They’re in the final dying seconds of the championship game. The arena is full of adoring fans, all screaming his name, as Donghyuck squares up to face the final boss. The opposing team’s right wing has the puck, nothing but free ice ahead of him after an impressive backhand pass out from centre. It’s all come down to this; the scores are tied, and Donghyuck is the only thing standing between the opposition and victory…
Jisung’s mediocre shot on goal clatters pathetically against the side of Donghyuck’s skate, bobbling unsteadily and then skidding to a stop a few inches shy of the crease. The older boy glances down, almost as though he’s surprised to see it there, and then sighs heavily. No matter how creative he gets with his internal monologue, Donghyuck really doesn’t enjoy being in goal.
“Lee, get on out of there. You’re not even trying anymore.” Coach Suh calls to him from the sidelines, waving him over with a knowing sort of resignation in his voice. “Kwon, you’re in goal for the rest of practice. Suit up.”
Before the man can even finish his sentence, Donghyuck is eagerly tugging off the large, rectangular pad that’s been cutting off the circulation in his left calf for the past half hour, tossing it over his shoulder onto the ice behind him. The second pad follows suit a few moments later and then he’s leaving them for dust, skating purposefully out towards the far side of the rink without so much as a second glance.
“Sorry, Coach,” he offers up half-heartedly, as he draws level with where the man is watching the action like a hawk from the side of the rink. Both of them know that he doesn’t mean a single word—the eye roll and smirk Donghyuck receives from Coach Suh as he joins the rest of the team in the centre of the rink is testament to that—but the older man doesn’t comment. Instead, he just blows his whistle and starts to urge the replacement goalie to put on Donghyuck’s discarded pads quicker.
“Are you actually trying to piss him off?” Jaemin asks with a grin, as he grabs Donghyuck’s arm and pulls him bodily to the back of the short line of players waiting for a shot on goal. It’s just a drill, practice before a mid-season friendly next week, but Donghyuck already can’t wait for his turn. As much as he hates having been forced into goal—mainly because their usual goalkeeper, Yang Yang, is out sick today—he relishes being on this side of things.
Attacking, upfront and direct—that’s far more his style.
“You know I wasn’t.” Donghyuck shrugs, sparing another sidelong glance at their coach. The man looks a few careless puck fumbles away from tearing his hair out, pacing distractedly along the edge of the ice in his massive padded jacket, but at least that ire is no longer directed at Donghyuck. “I just hate having to sub for Liu in goal.”
“We all do,” Renjun points out bluntly, materialising at Donghyuck’s elbow as though summoned by the hockey gods themselves. He nudges the younger boy with his elbow for emphasis, and then accepts Jaemin’s one-armed hug with a soft smile. “But you do seem to be the only one who turns into a literal zombie when you hit the crease though.”
“I was just thinking about the championship final,” Donghyuck admits sheepishly. There’s a short pause in conversation as Renjun and Jaemin turn away to cheer for their boyfriend, Jeno—the boy slapping the puck into the back of the net so cleanly the goalie might as well have not even been there—before he continues. “I was trying to imagine what that would feel like. To be there again, and to actually win this time.”
Neither of his friends says anything. He knows that they’ve both imagined the same thing many times—although perhaps not when they should be concentrating on running drills—and it’s something they all want more than almost anything. They were so close in their freshman year, narrowly beaten in the final by the six-time intercollegiate champions, so they have a lot to prove this year. This year, Donghyuck thinks, it’s their shot at victory.
Twenty minutes later, after Coach Suh finally gets bored of watching a bunch of young adults queuing impatiently to attempt to hit their teammate in the shins with a small rubber disc, they split off into teams for a short scrimmage. As usual, Donghyuck quickly claims a place on vice-captain Jeno’s team, a fetching blue bib draped around his neck like a scarf, while Jaemin and Renjun defect to the red team with Jisung like the traitors they are.
As Jeno starts to assign positions, across the other side of the rink, Mark, junior varsity captain and all around competitive motherfucker, hands out red bibs to his team. Donghyuck is half listening to Jeno, the other half of his brain focused on Mark’s face as he laughs at something Shotaro is saying, so he almost misses the hand Jeno thrusts into his eye line.
“You with me, Lee?” Jeno asks, face suddenly closer to Donghyuck’s than he has any business being. Donghyuck startles, losing balance for just a second before he steadies himself with his stick, but it’s enough to have the other boy grinning nefariously. “Or is your obsession with the enemy going to be our downfall?”
“Shut up, Jen.” He shoves Jeno lightly, a playful gesture that’s just enough to send the other boy gliding slowly backwards a few feet, out of his personal space. Jeno grins again, digging his toe pick into the ice to halt his movement, and Donghyuck rolls his eyes at him. “It’s not an obsession. He’s literally my boyfriend.”
“True,” Jeno concedes with a shrug, “but, for the next twenty minutes at least, he’s the enemy.” He shifts closer, reaching out to tug at the blue bib slung around Donghyuck’s neck, and Donghyuck retaliates by snaking a gloved hand out to muss his friend’s hair. Predictably, Jeno pouts and reaches up to swat it away, before completely failing to fix it with a similarly gloved hand despite his best efforts. Eventually, he gives up, fixing Donghyuck with a determined look. “Ready to show them what we can do?”
Donghyuck’s fingers clench reflexively around the hockey stick in his hand and he beams excitedly at his friend. “Absolutely.”
“You fought valiantly…” Donghyuck slides onto the bench beside Jaemin, pulling his helmet off and reaching for a bottle of water from the crate at his feet. Jaemin is draped bodily across Jeno, head pillowed in the older boy’s lap as he peers up at him. “...but ultimately you just weren’t good enough to beat us.”
“You only won because Mark is a beast at trick shots,” Jeno mutters. To the outside observer, it might appear from his tone as though he’s annoyed, but the fingers he cards tenderly through Jaemin’s damp hair belie that notion. “You tripped over your own skates the only time you even got close to a shot on goal, NaNa.”
“Hey, I was tripped,” Jaemin insists, sitting up a little to peer at Renjun, seated on the other side of Jeno. The older boy looks about ready to pass out, eyes half-closed as he presses his cheek into Jeno’s bicep, but he cracks an indulgent smile when he sees Jaemin looking at him. “There’s a difference. Tell him, Jun. I was tripped.”
“Whatever makes you feel better, baby.” Jaemin pouts, but Renjun ignores his theatrics and turns his attention to Jeno instead. Donghyuck bends over and retrieves his blade guards from where he stashed them under the bench, carefully sliding them over the sharp blades fitted to the sole of each of his skates. “He’s not wrong though, Jeno,” Renjun continues. “We won, fair and square, even if three of the four goals were scored by one person.”
