Pairing: CNU / Sandeul / Baro
Summary: Dongwoo, Junghwan, and Sunwoo are still, essentially, kids—just out of college, working full time, and struggling to pay then rent. When Dongwoo’s roommate delegates them the task of raising a young Chansik, things get complicated. 10,000 words.
Note: originally started for b1a4ss, then i decided to change my idea- but i ended up finishing this one anyway. the two fics are pretty much unrelated aside from chansik being a kid.
Dongwoo is the only one who goes to the train station when Jinyoung calls.
It’s about a ten-minute walk from Dongwoo’s high-ceilinged, single-bedroom apartment, but that isn’t half the problem; Sunwoo spends most of his week in Beijing, and Junghwan is way down south—Shanghai, maybe—on a high-profile commission, one that’s “absolutely necessary for the advancement of my career,” he claims, but it seems like every commission is like that these days. It was last-minute, too, right before the Christmas season, and Dongwoo can’t help but bite his lip out of frustration when he spots Jinyoung getting off the train with bags and bags of things that would’ve been a lot more manageable with the Sunwoo and Junghwan around to help.
“Here are his clothes and shoes—favorite foods are in this bag, books, toys—” Jinyoung says, a little breathless, and over the mountains of obligations, Dongwoo can barely spot the little hands wrapped around Jinyoung’s knee, the mop of black hair sticking out from behind his leg. Jinyoung pauses for a moment to glance around. “Where are Sunwoo and Junghwan?”
“Business,” Dongwoo says, and Jinyoung gives a quirk of a smile. They haven’t really met up as a group, the four of them, since graduation, which was about a year and a half ago.
“Hard to imagine Junghwan doing business,” Jinyoung says.
Dongwoo smiles. “He’s the type of person to just wing it, and things always turn out eventually.”
It was a month ago when Jinyoung first dropped the news about Chansik, his nephew or something like that, and it was a bizarre conversation, too, Jinyoung having called at around three in the morning with the first wide-awake and hopeful voice that Dongwoo had heard out of him since freshman year of college. “And I’m the only one in the family who lives in the city, you know?” Jinyoung was saying, “But I can’t take care of a kid, not with my work schedule, at least.”
Dongwoo sighed more heavily than he’d intended, waking Sunwoo up for a minute. “What I still don’t get is, why do they want the kid to grow up in the city?”
Jinyoung paused—he always did that when he was frustrated, but his voice still came out taut and forceful when he said, “I already explained this. Schools, the schools in the city are so much better, and he’ll be prepared for college by the time he graduates.”
Is it even worth it, though, Dongwoo wondered—still wonders—but he moved tactfully away from that response, instead murmuring, “Do they have any idea what they’re getting themselves into?”
Jinyoung laughed at that. “Not really, but they seem to be okay, if it’s you guys. My sister knows you, knows that you’re good people.”
And the idea was so foreign, so terribly unappealing to Dongwoo that he couldn’t even conceptualize it: wanting to move a child—a four-year-old child—from the comfortable, quiet life in the suburbs to the middle of a bustling city, to live in a one-bedroom apartment with three just-graduated college students who were already struggling to get by. Dongwoo had seen them since childhood, the families on the streets, the pregnant mothers in the subways, the cloud around Christmastime that hung over the entire city because of the knowledge that less fortunate people existed—and Dongwoo’s family was never well-to-do in the first place, so there was never room for pity, only a dull ache that slowly broke down everyone’s trust in humanity. The suburbs, on the other hand, were so removed from everything—I’ve only had happy Christmases, Jinyoung would say, beer in his hand and guitar in his lap. Jinyoung tended to get less considerate when he was drunk, and Dongwoo understood that but couldn’t help but feel a little bitter anyway. “They don’t understand the city,” Dongwoo finally said, and Jinyoung sighed.
“You just say that because you grew up there,” Jinyoung said. “The suburbs are shitty, seriously.”
“You have everything, Jinyoung,” Dongwoo replied, and he could almost picture Jinyoung shrugging from there, shrugging in his studio apartment with music sheets spread all around him and the reassurance that his parents were ready and financially capable of bailing him out of any stupid decisions—any more stupid decisions, because he’s made countless throughout his college years, running on caffeine pills and sleepless nights because he changed majors four-too-many times.
It must’ve been Jinyoung’s passion—bordering on naivete—that prompted Dongwoo to tolerate him as a roommate for four years. But Dongwoo still doesn’t know what made him say, “Okay,” that night, and then hang on up Jinyoung’s endless thank yous and proceed to stare at himself in the mirror for half an hour, wondering how much of his life this could possibly change. Junghwan and Sunwoo could help out, but somewhere inside, Dongwoo didn’t know who he was kidding—Junghwan was almost as self-centered as Jinyoung, but at least a bit more street-smart, and Sunwoo was on a real career-growing track, and Dongwoo didn’t want to hold him back.
They all went out for lunch a couple days later, and Junghwan pretended to be delighted when Jinyoung gave him the news. Sunwoo didn’t react initially—but he dragged Dongwoo aside later that day while Junghwan and Jinyoung were cooking, and muttered, “What the hell were you thinking?”
“Helping a friend in need,” Dongwoo said, but he didn’t dare to make eye contact.
Sunwoo was quiet for a while after that. They sat at the couch, playing with the coasters and left-out mugs, looking bored and insignificant.
“How could I refuse my best friend?” Dongwoo said, breaking the silence, and he knew it would cut deep, too.
Sunwoo stilled his hands, pressing his thumb into the side of a mug until his fingernail turned white. “Jinyoung is—Jinyoung doesn’t need help,” he finally said, deciding for the blunt response.
“He has his own goals,” Dongwoo said.
“And you don’t?”
“No, it’s not—”
“He’s riding on money,” Sunwoo said with a hard laugh that had something like—sadness, or disappointment, in it. “He needs help the least out of the four of us. I can barely stand seeing him run around the fucking city, because he’s like this overgrown kid who goes and plays with his toys every once in a while, only when he feels like it, and then just drops us when he’s in trouble.”
And Dongwoo couldn’t think of anything to say back, because it was partly true, anyway. Sunwoo never liked Jinyoung, but that whole thing was buried in mounds of personality differences, social differences, and jealousy. Dongwoo had always thought that it was mostly jealousy, honestly—someone’s hands slid over Dongwoo’s shoulders then, massaging them lightly, and Dongwoo tensed up for a moment before recognizing Junghwan’s touch. “You’re just too nice,” Junghwan said quietly, still smelling of fried food and hand soap.
Sunwoo’s voice always goes a little softer when Junghwan’s around. Sunwoo said then, “I don’t even think it’s Dongwoo being nice, just—just ignorant.”
“Not everyone has to be a self-righteous pain in the ass,” Dongwoo shot back, a little too loudly.
