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Mark gets clingy when he’s drunk. That’s why he never leaves Johnny’s side when he has more than two drinks, so he can count on someone to hit the breaks for him when he’s on his way to make a stupid decision.

But Johnny is nowhere to be seen, and Donghyuck’s hand is incredibly warm and welcoming around his wrist, tugging on Mark’s arm to drag him towards the dance floor.

He’s dizzy with a mixture of alcohol, exhaustion and adrenaline, but he can confirm Donghyuck has never looked this beautiful before. Mark has seen him in every outfit, he’s seen him in Mark’s own clothes. He’s seen him in his pajamas and wearing underwear only, he’s seen him cut clean and stuffed into a suit and tie, hair all tamed and soap soft. But right now, with his sweaty face shining blue under the artificial lights of the pub, smile so wide it is almost blinding, he’s glowing in such a new way that Mark doesn’t want to blink in fear that he will miss it.

He wonders if his hands have always fitted so right around Donghyuck, his palms pressed up to the exposed skin of his hips, fingers digging in the soft flesh there, the hem of Donghyuck’s crop top brushing over his knuckles. Donghyuck leans in, hot breath tickling the shell of his ear, and Mark doesn’t understand why he’s been running away from this all these years.

Donghyuck’s lips brush his earlobe teasingly when he whispers: “Aren’t you gonna push me away?”

His words sound slurred and dangerous and so ridiculous to Mark’s drunken mind. Here, with music blasting so loud that the floor trembles, with dancing bodies forcing them even closer together, all Mark wants to do is to get underneath Donghyuck’s tan skin.

When Mark pulls away to look him in the eye, Donghyuck is smiling like his best nightmare and his worst dream combined. He’s devastatingly beautiful, with long, damp strands of sandy hair sticking to his forehead. His cheeks are so flushed that the blush is visible under the sickly neon lights of the dance floor.

He tilts his head down a little, looks up at Mark through his eyelashes, his tongue peeking between his teeth when he smirks, as if he wants to devour him.

And Mark is so drunk and so doomed. He feels dream-made, floaty on the dance froot as his hands grasp at Donghyuck’s hips eagerly, pulling him flush against his chest like he can’t help it.

The music gets muffled away when warm lips tickle the shell of his ear, Donghyuck humming so close to him, licking at his earlobe. And Mark finds himself wondering once again why they've been avoiding this for so long, when he’s been cursed since the first day Donghyuck showed up to practice, chubby cheeked and smiling like a demon.

So he claws at the dreamy courage alcohol gives him and kisses Donghyuck full on the mouth. It is fast and wet and carries the desperation of years. Donghyuck surrenders to it so easily, as if he’s been waiting for it.

Mark’s heart thrums against his throat, his body tingles the same way it did when Donghyuck first crawled underneath his skin, when they didn’t understand anything and Mark’s feelings came out as a violent anger he’d never felt before, fourteen and clueless.

 

---

 

The mattress dips underneath Mark’s knees, the heels of his hands sinking into the soft material as he crawls over Donghyuck’s half naked body.

All the alcohol that was running through his veins and making his head spin only a few minutes ago has melted into adrenaline. His blood rushes like saccharine now, a sweet lust pooling in the bottom of his stomach, making his mouth water as he stares at the boy sprawled on his bed.

They haven’t bothered to turn on the lights, but Mark left the curtains wide open before he left the dorms earlier tonight. Now, the soft light of the street lamps outside is crawling into the bedroom and draping all over Donghyuck’s body, painting beautiful shadows in the flushed skin of his cheeks and neck.

Donghyuck still has his crop top on, rumpled and dirty with a mixture of spilled drinks and glitter. Mark balances himself on his left elbow as he reaches out with his right hand. He places his fingertips on the waistband of Donghyuck’s boxers, runs them up softly, pressing down against the delicate curve of his belly. The skin is fever hot under the pads of Mark’s fingers, sticky with sweat as he keeps travelling up, up, up.

Mark’s eyes stay focused on Donghyuck’s face, staring back at the lidded eyes that are looking up at him. Donghyuck’s eyes are half-lidded and so dark, Mark can’t even distinguish his pupils like this, lust is all he can read. His own eyes slide down Donghyuck’s face and to his full, heart shaped lips when they fall open. Mark presses his hand flat to Donghyuck’s sternum, between his ribcage, and his mouth goes dry when Donghyuck arches into the touch, his back lifting off the bed as his hands come up to grab Mark’s arm.

Everything is moving in slow motion inside of Mark’s head, his movements heavy and clumsy like an hallucination. He’s only half aware that years of repressed desire is the only thing that’s pulling him through this. He’s also half glad the other members are either asleep or not home yet. He half wishes someone would burst into the room and stop them, because he’s sitting on the edge of a cliff, feet dangling in the air as he considers taking one last breath and jumping into the void.

It only takes Donghyuck asking him for more in a broken moan for Mark to take the leap.

 

---

 

The keys jingle in Donghyuck’s grip as he runs around the room, clad only in his underwear and crop top as he fishes the rest of his clothes from the floor of Mark’s bedroom.

It’s still idly quiet at the dorm, at least on Mark's floor. He rips his eyes away from Donghyuck’s slender body to sneak a glance at the digital clock on his bedside table. The green numbers show it’s already past four in the morning, and Mark sighs out loud when he remembers they luckily have an off day tomorrow.

His eyes travel back to Donghyuck, who is crouching down now, slipping his feet into a pair of worn out converses even though he doesn’t even have his pants on.

Mark runs his fingers through his own messy hair, untagging a few knots before he slides his hand down, pressing his fingertips to his sore naked shoulders, where purple bruises will probably be prominent in the morning. The sting of his skin raises an acrid feeling in his stomach, something rusty under his tongue, the taste of uncertainty.

When he sighs again, low and drawn out, Donghyuck stands up and turns around to look at him.

“Sleepy?” He asks in a whisper, a soft fond smile taking over his still swollen lips.

Mark’s stomach twists even more at the sight, awkwardness and the remnants of alcohol almost forcing him to gag. He nods his head fast, scared of the way his voice will sound if he dares to speak.

He’s sure Donghyuck can see the discomfort written all over his face, because his smile drops a little. “Good thing we’re free tomorrow, lazy bastard,” he says as he turns around, aiming for the closed door without offering a goodnight.

“Donghyuck, wait.” Mark’s his head falling against the headboard with a thud, his eyes on the messy floor of his room as he asks. “Are we good?”

Mark isn’t brave enough to look up, and he glances at Donghyuck’s shuffling feet as he waits for an answer. It comes in a light hearted tone, too high pitched and too wide awake to be honest, but he blames it on the exhaustion playing tricks on him.

“Sure we are.” A tense pause, and then: “A little fun never killed anybody, right?”

Donghyuck tugs the door open. Mark screws his eyes shut so he doesn’t have to see him go.

 

---

 

Hook ups are nothing new to Mark. Considering the hectic life he’s gotten himself into, fast make out sessions in bathroom stalls of nameless pubs and strangers twisted in the sheets of their many hotel rooms are more common than they would like it to be.

When you live a life that’s constantly stripped down by the media, it is difficult to find someone willing to stand under the scorching spotlight with you. It is almost impossible for the business company tied around almost every aspect of your life to give you the green light. And it is even harder to find someone willing to be denied again and again on camera, while they hide behind closed doors, waiting for you to be given permission to spend a few minutes together.

So, Mark is not new to sharing a bed with a stranger that will be long gone before he opens his eyes the following morning.

However, this time, it is entirely different.

His eyes flutter open when someone won’t stop shaking his shoulder, and when he adjusts to the bright sunlight coming in through the curtains he forgot to shut last night, Donghyuck’s face comes into focus on top of him.

Mark blinks blearily up at him, taking in the mussed long hair and the drawn-together eyebrows, the worried pout on Donghyuck’s plush lips and the oversized sleep t-shirt that slides down his shoulder, revealing the tan skin of his collarbones. There’s a purple bruise peeking out the collar of that white shirt, a small thing right under the hollow of Donghyuck’s collarbones.

Everything is confusing for a few seconds, just a blur of warm sunlight and sandy skin. Mark finds himself reaching forward, his hand sinking into the sandy mat of hair on top of Donghyuck’s head before he snaps out of it.

“Hey, you awake?” Donghyuck says, still shaking his shoulder. His voice is small and smooth, the way it always sounds when he’s just woken up. But there’s a panicked edge to it that matches the wrinkle between his brows.

“‘M not sure,” Mark mumbles, drowsy and honest.

He remembers it clearly, Donghyuck picking up his clothes off Mark’s bedroom floor before he left to his own floor, the metallic sound of keys jingling in his hand travelling behind him. So it is possible that Mark is still asleep, and this dreamy version for Donghyuck is just a cruel joke his subconscious is putting him through.

“C’mon, Mark.” Donghyuck shakes him again, more violently this time. The hand Mark buried in his sandy hair falls off his head and onto the bed. “This is serious. We’re fucked.”

A giggle bursts its way out of Mark’s chest so unexpectedly and unallowed. Mark tries to swallow it down, but the slump he’s still in makes it difficult to grasp at his own emotions. He scrunches his nose and laughs, head pushed back against his mushy pillow as images from last night come running through his head.

“Dude, snap out of it.” Donghyuck clicks his tongue in exasperation. Then, he’s bringing his phone up to Mark, pushing the screen into his face. “It’s not a fucking joke.”

Mark squints at the light coming from the phone, trying to focus the image on the screen with his glassless eyes. It is difficult, with the impending alcohol induced headache that’s starting to pound against his temples and sleep still clinging to his thoughts. He sits up in bed a little, hands wrapping around the thin bones on Donghyuck’s wrist to steady his hand.

The picture shows the two of them, lit up blue and tangled up in each other in the middle of a dance floor, kissing sloppily. The first thought that crosses through Mark’s head is that they look good together, even under the artificial lights, the contrast between their skins seems like a well thought out painting. His eyes fall to his own hands, still grabbing at Donghyuck’s arm, paper pale against sunshine tan.

But then, Donghyuck is reaching out towards Mark’s bedside table with his free hand, grabbing his round glasses and putting them on for him messily. He gets it wrong, they end up crooked over the bridge of Mark’s nose, sliding way too low. But it’s enough for Mark to realize he isn’t looking at a simple picture.

It is a screenshot of a tweet with thousands of likes and retweets. Underneath, there’s a message from their manager:

company. now.

Mark keeps staring at it, frozen in the spot as Taeyong’s voice echoes distinctly in his mind.

“I don’t care what you do behind closed doors,” he had said months ago. “Just don’t get caught.”

 

---

 

The thing is, Mark thinks as they sit in the backseat of a van headed to SM in silence, there’s always been this weird tension between them.

Anger came first. Mark had been only 14 and new to a country that didn’t even speak his language, and instead of welcoming words and helping hands, this hurricane of a boy came crashing down against him. He remembers every jab, every joke he couldn’t get because he didn’t know enough vocabulary, every smirk drawn in Donghyuck’s chubby face like a punch.

He’d always been a calm kid, quiet and awkward, doing the most to please and mold to those around him. The white, hot rage that crawled up his chest when he was with Donghyuck was as unexpected as it was uncontrollable. He’s got their screaming matches carved in his memories, their baby voices pitched incredibly high, thrumming along the hallways and practice rooms. He remembers halfmoon indents on the palms of his hands, sore throats and stinging eyes. He remembers phone calls at midnight, begging his mom to take him back home as he rubbed his snotty nose with his sweater paws.

The cravings came next—when they somehow outgrew their differences, when Donghyuck grew up enough to learn patience, when Mark learned enough to read into the fondness that underlaid every joke. He remembers the itching in his skin whenever Donghyuck stood too close, always overflowing with affection. He remembers the need to press his hands over Donghyuck’s skin and do something, but clueless as to what.

Mark was too young to understand, and he believes he doesn’t quite get it even now, at 21. But he remembers the way it all came out in waves of frustration. The screaming matches turned into wrestling matches, roughhousing in the living room floor, in the practice room mats, in the mattress of their shared bedroom. He remembers warmth blooming everywhere at the feeling of Donghyuck, solid and real, underneath him. He remembers the slide of hairy thighs between his, the pain of bony elbows digging into Mark’s ribs. It felt like relief. Until, one day, it didn’t seem to be enough anymore, but Mark was unable to pinpoint why.

Then, everything blew up in a fight that wrecked through both of them so violently, Mark knew things would never be the same again. It was Donghyuck screaming right in his face, asking for normal, and Mark standing there, open handed and with nothing left to offer. Because, how was he supposed to go back to normal when he’d always felt like he was suffocating around Donghyuck? But that’s not a nice thing to say to your best friend.

The last step was caution. Everything shifting together back into place again, painfully slow and awfully frail. It felt like trying to rebuild something you didn’t even know, piece by piece, and Mark hated every single second of it. All of a sudden, he found himself walking on eggshells around the person who taught him how to laugh out loud, how to scream until his throat was on fire.

But they pulled through it, in the end. Donghyuck fell into the habit of teasing Mark again, all wiggly eyebrows and crooked twists of his mouth and a flirty tone. Mark learned to swallow the mild annoyance that crawled up his throat, until something shifted. Now he turns into a flustered, giggly mess every single time, a fond smile seemingly permanent on his face whenever they are together, but hands ready to push Donghyuck away whenever he feels like he can’t breathe anymore.

Even so, up to this day, closer than they’ve ever been, Mark can still feel that thin line between them. It’s something invisible but heavy, ever present and gentle. Something he thinks they might have irretrievably broken last night.

Taeyong warned him, more than a year ago. He’s always seemed to see more than everybody else, picking up on every single change in the dynamics of the group.

“Because that’s my job,” he had told Mark when he dared to ask. “If something ever happens with you and Donghyuck—” he had said. And Mark had just screwed his eyes closed and shook his head until Taeyong dropped the subject.

But Mark, he can still feel it, even to this day, even inside of this van. There’s this tension again, something that forces him to look out the window throughout the entire ride, to keep his hands on his lap so he doesn’t accidentally brush against Donghyuck’s skin. But it’s only the thought of it, the imaginary feeling of his skin gliding along Donghyuck, that makes goosebumps rise all over his neck.

They stare out the window on either end of the van throughout the entire drive, as if they don’t even know each other. As if they haven’t unwrapped each other’s corners and edges only a few hours ago. As if they aren’t closer now than they’ve ever been.

Mark feels 14, he’s suffocating all over again, clueless and disarmed.

 

---

 

“Summing up, since SuperM are having a comeback soon, and you are also preparing new songs with NCT, we will try to make the most out of this unexpected development and you two won’t be forced to put an end to your relationship.”

The office remains in a defeating silence once their manager finishes his speech.

Mark stays incredibly still, scared he will break this apparent calm if he breathes too hard, if he moves too suddenly. But, inside of his head, there is everything but calmness.

His eyes run over everyone in the room slowly. The three PR managers present in the room sit in front of them, with their hands over the table as if they’ve rehearsed this meeting, their faces schooled into neutral expressions as they patiently wait for a reaction. Their CEO stands up next to the window, with his arms crossed over his chest and what looks like a disgusted twist to his lips, but no complaints come out of his mouth.

Finally, Mark turns his head to the side, finding Donghyuck already looking at him. He looks completely bewildered, his eyes wide and shining with an urgent edge. Mark can only guess his expression is a mirror to Donghyuck’s.

But he doesn’t dare to speak up and tell his superiors they’ve gotten it all wrong, that they wouldn’t be forced to break their relationship, because there is no relationship to break in the first place.

Donghyuck swallows audibly. Mark’s eyes fall to his throat, where his Adam’s apple bobs under the thin sandy skin. Then, Donghyuck is leaning over the armrest of his chair, and Mark feels one of his hands coming over his, their fingers slotting together easily.

“Alright,” Donghyuck says, still looking at Mark as a grin spreads over his face. He’s always been so good at acting. For everyone else, it might look real, but Mark knows him better. Knows him so much better. “Alright, yeah. That’s relieving, actually. Thank you.”

He squeezes Mark’s hand before he lets go, turning back to the meeting table, still smiling and with his back set in a tense line.

One of the managers starts to talk again and Mark, Mark doesn’t even know what’s going on. He just nods dumbly and lets Donghyuck talk for the both of them, because he’s always trusted him that much, so why should he stop now?

 

---

 

Once the meeting is over, Taeyong is waiting for them right outside the office.

He grips at Mark’s shoulders as soon as the door closes behind him. His eyes are big and searching as he stares into Mark’s face with intent, as if trying to read him.

“What the hell, Mark?” he frowns, shaking Mark a little, but he can’t snap out of it. “You told me there was nothing between you two.”

“And there isn’t,” Mark confesses, shaking his head rapidly. “We. We were drunk.”

He only realizes his mistake when Taeyong takes a step back, his hands dropping form Mark’s shoulders, eyebrows raised in question.

Donghyuck giggles, standing next to him. “Way to go, blowing up the entire deal in less than a minute!”

Mark almost goes breathless when Donghyuck pats his back teasingly.

“What is going on here?” Taeyong turns to Donghyuck, his voice high pitched in confusion.

“Yeah, what even is going on,” Mark repeats, because he feels like he’s been dreaming ever since he allowed Donghyuck to drag him to the dance floor.

“For fuck’s sake, you’re a lost cause,” Donghyuck rolls his eyes at Mark before he’s focusing all his attention on Taeyong. “I’m guessing by your face that you saw the pics,” he says, wiggling his fingers in front of Taeyong’s eyes. Mark notes that he said pics, as in plural, and he feels like throwing up. “Basically the company thinks we are dating. And we didn’t correct them. Because I wasn’t about to go all ‘oh, no, we were just horny!’ on them, you know?”

Everything goes silent again, the three of them perfectly still in the middle of a hallway, right in front of their CEO’s office, and probably not the best place to discuss this. But the rush of panic is so sudden inside of Mark’s chest, he doesn’t think he’d be able to move even if he tried to.

“Oh my god,” he mumbles, the weight of it all just sinking in. “Oh, fuck. Oh my god. Oh, god.”

“C’mon, Mark,” Donghyuck’s mocking tone cuts through his nerves like a knife, about to make everything blow up. “I know talking is hard for you, but you’ve got better words.”

Mark turns to face him, eyes wide open as he digs one finger in Donghyuck’s chest. “You’ve got the guts to fucking joke about this? We are—” Mark trips. His arm falls limp to his side and he takes a step back, almost rendered speechless by the unimpressed look in Donghyuck’s face. “This is such a mess.”

“So, you gotta keep this act up around the members, too?” Taeyong says, keeping his mind on the important questions.

“I mean, I guess so?” Donghyuck shrugs, as if having to pretend to be in love with each other for 24 hours the seven days of the week is just a small inconvenience. “If we start running our mouths around, the truth could come up. And I really don’t want the higher ups lecturing me for being fucking horny one night. What a bad model for our fans, right? Hooking up with someone!” He laughs then, breathy and incredibly fake. “What kind of idol does that?”

Taeyong doesn’t reply, he just looks at them with his lips pressed up in a thin line and his eyebrows pushed down. His expression looks almost like pity.

“Oh god,” Mark adds uselessly, his eyes drifting to the floor. “We’re fucked.”

“That’s what I told you this morning,” Donghyuck says, his hands shooting up in the air between them. Mark throws him an annoyed look. “What? What do you want me to do? Cry about it?”

And yeah, Mark’s body clearly thinks that is a better idea than joking around. His throat is closing up with unwelcome tears, a pressure he hasn’t felt in what feels like years. He closes his fists tight, nails sinking into his own flesh, as he breathes in and out slowly, the way he taught himself all those years back, when Donghyuck wouldn’t stop poking at him.

“No,” he starts. He has to pause and swallow when his voice comes out all choked up. “But you don’t need to be so fucking mean all the—”

“Okay, guys. Let’s calm down,” Taeyong places a hand on each of their shoulders. Mark almost snaps at him, because that’s easier said than done. But Taeyong’s fingers dig into the tense lines of his muscles firmly and, somehow, he manages to calm him down just with that simple gesture—like a blanket of comfort draping all over him. “It’s not that bad, alright? You’re friends, you’ll figure it out. You’ve come out of worse before, am I right?” he says, voice steady and sure as he looks between the two of them. Mark can do nothing but swallow and nod. “You can always fake a break up in a couple of months, it’s not as if you’re gonna be stuck like this forever.”

