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All I Need Is You

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"I'm sure you're all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today.”

Jungkook sits at the head of the table of an obscure diner, somewhere they’ve never met before. The red pleather booth seat squeaks as he shifts forward, steepling his fingers on the table next to his untouched plate of hash browns.

Hoseok’s cheeks are stuffed with pancakes. Taehyung drizzles an uncouth amount of blackberry syrup on his own stack. Namjoon is neatly working his way through an omelette. Yoongi nurses his third cup of coffee while Jimin digs through a yoghurt and berry parfait, one leg slung over Namjoon’s lap.

“Why isn’t Jin-hyung here, again?” he asks around a mouthful of granola.

“He’s busy scoping out a case for work today,” Jungkook says. He lowers his voice. “But I also… didn’t invite him. I need to talk to you guys, alone.”

Hoseok swallows with a loud gulp. Taehyung finally looks up, setting down the half-empty maple syrup jar with a tiny yet ominous thud.

“Alone…?” he asks warily. 

Yoongi frowns. “But his birthday isn’t for another few months. You can’t be planning a surprise party this far in advance, right?”

Jungkook shakes his head, his gut clenching uncomfortably around a mix of shame, anticipation, and embarrassment. He needs their help. But he’s not proud of it.

Jimin takes a hard look at Jungkook’s expression and makes a horrified noise, setting down his spoon with a clank. “Jeon Jungkook… you’re not breaking up with him, are you?”

“What? No!” Jungkook splutters indignantly. He sees Yoongi relax out of the corner of his eye, Hoseok taking a loud slurp of orange juice, his eyes flickering between them all like a ping pong match. 

Namjoon calmly lays his fork down and pins Jungkook in his steady, all-knowing gaze. “Before we all start jumping to conclusions, why don’t you tell us what’s troubling you, Kook?”

Jungkook nods gratefully. He clears his throat. Rearranges his hands. Stares down at the table.

“Well, uh, you see, I’ve been trying to, uh… propose. To Jin-hyung.”

“Propose marriage?” Jimin gasps. Yoongi rolls his eyes.

“What else would he be proposing?”

“Oh my god, this is so exciting!” Hoseok cheers, clapping his hands, Taehyung grinning like a maniac beside him. Jungkook smiles a bit, their enthusiasm infectious. Because yeah, it is pretty exciting. Or at least, it’s supposed to be.

Namjoon catches the twinge of discomfort in Jungkook’s expression. “So then, why don’t you look happy?”

Jungkook huffs, slumping back into his seat. “Because Jin-hyung is so dense sometimes,” he half-whines, half-grumbles. “I’ve been trying to propose to him for weeks, but he hasn’t caught on! For someone cosmically destined to facilitate the success of true love, he’s somehow blind to the signs when they pertain to his own life.”

Jimin is gaping at him, Taehyung’s brow is raised. Yoongi looks confused. “What do you mean, you’ve been proposing to him for weeks?”

Jungkook sighs and pulls a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. He unfolds it, showing them the carefully-outlined list covered in marks and crossed-out sentences. 

“I’ve tried proposing to him five times. And every time, something goes wrong.” He runs his hands through his hair, feeling it stick up on his forehead, just as frazzled and high-strung as his insides. “Maybe… what if this is fate, saying that we’re not meant to be together?” He chews his lip, looking to Namjoon. “Can the universe make mistakes? Is this a sign that, you know… our love isn’t meant to last?”

“Of course not,” Namjoon says firmly, reaching a hand across the table to clasp Jungkook’s, his palm warm and steadying. “You and Jin-hyung are meant to be. Seeing you two together is like watching a rose unfurl its petals in full bloom, or a new star system being born. Like beautiful inevitability.”

“Gross,” Yoongi mutters. Jimin elbows him in the ribs.

“Why don’t you walk us through it,” Namjoon continues, ignoring Yoongi. “Jin-hyung loves you to his very core. I have trouble believing that he simply wouldn’t notice you confessing your endless, undying love for him.”

Jungkook looks down, fiddling with his sleeve. “Well, the first time was my fault,” he admits. “I had the perfect day planned; we went to a double feature romantic comedy special at the theater, got ice cream, took a stroll through the park. Basically a recreation of the day Jin-hyung finally asked me out. It’s one of my favorite memories.”

Hoseok sighs dreamily around a mouthful of pancakes.

“I timed it perfectly, too,” Jungkook says. “We reached the bridge over the river right at sunset, and I got down on one knee, speech planned, ready to propose… and when I reached into my pocket, the ring wasn’t there.”

Taehyung makes a sad noise, and Jimin’s expression pinches.

“I had to pretend I was just tying my shoe,” Jungkook says dejectedly. “But I figured, hey, that’s alright. We still had a great day together. I could propose another night.” 

He slides the crumpled list across to Namjoon. Taehyung and Jimin lean over on either side, reading over his shoulder.

Propose with rings in champagne glasses, like Toby Maguire in Spider-Man,” Namjoon says, reading the first item aloud. 

“Seokjin went to the restroom right beforehand,” Jungkook says glumly. “By the time he came back, the waiter had already filled our glasses before I could stop him. And unlike Spider-Man, I wasn’t planning to get the ring wet.” He sighs. “I put it on the table instead, but Seokjin thought it was just part of the fancy decorations.”

Jimin reads the next item on the list. “Hire a skywriting plane.”

“It was supposed to say, ‘Seokjin, will you marry me?’ But they spelled his name wrong. He didn’t realize it was for him.” Jungkook shrugs. “At least I got a full refund for that one.” 

Propose during the ending scene of L'elisir d'amore.”

“That’s his favorite opera. You know his weakness for an epic love story.” Jungkook chuckles sardonically. “I should have known that one would be a bust, though. He was crying so hard during the final scene, he couldn’t even see me holding the ring. So I put it away and grabbed a pack of tissues instead.”

“Did you gently wipe his tears away, like something out of a movie?” Hoseok says, clearly pancake-drunk. 

Jungkook glowers at him. “Yes, of course I did,” he mumbles. “But that’s not the point.” 

Write a love letter in sidewalk chalk around the apartment building,” Taehyung reads next. “Ooh, that sounds cute!”

“It was,” Jungkook says forlornly. “Until it started raining halfway through our walk and the actual proposal part got washed away.” 

Yoongi clucks his tongue. “Why didn’t you just tell him the poem was for him? Get down on one knee, propose in the rain? That shit’s romantic.”

“I just… I want it to be perfect, you know?” Jungkook says quietly. “Jin-hyung deserves nothing less. He deserves the most perfect proposal anyone could ask for; the plan should go off without a hitch.” Jungkook fiddles with his napkin, fingers tearing at the edges subconsciously. “I really wanted to do something with photography, you know, since he supported my dream from the very beginning. But with the holidays coming up, I’m too swamped with clients to make room for a personal project, and time is ticking.”

“What do you mean?” Jimin asks, leaning forward.

Jungkook smiles a tiny bit, cheek flushing with the soft pink roses Seokjin loves to tease him for.

“I found a set of engagement rings hidden in the closet. I think he wants to marry me, too.”

Hoseok and Taehyung gasp simultaneously, Jimin’s eyes tearing up as he buries a gigantic smile into Yoongi’s chest. Namjoon reaches over to clap a hand on Jungkook’s shoulder.

“Congrats, Kook.”

“No, no congratulations, yet!” Jungkook insists. He gestures to his list, still in Namjoon’s other hand. “There will be nothing to congratulate if the love of my life doesn’t notice any of my proposals!”

Yoongi takes a thoughtful sip of coffee. “Or, you could just wait for Seokjin to propose. It will be the same result, in the end.”

“You’re so boring,” Jimin groans, shoving away from Yoongi’s shoulder, stealing his coffee and dumping three packets of sugar and a hefty splash of cream into the black liquid. Yoongi sighs and pours himself a new cup from the communal pot.

“It’s not the same,” Jungkook says. “Jin-hyung… He was so patient with me. He’s loved me so kindly, so unassumingly, from the very beginning. He makes me the best version of myself. Now it’s my turn to show him that he’s my entire world. I can’t let him do all of the work, right?”

Namjoon surreptitiously wipes his eyes on his shirtsleeve, sniffling quietly. Taehyung leans forward with a devilish smile.

“And this has nothing to do with your insatiably competitive nature?”

Jungkook clears his throat and glances away. “Of course not.”

Hoseok giggles. “Well, I think it’s a great idea, Kookie.”

“Yeah, I’m in,” Jimin says, bouncing in his seat excitedly. “How can we help?”

Jungkook smiles in relief. “Well, I’ve tried everything on my list. I could use some fresh ideas.”

“Excellent, I love brainstorming,” Jimin says with a clap of his hands, snatching the list from Namjoon and digging a ballpoint pen out of Yoongi’s back pocket, ignoring Yoongi’s squawk of indignation. Jimin rips off the cap and turns the paper over to the blank side. “Alright, who wants to start?”

