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if you like cameras flashing every time we go out (baby, we're perfect)

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It came to a pressing, anxiety-inducing point, thanks to an online article, like it always does:

JUNGKOOK FROM BTS AND MARK FROM NCT SPOTTED KISSING: TWO MORE LGBTQ+ IDOLS?

Everything started, however, without Mark intending for it to happen, like most things in his life do:

It was 2016 and now, in 2020, Mark can’t recall which end-of-the-year music event it was, but he clearly remembers what happened there.

He debuted with NCT 127 that year. They were preparing to perform their debut song when the manager dragged them around so they could be introduced to other idols and staff members. Mark stopped remembering names and faces after thirty minutes. He was trying hard to remember everyone, but he was way too nervous for 127’s approaching turn to step on the stage and there were just so many people his brain stopped working on memorizing.

What left a strong impression however, was when they were introduced to senior idols. Particularly to BTS. NCT 127’s manager took them to the seniors’ dressing room, but only a few members were there at the moment. Mark bowed deeply, his eyes wide while staring at the polite seniors. Back then, BTS wasn’t as famous and popular as now, but they were well known enough to make Mark shake a bit, and not talk much. He admired them, so meeting them was such a fantastic experience although short.

Not daring to be late for even a second, NCT 127 was already waiting backstage, even when there were at least two other groups to go before them. From their spot, they were able to watch the group performing at the moment, BTS. He didn’t get to see the whole performance, but what he saw was enough to marvel Mark: they were so good at it. It went smoothly, easily. Their clothes were simple but much prettier than the ones NCT 127 had to wear, if Mark had to be honest.

Indeed, all groups did perfectly, not a single mistake. Performances full of energy, but there was something special about BTS’s in Mark’s eyes, something amazing that made that moment stay alive and very present in his mind even after years.

They walked off the stage, sweating and lightly panting, drying their faces with towels, and their manager dragged them off to some corner. Mark didn’t know how, but suddenly he was bowing again, greeting the members he’d met earlier and shyly introducing himself to the ones he didn’t get to see before. He thought BTS would be tired and want to withdraw to their dressing room, but they hung around the nervous NCT members for a little while, chatting with the less-timid guys. Mark was not one of them; he was just standing there, smiling and nodding to Jimin, who was talking to Taeyong and him.

Too busy paying his full attention to Jimin, he didn’t notice the two approaching members until introductions and greetings were exchanged again. Mark bowed to Yoongi, who smiled kindly at him, not saying much more than a soft “nice to meet you.” Behind the older came Jungkook, who bowed at Mark and smiled widely, chirping a merry, “I’m Jeon Jungkook, hi!”

It was at that moment that Mark knew what it was like to be genuinely starstruck.

Jungkook was close, leaning slightly towards Mark, who could just nod and see how Jungkook’s cheeks were flushed thanks to his recent performance. Poor 17-year-old Mark, recently debuted and still discovering the idol world, could do nothing but stare. It wasn’t until Jungkook, tall, handsome, and perfect Jungkook, tilted his head, always smiling at Mark, that he reacted and slapped himself in his mind.

“I am Mark Lee… uh… nice to meet you…” he said, bowing again, to which Jungkook giggled. Mark wanted to cry and roll on the floor because that was the sound you heard when you entered Heaven, he was sure.

Jungkook nodded, wishing him luck, and then just like that, he bid farewell to Taeyong and was gone with the rest of BTS.

It started with a strong, superficial feeling of amazement, admiration, and starstruck. It was easy for those emotions to make their way into Mark’s head.  It took longer for the deeper, more intense, and intimate feelings that led him and Jungkook to have that article written about them, to arrive into Mark’s heart.

He wakes up wishing he was still asleep.

It’s been some rough, tiring days. With the end of their most recent comeback, the only thing Mark wants to do is to sleep forever. His body is sore all over, but of course, he can’t rest as much as he wants because some people just have to be social.

Sighing, he gets up and exits his room, only to find the dorm empty. That gives him a bit of mental peace, but it also makes him suspicious. Jaehyun was supposed to bring his friends over for the whole afternoon, to which the rest of the members emptied the dorm to let them be as loud and disastrous as they wanted. Mark, tired and sore Mark, decided he was just too exhausted to care and slept. He reasoned that in the case Jaehyun’s friends arrived while he was sleeping in his room, he’d eventually be woken up by their loud laughter. Then he would get up and make his way to dreamies’ dorm, where he’d appropriate a bed and continue to sleep. Maybe Jaemin would take pity on him and offer his bed, without Mark having to wrestle for it. That’d be nice.

Anyway, the point is that Mark would wake up, say the shortest hello he could to Jae’s friends, and then run away from the place before anyone could even think of inviting him to play video games or whatever they were there for.

But not even Jaehyun is there. Which means he and his friends went out, or that no one has arrived. So Mark decides to call him.

“Hello?” Jaehyun says through the phone.

“Where are you?” Mark asks, scowling.

“I’m buying some… things,” Jaehyun responds.

“Well, hurry up. Aren’t your friends supposed to arrive in like, fifteen minutes?”

“Yeah, but don’t worry. They’re always late. It’s fine, Mark.”

“I swear to God if I have to socialize—”

He hears Jaehyun scoff. “You won’t. I’ll be there soon. You need more friends, though.”

“Look who’s talking! You have like three friends more than me!”

Not wanting to listen to Jaehyun anymore, he hangs up and trusts the dumbass is right; they are his friends, if he says they’ll be late he probably is right. Mark goes back to his room to change his clothes.

He’s in the middle of pulling his pants on when the doorbell rings. Mark stands in his room, not making a single move in hopes whoever is outside the dorm decides it’s not worth the wait. But the doorbell rings again. He curses quietly, silently praying for Jaehyun to be on the other side of the door. Perhaps the dumbass just forgot the passcode?

On the other side of the door, the one standing, however, is not Jaehyun.

It’s Jeon Jungkook. Wearing a pink hoodie.

Damn.

In the most awkward way possible, Mark lets Jungkook in, the two greeting each other in the same awkward way. Jungkook sits on the couch, as far from where Mark is standing as possible, and Mark just wants to squirm and get the fuck out of the dorm because it’s so goddamn uncomfortable and weird there. God.

Laughing in the same awkward way they seem to do everything, Mark hurries to the kitchen, where he texts Jaehyun, hoping the other can feel how stressed Mark is through the screen of his phone.

mark

YOU SAID THEY ARE ALWAYS LATE

jaehyun

oh jk is already there right?? yeah i forgot to tell you

he’s always on time lol

mark

what am i supposed to do now

dude, i have jeon jungkook sitting on my couch

and i am in the kitchen bc idk what to do help

jaehyun

just offer him a soda idk i’m almost there

but by “offer” i mean literally give it to him. like, directly shove it into his hands

otherwise he won’t accept anything bc he doesn’t want to be a bother

mark

okay a soda i can do that

jaehyun

yeah

maybe some chips too

he’s nice mark don’t be afraid

mark

I’M NOT AFRAID

i’ll give him a soda and chips and go be a good host goodbye

Jungkook accepts the chips and soda easily. It takes him at least five minutes to actually drink it and five more to decide to eat the first chip. It’s so awkward Mark is sure he’s going to cry.

He puts on a random tv show to fill the silence and takes a seat on the same couch as Jungkook, but on the other side of it, trying to put as much distance between them as possible.

Mark is not this damn fiddly all the time. He’s just shy, but can usually work around strangers. He’s a bit silent but knows his way around seniors and the people he admires. Except for Jungkook, it seems.

Okay, it's fine, Mark encourages himself mentally. Just do what Johnny would do. He would know how to deal with this.

"Oh, sunbaenim," Mark calls, his voice sounding a bit too sheepish, but there's nothing he can do about it now. Jungkook looks at him, smiling in what he hopes is a friendly way, but Mark knows he feels just as awkward as him. "Jaehyun hyung told me he will be here soon. He went to buy some things."

"Ah, I see," Jungkook nods. "That's fine. I hope you don't mind me waiting here for a while?"

"No, of course not!"

And the conversation is over. Hm. Shit.

Mark thinks it's understandable that he's acting this way; however, he's sitting next to his celebrity crush, who's also his senior and one of the biggest singers on this planet. And on top of that, Mark is a very shy person. He won't give up. He's Mark Lee and he wouldn't be where he is if he just gave up when things didn't go his way.

The solution comes to his mind quickly: video games. Everyone loves video games, and if they don’t love them, they can pretend like they do just for the sake of ending that awkward silence. Mark is not the biggest fan, but since he lives with a bunch of guys who love playing them, he knows how to play. He would even dare to say he’s the best Mario Kart player in NCT.

“So! Why don’t we play some video games?” Mark offers with his best, most cheerful voice.

That’s how Jaehyun (and the rest of the guys invited that day) find them several minutes later; giggling and playing Mario Kart. Jungkook and Mark don’t talk, but for some reason, they just find the whole situation and the whole round funny enough to be laughing continuously.

Mark wins, of course, but so does Jungkook in the following round. In the end, it’s a tie.

Truth to be told, Mark does have a crush on Jungkook. But then again, who doesn’t have a crush on Jeon Jungkook?

It’s not a strong, intense feeling. Mark has barely spoken with him, but he admires him a lot. He finds his voice beautiful, and he’s very handsome. Jungkook is polite and his smile shines; he’s such a good dancer, so creative and good at everything, and he’s still so humble. Of course, Mark has a crush on him. At some point in their careers, Mark is sure, all the trainees and rookies that have ever existed have had a crush on the man. He’s exactly what everyone wants to become.

Naturally, some people grow out of that crush. Some others, like Mark, don’t. He looks up to Jungkook a lot. Who can blame him?

So that’s how Mark lives his life. It’s not a big deal. Just a silly, tiny crush. Sometimes he sees Jungkook around when he’s with Jaehyun, and sometimes he sees him when they are performing in the same place. The interaction between them is as simple as bowing and smiling politely, just like any other idols do. Unless they actually have to interact, Mark doesn’t feel fluttered or nervous, and when they do have to interact, Mark just feels awkward. He feels that way with every senior he’s not close to, so it’s nothing special.

He too, will grow out of it, eventually.

Taeil enters his room, anxiously walking to him. “Mark,” he calls.

Mark looks up from the book he is reading, sitting on the floor, and tilts his head at how nervous Taeil seems to be. “Yes, hyung?”

“Jungkook sunbaenim is in the kitchen waiting for Jaehyun, but Jaehyun is taking a shower.”

Mark blinks, not understanding what any of that has to with him. Taeil seems more and more nervous with every second that passes.

“Go entertain him,” Taeil orders.

“Wait, what? Why me!?”

“Because you’ve spoken to him before!” Taeil cries.

This is precisely what happens when you put a bunch of introverts in the same house and ask them to function correctly. Without Johnny there, they are at a loss of what to do with such a person as Jungkook in their kitchen, waiting for their roommate to finish his long shower.

People may think Yuta is not that shy, but they are wrong. Yuta is just as shy as everyone there, but he’s loud, which can fool people into thinking the contrary. Jungwoo is confident, which serves to make him a bit less awkward, but in front of people like Jeon Jungkook, even Jungwoo can do nothing but try to avoid him. Jaehyun is a mess. Mark is a stuttering disaster. Taeil is older and way calmer and much more composed, but then again, Jeon Jungkook.

For all the time Jaehyun and Jungkook spend together, most of the members haven’t talked to him. Donghyuck, for example, only daydreams about talking to one of his inspirations, Jungkook, past the formal greetings they exchange every time they see each other. Jaemin gets grumpy every time he’s reminded he hasn’t even seen the man at a short distance. Jungwoo, however, has seen Jungkook sitting on his couch, but didn’t dare to flirt with him. His only explanation being something about strong auras and god-like vibes.

Mark can somehow understand; Jungkook looks very god-like. He’s not sure about the vibes thing, but it’s probably true.

The point is, most people don’t have contact with Jungkook. Not because the man distances himself, but because he’s always busy. When he’s not, people usually are too intimidated to even try to interact. Naturally, one would think Mark would feel intimidated too, and he does, but at the same time, he seems to be forced to be around the guy constantly. So, he doesn’t have any other option than to scream internally and smile.

Once he makes sure Taeil will drag Jaehyun out of the shower, Mark musters all the courage he has within himself to go and handle the crisis they are having this fine night.

Jungkook is sitting on a stool by the kitchen counter. Yuta and Jungwoo are standing next to the sink, making small talk with Jungkook about the weather. It’s painfully uncomfortable, and Mark is afraid he won’t make it any better, however, the people in there don’t seem to think the same as the faces of the three visibly light up at the sight of him.

“Mark!” Jungwoo calls, relieved.

Mark smiles and looks at Jungkook, who seems happy to have him there.

“Jungkook sunbaenim,” he greets.

Babbling a random bad excuse, Yuta and Jungwoo leave the kitchen. Mark sits on a stool next to Jungkook, not feeling as awkward as the first time he was left alone with the older.

“I’m sorry if they were too…” Mark gestures vaguely, making Jungkook chuckle.

“Don’t worry,” Jungkook says. “I wasn’t making it any easier. It was my idea to start talking about the weather,” he admits, embarrassed.

“That’s better than having them standing in a corner, watching you fixedly, in complete silence.”

“It’s alright,” Jungkook nods lightly, playing with his napkin. The silence that follows is a bit tense. Mark just sits there, not knowing what to say. Jungkook clears his throat and smiles at him. “Anyway, how have you been?”

They have a little conversation about what they have been doing lately. Mark doesn’t find it hard to talk to Jungkook about simple and silly stuff he usually wouldn’t even dare to mention to other seniors, but Jungkook’s smile is warm and he keeps asking questions about the book Mark is reading, so Mark is more than happy to answer.

When Jaehyun walks out of his room after his shower, he is laughing in his mind, thinking about how fucking panicked his friends must be around Jungkook. He has to admit he purposely took his sweet time while finishing his bathing and getting ready.

“I think Mark is now sunbae’s best friend,” Jungwoo comments when Jaehyun is about to enter the kitchen. He can hear some laughter. He looks at Jungwoo, not understanding what he means. Jungwoo gestures at the kitchen. “You know how shy Mark can be, especially around seniors and people he doesn’t know that well, but he’s been laughing nonstop for minutes. He must be really comfortable with sunbae around.”

