Mark is 14, the mirror in the practice room is tarnished, and his head goes dizzy when he tries to focus on his own fuzzy form.
His feet hurt like hell, his head is pounding, blood pulsing fast in his temples, and Donghyuck’s nagging voice feels like a needle in the back of his neck, prickling at his skin, high pitched and insistent over the music.
“Hyung, it’s three in the morning!” he complains from his place on the floor. He has his back against the mirror, his cap squished between the flat surface and his head, his legs sprawled in front of him, gray shorts riling up his thighs, his bruised knees on display. Mark would feel bad for him if he wasn’t so damn annoyed.
“I told you…” he says between fast, tired breaths, still moving his feet to the beat. “You could leave... like, three hours ago.”
He slides his eyes down from his own reflection to Donghyuck, who kicks his legs in an exasperated, childish way. He is so irritating, he’s been complaining for so long, now. And it’s not like Mark needs him there, when he’s been doing nothing but watch for hours. His skin burns with the attention, he feels self conscious and judged, aware of how unnatural and inexperienced his body looks, with only a few months of practice under his belt.
Donghyuck meets his eyes from under the peak of his cap, he pouts up at him, exaggerated, jutting out his lower lip as much as he can. Mark gets distracted by him for a second, and he doesn’t know how it happens, but suddenly he’s on the floor, a sharp pain sparkling on his left ankle, going all the way up his leg, to his lower back.
He groans, sits up on the floor and brings his knee to his chest, so he can cradle his foot between his shaky fingers. He should take his sneaker off, should rotate his foot and check if it’s something serious, but all of a sudden his mind fills with all the worst case scenarios, all the months of practice he needs and could miss if it turns out to be something serious. And he is so exhausted, he isn’t even surprised when he feels tears prickling in his eyes, tying a tight knot in his throat.
“Mark, are you okay?” Donghyuck is by his side in a second, crouching down, hands on his knees, his knuckles going white where they press over his bruised skin, trying to maintain balance as he leans closer. Mark feels the sudden need to pry his fingers away, he’s gonna hurt his bruises further. But he keeps his hands firm around his ankle and fixates his eyes in the mirror. He wants to reprimand him for not calling him hyung, again, but he doesn’t think he’ll be able to talk without bursting into tears.
Suddenly, Donghyuck’s fingers slide over his. They are hot and sticky with sweat and probably the lollipop he was licking on earlier. It’s disgusting, but they carry a gentleness Mark hasn’t felt in a long time, so he doesn’t push him away and lets him do.
Donghyuck flops down on the floor next to him and brings his foot to his lap. He gets to work, takes far longer than he should to untie the laces and take off his shoe and sock, but Mark doesn’t think he has the right to get irritated in this situation. So he sits back and stares at Donghyuck, frowning as the other boy runs his hands over his foot, not caring that it’s sweaty and probably smells like shit.
Mark is glad he isn’t ticklish as Donghyuck moves his foot up and down, to the sides, and in a circle, slowly and carefully. And then looks up at Mark’s face expectant, mouth half open, eyes round and eyebrows raised so high in his forehead, they disappear under his soft, messy hair.
“Doesn’t hurt,” Mark replies to his unasked question, trying to pull his foot away, but Donghyuck holds onto his shin, a devilish smile already spreading over his full lips. God, he is so irritating, Mark kind of wants to kick him in the chin. “What,” he says, deadpan, frowning in annoyance.
“You got all worked up for nothing,” Donghyuck says, his smile widening. “All teary eyed and everything. So dramatic.”
And Mark can’t stand him. It shouldn’t hurt so much, but those words coming out of Donghyuck’s mouth feel like an unfair slap to his face. Mark is certain he isn’t the one who cries almost every night because he misses living with his parents.
He’s about to snap, to scream this at Donghyuck’s face and run out of the practice room, make his way back without him, barefoot and everything. But Donghyuck is still holding his foot between his gross, sticky hands, and he bends down to press a wet, loud kiss to the bone of Mark’s ankle.
“There you are, all fixed up now,” he says, dropping Mark’s leg on the floor.
Mark might look like a fish out of the water. He feels like his cheeks are on fire, and he can’t seem to be able to close his mouth. Donghyuck just laughs in his face, loud and cruel and so incredibly annoying. Oh, Mark hates him so, so much.
- - -
It’s summer 2015 and Donghyuck isn’t that annoying anymore. He’s 15, still loud and easily excitable and constantly nagging Mark. But he’s somehow turned into a constant in Mark’s life, this warm presence that’s by his side every single day, steady and persistent and reliable.
He’s still round everywhere, his cheeks full and squishy to the touch, but he’s almost as tall as Mark, and his voice is starting to break, cracking every time he starts a sentence. There’s this feeling in Mark’s chest every time he looks at him, soft and lukewarm, like a vague need to take care of him. Even if he makes him angry and frustrated six days out of seven. It’s nothing he’s ever experienced before, kind of scary and exciting, the newness of it.
