Ethan stared at the colourful notification in his email, squinting at it suspiciously. Five minutes ago the initial email notification had popped up on his screen and he'd screamed, throwing his coffee across the yard in a fit of blindly elated panic. That had immediately faded into suspicious panic, which in turn had began to settle into embarrassment and sadness.
It wasn't real.
There was no way it could be real. He'd only bought one ticket, and Mark had made a video two days ago praising the fact that they'd raised $100,000 for the veteran support charity. At $10 a ticket, that meant that they'd sold 10,000 tickets, and that many people had likely bought multiple to increase their chances of winning. It was implausible and almost impossible that his name, one in ten thousand, had been plucked out of the machine.
God, he was so stupid. There was even a link and an email included in the message - Of course it was just spam. Some shitty malware or a phishing scam that would ask him to pay more money when he clicked on it. Biting his lip hard enough to hurt, he ran his gaze over it one more time then thumbed the DELETE button, mutteringly softly under his breath. They'd said they were announcing it with a video, anyway. More fool whoever had sent this stupid scam; Mark hadn't uploaded the winner reveal yet. That had been the sudden thought that had flipped his elation straight into feeling stupid, embarrassed when he lifted his gaze to the shards of ceramic that littered the yard.
He had to clean that up before Spencer stepped on it.
He tucked his phone into his pocket and turned away, careful to usher Spencer back into the main room and shut him in there as he grabbed a dust pan and brush. To combat his dejection once that was done with he made himself a pity snack of marshmallow fluff and wafer sticks and flopped belly-down on his bed, loading up the XBOX and channelling his emotions through Wolverine and The X-Men. Spencer seemed to pick up on his discontent and leapt atop the bed with him, curling against his side and occasionally offering a comforting snuffle or slow blink.
An hour passed and he once again felt calm and at ease, smiling slightly and utterly focused on the game as he played through quests and challenges, utilising Erik's powers and wondering wistfully if the Erik/Charles tag on AO3 had any new works yet. He was about to start another storyline when his phone vibrated with a familiar pattern and his heart clenched all over again.
It was a Youtube notification for a new Markiplier upload entitled 'ADWM: Winner Reveal!'
Devastated, he clicked on the link. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound, but he couldn't well just act like a right old Grinch because he hadn't won. Someone out there had, and he was determined to be happy for them. It was for charity, after all. A good cause. A fan would get to meet their idol and veterans would get access to the help and support they needed, help and support that they were currently not getting at the level they required. 40,056 U.S veterans were currently homeless, and that was a piss-poor fucking take on America's behalf.
He steeled himself as the video loaded, running a hand over Spencer's fur lightly. A customised graphic of a tiny Cupid Markiplier popped up as the intro, blowing a kiss and wiggling its naked butt and shooting off an arrow before it disappeared, the red screen fading into Mark himself, sat at a table designed to look like it was in a restaurant, with a cloth, vased rose and what looked like a ring box in the middle, dressed in an impeccable slate-grey suit. Ethan's heart panged and he refused to allow himself to think of what an actual date with Mark would be like.
"Hell-o everybody! My name is Markiplier and today, as promised, I am going to be unveiling the winner of the A Date With Markiplier charity auction. Firstly, I want to thank each and every one of you that bought a ticket. As I mentioned in my previous video and social media posts, we managed to raise $100,000 through this event alone. That money will-"
Ethan listened attentively as Mark went on to describe some of the things that soldiers and veterans went through, and how the charity drive would help various organisations to assist those in need. Mark had always been a good and caring person, always using his platform to spread awareness and kindness. He wondered idly if the person who had won would appreciate the actual reason for the date as much as they appreciated meeting their idol. If they would be as invested in the purpose of it as they were in Mark. He himself had only been able to buy one ticket because the week before the event was announced he'd had to shell out $800 for EpiPens, but the day after his next pay-day he'd gone to the provided links and donated another sum directly.
"Alright. And now, without further ado...The moment you've all been waiting for". Mark's voice dipped to gravelly and dramatic, his smirk salacious as he ran a teasing fingertip over the ring box. He winked at the camera, bounced his brows a little, then got a grip on the box.
"The winning ticket of the A Date With Markiplier charity drive is..."
There was a customary pause for dramatic effect, wherein Mark pushed himself to his feet, picked up the ring box and moved to kneel down on one knee besides the table, giving the camera a look somewhere between sultry and pleading. Ethan shuffled, leaning over the edge of his bed to try and reach for the can of soda he'd placed on his bedside table, simultaneously trying not to take his eyes off the screen.
He flipped open the ring box.
"Ticket number 0283, will you go on a date with me?"
He faltered and his arm wobbled, over-tipping his balance. He rolled off the edge of his bed with a shriek, startling Spencer who leapt up and off the bed and ran barking through the hallway. In a heap of limbs on the floor Ethan listened to Mark's outro music for several seconds, scrambled brain desperately attempting to catch up with this sudden influx of information. He finally twisted and felt around for his phone, finding it under his bed and reverently dragging the little red slider back to the moment when Mark knelt down.
"Ticket number 0283, will you go on a date with me?"
"Ticket number 0283, will you go on a date with me?"
He listened to it a third time, then hastily thumbed back to his email account, bringing up the confirmation email from when he'd purchased a ticket. Right there on the screen in big, black numbers, was 0283. His ticket number. His ticket number. With a strangled sound he dove into his email's bin and retrieved the confirmation email, scanning it and trying to breathe through the strange and slightly painful acrobatics that his heart was doing. He looked at the email account that it had been sent from, then after a moment of panic he went to the website.
He should have checked the website before he binned the email.
They were a match.
His phone pinged with a Twitter notification from Markiplier and he groaned, letting his head fall back against the carpet. God, he couldn't take anything else. What if it turned out they'd put in the wrong ticket? Or mixed up his ticket with someone else's? He'd actually die. Like, physically. He lay there for a short while, attempting to wrangle his breathing and his heartrate for a moment before he picked up his phone again and tapped on it.
"Oh my god" he whispered to himself, letting his phone fall from between his fingers as he lay sprawled on the floor. Was it possible for someone's heart to beat so fast that it ruptured? His felt like it might. The last time he'd felt this way was when he thought he'd accidentally eaten a granola bar that contained peanuts, but the itching had just turned out to be because he'd used way too much detergent when doing his laundry. He sucked in a deep breath and blinked when Spencer's nose appeared in his vision, the dog blinking down at him in concern.
"Hey, bud" he croaked, forcing himself up onto his elbows. Spencer whined at him softly, ears flicking. As a dog, Spencer had no idea about the monumental event that had just transpired. He probably just thought his master was an idiot that couldn't even lay on a bed properly. Ethan thread his fingers through his dog's soft fur, sucking in a breath and reaching for his soda to clear his throat. He felt a little light headed and he wondered if the fall had left him concussed. Rubbing at his head he shifted and picked up his phone again, hands shaking.
"Spence," he breathed, looking up into his dog's wide, dark eyes. "I'm going on a date with Markiplier".
His own words and the reality of it didn't quite set in over the next few days. The first part of the process was to confirm his win, reading through the terms and conditions again and signing to begin the full process. He was twenty, so well above the eighteen year old age minimum for entering, and after he'd sent off a picture of his license to prove his age the preparations were truly underway. As per the event agreement, Mark's team would arrange transport for him to and from the restaurant, and he would get to spend the night of the date in a 4* hotel room, which had been pre-booked on the chance that a winner from another state had been picked.
The only thing he had to sort out himself was an outfit.