“You used to feel that way about him, too,” Sunwoo snapped. “Don’t deny it, you always knew he was entitled, just like those other suburban middle class idiots—”
“Hey,” Junghwan said, his voice wary, and Jinyoung tapped on the kitchen doorway then, calling them for dinner. “Can we not? It’s been forever since we’ve all gotten together like this.”
And Sunwoo was always civil, too, which annoyed Dongwoo more than it should have, especially since Jinyoung was so blissfully unaware of Sunwoo’s bitterness. “I honestly think you’re missing something. You don’t need to protect Jinyoung,” Junghwan would say with a laugh when Dongwoo brought it up, but Junghwan, underneath it all, believed at least a bit in the ideology that Sunwoo believed in. They all did, really, the three of them—they all came from the city, were well versed with one aspect or another of the broken-down parts of city life, but Sunwoo was just the most vocal about it. The jealousy regarding the relationships was just another added layer of conflict.
So that was how it went down, and Sunwoo has been taking extra projects since then, staying overseas for longer. Junghwan said he’d be available to help move Chansik in, but he’d picked up a commission at the last moment and hopped on the soonest flight out, which happened to be the same flight as Sunwoo’s Monday morning flight this past week, with a convenient transfer in Beijing.
“—and they want Chansik to have his own room,” Jinyoung is saying, “with a bed and everything, and not near a window because he apparently has sensitive skin.”
Dongwoo blinks for a moment, because most of Jinyoung’s suggestions had gone in one ear and out the other. “Do they have any idea what they’re getting themselves into?” Dongwoo repeats, but Jinyoung doesn’t laugh this time.
“He’s just a kid,” Jinyoung says quietly. “You want the best for him, too, right?”
“He already had the best,” Dongwoo replies.
“Just—” Jinyoung starts, but cuts himself off and runs his hand through his messy hair. After the next train rattles by, Jinyoung says, “You—you said it would be okay.”
“It’s fine, it’s just—”
“Then stop making me feel so damn guilty, Dongwoo.”
Dongwoo sighs, knowing that when Jinyoung starts swearing, there’s really nothing anyone else can do to help him get over himself. “Look, forget it,” Dongwoo says, reaching a hand out—he doesn’t know why he extends his hand, doesn’t know what kind of purchase he’s grappling for. But Chansik then, surprisingly, moves forward, setting his little hand in the middle of Dongwoo’s palm. Dongwoo’s breath catches in his throat—it’s something about children, something about their youth that gets Dongwoo, because he doesn’t remember a time when he was ever that innocent. Dongwoo says, after a moment, “It’ll be good for me, anyway. Junghwan and Sunwoo are never home these days, anyway, and my job isn’t that time-consuming.”
Jinyoung looks up then and gives Dongwoo a grateful smile. “Thanks,” he breathes, and Dongwoo smiles back.
The apartment is empty when Dongwoo finally shoulders the door open with Chansik in tow; he doesn’t know why he’d hopelessly expected someone to greet him there. “Get used to this,” Dongwoo says, but Chansik is quiet; he’d slept through most of the subway ride with his head on Dongwoo’s shoulder, and hasn’t spoken a word since.
It’s no one’s fault, really, that the dishes haven’t been washed, that the refrigerator hasn’t been stocked, that the bedroom hasn’t been emptied—or maybe, it’s a little of all of their faults, and Dongwoo just grits his teeth and lugs the mattresses from the bunk bed into the living room to blow off whatever steam had been gathering inside him. The top bunk’s frame comes off pretty easily, and Dongwoo turns it and drags it through the doorway and into the living room, propping it up against the wall. And Chansik sits on the couch, watching him with these sharp eyes, watching him go through the motions.
“Your room is in there,” Dongwoo says, pointing to the bedroom, when the bunk bed has been fully set up in the living room and pillows and blankets have been thrown on the couch. “I hope you’re okay with flowery sheets.”
Chansik still doesn’t speak, though, and only looks at Dongwoo for a moment before sliding off the couch and taking slow steps toward the stereo set-up that they have sitting next to the TV. He sits down, legs crossed, in front of the stacks of CD players, DVD players, tape players, and stares.
Dongwoo sits down on the couch and watches Chansik from behind for a while before murmuring, “Did you see uncle Jinyoung a lot?”
“Yeah,” Chansik replies. His voice is soft, just like Jinyoung’s, and Dongwoo shifts closer to hear him.
“He always came to visit you, right? Have you ever been to the city before?”
“No,” Chansik says.
“Uncle Jinyoung really likes music, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah,” he repeats.
“Well, you’re going to hear a lot of music here, too. Junghwan’s a great singer, you know.”
Chansik doesn’t say anything.
After a moment, Dongwoo says, “Have you ever lived with three guys before?”
Chansik shakes his head.
“Just your mom and dad?”
“Are you excited?”
And Dongwoo decides to drop it at that, because he’s somewhat grateful for just the presence of another person in the apartment on a cold Tuesday afternoon. He doesn’t remember the last time he’d shared the apartment with someone in the middle of the week, and maybe, maybe because it’s Chansik—Dongwoo feels a sudden urge to keep Chansik there, sitting in front of that silent stereo forever, because he’s just a kid, and the stereo is powerless, can’t change him, can’t corrupt him.
It’s a quick urge, though.
And by the time Sunwoo gets home late Thursday night, the apartment already has a different feel to it. Dongwoo falls into a schedule, planning his meals and most of his day around Chansik—working on articles in the afternoon because Chansik naps then, and Dongwoo really has no idea when Chansik wakes up, but he usually wanders out of his bedroom by about 4:30 and digs through the still-packed duffel bags for a book. Chansik brings a quiet presence; even though he never complains about being hungry or thirsty or tired, Dongwoo finds himself wanting to nurture Chansik, to bend his own time around Chansik’s schedule, to fall into a comfortable routine.
“I brought food,” Sunwoo says when he barges into the apartment smelling like Chinese takeout, and he kicks the door shut behind him; it’s too late for dinner, though, and Chansik is already asleep, and that makes Dongwoo irrationally annoyed. “Why are all the lights off?”
“Hey, quiet,” Dongwoo says; it’s nearing nine in the evening. “Chansik’s asleep.”
“Oh,” Sunwoo replies, “So the kid’s here.”
“Chansik,” Dongwoo repeats, and Sunwoo shrugs.
One thing about Chansik is that he’s a pretty heavy sleeper, and Dongwoo doesn’t bother trying to stop Sunwoo as he flicks the hallway light on and wanders toward the bedroom, undressing and kicking his clothes around the hallway in the process. There’s a surprised curse when Sunwoo swings the bedroom door open, and Dongwoo closes his eyes.
“The bunk bed is out here,” Dongwoo says.
Sunwoo calls back, “Yeah, now I know.”
Junghwan’s entrance is another matter entirely; he comes in the next morning at just past sunrise with bags of what Dongwoo can only assume to be odd Chinese snacks, and bellows out, “I come bearing gifts!”