So he gets incredibly anxious when he wakes up one day to find Donghyuck curled up on the couch, his face red and his hair sticking to his forehead with sweat. He’s shaking, even though he’s covered up to his chin by two thick blankets. He looks so incredibly small and fragile.
“What’s wrong?” Mark asks, kneeling down beside him, voice high with urgency.
Donghyuck looks at him through heavy eyes, and a smile touches the corners of his lips, teeth chattering together. But it looks wrong. Mark feels wrong. Worry twists his guts so forcefully he has to grab onto the blankets.
“You look so worried, hyung,” Donghyuck mumbles, chuckling a little, but it turns into a cough. And if Donghyuck calling him hyung willingly wasn’t a sign of sickness strong enough, Mark can see how much it hurts him to cough. “You care about me that much, huh?” He says, a glint of amusement in his tired eyes.
“Don’t speak, you are too sick” Mark says, frowning annoyed, even though heat travels up his neck, flushing his skin with embarrassment at his obvious concern.
He leans closer, brings a hand up Donghyuck’s face to touch his forehead. Donghyuck’s eyes fall shut at his touch, and Mark’s fingertips tingle.
“You’re burning up,” he mumbles, brushing the damp strands of hair away. He doesn’t care if it’s sweaty and sticky, they go way past that now, it’s what living together does. “You need something for the fever. Painkillers, too. Maybe.”
Mark feels bad, because he is used to being the youngest brother, the baby of the family. He is used to his mom checking his temperature, buying him medicine, bringing him hot soup to bed. He’s at a loss now, he’s never had anyone depending on him, he has no idea what to do, and he isn’t even sure he can get near the stove without setting the kitchen on fire. So he simply tangles his fingers in Donghyuck’s hair and keeps playing with it, hoping he can soothe him through touch instead.
“Jeno went out to buy something,” Donghyuck says, and only now Mark realizes how hoarse his voice sounds.
He looks at the younger with something bordering pity, because he knows how much Donghyuck hates losing his voice. Now more than ever, that his voice keeps cracking at the worst times. Mark still remembers a time he cried into Jaemin's shoulder, scared he wasn’t a good enough singer anymore, even if Jaemin's voice was just as all over the place. Seeing someone like Donghyuck break down like that, someone Mark looks up to because of his persistence and confidence, was a turning point, something that scarred him inside.
Mark thinks that’s when he started to warm up to Donghyuck, when he realized he was just as frail, as hard working, as scared as him.
“I’ll get you some water,” he mumbles, and he leans down, presses a fast kiss to the feverish skin of Donghyuck’s forehead before he can think too much about it. Because that’s what his mom always used to do to him, and it always made him feel better.
He just wants Donghyuck to feel better, he thinks as he walks towards the kitchen, lips tickling, hands sweaty and his heart trying to crawl up his throat.
- - -
Mark is 16 and filled up with an excitement so fierce he thinks his knees are going to give out under the weight of his own body.
He stands in the middle of the stage, looking down to the crowd of people with banners and lightsticks and phones shining up with their names written on them. And it is not the first time he’s in this situation, he should be used to it by now, even if he’s going to perform an entirely different song today, one more song he can call his.
But it is the first time he’s sharing the stage with Donghyuck. He is standing on a side of the stage, all tall and grown up and shining. His cheeks are still full, and he’s still soft to the eyes, to the touch, but his features are sharper now, and he looks mature and strong, with that choker around his tan neck.
Mark thinks about the stage name Donghyuck chose for himself, Heachan, and he’s suddenly struck by how much it suits him. Donghyuck is all warm skin and glinting eyes and such a shiny personality, sometimes Mark feels like a shadow next to him. But he doesn’t wanna be anywhere else than next to him.
There have five minutes left before they start recording their first stage as NCT 127, and Donghyuck’s face is bright with excitement as he steps on stage. He passes behind Mark on his way to his place, pauses for a second, backtracks. And, suddenly, there are firm hands on Mark’s hips, and Donghyuck’s hair tickles his neck as he leans down to press a fast kiss to the fabric covering Mark’s shoulder.
“Good luck,” he whispers, tiny, soft, only for Mark to hear. And then he’s gone. But the heat stays with Mark throughout the entire performance. He has to bite his lips raw to stop them from smiling against his will.
- - -
It’s March 2017 and Mark has never regretted his life choices more in his entire life.
He had to run out of the practice room earlier today. Everyone’s eyes were too heavy on him with worry, sliding down his thin body like cold water.
He is painfully aware of the way he looks, scrawny and disheveled and so gray under his eyes, he looks more like a skull than a 17 years old boy. He feels exactly the way he looks, rough with exhaustion, knotted up inside, hollow and rusty.
The hours he spends on High School Rapper mix up with practice for two groups in such a blurry mess he doesn’t know what he is doing anymore, where he’s going, where he stands.
And he is good, he tells Donghyuck. He is fine. He just needs to stop the word and get off for a few minutes, so he can breathe in and out without choking on the anxiety that keeps spinning in his gut. And Donghyuck offers to stop with him, as always.