The representative he was talking to was called Amy, and she was cheerful and bright in their emails, soothing his panic and assuring him that it would be a great night. He'd get to chat to Mark, learn more about the charity drive, and spend the night in a nice hotel with a belly full of Michelin starred food. She told him Mark was just as down-to-Earth and friendly off the cameras, and that he didn't have to worry about any PR stuff or acting, and to think of it like going out for a meal with a friend. Whilst on the subject of PR and social media she asked how public he wanted his identity to be, and he mulled it over for several long hours.
She didn't rush him, and was just as supportive when he tentatively asked if his identity could be kept anonymous until the end of the 'date', after which Mark was welcome to post all the stuff he wanted, selfies and tagging him permitted. It was all very relaxed but still professional, and Amy kept him up to date on everything and all the legal stuff involved like how they'd handle his personal information. The date was set for the fourteenth, so it would replicate an actual romantic date, and Ethan's cheeks flamed anew when he thought about sitting in a restaurant on Valentine's Day with Mark.
What should I wear? He asked her, as the date loomed closer. Her response of something lightly formal wasn't of any help to a man who's closet was 90% hoodies, so he called his ex-girlfriend Mika. Their break-up had been amicable after she'd realised she was more comfortable in a romantic relationship with women, and they'd remained best friends over the two years they'd been ex-lovers. She laughed at him on the phone after squee-ing with him over winning the charity event, then promised to go shopping with him the next day to pick up a nice outfit.
He was waiting for her on his doorstep just before lunch the next day, and he beamed when her beat up green Corvette pulled up outside. "Get in, loser! We're going shopping" she called to him once the window had rolled down, pushing her sunglasses up into her hair. She looked beautiful today and he told her so, to which she preened for a moment before punching him in the arm.
"I know I do, nerd. You, on the other hand, are dressed like a clapped up college kid. Thank God you called me before you swanned off to meet Mr. Hot Stuff" she teased him. He tried to be offended, really, but all she'd done is remind him that it was just under four days before he'd find himself sat opposite Mark at a romantic restaurant. As per usual his face telegraphed his internal thoughts like a giant Times Square billboard, and she glanced at him before softening, taking her hand off the shifter at a red light to squeeze one of his reassuringly.
"Hey. Stop that, you'll be fine. Its not an actual date and everyone says the same thing. That guy's a legend on and off the screen. All you gotta do is try not to drool so much and smuggle me a nice dessert" she soothed, before flicking the radio on to cover his self-depreciating rambling as they drove to the mall. The first port of call when they were there was to get coffee, and they ordered the most obnoxious white girl drinks they could find on the menu before they headed to an in-budget formal wear store. The walls of the store were lined with crisp shirts and suit jackets and neatly folded, pressed suit pants.
"Okay, so what's Mark going to wear?" Mika asked him as they stood in the main storefront, and Ethan blanched when he realised he hadn't thought to ask that when Amy's initial response hadn't really provided any clarity. Mika took one look at him and rolled her eyes, knowing full well he had no answer to that question. "Alright, so we're just gonna have to wing this. I'm guessing if the restaurant is fancy he's gonna go for a basic two-piece".
Ethan eyed her sceptically. It was Mark they were talking about; there was an entire possibility he'd show up in his underwear or a giant turkey suit.
"Blue is always a good look on you" Mika mused, shooting him a sly smile that had him flushing from the roots of his hair to his toes. It was more or less those words that had led to a ridiculously spiced up sex life, which in turn had led to him on his hands and knees on Valentine's Day, getting pegged to within an inch of his life with a sizeable, baby blue strap-on. He spluttered at the memory and she giggled, taking him by the arm and steering him towards a selection of smart dress shirts that lined the wall. "Alright, lover boy. I've got a Tinder hook up at five, so let's get you suited and booted for your date".
It took them a little over an hour but Ethan eventually left the store with two square paper bags hanging off his arm, down $75 but suddenly a little more confident about how he'd show up to the date. Mika had helped him pick out a beautiful cobalt blue dress shirt and a pair of black slacks that hugged his figure enticingly. She'd grabbed a handful of his ass as he modelled it off, humming approvingly. "Good enough to eat" she'd mused, and rolled her eyes again when his cheeks had grown hot enough to sear a steak on.
Getting an outfit only seemed to make everything that much more real, and with just two days to go before the date he found himself sat on his bed, surrounded by his haul and staring at Mark's latest Instagram posts. True to Amy's word, they hadn't said anything about who he was. Amy had messaged him earlier in the morning to double confirm all the plans they'd made thus far, and the reality of it all had began to sink in. He was going to meet his idol. The one person who'd motivated and inspired him for the past five years.
He longed to text Mika again but was also loathe to be a bother, and so he simply set aside his clothes for the next day and curled up in bed, loading up Mark's latest Lets Play and doing his best to try and relax. He'd let Mika do his nails and put a keratin treatment on his hair and slather his face with so many different clays and creams that his skin felt soft like a newborn baby and looked plump and peachy. He looked quite possibly the best he ever had, and there was nothing more he could do to prepare for tomorrow, save get an early night's sleep. The meeting was scheduled for 7:30 in the evening, but with the distance he had to travel they were picking him up around forty-five minutes before.
As it turns out, he lived about half an hour away from Mark. The thought made his heart flutter anew and he forced himself to turn off his phone and settle down when the clock hit ten, determined to be well rested and fresh faced for the day following.
His dreams did not follow that plan.
He woke up at around seven in the morning, gasping for breath and kicking his way out from under the sheets, shying away from the stickiness on his hip. It was a good thing he'd planned to have a shower today regardless, because there was no way he could've just wiped himself down and carried on. Embarrassed but sated, he stumbled from his bed and into the shower, scrubbing himself down thoroughly and making sure every inch of his skin was clean and smooth. He used the face scrub that Kathryn had bullied him into buying and even used the scented body lotion that Mika had supported him into buying a few weeks prior.
Still sleepy, he clambered out, dried himself off, replied to all his friends and then collapsed back into bed for another three hours. His alarm woke him up at eleven and he was hit with the refreshed realisation that today was the day. February fourteenth, Valentine's Day. In several hours he'd be sat at a fancy restaurant, staring at Mark Fischbach. Listening to that molasses drawl in person. He rolled over and ruffled Spencer's fur, grinning across at his best friend. "Bud. Buddy...I get to meet Markiplier today" he beamed, to which Spencer twitched his nose, farted, and rolled over to continue slumbering.
He spend the day in a daze, checking the time every five minutes and slowly working himself up into a mild panic. Mika seemed to sense his growing agitation because at four in the evening she showed up at his house, her hair in a messy bun, armed with skincare products and a makeup bag. "You're hopeless" she huffed at him fondly, wrangling him up into his bathroom and pushing him to sit down on the edge of the bath. He was getting picked up at half six to ensure they had time to make it through traffic, which left them with plenty of time.
"What if I make a fool of myself?" He asked as she carefully shaved his brows so they were neater. She cast him a sympathetic glance that said they both absolutely knew he would regardless, but that was okay because it was who he was. He tried not to fidget as she poked and prodded and pampered him, but it was hard to stop his fingers drumming on his knee and his leg bouncing rapidly. He checked the time as often as Mika could stand before she took his phone from him and plugged it in to charge by his bed, chastising him fondly as she tried to wrangle his hair into something resembling deliberately styled.
She brushed out his brows and his lashes, dabbed stuff all over his face multiple times and then put balm on his lips and then made him put scented lotion over his hands and arms and torso. He felt like a prettied up whore by the time she finally allowed him to dress, and grumbled as she helped him to tie his tie and tuck in his shirt. When she was finally done, she stepped back and eyed him approvingly, smoothing her hands down his chest. "Ugh, good enough to eat" she praised, stepping back to give him a full once-over. He flushed under her gaze, but knew better than to try and look at himself in the mirror until she told him that he could.
