I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Zen held his breath, staring in at the shop display, trying to keep from fogging the glass. This is it. It’s perfect. I just need to buy it. …I don’t know why I’m so hesitant. I know she’ll like it. She said she liked it, when we saw it before. It’s going to be fine. Just buy it.
He’d never been so terrified about a gift before. Then again…he’d never had someone in his life like Jaehee before.
How had he never seen it? All that time, of course he knew she was a fan. She was entirely devoted to his work, and he appreciated her for it. But as Jaehee insisted that her interest only ever went as far as admiring his looks and talent…he’d never even considered what his feelings for her might be. She was a friend. A coworker, in a way. But a romantic interest…it wasn’t until he saw Rion and Seven–Saeyoung–and then Jumin…and Chrissy with Yoosung, that he really felt it. He’d always been lonely. It was a mockery, really, saying as loudly as he did that he wanted a girlfriend and that he felt so terribly alone.
But there was truth in it. There were some nights, when all the lights in the city were out, and the television had clicked over to useless infomercials, and he sat in the darkness of his underground apartment, the only thing he could feel the chill of the beer can in his hand…yes. He was painfully alone. Narcissist, he couldn’t deny. Romantic, he’d gladly accept. And yet here he was, day after day, living a life apart, trying to please women who would never really know him. Keeping the hearts of strangers unbroken, he needed to shatter his own.
It wasn’t fair. He wanted someone there, someone he could talk to not only about his work, but about life. About their dreams and aspirations, about plans for the future, about the past and how they’d overcome it.
And Jaehee appeared at his doorstep, out of breath and wild-eyed, and said she wanted his advice, and did he think she could run her own business? Everything had fallen together so fast, first working as her partner in the shop, acting as another public face for the work, working the crowds she wasn’t as comfortable with…and he wasn’t sure when he’d first known, but it became evident incredibly fast that though he’d never been in love before…he was starting to fall.
She was such an amazingly strong woman. He shook his head, walking out of the shop and tucking the small box into his pocket, burying his face in his scarf. Even now, when everything was working against her, she was determined to help with the café in any way that she could. Barely able to keep food down, violently ill and likely pregnant…and this woman wanted to know how sales were doing, and did they have enough profit to hire someone to make some basic food?
She was amazing.
He’d walked with her home one night, after they’d been talking shop at a restaurant most of the night and had each had probably one drink too many, and standing at her door they’d both frozen. It was the perfect movie moment, and neither of them knew what to do. He’d been terrified…god, it was funny now, looking back. Here he was, Hyun Ryu, famous actor Zen, known across the country for his portrayals of dashing lead romantic heroes…stopped in his tracks by a woman he’d known for years.
It was still strange then, seeing her without the glasses she’d worn for her work at C&R, seeing her hair start to grow out…small changes, but notable ones. She was becoming herself, the real Jaehee Kang, and not the cardboard cut-out assistant Jumin had wanted her to be.
And to this day, he still didn’t know how he managed to work up the courage to kiss her.
It had been quick, chaste, and over in a heartbeat, but it left them both blushing bright red, and his heart pounding in his chest like a jackhammer. She’d stammered a good night and vanished inside, and he’d spent the next two days wondering if he’d made some kind of horrible mistake.
But the next Monday, they worked together as if nothing had happened, and he relaxed.
And the next time they walked home, she kissed his cheek.
He’d decided not long after that that he was going to buy her the bracelet. He wasn’t going to let her get away. She was starting to draw attention–not that she noticed, of course; this was Jaehee he was talking about–and he wasn’t about to let anyone else even begin to steal her attention away.
He was Zen, dammit. If he couldn’t win the girl, then no one could.
Of course, it’d been an obvious answer. She’d blushed bright red, and stammered, and then nodded quickly and held out her wrist. He slid it onto her, caught her hand, and pulled her into a proper kiss–their first proper kiss.
It had been perfect. He’d never been so happy. He wasn’t sure it was possible to be more happy.
Then when the Mint Eye bastards had taken her…it felt like his soul had been ripped apart. He’d finally devoted his heart to someone, dedicated his life to her even if it had never sounded that official, and now…now she was gone. Vanished. Abducted. Learning that Rion and Chrissy were gone as well was icing on the shit sandwich, but he couldn’t think of anything else. Their relationship had barely begun. They’d only shared a bed a handful of times, and had been intimate even fewer. It was still shy for them, for some reason. Not for lack of desire–no, on both parts, that much was evident–but for whatever reason it felt…like the timing wasn’t right. Something felt funny. But oh, did she wake a fire in his core. She was the most beautiful woman he’d even known.
And someone had stolen her from him.
He’d kill them. Destroy them with his bare hands if he had to, it didn’t matter. If he couldn’t get her back, there was nothing he had left in his life.
Suddenly, everything V had ever done made infinitely more sense.
