Kim Changmin had run away from home six times, now. He ruminated on this as he headed toward his best friend's house with nothing more than a backpack. He knew he was well-prepared, though, as he kept this fully packed running-away backpack in his closet at all times, hidden under his boxes of comic books and porn.
He had run away for the first time when he was four years old. His father had refused to give him a lollipop, so he'd fled to his Uncle Yoochun's place. That one was an overreaction, Changmin would readily admit, but it had taught him a valuable lesson. Never run away to Uncle Yoochun's place. Ever.
After that, he'd made sure to only run away for good reasons. For example, the second time was when he was six and his father had made him wear dresses and pigtails for a solid week because he wanted to know what it was like to raise a girl.
So anyway, Changmin knew quite a lot about running away. He knew what to pack, where to go, and how to be away just long enough for his father to start regretting his reprehensible behavior but not long enough for the man to call the cops. He had it down to a science. But he had a feeling this time would be different.
He sighed as he shifted the heavy pack on his back. As ridiculous as his father was, he'd really thought he meant something to the man. That his wants and needs counted for something in their house. But he had obviously been mistaken. "It's none of your business," his father had said, his eyes cold.
Min snorted rudely. None of his business? It was every bit his business if some strange man would be coming to live with them! It was his home, too! And who was this man, anyway? He'd known his father was dating, but he'd never mentioned that he was getting serious with anyone. What if this Yunho guy was a psycho pretty-boy killer who liked to marry unsuspecting men, move into their homes, and then kill them and rape their gorgeous, virile, 17-year-old sons?
Changmin shuddered. No thank you. He was totally straight, which was a miracle considering he'd grown up with the gayest father known to man. Uncle Yoochun was straight, but he wasn't much help in the role model department. The man had a new girlfriend every week despite the fact that his flirting technique consisted of being so greasy that every potato within a 50-mile radius would spontaneously deep-fry itself and become french fries.
And Min knew he was beginning to get tired because his mental metaphors were making no sense. Luckily, he'd walked a long way already and Junsu's house was only two blocks farther.
Changmin was a little bit worried about how he'd be received at Junsu's place. There was a risk that Kim-sshi would send him straight home and tell him to just work it out with his father, but Changmin hoped she'd hear him out and let him stay until he could find a place of his own.
He knew he could afford it; he had plenty of savings. Being a sensible young man, he hadn't squandered all of the money from his part-time jobs. He'd saved 80% of it, knowing that one day he would likely have to leave his father's house in a hurry and live on his own. (The other 20% had gone mostly toward food, comics, and porn.) He hadn't expected that day to come quite so soon, but he could roll with the punches.
The automatic porch light came on when Min approached Junsu's house. He smiled; he always felt welcome here. Even the lights were saying, "Come on in, Min! We love and appreciate you! We don't treat you like a dress-up doll or an action figure to use for our amusement!" He rang the doorbell and waited. The door opened.
"Changmin?" Kim-sshi frowned at him and sighed. "Aish, Kim Jaejoong, what have you done this time?" he heard her mutter as she led the way inside.
Kim Aeyoung sighed as she listened to the laughter of the two boys getting ready for bed upstairs. She had known the moment she had opened the door what was happening. She'd seen that ridiculous backpack twice before. Each time it meant Kim Jaejoong had done something stupid and his son had gotten fed up.
Jaejoong was a sweet man, but not a very good father, she reflected. It wasn't entirely his fault. He'd told her years ago, after the first time Changmin had run away to her house, that two-month-old Changmin had been dumped on his doorstep with just a blanket and a note pinned to his diaper. "It's yours. You can have it. Love, Bongcha."
The baby had been the product of a drunken night with someone Jaejoong swore to this day really, really looked like a man. Aeyoung thought he was in denial. How drunk did a person have to be to think he was sleeping with a man when it was actually a woman?
At any rate, he hadn't set out to have a child, and he really wasn't prepared to raise one, but he'd done his best. And really, he hadn't done too badly. Changmin was intelligent, resourceful, and very sensible. He was a good influence on her own son, who was flighty, loud, and... well... not very smart. If she had to help out very now and again by providing a safe house for the night, so be it. But this? Moving out?
She reached for the phone, dialing Jaejoong's number by heart.
"Aeyoung-sshi," he said in liu of a greeting. "He's with you, then?"
"Hello, Jaejoong. Of course he is."
