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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.

Chapter Text

Race nights usually have Donghyuck feeling excited, restless. But not this time. His leg shakes and jitters, slipping from the accelerator pedal in his nerves. It’s not even his race, but he’s this nervous about it.

So nervous that he’s brought his own car, for once.

Usually, he just rides passenger with someone else; Mark, Jaehyun, Johnny. Any of the boys, really. Other people in the scene seem to think that Donghyuck fixes cars but can’t drive them, his baby being a secret known only to his friends, and to the cops who try and chase him down. It’s still a work in progress, something he doesn’t want to show off until it’s finished.

But Jaehyun is as nervous as Donghyuck, if not more. Taeyong has gone MIA, as he does before every race. Mark isn’t answering his calls and Johnny’s already at the track, helping Ten and the boys set up.

The only other option is the grand debut of his car, a few months before he’s ready to show her off to the underground world.

As the frequency of the streetlights begins to fade away, Donghyuck knows he’s close. The cars that join him on the highway stop running silently, instead his engine joins the chorusing hum of mods that veer towards the overpass.

A few brave souls pull up beside him, hollering out the window and gesturing to his car. They drop a gear, engines revving, trying to coax Donghyuck into an impromptu race. He eases the nerves, replaces them with adrenaline and floors the accelerator.

Donghyuck arrives first, by a long shot.

Validated, he pulls into park beside some familiar cars, members of 127 already waiting by the makeshift track in the distance.

Strangers, surprised first by the unfamiliar car and then by the familiar face that exits it, begin to congregate. They expect Donghyuck to open the car up, show off his mods, reveal the engine work he’s done to curious eyes.

It’s not the time.

He purposefully locks it, shouldering his way through the crowd.

Donghyuck needs to find Mark.

“Have you seen him?” Chenle and Renjun rush Donghyuck as he arrives in the racer’s area. Mark’s WRX, sans driver, sits innocently beside the competitors. He’ll drive last, by the looks of the lineup, chasing whatever time the drivers before him set.

“He’s missing?” Donghyuck looks through the crowd. He can’t recognise anyone in the dark.

“He bolted,” Renjun sighs, flexing his metal hand, the exercises becoming a nervous habit.

“Well,” Chenle clarifies, “we didn’t see him bolt, but he’s just… not here.”

Donghyuck has an idea.

“I’ll find him,” Donghyuck yells over his shoulder as he weaves through the crowd. “Don’t worry!”

------

There is only one place Donghyuck can think of. Somewhere that means a lot to Mark, something that gives him an advantage over the other competitors and most importantly, it’s the one place where only Donghyuck can find him.

Mark’s car is visible from the footbridge. So are the people running around looking for him. It offers an eagle-eyed view of the course he’s about to race, and that’s how Donghyuck finds him; staring out onto the track, eyes unblinking.

“I’m fine,” Mark says as Donghyuck approaches. “Just strategizing.”

“You’re nervous,” he says, coming into position beside Mark. He rests his arms on the railings, standing a little closer than ultimately necessary. He expects Mark to comment, has a retort about the temperature ready to throw back, but nothing comes.

“Of course I am,” Mark sighs. “But I’m excited, too.”

“You needed to clear your head?”

Mark nods.

Donghyuck gets it.

Pre-race is always a shambles, people and noise everywhere. Racers and spectators alike crowding those involved, trying to see the cars. Ten running around taking bets, the pressure of winning after overhearing someone placing their entire paycheck on a racer.

“Be careful on that turn,” Donghyuck points down onto the track, a set of barrels signalling the halfway point of the obstacle course, something that Mark will need to drift. “With the wrong timing, you’ll spin out.”

“You’re right,” Mark frowns. He’s obviously been looking at the rest of the course, ignoring the halfway point turn. It’s been set up in a way to take unprepared drivers off guard, no doubt there will be at least one spin out on the track once the racing begins.

“Go from there,” Donghyuck points to the previous obstacle. “Throw it sideways just after that, so you’re accelerating out of the turn.”

“Perfect,” Mark breathes, “that’s how I’m going to win it.”

“Yes,” Donghyuck says with confidence. He believes in Mark, knows he’s going to do great. If he doesn’t win it’ll be close. Either way, he’s coming home with prize money, which means it’s his shout at Overpass once it’s all over.

“Can you…” Mark trails off nervously, “Can you help me change my tyres once I get back down?”

“You can’t change your own?” Donghyuck jokes. It’s one of the few things Mark can do with cars, and as per usual, he’s pretty good at it. He doesn’t need help but he’s asking anyway, something for them to do together.

“Asshole,” Mark elbows him, laughing softly. “I just wanted you to be part of my win, is all.”

“While I appreciate the sentiment, I built your car,” Donghyuck says. Mark laughs again, louder this time, walking off into the night.

“After I told you what I wanted,” he calls back, illuminated under neon lights. Donghyuck can see the tension easing out of his shoulders, the familiar back and forth helping in ways that Donghyuck can only imagine.

“Check that ego, Lee!” He yells.

Taking one last look at the track, trying to find any details they might have missed, Donghyuck sighs.

“I’m in love with you,” he whispers.

Mark, too far away, doesn’t hear a thing.

------
The racer’s area is alive with activity. Mark starts off by changing his tyres, Donghyuck manning his own lug wrench and getting started on the other side. It prompts some of the other racers to do the same, their own crews helping out with the process.

“Smart idea, kids,” Ten drawls, leaning on the hood of Mark’s car. “There’s plenty of shit on that track, it might eat up older tyres.”

“It was a tip from Taeyong,” Mark grunts, disconnecting the lug wrench. “I figured it was a good one.”

