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Two Can Play That Game

Chapter Text

[moodboard by the birthday girl]

~ ~ ~

The absolute chaos of watching dozens of kids kick off their street shoes to put on slippers for the school day was not lost on Park Jimin, even after years of daily repetition.

“Quickly, quickly,” he encouraged, watching his class of first grade students bustle around as the clock ticked closer to half past eight in the morning. Winter coats, scarves, face masks, nice shoes—dozens of young kids shoved their shoe bags into their designated shoe storage box and stored their other belongings, the chatter happy and excited. Slippers went on, and Jimin greeted each of his twenty-two students as they entered his classroom for the school day, smiling and watching friend groups converge together. 

“Good morning, good morning, good morning,” Jimin said as he walked through the classroom, every student seated exactly where they should be, every student wearing their school uniform. Jangseong Elementary School was one of the best in Seoul, and Jimin had been a first grade teacher at the school for five years now. That meant that he was going to be switching to a new elementary school soon, since teachers and principals rotated on a five-year schedule. But his time at Jangseong had been phenomenal thus far, and he was certain that this year’s class (though the year was coming to a close already) was one of his best.

“Has everyone brought me their homework?” Jimin asked with a small smile.

“YE-E-E-ES.”

“Did you all sleep well last night?”

“YE-E-E-ES.”

“Are you feeling warm, or do we need to fix that?”

“YE-E-E-ES!” the students all called out, a few of them giggling. Jimin heaved a dramatic sigh on purpose, the giggling escalating, and then he clapped his hands once and lifted his hands palms-up. His students all shoved their chairs back and stood up in excited anticipation.

“I hope your counting skills are perfect,” he warned, and he heard one boy hurriedly counting to eight under his breath. “Eight! Four! Two! One! Are you ready?”

“YE-E-E-ES!”

“Okay, here we go. A-five, a-six, a-five, six, seven, eight,” Jimin counted in jokingly, the giggles reaching a peak as he clapped his hands. Then, together, the entire class began to shake and wiggle around. Eight shakes of the right arm, then the left, then the right leg, then the left leg. Then four of each. Then two. Then one. All the while, they counted out loud, and the train derailed somewhere around four shakes on the right leg. The laughter was infectious, and even Jimin was laughing, but they made it through, and he motioned for his students to sit down.

“Okay, nap time,” he said, and immediately, about seven or eight students threw their heads onto their desks and pretended to sleep and snore. Jimin smiled, and then he clapped his hands! “Alright! Please pull out your textbooks for We are the First Graders! Quickly!”

There was a quiet but mad scramble as twenty-two small but growing humans dug into their desks to pull out their textbooks, whispering to each other. Jimin watched, using a thumb to fan through the pages of his copy of the textbook repeatedly as he cradled it in one arm. He was familiar with this curriculum. He could probably teach it in his sleep at this point.

Teaching wasn’t something that was in Jimin’s blood. So many of his colleagues boasted a mother who taught kindergarten or a father who taught high school literature, but Jimin’s father was a staunch businessman, and his mother was a legal secretary. Both of them had warned Jimin that despite the unmatched level of respect, he would burn out being a teacher within a year, that it wasn’t the job for him, that he should focus more on becoming a businessman like his father and just make a decent living. But Jimin had stumbled into teaching after being inspired by one of his high school teachers, and he had never once looked back or regretted his choice.

There was something intriguing to Jimin about little kids, especially the age that he taught. Teaching high school had been a big turn-off, mostly because of the stress that the students were put under to perform and succeed. In first grade, Jimin could focus on developing their personalities and shaping their behavior into something lovely. He also found that parents were far more curious and simultaneously out-of-the-loop, albeit eccentric, when it came to first graders. It was always a grab-bag, and it made for interesting work. 

The school day always flew by quickly, mostly because Jimin never let a dull moment consume the classroom. He moved seamlessly from the first grade-specific curriculum right into Korean, focusing mostly on writing today. When his class departed for lunchtime in the cafeteria, Jimin followed, always keeping an eye out for his closest friend at Jangseong, Kim Seokjin. Seokjin was a few years older and taught third grade, which suited his witty personality best.

“I’m about to lose my mind.”

“Do tell,” Jimin said, falling right into step beside Seokjin and watching his small first graders beside the growing third graders.

“How hard do you think it is to stand and recite your twelves times tables on command?” Seokjin asked rhetorically, and Jimin snickered prematurely. “And in what world is ‘my dog wouldn’t pee in the snow this morning’ a good excuse for forgetting them?”

“Valid, in my opinion. It’s the end of January. It’s snowing. Even I don’t want to get out of bed to pee in the morning,” Jimin pointed out, and Seokjin gave him a look. Nobody exchanged banter with Jimin about the woes of being a teacher like Seokjin did. So many teachers at Jangseong were so serious, veterans in the field, or brand new and too focused on succeeding. Jimin was in his eighth year of teaching, and he was somewhere in limbo. Seokjin was a ten-year veteran, but his sense of humor was still intact.

“I have so many jokes about peeing first thing in the morning in winter,” Seokjin sighed, sounding disappointed in his current environment that wasn’t conducive for adult jokes. “I’ll save them for staff meetings.”

“The only person who would listen to those jokes is Jeongyeon.”

“She’d love them.”

Then they both stood quietly side-by-side, watching their students carry trays to the lunch tables, sitting with friends. Jimin briefly watched the flurry of chopsticks and the slurping of soup amongst all the students, and then Seokjin snickered in fond amusement.

“New tattoos?” he asked, and Jimin whipped his head over, knowing exactly which student Seokjin was referencing. He squinted to find her, and then he blew out a breath, lips vibrating.

“She always does it in the lunch line,” he sighed. “This girl steals markers like a seasoned thief.”

“Is it a form of self-expression, or is she convinced that her skin is paper?” Seokjin asked, trying not to laugh.

“She has to know someone with tattoos,” Jimin deduced. “There’s no way she’s just doing that for the hell of it. It’s been an entire school year, and she’s still doing it, even though I scold her every single time. She doesn’t even care.”

“If she wasn’t a little genius, it would be a problem,” Seokjin pointed out. “But if she’s not in my class in two years, I’ll switch schools.”

Jimin snickered, and then Seokjin leaned back like he was being launched before taking a giant step forward to swiftly walk over to one of his students who had beckoned to him. Jimin turned his attention then to Jeon Dasom, the seven-year-old who had weasled her way right into Jimin’s heart from day one, burrowing and making a home there. Dasom was whimsically intelligent and stoic in the face of school-based discipline, always questioning why. She and Jimin had a special little secret between the two of them, mostly because Dasom had dealt with some bullying at the beginning of the semester.

Most kids were oblivious, but there were a select elite group of students who were consistently cruel. Jangseong Elementary was full of students with wealthy or affluent parents, and those students mixed in with the working-class families. It was back in October when Dasom had come to Jimin crying, because older students (with parental clout to back them up) were making fun of her father. When Jimin had pressed her for a reason, she had vehemently refused to talk about it at first. But Jimin, privy to her habits, had handed her some markers, allowing her to draw on her own skin while talking. Dasom had then indignantly said, while drawing, that they were hounding her because they heard that her father liked women and men. When Jimin had quietly asked Dasom if it was true, Dasom had scoffed.

“Well, my dad is bisexual.”

Hearing it come from a seven-year-old’s mouth had been startling, but Jimin had calmed Dasom down significantly by assuring her that it was okay, and that he, too, liked men. Dasom had been fascinated, promising not to tell other kids, and she and Jimin had formed a special little bond.

Most kids were relatively tight-lipped about their parents, and Dasom was no exception. She did, however, always have a wicked gleam in her eyes when she talked about her father, minus the bullying incident, and she rarely mentioned a mother. Jimin knew he wasn’t supposed to have favorites, but every year, he always had one or two students that he liked best. This year, it was Jeon Dasom.