Jaehyun raises his eyebrows and quietly enters the kitchen, finding the following scene: Mark laughing loudly, squirming in his place and completely red, looking like he’s about to choke because he’s not breathing, and Jungkook chuckling and telling him about something he did while in a foreign country. Jungkook looks at Mark with stars in his eyes, probably enchanted by the way Mark looks while being this happy (Jaehyun has been there; it happens often. Mark has that effect on the people around him).

It’s quite an interesting scene. Jaehyun feels himself smile wider. Oh well, it seems like he needs to bring Jungkook over more often.

Mark has Jungkook’s phone number now. He got it the same day Jungkook insisted on being called hyung instead of sunbae, the day Jaehyun spent a suspiciously long time in the shower.

Jungkook has texted Mark around two times, just to show him something he saw and thought was funny. Mark likes it when that happens, because that way they have something to talk about and he doesn’t have to struggle to figure out a topic of conversation.

The hard thing is that he also has to text Jungkook first at some point, and he is finding it difficult to think of what he should text the other. Mark doesn’t want Jungkook to think he doesn’t want to talk to him, but if he keeps just waiting for Jungkook to message first, it is not going to end well.

He’s in a crisis, and the only possible solution he sees is Jaehyun.

Jaehyun is on his bed, playing a game on his phone, when Mark enters and sits beside him. Mark really hates that he has to ask for help for something as easy as texting, but then again, it’s Jeon Jungkook; he needs to sound cool.

“Hey, what do you usually talk about in your group chat with the 97 liners?” Mark asks. Jaehyun doesn’t even look at him.

“Eh, I don’t know, whatever?” Jaehyun hums. “Usually someone sends a funny picture or someone complains about something and the rest talk about it, I guess? You know I don’t really text them.”

Mark blinks. That is… completely useless. He’s not going to complain to Jungkook, and he doesn’t know what could count as a funny picture to the older. Judging by the ones he has sent Mark, though, he’d say anything Chenle would laugh about is also something Jungkook would find hilarious.

“Right, you don’t. But, uh, what do you text Jungkook sunbae about?”

Still not looking at him, Jaehyun seems to think for a second. “The same as the group chat. TV shows, too. Uh… ugly and ridiculous things I find on the internet about him. I once saw an edited picture of him as a frog. He absolutely loved it.”

Perhaps Mark needs to be a bit more specific here because Jaehyun is really not giving him any useful information.

“Okay. Whatever. What does Jungkook sunbae like?”

At this, Jaehyun stops watching his phone and gives Mark a short look of raised eyebrows. “He likes working out, singing, drawing, playing video games, and researching whatever random thing he thinks is worth learning at the moment. Last week he thought knitting was the coolest shit ever. I think this week he’s in a baking mood. Ah, he loves going to these little coffee shops no one knows about in secluded places around Seoul.”

So. Nothing Mark likes. Noted.

Sighing heavily, he lays down next to Jaehyun, whose eyebrows rise higher. Jaehyun locks his phone, not bothering to close the game app. Mark winces and gets under the quilt, staring at Jaehyun, who stares back with squinted eyes.

“Why the sudden interest in Jungkook?” Jaehyun asks.

“He’s been texting me for a couple of days and I’m afraid he will think he annoys me if I don’t text him first soon.”

Jaehyun doesn’t say anything, just watches Mark until he starts to get uncomfortable, and then, Jaehyun chuckles, his lips in a pretty smile. “He gave you his phone number?”

“Yeah.”

Jaehyun chuckles a bit more before speaking, his eyes still full of mirth, “Well, then just text him first.”

“But I don’t know what to talk about with him!” Mark whines. “It’s fun when he texts me but what do I say to him to start a conversation?”

“I doubt he’s been texting you smart and deep things, Mark. He probably sends you whatever thing is going on in his mind at the moment, and that usually is just some random shit. Do the same.”

“But he’s Jeon Jungkook!”

“Exactly,” Jaehyun rolls his eyes.

“You say that as if it was so easy,” he mumbles.

“You know, I wouldn’t say I am the person who knows him the best,” Jaehyun starts, his voice softer. “But I am his friend, and I’ve seen how the way people think they have to behave around him hurts him. Like, you’re acting as if he was an unreachable being, distancing yourself and thinking carefully about every single thing you say to him when he’s just trying to be your friend and… I don’t know,” he shrugs, turning to look at the ceiling. “Maybe just try not to do that? He probably already considers you his friend.”

Most of the time, Mark doesn’t even remember he’s internationally famous. Like, yes, sometimes the pressure gets too much and he feels as if he’s drowning, but when he’s just with his friends or at home not doing anything special, he doesn’t feel famous or important or like anything else but a dude with a stressful job living with his friends in a big city.

He gets uncomfortable when people treat him differently, and it’s even worse if it’s people he considers somehow close, like his childhood friends. Mark hates when his job as an idol gets in the way of forming new friendships, and he hates when people don’t see him as anything else. Jungkook, he realizes, probably feels the same.

Mark is acting in the way he hates people to act around him. He gasps and turns to look at Jaehyun, whose gaze is fixed on the ceiling, trying to put his best wise expression.

“Look, I know he’s your hero or something, but you’re an idol too. A really good performer. Perhaps he also shits his pants when you’re around, think of that,” Jaehyun finally says.

Groaning, Mark hits him on the arm. Jaehyun fucking ruined the moment.

Mark is on his way to Jungkook’s apartment. It totally wasn’t his intention when he sent him a message complaining thirty minutes before.

He loves living with the guys. It’s fun and comfortable, but sometimes it gets overwhelming. Their apartment is not even that big to begin with, so Mark sometimes just… wants to go away. For some hours, to be in complete silence or to do whatever he wants to do, but all by himself.

There are four dorms that belong to the NCT members, and anyone is allowed in any of them at any moment of the day, but that only means changing the loud people you live with for more loud people you don’t live with.

It’s not weird to want to be separated from the people you see every day, all day, for a couple of hours every now and then. That day, the only thing Mark wanted, was to be in complete silence to work on some songs, but it was hard with Jungwoo blending fruits in the kitchen, one by one. Jaehyun and Yuta were playing video games in the living room, which only meant endless noises. Taeil, done with everyone, went to the other 127 dorm earlier.

The thing about living with other people is that you can’t just tell them to shut up. You can ask them to be quieter, you can even get angry and show it to them, which gives better results, but you can’t just tell them to stop doing everything they are doing so you can be comfortable. It was the middle of the day, not even night yet, when it would have been much more understandable for Mark to shut them up.

Frustrated, the only thing he could do was to complain, somehow choosing Jungkook as the one who would have to endure a whiny Mark. They had been talking a lot lately, to the point where Mark started to call him hyung instead of sunbaenim. He felt comfortable around the other, and talking to him was so easy and natural, even if they didn’t have a lot of hobbies and interests in common.

The plan was just to complain a bit about how loud the guys were and then try to focus on his lyrics, but Jungkook offered him his room as a studio for him to write songs when Mark explained to him that he didn't feel like going to one of the many SM special rooms. He just wanted to stay at home.

“It’s not your house so it may not feel very homey to you, but my house also has the home vibes! Because, you know, uh, me and the guys live here so….” Jungkook said when Mark called him to try and convince him to change his mind.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go to Jungkook’s house, but isn’t that weird? Like, that’s something friends do. Are they friends? Possibly. But are they friends enough for Mark to go to his house? Unlikely. He’s inviting you, so he must think of you as a person on the required level of friendship to enter his house, a little voice in his head refutes, and it sounds a lot like Donghyuck.

“I’ll be really quiet!” Jungkook added when Mark didn’t respond to what he said before. “Like, super quiet, I swear. I’m used to being around Suga hyung when he writes songs so I know I have to be extra silent. I’ll just nap on my bed or something while you use the desk in my room.”

And well, who was Mark to refuse that? Jungkook napping while he songwrites? A dream. The dream.

That’s how Mark finds himself in Jungkook’s car, who had insisted on picking him up from his dorm.

“The only ones that are home right now are Yoongi hyung and Jin hyung,” Jungkook explains as he parks his car in the underground parking lot. “But that’s the same as no one being home, they just stay in their rooms.”

“It’s fine, even if they don’t,” Mark assures, following Jungkook out of the car and into the building and elevator. “I mean, I’m a stranger entering into their house. I’m the one who shouldn’t be loud, not them.”

“You’re my friend, not a stranger!”

“I…” Mark laughs nervously. “I meant to them. To them I’m a stranger.”

“To them you’re my friend,” Jungkooks explains, proudly. Mark chooses not to say anything else, just nods.

The apartment is, as expected, big as fuck. It’s nice, shiny, and full of light. It’s also quite messy, not as perfect as the pictures that are in magazines and advertisements; the shoes at the entrance are not perfectly lined and there are way too many jackets hanging from the coat rack, there is even a weird green stain on the corner of the carpet.

“Ah, Jimin hyung dropped his smoothie when we were heading to the airport like, two months ago. The cleaning team couldn’t get the stain out and we just don’t care enough to change the carpet,” Jungkook comments when he notices Mark staring at the stain.

There are paintings and decorations, wrinkled blankets on the couches, some coke cans on the coffee table of the living room. It’s just like any other apartment, like any other idol dorm Mark has seen (a bit more organized and clean, maybe). There is nothing special or extraordinary about it, but just seeing such an integral piece of the people he admires feels surreal, somehow.

It all reminds him that they too, are young men living in an apartment like any other idol group, or friend groups do. Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. Reality slaps Mark on the face again, reminding him that they are just common guys doing amazing things, that’s all. Idols and celebrities are just people whose faces end up on billboards around the city and have lots of money, but at the end of the day, they are just people. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Mark has time to register the coke cans and the blankets, and he also notices the tv on and the two people in the living room. Yoongi is sprawled on the couch, watching a drama, and Seokjin, sitting on the other couch, also watches the tv. When they hear Jungkook and Mark, Yoongi gets up and Seokjin looks at them. They both wear simple clothes. Mark bows at them as Jungkook introduces him as the friend he told them he would bring.

“Nice to have you here, Mark,” Yoongi says, smiling.

“Yeah, have fun with Jungkook-ah,” Seokjin winks, chuckling.

“Hyung!” Jungkook whines, taking Mark’s wrist and starting to drag him away. “Don’t say it like that!”

“Thanks for letting me be here, sunbaes!” Mark calls, already away from them. Seokjin waves at him.

“Don’t mention it.”

Jungkook's room is wide, with three of the most expensive monitors Mark has ever seen. His bed is a mess but it smells fresh. The window is open, letting the warm rays of sun in, making the place look golden and bright. He has some video game posters on his walls, but mostly the room is decorated by drawings and pictures: of places, of people and of animals. There is a bookcase that has more figurines than books, and next to it there are two shelves with cameras and lenses. There is also a door in front of the bed, which Mark supposes leads to the bathroom Jungkook showed off so much on the way here. I have the best room, Mark, Jungkook had said.

One of the doors of the closet is open and the only thing Mark can see are black clothes. On the bed, a squirrel plushie seems like it’s about to fall to the ground. It’s not an impressive room, but it feels adequate for Jungkook.

Jungkook makes space for him to use the desk and true to his words, he goes to his bed and lies down there. It takes Mark a few minutes to concentrate, too distracted looking around and out of the window to the other buildings and houses of the neighborhood, but when he finally gets to work, it’s after several hours that he looks up from his notebook again.

Now, the room is pretty much completely dark except for the lamp Mark turned on when it was almost impossible for him to see past his own nose. He gets up and stretches before closing the window. He yawns and looks in the direction of the bed, where Jungkook sleeps soundly, but the blanket is barely covering his legs, his torso completely uncovered. Without thinking too much about it, Mark approaches and puts the blanket over Jungkook. Seeing the squirrel plushie on the floor, Mark lifts it and puts it next to Jungkook’s face.

It’s a cute scene that makes Mark smile, happy that he accepted to go to Jungkook’s house.

One day, Mark suggests they should go out somewhere, just to spend some time together. The next day Jungkook tells him he will take him to the best coffee shop ever.

“Like, seriously,” Jungkook says as he drives them through the city. “It’s the most amazing place I’ve seen in my whole life. It looks like the kind of place fairies go after a day of being busy saving the Earth or something. It’s small but the coffee is so good. The hyungs and I love it. I really don’t understand why it isn’t a super popular place with how pretty it looks— Well, I mean, the location is not the best but...”

Looking through the copilot’s window, Mark understands what Jungkook means with the location; it’s just a bunch of office complexes. No schools, no shops, just boring cafes and gray buildings, some fancy restaurants here and there. Guys in suits and women without a hair out of place, everyone looking expensive and overly busy, talking and yelling at people on the other side of the phone line.

They park a few streets away from where they are going, because Jungkook says this is the closest they can get since the shop doesn’t have a parking lot. Mark doesn’t mind walking. They don’t talk, not because there isn’t anything to say, but because they kind of fear the people around them will scold them for being loud kids.

When they arrive at the shop, Mark understands why Jungkook mentioned the fairies. It literally is a cottage squeezed between two tall buildings. There is even a little garden at the front and the only thing that is not made out of wood are the wide windows. Even the door is made of wood.

“Woah…”

Jungkook snickers beside him, his eyes half-closed in a cheery way. “I know.”

The interior of the place is as cozy and pretty as the exterior: the chairs are also made of wood, just like the tables and the floor, and it all smells like coffee and cinnamon. There are also lots of plants and a fat cat sleeping in a corner. The music playing is not in a language Mark recognizes, but the rhythm is slow and fits so well to the shop.

While he’s busy looking at everything, Jungkook orders for both of them at the counter and guides Mark to a table. They sit in front of the door.

“How did you even find this place, hyung?” Mark asks, amazed. “It’s totally not the kind of place I imagined you’d frequent, this side of the city, I mean. I didn’t even know there are so many offices in a place!”

Jungkook shows his pretty smile, and even though Mark is kind of used to seeing him this close, it still makes him feel flustered. Jungkook’s smile makes something weird happen in Mark’s stomach. Like when he’s nervous, but not exactly.

“Well, you know I’m not from Seoul?” Jungkook starts, to which Mark nods. “During my first year here, when I was already living with my hyungs, I had a project with some classmates and I had to go to the house of one of them. Back then, Jin hyung used to take us everywhere, but he was busy that day and I was so sure I could find my way. I mean, I would take a bus, all of the routes were online. If I got lost I would just take a cab back or something.”

“Something tells me that you didn’t take the cab back,” Mark mumbles, making Jungkook laugh.

