“Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too!”
Emil Steilsson threw you a side glance, his hand positioned over a tree ornament. He retracted his arm, pulling it close to his body as he slightly rolled his eyes. You noticed and stopped singing immediately, your cheeks burning red. Christmas was probably the best holiday—it was just so damn fantastic, and dressing up and decorating and singing Christmas songs were honestly things you could do year round…but Emil didn’t understand that. Tino Väinämöinen was the only one who got you, as he was also hella into the Christmas spirit.
You bit your lip as you took a candy cane and placed it on the giant tree Tino had convinced his boyfriend, Berwald Oxenstierna, to buy for this year’s Christmas. Berwald and Tino were outside, putting up the lights around the house. They had offered to help you decorate your house, but you had insisted that you were all right with a few, simple Christmas decorations. A well-decorated medium-sized tree, red bows at every window, and a few Christmas-y candles around the entire house was just enough for you, since you lived alone.
Five men lived in this house. Five, and Emil was the only one not dating.
Matthias Kohler was dating Emil’s older brother, Lukas Bondevik. Tino was dating Berwald. It was a three-bedroom house, and only Emil had his own room. When things got overwhelming for him, you’d invite him over to your house—also a three-bedroom house, but you lived a lonely life there, which was why you were so glad to have these guys as your neighbors. Each guy had spent at least one night at your place, in one of your guest bedroom—all except Emil himself, which made sense, because Emil was the only one not dating—especially not dating another guy.
You’d invite him over, but he’d never actually come over.
You’d sometimes wish he would stay over, but you attributed his refusal as him being courteous. Matthias was more of a threat to you than Emil, anyway, as Matthias played for both teams, so he was now forbidden from staying at your place whenever Lukas and him got into terrible fights and decided to take “breaks” (though the idiots always made up the very next day). Emil was too quiet and polite to make you worry, though you wanted to worry. You wanted to think that Emil might sneak his arms around you or sit in the guest room, wondering desperately about you.
After all, you liked Emil Steilsson, as much as it hurt to admit.
“Come on, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you!” Tino came in, coincidentally singing the line right after yours. “Emil, (name), the tree is looking so good! (Name), you’ll be spending Christmas with us, right? I’ll be in a Santa suit, and I’ll be so disappointed if you don’t get a gift from me.”
His disappointment…would be a surprise. Tino truly embodied the spirit of Christmas, if he valued giving gifts way above receiving them.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” This would be your first Christmas away from home, and that was honestly a relief. You didn’t want to spend another holiday with your father and his new girlfriend. “But I’ll feel really bad if I don’t get anything for you, so expect something fantastic, okay?”
“You don’t have to, (name).” However, Tino still threw his arms around you. You laughed brightly and patted his back. His mouth was near your ear, and then he whispered out, “I’ll help you get a gift for Emil.” Your cheeks burned when he said that, but he pulled back, smiling so wide—almost as if he hadn’t just said that. “When we’re done, meet me at your house for hot chocolate, okay?”
“Yes,” you managed, your eyes wide.
“I’ll see you soon, (name)!”
“What do you think he’ll like?” you asked as soon as Tino left, turning your attention to Emil—who was still placing Christmas ornaments on the tree. He had been working diligently the entire time. You just wanted a chance to have some form of conversation with him. “Emil, please! Christmas is very important to Tino, and you’ve known him for so long…”
You had a few ideas of your own, but you figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask Emil—your Christmas wish was to finally bond with him. Not only because you liked him, but because he was the only one who didn’t actually say much to you. Perhaps that was why you had noticed him first, because he was the only one who didn’t actually pay attention to you.
“Could there be, like, anything he’s missing? What’ s something Tino needs?”
“To grow up,” Emil suggested grumpily.
You frowned, turning away from him abruptly. Why did you like him again? He could be so mean sometimes, especially the few rare moments when he actually decided to speak to you. But you knew there was a different side to him—you had caught him by himself sometimes, and you knew he was fiercely protective of his unique “family”, so you knew he could be sweet. That was why it killed you when he was so rude to you.
Maybe Emil just didn’t like you.
“Tino is perfectly fine the way he is…but I’m sorry for bothering you. It’s my issue, not yours.” You placed another candy cane on the tree. “Maybe I’ll ask Berwald. He’s sure to know.” You stepped back, admiring the work Emil and you had done. You knew that Tino had set you and Emil to work together because he knew you liked him, and you felt sorry that he had tried so hard and you still failed to connect with Emil at any level. “I suppose I’ll have to ask around anyway. I need to get gifts for all five of you.”
