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Wait, What?

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Mark was great at a lot of things. He was great at styling and cutting hair. He was great at skateboarding. He had great fashion sense. He was also surprisingly good at cooking. He could charm old ladies with a smile and put together IKEA furniture without the instruction manual. He could guess the endings of shows and movies within 80% accuracy. He was also better at predicting the weather than the weather channel as well. All this and that was only the surface of the deep well of talent Mark had.

However, above everything else, there were exactly two things that Mark excelled at – flirting and being annoying. And so, Mark had a plan.

Was it the most thought out plan in the world?

Not by a long mile.

Was it guaranteed to succeed though?

100% yes because Mark didn’t fail like that.

Mark was in love…well, as in love as he could be without actually being in love so it was maybe closer to smitten, but that was beside the point. Ever since that fun, intense little tryst in the car, the only thing he thought about day in and day out was Joanna. Joanna with her mischievous smile, eyes dark and playful as she took in Mark’s figure hovering above her. Joanna and her pale skin against the dark leather interior of his car. Joanna and her slender legs wrapped around his waist, manicured nails digging in this shoulders. Joanna - vocal and demanding - telling Mark exactly what to do and how to do it.

He always had a thing for bossy women, women who knew exactly what they wanted.

But then Joanna turned him down, blocked his number, straight up rolled her eyes when he showed up at the marriage agency to ask her out and…well…

He might also have a thing for the unattainable.

So Mark had a plan.

The way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. The way to a woman’s heart was through her friends. That’s where his plan got a little complicated.

The best way to get to Joanna would be through Yan Fei. The problem was accessibility. She rarely ever showed up at VooDoo and Mark rarely went into the marriage agency. He could ask Hsuan Yu for help, of course, but they had been friends for long enough that Mark could already see his sigh and his eye roll. Besides, Hsuan Yu finally had a chance to pursue this ridiculous life-long crush of his and Mark wasn’t about to ruin his chances like that. Not that he would ruin anything, but better safe than sorry. It wouldn’t be the first time people accidently fell for him and he couldn’t do that to Hsuan Yu.

Then came the list of Love is Science employees. It wasn’t a very long list. At most there were about five people Mark could potentially get to and they weren’t even great options at that. First were Hai Li and Holly, two young women that liked to work as a team. It sometimes got confusing because of their names and it didn’t help that they looked similar, too- straight, dyed brown hair and round heart-shaped faces. If he wasn’t already obsessed with Joanna, Mark would have considered flirting with them. But as it was, he knew from experience that it was never smart to get between friends and there was a risk that they would fall for him while he was using them to get close to Joanna. So that was a no.

Then there was Shawn. He was quiet, a bit nerdy, but oddly charming in a bookish type of way. Every time he came to VooDoo, the female hairdressers – already used to Mark’s antics - would flock around him, giggling and twirling their hair. Mark wasn’t threatened by him – Joanna was a different type of woman and couldn’t be seduced by such cheap tricks - but…just in case…

The next option was Sheng Ying.

Actually, that wasn’t really an option. Mark didn’t know why he included her. Maybe because she showed up at VooDoo so often and he was used to seeing her around. She was fun to shoot the breeze with - wicked sense of humor and the ability to judge the gods themselves - but that was also why Mark was a little afraid of her. He could already imagine her cackling as he tried to convince her to give him Joanna’s number. And then she would probably smack him on the head for the fun of it…if she could even reach that high. Mark wasn’t about to give her a chance.

That left only one person.

Dai Ou Wen.

Dai Ou Wen who wore perfectly pressed, tailored suits that followed the breadth of his shoulders to the long lines of his legs. Dai Ou Wen who had a blinding smile – on the rare occasions that he did smile – and silky hair that he often tucked behind his ear. Dai Ou Wen who smelled like sandalwood and cardamom every time he came too close to Mark - masculine yet strangely soft. Dai Ou Wen who was maybe just a little ridiculously too pretty for a human being, pretty in a way that would pose a threat to Mark, except thankfully it didn’t because he was gay.

Oh, and of course, Dai Ou Wen who was very, very, very gay.

