It gets exhausting being an idol, especially when Donghyuck is working under fucking SM Entertainment, a company notorious for overworking their idols well past the brink of burnout.
It doesn’t matter that he’s worked on Neo Zone and Reload simultaneously, it’s not like the company’s going to let him rest for a minute. It doesn’t even matter now, in the middle of shooting yet another track video for Reload, when it’s clear that he’s being stretched too fucking thin. The staff members aren’t going to just let him wallow alone in his corner.
He’s hunched over in a chair with his phone in hand, eyes skimming over the email his manager had sent him. NCT 2020 preparations would be underway soon.
When? Donghyuck wants to shoot back as bitterly as he can. After promotions are over for 127 and Dream, and I can barely stand on my own two feet for a few seconds before my knees buckle? Or during, when I’m sleepwalking through my schedules and you assume that another set of schedules won’t hurt?
God. A week. All he’s asking for at this point is a week of just doing absolutely nothing. Is that really too much to ask for?
The warehouse they’re shooting in is large, which is great for Donghyuck because this way he can keep his distance from everyone else and refrain from blowing up on someone who doesn’t deserve it. He’s just so fucking tired. He hasn’t gotten more than 4 hours of sleep a night in months, and his body aches from overexerting itself.
In the past few months alone, he’s learned twice the amount of choreographies he’d usually learn for a comeback, he’s recorded twice the amount of songs, shot twice the amount of music videos and will soon be involved in twice the amount of promotional activities.
Korea has too many music shows and variety shows and broadcasting apps. Way too many.
It’s not like he’s actually some sort of superhuman, he wonders if the company is aware of that. The only thing that keeps him from losing his mind is knowing that there are others who are wrapped up in the same kind of crazy schedule. The NCT members in SuperM constantly look like they’re on the verge of death and Donghyuck can no longer keep track of the amount of times he’s knocked on Mark’s door only to be greeted by an empty room (or a sleeping lump).
He tries not to think about how many times Mark might’ve done the same thing, felt the same sudden confusing rush of disappointment and annoyance.
Chenle’s bright screech of a giggle rings out from somewhere nearby and Donghyuck groans, massaging his temples and pressing further back into the corner so that no one approaches him. He’s already said some regrettably mean things to Jeno and Renjun earlier and he doesn’t know if he can handle the weight of Jaemin’s glare again. They’d quickly left him alone after, huddling over someone’s phone, and Donghyuck had felt far more relief than he had spite.
They’d just been joking around, like they usually do. But the thing is, Donghyuck’s the only one in Dream with the kind of schedule he has, which means that while the others do try to understand him, they don’t always succeed.
Sometimes the first joke is already one joke too many, but Donghyuck can’t blame them for not knowing that.
It’s at times like these when he wishes Mark was still in Dream. When they’d first debuted, he and Mark were the only two who'd known what it was like to be juggled between two different units, it was what kept them from succumbing to the stress. Now, more than ever, having him here would make things more bearable. Easier.
Then again, Donghyuck doesn’t want to do that to him. The golden boy of SM is valuable, so valuable that they keep chipping blocks off of him to place in every project for a little bit of luck (a little bit of profit). Donghyuck doesn’t want Mark back in Dream if it means chipping away the last bits of him.
He shoves his phone in his pocket and rubs his eyes with the heels of his hand, letting his hair hang in front of his face. It’s nice to wish, though, imagine that Mark is next to him.
“Hyung, you can’t just sit there all day. Get up, you’ve gotta get your makeup touched up,” Jisung’s voice, though smooth and innocent, grates on his nerves the minute it sounds from somewhere beside him. Donghyuck doesn’t look, trying to contain the sudden flare of irritation inside of him, pushing venomous words up his throat.
Having a sharp tongue usually means that Donghyuck makes people laugh. He’s clever, he’s witty, he thinks fast. But when he’s tired and frustrated, it just means that Donghyuck hurts other people.