You heard glass break and looked over, catching sight of Emil on the floor, picking up the pieces of the violet ornament that he had just broken. You got down on the floor to help him, but he held up his hand, stopping you before you could reach for a broken piece. He didn’t look at you, but you could trace a faint blush from behind his cheek to his clavicle.
“You’ll cut your finger,” he warned you. “I’ve got this.”
You sat back, staring as him as he cleaned, and you could see the scarlet color in his neck extending to his puffy cheeks—Emil often tried to act mature, but he still had puffy cheeks that made him look younger. He was a year younger than you, but he looked five years younger than you sometimes. You wanted to reach over and run your fingers over his bedhead blond hair—such pale, blond hair that it was almost white, and you were positive it was soft. It looked like silk.
He finished, standing up to throw away the little crystalline pieces into the trash can, and you clumsily rose. “Emil, can you tell Tino I’ll be waiting for him at my house?” He didn’t reply. “And if you want hot chocolate, you’re welcomed to come too—a-anyone is. Bye.”
He let you leave the house without saying a word, but you didn’t dare show your disappointment. Instead, you put on a bright smile as you walked out—Berwald and Tino were decorating the house from outside, after all. Snow crunched under your feet as you stepped back far enough to admire the work, and you yelled at Berwald, informing him that everything looked perfect.
Eventually, you went back into your home, greeted by the silence and emptiness of your house. You wished you could eternally stay next door, but you knew that was impossible, so you closed the door and lit some candles.
“Can I stay the night?”
You blinked in surprise, and you considered pinching yourself to see if you were just dreaming or if this was actual reality. After all, Emil didn’t exchange but a few short sentences worth of dialogue with you on a daily basis, and he always made sure he didn’t sit next to you when you went over for dinner. He never came when you cooked dinner for everyone, and you had heard him say he’d never stay over at your house.
And yet, here he was.
You mentally called yourself an idiot as you moved aside, indicating for him to come in. He stumbled in, holding his bag close to him. He didn’t even say thank you, as you closed the door, and you barely even noticed—you were still in shock over the fact that he had come in the first place.
“Are you hungry?” you managed, turning around to him. He paused to think it over before he finally nodded. “Okay, I’ll make something. You’ve never been here, so you don’t know where anything is. Well, this is the living room, and through that arch is the dining room, which is next to the kitchen. That door right there is the downstairs bathroom.” You headed for the stairs, indicating that he follow. He shuffled slowly behind you as you guys reached the second floor. “Okay, to your right is the master bedroom, which is mine. To your left are the two guest rooms, and at the end of the hall is the bathroom.” You turned back to look at him. He was really close, and you had never been alone with Emil, not in a place where his brothers couldn’t just pop up whenever they pleased. “You can choose what room you want. The guys usually stay in the room closest to the bathroom, but it’s up to you.”
He stared at you, and you realized you should’ve probably turned on the light. The dim light coming from downstairs was making your proximity and silence a lot more intimate than it actually was.
Emil finally walked around you and went into the first bedroom, flicking on the light switch. He hadn’t chosen the room closest to the bathroom. You’d only be one staircase apart from him. You watched silently as he put his things down on the bed, and then as he moved towards the closet door, recognition sparked in you.
“Wait, the closet—”
He paused to stare at what was inside the tiny closet, and you could feel your face burning. You wanted to melt into a puddle on the carpet where you stood, and then you wanted to evaporate into the air and disappear forever. He had found the Christmas gifts you had hidden in the room the guys never stayed in, thinking it would be safe just in case anything happened between today and six days from now. You watched him bend forward, his hand closing on something, and then he pulled out a little stuffed puffin you had purchased yesterday, observing it slowly. You saw a hint of a smile emerge on his face—he liked puffins after all, which was why you had gotten it for him—before the smile dissipated entirely. He turned around you, holding it in front of him.
“Aren’t you too old for stuffed animals, (name)? Maybe instead of buying these, you should get yourself a boyfriend.” Emil’s words definitely cut into you.
Your ears were burning now, and you walked in and snatched the puffin from his grasp, cradling the tiny thing to your chest. “Y-you’re right,” you blurted, and he seemed a little shock at your agreement. “Well, I have plans to get a boyfriend before Christmas, anyway. There’s only six days left, but I’m positive I’m making progress with the guy at work.”