Which wasn’t a problem. Right? Right. Right.

Ok, fine. Maybe it had been a bit of a problem in the beginning. But the important thing was that it wasn’t a problem anymore and Mark was a firm believer in living in the present.

The present in which he was using his amazing talent for annoying people to pester Ou Wen into giving him Joanna’s number. He had followed Ou Wen from the salon all the way to the gym like a stickiest shadow to ever exist. Or perhaps a better comparison would be a mosquito buzzing around Ou Wen’s ears because Ou Wen would glare at Mark every once in a while and Mark would – very perceptively, he might add – take a step back just in case Ou Wen decided to smack him in the face.

He was determined to annoy Ou Wen into submission. Other than Hsuan Yu, he had never met another person who could withstand his assault on their patience for more than two hours. (And Hsuan Yu was only able to do so because of exposure at this point.) And yet, it was six hours later and Mark had to begrudgingly admit that he might have underestimated Ou Wen as an opponent.

Six hours. Ou Wen managed to put up with him for six hours. By the third, he had essentially resorted to pretending like Mark was air which was pretty impressive considering how Mark kept trying to get underfoot, both figuratively and literally. He had tried to trip Ou Wen a few times while they were walking, but Ou Wen had the instincts of a ninja for some reason and had expertly evaded his attempts without even looking up from his phone.

So here they were, six hours later and it didn't look like Ou Wen was planning on giving up any time soon. Sure, he would occasionally clench his jaw or pinch his brows together or flare out his nostrils as he released a particularly loud and long breath of air, but overall he was holding strong. And while, yes, Mark still wanted Joanna’s number and this was still part of his elaborate plan to annoy it out of Ou Wen, there was also a not so small part of his that was now just curious about how long Ou Wen could hold out for. It couldn’t be longer than 15 hours. That would be insane and even Mark needed to sleep. Not to mention Ou Wen might actually beat him up if Mark tried to follow him home.

He was going to try for under seven.

Mark followed Ou Wen from machine to machine, so close he barely allowed Ou Wen to breathe. He kept asking the most asinine questions about Joanna he could think of and at a certain point it had all devolved into some form of gibberish that even Mark himself could barely comprehend. Talking for hours did that to a person even when they were as skilled with their tongue as Mark was.

“Do you know what flowers she likes?” Mark asked

Though Ou Wen had headphones in, Mark knew he could at least partially hear him because there were times when Ou Wen grimaced and got a faraway look in his eyes like he was imagining something violent. The first few times gave Mark some pause – he had witnessed firsthand how skilled Ou Wen was at fighting after all – but that apprehension quickly disappeared. If Ou Wen was going to kill him, he would have done it five hours ago and he hadn’t. It was too late now. The two of them were locked in an unspoken battle of wills and whoever gave in first was the loser.

Mark didn’t like to lose. He had a feeling Ou Wen didn’t like to either.

Too bad there could only be one winner and it was most definitely going to be Mark.

“Wanna wipe your sweat?” Mark said, cheerfully offering his towel. Ou Wen dropped his hands from the chest fly machine and Mark nearly crowed in excitement. Resignation was clearly written in Ou Wen’s posture and he looked like his soul had left his body. It wouldn’t take much more now.

Ou Wen stood up and looked at him and Mark immediately took the opportunity to latch on.

“You must be tired! Let me help you stretch!” he said, reaching out for Ou Wen’s bicep. Ou Wen brushed him away.

“Don’t touch me,” he snapped and while his tone was a little harsh, his voice was music to Mark’s ears. It sounded like victory and triumph and if Mark wasn’t afraid of getting hit, he might have done a little celebratory dance. Instead, he grinned from ear to ear and shot Ou Wen a peace sign.

“You’re finally talking to me.”

Ou Wen rolled his eyes and looked away, but it was too late and they both knew it.