"I'm sorry. I'll reimburse you for the food. Did he eat everything again?"
Aeyong had to smile. "Not quite everything." Then she sobered. Jaejoong sounded miserable. "So. I have Changmin's side of the story. Care to tell me yours?"
Jaejoong sighed. "I... what did he tell you?"
"No, honey. I asked you for your side of the story."
"Ugh. Well... I told him I'm getting married and he flipped out. It's like he doesn't want me to be happy! How come I'm not allowed to find love? I'm not just his father, I'm a person, too!"
Aeyong rolled her eyes, glad they were on the phone so she could react freely. "Jaejoong... honey.... You really need to talk to your son. He's planning on moving out for good this time. He's talking about getting an apartment."
"What?! He can't do that, how can he afford it?"
"He assures me he can. And honey... he's serious."
Jaejoong was quiet for a long moment. "So I have to choose between my son and the man I love? Is that what you're telling me?"
"No," Aeyoung said gently. "I'm telling you that you need to talk to--no. You need to listen to your son. Really listen to him. I don't think either of you did much listening today." Another long silence. "Come over tomorrow afternoon," she suggested. "Be here when he gets back from school. Can you do that?"
"...Yes. I can do that."
"I meant what I said. Listen."
"...wasn't exactly what she meant, but you know how Amber is, everyone thinks she's so tough so they take stuff the wrong way. So I said, 'that wasn't what she meant,' and Dongwook was all, 'how do you know what she meant, dorkface,' and Amber was all...."
"Mmm-hmm," Changmin mumbled, only half an ear inclined to Junsu's story. Most of his brain was concentrating on coming up with a plan. He couldn't stay at Junsu's place forever. He needed to start apartment hunting as soon as possible. He'd done some checking online during lunch and he might actually have time now to look at a few places.... He checked his watch. Yes, that was perfect. He could view one place per day after school until--
"Hey!" A high-pitched shriek and a punch in the arm from Junsu jostled him from his thoughts. "Are you even listening to me?!"
"No, not at all," Min answered, grimacing and rubbing the sore spot. Junsu made a noise like a wounded dolphin. "Listen, Su, you can go ahead home. I'm going to catch the bus downtown and take a look at an apartment. See you later."
"Oh! Wait!" Junsu grabbed his arm (in the same spot) and tugged him to a stop as he turned to go. "Um, you can't! Go today, I mean. Because, um... err...."
Changmin raised an eyebrow as Junsu's eyes did a strange acrobatics act in their attempt to avoid his own. They rested on the sidewalk, the street, the bakery across the street, the sky....
"My mom... is cooking a lot. For us! And she said, um... it's a special meal that you have to eat hot! Because it won't reheat well. And she'll be so upset if you come home late. So why don't you look at apartments tomorrow, okay?" Finally, Junsu met his incredulous gaze, giving a hopeful grin.
"Wow. You're the worst liar I've ever seen. That was pathetic! No wonder you can never get away with anything."
"What? I wasn't lying!" Junsu's eyes leapt away again.
"Uh-huh. And I'm the queen of Scotland." Min narrowed his eyes at his friend, his lips tightening in sudden realization. "My father's at your house, isn't he?"
"What? Your father?" Junsu laughed nervously and cut his eyes to the side again. "Where did that come from, haha. No one was talking about your father. Hehe."
Changmin sighed. "I should have known your mother gave in too easily last night. Alright, fine. Let's go."
"Great! But not because of your father. It's because--"
"--of all that delicious food that can't be reheated. Right."
Junsu gave him a relieved smile and they continued on, but Min's stomach started churning at the thought of having to face his father again so soon. What could they possibly say to one another that hadn't already been said? He really didn't want to see that cold look again, either. He'd known he was a burden, but to have it staring him in the face like that....
"Hey, sorry I wasn't listening before. Why don't you tell me that story from before again? I'll listen this time."
"Oh, sure! See, what happened was that Amber...."
Min just let the sound of his friend's voice wash over him, slightly loosening the tightness in his gut. No matter what happened, he'd still have Junsu, and Kim-sshi as well, probably. He'd be okay.
"...So Dongwook had to apologize to me in front of everybody! It was awesome." Junsu wrapped up his story just as they reached the front door to his house. "Wow, I have perfect timing. I am so cool."
"I guess that makes me cooler because I told you when to start talking," Min countered, hiding his nervousness behind a smirk as Junsu unlocked the door.