Your words were all lies, of course, but you had stunned Emil into silence, so you thought it best to end things there. You left the room, stopping only to throw the puffin onto your bedroom before rushing downstairs to make dinner. Your chest hurt, but you told yourself something you had eaten earlier was giving you heartburn because you refused to believe that Emil could get such a reaction from you.
He came down a few minutes later, having taken off his shoes and jacket, but he didn’t say anything to you. You served him, setting his plate down across from you, but again, he didn’t thank you. He simply started eating quietly, preferring to stay as quiet as possible. You attempted to make conversation, but it seemed the only time you got any response from him was when you asked a yes or no question, and then he’d half-heartedly shake or nod his head.
You were beyond frustrated by the time you had finished your meal.
“Do you hate me?” you finally blurted. Emil didn’t say anything, staring at his plate. “Why are you here, Emil? Why are you here if you probably hate me? I try so hard to make you like me, but you refuse to even speak to me! I think I’ll just give up.”
He was silent for a few more moments before he finally abruptly stood up. The chair screeched as he slid it back. “I should leave,” he commented, “I knew this was a bad idea.”
You wanted to cry. Instead, you replied, “Fine!” as you stood with him, forcing your hands into fists. “I’m sorry, by the way. I’m sorry I’m not good enough for you, Emil.”
He stared at you, his violet irises throbbing with inner turmoil—you could tell he was in pain, straining to remain taciturn. And you wanted to tell him that if he wanted to yell at you, he could. If he hated you, you wanted him to confirm it rather than spending the rest of your life obsessively wondering if Emil was just extremely introverted or if he actually hated you. You wanted to know—you wanted just a little hint of what Emil was actually thinking.
But he didn’t say anything. He broke your gaze and stepped back some more, bumping into his chair with the back of his knees before he hurried towards your front door.
He didn’t even stop to get his things. It seemed he was so angry that he simply threw the door open—shoeless and coatless—and he then froze. You rushed up to him, first to reprimand him for going out in such a state, and then it was to stop and stare at what had made him immobile.
You were snowed in.
The snow had spilled onto your porch, piled up so high that you’d have to crawl on the mound of snow up through only a few feet of space between it and the roof, the only space where you could see the dark sky. It was even higher than the railing—maybe two or three feet taller. And it was still snowing.
You stumbled a few steps back, crashing into the door of your closet. Emil turned back to look at you, concern filling his violet eyes, but when he reached for you, you flinched away, closing your eyes. You were shaking, but you pressed your palm to your mouth, attempting to muddle the little squeaks of fear that threaten to leak out from your larynx.
This house wasn’t small, but being snowed in was enough to make you feel claustrophobic.
“It doesn’t snow a lot where you’re from, does it?” Emil closed the door.
You felt the oxygen in the room dissolve into nothingness.
“No,” you murmured weakly.
You headed for the kitchen, noticing that Emil was right behind you. You opened the pantry door and took out a small bag, placing it on the counter as you closed the door. You then headed to get a glass tumbler and then went to the fridge for the bottle of ginger ale. You poured in so much that the bubbly, golden liquid had reached the brim.
Emil’s eyes widened. “You like black licorice?”
“I know it’s weird. Most people hate black licorice…but it’s my comfort food, especially when my claustrophobia takes over.” You took a sip of ginger ale, the carbonated drink feeling fantastic against the back of your throat. “I used to hate it, but after my mother died, I became kind of fond of her favorite candy. I can’t eat it forever, but for moments like this… It’s one step closer to her…and to safety.”
He nodded softly. He knew your mother had died, but you had never elaborated much on the situation. “How old were you? When she passed away?”
“Fifteen. I mean, I still have my dad, but now he’s dating this vapid chick half his age—she’s literally six years older than me—so it’s really nice to be able to spend this Christmas…with you guys instead of them.” You opened the back and took out a piece of black licorice, bringing it to your lips. “You…you probably don’t like it, as most people don’t, but do you want a piece?”
He nodded gently, and you took out a piece for him, holding it out for him to grab it. He took it, his fingers lightly brushing yours, and then he gave you a small gift. He smiled, very faintly—you were afraid that it might’ve just been a trick of the light, or just your imagination—and then he retracted his hand, putting the piece of licorice in his mouth. He didn’t grimace as he ate it, leading you to believe that maybe he really did like it.
