Seokjin casts a look at the elegantly detailed golden star he’d discarded on his chaise and then back at his socks. He does this same action a few times, managing to get both shoes on and tied, and a comb through his hair, before he stops to survey the star once again.
Two weeks ago this star had been dropped on his doorstep. Wrapped in red, adorned with a green, gold trimmed bow. For the first week, he let it sit there. It wasn’t his, he didn’t order it, and no friend that he’d asked had sent it. So, clearly there’d been an error, and who just accepts random gifts anyways. Not him. Which is why it stayed out front until the snow grew thicker, and wetter.
When it was clear no one was coming for it, Seokjin dared to peek. He certainly wasn’t expecting this star. Clearly meant for a Christmas tree, it glinted up at him from the intricately designed holiday box.
It still glimmers in his living room light from where it sits, and he’s tired of staring at it. With his usual flourish, he fixes his glasses, and pulls the star from its confines. It’s heavy in his hands. He finds he enjoys the way it feels on his palms. Extending his arms, he sits it delicately at the top of his tree and takes a step back to admire.
It looks like it belongs there. Like it was made specifically for this tree. The Christmas lights dance brighter, the fireplace grows warmer, and for the first time in years, Jin doesn’t feel such disdain for what used to be his favorite holiday.
It’s Christmas Eve. This year, like every year, Seokjin celebrates early with his family. His father will prepare a too-sweet, but still delicious rice pudding, and his mother will insist on watching "Gremlins" before watching “The Grinch” so that they can all tease Seokjin about the similarities between him and the green grump, and, like every year, he will try to feel like nothing is missing, like there isn’t a human sized hole poked through their festivities.
“Seokjin-ah.” His mother croons softly as he pulls his coat on at the door. She cradles his face in tiny hands, and says it again. “Seokjin-ah, look at me.”
He tries not to sigh as he complies. “Thank you for dinner, eomma.”
“Will you stay? Your room is already made up, and you can have breakfast with-“
“I told you, I have plans.” He lies with a gentle smile, like he does every year. She knows it but she doesn’t comment, nor does she push him anymore. She pats his cheek instead.
“I just-” she searches for the words. “Try to have a good Holiday. We’re here if you need us.”
“Merry Christmas, Jin-ah.” She wishes softly. He nods curtly, kisses her forehead, and then closes the front door behind him.
It’s cold. He rushes for the safety of his car heater, and settles in behind the wheel. And he doesn’t think about her, he doesn’t think about her, he doesn’t think about her. He just starts driving. In a blur of streetlights and nightlife, after twenty minutes of silence, he pulls into his driveway and gets out without another look in his rear view.
The house is quiet. It looms empty and dark, aside from the Christmas tree -one of the few traditions he can’t bring himself to shake- and the click of the lock seems almost ominous in the stillness. He calls for the lights to come up as he rounds the corner into the living room. The automated voice is welcome in the silence, the lamps blink on. That’s when Seokjin sees him. The unacceptably attractive man lounged across his couch, with one of Seokjin’s own mugs pressed to his lips.
“Oh, hell on earth.” Jin exclaims, tripping over a footstool and thumping to the carpet.
The intruder, dressed impeccably in red, smiles. “I had a feeling you’d fall for me.”
“Who are you? How- how’d you get in here?”
“You know,” Hot Intruder says, sitting up with a smile, and crossing his legs. He sips from the cup and looks about. “I’ve been to a lot of homes throughout the years, but no ones as attractive as yours.” Seokjin’s breathing becomes a little heavier when the stranger meets his eyes. “Both the house and you.”
“Flattery will not stop me from calling the police, thief!”
“Don’t waste your time.” He waves his hand with a dismissive flourish. “They wouldn’t be able to see me. And I’m not a thief, that’s hurtful.”
“What does that mean? Why can I see you then? Are you a hallucination? Am I hallucinating?”
“Is it a good hallucination?” There’s a sparkle in his eye that makes Seokjin doubletake, and then divert his gaze to somewhere safe. A spot on the wall that didn’t threaten to start a tingle in his gut.
“I’m having a bad reaction to the rice pudding. A pudding trip, that’s all.”
“That’s a new one.”
“How did you even get in here?”
“That’s the fun part.” Hot Intruder beams, waggling his eyebrows. “Magic.”
Seokjin closes his eyes, and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming-“
“I can see how you might think that, me being this attractive, but not a dream, Seokjin-ssi.” The teasing giddiness in the intruder's voice has not quite gone but it’s softer, gentler. “I’m here to help you.”
Seokjin peeks through one eye, and then the other, to find the stranger is crouched before him on the floor. So close that the shifting colors of his own eyes are clear as day. Greens, blues, golds, even oranges. Shades much like the ones gleaming from his Christmas tree. Seokjin doesn’t recall leaning in. “Entranced” is what he’ll tell himself later. “Who are you?”
“Kim Taehyung, but everyone calls me Saint.”
“What are you doing in my house?”
“I told you, I’m here to help you.”
“I don’t need any help.”
“I don’t want any help.”
Seokjin puffs like a fish, floundering for words, before fixing the man with a suspicious glare. “And how are you supposed to help me, insane man who’s broken into my house?”
“Am I an insane intruder or a hallucination?”
“Honestly, I have no idea. I might be having a stroke. Am I dying?”
“Close!” He says with a smile that creases his eyes at the corners. “I’m here to grant you three wishes.”
“Like, my last three wishes before I die?”
“No, you’re not dying.”
“Then why did you say close?”
“Sarcasm, Seokjin-ah, keep up.”
A laugh pops out of Seokjin like a bubble, surprising them both, trailed by a dozen more bubbles as Seokjin breaks into hysterics. “Okay, so I’m not dying. I died. I’ve had another accident, and I’m dead.”
Saint Taehyung is pouting now. “You are not dead, I’m not a ghost, and this is not A Christmas Story.” He gives a somehow enthusiastic but sultry wink. “I’m Santa’s son.”
“You’re who now?”
“Santa. You know, that jolly guy from the North Pole.”
“You’re joking. This is some kind of joke.”
“I’d never joke about Father Christmas.”
“Are you sure you’re not insane?”