"Mmph, sure I can't convince you to have one last fumble before you run off and become Mr. Iplier?" She teased him, dusting imaginary lint off his shoulder before gesturing towards the bathroom, finally granting him allowance to check himself out in the mirror. He rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out at her, but he practically dove back into the bathroom to check himself out in the mirror. What he saw stole his breath away. He looked...He actually looked good. Lightly tinted makeup and skincare had given him a bright and even complexion. His brows looked sharp and his lashes had been brushed out. He looked...Pretty.
"Oh" he breathed, and her face popped up besides his shoulder, her smile warm and broad.
"Yeah. You're gonna knock him out, stud. And I didn't even need to do anything drastic - Just polish you off a little" she praised him, reaching up to sort out a lock of hair. He turned his head and gave her a shaky smile, eyes watering as he dragged her into a hug. He couldn't have asked for a better friend - And he'd never been more thankful to have someone by his side. He gave her a hug and she squeezed him back tightly before his phone alarm went off, broken by the noise of a text of a text message. He drew back in alarm, eyes widening. Oh, God. It was time. It was time to go. Time to get into a car to be driven across the state to sit down to a wine and dine with Mark.
"Go get him, handsome. And make sure to text me all about it, okay? And I'll be sure to pass along all the gossip to Spencer" Mika assured him. She'd offered to look after Spencer for the night when he'd initially told her about winning the contest, and his best bud was currently sat on his bed, eagerly awaiting the influx of snacks and fusses he knew came from staying at Mika's. With a shaky smile he nodded, stooped to give Spencer a kiss atop the head, then picked up his phone. It was a text from the number that Amy had given him a few days prior, explaining that she would text him when the car was outside. He'd saved it as 'Amy (Mark)', and her text was just as cheerful as her emails.
Hey you! I hope you're not feeling too nervous, the car is outside and ready whenever you are :)
He stared at the message, feeling his heartrate pick up and a familiar nauseas feeling creep up his throat. He looked up at Mika with panic-wide eyes and she huffed at him, but her expression was comforting as she picked up his jacket, grabbed him by the elbow and dragged him through the house. "You'll have a wonderful time. Your EpiPens are in your pocket" she soothed at him, lightly kissing his cheek before she opened the door and shoved him out of it, shoving his over-night bag out after him a moment later. He yipped in alarm and twisted, but the door slammed shut in his face and he froze. Of course, he had the keys to his own house. He could very well just unlock the door and leap back inside, but even as he considered that he heard a car door open behind him.
He turned around, hiding his shaking hands beneath his jacket. He felt sick. Oh, God. What if they'd secretly sent Mark to pick him up? A strangled sound worked its way up his throat and he fixed his gaze on the silver car parked outside and the pretty woman unfolding from the driver's seat. "Hey there, Ethan! Its great to finally meet you. Ready for a date with Markiplier?"
She was just as peppy in person, beaming brightly as she rounded the front of the car to shake his hand. "Oh, you look gorgeous!" She praised as she inspected his outfit, leaning back a little on her heels to give him an unobtrusive full sweep. He could feel his cheeks heating under her gaze and realised that this was about the time he should attempt to say something.
"Th-Thanks" he managed, hugging his jacket against his chest, heedless of the fact he would probably crease it as Amy beamed across at him, then motioned towards the car.
"If you're all set and ready to go, traffic isn't all that bad right now - touch wood - so we should make good time?" She suggested, and he fumbled to nod, making towards the car and finding himself charmed when she opened his door for him and closed it behind him. The inside of the car was clean but had little trinkets of personality dotted around, and the interior smelt like the tropical scented plug-in on the air con. Taped to the dashboard was a photograph, and he peeked at it as she slipped behind the wheel. It depicted several people, one of whom he recognised as Amy, though her hair was dark in that photograph where it was now bleached a light blonde.
With an arm tucked around her shoulders and beaming at the camera was also Mark. Amy glanced at him as she put the car into drive, and followed his gaze with a fond smile. "That was taken the day before Mark's thirtieth birthday. He was heading back to Korea to spend it with his family, so we all went out the day before. That's Evan, Tyler, Wade and Bob" she pointed out before turning her focus to the road, pulling out into the street and tapping the screen inside the dashboard to activate the GPS. He forced himself to breathe deeply and relax a little, halfway to doing so when his phone buzzed in his pocket.
He whipped it out without a second though and tapped on the notification the moment he saw the familiar name, his heart twisting when he saw the photograph. Well, the two of them, really. Mark had posted during the time that Mika was grooming him into something resembling a person with a hint of effort and style.
He felt a touch better about what he was wearing, breathing in relief when he realised that he wasn't over-dressed, and wasn't all that under-dressed. His heart cinched wildly as he stared at Mark, at the smile on his face, the appropriately weird caption and the way the sleek, grey suit hugged his broad shoulders. He was going to see that. In person. Mark's smile and Mark's suit.
"Deep breath in, honey. You look like you're about to pass out" Amy's voice broke through the static noise in his head and he cast her a sheepish and grateful glance.
"This must seem so dumb to you" he mumbled, plucking at the fabric of his shirt. It wasn't even a real, actual date, and here he was acting like a girl who'd been asked to prom by her popular crush. Amy cast him a sideways glance and a warm smile, shaking her head lightly.
"You're about to meet your idol in a fancy restaurant. If I was you, I'd probably still be curled up in my bathtub at home trying to remember how my limbs worked" she assured him, flipping on her blinkers and merging into the main lane. "You're well entitled to feel nervous. Mark himself is probably sitting there worrying that he's not going to meet your expectations, or that he's gonna mess up somehow. At the end of the day, you're just two people meeting for the first time, sharing similar interests and personalities. It'll be like going to school and making a new friend, except with rose petals and dessert".
"Huh. That's...I mean, yeah. That kinda makes sense. He's just a guy. And I'm just a guy" he muttered, thumbing the retweet button before he slipped his phone back into his pocket, sucking in a shuddering breath and listening to the voice inside his head that sounded suspiciously like Mika telling him to buck up and enjoy himself. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and he'd be damned if he ruined it by having a breakdown before he even got to the restaurant. Plus, what would Spencer think of him? He had no idea who Spencer's idol would be, but he was willing to bet that Spencer wouldn't blow a first meeting.
"You're just two guys" Amy agreed with a grin.
The rest of the drive was actually so fun that Ethan almost, almost forgot about where he was headed. Amy showed him her favourite playlist and told him anecdotes about her time working as a camera-woman for Mark, and stories about Chica, Mark's most recent addition to the family. He in turn told her about Spencer and about taking a year off college, about how he dabbled here and there with making gaming videos on his tiny ass Youtube channel and about the first video of Mark's he ever watched.
The time went by far too quickly. Before he knew it, they were turning off into a beautifully lit square of restaurants and stores. Surprised, Ethan wriggled his phone from his pocket and glanced at the time, heart thumping when he realised there were two more Twitter notifications for Mark's posts.
"What has that goof put up now?" Amy asked curiously with a knowing smile, and when they pulled up at a red light he quickly turned his phone so she could see. She rolled her eyes at the images, but her expression was warm when he put the car into drive again. "He's such a ham. We'd all be screwed if he ever took himself seriously" she huffed, her smile widening into a chuckle when he giggled. It was true - God forbid the man ever start doing anything like serious photoshoots or modelling. If the man could look that handsome slobbing around or dressed up in the single most ridiculous outfit one could dream of...They'd be doomed.
He re-read the second image.
Fifteen minutes. Glancing at the clock he realised that now they were down to just under ten minutes. "Oh, God" he whispered, hands beginning to shake and heart immediately leaping back into action like a bee-stung racehorse as he tucked his phone away. Amy cast him a sympathetic glance as she pulled into a parking space, shutting off the car engine. She reached out lightly, hand hovering for a moment before giving him the most gentle squeeze on the shoulder.