Jisung isn’t being pushy or condescending but fuck, does Donghyuck want to scream. He pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a few deep breaths before nodding and pushing past Jisung without another word.
Just one day, even. He’d take just 24 hours to recharge at this point.
Maybe he’d spend it doing nothing, he thinks as the makeup artist gently tugs his chin down. Maybe he’d cook something, or watch a TV show, or call his family, or take a really good bath. Maybe he’d go to Mark, wherever he was, and just be near him for 24 hours. But of course, that probably wouldn’t prove to be an easy task. With their luck, Mark would just so happen to be shooting somewhere far away on Donghyuck’s day off. Or he’d have too many different things to do in a day to have Donghyuck following him around everywhere.
Sometimes, it felt like they just weren’t meant to be.
They’d only started dating a month ago, Donghyuck pretending to be nonchalant as he told Mark he maybe had a thing for him while they watched a movie at an ungodly hour (an excuse to spend time together, even in the middle of their busy schedules), and Mark slapping Donghyuck’s knee without taking his eyes off the screen before entwining their fingers, muttering something about the world’s worst way to confess.
Since then, they’ve barely gotten time to find out how exactly to be with each other. Whenever they do see each other, Donghyuck is focused on too many things other than his boyfriend to do more than shoot him a tired smile, and he knows Mark is the same way. In a way, it feels like they’re still best friends who are just pretending to date. It’s like a joke. Donghyuck wants to be best friends with Mark, but he also wants to be his boyfriend.
For all his talk, he’s not exactly the most adaptive to their newly defined relationship He needs time to learn how to do all the things he wants to do with Mark, casual touches and kisses and dates and just, like, fucking romance. But he doesn’t have time. Ever.
Something pokes him in the eye and Donghyuck clenches his jaw, trying to smile politely as the makeup artist lets out a nervous apology and finishes up. They’ve still got an hour or so until they have to officially start shooting again and Donghyuck feels the beginning of a migraine coming on.
The other five are gathered a good distance off, Jaemin standing in the middle probably saying something ridiculous, and every time Chenle lets out a laugh, it echoes through the warehouse, Donghyuck’s temples throbbing with the resonance.
It’s too much. All of it.
Before he can even think about what he’s doing, Donghyuck’s yelling, “Can you guys get any louder?”
It draws everyone’s attention, the space instantly falling quieter, and they all stare at him in that way that makes his skin crawl. It’s judgement from the staff, mostly, and disappointment from his members. Practically written on their faces, at this point, We get that you’re tired, but why stop us from having fun? They’re sick of him. Donghyuck’s sick of himself too, but what the fuck is he supposed to do about it?
Instead of feeling the familiar sting of tears, the ones that sprout from guilt, Donghyuck just sees red, fueled by not being understood. He grinds his teeth and clenches his fists, turning on his heel with the intention of getting some air so that he can breathe like a normal person but something stops him before he can even take his first step.
A hand splayed carefully over his stomach applying the gentlest of pressure, warm and familiar.
Donghyuck’s gaze slides up until it latches onto a face, a pair of eyes, also warm and familiar. Mark. It doesn’t make sense, because Mark is supposed to be recording something for SuperM today. But here he is, standing in front of Donghyuck with his stupid circle glasses and what looks like a bag of food in his hand.
“Hyuck,” he says softly in lieu of a greeting. It feels like a warning and a reprieve all at once. And it’s just enough, even if it looks like nothing from the outside, it’s just enough to melt Donghyuck, release the tension around his eyes and relax his muscles.
Mark’s thumb rubs over his abdomen and Donghyuck doesn’t have time to think about whether it’s a conscious act or not because Mark is searching his eyes for something and it feels so intimate that Donghyuck thinks it would be wrong to look away now. The moment breaks when Mark lets his hand fall away, lightly brushing down Donghyuck’s sleeve until it’s loosely circling his wrist.
He looks over Donghyuck’s shoulder and calls out, “I’m borrowing him for a moment if that’s alright.”