After lunch, Jimin gathered his class back into his classroom for mathematics, already dreading the lesson he had prepared. His students worked well individually, but when they did group work, there were always little problems. The kids tried hard not to butt heads, but Jimin had a few mean girls in his class this year with parents who made nice donations to the school, so it was a delicate balance. Most kids wanted to do well and present themselves as angels so that their parents would be proud, but a handful liked to make Jimin’s job difficult.

“So with the worksheet—” Jimin held it up as one of his students passed out one to each classmate— “I want you to use what you’ve learned from the number chart. Focus on the number chart with your group, and don’t forget everything we’ve learned about place value! I’m paying very close attention to that. It’s the end of the semester, don’t forget! Now—let’s split into groups.”

Jimin shook the can of popsicle sticks with numbers on them, and then he walked around and let each student pick. He had done it dozens of times before, so with their popsicle stick, each student knew where to go. Five groups came together, and Jimin watched as, in a team effort, each group gathered what they would need to make their number chart to present to the class. Jimin stood quietly and observed, making sure that no one was carrying scissors dangerously or putting the glue stick too close to their mouth.

“Park seonsaengnim?”

“Yes? What is it?” Jimin tore his eyes away from group three.

“Do we do the worksheet problems together in our group?” Jeon Dasom blinked up at Jimin with a pencil in one hand, her other hand on her hip. She was wearing her school uniform like every other kid—navy blue pants, a white button-up shirt, and a navy blue tie. But her shirt was coming untucked, her tie was skewed, and her arms were still covered in different colors from markers. Jimin wordlessly reached into his desk drawer, grabbed a wet wipe, and took Dasom’s hand to extend her arm out straight. He then wiped her arm as he replied.

“Yes, you do the worksheet with your group after you make the chart,” he said, and Dasom just watched all her little drawings disappear without complaint.

“Okay.” Dasom flicked one braid over her shoulder, and Jimin smiled. Dasom was exceedingly cute, almost like a doll—round and angelic face, bright brown doe eyes, one dimple in her cheek when she smiled, long black hair that was always in some cool hairstyle. Today, it was in two Dutch braids, the tips resting over her shoulders. Back in December, she had come in with tinsel braided in her hair, and all of the girls had been jealous. Last week, her ponytail had been split into a dozen braids, and one girl had cried because she wanted a cool hairstyle, too.

“Any other questions?” Jimin asked, amused. Dasom shook her head, braids flopping, and then she bowed her head and turned to skip off to her group, completely unfazed by her teacher wiping down her arms as he did almost every single day.

Jimin knew a lot of teachers who focused on their own work while their class did group work, but Jimin had very little attention span to do any grading or answer emails. Interested in what his class was doing, Jimin slowly circled around the room, crouching down with each group and asking questions curiously. He volunteered to cut out a 2-D tens block for Haeun from group four, and he sat cross-legged and helped group one with the first two questions on their worksheet. Jimin had learned quickly as a teacher that if he was apathetic or detached, if he was uninvolved, then his students learned only what the curriculum offered. He wasn’t their father and he wasn’t their friend, but he wanted them to feel like their teacher cared or held interest in them.

“Ah-h-h, so how much does that make?” Jimin asked, watching with a smile as two boys in group two quietly counted the paper blocks they had been cutting for one side of their number chart. “Can you group the ones together?”

“Ah, yes,” Doyoung said, hopping up onto his knees. “Okay, so—”

“AH-H-H-H-H! GET OFF ME!”

In a flash, pandemonium broke out by the classroom door where group three was working. Jimin jumped to his feet nimbly, brow furrowed, and then he vaulted over Doyoung and shoved one desk chair aside, skipping over art supplies and leaping over to the door, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

“STOP IT! STOP IT!”

“Okay, off, off.” Jimin slipped his hands underneath Dasom’s arms and lifted her off poor Hwang Hayoon, who was screeching and swatting at Dasom. Jimin tugged and then set Dasom firmly on her feet again, and Dasom didn’t even avert her eyes or cower in a manner of premeditated groveling. She just set her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows, head tilted to the side a bit as she stared. Hayoon’s two pigtails were now a skewed mess, because Dasom had been holding one in each hand while sitting on top of Hayoon and demanding heaven-knew-what.

“I hate her!” Hayoon whined, scrambling to her feet with tears in her eyes.

“Stop making fun of Jiwon,” Dasom said calmly. Poor Kim Jiwon, blinking with owlish eyes behind her glasses, seemed stunned.

“She slapped me!” Hayoon accused, pointing a small finger at Dasom. Dasom didn’t even deny it.

Stop making fun of Jiwon,” Dasom repeated, crossing her arms. Jimin blew out a breath, still kneeling so he could be eye-level with both girls, but he stood up decisively.

“Dasom-ah,” he sighed. “Go sit down at your desk. I’ll need to call your parents.”

“Fine,” Dasom huffed. “But tell her to stop making fun of Jiwon.”

“Go,” Jimin demanded, pointing. Dasom scowled, but then she marched back to her desk, ignoring the other groups that were slowly getting back to work after witnessing the tussle. Jimin turned to Hayoon.

“What happened?” he asked tiredly.

“Dasom is crazy,” Hayoon whined, pouting something fierce as she tightly crossed her arms. “I don’t want to be in her group anymore.”

Keep your head on straight. She’s the child of a rich man who could get you fired in a heartbeat. Jimin took a deep breath.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m lucky I didn’t die,” Hayoon said dramatically, and Jimin raised his eyebrows, making eye contact. Hayoon was smart enough to respect her teacher, so she cowered just a little. “I’m not hurt, but it hurt when she pulled my hair.”

“Well, let’s just fix that up,” Jimin said, breathing deeply to keep himself from scolding Hayoon for being a bully. Instead, he smoothed out her hair and tightened the pigtails with care, and then he gestured. “If you’re not hurt, then please get back to work,” he quietly requested. Hayoon scowled just like Dasom had, but she pivoted on her heels and went back to her group, plopping down cross-legged. Jimin watched her for a moment, and then he clicked his tongue. It had taken all of ten seconds for Hayoon to tighten her pigtails by herself and giggle with her best friend and snatch the scissors from Jiwon’s hands, turning a shoulder away from Jiwon.

Shit, now I have to take her to the principal because it turned into a physical fight, Jimin silently bemoaned, watching as Dasom laid her head down on her desk and grabbed a marker, using her teeth to pop off the cap and then pressing the ink tip to her arm to draw. Dasom was easily one of the smartest students in his class, but sometimes she just did things that made Jimin wonder what in the hell her home life was like. Not in a negative way, either—in a curious way. She was articulate, outspoken, sweet, fiery, funny, and easily distracted by things like a tiny bug on the windowsill. She accepted discipline but picked and chose what suited her. Hayoon rejected all discipline. Jiwon was a typical submissive first grader. Dasom was… something else entirely.

“Dasom-ah.”

“Is my dad going to come here?” she quietly asked, still drawing as Jimin crouched down to speak with her, his eyes still wandering the room to supervise his class.

“Yes. We’ll need to speak to the principal,” Jimin relayed, bracing for impact. Most kids tended to tear up and wail out an apology to avoid discipline. Dasom just popped her lips a few times, still drawing.

“Park seonsaengnim,” she said, and Jimin quietly listened. “Hayoon is mean. She’s mean all the time. She’s never nice.”

“I hear you.” Jimin rested his chin on Dasom’s desk and blinked at her, and she finally looked up and stared at him. “But you still have to go to the principal. And you have to apologize to Hayoon.”

“I’m not sorry for slapping her.”

