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Street Credit

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4 am on a Saturday and the police are out in force. Donghyuck knows this, knows the underpass they like to hide under, knows they’re on the lookout for people just like him. But the police won’t chase what they can’t catch, and the speedometer on Donghyuck’s display reads just over 170km/hr.

He pushes on the pedal just a little bit harder, the little red numbers rising. 175. 180. He can barely hear his engine over his music, grungy guitars and the crashing of cymbals drowning out the clean hiss of his engine.

Until the music fades, dashboard indicating an incoming call. 185. Foot unrelenting on the accelerator, he swipes at the touchscreen to accept it.

“Where the fuck are you?”

Mark’s concentrated driving face appears over the air conditioning vents. Frowning, frustrated, the expression makes Donghyuck bark out a laugh. He takes the next exit, slowing only a fraction to take the corner. Practically unbeatable in a straight line, his MX-5 is unreliable on turns.

“What?” He scoffs, “Too fast for you, Lee?”

“Hold up,” Mark ignores the bait, as per usual. “I think I see you.”

Windows down, arm hanging out the window, Donghyuck hears and smells Mark before he sees him. A brilliant blue WRX takes the bend at an incredible speed, all four tyres spinning as it’s thrown into a drift. Rubber skids along asphalt and Donghyuk inhales the sweet, tang of the burn.

“That was fucking awesome,” Donghyuck cheers, pumping his fist out the window. Mark flashes his lights in response.

“You could do the same if you took that fucking engine out of the boot.”

Unlike Donghyuk’s car, Mark’s is practically made for difficult manoeuvres. The Gymkhana King takes the inside lane, speeding past Donghyuck with ease. A raised middle finger out the window greets him, Mark taking the lead as he directs their little race back onto the highway.

“Insult my baby’s fat ass again, I dare you,” Donghyuck replies. Hologram Mark smirks.

“I’m just saying,” he says, “even Taeil can take a corner at eighty and he drives a fucking brick.”

“Don’t talk to me about Taeil’s brick,” Donghyuk groans. The black and white Chaser is still sitting back at the garage, waiting for much-needed repairs after Taeil’s latest run-in with a barricade. “There is so much to do and fuck all time to do it in.”

“Your fault not mine,” Mark laughs, “actually, no, it’s Taeil’s fault. But don’t tell him I said that.”

“First thing I’m saying when he comes to pick Panda up.”

“Fuck,” Mark hisses, his hologram jerking as the real-life version brakes suddenly. “Shift workers are on the road, we might need to slow down.”

“Slow isn’t in my vocabulary,” Donghyuck flattens the pedal. 220.

The burst lasts for only a few seconds, another car merging onto the highway just in front of him. He brakes hard, tyres spinning, rubber burning. Narrowly avoiding the oncoming traffic, it seems too much for Donghyuck’s car. He loses control, swerving across lanes as he continues to break, spinning just a little too fast towards the lane barrier.

A scrape of metal along concrete as the front end of his car grazes the barricade, the chorusing honks of passerby’s horns. Donghyuk stops suddenly, body jerking forward, the harness cutting along his collar bones as they hold him in place.

“You insane, reckless, arrogant piece of shit,” Mark’s hologram seethes, “get back on the road before the cops show up.”

“I’m fine,” Donghyuk croaks, “thanks for asking.”

“I don’t care,” Mark replies. Donghyuck knows he’s lying. “Meet me at the station off the next exit, I need H2 before my engine explodes.”

“Your shout for breakfast,” Donghyuk says, starting his car and pulling back onto the highway. He’s shaking, leg twitching as he pushes down on the accelerator. 100. The limit is 110. “I’m broke as shit.”

Mark glares at him through the hologram, before hanging up without a word.

“He loves me,” Donghyuk says to himself. “Honestly.”

Sirens ring out in the distance as the sun begins to rise.

------

Donghyuk’s whole life has been spent in engine bays and mechanic workshops. He’s gone from passing wrenches to donning his own hydraulic exoskeleton and getting the job done himself. His mother taught him about cars, what makes them go, how to handle the volatile elements used in nuclear engine cores. But most of his knowledge comes from other forms of research, less law-abiding activity.

Normal cars are boring, he realises at a young age. And that takes Donghyuk to abandoned industrial estates and vacant overpasses, seeking the thrill of faster cars with higher stakes and far less legality. At fourteen he sneaks out to his first street race. At fifteen he meets Mark; a kid from the wrong side of the tracks with the same passion for fast cars and danger. At sixteen and seventeen, they combine forces to take a joyride in Johnny Seo’s MX-5.

It earns him a I’m impressed, kid, a you’re lucky you stole my car, not Doyoung’s and an honorary place in their crew.

He's seventeen when Johnny decides to upgrade, a shiny new Mercedes becoming his pride and joy. Donghyuck inherits the car he once stole, his very own baby hiding away in Johnny’s garage, a present from his new friends and pseudo-family.

His mother disapproves.

Donghyuck is twenty, now.

He hasn’t spoken to her in over a year.

“You could have died,” Mark, the real one, leans through Donhyuck’s open window before he’s even fully parked. He looks livid, terrified, on edge. He grabs the collar of Donghyuck’s shirt roughly. “What the fuck were you thinking?”

“Get off me,” he shrugs himself out of Mark’s grip, unbuckling himself from his harness. “That’s nothing compared to what you do every weekend.”

Donghyuck fixes cars and Mark drives them. They’re a two-man team, of sorts. Mark’s car wouldn’t be as impressive without Donghyuck’s tinkering and there’s no one in the scene that drives better than Mark Lee.

“You’re not me,” he says, letting go of Donghyuck’s collar. It’s not an insult, it’s a statement of fact.

Donghyuck raises an eyebrow. “Just admit you were worried and get it over with,” he says lightly.

“I was fucking terrified.”

“Now admit that you love me, I’m the best thing that ever happened to you and you’d be lost without me.”

“Don’t push your luck,” Mark grumbles, stepping back from the door so that Donghyuck can exit.

“Is it pushing my luck to ask for my weight’s worth of bacon?” Donghyuck asks, linking arms with Mark as they traipse through the parking lot.

Donghyuck tries not to feel too offended when his grip is thrown off. Mark put up with the physical contact a whole minute more than he usually does, so Donghyuck counts it at a small victory.

“I was thinking more like three of those bacon and egg sandwich things they do,” Mark glances at him from the corner of his eye, offering a grin, a truce. “The French Toast ones?”

The small 24hr cafe is somewhat of a local haunt. Frequented by drivers of the night, those who work on the road or anyone up early enough that they don’t have any other options. The joke is that the food is incredible, filled with grease and sugar, all the bad things Mark and Donghyuck use to reward themselves for a drive well done.

“You know the way to my heart,” Donghyuck sighs, places a hand over his chest, practically skips towards the ordering window of the cafe.

Mark just laughs, trailing along behind him.

------

French toast sandwiches are an abomination and a one-way ticket to an early heart attack, but they’re delicious. It’s a fact Donghyuck moans into the cold morning air as he watches the sunrise.

The waxed paper holds in most of the syrup and the grease, but even it yields under the pressure, eventually. Donghyuck only eats them when he’s hungry enough to inhale the thing in under two minutes.

He feels for Mark, really, he does. His own sandwich sits on the metal table beside Donghyuck while Mark goes off to top up his car’s liquid nitrogen, the essential expansion aspect of his engine. Donghyuck personally uses salt water, because he was practically raised by Taeyong; a man who has lost enough fingers to H2 that he’s sworn off using it.

“Can I check my core when we get into the shop?” Mark approaches the table in a light jog, his car returned to the parking bay. “I think it’s nearly out.”