“An actual insane person wouldn’t know they were insane. So if I say no, I could still be insane and think I’m sane, and you’d never know if it was the truth or not.”
“I don’t know, that kind of sounds insane.”
“Are you this pleasant to all your guests, or am I just lucky?”
“You’re not a guest!”
“Exactly, I’m much better than a guest!”
“Perhaps I’ve gone insane.”
“I wonder how many times you can use the word ‘insane’ in one night. Should we start counting?”
“I don’t need the judgement in your tone, Stranger.”
“Uh huh, uh huh, right, Like Saint Nick?”
“No.” Saint Taehyung looks amused, and exasperated. “I’m Saint, he’s Nick.”
There's a beat where his smile spreads so wide it takes the shape of a little box, as charming and pretty as the gift box the star came in.
Seokjin looks to the top of his tree and then back at the man before him. The golden earring dangling from one of his lobes, the golden details in the lining of his Candy Cane Red suit, - he may or may not also note that it’s tailored to fit him perfectly, but that’s neither here nor there- the star shaped rings on his long fingers. Every element of his wardrobe matches the star in its exactness.
“Were you the one who left the star on my doorstep?”
“The star decides who it goes to. I just follow.”
“That’s cryptic, and a little concerning, and it doesn’t answer my question”
“The star chose you. So, here I am.”
Seokjin blinks. “This is madness.”
“No, it’s magic.”
“Right. And you’re here to grant me wishes?”
“You’re going to need to have a willing suspension of disbelief for tonight.”
“I think I’ve been pretty willing. You’re still in my house.” Taehyung just raises a thick eyebrow and Seokjin concedes. ”Fine! I wish-” he scans the room. “for a bigger kitchen, fully refurbished. All white cabinets and drawers, polished silver appliances, and white marble countertops.”
Taehyung touches a finger to his nose, his big smile replaced by a smirk that sharpens the corner of his blush pink lips. Nothing happens. There’s a dull thud, but outside of that, everything remains the same. There are no fireworks, no bells, no carols. Just him and the elf, or whatever he is.
“I’m not an elf.”
“You’re Santa’s little helper, aren’t you?”
“So, all of Santa’s helpers have to be elves? Sounds prejudiced to me.”
“Pause a minute.” Seokjin narrows his eyes. “I didn’t say that out loud. How did you-“
“I’m a god.”
Seokjin snorts and Taehyung shrugs, looking all smug and pretty. “Just go look at your kitchen.”
Stubbornly, he acquiesces. He ambles into his kitchen, and then walks right back out. Taehyung hides his mirth behind his hand. “I’m- y- you- “ Seokjin stammers, letting Taehyung lead him into the kitchen that’s not his.
”I’ll give you this one for free. We’ll call it a Christmas gift. Don’t tell dad.”
Seokjin reboots, stands frozen like if he moves too fast, reality will alter once more. The design is exactly what he wished for, glistening and immaculate. What he notices most, however, are the pastel pink flourishes that he didn’t specify. Tiny details, hand towels, oven mitts, an apron, nothing he asked for, but that are so “him”. Personal little embellishments he would’ve picked out himself had he designed it. Taehyung doesn’t press him to speak, but Seokjin can feel him watching. He rubs his lips together to spread the last of the chapstick.
“This is impossible.”
“I told you.” He points at himself. “God.”
”Dear old dad is also a god.”
“That makes you a Demigod”
“Still a god.” Taehyung argues. “You get three wishes. The same rules apply, No manipulating free will, no bringing anyone back from the dead, and nothing too kinky. Though I’d probably make exceptions for you.”
Seokjin keeps a straight face, but his ears burn red. Taehyung sidles closer.
“You have until midnight tonight to make your wishes.”
Taehyung blinks. “No?”
“I don’t want your wishes.”
“You can't give me what I want anyways.”
“Can you let me try?”
”you don’t know what I want.”
“And what if I do?”
“I’d just be wasting my breath.” Seokjin states simply, in effort to convince them both. He uses Taehyung’s silence as an excuse to flee to his sitting room. He actually feels a pinch of disappointment when he risks a glance over his shoulder, and Taehyung isn’t there. It’s short lived, the pain of crashing into something tall and sturdy serving as a ready distraction. He grunts and sags against it before pushing off. Taehyung stands there, surveying him, a pinch between his eyebrows. Seokjin bristles. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Because I’ve never met anyone who didn’t want to use their wishes.”
“Just give them to someone else”
“That’s not how it works.”
“I don’t care.”
“Seokjin, do you think the star chose you at random?”
“No. It is sent to those who need it most. To grant them what they need most. And it was pointed in your direction.”
“Yea? By who?”
“I don’t know.”
Seokjin doesn’t think he’s being completely honest, but he let’s slide. “Could I wish for you to leave?”
“You could, but do you really want to?” Taehyung takes a step closer. “Truth is, Seokjin, I know what you want.”
“You can’t know that.”
“I told you, where the star goes, I follow. I followed it to you…”
Taehyung doesn’t elaborate, but he doesn’t need to. Seokjin understands. “Two weeks ago. You’ve been around for two weeks.” He’s been shuffling away, a little at a time. He doesn’t notice till the backs of his knees bump against the couch, and he’s forced to sit.
“Maybe even longer.” Taehyung shrugs, gazing down at him, mood light, expression unreadable. Almost like a switch, like he’s remembered something, he brightens with a twinkle. “You talk to her every night. It’s nice.”
“I talk to myself. She can’t hear me.”
“I think she can.” Seokjin works hard to seem unbothered. Ignores the uneasiness brewing in his chest. Taehyung must notice, or he can hear the way Seokjin’s thoughts scream. “Seokjin,” Taehuyng kneels. “I wish I could give that to you, more than anything, but It’s not allowed. I’d get recalled for using that much power. Might even be stripped of it all together. I don’t think I could ever come back to yo- I couldn’t help anyone else.” He corrects himself so quickly that Seokjin nearly misses the implication. But not quite.
“You’re just granting wishes.” He replies a little too passively. He regrets his tone when Taehyung’s expression falls minutely.
“We do much more than that.”
“One of Santa's other helpers couldn’t do it?” Seokjin jokes to ease the tension he created. It lands flat, but Taehyung looks thankful anyways.
