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moving in, moving on

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If Donghyuck stops to think about it, everything is Renjun’s fault.

Maybe, if Renjun wasn’t so smart, he wouldn’t have gotten that place in University to study Pharmacy. And if he wasn’t so outgoing, he wouldn’t have befriended his entire course in three days, and he wouldn’t have found two flatmates so easily.

But Renjun is like that: he talks to everything that moves and collects friends as if he’s collecting rare stamps, even with that edgy personality of his. Now, the three rooms in Renjun’s apartment in the center of Seoul are full, and Donghyuck has at least four muscule contractures after spending a single night on their living room couch.

Also, if Renjun wasn’t so persuasive, he wouldn’t have been able to get Donghyuck to go out with him after his shift at the coffee shop. And, if Renjun hadn’t persuaded him, Donghyuck would have gotten home at a reasonable hour, and he wouldn’t have had to practice for his piano lessons at two in the morning.

So, yes. It is Renjun’s fault that the old couple that used to live right under Donghyuck reported him for being too noisy at night. Now, he’s homeless, carrying a heavy music keyboard all by himself, and about to meet his new flatmate all alone. And Renjun didn’t even have the guts to show up to introduce them to each other, even though this was his idea, after all.

“I have to go back to the lab, stop acting like a little kid,” Renjun says now. Donghyuck can’t see him through the phone, but he can hear his eye-rolling.

“If you hadn’t abandoned me, I wouldn’t be acting like this,” Donghyuck pouts. He can’t force Renjun to accompany him, but he can at least try to make him feel bad about it.

“Hyuck, I’ve told you a million times that Mark is great,” Renjun sighs. “He’s like the nicest guy I know. Don’t be a little bitch about this. And don’t make me look bad!”

Donghyuck frowns at the floor because who the hell is this Mark dude and what has he done to earn compliments from Renjun of all people? But he reluctantly admits that someone who has accepted him as his flatmate without ever having seen him before has to be at least half-decent.

“I never make you look bad, I’m perfect.”

“Whatever you say, Donghyuck. Just, don’t keep him waiting, alright?” Renjun can’t stop sighing, as if Donghyuck is draining the little energy he has left after a long morning at University. “Gotta go. I’ll call you later, okay? Good luck.”

Renjun hangs up before Donghyuck has time to reply. He’s left all alone again, gripping his phone with a sweaty hand.

Donghyuck doesn’t know what he needs luck for, though, since this Mark guy must be an angel for the way Renjun talks about him. Still, nerves have been curling at the bottom of his stomach from the moment he zipped his bag. Now, there’s sweat dripping down his back and curling around his temples as he stares at the front door of what’s going to be his new building.

He has always thought himself friendly and outgoing. But talking to new people at a house party is one thing, meeting a new roommate after having been kicked out of your old house for being a disaster of a person is something completely different. He wants to make a good impression, he doesn’t want to go crawling back to Renjun’s couch, like it happened the last three times he tried to move out. And he doesn’t want to return to his old room in his parents’ house, with his two little siblings running around and complicating his mother’s life more than enough.

“Are you coming up? Or do you need help carrying all that?”

Donghyuck’s head snaps up. When his eyes meet what he supposes is one of the windows of his new apartment, he sees someone’s head peeking out, looking down at him. The guy is too far away to distinguish his features—the 9th floor is pretty further from the ground—but Donghyuck swears he is smiling.

“You’ve been standing there for like half an hour!” Mark—Donghyuck assumes—yells down at him. “I’m coming down, hang on!”

Just like that, he disappears back into the apartment, and Donghyuck is left alone one more time, looking up at the window as he wonders if it was just a mirage.

He hasn’t even brought much with him. It’s not as if he can afford to own many things with the little money he earns as a waiter, his most valuable possession being the keyboard under his right arm.

Donghyuck is more than capable of carrying his backpack, two plastic bags and a keyboard on his own. He did it all the way from Renjun’s apartment to here, even if he had to stop a few times along the way to catch his breath. But he guesses that refusing Mark’s help would be even worse than letting him assume Donghyuck is a weakling. So he stays waiting there, standing in the middle of the street like a fucking tree.

Mark is panting when he bursts out of the front door, his hair all tangled at the top of his head. He’s wearing plain shorts and a boring t-shirt, and he's got a pair of slippers on. He almost trips over his own feet as he hurries to Donghyuck.

“Hi. Sorry. Hello,” he stops right in front of Donghyuck, waves dumbly at him as if they aren't standing only a few centimeters away from each other. “The elevator was taken, so I ran here. Yeah, um. Here, let me—Let me help you with that.”

He’s smiling so wide, hollow cheeks and shining teeth and jutted out cheekbones. But the grin visibly drops when Donghyuck moves out of his reach once Mark tries to grab the keyboard.

Donghyuck stumbles a little over his feet, feeling out of his element, shy in a way he hasn’t experienced before. He tightens his grip around his piano and stares as Mark recovers fast, the smile spreading back over his lips and settling there as if it was never gone.

“Well. Sorry. I’m Mark!” one of his hands grabs at the fabric of his shirt, over his chest, and he stretches out the other towards Donghyuck.

But Donghyuck can’t move, he can only grip his keyboard tighter and scowl at Mark’s fingers. His hands are way too sweaty, rubbing them clean on his pants before holding Mark’s wouldn’t make a good first impression. So he doesn’t hold Mark’s hand at all.

Mark shakes his head as if he’s trying to shake the awkwardness off of himself.  “Renjun didn’t mention you were this shy?” he leans down and picks up Donghyuck’s plastic bags, the smile always in place.

“I’m not,” Donghyuck frowns. He grabs his backpack with his free hand, throwing it over his shoulder right before Mark can take hold of it. “I’m just tired. And I can do this alone.”

When he stands up straight, Mark has his lips pressed tightly in a thin line. He looks at Donghyuck with his head tilted to the side, big brown eyes running up and down his body as an evaluation. Donghyuck wonders if the blush on Mark’s sharp cheekbones is anger or embarrassment.

“Yeah, I’m sure you can,” Mark says, whatever that means. “Let’s go?” He gestures toward the building with another tilt of his head, his expression softening into another easy grin. Donghyuck wants to find out how difficult it’d be to wipe the smile off his face completely.

This time, the elevator is free. It is an old thing rackety and rusty, with a damp smell that matches the entire building, made of cold stone and decorated with ornaments that remind Donghyuck of his grandmother. He can’t complain, though, since his previous apartment was on a 7th floor with no elevator to help him up after a full shift at the coffee shop.

It is small, too. Donghyuck feels like a caged animal, trapped between the mirror and his keyboard, hugging it like an armor. Mark is only a step away from him, he has his head bowed down, but he keeps glancing up at Donghyuck through his eyelashes, the blush on his cheeks reddening up every time he gets caught. The nerves in Donghyuck’s stomach have started to vanish, dissolving into something warmer and curious when he notices that Mark keeps tapping his right foot nonstop, his fingers twisted in the hem of his t-shirt as he keeps biting down on his already chapped lips.

The elevator goes up slowly, cracking and dinging every time it reaches a new floor. Donghyuck is getting impatient and bored, so the next time Mark looks up at him, he can’t help it: he winks. Just to make fun of him, he tells himself, to pass the time and fill in the awkwardness with something interesting.

Mark’s eyes widen in shock, his mouth falling open, lower lip glistering with spit as it breaks free from between his teeth. A charged silence stretches between them like a rubber band, and Donghyuck smirks, waiting for it to snap.

But the elevator doors slide open before Mark can find his words, and he stumbles backward, almost falling when the surface he was leaning against disappears behind his back. Donghyuck tries to reach for him, to catch him and steady him before he falls flat on his ass, but Mark finds his footing fast enough. Then, he’s bending down to grab the bags and turning around without a second glance.

“C’mon. Right this way,” he says, starting down the hall. His voice is pitched high, it echoes through the entire floor mixed up with Donghyuck’s loud giggle.

Mark struggles with his keys, they clash against each other jarringly in the silence of the building as he tries to find the right one using only one hand, the other busy with Donghyuck’s bags. It’s still so awkward between them, but it’s lighter in Donghyuck’s chest because the blush on the tip of Mark’s ears tells him he’s got the upper hand here.

“I don’t have all day, this thing is heavy,” Donghyuck says, just to rile him up, to test the waters.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m sorry, man. It’s just—,” the right key finally fits in the lock, Mark’s shoulders slumping down as he pushes the door open. “Okay, great. Come in.”

Donghyuck is still smirking when he makes his way inside, his shoulder brushing up against Mark’s chest when he walks past him. Mark presses himself flat to the door, his lower lip between his teeth one more time.

A fit of laughter rolls off Donghyuck’s tongue at the distress written all over Mark’s face, but it dies short when he turns around the corner and his keyboard knocks against the small piece of furniture in the entrance. A second later, there’s a loud crash, something shattering against the parquet floor.

“Ooooh my god. Oh my god. Hang on,” Mark says from behind him, his voice breaking in a panicked edge. “Oh, please, don’t move. There’s, like, porcelain everywhere. Please, don’t get hurt. Just, stay still. Hold on.”

Donghyuck jumps a little at the sound of the door slamming closed, but he stays where he is, as he’s been told. He hugs the keyboard to his chest, warmth spreading in his stomach and up to his neck at the mess around him. There are shattered pieces of a porcelain jar all over the parquet, some ruined flowers splattered on the floor, water splashed everywhere. Five seconds into his new house and he’s already caused a mess. At least, it is a new record.

“Oh, shit,” he says as Mark tries to sidestep the mess on his tiptoes. “I didn’t know that was there. Not a good place to keep your flowers, don’t you think?” he tries to justify himself, tilting his head towards the small and unstable looking table that’s standing next to the door.

Mark chokes out laughter that sounds fake as he keeps moving into the apartment. He doesn’t even bother to reply.

When Mark comes back a few moments later, broom in hand, Donghyuck can only wince at the pinched frown on his face and stay still as a rock as Mark cleans around him.

“Just, don’t touch anything. Please,” Mark says once he’s done, resting the broom against the stippled paint wall.

He disappears again only to come back with a pair of bright pink slippers. Donghyuck has to bite his tongue to stop himself from commenting on the obnoxious color. It seems like a few jabs and a broken jar was all it took to erase that polite smile off of Mark’s face, and he doesn’t want it to turn into an angry expression. So Donghyuck grits his teeth and steps on the back of his sneakers to take them off, so he can slide his feet into the slippers afterward.

This time, when Mark moves closer to grab the keyboard and pull at it, Donghyuck lets him take it.

“Be careful with that,” he mumbles, because it is his most valuable possession, and there’s no way he can finish his degree without it. He can’t stop the worried words from coming out, no matter how hard he tries.

Mark only stares at Donghyuck with a straight face before saying, “Be careful with everything, please.”

Donghyuck wonders if Renjun counts this as getting off to a good start.

 

---

 

“What did you do to Mark?”

Donghyuck rolls his eyes at the chipped white ceiling. He grunts a little as he tries to find a more comfortable position in his new bed, but the mattress creaks under his weight like an old machine.

“I didn’t do anything, Renjun. I was perfectly civil,” Donghyuck says into the phone, almost whispering so Mark can’t hear him from wherever he is in the apartment.

“You broke his grandma’s jar!” Renjun scolds.

“It was an ugly jar. With ugly flowers. Set in a terrible place.”

“You didn’t even greet him with a handshake, Hyuck! He thinks you hate him!”

“Listen, my hands were all sweaty, okay?” Donghyuck protests, frowning up at the ceiling as if Renjun can see him.

“What kind of shitty excuse is that?” Renjun sighs on the other end of the line, and Donghyuck hates that he sounds genuinely disappointed. “I only asked you to be nice, Donghyuck.”

“I was fucking nice, alright?” Donghyuck sits up on the bed, kicking at the blankets in frustration. “My hands were sweaty! What kind of a good impression is a sweaty handshake?”

There is silence at the other end for a while, it stretches out long enough to set Donghyuck’s stomach into a spiraling mess again. Renjun is his best friend, Donghyuck knows he wouldn’t get mad at him for this—not for real, at least. But the last thing he wants is for Renjun to regret lending him a hand. The last thing he wants is for Mark to think Donghyuck doesn’t appreciate his help.

“Oh,” Renjun speaks up again. Donghyuck’s shoulders slump when he hears the amused tone in his voice. “Awkward Mark Lee made the mighty Lee Donghyuck nervous?”

And all Donghyuck can do is roll his eyes again, as if Renjun can see him. And Renjun giggles, as if he’s picturing it.

“Shut the fuck up.”

 

---

 

Everything is Renjun’s fault. He made Mark sound like this perfect guy, kind and just a little bit awkward. But he never mentioned he was this nitpicky.

Donghyuck thinks he’s run out of fingers to count the times he has annoyed Mark in the past two weeks. The thing is, they never really fight. But there’s this pinched expression on Mark’s face whenever he finds Donghyuck doing something he doesn’t like: he presses his lips tight in a thin line, the corners pushed down for a few seconds, a small dimple digging into his right cheek before he’s plastering this obviously fake smile on his face again.

Their interactions are so forced. Mark is so overly accommodating that it makes Donghyuck feel as if he’s staying at a hotel instead of living in his own place. It is starting to get on his nerves, to the point that he’s started to fuck up on purpose. He wants that fake smile to vanish forever, he wants to see Mark’s cheeks reddening up in anger, he wants to find out what he looks like when he’s screaming out of frustration.

“Donghyuck,” Mark sighs, his head peeking inside of Donghyuck’s room.

It’s past midnight, now. Donghyuck is sitting on his bed, his laptop resting on the blankets with an online class playing as he works on some papers for Music History. He looks up at Mark with a wide grin, his eyes taking in the defeated slump of his shoulders, the tired pout on his lips.

“You know, I truly… I appreciate the dinner. It was really, really good. But, um,” Donghyuck keeps smiling at him, prompting him to keep going. Mark’s eyes fall to the floor as he takes a step further into the room, his right hand rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s just… You could clean after you cook, you know? The kitchen was, like, a bit of a mess? So, next time, could you clean it up, please? If you don’t mind?”

Donghyuck’s shit-eating grin freezes over in his face, but he forces it to stay into place. He keeps quiet for a while, running his eyes up and down Mark’s body, over his plain shorts and boring grey t-shirt, and those round glasses that are always sliding down the slope of his nose. Donghyuck wonders if his wardrobe is all the same clothes in different colors.

“Are you listening to me?” Mark insists with a cough.

“You cleaned it up for me?” Donghyuck asks, cocking his head to the side. Mark looks down again, nodding. “Such a good boy, aren’t you?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I try my best,” Mark’s cheeks are red again. He blushes so easily, but never for the reasons Donghyuck wants him to. “But I have to wake up early, you know? For work? I’m pretty tired. So, next time? If you don’t mind.”

This is the fifth time they are having this conversation. And, instead of snapping at him, Mark keeps cleaning after Donghyuck’s messes as if it’s his job. Donghyuck ends up twisting his bedsheets between his fingers to keep his own frustration at bay.

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever you say,” he waves a hand in the air.

Mark, the annoying prick, smiles up at him. “Alright, goodnight,” he says, voice small as he slips out of the room, shutting the door after him.

Donghyuck groans and throws his pillow to the closed door.

 

---

 

Three broken ceramic cups, two ruined laundries, and one lost book later—one of Mark’s favorites—Donghyuck thinks Mark is finally on edge, about to burst open and scream right in his face.

Today, Donghyuck arrives at the apartment pretty late at night. The soles of his feet and the back of his thighs are sore from standing up for too, eight hours of running around a busy coffee shop and pouring drinks to rude customers turned into needles that jab at his exhausted muscles. All he wants to do is lie in bed and pass out until his alarm clock wakes him up for his morning shift.

The apartment is dark and quiet. The door to Mark’s room—right next to Donghyuck’s—is already shut, and there is no light coming out from underneath.

Donghyuck turns on the light of the hallway before he slips into his room. He’s greeted by an unmade bed, his laptop, and music sheets sprawled all over the mattress—all of it unkind reminders that he didn’t finish his music lessons in time before he left for work. He’s got an early shift tomorrow, and if he doesn’t get it done right now, he knows he will fall behind.

So, he kicks off his slippers and takes off his hoodie, dropping them to the floor before he flops down on the stool in front of his keyboard.

He’s a song and a half into his practice when there’s a light knock on his open door. He halts his fingers over the keys and turns around to find Mark leaning against the doorframe.

The tousled hair, the rumpled shirt and the squinted eyes are all Donghyuck needs to know that he just woke him up. He isn’t even wearing his glasses, which makes the dark smudges under his eyes even more prominent. Donghyuck feels bad about it, but also hopeful.

He’s caught Mark asleep, with his guard down, with no time to put on the nice suit. Donghyuck’s skin has been itching for a fight since he closed up the coffee shop, all the rude interactions with customers simmering in his belly like a lit-up fuse, dynamite ready to blow up.

But Mark doesn’t snap at him right away. He rubs his eyes with a fist and smiles a little, backlit by the light coming from the hallway, softer than Donghyuck has ever seen him.

“You’re good,” he mumbles, sleep coating every word. His voice sounds so low like this, not pitched high with nerves and awkwardness, the way he usually sounds when he talks to Donghyuck. “Renjun told me you played, but he didn’t mention you were this good?” He sounds like gravel, raspy and fucking sexy. Somehow, it angers Donghyuck even more.

“Were you expecting me to suck at my major or something?” Donghyuck tilts his head to the side, stares up at Mark with an arched eyebrow.

“No! That’s not what I meant!” Mark’s sleepy eyes widen in panic and he starts to wiggle his hands in front of him, shaking his head. “I just hadn't heard you play before, you know? But, dang. You’re great. Yeah,” his voice dies down in a whisper.

“Am I bothering you or something? Did I wake you up?” If Mark hasn’t come to his room to ask him to shut the fuck up, then what does he even want?

“I wasn’t really asleep. It gets hard sometimes, you know?” Mark rubs his arm up and down as if he’s trying to warm up his skin, even though they are still in the middle of August, and nights like this are still hot. “I’m sorry. You don’t care. Just wanted to tell you that it sounded good. Music helps me sleep, honestly. So, I mean, thank you.”

Mark stays there for a while, halting, moving his weight from one foot to the other while he waits for Donghyuck to say something back.

“You’re  welcome?” Donghyuck replies, still frowning and completely thrown off.

“Alright. Yeah. I’m gonna—,” Mark gestures to the hallway with a thumb and turns on his heels, leaving Donghyuck’s door open.

“Mark, wait!” Donghyuck calls out for him when the light off the hallway flicks off, leaving him in darkness almost complete darkness. Currently, his only source of light is the faint glow coming from the street lampposts, sneaking through his open bedroom window. Mark sticks his head into Donghyuck’s room again, eyes wide in expectation. “Can you leave the light on? I like to sleep with the door open and the hallway light on.”

“But it… That’s more to pay at the end of the month,” Mark says, and there’s that small frown between his eyebrows, his mouth pushed down into an annoyed pout.

Donghyuck smirks to himself and keeps pushing.

“You tell me your rich mom doesn’t give you enough to cover for a bit of light at night?”

But he doesn’t get the reaction he wants. What flashes through Mark’s expression is not anger, it’s something sad that makes him open his mouth in surprise as if he didn’t expect the hit. Donghyuck regrets it for a small second, that is until Mark smiles at him again, something tiny and crooked that looks like a hoax.

“My mom doesn’t pay for—,” Mark stops himself, shaking his head before he steps out of the room again. “Nevermind. Goodnight,” he says from somewhere in the hallway.

The light flicks on again, Mark’s door closes softly, and Donghyuck smashes the keys of his piano.

 

---

 

Donghyuck doesn’t like to think of himself as a hateful person, because there are some things he likes. For example, he enjoys sharing slices of pizza with his friends, flopped down on the uncomfortable couch of Renjun’s apartment as his fingertips get all bright and sticky with grease.

“I think Mark hates me, but he’s too nice to admit it,” Donghyuck says around his food, mouth stuffed with a big bite of bacon pizza.

He cranes his neck over the backrest of the couch, trying to sneak a glance at Renjun. His best friend is sitting at the living room table, open hands hovering over his homework as he stares blankly at Donghyuck.

“I think Mark is probably the nicest dude on the planet, and you’re just a fucking asshole.”

Donghyuck groans at that, turning around to take another slice of pizza. “I’m not an asshole! I just can’t believe he never gets mad. It is simply not realistic.”

“Oh, I’m sure he gets mad all the time. You’re insufferable as a flatmate.” Donghyuck hears the chair shrieking when Renjun gets up, but he keeps frowning at the now empty box of pizza when the couch dips down next to him. He doesn’t bother to look at Renjun when he wraps an arm around Donghyuck’s shoulders. “Just because you’re an impatient prick that gets annoyed at every little thing doesn’t mean everyone has to be like you.”