Either he gets a nonverbal response from someone or he doesn’t care about getting an actual answer, because Mark starts pulling Donghyuck away before anyone says anything.
As he’s being pulled away, embarrassment sets in to replace the anger. He fights the urge to squirm out of Mark’s grip and run away, already wincing when he pictures himself the way Mark probably saw him. Loud, annoyed, mean for no good reason to his friends. It’s a side of him that Mark’s seen before, but it feels different for him to witness now that they’re dating. Wrong, even.
It’s stupid, Donghyuck thinks as they enter the empty dressing room. He sits on the couch hesitantly. It’s stupid, because they’re best friends before anything else and it’s only healthy to know all of each other’s faults. Still, when Mark leans against the makeup counter in front of him and just looks at him with comfort pooling in his eyes, Donghyuck can’t quite meet his gaze. It’s all so, so stupid.
There’s a table between them where Mark’s put down the bag of food, and Donghyuck fiddles with the plastic before clearing his throat and saying the only thing he can think of, “You’re borrowing me?”
It’s clear that Mark wanted him to talk first, because he’s got a small smile on his face and he uncrosses his arms so he can clutch the edge of the counter.
“As much as I’d like to steal you, I can’t. It’s the next best thing,” Mark replies. Donghyuck pretends to not feel his face heating up as he groans and sinks back into the couch. There’s too much space between them when all he wants to do is wrap his arms around Mark and never let go, but he’s still not sure how to initiate things like that, so he doesn’t do anything.
In a way, it was easier to be affectionate when they weren’t dating. When Donghyuck could just do whatever he wanted without thinking about Mark’s reactions.
“Shut up. You’re gross. Disgusting. Humiliating,” Donghyuck says to the ceiling, “Why are you here anyways? You know the others are probably gonna haul their asses here soon, right? Borrowing me has a very short time constraint when you’ve clearly brought food.”
Donghyuck hears some movement, the rustling of the plastic, and then the table creaking. When he sits back up, Mark is sitting on the table in front of him and there’s a small container of kimbap sitting beside him.
Like this, they’re so close that Mark’s had to cage Donghyuck’s legs between his to sit comfortably, and Donghyuck almost pulls back a little before he remembers that Mark probably doesn’t mind their proximity.
“Actually, no one’s following us in here,” Mark is staring above Donghyuck’s eyes, and he distractedly brings a hand up to brush some hair away from his forehead. Donghyuck tries not to betray just how much he likes it. “I got a text from Jaemin a while ago saying something about how my stupid boyfriend was being a lot meaner than usual, and how I should buy him some food and use my so-called charms to magic his crankiness away. Even if they hadn’t planned this out beforehand, I don’t think any amount of food would’ve convinced them to stay in a cramped room like this with you in your current state.”
Donghyuck blinks and processes the words, his brain picking out a few in particular. His eyes go wide before he hits Mark on the arm and exclaims, “You told Jaemin?!”
Mark frowns and rubs at his arm, “Of course not, dude, what the fuck? We promised not to tell yet, and I didn’t. He was just joking around.”
“Oh.” Donghyuck flicks his own forehead as some sort of self-imposed punishment. “Right, sorry. I’m just, uh, tired.”
Tired is an understatement, but Donghyuck’s never been too good at talking about his feelings. He looks at Mark’s hands and bites his tongue to steel himself before taking them in his and entwining their fingers. “Better now that you’re here, though. What happened to recording? It was you and Taemin hyung, right?”
Mark brings Donghyuck’s hands up to his mouth and without any warning, presses a chaste kiss on either one. Donghyuck almost loses it. It’s like Mark’s not even thinking, what the fuck? How did he get so good at this romance thing? They’d spent the last month barely even looking at each other, the extent of their intimacy being limited to holding hands under the kitchen table, and suddenly Mark was the perfect boyfriend? God, Donghyuck was going to die.