“Okay,” Donghyuck says, looking back at Mark. This time, when he speaks, he’s smirking teasingly. “But I’m the one breaking up with you.”

Mark can’t help the high pitched giggle the bubbles up his chest.

 

---

 

Mark is already in bed when the news breaks.

As soon as they get back to the dorms and he makes his way to the 10th floor, he can tell everyone has seen the pictures. He feels it in the way Yuta looks him up and down as soon as he opens the apartment door, or in the way Taeil and Jungwoo halt mid conversation when Mark steps into the kitchen, preparing a bowl of cereal to hide away in his room for the rest of the day.

But, apart from a few vague texts Jeno sends him, no one says anything. Not out loud, at least. Not to him.

Mark guesses the dead silence on the other members’ end is thanks to Taeyong, but it breaks at the exact same time as the news.

First, his phone starts blowing up.

He’s in the middle of an episode of Fullmetal Alchemist when the notifications won’t stop invading the screen. He doesn’t even dare to open them, but the dreamies’ names keep popping up, a bunch of exclamation marks and emojis taking up most of the message previews. He also gets a few from his mom and one from his brother, but he swipes them away with the rest.

Then, there are footsteps outside his room, and someone yelling before the door bursts open.

“What do you want,” he says, not even looking up from the screen of his phone, the episode still rolling.

“Dude, you’re dating? And you didn’t tell me? I thought you just made out once or something!”

Mark taps the screen to pause the anime. When he looks up with a sigh, he finds Jungwoo standing there, hands on his hips and his eyebrows high in his forehead, staring at Mark with wide eyes. Yuta is right behind him, leaning against the doorframe as he tries to hide his fit of laughter under a fist, unsuccessfully.

“Why would I tell you of all people?” Mark says, throwing his phone onto the bed. “You would’ve ran your mouth in five minutes.”

Jungwoo straightens, pressing a hand flat against his own chest as if he’s been offended. “Of course! This is something we all have to celebrate, what the hell?”

“Celebrate what, exactly?”

“That you’ve gotten together, maybe?” Jungwoo huffs, crossing his arms over his chest. “What the hell, Mark! I’ve been waiting for this since you turned sixteen.”

Mark loses the ability to speak for a second, all the words flying away from his head when he tries to grasp for something coherent to reply with. The only thing that snaps him out of it is the loud giggle coming from Yuta.

“Why would you—?” he starts, but he cuts himself off abruptly when he realizes how overly defensive his tone is. Because he’s supposed to be dating Donghyuck for real. He’s supposed to be glad and happy about this development. “Um, I— Me too? Like, I’ve been waiting, too?” he stumbles, dropping his eyes to the mattress as he plays with his bedsheets. His neck heats up with embarrassment and something else, and he bites down on his lower lip to suppress the need to rub the feeling away.

“You are so disgustingly cute.” Mark snaps his head up again when he hears Johnny’s voice. And there he is, arm draped over Jungwoo’s shoulders, a shiteating smirk on his mouth, as if he knows something.

“What are you even doing here? You literally have Hyuck down on your floor to annoy.”

“Hyuck, mhm?” Johnny wiggles his eyebrows, and Yuta full on cracks up, now. “Such a cute nickname.”

Mark twists the blankets between his fingers, frowning up at them. How is the nickname even a big deal, even some fans call Donghyuck like that. Mark has been calling him Hyuck since he met him. And he opens his mouth to point out exactly that, but he shuts it again when he realizes that maybe that isn’t a good fact to bring up, since he’s the only one in the group who uses the nickname. For some reason, the thought heats up his skin warmer.

“Let him be, his love life isn’t a TV show!” Taeyong says when he walks into the room, tugging at Johnny’s arm to try to drag him out.

“Why are you all here bothering me and not Donghyuck?” Mark asks again as they walk out of the room.

“He locked us out!” Johnny yells, looking back at Mark over his shoulder. “I think he pushed the shelf against the door or something. Looks like I’m gonna have to sleep on the couch.”

This time, it is Mark’s turn to laugh.

He picks up his phone and types:

 

To: hyuck

clever asshole

 

And hits send. Even with no explanation, the reply comes in a second:

From: hyuck

;)

 

---

 

The next day, the stares won’t stop. The interrupted conversations whenever Mark walks into an occupied room are almost deafening. Every single side eyed glance, every single whisper screams at him that he’s everyone’s favorite current topic.

They should’ve thought this through. They should’ve come clean with the company from the start instead of putting on a show that won’t go anywhere.

It is almost unbearable, the way he feels trapped in his own house. And the worst part is that he  can’t even complain about it, because he should be just as happy as the other members, he should be willing to disclose everything about his relationship and gush about Donghyuck. But he keeps suffocating.

He ends up hiding away in his room until they leave for practice. And, somehow, it gets even worse in the practice room.

It’s the scrutinizing eyes, following every move he makes. It’s the crooked smirks every time he dares to breath in Donghyuck’s direction. It’s the burst of giggles when he walks closer to Donghyuck during a break, using his own towel to wipe up some of the sweat that’s falling down his temples, causing his long, damp hair to stick to his skin. It comes as an instinct, something Mark’s done countless times in the past. It’s natural, it’s usual and familiar. It is meaningless. Still, the other members burst in a fit of teasing laughter and cooing.

“Can you fucking quit it already?” Donghyuck snaps to the entire room, flapping Mark’s hand away. “You’ve been at it all day, it’s incredibly annoying.”

“Whoa, calm down,” Yuta says, raising his hands as if to appease a wild animal. “You’re just so cute together.”

Donghyuck squints his eyes, lifting his head higher as he sticks his tongue into his cheek.

Mark’s seen that expression so many times before, used to see it all the time when they were younger. He knows Donghyuck is about to blow up and say something he’ll regret, something he will not apologize for later because his pride will not let him.

So he walks closer again, throws the wet towel over his own shoulders so his hands are free to grip at Donghyuck’s forearm. He presses his fingers there, running his thumb up and down Donghyuck’s damp skin. It’s the first time they are skin against skin since the night everything went wrong, and Donghyuck is just as warm and soft under his pads.

Mark is about to speak past the sudden knot in his throat, but Yuta is faster.

“See?” He gestures to them with his hands, his mouth widening in an excited smile. “So cute.”

“You know how you’d be cute?” Donghyuck takes a step closer, yanking his arm out of Mark’s grip. “With your mouth shut.”

Mark winces at the biting edge of the words, and at the stunned look on Yuta’s face. Everything stays still for a second, and then Yuta twists his face in a scowl, taking a step closer to Donghyuck, every single line of his body hardened like an armor.

“Don’t talk to me like that, Haechan. I’m not gonna put up with your bratty shit.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Mark steps in front of Donghyuck, right between them. “You don’t need to go there. You know he hates when people call him that.”

“I don’t need you to stand up for me, for fuck’s sake,” Donghyuck grunts from behind him. “You’re making it worse.” Mark feels his hands slapping at his shoulderblades, but he stays put.

“Well, maybe he should stop acting like a kid when we’re all here just being happy for you two.”

“Well then, maybe if you stop making me feel like a damn animal in a zoo!” Donghyuck side steps Mark, standing right next to him, their shoulders pressed up together. “How about that?”

“You could’ve told us something sooner!” Yuta is full on yelling now. Mark has to drop his head low, too embarrassed to look him in the eye.

If Mark was in a real relationship with someone, Yuta would’ve been one of the first people he would’ve gone to, for advice or just to share his excitement. He hasn’t even stopped to think about how the other members must’ve felt about this whole mess, but he knows he’d feel pretty damn sad if one of his friends was in a relationship and didn’t want to share their excitement with him. The sudden bitterness in his stomach mirrors the sour curl in Yuta’s mouth.

“This came as a shock,” Johnny cuts in. “It’s normal that we are curious, stop over—”

“Don’t you fucking dare tell me that I’m overreacting when you’ve been staring at me as if I’m a fucking alien for a whole day!”

“Okay, that’s enough!” Taeyong screams, coming closer to rest a hand on Donghyuck’s shoulder. Donghyuck doesn’t push him away. “This must be really overwhelming for them.”

Mark stares as Taeyong’s hand travels up Donghyuck’s neck until it reaches his nape, fingers digging into the tense muscles there the way he likes it. Donghyuck visibly relaxes under the touch, his eyes falling closed as he breathes slowly through his nose. Mark curses himself for not thinking about it sooner, his fingertips itching.

“They will tell us about it whenever they are ready to, right?” Taeyong looks at Mark for confirmation, and Mark just nods, his chin almost dropping against his chest. “Let’s just— Let’s give them space and calm down a bit.”

Donghyuck bolts out of the practice room as soon as Taeyong lifts his hand off of him. He takes all the noise with him, and he doesn’t come back.

 

---

 

When Mark gets off practice after midnight, he comes home to Donghyuck lying on his bed.

He’s lying on his chest and upside down, with his feet where his head is supposed to be. He’s got Mark’s pillow propped under his armpits, so his arms and elbows won’t get tired from holding his Nintendo Switch up. He’s already changed for bed, wearing short sweatpants and a gray loose t-shirt that hangs from his neck when he’s lying down like that, showing more of the skin of his chest than it should. His hair is darker with dampness, and the room smells like Mark’s body soap.

“How many times have I told you to stop squeezing my pillow like that?” That’s the first thing Mark says, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. “You’re squashing it, it’s gonna be all deformed.”

Donghyuck doesn’t even look up from the screen to greet him. “It’s comfy. You can just borrow mine later.”

“Yours is worse than deformed,” Mark points out, and Donghyuck replies with a short shrug.

Mark throws his backpack on the chair by his desk, and then starts rummaging through his closet in search of something to wear to bed.

“Are you okay?” He dares to ask as he fishes his red Vancouver shirt from the back of the closet.

He doesn’t turn to look at Donghyuck, but he knows he’s heard him, because the soft music coming from the Nintendo ceases suddenly.

There’s silence for a while as Mark strips down to his boxers, throwing his used t-shirt on top of the clothes piled on his desk before putting on the fresh one. Donghyuck is looking straight at him when he turns around, his hands gripping his Switch loosely as they rest on the mattress.

Mark can only hold eye contact for so long, the apples of his cheek heating up after a few seconds. So he traps his lower lip between his teeth and raises his eyebrows at Donghyuck, prompting him to answer.

“You’ve got a hickey on your lower back.” He drops it like that, completely calm, as if he’s talking about something as trivial as the weather.

Mark almost chokes on his own spit. He starts to cough, stumbling over his words as he waves his hands in front of him. The knot in his throat, seemingly ever-present lately, won’t even let him breathe.

“Whose fault is that?” he manages to croak out, his voice incredibly high pitched even to his own ears.

Donghyuck looks at him for another second before he’s scrunching up his face. His nose and eyes get all wrinkled up as laughter bubbles out of him in waves, making him shake as he rolls on the bed until he’s lying on his side.

“There’s no hickey, is there?” Mark asks, tiny under the sound of Donghyuck’s giggles. “God, you’re such an asshole.”

He walks closer until he can sit on the bed, reaching out to slap one of Donghyuck’s thighs. His eyes fall there afterwards, on the exposed skin as the sweatpants ride up when Donghyuck brings his knees up his chest.

“You’re so easy to tease,” he says once he’s calmed down. He’s all breathless and red cheeked, the corner of his eyes shining with happy tears. “Should’ve seen your face.”

Donghyuck reaches out, then. He pokes one of his fingers into the hollow of Mark’s right cheek.

“I fucking hate you,” Mark says, achingly fond, and slaps Donghyuck’s hand away.

Donghyuck bursts into laughter again, and Mark drops onto the bed next to him, sighing exasperatedly.

“You know,” Mark starts after a while. He’s been staring at the ceiling, listening to the soft music of Donghyuck’s Nintendo as he tried to find some answers in the white of the paint. “We owe them an explanation.” When Donghyuck keeps tapping away on his switch, Mark adds on: “How would you feel if you were in their place?”

The music stops then. Donghyuck sighs exaggeratedly as he places the console on his belly. “I know. I know, okay?”

“We should, like…” Mark turns around. He props himself on his elbow so he can look down at Donghyuck, but Donghyuck doesn’t look back at him, he keeps his eyes closed. “Like, plan the relationship or something? They’ll start to ask sooner or later and—”

“I know, Mark,” Donghyuck suddenly snaps his eyes open, staring right into Mark’s. “Do you think I’m dumb or something?”

“Hey,” Mark swallows thickly, bracing himself for rejection as he reaches out to run his fingers through Donghyuck’s sandy hair, still damp from the shower he must’ve taken before Mark got home. Donghyuck doesn’t pull away, though, he just drops his eyes shut again. “You know that’s not true.”

His voice is pitched low. He finds out now, lying there as he tangles his fingers in the long strands of his best friend’s hair, that this is the first time he feels relaxed since that night. Away from prying eyes, in a bubble that only they can access, that’s where Mark feels calmest. He hadn’t realized how wound up he’d been since, fearing the stability they managed to build over the years had come crashing down in one single night.

“It’s just… I’m kinda sick of it, you know?” Donghyuck mumbles, eyes still closed. Mark isn’t ready for the pain those words bring up in his chest, his hand halting in surprise. “It’s the same thing all day. Here, and then with Dream…” Mark thinks back to all the text messages from the dreamies’ pilling up on his phone, ignored from the entire day. “I just wanna relax, you know? We can talk about it tomorrow or whatever.”

Mark doesn’t reply out loud, he just hums in understanding, to let Donghyuck know he’s listening.

It’s such a warm thought, the fact that Donghyuck came into Mark’s room, showered with his body soap and huddled himself in Mark’s sheets seeking for comfort. There’s nothing else he wants to offer to Donghyuck more than calm and quiet, the same getaway he’s been to Mark throughout all these years.

“So, play with me?” Donghyuck mumbles, bringing his Nintendo up to restart the game.

Mark knows little to nothing about video games, but he lies there with Donghyuck anyway, his fingers threading through his soft hair while they look at the console screen together.

And it’s good, even if Mark doesn’t understand much, it’s relaxing and fun.

Until it is not.

Until Mark grows painfully aware of the heat that irradiates from Donghyuck’s body, pressed so close against him that his shoulder digs into Mark’s chest. Until Mark’s eyes drift off of the screen to catch on the skin of Donghyuck’s collarbones, of his soft thighs. Until he can’t stop counting the moles scattered there, trying to remember each and every kiss he placed over them a couple days ago. Until images from that night come running through his mind unprompted, dizzying. Because the last time they laid together on this bed, Donghyuck was exposed and vulnerable under him, writhing in pleasure as Mark touched every corner of his body. Because the last time he thread his fingers through Donghyuck’s hair, he did it roughly, tugging at it to expose the line of his throat as Donghyuck choked out moans.

It is so much, blood pulsing through Mark’s body so fast that he goes a little light-headed, his chest swelling up as his hands start to sweat, itching with the need to reach out and relearn every bit of Donghyuck’s body.

He pulls himself away hastily, scrambling off the bed so fast that he almost gets tangled up between the sheets. Donghyuck looks up at him with wide eyes, a question written all over his features, but Mark is running out the door before he has time to open his mouth.

 

---

 

The next day, practice with Dream goes well, at least at first.

When Mark and Donghyuck arrive together, they are received with fists bumps and unimpressed glances. There are no mocking comments or raised eyebrows every time they talk to each other, or when Donghyuck complains about his ankle after a particularly long dance routine and Mark takes a look at it, nor when Mark flops down on the floor exhausted and Donghyuck comes up behind him, massaging his tense shoulders with warm hands.

At first, Mark wonders if the relaxed atmosphere is thanks to Taeyong, if he’s lectured Dream the same way he did with 127 the day before, just to prevent further damage. But then, as he rests while Donghyuck’s fingers dig in the muscles of his shoulders, he takes a second to look around.

There’s Jaemin, with a hoodie on that isn’t at all suitable for practice in this warm weather, droplets of sweat sliding from under his cap and down his temples. He throws himself at Jisung, who is sprawled face down on the cold floor. Jisung doesn’t even flinch, doesn’t push him away or complain about the sour smell that’s probably coming off Jaemin’s body. He just grunts at the weight and moves his head to the side, allowing Jaemin to hide his face there, in the crook of his neck.

And there’s Chenle, cornered against the mirror by Jeno as high pitched laughter bubbles out of him, all red-cheeked and squinty-eyed, his arms wrapped around himself like an armor against Jeno’s tickling hands. And there’s Renjun, coming to Chenle’s rescue from behind, smacking Jeno’s butt with a wet towel. Somehow, Renjun is the one who ends up cornered against a wall, both Chenle and Jeno making him cry for mercy as they tickle his belly nonstop.

It’s always been like this, Mark thinks, leaning backwards against the solid warmth of Donghyuck’s chest. This closeness, the familiarity between the seven of them, unrestricted fondness and unashamed affection.

And even if Mark isn’t particularly prone to physical touch, he’s never known them any other way. He has never wanted them any other way.

But there’s a really thin line between platonic affection and something more, a grey area Mark has never allowed himself to explore. And now, as Donghyuck slides his hands from Mark’s shoulders and down his arms, fingertips so feather light that they raise goosebumps at their wake, Mark knows they are teetering off a cliff he’s not so familiar with. When Donghyuck reaches his hands and laces their fingers together, Mark is left wondering if this is Donghyuck faking their romantic relationship or if he genuinely wants to feel this close to him. Or, maybe, if this is the innocent platonic affection Mark always shys away from, red-faced and sweating.

He’s still trying to figure it out when Renjun drops on the floor right in front of them, looking pointedly at their jointed hands with a crooked eyebrow.

“Okay,” he says, slapping his hands on his thighs. “For how long has this been going on?”

Donghyuck clicks his tongue, taking his hands off of Mark’s, but they come to rest on Mark’s hips instead.

“Nosy motherfucker,” he says, and he’s so close to Mark, his breath brushes over his ear when he speaks.

“I think I deserve to know why my best friend didn’t tell me anything about this…” Renjun gestures towards them with his hands, his eyebrows drawn together in a frown. “Development.”

Mark is starting to feel restless, the heat coming from Donghyuck’s chest suddenly scorching against his skin under Renjun’s curious gaze. He gazes up, searching for Jeno’s eyes with his own.

When he finds him, Jeno is frowning at the floor, but he turns to Mark when he feels eyes on him. The hard look Jeno throws at him makes Mark even more nervous, the warmth Mark was hoping to find there is lost between something that looks almost like hurt. The corners of Jeno’s mouth are pulled down, his arms crossed over his chest, fists clasped tight as if he’s trying to hold himself back from fighting Mark right there. Mark’s eyes slide to the floor again, a mixture of embarrassment and guilt heating up the skin of his cheeks.

“Maybe I knew we wouldn’t hear the end of it if I told you,” Donghyuck tells Renjun, the grip he has on Mark’s hips tightening.

It’s starting to get too much. All the eyes on them prick at Mark’s skin like needles, Donghyuck’s touch makes his chest swell to the point of hurting. When Mark shuffles out from Donghyuck’s grip before Renjun can ask any more questions they have no answer to, Jaemin stares at him as if he can look through him.

Mark stands up with unsteady feet and plays their song again, as loud as it can go.

“Alright. Again, from the start.”

No one brings up the topic again. Jeno doesn’t speak to him for the rest of the day.

 

---

 

“Let’s recap: we’ve been dating for five months, no one confessed, we just ended up making out during one of our movie nights. Is that right?”

Donghyuck, plopped down on Mark’s desk with his feet hanging in the air, only hums at him to let him know he’s listening. He keeps his eyes trained on his phone, fingers typing away on his screen as Mark speaks.

“Should we set, like, a specific date?” Mark asks from his position on his bed. He’s propped against the wall, knees pulled up so he can rest his little notebook on them and take notes of everything. “What if someone asks about our anniversary?”

