Seokjin rubbed sleep from his eyes, trying to pull himself together. It was 2:36 a.m. During the day, the house usually felt warm and cozy, but currently it felt freezing without four small bodies running around and warming everything up.
Seokjin pulled his robe a little tighter around himself.
He wasn’t a stranger to social workers calling him at all hours of the day, but a call this late at night was a first. Normally, he and Namjoon would help their new foster kids adjust to their house together, but his husband hadn’t even rolled over at the sound of the house phone ringing downstairs. Seokjin knew there would be no point in trying to wake him.
Seokjin quietly fixed himself a cup of tea while he waited. He had one ear trained to the baby monitor, listening for any noise from Jeongguk. All was quiet as he sipped his ginger tea.
He was combing his fingers through his hair in an attempt to look more presentable, when there was a knock on the front door. Seokjin winced, eyes flickering to the baby monitor. If Jeongguk woke up, then everyone would wake up, and Seokjin needed his boys well rested. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with five cranky toddlers tomorrow.
When Jeongguk didn’t seem to stir, Seokjin opened the door.
A police officer stood on his porch, a young boy hiding behind his leg. He looked to be about five years old. He was absolutely filthy; half of his body was caked with mud and his hair looked like it had never been washed.
“You must be Seokjin,” the police officer said. He nudged the boy forward. “This is Hoseok. We picked him up on the edge of the highway. He was lying in a ditch. Apparently, his mom forced him to get out of the car and left him behind. The EMTs gave him a clean bill of health, and now here we are.”
“Here you are,” Seokjin repeated, looking down at Hoseok. The little boy looked up at him, his mouth pulled into a deep frown. His eyes were shiny as he held back tears.
“Someone will call you with more details,” the police officer said. “We’ll see if we can find some family for him, but until then...”
“He’s safe with me,” Seokjin replied with a nod.
The police officer shrugged and turned on his heel. He didn’t stay for long. They never stayed for long, just dropped the kids off and came back to get them if they found any relatives to take care of them. Seokjin was the one who had to take care of the tears and answer all their questions. Seokjin was the one who made sure they felt safe and loved.
“So, Hoseok. My name is Seokjin, and this is my house. You’re going to be staying here for a while. Would you like to have a tour?” he asked.
Hoseok didn’t respond, but his lower lip wobbled.
Seokjin hummed and lowered himself to Hoseok’s level. He clasped his hands together as he sat back on his ankles. “You don’t have to see everything right away, if you don’t want to. You can go straight to bed; I have a room for you and everything,” he offered. He had picked up an exhausted Taehyung and moved him into Jimin’s room right after he had gotten the call. He’d even moved Taehyung’s name tag next to Jimin’s on the door to their now shared room. There was a bed with clean sheets waiting for Hoseok. “Or you can just take a break. Do you want to sit out and look at the stars with me?”
“I wanna break,” Hoseok replied, voice cracking.
Seokjin agreed straight away. “Okay, great! I love looking at the stars,” he promised. In a perfect world, Hoseok would be tired and want to go straight to bed. Then Seokjin could get some rest, too. But he’d learned from experience not to expect any sleep when kids first came to the house, and giving Hoseok a few minutes to process was absolutely imperative.
After all, his whole life was changing. If what the police officer said was true –if his mom forced him out of the car and left him lying in the mud on the side of the road- then he must be in shock, the poor thing. And now he was at this stranger’s house at three in the morning.
Hoseok should be sleeping, not getting torn away from house and family.
Seokjin led him out to some Adirondack chairs in the front yard. Usually, Seokjin and Namjoon would sit out here together while the boys played tag on the lawn or rode their tricycles around the cul-de-sac. Seokjin had planted a garden around the chairs and had set up a little table, even, for the eight hundred sippy cups and bottles he was always carting in and out of the house.
But now with Hoseok, everything seemed to have a different tone. There weren’t any happy giggles or excited shrieks as his kids played outside. Instead there were just tiny sniffles.
Hoseok climbed up into the seat. His little hands clung to the arms of the chair as he looked up at the sky, and Seokjin sat next to him, giving him some time to think.
After a while –Seokjin almost fell asleep twice- Hoseok turned to look at him, his big brown eyes wide and searching.
“How about that tour, now?” Seokjin offered. Hoseok nodded, but he looked exhausted. His big brown eyes drooped, and Seokjin couldn’t help but smile. He was certainly a cute little guy. “Do you want me to carry you?” he asked.