"Hey. You'll be fine. This is no different to meeting him at a Con" she coaxed, leaning back in her seat. "So, you've got a few options as far as it goes with the hotel. Since I'll be the one picking you up from the event; you can either leave your bag in the car, or take it with you. It entirely depends on what you feel most comfortable with. Obviously I won't be rummaging through your bag, but I can also drop it off at your hotel room if you want me to. The key is in an envelope at the reception desk waiting for you, so either way it doesn't impact getting into room".
Ethan listened, mulling it over as he glanced down between his shoes. The bag was small, and only contained a shirt, sweatpants, clean underwear, his phone charger and toothbrush/toothpaste. Nothing much that anyone would find worth stealing, so after a moment he shrugged lightly. "Uh...I guess I don't mind? It can either stay in the car or go to the hotel. Whichever is easier". He bit at his lip, glancing out of the window and at the restaurant. He recognised its name from the emails. There, sat inside that restaurant, was Mark.
Amy let him have all the time he needed, sitting in the passenger seat and and sucking in deep breaths, double checking his EpiPens and doing his best to steel his fluttering heart. Eventually he forced himself to leap out of the door and onto the sidewalk, both terrified and elated by his own courage.
"You can do it!" Amy cheered him on, and he gave her a meek smile and a wave before he shuffled towards the door. He'd never quite felt so anxious, and he had to wipe his palms on his slacks several times before he shrugged on his jacket, sucked in a breath and took a step inside. He was immediately hit with the rich scent of wine, food and essential oils. The air inside the restaurant was warm and thick with scent and atmosphere. Nobody paid him a second glance as he stood there, and he drank in the restaurant greedily.
It was beautiful.
It truly was the type of place people envisioned when they thought of a romantic, Valentine's Day meal. The walls were polished wood lined with fruits and vines and flowers, every table was covered in rose petals and a white cotton sheet, decorated with candles and wine bottles. Couples sat across from each other, spoon feeding each other rich desserts while soft, tinkly music played in the background. Towards the back there were three empty tables, the one right in the middle the only one decorated to match the others while the two on either side sat empty.
A friendly looking man with his hair tied in a bun approached him with a smile. "Hi, can I help you with anything?"
"Uh, I'm...I'm meeting someone here? Mark?" He managed, coughing lightly and rubbing at the back of his neck. He swept his gaze around the room again but couldn't spot a head of bright red hair. This didn't seem to trouble the man, though, because he nodded brightly.
"Ah, yes! He did say he was awaiting a dinner guest. Your table is right over here". His legs felt weak and shaky as he followed the man, heading towards the decorated, empty table. Halfway there another table called for the attention of the man and with an apologetic glance he turned aside to help them, motioning for Ethan to continue to the table. He huffed a weak noise but forced himself to keep walking, stopping short by the table. It looked like all the others, except there was a metal basin full of ice on this one, with a champagne bottle cooling down within.
Heart pounding staccato in his chest, he turned around at the sound of a familiar voice. Illuminated under the soft gold of the light, was Mark. He looked breathtaking, surrounded by twinkling lights and flowers, dressed so smartly with bright red hair flopping in his eyes and a dazzling smile that stole the remainder of Ethan's ability to breathe. None of his videos could do him justice - In person he looked twice as beautiful, twice as soft and touchable. Ethan was slammed with the urge to simultaneously hug him and flee. Acutely aware of the fact that Mark had greeted him, he scrambled to inhale and reply, his greeting forced out as nothing but a squeak.
"Aw, that's cute" Mark beamed at him, gaze sweeping from his hair down to his shoes. "Do you do hugs, handshakes or no touchy?" Ethan made a sound that roughly translated to hugs, and then found himself pulled in by large, strong hands against a large, strong chest. Not even his most vivid dreams could have prepared himself for the sensation of sinking against Mark's frame, arms coming hesitantly around his shoulders. It felt like coming home, like pure comfort and relief. Mark was solid and real beneath his hands, smelt like clean aftershave and a little bit of hair gel. He scrunched his eyes closed, trembling as he tucked his head down against Mark's shoulder a little, the fabric of his suit soft and smooth beneath his cheek, mindful not to go near Mark's neck because he knew that was a thing the vlogger hated.
Mark pulled away after a moment, stepping back to pull out one of the chairs. Ethan sat clumsily, putting a hand on the table to balance and steady himself as he watched Mark move into the seat opposite him, flicking his suit jacket out as he sat. God, he felt like he might pass out at any second. Mark's eyes were so pretty up close, and his hair looked like it would feel silky to the touch.
"So, hi. My name is Mark, and this is for you". From seemingly nowhere, Mark produced a single red rose. It was in full bloom, beautiful and de-thorned. Ethan's fingers trembled when he took it, and when he sniffed it still held a rich, floral scent. Mark was grinning at him, head tipped slightly, and Ethan carefully tucked the rose into into his pocket, immediately comforted by its presence.
"This is...Wow. I'm sorry. This is so surreal" he breathed, trying not to succumb to the rising, elated anxiety. It still didn't quite seem real, like a dream just the right side of vivid. "I'm-- Shit, sorry. My name is Ethan" he scrambled to introduce himself, though he was sure Mark already knew his name. Amy had said that Mark could see all of the emails, which had made Ethan flush each time he typed out a reply.
"Ethan Darling, right? That's such a sweet name" Mark beamed, tightening his tie.
"Well, I usually go by Nestor, but, yeah" Ethan breathed, still awe-struck. He was really right here, sat opposite Mark. Listening to that gravelly drawl. Mark cast him a curious glance and he shrugged lightly. "Its...Hyphenated. Its Ethan Nestor-Darling" he clarified, then smiled lightly. "My middle name is Mark, though" he offered, and his companion looked delighted, clapping his hands lightly.
"Oh, that's great!" Mark hummed, then cast him a serious glance. "I'm still the superior Mark, though".
"Accepted" Ethan agreed immediately, and then he basked in the rich sound of Mark's laughter. It was even more beautiful in person, loud and vibrant, and Ethan found himself chuckling along, helpless to resist the pull.
"Glad you know your place, Lesser Mark. But, uh, to get serious for a second, Amy mentioned you've got a lethal peanut allergy, so uh, we went and picked up EpiPens just in case, and we also vetted the restaurant" Mark began, expression softening. "There's been absolutely no peanuts in the kitchen for 48 hours, and we also had them deep clean the kitchen last night". It was more than Ethan could keep up with, and he stared in wonder across at the other man, desperately trying to process what he'd just heard.
Mark had gone and bought him EpiPens, items he watched Mark pull out of his pocket; pharma-branded and still in the wrapping. He'd paid to have the kitchen kept free of peanuts and deep cleaned. He'd gone to so much trouble, just because Ethan had an allergy...And, shit. Now he was tearing up. When he blinked through his fuzzy vision Mark was looking at him in amused alarm. "Oh, oh God. You're crying, why are you crying? Are they the wrong Pens? Is my face that hideous?" Mark exclaimed, reaching up to cover his face.
"No! No. Your face is - Its great. I just...That's so much. EpiPens are $800 and you bought them and the kitchen is clean and...And..." He sniffled, using the edge of his sleeve to wipe at his eyes as Mark cooed at him, reaching across the table to give his forearm a gentle, comforting squeeze.
"C'mon. Its fine, okay? It was nothing. Not compared to your life, Ethan. Besides, it was a totally selfish decision. The amount of paperwork I'd have to fill out and social media stuff I'd have to do if you died is ridiculous" Mark teased lightly, smiling broadly when Ethan giggled a little, nodding with a snuffle. It took him a few moments to calm down, but they eventually managed to get around to looking at the menus. Everything on there was fancy and and sounded uber expensive - though there weren't any prices. They made idle chat about the meals on offer, discussing their favourite foods, homemade recipes and best to worst snacks.