Of course, now he knew that V hadn’t actually died when he’d been shot, but that had been another situation entirely. Now…now he understood, though. All the secrets, all the hesitation, the extent to which he protected the woman he’d fallen in love with. There was little he wouldn’t do for Jaehee. He’d lost a role to stay by her side–not that he’d tell her that, certainly not now. But it didn’t matter. For the first time he could remember, what happened to him wasn’t relevant. He wasn’t the focus–and he didn’t mind. Sure, he lost a role. It was small; he could make up for it. But Jaehee…sick and miserable and unable to focus…he couldn’t leave her. He couldn’t bear to step away. What if she needed him? Yes, she was strong. Jaehee Kang was the strongest woman he’d ever known. She didn’t need help. But…when she was so sick…it broke his heart into pieces. He needed to be there. He’d never needed anything more.
And now, in the moments when she finally returned into his arms, frail and pale from her time in the cells…to tell him that she thought she might be expecting, because it’d been almost two months now and she’d seen no sign, and the test had said… He hadn’t known whether to be excited or furious. Furious at the people who had potentially put this life in danger…the life of the woman he loved, their maybe unborn child, and by association his own life… It had been such an overwhelming feeling. If he ever believed he’d been in love before…it was nothing. All of it was nothing in comparison to this. Every ounce of him was filled with her.
Strange, really. He’d known Jaehee for years. Never once thought of her as a romantic interest. She was a fan, a devoted one, and a good friend…but once he’d thought of it he hadn’t been able to put it aside.
Now, here they were coming up on Christmas and they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to leave the hospital before the holiday. Jaehee insisted that he should go, be with the other RFA members, but he refused. Yes, he wanted to see his friends. But as much as they meant to him, on Christmas he wanted to be with the ones he truly loved.
And for the first time in his life, he knew exactly who that was.
He’d had so many dreams, before. Leading up to the holiday, he’d built a thousand ideas for a romantic evening on Christmas Eve, and then waking with the sunrise, spending the whole day of the holiday wrapped around each other…wearing matching scarves, giving her his jacket when she got cold…a thousand dreams, and never a Christmas to actually do anything about them. He was a hopeless romantic and he knew it–though people questioned that when he seemed to be as much of a narcissist as he was, since being romantic would have to take focus off of him.
Didn’t these people know an act when they saw one? Sure, he had levels of self confidence that most people didn’t. He knew that he was attractive, and he wasn’t going to let anyone tell him differently. And yes, he was talented. He’d worked hard to get to where he was, and he was proud of the work he’d done. So he boasted. In the acting field, you had to be a certain level of narcissist or you were never going to get cast. Either you believed that you were best for the role, or you got relegated to the back of the chorus. And he was too damn pretty to be in the back.
But for Christmas, he didn’t care. He wanted the white Christmas and bells jingling and Christmas trees covered in lights and tinsel and ornaments…presents wrapped underneath, a fire blazing and hot cocoa in mugs…and the woman he loved next to him, curled up in his arms, perfect as a picture.
And instead, it was Christmas Eve, his pregnant and viciously ill girlfriend was in the hospital–still–and the doctors still weren’t sure if she was going to be able to come home before the holiday. She’d been doing better; she was keeping food down, and the medications they’d been giving her had been quelling the nausea enough so that she could walk around and talk for more than a few minutes. Apparently, though, they weren’t sure. It was driving him up a wall. Jaehee, bless her beautiful soul, was taking it all entirely in stride. Saeran was keeping her informed over her email of what needed to be done, and she was working the cafe as best she could from a hospital bed. She’d been emailing Rion as well, seeing what she could do to help C&R in her free time.
Free time. Now there was a new concept for Jaehee Kang.
But he’d had enough. It was Christmas, dammit, and he was going to do something special, even if he couldn’t make it the one he wanted. He was going to make sure he had a hundred more Christmases with this woman, and with each and every one of them he was going to make it up to her, again and again, that their first Christmas was going to be spent in the sterile and cold hospital room.
It’s still Christmas Eve. There’s still time. Yoosung and Chrissy both had assured them that it didn’t matter when they came, if they were able to. As long as they came, that was the part that mattered. So he headed back to the hospital, waving to the staff in the lobby as he walked in. He was starting to learn their names. This was getting out of hand.
The doctors, for the most part, had stopped trying to argue about visiting hours. Once Jaehee had become coherent enough, she’d done all the paperwork to keep him around in a legal sense, even without him being family or husband. So when he walked in, the doctor just looked at him, smiled, and went back to his notes.
Jaehee looked up and smiled, tilting her head as he came up to meet him for a soft kiss. Utterly surreal. “How are you feeling?”
“About the same. I haven’t been sick in a while, however, so that’s promising.” She sighed, tilting her head back and forth. “The medication has been helping.”
“That’s good.” He slid out of his jacket, hanging it on the hook by the door and taking the seat he’d shifted over to her bedside. It was sad, how familiar it all felt. It was almost comfortable.
…or would have been, if it hadn’t been such a disaster of a situation. And in a hospital. Details.
“Are you okay?” she asked, voice soft as she looked over at him. They’d had a conversation after Saeyoung’s visit the other day, and she’d forced him to go home and sleep. The doctors had given him sleeping medications and everything. And he’d slept, though he wasn’t sure that he’d slept well…and he’d gone back to her apartment, not his. Being in his…still reminded him of the abduction. That he’d been gone, and she’d been there all alone, and someone had broken into his place and…
He swallowed, pushing the thoughts back. It was fine. She was here, with him, and as safe as anyone could make her. It was fine. “I’m okay. It was a good walk. It’s cold out there, though.”
