Go Bok Dong loves the aisles of hardware stores, he always has. He remembers coming into the small DIY shops as a kid, when he still had family to go with. They remind him of having a home, of his parents taking him to pick out new wallpaper or picking up screws for the endless home improvement projects his dad took on, before they died and he was left with a brother who got himself in increasingly awful situations while trying to raise him properly and a well loved toolbox; of the small but happy apartment his older brother fixed up with him before An Dong Chil offered to trade his freedom for security. The toolbox had been stowed away at An Dong Chil’s apartment, where being useful had less to do with working on the sink and more with terrorizing his classmates. But he still ducks into any kind of hardware store when he can. The rows of light fixtures, glues, and paints give him peace; or at least the illusion of it before he has to report back to his new hyung.
It’s not until he’s living with Teacher No Ah and Judge Park Jin Ho that he actually fixes something again, with the toilet overflowing, No Ah fluttering around the house finding towels to put down and Jin Ho getting anything of value out of the bathroom. He found himself walking into the bathroom to turn the toilet’s water supply off before he even noticed, ignoring No Ah fretting that he’d get his pants wet and Jin Ho laughing fondly at his son’s haplessness.
But there was something nice about being useful again, about No Ah getting in the way and telling him they can call a part timer while Jin Ho pulled his son out, his voice bright with laughter while telling him to
‘Let the man fix it, son. He clearly knows what to do better than us. Right Bok Dong?’
There was something even nicer about being able to answer ‘yes, sir” with pride and not apprehension.
It was an easy fix in the end, he didn’t even need to take out the toolbox, but the Park men still cheered for him when he declared the toilet fixed and passed him a drink during dinner so they could toast to him. (and if that made him pink with abashed pride, well… no one here was going to tell on him. And he won’t tell that it feels like having a home again just yet)
reminder that I skewed the ages a bit in fic!
A month later he found himself looking for his dad’s toolbox for the first time in what felt like forever. Kang Ja needed some repairs around the house, so he’d offered to help.
(More accurately Kang Ja breaks down after calling for Jin Sang to fix a stuck drawer. Ah Ran and him turn just in time to see reality crash into her. They watch as a golden second of taut silence turns into Kang Ja Bracing herself against the counter and dry sobs she tried to contain wracked through her. Ah Ran gestures at him to leave and he does, but not before he hears Kang Ja’s litany of I’m sorrys at Ah Ran.
He hates the sound of it, pained and guilty; like it was her fault Jin Sang died, like she doesn’t deserves to be comforted over he husbands death.)
The image of his Kang Ja bent over the counter tortures him outside their door. He feels useless, he could at least try to help with Bang Wool’s problems as awful as they seemed. Kang Ja’s grief is so out of his depth and he just wants to help her.
He’s hit with an image of a small store that carries sand paper, and his feet take him to it before he’s really decided to.
He paces on the street in front of Kang Ja’s house after buying a couple sheets of sand paper, suddenly sure this is a terrible idea. He’d been basically asked to leave by Ah Ran, and if Kang Ja hasn’t calmed down some she’s unlikely to want him there. Eventually he settled down on the street to wait until an appropriate amount of time has passed to call Ah Ran and check if she’d like some help.
(That’s what he’s decided to say if he was asked. He actually paces for about ten minutes, doubles back down the street to the convenience store to get tissues and painkillers just in case, and then sits for about fifteen more minutes debating on wether or not to go back. He settles on calling Ah Ran to ask if it’d be ok to drop off the supplies now that he figures Kang Ja probably got through the worst of the crying. Ah Ran sounds relieved at the mention of aspirin, mentions that crying gives her mother terrible headaches. He feels a little bit glad for being able to anticipate Kang Ja’s needs, but quickly squashes the feeling down. Kang Ja is hurt, and this is the time to help her not pat himself on the back.)
Ah Ran looks more frazzled than he left her less than an hour before, she demands he give her the pain killers and just leaves the door open for him to step in once they’re in her hands. He closes the door and heads to the drawer that started it all while Ah Ran takes a glass of water and disappears into the hallway leading to Kang Ja’s room.
Ah Ran scrutinizes him when she comes back to find him emptying the drawer so he can take it out and sand it, it makes him nervous but she just tells him to clean it up when he’s done and excuses herself to take a shower. He takes it as a good sign.
Kang Ja thanks him for the drawer the next day, she ruffles her hand through his hair while telling him how he saved her from sorting through online reviews for repairmen. Her hand in his hair catches him off guard, and finds himself enjoying it for a beat before snatching her hand off of him. She looks at him with confused eyes, and a question in the furrow of her brow before she shakes it off. He knows it comes off a bit hostile when he bats her hands away, but he needs to draw a line somewhere. That he’s in love with her doesn’t mean he knows he shouldn’t be. (and having her that close is just as much torture as it is bliss). So he brushes her hands off him, call her an Ajumma.
He forces himself to remember the distance between them. Because sometimes he feels like she’s the love of his life, but she’s also a 32 year old mother and he knows this. And maybe the same part of him that rejected calling her noona gets agitated at the thought of having to only call her Ajumma, or Ah Ran’s Mom, or something else that makes her feel so ridiculously far away when she’s right next to him. But there are reasons he calls he Ajumma anyways. (Except in his head sometimes when she’s being ridiculous and he gets this weird glow that gathers in his chest there’s a fond but invisible sigh of Kang Ja. ‘Ajumma' also helps keep that glow from spilling over)
Kang Ja calls his name hesitantly, drawing him out of his thoughts. There’s a taut stillness in the air as she gathers herself to speak.
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry, about…. yesterday”
He’s not sure someones ever apologized for crying in front of him, but he doesn’t like it. He especially doesn’t like that it’s her, and when she looks like she’s going to elaborate on the apology his mouth volunteers to fix anything else they need in the house before his brain has time to catch up.
He knows he caught her by surprise when she looks up at him, mouth shaping around soundless words. So he continues to dig himself deeper into this hole.
“It’s really not a big deal, I’m pretty handy”
Her smile makes him think that maybe his mouth should be allowed to run without him sometimes. (He knows he’s fucked the second he thinks things like that, but he doesn’t really care as much as he should)