“Maybe they could, but it would take them away from their own very important assignments.”
“There are really more of you?”
“Well, no, there’s only one of me.” Taehyung smirks. “I technically don’t have to do this. I choose to. The other agents, actual elves- “
Taehyung giggles. “they work for my father. So, yes, there are more. Thousands of us, spread out across the world.”
“Just for Christmas?”
“No, we work year-round.”
Seokjin nods mutely as he digests this information. Taehyung taps a finger to his chin to draw his attention, and maybe to comfort him. “How about we get out of here.”
“And go where?”
“Anywhere.” He offers his hand for Seokjin to take, and so he does. One blink, two blinks. He’s about to complain that nothing’s happening, when the third blink comes, and they are no longer in his home. The wind is chilled, and Taehyung is still holding onto his hand. The heat from his touch helps to fight the cold air. It also incites the burning of a pire in the hollow space beneath his ribs. “If you wanted to hold my hand, all you had to do was ask.” Taehyung’s teasing stokes the fire. Seokjin yanks free and sways away, clearing his throat.
“Where have you taken me, thief?”
“I think I like elf better.”
“Where are we- Wait, can you be seen now? Or am I just talking to myself?”
“Don’t worry, everyone can see you’re with the most attractive man for miles.”
“The second most attractive man for miles.”
Seokjin scans his surroundings. They’re standing in the middle of the city square, beside the big Christmas tree that the mayor lights up every year in the name of holiday spirit. It’s supposed to bring excitement and joy but, even as it stands tall, beautiful and glistening, Seokjin can only feel void. Emptied out.
“Why did you bring me here?”
“I thought you could appreciate it.”
Seokjin clenches fists in his pockets. “You were wrong. Please take me home.”
“I won’t. I like it here.”
“Then you stay, I’ll go.” He strides off. He attempts to stride off. Except every few steps, he turns around and he’s right back at the tree. He scowls. “Stop doing that.”
“Whatever it is that you’re doing.”
“It’s not me. It’s you. The magic brought us here, and it knows you don’t really want to leave. So, you can’t.”
“Well, you and your magic can go to-”
“Hello!” Taehyung wave to a few passerbys.
Seokjin pushes his shoulders back, and takes a deep breath. In the shadow of the tree towering far above their heads, he waivers on his feet. Memories rush and overwhelm him as he cranes his neck to see the top. “I used to bring her here to see the lights on Christmas Eve. Every year she’d ask- “
“Who’s prettier? Me or the tree?”
Seokjin’s eyebrows vanish into his bangs. He can’t bring himself to ask, but he makes an affirmative noise in the back of his throat. “Every year I’d tell her the same thing. That even if the entire city center was lit up, all the streets and shops and houses, just as brightly as the tree, she would still shine brighter.”
“My heart.” Taehyung swoons, clutching at his chest. From anyone else it might feel as though he were being mocked. Coming from the Christmas Prince, it’s nothing but genuine.
“She wished, every year, that she could see it. Everything glowing. I always wished I could give that to her.”
When he meets Taehyung’s eyes, the lights reflecting off the tree, dance “The Waltz of the Flowers” across his face, tantamount in brilliance, or maybe that’s just the magic. Regardless, Seokjin’s heart stutters. He doesn’t argue the impossibility of wishes this time, because, even if this isn’t real, even if she isn’t here to see it, he can still fulfill the dream, right?
“Second most attractive man for miles?”
“So, you think I’m attractive, huh?”
“I wish for the entire city to light up just like this tree.”
“Done.” With a snap of his fingers, the world bursts into colors. Every storefront window, every pillar, every streetlight, they’re all alight. Somewhere “Carol of the Bells” plays, and Seokjin laughs. Really laughs. Heartily and loud, his eyes shut tight to fend off the threatening tears.
“It made you smile.”
Seokjin opens his eyes to people gathering, curious. The excitement and joy meant to be evoked by the presence of the tree is visible here. Couples are huddling close, and children are thrilled, squealing to their parents at the sight. She would’ve loved every minute of this, Seokjin tells himself. His blood rushes, his chest aches. In this moment, he’s filled in just a little. A quarter of contentment to get him to the right side of human again.
“I have a question.”
Taehyung is closer, his grin tinged with mischief. Seokjin won’t acknowledge how pleasing the sight is. “What is it?”
Taehyung glides nearer till their shoulders brush. He simpers. “Who’s prettier? Me or the tree?”
“Definitely the tree.”
“You know, lying puts you on the naughty list.” Taehyung proclaims, jogging to catch up with Seokjin’s long strides. Seokjin, who casts a coy grin over his shoulder.
“Do you promise?”
“I’d rather you be on it for different reasons.”
“It’s not a lie.”
“I can read your mind.”
Seokjin huffs, amused, and slows to a stop. He sits a steadying hand gingerly on Taehyung’s shoulder, crowds in close, and whispers. “What am I thinking now?”
If the grunt is anything to go by, Taehyung has heard him. “That’s rude.”
Seokjin shrugs, and blows him a kiss. Resuming his journey to he doesn’t even know where. Taehyung falls in behind him once more. “You’re the hottest Ebenezer Scrooge I’ve ever seen.”
“Scrooge had money. I aspire to be Ebenezer.”
“Fine, the Grinch then.”
“Does that make you Max?”
Taehyung’s mouth drops open in appall, before it takes the shape of a wicked grin. “Would you like me to put on an antler and get on my knees for you?”
Seokjin once again finds himself blushing. “Are you like this with everyone?”
“Nope, just you.”
“I’m supposed to feel special, aren’t I?”
“You are special.” He pouts, and Seokjin heart swoops.
“You pout too much for someone who calls himself a god.”
“Because it works.”
It does, he knows it does, and he knows Taehyung knows he knows it does. But he’ll be damned if he admits it out loud.
“Say it out loud, and I’ll take you to the next place.”
“There’s more?” Seokjin whines.
“Just say it.”
“Over my dead body.”
“Take the dead part out of the equation, and we have a deal.”
“Are you trying to seduce me?”
Seokjin waves him off. “Okay, let’s go. Do your magic thing, take me to wherever we’re going next.”
“You don’t want to stay and look at the lights a little longer?”
