for someone who clings to silence like second skin, there's something haunting about the thick atmosphere that has settled between jackson and himself. mark tries not to think about the persona he had donned, about the uncharacteristic words of abuse that had been hurled from his vicious lips, out into the open like sharp arrows, hitting their target – jackson – with pinpoint accuracy.
arguments are terrible. they're clashes of will, of personality, rage and heat and being caught up in the moment. he can't even remember why they had a fight in the first place, can only remember that it happened. like all petty fights, the reason for the fight had ceased to be of consequence the moment it had begun.
mark watches the movements of his lithe figure in the wall-length mirror opposite him, focusing on keeping his moves sharp. sharp like knives, angles more perfect and precise than the ones he had shakily, lazily ruled in cheap notebooks in high school, which was... how long ago? frowning, mark realises – not for the first time – that he's not really a rookie anymore. they're not rookies. got7 is well on their way to the top (as expected of a manufactured product of one of the big three, don't you know) but they haven't changed that much, not really.
idly, he wonders if his moves are sharp enough to cut through steel. if he can break through the breezy composure of jackson, anything is possible.
"delivery for mark hyung!" a bright, chipper voice sounds from the doorway. mark smiles even before he turns around – jinyoung's always been able to have that sort of effect on him, on everyone really. (it reminds him of another group member whose effervescent smiles and sunny attitude can lighten the world-- but as swiftly as the thought forms, he banishes it to the depths of his mind)
"isn't it late? you don't need to be here." he says with a nod of gratitude for the bottle jinyoung has flung his way.
"neither do you," jinyoung retorts easily as he begins to pack mark's things into his bag. he doesn't bother asking if it's okay – because half the stuff in there probably never belonged to him anyway, and his incurable mother hen instincts have only heightened even as the maknaes moved past their underage status – and mark resists the urge to sigh fondly as he resigns himself to having his practice cut short.
(it's 4:00am, the coldest time of day. good thing there's no such thing as overtime in this line of work.)
"why're you here, though?" mark asks, guiding the door to softly click shut. "we're gonna be busy tomorrow. today. later."
"jackson hyung sent me to check up on you because he's too chicken to do so." jinyoung snorts. "he also told me not to tell you, but you've been tip-toeing around each other for ages. you can't ignore each other forever. everyone's sick of it."
mark blinks, and tries to ignore the involuntary warmth he feels blooming in his heart and pinking his cheeks. "don't worry about it." he says, wondering if he'll be able to practise what he preaches.
"don't worry about it." mark's eyes are shut as a coating of eyeshadow is dusted over his eyelids. they remain shut even after the makeup artist proclaims him ready for the stage, preferring to rest silently whilst the others chatter amongst themselves, spread out over the waiting room.
given how often they've performed their old songs, they shouldn't be this nervous. but there's something about the stage and audience and cameras, lights, action that never fails to bring out the nerves.
mark brushes past jackson backstage on standby. "will you catch me?" it hurts. it really, really hurts even though it shouldn't. jackson has every right to ask, he does, but it stings because "did you have to ask?"
trust is a terrible thing to lose.
but then jackson smiles, small and insecure but it's still there. the pieces are clicking into place and mark knows they'll still have to talk things out, maybe do a bit of slugging too (away from the face though, their managers would kill them) but for now, things are on the mend. they say actions speak louder than words, and somewhere between jackson's loud, chattery nature and mark's apathatic silence they've found a common ground.
"suppose it was never needed," jackson admits, eyes glittering. mark doesn't know if it's from tears or the stage lights, but he likes to think it's a combination of both. "catch me if you can." he does. over and over again, no matter how bad the fall.
when jackson makes it back to their dorm, new cast adorning his ankle, he’s surrounded by soft concern – half hugs from his group mates – except for mark. the older male only greets him with a subtle frown, before moving back into the apartment. the sight of mark’s back is eerily distant, an jackson has known him long enough to know that mark is angry – dissolving his frustrations in a silent but still potent demeanour.
the blonde male is avoiding him, shifting to the far side of the couch as the other members fill in the gap between them two. jackson thinks they’re more like a barrier that breaks them apartt. and at the end of the day, jackson is left pondering whether mark is angry with him – or himself.
but they both know that it’s a big of both – and like all times, it’s jackson that gives in first. he turns the doorknob, pushing the door to their room open quietly. mark is in his bed, lost in his own thoughts. he makes his way in, slight limp in his steps.
“hey,” he says. there’s no answer. (he doesn’t really expect one.)
“ge,” he tries again, stepping upon the bed to face the older male in the upper bunk. mark simply rolls his eyes before turning the opposite way, pulling his blankets up to cover himself as if another layer of armour will separate them two. “i’m hurt,” he whines, “shouldn’t you be comforting me?”
“no.” mark replies without hesitation – slipping into english as he stares at the empty wall in front of him.
“it’s not like I wanted to get hurt,” the younger male says, waiting for mark to finally face him. it takes a good five minutes but he does, sighing and mussing his hair before sitting up and turning to face jackson.
“jia-er,” he starts with a condescending tone, though laced with worry. “ i just want you to stop getting hurt. this isn’t even the first time.” he exclaims, word slurring in haste.
