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The student who trails in behind Mr Jung (Or just Jaehyun, as they all call him) has prominent cheekbones, like they’re about to pop out of his cheeks any moment.

 

At least that’s what catches Donghyuck’s attention at first glance.

 

Upon closer inspection, the new student has these round spectacles, framing straight eyebrows and dark eyes. His shirt is tucked in neatly, trousers ironed so straight it makes Donghyuck fidget in his crumpled ones.

 

He’s a fuckin nerd , Donghyuck thinks, rolling his eyes as Goeun giggles, staring at New Guy with clear interest- he couldn’t relate. The guy looks familiar somehow, which is rather unsettling since Donghyuck would never befriend someone who looks so prim and proper, but he’s glad that he can still maintain his status as the third most attractive person in their class. (He comes after Na Goeun and girl Hyunjin- guy Hyunjin’s a strong fourth place, and Donghyuck would rather be dead than lose his title to some nerd .)

 

“Guys, this is Mark Lee,” Jaehyun introduces as the class 3A students peer at the new boy curiously. “He previously went to Hong Kong for an exchange school year, so he’ll be joining our class. Please give him a warm welcome!” Donghyuck raises his eyebrows as he claps along with his classmates. No wonder the Mark guy looked familiar, he was probably Jungwoo’s friend or something if he used to be in the year above.

 

Mark bows, swooping into a 90-degree bow so formal that Donghyuck has to hold back a snort. Did this guy time travel? Why would any self-respecting teenager do this to himself? If only Renjun was here, they’d have a good laugh together , he thinks as he glares at the empty seat next to him. He’d so graciously arrived at school earlier than usual to hog good seats for Renjun and himself, but his friend was nowhere to be seen.

 

He's picked the best seats for them this year- they’re located in the middle of the classroom, the perfect place to collect gossip. The seats are far back enough for them to use their phones during class without being seen, but not too far back so Renjun can still see. Sanha and Minhyuk who sit behind them are decent enough, whilst the girls in front of them- Yerim and Chaewon- are pretty fun too.

 

If choosing seats on the first day of school was a subject, Donghyuck would be bagging them straight As.

 

“Donghyuck?” Jaehyun calls, and he looks up, “Yes?” His teacher does that dimpled half-smile thing, the one he does every time Donghyuck fails Math, ”Would you like to sit next to Mark?”

 

Oh no, oh hell no.  

 

Donghyuck opens his mouth to reject Jaehyun’s request, but closes it as he notices the look on Mark Lee’s face. His eyes are wide, almost sparkling, and he doesn’t really have the heart to say No sorry I don’t want to sit next to a nerd I wanna sit with Renjun , especially not on the first day of school.

 

So he just gives Jaehyun an apologetic smile,” Sorry, I’d love to, but Minhyuk won’t see anything if anyone other than Renjun sits in fro-” “Hey,” Minhyuk smacks his head from the back as his seatmate, Sanha cackles. “I can see perfectly, excuse you!”

 

“Really?” Donghyuck laughs as he turns around to smack Minhyuk right back. “Maybe you’ll get to catch a glimpse of Jaehyun’s neck if you sit on Sanha’s shoulders-” “Mark, this is Donghyuck, he’ll be your seatmate,” In the middle of their squabble, Jaehyun leads Mark to Renjun’s seat, and Donghyuck can’t help but recoil as Mark puts down a tall stack of textbooks on the desk adjacent to his own. Who brings school books on the first day of school? Mark Lee, apparently.

 

“Jae-” Jaehyun, who usually goes along with his students’ whims and is just generally a pretty liberal teacher, just walks back without a word, ignoring Donghyuck’s desperate plea. Heartbroken, Donghyuck doesn’t even bother greeting his new seatmate, tapping Yerim’s shoulder instead- her snack supply is something Donghyuck couldn’t live without-, ”Do you have chocolate?”

 

“I got Hershey's,” Yerim grins, and Donghyuck nods eagerly. Fuck Renjun, Yerim was the only friend ever.

 

Yerim passes Donghyuck the chocolate under his desk, where Jaehyun can’t see. But just as Donghyuck’s about to wrap his fingers around those sweet, sweet treats, a third hand intercepts their exchange.

 

“What-” Donghyuck’s confused gaze meets Mark Lee’s cold eyes. “Eating isn’t allowed in class,” Mark Lee announces sternly as he all but pushes Yerim’s hand away.

 

------

 

“Then he just raised his hand and called Jaehyun over like what the fu-” Donghyuck chomps down on his sandwich angrily as Renjun hums, places a finger over his lips. “Don’t swear so loudly, Mark Lee might tell you off.”

 

“Oh, hop off my dick,” Donghyuck huffs as Renjun laughs. They’re sitting in the cafeteria, where everyone’s chatting noisily and Mark Lee is nowhere in sight. “Why didn’t you show up in the morning anyway?” He grumbles, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin. “It’s actually your fault I have to sit with Young Mussolini.”

 

“I, uh, got caught up in some stuff,” Renjun busies himself with his tortilla, not meeting Donghyuck’s eyes- very suspicious , but Renjun’s already switching the topic, eyes glinting wickedly before Donghyuck can open his mouth. “And anyway, you shouldn’t be addressing our class president so rudely.”

 

“Please don’t remind me,” Donghyuck groans, nearly choking on the crust on his sandwich. “I can’t believe Yerim and I were the only people who didn’t vote for him, y’all are a bunch of Fascists.” “Eh,” Renjun shrugs, picking out the anchovies from his wrap delicately. “I would’ve voted for him just to piss you off.”

 

“Can’t believe Yerim and I are the only woke ones in our class,” Donghyuck crumples his sandwich wrapping with extra force. “If he speaks to me in English later, I’m going to kill myself.” “Then perish,” Renjun replies without blinking an eye, used to Donghyuck’s theatrics. “I’ll invite Mark Lee to your funeral as my plus one.”

 

-----

 

Mark Lee does, in fact, speak to Donghyuck in English, much to his dismay. Miss Son asks them to write a short introduction of themselves after she pulls up a presentation about what she did over the holidays- It’s kinda cool, he has to admit, he never knew she could ski.

 

Donghyuck’s lying sideways on his desk, scrawling out a few sentences as he daydreams, in peace until Mark taps his arm. “What do you want?” He asks, not wanting to budge from his comfortable position. “Do you wanna proofread my introduction?” Mark asks in his nerd voice, pushing his glasses upwards. Donghyuck shrugs, pushing his notes towards Mark.

 

He didn’t really care about English, but whatever- at least he was trying to be a good seatmate. Mark hands him his notes, and Donghyuck peers at them horizontally- neat handwriting, rows and rows of it, stare back at him.

 

With a considerable amount of effort, Donghyuck sits upright, squinting at Mark’s introduction- no, his essay .

 

It was fairly predictable, actually, how Mark had so much to say about himself he wrote a whole page in 5 minutes.

 

Donghyuck closes his eyes. He isn’t going to waste his precious brain cells reading about how Mark Lee was born on Mount Olympus, cradled by Jesus himself, or how he spent his year in Hong Kong helping old ladies cross the street.

 

“Hey, I’m done,” Mark Lee hands Donghyuck his own notes. He can barely recognise his own work, chicken scratch circled in red pen with remarks written close by. Donghyuck pushes Mark’s essay back to him without another glance, pretending to ignore the hurt look that flashes across his classmate’s face.

 

“I like Miss Son,” Mark mumbles, to no one in particular. “She’s from Canada, just like me.” Donghyuck doesn’t really know what to say to that- was Mark some secret teacher-in-training sent by Jaehyun to spy on him? He acted like an old man.

 

“Congratulations,” He responds snarkily, feeling slightly guilty as Mark frowns at him, pink lips gaping. But then Miss Son walks by, complimenting Mark on his quick work, and Donghyuck feels nothing but annoyance as Mark’s invited to read out his introduction in front of the whole class, his weird foreign accent earning him a round of applause.

 

The way Mark beams in pride makes Donghyuck’s insides twist for some reason, and he finishes the rest of the school day feeling weirdly unsettled.

 

What a great start to the school year!

 

-------

 

“I’m sure he’s not that bad,” Renjun comforts Donghyuck as they walk home from school weeks later, “Everyone seems to like him.” “You don’t understand,” Donghyuck wails, burying his face in his hands as he lets out a cry of despair, “Did I tell you about that time in Math class? I wasn’t even trying to copy off him, I just happened to look in his direction and he told me off!”

 

“Oh really?” A smarmy grin stretches across Renjun’s face,” He helped me with this Chem equation last week, so it’s probably you that he doesn’t like.”

 

“I agree,” Donghyuck huffs, “He’s already like best friends with Felix, and he keeps talking about Mark to me during assembly-” Renjun snorts. “Do I look like I care about what golden boy Mark Lee does?”

 

“You do, actually,” Renjun shrugs, and Donghyuck pushes him, earning an equally hard shove from his friend.

 

Donghyuck suffers in class- Mark’s about as fun as a wooden block, and he doesn’t even want to talk to him in fear of getting lectured. Mark seemingly excels in every subject, paying close attention to every word and shushing Donghyuck even when he’s not making any noise.

 

(“Can you be silent? I’m trying to catch this bit,” Mark says without looking away from the board, and Donghyuck gives him an incredulous look,”I didn’t say anything?”

 

“You breathe too loudly,” Mark replies, tone serious, “Try breathing deeper, it might help.”

 

“Should I just not breathe then?” Donghyuck can’t help but raise his voice, blood pressure rising as Mark’s eyes widen,”That’s not what I meant-” “Well that sounded damn well like-”

 

They both get shushed by Jaehyun as he passes by, and Donghyuck hopes the look he shoots Mark is downright murderous.)

 

Despite his nerdiness and stuck-upness, Mark’s popular in their class. Girls seem to find his awkwardness endearing, giggling softly when he speaks in english in that odd accent and stumbles over his words, while Donghyuck rolls his eyes. The other guys like him too, since he’s apparently really good at sports- Donghyuck wouldn’t know, since they're in different P.E. sets, but seriously, what couldn’t this guy do apart from leave him alone?

 

At least Yerim’s on his side. Donghyuck chats to Yerim and Chaewon sometimes, when sitting with Mark the Iceberg gets a little too much. They’re in History class, bored as Doyoung shows them a lengthy documentary on Cuban Missile Crisis, and Donghyuck taps Yerim’s shoulder, suddenly inspired.

 

“Would you smash or pass Mussolini?” He asks as Yerim turns around, “I feel like he’d be Doyoung’s type, but I’d smash him anyway.”

 

“Smash,” Yerim doesn’t even flinch, ”I mean, baldness is in, and he has a good nose, so.”

 

“Fair enough,” Chaewon grins, scrunching up her face dramatically, “Gorbachev though- that’s what I call a fine specimen.”

 

“Good point,” Donghyuck laughs as Chaewon mimes slamming her fist into her open palm. He’s about to reply when he hears a muffled snort next to him. Oh?

 

Mark Lee’s eyes are still fixed on the screen, but the unmistakable twitch of his lips tells Donghyuck everything. “Mark Lee, laughing?” He gasps, clutching his chest. Ungluing his eyes from the documentary with devastatingly low resolution, Mark’s gaze slides over Donghyuck, ”I’m not.”

 

“You just did! I saw you!” Donghyuck whisper-shouts at Mark, who just shrugs, turning his attention back to the screen.

