“So who did you get for your Secret Santa?”
Taehyung's legs swing back and forth from where he's lying at the foot of Jeongguk's rather tall bed. He's got his nose scrunched up in the way it gets when he's thinking too hard, and Jeongguk resists the urge to go over and pinch it
“Wouldn't be a secret then, would it?” Jeongguk quips, using his toes to lightly nudge the older boy's side. He's got his back against the headboard and some pillows, and they're both exhausted from the school day.
Taehyung huffs, his lower lip sticking out in the pout that he knows Jeongguk has a hard time resisting. Jeongguk sticks his tongue out at him but Taehyung simply laughs, rolling over until he's lying on Jeongguk's legs. It's not an unwelcome weight.
“Good thing I haven't told you mine then,” Taehyung grinning as he flails his limbs around in an attempt to bother Jeongguk, “That wouldn't have been fair.”
High School was difficult in and of itself; Jeongguk didn't need the added complication of also being in love with his childhood best friend, who also happened to be in every single one of his classes, and who also had the bad habit of spending every waking moment clinging to his side. Jeongguk was often pegged as a strong guy, but eventually it started taking a toll on him. Every time he breathed in Taehyung's cologne at the start of first period made him want to rip his hair out.
So when he drew his best friend's name – out of all the goddamn names in his grade – from the hat during homeroom, he made a deal with himself. If Taehyung thought his Secret Santa was a romantic sap and liked him, then Jeongguk would confess on Christmas Day. If Taehyung didn't, then he wouldn't, and he'd force himself to move on. Simple. Fool proof.
“your smile looks like it was made with pure sunshine – secret santa :)”
The first note arrives before first period the next day. It comes in a small red envelope and Jeongguk watches from behind a crowd as Taehyung plucks it from where it's stuck on his locker and opens it. There's genuine joy in his eyes, and Jeongguk feels a soft smile creep onto his lips when Taehyung's face lights up like a Christmas tree.
When Taehyung sits down on the desk next to his, Jeongguk has to play dumb as to why his best friend is grinning from ear to ear. Taehyung excitedly shows him the note, smoothing it down on his desk, and Jeongguk listens, Jeongguk nods, and Jeongguk relishes in the way Taehyung's eyes twinkle when he wonders aloud who it could be.
When their home room teacher shushes the class afterwards, Jeongguk catches Taehyung looking longingly at the note, and he gulps. He might have to gather up the courage after all.
“you should wear flannel more often. it looks really god on you :D – secret santa”
It's stuck into the pages of Taehyung's math book, and he squeals to Jeongguk about it during lunch, saying he's sure his Secret Santa had snuck it in there when he went to the bathroom during study hall and left his stuff on his desk, and that maybe it's Jackson from Physics, or Soonyoung from Algebra, or even that girl Daehyun who skipped a couple of grades and knows Taehyung from English. There are so many names on his list that Jeongguk doesn't even worry about getting jealous.
He rattles on and on, saying that he wonders when the last time he wore flannel was, what color would look best. Jeongguk has to bite back his tongue from blurting out “navy blue,” because Taehyung had worn it when they went out for ice cream last week, and Jeongguk couldn't stop teasing him about the cap and thick framed glasses he paired along with it. It's times like that Jeongguk admits to himself he's got it pretty damn bad, but Taehyung had ended up with ice cream on the tip of his nose so he supposes he can't blame himself. His best friend was just naturally adorable. It was difficult to resist.
“God, I'm so impatient,” Taehyung says, slipping the note into his phone case, “I wish I could find out who it was tomorrow. I have to wait the rest of the month?” He wrinkles his nose, and Jeongguk has to fight the urge to nuzzle it with his own.
“Everyone's got to wait, Tae,” Jeongguk says, tapping the edge of his yogurt cup with his spoon, “Besides, you'll get more notes in the meantime.”
Taehyung brightens up at that, and Jeongguk doesn't even bother to stamp down the fondness that swirls in his chest.
“i would pluck the stars out of the sky to be able to hear your laugh forever – secret santa”
“Ah hah!” Taehyung says, slapping the note down onto Jeongguk's desk in third period, and Jeongguk blinks at him in question. He's raised the frequency of the notes, making sure his handwriting's as hidden as possible, slipping them into Taehyung's things any time Taehyung is far away enough not to notice. Jeongguk's gotten pretty sneaky. The triumph in his voice has Jeongguk worried for a second.