“I love how you use budget Hydrogen but are a total Thorium snob,” Donghyuck says, like he himself isn’t the same. With engines like theirs, ones that are put to the limit with every start of the ignition, using quality materials is the only option.

They’d burn out recharge station grade Thorium within minutes.

“Says someone who uses salt water---”

“I use a specially crafted blend of fluoride salts to properly optimize thermal efficiency,” Donghyuck sniffs, knowing full well that Mark has no idea what he’s talking about.

It’s funny that Mark is arguably one of the best drivers in the scene, but he barely understands the machinery that makes his manoeuvres possible. He gets the basics but not much else: liquid plus core equals vroom!

Both need regular changing and he can do that, at least. But anything else is up to Donghyuck, Taeyong, or anyone else at the shop who is free.

“It’s cute when you talk about cars,” Mark says through a mouthful of sandwich. Grease and syrup collect at the corner of his mouth. “You’re so pretentious, it’s actually kinda endearing.”

“An insult and a compliment in the same sentence,” Donghyuck fakes a swoon. “What did I do to deserve this?”

“Johnny’s gonna have your ass once we get in,” Mark shrugs, “figured you’d want some encouragement beforehand.”

“And the insult?”

Mark grins, syrup smeared across his cheek. “To keep you grounded,” he replies.

“What makes you think I’m gonna get it from Johnny?”

Donghyuck heart rate picks up as Mark drags a finger across his neck and down to his collarbone.

“You’re already starting to bruise,” he says, jabbing at a particularly tender spot. Donghyuck yelps and squirms away.

The crossbody harness in his bucket seat keeps him well in place during any emergency stops, but the synthetic material of the straps burns and bruises the skin under the force. Donghyuck’s t-shirt sits low enough that hints of the damage is visible by the collar, the rest of the x-shaped mark to be revealed when he changes into his work uniform later.

Speaking of which---

“Time check?” Donghyuck scrunches the wrapper of his sandwich into a ball, aims for the nearest trash can, tosses and misses. Mark rolls his eyes. He taps on the display built into his wrist, calling out the glowing six fifteen that shines in green under his skin.

They have forty-five minutes before they have to start work. Donghyuck in the engine of some unknown car and Mark behind the shop’s reception desk. The drive is a good half hour at best and the early morning traffic is starting to bottleneck. They’ll probably be late.

“We should go,” Mark says. He, too, scrunches his paper and throws it towards the trash can. Unfortunately, Mark doesn’t miss. If he didn’t suck so much with mechanical things he’d be good at everything, practically perfect.

“Call Taeyong and tell him we might be late,” Donghyuck says, standing and stretching.

“Why can’t you do it?”

“He likes you more,” Donghyuck shrugs. They walk through the parking lot with the pace of people who have nowhere to be.

“Maybe he’d like you better if you didn’t crash your car before being late for work,” Mark snickers.

“Bite me,” Donghyuck replies, slipping into the seat of his car. “It’s a scrape, nothing I can’t buff out in like, five minutes, tops.”

The engine roars to life.

His bruises rub uncomfortably beneath his harness.

------

Their shop is sketchy, questionable. Unnamed, but referred to by the street number it resides on. 127 lies in the middle of an industrial complex, hidden away by factories and smoke; the kind of place where the customers are found by word of mouth rather than happenstance.

Sicheng, another mechanic, joins them for the last portion of the journey in; his cherry red R35 weaving in between the two of them as they drive. He greets them with a wiggle of his fingers and a gleeful cheer as Donghyuck revs his engine from his place behind him.

Turning into the parking lot, Donghyuck breathes a sigh of relief. Staff parking is almost full, but everyone’s outside, coffee cups and cigarettes in hand. The day’s work hasn’t officially started, yet. So technically they’re not late.

“Nice scrape, dumbass,” Johnny hits Donghyuck upside the head as he steps out of the car.

He’s still a little protective over the MX5, considering it’s Johnny’s former baby. Donghyuck has changed nearly everything about the interior, but the exterior remains the same as when Johnny owned it, custom paint colour (red, with subtle pink and gold glitter for depth) included.

Johnny pokes at Donghyuck’s chest. “Nice bruises, too.”

“Before anyone starts blaming me…” Mark starts, raising his hands in surrender.

“Nah,” Yuta joins in on the conversation. He takes a drag from his cigarette, blowing the smoke away from the group. “We all know Hyuck’s the dumbass.”

“Hey!”

“Mark has never crashed,” Johnny shrugs, “not even Taeyong has managed that.”

Taeyong is somewhat of a legend. 127’s Store Manager, mechanical genius, a racer who is so good he’s not actually allowed to race anymore. Anyone wanting to make a name for themselves wants to know Taeyong. And anyone who wants to prove their worth wants him to fix up their car.

“It’s not even that bad,” Taeil calls out from Donghyuck’s front quarter. Part of their morning routine is to talk shit, drink coffee and look at each other’s cars. Donghyuck’s scrape proves to be quite interesting to his coworkers, as everyone, sans Taeyong, has congregated around it.

“Just buff it out on your break,” Doyoung supplies, “should take less than five minutes.”

“That’s what I said!” Donghyuck cries, pointing at Mark in triumph.

“I’m gonna stop the lover’s quarrel before it starts,” Jaehyun interjects, standing between Mark and Donghyuck with a raised eyebrow. They both squawk in offence. “You gotta hide those bruises before Taeyong sees, you know what he’s like.”

The automatic doors to the garage shift, gears whirring to life as they begin to open. Donghyuck checks the display on his wrist: 7:03am.

“Let’s go,” Mark grabs him by the bicep, dragging Donghyuck inside. “I’ve seen the schedule for today, you’re gonna be busy.”

Well, shit.

-------

Technological advancements come frequently, rapidly. There aren’t many people who scoff at things like bodily enhancements, anything to make their lives easier. Donghyuck is no stranger to mods; his joints have been replaced by steel and electromagnets, helping him with heavy lifting and preventing injuries at work. The whole team have similar modifications; joints and limbs enhanced to ease the workload.

Mark is the only exception, as the receptionist for the store he doesn’t really have anything to lift. His body remains natural, modification free. A rarity in the modern age.

With a tap of a finger on the right part of his elbow, Donghyuck can attach himself into his work suit without a struggle. The hydraulics hiss as Donghyuck moves a beautiful BMW M3 E46 into position, the gold paint glittering under the lights of the shop. An unorthodox choice, but a good car in the right hands.

Pulling his goggles down, Donghyuck checks over the work list on his inbuilt display. Axel change, shimming the diffs, anything to make it go sideways. Whoever runs this car is a drifter and direct competition for people like Yuta and Sicheng.

Considering that Sicheng likes to cut Donghyuck off while they’re out cruising and Yuta’s earlier quip, Donghyuck aims to go above and beyond his usual work, just so there is a little bit of competition out there for them.

He’s almost done when Taeyong approaches him, peering under the E46’s back end to find Donghyuck. One look at Taeyong with his silver hair, his heavily tattooed skin, cybernetic fingers as they curl around a cigarette; the image alone is enough to terrify anyone. It doesn’t matter how sweet his disposition is, Taeyong is the kind of person who intimidates.

But it doesn’t work on Donghyuck, who’s known him for too long, seen him at his weakest.

“Sup?” he hums from his position underneath the E46. The gold is pretty but it’s wreaking havoc on his eyes, dots dancing in his vision as he attempts to focus.

“Delivery is due soon,” Taeyong starts, rolling his shoulders, stretching out the ache from the morning’s work. “It’s your turn to unpack.”

Donghyuck groans.