“Pretend you are,” Jimin whispered, and Dasom cracked a smile and set down the marker. Jimin stood up, called out for the class to keep working and took in their choral response to him, and then guided Dasom over to her former group. He set a hand on her shoulder.

“Hayoon-ah.”

“Yes? Oh.” Hayoon smiled, and then she hopped to her feet and folded her hands behind her back, swaying back and forth a few times as she waited for the apology she knew was coming. Dasom slowly turned and looked up at Jimin, and Jimin almost lost his composure. The look on her face was priceless, something akin to, “are you really going to make me do this?” But Jimin held it together long enough to beckon, so Dasom sighed.

“I’m sorry for tackling you and slapping you and pulling your hair,” she listed. “But be nice to Jiwon.”

“Dasom-ah.”

“I’m sorry,” Dasom said in exasperation, bowing her head to Hayoon. “Sorry. I’m sorry, Hayoon-ah.”

Hayoon hummed with a pleased smile at Jimin’s direction, and Jimin nodded.

“Get back to work,” he instructed, so Hayoon plopped down cross-legged and barked out an order to one of the girls, pigtails swinging as she reached for the glue. Dasom went back to her seat and dropped into her chair, and Jimin sighed, grabbing the worksheet for her to do instead of the group work just to keep her out of trouble, or to keep more trouble from brewing. Then he surveyed his entire class as they worked diligently, reaching for the phone on his desk at the same time to arrange the meeting.

The meeting was to take place after school, and Mr. Song, the principal, called Jimin an hour after the incident to say that Dasom’s father would be coming to the meeting. Jimin hoped and prayed that the rest of the day would go smoothly, and to his relief, it did. There were no further altercations, and dismissal was a breeze. His class all departed for the day after cleaning the classroom, but Dasom stayed behind.

“Okay, come with me,” Jimin said when the classroom was empty and clean. Dasom had her backpack on already, and she quietly walked by Jimin’s side down the hall and around the corner to the principal’s office, not a single hint of fear in her step or in her eyes. Jimin knocked on the door, waited until he heard a voice telling him to enter, and then opened the door. He guided Dasom in first, and then he gestured for her to sit down in one of the two chairs across from Mr. Song’s desk.

“Say hello,” Jimin whispered, scooting off to the side to find a good place to stand by and observe. Mr. Song, a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair, glasses, and a sharp jawline with dark eyes, watched Dasom carefully, adjusting his tie as he did.

“Hello, gyojang seonsaengnim,” Dasom said with a bow, and then she sat back down. Mr. Song arched one eyebrow, his hands folded on his desktop.

“Your father is on his way here,” Mr. Song said in his deep voice that Jimin felt in his soul, but Dasom didn’t curl in on herself in shame. Instead, she seemed to perk up a bit, eyes flicking to the door in premature eagerness. “We will discuss this matter and then decide the proper course of action when he arrives.”

“Okay,” Dasom said, swinging her little legs back and forth with her elbows resting on the armrests. Jimin watched her in interest, because she was far too level-headed for a seven-year-old who was about to get an earful from her father, of all people, about smacking classmates. Jimin had taken children to the principal before, and every single one of them had cried or held Jimin’s arm or gripped the chair for dear life, terrified of their mother or father’s reaction, scared of the disappointment and subsequent punishment. But Dasom was just looking around the office with curious doe eyes, and her father was five minutes late.

A knock on the door disrupted the awkward silence, and Jimin glanced up. The door swung open.

“Sorry I’m late. Traffic.”

Mr. Song stood up to greet Dasom’s father, and Dasom hopped up and knelt in her chair with a smile, but Jimin just stood up and stared. 

Oh, Jesus Christ.

The man who walked into the room looked like he had spent a lot of time in the principal’s office himself in his earlier years. His black hair was cut short and parted to the side, sunglasses pushed up into it in his haste to enter the building and find his daughter. He was wearing black pants and a short-sleeved white button-up with half the buttons undone, but his outfit in the face of the bitter January cold was hardly reason for Jimin to stare. Dasom’s father had two full sleeves of tattoos on his toned arms and an eyebrow piercing, and he was twirling his car keys around one finger distractedly.

“Hi. Don’t think we’ve met.” He stopped and bowed breathlessly to the principal, and then he politely offered his hand. “Jeon Jeongguk.” He shook Mr. Song’s hand firmly, and then he pivoted and faced Jimin, bowing. “Jeon Jeongguk. Nice to meet you.”

“Park Jimin. Dasom’s classroom teacher,” Jimin introduced himself.

“So I’ve heard,” Jeon Jeongguk said with a one-dimpled grin, tossing his car keys up and catching them with one hand in a snatching motion before tucking them into his pocket. Suddenly, everything about Dasom’s appearance and mannerisms made sense—the one dimple, her Bambi eyes, the way she constantly drew on her arms with markers. 

Jimin watched quietly as Jeongguk glanced around, found the empty chair beside Dasom, and plopped down into it, crossing his leg with his left ankle on his right knee. He rolled his head to the left, where Dasom was kneeling and staring at him.

“Why am I here?” he asked her in mild exasperation, and Jimin almost laughed. Mr. Song cleared his throat, so Jeongguk looked to the principal with a quick bow of his head, listening.

“Jeongguk-ssi, your daughter got into an altercation with another student in her class,” Mr. Song detailed, and Jeongguk nodded. “A physical altercation, mind you. I’ll allow her teacher to explain what happened.” He then gestured to Jimin, and Jimin took a deep breath. Be professional. Keep it together. It’s just your student’s really hot father. No big deal.

“Right. Well, they were doing group work for mathematics, creating a number chart,” he explained. “Dasom was in a group with four other girls. And at one point, when I looked over, she, uh… she was in a physical fight with Hayoon. So I pulled her off Hayoon and separated her from the group. Dasom said that Hayoon was making fun of another girl in their group.”

“Mm.” Jeongguk pinched his bottom lip between his thumb and pointer finger, and then he nodded once firmly. Jimin then watched as Jeongguk grabbed the arms of his chair, stood up halfway, shuffled until his chair was facing Dasom, and then he set it back down. In one swift motion, he shoved the armrest of Dasom’s chair so that she was facing him, and Jimin held his breath. Here it comes.

“What happened?” Jeongguk rested his elbows on his knees with his hands folded, and Jimin’s jaw dropped.

“Jeongguk-ssi, it’s very important that we—”

“May I just have a moment to hear the story from her?” Jeongguk requested, interrupting the principal politely. Mr. Song snapped his mouth shut, startled, and Jimin almost laughed. Never once, in his eight years of teaching, had he seen a parent do anything except bow to the principal and apologize and scold their child. “Dasom-ah. What happened?”

“Hayoon always makes fun of Jiwon because Jiwon has a lisp,” Dasom articulated clearly, and then she pulled her legs up and crossed them in the chair as if she wasn’t in the principal’s office for smacking a girl clear across the face. “And we were doing numbers one to ten on the chart.”

“So what, Hayoon was teasing Jiwon every time she said ‘three’ or something?” Jeongguk asked, and Dasom nodded fervently.

“Yeah, and she does it all the time, Dad. She’s really mean. She made her friend tease Jiwon, too. So I told her to stop, and she didn’t stop. She teased me and said I was a loser for being friends with Jiwon.”

“So what’d you do?”

“I tackled her.”

Jeongguk immediately snorted with laughter as he hung his head, and Jimin could not have been more floored if he tried. Mr. Song looked quietly outraged as he watched the conversation unfold, but he said nothing, letting Jeongguk do the parenting.

“Okay.” He glanced up. “And then what?”

“I slapped her on her face and pulled her hair.”