“Well, if we’re doing post-game analysis, two of those goals were nothing more than dumb luck.” At the sound of Mark’s voice, four heads turn to see the boy in question claim the empty space on the end of the bench beside Donghyuck. A moment later, a warm, distinctly sweaty arm loops loosely around Donghyuck’s shoulders and he’s being pulled into a tight hug. “Did you miss me, sunshine?”
“In the thirty seconds since you body checked me and then left me for dead on the ice?” Donghyuck asks incredulously, even as he relaxes back into Mark’s embrace.
He can feel the muscles in Mark’s abdomen and forearm quaking under his jersey as they lean into one another, an unavoidable side effect of the strenuous exercise that they’ve both put themselves through for the last half hour, and Mark’s heart is pounding out a relentless tattoo inside his chest.
He can also smell the trace of sweat that clings to both of them, a scent he’s sure will thoroughly disgust him in a few minutes once it starts to cool, but right now Donghyuck can’t bring himself to care. Mark is warm, despite the perpetual chill that lingers in the air around the rink, and surprisingly comfortable, despite the multiple thick, boxy pads he has yet to remove. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s Mark.
“I body checked you ?” Mark peers down at Donghyuck, who tilts his head to one side so that he can meet Mark’s eye. They’re so close that he could lean up just a little and press their lips together, a sure-fire way to distract Mark from his question, but he’s curious enough about where Mark is going with this that he’s willing to be patient.
“No, I didn’t!” Mark’s brows shoot up into his hairline and he unleashes that little disgruntled scowl that Donghyuck adores so much, mainly because it means that he can read every single emotion inside Mark’s head like he’s reading a book. He reaches up to smooth a stray strand of hair from Mark’s sweaty forehead and the older boy neatly snags his hand before it drops, linking their fingers together over Donghyuck’s heart. “You tried to force me into the boards to block my shot. I only checked you because you…”
Mark trails off when he realises that Donghyuck is laughing at him. The younger boy tries to cover his face with his free hand, but Mark claims it in his own before it makes it halfway. “Don’t hide your smile,” he murmurs, previous conversation temporarily forgotten. Donghyuck flushes pink, blinking up at him sheepishly, but it’s not enough to wipe the smirk off his lips. “Are you even listening to me?”
“I’m listening,” Donghyuck insists, “but it’s really cute to watch you getting all worked up about things. Especially when you’re right.”
“Hey, that’s not—wait. I am?” Mark looks shocked, blinking down at the boy now practically curled up in his lap, and Donghyuck nods.
“You are.” This time Donghyuck does lean up, but not to kiss him. Instead, he moves so that his lips brush the shell of Mark’s ear, voice lowering so that only he can hear. “I like it when you body check me. It’s kinda hot actually, not going to lie, although you’re embarrassingly easy to manipulate.”
While Mark splutters, Donghyuck smiles to himself as he recalls just how effortless it was to force Mark’s hand. All it took was a few well-placed jabs with his stick—all above board, of course, since Coach Suh was watching—and the clueless captain was putty in his hands. Mark had been left with no choice but to slam into Donghyuck, forcing him up against the plexiglass dividers that ring the outer perimeter of the ice, before he could push forward to make his shot.
“You are something else, Lee Donghyuck,” Mark grumbles, but there’s no real malice in his words. If anything, Donghyuck thinks that he sounds intrigued by the revelation, so he hopes that this won’t be the last time they broach the subject. “You’re lucky I love you.”
“Aw,” Renjun says from behind Jeno, and the same moment that Jaemin scowls. “Ew!”
“Shut up, Jaem,” Donghyuck tells him, freeing one of his hands from Mark’s grip to smack at his friend. Jaemin dodges easily, although he almost elbows Jeno in the crotch in the process, and then scrambles up to take shelter behind his two boyfriends. Donghyuck sticks his tongue out at him in retaliation, definitely not above such childish things, and Jaemin returns it with a cheeky grin. “You’re lucky you have Renjun to protect you, or I’d kick your ass.”
“Just Renjun?” Mark asks, eyeing the trio sceptically. “I’d be more worried about Jeno. Have you seen that guy armed with a hockey stick?”
“Jeno is a sweetheart,” Donghyuck says dismissively. Jeno offers him an affectionate smile, one that crinkles his eyes at the corners in a way that no mere mortal can resist, but Donghyuck isn't done. “He wouldn’t dare lay a finger on me. I have far too much dirt on him.”
Before Donghyuck can start an international incident, Mark apparently decides that it’s time for them to leave, hoisting the younger boy to his feet and all but dragging him away. Donghyuck doesn’t resist, satisfied with the chaos he’s sown, but pouts when he sees that Mark is leading them towards the changing rooms on the far side of the arena.
“Are we not staying late today?” he asks, watching Renjun attempting to placate both Jaemin and Jeno from his position wedged between them on the bench they’ve just vacated. He turns when Mark doesn’t answer, only to see the boy shaking his head. Mark has an odd little frown furrowing his brows together above his nose, and Donghyuck immediately reaches up to smooth the creases away. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Mark graciously allows Donghyuck to manhandle his face without complaint, as he gently places a hand at the base of the other boy’s spine and guides him towards the door to the changing rooms, where Donghyuck knows their bags and pedestrian clothes are waiting. “You have that group project due tomorrow, and I need to study for my algebra test.”
“Yeah, but—” Donghyuck isn't nearly as precious about homework time as Mark is, even if he had completely forgotten about this particular project until Mark just reminded him. Still, they have a routine on the nights that they visit the rink for hockey practice, and he can’t recall a single occasion in the past year when Mark has deviated from their post-scrimmage ritual.
“No buts,” Mark insists. His tone sounds pretty final, and Donghyuck knows he likely won’t change Mark’s mind, but he’s too stubborn to give up without at least trying.
“No buts.” Mark pushes open the door to the changing area, and the two of them step inside. Mark’s shower bag is the closest to the entrance so he scoops it up first, before retrieving Donghyuck’s from the adjacent locker to hand it to him. “You need to finish your part of the project, and I need a good grade on my test. We can skate after practice on Wednesday instead.”
That settled, Mark heads for the row of shower cubicles without waiting for Donghyuck’s response. It stings a little for Mark not to even be willing to discuss it, and his convenient, practised excuse seems a little suspect to Donghyuck’s ears, but he knows that his boyfriend ultimately means well. Mark only wants what’s best for them both—and their studies—and it’s not like their extra- extra -curricular activity is of vital importance in the grand scheme of things.
He pulls off his jersey, quickly stripping off the bulky shoulder padding hidden underneath. Mark has already disappeared into one of the stalls, a small pile of fabric and cushioning abandoned in the dirty kit basket in the centre of the room, so Donghyuck finds himself alone in the space as he goes through the short routine that has become as natural as breathing over the many months since he started attending hockey practices three times a week.