The only reply he gets is a bored shrug. It’s the last thing he needs for his patience to run low.

“Donghyuck!” He almost yells, throwing his notebook on the bed. “Are you even listening to me?”

When Donghyuck’s head snaps up to look at him, he’s got his eyebrows raised in an unimpressed sneer.

“We can say whatever you want. I don’t really care.”

Mark huffs, crawling over the bed until he’s sitting on the edge, right in front of Donghyuck.

“That’s not how it works. We’re supposed to decide these things together,” he gestures between them, but Donghyuck has already turned his attention back to his phone. “How are we supposed to be in a relationship if we aren’t even able to make these kinds of decisions together?”

“Good thing we aren’t in one, then,” Donghyuck snaps.

The room stays eerily quiet for a few minutes. Donghyuck keeps frowning up at Mark, and Mark keeps trying to figure out why those words feel like a slap in the face.

“I’m just,” Mark starts, his eyes falling to his hands. He’s never been good at holding eye contact during serious conversations, but this conversation shouldn’t even feel so heavy in the first place. “Just trying to make things easier for us, you know? Just, like, trying to help.”

What hurts the most is the bitter disappointment that curls in his chest. He doesn’t know why, but things weren’t so bad the past few days, at least not between them. He was hoping they could make this work, since they are closer than they’ve ever been, the balance between them surprisingly strong even through something as unexpected and awkward as this. They are best friends, after all. But he’s harshly reminded that they were best friends a couple years ago, too, when they couldn’t even look at each other without breaking into a screaming fight.

Mark doesn’t want to go back to that, the dread of Donghyuck’s friendship slipping between his fingers like thin sand is still engraved in his memories.

He jumps a little at the sudden noise of Donghyuck slapping his phone against the desk.

“You talk about this as if it’s some sort of marketing plan,” he scoffs, as if it’s an insult. And Mark, Mark doesn’t have a reply to that, because well, it sort of is. “Alright. We should set some rules, then.”

Mark nods, and Donghyuck rolls his eyes at him when he stretches over the bed to grab his notebook and pen again. He gestures at Donghyuck to start once he’s ready to annotate.

“First,” Donghyuck lifts his index finger up. “No hook ups while this is going on.” When Mark looks up at him with surprised wide eyes, Donghyuck is already staring back at him, his bottom lip caught between his teeth. “We don’t want to get caught and make everyone believe we’re cheating on each other, do we?”

“Can we flirt with other people, though?” Mark asks once he’s done writing it down.

Donghyuck crooks his eyebrows up at him. “Why? You’ve got someone I don’t know about?”

He hates the way Donghyuck says it, as if assuming that Mark never has any kind of relationships he isn’t aware of. What he hates most, though, is that it is true.

“Wasn’t talking about me,” Mark’s eyes slide down to Donghyuck’s phone. “You’ve been texting someone nonstop for, like, half an hour.”

As if to prove his point, Donghyuck’s phone screen lights up with a new message.

“What?” Donghyuck leans forward, supporting his weight on his arms to prevent himself from falling down. He doesn’t have a toned body, he’s all soft lines and gentle curves, but the veins of his arms prod out, and Mark can’t help but stare. “Are you jealous?”

When he looks up again, Donghyuck’s got this lopsided smile on, the tip of his tongue peeking out the corner of his mouth.

Mark shakes his head hard, looking down to his messy handwritten. “No! I was just, you know, curious? Worried? Don’t want you messing this up when we're just getting started.”

He’s aware of the way he sounds, choked up and high pitched in a wave of sudden embarrassment. He can’t help the way his body reacts to this constant teasing, heating up for reasons his past self found incredibly annoying, but that now make him go red to the tip of his nose. For once, Donghyuck is kind enough to not mention it.

“Damn, I didn’t know you were the possessive type.” Mark frowns at him, his face incredibly warm. Donghyuck giggles at the sight. “Don’t worry too much, that’s just Renjun.”

“Can we get back on track now, please?”

“Yes, sir,” Donghyuck says, laughing once more when Mark swallows audibly. “Second rule: no kissing.” Mark draws his lip between his teeth at that, tapping his pen against his notebook. “You’ve got a problem with that one?”

“No. It’s just,” he shakes his head, not meeting Donghyuck’s eyes. “What if people get suspicious? Or what if the company asks us to do it? Since, you know, they want to use this whole shit for promo and stuff. We’ve been trending worldwide since the news broke.”

Donghyuck hums, as if considering Mark’s words.

“We can always say we want to keep that stuff private.” He pauses for a long time, then. When he speaks again, there is no trace from his previous teasing and humor. “You know, I don’t like kissing people if it means nothing.”

And god, Mark can’t even try to fool himself into believing that those words do not hurt like a knife to his gut. Because, even if he doesn’t want to be in a relationship with Donghyuck, he would never kiss him meaninglessly.

“We’ve kissed before, though,” he points out. When he looks up at Donghyuck, Donghyuck is looking up at the ceiling, as if this is the only topic that could ever make him shy away.

“That was different,” he says, but he doesn’t explain how, nor why. “You know that was different.”

Mark doesn’t know, though. Because he remembers that night so clearly, sometimes he dreams about it and thinks he’s actually reliving it again and again. He remembers Donghyuck’s lips drinking from his as if Mark was everything he’d ever want to taste. Mark kissed with just as much enthusiasm, want running through his veins faster than blood. And he thinks, if he were to kiss Donghyuck ever again, he wouldn’t be able to kiss him any other way.

“Alright,” he says, instead. “No kissing.”

When he writes it down, he underlines it twice.

 

---

 

Mark is losing count of the days this show’s been up, but he knows it’s getting to Donghyuck. Even if he doesn’t complain about it, Mark knows it, knows him.

Donghyuck has been getting snappy, rude and rough in a way he only is when stress and exhaustion are getting to him, but he thinks he doesn’t have the right to complain, thinks he doesn’t have the time to stop and breathe.

Mark likes to think the sudden change has little to do with their increased physical affection: hands on waists and napes, fingers threaded together and tangled in strands of hair, arms around shoulders and hips, whispering into each other’s ear to make it seem as if they are talking about something intimate, when it’s usually snarky remarks about dance moves.

He’s more inclined to believe it has everything to do with Donghyuck juggling preparations for two comebacks under the weight of all eyes on them. Mark gets it, experiences it first-hand with him; but he’s been aching for a chance of another comeback with Dream for so long that, even though he has three comebacks on his plate, exhaustion doesn’t dwell on him the same way, appeased by pure excitement.

But Donghyuck keeps staying behind after practice, fully convinced he’s not doing enough, that he can do more, do better. It’s not as if Mark’s been paying attention, but he knows Donghyuck has been running on three hours of sleep and an unhealthy amount of coffee, prompted by Jaemin.

So, once practice with 127 is over past midnight and Donghyuck announces he’s gonna stay behind for another hour (another hour that will turn into three), Mark stays with him and says:

“You need to take it easy.”

Donghyuck doesn’t even turn to look at him when he replies. “Don’t tell me what to do,” his words muffled against the towel he’s using to wipe sweat off his face.

“Don’t talk to me like that.”

Mark is standing behind him, and so, when Donghyuck drops the towel to the floor, he raises his eyebrows at Mark through the mirror.

“Are you staying just to be a pain in the ass or to practice?” he asks. When Mark doesn’t reply right away, Donghyuck sticks his tongue into his cheek, annoyed. “At least be useful and turn on the music.”

“I told you,” Mark takes a few steps towards him, stopping right behind him, close enough to feel the heat radiating off Donghyuck’s back. “Don’t talk to me like that,” he repeats, voice dropped low in annoyance. “If you are stressed, don’t take it out on me. Take a fucking day off, you’re gonna run yourself thin.”

“I don’t need a day off. What I need is time to jerk off, for fuck’s sake.” Donghyuck giggles when Mark’s eyes go incredibly wide at his words, realization scorching hot on his cheeks when it dawns on him. “You gonna be annoying about that too?”

Mark isn’t sure what sets his nerve endings on fire, but his body is suddenly incredibly aware of how close together they are standing.

He looks at Donghyuck through the mirror—stares at the oversized shirt that’s clinging to his shoulders, drenched with sweat; at the damp strands of his hair, sticking to his face and framing his red cheeks; at his legs, his long calves that Mark knows first-hand are as soft as they look; at his thighs, tan skin that Donghyuck keeps exposing by the way he curls his fingers in the material of his shorts, riling them up almost nervously.

Donghyuck looks back at him, eyes trained on Mark’s hands as he places them on Donghyuck’s hips. Mark steps closer, until their bodies are pressed flush together, looking over Donghyuck’s shoulder to keep their eyes locked in their reflection.

“Mark.” The name comes out of Donghyuck’s mouth like a plea. There’s a warning there, but Mark almost misses it in the way the word breaks at the end.

“What?” He crumples Donghyuck’s shirt between his fingers until his palms reach hot, sweaty flesh. His nails scratch down the soft curve of Donghyuck’s stomach, until he reaches the hem of his shorts. “Your rules didn’t say anything about this.”

And Donghyuck doesn’t pull away, doesn’t push Mark off. He takes in a ragged breath that sounds incredibly loud in the quiet practice room, and slumps against Mark’s chest. His head is thrown over Mark’s shoulder, still looking at him through their reflection, his eyes almost completely hidden by his dropped eyelids.

Mark takes it as permission, so he keeps running his nails up and down Donghyuck’s torso, along his stuck out rib cage. He goes up, up, up until his fingers circle around his nipples, but he never quite touches them, because he knows the sensitivity drives Donghyuck wild.

There’s something about the image in the mirror, every single one of his movements hidden under Donghyuck’s oversized shirt, that rips a groan from the back of Mark’s throat. Donghyuck shudders at that, Mark can feel it in every single part of his body.

He drops his hands and sinks his nails hard into the flesh of Donghyuck’s waist when he starts to grind back against Mark, a small whine falling off his lips in frustration at the lack of friction. Mark shushes him, mouth pressed to the shell of Donghyuck’s ear. He wants to kiss him there so badly, wants to suck into the tender place where his neck meets his shoulder. But he isn’t sure if he’s allowed to, so he presses his tongue flat to the skin of Donghyuck’s neck, right where he can feel his heartbeat thrumming underneath, and licks a stripe all the way up to his ear before he’s sinking his teeth into the earlobe.

“Shit, Mark. Just,” Donghyuck mumbles under his breath, sounding wrecked already. He pulls his head further back, trying to expose more of his throat to Mark as he sinks one of his hands into Mark’s hair. He tries to press Mark’s mouth to his feverish skin, but Mark stays put, because he isn’t allowed to kiss, after all. “Fucking do it already,” Donghyuck growls, glaring at him through the mirror.

“Do what?” He thumbs along the waistband of Donghyuck’s shorts again. Donghyuck lets out a moan that echoes in the empty room.

“Goddammit, asshole. Touch me already.”

Mark hums and finds Donghyuck’s eyes through the mirror again. He dips his fingers past the waistband of his shorts and underwear, his thumb gliding over the tip of Donghyuck’s already swollen length, making him hiss. He can feel Donghyuck’s thighs shaking against his, almost giving up.

“You have such a dirty mouth,” he mumbles, lips grazing the sweaty skin of Donghyuck’s neck, but never quite kissing. “Have I ever told you that?”

“Yeah, all the fucking time,” Donghyuck replies with a broken laugh. He pushes his ass back against Mark’s hips then. Mark can’t help a loud yelp at the sudden friction, teeth sinking into his own lower lip to stop himself from marking up Donghyuck's skin. “What I didn’t know is that it turns you on.”

There’s barely any room for talking after that. Mark tugs Donghyuck’s pants and underwear down until they catch under his balls, and then he’s fisting a hand around him, pumping him as he stares at their reflection in the mirror, at the wet patch on the front of Donghyuck’s shirt, getting bigger and bigger with each jerk of his hand.

Mark doesn’t really know what’s gotten into him. He’s never been one for sex in public places, he’s never been someone who loses control this easily. As he looks into the mirror, his own eyes looking back at him, blown up in desire, face flushed red with nothing but lust, he barely recognizes himself.

But he is unable to stop now, he’s speeding at max velocity and with no intention of hitting the breaks.

It’s something about the wet noises of his hand around Donghyuck, stroking him so fast that his arm is going numb. It’s something about the sounds Donghyuck keeps making, high and breathy and so broken just from this, from a fast, dry handjob, messy in a place anyone could walk in at any moment. It’s something about every single sigh and moan resounding in the walls of the practice room, like an underworked demo, unrehearsed and exciting. It’s something about the way Donghyuck’s hips keep stuttering, as if he can’t decide if he wants to rut into Mark’s hand or grind down against him, eager for everything Mark could offer him.

Mark is achingly hard, straining the front of his pants. The dirty noises and desperation of it all have him rutting against the swell of Donghyuck’s ass, hips humping erratically, yearning for any kind of friction. And Donghyuck keeps pushing back against him, his hand still tangled into Mark’s hair, tugging as he mumbles yes, yes, yes.

It builds incredibly fast, burning hot in the tip of Mark’s stomach, tingling all the way down his legs, his thighs tensing up in an attempt at dragging it out. He wraps his hand tight around the head of Donghyuck’s length, keeps it still there as his other hand crawls up his torso to circle around his nipple again. And all it takes to bring him over the edge is the image in the mirror when Donghyuck’s shirt rides up, exposing Mark’s hand around him, the desperate thrusts of Donghyuck’s hips into the heat of his palm.

Donghyuck almost cries when he comes, a broken sob ripping his throat when he spills hot all over Mark’s fingers. The hand that isn’t in Mark’s hair comes to hold onto Mark’s arm, his nails sinking into his bony wrist, probably leaving halfmoon indents that will last for days. Mark finds himself hoping they will scar.

The grip Donghyuck has on him, the stinging tug in his hair, is the only thing that keeps Mark grounded when he comes, breathing heavily into the crook of Donghyuck’s neck as he dirties his pants like a teenager.

The aftermath is something blurry and incoherent. Mark is still seeing white spots around his vision when Donghyuck pulls himself away from him, the back of his shirt wet with sweat. He tucks himself back into his shorts, picks up the towel he threw earlier on the floor and flops down against the mirror, staring at Mark with a lopsided smirk that doesn’t look very convincing with the fucked out expression he’s wearing, skin cherry red down to his chest.

“Made you come in your pants like a virgin, didn’t I?” he says, drawing his plush lower lip between his teeth as he waits for an answer, looking up at Mark with hooded eyes.

All Mark can manage as a reply is a croaked out, “Shut up.”

Donghyuck just stares as Mark rubs his hands clean on the front of his pants, because who cares anymore.

He looks up at Mark’s face slowly, as if evaluating him. “Shut me up then.”

Mark has a comeback ready on the tip of his tongue in seconds.

“I would if you let me,” he blurts before he’s got time to think about it. He stays long enough to see Donghyuck’s pretty full lips falling open in surprise. Then, he bolts out of the room before Donghyuck has time to reply.

 

---

 

Later that night, Mark is sprawled on the couch watching some shitty TV show with Jungwoo instead of catching up on much needed sleep when someone knocks on the door.

Jungwoo gets up to open it with a grunt, Mark only acknowledges the movement with a tilt of his head, his mind focused on the screen to stop himself from wandering into dangerous scenarios.

But his peaceful bubble explodes in his face when Jungwoo gets back into the living room, Donghyuck trailing behind him. He’s changed into fresh clothes, sweats and a hoodie that Mark recognizes as his own, and he’s got hair all dry and soap soft, pushed back from his forehead with a pink headband. He’s hugging a tupperware to his chest, and he’s looking at Mark with an expression he’s never seen in Donghyuck’s face before, as if he’s scared to approach him.

Jungwoo stands there awkwardly, looking between them as if he understands something they don’t. He’s probably getting it all wrong, thinking this is a lovers’ quarrel, their first couple fight or some shit like that.

He points over his shoulder with a thumb, eyebrows high in his forehead. “I’ll leave you alone, okay? Don’t… Don’t kill each other, use protection, you know how it goes. Bye!”

Once he’s gone, the weight on Mark’s chest when he looks at Donghyuck gets impossibly heavy. They’ve been through it all, through ugly fights and shared tears and even a shared bed. But this awkwardness, this loss of words when Donghyuck is simply standing in front of him, it is something he isn’t used to. Words escape him and take everything away with them, leaving him clueless and feeling nonsensically guilty.

“I— I made dinner for you?” Donghyuck says, taking a few hesitant steps closer. “I assumed you hadn’t eaten anything after you got back. You usually do that.”

Donghyuck is close enough now for Mark to reach for the tupperware without getting up, mumbling a quiet thanks in return. He doesn’t even open it to check what’s inside—whatever Donghyuck prepared, he knows he’ll like it. He rests the container on the living room table and turns back to face Donghyuck.

“You can, like, sit down? If you want to?” He pats the couch beside him and grimaces at the awkwardness of it all. He thinks he’d rather have one of those fights that leave him with a sore throat than this tension.

Donghyuck does sit down next to him, but his body is all pulled into straight lines, shoulders stiff as he looks at the TV so he doesn’t have to look at Mark. Still, with an uncomfortable frown between his eyebrows and the sickly bluish light of the screen reflected over his skin, he looks beautiful.

“What happened today,” Donghyuck starts, lacing his fingers on his lap. “I think it shouldn’t have happened.”

And Mark hates that he agrees with him. Because, this time, there is no excuse they can use. No alcohol, no pretexts of a good time, no rush of the moment. He just wanted to get his hands on Donghyuck, simply and desperately. And he likes to believe Donghyuck wanted him just as much.

“There’s nothing wrong with what we did, though,” Mark can’t help himself, he needs to get it out there, to make sure.

“Of course not,” Donghyuck’s frown deepens, and he looks down to his own fingers. “But everything is awkward now. I know you feel it too, Mark. Don’t you dare lie to me.”

“But I— I wasn’t going to!” Mark raises his hands in defense, looking at Donghyuck with wide eyes. “I never lie to you.”

“That’s arguable,” Donghyuck chuckles. Mark’s about to protest, but he keeps talking. “But, awkwardness is the last thing we need right now, with the whole public relationship and all.”

“Hey,” Mark dares to place a hand on Donghyuck’s thigh, and his stomach drops when he jumps at the touch, tensing up under Mark’s fingertips. “I get it. Didn't mean anything. It’s fine. We just, like, slipped up? Stress and stuff,” Donghyuck looks at him with a raised eyebrow, but he doesn’t fight him. “Let’s just stop talking about it?”

“Yeah. Yes, alright,” when he sighs, he visibly deflates. It’s as if a weight has just been lifted off of him, like a puppet whose strings have just been cut. His shoulders slump, his leg melts under the weight of Mark’s hand, and he drops his forehead onto Mark’s shoulder. “I can do that.”

“Alright, good. I can do that too,” Mark takes his hand off Donghyuck’s thigh to bring it to his neck, so he can massage his fingers into the tense muscles of his nape, the way he knows Donghyuck likes. “You wanna have dinner with me? Finish this movie together?” Everything feels lighter already, shifting back into place as Donghyuck molds into his side, as if he belongs there.

“You watch your shitty movie, I’m gonna sleep here.” And he does, falls asleep shortly after, breathing softly into Mark’s neck.

So Mark eats all of his food by himself. And once the movie is over, he closes his eyes ready to fall asleep beside Donghyuck, even if he’ll wake up with a sore body the following day. Because he doesn’t have the heart to wake him up. Because he doesn’t want to pull him away in fear he’ll never come close again.

 

---

 

But it turns out Mark can't do it. All he seems able to do is push and push and run.

Apparently, this whole arrangement is working far too well for the company. Mark and Donghyuck keep trending everywhere whenever they so much as lean against each other during vlives or post dumb selfies together on their twitter account. SuperM comeback is getting closer, and therefore, their bosses keep pushing for more and more situations where they have to interact together in front of cameras.

Mark promised to himself he could handle this, they are best friends after all, this closeness to Donghyuck isn’t new to him.