“Nice. I mean, not actually—sorry. Give me a minute,” Jeongguk said, holding out one fist to Dasom and holding up another hand to Mr. Song apologetically as Dasom bumped her father’s fist. Jimin was absolutely certain that he was hallucinating the entire scenario. “And then?” 

“And then I told her to be nice, but she was just screaming. So then Park seonsaengnim came and got me,” Dasom finished. Her little hands were folded in her lap, and when she tilted her head to the side, Jeongguk did exactly the same thing, a mirror image of his daughter.

“Okay. Well, are you sorry that you did that to Hayoon?” Jeongguk asked.

“No.”

“Jeon Dasom,” Mr. Song interrupted sternly, and Dasom cowered slightly, but Jeongguk didn’t even flinch. He just reached forward, grabbed the legs of Dasom’s chair, and pulled her close to him until his knees were touching the edge of her seat.

“Look at me.” He held up his pointer and middle fingers and directed them at his eyes, and Dasom looked at him immediately. Jeongguk turned his fingers towards Dasom’s eyes, and then he snapped them together and tapped her forehead once as she giggled. “Read the room, Dasom-ah. Sticking up for your friends is good. Keep doing that. Don’t ever stop doing that. Tackling and slapping and hair pulling, though… probably not the greatest thing to do at school. I think you can agree with that.”

“Yes, Dad.”

“If you have a problem with another student, you need to talk to your teacher and ask him to handle it. Taking matters into your own hands takes guts, but you also have to know when to chill out,” Jeongguk advised, and Jimin watched in mild awe as Dasom hung onto her father’s every word. “There was a stopping point. A limit. When was it?”

“Uh…” Dasom popped her lips a few times pensively. “Uh, probably when Hayoon made fun of me. Because that’s when I tackled her.”

“Okay. So what should you have done instead?”

“Gotten up to tell Park seonsaengnim about it.”

“Ding-ding-ding! Winne-e-e-er,” Jeongguk said, and Dasom giggled. “Have you apologized to Hayoon?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now apologize to your teacher, and to your principal, for causing all this trouble,” Jeongguk instructed. Dasom sighed and hopped out of her chair, and then she faced Mr. Song and bowed.

“I’m sorry for causing trouble,” she apologized sincerely, holding the bow for a moment before hopping once like a bunny and facing Jimin. “I’m sorry for causing trouble.”

“Alright, cool. Am I just taking her home now?” Jeongguk wondered, glancing over to Mr. Song.

“Jeongguk-ssi, this is a very serious matter,” Mr. Song said stiffly. “Discipline should be enforced.”

“Discipline?” Jeongguk arched the eyebrow with the piercing in it, and Jimin swallowed the lump in his throat. “With my utmost respect—she’s seven. Almost eight. She’s here right now. We’ve talked it out. She apologized to the right people. Punishment isn’t teaching. Park seonsaengnim.”

“Yes,” Jimin said, surprised that Jeongguk was addressing him, since he felt like more of a fly on the wall.

“Is Hayoon upset?” he asked. “Do I need to speak with her parents?”

“I doubt it,” Jimin replied with honesty. “She was fine two minutes later. If her parents lodge any kind of complaint, we’ll call you back in to speak with them.”

“Excellent.” Jeongguk clapped his hands together once. “Dasom-ah, say goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Dasom said with two more bows as Mr. Song visibly shook his head, because his hands were tied. What discipline could he enforce with a parent who was unwilling to hear a word about it, after all? Jimin was trying not to laugh at the sight of Mr. Song’s veins popping slightly on his forehead as he attempted to remain calm in the face of a rebellious parent—a first for him, surely. Jimin had never witnessed anything like it before.

Hold on. Dasom got bullied once upon a time because of her father. This is the guy. I have to talk to him.

“Ah, Jeongguk-ssi?” Jimin said, and Jeongguk grabbed one of Dasom’s braids and tugged gently. Dasom stopped skipping away, giggling as she stumbled backwards and glued herself to her father’s side. “Can we talk privately about this? Maybe in my classroom?”

“Yeah, sure. Thank you,” Jeongguk said with a bow to Mr. Song, and then he nudged Dasom between the shoulder blades and let her lead the way out of the principal’s office, Jeongguk and Jimin both in tow. 

The walk down the hallway was silent, especially since most of the kids had left for the day. But when they rounded the corner, Dasom started skipping, and Jeongguk snickered, readjusting his sunglasses on top of his head.

“Is she a pain in the ass, or is she a good kid when she’s in class with you?” he asked, and Jimin almost choked in surprise. Is my child a good student? Is my child working hard and following the rules? Do you like my child? Those were the questions he usually got from concerned parents. The phrase “pain in the ass” was typically never included.

“She’s a good kid,” Jimin confirmed immediately, noticing Jeongguk’s fond smile as Dasom opened the classroom door and pressed her back to it, heels firmly against the ground to hold it open for the two adults. “Smart. Very articulate. Talks a lot more than the average first grader.”

“Yah,” Jeongguk said in exasperation as Dasom released the door and rushed into the room, attempting to escape any scoldings. But Jimin hurriedly continued.

“Not in a bad way. She has the vocabulary of a middle school student sometimes,” he said with a laugh as the classroom door closed. He then came to stand in front of his desk and perched on the edge of it, ankles crossed, arms folded. Jeongguk had his hands in his pockets as he watched Dasom stare out the window, palms pressed to the countertop, feet dangling a bit with her toes brushing the ground as she attempted to lift herself up to see more outside.

“Dad! There’s a bird nest in that tree,” Dasom called out, still looking out the window.

“Yeah? What kind of birds?” Jeongguk asked.

“Don’t know. Can I have your phone?”

“You gonna search on Naver?”

“Yeah.” Dasom hopped down and skipped over to Jeongguk, and Jeongguk immediately slapped his iPhone into her outstretched palm. Dasom turned it and held it up as high as she could to her father’s face, and the screen unlocked. She then hurried back over to the window, and Jimin smiled.

“She’s forever curious,” he commented. Jeongguk glanced around, and then he decisively sat on the edge of a student’s desk, arms crossed. Jimin took a moment of silence to appreciate the man across from him, because if ever there was a day that he needed to enjoy some eye candy, it was today. Jeongguk was gorgeous in sinful ways that Jimin didn’t want to admit out loud, mostly because Jeongguk’s seven-year-old daughter was a few meters away. Not once during the day had Jimin ever expected to be seated across from his student’s father while shamelessly wondering what said father looked like without his shirt on. Life had a sense of humor.

“Yeah?” Jeongguk turned back to look at Jimin, taking his eyes off Dasom. “As long as she’s a good kid. Don’t lie to me.”

“She’s great,” Jimin confirmed. “I know it’s almost the end of the year, but she’s one of my best students.”

“Dad! How do you spell pigeon?” Dasom hollered. Jeongguk spelled it for her, and then she set the phone down and attempted to hop up onto the countertop so she could sit above the cabinets by the window. 

“Yah, take your shoes off before you climb up there, you tree monkey,” Jeongguk scolded, but then he paused and glanced at Jimin. “Is she allowed to climb on your cabinets?”

“It’s after school hours,” Jimin responded, amused, and Jeongguk nodded.

“Shoes off,” he repeated, so Dasom kicked her street shoes off and then climbed up onto the countertop, grabbing for the phone to search for information about pigeons. “I’ve actually been hoping to meet you.” Jeongguk turned back to Jimin. “Dasom loves you. Thinks you’re the greatest person she’s ever met. Says you’re the best teacher in the school.”

“That’s a gross exaggeration,” Jimin said with a small smile, and Jeongguk shrugged.

“Mm, don’t know about that. I, uh… I actually wanted to thank you in person,” he said, lowering his voice a little. “For… being there for her. Sharing things about you that could make you lose your job.”