Chansik is already awake by then; he usually wakes up in the mornings at around six or seven, therefore waking Dongwoo, too, and thus, Dongwoo finds himself more tired in the evening, falling into a dreamless sleep normally before midnight.
Junghwan still has his digital SLR hanging around his neck when he dumps the snacks into a corner of the kitchen—“I couldn’t help it, when do you ever get to see the city in the morning?” he says, and Dongwoo pushes the pile of colorful sweets around solemnly, only glancing up when Junghwan lets out a shout; Chansik is standing in the doorway, hands pressed against his sides and donning the widest-eyed stare Dongwoo has ever seen on him. “Is this Chansik?” Junghwan says, stepping forward with an eager kind of caution, as if holding himself back. “Oh, God, he’s so cute.” Junghwan kneels down, and Dongwoo feels his heart sink a bit when Chansik steps forward instantly, even stretching his hand out for Junghwan to take. “You miss your mom, don’t you? Well, actually, Dongwoo does a pretty good job at being Mom,” Junghwan says with a laugh, and Chansik doesn’t smile, but his expression softens, and Dongwoo is sure that Junghwan doesn’t miss it. “Well,” he says, ruffling Chansik’s hair, “the good thing about living with three guys is that you don’t have to close the bathroom door when you pee.”
At that, Chansik laughs for the first time. And even Junghwan pulls back slightly, amused, because it’s a cackle, a sharp, strange cackle that somehow suggests innocence. Jinyoung had written a song about things like these once—while completely plastered, of course—about how the only times you’re entirely off your guard is when you’re yawning, sneezing, or laughing, truly laughing. (“What about farting? Add farting!” Junghwan had said, turning the song into a silly, forgotten sort of thing, but Dongwoo tends to remember the weirdest details.)
“Oh, hey,” Junghwan says, biting his lips and giving Chansik these absurd puppy eyes that, once again, make Dongwoo irrationally annoyed. “Do you want to see some of my pictures? I go all over the world to take pictures! Isn’t that neat?” Chansik nods slowly, reaching his hand toward Junghwan’s camera, and Junghwan smiles, leaning forward to let Chansik lift it up with his tiny fingers. “There are pictures of the sea, and flowers, and, oh, the best ones are of the city—”
“Don’t,” Dongwoo says then. It slips out; Dongwoo even surprises himself when he hears the sharpness in his own voice. It slips out; there has been some sort of no rolling around the tip of his tongue for the past ten minutes, but it’s only then when it forces his mouth open, forces itself out. (Why is it that the negative things are always the most persistent?)
“Uh,” Junghwan says, putting his hand over Chansik’s on the camera. Dongwoo can only bear to keep eye contact for a couple of seconds; Junghwan’s stare is a little too confused, a little too hurt to endure, especially when Chansik glances up, too. “I guess Dongwoo doesn’t want us to look at pictures today.” Junghwan pats Chansik’s hand then. “It’s okay, I’ll let you have some of my snacks. I don’t even let Sunwoo touch those!”
And Dongwoo thinks about it later while lying on the couch with his laptop sitting on his stomach. His neck is starting to cramp from sleeping on the armrest, and he wakes up with cricks in his back that (hopefully) aren’t from old age, and he’ll have to remind himself to invest in a pull-out bed.
Dongwoo thinks about it later while lying on the couch, procrastinating his latest project, tired and slightly down for no reason at all—so, possibly, that’s why the idea occurs to him. Junghwan prompts it with his call, of course, but the idea develops mostly on its own, with Dongwoo eventually setting his laptop on the ground and stretching out in Sunwoo’s bottom bunk over the piles of clean, unfolded laundry.
“Hey,” Junghwan says over the crackle of the phone line. “We need some milk, can you go pick it up from the store?”
“I’m not your slave,” Dongwoo says, and Junghwan snorts.
“You’ve never complained about going to the store before,” he says, and Dongwoo can hear the clicking of a mouse, which means that Junghwan must be working on some photo retouching. “I bet you’re at home right now, lying on the floor with your laptop open and all your projects open and you’re not working on any of them.” Dongwoo goes quiet, and Junghwan laughs. “Then, in that case, take Chansik with you, go buy some snacks for him. I don’t know what he likes to eat.”
“I’m not taking Chansik to the grocery store,” Dongwoo says.
“Doesn’t have to be the grocery store, just drop by the convenience—”
“He’s not leaving the apartment,” Dongwoo says.
Junghwan is quiet for a moment after that, a couple slow, almost tentative clicks sounding through the line. “You can’t just leave him home alone.”
“Sunwoo is basically dead on the weekends,” Junghwan points out.
And Dongwoo doesn’t know what makes him do it this time, either. He hangs up on Junghwan—nothing explosive, but Dongwoo simply taps his thumb to the screen and hangs up, as if the conversation had already ended. But something about the exchange feels wrong—not the hanging-up, necessarily, but Dongwoo feels as though he’d decided something that he had no right to decide, feels like a parent marrying his children off.
“I picked up the milk,” Junghwan says that evening, around half a sandwich in his mouth when he gets home from the studio, and Dongwoo laughs tiredly.
“I actually sent Sunwoo out to get it,” he says, and Sunwoo groans from the living room just then, stumbling into the vicinity while rubbing his eyes, and Chansik follows beside him.
“You need to fix your sleep schedule, babe,” Junghwan says to Sunwoo, and turns his cheek toward Dongwoo. “Don’t I at least get a thank-you-kiss?”
Dongwoo leans forward for a moment, because the motion is automatic by now, but he holds himself back at the last moment, turning away and mumbling, “Not in front of the kid.”
Junghwan laughs then and shrugs, saying, “Suit yourself,” as he wanders into the kitchen, but Sunwoo was never one to let things go—Sunwoo, who had been watching Dongwoo’s body language these past few days and knows that there’s something serious behind it. Sunwoo glances at Dongwoo for a moment before brushing past him.
They’re sitting on their respective bunks—Dongwoo, the couch—after they’ve tucked Chansik in (and they all had a hand in it, too, Sunwoo bathing him, Dongwoo reading him a story, and Junghwan singing him to sleep), when Sunwoo starts prying. “Not in front of the kid, Dongwoo? Seriously?”
Dongwoo stares at the digital image of the product he’s been assigned to write for, zooming in and out arbitrarily. “He’s just a kid, not even in school yet.”
“He’s going to see something some day,” Junghwan says, “unless you want to abstain forever. Which is definitely not in my vocabulary.”
Sunwoo snorts, and Junghwan leans over the edge of the bunk, waggling his eyebrows at Sunwoo. “What’s wrong with a kiss, anyway?” Sunwoo says, pecking Junghwan on the cheek. “There are G-rated movies that have kisses. The animals in his books probably kiss each other.”
“It’s not really the kissing thing,” Dongwoo says, trailing the cursor along the edge of the image and not looking up. “It’s more like. I don’t want to corrupt him.”