“No, I shouldn’t.” He shakes his head. “Any longer and I’ll ruin it for myself.”
Taehyung’s fixed gaze falls heavy. He’s searching for the meaning between the words, but Seokjin fears he might find more than that. If he does, he doesn’t say. A nod, a touch, and barely a breath later, they’re standing at the top of a steep snow covered incline. The snow has melted somewhat, more dirty water than snow in some places, and kinda gross, but the teens sledding down it don’t seem to mind.
“It’s late. They should be at home.” Seokjin’s grouses absentmindedly. His hands tremble, fingers still threaded through Taehyung’s. The god doesn’t say a thing. “This- this is- “
“I would bring her here to sled. Another tradition. We would fight to push each other down the hill.” He chuckles, and kicks at the slush. “She hated when it was like this. It was like this the last time we came. Before the accident.”
A comfortable stillness extends between them. Everything and everyone else fade momentarily to white noise, leaving just them. Just Seokjin lost in his own head, and Taehyung giving him the space to find his way out again.
“Maybe you couldn’t fix it then, but you can fix it now.” Taehyung encourages quietly, so soft that Seokjin fears his reassurances might be carried off by the gusts of wind. The young god remains undeterred, nudging Seokjin with an elbow. “Make it snow.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.” He protests, stalling. There’s no real bite. Merely a faulty coping mechanism, that’s less coping and more hiding. Cause feelings are hard, aren’t they? Only thing harder is expressing them out loud, baring them for others. Quick wit, humor, volume, that’s how he expresses himself. He clears his throat and proffers his most commanding voice. “Saint Taehyung?”
“Sexy Saint Taehyung.”
“I’m not saying that.”
“No, but you’re thinking it.”
“No, I'm not.”
“You are now.”
Seokjin tilts his face to the sky. “I’d like a new elf, please? This one is broken.”
“Can I make my wish now or…”
“Who’s stopping you?”
He raises his voice over Taehyung’s pestering. “I wish for you to make it snow.”
The first flutters land on his cheeks. His eyelids flutter shut against the slow torrent, letting the flurries sting his skin with frost. The kids on the other side of the trees actually begin to hoot and holler. Each whoop of delight filling him that much more. They sound like her. So happy about something so simple. The way he used to be.
“Pretty.” He hears. It’s said faintly, not meant to be heard. Only, Taehyung’s rich cadence is hard to miss. Jin is returning the thought before he can think to stop it. Taehyung is beautiful. Even under the garish lighting at the top of the hill. With the snow falling around him, a frostbitten flush on the tip of his nose and the apples of his cheeks, Comfort spills from him. Seokjin is not sure what to make of it, so he returns his attention to the slope. The kids race down only to climb to the top again for another turn each time.
“You should give it a shot.”
“I don’t have a-”
A simple sled manifests in Taehyung’s hands. It resembles his old one almost perfectly. “How did you-” he starts, but then decides against it. “I’m too old to be sledding.”
“Who said that?”
“I said that.”
“Are you always this boring?”
“I am not-” A snowball hits him square in the face. It catches in his mouth, melting on his tongue.
“You are Satan’s sugar plum fairy!” He swears, ducking to scoop up fresh snow while Taehyung takes cover behind a tree.
“Does he have those?”
“Stop hiding, and face me like a real elf!”
“I thought I was a fairy!” Taehyung retorts, darting from one tree to the next, and dodging every assault hurled his way. Seokjin raises his hand in preparation to lob another when three hit him center mass. He loses balance and sits down hard in the snow with a swear. He can hear Taehyung rushing over, and waits till he gets close enough to tug him down too. He cackles all the way down, even as Seokjin tries to shovel snow into his mouth.
Back and forth they struggle for the upperhand, rolling one way and then another, leaving prints in the snow. Seokjin is laughing so loud the kids have stopped sledding to look their way. Taehyung covers Seokjin’s mouth with a large palm, stunning Seokjin into stillness. Through wide eyes, he gazes up at Taehyung where he hovers above him, pressing down with his weight. Even with the cold hilltop under his back, Seokjin feels hot.
“You got snow in my mouth!”
“You forced snow into mine!”
“Retribution. I feel no remorse.”
“I can’t say I minded you putting things in my mouth.”
Seokjin ignores the blatant come-on, and sags pliantly. “Now I’m in the mood for ice cream.”
“Weird, cause it puts me in the mood for-“
Seokjin reaches up and pinches his lips together. “I will smother you with snow, pack the snow around your lifeless body like a snowman, and leave you on the top of this hill.”
“I said nothing too kinky.” Taehyung mumbles.
“You also said you’d make an exception for me.”
“Ice cream it is!”
Taehyung catches his wrist and there’s a rushing in his chest, like he’s in free fall. When he sits up, he’s stretched out along a bench, his head previously having been in Taehyung’s lap. The man looks proud of himself. Seokjin looks three shades of red.
Without a word, he stands and starts crossing towards the ice cream shop situated on the street corner. The employees are cleaning up around their last few customers, and greet them politely when he pushes through the door. Their eyes widen just a fraction more at the sight of the man on his heels.
The two women blush while serving them, and the young man while cashing them out, casting furtive glances in Taehyung's direction. Seokjin’s doing his very best not to roll his eyes. With a cone of coffee ice cream, Seokjin abandons Taehyung with the gaggle of his fans, and makes for the same bench to plop down and eat.
His tongue instantly falls numb. He enjoys it. It’s familiar, unlike the barrage of new sensations he’s experiencing with Taehyung. It’s a pleasant, if not sharp reminder that all of this is just a dream. It’ll be over soon. It’s that pinch that tells you whether you’re loving in reality or not. Whether you’ve taken the red pill or the blue pill. A tasty pinch.
“Well, what’s the verdict?”
“Hhm?” Seokjin mumbles through a mouthful, as Taehyung sinks into the spot beside him. Seokjin chalks the ensuing shiver up to the frosty treat and not how their thighs press together.
“Is it a dream?” He takes a long lick of the vanilla dripping over the sides of his cone. “Or reality?”
Seokjin stares at Taehyung, and then beyond him. ”Taehyung, where do you come from?”