“So does Joanna go to the gym?” Mark asked, already launching another attack. If Ou Wen talked once, he would talk again. “Because if she does, I can bring her-” Midway through his sentence, he noticed that Ou Wen was looking forlornly at his empty water bottle and snatched it out of his hands. Mark then, very kindly, offered to fill it up because he was an incredibly considerate person and not because he secretly needed a break from talking. So yeah, maybe his jaw hurt a bit and his mouth was a little dry and he was running out of words to say, but none of that detracted from the fact that he was just being a nice, thoughtful human being.

Who also wanted Joanna’s number and how was Ou Wen going to tell it to him if he was dehydrated?

Mark hummed happily to himself as he explicitly did not skip to the water fountain. While he waited for the water bottle to fill, he took a moment to check his hair in the ceiling to floor mirrors that dotted the sides of the gym. He brushed a few strands back and turned his face to check his profile. Handsome as always. Absolutely swoon worthy if he did say so himself. It was a shame his heart was occupied, otherwise he would be flirting up a storm with the women at the gym.

After the water bottle was filled, Mark twisted the cap back on and grabbed a disposable cup. He swallowed a few mouthfuls and let the cool water soothe his throat. He felt refreshed and reenergized knowing that he had basically won. He could go another ten hours if he had to – though hopefully that didn’t happen. Maybe another two at most and he was sure to have Joanna’s number in his phone.

Squaring his shoulders, Mark turned on his heels and marched back to Ou Wen not unlike a soldier marching into battle. He saw Ou Wen’s back and was about to shout his name when he realized that something was wrong. There was a man that looked a boulder and what might have been the twinkiest twink to ever twink talking and laughing at Ou Wen. Even though Mark couldn’t hear the individual words, he could tell what they were saying was unpleasant and their laughter held a distinctly mean edge to it. He took a few steps closer.

Mark couldn’t see Ou Wen’s face, but his shoulders were slumped in defeat and something about the way he seemed to curl into himself, making himself as small as possible, didn’t sit right with Mark. It was such a different version from the Ou Wen Mark knew - the confident, unshakable one with a sharp tongue and a mean right hook – that it made him uneasy and left a sour taste in his mouth. Sure, he was a little mean to Ou Wen sometimes - downright rude in the beginning if he was being honest - but Ou Wen always hit back. He had never seen Ou Wen so distressed, so unsure before, and while he didn’t know a lot of things, but he knew that he didn’t like it. Beyond that, he knew he definitely didn’t like whoever these two assholes were, ridiculing Ou Wen in the middle of a gym.

“You really loved me that much?”

And there was no way Mark could have missed the question, that mocking tone, the way Ou Wen flinched. Any distaste he had instantly turned to anger and he clenched his fist to stop himself from rushing over and punching that rock of a man in the face (though the fact that he looked like he could knock Mark out with a flick of his finger also might have given him some pause).

If there was one thing Mark held sacred, it was relationships. Whether it was friendship, romantic, or familial, there was nothing more important than loyalty and respect. Sure relationships ended - sometimes badly - and people grew apart, but that was the inevitability of life. However, Mark had never and would never disrespect someone that was once important to him. Whoever this guy was, he had obviously been important to Ou Wen and at some point the feelings had to have been mutual if the tidbits Mark heard were anything to go by. So, the fact that someone would be so cruel to someone they had supposedly loved once? And on top of that, the someone they were being cruel to was Mark’s friend? That was absolutely, unequivocally unacceptable.


Was Ou Wen even Mark’s friend?

Whatever. He was now.

Furious, Mark walked over to a distressed Ou Wen and pulled him into his chest without thinking. Ou Wen stumbled and looked at him in surprise. There was panic in his eyes as well as a question and Mark answered it by pasting on his most charming smile, the one he usually reserved for pretty girls sitting alone at the bar. If Mark was anything, he was a great friend and he’d be damned if he let Ou Wen lose to this tree trunk looking motherfucker. 

“Darling, have some water,” he said, offering the water bottle back to Ou Wen. Ou Wen took it hesitantly which Mark considered permission to keep going. He pulled out his amazing acting skills and turned to the two most despicable humans he ever had the displeasure of meeting with wide, curious eyes and a fake smile.