After every single one—at least since he and Mark officially started dating towards the end of his freshman year—he and Mark have waited on their favourite bench until the rest of the team has vacated the ice, Mark’s position as captain granting him access to one of Coach Suh’s spare keys to lock up after themselves. They then head back out onto the ice, just the two of them, to indulge in an entirely different sport.
For as much as Donghyuck loves hockey, adores the sport, the friends he’s made along the way and the feeling of euphoria that comes with flying across the ice chasing a puck, it didn’t start that way. He’s grown to love it, there’s no denying that, but he’d once arrived as a wide-eyed college freshman with a very different dream.
Donghyuck and Jaemin had first met at an orientation event for incoming students holding sports scholarships. Completely by coincidence, they had turned up at the skating booth at the exact same time, registration forms clutched in nervous, wringing fingers. Jaemin had introduced himself as a speed skater—surprisingly, Donghyuck had actually heard of him and his achievements, although he would never admit it to the younger boy—and Donghyuck had responded in kind.
“Figure skating,” he’d offered, to Jaemin’s surprise. “Individual.”
“Specialism?” Jaemin had asked.
“Doesn’t matter. I can do anything.”
That was all it had taken, the pair becoming inseparable within weeks. Jaemin quickly became a fixture in Donghyuck’s life, the artistic skating programme small enough that rehearsal times were often shared with Jaemin and his teammates. For three months, the pair had lived and breathed skating, practically living at the rink on days when the hockey teams weren’t hacking up the ice and making it unusable.
Three short months. It hadn’t been nearly long enough, but all good things must inevitably come to an end. The budget for the skating programme had been slashed, with barely enough students in either discipline to make it worth funding, and Donghyuck had been given a stark choice. Continue to pursue figure skating without a coach and sacrifice his scholarship, or shift his efforts into something more...lucrative.
It had felt like the end of the world at the time, for both of them, but Donghyuck couldn't bring himself to regret his decision now. Agreeing to learn to play ice hockey, and to join the school team, had brought him to Mark, and had brought Jaemin to Renjun and Jeno. Add in Jisung, YangYang and Shotaro—and Chenle, whenever the Chinese piano prodigy deigned to stop by to watch one of their practices—and it was a no brainer. He’d sacrificed one love, one thing that made him happy, and, in exchange, he’d gained a dozen others. He’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Besides, thanks to Mark, he hasn't quite had to let go of figure skating completely. After a late-night confession fueled by coffee and impending midterms, Mark had made it his mission to allow Donghyuck to embrace his passions whenever the opportunity arose. Sure, the ice is always scarred to hell and back after hockey practice, making it difficult to skate on, and it isn't quite the same without music or his proper figure skates, but Donghyuck would argue that it’s perfect just because it’s with Mark.
Because Mark makes time for him.
Because Mark knows how much it matters to him.
Which brings Donghyuck back to today, and to the closed shower door currently separating him and his unflappable boyfriend. Mark isn’t wrong—they both have a lot of work to do, and not nearly enough time to waste on something as frivolous as after-hours skating—but that doesn’t dull the disappointment building inside as Donghyuck carries his shower bag over to the stall next to Mark’s and pushes open the door.
“Are you okay, Hyuckie?” Mark’s voice is muffled by the water that’s started to rain down from the showerhead above his cubicle, but his question is unmistakable. He sounds concerned, and more than a little guilty. Donghyuck wouldn’t be surprised if he could sense his melancholy through the wall, so he forces a smile onto his face even though Mark can’t see it.
“I’m fine.” He pauses, fiddling with the temperature gauge on the tap for a moment, before continuing. “I’m holding you to Wednesday though. No excuses.”
“No excuses,” Mark agrees. Donghyuck turns the tap on and steps quickly under the spray. He can be patient. One missed day isn’t a big deal, in the grand scheme of things, but he’s determined to hold Mark to his promise.
When Wednesday afternoon rolls around, Donghyuck is buzzing with excitement as he lets himself into the sports complex and steps into the changing area. He makes quick work of his uniform, humming happily to himself as he navigates the locker room, before he joins the rest of the team out on the ice.
YangYang is back and fighting fit, which adds an extra layer of euphoria to the atmosphere, and Donghyuck feels like he’s on top of the world. He doesn’t miss a single shot or intercept for the entire two hours, dancing effortlessly around Renjun and Shotaro in defence to score three goals over Mark’s team in the final scrimmage. Mark actually tries to hip check him a few times, a mischievous glint in his eye, but Donghyuck dodges his advances easily—apart from the one time he chooses not to, but that’s another story entirely.
“You all did amazing today,” Coach Suh enthuses as he calls an end to the practice, waving the group over to the side of the ice. He makes sure to hold each student’s eye in turn, reminding Donghyuck why he has such a strong reputation as a great coach, before his gaze lands on him. “Especially you, Hyuck. You were on fire out there today.”
“Thanks, Coach.” Donghyuck beams as Mark loops an arm around his waist, squeezing as if to reinforce the man’s praise. He knows he performed well today, so he’s happy to accept the kind words, but he does duck his head when he feels multiple sets of eyes on him. Right now, all he wants is for the rest of the team to disperse—immediately, if possible—so that he and Mark can finally have the rink to themselves.
“Keep it up,” Coach Suh tells him earnestly, before waving a hand in the air to get the attention of the room. When the noise level drops to a manageable level, he points towards the far side of the rink. Donghyuck follows his gesture, surprised to see that the vehicle gate is open. Beyond it, one of the maintenance staff is carefully guiding the Zamboni out of the storage cupboard, red lights flashing on each corner of the chassis as a warning to anyone stupid enough to walk in front of the massive vehicle. “Please take note of the ten tonnes of hardware currently heading out onto the ice.”
“What’s going on?” Donghyuck hears YangYang ask from behind him, but he’s too busy watching the heavy resurfacer navigate slowly through the gate and out onto the ice. The man in the driver’s seat has ear muffs on, and he’s bobbing his head to music only he can hear as he works, but that’s not what interests him.
“Yeah. Why is the Zamboni out? Don’t they usually do that stuff in the morning?” Beside him, Donghyuck feels Mark tense up and shift closer, so he figures that his boyfriend has just come to the same realisation that he has. If the Zamboni is out now, they won’t be able to skate. The vehicle will smooth out the ice, ready for the next group needing to use the rink, and they won’t risk messing it up with their antics. Despite the temptation, the siren call of the pristine new surface almost too much for him to resist, Donghyuck knows better than that.
