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Felt It In The Race I Won

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The first time Mark tells Peter he loves him, it’s the day after Mark’s dad dies, when Mark and Peter are at university together. Peter’s there for all of it, Mark dropping the phone in his shock, Mark getting drunk later that night, and collapsing into tears on their ratty couch, Peter’s there for all of it. He’s the one who makes sure Mark doesn’t do anything stupid, who rubs Mark’s back while he sobs, who fetches the water and the paracetamol so Mark doesn’t get too bad of a hangover in the morning.

“Thanks, mate,” Mark remembers slurring into the couch cushions after Peter had made him drink the water. “I really love you, man.”

“Course you do,” Peter said, gently, his hand warm and heavy on Mark’s shoulder. “Love you too, mate. You’ll get through this. Don’t worry.”

And later, Peter is the one who buys his first suit, all so he can attend the funeral of a man he never met.

Put like that, of course Mark loves him. He’s closer to Peter than he is to most of his own relatives. He’s Mark’s best friend, and Mark would do anything for him, always.

And then Mark has to go and fuck it all up by falling in love with Peter’s wife.

*

He doesn’t do anything. Of course he doesn’t do anything. Even if he wanted to do anything, even a blind man could see the way that Peter and Juliet are in love, and Mark doesn’t stand a chance in hell of getting in the way of that.

But the truth is this, no matter how much Mark may want Juliet, and he does, with a force that shocks him—it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. Mark is Peter’s best friend, and vice versa. There are things Mark won’t stoop to, things he can’t afford to lose.

So Mark doesn’t do anything, and it’s both the easiest and hardest decision he’s ever made.

*

He deals with it in various ways. First, he tries avoiding Juliet altogether, letting her and Peter think that he’s not that fond of her, and Christ, how Mark wishes that were true.

Then, once Juliet finds out, he briefly considers avoiding them both—unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Juliet susses that one out quickly, and puts an end to it. Mark’s mostly relieved at that. It’s hell being around them sometimes, yeah, but—Mark also misses his friend.

So he deals with it. He puts his best face on the entire situation, sometimes chats about it with his therapist, and does his level best to move on. And eventually, even though it takes a lot longer than he’d like—he does. To Mark’s immense surprise, he really does move on.

*

It’s three years after the wedding, and two years after Mark’s moved on from Juliet and started dating again when Peter finally calls him out.

“So this thing with you and Sarah, it’s getting serious then?” Peter asks him over lunch.

Mark snorts. “Well, we’re moving in together, so yeah, I’d say it’s fairly serious. Come on, Peter, you’re asking me this now?”

Peter looks oddly serious, though. “Yeah. Well, actually I’m working up the nerve to ask you about something else, and this seems like the best way to lead up to it.”

Mark puts his fork down at that, because whatever Peter’s talking about, it sounds serious enough. “Okay. What is it?”

“This relationship with Sarah—it’s good, yeah? Serious?” At Mark’s nod, Peter takes a breath and asks, “Serious enough that you’re over Juliet?”

Mark’s stomach drops to his feet. Oh God. “Oh God,” he says blankly. “Peter—”

But Peter’s holding up a hand in reassurance, instead of as a precursor to reaching across the table and strangling Mark to death. “It’s all right. Mark—it’s all right. I know. I’ve—known for a while.”

Oh Jesus, Mark’s never hyperventilated in his life, but he thinks he’s about to do it now. “How? How did you—”

Peter crooks an eyebrow at him. “I think you’re forgetting how long I’ve known you, mate. Not much you can hide from me. And, to be fair, you were fairly shit at hiding it in the first place.”

Mark rubs at his face. “Peter. Peter, I swear to you, nothing happened, I would never dream of—”

Now Peter’s staring at him like he’s gone mad, a crease appearing between his eyebrows. “Don’t be daft,” Peter says, “Of course you didn’t do anything. Of course she didn’t do anything. I trust you. Both of you.”

Mark stares at him, and Peter sighs. “Look. I figured it out a while ago. Nobody had to tell me. I just—knew. And yes, it was weird. It was—very weird, if I’m honest. But Mark, I know you. I know my wife. I know nothing would ever happen.”

Through the immense relief and lingering shock, Mark’s almost—humbled by Peter’s faith in him. “It wouldn’t,” he assures Peter. “It didn’t.”

Peter nods. “I know. I just—you’re okay now, right? You’re happy with Sarah. It’s over then?”

“Yes,” Mark says, and God, he’s so glad he can answer this question honestly. “Yes, we are. It’s over, Peter, I swear to God it is.”

And now Peter’s grinning at him, the same grin Mark’s seen for over a decade since they were students together at uni. “Good. All right then.”

“Good,” Mark agrees, and miraculously, somehow—it really is.