They were still mid-conversation when the waiter approached, and Mark was just as friendly and polite with the staff member, gently reminding them about Ethan's allergy and not attempting to order for him. Ethan sat there smitten and uncaring of the blatant fondness on his face, watching Mark chat happily to the waiter, who took down their orders then looked between them cheerfully. "You guys make the cutest couple I've seen all night" he remarked, gaze flicking across to Ethan. "I wish my wife looked at me the way you look at him" he teased lightly, before taking off with their orders.
Cheeks blazing, Ethan dropped his gaze to the table, more embarrassed than he'd ever been. Mark was laughing again, light and soft, and just like the times before it coaxed an uncontrollable smile in response. His laugh was infectious, impossible to ignore, and they were deep in conversation again by the time their wine arrived. "So, I saw in the emails that you kind of dabbled in Youtube. What sorta stuff do you do?" Mark asked as he sipped the non-alcoholic champagne that he'd ordered. It was surprisingly easy to talk to him, and before long Ethan had shyly admitted that he had always had a love of gaming and entertaining, and that he was currently taking a year off college.
He was embarrassed as he spoke about that, but Mark was enthusiastic and supportive and he felt almost empowered by the time the conversation turned to gaming. They immediately found themselves in an animated discussion, even getting as far as Mark pulling out his phone to show some clips of past videos and games before he looked up over Ethan's shoulder with a smile. "Oh, food!"
"Holy shit, that looks like the stuff you see in cooking shows" Ethan exclaimed as his own plate was set down in front of him. He'd ordered a fancy looking combination of steak strips, seasoned vegetables and Mexican sundried tomato rice, and the smell was divine. He practically moaned as he breathed it in, glancing across the table to Mark, who was watching him with a soft, warm smile. Their sides were set down next, herb soaked bread and cheese bites and rice balls that had Ethan's mouth watering.
"This food is prettier than the new PS5" Mark hummed, prompting a giggled from Ethan. "Come on, let's me pretentious Instagram dorks and take photos of our food" Mark encouraged, pulling out his own phone.
"Okay" Ethan beamed, following suit. They took several images before Mark picked up his glass of champagne, holding it forward in a toast.
"To helping veterans, and to meeting one of my most interesting, sweet fans" Mark announced, cooing at the blush that spread across Ethan's cheeks before they clicked glasses and sipped their drinks. They picked up their utensils at the same time, and Ethan speared some beef, a chunk of greens and some rice onto his fork, shoving it into his mouth with as much restraint as he could muster. It was an immediate burst of flavour on his tongue and he couldn't hold back a whimper of delight, opening his eyes to find that Mark was staring at him.
"Oh! Oh, sorry. This is just, this is so good. Do you want to try some?" He asked, rubbing at one pink cheek at he blinked across at Mark, who softened, humming softly.
"Don't apologise for enjoying yourself, Eth. But hey, I'll never turn down food" Mark grinned, head tipping slightly. It would have been easy to just push his plate closer to Mark, but thoughtlessly he speared another forkful of food and held it across to Mark, who's eyes glittered as be leaned forwards, long fingers wrapping around Ethan's wrist to gold the fork steady as he closed his lips over the prongs and pulled back. Ethan was entranced as he watched Mark chew, frozen as he stared. He suddenly felt too warm and his clothes felt too tight, his slacks seemingly gripping onto his pelvis and hips.
Mark moaned, rich and low, nodding as he swallowed then took a sip of champagne, pink tongue sliding across his lower lip. "Damn, you were right. That's some real good stuff" Mark praised, smiling as he cut into his own meal. The older man had ordered some kind of spaghetti pasta, with sauce and parmesan and little bits of meat. He flushed when their eyes met and reached for his wine, taking a hasty sip. He was about to reach for his own fork again when Mark said "hey, here" and he glanced up to find that he'd wrapped his fork in pasta and was holding it forwards.
"You want me to...?" He asked, stunned when Mark simply hummed and nodded, smile welcoming and gentle. "And yours--"
"Completely peanut free" Mark assured him, and Ethan sucked in a breath before he leaned forwards. He wasn't quite brave enough to hold Mark's arm, so he simply lay a finger under the body of the fork, sucking the pasta off as delicately as he could. Just like his own meal it was a rich burst of flavour, cheesy and meaty and herby and he let out a soft noise of pleasure, lashes dipping.
"Fuck, that's so good. I'll forever be disappointed each time I eat boxed mac'n'cheese now" he lamented, leaning back. Mark had been openly watching him, but then he laughed vibrantly, head shaking as he glanced away. They still talked as they ate, occasionally swapping bites of each others food. Halfway through Mark proposed what the best combination of their meals and sides could be, and it started a stacking competition that ended in Mark's favor. Ethan accepted defeat gracefully, pretending to kick Mark in the shins. Mark slipped his phone form his pocket after, levelling it with the table in a poor attempt at taking a sneaky photograph of him. Ethan stared straight at it, casting it a subtle middle finger that had Mark laughing quietly as he tucked it away.
The conversation didn't falter as they ate, and Ethan had never felt so invested in a discussion before. He soaked up every low, smooth word that came from Mark's mouth, attentive and delighted by each topic. Amy had been right - Mark was just another person. Albeit perhaps the most selfless, interesting intelligent person he'd ever met; but 'just another guy' regardless. When Mark cracked a joke about hoping Ethan didn't have a partner at home who'd be jealous of this romantic setting, he flushed and shook his head.
"Oh, no. I just...Its just Spencer at home. My dog". Mark perked up at that, eyes round and sparkling.
"You have a dog?" He asked, immediately perked up, and Ethan fumbled for his phone with a nod.
"Yeah. My ex-girlfriend Mika helped me get him. I love him to bits, honestly. He's the best part of my life. I wouldn't change him for the world. I had one guy - the date went great, but when we got back he was like 'ew, I hate dogs' and...Yeah, no. Dogs over dudes any day. He's just...Always been there, y'know? He's my rock. He doesn't care that I struggle to focus or that I ramble. Or that sometimes I'm too loud or too energetic. He's just always up for whatever I'm doing and he knows when I'm sad and I need him by my side" Ethan huffed, swallowing the last of his food. When he re-focused Mark was looking at him intently, with a somewhat unreadable expression.
"I can agree with that" Mark offered lightly, expression unbearably gentle. "Dogs are more wholesome and good than any people. I'd pick a dog any day, too. Chica is my baby girl, I love her more than anything. Hey! You said you live about half an hour away, right?"
Ethan nodded, a warm flush spreading down his body as he tentatively caught on to what Mark might be about to suggest.
"Well, we should definitely arrange a play date or something. Chica loves making friends, and I just have to meet Spencer".
He wasn't going to survive this dinner. It was then that he realised they were both done eating, and he realised with a sinking feeling that they only had dessert left, and then life would go back to hw it was before. Sure, Mark had offered to meet Spencer; but Mark was a big-time Youtuber who always complained about never really having time for anything except making content. The days would go on Mark would eventually forget about him, and-
"Hey. Where'd you go in there?" Mark asked softly, bringing him back to the present. Mark's hand was ever so light against the back of his, his expression deep and gentle. Ethan's gaze dropped down to where Mark's fingertips lay against his skin, and he couldn't help a tiny, bittersweet smile.
"Sorry. This is...Yeah. I have a shit attention span and always get stuck in my own head" Ethan breathed, shaking his head lightly before he looked back up. Mark shrugged at him lightly, smile wide when he took his hand back. Ethan tried hard not to lament its loss too much.
