Actions

Work Header

a little extraordinary

Chapter Text

Mark didn't consider his life as special. Not in a depressed sort of way, he just kinda knew that there were people out there leading far more interesting lives than he was, and he was okay with that. Not everyone was born to be in a history book. 

His life wasn't boring either. He had enough friends who got up to dumb shit when they were bored, that he could confidently say that his life wasn't boring. It just wasn't amazingly extraordinary.

That is until one fateful night in late autumn. 

That's when his life became a little more extraordinary. 

 

/

 

It was around half past one in the morning, on a chilly late autumn night when Mark was rudely awakened by a loud knock on his bedroom window. Now, Mark's bedroom was on the second floor and the only way to get up there was by climbing up a precarious old drain pipe. His window had the fascinating view of the next door's wall and a bit of the street. 

Mark sat bolt upright in his bed, eyes fixed on the curtained window and his heart thumping loudly in his ears. His first thought was that it was a robber, but he lived in a good part of town and robberies were about as common as tropical birds. 

So naturally, his still half asleep brain convinced him that it was some paranormal-American-horror-story shit, which sounded much more sensible and which led him to where he was now, standing in the middle of his room halfway to the door, but too afraid to turn his back on the humanoid shadow on his windowsill. 

The shadow shifted slightly and then knocked again, a little more impatient than the first time. Mark flinched and let out an undignified shriek, immediately slapping a hand over his mouth. He hoped frantically that his death would be quick and his parents would use a good picture of him for when the news his brutal murder would be broadcasted on Tv. 

The shadowy figure shifted again and then spoke, "Listen, I know you're awake, open the fucking window." 

Mark, still frozen in the middle of his room, stared in shock at the accusing window. The voice that had spoken was a bit higher than his own, but unmistakably a boy, a very human sounding boy. 

He tried to answer, but his voice wasn't cooperating and he just sounded like a constipated frog. 

The boy sighed loudly, "Open the fucking window. I'm not going to murder you."

Mark didn't find that very convincing, but he had a distinct feeling that this person wasn't going to give up too easily, and anyway if he did die at least he wouldn't have to do maths anymore. Always look on the bright side and all that. 

Slowly he moved towards the window and he heard a muffled 'fucking finally' as he pulled the curtains aside. 

The boy was backlit by the faint light coming from the street and Mark could only see a mop of unruly reddish-brown hair and a pair of dark eyes glaring at him from the other side of the glass. He reached for the latch and opened the window.

Almost immediately the boy put his whole weight against the window and forced it open wider. Mark stumbled back and watched in muted shock as the boy climbed down from the windowsill and into his room. 

They stood like that for a while, the boy glaring at Mark as if he was daring him to yell for help. 

He didn't. Instead, he moved past the boy and closed the window before all the warmth could leave, then he walked to his desk and turned on his desk lamp so the room was illuminated in a soft yellow glow. 

In the soft light of the lamp, the boy looked a lot less intimidating.

His clothes (a ratty pullover, a pair of equally ratty jeans and sneakers that looked they were falling apart) stood in stark contrast to the general cleanliness of Mark's room. He was just a bit shorter than Mark and he looked maybe a year younger. There was a residue of a summer tan on his face and hands, and his mouth was pulled into a pout.

Mark looked away, focusing instead on the dirt the boy was already getting all over the carpet.

"You're making the carpet dirty," he said, silently thanking his voice for not breaking.  

The boy looked down and then back up at Mark. "Don't you know how to hoover?" He asked. 

Mark floundered slightly, "I do know how to hoover, it's just my mom will freak out." 

The boy shrugged, turning his attention to Mark's desk. He walked over and picked up the nearest textbook and started leafing through it, his eyebrows raised in bored disinterest. Mark hastily yanked it out of his hands and winced slightly as he saw all the grubby fingerprints left on the cover and the pages. 

"What do you want?" He asked helplessly as the boy started going through his notebook. 

The boy dropped the notebook and turned to look at Mark, an impish smile on his face. Mark looked away. It was safer like that.

"Finally he asks," the boy crowed loudly and Mark shushed him. "Food. I want food," he continued in a hushed whisper.

Mark blinked. "Food?"

"Did I stutter?" 

Mark shot him a glare but the boy seemed unimpressed. 

"What kind of food?"

"I don't really care. No cereal though, I can't stand cereal." 

Mark was silent for a second before he nodded. "Okay."

Now it was the boy's turn to look surprised. "Seriously?" 

"Yeah," Mark shrugged. "It's cool I guess."

The boy composed himself quickly and the impish smile was back. "I'm Donghyuck."

"Mark." 

They stared at each other, Mark was the first to look away hoping the bad lighting would conceal the colour rising in his cheeks. 

"Just stay here and don't make any noise. I'll be back in a minute. Try not to get dirt everywhere." 

Donghyuck nodded, eyes already on Mark's sleep rumpled bed. 

"Okay." Mark took a deep breath and stepped out into the hallway, he caught Donghyuck's eye and managed something resembling a smile, before closing the door.  

When he finally made it into the kitchen after the agonising trek down the very creaky staircase he allowed himself a short breather, leaning against the fridge and letting the entire weirdness of his situation wash over him.

A strange boy named Donghyuck was currently just hanging out in his room after having climbed up a drain pipe to get into his room. It was like some Peter Pan shit, just minus the fairies and the magic dust. The only dust he got was gritty and gross and literally all over his carpet. It's like the boy rolled in it. 

With that Mark jerked back to reality and realised that he was a shit cook. 

Even something as simple as a sandwich was a challenge for him. 

He ended up with a cup of ramen, a ham sandwich and a piece of toffee cake. Easy enough. 

He made it up the stairs without any incidents and managed to open the door with his elbow (without dropping/spilling anything). 

Donghyuck was curled up on Mark's bed, his breathing slow and steady and his hands clutching the tangled comforter like a lifeline. His tanned face and ruddy brown hair contrasted starkly with the pale blue of Mark's pillow and comforter. Mark noted absentmindedly how long Donghyuck's lashes were and how his mouth was pulled into a cute little pout, and how his cheek looked all squished against the pillow. 

He also noted the smudges of grime on his jaw and the old scabs on his knuckles, the dirt, and bits of gravel and grit in his hair and how ratty and worn his clothes looked. But he did apparently have something resembling manners because he had taken off his shoes before getting into Mark's bed, not there was much of a difference. He was barefoot and Mark didn't want to say that he smelled but he did. 

When a little crease appeared between his brows and his hands tightened on the comforter, Mark realised he'd been creepily watching a strange boy sleep and hurriedly put the tray on the floor and slowly edged closer to the bed. 

He wanted to ask why Donghyuck's clothes looked so worn and dirty and why he had bruises and scabs on his hands, and why he looked malnourished and tired. He wanted to ask if he had a place to stay and when he'd last had a warm meal. He wanted to ask about his parents, about everything really. 

But he didn't. It wasn't the right time nor was it any of his business. 

He figured Donghyuck would tell him if he wanted to and if he didn't, he shouldn't pry.

Carefully perching himself on the edge of the bed, he poked Donghyuck's arm. The boy didn't react and Mark poked him a little more vigorously, only to get slapped on the cheek by a very sleepy and very annoyed Donghyuck.

"What?" He mumbled as he squinted up at Mark.

"I made you food don't be a dick."

Donghyuck looked confused for a few seconds until his eyes found the tray on the floor and he immediately started to get up.

Sitting down on the floor, he shot Mark a suspicious look and said, "What is this?" He pointed at the piece of toffee cake.

"It's cake."

He rolled his eyes. "I know dumbass, I mean what kind."  

"It's toffee cake."

Donghyuck's face lit up and Mark fought down the urge to squish his cheeks.

And then Donghyuck started eating, and Mark watched in a quiet sort of satisfaction as he gobbled down the food like it was the last meal he was ever gonna eat. That thought made him sad and worried and he told Donghyuck to eat slowly or he'd make himself sick. Surprisingly, he did try and slow down. 

"Do you want anything to drink?" He asked as he watched Donghyuck swallow his last bite of cake. He got an affirmative nod and he tossed him a half-full bottle of water that was on his bedside table. 

There was a couple of minutes of silence as both just sat there. Mark was fighting sleep and Donghyuck looked like he was in an internal war with himself. 

"I'll go then-"

"You can stay if you want-"

They both started at the same and stopped abruptly. Mark could feel his cheeks heating up and Donghyuck was staring at the floor. 

"It's fine, I'll go. I just- thanks for the food." 

"It's the least I could do." 

Donghyuck nodded. "Sorry about the dirt."

"It's okay." 

There was a stretch of silence.

"I can let you out the front door, y'know," Mark offered, but Donghyuck shook his head. He was already putting his shoes back on.

"It's fine. I'm good at climbing."

"That pipe is literally the worst thing for climbing, but okay."

"Don't doubt my abilities noodle boy." 

Mark was about to ask him what the fuck noodle boy was supposed to mean, but Donghyuck was already climbing onto the windowsill, carefully shifting his weight on the way too fucking old pipe. Mark looked away, it was making him feel dizzy. 

"Please don't die, I want to go to bed."

"I'm gonna fall just to piss you off," he heard Donghyuck mutter, then he heard a soft thump and he stuck his head out the window.

Donghyuck, safe and sound on the ground, gave him a smile and a wave and said, "See ya around Mark," before turning on his heel and running out onto the street and out of sight.

Mark was left half hanging out of his window with his mouth slightly open, breathing in the cold late autumn air at quarter past two in the morning, wondering what the actual fuck had just happened. 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning was worse than expected. 

Mark overslept, and then almost broke his neck running down the stairs. His little brother Jisung and him had to practically run the entire way to school and they were still late.

And now here he was, in his first lesson of the day (History) fighting sleep with every active cell in his body. His friend Jaemin had immediately offered his services to keep Mark from falling asleep, and with services he apparently meant, pinching Mark every time he closed his eyes for too long. 

Mark walked out of that class with a sore and bruised arm, Jaemin happily skipping along at his side.

"You look dead," he pointed out grinning. 

Mark grimaced. "Didn't sleep much," he mumbled into his scarf.

Jaemin laughed shouldered him out of the door and out into the school courtyard.

Clumps of students were huddled together everywhere, trying and failing to shelter themselves from the harsh November wind. Jaemin grabbed Mark by the shoulders and steered him into a relatively sheltered corner. They were greeted by four other windswept individuals. Mark's little brother Jisung, his friend and classmate Chenle, Renjun and Jeno. 

Jaemin immediately abandoned Mark in favour of squeezing himself between Jeno and Renjun to hide from the wind. Mark shot Jaemin a betrayed look before plonking himself down on the ground and putting his head in his hands.

Chenle poked him with his foot. "You okay?" 

Mark grunted and Jisung snorted. "He overslept and managed to make both of us late," he said aiming a kick at Mark's knee. "I almost got into detention but I talked my way out of it."

"Good at that aren't you," Mark muttered.

"Well, I threw you under the bus so if you have Mr. Kim in your next class you're fucked." 

Mark glared at him. "Don't fu- don't swear. Mom will have your head." 

"Says you," Jisung sneered. Mark swore under his breath and started to get to his feet, 100% ready to fight the little bastard, but he was pushed back down by big hand on his shoulder. 

"Now now, no fighting." 

It was Johnny Seo, residential cool kid and general funny guy and his boyfriend Ten, who was a self-proclaimed 12/10 and the best person you'll ever have the honour to meet. They hung out with them a lot, being the unofficial mom and dad of their little group. No one questioned them or their authority because that would just lead to a really pointless argument about literally nothing that they would win because they're older. It was pointless. 

And it wasn't like they were strangers. All of them had basically grown up together, going on weird joint family holidays and spending almost all of their free time with each other. So it wasn't wrong that both Johnny and Ten proclaimed themselves as parents since they had basically helped raise them.

The two other elders of their little group were a little less parental. Kun was generally more of a quiet nature and Sicheng just kinda went with the flow.

Johnny grinned down at Mark, "What's got you all in fit?" 

"Nothing." 

"He didn't sleep," Jaemin said helpfully and Sicheng aw'd in genuine sympathy. 

"Why not?" Ten asked plopping down next to him and pulling him into a sideways hug. 

Mark panicked. "Uh- nightmare?" 

"Aww, I'm sorry," Ten said into Mark's hair. 

"What was it about?" Johnny asked.

"Can't remember." 

He sighed, "Lame. Anyway did y'all hear about what happened with Mr. Byun?" 

"Dude, they're tiny you can't tell them about that, it might mentally scar them or something," Kun chided, immediately turning everyone's attention on Johnny who laughed loudly and slapped him on the shoulder. 

"They'll be fine it's not that bad."

"Dude," Sicheng started, "it is pretty fucked up." 

"Tell us!" Jeno said excitedly, both his arms looped around Jaemin's shoulders. 

Johnny glanced at Ten, silently asking for permission. 

"Tell them, just make Jisung and Chenle cover their ears." 

"Oh no, let Jisung listen. Maybe if he's mentally scarred he won't be such a brat all the time." Mark broke in.

Kun and Ten sniggered as Jisung kicked Mark in the knee, making him double over in pain. 

Johnny opened his mouth but was conveniently cut off by the bell signaling the end of the break. 

"Oh thank God," Mark heard Kun mutter as he linked arms with Sicheng and pulled him back into the building. 

Johnny winked at Chenle and Jisung. "I'll tell you another time." 

"Please don't scar them, the parents will go insane and you know how Chenle's parents can be." 

Johnny made a face. " Fuck, don't remind me."

Ten shot them an exasperated smile before forcefully yanking Johnny away from Chenle and Jisung.

They watched them leave in silence.

"I really don't understand why we still hang out with them, I mean don't they want to hang out with more people their age?" Renjun asked into the silence.

"I don't think we'd be able to get rid of them, to be honest," Jeno said. "They're like super clingy."

"Good point," Renjun laughed.

"Also they buy us food so I don't think I want to get rid of them," Jaemin added.

The others nodded their heads in agreement.

"We should go before we're late," Chenle said, already shoving Jisung in the direction of the science building. 

So they all said their goodbyes and started pairing off in different directions. 

Mark was almost to the door when Jeno caught up with him, his ever-present smile even brighter than usual or maybe that was just the lack of sleep making everything seem a lot more intense.

"Nightmare, huh?" He grinned latching onto Mark who swayed dangerously. 

"Yeah?" 

"Why don't I believe you though?" 

Mark squinted at him. "Because I'm a shit liar?"

He laughed and Mark closed his eyes because why was everything so loud

"Sleep deprivation makes you incredibly honest. I wonder what else you can tell me." He wiggled his eyebrows. 

"You are evil, do you know that?" 

"It's a talent," Jeno said smugly. Quickly he darted forward and opened the door before Mark could crash into it, Mark managed a mumbled thanks and Jeno latched back onto him. 

"You're precious when you haven't slept."

 

/

 

"Not wanting to be nosey or anything-" Jisung started. 

"Don't test yourself." Mark interrupted and Jisung shoved him off the pavement. 

"I'm trying to be nice here. Shut up." 

Mark and Jisung were on their way home from school, the wind was as cold and harsh as ever and dark thunderclouds were making their presence known. Mark was still more asleep than awake and Jisung was fed up. 

Mark didn't really have the energy to argue with him so he just gestured for him to carry on. 

"What I was trying to ask, was why you're so tired." 

"I had a nightmare." 

"You don't have nightmares."

"How would you know," Mark grumbled, pulling his scarf higher up his chin. 

"You've never complained about having nightmares before." 

"Well maybe I just don't complain as much as someone I could mention." 

Jisung shoved him again but this time Mark was prepared and he used his body weight to push Jisung into a hedge. After Jisung got back to his feet and gotten all the leaves and small twigs out of his hair and clothes, they started walking again in semi-comfortable silence. 

"I still don't believe the nightmare stuff though." He said as they rounded the final corner onto their street. 

"Fine, don't believe it then. I don't care." 

Jisung stopped in his tracks and glared at him, "You're so fucking annoying sometimes," He half yelled. 

"Don't swear," was the only thing Mark could answer, his brain not up to the task of arguing with his younger brother. 

Jisung let out a frustrated little snarl and stomped his foot, "I know you're lying, just tell me why you didn't sleep!" 

"I had a fucking nightmare, okay? Just drop it." Mark yelled, taking a step towards Jisung who didn't shy away.

They stood like that for a while, glaring at each other.

That's when the first drops of rain started to fall and they had to carry on walking.

 

The angry tension between them was palpable and their mother took one look at them before shooing them both to their separate rooms. 

Mark dropped his bag on his desk and then immediately flopped down on his bed, his breath whooshing out of him with a heavy sigh.

He squeezed his eyes shut and mentally berated himself for lashing out at his brother like that, his temper wasn't the best when running on hardly any sleep and caffeine. He wanted to apologise, he really did, but he didn't want to explain that a strange boy had climbed up to his window, harassed him till he woke up, asked him for food and fallen asleep in his bed. 

He also didn't want to mention how cute and slightly fucked up the boy had looked. 

And he definitely didn't want to think about how that was probably his first and last meeting with him. 

He didn't want to explain any of this, especially not to his little brother. 

As if on cue there was a soft knock on his door and a timid voice asking, "Mark?" 

Mark groaned and rolled over, his eyes still tightly shut. "What is it?"

"Can I come in?"

"I guess." 

Quietly the door opened and Jisung slipped in. He looked softer and smaller in the dim light from the window and the oversized grey shirt and sweatpants he was wearing. Mark silently wished he didn't have a soft spot for him, but he was his little brother after all. 

He sat up properly and Jisung eyed him nervously. 

"Uhm-" he started haltingly and Mark sighed.

"It's okay, Jisung. It's okay. I'm sorry for acting like that, it was stupid. I'm sorry." 

"I'm sorry too. I didn't mean to pry." 

"It's okay." 

Jisung visibly relaxed and he walked over to Mark's bed and sat down. "But you didn't have a nightmare did you?" he asked quietly. 

Mark turned to look at him. "No. No, I didn't." 

Jisung nodded sagely, his hands twisting in his lap. "Okay," he murmured and left it at that. 

"Okay?" Mark asked, a little surprised.

"Well, I just-" He paused, searching for the right words, "if you had wanted to tell me or the others you wouldn't have lied, so you probably don't want to tell and that's okay I guess, it's none of my business and yeah…" he trailed off. 

"Yeah- I, yeah," Mark mumbled not being able to think of a more intelligent answer. But Jisung seemed satisfied with it, he smiled up at Mark and stood up again and then his gaze fell down on the rumpled covers and his smile faded into a confused frown. 

"Why is there dirt in your bed?" He asked leaning down and wiping some of it onto the floor.

Mark swallowed. "I uh- fell asleep with my shoes on." 

Jisung didn't look convinced, but he didn't say anything just nodding again and heading for the door. He turned just before leaving, "Dinner's almost ready," he said and closed the door.

Mark sat in stunned silence for a couple of minutes, then he hastily got to his feet and yanked his comforter and pillow of his bed and shook them out, watching in mild amazement as a sandpit's worth of dirt and grit fell on his floor. He then made a brief appearance in the kitchen to get the dustpan and brush and then discarded of all evidence that indicated that some strange boy had slept in his bed. 

If he hadn't been tired before, he definitely was now and he collapsed in a boneless heap on his messed up bed and fell asleep.

He slept through his mother calling and then checking on him and he slept through Jisung quietly bringing in some leftovers from dinner. 

 

When he did wake up it was the middle of the night, rain was thundering down on the window and lightning flashing across the sky. Sitting up he squinted at the window.

There was no one and his heart sank slowly into his stomach where it settled like a dead weight, making feel slightly sick. He turned away focusing instead on the cold leftovers on his bedside table.

After he had finished eating, he got up brushed his teeth and put on his actual night things and then climbed back into bed.

He lay there for a while, straining his ears for the telltale noises of someone climbing up a drain pipe, but there was only the deafening sound of the rain and thunder.

Sighing, he rolled onto his side, staring unseeingly into the darkness and pretending not to notice the swelling feeling of disappointment in his gut.

It had been stupid of him to expect Donghyuck to come back, he had been stupid to hope.

He'd been stupid.

Falling asleep was a lot harder after that, but when he finally did, he dreamt of a boy with ruddy brown hair, dark eyes and a heart-shaped mouth.

 

Chapter Text

The next three days passed by in a blur. 

Mark's nights were still shit because he woke up at the tiniest of noises and then spent half an eternity trying to get back to sleep. Both his arms were now semi-permanently bruised from the constant pinching he had to endure to stay at least halfway awake during exciting lessons like history or maths. 

After three days, the questions about why he was so tired died down a little bit, since always gave the same answer.

They weren't exactly convinced, but there was no point in pushing him because he would just glare and stay quiet for the rest of the day. 

Sleep deprivation didn't make him precious, it just made him sulky and unresponsive. 

 

/

 

"Have you finished that essay for English? I wrote some complete and utter bullshit, like no kidding," Jeno's voice crackled down the line. 

Mark was sitting at his desk, a sandwich in one hand and his phone in the other.

It was half-past 9 in the evening and he'd been on the phone with Jeno for about an hour. The rain was clattering down on the pavement outside and the sun had long since disappeared behind the horizon. 

Mark choked on a bite of his sandwich and he heard Jeno laughing, "I'm taking that as a no? Dude, you're fucked if you don't hand it in, with her that equals like 13 years of detention."

"Yeah yeah, thanks for the reminder. I didn't even know we had any homework," Mark coughed after he'd successfully managed to swallow his sandwich.

"Jaemin and Renjun wouldn't shut up about it all day today- where the fuck were you?"

"I probably wasn't listening."

Jeno sighed, "Big surprise there. Dude you need to stop spacing out all the time. At some point, you're gonna get hit by a truck or something."

"It's fine," Mark muttered, opening his laptop and loading an empty word document. 

"Whatever you say, man."

"What's the essay supposed to be about?" Mark asked and he heard Jeno let out an exasperated snort.

"Like analyzing what's wrong with Hamlet or something. Listen, just bullshit something about teenage angst and you should be fine.

Mark ran a hand over his face and groaned. "Okay, okay- yeah thanks, Jeno, I'll see tomorrow." 

"Yeah, see you tomorrow. Good luck my friend, you're gonna need it."

After hanging up, Mark tossed his phone behind him on his bed and stared at the blank page on his laptop. Who actually gave a shit about what was wrong with Hamlet, he had daddy issues and a bad case of the Teenage Angst and then went all crazy and got himself killed. 

With that thought in mind, Mark proceeded to write the worst essay he had ever written, full of passive-aggressive jabs at his English teacher and some small doses of his own pent-up Teenage Angst.

By the time he was finished, it was almost midnight and his brain had never felt so empty. 

With the last of his remaining strength, he crammed his train wreck of an essay into an email and sent it off, hoping desperately that his teacher checked her emails in the morning. 

With that done he slowly got to his feet, stretching his arms above his head to the satisfying sound of joints cracking in his shoulders. Then he pulled his shirt over his head, put on a pair of sweatpants, collapsed onto his bed and blindly set the alarm on his phone. 

 

/

 

He had no idea what time it was when he woke up, he didn't even know why he'd woken up.

Disorientated he looked around the room, his desk lamp was still on and clothes were scattered across his floor. He shivered and realised that his quilt was half on the floor and that he wasn't wearing a shirt. Yawning and still shivering slightly he got to his feet, picked up a shirt at random and walked over to his desk to turn off the light. 

But then he froze, a weird prickling sensation crawling up his spine, making goosebumps rise on his exposed skin. 

His heart racing in his chest, he turned slowly on the spot to face the window. 

The curtains weren't pulled shut properly and he could see the shadowy outline of a person crouching on the windowsill, a hand pressed against the glass for balance.

A sudden, very vivid image of Donghyuck falling and breaking his neck appeared in Mark's mind and he hastily ran over to the window and opened it.

Donghyuck hopped off the windowsill into Mark's room, bringing with him a flurry of raindrops and hailstones.

His hair was plastered to his skull and rivulets of water were running down his cheeks and throat. Mark was pleased but also confused to see that he was wearing different clothes than the last time. His grey hoodie was dripping water on the carpet and his sneakers (that still looked like they were going to die at any second) squelched every time he moved.

He grinned at Mark, his teeth chattering and his arms were folded across his chest, trying to retain the little body heat he had left.

"Jesus Christ…" Mark said under his breath, taking in Donghyuck's more than miserable appearance. "How long were you out there?"

"Long enough," Donghyuck huffed. 

"Wait, you were on my windowsill all this time?" Mark exclaimed and Donghyuck snorted.

"It's not like you minded." 

"I was asleep, you creep. That's like, invasion of privacy or some shit. I could sue you." 

Donghyuck ignored him. "You gonna put that shirt on or not?" 

Mark blinked. "What?"

Donghyuck gestured at his bare chest, impish smile firmly in place and his eyes sparkling in almost childish delight.

Mark glanced down at himself and yelped, immediately pressing the shirt he was holding against his chest. He could feel the colour rising in cheeks and hastily turned his back on a now laughing Donghyuck, and pulled the shirt on. 

"Better?" He snapped and Donghyuck shrugged.

"I didn't mind." 

Mark spluttered indignantly as Donghyuck glided past him and flopped down on his unmade bed. 

 

"Get off, you're making everything wet," Mark whisper-yelled.

Donghyuck pouted but slid back off the bed and onto the floor. He was still shivering.

"Look, I'll lend you some clothes and you can get changed whilst I get you something to eat. How about that?" 

"No cereal." 

"No cereal," Mark assured him and Donghyuck smiled. 

Picking out clothes took longer than expected (at some point Mark just gave up and told Donghyuck to help himself) and by the time he was fully decked out (a T-shirt, a big hoodie, sweatpants, and mismatched socks) it was already getting on for 2 AM and Donghyuck looked like he would fall asleep at any second. 

"I'll be back in a second. Don't make any noise and just drape your wet clothes over the radiator okay?" 

Donghyuck yawned and nodded, already starting to pull off his drenched pullover. Mark quickly made his escape. 

 

The stairs were as creaky as ever and Mark almost broke his neck by missing the last step in his haste to get into the kitchen. Then he quickly grabbed some eggs and bacon and started heating up a frying pan.

After five minutes Donghyuck appeared in the kitchen, almost scaring Mark to death and looking incredibly fluffy with his slightly curly, still damp hair and clothes that were at least one or two sizes too big for him. 

"What are you doing here?" Mark hissed. Donghyuck made a noncommittal noise and sat down on the tiled floor. "You were taking too long." 

"I was literally only gone for, like, 5 minutes but okay." 

Donghyuck shrugged. "Anyway, you don't seem like the type who can actually cook edible food without burning it, so I thought I'd help."

"I don't see you helping." 

"Well you're doing great so far, I'm just waiting for you to fuck up, it's gonna happen at some point." 

"Shut up, do you want food or not?"

Donghyuck pouted and Mark snorted. "That's what I thought." 

He put the pieces of bacon in the pan and flinched when they sizzled loudly, Donghyuck cast a wary glance up the dark staircase. "Hurry up," he whispered. 

"Shut up," he whispered back. He waited a little longer before scraping the bacon on a plate and pouring the egg into the pan. Donghyuck had gotten up and was now poking around in the fridge. 

"Oh my God, you have brownies," he whispered excitedly, pulling a pink Tupperware box out of the fridge. 

"They're for a parent evening though." 

"But I can have one right?" He turned to look at Mark, his eyes wide and deceivingly innocent. Mark immediately gave in and Donghyuck did a little victory dance and put two brownies on his plate. 

"You're gullible as fuck," he pointed out, resting his chin on Mark's shoulder.

"Yeah," Mark answered intelligently, his heart beating a thousand times faster than was probably healthy. Donghyuck didn't seem to notice Mark's obvious discomfort and kept his head right where it was, his hair tickling Mark's neck and ear. 

"Food's ready let's go," Mark muttered, scooping the eggs on the plate and handing it to Donghyuck. He then quickly grabbed some cutlery and ran for the stairs, Donghyuck only a few steps behind him. 

In a weird way, it felt like a sleepover, the only differences being that they hardly knew each other and that Donghyuck had gotten into his house by climbing a drain pipe.

 

"This tastes like shit," Donghyuck said from where he was sitting on the floor next to Mark's bed. Mark, lying spreadeagled on the bed hummed absentmindedly.

"No you're not listening, this tastes like absolute shit," Donghyuck repeated, reaching out and poking Mark's outstretched hand with his fork.

Reluctantly Mark turned his head to look at him, his lips were glistening with grease and he was looking at Mark with a look he couldn't quite place. Something between exasperation and fondness.

Mark quickly let his gaze drop down to the empty plate and he snorted. "Didn't stop you from eating everything though, did it?"

"I was hungry, but that doesn't answer the question of how you managed to fuck up bacon and eggs. Literally the simplest dish on the planet." 

"I don't see what was wrong with it," Mark muttered, rolling onto his side so he could see Donghyuck properly.

Donghyuck actually laughed, "The eggs were burnt and the bacon was salty as hell, the only decent thing were your mom's brownies." 

"Hey at least I made you food, I could've just left you out there to rot and die." 

"No you wouldn't, you're a huge softie, also you would've been to creeped out to let me stay out there." 

"I could've just pushed you off the windowsill, I could say it was in self-defense because you were going to murder me or something." 

"Don't kid yourself, you probably couldn't even kill a spider." 

"You shouldn't kill spiders, they're useful," Mark argued and Donghyuck groaned loudly and dramatically flopped down on his back.

"Jesus Christ, there's no point in arguing with you is there?"

"Not when I'm tired there isn't." Mark pointedly yawned and stretched. "Also I have school tomorrow."

"Just say you're sick or something, it's Friday tomorrow so who cares?"

"That's literally not how school works but okay." 

"Fuck you." 

"Where do you even go to school, I've never seen you around," Mark said without thinking and immediately regretted it. Donghyuck's face closed off almost at once and he sat up, avoiding Mark's apologetic gaze. 

"I'm homeschooled," he answered shortly before getting to his feet and picking up his plate and putting it on the desk. Mark stood up as well, at a loss for what to say. He hadn't meant to say that, but the lack of a proper nights rest made his sense of tact short circuit.  

"You don't have to- I mean, you can stay…if you want," Mark stuttered and Donghyuck turned to look at him, his expression unreadable. "I'm just saying because it's still raining and it's dark-"

"I'll be fine," Donghyuck cut in silencing Mark immediately. 

"Right. I'm sorry for uh- for asking that, it wasn't in my right to pry like that. I'm really sorry, it just kinda…slipped out." He looked down at the floor, shame and anger at himself clogging up his throat making it hard to speak, it made him miss Donghyuck's expression softening by a fraction. 

"It's fine," Donghyuck said and turned away again.

Mark watched helplessly as he pulled on his shoes and headed for the window, pulling the curtains aside and opening it wide so that the cold night air could flood in.

The rain had softened into a drizzle which Mark found slightly reassuring. At least Donghyuck wouldn't be walking around in a downpour like before.

"Don't do anything stupid," he said as he watched Donghyuck climb down the drain.

Donhyuck glanced up at him, a few raindrops caught in his lashes and a look of mock offense marring his features. "I would never," he said and hopped down onto the ground, landing in a practised crouch and then straightening again. 

"I'll see you around, okay?" He whisper-yelled, his tone soft and surprisingly unsure.

Mark blinked and nodded, "Yeah, sure." Then after a short pause, he added, "Be careful, okay? There are some fucked up people out there." 

Donghyuck laughed, but there was something wrong with it, there was no actual mirth in it and it sounded empty and bitter. 

"Trust me, I know." 

Mark didn't know what to say to that but thankfully Donghyuck beat him to it, "Anyway, I'll see soon okay?" 

"Yeah. Soon," Mark answered a little numbly and Donghyuck smiled. Then he was off, running out onto the street as if the devil was after him. 

Mark stayed where he was, his mind racing. Something was definitely up with Donghyuck.

Something that would take a lot of coaxing to find out and Mark wasn't exactly the best at coaxing stuff out of people. Words were difficult sometimes. 

Sighing, he closed the window and pulled the curtains shut. Donghyuck's clothes were still drying on the radiator. Hesitantly he picked up the still damp jeans and checked the pockets. They were empty and he put them back feeling like a mildly shitty person. 

It wasn't his place to pry yet here he was. 

 

Chapter Text

"Mark dear?" Mark's mother called down the stairs. 

Mark, halfway to the front door froze in his tracks and grimaced, just when he thought he was safe. He'd already helped his dad mow the lawn in the backyard and emptied the dishwasher, and now his mom was pouncing on him so that he could do something Jisung could probably do. Life was unfair. 

"What," he yelled back, sounding more irritated than he had wanted to let on. 

"Where are you going?" 

"Jaemin's."

"Alright, don't do anything stupid." 

"Yes mom, can I go now?" He called, slowly edging closer to the door and freedom. 

"Is Jisung with you?"

"No?"

"Oh. Do you know where is?" 

"No. Mom, can I go now?"

"Can you text him and ask him where he is?"

"Can't you do that?"

"I'm busy!" 

"Ugh. Fine, I'll text him when I get to Jaemin's okay?" 

"Thanks, dear, oh and there was a parcel for you."

"A parcel?" Mark asked confused, it was 11 o'clock in the morning and the post hadn't been around yet. 

"Yes, I put it on the coffee table. I think it's clothes or something, it was on the doorstep when I got up." 

"Okay uhm- thanks, I'll see you later," Mark called up the stairs, his feet already carrying him into the spacious living room where he found a smallish brown paper parcel tied up with string and his name scribbled on it in untidy handwriting.

He picked it up and pulled the paper off, inside lay, perfectly folded and smelling of a strongly washing power, the clothes he had given to Donghyuck. 

He stared at them, an odd mixture of confusion and the weird feeling you get when your crush does something cute coiling in his stomach. A dumb little smile tugged at his lips and gently put the parcel down again.

But the confusion was still there- where and how on earth would Donghyuk wash and dry his clothes when he looked like he slept in a dumpster/sandpit. He would ask him, but he didn't know when he'd next see Donghyuk or how he'd react to a question like that since anything vaguely personal seemed like a touchy subject.

"Bye, mom!" He shouted up the stairs and his mother called back, "Bye bye, don't forget to text your brother!" 

"Yeah yeah. Bye!" 

He practically ran out of the house before his mom could think of any other tasks she could burden him with.

The grey clouds that had been a constant sight for the last couple of days had finally given way to pale sunlight and an even paler blue sky. The harsh wind had died down to a gentle breeze that carried the promise of snow and icy nights. And that would mean walking to school would be a whole different adventure full of near death situations caused by icy pavements and snowball fights. 

Winter was definitely one of his favorite times of the year, but he couldn't help but wonder about where Donghyuck was staying if he even had a proper place to stay. The thought of Donghyuk sleeping in one of the abandoned apartment blocks at the north edge of the town or under a bridge made him sick. 

Shivering slightly and pushing his hands deeper into his pockets, he sped up a little. The wind had picked up again and it was making his cheeks sting and his eyes water. Then his phone started buzzing and he groaned, reluctantly pulling his hands and phone out of his pockets.

It was Jaemin, spam texting him in all caps asking where the fuck he was. 

Jammin: YO WHERE TF ARE YOU 

Jammin: I CLEARLY REMEMBER YOU SAYING YOULL BE HERE AT TWENTY PAST  

Jammin: ARE YOU LOST 

Jammin: OMG YOURE LOST ARENT YOU

Jammin: FUCKING TYPICAL  

Jammin: OH AND JENO AND CO ARE HERE JUST SO THAT YOULL FEEL EXTRA GUILTYY FOR BEING LATE 

Jammin: JENO AND CO BEING SICHENG, KUN, JOHNNY ANF TEN

Mark watched in amused silence as another three dots appeared on his screen and before Jaemin could yell any more he decided to actually answer.

Mork: dude I'm almost there calm your ass  

Mork: have you seen jisung?  

Jammin: youre still fucking late tho wE HAD PLANS  

Jammin: and no I havent why?

Jammin: wait jeno says hes with chenle, science thingy or somerhing

Mork: right thnks

Jammin: sO ARE YOU ALMOST HERE OR NOT

Mork: I am!!! calm yourself

With that Mark pocketed his phone again and carried on walking, ignoring the quick succession of buzzes of Jaemin probably still yelling at him. 

 

/

 

"Well that only took forever," Jaemin said by way of a greeting and Mark rolled his eyes, pushing past him into the thankfully warm house. 

Johnny, Ten, Sicheng, Kun, and Jeno were all sprawled across the living room, Johnny and Kun having a heated Mario Kart battle and Ten and Sicheng cheering on their respective boyfriends. Jeno was trying to sabotage Johnny by repeatedly elbowing him in the side, which resulted in Ten climbing over the couch to throttle him. It was intense, to say the least. 

Jaemin appeared at Mark's side and snorted at the chaotic scene in front of them. 

Johnny had abandoned the game and was now trying to drag Jeno and Kun off Ten who was struggling to fend off the two attackers. Sicheng was curled up in the only armchair, crying with laughter and clapping his hands like a seal. All of this was going on whilst the Mario Kart theme tune was going in a loop, booming loudly from the speakers. It was quite a sight to behold, to say the least. 

"Guys!" Jaemin shouted over the racket, but no one paid any attention, to immersed in trying to kill each other.

"GUYS!" He yelled even louder and Sicheng looked up, tears running down his face and his chest heaving. The others ignored him and Ten started screaming as Jeno started tickling his sides.

"IF MY MOM COMES THROUGH THE DOOR NOW, YOU'RE ALL FUCKING DEAD," Jaemin shouted at the top of his voice and the boys froze.

The prospect of an angry mom, especially Jaemin's mom had them separating pretty quickly. 

"When is your mom coming home?" Mark asked and Jaemin smiled, "Not for ages but I needed to scare them."

"Dude..." Ten whined, half-heartedly throwing a couch cushion in Jaemin's general direction and Mark was pretty sure he heard Kun mutter 'fucker' under his breath, and judging by the way Sicheng burst into another fit of giggles he had heard it too. 

"So what are we gonna do now?" Jeno asked, casually kicking Ten in the shin. 

"I thought we could go down to the convenience store and grab some food," Jaemin said stalking over to the couch and yanking Jeno away from Ten. 

"Why?" Sicheng and Mark chorused, both thinking of the icy wind. 

Jaemin glared at them, "Oh, do you not eat?" They shrugged in a non-committal sort of way and Jaemin looked triumphant.

"That's what I thought." 

"I didn't bring my wallet though," Johnny piped up and Kun snorted, "Of course you fucking didn't."

"Jeno and I will pay, don't worry."

"We will?" Jeno squeaked and Jaemin shot him one of his 120% smiles, "Yes we will, ssh." 

Johnny brightened considerably at this and started to get to his feet, pulling a still reluctant Ten with him. 

"Sicheng's loaded too," Kun chimed in, Sicheng gave him a look of utter betrayal and sank lower into the armchair.

"Really?" Jaemin leered and Sicheng pouted. "Fine, I'll pay as well. But if any of you get some stupidly expensive shit." He looked pointedly at Johnny who tried his best angelic smile, "I'm blocking you for life." 

"That's settled then, Ten control your human," Jaemin said and with that he turned and marched into the hall, dragging Jeno with him.

"Am I your human?" Johnny asked and Ten smiled and stood on his tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. "Of course you are." 

Mark pretended to throw up and quickly escaped the scene, Kun and Sicheng right behind him wearing equally disgusted looks on their faces. 

 

/

 

"No. No fucking way. Why the fuck would we need 7 packets of cereal? Put them back," Ten said in the most commanding tone he could manage. Johnny pouted and Ten immediately caved, "Fine, take one." 

"Nice," Johhny cheered and hurried off to find Jeno who had the basket and the money. 

Mark sniggered at Ten who was staring at Johnny's retreating figure with a look of complete sappy adoration.

Ten jumped and turned around, his cheeks coloring slightly.

"Dude, you're so whipped- it's unbelievable."

"Let me live," he muttered, sauntering over and linking arms with Mark. "What you gonna get?"  

Mark held up a box of Pocky and a packet of chewing gum.

Ten laughed and took the box of Pocky, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Anyone special in mind?"

Mark's mind briefly flickered to a certain boy with a messy hair and an impish smile, before he pushed Ten off him with a disgruntled look on his face.

"No! Jesus Christ what the hell, you creep."

Ten cackled, linking their arms again. "Caught in the lie," he crowed and waved the Pocky box obnoxiously close to Mark's face. "C'mon, who is it?"

"No one!" Mark protested but Ten just laughed and started walking in the direction of the till pulling Mark with him. 

"Is it that intimidatingly hot senior with the eyebrows, who held your hand at the school Olympics?"  

Mark blanched at the memory. "Don't remind me. I was in shock for the rest of the day."

"Aw, it was cute though," Ten giggled and steered him into the drinks aisle, where Kun and Jaemin were badgering Sicheng into buying them almost every kind of drink on the shelf. Johnny had disappeared into the toiletries section and Jeno was stuck in front of the sweets. 

"So if it isn't the tall-and-scary guy, who is it?" 

"No one! I just wanted some Pocky goddammit." 

Ten didn't look impressed. "C'mon no one buys Pocky without a special someone in mind."

"That is literally just you, because you're weird and whipped as hell. Some people just want to eat the freaking things and carry on with their lives."

Ten humphed, "You're hiding something." 

"I'm not. Oh my God." 

Jeno suddenly appeared at his shoulder, holding a packet of something Haribo-y. "Shit liar isn't he," he laughed and Mark glared at him. 

"Thanks for the backup, buddy," he muttered bitterly, storming off to find Sicheng because Sicheng was a sweetheart and wouldn't annoy him about his non-existent love life. 

 

"Has everyone got something?" Jaemin asked as they all met up again at the till. 

There were nods of agreement and they all dumped their items on the counter. Mark's Pocky and chewing gum, Jeno's Haribo packet, a can of cold coffee each for Kun and Jaemin, coke and ice cream for Sicheng and two cartons of banana milk for Johnny and Ten. They all got a small pot of ramen thanks to Sicheng. 

"I almost got lube by mistake," Johnny said unnecessarily and there were groans of disgust from all around. Even the girl at the cash register made a face. 

"How would you get that by mistake?" Jeno asked and Johnny shrugged. "It said it was strawberry flavored so I thought it was food." 

"You were in the toiletries section. There isn't any food there," Kun pointed out. 

Johnny, looking slightly embarrassed turned to Ten for help.

"Oh no, don't involve me in this." 

"It just looked like food, okay? Let's move on." He scowled and the girl, looking relieved, quickly scanned their items. 

 

/

 

It was actually fucking freezing outside but that didn't stop them going down to the small park in the town centre and enjoying their food. Three couples (or kinda couples, Jaemin and Jeno weren't a couple couple, but they were basically married) and Mark, forever alone and slightly bitter. 

Ten and Johnny were, predictably, incredibly gross together, doing all the usual couple stuff but like x1000 worse, it got so bad that the rest of the group collectively moved to another picnic table. 

It was fun even though it was cold, it had been awhile since they'd all hung out together like this and it was refreshing. There was a lot of food being thrown around, bitching about classmates and teachers and general talk about the upcoming holidays. 

They were just enjoying Jaemin's and Kun's joint rendition of Treasure by Bruno Mars (feat. a-class beatboxing by Johnny) when Mark's gaze drifted out onto the street that ran alongside the park. On the corner rounding onto another street he spotted a familiar mop of ruddy brown hair, gesticulating wildly. With him was a man a few inches taller than him, with hair the color of what could only be described as Gatorade. He was nodding sagely at Donghyuck's obviously passionate speech. 

Mark sat frozen his seat, his mouth hanging open slightly. He almost died when Jeno's face suddenly appeared very close to his own, blocking his view into the street.

"Whatcha lookin' at?"

"Nothing. Get out of my face," Mark answered lamely and the whole table turned in unison to look where he was looking.

"Oh my God, which one were you looking at?" Sicheng whispered, "Gatorade hair or the angry redhead?"

"I wasn't-" Mark tried to protest but he was shushed into silence. They were all still obviously staring at the pair on the street and Mark could only hope they wouldn't turn to look at them.

"I think he was staring at the angry one," Kun said, "he seems closer to our age. The other one looks older."

"Except if he's into older men," Ten added thoughtfully and everyone hummed in consideration.

"I'm literally right here, and can you please stop staring so obviously. They're gonna see us."

"But isn't that what you want? I mean you were the one staring in the first place," Jaemin said, his smile widening at the embarrassed expression on Mark's face.

"Yeah well, I at least wasn't being painfully obvious." 

"Dude, I think I know the Gatorade guy," Johnny piped up, actually standing up to have a better look. Mark wanted to shrivel up and die.

"Seriously?" Jeno and Jaemin chorused also getting to their feet.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure. I think he was a senior when I was a freshman, only saw him around a couple of times. He came 'round even after he graduated to like tutor and stuff."  

"Do you know his name?" Kun asked, climbing onto the bench to see properly, Ten joining him shortly after. 

Mark briefly considered just running for it, but that would be too obvious so he would just have to endure it.

"T- something, I don't know."

"Helpful," Kun muttered. "And the other guy?"

"Don't recognize him. Any of you?" Johnny glanced at Jaemin and Jeno who shook their heads. 

"Maybe we should go over and ask," Ten said slyly and Mark who'd been trying to tune out the entire conversation looked up in panic. "Please don't."

Ten's smile grew and even Sicheng didn't look like he was gonna be on Mark's side. 

"Just tell us which one you were staring at," Jeno compromised and the others nodded vigorously. 

Mark stared at them, suspicion coming off him in waves. "I don't trust you guys."

"How dare you!" Ten gasped, dramatically placing a hand over his heart. Sicheng was giggling and both Jeno and Jaemin looked equally offended. 

"Just tell us," Kun coaxed, trying to keep a trustworthy on his face.

"Will you drop it if I do?" 

"YES!" They almost shouted and Mark made the grave mistake of believing them.

"Fine. The red-haired one." 

"Oh my God," Sicheng gasped, also climbing on the bench.

"I fucking knew it," Kun and Jaemin said looking triumphant. 

"You should go talk to him," Ten shrilled, clapping his hands together excitedly. 

"No, what the fuck why would-"

"Shit they've seen us," Johnny muttered, staying right where he was. 

"I hate you all," Mark mumbled, putting his face in his hands. 

"Should we wait for them to come over or should we?" Jaemin asked and Mark groaned. Death and mortal embarrassment were coming for him on a fucking speed train. 

"Which would embarrass Mark more?" Ten asked and the whole table snorted. 

"Oh my- fuck they're coming over, and there's someone else with them," Johnny swore and Mark shot to his feet in a panic. 

He was right, the Gatorade guy, Donghyuck and a tall and incredibly good looking guy were walking towards them. So Mark did what any sensible person would and fucking bolted. 

The surprised shouts of his friends and the confused look in Donghyuck's eyes burning themselves into his mind. 

 

Chapter Text

It was Monday evening, two days since the running incident and Mark was still suffering from the aftereffects.

When he'd managed to get home he'd been immediately greeted by a shit ton of texts, calls and noisy mailbox messages from his more than amused friends. So he stayed home for the rest of the weekend, to bloody embarrassed to go outside. But of course, Jisung found out about what happened and started randomly popping up with a devilish smile on his face and way too many questions coming out of his mouth.

School was even worse, he didn't even get time to breathe from all the sideways glances, giggles and increasingly invasive questions he was getting. 

He was relieved to say the least when he finally got home and could lock himself up in his room.

And now here he was, spreadeagled on his bed, with the window wide open and replaying the horrifying moment of the death of his dignity in his head, over and over again. It was stored in the cringey things you've done folder in his brain where it would plague him forever. 

The window was open for two reasons, the first reason was that he was hoping he'd catch a really bad cold and die, and reason number two was that he was hoping Donghyuck would show up. He knew that if he did it would come hand in hand with a lot of teasing and pain on his behalf, but he was strangely okay with that, simply because he wanted to see Donghyuck again and at least try to explain his less than model behavior. 