 

Doyoung -or Mr Kim, whatever- could be cool if he wanted, but was way stricter than Jaehyun, who let students call him bro and eat in class. Definitely not someone Donghyuck wanted to annoy, so he keeps his voice down.

 

“Okay, Mark Lee,” Donghyuck mumbles, leaning closer to the girls so they can still catch the conversation. “Smash or pass- Doyoung?” “No, make him do Jaehyun,” Yerim pipes up, grinning wickedly as she props her head up on Donghyuck’s desk. “Do TY,” Chaewon’s eyes glint in the semi-darkness as she whispers, Donghyuck rioting silently as Yerim giggles.

 

TY, or Taeyong, or Mr Lee, was their Social Sciences teacher last year, but he was somehow replaced by Kun this term. With his handsome features and unique fashion sense, he was arguably the more attractive teacher in school. Every Valentine’s Day, his desk was always heaped with cards and chocolates from fangirls and even a few teachers.

 

“That’s-” Mark’s face shifts, expression guarded as he swallows nervously under their eager eyes. “That’s actually really disrespectful, can we focus on class instead?” The three of them boo, turning their attention back to the screen as Doyoung strides to the back to rouse Minhyuk from his peaceful slumber.

 

Donghyuck decides that Mark just doesn’t want to be friends, and that’s okay , he tells himself.

 

----

 

“Hey, you know that Mark Lee guy?” Jeno asks as they gather at Hamster Shakes after school. “Wish I didn’t,” Donghyuck grumbles mid-slurp, savouring his Oreo milkshake, “Is he famous in 3B too?”

 

“Why you so grumpy for?” Jaemin asks over his own espresso. “He’s over at our class sometimes- I think he’s buddies with Lucas.” “Well, first of all, Mark Lee is the bane of my existence-” Donghyuck says with such force that the owner of the cafe, Kihyun, gives their table a concerned gaze.

 

“Here we go again,” Renjun mutters, closing his eyes as Donghyuck recounts his hardships under Mark Lee’s iron fist. “Wow, that’s-” Jeno’s downed half of his chocolate milkshake by the time he’s done, “Something.”

 

“I know right, I can’t even enjoy a milkshake in peace without getting annoyed by him,” Donghyuck complains before returning to his milkshake, earning a sympathetic pat from Jaemin. “He’s been acting like this since school started,” Renjun’s tone holds nothing but despair, “Save me .”

 

“Anyway,” Jeno coughs to recapture their attention. “I just brought him up because he made the basketball team- he’s vice-captain, I think.” “What?” Donghyuck spits out his straw, ignoring Jaemin’s disgusted hiss. “That nerd? Are we talking about the same Mark Lee?”

 

“I told you, he’s not just a nerd,” Renjun hums thoughtfully, dipping his spoon into their shared matcha shaved ice, “I mean, he’s clearly not that simple, since he’s basically a prodigy-” “Please don’t tell me he’s an alien,” Donghyuck groans, sipping on his milkshake before replying, “If he was one, he would’ve annihilated me with his freaky powers a long time ago.”

 

“Kinky,” Jeno and Jaemin say at the same time, high fiving as Donghyuck sighs his face behind his hands. Much to Donghyuck’s embarrassment, his face heats up for some reason, and he presses his boiling face with his cold palms. Please don’t blush, this is Mark Lee we’re talking about.

 

Thankfully, none of Donghyuck’s friends seem to notice his brief meltdown. “Oh wow, he was first in grade, head of the school paper and Best Athlete before he left for Hong Kong,” Renjun notes as he reads something on his phone. “Are you stalking him right now?” Jeno wonders, peering at Renjun’s phone screen. “Over milkshakes?”

 

“This is just his Facebook- it’s pretty bare though?” Renjun angles his phone so Jaemin and Donghyuck can see from their side of the booth. Mark Lee’s Facebook doesn’t even have a profile photo, but his autobiography is filled with previous achievements and awards.

 

“This reads like a CV,” Donghyuck pushes Renjun’s phone away gently, opting to finish up the last of his milkshake instead, “10/10 would not be friends with.” “Dude,” Jaemin whistles lightly as he reads Mark Lee’s Facebook profile, ”This is actually pretty impressive.”

 

“Well, I don’t care,” Donghyuck pouts as he digs into the shaved ice. “He could never compare to Lee Minhyung anyway.” He adds as an afterthought, referring to the legendary upperclassman who had top ranks academically, and was the leader of multiple societies like the track team and the school orchestra.

 

“That’s not fair, Lee Minhyung’s on a whole new level,” Jeno notes, scooping up three red beans at once, “He just disappeared after his second year though? Shady.” “I heard he got accepted by Yale,” Jaemin whispers conspiratorially, sipping on his espresso, and Donghyuck’s eyebrows shoot all the way up his forehead, ”Holy shit, really?”

 

Renjun, however, just frowns thoughtfully. “No way, he was like 16, man. Maybe he went overseas for school?” “There’s no way to find out anyway,” Jeno bemoans. “Literally no one from our grade knows what he looks like, and I heard he paid the school to get his school pictures removed? What a weirdo.”

 

“Very shady,” Renjun concludes sagely, “Mark Lee… Lee Minhyung… The Lees must be pretty smart.” “Good observation,” Donghyuck puffs out his chest proudly until Renjun rolls his eyes at him, ”You and Jeno clearly missed out on the gene.”

 

“Hey!” Donghyuck snaps indignantly, but Jeno just laughs, watching with interest along with Jaemin as they smack each other across the table.

 

----

 

“Hey, do you remember the photo-taking thing after school?” Renjun asks Donghyuck during recess, and he rubs blearily at his eyes, slightly displeased at the interruption of his nap. “What photo-taking thing?”

 

“For the photography team, didn’t you check your email?” Renjun combs through Donghyuck’s hair, a tangled, messy mop. He shakes his head, still half asleep,”I don’t even have a camera, why do I have to go with you?”

 

“Just because,” Renjun lays down the final verdict, and Donghyuck doesn’t even have the energy to retort, letting his friend run his fingers through his hair without another word. “We’re going to shoot at the basketball court, so you’ll get to see your boy!”

 

“My boy? Jaehyun’s pretty cool, but I don’t wa-” Out of the corner of his eye, Donghyuck glimpses Mark entering the classroom, talking to Felix in rapid-fire english. “Oh, him?” “Bingo,” Renjun smiles sweetly, giving Donghyuck’s head one last pat, “We’re going to have so much fun with your golden boy!”

 

Donghyuck doesn’t stop groaning until the school bell rings, dozing through the last two lessons. His plan to dash away from school fails as Renjun ambushes him outside the lab. “Really?” He grouches as Renjun drags him to the school gym, “I thought we were friends.”

 

“C’mon, Hyuck, there’s going to be lots of other players.” Renjun remains unaffected by Donghyuck’s pout. “We’ll just have to snap some pics for the school paper, and we won’t have to interact with the players anyway.”

 

But still, Donghyuck can’t help but sulk on the bleachers, staring at the players as Renjun snaps pictures of them warming up. The basketball team itself is surprisingly unintimidating, consisting of about 15 boys who run laps around the gym under basketball team TIC, Jaehyun.

 

“Why aren’t they tall?” Donghyuck asks, confused since the team members seemed much taller and burlier in his memory. “You’re one to talk,” Renjun laughs as he puts down his camera, “Most of the big ones graduated last year.”

 

“Depressing,” Donghyuck replies as some guy spots them and waves. “Hey, Renjun!” The tall guy’s good-looking, kinda, with a wide grin that makes him look like an overgrown puppy. Renjun waves back, and Donghyuck stares at his friend, feeling betrayed, ”You know that guy?”

 

“Not really, he’s new,” Renjun tries to shrug it off, but Donghyuck notices how the tips of his ears turn red. “Ooooh, you like him, don’t you?” He teases, laughing as Renjun punches him, ”Do you find him attractive?”

 

“No!” Renjun’s entire face is pink, much to Donghyuck’s delight, ”He’s just, tall.” “So you just find him attractive because he’s tall? Understandable,” Donghyuck chortles as Renjun gapes at him, lost for a response.

 

On the court, Tall Boy is calling Renjun’s name again. “I think your friend’s asking for you,” Donghyuck wiggles his eyebrows suggestively until Renjun sighs and gets up, “I’ll take the camera, so go have some fun.” Renjun’s camera feels familiar in Donghyuck’s hands, and he grins as he picks it up, panning it around for a good shot. The lighting in the gym is pretty good, and he gets a few good shots of Jaehyun standing at the sidelines.

 

Privately, Donghyuck thinks Jaehyun’s just there because he’s a fan of high school musical and probably dreams of singing breaking free in the gym with Doyoung, but he does look cool shouting out instructions, as the players warm up. He catches a few familiar faces as he clicks away- Hwang Hyunjin’s standing next to Chanhee from class 3D, who’s next to this guy who’s kinda handsome, with prominent cheekbones and a determined look in his eyes.

 

Holy shit.

 

Donghyuck nearly drops Renjun’s camera. Mark Lee’s not as skinny as he expected, shoulders filling up his uniform nicely. He’s not wearing his glasses, making him look less nerdy and more Hot Jock. He’s handsome , Donghyuck realises, as his shameless eyes rid him of his dignity by checking out Mark Lee of all people.

 

Shaking his head, Donghyuck snaps a few photos of the other players before peering at Mark Lee through the camera. He looks way better when he’s not reprimanding Donghyuck, an easy grin lighting up his face as he breezes through drills.

 

This is for the school paper, Donghyuck tells himself as he zooms in on Mark, snapping a series of photos. They turn out pretty great, obviously due to Donghyuck’s amazing photography skills and not Mark’s face. Pleased, he raises the camera up to eye level again, snapping away to his heart’s content until Mark looks straight into his camera.

 

Mark Lee’s spotted Donghyuck taking pictures of him.

 

Fuck, fuck , Donghyuck’s brain goes into complete shutdown as he switches off the camera quickly, heart hammering against his ribcage as he removes the camera strap from his neck. “Why aren’t you taking any photos?” Renjun comes back at the most convenient time ever, and Donghyuck stands up, handing the camera back to its owner as he slings his schoolbag onto a shoulder, ”I think we’ve got enough, can we leave now?”

 

“I- sure,” Renjun seems like he wants to stay, but compiles without any questions as he sees the look of utter panic and desperation etched on Donghyuck’s face.

 

It’s a sleepless night for Donghyuck, especially after Renjun sends him the photos from their shoot with the text your boy looks great here :) .

 

If I die, Mark Lee did it and I don’t blame him , Donghyuck texts back before burying his face into his pillow.

 

-----

 

They’re in Social Science, doing past papers while Kun marks their essays at the teacher’s desk. The paper is hard, and Donghyuck can’t help but sigh as he taps his pen against his desk, stuck. It doesn’t help that Mark’s already finishing the paper, raising his hand to ask for more paper while Donghyuck struggles.

 

“Oh, Mark,” Kun says with a smile as he hands Mark an extra piece of lined paper. Of course he’s smiling, Mark’s obviously his favourite- no, he’s everyone’s favourite, with his dumbass smile and excellent grades. “Good job.” Kun keeps his voice low to avoid disturbing the other students, but Donghyuck’s right next to them.

 

“Is it tiring?” Bored, tired, and frustrated, Donghyuck provokes Mark. “What’s tiring?” Mark replies, annoyance seeping out of his hushed tone. Donghyuck peers at him sideways, but Mark isn’t even looking at him, dammit. A sudden jolt of irritation runs down his spine- why couldn’t Mark be nice to him, like he was to literally everyone else?