“The university is hosting an event tomorrow,” the coach tells them, shrugging apologetically as he meets Donghyuck’s eye before quickly shifting his focus onto Mark. He knows about their extra-curricular activities, and his silence over the past year has served as all the approval they needed, but even Coach Suh can’t override the rink schedule. “All I know is that the rink is in use first thing in the morning, so the clean up needs to happen tonight. Keep that in mind and make sure you clear all your gear off the ice before you shower.”
With that, most of the team disperse quickly. Renjun supervises Jaemin and Jisung as they clear the ice of debris, the Zamboni waiting patiently for them to finish in the centre of the rink, and then they all head for the showers. Jeno takes his time with his boots, chatting with Chenle while he waits for Jisung, but soon they leave too. Now it’s just him and Mark, side by side on their favourite bench, watching the resurfacer make delicate, gleaming loops on the surface of the ice as it moves.
“I’m sorry, sunshine,” Mark says after a few moments. Donghyuck doesn’t look over at him, transfixed momentarily by the slick, impossibly smooth surface left in the wake of the huge vehicle below them, but he hums in acknowledgement. “Coach told me before practice, but you were in such a good mood that I didn’t want to ruin it. I know you were really looking forward to skating today, but there’s nothing we can do.”
“I know.” And he does. Logically, Donghyuck knows that there’s nothing him or Mark could have done to change this unfortunate outcome. The rink was being used by the local little league team immediately before practice, so they couldn't have arrived early—even if Donghyuck hadn’t had back-to-back afternoon classes today—and now it’s too late. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not,” Mark disagrees. He leans into Donghyuck’s side as he speaks and the younger boy all but melts into him, resting his cheek on Mark’s shoulder. “I’ll make it up to you. Promise.”
“It’s really not a problem.” Two consecutive missed opportunities might be disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world. The ice will still be there next time, and the time after that, and it will surely be that little bit more exciting next time because of the extended time away. “I’m not upset.”
“You’re not?” Mark doesn’t sound convinced.
“No.” Donghyuck sits up so that he can look more directly at Mark. The older boy immediately leans down, taking the opportunity to steal a quick kiss. Donghyuck closes his eyes and eagerly pulls him closer, relishing in the feel of Mark’s soft lips pressed against his for a few seconds longer, before Mark is pulling away again.
“Regardless,” Mark tells him, determination sparking to life in his expressive eyes, “let’s make the most of things.” He stands up from the bench, reaching out a hand to Donghyuck, who takes it without hesitation. Pulling him to his feet, Mark starts to steer them purposefully in the direction of the changing area for the second time that week. “I’m taking you out to dinner. My treat.”
Because they’re both broke college students, dinner ends up being the greasy burger joint across the street from the sports complex. The food isn’t gourmet, and Donghyuck is convinced the milkshakes have never seen any real ice cream, but it’s cosy and pleasant in the tiny booth in the window that they find themselves in.
They sit on the same side of the table, thighs pressed together and one of Donghyuck’s hands captured in Mark’s lap for the entire meal. He decides not to bother pointing out that this makes eating quite difficult, since Mark is busy tracing stars absently into his palm as they talk, and just uses his free hand to pick at the food instead. They talk about anything and everything, with the exception of the ice they were forced to abandon, and Donghyuck finds himself forgetting his disappointment.
It’s effortless like this, he thinks, as Mark giggles loudly at a joke that wasn't nearly as funny as he seems to think it is. They fit together like two halves of the same whole, never lost for something to talk about. When he’s with Mark, the world beyond fades away, leaving just the two of them. He could happily lose himself in Mark’s eyes, in his smile, in his laugh, and it would be as easy as breathing.
They don’t see eye to eye on a great many things—a definite source of consternation in the early days of their friendship—but that’s what makes them such a great team, Donghyuck likes to tell people. Even when they disagree, it’s a pleasure to do so. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get bored of listening to Mark talk about the things he’s passionate about, and he knows that Mark feels the same way because he’s told him so many times.
“Finished?” Mark gestures down at the nearly empty tray of french fries between them. Donghyuck has been nursing the last few for a while, chasing streaks of ketchup around the plate lazily, but his heart isn’t really in it anymore. He’s comfortably full, stomach warm and satiated, and now he’s about ready to go home and sleep.
Mark collects a couple of used napkins from Donghyuck’s side of the table and drops them neatly onto the tray, before pushing it away from them. He groans, rubbing his stomach contentedly, then peers down at where Donghyuck appears to be attempting to burrow into Mark’s sweater nose-first.
“Don’t fall asleep on me just yet, sunshine.” At his tone, Donghyuck forces his eyes open and sits up enough to shoot Mark a curious look. Mark just chuckles at him, patting his cheek affectionately, and leans back into the cushioned booth seat. “Rest for a few minutes and let the food settle, but then I have a surprise for you.”
“Surprise? What surprise?”
Mark might as well be reading the words straight from a spellbook, because the effect is immediate. Lethargy forgotten, Donghyuck’s eyes blow wide and he grins up at his boyfriend. If this wasn’t Mark, Donghyuck might find his own sudden excitement embarrassing, but it is and so he doesn’t. After all, if the knowing smirk spreading across his lips is anything to go by, Mark anticipated this exact reaction. Expected it, even.
“Not tired anymore?”
“Shut up!” Donghyuck presses his face into Mark’s chest again, hiding the goofy grin currently threatening to eclipse his entire face, and then pokes the older boy playfully in the hip. True to form, Mark yelps and jumps out of his skin, prompting Donghyuck to laugh at him. “What do I have to do to get this surprise?”
“Come with me.”
Mark fishes around in his pocket and extracts his wallet, quickly dropping a few bills onto the table. It looks like too much cash, but he doesn't stop to count them. Instead, he tugs on Donghyuck’s hand—the one he hasn't let loose the entire meal—and pulls his boyfriend up out of the booth after him. He pauses just long enough to put on his coat and retrieve their gym bags, which he shoulders easily, and then they’re hurrying through the quiet diner towards the exit.
It’s dark outside now as Mark leads Donghyuck back out onto the street, the night cool and unusually peaceful. There aren’t many cars on the road that runs parallel to the diner, so they cross quickly, invariably finding themselves back outside the hockey arena in no time. Donghyuck expects them to take a sharp right outside the building, heading in the direction of their dorm block, but Mark surprises him by guiding them back up the steps towards the large double doors.
“What are we doing back here, Mark?”
Mark doesn’t answer. He just squeezes Donghyuck’s fingers reassuringly, where they’re still intertwined with his, and tugs him gently towards the entrance. The door isn't locked, which is odd given the late hour, but Mark doesn't seem surprised and he doesn't have time to dwell on it. Once inside, Donghyuck expects Mark to finally let go, so that they can remove their coats, but he doesn’t. He just continues to lead him through the empty lobby towards the rink, Donghyuck trailing behind him in confusion.
