The gorgeous boy next door needs to stop carolling outside Mark’s window at two am.
It’s Christmas time, snowflakes breaking free from the sky’s thick clouds, covering the trees with white. It’s cold outside and warm in, and everything smells like coffee and cinnamon. Laughter and fairy lights fill the streets, and there is a sense of joy and rebirth dancing in the chilly air. It’s completely infectious, the holiday spirit, but Mark really needs a proper sleep if he wants to at least pass his exams.
It happens often enough to be considered a pattern, enough for Mark to convince himself it isn’t just a bizarre fever dream induced by end of academic year stress.
The straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back is when his neighbour performs a particularly loud rendition of It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas in the middle of the night, only two weeks before said holiday . His voice is objectively gorgeous, all smooth notes and honeyed tones, but nothing remedies the dry eyes or pounding headache Mark wakes up with the following morning.
Three shots of caffeine later and Mark is pulling on a pair of ripped skinny jeans, black bomber jacket and a beanie, trying his best to look at least a little intimidating. He’s not the most confrontational person, but there is no way his grades will suffer because his neighbour has an affinity for late-night carolling. He leaves the warmth of his own apartment and hurries across the corridor, closing the space between himself and his neighbour’s door.
With a deep breath, he tries to steady the adrenaline pulsing through his body, and raises his hand to knock at the door. As soon as he does, a bang sounds from inside the apartment, immediately followed by a yelp of pain.
The door opens soon after, warm light spilling out of the apartment and Mark finds himself staring. The light outlines the boy standing before him in a golden aura that glimmers in his mousy brown locks and in his amber eyes. He’s around Mark’s age and almost his height, and yet he looks ethereal, something more than just a young man.
“Oh! Hello,” the boy speaks, eyes wide. Mark gulps, all intention dying in his throat. For a moment he forgets who he is, why he was here in the first place, until the boy in front of him clears his throat, a pretty pink dusting his cheeks. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, uh,” Mark starts dumbly, still in shock but deciding that it’s better to speak than be silent. He must look so strange right now, his brain unhelpfully provides, but he doesn’t listen because said brain also seems incapable of coming up with the right thing to say.
“I’m your neighbour, Mark. I don’t think we’ve met yet,” Mark says, and the confused expression on the boy’s face softens. Then, the ghost of a smile appears on his lips and it melts Mark’s heart.
“Hi! I’m Donghyuck. I moved here a few weeks ago,” he says excitedly, gesturing vaguely at his apartment while he speaks. “I’m sorry I haven’t introduced myself yet, I’ve been so busy,” he says, and Mark returns the apology, insisting he should have introduced himself earlier too.
Mark lingers on the words so busy for a moment, though, because from the way Donghyuck has been singing in the streets most evenings, he didn't seem to be very busy. In fact, it seemed he had quite a lot of time on his hands. Or maybe it was just that his complete disobedience of the normal twenty-four hour structure meant he found time to sing wherever he could. Ah, singing. That’s why Mark is here.
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something,” Mark starts, taking a breath. The boy quirks his eyebrows, not in a sarcastic way, but in curiosity. His eyes look so inviting and non-judgemental, innocent and welcoming, that Mark almost feels bad for what he is about to say. Almost. (His sleep deprived eye twitches.)
“I was wondering if you could,” he pauses, unsure of how to word it, “stop singing Christmas songs at two in the morning.” he finishes, and a strange silence falls between them before Donghyuck’s eyes widen in understanding.
“Oh!” he exclaims, and he’s blushing more furiously now. “I’m so sorry! I had no idea that you could hear me. Did I wake you up?” Donghyuck asks, and he looks so concerned and embarrassed that the desire to quip back yes, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks because of your stupid, gorgeous voice dies alongside any hard feelings he may have been harbouring towards the boy.
“Yes, but it’s okay,” Mark pulls a smile to his face. “I’m just a little stressed because of exams coming up soon,” he says, and Donghyuck’s eyes rake over his face, as if now noticing the circles Mark knows are under his eyes, darker than the dark side of the moon.