The shop’s monthly deliveries are both suspicious and bothersome. First of all, everything is handled by a Chinese restaurant, not a shipping company. Secondly, their stock is completely random, a luck of the draw. The whole thing screams illegal activity, something bigger and more sinister than the unlicensed modification of street cars.

As such, Donghyuck has learnt not to ask questions, and has become frightfully good at Frankenstein-ing illegal mods from two or more parts that do not belong together.

“Did someone at least order food to go with our mystery shipment?” he asks. It’s almost lunchtime. For a restaurant acting as a cover for something shady, their food is surprisingly good. Donghyuck’s craving for their Lemon Chicken is almost eternal.

“Pretty sure it was Taeil,” Taeyong says. Donghyuck breathes a sigh of relief. Taeil’s memory is amazing, so he’s the only one Donghyuck trusts to get his order right. Yuta, on the other hand, is a petty scatterbrain who purposely forgets to order food for whoever is annoying him on any given day.

He is no longer allowed to order lunch for the team.

“Then I’m down,” Donghyuck shrugs.

“Brat,” Taeyong replies. Donghyuck is hit upside the head for the second time in a day. “Not like you have any choice.”

“What did I do to deserve such a wonderful boss?” Donghyuck flutters his eyelashes, sarcasm evident.

“Wear your suit,” Taeyong ignores him. “If anything breaks it’s coming out of your paycheck.”

The threat is empty, yet noted.

------

Donghyuck sits on top of his car, container of Lemon Chicken in hand. He absentmindedly picks at his meal while he watches the commotion before him.

Out of all the staff cars at 127, there are only three that aren’t meant to go sideways. Doyoung and Johnny tend to race drag and Donghyuck’s is built in the same fashion. Everyone else drifts, or engages in gymkhana-like races through dangerous obstacle courses in the dead of night.

But that doesn’t mean that their cars aren’t fast, which is why Yuta wants to test his newest modifications against the fastest drag cars in the scene.

“I’ve spent all morning fixing Yuto’s car,” he says in reference to his friend-slash-rival’s R34 Skyline, a pretty purple car sitting in the car park post-mod. “If I’m gonna beat him, I need to know that I’m fast enough.”

“Race Hyuck,” Johnny says, slurping at his Chow Mein. “He’s as fast as us.”

“Donghyuck doesn’t race,” Taeyong steps in, arms folded across his chest. “And if he did, I wouldn’t want his first to be against Yuta.”

“He’s good, though,” Jaehyun points his chopsticks in Taeyong’s direction. “I think he could at least place.”

“Thank you for that vote of confidence,” Donghyuck mutters dryly.

He would race if he could. But he’s more useful to the team as a mechanic, rather than a racer. It’s his quick thinking, on the spot mods that help people, not his skills behind the wheel.

“He beats me,” Mark offers. He’s helping, but he’s also just stating facts. But beating Mark in a drag race isn’t all that hard. He’s the fastest when going sideways, for sure. Straight lines are another thing entirely. “And he’s got the tattoo, just like everyone else.”

As a mark of belonging, anyone who works at 127 has the number inked permanently onto their bodies. The tattoo on Donghyuck’s left wrist matches the one on Mark’s neck, Taeyong’s cheekbone, Yuta’s foot. They all have it on them, somewhere, whether it’s worked into complex sleeve designs or hidden under clothing.

It’s a sign that Donghyuck belongs. That he’s part of a family, chosen, rather than of blood.

“When’s the good doctor due back?” Doyoung cuts in, massaging his knuckles. Just like Donghyuck, he’s had his joints replaced, too. An older generation of mods, ones that ache when the weather gets cold. Judging by the temperature outside, Doyoung must be in agony.

As if prompted, the roar of Taeil’s engine rumbles in the distance. He splits his time between a legally run family practice and the illegal mod surgery based in 127’s upstairs office. Spending the morning diagnosing coughs and colds, Taeil comes back to the shop after lunchtime to create, install and upkeep the modifications of his underground clientele.

All that work and he still finds time to order them all lunch. It’s why he’s Donghyuck’s favourite.

Naturally, he’s the brains behind Donghyuck’s joints. Surprisingly, he’s teaching Donghyuck how to build all sorts of modifications using the spare parts from the shop.

Yet another thing for his mother to disapprove of.

“You,” Taeyong points to Johnny, “help Yuta measure his dick.”

An irritated yelp from Yuta and a few snickers from the crew and his words are obeyed.

“You,” he points to Doyoung, “into Taeil’s office. I need you at 100% for this afternoon.”

“Any other orders, Sir?” Jaehyun snarks. He’s one of the few people who can sass Taeyong and get away with it.

“Kids are unpacking today, so be nice to them if you want first pick.”

A flurry of movement sees Yuta, Sicheng and Johnny at Donghyuck’s side clamouring for his keys, with Doyoung and Jaehyun sleazing it up next to Mark.

“I’ll fix your car first,”Sicheng begs.

“You know I can buff that scratch right out for you,” Yuta says like Donghyuck can’t do it just as well, if not better.

“I’ve got secrets you’ll want to know,” Johnny wiggles his eyebrows, gestures towards Mark with a nod of his head.

“Johnny gets first pick,” Donghyuck replies immediately.

The others groan, before trying their luck with Mark. Unfortunately for them, he’s already shaking hands with a smug looking Jaehyun.

“He’s gonna have to race Taeyong in about a month’s time,” Johnny whispers, “only I know at this point.”

“Not even Taeyong knows?”

“He’ll pull out if he does,” Johnny replies casually, “that’s why he’s gotta find out at the last second.”

Taeyong wants to race but can't, because everyone else forfeits when he’s announced. He and Mark race in two completely different styles, but it makes sense for Taeyong to do a gymkhana for his only return. It’s not exactly something he’s the best at. The organisers will place a few handicaps on him, too, just so people will enter.

It’s going to be interesting, yet terrifying to watch.

“So,” Johnny drawls. He’s found a cigarette somewhere, lighting it up and taking a drag. “You take that first pick for Mark. He’s going to need it.”

Donghyuck already has several ideas already running through his head.

The problem is getting Mark to agree with them.

------

11:45pm

Donghyuck shivers, the cold mountain air cutting through his jacket. He hasn’t driven, not tonight, the twists and turns of their chosen path far too dangerous for his car. To put it simply, he wouldn’t be able to keep up.

He rides passenger with Mark, instead. They’re the first ones in, parked in a tourist car park halfway to the peak. The streetlights, dull from age, cast a soft yellow-grey glow over the asphalt.

They’re the first ones in but the others aren’t far off. The hum of engines reverberates up to their position, multiple cars going faster than the mountain’s respectable speed limit.

“They’re here,” Mark says, a group of four cars reaching their position, slowing before parking adjacent to Mark’s WRX.

The contrast between the cars is striking, their conditions varying so much it’s easy to tell that Mark is the more professional driver of the group. A bright red Lancer, belonging to Yukhei. An old Honda NSX, Renjun’s baby. Jaemin’s R31, new in his hands yet older than the entire group. Chenle with his Supra, popup lights dimming as he kills the ignition.

They belong to Mark and Donghyuck’s friends. People who circle the scene but don’t actively participate in it. They’ve bonded due to age, their love of cars. But for the rest of the group, going sideways is just something fun, not necessarily a way of life.

“We never learn,” Jaemin says, stepping out of his car. The R31’s front right quarter held in place by zip ties, something of a fashion statement as well as a necessity. “Never race Mark Lee up the mountain.”

Jeno and Jisung follow suit, stepping out of the front and rear passenger seats, respectively. They form the first part of the group, all employees of a bar that racers like to frequent.