“I didn’t. Once the homework was done I took the bus to go back to the dorm, but somehow I didn’t pay attention and got on the wrong bus. The last stop was three streets away from this shop,” Jungkook continues. “I didn’t panic just yet. I was like, whatever, this is fine, I will just call a cab. But my phone was dead.”

“Oh, God.”

“So, little 14 year old Jungkook was lost in a city that was not his and without a way to contact his hyungs. It had been like an hour and a half since I told my hyungs I was on the way, and it shouldn’t have taken me more than twenty minutes to arrive.”

“Shit, hyung,” Mark laughs. “Your poor hyungs must have been completely scared and losing their minds.”

“Oh, they were. I had the scolding of my life when they found me and I think the situation made Hobi hyung cry a bit,” he recalls, with a soft smile on his lips.

“But how did you end up finding this place?”

“Hm, right. Well, I tried to ask one of the businessmen for his phone so I could call home but he ignored me. To be honest, I was so shy and scared I think I just spoke too quietly for him to hear me. So, doing everything moms tell you not to do, I walked around and ended up here.” He shrugs. “I came inside, bought a piece of cake, and asked the nice lady on the other side of the counter if she could let me use the shop’s phone. Seokjin hyung and Yoongi hyung came for me and the first thing they did was hug me, then scold me and then hug me again."

Mark thinks about how he would react if Jisung got lost like that, and he understands Jungkook’s hyungs’ need to make him feel secure with hugs, but also the need to let that kid know how scared they were and how that should never repeat with some scolding.

Their coffees are brought to them and Mark doesn’t know what he’s drinking, but he knows he loves it. He knows it’s the best thing he has ever tasted. It takes ten solid minutes of continuous tasting and groans of happiness for him to even consider talking again, this time with an anecdote of his own.

“I think we hadn’t even debuted yet— Oh, we definitely hadn’t debuted,” Mark starts, chuckling at the memory. “Ten hyung and Yuta hyung wanted to go buy some things but they were scared to get lost or something because their Korean wasn’t that good back then. Ten hyung is from Thailand and Yuta hyung from Japan, by the way,” he adds. “And I’m Korean, so I can understand why they chose to bring me with them. But at the same time, not, because I was raised in an English speaking country, so even though my parents taught me Korean, I wasn’t as fluent as someone who grew up in Korea. Like, I could read it, but at what cost, you know? It was hard,” he shakes his head.

“This sounds like a way funnier story than the one I told,” Jungkook comments between chuckles.

“The end is not as cool as yours, though. We didn’t find a cool coffee shop,” Mark sighs, still smiling. “We got lost and called Taeil hyung but for some reason he couldn’t find us. We were like “hyung, we’re literally outside the only hair salon on the whole street!” and he was like “there is no hair salon on this street, guys” and then he asked us again which street we were on and I was like this one, this one! it says it right here! but guess what. I was reading it wrong.”

Jungkook looks at him for about three seconds before he starts laughing loudly, repeating “oh my God you were reading it wrong!”. Mark laughs along, a bit quieter, mostly because seeing Jungkook this happy makes him feel happy too. He worries Jungkook will choke on his spit, though.

That day they are the happiest they have been in a while. Two people used to travelling around the world, used to luxurious hotel rooms, have the best time just talking and laughing in a tiny, quiet coffee shop.

...

Jungkook texts him around six pm, complaining about how tiring their rehearsals are. After a little while, he asks Mark if he can call him, to which Mark agrees, already getting up and going to his room where Jaehyun’s loud laughter and Yuta’s giggles won’t be a bother. Jungwoo looks at him when Mark leaves, the movie still playing, but decides it’s not important and fixes his stare back to the tv.

“I think I’ll catch a cold soon,” is the first thing Jungkook says to Mark when he answers his call. Jungkook’s voice sounds like he’s pouting, there is music and happy screams in the background.

The moment Mark hears his voice, a wide grin appears on his face. He closes the door and sits on his bed, humming, “Why? Do you feel bad?”

“I’m so tired. So I’m either about to catch a cold or just too old for this.”

“Or maybe you have been staying up late too often lately?” Mark suggests. Jungkook clicks his tongue.

“I don’t think that’s the problem. Video games are never a problem.”

“I didn’t even mention video games but thanks for confirming you’ve been wasting precious hours of sleep for gaming.”

“... I don’t regret anything!” he yells before sighing. “I wish I had a coffee from that little cafe I took you to, but they don’t have delivery. I’d call for Uber eats but is it even worth it, Mark? Is it?”

“I could bring you one,” Mark blurts out before he even realizes what he’s saying.

The line goes quiet for a couple of seconds before Jungkook laughs nervously. Mark, too, wants to let out a cackle to show how embarrassed he is, but that would embarrass him further, so he just sits there, suppressing his urge to roll on the ground.

“Oh,” Jungkook exclaims. “I… I do want a coffee but you don’t have to bother, Mark. The cafe is not close to your dorm and it’s even farther from where I am right now…”

“But I want to see you,” Mark says, his brain thinking a bit less with every second that passes, which can be seen in the way he’s boldly saying everything that comes across his mind.

Jungkook’s laughter becomes a bit more hysterical. “You want to see me!” he repeats. There is a thud sound, the sound of something falling and Jungkook wincing quietly. “I-In that case, ah, I guess it’s fine? Um, I also want to see you, of course.”

Mark feels his face turn hot, his ears are probably flushed too. He’s so embarrassed and he doesn’t even know why. He’s not the kind of guy who says those things, but he doesn’t get this flustered usually. And what was that reaction Jungkook had? Did he walk into a chair or what? Gosh, this whole situation is so ridiculous.

Why is Mark this nervous? It’s normal to want to see his friend! It’s true that his brain seems to be on a vacation, leaving him alone to babble whatever embarrassing thing he thinks, but so what? He’ll say all the stupid things he wishes and he can’t be stopped.

“So… Can I go?” Mark asks after clearing his throat.

“Yeah, sure,” Jungkook agrees, calmer. “I’ll let someone know so they can take you to our practice room.”

“Wait, but I can’t just go in there with the rest of the sunbaes and give coffee only to you. Your hyungs are going to think I’m a rude brat. Oh my God. Okay, it’s fine, I’ll buy them coffee too… But would they think I’m being too much? I don’t know most of them and I’m giving them coffee? Who do I think I am, oh, this is so—”

“Mark,” Jungkook chuckles. “It’s fine. You don’t need to buy them anything, they won’t mind, but if you’re worried and want to bring them coffee anyway, they will love you more than they already do.”

With that, Mark’s panicked mind can calm down at least a bit. He’s not nervous about his sunbaes thinking he’s being rude, he’s nervous about meeting said seniors. Well, not meeting, but they probably don’t remember him after years of being introduced.

“Okay,” Mark says.

“I’ll message you their usual orders. See you soon.” Jungkook seems to stumble on something else before hanging the call but Mark doesn't catch it.

Mark stays sitting on his bed for a couple of seconds until his phone vibrates, indicating a new message, probably from Jungkook. He sighs lightly and nods to himself encouragingly. This is it. This is the time he meets Jungkook’s closest friends (family!). This is the time Mark meets such famous people. Yeah, he was introduced to them years ago, but that was kind of rushed and impersonal. BTS probably already forgot about it. Then he said hi to some of them when he went to Jungkook’s apartment, but that was a brief interaction. Now he’s going to buy their favorite coffees and hand it to them himself, in their private practice room.

He’s living the life.

Getting up, he finds himself smiling at the idea of Jungkook: all tired and cute in his practice clothes, and how delighted his expression will be when Mark gives him his favorite drink from his favorite coffee shop.

He purposely stays in his room until the cab arrives at the front of his building, so no one can question him about anything. He goes out, barely glancing at his hyungs. “I’m going out! Maybe for less than an hour, maybe for a couple of hours, I don’t know!”

“Make sure to message when you know how long you’ll stay out! Have fun!” Taeil screams back, not even bothering to look up from the screen of his phone.

Since he’s got Taeil’s approval to go out, Mark can go with his mind in peace, totally content with ignoring the rest of his hyungs. He goes and buys eight coffees, then goes to BigHit’s building with a bit of nervousness, making his stomach ache lightly. Just like NCT are Mark’s family, BTS are Jungkook’s family, and on top of that, they are Mark’s seniors and role models. So yeah, he’s a bit nervous. He wants to have a good impression on Jungkook’s family.

He arrives at the company and a nice lady is already waiting for him at the entrance, all polite smiles. She leads him to the elevator and through some hallways before they reach a wide dark glass door. Mark can hear faint music coming from the other side. The lady knocks only once before opening the door and signaling for Mark to enter. Mark thanks her in a small voice and goes into the room.

The only ones there are BTS, a choreographer, and their manager. And now Mark too. He stands quietly in a corner, watching the others dance to a song he has never heard but that sounds like pure and genuine happiness. They don’t stop dancing when Mark enters, which makes him a bit nervous, but he can understand; when you’re in the middle of a choreography you can’t just stop for something as insignificant as someone entering the practice room. But because of that, Mark is now awkwardly standing, not knowing if he’s even allowed to see the dance… but he was permitted to get in here, right? So it’s not a problem.

He spends the couple of minutes the song has left watching them move around, completely nailing all the moves. Mark makes eye contact with Jungkook through the mirror wall a few times. Jungkook’s smile is wide and pretty, and Mark returns it with enthusiasm. Other members eye him too, curious. For the lack of confusion in their stares, Mark is sure Jungkook told them he was going to be there. Trying not to look too stupid just standing there, Mark smiles politely at them.

He realizes what a bad idea smiling is when Taehyung returns it, making Mark’s cheeks flush. Oh, and when Jimin winks at him? If Mark had been walking, he would have stumbled over his own feet. He wasn’t ready to have two attractive men even looking in his direction, he is barely managing to be around Jungkook without being a stuttering disaster.

Eventually, the song comes to an end and even before the choreographer or the manager can say anything to them, Jungkook is already running to him, chirping a happy “Mark!”

“Hey, hyung,” Mark greets, smiling at the other. Jungkook has a towel in his hands, drying the sweat off his forehead. Mark follows all of his movements with his eyes.

“So, coffee?” Jungkook asks, staring at the two containers with the eight drinks in Mark’s hands.

“This one,” he vaguely points with his chin. Jungkook reaches to one glass and Mark shakes his head. “No, the one on the right.”

With Jungkook drinking his coffee, Mark can focus on the rest of the people in the room. The manager left at some point while Mark was busy staring at Jungkook. Hoseok and Namjoon are on the other side of the room talking with the choreographer. Yoongi is lying down on the ground with Seokjin sitting next to him, busy scrolling through his phone. And then there is Jimin and Taehyung, who are standing a few meters away from Jungkook and Mark, looking at them, talking in whispers and grinning. They aren’t pretending they are not staring, not even when Mark makes eye contact with them over Jungkook’s shoulder. He clears his throat and goes back to Jungkook, trying to stop wondering why they seem so interested in Jungkook and him.

“Nice choreo, by the way,” Mark comments. Jungkook beams. Oh, Mark’s poor heart.

“Thanks. We are not even close to where we want to be, but there is still time,” he says, distracted with a napkin. When Mark doesn’t say anything else, Jungkook looks up at him.

Mark is observing the containers with furrowed brows. Jungkook looks around, thinking about who of his hyungs needs the coffee Mark brought. The first ones he sees are Jimin and Taehyung, and the moment they wiggle their eyebrows at him, he knows he needs to get things done with those menaces quickly.

“Do you want to hand them those?” Jungkook asks Mark, who nods slowly. Jungkook chuckles. “Don’t be nervous, it’s just my hyungs!”

“You say that because they are your hyungs,” Mark deadpans.

Jungkook just keeps giggling. He wraps his warm, big palm around Mark’s wrist and he’s still giggling. He drags Mark directly to Jimin and Taehyun and he is no longer giggling but smiling widely.

“Hyungs, this is Mark! He’s my friend,” Jungkook proudly announces, as if it is such a big thing to have Mark as his friend.

“Of course, of course!” Jimin smiles at him. “I think we met some years ago?”

“Oh, yes!” Mark nods. “In a music show. I didn’t think subaenim would remember.”

“Of course, you’re pretty impressive, impossible to forget,” Taehyung says. “Especially when you’re all Jungkook-ah talks about lately—”

“Anyways!” Jungkook interrupts. “Mark brought something.”

“Right! Jungkook hyung told me your usual orders and I bought them for you… I hope you like it.”

After those words leave his mouth, Mark wants to kick himself. Of course they would like it, it’s their usual orders. He’s mentally scolding himself while smiling in what he hopes is a confident manner when Taehyung lets out a delighted squeal, practically jumping until he is right in front of Mark, looking at the container in his hands.

“Seriously? Oh, you didn’t have to, but thank you so much!”

In the couple of seconds it takes Mark to give Taehyung his hot chocolate and assure him it was nothing, Jungkook somehow gets into a petty fight with Jimin, and now they are yelling at each other. Mark blinks, looking how into it Jungkook is. It seems like Jungkook said something Jimin considered unrespectful since he’s younger, and they are having an argument that doesn’t seem serious enough to be called a fight but that still leaves Mark confused. He’s not used to seeing Jungkook in any other mood than shy and happy.

Beside him, Taehyung laughs. “Don’t mind them, they are always like that,” he shrugs. “Which one is Jimin’s?”

Mark points to Jimin’s coffee and Taehyung hums, taking it and walking towards Jungkook and Jimin. He hands the coffee to Jimin, who thanks him and Mark with a wide, cute smile and sweet voice, before returning his attention to Jungkook.

“Why don’t we bring these to the hyungs, hm?” Taehyung suggests, kindly. Seeing that Jimin now has Jungkook in a headlock while still holding his cup, Mark just nods, to which Taehyung beams.

“I’m taking Mark to the rest of hyungs,” Taehyung announces. Jungkook looks up.

“Let me go, I’ll go with them!” Jungkook yells at Jimin, who snorts and tightens his hold.

“You wish I’d let you go that easily!”

So the first stop are Seokjin and Yoongi, who thank him with soft smiles.

“You’re an angel, Mark,” Seokjin says, “after a while the coffee from the cafe across the street starts to taste like plain water.”

“Yeah,” Yoongi nods in agreement. “You should visit again sometime soon, by the way. I’ll cook something for you.”

Before he can even start to embarrassingly assure that it’s not necessary, Taehyung beams. “Yeah! Last time most of us weren’t home! It’d be fun!”