That’s how they end up locked in Mark’s brother’s car. Neither of them can drive, but Mark doesn’t need to go anywhere, he just needs Donghyuck, close and alone and away from everything else.
So they run out of the practice room with no explanation, Mark steals his brother’s keys and they crawl in the front seats of the car.
Mark doesn’t know for how long they’ve been in there, sitting side by side in silence. They have the radio turned almost all the way up to muffle the voices in Mark’s head, those who whisper he can’t handle everything at once, that he should’ve listened to his mom when she told him it’d be too much for him.
Regret is bitter and heavy under the his tongue, Mark can’t swallow it down, no matter how hard he tries. He’s always found pride on how well he knows himself, pride on the fact that he knows he is resilient, he knows he is strong, he knows what he can handle. He hates regretting his choices, makes him feel like a little kid, tripping over his own feet, as if he’s just starting to learn how to walk. But he’s been running for years now.
“Hey, Mark,” Donghyuck’s voice is soft, tentative, as if he’s trying to not scare him off. But the hand he puts over Mark’s shaky thigh is firm, grounding.
“I’m okay,” Mark says, too loud, too fast to sound true. He winces at the urgent tone of his own voice and gazes out the window. Maybe if Donghyuck doesn’t look at him he won’t notice Mark is on the verge of breaking down and they can keep pretending he doesn’t need anything.
But Donghyuck isn’t buying it, because it’s been a long, long time, and he’s studied Mark inside out, even if Mark resisted at first, all those years back. He’s learnt everything about Mark with such a precision, he doesn’t need to look at his face to read him. And it is so damn scary, having someone who knows you so well. Donghyuck’s hand squishes his thigh, and Mark feels naked.
He’s still staring out the window. The sky has already gone dark and he wonders for how long they’ve been sitting there. He wonders why Donghyuck keeps putting up with him. He brings his thumb to his mouth and bites on his nail to stop the words from coming out, to stop the tears from slipping down.
Suddenly, Donghyuck’s hand is lifting from his thigh, and Mark feels the loss in more ways he wants to admit to himself. But then there are hands on his shoulders, and Donghyuck is pulling him towards the warmth of his body across the console of the car, wrapping his arms around Mark’s neck, comforting and delicate like a blanket.
Mark falls into him, because there is nothing else he can do. There is nothing else he wants to do.
He keeps mumbling, “I’m fine, I’m good,” as tears finally spill between his eyelashes.
There’s this sharp pain between his ribs, something really close to embarrassment, as he clings to Donghyuck’s body and twists his shirt between his fingers. But Donghyuck doesn’t laugh at him, doesn’t judge him, doesn’t give him a we told you so speech. He just holds Mark and mumbles “I know,” every time he says he’s perfectly fine.
And maybe he is. There, crying in the front seat of a car he doesn’t even know how to drive, with a million responsibilities crushing his shoulders, slumped against his best friend, maybe he is fine.
Or at least he feels fine when Donghyuck presses his lips to his neck, not caring that it’s damp with sweat and tears. It tickles, and Mark laughs against Donghyuck’s hair, shaky and thick and frail. So Donghyuck does it again and again and again, until Mark’s tears turn into tears of laughter.
He is fine.
- - -
It’s a Sunday, summer of 2017, and Mark is not fine.
He’s walking out of church alone, when it’s already dark, and he feels so damn lonely. He’s always hated going to church without his family, but he hasn’t had the time for it in so long, and he’s seeking a kind of freedom he can only find in one other place. And promised himself he would never go running to Donghyuck again. So church alone was the only option he had left.
But when he reaches the bottom of the stone stairs and looks up, Donghyuck is standing there, balancing uncomfortably on the balls of his feet, flushed and shrinking in himself. He looks so out of place, wearing a rumpled hoodie and ratty shorts, with a plastic bag hanging from his left arm.
Mark’s mind wants to convince him that this is coincidence, that there is no way Donghyuck came here looking for him, after everything. But Mark knows every detail there is to learn about this boy, and he remembers perfectly that one time in a hotel room, sprawled together on the carpet, when Donghyuck told him the last time he had been near a church was during his parents’ wedding. He was so proud of it, even though there was no way he could remember, he had been two years old and spent the whole ceremony in his aunt’s arms.
“You’re just jealous I attended my parents’ wedding and you did not,” he had said, high pitched and mocking, his hand coming to Mark’s thigh to pinch the tender skin there.
He had been smug, back then, teasing and nagging. The Donghyuck Mark has always been used to. The Donghyuck standing in front of him right now has nothing to do with that past, familiar version of him.
He looks so uncomfortable in his own skin, dimmed and out of place. It is so weird to see him like this when he used to spill light everywhere he went, melting everything under his presence, strong and so confident. Mark loved to stay close to him, basking in his light, hoping he’d soak up some of it and he’d become just as strong.
“I just-” Donghyuck starts, but he stops abruptly, unsure, tripping over his thoughts. “I thought maybe you’d want to hang out for a bit,” he’s looking down at his feet, one of his hands rubbing at the blush on the back of his neck. Mark melts, because some things never change.