"Why the fuck is your window wide open? Are you trying to die?"

Mark leaped off his bed, banging his knee rather painfully on the bedside table and sitting back down heavily, rubbing his already bruising knee. 

Donghyuck grinned at him, perched happily on the windowsill. Mark scowled, "Get down from there, you're making me nervous."

Huffing, Donghyuck hopped down and closed the window behind him.

"Jesus Christ, one of the reasons I come here is that you have central fucking heating, yet here I am freezing my fucking ass off."

Mark wondered if he was also one of the reasons but chose not to ask. 

"I'm sorry?" Mark answered lamely and Donghyuck snorted, "It doesn't matter, actually I came here to talk to you about something."

Mark's insides shriveled up, he knew that this was going to happen but that didn't make it any less unpleasant. 

Seeing the look on Mark's face, Donghyuck laughed and walked over, basically sitting down on Mark's lap. Such a thing as personal space apparently didn't exist for him, much to Mark's despair who was finding it quite hard to breathe with Donghyuck arm and thigh pressed against his own.  

"So...you made a dignified exit," he started and Mark groaned. 

"Look, I can explain," he floundered and Donghyuck cackled, "Oh, please do."

"I panicked, okay? I panicked and my first thought was to get the fuck outta there so that's what I did."  

"It was fucking hilarious." 

"Please don't, it's gonna haunt me forever. Why did you and Gatorade guy even come to us? Like what the fuck?"

"I just wanted to say hello," Donghyuck said innocently.

"Embarrass me, you mean." 

"Exactly." He agreed and Mark buried his face in his hands.

"Who even was the Gatorade guy?" 

"Gatorade guy?" 

"Y'know, the one with-" he gestured wildly to describe it better, "with the hair."

"Oh, you mean Taeil?"

"Does he have weird colored hair?"

"Yeah, that's Taeil." Donghyuck nodded, a smile tugging at his lips.

"And the other guy? The tall good looking one."

"That's Jaehyun." 

"And they're your friends?"

Donghyuck gave him a look. "No, no they're just some random fucking strangers. Of course, they're my fucking friends, idiot."

"Where do you know them from?"

"Is this how it's gonna be because if so, we might as well make a game out of it." He shifted on the bed so that he was facing Mark, his legs crossed and a challenging look on his face. Mark stared at him for a second before finally getting the memo and moving too. 

"So like a question answer game?" He asked and Donghyuck nodded.

"Yup, can't promise I'll answer all your questions though."

"That literally defeats the point, but okay."

"Fine. How about, every time someone doesn't answer a question they get flicked on the forehead?"

"Deal." They solemnly shook hands.

"I'll start," Donghyuck said. "How old are you?"

"I just turned 17. You?"

"I'm 16. How tall are you?"

"Why the fuck do you want to know that?" Mark exclaimed.

"Just tell me, and by the way, you just asked me another question so I get an extra one."

"Ah for fuck's sake. I'm 1,74m." 

"Seriously? Shit. Have you ever been in love?"

"What the fuck, no?"

"You sure? Not even a crush?"

"Nah-ah that's not how this works, my turn. Where were you born?"

"Here," Donghyuck answered shortly.

"Okay. I get another turn because you asked like two questions." 

"Ah fuck, true go ahead."

"Any siblings?" 

"One elder brother. Have you ever kissed anyone?"

Mark coughed and turned away his face burning. "No I haven't," he muttered quietly and Donghyuck cackled and leaned towards him.

"Sorry, didn't quite catch that?"

"No, I've never kissed anyone," he said a little louder but Donghyuck didn't seem satisfied, "And a little louder for the people in the back?" 

"I will kick you," Mark hissed.

Donghyuck didn't look impressed but let it go after Mark actually kicked him in the shin. 

"Have you ever kissed anyone?" Mark asked, turning Donghyuck's weapons on himself. 

"Fuck you and no I haven't."

"Knew it, you turn."

Donghyuck thought for a second, "Is there anyone you want to kiss?"

Fuck.

"No?" Mark managed to force out of his suddenly very dry throat.

"You sure?" 

Mark glared at him. "Your brother actually."

Donghyuck looked disgusted. "He would never let you. He has a boyfriend."

"Seriously? Who?"

"The Gatorade guy, Taeil." 

"Huh, that's cool." 

"I guess. Who's turn is it?"

"Mine. Okay, the one place you want to go in your life?"

Donghyuck's face lit up and Mark mentally congratulated himself on asking a question like that. 

"I really want to go to those really barren, desert-y places in California and Mexico, because the sky's really clear there and at night the sky is literally filled with stars."

"Oh my God, seriously?"

Donghyuck nodded vigorously. "Yeah, because there isn't any light pollution like in the cities. I saw some pictures and it just looked so fucking amazing, I just really wanna see it once in my life. Sometimes you can even see the actual Milky Way, I mean with a telescope obviously but wouldn't that be amazing?"

"How expensive is a small telescope?" 

"More than I can ever afford probably, but I'll save up." 

Mark hummed in agreement and they both sat there in silence for awhile, pondering the wonders of the universe.

"Anyway, my turn. How many friends have you got?"

"That's a weird question-" Mark started and Donghyuck snapped his fingers threateningly, "but sure whatever. I have like...nine friends?" He finished hastily.

"Nine? Shit."

"How many do you have?"

"Like six?"

"Who?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"Why did you want to know?" Mark shot back and Donghyuck huffed, "Fair point."

"Well, there's my brother and his boyfriend Taeil, then there's the couple that lives across the hall. Tall and handsome's part of that couple by the way, and then there's the other couple I know, who live in the apartment underneath my brother's. That's six in total." He paused, "And you I guess." 

"Thanks."

"Is it my turn?" Donghyuck asked. 

"I don't know, but go ahead." 

"Who out of your friend group would you date?" 

"Gross, no one!" Mark said, and Donghyuck squinted at him, "Ah cmon there's gotta be one person you'd be willing to date."

"Ugh fine, Jaemin I guess?? I don't know."

"Which one was Jaemin? Was he there when you did your amazingly dignified exit?" 

Mark pouted at the mention of the incident. "Yeah he was there, he was the one with the megawatt smile and the teeth that can outshine any star." 

"No one can outshine me," Donghyuck said looking confused, "I am the star, the brightest of them all." 

"Of course you are," Mark agreed earnestly because it was true, no one could outshine Donghyuck not even Jaemin's brilliant teeth. 

Oh, my God, he was falling so hard.

Seemingly satisfied with Mark's answer, Donghyuck carried on, "And who were the gross couple?"

"Oh! That was Johnny and Ten, three-year winner of the clingiest and grossest couple award. Johnny's the tall one and Ten's the short one with the nice nose." 

"Ahh okay, and the others?"

"Well there was Kun and Sicheng, they're also together but more lowkey than Johnny and Ten and Jaemin and Jeno, who aren't officially together but yeah, I bet you could tell how whipped they are for each other."

"They're the smiley small couple right?"

"Yeah, that's them. Didn't you talk to them?"

"A bit, but I kinda forgot their names and faces, okay?"

"Whatever you say. Can I ask you another question?"

"Sure go ahead." 

"How did you even come up with the idea of like climbing up my window in particular? I mean, why me?" 

Donghyuck looked away, and Mark was pretty sure that he saw some color rising in his cheeks. That was a new one, normally it was him who was blushing. 

"I was in the neighborhood and I saw you and your brother walking home and, I don't know, I just thought you looked nice and like you wouldn't push me off your windowsill so I thought I'd give it a go, and I was right. You're a great big fucking softie." 

"Oh wow, thanks." Mark muttered and Donghyuck laughed and nudged him with his foot, "Ah come on, it was a compliment."

"I guess I'll take what I can get."

"Yeah, be glad I'm giving you any at all, ungrateful little..." Donghyuck trailed off, his expression of fake seriousness cracking slightly at the look of mock or maybe real offense on Mark's face. 

"I'm legit hurt right now." 

"So's your dignity, or have you already forgotten?" Donghyuck sang and Mark shivered at the memory. "I will never let that go by the way," Donghyuck added. 

"I expected as much," Mark muttered, hanging his head in shame and Donghyuck cracked up again in a fit of gleeful giggles. 

"How about one more question each, okay? Because I have to go to bed if I don't want to die tomorrow."

Donghyuck sat up again and nodded. "Okay. Do you want to go first?"

"Yeah sure," Mark took a deep breath, dropping his gaze down to his hands, "where do you live?"

It felt like the entire world collectively held it's breath as Mark hesitantly looked up at Donghyuck. The look on Donghyuck's face made him immediately regret every single stupid word that had ever come out of his mouth. 

His face frozen in a look of shock and unease, his eyes holding the look of a cornered animal. Frantic and terrified, looking anywhere but at Mark.

Mark tried to reach out but then dropped his hand back into his lap, scared he might startle Donghyuck into leaving.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry- I shouldn't have asked that oh my God. You don't have to tell me anything, I promise I won't push you and I'm so sorry for asking that. Donghyuck please- please, I'm sorry." He literally begged, his hands itching to pull Donghyuck into a hug, but he wouldn't dare.

Finally, Donghyuck looked at him, the frantic fear in his eyes had melted away into a look of soft uncertainty and sorrow. Mark's heart twisted painfully in his chest.

"I'll- I'll tell you another time, okay? I'll answer more questions then, I promise. Just not today." He swallowed nervously, his voice hoarse and unsure.

It was a tone of voice Mark had never expected to hear from him. It wasn't anything like the sarcastic, loud-mouthed Donghyuck he knew. This Donghyuck had shaking hands and sorrowful eyes, and a voice that spoke of more hardships than Mark ever dared think about.

"Another time?" He asked softly.

"Yes, I promise."

"You don't have to promise or tell me anything, y'know. Just what you're comfortable with."

"I do want to tell you!" Donghyuck said, almost desperately, "I just- I just can't, not yet."

"That's okay," Mark insisted, "I'm sorry for pushing you."

"It's alright."

Mark wanted to hug him so bad. Just pull him in and never let go, because seeing Donghyuck like this was like someone had taken his heart and repeatedly smashed it against a wall and then ran over it a couple of times with a very heavy truck. It physically pained him.

"I should go," Donghyuck said quietly.

"Okay," Mark whispered, just as quietly.

Slowly and still looking a bit shaken, Donghyuck got to his feet. He was still wearing his shoes and Mark only noticed then the dirty marks on his covers. He didn't care. He quickly darted over to the window and opened it for him, and Donghyuck gave him something that resembled his old smile.

"I'll see you again soon," he said as he climbed out onto the windowsill.

"Yeah. Be careful."

Carefully shifting his weight onto the drain, he looked back up at Mark and said, "I will, don't worry." 

Mark watched him nervously and when he got to the ground he called quietly, "I'll keep my window slightly ajar, okay?"

Donghyuck looked up, his face only dimly visible in the faint light from the street, "Okay," he called back, his voice sounding oddly hoarse and ruff. 

"I'll see you soon." 

"Yeah. Goodnight, Mark." And then he turned, jogging out between the two houses and onto the street. There he turned one last time and waved, before disappearing into the dark.

 

 

Chapter Text

Finally, it was the beginning of the autumn holidays, and to celebrate it Johnny had arranged a sleepover at his house. 

I say sleepover, I mean trainwreck.

His parents had heard his suggestion and immediately booked a weekend at some old people hang out, giving them all the freedom they could want. Everyone was invited, the little ones (Jisung, Chenle), the not so little ones (Jeno, Jaemin, Mark, Renjun) and the other 'ancients' (aka Sicheng, Kun, and Ten).

It always confused the younger ones a little bit that the elders would rather do a sleepover with people younger than them, than a massive house party or something along those lines. It wasn't like Johnny and Ten lacked the friends, they had shit tons and were insanely popular all over town. It was just at times like this, at the beginning of the holidays, for example, they would choose to do stuff like this with the kids they grew up with and, to some degree, helped raise. 

It was cute and sentimental, and everyone always enjoyed these sleepovers that would sometimes last for a couple of days, especially in the holidays. The parents always chose to stay away, blindly trusting the elder ones not to set the house on fire or to accidentally flood the bathroom. The latter had actually happened once, but they'd managed to destroy all the evidence before Renjun's parents came home. It had been their most disastrous and exiting sleepover to date. 

On the last day of school before the holidays Johnny had sidled up to Mark with a suspiciously innocent expression on his face, he proceeded to ask as casually as possible if Mark maybe wanted to invite a certain Donghyuck. 

Mark had told him to kindly fuck off, and to his surprise, Johnny had with a look that spelled trouble. Mark was scared for the rest of the day, no kidding. 

 

/

 

By the time Mark and Jisung arrived at Johnny's house, already in their sleepover attire (sweatpants and in Jisung's case, an overly colorful Micky Mouse pullover), the sun had already sunk behind the horizon leaving only an eerie orange afterglow in the sky. Loud top fifty chart music was blaring out of one of the open living room windows and you could see Ten and Jaemin having an animated dance battle through the curtained window. 

"Every year we do stuff like this, and every year I question all of our mental states," Jisung said, staring solemnly at the dancing silhouettes through the window. Mark came to stand next to him an equally solemn expression on his face. "Even your own?" He asked.

"Oh yeah definitely. I mean what is wrong with me that I voluntarily hang out with you people?"

"You love us." 

Jisung thought about it, "I guess."

That was good enough for Mark and he ushered his little brother into the house where they were warmly welcomed by a giggly Sicheng and Chenle. 

Ten and Jaemin were still dancing it out in the middle of the living room, the coffee table, couch, and armchair had been pushed back giving them enough room to 'battle'. It shouldn't really be called a dance battle anymore since they were just kind of jumping around, aggressively yelling the lyrics of the song that was playing at each other. But apparently, it was very entertaining. Johnny and Kun were rolling around on the floor screeching with laughter, Renjun was squished on the armchair with Jeno both laughing so hard that there were tears running down their cheeks. Chenle was already on a sugar high and bouncing around the room excitedly, his mood soon affecting Jisung who started bouncing around with him. They were like a pair of manic, colorfully dressed bouncy balls. 

Sicheng was clinging to Mark who was also having a tough time holding it together. 

The song switched to Ariana Grande's Dangerous Woman and Jaemin gave up, leaving the floor to Ten who was into it. Dancing with all the pouty facial expressions and the fierceness of a full-fledged diva. Ten was an amazing dancer no question, but his talent waned slightly when he was on a sugar high, which he was. It was still good though. 

After the song ended, Ten striking an impressive pose, Kun managed to crawl over to the stereo to turn the music down. They stood/sat/lay there for a while, the room mostly quiet except for their heaving breaths and Adele whining in the background.

"I'm hungry." Chenle piped up from where he draped across the couch. 

"Yeah, me too." Jisung said and Mark nodded, "Our mom didn't feed us."

"I'd cook, but judging by what happened last time I won't even offer," Johnny said and everyone shivered slightly at the memory. It had involved a melted plastic tray, an oven, and a very scary mom. 

"I can cook?" Ten tried hopefully but everyone immediately stomped on that idea. 

"The only vaguely capable people in this room are probably Renjun and..." Sicheng paused, "Renjun? I don't know, we're all pretty shit at cooking to be honest."

"He hasn't blown up a microwave yet," Chenle muttered.

"Impressive," Mark said, sounding genuinely impressed. He had in fact once almost blown up a microwave by leaving the aluminum foil on the packet. He'd been grounded for a week, a punishment he saw as unfair since he hadn't actually blown anything up. 

"So cooking duty goes to?" Ten asked.

"I'll do it." Renjun volunteered and Chenle and joined him. 

"Anyone else?" Jeno asked, and everyone shrank back slightly, "No? Okay, I'll help too." 

With that settled, those three disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the rest in the living room. Mark sat down in Chenle's vacated spot and stretched lazily. Jisung curled up against him, not so accidentally digging his elbow into his ribs.

"You're a shit host." Kun yawned, Johnny scowled and tried to roll on top of him and squish him to death. 

"I don't want to burn down the house, also they volunteered so don't be lil bitch." 

Before a fight could break out Sicheng grabbed his boyfriend and dragged him up onto the armchair with him. 

"So what're we gonna do now?" 

"How about we set up the snooze quarters?" Jaemin suggested.

"Good idea. Johnny and Sicheng, you get two mattresses from upstairs. Kun, Mark you get the bedding." Ten ordered.

Johnny, whipped as usual immediately got up, the others who were less prone to fall for Ten's charms, stayed where they were.  

"And what are you gonna do?" Kun asked. 

"We're gonna make the bed's when you bring everything." Ten answered smoothly.

Kun eyed him suspiciously but didn't protest, stiffly getting to his feet and then helping Mark up. 

"The bedding stuff is in the closet in the hall, next to the bathroom." 

"Since when?" Mark asked surprised and Johnny shrugged, "My mom had a decluttering phase in the summer holidays."

"Oh. I'm sorry." 

"Okay okay, let's go! We have to be done before the others." Johnny called out, already heading for the stairs with Sicheng trailing after him. There were shouts of encouragement from Jisung, Ten and Jaemin who were in a pile on the couch and they all separated.

 

/

 

Making beds turned out to be a lot more difficult than expected and by the time the others were finished with making the food, the very sweaty and exhausted snooze quarter crew had passed out on the beds they had just made. Jisung had almost died trying to help Sicheng and Johnny with the second mattress, and Mark had a fight with a rogue pillow. The best moment of the whole ordeal was when Ten was fluffing up one of the pillows and three huge and dead spiders fell out, making him scream and dive behind the couch. He only came back out when Johnny swore on his mother's life that he had safely disposed of them and that they were very dead.

The food was pasta, the leftover ready-made sauce and ketchup because there wasn't anything else. Chenle was grating the cheese when the spider incident happened and he got such a shock he cut himself. Ten almost cried when he found out.   

They were all sitting on the floor in front of the Tv, bowls of pasta and ketchup in their hands and watching the news because no one could be bothered to change channels.

"This is depressing." Renjun said, "Where's the remote?"

Kun tossed him the remote and he changed channels. It switched onto Vampire Diaries where two of the characters (probably vampires?) were getting it. Jisung and Chenle turned away so quickly they almost got whiplash, Mark and Ten screamed and Sicheng choked on his food. Kun was coughing on a stray noodle and Johnny was scrambling over several people to get the remote from a mortified Renjun. Jeno was forcefully covering Jaemin's eyes whilst trying to contain his own laughter. 

"The straights are back at it again," Kun muttered, and Jeno snorted.

"Do vampires even, like..." Mark started and then trailed off.

"Do vampires what?" Johnny asked knowing full well what Mark had been about to say.

"Never mind," Mark mumbled, looking down at his food.

There was a pause and then Jisung suddenly said, "Did you mean orgasm?" with a completely straight face.

Ten and Sicheng screeched and Chenle along with pretty much the rest of the room fell about in hysterical fits of giggles. 

Mark gaped at his little brother, who still looked honestly confused. "So did you?"

"I- yeah," Mark said, still a little speechless. Jisung nodded wisely, "We had that kind of stuff in Biology last week."

"Seriously? So you don't need the talk?" Mark questioned, sounding relieved and Jisung smiled, "I don't need the talk, no."

"Oh thank fuck," Ten interrupted, Jisung looked at him and Mark mouthed don't fucking swear behind his back at Ten who grimaced.

"Chenle you don't need the talk either right?" Kun asked, fear apparent in his eyes. 

"I don't think so." He said glancing nervously at Jisung. 

"So you know all about the birds and the bees?" Johnny chimed in and Chenle gave an affirmative nod. 

"I never really understood-" Jaemin began and everyone groaned.

"I'm not giving you the talk!" Ten shouted and Jaemin glared at him, "I don't need the fucking talk, let me speak. What I was going to say, was that why do they use birds and bees? Like, wouldn't that be a creepy animal? A cross between a bee and a bird would be fucking terrifying." 

"Depends on the bird though," Renjun said thoughtfully, "I mean a bee-slash-parrot would freak me the fuck out, but a bee and a blackbird not so much." 

"Your logic is flawed," Kun argued, "because it's still a fucking cross between two animals that should never ever be crossed, like, that is scary no matter what bird who pair it with."

"Imagine a dove-bee," Mark mumbled, through a mouthful of pasta. "A bove or a dee," he added. 

"What would a cross between a bee and a bald eagle be?" Jeno asked. 

There was a stretch of silence as everyone pondered that. 

"Bee-ld eagle?" Johnny muttered under his breath, looking confused.  

"A bald bee?" Jisung blurted out and Kun choked on another noodle. 

Jaemin frowned, "My mind just went down a dark path."

"Please don't-" 

"A bald middle-aged man, but in a bee leotard," Jaemin continued, ignoring Mark's protests. 

There were grossed out sounds all over the room and Chenle buried his face in a pillow. "That's gonna haunt me," he mumbled, his voice sounding squished. 

"Why do I have the feeling that's gonna be one of us when we're older and having an existential crisis," Ten fretted, running a hand through his hair. 

"Are you saying we're gonna morph into an older Mr. Park?" Jisung asked.

"He's not bald yet and pretty sure he's not middle-aged," Kun said.

"That's why I said older. Anyway, he's not bald yet but I mean who are we kidding. One day he probably will be." 

"And the leotard?" Chenle asked, the pillow now clutched to his chest. 

"If he'd wear something like that now I would not be mad at it." Ten laughed and Johnny looked offended. Ten caught his eye and went on the defensive, "What? Can't I admit that he's hot because it's the truth. I mean you're still my ultimate fave but I'm just saying!"

Johnny humphed and Ten pouted crawling into his lap and curling up. The rest all pretended to throw up. 

"But I mean, we all know that he's probably fucking Mr Byun, it's not like they're being subtle about it," Kun said offhandedly. 

Jisung's and Chenle's jaws hit the floor and Mark tried to launch himself at Kun.

"Oh my God." Jeno and Jaemin whispered in united shock and Renjun was just shaking his head in muted horror.

"Dude," Sicheng said, looking at his boyfriend in surprise, "you broke them."

Kun looked like regret was hitting him like a freight train. "Are you two okay?" He asked nervously.

Jisung looked at Mark and then at Kun, something akin to betrayal in his eyes. "Mr. Park's my favorite teacher." He squeaked.

"Ouch," Johnny snickered and Ten nudged painfully hard in the ribs. 

"You fucked up, oh my God." Jaemin laughed.

"You okay, Chenle?" Renjun asked softly, pulling him into his lap. Chenle stared at him. "Do they, like," he clapped his hands together, "between classes?"

Renjun glared at Kun. "I guess," he gritted out and Chenle let out a soft fuck.

"Okay! New rule, how about less swearing?" Mark piped up.

"We don't mind." Jisung and Chenle chorused, quickly recovering from their shock.

Mark looked like he wanted to protest, but considering he swore as much as the others it probably wouldn't work for very long, so he let it slide. 

"I don't think I'll be able to look at Mr. Park anymore." Jisung sighed. 

"Same." Chenle agreed. 

Everyone else turned to look at Kun, who was trying to melt into the carpet.

"Well done," Johnny said sarcastically, "you ruined school for them." 

"They were gonna find out one way or another, it's not like it's the best-kept secret at our school." Kun shot back and Johnny shrugged, "You have a point." Then he turned to look at the little ones, who seemed to have recovered from the initial shock.

"At least you haven't walked in on them when they were f- canoodling." He saved himself quickly.

"Oh my God, is that what you wanted to tell them a while back?" Mark cried out.

"Yup." 

"That was before they had sex ed, dude." Sicheng pointed out and the others snorted. 

"Yeah well, I didn't tell them did I? Now they know and both Kun and I basically saved them from finding out another, more scarring, way." 

"Can we change the subject, I'm bored." Ten whined. 

"Yes let's!" Kun agreed hastily. 

Renjun and Mark got up and carried everyone's empty bowls into the kitchen.

"We can do the washing up tomorrow, right?" Mark shouted over his shoulder and there was confirmative screech from the living room. Mark didn't question it, you learn to just go with it over the years. 

 

/

 

They were just getting ready to settle down for a movie when the doorbell rang. Everyone froze. 

"I thought your parents are out for the weekend?" Sicheng asked. 

"They are," Johnny answered, already untangling himself from the blankets and getting to his feet. Mark could sense something was off and got up as well. 

"Do you know who's at the door?" He asked quietly, following Johnny into the hall. The other's had also gotten up and soon everyone was crowded together in the small hallway, looking expectantly at the front door.

When Johnny didn't answer, Mark asked again, "Do you know who's at the door." 

Johnny glanced back at him, looking slightly sheepish. "Maybe?"

Mark stared at him for a second and then it dawned on him. "No you didn't," he whispered, panic climbing up his throat. 

"Yeah, about that." Johnny tried for a friendly smile but it only made Mark want to punch him more.

Withering slightly under Mark's gaze, Johnny quickly turned his attention back on the door and reached for the keys that were in stuck in the lock. 

"I hate you so much," Mark muttered, his face in his hands. Sicheng and Chenle patted him comfortingly. 

With a less than dramatic creak the door was flung open and Mark, against his own will, looked up.

Donghyuck stood shivering in the door, his cheeks flushed from the cold and his lips chapped and pulled into his telltale impish grin. 

Fate really hated Mark.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Hi," Donghyuck said, his eyes fixed on Mark who was trying to sink through the floorboards. 

"Donghyuck!" Ten cried out happily, darting forward and yanking him into the hall. Johnny slammed the door shut behind him.

They all stood like that for a few seconds, the cold from outside hanging in the air, making everyone do one of those weird full-body shivers. Donghyuck's arms were folded across his chest, in an apparent attempt to shield himself from the frigid wind. His hair was dirty, and there were dark shadows under his eyes that Mark had never seen before. But then this was his first time seeing Donghyuck up close in anything but shitty lighting. His clothes, unsurprisingly, were dirty and shabby. 

He stood out next to the others, next to their clean clothes and bright faces. The blue-ish LED light of the hall looked unnatural on him, making him seem smaller but at the same time strangely impressive, with his sun-kissed skin, unruly hair and raggedy clothes. Even the way he carried himself stood out, it was an odd mix of arrogance and hesitance, of bravery and cowardice. It confused Mark to no end, and he vaguely wondered if Donghyuck could see things like this about him, too. He wouldn't be surprised, Mark wasn't terribly hard to read, since he wore most of his heart and emotions on his sleeve.  

"So Donghyuck," Johnny started, looming over his shoulder, "do you know everybody?"

Donghyuck shook his head, tearing his gaze away from Mark and letting it drift over the others, who were still crowded behind Mark.

"I only know," he pointed at Jaemin, Jeno, Ten, Sicheng and Kun, "them." 

"Great, okay. Well, that's Jisung, Mark's little brother, that one is Chenle and the other one is Renjun."

"Hi." Donghyuck said again, Chenle and Renjun smiled and Jisung did an awkward little wave.

"Anyway, let's go somewhere less cold." Ten smiled, ushering them back into the living room.

Mark could feel Donghyuck's gaze on the back of his head and he had never felt so awkward in all his life. It was weird seeing Donghyuck with his friends and he was scared of what they were going to make of him. Scared, that they would ask him to many questions and make him uncomfortable.

He was also acutely aware of the state of Donghyuck's clothes and general appearance, but he wasn't the only one and before things could get any more awkward Johnny suggested, with a badly disguised smirk, "Listen, why don't we give Donghyuck and Mark some time together, because this is going to get awkward if they don't talk."

Mark glared at Johnny who ignored him. He turned when he felt a soft pressure on his wrist, Donghyuck was looking at him, his head cocked to the side in a silent question. Mark's embarrassment and anger at Johnny sank back down into his bones and he gave a little nod, Donghyuck's grip on his wrist immediately tightening.

"We'll be back in a second." He said to the room at large, and he swore he saw Jaemin and Jeno doing finger guns at him.

 

"Why are you here?" Mark asked, a little harsher than expected.

"Johnny invited me," Donghyuck answered defensively.

They were in the kitchen, Donghyuck sat on the countertop and Mark opposite him, leaning against the fridge.

"You have a phone?"

"No, of course, I don't, but Jaehyun does."

Mark remembered the tall and handsome guy from the running incident and frowned, "And he got Johnny's number?"  

"Apparently." 

"And he invited you?" 

"Yes. I can go again if you want. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, I just- he invited me and I kinda wanted to get to know your friends. But I can go again." 

Mark panicked. "No! No, it's okay, it's fine. I just didn't expect you showing up, y'know?"

Donghyuck hung his head. "Sorry about that." 

"Don't apologize. I'm just scared that they'll be rude because they don't know anything about you and ask too many questions." 

"What have you told them?" Donghyuck asked, kicking his legs a bit. He was leaving dirty smudges where his shoes were hitting the cupboards. 

"Nothing really, just that you're a friend. What did you say?"

"Just that you're a friend." 

Mark smiled stupidly and looked down at the floor and when he looked up again Donghyuck was grinning at him, his nose scrunched up slightly and his eyes warm and soft. The urge to just walk the three and a half steps towards him and kiss him punched Mark in the gut like a sledgehammer and he quickly averted his gaze.

"I'll just tell them to stop asking questions when they're being too nosey, okay?"

"Okay." Mark gulped.

There was a moment of silence that was only broken by the muffled shouts coming from the living room.

"I hope it doesn't get too awkward," Mark muttered nervously eyeing the closed kitchen door.

Donghyuck hopped down from the counter and leant against the fridge next to him. "It won't, I'm good with people."

"You sure?"

Donghyuck elbowed him in the ribs, "Fuck off."

They were just about to go back to the others when Mark grabbed Donghyuck's arm and pulled him back.

"Listen, I don't want to be rude but your clothes kinda smell," Mark said and Donghyuck glared at him. "No, I'm serious. I can give you some clothes if you want."

Donghyuck pointedly looked down at where Mark was still clutching his arm, Mark looked down too and hastily let go.

"Only if I get to pick what," Donghyuck said and Mark nodded, relieved.

With that, they returned to the living room.

The scene that greeted them was strange in a stupid kind of way but, at least for Mark who was used to his friends' antics, not surprising. They were apparently playing the whisper challenge and not doing very well.

Jaemin was curled up against Jeno, they're legs tangled and they're bodies shaking with silent laughter. Sitting on the floor in front of the couch was Chenle who was hiccuping with laughter, and Renjun who had his face in his hands and was rocking back and forth. Johnny and Sicheng were draped over the armchair, clutching their stomachs and howling with laughter. 

Kun and Ten were both sitting in the middle of the floor in front of the Tv. Ten had headphones on and was apparently listening to Sia on full volume. Kun was sitting in front of him yelling 'pancakes are delicious' at the top of lungs at a clueless and highly confused Ten. He kept edging closer, frustration obvious, whenever Ten shouted some nonsense like 'man aches?" back at him. 

Mark glanced at Donghyuck who was giggling quietly, his hands covering his mouth. Mark's heart did a belly flop into his stomach and he looked away, choosing instead to march forward and pull the headphones off Ten's ears. 

Slowly and one by one everyone started to calm down, wiping tears away and gasping for breath. Ten was rubbing his ears with a kicked puppy expression and Kun still looked like he wanted to punch someone (preferably Ten). 

Chenle groaned and flopped against Renjun who was nursing a stitch in his side from laughing to hard. 

"I think I have abs now," Jeno muttered and Jaemi hiccuped a giggle and poked his stomach. 

"You can't have abs, you're like 12," Kun grumbled and Jeno tried to kick him.

"Uhm...guys?" Mark tried and everyone turned to look at him. "We're back?"

"Donghyuck!" Johnny squeaked scrambling to his feet, "Do you want anything to eat?"

"I'm alright, thanks," Donghyuck said politely.

"We were actually just gonna grab some clothes for him to change into," Mark added, already walking over to his bag and hefting it onto his shoulder. 

"Okay sure. Uhm, Donghyuck if you want you can take a shower upstairs?" Johnny offered.

Donghyuck grinned, "That'd be great actually, thanks. Where is the bathroom?"

Johnny flashed a Cheshire cat grin at Mark and said, "Mark'll show you. Just yell if you need anything, 'kay?"

Donghyuck nodded and turned to look expectantly at Mark who was standing there, plotting Johnny's murder and funeral. 

"You coming?" He asked and Mark jerked out of his reverie and hurried after Donghyuck, shooting one last venom filled glare in Johnny's direction, who just winked. 

 

"I like them," Donghyuck said as they were climbing the stairs. 

Mark snorted, "You've only known them for a couple of minutes."

"Yeah, but they obviously like embarrassing you so they're already good in my books."

"I will push you down these stairs," Mark snarled, but without any real anger behind his words. Donghyuck just laughed. 

When they got to the bathroom, Donghyuck sat down on the edge of the bathtub and rummaged through Mark's overnight bag, snickering loudly at the cuddly toy he found. Mark didn't even bother to get embarrassed and instead went searching for a towel and some shower gel and shampoo. When he came back Donghyuck had picked out a pair of boxers (that did make Mark blush), a black hoodie with a pineapple on it and Mark's spare pair of sweatpants. Mark dumped the towel on the floor next to the shower and then turned to put the shampoo bottles on the little tray in the shower. He regretted turning around again.

Donghyuck had taken off his ratty pullover and was now standing there, grinning evilly at Mark who stumbled backward in shock and embarrassment. He recovered enough to notice how tanned Donghyuck was even though it was getting on for winter and the small freckles that were spread across his shoulders and collarbones. He also, his stomach twisting with unease, noticed how thin Donghyuck looked compared to himself or any of his friends. His build was wiry and adolescent, and thinner than it should be for a boy his age.  

Donghyuck seemed to notice that Mark was staring but in a bad kind of way and quickly covered himself, his cheeks glowing and his gaze dropping to the floor. Mark mentally kicked himself for staring like that.

"Just throw all your clothes outside the door, okay? I'll ask Johnny if I can put them in the wash here, I'm sure he won't care."

Donghyuck looked like he was going to protest so Mark quickly carried on, "I'm sure his mom won't mind either, she's really nice."

"Okay," Donghyuck said, his smile slowly returning to its natural state.

"Okay," Mark echoed and basically ran out onto the landing. He picked up Donghyuck's clothes after he tossed them out and waited a few more seconds till he heard the water starting.

The moment he entered the living room everyone's heads swiveled to stare at him, he froze in his steps like a deer caught in headlights.

"So...?" Ten prompted expectantly.

Mark blinked, "So what?" 

The whole room sighed in exasperation and he could basically hear Kun rolling his eyes. 

"So what??" He asked a little more frustrated.

"So," Chenle said, with a look of someone who was explaining basic mathematics to a toddler, "did you two kiss?"

Mark stared at him, his mouth hanging open slightly. He then turned to look at the others for help, but they all had the same expression as Chenle. 

"Are you shitting me right now?" He asked in disbelief. 

"You didn't kiss?" Sicheng hollered. 

"No?? Why would we fucking kiss?"

They all stared at him as if he was stupid and he withered slightly. He knew full well why they all thought they had, or should kiss, but that didn't mean he was going to give them the satisfaction of being right. That would just make them big headed.

"Don't be stupid." Ten snapped, "I've never seen anyone so whipped for someone in my entire life." 

"Bullshit," Mark answered intelligently and the whole room rolled their eyes. 

"What? You've all sided against me?" He looked desperately at Jisung who shrugged, "I take every chance I get." 

"Ah fuck you." 

"Listen, we were just trying to speed up your love life," Jeno said helpfully and everyone else nodded vigorously. 

"I don't have a fucking love life." Mark hissed, hugging Donghyuck's dirty clothes to his chest. 

"That's literally the point." Renjun said, "We're trying to help you have one." 

"I don't-" Mark protested but Renjun cut him off.

"Look, we all knew how head over heels you are for Donghyuck the moment he walked through the door. You're literally the easiest person to read ever and we're just trying to help, alright? Let us help." 

"You all aren't very good at this helping business though."

"Hey!" Johnny shouted, "Who got him in this house and got you the chance to smooch him? Yeah, me right here!" He sounded genuinely offended.

"We didn't kiss though." Mark said and Johnny pouted, "Well, that's not my fault is it." 

"I don't want to kiss him!" Mark said desperately.

"Aha, and why do you look at him like you do?" Jaemin asked smugly.

Mark let out a frustrated whine and ran a hand through his hair. He hated this, he hated his friends and he hated the fact that they could read him so well. 

"We'll stop if you could just be honest with us," Renjun said softly. 

"What do you want me to say?" 

"Do you like Donghyuck?" Ten asked, his smile for once not smug or all-knowing, but reassuring and warm.

Mark stared at him for a second, then turned to peak outside into the hall to check if Donghyuck was still in the shower. He was and Mark returned, some of the tension in his shoulders ebbing away a bit. 

"So do you?" Jaemin questioned. 

"Yeah, I do like him." 

"In a kissy kind of way?" Jisung asked, looking skeptical. 

Mark blushed and nodded, "Yes, in that kind of way."

"Knew it!" Kun laughed, a self-satisfied smile on his face. Sicheng and Johnny whooped obnoxiously and Ten was clapping his hands like a seal on LSD. 

"And that's all you wanted to hear?" Mark demanded, still not entirely trusting them.

"Yeah!" They chorused, but Mark still wasn't convinced.

"And you won't tell him?"

"No-" Jaemin began, but Kun interrupted him, "I'm sure he already knows, but no we won't tell him."

"Thanks, buddy," Mark said sarcastically and Kun gave him a similarly sarcastic thumbs up.

Jisung who could see that his brother didn't believe them added, "Listen Mark, we won't tell him okay? We'll let you deal with it on your own-"

"Except if you're being really hopeless." Ten put in.

"- yeah except for that, but basically we'll leave you and your love life alone. Deal?"

Mark squinted at them, "Fine." 

"Lovely!" Johnny cheered, clapping his hands together, "Now that that is over, let's do something less depressing than Mark's love life." 

"Prick," Mark muttered.

"Put his clothes downstairs and then we can pick a movie, okay?" Johnny said, choosing to ignore Mark's comment. 

"They have like weird stains though?" He held Donghyuck's pair of jeans, that had a rip on the left knee, the frayed edges of the tear covered in what looked like remnants of dried blood. 

Johnny frowned but continued, "Just put them in the dryer, my mom knows how to deal with stuff like that." 

Mark nodded and disappeared downstairs.

 

When he came back, Donghyuck was comfortably squished on the couch next to Jaemin and Jeno. His hair was damp and curling slightly and there was a rosy tint on his nose and cheeks. His eyes were sparkling and he was happily talking with Renjun who was sat in front of him with Chenle in his lap. He looked at home and content and Mark's heart swelled with happiness and another feeling that made his insides twist.

Donghyuck looked up and met Mark's gaze and waved him over, moving slightly so that Mark could sit down between him and the armrest.

"What are we watching?" Mark whispered as Sicheng turned the lights off and sat back down on the armchair with Kun.

"The Conjuring, I think." Donghyuck murmered, and Mark did a whole body shiver, not just because he fucking hated that movie but also because Donghyuck's breath was tickling his ear and neck, making it very hard to concentrate.

"I fucking hate that movie." He muttered and he heard Jaemin snort.

"I've never seen it before." Donghyuck said, his eyes fixed on the TV, where the first few trailers were playing.

Mark glanced at him, "It's the worst, I fucking hate it."

"What's it about?"

"I can't even remember, I just remember being scared shitless."

"It's a horror movie?"

"Yup," Mark said, popping the p at the end with a look of grim acceptance on his face. "If it doesn't freak you out, you're not human."

Donghyuck sank lower into the couch, his sweaterpawed hands half covering his face. "Oh, this is gonna fuck me up." 

"Yup," Mark said grimly. 

"Fuck," he said softly. 

 

The movie was fucking terrifying, but it lost some of its fear factor because Ten kept screaming and Johnny and Kun would boo every cheap jumpscare. Jisung had climbed into Sicheng's lap and was hiding his face in his pullover, only occasionally reappearing for snacks. Jaemin and Jeno chose to channel their fear through yelling strings of creative insults at the Tv every time they got scared, which was a lot so that was another minus for The Conjuring. Renjun and Chenle had cocooned themselves in blankets, with only their faces visible and Chenle took to humming loudly with his eyes closed and his hands over his ears whenever something scary happened. 

Mark liked to think that he was doing alright, and he was comparing to Ten, but he still had a pillow in front of his face for the majority of the film. Donghyuck flinched violently at every jump scare and Mark really, really wanted to hug him but he didn't dare.

Then, at one particularly terrifying and gruesome scene in the film, Donghyuck's hand suddenly clamped down around Mark's wrist, his eyes wide open in fright and his mouth clamped shut. Mark stared at him, completely forgetting the movie and solely focusing on the way the blue-ish light cast sharp flickering shadows on Donghyuck's face, highlighting his defined cupids bow and long lashes. 

That's when Mark found the courage to slowly slip his hand properly into Donghyuck's so that their fingers intertwined. He watched nervously for a negative reaction but there was none, Donghyuck only squeezed his hand slightly and leaned his head against Mark's shoulder, eyes never once leaving the screen. 

Mark sat frozen in shock for a couple of minutes, his heart racing in his throat and his brain struggling to comprehend what just happened. Then after another loud shriek from Ten, he slowly returned to reality, shifting a bit to get more comfortable and Donghyuck moved with him and soon they were comfortably squished in one corner of the couch, they're legs and hand tangled together and Donghyuck's head resting on Mark's chest. 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning Mark woke up with Jaemin's foot in his stomach, a headache and the gross furry feeling you get in your mouth when you haven't brushed your teeth. Eyes still clogged with sleep he sat up and surveyed the scene around him. Sicheng and Kun had migrated from the armchair onto one of the mattresses they had dragged down yesterday, and Ten and Johnny were sharing the other one with Chenle and Renjun. Jisung had made himself a blanket nest next to the Tv, only a few tufts of his blonde hair visible. Jeno and Jaemin had taken up most of the couch which left Mark with a minuscule patch of space and a cramp in his neck. Then, with a start, he realized that Donghyuck was gone. A small bubble of panic burst in his chest and tried to get to his feet without dislodging Jaemin and Jeno. 

Maneuvering across a crowded living room ended up being a lot harder than Mark expected, his still half asleep brain not being particularly helpful, choosing instead, to sporadically switch between 'you need to brush your teeth' and 'where tf is Donghyuck'. 

Finally making it out into the hall, he let go of a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and strained his ears for any sounds of life, excluding the soft snores coming from the living room. The bubble of panic which had been steadily growing inside of his chest deflated just as fast as it had appeared when he heard quiet humming coming from the kitchen. 

Carefully he walked over to the kitchen door and nudged it open. 

Donghyuk was sitting on the floor in a patch of early morning sunlight that was streaming through the window, his legs crossed and his eyes closed. The light was pale and golden in a wintry kind of way, making the whole room glow in a dreamy half-light. The way Donghyuck was sitting there, with his eyes closed and a content little smile on his face, reminded Mark of their neighbor's cat. 

He was softly humming some song Mark didn't recognize under his breath, his fingers tapping out a silent beat against his knee. 

Mark nervously cleared his throat and Donghyuck's eyes snapped open, the peaceful atmosphere cracking slightly. 

"Good morning," Donghyuck said pleasantly, squinting up at him. 

"Hi," Mark answered a little stupidly and Donghyuck's smile widened. "What are you doing here?"

"I couldn't sleep."

"Oh. Have you eaten?" 

"No, not yet. I was gonna wait for the others." 

Mark smiled at how sweet that was and walked over to Donghyuck and sat down with his back against one of the cabinets, pulling his knees up to his chest. From this angle the soft yellow-ish light cascading over Donghyuk made a halo appear around his head, lighting up every unruly strand of hair and the bits of fuzz on his t-shirt.

"You changed," Mark pointed out.

Donghyuck looked down at himself, he had exchanged the black hoodie for a white Harvard University t-shirt that hung off him like a dress. 

"Yeah, I got to warm. But it's yours and I know you don't care so it's fine."

"It's my dad's actually." 

Donghyuck made a face. "I'm wearing your dad's clothes?"

"Yup, but it's okay. I stole it 16 billion years ago and he still hasn't noticed. It's one of his old college t-shirts, which explains all the-" Mark gestured at the frayed hem and collar.

"Your dad went to Harvard?" Donghyuck asked, sounding a little awestruck. 

Mark snorted, "Nah, it was his ex-girlfriend's t-shirt and he stole it from her when they broke up." 

"That's petty as hell, now I see where you got it from."

"Fuck you, I am not petty if anyone in my family is petty, it's Jisung." 

"Hell no, he's too cute." 

"You don't have to live with him. It's all just a show, he's actually devils spawn."

"Now who's being petty?" 

Mark kicked him in the shin and Donghyuck dramatically flopped onto the floor, cradling his injured leg and whimpering in 'pain'. 

"Stop being dramatic," Mark sighed, only feeling slightly sorry. 

Donghyuck glared at him and sat up again. "That was my bad leg," he pouted. 

"Your bad leg? Are you 80?"

"Fuck you, everyone has a bad leg." 

"I don't." 

"You will soon if you don't fucking watch out." 

With that Donghyuk lunged at him, bad leg forgotten and Mark screeched and tried to scoot out of the way, but Donghyuck was faster and stronger than he had anticipated and he was flattened to the floor by a cackling Donghyuck. Mark lay there, looking up at Donghyuck who was sitting on his torso, a triumphant smile on his face. A headache which had been on it's way out returned in full force and Mark's heart was doing a series of complicated flips in his chest. He could only hope that Donghyuk wouldn't pick up on it. 

"I'm gonna amputate your leg, sunshine," Donghyuck said, leaning closer and steadying himself with his hands splayed on Mark's chest. The look on his face was pure evil and if Mark hadn't been so fucking whipped for him, he would not have hesitated from kneeing him the crotch. But because Mark was a decent human being he only threatened Donghyuk with it. 

"I will kick you where the sun don't fucking shine," he growled and Donghyuck hooted with laughter, which was only slightly disheartening since Mark was actually trying to be scary. 

"You wouldn't." 

"Wouldn't I though?" 

Donghyuck eyed him, a challenging look on his face. "I bet if I offered you one million dollars if you kicked a puppy, you wouldn't do it. You're too fucking soft." 

Mark lifted himself up onto his elbows. "You're underestimating my greed for money." 

"Okay, but how about a puppy you've learned to love and care about?"

"Ah, fuck you." 

"You wouldn't, would you?" 

"If I can make sure the puppy's alright afterward, I would." 

Donghyuck looked skeptical. "You couldn't even kick me out when I basically broke into your room," he pointed out.

"Yeah, but that's different," Mark protested lamely and wondered if it would be inappropriate to tell Donghyuck that he reminded Mark of a kicked puppy.

"Are you saying I'm a puppy."

Mark coughed and looked away, Donghyuck gasped and slapped him on the chest, "You dare." 

"Yea, I dare. Can you get off me now?"

"What if I don't?" Donghyuck asked nonchalantly, leaning back slightly.

"Then I will push you off," Mark muttered, reaching up to push Donghyuck off his stomach. Donghyuck however quickly grabbed his hands and Mark's attempt to get rid of him turned into an impromtu wrestling match. Donghyuck was trying to push Mark's hands back down to the floor and Mark was putting all of his strength into forcing Donghyuck's hands up, that way trying to gain the upper hand to finally push him off. Neither of them were winning though, it being a pretty even match. But in a sudden burst of strength Mark managed to shove Donghyuck off him, who landed with a dull thud and shriek on the floor next to him. They lay there, both out of breath and thoroughly exhausted. 

"I can't feel my fucking arms," Mark groaned, prodding his bicep experimentally. 

"I can't feel my face when I'm with-" Donghyuck started singing under his breath and giggled loudly as Mark tried to elbow him in the side. 

"Shut up, because of you I won't be able to do anything ever again." To prove his point, Mark flopped his basically useless arms around a bit. 

"It's not that bad, don't be a pussy." 

"Did you just-" Mark hissed, turning to look at him. 

"Whatcha gonna do about it?" Donghyuck crowed, hastily shuffling out of Mark's reach.