They’ve had this conversation about a million times and, no matter how many times Donghyuck explains that he doesn’t get mad at everything, it’s just that everyone around him is annoying, Renjun never gets it. He’s about to take another bite of his pizza to swallow his snarky response along with it, but Renjun is faster. He grabs Donghyuck’s wrist, his fingers digging into the bones with a strong grip, and leans over Donghyuck’s legs to get the food into his mouth.

Donghyuck lets go of the slice with a yelp, pushing at Renjun’s shoulders with his oil-stained hands.

“You’re such a little bitch! You almost bit my fingers off, animal!” Renjun starts laughing so much that he has to cough to stop himself from choking on the food. “Yeah, that’s what you get for being an asshole,” Donghyuck says, slapping Renjun’s back way too hard, but he can’t keep the smile off his face.

There are tears in the corners of Renjun’s eyes once he’s able to calm down. His cheeks are flushed and there are pizza stains on his shirt, but he’s looking at Donghyuck with gentle eyes and tight lips, the expression he reserves for serious conversations.

“Why do you keep sabotaging yourself like this?” he asks, soft in a way he usually doesn’t allow himself to be.

Donghyuck levels him with a pointed look, crooking his eyebrows and straightening his back so he can feel a little bigger. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

“If you want to go back to your parents’, just go,” Renjun sighs, honest, blunt, and shooting right where it hurts, because that’s the only language he’s ever learned. “You’ve been kicked out for the dumbest things over and over. And you’re already trying to do it again. Just go back, Hyuck.”

Donghyuck gets mad often because he hates many things. For example, nothing angers him more than having weaknesses, and a best friend that can cut right through them. So he stays quiet, eyes focused on nothing as he’s taken back to his family house: to the cold tiled floor and the broken tank and his mom’s bland food, to his doorless closet and a faucet that won’t stop dripping and his siblings’ toys scattered all over the floor. Nothing feels like home more than a couch full of breadcrumbs, an always dirty kitchen floor, and underwear hanging on the heater during the winter, because it dries faster that way.

But that’s something he can’t go back to, not when his forgetful grandmother has been settled down in Donghyuck’s room for almost a year now, not when the money his dad makes at his modest fruit shop is barely enough to make ends meet.

 

---

 

Renjun offers the couch one more night, but Donghyuck can’t handle feeling like a burden. And he doesn’t want to wake up with every single muscle of his back contractured.

So he leaves when it’s already dark outside, with his belly full of junk food and his thumbs sore for all the FIFA matches they played against Jeno and Jaemin when they arrived home.

He swears he doesn’t do it on purpose. No matter what Renjun says, if he is somehow sabotaging himself, he does so unconsciously. Because he’s sure he recalls picking up his keys from the jar on the living room table right before he left the apartment, his empty pockets must be lying to him.

When he reaches the building, he slumps against the dirty wall, patting himself in a desperate attempt to somehow materialize his keys in the seams of his clothes. When he finally gives up, he stares at the blinking lamppost in front of him and brings his phone to his ear with a defeated sigh.

“Mark?” He says as soon as the beeping of the phone stops. “I know you’re at the car dealership, I know you have some extra hours you’re supposed to cover today, and I know you’ve told me all of this, but I think I lost my keys or left them at Renjun’s or something, and I’m stranded right outside the building, and it’s already past 11 and—”

“Donghyuck,” Mark cuts him off when he won’t stop rambling. “Hang on. Dang, dude. Breathe.”

Donghyuck takes a big gulp of air just to breathe it out, eyes closed tightly at the light of the lamppost. “I just… I really didn’t want to bother you.”

“Hey, that’s weird coming from you,” Mark teases him, the bastard. Donghyuck can hear his smirk so clearly. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, shut up, don’t be a dick,” Donghyuck groans, rubbing his face with the palm of his free hand.

“Alright, alright,” Mark chuckles on the other side. “I was just asking.”

He sounds tired, voice quiet and pitched low, as if speaking is too big of an effort at this hour.

Renjun’s father works at the same dealership, that’s where they met. Renjun used to spend a lot of time there when he was a kid and his parents didn’t have anyone to look after him, and Mark’s mother owns the place. Donghyuck has heard stories about Renjun’s adventures with Mark when they were little. Renjun has told him about Mark’s mother running after them, her high heels clicking against the fancy tiled floor as the kids sneaked under desks, trying to escape from her to reach the area where they keep the cars.

Donghyuck has been there only once, to pick Renjun up, and the tour he was given was rushed and incomplete. But he can picture Mark so clearly in his head, leaning against the backrest of a black chair, with his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose, the hand that isn’t holding the phone fidgeting with a pen.

“Okay. Now, repeat what you told me earlier. But slower,” Mark says, his smile still lingering in the tired slur of his words.

“Summing up, I’m waiting outside the apartment, I forgot my keys, and it’s getting cold.”

There’s a long silence between them. A strong breeze curls around Donghyuck’s naked arms as if it’s been called. He swears under his breath, trapping the phone between his cheek and shoulder so he can hug himself.

“And you want me to go home to let you in,” Mark sighs. Donghyuck hums in agreement. “My mom is going to kill me. I told you I promised her I’d make up for the hours I’ve missed...”

The thing is, Donghyuck remembers Mark telling him, but he doesn’t exactly remember what he told him. He was way too busy fiddling with the keys of his keyboard to pay attention properly.

Stop sabotaging yourself, Renjun had told him. But how is he supposed to stop doing it when he isn’t even aware of it?

“Tell her it’s my fault or something. You can make it up to her tomorrow,” Donghyuck says, trying to act as if he knows what they are talking about.

“She doesn’t even know you. And I have class tomorrow, Donghyuck.” This time, when Mark sighs, Donghyuck knows all the previous amusement has melted into frustration, and, for once, he’s unable to feel glad about it. “You weren’t even listening to me, were you?”

Donghyuck nibbles on his bottom lip, his eyebrows drawn together as he tries to ignore the acrid feeling in the pit of his stomach. Mark doesn’t even sound angry, just incredibly tired. This is the closest Donghyuck has ever gotten to making him mad, and he can’t even enjoy it, because Renjun’s voice keeps ringing in his ears. He’s never liked the bitter taste of guilt.

“Alright, I’ll be there in a few,” Mark sighs again, deeper. “Move around, don’t get cold,” he adds, the caring asshole.

The grip Donghyuck has on the phone tightens, and he bites harder into his lower lip before he replies. “Are you walking here?”

“No, I’ll take a cab,” Mark says. The reason why he doesn’t own a car yet when his mom owns a dealership is beyond Donghyuck. Something way too personal to tell someone who won’t stop messing with you for the dumbest reasons, he guesses. “Don’t worry, I won’t keep you waiting for too long.”

There is no time for Donghyuck to complain, to tell him that, for once, it isn’t himself he is worried about. He just wants Mark to be careful, but the line dies before he has the time to add anything else.

An orange taxi stops right in front of their building half an hour later. When Mark gets out, the dress shirt he’s wearing all wrinkled up, his entire body screaming exhaustion. He walks towards Donghyuck dragging his feet over the asphalt, but he still manages to find the strength to smile kindly at him as he gets his keys out, opening the door to let them both inside.

The slow ride up to their apartment is quiet and almost suffocating. Donghyuck keeps his eyes lowered, focused on the ugly brown floor of the elevator as he tries to keep his guilt at bay. When they finally reach their door and Mark opens it, Donghyuck brushes past him with a small ‘ thank you’ and goes straight to his room.

Donghyuck hates it here. He hates the warm parquet floor and his queen-sized bed, free of stuffed animals. He hates the naked light bulbs, with no ugly lamps to shelter them, and the naked walls, with no poorly made drawings to decorate them. He hates the plain blue sheets Mark has lent him and longs for the thick quilts his mother used to force him under, even in this time of the year, when summer still washes everything golden.

He hates it here. And it is Renjun’s and his smart mouth’s fault only.

Once he’s already tucked in bed, lying down on his back and still wide awake as he hears Mark rummaging through the kitchen, he’s convinced he can’t feel worse than this. But then, Mark peeks his head into Donghyuck’s room, messy hair, crooked glasses, and the smile still in place.

“You sure you don’t want anything to eat?” he asks in a whisper, as if he’s scared he’ll bother Donghyuck if he dares to raise his voice. Donghyuck only shakes his head at him, and Mark’s smile widens, almost fond. “Okay, goodnight.”

Mark leaves without closing the door, and he flicks the hallway light on before he disappears into the kitchen.

Donghyuck is starting to believe Mark Lee simply doesn’t know how to get angry.

 

---

 

He is trying. Donghyuck swears he is trying. He’s just naturally clumsy.

He promised Renjun he would make an effort, and he’s been trying to give back all the hospitality Mark has shown him.

When he picks up the ladder from the cellar so he can reach the top of the shelves and clean up the dust accumulated there, he does it with all his good intention. It is not his fault his hands aren’t cooperating and he accidentally drops one of Mark’s favorite vinyl records.

When he gets back to the apartment before Mark after a short shift and finds the kitchen full of dirty dishes, he puts them in the dishwasher with as much care as he can muster. It is not his fault the old machine doesn’t work the same way as the one his mom’s got back home, and it ends up sputtering soap everywhere.

And, when he takes the curtains out of the dryer and hugs them to his chest as he runs to the living room to hang them back in their place, he isn’t expecting to trip over his own feet and tear them apart.

He’s not the one sabotaging his own life, he tells Renjun over the phone, it’s just destiny trying to kick him out of the apartment.

Even though Donghyuck seems to be a disaster at fault, the kindness within Mark seems never-ending. But Donghyuck has noticed the little changes in his expression whenever he fucks up. He was so used to staring at Mark’s lips pressed in a thin line, at the wrinkle between his eyebrows, that the smallest changes in Mark’s reactions are achingly obvious to him.

Now, whenever Donghyuck causes a mess, Mark’s bottom lip disappears between his teeth. He looks at Donghyuck with his eyes wide open and his eyebrows raised high on his forehead. Donghyuck is still trying to figure out what that look means. He still hasn’t decided if Mark is trying to stop himself from yelling at him or if it’s something else, something hot and heavy, like the feeling in the pit of Donghyuck’s stomach whenever those sparkling eyes look him up and down.

That’s the look on Mark's face right now, as he stands still in front of a naked Donghyuck, only a towel wrapped around his waist as water keeps dripping down his chest and arms.

“The shower is free for you,” Donghyuck says, pointing with his thumb over his shoulder, towards the bathroom.

He stays still, waiting for a reply, but Mark seems to be stuck in his own head. His eyes keep moving over Donghyuck’s body, hot like honey over his tan skin, roaming down, down, down. And Donghyuck is still trying to figure out if Mark is doing this unashamedly or if he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. Because he’s checking him out so openly, so obviously, that his mouth parts when Donghyuck moves one of his hands over his stomach, his fingers picking up some of the water droplets sliding down his skin.

“I think I used up all the hot water,” Donghyuck announces, taking a careful step closer to Mark. Mark’s eyes snap up to his face, wide open as if he’s been just startled awake. But his gaze slide down again after a second, pulled to Donghyuck’s wet skin like a magnet. Donghyuck shrugs, a smirk settling on his lips.

Mark’s eyes glide over his chest intently. He stares at the droplets trailing down the skin as a pink blush crawls up his neck. This time, Donghyuck doesn’t have to wonder if it’s anger or embarrassment. It’s glaringly obvious that it is something else, something that matches the simmering in the pit of Donghyuck’s stomach.

“You,” Mark starts, but his voice is half gone. He coughs, shakes his head and drops his head, his hand coming up to rub at the redness of his neck. “Goddammit, Donghyuck. You’re dripping water all over the floor.”

Donghyuck looks down, then. He sees the drops of water all over the parquet floor, around his feet, and behind him, his own footprints shining under the light of the hallway.

“Oh, I will just…” he looks up then, just to find Mark looking back at him, still incredibly flushed. “I’ll clean it up. You can, you know, get in the shower. If you want.” Donghyuck stumbles over his words in a way he never does. He guesses Mark is rubbing off on him, with how much time they spend together.

He tries to sidestep Mark to go to his room and change into clean clothes, but they move towards the same direction at the same time, almost colliding together. Donghyuck takes a fast step back, and apologies start rolling off Mark’s tongue at the speed of light. But Mark stays in place, his hand still rubbing at his neck, giggling softly under his breath. It is so annoyingly cute, the way Mark’s entire face scrunches up when he laughs, his nose all wrinkled up, his body shaking as if he’s got so much laughter inside of him he’s unable to keep it bottled up.

“You’re so damn weird,” Donghyuck complains as he finally sidesteps him properly.

“And you’re a mess, Lee Donghyuck,” Mark calls after him as Donghyuck starts down the hallway.

Donghyuck has to make a tremendous effort to stop himself from looking back at him.

 

---

 

“Renjun, we have a problem,” Donghyuck says into the phone as soon as someone picks up at the other end.

“First of all, I’m not Renjun,” Jaemin’s voice comes out high pitched in amusement, laughter ringing behind his words. “And secondly, it seems like you have a problem.”

“Why are you picking up Renjun’s phone? Get him on the line, this is important,” Donghyuck bites back, scowling at the floor.

“He fell asleep on the couch,” Jaemin says with a deep sigh. Donghyuck’s eyes slide to the clock that’s hanging on Mark’s living room wall. It is four in the afternoon on a weekday, Renjun should be on his way to the lab. “I didn’t want you to wake him up, he’s been exhausted lately,” Jaemin explains before Donghyuck has the time to ask. “I was going to hang up, but since it was you calling I assumed you needed help,” Donghyuck growls at him, but he doesn’t try to deny it. “So, what happened? Problems in paradise with your hot flatmate?”

“Don’t talk to me like that, asshole,” Donghyuck says, looking at his fingers as he runs the tips over the smooth linen of the suit he’s got stretched out over the ironing board. “And Mark’s not hot. He’s just kinda cute.”

Jaemin giggles into the phone, unrestrained and loud. “Cute, huh? Last time I heard you didn’t even like him and now he’s cute?”

“I do not like him,” Donghyuck scoffs. “Can we please focus on my problem here? If I don’t fix this Mark’s gonna kill me, no matter how cute he can be.”

“What did you do this time, Hyuck?” Jaemin asks with a defeated sigh, and Donghyuck hates that he can’t even feel offended at the tiredness in his tone.

Donghyuck remembers the first time he got kicked out, back then it was because he had spent all his paycheck on his keyboard instead of affording to pay his part of the rent. Up to this day, he still doesn’t regret it, because there are only a few things in this life that he loves, he could count them with the fingers of one hand, and he guesses music deserves all his attention as the number one.

Back then, Renjun was still living with his parents and sleeping in a single bed, the same one he’d been using since he turned three years old. So Renjun begged Jaemin to help Donghyuck out for a while, even though they had met each other only three months ago.

That’s how Donghyuck ended up dragging his stuff over to Jaemin’s old apartment, hands red and wrinkled by the weight of his bags because he didn’t even want to spend money on the subway. At the time, Jaemin still lived alone in a small one-piece, barely big enough for himself. Still, he welcomed Donghyuck with open arms and that perfectly white smile, so bright that it was blinding in its honesty.

They’ve never been particularly close, Jaemin and him, just two people that happen to share a best friend. But, even though Donghyuck tends to hate everything at first sight, Jaemin’s always got a wide smile on his lips and open hands ready to help whenever Donghyuck gets himself into trouble. And, maybe, Donghyuck liked that overly cheesy gummy smile in a heartbeat, even if it hides teasing jabs and exasperated sighs pretty often.

Sometimes, Donghyuck wonders what’s gonna happen to him once the few good people he has in his life run out of patience.

“Listen, it was an accident,” he says into the phone, words fast with nerves. Jaemin laughs as a response, shallow in a way that tells Donghyuck he’s tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. “There’s this linen suit Mark brought this morning… For his brother’s wedding, he said? And he was like, super stressed about it. Because, apparently, it is super expensive—”

“Donghyuck,” Jaemin cuts him off, voice firm. “Go straight to the point.”

“I’m getting there, okay! The context is important!” Donghyuck huffs, his fingertips caught between the zipper and button of the pants. “Mark hung it on the knob of his bedroom door instead of in his closet because he’s dumb as shit, alright? And I guess it must've fallen during the day… I was running late for my shift and didn’t see the thing lying on the floor and I kind of tripped over it…”

“Did you fucking tear up an expensive suit, Donghyuck?” Jaemin says, his voice hurried but hushed, as if he wants to scream but won’t allow himself to raise his voice in case he wakes Renjun up. “You don’t have money to fix it! Or pay him for it!”

“I didn’t break it, alright?” Donghyuck spits back, full-on screaming. His eyes slide down the ironing board, to the brown stain on the front of the suit. “I wrinkled it a little bit, so I tried to iron it before Mark got home. I think… I think I didn’t measure the temperature correctly.”

“You burnt his suit?” Jaemin’s voice is all high pitched and loud now, and he ignores Donghyuck when he tries to shush him. “Donghyuck! How the fuck are you gonna fix this? He’s gonna kick you out! Oh my god.”

“Listen, Mark is a nice dude. I’ve fucked up so many times this month and he’s never gotten angry at me.” Donghyuck is trying to sound reasonable, faking calmness. But deep inside he’s still figuring out if he’s trying to convince Jaemin or convince himself. “I think I can get away with it.”

Jaemin sighs into the phone. “Why did you even call, then?”

“I feel like shit,” Donghyuck admits, crumpling the fabric of the pants between his fingers. Who cares anymore. “But listen, the suit was on the floor. How was I supposed to know it was there? I didn’t see it. It isn’t my fault, is it? I didn’t mean to—”

“You called to guilt trip Renjun into making you feel guilt free? Is that it?” Jaemin scoffs.

“It wasn’t my fault, Jaemin. Not technically,” Donghyuck insists. But all the different times he’s fucked up in the past are piled up inside of his chest heavily, making it a little hard to breathe.

“Well, save that for Mark,” Jaemin snaps, voice sharp. “I’ll get the couch ready for you.”

And he hangs up.

 

---

 

“What did you do now?” that’s the first thing Mark tells Donghyuck when he gets back from the dealership.

He’s been out all day, catching up with all the work Donghyuck made him put off when he called him the night he forgot his keys, and that makes the entire situation a whole lot worse. It’s already dark outside, and Donghyuck stares at the city lights through the window of the living room, wondering if Mark could ever be cruel enough to kick him out this late into the night.

“Listen, it was an accident,” Donghyuck says, still staring at the street.

He refuses to look at Mark, but he hears the exasperated sigh he lets out as he pads closer. He doesn’t even sound angry, he sounds bored of all this, of Donghyuck always managing to fuck up somehow.

“What is it this time?” Mark asks when he comes to stand in front of him, tilting his head to get right into Donghyuck’s line of vision. “More dishes? Another book? You broke a window?”

“Stop acting like I ruin shit because I want to,” Donghyuck frowns at him, crossing his arms in front of his chest in an attempt to feel more entitled and less guilty.

“Well,” Mark huffs, the puff of his breath hitting Donghyuck straight on the face. “It certainly feels like it.”

Donghyuck hates many things, and if there’s one thing he hates more than feeling weak, it is feeling ashamed. Embarrassment is an ugly emotion, something hot and bright that manages to show on the redness of his cheeks, on the dampness of his hands, forcing him to give away parts of himself he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing. He brings his fingers up to his neck, rubs at the nape to try to appease the itching, his eyes falling to the ground so Mark can’t read the guilt that’s probably written all over his face in bold letters.

“So?” Mark insists. Donghyuck keeps his gaze trained on his arms, in the way he crosses them in front of his chest impatiently, the action accentuating the blue lines of his veins.

“I might have burnt your suit,” Donghyuck mumbles, so small and low that he’s hopeful Mark will miss it.

Silence settles between them like a heatwave: thick and suffocating. Mark stays quiet for so long that Donghyuck ends up looking back up at him, wide eyes searching for any sign of a reaction in Mark’s blank face. They are standing so close together, the space between them is heavy and uncomfortable, charged with something dangerous that might set everything on fire if Donghyuck makes the wrong move, like a mine that has already been stepped on. He thinks there might not be room to backtrack without blowing it all up.

But then, out of nowhere, Mark starts laughing.

He shrinks into himself, shrugs his shaking shoulders, his entire face scrunching up, wrinkles around his eyes and nose as his mouth falls open in a cackle. This high-pitched, chirpy sound keeps coming out of him in waves, and it’s so fucking cute that Donghyuck is bewildered, trapped between heartbeats only by the sight in front of him. He’s out of words, dry mouth and wide eyes.

When Mark looks at him again, eyes almost completely closed with laughter, Donghyuck is not able to offer him anything back. He’s frozen in place, his hands suspended in the air, unsure of what to do with himself. But it all stops just as abruptly as it started.

Mark’s smile freezes on his face, his eyes opening up slowly, unusually dim. Donghyuck curls his arms around himself, counting back in his head.