“He does hold the record,” Chenle yells from the window of his Supra. It’s the nicest car out of all of them, with Chenle somehow managing to splurge on a custom paint job from Donghyuck.

Chenle, along with Yukhei and Renjun, works at the Chinese restaurant, waiting tables. They’re all more machine than human by this point, something Donghyuck doesn’t quite understand.

Just more questions he’s not supposed to ask, and more facts he just has to accept and move on from.

“Nice run, man,” Yukhei greets Mark, while Renjun cuddles up to Donghyuck’s side to protect himself from the cold. “You time it?”

Mark holds the unofficial record both up and down the mountain, beating Taeyong’s similarly unofficial time from when he was young and stupid enough to race in dangerous terrain. Mountains kill more drivers than they’re worth, so the older members of 127 tend to let off steam around the docks and industrial estates.

“Nah,” Mark shrugs. “Wasn’t really taking it seriously, you know?”

He was taking it seriously. Mark is nothing but serious every time he sits behind the wheel of his car. He plays off his skills when he’s around the others, something akin to humility. But Donghyuck knows Mark, understands that he likes it when people know he’s that skilled, even without trying.

“Bullshit,” Yukhei elbows Mark in the ribs. He knows Mark, too.

It’s anyone’s guess as to why Yukhei doesn’t race with the rest of them. God knows he’s good enough, and his car could be too if Donghyuck gets his hands on it. He’s up for a tattoo if he wants one, a job at the shop if he needs it.

But he’s loyal to the restaurant for some unexplained reason. Spends all his money on something that isn’t his car. Yukhei, while talented, doesn’t drive for the prizes.

“How’s your hand?” Donghyuck asks Renjun, ignoring Mark in the background, trying to cover up his false humility. It’s amusing, but Renjun’s got fresh mods and Donghyuck is curious about the healing process.

“Still hurts sometimes,” Renjun comes into the shop with a nasty burn on his hand, leaves with something made from metal. With that level of tissue damage, it’s easier to replace the whole thing rather than try and fix what’s wrong.

While convenient, it’s jarring how wasteful the whole thing is. Constantly updating and replacing tech is one thing, but the mindset applies to humans as well. Hurt an arm, get a new one. Just another piece of tech to be replaced.

“You’re still doing your exercises?” Donghyuck is in training to service modifications, with Renjun’s the first piece he’s actively worked on. They’re friends, and Donghyuck has made him a hand. He’s more than invested in Renjun’s recovery.

“No, I’d rather this piece of shit not take to my body,” Renjun rolls his eyes, displaying the small finger pulses Taeil insists he does daily. “You’re an idiot.”

“An idiot who made that hand for you.”

“An idiot who attached a single finger while Doctor Moon did the rest.”

“An idiot who---”

“Chenle and I are first,” Jisung interrupts, swinging Jaemin’s keys around his fingers. He has a habit of pickpocketing his friends, something small to keep his skills sharp.

“Hey!” Jaemin makes a grab for the keys, but Jisung shoves the whole set down the front of his pants. Defeated, Jaemin grimaces in disgust.

“I’ll keep watch,” Yukhei adds.

“Me too,” Mark raises his hand.

They’ve got a simple system.

There is a stretch of road halfway up the mountain, about a kilometre long. The bends are nice and the road is wide enough to swing a car. With the addition of safety barriers, it’s the perfect place to drift. The only problem being the public usage of the mountain road.

And that’s where the lookouts come in. While the likelihood of traffic so late at night is rare, no one wants to risk a crash. At the start and end of the course, someone sits with their high beams on, warning potential motorists about what goes on up ahead. An added task for the lookout is to keep watch for cops.

Most of the time they’re just told to move along, slapped with a fine of some sort. But if they’re just idle, hanging out on the mountain, there aren’t many laws they can be caught breaking.

“It’s my car but I never get to drive it,” Jaemin bemoans. He claims shotgun in Yukhei’s car, making sure his baby crosses the finish line in one piece.

“Steal someone’s ride,” Renjun says, “You and I can go next.”

“Mark?” He turns on the pout, the puppy dog eyes. “Can I have your keys?”

“In your dreams,” Mark scoffs.

Donghyuck is an alright drifter, learning to slide due to the close contact he has with people who are good at it and the knowledge he gains from fixing their cars. But most drift cars are rear wheel drives, the back end locking up and sending the car sideways. Mark’s car is an all-wheel drive, meaning that all the wheels rotate individually. It’s a different kind of drifting, one that requires more control.

“Don’t want him to crash your baby?” Renjun mocks. “And I’ll admit it this time, but it’s only a good car because of Donghyuck. He built the thing.”

“I don’t want him to get hurt,” Mark replies, ignoring the stab at his mechanical illiteracy. “Cars can be fixed, Donghyucks can’t.”

Technically he can. One call to Taeil and Donghyuck becomes a little more metal. But Mark’s concern is touching.

Almost.

“He’s just worried I’ll be better than him,” he slings an arm around Mark’s shoulder.

“I’m just worried in general.” Mark sighs. He’s always apprehensive about sliding on the mountain, but their system is good and the races aren’t all that serious.

If they can even be called races at all. It’s more like synchronised drifting, winners and losers be damned in the name of fun.

Donghyuck gets his hands on Chenle’s keys, a thank you for the paint job. He slides to the best of his ability, made easier by driving a car made to drift. The wheels lock, rubber burns and Donghyuck hollers out the open window.

The other mechanics at the shop might disapprove, but the mountain track is a whole lot of fun. Rebellious, dangerous, a bonding activity to build trust amongst his friends. And when they’re done, they sit in a re-cooling station parking lot, eating snacks and talking shit after topping up, watching the sunrise over the mountain range.

It’s times like this, carefree and youthful, that reminds Donghyuck why he does what he does.

------

Cars run on a chemical reaction. The nuclear core heats the liquid of choice, which expands through a nozzle within the engine to create a thrust that propels the vehicle. A simple explanation that even Mark understands, but doesn’t explain, to the uninformed, why car parts are lined in rubber.

The manufacturing choice of all technology, the specialised material blocks the ionised radiation from an engine’s core. It also means that the internal components of car parts are unable to be scanned via x-ray or other radiation-based scanning means.

The perfect way to import things illegally.

Which has Donghyuck thinking, but not speaking out loud. He knows that there is something shady involving his boss, their deliveries and the parts they receive from them. Sometimes, he finds useless compartments in the parts while breaking them open, things that, mechanically, have no business being there.

He hypothesized that the shop, the restaurant, they’re all a cover for a trafficking ring. Drugs imported in almost unscannable, well-hidden parts, the content extracted at the restaurant before being sent off to wherever they go.

The containers end up at 127, where they can turn a little more profit for the boss.

It’s an ingenious plan, one that Donghyuck doesn’t speak of aloud. He knows that the others have probably come to the same conclusion, but knowing about it means they’re implicit in the event of a bust. So they play dumb, verbally chalking it down to a cheap, eccentric and absent owner.

Still, for a place covering a drug ring, the restaurant makes a damn good plate of lemon chicken.

“I love you,” he mumbles to Kun, the manager-slash-chef of the establishment. He likes the boys from 127, abandoning the kitchen when he can in order to hand deliver their food. Kun is a man with a heart of gold and limbs of metal. Not Taeil’s handiwork but he runs the upkeep of them at the insistence of their mutual boss.

“You’re the only one,” Chenle hums, buzzing around the restaurant, collecting empty plates.

“He’s the mother I’ve never known, nor wanted,” Renjun sighs, following Chenle’s movement with a bottle of cleaning spray and a cloth, wiping down the freshly cleaned tables. His hand seems to be healing well.