“Come in, please. Let me make you tea,” Donghyuck is insisting suddenly, gesturing for Mark to come inside. “It’s the least I can do,” he says, and Mark doesn’t have it in himself to resist (whether that’s because he’s not the best at saying no, or because the cause for his sleep deprivation happens to also be very cute, is not to be discussed).
They step inside the apartment, Donghyuck closing the door behind him. Mark takes in the space.
It’s identical to his own apartment except reversed, a studio apartment with a small kitchen, an open space for a bed and a living area. Mark smiles when he sees that the far right wall of the apartment, which faces north, is the same as his own; made almost entirely of glass, letting the weak yellow afternoon sun filter through the trees outside and into the apartment. That’s Mark’s favourite part of his own apartment, too.
He had spent many mornings watching the sun rise from the window seat, headphones in and a sketchbook in hand. Just as many evenings had been passed in that same spot, watching the snow fall outside and wondering what it would be like to share that moment with someone else.
Except Donghyuck’s apartment is different from his own in other ways. It doesn’t smell like fresh laundry and soap the way Mark’s does. It smells like honey, ginger and spice, with a hint of freshly baked bread. The colour scheme of the apartment is tones of white, beige and brown (where Mark’s is white and blue), and it has a certain coziness befitting the weather outside better than Mark’s apartment ever has.
Donghyuck invites Mark to a coffee table by the window where they sit, and that’s when Mark notices the vinyl player against the wall, hears the notes of a peaceful melody drifting out of the scratchy turntable. Donghyuck returns with two mugs of tea and sits down.
Mark can’t help but watch the way his brown hair falls around his long eyelashes, can’t help but trace the gentle slope of his small nose, or notice the fact that his lips are shaped like a heart. His white turtleneck hides his tanned skin, small moles like a constellation peaking out. It takes Mark a moment to notice Donghyuck is talking to him. When Mark blinks, Donghyuck laughs and repeats the question.
“I asked what you study,” he says, eyes tracking Mark’s in amusement, as if to check he is listening this time.
“Sorry,” Mark mumbles, being caught again staring at Donghyuck (part of him wonders if it happens to the boy often), and then, perking up he manages to say, “I study psychology.”
And maybe it’s the way Donghyuck’s eyes become half moons as he smiles, or maybe it’s the chance to talk about his passion, but Mark feels comfortable, settling a bit in his chair.
“Me too!” Donghyuck exclaims, and they stare at each other in half-amusement, half-disbelief.
“Really?” Mark asks, unable to hide his wonder and excitement. He doesn’t need to, really, because Donghyuck looks the same. He nods enthusiastically.
Mark laughs. “What a funny coincidence. The universe works in mysterious ways,” he ponders, and a small light dances in Donghyuck’s eyes. Mark takes a sip of his tea to distract himself from the warmth blossoming in his chest.
“Perhaps it’s a Christmas miracle,” Donghyuck says, and Mark almost chokes on his tea, because this boy must really love the holidaytime. And also because you can’t just say things like that.
“You really like Christmas, don’t you?” Mark asks, amused but not mocking. Donghyuck blushes for the third time that night, and it’s a very pretty sight.
“Yeah, I do,” he’s sheepish, but then it transforms into enthusiasm. “It’s my favourite time of year.”
“Is that why you sing carols after midnight?” Mark teases, because how could it be more than a joke to him now that he knows the criminal behind the crime is an adorable boy who smells like cinnamon. (The primal, sleep deprived demon inside Mark screams at the injustice.)
“Oh, I’m so sorry about that, again,” Donghyuck is quick to say.
“No, no,” Mark shakes his head, laughing, and Donghyuck relaxes a bit. “I was just joking. It’s alright. But if you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing awake at that time? Let alone singing outside?” Mark dares to ask, curiosity killing the figurative cat inside his head.
Donghyuck pauses, looking slightly speechless.