“Corrupt?” Junghwan says, sitting back up again. “In that case, if it’s not the kissing you’re worried about, what is it?”
Dongwoo shrugs. “I don’t know, just, the world, society—”
“What the fuck, Dongwoo,” Sunwoo says. His voice comes out unnaturally low with a dark, hoarse rumble in it, and Junghwan blinks at that, startled.
“You can’t say you don’t know what I’m talking about,” Sunwoo says, and Dongwoo can feel him staring, unblinking.
“I—” Dongwoo starts, but his voice catches, and he curls his hands into fists above his keyboard. “I, I would’ve said the same thing if I were a girl, or if you were a girl, if we were a normal—”
“Shut the fuck up,” Sunwoo says, and Junghwan clicks his tongue, which makes things both tenser and more helpless at the same time.
“You’re in hot water, now, Dongwoo,” Junghwan says, and he’s forcing lightness into his voice that he has to fish out from inside himself, because the air is all concentrated and sparking with this unfamiliar tension. Dongwoo can’t tell if he’s in hot water, or if he’s walking over cracking ice.
“Don’t even spit the word normal at me, Dongwoo,” Sunwoo says, and Dongwoo sighs, struggling to keep his voice level.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Dongwoo says. “It’s not because we’re gay, or even the three of us, it’s just—”
Again, his voice catches.
Junghwan is looking at him expectantly, not angrily, like Sunwoo, but a kind of wary curiosity, as if weighing whether or not to take Dongwoo seriously for a while after this conversation—whereas Sunwoo is weighing whether or not to drop Dongwoo like a hot potato.
Dongwoo can’t think of anything to say. Because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know what it is, only knows that talking about it had been a mistake, knows that he’s on his own with this one.
After about five minutes of silence and Dongwoo struggling to come up with an explanation, Sunwoo says, “That’s what I thought.” Sunwoo’s voice has gone quieter, but somehow, the disappointment in it is harsher than all the curses he’d spat out in the last few days. He curls up in the bottom bunk and throws the covers over himself and tells Junghwan to turn off the light, even though Dongwoo is sitting right next to the switch. Dongwoo and Junghwan share a look, and Dongwoo sighs and stands, wandering into the hallway and finding himself in front of the bedroom door, hand on the knob.
He walks into the bedroom to a peacefully sleeping Chansik and watches Chansik for a while after that. Dongwoo sits just on the edge of the bed, and he doesn’t know what time it is when Chansik wakes up, turning to Dongwoo, seemingly unsurprised. Junghwan and Sunwoo are already asleep by then, indicated by the quiet snoring drifting in from the hallway.
There are thick curtains on the bedroom window that usually remain drawn—Dongwoo remembers the sensitive skin thing—and it makes the room look like an attic in the daytime, sunlight squeezing itself through the crack between the curtains like a dirty skylight. Sunwoo has already mentioned that he doesn’t like the atmosphere in that room, “Makes it feel like a sickroom,” he’d said, but the view outside isn’t particularly appealing, either: a brick wall with some obscene street art printed on it.
“I love you,” Dongwoo murmurs, putting his hand on Chansik’s forehead.
Chansik’s eyes seem to shine in the dim light—Jinyoung had called some days ago, adding that Chansik likes to sleep with a nightlight—and his gaze darts around Dongwoo’s face. “I love you, too,” Chansik says, and Dongwoo doesn’t care if it’s a response that has been drilled into him like with most children; it feels warm regardless, warmer than in the living room, anyway, where the landlord has turned off the heating for the evening, and the three of them can’t afford another radiator.
And, so ends the first week.
Dongwoo met Sunwoo and Junghwan in colllege when the two were already a pseudo-couple. Which, he realizes in retrospect, would account for the small tug of isolation (jealousy?) he has always felt, even though both of them insist that they all love each other equally. This also accounts for why Dongwoo would tend to gravitate toward Jinyoung the most out of the three of them—aside from the fact that Dongwoo and Jinyoung were roommates, Jinyoung and Junghwan were the ones who really had the most similar interests. But Dongwoo and Jinyoung were the “best friends,” the inseparable, the pair who dragged each other away from parties or libraries all the way back to their shared room.
Their friend-group was held together by a tenuous relationship that didn’t feel as shaky as it was, because they meshed well enough that maintaining it came naturally. Sunwoo and Jinyoung didn’t have to interact much, and Sunwoo, though slightly possessive of Junghwan, used to be more reasonable than anything else. There was nothing to distract the four of them, anyway—they’d all been in school before, knew how to deal with these kinds of things on top of the regular beats of school hours, the scheduled life of a hardworking teenager.
It was only when school ended, when they found themselves launched into the real world and working around strange hours, unfamiliar stretches of time apart from each other, that things began to change. It didn’t help that Jinyoung ended up going for the riskiest career path—following his passions—out of all of them.
“Just because he can afford it,” Sunwoo had said, laughing and tipsy during one of their weekend gatherings around the end of senior year.
“Hey, I already have some times set up with recording studios around the city,” Jinyoung protested.
“I already have a lifetime career set up,” Sunwoo replied. Sunwoo, around strangers, was the most skillfully guarded; you couldn’t tell, really, unless you knew him. Around the rest of them, though, he tended to just spew out whatever he wanted to say—and while drunk, he did the same thing, but a little louder and, oddly, a little more amiably, too. It had seemed like a joke at that time—but, when you’re around a drunk Sunwoo, everything seems like a joke. Sunwoo downed the rest of the bottle and scrunched his face, puffing his cheeks out. “You’re a—you’re an interesting one, Jinyoung.”
Sunwoo, around strangers, was the most skillfully guarded; you couldn’t tell, really, unless you knew him—but if you knew him, it was so obvious that it hurt, to see him take the extra half-second to calculate what would be the most appropriate response. Sunwoo had a hard time controlling, though, who he was familiar around and who was basically a stranger to him. Dongwoo can remember many a time when Sunwoo gave the scripted responses to all three of them when they were being naïve and Sunwoo just wasn’t feeling up to interacting. It hurts more to be on the receiving end of these practiced, how-do-you-do-sir responses from Sunwoo than to be violently cursed, screamed at—because when he yelled at you, at least you could tell that he cared.
That’s why, when Dongwoo wakes up on the couch with his hair brushed and an extra blanket wrapped around him, he isn’t surprised that it smells like Junghwan.
“Your breakfast is on the table,” Junghwan says when he closes the apartment door behind him, bringing in the December hallway-draft. “I just came back from Chansik’s school and picked up some forms. It’s in a really nice place, just a couple blocks down. Seriously, you could walk there.”
“That’s good,” Dongwoo mumbles, but school is such a remote concept at this point in time, just a week after Chansik had arrived in the city, that Dongwoo doesn’t really register it yet.
