"You shouldn't bite on your nails like that,"
Jeno puts both of his hands on the pocket of his hoodie, self-conscious, "And you sound a lot like a leader already,"
At age fifteen, there's only so much you can hear before everyone just starts sounding bossy. Jeno is not one to lose temper, and he could never be mad at Mark, but he's grown tired of people telling him he shouldn't bite his nails. It's not his fault, it's just a bad habit! And everyone knows bad habits die hard. He watches as Mark rolls his eyes and raises his hands in surrender, and then he's off to do whatever it is that Mark Lee likes spending his time on.
When he leaves and Jeno is left alone in the practice room – Jaemin is still lying on the ground, exhausted, dead to the world for all he cares –, he goes back to picking on his nails.
The thing about being an idol that no one tells you about is how annoying your debut song can get after a while. Or maybe you know this already, but the thing is – Jeno didn't. In fact, he had no idea how annoyed you can be with your own voice. He complains: "Make it stooooooop,"
Sitting at the kitchen table, Renjun doesn't even look up from the computer before saying: "Take your fingers out of your mouth before speaking."
He sighs, hands dropping to his lap. He was just biting at this particular bit of skin on his nail bed that's been bothering him for a week now. Just a little more nibbling and it'll be off.
"Can you turn the volume off?" he asks. "Why are you watching the MV again?"
Renjun looks up. "I was taking a look at the comments. They think you're cute, Jeno, our fans."
"I'm mad cute. You don't think so, Injun?"
"Don't push it, Lee,"
Jeno doesn't. Silence falls between them – Renjun did turn the volume off – until the doorbell rings, and it must be Mark and Jaemin with the groceries so he gets up from his spot on the couch and gets the door.
"Hi!" Jaemin smiles widely, then leans in with puckered lips. Jeno dodges it on the last second, almost hitting his head on the doorstep by doing so, and then Jaemin walks past through him to the kitchen.
Pushing one of the bags to Jeno's chest, Mark greets him with a "Yo!" and makes his way into the dorm as well. Jeno follows them both short to the kitchen and starts looking for his snacks.
Mark motions for the pack of ramen he's holding, and Jeno whines – alright, they're getting dinner soon, there's no need for ramen now – and hands it to him. Mark's fingers, although, curl around his wrist and he brings Jeno's hand closer to his face – he drops the ramen on the table –, then sighs: "You're hurting yourself, you know? This isn't good,"
Jeno figures his red, raw nail beds are not pleasing to look at, so he pulls the hand back with a shrug. "They don't hurt,"
"Sure," Mark replies. "Help me put away all this stuff, then."
Thing is, biting his nails started small, like mindlessly biting at his cuticles as he waited for his vocal classes to begin.
Then it became a little more like a hobby, something he did to pass time. He'd peel off the thin skin from his nail beds, casually nib on the white parts of his nails. But it wasn't a habit.
In fact, there was a time in which Jeno could go days without doing it – usually when he cut his nails so short that there wasn't anything to bite. But it just got… Worse. He recalls biting on his nails so much before their debut showcase that the coordi noonas scold him for weeks.
But then, it's happened so frequently over time that they don't even scold him anymore. It's not uncommon for him to go back to the dorm with colorful band-aids on his fingers, to stop the bleeding.
Somewhere along their preparations for the first comeback, it gets worse. He hides from Mark like he's plague so he won't see his hands, but it's inevitable sometimes. You can't hide from Mark's attentive eyes.
"There must be something you can do about this," he insists, right before the showcase for My First and Last.
Jeno shakes his head. "I'll stop, hyung. I swear."
Mark doesn't look like he believes him that much, but Jeno doesn't push it.
Around the time Jaemin comes back, everyone's grown used to Jeno's habit of biting on his nails. Chenle doesn't even tease him about it anymore, and Donghyuck's made a habit of holding Jeno's hands tightly in his from time to time and Jeno lets him – which is appreciated, the latter points out, because Jeno never keeps up with his skinship. And Renjun only scolds him when his fingers bleed, which is a win.
Mark, although, is harsh. "I'm never believing you again when you say you're gonna stop,"
"It's not my fault!" Jeno replies, lowering his hand. His nails are so short that he can't bite anything, so he sticks to the cuticles. "I do it without realizing!"
When he puts a finger back on his mouth, Mark bats his hand away with a scowl.
There are times in which Jeno bites his nails at night, too nervous to sleep properly, and he wakes up to dried blood where he pulled the skin. It makes the tips of his fingers hurt when he grabs his bag from the back of the car, makes him wince a little while holding the microphone.