 

“Must be tiring being so perfect all the time, being a teacher’s pet and ratting out your classmates,” Donghyuck mutters scalthingly, relishing in the way Mark’s hand stills, ink blotting and ruining his perfect penmanship. “I’m not like that,” Mark grits, and Donghyuck feels his stomach churn with a twisted kind of pleasure. “You are, you literally tell on me every class,” Donghyuck goads: riling Mark up was surprisingly fun. “Rat.”

 

Mark’s pen hits the desk, the sound of impact loud and clear in the quiet classroom. A few students glance over, curious, but Donghyuck doesn’t look at them. He’s looking at Mark, who seems to have fire in his eyes. His face is clouded, eyes dark with fury, and maybe Donghyuck’s starting to regret messing around with him.

 

“Is everything okay back there? Kun asks, and Mark nods jerkily, handing in his paper with both hands. He excuses himself then, ignoring the flurry of exclamations that follow and leaving Donghyuck alone to wallow in guilt.

 

“Wow, he finished the paper so quickly? Is he even human?” “Mark, teach me your ways!” “He looks constipated, maybe that’s why he completed the paper so quickly.”

 

Donghyuck briefly considers going after Mark, but he’s far from finishing his paper, and it’s just Mark anyway. The look Renjun shoots him when their eyes accidentally meet is accusing. “Did you do something to him?” Renjun mouths from the first row.

 

Normally, Donghyuck would beam and own up to pissing off Mark Lee proudly, but there’s a strange, bitter taste in his mouth, like he’s kicked a hurt puppy or done something equally terrible, so he just nods briefly before returning to his work. He’s pretty sure nothing he writes on his paper makes sense, marred by his unfortunate lack of knowledge on housing policies and guilt.

 

Mark doesn’t come back, not when Donghyuck finishes his paper and the lunch bell rings. He glances at the door, suddenly concerned- What if Mark was crying? Or worse, could he possibly be hurting himself? Donghyuck prided himself on being a jokester, the Annoying One who was good fun to be around, but he would never hurt anyone on purpose, not even Mark.

 

Closing his eyes, Donghyuck tries to find an excuse for Mark’s dramatic exit- did he seem like he was having a bad day? Did Donghyuck mess up his work? Oh no , he realises.

 

Donghyuck was just being an asshole.

 

They’re dismissed, and his classmates all file out quickly, wanting to get to lunch as soon as possible. Donghyuck motions for Renjun to go on without him, and is met with a grimace. Don’t mess up even more , Renjun’s eyes seem to say, and Donghyuck nods.

 

Once everyone’s gone, Donghyuck slips out of the classroom hurriedly, making a beeline towards the boys’ bathroom. He nearly runs into someone as he walks, and he barely pauses to mumble an apology, ”Sorr- Mark?” Mark’s eyes aren’t red, much to his relief. He doesn’t look particularly sad either, which Donghyuck finds oddly reassuring.

 

“Yes?” Mark sounds almost unnervingly calm,” Or rat, as you’d probably like to call me.” “Mark, no-” Donghyuck feels like screaming, “I didn’t know you would take it so seriously, I didn’t mean it-” He’s never been good at apologies, and it’s a relief that no one’s around to witness their exchange in the corridor.

 

“Really,” Mark offers a bitter chuckle. “You probably did, Donghyuck.” It’s the first time Mark Lee calls him by his name, and the way he says it- spitting it out like he ate something unpleasant- makes Donghyuck feel like withering into a pile of ashes.

 

“I’m sorry,” Donghyuck can’t help but lower his head in shame, even though Mark hasn’t exactly scolded him. “It’s my fault, I shouldn’t have said that.” “I just, I just-” Mark sounds like he’s giving up, and Donghyuck feels so terrible about everything that’s happening. If his big mouth had just shut up-

 

“I don’t get why you hate me,” Mark finally says, “Is it because that time I told you off for eating in class? Or am I just so unpleasant that you hate being around me?” Donghyuck’s eyes widen: Who knew someone like Mark Lee, loved by everyone and their mother, would care so much about what a nobody like Donghyuck thought of them?

 

“I-,” Donghyuck’s fists are clenched so tight he can feel his fingernails dig into the flesh of his palms. “I wish you weren’t so uptight about everything, but I don’t hate you, I think.” “You think, huh?” Mark quirks an eyebrow, seemingly unimpressed. Holy shit , Donghyuck thinks. What if Mark Lee reports him and gets him expelled?

 

“It might not sound like it, but it’s the truth,” Donghyuck forces his hands open, wedging his arms on either side on his body. “Please accept my apology, what I said was out of line and-”

 

“It’s fine,” When Donghyuck looks up again, the sun’s shining obliquely on Mark Lee, making his hair glow amber. This is probably what everyone sees in Mark Lee: someone who’s genuine, hardworking and forgiving, even towards someone who’s never been nice towards him from day one. “I’ve heard worse,” Mark shrugs, and Donghyuck feels his shoulders sag in relief.

 

“I know I haven't been the best seatmate,” Donghyuck swallows, suddenly nervous again, “But I’ll try to be nicer in the future- or at least less like an asshole.” “I’d like that too,” The wry smile on Mark’s lips is strangely reassuring.

“Truce?” Donghyuck extends a scarlet palm for Mark to shake. Mark’s grip is warm, his hand about the same size as Donghyuck’s own. “Truce.”

 

-----

 

“So are you and Mark Lee like, friends now?” Renjun asks him days later, when they walk to their Korean tutorial class together. Sucking on his lolly, Donghyuck makes a thoughtful noise,”No, I don’t think so?”

 

“I thought you apologized to him though?” Renjun asks, texting someone on his phone. “I did,” Donghyuck pauses. “But we’re not friends, dude. We literally hated each other.” “Well, you should be,” Renjun says without looking up, and Donghyuck has to pull him back to stop him from walking into oncoming traffic. “I think he likes you a lot more now.”

 

“Stop texting, you idiot, you might die,” Donghyuck grumbles, ignoring Renjun’s low stop ruining my plans. “Who are you texting anyway?” “Oh, nobody important,” Renjun shoves his phone back into his pocket hastily, but Donghyuck doesn’t miss how he spares his phone one last fond glance. Very suspicious.

 

“Mark thinks you’re nice, I heard him talking to Felix yesterday,” Renjun continues, oblivious to Donghyuck’s knowing stare. “You understand Felix’s accent?” Donghyuck fake-gasps, adjusting the lolly wrapper so it sticks out more. “I don’t,” Renjun admits, shrugging, “I heard your name and asked him about it, so there’s definitely no misunderstanding there.”

 

“You’re embarrassing,” Donghyuck says after lapping at the side of his lolly. “We’re just not close yet, everything’s fine.” After their argument/ talk, they’ve been almost overly civil to each other. Mark kindly looks the other way every time Donghyuck sneaks snacks from Yerim, and he doesn’t tease Mark either, only talking to him about school-related stuff. It’s nice, but it also makes Donghyuck feel mildly uncomfortable, like they’re both trying to be someone they’re not.

 

“Maybe I should buy him Johnny-hyung’s goldfish as an apology gift,” Donghyuck muses as he slurps up the last bits of his iced treat, “Or maybe he’s secretly allergic to goldfish and he’ll go back to hating me again.” “I don’t think anyone’s allergic to goldfish,” Renjun says as Donghyuck tosses the lolly wrapper into a nearby trash can, “But you really should, you know- be friends with him.”

 

“I’ll try,” Donghyuck answers without thinking, stepping on fallen leaves with a satisfying crunch, “Sometime.”

 

------

 

But as fate has it, Donghyuck doesn’t even have to try.

 

Jin lets them do the red cabbage experiment in Chemistry, claiming that they needed to do something fun to relax for once. “You’ll have lemons, soda powder, vinegar, detergent and of course, red cabbage for this experiment- I’ll give you 30 minutes to prepare the juices and perform the experiment, and I expect all of you to produce pretty results!” Jin chirps cheerily as he hands out experiment observation sheets to each table.

 

“Do you guys mind going down to the biology lab and fetching, say, two more racks of test tubes?” Jin asks as he walks by Donghyuck’s table, “You can take the staff lift if you want.” “No problem, sir!” Mark agrees readily, but Yerim only prods Donghyuck’s elbow with a pink flamingo pen, ”Go with Mark, I’m tired.”

 

“Yerim-” Donghyuck’s legs are sore from running laps in P.E. (Coach Nakamoto makes sure all his students leave class drenched in sweat and exhausted to the bone), but his friend only tuts, ”We all had P.E, Hyuck, just go.”

 

“You don’t have Nakamoto, that guy’s a beast-” Donghyuck complains, pouting as Yerim winks at him, letting Mark Lee drag him away from the bench without a word. “It’s fine, we can take the lift,” Mark says as he drags Donghyuck by the elbow gently, “Here, after you.”

 

Donghyuck exits the lab with Mark Lee after him, feeling like he’s being escorted to somewhere important rather than just going downstairs to fetch test tubes. Their journey to the biology lab is mostly silent, with Donghyuck barely stifling a laugh as Mark accidentally kicks an umbrella stand.

 

Mark’s adorable, somehow effortlessly perfect at everything yet awkward upon closer scrutinization. He recovers from the incident with a sheepish grin, propping the stand upright briskly before ushering Donghyuck into the biology lab.

 

They find the test tubes quick enough, near the storage room on a cart. Grabbing a rack each, they’re about to return to the chemistry lab when they hear somebody enter. “Duck!” Mark hisses as he shoves Donghyuck behind a cupboard, folding himself next to him as they try to avoid detection by the unknown visitor.

 

“Why are we hiding?” Donghyuck whispers, craning his neck to look behind, but Mark just pulls him closer, glaring at him to Shut up! “Fine,” Donghyuck scowls back with equal fervour, but then the third person in the room speaks up.

 

“Jae, are you sure no one’s here?” Donghyuck’s eyes go wide as saucers as Doyoung asks, his voice softer than his usual drone. What was a history teacher doing to a biology lab? “Probably,” Another familiar voice, this one belonging to Jaehyun, answers. “Holy shit, what are they doing-” In shock, Donghyuck gasps before Mark clamps a firm hand over his mouth.

 

“Did you hear anything?” Doyoung asks as Donghyuck freezes, petrified. Breathe deeper, he remembers Mark saying, and he does, drawing out each breath and praying to every deity he knows that they won’t be found. Jaehyun doesn’t say anything, so Donghyuck assumes that he shakes his head as Doyoung sighs, ”Let’s just leave, it’s so musty in here.”

 

Donghyuck holds his breath until the heavy lab door slams shut once again, but Mark still doesn’t let go of his face. “Let go,” He hisses, but Mark doesn’t budge, mouthing wait until they hear faint footsteps retreating down the corridor.

 

Donghyuck’s suddenly very conscious of how Mark’s thighs are packed closely to his legs, leaving no space between them, their faces mere inches apart. Thankfully, Mark removes his hand, just in time to avoid feeling Donghyuck’s face heat up, the partial darkness of the lab hiding the blush that's spreading across his cheeks rapidly.

 

“What the hell was that?” Donghyuck splutters, inexplicably flustered, but all that comes out of Mark’s mouth is a bewildered laugh. “Are Doyoung and Jaehyun… looking for a place to fuck?” Donghyuck exclaims, but is quick to retract his words once he remembers it’s Mark he’s talking to.