Some things come naturally, like the hand at the back of Donghyuck’s neck when he gets restless, massaging the tension there to help him relax. Or the bunch of warnings that spill from his lips whenever Donghyuck does something slightly dangerous that could lead to an injury. As well as the instinctive reflex of seeking Donghyuck with his eyes whenever something mildly exciting happens, just to share it with him.

But, when you are used to pushing back and running away when physical affection gets too much, constant hand holding and a permanent arm around your shoulder can suffocate you.

He doesn’t do it on purpose. He’s tried to control the way his entire body tenses up when Donghyuck is pressed up against him, from thigh to shoulder. But it’s like an ajar door leading to something he will never be able to have, a sneak peek into a world he will never be able to conquer, not for real, at least.

As soon as they are off camera, out of sight, he finds himself pulling away and never looking back. And the worst part is that Donghyuck doesn’t complain about it like Mark would expect him to. He welcomes Mark’s tempered behaviour under thousands of scrunting eyes and accepts his cold stance when cameras stop rolling.

It’d be more bearable if Mark wasn’t aware of what he’s doing. But the sole weight of Donghyuck’s arm around his shoulder, the gentle caress of his breath over his ear, is enough to send his mind into overdrive. Because they promised to stop talking about it, but he can’t stop thinking about it.

His head fills up with the citric taste of Donghyuck’s neck, the broken sounds of his moans bouncing on the walls of the practice room, the warmth irradiating off his skin. The strength of Donghyuck’s legs that one night a million days ago, wrapped around Mark’s waist in an almost vicious grip, pulling him in and closer each time.

Mark thinks he might have died that night, between Donghyuck’s soft thighs. And that’s why he hasn’t felt like himself ever since.

They haven’t touched each other that way for weeks. Mark hasn’t touched anyone else that way for so long. He’s all raw skin and peeled nerves, and he has no one to talk about this with.

It’s at times like this, forced into one of the now often outings with Donghyuck, hand in hand through a mall full of people who won’t stop looking back at them, when he misses Jeno most.

Mark is so tense, his shoulders set and his jaw clenched. By the way Donghyuck keeps running his thumb back and forth over the back of his hand, Mark knows Donghyuck can tell. He’s treating him so gently, even after all the times Mark has pushed him away in the past few days. And all Mark wants to do is let go of his hand and run away one more time, add another mistake to a list that seems endless now, a step closer to straining their relationship irreversibly.

But it’s either that, or to pull Donghyuck closer and kiss him until his lips go numb.

The worst part is that Donghyuck is the person Mark would go to in a situation like this. They are supposed to be good, everything is supposed to stay the same between them, but there’s something wrong in Mark’s chest, a crooked piece that won’t stick into its place no matter how hard he tries. And there’s nothing he hates more than hiding things from Donghyuck. But how is he supposed to voice that, in the end, he can’t handle this, when Donghyuck is counting on him.

Donghyuck is always so close, Mark is suffocating. And, somehow, he’s never close enough to breathe.

So, when Donghyuck squeezes his hand to catch his attention, Mark looks up at him with his lips pressed into a thin line. And, when Donghyuck offers him a worried look and a tentative smile, Mark is incapable of curling his lips upwards. Donghyuck squeezes his hand once more, and Mark counts backwards as he scrolls through his phone, rereading the countless unanswered messages he’s sent Jeno.

Once their date is over, Mark tugs his fingers free from Donghyuck’s grip as soon as they are sitting in the backseat of the van. He rubs his sweaty palm on the front of his jeans and stares at the window so he doesn’t have to look at Donghyuck’s hand, resting between their thighs as an offering for Mark to take if he needs it. Mark doesn’t, because it wouldn’t be enough, anyway.

Turns out maybe, just maybe, it did mean something, after all.

 

---

 

“I’ve been really fucking patient with you,” Donghyuck says the following day, bursting into Mark’s room when the sun has just broken into the sky. “And you know patience isn’t my forte.”

Mark pushes himself up on bed, tugging the sheet up to wrap it around his naked torso. He reaches for his glasses, blinks his eyes fast to try to get rid of the drowsiness. When he finally focuses his gaze on Donghyuck, squinting in the little light that sneaks into the room through the closed curtains, he’s met with an annoyed frown and lips pressed into a thin line.

“So?” Donghyuck raises his eyebrows at him, putting his impatient hands on his waist when Mark does nothing but stare at him. “Are you gonna tell me what the fuck is wrong?”

“Stop talking so loudly.” Mark looks down to his blankets, his voice all rough from sleep and something else. “Or close the door, at least. The whole dorm is going to hear you.”

“Why do you even care if they hear!” Donghyuck raises his voice even more, throwing his hands up in the air. “If you clearly don’t give a fuck anymore.”

“That’s just. That’s not true,” Mark manages to croak out, his throat dry and still unable to meet Donghyuck’s eyes. “Can you just— Please, close the door.”

He hears the shaky breath that Donghyuck lets out, something trembling and controlled, as if he’s doing a tremendous effort to not start screaming at Mark right in that second. And Mark is cursing himself under his breath, cursing his stupidity. Because he isn’t sure why he thought, even for a second, that he could keep pulling Donghyuck away and get away with it. When Donghyuck mapped out every single one of Mark’s mood swings when he was fifteen.

Eventually, Donghyuck drags his feet towards the door and it clicks shut. Only then, Mark looks up.

“It’s just—” he starts, only to cut himself off. He coughs and rasps his throat, forcing the words to come out louder. “I mean, it’s too much, you know? Just… It’s too much.”

That’s all he can offer under the weight of Donghyuck’s eyes, incredibly dark and hard, like stone walls even from across the room. Mark can only think to himself that, at least, he isn’t straight up lying to his best friend’s face.

“Don’t give me that bullshit.” Donghyuck laughs, something empty and ugly aimed at the ceiling, his adam’s apple bobbing in his throat with the force of it. Mark hates himself in that second, because all he wants to do is bite down on the thin skin there. “Don't you think I’m sick of this too?”

It’s like a kick to Mark’s stomach. Because he’s far from sick of this. He simply can’t.

“That’s not—” He curls his fingers into the sheets, drags them up to his chin, hoping they would swallow him down. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Stop fucking covering up as if I haven’t seen you naked a million fucking times.” It’s the hurt in Donghyuck’s voice what makes Mark drop his arms to his sides, the sheet sliding down his torso and pooling around his waist. But, when Donghyuck runs his eyes over the expanse of Mark’s chest, the anger doesn’t recoil. “You have no idea. Like, no idea. The amount of times I’ve bitten my tongue on camera. Or at the dorms,” he says, taking a few slow steps closer. He’s got his index finger pointing at Mark accusingly. It makes him feel incredibly exposed, fingers twisted on the sheet but unable to pull it back up. “The amount of times I’ve stopped myself from screaming at you. All the times I wanted to confront you about it, but you were never there. You’re never here,” Donghyuck’s voice breaks at the end. His arm falls limp to his side, pointing to the empty space beside him.

Then, Donghyuck’s eyes are filling up with unshed tears, going from stone cold back to glossy red that Mark almost goes breathless at the change. He’s moving before he has time to think, crawling on his hands and knees over the mattress so he can reach Donghyuck as fast as possible. But he gets slapped in the face by the way Donghyuck moves away from him, taking a decisive step back, his hand stretched out in front of him to keep Mark far away.

It’s like a missing heartbeat, his heart losing its rhythm and never quite finding it again, damned to beat off pace forever. He wonders if this is the way he’s been making Donghyuck feel all this time, and he wishes he could fight himself for it.

“I’m sorry,” is all he says, instead. And he means it as much as it is possible to mean something.

Donghyuck looks at him like he believes him, but he doesn’t come closer. Doesn’t allow Mark to come closer, which is somehow worse.

“You told me you were okay.” Donghyuck’s voice is thick with tears he won’t allow to fall, his hand shaking a little in front of him. He closes his eyes tight and takes a trembling breath, his fingers closing into a tight fist. “Am I making you uncomfortable? Am I too much? Is that it?”

Mark doesn’t know how to explain that yes but not in the way Donghyuck thinks. How to tell him that he can’t even think straight whenever they stand too close to each other, and even then, the closeness is never enough. Doesn’t know how to voice that now he knows how Donghyuck’s feels under his pads, melting under his thumbs, Mark doesn’t want to touch anything else.

So he says nothing. He stays sitting down on his heels, shaking his head softly as he stares up at Donghyuck.

“Fuck, Mark. Use your damn words.” Donghyuck runs a hand through his long strands, then rubs it across his face. He walks closer again, then. Comes to stand right in front of Mark, at hand reach, but doesn’t move to touch him. “I just want us to be normal. I’m only asking for normal. Nothing more.”

“Yes. Yeah,” Mark is shaking his head almost viciously. His hands come up to rest on Donghyuck’s waist, fingers curling over his t-shirt, still warm with sleep. “Alright.”

“Don’t fucking lie to me,” Donghyuck says, but he doesn’t pull away. “If you can’t do this, I’ll just call it quits, I don’t care what the company has to say. Just want things back to normal.”

He doesn’t say it out loud, but Mark hears it anyway: I just want my best friend back.

“Not lying,” Mark drags his knees over the sheets, coming even closer. He, the one who’s been running away for weeks, now desperate to wrap his arms around Donghyuck just to hold him together, to make sure tears don’t wet his cheeks. Not now, not ever. Not because of him, at least. “I’ll try, I promise.”

“Why do you even have to try? It’s just me.”

Donghyuck says it as if it’s simple. Because it should be. But it isn’t for Mark, not anymore. He’s starting to think it never was.

Mark tightens his grip on Donghyuck’s waist, digging his fingers there to stop himself from shaking. But his heart is thrumming in his throat, pumping guilt and anxiety all over his body. Donghyuck, of all people, demanding too much of him, just like everybody else, when Mark swears he’s trying, is overwhelming. Because he used to see past Mark’s silence without forcing him to speak up. Sometimes, he simply doesn’t wanna be seen, and Donghyuck used to understand.

So he snaps, “Just give me some room to breathe, okay?”

And Donghyuck is gone as fast as he came, leaving Mark to squeeze thin air.

 

---

 

Mark is about to smash his phone against the wall.

He’s inside of their building entrance, sitting on the stairs to wait for Donghyuck. They were supposed to leave fifteen minutes ago, he can see the van through the glass door, set and waiting for them to take them to the museum on another of their arranged dates.

He’s lost count of the number of calls from their manager he has declined, and also of the times he’s phoned Donghyuck, his mobile pressed to his ear tighter than necessary as he bites down on the nails of his other hand. And the worst part is, no matter how mad he is at Donghyuck for being late, he doesn’t really want him to pick up, because he knows it’ll probably end up in a fight.

That’s all they’ve been doing since their conversation in Mark’s room. Instead of fixing anything, the fight acted like a match on dry dynamite. It’s always cold stares and hushed complaints and bored touches. The other members keep staring at them with worry written all over their faces, thinking they are going through their first crisis as a couple. Their managers keep staring at them with concerned wrinkles between their eyebrows, because they are way too close to the comeback to be pulling stuff like this.

But it’s worse than that, it is so much worse. Because the condescending glances and snappy replies that lead to full on screaming fights remind Mark too much of their last big fight, years ago. The one that condemned him to an entire summer of missing his best friend like missing a lung: physically painful, guilty, and almost irreversibly.

This time, the feeling is a million times worse, because even the mean shove of Donghyuck’s shoulder against his makes him burn all over.

Mark frowns at the screen of his phone when the manager calls again, framed by his nails, almost bitten raw. He slides his thumb over it to decline it, and dials Donghyuck’s number for what he swears is gonna be the last time.

Five rings later, Donghyuck picks up and says nothing.

“Where are you?” Mark half screams into the phone. Three beats later, still nothing. “We were supposed to leave almost half an hour ago, Haechan. What the fuck are you doing?”

The line stretches silent between them like an unbreachable bridge. And then:

“Ah, fuck.” It’s low, almost broken. As if Donghyuck is on the verge of tears.

“Are you okay?” Mark asks. He can’t help the concern that sneaks into his voice even through all the anger and resentment. Because some things can not be controlled.

“I— Yes. Yeah.” His voice is breathy, barely there and choked out. “I forgot. Ah, shit. Sorry.”

“Dude, are you sure you’re alright?” Mark frowns down at the floor, puzzled at the lack of explanation and at the way Donghyuck sounds, as if he’s wrecked. “You still at the dorms, right? Are you, like, crying or some shit?”

Mark is already standing up, halfway up the stairs in rushed steps, when Donghyuck laughs at the other end of the line. It’s more of a broken sigh than a laughter, but Mark swears he can hear mockery behind it. Can hear it behind everything Donghyuck does, lately.

“Crying—” His words are strained, dragged out as if he’s breathless. “I think so. Ah, damn.” And then, he full on moans on the phone.

Mark halts mid-step, the hand that isn’t holding his phone gripping at the staircase handrail, so hard his knuckles and fingertips are going white. He feels like he’s about to fall down the stairs when he speaks again through a tight throat.

“I can’t fucking believe you,” he almost growls, warmth spreading up his stomach and down his thighs. He clenches his teeth, breathes through his nose to try to calm himself down. “Are you jerking off right now? Oh, god. Shit. We have to leave now. For fuck’s sake.”

The only thing he gets as a reply is a ragged breath, a moan that almost sounds like a purr.

“Fuck. Fuck, Donghyuck.” He grips the handrail tighter, teeth sinking into his lower lip to try to stop his mind from wandering places he’ll regret visiting later. “Honestly. Fuck you.”

Mark doesn’t know why he keeps talking. He should end the call and ask the van to leave, make up something about fake quality time together at home that they would probably understand, and leave their date for tomorrow. But he keeps pressing his phone to his burning ear, his breath caught in his swollen throat as he waits for a reply.

“I wish you would,” Donghyuck says, sounding almost completely gone and fucking honest.

“God,” Mark mumbles, finally letting go of the railing to run his sweaty hand through his hair. “I truly cannot stand you,” he says, but he’s already going up the stairs again.

 

---

 

This is what Mark sees as soon as he opens the door to Donghyuck’s bedroom:

Donghyuck is on his bed, his phone thrown beside him, the screen still lit up from where his conversation with Mark has just ended. He’s wearing a blue shirt that slides down his shoulder, the one he uses almost everyday at home, stretched out on the collar for the amount of times he’s worn it. He’s flushed red down his neck, over his collarbones, to the tip of his nose. He’s got his mouth half open in a silent whimper, some of his long hair sticking to his forehead and cheeks.

Mark stands still under the door frame, and Donghyuck looks at him through hooded eyes as he keeps stroking his dick with a torturous slow hand. He’s straddling his pillow, humping softly, and his mouth keeps falling open with each thrust of his hips, as if he’s swallowing down his own moans.

There is no one else at the dorm, but Mark closes the door behind him anyway, slumping against the surface as soon as it clicks shut.

He stays there, hands pressed flat against the wood, fingers clawing at the material to try to appease the tingling on his skin. Donghyuck doesn’t stop touching himself for a single second, his eyes always on Mark as he runs his tongue over his lower lip, turning it all glistering and kissable.

“You enjoying the show?” He lifts an eyebrow at Mark, the seams of his mouth turning upwards into a small teasing smirk. He speaks with such confidence, if it wasn’t for the flush on his skin and the breathy edge his words, Mark would think him completely unaffected. “Are you gonna stay there all day or did you come here to do something useful?”

Mark digs his nails into the wood until it hurts, but pain is not enough to clear the fog around his mind and remind him of the thousand reasons why this is a terrible idea. There’s only Donghyuck, half naked and panting, and the tingling sensation on Mark’s hands, demanding him to come closer, to reach out, to take and take and take.

So, he swallows past the lump in his throat and past the swelling on his lungs, and pushes himself off the door.

The mattress creaks under his weight, wobbly knees sinking into cotton as his burning skin drags through the soft material. Donghyuck is waiting for him wide-eyed, with clammy hands and leaking. As soon as Donghyuck crawls into his lap, Mark’s damp fingers fly to the back of his knees, pads digging in the muscle there to make sure this is not some sort of cruel dream, one of those that force him awake in the middle of the night, all sticky and tense.

But Donghyuck’s warmth breath brushing against his ear is very much real, feels exactly the same way it did all those weeks ago, back on a sickly lit dance floor.

“Finger me,” he whispers. And then he’s sinking his teeth into Mark’s earlobe.

Mark leaves half moon prints into the skin of Donghyuck’s thighs, eyes rolling to the back of his head. He’s seeing white just from this: Donghyuck sucking into his ear, hands digging into Mark’s shoulders as he starts to rub himself against Mark’s stomach, whimpering when his sensitive skin drags on the fabric of Mark’s shirt, staining everything with precome.

One of Mark’s hands drags its up Donghyuck’s thigh until he can cup his ass, pulling him further into his lap. He pats the bed with the other hand, searching blindly for the bottle of lube he knows is there somewhere. He doesn’t dare to push Donghyuck away, not even for a second, and risk breaking their bubble, risk common sense shoving its way back into their heads. He’s selfish like that.

When Mark’s fingers reach the cold surface of the bottle, he grabs onto it with a clammy hand and uncaps it with his thumb. He stays still then, fingers still digging into the flesh of Donghyuck’s ass to keep him pressed up against him, breathing heavily through his nose against Donghyuck’s shoulder.

It’s Donghyuck who pulls away first, clicking his tongue with impatience as his eager fingers rip the bottle of lube out of Mark’s hand.

“I thought we agreed you were gonna be useful,” he hums, purrs, low in a way Mark’s only heard him be when he’s angry. He squeezes some lube into his own fingers, reaching for Mark’s free hand to spread it over his skin.

It’s oddly intimate, the way Donghyuck holds onto his bony wrist gently as he rubs at his skin with his other hand. He lubes Mark up to his knuckles, slips his fingers through the holes between Mark’s and stays there for a while, peeking at him through his eyelashes.

Mark almost shrinks under that look, he’s a second away from stopping this madness and pushing Donghyuck off his lap. But then, Donghyuck is lifting himself up on his knees, straddling Mark’s legs as he lowers his hand. And Mark has never been one to leave things half-done.

He keeps his dry hand on Donghyuck’s hip, thumb settled on the dip of his hip bone, under his shirt. He circles Donghyuck’s entrance with the index finger of his lubed up hand, eyes fixed on Donghyuck’s flushed face for any sign of discomfort.

But Donghyuck drops his forehead on Mark’s shoulder with a grunt, lips rubbing over the skin there as he mumbles: “hurry up.”

When Mark gets the first finger inside, he does it so in one thrust, up to his knuckle, no hesitation. He feels more than hears the way Donghyuck gasps at the sensation, his mouth falling open, tongue wetting the fabric of Mark’s shirt.

It is the first time Mark has been allowed to do this. On their first night, Donghyuck fingered himself open, looking down at Mark as he straddled his hips. The memory visits Mark’s dreams more times than he’d like to admit.

But this, this time might be even better. It’s the heat around Mark’s finger, the easiness and willingness with which Donghyuck swallows him up and molds around him, the broken sighs Mark can drag out of Donghyuck’s lungs with only a tug and pull. The amount of power at the tip of his finger, rendering Donghyuck his in a way he never thought he’d have him again.

“C’mon, more. Mark, shit,” he keeps bablering, still hidden in the crook of Mark’s neck, damping up the skin there with sweat. “Fuck, Mark. Please, more.”

And Mark complies, because what else can he do. He sneaks a second finger in just as fast. And, when it goes in just as easily, he wonders how many times Donghyuck has done this to himself, sprawled on this bed, tangled on these sheets. Wonders if Donghyuck thinks about him half as much as Mark thinks of Donghyuck every time he’s locked up in his half lit room, naked and breathless.

It’s only when Mark is already three fingers in, knuckle deep, fingers crooked so he can reach better, that he moves his other hand from Donghyuck’s hip to fist it in his hair. He tugs until Donghyuck pulls away with a loud whine, and the way he looks goes straight to Mark’s crotch, making him painfully aware of how hard he actually is.