“Fell through. Taemin hyung was feeling under the weather so he convinced the PD to let the both of us off for today. Jaemin sent the text right as I was leaving the studio.”
“Must be nice to have that kind of power,” Donghyuck replies weakly, still thinking of the way Mark had pressed his lips to his skin. It takes a lot of self-control to avoid thinking about how they’d feel pressed elsewhere.
“Hey,” Mark says with furrowed brows, suddenly looking concerned. “Are you okay? You look lightheaded. Fuck, I know how exhausted you’ve been lately but are you even drinking enough water? The only liquids I brought are of the root-beer variety, but if that gets you hydrated then I can just-”
Mark cuts himself off and begins to dig through the plastic bag, pulling out a small vase, some fake flowers and a Bluetooth speaker before Donghyuck finally stops him with a hand on his arm and tells him that he’s fine, watching relief colour Mark’s features when he hears the words.
Without their hands tangled together, the tingle of Mark’s kisses die down and Donghyuck can finally think again. He takes a moment to survey the contents on the table and the puzzle pieces practically fit themselves together.
Donghyuck grins and tugs on Mark’s hoodie strings to bring them face to face, feeling brave.
“Mark Lee,” Donghyuck croons with mirth, “is this supposed to be your idea of a date?”
However, Mark doesn’t scoff and pull away like Donghyuck had predicted. Instead, he leans closer until their noses touch and smiles playfully when Donghyuck can’t help but blink in surprise a couple of times. “And what if it is? We’ve been dating for a good month and still haven’t done a lot of things most couples do within the first week, can you blame me for trying to be a little innovative?”
Donghyuck can feel his cheeks heating up again and he’ll be damned if he lets Mark see how easy it is to fluster him, so he plucks Mark’s glasses off his nose, hopes he’s blind enough not to be able to tell how very obviously flushed Donghyuck is, and scoffs half-heartedly as he avoids Mark’s gaze and reaches for the kimbap.
“That’s cute or whatever. I guess. Maybe.”
“Donghyuck, you do realize that taking my glasses off doesn’t stop me from seeing colour, right?”
A laugh spills out from Mark when Donghyuck groans and gingerly pats at his cheeks, willing the blush away while also trying not to mess with the makeup.
“You know,” Donghyuck grumbles, “if you were really my best friend, you would’ve just let that go.”
Mark sighs and leans forward, keeping one hand on Donghyuck’s thigh as he slides the other on his cheek, tilting his head up.
“You know,” he mocks, “as much as I like being your best friend, I wanna be your boyfriend more. Let me play the part?”
No, Donghyuck is not suddenly short of breath, thank you very much.
He nods, quick and small, and bites back a giddy smile when Mark grins and leaves a kiss on his forehead. Maybe they don't need the time to figure out how to fit together now, at least not when Mark seems to already be there (and more than willing to lead).
“Good. Now, let’s make the most of what will probably be the only time we get alone together for the next month.”
As they eat, they talk. It’s easy, much like how it’s always been between the two of them, and Donghyuck finds that the food does help with his crankiness a little (but mostly, it’s Mark), so he supposes Jaemin is good for something after all.
When they’ve finished cleaning up, Donghyuck takes a moment to look into the mirror and make sure his face is free from stray grains of rice. He thumbs one last time at his bottom lip and catches Mark’s gaze through the mirror. His eyes practically sparkle, lips permanently upturned in a fond smile.
“What?” Donghyuck rolls his eyes, a smile playing at his own lips.
“Nothing. Can I be your boyfriend for a while?” Donghyuck raises a brow at that and laughs, fiddling with his clothes and smoothing them out.
“I’m pretty sure you’ve been my boyfriend for a month, Mark.”
Mark steps forward and stops right behind Donghyuck, placing steadying hands on his waist before he directs a knowing look through the mirror. “I know you’re still getting used to it, though. I’m asking if I can, I don’t know, hold you? Touch you? Be closer to you than best friends would be?”