Without him having to say anything, the plans are made quickly. Just a bunch of random activities Seokjin suggests they can do and a list of foods Yoongi suggests they should eat. Taehyung agrees to everything, asking Mark for his opinion in a cheerful voice. Mark answers, of course, and he should probably feel awkward. Oh, he definitely should feel kind of weird, standing there so casual while talking with these guys about his next visit, as if planning a family dinner, but somehow, Mark feels fine. At ease, even. Comfortable to giggle and nod, chatting with them.

A couple of minutes later, Taehyung is taking Mark to deliver the last coffees. Namjoon and Hoseok are talking among themselves. When they see Mark and Taehyung approach they smile, greeting Mark. The re-introductions are made and Mark hands the coffees.

Hoseok groans happily after taking a long sip, smiling at Mark with so much gratitude and excitement that Mark almost feels unworthy. “Ah, Mark-ssi! You’re already my favorite! Please never leave us!”

Calmer, Namjoon speaks, also smiling. “Will you stay for the rest of the practice? We still have like two hours to go but I think we can make that shorter so you can go play with Jungkook-ah.”

Mark knows. He knows he’s blushing at the “play with Jungkook-ah” (and for what reason? there is literally none) but no one comments on it. Hoseok just smiles even more and drinks from his coffee, Taehyung smirks and Namjoon doesn’t even react.

Fuck.

“Ah, we didn’t plan anything,” Mark responds after a few seconds in which the sunbaes were kind enough not to make any remarks about Mark’s embarrassed silence. “And I don’t know if it’s okay for me to stay…”

“Of course it is!” Hoseok assures. “Jungkookie wants to go do something with you after practice.”

“He didn’t mention—”

“He doesn’t want to bother you,” Taehyun shrugs. “After all, you would have to wait here, just boringly watching us dance around the room.”

“It’d be an honor to watch you practice, sunbaenim!” Mark rushes to respond.

“Then, why don’t you stay?” Namjoon chuckles. “That’d give Jungkook a boost to finish today’s practice with more energy.”

And that’s how Mark stays there for almost an hour and a half, after sending a message to Taeil explaining he will be out for some hours. The group is not practicing extra hard nor are they being too serious, just a light rehearse, but Mark is amazed nevertheless. He always enjoys watching other people perform and rehearse, appreciating how different it is compared to when he and his own group perform. It inspires him, it motivates him, and now that he has the chance to see BTS dance, no cameras or complex scenography. Mark feels excited.

His eyes stay on Jungkook most of the time, however. He’s really trying to focus on the rest of the people dancing, and to focus on the group in general, but Jungkook looks so radiant and Mark can’t take his eyes off him.

By the end of the session, Jimin starts to playfully dance. Hoseok joins. Their movements are not carefully planned, they are just moving randomly, laughing and making Taehyung join them too. Mark smiles, the room full of laughter and music. He’s too immersed in watching Jimin do some complex movement with his hips that he almost doesn’t notice Jungkook approaching and insisting that Mark has to dance too.

That’s how he ends up dancing too. When they see him moving, they all hype him, clapping and chanting his name, and it feels comfortable. Mark is not the kind of person who just dances if he doesn’t have to, much less surrounded by important sunbaes, and even though he’s still a bit shy and it doesn’t feel like when this happens in NCT 127’s practice room, it’s still nice. It makes him feel free and accepted.

Making new friends, sometimes, is not as hard as Mark thinks.

And then there is Jungkook, who looks at Mark dancing with shiny eyes, enchanted by the way he moves and the way he laughs. Mark notices because he can’t avoid having his eyes focusing on Jungkook after a while.

They are happy and dancing and Mark allows himself to accept that something blossoms in his heart every time he sees Jungkook, and it feels heavy but comforting and right. It’s a silent, soft thing that makes his heartbeat lighter, even though the thing is solid and weighty. It doesn’t make sense at all, but Mark for once, in possibly all his life, doesn’t stop to think much about it and just accepts its existence.

When the moment to leave arrives, the first ones out of the room are Jungkook and Mark, saying their goodbyes and leaving behind smirks and giggles.

“Want to go for something to eat?” Jungkook asks, still a little out of breath and with a big grin that Mark returns.

“Yes.”

Their hands brush while they walk down the hallway and the thing in Mark’s heart flutters around. They don’t even try to widen the distance between them.

NCT 127’s preparations for their comeback also starts. In the beginning it’s just a lot of songwriting, singing and discussing the concept. Photoshoots and the recording of the songs. It isn’t exhausting just yet, and they still have some free time for themselves.

After practice, Donghyuck insisted on bringing Mark to buy ice cream before heading back to the dorms, so here they are, walking back from the ice cream place that is close to their building.

“So, you have been going out a lot lately,” Donghyuck comments.

“Nah, not really,” Mark hums.

“Taeil hyung made it sound as if you got a bunch of new friends, though.”

Mark snorts. “What? Jealous? I won’t replace you, Hyuck, don’t worry. You’re still my best friend.”

“I’m not jealous, you idiot,” Donghyuck snorts. “I’m just curious. And since I’m curious, I had to ask around, you know?”

“Oh no.”

In a group as big as NCT, it is natural for some members to know what’s going on in the lives of specific members better than others. The thing is that NCT is a very open and close group, so you can’t really never know who’s the one with the information you want, just like it’s happening now; Hyuck is probably the person Mark is the closest to in the world, and yet, he doesn’t know about Mark going to hang out with someone lately.

The bad part about asking around because you don't know who out of all the members knows what you want to know, is that while you ask, you let the others have information too. Donghyuck went asking about Mark’s new friend, so now the members that didn’t know about it still don’t know the whole thing, but are aware Mark has a new friend, thanks to Donghyuck.

In short, you can't keep secrets in NCT.

“Naturally, I asked Taeyong hyung,” Donghyuck starts, in between licks to his ice cream. Mark looks at him with disgust, but Donghyuck only makes his licks last longer and sound louder, so Mark decides to ignore his teasing. “But he told me he didn’t know, so he asked Taeil hyung, the man in charge of your dorm. He said he didn’t know much either but that he saw you talking to Jaehyun hyung some days before you started to go out regularly, so he assumed Jaehyun hyung encouraged you, but Jaehyun hyung wasn’t home at the moment and I had to know in that exact minute, you know?”

Sighing, Mark nods. “I do know.”

Donghyuck giggles and continues, “Seeing that I was so immersed in my investigation, Taeil hyung told me Jaehyun hyung went to run with Jaemin the other day, and that maybe he told him. So I went to the guys’ dorm! And of course, Jaemin knew it all.”

“Of course he knew. He always knows.”

Mark has no idea how, and he has no idea when, because Jaemin never leaves the dorm unless he has to, but Jaemin always knows all the gossip about all the members. He knows everything, with details and all. Even when one of the subunits is overseas, Jaemin still knows everything as if he were there.

It’s a bit scary, to be honest.

“So. Jungkook sunbae, huh?” Donghyuck asks, wiggling his eyebrows. Mark groans, eating his ice cream in an attempt to ignore his stupid best friend.

“Yeah.”

“Oh, man, you’re friends with the big ones.”

“... Yeah? I guess I am. I forget Jungkook hyung is one of the big ones most of the time, though.”

“Jungkook hyung,” Donghyuck repeats.

“Well, I wasn’t going to call him sunbae all the damn time, right?”

“I suppose. Wait.” He holds Mark’s wrist. “Mark, look at me.”

“No.”

“Mark, look at me,” Donghyuck whines, trying to meet Mark’s eyes, but he refuses, even closing his own.

“I won’t look at you, shut up. Go away.”

“Why not?” Donghyuck whines louder. “Mark!”

“Shut up. No.”

Then there is silence, and for a moment he considers opening his eyes to check what’s happening, but Donghyuck just giggles.

“Oh my God, you’re so in love with Jungkook sunbae.”

Ah, there is it. The reason why Mark didn’t want to look into Donghyuck’s eyes, sure he’d notice it. He didn’t even have to, however.

“No, I’m not,” Mark shakes his head, finally opening his eyes, just to find Donghyuck’s nose almost touching his. His best friend is showing his biggest grin, which becomes even more annoying the moment Mark looks at him.

He knows it.

“You are!” Donghyuck squeals, finally leaving some space between them. “How did you realize? How did you fall in love? Tell me the details now!”

Mark doesn’t have the details. He just realized he felt something stronger than just a silly crush for Jungkook when he saw him dancing so happily the other day in BTS’s pratice room. He hasn’t stopped to think about that, too scared to find something too intense to be able to bear.

So he just shrugs. “I just stopped to see him as a superstar. I mean, I still admire him and love the art he does and how he does it, but it’s more, now. Like, I’ve seen him doing a lot of stuff and I realized he’s not as perfect and unreachable as I thought and I… like him. You know how people drop other people when they don’t meet the image they had of them in their minds? It was the contrary to me. It made me want to know him better. And now here I am, I guess.”

Donghyuck stares at him, expressionless. “What the fuck. Mark, that was so corny.”

“Donghyuck! I’m pouring out my feelings for the guy I like here and that’s what you have to say? What the fuck indeed.”

“Hey, relax!” Donghyuck laughs, patting his shoulder, smiling softly at him, almost as if he is proud. “I’m happy you found someone who makes you all warm and cheesy on the inside. Totally deserved.”

Huffing with a light smile of his own, Mark repeats, “Shut up.”

“Come on, you can tell me all about sunbae’s big pretty eyes on the way home.”

To Donghyuck’s surprise, that’s exactly what Mark does.

...

It’s past four am, Mark knows it will take him a long while before his body allows him to even close his eyes again. He yawns, taking his phone from the bedside table and unlocking it.

Jungkook told him he would be spending all of his time in the practice room, and that he would stay until very late every day. With how busy he’s been, and how increasingly busy Mark starts to be, there haven't been many opportunities to see each other as they would want.

Deciding trying won’t hurt, Mark sends Jungkook a message, asking him if he’s still rehearsing. He gets up and goes to the bathroom. He gets in bed and the message is still unanswered, so he plays a game on his phone to wait for sleep to arrive on its own.

He’s been playing for thirty minutes when Jungkook’s response shows up.

“yeah, i won’t go back to the dorm tonight”

Mark stares at the words on his screen for a while. He knows that the closer the comeback, the busier things get; the more everyone needs to practice, the more the singers have to sing, the rappers have to rap and the more everyone has to dance.

It’s not enough to be good. It has to be perfect, everything has to be beyond perfect, to the point where the fans don’t really care anymore, to the point where they don’t think it can be better. Sometimes, idols reach a point where they are the ones pressing themselves to have things under so much control, it hurts them. It’s a lot of factors, really, and one of them is themselves. Mark knows it.

So it’s not weird for Jungkook to pull another all-nighter in order to rehearse. What makes Mark frown is that it’s another all-nighter.

“i’ll go see you. don’t tell me i can’t because i’m already on my way”

Which is not true, but well. Jungkook will try to convince him to stay in bed if he didn’t say that.

He won’t sleep anyway, even if he stays in his bed. Going to see Jungkook will at least distract him, and it will probably be good for Jungkook; Mark has noticed how tired he is, and how hard it is for him to smile at times. Mark making his way into his practice room this late at night will probably not change much, but at least Jungkook won’t be alone in the empty room for the night.

Once he’s ready with decent clothes on and not his pajamas, Mark sends a text to Taeyong letting him know he will go to the other dorm for some coffee. He knows Taeyong is still up, and he knows he needs lots of coffee to stay up until so late. He takes his phone and his coat and he goes out of the dorm.

When he’s done with the passcode and the door opens, Taeyong is peeking his head out of the kitchen, smiling at him. “Goodnight, Mark.”

“Hyung, hi. I’m sorry for coming so late,” Mark apologies, entering the kitchen.

Taeyong has everything ready. The coffee maker is full and about to have the coffee ready, and he even has some packets of cookies.

“Where are you going?” Taeyong asks.

“Oh. Um. I’ll go see a friend,” he responds, nervous. At the last word, Taeyong’s smile softens.

“A friend? At almost five am? That doesn't sound like a friend to me,” Taeyong comments lightly, while he takes two thermoses and hands one to Mark. “I’ll make your coffee. You make your friend’s.”

“He’s really just a friend, hyung!”

“Okay.” Taeyong shrugs. “He must be busy, to be up this late.”

“Yeah. A lot.”

They finish making the coffees and Mark calls a cab, which arrives some minutes later. Taeyong accompanies him to the entrance, still smiling. He looks tired and Mark is sure he’s been wearing that shirt for three days in a row, but he still manages to look radiant.

“Be safe out there, kid.”

“Yes, yes. I’ll be. Make sure to sleep soon, hyung,” Mark reminds, already heading to the door.

“And you make sure Jungkook sunbae sleeps soon too.” Taeyong giggles at Mark’s surprised expression. “Hurry before the driver leaves you behind.”

It doesn’t take Mark too long before he arrives at the front of the building. Behind the front desk, there is a woman who looks as sleepy as he must surely look. She smiles politely at him, but before Mark can approach to ask for Jungkook (who, Mark hopes, let the lady know he would be there soon), Jungkook walks to him from one side of the waiting area.

Just like Mark expected, Jungkook’s expression shows how fatigued he is. He doesn’t even stand straight, slightly stooped over. His eyes barely light up at the sight of Mark and his smile is small, worn out. His clothes, though simple, look expensive and perfectly combined, even his hair, disheveled as it is, looks fine. He wears his usual shiny earrings and his lips are way too pink to be natural. Jungkook looks fine, and if one ignores his drowsy gaze and bad posture, you could almost think he’s fresh and ready to be interviewed. He’s a perfectly put together sad mess who wears fancy clothes at five am.

Mark understands that state perfectly. You don’t even try, you don’t even realize, when the clock yells at you that it’s late, and the mirror proudly shows your perfect look, and then you look at yourself and don’t recognize yourself because you feel bad, but you look fine.

They don’t have the luxury of manifesting how they feel through the way they look.

“I brought you coffee,” Mark says as his greeting, offering the blue thermos that he’s sure belongs to Johnny, but since Taeyong was the one to hand it to Mark, he guesses it’s alright.

“Thank you.” Jungkook accepts it and signals for Mark to follow him to the practice room. “Shouldn’t you be asleep, though?”

“Well, the same for you.” Mark shrugs. “It’s kind of late.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“Me neither.”