“You aren’t kidding,” Mark says, with this weird grimace on his face. It’s a pinched expression, something torn between a smile and disappointment. “Donghyuck, tell me you’re joking,” Mark pleads, his hands coming up to rest over Donghyuck’s forearms, fingers squeezing tighter than necessary. But Donghyuck can’t form any coherent sentence that will appease the worry in Mark’s face, acrid guilt pooling heavily in his stomach and crawling up his throat, drowning all the words that stay hidden under his tongue. He swallows thickly and shakes his head rapidly. “Fuck,” Mark whispers under his breath, quietly. And then, louder, “Fuck! Fuck you, Donghyuck!”

“Wait, it was an accident,” Donghyuck starts, his words sounding ragged when they come out of his dry throat.

Mark is already turning away from him with a scoff, and Donghyuck moves closer, arms extended in front of him to try to keep him near. He isn’t sure what for, because he knows he can’t fix this mess with his hands, but he will certainly try. Mark brushes him off as soon as Donghyuck’s fingers come in contact with his shoulder, he shakes him off roughly, a hand raised in the air to keep him away from his body, as if he can’t even stand being this close to him.

Donghyuck’s chest is starting to hurt from the lack of breath, his throat tense and aching with the threatening sting of tears. This is not something new, the impending defeat of a homeless future, he can already feel the weight of the plastic bags full of his clothes tight around his fingers. But he’s never expected to feel this coming from Mark, no matter how badly Donghyuck keeps fucking up. Deep down, he’s always hoped he could make it work out for once.

He desperately wishes for Mark’s fake half-smile to make an appearance, but disappointment is all he seems to have left to offer.

“Was it, really? Was it an accident?” Mark asks with a roll of his eyes. His hand is still up in the air, pointing at Donghyuck’s chest like a sentence. It trembles when Mark laughs again, humorless and so bitter, it doesn’t sound like anything that could come out of someone so soft-hearted like him. “‘Cause it’s starting to feel like you came into my house to make my life a living hell.”

“It was a fucking accident!” Donghyuck retaliates, taking a step forward until Mark’s hand knocks against his chest. Anger is starting to bubble under his skin, something fierce that turns his guilt into ashes. Because he’s been trying. He swears he’s been trying. “Why didn’t you hang it in your wardrobe like a normal person? That way it wouldn’t have fallen and I wouldn’t have tripped over it. I was trying to iron it, I was trying to help—”

“Help my ass, Donghyuck! You never fucking listen to me!” Mark presses his hand flat against his chest, fingers digging harshly into the skin. Donghyuck wonders if he can feel the way his heart has sped up, high in anger, his muscles all tensed up and ready to snap. “I was on a run to work, I literally asked you if you could do me the favor to put it away in my fucking closet. But my words never stick in your head, right? I give you a fucking bed to sleep and you can’t even listen to me.”

“I was practicing, alright? Of course I care more about my degree than a stupid suit,” Donghyuck shoots back, nostrils flaring and hands getting sweaty. And he knows, he knows he’s being unfair right now, but he’s never been good at biting his tongue when he’s feeling hurt by someone that actually matters.

“Yeah, right. You only ever think of yourself,” Mark bites back, his hand finally dropping from Donghyuck’s chest. Then, he’s turning around, walking straight to the door.

“What are you doing?” Donghyuck screams, starting right after him. “For fuck’s sake Mark, just tell your rich mom to get you a new one—”

“My mom doesn’t pay for my shit! Stop talking as if you know a damn thing about my family when you don’t even know crap about me!” Mark is full-on screaming now. “Do you know how fucking expensive that suit is? Because I told you. I can’t afford to just… Fuck,” He sighs, his shoulders slumping down, still walking away from Donghyuck with firm, irreversible steps.

He doesn’t turn around to look at Donghyuck until he’s got his hand wrapped around the doorknob to tug it open. “Get out. Now,” he says with a tilt of his head, his face empty in a grimace Donghyuck has never seen before.

“Oh, c’mon, Mark. Don’t be ridiculous,” Donghyuck starts. He clasps his mouth shut when Mark raises his eyebrows at him. He bites down on his lower lip when he realizes he’s always taking the wrong turn, and breaths in deep through his nose to try to find the right words. This could be it, one more misstep and he’ll end up crawling back to Renjun, as always. “You’re mad and I get it, but I still have to get my things—”

“You can come for them another day, I don’t wanna keep looking at your face right now.”

“But Mark, it’s late and dark and probably cold and—”

“I don’t fucking care!” Donghyuck winces at the loud words, curling into himself. “I want you out now!”

“Don’t scream, you’re gonna wake up the neighbors,” Donghyuck says rushedly, in a desperate attempt at getting him to calm down.

“Oh, now you care about the neighbors?” Mark laughs bitterly, pushing the door open even wider. “You don’t seem to care that much when you play the piano at fuck in the morning.”

“I thought you liked the way I play,” Donghyuck mumbles, low and defeated and uselessly hurt.

“Goddammit. I do! I—That’s not even the point, Donghyuck!” Mark lets go of the knob just to step closer, so he can grab Donghyuck’s wrist with sweaty fingers and physically drag him out of the apartment. “Out now,” he says, pushing Donghyuck outside, closing the door in his face before he can get another word out.

And Donghyuck hates this. Hates that his anger entirely vanishes as soon as the door locks closed in front of him, and all that’s left behind is regret and guilt and disappointment in himself. If only he was able to control his anger properly, he wouldn’t be running his mouth and jumping as soon as he feels slightly hurt. Maybe, he could’ve actually fixed this mess. If only he had tried harder. But it’s simply never enough, not when it comes to him.

Somehow, it gets even worse. A few minutes later, when he’s leaning on the wall opposite to their (Mark’s, Donghyuck reminds himself) apartment door, fiddling with his phone and mustering the courage to call Renjun, Mark opens the door.

He doesn’t even look at Donghyuck when he crouches down quietly. He puts a pair of sneakers and a warm jacket on the floor, and then he’s disappearing inside again.

It fucking sucks that Donghhyuck can’t even force himself to hate this guy, the caring asshole.

 

---

 

He ends up showing up at Renjun’s without calling in advance. It makes no difference, in the end. When Renjun opens the door to find Donghyuck standing on his porch, he sighs as if he was expecting him (and he probably was, because there are no secrets between him and Jaemin).

“Mark kicked me out,” Donghyuck announces as if it isn’t already glaringly obvious. “And I think he wants to fuck me.”

 

---

 

Deep down, Donghyuck's always known Mark was an asshole, even if Renjun kept denying it again and again. So far, his only justification for this reasoning was Mark being overly polite, but he's hit a new low, now.

After having kicked Donghyuck out, knowing he didn't have anywhere else to go but Renjun's uncomfortable couch, Mark keeps showing up in Donghyuck's workplace morning after morning. He steps into the coffee shop looking all well-rested, with clear, smooth skin and shiny black hair and ironed clothes. He sits on a stool at the bar, the muscles of his arms shifting as he rests his weight over the cold surface, his long, pretty fingers intertwined delicately as he waits for Donghyuck to take his order.

It feels like mockery. Mark's clear eyes, twinkling and bright and with no tinge of red staining the white, following Donghyuck's movements intently. Donghyuck gets all clumsy in front of him, his joints creaking like rusty machines, limbs heavy with exhaustion, grey smearing under his eyes, his skin all thin and dull with lack of sleep.

The thing is, Donghyuck knows Mark's order by heart, he's known that he hates bitter coffee and drinks chocolate milk for breakfast for months. He could turn his back to him, get him his stupid hot chocolate with two spoons of sugar and a bit of cream, and hand it to him with no exchange of words. But he forces himself to walk towards Mark with his chin raised high, clinging to the little pride he's got left. Donghyuck looks down at him from his side of the bar with his arms closed over his chest, unblinking and stern, his fingers tapping against his forearm as he waits for Mark to speak up.

Mark tries to hold his gaze every time, and there's something so satisfying in the way his face crumples in seconds, faster each day that goes by. He tries to keep an empty expression when Donghyuck walks towards him, but the skin between his eyebrows always ends up all furrowed, the tip of his ears turning a deep red as his lips purse into a pout.

Donghyuck counts back in his head, his tired, red-rimmed eyes boring into Mark's tinkling, clear ones, the tips of his fingers thrumming over his forearm. Five, four, three, two, one—And Mark blinks, eyes drifting to the side, and then down to the bar, his chin dropping against his chest as he mumbles:

“Hot chocolate with cream, please.”

He's lucky Donghyuck isn't a cruel person, because he could make him spell out exactly how he wants it. But Mark's voice always comes out pained and strained, a painfully shy edge to his words. So Donghyuck takes pity on him and gets to work.

When he hands him the cup, though, he makes sure it's hot enough to sting.

 

---

 

“I told you he hated me,” Donghyuck groans, his head dropping onto the backrest of the couch.

Renjun only sighs dramatically at his words, bundling up the blankets at the end of the couch just to throw them on top of Donghyuck to make room for himself. When he flops down, he automatically reaches for the remote of the TV, shifting in his seat as he props his legs up on the small living room table, getting comfortable.

“Are you going to ignore me?” Donghyuck whines from underneath the sheets, his head rolling over the backrest so he can peek at Renjun out of the corner of his eye.

“It's the same thing every single day,” Renjun snaps, eyes trained on the TV. “You've been monothematic for an entire week now.”

Donghyuck hears Jaemin giggling behind them from where he's sitting at the studying table. He throws his hand up in the air to direct his middle finger at him

“What happened to the I think he wants to fuck me part?” Jaemin asks in return, still giggling, the annoying asshole.

“I’m sure he wanted to,” Donghyuck drops his hand down, allowing it to fall limp over the sheets, bringing them down and away from his face. “That was until I grew permanent bags under my eyes.”

“Are you planning on apologizing or what?” Renjun asks.

Donghyuck's head snaps up to look at him, his guts already turning and curling into something ugly and threatening. Even though he is still refusing to return Donghyuck's gaze, Renjun has his jaw clenched tight, shoulders set in a straight line, his entire body screaming danger.

“And why would I do that?” Donghyuck asks slowly, but the bitterness sneaks into his tone like a second language. “He's the one who kicked me out over a stupid accident.”

“Well, stupid is a bit of an understatement,” Jaemin chimes in again. He’s always butting his head in where no one has called him, his fake, chirpy giggle resounding jarringly in Donghyuck's ears.

“Can you stop giving your input when no one has asked you?” Donghyuck snaps, throwing an arm over the couch so he can turn in his seat and glare at Jaemin.

Jaemin doesn't reply, but the look he throws at Donghyuck from across the room might be worse than any words he could've formed. He's got his eyebrows crooked high up on his forehead, his lips curled into a condescending smirk, the tip of his tongue trapped in between his perfectly white teeth. Donghyuck squeezes the cushion between his fingers, his knuckles going white.

“Actually,” Renjun says, voice lilting with that know-it-all air he's got. “He's allowed to talk about it. You're living in our place after all.”

“Is that the problem?” Donghyuck's hands are clammy, the back of his thighs growing sweaty under the sheets. He's overheated with anger, struggling to keep his voice low when everything inside of him is burning up. “I'm a burden to you, right? It is too much to lend me your damn couch. Alright, I'll find somewhere else to stay.”

He's kicking the blankets away from his body now, pushing himself up and off the couch, ready to bolt out of the door. But Renjun curls his hand around Donghyuck's wrist and pulls him back down harshly, their bodies knocking together in all the wrong ways.

“Can you keep calm for once?” Renjun yells.

Everything halts around them—Renjun’s hand scorching hot around Donghyuck’s bony wrist, Jaemin’s laughter frozen in the air between them like broken glass, Donghyuck’s heart trapped between to heartbeats, all the way up in his throat.

“Dammit,” Renjun swears under his breath, his grip on Donghyuck loosening up just to tighten again, tugging him even closer to his body.

They are still crashing in all the wrong places, Renjun’s pointy hip and elbow and knee digging into the soft flesh of Donghyuck’s side and thigh, the sheet all bundled up between them, hot and almost suffocating. But the corners of Renjun’s eyes are soft when Donghyuck finally looks at him, his mouth twisted in a scowl that looks more sad than mad. Donghyuck’s chest loosens up, he feels like he can breathe again.

“Stop doing this,” Renjun starts, voice low but steady, his thumb lapping over the thin skin covering the veins running through Donghyuck’s wrist. “Stop blowing up at the smallest things and try to listen for once—”

“You were being mean,” Donghyuck cuts him off, yanking his arm out of Renjun’s grip.

He feels like a cornered animal. Renjun, a mighty judge with his arms crossed like an armor, hands like claws ready to dissect Donghyuck and make him look into the dark parts of himself that he always decides to politely ignore. Jaemin looming over the backrest of the couch like the bars of an iron cell.

“It seems like being mean is the only way I can make you listen,” Renjun huffs. “Look where being nice has gotten us.”

Donghyuck wants to retaliate, feels the biting words pinching the inside of his throat, spreading the bitterness he always keeps locked inside all over his tongue. But he draws in a breath, his chest swelling up with it, and he looks down at himself. He’s wearing Renjun’s clothes, his shirt too tight around his torso, his pants so short that they don’t even curl around his ankles. He’s not in a position to yell about how unfair everything is.

“Maybe it was an accident,” Renjun starts again, slower. Donghyuck looks at him through squinted eyes, but Renjun doesn’t take his words back, he only squares his shoulders. “But you fucked up countless times and Mark has been nothing but nice to you.”

“Define nice,” Donghyuck snaps, the image of a well-rested Mark entering the coffee shop every morning imprinted in his mind.

“He even felt bad for kicking you out even though you haven’t apologized once for all the shit you’ve broken around his apartment.”

“You’ve been talking to him,” Donghyuck laughs dryly in disbelief. He scoffs, jumping off the couch again, the sheet falling to the floor. This time, Renjun doesn’t force him to sit back down. “About me. Behind my back.”

“What does that matter? The thing is I put in a good word for you and you’ve done nothing but fuck up—”

“Is that what you care about?” Donghyuck says, his voice rising so loud that it rasps the walls of his throat. “That I’m making you look bad in front of him?”

“That’s not even the fucking point, dammit,” Renjun gets up from the couch as well, his shoulders all tensed up, his chest puffed out to make himself feel bigger. He always does this when they fight, tries to make up for the few inches of height Donghyuck’s got on him. “I know your ego is bigger than your brain, but suck it up for once in your life and apologize.”

Donghyuck hates the words I’m sorry more than anything, and he’s not about to gift them to Mark of all people over a damn accident. So he snaps his mouth shut and stares down at Renjun, his tongue pressed flat to the roof of his mouth, nostrils flaring.

“You’re not gonna say anything?” Renjun presses, one of his hands pushing at Donghyuck’s shoulder. “Do you want me to talk about what this is really about? Just. Fucking—Call your mom. I can’t deal with you anymore.”

“Don’t worry, you won’t have to deal with me anymore.”

On his way out, Donghyuck makes sure to snap the door closed so hard that it rattles through his ribs.

 

---

 

It’s much later—once the sky is already pitch black and the count of missed calls is up to two digits—that Donghyuck finally steps out of the coffee shop he’s been hiding away in (not his own, because the single thought of it makes him sick).

He makes his way back to Renjun’s place dragging Renjun’s shoes across the asphalt, tightening Renjun’s hoodie around himself when a gust of air hits him straight in the face, looking down at Renjun’s name shining on the screen of his phone when he calls for the fourth time in the last hour.

Donghyuck brings the phone up to his cold ear once Renjun hangs up. He waits for a beat until Jaemin’s voice comes through the other side.

“Hey, are you coming back to sleep? Renjun’s worried sick,” he says, calm and quiet and far more gentle than Donghyuck deserves.

“Will you come with me to find a new suit for Mark tomorrow morning?” he goes straight to the point, spits the words out at once in a rush before he has time to regret them and backtrack.

“Hyuck,” Jaemin sounds stuck between surprised and pitying. Donghyuck tightens his fingers on the phone to stop himself from hanging up on him. “Yeah, sure. But… Do you even have the money for that?”

“Thanks,” Donghyuck breathes out, the knot of guilt that’s been tied around his lungs all day finally easing up a bit. “I’ll be there soon,” he says, and hangs up.

 

---

 

Once he gets back to Renjun’s—his skin wind-cold, smelling of autumn and black coffee, the soles of his feet stinging with exhaustion—he makes a beeline right to Renjun’s room. Jeno and Jaemin look at him from where they are sitting on the couch, sharing a blanket as the TV washes the dark room in a sickly blueish color. They don’t say anything, but Jaemin smiles at him softly, with no white teeth or sharp bite behind it.

The lump under Renjun’s covers doesn’t move when Donghyuck sneaks into the room. He doesn’t bother to move quietly because he knows Renjun, knows he’d never be able to fall asleep while Donghyuck’s out there in the cold, with no place warm to stay the night other than right under Renjun’s roof.

He sneaks into the blankets without a single word, pressing his cold, bony knees to the warm, soft skin of the back of Renjun’s legs. He curls an arm around Renjun’s chest, sticks their bodies together like puzzle pieces, his palm pushed flat against Renjun’s tummy so he can feel him relax under his fingers, under his presence.

Once his body feels a bit more alive, warmed up by the hot blankets and the familiar smell of the room, he shoves his nose into the crook of Renjun’s neck. Renjun hisses at the contact, Donghyuck’s skin so cold that it’s probably stingy against his burning body. But he doesn’t pull away.

“I’ll talk to him,” Donghyuck says. It’s quiet like a secret, vulnerable like an apology, the closest he can get to an I’m sorry. “Soon. I promise.”

A few silent beats thrum between them. Renjun melts against him, the warm tips of his fingers brushing over the back of Donghyuck’s hand on his tummy, an attempt at warming him up.

“Your mom?” he asks, tentative and careful. Donghyuck hates when Renjun feels unsure around him, hates that he’s the one who pushes him to feel this way.

“Go to sleep,” he says, asks, pleads.

Renjun sighs but doesn’t push it. He doesn’t push Donghyuck out of the bed, either, and it’s the best sleep he gets in more than a week.

 

---

 

Donghyuck hates many things.

He hates the color brown. Hates the dull taste of broccoli. He hates the way the rain makes him feel, as if he’s soaked up inside, water and sadness gathering and pooling together in the most uncomfortable nooks of his body, of his mind. He hates when rain pours all over him, dampening his clothes and his mood and making him feel uncomfortable and all out place. He’s been born to be under the sun, after all.

He also hates big apartment complexes. He hates having neighbors that never take the time to learn his name but stare at him through their peepholes to snoop into his life. He hates the old elevator that’s taking him up to Mark’s place, rusty and dusty and creaking dangerously. Hates the memories that still linger inside of it, a rubber band stretching and stretching and stretching but never getting to snap, smiles and words and teasing that he almost regrets now.

Donghyuck hates the door to Mark’s apartment, the boring brown of it, the peeled off wood with splinters that aim at him like knives. He hates almost everything inside of it, too—the warm parquet floor, the ugly flower vases, and his hard, squeaky mattress. Hates that he misses all of it.

He stares at it now, at the door, as he stands in front of it shaking in his wet clothes. His damp hair sticks to his forehead with cold droplets of rain, water sliding down his neck and sneaking under his shirt, raising goosebumps over his skin, the bad kind.

At least, the new suit is all wrapped up in plastic folders, protected from the storm. And Donghyuck thinks he might hate money too, might hate how hard it is to earn, how fast you can lose it all. Hates the empty feeling left inside of him after he spends so much on something that shouldn’t matter. Hates that it matters. Hates himself for giving so much importance to pieces of paper stamped with numbers. Hates the worry binding between his ribs at the low numbers on his bank account, at the emptiness of his wallet. He hates the future extra hours that are already looming over him, fingers aching to feel the smooth, cold surface of a piano under its pads, music-deprived for longer than a week.

Above everything, Donghyuck hates saying sorry.

Renjun has called him prideful before, many times, over many different things. Donghyuck isn’t sure if that is the right word to use, but the sole thought of admitting guilt in front of someone else dries up his throat, words getting stuck underneath his tongue like something useless.

It’s not the word he hates, he’s thought it a million times, he’s even said it out loud a couple—to his mom, always to his mom. It’s the feelings that come with it, the vulnerability of it all, the shame painting his skin hot and red, like someone who’s asking to be seen when all he wants to do is hide.

When he raises his hand to press the bell to Mark’s apartment, he isn’t sure he’ll be able to form the words correctly. But he’s gotten this far, he might as well push forward now.

Donghyuck knows Mark is home. He strategically decided to come during lunchtime to catch him here, even if Donghyuck hasn’t eaten yet, his stomach growling with hunger and something else. That’s why the time that goes by from the moment his fingers touch the bell to the moment the door opens feels like rain falling over him all over again, soaking him in discomfort. But he digs his heels on the floor and waits.