 

“I meant uh, were Mr Kim and Mr Jung seeking shelter to, uh, mate?” “Oh my god, they’re fucking, ” Mark covers his eyes with both hands as Donghyuck gawks at him.

 

“Did you just say fuck?”

 

They stare at each other in stunned silence until Mark laughs. It’s a carefree, uncharacteristically loud sound that fills up the empty lab and Donghyuck’s lungs, his own giggles bubbling over as they roll around with laughter, clutching their stomachs like the dumb schoolboys they are.

 

“That was, something,” Mark wipes at the eyes as they finally calm down. Donghyuck clutches at his stomach, sore from chortling, ”I’m so glad I dropped biology, my innocence has been ruined forever.” “Same,” Mark’s grin is wide, and Donghyuck’s stomach somersaults at how he simply lights up. “Let’s get out.”

 

Donghyuck and Mark stumble outside, clutching the test tubes as they babble over the fleeting yet traumatizing incident. “This is probably the most I’ve heard you say,” Donghyuck tells Mark, breathless as they scuttle back to the lifts. “Really?” Mark’s thin lips twitching into a smile is probably one of the most breathtaking things Donghyuck’s ever seen.

 

“Affirmative response,” Donghyuck exhales as he presses the up button, “Not to be sappy but I like you more when you act natural.” “Yeah?” Mark’s answering smile is bashful- shy, even.

 

“Yeah,” Donghyuck repeats dumbly, tracing Mark’s handsome -he’s allowed to admit this now, right?- features with his eyes. “Quick, say something Mark Lee would say.” “Uh,” Mark’s gaze drops to Donghyuck’s ankles. “Your trousers are too short.”

 

“Mark, we’re changing into our winter uniform next week, it literally doesn’t matter,” Donghyuck pouts as they step into the lift,” Very Mark Lee, good try.” “Sure thing, bro,” Mark’s chuckle is slightly awkward, but Donghyuck can’t help but feel warm.

 

(They spend the rest of Chemistry mucking around- Mark dares him to eat the leftover lemon slices, and Donghyuck smacks him in wordless agony once the sourness hits. It's all worth it though, he has tears in his eyes as Mark withers from the acidity of the lemon, and Judge Yerim only laughs at their silliness, knowing glint in her eyes.)

 

----

 

“Can you ask Yerim whether she has any snacks?” Days later, Donghyuck nearly gets a heart attack when Mark whispers to him in English. “Mr Mark Lee, breaking school rules?” He wheezes dramatically, but Mark only shrugs, ”Your delinquent ways are rubbing off on me.”

 

“Ask her yourself, coward,” Donghyuck groans, doodling a snail on his grammar worksheet. “C’mon,” Mark makes a pained expression, “What are friends for?” Donghyuck’s heart thumps extra hard at the word friend, but he disguises it as irritation as he taps Yerim’s back, “Do you have snacks?”

 

“Is that all I am to you? Your snack plug?” Yerim sniffs jokingly as she tosses a pack of Oreos on Donghyuck’s desk- Miss Son is absent and a sub is supervising them, bored as he taps away on his phone in front of the classroom.

 

“Here,” Donghyuck slides the Oreos over to Mark, noting how his eyes seem to sparkle as he rips open the packaging sneakily, “Are you hungry?” Mark nods as he gobbles up the biscuits, covering his mouth as he chews, “Skipped lunch.”

 

Aghast, Donghyuck spends the remainder of the lesson lecturing Mark on the importance of eating regularly, dragging Renjun over to their seats once the recess bell rings. “Mark’s having lunch with us tomorrow,” Donghyuck announces as Mark’s eyes go round, ”No, it’s okay, I’m fine on my own, I don’t want to intrude-”

 

But then Renjun shakes his head, insistent, ”It’s fine, Donghyuck will make your lunch-” “Wait, I never promised that,” Donghyuck looks daggers at Renjun, but then Mark pipes up, ”It’s fine, Donghyuck doesn’t need to poison me.”

 

“Please do place some faith in my cooking skills, Mark Lee,” Losing to Renjun in their staring match, Donghyuck sighs. “So is that a yes?” Mark nods, and he feels satisfied somehow even though he’s newly saddled with the responsibility of making an extra lunch.

 

----

 

Lunch is often a simple affair- Donghyuck eats with Renjun, Jeno, Jaemin and Jaemin’s favourite sophomore Jisung. Jeno and Jaemin happen to have some lunch meeting for fencing club the next day, so it’s just Renjun, Jisung, Donghyuck and Mark at lunch.

 

“I really hope I’m not intruding,” Mark says once they gather around their usual lunch table, glancing at Jisung. “It’s fine,” Donghyuck reassures him, “Jisung doesn’t even know what intrude means.” “I do!” Jisung retorts as Renjun steals one of his Cheetos.

 

“It’s fine, we just eat and insult each other anyway,” Renjun says, munching noisily- It’s a wonder how Jisung hasn’t noticed Renjun’s thievery, distracted as he scrutinizes Mark’s face. “You look like Conan,” The younger decrees with a frown, “But less cool.”

 

“Jisung’s one to talk,” Donghyuck never misses out on a chance to tease his favourite underclassman, ”He’s in the chess club even though he doesn’t play chess.” “I’ll have you know that my participation brings my fellow club members much joy,” Jisung mutters indignantly as he opens his lunch box.

 

“What, the two other kids?” Donghyuck sniggers as Renjun sighs, ”Can we eat? We have a guest.” Oh right. “Sorry,” Donghyuck offers Mark a sheepish grin as he hands him a kimbap roll. “Don’t be, it was funny,” Mark shrugs, lips twitching as he thanks Donghyuck.

 

“It’s nothing fancy, just beef, egg and lettuce since I wasn’t sure what you liked,” Donghyuck rambles, watching Mark closely as he unwraps the roll, taking a large bite. “Oh, it’s really good,” Mark’s seagull brows go up as he munches, and Donghyuck beams, giddy somehow.

 

“Is it just me or is Donghyuckie acting rather bizarre today?” Jisung wonders as Donghyuck starts eating his own roll. He pelts a spare bit of aluminium foil at his friend as Renjun deadpans without looking up from his sandwich, “Sir, you are ten years old.”

 

Mark doesn’t speak much during lunch, but Donghyuck thinks he enjoys himself well enough, judging from the way he chews slowly, savouring every bite of his roll (that Donghyuck made!) and smiles quietly to himself.

 

“Is it any good? Like for real?” Donghyuck asks him privately as they walk back up to their classroom, and Mark’s answering grin is blinding, ”The best.”

 

----

 

Donghyuck hates their winter uniform. The navy blazer isn’t too bad, but he hates the easily wrinkled shirt and the tie that gets stuck in odd places, like the box of old books he’s holding.

 

“Renjun,” He calls, wincing as his tie seems to wrap even tighter around his neck, ”Can you help me pull out my tie?” An equally frazzled Renjun appears at the door, tone dry as he holds a box of old books of his own, ”Do I look like I have spare hands?”

 

“Fine,” Donghyuck sticks his tongue out as his friend as he waits for him to walk towards the storage room, near the back of the gym. Renjun’s out of breath by the time he trots past Donghyuck and the door swings shut behind them, ”I can’t believe Taeil wants us to die.”

 

“I agree,” Donghyuck shifts the heavy box -or rather, the crate- onto a shelf, yanking his tie free with some difficulty. Taeil, the school librarian, had asked them to carry some books to the storage rooms, apparently forgetting that the school hired janitors to carry out such tasks.

 

Dusting off the end of his tie, he waits for Renjun to put away his box on a stack of blue chairs, hopping off once his friend is done. “This room smells like dead moths and sweaty socks,” Renjun scrunches up his nose as he troops out of the room behind Donghyuck, who laughs, ”That’s oddly specific, but I-”

 

The auditorium lights are off but there are a few students milling around, which isn’t anything out of the ordinary, so Donghyuck flinches as Renjun grabs his elbow, tugging him backwards, ”What?”

 

Renjun shushes him, crouching behind one of those large jumping boxes near the storage room’s entrance and motioning for Donghyuck to follow. He gets an odd sense of deja vu from the biology lab incident as he squats next to Renjun, ”Why are we hiding?”

 

Renjun just shushes him again, and Donghyuck peers around the box to see Mark talking to someone else a few meters away. “It’s just Mark?” Donghyuck asks quizzically, “We’re friends now, we can just say hi and walk past.”

 

“It’s not about him, I just don’t want to talk to Lucas,” Donghyuck strains his ears to hear Renjun’s whisper. ”Who’s Lucas?” Renjun rolls his eyes, folding his legs closer to his chest instead of giving Donghyuck an answer.

 

Donghyuck ducks his head around the box, trying to get a better look at the duo. It’s pretty quiet since recess is ending, and he can catch bits of their conversation even from a distance, thanks to the echo in the gym.

 

“I can’t believe you dyed your hair blond,” Mark’s saying to the other person, beaming from ear to ear as he reaches to touch the person’s hair, ”It’s really- how do you say it again? Ho guai mk .”

 

“Yeah, I’ve been wanting to dye it since I came here,” The other person’s laugh is a low rumble,”I’m actually pretty surprised you still remember your Cantonese, bro.” The person turns sideways then, presumably to provide Mark with a better view of his hair, and Donghyuck recognises him- it’s the tall guy from the basketball team the other day, the one who talked to Renjun.

 

Mark says something in a foreign language, his tone sounding vaguely like Renjun’s when he speaks to his grandma on the phone. Donghyuck tugs on Renjun’s arm, ducking behind the box again, ”Are they speaking Chinese? Can you translate?”

 

“No,” Renjun looks weirdly upset somehow, brows knitted together, ”He’s from Hong Kong, he’s speaking Cantonese.” “Oh,” Donghyuck didn’t know Mark could speak Cantonese, “Isn’t that the same thing?”

 

“Of course not, you dummy,” Renjun frowns, rubbing the soles of his shoes together, ”The written forms of Mandarin and Cantonese are mostly the same, but the actual pronunciation of words can be drastically different.” Humming in understanding, Donghyuck turns towards the duo again. Mark has an arm slung casually around Lucas’ shoulders, practically skipping out of the gym as they chat non-stop in a mix of Cantonese and English.

 

A strange feeling unfurls in Donghyuck’s chest- Mark looked so much happier with Lucas, and he never acted like that around Donghyuck. Even though they had only been friends for weeks, it upset him somehow.

 

“They’re gone, let’s leave,” Donghyuck lets Renjun drag him to his feet, belatedly registering the peculiar sentiment as jealousy.

 

----

 

With the arrival of winter, Donghyuck finds himself swamped by a seemingly endless workload. He spends hours on end finishing his homework and preparing for tests, but finds himself faced with a fresh batch of work before he can relax.

 

Teachers have been harder on them too, setting up extra classes after school frequently. Mr Jung’s Math classes are useful, but Donghyuck can’t help but feel dead once he’s dismissed. “I’m so tired, I feel like I could sleep for 4 days straight,” He tells Mark as they pack up their stuff. “Tell me about it,” Mark laughs, dark circles lining his eyes, “Renjun’s lucky he gets to skip for a check-up at the doctor’s office.”

 

“He’s just going to pester the poor doctor about his growth plates or whatever,” Donghyuck grumbles as he zips up his schoolbag, ”Are you leaving? We could go together.” Mark blinks, surprised, but agrees to Donghyuck’s impromptu proposal, ”Sure, I don’t have practise anyway.”