“Who are they?” he asked innocently. He paused and took a second look. “Is he the one you told me about before? The ex that you had a hard time getting rid of?”  He gave them a look that told them they weren’t worthy of being the dirt beneath his shoes and faced Ou Wen. Mark clasped him on the shoulder. “It’s ok. You have me now,” he said. Then, he ran his hand down Ou Wen’s bicep because he wasn’t quite sure how being gay worked, but he was sure he should be at least a little affectionate. He just didn’t want Ou Wen to kill him later for it.

Apparently it wasn’t enough because the two nitwits started laughing and it was honestly an affront to his award winning acting skills. Mark would be angrier about it if he hadn’t already been too busy fuming at the way Ou Wen shied away from them, the way he refused to lift his head, the way he subconsciously tilted in towards Mark like somehow Mark was could protect him. The expression on Ou Wen’s face was so sad, so pathetic, so vulnerable it made something in Mark’s chest ache and something feral in the back of his mind snarl.

“I can smell the straightness off you,” said the human version of the Hulk mockingly. “And not only that, you’re straighter than a flagpole.”

And…yeah, so maybe that was true, maybe Mark was kind of very straight. He had never flirted with a guy before, never kissed a guy before, never thought of experimenting, even in his university days, but that wasn’t the point right now. The point was Ou Wen who looked like he wanted the Earth to open up and swallow him whole, who looked like his heart was breaking right in front of Mark, whose pain was etched in the way he clutched his water bottle to his chest like a lifeline. And while Mark might not know Ou Wen very well and their relationship was tenuous at best, at the very least he knew that Ou Wen was a good person, an honorable person, because a lesser person would have never stepped in to help Mark in the alley, especially not after how Mark had treated him. He knew that Ou Wen didn’t deserve this hurt and humiliation, that he deserved a lot more, a lot better than whatever this crummy, sociopathic ex-boyfriend had ever given him. A righteous sort of anger filled Mark and in that moment, he swore to himself that he would destroy anyone who ever put that expression on Ou Wen’s face again.

Right after he destroyed this guy, that was.

One problem at a time.

Oh, and he was also going to have to talk to Ou Wen about his taste in men, but that was for later.

For now, he crossed his arms, patience growing thin as the pale ass version of King Kong tried to lecture him about Ou Wen’s preferences. His little arm accessory cackled about how straight Mark was like a tone deaf hyena and Mark bristled like an alley cat about to fight.


They wanted fucking gay?

Mark would out-gay all these gay motherfuckers in this motherfucking room.

He grabbed Ou Wen by the arms and forced him to face Mark. There was a split second where Mark could see his expression clearly - dejection in the downturn of his lips, the glassiness of tears in his eyes - and it erased any doubts he had left. He took Ou Wen by the back of the neck and pulled him in.

If Mark was being honest, it wasn’t the smoothest thing he had ever done. He was used to leaning down, hovering over partners that were shorter than him. Ou Wen was decidedly not that – in fact he was slightly taller, though Mark would never admit it - and their mouths clashed together awkwardly, an awful testament to Mark’s actual ability to kiss.

It also didn’t help that Ou Wen kept trying to push him away and thwart Mark’s brilliant plan to help him.

Annoyed, Mark gripped Ou Wen by his bicep and doubled down. Like hell he was going to let Ou Wen ruin his point right now. He stubbornly pressed into Ou Wen, applying his two decades worth of kissing skills into this single moment, chasing after him until finally, finally, he felt Ou Wen soften.

And then…


Mark didn’t exactly know what he had expected from kissing a guy. Maybe he thought it was going to be rough. Maybe he imagined it to be more of a fight. Maybe he thought that a guy would taste like rotting meat and smell like bad B.O. At the very least, he had expected to be repulsed.

He could have never imagined the thrill that shot up his spine when Ou Wen started kissing back. Would have never thought Ou Wen’s lips would be so soft. Didn’t count on the way his skin seemed to be on fire, Ou Wen’s hand like a hot, heavy brand on the side of his neck.

