Christmas in California is weird, Doyoung decides.
First of all, there’s no snow, which he already expected. Growing up in New Jersey, Doyoung’s used to having a white Christmas almost every year — countless memories of him playing in the backyard with his cousins, getting their clothes wet and then coming inside to a hot cup of chocolate. California, however, cares not for that: with seasons having little to no meaning around here, all there’s left on December 24th is mildly cool weather and obnoxious rain.
The lack of ambiance isn’t the only weird thing, however; coming from a tight knitted family, Doyoung is used to loud, busy holidays. He can’t remember the last time the week before the most festive day of the year wasn’t spent going around running errands for his mom and aunts, and if you told him years ago he’d find himself missing it now, he probably wouldn't have believed it.
Being alone in his apartment in Palo Alto really isn’t making for a very memorable Christmas.
It doesn’t help that when everytime he looked at his phone in the last few days, there’s been so many messages from Johnny, who’s been texting him non-stop since he left at the start of the week — pictures of him on the airport, on the plane, complaints about the person sitting next to him, updates on everything going on home, and most recently, a very adorable picture of him sitting on the snow last night, bright smile and nose red from the cold. Doyoung’s heart warms at the thought of how his boyfriend is trying to make him a part of it, but there’s still a pang of longing that makes the younger just the tad bit sad.
He should be there, in Chicago, enjoying a white Christmas with the love of his life and his family. Johnny had been so excited for it too — this was a busy year for them, with Johnny’s move to Palo Alto to start a new job and Doyoung’s internship at a law firm. There wasn’t any time for Johnny to take a trip to Chicago all year, and he’s been missing his home terribly, even if his parents did come to visit at his graduation last year.
It was Doyoung who suggested it, and the way Johnny’s face lighted up at the idea was worth how much work the student had to get ahead in order to get a break on his internship. Since the tickets were bought, months ago, it was all the older has been talking about too: the places he wants to show Doyoung, all the pictures he’s going to take (and eventually clutter up the walls of their apartment even more), his mother’s eggnog recipe he can’t wait for Doyoung to try. Johnny’s excitement at sharing that part of his life with his boyfriend for the first time was as endearing as it was contagious, and Doyoung found himself counting the days to when he could finally enjoy a well deserved break with his boyfriend.
He even told Taeyong and Yuta last week, at their Christmas party, about how this was their first real trip as a couple since they started dating two years ago — sure, they’ve had weekend getaways before, and Johnny’s been to New Jersey a few times, but it was nothing like the anticipation of planning their days together and sending each other ideas of things they wanted to do throughout the day. Even if both of his friends teased him about the domesticity of it all (which is bold coming from them, really), Doyoung isn’t shy to admit this would've been one of the highlights of his year.
Would've , because of course, he jinxed it.
Three days before they were set to get on the plane, Johnny was the one who first noticed it. They had both just gotten home from work, a little late and very tired, and Doyoung had been fixing up some leftovers for dinner while Johnny found something they could mindlessly watch (and probably fall asleep to, like the old couple they were starting to become). The apartament they’ve been sharing for half a year now really isn’t much, but it has an open concept that allows Johnny’s voice to carry through from the living room all the way to where Doyoung’s smelling the food stored in tupperwares.
“Baby, have you noticed Leia shaking her head?”
Doyoung glances up, and there it is, their not-so-little-anymore dog Princess Leia shaking her head and scratching at her ear. The sight immediately brings up alarms in Doyoung’s mind; he may not understand that much about dogs, but he’s been an owner of two for long enough to know when his girl is uncomfortable.
“Maybe she just started? I think we would’ve noticed.” He says, but he doesn’t sound too sure himself. “Can you check her ear?”
Johnny is already on it, getting her head on his knee and pushing a paw away to take a look. Doyoung puts the tupperwares down on the counter and gets closer to see it himself, and Johnny glances at him with furrowed eyebrows, worried. “It looks irritated, doesn’t it?”
It’s red, and even now with Johnny petting at her body, Leia keeps trying to get her paw to scratch it. Han, who so far had been focused on trying to wrestle his favorite plushie under their Christmas tree, apparently gets jealous of all the attention and starts bumping his body against Johnny’s leg until the older absentmindedly gives him a few pets as well.
“It’s definitely red, but I don’t really understand what we’re supposed to look for.” Doyoung sighs. “Maybe we should take her to the vet tomorrow morning?”