 

They walk outside the classroom side by side, the soles of their sneakers hitting the stairs like the pleasant pitter-patter of raindrops. “Are you going straight home? I thought you’d have some kind of tuition or training to go to,” Donghyuck asks, toying with his wallet, ”I wasn’t expecting you to say yes, honestly.”

 

“Nah, I have bible study, wanna come with?” Donghyuck tenses up at Mark’s suggestion, racking his brain for a passable excuse until Mark cackles, nose wrinkling, ”I’m joking, I don’t have anything else planned today.”

 

“You’re so mean,” Donghyuck presses his hand to his heart- it’s beating extra fast for some reason, hopefully unrelated to how cute Mark looks when he laughs, ”You are now legally required to buy me bubble tea as an apology.”

 

“Is that a threat?” Mark raises his eyebrows, and Donghyuck pouts, blinking at him shamelessly until he gives in, ”Fine, you swindler.”

 

-----

 

Moments later, they’re standing outside Johnny’s Goldfish Store, gazing at the fish as they swim by as they sip on Tenren’s black sugar milk tea. “This is good,” Mark proclaims as he takes a long sip, chewing on the tapioca pearls. Donghyuck nods in agreement, placing a finger on the fish tank and laughing as the fish follow, trying to nip at it.

 

“Is this what you do after school?” Mark ponders as he bends down to look at some tiny grey shrimps. “Yeah, do you have a problem with it?” Donghyuck mock-glares at Mark before returning to his milk tea, wrapping his hands around the warm part of the drink.

 

“Never,” Mark hastens to reply, pouring some fish flakes into the tank, ”It’s fun, I admire your lifestyle.” “Lifestyle, what a fancy word,” Donghyuck snorts, ”And what about you? Do you drink red wine and play cards after school?”

 

“Not exactly,” Mark straightens slightly, watching the red goldfish that Donghyuck’s been playing with. “What a mysterious man you are, Mark Lee,” Donghyuck says without really thinking, moving on to a hermit crab with a flamboyant scarlet shell. “Mhmm,” Mark sounds distracted as he sips on his milk tea, and when Donghyuck turns around, his eyes are distant as he stares at the crab, his gaze almost forlorn.

 

“Hey, are you okay?” Donghyuck asks, touching Mark’s forearm tentatively, “Do you want to talk about whatever’s bothering you?” Mark shakes his head, patting his own cheek as he fixes his gaze on the crab, ”Maybe later.”

 

“Maybe later,” Donghyuck echoes dumbly, following Mark as he ventures into another section of the shop. Something was bothering Mark, and he wanted to help, no matter how long it would take for Mark to open up.

 

----

Mark ends up purchasing a medium-sized goldfish, admiring it in the dim street lights as they leave. “You know, I was joking when I said you should buy a goldfish to keep you company,” Donghyuck can’t help but grin as Mark smiles at his goldfish, talking to it in a hushed whisper.

 

“He’s cute,” Mark replies, holding the goldfish with both hands like it’s a precious treasure he found, ”I’m going to name him after EXO’s Xiumin.” “An Exo-l, wow,” Donghyuck notes with a smile, ”You’re really something else, huh.”

 

“Can I talk to you about something?” Mark says as they cross the road- They’re going in the direction of Donghyuck’s house, so Mark probably lives somewhere nearby, since he hasn’t said anything about it. His tone is serious all of a sudden, and Donghyuck glances at him, concerned, ”You don’t have to if you don’t feel comfortable, but I’ll listen.”

 

“It’s not something I tell people about,” Mark fidgets with the goldfish bag, frowning, ”But I think I owe you an explanation to, well, things.” “Then I’ll hear you out,” Donghyuck replies simply, pulling on the straps of his schoolbag, ”That’s what friends are for, right? You can tell me a story, or something about ‘a friend’. I don’t judge.”

 

“A story it is, then,” Mark smiles, eyes shining in the darkening sky.

 

There was a boy, Mark tells him. A boy who was good at everything, from academics to sports to music. Teachers and students loved him, charmed by his good manners and blinding achievements. ( Hard flex , Donghyuck thinks to himself, but nods for Mark to keep going.)

 

The boy was on the basketball team- he was their star player, which earned him some envious stares from the others. They weren’t particularly close, but they got along and won many championships.

 

One day, the boy had just finished showering after a long day of practise. When he came out, his teammates were huddled around something. “Hey, bro, want some of this stuff?” One of his teammates call, and the boy’s eyes widened at the stench of pot. He shook his head, laughed awkwardly and left, but not before he advised his teammates to stop.

 

“We have a game next week, should you guys really be doing that?” His suggestion was met by a couple of rolled eyes and boos, but he didn’t care about that. He just wanted his team to be healthy and in their best condition for the game, but his teammates only jeered and called him a pussy.

 

Much to the boy’s distress, the situation worsened. Every day, when he went back to the locker room, he was hit by the smell of drugs. No one outside their team ever found out, since school staff rarely went to that part of the campus and the ventilation fans were powerful enough to remove all traces of drugs in time, so the cleaning ladies remained oblivious.

 

The boy panicked- not for himself, but for his team. He told the coach, who pulled the team out of the state championship. The boys were to be expelled by the end of the school term, and they weren’t happy about it.

 

They hurt him- with their fists, of course, beating him up in dark corners of the school until he couldn’t even breathe. With their words, too- betrayer, rat . Within a week, the boy had gone from being the pride of the school to nobody, someone who slinked along the walls and wished to be invisible.

 

“My name is Lee Minhyung,” Mark’s eyes are glassy when he looks at Donghyuck, “As you probably know.”

 

“Oh, Mark,” Donghyuck can’t even bear to imagine the pain Mark -or Minhyung- had been through,”I’m so sorry, holy shit-” “Don’t be, it wasn’t your fault,” Mark just wraps his hands around his goldfish, “The next year, I went to Hong Kong, so by the time I came back, no one would remember Lee Minhyung.”

 

“Why didn’t you switch schools? Wouldn’t it be easier for you?” Donghyuck asks heart aching as he looks at Mark’s face- shattered, defeated, but still proud. “I wanted to,” Mark confesses, biting on his bottom lip,”But my cousin, Taeyong, convinced me to stay- stand up where I fell down, show those bullies they didn’t win. And at least they wouldn’t dare show their faces around, which was a bonus.”

 

“Taeyong’s your cousin?” Donghyuck’s insensitive big mouth blurts, and Mark nods, eyes downcast, ”I couldn’t live with myself, hiding my identity from everyone else, so I thought telling you could help, in a sense.”

 

It breaks Donghyuck’s heart, to see Mark- someone so golden, so lovely, so perfect- to think so low of himself. “Mark, Mark, Minhyung, hey,” Donghyuck stops walking, meeting Mark’s eyes, ”There’s nothing wrong with following rules, okay?”

 

“You did what you had to do, not just for your team, but also for your teammates.” Donghyuck swallows, placing his hands on Mark’s shoulders,”You did the right thing, and your scumbag teammates should be the ones feeling sorry, for fuck’s sake. I’m so proud of you for being a responsible person who has a pure heart and is strong enough to try again, you understand?”

 

Mark nods, slowly, and Donghyuck wraps his arms around him slowly, careful not to squash Xiumin the Goldfish. Mark stiffens under his touch, but it’s a start. They stay like that for a moment, not talking or moving, just breathing and reminding each other how it feels to be alive.

 

“And if I ever see any of your dirt bullies I will throttle them with my bare hands-” “I’m so glad I found you, Hyuck,” Mark says, soft as the autumn breeze, and Donghyuck squeezes a little tighter.

 

Mark lets Donghyuck hold his hand as they walk back to his house, his eyes sparkling like the stars twinkling down at them.

 

-----

 

Something starts to change in Donghyuck’s and Mark’s dynamic, and Donghyuck’s not sure if it’s a good thing or not.

 

He makes the mistake of drinking too much water during History, ending with a full bladder which he complains about to Mark non-stop during the last 5 minutes of class. The other is weirdly smiley, lips curling affectionately, obviously relishing in Donghyuck’s suffering.

 

Donghyuck’s out of his seat once Doyoung dismisses them, running towards the toilet like his life depended on it. (It does, kind of. Him peeing in the classroom would probably make the yearbook, and that wasn’t something he wanted to be remembered for.)

 

He handles his business briskly, strolling back to the classroom leisurely as he lets out a long exhale of relief. Heading back to his seat, he thinks of what to do next- bother Mark, bother Renjun or sleep?

 

“Donghyuck, this way!” But before he can make it back to his seat, Chaeyeon calls his name. She’s their class monitress who’s helpful and friendly to everyone, so he changes direction and heads to where she’s standing, near the teacher’s desk.

 

“What’s up?” Donghyuck asks as he approaches Chaeyeon and her friends, Hyewon and Heejin. Chaeyeon and Hyewon look excited, bouncing on the balls of their feet, while Heejin appears faintly unimpressed.

 

“Don’t go over there yet,” Hyewon whispers to Donghyuck, grinning, “Goeun’s talking to Mark, they’re so cute!” Donghyuck looks in the direction she’s pointing at, where Goeun’s sitting next to Mark in his seat, pouring over their notes. It’s a pretty sight, Goeun’s long hair cascading over her textbook as she gazes at Mark under fluttering eyelashes, Mark looking gorgeous as he explains his notes to her, lips curving and eyes twinkling warmly as they chat.

 

“Oh,” Donghyuck’s stomach feels heavy for some reason. “I ship them SO hard,” Chaeyeon gushes, arms jiggling as she does a little dance. “They’re just talking,” Heejin shrugs, but she, too, smiles at the pair as they giggle quietly.

 

It suddenly feels incredibly stuffy in the classroom, his throat closing up whenever his gaze lands on the duo. Donghyuck bids the girls farewell, leaving for some fresh air. “Hey, Donghyuck,” (Han) Jisung and Seungmin call near the door, and Donghyuck veers towards them instead. “We should start planning for the interclass singing competition at the end of the year!”

 

“That’s… early,” Donghyuck chuckles, thankful for the distraction, “But sure! What genre are we doing this year?” They start discussing the song choice eagerly, and Donghyuck doesn’t return to his seat until the bell rings.

 

(“What do you think of Goeun?” Donghyuck asks Mark during Korean as his seatmate taps on his desk in an upbeat rhythm.

 

The tapping stops.

 

“She’s nice,” Mark shrugs, resuming his melody as Donghyuck squints at him, “Do you like her?” Mark opens his mouth, but he beats him to it, “In a romantic sense.”

 

“Oh- uh-” A pink blush dusts Mark’s cheeks, and Donghyuck’s stomach is swamped with butterflies. “She’s not my type,” Mark concludes, the beat under his hands taking on a faster tempo.

 

“Cool beans,” Donghyuck mumbles, focusing on his work again and feeling relieved, even though Mark’s apparently non-existent love life isn’t any of his business.)

 

----

 

Mark’s hard to figure out sometimes- affectionate at one moment and pushing Donghyuck away another. Miss Son shows them this Charlie Chaplin short film in class, instructing them to fill up a worksheet based on the information in the video. Donghyuck forgets to bring his, naturally, and Mark pushes his worksheet to the middle of their desks so they can share.

 

Donghyuck’s had a big lunch, and he’s been feeling sick recently, which doesn’t couple well with the fact that he’s seen the short film millions of times with his younger siblings. Halfway through the video, he starts nodding off. He descends into a peaceful slumber soon, leaning on something- he isn’t sure what it is, but it’s comfier than his hard wooden desk, so he just closes his eyes and snuggles closer.