When Mark opens the door, he’s dressed for work. His black hair is gelled out of his face, pushed back, only a loose strand of it curling over his forehead. He’s wearing black pants and a white dress shirt, clean, smooth and well ironed. He looks good, just like every time he’s stepped into the coffee shop.

Donghyuck feels like a mess in comparison—wet clothes and wet hair and wet cheeks, tired eyes and tired limbs and a tired mood. The only thing that makes him feel better is Mark almost choking on whatever he’s munching, his big, black eyes going wide open when they finally settle on Donghyuck.

He ends up bending over, pressing his fist to his chest to force himself to breathe better. Donghyuck holds onto the suit with one hand and uses the other to pat Mark’s back harder than necessary, his damp hand leaving wet prints over the pristine white fabric.

“There, there. Don’t go dying on me now that I spent money on you.”

“What do you mean you spent money on me?” Mark asks once he looks up at him. His voice is all strained and breathless, eyes rimmed red and watery.

Donghyuck doesn’t reply, he just shoves the suit against Mark’s chest, the plastic rustling loudly in the quiet of the hallway. Mark grabs it with tentative fingers, the droplets of rain still gathered on the plastic damping his fingers and sliding down his hands, into the sleeves of his shirt. He pulls the suit away from his body, stares at it with round eyes before his arched eyebrows draw together into a confused frown.

“What’s this?” he asks, his eyes dancing from the suit to Donghyuck’s face, and then back to the suit.

“What does it look like to you?” Donghyuck snaps.

He regrets it in an instant, the bite under his words, the coldness of his tone. But he can’t help it, he feels scrutinized under Mark’s gaze. His cheeks are scorching hot with embarrassment, sweat gathering under behind his neck, all over the palms of his hands, in his lower back. Still, he juts his chin out and tilts his head, holding Mark’s eyes stubbornly.

Each time, Mark gives up faster. Donghyuck only needs to count backward three times and Mark is already pressing his lips together in a tight line, his eyes drifting to the floor as the tips of his ears shine pink.

“Can I move back in, now? That was fucking expensive,” Donghyuck says, arms crossed over his chest in fake nonchalance.

“Oh my god,” Mark mumbles, his eyes wider than Donghyuck has ever seen them. “Oh dang, Hyuck.”

The nickname hits harder than Donghyuck thought it ever would. He licks his dry lips before he presses them together, pushing his tongue against his teeth to stop himself from complaining, from telling Mark that he doesn’t have the right to call him that for the first time at a moment like this.

“Donghyuck, I’m—You truly don’t listen to me, do you?” but Mark doesn’t sound mad, the words come out as one of his hysterical giggles, high pitched and broken at the end. “I told you, the suit… It was so expensive because I’m the best man. I mean, it was, like custom-made? I had to match with the other groomsmen…”

“Wait,” Donghyuck cuts him off, one of his hands already flying forward to curl on the plastic folder of the suit. “Are you telling me I spent my savings on this for nothing? There’s no way I can return this now. It’s been under the fucking rain, Mark. It’s probably all wrinkled—I’m not ironing it for you, by the way.”

Mark laughs again, less shy this time, with his nose scrunched up and his eyes all squinted. The sight pierces through Donghyuck’s annoyance like a gunshot, he feels his resolve melting under the lilting sound of Mark’s giggle, the empty hallway amplifying it like a speaker.

“No, that’s—That’s not what I meant,” Mark’s laughter stops, but it leaves something behind, a soft edge to the corner of his eyes, going incredibly tender when he looks at Donghyuck. He’s blushing, Donghyuck notes, nothing rare when it comes to Mark, but it makes Donghyuck’s hands sweat even more. “I’ve spent the week trying to find a way to tell my brother that I couldn’t attend the wedding because I can’t afford another suit right now,” his voice is lower, gentler, as if he’s sharing more of himself than he wants to. “But a suit that doesn’t match is better than no suit at all, right?”

The plastic folder rustles when Mark brings the suit to his body, hugging it against his chest, probably wrinkling it further. Donghyuck wants to point it out, wants to tell him to be careful, the need to get under Mark’s nerves pointier than ever now, somehow.

“Does that mean I can move back in, then?” Donghyuck asks, swallowing on nothing.

He doesn’t wait for a reply, he shoulders his way past Mark and into the apartment with his eyes cast low, unable to handle the sight of this soft Mark for any longer. He steps on the back of his shoes, slipping his feet in the obnoxious pink slippers Mark lent him that first day. The knot in his chest doesn’t ease up until he hears the door closing behind him.

“You can come back under one condition,” Mark says, stepping around Donghyuck to look him in the eye again.

“Are you fucking kidding me? Do you know how much I spent on that thing?” Donghyuck frowns. He balls his hands into fists, nails sinking into the flesh of his palms to stop himself from blowing up and damaging everything again, beyond repair this time around.

“Yeah, but you didn’t even say sorry,” Mark points out, his head raised high in defiance.

They stay quiet for a while, another staring contest that Donghyuck wins easily. But the silence stretches between them like a bridge, like the last chance for Donghyuck to swallow his pride. When he parts his lips together, though, nothing comes out, his mind rushing to remind him that it was an accident, that this is unfair.

Mark sighs defeated once he accepts that Donghyuck isn’t going to gift him an apology. “It’s nothing big, anyway,” he says, his eyes still lowered, fixed on his own slippers on Donghyuck’s feet. “It’s just a small favor. I thought you could do this as my friend?”

Donghyuck is ready to retaliate, to point out that friends don’t kick their friends out of their apartments. But Mark looks up before he can get the words out, his head still tilted down, big eyes shining through his eyelashes as he keeps blushing.

“What is it?” Donghyuck says, clicking his tongue frustrated. He can’t help but roll his eyes when Mark breaks into a smile.

“I kind of—I need, like… I mean, it’s a bit embarrassing, but—”

“Spit it out already.”

“I kind of need like a date for the wedding?” Mark blurts out, his rushed words tripping all over each other. Something heavy sets into Donghyuck’s stomach at the blush high on Mark’s cheeks, cold fear of what the favor will be. “I was wondering if you could, maybe, set me up with someone?”

Donghyuck has to make a tremendous effort to not sigh in relief, the tension in his jaw and shoulders rolling out of him in waves. The sole thought of spending a day in front of Mark’s family as Mark’s date makes his entire body sweat, his heart pounding hard against his ribs like a punch.

“It’s kinda embarrassing, but I owe my mom so many extra hours ‘cause I keep skipping to do homework and shit. Like, my shifts are getting longer and longer, you know? Well, you wouldn’t know, you haven’t really been around lately—,” Mark keeps rambling, his eyes open wide as he gestures with nervous hands. “I don’t really have the time to, like, go out and meet new people? I can’t ask my friends either because my mom knows them and she would get annoying about it… But you work at a coffee shop and I thought, well, I thought—Hey! Maybe, Hyuck knows someone—”

“Mark,” Donghyuck cuts him off, walking past him one more time, aiming for his room. “Shut up.”

“I’m sorry. I tend to, like, ramble when I get… you know,” Mark mumbles, his socket feet padding after Donghyuck.

“Embarrassed? ‘Cause yeah, that’s pretty embarrassing,” Donghyuck snicker. He walks into his room and flops on the stool in front of his keyboard instantly. “Your love life is nonexistent.”

“Hey, dude, don’t be mean,” when Donghyuck turns his head to look at Mark, he finds him leaning against the door frame, scowling down at his shoes. “I just explained why. It’s not like you have someone, anyway.”

Donghyuck presses his fingers against the keys, the loud familiar sound of random notes muffling Mark’s words.

“Truth hurts, huh?” Mark smirks. And he makes Donghyuck so angry. He wishes Renjun was here, so he could see for himself that Mark is not as nice as he appears to be.

“When’s the wedding?”

“Three months from now.”

“Alright, let’s make a deal,” Donghyuck sighs, his fingers sliding over the keyboard fast, dragging notes out of it as if it’s as easy as breathing. “You can’t refuse to go to any of the dates I set up,” he says, a smirk curling his lips up. “And if I don’t find you a partner by the time the wedding rolls around, you can kick me out again.”

“Why are you making it sound like a dare I’m gonna hate?” Mark asks, his pink lips pursed into a pout.

“‘Cause what’s in it for me if I can’t have a little fun with it?” Donghyuck is smirking at him now, one of his eyebrows crooked up.

“I’m already regretting this,” Mark says, pushing himself off the door frame. “So much for a favor for a friend.”

“I never said I was friends with you!” Donghyuck screams at Mark’s back when he walks away from his room.

Then, he stills his fingers over the piano, the surface already warming up under his touch. He stops playing long enough to hear Mark scream from across the hallway.

“I’m in!”

 

---

 

Later that day—when Mark comes back from work and Donghyuck’s fingers hurt from playing for too long—they sit together on the living room couch, peaceful in a comfortable silence that is brand new to them.

The plates resting on the coffee table are wiped clean. Mark ate everything Donghyuck cooked in record time, having eaten nothing but take-out and premade food for the past week. Donghyuck feels the need to tease him about it burning on the tip of his tongue. But, instead, he brings up something that’s been bugging him since he left Renjun’s place.

“Renjun told me something,” Donghyuck says, facing the TV but looking at Mark through the corner of his eye. “Told me you felt bad for kicking me out.”

For the second time in hours, Donghyuck takes Mark by surprise so suddenly that he almost chokes. He starts to cough into the glass he was drinking from, water dribbling down his chin and falling on the parquet floor as he leans forward on the couch, his free hand clutching his sleeping shirt.

Donghyuck can’t help the laughter that bubbles out of him, all high pitched and giddy. He folds his legs under his body and curls around himself on the other edge of the couch, staring as Mark keeps struggling. He hasn’t laughed this much in so long that his body hurts with the force of it.

“You want me dead,” Mark says when he calms down enough to speak. His voice is ragged like gravel, water smeared down his neck, wetting the front of his shirt and making his lips shine under the blue light of the TV. “I knew you wanted me dead from the start.”

“It’s not my fault you get embarrassed so easily,” Donghyuck stretches out one of his legs so he can push at Mark’s thigh, digging his toes into the hard muscle. “Tell me about how bad you felt,” he says, pursing his lips in an exaggerated pout as he blinks repeatedly.

“You’re so annoying, you better clean up this mess later,” Mark complains, pointing out at the water all over the floor as he sets the glass down on top of the coffee table. “Why’d you think I went to the coffee shop every morning?” he says once he’s leaning against the cushions once again.

Mark won’t look at Donghyuck, his gaze fixed on the boring advertisements on TV. But, even though the light is off and Mark’s skin is painted in this soft, sickly blue, Donghyuck can see the deep pink blush creeping up the back of his neck, curling around his ears in shame. He says nothing, but pushes his toes harder against Mark’s skin, prompting him to keep going.

“I wanted to apologize. The way I kicked you out was so rude, I felt like pure shit,” Mark sighs, his head hanging low between his shoulders. “I should’ve let you spend the night here, dude. I even came out after you, but you were already gone. The slippers were there, though,” he ends with a peal of laughter.

The words leave a weird aftertaste in Donghyuck’s mouth as if they’ve come out of his throat instead of Mark’s. It’s a bittersweet feeling, cold and piercing, squeezing his chest guiltily. He takes his foot off of Mark’s leg, folds it back under his own body, and resorts to his teasing bite. Joking and blowing up are the only two ways he knows how to get himself out of compromising situations.

“You’re crazy if you thought I was gonna take those ugly things with me.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Mark snickers, still red on his cheeks but looking a lot more relaxed. “I put a roof over your head and this is how you pay me?” he says, stretching over the space between them to slap Donghyuck’s thigh playfully.

“Keep running your mouth and I’ll stop paying my share of the rent,” Donghyuck smiles, purposefully ignoring the way guilt pinches his chest. And Mark giggles.

The following morning, when Donghyuck calls his mom to tell her he won’t be able to give her as much money the next months, it will hurt like hell. The following morning, when his mom curses down the line and confesses she doesn’t have enough to hire a babysitter, it will hurt like hell. The following morning, when Donghyuck soothes his mom and promises he’ll take care of his siblings—even if that means bringing them to his workplace with him—he’ll get angry, and it will hurt like hell.

But, right now, under the sickly blue light of the TV, he thinks that maybe it’ll be worth it.

 

---

 

It’s an unusually quiet afternoon at the coffee shop, the bell by the door ringing loudly as Mark exists the place, his hands wrapped around a cup of his favorite hot coffee.

“Where’s he going?” Renjun asks, his own hands cupping an Americano that’s too strong for him, but that’s what happens when you allow Jaemin to order for you.

This rarely happens, all of them at the coffee shop at the same time. They are all sitting at the bar, so they can keep talking to Donghyuck comfortably if more customers come in.

Jeno is entertaining Donghyuck’s siblings while he works, showing them how to create little frogs out of tissue paper. He’s talking to them with a permanent soft smile on his face, his eyes squinted with glee. Jeno is taking care of them so attentively even though he and Donghyuck have never been particularly close, even though he doesn’t owe Donghyuck anything. But Jeno has always been genuinely kind in such a gentle way that not even Donghyuck can bring himself to be bothered by it.

Jaemin and Renjun brought Yangyang with them this time, one of their many classmates Donghyuck has seen around a couple of times before. Donghyuck hasn’t exchanged a single word with him yet, but Yangyang keeps grinning at everything with a smile so big and bright that it could rival Jaemin’s, all wrapped up in oversized clothes speckled with motes of white fur here and there. He sneaks glances towards the door sometimes, where his small white dog is waiting for him outside, sitting down diligently.

Donghyuck may not know much about Yangyang, but the way Renjun’s eyes soften around the edges whenever he looks at him tells Donghyuck everything he needs to know.

“First date today,” Donghyuck explains as he wipes the bar with a wet cloth.

“Why are you setting up your hot flatmate on dates with someone else again?” Renjun asks, speaking over the rim of his cup as he brings it to his lips. “Why won’t you just go to the wedding with him and get it over with?”

“Oh, you think Mark’s hot?” Donghyuck raises an eyebrow at him, resting his weight on his forearms as he leans over the counter, the cloth bundled up into his fist. “Want me to set you up with him?”

Renjun narrows his eyes at him as he drinks, his eyebrows drawn together. Jaemin giggles beside him, pitched high and unrestrained. At his other side, Yangyang tenses up, setting his shoulders in a straight line as his warm smile freezes on his lips. Donghyuck dances his eyes between them, his eyebrow moving higher up on his forehead.

“Ew, don’t do that, please,” Renjun says with a disgusted grimace, putting his cup down. “That’d be like going out with my stepbrother or something like that.”

Yangyang visibly relaxes at the words, his shoulders slumping down as his smile spreads wider over his face. He’s the only one that laughs this time, a nervous giggle that has everyone turning around to look at him, even Jeno.

“You’re all set already, aren’t you?” Jaemin says, patting Renjun on the shoulder, that evil smirk of his shining under the warm lights of the coffee shop.

Renjun turns his back to Yangyang and scowls, his eyes jumping from Jaemin to Donghyuck as if he’s expecting him to speak up in his defense. But Donghyuck holds his gaze, his eyebrows crooked upwards and his lips pressed into a thin line, trapped between his teeth to stop himself from bursting into laughter.

“You’re both so fucking annoying,” Renjun mumbles, bringing his cup back up to his mouth to hide the light blush on his cheeks.

No one adds anything else, but Yangyang’s smile doesn’t falter for the rest of the day.

 

---

 

When the door to the apartment opens later that day, Donghyuck is curled up on the couch, a blanket wrapped tight around his body because the cold of early autumn is starting to seep into his bones.

“You’re gonna set me up with the weirdest people you know, aren’t you?” Mark says when he steps into the living room, throwing something into Donghyuck’s lap.

Mark comes to stand in front of the TV so Donghyuck can’t avoid looking at him. He’s already barefoot, but he’s still wearing his jacket and it puffs out around his arms when he crosses them over his chest. He’s trying to give Donghyuck a stern look, but his cheeks are all red due to the cold breeze, his hair tousled up with black spikes pointing in different directions. He looks more like a child throwing a tantrum than anything else.

“What even is this?” Donghyuck snickers when he looks down at his lap.

He picks up the headband between his thumb and index finger, raises it up to his eyes so he can examine the furry black cat ears from up close.

“She wore one of those throughout the entire date, Donghyuck,” Mark’s shoulders slump in defeat. “She gifted that to me so we could match. Where did you even meet this girl, Hyuck?”

But Donghyuck is too busy laughing to be able to reply. He tries to muffle it at first. He hides his mouth behind his hand and presses his lips in a tight line. But laughter keeps tickling up his belly, prompting him to slump against the backrest of the couch as he cackles out loud, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes with the force of it.

“It’s not fucking funny!” Mark complains, padding closer. He still hasn’t taken off his coat and it ruffles against the fabric of the cushions when he flops down on the couch beside Donghyuck. “I had to wear that thing all day!”

“That explains—,” Donghyuck wheezes, his words getting cut by bursts of laughter. “Explains the bad hair. You—You look like a mess,” he blurts out, waving his hand in front of Mark’s face.

“Oh, thanks, dude. You’re such a delight,” Mark says sarcastically, slapping Donghyuck’s hand away, but the seams of his mouth are starting to curl upwards, the blush on his cheeks getting deeper. “I wanted to call you to ask you to bail me out so bad. I shouldn’t have agreed to this,” he sighs, resting his elbows on his thighs.

He’s slumped forward, his head hanging between his shoulders, looking at Donghyuck sideways. Donghyuck’s belly hurts, tense with how hard he’s been laughing, and his cheeks are wet and scorching hot. He thinks that maybe he should feel bad, but this is the reason why he agreed to help Mark in the first place. And Mark is biting his lips so hard right now, clearly trying to keep his own laugh at bay.

“You can’t get out of it now, you agreed,” Donghyuck says in a breathless rush.

Mark sighs dramatically one more time, but he doesn’t complain. He shrugs his coat off, throwing it over the backrest before he’s slumping down again, his face schooled into a serious expression.

As he slides closer on the couch, Donghyuck has to take a deep breath to stop himself from cracking up again. He approaches Mark fast, so he doesn’t have time to react before Donghyuck is sticking the headband on the top of his head, all crooked and awkward, but there nonetheless.

“Meow for me, Mark.”

Mark looks up at him with his eyes open wide, his nose wrinkled up in disgust, hair still all over the place.

Donghyuck can’t help it when he starts laughing again, almost doubled over on the couch as he presses his forehead against Mark’s shoulder. “You truly look like a cat, I can’t breathe.”

“You’re such an dick, seriously,” Mark shoves him away, pushing him until Donghyuck’s back is resting against the opposite armrest. Then, he takes the headband off and throws it on Donghyuck’s lap once again. “I truly cannot stand you.”

But, even though it’s through squinted, watery eyes, Donghyuck can still see the smile growing on Mark’s face. It’s one of those smiles so wide that it hollows his cheeks, the corners of his eyes all wrinkled up.

Once his fit of laughter is over, Donghyuck feels exhausted. His entire body screams for sleep, his limbs heavy as if the hours he’s spent working today are only catching up to him now. So he wiggles on the couch to get more comfortable, picking up the blanket from the floor to wrap it over himself one more time.

“What are you watching? I feel like I haven’t had the time to watch a movie in ages,” Mark comments, resting his head on the couch as he stares at the screen with half-lidded eyes.

“You choose, then,” Donghyuck says, moving just enough to grab the remote control from the coffee table and hand it to Mark. “Whatever you want, busy boy.”

They remain in a comfortable silence only broken by the murmur of the TV, a feeling that’s becoming more and more familiar since Donghyuck moved back in. When Donghyuck slides his cold toes underneath Mark’s thigh, Mark doesn’t push him away.

 

---

 

“What day is it today?”

That's the first thing Mark says when he bursts into Donghyuck's room a couple of weeks later, hands on his hips in an impatient manner.

Donghyuck closes the book he was currently reading, throwing it to the feet of his bed as he props himself up to a sitting position.

“Sunday?” he offers, crooking an eyebrow at Mark.

“Exactly,” Mark exclaims, throwing his hands in the air as he walks closer. He always reacts to everything so dramatically, in such an exaggerated way, as if he's feeling too much to keep it to himself. It's exhausting and equally fascinating. “My first Sunday off in a month. And do you know where this guy took me? To my fucking workplace.”

He throws himself onto Donghyuck's bed with a huff, face-down against the pillow. Mark groans when Donghyuck stifles a laugh under his hand, and he turns his head a little so he can open an eye to glare at him.

“It’s not fucking funny,” Mark complains, pouts into the pillow. Donghyuck has the sudden urge to reach out and pinch his lower lip between his fingers just to bother him, but he grabs his book to keep his hands busy. “How can someone think that looking at cars is a good idea for a first date? Seriously, where do you even find these people?”