“I’ve got some friends at the aquarium,” Namjoon says. “Does an underwater proposal sound romantic enough?”

“Only if it’s in the tropical fish tank,” Hoseok says. “Or the shark tank.”

“Ooh, yes, sharks are romantic as hell,” Taehyung confirms. Jimin nods, jotting the idea down.

Namjoon taps a finger against his chin. “Seokjin loves wordplay, and Jungkook loves photography… is there a way to combine the two?”

Jimin grins, writing something down. “Yes, yes there is. Alright, any other ideas?”

“I know lover boy has a sweet tooth. I’m sure we could plan something using sweets from the candy store,” Hoseok says, swirling a bite of pancakes in an alarmingly large pool of syrup. Yoongi eyes him with thinly-veiled disgust.

“What happens if your teeth fall out?” he asks drolly. “Do the other fairies leave money under your pillow?”

“Don’t be mean to my boyfriend, elf man,” Taehyung says. Hoseok sticks out his tongue.

Jimin clears his throat, sternly rapping the pen against the table. “Order, order in this court! Alright, a candy proposal has been added to the list. Any other ideas?”

“I could help you make something,” Yoongi says, looking to Jungkook. “It’s busy season at the workshop, but I’m sure I can fit something in.”

“Oh, that would be great,” Jungkook says gratefully. Jimin kisses Yoongi’s cheek and jots down the final bullet point.

“Okay, that gives us four excellent chances to convince Seokjin to marry you. Not that he needs convincing!” Taehyung is quick to add, eyeing Jungkook’s utterly shredded napkin. “He’s going to say yes. You know that.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jungkook mumbles. “It’s still nerve-wracking, though.”

“Well, you’ve got us on your side,” Jimin says with a kind smile, squeezing Jungkook’s hand and sliding him the list. “Seokjin won’t know what hit him.”

Jungkook stares down at the crumpled paper, at Jimin’s neat cursive outlining their plan of action, and a weight dissipates from his shoulders. He no longer must face this endless cycle of failure alone. There’s no way they’ll even make it to the end of the list; surely, Seokjin will be properly wooed and ringed-up after just one more attempt. Jungkook is nothing if not determined. And with friends like his, how could he possibly fail?

 

• —– ٠ ♥ ٠ —– •

 

Jungkook peers into the seahorse tank, nose nearly pressed to the glass as he watches two tiny figures dance through the strategically-placed underwater ferns. He feels a tug on his hand, fingers interlacing with his, and turns to find Seokjin grinning at him. It’s one of those unbearably fond smiles that Jungkook knows are saved just for him, the ones that make his heart thump in his chest and the tips of his ears tingle with warmth.

Seokjin tugs him closer by their linked hands, nuzzling their noses together, pressing a kiss to the tip of Jungkook’s.

“Hyung,” he whines, glancing around. The room is fairly empty, just a few kids and their parents petting the sea urchins, but he still feels shy, knowing that the whole world can see him melting under Seokjin’s gaze.

Seokjin chuckles. “It’s your own fault. I mean, who looks this cute while staring at a couple of fish?”

Jungkook rolls his eyes, lips twitching against a smile. Seokjin pokes his forehead.

“Alright, cutie, where to next? I hear there’s a riveting jellyfish display just past the sea turtles.”

A jumble of nerves alights itself in Jungkook’s stomach; the shark tank is just past the jellyfish room. He takes a deep breath and assumes his most charming smile, squeezing Seokjin’s hand.

“Sounds great, hyung.”

They meander through the jellyfish room, giggling at their distorted reflections in the tall cylindrical tanks, marveling at the rainbow of bioluminescence, sneaking a few chaste kisses in the darker corners of the room. Jungkook casually glances at his watch; according to Namjoon, the divers are set to begin in five minutes.

Seokjin slings an arm around Jungkook’s shoulders, tapping at his watch with a finger. “Anxious to see the sharks, are we?”

“O-oh, uh—”

“Me too,” Seokjin says, grabbing Jungkook’s hand. “I heard a rumor that they’ve got a special display planned today.”

Jungkook’s stomach swoops, lurching like the plummet of a rollercoaster. “W-what?”

“While you were in the restroom, I used my charms on the front desk clerk,” Seokjin says, winking. “Apparently, something exciting is about to go down in the shark tank. And I want us to have a front row seat.”

Jungkook’s heart beats ferociously as they walk through the aquatic tunnel leading to the main shark room. An octopus slides up the arch. Good luck, its waving limbs seem to say. You’re going to need it, a swordfish adds as it swims past.

Jungkook swallows, hoping Seokjin won’t notice the slight clamminess of his palm, the way his teeth nervously gnaw his lip. He can feel the ring box in his pocket, small enough not to be obvious but firmly pressed against Jungkook’s thigh, its contents humming with excitement, anxious to be let out of its confines and slip onto the hand it is destined to claim.

Hopefully, today you will finally be free, Jungkook thinks, patting his pocket for good luck.

They arrive in the shark tank, an astounding room comprised entirely of the glass walls of the tank, even the ceiling and floor. Sharks flit to and fro, some huge, some tiny, their toothy smiles making Seokjin chuckle.

“Kook, look at that one,” he snickers, pointing to a hammerhead with the dopiest array of teeth Jungkook has ever seen. He glances at the shark, giggling, then diverts his attention to Seokjin. His eyes are shining, full lips spread in a casually glorious grin, dark hair pristinely parted over his forehead like a movie star. He takes Jungkook’s breath away. He wants to marry this man so, so badly. He sends a silent prayer to the sharks, begging them to come to his aid.

He hears someone clear their throat. Glancing around the small crowd, he spots Namjoon in the corner. Namjoon taps his cosmic wristwatch, then gives Jungkook a thumbs up, pointing to the tank.

A trio of divers are swimming towards them, each holding a sign. Jungkook shakes out his hands. Alright, show time.

The divers approach, holding up their signs, spelling out the words Will you marry me?

A gasp of excitement ripples through the crowd as people converge towards the glass for a closer look. Jungkook reaches into his pocket, slipping down onto one knee, and just as his fingers close around the ring box, Seokjin gasps from above him.

“Kook, get up, get up! Someone is proposing!”

Jungkook blanches, fingers frozen in his pocket. Seokjin is looking around, searching the small crowd, clearly not understanding that he is the one being proposed to.

“Uhm…”

“Darn, I can’t see anyone,” Seokjin pouts. “You know how much I love spontaneous proposals, the cupid in me swoons every time.” He sighs dramatically, crouching down in front of Jungkook and fixing one of his shoelaces. “There we go. We really need to get you some better shoelaces.”

Jungkook blinks at him, brain an empty shell. Seokjin shakes his head in disappointment.

“I’ll have to let my homie at the front desk know his tip was a bust.”

Seokjin stands, and Jungkook slowly follows on shaky knees, fingers dejectedly slipping from his pocket. The ring suddenly feels infinitely heavier. He knows, objectively, this moment could still be salvaged. But it’s no longer the perfect proposal Seokjin deserves.

He tries to keep his expression neutral, embarrassment crawling up his spine, but when he glances at Namjoon, his friends gaze is painfully sympathetic, mouth scrunched into a frown. He shakes his head, makes a cutting motion to the divers, and mouths an “I’m sorry” before slipping from the room. The divers swim away, the crown murmuring in confusion before dispersing.

Jungkook allows himself to wallow in the sadness of unintentional rejection for a few moments. But then Seokjin is tugging him forward, his beautiful lips babbling about angelfish and coral reefs, and Jungkook lets his disappointment ebb away like waves, determination filling the gaps.

He still has three more ideas on the list. He’s determined to make the next one work.

 

• —– ٠ ♥ ٠ —– • 

 

“Do you really think this will work?” Jungkook frets.

“Definitely,” Jimin says. There’s a determined glint in his eye and an identical fervor in Taehyung’s, and Jungkook basks in their confidence. The ring box is safely tucked in the pocket of his winter coat, the snow-covered park grounds sparkling beneath the night sky and city lights. Jimin takes him by the shoulders, expression business-like.

“Alright, you know the plan. When you give the signal, Tae will plug in the lights and I’ll whisk away the snow. There’s no way Seokjin can miss it this time.”

Taehyung snorts. “If he does, he’s really got stardust for brains.”

“Hey,” Jungkook complains. “Make fun of your own boyfriend.”

“Never,” Taehyung retorts. Jimin rolls his eyes, looping an arm through Taehyung’s and dragging him away.

“Okay, Kook, it’s in your hands now!” he calls as he and Taehyung whisk around the bend. “Good luck!”