 

“Hey,” Minhyuk wakes him up rather rudely with a sharp prod on the shoulder, “Can you move? I get you’re being gay and cuddly or whatever, but some people are trying to see.” Donghyuck rubs at his eyes blearily, sitting upright with his eyes still half-closed, ”What?”

 

His voice feels like glue, and his forehead feels freakishly hot when he touches it. It feels like he’s still dreaming when Minhyuk pats Mark on the back, laughing as his seatmate turns red.

 

“Mark here sure was enjoying himself though,” Minhyuk sniggers, while Sanha winks at Donghyuck suggestively, “Thanks, I can see now- you guys may resume whatever you were up to just then, without obstructing my vision.”

 

“What,” Donghyuck repeats drowsily to Mark, whose face is red as a tomato. He doesn’t say anything, just pats down Donghyuck’s dishevelled hair and instructs him to lie back down, folding his blazer into a neat square for Donghyuck to lie on.

 

He drifts off again, drooling blissfully on Mark’s blazer, which is a step-up from the desk but feels less comfortable than whatever he had been sleeping on previously.

 

-----

 

Donghyuck falls ill the other day, burning up with a fever. His mother calls in sick for him, preparing porridge for him before she heads to work so he has something to eat when he wakes up. Free to sleep like the dead, he drifts in and out of consciousness until his alarm clock wakes him at 11 am.

 

Groaning, Donghyuck crawls out of bed unwillingly, nearly tripping over his own feet as he stumbles to the kitchen to take his medicine. Spooning porridge into his mouth takes a considerable amount of effort, and he takes another nap on the sofa afterwards.

 

When Donghyuck wakes up again, it’s already 4 pm, and he feels much better after sleeping and taking his medicine. He heads to the kitchen to take it again, downing a whole glass of water to quench his thirst.

 

He doesn’t have much work to do, since the weekend’s just around the corner, so he settles on the sofa again, flicking through TV channels idly while he waits for his family members to return. The doorbell rings soon afterwards, and Donghyuck paddles to the door eagerly- Were his siblings back home already?

 

“Hi,” Mark Lee’s megawatt smile greets him, and Donghyuck lets out a soundless shriek, letting the door slam close with a loud Bang!. He was in no presentable state- hair uncombed, wearing his oldest Donald Duck pyjamas.

 

But why do I care? Donghyuck asks himself, It’s just Mark Lee. Still, it takes him a few deep breaths (or wheezes) until he gathers the courage to open the door again. “Sorry,” He croaks, hoping that he doesn’t look as terrible as he feels. Mark’s still there, looking amused as he glances at Donghyuck’s pyjamas. “I was just surprised, come in?”

 

“Sure,” Mark Lee takes off his shoes at the door carefully, lining them neatly next to the door, “I just wanted to bring you your homework and see how you were doing.” “You’ve come at the right time,” Donghyuck jokes, shuffling in his fluffy B.Duck slippers, “I just woke up.”

 

“Do you feel any better?” Mark asks as Donghyuck leads him to the living room, “You seemed pretty out of it yesterday- here.” He hands Donghyuck his homework, which he discards on the coffee table casually. Mark appears out of place in his house, looking sharp in his tidy uniform while Donghyuck’s a mess in his pyjamas.

 

“Thanks, but I’m just gonna pretend I lost my homework,” Donghyuck says as Mark glances at him, eyes wide. “Even thinking makes my head hurt, but thanks anyway- uh, you can sit here, I was building a blanket nest earlier.” He pulls away his blankets to expose a part of the sofa so Mark can sit.

 

“Oh,” Mark sits down on the sofa nervously, staring at the family pictures stuck under the TV. He’s not wearing his glasses today, and it’s adorable the way he squints to look at the photos. “Here,” Donghyuck sits on the floor, gesturing for Mark to do the same, “These are really old, but I was a cute kid.”

 

“Is this you?” Mark points at a picture of Donghyuck in elementary school, back when he still had round cheeks and curly hair. “Yeah,” Donghyuck peels the picture from the wall carefully so Mark can see better- it might be a product of his fever, but he thinks he hears Mark coo quietly.

 

“You were so cute,” Mark grins at the photo fondly, like he’s trying to commit it to memory, “What happened?” “Hey!” Donghyuck hits him with a stray cushion from the sofa, “You come into my house and insult me ? Mark Lee, truly a changed man.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Mark laughs, fending off Donghyuck’s weak attack easily and squinting at another picture, “Are these your siblings?” “Yep, they’re twins,” Donghyuck points at his pink-cheeked siblings in the photo taken on his last birthday, “Tiny devils, the two of them- be glad they’re at karate, or they would be pestering you non-stop.”

 

“Cute,” Mark repeats as he peers at the photo, a sentiment Donghyuck relates to occasionally, when Eunkyung and Eunjae aren’t busy wreaking havoc. “Wow, the compliments just keep coming, huh?” Donghyuck teases, laughing as the tips of Mark’s ears turn pink, “Did you really miss me that much?”

 

“Yeah, school was boring without you,” The way Mark says it, matter-of-factly, has Donghyuck turning scarlet instead.

 

(Donghyuck’s surprised by how the house seems empty when Mark leaves- again, he blames it on the fever.)

 

-----

 

Donghyuck’s fever persists for another three days, and by the time he returns to school, he’s leagues behind.

 

“By reflecting the function along the x-axis, we add a negative sign to the whole function, y= -f(x),” Jaehyun says, drawing a parabola on the blackboard as Donghyuck stares at his textbook in a daze. They were still on trigonometric identities last week, and now, he suddenly regrets not doing the work Mark brought to his house.

 

Next to him, Mark seems lost as well as he jots down notes, brows knitted in concentration. “How does this bit work- Oh, sorry,” Donghyuck pokes him in the arm to catch his attention, accidentally jostling his arm and earning a sharp glare from his seatmate.

 

“Watch it, I’m busy,” Mark retorts roughly, and Donghyuck frowns, suddenly irritated. Was Mark going through puberty? It was just an accident.

 

“Sorry I’m not Goeun, I guess,” Donghyuck snaps back as he shifts his notes away, asking Yerim for help instead. “Hyuck-” Mark seems to regret his words, but Donghyuck manages to ignore him for the remainder of class.

 

Once the bell rings, Donghyuck gets out of his seat, not wanting to talk to Mark- maybe Renjun would understand his frustration- but Mark grabs his arm before he can leave, “Hey, Hyuck-” His tone is imploring, and Donghyuck’s never been good at refusing him anyway, so he sits back down.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you like that,” Mark’s eyes droop with guilt, looking anywhere but at Donghyuck, “I’m just busy, you know, with the match and stuff and I just took it out on you without saying.” It’s kind of pathetic, how quickly Donghyuck softens, waving a hand airily.

 

“It’s fine, I get it,” Donghyuck shrugs, noting the way Mark relaxes instantly, shoulders losing their tension and jaw unclenching, “Renjun acts like this during exam period too, so it’s nothing new.” “Yeah, but I still feel bad,” Mark whines, and Donghyuck is suddenly seized with an urge to pinch his cheeks.

 

What the fuck.

 

“It’s okay,” Donghyuck settles for a quick pat on Mark’s arm instead, “I know you’ve been stressed with school and basketball lately, right?” “Please don’t mention basketball,” Mark groans, flopping his head on his desk like a toddler throwing a tantrum, “Practise has been literal hell .”

 

Cute. Donghyuck laughs before frowning at the intrusive thought. To his relief, Mark doesn’t seem to notice, withering on the desk until he cracks an eye open to look at Donghyuck, ”Are you coming to our friendly match next week?”

 

Donghyuck’s seen posters advertising the event, a match against the Snakes from a neighbourhood school, but he hasn’t considered going, not until Mark pouts, ”You should come to watch me play, it’s going to be fun.”

 

“I don’t know, I’ve never seen a basketball match in my life,” Donghyuck frowns as Mark sulks, tugging on his sleeve. “C’mon, I’ll buy you dinner afterwards,” Mark makes an appealing offer, bribing Donghyuck with the promise of food.

 

“Fine,” Donghyuck finally agrees, ignoring the way his stomach somersaults as Mark beams, eyes bright, “Won’t you have an after-party though? Isn’t that how basketball matches go in movies?”

 

“We were planning to have one,” Mark shrugs, faintly green in the face, “But he has a hot date, so we rescheduled.” “Jaehyun?” Donghyuck asks, his own face paling. “And Doyoung, I assume,” Mark nods grimly. “Woah,” Donghyuck slams his hands over his ears, “I didn't need that image in my head, but thanks.”

 

“Same,” Mark laughs softly, ”So it’s a date, then?” “A date, yes,” He perspires visibly, but Mark doesn’t notice, eyes smiling, as Donghyuck’s stomach drops.

 

Oh.

 

-----

 

“Renjun,” Donghyuck says to his friend as they clamber down the stairs to get lunch with their usual group- Mark isn’t joining, busy with basketball practise. “What, so you still remember me?” Renjun presses a hand to his chest, “I thought Mark had replaced me as your new best friend.”

 

“C’mon,” Donghyuck pleads as Renjun sniggers, “I’d never trade you for Mark- I’d consider for a bag of corn chips though-” “It’s okay, Hyuck,” Renjun grabs his hand in a tight handshake, “I understand, go get that dick, God knows you need it.”

 

“And I’m going to pretend you didn’t say anything,” Donghyuck declares, his face heating up rapidly, “Can you go to the basketball match with me next week? Please?” “Lee Donghyuck, going to a sports event?” Renjun nearly stumbles, “Is this real life?”

 

“Don’t tease,” Donghyuck pouts, steadying Renjun with an arm, “Mark asked, and I’d feel bad about not going, so-” “So it’s all for your man, huh?” Renjun smirks as they sit down at their table, “Fascinating.”

 

“Are you going or not?” Donghyuck mock-glares at his friend, “I’ll ask Jisung next if you’re just going to be so difficult.” “Stooping to Jisung, truly a desperate man,” Renjun tuts, “But fine, let’s go together.”

 

“Really?” Donghyuck blinks in surprise as Renjun nods,”I was planning on going anyway, so it’s all good.” “Oh, right, Lucas,” A wide smirk spreads across Donghyuck’s face as his friend’s eyes go wide, suddenly flustered.

 

Jisung, Jaemin and Jeno arrive to see them engaged in an animated argument, both of their faces red as they tease each other mercilessly.

 

-----

 

The day of the game is a rainy day. Raindrops patter against the window listlessly, a lilting rhythm that makes double math even harder to get through without falling asleep. Donghyuck peers at Mark anxiously: was rain a bad omen for athletes or something?

Mark’s wearing his contacts again, big eyes blinking attentively as Jaehyun explains the answers of their last test. His laugh sends a weird sizzle down Donghyuck’s veins when he asks Mark about athlete superstitions. “I don’t think there’s anything like that,” Mark seems excited more than anything, spinning a pen around his mouth with ease- of course, he’s good at that too.

 

“Our game is held indoors anyway, so it doesn’t matter,” Mark’s gaze when he looks at Donghyuck is different somehow, more intense than usual, like he’s scanning his face for a sign, something. It makes Donghyuck nervous, but giddy for some reason. “You’ll be there right?” Mark asks him, softly, like he’s worried about Donghyuck disappearing into thin air all of a sudden, “We still on for dinner afterwards?”