"Hey, its fine. Sometimes our own heads are the best places we can go. God knows there's times I've spent hours just sat somewhere, thinking. I'm sorry if I jumped the gun about meeting the dogs - I just...I really love dogs, too. But the only close friend of mine that has another dog is Amy, and Henry is a rescue so he's really timid and shy. He's only just sort of getting used to whenever I come around" Mark offered, and Ethan shook his head.
"Shit, no! I didn't-- Its not that. I mean, it'd be a dream to like, go to a park or something with you and Chica. Sorry, I just...Its so strange. Like, I should be so happy that I've met you but all I can think about is how much its gonna suck going home and just, that's it, y'know? Like eating a really, really amazing cake once and then never eating it again". He cringed at the comparison, doing his best not to imagine his mouth anywhere near Mark, fingertips tapping restlessly on the table. How stupid was he? Pouring his mind out to Mark - ruining a good night because he couldn't keep his thoughts locked inside his head. Mark looked pensively thoughtful for a short while, before he dug around in his pocket, pulling out his phone.
"Hand me your phone?" Mark requested, and Ethan frowned a little but obliged, thumbing in his passcode before he handed it over, desperately hoping Mark didn't come across anything incriminating. Like his texts to Mika, or the nudes he had haphazardly mixed in amongst other photos in his phone gallery. Mark held a phone in each hand, glancing between them as he tapped around on the screen of Ethan's, before he held it up, pulling a funny face and taking a selfie. Bemused and curious, Ethan took his phone back when Mark held it out and then almost dropped it again when he realised that Mark had added himself as a contact, phone number and all. He looked up in blatant surprise and Mark smiled softly and almost shyly, shrugging and dropping his gaze to the table.
"Well, you're an awesome guy. And we share a lot of the same interests. I can't promise that we'll stay up every night giggling down the phone about our crushes on Tom Holland, but I wouldn't hate it if we got the chance to hang out again sometime". He sounded almost timid as he said it, confidence failing for the first time since Ethan had arrived, and his heart squeezed in his chest as an astounded grin threatened to split his cheeks.
"I-- Shit. Holy fuck, yeah. I mean, I know you're busy as fuck. I don't expect anything outta this, but...Fuck. I wouldn't say no to hanging out. I've got the old Mario '64 at home, maybe one day I can kick your ass on it". The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them and his cheeks felt like a nuclear bomb had just been dropped there, but Mark looked up at him brightly, eyes sparkling in the candle light and smile so gentle rose petals could weep, and it was suddenly like a weight had been lifted off his chest. Before he tucked his phone away he sent off a text to Mark's number so that the Youtuber would also have his, nothing but a smiley face and a spaghetti emoji, and his heart cinched again when Mark glanced at his phone and smiled once more.
The waiter cleared their plates away and handed them the dessert menu, and before Ethan knew it he was engaged in a friendly, heated debate about which type of chocolate was the best. They were mid argument when a different waiter came to take their order, and it earned them another cooed remark that had Ethan flushing from hairline to collarbone.
"Aw, hear that, schnookums? We're the cutest couple" Mark hummed at him, overly sweet as he reached out and laced their fingers together. Ethan clutched at his chest dramatically and fluttered his lashes, but his heart was beating so fast at the sight and feel of their hands together that once the waiter had taken their orders and left he had to excuse himself to the bathroom, dabbing cold water on himself and sucking in deep breaths, adjusting his belt over where his cock wasn't hard, but certainly sensitive at the thought of how their hands would look together in all sorts of other positions and scenarios.
He stumbled back to the table and found himself immediately swept into a conversation about gaming conventions and devices, he and Mark eagerly tripping each other up and spiralling off into a hundred different splinter conversations before their desserts arrived. They'd ordered two small desserts each and a bowl of fruit pieces and double-thick cream to share, and Mark's eyes were round and eager when it was all set in front of them.
"God, if it wasn't for my trainer, I'd be about three-hundred pounds and immobile on my couch" Mark groaned as he pulled out his phone, snapping a picture of his dessert quickly, before he raised his phone, taking another picture of Ethan just as he leaned forwards to eye the fruit bowl appreciatively. "The cutest date ever" Mark teased as he showed Ethan the picture, before attacking his own dessert with valour.
It was Ethan's turn to watch Mark with mingled appreciation and desire as the older man scooped up a forkful of his mousse-y dessert, eyes rolling and groan heady as he chewed then swallowed. Ethan bit down on a squeak and dropped his gaze, doing his best to wipe that sound and face combination from his memory lest his slacks get infinitely more tighter. He hurried to spear a bit of his own dessert, not surprised by its quality but also pleasantly amazed. This was so, so much better than a factory made cake on the discount shelf at his local Walmart. Or any of his own abysmal attempts at baking, for that matter.
"Incoming" Mark announced once he'd swallowed his mouthful, and Ethan looked up in surprise to see Mark holding out a chunk of dessert on his fork. He didn't hesitate, cupping Mark's wrist with his hand as he licked the white chocolate mousse and crumbly cake layer from the prongs, lashes dipping in admiration of the flavour.
"Oh, God. That's so good. Now I understand why some people genuinely say cake over sex" he breathed as he leaned back, heedless of his own words but helpless not to laugh along when Mark giggled at him.
"Okay, okay. The best sex you've ever had with your celebrity crush, or cake?" Mark asked him, using his fork like a microphone. Ethan blinked at him, alarm creeping into the humour. Sure, he had other celebrity crushes. Elle Fanning, Harry Styles, Natalie Dormer, Tom Holland...But his biggest crush was sat right in front of him, staring at him with a gleaming twinkle in his eye and a sleek suit jacket stretched over his broad chest. His breathing stuttered in his lungs and his mind went blank of all inability to form thought. After a moment, Mark smirked at him.
"I'm going to take your silence as reluctance to admit that cake wins" he teased, leaning back and allowing Ethan a smidgeon of breathing room. He managed a squeak in response that could've been either denial or agreement, and hurriedly picked up his own fork. His own dessert was just and good, and he followed Mark's suit, toeing his ankle lightly to catch his attention before holding out the offering. This time, when Mark leaned forwards, neither of them dropped their gaze, staring each other in the eye as Mark wrapped his tongue around the offering of sticky sauce and cake. Ethan wasn't entirely sure that he actually breathed at all as Mark kept hold of his arm, groaning lowly in approval.
"Yeah. That's good" Mark intoned, voice somehow eight octaves lower, gritty like driveway gravel as he licked his lips slowly and leaned back.
It was far too late to put on looser pants.
It was worse when they both dove for the fruit and cream. The white liquid was rich but very fluid, dripping over each piece of fruit they dipped in. Ethan thought nothing of sucking and licking his fingers clean after he'd cupped his hand under his fork to stop it dripping on the table, and when he glanced up to ask Mark about his opinion on pineapples the older man was seemingly lost in thought, staring straight at him and gripping his own fork so tightly the metal had actually bent ever so slightly.
"Huh?" Mark twitched, blinked, then immediately softened, relaxing his grip and casting Ethan another of those heart-twisting, serene smiles. "Sorry. Spaced out for a second. I swear, good food could ruin me" Mark replied with a smile, subtly moving his hands and straightening out the fork as best as he could. He skewered a piece of strawberry, ran it through the cream and ate it with a low, satisfied groan that had Ethan squirming on his seat a little, desperately trying to keep his mind on the 'safe for work' track.
Much like they had with the sides, they almost immediately began a competition of what combinations tasted best. Mark went for the 'full monty', using his fork to cut various fruit pieces into slices, which he pronged as one big stack before he dipped it into the cream. "Here" he offered in a low voice, holding it out to the younger man, who hesitated before leaning forwards and doing his best to eat it in one clean bite. He chewed thoughtfully, working through the sweet layers with a soft noise of approval and a thumbs up.