Chansik comes out at the sound of his name, padding across the linoleum floor in nice socks that must’ve been bought in single pairs. Junghwan is muttering something about, “Remind me to fix that cabinet hinge,” and “Ugh, we have to go to the grocery store again because Sunwoo forgot his freaking special bread, or whatever it is that he’s really picky about.” Chansik kneels down next to the couch, and Dongwoo has to squint to see his face clearly, but it comes into view just as Junghwan says, “Maybe I could take Chansik along—”
“No,” Dongwoo groans, and Junghwan closes and opens the creaky cabinet a couple more times in thought.
“You know, you’re going to have to let him out of the apartment some time,” Junghwan says.
“Do you want to go outside?” Dongwoo whispers to Chansik.
“Hey, I can hear that,” Junghwan calls from the kitchen.
Chansik looks away from Dongwoo and doesn’t say anything.
“Besides, he’s starting school in a few months,” Junghwan continues. “Social interaction. How dangerous.”
“Are you excited for school?” Dongwoo says, voice louder. “Be honest.”
“Yeah,” Chansik replies, shifting his gaze toward Dongwoo for just a moment before breaking it again, standing up and going to the kitchen, where Junghwan is calling him.
“Hey, do you want to help Uncle Junghwan fix the cabinet?” he says, and Chansik must’ve agreed, because Dongwoo can hear Junghwan lifting Chansik onto the counter with a grunt, and suddenly, nothing seems appealing anymore. Dongwoo lies on the couch for a few more minutes before swinging his legs off first, and slowly pushing himself out from under the blankets and getting hit by the wall of cold air. Junghwan’s voice usually cuts through the cold, but this time, his childish instructions and loud laughter echoing through the otherwise empty apartment just sends that extra piercing chill. Dongwoo pokes at his breakfast for some moments, and Junghwan and Chansik look so engrossed in the cabinet, Chansik laughing as Junghwan pokes his sides while he’s trying to fit in a screw, that Dongwoo decides to just go to the grocery store by himself.
The grocery store is where people congregate—bright with thick walls, and located half-underground with the only window also happening to function as a door.
The apartment complex, on the other hand, is where people disperse, dark with thin, papery walls that emit sounds that you usually try to ignore, because you never want to hear those things, anyway. When Dongwoo returns, there’s a hushed conversation going on inside those walls, and he stops his hand just above the knob. Sunwoo and Junghwan were never particularly quiet about their interactions, because they never had any need to keep things from Dongwoo, anyway; walking into the apartment was like walking into a public bathroom—which, in a sense, is one of the only places where you can feel consistently welcome.
“—falling apart,” Sunwoo is saying, and Dongwoo can hear a repressed sigh through the door.
Junghwan waits a moment before replying. “It’s not him, it’s us.”
“I hope you’re talking about us as in all three of us,” Sunwoo says, and there’s silence. Dongwoo leans carefully against the wall, closing his eyes. “He used to be different.”
“He used to be quieter,” Junghwan says. “So how do you really know how he used to think?”
“He’s losing his direction, he used to always be a hard worker.”
“You can be a hard worker and be—and think differently, too,” Junghwan says. “Look at Jinyoung.”
“Jinyoung’s a lazy ass,” Sunwoo replies, and Junghwan sighs again.
“You’re being difficult.”
“Then don’t bring Jinyoung into this.”
The master hot-water heater in the hallway turns on and muffles the voices, so Dongwoo leans against the door, pressing his ear to the crack. “Dongwoo just doesn’t know what he wants. Give it some time.”
“We don’t have time,” Sunwoo says. “Now, we have something—we have Chansik; kids grow up so quickly and remember so much.”
“The Chansik thing is different,” Junghwan says. “I’m talking about how you keep jumping to conclusions about Dongwoo himself. Yeah, his—”
“Listen,” Sunwoo says then, and usually when he cuts Junghwan off, Junghwan simply talks over him until he shuts up, but this time, Junghwan quiets himself precisely, almost as if he’d been expecting it. “The only reason I’ve been sticking around this weekend is because of you.”
It cuts like a knife, expectedly.
Because it was Sunwoo whom Dongwoo had originally fallen in love with. While Junghwan, and Jinyoung, too, were simply there at first, having to force themselves into the spotlight—Sunwoo, on the other hand, was a commanding presence, the presence that the spotlights just tended to follow naturally.
Sunwoo and Junghwan had a pre-orientation volunteer event beforehand, so when Dongwoo found out that they were dating, it came with both relief and heartbreak. It was only after a few weeks when Dongwoo noticed Sunwoo staring at him in their shared math class, always wanting to say something but never coming out with it. Junghwan made an extra effort to wave to Dongwoo in the hallways, too, and the first time Dongwoo was invited to their room, the three of them launched into a seemingly premature discussion about heavy topics.
At the time, it had seemed like a good moment to bring up the dating thing.
“You just found out?” Junghwan said, and laughed, hunching over his legs, stretched straight and spread across the floor. “We’re pretty obvious, aren’t we?”
Dongwoo quirked his mouth into a smile but said nothing.
Sunwoo was a little more guarded—was always a little more guarded—than Junghwan. “You’re okay with that, right?” he said, but something about it suggested that Sunwoo was looking for more in the answer than a simple yes or no.
“Yeah, i—it’s fine,” Dongwoo says carefully, and later, he’d grow to blame the stutter. Or, perhaps, Sunwoo was just really good at these things, because he turned back to Junghwan then, giving him a subtle expression that Dongwoo couldn’t see from his angle.
When Junghwan excused himself to the bathroom, Sunwoo nudged Dongwoo and said, “He’s hot, isn’t he?”
“What?” Dongwoo said, and Sunwoo laughed.
“Don’t deny it. You want a piece of that.”
“Not really,” Dongwoo said quickly, and it must’ve been pretty convincing, because Sunwoo looked surprised, and almost scared for a moment that he’d made a wrong assumption. Dongwoo laughed and said, “It’s—it’s actually you.”
“Oh,” Sunwoo said, leaning back. He seemed pensive for a moment before adding, “Well—I’m flattered. But Junghwan is part of the package.”
“I know,” Dongwoo said. “I shouldn’t have—wait, part of what package?”
Sunwoo laughed and squeezed Dongwoo’s shoulder. “Well, I was originally going to reverse it—if you want Junghwan, you have to take me, too, but—I guess it works just as well this way.”
Their hook-up was an awkward one, one that seemed like a salesperson trying to bargain with a too-willing customer. But it worked for them, and Junghwan returned from the bathroom to Dongwoo kissing Sunwoo with sloppy tongue and everything, and Junghwan nodded his head, shifting into a slow, amused clap. “Not bad,” he said, turning to Dongwoo. “But let me show you how to really kiss.”
It was Sunwoo whom Dongwoo had originally fallen in love with, and there really aren’t biases between the three of them anymore, but Sunwoo’s jabs still tend to cut a little deeper.