Mark realizes then that this move wasn’t a good idea. Donghyuck has tears on his red cheeks, his face glistening with sweat, and his lips are all raw and swollen. He’s probably been biting down on them, trying to muffle the sounds coming out of his mouth unsuccessfully. Because now, when Mark drags his fingers down his walls as slow as he can, before he thrusts back in as hard as his hand will go, Donghyuck wails. His thighs quiver under the sensation when Mark hits his prostate dead on, fresh tears rolling down his cheeks when he screws his eyes closed.

And Mark wants to kiss him so badly. There’s nothing he wants more than leaning in and brush the tears away with his lips, trace a path from the corner of his eye down to his mouth. He wants to smooth the chapped skin of his lips with his tongue, swallow every single one of his desperate cries.

But he can’t. Breaking the no sex rule doesn’t mean he’s allowed to break the no kissing rule, too. And he’s already risking way too much.

So, he moves his hand from Donghyuck’s hip up to his mouth, pinches his swollen lower lip between thumb and index finger. And Donghyuck clenches so hard around Mark’s hand in that moment, his eyes falling open as he sneaks his tongue out of his mouth, licking Mark’s fingers as if he’s desperate to suck on them.

“Fuck,” Mark swears under his breath, pressing his thumb down on Donghyuck’s pink tongue. “So fucking pretty.”

He stares, wide-eyed and twitching in his pants, as Donghyuck curls his plush lips around his finger, sucking hard at the same time he pushes his ass down onto Mark’s other hand. Mark curls the rest of his fingers underneath Donghyuck’s chin, pressed up against his sweaty throat, so he can feel every single moan.

Mark is awestruck at what he can achieve with his fingers only: Donghyuck quivering on top of him, hands clawing at Mark’s shoulders with how badly he’s trying to stay whole, pushing and clenching and jerking his hips at every drag of Mark’s fingers inside of him. And he comes like this, biting down on Mark’s thumb hard enough to hurt, whining as his cock twitches between them, untouched, painting both their shirts white.

When Donghyuck slumps against him, Mark’s thumb slips out of his mouth, smearing spit over Donghyuck’s burning cheek. And when he slides his fingers out of him, he keeps his fingertips pressed against Donghyuck’s rim, so he can feel the way he keeps clenching on nothing.

Everything stays quiet for a moment save Donghyuck’s loud breathing and the noise of Mark’s heart pounding on his temples, thrumming at the sound of two simple words: what now.

Then, Donghyuck is laughing into his neck, tiny and hoarse. “Your turn now, big guy,” he says, his right hand sliding down Mark’s shoulder to cup him through his pants.

He swears his heart stops beating altogether.

 

---

 

When Mark unlocks his phone hours later, the light coming from the screen has him squinting in the darkness of the room. He sighs at the countless calls from their manager and knows he should call back but, instead, he locks the mobile again and throws it to the feet of the bed. It falls on top of their dirty, bundled up shirts with a soft thud.

“They won’t be mad when they find out we spent the day together,” Donghyuck tries to comfort him. He’s so close, his nose keeps bumping against the sensitive place behind Mark’s ear, fingers dancing nonstop over the hard muscle of Mark’s belly. “They’ll just be relieved to know we are still oh so in love.”

Mark huffs, fake laughs, and tries to shove Donghyuck away with his shoulder. But he comes back, latches onto Mark’s body, his giggles rattling all over Mark’s ribs.

“Look at him,” he mumbles when he’s once again settled on Mark’s shoulder, nails following the line of the waistband of Mark’s pants. “Not shutting me out. Not pushing me away. Such progress in this committed relationship.”

“Oh my god,” Mark grunts, rolling around and out of Donghyuck’s grasp to curl into himself on the other side of the bed. “You’re insufferable.”

But, the truth is, Mark hasn’t felt this relaxed in so long. His limbs are melting into the mattress, he feels made of cotton. And when Donghyuck drapes himself all over his back, fitting into every single one of Mark’s corners, he doesn’t want to bolt out of the room. He only wants to snuggle closer. So he does.

“Is this what you needed all this time?” Donghyuck speaks tucked in the back of his neck, lips grazing the skin there softly. Mark wishes he would kiss it. “You know, I get horny too.”

Mark grunts again, louder this time, shoving his flaming cheeks into the soft pillow. And Donghyuck laughs again, warm puffs of air over Mark’s skin, fingertips digging into his stomach and making him yelp at the sudden tickling feeling.

“We can just,” Donghyuck says once he stops laughing. His voice drops lower, and Mark can feel it when he swallows thickly. “We can do whatever this is,” he mumbles, sounding almost shy in a way he rarely allows himself to be. His hand runs down Mark’s stomach, fingertips dipping into the waistband of his pants and staying right there. “If it's what you need to go back to normal. We can do this.”

Mark wonders what part of this is normal. Wonders how is he supposed to give him normal, when he’s starting to think this simmering has always lived under his skin.

So he pushes Donghyuck off completely, now. He sits up on the bed, his hands twisted on the sheets as he frowns at the wall. His right leg keeps bouncing up and down, begging him to get up and get out.

“What,” Donghyuck pulls himself up, too. His gaze burns holes in the side of Mark’s face. “You gonna run away again?”

“I don’t need you to fuck me for charity or some shit,” Mark snaps. He regrets it as soon as it’s out in the open, curses his tendency to always blurt out the worst things at the worst timing.

Silence settles over them like a dreamcatcher, shaking them awake from this bubble dream they let themself get tangled into. Mark brings his hand to his mouth to bite down on his nails. He ends up nibbling at the skin, because there’s nothing else to bite, anymore.

“Stop that,” Donghyuck slaps his hand away from his mouth, kinda hypocritical, considering his fingers are just as ruined. And then, he’s wrapping those ruined fingers around Mark’s ear, tugging until Mark turns to look at him. “Do I look like I don’t want it too, now? Dumbass.”

Mark can’t even find the words to reply, too focused on stopping himself from leaning in and kissing Donghyuck as fast and wet and desperate as their first night.

He feels fourteen again, frustrated at the way Donghyuck breathes, but for entirely different reasons.

Or not.

 

---

 

It gets so easy.

The knowledge that he doesn’t need to hold back has lifted a huge weight off Mark’s shoulders. He finds himself doing the exact same things he used to do with Donghyuck all these years, but with his hands all over him whenever he wants to.

It’s almost funny, the badly concealed glances their members cast their way when they have one of their movie nights, those that have been a tradition for almost five years. But now, when Donghyuck plays one of his cheesy rom coms, Mark allows him to curl himself on the couch, head resting on his lap as Mark plays with the long strands of his hair.

When Mark gets home later than anyone else because of practice with SuperM, he follows Taeyong into the fifth floor. He drops his training bag as soon as he gets inside, next to his shoes, and walks into the kitchen. Donghyuck has been cooking for him since they were fifteen and sixteen, but Mark had never allowed himself to wrap his arms around him from behind like this, cheek squished against Donghyuck’s shoulder blade as he keeps cooking.

Taeyong’s eyes stay on them the entire time. And Mark doesn’t realize until he’s already in his room that they don’t even need to pretend in front of him.

And when Donghyuck forces Mark to take off his shirt in the middle of the living room, so he can put it on instead, no one raises an eyebrow at them. Because it’s not the first time it’s happened. And it won’t be the last.

It’s always been familiar, this closeness with Donghyuck. And now, it is starting to get comfortable. That part is new, the lack of impulse to run away when someone else tries to entwine themselves around his limbs, between his ribs.

So, when they are in the middle of a vlive and the camera focused on them feels like a tiny million scrutinizing eyes, Mark doesn’t shrink on himself and flushes red when Donghyuck says:

“Your new glasses are so weird.” He’s scrunching up his nose, leaning into Mark’s side as if he belongs there.

“He looks like Pororo,” Yuta offers from somewhere behind him.

And Donghyuck squeals in delight, one of his hands flying to Mark’s cheek so he can pinch it between his fingers. “Are you trying to be cute?” he asks, smirking.

Mark replies, without missing a beat: “For you, only.” And he winks, a fast one. Just because he knows it infuriates Donghyuck, because he's never really fully learned how to do it and always ends up blinking awkwardly at Mark every time he tries.

It feels like a small victory, every single blush he can paint over Donghyuck’s cheeks with just words. And when Donghyuck looks away, rubbing at his flustered face as if he’s trying to spell the pink away, Mark sneaks his hand into one of the holes of his ripped jeans. A promise for later.

Fake dating has its advantages. For example, when they sneak into the bathroom together after the vlive and lock the door behind them, no one comes to bother them. Mark kneels on the titles for so long, his knees stay red for the rest of the day.

 

---

 

“I’m so glad you got your shit together.”

Those are the first words Jeno directs Mark’s way after a whole month of silent treatment. He flops down on the couch of the practice room next to him, following Mark’s line of vision until his eyes meet Donghyuck, who’s still dancing in front of the mirror.

“I thought I would have to talk to you to save your relationship.” Jeno throws a casual arm around Mark’s shoulders, settles into the curve of his side as if he has never left. “The pining was so embarrassing, even though you two are already together.”

Mark slides his eyes off of Donghyuck to frown at Jeno. “Why are you talking to me?”

Jeno doesn’t even look back at him, but his eyebrows jump high in his forehead. “What? You already forgot about me? Don’t need me anymore, I see.”

“Oh, damn. Shut up.” Mark balls his right hand into a fist, hits Jeno on the hard muscle of his thigh. He presses down hard, just to make sure he’s actually there. “You missed me, didn’t you?”

“Don’t change the subject, Mark Lee.”

“You didn’t even start on the right subject,” Mark scoffs. He spreads his fingers open, squeezes Jeno’s thigh twice. “Look at me. Tell me what’s wrong.”

Instead, Jeno ducks his head, rubbing the back of his neck as if he’s trying to wash shame off. “Are you mad?”

“I’m so fucking confused, dude. Like, damn.” Mark starts patting his thigh softly. “I thought you were mad at me. I’m just waiting for you to explain why.”

Silence settles between them, even when their songs play loudly in the space of the practice room. Mark keeps hitting Jeno, getting faster and harder with each slap, until Jeno is squealing and grabbing at his forearm to force him to stop.

“There,” Mark says, smiling pleased as he tugs his arm out of Jeno’s grip. “Looking at me like a normal person.”

“Oh, that’s funny coming from you.”

Mark can’t even be offended at the jab. He’s missed this look in Jeno way too much, his eyes squinted into little half moons, cheeks full and pink like bubble gum.

“Stop deflecting and tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s so stupid,” Jeno groans, his head falling against the back of the couch. “You’re gonna be mad at me. I’ve been so… I don’t know. Selfish?”

Jeno’s got his eyes closed now, his face pointing at the ceiling. Mark doesn’t say anything, he just clasps his hand around Jeno’s knee and waits until he’s ready to talk.

“Partly, I was mad because you didn’t tell me.” Jeno starts, his nose scrunching up when he squeezes his eyes shut. “Which was so ridiculous on my end, because…” Mark stares as Jeno visibly swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. He rolls his head over the back of the couch, peeks at Mark through his squinted eyes. “I’ve been hiding some things from you, too. You know? I’m kind of dating Jaemin. Have been for almost a year, actually.”

Jeno keeps staring at him, frowning as if he’s preparing himself for a punch. Mark presses his lips into a thin line, trying to stop himself from laughing out loud. He squeezes Jeno’s knee, making him yelp with laughter.

“You’re ticklish there?” Mark asks, eyes growing wide. He squeezes again and again and again, until the lines of worry written on Jeno’s face are completely replaced by wrinkles of laughter.

“Why are you changing the subject, now?” Jeno clings to Mark’s wrists, pushes him as far away from his body as his arms will go. He’s all breathless, shining peach under the yellow light of the practice room.

“I’m just… Not surprised. Like, at all,” Mark shrugs. And Jeno groans, tugging Mark closer again by his wrists, close enough to drop his head on his shoulder. “I mean, I didn’t know you were together. But. I’ve known you’ve liked him for so long, dude. You’re so obvious.”

“Stop laughing at me,” Jeno complains into his neck. “You’re just as bad as I am, you know? Knew you’d end up with Donghyuck since you were like sixteen.”

That wipes the smile off of Mark’s face, his lips settling into a straight line. His cheeks stay tingling as a reminder of his carefree laughter, completely gone now.

He clears his throat and rests his cheek on top of Jeno’s head. “What does that have to do with anything, though? Like, why’d you stop talking to me?”

Jeno’s grip around Mark’s wrists goes slack. He pushes himself away, grabbing at the fabric of his own shorts instead, playing with the hem.

“Told you it was selfish,” he says with a shrug, refusing to meet Mark’s eyes again. “I was mad you weren’t like, gushing all about Donghyuck as soon as you had the chance, you know? That’s what I would do. About Jaemin. If I had the chance to be with him out in the open, man, I would never shut up about it. About him.”

Mark draws his lip between his teeth, nibbling at it as he tries to keep the nerves at bay. Suddenly, he’s so glad Jeno isn’t looking him in the eye. He’s always been an open book to him, his best kept secrets highlighted in green for him to read even without Mark’s permission.

“I’ve always been more private than you,” he mumbles, his voice quiet in a way it only is when he’s not being fully honest. But Jeno is so deep in his own head, he doesn’t even point it out.

“Do you think—” When Jeno looks up at him again, he’s pink down to his neck, something bright twinkling in his almost closed eyes. “Do you think they’d be supportive of us, too? If we ever decided to come out?”

“I mean,” Mark clears his throat, thinking about how he didn’t really have a chance, how Donghyuck and him were dragged out in the open with no questions asked, with no permission. And it wasn’t even for real. “I don’t see why not? It’s good publicity, after all,” he answers with a shrugs, and it tastes like the first truth of the day. “Why haven’t you told anyone, though?”

Jeno shuffles on his seat. He pushes his feet off the floor and throws his legs over Mark’s lap, lying down on the couch so his head is propped up against the armrest. 

“Jaemin doesn’t want to.”

That throws Mark off, as if the words coming out of Jeno’s mouth aren’t real, or have been placed wrong. It sounds like a riddle, Na Jaemin not wanting to scream at the top of his lungs about love.

“Maybe,” he says, tentatively, feeling as if he’s stepping on a trapeze. “Maybe that’s for the best? You know, so you can have privacy. Like, keep it all for yourselves? I…” He sneaks a glance towards Donghyuck, who’s crouching down on the floor now, playing with a water bottle between his fingers as he waits for someone to play the song from the start again. “I sometimes miss that, with Hyuck. Not having all eyes on us? And with the company always on our asses, planning our dates and shit. You know what I mean?”

And, as he speaks, he tells himself this is about Jeno, about making him feel better. Because Mark knows what it is to have the little privacy you have left stripped down from you, stolen and beaten. But he is painfully aware of the fact that he doesn’t have any relationship to miss. Aware that, if it wasn’t for all the eyes on them, this arrangement between them wouldn’t even exist in the first place. Still, he aches with want at the thought of something quiet with Donghyuck, something blind to the rest of the world.

“Do you know why he doesn’t wanna come out?” he asks softly when Jeno goes silent, dancing his fingers up his calf gently.

“Not really but,” he shrugs, head lolling to the side. “Pretty sure it’s because of everything you just said. But, sometimes, I get insecure, you know? Sometimes I think that maybe he just doesn’t love me that much.” He pushes himself up a little on his elbows, looking at Mark with wide eyes now, so rare on him. “Which is dumb! I know it is. Like, I’m sure of what we have. But you can’t stop these thoughts sometimes. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.”

But Mark doesn't. And he isn’t really paying attention anymore. He’s still hooked on that four letter word, digging into his mind to try to make sense of it, give it a meaning he can understand, analyze, maybe. But he keeps coming up empty handed.

“How did you know?” he asks out of the blue. He only realizes he’s been too long stuck into his own head when Jeno blinks at him, confused. “That you were, like, in love. I mean. How did you realize?”

Jeno crookes his eyebrows at him, tilts his head to the side as a small smirk spreads on his lips. “You doubting your relationship now, Mark Lee? I swear that wasn’t my intention when I decided to lift my silent treatment.”

“Shut up,” Mark clicks his tongue, slapping Jeno’s leg. “Just— Give me an answer, alright?”

Jeno stays silent for a long time, his eyes focused on Jaemin’s body on the dance floor. When he finally replies, something inside of Mark wishes he had never asked.

“Did you know they say you can’t be in love with someone if you don’t wanna be with them forever? Well, I can picture my entire life with him.”

 

---

 

When Mark dwells over the words after practice, he comes to the conclusion that Jeno is wrong.

He’s always known. Not hoped, not wanted, but known that Donghyuck would always be present in his life. As soon as they learned to coexist together, Mark accepted that it was it, and it was always gonna be it. Whenever he tried to picture his future, Donghyuck was always standing there, solid and unwavering, right next to him.

This isn’t love, he thinks. These are just simple facts.

Donghyuck has always been so entwined in his life. He curled his roots around Mark’s daily life like a bindweed, even when Mark was fifteen and angry and all he wanted was to cut him out and push him away. Now he’s come to accept it, welcome it, even. He’s learned to mold himself around Donghyuck in a way that he’d feel half empty if he ever left.

And now, as Donghyuck sneaks quietly into Mark’s room, his socked feet thudding against the floor softly. As he climbs onto the bed, and over Mark, on his hands and knees, the mattress screeching under his weight. As he falls on top of Mark, solid and real and familiar as ever, and traps his earlobe between his teeth, because he knows that’s what gets Mark to melt underneath him.

Even now (maybe now more than ever), when Mark closes his eyes, Donghyuck is always there. And that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

 

---

 

Once the SuperM comeback happens and Mark spends more time under the cameras alone than with Donghyuck, it is still easy.

He doesn’t even catch himself acting anymore—the never ending conversation with Donghyuck on KakaoTalk, and their facetiming sessions before stages and interviews fall into his schedule perfectly. It all comes natural to him, as easy as dancing, like choreography he doesn’t even have to relearn because it’s been engraved in his feet for years.

Mark tries not to think too much about it, and he just lets go. Because, if the smiles the other members and the staff keep throwing his way mean anything, he’s doing a good job. And that’s all that matters, isn’t it? Keeping everyone convinced.

If he’s starting to become a little bit too convincing, enough to even trick himself, no one needs to know about it.

“You should’ve seen him when we were waiting outside,” Ten says in the middle of an interview, pointing at Mark with a thumb. The interviewer raises his eyebrows at them, his face split in two by a vicious smile. Mark should be used to it, to people wanting to know every little detail of his life. He’s been doing this for so long, but it still causes his hands to shake. “The way he was smiling at his phone when Haechan called.”

Everyone laughs, from the members, to the interviewer, to the people in the crowd. Mark’s cheeks go red under the attention, under the exposure. And they shouldn’t, because this is what he’s doing this for, for these people. But he can’t help the feeling, as if he’s standing bare in front of a million strangers, his body turned upside down, secrets written all over his arms in permanent ink.

“You were watching?” he asks Donghyuck later, when he’s sprawled on a cold hotel room bed, sheets tangled around his legs with no one beside him to steal them.

“Of course,” Donghyuck’s voice comes high pitched with indignation. On the screen, he brings a hand to his chest, as if Mark has just offended him. “You got so shy, baby.”

The pet name is a first. Mark almost finds it ridiculous, the way it makes his heart swell in his chest to the point it physically hurts. He’s the one pressing a hand against his ribs now, just to make sure they haven’t split open.

Lucas laughs out loud from where he’s lying down on the other bed.

“Shut up,” Mark groans, his face so hot he thinks he’s about to burst into flames. “You’re on speaker.”

It’s such a ridiculous thing to say, because if they aren’t doing this for everyone to hear, then what’s even the point?

 

----

 

And it is perfect like this:

Late at night, with the light turned on and the door locked shut. Mark is half lying on his back, propped up by a bunch of pillows against the headboard, feet planted hard on the bed. His heels dig into the mattress, so he can push himself up to match the pace of his thrusts with the rhythm of Donghyuck’s hips.