“Wow, it really sounds crazy when you put it like that,” he breathes out, and then they are laughing.
What a peculiar situation they find themselves in. It’s a merry, comfortable kind of laughter that reminds Mark of the feeling of coming in from the cold, the overwhelming sense of warmth, as you finally start to defrost and the shiver leaves your bones. Maybe there is some kind of magic in the air this time of year, his heart whispers to him.
“Well, actually,” Donghyuck starts. “I volunteer at the nursing home nearby. It gets quite depressing there around this time of year. A lot of them don’t have loved ones to celebrate with. So I spend most of my evenings there, singing carols and dancing with those who can still stand. I usually get home quite late,” Donghyuck says, and Mark may as well rename himself puddle because that is exactly what his heart has melted into. Something warm unfurls in his chest as Donghyuck’s words wash over him.
“Donghyuck,” Mark starts, and he’s struggling to put his thoughts to words again. “That’s incredible. I can’t believe you’re doing that.”
“It’s the least I can do,” Donghyuck smiles, and Mark feels guilty for the harsh thoughts he had had every time he woke up at an ungodly hour because of the boy next door. Donghyuck really meant no harm. “It’s important to give back, especially to those who have less.”
Mark nods, because he has always felt the same. It’s the reason he is studying psychology in the first place. “I couldn’t agree more,” he says, returning Donghyuck’s smile.
“We are psychology students, after all,” Donghyuck jokes and Mark laughs, because it’s as if Donghyuck read his thoughts. (And maybe he did; they are psychology students.) A comfortable silence falls between them and Mark musters the courage to say what comes to mind next.
“You have a beautiful voice,” his tone is serious as he breaks the silence, and it catches Donghyuck off guard, because his eyes widen before a delicate shade of red blooms on his cheeks.
“Thank you,” he says, biting his lip, a smile trapped beneath, trying to break free.
A week later they run into each other again. Well, run into each other isn’t exactly the most accurate term.
One evening Mark cooks way too much food, as is often the case since his eyes are significantly larger than his stomach, and he ends up making enough to feed four more mouths than he has at home. And so he finds himself knocking at Donghyuck’s door, butterflies in his stomach and an invitation on his lips.
When the boy opens the door, he’s dishevelled, his hair a mess, his lean figure drowning in the oversized sweater and sweatpants he’s wearing. The dazed look on his face immediately vanishes when he recognises Mark, and the butterflies that had made a home for themselves in Mark’s stomach over the past week start to flutter again.
Donghyuck looks just as gorgeous like this, in simple clothes, as he had in his turtleneck and jeans. It’s testimony to the effortless beauty that he has, timeless and unconstricted by the clothes he covers himself with. Wait, when did Mark become a romantic poet?
“Hi, Donghyuck. It’s Mark,” he says, and then realises he’s talking like they’re on the phone, and like it’s possible Donghyuck has forgotten who he is in the week that has passed.
Donghyuck doesn’t miss a beat, and there’s a smirk on his lips.
“Hi, Mark. This is Donghyuck,” he deadpans, before bursting into laughter. Mark laughs too, more at himself than anything, because talking to cute boys has never made him act like an idiot until now. “I haven’t forgotten who you are. Yet, ” Donghyuck continues to tease, and Mark rolls his eyes and pretends he doesn’t feel his heart somersault in his chest.
“Listen, I made way too much soup, and I don’t want it to go to waste. I was wondering if you would like some, if you haven’t eaten already?” Mark asks, rubbing at the back of his neck, a little flustered.
“Oh, I’d love some, if it’s no trouble. I’m starving!” Donghyuck responds enthusiastically and he smiles in relief.
“Of course. I’ll just go grab you some and bring it over,” Mark says as he starts turning back towards his apartment before he feels warmth wrap around his wrist. One glance down at his hand tells him that it’s Donghyuck, holding his hand and gently pulling him back around.