Jungkook stands for a moment, blanketed in the quiet serenity of fresh snowfall, the air crisp against his cheeks. He adjusts his camera strap around his neck and pulls his beanie over his forehead, slipping his hands into his coat pockets as he walks forward. His boots crunch against snow, fingers jostling the ring box in his coat. He focuses on timing his breaths to his steps, allowing himself to feel a few jolts of excitement. Surely, this will be his last proposal.

When he sees Seokjin, he halts in his steps. Seokjin is standing beneath a streetlamp, face bathed in a golden glow, the tip of his nose pink from the cold. He’s wearing a long black coat that emphasizes the striking cut of his shoulders, the thick burgundy scarf wound around his neck accentuating the light flush of his cheeks. A picture of sophistication and beauty. Jungkook’s breath catches. His fingers tighten around the ring box, determined.

Seokjin looks up when Jungkook’s boots crunch closer, angelic face lighting with a smile.

“Hi,” he says softly, stepping forward into a kiss. His lips are cold but plush, his mouth warm and inviting as Jungkook sighs against it. His hands come up to rest against Seokjin’s lapels, the chill of the December evening vanishing as warmth spreads through his chest like nutmeg and cinnamon.

Seokjin hums, stepping back. He grabs one of Jungkook’s hands, massaging his cold fingers.

“I knew you would forget your gloves,” he sighs with a knowing smile, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a spare set. He slides them over Jungkook’s hands, and Jungkook’s heart thumps in his chest because Seokjin always takes such, such good care of him, always anticipates his needs, always treats him with the firmest delicacy. He makes Jungkook feel special; he always has.

Now, it’s Seokjin’s turn to be taken care of.

“Come on, let’s walk,” Jungkook says, offering his arm.

“Ah, I knew I was dating a gentleman,” Seokjin says, clearly pleased as he loops his arm through Jungkook’s and they step forward onto the snowy path. Cars rush past on the city streets, but the further they walk into the depths of the park, the quieter it becomes, until it feels like just the two of them enveloped in the magical stillness of winter, Despite the city’s light pollution, a few stars dust the sky, twinkling down and reminding Jungkook that the universe is on their side. Or at least, he hopes so.

“Feels like we’re in a snow globe, doesn’t it?” Seokjin murmurs. His profile is striking, moonlight and warmth glistening on his skin.

“Yeah,” Jungkook agrees dreamily. Seokjin glances at him, a quiet smile tilting his lips. He pauses on the path, one gloved hand reaching out to thumb at Jungkook’s cheek.

“Are you cold? Your cheeks are pink.”

Jungkook isn’t cold. Seokjin’s gaze is so wonderfully, all-consumingly warm that Jungkook can feel it to the tips of his toes, tingling on his skin, burning in his fingertips.

“No,” Jungkook whispers in response.

He feels lost in Seokjin’s eyes, deliciously cliché, the thumb on his cheek leaving streaks of heat that make Jungkook shiver. Seokjin tugs Jungkook’s beanie further over his ears, gently tucking his hair beneath the knitted fabric. He leans forward and places a kiss to each of Jungkook’s cheeks, the tender touch of his lips nearly burning, Jungkook’s heart quivering.

“C’mon,” he says, taking Seokjin’s hand and linking their fingers, tugging him forward. “There’s something I want to show you.”

They walk a bit further, deeper through the tree-lined path that glistens with a spectacular display of icicles and frosted pine needles (Jungkook is certain they are Jimin’s doing). He appreciates the extra flair, the way the moonlight reflects off the ice and glimmers against Seokjin’s cheeks.

In the center of the park sits a dormant fountain, and just beside it, a large, conspicuous hill of snow, about ten feet tall and sitting on the edge of a copse of fir trees. Tasteful wreaths and red ribbons decorate the nearby streetlamps, glittery gold ornaments handing from the spindly limbs of the trees near the fountain, their orbs catching the moonlight. Jungkook feels a thrill of excitement; he knows Jimin and Taehyung are hidden among the fir trees, an extension cord trailing beneath the mound of snow.

He unwraps the camera from around his neck and grabs the tripod he’d strategically hidden behind a bush earlier. Seokjin watches with amusement, brow quirked.

“You really planned ahead, huh? Just to snatch a photo of your gorgeous boyfriend?”

Jungkook hides his blush in his coat collar, hoping Seokjin won’t notice the imperceptible shake to his hands, the way the fog of his breath has increased in speed against the cold air.

“I would photograph you all day, if I could.”

There’s the light crunch of snow, and then Seokjin’s arms are around him, his chest firm against Jungkook’s back, the tip of his nose cold where it nuzzles against Jungkook’s neck. Jungkook giggles at the feeling, squirming away on instinct, but Seokjin’s hands pull him back, holding him tight in his embrace.

“When did you get so charming, huh?”

Jungkook scoffs, making the last adjustments to his camera. “I’ve always been charming, hyung.”

Seokjin hums, trailing his nose up and down Jungkook’s neck, leaving a trail of goosebumps in its wake. Jungkook shivers slightly, feels Seokjin’s lips smirk against his skin, then wriggles free, his chest feeling airy yet full, excitement fizzling in his veins.

“Okay, let’s go stand in front of that big snow pile, yeah? It’ll be cool, like a big white backdrop.”

“Whatever you say, Mr. Photography Expert,” Seokjin says with a wink, strolling towards the snowbank. Jungkook adjusts Seokjin’s position a few times, angling his body just right, then jogs back to the camera to start the self-timer and dashes to take his place.

Seokjin smiles down at him, eyes sparkling with moonlight, so beautiful Jungkook feels his breath catch in his throat.

“Look at the camera, hyung,” he breathes.

Seokjin’s hand reaches out, cradling Jungkook’s cheek.

“Hmm… I think I’d rather look at you.”

He leans down, his lips achingly sweet as they brush against Jungkook’s. There’s a quiet whoosh, a faint dusting of snow settling on Jungkook’s coat and dusting his hair, and he presses into the kiss, Seokjin’s other hand wrapping around his waist in a gentle, claiming touch. Butterflies awaken in every part of Jungkook they can reach: his stomach, his chest, his lips. He hears the camera snap a photo, and he lets out a nervous breath, heart trembling.

Seokjin pulls back with a soft, moonlit smile. His cheeks are bathed in a soft glow of fairy lights, something he hasn’t seemed to notice as he tugs Jungkook back towards the camera.

“Alright, let’s see how cute we look.”

Jungkook gulps nervously, glancing back; where the snow pile once stood, the snow has been whisked away to reveal a phrase spelled in lights. He glances to the smattering of trees. Jimin pops his head out with a grin and a thumbs up, Taehyung right behind him.

They reach the tripod and Jungkook wills his pulse into submission as he takes the camera, pushing a button, pulling up the most recent photo. Seokjin leans over his shoulder.

“Oh! The snow must have fallen, I didn’t realize there was a full display behind us!”

“Do the lights spell something?” Jungkook asks, feigning nonchalance.

Seokjin squints down at the photo, and Jungkook zooms in for good measure, past the image of them wrapped in each other’s arms to focus on the letters.

“Marry… me…” Seokjin reads aloud.

Jungkook holds his breath.

Seokjin chuckles. “Well, I don’t know which park employee made this sign, but they misspelled ‘merry!’”

Jungkook blanches. He looks up at Seokjin. “What?”

“You know, merry Christmas, merry me. It would have been a cute play on words if they’d spelled it right.”

The butterflies in Jungkook’s stomach plummet, their sudden absence jarring. He looks down at the photo, at the tenderness of Seokjin’s expression as they kiss, at the fierce way Jungkook clings to him, at the slight sprinkling of snow in the air and a question that bathes them in gold.

He sighs quietly, then turns the camera off.

“Yeah. Would have been cute.”

He quietly packs up his camera, slinging it back around his neck and strapping the folded tripod across his back. He tries to keep his expression in check, but there’s a weight on his shoulders, again an uncomfortable prickling behind his eyes. How much more obvious could he be?

Was he right? Is this a sign from the universe that it’s not meant to be? That… they’re not meant to be?

Gentle fingers tip his chin upwards and his gaze meets Seokjin’s.

“Hey,” Seokjin says softly. “You with me? What’s got you frowning so hard?”

Jungkook swallows. He lets himself lean into Seokjin’s touch, lets his eyes slip closed and some of his exhaustion show.

“Nothing,” he murmurs. “Just tired.” He turns his face and presses a kiss into Seokjin’s gloved palm. “Just want to be with you.”

“And here I am,” Seokjin says. Jungkook can hear the affection in his voice, and he clings to it, reveling in the way Seokjin looks at him: as though the stars in the sky pale in comparison, as though Jungkook is his entire world.

There are galaxies in your eyes, Seokjin has always told him. I get lost in them. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

“There’s a coffee shop down the street that makes the best hot chocolate,” Seokjin says, eyes twinkling. “I’m in the mood to have a nice, warm drink and go home and watch a cheesy holiday movie in bed. What do you say?”