"Fuck you," Mark muttered and collapsed back onto the floor, still nursing his sore arms. 

Donghyuck laughed and lay back down on his stomach so that he was facing Mark with his face cradled in his hands, his usual smile even brighter than usual. He was just about to say something when the door banged open and Jaemin and Chenle stumbled in, still cocooned in blankets. 

There was a moment of silence as the two intruders surveyed the scene, eyes comically wide and mouths slightly open. 

"Is there a problem?" Donghyuck asked smoothly and both snapped their mouths shut again, looking a bit sheepish. 

"I have to-" Chenle gestured vaguely in the direction of the living room and disappeared again, leaving only Jaemin who was looking at them suspiciously.

"What are you doing?" He asked slowly.

"Just...just chilling?" Mark said and Jaemin's eyebrows started to rise.

"On the kitchen floor?"

"Yeah?"

"At seven o'clock in the morning?"

"Yeah?" Mark said again, a little more forcefully.

Jaemin, who was obviously not convinced glanced at Donghyuck who smirked and shrugged helpfully. 

"Okay," he said, slowly retreating out into the hallway. 

"What did you think we were doing?" Donghyuck laughed and Mark put his face in his hands to avoid Jaemin's not-so-subtle stare. 

"We've managed to flood the bathroom before, so we were kinda worried you two set fire to the oven or something. I mean, there was quite a lot of yelling going on-" another pointed look at Mark, "and we've learned to expect the worst. Especially when either Mark or Ten are involved." 

There was an offended squawk from the living room and Mark immediately went on the defensive. 

"Just for the record, who flooded the bathroom last year?"

"Yeah!" Ten yelled, appearing in the door looking sleep ruffled and indignant. 

Jaemin didn't even have the decency to look intimidated. "Okay, that might not have been your fault, but I have a goddamn list of the things you two fucked up over the years. Remember why Sicheng's parents had to buy a new couch?" 

"Oh this is interesting," Donghyuck chirped happily as both Ten and Mark paled slightly. 

"Or that time you managed to lock Jisung and Chenle in the boiler room?" Kun piped up out of nowhere, hovering behind Jaemin and Ten like a malicious ghost. 

"Can you stop?" Ten pleaded into his hands.

"Please don't," Donghyuck said and Jaemin cackled gleefully, leaning down and helping him to his feet. 

"I hate you all," Mark said and Ten nodded.

"Yeah, I'm gonna tell Johnny and he's gonna fuck you up," he threatened at an unimpressed Jaemin and Kun.

"You know full well that he'd be on our side, right?" Kun pointed out and smoothly glided away before Ten could slap him. 

"Anyway," Jaemin said, smiling down at a defeated Mark, "I'm glad you didn't burn the kitchen down, 'cause we were kind of hoping to eat." 

"Yeah you're welcome." 

"Yes," Jaemin smiled, drawing out the s in a hiss. Then he turned to Donghyuck. "Make sure he doesn't do anything stupid, okay?"

"I'll try." Donghyuck grinned and Mark let out a disgruntled whine.

Jaemin laughed and made fingerguns at Donghyuck before slipping back out into the hall. 

"Need any help there?" Donghyuck asked, his eyes twinkling, as he watched Mark struggling to get up again. Mark scowled at him and winced as his knee cracked loudly. 

"No I don't, fuck off." He pouted and Donghyuck cooed sarcastically, throwing an arm around Mark's shoulders.

"Aw Mark, don't be mad."

That only made Mark's scowl deepen and Donghyuck snorted and pressed his face against Mark's shoulder. "Don't be mad," he mumbled into the fabric of Mark's t-shirt.

Mark had lost the ability of speech which to his dismay only made Donghyuck grow more affectionate, in an effort to either apologise or make Mark say that he wasn't angry. 

"I'm not mad," Mark promised and he could feel Donghyuck's mouth mould into a smile against his shoulder, his arm that had fallen down to his waist, tightening in a short sideways hug. 

"Good." Was the only answer he got and then Donghyuck was gone again, his warmth being replaced by the cold emptiness of the morning sunlight.

Mark watched him leave in stunned silence.

Donghyuck was weird like that, affectionate and warm one minute and cold and unresponsive the next. Mark was a naturally very curious person and having to tiptoe around someone like that, hurt in a weird way. He desperately wanted to know what was wrong with Donghyuck, but at the same time he didn't want to push or chase him away. He knew that Donghyuck would tell him what was wrong, at some point. When that would be he could only guess, he only knew that Donghyuck would initiate a talk like that, signal him in that very obvious 'hey waddup' way of his that he was ready to talk, and Mark was willing to wait. Even if it costed him every ounce of self-restraint he had.

Donghyuck, in a way, was like a rose. A rose with a shit ton of thorns. Or a hedgehog.

 

/

 

It was nearing the end of the sleepover, the sun had already set and the brilliant colours of the sunset had faded away into a misty blue. Fog was starting to creep in from the edge of town, eerily pressing against the windows.

The sleepover only lasted about two days, mainly because Johnny's parents were coming home soon and most of them had some kind of school work to finish, but it wasn't all doom and gloom since all of them knew that the Christmas holidays promised week long sleepovers (and snow).

Donghyuck was still decked out in Mark's clothes when they were all saying their goodbyes. He'd gotten along very well with everyone and Johnny and Ten had already signed the adoption papers. Kun and him were the Sass Couple Supreme much to the despair of Mark, Johnny and Ten who were their main victims. Chenle and Jisung had immediately accepted him on the two basic principles of that he liked to make fun of Mark (Jisung's main reason) and that he doted over them (Chenle's reason) in a weird older brother kind of way. Sicheng, Jeno, Jaemin and him made up the meme squad that specialised in subtly making the elders lives a little bit harder. He fit perfectly if you looked past the fact that no one knew anything about him. He had smoothly avoided any to personal questions and Mark thanked God that after, maybe the third deflection, his friends got the gist and stopped asking personal questions.

During their lengthy goodbyes, Mark who'd been talking to Jeno was yanked out into the front yard by Donghyuck, where they were almost immediately swallowed by the fog. Mark squinted at him, Donghyuck's features looked oddly blurred in the fog and the hollow light of the street lamp.

"What's wrong?" He whispered. Donghyuck glanced at him, his bottom lip clamped between his teeth and his brow furrowed in a uneasy frown.

"You'll keep your window open, right?" He asked nervously.

Mark stared at him. "Of course. Why shouldn't I?"

"I don't know, it's getting pretty cold and you might not want to catch pneumonia or something like that."

"Hey, it's cool. We have tons of blankets and quilts and even if I get cold I can always get a hot water bottle. Really, it's fine don't worry about it."

Donghyuck nodded. "Okay. Should I wake you when I come in?"

"If I don't wake up by myself you can but you don't have to, I'll keep some spare quilts and blankets in my room. Oh, but close the window after you come in."  

Donghyuck rolled his eyes and Mark pushed him.

"You really don't mind though?" He asked again and Mark sighed, "No, I don't mind. I didn't push you away when you first came, did I? Why should I now?"

"Right, sorry." Donghyuck looked at the ground, shuffling his feet awkwardly.

"I really don't-" Mark started but then the air whooshed out of him as Donghyuck suddenly bear hugged him, burying his face in Mark's hoodie and wrapping his arms around his waist. Stumbling back a few steps, Mark caught himself and then after a seconds hesitation snaked his arms around Donghyuck's back, pulling him closer. Their height difference wasn't huge, but with the way Donghyuck had his head in the crook of Mark's neck, he could comfortably rest his chin on his head. He could feel the warmth of Donghyuck's breath dampening the fabric of his hoodie, and he could feel Donghyucck gripping the back of his pullover so tightly, he was pretty sure his knuckles would be white. Slightly overwhelmed with this sudden burst of affection Mark could only rub comforting circles on Donghyuck's back and rock them back and forth a bit. 

He was also pretty sure that if it weren't for the fog, Donghyuck probably would never have done something like this. Not in front of Mark's friends. Not in front of anyone, really. 

Mark didn't know how long they stood there, time didn't seem to be an issue in the fog and dim streetlight, but when a shout sounded from the front porch and the outines of their friends started to become visible, they quickly broke apart, the fog coiling around where Donghyuck's warmth had been, making Mark shiver. 

If they had seen something no one said anything, but Ten and Jaemin did give Mark questioning stares that Mark answered with a simple shrug. After another round of goodbyes, they finally all separated. Jisung and Mark going right and the rest all going left. Ten and Johnny waved them off till they too were swallowed by the fog. 

Jisung and Mark walked in silence for most of the walk home, the silence only being broken by Jisung when they turned the corner onto their street. 

"Mark?" He asked hesitantly, tugging Mark by the sleeve making him stop and look at him.

"Yeah?" 

Jisung's grip on his sleeve loosened and his hand dropped back to his side, his gaze curious but careful.

"Did you kiss him?" He asked softly.

Mark blinked in surprise, his cheeks heating up slightly. "No, no I didn't."

Jisung nodded in a reproachful kind of way. "You should. Kiss him, I mean."

"Okay," Mark said a little stumped for a more intelligent answer. 

If only it were that easy. 

  

Chapter Text

"Fuck." 

Mark's eyes snapped open, his hands gripping his comforter tightly as he squinted at the hunched figure by his window. He was 99% sure that that figure was Donghyuck, but the other 1% were screaming very loudly so he had to double check just to shut them up.

"Donghyuck?" He whispered into the darkness.

The figure turned and even in the dark, Mark could tell Donghyuck was rolling his eyes. "No it's the fucking tooth fairy." He hissed and turned back to whatever he was doing. 

Mark sat up and watched him in silence, his brain not being fully awake yet. Donghyuck seemed to feel him staring and looked over his shoulder, "You can go back to sleep y'know." he pointed out, but Mark shook his head.

Still trying to extract a blanket from the pile Mark had made under his window, Donghyuck spoke up again, "You know when you said you'd make a blanket pile I didn't think you'd be so stupid to actually put it right underneath the fucking window." 

Mark pouted blearily, "I thought it was a good idea." 

"Yeah well, I almost slipped and broke my neck because of your good idea."

Mark wasn't awake enough to come up with reasonable response so he just stayed quiet, which only seemed to annoy Donghyuck more. 

"And another thing-" He started again in an agitated whisper and this time it was Mark's turn to roll his eyes

"- when I said 'leave the window open' I didn't mean wide fucking open, so that any idiot with enough brains could climb in. Just leave it unlatched so that I can push it open when I come up, okay? Anyway, if you leave the window open like that you'll be heating a permanently cold room a.k.a it's gonna cost you a fuck ton and I don't want that." 

Mark blinked slowly at him and Donghyuck sighed and straightened up again, a pink and blue flowery blanket clutched to his chest.

"Just- just don't have the window wide open, okay? It's stupid as fuck."

"Okay." 

"Good." With that he dumped the blanket next to Mark's bed, turned and dragged the rest over to form some kind of makeshift mattress, kicked off his shoes and flopped onto his blanket pile with a contented sigh. 

Mark, who was still half asleep, continued to stare at him in silence till Donghyuck cracked open one eye and glared at him, "You're being creepy." he deadpanned and Mark hastily pulled himself together and curled back up on his own bed. 

"Goodnight, dumbass," Donghyuck suddenly whispered and Mark smiled at the ceiling, "Night night." 

 

Visits such as these happened a lot during the autumn holidays after the sleepover. Sometimes Mark would wake up and sometimes he wouldn't, sometimes Donghyuck would wake him for reasons such as food or just so that he wasn't the only one to be awake. Mark found that reason a bit strange at first, but like with a lot of things concerning Donghyuck, he didn't question it. 

But he always woke up to the same picture; Donghyuck curled up on his floor covered by maybe three to five blankets, sleep ruffled hair and a cuddly toy he had scavenged from under Mark's bed. Waking up to something like that made Mark's life just that little bit harder, pictures of the pure adorableness that was sleepy Donghyuck popping up in his mind when he was trying to do homework or pay attention at school. Donghyuck, of course was unaware of this and his sporadic visits became more common. He even showed up occasionally when the rest of the squad were hanging out, easily slipping into their weird dynamic.

When school started again, Donghyuck's visits became fewer again and when Mark, who was feeling particularly brave that night, asked about it Donghyuck had just smiled and said, "You have to go to school, I have to go to school, I'm being considerate." 

Mark, who had completely forgotten that Donghyuck was homeschooled, was a little thrown off by that sentence and lived in a state of semi-permanent confusion until Donghyuck took pity on him and kindly reminded him of it. 

It was weird and unpredictable and Mark wasn't sure if he really liked the way they were always meeting, but he did know that for things to change Donghyuck would have to build up trust first and Mark had the feeling that that could take awhile.  

 

/

 

Mark woke to the sound of a dull thud and a hushed string of curses and the distinct feeling of cold air blowing against his face and hands. Frowning and still half asleep, he rolled over so that he could squint at the lump of shadows that was Donghyuck. His frown deepened as he realised that Donghyuck wasn't moving and was staying in his huddled position by the window. 

"Donghyuck?" He whispered, barely disguising the worry in his voice. 

There was a moment of silence and then Donghyuck whispered back, "Go back to bed." his voice strangely hoarse and strained. 

That was all it took to get Mark out of bed, a good nights sleep completely forgotten in a rush to find out what was wrong. 

Carefully he edged closer, one hand nervously outstretched. When he reached Donghyuck he let that hand drop down on his shoulder and crouched down next to him. His heart twisted painfully as Donghyuck flinched and refused to look at him. 

"Donghyuck?" He asked again, softer this time.

"I'm fine. Go back to sleep. Please." His voice cracked on the last syllable and Mark's hand tightened on his shoulder.

"You know I'm not gonna do that." 

There was a longish pause where neither of them moved, the only sound being that of the wind blowing outside. The window was still half open and the temperature in the room was steadily dropping. 

"It's- it's okay." Donghyuck tried again, almost desperately.

"Why'd you come here then?" 

Another pause and Mark could basically feel the inner war Donghyuck was fighting with himself. Do I trust him or not.

Suddenly he turned and Mark realised with a start how close their faces were to each other, but willed himself not to back away, that would give Donghyuck the wrong impression. His eyes were sparkling with unshed tears and his bottom lip was bitten raw and bloody. 

"I- I fell off a- off a fence." He croaked, shame along with fresh tears welling up in his eyes. 

Mark stared at him, unsure of what to do next.

That's when Donghyuck's composure finally started to crack and he sat down hard, hiding his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking with silent sobs. Mark was stunned into unmoving silence for a few seconds until he got his shit together and sat down next to Donghyuck, pulling him into his lap so that his face was resting against Mark's chest. That's what he'd always done with Jisung when he had been upset. Donghyuck's fingers twisted into Mark's t-shirt and he could feel the fabric getting wet where Donghyuck's tears were soaking into the material. Wrapping his arms tightly around Donghyuck's frame he pulled him closer, quietly muttering comforting nonsense into his untidy mop of hair. Donghyuck's chest was heaving and Mark's heart ached helplessly because he didn't know how to help Donghyuck without crossing some invisible line, he was sure Donghyuck had created. 

They sat like that for awhile, Donghyuck quietly crying into Mark's t-shirt as Mark rocked them back and forth, rubbing comforting circles on his back. 

Slowly but surely, Donghyuck hiccuped his way back into relative silence, his fingers still clutching the now wet fabric of Mark's t-shirt like it was the only thing keeping him where he was. 

"Are you okay?" Mark asked, ducking his head so that he could see Donghyuck's face better.

Donghyuck nodded, his face tear stained and his already bloody lip trapped between his teeth in an effort to calm his breathing.

"Are you hurt?" Mark carried on and when he didn't get a reaction his heart plummeted into his stomach.

"Donghyuck. Are you hurt?" He repeated. "Please tell me. You said you fell off a fence, did you get hurt?"

"Yes." Donghyuck croaked, meeting his gaze for only a second. 

"Where?" 

Carefully twisting himself out of Mark's lap he sat down opposite him and held out his right arm. Mark's eyes widened in horror as he took in the torn and bloodied sleeve and the wound beneath it. The blood looked almost dry and Mark could see dark stains from where it had dripped down his hand and onto his jeans.

"Holy fucking shit." Was the only thing he could come up with. "Can I...?" He gestured at the bloodied arm and Donghyuck nodded hesitantly. 

Mark leaned forwards and tried to pry the sleeve of Donghyuck's arm, but when he winced and hissed in pain, he stopped.

"How long ago did this happen?"

"A while." Donghyuck said vaguely and Mark in all his worry and love for the boy fought down the urge to kick him. 

"A while." He echoed. "How much did you bleed?" 

"Not that much. I put pressure on it." 

"It's not anywhere near your pulse right?" 

"I- I don't think so?" Donghyuck said, lifting up his arm to inspect it. Both of his hands were trembling and his eyes looked glassy and unfocused. 

"Here, let me." Mark offered, leaning forward and prying Donghyuck's trembling, unsteady fingers away from the wound, that looked like it could crack back open at any second. From what he could tell in the dim light, the gash ran from the beginning of his elbow to about an inch over his wrist. The gash itself was jagged and uneven, quite deep near his elbow and then lightening the closer it got to his wrist, but still it was obvious by the state of his clothes and appearance, that Donghyuck had lost more blood than he was letting on. A cut this big would be pretty hard to pressurise everywhere, especially since it was so close to a main artery. 

"Okay," Mark said slowly, "so my first aid skills aren't the greatest-"

"Wonderful." Donghyuck interrupted in a tone similar to his usual sarcasm level. 

"-but, I think I can deal with this." Mark finished in a huff. 

"You think?" Donghyuck asked doubtfully.

"Shut up. Listen, this is what were gonna do. You're gonna sit down at my desk and I'll fetch the first aid kit and a pair of scissors and then we'll try and cut you out of that pullover, okay?"

"I like this pullover."

"Well shit Jessica, it can't be helped."

"Fuck you too, Michelle." Donghyuck muttered and stood up (a little unsteadily) and flopped down in Mark's desk chair, cradling his arm against his chest. 

"And I'll see if I can get you anything to eat. Don't move." 

"Wasn't planning to." Donghyuck mumbled, his eyes already shut. 

Mark smiled softly and slipped out of the room, immediately leaning against the door and closing his eyes. This whole ordeal had taken at least 10 years off his life span, and they weren't even half way through it.

It took him a whole fifteen minutes to find the first aid kit, which was hidden in the bathroom next to his parents room. Thankfully there was a pair of scissors inside the kit so he didn't have to do the trek down the creaky staircase. Quietly opening his bedroom door he padded over to Donghyuck who was uncomfortably slumped across Mark's desk, his injured arm outstretched at an awkward angle. At some deeper places the cut had started bleeding again, and Mark noticed with unease that some of it was getting on his school things. The stains would be very hard to explain without ratting Donghyuck out.

"Hey." He whispered and Donghyuck jerked awake. "I've got the aid kit, I'll get you some food after I fix you up, okay?"

"Okay." Donghyuck mumbled, his eyelids drooping shut.

"Do you want to move to the bed?" Mark asked softly, already helping Donghyuck out of the chair and leading him to the bed.

"Yeah." Came the delayed answer and Mark smiled.

So they sat cross legged opposite each other, Mark leaning into Donghyuck's bubble, first aid kit at his side and Donghyuck holding out his arm in sleepy silence. Carefully and with lots of pauses he cut the blood soaked, sticky material away from Donghyuck's arm. Even sleepy and in a bit of an odd mood Donghyuck could still complain like a pro. After Mark got rid of the sleeve he lead (dragged) Donghyuck to the bathroom to wash the dirt and dried blood off the cut, without it it still looked horrible and nasty, but as Donghyuck said 'it could be worse, it could've been on my face'. The next few steps were a little harder especially for Mark and his limited first aid knowledge.

"Do you think it needs stitches?" Donghyuck asked as he watched Mark carefully pressing two sterile gauzes against the wound.

"I hope not." Mark muttered, his tongue peeking out between his teeth as he concentrated on not making Donghyuck bleed even more.

Donghyuck hummed and Mark glanced at him, "I'm sure it doesn't." he tried and Donghyuck just nodded silently. 

Mark carried on in silence. 

"Where- how did you even-" He stopped, covering his traitorous mouth with a hand and looked away.

When he dared to look back, Donghyuck was blinking sleepily at him, his left hand playing with the frayed edge of the bandage that was now wrapped around his right arm. 

"D'you know those abandoned apartment blocks on the north edge of town?"

Mark stared at him, "You mean those dangerous, unstable and fenced-of-for-a-reason apartment blocks?"

"Yeah those." Donghyuck said completely unfazed.

"What about them?" 

"Well I climbed over the fence."

"Why the-"

"I needed to be alone for awhile and I like going up there, especially on a clear night."

Mark blinked at him in disbelief, in late November the temperatures dropped down below zero even during the day. It was even worse at night, especially on a clear one. It was a miracle Donghyuck hadn't died of hypothermia yet, judging by the way he was usually dressed. 

"You could freeze to death!" Mark exclaimed and Donghyuck rolled his eyes, "I'm tough." 

"Apparently not." Mark motioned at Donghyuck's bandaged arm. 

"Shut up." 

They glared at each other. Well, Mark glared, Donghyuck was fighting sleep with every cell of his body and Mark remembered that he had promised to get him some food after he'd fixed his arm. But there was still one question he wanted to ask. 

"Why did- why did you need to be alone for awhile?" He asked carefully. 

There was a pause as Donghyuck considered the question. "I had an argument with my brother." 

"Oh." 

Donghyuck nodded and carried on without having to be prompted. "We fight a lot." He stopped, a sleepy frown forming on his face.

"That's why you come here a lot." Mark ventured nervously.

"Yeah. I love him of course, I mean, he's my brother and he does a lot for me, but sometimes- sometimes things get difficult. And then we argue and when that happens I just need to get out. When it's really bad, I go to the apartment blocks."

Mark swallowed, "And when it's not?" 

"Then I just kinda walk around, or I come here." 

"Right." 

"I used to go to the apartment blocks a lot, but it's gotten better lately. I usually come here now." 

Mark didn't want to read to much into either of those sentences, so he just stayed quiet. Donghyuck would tell him what he wanted to tell and Mark wouldn't push. 

"We live in the north part of town," Donghyuck said, seemingly more to himself than Mark, "so the apartment blocks aren't really very far away."

"Okay." Mark said. The north part of town was big and sprawled out into the suburbs and the woods. An invisible line separated it from the wealthy town centre, west and east. It wasn't the best neighbourhood, known for it's gang violence and police raids, but it wasn't as bad as the south. The south being the literal cesspool of the town, the worst of the worst lived there. Tales of police violence, gang and drug lords, prostitution and petty crime being told in the safety of the rich west, centre and east neighbourhoods. The thought that Donghyuck had grown up in places like that made Mark sick. It also made the privilege he had even clearer and guilt climbed up his throat. 

Donghyuck knocked him back into reality, "I'll introduce you at some point."

Mark coughed, "I'm- I'm sorry?"

Donghyuck looked unperturbed, "To my brother, when were on good terms again." 

"On good- yeah sure, whatever." 

"I've told him about you, y'know. I think he likes you, or maybe he's just glad that I have a friend that's a similar age as me. You can't really tell with him." 

"Right.." Mark mumbled, trying not to picture 3 thousand different scenarios of how meeting Donghyuck's older brother could go.

"His name his Taeyong by the way."

"Taeyong." Mark echoed a little dumbfounded. 

"Oh and Taeil likes you too. He liked you the moment you pulled that stunt at the park."

Mark cringed, "He's the boyfriend right?"

"Yeah, and he homeschools me." 

"Seriously?" Mark asked, genuinely surprised.

"Yup, he's insanely smart. I've passed all my exams so far because of him."

"Holy shit." 

"Yup." 

"I didn't believe you when you first said you were home schooled." Mark admitted.

"I didn't think you did, it's cool though." 

"Warn me though, when you want to introduce me. I'll freak out if you don't."

"He's not scary y'know. Okay, he might be a bit at first glance, but I swear he can be quite nice." 

"That sounds comforting."

"He fucks up occasionally, well, he's fucked up in the past. Not so much now." 

"Okay." Mark said and left it at that, this seemed like a touchy subject and Donghyuck had already revealed more than he had in the entire month they had now known each other. He wasn't going to push his luck. 

"Anyway, Taeil's normally around too and Taeil's really sweet so you don't need to worry."

"Guess what I'm going to be doing." Mark sing-songed and Donghyuck rolled his eyes. 

"Whatever. It'll take a while anyway, don't get your panties in a twist." 

"Rude." 

Donghyuck laughed quietly and then started to make himself comfortable, stretching his legs out so that he nudged Mark painfully in the shin. There was moment of shuffling as he tried to maneuver the quilt over himself without knocking Mark onto the floor. Finally comfortably curled up in Mark's bed his stomach growled loudly and he closed his eyes in embarrassment. Mark shot off the bed and basically ran out of the room, feeling slightly guilty that he had forgotten about the food promise. 

When he returned, toast and peach jam, some cheese and cup of ramen balanced on a tray, Donghyuck was fast asleep, his hair falling into his eyes and his hands folded under his head. Mark felt another pang of guilt as he reluctantly woke him up, but that disappeared again at the look on Donghyuck's face when he saw the food.

"I fucking love peach jam." He mumbled, his mouth full and his eyes sparkling sleepily. 

Mark would've kissed him right then and there if it weren't for the fact that feelings were complicated and that Donghyuck had all of the food Mark had brought in his mouth at once. 

"Don't eat like that, you'll make yourself sick and I ain't cleaning it up." 

Donghyuck paused, held a hand in front of his mouth and said, "I'm gonna throw up just to piss you off."

"Just eat, my fucking God." Mark mumbled, smiling down at his hands. 

Donghyuck huffed something unintelligible and picked up the cup of ramen. 

After he finished eating, Mark took the tray and brought it downstairs silently hoping his mother wouldn't ask questions in the morning. By the time he came back Donghyuck had curled back up under the covers, only his face and hair peeking out, a content and oddly childlike smile still clinging to the corners of his mouth. 

Mark walked over to the window and started to pick up the blankets so that he could make himself a makeshift bed on the floor like Donghyuck usually did. 

Without opening his eyes Donghyuck said, "You're not fucking sleeping on the floor." 

Mark froze, "But- but where else..." he trailed off. 

Donghyuck cracked open one eye and glared at him, "The fucking bed, moron." 

"Right. The bed."

"You can say 'no homo' if it makes you feel better." Donghyuck yawned and moved closer to the wall, giving Mark room to climb into bed next to him. 

Mark spluttered indignantly and Donghyuck elbowed him in the side, "The light's still on."

"Ah for fucks sake." 

Mark got up again and then after he turned the light off there were a couple of minutes of reshuffling in the semi darkness, because Donghyuck decided he didn't like sleeping next to the wall. After some hushed swearing, pillow and blanket rearrangements and several accidental kicks and shoves they finally settled down again. 

"If you hog the quilt I will dropkick you into hell." Donghyuck threatened and Mark hit him in the face with a spare pillow.

"This is my fucking bed, I can hog my quilt as much as I fucking want." 

"Prick."

"Deal with it."

Ten minutes passed and Mark was slowly drifting off when Donghyuck nudged him. Mark turned to look at him, their faces so close their noses were only a few inches apart. Donghyuck blinked at him and Mark almost had a heart attack when, just for millisecond, Donghyuck glanced down at his mouth before hastily meeting his eyes again and Mark could see even in the dim light from the window a slight dusting of pink on his cheeks.

"Thanks, y'know." Donghyuck whispered, his gaze somewhere next to Mark's ear.

In a fit of bravery Mark reached blindly for Donghyuck's hand under the quilt and squeezed it comfortingly. "Anytime." He said honestly and Donghyuck smiled and squeezed his hand in return.

 

/

 

The next morning Mark woke up with the cool November sunlight filtering through his curtained window and Donghyuck curled up against him. Mark's arms were slung around him and Donghyuck's arms were around his waist, his face pressed against Mark's chest. Mark was pretty sure that he could wake someone just with the sound of his heart going haywire in his chest. 

"Donghyuck." Mark breathed, his voice refusing to work properly.

Donghyuck groaned but made no other move of waking up.

"Donghyuck." Mark tried again, "We need to get up, my mom's gonna kill me."

There was no reaction and Mark swore under his breath and dug his nails painfully into Donghyuck's shoulders. 

The boy groaned and shifted in a weak attempt to shake Mark off and when that didn't work he dug the heals of his palms into Mark's ribs making him swear in pain. Then he lifted his head, so that he could look up at Mark and squinted angrily.

"Fucking fight me, Michelle." 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was Friday afternoon, about half an hour before the school day officially ended, but already students were piling out into the courtyard and street. Why you may ask? Well, it had started to snow. Big and small crystals swirled through the air, settling on the pavement, benches, trees and students. It wasn't surprising that it was settling so quickly since the ground had been basically frozen since early November. The teachers were reproachfully hovering in the sheltered doorways, looking on in disapproval and the slightest hint of fondness as the students ran around, cheering and shrieking in the flurrying snow.

Mark and the squad were of course amongst the shrieking students. They were probably doing most of the shrieking to be honest. The younger ones (and Kun) had successfully ganged up on Johnny, Ten and Mark. Chenle and Jaemin had climbed Johnny and were stuffing freshly fallen snow down the back of his jacket. Ten had made the mistake of trying to protect him and had been immediately swarmed by Jeno and Kun, but instead of being climbed he was flattened to the ground with two pesky teenagers stuffing snow down his front and in Kun's case, in his face. Mark had tried to quietly sidle away when Jisung had hit him in the face with a pile of snow he had scooped of a slightly suspicious looking bench. He had now joined Ten on the ground and was desperately trying crawl away from the combined forces of Jeno, Kun, Renjun and Jisung who were apparently either trying to smother him or give him pneumonia. His escape attempts were only complicated by Johnny who was stumbling around blindly with two limpets attached to him and Ten who was screaming and wildly kicking out next to him.

You could say that this wasn't exactly how Mark had thought his day would end.

Thankfully, some of the teachers came to their rescue and then declared the school day over to the loud cheers of the entire school. 

By the time they actually managed to get out of the courtyard they were all freezing and shivering, but still hyped as fuck. The weather didn't look like it would calm down anytime soon, in fact the snow actually intensified and soon they were basically walking through a blizzard. 

Mark was dawdling behind a bit, still desperately trying to get the last remnants of snow out of the back of his jacket. He was just performing some bone-breaking gymnastics when a muffled voice called out his name. Turning, his arms still twisted above his head, he squinted through the thickly falling snow. His vision was blurred thanks to the numerous snowflakes caught in his lashes.

Rubbing some of the snow out of his eyes, he finally caught sight of a blurry shadowy outline of a person making their way towards him. 

"Donghyuck?" He called, but his voice sounded muffled and distant. 

The person moved closer and Donghyuck became visible. The hood of his coat (that was at least two sizes to big) pulled low over his face. 

"Donghyuck," Mark said again and Donghyuck rearranged the hood slightly so that he could see better. His cheeks were flushed a bright pink, his lips were chapped and his eyes were shining with barely suppressed delight. 

"'Sup, moron," he greeted, a dumb smile tugging at his shaking lips. 

"What are you doing here?" 

"Came to pick you up." 

"Why?" 

"Why not?"

"Don't avoid questions." 

"Have you met me?"

"Point taken. But seriously, why are you here?" 

"To fucking pick you up." 

"Pick me up to go where, can I have some answers here?" 

"No." 

"I won't come with you if you don't tell me where we're going." 

"I'll put snow in your bed," Donghyuck threatened, but Mark didn't look impressed. 

"Tell me, or I'm not moving." 

Donghyuck glared at him for a full minute, trying and failing to wear him down. "Fine," he hissed and Mark grinned triumphantly. "I'm gonna introduce you to my brother." 

Mark's smile fell off his face and he stared at Donghyuck in bewildered shock. "You're gonna do what?" He croaked. 

"Brother. Me. Introduce. You. Moron." 

"You said you'd warn me!" Mark cried, gesturing wildly.

"I am warning you." 

"No. No you're not, you're telling me literally minutes before the actual thing. That's not warning, that's- that's betrayal." 

Donghyuck squinted at him, "What the fuck is your definition of a warning."

"Like a week in advance." Mark offered and Donghyuck snorted, "Not with me." 

"Well, obviously." Mark sputtered, making a vague attempt to push Donghyuck over. 

"It's to late now anyway. I already told him I'd introduce you today." 

Mark groaned and put his face in his hands, "I hate you." 

"No you don't." 

Mark kicked some snow at him and then straightened, a determined grimace on his face. "Let me text Jisung so that he doesn't tell mom I died in a snowstorm or something." 

"Okay, can you walk and text because I am fucking freezing." 

"If I slip and fall it's your fault." 

"Great whatever, get a move on." Donghyuck grabbed him by the shoulders and twirled him around in the opposite direction to the one Mark had been walking, and started pushing him down the street. 

"Well fucking text him then." He muttered when Mark still hadn't pulled out his phone from his coat pocket. 

"I can't type in all this snow."

"Are you fucking kidding me." 

"No, and stop pushing me, I know how to walk dammit."

"You sure." Donghyuck teased, but took his hands off Mark's back and skipped into step beside him, his hands deep in his pockets and his face cast in shadow because of his hood. 

Mark glanced at him, "How far is it?" He said hoarsely, his teeth had started to chatter and there were remnants of snow melting down his back. 

"Not far, just down the street next to the old market place." 

"Wait, I thought you lived up north?"

"We do, but he works there." 

"Oh, works where?" 

"The little convenience store on St Henry street? Next to the market place? Literally the only decent convenience store in this godforsaken place?" 

Mark blinked at him and then it hit him, "Oh, that one!"

"Yeah that one, you fucking peanut." 

"Don't think I've ever seen you're brother there before, though." 

"Have you been there on a Friday or a Tuesday?" 

"I think so." 

"Relatively tall, used to have weird grey-ish white hair, crazy sharp jawline, kind of skinny and vaguely intimidating?" 

"Wait, that's your brother?" Mark asked, astonished.

"Yup." 

"Holy shit." 

"Yup." 

Mark thought for a second, "He's kinda hot though-" 

"What the fuck, that's my brother you- you rat!" Donghyuck yelled in disgust and shouldered him off the pavement and onto the street.

Mark was cackling, "So that's how I set you off." he laughed and Donghyuck scooped up some snow off a nearby wall and threw at him. It him square in the face and Mark spluttered indignantly. 

 

They reached the old market place and turned right into a smaller, more sheltered street lined with smaller shops and restaurants. Nearing the end of the street a small neon sign was shining through the heavy snow, advertising the convenience store. The street and the market place were basically deserted, only the occasional hooded figure darting past or a distant flash of headlights indicating that the place wasn't completely deserted. The shops were all decked out in sparkling Christmas decorations, making the otherwise quite dismal scenery seem a little more inviting. Mark and Donghyuck stopped now and again to stare in childish wonder at the glittering shop windows and their displays. Finally however they actually made it to their actual destination, the convenience store where Donghyuck's brother worked. 

A small tinny bell went off as Donghyuck pushed the door open and they both gratefully hurried into the stuffy warmth of the shop. The bright LED lights stood in stark contrast to the warm wintry glow from outside and Mark blinked a couple of times 'till he got used to it. The convenience store was like any other, small and kind of cramped with thin aisles and shelves piled high with colourful packets of 'healthy' food. You could hear the refrigerators humming and easy listening music playing in the background. Mark's gaze settled on the counter, and he swallowed nervously. 

There were three people at the counter. A tallish boy with a floppy brown fringe, oddly bright eyes and a pouty mouth was perched on the counter talking animatedly with a person Mark recognised as Taeil. His Gatorade coloured hair had calmed down a little bit and you could see his natural roots peeking through, his face was symmetrical with quite prominent cheekbones and an odd half smile hugging the corners of his mouth. There was a permanent air of lovable awkwardness hanging around him that made Mark cringe in sympathy. But his attention was really focused on the man standing behind the counter. As Donghyuck had said, he was kind of tall and skinny with an intimidatingly attractive face and gaze that could cut through concrete. His hair still had hints of grey in it and he was dressed in a simple black pullover, which honestly didn't look warm enough for this weather.

He looked up when the bell rang and his gaze wondered from Donghyuck to Mark, where it settled making nerves bubble up in Mark's stomach. Donghyuck, apparently sensing Mark's nervousness stepped forward, dragging Mark with him by the wrist. 

"Hi." He said and the other two also looked up, Yuta's hands dropping down in his lap and Taeil staring at Mark with a look of confused recognition in his eyes. 

Taeyong's eyes briefly flickered to Donghyuck and then back at Mark, "Hi." he echoed. 

"This is the friend I wanted to introduce you to." Donghyuck said, tugging Mark forward a bit. 

"Hello." Mark coughed, meeting Taeyong's gaze for less than a second before glancing nervously back at Donghyuck, who nudged him encouragingly. 

"I'm Mark Lee?" He carried on, "I'm a friend of Donghyuck's." 

There was an agonising second of silence.

"Hi, Mark. I'm Taeyong, Donghyuck's older brother."

"Hi." Mark said again, at a loss of something else to say. 

"This," Taeyong pointed at the boy on the counter, "is Yuta and that's Taeil."

Yuta grinned and waved and the first thing Mark could think of, was how his smile could rival Jaemin's. Taeil also waved and gave him a small smile, "I believe we've met before." He said softly and Donghyuck snorted beside him. 

Mark cringed and nodded, "Yeah, at the park. Sorry about that." 

Taeil's smile took on a sympathetic edge and he said, "It's fine." 

"How'd you meet?" Yuta asked, taking over the conversation.

"On the way home from school." Donghyuck jumped in and three pairs of eyebrows rose slightly. 

"He walked into me. Like, on purpose." Mark added helpfully.

Both Taeyong and Yuta snorted and Taeil's smile widened. 

"Sounds like our Donghyuck." Yuta laughed. 

"Rude." Donghyuck muttered, but otherwise kept quiet.

"What school do you go to?" Taeyong asked, leaning over the counter a little bit. 

Mark fought down the urge to take several steps back, "Liu Comprehensive." 

Taeyong nodded thoughtfully, "Okay." 

"I went to that school." Taeil piped up, but didn't elaborate. 

"Almost everyone did." Yuta said rolling his eyes. 

There was a pause. 

"Mark, can I have word." Taeyong suddenly asked, already coming out from behind the counter. 

"Sure." Mark squeaked and Taeyong shot him something like a pained smile. 

Before Mark could follow him outside, Donghyuck grabbed his hand and gave it a quick comforting squeeze. Then he was left to his fate. 

They walked a short way down the street away from the store, to a sheltered alcove next to quaint wedding dress shop. Taeyong leaned against the wall and pulled a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket, taking one out and putting it between his lips, then he pulled out a pink lighter and the lit the cigarette taking one long drag from it and focusing his gaze solely on Mark.

"So, Mark." He started and Mark wondered how someone could be so attractive whilst also being vaguely terrifying. 

"Yes." 

"How'd you two meet?" 

Mark stared at him, "But we just-" 

"I mean how did you really meet." Taeyong cut him off, taking another drag from his cigarette. 

"He- " Mark chose his next words carefully, "-he climbed up to my room." 

Something like a smile tugged at Taeyong's mouth, "Why?"

"Somewhere to stay." 

Another thoughtful drag of his cigarette and Taeyong nodded, "Okay." 

"Okay." Mark repeated, letting his gaze drop down to the snow covered pavement. 

"Be careful with him." 

Mark looked back up again, surprise obvious on his face. Taeyong's voice had softened and so had his gaze, the image of a protective brother was shining through his stand-off-ish facade. 

"I- I'm sorry?" 

Taeyong cleared his throat and dropped the cigarette on the ground, grinding it into the snow with the heal of his shoe. "He's-," He paused, searching for the right words, "he can be difficult. He's told me about you, and we may have our differences but I was just glad that he'd finally found someone his age that he could confide in. But then it's not that easy with Donghyuk. I'm sure you've figured that out?"

"Yeah." 

"Yeah, like I said, he can be difficult. I just- I want to make sure you understand that he's been through some proper fucked up shit, and he'll tell you about it when he's ready, but until that happens just don't- don't push him. Don't push him away when he doesn't tell you something and don't push him to tell you something. It doesn't end well, I can tell you. It takes a lot to get past the walls he's built, I know that and I'm his fucking brother. And the way he talks about you...it just- it scares the shit out of me that he likes and trusts you so much, and I know it scares him too. Trust isn't something that comes naturally to him anymore, it doesn't to me either." He ran a hand through his hair and sighed, the subject they were on was obviously difficult and Mark was torn between hugging him and legging it.

"Basically, I just want you to promise you won't just say fuck it and leave him. It's okay if you don't want to be friends with him anymore, I can't make you do that, just break it to him sooner rather than later. Let him do things in his own time, but please, if he wants to do something incredibly stupid, for the love of God, please stop him. He's difficult and stupidly impulsive sometimes. Sorry getting off track- what I'm trying to say is; don't fuck him over, be careful with him and try to understand the way he acts and talks as best you can. I'm speaking from experience here, I'm his brother and I managed to fuck up so bad that I had to go through all of those steps to win back his trust. I'm one of the fucking reasons he's the way he is. Just- " he halted, and ran a hand through his hair again, "- just be careful with him. He likes you so fucking much, and I'm just happy he's happier and I really don't want that to fall apart. Because I don't know what that would do to him." 

Mark stared at him, his mouth slightly open and struggling to comprehend the amount of information he had just gotten. It hadn't even really been information, it just had been a lot of words to take in and Mark was struggling. 

Taeyong looked slightly sheepish and patted him on the shoulder, "That was a lot to take in, I'm sorry." 

Mark came back to reality and gave Taeyong a thumbs up, "It's fine, I mean it's understandable that you're worried. I promise I'll do my best."

Taeyong actually smiled and suddenly he seemed a lot less intimidating and Mark relaxed slightly. 

"That's good enough for me, you seem like a trustworthy kid." 

Mark grinned at his shoes, "Thanks." 

Taeyong laughed quietly and threw an arm around his shoulder, and started walking back in the direction of the store. The snow had softened into light snowy drizzle that sunk through their clothes and into their bones, leaving both of them shivering. Mark still had his rucksack from school and he was pretty sure it wasn't waterproof, meaning that his books might be ruined. 

When they stepped back into the shop, Yuta had sat himself down in Taeyong's vacated seat with a bag peach rings, Donghyuck was practically lying on the counter and Taeil had sat down on the floor with and edition of Seventeen magazine and cup of crappy coffee. 

Yuta was reading the various, very healthy sounding ingredients off the back of the peach rings packet, whilst Donghyuck tried to guess what they were and what nasty side effects they could have. No and then Taeil would interject with a comment about the sexism in his magazine or about the absurdity of the gruesome side effects Donghyuck was coming up with. 

"You're gonna have to pay for those." Taeyong pointed out as he marched behind the counter and the snatched the packet out of Yuta's hands. The latter pouted and reluctantly got up, accidentally stepping on Taeyong's foot as he did so. 

"But I work here too." He whined and Taeyong rolled his eyes, "You work here on Mondays and Wednesdays not on Fridays. Pay up."

"Fucker."

"Life's tough. Money, come on."

Still pouting Yuta pulled some coins out of his pocket and waved them in front of Taeyong's face, "Work for it." he taunted.

"Taeil." Taeyong said not taking his eyes of Yuta. Taeil, not looking up from his magazine reached for Yuta's leg and pulled so that he lost his balance and in his moment of weakness Taeyong could snatch the money.

"Traitor." Yuta grumbled and Taeil shrugged, the beginnings of a smile on his lips.

"Can you get off the counter, Donghyuck." Taeyong asked in an exasperated tone.

Donghyuck stretched and yawned, "Why?"

"Because I said so."

"Bullshit reason."

"Or because I'll make you if you don't." 

"Empty threats, empty threats." Donghyuck sing-songed, he caught Mark's eye and winked.

"Brat." Taeyong muttered before storming outside again.

Donghyuck sat up, "What's he doing?"

"Preparing your grave." Yuta smiled and Donghyuck tried to kick him.

Seconds later Taeyong was back, his hands full of snow and his eyes full of murder. "Get off there right now, or prepare to die. I'm not kidding, this is supposed to be a hygienic work place and you are not fucking hygienic, or at least your fucking shoes aren't."

"Bringing in snow isn't fucking hygienic either you hypocrite." Donghyuck retorted, stubbornly not moving from the counter. Both Taeil and Yuta were watching the scene unfold like spectators in a particularly amusing play. Mark was watching it with some confusion and amusement, but mostly confusion. 

"You have three seconds. One. Two...I'm warning you...three." Taeyong advanced, the snow was starting to melt and water was dripping down his wrists and onto the floor.

Donghyuck hopped off the counter, "Let's take this outside shall we?" he jeered and Taeyong bowed mockingly, "Gladly."  

"Oh this is gonna be fun." Yuta hooted happily, clapping his hands together and skipping after Donghyuck and Taeyong. Mark watched him pass in astonishment, Taeil got up and came to stand next to him, "I usually just kinda roll with it till they get to out of hand and then I take Tae away before he embarrasses himself." he said helpfully. "You'll take care of Donghyuck then? Because Yuta's not going to be very helpful." 

"Okay." Mark said, a little dumbfounded.

Taeil awkwardly clapped him on the back and they both joined the others on the street.

The original fight between Taeyong and Donghyuck had turned into a everyone-against-everyone fight between the brothers and Yuta, alliances being made and broken every few seconds. It didn't take long before Mark had joined the fight to help Donghyuck and Taeil had semi-reluctantly joined Taeyong's side.

The bright light from the convenience store and the softer glow from the other shops made the snow glitter and sparkle and even though Mark was literally freezing to death thanks to the snow and water that was already in his clothes, he still managed to have a good time. Especially when Donghyuck and him formed an alliance with Yuta and completely destroyed Taeyong's and Taeils defences.

Mark had no idea how long they were out there but they were broken out of the snowball fight by a voice coming from behind them. They all whirled around in surprise and Taeyong scrambled to his feet, his face either glowing from the cold or from embarrassment.

"Hi, Taeyong." The girl said, grinning at the chaotic scene in front of her.

Taeyong wiped some of the snow of his jeans and tried for a smile, "Hi, Joy. Your shift now, isn't it." 

"Yeah," The girl, Joy, replied and then waved at Taeil and Yuta, "Hi guys." 

Yuta threw some snow at her and Taeil did an awkward sort of bow. 

"You can go in, I'll just quickly grab my stuff and then it's all yours." Taeyong chattered, rushing to hold the door open for her before he followed her inside he turned to Taeil and asked, "Anything you want?" 

Taeil smiled and shook his head and Taeyong disappeared inside. 

Donghyuck turned to Mark, "You didn't leave anything inside did you?" 

"Nope." 

"Good, I'll walk you home. C'mon." With that, he got to his feet and pulled Mark with him. 

"See ya!" He called over his shoulder at Taeil and Yuta, "Tell Tae I'm walking Mark home." 

"Okay, see you later," Taeil answered and waved them off and then went back inside. 

"See ya, losers," Yuta yelled cheerfully and followed Taeil inside. 

Mark and Donghyuck walked in comfortable silence, their shoulders and hands brushing against each other occasionally.  

 

 

Chapter Text

"Move." 

Mark, still mostly asleep automatically rolled over so he was facing the wall and the mattress dipped slightly behind him as Donghyuck lay down next to him, tugging half of the blanket off Mark's prone form. Donghyuck had abandoned the plan of sleeping next to Mark's bed after the first time they actually shared it and Mark's mom had unknowingly moved his plan along by taking the blankets out of Mark's room and putting them back in the linen closet, where they were left to collect dust and mothballs. 

"Mark," Donghyuck whispered suddenly, tugging at the quilt.

Mark didn't react and Donghyuck let out a frustrated sigh and repeated, "Mark." 