Those, too, are usually the time in which Mark doesn't scold him for it. Instead, he takes Jeno's hand in his to put band-aids on his fingers, careful not to press where it hurts. When he's not particularly busy worrying about them, or about his other units, he cages Jeno's hands securely in his while they're listening to the others in the recording booth.
Jeno is not a liar. So when Donghyuck asks, teasingly and when they're back on the dorm, if he likes it better when it's Mark holding his hands, he can't find it in himself to say "no".
He just wishes he didn't have to bite on his nails for Mark to hold his hands like that.
Sitting on Jeno's bed on a free Saturday, Mark pats the empty space beside him and says "I have a solution for you."
Jeno turns around in his chair, accidentally knocking his knees against Mark's. Instead of saying sorry, he asks: "A solution to what?"
"To your biting problem," Mark replies, simply. He, then, holds up a small bottle in his fingers. "I got this with Yuta,"
Jeno shakes his head and turns around again, decided to go back to his game. "The coordi noonas won't like that,"
He can't say he's surprised when Mark grabs the back of his chair and turns him around forcefully, bringing him closer to the bed, but Jeno still curses at how his heart skips a beat. Ridiculous. And then, because he's ridiculous, he lets Mark take his hands.
"Yuta told me this has a terrible taste so you won't be compelled to bite on your nails again," he explains, carefully tapping one of Jeno's fingers with his own. "As for the coordi noonas, you can always paint it again if they take it off."
And, because he couldn't ever say no to Mark Lee, Jeno nods and replies: "Alright,"
Mark is messy when he paints Jeno's nails, because his hand trembles a little and it takes him a while to get the hang of it, but Jeno doesn't care. He likes the grey-ish tone of the nail polish and how it looks against his skin, as messy as it is. It gets worse later because Jeno has never painted his nails before and he accidentally presses his fingers against the clothing of his hoodie before putting it on - and Mark laughs at the imprints of the fabric when he sees it, grabbing Jeno's hand to take a look at it –, but it works. He prevents himself from biting down at them because Mark told him it'd have a terrible taste, but also because he doesn't want to ruin it.
At the end of the day, Jeno lies in his bed and illuminates his nails with his phone, analyzing Mark's work. He likes it.
Maybe the coordi noonas prefer Jeno's painted nails to his terrible habit, because they don't complain about it when he shows up at the make-up room before going out for their daily schedule.
Of course, after almost a week, the nail polish is a little ruined – and Jeno did bite down on his nails, it tasted terrible, but he did it at least twice before noticing and ended up complaining about the taste for so long that even Jaemin told him to shut up –, but so far, so good, Mark's plan is a good plan.
The coordi noonas, although, clean off the remainings of nail polish and send him to the daily schedule with a pat on the back. He meets Mark at the door with a smile on his lips and gets one back. Proud.
See, Jeno doesn't have to ask for it.
On the following day, when he's hanging out by the 127 dorm to play video games with Yuta like he usually does, Jeno uses his bathroom break as an excuse to drop by Mark's room. When he sits down on the unmade bed, Mark gets up from the desk with the small nail polish bottle and motions for his hands.
None of them say anything. This time, the final work looks better than the first.
With the promotions for GO, Jeno's habit of biting on his nails grows worse despite the nail polish.
Sure, it tastes terrible, but sometimes he goes so long without painting his nails again that it goes away without the coordi noonas having to clean the nail polish, and then it doesn't taste bad when Jeno bites down on his cuticles. He casually nibs on it while on the van on the way back home, and figures that it'd be so much better if he simply painted his own nails.
But it's a thing. Or maybe it isn't and Jeno is just making up things inside his head-- but it's a thing. Mark painting his nails is a thing.
If it wasn't a thing, he wouldn't come inside Jeno's room one afternoon and say: "I heard you've been biting on your nails again," like checking up on him is less of a leader-thing and more of a Mark-thing.
If it wasn't a thing, Jeno wouldn't shrug and tell him that most of his nail polish is gone now.
If it wasn't a thing, Mark wouldn't tell him to hold up and vanish out of the room.
If it wasn't a thing, he wouldn't come back ten minutes later holding an entirely different bottle of nail polish and sit down by Jeno's side on the bed.
And if it wasn't a thing, Jeno wouldn't immediately put his hands on Mark's lap. It's simple.
"I actually bought this for you," Mark says, quietly, and the tips of his ears turn a little red when he says it. It makes Jeno's stomach do a somersault. "It's blue because I think it fits you."
"Thank you," Jeno manages to say, but he closes his mouth with force right after because he's afraid he might say something he regrets. He lets Mark paint his nails sky blue, and he's still messy but Jeno wouldn't have it any other way.