“Wait. Could I come join you?” Donghyuck asks, and he doesn’t let go of Mark’s hand. His eyes are wide in a way that makes his question sound nothing more than innocent, but that doesn’t stop Mark’s hard from beating a little faster in his chest. He tries to relax into Donghyuck’s touch for fear of coming across unfriendly.
“Sure,” Mark says with a nod, and Donghyuck practically buzzes with excitement.
“Perfect!” he shouts, already backing into his apartment, leaving Mark standing in the doorway awkwardly. “I’ll just finish what I was doing and be over in a second!”
“No worries, take your time,” Mark says as he closes the door and walks back to his apartment, a silly smile on his face.
There’s a knock on his door almost ten minutes later, and the soup has just finished cooling off on the stove. It’s pumpkin soup, a basic recipe his mother taught him but delicious nonetheless, perfect for wintery nights at home. His secret twist his mother would probably find unorthodox is adding turmeric and a hint of spice. He liked it better that way.
Mark is still in his sweater and jeans, his go-to studying all day in the library fuelled only by caffeine and desperation outfit, when he opens the door.
“Hey stranger,” Donghyuck says immediately, and then he’s scrunching his nose slightly. “Mmm, that smells so good,” he says through a sigh, eyes closed, and Mark watches the way his eyelashes fan out over his golden cheeks.
“Thank you, come on in,” Mark invites him in, stepping aside and closing the door behind him. He smells cologne and cinnamon as Donghyuck brushes past.
“Woah, this is kind of unsettling. Your apartment is exactly the same as mine, but inverted,” Donghyuck says, moving around the living room in circles.
“Yeah, Donghyuck. That’s how buildings work,” Mark quips back the way he would to his friends before he can stop himself. For a moment Donghyuck looks shocked before it melts into delight. Clearly he dabbles in the dark arts of sarcasm himself.
“I guess part of me expected you to live in a cave, the way you shuffle around looking so tired all the time.” Donghyuck says, a serious look on his face that is mildly unnerving. Two can play at this game, though.
“And whose fault is that?” Mark fires back simply, and it does the trick. Donghyuck’s expression crumbles to embarrassment and Mark internally cheers because he’s won. Donghyuck mumbles a sheepish “sorry,” under his breath before Mark laughs and tells him that it’s alright and he doesn’t need to keep apologising. (He does look very cute when he’s pouting, though.)
Mark returns to the kitchen to serve dinner, and Donghyuck watches over his shoulder from behind. Mark can feel his warmth despite the space between them and he has to fight the urge to turn around and lean into it.
“It looks so good, Mark. You’re really good at cooking,” Donghyuck sounds impressed and Mark smiles, because he has always loved cooking for others. It felt like a way to give back to the special people in his life.
“Thanks! I hope you like it. It’s my mum’s recipe but with my own twist,” Mark says as they sit at the table near the window.
Outside the sun is setting in the sky, casting oranges and pinks across the clouds, a gentle breeze rippling through the leafless trees in the street. People bustle by in a hurry to escape the cold, a flurry of winter coats and scarves caught in the wind, huddled close to keep warm. Mark loves this time of year because he finds the cold invigorating, as if the harsh winter air is breathing life into his lungs.
He’s pulled from his thoughts when Donghyuck sighs, and when he looks up he finds the boy has taken a bite of his dinner.
“Mark, it’s so good,” he says, and Mark can’t help but laugh fondly because Donghyuck looks awestruck, his cheeks slightly stuffed with soup. “I can taste something different,” he ponders, “like turmeric?”
“Wow, you have good taste buds. I only put in a tiny amount,” Mark stares at Donghyuck with wide eyes, impressed.
“Turmeric is one of my favourite spices,” Donghyuck says matter-of-factly with a smile, and it doesn’t come as a surprise to Mark, considering his whole apartment smells like a spice box, in all the best ways possible.
They spend the rest of dinner in natural conversation, and it’s a surprise to no one that two psychology students get along so well. At some point in between Mark puts on music in the background (his favourite for this time of year, lo-fi jazz).