Jungkook’s belongings are piled up in one corner of the room. There is something about practice rooms late at night (or very early morning?), with their bright artificial lights, the noise the AC makes and the mirror walls. Perhaps it is because of what it means to be there at that moment (working too hard, body too tired and mind about to shut down) but it feels like a secluded, far away place that is not even real. It’s a sensation of thinking that whatever happens there, will stay there. No one will know, no one will talk about it once you leave the room.

Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to cry tears of frustration in the practice rooms.

Mark doesn’t want to cry, though. He has reasons to cry, but this is not his practice room and this is not his rough night. Jungkook doesn’t cry either. He just sits on the floor and quietly drinks the coffee Mark made for him in complete silence. Mark sits down next to him, also drinking from his orange thermos (that definitely belongs to Donghyuck).

It’s silent, and it’s been minutes since they sat down. Mark doesn’t try to make Jungkook talk and Jungkook doesn’t even try to talk. Sleep is finally making its way to Mark’s system, and for the way Jungkook slowly blinks, he’s starting to feel sleepy too.

“You didn’t have to come, I know you’re tired too,” Jungkook whispers. “And you don’t have to worry about me.

“I told you, I couldn’t sleep anyway. It’s fine. I’m glad to be here keeping you company.”

“Thank you,” he says, with a pretty smile.

Jungkook leaves the thermos on the floor and slowly he gets closer to Mark, turning around and wrapping his arms around him hesitantly. Mark doesn’t move, relaxing in the other’s embrace. Jungkook’s left hand rests over Mark’s wildly beating heart, so Mark knows Jungkook can feel it. Jungkook doesn’t comment on it, just snuggling on Mark’s shoulder.  They stay like that for several minutes.

“I am so tired,” Jungkook says, his voice quiet and shaking.

Mark turns slightly so one one of his hands can caress Jungkook’s waist tenderly. He hums.

“It’s too much,” Jungkook adds. “It’s too much all the time, and everyone expects too much of me. My family, my hyungs, the fans. Myself. But I don’t think I can, Mark. I really doubt I can.”

Jungkook and Mark don’t have many things in common when it comes to hobbies. They are both shy people, but even in their shyness, they are different. What they have in common, however, is the thing that slows them and exhausts them the most: everyone expects too much of them, forgetting that it takes talent to be who they are, but it also takes time, effort, skill, sleepless nights of continuous rehearsing. Mark is one of the youngest NCT 127 members and the youngest SuperM member, just as Jungkook is the youngest BTS member, and at their short ages they have already shown the world what they are capable of.

They are the It boys, after all. They are supposed to be beyond perfect. But do people care about what it takes for the It boys to be the It boys? The amount of work they put into maintaining those flawless and ideal images is so much, it pressures them until they are crushed, and they end up breaking down in the middle of an empty practice room late at night, feeling hopeless and lonely.

Idols— Jungkook and Mark, give and give and continue giving until they feel like they are empty, like there is nothing else to give, and despair is what follows when they reach that point. They are not empty, but they feel like they are, and they are just too tired to search in another place.

This time, at least, Jungkook is not alone in the practice room. This time Mark can hold him, this time Jungkook can hold onto someone, and maybe it will not be the solution to all of his problems— damn, it will probably not be the solution to anything, but Mark knows it’s better to feel sad and desperate and understood than just sad and desperate. So he turns more and puts his other hand on Jungkook’s waist. It’s an uncomfortable, awkward position, but it’s endearing and so warm. They look sad and at the same time hilarious; the both of them embracing each other in a practice room at five am, resembling a ball of limbs more than the two grown men they actually are. And weirdly, they find so much comfort in that inconvenient hug.

It’s so them.

That night, Jungkook doesn’t cry. That night, Mark doesn’t say anything else. That night, Jungkook feels sad and empty and distressed… and understood. He feels accompanied. That night, Mark doesn’t sleep as much as he needs for the busy morning that awaits for him, but every time he remembers the way Jungkook felt in his arms, he feels nothing but euphoria.

It’s not a pretty night, but it’s totally theirs. After all, the bad nights, too, can be the beginning of something good.

The time to start practicing the dances comes and Mark is tired just thinking of the endless hours they have already spent and will continue spending in their practice room.

They’ve been at it for more than half the day. Their bodies are starting to ache in a dangerous way, and Mark is sure the practice room (and them) stinks. If someone opens the door they will probably be knocked out. Because, come on, there is no deodorant in this world capable of hiding the smell of nine guys dancing around a closed room for hours. It’s fine though, none of them can detect the odor anymore.

Mark has been busy with the recording of the songs and making sure the lyrics and everything in general sounds great, so he hasn’t been sleeping that well, just like Taeyong, who, somehow, manages to be energetic enough to keep everyone going, rehearsing by himself even when they are taking a break.

Taeyong is God. There is no other explanation.

Donghyuck is talking with Johnny next to Mark when Mark’s phone vibrates, indicating an incoming call. Feeling like even lifting his phone is too much, Mark finally takes it and sees it’s Jungkook calling. That makes him feel immediately energized, so with a big smile and bright eyes, he answers.

“Hello!” Mark greets, maybe a bit too excited; Johnny and Donghyuck look at him with raised eyebrows before they continue with their talk. Well, Mark can’t help it, he hasn’t had much time to speak to Jungkook lately.

“Hello, Mark,” Jungkook chuckles. “What are you doing?”

“I’m rehearsing with the guys,” Mark sighs. “Like always. Like I will continue to do for like thirty hours more.”

“Just two more to go, stop crying already!” Doyoung scolds from the other side of the room. Mark ignores him.

“Yeah, whatever,” Mark shrugs. “Why do you ask?”

After that night in which they just hugged each other in silence, things changed a bit. Before, it was already comfortable between them, but after it, things got even easier, they felt much closer. Mark knows what changed in him, thanks to Johnny.

Around seven am, Jungkook insisted on taking him home, but Mark could see how fucking tired Jungkook was, so he wanted him to go back to his dorm as soon as possible. Mark arrived there in a cab, he could return also in a cab, it was no big deal.

Truth to be told, Mark didn’t want to go back in a cab. The driver would probably try to talk to him and it was just weird to travel in a cab in general. Mark knew he was being that picky just because he was aware there was another option: Johnny. He was always awake even before seven am and he had a car. Perfect. So he called him and asked him if he could pick him up. Of course, after complaining, all the while Mark could hear him taking his keys and going out of his dorm’s door, he asked where Mark even was at.

“Uh…” Mark hesitated. Right, so focused on getting Johnny to accept to go for him, he forgot he would have to tell him where he was, and probably give explanations. “I’m in the BigHit building.”

The line was silent for a while.

“BigHit?” Johnny repeated, his voice flat and expressionless.

“Yeah, uh… I told Taeyong hyung last night.”

The Taeyong card. No one could scold him if Taeyong gave him permission. Not even the managers.

“Right. Well, I’ll be there in a few. See you.”

Jungkook and Mark waited for Johnny in the lobby. When Johnny’s car parked outside the building, Jungkook waved at him happily, looking way better than a few hours before.

Mark entered Johnny’s car, where Johnny waited for him as fresh and collected as only he could look that early in the morning. Mark greeted him with a quiet “good morning, hyung” to which Johnny raised his eyebrow, saying good morning back to him.

They didn’t talk, just listened to whatever music was being played on a local radio station. Mark felt restless, wondering why Johnny was so serious; did he wake up in a bad mood? Was that even possible? Oh God, did Mark use his special colombian coffee last night without realizing? Was that the reason why Johnny looked like that?

So busy panicking in his mind, Mark didn’t realize a small smile appeared on Johnny’s face.

“So, are you planning to change companies and go to BigHit or why did you run there so late at night, huh?” Johnny asked, controlling his expression so Mark couldn’t realize he was just teasing.

“What? No! Never! Well, I mean, maybe not never but like, not right now and not in the next three years, probably!”

“Oh, I see. Okay, I understand,” Johnny nodded.

“You do?” Mark asked, hesitant.

“Of course. You came to see Jungkook sunbae.”

“Ah, well, yeah.”

“Because you are dating.”

Mark choked on his spit.

“I— we— no. Dude. Johnny. Oh my god,” Mark coughs and Johnny finally breaks his pretence, letting out a loud laughter. “We’re just friends.”

Johnny hums, still smiling. “I think Jaehyun and him are just friends. Think about it like this: would you have done the same for someone who’s just a friend?”

“Of course.”

“And when the morning arrives, would you have the same stupid expression on your face? Would you have called me? I think you wouldn’t. You would have called a cab, not caring if people see you and start to speculate, right? Because there is nothing to hide. If you’re just friends, why are we here, Mark?”

Mark hated that. Mark hated when Johnny got serious but still was carefree and smiled like nothing was happening, and then slapped him with his infinite knowledge. Because it always made Mark think about the things he was avoiding and it made him move on and— Johnny always knew what to say.

Would he have done the same for a friend? Yes. Without a doubt, yes. He would have run to any of his friends in the middle of the night if they needed him, because that is what Mark does, that’s what Mark considers a friend should do. If he could, he would be there. But then there was the other part: would he avoid catching people’s attention? Well, yes. Mark is not fond of being in the middle of the drama or the center of attention because of dating rumors. Or any rumors. He would have called Johnny anyway because he wouldn’t have wanted to cause trouble for his friend. (And because he hates cabs).

Would he feel like this? No, he wouldn’t. All nervous and anxious and happy. He would have called Johnny, yes, because calling Johnny he would avoid making a scandal. This time he called Johnny because, of course, the scandal stuff, but also because he didn’t want any random stranger who could sell the info to see him like this: giddy and silly and giggly. Clearly smug and happy and maybe, if he dared to say it, a bit in love. Then add the fact that Jungkook, looking the same way at the door of the building, was waving at Mark, and you’d have all the answers.

So, he would have called Johnny, but not for the same reason. He would have done the same for a friend, but the result wouldn’t have been the same.

Fuck Johnny for making him think all of this, honestly. It was barely seven in the morning and he’d slept like three hours last night.

Groaning, he deflated on his seat, making Johnny laugh harder. “Shut up.”

“Markie is in love!”

And that's how things changed for Mark. Because he accepted he was in love, because he accepted it wasn’t just a dumb crush anymore. That morning he realized how he did things for Jungkook, and how he did them very differently.

“Mark?” Jungkook calls through the other side of the line. Mark clears his throat.

“Yeah, uh, I’m just tired, sorry, I can’t focus. What did you say?”

“That I want to go see you, if I’m allowed, of course!” Jungkook hurries to clarify. “Like, um, when you came to see me? And I want to buy coffee for your hyungs too.”

Oh. Oh.

“Y-you want that?” Mark laughs nervously, making Donghyuck look at him with a weird, mischievous expression. Mark shoves his face away.

“Yeah. I want to see you… If that’s alright.”

Of course it is alright. It’s so alright Mark feels like he could cry.

After telling him he will send him what his hyungs and Hyuck usually order, Mark hangs up the call. As expected, everyone is looking straight at him, not even pretending they weren’t listening.

“Do you guys, uh, mind if Jungkook hyung comes?” Mark asks.

After exchanging a quick glance, all the members shake their heads. “Not at all,” Jungwoo responds, smiling. “We don’t mind having your Jungkook hyung around, Mark!”

“Ugh, don’t say it like that,” Mark whines. He knows they will tease him. He can see it in the way Yuta’s eyes sparkle and in the way Johnny’s smile quirks up to the left. The teasing, naturally, begins, everyone making weird noises and high pitched voices while they call “Jungkook hyung!”

“Everyone, everyone, stop it already,” Taeyong calls. Mark looks at him with hope showing in his eyes, but the moment he sees Taeyong’s playful expression, he deflates. “Let’s try to make this place smell less like a dumpster. We can’t give such a bad impression to our sunbae, who happens to be Mark’s boyfriend.”

Somehow, they manage to make the practice room look as if they haven’t been locked in there for continuous hours, sweating as if they were in a sauna. Since they lack air freshener, Jungwoo goes to buy a soda and with some chewing gum, he makes a weird mix in an empty Starbucks cup, making the whole place smell really nice and fresh. Mark looks at him in astonishment. Jungwoo winks.

By the time their manager brings Jungkook into the room, they’ve already practiced three other songs and are scattered around the place. “Hyung, hi!” Mark greets, walking to him.

Jungkook has on the pair of long earrings that Mark absolutely loves because they shine more than the others and move along Jungkook’s head. Somehow, Jungkook looks even better than usual today, and Mark wants to sob. He wants to reach and squeeze his cheeks or something equally embarrassing. He blames it on the fact that he’s been lacking Jungkook interactions lately because of their respective schedules.

They talk for a while, all the while ignoring the stares of Mark’s groupmates. Jungkook excitedly tells him they will start promoting next week, and Mark tells him they will start in two weeks, so both groups should coincide in at least one music show.

When Mark decides he should let Jungkook give the coffees to the rest, he mentally asks the heavens for the guys not to embarrass him too much. In part, he knows they will behave; Jungkook may be the guy Mark likes, but he’s still their sunbae, and everyone there knows the boundaries of respect. The other part of Mark just fears.

They are respectful and not as annoying as Mark feared. They all smile mischievously and wiggle their eyebrows when they think Jungkook is not watching. It’s also good that most of them are shy, not really daring to do much more than politely accept the coffees and thank Jungkook.

Seeing Jaehyun, Jungkook and Mark joke and talk, the other members also start to speak and a few minutes after Jungkook arrives, the practice room is full of loud voices and laughter. It’s nice. Mark discovers Jungkook fits perfectly there; surrounded by the 127 members, shyly speaking with Johnny while Donghyuck stares fixedly at him with stars in his eyes.

In the end, Taeyong decides they’ve done enough for the day and dismisses everyone. He’s supposed to be telling everyone that, but he looks only at Mark, winking at him.

While everyone is busy arranging their stuff to leave, Yuta stands next to Mark and looks in the same direction as him: Jungkook is talking with Jaehyun and Jungwoo.

“You kind of smell,” Yuta comments.

“Woah, thanks a lot, hyung,” Mark scoffs. “I know. And you smell too.”

Yuta rolls his eyes, still not losing his grin. “We will be in the other dorm, so you two have the apartment all for yourselves, but you smell, so you better take a shower before you do your… boyfriend stuff.”

Scandalized, Mark laughs loudly, nervously, smacking Yuta in the arm. “Yuta hyung! Don’t say those things out loud! What the fuck!”

“Oh, you don’t want the dorm alone, then?” Yuta asks with a raised brow.