“The North Pole” He rests back against the wooden planks with a grin. It dims some when he gets no reaction, but not by much. The big shrug he offers looks odd, doesn’t fit him quite right. It’s forced. He directs too much of his attention at his hold around his cone, rather than meeting Seokjin’s eyes. “Everywhere and nowhere”
“What do you do when Christmas is over?” Seokjin presses. He keeps telling himself to stop eyeing Taehyung’s hand in fear of the thoughts that might spring forth. For instance, how beautiful he finds them. Taehyung makes a show of lapping at the cream that’s slipped through his fingers, down to his knuckles, and Seokjin has a sudden urge to slap it out of his hand. Taehyung chuckles, but it’s soft.
“My job becomes a little different.”
“I assumed you return to the forest with the hobbits and dwarves.”
“You’re mixing up elves now.”
Seokjin nods. “Right right right, those are the hot ones.”
“Still not an elf. So, I’m safe from that insult.”
He sticks out his tongue, and Seokjin does the same in response. He shifts in his seat, wanting to move away. Tucking further into Taehyung’s side instead. “Do you still travel and grant wishes?”
“Do you ever stay in one place?”
“Not really, no. Most agents have their own assigned locations. I prefer to move around.”
“Do you ever want to stay?” Seokjin inquires as he stands to toss his demolished cone in the trash.
“Doesn’t that get lonely?” He replies, turning back to his companion. The casual ease to Taehyung’s posture is unusually stiff. For a brief moment, Seokjin seems to have knocked him off balance. He eases back into his seat. “I just mean, you go all over the world granting people wishes, by choice. You said you don’t have to. You do it anyways.”
“I love doing it. It’s important to me.”
“Okay, but do you ever give yourself a break? What about what you want?” Taehyung’s eyebrows furrow in confusion, like he’s never considered himself in the equation. Seokjin is steamrolled by a sudden realization. “Have you ever thought about it? About choosing a place and actually staying there for awhile.”
“Once.” Taehyung replies after a clear of his throat. “Recently.”
The implications crackle in the atmosphere between them. Seokjin would chastise himself for making assumptions, if it hadn’t been for the way Taehyung was pinning him in place simply with a look. Eyes flaring like molten lava. He seems to literally shake himself free of the moment, dark locks of hair falling over his forehead. Seokjin wants to brush them away. He wants to be looked at like that again.
“Ready for the next stop?” Taehyung exclaims, bouncing to his feet without warning. He extends his arm, an invitation to take it. Seokjin goes willingly when Taehyung tugs him to stand. Graceless as usual, once on his feet, Seokjin stumbles. He lands chest to chest with Taehyung, who immediately steadies him at the waist. Firm fingers digging in. Rather than fight it, Seokjin straightens, holds onto Taehyung’s biceps, and avoids facing him directly. “On dasher!”
Taehyung giggles breathily, the air ghosting past Seokjin’s reddened ears. It becomes a rush of wind, a spark of electricity permeating his thick layers to spread over the goosebumped expanse of his skin. He desires to bury himself deeper into Taehyung’s chest. He doesn’t even realize that he has, or that they’ve touched down, until he hears the subtle crunch of grass underfoot. But he doesn’t need to take in the sights to know where he is. The scent of flowers, winterberries and snowdrops and daffodils, all of them nursed and nurtured by his own mother, are thriving even against the harsh winter air. They’ve landed in the middle of the garden behind his family home. Years of work, blood, sweat, and tears surrounding them. Closing them in.
For as long as he’s known, Seokjin has always been more interested in what lived at the very back of the garden. Standing crooked and peeling, the treehouse looms like a fond memory, and his worst nightmare.
“You’re trembling.” Worry colors Taehyung’s assessment. His hold brands it’s shape into Seokjin’s waist, and he seems inclined to stay like this for as long as he can. So, Seokjin has to let go, moving away from Taehyung and towards the wooden fort.
His footsteps on the stone path are muffled by the thin layer of snow but there isn’t far to go. As he nears, he begins to crouch, stopping on his hands and knees at the door. “Without all the lights, it just looks like a horribly made dog-house.” he says quietly, sullenly. Taehyung kneels at his side, and knocks twice on the frame. There’s a flare. The old lanterns set in each corner dress the inside Christmas green. Taehyung grins “Are you sure you’re going to fit?”
“It doesn’t look like the door was made for shoulders like yours.”
“I fit perfectly!” He proves it by shoving himself into the treehouse. Once he’s in, it’s clear that another adult body will not be able to squeeze in, unless they’re on top of each other.
“I think we could make that work.”
Seokjin jabs an aggressive pointer finger. “You just...stay out there.”
Taehyung sits smug where he is, peeking through the tiny window. He keeps quiet as Seokjin shifts uncomfortably. For a long while it’s just him and the history on the walls, left by crayons and markers, and some paint. “This was our hide out, and then hers. To read or draw. Whatever she felt like doing. I would join her when I got the chance, but every Christmas, it was both of us out here with hot chocolate, reading Christmas stories, and eating too much before her bedtime.” He chuckles softly at memory. “The amount of nights my mother had to come and force us out of here...”
“Does she still do that?”
“When you come out here on Christmas Eve? To read that one story?”
“How did you know that I….” Seokjin squints at him. “Why does it feel like you’ve known me longer than two weeks?”
“I told you.”
“No, no, no, It’s more than that. You know things you couldn’t possibly know, not in just two weeks.”
Amusement drops out of Taehyung's strong features. “It’s getting late.” he states, standing and brushing off the knees of his pants. That’s the only thing Seokjin can see through the window.
“Taehyung.” It’s a lot awkward trying to crawl out without looking ridiculous but he manages. Not that it matters when Taehyung is already halfway down the path. “Hey, Taehyung!”
“Seokjin.” He replies laconically, strain in his body and his tone, as he spins on his heel. Seokjin stops short, thrown by the switch in demeanor. To cover his surprise, he huffs, and then crosses his arms.
“Tell me the truth.”
“You can. You won’t.”
“No, I can’t.” He asserts. “You already know much more than you should.”
“Because I’m different, aren’t I?” He wades forward. “Why?”
Taehyung forces a weak smirk. “Your time is running out.”
“I don’t care. What is your real job, Taehyung?”
“I grant wishes.”
“That’s bullshit. Tell me!”