"This suits you well," Jaemin tells him, holding Jeno's hands in his while they're on the way to a radio show. "I'm going to buy some other colors for you,"
"You don't have to, Nana," is what he replies, but it's less of a don't spend money on me than it is of the thought that he'd prefer if Mark found other colors to paint him.
But Jeno buries that thought deep, deep down his chest because he can't have himself falling in love, at least not at where they're standing right now. His eyes dart to the passenger seat in the van where Mark usually sits – except he's out for 127 schedules right now, with Donghyuck –, and Jeno thinks that no, he certainly can't have himself falling in love.
Except that maybe he already has. Jeno presses his back against the couch on the studio where Mark and Taeyong usually spend their time, and he should be paying attention to the what Mark's saying to him, but he can't help but follow the gentle curve of his neck and how he raises his shoulders from time to time, and thinks that's it is both a blessing and a curse that Mark has his back to him.
A blessing because he won't notice how Jeno is blatantly staring, and a curse because he can't just walk up and press a kiss to the mole at the back of his neck. Guess this is why Jeno can't have nice things. He at least tries to be a decent person and busies himself with picking on the last bits of blue nail polish, using the tips of his nails – they're growing! For the first time in forever! – to slowly scrape the paint off.
"Tell me if you like this," Mark asks, turning his head just so slightly that Jeno can see the curve of his cheekbone. " The reason I don't have to be afraid is your eyes that look at me; only that makes me so free. "
Jeno knows for a fact that it isn't always that Mark lets people take a look at his lyrics before they're done. He stops scraping off the nail polish and puts his hands down on his lap. "It's beautiful," he replies, quietly. "Thank you,"
Mark nods and turns around completely, staring at his notebook, and Jeno is left staring at his back again. "For what?"
"For showing me,"
It takes him a while to say something, and Jeno doesn't breathe until he does. When Mark taps the empty chair by his side on the desk, he breathes out audibly and hopes that Mark won't listen. "Would you like to hear more?"
He doesn't need to reply. Jeno is by his side in a split second, leaning against Mark's shoulder like they've been doing this all day.
"When did you get so many nail polishes?"
"Good morning to you too, Donghyuckie,"
"Can I borrow one? I like the pink. Didn't take you for a pink type of guy."
"Of course you can. And I like pink, too."
"Your nails aren't fucked anymore,"
"Thanks to Mark hyung?"
"I guess? How did you know?"
"I was with him when he bought the green one."
"You guys are cute,"
"Thanks for the nail polish, Jenjen, come get breakfast!"
There's this thing about the whole painting nails thing.
But if Donghyuck – or Jaemin, in a worse scenario – ever finds out about it, it's going to be Jeno's downfall. Worse than the time they found out that Jeno used a pacifier until he was nine years old, or worse than the time they found out he was the one to crack Renjun's phone screen that one time. That being said, Jeno hides it deep inside his chest, locks the feeling in his heart because if someone ever finds out about it, it's going to be the end of him.
Here it is: what he likes the most about the painting nails thing, considering it all – not hurting himself anymore, the pretty colors, the warmth of Mark's hands against his –, is being able to look at Mark without any reason to.
See, Jeno doesn't have much to do while he gets his nails done. If he moves too much, Mark complains because he's just going to get it messy. He tried playing on his phone once, but he ended up knocking over the bottle of nail polish and now his desk has a permanent stain of dark orange ink. And it's not like Jeno could pass an opportunity to just sit and stare at him knowing Mark won't notice because he's too busy on his task. It's the perfect plan.
More than that, what he likes the most about the painting nails thing is memorizing the curve of Mark's cheekbones, the color of his eyelashes, how his tongue peaks out of his mouth very slightly as he concentrates. It makes Jeno's heart hurt? Yes, it does, but he's not going to stop now. Again, it's the perfect plan.
What's not perfect about it is that he's fallen already. He knows it, he just does, when Mark looks up, a smile threatening to form on his lips, and asks: "Do you like it?"
Jeno takes a look at his nails, bright green, but keeps one hand over Mark's.
"I love it,"
He is, after all, a goner.
When Mark leaves to Los Angeles for a whole week, Jeno's nails remain intact even without the nail polish. One of those days, one of the coordi noonas takes Jeno's hand in hers and says, "Your nails are completely healed now!", but instead of feeling happy, Jeno feels something close to fear settling at the pit of his stomach.
Renjun sets his chopsticks down and asks: "Where are all your colors?"
To which Jeno shakes his head, not looking up from his bowl of fried rice.
