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glitter don't shine (the way you used to)

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The door lock clicks open at exactly 2:36 am, Mark notes. Not that he’s been counting.

He looks away from the TV screen for a moment to watch Ten quietly pad his way into the apartment and close the door softly behind him.

“Hey.”

Ten lifts his head at the greeting as he toes off his shoes, the dim light from the TV reflecting off the glitter on his cheekbones. “Hey.”

“Did you have fun?” Mark asks.

Ten nods and places his keys and phone on the kitchen counter. “Johnny asked where you were.”

“He knows I don’t like going out.”

Ten smiles at Mark knowingly, small but bright against the darkness of the room. It still doesn’t reach his eyes. None of them do, these days.

“Still, I— we missed you.”

“I’ll text Johnny later. It’s not like he doesn’t see me enough.”

Ten laughs lightly at that, then Mark watches as he disappears around the corner and makes his way to the bathroom.

Mark glances back at the glowing screen for just a second, before he deems it unimportant and stands up to get a glass of water.

He opens the cabinet above the sink and grabs a cup, turning on the tap to fill it. He doesn’t even realize he’s prepared a second glass until he places it down on the counter next to him and sees the two side by side.

Mark carries them over to the coffee table in front of the couch, the light from the TV refracting through the water and casting patterns on the wall. He doesn’t bother to pause the show he’s watching before he walks down the hall and makes his way into the room on the right.

Some of Ten’s clothes are still haphazardly strewn across his bedsheets, outfits he couldn’t pick between and mismatched pieces that create a dark rainbow of colors. Mark gathers them in his arms and drapes them over the back of Ten’s desk chair, careful to lay them flat so they won’t get wrinkled. The hem of a pant leg brushes against one of the pictures strewn across Ten’s desk that he’s yet to sort, knocking it off and making it flutter to the ground.

Mark bends down to pick it up and return it to its rightful spot, but when he flips it over in his hands, he pauses. It’s a picture of him in Times Square, bright hues of pink and blue lights from the billboards illuminating his face in the night. He’s looking off to the side, face scrunched up in laughter. The quality of the photo isn’t great, the background a little grainy from the light pollution, like it was taken quickly with a phone instead of Ten’s beloved camera. He places it back down on the desk next to the other photos of city skylines and hotel rooms from Ten’s travels. Mark can’t recall seeing a flash of light pointed in his direction at any point that night.

A loud yelp followed by a colorful string of curses draws Mark out of his thoughts and reminds him of what he came here to do. Opening the drawers of the dresser to his right, he grabs a clean pair of sweatpants and an oversized concert tee from one of the dozens of bands Ten had dragged him out to see over the last four years, then makes his way out of the bedroom and down the hallway.

He taps the bathroom door twice with his knuckles. “Ten?” he asks softly. All he hears is a growl of frustration before he cracks the door open cautiously.

Ten stops scrubbing at his face to turn towards him, scowling, and Mark can’t help but let out a laugh.

Raccoon eyes glare back at him under the harsh, bright lights reflecting off the white subway tiles. There’s eyeliner smudged around Ten’s eyes in dark circles, creating a mask that resembles those of the furry little garbage thieves. 

After he stops giggling, Mark places the fresh set of clothes he brought on the corner of the counter and asks, “Do you need help?”

Ten doesn’t answer, just nods and sticks the hand with the makeup wipe out in front of him.

Mark grabs the wipe from him and drops it in the trash can next to his feet. It’s already covered in black and brown and blue, looking for all the world like the bruises that Ten used to come back home with. The only thing that differentiates it is the spattering of purple glitter across it, little shimmering specks that waver in and out like stars as Mark turns his head and the light catches them from another angle.

“Alright, up,” he says.

Ten hops up onto the sink countertop, almost slipping off when he misjudges how far to scoot forward to balance on the edge, but Mark grabs him by the waist to steady him before he can fall. Mark lingers for a second too long as the warmth from his hands seeps into Ten’s bare skin, but neither of them says anything.

He plucks a new makeup wipe from the pack sitting on the counter, then lays it across his palm and brings it up to cup Ten’s cheek. As he swipes his thumb over Ten’s cheekbone, purple specks fall into the sink and onto Mark’s hand and down to his wrist. It’ll be a pain to clean up, but they can worry about that later.

Once the majority of the glitter is removed, he grabs another wipe and gets to work on the black streaks of eyeliner. Ten’s eyes flutter shut when Mark’s fingers get close, and for that Mark’s thankful; this already feels too intimate, even though he’s done it before, and Ten watching him would only make it worse.

Ten’s bare chest rises and falls with each breath that leaves a whisper of a kiss on Mark’s forehead. Some of his breaths are shaky, uneven disturbances in the quiet peace.

“I’m cold.”

“Well, who told you to undress before you took your makeup off?” Mark says, but he places a hand on Ten’s knee to rub some warmth into him anyway.

Ten huffs. “Didn’t think it would take this long, and it was uncomfortable.”

“Why wear it then?” Mark asks.

Ten smiles and lets out a little chuckle. “Beauty is pain.”

Mark hums in response. He never really understood what they meant by that, but looking at Ten these past few months, he thinks he’s starting to get it. The eyeliner, glitter, clothes, all of it is a mask. Pretend. Protection. 

Mark wipes Ten’s eyebrow one last time before he cups Ten’s face in his hands and turns it side to side, watching out for glimmers of light that reflect off of the sparkles, and when he finds none, he taps Ten’s cheek with a finger. “All done.”