Ou Wen was nothing like a girl. He didn’t feel like a girl, he didn’t taste like a girl, he didn’t sound like a girl and yet…Mark found that he really, really didn’t mind as much as the thought he would. There was familiar thrum of anticipation in his stomach, a familiar tension simmering in his blood -the kind that usually led to a lot less clothes and a lot more touching – and while Mark was pretty sure he should be disturbed by that, he was too distracted by the way Ou Wen was moving against. Too distracted by the way it made him want more. Too distracted by the way Ou Wen’s thumb was pressed against his jaw, making him want to go a little bit feral. Mark knew he was great at kissing, but Ou Wen? Ou Wen might give him a run for his money and he couldn’t help but wonder what else Ou Wen was good at.

He should find out.

Wait, no. He shouldn’t.

But…he could?

Wait, no. What?

Mark was more than a little confused when they broke apart and he didn’t react right away when Ou Wen pressed his forehead against Mark’s, his eyes closed. He was out of breath and it made Mark want to lean back in and swallow those small pants, turn them into something louder, something more desperate, something more -

Wait. What?

What was going on?

Did he-? No. But he- No. But Ou Wen…what?

Luckily, before he could start spiraling, Mark caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye and remembered why he decided to kiss Ou Wen in the first place.

Right. Ou Wen’s ex-boyfriend. This knock-off Hulk looking piece of shit.

Who has now issuing some sort of vague challenge. Mark accepted without even thinking, still half distracted by the kiss and very much motivated by pure spite. He would lose to this motherfucker over his dead body.

Which…turned out to be a little too on the nose since Benson – and what kind of shitty name was Benson anyway - just happened to be a nationally ranked weightlifting champion. What was with this overachieving bullshit? What happened to just dating normal guys? Guys who weren’t ridiculously jacked and absolute assholes? Jesus, if this was Ou Wen’s type, he really needed an intervention.

 But fine. Whatever. At this point, it was about pride, both Mark’s and Ou Wen’s, and he’d be damned if a tree trunk won.

A couple hundred squats later, Mark managed to stubbornly claw his way to victory. It all became a bit blurry at the end. All he knew was that there was a lot of cheering, the weight was lifted off his shoulder, and his legs no longer existed. He took a step forward and the next thing he was truly able to focus on was Ou Wen’s face.

“Did I win?” Mark asked between pained gasps of air. He was never working out again after this. In fact, he was pretty sure he had developed a phobia of the gym thanks to the events that happened today. But then he glanced up and saw the way Ou Wen was looking at him - so vulnerable, so worried, so grateful – and he decided it was all worth it. Mark would do it all over again in a heartbeat, no questions asked, if it meant Ou Wen never had to look so heartbroken again.

This thought held him over until he had to climb the stairs. Mark had some serious regrets as he clung onto the chain linked wall and dragged himself up a step. Having gyms underground seemed like a design flaw in his opinion. In fact, he was already building up a rant in his head when Ou Wen appeared by his side.

“Idiot,” Ou Wen muttered, but it lacked its usual bite and was made even softer by the way he grabbed Mark’s arm and helped him up the steps. Mark couldn’t help but grin, an inexplicably warm feeling growing in his chest.

“But did you see your ex-boyfriend’s face?” Mark asked and Ou Wen replied with an amused huff. It was a nice moment. It almost felt like they were really friends.

Which they were now because Mark decided they were.

But then Ou Wen had to go and ruin it by lecturing him.

“Do you really want Joanna’s number that much?”

And that question stung more than Mark expected. Sure, he didn’t always make the greatest impression, but did Ou Wen really think that little of him?

“I didn’t do it for her number, ok?” he said, more than a bit annoyed. “I didn’t want you to be unable to raise your head in front of that bastard.” Ou Wen looked surprised at that admission and for some reason it upset Mark even more, scratched at his conscience in all the wrong ways.

“A fake kiss and a weightlifting contest,” he grumbled, frowning as he turned away. “I should at least get credit for my sacrifices even if I don’t get rewarded.” Then, still feeling wrong, he turned back to glare at Ou Wen. “Can’t you tell I wanted to help you?”

It took a moment for Ou Wen to remember that day in the cafe and Mark almost rolled his eyes as realization dawned on Ou Wen.