“You’d be surprised at how many weird customers I talk to every day,” Donghyuck smirks at him, sliding closer over the bed. “I’m not gonna run out of date ideas anytime soon,” he adds with a wink.

Mark groans again, hiding his face into the pillow one more time, but he can't hide the red blush on the tip of his ears.

Donghyuck does reach out this time. Mark’s ear is warm underneath his pads as he curls his fingers around it, and he tugs hard, causing him to yelp in annoyance. “It could’ve been a lot worse,” Donghyuck snickers, grinning widely when Mark pulls away and finally sits up on the bed to look at him. “In fact, I’m saving the worst for last.”

“You’re a fucking menace,” Mark runs a hand through his now messy black hair, his eyes drifting off and away from Donghyuck’s face to the book in his hands. Now that Donghyuck is looking at him properly, he can see the blush spreading over the bridge of his nose, down the collar of his shirt. “I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to this. Are you even trying to get me a real date? Sometimes I think you want to be homeless or something.”

It’s such a funny thing, the way Mark can be almost spot on when he knows little to nothing about Donghyuck’s life. The words stir something bitter in Donghyuck’s stomach, guilt burning up his throat, making him go dry mouthed. None of the words he can come up with are good enough to reply. How is he supposed to tell Mark he’s desperate to find an excuse to go home when Mark’s just taken him back?

“Shut up,” Donghyuck says instead, opening his book and lying down so his head is resting on Mark’s thighs.

It’s weird at first. Mark goes all tense under him, his hard muscles uncomfortable against the back of Donghyuck’s head. But then he’s huffing out a laugh, bringing one of his hands up to Donghyuck’s hair.

“You gonna read to me?” Mark asks in a soft voice Donghyuck has never heard coming from him before.

“I’m not gonna start all over just for you,” Donghyuck frowns at the pages, pulling the book up and covering his face with it so Mark can’t see the way his cheeks have grown all hot.

“That’s fine, just keep going where you left off,” Donghyuck is looking intently at the lines written on the pages of his book, but Mark’s voice still has that soft edge to it, and he can feel Mark’s fingers in his hair, running through the strands smoothly. “Listening to you is nice.”

Donghyuck’s body is sweating in embarrassment but, at the same time, he feels unusually comfortable. It’s a mix of warmth and safety and relief that he’s never felt before lying down on this hard, creaky mattress. He doesn’t know if it’s the unfamiliarity of the situation, if it’s the way that gentleness rolls so easily off of Mark’s tongue, or maybe it’s just the careful brush of Mark’s fingers over his scalp, but Donghyuck is choked up, tingling from inside out with foreign sensations that he isn’t sure if he likes.

Still, Donghyuck tightens his grip on his book and starts reading out loud. And if his voice trembles the entire time, Mark, being Mark, is nice enough to not say anything about it.

 

---

 

The next time Mark comes back from a date, Donghyuck is in the kitchen, rummaging through the cupboards to try to decide what to make for dinner.

Mark is in a worse mood than usual, Donghyuck can tell even before he sees him. Mark moves so noisily around the apartment that Donghyuck can tell what he's doing even from the kitchen.

First, he closes the front door so loudly that the force of it rattles through Donghyuck's ribs, making him jump in shock. Then, when he takes his shoes off, they fall heavily on the parquet. Afterward, his slippers clack noisily on his way through the hallway, until he gets to his bedroom and the noise stays muffled under yet another slammed door.

Donghyuck goes through all of this with his arms crossed, leaning his hip against the counter as he waits for Mark to feel bad enough to come out and apologize. Because Donghyuck, as hypocritical as it may sound, hates noise. And Mark, being the nice dude he is, always tries to avoid every single thing Donghyuck hates, even if the list is so long that you'd need more than two pairs of hands to keep count.

It takes less than ten minutes for Mark to crawl out of his bedroom and drag his feet all the way to the kitchen. He's already changed into his sleeping clothes, his slumped shoulders clad in a boring grey shirt, sweatpants hanging low on his hips. He's also wearing his black, round glasses, sliding down the bridge of his nose because he keeps hanging his head low in annoyance. His hair is still styled for his date, the same way he always styles it for work, gelled to the side and away from his forehead in a gentle wave that suits his sharp features perfectly.

Donghyuck has seen almost every single side of Mark, but somehow this seems a bit more intimate than usual. He's so caught up in his own feelings that he seems to have gotten stuck between his formal side and his vulnerable self, too wound up to transition completely into the nice guy he actually is. His lips are curled into a pout, his arched eyebrows meeting in the middle of his forehead with a wrinkle that Donghyuck is dying to smooth out because it looks wrong on Mark's features, always so gentle and bright and open.

“Sorry,” Mark mumbles, his chin pointing to the floor.

“That bad today?” Donghyuck asks carefully, still leaning against the counter as he runs his eyes up and down Mark's body.

Mark slumps down into one of the kitchen chairs, looking up at Donghyuck with his face twisted into a disgusted grimace. "I had to pay for everything. Like, literally everything."

“Like the nice gentleman you are,” Donghyuck points out, cocking an eyebrow in an attempt at lighting up the mood with a joke because that's all he knows how to do.

“No, but—You don't understand,” Mark sighs frustrated. He brings his hands up to his face, rubbing at the skin, slender fingers sneaking under his glasses to press against his eyes. “He didn't even offer. Not even once, Donghyuck. And he kept asking for all this expensive shit...” he complains in a groan, his words muffled under his palms. “I had to walk all the way here because I spent the money I had left on a cab for him.”

Donghyuck presses his lips together to stop himself from snickering, but a burst of laughter crawls its way up his chest anyway. “Mark, seriously. You need to learn how to say no.”

“You're the one who told me I couldn't ditch any of the dates!” Mark snaps at him.

But Donghyuck can’t even feel threatened or worried at Mark's angry frown, not when he's swimming in that oversized sleeping shirt, pouting like a little kid that's throwing a tantrum. Not when he's just so nice that he spent all his money on someone he doesn't even know.

“I said you can't refuse to go, what you do once you're there is your choice,” Donghyuck reaches from across the counter, cradling Mark's chin in his hand to dig his fingers into his cheeks, trying to get rid of the pout. “You can send them to hell for all I care.”

Mark frowns deepens, his pale skin growing warm under Donghyuck's fingertips as he struggles his way out of his grip, swatting his hand away. 

“Well, you should've explained that better before I went poor for this dude.”

Donghyuck opens his mouth to reply, ready to point out that Mark can always ask his rich mother for some cash if he's struggling. But he's taken back to the last time he brought up the topic, when he ended up outside the door, carrying only his shoes and a warm jacket that smelled like Mark.

Still, he hopes for the best and says, “You can always ask your mom for some economic support, right?”

“I’ve told you before, she doesn't pay for my stuff,” Mark replies harshly, massaging his eyebrows with his thumb and index finger. He stays quiet for a while, and Donghyuck hates the uncomfortable pinch in his chest, disappointment punching him like a fist at the prospect of not being close enough to Mark so he can share these things with Donghyuck comfortably.

It's stupid if you think about it. After all the times Donghyuck has tried to convince himself that they are far away from being friends, he shouldn't be feeling betrayed when Mark acts in tune with his claims. Still, feelings are a tricky thing, they flow inside of him like the current during a storm, wild and unpredictable, racking through him when he least expects them. Donghyuck can only press his lips together to hold his breath and accept it all, hoping he won't drown.

But Mark speaks again after a beat, his voice soothing like a wave.

“You know how I work for her. I'm always, like, struggling with extra hours, running from the office to class and fucking up both things,” he laughs emptily, his eyes watching his hands intently instead of looking up at Donghyuck. “She's way stricter with me than with any of her other employees. She would never give me money if I just asked for it, you know? I mean, she's... She's great. I'm not trying to make her sound like a bad mom or something,” Donghyuck bites the inside of his cheek until it hurts to keep his opinion bottled up. Renjun's words are playing like a broken record in his head, a reminder that he should stop blowing up at everything he doesn't like. "I think, I think it's only fair that she's like this. Since she's always been all alone. With me, I mean. She wants to make sure that I can, like, work for the things I need in case she... For when she's gone."

Words run away from Donghyuck once Mark is done. As he looks at him, slumped shoulders and droopy eyes, he desperately wants to dig in for something reassuring to say, wants to offer comfort to Mark with generous hands. But all he can do is think about how nice it must be to have a mother so sure of her own money and worth that she doesn’t even feel the need to worry when her son is struggling.

Donghyuck thinks about how privileged someone must be to have their child struggling and see it as a good thing, as a learning experience. He can’t help recalling the well known rotten anxiety, its pointy roots digging into his chest at the sight of red numbers on his bank account. He dreams of the stability of someone else coming to his rescue right before his water runs cold, right before his light gets cut off. He remembers his mother dragging him and his siblings to her friends’ houses, shame painting her cheeks pink as they showed up with aching bellies because their fridge was always too empty, got nothing but dust to fill it up with.

It’s been long since the last time it was that bad, but the experience is carved into Donghyuck’s memory like something moldy, growing bigger and bigger and staining his everyday life with a sickly green. Even now, he still has trouble stepping into his mother’s house, worried it will come crumpling down around him just due to his mere presence.

Still, each night he dreams of the day he will be able to move back in and experience that stability first-hand, and not through the eyes and words of those around him. But his wishes are blackened by such jealousy and bitterness that it almost leaves him breathless.

So he presses his tongue against the roof of his mouth to keep his dirty feelings at bay, straightens his back as he pushes himself away from the counter, and says, “Alright, get up," he claps, motioning for Mark to stand up. "You're cooking tonight."

Mark throws him the most exaggerated grimace he's pulled since they met, his lower lip tugged upwards as he stares at Donghyuck with squinted eyes. "Do you have a death wish or something? Man, you're so weird."

"C'mon, I'll guide you," Donghyuck says with a roll of his eyes. He reaches out to curl his fingers around Mark's forearm, dragging him closer to the kitchen. "We're making spaghetti. Spaghetti is easy."

"Alright," Mark sighs. But he doesn't move, he stands there, staring at the stove with his hands on his hips.

"Do you even know where we keep the spaghetti?"

"Yeah, yes," Mark shakes his head as if waking himself up from a trance and starts rummaging through the cupboards.

Donghyuck stays back, patiently watching Mark with his arms crossed over his chest. They've been doomed since the idea popped up in Donghyuck's mind, while Mark is almost the perfect roommate, cooking has always been his weak spot, to the point that he doesn't dare to get near the kitchen when he's home alone. What Donghyuck didn't know was that Mark could fuck it up even before he got started.

It's funny to watch him struggle around the kitchen, opening up all the wrong doors and drawers before he finally goes for the right cupboard. The spaghetti container is pushed against the back wall of the pantry, so far back that Mark has to stand on his tiptoes to reach it. When he stretches his arm to grab it, his gray sleeping shirt riles up showing a patch of pale skin—a few scattered brown moles dotting the small of his back, crawling up his spine and getting lost under the cotton fabric.

Donghyuck is lost in the milky skin of Mark’s hip when the container falls with a metallic noise. He jumps startled, his glance shooting up in time to see the lid popping open at the impact. Suddenly, spaghetti starts rolling out of it in waves, sliding down the cupboard and falling over Mark's gelled hair like water coming out of the shower, hitting the tiled floor with twinkling sounds.

"Oh my god," Mark mumbles softly as if he's way too surprised to even scream in shock. He brings his hands up, trying to stop the flow of the pasta with his palms, but the spaghetti keeps sneaking through the spaces between his fingers, covering the white floor in yellow.

When they both burst into laughter, they do it in synch, loud and fierce as food keeps falling onto their floor. There are no slumped shoulders, no sad eyes. There's no bitterness, no jealousy. There's only shared laughter bouncing off the kitchen tiles, filling up the apartment with something sweet, something theirs.

 

---

Mark has come into the coffee shop every single day Donghyuck’s been working there since he moved back into their apartment. Donghyuck’s schedule has always been a bit tricky, but Mark still manages to show up during every single one of his shifts, even though the hour varies depending on how busy he is each day.

This is why, in Donghyuck’s defense, it is easy to slip up. That’s what he tells himself one day that he turns around to prepare Mark’s usual hot chocolate as soon as Donghyuck sees him walk through the door, forgetting to wait for Mark to spell out his order.

Mark’s fingers are incredibly cold when he reaches out to grab the cup from Donghyuck’s hands, the oversized hoodie he’s wearing pooling around his bony wrists. He takes the cup to his lips, takes a short, tentative sip that stains his upper lip white with cream, and looks up at Donghyuck with big bright eyes. “You know my order by heart?”

Donghyuck halts, stays still mid-movement, a washcloth held up in the air. He looks at Mark with wide eyes, cursing himself internally when shame starts to spread heat all over the back of his neck, curling around his ears.

“You come here every day,” he snaps, because aggression is always better than vulnerability. “Of course I know it, I’m not dumb.”

Mark blinks at him slowly, his glass still cupped between his sweater-paws. “Why do you always make me say it, then?”

Everything goes incredibly quiet in the coffee shop, conversations getting muffled by Donghyuck’s blood, rushing frantically in his ears as it gathers hotly on his cheeks. Sitting at the bar beside Mark, Renjun and Yangyang stop talking, hastily pulled away from their own little world by the sudden awkwardness. Donghyuck can feel their eyes boring holes into the side of his face, watching curiously as he drops the cloth over the bar, swallowing thickly.

“To piss you off,” he mumbles between gritted teeth, sliding his eyes away from Mark’s pleased face to glare at the wet washcloth instead.

“Hyuck, you’re so fucking red,” Renjun laughs loudly.

And Donghyuck grabs the cloth again just to throw it at him. “Shut the fuck up, asshole.”

He turns around without sparing Mark another glance, busying himself with the dirty coffee matching. Still, he can feel too many eyes hot on him, watching his every move, causing the back of his neck to itch.

“Are you embarrassed ‘cause you actually pay attention to me?” Mark says from behind him, laughter ringing in his words. Aware that his face is probably redder than it’s ever been before, Donghyuck doesn’t dare to turn around. He only grunts, content with frowning down at the coffee machine as he cleans it up in harsh movements. “Dude, I know your entire schedule by heart.”

It’s so fucking unfair, the way Mark blurts out confessions like they mean nothing. Donghyuck is half sure that, most of the time, Mark isn’t even aware of the importance of the words that slip out of his mouth. He parts his lips and stutters through his ideas with no filter, exposing himself so easily that Donghyuck feels almost guilty.

And this isn’t brand new information, but there’s something about Mark admitting it so openly, so unabashedly, that has Donghyuck squirming at the words.

When he turns around, though, Mark is already walking out the door, a few coins scattered on the counter. The material is still warm when Donghyuck reaches for them.

Renjun and Yangyang don’t go back to their conversation immediately, they watch Donghyuck with matching smirks, instead. “What,” Donghyuck snaps at them, slapping his hands against the bar. “You two are fucking creepy.”

“Where’s he off to?” Renjun asks, his smirk turning into a toothy grin. “Another date?”

Donghyuck huffs, rolls his eyes. “Yeah,” he admits reluctantly.

“I don’t get it,” Yangyang chimes in. He’s still smiling as if he doesn’t know how to morph his expression into anything else, but he’s looking at Donghyuck with his head tilted to the side, looking like his small white dog. “Why won’t you just date him? You like him.”

Donghyuck scoffs, at a loss of words for a second at Yangyang’s boldness when they barely know each other. “Why don’t you work on your love life instead of meddling in mine?” he asks, looking pointedly from Yangyang to Renjun, and then back to Yangyang.

But instead of getting offended or embarrassed, Yangyang’s smile spreads incredibly wider. He shifts closer to Renjun until their shoulders bump together. “Don’t worry, I’m on it.”

Donghyuck stares at them with his mouth hanging open in surprise. He can’t even feel annoyed at the retort, the bright red color that dusts Renjun’s cheeks makes it all worth it.

Jun, you’re so fucking red,” he mimics Renjun’s words, leaning against his elbows over the bar so he can shove his face into Renjun’s line of vision.

“Shut the fuck up,” Renjun glares at him, shoving his face away by pressing his open hand to Donghyuck’s cheek. “You didn’t even deny that you like him, mind your business.”

“Dickhead,” Donghyuck mumbles, flicking Renjun’s forehead before he’s turning around to resume his cleaning.

The list of things Donghyuck likes isn’t as long as the list of things he hates, and Mark Lee definitely isn’t part of it. Not yet, at least. Still, there’s this uncomfortable tension in Donghyuck’s belly that only melts away once Mark texts him half an hour later.

From: mark

she was a nightmare

i ran to the library to study

i got work later

wait up for me?

If later that day Donghyuck falls asleep on the couch trying to wait up for Mark, Renjun doesn’t need to know that.

 

---

 

The next time Mark goes on a date with one of Donghyuck’s customers, Donghyuck doesn’t hear from him all day.

As he walks to the apartment, Donghyuck’s entire body feels heavy with exhaustion. His feet sore for his earlier shift at the coffee shop, his hands covered in patches of ink due to the time he spent painting with his siblings. He stops to look up at the sky when he reaches the front door, where blues and oranges and pinks are already mixing up together. His mom used to say that this was the best hour to play the piano, but Donghyuck drops his eyes to his hands—calloused fingers full of tiny white scars that tell stories of past accidents at work, the inside of his nails dirty with blue ink—and he thinks he hasn’t been made to play the piano at all, no matter the hour.

He gets like this sometimes, when his body has been so tense throughout the entire day that the exhaustion sneaks into his mind. It takes an incredible amount of strength to keep negative thoughts out of your head when the sky seems to be falling down on you, the weight of it pushing your ribs into your lungs and making it hard to breathe.

The negativity seems to seep off his body in waves when he steps into his room. The light of the hallway is already on when he opens the door to his half-lit room, and Mark is cuddled up between Donghyuck's sheets, his cheek squished against the pillow as he faces the door, blinking sleepily when Donghyuck walks in.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Donghyuck asks as he shrugs his coat off. He drapes it over the stool by his keyboard before he sits on the edge of the bed, causing Mark to roll closer to him when the mattress dips under his weight.

"Wanted to tell you about the date," Mark mumbles, his lips dragging over the fabric of Donghyuck's pillowcase. "But you weren't home. And I was just so tired."

He sounds tired, his words slurred and rough, carrying that soft edge sleep always gives to his voice. He looks tired too, as if he's making a tremendous effort to look at Donghyuck, his eyelids heavy and swollen, the gray bags under his eyes more prominent than ever against the pale glint of his skin.

Donghyuck lifts up a hand to Mark's hair, his brain way too exhausted to ponder if this is a good idea, if he is or not allowed to do this. He brushes the hair out of Mark's forehead softly, his fingertips gliding over the hot skin there, rough with pimples Mark always hides under concealer. His hair feels nice to the touch when Donghyuck runs his fingers through the strands, soap-soft and with no traces of the gel he always uses to style it when he goes to work.

Mark blinks up at him confused, sleepily, but he doesn't pull away.

"Was it that bad?" Donghyuck asks, his voice dropping low unintentionally, almost a whisper.

"He kinda showed up wasted," Mark shrugs and the sheet that was carefully draped over his shoulder slips down his body, causing him to shiver.

"Oh my god," Donghyuck grabs at the material with his free hand, tugs at it to cover Mark's body again. He doesn't even know why he's doing it in the first place, since he should be kicking Mark out of his room, out of his bed. But the gentle orange light that's creeping in through the window and the exhausted fog in his mind makes everything seem dreamlike. "I wouldn't have set you up with him if I knew."

"I know," Mark nods reassuringly. Donghyuck's fingertips slide from Mark's hair to his ear with the movement, and Mark goes tense at the touch for a second, his chest swelling up as if he's waiting for something.

Donghyuck bites down on his lower lip as he moves his thumb over Mark's ear lobe experimentally, carefully. Another shudder runs through Mark's body, but it has nothing to do with the cold this time. Donghyuck smiles to himself, his fingertips mapping out the shell of Mark's ear, stroking the sensitive spot behind it.

Mark sighs softly, his eyes drifting shut as he relaxes against the mattress. "Everything's good now."

He falls asleep like that, cuddled up between Donghyuck's sheets, with fingers stroking his hair and ear, his sharp features relaxing in tender lines. The image floods Donghyuck's chest with something warm, his heart thrumming in his temples with strong, steady beats, charged with something he can't identify.

Donghyuck knows he's not always a nice person, but he thinks no one would have the heart to push Mark off of their bed and out of their room when he looks so peaceful. So he changes into his sleeping clothes quietly and curls into the other side of the bed, with his back turned to Mark's sleeping form.

Once he's lying there, accompanied by nothing else but the noise of the cars driving past the apartment building and Mark's familiar warmth and smell, he thinks back to the glee he used to experience at Mark's disaster dates. Only in the quiet of the night does he allow himself to wonder when it started to feel more like relief.

 

---

 

"I'm at the apartment with the kids," Donghyuck says into the phone, squirming on the couch to find a better position. "They are playing in my room right now, I think?"