“Man,” Mark whistles, handing his empty plate to an impatient Chenle. “We’d be crucified if we spoke like that to Taeyong.”

“Taeyong would happily call himself your mother,” Kun sighs, defeated. “I didn’t adopt them, they adopted me.” He swats at a passing Renjun, who dodges the attack, giggling. “And then they have the audacity to mock me for it.”

It’s well past closing time, but Mark and Donghyuck are special--- practically cousins to the staff, they’re allowed to stay as long as they want. Considering the day they’ve had, all the work they’ve had to do, they need the extra time to finish up their meals.

“So,” Chenle his clearing task completed for the time being, slides into the booth with them. He’s waiting for Donghyuck to finish moaning over his chicken. “Am I interrupting date night?”

“Donghyuck’s more interested in the chicken than me,” Mark sighs, dramatically. He’s wrong, but Donghyuck makes no move to correct him, shovelling more food into his mouth, instead.

“Tragic,” he drawls. “Hurry up, I want to go home.”

“Is that any way to treat a paying customer?” Donghyuck says through his last mouthful.

“Since when do you pay?” Chenle cocks an eyebrow.

“Shut up.”

“Make me.”

“And we’re leaving before someone hits you,” Mark grabs Donghyuck’s empty plate, shoving it into Chenle’s hands.

“Have fun on the rest of your date,” Chenle hollers at them as they leave.

Mark and Donghyuck let the doors slide closed behind them, standing awkwardly on the street as Kun locks up behind them.

“Ignore him,” Donghyuck says. “He insults because he cares.”

“I know,” Mark sighs.

They fall into silence, and into step as they make their way through the car park. It’s been such a long day, exhaustion finally setting in as Donghyuck contemplates the prospect of home. He doesn’t have much driving to do, about fifteen minutes worth before he’s met with a hot shower and his mildly comfortable pull out.

While Mark doesn’t fix the cars, he works hard, too. Paperwork, scheduling, dealing with customers. It’s as mentally exhausting as Donghyuck’s job is physically taxing. They both are in need of a good night sleep before getting up early and doing it all again.

“I’ve got a weird question,” Mark asks, stopping Donghyuck before he can get into his car.

“Expect a weird answer, then,” Donghyuck yawns.

“Can I have a hug?”

Mark isn’t exactly shy from physical contact, but anything too intimate is usually too much for him. A hand on the leg or shoulder is fine, but a full on hug has him shrinking away. The pressure of the day must have taken its toll if he’s reaching out for something like this.

“Of course,” Donghyuck replies softly.

He’s pulled into the hug, Mark exhaling his problems, his exhaustion into the skin of Donghyuck’s neck. It’s nice that Mark trusts him like this, relies on him, can express just a fraction of his problems when he needs to.

It makes Donghyuck feel like he’s living up to his title as Mark’s best friend.

“Drive safe,” Donghyuck says as Mark pulls away.

“You too.”

Donghyuck doesn’t know where Mark lives.

He just hopes that the exhaustion doesn’t fully set in until he’s at home.

------

It’s not the night of Mark’s big race, but the predecessor to it. Johnny has one, along with Jaehyun and Yuta, who are competing against each other. As per usual, Donghyuck isn’t driving but he’s in the driver’s area, anyway.

127 perks.

That, and he’s acting as crew for all of them.

They’re competing against each other but Donghyuck knows they’ll place first and second. It all depends on how they drive:

While Jaehyun’s car is more powerful, Yuta’s S15 has better control. If he can keep his corners tight and his slides clean, then he might be able to out-drive Jaehyun’s higher horsepower. Everything is up to chance in a race. Unless Taeyong is driving, the winner is never completely clear.

Pre-race drinks and bets are held at an unnamed bar near the overpass. There seems to be a theme, an unseen connection, a line of thinking filled that connects dots that shouldn’t be connected.

Managed by a man named Ten, the bar, nicknamed Overpass, is where all parts of the scene seem to converge. Jeno and Jaemin man the bar while Jisung, still underage, collects glasses.

There seems to be a theme in the unnamed trio, one where managers take in street kids and give them a place to belong.

“You know three people on tonight.”

Ten slides up to Donghyuck, crafty and cunning. He collects and employs street kids, just like Taeyong does. Jeno, Jaemin and Jisung work the bar with Ten, only really busy whenever there’s a race on. It’s too far out of the way, otherwise, but Donghyuck occasionally finds himself at the underpass after a long day’s work.

“What of it?”

Donghyuck isn’t allowed to bet, not when he’s so personally involved with the racers. He gets his cash from the days when 127 aren’t driving, when there are cars he’s personally fixed involved in the betting pool.

“You can bet today, but only on Yuta and Jaehyun’s race,” Ten starts, holding up a finger. “But you have to choose between them.”

“Yuta,” Donghyuck says after a moment of consideration. “400 Credits.”

It’s half his paycheck, but the odds on Yuta are lower than on Jaehyun so his return will end up higher. Plus, he knows he can con Yuta into buying him lunch for a week or so if he loses.

“Done.”

Like everyone else, Donghyuck has his legal payment method implanted under the skin of his dominant hand. Like everyone else in the scene, he has a matching, illegal one used for underground bets, positioned elsewhere. Donghyuck has gone simple, near his implant on his non-dominant hand.

Other people, like Ten, think a little more outside the box. Ten jots the note down on his implant, a full screen in his left wrist. Donghyuck raises his own, the credit chip resting under the skin. He passes it across the receiver in Ten’s neck. With a beep, the transaction is approved.

“Always a pleasure,” Ten winks, “go see the boys at the bar, will you? They won’t admit to it, but I think they’ve missed you.”

“I saw them last week,” Donghyuck grins, “But Mark’s at the bar, so I’ll see them when I collect my drink and/or drink slave.”

“Still got him wrapped around your finger, huh?” Ten’s grin is sly, lazy. “I guess that’s what love does to you.”

“It’s not like that---”

“You’re all the same,” Ten shakes his head, disappointed, patronising. “What’s in the water at that shop of yours?”

“I don’t under---”

“Call me Johnny’s boyfriend in front of him,” he taps Donghyuck on the nose. “Watch him squirm. It’s cute.”

Johnny’s illegal chip is in his tongue. Sometimes he leaves a hickey on Ten’s neck along with his payment. It’s another connection that Donghyuck assumes but never speaks aloud.

“But you’re not,” he says, playing dumb.

“No.”

“Then why---”

“It’s fun,” Ten shrugs, interrupting Donghyuck for the umpteenth time. It seems to be his thing, the way he talks. He answers questions before they’ve been asked. “Now go find your boyfriend. And say hi to the boys.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Donghyuck grumbles, out of earshot because he knows Ten will just try and argue to the contrary. Not necessarily because he believes it, but because it gets a rise out of both Mark and Donghyuck whenever it gets brought up.

And it’s brought up often.

Friends, customers, other racers. The staff at the Chinese restaurant. The boys at the bar. It always starts as a curious question, turns into an inside joke after Mark and Donghyuck’s reactions. They deny, insult, deny again. It’s funny, until it’s not.

Donghyuck greets Mark and Jeno at the bar, gets poured a shot by Jaemin, gives Jisung a solid hug once he’s dropped off the rack of glasses he’s been collecting.

They all agree, unanimously, that Yuta is definitely the pick of the night.

“He’s improved a lot, lately,” Jaemin notes. He uses the races as learning experiences, picks up tricks to try on the mountain.

“The new mods he’s done are fucking awesome,” Jeno replies. He’s a backyard tinkerer, the brains behind Jaemin’s car. He’s not trained, but often comes to Donghyuck for pointers.