Jungkook can’t help but smile. “You’re so predictable,” he mutters fondly, and Seokjin giggles, looping his arm through Jungkook’s.

“Ah, yes, but that’s what you love about me.”

“Yeah,” Jungkook says, leaning into Seokjin’s side. “It really is.”

They continue down the snowy path towards the street. As they pass the tiny group of trees, Jungkook meets his friends’ gazes; Taehyung’s mouth is dropped open, brow puckered in disbelief, while Jimin is blatantly pouting, something fiery in his eyes. He points at Seokjin sharply, lifting his arms in an angry what the fuck motion. Jungkook offers them a smile and a shrug. He hears Jimin sigh as they disappear around the bend, the fairy lights flickering into darkness behind them.

But Jungkook tightens his arm around Seokjin’s, his presence steady and warm beside him. Jungkook’s resolve strengthens with each crunch of their boots against sparkling snow.

He’s not out of options yet. He has faith that this next one will finally open Seokjin’s eyes, finally get the engagement ring out of the box and onto his finger.

As they say: third time’s the charm.

 

• —– ٠ ♥ ٠ —– • 

 

Jungkook twirls the ring between his fingers, the gold band catching the light and reflecting the rainbow of colors surrounding him. He sighs and sets the ring on his palm, gently closing his fingers around it and begging the universe to please, please make it work this time.

Hoseok slips into the adjacent seat at the table. His store is closed, the usual group of sugar-high kids and exhausted parents nowhere to be seen among the candy-lined shelves, and Jungkook is thankful for the quiet. It gives him space to breathe, to imagine the warmth of Seokjin’s eyes, like cinnamon rolls straight from the oven, melty and sweet and brimming with subtle spice. To think of his lips stretching into a radiant smile, his mouth shaping the word yes.

Hoseok plops a bag of candy onto the table. It’s a clear bag the size of his palm, filled with ring-shaped candies in reds, pinks, and purples.

“We’ll hide the real ring in the middle,” Hoseok says. “I’ll give you a little bit of plastic wrap so it won’t get all sugary.”

“Thanks, Hobi,” Jungkook says, taking the bag. He bites his lip. “Do you think this will be enough? Doesn’t it feel a bit... simple?”

“Sometimes, simple is best,” Hoseok says, gently taking the ring from Jungkook and wrapping it in a small square of clingwrap. “A bag of his favorite candies, a walk through the park, his favorite person by his side… I don’t think Seokjin could ever be disappointed by a day like this. Or by you.”

He gives Jungkook a comforting smile and hands over the wrapped ring. “Would you like to do the honors?”

 

 

Jungkook meets Seokjin outside of their favorite pastry café. It’s a blissful winter day, air frosty and sidewalks covered in slushy snow as the sun peeks from a tiny window of blue in an otherwise-gray sky. Jungkook takes it as a good omen. 

Seokjin smiles delightedly when Jungkook offers the bag of candy. 

“Trying to sweeten me up, huh?” 

Jungkook shakes his head. “You’re always sweet, hyung.” 

Seokjin winks. “Good answer. Let’s walk, shall we?” 

They stroll through the city, the tips of their shoes wet with snow, scarves tucked high to their chins. Seokjin eats from his bag of candy as they walk, and Jungkook surreptitiously eyes him from his peripheral, waiting for his fingers to brush against the ring, for him to pull it out in confusion, for the gold and cling wrap to catch the rays of winter sun that clearly, surely, must be a sign from the universe that today is the day Seokjin finally puts two and two together. Jungkook hopes it happens on a sidewalk with minimal slush. But he’d kneel in wet snow a hundred times if it meant slipping that ring onto Seokjin’s finger. 

The bag is about halfway full when they reach the park. Jungkook can see a glint of metal peeping through the candies. He looks at the scrap of blue sky to steady himself, rehearsing his proposal speech in his head though he knows the words by heart. He’s dreamed about them, recited them in his sleep, practiced as he brushed his teeth in front of the mirror each morning as Seokjin brewed coffee and sang to his plants in the kitchen. Jungkook has been ready for this moment for a long, long time.

Seokjin tilts the candy bag in Jungkook’s direction. “Want some?”

“N-no, hyung, they’re all yours.”

Seokjin smiles softly, tapping Jungkook’s nose. “You spoil me.” 

He pops another candy into his mouth, sighing happily as he chews, and Jungkook can’t resist tugging him to a halt and standing on his tiptoes to kiss the sugar crystals from Seokjin’s lips, giggling as Seokjin’s arms wrap around his waist to pull him closer, crushing their chests together. 

“Hyung,” he protests against Seokjin’s mouth, “you’re squishing me.”

“Mmm,” Seokjin hums. He squeezes Jungkook even tighter, catching his breathy laugh. “I need your love to keep me warm in this cold, harsh winter.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Jungkook groans. 

“I love you,” Seokjin counters. 

And even after years together, those words on Seokjin’s tongue still bring heat to Jungkook’s cheeks. 

“I love you, too,” he says, something bouyant caught in his throat and threatening to lift him up towards that patch of cornflower blue sky like a bundle of balloons. 

Seokjin pops another candy into his mouth, then presses a kiss to Jungkook’s nose, his breath smelling of sweet cherry and grape. “Come on, I wanna see the ducks.” 

They follow the path towards the duck pond, passing spindly trees frosted with tiny icicles, grass coated in a sheet of sparkling white. They pass a businesswoman holding an extra large coffee as she rapidly fires instructions into the phone pressed to her ear; they pass a boy with his grandfather, the elderly man leaning on the boy's arm as they navigate the ice, the boy chattering about his model airplane project for school; and as the duck pond nears, they pass a mother and her daughter, a tiny young girl in a creamsicle-orange coat and yellow mittens.

One of those mittens grasps the string to a red balloon. Seokjin nods to the mother and smiles at the girl. But just as they walk past, the balloon slips from the girl's hand. It floats into the wintry air, a splash of crimson against gray sky, lifting towards that tiny promise of blue.

The girl's lip wobbles. Seokjin stops walking. He turns to her just as a fat tear rolls down her cheek.

"Oh, don't cry sweetheart, it's okay," Seokjin says, crouching down to her level as she sniffles pitifully. Jungkook's heart thumps, warm and melty like a pool of molasses; Seokjin has always been good with kids. It's his heart of pure gold, the love and magic that flows through his veins and bubbles from his lips with otherworldly ease.

Seokjin glances up at the mother, asking for silent approval before he reaches out to gently wipe the tears from the little girl's cheeks.

"I know, it was a pretty balloon, huh? Is red your favorite color?" She nods forlornly. Seokjin smiles. "Well, I've got something even better than a balloon, just for you!"

As if in slow motion, Jungkook watches Seokjin extend the bag of red and pink candies, offering them to the girl, and ice-cold panic jolts down his spine.

He doesn't think, just lurches into motion, jumping forward and snatching the candy away just as the little girl begins to reach for it.

Jungkook freezes. There's a tense pause.

Seokjin's head whips towards him, confusion and shock painted over his features. The girl looks up at Jungkook with tear-sparkled, puppy dog eyes.

Jungkook swallows, feeling like a first-degree asshole.

"Jungkook?" Seokjin asks, arching his brow. Jungkook clears his throat.

"She, uh, she can't have them," he whispers. Seokjin's brow raises further, and Jungkook clutches the candy to his chest, protective.

"And why not?" Seokjin asks.

There is no judgement in his tone, but his eyes are wide, and Jungkook feels like shit. Is he really the kind of person who steals candy from a baby? From this tiny child who lost her balloon and whose puffy winter coat swallows her up like a microwaved marshmallow?

Jungkook looks down at his feet. "It's just... they're... I—"

The girl's lip begins to wobble again. Jungkook sighs defeatedly.

He turns around and hunches forward, hiding the bag from view as he reaches inside and fumbles around until his fingers find the ring. He grasps it in his fist and hastily shoves it in his pocket, keeping his gaze averted as he turns back and offers the candies to the girl again.

"Here," he mumbles. He sets the bag in her palm and gently closes her fingers around it. "They're really yummy. I hope you like them."

He glances at the mother, shame burning his ears. "Sorry," he mutters.

Seokjin pats the girl on the head and stands, slowly, his eyes flitting over Jungkook with intense concern, a kind of Seokjin-specific x-ray vision that Jungkook swears can reach into the deepest, darkest depths of his soul, gentle and unassuming even as it prods him open and leaves him bare. He normally doesn't mind it; he's thankful, immeasurably so, that Seokjin can take one look at him and unravel the knots that bunch and tighten in his chest.

But today, Jungkook doesn't want Seokjin to see those tangled knots. He can't let him.