Donghyuck elbows Mark in the gut at his jab but murmurs his consent right after. It sends something swooping in his stomach the moment Mark’s arms wrap fully around his waist and pull him close. Mark’s eyes meet his through the mirror, and he presses a small kiss to Donghyuck’s ear (which is new and frankly, makes Donghyuck question for a split second if he’s going into cardiac arrest) before burrowing his head in Donghyuck’s neck.
His breath is hot and soft against Donghyuck’s skin when he mumbles, “Wish we could just stay like this. Miss you.”
We live together, is the immediate thing that flies up Donghyuck’s throat and rests on his tongue. But he knows that it’s different. It’s not about living together; it’s about being available to each other. Donghyuck tries to say something but fails to think of what would help, so he settles on placing his hands over Mark’s and stroking the skin.
The clock shows that filming is going to start soon but Donghyuck just wants to take a nap, preferably curled up next to Mark. He sighs, deep and heavy, and then carefully nudges Mark’s head up and away so that he can turn in his hold.
Mark walks them back a little so that Donghyuck’s pressed against the counter, and Donghyuck hates that he’s getting hot again because of the way Mark is looking at him.
“I’m,” it comes out a little high pitched, so Donghyuck tries again, “I’m sorry, and I know you are, too. I kinda miss you from time to time – just a little. Every few seconds, you know, like a normal person. But we’ll find time. For us. I mean, we’ve got to figure some things out and adjust eventually, right?”
Mark raises an eyebrow at that and then ducks in to press a kiss to Donghyuck’s cheek, immediately pulling back to run his thumb over the pink-tinged skin. “That’s rich coming from you, I’m pretty sure I’ve got the relationship thing down. You, on the other hand, can’t handle affection without looking like you’re going to combust.”
Donghyuck frowns and curses his blood for responding so terribly to a dork like Mark.
“How does that even work?” Mark laughs but looks at Donghyuck in a way that ensures he’s just teasing. “Weren’t you the one trying to plant a kiss on me everyday before we started dating?”
Yeah, he’s not wrong. But also, fuck him. Donghyuck just chalks it up to their characters. Mark’s always been shit at flirting with commitment, but the real thing is second nature to him. And, well, Donghyuck’s always been the exact opposite of Mark in every possible way.
“Well, you’re not perfect either,” he counters huffily, “I mean, you still call me dude. So, I win. We both have things to get used to.”
Mark grins, a spark of mischief in his eyes, and slides his hands down to grip at Donghyuck’s hips, leaning in to Donghyuck’s ear, “Aw, you don’t like that, baby?”
Donghyuck grips Mark’s hoodie and squeezes his eyes shut, his legs suddenly doing a terrible job at holding him up, “I hate you. If we have our first kiss here, I will literally never forgive myself.”
Mark pulls back just enough to look at Donghyuck, all confused and adorable and irresistible, “I never said anything about a kiss.”
Fuck, maybe he just finds oblivious losers hot, but he’s not nearly as annoyed with himself as he should be.
He grabs Mark by the collar, eyes glued to his mouth as he murmurs, “I know you didn’t,” and closes the last few inches of distance between them.
It’s better than Donghyuck ever let himself imagine.
He’s spent a month deprived of this (a year or two if he counts all that time he was crushing pre-relationship), so he doesn’t exactly take it slow. To his delight, Mark isn’t all that shy either.
In the last hour or so, a lot of Donghyuck’s assumptions about what Mark Lee would be like as a boyfriend have been destroyed, so he’s not too shocked with this new development.
Mark is eager, kissing Donghyuck insistently like he’s aiming to bruise his lips. His hands roam freely, pressing down hard in some places and skirting teasingly over others. At a certain point, he pushes Donghyuck back to sit on the counter, standing between his legs and rubbing at his thighs as they kiss. Offhandedly, Donghyuck thinks about how his makeup artist is going to chew him out, but he’s brought back into the present when Mark’s hand cradles his face and his thumb caresses his cheekbone.