"Hyuck, you should watch them," Renjun sighs on the other end. "What if they make a mess or break something? Mark..."

"They are already old enough to play on their own. I'll clean it up if something happens," Donghyuck cuts him off, his tone a lot sharper than he intended. Donghyuck doesn’t need lessons on how to take care of his own siblings, he’s been doing just fine for over seven years now. But he forces himself to breathe in deep through his nose and keep in mind that Renjun is only trying to help."Mark isn't even here anyway."

"Oh? Where's he off to on a Sunday?"

"Work," Donghyuck huffs out as he stretches his legs to rest his socked feet on top of the coffee table. If Mark were here, he would smack his thighs until Donghyuck took his feet off. "He's barely home lately. Either on a date, working or studying."

"The dates thingie is still going on?" Renjun asks, and his words reach Donghyuck tangled up in a giggle he can't quite recognize. "Shhh, shut up," Renjun hushes, his voice sounding far away as if he's muffling the mic on purpose.

"Of course it's still going on, it's fucking funny," Donghyuck smiles against the phone, reaching for the remote of the TV with his free hand. "He hasn't had a single good one yet."

Renjun huffs down the line. Donghyuck can picture him frowning with the clarity of someone that's known him for too many years to keep track. "Where do you even find these people? Dating apps?"

"Work, actually. You know how many weird people swing by the coffee shop."

"Hyuck," Renjun sighs, putting on his know-it-all tone. Donghyuck tenses up on his seat, bracing himself for a lecture. He sets his jaw, gritting his teeth to stop himself from blowing up at whatever comes out of Renjun’s mouth. "Are you even trying? Or are just waiting to get kicked out again?”

Donghyuck breathes through his nose, counting backward in his head before he parts his lips to reply. "I'm having fun Renjun, you should try it sometime."

The line goes quiet for a while, tense like wire. Donghyuck can hear the wheels of Renjun's brain turning, pondering if it's worth it to prod or not, an impending argument hanging over their heads like a death penalty.

In the end, Renjun sighs for the millionth time. "You know some decent single people, though," he suggests, a surrender of sorts.

"Like?" Donghyuck grants, accepting the quiet truce.

"Lucas, for example?"

Donghyuck scowls at the TV, wiggling a hand in the air even if no one can see him. "You're crazy. He's way too tall. Mark'd look like a smurf."

There's another loud giggle down the line, and Renjun shushes it again. "What about Jaemin?"

"His teeth are too white, it freaks me out."

"Those are shit excuses, Donghyuck," Renjun deadpans.

Donghyuck's scowl only deepens, so does the weird stingy feeling in his belly, his muscles all taut as if his body is ready for battle. He redirects his annoyance to mockery and teases, "You want me to set him up with Yangyang? He's quite nice, isn't he?"

Another silence stretches between them, longer and tenser than before. Then, Renjun scoffs loudly. "Stick to the shitty dates."

The loud giggle is back, ringing into Donghyuck's ear like a summer song. "Oh shit. You're with him," Donghyuck exclaims, his free hand flying to his mouth in astonishment. "You're in speaker and he's there with you, isn't he?" he chokes out in a broken laugh.

"Hi, Donghyuck!" Yangyang chimes in, loud and chirpy and all things happy, the only way Donghyuck's ever known him.

They both burst into hysterical giggles at the same time, their loud cackles muffling whatever Renjun is trying to say until he gets fed up and the line goes dead. Donghyuck's belly hurts with something tender.

 

---

 

Donghyuck likes some things, though it's a list considerably shorter than the one about the things he hates.

He likes the color yellow, the ugly sweaters his grandma gifts him for Christmas, and those cheap magnets he uses to stick his siblings' drawings to the kitchen in his mother's house. He likes singing when he cooks, singing when he cleans, singing when he's working. He also likes the sun, warmth stroking his cheeks, his skin gathering a tan glow that never quite leaves him, not even when the weather turns gray. And he likes autumn mornings when it’s not raining, when the clean air that sneaks through his open window is cold, but not enough to sting, when the room smells of scrunched flowers and hot drinks and children's laughter.

And now, sitting on his bed in this early autumn morning, he can admit to himself that he likes Mark like this: with his round glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose as he looks down at Donghyuck's keyboard, his rough slender fingers pressing the keys with gentle care, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

Mark isn't perfect, not at all. He wears socks with flip flops, all of his clothes look the same but in different colors, and he keeps tripping over the same note again and again, the wrinkle between his eyebrows getting deeper each time. He’s humming softly to himself in tune with the song he's playing, but his lyrics are all made up. He hasn't combed his hair today, wild black spikes pointing everywhere. He's got pimples on his forehead and his chin looks rough with stubble he's been too lazy to shave off.

Still, Donghyuck likes him like this—soft with sleep, with his guard down, a small smile painted on his lips when Donghyuck joins his humming with the proper lyrics of the song.

"Wow, man," Mark breathes out, his eyes growing wide as if he's just been enchanted. When he looks up at Donghyuck, the black of his eyes twinkles with the sunlight that's coming through the open window. "You're so good! Like, your voice? You, wow—You sound amazing."

Mark is just so nice. The only thing Donghyuck can offer him as an answer is a high-pitched, surprised giggle, so caught off guard by the sudden praise that his brain can't catch up, still mumbling the lyrics to the song Mark is playing.

They stare at each other and, as his eyes bore into Mark's, Donghyuck counts backward in his head. But when he reaches zero, Mark keeps holding his gaze, his lips falling open as his hands slow down on the keys.

The look they are sharing lasts a lot longer than usual, longer than it should, long enough to mean something. But Donghyuck can't grasp the meaning behind it, because he's not skilled in this kind of language, no sarcasm or mockery to rely on.

Mark is still the first one to look away, though, clearing his throat as he focuses back on the keyboard, the tips of his ears crimson red. And Donghyuck may not know what anything means, but what he does know is that Mark is so nice, he deserves someone just as nice.

 

---

 

"You should buy more magnets," Donghyuck comments as he stares at the door of the fridge in his family house, the dirty white of it almost invisible, covered by crumpled colorful drawings that make little to no sense. "Some of the art is falling, mom. Look at that, there's fucking shoe prints on the bottom one."

His mom sighs tiredly as she walks over to him, a cup of hot tea between her hands. "How many times do I have to tell you that I don't like it when you swear?"

"The kids aren't even home," Donghyuck scowls, hissing when he reaches for the simmering tea and the hot surface burns his fingertips. "Goddammit. I know it's getting colder, but this is too much," he sets the cup on the kitchen table with a loud clank, shoving the thumb finger of his right hand on his mouth to soothe the sting as he swats the other up in the air.

"You're still such a child," his mom says with her usual fond laugh, a twinkling sound that tugs Donghyuck's lips up in a tight smile around his finger.

"I've been out of this house for over a year," he points out once he takes his thumb out of his mouth with a pop. "I'm a fully capable adult."

"Blow before you drink," his mom warns him when he reaches for the cup one more time. She's looking at him with this warm glow, all the lines of her face soft in a knowing expression, something Donghyuck has only ever seen on her and no one else. "You're gonna get burnt again, be careful."

Donghyuck rolls his eyes at her, but he does as he's been told. He takes the cup up to his mouth, blowing away the smoke that's coming out of it before it can hit his face and dampen his lips and cheeks. When he finally takes a sip, it's the kind that burns the roof of his mouth and the walls of his throat, stinging his belly so harshly that it makes him feel cold on the outside. It also makes him feel younger in a way, takes him back to those times his mom always cooked breakfast for him, back when the milk was always too hot and he was always too impatient, so his tongue hurt throughout his entire way to school.

His mom's tea is always too stale, though. And even though he's gotten more than used to it through the years, he likes it best when he prepares it himself in Mark's kitchen, with his three spoons of sugar and some chocolate cookies he always steals from the coffee shop.

He must've pulled a face at the heat of the drink because his mom laughs softly one more time, her eyes squinted in a fond smile as she pats the back of Donghyuck's head.

"Be careful, Hyuck," he says with a deep sigh. Then, she's drawing out a chair from underneath the table and flopping down next to him. She rests her elbows on the table and intertwines her fingers under her chin, the way she always does when she wants to start a serious conversation. "Listen, baby. You've been pretty tense all day. I know you don't like to talk about your private matters with me, but I know you, Hyuck."

It's not that Donghyuck doesn't like to talk to her about his private life, it's that he hates it. And even more when it comes to embarrassing shit like this: Mark Lee running in circles through his mind, made up images of him on the first real date Donghyuck has set up for him, with someone genuinely nice for once.

So he shrugs and forces a smile as he takes the cup back to his mouth, so he can avoid giving replying to a question that wasn't even formulated. He doesn't even have an answer, anyway. All he knows is the piercing jab in his stomach whenever he thinks about the possibility of Mark spending the night out of the apartment, in someone else’s home.

His mom sighs again. Everyone is always sighing around him. "I know things have been tough for you lately. You had some trouble with your roommate. You didn't tell me much, but...," she trails off, all kindness, choosing the perfect words carefully so she won't set him off accidentally.

She's always been the one who got him better, the one who knew how to handle him best. But Donghyuck's been getting better at holding his tongue lately. He's starting to think he doesn't need people to walk on eggshells for him, not anymore.

"I just want to make sure you know I'll always make room here for you if you decide to come back, alright? If you want to focus on your studies, I can take care of you."

The way she says it—her lips stretched into a smile that accentuates the wrinkles around the seams, her eyes almost closed as she looks at him between her eyelashes—is so genuine that it burns more painful than the hot tea.

Donghyuck wants to smile back at her reassuringly, wants to promise her that he gets it, that he knows. But he can't, because no one knows better than him that what she's promising is nothing but a pipe dream, that the food she keeps in the fridge will never be enough to feed one more mouth. There's not enough space for him to come back when his grandma is staying in his room and his dad is sleeping on the couch. There's not enough money for them to pay for a nursing home. His mom doesn't have enough hands to take care of everything her heart wants. And she would try, he knows she would. But there's never enough of anything, and everything would end up crumbling down over their heads in seconds. Donghyuck knows, because they've been there before.

But when he smiles back at her and says, "Don't worry mom, I'm doing fine. Things with Mark are good, too, I promise," he swears he's being just as genuine.

Maybe, a few months ago, his old self would have clung to this opportunity his mom is offering with clammy hands, and he wouldn't have let go of this chance until he was forced to move out again if they wanted to make ends meet. But present Donghyuck is digging his socked feet into the cold tiles of the kitchen floor, and missing the obnoxious pink slippers that are waiting for him back at the apartment.

Maybe, an old dusty elevator, a creaky mattress, and ugly flower jars can make a pretty decent house if you give them the chance. Maybe, present Donghyuck only needs the light of the hallway turned on and the smell of Mark's shower soap filling up the air of the entire apartment to be able to sleep at night.

As he stares at the drawings on the fridge, he thinks that, if Mark doesn't spend the night at the apartment, Donghyuck will sleep here. Because, maybe, what makes the apartment feel a bit like home is that it never makes Donghyuck feel lonely.

He jumps in his chair when his phone starts to ring obnoxiously in the quiet of the house. His mom laughs at him one more time, ever so caring, and Donghyuck frowns at her as he brings the phone to his ear.

"Hey, loser," he says chirpily, plastering a smile on his face. He ignores the fact that his heart jumped to his throat and decided to settle there when he saw Mark's name on the screen.

"Hyuck, hi," Mark replies instantly, high-pitched as if he wasn't expecting Donghyuck to pick up. "Where are you, dude? I came home—I just got to the apartment and it's empty? But you don't work today. I mean, it's Saturday, your shift should've ended hours ago. Or am I getting it wrong?"

"You home?" Donghyuck perks up, the word slipping out of his mouth before he has time to stop it. "With your date?"

"No, I'm—" Mark cuts himself off with an awkward cough. He has the habit of clearing his throat whenever he stumbles over his words as if that's gonna spell his awkwardness away. "I'm alone. It was... Shit. The date was kinda terrible. But it doesn't matter," he rushes, speaking so fast that Donghyuck doesn't even have the chance to cut him off to tease him. "Where are you, though? I was hoping we could, like, make dinner or something."

Donghyuck can't see the expression on his face, but by the way his mom raises her eyebrows at him, it must be something embarrassing. He can feel the heat setting high on his cheeks and across his nape, the gentle warmth of relief flooding his belly at something so stupid as making dinner for Mark, because Donghyuck knows damn well that he'll be the only one cooking.

He scowls at himself, shaking his hand in front of his mom's face to get her to stop looking at him as if she knows something he doesn't. "I'm at my mom's, but I'll be walking back soon."

"Your mom’s?" Mark mumbles, with a weird edge to his voice. Then, his words break into a giggle. "Well, fuck."

"What's wrong with my mom, dickhead?"

"No! Nothing! Nothing's wrong, I swear. It's just... It's funny, that's all," Mark says, and then shuts up, as if that explains something.

"You know I can't read your mind, right?" Donghyuck rolls his eyes, amused exasperation coating his words. "What the hell is so funny?"

"Do you wanna know why the date was so bad? But you can't make fun of me," Mark says. Donghyuck hums, the wheels of his brain already starting to turn to find the quickest joke to throw at Mark. "This dude... He wanted to introduce me to his parents. Like, today."

Donghyuck’s mouth falls open in a surprised, choked laugh. He looks at his mom with wide eyes just to find her looking back at him with a confused expression, her mouth still twisted in a knowing smile.

"Asshole, you said you wouldn't laugh at me," Mark complains at the other end of the line, but his voice is light and lilting.

"I didn't say anything," Donghyuck reminds him. Then, he smirks into the phone, winking at his mom before he says, "Mark, you wanna meet my mom? I can put her on the line."

"Oh, fuck you," Mark growls at the same time that Donghyuck's mom beams at him. "Don't be a little shit and come home soon," Mark blurts out, his words all squished together as he tries to not trip over his embarrassment.

Mark hangs up, then. Donghyuck laughs so much that he can't even explain anything to his mom, but, by the look on her face, he guesses she doesn't really need an explanation.

Usually, Donghyuck hates feeling known. Even if it's only in front of his mom, he's way too vulnerable, unarmed, and naked. But today his cheeks hurt a little bit too much for him to care.

 

---

 

"There are only three days left, Hyuck. Three!" Mark exclaims as he paces through the living room. He's been walking in circles for half an hour now, gesturing nervously with his hands as he rambles. "How am I supposed to show up all alone? Like, do you know my mom? Well, no, you don't. But, god, Donghyuck. She gets so annoying when it comes to these things. Not only her, but my entire family..." he stops pacing to stomp his foot against the floor like a little kid, throwing his head back as he groans. "She will be like 'oh Mark, how come you can't get a single date? You've had months!',” he mimics in a ridiculously high-pitched voice, his face pulled into an exaggerated stern expression. “As if I have time to breathe with all the extra hours she has me doing..."

"Why don't you tell her just that?" Donghyuck cuts in, but Mark only stares at him with wide eyes and arched eyebrows, as if he has just said the most horrendous thing ever.

"I knew you wanted me gone, Hyuck, but wow. That's like, a new low, even for you," he says, clutching his shirt over his chest dramatically. He starts pacing again, and Donghyuck rolls his eyes at him, sliding his gaze to the window, where little droplets of rain keep skidding down the transparent surface. "She would go livid if I complained about being overworked, man. I can't. Shit, that'd ruin the entire wedding. Then, she would get even angrier and—"

"Alright, stop moaning already," Donghyuck cuts him off. He gets up from the couch to stretch his arms over his chest, letting out a low groan at the tension lifting from his shoulders. "Go put your shoes on. Maybe grab a coat too, 'cause it looks like it's gonna be raining all day," Donghyuck says, frowning to the window.

But Mark doesn't move immediately. He stands there, a few steps away from Donghyuck, eyeing him suspiciously. "What? Why?"

"I got one more date for you, dumbass," Donghyuck claps his hands twice, then wiggles them in the air as if he were trying to scare an annoying bug. "Get moving, c'mon."

"I swear if this is another one of your mock dates..." Mark trails off, walking backward so he can keep his wary gaze on Donghyuck.

Donghyuck only smirks at him. If Mark is convinced that Donghyuck has not set him up on a single real date ever, well, let him. It's not as if this one is gonna be any better when Donghyuck’s got no idea of what the hell he's doing.

 

---

 

No matter how you look at it, everything is Renjun's fault.

If he had just accepted Donghyuck into his apartment, if he had let him sleep on his couch long enough for Donghyuck to find another place to stay, Donghyuck wouldn't have had to crawl back to Mark. And if Donghyuck hadn't gone back to Mark's apartment, he would've never made this stupid deal, he would've never realized that maybe (just maybe) Mark deserved something nice. He would've never grown so attached to the broken elevator and the ugly slippers and his uncomfortable mattress. He wouldn't care about the possibility of getting kicked out.

So, now, here he is, wandering around the streets of Seoul under a threatening grey sky, with no umbrella to shelter him if it starts raining because he thought Mark would be grabbing one before they left the apartment.

Winter is around the corner, and Donghyuck hates it. He hates the thick clouds that keep the sun locked up, shortening the days in the process, so much that he can physically feel the time slipping through his fingers. He hates the dull, boring grey light that paints everything sad. He hates the naked trees, and the frost that covers cars and windows, and the way his toes get so cold inside of his sneakers that each step is painful. He hates the cold air, how it seems to burn everything inside of him with each breath he takes, stinging to the point that, sometimes, he gets tearful at the empty feeling inside of his chest.

Luckily, Mark likes plenty of things.

They've been out for over an hour, and Mark still hasn't seemed to catch on to the fact that Donghyuck has no plan whatsoever. He's too busy beaming at his surroundings, pointing at the few Christmas lights that have already been set up even though there's still more than half a month left for the holiday, stopping by the roasted chestnuts stands just because he enjoys the smell of it, stepping on the few dry leaves they find along the way because the loves the noise they make under his feet.

Winter is around the corner, and that's exactly why Donghyuck leads Mark to an ice cream parlor, so he can get something summery into his system and melt away the crankiness that settles into his bones at the cold weather. And Mark goes along with it, his cheeks and nose turned red by the chilled air, but a wide smile painted on his chapped lips.

"Are you gonna tell me where we're going?" Mark asks once they pay for their ice creams and resume their wandering, chocolate smeared around his mouth and dripping down his fingers, eyes wide in confusion.

"Dude, you're making a mess," Donghyuck points out, grabbing one of the tissues he got at the parlor. "Let go," he pats Mark’s fingers with it, motioning for him to pass his ice cream to his other hand. Then, Donghyuck starts to rub the tissue over Mark's fingers and between his knuckles as carefully as he can, trying to sweep the chocolate away.

Cleaning something up with only one hand is pretty difficult, his left one wrapped tightly around his own cone. Mark is shaking due to the cold, which causes Donghyuck to smear the chocolate down to his wrist, getting Mark's pale skin all sticky and shiny.

"Can you stop moving for a second?" Donghyuck scowls, looking up at Mark.

Only then does he realize how close to they are standing, leaning towards each other unconsciously, their foreheads almost resting together.

The sight of Mark like this burns hotter than the cold air. He's flushed red, his nose peeling off due to the bite of winter. His round eyes are twinkling with the reflection of the Christmas lights, already on because the days are getting shorter. His chapped lips are pale and stained with chocolate, curled upwards as he giggles down at Donghyuck, his hand shaking in Donghyuck's grip.

Donghyuck finds himself thinking that it suits them, to be eating ice cream when the weather doesn't match. They've been doing everything wrong from the start. Donghyuck stepped into Mark's house with his left foot, doomed from day one, but eventually, the apartment still managed to feel more like home than his mother's place.

He's taken back to their first meeting, when the warm weather and his own nerves were sticking his clothes to his skin, when he refused to shake Mark's hand because his were damp with sweat. Irony is a bitch, he thinks, now that he wouldn't mind curling his fingers around Mark's, gross and sticky with ice cream. Now that he wants to intertwine their hands together and pull Mark closer, just close enough to be able to lick his lips clean.

Donghyuck has always hated the rain, but never as much as today. Sudden drops of water hit the sensitive skin of his cheeks, causing him to jump away from Mark, startled. Mark is still smiling, his usually wide eyes wrinkled with the size of his grin, his gaze still trained on Donghyuck's face even though it's starting to pour over them.

"Goddammit," Donghyuck curses under his breath, shoving the dirty tissue in the pocket of his coat before he's reaching for Mark's hand. Mark's wrist is freezing cold under Donghyuck's touch when he grips and tugs at it, pulling him along as he runs through the streets of Seoul in search of shelter.

They are both out of breath once they stop running, squeezing themselves between the crowd that’s shielded under the eave of some clothing store. Mark’s body is pressed up against Donghyuck’s, wet and cold and shivering, his back hair plastered to his forehead as he smiles up at him with chattering teeth.