“We’re guides!” Taehyung bursts, closing his eyes. His labored breaths fan out in a vapor. “I’m a guide.”
“What the hell is that?.”
Taehyung opens his eyes. “I’m- We are ferrymen, into the afterlife for the young who have passed early on in life, who didn’t get a chance to see adulthood.”
Seokjin still doesn’t understand. He tells himself he doesn’t understand, knowing it’s not true. “You mean…”
“The North Pole acts as a doorway. The North Pole, Santa’s Workshop, Christmas Land, it becomes whatever they want, and we take them through there to offer just a little bit of magic before they go. Ease the transition. There are times we grant a last wish to those old enough to understand what’s happening to them.”
Taehyung nods. “I took her through that night. She held my hand, and we had a long talk on the way. Her laugh was so pretty, like tinkling bells.” He exhales a laugh, but anxiousness lines his expression. “She was brave, Seokjin. Like you. She wasn’t scared, she wasn’t in any pain. She didn’t suffer. She was more worried about you.” He finally closes the distance. “Her last wish was for me to look after you-“
“But she died three years ago-“
“-so, for three years, that’s what I’ve been doing. Checking in on you between stops. Making sure you were okay.”
“I wasn’t.” Seokjin states, a tremor in his voice. “I’m not.”
“I know, but you’ve never been alone. Even though you’ve tried so hard to be.”
“A lot of good that fucking did me.” Seokjin doesn’t have a clue where he’s going when he starts walking, but he keeps going. He can faintly hear the footsteps behind him, but he’s slipping into a little bit of hysteria.
”Seokjin. Hey, wait. Seokjin, wait.”
There’s a tug on his elbow. His body reacts before his mind, his excuse for the way he shoves Taehyung. “Where were you then? If I wasn’t alone, why weren’t you here?”
“Would you have believed me?” A hint of desperation is evident, as is the frustration. It clashes, and comes out cold in his deep timber. “Would you have been open enough to see me?” He advances just to have Seokjin take another step back. Resignation is in the way his body sags, but determination lingers in his eyes. “You’ll never know how badly I wanted to. It only got harder each ti-”
“I want to see her.”
“I can’t do that for you.”
“I want to see her.”
“I can’t bring back the dead.”
“I didn’t fucking ask you to bring her back! I asked to see her!” Anger builds at the back of his tongue. It burns. “You’re supposed to fulfill my wishes, right? Well, that’s what I want!” He’s aware he sounds weak, small, like he’s shrinking, he just doesn’t care. “That is what I need.”
“There has to be a way.” His control slips further. He’s begging, but he’s not in control of it.
“Maybe I should take you home”
“No. I want you to take me there.” There’s no need to specify. Taehyung knows.
“That’s not a good idea.”
“Do it anyways.” Seokjin holds out his hand. “Please don’t make me ask again.”
The late hour means little traffic through here. The shoulder curves, daunting and sharp, in the same way it had back then. The slicked pavement glints just as dangerous as the bend in the road. “My sister died right here, on Christmas Eve. I killed her on her favorite night of the year.”
“It was an accident.”
“I wasn’t paying enough attention. I wasn’t being careful enough.”
“No. That other driver wasn’t being careful enough. He was on his phone, he was speeding, and he took the corner too fast.”
Seokjin can’t hear him over the screams of both her and tires, resonating between his ears. “His car struck us on her side.”
“And no amount of caution or attention could’ve helped you avoid the collision.”
“It was late. I shouldn’t have had her out in the first place.”
“Stop!” Taehyung arms are tight around him. He doesn’t hug him, he holds him. He anchors him. The weight slows his mind. It’s tight and solid, almost unbearably so, but he can breathe. He works to meld himself to the other man, arms snaked around his torso, palms pressed flush to the backs of his shoulders. Taehyung doesn’t shy away from it. Cheek to cheek, he combs his fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, and whispers. “Stop.”
Seokjin swallows thickly. One, two, three times, teetering on the precipice of tearful. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I couldn’t tell her I was sorry, or that I loved her and should have told her every day.”
“How do you know that?”
“I told you, we had a long talk.”
He tucks into Taehyung’ shoulder. “Can you take me home now?”
“Yea, of course.”
The scent of his home swaddles them both where they stand, back in the safety of his living room. Gradually they peel apart. Seokjin steps out of his shoes and removes his coat one arm at a time. Normally he’d hang it. Tonight he drops it on the floor at his feet, and stares down at it. He’s unaware of how much time passes, both of them unmoving in suffocating stillness. It seems endless. He clears his throat and straightens. “I appreciate what you’ve tried to give me ton-”
“I’ll do it.”
Seokjin blinks. “What?”
“I’ll do it. I’ll give you your wish, but you have to say the words.”
“I’ll let you see her.” Taehyung replies, squaring his shoulders and slipping his hands in his pockets. He’s calm. Some semblance of a smile has even returned to his face. Seokjin fidgets. He is not calm.
“You’ll have your powers taken away from you.” He stammers. “You wouldn’t be able to come back or- No, I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can.”
“What about everyone else? What about you?”
“All of this, the wishes,” Taehyung gestures broadly. “It doesn’t have to be me. Not really. I’m sure Dad has other, more qualified people to follow the star, to be a guide, and it can keep going. It doesn’t have to end with me.”
“No. You said it was important to you.”
“You’re important to me too.” He opens up so easily. Confidently. “You have been for a long time.” He leaves no room for arguments, and Seokjin flounders. Taehyung doesn’t mind. “The star goes to those who need it most. To grant them what they need most. The star knew what you wanted, what you needed, what you would ask for, and it still came, because it knew I would follow and that I could give it to you.”
“Taehyung...” His argument trails off when Taehyung cups his face with both hands. They’re standing so close that Taehyung’s exhales and it brushes across Jin’s lips. He smells like peppermint candy canes, and that’s what Seokjin tries to focus on. Taehyung grins softly. Knowing.
“You deserve to live, Seokjin. An actual life.” He brushes the hair out of Seokjin’s eyes. “You deserve to heal.”
“I don’t want you to go.” the admission slips, not as confidently, but Seokjin can’t bring himself to be bothered.
“I know. I can hear what you’re thinking, remember?”