“In my defense, I checked if what was being said about you was true before sharing,” Jimin said vaguely, but he knew exactly what Jeongguk was talking about.

“Well, it helped her a lot. I think she’s used to all her friends having a mother and a father and nothing else,” Jeongguk said, slouching slightly in his chair. “Not a thirty-year-old single dad.”

Christ, he’s two years younger than me, Jimin thought in a fleeting moment of panic. He must have been staring, because Jeongguk snickered.

“Yeah, I was twenty-three when she was born. I can see you doing the math in your head,” Jeongguk accused good-naturedly. “I was young, not smart. Can’t say I ever expected to be a dad, but here we are, vibing. Just the two of us.” Jeongguk looked over his shoulder at Dasom. “It’s weird.”

“Being a dad?” Jimin cocked his head slightly, surprised at the direction the conversation was going. Jeongguk was a bit of an open book, it seemed, perhaps comfortable enough to talk to a peer, or an adult that Dasom trusted. 

“Mm. It didn’t really sink in until she started talking,” Jeongguk said, sounding amused. “Then I was like, ‘ah, shit, here we go.’”

“What, it didn’t sink in when she was a baby?” Jimin asked, trying not to laugh.

“Not at all. I mean, besides the sleep deprivation, I spent the first year of her life just carrying her around and showing her to people.” Jeongguk extended both arms out in front of him like he was holding a baby under its armpits. “‘Look what I made!’ That’s what I’d say. She was hell with four limbs until she started communicating with me.”

“Look what I made,” Jimin repeated under his breath, snickering. “Very mature.”

“I was young, not smart,” Jeongguk repeated, grinning. “Anyways, we have a very, uh… unorthodox way of doing things. Most traditional parents would cry in horror if they knew how I was raising her. But whatever. It’s just the two of us, like I said. So if she’s defending her friend’s honor and bitch-slapping a mean girl, what am I going to do? Ground her? That teaches her nothing.”

“She’s right.” Jimin pressed his tongue into his cheek for a moment. “The girl she tackled is a nightmare. Entitled brat. And I’d get fired for saying that to anyone else and not cherishing each student individually. But Jiwon gets teased all the time, and Dasom always sticks up for her.”

“Good. I don’t condone violence,” Jeongguk pointed out, and Jimin cracked a smile. “She definitely shouldn’t have smacked that girl around. But she did what she thought was right, and we talked it out. Lesson learned, no formal discipline needed. As long as she’s not giving anyone a right hook.”

“A right hook, huh?”

“Yeah. She wants to start boxing,” Jeongguk sighed, sounding pained as Jimin snorted. “Because I do it at home.”

“They’re not pigeons!” Dasom suddenly called out, flicking one braid over her shoulder. 

“See if they’re oriental magpies,” Jeongguk suggested, and then he spelled it for her before Dasom could even ask. Once she was distracted again, Jeongguk turned back to Jimin. “I’m really sorry, I don’t mean to take up your time. Was there something you wanted to talk about?”

“No, no. I just… I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be punishing her for anything,” Jimin replied. “And that if Hayoon’s mother pitches a fit, I’ll let you know.”

“That’s fine. I can handle rich mothers,” Jeongguk said with a mischievous grin.

“Can I ask you…” Jimin started, but Jeongguk switched the ankle he had crossed over the other and tilted his head slightly.

“About Dasom’s mother?” he guessed, and Jimin clicked his tongue and sat back in his chair with a sigh, guilty. Jeongguk’s smile softened, and Jimin’s heart clenched. “She’s my age. We were together for a little over a year when she got pregnant. Didn’t plan for it. We weren’t married or anything, and she didn’t want to be a mother, so she said she’d just give the baby up for adoption so we could move on with our lives. I fought her every day for months.”

“Ah, wow.”

“We agreed to break up about halfway through the pregnancy. She also agreed to have the baby, but she gave me full custody because I wanted the kid, not her,” Jeongguk said in a bit of a trance as he stared at a single spot on Jimin’s desk, like he had told the story a thousand times before. “So Dasom was born, and I took her home with me. Eunji went back home and carried on with her life.”

“Is she, uh… Is she in the picture?” Jimin wondered. “Dasom’s—I mean, she’s mentioned her mother before, so…”

“Yeah, yeah. She sees Dasom once a month,” Jeongguk replied. “They have girls’ night. A little sleepover. But it’s not really a mother-daughter relationship. Dasom knows Eunji gave birth to her, but beyond that, there isn’t really… a connection. They get along well. Love hanging out. But I always tell Eunji that she can see Dasom more than once a month, and she says no. She just doesn’t want to be a mother.”

“I can understand that,” Jimin tentatively said, and Jeongguk nodded.

“Yeah. She’s a great person. Smart, sweet, works hard. She’s not angry or spiteful. Doesn’t stalk me or ask who I’m dating or anything. Has a boyfriend. Babysits Dasom when I ask. I can’t complain.”

“You don’t hear that very often,” Jimin said. “A good working relationship between parents who are separated.”

“I got lucky,” Jeongguk stated. “That’s all. Damn lucky. Yah, Dasom-ah!”

“Yes, Dad?”

“Are you done bird watching?”

“I guess so.” 

“Okay, well, let’s get going. I don’t think your teacher wants you here all night. Save that for high school,” Jeongguk joked, and Jimin snickered as Dasom hopped off the counter, put her backpack on, grabbed Jeongguk’s phone, and carried it over. With two hands, she held it up to her father, and Jeongguk took it and pocketed it. “Say goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” Dasom said with a grin, hugging Jeongguk’s leg.

“Politely, you little demon,” Jeongguk scolded, and Dasom giggled, bowing to Jimin.

“Goodbye, Park seonsaengnim,” she said politely. Jimin bowed his head back to her, and Dasom looked rather pleased.

“What time are you scheduled for your conference?” Jimin asked Jeongguk curiously. Jeongguk blinked at him, and then he lifted one knuckle and nudged his eyebrow piercing gently a few times, pursing his lips like he was trying not to laugh.

“Uh, conference,” he repeated like he was tasting the word for the first time. “That… is that the email I got from the school last week?”

“For end-of-the-year parent-teacher conferences?” Jimin asked, trying not to laugh all the same. “The one where you log in to the online portal and select a time for a conference with me? And it’s like a bloodbath? And all the spaces are filled now? Except for one? The very last time slot? At quarter to nine at night next Monday?”

“That just got worse and worse as you kept talking,” Jeongguk said, circling his pointer finger horizontally as Jimin snickered. “Uh, well, I guess that’s… cool. That’s my only option, isn’t it?”

“Afraid so.”

“Then I’ll be here on Monday at quarter to nine,” Jeongguk sighed, and then he glanced down at Dasom, who was staring up at him. “The things I do for you, huh? Quarter to nine is my bedtime. I’m cranky. Now you’re going to have to tuck me in when I get home. I hope you know some good lullabies.”

“You don’t go to bed until after midnight,” Dasom argued. “I know because last week, you were saying ‘shit’ at your Overwatch game and the clock said twelve-oh-four.”

“Okay, so, we’re going to go,” Jeongguk said cheerfully as Jimin burst out laughing, turning and pressing one palm to his desk before walking around it, catching a glimpse of Jeongguk putting a hand jokingly over Dasom’s mouth. “Thank you for looking out for her. I’ll be here on Monday night.”

“Yes, see you then. Dasom-ah! See you tomorrow,” Jimin said.

“Okay, bye!” Dasom called out, skipping and pulling Jeongguk’s hand. As they walked out of the classroom, Jimin heard her say, “Dad, can we get bubble tea?” To which Jeongguk responded, “Not on your life, kid, but thanks for trying. Good effort.”