He doesn’t dare to say a word, he has no idea on how to approach this new Donghyuck, and every single time he tried to talk to him for the past month, it ended up in flames. Mark doesn’t think he can handle one more fight, one more explosion. So he walks towards Donghyuck, grabs his forearm and drags him with him to the nearest park. He ignores the way his fingers burn.
They end up sitting in an old bench, in silence. There’s not much distance between them, but it feels like an abysm, because Mark is so used to having Donghyuck tied by his hip, close and willing to follow him anywhere.
“I’m sorry,” Donghyuck says, and even if his words tremble with nerves, he sounds sure of himself, determined. “I know I’ve been acting like an asshole lately. I’m sick of it now. I’m tired,” he’s looking straight ahead, eyes fixed on the bushes on the other side of the park. His leg bounces up and down and Mark wants nothing more but to reach out and touch, soothe his anxiety with the pads of his fingers.
He stays put, hands under his own thighs and gaze focused on the side of Donghyuck’s face.
“I’m sorry, too,” he mumbles.
He doesn’t even know why he is apologizing. He can’t even remember how this whole cat and mouse situation started. One day, Donghyuck was pressed up against his side, teasing and familiar and lovely. And the next day he was all screams and hurtful words and changing roommates to stay as far away from Mark as possible. Mark will do anything to erase the distance, to cross the abysm.
Donghyuck turns to him then, with one eyebrow raised and half a smile touching his lips. There’s mischief in his eyes, and he hasn’t looked at Mark like that in so long, he has to look away, flushed and embarrassed.
“You don’t even know what you are apologizing for, right?” Donghyuck is teasing him, light-hearted and with laughter between his words. Mark feels light all of a sudden, the anxiety in his chest eases up and he deflates like a balloon.
“Can’t even remember why the fuck we were arguing in the first place,” he admits. He still refuses to look back at Donghyuck, he keeps his eyes on his sneakers as he rubs his own ears, trying to spell the blush away.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” there’s softness in Donghyuck’s words, a kind of fondness Mark hasn’t heard in over a month. He snaps his head up, opens his mouth to argue, but Donghyuck lifts a hand to stop him. “Seriously. It was all on me. I’ve just been…” he stops, breathes in deep, his eyes dancing all over Mark’s face and never focusing on his eyes. “I’ve been going through some shit.”
“You can talk to me about anything, you know?” Mark says, and he’s aware of the way his voice sounds, hurt and betrayed.
Donghyuck chuckles unders his breath and runs a hand through his hair. He finally looks at Mark in the eye, smiling sadly.
“This is exactly how it started,” he points out, and Mark’s eyes widen. “You want me to tell you everything, but there are some thing I just can’t share.” He leans a little closer to Mark, his fingers playing with the plastic bag between his hands. “It’s not about you. It’s stuff I’m not ready to share with anyone. I really don’t want to fight about it again.”
And, at first, Mark wants to fight. He wants to complain and demand an explanation and reach out to reassure Donghyuck through touch, to show him that he’s there, will always be there, ready to share everything.
But Donghyuck’s shoulders are slumped, there are bags under his eyes and his fingernails are all ruined for how much he’s been chewing on them. Everything about him screams exhaustion, and all Mark wants is to give him the break he deserves.
Also, he realizes, startled, there are some things he wouldn’t share with Donghyuck, either. Like the way he cried himself to sleep the first day they decided to spend the night in different rooms.
So he moves a little closer, kicks the bag that’s hanging from Donghyuck’s fingers, and gives him an easy smile.
“What’d you have there?”
And it is so refreshing to see the way Donghyuck’s whole body relaxes, leaning towards Mark as if he’s being pulled by something he can’t resist, something way more powerful than the both of them.
He’s smiling, dangerous and playful and so painfully Donghyuck, Mark’s chest clenches.
He brings the bag up and takes two cans of beer out of it. And Mark just stays still, sitting there, staring for five whole minutes, before he snatches the cans out of Donghyuck’s hands as fast as possible.
“I’m not letting you drink that!” he exclaims in a whisper. “Where the fuck did you even get these? You’re underage!”
Donghyuck doesn’t do anything to fight him, he just laughs open mouthed and watches Mark as he gets the cans into the bag again and places them on the floor, secure behind his feet, away from Donghyuck to take.
Mark is still frowning when Donghyuck tangles his fingers in the sleeve of his dress shirt and pulls. They fall against each other easily, naturally. They click perfectly, always have. Donghyuck is still laughing softly, Mark can feel his chest shaking with it, pressed up against his own. And it is so warm, so comfortable, he can’t resist but tighten his arms around Donghyuck’s middle, thinking back at that time they hugged in his brother’s car. Everything is falling into place again, he doesn’t feel stranded anymore.
But he can’t find the words to tell Donghyuck this, to ask him to not leave him behind ever again. So he says I miss you as clearly and softly as he can manage, by pressing his lips against Donghyuck’s earlobe gently. Donghyuck shudders against him, his fists closing over Mark’s shirt, pulling him even closer. So Mark places one more kiss, right at the edge of Donghyuck’s jawline, he knows there’s a mole there, and he stays pressed there until they pull away.