“This means they've heard me laugh. So it must be someone I know,” Taehyung drops his voice to a whisper, bringing his face close to Jeongguk. Jeongguk almost lets out a sigh of relief, but Taehyung's face is suddenly right next too his, so he's holding his breath instead. He has to force himself not to flush at the proximity.
“The entire school's heard you laugh,” Jeongguk says, rolling his eyes to keep from staring into Taehyung's determined gaze, “You're not exactly a quiet person.”
Taehyung withdraws, and sticks his tongue out of the corner of his lip in that cute way he does when he's thinking too hard.
“You're right.” He sits down on his desk, and his shoulders slump ever so slightly. Jeongguk frowns a bit, and brings his hand up to give Taehyung's arm a light squeeze.
“Don't worry,” Jeongguk says, letting his touch linger for just a second longer than he normally would, “You'll find out soon enough, right?”
Taehyung expression softens, and the corners of his lips quirk up in a small smile, “Yeah, right.”
“knowing that i make you smile is the only christmas present i could ever need – secret santa”
“But how do they know?” Taehyung says, tone incredulous, “Are they watching me? Stalking me? How?” He gestures to the note like he's a detective and it's the one final clue that he needs to solve this murder case. Jeongguk bites back a laugh, enjoying how invested Taehyung's gotten into this, how much Taehyung probably thinks about it.
Unfortunately, Taehyung catches him, and he narrows his eyes at Jeongguk in suspicion. Jeongguk's eyes widen in panic.
“Did they ask you?” Taehyung says, “Do you know who it is?” Taehyung's staring Jeongguk down, and he's grateful he's practiced for this exact moment or else that intense stare would've left him too flustered to lie.
“No,” Jeongguk says, trying his best to sound just the right amount of defensive, “They've probably seen you looking at your notes. You stare at them lovingly all the time when you're not paying attention in class.”
Taehyung blinks a few times, and Jeongguk can almost see the gears churning in his head. It's adorable, how easy it is to read Taehyung's face sometimes, when he's carefree and unguarded like he is with Jeongguk. Years of knowing the boy means Jeongguk can pick up even the most subtle of mood changes, and it's become second nature to him.
Later, when Taehyung's telling about the new puppy his neighbor has and how sweet it already is despite only having met Tae a couple of times, Jeongguk wonders what's ever stopped him from falling headfirst into this boy. He wonders why he's ever complained about how he feels. Because every bit of Taehyung lights up as he speaks, and every bit of Jeongguk feels at home listening to his voice.
“to match how sweet you are :) – secret santa”
It comes attached to a candy bar – Taehyung's favorite, which is Snickers – and Taehyung's too pleased to eat it. He places it gingerly next to his lunch tray that day, and he keeps glancing over to it in between sentences, like the concentrated piece of sugar was his Secret Santa himself.
“Gukkie,” Taehyung says, tone trailing into something a little more serious, “Can I tell you something?”
Jeongguk nearly chokes, but he manages to swallow the bite of rice just in time.
“Of course,” Jeongguk answers, and he tries not to let himself thinking too much, not to panic as he watches Taehyung worry his bottom lip between his teeth. Jeongguk settles for gripping his fork a little too tight.
“I think I – ” Taehyung starts, and Jeongguk swears his heart stops.
“I think I have a crush on my Secret Santa.”
Jeongguk's jaw falls open, and Taehyung buries his face in his hands. In between his long fingers, Jeongguk can see that he's gone red in the face. The wind's been knocked out of him, and Jeongguk, for the first time, has been left utterly speechless. So he settles for the single word he's turning over in his head.
“God, I don't know!” Taehyung says, slightly flustered by his own emotions, “It's stupid, isn't it? I don't even know them, if they're a boy or a girl, or what they're like, or if they even like dogs, or art, or Star Wars. I'm just – I have a feeling – and I know, it's so stupid and I – ”
“Tae!” Jeongguk says, reaching across the table and pull Taehyung's hands from his face, “It's not stupid.”
“W—what?” Taehyung says, blinking at him, and then looking down at where Jeongguk's hands are clasped tightly around his.
“It's not stupid,” Jeongguk says, voice softer, gentler, as he runs his thumbs over the inside of Taehyung's wrists, “Okay? Don't feel bad. They seem really nice.”
Taehyung nods, keeping his eyes on their joined hands. Jeongguk marvels for a second at how this feels, because it's strangely intimate, and he's not sure where he got the courage to do this. He wonders how it'd be like to be able to hold Taehyung like this every day, to be able to lace their fingers together and call him his.