“We can’t go in there with street clothes on, Mark,” Donghyuck mutters, frowning at the pitch blackness he can see through the glass panels in the doors that he knows lead out into the stands. He’s ninety-nine percent sure that said doors are locked tight, the key hidden somewhere deep in the bottom of Mark’s bag for safekeeping, but the older boy surprises him by nudging one open with his shoulder like it’s nothing. “Are you sure we’re allowed to be here?”
“Don’t worry so much, Hyuckie,” Mark tells him, a soft, relaxed smile on his face. With that, Mark does finally release his hand, the limb dropping limply to Donghyuck’s side as the older boy abruptly disappears into the darkness. He waits, not sure exactly what Mark’s plan is, staring through the impenetrable gloom towards where he knows a large expanse of freshly smoothed ice waits—untouched.
“Oh.” Suddenly it all clicks into place. The fast-food diner, the awkward attempts at an apology, the strange excuse from Coach Suh about why they couldn’t stay after practice. It all finally makes sense, even as it simultaneously makes no sense at all.
As though Mark can sense both his revelation and his confusion, there is a loud click from somewhere behind him, and then strip lights begin to illuminate one by one overhead. They create a runway of illumination, flickering to life and inching towards the centre of the arena from all directions, and then Donghyuck can see so very many things all at once.
The expanse of ice beyond the boards is perfectly smooth, the surface glassy and free from even the smallest imperfection. The evidence of their practice just a few short hours earlier has been completely erased, leaving a blank canvas in its wake. In fact, there’s nothing at all on the ice now, not even the maintenance equipment that perpetually lives on the racking behind the penalty box. Donghyuck isn’t quite sure how Mark has managed to hide it, given that the gates are all chained shut, but the rack is nowhere to be seen.
In its absence, hanging on the outside of the player’s gate in front of him, is a bag. A familiar, well-loved white bag; a boot case. Familiar because, until thirty seconds ago, Donghyuck could have sworn it was hidden in the back of his closet in his room at his parent’s house, after he’d taken it home for safe-keeping at the end of last school year. And yet here it is, waiting for him. Waiting for them.
“What are you thinking?” Donghyuck actually jumps at the sound of Mark’s voice, too close behind him for comfort for a moment. He hadn't even heard the other boy approach, too distracted by the fresh ice and the boot case, so he forces his heart rate to level back out as Mark steps in behind him and wraps an arm tightly around his waist.
“What did you do, Mark Lee?” Like he’s being pulled by an invisible string, he starts to move towards the gate, and towards the bag suspended from it. Mark walks with him, not releasing his grip even though the angle of his feet must be awkward to avoid tripping, and Donghyuck can hear his elevated breathing as the gusts of air trickle past his ear.
“I didn't do anything.”
“You’re lying,” Donghyuck whispers, trying to turn around to look at his boyfriend. He can practically feel the smirk on Mark’s lips as they ghost across his cheek, but the fingers pressed to his abdomen and hip have him unable to do anything but continue to walk forward. He huffs in frustration, but Mark just chuckles.
“I’m really not lying. I swear. I may have enlisted some help to get things organised while we were at dinner, but I didn't lift a finger myself.”
“Semantics.” Most days Donghyuck would want to grumble, to debate the specific wording of Mark’s statement, but today he contents himself with lifting the bag off the peg on the gate and holding it up so Mark can see it over his shoulder. “What about this? Why is it here?”
He knows. Of course he does—how could he not?—but he wants Mark to say it. He wants to let Mark play out this whole thing exactly the way he planned it, and to enjoy every second of it. He wants to live this fantasy with his boyfriend—whatever it turns out to be—and, above all, he wants Mark to smile throughout all of it.
“This is so that you can skate,” Mark tells him simply. Donghyuck doesn’t point out that they already have two pairs of skates with them right now, in the kit bags currently discarded on the floor just a few feet away, but Mark anticipates his rebuttal before he can even finish formulating the thought. “Really skate, I mean. Not the way we do it in practice. Your mom mailed that to me last month, when I told her what I was planning.”
“I thought you said we couldn't skate today. Something about an event tomorrow. That’s why the ice is clean, isn’t it?” Donghyuck frowns. He can see where this is going, of course, but he doesn’t want to ruin the ice for someone else, especially if they need it fresh for another group in the morning.
“I—” Mark hesitates, and then sighs into the crook of Donghyuck’s neck. “I might have lied about that part. Just a little bit,” he admits.
“But why? We could have skated before dinner, and then gone for food. Jaemin likes to skate when the ice is fresh too, and that way we could have avoided as much extra work for the Zamboni.”
“Because—because I wanted it to be just us. A proper date night.” Suddenly, Mark doesn’t sound nearly as confident, and the tiny waver in his voice threatens to break Donghyuck’s heart. He turns, Mark not fighting him anymore, and loops one arm tightly around Mark’s neck. His fingers thread into the short, fluffy hairs at Mark’s nape and he pulls him close, until Mark’s nose is brushing his cheek and their chests are flush.
“Don’t overthink,” Donghyuck tells him firmly, lips pressed to his ear like the words are too precious to allow the rest of the empty arena to hear. “I’m not upset. Just surprised.” At that, Mark relaxes into him even further, going almost boneless in his arms as Donghyuck massages the back of his neck. He takes a deep breath, inhaling cologne and the unique, woodsy scent that he will always associate with Mark, and buries his face into his boyfriend’s collar bone. “Thank you.”
“I didn't even show you the best part yet,” Mark whispers, not bothering to move from his current position. For a moment, Donghyuck debates just staying like this forever, absorbing Mark’s body warmth through his sweater and coat in the ever chilled arena, but curiosity gets the better of him and he gently pushes Mark away.
“What’s the best part?” Mark just blinks down at him, a soft smile frozen on his lips, and Donghyuck smirks. “Markie, are you with me? What’s the best part?”
“Oh.” Mark seems to startle awake, awareness abruptly flashing in his eyes, and then he snatches the case from Donghyuck’s fingers. Leading him over to the nearest bench, he places it down and unzips it flat, revealing the skates inside.
They look just like Donghyuck remembers them, well oiled and polished from the last time he wore them—over a year ago at this point, he’d guess, if he tries to pinpoint a date. Clean, white and perfectly sculpted to his feet, their style perfect for the kind of figure skating that was Donghyuck’s world before he joined the college hockey team and discovered a whole new passion. They’re startlingly familiar, he thinks, as he reaches out a finger to touch the buttery leather; almost like coming home.
They look exactly like he remembers, Donghyuck thinks, except for one key difference. If he didn't love these boots like the kids he doesn’t have, he might have missed it, but, now that he’s seen it, the difference is glaringly obvious. Where there had once been black blade guards, faded and cracked with age, there now sits a pair of brand new, white guards encasing the blade affixed to each boot.