The talking has stopped, and Dongwoo waits for five minutes or so before turning the doorknob slowly.
And the rift just keeps getting wider.
That Christmas commission really must’ve been good for Junghwan, because in the next couple of weeks, Junghwan has about twice the work he had before, getting off one plane and hopping on the other, or even just wandering around the city for hours at a time. The days stay light for longer, but in the bitter cold of early January, no one even notices.
“The airport line is down today,” Dongwoo says to no one in particular, both Sunwoo and Junghwan out, and Chansik likely napping. “How is Sunwoo going to get home?”
Dongwoo’s mind seems to be trying to block out the idea that Sunwoo might not want to come home. Might stay at the airport for the night, or—god forbid—a hotel. Might cancel his flight back from Beijing and wander around the city, stay an extra night out of the country to get his thoughts together—or, to wait for Dongwoo to get his own thoughts together. The idea isn’t too farfetched, either.
Dongwoo hears Chansik open the bedroom door softly and approach the table, where Dongwoo is sitting, reading a newspaper from that morning which is likely already out of date. “He could take a taxi,” Chansik says, and Dongwoo shrugs, nodding.
“He’s too cheap,” he says.
Then, it hits him.
It hits him like a wave he’d been trying to avoid, a wave that ended up curling behind him and pushing him under when he’d least expected it. Dongwoo tightens his hand around the newspaper, rolling the torn edges between his fingers before turning to Chansik. “How do you know what a taxi is?”
Chansik goes quiet, as if he’s been caught with his hands digging through Junghwan’s pile of snacks.
Dongwoo turns fully then, leaning his elbows on his knees. He says, as gently as possible, “Chansik, tell me.”
“I can’t,” Chansik mumbles.
“Who told you?”
“I can’t tell you,” Chansik says, and Dongwoo sighs, feeling like a little chunk of his world has broken off, whether it’s from Chansik somehow being exposed to the world of taxis, or whether it’s from Chansik wanting to keep a secret from him in the first place.
“You have to tell me,” Dongwoo says, and he hates himself for it. “That, or stop talking to who you’ve been talking to.” The next part is the part that gets to him most, though—the two people he trusts. “Was it Sunwoo, or Junghwan?”
Chansik clenches and unclenches his hands for a while, and Dongwoo notices that he’s dug little moon-shaped indents into his palms with his nails, which are a nervous white. His lip trembles, and Dongwoo suddenly wonders if any of them had bothered to teach him when it was proper to cry, or if Chansik was just really good at hiding it, or if Chansik has just truly been completely content with his life for the past couple of weeks, because Dongwoo hasn’t seen tears at all, or even hints of them, until now. Chansik takes a shaky, high-pitched breath before mumbling, “Uncle Junghwan.”
Dongwoo leans back in his chair and brushes his hair out of his face. He’s partly shaking, and partly trying to keep his nerves under control, because it could’ve been anything; Junghwan could’ve been surfing the web and reading an article out loud, he could’ve been talking on the phone to his parents, talking about the airport and taxis. “Can’t be helped, I guess. I told him to be careful—”
“No,” Chansik says, a little stronger, “He showed me his pictures.”
Dongwoo jerks up in his chair. “What?”
But Chansik has already darted away by then, still trembling as he slams the bedroom door shut behind him.
Dongwoo has Junghwan on speed dial—Junghwan is 1 and Sunwoo is 2, just because normally, Junghwan is the more necessary of the two to reach, be it a grocery problem or a mechanical problem—and Junghwan is also more often in the country than Sunwoo is. Junghwan picks up and instantly says, “I’m on the subway, I’ll be back soon, wait for me for dinn—”
“I told you not to show those pictures to Chansik,” Dongwoo says.
Junghwan pauses. “What?”
“The pictures,” Dongwoo repeats. “How many have you showed him?”
“I just—” Junghwan starts, then falters for a moment. Dongwoo can hear the roar of the tracks through the line. “He wanted to see them,” Junghwan says, sounding a little tired. “He likes them. Dongwoo, they’re just pictures.”
“And is that what you’ve been doing on all your extra commissions?”
Junghwan sighs. “Yeah, and I’m not going to hide it anymore, because I honestly think I’m right this time. Dongwoo, he really likes the pictures. Considering how you hole him up in there, it’s the least I could do without—” Junghwan then stops, and Dongwoo bites his lip.
“Betraying you,” Junghwan says.
“You’re already betraying me,” Dongwoo says, but his voice comes out more disappointed than angry, or anything else.
Jinyoung comes to visit a couple weeks later with new outfits and several containers of cucumber kimchi in hand.
“For his school,” Jinyoung says, motioning at the tiny suits and button-down shirts, complete with bowties and little shined shoes that don’t even look real, that look like they were made for a doll. Dongwoo can’t help the way his heart lurches at the mention of school, at the thought of Chansik obliviously stepping into the classroom, meeting the surge of voices, names, faces, the same antagonizing glares that Dongwoo had met when he’d first set foot in his dorm at college. He’d gotten into that particular private university on a huge scholarship, same as Sunwoo and Junghwan, so they all faced a sort of culture shock when they moved in, thousands of rich, shallowly cultured eighteen-year-olds talking about brand names and mainstream music. “Are you okay?” Jinyoung says, and Dongwoo blinks.
“Yeah,” he says a little breathlessly, and Jinyoung stares at him, eyebrows furrowed, for a bit longer.
“Do you want to, like, go out for lunch or something?” Jinyoung suddenly asks.
“Just the two of us?”
Jinyoung nods. “Sunwoo and Junghwan can take care of Chansik for the afternoon.” Sunwoo, Junghwan, and Chansik are chasing each other around the small apartment, Jinyoung and Dongwoo still standing in the hallway outside the open door. Chansik shrieks when Sunwoo catches up to him, tickling his sides and lifting him up and spinning him around. “They seem to get along well,” Jinyoung says with a chuckle.
“Be careful,” Dongwoo calls into the apartment. “No roughhousing.” Sunwoo ignores him.
“Let them be,” Jinyoung says. “Kids will be kids.”
A couple months ago, Dongwoo would’ve called Jinyoung out on that one, saying something like, It’s not like you’re much of an adult yourself. But Jinyoung sounds surprisingly mature then, and it makes Dongwoo’s stomach feel a bit unsettled.
They head over to a small breakfast place less than a block from the apartment, near-empty in the afternoon. “I have something I want to talk about,” Jinyoung says as he pays for both of them at the counter, which is something Sunwoo probably would have punched him for, but Dongwoo can’t be bothered. The intentions are good, anyway.
Dongwoo picks a table near the back of the restaurant and drapes his coat over the chair absently, his mind jumping to all sorts of conclusions—the possibility of Jinyoung’s family backing out at the last minute, wanting to take Chansik back, Jinyoung’s family going through some sort of trouble and wanting to transfer Chansik to public school in the city instead of private school, Jinyoung’s family hearing of some misunderstanding and—
“Are you okay?” Jinyoung repeats, wrapping his hands around his coffee. It’s January now, and bitterly cold.