"Mmph, good!" He managed as he looked up at Mark, who's expression seemed dark and focused under the ambient lighting.
"You've got some..." Mark trailed off, gesturing to his face before he huffed a breath and simply leaned forwards, reaching out. Ethan froze as he felt the soft pad of Mark's thumb run across his chin and then the corner of his mouth.
It was thoughtless reflex to tip his head a little, tongue pressing against the pad of Mark's thumb a moment before his lips closed around the digit, briefly suckling it clean. It was a thing he'd done a hundred times over with his friends and old partners, and it wasn't until he'd pulled off that he realised what he'd done and to whom.
"Shit! Ah, oh my god. I'm so-- I'm so sorry. Fuckfuckfuck, I didn't meant to-"
"Ethan! Take a breath" Mark commanded gently with a voice seemingly eight octaves lower than before, clicking his fingers to catch Ethan's attention. He sucked in a deep breath and it was automatic for Ethan to copy it, gaze fixed on Mark's chest because he physically couldn't bring himself to look up at the older man's face. Mark breathed deeply three times, slowly and steadily and keeping his hand near his chest, a focal point that Ethan could fix on while he tried to wrangle the leaden ball of anxiety and humiliation that had settled in his stomach.
The moment was broken by the waiter refilling their glasses, and when he was gone Mark slipped seamlessly into more jokes and conversation, entirely disregarding what had happened before as he began to skewer bits of fruit together. Ethan's staccato heartbeat hadn't calmed as he watched Mark sweep the fruit through the cream and bring it to his mouth, tongue flicking out at a drop of cream before he chewed the mouthful, lashes dipping on another pleased sound. Ethan did his best not to falter in turn, working through the last scraps of his own dessert before he attempted to eat the fruit and cream again.
"I still think the strawberry and cherry combo is the best" Mark announced as he dragged just that through a thick glob of cream, not hesitating before he held it out for Ethan with a raised brow. He froze for a moment, mind immediately ringing with alarm bells as he recalled the moment gone prior. Tentatively he leaned forwards, doing his best to keep the act as clean as he could. It seemed like at the last moment Mark moved the fork, smearing a trail of cream across his lips before pushing the fruit between them slowly. Mark was right about the fruit - they complimented each other, sweetness backed by the thick cream that rolled over his tongue.
This time, there was nothing said between them as Mark ran his thumb over Ethan's lips, smearing the cream around before he let it sit there for a moment, starting intently and wordlessly before he withdrew his hand, licking the cream from his thumb as Ethan slid his own tongue along his lower lip, dipping it into the corner to make sure there was no cream left.
"Have...Have you tried the pineapple with the kiwi?" He asked on a high and rasped voice, half-blindly stabbing two pieces of fruit before holding it out to Mark, who was smirking at him with a glimmer in his eye as he automatically opened his mouth and tipped his head back a little, sticking his tongue out a touch as Ethan carefully guided it to his mouth, breath frozen in his lungs as Mark took the dessert.
This...This wasn't good. His slacks were too tight around his hips and his blood felt over-hot in his veins. He was suddenly hyperaware of every nerve ending and every dirty fantasy he'd ever had about the man, cheeks pink and pupils half the size of the moon as he watched Mark lick the corner of his mouth clean and then his fingers, pink tongue curling slick around his digits. It stole his breath away and he merely sat there for a moment, lips pursed around his own spoon as he watched Mark, who glanced up at him after a moment with a twinkle in his eye, as if he knew exactly what he was doing. Exactly the reaction he was garnering.
Mark's phone buzzed after a moment and with a mumbled apology he glanced down at it. He read for a moment, then seemed briefly surprised. "Holy shit" he breathed, setting down his fork. "We've...That was Amy. We've been here almost three and a half hours" he revealed. Ethan blew out a breath, leaning back and huffing a soft, surprised chuckle.
"Oh. Shit, I'm sorry. That's totally my fault, I talk so much, and-"
"Hey, none of that, Eth. I've loved talking to you" Mark cut in firmly, shaking his head. "I'll just tell her that I'll drop you at the hotel, if that's good with you? I drove here anyway. She said she can drop your bag off at the hotel for you". Mark sounded almost...Hopeful? And that notion had Ethan agreeing immediately and without question, revelling in the bright smile that Mark shot him and the low, almost growled good that fell from his mouth.
A thought hit him and he giggled. "Makes it a full circle Valentine's Date. Y'know, taking me home after" he snorted, then paused again, mortified at himself. But Mark's gaze was amused and almost secretive when he looked up, smirking again before he dropped his attention back to his phone, thumbs flying over the screen. Ethan sat in quiet embarrassment, eating the last of the kiwi so he didn't open his mouth and say something else humiliating. God, what had he been thinking? This is why he stuck to the same group of friends. They were well desensitised to his lack of filter and brand of humor.
When Mark set his phone down there was only a little fruit left, and they ate in relative silence whilst sneaking glances at each other, shy and sly both. There was one chunk of strawberry left, and Mark forked it and dragged it through the cream before moving it towards Ethan's mouth. As Ethan parted his lips for it the strawberry began to slip from the fork, and they both moved to catch it. Mark got there first, snagging it between his index and middle finger as it fell, smearing cream over them as he made a yipped sound of amused alarm and pushed the berry between Ethan's lips.
He didn't stop there.
He let his fingers rest against Ethan's lips as the younger man chewed, watching him intently and seemingly lost in thought. It wasn't until Ethan swallowed and hesitantly let his lips part that Mark seemed to come back into focus, gaze dark and heady and he slowly pushed the tips of his fingers into Ethan's mouth. He didn't push far, resting the pads of his fingertips just on the tip of Ethan's tongue, something inky and wanting in his eyes when Ethan tentatively let his tongue slide against them, licking away the traces of cream that had smeared there.
"We should - We should get the cheque" Mark murmured as he pulled his fingers from Ethan's mouth slowly, tracking their slide. His voice was gritty and deep, rumbled like a tropical storm. It sent a shiver down Ethan's spine and he turned his gaze away shyly, nodding. Instead of waving down a waiter Mark pushed himself to his feet, subtly using the side of his suit jacket to cover his pelvis as he shuffled around the table and then strode to the bar. Ethan kept his head down as he whipped out his phone, taking the moment of privacy to send panicked texts to Mika. She was, as always, utterly unhelpful, sending him nothing but wet and eggplant emojis and then a heated panting face.
Light fingertips brushed his shoulder and he practically smashed the power button to his phone, twisting in his seat to look up at where Mark was stooped over his shoulder, smiling down at him like some sort of Angel on Earth, still with that glimmer in his eyes. Ethan nodded dumbly and wriggled from his seat, reaching for his jacket and blushing scarlet to find that Mark had already swept it off the back of his seat and was holding it out for him. He slipped his arms into it, holding his breath at the sensation of Mark close to his back, the ghost of a breath against his neck as Mark tucked his jacket over his shoulders.
"My car is just down the street" Mark explained as he led the way through the restaurant, waving cheerfully and thanking the waiters as they left. Outside it had gone completely dark, and the street around them was quieter and lit by the various storefronts and streetlights. They walked side by side, talking quietly about some of Mark's future video ideas. As they rounded a corner Mark's hand slid along his elbow lightly, a brush of contact used to steer him to the side. It felt like an electric touch, a spark through the layers of fabric that stole his breath as Mark led him towards a parking lot where his Dodge awaited. It was a car somehow sleek and scrappy at the same time, and Ethan found himself thinking that it suited Mark when the older man held the door open for him.