“... I want it. We won’t do boyfriend stuff because we are not boyfriends, but I want it. Thanks.”

Yuta laughs and ruffles his hair.

In Mark’s mind, when they are in the middle of promoting, things get weird and all mixed up. It’s hard to differentiate the days and sometimes time goes by way too fast, sometimes it goes by too slow.

This comeback is not different. Suddenly, it’s been one week since they started to attend radio shows and music shows. He’s not very sure what things they’ve recorded and for what TV channel, much less the day it will air. The only things clear in his mind are lyrics, dances, and Jungkook.

They coincide in a few music shows, in which the only time they have to see each other is the few minutes they have before everyone starts taking turns to perform and sometimes, when the whole show is over and in the time to change clothes before going to the next schedule. It’s not much, and the energy they have to text is never enough, so when they see each other on the stage, once all the idols are starting to withdraw, Jungkook and Mark don’t even realize they are walking towards the other until they are standing at a short distance.

They are not exactly hidden, they’re on a stage full of people and cameras, but the good thing about the people is that it’s hard to see them. Mark is the first to reach, but Jungkook is the one who closes the gap between them, pressing Mark against his chest. Mark sighs happily against his chest, circling his waist with his arms. Jungkook’s chin rests on Mark’s hair, his arms around his shoulders. It’s not exactly the kind of hug friends give, at least not the emotion that is clearly there, being shared. It’s definitely not the kind of hug idols give to other idols on stage to show how happy they are to see each other; those are quick, with barely any contact at all. This one lasts, this one displays hundreds of things they should try to hide, this hug lingers once they separate and go in their respective ways. The smiles on their faces suggest a lot.

That hug makes the fans go absolutely insane.

Maybe he shouldn’t be here. Outside, fans keep an eye on their surroundings, ready to photograph and record everything. Their whole attention is focused on finding their idols who are arriving, and Mark is in one of the SUVs the said idols are gonna get in to go home.

NCT 127’s promotion period finished two days ago, so Mark, though with a lot of free time, is still tired beyond words. His body is sore all over and he feels like he hasn’t slept in years, even though all he did yesterday was sleep. So he’s tired, sore, and Jungkook deprived.

Around two weeks ago, pretty much at the beginning of Mark’s group’s comeback, BTS went to promote overseas after a few local music shows. If it was hard to get even a glimpse of each other before that, when Jungkook left the country, it all became harder; different time zones, his busy schedule, Mark with his even busier schedule. The time it took them to respond to the other’s texts was significantly longer too.

So when Jungkook told him he was going back that day, Mark asked if he could go to receive him at the airport. Babbling something about missing him and wanting to spend some time with him, Mark suggested he could just wait in one of the SUVs that were picking them up from the airport to take them to their apartment. Jungkook, as eager as him, accepted and made the preparations (telling his managers and members).

Now, Mark is just waiting in the last row of seats, in complete silence. The driver is ignoring him, which Mark is thankful for, not really in the mood to talk. He’s so tired, all of his muscles hurting and his voice hoarse. The only thing that prevents him from falling asleep is that he will see Jungkook soon. It’s been only two weeks and he missed him so much he’s kind of embarrassed he’s so needy.

It doesn’t really matter, because he knows Jungkook missed him too. It’s reassuring to be able to talk about this kind of thing. The feelings thing. It’s easier to be sincere through the phone, when he’s not facing Jungkook. It’s easier not to feel overwhelmed. It’s not like they talk about the big, important feeling, the one that borders love and that stopped being what could be considered as platonic a while ago, but it’s clear it’s there.

In the way they talk to the other, in the way they look for the other, even in the way they smile. It’s clear and it’s obvious for the both of them that the way they like the other is not the way one likes someone who is just a friend.

The parking lot is as private as it can be, with only a few “calm” fans around and a lot of security guards. When BTS comes out through the doors, there is commotion outside. The voices of the fans get louder and the bodyguards ask them to step back. Mark sees a few members going to the SUV parked in front of the one Mark waits in, and then he sees a manager approaching Jungkook and taking him to where Mark is, followed by Jimin and Seokjin. They all wear face masks and their clothes are not exactly “airport fashion” but rather simple shirts and pants. Jungkook’s hair, quite long, is disheveled and entangled. The fact that he didn’t even bother to cover it with a hat makes Mark smile fondly.

The door of the vehicle is opened and Jungkook climbs to where Mark is. Quickly, Jimin and Seokjin also get in and the door is closed in less than a minute, not long enough for anyone outside to realize someone was already inside the SUV. Jungkook sits beside Mark and sighs heavily, pulling his mask down and smiling at Mark, completely exhausted. He leans his head on Mark’s shoulder, intertwining their fingers over their laps.

“Hey, Mark,” Jimin greets from his place in the row in front of theirs.

“Hello,” Seokjin smiles.

After Mark greets them, nothing else is said. They are all too exhausted to even try to socialize. Jimin puts on his headphones and curls in his seat, probably trying to get some sleep. Jin just leans on his seat and closes his eyes.

They get out of the parking lot and onto the road. Mark tilts his head enough to check if Jungkook is really sleeping; he has his eyes closed but Mark can see he’s not asleep. Jungkook opens his eyes and gives Mark a small smile.

“I missed you,” Jungkook mutters. Instead of responding, Mark just kisses Jungkook’s hair.

The time it takes them to arrive at the group’s apartment is silent and undisturbed.

 

Jungkook tells him to wait for him in his bed while he showers, and in any other moment, Mark would have gotten all flustered, but as tired as they both are, he knows neither of them is considering anything but sleep. He only nods and gets into bed and the moment his head touches the pillow, it takes only a few seconds before his eyes are closing.

In a light state of sleep, Mark hears when Jungkook opens and closes the door, making his way around the room before getting into bed too, snuggling next to Mark, his arm around his waist and exhaling warm puffs of air into the nape of Mark's neck.

They both like to stay inside. Jungkook considerably less than Mark, because he feels like he needs to do something to actually enjoy staying inside, but ever since they started to hang out and accepted it’s not the best idea to be out together, they both too easily recognizable, most of the time they spend together is in one of their dorms. That’s how they usually end up in the same bed, talking or just on their phones playing games. Mundane and simple, and something Mark wouldn't exchange for anything else in the world.

So, it’s not the first time they cuddle while trying to sleep. Jungkook’s embrace is known and comforting, warm and soothing. Mark feels how little by little he falls asleep, his breaths evening and in sync with Jungkook’s.

“Mark, you know I like you a lot, right?” Jungkook whispers. His voice, barely audible, makes Mark feel a bit less sleepy.

“Yeah,” he responds, in the same quiet voice. “I like you a lot too, hyung.”

“So… would you date me? Because we like each other so much. I think we should date.”

That wakes up Mark a little more for sure.

The dorm is completely silent and some warm light enters through the window. They are cuddling in Jungkook’s bed and Mark thinks there isn’t any other way this could have happened. After their demanding respective promotions, bodies completely exhausted, in the most discrete, simple and calm way possible, Jungkook asks Mark to date him. Because they both know they want it, and it feels like right now is the perfect moment to say it.

Nothing else would have fitted better.

Mark should probably think about the fans and the company and what their managers are going to say, because dating someone is one thing and another thing is when that someone is of your same gender. This industry is harsh, but Mark just likes Jungkook a bit too much, and after so many years doing exactly what’s expected from him, he just wants to do something for himself for once. So he just melts some more in Jungkook’s arms and lets out a light chuckle.

“Yeah, let’s date.”

Straightforward and easy. There are no fireworks or fluttering sensations in his stomach. These feelings he’s been holding in his heart have been here for a while, so long that Mark got used to them. He thought he would become a complete mess when the person he liked told him they like him back, but he already knew.

Mark is known for being the master of achieving what seemed impossible, and a professional of unexpected things. No one, not even himself, would have expected him to be this calm, but maybe that’s why they should have expected it.

He falls asleep in the arms of his boyfriend, and the last thing he thinks before closing his eyes is how fucking great it sounds to call Jeon Jungkook his boyfriend.

They are having a movie night in the dreamies’ dorm. The seven of them are dispersed on the couches and cushions thrown on the floor. The only sources of light are the tv and the light of the hallway that leads to the bedrooms. They ran out of coke and the popcorn Renjun likes, some weird flavor that reminds Mark of honey.

It’s been a few weeks since he started officially dating Jungkook, and he keeps forgetting to tell his friends; he’s gotten so used to acting as a couple that he forgets they weren’t one days ago. Besides, all of the members always treated Jungkook as Mark’s boyfriend, so it really isn’t that big of a change, that’s what Mark thinks.

He mentally shrugs. Well, whatever. “Hey, guys, I started dating Jungkook hyung two weeks ago.”

At that, everyone turns to look at him, confusion clear in their expressions.

“What do you mean you ‘started’ dating?” Renjun asks.

“Two weeks?” Chenle gasps. “Only?”

Mark blinks. “Yeah. Two weeks only. And I mean literally that. We are boyfriends now.”

“We thought you had been dating for like, three months,” Jeno explains.

“Yeah, the fuck,” Donghyuck nods. “I’m sure even the managers think you’re married with three kids, two dogs, and have a house in a boring, probably white neighborhood of Canada.”

“That’s oddly specific and totally not true,” Mark sighs.

“Anyway!” Jaemin chimes in, cheerful. “Congrats, Mark. I hope you and Jungkook sunbae grow old together and have fifty dogs, you both deserve it.”

With that, the rest of them also join in congratulating Mark, with a good and even weirder wish each.

“Thanks, guys,” Mark finally says with a wide smile once everyone seems to be done expressing how much they wish Mark and Jungkook to own a grape farm when they reach their forties.

That was smooth. Very smooth considering how chaotic the dreamies can be. Mark thinks it is all thanks to the calm mood it is set in in the living room thanks to the cheesy movies they’ve been watching, too tired of action and violence. He just hopes it goes this well when he tells the 127 guys too.

 

It doesn’t go so smoothly when he tells the 127 guys. They are dumbasses that would never miss the chance to tease Mark and he should have known.

It all starts in Mark’s studio. Well, not his, but the one he uses the most. Everyone in SM knows that’s his unofficial studio. He told his members he would be there in the morning and that he would come back by dinnertime, when they all would gather on the 5th floor to have a meal together.

Somehow Jungkook ends up making a short visit, amazed at everything Mark shows him and does, gasping as if he has never been at a studio.

“It’s different because you’re the one making all this interesting producer stuff!” is his excuse.

Mark, naturally, has to kiss him senseless after hearing those words. Now that he can finally touch all he wants, he can’t keep his hands to himself. Luckily for him, Jungkook can’t either. So here they are, making out on the couch in a corner of the small studio. It’s a bit uncomfortable because the couch is too hard and Mark, straddling Jungkook’s lap, feels it digging into his knees. Mark squeezes one of Jungkook’s biceps, letting out an embarrassing whimper when he feels just how strong the muscle there is. In response, Jungkook tightens his grip on Mark’s waist. Mark is in the middle of pathetically whimpering again when the door of the studio slams against the wall.

“Mark! I was wondering— oh shit, sorry! I, uh, didn’t know you were this busy!” Yuta exclaims, his voice is a mix of embarrassment and amusement. Mark barely has time to look up at Yuta when the door is closed again.

Mark clears his throat. “Well, damn.”

 

“So, Yuta hyung caught you with your tongue down Kook’s throat, huh? Moaning and everything in the studio, you dirty little shit,” Jaehyun beams at him the moment Mark gets into the 5th floor dorm. Donghyuck, beside Mark with a bag full of beer from the convenience store, gasps loudly.

“In the studio?” Jungwoo gasps too. “Just like that? There!?”

“Mark was fucking with Jungkook sunbae in the studio!?” Doyoung yells from the kitchen.

“Mark was what with whom in where!?” Taeyong yells too.

“Fuck yes, not even being in a semi-public space will stop you from getting it,” Johnny nods, a proud smile on his face.

“Woah, Mark,” Donghyuck exclaims, looking fixedly at him, as if seeing him in a new light.

Feeling embarrassed, Mark just pushes Donghyuck into the dorm and closes the door behind him. Mumbling insults through gritted teeth, Mark leaves the plastic bag with beers on the coffee table of the living room.

“I’m dating Jungkook hyung,” he announces.

“Yeah, we kinda figured. You’re not the kind of guy who would fuck in the studio with just anyone,” Johnny says, voice full of understanding, but his eyes burning with mischevious playfullness. Mark can tell it will be a long night.

“We weren’t fucking!”

Like that, the endless teasing starts.

Mark will spend the night at Jungkook’s apartment, only some of his hyungs are home since the rest left to see their respective families. The door is already open when he arrives, Jimin smiling happily at him by the doorframe.

“Hello, Mark! Ah, I’m so excited, we’re having a sleepover,” Jimin giggles, his eyes showing how animated he is. Mark doesn’t even say anything before Jimin takes his backpack with all of his stuff and runs off. “I’ll take this to Kook’s room, you go see him, he’s in the gym!”

He snickers and closes the door. On his way to the apartment’s gym, he passes by the kitchen, where Taehyung is trying to bake something.

“Mark!” Taehyung exclaims, clothes dirty with flour. “Jungkook-ah is in the gym and he probably smells, so why don’t you go say hi and then come help me bake? I’m making my grandma’s special cookies.”

“Ah, sure, but I don’t know how to bake…”

“Me neither!” Taehyung shrugs.

Mark knocks on the door and when he doesn’t receive a response after a while, he just enters. The gym doesn’t smell good, per se, but it doesn’t reek, it’s just not very fresh air in here, and also quite hot, but that was expected. He scans around in search of his boyfriend, only to almost choke on air when he finds him: shirtless, sweaty and lifting weights.

He can’t stop watching how amazing Jungkook looks like that. The way the muscle contracts and relaxes in a swift motion. The way his skin shines with a fine layer of sweat. Mark wets his lips with his tongue, feeling his mouth dry.

God, he can’t think straight. He can’t think at all.

“Hyung,” he calls, managing not to sound too hoarse. Or needy. Or like he’s moaning.

“Oh, ah, h-hi,” Jungkook stammers, leaving his weight on the floor. He doesn’t walk to where Mark stands, just stiff in his place, smiling shyly. “I kinda… lost the notion of time. Sorry, I’m all sweaty and—”

Jungkook stops when he sees Mark approaching. Mark slowly puts his hand on Jungkook’s arm, squeezing lightly. He feels like he could cry tears of pure joy. He realizes, after a while, he’s been staring at Jungkook’s bare torso and arms for a little longer than what could be considered as polite, his hand still on the other’s arm, so he looks up at Jungkook’s face, not knowing what he was expecting, but definitely not this; hungry, serious eyes of dilated pupils.