When there still wasn't a reaction Donghyuck huffed and yanked most of the quilt off Mark and onto himself. That managed to wake him up. Rolling over, his eyes still closed, he flopped his hand around till he found the edge of the quilt and pulled it back over himself. Donghyuck hissed angrily as the cold air hit him again and he pulled the quilt back. 

"Dude," Mark mumbled into his pillow, eyes still closed and a disgruntled frown creasing his brow. 

"Stop hogging the quilt," Donghyuck snapped, and Mark opened one eye. "It's my fuckin' quilt," he pointed out and groaned as Donghyuck kicked him in the shin. 

"I'm cold." 

"Fuckin' great. Get some clothes and shut up."

"Fucker," Donghyuck mumbled and Mark only smiled sleepily into his pillow. Donghyuck came back completely decked out in Mark's clothes, his own piled up by Mark's wardrobe.  

He flopped back down next to Mark and gently tugged some of the quilt to his side, his fingers brushing Mark's exposed hand. 

"Your hands are fuckin' freezing, my God," Mark commented, his eyelids already drooping closed as his fingers blindly searched for Donghyuck's hand. 

Donghyuck made a small surprised noise in the back of his throat as Mark grabbed his hand, intertwining their fingers like it was nothing. "That might be 'cause it's snowing, idiot." 

"Shoulda put you're clothes on the thingy." Came the muffled response. 

"The thingy." He echoed, and Mark snorted gesturing with their clasped hands in the general direction of the window and the radiator, "The warm thingy."

"Ah yes, of course." Donghyuck muttered sarcastically and then moved their hands under the quilt because it was getting cold and his fingers were already numb enough. 

"Sleep tight." Mark said into the darkness. 

"Goodnight." Donghyuck replied and Mark swore he heard a smile in his voice.

 

/

 

"Mark sweetie?" 

It was Saturday, the morning after Donghyuck had made one of his by now quite common visits. Both boys were curled up in Mark's bed. Donghyuck's arms were slung around Mark's waist, his face nuzzled against his chest. Mark had, in turn, done the same, his chin resting resting on top of Donghyuck's unruly mop of hair. The sound of Mark's mothers voice startled them awake and Mark instinctively tightened his grip on Donghyuck's waist, whilst the other let out a muffled string of curses into the fabric of Mark's t-shirt. 

"Mark?" His mother called again. She was right outside his bedroom door, panic started to coil in the bottom of his stomach and he felt Donghyuck shift nervously.

"Yeah?" He managed to force out of his parched throat.

"Can I come in?"

"No!" Mark almost yelled, more panic in his voice than he had wanted to let on.

He could hear the knowing smile in his mother's voice as she replied, "Okay dear. Just so you know there are pancakes downstairs."

"Right, thanks." Mark croaked and waited with bated breath till he heard the telltale creak of the staircase.

"OhmyfuckingGod." Donghyuck breathed and Mark let out a strained laugh, "Yeah." 

"Imagine if she had come in when we were still asleep."

Mark closed his eyes, "I'd rather not."

There was a stretch of silence and then Donghyuck spoke up again, "Hey can I brush my teeth? It feels like I have fur in my mouth and it's really gross."

Mark made a face at the mental image, "Yeah sure, I have a spare toothbrush somewhere. We have to be quiet though, or my mom might hear."

Slowly Donghyuck started to entangle himself from Mark and sat up, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Mark watched him with the least love-struck expression he could manage. Golden half light was spilling through the cream coloured curtains. Donghyuck, to him, looked like a fluffy bedheaded angel, glowing softly in the morning light. His cheeks were tinted pink and there was a stray eyelash clinging to just below his right eye.

"You have a eyelash-" Mark said, pointing vaguely at Donghyuck's face. Donghyuck reached up and brushed it onto his hand, closing his eyes and blowing it into the air where it disappeared into nothingness. 

Mark's gaze landed on Donghyuck's right arm where the frayed edge of a bandage was peeking out from under his sleeve.

"How's your arm?" Mark asked and Donghyuck glanced down at his arm, "Oh. It's okay. Taeyong almost beheaded me when he found out."

"Oh, that's not...good?"

Donghyuck shrugged, "He's prone to freaking out."

"Well it did look pretty fucking bad." Mark pointed out.

"Yeah I guess. It was more the fact that I went to the apartment blocks that freaked him out. I haven't been going there a lot lately and the fact that our fight made me go back there kind of fucked with him a bit."

"Do you really fight that much?"

"In the past yeah, not so much now. But it's winter and things get difficult sometimes, it's fine though." 

"Right, I'm sorry." 

Donghyuck shrugged, "It's cool, anyways you have a working heating so that's basically why I like coming here." 

"Because of the fucking heating?" Mark asked, looking offended, "Not because of my company?" 

Donghyuck squinted at him, "Yeah?"

"Fuck you." 

Donghyuck waved him off, "Yeah no, see I like coming here because I can?? I don't know, I just- it's nice here, it's warm. Anyway, I live with my brother and his boyfriend, remember? And hey, I don't want to hang around when they're- y'know...-" He clasped his hands together and wriggled them suggestively and Mark's eyes widened in horror. 

"Exactly," Donghyuck continued, "I don't need that shit in my life."

"Understandable." Mark said, "Want to brush your teeth now?" 

"Yup." Donghyuck said, gracefully getting to his feet and stretching. 

 

Brushing their teeth turned out to be a lot more stressful than they had anticipated. Mark almost died twice from accidentally swallowing toothpaste and then trying to cough it up when it was already half way down his throat. It got so bad that his mom actually came into the bathroom to check if he was alright, thankfully not noticing Donghyuck who was hiding in the shower, silently shaking with laughter.

When that ordeal was over they returned to Mark's room to get changed, both of them bashfully averting their eyes whilst the other got changed.

"Hey Mark." Donghyuck said.

Mark turned to look at him, a pullover halfway over his head. Donghyuck was standing by his bookshelf, leafing through a copy of a crime novel Mark had never bothered to finish. 

"Yeah?" Came the slightly smothered reply as Mark pulled the pullover down. 

"Wanna go to my place?" The book was carefully put back in it's spot and Donghyuck finally turned to look at Mark, his cheeks holding a little more colour than was usual.

Mark blinked at him, surprise and a bubbly happy feeling were wreaking havoc in his brain, and talking seemed like a terribly difficult task right now. He hadn't expected a suggestion like this, not yet, not now. But here it was, Donghyuck asking him round to his house, trust, hope and embarrassment flickering in his eyes. Distantly he could hear another bit of the wall Donghyuck had built around himself crashing down to the ground.

By the time he found the mental capacity to answer Donghyuck was already backpedalling, looking uncharacteristically embarrassed and flustered. "Y'know what, never mind. You probably have homework or some shit- so do I actually, so uhm, never mind-"

"Hey, what? No, no!" Mark exclaimed, breaking off Donghyuck's babbling. "I'd love to go to your place." 

Donghyuck closed his mouth, the colour in his cheeks fading slightly, "Oh. Okay then. Cool, whatever." 

Mark smiled at the clipped response, "Do you want some pancakes?" 

Brightening considerably at the mention of food, Donghyuck nodded, "I'll just climb out the window then?" He asked.

"Yeah. Ring the doorbell and say that we arranged to hang out, okay? My mom might ask a few questions but otherwise she should be relatively tactful."

"I'll use the same shit as I did with Yuta and Taeil." Donghyuck said, already heading for the window.

"Yeah do that, try not to swear, she doesn't like it." 

Donghyuck gave him a thumbs up and climbed up onto the snow covered windowsill, with Mark nervously hovering behind him. 

"Don't do that you're making me nervous." Donghyuck muttered as he carefully shifted himself on the drain pipe. "Just go downstairs, I'll be with you in a second." 

Reluctantly Mark did as he was told and made his way downstairs after he had closed the window. His mother was pottering around in the kitchen and the smell of pancakes was wafting through the entire house, making Mark's stomach growl obnoxiously. The smell had also attracted Jisung who was hovering near the stove in Star Wars pajamas and a hunger induced pout. 

"And here you can see a Jisung in his natural habitat, waiting to steal food from more deserving earthdwellers. They are vicious and fiendish and should best be avoided when- " Mark's nature documentary was cut off as Jisung launched himself at him and tackled him to the floor. They rolled around for awhile till Mark managed to push him off and immediately reverted back into his David Attenborough role, sticking a imaginary camera right into Jisung's face. Jisung snarled and slapped his hand away, getting up and hitting him on the arm one more time for good measure. 

"Don't fight." Came their mother's rather mild comment and Jisung stuck his tongue out at Mark and stormed back upstairs. 

"Bring some pancakes up to him when they're done, alright?" She said, eyeing the staircase with mildly amused resignation in her eyes. Mark nodded and followed her into the kitchen, pulling plates and cutlery out of cabinets.

"Uhm mom," He started, watching her back nervously, "a friend of mine's coming over pretty soon. Can he also have some pancakes?"

She turned, "Of course sweetie! Who is it? Jeno? Jaemin?"

"Uh no, no. You haven't met him yet, he doesn't go to our school. He's really nice though. His name is Donghyuck." 

"Where does he go to school then? Is he older than you? Where does he live?" 

Mark sighed, "He's homeschooled, mom. And no, he's about a year younger than me, also he lives up north." 

His mother put another pancake on one of the plates and nodded sagely, "Okay, I just wanted to know." Catching the expression on her son's face she snorted and waved the spatula at his face, "Yah! Don't worry I won't ask any questions. He's always welcome here as long as you two are friends."

"Okay. I promise he's really nice."

"Yeah, yeah. Set the table before he turns up."

"Yes ma'am." Mark shouted, saluting and quickly darting out of reach of her spatula.  

He was just putting the plates on the table when the doorbell rang and his mother dashed past him to get the door first. 

Mark sidled up behind his mom as she opened the door. Donghyuck was standing on the porch, shivering with rosy cheeks and a slightly runny nose. 

He bowed slightly, "Hello, I'm Donghyuck a friend of Mark's." 

"Good morning dear! Come in, come in, don't want you freezing to death do we?" She beamed, ushering him through the door. "You can put your shoes there and- my God you're freezing! Do you want a hot water bottle? Mark, make your friend a hot water bottle." 

Mark gave Donghyuck an apologetic look before he hurried off into the kitchen to put the kettle on. By the time he came back Donghyuck was already getting started on his first pancake, with Mark's mother hovering near the table, looking more maternal than ever.

"Is it far from where you live to here?"

Donghyuck shook his head, "Not really, if I walk quickly it's about 20 minutes."

Mark and his mother made identical expressions of shock and Donghyuck swallowed a bite of his pancake a little nervously. "It's really not that far." He repeated.

Neither were convinced and Mark's mother disappeared back into the kitchen. Mark sat down opposite Donghyuck and they ate in relative silence for awhile, the only minor interruption occurring when Jisung turned up for pancakes, saw Donghyuck and slowly backed up the stairs again, a evil smile forming on his face.

"Well fuck." Mark muttered under his breath and Donghyuck choked on a pancake.

 

/

 

"Where are you two off to?" Mark's mother called from the living room.

Mark glanced at Donghyuck who made a 'I don't fucking know' gesture and then called back, "Just- y'know...around." 

"Around?" She repeated and Donghyuck silently elbowed him in the side.

"Yeah?" 

"Can you take Jisung with you? He hasn't been out all day." 

"Can't he go out by himself?" Mark whined.

"It's getting dark earlier now, I don't want him out by himself."

"It's 11 in the fu- in the morning." 

His mom's head popped around the doorway to the living room, a disgruntled frown on her face. "Just do as you're told. You can drop him of at Chenle's for all I care, just get him out of the house." 

"It's ten fucking minutes to Chenle's house." Mark said under his breath, stomping up the stairs and he was pretty sure he heard Donghyuck snort derisively.

It took awhile to wrangle Jisung out of his room and into sensible clothes and all of this only succeeded when Mark promised that Jisung could stay with Donghyuck and him. 

 

"So where are we going?" Jisung chirped as he hopped along in front of Donghyuck and Mark. 

Mark glanced at Donghyuck who calmly said, "We're going to my place." 

"Cool, where do you live?" 

"North district, Dahlia street." 

"Right." Jisung said, nodding like he knew what Donghyuck was talking about. 

The actually quite comfortable silence didn't last very long because suddenly, speeding around the corner on their immediate left came a herd of humans and they were heading right for them. Mark's first instinct was to dive into a hedge but he stopped short when he recognized the people. It was Johnny, Ten, Kun and Sicheng. Jisung whooped and started to run towards them, Donghyuck laughed and jogged after him whilst Mark trailed after them like a dejected snail. 

"What are you doing here?" He asked when they were all crowded together on the sidewalk. 

"Jisung invited us." Johnny said smugly and there were three confirmative nods. 

Mark rounded on Jisung who hid behind Kun, "What the fuck man?" 

"I didn't think you'd mind." 

Mark looked at Donghyuck, "Do you mind?"

Donghyuck grinned, "Nah. It's cool."

Mark relaxed slightly, "Okay good. Well," He looked at the others, "we're going to Donghyuck's. So buckle up because it's gonna be a bit of a trek." 

They started walking again, Mark and Donghyuck at the front and the rest trailing behind them. 

"Where do you live?" Sicheng asked, trotting up next to Donghyuck. 

"In the northern district. Dahlia street, apartment block 127." 

Sicheng's eyes widened slightly, "Northern district." he echoed a little dumbfounded. 

Donghyuck's eyes sparkled, "Yeah. Try not to look to rich." 

"Don't scare him, what the fuck." Mark muttered, nudging him in the ribs. Donghyuck only sniggered.

"Who said something about being rich?" Ten piped up from behind them and Donghyuck turned around to answer him, "I said that I live in the northern district and that y'all should try not to look so rich." 

"I fucking told you that's where we're going." Kun grumbled and Johnny pushed him off the sidewalk. 

"But it's cool, it's to early for bad people to be up." 

"Oh thank God." Sicheng breathed before sliding back behind them to stop Kun from pushing Johnny into oncoming traffic. 

"What are we gonna do there?" Jisung asked, tugging slightly at Donghyuck's sleeve. 

"Well, my brother always cooks on Saturdays so I guess we're gonna eat." 

"Oh my God seriously?" Both brothers chorused and Donghyuck snorted, "Yes seriously." 

"This is the best thing I've heard since they cancelled school on Monday." Jisung said happily and then darted behind them to tell the others about the food news.

"Is he gonna cope? I mean we're what- eight people counting you, him, me, Taeil and the meme crew."

"He'll be fine. The special thing about Saturdays is that we do, like, a joint food operation for all the people in our block we're close friends with. That's-" He started counting on his fingers, "Tae, Taeil, me, Doyoung, Jaehyun, Yuta and Hansol, so seven people. Another six won't make much of a difference. They always cook to much anyway." 

"Maybe warn him anyway, I don't want us to be trespassing." 

"How the fuck am I supposed to do that?" 

"Oh right. Hey Johnny!" Mark turned and started to walk backwards.

"Yeah?" 

"Don't you have that Jaehyun guy's number?" 

"Yeah?"

"Can you text him and say that six more people are coming for lunch and that they should be prepared."

"Okay, but what do you mean six more people, how many are there usually?

"You'll find out." Mark answered, turning back around and he heard Johnny mutter, "Fucking comforting." 

It took them longer than 20 minutes to get to Donghyuck's home. Mostly it was because it started snowing when they were going through one of the smaller parks on the edge of the central district and there was so much untouched snow. A.k.a they had a massive snowball fight. Sicheng turned out to be surprisingly deadly and traitorous, hitting Kun square in the face with a snowball the size of his head. Jisung and Ten formed a short lived but dangerous alliance. They specialised in tackling their enemies and then stuffing snow down the back and front of their clothes. Mark fell victim to this three times and had to be saved by a cackling Donghyuck. Johnny used his height to his advantage, so every time Ten got to dangerous he'd just pick him up and slam dunk him into a pile of snow. It was a nice trick, that backfired more than it actually worked since Ten normally just pulled Johnny down with him. Donghyuck mostly specialised in helping whoever seemed the best at the moment and got some good shots at Mark which he relished in. That is until Mark managed to get his revenge in rugby-tackling Donghyuck into a hedge or something similarly unpleasant. 

It went on for quite some time, until one of Kun's snowballs sailed past Jisung and right into the face of an elderly man who was taking a stroll on one of the cleared paths. Being the bright boys they were, instead of politely apologising they fucking legged it, screeching and laughing as they went. The distant curses of the man forgotten as soon as they turned the corner onto the next street. 

 

The north district, or at least the part they were in (it being pretty fucking large), didn't exactly look like all the whispered stories that were told. It wasn't fenced off, there wasn't an immediate or stark contrast to the central district and there weren't beggars and homeless people clogging the streets. Yeah okay, it did look a little more run down and dirty than the nice parts Mark and the others were from, but there were parts like this in the central district too. The convenience store where Taeyong worked was in a part like that. It wasn't the prettiest, but it wasn't the south, which is actually fenced off.

The city council wasn't good at dealing with the bad parts like the south district and they knew that fencing of them off wasn't the smartest idea. It would only re-enforce the prejudices already there. That didn't stop them though. Since they were fenced off the crime rate in the district skyrocketed, the police were less present but you still heard about cruel police violence. They had transformed what had only been a bad, but manageable district of the city into a ghetto. 

Mark was glad Donghyuck lived in the comparatively nice district, the district that wasn't cut off and isolated. If he did they might never have met.

Even though it didn't look as bad as they had all expected, they still walked a little closer together, Jisung naturally in the middle. They turned off what Donghyuck called the main street into a positive maze of smaller streets and alleys. There was graffiti almost everywhere, some of it insanely good the rest not so much. The apartment blocks and houses were all made out of concrete and generally didn't spread much of a jolly vibe, the graffiti helped with that. They came across three stray dogs, five cats and one old lady with a shopping trolley and a tattered yellow sunhat. She greeted Donghyuck by name, pinched Jisung's cheeks with an almost toothless smile and then tottered off muttering something about a guy called Jeremy. Her name, apparently, was Mrs. Holly. 

Dahlia street strongly resembled all the other streets they had walked down so far. The only exception was the second-hand bookshop/liquor store that sat across from apartment block 127. Donghyuck's home.

 

Chapter Text

The apartment Donghyuck shared with his brother and his boyfriend was on the 23rd floor. There was no elevator. They had to take a break on the 11th floor because everyone except Donghyuck had left their lungs on the 5th floor.

"The food better be fucking amazing," Johnny panted as he collapsed on the top step and put his head in his hands.

"It's great, trust me," Donghyuck said, looking annoyingly smug and not at all exhausted.

 

After a couple more stops and a lot more complaining they finally made it to the 22nd floor. They were immediately greeted by the sight of a tall, handsome guy with bleached hair swept into a fringe trying and failing to carry several pots and pans at once. The apartment door behind him was open and the smell of chocolate was wafting around the entire floor along with the sound of what Mark recognized as Yuta enthusiastically singing Micheal Jackson's Billie Jean.

The guy's gaze flickered over their disheveled group and finally settled on Donghyuck, a silent question appearing in his eyes.

"These are my friends. I invited them over for lunch," Donghyuck said and the guy nodded understandingly, still not saying a single word.

"This is Mark, I think I've told you about him haven't I?" Another nod and Donghyuck smiled. "And this is Jisung, Mark's little brother, that's Ten, Johnny, Kun, and Sicheng." They all waved a little awkwardly and the guy shifted some of the pans into his other arm and bowed.

"Hello, nice to meet you. I'm Hansol, one of Donghyuck's friends and I-" he faltered, "-live here?" He finished, making it sound more like a question than anything else.

The others nodded again and Hansol grimaced, gestured at the open apartment door and then fled.

"Is he always like that?" Ten asked as they went up the last flight of stairs. 

Donghyuck shrugged, "He doesn't talk much in general, but I think a whole gang of young people caught him a bit off guard. It's fine though, he'll be chill when there's food and other people who are better at making conversation than him." 

"I hope it doesn't get awkward," Mark muttered and Donghyuck snorted, "Anything with you involved is gonna get awkward."

"Fuck off." 

"He has a point," Jisung agreed and Mark smacked him on the arm. "No one wanted your opinion, rat."

"Anyway," Ten interrupted before the situation could escalate, "things won't get awkward. We're the life of the party."

"We're having lunch though," Sicheng pointed out.

Ten waved him off. "Same thing."

The 23rd floor was buzzing with activity, loud music was playing and a confusing mixture of smells was hanging in the air. Something between chicken korma, roasted potatoes with rosemary, beef stew and chocolate cake.

"Hey, Taeyong!" Donghyuck shouted over the music, poking his head around one of the open doors.

But instead of Taeyong showing up an unkempt and slightly stressed looking Taeil appeared, blinking at the group of people in the stairwell like they were a rare kind of vegetable.

"Taeyong almost got an aneurysm when he found out you just fucking left in the middle of the night," he hissed at Donghyuck who shrank back slightly.

"Couldn't sleep," he muttered at his shoes. The lines around Taeil's mouth softened into a sympathetic smile and he patted Donghyuck on the shoulder.

"Alright, just write a note next time. He worries enough as it is."

"Okay."

That finished, Taeil turned to the others who were still hovering near the stairwell. Johnny, sensing the impending awkwardness, sidled over with Ten in tow. "Hey, who don't you know yet?"

Taeil blinked in surprise and relief and pointed at Jisung who squirmed awkwardly.

"That's our little Jisung, he's Mark's little brother," Ten said, pulling a bristling Jisung into a sideways hug. 

Taeil smiled and waved at Jisung who waved back just as awkwardly and everyone could literally see the moment in which Taeil mentally adopted Jisung as one of his own. 

"Otherwise you know everyone right?" Johnny asked and Taeil nodded.

"Can we help in any way?" Mark added and Taeil lit up. "Yes! Oh my God, yes that would be great. Who here can cook?" 

Mark and Sicheng took several steps back, whilst Johnny, Ten and Kun shrugged nonchalantly. Jisung pretended not to be paying attention. 

"Okay well, Mark and Sicheng can you go and help Taeyong with stew? You can just start with the washing up and hand him stuff when he needs something, otherwise, he shouldn't ask for much. He's quite a good cook." 

Both Mark and Sicheng visibly relaxed. 

"Ten, Johnny you can go help Doyoung. He looks like he needs help." Taeil pointed at the open door behind them and they drifted off to help this Doyoung person. 

Kun and Jisung were ordered downstairs to help Hansol and Yuta who were struggling with their chocolate cake.

 

Helping Taeyong in the kitchen proved to be more difficult than expected. Taeyong was overjoyed when he found out they were helping him and immediately designated Mark to dishwashing duty whilst Sicheng was allowed to hover next to him and try the food he was cooking. At some point, Taeil dragged him away to help set up the tables in the admittedly not very large living room, with the added help of Jaehyun and Johnny. So Mark was left in the kitchen with Fifth Harmony and a very twirly Taeyong. When the stew was basically finished and only had to sit and simmer Taeyong excused himself and disappeared only to return a few minutes later with a petulant Donghyuck in tow. They were both banished to washing up duty. Mark took the easy job of drying up whilst Donghyuck had to stick his hands into the by now lukewarm and definitely disgusting dishwater. About 5 minutes into their chores, Donghyuck threw a soapy soup ladle at Mark who retaliated with a damp dishcloth and a full on war was declared between them, that ended with both of them soaked with soap in their hair, clothes and across the majority of the kitchen. Taeyong had walked past the kitchen several times and only stopped once to ask them not to get soap in the stew. 

After a truce was declared they abandoned their stations in the kitchen and dropped by Jaehyun's and Doyoung's flat, where Ten and Jaehyun were attempting to resurrect Doyoung's chicken korma. Doyoung had mysteriously disappeared. 

Yuta and Hansol were still struggling with their chocolate cake, well, Hansol was struggling, Yuta had moved to the living room and was showing off his extensive film collection to an amazed Jisung. Kun had fallen asleep on the couch. 

Back upstairs in Taeyong's apartment, Taeil, Taeyong, Johnny, and Sicheng had somehow managed to shove two tables together to form one longish dining table. Literall everything else had been pushed against the walls and Doyoung was arranging a vast variety of chairs around the makeshift table. As Donghyuck had said, they were usually only seven people and there wasn't actually space for another six, but somehow they managed to squeeze all 13 people around the table with enough elbow room to eat comfortably.

Taeyong sat at the head of the table with Taeil, Jisung, Johnny, Ten, Mark, and Donghyuck to his right and the other six to his left. 

 

"Can someone hand me the salt?" Doyoung asked the table in general. 

"It's literally right in front of you," Taeyong pointed out, quietly swallowing a spoonful of his stew.

"Shut up," Doyoung snapped at Taeyong before smiling at Jisung who was nervously holding out the salt for him. "Thank you Jisung." 

"The food's really good though. Thank you for having us," Ten said, and there were chorused agreements from the others. 

"It's no problem, man. We wouldn't have been able to finish all of this anyway," Yuta smiled.

"Chocolate cake looks kinda dead though," Hansol muttered and Kun, Jisung, and Yuta who had helped make the cake choked on their food. 

"I didn't want to say anything..." Jisung mumbled, biting down a smile.

Yuta swallowed a forkful of chicken. "Listen, I knew we were doomed the moment you-" he pointed his fork at Taeyong, "gave us that stupid cake recipe. Who the hell even is Mary Berry and why can't she do straightforward recipes?" 

"It was the only sensible chocolate cake recipe I had," Taeyong defended himself.

"Sensible?" Hansol echoed incredulously. "Dude, the most sensible thing about that drivel was the fucking title."

"Not that this is any of my business," Kun, also a veteran from the cake expedition, broke in, "but she really did go on for like three pages about why she loves chocolate cake." 

"And she used loads of weird words," Jisung added. 

"Weren't you asleep for most of the operation?" Doyoung asked slyly. 

Kun looked at him. "True. But didn't you mysteriously disappear when you messed up your korma?" 

Johnny, Ten and Sicheng oooohh'd and Mark heard Yuta whisper, "One point for Kun." 

"Still tastes like crap by the way," Donghyuck piped up and Mark choked on a piece of potato. 

"Donghyuk!" Taeyong exclaimed, but there was no real anger behind his words. In fact, he looked like he wanted to agree, but Doyoung had found the bread knife and was waving it around threateningly.

"What? C'mon, don't tell me you're actually gonna eat this." 

"Don't say- shut up."

"We did try and save it, y'know," Jaehyun said, staring sadly at the korma. Ten nodded, and apologetically pushed his bowl away. 

Jaehyun then quickly grabbed Doyoung's hand which was resting on the table and pressed a chaste kiss against his knuckles. "But you tried and that's all that counts." 

"I hate you," Doyoung pouted, but didn't let go of his hand and Jaehyun leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. 

Taeil and Jisung who had first row seats to their lovey-dovey behavior looked away with twin looks of embarrassment and disgust on their faces. Donghyuck muttered something along the lines of 'here they go againand Taeyong looked ready to fling himself off the nearest cliff. 

"Please don't fu- frick on the table," Yuta deadpanned and Doyoung and Jaehyun jumped apart, Jaehyun's cheeks glowing and Doyoung looking more than a little-pissed off. 

"We weren't going to-" he started indignantly but Yuta cut him off, "Sure looked like you were going to though." 

Doyoung started to get up and Yuta raised an eyebrow in a silent challenge. Hansol rolled his eyes, but otherwise did nothing to stop his boyfriend from getting up. Taeyong was watching the situation unfold in silent disapproval whilst Taeil and Donghyuk looked more amused than anything else. 

"Does this happen a lot?" Jisung whispered to Taeil who shrugged.

"More often than not, but it's all just talk for the most part." 

"For the most part," the others repeated a little dumbfounded. 

"Don't you squabble amongst each other?" Taeil asked and all heads turned towards Kun and Johnny who shrugged, "Not really."

"Biggest lie you've ever told," Ten muttered and Johnny looked offended. 

"We don't though?" Kun said, turning to Sicheng who was wisely keeping his mouth shut. 

Just then Yuta and Doyoung reappeared, both red in the face and fuming. 

"What were you doing in the kitchen?" Taeyong asked suspiciously.

"Hate sex," Hansol and Donghyuck muttered in unison, only to receive three disapproving looks and in Hansol's case, a light slap on the back of the head from Yuta.

"No seriously, what were you doing?" Taeyong repeated.

"Settling our differences," Doyoung replied cooly and sat down on Jaehyun's lap.

Taeyong looked at him and then at his empty chair and then back at him. "There's a chair right there."

"Well I'm sitting here now, not against the law is it?"

"Oh my fucking God..." Taeil groaned into his hands as Taeyong bristled indignantly.

"There's a perfectly good chair literally right there."

"I know," Doyoung answered, obviously edging for a fight. Jaehyun didn't look like he was going to do anything about it and neither did Taeil, who looked like he wanted to become one with the table.

Kun, Ten and Johnny looked like they were having a good time and so did Hansol and Yuta. Jisung and Sicheng looked vaguely uncomfortable and confused, but there were the beginnings of mischievous smiles forming on the corners of their mouths.

"Sorry about this." Came a quiet voice right next to Mark's ear, making him squeak and jump. Thankfully everyone else was to busy watching Taeyong and Doyoung bicker to notice. 

Mark turned to look at him and Donghyuck scooted back slightly, his gaze dropping for a second before coming back to Mark's eyes. Mark wondered briefly if he could just set himself on fire and avoid all of this feelings bullshit, but the rational part of his brain told him to shut the fuck up. 

"Sorry?" He asked hoarsely. Even though Donghyuck had moved back a bit he was still a bit closer than would be normal and Mark couldn't help noticing weird little things about him. The small birthmark up on his left cheekbone and the other one under his left eye, his ridiculously long eyelashes and the exact color of his eyes. 

"I said, I'm sorry about the bickering," Donghyuck said and Mark reluctantly focused back on their conversation. 

"It's cool, you know what my friends are like so I'm used to it." 

Donghyuck shrugged. "Still embarrassing." 

Mark snorted, "I think it's funny."

"Fuck off," Donghyuck muttered, kicking him in the shin. 

"I swear to God, I will force feed you this fucking trainwreck of a korma, you-" 

Both Donghyuck and Mark turned in surprise, just in time to see Taeyong advancing on Doyoung, a soup ladle full of salty korma in his hand and a menacing scowl on his face. Doyoung was eyeing the ladle nervously and backing away slowly. Then, in a sudden instinctive burst of confidence, Doyoung lurched forward knocking the soup ladle out of Taeyong's hand and ducking away into the safety of Jaehyun's lap. The soup ladle clattered to the floor and the whole room gasped as a big splattered mess of chicken korma decorated itself across the wooden floor. 

"That's what you get," Doyoung muttered under his breath after a full minute of silence and Taeyong rounded on him, "I will make you lick this off the fucking fl-"

Taeil thankfully interrupted their little disagreement by getting up and putting Taeyong back in his chair, then going into the kitchen and returning with some soap and a wet dishcloth dumping all of this in a stunned Doyoung's lap. 

"What the- ?" He started and Taeil shrugged, "I'm not cleaning it up either." 

"Idiots," Doyoung sniffed as he wiped the by now cold korma off the floor. 

Taeil turned to the rest of the table, shooting an apologetic glance at Mark and the squad. "Sorry about this." he said. 

"It's fine." Johnny assured and Ten added, "It's the same when we hang out." 

"Yeah...uh, still." Taeil mumbled, still looking embarrassed. 

"It won't happen again." Taeyong said and Donghyuck snorted. 

"Okay, how about a subject change?" Yuta asked, when everyone was seated again and Taeyong and Doyoung stopped giving each other dirty looks. 

"No offence, but I'm not eating the cake." Hansol announced and all eyes landed on the sad excuse of a chocolate cake sitting at the end of the table. 

"You made it." Yuta said.

"We made it." Kun corrected sheepishly and the whole table snorted. 

"No one willing to eat it?" Taeyong asked the table at large and everyone shrunk back in their seats. 

"We could give it to that old guy downstairs?" Yuta offered. 

Jaehyun blinked, "What old guy?" 

"21st floor. Einstein hair and eighties glasses. Probably over a thousand years old." Doyoung said. 

"Isn't he, like, half blind or something?" Taeil asked and Yuta clapped his hands together, "Even better! Then he won't be able to tell how shitty this rock of a cake actually looks."

"Old people don't have tastebuds anyway." Hansol added, sounding like he was trying to reassure himself not the others. 

"Yeah, you can ask Taeil." Donghyuck whispered loudly and Taeil rolled his eyes, "I'm not even that old, but okay."

"So we're giving the cake to the old guy?" Taeyong asked.

Hansol nodded and patted the cake sadly.

"And what about the korma?" Ten queried. 

"Throw it in the nearest volcano." Doyoung muttered and Jaehyun aww'd sympathetically.

"You could give it to the old guy?" Johnny said. 

"We don't want to kill him!" Jaehyun protested and Doyoung slapped him on the shoulder.

"Dude, it's not even clear if he'll survive the cake." Yuta, Kun and Hansol chorused.

"Let's just put the chicken thing in a plastic bag and then in the trash." Taeyong said.

And that was that. The chicken korma was packed into some strangers bin on the street and Jisung, Sicheng and Jaehyun went to the old man's apartment and offered him the cake, which he gladly took. They came back with lollipops that went out of date 5 years ago and the distinct smell of cabbage and burnt plastic hanging around them. 

 

/

 

As the day wore on the awkwardness that had hung around them like an annoyingly persistent cloud melted away into easy companionship. Jisung attached himself to Doyung and Jaehuyn and Taeil came out of his shell a bit and started cracking jokes that honestly no one wanted to hear. After they finished the washing up and cleared up the living room, Yuta, Hansol, Kun and Sicheng took possession of the couch, where Yuta, Hansol and Sicheng bonded over their love for anime. Kun just sat there vaguely paying attention and then at some point fell asleep in Sicheng's lap. The rest all ended up on the carpeted floor in front of the small Tv. Mark and Donghyuck had Taeil's laptop and were scrolling through YouTube whilst the others were making an attempt at Christmas decorations.  

"Can you look up tutorials for Christmas decorations?" Taeyong asked and Donghyuck rolled his eyes but did as he was told.

Mark peeked over his shoulder, "These all look really complicated though." he pointed out.

"Show." Taeyong said not sounding convinced. He got up and Donghyuck moved back slightly to give him a better view of the screen, his back bumping into Mark's chest where he then stayed, leaning comfortably against Mark who was frozen in shock. Turning his face to avoid eating Donghyuck's hair he caught Jisung's eye who wiggled his eyebrows suggestively and nudged Jaehyun who in turn nudged Doyoung and all three of them grinned at him knowingly. Mark's cheeks flared with colour and he looked away. 

"It's not that hard." Taeyong finally concluded and went to sit back down next to Taeil. 

Donghyuck moved away again and Mark was finally able to breathe normally again. 

And so their Christmas decoration venture began. They started with the easy stuff like tree decorations made out of coloured paper and hanging tinsel around the apartment. At some point the couch potatoes joined in on the fun and soon they were all crammed around the coffee table happily making paper angels, stars and little Christmas trees. Jisung was cutting out stars and sticking yellow transparent paper over the gaps. It looked really pretty and Taeyong proceeded to stick them to the windows. Yuta of course didn't miss the opportunity of pointing out that they were on the 23rd floor of a very tall apartment block, and that no one was actually going to see the stars. Taeyong kindly told him to mind his own fucking business and Jisung happily continued making pretty things with transparent paper. Then things got a little more intense when Jaehyun, Yuta and Ten found a tutorial on how to make Christmas wreaths and got overly excited.

"Oh my God, this would look so pretty!" Jaehyun exclaimed and Doyoung crawled up behind him to have a look. "What the fuck, we can't make that. You need, like, pine branches and shit," he scoffed and Jaehyun pouted.

"No no, look. There's one made out of paper." Ten pointed at one of the pictures. "We could make one like that."

"Holy shit." Yuta muttered and clicked on it. A tutorial popped up and all three of them clapped their hands in joy. Doyoung retreated back to the extravagant gold star he was making with Johnny and Hansol.

As Taeyong walked past them to hang up more of Jisung's delicately crafted stars, he peeked at the laptop, "Oh! You're on Good Housekeeping," he said in a surprised tone. 

Yuta looked at him, "Go there often do you?" he asked with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle. "Is it your equivalent to p-" 

"There is a child in the room." Hansol cut in, not even bothering to look up from his bit of the star. Yuta made a face and then winked at Jisung who blinked at him in a confused sort of way. 

"We could do the Wispy & Whimsical Wreath?" Yuta suggested.

"We don't have-" Ten squinted at the screen, "cedar branches though."

"What the fuck even are cedar branches?" Donghyuck asked.

Mark, him, Kun and Sicheng had embarked on the mission to make paperchains. To their and everyone else's surprise they hadn't fucked up yet and they were actually looking quite cute. Taeyong was planning on hanging them over the windows and doorframes.  

"It's, like, a tree? Hold on let me google." Yuta pulled up a picture of a cedar tree and everyone squinted at the screen.

"So it's a pine tree?" Donghyuck said.

"Yeah, but more special." Yuta concluded and closed the tab.

"Well we don't have cedar branches so we'll have to do something else." Jaehyun said, leaning over Yuta's shoulder and clicking on the next picture.

They ended up going for the Christmas Ribbon Wreath because it was the easiest and they had most of the materials at hand, Jaehyun only had to quickly pop down to a DIY shop to fetch a packet of ribbons. 

 

When it was getting on for 4 o'clock in the afternoon they decided to finish up. Most of the decorations were in Taeyong's apartment, but the rest (and there was a lot) was spread between the other two apartments. Jisung kept a few of his stars and gave everyone else one each, except Mark because 'we live in the same house moron' was an adequate reason. They then settled down in Hansol's and Yuta's apartment because they had the biggest TV and got comfortable for a bad, preferably cringey horror movie. By the time that was over it was already pitch black outside and another snow storm was making itself known. Goodbyes then took another 20 minutes, because everyone had to find their coats, hats etc and the apartment squad seemed rather unwilling to let them out into the cold. Taeyong invited all of them (also the other little ones) over again so that they could go out into the woods together and get a Christmas tree, which might not be the most legal thing to do but it was a cute tradition. 

During their goodbyes, Donghyuck pulled Mark aside, a serious look in his eyes. Mark tried not to feel nervous.

"When do your Christmas holidays start?" He asked.

"Uhm, the week before Christmas. Why?"

Donghyuck hummed thoughtfully before saying, "Can we hang out then?"

Mark stared at him. It was very unlike Donghyuck to ask if they could hang out, he normally just showed up (preferably in the middle of the night) and they would end up hanging out for the rest of the day, even if Mark had school. 

"Yeah sure, I mean we're going Christmas tree hunting with the oth-"

"No-" Donghyuck interrupted him, "no I meant, like, just us."

It took Mark a few seconds to comprehend the words Donghyuck had just uttered and when he had, his brain went absolutely haywire. Donghyuck suddenly seemed way too close and Mark could hear his heart beating in his ears. 

"Sure." He managed to rasp out of his suddenly dry throat. 

Donghyuck's shoulders relaxed and a smile tugged at his lips, Mark averted his eyes. 

"Great," he said as if he hadn't just given Mark a heart attack and then went off to say goodbye to the others. 

"Great," Mark echoed dumbly, his heart still going a million miles an hour.

 

 

Chapter Text

For the next two to three weeks leading up to the winter holidays, Mark stubbornly avoided any thought vaguely associated with Donghyuck and the potential date-thingy. He didn't do it because he didn't like thinking about Donghyuck, in fact probably 80% of Mark's thoughts in some way managed to incorporate Donghyuck, much to the pain of literally everyone else in Mark's life. This don't-think-about-Donghyuck thing he was doing was literally just a safety precaution to stop himself from getting his hopes up. It didn't work very well though, because like I assume everyone knows, the harder you try not thinking about something the more you end up thinking about it.  

When the holidays finally rolled around and the date for the Christmas tree stealing was set Mark was seriously suffering. The whole 'trying not to think about Donghyuck' thing was made even harder by the other boy's determination to not leave Mark alone. He showed up after school, in the middle of the night and at random times during the afternoon. By the time the holidays started Mark's mother was quite used to Donghyuck's surprise visits and always made sure to cook a little more just in case. 

The last few times Donghyuck turned up in the night, worried Mark quite a bit. He had always woken up to a dirty, dusty and ragged looking Donghyuck creeping around his room quietly searching for clothes to change into. When he woke up the second time Donghyuck would be curled up next to him, dirt on his face, hands and in his hair and cuts and smallish bruises littering his arms and chest. Every time Mark managed to pick up the courage to ask what had happened he always got the same answer; 'I'll tell you later.'

Donghyuck's definition of later confused Mark a little bit, but he didn't question it mainly because he had enough shit to worry about (school and Donghyuck's mysterious injuries). 

So the mornings after Donghyuck showed up looking rather worse for wear were spent with Donghyuck sitting crosslegged on Mark's bed whilst Mark patched him up. The conversation during this part always stayed well away from the bruises and cuts at hand. Afterward Donghyuck normally disappeared for a quick shower and Mark would sneakily dump some of Donghyuck's clothes in the washing basket and hope his mother wouldn't ask questions.

All of this only happened at weekends or in the holidays. During school time Donghyuck would occasionally show up in the middle of the night, curl up in Mark's bed (still in his street clothes) and then leave just before Mark had to get up. Mark only knew about this because he'd wake up with dirt in his bed and he'd be squished against the wall. He'd also asked Donghyuck about this and the only answer he had gotten was a snicker and a 'You drool in your sleep' which honestly wasn't very enlightening. 

 

The tree stealing event came around in the first week of the holidays on a Tuesday. They all met up outside the apartment block, fully decked out in the warmest clothes they had. Jisung had been forced into an ensemble that looked like it had escaped the worst part of the 80s. Ten, who hated the cold with a burning passion, was wearing so many layers he just ended up looking a small pissed off toddler. 

The snow in the town lay about a foot or two off the ground and before the holidays had started they had gotten several snow days. Jisung and Co. had gone absolutely apeshit in the backyard and there was now a whole brigade of vaguely threatening snowmen with sharp coal teeth and weapons made out of sticks guarding their shed. 

Anyway they all met up at the apartment block, ready for some illegal tree acquisition. Getting out of the city and into the suburbs would take about half an hour, getting out of the suburbs and into the actual forest-y bit would take about a quarter of an hour and that wasn't counting the fact that the snow was going to slow them down. That's why they met up at 7.30 in the morning and had rucksacks stuffed with food and water. 

And so they set off, with the grim reminder in the back of their heads that they would have to drag a tree back home. Jaehyun had brought a tree-sized net, thin rope, and optimism whilst the others brought moral support and in Taeyong's and Hansol's case two axes between them.

Halfway through the suburbs, they took a Johnny Shortcut which led them to some rich person's backyard. They only realized that it was, in fact, a backyard not a deceivingly small park when two dogs started chasing them (Chenle's hat was sacrificed for the cause, but it was fine because Renjun had a spare). They made it out though and the adrenaline gave them the extra push to reach their destination quicker than anticipated. 

The forest that bordered on the northern district was huge, like, you could die there and it would probably take several years to find your body, if at all.

 

/

 

They stopped in a semi-large clearing. The glittering snow lay, except for a few bird-sized footprints, untouched in front of them, and clear, bright morning sunlight was dripping through the trees, some bare and others heavy with pine needles and snow. It was idyllic in a cold, harshly beautiful kind of way and if they hadn't been absolutely freezing and hungry they might have paused longer to admire the glittering landscape in front of them. But they were so they trudged on, their footsteps marring the thick layers of snow.

Half an hour later and they were still walking. 

"Whenever you can make your mind up," Donghyuck chided from the back of their little expedition. 

Taeyong, who was still searching for the perfect tree ignored him, in his place Doyoung turned around, his cheeks and nose the same color as Taeil's lurid red scarf. 

"Whining won't speed this up." 

Donghyuck blew a raspberry but otherwise kept quiet, Doyoung did have a point after all. 

They kept on walking, the conversations that had been going on since they had started walking, dying out slowly as everyone chose to focus more on not falling flat on their face. About 20 minutes later Taeyong announced a food and water break and everyone gladly sagged into the snow. Flasks full of hot tea and cocoa were pulled out and handed around and Jaemin presented his self-made sandwiches, that were actually really good. There were brownies, cake, chicken drumsticks and little Tupperware containers full of chili-con-carne and rice (courtesy of the combined forces of Yuta and Hansol). All of it was insanely good and the mood automatically lightened.

When Jaemin, Jeno, and Mark had finished eating they hopped off to a relatively flat area between the numerous trees and started building a snowman. Donghyuck, Chenle, and Renjun soon joined them and when the adults who were still eating, jokingly broke into a rendition of 'that fucking annoying snowman song' they were immediately pelted with a bunch of (incredibly well-aimed) snowballs.

"IT'S JUST A FUCKING SONG!" Kun screeched as he dived behind a tree to save himself and his sandwich.

"NOT WHEN YOU'VE HEARD IT OVER A THOUSAND TIMES!" Jeno yelled back and then randomly turned on Jaemin, who went down with a pathetic scream as Jeno's snowball hit him squarely in the ear.

"That's for the one thousand times you made me endure that fucking song!" He snarled at Jaemin who giggled and threw a pile of snow in his face. 

Kun had reappeared from behind his tree, his sandwich securely clamped between his teeth and two perfectly crafted snowballs in his hands. He zoned in on Doyoung who noticed too late and was hit in the back of the neck, from then onwards a full on snow war was declared between them and there were many casualties. One of the most tragic being Taeil, who was cornered by Chenle, Renjun, Taeyong, and Jisung and then practically buried in snow. And just to make sure revenge would be impossible they sat down on top of him. Jaemin and Jeno were still battling viciously and Doyoung had climbed a tree to escape Kun's, and by now also Sicheng's, deadly attacks. Jaehyun was still happily sitting by the food, watching the chaos unfold with the look of an evil all-knowing Christmas elf. Not even Doyoung's screams could deter him.

Mark, Donghyuck, Hansol, Yuta, Johnny, and Ten were battling as well. They'd split up into two teams, Hansol, Johnny and Ten on one and Mark, Donghyuck and Yuta on the other. The teams weren't even announced, they just happened to end up like that.

It all started when Donghyuck and Mark crept up on Johnny and made him face plant into a pile of snow and leaves. Hansol and Ten rushed to his aid whilst Yuta cackled in the background and covered their retreat.

"I'm-" Johnny lunged at Mark who ducked out of the way and Johnny stumbled, whirling around just in time to see a well-aimed snowball coming for his face, "-going to tell your mom what kind of a fucking sadist her son is," he finished, spluttering and shaking snow out of his fringe. 

"As if," Mark laughed and twirled behind a tree as Ten appeared behind Johnny and took aim. 

Predictably the snowball curved in the air and smacked Johnny in the back of the head where it dripped down the back of his neck and into his jacket. Johnny whirled around, curses flying from his lips like machine gun fire and Ten let out a mortified shriek and covered his ears with his hands. 

"You motherfucker," Johnny growled, almost playfully (Mark was pretty sure he heard Donghyuck fake gag behind a nearby tree) and launched himself at the now giggling Ten. 

Hansol watched the enemies to lovers roll around in the snow with a look akin to disgust on his face. It didn't last for very long though because a wild-eyed Yuta materialized behind him and dumped a pile of snow, the size of a basketball, on top of his unprotected head. Hansol yelped and bolted, a manically laughing Yuta hot on his heels. 

By the time that had happened, Johnny and Ten had untangled themselves and were edging closer to Donghyuck and Mark, who were defending themselves bravely.

"I'm gonna make you eat all of the snow in this goddamn forest!" Johnny threatened as he dodged one of Mark's snowballs. 

"I'd like to see you try," Mark retorted.

Then Ten made a surprisingly quick move and managed to make Donghyuck trip in his haste to dodge the oncoming pile of snow. He hit the ground with a surprised grunt and Ten whooped, immediately bombarding him with a ton of hastily made snowballs. Mark who was torn between saving Donghyuck and saving his own ass, hesitated for a second too long and Johnny barreled into him, knocking him to the ground. Mark let out a muffled string of curses.