"Nuh-uh!" Junsu argued childishly. "It was me talking at just the right pace and knowing exactly how much time we had!" He opened the door. "Mom, we're home!"
Jaejoong startled when Junsu's voice rang through the house, sloshing hot tea over his hand and almost dropping his mug. He shot an apologetic look at Aeyoung and quickly wiped up the spill. "Sorry."
She smiled back reassuringly as she called back to her son, "Welcome home!" Then she turned back to Jaejoong. "Go on into the living room and wait. I'll send Changmin in." She hurried out to greet the boys in the entranceway.
Jaejoong took his mug and quickly poured another for Changmin before following her directions. They would both need something to hold onto during this talk. His stomach clenched uncomfortably as he heard the murmur of his son's voice in the hallway. Aeyoung was speaking to him now, probably telling him he was about to be ambushed. Aeyoung didn't see it that way, but Jaejoong was positive Changmin would.
A set of footsteps thundered up the stairs accompanied by Junsu's loud voice saying, "Okay, Mom! See you later, Changmin!" and then Changmin appeared in the doorway.
Jaejoong had to fight to hold his gaze. He son had never looked more like a man than he did today. His face was like granite, his eyes hard. Jaejoong took in his chiseled features, his tall stature, and his solid body and suddenly, inexplicably felt proud. I did this, he thought. I made this human being. I messed up a lot, but he's strong now, and more than ready to be on his own. I did that. I am his father.
And the knot in his stomach loosened a bit.
"Hi, Changmin," he said softly, feeling his lips curl up in a tiny smile. "Come and sit down. Aeyoung-sshi made us tea."
Changmin rolled his eyes but obeyed, coming over to take the second mug of tea but then moving away again to take a seat on the chair farthest from Jaejoong. Jaejoong lifted his mug to his mouth to hide an involuntary smile. Changmin was really still a kid, after all. "How was school?" he asked, once he could control his features.
"Fine," Changmin answered shortly, glaring at a spot just slightly to Jaejoong's left.
"Good. You... did okay? Last night?"
"Fine," came the answer, in the same tone as the first.
"Changmin...." Jaejoong put his mug down abruptly, deciding to quit the small talk and get down to business. "We need to talk."
"We already talked," Changmin argued, jaw clenching. "You said everything last night."
"I... last night didn't go the way I planned it. I didn't... it got out of hand and I'm sorry. I guess I was just... caught off guard. I didn't expect you to react... that way."
"What way? With shock? That my father has been dating someone seriously for months and never felt the need to mention that to me? That apparently I have no place in your life? Why would I be shocked by that?"
Jaejoong felt as though he'd been punched in the chest. "No place in my life? Where in the world did you get that idea? Just because I want to get married doesn't mean I love you any less!"
His son snorted and rolled his eyes. "Oh please, Dad." He spat the title as though it were an insult. "You said it yourself."
"When? When did I ever say something horrible like that?"
Changmin finally met his eyes but Jaejoong almost wished he hadn't. "It's none of your business."
"What do you mean? I'm asking you--" and then it clicked. He remembered. He heard his own voice saying those very words to his son at the end of their swift and brutal argument. Changmin hadn't said another word after that. He'd turned and gone straight to his room, slamming the door. Jaejoong hadn't seen him again that night, only heard the front door close behind him. "Oh," he whispered. "Oh, Minnie...."
He got up and rushed over to his son, falling to his knees and grabbing him in a hug, ignoring Changmin's attempts to get away. "Minnie, I'm sorry. Appa is sorry."
"Get off me!" Changmin grabbed both of Jaejoong's arms, trying to pry him off, but Jaejoong held fast.
"No, listen. Please listen. I didn't mean that. I'm sorry. It is your business because you're my son and I love you. I didn't... it came out wrong. Please forgive me." He held on until Changmin stopped struggling. "I meant that...." He sighed and finally let got, sitting back on his haunches and staring earnestly up at his son's face. "It's just that I need to have a life, too, aside from just being your father. I fell in love. Yunho is wonderful; he's everything I ever wanted in a man, and everything I ever wanted for you."
"For me? What do you mean, for me?"