So, he turns on his heel and walks away. He hears Seokjin mumble a hasty goodbye before trotting after him, shoes slapping against the snowy slush as they arrive at the edge of the duck pond.

There are quite a few ducks today, gleefully quacking as their little webbed feet paddle beneath the water and they duck their heads beneath the surface, chilly rivulets beading down their backs. A few of them swim over to Jungkook, hoping for treats.

He watches his breath fog in the winter air, listens to the symphony of quacking, feels Seokjin come to stand beside him. He doesn't say anything for a minute. The two of them just stand on the edge of the pond.

Jungkook feels fluttery, high-strung. He shoves his hands in his pockets and hunches his shoulders against the cold. The ring bumps against his fingers, still covered in plastic wrap, and an all-too-familiar chord of melancholy resonates in his chest.

Seokjin's soft voice eventually breaks the silence. "My favorite ducky couple is here," he says, pointing.

It's a pair he and Jungkook have been watching since last summer; a handsome male duck with iridescent green, black, and white plumage, and a female duck of plain brown, but with a small, heart-shaped white marking on her head. They always swim next to each other, quacking quietly, secret conversations that Seokjin likes to narrate aloud to Jungkook, claiming his cupid powers can translate love no matter the language.

Jungkook cracks a tiny smile at that, the tension shattering just enough to let him breathe again. Seokjin turns to him. Jungkook feels gentle fingers brush at his bangs, trailing down to cup his cheek.

"What's going on, Kook? Are you okay?"

Jungkook resists the urge to scoff, a tiny and unwelcome seed of sad, disappointed bitterness threatening to take root in his chest.

He's quiet for another moment, breathing, scuffing his foot against the snow.

"It's nothing, hyung,” he eventually sighs. “It doesn't matter."

"Of course, it matters," Seokjin says, tilting Jungkook's face until their eyes meet. "You matter. And I can tell something's been on your mind, lately. You can't hide from me, Jeon Jungkook."

Seokjin pinches his cheek, and Jungkook scrunches his nose, and the little seed in his chest quietly withers and disappears.

He fiddles with the ring in his pocket. The tip of Seokjin’s nose is pink, as it always turns in the cold, and Jungkook is tempted to just lay everything out in the open. To give up his dream of the perfect proposal and just get it over with, end the cycle.

But he can’t propose when he’s frustrated. He certainly can’t propose after stealing candy from a little girl. And Seokjin deserves more. Isn’t that the point of this whole thing?

Jungkook takes his hands out of his pockets and uses them to tug Seokjin closer, pulling him into a hug that might be a bit too crushing. But Seokjin doesn’t complain. He simply gathers him close in arms that Jungkook would trust to carry him to the ends of the earth and beyond. He lets himself melt, the chill of winter nothing compared to the warmth of Seokjin’s embrace.

“I love you,” he whispers.

Seokjin turns his face into Jungkook’s neck, deliberately pressing his cold nose against Jungkook’s skin. Jungkook jumps, giggling as Seokjin squeezes him tight and nuzzles his freezing cold nose under his ear.

“And I love you,” Seokjin says back. His voice turns playful. “No matter how many little kids you steal candy from.”

Jungkook groans, hiding his head in Seokjin’s shoulder.

“I’ve just been busy with holiday shoots for clients,” Jungkook says. It’s not technically a lie. “Just a little stressed, is all. I’m sorry for letting it affect our day out.”

“Don’t be sorry, love,” Seokjin says, peppering a few kisses against his neck. “It’s okay to be stressed.” He pulls back and boops Jungkook’s nose. “Let’s go home and get you into a nice warm bath, hm?”

Jungkook pouts. “Just me?”

“Kook, we’ve already established that the tub isn’t big enough for both of us—”

Jungkook intensifies his pout. Seokjin sighs, rolling his eyes, lips twitching at the corners.

“Alright. Fine. We’ll take a nice warm bath.”

Jungkook grins in triumph, taking Seokjin’s hand and linking their fingers as he tugs him back down the path towards home. Seokjin leans in.

“Honestly, I’m glad you stole that candy back,” he whispers. “I really didn’t want to share.”

 

• —– ٠ ♥ ٠ —– • 

 

 

“You know that poem you wrote for Seokjin in chalk?” Yoongi asks, taking a sip of coffee. “What if we made it into a song?”

Jungkook blinks at him. “A song?”

“Yeah, I know you’ve got a great voice. I’ve been tinkering with a new prototype in the workshop, a music box that mixes recorded vocals with the classic sound of a steel comb. We can add your song to it, and maybe you could give it to him at the Christmas party next week—”

He’s cut off by a dramatic gasp. “A love song? A marriage proposal love song?” Jimin says, head peeking over the edge of the couch.

“Exactly.”

Jungkook bites his lip. “That does sound really romantic…”

“Are you kidding? It’s so romantic Seokjin’s giant cupid heart is going to explode into a bajillion sparkles the second you get down on one knee,” Jimin says, bouncing excitedly, the couch squeaking in protest.

“I do think Seokjin would love it,” Yoongi adds gently. “I know you’re not big on being the center of attention, but it would just be the seven of us, just family.”

“Like something straight out of a Hallmark movie,” Jungkook says, lips twitching into a reluctant grin. “And we all know those are his favorite.”

“I bet he’ll cry,” Jimin says gleefully. “Oh, that’s so romantic,” he sighs, flopping back into the couch cushions. He pops back up a moment later, glaring at Yoongi. “How come you never use these romantic ideas on me?”

Yoongi rolls his eyes. “Anyway, Jungkook, what do you say?”

Jungkook wraps his hands around his mug, tapping his fingers against the edge. “Are you sure you’ve got time? Isn’t this supposed to be the busiest time of year for elves?”

“I’ve always got time for my favorite human,” Yoongi says with a grin, reaching across the table to ruffle Jungkook’s hair. Jungkook smiles down into his coffee. He glances around the kitchen, at the homey touches he and Seokjin added together, the plants on the windowsill, the photographs lining the hallway, the red letter framed on the mantle.

“Can we make the music box red?” he asks. Yoongi follows his gaze, smile softening.

“Absolutely.”

“So romantic!” Jimin squeals again, rolling around on the couch. “This is it, Kookie, this will be the one! He’ll figure it out this time, I just know it.”

Jungkook giggles, letting Jimin’s enthusiasm seep into his heart, letting Yoongi’s encouraging smile fill him with hope. Every Hallmark movie needs a Christmas miracle, right?

 

 

Ever since meeting Seokjin, Jungkook's Christmas Eves have been filled with laughter, friendship, and infallible love. This year he finds himself in Taehyung and Hoseok's apartment; gaudy tinsel is wrapped around an enormous tree, string lights draped over every available non-flammable surface, ornaments and spice-scented candles glittering in every crevice.

Jazzy holiday music croons through the speakers in the kitchen, where Jungkook is currently loading a plate with mini-quiches and watching Seokjin laugh at one of Namjoon's long-winded jokes in the living room, his head thrown back, hair tinged with lights, soft lips stretched into a grin as he clutches the loveseat. Jungkook's heart thumps in awe. His hand moves absentmindedly, an ungodly amount of quiches stacked in a mountain on his plate. He nearly drops them when an elbow nudges his side.

"Hello, Earth to Jungkook?" Taehyung snickers in his ear. Jungkook startles, cheeks flaring with color. He clears his throat.

"I was just, um, getting some snacks," he says. Jimin sidles up next to Taehyung and looks down at Jungkook's overfilled plate, eyebrows quirking.

"Planning to feed a small army with those quiches?"

"The army is going to starve if he doesn't stop ogling Jin-hyung."

"I wasn't ogling," Jungkook interrupts, hastily putting some of the quiches back.

"Sure, sure," Jimin says. He leans forward and lowers his voice to a whisper, eyes gleaming. "So, when are you gonna do it? Yoongi wouldn't spill."

Jungkook bites his lip and glances at Seokjin, but the living room is out of earshot, and Namjoon appears to be explaining the aforementioned joke to a blank-stared Hoseok as he sips spiked eggnog.

"During the gift exchange," Jungkook whispers. A familiar jangle of nerves and anticipation clank around his stomach. He pats his pocket where the velvet ring box hides, reassuring, his veins humming with excitement like a sugar rush from one too many Christmas cookies. "I think he's really going to love it," Jungkook murmurs. "Yoongi and I worked hard on it."

"Of course, he'll love it." Jimin squeezes Jungkook's shoulder with an easy smile, and Jungkook is grateful for his vote of confidence. But then Jimin's squeeze turns painful, his blue eyes flashing. "But I swear to god, if there isn't a ring on his finger by the end of the night, I will freeze you both into ice sculptures," he hisses.

Jungkook gulps. Taehyung calmly grabs a brownie from the table of treats and shoves it into his mouth.

"Seriously, you just need to tell him, dude," he says, voice muffled, cheeks bulging. Jungkook squares his shoulders.