Hoseok nodded again, and Seokjin scooped him up. He carried him into the laundry room first, going into the house through the garage instead of the front door. “Okie dokie. So this is the laundry room. This is where I will wash your clothes later. It’s also where we take off our shoes,” Seokjin said. He gestured to the bins lined up along the wall. Each was labeled with a boy’s name. “You can have your own bin for your shoes, if you’d like. We can put your name on it,” he offered.
Hoseok’s head turned from the shoes to look at Seokjin hopefully. Seokjin picked up one of the unclaimed bins from the floor and passed Hoseok a piece of chalk. The labels were covered in chalkboard paint so Seokjin could change the nametags for the kids constantly coming and going from his home.
He rested the bin on top of the washer, and angled Hoseok so he could write. The little boy clumsily drew an ‘H’ in the middle of the chalkboard. The rest of his ‘letters’ were just funny little lines.
“Good job, Hoseok!” Seokjin exclaimed, not surprised by how poor his lettering was for a five year old. Jimin hadn’t known how to write when he came to stay, either. Kids in foster care often didn’t have parents who were willing to teach them the alphabet before they were thrown into the system. “Do you want to take off your shoes?”
Hoseok thought about it. “... Yeah,” he eventually squeaked, and Seokjin set him down. He let Hoseok undo the Velcro straps on his sneakers by himself. Hoseok had so little control right now. The least he could do was let him be in charge of the few possessions he had, however dirty they may be.
Hoseok put his shoes into his new bin, and Seokjin made a mental note to clean his tiny sneakers first thing in the morning.
“Okay, lets go to the next room!” he said. It was difficult to sound this upbeat when he was so tired, but he didn’t want to cause Hoseok any stress. He held his hand and walked him into the kitchen. “This is the kitchen, and this is where I’m going to cook you breakfast tomorrow morning. You can look in the cabinets if you want!” he offered.
Hoseok let go of his hand and started peeking around. Seokjin was careful not to let him slam any cabinet doors closed. There were too many little people sleeping for any loud noises.
Hoseok walked over to the pantry, and Seokjin smiled. “That’s where all the snacks are. My house is awesome because I always have snacks that taste good and are good for you! Are you hungry?”
Hoseok looked at him desperately.
“Okay! Here, let me lift you up so you can see, and you can pick what you want to eat,” Seokjin offered.
Hoseok picked out a single sized pack of pretzel sticks, and Seokjin helped him open it. He would have to go grocery shopping sooner than usual. He only had two packs left, and Yoongi liked to have pretzels in his lunch.
Seokjin let Hoseok eat at the kitchen table while he obsessively refreshed his email on the other side of the room. Hoseok undoubtedly still needed some time by himself, and Seokjin was anxious for news on his situation. Social services probably wouldn’t email him until normal working hours later that morning, but he had questions about Hoseok. He wanted to know how long he was likely to be staying.
Seokjin looked up from his phone. “Good job! You can eat more at breakfast tomorrow,” he said, and Hoseok nodded. He still had some pretzels left in his package, and Seokjin breathed a sigh in relief. Starving kids finish anything you put in front of them, even when they feel full. Well-fed kids leave behind what they aren’t hungry for. At least Hoseok’s mom fed him. “Do you want to see the rest of the house?”
Hoseok nodded, seemingly back to being shy, but he lifted his arms for Seokjin to pick him up. Seokjin complied immediately. Hoseok was about five years old. He was heavy in his arms, but Seokjin would never be able to deny a kid in need of physical contact.
He led the way into the living room. If they had come in through the front door, they would have ended up here. “This is the living room. You can watch cartoons tomorrow morning on the big couch, or you can play with toys,” he offered. “The door in the corner goes to a bathroom, if you need to use one while you’re downstairs.”
He carted Hoseok up the stairs. Normally, he’d let a new kid have a break to play with toys, but Hoseok was starting to yawn every other second and he desperately needed a bath before he went to sleep.
The first landing of the house lead to the master bedroom. It was sandwiched between the first and second floor on the other side of the house. “This is my bedroom. I share it with my husband Namjoon. He’s going to take care of you like I am, but right now he’s sleeping because he doesn’t know you’re here,” Seokjin explained. “My room is cool because I have a bathtub that bubbles! You can take a bath in my room if you want.”
Hoseok squirmed in his arms. “Bubbles?” he asked. He seemed excited.