“Who are you betting on?” Ten directs his question at Donghyuck, mid-tyre change.

“Uhh,” he starts with uncertainty. “Mark. Eight hundred credits.”

Just because it’s Taeyong and Mark, doesn’t mean they’re not going to bet. If Donghyuck can pick between Yuta and Jaehyun, or Jaehyun and Johnny, he can pick between his boss and his best friend.

Mark chokes.

Ten raises an eyebrow. “Interesting,” he says. He kneels down so that Donghyuck can get to his neck, the chip in his wrist beeping as his bank account empties.

“Way to add to the pressure,” Mark grumbles. His hands and wrists are covered in black marks, residue from the tyres. Donghyuck hands him a rag so he can wipe himself off.

“I call that being a supportive boyfriend,” Ten says, eyebrow still raised. “Plus, you can pay for his consolation drinks if you lose.”

“I’m not paying for shit,” Mark says.

“He says that now,” Donghyuck jokes. He notices that Mark hasn’t denied their relationship, most likely too distracted to have heard the quip. But Donghyuck has noticed. And if Mark isn’t going to say anything, then neither is he.

“Speaking of nervous not-boyfriends,” Ten says, changing the subject. “Have you seen mine?”

“Johnny’s nervous?” Mark pauses mid tyre change.

“Johnny isn’t your boyfriend?” Donghyuck can’t help himself, it’s payback for all the quips at his expense.

“He’s not even betting tonight,” Ten sighs, “in fact, none of them are,” he turns, gesturing at Donghyuck. “Except for you.”

“That’s surprising,” Mark comments, fiddling with his wrench.

“They can’t choose between the two of you,” Ten continues, watching as the crowd begins to congregate at the barriers. “It’s going to be a close race.”

“You know how we were talking about pressure earlier?” Mark says slowly, “yeah, you keep adding to it.”

A familiar rumble rings out, Taeyong’s car starting on the other side of the racer’s area. Slowly, carefully, he drives through the crowd and towards the start line. He lets his engine run, warming it up so that there’s no damage when he starts, ricocheting across the line and into the race.

Taeyong seems to have done his research. The new mods on his car helping him take corners and manoeuvres with increased ease. His slides effortless, Taeyong’s run through the course is fast, easy and enough to intimidate the remaining drivers.

Except for Mark, who watches in determined awe, taking mental notes on parts of the course where Taeyong excels and where he falters.

“You can do this,” Donghyuck says quietly, for Mark’s ears only. “I believe in you.”

“I know I can,” Mark replies.

And for once, Donghyuck doesn’t feel the need to check his ego. Confidence is what Mark needs to win, and he’s not going to be the one to crush it.

“Drinks on me when you win,” he says, instead.

Mark offers his hand, the start of their own personal handshake.

A new engine roars to life and the race continues.

------

The thing about Mark is his ability to learn. He stands silently, watching as each and every racer goes in turn, seeing where they succeed, noticing when they fail. Mark barely blinks as he observes the race, and Donghyuck can’t take his eyes off him.

“You were right about the turn,” he says, pointing at his competitor as he spins out. “I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on it.”

“It’s there to trick you, I think,” Donghyuck hums, “putting a big obstacle in front of it to take away from its importance.”

Mark hums as the second last racer takes his place. He too, moves towards his car, ready to warm up the engine before it’s his turn. Donghyuck grabs him by the arm as he walks past.

“Hey,” he says, running his thumb along Mark’s bicep. “Kill it out there.”

“I will,” he nods, placing his hand over Donghyuck’s and squeezing lightly.

“Not boyfriends, my ass!” Ten calls out, sparking the attention of the spectators around him.

Mark laughs, drops his hand, offers a choice gesture in Ten’s direction. Donghyuck rolls his eyes.

The wait for Mark to start feels longer than any of the races, the person before him taking his time on the course. Donghyuck can’t see his face in the low lighting, but from the driver’s side of Mark’s car, Donghyuck spots hands clenching and unclenching on the wheel.

A nervous habit for some, but for Mark, it’s to hype himself up, get his head in the race. He’s taking the whole thing more seriously than he should. He’ll place at least, and that alone is worthy of celebration.

Engine humming, Mark’s accelerator hits the floor as soon as Ten’s arms drop, signalling the start of the race. They use a digital timing system, one that starts and stops as soon as the racers cross the line. Humans are too unreliable, the stopwatches built into mods not accurate enough.

He makes good time, finding the places where people went wrong during their drive and completing the course without error. He weaves in and out between the obstacles, the complete control he has over his car inspiring awe in the crowd.

Donghyuck cheers and hollers, well aware that Mark can’t hear a thing over the sound of his engine, but knowing that someone will relay the information back to him once he’s finished the course.

He grows silent as Mark heads towards the troublesome turn, the midpoint of the track. Taking Donghyuck’s advice, he replicates one of Taeyong’s slides, car straightening up at the final curve and perfectly ricocheting out of the drift.

“Fuck yeah!” His cheers join the noise from the crowd, all exclaiming as Mark executes the turn.

As he comes back around, car flying towards the end of the track, Donghyuck forgets to breathe. Maybe because it’s Mark and Donghyuck is more invested, but it seems like he’s making good time, his portion of the race feeling shorter than the other competitors.

Mark crosses the line, his time displayed on the neon screen.

0.36 seconds faster than Taeyong, the board leader.

He’s won.

------

“He did it!” Renjun screams, running over to pull Donghyuck into a hug. Chenle laughs happily in the background, staring at the number of credits deposited into his account. Donghyuck’s wrist buzzes with his own payment, but he’s too distracted to check.