Donghyuck looks flushed and radiant and exactly like home.
- - -
Mark is 18 when he tries to cook for the first time.
He splashes water on the floor, throws an eggshell into the pot by accident, and almost mistakes sugar by salt, but Donghyuck stops him right in time.
Once he’s done, the pasta is undercooked and there’s a bright red burn in the back of his left hand. Donghyuck complains about Mark’s clumsiness nonstop while he munches on the noodles, he whines about his inexperience at his advanced age, and laughs into his face.
But he finishes the ramen anyway, with his cheeks full and his eyes squinted into tiny moons. And takes Mark’s burnt hand in his, places a gentle kiss under the wound, and offers to clean up the mess for him.
“Next time, I’m not cleaning after you,” Donghyuck says once he’s done.
Mark focuses on the next time.
- - -
Mark is 19 and he hates it.
It shouldn’t be such a big deal, graduating. It’s not as if he’s not seeing these guys ever again. It’s not as if he’s leaving the city and moving away. He’s still gonna be living in the same building and sharing practice rooms and recording in the same studios.
It shouldn’t be a big deal. But there is this pain in his chest that screams nostalgia, it’s coming way too early and way too sharply, and Mark doesn’t know how to deal with it.
He stands on stage with his trembling hands wrapped around the mic and he chokes on his words when he opens his mouth. Waves of sadness and loss roll out of him so unexpectedly and with such a force, he has to cover his face and cry in the crook of his elbow.
Mark feels stripped down and cracked open. The guys circle him to hug him, and he wishes he could fold them all up in the palms of his hands and keep them there, pressed against his chest, close to his heart forever. It shouldn’t feel like he’s losing his home, but it does, and it sucks.
He cuts his breakdown short, though. Swallows back tears and plasters on a firm smile on his face as he pulls back from the hug and stretches his shirt with his sweaty palms. Because he’s still the oldest one, he’s still the leader , and because a family like them would never end for something as lame as graduation.
And everything is good as he gets off stage after the show. Everything is fine, even if he feels roughed up and tender. He can handle it, and the smile in his face as he looks into Jisung’s teary eyes is small, but it isn’t fake anymore.
But once he gets back to the dorms, it all feels crooked and out of place, and Donghyuck starts crying as soon as he slumps into the couch. Mark is next to him in a second, kneeling in front of the couch, urgent fingers digging into Donghyuck’s thighs.
“Hyuck, hey,” he whispers softly, as he brings a hand up to cup the side of Donghyuck’s neck. “Don’t cry, man. I’m here. C’mon, dude, we’re still performing together.”
Mark talks with a smile in his face and ends it with a chuckle, but it comes out strangled and his words stumble over each other, rushed and worried.
Donghyuck rubs at his eyes, but the tears keep falling down. And when he mumbles, “it’s not the same,” Mark gets it so fast, feels like a punch to his gut.
They’ve been together through everything. It hits Mark with such a suddenness, the fact that Donghyuck has never stood on stage without him by his side. There’s an emptiness that starts at the tips of his fingers, crawls up his arms and down his chest with such a speed it almost leaves him breathless. It settles in his belly and stays there, heavy and bitter, and it refuses to leave, no matter how many times Mark mumbles that it is okay.
He wonders if it is the same for Donghyuck, this sensation of inevitable loss, so abrupt and unwelcome and absurd . But he can see it clearly in his red eyes, in his tear stained face. He can see it’s even worse.
And it makes no sense, because it isn’t such a big deal. But it is.
So he tries to fix it as best he can, with clammy hands and his heart crawling up his throat, beating under his tongue. Mark puts his fingers over Donghyuck’s damp cheeks and leans in. He drags his chapped lips over the wetness there, delicate and as warm as he can manage with the rainstorm that’s happening inside his chest.
He doesn’t know for how long he stays there, with Donghyuck’s hands gripping his shoulders and pain blooming in his knees. Mark’s lips keep pressing against wet skin until Donghyuck’s cheeks are hot and red with a new kind of feeling, something quiet and new that couldn’t be further away from sadness.
- - -
Mark is still 19 and convinced that the world fucking hates him.
He had just started making peace with the fact that he wouldn’t share the stage with NCT Dream anymore when the universe decided to rip Donghyuck away from him, as well.
It is engraved in his memory: the sharp cold fear running down his back when Donghyuck fell down during practice; the ugly, pained whine that left his lips is still stuck in Mark’s head. And then, the anger and resignation bubbling down his stomach when they told them Donghyuck would have to take a long break.
He missed him so damn much, even though he would never admit it out loud. It’s not as if he needed to admit it out loud, it was an open secret, written all over his face, his members kept following his movements with equally worried and teasing eyes.
It had been embarrassing and exposing and really close to a nightmare. But it is over now.
Mark’s clothes are damp with sweat, sticking uncomfortably to his heated body, they feel like sandpaper over his skin. He should go to the bathroom, jump into the shower and change into clean, fresh pajamas. But his feet take him to Donghyuck’s bedroom as soon as he’s back to the dorms.