“Yeah, you wanna see?”
“Good!” Seokjin walked into his bathroom, not caring about being noisy. Namjoon slept like the dead. The only thing that could wake him up was his own snoring.
Seokjin sat Hoseok on the edge of the bath while he filled it up with bubble bath and warm water. Hoseok seemed delighted to watch the bubbles foam up. He reached in with both hands.
“Whoops, hold on, buddy. How about you take your clothes off first, okay? I won’t look,” Seokjin promised. He knew privacy was important for kids when they were new to the house. Even if Hoseok was still young, Seokjin wanted to give him some space to do things on his own.
He turned around as Hoseok shucked off his clothes and left them on the floor. He listened as Hoseok climbed in the bath. “Can I turn around?”
Seokjin turned around and smiled when he saw Hoseok trying to scrub the dried mud off his face. “There you go, get all clean. You can have a wash cloth to help if you want, and here’s some soap.” Seokjin passed Hoseok a washcloth that doubled as a duck puppet, along with a bottle of coconut scented body wash. Hoseok lathered up all on his own. “Don’t forget behind the ears,” Seokjin said. Hoseok bit his bottom lip and cleaned behind his ears with the duck’s beak.
“Your tub bubbles?”
“Oh, right!” Seokjin said, snapping his fingers. “Do you want to turn on the jets?” Hoseok nodded eagerly. “Okay, just click that button,” Seokjin said, pointing to the on switch on the side of the tub. Hoseok pressed it. He giggled as the jets whirred to life.
He spent the next ten minutes laughing as he turned the bubbles on and off. Seokjin waited patiently, but when his watch struck 4:00 a.m., he decided it was time for bed. “Alright, Hoseok. It’s very late. Do you think it would be okay to head to bed now?”
Hoseok looked sad, but nodded his head anyway. “Okay, great. We can play in this tub again tomorrow,” Seokjin promised.
He helped Hoseok out of the tub and into a fluffy towel. He let him brush his teeth with a spare toothbrush and some Little Bear toothpaste in the upstairs bathroom. Seokjin carried him down the hall, pointing out his new brothers' bedrooms as they passed by.
“This is Yoongi’s room. He is seven. And this is Jeongguk’s room; he’s only two-years-old, if you can believe it. And then this is Jimin and Taehyung’s room. Jimin is four, and Taehyung just turned three! And here is your room. You can write your name on the white board, if you want,” he offered, extending the marker to Hoseok.
Hoseok blinked at him, straightening up in his arms. The hood to his frog towel fell off his head, but he didn’t seem bothered by it. Instead he grabbed the marker and made some scribbles on the board, not even trying to make an ‘H’ this time.
“Nice! Now let’s get you some pajamas.”
After letting Hoseok spend an excruciating amount of time picking out which of Taehyung’s pajamas he wanted to wear, he was finally ready for bed. “Okay. This is where you sleep,” Seokjin explained, peeling back the covers for Hoseok and letting him settle in. His PJ pants had little moustaches printed on them, and his shirt read “I moustache you a question.”
“You try to go to sleep, alright? I’ll be back in five minutes to check on you and see how you’re doing. If you need anything other than to use the bathroom again, wait for me because I’ll come back, okay?” Hoseok nodded, but his eyes seemed fearful. “Five minutes, I promise. And when you wake up tomorrow, you’ll see me, and you’ll get to meet everyone else who lives here; it’ll be really fun,” he promised.
“Five minutes?” Hoseok asked, his eyes wide and his eyebrows adorably furrowed together.
“Five minutes,” Seokjin repeated. He pulled out his phone and set a timer, resting it where Hoseok could see. “When the lock runs out, I’ll be back okay? I’ll make sure you’re still all right.”
Hoseok nodded, and Seokjin ducked out of the room. He didn’t go far, though. He sat down on the ground outside, preparing himself for a long night of getting up and checking on his newest foster son.
Hoseok was sweet, he could already tell. So much had been thrust on his narrow shoulders, but he was still being incredibly polite and kind. When Yoongi had come, he’d been an angry, aggressive mess. When Jimin had come, he’d done nothing but cry. Hoseok was being so stoic and calm, Seokjin’s heart couldn’t help but reach out to him.
Seokjin closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. As selfish as it was, he hoped Hoseok didn’t have any family who wanted to take care of him. He was so cute; Seokjin wanted to keep him.