“I dropped my ice cream,” he says with a loud cackle, his lips still cream-stained.

Donghyuck groans, throwing his head back until it hits the glass of the store window, “How can you be so fucking happy when it’s freezing cold?”

Mark shrugs, his smile shrinking into something more reserved, something private. “You cold?”

Donghyuck isn’t sure what’s more uncomfortable, his wet clothes clinging to the skin of his shoulders or Mark’s scrutinizing gaze running up and down his body. He starts to shiver under the weight of Mark’s eyes, all his muscles pulled into taut lines at the cold, his body curling into itself, a defense mechanism against the freezing breeze that’s pushing the drops of rain towards them despite the roof above their heads.

“C’mere,” Mark mumbles, his eyes growing soft as he slides an arm between the store window and Donghyuck’s neck, so he can curl it around Donghyuck’s shoulders and pull him against his body.

“I’m gonna get your clothes dirty,” Donghyuck complains, his ice cream shaking in the loose grip of his frozen fingers. But he doesn’t resist when Mark hugs him tighter. “And your hand is freezing cold,” he hisses at the feeling of Mark’s thumb brushing over the side of his neck, raising goosebumps down to his wrists.

“Shut up or I’m pushing you into the rain,” Mark’s threatens, his lips moving against Donghyuck’s hair as he speaks.

When Donghyuck pushes his nose into the warm skin of Mark’s neck, he tells himself it is revenge for Mark’s cold fingers sliding over his nape. He stays tucked there, breathing in the scent of Mark’s body soap as he soaks in the heat coming from him. He keeps his eyes screwed shut because, as his mom used to say, nothing is real if you don’t see it. 

“We should stay here until it stops pouring,” he whispers. Mark tenses up against him as Donghyuck’s chapped lips drag over his skin, but he doesn’t pull away.

“What about my date, though? Are we just gonna ditch them?”

Donghyuck pushes himself away from Mark just to glare at him, his mouth half-open in disbelief. They are still so close together that their noses could knock against each other, Mark’s arm firmly settled around Donghyuck’s shoulders so he doesn’t get too far away. Donghyuck’s ice cream is already melting, dripping down his fingers.

He should pull away, Donghyuck thinks. “I’m your date, dumbass,” he snaps.

Realization washes over Mark so visibly, ever so expressive. His eyes and mouth fall open in perfect circles at the same time, and he gapes at Donghyuck like a fish out of the water. “You look ridiculous right now. I should squash this ice cream all over your face,” Donghyuck grumbles before he’s hiding himself in the crook of Mark’s neck once again, where he doesn’t have to look into his eyes.

“Let’s walk home,” Mark says out of the blue. His arm slides down Donghyuck’s shoulders to settle around his waist, giving it a small squeeze before he’s pulling away. As far away as the other people under the eave allow him to get.

“It’s still fucking pouring,” Donghyuck frowns at him, rougher than he intends to be. But it’s freezing cold, he’s wet and uncomfortable, he can barely feel his toes, and his ice cream is turning his skin all gross and sticky.

“I don’t think it’s gonna stop any time soon,” Mark reaches out to take Donghyuck’s ice cream out of his grip. “Clean that up,” he says, motioning to Donghyuck’s stained fingers with a tilt of his head. Then, he’s stepping under the pouring rain.

Donghyuck stays sheltered under the eave as he watches Mark run off through the rain in search of a bin. He grabs the tissue he used earlier with Mark to wipe his own fingers clean, but he only does a half-assed attempt at it, his eyes too busy following Mark’s body. He looks so carefree like this, relaxed in a way he rarely has the time to be.

He’s laughing when he gets back to Donghyuck, all chirpy and loud, smiling so big that his cheek probably hurt. He stands in front of Donghyuck, but under the rain, his jet-black hair plastered to his forehead and temples, droplets of water sliding down his pale skin, getting lost under his wet clothes.

“C’mon,” he says, stretching a shaky hand towards Donghyuck. “Rain can be fun.”

“You’re gonna catch a cold,” Donghyuck tells him, watching Mark’s trembling fingers warily.

“It’s my date,” Mark pouts, aiming where it hurts best. He’s always known his own strengths, as shy as awkward he may be sometimes. He’s known Donghyuck’s weak spots for a long time, now, and Donghyuck isn’t sure if he likes that.

What Donghyuck is sure of is that he hates the rain. He could list a million different reasons why this is a bad idea off the top of his head. But Mark keeps looking at him with wide, twinkling eyes, his head tilted to the side as his hand keeps shaking.

Mark’s hand is rough and freezing cold around Donghyuck’s when he curls his still sticky fingers around Donghyuck’s wrist. His smile grows impossibly wider when Donghyuck allows himself to be dragged under the pouring water.

Donghyuck still hates the rain. He hates the weight of his damp clothes over his shoulders, the roughness of his wet jeans scratching the sensitive skin between his thighs. He hates the water that sneaks into his shoes, soaking his socks and wrinkling up the pads of his toes to the point that it hurts. He hates the wet strands of hair that stick to his forehead, covering his eyes and making it hard to see. And he hates the sudden bursts of cold air that tense up his body in taut lines, forcing him to set his jaw tightly to stop himself from shivering.

But Mark loves rain. He enjoys throwing his head back so the freezing droplets can fall directly over his red, sensitive cheeks. He likes getting his hair wet and messing it up with his cold fingers to create the ugliest hairstyles. He loves walking through empty streets, under the Christmas lights, and stepping into every poodle he finds along the way.

And, maybe, Donghyuck doesn’t care about the rain that much when Mark looks at him with his eyes squinted in glee.

 

---

 

When they get back to the apartment, Mark turns into a sneezing ball of blankets. He curls up on one side of the couch, already in his sleeping clothes and with a box of tissues at hand reach, and he looks up at Donghyuck with those wide, bright eyes and says, “Make dinner, please?”

“You’re such a dickhead, you know that, right?” Donghyuck glares at him, his arms crossed over his chest as he pulls his robe tighter around his body, still shivering even in the warmth of their house.

But Mark only cocks his head at him, his eyebrows lowered in that kicked puppy look he’s mastered so well. “It’s still my date, though. Be nice to me.”

“You’re on thin ice, Mark Lee,” Donghyuck points at him, but he’s already walking out of the living room and into the kitchen. “On thin fucking ice.”

Mark is blowing his nose when Donghyuck brings him hot soup a while later. He smiles up at Donghyuck with blushed cheeks and a sweaty forehead, managing to look both fever-flushed and pale as his teeth chatter together.

“God, you truly are an idiot,” Donghyuck shakes his head as he hands him the soup, flopping down next to him afterward. “Rain is fun, my ass.”

“It was worth it, though,” Mark says, wiggling on the couch to readjust his position as he balances the soup between his shaky hands.

“I swear to god, if you drop it all over yourself I’m not making you a new one.”

“Shhh, I’m concentrating,” Mark frowns, kicking the blankets under his body so he can drop his legs on top of Donghyuck’s lap, leaning his back against the armrest. “Grab some of the blanket for yourself, you’re shaking.”

Donghyuck scowls at him, but he doesn’t push him away. He tugs at the blankets, covering Mark’s legs and his body with them. “And whose fault is that, mhm?” He sneaks his arms under the sheets, so he can get as warm as possible, his fingers wrapping themselves around Mark’s ankles instinctively. “Dammit, you’re freezing cold,” Donghyuck mumbles, rubbing his hands up and down Mark’s claves.

"Again, worth it," Mark talks around the spoon, his face already gaining a healthier color thanks to the warmth of the soup. "That was, like, the best time I've had in... In so fucking long, dude. I can't even remember," he admits quietly, his eyes staring at Donghyuck all round and sincere.

It's always like this with him. He gets embarrassed and awkward with the most mundane things but, then, admits his feelings so openly. Unfiltered confessions fall from his lips unprompted as if being honest is the only thing he knows how to do. And once his words catch up with his brain, he flushes red to the tip of his nose and casts his eyes away, like he's doing right now.

Donghyuck is still trying to find his voice to reply when Mark speaks again. "I did have fun, you truly found me a good date," he chuckles, his eyes focused on his soup so he doesn't have to struggle to hold Donghyuck's gaze. "I was kinda worried for a second there, you know? Like, with all the bad dates and everything... I heard," he frowns at himself as if he isn't able to find the proper words, clearing his throat the way he always does when he gets nervous. "Renjun mentioned once that you... I know that you've wanted to move back in with your parents for the longest time. I thought you wanted me to kick you out for real, or something," he finally blurts out, his rambling broken by a faint giggle.

Donghyuck allows himself time to take the words in, to take Mark in. He runs his eyes over the rosy cheeks, the peeled nose, and the chapped lips. He digs his fingers into the now warm skin of Mark's calves, dragging a soft pleased groan out of him. Then, Donghyuck licks his lips before he's choking out, "Come to the wedding with me."

Mark raises his head in a startled jump that almost knocks his soup to the floor. "What?"

"It's not like you have a better option, right?" Donghyuck snaps, sticking his tongue into his right cheek to stop himself from speaking more than he should.

The shame is back, sticky and hot as it drips down his nape. It's the dizziness that takes over him whenever he allows himself to be vulnerable, like the feeling that overtakes you when you get up way too fast. There's this weight on his body, starting from his shoulders and running down to his knees, like a force that's trying to push him into the ground. Blood is rushing through his ears, buzzing in waves. His chest is like an empty hallway, the sound of his heartbeat echoing through every vein.

He can't tell the expression he's doing right now, but he's shivering from something other than the cold, his cheeks blazing hot. Mark keeps looking at him with big, surprised eyes, and Donghyuck keeps counting backward in his head, waiting for the second he will look away, but he doesn't. Time keeps stretching and stretching between them and Mark refuses to look away, his cheeks cherry red in a shade that probably matches Donghyuck's.

"It's my brother's wedding, dumbass," Mark finally breaks the silence, his voice rough and low and breathless, a tone he only uses when he's just woken up and hasn't spoken in hours. "Why are you inviting me when you aren't even invited?"

"Oh," Donghyuck says, whispers, his voice almost gone as well. He clears his throat and tries again, "Oh, yeah. You're right."

They keep staring at each other, wide eyes and lit up cheeks and dry mouths, Donghyuck's heart ticking like the seconds passing by.

Then, Mark smirks, and says, "Come to the wedding with me?"

"What?" Donghyuck huffs out, his face breaking into an amused smile.

"It's not like I have a better option, right?" Mark crooks a teasing eyebrow at him. "But please, be careful and don't go ruining the cake or something."

"That is if we even go to the wedding because I'm pretty sure you're sick, smartass," Donghyuck pinches the skin of Mark's calf, causing him to yelp out loud and spill some soup over himself. "That's what you get for being an asshole."

Mark flips him off, but the smile on his face stays there, radiant and honest.

 

---

 

Donghyuck's never hated weddings, but he's never been very fond of them either. He likes the food, he likes to dance, he likes having an excuse to make himself look nice. He doesn't like having to hold conversations with strangers, he doesn't like having to attend mass, he doesn't like fancy shoes that make his feet hurt. And he doesn't like having to be the witness of someone else's love when he's felt lonely for way too long. That's why he isn't particularly excited about tomorrow's event.

However, though, he does like the way Mark looks like this.

It's already late at night, the day creeping closer to midnight, so Mark's hair is all tousled, soap-soft and falling gently over his forehead. He's wearing his round glasses, resting on the tip of his nose as he keeps his gaze on the floor. His socked feet make small noises against the parquet as he paces around the room, his arms gesticulating nervously. And he's wearing the black suit, the one Donghyuck got for him.

Donghyuck is sprawled on his own bed, his cheek resting on his fist as he follows Mark with his eyes. The suit fits Mark's body perfectly, it hugs his thighs and arms nicely, accentuates the line of his wide shoulders and the curve of his back. Donghyuck will never admit it out loud, but he thinks he could get lost in the shape of him, in every wrinkle and seam and button of the suit Donghyuck himself gifted him.

"You can't attend a wedding in jeans, Donghyuck," Mark is saying for the millionth time, his right hand pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "For fuck's sake, jeans? Seriously?"

"I don't know why you're so surprised," Donghyuck’s voice muffled due to the fist squishing his cheek. "I literally spent all my money on your suit, how was I supposed to get one for myself, as well?"

Mark groans, stopping his pacing to level Donghyuck with a look. He's glaring at first—crooked eyebrows and a twisted mouth—but then it melts into something softer. He tilts his head to the side, pulling down the seams of his lips in a sad pout.

"No," Donghyuck warns him, pushing himself up on his elbows. Mark opens his mouth to retaliate, but Donghyuck points a finger at him, cutting him off before he even has the chance to get a word out. "I know what you're thinking. I'm not gonna wear that suit. I bought that for you, as an—" as an 'I'm sorry', he thinks, but the words just won't come out. "I ruined yours, Mark. You don't even have anything else to wear!"

"Okay! Fine! Dang, calm down," Mark chimes in, throwing his arms in the air. "Get dressed, then. We're gonna find you a suit."

"Where?" Donghyuck sits on the edge of the bed, eyeing him suspiciously.

"Renjun's, of course."

 

---

 

"What the hell are you doing here," Renjun deadpans as soon as he opens the door to his apartment.

As expected of someone in the middle of the night, he's already wearing his sleeping clothes, bare-faced and with his feet stuffed into those cute animal slippers he always uses, the tough guy.

Donghyuck ruffles Renjun's hair when he shoulders his way into the house, "Nice to see you too, little one."

Renjun tries to duck out of Donghyuck's reach unsuccessfully, so he just ends up scowling at Donghyuck after he closes the door, walking him and Mark into the living room. "Seriously, Donghyuck. What do you want?"

"Don't talk to me like that," Donghyuck points a finger at him as he flops down on the familiar couch, squeezed right between Jaemin and Jeno. "It was Mark's idea."

Renjun turns around to look at Mark, who's standing in the living room with him, changed into a boring tracksuit and a coat. Renjun opens his mouth to question Mark, but Yangyang comes out of the kitchen before a word can leave his lips.

"What's going on?" Yangyang asks, looking around the room with a confused smile, two plates of food in his hands.

"Wait a minute," Donghyuck pushes himself forward on the couch. He rests his elbows on his thighs and cranes his neck to look past Jeno, his eyes running through Yangyang's pajamas. Next to Donghyuck, Jaemin giggles unabashedly. "So you threw a fit when I asked you to lend me your couch but you have no problem with Yangyang spending the night?" Donghyuck asks, throwing an accusatory look at Renjun.

The frown on Renjun's face deepens. He curses under his breath, crossing his arms over his chest as he keeps squinting his eyes at Donghyuck. But, once again, Yangyang cuts him off when he's about to reply.

"I don't sleep on the couch, though," Yangyang says, tilting his head to the side like a confused puppy. But the wide grin on his face says he knows damn well what he's doing.

Donghyuck's mouth falls open in a scoff. He stares at Renjun, waiting for him to say something in his defense, but Renjun only purses his lips together, his face growing a shade of red Donghyuck has never seen on him before. The sight is so unusual that Jeno joins Jaemin's laughter this time.

"Goddammit, Yang," Renjun mumbles, pointing towards the hallway. "Go wait in the room, I'll go as soon as I'm done here."

"Nice to see you, guys," Yangyang says cheerfully, flashing the room another grin before disappears down the hallway. A few seconds later, Renjun's bedroom door snaps shut after him.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me about this," Donghyuck complains in exaggerated annoyance. "What kind of friendship is this?"

"You better shut your mouth and tell me why you're here if you don't want me to speak," Renjun tilts his head towards Mark, who's standing still next to him, looking between them like he has no idea of what's going on.

"How am I supposed to shut up and tell you at once?" Donghyuck pushes it, falling back against the couch, half on top of Jaemin, who huffs into his ear.

"Don't test me, Hyuck," Renjun threatens him.

"We need a suit," Mark chimes in hurriedly. "We got a wedding tomorrow, and Donghyuck wanted to attend in jeans."

"Jeans? Seriously, Hyuck?" Jaemin says, at the same time that Jeno asks, "A wedding? Together?"

But Renjun only rolls his eyes at them, throwing his hands in the air in an exasperated gesture as if nothing Donghyuck and Mark do can surprise him anymore. Then, he walks out and back into the room in the blink of an eye, making it clear that he’s more than eager to get them out of his sight.

"Here," he pushes a cardboard box into Donghyuck's lap. Donghyuck opens it to take a peek inside, running his fingers over the nice linen fabric, a pitch-black color that will go nicely with Mark's. "Get out now," Renjun says, stepping back and crossing his arms over his chest one more time.

"Let me try it on, at least," Donghyuck asks.

But Renjun walks closer again, only to snap the box closed. "No."

"C'mon, Jun. It's probably gonna be small on me."

"I don't give a fuck, Hyuck," Renjun reaches out to wrap a hand around Donghyuck's wrist, tugging at it to pull him to his feet. "I wanna sleep."

"Oh, yeah. They call it sleeping, now," Jaemin says in his sweet, mellow voice, dragging a surprised laugh out of both Mark and Jeno. Donghyuck throws him a proud, pleased smile over his shoulder, and replies with Jaemin an easy wink.

"You shut the fuck up, too," Renjun grunts at Jaemin at the same time that he starts to push Donghyuck towards the door. "You can thank me later," he snaps, and then he's shutting the door loudly after Mark and Donghyuck.

"Isn't my best friend the nicest person ever?" Donghyuck sighs, hugging the box to his chest.

"Well, considering he just lent you a suit in the middle of the night, I'd say yes," Mark offers him with a small smile.

And Donghyuck, for once, agrees out loud.

 

---

 

Donghyuck doesn't understand why someone thinks that holding a wedding during the first half of December is a good idea. It's so cold outside that his cheeks burn when the chilly air brushes his skin, he has to wrinkle up his nose every time he breathes so his nose won't sting that much, and the wind is so strong that he's starting to think he styled his hair for nothing.

Maybe this is the reason why every single member of Mark's family looks like they are having the worst day of their lives. He's gotten nothing else but cold smiles, curt nods, and stern looks since the moment they arrived at the church together. Mark's mom tried to make small conversation before the ceremony started, and even though she gave Donghyuck the kindest smile he's seen all day, he's got her evaluating eyes engraved on his mind, still piercing hot through the fabric of his suit.

He hasn’t had the chance to approach Mark’s brother yet—too busy with the entire ceremony and the after-photoshoot—but the guy did throw Donghyuck a funny look from across the chapel earlier. He leaned towards Mark to whisper something into his ear as they stood by the altar, his eyes lingering on Donghyuck’s legs.

The thing is, Donghyuck has been feeling a bit ridiculous since the moment he stepped out of the apartment.

If you stop to think about it, everything is Renjun's fault.

Donghyuck knows he should be thankful, the pointed looks Mark throws his way every time he dares to complain are a reminder of that. But, if only Renjun would've let him try the suit on in advance, Donghyuck could've pointed out how small it is on him, and he would've been able to ask Jaemin or Jeno for one. But Renjun had to kick them out hurriedly, and now Donghyuck feels like a walking joke.

The ends of his pants so short that the cold weather can easily curl around his ankles and crawl up his shins, freezing his entire body in the process. He keeps tugging at the sleeves of Renjun’s suit jacket, trying to stretch them over his wrists, but the rigid fabric won't give out no matter how hard he tries.

"Stop that," Mark reprimands him, slapping Donghyuck's hands away when he pulls at the jacket for the millionth time in the last hour. "You're gonna rip it up and you can't afford another one."

Donghyuck frowns at him, and then down at his jacket, but he slips his hands into the pockets of his pants to stop himself from doing it again.

He feels so uncomfortable as they walk towards the fancy banquet hall where the feast is being held, his jacket hugging his shoulders way too tightly. The place is beautiful on the outside, with long, elegant stairs of stone that lead to a fancy wooden door, bushes decorated with blooming yellow roses and small neon lights spread on either side of it. And everyone else around Donghyuck looks just as startling as the place, clad in their expensive party gowns that fit their bodies perfectly, as if every single dress and suit has been custom made.

Mark isn't an exception. He looks breathtaking walking next to Donghyuck, dressed up in the black suit, with a black shirt under his jacket, and his matching back hair styled perfectly, only a few strands falling over the side of his forehead. He's wearing makeup, too, soft foundation that smoothes his pale skin perfectly, making it look baby soft. And, even though Donghyuck loves the way it looks on him, he wishes he could brush the makeup away with his fingertips to uncover the cold-induced flush he knows is hidden underneath it.

Donghyuck's started to tug at his sleeves again unconsciously. He only realizes when Mark grabs his right hand, tearing it away from the fabric.

"Hyuck, that's enough," Mark says, looking at Donghyuck with his eyebrows knitted in concern. This time, he doesn't slap Donghyuck's hand to let it go right after, he holds onto his fingers instead, their palms flushed together. "It's not as bad as you think it is. You look amazing, seriously," he says, admits it in one of those bursts of honesty of his, tilting his head to the side as he stares at Donghyuck with those bright, genuine eyes.