“I just bet on Yuta because the others did,” supplies Jisung, who only sticks around because Ten lets him drink and gamble underage.

There are no morals in the underground.

Mark slings an arm around Donghyuck’s hip as they stand at the bar. Jeno chats idly as he serves the people around them while Jaemin offers his input every now and again. Mark is always so touchy once the alcohol hits his system, and it’s half the reason why everyone thinks they’re dating.

Donghyuck likes it.

But what Donghyuck doesn’t like is admitting that everyone’s right in some respect.

It’s not real, they’re not dating.

And sometimes, in moments of absolute weakness. Donghyuck wishes that they were.

------

Rubber burns, engines rev, the noise of the cars only just drowning out the sounds of the crowd, hidden away by portable barricades around the makeshift track.

With a short course and fast cars, the races are over within minutes. The whole ordeal running smoothly means that the whole thing goes from preliminaries to finals within twenty minutes. Ten makes sure that Yuta and Jaehyun can only meet in the finals, while Yuto, the only other drifter Donghyuck personally knows, loses to Yuta and scrapes in at third place.

When the finals begin, it’s close and Donghyuck is on edge. He grips at the barricade as Yuta and Jaehyun fly out of the starting line.

As expected, Jaehyun is faster. But he takes the first corner at a strange angle, overshooting and allowing Yuta to slide up the inside lane. Neck and neck until the final stretch, it’s Yuta’s tight corners and better driving that takes him across the finish line first.

The credit chip in his wrist beeps, as does Mark’s. His initial bet is back in his account, along with the extra two hundred he’s earnt with a successful bet.

“Drinks on Yuta!” Someone yells. Donghyuck thinks it’s Johnny, but he can’t be sure.

He does, however, see Taeyong heading to the bar, no doubt starting a tab in Yuta’s name and honour. Jaemin laughs as he sets it all up, pouring the first round of shots for the assembled staff and crew of 127.

Victoriously, they drink. Jaehyun even joins in on the celebrations, never a sore loser when it comes to his friends.

“It’s just motivation to get better,” he says, pulling a tipsy Taeyong close and pressing a kiss to his neck. They’re sort of on again/off again with their relationship. It seems to be vaguely on, and Donghyuck makes a drunken promise to himself to crash somewhere else for the night.

Everything blurs, conversations melding into each other as Donghyuck’s words begin to slur.

Mark’s do too, and he gets clingier as the night progresses. Hands-on Donghyuck whenever possible, pulling him into a side hug. It culminates with Mark’s fingers laced with Donghyuck’s own as they tumble out into the night.

------

Everyone has a place that defines their childhood, their adolescence. For Mark and Donghyuck, it’s the footbridge overlooking the racecourse, running underneath the overpass and connecting two sides of the city together.

It’s where they met, where they stood and watched with awe at the racers they idolised and went on to befriend. Where they shared their secrets, their struggles, complained about their home lives.

“You know,” Mark says, leaning over the railing and watching the cars go by. “My mother started rejecting my payments into her account.”

Mark’s mother is even less approving of his lifestyle than Donghyuck’s. Mark comes from a poor family that adamantly does the right thing, no matter the cost. Earning money from illegal racing and underground gambling goes against their morals. At least Donghyuck’s family is somewhat proud of him and his talents, even if they disapprove of how he showcases them.

Voluntarily isolated from his home, Mark sends parts of his earnings back to them once a month. He stays away so they can’t ask questions about his money and how he gets it.

“Yeah,” Mark breathes, voice cracking. “She just sends it straight back the moment it comes in.”

“That’s,” Donghyuck pauses, “that’s rough.”

“I think they’ve always known, you know,” he continues. “That what I do isn’t something they can be proud of.”

“Do you regret it?”

Mark pauses, closes his eyes, thinks. He shuffles closer to Donghyuck, leaning down to awkwardly rest his head on Donghyuck’s shoulder.

“No,” he says quietly. “Because I found you.”

“Emotional drunk,” Donghyuck laughs, shoving Mark away.

Where Mark is clingy, sentimental, Donghyuck is bold. He’s sober enough to know he’ll do something stupid if he lets Mark drape himself all over him like that.

“Seriously,” Mark stumbles, pulls Donghyuck into a back hug, nuzzles into his neck. “You’re the reason I stay.”

It’s stupid that Donghyuck believes him. If there is anyone born to drive it’s Mark. A raw talent the likes of which no one has ever seen before. The new Taeyong. He’s still losing races on occasion, but he’s young and inexperienced. A few more races under his belt and he’ll be unbeatable, Donghyuck is sure of it.

“C’mon,” Donghyuck says, pulling away. He placates his own feelings and Mark’s drunken neediness with a kiss to Mark’s cheek. “Let’s get going before you do something stupid.”

“Like what?” Mark asks, rubbing at his cheek.

“Fall of the bridge,” Donghyuck shoots back. “Confess your undying love for me. Something like that.”

“Gross,” he giggles, “ I would never.”

The hurt doesn’t have time to set in, not with the haze of alcohol and the way Mark takes his hand and runs.

------

Donghyuck lives on the fold out couch in Jaehyun’s one bedroom apartment. An in-between placeholder meant to last a few days, but has since stretched out into a year of occupation. He stays because there’s nowhere else to go, but also because he can.

Sometimes, Donghyuck thinks that Taeyong is the only reason he hasn’t been kicked out, yet. He’s the youngest, someone needs to keep an eye on him. The job falls onto Jaehyun and Donghyuck finds a home when needs one the most.

He places his thumb into the scanner beside the door frame, technology scanning his fingerprint, the metal joints of his fingers and registering his identity. Mark trails behind him, intent on crashing for the night. His own apartment is further out, apparently, so it’s cheaper and easier for him to share Donghyuck’s bed for the night before heading home in the morning.

There is a sense of apprehension in the air. Jaehyun and Taeyong’s little fling is only a sometimes thing in the way that sometimes they are loud and sometimes they are not. It’s mildly traumatising but Donghyuck, a freeloader, has no room to complain.

The hour is late enough that Taeyong has cleaned and sobered up, any strewn clothing picked up and neatly folded on Jaehyun’s bedside table. He greets the two as they make their way into the kitchen, shirtless and mug of tea in hand.

“You two look like you’ve had fun,” Taeyong says, gesturing to their messy clothes.

Mark, while affectionate, is also an adventurous drunk. They’ve spent their early hours sobering up and trespassing, climbing fences and traipsing through mud. It must show on their T-shirts and the shoes they’ve discarded by the front door.

“I’d say the same,” Donghyuck giggles, “but I can’t see any hickies through all your tattoos.”

Taeyong flushes, takes a sip of his tea as he tries to hide behind the mug.

“Don’t say things like that,” he replies.

Donghyuck has to wonder if the reason why he can’t see any marks is that there are none there to begin with.

“Mark’s gonna stay here,” Donghyuck motions towards his makeshift room. “Just until he sobers up enough to drive.”

Taeyong nods, approving. If there is any lesson he’s drilled into their heads, it’s not to drink and drive. They’ve all seen it happen: racers with too many drinks in their system, high on a win, who decide to drive home. Too many deaths, both of racers and innocent parties, lives and cars ruined, time spent behind bars.

It’s not worth the risk, not when their cars can go as fast as they do.

“Play nice,” Taeyong yawns, scratching lightly at the tattoo above his navel. It’s his car, a beautiful coloured piece done somewhat illegally. Just like the rest of his ink and his mods.

“We always do,” Mark laughs. Taeyong finds the sound offensive to his hungover ears and decides to flip them off as he walks away.