"Oh wow, someone has a potty mouth," Johnny crowed, stuffing snow down the front of Mark's jacket. Mark managed to free one of his arms and pushed a pile of snow in Johnny's right ear. Johnny, completely unfazed, carried on with snow torture and Mark resorted to his last plan. Squirming his legs free a bit, he dislodged Johnny and kneed him in the groin area. Not hard enough to completely dismantle his ability to create humans but hard enough to have him rolling off Mark, howling in pain and anguish. Mark struggled back to his feet and Johnny tried to trip him up by grabbing his ankles.

"I will kick you in the face," Mark warned, only half-jokingly.

"Not your face Johnny!" Ten hollered from behind them, where he was struggling to keep a very determined Donghyuck on the ground.

"Yeah! It's the only reason he likes you," Yuta laughed as he appeared behind the Donghyuck-slash-Ten-pile and yanked Ten away by his ankles. Ten screamed and Johnny let go of Mark's ankle in favor of trying to get to his feet. 

"You don't really just like because of my face?" He shouted as he made his way to where Ten was trying to get Yuta off him. 

"No!" Came the hasty response.

Johnny paused. "Promise?" 

Yuta actually stopped what he was doing and watched them in a sort of gleeful evil glow. Ten wiped some of the snow out of his eyes and craned his neck to look at Johnny. "Of course I like you for more than your looks. You're my favorite all-around person ever." 

Johnny was just about to answer when Yuta cut in. "Adorable," he snarked and Johnny jumped at him, toppling him into the snow before quickly getting off him and helping Ten to his feet. 

Ten immediately wrapped his arms around his neck and got on his tiptoes and kissed him, a smile pulling at his lips. Johnny pulled him closer, a blissfully happy bubble around them that not even Yuta or Donghyuck had the heart to destroy. Mark, however, had seen this kind of behavior more than enough and pretended to throw up, which got a middle finger from Ten. 

"Uhm, guys?" They turned, Johnny and Ten even breaking their kiss to look. A very damp and flushed Taeyong was walking towards them, an equally damp and exhausted gaggle of people trailing behind him. Jaehyun had taken Jisung on his back and Chenle was on Kun's, where they happily clung like two very cute koalas. 

"You guys done?" Doyoung quipped sarcastically and all five of them stuck out their tongues at him.

"Where's Hansol?" Sicheng asked, squinting at their bedraggled little group. 

Yuta's eyes widened and he turned on the spot, "Uhm-" he started but before he could really start to panic, Hansol appeared to their left looking sheepish. 

"Sorry, uh- nature called," he said and stumbled back a little bit, a surprised look on his face as Yuta flung himself at him.

The others only made sounds of disgust and Yuta defended him. "What? It's natural!" He said and everyone quieted down pretty quickly. 

"Anyway," Taeyong cleared his throat and everyone turned their attention to him, "there's a section of the forest maybe 15 minutes away, where there are smaller trees that we can, like, actually get back home. So that's where we're heading now. If anyone needs to heed the call of nature, do it now." 

No one did, so they set off again. Donghyuck and Mark trailing behind a little bit. 

"He's like a damn school teacher sometimes," Donghyuck muttered and Mark laughed. 

"Yeah, but everyone listens to him, we'd be lost in this forest without him." 

"True." 

"Anyway you don't even know what teachers are like, you don't go to school," Mark added. 

"I went to primary school, idiot. Also, Taeil's my teacher."

"Yeah but, he's not a real teacher, he's not trained or anything." 

"He goes to university, that basically makes him a real teacher." 

"Is he training to become a teacher there?" 

Donghyuck shrugged. "I don't know. HEY TAEIL!" He suddenly shouted and Mark swore, putting a hand over his ear.  

"What?" Came the exasperated reply.

"Are you studying to become a teacher?" 

"No?"

"Oh. You sure?" Donghyuck asked, not sounding convinced. 

"We live in the same apartment and you don't know what I study?" Taeil called back, sounding offended.

"Should I know?" 

Taeil sighed loudly, "It doesn't matter." 

"So what do you study?" Renjun piped up. He was a few steps ahead of Mark and Donghyuck. 

"Music and Sound Engineering," Taeil answered a little less exasperatedly. 

Donghyuck nudged Mark, "See, basically a teacher." 

Mark snorted and gave up, there was no point in arguing his point. 

"As long as he's actually good at teaching you stuff, I guess he's a teacher."

"He is good! I mean look at me, I'm amazing." 

Mark squinted at him and Donghyuck pouted. "I have better grades than you," he stated. 

"No, you don't." 

"Yes I do, I saw your maths test on your desk last week."

"That was bad luck!" Mark whined and Donghyuck snickered. "Or just stupidity," he muttered.

Mark pushed him into a pine tree. "That was one time, I'm normally good at maths. Anyway, I bet Taeil lets you cheat." 

"I have to do state-issued exams, dude. They're much harder because I have to prove that the homeschooling works." 

Mark fell silent for a while. "Okay I didn't know that," he admitted. Then seeing the smug expression on Donghyuck's face, he whacked him on the arm. "Okay, okay at least I can admit when I'm wrong! And stop making that face, you look dumb." 

Donghyuck hit him on the arm, "Shut up." 

"Everyone stop!" Taeyong suddenly shouted from the front and everyone immediately jolted to a halt. Some minor collisions happened but no one got hurt.

They'd reached the edge of the forest, snow-covered fields were spread out in front of them and in the distance, you could faintly see the outlines of a small village. The snow was almost blinding in the direct sunlight and Jaemin actually pulled a pair of sunglasses; "Always be prepared."

They spent another 5 minutes trailing after Taeyong and Jaehyun as they picked out the perfect tree. 

 

The rest of the procedure was pretty straightforward. Hansol and Jaehyun wielded their axes and chopped off the little tree by its trunk. Then the rest managed to wrap it up in the tree net-y thing they had with them and tied some of the more rebellious branches down with rope. The designated tree-draggers were Taeyong, Jaehyun, Hansol, Johnny, Yuta, and Sicheng. Ten and Taeil managed to worm their way out of that responsibility by saying that they were ' too short' to help drag a tree. The boyfriends bought it, the rest not so much. 

Walking home proved to be more difficult than expected, especially because had to go the long way round (not Johnny's shortcut) and that took them another 20 minutes. When they got back into the city they had to heave the tree on their shoulders, because the rough asphalt and slushy, dirt riddled snow would fuck the tree up even more. 

"Won't it, like, mess up your floor?" Jeno asked, trotting up next to Taeyong. "I mean because it's dripping water and snow everywhere."

"We have an extra mat for the tree and its pot, the snow drips on the mat and then-" Taeyong gestured vaguely to prove his point, he was panting just like the rest of the tree-draggers and couldn't wait to finally get home. 

 

"Ah fuck," Yuta groaned. 

They were standing in the lobby of apartment block 127, an apartment block, which in case you'd forgotten, didn't have a working fucking elevator. 

"This happens every year," Taeil muttered, his forehead pressed against the cool cement wall. 

"And every year I say we should get a plastic tree-" Donghyuck added, in the same monotone voice as Taeil. 

"-but every time, someone," Doyoung continued, glaring at the back of Taeyong's head, "insists that a real tree gives off a more Christmas-y vibe." 

Taeyong ignored them. "Okay, guys! Let's quickly dump our things and change and then we'll bring this tree upstairs, alright?"

There was a weak chorus of agreements and slowly everyone set off up the stairs.

Doyoung stomped past Taeyong. "I hope that stupid tree falls on top of you and kills you," he hissed in passing and Taeyong rolled his eyes.

"You say that every year," he said, following Doyoung up the stairs.

"Doesn't make it any less true," Doyoung bit back.

"You're so predictable," Taeyong drawled and laughed as Doyoung tried to kick him in the face.

 

/

 

"Hey. Hey. Mark, wake up." 

It was a clear and freezing Friday night, two days before Christmas and Donghyuck was hovering next to Mark's bed, trying and failing to wake him up. 

"Mark," he whisper-yelled and Mark grunted, slapping Donghyuck's hand away from his face. Donghyuck huffed and grabbed him by the shoulders and rattled him awake. Predictably Mark's eyes snapped open, focused on the dark figure only inches away from his face and panicked. He violently pushed Donghyuck off him and Donghyuck tripped back, shock and embarrassment mixing in his eyes. Mark sat, his back pressed against the wall and his hands clenched into fists, squinting at the frozen Donghyuck in his room. The panic immediately evaporated into hasty, whispered apologies and searching, fearful looks. Donghyuck slowly came back to the bed, shushing Mark's stumbling apologies and replacing them with his own. 

They sat together for a while, Donghyuck's gloved hands nervously twisting in his lap and Mark watching him, gnawing apprehensively on his bottom lip. The only sounds were their slightly hasted breathing, the distant murmuring of the main street outside and the muffled snores coming from Mark's parents' bedroom.

"Do you want to sleep?" Donghyuck asked quietly, his voice sounded strained and his gaze stayed in his lap.

Mark started to reach for his hand, thought better of it and dropped it again. "Do you?"

There was a longish pause, the window was still open and Mark's feet were getting cold.

"Not really." Came the delayed answer and Mark nodded.

"Okay, so what do you want to do?"

Donghyuck turned to look at him, his eyes bright with a hesitant, searching but also hopeful light and Mark's heart flipped nervously. His eyes momentarily dropping down to Donghyuck's lips, before averting them to the safety of the half-open window.

"Can I- can I show you something?" Donghyuck asked, his eyelashes fluttering as he glanced at Mark.

Mark smiled sleepily. "Now?"

"It's prettier at night." That was all the convincing Mark needed.

"Okay."  

Donghyuck's posture relaxed and he started to get up, but Mark stopped him, his hand tugging him back down by the wrist. 

"Where are we going?" 

Now it was Donghyuck's turn to smile. "It's a secret." 

With that, he got up and started pulling clothes off Mark's designated clothes-chair (everyone has one) and throwing them at a bewildered Mark. 

"Dress warmly, and take a few blankets," he said, inspecting one of Mark's pullovers closely. Mark stayed where he was, his mouth slightly open and when Donghyuck realized he hadn't moved, he turned and threw the pullover at him, "Go get the blankets, moron. I'll pick out your clothes." 

Mark blinked and shuffled out of the room.

Everything seemed oddly muted and dreamlike. The pale moonlight that cast harsh lights and shadows on the hallway floor and the distant whining of an ambulance, it all seemed hazy and faint. The most real thing right now was picking out clothes for him in his bedroom, wearing someone else's coat and sporting a smile that send his brain in some kind of love-induced frenzy. His mind was going a million miles an hour coming up with different places they could go that 'looked prettier at night', one wild thought that popped up in his mind was that they were going to run away together, but the rational side of his brain pointed out that you needed more than just a few blankets and some warm clothes to run away together. 

With the blankets under one arm, he returned to his room. Donghyuck had closed the window and was sitting on Mark's bed, flipping through a worn copy of All Quiet on the Western Front. Clothes were piled neatly on his bedside table and the desk lamp was on. 

He got dressed in silence and when he was done Donghyuck got to his feet and switched the lamp off. 

"Your coat and stuff are downstairs right?" He asked and Mark nodded. 

"Okay, let's go." 

They stole down the stairs and when Mark had fetched his coat, hat and scarf they were off, Donghyuck clutching the three blankets to his chest.

 

 

Mark stared at the high metal fence topped off with barbed wire with a look that could only be described as 'no fucking way'.

"You're kidding right?" He said, unable to tear his gaze away from the sharp metal spikes glinting in the moonlight. His teeth were chattering and he'd pulled his scarf halfway up his face to protect it from the harsh wind paired with icy bits of flyaway snow that felt like tiny daggers on his skin. He really wished he'd taken gloves with him. 

Donghyuck pushed the blankets to his chest and Mark hugged them, seeking any kind of warmth he could. Donghyuck seemed scarily immune to the weather. He then turned and started walking off to the right side of the fence, plodding gracefully through snow-covered bracken and tall grass. Mark quickly hurried after him, scared that he would lose sight of him in the dark, for there were no streetlights here and the only source of light were the moon and the stars. 

It was difficult walking in the snow and frozen greenery, and just to make things worse there were stray bits of sharp metal wire poking out from the ground along with various bits of rubbish. 

But Mark wasn't stupid, they had walked through the northern district, avoided the suburbs and then ended up on a dirt road that led to nowhere. From there they had taken a right into a field and had walked on for what felt like ages. Until they had reached the fence that is, there they had taken a break so that Mark could catch his breath. Mark knew exactly where they were. 

They were at the fence that kept the general public away from the three abandoned apartment blocks. Two of them in danger of collapsing and the third one a popular place for drug addicts and suicides. You could say Mark wasn't exactly thrilled. 

 

"Please tell me that you're kidding." He repeated, the slightest hint of fear tinging his words. 

Donghyuck stopped in his tracks and turned. "I promise it's worth it," he said, and seeing the unconvinced look on Mark's face took a few steps towards him and grabbed his hand. 

"C'mon, I promise it's okay." 

So Mark let himself get dragged behind Donghyuck, his fingers warming up slightly in the others gloved grip. 

They reached an unremarkable part of the fence and Donghyuck let go of Mark's hand, crouching down and pushing some of the snow and bracken away, revealing a torn out bit of the fence. Mark stared. 

"Come on," Donghyuck encouraged him and ducked down to crawl through the gap. Mark took one last glance behind him at the outline of his city and followed Donghyuck through the fence. 

They speed-walked through the unkempt field, Donghyuck at some point grabbing Mark's hand again to speed them up. 

The concrete driveway was in surprisingly good order, the only thing marring its grey icy surface was the graffiti. There was no door, only gaping black square that led into the lobby and all the glass in the windows was gone, leaving only jagged edges of glittering glass in the frames. The elevator (obviously) was gone leaving only bottomless shaft of darkness in the middle of the lobby.

"People jump down that a lot," Donghyuck said as they passed it to get to the stairs. Mark choked on air and Donghyuck frowned, squeezing his hand slightly.

"Sorry, that wasn't very- appropriate." 

"It's okay," Mark murmured, trying not to think about the dark abyss next to them. 

"A search team comes here every month to check if there are bodies," Donghyuck continued.

"Can we change the subject?" Mark pleaded and Donghyuck nodded sheepishly.

"Sure I'm sorry, I was just trying to let you know that there aren't any dead bodies here. I think they checked yesterday. If there were I wouldn't have taken you here." 

Mark's mouth opened slightly in surprise, Donghyuck who was a step above him blushed and tugged him further up the stairs. 

"We're going to the roof," he said when they were about halfway up the entire block. 

"I figured," Mark panted.

Donghyuck didn't let go of Mark's hand for the entire trip up the stairs. 

 

It was, what the kids call fucking windy on the roof, even Donghyuck looked a little taken aback. But they still ventured out, both having wrapped blanket around their shoulders. Donghyuck steered them to a slightly more sheltered bit of the roof, behind a little house thing-y, which had broken satellite dishes and wires on it. Spreading the third blanket on the ground, they sat down huddled together for extra warmth. 

That's when Mark finally noticed the view they had. 

Mark liked to refer to the city he lived in as a town, which was wrong but Mark didn't really care. The city was huge, with it's five main districts (central, north, east, south, and west) dividing it into 'wealthy' and 'not so wealthy'. The main financial and business districts were located in the central and eastern part, which meant they had the most impressive buildings and skyscrapers. Even the apartment blocks looked pretty. 

Mark stared open-mouthed at the glittering, yellow, golden and blue sea of lights spread out in front of him. One of the skyscraper's lights swirled from red to orange to a blinding golden and it was mesmerizing. Mark could see the single little windows of the apartment and office buildings melting into one great shimmering hue of yellows and blues. And very, very faintly he could hear the cars murmuring in the streets, ambulance and police sirens going off and trains screeching to a halt. Next to those brilliant lights, he could see the other districts glowing softly as well.

When Mark turned to exclaim at Donghyuck he found that the other was already looking at him, the lights of the shimmering city skyline reflected in his eyes

"It's beautiful!" Mark half shouted over the howling wind and Donghyuck's face seemed to glow. Either from the wind or from the words Mark had just uttered, Mark couldn't be sure. 

"I thought you'd like it," Donghyuck shouted back and it was Mark's turn to glow. 

They both turned back to the view and Mark let out a contented sigh, he was feeling so giddy it was almost turning into lightheadedness. The shimmering lights of the city, the icy but refreshing wind and the warmth of the other body next to him all coiled into one warming bubbly feeling in his stomach and suddenly the boy next to him seemed more interesting and beautiful than any skyline ever could. 

"Donghyuck." He said, his voice sounding distant even to his own ears. His heart was beating in his throat and the lights were blinding him.

Donghyuck turned to look at him and blinked when he realized how close Mark was to him, his smile froze in an unsure kind of way and his gaze landed on Mark's lips before hastily returning to his eyes, a nervous not-wind-induced blush rising in his cheeks. 

Courage surged up through Mark's stomach and through every cell and vein in his body and he lurched forward pressing his lips against Donghyuck's who gasped in surprise. Hesitantly he moved his lips and kissed him, he'd never kissed anyone before but he was pretty sure that this was how it worked, judging by all the films he'd seen. Donghyuk however, was still and the courage that had surged not seconds earlier was replaced by embarrassment and guilt. Mark started to pull back and tears were pricking in his eyes, tears that he knew didn't come from the wind. 

But suddenly Donghyuck's right, still gloved hand came up to touch Mark's lips and Mark froze, slowly he opening one eye. Donghyuck was staring at him, eyes wide and mouth slightly agape, his other hand which had been resting in his lap slowly reached up to touch his own lips and he blinked hazily at Mark. 

"I-" Mark started, emotions clogging up his throat, "-I'm sorry."

Donghyuck opened his mouth as if to say something but then closed it again. Mark's heart lurched uncomfortably and he felt like he was going to be sick, so he closed his eyes again. It was better that way.

The gloved fingertip that was still resting on his lips moved hesitantly to his jaw and a flicker of hope sparked in his heart, and he looked through his lashes. Donghyuck was kneeling in front of him, determined look on his face and he leaned forward, Mark could see his blurred features through his lashes.

Donghyuck carefully and ever so lightly pressed his lips against Mark's. Their foreheads bumped together and noses were in the way, yet it was still the most perfect kiss Mark could've dreamed of. Hesitantly he responded and Donghyuck's hands gripped the fabric of his coat at his shoulders in an effort to keep him where he was and at the same time pull him closer. Mark reached up and cupped Donghyuck's face with both of his hands, successfully pulling the other boy closer and in a very careful way deepening the kiss. 

A thousand and one skylines were exploding behind Mark's eyelids and it sounded like the wind was howling with joy. 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Mark?" Kun started, reluctantly tearing his gaze away from the flickering TV screen and focusing instead on Mark, who was melting into the couch. 

"What." Was the snappy reply and Kun rolled his eyes.

"Can I ask you something?"

Mark squinted at him suspiciously, only his eyes and his untidy mop of hair visible out of the blanket burrito he had made for himself.

Kun took that as a yes and continued, "Is something wrong?"

Mark's squint intensified and he sank lower into his couch corner. "No?" He said, sounding incredibly unconvincing. 

It was two days after Christmas morning and most of their squad (minus Chenle and Jisung who had arranged their own little sleepover with some of their classmates) were congregated at Sicheng's home. It was early-ish in the morning and everyone was spread across the living room in various states of wakefulness. Johnny, Jaemin, and Sicheng were playing Fifa, Renjun was half asleep in one of the armchairs, Jeno, Kun and Ten were sitting on the floor with bowls of cereal and Mark was squished in the corner of the couch next to Jaemin. 

"Bullshit," Kun said, putting his half-empty bowl on the floor and twisting around to look at Mark. "You're all-" he waved his hands around for emphasis, "-sparkly. And you're coming down with a cold which is weird because according to Jisung you weren't outside for the entirety of the weekend."

Mark stared at him. "Jisung is informing you about things I do?" He asked, disbelief dripping off his words. "What the fu-"

"Just for the record, it was Ten's idea," Kun interrupted and Ten spluttered on a spoonful of cereal. 

"But why? What the fuck? Why would you-?"

"We need to be informed about the progress of your developing love life," Ten said, still chewing.

"And why on earth would Jisung know anything?"

"You live together." 

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean he knows about everything I do," Mark said and realized the moment those words left his mouth that he'd fucked up. 

"So there is something going on!" Kun exclaimed and Ten's eyes sparked dangerously as they both turned their full attention to him. 

"There isn't-" he hastily tried to fix his mistake but it was too late. 

"Shall we tell you the other things Jisung told us about?" Ten leered and Mark's heart did an uncomfortable flip into his stomach. 

"No?" 

"You're such a bad liar, it's incredible," Jeno added, turning around as well.

Mark was feeling very cornered. But at least the others were too immersed with their game to join the 'let's torture Mark' party. 

"Two days before Christmas-" Kun started and Mark got very vivid flashbacks of dark snow-covered fields, windy rooftops, glittering skylines and the embarrassed, glowing look on Donghyuck's face after they kissed. 

"- and he said he was pretty sure he heard someone come up the stairs at, like, 4 o'clock in the morning." Mark blinked and then flushed when he realized he'd zoned out and missed most of Kun's monologue. 

"Uhm." Was his lame excuse of an answer and Jeno squawked with laughter.

"Not done yet," Kun grinned, "he then said that the next morning you were uncharacteristically hyper, sniffly and incredibly vague as to why you had lost your voice and, apparently, your sanity."

"Even your dad was suspicious, and your dad's like spaced out 90% of the time," Ten added. 

"I was just excited about Christmas," Mark said, making history with the worst excuse the world had ever heard. 

"Oh my fucking God," Jaemin muttered next to him and put down his controller. "What's it with you and having to skirt around the truth for 349 years?"

Mark squirmed in his seat and pulled his blanket further up his face. "It's nothing." 

"For fuck's sake." Four people chorused in the same exasperated tone and Mark shrank back with a pout. Even Renjun was looking at him with a look of mild disappointment. 

"Just get to the point," Jeno said, poking him in the shin. 

Mark stayed quiet. 

Renjun sighed dramatically, slipped off the armchair and slunk over, leaning across the three on the floor and flicking Mark on the forehead. "Has it got something to do with Donghyuck?" He asked, quickly whipping his hand away before Mark could slap him. 

Mark's silence was an answer in itself and everyone whooped gleefully. Johnny and Sicheng paused their game, seeing that a more interesting thing was happening with Mark and turned their full attention to him. 

"So...?" Jaemin prompted, nudging Mark in the side. 

"So what?" Mark responded stubbornly. 

"Y'know if you aren't going to answer we can always call up Taeyong and ask him to put Donghyuck on the phone, to you know, ask him what he knows about the days leading up to Christmas," Johnny threatened.

Now that was a threat. Mark sat up and surveyed the seven mischief doers in front of him. Johnny's threat was legitimate because Mark didn't know how Donghyuck would respond to questions like that. Probably better than Mark, and he probably would be less embarrassed to spill the beans than Mark. All of which would put Mark in a very uncomfortable position. 

So he had two options; let them call Donghyuck which only had to possible outcomes (both painful for Mark), either Donghyuck could lie as well, which would just bring the ball back into Mark's side of the court or Donghyuck could just flat out tell the truth, putting Mark in the spot of why he hadn't just done it in the first place. Telling the truth right now would be the equivalent of tearing a band-aid off quickly. Mark wasn't that kind of person, but he knew Donghyuck was, so he might as well bite the bullet and just take the weeks of teasing that were ahead of him.

"Fine," he snapped and there were high-fives all around for the victors.

After they had finished, Mark cleared his throat and mentally prepared himself for the figurative shitstorm that would go down after he'd finished.  

"Okay," he said, his mind whirling with different ways he could end himself.

They all leaned closer and Mark fought down the urge to collectively kick them in the face.

"Okay-" he said again.

"Get on with it!" Jaemin broke in and Mark shot him a glare. "Do you want me to talk or not?" He snapped and Jaemin lapsed into pouty silence.

"Two days before Christmas, right. He, as in Donghyuck-"

"We get it, get to the real stuff already," Ten interrupted and Mark sighed dramatically and started to recount his adventure to the abandoned apartment blocks.

 

"I'M GOING TO LITERALLY THROW MYSELF OUT OF THE WINDOW-" Ten screamed standing on the armrest of the couch, his hands above his head.

Jaemin had grabbed Mark by the shoulders and was shaking him vigorously and repeatedly yelling: "OH MY GOD!" directly at his face. 

Sicheng was lying face first on the floor, somewhere between hysterically laughing and crying and Jeno had disappeared into the kitchen to yell at Chenle and Jisung over the phone. Mark could only hear distant high pitched screeching. 

Johnny was walking in circles around the living room singing All You Need Is Love by the Beatles at the top of his lungs, with Kun and Renjun enthusiastically doing the brass instruments and backing vocals. Kun was texting (in all caps) the news to Jaehyun and Doyoung, who Mark assumed might already know. 

The beginnings of a headache were creeping up behind his eyes and he was pretty sure his left ear was going deaf. Or at least, Jeno's shouting from the kitchen sounded kind of muffled. Struggling to push as still yelling Jaemin off him, he hit himself in the ear a few times until the odd beeping sensation disappeared and tried to quiet his friends down. To no avail, it took about another ten minutes for them to actually kind of shut up and another five to make them sit down again. 

Judging by the constant dinging of Kun's phone, Jaehyun and Doyoung hadn't known about Donghyuck's and Mark's rooftop escapade and were low-key freaking the fuck out. But only low-key because they were both at work. 

"Oh my God," Jaemin whispered, his voice slightly hoarse and a dazed expression on his face.

"I can't believe you got your first kiss before I did," Ten muttered, comfortably draping himself across Johnny's lap.

The whole room stared at him and he flailed. "I mean age-wise," he elaborated, his cheeks coloring slightly and Mark couldn't stop a smug snicker escaping from his mouth. 

"Wait how old were you?" Renjun asked and now Johnny flushed as well.

"Seventeen," Ten muttered. 

"I am seventeen though," Mark said and Ten, who had been hiding his face in Johnny's t-shirt, reappeared looking genuinely shocked. 

"What? Seriously?" 

"Second of August dude." 

"Even I knew that," Johnny said, figuratively abandoning Ten to fend for himself. 

"I bet even his dad would know," Kun added and Ten looked betrayed. 

"Ah, I don't know his birthday either, so..." Mark mumbled and there were a few muttered agreements. Dad's birthdays always had been hard to remember. 

"Do you know how old we are?" Jeno asked, gesturing at himself, Renjun and Jaemin.

Ten at least had the decency to look ashamed and shook his head and there was a hissed 'I knew it' from Sicheng.

"Seriously?" Mark asked, astounded.

"Well. I just kinda think you all are sixteen. I'm pretty sure Jaemin's sixteen, Jeno too? I don't know, Renjun's always kinda been the same age as Mark so you're also seventeen?" 

"Nope. I'm sixteen," Renjun stated and Ten deflated slightly, "Oh."

"Basically," Sicheng cut in, "Mark's seventeen and then there's Renjun, Jeno and then Jaemin. Chenle is fifteen and Jisung's fourteen."

"I knew theirs," Ten grumbled, "They never shut up when their birthdays are coming up. You all never really make a big deal out of birthdays anymore, so it just kinda...slipped my mind." 

"We understand," Johnny murmured, planting a kiss on top of Ten's head. 

"When's Donghyuck's birthday?" Sicheng asked and all heads swivelled in Mark's direction. 

"Uhm- I don't-" Mark stuttered and Jaemin gasped. "Are you telling me you don't know your boyfriend's birthday?" He asked, looking absolutely scandalised. 

Kun pulled out his phone, "I'm gonna tell Doyoung and Jaehyun." He laughed and Mark blanched and lunged for Kun's phone, which was yanked out of his reach, making him face plant on the floor with a groan. 

"Don't," he said to the carpet and Kun took pity and put his phone away again. 

"When do you think it's his birthday?" Johnny asked after Mark had righted himself again, looking slightly ruffled. 

"Uh- " Mark paused. Donghyuck didn't mind the cold, but he didn't seem particularly fond of it either and judging by his tan and lack of winter clothing, Mark put him in a more summery category. Maybe in the spring area, May or June, somewhere around there. "Maybe in spring or something, like, May or whatever." 

"Ask him when you next see him," Johnny ordered, slipping in a not-so-subtle wink that made color rise in Mark's cheeks.

"Oh! Since we're on the subject of 'when you next see him'," Ten broke in and Mark glanced at him nervously, "did you get him anything for Christmas? And if you didn't I personally, will be in charge of shooting you into the sun." 

Mark found this lack of trust a little rude and frowned, "Of course I got him a fucking present. Who do you think I am?"

"Someone quite forgetful," Ten shot back.

"Says the guy who forgot how old we are," Jaemin muttered loudly, pointedly inspecting his nails.

"Hey! Back me up on this!" Ten cried, sticking out his leg across their semi circle they had made in front of the couch and kicked Jaemin in the knee. 

"Anyway," Kun said loudly, yanking them all back on course and all eyes landed back on Mark.

"So what did you get him?" Sicheng asked, leaning forward slightly. 

"If it's something fucking stupid like socks I'm disowning you as a friend," Jeno warned, sounding completely serious.

"What's wrong with socks?" Johnny protested and Ten rolled his eyes in a 'here we go again' kind of way. 

"Did you get Ten socks for Christmas?" Jeno asked, looking disappointed. 

"Admittedly, they were pretty cool." Ten swooped in to save a fuming Johnny from losing an argument to a sixteen year old. "Anyway, I also got something else pretty amazing for Christmas," he added with a suggestive eyebrow waggle and it took the others a few seconds to catch on and then the room exploded in disgusted groans and gagging. Johnny and Ten looking annoyingly pleased with themselves. 

After they'd all successfully finished bleaching their brains, the conversation turned back to Mark and his mysterious Christmas presents for Donghyuck.

"So what did you get him?" Renjun asked, for what felt like the hundredth time. 

"Astronomy books," Mark said, looking proud of himself. 

They stared at him in silence for a whole minute.

"Books, plural?" Kun finally asked and Mark nodded. 

"About space?" Sicheng followed up, looking as sceptical as Kun had sounded. 

"Astronomy," Mark corrected and when Sicheng rolled his eyes, he added, "but yes, books about space." 

"Why?" Johnny asked, and Ten's eyes attempted to roll out of the back of his head.

"Because he likes space?" Mark retorted and Johnny nodded slowly and went, "Oh. Okay. Didn't think he'd be into space and all that stuff." 

"Well he is."

"Apparently. How many did you buy?" 

Mark glanced at Kun. "If you text this to any of the others and they tell him, I'm going to come to your house and make you eat your fucking phone." 

Kun held up his hands in surrender. "My lips are sealed," he said, but the twinkle in his eyes said otherwise. Sicheng took his phone away, just in case. 

"I got him Expanding Universe: Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope and Galaxy: Mapping the Universe. One of them has more pictures and the other one actually tries to explain all of the space stuff and I couldn't decide between the two, so I bought both." 

"How much did they cost?" Jeno asked and they all leaned forward, all desperate to know how much money Mark had blown on his not-boyfriend. 

Mark scratched the back of his neck, "Well I won't be able to afford shit the next two months or so." He mumbled, a sheepish smile tugging at the corners of his mouth and they all oohed in an impressed kind of way. 

"When are you gonna give them to him? Since, y'know, Christmas has been and gone," Kun clucked. 

"Don't tell me you've been stalling," Ten groaned and Mark squirmed uncomfortably.

"Look, I'll give them soon, it's just- I don't know, I don't know how to-" he waved his arms around which wasn't particularly helpful and everyone sighed.

"Just go over there, give him the presents and kiss the hell out of him, maybe throw a couple of subtle 'I love you's in the mix." 

"I don't think-" Mark started, but Johnny interrupted him, "Worked for me though." 

"Yeah, that's only because Ten's a sucker for that kind of shit," Jaemin pointed out and Ten did a 'well he ain't wrong' shrug and Johnny laughed and pulled him closer. Mark's heart squirmed in his chest as he thought about how much he wanted Donghyuck and him to end up like that as well, maybe a little less sappy and gross but on a similar level of public affection. That would be nice. 

"Listen, just give him the presents and then just run with whatever comes next, okay? Don't panic about this kinda shit, anyway he kissed you back and he generally seems very fond of you so it would be a miracle if he reacted badly to whatever you come up with. Kissing or just a hug, it'll be fine," Renjun said, patting Mark on the back like a supportive dad. 

"Renjun back at it again with the relationship advice," Sicheng sang and Renjun shrugged, "I just do what I do." 

"You haven't even had a relationship," Jaemin cackled.

"And you have?" Renjun shot back, a complacent smile spreading across his face. 

Jaemin flushed and not so subtly glanced at Jeno, whose ears had gone slightly red, but otherwise showed no signs of discomfort, his arm staying firmly wrapped around Jaemin's waist. Renjun snickered triumphantly. 

"Ah but wait," Johnny chimed in, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, "I can't be the only one who has noticed the heart eyes you-" he pointed an accusing finger at Renjun, "get whenever you look at Chenle. Or am I mistaken?"

Mark snorted but otherwise stayed quiet, because he wasn't about to throw his friend, who'd given him sensible love advice, under the bus. 

"I noticed that too!" Sicheng laughed and Renjun put his face in his hands.

"At Chenle's birthday back in November-" Jeno added before breaking down in a fit of giggles. There were other shouts of moments where Renjun had apparently looked whipped as hell. Renjun was now trying to become one with the carpet and disappear into the void of eternal embarrassment, but of course, the others couldn't let him off the hook so easily. 

"Are you gonna tell him?" Sicheng asked.

Renjun shook his head. 

"Ah come on, why not?" Kun whined. 

Renjun threw a pillow at him. "Because I don't want to." 

"I bet he likes you back," Sicheng said softly, snatching another pillow out of Renjun's reach. 

"Yeah well, we don't know that for sure and I'd rather not take the risk." 

"You sound like Mark," Jaemin muttered and yelped when he was kicked in the knees by both Mark and Renjun. 

"We could ask him for you?" Jeno offered, but Renjun shook his head vigorously. "No no, don't do that." 

"You've got to tell him at some point though," Ten pointed out.

"I'm gonna wait, like, maybe three months or so and see if it's just a crush, if it's not then I'll do something about it. Until then I'm not doing anything." 

Ten, Jaemin and Sicheng looked like they wanted to protest but Renjun added, "And neither are you. Okay?" 

Deflating slightly they nodded and some of the tension left Renjun's shoulders. "Good. Thank you."

After a moment of silence, Johnny rounded back on Mark who flinched. 

"So, when are you gonna give those presents to Donghyuck?" He leered.

Backing away slightly, Mark tried to look nonchalant, "I don't know, next week maybe?"

"Next week?" Seven voices chorused in shock.

"Yeah?" Mark said, suddenly unsure in his choice of words.

"Are you actually insane?" Johnny said, disbelieving. 

"Uhm-"

"You can't do that! He'll think you've forgotten about him or something!"

Mark swallowed. "I didn't- I didn't think..." he stuttered.

"Obviously not! Listen, I've heard you say some stupid shit, but fuck, this takes the cake." Johnny took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair, "For God's sake, just don't- don't fucking do it in a week or I will personally send a death squad after you."

"In fact-" Kun added, "-go right now. Go home, shower, get the presents and speed-walk to his place."

"What-" Mark began to protest, but everyone else had already jumped on Kun's idea and there was no way he was going to get out this one.

 

/

 

"You're home early," Mark's mother said, from where she was lounging on the couch with a cup of coffee and her laptop.

Mark nodded distractedly, dumping his overnight-bag at the foot of the stairs and then disappeared into the kitchen, on the hunt for something quick to eat.

"You're not leaving that bag there for me to clear up," his mom yelled from the living room.

"I'll clear it up when I get back, okay?" 

"You're here now though. And where are you even going?"

"I promise I'll clear it up later, I'm in a bit of a rush. And I'm going to Donghyuck's." 

"Oh alright, tell him and his brother a belated Merry Christmas from me, okay?" 

"Yes, mom," Mark said, abandoning his fruitless search in the kitchen and jogging back into the living room, to pick up a discarded pullover. 

"Did you get him anything and no, you can't wear that, your dad spilled something on it last night." 

"Uhm, I got him books," Mark mumbled, throwing the pullover near the stairs.

His mother slurped her coffee. "What kind of books?" 

"Space books. He likes space, like, stars and stuff y'know. He wants to go to a desert to stargaze, somewhere like Mexico or Nevada. And-" Realising that he was rambling he snapped his mouth shut, color rising in his cheeks. 

She just gave him a knowing smile and waved him off. "Dress warmly and call me if you're staying there for lunch." 

"Okay yeah, I'll do that. Thanks uh- " he gestured at the stairs and she rolled her eyes fondly and told him to put some proper clothes on.

 

/

 

It was late in the morning, the clock already ticking towards 12 o'clock and the sun was only visible as dim glowing orb behind the greyish mass of clouds that were weighing down the sky. The wind, that had taken a little break over the Christmas weekend, was back with a vengeance. Mark pulled his coat a little tighter around himself and suppressed a full body shiver. His rucksack was heavy and it, along with the slushy snow on the pavement were doing a great job of slowing him down. The streets, even the halfway pretty ones, looked grim and uninviting. The snow had lost it's blinding brightness and had been reverted into icy brown/grey slush that got into every unprotected area of your body. 

Mark wasn't nervous exactly, walking down the long winding streets and alleyways, now and again catching the gaze of a stranger lurking in a doorway, but he wasn't comfortable either. He had consciously put on clothes that looked a little more worn and shabby, rather than the brand new (and kind of hideous) Burberry coat he'd gotten for Christmas from his Grandparents. 

It wasn't that everyone who lived in this district was a criminal or a drug addict, I mean just look at the tenants of apartment block 127, all very nice and to the most part crime free people. But Mark was smart enough to know that it was never a good idea to walk into a poorer part of town decked out in Prada and Gucci. It was better to blend in a little. Anyway, the coat he was wearing right now at least didn't look like it could cause eye cancer. 

Shivering and out of breath he tripped through the door into the lobby of the apartment block and remembered with a lurch in his stomach that this apartment block in particular didn't have an elevator. Well, it did certainly have an elevator shaft that went all the way up to the second to last floor, but it was missing the actual elevator, which was a shame. 

Donghyuck had told Mark that when this block had been built the contractors ran out of money and had to leave the elevator unfinished. He also said that two construction workers fell to their deaths when they were putting in cables along the walls of the shaft. Mark believed the 'running out of money' bit, it would explain the state of this building in general (admittedly it was built in the 70s but still). He didn't really believe the other half of the story simply because Donghyuck had a very active and slightly morbid imagination and was prone to spitting out random stories about parts of town where people had apparently met a very gruesome end. 

But still, as Mark started climbing the stairs he stayed away from the wall to the elevator shaft. Better safe than sorry. 

 

He had to ring the doorbell three times until someone finally answered. 

"For the last fucking time we don't have any fucking baking pow-" Yuta stopped mid-sentence, his face freezing in a look that resembled a perplexed elderly cat. 

"Hi," Mark said, judging that this was always an appropriate way to start a conversation. 

Yuta blinked a few times and then his face melted into an easy-breezy smile and he ushered Mark into the open plan living room.

"I didn't know you were coming," he said as pottered around in the kitchen, looking for a clean cup for Mark.

"Yeah sorry, it was kinda unplanned."

Yuta waved the kettle at him and laughed, "It's fine, it's fine, I just would've cleared up if I knew you were coming. Taeil and Taeyong are out."

"Yeah, I was gonna ask," Mark said, eyeing the small kitchen table that was still covered in dirty plates, mugs, and cutlery, the aftermath of a rushed breakfast he assumed. The Christmas tree was still standing proudly next to the coffee table and Yuta's laptop was open on an unfinished Word document, a steaming cup of what looked like cocoa next to it.

"Taeil, for some goddamn reason, signed up for early morning classes and he's helping out at the primary school down by the Jewellers Fountain later, so he's not gonna be home for a while."

"Helping out?" Mark asked, as he sat down at the table and Yuta swept the dirty dishes away and into the sink. 

"Yeah, teachers assistant or something. When you've got grades like his they'll take you, if you actually want to be a teacher or not. Anyway, it earns a little extra cash and the state fuckers don't look down at him so much?"

Mark cocked his head and Yuta went on. "They guys that come here for Donghyuck's exams to see if he's actually learning anything," he elaborated. 

"Oh, okay. Homeschooling and all that." 

"Yeah, if you ask me he's learning a lot more than he would in that dumb school. And he has excellent grades, except for Chemistry but I mean, who gives a shit about Chemistry."

With 'that dumb school' Mark assumed he probably meant the only high school in the northern district, the Saint Champion Comprehensive School. It had an excellent reputation. 

"And Taeyong?"

"Oh, he's working. Don't know where though. Convenience store or at the Mall, I can't remember. But I'm guessing you didn't come here to see them, did you?" Yuta smiled, placing a hot cup of tea in front of Mark. "I didn't know how much sugar you like so I put in three. If you don't like it just give it to Donghyuck, he likes his tea sweet." 

Cheeks burning Mark tried for an easy going smile. "It's fine," he said and took a sip of the tea. Not only did it burn his tongue but it was also disgustingly sweet and Mark had to fight down the urge to spit it back into his cup. 

Yuta grinned. "Anyway, Donghyuck's in his room. He's ill by the way, head cold or something so pretend you're playing dodgeball when he sneezes in your direction. Also give me your coat, you'll overheat."

Awkwardly untangling himself from his scarf and coat, Mark quickly grabbed his rucksack, which Yuta was eyeing with a sly smile, and his disgusting cup of tea and plodded down the tiny hallway to Donghyuck's bedroom.  

 

Donghyuck's bedroom was about half the size of Mark's and Mark had gotten the comparatively small bedroom. The bed was squished to the wall facing the door, which had a window that looked out onto the street far below. A chest of drawers was on the left side, which at the same time served as a bookshelf and bedside table. A cluttered desk stood to the right with one completely stuffed bookshelf to it's side. Above the desk hung a pin board, covered in sticky notes, random reminders, a timetable and a photograph of a young Taeyong, an even younger Donghyuck (including chubby cheeks and tragic haircut) and a woman Mark didn't recognize. His mother probably. Mark's heart squeezed together painfully, Donghyuck never talked about his mother or his father for that matter. It would be a lie if Mark said he didn't think about this often. 

There was also a black and white poster of Michael Jackson hanging next to his window and a poster of the soldier escaping East Germany over his dresser. His desk lamp and the window were the only sources of light and there piles of books and comic books piled at the foot of his bed. 

Donghyuck was sitting up in bed, three pillows stuffed behind his back and his quilt twisted and half falling off the bed. There was an unhealthy flush on his cheeks and his nose was red. His hair looked matted and unwashed and he was squinting at a Calvin and Hobbes comic, whilst simultaneously trying to open a cough sweet wrapper with his teeth. 

He looked up when Mark opened the door, cough sweet wrapper clamped between his lips and dressed in one of Mark's hoodies. Mark's heart did a suitable flip into his throat and even though Donghyuck wasn't looking his best at the moment, Mark still found speaking in actual sentences suddenly incredibly hard. 

"Mark," Donghyuck said, discarding the wrapper and closing the comic book. His voice was hoarse and judging by the look on his face, it hurt to talk. He licked his lips and swirled the sweet around in his mouth and Mark desperately focused on something else. 

"How are you?" He said nervously, closing the door behind him and taking two more steps into the room.

Donghyuck sat up a little straighter and shrugged, "Y'know, casually self destructing, but otherwise quite alright." 

The nervousness died down slightly and Mark nodded. "Yeah, cold's are shit, I'm sorry."

"It's cool." Donghyuck pointed at the foot of the bed, "You can sit there. I'm afraid the chair's occupied at the moment and I'm to ill to tidy up." 

Mark glanced at the desk chair, which was piled high with clothes, as he sat down on the bed, careful not to sit on Donghyuck's legs. He put his rucksack on the floor between his feet. 

"How was your Christmas?" Mark asked, trying to distract Donghyuck from the rucksack.

"Fucking chaotic, but otherwise pretty nice. Taeil bought Taeyong a really ugly apron and he loves it and won't take it off. Also, Doyoung dyed Taeil's hair and now it's, like, a weird wine red color."

"Aw, I'll miss the Gatorade jokes," Mark laughed.

"Yuta and Jaehyun have started calling him a wine mom," Donghyuck grinned. "Actually it was Sicheng's idea, because they sent him and Kun a picture of freshly dyed Taeil and they said he looked like a literal wine mom. Never thought something like that would come from Sicheng."

"It's Kun and Yuta's influence," Mark said, nodding wisely.

Donghyuck snorted, "Yeah, Hansol's gettin' jealous."

"What did you get for Christmas?" Mark continued and couldn't help but smile when Donghyuck's face lit up.

Donghyuck pointed at the floor, where stacks of books and comic books were piled. Mark could see titles like The Five People You Meet In Heaven, 'Flavia de Luce' and- 

"Ballet Shoes?" He exclaimed, picking the book off the pile and flicking through it. 

Donghyuck slapped him on the arm and Mark yelped and dropped the book. "Ballet shoes?" He said again, unable to keep the smile off his face.

Donghyuck pouted, "It's a good book, don't be a dick."

"Damn I'm sorry. I just didn't think you were the ballet shoe-y type."

"Well surprise, moron."

Mark grinned, "Ah, it's cute though."

Donghyuck's already glowing cheeks heightened in color and he swore. "I fucking- you bastard," he finished, the venom draining out of his words at the end and Mark at least had the decency to look slightly sorry. 

"I think we have the film at home," Mark said, watching closely for Donghyuck's reaction.

"Really?" Donghyuck asked, not sounding interested at all.

"Yup, I think Emma Watson's in it." 

"Oh."

"Wanna watch it at some point?" 

Donghyuck scowled and kicked Mark in the thigh. "Yes." Was the mumbled answer and Mark grinned, "Sweet." 

"What did you get?" He asked and Mark shrugged, "Some books, a couple of films, a weird bracelet from my mother's sister, some gift vouchers and a super hideous coat from my grandparents."

"A bracelet?" Donghyuck snickered.

"I swear I didn't ask for it. It's actually quite pretty but I'm not the bracelet-wearing type so it's wasted on me. She gave Jisung earrings and my dad got the ugliest ring that I have ever seen, hold up I'll show you a picture." 

Mark pulled out his phone and showed Donghyuck a picture of a horribly clunky typically 'masculine' ring, that looked like it weighed more than a small child. 

"I think my dad's gonna pawn it or something." 

"Sounds like a logical thing to do. Is your aunt blind or does she just have horrible taste?"

"Horrible taste. I think she's still in denial about Jisung not being a girl. She really wanted a niece and I swear to God, apparently after Jisung was birthed-"

"Gross."

"-she actually asked my mom if this was her idea of a practical joke."

"What the fuck."

"Yeah, she's that kind of aunt." 

"I'm glad I don't have an aunt."

"You should be, God she's got to be the most annoying person I have ever met. Jisung hates her to the moon and back." 

"What are you gonna do with the coat?" 

"Either keep it or sell it on eBay." 

"Give it to Yuta."

"I'm not gonna give it to Yuta, don't be stupid." 

"He'd look great, it'll match his personality."

Mark pinched him on the arm. "Don't say stuff like that." 

"YUTA HAS A HIDEOUS PERSONALITY," Donghyuck yelled and Mark snorted as they heard a crash from the living room. 

"YOU'RE ADOPTED," Yuta yelled back.

"DOYOUNG'S A BETTER COOK THAN YOU." 

"DONGHYUCK KISSES HIS MICHAEL JACKSON POSTER EVERY NIGHT BEFORE HE GOES TO BED."

Mark put a hand over his mouth to control his laughter as Donghyuck's ears reddened slightly. 