Jimin shook his head as he slowly sat down in his desk chair, knowing that he was supposed to be packing up to go home for the day. But all he could do, like a fool, was think about how on Monday, he would be sitting across from his student’s father again, trying not to mentally undress him while talking about academic progress.

 

***

 

mood: “love again” by dua lipa

 

“So he’s a literal D-I-L-F.”

“Well, when you say it like that, it sounds kinky.” Jimin tossed back the shot of soju, and then he slammed the shot glass onto the table, watching as Kim Namjoon filled it up quickly. With his head propped in his hand while chewing on a toothpick, Kim Taehyung grinned, using one finger to spin his shot glass around on the table of the pub.

“And you said he was hot, so I’m not wrong.” Taehyung clamped the toothpick between his perfect teeth and pushed back his black hair, which was about the only “typical” thing about him. As a photographer, he didn’t have to adhere to strict dress codes like Jimin did. So Taehyung had a dozen ear piercings (six on each side), a stud in his nose, a smattering of butterflies tattooed on his left collarbone and over his shoulder (visible through his white t-shirt), and fingernails painted neon pink at the moment. He looked and dressed exactly as Jimin did during school holidays, but for now, Jimin had to tone it down.

“But have you ever heard of a parent acting like that?” Jimin asked.

“Most parents just respect the process and agree that their kid was in the wrong to avoid any further humiliation,” Namjoon said, his hand on Taehyung’s thigh as he massaged it lightly. Taehyung always had a smug look on his face when he was with Namjoon, and rightfully so. Namjoon was the hot, smart kind. Dark brown hair, glasses, fit body, damn good job as a pharmacist. The kicker was that once upon a time, he had been Seokjin’s boyfriend. That was how Namjoon had met Taehyung—through Jimin. But Namjoon and Seokjin had amicably and happily parted ways a few years ago, leaving Taehyung to swoop in.

“Not him. He actually listened to his kid,” Jimin pointed out. “And he looked good doing it, too. Jesus, talk about unprofessional.”

“Well, let’s face it,” Taehyung said, pouring himself another shot of soju. “The guy you fucked last weekend wasn’t a hot, bisexual single dad with muscles and tattoos.”

“You’re supposed to tell me that it’s wrong for me to thirst after my student’s father,” Jimin said with a scowl.

“That’s so boring. Why would I ever do that?” Taehyung asked, raising one eyebrow. Namjoon snickered and intervened.

“You just need a good cockblock,” he decided. “And the best one is thinking about how he has a seven-year-old kid.”

“That doesn’t seem to be deterring him from mentally undressing said kid’s father,” Taehyung hissed loudly to Namjoon, and Namjoon smacked Taehyung’s thigh as Jimin burst out laughing. “Okay, but hyung has a point. You fuck the dad, that comes with a kid. Package deal kind of thing.”

“There’s nothing wrong with fucking a single dad and forgetting about the kid and treating it as a one-night stand,” Namjoon argued, but Jimin held up both hands and waved them.

“Okay, hello. Are we forgetting that his kid is my favorite student?” Jimin asked, and Namjoon said “ah” as Taehyung tossed back his shot and fired a finger gun at Jimin.

“That’s right, I forgot. Well, then it’s only a win, as far as I’m concerned,” Taehyung declared.

“He spent twenty minutes with the guy in an elementary school, babe,” Namjoon stated. “Doesn’t exactly scream ‘turn-on.’”

“He’s changing schools after this term is over,” Taehyung replied. “I say we fuck the hot dad and move to a different school. Problem solved.”

“This is why I tell you guys nothing,” Jimin sighed as he reached for some of the crispy fried chilli chips. Saturdays were one of the only chances that Jimin had to meet up with his friends. He and Taehyung had gone to school together and were best friends; Namjoon had joined Jimin’s friendship circle because of Seokjin. And Jimin had other friends, the kind of friends that he went to nightclubs with, but nothing compared to Taehyung, Namjoon, and Seokjin. 

Taehyung had always stuck by Jimin’s side, the two of them thick as thieves, neither one of them worried about ever getting tied down or dating seriously. Korea, after all, wasn’t the most accepting place when it came to being gay or, in, Taehyung’s case, pansexual. So Jimin and Taehyung had always been wingmen for one another, scouring nightclubs in Itaewon that they knew were safe spaces for the two of them, keeping tabs on one another if they chose to disappear for the night to get laid. But a year ago, Taehyung had fallen head over heels for Namjoon, stars in his eyes, and Jimin had accepted it. Now he was the single one in his friend group, and at thirty-two and still young and hot, he was starting to wonder if settling down or finding someone would be wise.

Then again, fantasizing about a sinfully hot father of one couldn’t hurt.

“Is he hot enough for me to photograph?” Taehyung wondered as they continued to snack and drink.

“You know what? He must have social media,” Namjoon said, arching one eyebrow. “Why not look him up? Surely he has an Instagram or something.”

“On it. You said ‘Jeon’ was his family name, right? I’ll find him,” Taehyung declared, and Jimin pinched the bridge of his nose and immediately grabbed another shot of soju, disappointed that shot after shot did nothing to his body’s steel will to never get drunk quickly enough. Jimin watched as Namjoon rested his chin on Taehyung’s shoulder, and Taehyung rolled the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. And then—

“This has to be him,” Namjoon declared, and Jimin’s heart stopped. “Jeon Jeongguk. Wait, is he famous? Jimin-ah.”

“Huh? Famous?” Jimin’s brow furrowed as he leaned in.

“Well, he has over a hundred thousand Instagram followers,” Namjoon pointed out, and then he grabbed Taehyung’s phone and turned it around. They had, indeed, found Jeongguk’s Instagram page, and Jimin just stared. The information was all there in his bio—30, bisexual, dad to one cute little brat (his words), personal trainer. Jimin reached forward and scrolled with one finger, and then he dropped his head on the table with a groan.

“Oh, shit, he’s fucking hot,”  Taehyung said with a laugh, because there were videos of Jeongguk offering personal training tips, and in half of them, he was shirtless. Two full sleeves of tattoos, a set of baby’s footprints tattooed right over his heart that had to be Dasom’s. The other pictures or videos featured one very cute little girl, and she did all sorts of things—boxing, ice skating, playing the violin, hanging by her knees upside down on Jeongguk’s (very muscular) arm, rollerblading, and wearing some questionable, high-fashion outfits where some fashion designer named j-hope was tagged. 

“Oh my God, he’s like one of those Instagram dads,” Namjoon laughed.

“No, no, he’s not. Because he’s not doing any of those stupid promotion codes for diet supplements or anything,” Taehyung said. “And he’s a personal trainer, which means he’s a rare breed to be denying all that shit. Guess he doesn’t give a fuck. Hey, his daughter’s pretty cute.”

“She’s my best student,” Jimin said, cautiously lifting his head.

“And your best student’s dad is fucking beautiful,” Taehyung said without shame, and Namjoon nodded in agreement. “Hop on that dick. Or let him hop on yours. I don’t know which I’d prefer.”

“No one asked you,” Jimin crankily said, rubbing his brow.

“Oh, he has a TikTok, too? Oh, shit, he’s popular on TikTok,” Taehyung laughed, and Namjoon saw Jimin’s facial expression, so he grabbed Taehyung’s phone and locked it, sliding it away.

“Okay, so, the weatherman said we might get more snow next week,” he said, and Jimin couldn’t help it—he snorted with laughter at the terrible attempt to change the subject.

“Jesus Christ. Sorry. It’s just—” Jimin threw one hand up halfway and let it fall to the table with a thud before he crawled his fingers to grab more chips. “You know what the biggest turn-on was? Ask me. Prepare to laugh.”