"I always look amazing," Donghyuck rolls his eyes at him. His hand is starting to get sweaty even under the cold air, but he refuses to let go.

"That you do," Mark bumps their shoulders together, giving Donghyuck's hand a light squeeze despite the dampness of their grip. "Always beautiful."

And Donghyuck never thought it was possible to burn when winter is around the corner. But here he is, simmering as the freezing breeze curls around him, his insecurities melting like snow under the morning sun.

 

---

 

“C’mon,” Donghyuck whines, his hands grabbing tightly onto Mark’s forearm, “I’ve been sitting on a table, behaving nicely, smiling politely at your entire family for hours, Mark. I deserve a dance.”

But Mark doesn’t budge, he digs his heels into the extremely shiny off-white floor and looks up at Donghyuck with an unimpressed eyebrow crooked up. “I’m not dancing in front of all these people, Hyuck.”

“They are your family!” Donghyuck huffs frustrated, stepping closer between Mark’s legs. He stops pulling at his arm to slide his fingers down the soft linen of his suit. He traces the pale skin of Mark’s wrist, pressing against the jutted bone before he glides his fingers around Mark’s, clasping their hands together, the way Mark did outside earlier. “You can’t be that embarrassed, you know everyone here,” he tries again, pursing his lips into an exaggerated pout.

If Donghyuck wasn’t slightly tipsy, a little bit high on red wine, sugar and the pretty lights displayed along the dance hall, he’d be feeling pretty embarrassed himself. But the presence of Mark’s family has faded into a pleasant murmur, and right now the upbeat music is calling him like a siren song. Donghyuck aches an excuse to press closer to Mark, to feel the hard lines of Mark’s body against his softer ones.

“That’s exactly why I’m embarrassed!” Mark yells at him in fake annoyance. He doesn’t take his hand out of Donghyuck’s grasp, though, his knuckles cold under Donghyuck’s thumb. “And be careful, you’re gonna fall if you keep pulling at me like that.”

Donghyuck raises his eyebrows at him, yanking at Mark’s hand harder as a smirk spreads on his mouth, something he hopes looks like a challenge. "I know you wouldn't let me fall, baby," he winks teasingly as he throws his body backward, putting his entire weight on his heels and trusting Mark's strength to keep him steady.

What he wasn't expecting was for his teasing to get to Mark so hard. He flushes red at the pet name, mouth falling open in a soundless gasp, his grip on Donghyuck loosening up tragically. Before Donghyuck has the time to react, his hand is sliding out of Mark's, hot and slippery with sweat.

Donghyuck tries to keep his balance, but he trips over his own feet as he walks backward, pulled down by the weight of his own body. He collides hard against a table, the edge of it digging into his side so painfully that he's pretty sure he's gonna be bruised in the morning. The table gives out due to the crash, its legs screech uglily and loudly as they slide over the smooth, shiny floor.

Donghyuck tries to catch himself to regain his footing, his hand flying to the table, fingers curling into the fancy red tablecloth in desperation. He ends up sliding down anyway, his coccyx colliding painfully against the floor, leaving him breathless as he falls flat on his ass. He's still gripping the tablecloth, he doesn't have the mind to let it go in time, and, suddenly, most of the contents set on the table come crashing down onto the floor.

He scrunches his eyes shut at the mess in front of it, and he keeps them closed tightly until the chirping noise of crockery hitting the tiles quiets down, replaced by horrified screaming. When Donghyuck finally dares look around through squinted eyes, the tall, beautiful wedding cake is splashed right in front of him, drops of cream and mushy sponge staining his shoes and the ends of Renjun's pants.

Mark is by his side in a second, all wide eyes and worried eyebrows and helping hands. "Oh my god, oh my god," he keeps whispering as he maps Donghyuck's upper body with clammy fingers. "Are you alright? Oh, shit. Oh my god."

"I'm fine, I think," Donghyuck groans, holding tightly onto Mark's forearms to help himself up. Mark's hands fly to his waist as soon as he's standing straight as if he's scared Donghyuck will come crashing down again at any second. "The cake doesn't look that well, though," he giggles, sliding his eyes towards the mess next to them.

It's not only the cake, though. There are plates and cutlery scattered everywhere, little pastries and pies and other sweets staining the floor, part of the tablecloth bundled over the tiles. Donghyuck is painfully aware of all the pairs of eyes that are currently on him, aware of Mark's mom walking towards them in long strides, her mouth twisted in a distasteful grimace. He knows he just caused a mess that's probably costed thousands of won, and the guilt of the fact settles hot and red all over his cheeks, betraying the easy grin he throws at Mark,

Mark's eyes are still wide open, jumping from Donghyuck to his mom frantically as he tightens his fingers on Donghyuck's middle. Then, he presses his lips in a determined tight line and whisper-yells, "Run."

He grabs Donghyuck's hand and drags him out of the party hall as fast as he can, he does not once look back at his mom. Donghyuck trails behind him, confused and grabbing onto Mark's fingers like a lifeline. He swears he's never letting go again.

Mark doesn't stop running until they are outside. They hurry down the stone stairs, Donghyuck's shoes sinking into the soft grass once they are at the bottom. Only then does Mark stop, leaning forward to rest his free hand against his bent knee, panting into the cold of the night, his breath coming out like white fog.

"Holy shit, Mark," Donghyuck whispers, his breath ragged, every single one of his words half broken with exhaustion. "I didn't mean to cause this mess. Oh, god. You left without saying anything to your brother, and it’s his goddamn wedding. Fuck, Mark, I probably wasted so much money, what the hell. I don't know how, but I'll pay it back," he keeps rambling. He's squeezing Mark's hand so tightly that he's sure it's painful, but he's desperate to look him in the eyes, no matter what he will read in them. "I promise I'll pay it back."

"You know," Mark gasps, still staring at the grass. "The cake joke was a warning, not a challenge."

A pained whimper falls from Donghyuck's mouth, and he tangles his free hand in his hair, tugging at it in desperation. He feels awfully sober right now. "Shit, I'm sorry," he whispers, the apology rolling off of his tongue so easily that he doesn't even realize he's saying it. Then, louder, "Mark, I'm so fucking sorry. Seriously, I'm so sorry."

That has Mark snapping his head up, startled. He straightens his back, looking intently at Donghyuck, the pretty decorative lights reflected in his eyes, drawing gentle shadows over his flushed pale skin. Then, his face is breaking into a grin, his shoulders trembling before he bursts into a fit of laughter that sounds more hysterical than anything.

"Mark, please," Donghyuck whines again, his grip on Mark's hand all sweaty and gross. "I'm so sorry. Like, so damn sorry. I mean it, please. Please, I know I fucked up, but—"

Donghyuck doesn't even know what he's saying anymore, but he can't stop the apologies from rushing out of his mouth. He feels overwhelmed with guilt, his heart swelling up in his chest, occupying more space than it's supposed to. He doesn't think he's apologizing for the cake anymore, it feels like years of swallowed down apologies are racking through him, splitting him open and laying him bare, but lifting a huge weight off his shoulders at the same time.

He keeps mumbling 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry' until his lips get used to the shape of the words, their taste bittersweet and relieving, heavy on his tongue.

And Mark, Mark keeps laughing, his eyes twinkling with unshed tears, his head tilted to the side.

Donghyuck counts backward as he keeps apologizing, repeating four, three, two, one, as he waits for Mark to look away. But Mark never does. Mark keeps laughing and tugs at Donghyuck's hand instead, pulling him closer, closer, closer.

He's laughing so much that, at first, when Mark kisses him, all Donghyuck can feel is the press of teeth against his cold lips.

Donghyuck swears everything but Mark halts in time, both inside and outside of him. His breath catches in his throat, his heart gets stuck between two beats, his words dying under the warmth of Mark's mouth on his.

He keeps his eyes open at first, so he can make sure this is not make-believe, an early Christmas miracle, or his tired mind playing a twisted game on him. But Mark doesn't pull away. He doesn't disappear into thin air, either. His hand stays heavy in Donghyuck's grip, his chest hard and solid, pressed flat to Donghyuck's as he tries to arch closer.

Mark's smile melts against Donghyuck's mouth, his chapped bottom lip slotting perfectly between Donghyuck's, his tongue pushing deep to muffle the trail of apologies that Donghyuck still has to offer. He tastes sweet and warm and bright. Because he's been eating cake and drinking wine and laughing only a few seconds ago. Because he's Mark Lee, and he's always sweet and warm and bright.

It's then when Donghyuck allows himself to close his eyes. He chases Mark's mouth blindly once he pulls back, curling his free hand around Mark's small waist to yank him closer with a firm tug, close enough to feel every single plane of Mark's body solid against his. And Mark meets him halfway, more ready to welcome Donghyuck into the heat of his mouth, opening up his lips for him as easily as he opened the doors to his house, making Donghyuck feel lighter and steadier than he’s ever felt before with each sweep of his tongue.

Kissing Mark feels like the summer sun, even in the middle of a cold night at the end of autumn. It feels like warm wool sweaters, those fluffy ones that don’t itch. Kissing Mark feels sweet like drinking hot chocolate milk with two spoons of sugar and a bit of cream. It feels like cold spaghetti and warm soup and sweet tea. Kissing him feels like pressing the wrong keys on a piano, but turning the random notes into a beautiful melody nonetheless. Kissing Mark feels comfortable, like sharing blankets and sharing a couch and sharing an apartment. It feels familiar, like shared laughter and shared songs and a shared life.

Donghyuck doesn’t know what kissing Mark means. What he does know, though, is that kissing Mark like this—deep and unabashedly and with no restrains—tastes like every single thing Donghyuck likes.

They pull away when Mark starts to laugh again, a soft giggle that shakes in Donghyuck’s chest, because that’s how close they are.

“I have no idea how to get home from here,” he whispers against Donghyuck’s right cheek, hot with something tender despite the freezing air of the night. He’s letting go of Donghyuck’s hand, but only so he can cradle his jaw between his now warm fingers. “But we should get moving if we don’t want my mom to kill us.”

Donghyuck nods dumbly, but he leans in again to kiss him one more time, too high on Mark’s warmth to care about anything else right now.

The thing is, Donghyuck hates banquets and fancy shoes and cold weather. But he's standing there now, in a suit that's too small for him, cake stains all over his clothes. He's standing there, his thighs tired and sore, the sole of his feet and the tip of his toes aching inside of his tight, fancy shoes. He's standing there, with the cold breeze sneaking under his clothes, curling around his ankles, stinging his nose. He’s standing there, and he doesn't care.

All he cares about is Mark standing right there with him.

 

---

 

Donghyuck has never liked sharing a bed.

It started when he had was in high school, when his siblings grew up enough for their mom to let them sleep in a bed instead of a crib. Donghyuck's grandma was already sick back then, she used to stay with them when her illness flared up, and their mom always settled her on the kids' bed. That's why Donghyuck always ended up having to share his single mattress with his two little siblings.

This was a recurrent thing throughout years. Donghyuck had to be constantly battling against bony elbows digging into his sides, little feet kicking the back of his thighs, wrinkled bed sheets, and blankets full of breadcrumbs. He grew up to resent sharing a bed so much that he can never stay overnight whenever he hookups with someone, the thought of another body turning around and messing up his sheets, stealing them away, almost unbearable in his mind.

He's always had two exceptions: his mom and Renjun. They always are the only exceptions to all the rules Donghyuck set for himself a long time ago. But Mark seems to be determined to tear down every single one of Donghyuck's walls. He's shouldered his way into Donghyuck's life through kind smiles and easy jokes, sneaking into his mattress as if he belongs there.

This is the second time Donghyuck is sharing his bed with Mark.

Earlier tonight, Mark decided that going back into the banquet hall just to say goodbye to his brother wasn't worth it, so they ended up calling a cab to drive them home. They huddled together in the back seat, tangled legs and intertwined hands, Donghyuck's cold nose buried in the crook of Mark's neck, a spot that's growing familiar at the speed of light. They could barely keep their hands off of each other until they made it home.

They had to let go long enough to jump into the shower and change into their sleeping clothes, though. But once Donghyuck steps into his bedroom, Mark is already curled up between his blankets.

Donghyuck doesn’t know what to expect once he slips into his bed right beside Mark. He hasn't allowed himself to think about this, whatever it is, way too convinced about the fact that Mark would never want him this way, not after everything Donghyuck put him through in the past.

Now, his mind is fuzzy with all the possibilities, the countless different turns this could take, with the million meanings their kisses could have. He’s still buzzing inside, blood singing in his ears at the sole fact that Mark is lying right by his side, Donghyuck’s hands itching with the want to touch and explore. But he doesn’t know how far he’s allowed to go, so he stays on his side of the bed, his arms crossed over his chest beneath the blanket as he stares into the darkness, worrying his lower lip between his teeth.

"Are you gonna cuddle me or what?" Mark asks all of a sudden, his voice already dripping exhaustion, turned low and rough with sleep. "Don't tell me you're shy all of a sudden."

"I'm not shy," Donghyuck scoffs. He turns around to frown at Mark even though they can't even see each other in the darkness of the room. "I just... I don't know what you want."

Silence stretches between them then, but it's soft and comfortable. Still, Donghyuck jumps in surprise when Mark's cold fingers find his forearm, trailing down until he can wrap his hand around Donghyuck's wrist.

"I didn't sneak into your bed for you to sleep all the way over there," Mark says, the pout audible in his voice.

Donghyuck allows himself to be tugged closer, the bed sheets rumpling around him with the movement of his body. Mark pulls him flush against his side, at the perfect angle for Donghyuck to nose at his collarbone the way he likes it.

"Closer," he complains against Donghyuck's hair, as if he will never get enough now that he's found out the way their bodies feel pressed up together.

Mark tugs at Donghyuck's wrist again, guiding him to drape an arm over his chest. Then, he's letting go of Donghyuck's arm only to reach down, curling his clever fingers around the back of Donghyuck's thigh, his nails dragging along the sensitive skin there as he pushes the leg up and around his waist.

"Better," Mark sighs contently once he's all wrapped in Donghyuck's body heat. He keeps his hand on Donghyuck's thigh, painting slow circles there as his other arm curls around Donghyuck's back to keep him secure against his chest.

Mark's hold on him is firm but gentle, like a confession and a question at the same time. It is an offering as much as a chance to back down. But, whatever this means, backing down is the last thing Donghyuck wants to do right now.

Donghyuck pushes his nose deeper into the crook of Mark's neck, placing a small goodnight kiss there because, apparently, he’s allowed to do that now. And he falls asleep surrounded by the smell of home.

 

---

 

Donghyuck wakes up to an empty bed and the smell of smoke.

When he blinks his eyes open, the morning light is sneaking through the ends of the drawn curtains, washing his room in soft, pale light. He's got the blankets neatly draped over himself, and he knows Mark must've taken the time to tuck him in when he woke up because, usually, Donghyuck wakes up in a mess of tangled sheets.

He turns around on his side to hide his face into the pillow, where the fabric still smells like Mark. He's tempted to snuggle into his blankets and fall back asleep again, but the loud crashing noises and the stingy burnt smell that are coming from the kitchen have him kicking back the sheets with a grunt.

After a quick stop in the bathroom to brush his teeth, Donghyuck drags his feet to the kitchen. He's still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes when he walks in on Mark screaming at a frying pan, one of his arms curled around himself to protect his body from the hot oil as he tries to move the pan out of the stove.

"What the hell is going on here?" Donghyuck asks as he walks towards him.

Mark jumps at the sound of his voice, turning around with his arms spread wide open to try to hide the mess behind him. "Oh, no. Go back to bed, please," he pleads, his face scrunched up in a pained grimace.

He's still in his sleeping clothes, his hair all tangled up on top of his head. He looks like he jumped out of bed to walk straight into the kitchen, surprising Donghyuck with a nice breakfast as the only goal in his mind.

"It seems like I'm more needed here than in bed," Donghyuck cocks an eyebrow at him, standing on his tiptoes to take a look at whatever is going on behind Mark's back.

"No! It's fine! I just have to—" Mark blurts out nervously. He turns around, finally gathering the courage to take the frying pan out of the stove and throw it into the sink, opening the faucet right after.

"It would've been a lot easier if you had turned off the stove before removing the pan, you know?" Donghyuck points out, stepping closer to turn it off himself.

Mark's embarrassed face curls into a scowl. "Who are you? Gordon Ramsay?"

"You don't need to be a famous chef to know basic stuff like this," Donghyuck teases him. "You made such a mess, I'm gonna have to kick you out."

He smirks at Mark as he moves closer, backing him up against the counter. The annoyance on Mark's face melts away in a second, his eyes softening as a soft pink dusts his cheeks, his gaze falling to Donghyuck's lips eagerly when he leans closer.

But Donghyuck doesn't kiss him, he only beams at him as he stretches his arm around Mark, reaching behind him to close the faucet before he's taking a step back.

"Here I was trying to do something nice for you," Mark frowns at him, crossing his arms over his chest. "You don't need to be such a pain in the ass."

"Oh, for me?" Donghyuck asks in exaggerated surprise. He moves closer again, setting one of his socked feet between Mark's. "How come?"

"Um, well... It was—" Mark starts, stopping to clear his throat when his voice fails him, like it always happens when he gets nervous. Donghyuck waits him out, nodding in encouragement. "It was Renjun's idea, actually," Mark finally blurts out.

He isn't looking at Donghyuck in the eyes, his gaze aimed somewhere behind him, as if a few kisses have stolen his recent courage and engulfed him in a new kind of awkwardness, a sweeter kind.

"Renjun told me that maybe I should, like, cook something nice for you. Since I can't cook, it'd be—It'd be meaningful, I guess?" Mark rambles on, lifting a hand to rub the back of his neck, the tips of his ears turning crimson red. "I thought it was cool, you know? I was supposed to do something sweet. And then, I had to tell you... Tell you that I kinda want to kiss you a little bit?" he confesses, looking up at Donghyuck with his head tilted down. Donghyuck has to sink his teeth into his bottom lip to physically stop himself from whining, melting under a single glance. "I wanna kiss you a lot, actually. Like, all the time," Mark keeps talking, honest and surer of his words the more Donghyuck visibly softens in front of him. "But I guess you already know that? So all this was kind of useless... Oh, dang," he giggles at the end.

"Mark," Donghyuck whispers, his voice gone just by the sight of the boy standing in front of him. He moves closer, bringing his hands up to cup Mark's chin between his fingers. "I wanna kiss you a lot, too. Like, all the time."

Mark's eyes widen in surprise as if this fact is news to him. As if Donghyuck hadn't kissed his lips numb last night. "Yeah?" he whispers with a small smirk.

"Yeah," Donghyuck hums, rubbing the tip of his nose against Mark's. "Now shut up so I can actually kiss you."

Mark giggles again, chirpy and light and nervous. Donghyuck muffles the sound with his tongue.

Donghyuck decides right there and then that he likes cold Sunday mornings if he gets to spend them like this: tangled up in Mark's body, nipping his upper lip to drag ragged moans out of him, Mark's cold fingers slipping underneath Donghyuck's pajama shirt, trailing lines up his back with his bitten nails until Donghyuck grows goosebumps all over.

"Clean that up and let's get ice cream or something," Donghyuck says, his tingling lips brushing the edge of Mark's sharp jaw, stubble rough under his swollen, sensitive mouth.

"Ice cream for breakfast," Mark breathes out. Donghyuck hums in agreement, shuddering when Mark slides his hands down his back to settle them on his hips, pulling him impossibly closer, the tips of his fingers dipping beneath the waistband of Donghyuck’s sleeping sweatpants. "Ice cream when it's snowing outside."

Donghyuck pulls away just enough to stare at Mark with wide eyes. "I didn't know it was snowing," he says, mildly annoyed by the fact. He dislikes snow just a tad less than he hates the rain, but maybe he will make an exception today. "But yes, even if it's snowing outside."

Mark grunts as he disentangles himself from Donghyuck's body reluctantly, but he's smiling when he gets to work.

It's been a long time since Donghyuck put together a list of the things he loves, and he can count them with the fingers of one hand:

  1. Music.
  2. His old mattress.
  3. His family (including Renjun).
  4. Bacon pizza.
  5. The little cream cupcakes he sells at the coffee shop.

But now, standing in the kitchen of his new home, watching as Mark struggles to scrub the remnants of burnt eggs off a frying pan, Donghyuck thinks that, maybe, he might have to make one more exception and start using the fingers of his other hand.

And if everything is thanks to Renjun, he doesn't need to know.

 

---

 

Updated list of things Donghyuck loves:

  1. Music.
  2. His old mattress.
  3. His family (including Renjun).
  4. Bacon pizza.
  5. The little cream cupcakes he sells at the coffee shop.
  6. The mole on Mark's cheek and the small dip under his lower lip and his stupid loud giggle and just the way his boyfriend makes him feel.