Jaejoong smiled sadly. "As a role model for you. I know I haven't been a shining example of manhood for you. I tried, but I'm... I don't really know how. You know I grew up with your grandmother and all of your aunts. No one every taught me how to be a man. When you came into my life, I was scared. I thought you'd grow up like me, but somehow you... you figured things out on your own. But I felt bad that I couldn't teach you all the things little boys should learn from their fathers. Yunho can be that man for you, Minnie. It's many years too late, but he's here now. He can be a husband to me and a father to you. It's perfect!"
Changmin looked thoughtful, his eyes not so angry anymore. Encouraged, Jaejoong continued. "Last night, I... I got defensive, I guess. Because you seemed like you hated the idea right away. And I ended up saying something I didn't mean. You're right, it is your business. What I meant was that... that who I like... who I love, that's up to me. And... I'm going to see him, no matter what. He's going to be a part of my life, and I want him to be a part of yours. I really think you'll like him, Minnie." Finished, he looked hopefully up at Changmin. "Do you understand?"
Changmin was quit for a long moment before he sighed and spoke. "First of all, stop calling me Minnie. I told you I hate that. Second...." He shifted uncomfortably again and Jaeoong finally loosened his hold, standing and moving to sit on the chair next to Changmin's, leaning forward to simply place a hand on his son's arm. "Second," Changmin began again, "I know you have your own life, I never said you couldn't. But why didn't you ever talk to me about it? Why did you wait until you wanted to get married before you even told me?"
"Because I didn't want a parade of men going in and out of your life. I dated regularly, trying to find that special person, but I never could. I met a lot of great guys, some Im still friends with, but none I wanted to bring home as your father. That was always on my mind. Not only 'is he good for me,' but 'is he good for Minnie.' And none of them were, really. They all had good points, and some came really close to being your second Dad. But there was always something holding me back and we always ended up splitting.
"With Yunho, I felt it on our very first date, but I was afraid. I couldn't risk hurting you by jumping into things. And I never mentioned him to you because, well... I was afraid to. I think I was afraid if I spoke his name out loud to you, it would be over. And then when things went wrong it would hurt you too, and not just me. But I told him all about you. He teases me that I never talk about anything but you. He loves you already. He wants to meet you. He wanted to meet you months ago, but I.... It was my fault. I was just scared."
Changmin nodded slowly. "I guess I can understand that. But marriage is a big thing, Dad." (And Jaejoong's heart soared because there was no anger or irony in that title now. Changmin had just said it naturally.) "You want me to just accept that this guy is coming into our home. That's huge. I can't live with someone I don't know."
"You're right," Jaejoong nodded. "I can't expect that. But I don't want to you move out. Stay with me, Min, at least until you finish high school. I can let go of you when you go away to college, but not before. Please stay?"
"And this... Yunho guy?"
"We weren't going to get married right away. We're engaged. We haven't set a date yet. We can... you can get to know him, first, before anything permanent happens. We'll... we'll hold off on the wedding until after you graduate. So come home, please? Give him a chance?"
Changmin sighed and closed his eyes wearily. "Honestly. You're hopeless."
"Is that a yes?"
Jaejoong whooped and jumped to his feet, cheering loudly. "Yaaay, my Minnie is coming home!"
"Oh my God, Dad, you're ridiculous!"
Jaejoong ignored the insult and swept his son into his arms, waltzing him around the room until Changmin threatened to rescind his forgiveness.
Jaejoong dipped him one last time before releasing him to the safety of Aeyoung's arms, who had come to the doorway when she heard all the racket. He could only grin as Changmin glared balefully at him, enduring Junsu's loud teasing with ill grace. His son was coming home and he was getting married to the man he loved. Life couldn't get any better.
Changmin stared long and hard at the man standing in the front hallway of their house, sizing him up. He was well-built and tall, only just taller than Changmin himself. He had a small, handsome face and an affable smile. He looked comfortable next to his father, who was clutching the man's hand desperately and giving Changmin puppy-dog eyes. Please like him, said those eyes. Please be nice to my man.
"So, you're Yunho," Changmin finally said.
"Yes, I'm Yunho," came the easy, friendly answer. None of his nervousness showed in his voice. Changmin only knew he was nervous by the way he clutched Jaejoong's hand just as desperately as Jaejoong clutched his. "Jung Yunho. Nice to meet you. I hope we can get to know one another well." He bowed politely.
"Yes," Changmin answered. "I'd like that." He waited until his father gave a relieved sigh before he asked, feigning innocence, "So, are you guys sleeping together, yet?"
He had to run away to Junsu's for the night shortly thereafter, but it was well worth it.
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