Jeongguk shakes his head, as if to physically shake the thoughts away, and slips his hands out of Taehyung's. He thinks he might've seen Taehyung's hands move to follow his, as if to say not to let go, but he might have imagined it. Jeongguk's been hoping a little too much lately, and he's long since given up on stopping himself from dreaming of a future with Taehyung.
Taehyung smiles then, once the moment slips away, and Jeongguk smiles back.
“i wish my christmas eve plans included cuddling with you by the fire – secret santa”
“This is definitely romantic, right?” Taehyung says, putting the note in a larger envelope he bought the other day for the sole purpose of keeping all of his Secret Santa notes in once place. There'd been countless notes, but Jeongguk's certain Taehyung's kept track of them all. “Like, there is no way in hell this could be anything other than romantic, right?”
“I guess,” Jeongguk says, tossing a bit of popcorn into his mouth. It's Friday, which means movie night at Jeongguk's house, but half of the time they just leave the movie playing in the background while they hang out. Jeongguk puts the bowl of popcorn down on the coffee table, and then hugs his knees to his chest, “Then again – I mean, we cuddle all the time – ”
“But that's different,” Taehyung says, a little too quickly, and Jeongguk has to ignore the way his heart sinks, “We've been cuddling since we were six. This Secret Santa probably means the romantic kind of cuddle, right?”
Jeongguk gulps, looking away and staring at a stain on the couch, “R-right.”
“I'm just saying they – that they – ” Taehyung sighs, a little dreamily, and then cuts himself off. Normally, Jeongguk would ask him to finish the thought, but right now he's a little too tired, a little too terrified. Was that technically getting friendzoned? Did Taehyung just blatantly state there was nothing going on between them?
Jeongguk bites his lip, and tries to let it go, but it lingers at the back of his mind for the rest of the night.
They both fall asleep on Jeongguk's rather large couch that night, heads on either end of it, and legs tangled haphazardly in the center. Taehyung snores softly, in that way he does when he hasn't been getting enough sleep lately, and Jeongguk falls asleep trying not to listen. When they come home, Jeongguk's parents place blankets over them, turn off the TV and the lights, and leave them be.
At half past two in the morning, Jeongguk eyes flutter open at a movement, a rustle of blankets, limbs brushing against his. This must be a dream, he thinks, when he feels Taehyung's weight settle on top of him. One of Taehyung's hands goes up to rest on his neck, fingers curling around it protectively, and the other traces his arm until he finds Jeongguk's hand under the blankets. The contact makes Jeongguk shiver.
Taehyung hums softly as he laces their fingers together. Jeongguk falls asleep right after that, with Taehyung's cheek pressed against his chest. Jeongguk wishes, eyes shut and in the space between dreams, that this was his reality.
“a few more days then i get to talk to that beautiful face in person. you ready? – secret santa”
“Oh god,” Taehyung says, pacing around Jeongguk's room, his Winnie the Pooh socks making cute padding sounds against the carpet, “I don't think I'm ready. I'm not ready to meet him.”
Jeongguk looks up from his phone. He's seated comfortably on his bed, legs cross over each other, just watching over Taehyung while he freaks out. It's the last Monday before Winter break, and the Secret Santa reveal's meant to be on Friday. And Jeongguk would be lying if he said he wasn't scared shitless. Taehyung's always been the one more prone to vocal outbursts, while Jeongguk had learned a long time ago to keep his panic on the inside and to slip into a poker face. It was a set-up perfect for the current situation.
“When did you figure out your Secret Santa's a him?” Jeongguk asks, trying to keep his voice light and casual, though he's sure Taehyung's too busy losing his mind to pay attention to his best friend's tone.
“It's just a hunch,” Taehyung admits, turning around and making his way across Jeongguk's floor for the hundredth time, “But I feel it. And, ugh, I don't know. I'm terrified.”
“You were impatient as hell when you got the first note,” Jeongguk points out, setting his phone down and scooting till he's seated on the edge of the bed, “What's got you so nervous now?”
Taehyung lets out a sigh in an attempt to calm himself. Jeongguk reaches over and takes Taehyung's hand, tugging on it lightly so that Taehyung sits down next to him on his bed. As if on reflex, Taehyung curls up next to him immediately, his head going to rest on Jeongguk's shoulder. Jeongguk has to calm himself down for a second as his own hand goes to run soothing circles on Taehyung's back.
They breathe together – in and out – in perfect unison and silence. When Jeongguk's hand stills, it goes up and he tries not to think too much about how his fingers fit perfectly in the juncture between Taehyung's neck and shoulder.