Mark licks into Donghyuck’s mouth and mumbles praises, their lips brushing together with every word, and praises turn into questions, asking for permission before slipping his hands up Donghyuck’s shirt and smoothing them over his waist. Donghyuck lets out a breathy sound when Mark briefly sucks on his bottom lip, and he only loses more control as Mark peels away to mouth at Donghyuck’s jaw, his throat.
Fingers come up to pull down the collar of his shirt and Mark’s mouth attaches to the dip of his collarbones, tongue already working to suck at the skin, teeth grazing over it often enough that Donghyuck can’t stop panting. It takes a good few seconds before Donghyuck remembers where they are and he’s instantly wrapping his hand around the base of Mark’s neck, gently pulling him off and pressing an apologetic kiss to his lips before he explains, “I’m in the middle of a shoot, remember?”
Mark, still dark eyed, nods absently and smooths his thumb over the spot where his lips had been attached moments earlier. Donghyuck’s willing to bet money that there’s already a bright red hickey blooming there, he’s always had sensitive skin.
Mark pulls the collar up and kisses Donghyuck properly, slow and sweet, before pulling away to state, “Next time.”
It’s a promise, and Donghyuck is incredibly tempted to pull him back in and let him mark him up however much he wants, but instead he draws out a shaky laugh and nods, agreeing, “Next time.”
Then, as if he’s been pulled out from under a spell, Mark brightens and laughs, pulling Donghyuck into a hug. Donghyuck squeezes his legs around Mark’s hips and splays his hands across Mark’s back.
“You drive me absolutely insane.” Mark inhales deeply, pressing a kiss into Donghyuck’s hair. “I wish I could take you out on dates in public like you deserve and kiss you on the street like a hormonal teenager with no self-control.”
Donghyuck laughs and pokes Mark in the ribs, “Wait, so you’re not already a hormonal teenager with no self-control?”
Mark scoffs and pulls away, tugging Donghyuck off the counter and fixing him up. He lets his fingers rest innocently in Donghyuck’s belt loops and then tugs him close, pressing a thigh between his legs. Donghyuck hisses, sensitive.
“Says you,” he teases, and Donghyuck does everything in his power not to ignore the time and dive back in for another kiss.
“Hey, are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah, I think. Thanks for coming, I think I was just really wound up.”
Mark hums. They’re close to the set now, so he just shoots him a look of understanding. “It’s not fair. I know it’s not, but I’m here for you, alright? Whether you need a best friend or a boyfriend. I have the privilege of being both, so just come to me. Okay?”
Donghyuck is a little bit in love, but whatever. He links their pinkies together, “Okay.”
Mark leans in and as they hug, he whispers, “Come to my room when you get home, wanna spend the night with you.”
“What the fuck,” Donghyuck hisses, punching Mark’s arm and escaping his hold. Mark might have been right about him looking like he was going to combust, he can feel his ears reddening again.
“Relax, baby-” Donghyuck chokes and frantically looks around to make sure no one is near by, “-I just want you next to me. To hold, I guess. That okay?”
“You’re the biggest idiot I’ve ever seen in my entire life, Mark Lee. But fine. Now go!”
Mark grins all big and goofy and then cups his hands, yelling out to the others, “I’m leaving! Work hard!”
A chorus of affirmatives ring back and Mark shoots one last smile at Donghyuck before leaving altogether.
“Sorry about earlier, guys.”
Chenle waves his hand dismissively, “No biggie. What’s with the makeup though? Didn’t you just get it touched up?”
Jaemin wiggles his eyebrows at Donghyuck, shooting a conspiratorial grin at Jeno and Renjun. Donghyuck narrows his eyes at them. He figures that even if Jaemin doesn’t know, he sure as hell has some creepy intuition.
Donghyuck gets his makeup redone without saying another word. And if he makes sure his shirt is firmly pulled above his collarbone for the rest of the shoot, well, that’s nobody else's business but his.