“You bought me new guards?” He knows Mark will be able to hear the surprise in his voice but, whatever he was expecting, it wasn't this. Sure, the guards had been old and he’s grateful for new ones, but it’s not really the groundbreaking event he’d anticipated from Mark’s excited tone. “Thank you, Ma—”
“Of course you’d notice the guards first.” Mark groans, pulling one of the skates out of the case and thrusting it in Donghyuck’s direction. “Look closer.”
Taking the boot from him, Donghyuck cradles it carefully in his hands and examines it. The guards keep catching his eye but Mark is still staring at him like he’s missing something obvious, so he focuses on the rest of the shoe. It takes a while, Mark patiently waiting the entire time, but, when he realises, it takes everything in him not to throw the boot to the floor and launch himself at Mark.
“You sharpened them for me!”
“Your mom did. I wanted to pay for it, but she told me to consider it an early anniversary gift to both of us.”
“Anniv—oh my god!” Donghyuck’s head snaps up to meet Mark’s gaze, expression incredulous. “I thought you didn’t remember the date.”
They had been best friends for months before they finally realised that they made an even better couple. It had been a gradual, natural progression for both of them, so much so that Donghyuck had never been able to pinpoint an exact date on which to celebrate an anniversary. Mark hadn’t either and, for that reason, they’d both agreed not to worry about it.
“I don’t,” Mark admits. “Still, I know it was about a year ago and I wanted to do something special anyway. She insisted, so I wasn’t about to say no.” He gestures to the bench, indicating that they should sit, and then pulls his kit bag towards him. “Put them on. I’ll have to wear my hockey skates, but that’s fine. This isn’t about me.”
“I—I don’t know what to say.” Sinking down onto the bench, one skate still clutched in his hands, Donghyuck is, for the first time in living memory, rendered completely speechless. He already knew that Mark was thoughtful—the older boy has demonstrated that every day since they met, after all—but this takes the concept to a whole new level.
To arrange to have his old figure skates shipped to him, simply because he knows that Donghyuck can move and balance better in them. To negotiate with the university staff to have the ice smoothed tonight, just because he knows it makes the glide better for figure skating. Mark has thought of everything, and Donghyuck already has no idea how he’s going to repay him for this—even though he already knows Mark will never ask him to.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Mark tells him, already pulling on one of his bulky black hockey skates. He glances over, seeing that Donghyuck hasn’t moved a muscle since he sat down, and nudges his elbow with his own. “Just enjoy tonight. If you enjoy it, that’s more than enough for me.”
Donghyuck is sure he’ll wear those two words out by the end of the evening, but he’s done wasting time. Blinking away the lingering thoughts threatening to distract him, he kicks off his outside shoes and starts to make quick work of the laces on his skates. A few minutes later, he’s flexing his toes experimentally, marvelling at how well they still fit after a year of disuse.
“Ready?” Mark asks. His skates are on now too, both of them still wrapped up warm in their padded coats, and his cheeks are flushed pink. Donghyuck isn't sure whether it's from anticipation or from the cold, but it doesn’t matter either way. Mark looks utterly adorable like this, and it makes his heart flutter restlessly in his chest as they make eye contact.
“The ice is yours then, sunshine.” Mark gestures towards the gate a few paces away from them with a proud flourish. “I’ll follow you on in a second. I just have one more thing to do out here, so why don’t you go get warmed up?”
Donghyuck doesn’t wait for Mark to ask twice. The flawless, glassy surface of the rink is calling to him, the glistening, crystalline expanse enticing him to come and play, so he carefully eases his blade guards off and then hops the gate in a single, practised manoeuvre. His skates hit the ice and he pushes off from the side, instinct quickly taking over.
He knows Mark is watching, can feel his eyes on the back of his head, but the older boy was right. Right now, in this moment, the ice is his and his alone. Perfect, untouched, his to carve a path into as he sees fit. He lets his body move almost on auto-pilot, arms spreading out around his waist to balance him as he picks up speed. He’d forgotten just how much this feels like flying—hockey can sometimes give him a similar thrill, but there’s nothing quite like ridding himself of stick, pads and puck. Nothing quite like free skating, becoming one with the ice, and dancing like no one is watching.
He doesn't know how long it is before Mark clambers over the gate and onto the ice. At some point, music begins to pour through the sound system of the arena, a wordless symphony that ripples through him like a second skin and guides him into a series of spins, jumps and intricate sequences he’d thought long lost to time.
He’s careful not to push his body too far, keeping the jumps conservative and the pace leisurely, but, by the time Mark appears in his periphery, there’s a fresh sheen of sweat gathering in Donghyuck’s hairline from his exertions. He feels more alive than he has in months, and his lips have been stretched into a wide, euphoric grin for long enough to cause his cheeks to ache.
“Hyuckie,” Mark calls, shuffling awkwardly across the ice towards him. “A little help please?”
Donghyuck halts in his movements, distracted from the sequence he’d been in the middle of executing, and he’s skating over to Mark’s side within seconds. He makes it just in time as Mark abruptly pitches forward, arms flailing wildly in front of him to break his fall. He catches him before he overbalances completely, taking both of Mark’s hands in his and pulling him upright. Carefully adjusting their positions, he makes sure Mark isn’t about to fall again, before speaking his mind.
“How is it that the captain of the hockey team is such a klutz without pads on?” he asks, tone equal parts teasing and filled with genuine curiosity. “We do this three times a week, yet it still surprises me every time.” Anyone who walked in on Mark right now would peg him as a total novice, Donghyuck thinks, with how unsteady he is on his skates. It would be a tough sell indeed to convince them that he is, in fact, the best player on the junior varsity team—and the team captain to boot.
“I’ve told you before. It’s the hockey stick,” Mark mutters, digging his fingertips deeper into Donghyuck’s palms to stop himself becoming unbalanced again. He takes a deep breath, focusing on his boyfriend’s face and not on the ice beneath his feet, and offers Donghyuck a small smile. “Take the stick away, and I suddenly lose all my magical ice powers.”
“You’re not Elsa, you idiot.” Donghyuck laughs but allows Mark to pull him closer. Mark reaches for his hips, fingers moulding to Donghyuck’s silhouette like it was made for his touch, and presses their bodies together. He can feel Mark’s heart racing under his coat, the only tangible sign of just how much effort it’s taking for Mark to stay upright, and so he decides to take pity on him.
“Come here.” He places his hands on Mark’s shoulders, giving him greater control of their collective movement, and starts to ease them slowly across the ice towards the middle of the rink. “Just follow my lead.”
