself decided to stop at the first. “And leave Namjoon and the rest all by themselves? Ridiculous! Besides, now it will be my reign!” he had told Jimin. It held more truth than the joke let on.
Seokjin didn't only love his job, he loved the people that were a part of it. Seokjin wouldn't ever be able to feel at ease with himself if he left too soon after Jimin. If Jimin knew him well, he would have stayed long enough to leave things in order and then he would have reassessed his situation.
He had such an outstanding work ethic, and once again Jimin was reminded just how awesome he was.
His soon to be ex-teammates had been sad to learn the news of Jimin's resignation, but had wished him the best anyway.
Luckily none of them had started to treat him any differently even when the rumors started, and despite not feeling at home in this place anymore, Jimin knew he would miss these people.
“Please stop. Let them be. They are just narrow minded people that have nothing better to do. As for me, I will be soon out of here and will forget they even existed,” Jimin said, patting Seokjin forearm gently.
“Still. It's rude. I don't understand what's wrong with some people,” he huffed, red skin slowly going back to his color.
“Me neither. But thank you for trying to make it better anyways. Ah, I will miss all this,” Jimin said with a nostalgic smile.
“What, me acting like a prince charming? Because I can charm you even from afar, you know that right?”
“No, for being so ridiculous that you make me forget the rest,” Jimin teased him, making Seokjin raise an eyebrow at him in indignation. Ah, he would really miss all this.
His gaze fell on the vending machine, which had been recently refilled with a new stock of sweets.
He asked himself if Jungkook would come here to take his daily dose of sugar.
They had never interacted again.
The few times they had crossed paths in the corridors, they had just nodded at each other in acknowledgment but that was all. No more coffee breaks, no more calls or texts.
Actually he did get one, a “Congratulations on your new job, Jimin. I know you will rock.” that had made him smile so wide that his gums hurt after.
He had thanked him of course and there was no other answer to that. It wasn't like he had anticipated one.
His heart beat fast every time he thought about Jungkook, and it was ironic really that he felt it so whole the moment he had let him go.
But there was nothing that could be done about that. You couldn't control your heart and your feelings as much as you couldn't decide on your circumstances and time.
He knew that even in the future whenever he would think of him, his heart would always, always skip a beat.
His last week passed by in the blink of an eye, and before he knew it he was emptying his desk and putting his things neatly in a box. He hugged and greeted his team mates, fighting hard the urge not to tear up.
Seokjin of course would have continued to be part of his life, but given how they would no longer be colleagues, they would have seen each other way less.
It was bittersweet, moving on.
Yet, as the doors of the elevator closed behind him and Jimin found himself one last time at the company garage, he knew that this was how it was supposed to be.
He hugged his boxes to his chest and walked to his car. And went back home to his daughter.
Jimin was slightly pissed.
He was having a wonderful morning with Aeri. That day they decided that Aeri didn't exactly have all this urgency to go to school, and even though it was a little bit wrong, Jimin didn't feel apologetic at all.
Even with his new flexible schedule, a long time would still pass before they could stay together, so considering that he had vacation he decided that a couple of days off with Aeri would hurt nobody.
So they had spent the whole morning giving weird shapes to their cookies, and they might have ended up with chocolate stains not only on their faces and arms but probably even on the insides of their ears. But it didn't matter when they were having such a good time.
However, just as they were waiting for the cooking to finish baking, his old work place called him.
Apparently they couldn't send the paycheck to him by post, but he had to retrieve it personally as soon as possible. Jimin sighed.
He didn't feel like going now, but also knew that he would rather do this sooner than later, besides they had already arranged with Hyejin to go visit her that afternoon. He could anticipate their visit time a bit, leave Aeri in her hands and quickly get the task done.
This is how he ended up back at his old workplace doing the walk of shame down its corridors. The administration ladies treated him as if he was dirt under their nails, and Jimin tried very hard not to show them the middle finger, but he knew better than to give some sort of satisfaction to these people who would have enjoyed way too much to see him reacting.
He tried to smile as wide as he could then, and it was with a lot of pride and smugness that he took in their display of unease and puzzlement when confronted with such a nice behavior from his part.
Once he was done, for a moment he considered taking the elevator to the fifth floor and go say hi to Seokjin and the others. The stares he received from the people he crossed paths with made him want to keep acting cheekily. He decided to throttle down the vending machines and do as he pleased for the little time that he was there.
However he didn't feel like going empty handed, and that was why he went to the coffee break room to get some coffee for them. He almost tripped on his feet when an indignant booming voice came from inside the room.
But it wasn't the volume of the voice that made him stop in his track. It was whom it belonged to. And more than anything, what he was saying.
“You should be ashamed of yourself. Jimin has been a valuable asset to this company for years and you should be thankful of his remarkable job, because it was the deals that he sealed that kept this company going for so long. Losing a person like him isn’t only regretful but also a terrible loss, so do a me favor and shut the fuck up. What he does with his life is none of your business, ladies.” Jungkook concluded, and even from outside the corridor Jimin could sense his anger. His fury..
Without even noticing, he felt himself slowly retreating back and before he realized it he was back in the elevator.
Jungkook owed him nothing.
Jimin wasn't his friend, nor his lover. He wasn't even a co-worker by now. Yet Jungkook hadn't hesitated to take his side even when Jimin was no longer there to hear him, and let alone to thank him.
His healed heart, the one Jungkook had contributed to bring back to life, started to beat loud and fast under his ribcage.
What if in his haste to move forward he had overlooked something important, something that he would regret all his life if he had let go?
And I promise you that love hasn't gone anywhere. It will stay with you forever.
Jimin felt his breath turn ragged as he stepped out of the elevator.
Taehyung had told him he was too harsh on himself. And Seokjin had more than once warned him about how he believed that he wasn't making the right decision.
Yet Jimin hadn't listened. Because everything had changed and he had to follow the change.
One day you'll understand that there are things that are worth fighting for.
Jimin stood there. Somehow he had pressed the button for the underground level even though his car was parked outside.
He looked up.
He stared down.
Took a big breath.
He took out his phone then and checked the time .
He had one hour. Better text Hyejin and tell her he was going to be late.
One hour later when Jungkook stepped out of the elevator to quickly get to his car and wash away the tiredness of a bad day, he found Jimin sitting on the cold and dirty pavement, back resting against his car, waiting.
And when their gazes met, Jungkook knew Jimin was there for him. There to try.
I don't want to remember you. I want to live you.
Epilogue - 15 years later
Aeri was carefully staring at herself in the mirror, trying poses, a vain quirk started in her childhood that had stayed with her along the years.
Yet, this time, she was completely justified. If anything, Jimin had encouraged her to do so.
It was her wedding day after all and the dress looked lovely on her.
It wasn't a secret that Jimin had teared up ever since he had first seen her wearing it, and the only reason why he wasn't weeping like a pup was because he didn't want to end up in Taehyung's footage.
"I bet your mother and your father are so happy and proud of you, no matter where they are. I really wish they were here for you. Your mother arranging your veil and your father accompanying you to the altar."
"I miss them too, but they are here." she said, indicating his chest with a finger, and more precisely his heart.
"Besides I couldn't wish for anything better on this day, because you once told me I had double the dad’s love and it was true. Isn't it wonderful that I ended up having it threefold?"
Jungkook, who had just entered the room in that moment, was caught so off guard by Aeri's words that he was unable to contain himself.
In all those years, he had always just been Jimin's boyfriend. Jimin's partner. Or just Jungkook.
It was the first time Aeri had called him dad.
In the end, it wasn't Jimin who ended up crying buckets and remained captured on Taehyung's tape forever.