 

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Donghyuck’s chest is warm as he pinches both of Mark’s earlobes fondly, “You’ll do well, I just know it.” The answering grin on Mark’s face is brighter than everything he’s ever seen, and he lets Donghyuck pinch his ears for a few more seconds until he starts struggling in Donghyuck’s tight grasp.

 

“No, come back here,” Donghyuck whines as Mark successfully escapes, but Mark only shushes him with a grin as Jaehyun starts handing out their test papers. He gets the highest score in class, as expected, and Donghyuck definitely hears more than a few bashful giggles as Mark jumps when his name is called.

 

He looks back at his own paper- 18/35, a whole sixteen marks lower than Mark’s test. But it’s all good, Donghyuck thinks, a smile finding its way onto his own face as Mark’s ears turn red from Jaehyun’s praise.

 

-----

 

The whole class is buzzing with excitement once the last school bell rings. Kun leads them in a loud cheer for the basketball team members as they dash out of the classroom, waving to the rest of their classmates.

 

Most of their classmates are going to the game, Donghyuck observes as he packs up his things, spotting a few glittery signs here and there. He’s about to join Renjun and Yerim near the door, when Doyoung strides in.

 

“Alright, alright,” Doyoung’s dressed nicely in a maroon leather jacket, presumably for his hot date with Jaehyun after the game,”Clear out, class, I booked this classroom.” Doyoung might look like a harmless bunny, but he’s… something else when he gets mad. Donghyuck quickens up his pace, slinging his bag across his shoulders and pushing in his chair as most of his classmates hurry outside.

 

“Not you, Lee Donghyuck, stay back,” Doyoung says, holding out a test. “Me?” Donghyuck points at himself incredulously as the last few stragglers file out. “Yeah, you,” Doyoung sighs, like he was expecting Donghyuck’s reaction all along, “The test the day you called in sick, remember? You agreed to do it after school today.”

 

Hyewon shuts the door behind her, and Donghyuck feels the classroom walls closing in on him. The worst thing is that he actually remembers promising Doyoung, a vague, drowsy memory that floats to mind at the last possible moment.

 

“Sir,” Donghyuck pulls out his smarmiest smile, oozing cuteness and brazenness, “Can I please do it another day? I really wanna go-” “No,” Doyoung’s voice holds a note of finality, “If we begin now, you might arrive during halftime.” “But sir-”

 

“Donghyuck, sit down,” Doyoung sounds no less weary as Donghyuck sits, begrudgingly. “Your grades have to be submitted tomorrow, so let’s just get this over with.” The test isn’t too hard, but Donghyuck hasn’t studied one bit, so he spends half of the test reaching into his astral plane for something, anything.

 

The test lasts 40 minutes, and Donghyuck’s out of his seat once the timer rings. “Enjoy yourself, Donghyuck,” Doyoung smiles faintly at him, and he winks back cheekily, ”Enjoy your date, Mr Kim.” He’s out of the classroom in a flash, Doyoung’s weak threats of deducting marks from his test fading into the wind as he races down the stairs, heart thumping wildly against his chest.

 

----

 

Donghyuck doesn’t really know what to expect as he slips into the gym. The game’s not over, thankfully, but they’re having a break of sorts, scoreboard frozen at 59-43. They’re leading, and he relaxes into a grin as he gazes at the bleachers, searching for his friends. He spots Jungwoo first, seated in the row marked ALUMNI next to a black-haired boy who looks vaguely familiar.

 

“Hey, hyung,” Donghyuck greets his favourite upperclassman with a smile, giggling as Jungwoo draws him into a hug. “You’re so late, the last quarter’s about to start anytime.” Donghyuck makes a face, still wrapped up in Jungwoo’s arms, ”Doyoung wouldn’t let me leave.”

 

“That’s typical Doyoung,” The other guy laughs, eyes crinkling into crescents as he sticks out a hand for Donghyuck to shake, “I’m Ten, alumni, Mark’s cousin, whatever.” “Wha- Are you Taeyong’s brother?” Donghyuck shakes Ten’s hand cautiously, searching the man’s face for any resemblances- they both have big eyes, and their noses look kinda alike, but the similarities end there.

 

“Taeyong?” Ten bursts into laughter, and Jungwoo gives Donghyuck a sympathetic pat on the head as he fumbles for a response. “No, my mum is his dad’s younger sister- I love Tae, but I can barely survive as his cousin.” “Oh, cool-” Donghyuck comments, belatedly realising that he hasn’t introduced himself yet, ”I’m Donghyuck, Jungwoo’s friend, and Mark’s too, I suppose.”

 

“I know, Mark never shuts up about you,” Ten winks at him suggestively, and Donghyuck’s eyes widen, his face burning up for no reason, ”I- I need to find my friends.” Jungwoo and Ten burst into boisterous laughs as Donghyuck wishes for the ground to swallow him, whole.

 

“Oh, I like this one,” Ten smirks, ruffling Donghyuck’s hair gently- he decides he likes Ten too. “I think I saw Renjun around there?” Jungwoo supplies helpfully, pointing at the other side of the gym. “Let’s talk more after the game!” Ten calls as Donghyuck mutters a quick thank you and hurries towards Renjun’s direction.

 

Donghyuck spots his friends crowded near the top- Jeno, Jaemin, Renjun, Jisung, Yerim and one of her friends, Mina from 3C. “Hey,” He greets casually, squeezing in between Renjun and Jisung. “Where did you go?” Renjun asks as Jisung grunts in annoyance, making space for Donghyuck. “Mark was looking for you.”

 

Donghyuck’s heart skips a beat, ”Really?” “Yeah, dummy- see, he’s searching for you in the crowds again,” Jisung pulls his arm up, “ Wave! ” Mark looks good in his orange jersey, water bottle in hand as he pushes back his hair- the perfect picture of a teenage girl’s high school crush. He lights up as Donghyuck waves weakly at him, waving back with a grin stretched wide on his face.

 

There’s squealing, not only from the girls from their school but also some from the rival school- their dark blue uniforms stick out in the sea of reds and oranges. Jaehyun cheers along jokingly on the sides, mid-conversation with Hyunjin. “How’s the game going?” Donghyuck asks Jisung as the referee blows the whistle, signalling the start of the last quarter as players return to their positions.

 

“Nothing much, WVS is pretty good but we’re doing better,” Jisung says as he spots a MARK LEE sign on the other side of the court- he takes a picture of it to tease Mark with later. The rival team’s coach seems close with Jaehyun, the two engaged in close conversation as the other team’s players huddle together. Their navy uniforms look pretty good, but they’ve got some weird names- Donghyuck hasn’t met a Yangyang or a Hendrey in his life before.

 

“How much time do they have until the end of the game?” He asks as the game resumes, Lucas dribbling in front of this guy with a huge head. “Already thinking of leaving?” Renjun teases as Donghyuck shrugs, “Would be more exciting if I knew what was going on.”

 

Jisung launches into a speech on basketball rules, Donghyuck nodding along absently as the players move back and forth on the court. “I didn’t know you knew so much about basketball,” He claps his junior on the back, but Renjun’s quick to spoil the mood.

 

“He just googled that because he thinks #14’s cute,” Renjun smirks as Jisung reaches across Donghyuck to smack him. “Changbin?” Donghyuck squints at the players, “I mean, he’s pretty cool and all, but isn’t he too old for you?”

 

“He likes #14 on the other game, dummy- the Chenle guy,” Renjun explains, dodging Jisung’s attacks with little difficulty. “Chon- what?” Donghyuck mumbles, confused, but his questions are drowned in cheers as Lucas scores.

 

It’s exciting how the crowd leaps to their feet, whooping and whistling, so Donghyuck gives up on the technicalities and decides to cheer along with everyone instead.

 

Mark seems pretty active, dribbling and calling out to his teammates here and there. Donghyuck can’t help but feel proud of him, even when he fails to block this Xiaojun guy’s shoot. He nearly loses his voice shouting when Mark scores a three-pointer, causing the gym to erupt in hollers.

.

Mark’s shining on the court, dripping confidence with every move, and Donghyuck can’t take his eyes off him. He does a stupid handshake with Lucas every time one of them shoots, and Donghyuck wishes he had brought his camera to capture the look of utter elation on Mark’s face.

 

There’s 8 seconds left on the timer when Hyunjin shoots, bringing the score to 64 to 57. The tension in the gym is brought to its height, cheers quickly hushed up as the game is resumed. Donghyuck feels like he’s about to stop breathing every moment as Mark jumps, blocking Yangyang’s attempt to shoot.

 

Five seconds left.

 

He feels the determination burning in Mark before he sees his eyes, dark as he dribbles past their rival team, passes to Changbin cleanly, bypasses two guards, catches the ball again, and shoots another three-pointer, dunking the ball neatly into the net.

 

The referee blows his whistle, and the gym explodes in cheers. Donghyuck blinks as he claps, still shocked by how Mark moved like lightning, no hesitation found in his quick steps. Mark’s hoisted onto the team’s shoulders as they parade around the court, and it’s the best thing Donghyuck’s seen- Mark receiving the love he deserves.

 

The cheers don’t stop until the coaches take the mic, the players lining the sides of the court as the audience calms down gradually. “The game went great today, and we sincerely thank the players for giving their 100 percent and the audience for cheering so loudly,” Jaehyun dimples from the stage, passing the mic to the other coach.

 

“I’m Coach Dong Sicheng from WVS, and I’m proud of all the players who have tried their best today,” Coach Dong laughs as he grins at his team, “Let’s play another game in the future!” He’s cute, in an endearing older brother sort of way, and Donghyuck’s surprised that his spirits are still high.

 

He’s still not the biggest basketball fan, but it’s pretty cool, how the teams shake hands and bow at the audience to thank them when the game ends officially. The teams gather on the stage to take pictures as the audience file out of the entrance, all wide grins and affectionate hugs.

 

“Are you guys leaving?” Jisung asks, and Donghyuck shakes his head, ”I’m waiting for Mark.” Renjun waggles his eyebrows before pulling him into a hug, ”Have fun, Hyuckie, I’ll fight Mark if he’s mean to you.” “You’re the only one that’s mean to me,” Donghyuck laughs, waving at the rest of his friends as they leave.

 

“Jisung, why aren’t you leaving?” Donghyuck finds himself alone with Jisung, who turns pink,” I, uh-” Oh , Donghyuck raises his eyebrows as his friend gestures at the WVS team.

 

“Go talk to him if you want, I’ll just talk to Jungwoo,” Donghyuck pushes Jisung towards the players, smiling fondly as he stumbles towards #14, the Big Headed Boy, like a lost puppy. There’s still a fair number of students milling around on the court, asking for autographs and pictures with the players.

 

Interesting. Donghyuck snorts as he makes his way to Jungwoo and Ten. He’d probably make a fortune selling Mark Lee’s homework.

 

“Hyuckie!” Ten’s grin is sunny as Donghyuck draws close, “Did you enjoy the game?” It was okay,” Donghyuck shrugs as Jungwoo wraps an arm around him affectionately, “Not really into basketball, but Mark was good.”

 

“He was,” Ten’s eyes glint under the gym lights, almost like a cat, “Mark really likes you, he thinks you’re-” “Yeah, he’s pretty popular in class,” Donghyuck interrupts, feeling his ears turn red. There’s a line forming where Mark and Lucas are standing, and someone actually asks them to sign a uniform, much to their amusement.