"I won't need to tell him. He'll figure it out this time, I know it."

Jimin glances at Taehyung, the two of them sharing a partly pitying, partly exasperated look. Jimin's hand lets go of Jungkook's shoulder in favor of gently taking his hand.

"Okay, but if he doesn't—"

A beefy arm slings around Jungkook's shoulder, Namjoon's steady presence enveloping him like a warm blanket. "Stop pressuring him, eh? Everything will be fine. Let Kook do things on his own terms."

Jimin sighs but steps back, and Taehyung shoves a second brownie into his mouth guiltily.

"Thanks guys, really," Jungkook says, giving each of them a small smile. "I appreciate you helping me through this. It means a lot."

Jimin's gaze melts like snow on the cusp of spring, and Taehyung gives him a chocolately grin, reaching out to pull him into a hug, Jungkook giggling when Jimin jumps in to hug his waist and Namjoon's arm doesn't leave his shoulders. They smell like cookies and spice cakes and magic, and Jungkook hugs them back tightly as best he can with two arms and a plate full of mini quiches.

"Hey, stop monopolizing my boyfriend!" a familiar voice calls. "He's supposed to be hand-feeding me quiches, not canoodling with you lot!"

Namjoon pulls back with a snort. "Canoodling?"

“Yes, canoodling.

“I don’t think Jin-hyung knows what canoodling means,” Hoseok whisper-shouts from the couch. Yoongi hides a smirk in his eggnog and Seokjin shoots them a glare.

“Nonetheless, the only things my boyfriend should be canoodling with are me and those quiches.”

“Yup, definitely doesn’t know what it means,” Taehyung mutters. Jungkook grins to himself and rushes into the living room, laughing when Seokjin pulls him into his side so tightly he nearly spills the plate full of quiches.

Jimin’s eyebrows waggle. “Well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go canoodle with my boyfriends under that mistletoe over there,” he says, dragging a flustered Namjoon into the hallway. Yoongi makes a disgruntled noise before setting down his mug and scurrying after them. Seokjin sighs dramatically, opening his mouth, and Jungkook obediently feeds him a bite of quiche.

Jimin and Yoongi return a few minutes later, towing a distinctly rumpled and rosy-lipped Namjoon behind them, and settle back onto the couches in the living room. A Christmas tree shines brightly in the corner, a menorah glimmering in the windowsill, nostalgic holiday tunes drifting from the kitchen like the scent of freshly baked cookies, cozy and comforting.

As the night progresses, they all laugh and sing and drink boozy hot chocolate, eating their weight in Christmas cookies. Seokjin sneaks Jungkook away for their own rendezvous under the mistletoe, and Jungkook feels light, almost frothy, as if his very soul is bubbling with a joy so intense his body cannot physically contain it. Only Seokjin’s soft hands and familiar lips keep him grounded, his smile the most beautiful gift Jungkook could ever receive.

Finally, the moment arrives: the Secret Santa exchange. A yearly tradition among them. But this year, the stakes are higher than usual.

Yoongi had rigged the drawing to allow Jungkook to carry out his masterplan, and the group agreed to save his gift for last.

Namjoon receives a hand-knitted sweater from Yoongi; Hoseok, a glittery eyeshadow palette from Jimin; Yoongi, an engraved pocketknife from Hoseok. Seokjin gifts Taehyung a set of expensive silk pillowcases, Jungkook gets a rare collector’s edition of The Alchemist from Namjoon, and Jimin shrieks when he unwraps a designer leather jacket from Taehyung.

And then, there’s only one gift remaining.

Jungkook’s palms are sweating, his heart racing so fast it hurts. He figured that after six proposals, he would have gotten over the nerves by now.

Seokjin turns to him with a sparkling grin.

“I guess that makes you my Secret Santa,” he says, placing a big, smacking kiss on Jungkook’s cheek. “Aren’t I lucky?”

There’s a tense sort of anticipation in the air, everyone’s eyes on them expectantly. Jungkook feels his cheeks heat from the spotlight and he ducks away to grab Seokjin’s present, carefully wrapped in silvery paper and tied with a bright red bow. He gently sets it in Seokjin’s lap.

“Merry Christmas, hyung,” he murmurs.

It’s silent as Seokjin unwraps his gift, just the crinkling of paper and the faintest hint of Sinatra drifting from the kitchen. Taehyung’s leg is jittering, Jimin’s hands clutching at Namjoon for dear life. Even Yoongi sits at the edge of his seat, eyes intense. Seokjin unravels the bow and drapes the red fabric around Jungkook’s neck with a wink.

The paper falls away. Seokjin gasps at the ornately-carved wooden box beneath. It’s made of a deep, rich-toned wood, carefully sculpted by Yoongi with designs drawn by Jungkook. Seokjin traces over the images, fingers imperceptibly shaking.

“Kook…” he breathes. Jungkook’s heart is thrumming against his ribcage, the ring box burning a hole in his pocket.

Seokjin lifts the lid of the box to reveal an inlaid mirror and a deep, red velvet lined space, perfect for storing photos or letters. There’s a small rectangular nook just below the mirror, where Jungkook hopes he’ll store his ring at night. And in front of the mirror, a delicate angel unfolds and begins to swirl, shimmering white wings stretched behind it, a red heart-shaped gem clutched in its outstretched hands.

As the angel spins, music begins to tinkle from within. Seokjin gasps.

“A music box?” His eyes shine as he looks at Jungkook. “Oh, it’s gorgeous, Kook, thank you—”

Shh, listen to the song!” Taehyung interjects. Jungkook’s pre-recorded voice has just begun to sing over the delicate music, soft and intimate:

 

If my heart were a river, its currents would rush to you

With every beat, every ebb and flow, its course is straight and true

You are my reason

You guide my path

You are me, I am you

 

Seokjin stares at him, eyes glassy, the tips of his ears flushing red.

 

The universe moves for us, the galaxies full of our stars

I want to stay in your sky forever, in this world where you shine so brightly

With your hand held in mine, it’s like I’m flying above the clouds

You are the sunlight that weathers my every storm

 

No matter the distance, no matter the obstacles

I want to walk every path with you

My hand in yours, your hand in mine

 

Jungkook slowly reaches into his pocket, fingers wrapping around the little black box.

 

Life with you is filled with color

Please take my hand, and never let go

Please take my hand

And say you’ll—

 

There’s a sudden crash, the sound of glass shattering, a muted whimper. Six heads whip towards the sound.

Taehyung is crouched in the kitchen entryway, his hands laying in puddle of spilled champagne and shattered glasses. His face is pale, eyes wide and horrified.

“Tae!” Hoseok gasps, springing up from the couch and rushing to crouch beside him. “Baby, are you okay?”

“Yes, yeah, I’m fine,” Taehyung brushes him off. “The song, did I interrupt the song?”

Seokjin looks startled. “Yes, but—"

“Play it again,” Taehyung says desperately, eyes imploring, lip trembling. “I’m fine, really, just, please play it again—”

“Tae, you’re bleeding,” Namjoon murmurs. He had come to crouch on Taehyung’s other side, inspecting one of Taehyung’s palms. “This cut is pretty deep, and I think there’s some glass stuck inside. We should take you to the emergency room.”

“No, please,” Taehyung whispers. “You have to replay the song, you have to—”

“Taehyung,” Seokjin says, gently but firmly. His hands close the music box with a tiny thud of finality. Jungkook’s fingers feel frozen in his pocket. “I promise I’ll listen to the song again when I get home. But right now, I’m the only one sober enough to drive, and I’m taking you to the ER.”

“B-but—”

“No buts,” Seokjin says. Hoseok whispers something in Taehyung’s ear, and Taehyung finally droops, head hanging in defeat.

Jungkook slowly pulls his hand from his pocket, notably empty, trying to stop the icy feeling from spreading up his fingers and into his chest, trying not to let the disappointment tarnish what has been a magical night of love and friendship. But it’s hard. He was so close. He can’t help but feel that the universe is taunting him, dangling his and Seokjin’s red threads just out of reach.

Hoseok and Namjoon help Taehyung up from the floor, and Seokjin turns to Jungkook, taking his hands. “Kook, thank you for your gift,” he murmurs, eyes fiery in their intensity. “I’m sorry you couldn’t finish giving it to me properly. I promise we can have a do-over when we get home, alright?”

“S-sure,” Jungkook mutters, low enough that the crack in his voice isn’t noticeable. “It’s alright, hyung. I’m just glad you like it.”

“I love it,” Seokjin says seriously. He gives Jungkook’s cheek another kiss, more chaste than before, but just as fervent. “And I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Jungkook whispers. Seokjin carefully hands him the music box and stands, rushing to the front hall to grab his coat and keys.

“Kook, are you coming?” he calls out as he helps Hoseok hobble Taehyung through the door.