"YUTA CRIES AFTER SEX." 

Another slightly muffled crash and seconds later Yuta burst through the door. "You little-" he hissed, wielding a spatula dripping with soap and water, "I hope you choke on that cough sweet.

"Undeniable charm, no wonder Hansol likes you," Donghyuck laughed and threw Ballet Shoes at a swearing Yuta's back. "I always win these." 

"I think he might poison your food, but okay." 

"He wouldn't, Taeyong would put him in a blender." 

There was a moment of silence as Mark fiddled with the sleeve of his jumper and Donghyuck expelled his lungs into tissue.

"You know why actually came to see you?" He asked suddenly and Donghyuck looked at him, his eyes watering slightly. 

"Uh- to enjoy my brilliant company?" He answered, his eyes crinkling in an unseen smile. 

"Well- yeah that too, but I actually- uhm, I got you something for Christmas." 

Donghyuck slowly lowered the tissue, his eyes widening in surprise, "Oh." Was the only thing he said.

Mark blushed nervously and pulled his rucksack onto his lap. "I meant to give it to you earlier than now, but Christmas is kind of hectic with my family."

Donghyuck only nodded distractedly, his eyes fixed on where Mark's hands were fumbling with the two-way zipper of the rucksack. 

"I hope you'll like them." 

Finally managing to unzip the bag, he pulled out the two, rather heavy, presents. They were wrapped together in garish wrapping paper that his mother thought was tasteful and were clumsily taped together. Carefully, Mark placed them in Donghyuck's lap and waited with bated breath as he hesitantly started picking at the tape. After a few seconds of painful silence, Donghyuck finally tore the wrapping paper off and revealed the two books. Both books had stunning covers, colorful, brilliant pictures of space (Mark was pretty sure one of them was a galaxy and the other one was one of those weird cloud things that happen when a star dies) with the title proudly displayed on the front. 

Mark was shocked to see that Donghyuck's hands were shaking slightly, as he ever so carefully opened Expanding Universe: Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope and stared open-mouthed at the pictures inside. This was the one with more pictures than writing. 

He looked back up at Mark, who smiled nervously and scratched the back of his neck, "Are they- are they alright?" He stammered. 

Donghyuck looked back down at the books in his lap, carefully, like he was handling a newborn child, picked them up and put them on the floor, pushed his quilt aside and got on his knees so that he was slightly taller than Mark. He then shuffled closer, cupped Mark's face with his hands, leaned down and kissed him sweetly on the mouth. Mark's hands flailed in the air for a second before he settled one of the on the back of Donghyuck's neck and the other came up to cover one of Donghyuck's hands with his own. 

They stayed like that for what felt like minutes, seconds and years all at the same time. The kiss was like the kiss on the rooftop, but better, both of them a little more a familiar with each other and a little rushed and clumsy. 

Donghyuck was practically glowing and Mark guessed he didn't look any better. 

"Right," he croaked and Donghyuck giggled, actually giggled and Mark's heart did a double summersault and he felt slightly dizzy.

"You like them right?" He asked, after he'd repeatedly cleared his throat and Donghyuck had settled down again. 

"NO. Not at all." Donghyuck laughed and Mark blinked.

"That was sarcasm, moron. I love them." 

"Oh. Okay then. I'm- I'm glad?" 

"Glad?" Donghyuck echoed, one eyebrow disappearing behind his matted fringe.

"Happy?" 

"Good. Happy is good."

"Are you happy?"

Donghyuck blinked at the question and shyly covered his mouth with a hand. "Never happier," he mumbled and Mark's heart leaped. 

"Good."

There was a pause and then Mark's ears suddenly picked up some scuttling sounds outside the door. Donghyuck had apparently heard it too. 

"YUTA," he yelled and there was a shrieking giggle and pattering footsteps as Yuta made his escape. But along with his laughter there was a second voice and Donghyuck's eyes widened, "TAEIL YOU LITTLE-" he sprang out of bed and crashed through the door, Mark behind him.

Taeil was curled up on the floor, still in his coat and hat, shaking with halfway silent laughter. Yuta was bent double gasping for breath with tears running down his face, and Donghyuck was standing over them like a very angry and very ill and stupidly cute goblin.

"I'm going to murder all of you." 

Taeil glanced at him, gasped and burst into laughter again and Donghyuck stomped his foot.

"Do you-" Yuta hiccuped and giggled, "do you w-ant to stay for lunch, Mark?"  

Mark, who was fighting down the urge to laugh himself, nodded and grabbed Donghyuck's hand pulled him away before he actually murdered them. 

The moment they were out of sight, Mark leaned down and kissed Donghyuck, more sure of himself than the last time. 

After they broke apart he said, "You're cute when you're angry." 

Donghyuck looked unimpressed. "And you're a walking fucking cliche, go eat a rat," he grumbled and quickly leaned in to plant a kiss on Mark's cheek, completely wiping the smug look off his face.  

 

 

Chapter Text

December went out with a bang. 

Mark's family usually celebrated New Years with the families of Ten, Kun, Johnny, Chenle, Sicheng, Jaemin, Renjun and Jeno, but this year the guest list was even longer. They celebrated at Chenle's house, because it was the largest and had a lot of rooms and a big backyard. After 12 o'clock the kids would get free rein of the entire house and the adults would go off somewhere to have a party for themselves (or just go to bed, depends on the alcohol). 

But this year Mark's mom convinced Chenle's mom to invite some of Mark's friends and (to everyone's surprise) she agreed. 

They turned up just before dinner, which was spread out across several tables because of the sheer mass of people. Chenle's mom had done most of the cooking but all the other parents had also brought dishes of their own, so the tables were practically groaning under the weight. Taeyong and Jaehyun had also brought food and were, the moment they placed their dishes on one of the tables, the new favourites of the evening. Meaning they were invited to sit with the Adults, which also meant that Taeil and Doyoung were dragged with them, those two spending dinner dodging vaguely invasive, but generally harmless questions from Jaemin's father and Renjun's mother. 

The kids (including Yuta and Hansol) were sat around a very expensive looking cherry wood table in the living room, which was thankfully separated by a screen door, because the adults probably would've gotten several heart attacks if they saw the pure chaos that was reigning here. 

More food was being passed thrown around than was being eaten and there had been several near death experiences for the fancy Persian carpet on the floor. Also they got yelled at when the adults found out they stole half a cake from the kitchen, Yuta and Hansol conveniently fading into the background. 

The moment dinner was over they escaped to the upper floors, leaving the adults to themselves. Jaehyun, Taeyong, Doyoung and Taeil also managed to escape with the excuse that they had to supervise the children. The adults bought it. 

Whilst they were going upstairs Donghyuck pulled Mark aside and whispered, "I don't like their house." with the cutest frown Mark had ever seen.

"Why not?"

Donghyuck opened his mouth to speak, but paused as Ten and Jaemin passed, "It's so-" he said after they others were gone and balled his hands into fists. 

Mark snorted, "Oh yeah, I totally know what you mean." and Donghyuck shoved him into the wall. 

"I can't remember the word for it." He muttered and then pushed Mark back out into the hallway.

"Tell me when you remember." 

Donghyuck ignored him and flounced off down the hallway with Mark trailing after him, an amused smile on his face. 

 

Chenle's bedroom looked like the rest of the house. Over dimensional, with high ceilings, expensive looking rugs and furniture and big french windows. Mark could understand why Donghyuck didn't like their house. Their apartment might be small, cluttered and occasionally without hot water but it had that feeling that Chenle's was missing, it felt more like home than this house ever could. The thought that Chenle had to grow up in a house like this made Mark's throat close up. Chenle's own room however, felt more alive than the rest of the house. Maybe it was the iron bedstead, that could probably fit more than four people or maybe it was the abundance of pictures (mostly of Chenle and the squad) and the fairy lights that were doing a great job of hiding the awful wallpaper. Or maybe it was the untidy desk, the cluttered desk of drawers or the fact that there was cat hair fucking everywhere. The cat in question was stretched out on the bed, enjoying the attention that the newcomers were giving him. His name was Montgomery or Mont for short, which surprised exactly no one, his name and manner matched the house. He was a squishy Birman cat, with lots of white and black fur and blue eyes. Also, according to Chenle he was 12 years old and about as mobile as a rock. 

Renjun and Jaemin popped back downstairs to get some desserts and sweets whilst the others got comfortable and Kun set up the giant flatscreen mounted to the wall facing the bed. Someone, probably Ten proposed they watch Frozen and Jeno threatened to hurl himself out of the window. After some more bickering they finally decided on the live action version of Paddington. They found out that Chenle's bed could fit most of their congregation, the rest (Kun, Sicheng , Doyoung, Jaehyun and Jisung) making their own little nest at the foot of the bed.

 

By the time it was getting on for 11 o'clock they'd watched Paddington and two episodes of Preacher and the grown-ups downstairs had reached the first stage of being flat out drunk. They only found out about this because they ran out of snacks and several people (Donghyuck) were complaining about having a cramp in their leg. So they all embarked on a joint pilgrimage to the kitchen. 

Most of the parents were sat around the dining table, in various states of rosy cheeked tipsiness. Johnny's father had pulled a guitar out of thin air and was happily strumming something that Mark thought sounded like Bob Dylan, his thoughts were only confirmed when the whole table suddenly burst into their own, loud and slightly off-key version of 'Shelter from the storm'. Chenle, Renjun, Sicheng and Ten's mothers were standing around in the spacious kitchen, wine glasses in their hands and half empty wine bottles decorating the kitchen island. Ten caught his mothers eye, she started to open her mouth an evil twinkle in her eye and Ten bolted back upstairs, a cackling Johnny and Kun hot on his heels. 

Renjun, Yuta and Sicheng managed to clamber past them and returned soon after, their arms full with sweets, cakes and soft drinks. 

Their peace lasted another episode of Preacher before three dads burst through the door, shouting something about snow, bad health and exercise. 

So that's how they found themselves in an impromptu snowball fight in the backgarden. 

In the middle of their very heated battle Donghyuck remembered what he wanted to say back in the hallway and suddenly yelled, "CLAUSTROPHOBIC." across the garden at a very confused Mark.

"What?" He shouted back, barely dodging a surprisingly vicious attack from Sicheng.

"Claustrophobic!" Donghyuck yelled again and lobbed a pile of snow at Doyoung.

"What are y- " Mark let his guard down for less than a second and was hit squarely in the face by perfectly aimed snowball thrown by a whooping Hansol. He went down with a surprised squawk. 

Even across the expanse of their raging battlefield, he heard Donghyuck cackle and he tried to get up, spitting snow out of his mouth. His clothes were hardly appropriate for a snowball fight, but then no one's were. They were dressed in some weird mashup of formal attire and sleep-over clothes. 

Donghyuck was wading towards him, still laughing. Mark scowled and tried to get up again, but slipped and sat back down again hard. 

"Claustrophopic," he said again when he was within earshot and reached out with both hands to help Mark up. 

"Repeating the fucking word won't make it any clearer." Mark grumbled, but accepted Donghyuck's help and hoisted himself back on both feet. 

Donghyuck rolled his eyes dramatically and pulled him away from the fight. "I mean the house," he said, gesturing at the sparkling terrace. "It feels claustrophobic." 

"Ohh. Couldn't you have said it after?"

"I might've forgotten by then." Donghyuck pouted and Mark really, really wanted to kiss him. But he didn't, there were to many people around.

"Whatever." Mark smiled and pulled him into a sideways hug. 

"Y'know, I don't mind their house, I mean, imagine if I could live in a place like this...it would be insane. I'd never fucking leave. But I don't know, it just seems kinda- kinda urgh, y'know?" He blinked up at Mark (who had definitely not been staring) and Mark cleared his throat and nodded. Donghyuck squinted at him for a second before continuing, "Maybe they picked the wrong kind of wallpaper I don't know, but it just doesn't feel like a house. It's like a museum or something. I swear I was scared of touching the furniture because I had the feeling his mom was gonna cut my hands off."

"Yeah, she can be kind of scary, but she can be really nice too. It's just occasions like this stress her out."

"Well she stresses me out. Also she has horrible taste, the only bearable room was Chenle's." 

 

The actual celebration with fireworks etc. took place out on the street. Every family had gone slightly over the top with the fireworks this year, but it wasn't like anyone was complaining. There was champagne for the adults and orange juice for the kids.

At five to 12 they were all huddled out on the street (now appropriately dressed in coats and hats), their breath coming out in misty puffs and Jisung and Mark were having a competition on who could hold their breath the longest. Mark lost, but only because Jaemin tried to throttle him with a empty firework wrapper. Also he was 97% sure Jisung cheated. Taeil was humming 'Auld Lang Syne' under his breath, Taeyong standing behind him, his arms wrapped around Taeil's waist and his chin resting on top of his head. He was humming as well, his deeper voice sweetly complementing Taeil's slightly higher one. 

Mark's mom caught him staring at the couple in a lost puppy kind of way, rolled her eyes and nodded her head pointedly in Donghyuck's direction, who was currently being stupid with Jeno. He shook his head and mouthed 'No' but she just rolled her eyes again and mouthed something that looked a lot like 'just fucking hug him you nerd' which he didn't really appreciate. When he carried on refusing she yanked his dad over, who was on the more drunk side of the spectrum. She whispered something in his ear and a shiteating grin broke across his face. Mark could feel his imminent doom rushing towards him. 

His dad tottered up behind him and before Mark could dodge or elbow him in the stomach, he pushed Mark with all his strength into Donghyuck's back. Donghyuck let out a surprised cry and stumbled forward, hands reaching out to break his oncoming fall. Mark's added weight didn't really help and in a fit of panic Mark reached out and grabbed him by the back of his coat, yanking him up into his chest where Donghyuck's head collided painfully with Mark's nose. Donghyuck wriggled free, a hand already rubbing the back of his head and something between a pout and a frown marring his features. 

"What was that for?" 

Prodding his nose, Mark turned to glare at his parents who waved cheerfully, "Legit not my fault." 

Donghyuck squinted suspiciously and hit him on the arm a few times before dropping it, his attention being drawn to where Jaehyun, Johnny and Hansol were helping Jeno's dad set up the first couple of fireworks. Kun's dad was handing out sparklers and Jisung, Chenle, Jaemin, Yuta and Ten were loudly counting down the seconds till 12 o'clock. 

People (mostly kids and very, very drunk adults) had joined in the counting and Donghyuck reappeared, nudging Mark's shoulder and silently holding out a already burning sparkler. "Moron." He muttered loud enough for Mark to hear and stepped on his foot. 

"Listen my dad-" 

"HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!" Literally the whole fucking street shouted before Mark could even get half of his sentence out and he flinched as Donghyuck whooped loudly next to his ear. 

Along with the cheering there was the distinct whistling sound of fireworks shooting up into the already flickering sky. Mark stared up into the night. Reds, blues, pinks and different shades of gold were dancing across dark sky, blocking out the moon and the stars with their own short lived but brilliant light.

He jumped when Donghyuck poked him in the cheek. He was saying something, but Mark couldn't hear him clearly over the noise, but it didn't really matter anyway because he got distracted by the lights and shadows the glittering sky were casting on Donghyuck's face. His lips were still moving but Mark's brain had short circuited and it didn't look like any language he recognised. His sparkler had burned out ages ago and Donghyuck knocked it out of his hand with an annoyed huff.

"Are you listening?" He half-shouted and Mark had to blink a couple of times before he could actually answer.

"Uh-" Donghyuck dropped his burnt out sparkler and stomped his foot. Mark ducked his head in a silent apology. 

"It's New Years Eve." Donghyuck said, leaning closer so that Mark could hear him better. 

"Uh- yes?" 

"And??" 

Mark stared at him, completely lost.

Donghyuck stomped his foot again, but this time looking more exasperated than angry. He gestured at Jaehyun and Doyoung who were wrapped up in each other. At Yuta and Hansol, Yuta had his arms slung around Hansol's neck and Hansol had his arms wrapped around his back, effectively pulling him closer. He continued to point out all the couples and non-couples. Jeno, who was staring at Jaemin with a look that made Mark's heart clench in sympathy and Jaemin was obliviously laughing up at the sparkling sky. Renjun had sat down on the curb of the pavement, watching with a smile and twinkling eyes as Chenle ran around him, sparklers in both hands and laughter bubbling from his lips. Mark didn't want to make assumptions, but he prided himself in knowing his friends pretty well, and under all the affection in Renjun's smile there was what could only be described as wistful sadness. Renjun caught him looking and waved, that hint of sadness melting into nothingness. 

Mark turned to look at Donghyuck who was watching him closely, an unreadable expression on his face. 

"I forgot what we were talking about." Mark admitted, grinning shamefacedly as Donghyuck rolled his eyes. 

"It doesn't matter." 

"Yes it does. What did you want to say?"

Donghyuck shuffled slightly and folded his arms across his chest, either because of the cold or some emotion Mark couldn't quite place. Embarrassment, maybe?

"What are they all doing?" He asked the pavement.

Mark cast another look around them and the realisation dawned on him.

"You could've just said." He said quietly, taking a step closer.

Donghyuck glared at him, "No I couldn't have."

"Yes, you could've." 

"No, no I couldn't, it would've been awkward. It's got you involved, of course it's going to be awkward." 

Mark stepped on his foot and Donghyuck kicked him in the shin.

"So...-" Mark said after almost a minute of silence.

Donghyuck glared at him, "You're stupid and awkward and I hate you."

"Okay." Mark smiled and Donghyuck let out a little frustrated growl.

Then he took half a step towards Mark, got on his tiptoes and kissed him. Mark, with all the grace of newborn giraffe, stumbled back a step before steadying himself by grabbing hold of Donghyuck's shoulders. He felt Donghyuck smile into the kiss and everything else faded into the background. Carefully, as not to startle the smaller boy, he moved his arms to Donghyuck's waist and Donghyuck instinctively grabbed him by the front of his coat. Neither of them felt like breaking the kiss.

They did stop however when they realised they were being watched. 'Stop' isn't even be the right word, 'jumped apart' might be a better fit.

Mark's mom was smiling proudly, her head on his father's chest and her hands clutched above her heart. Taeyong looked like he was about to cry and Taeil was just smiling, one hand holding Taeyong's, the other giving them a thumbs up. It was a very Taeil thing to do. But what really made them break the kiss was the singing. 

The whole fucking squad was huddled together, waving sparklers like a bunch of fucking nerds and singing at a truly obnoxious volume. It wasn't even singing, they were just shouting the lyrics to the song My Type at such a volume that it was making the other families down the street look at them funny.

Donghyuck laughed, a hint of colour rising in his cheeks as he yelled for them to cut it out. Mark buried his face in his hands, which only made the singing increase in volume. He was 99% sure his mom would join in if she knew the lyrics to the song. 

After that little stunt they all headed back inside, the parents grabbing a few things before finding their child and saying goodbye. Mark's mother hugged both Taeil and Taeyong, which caught both off guard, she then kissed Mark on the cheek and gave Donghyuck the longest hug in the history of hugs. Jisung got his own little goodbye ceremony of kisses and hugs, and a tiny bit of chocolate that Mark pretended not to see but planned on stealing later. 

The remaining adults had gotten permission from Chenle's dad to raid the liquor cabinet, but God forbid if they allowed any of the minors have even the tiniest sip of alcohol. They were given free rein of the entire house and the moment the parents were no longer visible out of any of the windows the party really started. First there was a joint hide-and-seek game, split into two groups of Youngsters and Ancients. Unsurprisingly the Youngsters won.

The night carried on with more games, movie watching and the older one's getting kind of drunk. 

This was also the night they all found out what kind of drunks the older ones were. The biggest and probably cutest surprise was that Taeyong was a giggly drunk. Like, full on rosy cheeked clingy giggly-ness that ended up infecting everyone in someway or another. Taeil was either hovering somewhere near Taeyong or being clung to whilst Taeyong rambled about why strawberries were his favourite food. The others were all somewhere between unnecessarily loud, clingy, emotional and funny. Donghyuck spent most of the evening trying to free himself of a suddenly incredibly affectionate and sappy Yuta, whilst Hansol had a deep and very emotional discussion with Sicheng and Ten about the importance of avocados. Johnny generally was as he was normally just louder and a little less awkward at times. Jaemin and Mark took care of him, because they wanted to play Overwatch and Johnny was shit at video games when he was drunk and they weren't going to let an opportunity like this go to waste. Jaehyun, Doyoung, Kun, Jeno, Renjun, Chenle and Jisung played a (more or less) innocent version of Truth or Dare. It involved a lot of weird and gross food related dares, a kiss on the cheek for Renjun from Chenle and a full on make-out session for Jaehyun and Doyoung. A make-out session that, if it hadn't been for a scandalised Taeil, probably would have escalated. 

The night ended with all of them spread across several rooms. Renjun had to carry Chenle to bed and there was a hushed fight between Jeno and Mark about who had to carry Jisung upstairs, Mark gave in at the end. Taeil didn't even try to put Taeyong anywhere sensible and left him in front of the couch and built a kind of pillow fort around him, a very short lived fort however, because Ten and Yuta ended up stealing half of the pillows. 

 

The morning passed by sluggishly with the mostly hungover adults sprawled across the living room, occasionally complaining and groaning whilst the younger one's made breakfast in the loudest and most irritating way possible. There was a truly disgusting left-over smoothie in the blender made out of bananas, chilli powder, vegetables and something dubious that had been at the back of the fridge. The discovery of this smoothie led to an intense rock/paper/scissors game which Kun and Jeno lost and they had to scrape the grey-ish brown sludge out of the blender and into a bin bag. 

Breakfast mostly consisted of left-overs from last night, with a few hastily scrambled and fried eggs and bacon in the mix.

The party officially broke up when, one by one, all the kids were picked up by their very tired and hungover parents. Donghyuck pulled Mark aside one last time and kissed him sweetly before running to catch up with Taeyong and Taeil who were already walking down the drive. 

Everything felt slightly unreal and numb. The sky was grey and there were burnt out fireworks littering the pavement, their damp ashy smell pervading the air. School would be starting again next week and just the idea of having to go back to that place made the weather even more miserable. 

 

/

 

It had been two weeks since Mark had last seen Donghyuck. Two full weeks and Mark was starting to get worried. This had never happened before. Sure, sometimes there would be a longer break between his visits, but Mark would normally at least see him for a bit after school, but not even that was happening. Complete radio silence. No surprise visits in the middle of the night, no shivering shadow leaning against the brick wall outside of his school who greeted him with a shove and a hasty kiss on the cheek, no accidental meet ups at the convenience store, absolutely nothing. Even Mark's mother was starting to get worried and Jaemin and Sicheng asked about him when he didn't show up. Mark's throat closed up every time a question about Donghyuck's whereabouts came up because he couldn't answer them and that made him feel like shit.

At some point during the second week Renjun pointed out he could just visit their flat and see what was wrong and Mark had told him in a frustrated tone that he had, many a time made it to the corner rounding onto Dahlia Street and looked up at where he assumed Donghyuck's window was and his confidence had slipped out of his hand and disappeared between one of the many cracks in the pavement. He had never actually made it to the lobby. 

Merging into the third week Mark was getting seriously worried, not only was there radio silence from Donghyuck but whenever he went to the convenience store on St Henry's street Taeyong wouldn't be there. Either it was that girl Joy or Yuta, who's mood definitely could be better. 

 

It was the fourth week and Mark was making his way downtown to the convenience store. First of all he needed something unhealthy to eat whilst he tried to memorise some chemistry related bullshit and he needed to talk to Yuta. And if he wasn't there he'd talk to Joy, they'd become pretty friendly since Mark turned up every other day to see if Taeyong was there. He'd gotten three Milky Ways for free so far. He liked Joy. Joy was cool. 

But today was a Yuta day, or at least it should be if the prick wasn't ill or something.

He wasn't and when Mark pushed open the door and a gust of cold air came in with him a disgruntled Yuta looked up. He was wearing glassed that Mark was pretty sure he didn't need and his hair was floppy and without product, making him look younger and more friendly than he actually was. But he actually seemed to be in a better mood than the last couple of days and Mark relaxed slightly.

"Heya Mark." He said and Mark waved, "Hello."

"What are you looking for?" 

"Unhealthy studying food?" Mark muttered, eyeing the aisle with the Ramen in it.

Yuta snorted and came out from behind the counter. "Anything specific?" 

"Nah, just generally unhealthy stuff."

"Well, I'm an expert so if you would just follow me." 

Mark returned to the counter with three different kinds of Ramen, a big bag of crisps, two cans of Red Bull and an extra large Americano coffee. Yuta materialised back behind the counter and grinned down at the pile in front of him.

"That's how I got through high school." He said as he started scanning the items. 

"This is probably how I'm gonna get through the majority of my life."

"Ah, same."

Mark yawned and his stomach growled loudly. Yuta smiled and pointed at the display with the price on it. "Cough up." 

"Joy's nicer than you." Mark grumbled as he pulled out a crumpled note. 

Yuta shrugged, "The manager likes her, so she can afford giving you free stuff."

"And you can't?" 

Yuta handed him the change, "Nah, I like having a job." 

Mark nodded and started packing the things into his rucksack. 

"Do you want to eat here?" 

Mark froze, a can of Red Bull hovering over his open rucksack, "Can I?" he asked hesitantly. Either Yuta was really good at reading body language or he was secretly telepathic, how else would he know that Mark wanted to talk. 

"No, I just offer this kind of shit just to cruelly shoot you down right after." Yuta deadpanned and grabbed a packet of Ramen. 

"Sounds like a thing you'd do. What if another customer comes in?"

"Just pretend you work here." Yuta called from the Staff Only room. 

"Oh yeah, obviously." Mark muttered under his breath and crammed the rest of his things into his bag. Then he slid behind the counter and dumped his bag next to Yuta's tasteful mustard yellow rucksack and joined Yuta in the backroom. 

It wasn't anything fancy. A cramped white walled room with metal stocking shelves lining every wall except one, which left space for a small table, a microwave, kettle and some mugs. A tattered and used looking cat calendar was the only thing that decorated that wall. Yuta was bent over the small metal table, adjusting the settings on the microwave whilst at the same time trying to fish some chopsticks out of a mug.

"You can sit there." He gestured at the only other chair in the room and Mark gratefully plopped down.

Whilst the Ramen circulated in the microwave Yuta turned the room upside down in his search for bowls. They were stacked in an unsanitary pile under the table behind a a plastic box full of sponges and washing powder.

Three minutes later the Ramen was ready and they tried to evenly share it.

They sat in relative silence for a couple of minutes, the only sound being the quiet beeping of the security system in the shop and their slurping.

"Not very busy." Mark said after a little while.

"No, it's always like this at this time of the day." 

"Huh." 

Another two minutes of silence.

"Been coming here a lot haven't you?"

Mark looked up from his bowl, a few noodles trailing out of his mouth.

"Joy told me and well, I was here most of the time."

Mark swallowed his noodles, "Sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry about, you're paying my wages." 

"True."

"So...why are you coming here so often?"

"I wanted- want to talk to you about something." 

Yuta didn't seem very surprised and set his bowl down on the concrete floor, motioning for Mark to do the same.

"And...?"

"Well-" Mark mumbled, this was going to sound incredibly stupid, "how's Donghyuk? Or Taeyong for that matter?"

Yuta's face remained passive and Mark's brain whirled, trying desperately to come up with a better way of saying what he wanted to say.

"It's just- he hasn't been around for ages and I'm worried. I'm sorry this sounds stupid and clingy but, it's just- " Frustrated, Mark ran a hand through his hair, "- he doesn't usually do this. I mean yeah, he's always been a bit weird and sporadic, but he's never been gone so long. And in all the time that I've known him, he's said some pretty weird shit and I'm just worried and I don't know what to do and-" he broke off, his voice catching on the last syllable and he bowed his head in something akin to shame.

Yuta's passive expression melted into a concerned frown as he leaned forward and ruffled Mark's hair. It was a weird but comforting gesture and Mark couldn't help but lean into it. School was getting pretty stressful, especially for Johnny, Ten, Kun and Sicheng who were in their final year, but also for the others. Mark didn't think his worrying about Donghyuk would help anyone relieve stress so he kept it to himself. Only Jisung and his mother were slightly more aware of how much the lack of Donghyuck's presence was actually affecting him. He had a semi permanent cold from leaving his window open to wide and the lack of a proper nights rest was affecting his grades. It was all a bit much and he felt incredibly stupid for reacting this way, but he couldn't really help it. If Donghyuck had at least told him he wouldn't be around for four weeks he would've been alright, but this unexplained disappearance was doing his head in and affecting his health. 

"Are you okay?"

Mark let out a mechanical laugh and cringed away from Yuta's outstretched hand, "Yeah no, I'm fine. Just overreacting. I'm sorry."

Yuta frowned, "Don't talk bullshit." 

He was just about to say something else when they heard the shop door creaking open and a gaggle of highschool students clattered inside. Yuta grimaced and got to his feet, "Stay here. We'll talk in a second." 

Mark nodded and watched him sidle out of the door. He glanced down at his now lukewarm bowl of noodles and sighed. He felt stupid, sitting here in a cramped storage room and bearing his soul to guy he didn't even know that well. Admittedly it was Yuta and if Mark had to bear his soul to anyone he'd definitely pick Yuta. Yuta seemed like that kind of person who was good at handling stuff like that. Logical yet sympathetic, open minded and kind at heart. Sometimes he did say things a little to harshly, but he meant well and Mark was sure that Yuta could control his tongue when it came to sensitive subjects like this. Or at least he hoped so.

A couple of minutes later Yuta returned schooling his mildly annoyed expression into one of calm sympathy. He picked up their bowls and put them on top of the microwave.

"Where do you wash those up?" Mark asked.

"The bathroom, there isn't any other sink in the building."

"Oh. Okay."

"Yeah."

Yuta pottered around a little longer before finally sitting down opposite Mark and folding his hands in his lap.

"So..." he started, tilting his head slightly.

"So..." Mark echoed, unsure of what to say.

The tiniest hint of a smile tugged at Yuta's lips and he cleared his throat, "Donghyuck, right?"

Mark nodded.

"He's at home."

"Oh." Mark swallowed thickly and let his gaze drop to the floor.

"Why didn't come visit?" Yuta's tone wasn't accusatory just softly confused.

"I- I did. Kind of. I was at the street corner, but I couldn't- " Mark trailed off.

When Yuta didn't say anything he glanced up. Yuta was nodding slowly, "It's fine. It might've been better that you didn't visit."

"Why?"

Yuta sighed and ran a hand through his hair, "Listen, it's a lot. I'll tell and explain as much as I can, but some of this shit isn't for me to say. Some of it you'll have to hear from either Donghyuck or Taeyong, but I can kinda explain some of it. It might make all of this a little bit clearer."

"Okay."

"Yeah uh- " He scraped his chair around a bit till he had found a more comfortable position. "Taeyong and Donghyuck are brothers, right?"

"Right." Mark said, a bit confused.

"Right," Yuta confirmed and then carried on, "you've been in Donghyuck's room yeah?"

"Yes."

"Well then you've probably seen that little photograph over his desk, right?"

The picture of a young Taeyong, a chubby cheeked Donghyuck and smiling nameless woman popped up in Mark's mind and he nodded. 

"Yeah okay, well, that's as you might have already guessed, his mother."

"Yes." 

"She's dead." 

Mark swallowed and nodded. 

"All I know is that she died in January- " Mark's eyes widened slightly, "and that she died in a car crash on that big intersection between the south and west district. It was a green light and she drove across and then some fucker in a truck came hurtling down the lane to her left and hit her and two other cars straight on. It was in the news for days, because the fucker in the truck was the major's son and he'd killed four people. You're to young to remember, but I bet if you asked your parents they could tell you about it." 

Mark nodded, his mouth slightly open. 

"Anyway, she was lucky. She died immediately, I think the guy who was driving in the lane next to her choked to death on his own blood." 

Mark stared at him and Yuta blinked, "Sorry, that was inappropriate. Anyway, when she died Donghyuck must've been around eight or seven, I can't be sure. Oh, and another thing, both Taeyong and Donghyuck grew up in the south district."

"O- okay." 

"Yeah, not a happy place. Anyway they lived there up to the day Taeyong turned 18 and then they moved up here."

"Why?"

Yuta looked unsure, "It's complicated, let's just say their dad was a bit of an asshole. So they moved up here, lived in a really, really shitty one room apartment for a while and then Taeyong met Taeil and now here we are." 

"What do you mean with their dad was shitty?"

"It's not my place to tell, I'm sorry. Ask Donghyuck or Taeyong. Actually ask Taeyong, Donghyuck's view of the whole shitshow is a bit warped since he was kinda young. Kids always perceive this kinda shit differently than adults do." He caught Mark's open-mouthed expression and elaborated, "I'm serious when I say that it's complicated, he's the way he is now because of- because of all of that." 

It wasn't the most enlightening conversation Mark had ever had but it explained a lot of Donghyuck's weird little ticks and general aversion to personal questions. Sure, there were still more questions than answers, but Mark did now know a little more about his mysterious- boyfriend? Mark wasn't sure what they were, yeah there was a lot of hand holding, teasing and kissing but they hadn't talked about it and did all that really amount to a proper relationship or was it just some weird teenager thing? Never mind, he was getting off track. 

"And why hasn't Taeyong been to work?" 

"Well, he's ill. Ah, no it's more complicated than that, but you could say that he's ill- in a way...kind of." 

Mark stared at him and Yuta squirmed uncomfortably, "It's really not my place to be talking about any of this shit." 

"But you are."

"Yeah yeah, okay but that's because you and Donghyuck are-" he intertwined his hands and waved them in Mark's face, "like that, y'know? I'd be a fucking bastard if I didn't at least try to explain something. I mean look at you, you look half dead." 

"Thanks." 

"Seriously though, have you lost weight?" 

"No!" Yuta looked unimpressed and Mark floundered slightly, "Maybe. By accident." he conceded quietly. 

"Shit. Is it that bad?" 

"I eat less when I'm stressed." 

"Will it get better now?" 

"Well I still don't know what the fuck is going on so, no probably not." Mark couldn't quite disguise the underlying bitterness in his words. 

"I wish I could tell you more."

"Why can't you!?" Mark half-yelled, the bitterness seamlessly merging into frustration and anger that had been simmering under his skin for quite some time. 

Yuta didn't flinch or show any other signs of hurt, he just looked sad and apologetic, his hands twisting in his lap as he looked at Mark with a look that made the anger in his chest rise and stutter at the same time. It frustrated him and he let out an angry half growl, half shout and put his face in his hands. There were tears welling up in his eyes and he hated it. He hated how fucking pathetic he must look. He hated crying, especially in front of people. 

He lurched back in his chair has he felt a hesitant hand on his knee and Yuta jerked his hands above his head in surrender. Mark looked at him for a few seconds before a sob ripped it's way out of his throat and he collapsed in on himself. Yuta rushed forward catching by the shoulders and pulling him close.

He let Mark cry for what felt like hours but in reality were only minutes. Slowly but surely Mark calmed down again, his mouth was dry and his head hurt. He just wanted to go home. 

Carefully, as if he was handling a newborn child, Yuta placed him back in his chair and went out into the store to get him a bottle of water.

"It's on me." He said quietly as he handed the bottle to Mark, who took it with shaking hands. 

"Thank you." He croaked, refusing to meet Yuta's gaze. 

After he had finished drinking Yuta took the bottle and put it down on the floor next Mark's rucksack, when he came back he crouched down slightly to peer at Mark, a worried frown drawing lines between his eyebrows. 

"You need to sleep." He stated after a while.

Mark could only smile blearily, "I can't."

"Why?"

"School-" and then after a pause, "Donghyuck." 

"Donghyuck." Yuta repeated softly.

"You haven't told me if he's alright. Is he alright?"

Different kinds of emotions passed over Yuta's face before it finally settled on a sad smile, "He could be better." 

"Is he ill?"

"Not exactly. It's complicated."

"Yeah," Mark murmured, "yeah I thought so." 

"I'm sorry." 

"No! No, no it's fine really. I'm sorry for bursting out like that, that was stupid and I'm sorry. I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to act like that I'm-" 

"Stop apologising." 

Mark snapped his mouth shut and Yuta looked surprised. "I'm not mad at you Mark. I can understand how you're feeling, I really can and I'm sorry I can't tell you more, but most of all it's not my place to tell and I don't even know the whole story. You'd have to ask Taeyong or Taeil."

Mark nodded.

"Ask Taeil. Taeyong doesn't like talking about it, okay?"

"Okay."

"But you can try asking him too. He might tell you, since you're so close with Donghyuck." 

"I will." 

"Do you have Taeil's phone number?"

Mark shook his head.

"Here let me." he gestured for Mark to hand him his phone and then quickly typed in a number and saved it as a contact. "Call him before you drop by."

"Okay." 

Yuta looked at him for a second before getting to his feet again and handing the phone back. "Can you make it home alright? If not I'll walk you." 

"But- the shop?"

"Fuck the shop, I don't want you collapsing in the middle of the street." 

Mark blinked up at him for a second and then shook his head, "I'll be fine." 

Yuta didn't look convinced, "You better fucking eat something proper and then go straight to bed." he said and Mark bowed his head, "I will."

"You better."

"Yes."

Mark slowly made his way out of the backroom with Yuta hovering behind him. Outside the store the streetlamps had gone on and the sun had disappeared behind a menacing front of black thunderclouds. Mark felt ever so slightly dizzy and the bright fluorescent lights only made the headache that was pounding in his temples worsen. He stumbled slightly but quickly steadied himself on the counter. 

"I'm walking you home." Yuta said with finality but Mark waved him off. 

"Listen it's fine." Yuta started to speak but Mark interrupted him, "Please, I'll be fine." 

After a minute or two Yuta finally agreed, "Alright, but I will fucking call your mom to see if you got home." 

"Is that a threat." 

"Very much so. You better get home safe." 

"I'll do my best." 

"Mhm. Just be careful. Do you have an umbrella?"

"No, but my coat has a hood." 

"Fine. Get going before those clouds are on top of us."

Mark smiled weakly and pulled his hood over his head and slung his rucksack on his back, "I'll see you around."

"I'll see you when you've slept properly and had something proper to eat." 

"Yessir." Mark smiled and then grimaced when his headache flared.

"Remember-" Yuta called as Mark pushed the door open and a gust of icy air blew against his face, "I know where you live."

"No you don't."

"You'd be surprised sweetie. No go, don't do anything stupid and sit down if you think you're gonna faint."

"Yes okay, understood. Bye Yuta." He waved one last time before stepping out into the dimly lit street. Yuta watched him leave, worry bubbling up in his stomach. 

 

Mark was halfway home when his phone started vibrating in pocket. Shivering, his vision blurred by the wind-induced tears he pulled his phone out and squinted at the display. Jaehyun's name glared up at him and he hastily accepted the call. 

"Hello? Jaehyun?" He called, his voice scraped painfully along his throat and he coughed. 

"Mark?"

That wasn't Jaehyun's voice. Mark frowned and then glanced up at the sky. The dark clouds were closing in and he could already feel a few raindrops hitting his head and hands. 

"Who is this?" 

"It's Taeil, I'm-" there was a distant rumbling of thunder and Mark glanced nervously up at the sky again, "borrowing Jaehyun's because mine's run out of charge and the charger's gone."

"Okay. Is everything okay?" Even with the distant thunder and the noise of the nearby street Mark wasn't deaf to the suppressed note of panic in Taeil's voice.

"N- no actually. I know you haven't been around much recently and I really hope I'm not interrupting anything but, uhm-" another loud crash of thunder and Mark slowly started walking again, his gaze not leaving the churning sky. "-have you by any chance seen Donghyuck?"

Mark froze in his steps and the first slash of blinding lightning cut through the mass of dark clouds, "What."

"We- we don't know where he is." The panic in Taeil's voice was clear now and a cold shower ran down Mark's back, "He's gone."

 

 

Chapter Text

Mark collapsed gasping at the top of the stairs on the 23rd floor. His headache had given way to a dizzy light-headed feeling and his hands were trembling. He really wasn't in any state to be of any use, but still, here he was. He had run all the way, only now and then taking short breaks when he thought his legs would give way. That's what you get for not eating or sleeping properly for three weeks. The only things in his stomach were the noodles, water and the two pieces of toast he had this morning. 

Slowly getting back to his feet Mark wiped some of the stray raindrops from his face and rung the doorbell of Taeyong and Taeil's apartment. Not even a second later the door was yanked open. 

Taeil stood in the doorway, his fading red-ish brown hair ruffled and dark shadows under his eyes. He looked pale and wired yet he still managed a tight-lipped smile when he saw Mark. 

"Mark," he breathed and Mark caught the hint of relief in his voice and let himself be pulled into the living room. 

Only a few lights were on, casting the couch and the hallway in darkness so Mark had to blink a few times to adjust. His gaze settled on a hunched figure sitting at the kitchen table, his back to the door. It was Taeyong. His hair looked damp and there was a dripping leather jacket draped over a nearby chair. He sat hunched, his shoulders tense and his posture stiff and controlled. In his hands was a steaming coffee mug, which he was clutching so tightly his knuckles stood out painfully white against his skin.

Mark glanced at Taeil who was hovering over his shoulder, he just shook his head and then pulled him into the kitchen. The kitchen was better lit and Taeil squinted at him. In the bright artificial light of the kitchen Taeil looked even worse. There was no color in his cheeks, his eyes looked red and watery and his hands were trembling ever, ever so slightly.

"You look awful," Taeil said in a hushed tone and Mark couldn't help but smile because he had been about to say the exact same thing.

"Yeah. You do too."

A wry smile flickered across Taeil's face. "Yeah."

"Are you okay?"

"Not really. Are you okay?"

"No."

There was a moment of silence as they both wallowed in their own self-pity.

Then suddenly another spout of light-headedness overcame Mark and leaned heavily on the counter, closing his eyes for a second as his stomach twisted painfully. When he opened them again Taeil was staring at him, worry lines forming around his mouth as he reached up to feel Mark's forehead. His hand was cool and Mark sighed gratefully.

"You have a bit of a fever," Taeil stated, taking his hand away again. 

"Oh, okay. I didn't realize." Mark murmured, reaching up to feel for himself.

"Have you got a cold?"

"Uhm- no, I don't think so."

"Then why do you look like a walking corpse?"

"Uh- I haven't been sleeping very well."

Taeil waited for Mark to elaborate.

"And uhm...I haven't really been eating much either?"

"Why?"

Mark squirmed. "I- I don't- school mostly. It's pretty stressful."

"Mostly," Taeil echoed.

Mark nervously cleared his throat and trained his gaze down on the orange tiles beneath his feet. "I was- no, I am worried about Donghyuck and when I'm worried and stressed I forget to eat and I don't sleep properly. It's stupid, I know but I can't help it." 

Taeil was frowning. "When did you last eat?"

"Maybe half an hour ago? I shared some ramen with Yuta."

"And what else have you eaten today?" Taeil asked, already turning to the fridge in busy kind of way that reminded Mark of his mother.

"Toast and that ramen."

Taeil whirled around, "What the- are you kidding me?"

Mark bowed his head guiltily. "I don't have much of an appetite."

"Fucking hell," Taeil turned back to the fridge, "how much sleep are you getting?"

"Four to five hours."

"I'm gonna call your mom."

"She already knows, Taeil. This always happens when there are a lot of exams- just, this time it's a bit more...-"

"Extreme?" Taeil offered as Mark stuttered in search for the right word.

"Yeah. I'm sorry."

"Don't say that. I'm gonna make you some food and we'll talk after you've eaten, alright?"

Mark nodded and there was another painful twist in his gut and he gripped the countertop in an effort to stay upright.  

"Sit down somewhere, please. I'm scared you'll collapse." 

Mark turned and eyed the dim living room. Taeyong was still sitting at the table, his gaze focused on the mug clutched between his fingers. There was an ever so slight tremble in his shoulders like there was some violent earthquake raging in his bones. Mark looked back at Taeil, who was watching Taeyong with wide, sad eyes his hands hanging limply at his sides. He looked worn and tired. An air of almost childlike helplessness hung around him, making him seem both younger and older at the same time. It made Mark want to hug him. 

"Why don't you stay in Donghyuck's room for now? I'll come in when the food's ready," Taeil said quietly, finally tearing his gaze away from Taeyong's frozen shadow. 

Mark nodded and instinctively reached out to squeeze Taeil's hand. Taeil looked at him, unshed tears sparkling in his eyes and he squeezed Mark's hand in return.  

 

Donghyuck's room didn't really look any different than it had the last time Mark had been there. The same posters, books, and scattered clothes. The same organized chaos that Mark had learned to associate with Donghyuck. The room was dark and the curtains were open, revealing the dark windowpanes and the violent storm raging outside. Mark hoped Donghyuck had a roof over his head. 

He walked over to the desk and switched the lamp on, it cast a warm orange glow across the room. The picture of Donghyuck, Taeyong and their mother still hung on the pinboard. The woman had Donghyuk on her arm, whilst Taeyong clung to her side, a bright gummy smile on his face that Mark swore he hadn't seen on his face before. It must've become a very rare smile. They looked like they were in a garden or park. The fading sunlight casting all three in a golden ethereal light. 

Mark's heart and stomach twisted painfully, both for different reasons and he moved away from the desk to sit down on Donghyuck's bed. Sitting down, his back against the wall next to the window, he pulled out his phone. His notifications were clogged with text messages and missed phone calls. 

Jhonny: dude where are you? (5:23 PM)

Jhonny: seriously where are you?? (5:25 PM)

Jhonny: you wrer gonna come to Ten's today remember?? (5:25 PM)

Jhonny: *were (5:25 PM)

Jhonny: are you sick? (5:26 PM)

Jhonny: wait are you at home (5:26 PM)

Jhonny: why tf aren't you at home your mom is freaking out (5:29 PM)

Mark frowned guiltily down at his phone and tipped on the next chat. 

Tennyten: uhm why aren't u here?????? (5:12 PM)

Tennyten: is ur phone dead or are u ignoring me (5:13 PM)

Tennyten: ur fucking late what is this (5:16 PM) 

Tennyten: where are u???? johnnys lowkey freakinng out (5:24 PM)

Tennyten: One Missed Call (5:27 PM)  

Tennyten: Two Missed Calls (5:27 PM)

Tennyten: Three Missed Calls (5:28 PM) 

The list went on and Mark quickly scrolled past all of it, clicking on the other chats without actually looking at the messages. 

Mom: Johnny just called, why aren't you with the others? He thought you were here. Where are you? (5:27 PM) 

Mom: There's a storm, you shouldn't be outside. Have you eaten anything since breakfast? (5:28 PM)

Mom: Is everything alright? (5:28 PM)

Mom: Why aren't you answering? Are you okay? (5:29 PM)

Mom: One Missed Call (5:29 PM)

Mom: Two Missed Calls (5:30 PM)

He had five missed calls from Ten, three from Jaemin and Renjun and 9 from his mother. He sat there, thumbs hovering over the keypad as he tried to think of something appropriate to say. 

Mork: I'm fine. I'm at Donghyuck's, something came up (5:43 PM) 

Jhonny: are you okay????? what happened?? (5:44 PM)

Mork: idk really, i'm fine though (5:44 PM)

Jhonny: warn us next time okay? (5:44 PM)

Jhonny: also text your fucking mom (5:45 PM) 

Mark couldn't help but smile at the last text and quickly typed up something for her. 

Mork: sorry for not picking up, I'm at Donghyuck's something came up (5:45 PM)

Mork: I'm alright btw, don't worry (5:45 PM)

Mom: What happened? Is Donghyuck alright? (5:47 PM)

Mork: I don't know (5:47 PM) 

Mom: Okay. Stay out of trouble and eat something, you're not eating enough. And try to get some sleep, come home as soon as possible. I'll let you stay at home the next few days. (5:48 PM)

Mork: Will do (5:48 PM)

Mom: Good, say something before just wondering off like that. (5:49 PM) 

Mork: Okay, I'm sorry (5:49 PM)

Mark stared blankly at the bright screen. Hailstones, rain, and snow were still clattering against the windowpane and Mark crawled over to the window and forcefully yanked the curtains shut. As if in protest the sky lit up and a fork of lightning stabbed through the seething clouds, closely followed by a threatening crash of thunder that made Mark flinch away from the window. His eyes were itching from the lack of sleep and his stomach was twisting itself into painful knots. Slowly, he sank back down against the wall and his phone glided out from between his fingers and clattered to the floor. He couldn't be bothered to pick it up. 