“What?” Dongwoo says, and Jinyoung laughs.
“How did I see that one coming?” he says, putting his hand on Dongwoo’s. “Take it easy, okay? You seem so tense lately.”
“Is this what you wanted to talk about?”
Jinyoung nods. “We’re friends, right? I know you’re, like, together with Sunwoo and Junghwan and all that, and I feel a bit left out.”
“You’re not even interested,” Dongwoo says, and Jinyoung grins.
“Doesn’t mean you can just stop telling me things,” he says. “Seriously, what’s on your mind?”
Dongwoo pushes at his food and sighs. “It’s about Chansik.”
Jinyoung doesn’t look surprised. “If it’s too much, I can just—”
“No, it’s not that,” Dongwoo says. “We all like him a lot, we really do. I just feel like the atmosphere around here, is, like. I don’t know.”
“Is it the air? The pollution?” Jinyoung says. “I can go pick up some face masks, if—”
Dongwoo cuts him off with a tired laugh. “No, Jinyoung. You can be really stupid sometimes, you know.”
Jinyoung mock-frowns, blowing at his coffee. “I’ve gotten that a lot,” he says.
“You’re in the city now,” Dongwoo says. “Can’t afford to be stupid anymore.”
Jinyoung shrugs. “Takes a lot of education for stupidity to wear off, you know?” he says with a soft smile. “Speaking of which, Chansik is—”
Dongwoo draws in a breath sharp enough to stop Jinyoung mid-sentence. A few days ago, Junghwan had drawn a diagram for Dongwoo to get to Chansik’s future school expecting him to make a visit there, but Dongwoo never ended up visiting after comparing the streets to an online map of the city. The school-building is tiny—(“Of course, it’s just an elementary school,” Junghwan said, poking at Dongwoo computer screen as if criticizing it)—and it’s in a residential area of the city, but the people milling about are what concern Dongwoo, in addition to the noises, inappropriate advertisements and images, possible break-ins, muggings— “Not going to school,” Dongwoo says, not meeting Jinyoung’s eyes. His voice is oddly calm, as if resigned to—what, exactly? Resigned to himself?
“What?” Jinyoung says, and Dongwoo glances up to Jinyoung’s puzzled, almost bewildered smile. “I mean, it doesn’t start until—”
“Ever,” Dongwoo says, forcing firmness into his voice.
He can hear Jinyoung open his mouth and take in a short breath, but Jinyoung stops himself, relaxing slowly into his chair and his wool pea coat again, pressing his hands into his pockets. He leans back, giving Dongwoo a sharp but long, scrutinizing look; then, he tilts his head back, staring at the pastry display near the front of the shop. “Junghwan was right,” he murmurs.
“J—Junghwan?” Dongwoo can’t bring himself to get visibly angry, and—again, feels more disappointed than anything else because he can clearly remember a time when he was Junghwan’s stuffed animal, Junghwan’s journal, Junghwan’s listening wall. “He came crying to you about this?”
“Not crying,” Jinyoung says. “He sounded very reasonable, for Junghwan. He’s grown up, and I don’t know how much I like it,” Jinyoung continues with a laugh, pressing his hair down against his forehead. “We met up a couple days ago, because he said it needed to be in person. Sunwoo was there, too, begrudgingly.” Jinyoung shifts in his seat. “I thought they were kidding—I thought I knew you better than that.”
“What is there about me not to know?”
Jinyoung leans forward this time, resting his head in his hands and his elbows on the table. “That you’re sounding less reasonable than Junghwan right now, and that’s saying something.”
“Junghwan’s not stupid, he’s just loud,” Dongwoo says, and Jinyoung laughs.
“Fine, then. Less reasonable than me. How’s that?”
Dongwoo is quiet and stares at his drink.
Jinyoung flicks the side of his coffee cup, watches it tremble for a moment before tipping over, but it’s already empty. Dongwoo still flinches as it falls. “None of us can afford to be stupid anymore. You might not know it, but hanging around you guys for four years changed me, too. A lot of things I would’ve done and said in the past—I think before acting now.” Jinyoung looks up at Dongwoo this time, as if asking permission to continue, and then Jinyoung reaches into his pocket, pulling out a small plastic badge with an illustration of a sandwich on it and his name embossed in neat letters.
Dongwoo purses his lips, then raises his eyebrows and mumbles, “What’s this?”
Jinyoung laughs. “You know what it is. Come visit me sometime, I work up on the northeast side of town. Monday through Friday, three ‘til close.”
“What happened to your—”
“Dream?” Jinyoung says, wrapping his fingers around the plastic. “It’s still there—slowly, getting there. I have a meeting with another smaller recording studio this weekend. It was stupid to contact all those big famous ones in the beginning.” He pockets the badge and folds his hands together and stares at Dongwoo then with possibly the most serious expression Dongwoo has ever seen on him, eyebrows and jaw set even more than when he’d been studying for a test in college, lips drawn into a thinner line than when he’d been listening to his favorite music, eyes more focused than when he’d been composing a new song. It’s both inspiring and a little disconcerting, and Dongwoo even shifts back slightly. “It isn’t anything I could’ve learned back at home. There are a lot of things you can’t learn without going into the world, and I thought you knew that. Well, you did,” Jinyoung adds. “You were my inspiration for that. Sunwoo, too, but he was a dick about it.”
“How could Sunwoo be an inspiration to you?” Dongwoo says. “He hates—”
“He doesn’t actually hate me,” Jinyoung says.
Dongwoo sighs and pushes his glasses up his nose. “You’re still an idiot,” he mumbles. “You’re so—”
“You’re the naïve one,” Jinyoung says, and Dongwoo looks up, hair falling off the edge of his glasses and into his face, and he almost believes Jinyoung for a moment. “I mean, you’re certainly smart about some things, but if you can’t see that Sunwoo doesn’t actually dislike me, there are a lot of other things you still have to learn, especially when it comes to people and relationships.” Jinyoung rolls the cup around the table and smiles suddenly. “If he really disliked me,” Jinyoung says, “he’d just ignore me, or even avoid me. Plus, when he’s drunk, he’s not actually that mean—we joke around, too, you just have to squint to tell.” He pushes the cup toward Dongwoo, and it rolls in a circle and Dongwoo has to reach to catch it before it falls off the table. Jinyoung laughs and says, “Always the careful one. You just had it in your head that Sunwoo hated me, and then you kept thinking about everything like that—with that misconception in mind.” Jinyoung smirks, tapping the table with his fingers. “Sunwoo just wants me to learn something. It’s not like he’s actively trying to avoid me, either—when you criticize someone, you care. Remember that one love song I wrote?”