“You're going to be fine, Tae.” Jeongguk says, finally speaking. Taehyung lifts his head to look at the younger boy, and Jeongguk's heart lodges in his throat as he stares back into wide, scared eyes.
“What if he doesn't really like me?” Taehyung whispers, “What if I didn't really mean anything? Just a project. This whole month, he – ”
“Shush,” Jeongguk says, voice cracking a little, “Don't say that.” One of Jeongguk's hands comes up instinctively, perhaps to touch his face, but it freezes halfway up. Taehyung notices, and he grabs Jeongguk's hand before it can fall back down. Jeongguk stares as Taehyung presses Jeongguk's palm against his cheek, and how visibly Taehyung seems to calm down at the touch.
Jeongguk gulps, and continues speaking as his thumb brushes against Taehyung's skin softly, “Anyone who would play you like that doesn't deserve you,” Jeongguk says, meaning the words, “And anyone who'd turn you down is a fool and doesn't know what they're missing.”
Taehyung smiles – small and hesitant, nothing like his grins – and Jeongguk decides he doesn't have a preference. He'd give anything to see Taehyung smile like this as much as he'd love to see his box smile; these small genuine smiles were meant for Jeongguk, for when Taehyung was vulnerable, for when Jeongguk knew exactly what to say. The countless times Jeongguk's held Taehyung over the years and pulled him back onto his feet. No matter what happens, no other person could take those moments away, because they belonged to Jeongguk.
“i hope i'm all you've wished for – secret santa”
On the last day of school, their homeroom teacher says that the Secret Santas can reveal themselves any time within the day. Many people leave their seats immediately, probably thinking it's better to just get it over with. Not everyone put as much effort into it as Jeongguk, which was expected, because not everyone managed to draw the name of the boy they've been in love with for years.
Jeongguk watches Taehyung from the corner of his eye as a girl named Joy goes up to reveal herself as Jeongguk's Secret Santa. She's pleasant enough, and her notes were sweet despite not being very abundant. She admits to finding him cute, but didn't say anything more. When she returns to her seat, Jeongguk turns to Taehyung. The older boy was pouting.
“What?” Jeongguk knits his eyebrows together, and Taehyung just tears his gaze away.
“She was cute, wasn't she?” He says, and Jeongguk scratches the back of his head. It wasn't like Taehyung to ask questions like that, but Jeongguk figures he'd indulge him just once.
“I guess,” He says, shrugging, “Not my type though.”
Taehyung falls silent at that, fiddling with the corner of his notebook as the teacher starts class. Jeongguk tilts his head in question, but Taehyung doesn't look at him. So he turns to the teacher as well, and forces himself not to overthink.
The entire day, Taehyung is on high alert. Every person who wants is attention is a suspect; every tap on the shoulder could be all of his dreams coming true. He jumps at the slightest provocation, and Jeongguk wonders if this is a good kind of giddy or a bad kind of giddy. Nevertheless, he sticks by Taehyung's side the whole day, making him laugh when he's nervous, and easing the tension in the older boy's shoulders just a bit. Jeongguk knows how to bide his time. He can't confess in the middle of the day, in the middle of class. It has to be done just right.
Jeongguk's had a month to gather up the courage, and now, there's isn't a thing he's more sure of than what he feels for Kim Taehyung.
The last note comes at the very end of the day. Taehyug is a little tired of waiting, and frankly a little disappointed, so he trudges to his locker after his last period by himself. The hallways have only a few people in them, because everyone's excited to head home or head out, because Winter Break is upon them, and they're all free. Free. And Taehyung wishes he could celebrate with them, but all he's thinking about is how his stupid Secret Santa hasn't shown up yet and –
“turn around :)”
It's stuck to his locker, and it takes a moment for him to process. The handwriting is definitely the same hand used to write the other notes, but it's more familiar now, more messy, more like the scrawl he's come to know all too well. Taehyung pulls it off, and his eyes widen in realization.
Taehyung whips around so quickly he stumbles right into Jeongguk's chest.
“Whoa there,” Jeongguk says, laughing, “Easy.” Taehyung's hands are splayed out on his chest, and Jeongguk's hands are on his arms, steadying him. The note flutters to the floor, and Taehyung's too shocked to do anything about it.
Jeongguk places him back on his feet, his touch gentle. Taehyung's eyes are still blown wide, and he stares at the younger as he bends down to pick it up.
“Hey,” Jeongguk says, offering Taehyung a shy smile and the slip of paper, “You dropped this.”