(It's dramatic, he knows, but when Renjun willingly cuddles up to him on the couch after dinner, "You don't need anyone to make you colorful, alright? You can do that yourself," falling from his lips, he gets it. When the manager says the others are coming back to Seoul, he picks up a bottle of royal blue and keeps it on his pocket.)
Jeno is sitting on Mark's (unmade) bed when he tells him: "I don't bite my nails anymore,"
"I noticed," Mark replies, spinning on the chair by his desk. He smiles: "Who's got the credits for it, though?"
He scoffs. "Me, of course. You just helped a little,"
Mark shakes his head, and his knees knock against Jeno slightly, on purpose. He leans forward and rests his hands there.
"So I guess you don't need me to paint your nails anymore,"
Even though Jeno knows it's just a commentary, he hangs on the tiny hint of doubt like it's his last chance of survival. It might be. Or he might be being dramatic again. He taps the bottle of nail polish inside the pocket of his hoodie absentmindedly and says: "Yeah, I don't need it anymore. But I want you to,"
Mark tilts his head, brows furrowed. Jeno has never wanted to kiss him more, but he holds on.
"You want to?"
He fishes the small bottle out of his pocket and hands it out. "Colour me blue?"
When Mark first paints Jeno's nails, he doesn't expect it to become a thing.
Sure, it's a fun thing to do – even though he's quite terrible at it, always messing up with the nail polish –, and hanging out with Jeno has always been something he likes, but he just really wants him to stop biting on his nails, goddamnit.
But then again, it's Jeno we're talking about. Mark could do it a thousand times and it would only take Jeno one (1) smile to get him moving. So a one time thing turns into a two time thing, and then three, and four, and then Mark is buying nail polish for him because he likes the way Jeno's face lights up every time Mark shows him a new color, and the way he remains so quiet and still when Mark takes his hand to start the work, and then he's looking forward to their… Painting nails dates? To holding Jeno's hand while not exactly holding his hand? To see him smiling (with his eyes!) at his freshly painted nails?
Then the studio thing happens. Mark has never been so nervous in his entire life (and he's debuted three times already) because, again , it's Jeno we're talking about. Jeno, his fellow member. Jeno, his friend. Jeno, his…. Jeno. He's just Jeno. Why is he so nervous?
Mark mutters the lyrics like he's telling Jeno his biggest secret, and he might as well be. It's for you , he wants to say, it's all for you , but he doesn't need to. If Jeno doesn't get it now, he'll get it eventually, how Mark painted him the best way he could, the only way he could without messing it up like he does with nail polish. You can't go wrong with words when you're so familiar to them.
He takes the small bottle and opens it, motioning for Jeno's hand.
While he's in L.A., Mark wonders if Jeno's going to go back to his old habit. He's doing great, Mark's noticed, but what will he do when Mark is not there to help him out? Or, then, will he realize he doesn't need Mark anymore?
It's not that deep, sure, but still, he wonders when all of this stopped being a matter of (Jeno's) self-preservation became a matter of (Mark's) heart.
"All done," Mark whispers, and he blows air very lightly on Jeno's nails besides hearing from Yuta that it doesn't help that much, but he doesn't have anything else to do and he's honestly just trying to find an excuse to hold his hands a little more. "Will you paint mine too?"
At that, Jeno's mouth becomes a perfect "O", and it makes funny things to Mark's hear to see him like that. He, then, nods quickly, fishing the bottle of nail polish out of Mark's (trembling) hands. "The same tone, though?"
"To match with yours,"
(It's barely a whisper, but Jeno gets it. Why would he? The only thing louder than Mark's voice right now might be his heartbeat)
"I've never done this before," Jeno confides, halfway through it, after he ends up smudging the underside of Mark's ring finger by accident. "It's super shitty, sorry,"
"Jeno, I don't mind."
He goes back to the task: "Alright,"
By the time Jeno's finished, the most of it is nearly dry, so it's not going to be much of a mess when Mark waits for him to put the nail polish aside and then leans forward, hands coming up to his face, thumbs resting on Jeno's cheek. He hisses when a little blue taints the other's skin, but Jeno's eyes turn into half moons, so Mark guesses they're perfectly fine.
"I hope you're not as bad kissing as you are at painting nails," he whispers.
Jeno's cheeks tint red under his fingers, still, he replies: "You talk like you're Da Vinci, don't you?"
He never gets a reply. Mark presses a kiss to his lips and the rest is history.
(Except the rest is this: Mark leans back, complaining about the angle, then pushes Jeno further on the bed and climbs into his lap. Their kisses leave a few trails of blue in Mark's shirt and, somehow, sheets, but he'll only care about it later, when Yuta tells him nail polish is a pain to wash out.)