“So you do remember,” Mark said sourly. “You even nagged me about it.”

And it seemed no good deed really went unpunished because even as Ou Wen helped him up the stairs, he started nagging Mark again about the importance of treating clients well instead of thanking him. It lacked the bite it held the first time, but still - was this what being Ou Wen’s friend was going to be like? If it was the case, Mark might actually prefer the silent treatment. Could they go back to that? 

He was so busy complaining in his head, he almost missed it when Ou Wen said, “You’re lucky I love you, otherwise I would have hit you for that.”

But he didn’t and he stopped to look at Ou Wen curiously. Did that mean Ou Wen thought they were friends, too? Did Ou Wen just admit he didn’t hate Mark?

Ou Wen stared back and Mark wasn’t sure what to make of the startled expression. He was about to ask, when Ou Wen looked away sharply and started blabbering something about the internet and slang. His ears were pink and it was the first time Mark had ever seen him so flustered. It was a far cry from his usual cool persona and nothing like the fragile thing he saw in the gym and it was so endearing Mark had to smile.

It also made Mark want to tease him.

“That’s not right,” he said gleefully, watching as Ou Wen stared resolutely in the opposite direction of Mark. “It doesn’t seem like you don’t mean anything by it.”

Ou Wen refused to turn towards him and it gave Mark time to slide in close. He pressed his chest against Ou Wen’s arm, leaned up until his lips were next to Ou Wen’s ear, and nearly cackled in delight when he felt Ou Wen stiffen, his panic palpable. He wasn’t really sure what he was thinking, didn’t really know what he expected.

All he knew was that he wanted a reaction out of Ou Wen, so he put on his seduction voice, that low, intimate one that promised inappropriate things and said, “Otherwise why did your heart speed up?” 

He felt Ou Wen’s breath hitch which was great, saw the way he clutched at his chest which was amazing, but then Ou Wen spun around faster than expected and suddenly all of Mark’s senses were filled with him - the scent of sandalwood and cardamom, the heat of his skin through his suit, Ou Wen’s denial hanging between them in vibrations rather than sound. Mark’s eyes flickered down to Ou Wen’s lips and it was impossible not to remember the way they had kissed in the gym, not to remember the way Ou Wen had slotted his mouth against his, not to remember the feeling of Ou Wen’s arms and waist, firm and unyielding beneath his hands.

That familiar urge returned, crawling under his skin, settling low and hot in his stomach and really, it would be entirely inappropriate if he crowded Ou Wen against the wall right now, entirely inappropriate if he leaned in and just bit down on Ou Wen’s bottom lip, entirely inappropriate if he dropped his bag just so he could slip his hands into Ou Wen’s blazer and see how he would respond. Yes, entirely inappropriate for so many reasons, except Mark had never been that good at controlling his impulses and his fingers twitched in anticipation at all the things he could do.

Which were, again, entirely inappropriate.

It took Mark more than he was willing to admit to pull himself away. Even as he made a blasé joke about his good looks, he felt strangely off kilter like the world had been knocked off its axis and everything around him had tilted slightly to the left. He was straight. He liked women. He loved women. Except…


Kissing Ou Wen had been nice. Maybe more than nice. And he kind of liked it. A little. Ok, maybe a lot. And maybe he wanted to do it again. Except…except… Ou Wen was distinctively not female. Which meant…which meant…

Which meant?

Mark didn’t know what it meant and he could feel a headache building up, the kind that happened when he was thinking too hard. So instead of continuing to think, he decided to stop and file it away for a rainy day.

Later, when Ou Wen begrudgingly agreed to help Mark set up a meet-cute with Joanna, he cheered like he was supposed to and he pulled Ou Wen into a hug like friends do. He thanked Ou Wen for helping him out, but for some reason, the victory didn’t taste as sweet as he thought it would.

How could it when it was overpowered by the taste of Ou Wen still lingering heavily on his tongue, his scent still stuck to the back of Mark’s throat? As he watched Ou Wen walked away, Mark sucked in a deep breath and only one thought crossed his mind.