When he had gotten home, his muscles felt all beaten up, the cords of his neck tensed up like guitar strings. He knows there are bruises on his knees, his ankles are swollen and his ribs ache as if they are about to snap. But, at times like this, with sweat draped all over his skin and his breath catching in his chest, the pain and exhaustion can’t get to him.

Donghyuck bounces on top of him, clenching around him and dragging all sorts of noises from the back of his throat. Donghyuck plays him like a song on repeat, starting all over again before it has a chance to reach the end. All Mark can do is melt down into the mattress.

He stares at the dips his fingers dig into Donghyuck’s thighs and catches himself once again marveling at the difference between them: honey against milk, cotton soft skin adjusting to calloused hands. And he thinks how lucky he is to have found someone able to adapt to all of his crooked edges.

Mark moves one of his hands from Donghyuck’s thigh to his navel, purposefully neglecting his dick, all swollen and red, already leaking down onto Mark’s stomach. He touches the mole there, on the right of Donghyuck’s belly button, and traces a path up his torso, linking every single mole he finds on his way up to Donghyuck’s nipples.

“Fuck,” Donghyuck’s thighs tremble at each side of Mark when he brushes a thumb over his left nipple, already hard and begging for attention. Mark presses his pad hard against the bud, and Donghyuck’s head rolls back, exposing his sweaty throat, shining golden under the yellow light of the room.

Mark wants to kiss him so badly, it makes him twitch inside of Donghyuck, hips stuttering and almost missing the pace, too distracted by the view on top of him. He wants to push himself off the pillows and attach his lips to the dip of Donghyuck’s collarbones. He wants to turn every mole on his throat purple, nibble at the edge of his jawline and mark his way up to Donghyuck’s heart-shaped lips.

But he can’t. So he drops his hand to the mattress again, so he can push himself up and attach his lips to Donghyuck’s nipple instead. He traces lightly around it with the tip of his tongue, tugs at the bud gently with his teeth. Mark brushes his lips around it feather-light but never quite kissing, blows his shallow breath over the wet skin until he’s got Donghyuck grunting, arching his back into him, tangling his hands on Mark’s hair to force his mouth closer.

Mark sucks into Donghyuck’s nipple eagerly as he sneaks his other hand between them. He wraps his shaky fingers around Donghyuck’s dick, pumps him raw and unsteady as he starts to miss his rhythm.

It is fast and messy. Donghyuck doesn’t stop, he grinds down onto Mark’s hips and thrusts up into the crook of his hand even when his thighs won’t stop shaking. Mark smears spit all over Donghyuck’s chest, breathing open mouthed against the skin as he comes inside of him, his nails sinking into the flesh of his thigh as Donghyuck keeps rutting into his fist.

Donghyuck slumps against Mark’s chest as soon as he comes, shooting streaks of white over Mark’s fingers and all across his chest.

Mark stays still for a second, his nose caught in the dip of Donhghyuck’s collarbone and Donghyuck trembles on top of him, whining softly into Mark’s ear with each aftershock.

Everything feels so intimate for a second. Mark runs his fingertips over the bumps of Donghyuck’s spine, pads gliding over damp, hot skin. He keeps going up, up, up until he reaches Donghyuck’s nape, massaging the muscles there in the way he knows Donghyuck likes. And Donghyuck goes so soft under his thumb, his forehead pressed to Mark’s temple as he breathes deeply against his cheek.

Their mouths are so close, Mark is terribly aware of it. Donghyuck’s warm, ragged breathing hitting the side of his face gently. His nose brushes over Mark’s cheekbone with every gasp he draws in, feather-light and barely there. Mark only has to tilt his head to the side a little bit, and he could catch his lips on the seam of Donghyuck’s mouth, he could lick at the pink skin there and finally remember what he tastes like.

Because everything is perfect like this. Until it isn’t.

They are entangled together, skin against skin. And then, the next second, Donghyuck is standing in front of the bed, pulling his rumpled clothes over his still sweaty skin.

Pain is already settling all over Mark’s muscles again as he stretches over the bed to grab his glasses. It’s as if Donghyuck is the only one that can appease his exhaustion lately; once he’s gone, it all comes crashing over Mark like bricks, punching his ribs purple. And Donghyuck is gone far too often, disappearing as soon as he comes down from his high.

“You gonna sleep in your room tonight?” Mark asks, eyes focusing on Donghyuck’s already half dressed figure once he slides his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“With Renjun,” Donghyuck tells him, crouching down to push his feet into his sneakers. These days, he doesn’t even look at Mark when he talks to him.

Mark runs a hand through his hair, fists his fingers at the top and tugs, trying to talk himself out of what he’s about to do.

“You could spend the night here, you know?” he says after a beat. “It’s been a while.”

Donghyuck halts, still crouched on the floor, the laces of his sneakers wrapped around his fingers. “Renjun is waiting for me,” he says, slowly, as if calculated, hands working on his shoes again.

“Listen,” Mark drags his body over the bed until he’s sitting at the edge of it, right in front of Donghyuck. “I know you’re stressed out with this whole thing and the comebacks and stuff. But you can, like, take it out on me, you know? I mean, you don’t have to keep disappearing and running away.” He says it all in one breath, scared words will run away from him the way they seem to always do when they are alone together. Donghyuck doesn’t reply, though. He just moves to tie his other shoe. “Hyuck, I’ve been putting up with your tantrums since 2013. I’m here for you, you know that.”

When he stands up, Donghyuck looks at him with an unimpressed raised eyebrow. He’s got his arms crossed in front of his chest, like an armor Mark has lost the ability to break.

“I’m not even stressed,” he mocks, rolling his eyes.

“Donghyuck, I know you. I can read you.”

Mark stretches an arm out, his hand grazing over Donghyuck’s forearm before he moves away and towards the door hastily.

He snaps. “Read me better, then.”

Mark’s arm falls limp to his side. “What’s gotten into you? What the fuck that does even mean?”

“Nothing,” Donghyuck says, yanking the door open. “It doesn’t mean shit. Just like everything else with you.”

Just like on their first night, Mark screws his eyes shut so he doesn’t have to see him go.

 

---

 

Mark can’t fall asleep that night. He ends up grabbing his pillow and sneaking into Yuta’s room. He curls at the edge of the queen sized bed, not even touching, but close enough to feel another body there, breathing softly, just for company. Just to feel like someone wants him there for more than just his body.

He unlocks his phone, lowers the brightness all he can, and types quietly in the dark.

 

To: jeno

what if the person u picture your future w seems to want to break free of every thought u have of them?

 

But he never hits send. He cuts the message and pastes the words into the folder he’s got for music.

He falls asleep waiting for Donghyuck’s name to pop up on his screen.

 

---

 

This is how Mark fucks up completely:

He doesn’t know what time it is, but the sky is a mix of purples and oranges, and exhaustion has already planted its roots deep inside of him. Sleep is tugging at all his seams, turning everything blurry and dream-like.

They are on the way back to the dorms, and it’s idly quiet in the van. The other members are either focused on their phones, lost in the music coming from their headphones or fast asleep. And Donghyuck is tucked into Mark’s side, as he always is in these rides, so people can’t figure out there is something wrong between them, something crooked and rotting that Mark doesn’t know how to fix.

But, tonight, Donghyuck is soft in a way he hasn’t allowed himself to be around Mark in what feels like years. He’s molded into his side, fitting into the crook of Mark’s neck like a puzzle piece. He’s drawing random patterns into Mark’s thigh with his fingertips, breathing so gently into the skin of his throat that Mark finds himself fisting his hands to suppress a shiver.

Mark wants to keep him like this. He wants Donghyuck to melt into his skin, settle under his ribs and stay with him forever, all mellow and pliant, so sweet that Mark feels sugar-high.

And maybe that’s why he does it, high on the softness of the moment and dizzy with sleep. He’s running on the pure fear of Donghyuck pulling away and away and so far away that Mark won’t be able to reach for him anymore, no matter how hard he tries. He’s touch starved even though Donghyuck is always all over him, but never like this, never with meaning.

So Mark brings a hand up to Donghyuck’s face and traces the edge of his jaw with his fingers, tips caressing carefully over the skin, stubble rough under his pads.

He holds his breath the entire time, half expecting Donghyuck to push him away, half expecting him to be already fast asleep on his shoulder. But Donghyuck pulls away from the crook of his neck softly, looks up at Mark with hooded eyes, shining quietly with confusion and something else. And Mark doesn’t have any breath left to hold, all gone just by the sight in front of him.

They are so close that their noses bump together. Mark runs a thumb over Donghyuck’s bottom lip softly, and his mouth parts under Mark’s touch so easily, so pliantly, as if he’s waiting for him to close the distance.

Mark knows he should talk himself out of it, because no one is paying attention to them. They have no one to convince, there’s only this raw need in his chest, tugging him inevitably close, close, closer.

Whenever he imagined a kiss with Donghyuck, it was always something clumsy and desperate, a mirror of their first kiss. But when he kisses him for real, he does so as gently as he can manage.

Mark brushes their mouths together in the softest touch, he slots his bottom lip between Donghyuck’s and muffles the gasp that comes out of Donghyuck’s throat with his tongue. And they stay like that for what feels like centuries, eyes fluttering closed under the fragility of it all.

But then, Donghyuck’s hand shifts on Mark’s thigh, fingers digging into the flesh as if he needs to grab onto him to stay grounded. Mark’s mouth falls open in a startled sigh, and Donghyuck takes the chance to lick at Mark’s bottom lip gently before he’s sliding his tongue into Mark’s mouth, slowly, pressing against the softest parts of him.

Mark swears his heart is stuttering in his chest, charged with something he has never felt before. Somehow, this quiet moment is more intense and intimate than all those times they’ve been intertwined together, naked and sweaty, hands roaming all over each other. He’s getting drunk on Donghyuck’s taste, sweet and electric and so incredibly familiar, it has Mark whining into the kiss.

When Donghyuck pulls away, tugging at Mark’s bottom lip as if he doesn’t really want to let go, he keeps his eyes closed. Mark swears he looks smooth around the edges, so delicate to the eyes. He wraps his hand around Donghyuck’s nape, slides his thumb down the side of his neck to feel his heartbeat under his pad, skyrocketing in his throat. Mark leans in again, but, this time, his lips brush the corner of Donghyuck’s mouth, he kisses at the mole next to his nose, travels up until he can kiss both of his eyelids softly. And he swears Donghyuck’s heart stops with each kiss.

And if Mark could catch this moment into his hands and keep it in the pocket of his shirt for a lifetime—right over his heart—he would, just so he could replay it whenever he feels Donghyuck drifting away from him, sliding through his fingers like the grains of sand of a sand clock he can not turn around.

But the moment breaks, and even though Donghyuck hides himself away into the crook of Mark’s neck one more time, he’s tense and hard around the edges.

Mark spends the rest of the ride wondering how he’s going to explain this once they get to the dorms, biting down on his bottom lip to try to make the tingling stop.

 

---

 

The door to his room opens when Mark is already changed into his sleeping sweats and ready to slip under the covers. Donghyuck closes the door softly behind him and walks to Mark’s closet without saying a word. He’s still dressed, and he rummages through Mark’s rumpled shirts as if he’s trying to find something to wear for bed.

Mark follows him with his eyes, his mouth dry as he struggles to find the words to say, fingers twisted on the strap of his pants.

“Hyuck,” he starts, wincing at how rough and loud his voice sounds in the quietness of the room. “Listen. About earlier… In, in the van?”

Donghyuck visibly halts at the words, his back setting into tense lines under the fabric of his graphic t-shirt, his hands lost somewhere into Mark’s closet. He doesn’t turn around, he doesn’t speak. So Mark forcefully clears his throat and keeps going.

“I’m sorry. For breaking the rules or whatever. It’s just… I don’t know what got into me,” he stumbles over his words a little, eyes falling to the floor. Even though Donghyuck isn’t looking back, Mark can’t bear to look at him when he’s lying through his teeth. “It doesn’t. I mean, it doesn’t have to mean anything? I was just, like, super sleepy. And the mood was so nice, you know?”

The silence that drapes over them is suffocating in its noise. Mark can hear his own heart in his ears, beating behind his eyes and on his wrists as he waits, completely still.

“Alright,” Donghyuck says after what feels like a decade, moving from Mark’s shirts to his jackets. “I’m going out with Doyoung. I’m borrowing this.”

And Mark can only stare at him as Donghyuck takes a leather jacket off a hanger. He throws it over his shoulders, slips his arms into it easily. And it fits around him so well, hugging his back so perfectly. Mark goes a little breathless at the mix of feelings, Donghyuck wearing his clothes as if he belongs to Mark, at the same time he walks towards the door and keeps slipping away, away, away.

He should be glad that this isn’t escalated into a fight. Donghycuk’s anger at breaking one of his rules, that was what Mark feared the most. But he finds himself longing for rage, for a screaming match, for anything. He wants Donghyuck to yell at him for breaking his trust and ask him not to touch him again. He wants Donghyuck to blow up and tell him that it did mean something, that it has always meant something. He wants something real.

But Donghyuck walks out of the room with staged calm, as if everything is perfectly fine between them, as if this distance between them is something Mark has made up in his head. As if it will never mean anything.

 

---

 

When Mark’s phone vibrates with a notification from Doyoung later that night, he’s been in bed for hours already, covered up to the tip of his nose and wide awake.

Doyoung sends a plain and direct ‘misses u’, and Mark stares at it for so long, his eyes go teary eyed at the brightness of the screen in the darkness of his room. Because, by the pic attached to the message, the words read like a lie.

The Donghyuck in the picture is clearly drunk, his cheeks all flushed pink and swollen. He must've put a bit of glitter on his eyelids before he left the dorms, and he's glowing golden soft under the bright lights of the club. His hair is tousled up, looks dirty with sweat, curling around his red eras in messy strands. He looks so much like the Donghyuck that Mark danced with all those nights ago, deathly beautiful, captivatingly dangerous. But it's not Mark who's been given the pleasure to take him dancing this time.

There's another guy in the picture, someone Mark doesn't know and who looks just as wasted as Donghyuck. He's got an arm around Donghyuck's waist, the tips of his fingers sneaking under his graphic tee. And Donghyuck has an arm around the dude's shoulder, eyes closed as he leans into him, a kissy pout on his lips aimed at the guy's cheek.

It's vicious and ugly, the feeling that crawls up Mark's throat, his mouth going sour with it. He knows he's being irrational, he’s aware there is absolutely nothing wrong with the picture. And, above all things, he knows Donghyuck doesn't owe him anything. But it feels like mockery, somehow. Donghyuck going out and offering kisses to people he barely knows when he said he never kisses without meaning.

 

To: doyoung

??

From: doyoung

hes been whining about u all night

pls call him or smth

 

Mark considers it for a second, bleary eyed and with an impending headache building on his temples. He goes to his contacts, finger hovering over Donghyuck's name for a heartbeat before he decides to block his phone and set it on his bedside table, facing down so the notification light can't tempt him.

His glasses follow the phone, he takes them off, folds them and sets them aside, too. Then, he curls into himself at the edge of the bed, tugs the blankets over his body as tightly as he can manage, even though it's hot in the room, and closes his eyes tightly.

But sleep refuses to come to him, head blurry with all the worst case scenarios it can come up with. Because, if Mark broke their no sex rule, if Mark broke their no kisses rule, who says Donghyuck can't throw their last rule out the window and give himself to someone else tonight?

The tightness on his throat is so sudden and so irrational that Mark almost chokes because of it, unwelcome tears making his eyes prickle, bitter and burning. He keeps his eyes screwed shut, refusing to let tears fall down his cheeks when they make no sense. But it's getting hard to breathe, because now that he's almost had Donghyuck in every sense of the way, the fear of losing him physically pains him and he doesn't know how to deal with it, never had to deal with it.

And the worst part is that the only person he would talk about this with, the only person he'd allow himself to be this vulnerable around, is Donghyuck.

 

---

 

Cold, sticky fingers on his cheek is what shakes Mark awake a few hours later. He blinks his eyes open, confused at the still darkness of the room. He can’t even see Donghyuck hovering over him, but he feels him.

Actually, he can smell him—the rank scent of alcohol clinging to his breath, the acrid smell of cigarettes tangled in his clothes, in his hair. He smells like a night out, like an overcrowded pub and too many drinks. He smells like a good time and bad ideas.

“Hey,” Mark greets him, his voice is barely there, sandpaper rough and half gone with sleep. “Had fun?”

Donghyuck hums as a reply, his fingers still pressed to Mark's cheek. When Mark brings his hand up to rub at his tired eyes, their knuckles knock together.

“Thought you might bring someone home,” Mark blurts out in the stillness of the moment, brain still so foggy with sleep that his filter is even worse than usual.

He regrets it as soon as the words fall off his lips. Donghyuck starts tapping his fingers on his cheek, like a nervous tick. Mark can't see his expression, all he can see is the slope of his nose, the hint of his cheekbone, but he knows Donghyuck is frowning.

“Why would I?” When he speaks, he does so in a slurred whisper. “Have you right here.”

Donghyuck slumps against him, then. His arms curl around Mark's head, nosing at the crook of his neck as if it's his favorite place to hide. His clothes rumble in the silence of the night, Mark's leather jacket still wrapped around his shoulders. Mark has the passing thought that it is not fair for Donghyuck to feel so soft and familiar, not when he smells rough and far away, like a nightmare.

Mark wraps his arms around him, anyway. The tightness on his chest easing up for the first time since their car ride home.

“I'm a bit drunk,” Donghyuck giggles into his neck, a sound he hasn't shared with Mark in far too long.

He slips his hands under the leather jacket, places them on the small of Donghyuck's back, just because he can. “Only a bit?”

Donghyuck laughs again, eyes fluttering over Mark's skin like a butterfly. “I never brought anyone home before,” he whispers, and it sounds like a joke and a confession all the same.

The words take a while to sink in. At first, Mark only hums, running his thumbs up and down over Donghyuck's shirt. Then, the implications hit him like a heart attack. Tears come rushing back, trying to crawl up his throat again, like claws hooking into his insides.

“What?” He tries to pull Donghyuck away from him, his hands digging into his sides to push him. But Donghyuck latches onto him with clammy hands, still nuzzled into his neck. “Donghyuck. What do you mean?”

He groans brokenly when Mark tries to push him away again, tightening his arms around him. “Stop it. You don't want me?”

“Hyuck, seriously.” Mark groans, voice thick and bordering desperate. He wraps his arms back around Donghyuck instead, keeping him as close as he can as he mumbles: “Was I your first?”

Donghyuck giggles one more time, tinier, like a secret. “And only.”

“Fuck.” Mark has to blink rapidly to scare the tears away.

He doesn’t even know what to say, there is not a word in the dictionary that feels fitting for this moment, everything seems way too important to talk with a drunk, sleepy Donghyuck. So he swallows past the lump in his throat, trying to push down all the apologies piling under his tongue.

“What’s wrong?” Donghyuck finally moves, hovering over Mark again, so close that their noses knock together. “Isn’t it cute?”

Mark hates this. Hates that he can hear the disappointed pout on Donghyuck’s mouth. Hates that all he wants to do is rush forward and kiss it away. Hates that, deep inside, he’s glad to be Donghyuck’s first and only. Hates that he wants to be his last, too.

But he doesn’t say any of this out loud. Instead, he clears his throat and asks. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Donghyuck shrugs, his jacket (Mark’s jacket) rubbing against the sheets noisily. He leans in, then, tries to catch Mark’s lips with his. He ends up kissing the corner of Mark’s mouth when he turns his face to the side just in time. The frustrated whine that falls off Donghyuck’s mouth is like a punch to the gut.

“You’re drunk.” Mark tries to explain. He brings his hands up to Donghyuck’s face, tries to make up his expression with his fingertips. “Hyuck. Donghyuck, you should’ve told me.”

Donghyuck’s eyebrows furrow under Mark’s thumb. “Why?”

“I— I don’t know. I could’ve made it better. Like,” he slides his hand down Donghyuck’s face slowly, and his heart aches when Donghyuck leans into the touch. “Gentler. Could’ve been gentler. Different.”