About 15 minutes later there was a quiet knock on the door and Mark blearily called, "Yes?" 

Taeil came in holding a tray with a big bowl of pasta, tomato sauce, a plate with fried chicken and a bottle of water on it. Mark sat up a little straighter and a small smile flickered across Taeil's face. 

"You'll have to eat on the floor, I don't want to risk any stains on the sheets," he said, setting the tray down on the floor and smiling apologetically. 

"That's no problem," Mark croaked, sliding off the bed and onto the floor. 

Taeil closed the bedroom door, then dumped the mountain of clothes that had been on Donghyuck's desk chair on the bed and sat down with a tired sigh. He watched for a while as Mark ate and then said, "Don't eat too quickly, you'll throw up." 

Mouth full and some of the color returning to his cheeks, Mark nodded and tried to control himself. 

After he had finished Taeil took the tray back to the kitchen and when he came back, sat down on floor opposite Mark.

"I'm guessing you have some questions."

Mark swallowed. "Y-yeah I do. But uhm, Yuta did tell me some things so...yeah."

"What did he tell you about?"

"About the car crash and how they moved up here when Taeyong turned 18." 

"Anything else?"

Mark shook his head. "He said it wasn't his place to tell." 

He waited for Taeil to say something, but he stayed quiet his gaze trained on the floor and a thoughtful expression on his face. 

"Why didn't you come 'round in four weeks?" He asked suddenly, his gaze whipping up to Mark's face, a gaze that might have been intimidating if it weren't Taeil and if it weren't for the fact that he looked half dead. 

"I- I kind of did-" Mark stuttered, "I made it to the street, but I never actually...-" he trailed off, avoiding Taeil's questioning gaze. 

"Why?" Was the simple question.

"It's stupid." 

"No, it's not." 

Mark looked at him, the tiniest hint of a sympathetic smile was tugging at Taeil's lips and he said quietly, "It's really not." 

Mark nodded slowly, but then let his gaze drop down on the floor, "Okay. So uh- the week after the New Years party he didn't come visit me at all and he normally stays with me a lot during the holidays, but I didn't see him once, not even accidentally. And I thought, like, maybe he's just busy or something and I tried not to think about it too much. I mean, I don't want to be clingy or suffocating, he needs his own space, so I stayed away and thought it'd all be back to normal once school started again. But then he didn't show up again, for like, the whole week not even for a quick hello after I finish school. And then Joy and some dude I don't know started filling in for Taeyong at the convenience store and that's when I got kinda worried."

"Because both weren't showing up?" Taeil asked. 

"Yeah, and then on Thursday after school I walked up here to see if Donghyuck was alright, I mean he might've been sick and I'd be a shitty- a shitty friend if I didn't check up on him, but then I saw Taeyong storming out of the lobby looking fucking livid so I changed my mind and thought I'd visit on the weekend. But after that, I couldn't really pick up the courage to actually- y'know go up to your apartment. I mean, I'm not stupid and there must've been a reason as to why Donghyuck wasn't talking or meeting up with me anymore and in the third week I thought that m-maybe he didn't like anymore for some reason."

Taeil started to say something but Mark cut him off, "I know, I know how that sounds. It's stupid, but I could be right, couldn't I?"

"That's not-" Taeil rubbed a hand over his eyes, "that's not true and you know it."

Mark stared at him, eyes wide and hands twisting in his lap.

"He still definitively likes you. He likes you a lot. Him not showing up has nothing to do with how much he likes or dislikes you. It's something else." 

 Mark's hands stilled in his lap. "Are you sure?"

"He was under house arrest, he couldn't go to see you." 

There was a lengthy paused as Mark tried to process what Taeil had just said. 

"Sorry- what?"

"Ah, this is-" Taeil ran a hand through his hair, "-this going to be...fuck, do you want a cup of tea?" 

Highly confused and still trying to process the house arrest sentence Mark stared at him, "Wha- what, but you just said...?" 

"Yeah I know and I'll explain it all in a second, but I need a cup of tea. Do you want one too?" 

"I- I guess, yeah."

"Okay, c'mon." 

Mark followed Taeil back into the now better lit living room. A cold, half-finished mug of coffee sat on the kitchen table, the leather jacket that had been draped over one of the chairs had moved to the coat rack next to the front door. Taeyong was standing in the middle of the living room, a phone pressed to his right ear and a concentrated scowl clouding his features. 

Taeil caught Taeyong's eye and mouthed 'Who?' whilst waving at the phone. Taeyong held the phone away from his ear for a second and said with a hoarse voice, "Doyoung." Then he looked at Mark and added, "I'm glad you're here," before turning away again and telling Doyoung to repeat what he had just said. 

Taeil ushered Mark into the kitchen where he then filled the kettle and pulled two mugs and two teabags out of one of the cupboards. Mark watched him in silence, doing his very best not to eavesdrop on Taeyong's conversation with Doyoung. When the tea was ready Taeil put the two mugs on the kitchen table and gestured to one of the chairs. Mark sat down a little awkwardly and cringed as the chair dragged loudly over the floorboards. He looked down at their mugs and had to bite down a half smile as he realized that Taeil had given himself the chipped Peter Pan mug and Mark the fairly new looking Winnie the Pooh one. It was weird, but Mark thought that summed Taeil up pretty well.

Taeyong glanced over at them and had a little silent conversation with Taeil whilst Mark sat there and tried to decipher what they were saying, judging by their facial expressions. Less than a second later Taeyong nodded and told Doyoung that they'd talk later. Then he hung up and sat down next to Taeil, folding his hands on the tabletop and looking at Mark with red-rimmed, tired eyes. 

"I don't know where Donghyuck is," he started in a slightly defensive tone and Mark blinked.

"That's not- that wasn't what I-" Mark nervously he glanced at Taeil, who nudged Taeyong with a pointed look. 

Taeyong ran a hand over his face and sighed, "I know, I know I'm sorry that wasn't very- very tactful. I'm sorry."

"He's been missing since last night," Taeil said, his grip on the mug visibly tightening. 

"Oh." Was the only thing Mark could manage. There was an odd hollow feeling spreading through his chest and he had to actively think about breathing because it felt like his lungs didn't want to cooperate. 

"We've looked everywhere. I was up at the old apartment blocks," Taeyong murmured. That would explain his muddy boots, jeans and the leftover dirt that was clinging to the skin of his hands. "Hansol went down to the mall by the Little River," he continued.

For clarification, Taeil added, "He used to go there a lot, but then it got too crowded what with the mall and everything and he stopped going, but it was worth a shot." 

"Yeah, and Doyoung and Jaehyun have just been going around the North and Central district, there are some places where he hangs out occasionally. We haven't found him though." 

Mark didn't know what to say, the hollow feeling pressed against his ribs and he bowed his head, his fingers searching for the comforting warmth of the hot cup of tea. 

"But there's one other place he could be," Taeyong said after a long, hollow pause and Mark looked up so quickly his neck cracked.

"Where?" He rasped out of a very dry throat and quickly drank a gulp of scolding hot tea. 

Taeil reached out and squeezed Taeyong's hand. "I can do this if you want," he mumbled softly and Taeyong closed his eyes for a second. 

"No, no, it's fine. It's fine, I can- I'll tell...-" he waved one hand vaguely in the air and Taeil nodded and pulled his hand back. "I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything," he added quietly before getting up and then after a moment's hesitation leaning down and placing a quick kiss on top of Taeyong's head. 

They sat in silence for a while, Taeyong's gaze was focused on the table where he was absentmindedly picking at a pretty new looking scar at the tip of his thumb. 

"I'll just- tell you stuff, right?" The note of uncertainty in Taeyong's voice made Mark look up. Taeyong was looking at him, the uncertainty in his voice matching the wide-eyed look in his eyes and Mark's throat constricted slightly. "Just go for it," he said.

Taeyong nodded and took a deep breath, "So uhm...Donghyuck and me, we were born and raised in the South district, but I'm guessing you already knew that." He looked up at Mark for confirmation and Mark nodded. 

"We weren't very well off, like, at all, really. Our mother worked as a waitress and our- our dad was unemployed. I literally don't remember a single time in my life where he ever had a job that lasted longer than a week. We lived in a shitty fucking hovel near the old church, do you know where that is?" 

"Y-yeah, I think so." 

"Well it's a shithole. There were better places that we could've actually afforded with a little debt, but he refused to move so we were stuck there. And when I say it was a shithole, I mean that. There were days when we didn't have any electricity or hot water, it was dingy and disgusting, there was mold, rats you fucking name it. My mother did everything to make it at least slightly habitable. We had a dog too, but he died of hypothermia. He was old, so my father left him outside on a cold December night, he did that because it was cheaper than having him put down. His name was Floyd, he was my mother's dog."

Taeyong's hands were trembling, his knuckles standing out harshly against his skin and Mark had to bite down the urge to reach forward and hold his hands. 

"He was abusive, y'know." Mark flinched and his gaze flicked up to Taeyong's face. A thin, humorless smile was plastered across his face, making Mark shiver. Then with a still shaking hand, Taeyong carefully pushed a few strands of stray hair out of his eyes and took a deep breath. The smile fell from his face like a plane that had been shot down, cracking slowly before hurtling down and crashing to the ground in a ball of flames. But there were no tears, no dramatic sobbing, just the remnants of a child's helpless pain and an adult's confused anger flickering in his eyes. It hit Mark more than tears ever could. 

"Mostly just to my mother before Donghyuck was born, but- " the rest of the sentence got stuck in his throat and he raised a shaking hand to cover his mouth. Mark had never thought he'd see Taeyong, someone he saw as strong and capable, so vulnerable. The hollowness in his chest expanded forcefully and Mark gripped his mug a little tighter.

"He didn't want a kid and he was already in a bad way before I was born and it just- it escalated. I don't think I've ever seen anyone with so much hate in them as my- as him. He hated my mother for having me and he hated me for existing."

"But why- why didn't she leave?" Mark wasn't sure how insensitive this question was, but he was willing to risk it.

"She did try, a couple of times when I was still really young, but she never actually-" he paused and closed his eyes for a second, "-I think it's called victim's guilt or something like that. She felt like the abuse was her fault, she was scared, so she always came back. The other problem was that she could remember what he was like before he- she could remember him at his best and she clung to that even though he sometimes beat her up so bad she couldn't go to work. He was emotionally manipulative, he'd beat her up and then beg for her forgiveness. He would tell her that every bruise I got was her fault, he told her that if she left, he'd find us and kill me in front of her eyes and it would all be her fault. He'd ignore her for weeks, suddenly lash out at either me or her and then deny it ever happening. And then along with all that she got pregnant again."

Mark stared at him, open-mouthed, the hollow feeling blocking any words from coming out of his mouth. 

"Sexual assault," Taeyong said bluntly and the anger and pain in his eyes flared up for a second before dulling again. "You really think she would still willingly go to bed with him?" 

Mark swallowed. "Did he hurt Donghyuck as well?"

"It depends. He flat out hated me, no emotional manipulation, no gaslighting, just pure hate. With my mother and Donghyuck, it was different. He could be incredibly sweet when he wanted to, especially to Donghyuck. Donghyuck would get the sweetest praise and love, but he'd also get the harshest beatings. I took them for him whenever-" Taeyong's voice cracked and he blinked a couple of times before continuing, "- whenever I could but it didn't work very often. Raise a kid with that kind of contradicting, toxic behavior and it's gonna have some trouble. Donghyuck has, I wouldn't say faulty, but uh... a selective memory of our father. Because he was so young at the time he can't really tell sometimes if the bad things he's gone through were real or not, that's called gaslighting, he doubts his own perception and memory and all thanks to that monster. Donghyuck, like my mother, remembers the good things about him and either can't clearly remember the bad things or isn't sure if they really happened. He get's nightmares, like, a lot of nightmares, when we first moved here he hardly slept, he kept running away and at some point, I had to lock him up. You have no idea how much he hated me. It took more than a year for him to trust me again. Those years were the hardest of my life."

Silence fell over them. The trembling in Taeyong's shoulders seemed to have subsided a little bit, as if a weight as heavy as the sky, had been lifted off his shoulders. He looked older somehow, the odd lighting casting sharp jagged shadows across his face. He looked almost skeletal. How much life could memories like that get out of one person? How much strength must Taeyong possess to bear that weight not just for himself, but for his little brother as well? How can one person carry the sky and still manage to hold his little brother's hand? How? Mark could only imagine possessing that kind of strength. 

Then he started up again, his voice barely above a hoarse whisper, "About, what, four weeks ago? Yeah, four weeks, just after New Years, we got a call from the hospital in the S-south District and we were told that- that...-" Taeyong broke off with a sharp intake of air and the tremble that had been hiding in his shoulders made itself known in his voice.

"Taeil?" he whispered, almost pleaded at his hands that were clenched into fists on top of the table.

Taeil reappeared immediately, hurrying over and sitting down next Taeyong, who released a relieved sigh and sank lower into his chair, all the tension in his body draining away as Taeil covered his hands with his own. 

"I'll- I'll do the rest," Taeil murmured as an assurance to Taeyong, who nodded weakly his gaze focused on the dark ceiling. 

Mark nodded, unclenching his grip on the mug and sitting up a little straighter. 

"About four weeks ago we got a call from the hospital and they told us they'd procured Taeyong's current details from the North Districts residents files and the personal details of the person in question. They called to inform us that Taeyong and Donghyuck's-" Taeil paused to quickly glance at Taeyong, "-father was in hospital and had been diagnosed with stage four bronchial cancer and were wondering if we'd liked to see him. Taeyong said no." Taeil gave Taeyong's hands a quick squeeze before continuing, "That's when- well, that's when things started to get bad. See, Donghyuck overheard us talking about it in the kitchen, don't ask me how, that boy can hear spiders making their webs when he wants to. Anyway, he heard us and then immediately insisted that we should go see him," Taeil paused again and shot Mark a hesitatingly questioning gaze, "I guess you know about all the- about all the stuff with Donghyuck and him?"

Mark swallowed the painful lump in his throat and nodded, "Y-yeah, I know." 

"There was a fight, like, a big one, and it ended up with Donghyuck crying and locking himself in his bedroom. The next few days it was bearable, I still gave him his lessons and he did his homework. Taeyong wasn't around much." That last sentence held no accusation within it. It was a fact, a fact that both Taeil and Mark understood. Mark caught Taeyong shifting in his seat out of the corner of his eye, the frail light from the kitchen didn't seem to reach him properly and he ended up being shrouded in heavy semi-darkness. 

"Then at the weekend there was another clash, Taeyong had been trying to make Donghyuck understand why they couldn't see him, and Donghyuck just couldn't understand and then things escalated and suddenly Donghyuck was sobbing and screaming and Taeyong was yelling and-" Taeil stuttered to a halt and took a deep, calming breath, "- Jaehyun and Doyoung took Donghyuck for the rest of the weekend, whilst I tried to get Taeyong to calm down again. That's probably the day you saw Taeyong storm out. That one fucking phone call ruined everything. Neither of them were sleeping or eating properly, it was even worse for Donghyuck. Conflicting memories and the nightmares were doing his head in."

Mark's mind was whirling with anger, sadness, and guilt. It was so much to take in. Too much. Thoughts of Donghyuck curled up, sobbing on his bed materialized in front of eyes, memories of the night Donghyuck had come to him, shaking and bleeding from a gash on his arm following in quick succession. The sobs that had wracked his body as he clung to Mark like drowning sailor. Mark remembered his cold sun-kissed hands, the cuts and bruises and the dirt in his hair and clothes that always seemed to be a part of him. He remembered his impish half laugh half cackle and the way his nose would scrunch up when he saw something he didn't like. He remembered that Donghyuck's hair always smelt like overly sweet lemon and damp earth. Mark remembered the lights of the city skyline reflecting in his eyes before and after they had kissed. Mark remembered every kiss, hug and smile. He remembered it all in painstaking detail. He wasn't surprised when he realized that there were tears streaming down his cheeks. 

"He kept trying to run away and at some point-" 

"We had to lock him in his room."

Both Mark and Taeil flinched and turned to look at Taeyong, who was still staring up at the ceiling, eyes sparkling with unshed tears. Taeyong's voice was hoarse, barely there and when he shifted upright again to look at them properly the tears spilled and dripped down his cheeks, leaving glistening tracks behind them. 

"It was the only thing we could do," Taeil agreed quietly. "We hoped it would pass, I mean this is the month in which-"

"-our mother died," Taeyong finished. "He clung to Donghyuck then, deceptively sweet and Donghyuck remembers that. That's why winter, especially January, is difficult."

"Arguments aren't rare, but never-" Taeil heaved a sigh and put his face in his hands, "-never like this." 

With a wry, painful smile Taeyong said, his voice thick with emotion, "He's a smart kid, he probably taught himself how to pick locks or something because he broke out last night. We didn't notice until Taeil brought him breakfast and noticed that the door was open."

"The hospital called again during the third week to tell us that he'd moved back into his home at his own request, just in case we were to change our minds." 

"He's a smart kid," Taeyong repeated and reached up to wipe away the remainder of his tears. Mark unconsciously mirrored his movement. 

They sat in silence for a while, the only sound being the clattering hail, rain and the howling wind. There was a steady dripping sound coming from the bathroom and the light in the kitchen flickered as a loud crash of thunder tore through the sky. 

Mark jumped as Taeil stood up, his chair scraping loudly against the floor. He took Mark's mug and disappeared into the kitchen. Taeyong too seemed to come out of some trance and started to get up, running a hand through his hair and sighing. Mark stayed where he was, there was still too much information to process, Taeyong could thankfully tell and as he walked past to get into the kitchen he quickly gave Mark's shoulder a comforting squeeze. 

Mark didn't know how long he sat there, Donghyuck whirling around in his mind. It could've been minutes, hours or days, Mark couldn't be sure. The tear tracks on his face felt sticky and his eyes itched uncomfortably, he wanted to cry but he didn't have any energy left. 

Taeil reappeared at some point and gently directed him to the sofa, where Mark lay down and fell asleep almost immediately after Taeil draped a blanket over him. 

He was rudely awakened by the front door slamming open and four pairs of feet trampling inside, it was Jaehyun and Doyoung. Mark sat up and blinked blearily at the dripping figures in front of him. Taeyong was hovering near the kitchen table, a pointed glare on his face. Doyoung's orange-peachy hair was plastered to his head and Mark could see rivulets of water running down his rain jacket and dripping onto the floor. Jaehyun didn't look any better, his jeans were soaked up to his knees and he looked a little ill, his usually pale skin taking on an unhealthy flush. Doyoung's arm seemed to be permanently attached to his waist. 

"He was sleeping," Taeyong hissed, but still went to fetch some towels and a hot water bottle for Jaehyun, who was starting to shiver violently. 

Mark quickly scrambled up from the sofa and hurried over to help them both out of their jackets. Taeil then forcefully separated Jaehyun from Doyoung's clutches and ushered him back to his own apartment to get changed into some dry clothes. 

20 minutes later they were all huddled around the kitchen table, Jaehyun's shivering had let off a little bit, but his teeth were still chattering. Taeyong was standing behind Taeil, apparently unable to sit down, nervous energy was coming off him in buzzing, static waves. It looked like the only thing that was keeping him from pacing up and down the length of the living room was Taeil. Hansol had texted 5 minutes ago that he'd be there in 10, probably with Yuta. 

They arrived at around half past seven, the rain had by then lessened slightly and the whole ordeal of getting the newcomers dry clothes and warmth started again. 

 

"No trace of him," Jaehyun murmured, his fingers drumming nervously on the table. 

"Me neither," Hansol added softly. 

"We could call the police?" Doyoung offered into the silence, but Taeyong only scoffed derisively, "Like they would give a fuck."

"There's no harm in trying, I mean-" Doyoung said but was interrupted by Yuta, "It hasn't been 24 hours yet, also Doyoung, you know how the cops are here. There wouldn't be any point." 

Doyoung's resolve crumbled and he slumped back in his chair. 

"Now what?" Jaehyun asked.

"We know where he could be," Taeil said softly, turning in his chair to look up at Taeyong, who had placed a hand on his shoulder. 

Taeyong blinked, surprised but then coughed, "Y-yeah, we have an...idea. If he's not there then I'm out of suggestions." 

There was a beat of muted, stuffy silence before Hansol asked, "His place?" 

Doyoung shifted uncomfortably in his chair, Jaehyun's fingers froze mid-beat on the table and Yuta sucked in an audible breath. Mark instinctively dropped his gaze into his lap where his hands lay, his nails digging painfully hard into his thighs. Anything to distract him from the palpable silence in the room. 

When he looked up again he caught Taeyong's face morphing from one pained expression to another before finally settling on a grim, thin-lipped frown. 

"Yes," he finally spoke, the hoarse, pained rasp of his voice making a cold shiver slip down Mark's spine. 

Hansol nodded, unconsciously mimicking the expression on Taeyong's face. "Alright," he whispered, his hand smoothly finding Yuta's and in effect pulling him close to his side. 

"We better get going then," Taeil said with finality, rising to his feet.

The others followed suit and the sky outside howled its approval.  

 

/

 

Although the rain had lessened slightly in its ferocity it was still pretty bad and since it was January it wasn't just rain, but a cold icy mixture of rain, small hailstones, and snow. Mark had been wrapped up in one of Jaehyun's pullovers and a raincoat from Taeil. He'd also texted his mom, saying that he probably was going to come home quite late, if at all. 

They basically sprinted to the nearest subway station and almost missed their train. They picked the one that ran through the West District down into the South, it wouldn't be as crammed as the one going through the Central.  

They got a few odd looks here and there, but then it wasn't often that you saw a rag-tag group of damp and decidedly tense looking young men trampling into a subway car occupied mainly by old people. But mostly they got odd looks because they were so quiet, which is rare if you consider the usual noise level a group of young men. 

The closer they got to the South District the emptier their car got one by one the old couples and harassed looking businessmen got off, shooting them one last quizzical look before disappearing out of sight. 

They got off at Meades station, quite close to where he lived. 

Mark had never been to the South District before and when they came up the stairs onto the street a small, cowardly part of him really wanted to leave again. Seeing his hesitation Jaehyun and Doyoung grabbed him by the hand and hurried off after the others, Mark walking between them his fingers safely intertwined with theirs. Taeyong and Yuta walked ahead, forging a path for them out of the flickering yellow street light and dark, creeping shadows. 

Dark shadowy figures lurked in hidden doorways and alleys, curious gazes following every step they made. Now and then a few would step out into the light, coming dangerously close with leering, vicious looks on their faces. Taeyong's hand was semi-permanently hovering over the small of Taeil's back, a threatening gaze going to anyone who dared intercept their path. 

Mark's heart was beating in his throat, his senses hyper-aware of any sudden movement around them. He could feel Jaehyun's pulse beating erratically under his hand. He felt a little better knowing that he wasn't the only one scared shitless. 

After what felt like hours speed walking through dark twisting streets and alleys they turned off into a surprisingly wide street, lined with small rundown one-story houses. The street lights were few and far apart, there were more cracks and potholes than there was asphalt and weeds and grass were invading the crumbling pavement. One rusting old BMW lay in a front yard, its wheels were missing and all the windows had been smashed, the edges of glass that was still in frames was dull and worn down. It had been there for awhile.

Somewhere down the street, Mark could hear men arguing loudly, their voice echoing eerily down the deserted street. Bare, skinny trees swayed lightly in the wind and there was the distant sound of a car door slamming shut and the sound of screeching tires not long after. The men were still arguing. 

Yuta had moved back behind Taeyong and Taeil, Hansol's arm firmly wrapped around his shoulders. Mark was still comfortably walking between Doyoung and Jaehyun, their shoulders brushing occasionally since the pavement was so small. 

They walked down almost half the length of the street when Taeyong stopped suddenly, causing minor collisions and muffled swearing behind him. They shuffled around till they were all standing beside him. His jaw was set and his eyes were shining with that suppressed anger that seemed to come off him in waves of buzzing electricity. The light across the street flickered on and off. 

"There," Taeyong breathed, his voice barely audible over the howling wind. 

He was looking at an unremarkable, rundown little one-story house. No different from the others they had walked past so far. A few cracked concrete steps led up to a rotten wooden porch. The porcelain house number was clinging to one of the wooden posts for dear life. 35/7 Mae Street. The blinds of the two windows that looked out onto the street were drawn shut, but some cracks let pale light fall onto the unkempt grass in front of the house. Tiles were missing from the roof and specs of dried paint lay scattered around the porch. The path to the porch was overgrown and weeds were making their way up the side of the house. 

It was not a pretty sight, to say the least. 

With mechanical, robotic steps Taeyong made his way across the street, his hands deep in his pockets and his head bowed. After a seconds hesitation, the others followed.

Pausing abruptly in front of the porch Taeyong turned on his heel to face the tense looking group behind him. 

"Mark, Taeil you stay at the back," he ordered in a hushed whisper, "the others stay close, we might have to get a bit violent." 

Taeil pursed his lips, but did as he was told, joining Mark in the back of their little congregation. 

"If things haven't changed over the last couple of years then he still has a shotgun." 

The other four straightened immediately and Mark could see the tension rising in all of their shoulders. Taeil grabbed his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. 

"The first thing we'll have to do, is get rid of that fucking shotgun, alright?" 

They nodded. The street light flickered.

Taeyong gave them one last look before turning around again and making his way up the concrete steps, the others waited a couple of seconds before following. 

Without much preamble Taeyong knocked on the door three times, his shoulders set and with the others acting as his shadow. 

There was a muted thud from inside and then the sound of shuffling footsteps heading for the door. Mark's stomach churned and he felt like he was going to throw up.

The door was yanked open and light spilled over them, Mark only caught a quick glimpse of a wiry figure silhouetted against the light before Taeyong and the others pushed inside, making the man stumble back with a surprised shout. Mark and Taeil hurried up the steps behind them.

It was worse than Mark expected. Moldy yellow wallpaper was peeling off the walls, the carpet was stained and missing in some places revealing the cold concrete underneath. One bare light bulb hung from the ceiling, bottles, and plates of moldy food lay around on the coffee table and the threadbare, stained grey couch. The walls were devoid of any pictures, worn out yellow paperbacks were stacked in the dark, empty fireplace. But the worst thing of all was the smell, moldy food, beer, vomit, cheap tobacco and the distinct metallic, bitter, smell of blood. Mark's eyes watered and he swayed on the spot, Taeil didn't look any better.

Then Mark focused on the man who was being crowded into a corner by Hansol and Taeyong. He was tall-ish, or at least he had been, but age and illness had cut him down by a few inches. He was wiry and thin, his clothes hanging off him and his hands stuck out of the sleeves of his shirt in an almost cartoon-like way. They were long and knobbly, sunburnt and leathery. But truly the worst thing about him was his face. You could tell that he used to be handsome, the same sharp bone structure as Taeyong and the same mouth as Donghyuck. But his face had fallen, sagged, his cheeks and eyesockets hollowed out until there was more shadow than light on his face. His eyes glinted out of the dark with malicious delight as he zeroed in on his eldest son. His face breaking into a disgusting smile of sharp, broken, yellow teeth. He looked almost manic, his hands reaching out to Taeyong's face and a dry, rasping laugh escaping out of his throat.

Bronchial cancer, Mark remembered. The man was dying right in front of their eyes.

"My, my, look at who chose to come home," he crowed, completely ignoring Hansol. His sole focus was on Taeyong.

"Where's Donghyuck?" Taeyong gritted out, his hands were shaking at his sides.

"Look how you've grown," The man said, purposefully ignoring the question. "You look just like me." Another manic cackle filled the room and suddenly the old man lunged, arms outstretched and hands reaching for Taeyong's throat.

Hell broke loose. Taeyong hadn't been expecting the attack and he stumbled back a few paces and the old man missed his throat but managed to grab him by the collar, leering close to his face. Taeyong came back to his senses and snarled, ripping the hands away from him and violently pushing the man into the wall. His head cracked loudly against it and Taeil flinched, his hand tugging at Mark's.

The old man started to get up again, he was laughing, saliva and blood dripping from his lips and onto his already stained shirt.

"Still got some fight in you," he spat and lunged again but this time Hansol tripped him up, making him sprawl on the floor. Taeyong, Hansol, and Doyoung circled him.

When he was up on his feet again he continued, "You really think," he paused to spit at Taeyong's feet, "I'm gonna let him go? That worthless brat deserves what he had coming. Worthless. Piece. Of. Shit. Just like that godforsaken little whore. I'll tear him to pieces and make you w-" Taeyong threw himself at him, pushing him hard against the wall, his forearm pressed against his father's windpipe with deadly intent. His other hand was pressed against the wall next to his head, nails digging into the rotting wallpaper.

"I will kill you," he growled, pressing down harder. The man's face went red and he started choking and gasping for air and when Taeyong didn't let up he spat him in the face, gnarled fingers scraped uselessly at Taeyong's face, drawing blood but Taeyong just pressed harder. His face was turning purple now, eyes bulging out of their sockets and yet he found the strength to drag a dreadful rasp of laughter out of his constricting throat. 

Taeyong screamed, all the pent-up hate and anger escaping in one dreadful, inhuman sound. He kicked the old man once, twice, three times in the stomach, his arm still firmly pressed to his windpipe, then grabbed him by the head and yanked him away from the wall, throwing him to the floor. When he tried to get up Taeyong kicked him, then he knelt and grabbed his father by the throat. Their eyes held a matching manic glint in them. The old man struggled, scrabbling helplessly at Taeyong's hands. With a disgusted look, Taeyong let him go and he collapsed, gasping and wheezing for air. Hansol and Doyoung were frozen in place, their eyes wide in shock. Taeyong turned to look at them, his chest was heaving, his cheeks were flushed and his hands were shaking violently. Taeil started towards him in hesitant, stumbling steps.

But it wasn't over, behind Taeyong the man got to his feet again. Taeyong whirled around and punched him cleanly across the jaw. He hit the ground with a pathetic howl and Taeyong fell upon him in a frenzied fury, one punch after the other. Hansol and Doyoung immediately sprang into action, they knew things were escalating and they had to stop him. 

Over all the racket Jaehyun suddenly yelled and both Mark and Taeil turned. Jaehyun was standing in the doorway that led deeper into the house, he was holding an old-fashioned shotgun in his hands.

Taeil lurched towards him. "Give it here! I'll get rid of it!" Then he turned to Mark. "Go! Go find Donghyuck!" He gestured at the dark hallway, caught the gun Jaehyun threw towards him and then ran past Mark, out of the door and down the steps.

Hansol and Doyoung were still grappling with Taeyong and Mark mentally kicked himself into gear and ran down the hallway. Jaehyun close behind him. 

The first room on the left was the bathroom, the second was bare and empty, but the third and last one was locked. Mark's stomach rolled over and he had steady himself on Jaehyun's shoulder. The key was stuck in the lock and Mark rattled it around till the door clicked and swung open. 

It was dark in the room but Mark spotted Donghyuck immediately. Curled up in a corner by the window, his knees pulled up to his chest and his face buried in his arms. His shoes and socks were gone and he was dressed only in a T-Shirt and jeans. The racket from the living room faded into the background as Mark slowly edged towards Donghyuck's shivering form. There were hand-sized bruises on his upper arms and his left hand hung limply and at an awkward angle whilst the other seemed tense and frozen in fear.

Carefully, Mark knelt down. "Donghyuck?" He whispered softly, trying his best to keep the panic out of his voice. There was a painful lump rising in his throat. 

Donghyuck jerked his head upwards and Mark had to suppress a cry. His right cheek was bloodied and a dark colorful bruise spread across his cheekbone. His left eye was half swollen shut and his top lip was swollen and dark with dried blood. There was another bruise above his right eye and there was blood on the collar of his shirt. He was shaking violently, his eyes wide and terrified. Recognition flickered in his gaze and tears started to spill freely down his cheeks, mixing with the dried blood and spilling down on his already soiled shirt.

Mark reached out with a trembling hand, tears blurring his vision. "D-donghyuck?" He asked again, but it came out hoarse and cut off. 

Donghyuck was sobbing uncontrollably, the raw terror of the sobs wracking his body in violent fits and between his sobs you could hear him beg, in a broken, pleading mantra, "Please, please, please, please-"

Jaehyun suddenly appeared behind Mark, there were tears in his eyes as well but he seemed a little more in control than Mark was. 

"Quick, we need to get him out of here," he said shortly not quite managing to hide the tremble in his voice and when Mark didn't respond he repeated himself a little louder this time, "Quick, Mark!" 

Mark jerked back to his senses and scrambled to his feet. Jaehyun slowly came closer towards Donghyuck, who looked up at them out of pain-filled eyes, gasping sobs escaping him almost involuntarily.

"We're here. It's okay," Jaehyun whispered again and again as he slowly bent down to scoop Donghyuck up into his arms. Donghyuck let out a pained, broken scream as his left hand shifted. It was clearly broken, the bone in his wrist stuck out, white among the torn flesh and blood. Mark's stomach churned. When Jaehyun had Donghyuck securely in his arms, Mark carefully lifted Donghyuck's useless hand into his lap, where Donghyuck cradled it to his chest. 

Without a backward glance into the desolate room, they hurried back down the hallway. Jaehyun was still steadily repeating 'we're here, it's okay' under his breath, trying not to let any of the fear leak into his voice. He was only halfway successful. Donghyuck was still pleading unseeingly in his arms.

The living room was quiet. Doyoung and Hansol had apparently gone outside. The old man's body was sprawled on the floor, still very much alive but unconscious. Taeyong was standing in the middle of the living room, his arms slung around Taeil and his face buried in his shoulder, gasping sobs were making his shoulders shake. Taeil was quietly murmuring nonsensical calming words under his breath, rubbing soothing circles on Taeyong's back. When he saw Mark and Jaehyun with Donghyuck in his arms he slowly entangled himself. 

He cupped Taeyong's face with gentle steady hands and whispered, tears welling up in his eyes, "We've got him. He's safe." 

 

 

Chapter Text

Mark spent an entire week at home, the lack of sleep, food and running around in the rain at odd hours of the night, finally catching up with him.

When he came home that night his mother cried, all the worry that had been building over the last couple of hours, falling from her shoulders in a relieved cry. She cried again when Mark told her what had happened. When the Squad visited him after school and found out, Jisung and Chenle immediately made Donghyuck a ‘Get Well Soon!’ card, which everyone signed and delivered to the hospital, minus Mark, because he was still trying to cough his lungs out of his body.

Doyoung and Hansol had called an ambulance almost the second they saw Jaehyun stumble out of the house with an unconscious Donghyuck in his arms. 15 minutes later the ambulance arrived and whisked Taeil, Taeyong, and Donghyuck off to the nearest hospital, which was in the Central District.

Mark later found out that Taeyong got into a fight with the head doctor when he kept asking why on earth Taeyong hadn't put Donghyuck in therapy. The confrontation had ended with Taeyong shouting that he couldn't fucking afford it.

Donghyuck had a fractured wrist, a minor concussion, several strings of bruises up his torso, back and arms and two fractured ribs.

A hairline fracture tore through Mark’s heart when he heard.

 

/

 

It was half-past four, school had just finished and Mark was following the steady stream of students flooding out into the courtyard. He was completely alone for once. Jisung was at home, Mark’s cold now plaguing him with vicious intensity. Johnny, Sicheng, Kun, and Ten had barricaded themselves in the library along with the rest of the seniors, the finals stress starting to creep on them, it's long spidery fingers grabbing them by the neck and yanking them away from their social life.

Chenle was also sick, probably the same thing as Jisung and Renjun, who shared a majority of his classes with Mark, was staying behind to help tutor some of the weaker freshmen. He was good at stuff like that. Jaemin was in detention and Jeno was staying behind out of solidarity, or heart-eyes, you couldn't be sure with those two.

Mark was just turning out of the parking lot in front of the school when his phone started buzzing in his pocket. A muted sense of dread overcame him and he stopped, hesitantly pulling out his phone and squinting down at the screen.

Jaehyun’s name flashed on the screen and Mark accepted the call, pressing the phone against his ear, hoping with all his might that it would actually be Jaehyun on the line this time, not Taeil with some dreadful news that was going to tear his world apart.

"Hello?" He said. A car backed out of the lot next to him and Mark took a quick step back, his English teacher saw him and waved cheerfully, before driving off.

"Mark!" It was Jaehyun, thank God.

"Yes, hi. What's the matter?"

Jaehyun smoothly ignored his question, "Where are you right now?"

"The school parking lot. Why?"

"Stay exactly where you are. Don't move an inch."  

Mark rolled his eyes. "Dude, what the hell?"

"Just stay where you are, the district around your school is confusing as fuck." There was the unmistakable sound of a car engine starting up and Mark asked, "Are you calling me whilst driving?" in such a tone that made him mentally gag. He sounded like his mother.

There was an ominous pause and then, "No?"

"I can hear your car."

"Well I'm not texting you, so it's fine."

"Do you have both hands on the steering wheel?"

Static shuffling came down the line before Jaehyun came back, "Yeah?"

"You just moved your phone, don't lie. Driving 101, both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road, dummy."  

"Why am I being lectured about responsible driving by a twelve-year-old?" Jaehyun grumbled.

"Because you have no self-preservation sk-"

He got cut off by Jaehyun swearing loudly, "Fuck you- you son of a-"

"Wow, okay," Mark muttered in the most offended tone of voice he could manage.

"Not you, some bastard just cut me off."

"Whatever, I'm hanging up now before you cause an accident."

"Thanks for the trust there, buddy," Jaehyun muttered, "I'll be there in five."

He was there in ten.

 

"Get in nerd."

"Nice to see you too, Jaehyun."

"Yeah, yeah whatever." Jaehyun leaned across the passenger seat and opened the door, Mark slipped in and dumped his bag by his feet. The radio was playing quietly in the background. Jaehyun's car was an old, decidedly worn and dented VW, with stickers covering the boot and the left wing mirror secured to the car with duct tape. The inside of the car was surprisingly clean, with only a few empty water bottles rolling around in the backseat. A small row of sticky notes with messages like 'we need more milk!!' and 'books! library!! by fucking Friday!!' were stuck to the dashboard.   

"You're alone?" Jaehyun asked, turning the key in the ignition and carefully backing out of the parking lot.

Mark shrugged, "Everyone's either busy or sick."

Jaehyun shot him a questioning look and Mark elaborated, "Finals are coming up, dude."

Realisation in form of a grimace appeared on Jaehyun's face. "Ah, my condolences. I'm guessing you're not among the lucky bunch?"

"Nah, not yet, but next year. I honestly might not survive."

"Ah c'mon you'll do fine." They turned onto a busy main street, Collins Street if Mark wasn't mistaken, and Jaehyun easily slipped them into the stalling traffic. It was still kind of light outside, but the oppressing mass of clouds was blocking out the sunlight and casting the city in a burnt, unnatural orange glow.

"You're just saying that because you're old," Mark muttered and Jaehyun squawked indignantly, "Oh wow. I am not that old."

Mark looked unimpressed.

"I'm 19, dude. That is not that old."

Mark looked slightly less unimpressed. "You don't look 19," he said, twisting in his seat to look at Jaehyun properly. The red stop lights of the car in front of them making him look like he came out of a bad indie film.

"Maybe that's because of my maturity and striking looks," he grinned smugly and jerkily moved the car forward. The traffic on the other side of the street glided past them, the golden yellow headlights jeering as they flashed past.

Mark flopped back into his seat. "Or maybe it's because of the crows feet around your eyes."

That earned him a slap on the arm. They crawled on in silence for a while, the radio DJ yapping on about some celebrity scandal.

"Where are we going anyway?" Mark suddenly asked into the semi-silence.

"I thought you'd never ask."

"I was biding my time, y'know, testing the waters."

"Obviously," Jaehyun snorted.

"So...?" Mark gestured vaguely for Jaehyun to elaborate, but he wasn't playing along.

"Where do you think we're going?" He asked instead.

Mark whined and dramatically slipped further down his seat. "I don't know? Hell?"

"Depends on your definition-"

"Oh fucking great," Mark interrupted, slipping even further down his seat, his seatbelt digging uncomfortably into his throat.

"-if fixing slightly messed up relationships is your definition of hell, then yes, we are going to hell."

Mark sat up so quickly he almost got a crick in his neck. "What?"

Jaehyun glanced at him. "We're you going to visit him on your own accord?" He asked, his gaze not exactly accusing, but with an exasperated older brother kind of vibe.

Mark shrunk back slightly. "I was gonna go tomorrow," he muttered.

"Really?"

Mark glared at him, "Yes! I do have school and homework y'know, so it's difficult to find time during the week also I was ill up until Sunday. But I swear I was gonna go tomorrow! It's Wednesday tomorrow, that's not even two weeks!"

"Sorry, sorry I just wanted to make sure, what with the whole-" he gestured vaguely and then trailed off. Mark kept his gaze in his lap where they fiddled restlessly.

"He's been asking for you."

Mark's hands froze in his lap, his nails digging into the fabric of his jeans. "Oh." Was the only thing he could manage. Jaehyun glanced at him, his eyes soft and he quickly reached out to ruffle Mark's hair.

"I'm gonna drive you to the hospital, but you're gonna talk to him one on one, okay?"

"Okay," Mark said quietly.

"It's going to be fine. He doesn't hate you, he just misses you."

Mark nodded.

"You both played an equal part in fucking up, so don't be too hard on yourself."

Mark nodded again, there was a lump in his throat and he coughed. They turned right, off the main street they had been on and down into a positive maze of smaller winding streets. The sidewalks were crowded so Jaehyun drove slowly and Mark let his gaze drift outside, to the sparkling shop windows and the glowing neon signs that lined the streets. A soft drizzle had started and Mark watched as the raindrops raced each other down the car window, the soft drumming of the rain accompanying the lazy pop music that trickled out of the speakers.

But he couldn't just show up with nothing but his school books, good intentions and whatever remained of his heart, that just wouldn't do. He couldn't half-ass this, school books, a well-meaning jumble of words and a cracked heart wouldn't do what needed to be done. He needed to fix this and he knew that he had to be the one to take the first couple of steps, Donghyuck was stubborn and generally seemed to shy away from matters of the heart, so it was Mark's job to coax him out of that shyness. Anyway, it was partly, mostly, Mark's fault that they were stuck where they were. In an unsure bubble of fluttering feelings, badly worded apologies and a great lack of proper communication.

"STOP!"

Jaehyun slammed on the breaks with muffled swear and the car groaned to a stop.

"What the actual fuck, Mark?" He gritted out and Mark had the decency to look at least a little apologetic.

"Sorry, sorry- I'm, hold up-" Mark stuttered, both hands desperately searching for something in his jacket pockets. A car behind them honked loudly and Jaehyun swore under his breath and quickly pulled the car over.

"What the actual fuck, Mark? He repeated after he'd not so subtly flipped off the angry driver who had been behind them.

Mark pulled out a crumpled note and a handful of small change with a triumphant little huff. "I need to get something," he said, and then after a pointed glare from Jaehyun, he elaborated, "for Donghyuck."

"For Donghyuck," Jaehyun echoed and Mark nodded earnestly.

"What are you gonna get him?"

Mark gestured at a shop a little down the street. A glittering shop window displayed rows upon rows of colorful jars of candy. Bright, crisply wrapped bars of expensive chocolate were placed prettily in between them. Fairy-lights and ribbons were delicately draped over the entire display giving it an almost fairytale-like appearance, it had immediately caught Mark's eye.

"Something from there," he said, a nervous, hopeful smile tugging at his lips.

Jaehyun laughed and nodded his approval of the idea, "Well then go! I'll be waiting here." 

Mark practically fell out of the car in his haste and Jaehyun watched him run down the street and into the shop with a fond smile on his face. 

 

Mark reappeared 15 minutes later, a pretty red paper bag tucked inside his jacket to protect it from the rain. He hurried against the current of people, dodging umbrellas and apologizing to everyone he accidentally bumped into. When he finally made it back to the car Jaehyun immediately snatched the bag out of his hands and peeked inside. 

"What is this?" He asked as he pulled out a red box about the size of Mark's head. 

"It's the Special Deluxe Chocolate Box from Lindt," Mark answered proudly and Jaehyun gave a box a critical once-over. "Why didn't you get me one?" 

"I have literally no money left. I'll buy you something when I'm not broke as shit." 

"How much did it cost?" Jaehyun gently put the box back into the bag and handed it back to Mark, who carefully cradled it in his lap. 

"More than I can actually afford, I have no pocket money left."

Jaehyun snorted, "Pocket money, how cute," and restarted the car, slowly navigating them back into traffic.

 

They were stopping at a red light when Jaehyun asked, "So what are you gonna say to him?"

"I guess I'll apologize?"

"No shit. Don't you have some vague idea of what you want to say?"

"I'm doing it improv-style."

"Well, we'll see how that works out for you."

They shot across the crossing and took a sharp left. Something in the boot crashed loudly and Jaehyun flinched guiltily. "That was a set of bowls." 

"Good job. Doyoung'll be thrilled." 

"Fuck off." 

They hurtled around another corner and the tall, concrete towers of the Collins University Hospital came into view. A lump started to rise in Mark's throat and his grip on the paper bag tightened noticeably, the paper crinkling loudly under his hands. 

Jaehyun shot him a sympathetic look, "There's no need to look so terrified, it's just Donghyuck."

Mark glared at him, "I'm not scared of him, I'm scared because of your fucking driving."

As if to prove Mark's point, Jaehyun sped around the next corner, almost ran a red light and braked so suddenly Mark almost got beheaded by his seatbelt. 

"Do you always drive like this?" Mark muttered, rubbing his throat, which was sporting a red seatbelt-shaped line. 

"No, but I have places to be and people to meet, so I'm kind of in a hurry." 

"And how exactly am I going to get home?" 

"The subway?"

"With what money?"

The hospital loomed closer, the gates for visitors open and the car park beyond lit up with floodlights. The car park closer to the hospital was reserved for the emergency vehicles and Mark could hear the distant whine of a siren steadily getting closer.

"Don't you have a subway card or something?"

"I walk to school, Jaehyun. I don't really need one."

They passed through the gates and slowly started making their way through the maze of parked cars in search for an empty spot. 

"Fine. I'll pick you up. Text me when you've sorted everything out, alright?" 

"Yeah, okay. Thanks, Jaehyun."

"Don't mention it." 

They drove around for a couple more minutes before Jaehyun gave up. "You know what, fuck it. Get out here, there's no point looking for a space."

Mark didn't move an inch and Jaehyun huffed and patted his knee. 

"Just go to the front desk and say that you're here to see Lee Donghyuck if the person at the desk asks questions say that you're his boyfriend, which honestly isn't far from the truth."

"Ah, I don't- we're not...I don't know," Mark muttered.

"Listen, you've got chocolates, a cute-ish face and generally look like boyfriend material. It'd be a wonder if they don't believe you."

"But-"

"No buts. You will go up to his fucking room, apologize, sort out whatever both of you fucked up and then do something ridiculously cute that could come straight out of a bad Nicholas Sparks movie, okay?" 

There was a long pause before Mark answered, "Are there any good Nicholas Sparks movies?"

"Jesus Christ," Jaehyun scoffed, "just go! Do your thing! Win him back, whatever. Text me when you're done." 

Mark allowed himself a quick cackle before quickly unbuckling his seatbelt and diving out of the car. 

 

It was still raining, but Mark had enough fears and unnecessary emotiony-things bubbling up in his stomach that he was able not to care, even though his bomber jacket was anything but waterproof and his shoes were making suspicious squelchy noises. It all did not matter because the longer Mark took to get to the hospital the longer he'd have time to think of something vaguely appropriate to say. 