He doesn’t say a word, just pulls his hoodie over his head, throws it to the other side of the room, and crawls his way under Donghyuck’s blankets.
Donghyuck is lying on his side, eyes closed and hair all over the place. Mark gets as close as he can without touching him, his gaze roaming all over Donghyuck’s features, drinking up the honey of his skin, commiting to memory the tiny moles scattered all over his face and neck.
He looks so peaceful like this, with his cheek squished against the pillow, his collarbone peeking under the collar of an old white t-shirt. The sun that sneaks into the window through the closed curtains paints highlights over his skin, Mark wants to trace them with the tip of his fingers, wants to make Donghyuck familiar again through soft touches. There’s this knot in the middle of Marks chest, right between his ribs, squeezing with raw nostalgia, a kind of neediness he didn’t think he was capable of. He swallows hard to drown it.
“You smell like pure shit,” that’s the first thing Donghyuck tells him, with a completely straight face and his eyes still closed.
Everything goes still for a second, and then they are laughing in each other’s faces, Mark punching Donghyuck’s shoulder lightly, as puffs of warm breath hit his face.
“You are so annoying,” he says once they calmed down, words dripping fondness everywhere. His cheeks are tingling with something tender and the corner of Donghyuck’s eyes are twinkling with happiness. Mark hasn’t felt like this in a long time, he struggles to find a word that can explain everything that’s burning in his chest right now, it seems like they all fall short.
But then he’s squirming closer to Donghyuck, seeking his warmth and peacefulness. Their legs intertwine together easily, carefully, and Mark keeps leaning closer, closer, close enough to brush the tip of his nose against Donghyuck’s in the gentlest caress he can manage.
Donghyuck doesn’t pull away, so Mark does it again, and he decides he feels settled.
- - -
It’s summer 2019 and the sun of Miami is scorching hot over Mark’s skin.
There’s sand between his toes and sweat running down his neck, his wet sweats are heavy and scratchy on his hips, and he’s pretty sure there’s gonna be a nasty burn on his left shoulder tomorrow.
He’s holding a strawberry ice cream that’s dripping down his fingers, leaving them sticky and gross with sugar. Mark wants to throw it away somewhere, get his hands under some clean water. He’s desperate for a cold shower that will wash the salt off his head, the sand off his skin.
But here he is, strolling along Miami beach, squinting up at the sun, surrounded by the strong smell of the sea and Donghyuck’s laughter.
“You’ve got ice cream on your face,” Donghyuck says, pointing to his own cheek.
Mark stops dead in his tracks, rubs his hand over his cheek, but it comes off clean. He frowns and sticks his tongue out to try to lick it off, but he can’t taste anything. Donghyuck is standing in front of him, snickering.
“No,” he laughs, taking a step closer, putting one bare foot between Mark’s. “On the other side.”
There is no time for Mark to react and clean himself off, because suddenly Donghyuck is leaning closer, breaking into his personal espace, and Mark is paralyzed.
The first thing he feels is Donghyuck’s breath in his face, warm and sweet, and his hand on his shoulder, clutching tighter than necessary over Mark’s sunburned shoulder. And he would hiss at the pain if he could focus on it, but right now all he can think about is Donghyuck’s lips, full and shiny, closer and closer. Then, Donghyuck’s tongue is lapping at the corner of Mark’s mouth, painfully slow, his nose brushing over Mark’s flushed cheek. He presses his lips there, right at the edge of Mark’s mouth.
When Donghyuck pulls away, he stays close. Mark can feel his eyes on his mouth, heavy with want, and he clenches his hand over Donghyuck’s waist, he doesn’t even know when it got there, but he doesn’t care. He can’t let Donghyuck walk away now, he needs him closer, needs his full lips pressed against his properly.
But what Donghyuck says is, “let go,” low and thick with something Mark can’t name, but that makes something hotter than the sun burn in his lower stomach.
Mark breathes through his nose, slowly, and he drops his hand from Donghyuck’s waist. For a few moments, Donghyuck doesn’t move, he drags his gaze up Mark’s face, from his lips to his eyes, and looks at him with such intensity it raises goosebumps over his skin, even in this hot weather.
Then, Donghyuck’s lips are stretching into a teasing smile. He says, “your ice cream is dripping everywhere,” clear, loud and so damn normal . He lifts his eyebrows, looks down at Mark’s lips one more time, and then he’s stepping back. He’s turning around, full on laughing, walking over the sand as if this tension is something Mark just made up in his head.
Mark stands there, dumbfounded, all red cheeks and sweaty palms and a frantic heart swelling so big in his chest he thinks he might explode.
- - -
Mark is 20 years old when it hits him.
He’s lying down in a bed of a hotel room he shares with Yukhei, and he’s trying to muffle the conversation his friend is having with Renjun on the phone. But it is difficult when Yukhei keeps laughing and talking way too loud, way too excited, happiness radiating off of him with such force Mark can feel it over his own skin.