“I didn’t want that,” Donghyuck shakes his head. One of his cold hands wraps around Mark’s wrist, he tugs to bring his hand closer to his lips, so he can place a kiss to Mark’s fingertips. “Just wanted you.”

The pained sound that Mark makes in the back of his throat surprises them both. “Shit, Donghyuck. I wish you were sober right now.”

Donghyuck goes tense, then. He straightens his back, letting go of Mark’s wrist so his hand falls limp into his chest.

“I can’t breathe here. Just wanted... some fun,” he says as he gets up, the mattress creaking terribly with the loss. “Why do you care? Means nothing anyway.”

And then he’s gone, just as fast as he appeared, his feet thumping softly on Mark’s floor.

Mark hates this new habit of Donghyuck. The habit of showing up just to shake everything inside of him. He rumages into Mark’s chest like it’s his, turns everything upside down and then leaves Mark to figure it out on his own. And Mark, Mark’s never learned to figure anything out without him.

 

---

 

Everything seems to go downhill from there, and Mark is clueless on how to hit the breaks. He keeps freefalling with no one to catch him. Because irony is a bitch, and the one who's breaking him down is the only one who knows what's actually going on.

The days keep passing by and Mark can't even look Donghyuck in the eye. He's never felt quite like this around him, guilt crushing him when they so much as brush against each other.

Mark is used to it all: to the cold glances and the snappy remarks, to the tense touches and the rolling eyes. They aren't even trying to act like everything is fine around the others, so everyone assumes they are going through a relationship crisis and stay out of their business. And Mark feels so lonely, for once he wants the other members to stick their noses into his business and drag him out of this.

Because he is used to it all, playing cat and mouse with Donghyuck for so many years he can't count them with the fingers of one hand. But he isn't used to bearing all the guilt on his shoulders, so heavy that he feels like he's about to sink into the ground with the weight of it.

He's never tried to hide anything from Donghyuck, at least not consciously. He's always talked freely about the girls he found attractive, and the boys he thought were cute. When he had sex for the first time, Donghyuck was the person who saw it written all over his face at first glance, and Mark told him all about it the way he always told him all about everything else. He's never questioned why Donghyuck wasn't as open around this matter as he was, he just assumed he wanted more privacy.

Mark saw Donghyuck flirting with people as if it was as easy as breathing, stealing kisses and gifting winks, so fluent in teasing that it might've as well been his second language. So Mark just assumed.

Now, he can't help but feel like he's taken something from Donghyuck in a way he wasn't supposed to, again and again. He can't shake off the memory of Donghyuck under his body, shivering with want and melting at the touch of his fingers. But it is tainted with something ugly that wasn't supposed to be there, something that closes up Mark's lungs whenever his eyes find Donghyuck.

And, this time, Donghyuck doesn't come chasing after him. He doesn't burst into Mark's bedroom with fisted hands and angry cheeks, he doesn't yell at him and beg him to go back to normal. He seems to have gotten tired of trying to drag Mark out of his self-made misery pits. And Mark has never known how to crawl out alone.

So he keeps running away, Donghyuck keeps scowling at him, the other members keep getting worried, and their company watches them with narrow eyes. But this tightrope dancing can only last for so long.

It all blows up during their next meeting for the comeback with 127.

“You know, boys,” their manager says, fingers laced together over the table and looking at them over the rim of his glasses. "The concept won't even matter if we see ourselves involved in a scandal."

Mark knows where this is going. So he lowers his gaze and keeps his eyes trained on the smooth surface of the meeting table, digging his nails into the cushion of his chair to stop himself from speaking up. His mouth is going dry, and all he wants to do is to look up and place his eyes on Donghyuck to find him already looking back at him.

“It wouldn't be good publicity to have you two fighting in the middle of the comeback,” their manager keeps saying. Donghyuck huffs loudly from across the table, and Mark's knuckles go white.

Taeyong bumps his shoulder against Mark in a subtle sign of comfort. It is barely anything, but enough for Mark to grit his teeth and pull through.

“If you think you are not able to resolve your differences, I'd be grateful if you could look past them and act with more professionalism.” Mark forces himself to stare at the table, his eyes going watery for not having blinked in too long. He hates the unfairness of it all, because he hasn't missed a single practice, he hasn't gotten a single step wrong, he hasn't forgotten a single word. His love life and his professionalism shouldn't be at all intertwined. For the first time, he regrets faking it all from the start. “I need you to pull through, smile at the cameras and pretend everything is alright in paradise. Are we clear?”

Donghyuck huffs again, one of his fists knocking against the table. Mark blinks and looks up.

“I’m not gonna lie and act like everything's fine just for some publicity,” Donghyuck snarls. Mark almost laughs at the hypocrisy, as if they haven't been acting all this time, as much as it hurts to admit it.

When Mark's eyes find him, Donghyuck isn't looking back at him. He's focused on their manager, his jaw set in anger. Mark wants to trace the edge of it with his fingers, feel the stubble there scratching his fingertips, he wants to place a kiss right where Donghyuck's jaw meets his ear. But Donghyuck looks stone-hard and ready to bite.

“Let's break up, then.”

The words are out in the open before Mark has time to think them through. He's always been like a bottle of champagne popped open when he's nervous, that's what Donghyuck used to tell him. His thoughts come bubbling out of his mouth like foam, the implications rebounding through the room like the gunshot of an uncorked bottle, loud and definitive.

That's when Donghyuck finally looks back at him. The expression on his face can't be read as anything else than betrayal. His eyes are wide open and glossed over, lips pressed up into a thin line, as if he's trying to stop himself from bursting open.

Mark doesn't know what he wants anymore. He wants to get up, dig his fingers into Donghyuck's shoulders and shake him until he's screaming into his face. He wants to get up and hug him and let Donghyuck cry in his shoulder the way he used to do whenever he got homesick when they were kids. He wants to get up and slam the door and never look back.

Above all things, he wants to cough out the lump in his throat and scream until his voice goes hoarse. He wants to justify himself and explain that he's doing this for them, that this whole shitshow has done nothing else but tear them apart. That he can't bear the way his lungs close up whenever his eyes meet Donghyuck's, and Donghyuck looks away, as if he can't stand the sight of him. As if he doesn't know what to do with Mark anymore. As if he's given up on them the way Mark wanted to give up all those years ago—when they were still trainees and Mark forgot how to breathe for the first time. But Donghyuck clung to him with cold fingers, slipped under Mark's skin and refused to let him go. Until today.

“Well,” their manager clears his throat, waving a hand through the air as if trying to cut through the tension. “I don't believe we will have to reach that point. A long as you put a more effort—”

“Stop pushing them so much, please,” Taeyong chimes in. Mark hears his voice as if he's underwater, muffled and infinite. “You're acting as if their private matters are all for publicity,” he sighs. And Mark swears under his breath, because oh how he wishes he wouldn't have ruined everything by feeling too much. “This needs to stop right here. They aren't even together.”

Donghyuck breaks their eye contact so abruptly, as if Taeyong's words have broken him out of a spell.

“Hyung, what the fuck,” he says. And it's barely a whisper, but it has more strength than a scream.

“I'm sorry, Donghyuck. But this has gone too far,” Taeyong is smiling softly at Donghyuck as if he's doing him a favour. Mark keeps looking between them, his voice trapped between his lungs like a wound. “I think this is the best for you—”

Donghyuck shakes his head so fast, Mark almost misses the twinkle of tears gathering at the corner of his eyes. “You don't know shit,” he says, all choked up and out of breath.

Although Taeyoung keeps calling after him, Donghyuck leaves with a slam. The room bursts into chaos as soon as the door snaps closed. Mark is left to suffocate all alone.

 

---

 

When he wakes up the next morning, Mark doesn’t even check his phone. He goes straight to the bathroom, locks the door after him and lets his clothes fall to the floor.

He sets his phone on the tower rack with his music on shuffle at maximum volume and steps into the shower. He stays under cold water until the pads of his fingers are as wrinkled as raisins, rough over his skin when he spreads soap over his trembling body. For weeks now, the noise of the water hitting the tiles is the only thing that makes his head go quiet.

Once he’s done, he rubs his body dry with a rugged towel. He scrubs and scrubs until his arms and ribs go red and tender, but his old self doesn’t seem to be hiding under his new skin.

He comes out of the bathroom with a flushed face and his hair still wet, and he drags his feet on his way to the kitchen. He picks his usual mug and throws himself into one of their stools. It creaks under his weight, as if Mark is too much for it. He’s too much for everything and everyone, lately.

The cereal goes soggy, soaking on milk as Mark tries to get it out of the way with his spoon, looking into his mug as if it is hiding an answer to a question he doesn’t even know how to ask. He only eats when Johnny steps into the room, slapping the back of his head on his way to the counter.

“Stop moping, it’s embarrassing.”

Mark laughs through his nose, still looking down at his breakfast. But he finally finds the strength to dip the spoon into the cereal properly and bring it up to his mouth.

He’s only halfway through the mug when Taeyong flops down next to him. He bumps his shoulder against Mark in some kind of wordless display of moral support, and then he slides his phone over the countertop towards Mark, the screen lit up and the Twitter app open. Mark scans the letters there with a bored look.

Every word typed down there, against a boring white background, feels empty and too profesional. The statement of a break up that reads more as a business paper than something that actually matters. Still, every sentence claws at Mark’s throat with sharp ends, tugs tears up his throat at the reality of it all. He’s never been good at handling finales, he has to grit his teeth tightly and breathe through his nose to stop himself from throwing the phone across the room.

“Maybe it’s better this way,” Taeyong says, one of his hands squeezing Mark’s shoulder. Mark flinches under the touch, his skin still sensitive after his shower.

Taeyong’s voice is cotton-soft and conciliatory, and it sets off Mark’s nerves in all the wrong ways. He sounds exactly the same he did back then, when this all started, as if he knows best.

Mark still remembers Taeyong’s words when he first found out about their plan:

“You can always fake a break up in a couple of months,” he had said. “It’s not as if you’re gonna be stuck like this forever.”

But Mark wasn’t expecting the break up to feel so real. So irreversible. But what is there to reverse when there’s only been nothing from the start.

He’s about to reply when Donghyuck comes in like a storm. He’s got the force of a hurricane under his skin, the door slamming shut after him as he stomps into the kitchen with his eyes narrowed at Mark. Everyone else runs away, hiding in their rooms to avoid being wrecked by the force of him. But Mark can’t even feel his feet, his thighs. He’s numb all the way to his hands and somewhere deep inside, and he just wants Donghyuck to shake him awake.

“Aren’t you going to do anything about this?” Donghyuck screams when he comes to stand in front of him. His hands are balled into fists, as if he’s ready to fight, but his arms are limp at his sides, chest undercovered as if he knows Mark doesn’t have the power to hurt him.

“What do you even want me to do?” Mark pushes his words through his teeth. This is the first time he’s spoken since he woke up, his tongue pasty and heavy inside of his mouth.

Donghyuck rolls his eyes at him, huffs through his nose as if his patience is already running thin. “You’re just gonna let them break it up as if it’s nothing?”

And Mark wants to ask: why are you saying break it up, when they are breaking us?

Instead, he grips the edge of the stool and says, “Because it is nothing.”

“You know that’s not true,” Donghyuck shakes his head, his shoulders slumping a little.

He looks so defeated like this—almost small under the big flannel overshirt he’s wearing, his fisted fingers barely peeking out of his sweater paws. His long hair is all tousled up and there are blue shadows smudged under his eyes, as if he hasn’t slept at all. And Mark is viciously happy, because he spent the entire night turning in bed with his heart in his throat, almost choking him with guilt. And it isn’t fair for Donghyuck to make him feel like this, when he hasn’t done anything to stop it, either.

“I know nothing!” The stool screeches uglily when Mark gets up, its legs scraping the tiles. “You never tell me anything! You keep running away and avoiding me like a fucking little kid.”

Mark is breathing heavily through his nose. He’s gritting his teeth so hard, his jaw is starting to hurt, his tongue pressed to the roof of his mouth so no more words can sneak out past his lips. He knows he’s already said too much and all wrong, and Donghyuck seems to grow bigger with the meaning of his words, chest puffed out as he takes a step closer to Mark.

“I never tell you anything?” Donghyuck says, uncharacteristically quiet. All of a sudden, he’s soft-spoken, a complete contrast to the flush on his cheeks and the cruel twist to his lips. “I told you,” he takes a step closer, jabs a finger right at the middle of Mark’s chest. The distant thought that this is the first time they’ve touched in weeks sneaks into Mark’s head, and he has to sink his nails into the palms of his hands to stop himself from reaching out and pulling Donghyuck closer. “I told you I don’t kiss without meaning. And then I kissed you back. I told you you were my first. And—and my fucking only,” his voice is starting to get louder and, when he lets out a ragged breath, Mark can feel it on his cheeks. Donghyuck pushes his finger harder into his chest, Mark wants him to break through the fabric of his shirt and reach deeper, scratch him permanently. “I told you I didn’t want anyone else. For fuck’s sake, Mark. I’ve been loud, loud, loud. For years.

Donghyuck’s voice breaks, but his mouth stays half open, as if he’s got a lot more to say, but no words to voice it, or no strength to explain. When he blinks, there are tears hanging on his eyelashes, and Mark has forgotten the last time he’s seen him cry like this, because of him.

He’s reaching out before he can think, both of his hands wrapping around Donghyuck’s wrist. But Donghyuck pulls away from his grasp with a hiss, as if he’s just been burnt. When he takes a step backwards, the space between them feels infinite.

“You’re so incredibly dense. It feels like,” Donghyuck says, his voice thick with tears, his words all ragged around the edges. “It feels like you need everything chewed up for you to understand. And it’s so—it’s frustrating,” he lifts a hand up to his face, tries to dry his cheeks with the sleeve of his overshirt. When his arm falls back to his side, the tears keep coming. “You are supposed to know me best. You are—were my best friend? I don’t even know anymore, Mark.”

“Stop,” Mark cuts him off. There are so many words piling up under his tongue, he doesn’t even know where to start. He’s back to feeling like a teenager, fifteen and completely clueless on how to express his feelings. Seventeen and completely terrified at the thought of losing Donghyuck. Twenty one and completely overwhelmed by the lump in his throat. “Shut up. Don’t. Don’t talk like that.”

He’s shaking his head so fast, he’s going a little dizzy. When he takes a step closer to Donghyuck, he stumbles on his feet, tripping like a baby that still hasn’t learned how to walk. That’s the way he always feels around Donghyuck, like a toddler who keeps falling down, crawling to try to catch up to him. But he’s always empty handed when he reaches him, with scraped knees and words he never knows how to use.

Donghyuck takes another step backwards, stretching his arms out to keep Mark away from him.

“I love you,” he says suddenly, with a shrug. As if it’s simple, as if it’s not too late, or the worst timing ever. As if it’s obvious. And he doesn’t even give Mark some time to come to terms with it. He keeps talking as if Mark’s heart isn’t about to crawl up his throat. “I’ve been waiting, you know?” Donghyuck sniffles, his left hand tangling on his shirt, over his heart. “Been waiting for you to open your eyes and realize. I thought you just needed time. But now, I—I’ve started to think that you don’t see it because you don’t want to see it,” he laughs, then. And it’s a twisted thing, bitter and dark and just wrong coming from his lips. “I used to be so sure. I know nothing now. Because if I can’t be sure of you then I can’t be sure of anything.”

Mark doesn’t know what to do. His mouth and hands keep opening and closing, as if trying to form words that aren’t there, as if trying to grasp at Donghyuck but he isn’t there. His heart beating on his temples, so fast and loud that his head aches with the force of it, blood pulsating behind his eyes.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Donghyuck asks. He isn’t crying anymore, but his eyes are rimmed red and puffy around the edges. The tears have washed his face soft, but his voice still sounds stone cold. “Gonna stammer over nothing like you always do?”

And it’s too much. The tiles of the kitchen walls are too white, the air in the room is too thick, Mark’s heart is beating too loudly. Mark doesn’t know what he wants, because suddenly he can’t even think. And Donghyuck is standing there, with steady feet and his feelings all worked out, demanding too much of him.

“I—” Mark starts and stops. He shakes his head, sliding his eyes from Donghyuck to the door. He can’t bear to look at him, not when everything is closing up around Mark, but Donghyuck stands there like everything is perfectly fine, perfectly normal. “I need a break.”

It’s a wicked game—the way they seem to be taking turns to leave the other behind, tearing at each other’s skins and turning everything inside out. But when his shoulder bumps against Donghyuck on his way out, Donghyuck does nothing to stop him.

 

---

 

There is a park not too far away from their dorm where Mark used to hide when everything got too much back when he was a trainee. It’s a quiet place, located in an old neighbourhood, so usually there are never many kids running around. Mark used to throw himself into one of the swings, used to drag his feet over the sand while he dialed his mom’s number and waited for her to pick up.

That’s where he ran to when he was fifteen and desperate to go back home, tears clinging to his jaw as he begged his mom to come pick him up and take him far away. He remembers the white pain on the soles of his feet, the stinging burn of his peeled-open knees, the exhaustion clinging to every single bone of his body, making him feel so heavy that his ankles cracked under his own weight.

This park was also the place he ran to when he fought with Donghyuck all those summers ago. He sat on his usual swing, with a dry throat and burning eyes, and gripped the chains tightly until his hands went numb, the shape intended into his palms.

Both times, it was Donghyuck who found him there.

It’s been a while since the last time Mark felt the need to run away like this. When he steps into the park, his feet don’t rumble over sand grains, but sink into soft cork. The floor has been replaced recently, Mark can tell by the smell of it, artificially new. But that’s the only thing they’ve tried to improve. When he throws himself onto his swing, its hinges screech painfully. When he wraps his fingers around the chais, the rusty metal scratches his skin.

Mark digs his heels into the cork floor. He misses the gravel terribly, the feeling of small grains sneaking into his shoes whenever he dragged his feet over it, drawing random letters on sand in hopes an answer would present itself and make his life easier. But this time, he doesn’t even know what he’s trying to find here.

Summer is coming to an end, but the sun is still strong and bright, with no clouds to stop it from hitting Mark straight on the back. His nape is tingling with warmth, sweat sticking his t-shirt to his skin, and he’s still raw from his shower, even though it feels like it happened weeks ago instead of minutes.

He hasn’t even brought his phone with him, he can’t dial his mother’s number, or type a message to Jeno. And even if he could, he doesn’t know what he’d say.

Even here, out in the open, with nothing else but the sun and trees over his head, the weight of his future is crushing his chest painfully. He’s paranoid, swears he can feel eyes all over him, even though there’s no one else in this park but him and an old couple sitting on a bench across from him, feeding pigeons that won’t stop curling around their ankles.

He wants Donghyuck with a ferocity he didn’t think he was capable of. He’s wanted him for longer than he can remember, even when he didn’t even understand what wanting someone felt like. And now that he’s got the chance to have everything he’s always dreamt of, his chest is clogging up with what he’s been suppressing for years. He’s overflowing with everything he’s never allowed himself to feel, his heartbeat pumping on his temples, urgent and demanding.

It is terrifying, the sole thought of surrendering to whatever this is makes him go dizzy. His mind keeps rewinding these past few months, the way Donghyuck kept vanishing between his fingers, only there and solid when the flash of a camera illuminated him.

Mark isn’t sure if it’s worth it, to risk whatever they already have just because they want more. But he wants to, because he’s always been that selfish.

And to this day, whenever he closes his eyes and thinks about the future, as vast and uncertain as it is, Donghyuck is always there beside him. He thinks of himself in 50 years, old skin and rusty joints and a cranky mood, sitting on a bench in the middle of a park, feeding some pigeons, with Donghyuck still next to him.

A future without Donghyuck has never been an option, no matter the name tag they put on it.

Mark doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting on this swing when a pair of worn out sneakers come into view. He doesn’t even have to look up to figure out who just found him. And Donghyck doesn’t even expect him to, because he ends up kneeling right in front of Mark.

“Hi,” he says. It’s almost a whisper, as if he’s left all his strength back in the kitchen. “You need to find a better hiding spot if you don’t want me to keep finding you.”