Taehyung's hands are shaky as he takes the note from Jeongguk, and his mouth falls open once, twice, and Jeongguk thinks he looks a little bit like a goldfish. It's adorable.
“Are you – ” Taehyung starts, but it looks like the words get stuck in his throat. Jeongguk just laughs, and nods. He's absolutely terrified, because he promised himself he's going to tell Taehyung how he feels – everything, from the very beginning, and everything he didn't say in his notes – and regardless of how his best friend takes it, at Jeongguk can sleep tonight knowing he's said what he wanted to say.
“Yeah, yeah, I am,” Jeongguk says, and he gives Taehyung a moment to process the information. The older boy runs a hand through his hair, and shakes his head. Jeongguk can almost see the millions of thoughts running through his mind, the words on the notes coming back little by little, slowly associating them with the boy in front of him. It's probably a lot to take in.
“Can we talk?” Jeongguk blurts out, taking the plunge. This is it. This is his moment. In a surge of bravery, Jeongguk reaches over and takes Taehyung's hand in his, and is pleasantly surprised when he doesn't flinch.
Taehyung's fingers shift, and Jeongguk can't keep the smile off his face when Taehyung shows him that they fit perfectly in the spaces between Jeongguk's. They're holding hands as they leave the school building.
The air between them is thick with possibility, and both of them can almost hear each other's thoughts from how loud they're both overthinking. But neither of them speak. Taehyung walks with Jeongguk, side by side, and lets him lead him. Taehyung's breath hitches when he realizes where they're going, but he doesn't say anything. It's only a few blocks away from their high school, and Taehyung marvels at how little it's really changed. The playground. Their playground. It's old and worn, with most of the paint chipped off and the joints rusty, but it was where they met. Years and years ago.
Their hands slip away from each other as Jeongguk goes to stand by the swings. That's where Taehyung had first said hello. The older boy can already feel tears well up in his eyes, but he blinks them away.
Jeongguk stands a solid two feet away from him, looking very awkward with his shoulders tense and nerves showing quite clearly in his expression. Taehyung bites back a smile.
“I actually, um,” Jeongguk clears his throat loudly, “I've been wanting to tell you something. For a while now.”
Despite the wetness in his eyes, Taehyung can't help the grin, “Go on.”
“I'm just – ” Jeongguk wrings his hands together, “We've been best friends for a long time, and honestly I never thought this would happen but it – well, um – it just did, and I'm kind of tired of fighting it. All these years, I'm tired of trying to pretend I feel anything different. I want to be completely honest with you, so I have to tell you. The Secret Santa was just, um, I guess a way for me to gather up the courage to tell you.” Jeongguk pauses to look up at Taehyung, and he's still smiling, bright and wide, and in all of his years Jeongguk's never seen anything more beautiful. So he continues.
“Because I was scared. I'm still scared,” Jeongguk exhales, shaking his head, “But I'm going to take the chance, because you're – you're worth it. The possibility is worth it.”
Taehyung stares at him, eyes wide with expectation, and Jeongguk steps closer. Their breaths form small puffs of white in the air. Taehyung smells like vanilla, fresh snow, and everything Jeongguk's ever come to think of as home.
“Kim Taehyung,” Jeongguk whispers, “I'm in love with you.”
And Taehyung laughs. Low and deep and his tears spill down and stain his cheeks. Jeongguk brings a hand up to wipe them away, the soft pad of his thumb brushing against the apple of Taehyung's cheek. And he swears he feels the other boy's skin heat up at his touch.
“Stupid,” Taehyung says, hitting Jeongguk's chest halfheartedly, “You're so stupid.”
Jeongguk smiles down at him, “Why do you say that?”
“Because,” Taehyung says, laughing, and it's watery, but it's real, and it's beautiful, “I love you too, you moron."
The words fill Jeongguk up with glee, making his skin tingle. They're the words he's wanted to hear for so long, and he feels himself getting choked up just looking into Taehyung's eyes. They're deep, and brown, and hold all the promise in the world.
Jeongguk hums happily, and leans in, their noses bumping lightly, “I think I could live with that.”
Taehyung laughs as he smacks his chest again, before his hands slide up to wrap around Jeongguk's neck, “Just kiss me, you goddamn fool.”
Jeongguk laughs, young and carefree, because they have all the time in the world.
“As you wish.”
And so Jeongguk kisses Taehyung. They stand there, wrapped in each other and in the cold December air. Jeongguk thinks that even in the cruelest of winters, all he needed was the warmth of this boy's smile to keep him alive. Because Taehyung is his, and Taehyung is home.