Donghyuck hums under his breath to the music while Mark cleans up, and it occurs to him that it’s the first time he’s heard him sing in a while. Since their first conversation where Mark had asked him to stop, he hadn’t been heard singing since.
Mark tries to hide the fact that he’s listening, distracting himself with the dishes, but it’s like a siren’s voice, incredibly difficult to ignore. It’s clear Donghyuck is talented, probably trained, and Mark realises that hearing his voice now by choice, he never wants it to end.
It does though, unfortunately, when Mark offers Donghyuck some tea.
“Actually, I would love hot chocolate, if you have any?” Donghyuck had asked, and Mark had to hide his blush by burying his face in the cabinet, because weren’t they too old for hot chocolate? How could Donghyuck be so endearing with just a simple request?
They settle on the window seat, leaning against the glass, legs crossed beneath them and warm mugs in their hands.
Mark had thought the amount of pillows he had decided to put on the window seat was a little ridiculous, but it turned out to his advantage as it made for a comfortable space to settle, especially with Donghyuck next to him. The music continues to play, flipping over to one of Mark’s favourite songs this time of year.
And the weekend comes,
When everybody's dancing with their friends in the city,
Yeah, the weekend comes,
And I'm alone dreaming I was a little more brave.
But I guess that’s how it goes, it goes.
The sky has fallen into complete darkness outside, and several hints of starlight dance in the distance. There’s laughter and whispers, children giggling as they chase each other down the street, bells jingling as cafes close for the evening. In the distance Mark thinks he can even hear a choir.
“Do you believe in Christmas miracles?” Donghyuck asks, almost tentatively, speaking through the peaceful silence that had fallen. His eyes search Mark’s and Mark wonders what he wants to find there, what he’s looking for.
If he’s honest with himself, until a week ago he hadn’t believed in miracles at all. He thought there was no such thing really, that the universe was just random, and nothing really happened for a reason. There was no method in the madness.
It’s cheesy and cliché (and would make his best friend Renjun gag) in every possible way, but the presence of the adorable boy with a gorgeous voice next door had made him start to consider otherwise. He isn’t fully convinced miracles exist, yet, but the seed of something larger has been planted in his mind, perhaps waiting for the right amount of sunlight to unfurl its petals and bloom.
So Mark reduces his rather complicated answer to a simple; “Maybe.”
“What do you mean, maybe?” Donghyuck asks through a laugh.
“I don’t know,” Mark shrugs, not wanting to give himself away. “I didn’t really, before...” he trails off, realising that he was about to do exactly that; give himself away. Donghyuck’s eyebrows perk up.
“Before what?” and his eyes are searching Mark’s again. Mark looks away, watching a bird settle on a branch outside as an excuse, hoping Donghyuck can’t see the colour on his cheeks in the dim evening light.
“Do you?” Mark tries to change the subject, to shift the attention off himself.
“Hm?” Donghyuck asks, taken aback by the shift in conversation.
“Do you believe in Christmas miracles?” he asks, and a light dances in Donghyuck’s eyes as he speaks, his slender fingers rubbing circles into the mug in his hand.
“I do, actually,” he says in a tone somewhere between fondness and nostalgia. He looks down at his hands, and then back up to Mark when he speaks again. “Because of my grandmother, really. She raised my sister and I to believe in them, because she did too. She fell in love with my grandfather at Christmas time,” Donghyuck says almost wistfully, yet there’s a smile on his lips, as if reliving a fond memory.
“That’s beautiful,” Mark says, because it is, and he tries to fight his brain’s unhelpful urge to draw parallels between Donghyuck’s grandparents and him and Donghyuck, because falling in love is certainly not what he is doing right now. For a person who knows so much about the inner workings of the mind, he certainly has a useless brain of his own.
“I know. It made me believe in miracles. And love,” Donghyuck says, his eyes finding Mark’s, and suddenly Mark becomes all too aware of the proximity between them.
He can feel Donghyuck’s eyes on him, his small breaths on his neck, and the space between them has never seemed both so small and so wide. Mark’s heart is pounding in his chest, and the sudden urge to kiss the golden boy in front of him is almost completely overwhelming.