 

“Not in that way,” Ten winks, and Donghyuck feels like melting into Jungwoo’s arms. “But thank you, Donghyuck, really,” Ten squeezes his hands, tone genuine as Donghyuck fumbles for a response. “He’s been so much happier after he became friends with you, I don’t think he’s ever been so- so carefree ever since he entered high school.”

 

“It’s nothing,” Donghyuck says easily, burdened by Ten’s heavy gaze, “Mark’s a good friend too.” Jungwoo laughs, ruffling Donghyuck’s hair, and they fall into comfortable chatter until Ten announces that he has to leave.

 

“Have fun, kiddo,” Ten’s hug is comfortable even though they’ve only met once, and Donghyuck feels weirdly jealous of Mark for having such a cool cousin. He sits down on the floor, alone. There’s still a few people waiting for Mark’s hi-touch/ signature/ photo op, and Jisung’s disappeared someone, probably with Chenle somewhere.

 

It gets a little boring, especially when he sees Jaehyun and Doyoung slip outside together, leaving Coach Nakamoto to lock up. But Mark’s grinning so splendidly when he greets each student, radiating happiness as he glances at Donghyuck, mouthing two more minutes .

 

If Mark’s happy, then Donghyuck is too.

 

-----

 

It takes exactly 22 minutes and 4 seconds (not that Donghyuck’s counting) for Mark to emerge from the changing room, freshly showered and in casual wear. “Sorry,” Mark mutters sheepishly as he pushes up his glasses. He looks good, dressed simply in a black jacket, jeans and a white t-shirt, but that doesn’t stop Donghyuck from faking a frown.

 

“Fifty years have passed since I started waiting, but legend Mark Lee was simply too busy entertaining his followers to-” Donghyuck laments, pretending to cry as Mark rolls his eyes, falling into step with him, “I tried to leave earlier, but this girl insisted that she needed me to sign her planner for some reason, and-”

 

“Ah, fame,” Donghyuck stifles a giggle as Mark pouts, “It’s fine, I accept apologies in free meals.” “Really?” It’s ridiculous, how Mark perks up at his suggestion like a puppy.

 

“Y-yeah,” Equally ridiculous, how Donghyuck’s heart beats erratically as Mark rakes a hand through his hair, “Where are we eating, Mr Celebrity?” They bicker over meal choices on the rest of the way, Donghyuck suggesting various fried chicken places but Mark vetoes them all, insisting that he hadn’t completely recovered from his cold yet.

 

They end up at this Japanese restaurant eventually- “I’m not paying if you order fried food, though” Mark lectures like he’s Donghyuck’s mum or his doctor. It’s a nice place , Donghyuck thinks as he admires the elegant Japanese sculptures lining the restaurant. The dark lighting and quiet music really set a classy tone for the restaurant, such that he feels just slightly out of place in his grubby school uniform.

 

“Did you have fun?” But Mark still looks at Donghyuck with wide eyes, like he’s the only person whose opinion matters. It makes his stomach feel funny, but it’s a pleasant feeling, like the thrill before a roller coaster starts moving.

 

“It was cool, you were the best out there,” Mark beams with pride, and Donghyuck suddenly gets an urge to hide behind the menu. “I got a bit worried when you didn’t show up, but I’m glad you made it,” Mark says shyly, the tips of his ears turning pink.

 

“And miss the chance to see my favourite basketball player? Never.” Donghyuck blabbers without a thought, waving a waiter over to take their orders. “I’m your favourite player?” Mark’s voice is breathless, like he’s just been sucker-punched in the lungs.

 

“Mark, you’re the only basketball player I know,” Masking his nervousness with a grin, Donghyuck busies himself with ordering, trying very hard to ignore Mark’s intense gaze on his face, like a pair of lasers.

 

“Anything else?” The waiter has a lopsided grin that makes Donghyuck slightly concerned as he shakes his head, ”No, thank you.” “Very well, sirs,” The waiter collects their menus with gloved hands, ”Enjoy your date!”

 

Date?

 

Mark chokes, spitting out his spirite back into the glass, ears full scarlet. Donghyuck can’t see his own face, but from the way he can’t seem to breathe and his flaming cheeks, he probably doesn’t look the best right now.

 

“This is a date?” Donghyuck mumbles wisely as Mark dabs hastily at his face with a napkin. He’s never seemed so rattled before, eyes hazy as he looks up at Donghyuck, ”I don’t know, do you want it to be one?”

 

Date?

 

Donghyuck’s normal, human brain stops functioning completely, and before he manages to clamp a hand in front of his mouth, his single-digit IQ monkey brain takes over, ”Yeah.”

 

It’s a rather shocking exchange of words, both of them freezing as the impact of their words hit. “Sorry,” Mark’s whole face is red now, a fact which would delight Donghyuck if his own face wasn’t burning crimson.

 

“It’s okay,” Donghyuck stutters, feeling like he’s about to spontaneously combust. Okay, maybe he has a tiny, tiny crush on Mark Lee, which makes him want this to be a date.

 

“Really?” Mark blinks, and there are multiple galaxies in his bright, bright eyes, shining even in the dull lighting.

 

Whatever, Lee Donghyuck has a colossal crush on Mark fucking Lee and he really wants this to be a date instead of a friendly dinner. “I-”

 

“Sushi platter for table two-” The waiter sets down a plate heaped with multi-coloured pieces of sushi. His soul momentarily exiting his body, Donghyuck remains immobile until Mark dismisses the waiter with a stiff nod.

 

“Really?” Mark repeats, sounding so pure that Donghyuck vows to die for this boy, this perfect, sparkling boy-“Actually, no, fuck that,” Mark gapes at him, probably looking dumb to anyone else but Donghyuck still finds him cute, objective beauty standards be damned, “I want this to be a date, Mark Lee.”

 

For someone so smart, Mark Lee takes a long time to respond, eyes darting unsurely across Donghyuck’s face until he comes to a conclusion. “A date it is then,” Mark gulps, grinning once a smile breaks across Donghyuck’s face, “I like you so much, Donghyuck, please don’t-”

 

Donghyuck grabs Mark’s hand in his, effectively stopping him from rambling.

 

(“I was going to ask you out properly,” Mark whines as they walk home, arm slung casually across Donghyuck shoulders, “Fuck that waiter, honestly.” “I literally saw you tip him when we left, but whatever,” Donghyuck laughs, heart so full like it’s about to burst into thousands of I LOVE MARK LEE mini-banners.

 

Mark just smiles, eyes twinkling warmly as he grabs Donghyuck’s hand and presses a fleeting kiss to its back.

 

“You can’t just- you can’t do that!” Donghyuck ends up chasing Mark Lee all the way home, breathless as Mark dodges his flailing arms gracefully. )

 

----

 

“You two are dating?” Renjun asks the next monday in a conspiratorial whisper, sharp eyes catching the fond way Mark ruffles Donghyuck’s hair. Donghyuck steals Mark’s glasses, placing them on his forehead like some wannabe celebrity, “I don’t know, are we?”

 

“Oh, I haven’t asked you yet?” Mark mumbles, eyes trained on his chemistry test until Donghyuck tugs on his elbow to get his attention. A slow smile stretches across his face, and it’s terribly hard for Donghyuck not to coo at him. “Donghyuck, will you be my boyfriend?” Mark looks at Donghyuck with so much affection, as if he’s a golden sculpture or, more realistically, a signed copy of Advanced Algebra.

 

“Since you asked so nicely, of course,” Donghyuck smiles back at his amazing, dumb Boyfriend (!!!), ignoring Renjun’s scalding stare. “Got it,” Renjun grumbles as Mark hooks an arm around Donghyuck’s neck, ”Are you two going to have lunch with the rest of us, or is lunch a couples only event now?”

 

“Yeah, goodbye.” “We can still eat together?” Donghyuck and Mark stare at each other upon hearing their contrasting answers, collapsing in pearls of laughter as Renjun shakes his head.

 

“Mark, please stay away from this ma-” “Renjun,” Donghyuck exhales once he can breathe properly, “You know you’ll always be my best friend, right?” “I- I know, yeah,” Renjun blinks, taken aback, but he’s smiling, “I know.”

 

“Plus, I’d never ditch you for this dweeb-” “Hey!” Renjun, to his part, politely averts his eyes as Mark grabs Donghyuck’s hand, whispering what seemed to be the school rules into his ears with a grin.

 

What a pair of weirdos.

 

----

 

“I can’t believe you forgot to ask me out,” Donghyuck teases when they walk to school together the next day. “You’re too pretty, it’s distracting,” Mark says simply, giving Donghyuck an odd look as he stops walking in favour of dying and squeezing Mark’s hand.

 

“Stop acting so shamelessly,” Donghyuck grumbles as his blush goes down slightly, “Say something Mark Lee would say.” “I am Mark Lee, though?” Mark asks, confused as Donghyuck lets go of his hand. He might be a fan of affection, but PDA in school is simply embarrassing, and he’s not about to make enemies out of the Mark Lee Fan Club.

 

Donghyuck shakes his head,”You know what I mean.” A light bulb lights up behind Mark’s eyes, ”Oh, uh- your school tie isn’t done properly.” Much to his shock, Mark pulls off his tie, tugging it straight and handing it back to Donghyuck.

 

Catching the unravelled tie, Donghyuck stares at it with a newfound horror in his eyes. “Are you serious? I can’t tie ties and I won’t get past Taeyong at the gate like this, he’s going to tell me off for ages.”

 

“Well, maybe it’s time you learnt,” Mark says, but Donghyuck only fixing his goody-two-shoes boyfriend with a glare. “Here-” Mark drags Donghyuck behind an empty storage shed, ignoring the other’s protests. “I’ll do it for you this time, but you still suck for not knowing how-”

 

“Oh, shut up,” Donghyuck scowls at Mark without malice, thrusting the tie in his hands. Mark’s hands are graceful as he loops the tie around Donghyuck’s next, fingers tucking the tie here and there neatly, forming a tidy Windsor knot. Mark’s extra handsome when he’s focused on something, and Donghyuck’s heart can’t help but thump extra loud when Mark tugs the tie down, pulling him closer.

 

Closing his eyes, Donghyuck feels Mark’s chest centimetres away from his. It’s almost like the time they hid in the chemistry lab, but now they’re dating and Mark’s about to break his No-Kissing-In-5-Mile-Radius-Of-School rule. Donghyuck leans in closer, waiting for his boyfriend to kiss him like he means it, like he-

 

Instead, Mark just blows air on the tip of his nose, chuckling as Donghyuck squeaks in surprise and punches Mark’s chest.

 

“You’re the worst,” Donghyuck complains, as Mark bends over chortling. “Yeah?” Mark’s eyes are dancing with mirth, and he falls helplessly deeper.

 

“Positive.”

 

(“That just made me realise how much I don’t know about you,” Donghyuck tells Mark later, during double history, ”Where do you live?”

 

“Sounds like something a robber would say,” Mark laughs, but tells him anyway. The place he lives is downtown, at least a 40-minute walk away from where Donghyuck lives.

 

“Wait, for real?”

 

Mark nods, eyes serious.

 

“Then why did you walk me home all those times? You could’ve been mugged-” Donghyuck berates him endlessly, but Mark Lee only regards him with fond eyes, “I’d miss you if I left any moment sooner.”

 

The way Mark expresses affection directly, as if his love for Donghyuck is something matter-of-fact, never fails to make him melt-

 

“And also I’m a student athlete so it’s a good workout.”

 

“Oh, shut up, golden boy.”)