Mark stands off in the distance, barely out of his car and still with shock. He’s surrounded by racers and spectators alike, all crowding him in congratulation. Taeyong, too, stands in the middle of the throng, ruffling Mark’s hair and offering him a hug.

The loss doesn’t make him any less formidable, if anything it means he might be able to race again in the future. Taeyong has always been in it for the fun and the thrill, not the money nor the glory.

He wouldn’t have lost on purpose, because that’s not how Taeyong works. But if he has to lose, then losing to Mark is the best possible outcome. Coworker, friend, brother; Mark doesn’t gloat, just congratulates Taeyong on his fantastic time and begins a discussion on the track, the race, arms looped around each other’s shoulders.

“We should go congratulate him,” Renjun presses, pointing at where Mark stands, surrounded by new fans and old friends. Somehow, Donghyuck doesn’t feel like he belongs there.

“I’ll see him later,” Donghyuck shrugs. “I don’t wanna crowd him like everyone else.”

“He doesn’t exactly look unhappy,” Chenle drawls, refreshing his bank account, just to make sure the amount is correct. “He’s living for it.”

Chenle is right.

Mark is soaking up the attention, looks happy shaking people’s hands and chatting with people about his car. He gestures in Donghyuck’s direction, probably mentioning his work on the mods, offering a wave as their gazes meet.

Donghyuck offers him an enthusiastic thumbs up in response.

“I thought he’d be over here with us,” Renjun frowns. “Like, doesn’t he want to celebrate with his friends?”

“He’s a big shot now,” Chenle laughs. “And we work in a Chinese restaurant.”

“We’ve known him since he stole Johnny’s car,” Renjun huffs, before checking his own account. His eyes nearly bulge out of his head. The relatively low odds on Mark’s win mean they’ve all got a considerable amount of return sitting in their accounts.

“I stole Johnny’s car,” Donghyuck says quietly. He’s surprised that they didn’t know. “Why do you think I inherited it?”

“That makes so much more sense,” says Chenle, “I always wondered why you got the MX if you were only the sidekick?”

“Is that how he tells the story?” Donghyuck’s hands clench by his side in annoyance. “That it was all him and I was just there for the ride?”

“It’s just what I assumed,” Chenle shrugs, “Mark’s always been the driver.”

“It was my idea, I hotwired it and I drove,” Donghyuck seethes, “he was the sidekick.”

“Calm down,” Renjun flexes his hand nervously.

Mark, still preoccupied with his fans, doesn’t notice anything wrong.

Donghyuck turns away.

“Looks like he’s not the only popular one,” he says, gesturing towards his car, where a curious group has formed around it. “Maybe I should oblige the masses.”

“Donghyuck,” Renjun warns, glancing worriedly between the two of them. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he replies, walking towards his car. She’s not finished but she’s still a sight to behold and Donghyuck can’t wait to show her off.

“Who cares, anyway,” he says, mostly to himself. “I’m just the sidekick.”
------

Johnny has not one, but two cars: the Mercedes that he races and the Jeep that he uses to tow it. On occasion, they use Johnny’s Jeep to pick up excess supplies from a free-for-all tech dump on the city limits.

Everything in the pile is headed for the wreckers if it’s not picked up, so after paying their entry fee, Johnny and Donghyuck begin to rummage through, looking for hidden gems. It has everything from car parts to old electronics and parts of old mods left in disposal units after an upgrade.

It’s a great place to find things for everyone at 127, for the cars that they fix and Taeil’s surgery. Most of their mods are second hand, with upgrades added by Taeil’s careful, creative hands.

Dumps like the one they frequent are an eye-opening experience as to the waste that their city produces. Tech, cars, even limbs. Once it’s old it’s thrown away, replaced by something shiny and new. But it’s a haven for people like Donghyuck, those who take the old and make something even better from the junk.

Johnny spots an R33, not yet stripped for parts, and begins salvaging the useable tech. Donghyuck would usually join him, but today he’s on a different mission.

Of all the haphazardly sorted piles, there is one that catches Donghyuck’s interest. Slightly smaller than the rest of them, he makes a beeline for the stack of mods at the far side of the dump.

He sorts through the broken, the destroyed, finding pieces he can take home or pass on to Taeil. They’re fascinating pieces of technology, their intricacies intriguing Donghyuck as he picks through the pile.

“I see you’ve made your choice,” Johnny comments, squatting next to Donghyuck in the dirt. He knows about the offer from Taeil because he’s Johnny. He knows everything and Donghyuck hasn’t quite figured out the source of his information.

“Yeah,” Donghyuck affirms, inspecting an arm mod with interest. He pulls off the casing, observing the placement of the artificial nerve endings contained within it, the mechanisms that make it work. “I think I’m gonna go for it.”

“You’ve made a good choice,” Johnny says, smearing dust and grease through Donghyuck’s hair as he ruffles it. “There’s nothing for you with us.”

“I’ve got everything with you guys,” Donghyuck says quietly as he re-assembles the mod in his hands. “That’s the problem.”

“Have you told anyone else?” Johnny collapses back into the dust, a cloud forming around him as he falls. “Mark, at least?”

“I don’t wanna get anyone’s hopes up,” Donghyuck comments. Not to mention he hasn’t really spoken to Mark since his race. Two weeks of limited contact; Donghyuck driving himself places instead, Mark spending time with new friends he’s made after the win. “I’ll tell everyone if I pass the exam.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I’m sure.”

“Well then, you know best,” Johnny shrugs, obviously not believing him. “Did they tell you how long the course is?”

“Three degrees over ten years,” Donghyuck says idly, picking up a new mod to inspect. “But Taeil thinks I might get a few credits along the way because of work.”