And then he thanked you.
The five guys were Nordic, so this snow didn’t faze them as much as it did you—where you was from, snow only got as high as a few inches, so moving here had been a shock to everyone. But you liked the change of scenery and how the air felt so much more pure here. Also, you liked the 1100 miles between you and your father’s awful new girlfriend.
And since the guys came from snow—though you heard Iceland was actually pretty nice and not as “icy” as its name led people to believe—you and Emil had been saved from the snow by sunrise. You had awoken to the sound of happy chatter from outside, and when you had opened your window, you had caught sight of the guys clearing the pathway and driveway for you. You had changed into something suitable and ran downstairs to open the door.
You thanked the guys profusely.
And finally, it was Christmas Eve. You had changed into a the little elf dress Tino had asked you to put on—you didn’t know why he had asked you, of all people, to dress up like an elf, but you figured he had probably convinced the others to do it as well. You wore striped tights and a pair of black boots, and then you grabbed your coat. Since Christmas was being celebrated next door, you had already dropped off your gifts for the guys, and they had their gifts for you there as well.
You had curled your hair and put a huge red bow at the side since the elf ears you had bought hurt your temples. You grabbed the pies you had made for Christmas and then patted your pockets with one hand to make sure your phone and keys were there. Confirming that, you finally left your home and sauntered over next door, thanks to the convenient little path the guys had cleared for you.
You were greeted by Berwald in a…well, it wasn’t really a Santa costume, but it wasn’t Mrs. Claus either. However, you could see him attempting to be something Claus related, so it seemed Tino had asked him to dress up so the two could look like a couple. It was extremely cute, and you thanked Berwald when he took the pies into the kitchen. You closed the door after yourself and looked up the stairs in time to catch Matthias dressed like a reindeer. It wasn’t a full-on reindeer costume, more of a suit coordinated just right with reindeer ears and antlers. You laughed.
“You think this is funny? You should see Lukas.” Matthias winked at me, leaning down on the railing. “I managed to get him to be Rudolph.”
You took off your coat. “I’ll make sure to watch out for him.”
You heard the clatter of plates and turned to your left, catching sight of Emil’s white bedhead as he bent down to pick up the plates he had just dropped. Only one of those plates had actually broken, but when you got down on your knees, he had put his hand up in front of you again, shaking his head lightly. This time, though, he lifted his face to you, and you noticed the crimson color of his cheeks that extended to the tips of his ear.
This embarrassed face made you even more enamored than before.
Six nights ago had been really nice, and he had actually had a real conversation with you. He had told you about how much he loved puffins, and he had apologized for teasing you earlier. You had found out that he loved going to hot springs—though he had blushed after he had said that—and you guys had watched a movie until he had fallen asleep. You had debated staying on the couch with him, but instead, you had placed a blanket on him before trudging upstairs to sleep in your bed—a normally very comfortable bed, but it was lacking Emil, so it was a little disheartening.
And since, he had begun talking to you more, extending a hand of friendship. You could officially call him a friend, and the best part was that he was handing out those beautiful Emil smiles—meaning, he was sharing them with you, of all people. He was smiling to you and because of you, and such a thought made you extra giddy.
“You’ll cut your finger,” he informed you. “I’ve got this.”
But he didn’t have it. Instead, he sliced his own finger, and you reached for his hand quickly. You stood up, bringing him with you, and he slowly stumbled behind you as you pulled him into the bathroom with you, forcing him to sit down on the toilet—with the cover down, of course—as you raided the medicine cabinet for a few things.
You turned on the sink and ran his finger under it before lightly patting it dry with some tissue. He didn’t say anything as you worked, simply keeping his face focused on his knees. You took another tissue and put a little rubbing alcohol on it before pressing it to the wound—it was a deep cut, and Emil sucked in some air beside you. You grabbed a Band-Aid and put it on him, making sure it was on just right. That was when you finally let him go, taking a step back.
And then you realized he was dressed as an elf. Tino had tricked you into being coupled with Emil for this Christmas dress-up party. He and Berwald were the Clauses, Matthias and Lukas were reindeers, and you and Emil were elves. But you and Emil didn’t go out.
No wonder he had dropped his plates. He probably hadn’t been informed of this either.