And Dongwoo realizes then that some parts of Jinyoung haven’t changed all that much—he still expects Dongwoo to be able to remember anything from ridiculously vague descriptions. But Dongwoo does remember it, and that’s something that happens exclusively to roommates, sharing memories on one word, and sometimes even less. “Yeah, the one about the nagging girlfriend.”
Jinyoung grins and snaps his fingers. “I knew you’d get it.”
And Dongwoo also remembers that Sunwoo had a hand making in that song; Junghwan had been practicing it in their room when Jinyoung was out for class. The song ended with the male breaking up with his girlfriend because she didn’t understand his sensitivity. “Man, that’s a stupid song,” Sunwoo was saying, and Junghwan shot him this frustrated look.
“When have you ever liked any of Jinyoung’s—anything?” Junghwan snapped; he’d had enough of Sunwoo that day, Dongwoo assumed as he flipped through the pages of his elective psychology article that he was pretending to read.
“I’m just saying that it’s stupid,” Sunwoo said, shrugging. “Not that I don’t like it.”
“But there’s a twist. You like twists, right?” Junghwan pointed out. “Like, isn’t the girl usually the sensitive one?”
“No, that’s not the stupid part,” Sunwoo said. “Here, give it,” he continued, snatching the lyrics out of Junghwan’s hands.
Just then, Jinyoung pushed the door open, and upon glancing at the scene for a moment, he stood in the doorway with his hands in his pockets and the heavy door leaning against his shoulder. But Sunwoo made no move to acknowledge Jinyoung, even though he knew Jinyoung was there.
“Here, the guy should realize that the girl is just nagging him because she cares,” Sunwoo said, tracing some of the lines with his thumb. He frowned then, his voice going a little gentler when he continued, “I mean, that’s like, the only way she knows how to show it.” He looked up, looked at the doorframe, out the window, at Junghwan’s shoulder—everywhere but at Jinyoung, refusing to meet his piercing gaze. “And she should try to—try to be gentler if she can. But if he really likes her, then he should be able to get over that.”
Everyone in the room seemed to realize something then that Dongwoo had completely missed—until now, when Jinyoung brings it up in a coffee shop. “You get it now, right?” Jinyoung says, watching Dongwoo’s expression, which must be changing in ways that he can’t control, doesn’t realize how to control yet because he’s been isolating himself and only opening himself to Jinyoung, Junghwan, Sunwoo—people who can read him like a book regardless of the circumstances. “There’s no way that you can learn some of these things without being in the world. You went to college; then, you kind of holed yourself up in that apartment after that with your job and Junghwan and Sunwoo going out to take care of things for you.” Jinyoung crosses his legs and sets the cup upright again, and Dongwoo bites his lip, closing his eyes. “You can have affluence, but you can also lose it.” Finally, Jinyoung adds then, “And this is probably just me being selfish about my nephew, but you can’t just push your situation onto him and expect it to turn out okay. Or expect me to be okay with that.”
The hug is slightly awkward, but well-meaning. “Tell Sunwoo to get over that fear of ghosts. I don’t want him accidentally injuring Chansik,” Jinyoung says as the next train rumbles in. Jinyoung is always forgetting something, so Dongwoo ends up with a family ring to pass to Chansik when he grows older, a pair of tiny gloves for the rest of winter, and a home-knit scarf, all from a crumpled ball in Jinyoung’s coat pocket. “Hey,” Jinyoung says finally, squeezing Dongwoo’s hand. “Take care of yourself. Sometimes, I’m more worried about you than I am about Chansik.”
“I’ll be fine,” Dongwoo says, and Jinyoung smiles.
“In that case, then, take care of my kid,” Jinyoung says.
“Our kid,” Dongwoo corrects with a raise of his eyebrows, and Jinyoung laughs.
“He’s really a lucky kid,” Junghwan says the evening before Chansik’s first day of school, feeding Chansik and making unnecessary train-sounds, even though Chansik has no problem eating anything they prepare for him. “Four fathers and a lot of love.”
“You’re the lucky one at this table,” Sunwoo says, pushing Junghwan’s shoulder. “Because he hasn’t spit that food all over you yet.”
“Shut up, I’m a good cook,” Junghwan says, and Sunwoo laughs.
“Whatever you say,” Dongwoo says, and Sunwoo squeezes Junghwan’s thigh under the table.
“To hell with your cooking, I’d rather have you,” Sunwoo murmurs to Junghwan, purposely loud enough for Dongwoo to hear, and Junghwan flushes bright red and drops his chopsticks into Chansik’s lap.
“A—Are you excited for school tomorrow?” Junghwan says to Chansik, gathering himself and glaring at Sunwoo—who’s currently sporting a shit-eating grin—for a moment.
Chansik nods and reaches up to poke Junghwan’s still fire-engine red cheek.
“You’re lucky, because I’m not excited for work,” Sunwoo groans.
“That sounds more like the Sunwoo I know,” Junghwan says. “You’ve been leaving way too early for your flights lately. Take some responsibility for the kid.”
“I’m the bread-winner here,” Sunwoo protests, and Dongwoo looks up, waving a manuscript in Sunwoo’s face.
“This right here is worth a good couple hundred thousand won,” Dongwoo says, and Junghwan looks pointedly at Sunwoo.
“At least tuck him in tonight,” Junghwan says, and Sunwoo grins.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
And Junghwan complains halfheartedly all the way to Chansik’s school the next day, swinging one of Chansik’s hands back and forth with Dongwoo holding onto the other. “Can’t believe I have to guide you to our son’s school, it’s like half a block away, you’re good for absolutely nothing beside sitting at home and going to pick up milk and—”
“I’m assuming you’re nagging because you care,” Dongwoo says, and Junghwan grins, leaning over Chansik to kiss Dongwoo’s cheek. Dongwoo closes his eyes but manages to suppress his cringe, and Junghwan stares at him for a moment before nodding in approval. “You’re getting there.”
“Glad to hear it,” Dongwoo says.
Just as they turn the corner, the sidewalks and streets suddenly fill up with parents and children, and Junghwan takes Chansik and swings him up onto his shoulders, shouting, “You’re going to be the tallest one here someday!” and Chansik laughs, reaching his hands out to Dongwoo. “The three of us will make sure of it.” And when the doors open and children flood into the school, Junghwan runs in with them until a teacher stops him some ten meters in or so. Dongwoo watches Junghwan wrap Chansik in a hug and tell him not to forget his lunch and to listen in class and to talk to the other kids nicely, and it’s not that bad—the hallways are warm with heaters and children and funding, and luxuries that Dongwoo never had, but there’s a swell of pride inside him when Dongwoo watches Chansik shrugs off his tiny wool coat and underneath is that dark, new uniform, pressed and neat and oddly elegant. There’s a swell of pride inside him when Dongwoo realizes that this is only the beginning.
a/n: this was my original idea, but the reason i decided to change it was because i thought it was a little too heavy for christmastime. ;; but yeah, i hope you guys enjoyed it, always thank you thank you for reading!