“Mmm, you feel chilled.” She rested the back of her hand on his cheek, and he turned his head just enough to kiss the skin. She smiled. “Not everything’s frozen, I see.”
“My heart is impossible to freeze.” He winked.
“Miss Kang?” the doctor interrupted. “I’m going to take these tests down to the lab and see what we can make of them, okay?”
“Of course. Thank you.” He nodded and left, leaving the two of them alone in the room together. “I’m sorry, Hyun.”
He blinked. “What for?”
“That…” She sighed. “I know you…well, both of us had been hoping for a romantic first Christmas at home, but…”
“So you’re apologizing that the kid–or kids, I guess–are trying to make you feel like death? It’s not your fault, gorgeous.” He kissed her forehead, brushing his thumb against her cheek. “We’ll have lots of Christmases to make up for it.”
“But not the first.”
“Hey now, let’s not be too pessimistic already!” He tapped her nose with a finger. “There’s nothing saying we won’t get out of here tonight.”
She mimed looking over her glasses at him, an action that still managed to hold the intended effect despite the lack of glasses. “I think that’s a bit unlikely at this point.”
He looked at his watch. “It’s only quarter to three. That’s plenty of time.” He pushed her hair back away from her face. “I’m going to be an optimist until it’s beaten out of me.”
“Please don’t go getting yourself beaten.” She gave him a tired smile. “Whenever we get home will be fine. I’d rather wait until everyone is sure I can, than rush and end up back here.”
“Fair enough.” He reached down and laced his fingers with hers. “I…I’m thinking maybe…once you’re out and everything, we should look into finding a place we can have…together. My apartment, one, is too small for both of us and two, has bad memories. And your apartment is nice but…”
“But not for the both of us. Certainly not with a family, as well.” She rested her free hand on her stomach. “Particularly if the doctors are right and it is in fact a multiple birth. Yes…that would be good.”
“I’ll start looking for places, then.” He wasn’t going to add that at least until everything with them was stable again, a certain former employer of hers was fronting a good deal of the money to make sure they were taken care of. He’d been getting along with Jumin a lot more than he used to–having Rion around to smack him around a bit was helpful–but it still rubbed him the wrong way to take charity from the trust fund kid. But…it was for Jaehee, and Rion flatout said that if he didn’t take it from Jumin, they were giving it to them, and he wanted to take money from Rion less. Rion had less to burn.
She leaned back in the bed, sighing out a breath. “I’m so tired of being in here. I want to go be outside. I want to see all the decorations. I know you’ve brought me pictures…but it’s not the same.”
“I know, love. I know it’s not the same.” He squeezed her hand. “But with any luck at all, we’ll be able to see them before they all come down before the new year.” There was a beat of silence before he finally spoke again. “Ah…so, there was a really old tradition in my family, back from when I was just a kid, of being able to open one present on Christmas Eve. Just a little one, but we got one early present. I haven’t really thought about it in a long time, but…I wanted to still let you have an early present.”
“Hyun…” She gave a soft sigh. “But I don’t have any of my presents for you here.”
“It’s okay. Seeing the look on your face will be present enough for me.” He took his free hand and pulled the box out of his pocket, offering it to her. She let go of his hand to take the box in both of hers, frowning softly at it.
“This… This looks like a box from the jeweler we were looking at a few months back.” Zen said nothing. “Zen. You didn’t. It’s…it’s way too…”
“Open it, jagiya.” His voice was soft.
With a final look to him, she opened the box–and almost dropped it, one hand flying to her mouth as tears filled her eyes. “I… How did you possibly afford this? I remember how expensive it was.”
“Don’t worry about the price tag. I didn’t kill myself or put myself in the poor house, and that’s all that matters. Most of your other presents are a little on the cheaper side, but…”
“Hyun…” She sighed again, tears spilling down her cheeks. “Thank you. It’s wonderful.”
“Can I?” He held out his hand to the box, and she nodded, handing it to him. He took the necklace out of its box and fastened it around her neck–a slender gold chain holding a flower, edged in gold with petals of mother-of-pearl, all with a golden sunburst in the center holding a single diamond. The chain was a little longer than a choker, so it sat high on her neck, and all she could do was touch the charm once it was fastened. “It looks perfect on you,” he responded, voice rough with emotion.
“Thank you, thank you so much.” She leaned over and gave him a soft kiss, one that he returned easily, feeling all the stress of the day–of the week–wash away.
How had he ever not loved this woman?
“I am so…excited, and proud…of what our little family is going to be,” he murmured, voice low against her lips. “And we will give our children the wonderful, loving, and happy home that neither of us had.”
He could hear a small gasp of a sob sneak out at that. “I love you so much.”
“And I you, darling.”
A moment later, the head doctor poked his head into the room. “Jaehee, Zen?” They both looked over and he smiled. “Good news for you.”