Johnny hums, unfazed when Han jumps on his lap and starts trying to lick at his face. “I can probably stop by before work, but I won’t be able to give you a ride.”
“That’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Doyoung dismisses, letting Leta lick at the remains of salt in his hand. “Hopefully it’s nothing.”
It wasn’t nothing; in fact, it was more serious than either of them expected it to be. Johnny called him during their lunch break and told Doyoung that the vet explained to him that Leia had an ear infection, and for a little while too considering it had reached her middle ear. She was given an antibiotic to take and drops they had to apply twice everyday for a few weeks, but in the end both Doyoung and Johnny felt awful — they had been so busy with work and the upcoming trip it clearly escaped how much pain Leia must’ve been through.
To no surprise, that sort of derailed their plans — while originally Jaehyun and Jungwoo were supposed to be dogsitting for them during the week, it was different now that Leia was sick. Doyoung didn’t feel comfortable leaving the responsibility of taking care of her to someone else, and he’d spend the entire time worried and guilty anyway. Johnny, as disappointed as he was, was ready to call his parents and cancel everything were it not for Doyoung’s insistence that at least one of them should go.
“Your mom is so excited for the dinner she’s making, and I know you miss them.” He gently said, running his fingers through the older’s hair. Johnny has his head in his chest, cheek squished and looking both pitiful and adorable at the same time. “You can go, enjoy Christmas with them, take a lot of photos of snowy Chicago. I’ll stay and take care of the babies, get ahead on some work, and when you come back and Leia feels better we can do something together.”
“It won’t be the same without you though.” Johnny sighs, just on the edge of whining. “This was supposed to be for both of us.”
“I know, but there’ll be other chances. There’s no reason you should waste a ticket we already paid for, and you deserve to be the one going home for once since I always drag you to New Jersey.”
It took some convincing, but eventually Johnny caved, begrudgingly leaving Doyoung to spend Christmas by himself in Palo Alto while he visited his parents in Chicago. They’ve been texting and talking on the phone everyday, and Doyoung stands by his decision — he’s happy Johnny is surrounded by the people he loves, and this was a well deserved trip for him after everything he did for Doyoung this year.
Still, it’s Christmas eve, and Doyoung can’t help but dread how lonely it’s going to be.
He’s eating Christmas brunch with Taeyong and Yuta in the morning, but he’s all alone for tonight. Under Johnny’s insistence, he did his best to not let the festive mood slip: lighting up the excessive amount of lights Johnny hung around their apartament, placing gifts under their tree even though they won’t be opened until his boyfriend comes back in a few days, and even went as far as to make his own version of Johnny’s hot chocolate. Leia and Han cuddle each side of him when he snuggles on the couch and watches ‘Love, Actually’, and there’s no judgment when the scene where Mark confesses to Julie makes Doyoung sigh longingly.
He misses Johnny. Johnny would’ve complained about how ‘Love, Actually’ isn’t really a Christmas movie (and argue that Die Hard is), but would’ve watched it with Doyoung anyway because he’s secretly a softie for romantic comedies, and not-so-secretly whipped for his boyfriend's whims. Johnny would’ve made the hot chocolate exactly the way Doyoung likes, and insist they stay up until midnight if only so he can be the first person to wish him a “Merry Christmas”. Johnny would’ve kissed him, soft and sweet, in that way that still makes Doyoung’s heart beat faster than it ever did when he was on mat.
As if feeling his owner’s mood, Han starts nipping on Doyoung’s finger, something the human knows to be his way of playing around affectionately. He’s thankful for the company of their two babies throughout the day, making the apartament a little less quiet, but it doesn’t help that he wasn’t able to get Johnny on the phone at all since last night. They texted a bunch, but the older told him he was too busy with the preparations to be able to call, which Doyoung understood, but was a little disappointed about.
It almost makes Doyoung cringe at himself, how a single day without hearing Johnny’s voice can have such an effect on his mood, but he figures he might’ve become a little spoiled in the last six months since they started living together: with the exception of the two more serious fights they’ve had, one of which Johnny spent the night at Jaehyun’s, the older has always just been there: to talk, to cuddle, to offer up his warmth and the comforting scent of his cologne.
God, you’re embarrassing . Doyoung thought, but with little heat. He was a little needy for his boyfriend, so what? Anyone would be if their boyfriend was Johnny Suh.
It’s around 10pm when Doyoung finally decides he should head to bed — if he wants to make it to brunch with his friends, he needs to leave Palo Alto very early in the morning. Besides, it’s been four hours since the last time Johnny answered his texts, and he doesn’t know if the younger fell asleep early or is too busy; either way, Doyoung is just a little miffed about it, so he’s not going to stay up waiting for that goodnight call.