“Cutting it down to?” Johnny prompts.

“Seven or eight,” Donghyuck replies, “depending on how well I do on that exam.”

“We’re not gonna see you for seven or eight years, wow,” Johnny laughs because he can do nothing else. “That’s gonna suck.”

“I’ll still be around,” Donghyuck promises. It’s one he intends to keep. He has to pay his way through university, somehow, and working at the shop part-time seems like the best way to do it. He can help Taeil out as well with his newfound knowledge. “Fuck it, I might even start racing.”

It’s another idea he’s been mulling over. For the fun and the money, to prove he’s more than what people think he is. Donghyuck is still young enough that he’s affected by the opinions of others, the urge to prove himself overwhelming.

“Whatever you do,” Johnny says, pulling himself up from the ground. “We’re all going to support you.”

“Thanks,” Donghyuck takes his offered hand, allows Johnny to hoist him into a standing position. “I appreciate it.”

“C’mere,” Johnny roars, tackling Donghyuck into a hug. He laughs as he returns it, the dirt and grease from Johnny’s clothes transferring to his own. “You’re our little genius, and we’re so proud of you.”

Donghyuck has to wonder if his parents would be proud, too.

If only they knew.

------

Racing doesn’t have to be illegal. It’s half the fun, but sometimes Donghyuck and his friends like to blow off some steam in a police approved environment. A track not far from 127 offers monthly open days, ones where racers can polish their skills on flat, well-kept surfaces.

Usually, Donghyuck rides passenger with someone. After receiving attention at the last race, he’s decided to bring his baby along, joining the 127 convoy as they speed along the highway.

He takes a leaf out of Sicheng’s book, weaving in between his friends, window down and miming the motion of scissors with his fingers. The gesture is a taunting one, a nonverbal indication of mirth after cutting someone off. Yuta flips him off, speeding up and returning the favour. Donghyuck can’t help but laugh.

The boys from the restaurant and the bar are already at the track when Donghyuck arrives, nervously shuffling around their cars, unloading spare tyres shoved into the backseat. He decides, spur of the moment, to park with his friends, rather than his coworkers. Jaemin shoots him a confused look as he steps out of the car.

“You’re not rolling with 127 today?” He asks, patting the hood of Donghyuck’s baby.

“Technically, I don’t race,” Donghyuck shrugs. He makes no mention of wanting to avoid Mark.

“Since when have technicalities stopped you?” Renjun replies, heaving tyres out of his car and onto the pavement.

“My thoughts exactly,” Jaehyun says, approaching the group. He throws his arm around Donghyuck’s shoulders, lazily appraising them each in turn. “No one told me your friends race, too,” he continues, gesturing to the unfamiliar cars around him.

“It’s not anything serious,” Jeno says from the hood of Jaemin’s car. “Mostly for fun..”

“Let me guess,” Jaehyun drawls, “the mountain?”

“How’d you know?” Chenle answers him.

“It’s where I learnt,” a shrug, and Jaehyun’s arm moves from Donghyuck’s shoulders. “C’mon, let’s see these setups.”

Jaehyun doesn’t have to inspect Donghyuck’s car, but the others he hasn’t seen before. Almost childish in his glee, Donghyuck can tell that he’s reminiscing on his days as a rookie. Cheap parts, easy mistakes, old cars. Jaehyun is in his element.

Jaemin and Jeno, who only really know of him, are in awe as he digs around in the engine, complimenting their work and their zip ties.

“Nice aesthetic choice,” he comments, poking at the neatly drilled holes, black dots on white paint. “And functional too.”

“If you do that to the Fairlady, you’re fired,” Taeyong says, joining them. In the background, Donghyuck swears that Chenle stops breathing. Taeyong isn’t really a regular at the restaurant, not like Donghyuck. The only interaction he has with the staff is for business purposes only.

He spots Chenle’s Supra, eyes lighting up in recognition. He, too, is fond of the paint scheme, complimenting Donghyuck on the mix as it was applied. A fellow Toyota driver and therefore a makeshift brother in Taeyong’s eyes, he saunters over to Chenle, quietly appraising his car.

“You slide this thing?” He asks, running a finger along the paint.

“Yeah,” Chenle replies, starstruck. “Not as well as you, though.”

“We should tandem,” Taeyong says seriously. Chenle chokes.

“You want to?”

“I wouldn’t offer if I didn’t.”

To drive tandem requires a lot of trust. Just like actual races, drifters take the same course at the same time, sliding around the track in unison. But unlike races, tandem drifts tend to happen at the same speed. There are a lot of opportunities to crash or damage cars, so Taeyong’s offer is quite the big deal.

“I’ll just be going fast on the straight,” Donghyuck puts his hand up, drawing attention to himself. “If anyone gets sick of going sideways.”

“I’m up for losing,” Renjun offers, also raising his hand.

“I keep hearing about our little drag racer knowing how to slide,” Jaehyun says, head still inside the hood of Jaemin’s car. “Anyone wanna confirm or deny for me?”

“I don’t use the MX,” Donghyuck clarifies, “I mostly just steal someone else's car.”

“You have a habit of stealing cars, it seems,” Jaehyun lifts his head, raises an eyebrow, returns to inspect the engine.

“He’s not bad,” Chenle offers, “I’m better, though.”

“Swap cars with me,” Taeyong offers, dangling his keys from one of his metal fingers. “I wanna see what you’ve done with the MX.”

“She’s better off with me than she was with Johnny,” Donghyuck smirks. Jaehyun, now fixing something in Jaemin’s engine, stifles a laugh.

“I don’t doubt that,” Taeyong replies, pressing the keys into Donghyuck’s hands. “So let me prove it.”