“You…you look nice,” you managed, taking a few more steps back. He didn’t say anything. “I’m really sorry. Tino didn’t tell me you were going to be an elf too, and he probably didn’t tell you, and I’m sorry if it makes things awkward tonight. They’ll be teasing both of us until the end of time, but at least I don’t live with them. I’m sorry.” He still wasn’t speaking, and you flattened your back against the wall, staring at his black boots. Even the boots! “This is all my fault. I promise I’m not trying to take over your entire family. It’s just nice to spend time with people instead of being all lonely in my own home, and now that I’m here, I go and embarrass you, and I’m sorry for the jokes that will inevitably come.”
Finally, he shook his head, and you wondered if that meant that you didn’t have to apologize or if he didn’t care for your apologies. He stood up, taciturn once more, and he opened the door to reveal the four others, ears presumably pressed against the door while the two of you had been speaking. They stepped back, their faces red, and Emil pushed through them. You shot all four of them a look as you moved past them.
You ran after Emil, who had angrily grabbed his coat and was stepping out onto the porch. You grabbed his arm, closing the door behind you, and he turned around to face you, surprised.
“Where are you going?” you whispered
“Tino asked me to get some more bread.” You felt stupid for chasing after him. He hadn’t been angry at all. He had just been focused on the job asked of him, so you let his hand go, looking down at our shoes. “Y-you know, I don’t mind dressing up like an elf,” he mumbled, and you dared look at him. Even though it was hard to see him due to the faint porch light, you could see how dark his face had become from blushing. “Not if it’s w-with you.”
Your eyes widened, and you opened your mouth to thank him, but before you could say anything, the Christmas spirit took over you and you lurched for him, pulling him into your arms. “Thank you,” you whispered into his hair, and you were even more surprised when he put his own arms around you, holding you tightly against his own body. You could feel the irregular tempo of his heart on your chest and throughout the rest of your body, and you were sure he could tell how quickly your own heart was beating.
“(N-name)?” you heard him say, his breath warm against your ears—but your ears were already burning hot with embarrassment and bliss. “I really like you, (name).”
You tore yourself from his side, staring at his face. He had already been blushing hard, but he was definitely hiding his face right now. “But you…you don’t even like speaking to me.”
“Because the guys tease me all the time about it,” he blurted, turning his body away from you. “They’d say that you’d think I’m weird if I spoke too much, and that it’d become obvious that I like you, and I don’t want you to think I’m weird or annoying, especially because I didn’t actually think you even liked me. I mean, I thought you only talked to me because you were being polite—I mean, that’s what I thought until I showed up at your house a few days ago, which I only did because the guys were teasing me about liking you and said I didn’t ever go to your house because I was always worried about looking like an idiot around you, and so I went to prove to them that I wasn’t an idiot, and then Tino told me to dress up as an elf because you were going as an elf too, so I actually knew, but you were just so cute, and the guys were joking about how you were my present for Christmas, and then you showed up with a bow in your hair, and…and…”
You weren’t even sure if your heart was still in your chest—it was beating so quickly, that you could barely even feel it, and you reached for him, lightly grabbing the hem of his coat. “You like me that much? I thought you hated me.” He didn’t say anything more, simply covered his face with his hands. You let out a laugh—one of relief. “I thought you hated me, and it was so depressing because I’ve liked you this entire time too, and that was why I was apologizing, because I thought Tino had tricked you because he knew how much I liked you. But you…but you actually like me back.”
He whipped himself around, his hands instantly grasping your face, bringing it close to his. But he didn’t kiss you. Instead, his nose lightly grazed the tip of yours, and his pallid eyelashes brushed yours, and he whispered, “You like me?” A grin blossomed on his face. “You are my present, then,” he declared, his lips bumping into yours, “so I guess Father Christmas really delivered this year, because this is the best Christmas to date.”
And then his mouth closed over yours. He tasted sweet, hesitant. He tasted like Christmas. And he was oh, so careful with you, like if you were really some fragile present underneath the tree, and he snuggled up against you. Jesus Christ, it really was the most wonderful time of the year.
When you two finally broke apart, you gave him a dazzling grin, giggling. “See, I told you I would get myself a boyfriend before Christmas.”
He blushed at that, but he pulled you closer. “You said it was a guy at work.”
“I lied,” you whispered, about to kiss him again when you realized that the curtain on the window was pulled back, and a certain “King” was taking pictures. He snapped one more photo, yelling that Lukas had made him do it, and then the curtain closed. You turned back to your scarlet boyfriend, laughing. “Now, where were we?”