“Dance with me.” Mark’s voice is barely a whisper, but the request is unmistakable. “Show me what it’s like to dance like you do.” Despite his obvious struggles, Mark sounds determined and resolute. Donghyuck grins, glancing down at their feet, and then starts to move a little quicker. “Just don’t let me fall.”
“I think I can do that.”
He keeps it simple, allowing Mark time to get comfortable with the motions. As ever, once Mark has reacquainted himself with the ice for a while, he can hold his own well enough. It only takes a couple of minutes until he’s no longer actively leaning on Donghyuck for support, during which time the music playing over the speaker system changes from a fast-paced performance number to something much more relaxed.
“I performed my very first recital to this song,” Donghyuck tells Mark, as they lazily carve out figure eights along the centre line. “How did you know?”
“Wait, don’t tell me. My mom...” He doesn’t bother waiting for Mark to spit it out. The sheepish grin on his boyfriend’s face is admission enough. Donghyuck thinks that there’s probably going to be a long phone conversation about privacy and oversharing at some point in his imminent future, but he can’t bring himself to be annoyed about it right now. If anything, it’s endearing that Mark cared enough to contact his family to make this perfect.
“She made me a mixtape from the files on your old laptop,” Mark says. “The hardest part was actually finding a CD player that we could hook up to the aux in the AV booth. Believe it or not, not many places around here sell second-hand CD players these days, but Jeno came through for me last minute with a miracle.”
“He’s not—” Donghyuck glances around, not sure exactly where the AV booth is situated in the arena. “He’s not here, is he?”
“No.” Mark giggles, the joyous sound carrying over the lilting music swell in a way that makes Donghyuck’s heart soar. “We worked on it at lunchtime. That’s why—”
“Why Renjun invited me to eat lunch with him and Jaemin today.” One by one, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the pattern as neat and intricate as the geometric shapes their skates are carving into the ice below their feet. “I can’t believe I didn't realise you were up to something.”
“I was careful,” Mark says proudly.
“You really were.” Donghyuck can’t think of anything else to say, so he responds by pulling Mark down into a kiss. He can guide them through a routine ten times as complex as this with his eyes shut, so he doesn’t pull away when Mark moves to deepen the kiss, one hand loosing from Donghyuck’s waist to thumb at his jaw. Gentle fingers tilt his head to one side, allowing Mark to angle their lips together just so, and then he licks at Donghyuck’s lower lip in playful invitation.
Donghyuck doesn’t hesitate to grant him entrance, opening his mouth to let Mark’s tongue meet his. Mark presses in, taking full control of the kiss, and Donghyuck is only too happy to let him. He doesn’t need to breathe when it feels this good, he reasons, as he relishes in the slight lightheadedness that accompanies the exquisite feel of Mark absolutely everywhere. It’s both overwhelming and not nearly enough all at the same time, so Donghyuck pulls him in even closer, fingers biting into Mark’s shoulder blades hard enough to bruise. He needs Mark closer, needs more. He needs—
By the time he registers that they’re falling, it’s far too late. All he can do is hold on, Mark’s arms turning vice-like around him as he twists to ensure that Donghyuck lands on top. As a result, Mark hits the ice butt first, legs splaying up and out like something from an animated farce as Donghyuck lands squarely on his chest. Unable to halt his own momentum, all of the air is forced out of Mark’s chest on impact, and the older boy lets out a shocked wheeze.
“Are you okay?” Donghyuck is concerned for a moment, Mark not immediately moving beneath him, but then the expanse of sweater and coat between them starts to shake uncontrollably. A second later, a choked laugh rips itself from Mark’s lips, followed swiftly by another and then another. His arms loose from around Donghyuck’s waist, allowing the younger boy to roll off onto the ice beside Mark, who is laughing hysterically even as tears stream down his cheeks on both sides.
“That—” Mark begins, only to be interrupted by yet more giggles. He eases his head back onto the cold surface beneath him, despite the chill, as the sounds continue to bubble forth from within. Donghyuck cracks a smile of his own, now that he’s sure Mark isn’t seriously hurt, and props himself up on an elbow to watch his boyfriend try and fail to regain control of his faculties.
“That kind of hurt,” Mark finally manages to choke out. He takes a deep, steadying breath, finally able to open his eyes and look at Donghyuck without immediately dissolving into a fit of giggles. “I got distracted and forgot to focus on my feet.”
“You are hopeless.” Donghyuck smirks again, sitting up carefully to make sure the business end of his blades aren’t close to any part of Mark’s body or his own as he moves. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine.” Mark pushes himself up into a sitting position and smooths a hand through his hair. The tops of his ears are pink, flushed from more than just the cold, but he fights through his embarrassment. “The only thing damaged is my ego but, if Jeno ever heard about this, he might stage a coup. He’d strip me of my captaincy, and I’d probably let him.”
It’s Donghyuck’s turn to let out a bark of laughter at that, as he climbs to his feet and helps Mark to do the same. Mark’s cheeks are rapidly darkening to match his ears, but he seems in good spirits as Donghyuck grips his hands tightly and guides him back over to the gate. Hopping up onto the low wooden wall, Mark lets his skates dangle in free space as Donghyuck drifts gracefully in small, neat circles between his legs.
“I won’t tell if you don’t,” he tells Mark, patting him reassuringly on the knee.
They both know that’s not a promise, since Donghyuck also knows for a fact that Mark won’t mind him retelling the entire saga in a few weeks, once the shame has faded a little. It’s not the worst ice-based failure to have occurred among their friendship group—not by a long shot—and, as individuals who spend large portions of their lives on skates, they’ve long since learned to embrace the funny side of embarrassing moments.
“Do you want to continue our dance?” he asks after a few minutes, once Mark’s complexion starts to return to something close to normal. Mark eyes the ice thoughtfully, lips pressed together as he considers it carefully, but then he shakes his head.
“Go do your thing.” He smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling adorably, and the unadulterated pride in his expression threatens to momentarily overwhelm Donghyuck. “ I’ll watch from the sidelines for a while.”
“Are you sure?” Donghyuck doesn't want Mark to get bored while he’s skating, no matter how much fun he’s having. It’s only fun because they’re together. Without Mark, everything is just that little bit duller, even skating.
“I am,” Mark assures him. “I love watching you perform, and I don’t think you’ve ever looked happier than you do tonight, sunshine. Believe me, it would be my pleasure to be your personal cheerleader for a while.”
“Just go.” Mark releases his grip on Donghyuck’s hand, using the younger boy’s lack of friction to spin him around on the ice. Patting his backside, he urges Donghyuck back out towards the centre of the rink, grinning as the younger boy finally takes the hint. As if on cue, the song changes again, this time to a lively bolero that Mark is sure he’s never heard before, so he watches with relish as Donghyuck’s posture shifts instinctually and he effortlessly transitions into something impossibly graceful.