“I’m riding passenger,” Renjun says, already running over to 127’s parked spots, ready to take his place.

Donghyuck, suddenly nervous, turns the keys over in his hands. Driving his friend’s cars is one thing, driving Taeyong’s is another. He’s never done anything so public, the nerves setting in. What if he crashes, what if he spins out, what if---

“I trust you,” Taeyong says with a smile. “You know that.”

“Thanks,” Donghyuck replies. It helps, somewhat, to ease the nerves.

He follows after Renjun, keys jingling with each step.

------

Driver’s Choice is the rule for music, and while it seems wrong to drive Taeyong’s iconic car without his iconic music, none of it is on Donghyuck’s playlist. He connects his mod to Taeyong’s sound system, his own driving tracks of choice beginning to play as he starts the ignition.

The 86 has a unique sound, something Taeyong has personally crafted. It’s a work of art, not a car, each detail meticulously chosen.

Donghyuck is honoured to be driving it.

The sound sparks the interest of people around them, either startled by the loud noise or drawn to the indication that Taeyong is about to drive. Donghyuck disappoints them all by hanging out the driver’s side window, wiggling his fingers in greeting.

It catches Mark’s attention, too. Who, until alerted by the 86’s engine, has been socialising with a group of racers that Donghyuck recognises from various nights at the underground track.

Mark’s new friends, apparently.

“He never lets anyone drive his car,” Mark frowns, peering through the window at Donghyuck. He spots Renjun riding passenger, masks his surprise, waves in greeting. “Did you steal it?”

“I’m not dumb,” Donghyuck rolls his eyes.

Stealing cars was cute when they were kids, but now, as adults, there are far more consequences. Especially when the cars belong to their friends, coworkers. It’s easier to just ask, rather than go through all the effort of stealing.

“The back end’s gonna kick,” Mark says, awkwardly, angrily. He’s only just noticed the tension, picking up on Donghyuck’s mood and replying in kind.

“That’s the plan!”

Donghyuck’s voice is fake in its cheerfulness. He’s aware that Mark thinks he’s going to try and drag the 86, when it’s been built to go sideways, rather than in a straight line. He’s wrong. Donghyuck fully intends to slide it, and he’s going to have a lot of fun in doing so.

“I can’t believe Taeyong gave you his car,” Mark continues, “but whatever. Don’t crash.”

It’s their way of saying good luck, stemmed from Taeil and his terrible track record with damages. But Mark’s words have bite to them, they sting in their insincerity.

“I won’t,” Donghyuck has bite of his own, spits it back at Mark. He flinches, face hardening before he walks away without another word.

“Well,” Renjun starts.

“Don’t,” Donghyuck sighs, hands tightening on the steering wheel.

Engine warming, Donghyuck takes his place in the queue.

The sound of acceleration drowns out the awkward silence.

------

Donghyuck much prefers drag racing to drifting. It’s fun going sideways, but the speed of drag is so much more exhilarating. So much more dangerous, too, the higher speeds meaning more danger, less time to react if anything goes wrong.

He may prefer to go straight, but sideways is a nice reprieve on occasion. Renjun definitely seems to enjoy it, his loud and excited shouts only barely audible over the sound of the engine and the music.

Smiling, Donghyuck throws the gear into third, taps at the clutch. He emulates Taeyong’s style in Taeyong’s car, taking corners at incredible speeds and nailing the slide. He’s not as fast as some of the others, but he’s not bad, either.

Finishing the course without a hiccup, Donghyuck slows, the car rolling back into Taeyong’s preferred parking bay. Adrenaline coursing through his body, Donghyuck’s hands shake as he laughs along with Renjun.

“That was fucking awesome,” he breathes. Donghyuck is inclined to agree. It’s got him primed and ready to go fast, hands itching to take his own keys back from Taeyong.

“Nice slide, kid,” Yuta drawls, leaning through the window. “Mark said you can’t drift for shit, but I guess he was wrong.”

A stab of hurt, Donghyuck schooling his expression.

“Mark sees me slide all the time,” he says calmly, “but obviously he’s never paid any attention.”

“Yikes,” Yuta exclaims, hands up in the air in surrender. “I didn’t mean to start a lover’s quarrel.”

“Now is probably not the time,” Renjun points out. Donghyuck is thankful for his friend’s ability to pick up on the situation. Usually, the dating jokes are harmless, funny on occasion. But while they’re not really on speaking terms, Donghyuck finds them in poor taste.

“Yeah, sorry,”

A familiar jingle of keys and Donghyuck’s set are passed through the window. Yuta smiles sheepishly as he hands them over.

“Taeyong set an unofficial record, because of course he did,” Yuta rolls his eyes. “Get out there and beat it.”

“What do you say?” Donghyuck says, turning to Renjun. “You up for it?”

Renjun grins, his own set of keys already dangling from his fingers.

------

“We’re gonna race,” Donghyuck says to the track attendant, who waves both Donghyuck and Renjun through to the starting line. At the end of the track, Johnny finishes his run with someone-- most likely Ten-- visible in the passenger seat.

“Helmets on and you’re good,” the attendant says. Donghyuck obeys, pulling the helmet on over his head and pulling up to the line.

From beside him, Renjun revs his engine. Donghyuck takes it as a challenge, throws the gear into neutral, does the same.

It attracts a crowd.

“I’m so ready to lose!” Renjun yells through his open window, once the noise from the engines dies down.

“You should be!” Donghyuck retorts, backs it up with another rev.

The attendant drops his hand lazily, signalling the start of the race. Donghyuck throws the gear into first, shoots across the line with ease, his tyres burning rubber.