“No, no, that’s alright. I’ll stay to help clean up,” Jungkook manages to call back, and then the door shuts, the room drenched in stifling silence, Bing Crosby’s festive voice suddenly sounding like nails on a chalkboard, mocking him.

“Oh, Kookie,” Jimin murmurs. He stands, moving towards Jungkook, but Jungkook stands just as abruptly, clearing his throat.

“It’s alright, really, it’s no big deal.”

Namjoon frowns. “You don’t have to say that if you’re not really fine—”

“I’m fine,” Jungkook snaps. Namjoon’s eyes widen, and Jungkook swallows, hanging his head. “I’m sorry. I just…” He sighs. “Can someone drive me home?”

“Sure, Kook,” Yoongi says quietly, standing from the loveseat. “I’ve only had one glass of eggnog tonight, I’m fine to drive.”

Jungkook nods, staring down at the music box in his hands, chest hollow. He says his goodbyes, giving Jimin and Namjoon hugs, wishing them happy holidays. He’s quiet as he follows Yoongi to his car, quiet as he slips into the passenger seat, quiet as he buckles his seatbelt and Yoongi slips into the late-evening streets.

Jungkook feels bitter, selfish. What kind of person is he, to be brooding while his friend is injured? To feel the ring in his pocket like a dumbbell, weighing him down, feeling like a curse more than a blessing? To be doubting the universe when its forces are what brought Seokjin into his life to begin with?

He struggles to find the light amidst the crushing doubt, to remember that Seokjin has his own set of engagement rings hidden in their apartment. That he wants this, just as much as Jungkook does. Maybe the timing was off. Seokjin is the cupid, after all, the one in tune with fate’s grand design; perhaps Jungkook should just leave the romantic gestures to him.

Yoongi lets him sit with his thoughts for the entire ride home, just the radio murmuring quietly between them. But when they pull up in front of the apartment, he lays a hand on Jungkook’s knee, squeezing firmly.

“It doesn’t matter where you ask him, or when, or how,” he says. “Seokjin has never loved anyone the way he loves you. That’s all that matters.”

Jungkook says nothing. He sits in the passenger seat and stares at his apartment until the knots in his chest begin to unravel and the vice around his lungs loosens. Yoongi’s hand never leaves his knee.

Jungkook takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly, feeling the last dredges of self-pity fizzle into nothing. “Thanks, hyung.”

Yoongi pats his knee. “Play it for him again.”

Jungkook nods, giving Yoongi a thankful smile before unbuckling his seatbelt and trudging up the steps to his and Seokjin’s apartment, feeling Yoongi’s calm gaze follow him as he unlocks the door and slips inside. He flicks on the lamp in the entryway, knowing Seokjin will need the light when he arrives home. He dumps his keys in the bowl in the kitchen, and he’s on his way to the bedroom when something makes him pause.

It’s the red letter, proudly framed in their living room, front-and-center. It has always been blank to Jungkook, just a piece of ruby-red paper with invisible words, but he has noticed the way Seokjin’s eyes soften every time he sees it, the way his gaze glows with the gentlest embers when he glances in its direction. He knows how the letter makes Seokjin feel, how it makes them both feel. And right now, in a half-dark apartment with an engagement ring in his pocket and a music box clutched in his arms, it makes Jungkook feel calm, soothed and reassured. The red letter may seem blank, but he knows what it says. He can feel its words echo in his heart, growing louder and louder as he makes his way to the bedroom and sets the music box on the nightstand, hides the ring in his hamper, strips into his pajamas, brushes his teeth. The words pulse through him like a promise, and as he crawls into bed, his heart feels distinctly warm, his veins pulsing with something fuzzy and golden. Assurance.

He tries to keep his eyes open to wait for Seokjin, but the sudden contentedness eases him into a light sleep, eyelashes fluttering as he struggles to stay awake. He eventually hears the front door open and close, gentle footsteps down the hall, the quiet rustle of clothes being removed.

“Kook?” Seokjin whispers. “You awake?”

Jungkook tries to respond, but his limbs are filled with molten starlight, heavy and warm. He feels a gentle hand brush the hair from his forehead and plush lips press against his brow, feather-light, and it pushes him over the edge into a sleep filled with roses and angels and the glittering stars of an endless galaxy.

 

• —– ٠ ♥ ٠ —– • 

           

Jungkook wakes to soft breaths puffing against his neck, a warm arm slung across his waist, and wintery sunlight streaming through the bedroom curtains. He blinks his eyes open, scrubbing a hand across them before turning his head. His nose nearly brushes Seokjin’s where his face is nestled in the crook of Jungkook’s neck.

Jungkook’s breath catches, his heart stuttering and swelling in his chest. Seokjin’s expression is relaxed, angelic in sleep, his full lips slightly parted, his dark hair tousled over his brow. Jungkook carefully cards a hand through the strands, pulse fluttering when Seokjin’s arm tightens around him and he nuzzles further into his touch.

“G’morning,” Seokjin mumbles, voice deep and thick with sleep. Jungkook’s stomach somersaults, as it always does when he awakens to find Seokjin in his arms and their phones on the nightstand and their clothes hanging side-by-side in the closet. All of the small, intimate, domestic things that make Jungkook feel as though he’s on top of the world.

“Good morning,” Jungkook murmurs back, scratching gentle patterns against Seokjin’s scalp. He feels Seokjin smile against his skin, feels a warm kiss placed in the juncture between his shoulder and neck, feels his heart positively melt into a happy puddle in his chest.

Seokjin yawns, squeezing Jungkook flush against him, then props himself up on an elbow and gazes down at Jungkook with sleepy eyes, their fondness palpable.

“Merry Christmas, Kook,” Seokjin says softly. He leans down, pressing a gentle kiss to Jungkook’s cheek, and Jungkook turns his head so their lips meet. Seokjin melts into him, their lips slightly chapped and breath faintly stale, but Jungkook wraps his arms around Seokjin’s broad shoulders, pulling him close, letting him feel how his heart races in his chest and his veins shimmer with gold.

Seokjin pulls back after a minute, lips rosy, eyes sparkling. He traces a finger over Jungkook’s collarbones, smiling when Jungkook involuntarily shivers.

“What should we make for breakfast? I’m thinking pancakes, maybe waffles—”

He squeals when Jungkook rolls them over, trapping Seokjin beneath him with a cheeky grin. “I was thinking of something else for breakfast.”

“Jungkook!” Seokjin laughs, pushing at him with no real force, squirming when Jungkook leans down to graze his teeth against his neck and playfully bite his shoulder. They tussle for a bit, sharing kisses and touches that neither of them escalate into more. And for the millionth time, Jungkook is struck by how much he loves this man, how intensely he craves these simple, joyful moments with his world in his arms and their hearts beating in tandem.

“Pancakes,” he eventually says, muffling the word against Seokjin’s lips. Seokjin hums, making no move to stop kissing him, his hands smoothing down Jungkook’s back with intent.

“Hm, you sure about pancakes? I seem to recall you wanting something else to eat…”

His hand squeezes Jungkook’s ass and Jungkook snickers, squirming out of his hold, grinning at Seokjin’s overly-dramatic pout. “Sorry, hyung, you’ve waited too long and now I’m actually hungry. The only thing I want in my mouth are delicious, fluffy, made-with-love pancakes.”

“I’m pretty sure my ass is delicious, fluffy, and made with love,” Seokjin huffs, “but whatever. Since I love and adore you so, so much, I will make you special Christmas pancakes.” He gives Jungkook a chaste kiss, then moves to get out of bed. Jungkook quickly wraps his arms around Seokjin from behind, holding him in place.

“I love and adore you so, so much,” he says genuinely, punctuating each word with a soft kiss to Seokjin’s neck. He feels Seokjin smile. And at that moment, Jungkook’s stomach growls, loud and insistent. Seokjin laughs, patting Jungkook hands against his stomach.

“Alright, you heard the boss. Pancakes first, declarations of love later.”

They stumble out of bed, slipping on sweatpants and a pair of ugly Christmas sweaters they’d bought the week before, brushing their teeth side-by-side in front of the bathroom mirror. They head to the kitchen through the hallway filled with pictures of them and their friends, every single photograph taken by Jungkook himself.

Jungkook starts a pot of coffee while Seokjin grabs pancake ingredients from the cupboard.

“Will you make it with vanilla and cinnamon, the way I like?” Jungkook asks as he grabs mugs from the cupboard. Seokjin scoffs, pointing at him with a wooden spoon.

“The audacity, Jungkook, seriously. All these years together and you think I don’t know how you like your pancakes?”

“So, that’s a yes?”

Seokjin rolls his eyes and points to the counter stools.

“Just sit down and let me prepare you a magical breakfast, alright? Sheesh.”

Jungkook snickers, smacking Seokjin’s butt as he walks past.