“Thanks.”

Ten stumbles slightly as he jumps down from the counter, but Mark is there to catch him, grabbing his hands to steady him.

Mark rubs his hands over the sink in an attempt to get the glitter off, but most of it stays stuck to his skin. Stubborn, just like Ten.

He gives up on trying to get rid of the purple flecks and leaves Ten to wash up, walking back out to the living room.

The buzz of a text notification catches his attention before he can sit back down on the couch. Mark reroutes his path to go toward the kitchen, tapping on Ten’s phone to see that it’s Johnny making sure he got home safely. He unlocks it and opens Ten’s texts to message Johnny back, but stops when he sees a name that shouldn’t be there.

It’s been five months. Mark thought Ten would have blocked him. Ten should have blocked him by now. But the name is still there, and when Mark clicks on it, he sees a string of sporadic messages on the left side, the most recent from a week ago.

Mark can feel his blood boiling, and his thumb is already hovering over the block button, but another text from Johnny pops up and the anger dissipates. He doesn’t know if blocking the number will make matters any better, or how Ten will react if he knows Mark snooped around.

The pile of receipts they keep on the counter catches his eye. There are dozens of them held together by a binder clip, mostly from their late-night snack runs down to the convenience store across the street. Mark grabs them and unclips them, turning them over in his hands to see the backs. He cards through them slowly, his frown getting deeper the further he goes.

Ten likes to doodle on them in the morning while eating breakfast. The receipts dating back to over half a year ago have drawings similar to the ones Mark used to see on Ten’s college notes: easy loops and swirls that somehow come together to create a single, beautiful image. But now they’re darker, angrier, full of scribbles and sharp edges and jagged lines where there used to be soft curves. And then there are the ones that are sad, broken hearts and half-finished eyes that lead into a random streak and end in a bleeding point, like Ten’s hand had gone still for too long and the ink had seeped into the paper.

Mark clips them back together and tosses them into the corner. He doesn’t understand why Ten keeps hurting himself like this. Although, looking at the glitter still stuck on his hands, maybe he does.

Glitter is bright, fun, happy. All the things Ten was, all the things he pretends to be now.

Mark hears the water shut off, indicating that Ten must be done showering. He exits the previous conversation on Ten’s phone and clicks onto Johnny’s name instead, sending him a quick it’s mark. ten’s home. He waits to see Johnny reply with a thumbs up before he sits back down in front of the TV.

Ten comes out a few minutes later, and when he sees Mark still up, he frowns. “Don’t you have a lecture in the morning?”

Mark looks up at the question. Ten looks better now without all the makeup to hide behind, more like the Ten he knows, the Ten he lo— He stops his train of thought there.

“Yeah, but it’s fine.”

Ten walks over and curls up on the couch next to him, pressing their sides together and leaning his head on Mark’s shoulder. “What are you watching?”

“Some series on your list that you haven’t started yet, I think.” Mark can feel Ten shift to look up at him, and when he turns his own head to look down, his breath hitches slightly. There’s less than an inch of space between them, their noses almost touching, and Mark can feel Ten’s breath ghosting on his lips. Somewhere, his subconscious tells him to move forward, just the slightest bit, but there’s also a part of him that’s scared, and in the end, he’s a coward.

“Still using my account, I see,” Ten teases.

“I’ll wait for you next time to start, if you want.”

For a few minutes, there’s silence except for the low drone of the TV in front of them. Mark’s eyes are glued to the screen, but his mind is hyperaware of Ten’s body burning into his side like a furnace, slightly damp hair tickling his neck. He doesn’t dare move. He doesn’t want to destroy whatever this is.

Ten speaks a moment later. “You really don’t have to wait for me all the time,” he says. Mark knows it’s not about stupid TV shows.

“I know. I want to.” He doesn’t know where the sudden braveness comes from. Mark can feel Ten’s body shake with the soft laughter he lets out, but it sounds almost bitter. Ten twists his torso to face towards Mark more directly, then wraps his arms around him and buries his face in the crook of his neck. Mark can feel each hot breath against his skin.

“You’re too good to me.”

Mark feels a drop of wetness on his collarbone. Tears, whether from tiredness or sadness, he doesn’t know. He’s not sure if there’s a difference these days; exhaustion displays itself on Ten’s face almost all the time now, that is, until Ten covers it with makeup and overacted expressions of joy.

So he stays silent, brings up a hand to card at the hairs at the base of Ten’s neck, and waits for the tears to stop. Eventually, Ten’s breathing evens out, a steady rhythm in tandem with the beating in Mark’s chest, and his arms go lax around Mark’s waist, settling in his lap.

Mark stays still to the end of the episode, but as soon as he reaches forward to grab the remote off the coffee table, Ten stirs. He quickly presses the power button, and as the screen goes black, they’re bathed in darkness.

“Ten, we should go to sleep,” he whispers.

Mark tries to stand up, ready to drag Ten to his bed if he needs to, but Ten doesn’t let him, squeezing him tightly and keeping him rooted to the couch cushions.

“Ten—”

“Stay.”

Mark sighs, but reaches a hand out to grab the blanket sitting next to him and drapes it over Ten’s shoulder and then around his. It is rather cold tonight, and he supposes the extra body heat will help. They’ll probably regret this in the morning when they wake up with crooks in their necks, but for now, Mark allows his eyelids to fall shut and focuses on matching his breathing with Ten’s until they’re both fast asleep.