Drifting is fun but this is so much better. Donghyuck is in his element, going fast with no obstacles, just straight lines and unimaginable speeds. He doesn’t check the speedometer, but his foot is on the floor and the finish line is rapidly approaching.

He crosses the line, brakes, gears down to a rolling stop. Renjun follows after, doing the same while hollering out the window. Going fast is an addictive adrenaline rush, and Donghyuck’s hands shake with the urge to do it again.

“You kids keep beating me,” Taeyong sighs, goodnaturedly, leaning through the window of Donghyuck’s car. He gestures to the neon sign, where Donghyuck’s time has taken the top spot. “Am I washed up?”

“We’re not racing you in your element,” Donghyuck assures him. “And we drove the same car, this time around.”

“True,” Taeyong hums, “but this time the driver was better.”

“A better driver than you?”

“Yep.”

“Doesn’t exist.”

“Thanks, kid,” Taeyong ruffles his hair, affectionately. “Your faith in me means a lot.”

“We’re family,” Donghyuck says quietly. “You guys mean the world to me.”

“That’s…” Taeyong trails off. “We…” He searches for the right words. “Right back at you.”

“You’re better with cars than words,” Donghyuck snickers.

“Fuck off,” Taeyong bites, but he smiles anyway. “You should head back out, your friend looks like he’s itching for a rematch.”

Donghyuck sneaks a glance over to Renjun whose hands clench and unclench around the steering wheel of his car, a smile on his face.

“I think you’re right.”

Out of habit, Donghyuck’s eyes are drawn to the drift track, a familiar WRX sliding tandem with a cherry red Lancer. So Lucas has turned up, finally, and he’s driving with Mark. It stings that Donghyuck’s best friend is too preoccupied with other people to watch his race debut, even if it was just a casual thing with Renjun.

“Ah,” Taeyong says, following Donghyuck’s line of sight. “He’s pretty popular, now. Everyone wants to slide tandem.”

“He’s gotta oblige his adoring fans, I guess,” Donghyuck rolls his eyes.

“Don’t be like that,” Taeyong chides, “you know you mean more to him than they do.”

“Doesn’t feel like it,” Donghyuck shrugs, feigning nonchalance.

Taeyong frowns, but says nothing more.

Donghyuck gestures to Renjun, before pulling away and heading back towards the starting line.

------

Mark doesn’t talk to him for a week. Donghyuck is perfectly fine with that. He doesn’t know what Mark’s issue is, but he knows his own and appreciates the distance. But a week is a long time to go without someone that Donghyuck is basically reliant on, and through his anger, the longing sets in.

Especially late at night, when they’re usually out racing in the streets. Donghyuck sits alone in his makeshift room, staring through the window at the city lights. He tries not to think about Mark, but fails miserably. Even when they’re not talking, he’s a constant on Donghyuck’s mind.

There is a problem with cars like Mark's and it’s the noise. Impressive while racing, it's conspicuous and bothersome on the road, especially at three am.

Over the sounds of the city, Donghyuck can hear the low rumbling of the WRX as it pulls up in front of his apartment building.

He has half the mind to ignore it.

But Mark rarely turns up unannounced and one week is long enough for a feud. The front door beeps, Mark’s genetic information long since stored in the system, and Donghyuck comes face to face with the one person he both desperately does and doesn’t want to see.

“Hey,” Mark says quietly. He’s aware that Jaehyun’s asleep in the room next door, considerate with the level of noise he makes.

Donghyuck, however, isn’t. “Give me a hug, you loser,” he chokes out, making his way over to Mark.

They don’t hug often, it’s the kind of contact reserved for serious situations. Donghyuck figures that the end of a fight is reason enough. Mark accepts Donghyuck with outstretched arms, sighing into the hug.

“I talked to Renjun,” he admits quietly. “And I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Donghyuck replies.

“You don’t even know what you’re apologising for,” Mark laughs, a little too loud, before pulling away. “So maybe we should talk?”

Donghyuck nods, makes to move the blankets from his makeshift bed so Mark can sit down.

“No, don’t,” Mark says, making a grab for the duvet. “I…” he stutters, “can I stay here tonight? With you?”

Donghyuck raises an eyebrow. “Yeah,” he says, re-making the bed. “Yeah, alright.”

Mark pulls his shoes off, turns out the lights by the hallway. He gets into the pullout, taking Donghyuck’s spare pillow and hugging it to his chest. Mark doesn’t face him, instead focusing on the room around him, sitting in silence while he tries to come up with the right words.

“Anytime now,” Donghyuck prompts. He, too, hugs a pillow to his chest. Comfort, protection. Something to ease his nerves.

“I thought you weren’t happy for me,” Mark starts, “I thought you didn’t care that I won.”

“Is that what this is about?” Donghyuck hugs the pillow tighter. “Of course I was happy, you were just busy.”

“I thought you were jealous about the win, I thought you were being so petty about it,” Mark finally turns and faces him. “But you were upset that other people got to me first?”

“Amongst other things,” Donghyuck mumbles. He hates how pathetic it all sounds.

“Ahh,” Mark hums, “the sidekick shit.”

“I’m not your sidekick.”

“You’re right,” Mark puts a cautious hand on Donghyuck’s shoulder. He ignores it. “We’re a team.”

“Best fucking team out there,” Donghyuck sniffs. “But I bet you didn’t tell your new friends that.”

“They’re on a waitlist for you to fix their cars,” Mark laughs, dropping his pillow. “Of course I told them.”