Things seem like they could be so simple, just the two of them and their lips meeting halfway. Mark wonders what Donghyuck would taste like.
Honey. He would taste like honey.
The moment is broken when Donghyuck flinches, his head whipping to look at something outside. “Mark, look!” he calls, and Mark traces the small curve of his button nose, watches his pink lips spread into a smile. Then, he looks too, and oh.
Outside, it’s snowing. White crystal-like formations fall from the sky, swaying too and fro on gentle air. They decorate the dark sky with pale, silvery dots, glinting in the golden light of the streetlamps. And suddenly, Donghyuck’s hand is on Mark’s leg, and he’s saying “Let’s go”.
Before Mark can process what’s happening, they’re grabbing two of the coats hanging by the door and Mark is locking the apartment, hurrying down the stairs after Donghyuck. They pause in the entrance of the building, taking in the magical sight, before Donghyuck is laughing and running out onto the street, almost drowning in Mark’s black puffer jacket.
The street is devoid of cars – most people eating dinner with their family or tucking their children into bed – all missing out on the beautiful scene unfolding outside. Instead, Mark finds himself swirling in the middle of the street with Donghyuck, catching snowflakes with their tongues and laughing like a pair of children themselves.
Mark has always been a content person, but he had no idea he could feel this happy, as if this moment under the falling snow and stars completes a part of him that he didn’t know he had been missing.
They carry on running around and playing until silence falls as they both catch their breaths, hot air fanning out against the crisp night.
Despite the jacket and all the frolicking, Donghyuck is shivering, his teeth chattering and his body humming slightly. Mark decides to give in to his heart for once and to pull him close. He gently takes Donghyuck’s hand in his (who immediately and undoubtedly intertwines their fingers), and pulls him into an embrace.
Donghyuck is almost as tall as Mark and the perfect height for this, his nose naturally fitting in the curve of Mark’s neck.
His heart is beating in his chest so fast and he’s sure Donghyuck can hear it. Maybe he will pass it off as a result of running around, but for once Mark doesn’t mind if he knows the real reason. A part of Mark, becoming more and more loud with each breath, wants to be seen, wants to be heard, and wants to give in to his feelings. To allow himself to be free. Donghyuck hums against his chest, and mumbles something Mark can’t quite make out.
“Hm?” he hums, and Donghyuck pulls back to face him without leaving his embrace. Their faces are impossibly close, the tip of Donghyuck’s nose opposite the cupid’s bow of Mark’s lips.
“I’m so glad we met,” he says and this time Mark hears him. The way Donghyuck looks at him has him blushing, finding nothing but raw adoration in his eyes.
The butterflies in his stomach take flight as he says, with all the conviction that he can, “Me too.”
Then, it’s as if time slows down, perhaps coming to a stop completely. It seems there’s only Donghyuck, him, and the snowflakes suspended in the space between them. The space Mark finally decides to close.
He leans forward until his lips meet Donghyuck’s own. Relief floods through him as Donghyuck immediately relaxes into the kiss, responding with the same tenderness. His lips are sweet and soft and Mark feels fireworks exploding in his chest.
Donghyuck’s hands wrap around his neck, keeping him close, while Mark’s rest at his waist.
They part after perhaps an eternity passes, their foreheads pressed together as they catch their breaths. Donghyuck smiles first, and it’s infectious because Mark is smiling too, and then he’s giggling like a small child.
It’s Christmas time, snowflakes breaking free from the sky’s thick clouds, covering the trees with white. It’s cold outside and warm in, and everything smells like coffee and cinnamon. Laughter and fairy lights fill the streets, and there is a sense of joy and rebirth dancing in the chilly air.
And Mark never thought he would be saying this, but he is so glad that the gorgeous boy next door carolled outside his window at two am.
“I think,” Mark whispers against Donghyuck’s lips. “I think I’m starting to believe in Christmas miracles, too.”