“Bed,” Donghyuck whines, pawing at Mark’s chest. He’s still drunk enough to act cute, sober enough to know it’s a bad idea.

Mark hums, falling into the pile of blankets and pillows on the fold out.

Donghyuck follows, already aware that he’s going to wake up alone in a few hours time.

------

The engine of the red MX-5 is in pieces around the workshop, Donghyuck fiddling with parts here and there, updating his engine using new skills he’s acquired. Car modifications are an ongoing, never-ending project. There are always ways to improve the performance of the vehicle, fresh parts to be installed.

He’s been getting lifts to and from work with Jaehyun, but he’s decided to stay back, dragging Mark into the idea for moral support and someone to drive him.

Plus, it gives them time to work out a plan for Mark’s car, something to help him win against the race with Taeyong.

Mark is happy that his car is the centre of Donghyuck’s attention, excitedly requesting upgrades as Donghyuck begins sketching out designs for his franken-mods.

“Good.”

It turns out that Taeyong has stayed back as well, most likely doing the same.

“I want to beat Mark when he’s at his best.”

“What?” Mark asks, confused.

“You know?” Donghyuck directs at Taeyong, who seems far too excited for someone he’s always assumed will pull out of the race the second he finds out.

“Wait,” Mark holds his hand up, asking for a pause. “I’m racing Taeyong and you knew about it?”

“Johnny told me,” Donghyuck shrugs. “I was gonna tell you, but I forgot.”

“And I assumed,” Taeyong supplies. “I’m doing a Gymkhana in three weeks, so is Mark. It wasn’t that hard to connect the dots.”

“So he’s not stupid,” Donghyuck snickers. Taeyong throws a wrench at him.

“Oh man,” Mark groans, “that’s some insane pressure.”

“Everyone loses to Taeyong,” Donghyuck pats him on the back in consolation. “It’s fine.”

“You don’t think he can win?” Taeyong asks, surprised. “I think he can win.”

“Thanks,” Mark breathes, wide-eyed, still shocked. “I appreciate it.”

Donghyuck rolls his eyes, attaches his hydraulics, goes to work underneath Mark’s car. There are minor fixes to be made, things he can do before they leave. Anything bigger will have to wait until Donghyuck’s reassembled his engine, just so someone can drive them both home.

Unable to do anything major, Donghyuck finishes his tinkering, makes a solid start on his sketches and accepts a lift home from Taeyong, instead. Mark lives in the opposite direction from Donghyuck and he figures Taeyong’s going to see Jaehyun, anyway.

“You smell good,” Mark says, waiting in the locker room while Donghyuck and Taeyong change out of their uniform overalls. Covered in grease and soaked in sweat, he probably smells awful. Donghyuck stares at him in disbelief while Taeyong laughs.
“Is that a joke?” Donghyuck says, pulling on his sweater.

“No?”

“You think he smells sexy, right?” Taeyong snickers.

“No!” Mark shouts, visibly flustered. “He smells like my car!”

“You think your car is sexy?” Donghyuck jests, “wow, Mark, that’s kinda weird.”

“Yeah,” Taeyong is unable to keep a straight face, collapsing with laughter. “Not gonna kink shame or anything,” he pauses, catches his breath. “But please keep whatever it is between you and your car away from work.”

“God, I hate you,” Mark seethes.

Donghyuck makes kissy noises at him, hanging out from Taeyong’s passenger window as they drive away.

------

Taeyong’s car smells like stale cigarette butts and the attempt to mask it using cheap air freshener. Out of courtesy, he winds down the window for Donghyuck. They take the long way home, passing by the docks instead of heading onto the highway. It’s late enough at night that he can drift without fear. His car, a vibrant orange Toyota 86, is recognisable to all cops in the area and gets him a free pass to do whatever he pleases. They can’t chase what they can’t catch, but Taeyong has enough connections that they wouldn’t be able to charge him even if they did.

He’s underground royalty, and Donghyuck is honoured to ride passenger with the King.

The way Taeyong drives is awe inspiring. Something that should be seen on professional, not illegal tracks. He slides-- one hand on the wheel, the other dangling a cigarette out the window of his car-- with the kind of ease that every driver in the scene aims to have.

“Can we put something else on?” Donghyuck whines.

Taeyong’s driving music of choice consists of Vocaloid, Love Live and the Initial D OST; hardly the appropriate music of choice of a driver so feared and respected.

“Driver picks,” Taeyong replies. He shifts into third gear, taps the clutch, uses the handbrake to control the slide. Simple, easy as breathing. “Either shut up, or learn how to drift.”

“I can drift just fine,” Donghyuck yells over the sound of the engine. Taeyong rounds the corner, straightens the car and begins pressing on the brake to slow the acceleration.

“You actually know how?” Taeyong asks, pulling the car to a stop. He flicks his cigarette butt out the window, unbuckling his seatbelt.

“Yeah,” Donghyuck admits, “the others taught me.”

Taeyong raises an eyebrow.

“Like, Mark and the guys from the restaurant,” he clarifies, flustered. “Not the guys from the shop.”

“I thought you didn’t want to race,” Taeyong says. He gets out of the car, takes a seat on the hood of his car and lights another cigarette. Donghyuck joins him.

“I want to race,” he says softly. “I think I’d do alright, too.”

“There’s a but,” Taeyong exhales a stream of smoke, curling upwards into the night air.

“But I’m better doing what I do now,” Donghyuck parrots. It’s what everyone says when the prospect it brought up. Donghyuck feels safe with Taeyong, knows he won’t be judged.

“No offence,” Taeyong takes a drag, releases it. “But any one of them could do what you do for us. Not as well, of course,” he adds, seeing Donghyuck’s expression, “but they could at least do something similar.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“That we rarely race on the same night,” he drops the cigarette butt, puts out the ember with the toe of his boot. “And I’m basically still banned, so it’s not like I can’t fix shit for them, too.”

“Are you suggesting that I should race?”

“I think that there’s more out there for you than racing,” Taeyong says quietly. “But if you wanna race, then there’s nothing stopping you.”

Donghyuck is confused, expresses it, scuffs his boots along the pavement.

“Taeil said you’re a fast learner,” Taeyong continues, “he thinks you’ve got potential.”

“As what?” Donghyuck scoffs, “an underground surgeon?”

He doesn’t understand. Practising medicine illegally is far worse than making his own mods for street racers. His current jail time potential stands at a few months, maximum. Taeil, on the other hand, faces a lifetime behind bars.

“A biomechanical engineer,” Taeyong says with a wry smile. It’s no secret that his dream was, and still is, a career in the field. He’s never been able to pass the exams, so he tinkers with cars instead. “He could get you in, if you wanted a degree.”

“I never finished high school,” Donghyuck points out. It’s a fatal flaw in their little plan.

“With talent like yours, I’m sure they’d overlook it.”

“I don’t know…” Donghyuck trails off.

“Just think about it,” Taeyong shrugs. “The offer is there, but no one is forcing you to take it.”

Donghyuck does think about it. That night, on the way home and for hours after, sleep alluding him. He thinks about it for days, then weeks, then a month.

Mark’s car is all fixed up, just a few days until the big race.

Donghyuck finally makes a decision.

------

Overpass is surprisingly full for a Thursday night. The bar is filled with familiar faces not attached to names, people Donghyuck sees around but doesn’t know personally. They must be there for similar reasons to Donghyuck and his friends, drinking away pre-race jitter.

“You scared?” Jeno asks, sliding a shot along the bar to Mark. Two days before he goes head to head with Taeyong and Mark is visibly nervous. Hopefully, the alcohol calms him enough that he stops worrying, the resulting hangover enough to distract him tomorrow.