Watching Donghyuck move, all four limbs working in perfect harmony to craft an intricate story through music and movement, Mark finds himself unable to look away. He tracks each Axel, jump and spin as Donghyuck goes through the motions, glad that he agreed to learn the names of the basic elements when the last national championship was shown on television a few months back, and he can’t help but reaffirm his previous assertion.
Donghyuck has truly never looked happier than he is right now, painting poetry into motion with nothing but ice and a pair of skates. He has never looked more joyous, more at peace, and Mark doesn’t think he’s ever felt more in love. He’s in love with the way Donghyuck moves, with the way that he throws his whole being behind each beat of the music, and with the utter contentment radiating off him, but it’s more than that. Like this, unfettered by the pressures of the outside world, it’s like Mark can see right into Donghyuck’s soul—into the deepest core of who he is as a person—and the view is utterly blinding.
Donghyuck has always been his sunshine, the brightest point of Mark’s existence. He makes Mark’s life complete, the missing piece in a jigsaw that the older boy hadn’t even realised was unfinished before they met. If Mark were a planet, robust and reliable, he’d invariably orbit Donghyuck’s indomitable star, he thinks, held firm on his axis by Donghyuck’s inescapable magnetism.
For Mark, Donghyuck has always shone brightly, the celestial being at the very centre of Mark’s universe, but tonight, gliding across the ice like he was born to fly, he finally resembles a supernova.
“Thank you for tonight, Markie.” Donghyuck pulls off his gloves as he sinks down on the seat beside his boyfriend, chest heaving from exertion. A pair of twin hockey sticks sit together on the ground at their feet, Mark’s skates propped up against the wall nearby, and the older boy has one socked foot tucked under his body as they sit side by side on the bench. “I hadn't realised quite how much I needed this.”
After cycling through the entirety of his old skating playlist three times, Donghyuck had eventually switched to hockey skates to round out the evening, the ice finally scarred up enough from his endeavours to stunt the fluidity of his movements on figure skates. He and Mark had then entertained themselves by passing a puck back and forth for the best part of an hour, both equally reluctant to bring their date night to an end, but, when the clock had ticked over to midnight, the siren song of sleep had become too powerful to resist.
“I know,” Mark tells him, watching patiently as Donghyuck pulls his street shoes back on and tucks his belongings back into his kit bag. “That’s what I’m here for, though. To know you better than you know yourself, or something equally cliche.”
“Something like that,” Donghyuck says playfully, but leans over to plant a gentle kiss on Mark’s cheek in thanks anyway. Mark might have a unique way with words, but he can’t deny the truth of his statement. Mark has always been staggeringly perceptive when it comes to Donghyuck and his feelings, so it makes sense that he would pick up on the subtle signs that even Donghyuck can’t see. “Again, thank you.”
“You said that already,” Mark murmurs, taking Donghyuck’s hand and turning it over to expose his palm. Mark carefully links their fingers together, the younger boy’s muscles clenching reflexively to allow him to close his hand around Mark’s. He loves the way that they fit together so neatly, he muses, as he watches Mark’s thumb trace small circles over the sensitive skin near his wrist.
“I know. Doesn’t make it any less valid.”
“True.” Mark grins up at him, then clicks his tongue thoughtfully. “Hey, Hyuck?”
“What do you want?” When Donghyuck doesn’t immediately respond, Mark swings one leg over the bench to the opposite side, shifting in his seat so that he’s looking straight at him. “I mean, what do you want most out of this year?”
“To win the championship.” The answer is automatic, spilling from Donghyuck’s lips before he can even fully consider the question. It’s not a lie, and he knows it’s a desire that he and Mark both share—Mark perhaps wanting it even more than he does—but it’s not the answer Mark is looking for. That much is clear in the way Mark purses his lips and shifts closer on the bench seat.
“That’s a given,” he agrees, “but it’s already basically a done deal. The team is unstoppable this season.” He shakes his head. “No. That’s not what I meant. What I’m trying to ask is, what do you really want? More than anything.”
Donghyuck takes a moment to think, pushing a dozen similarly flippant responses aside as he considers the question carefully. It doesn’t take long, one specific answer swimming to the forefront like it’s been waiting for the right moment to make its presence known. “You.”
“You already have me.”
“I know I do.” Mark sounds so confident, so assured in his words that Donghyuck can’t help but respond with the same boldness. “But it’s my honest answer. I want you, and I want for you—for us—to be happy. Everything else is secondary.”
“I want you to be happy too,” Mark whispers, his voice cracking just a little in the eerie stillness of the arena that surrounds them. “More than anything.” He pauses. “Skating like this makes you happy.”
It’s not a question, but Donghyuck nods anyway. Aside from just being around Mark, seeing him smile and getting to experience life through his eyes, he can’t remember being this happy in a long time. The fact that he was able to share tonight with Mark, to really let loose and be himself for a while—knowing that, all the while, Mark was watching on with pride—is the boost of serotonin that he’s been missing.
“So let’s do it again.”
“What?” He knows he hasn’t misheard, but Mark is asking for the impossible. The rink is always busy, with a wide variety of groups making use of it. As much as Donghyuck would love to monopolise it, to turn it into his own personal playground whenever he gets the figure skating itch, he can’t. They can’t.
“I mean it,” Mark says resolutely. He meets Donghyuck’s gaze and holds it, smiling in a way that makes the younger boy want to believe him. Donghyuck is pretty sure that there’s not a person alive who could say no to Mark Lee, not when he puts his mind to something. “If it makes you happy, I’ll find a way to make this a regular thing. Maybe not every day, or even every week, but it can’t be impossible. For you, I’ll make it happen.”
Donghyuck’s heart feels like it grows three sizes as he stares at the boy perched on the bench opposite him. Mark looks so determined, so passionate and unwaveringly enthusiastic, that he can’t help but smile. This wonderful, incredible boy has already worked so hard to give him a night he won’t soon forget and yet, even now, his only concern is making Donghyuck happy.
“I love you, Mark.” He suddenly needs to say it, needs for the words to manifest into the universe. He knows he says those same three simple words multiple times each day—he’s never been shy with his affections, after all—but the weight of them settles deep in his gut like a blanket of warmth as he speaks. Until Mark came along, Donghyuck didn't know that love like this was possible, and he definitely doesn’t take it lightly. He will never take it lightly. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.” Mark shifts closer, pulling Donghyuck into him. Their lips meet in the middle, Donghyuck lifting up onto his knees on the bench to fold his arms around Mark’s shoulders, and then he allows himself to get lost in sensation.
This right here, he thinks, as Mark trails soft kisses along his jaw and threads his fingers into Donghyuck’s hair; this is home. This is happiness. This—this is everything.