“I’m both thankful and regretful,” Donghyuck sighs, collapsing back onto the bed. Mark shifts closer, ever so slightly, their shoulders brushing. “Like, I’m glad I’m getting the recognition I deserve as the best mechanic on the scene,” he pauses to let Mark snicker. “But I’m regretting being the best, because now I’ll have more work to do.”

“Don’t overexert yourself,” Mark yawns. He stretches, arm coming to rest on Donghyuck’s pillow, playing lightly with the strands of his hair.

“So, recapping,” Donghyuck takes initiative, shifts closer, cuddles up to Mark’s side. He isn’t pushed away. “I’m sorry, I’m happy for you, we’re a team and you love me?”

“Right,” Mark rasps, “and I’m sorry, you’re the best and you love me too?”

“Correct,” Donghyuck wiggles, trying to get comfortable. “But say that last part again?”

“You love me, too?”

“It’s the too I’m focusing on, here.”

“Yeah,” Mark breathes, still playing with the ends on Donghyuck’s hair. “I guess I love you.”

“Disgusting,” Donghyuck pokes his tongue out.

Mark laughs.

------

When dealing with shady, unknown bosses, there tend to be discrepancies in paychecks. For someone who earns a lot of money, their boss sure is cheap, barely paying them all minimum wage and finding ways to pay them less, when possible.

Like Donghyuck, for example, who is still employed as a “trainee”, and therefore gets much less per hour than the rest of them, with claims that he’s essentially paying Taeyong to teach him nuclear mechanics with the drop in wages.

It doesn’t matter that Donghyuck’s knowledge is on par with, or even above some of the other workers. Because he is young, he gets stuck in a loophole and learns to deal with the consequences.

As the manager, Taeyong’s paycheck is huge. Rumour has it that he’s bribed the boss into paying him properly, or something of the sort. Taeyong, like Johnny, knows too much about everything. The only difference is that Taeyong has more of a habit of keeping his mouth shut.

But Taeyong’s wages aren’t kept in his bank account. They’re used to pay Donghyuck extra, so he’s on the same pay grade as the rest of them. The other portion of Taeyong’s excess wages goes to Mark, giving him enough to make up a livable wage. He thinks they don’t know. He’s wrong, and seemingly forgets that Mark is the one who does the accounting.

“I’m essentially employed for free,” Mark says over lunch one day, stealing a piece of Donghyuck’s lemon chicken. They sit on the roof of the WRX, no other seating available. “It’s Taeyong who pays me, not the boss.”

“We needed a receptionist, but he didn’t want to fork out the costs,” Donghyuck hums, “makes sense.”

“And he gets bonuses sometimes,” Mark continues with his mouth full, “they go to the rest of the crew.”

“A good Samaritan.”

“A suspicious motherfucker.”

Donghyuck laughs, catching the attention of a passing Yuta.

“I don’t wanna say it,” he cautions, gesturing between the two. They sit closer together than usual, remnants from the apology, Mark understanding that Donghyuck needs to be a little more clingy in the aftermath.

“Then don’t?” Donghyuck replies, shovelling more chicken into his mouth.

“Don’t be cute boyfriends when I’m in eyesight,” Yuta continues, ignoring him. “It’s ruining my appetite.”

He holds up his own lunch, bag in hand.

“Ignore him,” Sicheng comes up behind them, takes Yuta by the arm and pulls him away. “He’s just lonely!” he calls over his shoulder as he pushes Yuta onto the hood of his car.

Bickering, the sounds of engines, the smell of grease. Jaehyun flirting with Taeyong through the window of the 86, Johnny and Doyoung testing their cars along the empty street. Taeil, on a short reprieve from work, watching the chaos as he sits on the roof of his panda, the front end held together by zip ties and in need of fixing once more. Donghyuck’s first job once lunch is over.

It’s home.

Donghyuck knows that everything will change once he sits the exam. It’s something he’s gotta take time off for, too, which will prompt a lot of questions. He’s trying to hide it for as long as he can, but he has to tell someone, anyone who isn’t Johnny.

He supposes he’ll start with Mark.

“I’m studying,” he says, softly.

“For what?”

“Biomech entrance exam,” Donghyuck shrugs like it’s less of a deal than it is.

“Shit,” Mark rubs a hand down his face, smearing lemon sauce across his cheek with a grimace. “That’s gotta be hard.”

“It’s interesting,” Donghyuck replies, “and it’s fun.”

“You’re gonna kill it,” Mark offers a fist bump.

“And you’re taking this better than I thought you would,” Donghyuck returns it.

“I’ll support you no matter what, you know that,” Mark gives him an awkward, one-armed hug. “Except if you wanted to start drifting.”

“Fuck you,” Donghyuck laughs, “I’m fine going sideways.”

“You could be finer.”

“I’m the finest.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“C’mon kids, back to work,” Doyoung calls out, ushering the rest of the group inside. Taeyong, distracted by Jaehyun’s advances, has missed the end of their collective break.

Donghyuck glances in their direction, catches the end of a soft, chaste kiss between the two.

Interesting.

“Gross,” Mark mutters, obviously having seen the same thing.

“They’re cute,” Donghyuck corrects. “Let the old men find true love.”

“Let them find it away from me.”

“They’re worse at home,” Donghyuck says, jumping down from his spot. “C’mon, I’ll race you.”

“Unfair!” Mark calls out as Donghyuck gets his head start.

He cackles, flying past the rest of his coworkers and back into the shop, Mark hot on his heels.

------

It’s raining.

Mark doesn’t usually like driving in the rain, purely because it makes going faster that little bit more dangerous, but the drizzle is light and starts when they’re at the meetup point on the mountain.

“We should be fine,” he frowns into the distance, the raindrops barely visible under the harsh yellow lighting.