“What was the biggest turn-on?” Taehyung asked, lacing his fingers together and propping his chin on his knuckles as he blinked sweetly.

“The way he disciplined his kid,” Jimin said, and as Namjoon let out a dramatic and fake groan, Jimin laughed. “No, listen! Listen, you don’t understand. I’ve been teaching for a long fucking time, okay? And most parents are fucking pushovers. But God, the way he walked into the principal’s office like he’d been there before was so sexy. You should have seen it. He just talked to his kid like she was an intelligent human being and then said goodbye. Refused the school’s bullshit discipline.”

“The shit that turns us on in our thirties,” Taehyung sighs, and Namjoon snickered in agreement. “Honestly. Ten years ago, a guy who could funnel two beers in a row was sex on legs and worth a blowjob in the nightclub bathroom. Now I’m turned on by a pharmacist who can tell me which ibuprofen to take without even reading the labels.”

“Will you shut up?” Namjoon said in fond exasperation.

“No, it’s sexy,” Taehyung insisted, but then he turned back to Jimin. “Get this guy into bed. Dead serious.”

“I should probably give him an update on his daughter’s academic progress before I do that,” Jimin said with mild disdain, and Taehyung clicked his tongue, rolling his eyes.

“Please. He won’t care about that. Mark my words. I bet he found you just as attractive as you found him.”

“You look good in smart casual,” Namjoon added, pointing at Jimin. 

“Doesn’t mean he gave a damn when he was at the school to see why his daughter was in trouble,” Jimin retorted.

“What, so you think that means he doesn’t have eyes or taste?” Taehyung asked, and Jimin snickered. “Jimin, you walk into nightclubs and men literally do one-eighties and follow you to the bar.”

“That’s a fucking lie.”

“I’ve seen it happen.”

“Yeah, but that’s when I look good,” Jimin emphasized. “Not when I’m wearing slacks and a button-up.”

“You underestimate yourself,” Taehyung said, shaking his head. “You said you’re seeing him again on Monday, right? Parent-teacher conference. So talk about his kid and then see if he has any interest beyond that. And report back immediately.”

Jimin braced himself for figurative impact on Monday, and not just because Jeon Jeongguk was on his conference schedule. Parent-teacher conferences for the end of the year were always stressful, because if a child wasn’t performing well or if Jimin had concerns, the parents typically fretted from the other side of the table, desperate for solutions at the eleventh hour. Even further, Jimin had to stay at the school until around nine o’clock just to squeeze each student’s parents in for about fifteen minutes.

There were only three weeks until the second semester concluded, but it wasn’t like the break was ever long enough. Jimin looked forward to summer holidays the most, but he would just have to wait patiently for after the first semester of the next year concluded. Until then, he had a class of twenty-two very excitable kids.

“Park seonsaengnim, my mom said that she’s going to bring you a present.”

“Are you going to tell my father about the time I fell asleep?”

“Park seonsaengnim, please don’t tell my mother that I didn’t do well on the math test.”

All day, Jimin was flooded with concerns from his students, all of which he fielded with reassurance and smiles, even though he was likely to tell the parents absolutely anything they asked to hear because that was his job. And that was exactly what he did when conferences started at four o’clock after dismissal. He spoke with parent after parent, keeping his enthusiasm high and appreciating the respect he received, even if some of the parents had delusions about their child’s behavior or the expectations for first grade. Some mothers asked a thousand questions because it was their first experience. Some fathers sat with stern faces because they had already put two kids through first grade.

“We’re just concerned, as I’m sure you can understand. We don’t want our daughter under the influence of children who misbehave and act out inappropriately.”

“I can assure you that this incident is not one that will be repeated,” Jimin said in a soothing tone to Hwang Hayoon’s mother, who was sitting cross-legged and speaking in a tone of voice that was dripping with sweetness. Her husband was silent beside her, zoning out but attempting to appear involved.

“Hayoon is a sweet and loving child,” Hayoon’s mother insisted. “And I do hope that she’s being treated as such by her teacher and her classmates alike. She deserves the best education that we can offer to her.”

“I completely agree,” Jimin lied with a practiced smile. “As I said, this is not a situation that will repeat. The other child involved has been disciplined. No need to worry.”

“Voice your concerns, darling,” Hayoon’s mother said, nudging her husband. Hayoon’s father cleared his throat and shifted himself in the seat.

“Uh, yes. Yes, as long as the other child was disciplined,” he said, and then he checked his watch. Jimin, always in tune with the parents across the table from him, immediately provided an academic progress update and dismissed them, because the conversation was going absolutely nowhere, and Jimin had already as good as finalized Hayoon’s good grades. It was relatively pointless.

“Damn. I should’ve brought some soju. You look like you need it.”

 

mood: “motive” (with doja cat) by ariana grande

 

Jimin whipped his head up and away from his laptop, and he inwardly cursed Taehyung to hell for perpetuating indecent thoughts in his head. It was quarter to nine on the dot, and Jimin’s classroom door was open, and there was Jeongguk. He was wearing black pants with black boots, a black turtleneck, and a black leather jacket. Dangling from one hand was a black and silver motorcycle helmet, and Jimin wanted to evaporate on the spot. Of course he has a motorcycle. Why wouldn’t he? Having a motorcycle just solidifies his status, doesn’t it? Jesus Christ.

“Hi. Come on in,” Jimin offered. Jeongguk strolled into the room, his short hair parted to the side and combed back off his face, that damn eyebrow piercing still in. When he got close enough, he bowed politely to Jimin with a small smile, so Jimin gestured to the open chair. Jeongguk pushed his tongue into his cheek as he looked around for a place to set his helmet, but he finally just settled into the chair across from Jimin and tucked the helmet underneath the seat. Then he scooted the chair at an angle, crossed one leg over the other, and stared at Jimin.

“So.” Jimin clicked his tongue and folded his hands, Dasom’s file ready to reference. “We can start by discussing how Dasom’s academic year has looked so far and what her progress on her objectives has been. We can chat about any concerns you might have. And then—”

“How professional is this meant to be?” Jeongguk interrupted. Jimin swallowed his next words and digested what Jeongguk just said, picking at the corner of Dasom’s file with his thumbnail. 

“A teacher speaking with a parent,” Jimin stated plainly. Or I could tell you that my friends want me to get dicked down by you.

“You know you have all my respect,” Jeongguk said point-blank. “For doing what you do. For educating my daughter. For sticking up for her.”

“Thank you.” Jimin took a quiet deep breath as he watched Jeongguk switch which leg was crossed.

“Can I be honest with you?” Jeongguk then said. “At the risk of, uh… venturing into unprofessional territory.”

“By all means,” Jimin agreed, trying not to let his relief show on his face. He had been upright and stoic and professional for hours, and no matter how hard he tried, there was no use in scolding himself into upholding his values for another fifteen minutes. What was a job without a little joy, especially if said joy came in the form of a sinfully handsome thirty-year-old single dad?

“I don’t need to know any of that,” Jeongguk said, waving his hand dismissively. “The academic stuff. Doesn’t matter. Is she failing anything? In first grade?”

“No.”

“Is she a problem?”

“Not at all.”

“Is she struggling?”

“No.”

“Cool. Is she a decent human being?” Jeongguk asked, cocking his head to the side a bit. Jimin raised both eyebrows, slightly startled by the question. Jeongguk noticed, so he clarified. “Look, first and second grade are important. I’ve had her at home most of the time up until now, right? So here she is at school, acting like a real human on her own. So I’m asking you, since you see her every day, if you think she’s a good kid. Not a good student. A good human being. Is she nice? Does she listen? Does she make friends? Does she have a heart? Shit like that.”

“Ah. That’s…” Jimin puffed air into his cheeks in thought for a moment, and then he tilted his head quickly like a curious dog listening to a master. “Okay. I’ve never really gotten that question before.”