The whole group is out for the night, minus Chenle, who has a shift at work. The restaurant is long closed, Renjun and Yukhei mentioning something about food prep for the following day. But the following day is also when the deliveries are scheduled at 127, so Donghyuck puts two and two together.

Nevertheless, it’s Mark’s night. He takes his shot with ease, trying to convince his friends that he’s fine, calm, not in the least bit nervous.

He fails miserably, utterly unconvincing.

Donghyuck snickers.

“It’s okay if you are,” Jaemin reaches over the counter to ruffle Mark’s hair. He ducks away, embarrassed, wiping the liquor from his lips.

“Of course I’m fucking terrified,” Mark finally admits. He leans into Donghyuck’s side for a moment, before he realises what he’s doing and jumps away. Two shots down isn’t enough to loosen his inhibitions, it seems. “It’s Taeyong.”

“Who doesn’t drive like you do,” Donghyuck points out.

It’s true. While there are drifting elements to the course, not all of them are easy to navigate with a car like Taeyong’s. He’s talented enough to be a threat, but Mark is definitely at an advantage. It’s just the prospect of facing off against a legend that has him on edge, the pressure he’s under unsurmountable.

“I guess,” Mark shrugs, “but I’m here to drink to forget, so I’m gonna need another shot.”

With an eye roll, Jaemin fills another glass with the mysterious red liquid. It tastes like raspberry candy, with the after note of something on fire. Foreign stuff. Strong. Something Ten can down like it’s water.

Speaking of Ten, he’s sleazing it up with one of the groups of patrons in on a Thursday night. They must tip handsomely if they’ve got his attention. It means that Jaemin and Jeno have full control of the bar, and that, subsequently, means trouble.

“Alright gentlemen,” Yukhei says, rubbing his hands together. “It’s time we start, don’t you think?”

“Prepare to lose, assholes,” Jaemin snickers.

They have a game, of sorts. A variation on Truth or Dare, but everything is a dare and it’s meant to embarrass the target. They play with a combination of objectives: to try and crack the shameless Jaemin, while seeing how dark they can make Mark blush.

Punishment for backing down is a concoction of Jeno’s choosing; usually strong and always foul tasting.

“Can I just drink now and get it over with?” Mark groans. He knows they’re going to be his target for the evening, and deep down, Donghyuck knows he appreciates the distraction.

“Nope,” Renjun replies, taking a sip from his drink, something clear mixed with vodka.

“Well then,” Mark concedes, “do your fucking worst.”

“Kiss the cutest person here,” Renjun says, after a moment of consideration. Donghyuck sends him a glare.

“Hit me,” Mark says to Jeno, wiggling his fingers in a gimme motion. “I’m not fucking with this.”

“It’s Hyuck,” Jeno stage whispers.

“I’m not telling you who it is,” Mark grumbles. “You’d take it the wrong way.”

“Which definitely means it’s Hyuck,” Jaemin replies smugly.

“It means I’m drinking,” Mark says, accepting the shot from a giddy looking Jeno. He downs it with a grimace. “That tastes like grass, dude, what the fuck?”

“Can I hit Jaemin with the same question?” Donghyuck pipes up. He’s less about embarrassing Mark, just for the night. Seeing Jaemin doing dumb shit will be a better distraction than drinking grass-flavoured shots.

“Yukhei, come here,” Jaemin drags him over the counter by the collar, pressing a solid kiss to his mouth. It’s surprising, Donghyuck would have put a solid bet on Jaemin planting one on Jeno, considering the closeness of their friendship.

“Unexpected results,” Renjun says.

“Yeah,” Mark adds, “totally did not see that coming.”

“I, for one, agree with his decision,” Yukhei’s chest puffs proudly.

“And I, for one, never want to see that again,” Jisung joins them, dumping a rack of glasses onto the counter. “You’re all gross, that was gross, I’m disgusted.”

“You’re twelve,” Jaemin sniffs.

“I’m eighteen.”

“And you’re all distracting my bartenders,” Ten, freshly tipped and proud of himself, appears behind Jisung. “Please don’t tell me you’re playing that drinking game again.”

“Guilty,” Jaemin sing songs. Jeno hits him with a bar rag.

“That’s not what I’m paying you for,” Ten scolds.

Jaemin and Jeno get back to work as prompted, the others sitting at a distance, making faces at them from the table they’ve found. Renjun leans into Donghyuck’s side, a lightweight already feeling the effects of the alcohol.

Mark appears troubled.

“Hey,” Donghyuck, three shots and a mixed drink down, reaches across the table to grasp at Mark’s hand. He doesn’t pull away, a small victory. “You’ll do fine, don’t worry so much about it.”

“I know I will,” Mark says, downing the rest of his drink. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Exactly,” Yukhei claps him on the back. “Losing to Taeyong? Everyone does, man, it’s no big deal.”

“I wanna win, though,” Mark says quietly. Then, with a little more conviction, “I wanna kick his ass.”

“You will, baby,” the pet name rolls off Donghyuck’s tongue, slips out before he can pull it back. “I believe in you.”

“You called him baby,” Renjun snickers softly into Donghyuck’s neck.

No one else decides to comment.

------

Jaemin is attractive, but seeing him naked is the last on Donghyuck’s list of things he wants to see. He finishes his dare, thankfully pulling his pants on first. From the edge of their group, Yukhei looks almost disappointed.

With Ten blocking their fun, they decide to buy a few bottles of the red mystery liquor and finish their game under the overpass. Gone are their shot glasses; everyone takes their drinks straight from the neck of the bottle.

“Jeno,” Renjun slurs, pointing an unsteady finger in his direction. “Reveal your biggest secret!”

“I’m,” he starts, pauses, considers if he’s drunk enough to reveal it. “I’m in love with one of you.”

“Jaemin,” Donghyuck says immediately. He’s echoed by Mark and Yukhei.

“It’s not Jaemin,” Jeno wiggles his finger. “He’s like, my brother or some shit.”

“That’s gross,” Jaemin’s nose wrinkles in disgust.

“Totally,” Jeno agrees.

“Then who is it?” Mark presses, curious as the rest of them.

“Not telling,” Jeno winks.

Donghyuck stops to consider the options. It can’t be himself or Mark, he’s never shown any interest in either of them, barely touches them. Donghyuck can’t even remember a time when they’ve spent time together one on one, so they’re out. Yukhei is another option, but they met through Renjun who---

“It’s Renjun,” Donghyuck says, quietly. He would never have said it sober, but the liquor burns in his veins and his inhibitions crumble. “Jeno’s in love with Renjun.”

“Good to know,” Renjun replies cryptically. Jeno doesn’t bother defending himself.

“There is a lot to unpack here,” Yukhei sighs. He leans into Jaemin’s side, pressing them against the overpass railing. Donghyuck has even more questions.

“Unpack later, drink now,” Jisung, finally off work, grabs for the bottle. He drinks as well as the rest of them, taking the shot without complaint, a small amount of the red liquid dribbling down his chin.

Jaemin sighs fondly, wiping the excess away with the sleeve of his sweater.

They’re a haphazard group, brought together by unfortunate circumstances, all cogs in the wheel of something bigger than them. But it’s a friendship Donghyuck treasures, something he wants to protect at all costs.

Mark laughs at something Yukhei says, eyes crinkling in mirth. The alcohol, the company, everything has helped to distract him from the upcoming race and the uncertainty of when, and how he’s going to cross the finish line.

For that, Donghyuck is thankful.

He wishes, hopes; foolish in his youth, that the night could never end.