“Hello, hyung,” Mark says, smiling. “You look nice like this.”

Jungkook smirks, and Mark has the thought to chuckle in his mind at how awkward they used to be, but look at them now, openly flirting like that. Oh the way things change.

“I do?” Mark’s legs feel weak for a second at the tone Jungkook uses, almost purring.

Jungkook is so strong and has big muscles and is right there looking like everything Mark has always desired, and Mark just can’t think.

“Fuck, you do,” he groans before pretty much throwing himself at the arms of his boyfriend.

When Mark goes out of the room, the only thing in his mind is the frantic (and horny) chant of: shit, shit, shit, shit.

Mark went from completely starstruck to hopelessly in love in some months. He got to know Jungkook better and got to see that other part of him, the not so perfect, not-famous one, and instead of feeling disappointed, he found himself wanting to know more, loving every new little part of him he encountered.

He, who writes about love and raps about strong emotions, never spoke out of experience. Mark is sure now, that there are no love songs to describe that thing he feels when he sees Jungkook.

And it’s great. Getting to love someone is great, and admiring that person is even greater. Jungkook is his boyfriend, the person Mark is the most fond of, the one he wants to hold hands with for the rest of his life, the one he wants to share everything with, and he gets to have it. He gets to have Jungkook.

Right now, hidden in the middle of a loud crowd that couldn’t care less about him, Mark gets to see Jungkook just like many people do: from afar, looking perfect, singing, owning the stage like he was born to be there. Pretty clothes and prettier makeup, and that is Jungkook, energetic, smiling, handsome, the youngest member of BTS (and the quiet, shy person he becomes when he’s not on stage is also Jungkook). There, Mark feels the same admiration as everyone in the stadium does too.

He feels something else, too. Something only him, out of so many people, can feel with all the sincerity in his heart. He feels in love. Really in love, not just the infatuation someone feels for a celebrity. He feels proud, happy for Jungkook, and it’s not in the same way the people who think they know him do. Mark is just so, so in love, that words get stuck in his throat and his mind goes blank, overwhelmed with the strong emotion. What an achievement, to make someone who takes pride in having an easy way around words, speechless.

And what an amazing thing, to love a person who inspires.

… 

1 year later

Mark wakes up to soft knocking on his door.

It’s still the middle of the night, barely three am, and he went to sleep around two hours ago. Confused and too sleepy to think straight, Mark tries to remember if they have any schedule that requires them to leave the dorm at this hour, but he’s sure they are free until late in the evening.

Without waiting for his approval to enter, Taeyong opens the door, stopping for a second when he realizes Mark is already awake. He smiles softly before closing the door behind him. Taeyong approaches and sits beside him on the bed. The light outside of his room is too bright and Mark finally notices the voices of the other members in the living room.

He starts to worry; why is Taeyong there at three am? Why are the other members awake? What is happening?

“Hyung?” Mark calls, sitting on his bed, the quilt still covering his legs. Taeyong hums in response, gently fixing Mark’s hair, that is disheveled and sticking up.

“Good night, Mark,” Taeyong greets. “I know this is kind of weird. I bet you didn’t expect me to be here, hm?”

“I totally didn’t so please explain what’s going on before I collapse because I’m starting to think something bad happened,” he laughs nervously, expecting Taeyong to laugh too and tell him something stupid happened like the time when Yuta was so drunk he couldn’t remember how to speak Korean.

But Taeyong doesn’t tell him something stupid. He doesn’t tell him anything, actually. He just sits there with a shaking smile and a stiff body.

“Taeyong hyung.”

“Something did happen,” Taeyong admits. “The managers are already on it. You— Jungkook and you— ah, Mark,” Taeyong sighs, finally losing his bad attempt of a smile. “Someone caught you two kissing and sold the pics to Dispatch. An article was released forty minutes ago.”

They were outed.

Mark doesn’t react. He’s not sure what he’s feeling, his mind is completely blank and his body numb. A picture of them kissing, an article released forty minutes ago. Jungkook is currently in Japan and Mark is in Korea, in his bed, frozen. The managers are already working on this, the members are out in the living room, Taeyong is in Mark’s room with him and Mark is probably the last one to hear about all of this.

There is a picture and there is an article and Mark can’t breathe.

“Mark, hey, Mark, listen to me,” Taeyong calls, his hands holding Mark’s and his eyes searching Mark’s. “Let’s breathe together. Let’s calm down, okay? One thing at the time, Mark.”

“Taeyong,” Mark chokes, voice pained and small. His chest burns and he can’t breathe.

“I’m here, I’m here,” Taeyong assures, squeezing Mark’s hands. “Let’s just breathe, baby. I’m here.”

Taeyong doesn’t tell him things will be alright. When Mark is like this— going through this, he always tells him things will be alright. Because things will always work out, whatever is making Mark go through one of his attacks, Taeyong knows it will eventually get fixed or solved. It will be alright, and Taeyong knows, so he tells Mark.

This time, Taeyong doesn’t know if things will be alright, so the only thing he offers is his presence and his hands holding Mark’s.

 

In the living room, things are tense but everyone pretends they are just having a late-night gathering. They are actually waiting to hear from their managers, who have been in the SM’s main building since the article came out.

JUNGKOOK FROM BTS AND MARK FROM NCT SPOTTED KISSING: TWO MORE LGBTQ+ IDOLS?

God, even the title of the article sucks.

Mark is trying to focus on the cartoons on the TV, but his mind prefers to go over all the possible outcomes. He doesn’t know when or how, but he ends up wrapped in Ten’s arms, who snuggles in the crook of his neck, sleepily telling him about something he ate earlier that day. At some point, Ten starts to snore and Kun, whose arrival Mark can’t remember either, tells him he should go get dressed in case they are called to go to the company. Taeyong, Kun, Johnny and Taeil are the only ones who are not in their pajamas.

“How are the fans reacting?” Mark asks, distractedly touching Ten’s soft pajama pants.

“They are outside this building and also outside SM’s building,” is all Kun says.

Mark nods. “They are not being loud.”

“They’re not. They’re just there.”

“I’ll go change, then,” Mark informs, untangling himself from Ten’s comforting grip and letting his place be taken by Johnny.

Back in his room, the first thing Mark does after standing close to the door for a while is picking his phone from where Taeyong threw it after silencing it, the constant buzz of messages making Mark’s head ache. He sees all of the groupchats he’s in going crazy, he sees everyone sending him messages, and even some numbers of random people are also texting him. Not bothering to even check anything, Mark uninstalls the Twitter app. He deletes every notification, not bothering to check any of the messages even if his mother’s is also there. The only chat he opens is the one with the dreamies, who let Mark know they’re there for him with stupid pictures of hearts and random conversations.

They are pretending everything is fine, but the fact that they are all texting so quickly at this hour shows Mark how worried they are. Smiling softly, he also starts to text them, giving his opinion about the current topic: cucumbers and with which fruit they go better. It feels nice to pretend everything is fine for a little while, until the notification of a new message arrives.

It’s Jungkook, just writing him a simple “darling?” that makes Mark burst into tears.

They are so fucked.

He calls Jungkook, who responds immediately.

“Hey, babe,” Mark says, his voice sounding nasal and stupid and damn, this all sucks so fucking much.

“Hello, love,” Jungkook greets back, voice strained and tired.

Then, no one says anything else. What are they supposed to say? Mark wants to tell him he loves him, but somehow it feels wrong. He wants to ask him how’s he doing, how are things going on his side, but he knows it’s all terrible. So he keeps silent.

“What a night, huh?” Jungkook jokes, not sounding amused at all, but it makes Mark let out an exhausted chuckle.

“Don’t even mention it. I’m sure pretty much everyone has been in the dorm at least for thirty minutes each. All of my members are here, and some members of other units are here too.”

“Oh, damn, it must be quite full in there,” Jungkook hums. “Here, the most interesting thing is Seokjin hyung screaming at the top of his lungs for everyone to get moving because we’re coming back to Seoul tonight. The manager tried to explain to him that maybe it’s better if we stay in Japan until things calm down but Hyung threatened to steal an airplane and pilot it himself just with the help of a Youtube tutorial if they insist on staying.”

That makes Mark laugh, this time a real laugh. “Why is he even insisting so much?”

“I said I want to see you.”

“Oh.” Mark nods, as if Jungkook could see him. There are a couple of silent seconds before Mark sighs. “This sucks, babe.”

“I know.”

“I kind of want to cry all the time.”

“Bold of you to assume I’ve stopped crying at any point since that article came out.”

“So are you coming back tonight, then?”

“Yeah. We’re boarding the airplane in like thirty minutes so I should be there with you in like four hours max?”

Mark hums and hears someone calling for Jungkook, but Jungkook doesn’t respond, instead staying on the call with Mark. Suddenly, all the stress and fear he’s been accumulating since he woke up comes back and Mark gasps, tears blurring his vision.

“God, I just—”

“I love you, Mark,” Jungkook whispers, sounding as distressed and anxious as Mark imagines he must sound too.

Jungkook doesn’t try to comfort him, probably searching for the correct words but failing to find them, just like Mark. Their careers are probably over, their groups’ images are probably damaged beyond repair, and everything feels like it’s falling apart, the only thing left for them seems to be what put them in that place to begin with: their love for each other.

“I love you too, Jungkook.”

He says, with so much conviction and emotion as if love was enough to save them from what was coming their way. As if just loving him was enough for the hatred, the sabotage they were about to experience to be stopped.

 

It’s been two hours and a half since the article was released, thirty minutes since he spoke with Jungkook. He must be boarding the plane right now, Mark thinks as he gets into a SUV with Renjun, Taeyong, Yukhei, Doyoung and Chenle. All of them are going to the company. Most of the members look sleepy beyond words, almost falling asleep standing there in the underground parking lot of their building.

With a half-smile, Mark realizes this is the first time in so long since they all were going to the same place at the same time, everyone gathered while little by little the SUVs start to fill with members.

Sitting in the last row squeezed between Renjun and Yukhei, Mark puts on his headphones, not wanting to hear anything the fans may scream if they see the SUVs. He closes his eyes, trying not to think about the scolding he’s about to get. If things go really bad, one of the managers may even lose their shit and try to slap him, who knows.

 

In the company, everyone stares at them while they walk to their practice rooms. They are told the managers, the CEO and other people are still trying to figure out how to proceed, so they won’t be talking with any of the members soon. Taeyong and Kun demand they want to know what the hell is going on and that they want to take part in the decision-making. It takes them an hour, but they are finally allowed to enter the meeting room where the important people are reunited. Mark doesn’t even try, he’s just doing his best to keep all of his negative feelings at bay.

Some members are keeping an eye on social media, some are asleep in the corners, and the younger members are trying to cheer up Mark with silly comments and jokes. It works, helping Mark forget a bit about how stressed and scared he feels.

Two hours into the waiting, Mark is brought into the room. Everyone looks every bit of stressed as Mark expected, most of the managers look extremely angry at him and he’s just yelled at the moment he enters the room. They tell him how stupid that was, how it was the worst mistake of his career and Mark hates to admit he wants to cry. He mumbles a sad “I’m so sorry” before Taeyong can’t take it anymore and starts yelling back at the managers.

Mark has never seen like that, going against what the managers tell him so blatantly, all in Mark’s sake. Seeing everyone like that, Mark kind of just wants to disappear. He feels bad, and angry, and guilty because for a brief second, he wishes that kiss never happened. He wishes, for the briefest second, he had never acted on his feelings for Jungkook.

Then, he’s given a quick recount of the situation: the fans are going insane. Everyone is talking about this and it will get worse when the rest of the world wakes up to the news. The article was deleted but it was out for three whole hours, more than enough for thousands of people to save a copy. There are more new sites talking about this, too. People are speculating and more “proofs” are around the Internet, mostly fan made theories, but there are also pictures of every interaction they had for the past year, everything they did, everything they said is being analyzed and SM and BigHit can’t find a way to shut down so many people. Maybe they could manage Korea, but this has already reached the rest of the world, so it’s impossible to erase now.

Mark gets out of the room feeling way worse, with more doubts and wanting to cry. Again.

Around eight am, Jaehyun, Sicheng and Johnny go to buy breakfast for everyone. Mark doesn’t want to eat, in part because it’s still too fucking early and in part because he feels like if he puts something in his stomach, he will immediatly throw up. Jaemin doesn’t care, though. He sits next to Mark and threatens to force-feed him if he doesn’t drink his milkshake by himself.

The younger ones are in the farthest corner in the room, all sitting so closely their knees and elbows bump against each other. Sighing, Mark rearranges his glasses.

“Did any of you guys read the article?” he asks. When Jaemin stares at him, Mark sighs harder and puts a piece of waffle in his mouth.

“Everyone but you did,” Yangyang informs, mouth full. “But really, you didn’t miss anything.”

“Yeah, the picture is blurry as fuck and I swear my three year old self could have redacted the article better, and back then I couldn’t even speak Korean,” Renjun scoffs.

“They don’t say much. Just that someone sold the picture to them and that they are sure you’ve been in a relationship for at least eight months,” Jeno says, much more helpfully. “Then it’s all their own opinions like oh they make such a good couple but I hope the public doesn’t react too badly.”

“As if it wasn’t their fault the public will react at all,” Donghyuck mutters, bitterly stabbing his waffle with his fork.

Mark munches on his food, nodding slowly. He feels calmer now, not because he’s any better, but because he’s spent all of his tears already. He wants to ask a bit more but Jisung is pouring more syrup and suddenly that’s all that matters for all of them.

“Hey! Stop! It’s not only yours,” Chenle scolds, trying to reach Jisung to take the small pot that is now half empty.

“Shut up! Jaemin hyung used all of the peach jam and no one said anything!”

“Because no one fucking likes peach jam, you idiot.”

“Excuse me but peach jam is the best thing—”

“Jaemin, we’ve talked about this before,” Mark chimes in. “Eating peach jam is like eating shit.”

“What the hell—”

Like that, a fight starts. They all know it’s a way of distracting, and also something they usually can’t do because Taeyong and Kun intervene way too quickly for any of them to get their point across.

“— So you think I can't enjoy eating a fruit but not the jam form? That’s like, super judgemental.”