“Well, if she’s a little shit now, then I have work to do at home, so I’d like to know that kind of thing, you know?” Jeongguk said, shrugging. Jimin chuckled.

“She’s very nice. She always listens. She’s friends with just about everyone except for those mean girls. And she has a heart of gold. She’s funny, too. Makes all the kids laugh. Quick. Very quick. Never misses a thing. She’s a decent human being. Anything else?”

“No, that’s all for her. How about you?”

“What about me?” Jimin said, startled. Jeongguk slung one elbow up to rest on the table.

“You’ve been at this all day, and you still look good. How long have you been a teacher?” Jeongguk asked, mixing a compliment with a polite question. Jimin raised one eyebrow. He was just in black slacks and a white button-up, but the clothing fit him well, and Namjoon had said he looked good in smart casual. And Jeongguk, of all people, noticed.

“Eight years. What does me looking good have anything to do with a conference about Dasom?” he asked with a teasing lilt in his voice, trying not to let his pulse quicken. This was bordering on unprofessional, but Jimin had absolutely no energy left to care. In fact, it was mildly thrilling.

“It doesn’t,” Jeongguk said, grinning. “How did you end up as a teacher?”

“Had a great high school literature teacher who inspired me,” Jimin responded. “Decided to go with the younger kids so I could get to them early and have a positive impact on their lives.”

“Well, Dasom loves you,” Jeongguk stated, and Jimin pursed his lips, feeling his ears burn a little. “She never shuts up about you. She comes home every day and tells me things about you.”

“Well, she’s likely over-exaggerating, but that’s very kind of her.”

“Is she exaggerating, though?” Jeongguk asked, a sparkle in his eyes. “She did tell me months ago during that bullying incident that you said you liked men. Did you lie to her to make her feel better?”

“No. I wouldn’t lie to her like that,” Jimin replied, and his pulse did, indeed, begin to race as he picked up a pen and began to twirl it between his fingers as he spoke. The school was virtually empty, since no one liked to schedule conferences close to nine o’clock. What was the harm in being honest? Jeongguk was here with a motorcycle helmet and a shit-eating grin on his face and very little interest in talking about Dasom’s academic achievements. Jimin wasn’t a teenager. He was a thirty-two-year-old man with eyes. He knew what Jeongguk was doing.

“That explains a lot, then,” Jeongguk stated, but he didn’t clarify any further, even though Jimin was curious. He held his tongue and shrugged.

“Dated a few girls back in high school, but it never lasted,” he explained vaguely. 

“Fair enough. I’m more male-leaning, anyways,” Jeongguk remarked flippantly, watching Jimin play with the pen. “I’m sure your partner must appreciate you a lot for what you do.”

“I’m single.”

“Oh?” Jeongguk said, and Jimin burst out laughing the same time that Jeongguk pressed his tongue behind his top teeth with a wicked grin. “You don’t have to tell me that that was smooth. I know it was.”

“Are you flirting with me at a parent-teacher conference for your daughter?” Jimin asked with emphasis, still laughing.

“It’s only flirting if it’s working. Otherwise, it’s just fishing for information,” Jeongguk replied, shrugging with the same one-dimpled grin. Jesus, no wonder Dasom’s such a cute little angel. She took all of his good looks. Jimin propped one elbow on the table and rested his fist against his lips momentarily. Then he rubbed his pointer finger against his bottom lip before flicking it at the floor towards the helmet.

“You have a motorcycle.”

“Kawasaki Ninja,” Jeongguk replied. “Black and grey. Had her for about three years. Dasom wants to go for a ride on it with me. She’s delusional.”

“At least she tries.”

“She has audacity, if nothing else,” Jeongguk said with a grin. “Have you ever ridden on a motorcycle?”

“Can’t say that I have, no.”

“First time for everything,” Jeongguk commented casually, but Jimin didn’t miss the way Jeongguk’s eyes scanned him head to toe in a flash.

“First time for what? Riding?” Jimin asked innocently, and Jeongguk choked on his own breath, coughing and hitting his fist against his chest a few times as Jimin fought a laugh. “You’re right. Maybe one day, huh?”

“Could be fun,” Jeongguk remarked, finally regaining his composure. “You know, when I asked how professional this was meant to be, I—”

“You obviously weren’t expecting to talk about motorcycles. I know,” Jimin said with a little sigh, and Jeongguk snickered. “It’s almost nine o’clock. I’ve been at this all day. And most parents who came in spoke to me like I’m some higher power who can perform miracles with their child. So this is… refreshing. Talking with someone my age on my level.”

“Oh? You’re thirty?”

“Thirty-two. Close,” Jimin teased, and Jeongguk’s mouth formed a silent “ah.”

“Well, I don’t want to overstay my welcome if it’s almost nine o’clock. I’m sure you want to go home,” Jeongguk offered. “Since I’ve performed my parental duty by attending this conference, and I believe you have to be back here in less than twelve hours.”

“It’s not a glamorous job,” Jimin lamented, and Jeongguk gave him a wry smile, reaching down to pick up his helmet. “Are you, uh… busy with work most days?”

“Oh.” Jeongguk propped the helmet in his lap. “I split my time between work and home. I’m a personal trainer. I have a gym about ten minutes from here, so I spend the mornings and afternoons there. I pick Dasom up from school every day.”

“You have your own gym?” Jimin arched one eyebrow, and Jeongguk grinned.

“Why, you want some personal training sessions? I’ll give you a nice discount, seeing as you’re my kid’s teacher,” he joked. “It’s a small little gym. Nothing major. Just enough for me to do my job. Offer stands. Let me know. After Dasom finishes first grade, of course. Which is soon. Wouldn’t want to overstep.”

The wicked and playful gleam in Jeongguk’s eyes and the way he was fighting back a wider grin was devastatingly sexy. Jimin cracked his knuckles, wondering how the hell he had ended up in a situation where his student’s father was hitting on him with absolutely no shame. All because Dasom smacked a girl around. The universe was laughing at Jimin, and Jimin wanted in on the joke.

“I’m inclined to think that this may qualify as overstepping,” Jimin mentioned as Jeongguk stood up, helmet under one arm.

“Should I see myself to the principal’s office?” Jeongguk asked, and Jimin stifled a laugh, shaking his head as he, too, stood up.

“Great to chat with you about Dasom’s academic progress and achievements,” he said, and Jeongguk let out a bark of laughter.

“This entire conversation just tells me that I have nothing to worry about,” he replied. “Maybe I’ll see you before the end of the semester. If not, then, uh… take care, Park seonsaengnim. And the offer always stands. For personal training, I mean. If it interests you.”

“And the motorcycle ride?” Jimin asked, slipping his hands into his pockets as Jeongguk started to walk backwards towards the door. He grinned, pulling a pair of fingerless black gloves from his pockets. As he put them on, helmet still under one arm, he shrugged.

“Depends on what qualifies as overstepping,” he teased, and then, gloves on, he twirled the helmet in his hands and held it out in Jimin’s general direction. “See you.”

Jimin waited until he felt Jeongguk was long gone down the hallway before he deflated in sheer relief, pressing both palms to the table for a moment with his head bowed. He wasn’t one to ever slip into semi-unprofessional territory, but the parents who had preceded Jeongguk were… not Jeongguk. Jimin feared he was absolutely doomed, especially when he heard the kickstart of a motorcycle. Startled, he turned and glanced out the window of his classroom, only to see the headlights of the aforementioned Kawasaki Ninja and Jeongguk with his helmet on, adjusting his gloves under the fluorescent lights of the parking lot. And then he grabbed the handlebars and took off into the night, and Jimin thought of several curse words to utter out loud before settling on, “fucking hell.”