“I lied. Please leave.”
“You won’t get this chance again.” He replies, giggling. It gives way to a bittersweet glow, shown only in the chocolate brown of his eyes. “Please. I want you to have this, Jin-ah. It’s my Christmas gift to you.”
“I’m- I’m not good at goodbye.”
“Then don’t say goodbye.” Taehyung says, simply. Seokjin knows his time is passing much too fast, but he wants to remember this. Remember him. He traces the lines of Taehyung's face with his fingertips, gathering his courage to say what he wants.
“In another life, I would wish for you to stay.”
Genuine surprise flashes in Taehyung’s eyes. Disbelief, confusion, and then finally joy come one after another in quick succession. He thumbs along Seokjin’s cheek. “I think I would stay for you, Kim Seokjin.” he leaves a kiss on Seokjin’s forehead and then steps away. “Now make your wish before time runs out.”
“Taehyung, I wish to speak to my sister, one last time.”
He’s almost knocked off his feet by the ripple of energy that explodes from the star atop his tree. A warm breeze picks up in his sitting room, and he can hear his things being blown about. He can’t draw his eyes away from the growing ball of light where his Christmas tree used to be. It expands into an incandescent archway as every other source of illumination in his home fades. He feels for Taehyung’s hand and squeezes, blinking against the glow. He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until a short figure appears out of the archway, and all of the air rushes out of him in one rough exhale. His sister smiles up at him, haloed by the gateway. It brings him to a knee. This makes her giggle. A sound of tinkling bells.
“I’m glad Taehyungie found you.” she says, and it’s just how he remembers. “I knew he would.” She leans in a little. “He’s handsome, isn’t he?”
“Hi, big brother. I’ve missed you.”
Someone is crying. Faintly. He doesn’t realize it’s him until a few tears trail to the corners of his lips. “I’m so sorry. For what I did.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong. What happened wasn’t your fault.”
“We should have just stayed home that night. I should’ve-”
“And not see the lights? Or go sledding? That would’ve ruined our christmas eve.”
“It’s just a stupid day!”
“It was our day.” She taps beneath his chin and smiles. “I wouldn’t have given up that day for anything, cause I got to spend it with my best friend.”
“I know I should’ve been around more….”
“Seokjinnie, I can’t stay long. So, I need you to make me a promise.”
“You’ll stop blaming yourself. You can’t keep punishing yourself by hiding from everyone. Especially your family. You’re not the only one who lost something. The difference is, three years ago, you lost a sister, but Eomma lost both of her children.” She pats his cheek with a cool palm, and he’s struck by just how much like their mother his little sister is. She must read his mind. “I know you worry about them. You tell me when you talk to me at night.”
Seokjin glances at Taehyung for the first time, and he’s looking right back with that big smile. “I told you that she could hear you.”
“I know you’re lonely too. That’s why I wished for Taehyungie to look after you.”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“I did. I knew you’d take on all the blame for what happened, and close yourself off. No offense, but you’re kind of predictable.”
“Offense taken.” He quips. He’s startled by the genuine laugh that ripples up from his chest. She giggles.
“Do you promise?”
“I promise I’ll try.”
“I don’t accept that.”
He grins at her fake pout. “When did you get so bossy?”
“I was always bossy. I learned it from you.” She looks behind her as though someone’s called her name and then back to him. She smiles but it’s a little less bright. “Please promise me.” It’s more of a plea now.
He nods. “Okay, I promise.”
“And promise me you’ll fall in love with Christmas again.” She adds this while casting a look between him and Taehyung. Seokjin sends a brief look to his companion, and thinks he can make out a blush dusting the apples of his cheeks. He shouldn’t find it so odd after all that’s transpired tonight, but he never imagined elves could blush.
“He’s not an elf.” - “I’m not an elf”
Seokjin snorts at them “Whatever, I promise.”
He isn’t expecting a hug. For some reason he assumed they wouldn’t be able to touch, but she throws her arms about his neck. “You’re not alone, Seokjinnie.” His eyes brim with tears he has to choke back. He holds her as tight as he can. She pets his head. “We will see each other again.”
The gateway over her shoulder starts to close in on itself, and she has to slip away. It all goes so fast. Too fast. “I love you.” He calls to her over the sound of the wind picking up. She presses something into his hand but he can’t look down. He won’t. He doesn’t want to miss her go this time. She winks at him and says “I know. I love you too.” and then she’s gone. With a woosh, the gateway closes, taking her with it.
Taehyung’s grip on his hand starts to loosen. Without overthinking it, Seokjin uses the hold he has to draw Taehyung to him, one hand pinning him close, as the other cups his face. He leaves no space between them, leans in, and feels his mouth just barely ghost along the soft pink of Taehyung’s lips before he too is gone. The lamps relight, the fireplace reignites, and the christmas tree dances with color once again, but the vibrance is lost. The star no longer sits at the top of his tree, and a strong fatigue is setting in his bones.
Whatever was placed in his hand is digging into his palm. A small toy elf, dressed in all red, stares up at him. It’s a keychain he’d given to Sooyoung as a gift years ago. She had it with her everywhere she went. She had it with her the night that she died. They’d never found it.
That fatigue drags him down, submerging him, swallowing him. Looking at the keychain in his hand is the last thing he remembers before it all fades to black.
Seokjin wakes up Christmas morning in his bed, alone. His head hurts, his mouth is dry, and he’s not sure, but he might vomit. Sunlight leaks through his dark curtains, just a thin sliver, casting itself across his bed. It’s unusual for him to remember his dreams. Perhaps this one was just too vivid to forget. Taehyung, the wishes, seeing his sister, It’s all there, floating at the back of his mind. A lingering reverie.
A part of him aches from the memory, but then he smiles. Smiles because of the beautiful, amusing man in red, and the magic he showed him. But most importantly because for the first time in three years, his dreams gave him Sooyoung as she was. Happy. No screaming, no car accident. Only laughter and forgiveness. For the first time in forever, when thinking about his sister, he feels warmth. And he smiles.
He holds onto that as he rolls out of bed, and ignores the strange longing carving out a home in his gut. He avoids the emotion because he doesn’t understand it. He always misses his sister, but this is different. There is not time to dwell though. He has things to do, places to be, amends to make.