He had to move a Kirby plushie out of the way to sit, and he cradled it like a baby as Mark slid around the back of the car and into his own seat, glancing across and cooing when he saw Ethan cradling the soft toy. "Aw, look at you two. Cutest couple of 2020" he teased, starting the ending and putting his arm around Ethan's seat to look behind him as he reversed out of the space. When they joined the main stream of traffic he leaned forwards to switch on the heat and the music, soft rock filling the space between them. With a full stomach and the low simmer of arousal it was actually startlingly comfortable, and Ethan found himself tipping his head against the window, watching the night life go by.
It was quiet but not uncomfortably so, and Mark seemed to know the way to the hotel without needing a GPS. Midway there he began to sing along, a husked crooning that sank into Ethan's bones. It was all too easy to loll his head to the other side, to stare at him instead. Illuminated by the streetlights and the passing scenery, beautiful and gilded. Mark caught him staring when he glanced his way to check the mirror and his smile was radiant, almost secretive as he continued to sing.
Much like the rest of the night the drive went far to quickly. It was all too soon that Mark was pulling up outside, but to Ethan's surprise he didn't just wave him off. Instead he shut the car engine off and jogged around the hood, pulling open Ethan's door before he'd even gotten his belt off. He made a soft noise of surprise and flushed when Mark bowed, holding out a hand. He moved to set aside the Kirby, but Mark spoke before he could let go of it. "You can keep him, if you want. I want you to. I'm an absentee Father and it breaks my heart to see my son left alone all the time" he divulged dramatically, smirking when Ethan snickered and obligingly kept hold of the plush toy as he took Mark's hand.
It was just as exhilarating the first time; holding Mark's hand. It felt right, for the short time that it happened. Like putting in the final puzzle piece. Ethan didn't have tiny hands by any means, but Mark's were still large enough that they encompassed most of his. With or without realising it, Mark kept hold of his hand until Ethan was safely on the sidewalk and the car door was shut before he let go slowly, hand hovering behind Ethan's back as they walked through the doors and into the foyer. Mark flashed the receptionist a charming smile as he leaned against the desk.
"Markiplier" the girl behind the desk breathed, eyes round and wide as she beamed up at him, shrinking in on herself in delight. Mark blinked and softened a little, giving a low and friendly hum. "You're the-- The lady said you'd be coming for the envelope with the key and-- Oh" she seemed to notice Ethan then, glancing between them a few times before her cheeks pinked considerably. "I'll go...I'll go get it right away, Mr....Mr...Fischbach" she stammered, pushing herself up and practically jogging through a doorway behind her.
What was her- Oh.
The girl thought...Because it was Valentine's Day and here they were, in suits, with roses and plushies, checking into a pre-booked hotel room.
"She thinks we're going to fuck" he blurted, eyes widening. Mark turned to him with raised brows and parted lips, but before he could fully respond the girl was back with an envelope, explaining the door number and checking him in, before he asked shyly for a photograph with Mark, glancing at Ethan beforehand and asking if he minded, like he was some sort of...Some sort of...
When she'd sat back down, Mark walked him to the elevator and then to his surprise, stepped inside with him. One wall of the elevator was a mirror, and Ethan stared as Mark stepped up to it, looking too Heavenly to quite be read as he swept a hand through his hair and adjusted his tie. When Mark caught him staring he seemed to suddenly grow sheepish. "Gotta make sure the key works. If I leave you locked out of your room Amy will tie a brick to my head and drown me in the pool" he offered. Immediately Ethan's hopes were dashed and he felt stupid for thinking such things, dropping his gaze with a mumble of nonsense to agree, hugging the Kirby plush tighter.
His room wasn't that far away from the elevator, and his fingers were trembling when he pulled the keycard out from his pocket, senses hyperaware of where Mark stepped up behind him, a touch too close to to be formal but not close enough to be looming or intimate. Still, it was all Ethan could think of as he juggled the Kirby plush and tentatively slid the keycard into the slot, letting out a soft breath when it beeped, the light turned green, and the handle went down when he pushed it.
This was the end.
He turned to Mark, offering a wobbly smile. "It-- It works" he whispered, dragging his gaze up from the man's thick thighs. It was unfair - Nobody should look that good in crappy over-bright hotel lighting, and yet there he stood. Red hair and killer smirk, soft and hot at once. It made Ethan itch for a camera every time he looked at him, to capture his beauty and hold it close forever.
"It does" Mark drawled slowly, fixing him on the spot with a heady, leaden gaze.
"I should...I really enjoyed tonight. Thank you. I mean, I know you didn't pick me, but...This has been one of the best nights of my life so far" he admitted meekly, heart thumping wildly in his chest.
For a moment he thought the atmosphere had broken. That Mark was just going to cough, take a step back, thank him then excuse himself to go home. But then long fingers curled around his tie and used that anchor to hold him in place as Mark leaned forwards, and he barely had time to whimper before there was a hand in his hair too, twisting through the soft strands and tipping his head back so that Mark could brush their lips together, unbearably sweet for just a moment before he licked into Ethan's mouth without warning, pressing him up against the door. It was all Ethan could do not to drop his key card, breathing out a moan as he grappled the older man closer.
"Shit, I'm sorry. I didn't ask" Mark breathed against his mouth as he pulled away a little, looking abashed. It was so sweet and so Mark that Ethan barked out a laugh, letting go of both keycard and Kirby plush to wrap his arms around Mark's shoulders.
"Its okay" he managed, voice strangled as he pulled him closer again, leaning back against the door as their mouths met again. Stubble prickled at the corner of his mouth and his top lip and he whined as Mark kissed him, unbearably soft yet searing enough that Ethan felt scorched as Mark kissed one side of his mouth then the other, then his lower lip before he pulled back as the door beeped angrily at them, reminding them that Ethan's keycard was still wedged into the scanner. Mark chuckled at him and dropped the hand wrapped around his tie, reaching past his waist to pull the keycard out then push it back in.
Ethan was so hard it almost left him dizzy, a hiss falling from his mouth when Mark leaning forwards meant his length got ground into the firm ridge of Mark's hip. The older man looked down between them then flicked his gaze up with a smirk, hedonistic and almost predatory as he pushed open the door, pressing their bodies close together. Ethan got the delight of his own stiffness grinding against Mark for a brief moment, championed by the familiar feeling of a hard cock pressing against his navel before the back of his heel caught on the ridge of the door line and he pitched backwards with a muffled whelp.
They hit the ground sprawling but avoided injury, laughing together as Mark propped himself up on his elbows, blinking down through a red halo. "If you've got any ouchies I'll kiss them better" Mark whispered, smirking salaciously down at him before he pushed up to his feet in a show of muscle and toned form. As the door swung shut behind them Ethan caught sight of his abandoned plushie and yelped, lunging to bat the door open again, on half-up on his stomach as he snatched the plushie from the hallway and dragged it to safety. No sooner had the door shut did a pair of strong arms wrap around his middle, wriggling between his stomach and the carpet where they tightened and lifted him in an arousing display of brute strength.
He found himself pulled back against a firm chest, head dropping back against mark's shoulder, gaze fixing on his jaw as Mark nosed lightly at his ear. "I don't...I've never done this before. Like this" Mark admittedly quietly, hands splayed almost possessively on Ethan's stomach, thumbs rubbing circles over his abdomen.
"You don't have to" Ethan breathed, tossing the Kirby safely onto the vanity desk near the wall. Mark's chuckle was rich in his ear and he could feel it against his spine as Mark slowly moved to take one of his wrists, pulling his arm gently and carefully backwards, a thumb guiding his hand into turning until his palm pressed flat against the thick and unmistakable bulge that strained against the older man's pressed slacks.
"I want to" Mark rumbled lowly, pressing into his palm before walking them backwards towards the bed.