Johnny doesn’t really like having the dogs in their bed, but since he’s not here, Doyoung is happy to share the space. He goes about his nightly routine like always, and just before he’s about to slip under the covers, takes one last glance at his phone. Nothing.
“Well, it seems like your daddy forgot all about me.” He sighs, Leia’s head perking up at the word ‘daddy’. “But you guys didn’t, didn’t you?”
Han yaps as an answer, a little too over excited for bedtime, but he settles down with his head in Doyoung’s leg once the human tucks himself in. He gives each one a last pet and a goodnight wish, and tries his best to fall asleep without Johnny’s arms around him.
Doyoung wakes up with a startle, and there’s a few moments of confusion until he realizes it’s because both of the dogs won’t stop barking. He groans, still slowly coming to and trying to uselessly slip back asleep, until it fully processes that it’s very much dark out and his dogs are barking . Being raised in an apartment, neither Han or Leia bark without reason, especially late at night, and Doyoung suddenly feels a lot more alert.
“Quiet down, shh —” A male voice attempts to whisper, and Doyoung's heart starts beating faster on the thought of a random man invading his apartament in the middle of the night. On Christmas , no less.
He grabs at his phone, quickly taking notice of how it’s 1am and typing up 911. Before he can hit the call button, he quickly realizes his door is slightly ajar, and if he starts speaking then the burglar will definitely hear and come in to murder him before the call ends. So instead, he tiptoes himself all the way to the door, taking just one quick glance outside.
He can’t see the man from this angle, but Leia and Han have stopped barking and are now trying to jump this person’s leg. That makes Doyoung frown: sure, both of them are far from being guard dogs, but they’re not that friendly to strangers. Hesitating, he leans forward just a bit to try and get a glimpse of a face—
Doyoung feels in slow motion when his socks start slipping, and there’s nothing he can do to stop himself from stumbling forward through the door, startled noise sure to get the attention of the invader.
“Don’t come close!” He immediately exclaims, flustered as he attempts to regain his balance. “Or I’ll— Uh—”
“Or you’ll what?” A very familiar voice says, grin quite clear in his tone. “You’ll fight me in your pajamas?”
For a second, Doyoung wonders if he’s still asleep — the image of Johnny standing there, in their living room, bundled up in winter clothes much too inappropriate for California weather and beaming at Doyoung simply doesn’t make any sense. Han and Leia keep whining for attention from their (arguably favorite, to Doyoung’s dismay) owner, and the younger watches as Johnny’s amused grin hesitates at the silence.
“Surprise?” He tries again, oddly tilted like a question at the end.
Then, all of sudden like a wave of affection and surprise and joy , it hits him: that this is Johnny, actually here, not just a manifestation of his pining desire but his actual boyfriend who as far as he knew, was across the country a few hours ago. Doyoung feels more than hears the distressed noise at the back of his throat, and it’s less than a second before he’s stumbling forward until he’s close enough to throw a punch at Johnny’s chest.
“Ouch, ouch, hey —” Johnny whines, trying to protect himself. “That’s not the welcome I was expecting.”
“You little shit, do you have any idea how much just scared me?” Doyoung finally says, and he sounds equal parts annoyed and like choked up. “I thought someone was breaking in.”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t think you’d wake up, the babies ratted me out!” Johnny apologizes, finally managing to grab at Doyoung’s wrists to stop the assault. So up close, the younger can see how tired he looks — and yet, looking into his eyes finds the same endless pool of uninhibited affection. “I was supposed to be your Christmas miracle.”
“How— what are you doing here? You were supposed to be home, with your parents.”
“I missed you. I missed you so much my parents got tired of me moping around and paid for my ticket back.” Johnny gently says, a smile at the end. “Besides, I am home. This is home, with you and the babies and our ugly Christmas tree.”
Doyoung can swear he feels his heart swell in chest, so full of love and wonder that it becomes hard to breathe. Johnny drops his hands in order to hug Doyoung’s waist, bringing him closer like he’s chasing the younger’s warmth, and it’s ridiculous, how much just being close to him makes Doyoung feel so much more at ease; like there’s something right about it, something that started years ago when Johnny first hugged him in front of his dorm room.
Doyoung wants to hug him tight and kiss him and maybe tear up a little, so instead he does something else entirely and nags. “It’s not ugly .”