“We can turn back?” Donghyuck shrugs. He hasn’t brought his baby along, the trip an impromptu one in which he rides passenger.

“We’re already here,” Mark says, “may as well go for a run.”

They’re alone, just the two of them, a nighttime drive and a trip up the mountain just for fun.

“If you’re sure,” Donghyuck says, cautiously. Driving in the rain is more fun, but it comes with added cautions that have him on edge. It’s easy to spin out of control, and losing grip on the mountain means injury, death, damaged cars.

“Do you trust me?” Mark asks, seriously. They stand side by side, leaning against the WRX as the rain falls.

“With my life,” Donghyuck replies, his tone matching. He reaches out, takes Mark’s hand, squeezing it lightly before reluctantly letting go.

“Then let’s do it,” Mark grins, pulling the car door open and getting inside. His engine is already running idle before Donghyuck makes it to the passenger seat.

“Eager?”

“To drive?” Mark throws the gear into reverse, holding the back of Donghyuck’s headrest as he backs up. “Always.”

They’re halfway up the mountain, rain light but steady. Mark drives cautiously until he reaches the top, though he still breaks the speed limit by a concerning amount. He’s doing what any good driver does, gets a feel for the unfamiliar terrain, new obstacles and takes the rain into consideration.

Engine revving, he speeds up, comfortable enough with his surroundings to attempt a slide. He pulls it off, flawless as always, lights on high beam to warn any oncoming driver of his presence.

Safe, sensible, talented Mark.

Donghyuck is in safe hands.

More speed as the peak of the mountain approaches, another rest-stop awaits them, one with beautiful views of the city. Mark rounds the corner of the carpark, right on eighty, throws it into a skid. The back end spins, kicks out in the wet but he rights it with ease, pulling into the empty lot and taking up three parking spaces.

Adrenaline floods Donghyuck’s system, breathing heavily as Mark does the same.

“I like driving in the rain,” he admits, hands tightening on the steering wheel. “It’s fun.”

“It’s gonna be better on the way down,” Donghyuck points out. The descent is always better than the ascent, with less resistance it’s easier on the cars to reach maximum speeds.

“Fuck yeah,” Mark breathes. “Wanna check out the view before we go?”

It’s not often that they make it to the peak, usually sticking to the areas with the best sliding potential. Donghyuck hasn’t seen the city in months and he’s suddenly excited to see the view.

“Beautiful,” Mark breathes, leaning on the fence separating the car park from the drop below. The city unfurls along the horizon, all neon lights and a purple hue. It’s breathtaking, but Donghyuck isn’t one to let a moment pass him by.

“I know I am,” he replies. Mark hums, staring out at the lights. “Usually you’ve got a comeback for that,” he continues, elbowing Mark lightly in the side.

“Not today,” Mark shakes his head. The rainfall becomes heavier, steadier, just slightly.

“You gonna expand on that,” Donghyuck asks, “or am I just gonna have to wonder?”

“I think you know,” Mark replies, voice steady. “C’mon, let’s head back down, before the rain gets worse.”

They walk back to the car, leisurely in the rain, hands brushing on every other step. Mark’s words are weighted, sitting in Donghyuck’s stomach as he tries to swallow his nerves. They’re silent as they cross the car park, Mark opening the passenger door for Donghyuck as they arrive.

“Hey,” Donghyuck starts, grabbing Mark by the wrist and catching his attention.

Donghyuck leans up, pressing a kiss against Mark’s cheek, hoping he’s read the situation correctly. Mark smiles, softly, barely there.

“Hey, yourself,” he replies, pulling his wrist from Donghyuck’s grip, before linking their fingers together.

They stand there, silent and content in the rain, smiles soft and hearts warm.

------

“Fuck,” Mark hisses as the rain pours down. His visibility lowered, he slows down to match the speed limit.

He’s had to let go of Donghyuck’s hand, reluctantly, in order to change gears. While disappointed, Donghyuck understands. He’d rather be safe than anything else.

“I kinda wanna go for it, though,” Mark continues as they reach the familiar stretch of road. “I think I can handle it.”

“It’s too wet,” Donghyuck screeches, “not even Taeyong could pull it off.”

“I’m better than Taeyong.”

“Ego!”

“It’s fine,” Mark spares him a look, smiling softly. “Besides, I’d never let anything happen to you.”

“I’m trusting, yet terrified,” Donghyuck sighs. Mark takes it as confirmation, because he accelerates, throws down the gear and sends the car sideways.

With the WRX being an all-wheel drive, it's much more capable in the wet. Used for uneven and dangerous terrain, the car is fine, it’s just the driver’s control that makes the difference. In the hands of someone like Mark, who is experienced and capable, the slide down the mountain is quick, easy, and dare Donghyuck say it; fun.

That is, until the second car enters the picture. A police car, by the looks of it, judging by the lights suddenly illuminating on the top of the vehicle, reflective paint glowing under the briefest flash of headlights.

Mark manages to correct the slide, but he goes too far. Narrowly avoiding the danger, he spins out, catapulting down the road at the straight, heading too fast towards the barrier. Donghyuck closes his eyes, braces himself and screams.

They hit the guardrail with a sickening crunch, the entire front quarter crumpling under the impact. The rail does its job, stopping the car before it flies over the edge, but it’s not without consequence.

Smashed windscreen, glass embedded in his hands and arm, Donghyuck frantically looks over to Mark to see if he’s okay.

The entire driver’s side is completely destroyed. Mark is alive, but barely conscious and bleeding heavily, encapsulated by crumpled metal.

“My leg,” he rasps, blood dripping from the wound on his forehead.

Donghyuck can barely hear him over the sound of the police sirens.