He’s smiling at Mark, something crooked and small, but his cheeks are red and swollen, as if he’s been crying. His eyes are still red and puffed. Mark lets go of the chains for the first time since he got here, only to cup Donghyuck’s face between his hands, run his thumbs underneath his eyes, wishing he could spell the redness away.

Every single time he ran away from Donghyuck, he was always expecting to be found. And, to this day, Donghyuck has never failed him.

Mark doesn’t dare to speak yet, though. He doesn’t trust his voice, his unshed tears are making his throat hurt, and the sight of Donghyuck is only tightening the knot. So he shakes his head, his hands dropping off Donghyuck’s face and onto his own lap.

Donghyuck reaches towards him, brushes his cold fingertips over Mark’s wrists gently, but he never quite holds his hands. “You need to stop disappearing on me,” he says.

He won’t meet Mark’s eyes, so Mark glances down at his lap, too. Donghyuck has turned Mark’s hands over, and he’s running the pads of his fingers along the chain dents on his palms, pressing against the redness there as if he’s trying to erase it through gentle touches.

“You do it all the time, too,” Mark mumbles. He closes his fingers around Donghyuck’s, squeezes harder than he should, just to make sure he stays there. “Disappearing, I mean.”

Donghyuck huffs, but he doesn’t pull his hands away. When Mark looks up at him, he’s frowning. “I didn’t come here to fight.”

“What did you come for, then?”

“Came to take you home,” he looks up then, his red rimmed eyes boring into Mark’s. “And force you to eat something. You’ve been out for three hours, bastard.”

“Oh,” Mark’s eyes go wide at his words. It didn’t even feel like an hour to him, all tangled up in his thoughts. “We have practice, though,” he says, his voice pitched high with urgency.

“It’s alright,” Donghyuck smirks, then. His thumbs start moving back and forth over Mark’s nuckles, and Mark has to grit his teeth to stop himself from pulling away. “Taeyong said we could skip after… You know, after the break up and everything.”

When Donghyuck says it out loud, it feels realer, somehow. The finality of it settles on Mark’s shoulders like a deadweight. He loosens up his grip on Donghyuck’s fingers, and the only reason why he doesn’t pull away completely is because Donghyuck is the one clinging on his hands this time.

“I should fake date more often if it gets me extra days off,” he says with a shallow laugh, because he’s desperate to get rid of this void in his chest and fill it up with the easiness that used to come over him whenever he was with Donghyuck. And Donghyuck smiles back at him, but it looks like a pained grimace. “Too soon?” Mark asks, his voice dropping lower.

“You know it wasn’t fake,” Donghyuck mumbles, so quietly that Mark barely catches it. And there’s this fire inside of him again, going up his chest and prompting him to retaliate. But he manages to swallow it down. “I don’t really wanna talk about it,” Donghyuck says with a shake of his head, his fingers letting go of Mark’s hands just to press their sweaty palms together instead.

“What’d you wanna talk about, then?”

“Let’s not talk,” Donghyuck whispers. And he’s looking up at Mark with clear twinkling eyes that hide more than they used to. It feels like he’s lost the ability to read Donghyuck along the way, and that’s what hurts most.

Mark doesn’t have the time to figure anything out, though. Because now Donghyuck is letting go of his hands, he’s wrapping his fingers around the chains of the swing and pushing himself into the space between Mark’s legs. Donghyuck is whispering “Let's just—”, and then he’s leaning closer, closer, closer.

When Donghyuck kisses him, it is slow and gentle, but there is no trace of shyness behind it. He moves his lips against Mark’s steadily, with a confidence that reminds Mark of their first night together, but a softness that takes him back to their kiss in a quiet van. He’s trapped somewhere in between, and it feels like he’s kissing Donghyuck for real for the very first time. It seems like Donghyuck has grown tired of holding back, and he’s laying out his cards before him, allowing Mark to read his hand. And Mark is all out of moves.

Donghyuck coaxes his mouth open, licking softly along the seam of Mark’s mouth, and all Mark can do is dig his heels into the cork floor, cup Donghyuck’s jaw between his hands, and push back with as much intent.

Mark can count the times they’ve kissed with the fingers of one hand, but it feels familiar in a way that leaves him breathless. He’s relearning Donghyuck through this—sucking softly on his bottom lip, thumbing behind his ears, gliding their tongues together until Donghyuck is breathing heavily against him, curling into Mark all needy and shaking, pushing so hard against him that the swing moves backwards.

They are forced to break the kiss, but Mark keeps holding onto Donghyuck’s jaw, his index fingers pressed right over where his pulse is beating frantically.

He’s about to dive in again, his nose brushing along Donghyuck’s as he moves closer, when his stomach rumbles loudly. The moment breaks with Donghyuck’s laughter, warm and lilting in the minimal space between them.

“Alright, dumbass,” Donghyuck pulls away and out of Mark’s grasp. He dusts off the knees of his pants and stands straight, looking down at Mark with flushed cheeks and glossy lips. “Let’s get you home.”

He stretches a hand out for Mark to grab, tugs him up, and doesn’t let go.

 

---

 

Mark isn’t sure what he’s expecting to happen once they get back to the dorms.

He knows they are missing a conversation, and maybe he’s waiting for that, for something that will turn into another screaming match. Maybe he’s waiting for Donghyuck to lock himself in his dorm floor and pretend like the last hour didn’t happen. Or maybe he is hoping for Donghyuck to pin him against the tiled wall of the bathroom and take him apart with his mouth.

But none of those things happen.

Donghyuck’s footsteps are loud against the hallway floor as he follows Mark to the 10th floor. He sneaks in as if he owns the place, and he gives Mark normal.

The place is empty and quiet, Donghyuck rummaging through the kitchen counters and drawers is the only sign of life in the apartment. Mark sits on his stool, the same one he bolted up from during breakfast, and feels a million shades different than the person he was this morning. He wonders distantly if kisses always have this effect on people, or if this is just a Donghyuck thing, shaping Mark anew with just his lips.

Mark stretches over the countertop, he rests his chin on his crossed arms and watches Donghyuck as he cooks for the two of them, like he’s done a thousand times before.

Donghyuck’s got his back to him, moving around the kitchen as if he belongs there. He’s humming softly to a song that’s stuck in his head, singing a few disconnected lines here and there thoughtlessly. He’s not putting any real effort into it, but he sounds beautiful nonetheless. His voice drips honey and takes Mark back to those days they used to jam together in the living room, back when Mark’s only worry was to try to keep Donghyuck at arm-length so he didn’t lose the ability to breathe.

Mark misses it terribly, the easiness of those days. But if someone asked him to rewind and erase the last couple of months, he would refuse.

They eat in silence once the food is done, sitting across from each other. Donghyuck won’t stop bouncing his leg nervously, he keeps hitting Mark’s shin with the tip of his foot, so Mark locks their ankles together and pretends not to see the pink flush crawling up Donghyuck’s cheeks. And as much as Mark misses the way they were before, gravitating around each other but never getting to collide, he loves this new feeling between them just as much.

He knows now that it was never simple, he’s been holding back for as long as he can remember, tip-toeing on a tightrope that threatened to break whenever he stumbled over his own feet, over his words. And if there’s something Mark’s good at, that’s stumbling, stammering and falling. But now, he allows himself to rub his foot up Donghyuck’s calf, he doesn’t hold back from peeking at him through hooded eyes, lets himself smirk freely when he finds Donghyuck already looking back at him.

Everything is charged with something he’s too afraid to name. It’s thrilling, dangerous and new. But the same altogether, somehow.

So, when they finish their food and Donghyuck disentangles their feet to get up and clean, Mark pushes himself up with him. And when Donghyuck turns his back to Mark one more time, busy setting the dishes in the sink, Mark allows himself to wrap his arms around him from behind. Donghyuck melts into the touch as if there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.

“You don’t need to do that,” Mark mumbles into his ear, his chin hooked on Donghyuck’s shoulder. “You know where the dishwasher is.”

Donghyuck shrugs under him, his soaped up fingers spreading foam over their dirty plates. “‘M not gonna turn on the dishwasher for this. That’d waste too much water.”

Mark can’t stop the giggle that bubbles up his chest at the domesticity of the situation. They’ve been sharing these moments for so many years, and Mark wants as many more as he can get. His skin heats up at the thought, and he has to hide his smile in Donghyuck’s neck, even though there’s no one else there to read the fondness written all over his face.

“You laughing at me, asshole?” Donghyuck wiggles his shoulder, trying to push Mark off without using his hands. Mark latches onto him with more fervor, the palms of his hands pressed against Donghyuck’s soft stomach.

“I wanna do it right,” Mark says. He’s still tucked in the crook of Donghyuck’s neck, so his lips drag along his skin when he speaks. He crumples Donghyuck’s shirt between his fingers, riling the material up so he can sneak his hands underneath to get his point across. He flutters small kisses up Donghyuck’s throat, as gently as he can manage.

“Mark,” Donghyuck warns him. But he tilts his head to the side, exposing more of his neck, his skin rough with goosebumps under Mark’s lips. “I didn’t want it any other way. Just wanted it to be you.”

There’s the lump in Mark’s throat again, the sensation of feeling so much that he’s about to overflow is getting awfully familiar. He swallows thickly, mouthing at the spot behind Donghyuck’s ear as he tries to find his words.

“What about what I want, though?” Donghyuck tenses up between his arms at Mark’s low pitched tone. He closes the faucet and waits, stiff under Mark’s thumbs. “What if I wanna be gentle? Drag it out.” Mark keeps mumbling, and he’s so thankful for their position. His mouth has gone all dry and his brain is all fuzzy and he doesn’t believe he’d be able to get a single word out if he had to look at Donghyuck in the eyes. “Wanna take my time with you.”

When Donghyuck turns around in his arms, his hands are still wet with water and foam as he places them on Mark’s shoulders, dampening the material of his shirt as he digs his fingers into his flesh, pushing back slightly so he can look at Mark’s face.

“You could have all the time in the world, you know?” he says, his features uncharacteristically hard. “If you really want this, you could.”

And Mark does want this. Taeyong told them once that they didn’t need to be stuck in this forever, but he doesn’t ever wanna get out.

But if there’s something Mark has learnt in the past few weeks, is that his words always come out wrong and have the power to ruin everything. So he doesn’t speak.

Instead, he slips two fingers into the waistband of Donghyuck’s pants and drags him to his bedroom, ready to show him.

 

---

 

Mark knows he’s months too late and words too soon, but he pushes everything aside for now, lies Donghyuck down on his bed, and maps out his body the way he’s always wanted to.

He peels the clothes off of both their bodies slowly, stopping to press his mouth to every new patch of Donghyuck’s tan skin he uncovers.

Mark leaves a kiss to each mole he finds, and then leaves another one for the kisses he’s had to hold back all this time. He traces every single one of Donghyuck’s ribs with his fingers, and then follows the path with his nose. He glides the tip of his tongue into the dips of Donghyuck’s hips, nibbles at the jutted out bones and thumbs over the purple bruises that bloom there, so fast and bright. He loses himself on Donghyuck’s thighs, bites hard enough to leave the shape of his teeth printed there, and Donghyuck writhes every time, asking for more. He scrapes Donghyuck’s sides with his nails and smoothes the angry paths with his mouth. He rubs Donghyuck’s knees, still red and dented for kneeling on the cork floor of the park for too long.

When Mark crawls back up and asks Donghyuck to turn around, words pressed against the heated skin of his cheek, Donghyuck does so instantly, without questions. He lies there, with his face buried in Mark’s pillow, fingers tangled in Mark’s sheets, exposed in every single sense of the word.

Even though Mark has experience, there are some things he’s never done before, yet. He desperately wants to give Donghyuck a first, too. So he starts at his nape, kisses all the way down Donghyuck’s spine, stopping to nose at the dimples on his lower back. And then moves even further down. Mark licks and bites sucks at the tender skin, and fucks Donghyuck open with his tongue.

He doesn’t stop until he’s got Donghyuck humping the mattress, trying to push against Mark’s mouth and away from him at the same time, desperate to keep going but shaking with the intensity of it all. Donghyuck stays hidden in the pillow, so Mark can’t see his face, but by the way his voice breaks when he begs for more, more, more, he’s almost sure he’s crying.

So Mark rolls a condom on himself, drapes his body all over Donghyuck so they are touching in every way possible, and slides inside of him in one hard thrust.

He keeps his forehead pressed against Donghyuck’s shoulder blade, moving as gently as he can manage without losing his mind. He sneaks an arm around Donghyuck’s hips, tugs him up so he can wrap his hand tight around his length and pump him at the rhythm of his thrusts, his calloused palm dragging over Donghyuck’s hot, swollen dick in slow jerks.

Mark is going dizzy, buried deep inside of Donghyuck, losing himself in the warmth of his body. Donghyuck keeps clenching around him, twitching in his hand, crying into the pillow as Mark fucks him tenderly but steadily.

The room is incredibly hot, the air thick and damp and smelling of sex, the noise of their ragged breathing mixing in the quiet of the dorm. Both of them are drenched in sweat, their skins gliding together, the muscles of Donghyuck’s back tensing under the weight of Mark’s chest. And when Mark mouths at Donghyuck’s nape, sinking his teeth into the skin there, tongue pressed flat against his neck so he can taste the salt of his body and memorize it, Donghyuck clenches so violently around him that Mark can’t take it any longer.

He comes crashing down, shuddering and quivering so intensely that he loses his breath, his body so tensed up that it almost hurts. Mark feels lit up from the inside, drunk on Donghyuck’s taste and on the noises he keeps making underneath him, still grinding up against his softening dick, whining desperately.

So Mark turns him around to finish him with his fingers, burying himself in Donghyuck for the third time today. And when Donghyuck begs to be kissed, Mark leans down and kisses every bit of his red, sweaty face.

He mouths at the wet corners of Donghyuck’s closed eyes, presses fluttery kisses to the feverishly hot skin of his forehead, brushes his lips over his swollen cheeks. And once he finally meets Donghyuck’s mouth with his, Mark kisses him hard enough to bruise, because he can. He swallows every single cry Donghyuck makes when he comes spilling all over Mark’s hand, and kisses him until Donghyuck’s lips are swollen red and glistering with spit, so it will only take one look at him for everyone to know.

They don’t cuddle up to each other afterwards, their skin damp and dirty, too dazed in the charged atmosphere of the room. But Donghyuck falls asleep tangled in Mark’s sheets, pressed to his side from shoulder to ankle.

Mark is left alone, with his thoughts and Donghyuck’s soft features, his long hair spread over Mark’s pillow. And he can’t help but think that Donghyuck belongs there, next to him, in his space, smelling of Mark.

He thinks of all the first times they’ve already shared together, from their first win, to their first concert and all the way through their first love. And he thinks of all the firsts that are yet to come, all the things he’s willing to live through with Donghyuck.

Mark’s first committed relationship will be Donghyuck’s, if he wants him. And hopefully, his last, too. Because you aren’t in love with someone unless you want them in your life forever, and Mark refuses to let Donghyuck go.

He’s not planning to run away again any time soon.

 

---

 

The room is still bright when Mark wakes up, sunlight sneaking in through the open window. He frowns and blinks, his eyes a little dry and sore because he fell asleep with his contacts on. When his vision finally adjusts, focusing on Donghyuck’s face hovering over him, the sense of dejavu is so strong that it's almost overwhelming.

“Hey, wake up, sleepyhead,” Donghyuck is smiling fondly at him, his face still puffy with sleep. He grabs at Mark’s forearms and tugs, helping him to sit up in bed. “We might have a problem.”

Mark only grunts at the cold that drapes all over his back. He’s still naked under the sheets, he feels gross and sticky, sore around his ribs and thighs. He pulls the sheets tighter around his body and peeks at Donghyuck through an eye while he rubs the other with his fist.

“What time is it?” he asks, coughing when his voice comes out all rough.

“It’s not even 8 pm.” Donghyuck reaches out then, runs one of his hands through Mark’s tangled bed hair. It’s only then when Mark realizes that Donghyuck is wearing one of his t-shirts, the red one, with Vancouver written on the front.

Mark is too sleepy to stop and think about what this—Donghyuck waking him up softly, wearing his clothes—is supposed to mean. So he tries to joke about it.

“Dating won’t stop you from stealing my clothes, will it?” he smiles at the puzzled expression that settles on Donghyuck’s soft features.

“First of all,” Donghyuck disentangles his hand from Mark’s hair, crawling over the bed to kneel between his legs. “Who said we were dating?” Mark rolls his eyes and opens his mouth to reply, but Donghyuck brings a finger to his lips to stop his words from coming out. “Secondly, wake up already. I told you we have a problem.”

Mark grunts at him again, but presses a kiss to Donghyuck’s finger right before he pulls away. “What’s wrong?”

“Not wrong, exactly,” Donghyuck fishes his phone from between the sheets, his features twisting into a complicated grimace. “I mean, depends on what you wanna do, I guess. Check it yourself.”

He holds his phone in front of Mark’s face, and his hand is shaking a little, so Mark wraps his own around Donghyuck’s fingers to steady him.

It’s a text from their manager, only one single sentence:

 

we need to talk.

 

And there’s an image attached to it: Donghyuck kneeling on the cork floor of the park, his hands wrapped around the chains of a swing; Mark leaning forward, cupping Donghyuck’s face between his fingers as he kisses him, eyes closed.

“Oh, man,” Mark lets go of Donghyuck’s hand and falls backwards onto the bed. “Not this again.”

Donghyuck giggles a little, his phone falling onto the mattress with a soft thud, but he doesn’t say anything.

Silence stretches between them for too long for it to stay comfortable. Mark throws an arm over his face, but he peeks at Donghyuck from underneath. And Donghyuck is already looking back at him (he always is), his bottom lip trapped between his teeth as he fidgets with the hem of his shirt (Mark’s shirt).

“What is it?” Mark removes the arm from his face to pat his own chest twice—a shy invitation. And Donghyuck takes it.

“I know we haven’t talked about it,” Donghyuck says, crawling his way into Mark’s arms, his chin resting on his chest so they can look each other in the eye. “But I like to think that I know you. And we could—We can do this. Do it right, this time.”

Mark hums, fingertips running up and down Donghyuck’s spine. He wonders if the bruises and marks he left earlier today are still there, under his shirt. “And how do you wanna do this?”

“We can just go all out?” Donghyuck shrugs, his eyes falling from Mark’s eyes and to his neck, as if he’s not strong enough to hold his gaze “Tell the world we got back together. Do the same thing all over again, I guess? But starting fresh. If you’re willing to do it, like, in front of the media and stuff.”

There are so many things Mark hasn’t said yet, so many feelings he doesn’t know how to voice. He nods fervently, his hand wrapping around Donghyuck’s waist, clammy fingers digging into his flesh.

“I could introduce you to my parents and my brother,” he whispers.

Donghyuck meets his eyes again, his eyebrows raised high on his forehead, laughter shining in the corners of his eyes. “I’ve known them for years, Mark,” he giggles. And he’s so pretty like this, all round and soft around the edges, shining pink and golden. Mark wants him forever.

“I know. But—” Mark coughs, his voice almost half gone with nerves. “But not as my boyfriend. Like, my real boyfriend.”

“Oh, are you officially asking me out right now?” Donghyuck wiggles his eyebrows at him, the seams of his lips curling into the happiest smile Mark has seen on him in a while. And he’s weirdly proud of himself for that smile, even though he’s been making Donghyuck grin like that for so many years, now. “Took you long enough, didn’t it? Fucking years, I think.”

“Fuck you,” Mark mumbles, his hand flying to Donghyuck’s nape to pull him closer. “C’mere already.”

And Donghyuck does, meeting Mark halfway, as always.

They should get up, get dressed and drive to their company as fast as possible. But they kiss soft and languid for what feels like hours, instead. Mark marvels at the sight of Donghyuck in his room, on his bed. Donghyuck smelling of Mark’s body wash and wearing his clothes. It’s then when he realizes that it’s been like this for years, that the only thing new about the scene is the purple evidence of Mark’s kisses.

Mark only stops kissing him when his phone rings with a notification.

 

From: jeno

is it for real this time?

To: jeno

always has been