Johnny laughs, and God, Doyoung missed his laugh. It doesn’t sound the same over the phone, where Doyoung can’t see the way his eyes get so tiny and the dimples on his cheeks come out. “It’s a little ugly, but it’s alright. It’s ours.”
His brain makes a decision for him then, and Doyoung throws himself to Johnny’s chest in a hug he’s been craving for days now. The journalist doesn’t even seem surprised — he only tightens his hold on Doyoung, burying his nose in the messy nest of his boyfriend’s hair and staying there, enjoying the embrace.
Doyoung tries to hold back as much as he can, but eventually Johnny hears a sniffle. He tenses a little, and shifts to try and get a look at the younger’s face. “Hey, Doyo, are you crying?”
Doyoung sniffles again, and childishly turns his face the other way. “Shut up. I missed you a lot, ok? I was lonely.”
“Aw, baby.” Johnny let out, kissing at Doyoung’s temple. “I could see it, when I called. And I missed you too, it just wasn’t the same doing the stuff we planned together by myself.”
Somehow, that brings a small smile to Doyoung’s face. “I guess we’re just that kind of people now, huh?”
“What kind?” Johnny asks, finally getting a look at his boyfriend’s face when Doyoung pulls away a little. He brings one of his thumbs up to wipe under his eyes, almost automatically.
“Can’t even stay away from each other for a week .” Doyoung laughs. “Donghyuck is going to laugh at us when he knows.”
“Donghyuck can laugh away, Mark’s like a puppy following him everywhere.” Johnny huffs, leaning in with a smile. “Besides, I think we had enough distance for a lifetime — we deserve to be a little clingy now.”
And Doyoung beams, toothy and still sleepy, tilting his head up like a second nature when Johnny leans into a kiss. Johnny’s lips are cold and taste like coffee, but Doyoung fingers close on the back of his jacket like he never wants to let go. It’s soft and carries just the right amount of passion and tenderness, a kiss so Johnny it makes Doyoung smile into it, earning a playful nip at his bottom lip.
Once Johnny pulls away, Doyoung keeps stealing pecks until his boyfriend’s face breaks into a grin, catching Doyoung in one more firm press of lips and breaking away in blissful chuckles. Doyoung feels almost silly for how much he’s smiling, so he lets his cheek lean on Johnny's shoulders again, taking in the moment for just a little longer.
“What about your parents?” Doyoung suddenly asks, remembering Mama Suh’s excitement the weeks before. “They really wanted to have you for Christmas.”
“They wanted to have us ,” Johnny corrects with a snort. “And my mom kept nagging at me for leaving you by yourself on Christmas. They were both happy to see me but after a few days I think they were happier with the idea of me being where I had to, which was here.”
Doyoung quietly lets his neck and ears become warm, changing the subject. “We have to go for brunch with Taeyong and Yuta in the morning,” He warns, in a voice like ‘this is what you signed up for’ . “And since you’re here, I’m making you drive.”
“That sounds great.” Johnny hums, unbothered as he peppers kisses in whatever bit of Doyoung he can reach.
“And I didn’t plan on having a fancy dinner, so I didn’t buy anything special to cook.”
“I’m sure we can stop by a grocery store and make something together,” Johnny calmly says. “Or we could just order take-out, I don’t care.”
“That’s not very Christmas-y.” Doyoung frowns.
“No, but that’s ok. We can make our own tradition — chinese for Christmas, maybe.” Johnny smiles, and then laughs at Doyoung’s displeased noise. “Honestly, it can just be the two of us and the babies eating ramen and watching TV for all I care, Doyo. As long as it’s me and you, together, than you already know that’s more than enough for me.”
Doyoung’s entire face is flushed red now, because even after years together, he’s still not used to the way Johnny always knows the right words to make his heart fuzzy like a teenager with their first love. It’s incredible to think of how far they’ve come from when they were young and shit at communicating and overwhelmed with school: even if they’re still young, and still bad at talking about their feelings sometimes, and still overwhelmed by school and work and just adulting in general, just like back then, they never stopped making it work.
And God, to say it’s working is an understatement. Doyoung stands here, under the cheap Christmas lights at 1am in the morning, Johnny trying to lead him to the bedroom without breaking their embrace and stumbling as Leia chews on his sock to ask for attention, and he thinks— no, he knows there’s nothing about this he would change.
Christmas is about love, gratitude, family. In that sense, then Christmas in California isn’t so weird after all.