Mark’s chest tingles a little bit with jealousy, because he hasn’t been feeling fully happy since he left Korea with SuperM. That jealousy mixes up with guilt, because he should be utterly, completely happy, touring the world with his friends. But there will always be this empty space inside of him whenever Donghyuck isn’t by his side.
If only he could do something about it. Something to soothe it.
He stares down at his own phone, his conversation with Donghyuck open in his screen, he keeps complaining about a prank Jaemin doesn’t want to help him with. The smile that takes over Mark’s face is sudden and inevitable.
And then Yukhei is saying, “miss you too. I’ll kiss you again in a couple of weeks, though,” with this tenderness in his voice, frail but so damn real. “I can kiss you through the phone now,” and he blows a kiss to the screen of his phone, and then he’s dissolving into laughter again.
It’s then when it hits Mark, how badly he wants something like that. How badly he wants to just call Donghyuck right now and confess how bad he misses him, how badly he wants to kiss him. How badly he’s wanted to kiss him for the past three years.
- - -
It’s January 2020 and Mark is leaving to America with SuperM again tomorrow.
He hasn’t had the guts to kiss Donghyuck yet, and he thinks he will lose his mind if he leaves again without doing something about it.
There’s been this tension between them for months now, since the day at Miami Beach. Their touches linger more than usual, they keep sneaking glances at each other and, when they are alone together, they keep getting lost in these silences that keep stretching and stretching, as if time is stopping for them, waiting, urging them to get their shit together.
Sometimes, Mark gets this sickening feeling in his stomach, a sharp thing that resembles fear, that makes him wonder if maybe he’s getting it wrong, reading too much into everything. But he knows Donghyuck knows him, reads him even, and Mark has been so obvious about everything.
He’s been looking back at that summer of 2017, when Donghyuck told him there were some things he simply couldn’t share. Mark gets it now, he has no clue how to voice the mess of warm, fuzzy feelings that blooms in his stomach every time he so much as looks at Donghyuck. But he’s tired of wasting time, he needs to do something about it. He just hopes Donghyuck is ready to share everything with him, this time around.
Donghyuck lingers in the practice room once they are over for the day. Mark busies himself with a water bottle while everyone else leaves the place, and Donghyuck walks toward him with an easy smile on his lips. But Mark feels the tension there, between them, it builds up in his stomach when Donghyuck reaches him, leans one shoulder against the mirror as he stares at Mark’s neck, at the way his Adam’s apple bobs when he gulps downs the remaining water in the bottle.
“So,” Donghyuck starts, still following Mark with his eyes as he throws the water bottle aside and crouches down to pick up a towel. “You leaving tomorrow?”
It comes out as a question, even though Donghyuck knows Mark’s schedule better than Mark himself. But Mark doesn’t say anything, he just rubs the towel over his cheeks and neck, to get rid of the sweat and to disguise the blush on his skin. He throws the towel to the floor and leans against the mirror next to Donghyuck, eyebrows raised teasingly.
“I’m keeping one of your hoodies,” Donghyuck announces, no room for complaints. As if Mark would complain. “The gray one, you know? It’s cozy.”
“That’s one of my favorites,” Mark says, pouting a little. Donghyuck’s eyes drop to his lips. “You’re insufferable.”
Mark goes to punch him on the shoulder, but Donghyuck is faster and grabs onto Mark’s bare forearm with both hands. The touch burns over his flushed skin.
“You’re gonna miss me so much,” Donghyuck says in this whiny, exaggerated voice, ridiculously high-pitched. He pulls at Mark’s arm to bring him closer. And Mark goes with it.
Suddenly, Mark is pushing away from the mirror, walking to stand in front of Donghyuck, between his feet.
“You wish,” he jokes. He’s smiling with his tongue between his teeth, and his stomach melts when Donghyuck’s gaze falls there.
He can’t take it anymore He’s overflowing, all the feelings he’s bottled up for years now are slipping between his fingers, bubbling over his raw skin. There’s this simmering in his chest that keeps going up, up, up, and Mark knows he will explode if he doesn’t do something about it now .
So he moves closer, until his chest presses up against Donghyuck’s, the damp fabric of their sweaty t-shirts the only thing preventing their skins for touching. One of his hands comes up to cradle Donghyuck’s face while he uses the other to brace himself against the mirror, the cold surface under his palm is the only thing that keeps him grounded, stopping him from getting completely caught up in the forest fire inside of him.
His clammy hand moves over Donghyuck’s heated skin slowly. He presses his index finger behind his ear, in the hollow of his jaw, and his thumb fumbles over Donghyuck’s full bottom lip, stroking softly over the tender skin before it slips down his chin, working his mouth open.
And Donghyuck moves for him so easily, so willingly. He parts his lips and stares at Mark between his eyelashes, eyes dark and heavy and so trusting, Mark’s breath catches in his throat.
He has to take a trembling breath to calm himself down, fingers already clawing at the mirror with need. His eyes roam over Donghyuck’s face, over the moles painted there, the drops of sweat that fall from his wet hair and slide down his temples, the difference between the tones of their skin, Mark’s hand pale and rough over Donghyuck’s honey cheek.