“i’m just trying my best to get our name out there, and besides, you know how i don’t like to half-ass things.” jackson explains but the frown on mark’s face only deepens. “i was just try—“
“—stop.” mark interrupts, pushing his fringe back and leaning back on the wall. “i’m worried, and you know that. i don’t want to keep finding out news of you being injured everytime you’re out there filming alone. can’t you think about your career? can’t you think about me?” he continues, letting out the thoughts that have shrouded his mind for so long. “it’s just that i wonder why you are fighting battles by yourself. as if there’s really nothing that i can do to help you share any burdens and i don’t like it.” he finishes, looking pointedly at the younger male who returns his rant with a smile bright enough to blind him.
“stop smiling, i’m angry at you.” he says though he feels the corner of his lips tug upwards. jackson laughs, high pitched voice filling the room. “you’re worried about me, i know that. but i also don’t want to spend so much time debating which battles to fight and which to concede. i just want to try my best in everything in life.”
“besides, how else am i going to get stronger to protect you?”
“i don’t need your protection.” mark retorts, though his hostility from before is no longer present.
“i know,” jackson smiles, reaching forward to hold mark’s hands in his own. “but i still want to be your prince.”
jackson has practiced and learnt and been assigned any number of martial arts tricks before, with varying levels of complexity, but none has ever made him feel so vulnerable as falling back into thin air without a mattress or bed behind him to cushion the impact. "can you handle it?" jaebum asks, sliding a hand around his shoulder under the chorus of "got7 jjai!". youngjae smiles sweetly at him as they burst onstage to deafening cheers and yugyeom lightens his stage fright with a mischievous smirk. "jackson-hyung~" bambam whines as jinyoung pulls him into an armlock but sneaks jackson an outrageous encouraging grin. mark is the only one who doesn't say or do anything, or look at him, but at the climax of jackson's part of the song it is his strong and steady arms under jackson's that break his harrowing backward freefall and his narrow but broad shoulder that jackson's head lands gently against like a human pillow. ("don't be afraid, jia-er. i'll be here to catch you when you fall.")
their first comeback stage at inkigayo and jackson is sweating beneath his thick layer of concealer and foundation and stiffly-gelled helmet of hair. going over the verse of their alternating rap over and over, till jackson loses count of how many times and mark's korean vowels are slurring together, his tongue growing big and clumsy. jackson places a light hand on his shoulder. "let's stop," he says gently, and mark frowns. "but -- it's not perfect yet." jackson chuckles warmly and loosens the piece of ratty lyrics painstakingly highlighted from his tense fingers. "it doesn't have to be," he whispers reassuringly, watching mark's shoulders slacken and relax at merely the simple, accepting words. ("you already are.")
their first win, their first ever fucking win and jackson's shoulders are heaving with noiseless sobs, his hands covering his face. mark's heart does all the backflips he's ever done from girls girls girls to A to stop stop it to just right and impulsively, he pulls jackson's head roughly onto his shoulder and tightens his knuckles over jackson's broad shoulders. the fans don't know, they haven't seen all the times they had nearly fallen during that terrifyingly dangerous move when jackson let go of all his footholds on safety and hurtled towards the ground in a reverse freefall. there had been times, weeks, months before comeback when they had first started practicing this move and mark had been clumsy and careless, almost failing to rush up and stand in the right position to block his fall. but not once, not once had he ever let jackson's head or his back hit the cold hard ground. it was as simple as one fact: mark would never let jackson get hurt again. jackson who practiced and rehearsed tirelessly alongside all of them even with his limping leg; jackson who brushed off all their worries with his easy laidback smile; jackson who only allowed himself to flinch from the pain back in the privacy of their room, and even then, only when he thought mark wasn't looking. mark would die before he let a single hair on jackson's body get hurt again. because on the first day of their practices, before the very first time, mark had touched jackson's hair tentatively and simply asked, "afraid?" jackson had replied just as simply, with a confident smile, "no." ("trust me?" "more than anybody else in the world.")
their goodbye stage on music bank and they're all a little teary, all a little reluctant to leave this era that had given them so many priceless memories. but what mark remembers most about if you do isn't the confetti raining down on them as jaebum broke down and accepted the sparkling trophy with trembling hands; their encore stage as all their voices shook unsteadily, but the fans' chants got even louder instead, making all of them sob with embarrassing unmasculinity as they shook the venue with their mantra of all seven of their names. not jackson's knuckled, tapered fingers proudly forming the number 7 as they ended their first ever group performance of hooked, seamlessly turning their hands over to display the jj project handsign. no, what mark remembers with porcelain clarity is instead the breathless heartbeats between the start of jackson's fall and that moment of overwhelming, knee-buckling relief when his shoulder blades hit mark's waiting hands and he smiled up backward at mark, his cocky smirk looking like he had never doubted him at all. years later, mark would realize that this was indeed true, that jackson had never entertained even a fraction of doubt mark himself had that mark would be behind him as he had always been since they were eighteen and anonymous.
("were you afraid?" he asks jackson on their seventh comeback, years later, but jackson instinctively understands his meaning. "when they first told me i had to do that move, i was terrified," he admits, smiling ruefully. "but then i asked, who's going to catch me? and they said, mark. and just like that," he snaps his fingers, eyes bright with unshed tears. "i was fearless.")