“And put on some Christmas music while you’re at it!” Seokjin adds, the tips of his ears distinctly pink as he turns back to the pancake mix.

Jungkook settles into a stool and rests his elbows on the counter, watching as Seokjin ties an apron around his slim waist, the front reading WORLD’S HANDSOMEST COOK. As Seokjin mixes pancake batter – adding a generous splash of vanilla extract and hearty dash of cinnamon – Jungkook gets a Christmas playlist quietly tinkling through their speakers.

Seokjin hums while he cooks, voice clear and soft as he ladles pancake batter into the pan. The plants on the windowsills gently lean towards him, their leaves unfurling happily, drawn to Seokjin’s voice and the beauty he exudes in effortless waves.  

“You want chocolate syrup on these? Whipped cream? Holiday sprinkles?”

“Hm?” Jungkook blinks, lost in his admiration. He clears his throat. “Oh, yeah, gimme the works.”

“I thought so.” Seokjin winks at him, maintaining eye contact as he flips a pancake without looking, and holy shit, Jungkook is so, so in love with him.

“Marry me,” he blurts, voice soft.

The second pancake slips from the spatula, landing on the floor with a splat.

Seokjin gapes at him. “What did you just say?”

“Marry me,” Jungkook says again. He gets off the stool, moving to Seokjin and gently prying the spatula from his hands.

Seokjin’s eyes are wide, his hands shaking as Jungkook gathers them in his own. And now, locked in Seokjin’s gaze, Jungkook realizes he’s been a fool. They never needed some fancy, elaborate proposal, because their love has always been like this: calm, steady, and comforting, intimate in the simplest ways. As constant as the universe. As endless as the stars in the sky. Like sunrise, destined to come every morning despite the storms of yesterday.

“Kim Seokjin,” he says.

“Oh, my god.” Seokjin’s voice is thick.

“Until I met you, I never knew what it meant to truly love someone. I never knew that love could be so patient, so giving, so strong. I never knew it could shape me into the best version of myself.”

He sinks down onto one knee. Seokjin gasps, eyes glimmering with unshed tears.

“I will keep loving you every moment of every day for the rest of my life, and all of the moments after.” He can feel the emotions working in his own throat and in the way his hands clutch Seokjin’s for dear life, skin to skin, pulse to pulse. “Seokjin, will you—”

“Yes!” Seokjin says, tugging Jungkook up and into his arms. He buries his face in Jungkook’s neck. “Yes, yes, yes!

“You didn’t even let me ask,” Jungkook chuckles, winding his arms around Seokjin’s waist. Seokjin quietly sniffles against his shoulder.

“You technically asked me at the beginning, so it still counts.”

Jungkook grins. “Alright.”

He can feel Seokjin’s heartbeat through his apron, strong and just as frantic as his own.

Seokjin chuckles into Jungkook’s sweater, watery-sounding and delighted. “You beat me to it,” he says, pulling back with a happy sniffle. His lashes are clumped with tears, his nose and cheeks pink, and Jungkook has never seen a vision so achingly beautiful. “I was going to propose to you on New Year’s Eve. I had the rings and everything.”

“I know,” Jungkook says smugly. “I found them.”

Seokjin gapes at him. “You found them? When?

“A couple months ago,” Jungkook says with a shrug. He tugs Seokjin close, pressing a smile into his cheek, kissing away an errant tear. “So I knew I had to be quick. It took a few tries, but you finally caught on.”

Seokjin cocks his head. “Took a few tries? What do you mean?”

Jungkook muffles a noise into Seokjin’s chest, half-sigh, half-groan. “It’s embarrassing,” he mumbles.

“No, seriously,” Seokjin presses, loosely shaking him by the shoulders with a tiny grin. “What do you mean?”

Jungkook bites his lip, then confesses. “Well, I uh… I’ve been trying to propose to you for awhile now.” He scratches the back of his neck. “Nine times, actually.”

Seokjin blinks at him, mouth opening and closing. “Nine times?”

Jungkook nods. He holds up a finger. “One moment, please.”

He leaves a bewildered Seokjin behind and jogs to the bedroom, fetching the engagement ring from his hamper and grabbing the music box on the nightstand. When he returns, Seokjin is tossing the batch of pancakes – thoroughly burned – into the trash with a sheepish look.

Jungkook places the music box on the counter with the utmost care. “Open it again,” he says gently.

Seokjin brings a hand to his mouth, gaze flitting from the box to Jungkook.

“Kook, are you telling me—”

Jungkook opens the music box. The tiny cupid begins to spin, the tinkling melody begins to play, and Jungkook’s pre-recorded voice begins to sing, this time finishing the song to its completion.

Seokjin’s eyes are teary again, his lip trembling. “Oh, Kook, I’m so sorry. You were trying to propose to me, oh god, and I wouldn’t listen—”

“Hey,” Jungkook says, quickly stepping over to Seokjin and taking his trembling hands again. “It’s alright, hyung. I would propose to you a thousand times, if that’s what it took.”

Seokjin cups his cheek, eyes brimming with infallible tenderness. He dips his head down, lips just brushing against Jungkook’s before he suddenly pulls back with a gasp.

“The park,” he says, expression horrified. “With the—the photo. It literally said marry me. Oh, my god,” Seokjin moans, cheeks flaring with color. Jungkook laughs, a lightness bursting in his chest that he hasn’t felt for weeks. Now, in the light of day with Seokjin in his arms and the smell of burnt pancakes in the air, he can look back on his disastrous proposal attempts with levity.

“And—and the aquarium?” Seokjin asks. Jungkook nods, and Seokjin groans again, hiding his face in his hands, ears burning crimson.

“There was a skywriting plane, too,” Jungkook adds with glee. “And the chalk, and the candies, and—”

Seokjin yanks him forward and captures his lips, hands sliding up to cradle Jungkook’s cheeks, his mouth lingering and insistent, kissing Jungkook breathless.

When Seokjin pulls back, their chests are heaving, twin pulses racing beneath their skin. “Why didn’t you just tell me?” he asks. Jungkook feels his cheeks color.

“I just… I wanted it to be perfect,” he says quietly. “You deserve the bestest, fanciest, most memorable proposal in the world. I wanted to show you how much you mean to me, and I figured that when I found the right one, you’d just… get it.”

Seokjin’s thumbs brush over his cheeks, eyes glimmering. “You absolute idiot,” he mutters fondly. This time, when his lips brush against Jungkook’s, it’s like the touch of spring after a harsh winter, the colors of the rainbow after a summer storm. He tastes of pancake batter and freshly brewed coffee, like comfort and home and a love so sweet it tingles like honey on Jungkook’s tongue.

“I never needed anything fancy,” Seokjin whispers, pressing their foreheads together. “All I need is you.”

Jungkook swallows, heart in his throat.

They stand like that for an infinite moment, measuring time in the beats of Seokjin’s pulse and his sweet breaths fanning over Jungkook’s skin. Jungkook never wants to leave this moment, never wants to let go of the man in his arms.

And with an excited jolt, he realizes he’ll never have to.

He unwraps an arm from Seokjin’s waist and reaches behind him, his fingers closing around the velvet box that has been his companion for so many weeks. Seokjin’s breath catches.

“Is that the ring?”

In answer, Jungkook opens the box. The simple gold band glimmers beneath the kitchen lights, thrilled to finally be unveiled. Jungkook tenderly removes it from the velvet casing, holding it up to the light to reveal an engraving inside:

My universe

Seokjin’s voice trembles. “Jungkook.”

Jungkook takes his hand, the tremble finally leaving Seokjin’s fingers as Jungkook slowly, carefully, caressingly slides the ring onto Seokjin’s finger.

Seokjin lets out a breath. He holds out his hand, watching light refract off gold as he wiggles his fingers. Suddenly, he’s beaming, smile so wide it lights his entire face.

“We’re engaged!” he sings, swooping Jungkook into another hug and twirling him around the kitchen. Jungkook laughs, loud and unrestrained, the two of them whirling in circles until Seokjin suddenly stops dead in his tracks.

“Wait, now I need to give you your ring!” He dashes out of the room, socked feet nearly slipping on the hardwood as he lets out a curse. Jungkook smiles so hard his cheeks hurt.

“Hyung, what about the pancakes?” he yells after him.

“Screw the pancakes!” Seokjin shouts from down the hall. “I’ve been hiding this ring way longer than you have; I’m a cupid, for God’s sake, let me have this moment!”

Seokjin runs back into the kitchen, hair a wild mess over his forehead, cheeks spotted a hectic pink, apron half-tied and drooping to one side as he wields a small velvet box with otherworldly determination.

And to Jungkook, it’s perfect.

They never needed fireworks or brass bands or a skywriting plane.

Jungkook has Seokjin, and Seokjin has him. And that’s all they’ll ever need.