Mark darts his tongue out, he licks at the seam of Donghyuck’s mouth, slow and tentative, with his heart drumming in his ears, swelling in his chest ‘till the point he feels like he’s about to choke on it. He marvels at the way he can feel Donghyuck’s pulse picking up peace under his palm.
And then Donghyuck’s hands are fisting Mark’s shirt, down his lower back, and pulling their hips together roughly, impatiently. Mark tilts his head to the side, and they are kissing open mouthed, desire so heavy down Mark’s belly it leaves no room, no time for delicate first kisses.
It is dirty and harsh, deep and messy. It is fast and so desperate Mark thinks he’s going to lose his damn mind.
He slips his hand up Donghyuck’s hair, tangles his fingers in the strands and scratches at his scalp, pulls him as close as he can, breathing hard through his nose as his tongue traces every bit of Donghyuck’s mouth. He licks the inside of his cheeks, the roof of his mouth, behind his teeth. He clenches his hand in the base of Donghyuck’s head as he sucks on his bottom lip roughly, teeth nibbling there until it starts to swell.
Donghyuck keeps making such beautiful noises, breathy and whiny and so damn needy. He’s running his hands up Mark’s back, under his shirt. He’s sinking his nails in the feverish skin of his shoulder blades, pushing his hips forward as if he can’t help himself.
And Mark sure can’t help himself. He takes the hand off the mirror and brings it down to Donghyuck’s thigh, instead. He pushes up, slides his palm down until he reaches the end of the old gray shorts, curls his fingers around the back of Donghyuck’s knee, nails scraping at the sensitive skin there.
Donghyuck moves so easily with him, wraps his leg firmly around Mark’s hip and brings him incredibly closer, his head falling back against the mirror with a heavy sigh, open mouthed, neck all flushed pink, drops of sweat still sliding down.
They fit so well together, Mark realizes, and it comes with no surprise. They’ve been clicking and filling up each other’s weakest points for years now. But this kind of connection is brand new, exciting, so warm it makes his knees go weak. He’s so full with warmth he’s tingling all over, goosebumps from head to toe.
He leans down again to kiss the tip of Donghyuck’s chin. It makes Donghyuck giggle, and Mark feels it everywhere, all fireworks and butterflies and all those things love songs talk about.
When Donghyuck brings him up for another kiss, they are both smiling so wide their teeth clash together. It’s perfect.
- - -
Mark is still 20 years old when it hits him for the second time.
He knows he has to get up. He’s perfectly and painfully aware that he’s already running late. He knows he should’ve arrived to the recording studio more than half an hour ago. But Donghyuck is sprawled in bed underneath him, shirtless and soft with sleep and glowing so brightly, Mark can’t move.
It is physically impossible for him to resist the need to lean down, drag his lips over the mole on Donghyuck’s Adam’s apple slowly, so tenderly, it makes Donghyuck chuckle above him before Mark is sinking his teeth there. It’s mesmerizing, the way he can feel Donghyuck’s breath getting caught in his throat under his lips.
He keeps going down, brushing his lips over the mole in the dip of Donghyuck’s collarbone, licking the one in the middle of his chest, brushing his nose over the one in his left shoulder.
When he looks up, Donghyuck is already looking down at him, still soft with sleep, and glowing red, all rosy cheeks and rosy neck and rosy chest.
It hits Mark right then and there, how badly he wants to keep kissing Donghyuck for the rest of his life. So he leans down again, because he might as well start now.
- - -
Donghyuck is 19 years old when he takes Mark out on their first date.
They are walking around Seoul, so close their shoulders brush against each other, making up for the fact that they can’t just hold hands out doors for everyone to see.
Mark is licking on an ice cream Donghyuck bought for him.
“Welcome back to the family, old hag,” he said when he handed Mark the cone, his way to celebrate Mark coming back to the dreamies, making his way back home.
He feels so giddy and purely happy at the prospect of being onstage again with the kids, someday soon, he doesn’t think anything can ruin this day. But then Donghyuck cracks a joke, hits his shoulder against Mark’s, and Mark is so busy staring at the way the boy laughs, he doesn’t even realize when his ice cream slips out of his fingers.
Mark stands there, staring down at the ruined cone, a pout finding the way to his face against his will.
“Oh my god,” Donghyuck complains, stopping in his tracks and turning around to look at Mark. “C’mon, Mark, you are so dramatic,” he says when he sees the frown between Mark’s eyebrows. “Let’s go,” he curls his hand around Mark’s sleeve, “i’ll buy you another one.”
And then he’s pulling at Mark’s arm, leading him into the back of a deserted alley. He’s pulling Mark against the stone wall and kissing the frown off his face, the pout off his lips.
Mark is so surprised he can’t even get annoyed at Donghyuck’s recklessness. He stands there, allows Donghyuck to kiss him all over, and marvels at the fact that, seven years later, Donghyuck still manages to turn his cheeks crimson red and leave him speechless. Oh, Mark loves him so, so much.