“It’s called having preferences, Jaemin. Maybe you don’t know what that is because you enjoy everything this stupid world has to offer.”

“How is that even supposed to be an insult—”

“Well, I personally hate jam in general,” Mark shrugs.

Renjun looks at him before scoffing with disdain. “Well, keep that embarrassing stuff to yourself. No one wants to listen.”

“No, wait, I have reasons! Number one, is like eating solidified drool—”

“Okay, it’s enough—”

“Number two, it’s all gross and sticky and reminds me of when kids eat glue in school—”

“Not all of us did that, Mark. The fact that you did—”

“I didn’t eat glue when I was a kid!”

“Then how do you know, huh?”

“Because that’s what kids do! They eat glue! And jam is like glue with fruit flavoring, so why spend money on jam when you can buy glue and flavoring and—”

“Mark?”

At the hesitant, shy voice, they all look up, cheeks stained with jam and syrup, plates with half eaten waffles and the argument dying in their throats. What they see is Jungkook looking back at them with big, nervous eyes. He wears nice clothes, his hair and makeup perfectly done, earrings shining with the light of the room. He’s obviously tired, and it’s obvious he went straight to the plane in possibly the middle of shooting something, not having time to even change his clothes for something more comfortable. Beside him, Johnny is smirking at them, amused at the fact they were caught talking about stupid things like jam and kids eating glue. By the door, other BTS members stand, as perfect looking as Jungkook.

Mark is up in less than a second, slightly shaking on his feet thanks to all the crying and the constant headache. Jungkook takes his hand in his, steadying him, and then drawing him to his chest.

It’s easier to breathe in between Jungkook’s arms, Mark rediscovers. It’s all easier if Jungkook is there. He still feels bad, betrayed and exposed, embarrassed and sad, he’s still worrying, he still would rather be anywhere else, but it gets a bit easier to bear with Jungkook there. Mark feels some of his fears slip away, allowing him to finally breathe.

“I’m sorry,” Mark mutters. He’s sorry for so many things, he’s not sure exactly which one he’s apologizing for. Maybe all of them. For not being careful enough and kissing Jungkook where they could be seen. For being in this situation. For feeling like it’s his fault even if he knows it’s not. For feeling like it’s also Jungkook’s fault, even though he knows it’s not either. For just… all that’s happening, and not offering a solution.

“I’m so sorry too,” Jungkook whispers back. Mark hugs him tighter.

Things are not better, but at least they are together.

 

They are brought into another meeting room an hour later. Inside, the only people there are two women, both of them looking exhausted but far more composed than the managers in the room Mark entered hours prior. They don’t seem like they want them dead, at least.

They take their time explaining to them what’s going on in every social media ever, some of them Mark has never heard about but there is a report too. Then they go by countries, way less detailed and more general, but this way is clearer what each country thinks on average. They tell them about all the possible outcomes and how they foresee this thing will affect each group. After more than two hours, the ladies get to what the couple wants to hear: the solutions.

“You have two options,” the lady in the red shirt tells him. “Three, actually, but one of them only will happen if you choose one of the two original options. Number one: you don’t come out. We deny everything and sue Dispatch. We destroy them. Then you go live in your respective groups’ accounts and say how hurt you are about how Dispatch is using the LGBT community as a way of selling fake info and how sad you are that they are using your friendship to sell edited pictures to the public. You talk about your privacy being disrespected and then you don’t go near each other for at least four months. Not even to say hello, you understand? And don’t think you’re being sneaky, because the last time you thought that, the picture was taken. So. There’s that.”

“And the other option?” Jungkook asks, in a small voice. This time, it’s the lady in the white shirt who talks.

“You come out. The damage was already done, so we can at least try to keep the fans who support the community. The same thing, we still will sue Dispatch and you still will go live but this time together to confirm you are dating. The companies release a statement. You have to analyze this one really well because even if your relationship ends at some point, you will never erase the fact that you declared yourselves… not straight.”

“Right, because we will stop being gay the moment we break up,” Mark barks. “Better not regret it.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” the lady sighs. “What I meant is that if you ever regret announcing you’re gay, you won’t be able to change the fact that you said it,” she smiles. “And the third option: one of you wants to come out but the other not. Same process. One of you goes live and says how hurt you are for using your gay friend to sell fake info. The other also goes live to admit you’re gay. One company releases a statement about their gay idol and the other company about the fake rumors surrounding their very straight idol.”

They start to talk about some other details, but Mark stops listening when he realizes they’re not as important. His mind is busy with the three possibilities, and how each would affect NCT. He even spends a brief thought for SM and his family back in Canada. He thinks about everyone but himself. Mark is not sure he’s doing really well at the whole thinking stuff, however. He slept like two hours last night and he’s been up for hours, stressed, crying, through a thousand different emotions. He feels dizzy and like this is not actually happening, but time keeps passing and he has decisions to make. He wants to just stop and breathe calmly, but he knows he won’t be able to do that for maybe months.

Sighing, he leans on his chair with closed eyes. He wonders, not for the first time, if it’s all over, and what he did to deserve to be going through this.

“You should talk about this with your groupmates before making a decision, and you two should also talk about it,” one of the women suggests. Mark opens his eyes and catches Jungkook staring at him. Not daring to hold that gaze (desolate, sad, broken), Mark looks at the woman. “You have two hours to decide.”

Again out of the room, it takes Mark a while to react and start moving. He tries to smile at Jungkook, saying, “let’s talk about this with our groups first? Send me a text when you’re done and I’ll take you somewhere to talk, yeah?”

Jungkook just nods. Mark wants to leave, but notices Jungkook wants to say something, so he waits. In the end, Jungkook just sighs, taking Mark’s hand. “This is the kind of thing that can break people, and it can also break relationships. I… I love you, Mark. And regardless of what we decide or what happens, I will continue to love you, so please… come back to me.”

Mark won’t cry again. He’s done that too much today, and it’s barely 12 pm, so he just tugs at Jungkook and leaves a soft kiss on his cheek.

“And you come back to me.”

Jungkook goes to where his hyungs wait for him and Mark takes his phone out, finally mustering the courage to call his mother. It doesn’t take more than two seconds for her to pick up. He has a whole speech ready, he thought about it over and over again. He practiced coming out to her with Donghyuck thousands of times before. He practiced what he will tell her now with Jaemin in those long hours of waiting.

Mark’s mom doesn’t know he’s gay, and she doesn’t know about Jungkook. He avoided telling her. Damn, he avoided accepting his sexuality even in the privacy of his own mind for years. Mark gets on stages and dances and raps and lets the whole world see, lets them hear, not showing fear or regret, and people think he just doesn’t know what fear means. Because he’s Mark Lee and he’s perfect and amazing and— there is one thing, the only thing, that he still struggles to say.

He can’t stop thinking about how all this will affect everything in his life. He can’t stop thinking about his career and his friends and his mom, his dad, his whole family, whom Mark loves endlessly, and yet, he never dared to tell them about this. He can’t stop thinking about how they all got to know in the worst way possible.

That article took so much from Mark, and he doesn’t think the fans or anyone realizes. Those stupid, careless words and blurry picture took away from Mark the opportunity to talk about this when he wants and how he wants, to whoever he wants. It’s now out in the open, for everyone to see and judge.

“Mark?” his mother calls, in the same way everyone's been saying his name today; softly, sadly.

He has a whole speech ready, he reminds himself. He planned it and practiced it and he— he won’t cry, because he’s done with it. He tries to talk, but a knot forms in his throat at some point and the only thing that comes out is a pathetic, little whine. His mother takes a sharp breath.

“¿Bebé?” his mom tries again, even softer. Mark won’t cry, but fuck, that stupid pet name his mother called him when he was a kid and he didn’t know it’s the Spanish word for baby.

He won’t cry, but tearing up is not crying anyway.

“Mom,” he manages to mumble. “Mom. Oh, God. I… I’m sorry, mom.”

“Just— Mark, it’s… fine. I need to know if it’s true, though. Because, honey, I can’t know if you’re so sad because it’s not true and they are saying things about you or… or you’re so sad because it’s true.”

He feels like he’s choking, and he just has to get the words out. His mother is making it easy for him. No “I’m gay”, no “I’m dating someone”. Just “it’s true”. As easy as that, and yet, it takes Mark a while to even breathe evenly enough to clear his head.

The whole world knows and he still struggles.

“It’s true,” he finally says, in a voice so fragile, and so, so fucking sad, he thinks it’s enough to break everyone’s hearts.

He hates it.

“Oh, Mark,” his mother says, in the exact same voice as him.

“I’m sorry you had to know this way. I— I’m sorry. God, I’m being so dramatic, sorry—”

“I’m sorry they made you come out like this, baby. I’m sorry you have to go through this and I’m not there to even try to comfort you.”

She sounds so impotent, so frustrated, and Mark thinks, ah, right, I still have this. His world is falling apart, but he still has her, he still has a family, he still has friends. It all seems terrible, but he’s not alone. He’s never been alone.

Somehow, he manages to smile, still sniffing and probably looking miserable, but hey, he can’t let his mother be sad too, right?

 

In the quietness of NCT Dream’s empty practice room, Jungkook and Mark sit leaning on a wall. They have forty minutes before they have to make the final decision of how they are going to handle this and they’ve been here for five minutes already, none of them saying anything.

Now, Mark feels much calmer. Everything still sucks, and it’s still the worst day of his life, but he at least feels better. Not like he will faint at any second anymore. The talk with his mom helped him a lot, and he has so much more to talk with her, but it was a good start. Then, there are his groupmates (family!), who were nothing but supportive and let him know that whatever he decides, they are fine with it. They are more than fine and they actually encouraged him to be selfish for once in his life and just choose what he truly wants to do.

So, the last step is to talk with Jungkook before Mark can really make up his mind.

“Things went well,” Mark starts. “Things went well for me when I talked with the guys. They basically told me to do whatever I want because they will agree.”

Jungkook nods. “Ah, my hyungs said pretty much the same. I mean, we kinda cried and stuff because this whole situation is…” he gestures vaguely.

“Yeah,” Mark agrees. No words to describe it.

“So…”

“What do you want to do?” they both ask at the same time. They look at each other, surprised, and end up giggling.

“I kinda want to just admit the picture is real— Well, of course just in case you also want. I mean. Uh. I want to come out.”

“Hm, I want it too,” Jungkook admits, smiling. He doesn’t have makeup on anymore and he changed his nice shirt for just a hoodie. It’s a bit contrasting, because he’s still wearing his expensive pants and fancy shoes, and his hair is still nicely done, but his face is bare, some piercings are missing and his hoodie seems old, the printing already fading.

“I hate how things happened but I’m… glad, I guess, that we can have something good out of all this? Like, I definitely didn’t want to come out in this situation, but I honest to God don’t think we would have come out any time soon if this didn’t happen. And I’m just so tired of pretending and faking.”

Getting a little closer, Jungkook interwines their fingers. Mark squeezes his hand softly. Oh, how stupid they must look, Jungkook somewhere between put together and a complete mess, Mark just like a truck rolled over him three times. It’s been the longest day ever, and that is saying something considering Mark works under SM. They are alone in an empty, big and dark practice room while the whole world is going nuts over a stupid article. Their faces are swollen from crying so much and their thighs are one against the other, their hands holding one another. They talk in small voices, as if they were sharing secrets and were scared someone could hear them.

Seriously, what even is going on anymore?

“I always thought that this… this part of me would have to be kept hidden forever,” Jungkook admits quietly. “I never allowed myself to even think how I would let the world know so I couldn’t yearn. So what happened today was totally unexpected, and if I could, I would change how things went, but I guess, if we can get something we’ve been wanting for a while out of this, then it could have sucked more.”

“I want to come out, but I don’t feel ready,” Mark says. “Is that even possible? Like, I know I want to do this, but at the same time… I don’t want to.”

“Well, I feel the same,” Jungkook half-smiles. “But I don’t want to deny it either. I definitely don’t want to deny it. So I think what we’re doing is just choosing what we want to do more out of two things we don’t want to do.”

Mark sighs, leaning on Jungkook's shoulder, thinking about what his boyfriend just said.

“We’re being brave,” Jungkook summarizes. “We’re being brave because we’re trying to get something good out of a bad situation.”

“Man, being brave sucks,” Mark mutters. Jungkook laughs and doesn’t argue, resting his head on top of Mark’s.

It’s so scary to be brave.

 

shine, dream, smile

oh, let us light up the night

we shine in our own ways

shine, dream, smile

oh, let us light up the night

we shine just the way we are

tonight 

 

Flashes everywhere, screams and people yelling their names. It’s so loud and so bright and Mark feels his cheeks numb from all the smiling he’s been forced to do. It’s not like he’s not happy to be there, just that it’s a bit too much (too much attention, too much light), but it always is too much.

Mark’s suit feels a bit too constricting. Someone approaches and whispers in Taeyong’s ear. He nods and tells them it’s time to enter the place. They all follow another person into the enclosure the end-of-the-year show will be happening. They arrive at their table and are left there to wait for everything to start.

A few minutes into the waiting, the screams tenfold, and everyone knows who just arrived. Mark smiles lightly, trying not to show how happy he is. It takes some time, but BTS are guided to their table, right next to NCT’s. The moment Jungkook spots Mark, Mark is already looking at him, grinning from his chair. Jungkook beams, his features lighting up at the sight of his boyfriend. He walks to him and leans down to kiss him on the lips, a soft touch that is barely there, but that makes Mark feel like all the air in his lungs is taken away.

Everyone is watching, and it’s too loud and too bright and there are cameras everywhere, recording every single thing that happens in there. And they kiss as a way to greet each other, not caring about who sees because there is nothing to hide, there are no secrets, and there is no reason to pretend. Mark and Jungkook are out for everyone to watch, and it’s scary, it will probably never stop being scary.

“Hello, love. You look amazing tonight,” Jungkook says, still leaning to Mark. 

It’s so scary to be out. It’s so odd not to have to hide anymore when they got used to never even voicing their feelings. It’s been a while, and Mark can’t believe he gets to have this, his dream and his freedom, he can’t believe he gets to keep his opportunity to make what he likes, while at the same time he keeps his love. It’s frightening, somehow, but it’s also the best thing in the world.

Years ago, when he was just starting, he was told he can’t be an idol and himself at the same time. It’s something everyone knows. What no one took into account back then was that he’s Mark Lee, known for achieving the impossible, for mastering the unexpected.

Holding Jungkook’s hand, Mark thinks that perhaps, everyone should have expected this result.