He showers and dresses. Grabs his wallet from his dresser, and pads down the hall to the kitchen in his socks to put some tea in a travel mug.
But this is not his kitchen…
“What the fuuuuuuuu-“ He backs slowly out of the kitchen that resembles the design he wished for in his dream in its exactness. However, this is not a dream. He’s wide awake.
He stumbles into his sitting room. His completely normal sitting room. A sigh of relief gets caught on its way out. The star is gone. The star he’s had for two weeks. It’s missing.
“I am losing my mind.” He scoffs, dropping down into the cushions of his couch. He is met with pain, something jabbing into his ass cheek. It’s an elf. Sooyoung’s elf. “It wasn’t a dream.” He says, releasing a lazy wave of maniacal laughter, that quickly devolves into panic. “It wasn’t a dream…”
Taehyung wasn’t a dream.
His starts at the blare of his alarm. He has to forego the tea, jump into his shoes, and race out of the door. The “not dream” gets buried as deep as he can make it go. The here and now has to take precedence even as that strange longing twists and churns in the pits of his stomach.
There are tears in his mother’s eyes when she opens the door to find him on the front step. He’s seen his mother cry maybe twice in his entire life. If that. Pride and strength is ingrained in every part of who she is, but her love is gentle and all encompassing. It may not be in her words, but it’s in her actions. So, naturally, she acts like the tears are not there, and he doesn’t acknowledge it. But his heart does break a little bit. Sooyoung’s words needle at him, because he knows she was right. He hasn’t been fair to his family, and he doesn’t know how to make it up to them, but he will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes.
“Am I still invited to breakfast?” He asks carefully, tensing when she swats at him. While grumbling about it being too early for his jokes, she waves him in with the biggest smile he’s seen on her face in three years.
He stays for breakfast, and then for lunch. For dinner, he meets with his closest friends for their annual Christmas dinner, instead of canceling like he has the last few times. They welcome him with open arms and spend the night catching him up on the things he’s missed. Rather than feel guilty, he’s grateful that they never gave up on him. Though he probably doesn’t deserve them, he’s reminded of all the reasons he’s lucky to have them. Much to his dismay, time flows like river water, and eventually he has to say his goodbyes. He promises to see them for New Years, and heads home.
The longing grows headier the closer he gets. However, he doesn’t let himself feel it till he has showered, brushed his teeth, and climbed beneath the sheets. In the dark, he allows the thoughts of Taehyung to seep in, overwhelmed by the way he misses the man after only knowing him for a night. He has many regrets. Over time, he’s collected them like trading cards. Not believing in Taehyung and his magic sooner, not cherishing the moments with him more, these two are the newest additions. Sleep gives him a reprieve from the things that the Morning sun shines a harsh light on, but the new day comes regardless of his reluctance to welcome it.
Another day follows that one, and then another day comes after that, and another after that, and Seokjin goes on. He gets better. He stops wasting his time, he sees his family more, and he remains thankful to Sooyoung and the Saint in red.
New Years Eve is cold as hell, but his best friend’s unnecessarily large two story apartment is a blanket fresh out of the dryer. The snow is high, the lighting is low, and all his friends are drinking. Yoongi keeps trying to describe his interior design choices in great detail while pointing randomly at furniture pieces. Namjoon is the only one listening. The others are climbing on said furniture pieces, Hobi and Jimin going as far as dancing on the coffee table. Seokjin is begrudgingly turtling into his coat, and leaving the blanket of chaos to duck out into the winter weather. He’d forgotten the belated christmas gifts in his car, and wanted to get them now before he got too intoxicated to make the trek.
Cradling the wrapped boxes in his arm, he locks the car with a click of a button, and starts back. He is of course not expecting there to be someone standing there. “Christ on a cracker!” he hollers, his feet slipping in the snow, and sliding out from under him. He drops like a folding table, and lands on his back in starfish fashion.
“I had a feeling you’d fall for me.” A face and a boxy smile pop into view above him. “Did you miss me?”
Seokjin closes his eyes, feeling the embarrassing, fond smile on his lips. His whole body buzzes. “Am I hallucinating?”
“Is it a good hallucination?”
Taehyung is kneeling at his side when he opens his eyes. Seokjin props up onto his elbows, unintentionally bringing their faces closer. “In this hallucination, do you stay?”
“No.” Taehyung replies, touching a thumb to Seokjin’s pout. “But the real me will.”
“Well, I figured if I came all the way back for you, I might as well stay.”
“How generous of you.”
“I’m known to be very giving.” Taehyung takes Seokjin’s his hand from where it sits carefully along his jawline. He tangles their fingers. “Don’t look so serious.”
“Dad owed me a christmas gift.”
“Even after what you did?”
Taehyung's expression is earnest. “I did the right thing, and he sees that now. Or he will. I’ve been put on probation, I agreed to my new assignment, I’ve accepted the consequences. So, there was no other reason to stop me from coming back.”
Taehyung’s lips are satin against his. The kiss isn’t rough, but it’s firm. Direct and intimate. Their mouths slot together in an ebb and flow. Taehyung tastes like hot chocolate and peppermint, and stars burst behind Seokjin’s eyes. After another minute or so Taehyung pulls away and pecks at his nose. “I’m not sorry.”
“Mhm. I think you were supposed to wait until midnight to do that.”
“I needed you to shut up.”
“How dare you!” Seokjin squawks, feigning offense while getting off the ground. “It’s a privilege to hear my voice!”
“And a pleasure not to.”
“I’m going inside.” Seokjin huffs. Taehyung gasps dramatically, following behind Seokjin with the gifts he couldn’t carry.
“I finally get to meet your friends!”
“I didn’t say you could come!”
“But you want me to.”
“Get out of my head!”
“But then I can’t hear how badly you want to kiss me again.”
“This is not going to work out.” Seokjin shakes his head, but there’s a smirk playing at the corner of his mouth. Taehyung pecks a kiss to it, stopping at his side when they reach the front door.
“This is going to be great.”
“You’re lucky my friends are probably too drunk to ask any questions, but still, behave yourself.”
“What do you mean?” Taehyung grins. The door swings open with a snap of his fingers, and he winks at Seokjin. “I’m a saint.”