He was about 15 meters away from the well-lit main entrance of the hospital and his brain was still where it had been when he had gotten out of Jaehyun's car, running around in circles like a dog chasing his own tail whilst screaming obnoxiously. It wasn't the best mental state Mark had ever been in. 

The foyer was surprisingly quiet, but Mark could hear the not-so-distant cries and complaints from the ER echoing down one of the long, wide hallways. His shoes squelched loudly and he hugged the paper bag a little closer to his chest for emotional support. 

The girl at the front desk watched him approach with a look wavering between boredom and something vaguely resembling sympathy. She was young, maybe a little older than Taeil, with platinum blonde hair and dark heavy-lidded eyes. She was intimidatingly pretty and the last remnants of Mark's confidence dripped out of his sleeve as she drawled, "Good evening, how may I help you?" 

"I- I uh, I want- I would like to visit someone?" He stammered, the bag in his arms crinkling loudly in protest as he gripped it even tighter. 

The girl raised one perfectly arched eyebrow. "Right."

"Uhm- yeah, it's- it's kind of important." 

She kissed her teeth loudly and hummed, "Alright, but first, what's in that bag?" She gestured at the now damp and decidedly rumpled paper bag. 

Mark scrambled to extract the box and the bored, unimpressed look on the girl's face cracked slightly. "Chocolates?" She queried, smiling a little, both perfect eyebrows arching up.

"They were very expensive," Mark assured and her smile grew. The nerves in his stomach calmed their frenzied dance and he could finally breathe a little easier. 

"Who'd you want to see?" She asked, the tapping of a keyboard sounding from behind the high counter of the desk. 

"Oh uh, Lee Donghyuck. He's been here for about a week and a few days." 

The girl squinted down at the computer screen for a while before exclaiming, "Oh! Yeah, found him. He's in the east tower, floor 11, room 374. If it looks like there's a doctor or a nurse inside just wait till they leave, patients privacy and all that. Visiting hours end at 7 so you still have shi- uh, a lot of time." 

Thanking her and turning around on his heal Mark eyed the three main hallways that led deeper into the hospital, there was a 98% chance that he was going to get lost. 

"Go right!" The girl called and Mark jerked around, she wore the look of an exasperated older sibling. "There's a lift somewhere down there, you get off on the 11th floor and just keep going right until you see his room number, alright?" 

Mark gave her a grateful thumbs up and hurried off down the right hallway. There were two separate lifts, one labeled 'Visitors' and one labeled 'Staff and Patients'. Mark spent the 6-minute long ride trying his very best not to breathe through his nose. A boy in his early twenties had gotten on the lift with him and he was the walking definition of a fuckboy, complete with a backwards snapback, supreme pullover, basketball shorts, Nikes and the suffocating stench of cheap cologne and Axe. 

Thankfully the 20-something-fuckboy exited the lift on the 9th floor, taking the pungent smell with him. Mark sagged against the wall and breathed a sigh of relief, high school locker rooms gave him enough Axe to last him a lifetime.

The floors themselves seemed to have a quite straightforward layout and Mark ventured out into the quiet, pristine corridors without a glance at the colored floorplan that hung next to the lift. Now and again a nurse would zip past, head buried in a file or hands hastily flipping through pages on a clipboard. They paid Mark no mind as he squelched down corridor after corridor, repeating Donghyuck's room number under his breath like a mantra.

He turned on what was probably the trillionth corner and glanced up at the first room number; 369. The nerves in Mark's stomach bubbled to life with an uncomfortable lurch and he closed his eyes. He hated being this nervous. There were 5 rooms in this corridor, two doubles and three singles, Donghyuck's room was one of the singles right at the end of the corridor.

He stopped in front of Donghyuck's room with his pulse thundering in his throat and his heart quite literally on his sleeve. The paper bag was inconspicuously stuffed inside his jacket, which was honestly the stupidest place to hide a frankly quite large box of chocolates, you could see the corners of the box poking through.

Mark took a deep, calming breath and knocked on the door.

An eternity (actually just a minute) past until a familiar voice called, "Yes?"

There was no going back now and Mark pushed the door open. 

The room looked like any other hospital room Mark had ever seen. Clinically white, with a bed, an IV-drip, a bedside table and a small cramped bathroom squidged into the left-hand corner next to the door. Two large windows took up almost the entirety of the back wall. They looked out onto the courtyard that was placed in the middle of the hospital complex. A small green retreat for patients and their relatives. Of course, it was dark by now so you couldn't actually see the courtyard, but Mark knew it was there. The curtains were drawn and Mark could hear the gentle patter of the rain hitting the window panes. 

The bedside lamp cast a fluorescent glow over the room and Mark's gaze fell on the small table that was set up under the TV that hung on the wall facing the bed. Vases of flowers took up most of the small space and Mark spotted Chenle and Jisung's handmade card. 

But none of it mattered as Mark focused on the real reason why he was here. 

Donghyuck was sitting up in bed, the fluorescent light casting him in an odd half-light. His hair was ruffled, his fringe hanging untidily in his eyes and as Mark hesitantly moved closer he saw the dark, bruising shadows that hung underneath his eyes. The white sheets of the hospital bed seemed to drain most of the color out of his eyes and skin, leaving an unnaturally pale and sickly looking Donghyuck behind. 

He didn't look ill exactly, but there was something wrong. His hair didn't reflect the light, it looked matte and lifeless. The teasing spark that usually flickered in his chocolate eyes was drowned out by something else, by something a lot darker and heavier. The shadows under his eyes were tokens of sleepless nights spent tossing and turning in a bed that felt like a prison, they bore similarities to the bruises that decorated his arms. Both kinds speaking of the same unbearable, indescribable pain that weighed on Donghyuck's boyish shoulders.

There was a band-aid on Donghyuck's right forearm, probably covering the wound the IV-drip had made and his left hand was encased in a cast. Mark shivered as he remembered how a sharp bit of bone had stuck out of the ruined mess that had been Donghyuck's wrist. 

"Donghyuck," Mark whispered, his voice hoarse and barely audible. 

Donghyuck shifted, the sheets rustling quietly and Mark watched as he carefully sat up a little straighter. There was a pained grimace creasing his brow and Mark was reminded of the two fractured ribs. His heart twinged, not in sympathy, but with something greater, a pain similar to the sharp hurt of a fractured rib. The pain had been there since Mark received Taeil's phone call, hiding in the shadows of his subconscious, but now, with him standing in front of Donghyuck's hospital bed, it roared to life. It took up every inch of his mind, the pain seeping into his very soul and the only thing he could think of was how his pain was nothing compared to what Donghyuck carried with him. 

"Mark," Donghyuck said softly, his voice almost disappearing in the quiet chatter of the rain outside. 

Edging forward, both arms tightly folded across his chest in a bad attempt to hide the box underneath, Mark managed a small smile, "Hi."

Donghyuck mirrored his smile and gestured at the white plastic chair that stood underneath the windows. 

Mark walked around the bed and gratefully sank down onto the chair, the paper bag still safely concealed underneath his jacket.

"I could hear you all the way down the corridor," Donghyuck murmured after he'd rearranged himself into a more comfortable position.

"Ah, yes-" Mark glanced down at his sneakers, "-my shoes and rain aren't really friends."

"Take them off and put them on the radiator. You'll get sick again."

"You- you knew?" Mark stuttered as he started untying his shoes. It was a little tricky because he was still trying to hide the present.

"The others told me," Donghyuck shrugged. "I'm sorry you got sick." 

"It's fine." Mark turned in his chair and placed his sopping wet sneakers on the radiator.

Silence fell over them, the sound of the rain intensifying to fill up the wordless void the two boys had created. Donghyuck was playing with a loose thread from his cast, his gaze unfocused and far away and Mark couldn't make himself look away.

Now that he was closer the injuries that were still very much present on Donghyuck's face stood out more, the fluorescent light doing them no favors. And Mark tried. His mind tried all kinds of tricks to prettify the two colorful bruises that were fading on Donghyuck's right cheek and above his right eye. He tried everything to ignore the dark purples and reds that marred the delicate skin around his left eye. He tried to ignore the small band-aids that were stuck over the two bruised and bloodied scars on his right cheek and his top lip. He wanted to ignore all of it. He wanted to forget all of it.

He wanted to forget that dreadful night, banish it into some dark, empty corner in the back of his mind and never speak of it ever again. Only he knew that that wasn't how things worked, that wasn't how therapy worked. Mark didn't really know much about the ins and outs of therapy, but he was pretty sure talking was a big part of it. 

But something he knew right now was that that night would follow him for a long time, Donghyuck's broken sobs and pleas were going to haunt his dreams and he'd just have to deal with it. For Donghyuck's sake.

"How are things? Here, I mean," Mark asked.

Donghyuck blinked a couple of times, some of the distant sadness fading out of his eyes as he looked at Mark. "Fine, I guess. The food's awful, but then it's a hospital so that's, like, part of the package. The nurses are really nice though. There's this one nurse who always sneaks some lemon drops from the reception desk with her."

He waved at a pile of yellow sweet wrappers on his bedside table. 

"I'm pretty sure that's not healthy," Mark pointed out.

"Okay, but have you ever tasted lemon drops?"

"Not that I can remember."

"You're missing out, man."

This was the perfect opportunity for Mark to say something cheesy, throw the box of chocolates at Donghyuck and swan dive out of the window, but Mark wasn't really about seizing perfect opportunities. He was more of a 'awkwardly stumble through whatever shitshow you just created and then hide for the rest of eternity' kinda dude. Which was a lovable, if slightly annoying quality.

"Should I put those wrappers in the bin? Y'know, before Taeyong sees them and has a seizure."

Donghyuck's face cracked into a slightly painful looking grin. "That would be cool. Thanks." 

Mark started to get to his feet and then realized halfway through the action that he had made a mistake. He could only watch in horrified silence as the disheveled red paper bag slipped out of his jacket and gently landed on the beige linoleum floor with a muffled thud. They both stared down at the bag.

"So that's what you were hiding," Donghyuck finally said after a solid minute of silence.

Mark jerkily moved around the bed, scooped the wrappers off the bedside table and dumped in the bin that stood by the small bathroom. Donghyuck was leaning out of his bed, his hands desperately swiping for the bag that was just out of his reach. He looked like a frustrated kitten Mark noted and he would've admired the adorable scene a little longer if his brain hadn't pointed out that Donghyuck had two fractured ribs and that he actually looked like a frustrated kitten who also happened to be in quite a lot of pain. 

"Jesus Chri- stop!" Mark darted forward and snatched the bag off the floor and dumped it on his chair, then he carefully put his hands on Donghyuck's shoulders and helped him settle back against the pillows. The pretty lines of his face were pulled into a pained grimace and Mark's heart froze as a great wave of emotion passed through his mind. His hands lingered hesitantly their touch so light it was barely there.

"You have to be careful," he murmured and gently squeezed Donghyuck's shoulders before moving back to his chair. 

"I forgot," Donghyuck whispered, not meeting Mark's searching gaze. 

"Does it hurt a lot?" 

"It depends." 

Mark decided not to ask what that meant, Donghyuck would tell him in time.

"Sleeping's really hard," Donghyuck said after a minute of silence.

"Why?"

A wry smile flickered across Donghyuck's face, a smile so unlike him that Mark had to suppress a shiver. "I can only sleep on my back, because of my ribs and the other stuff and I really, really hate sleeping on my back." 

"You can't even sleep on your side?"

"Nope, it feels like I can't breathe when I sleep like that. Also this-" he pointed at the bruise above his right eye, "-hurts like hell even when I'm not touching it and it's even worse when I sleep on my side."

"Fuck. I'm sorry. When will your ribs be okay again?" 

"Don't know. The doctor said that the normal recovery time is around six weeks."

"Six weeks? What the hell. They're not actually gonna keep you here for six weeks, right?" 

"I don't know, I'm pretty sure the head doctor doesn't think Taeyong and Taeil can look after me, but then what the fuck does he know. I'm not staying here for six weeks. I swear I'll fight every single doctor in this building if they try and make me stay."

Mark smiled, that sounded a lot more like the Donghyuck he knew. "If they refuse to let you go I'll personally smuggle you out of the hospital." 

Donghyuck's eyes sparkled. "Fake mustache and all?" He asked.

"The whole 9 yards." Mark grinned. "And if they chase us we'll highjack a car and pull a Bonnie and Clyde, okay?" 

"Sounds like a foolproof plan." Donghyuck nodded. "Can you drive?"

"Nah, but I work well under stress." 

"Foolproof," Donghyuck confirmed his smile as real as the moon and the stars. 

"I'm actually gonna be getting my drivers license pretty soon."

Donghyuck sat up, grimaced and sank back against his pillows, "Wait, what? When? Why didn't I know about this?"

"My dad talked to me about it whilst I was sick, he wants me to take lessons nearing the end of the school year so that I'll have a permanent license when the summer holidays start." 

"Holy shit," Donghyuck sighed. "That's so cool."

Mark tried for a modest shrug, "Anywhere you want to go in the summer?"

Donghyuck's eyes widened, "I- I uh, wow...let me think about it?"

"Take your time." 

They both fell silent again, but it was different from the silences that had come before it. The melancholy was still present and Mark doubted it would ever completely leave, it was part of Donghyuck now. That night's darkness was still shining in his eyes, but it was joined by a pale spark, a spark similar to the one that used to flicker and glow there. And Mark knew he would do anything he could to make that spark glow and sparkle again. Their silences had never been uncomfortable. Even their first meeting hadn't been too awkward considering that they had only known each other's names at that point. Now their silences would be the same as always, comfortable and familiar but tinged with a hint of sadness they probably would never quite get rid of.

"D'you wanna know what's in the bag?" Mark asked and Donghyuck hummed, hands already greedily reaching out for it.

Mark handed it to him and Donghyuck literally tore the bag off the box, letting the now officially deceased paper bag float to the floor. His eyes were wide with surprise as he turned the pretty red box over in his hands, his fingers ghosting over the gold cursive writing on the lid. 

"How much did this cost?" He marveled, settling the box carefully in his lap. 

"Can't tell, it's a present." 

"Tell me," he whined but Mark shook his head. 

"Open it, c'mon it's not gonna bite you." 

Donghyuck shot him a half-hearted glare and started picking at the bit of red tape that was keeping the lid shut, it was a little difficult since he only had one hand, but after a bit of scrabbling he managed to push the lid open. There were three layers, each layer containing 6x6 pieces chocolates which meant that the box had exactly 108 chocolates. 

Donghyuck stared at the box, then at Mark and then back at the box. A look of shock and delight fluttering across his face. 

"H-how much...-" He stuttered, carefully picking up one chocolate with caramel drizzle on it.

"Can't tell you that. It's a present remember?" 

"Where did you buy it then?" Donghyuck slyly asked instead and Mark almost fell for it. "At the- nope, wait, hold the fuck up. I'm not telling you that either. I know your game, you sly...plant."

"You're a fucking moron." Was Donghyuck's brilliant retaliation and Mark laughed and stole a chocolate from his box. 

"I'll visit you every day," he said a little while later, his tongue heavy with the overpowering taste of chocolate and hazelnut.

"You don't have to!" Donghyuck exclaimed immediately. "You have school, homework, and stuff, I'll understand if you can't come by. Really, please don't stress yourself out because of me. I'll be out of here in a week or so and then things can go back to normal."

Mark took the chocolate box away and put it on the windowsill, then he edged his chair closer to Donghyuck's bed and hesitantly reached out for Donghyuck's cast-incased left hand. There was a big orange flower drawn over where his knuckles would be and the names 'Jeno+Jaemin+Chenle+Renjun+Jisung' were scrawled around it. 'U are stupid but i luv u' was written in red next to the flower in Yuta's scraggly writing. A small 'your ultimate fave Doyoung' was squashed on a part of the wrist next to 'JAEHYUN-IEE' surrounded by loads of hearts. Ten had drawn a bunch of tulips in biro and Taeil had tried to do his name in fancy cursive but it had smudged at the end and looked a little messy. Johnny had written his name in something resembling comic sans. Taeyong's and Hansol's names were written in bold block letters along the length of the cast, although Hansol's looked a little Times New Roman-y. Mark's name was blindingly absent. 

"I'm gonna visit you every day," he repeated firmly. "Right after school, I'll get some proper food from-"

"-McDonald's?" Donghyuck guessed.

"-McDonald's," Mark confirmed with a smile, "and just do my homework and stuff here until I get kicked out. I might even drag the others with me if I can."

"I wouldn't mind if it's just you." Donghyuck muttered and then hastily added, "But that doesn't mean I don't want to see the others because that's not the point I'm trying to make. I'm just saying I wouldn't mind if it's just you." And when Mark laughed he finished stroppily, "Just do whatever."

"I'll just do whatever," Mark giggled and Donghyuck glared and tried to poke him in the side, Mark dodged his attempt skillfully. 

"You'll really come by every day?" Donghyuck asked after they'd settled down again.

"Until you're sick of seeing me," Mark said from where his head was buried in his backpack when he came back up Donghyuck smacked him on the head. "I won't ever be sick of seeing you, dumbass." 

"That's the best news I've heard all day," Mark stated earnestly which earned him another half-hearted slap. "Now give me your arm, I need to sign." 

Donghyuck held out his left arm and Mark gingerly started signing his name in elaborate bubble writing. When he was done he grinned down at his work, capping his pen and dropping it into the fathomless depths of his backpack where it would be lost forever. 

"Do you always sign casts like this?" Donghyuck asked, squinting down at the large bubble writing that took up most of the leftover space. 

"I have to make it memorable," Mark said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. 

"Right," Donghyuck answered slowly, making sure Mark knew that it wasn't the most obvious thing in the world.

"Should I bring you any books from the school library when I come by?"

Donghyuck looked at him like he was mad. "Please don't. I'd rather watch re-runs of Big Bang Theory than read a book." 

"That's a little drastic."

"Bring me books about space, McDonald's and yourself and we'll be fine." 

Mark grinned bashfully. "I think I can do that." 

"Promise you'll come every day?" Donghyuck murmured, his gaze going from playful to insecure in less than a second. 

Mark reached for his right hand and intertwined their fingers, his voice as soft as his eyes. "I have to make up for those four weeks and even if I didn't have to do that, I'd still come every day. I'm not gonna fuck up like that again. I promise." 

"You didn't fuck up, Mark."

"No, no I did. I was a coward and I fucked up big time and I'm gonna make it up to you in every way I can." 

"You didn't fuck up, I was- it was my fault, Mark."

"Don't say that. Please."

"But it's the truth," Donghyuck whispered and Mark vehemently shook his head.

"The truth is we both fucked up, but I carry most of the blame. I could've visited you, I could've called Jaehyun or Yuta to ask what was going on, but I didn't. I didn't do shit and I fucking hate myself for it."

Donghyuck was staring at him, mouth slightly open and eyes wide.

"I'm gonna make it up to you. Okay? I promise."

"I'm going to make it up to you, too," Donghyuck replied, his voice surprisingly firm.

"You don't-" Mark started but Donghyuck just squeezed his hand. "Please. I want to. As you said, we both fucked up and it isn't fair if you say it was all your fault."

"We'll start from scratch then?" Mark asked, looking down at their intertwined hands.

"Yeah, from scratch."

Mark took a deep breath. "Hi, I'm Mark," he said, feeling a bit ridiculous.

"I'm Donghyuck."

There was a pause and then Mark said with all the conviction and heart he could muster, "I really, really like you."

Donghyuck looked suitably surprised but then mumbled, "I really like you too." 

"Promise?"

Donghyuck huffed an annoyed sigh and disentangled his hand, cupped Mark's cheek and leaned forward clumsily pressing his lips against Mark's chapped ones and kissed him.

It was like all of time happened at once and Mark realized exactly three things. The first thing being that Donghyuck tasted like expensive chocolate, cheap hospital orange juice and blood. The second thing was that this was their first kiss since New Years and the third and most important thing was that he was completely and stupidly in love. 

 

 

Chapter Text

The days leading up to Donghyuck's release from the hospital were apparently above the normal rules of time. Everything was topsy-turvy, upside down and seconds didn't feel like seconds anymore. Mark didn't even know how seconds normally felt since they passed by so quickly, but he was also pretty sure that 5 hours in a hospital room shouldn't feel like 5 seconds. That's not how time worked, but time didn't really seem to care. Eight and a half days felt more like eight and a quarter seconds whilst at the same time also feeling like 800 years. It made absolutely no sense and it was really starting to piss Mark off, but as previously stated, time didn't care.

Time wasn't real anyway. Well, at least not always. It definitely wasn't when it concerned the hours, minutes, days or seconds Mark and Donghyuck spent together.

The day of Donghyuck's release was windy, big fluffy cloud fronts moving across the sky quicker than the traffic in the streets. Now and again one of these huge clouds would unload a quick, heavy shower before moving on, leaving the city sparkling with fresh puddles and dripping drain pipes.

Mark had managed to extract Johnny, Ten, Kun and Sicheng out of the library, but not even Donghyuck's joyful release from the hospital could stop them from taking flashcards and (in Kun's case) an entire file with them to the hospital. All of it was about the laws of physics (gravity, radiation all that stuff) and all of it left a very hopeless look on Johnny's face. Ten looked like he hadn't slept in 87 years and Kun looked like he was seconds away from a nervous breakdown. Although Johnny's air of hopelessness was slowly being replaced by a 'well-fuck-it' kind of vibe and Sicheng generally seemed pretty chill, his main goal was to keep Kun and the others alive long enough to take their exams.

Jaemin, Jeno and Renjun ended up stealing Kun's giant physics file and spent the 15 minute long subway trip doing a mini pop quiz with Ten and Johnny, the reward being whatever sweets Donghyuck had left. Kun kept nervously flipping through Ten's flashcards and at some point, Sicheng just snatched them out of his hands and hid them in his sleeve and when Kun caused a scene by trying to get them back Sicheng threatened to eat them.

Chenle was still kind of sick and clambered onto Renjun's lap almost immediately after they'd gotten on the subway and dozed off. The look on Renjun's face was the second most amusing thing after Ten and Johnny almost breaking up because of an argument about Newton's second law.

Jisung had followed the elders' example and brought his notebook with him, which was crammed to bursting with disorganized notes on the Age of Enlightenment, a time period so boring not even dust bothered to settle on it. Mark hovered by his shoulder as he flipped through the pages filled out with small cramped handwriting and slews of doodles, now and again pointing out spelling mistakes or just generally taking the piss out of Jisung's badly answered questions and that one bad test that somehow managed to make its way into the back of his notebook.

When they got off at their stop they were presented with the surprisingly difficult task of getting out of the ever-changing and expanding Central subway station. They took three wrong turns, Jeno almost killed a pigeon and they kind of got swept up in the rush hour panic for the outer city trains. When they did finally manage to crawl up the steps to freedom they were smacked in the face with the very distinct smell of exhaust fumes, street food, and wet asphalt.

"The hospital's ages away from here," Jaemin whined immediately after they'd set foot on the pavement.

"Lump it," Renjun huffed, he was half carrying a still quite dozy Chenle.

"C'mon guys, it's only a 15-minute walk. The fresh air will do you some good," Johnny said, zipping up his jacket.

There were chorused complaints and something like 'It's colder for short people' came from Ten who was looking at his boyfriend with a disgruntled frown on his face.

"You sound like my fucking dad," Jeno grumbled.

Johnny shrugged it off with a smile, wrapped an arm around Ten's waist and then gestured for the others to follow. Reluctantly and with a lot of complaining they did.

"So," Jeno drawled as he caught up with Mark, throwing a suspiciously friendly arm over his shoulders.

Mark cast him a suitably wary look. "What."

"Bought him any chocolates?"  

"Dude, I've brought him something every time I visited. I swear I've never been more broke in my entire life."

"You didn't have to though," Jaemin pointed out, popping up on Mark's other side.

"It's kind of my obligation though, isn't it?" Mark said and then after a little pause added, "As his boyfriend and all."

Both stopped dead in their tracks and Mark kept on walking for a few steps until he realized and turned around.

Jaemin was right up in his face in a matter of seconds, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him violently.

"BOYFRIEND!?" He yelled and some people that were streaming past them turned to glare at them. Jaemin and Jeno ignored them whilst Mark bowed his head apologetically.

"I thought you knew?" Mark said, prying Jaemin's hands off his shoulders.

"Well we kinda did, but we wanted you to make it official."

"We kissed on New Years. Like, that's pretty fucking official if you ask me."

"Yeah but not that's not, like, official official, y'know?" Jeno added helpfully.

"No, not really."

"We mean, like, Facebook official."

"Instagram official."

"Snapchat official. The list goes on but you know what we mean, right?" Jaemin asked.

"Yeah, but you do know that I don't have Instagram?"

"But you have Snapchat."

"Only because you forced me into getting it."

"Yeah, so you could actually use the goddamn thing for once and make it official," Jeno urged, but Mark shook his head. "I'm not doing that. The filters freak me out."

"What?" They said in unison and Mark rolled his eyes, "They use FBI facial recognition software."

Both Jamin and Jeno stared at him in disbelief before Jaemin continued, "Whatever. Can you at least make it Facebook official?"

"I don't use Facebook either, dude. I forgot my password like 78 years ago."

"Great." Jaemin actually stomped his foot and Jeno laughed good-naturedly.

"Look, it's official with all you guys and that's what really counts, right? I'd rather have you guys 'like' whatever I do in real life than some stranger on the Internet."

There was a longish pause where they all just kinda stared at each other.

"You're fucking cheesy as hell man," Jeno finally said with a laugh and slapped Mark on the shoulder.

"Thanks, I wasn't even trying," Mark muttered, rubbing his shoulder in mock hurt.

Jaemin still looked slightly pissed off when they started walking again, but his mood did lift when he successfully managed to trip Mark up, making him almost faceplant onto the pavement. The others were all huddled together by a baker's shop front window, half of them staring longingly at the assorted sticky cakes and treats behind the glass and the other half watching the windswept trio trudge up the street with a half-hearted pretense of foot-tapping impatience.

"Well, that only took you the better half of ten minutes," Kun muttered, his tone not even properly sharp just tilting slightly with an edge of warm annoyance. He along with Ten and Renjun were hopping from one foot to another, they were the most lightly dressed out of their little group.

"We got held up," Jaemin said distractedly, his gaze settling on the enticing shop window display.

"Charity people?" Sicheng queried. "I always get stuck if I don't run away from them."

"Same," Mark murmured and they shared a sympathetic look. Charity people from a charity you've never heard of before are a difficult case for people who are too polite to say no.

"So are we actually gonna buy anything or are we just gonna stand here until we're really late and have to run to the hospital?" Chenle asked, his whole body drooping against Renjun, who was gingerly supporting him by wrapping an arm around his shoulders.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure that sign there-" Sicheng pointed at the entrance of a narrow alley next to the bakery, "says 'No Loitering' and, like, we're loitering."

"How about we buy something and then speed walk to the hospital," Johnny suggested.

"You have long legs though. Your speed walking is like running for us normal sized humans," Ten said and Chenle and Renjun nodded vigorously.

"We'll do short people speed walking." Johnny offered in a tone that was supposed to sound comforting.

"Now that's just insulting," Ten snorted and marched past them into the bakery.

"How was that insulting?" Johnny asked, incredulously turning to the others. Renjun, Kun, and Chenle shrugged nonchalantly.

"You're too tall to understand," Kun said and Johnny pouted.

Ten came back out 5 minutes later, a big paper bag in his arms.

"What did you get?" Jeno asked.

"The souls of the innocent."

They stared at him and Ten heaved a sigh. "Danish pastries," he clarified. Chenle immediately made grabby hands for the bag.

"How many did you buy?" Mark asked and Ten held the bag out and they all crowded around to inspect.

"Dude, we could feed an army with this," Johnny muttered more to himself than anyone else.

Kun glanced at him, "A very small, badly equipped army."

"Whatever," Jisung interrupted, one danish pastry firmly clasped in his hands. "Can we get going now?"

So they set off again. Johnny and Ten at the front, Chenle, Jisung, Sicheng and Kun in the middle and the other three bringing up the rear.

"We're not going to wait for you if you fall behind again, we're already late enough," Johnny yelled over his shoulder shortly after they'd started walking again.

"Thanks," Jeno yelled back sarcastically and Johnny gave them a thumbs up.

"I can't believe you two are like actually together," Jaemin chirped happily.

Mark rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, "Can't believe you two aren't."

"What?"

"Nothing."

 

They found Jaehyun and Doyoung in the hospital lobby. Doyoung was fighting a vending machine and Jaehyun was on the phone with what seemed to be Hansol, who was stuck in traffic. When their little congregation clattered into the lobby both turned with a smile and wave.

"We're not late?" Sicheng asked, genuinely surprised.

"Oh no you're definitely late, but so are we and Hansol's probably not even going to make it at all so it doesn't really matter."

"Great." Johnny grinned, "We brought pastries."

"Oh thank fuck- no Hansol, not you I- yes I'll tell them. Hansol says hi," Jaehyun said, grinning apologetically and holding out the phone so that they could all shout their hellos down the line.

Doyoung took the bag out of Ten's hands, "What kind of pastries did you- oh my God, Jaehyun it's Danish pastries we're saved."

"Oh my God, I love you," Jaehyun said. "No Hansol I meant- well, I love you too but I meant Ten, he brought us food. Danish pastries." He paused brow furrowed. "Yuta might save you one, but don't get your hopes up. Yes, okay I'm hanging up now. Yeah, see you." He hung up and shoved his phone into his jacket pocket and immediately reached for the paper bag.

Doyoung already had one clenched between his teeth and he handed another sticky treat to Jaehyun who looked like he was about to cry.

"We haven't eaten since this morning," Doyoung said between bites. "And that vending machine just cost me all my small change and I didn't even get a Snickers."

"Well thank God I exist," Ten smiled.

"Where are the others?" Kun asked.

"Already in his room, Taeyong just has to sign a few things and then we’re out."

"That easy?" Kun asked as they started heading for the elevator and Doyoung snorted, "Taeyong almost throttled the head doctor."

"They don't think Taeil and Taeyong can take care of Donghyuck. Or at least the head doctor doesn't think so," Jaehyun added.

"How'd they get him out?" Johnny asked.

"I have no idea, but I do know that he has to come by every two weeks for a check-up and he's going to see a counselor because of the whole...-" Doyoung gestured vaguely and then trailed off.

Johnny grimaced slightly and nodded. That night was still a sensitive subject even for those who hadn't been there.

They all crowded into the elevator and the bag of Danish pastries was handed around till it reached Ten again who was squished into a corner with Johnny, who didn't look too unhappy about this situation. It smelled like cinnamon, copper, sweat, and disinfection cleaning stuff, a combination of smells that only someone with a cold can survive. Mainly because they can't properly smell it.

The 11th floor was generally unchanged, but a few new drawings from the kids ward managed to brighten the otherwise sterile and impersonal corridors. They shuffled along, chatting amongst themselves in hushed whispers, the soles of their sneakers occasionally squeaking on the linoleum floor.

When they reached room 374 they could hear loud, indistinct chatter, which after a short pause they decided was mainly coming from Yuta and Donghyuck. Mark knocked three times and seconds after his knuckles left the door it was yanked open by Taeyong, who looked both relieved and agitated.

"Mark! And...others? Wow okay, that's a lot of people I didn't actually think you all were coming."

"Of course we'd come!" Ten laughed, shoving the paper bag of pastries into his chest as he clattered past, the rest of the squad following with bright grins and enthusiastic hellos. Mark remained in the doorway, a sheepish smile on his face and his hands stuffed deep into his jacket pockets.

Taeyong looked at the bag and then at him, "What- what is this?"

"Pastries. Ten bought them, so he will want a lot of acknowledgment of what a great, amazing friend he is."

Taeyong raised an eyebrow.

"He's like a puppy, he likes praise," Mark elaborated and Taeyong snorted.

"I thought he has Johnny for that?"

"A bit of variety won't do him any harm, also the more we praise him the more food he buys us, so you know, it's a win-win situation."

"He gets a self-confidence boost-"

"-and we get free food."

This is the part where they would've high-fived but Taeyong had a paper bag in his hands and Mark's slightly clammy palms were better off in his jacket pockets.

When they walked into the hospital room Mark found Donghyuck sitting on the bed, his legs dangling off the edge the tips of his sneakers grazing the floor and a sunny smile on his face. His left arm was still in a cast and from the slightly stiff way he was holding himself Mark could tell that his ribs were still sore. It would be a long 4 weeks till they had healed.

Jisung, Chenle, Jeno, Jaemin, Kun, and Sicheng had squished themselves on the bed next to Donghyuck whilst Johnny and Ten sat on the white plastic chair that Mark had been occupying for the last couple of days. Taeil was fluttering around the room, a black duffle bag in his hands and a frown on his face. Jaehyun had sat down on the floor, pastry in one hand, his phone in the other and crumbs in his lap yet he still managed to look like he was accidentally posing for Vogue. Doyoung, on the other hand, looked a little less effortless, he was perched on the foot of the bed devouring his pastry like it was his last day on earth.

The room was loud, crowded and smelled like sugar and disinfectant. Most of the noise, however, was coming from Donghyuck and Yuta and the mounted TV that was playing an episode of Caillou. Yuta was leaning against the radiator by the window, a packet of skittles in his hand. He was steadily popping one skittle after the other into his mouth, pausing now and again to throw one at Donghyuck whilst happily listing down the things Donghyuck was no longer allowed to do in his weeks of recovery.

"No more music," he said and a yellow skittle disappeared behind his teeth.

"Bullshit," Donghyuck snapped, jerking his head to the right as a red skittle flew past him and skittered along the floor before coming to halt in front of Taeyong's feet.

"It is not," Yuta exclaimed in mock offense. "What if you start dancing and mess up your ribs?"

"Yeah see, I don't think a casual fucking shimmy is gonna fuck up my ribs. It's not like I'm gonna suddenly break out in my own enthusiastic version of Step Up whilst doing my homework or something."

"Oh come on, we all know that you can do the entire Thriller routine backwards and twice as fast," Taeil muttered.

"Can't moonwalk though," Yuta snarked and threw a blue skittle which missed Donghyuck but managed to hit Jaehyun in the back of the head.

"No Michael Jackson or Step Up dancing, but you can shimmy as much as you like," Taeyong said, making his and Mark's presence known to the rest of the room. He held out the pastry bag for Taeil who visibly de-aged at least 789 years. Donghyuck started to get to his feet, his not cast-encased arm reaching out for Mark and his smile brightening to an almost blinding level. Their joyful reunion was cut short however by Doyoung pushing Donghyuck back down on the bed and Mark almost slipping on a stray skittle.

"I'm gonna decapitate you if you take my music away," Donghyuck said turning to Yuta, his bright smile taking on a slightly murderous edge.

Yuta looked unfazed. "Whatever, but we did pad all of the sharp-ish corners in your room."

Donghyuck turned to Taeyong, who rolled his eyes. "We cleared up your desk that's all."

"Something that is never ever happening again," Jaehyun commented.

"Yeah, how can your desk steadily keep getting messier when you're not even using it?" Doyoung added.

"Sheer force of will. It's fueled by the shiver Taeyong does every time he goes into my room," Donghyuck grinned.

"Could you at least try and keep it tidy?"

Everyone in the room snorted and Donghyuck beamed up at his brother. "I think there's your answer."

"Another rule," Yuta continued, "no going outside without a letter of permission from Taeyong and oath from you-" he punctuated the 'you' by flicking a blue skittle at Donghyuck, "-that you won't go up to the apartment blocks."

Donghyuck let out a scandalised gasp and turned to Taeil and Taeyong for support.

Taeyong shook his head. "Nah, that's actually a good idea."

"Who would've thought," Doyoung said under his breath and got a skittle in the back of his neck.

"Yeah," Taeil agreed, dumping the now packed duffle bag on the floor. "No going up to the apartment blocks."

"And no more climbing over that fucking fence," Taeyong added, with a pointed glare at Donghyuck's right arm.

"This is bullshit."

"We'll talk about it again when you've healed up properly," Taeyong said and handed him the bag of pastries like a peace offering.

Donghyuck looked up at Mark with a questioning gaze, but Mark held up his hands. "Don't look at me. I'm too broke to even afford a crumb of a Milky Way, Ten bought all that."

Ten lit up with pride as Donghyuck turned around to thank him.

20 minutes later there was a knock on the door and a doctor, flanked by two nurses, came inside. Mark didn't realize it was the notorious Head Doctor until he noticed the atmosphere in the room change dramatically. Taeyong's entire body language went on the defensive, his jaw set and his eyes narrowing as if he was daring the doctor to say one thing against Donghyuck, Taeil or himself. Donghyuck and Taeil came to stand next to him, Taeil placing a protective hand on Donghyuck's shoulder, his lips drawn into a thin line and his eyes mirroring the challenging look that Taeyong wore. The others shifted as one so that they were all standing behind the other three as one compact force to be reckoned with. Even Jisung and Chenle looked ready to throw some serious punches.

"Good afternoon." The doctor's tone was clipped and cold. He stood taller than Taeyong, but no condescending glare down the length of his crooked nose could make him actually seem taller. The air directly around Taeyong was charged with energy and Mark was forcefully reminded of the night.

"Afternoon," Taeyong replied in a similarly clipped tone.

One of the nurses nervously glanced at the head doctor before scurrying over to Taeyong and handing him a clipboard with various release forms on it.

"Thank you," Taeyong said softly and the nurse allowed a small smile to flit over her face before hurrying back to her original position to the doctor's left. Jisung had a pen and a few painfully quiet seconds past as they handed it through their ranks till it finally reached Taeyong, who immediately started skimming the contents of the forms and scribbling his signature in the assigned blank spaces. He then took exactly two steps into no man's land and handed the doctor his clipboard.

With a raised eyebrow he flipped through the various pages before clearing his throat and handing the clipboard to his minion on the right who scuttled off, rubber soles squeaking against the floor.

The doctor cleared his throat again. "Donghyuck will have to come by every two weeks for the next month or so, so that we can monitor his recovery for both his ribs and wrist. We will also be conducting one scan of his skull just to see if the minor concussion didn't leave any damages we hadn't noticed." He paused. "Your partner's uh- insurance will cover all of these procedures." His gaze flickered over to Taeil with a look resembling disgust and their entire group shifted. Jisung and Ten cracked their knuckles.

"He will also be attending weekly sessions with a therapist issued by the hospital."

"Great," Taeyong breathed icily and the doctor smiled, all teeth and no emotion, like a shark. "Quite."

"We'll be leaving then. Good day." Taeil broke the tense silence with a tone as sharp as broken glass. His normally kindly serene face marred by his own shark-like smile. The doctor looked a little surprised his cool facade cracking a bit and Mark assumed he hadn't expected Taeil to actually speak yet alone sound so cold.

He nodded curtly, quickly glancing at Donghyuck who returned his gaze with a level-headed glare before whirling around and swishing out of the room, the nurse following but not before rolling her eyes and giving them all a quick thumbs up.

There was a moment of silence.

"Well, that could've gone worse," Jaehyun said lightheartedly and the whole room took a collective breath.

"I've never wanted to kill a grown man more than this guy," Jaemin said, sitting down heavily on the bed.

"Maths teacher second grade." Renjun pointed out and flopped down next to him.

"He's moved down to second place."

"Donghyuck when you're here for your check-ups and he tries to talk to you-" Doyoung started.

"Kick him where the sun don't shine?" Donghyuck yawned.

Doyoung stared at him. "No, but also yes."

"Make sure he doesn't have any children," Johnny added.

"What if he already has some?" Chenle interjected.

"Then make sure he doesn't make any more and get the already existing ones out of his evil influence," Johnny concluded smugly.

"That's fair I guess." Chenle nodded.

"Why do I have to do all the heavy lifting? Fucked ribs and wrist, remember?"

"You can call us for backup," Jaemin said.

"No guarantee we'll be there though," Kun said and when everyone gasped he clarified, "Look as much as I'd like to kick that guy in the balls I also kinda want to graduate so if we're doing this in like three weeks I'm not gonna be there."

"I'll kick him twice as hard for you," Sicheng smiled and Kun looked genuinely touched.

"Okay, it's time to get the fuck out of here," Taeil interrupted, duffle bag slung over his shoulder and 'determination' written in permanent marker across his forehead (figuratively).

And so they got the fuck out of there. Donghyuck grabbed Mark's hand almost immediately after they got going.

"I'll never let go, Jack," he whispered dramatically and Mark snorted, successfully pulling him closer and relishing in the fact that they could finally properly hang out together again without a hospital bed and the watchful eye of a nurse keeping them apart.

"Oh! News everybody!" Jaemin yelled just as they were getting on the elevator. "Mark and Donghyuck are officially a couple."

"What's new about that?" Kun muttered.

"What the fuck were they before this moment then?" Ten asked. "Just bros being bros?"

"It wasn't official then," Jeno clarified helpfully.

"Yes, it was," Yuta argued. "Trust me, I saw enough cutesy shit to be a reliable witness."

"No, no it wasn't because they never actually said so."

"What the fuck is your definition of official?" Yuta asked and both Jaemin and Jeno let out exasperated sighs.

"Y'know, like, saying 'hey guys me and so-and-so are a thing now'," Jeno said.

"So-and-so and I," Taeil corrected under his breath and everyone groaned.

Renjun turned to Mark and Donghyuck who were happily watching the chaos unfold from their corner in the elevator. "I bet you all the money I have someone's gonna die in the next 5 minutes."

"Who though?" Donghyuck asked.

"Johnny just because." Renjun shrugged.

"I say Yuta, Hansol isn't here so it's just a matter of time before he bites it," Donghyuck grinned.

"You're just saying that because you'd like to see him get hit," Mark said.

"You are absolutely right."

Once they reached the hospital parking lot they split up into two cars and a taxi. Mark was stuck with Donghyuck, Taeil, and Taeyong. And by stuck, I mean happily squished in the backseat with Donghyuck carefully curled up against his side with his head buried in the fabric of his hoodie. Mark had never thought that the happiness of having Donghyuck back could make his heart physically ache, but here he was; arms tightly wrapped around Donghyuck's smaller frame and murmuring a hushed 'are you okay?' into his hair every time they went over a bump in the road.

"I'm so fucking happy," Mark laughed quietly and he could feel a smile tugging at Donghyuck's mouth.

"I'm almost there," Donghyuck whispered back and the lurch that Mark's heart did was one of both undiluted sadness and happiness.

"Take your time. It's okay."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"How was therapy?" 

Mark and Donghyuck were curled up together on Donghyuck's bed. Early evening light was shining through the window, casting the room in a sharp mix of light and shadow. A couple of sticks of incense were burning in a mug on the desk and the room was foggy with the smell of it. Donghyuck said they helped him sleep. Taeil wasn't at home and Taeyong was taking a nap on the sofa, his own incense sticks burning on the kitchen table. 

"She kept asking questions," Donghyuck mumbled into his chest.

"Well, that's kinda her job though, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but she kept asking questions I couldn't answer. Y'know like, do I remember my mother's death, do I remember the abuse. What is the fondest memory I have of my- of him. Stuff like that and, like, I don't know what to fucking say because I don't know if what I remember was real or not."

"But how does asking you stuff like that help?"

Donghyuck twisted around a little bit and winced when his ribs seemed to protest. "She's talked to Taeyong, so she kinda compares notes of what he remembers, which is a lot less warped than with me and then we talk about how I remembered stuff compared to him. She says it'll help me make sense of some stuff, get over survivor's guilt and all that. Kinda prove to me how much of a dickhead he really was and that'll then unwarp my brain and I can go on living a jolly good fucking life without feeling like shit." 

Mark nudged him a bit and Donghyuck carefully rolled onto his stomach so that he was basically lying on top of Mark. He rested his head on his arms that were folded across Mark's chest, his fringe falling in his eyes. 

"Do you have that? Survivor's guilt, I mean," Mark asked, freeing one arm out from behind his head and pushing a loose strand of hair out of Donghyuck's eyes. 

Donghyuck hummed thoughtfully. "At night mostly when I'm trying to sleep. Or when I'm alone, then it can get really bad."

Mark slung both his arms around Donghyuck and managed to pull him further up his chest. "But you're okay now?"

"Well, I don't know what your definition of alone is, but I'm pretty sure I'm not right now," Donghyuck said and Mark rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean."

Donghyuck sighed, "I- I guess I'm okay now. It's just, the stuff she asks, I- it messes me up for the rest of the day. I can't get it out of my head, like, all the memories and thoughts that were, I don't know, re-awakened I guess, just fucking sit in my head and I can't help thinking about them and it's just-" Donghyuck huffed in frustration and Mark quickly cut in, "We don't have to talk about this y'know. It's okay if you don't want to, I mean you just went through an hour of therapy so I get why you wouldn't want to dwell on it." 

"No no, I have to- well no, I want to. I want to explain it to you because I sound crazy in my own head and maybe it'll sound less so when I say it to you."

"You sure?"

Donghyuck nodded, "Yeah, yeah I'm sure."

"Alright then." 

Donghyuck cleared his throat and adjusted slightly so that his hands and head were carefully resting over Mark's sternum.

"Isn't this uncomfortable?" Mark asked and his heart did a painful twist as the boy on top of him shrugged and replied, "I've slept in more uncomfortable places. This is fine."

After a short pause, Donghyuck started, "The 'do I remember my mother's death' question is really weird actually. Because compared to literally every other memory I have of my childhood, that one is really clear. I remember that day better than anything else. And it's weird because the therapist said that it's my only memory, that we've talked about so far at least, that isn't a complete contradiction to what Taeyong remembers. I don't really remember going to the hospital or identifying the body, but I remember Taeyong buying me a coke, which was really, really exciting because we weren't usually allowed to have soft drinks. And then the nurse came out and we had to go down to the morgue and identify the body. I remember one of the nurses taking my coke away before we went into the morgue and I got really upset." 

Mark's hand which had been carding through Donghyuck's hair stopped and Donghyuck blinked up at him, a thoughtful, heart-wrenchingly sad look in his eyes. 

"Taeyong didn't cry, y'know. Not in the hospital, not in the morgue, not on our way home and not even at her funeral. And you cannot believe how much I hated him for it. I didn't cry until- until our father started crying. He broke down whilst we were in the morgue and by then I was already a little...off, I guess. I knew he hit her and Taeyong, but I was already resenting Taeyong for not crying with our father. I was eight, I couldn't understand why Taeyong wasn't moved by our father's display of grief. I thought that this was like his repentance or something, I thought that he was going to be a better dad now, so I cried with him. The version of our father I knew was twisted and fucked up and in the days after my mother's death that was clearer than ever, but I've only started to realize that now. In those days he clung to me, I cried with him at the morgue and for the next couple of days he was- he was affectionate and kind and he knew what effect that would have on me. See, when the therapist asked me about the day my mother died the first thing I could think of was the times I spent with my father. Not my mother. Those days after her death I- " he took a deep breath his brow furrowing in a mix of concentration and frustration, "-it's just so weird. The way I remember everything I mean, especially now after- after all that's happened. Because I clearly remember him being the sweetest, most caring dad in the world after her death, but I also remember him tipping the box of her belongings that she had on her when she died into the trash outside the hospital. It's just contradiction after fucking contradiction and I just fucking can't...- I can't do this."

"Hey no-" Mark said softly but Donghyuck just shook his head and rolled off him.

"I sound crazy don't I?" He whispered, gaze fixated on a certain moisture stain on the ceiling. Mark turned onto his side and tentatively reached out for Donghyuck's hand, fingers loosely intertwining with Donghyuck's which poked out of the stiff encasing of his cast. 

"You don't sound crazy," he said quietly. 

Donghyuck shook his head and Mark could see the beginnings of tears sparkling in his eyes. "But- I can't, I can't..."

"We don't have to talk about this. Please, please don't force yourself. Please." 

They lay in semi-silence for awhile, the only sounds being the distant sounds of the city below and the biting contrast between Mark's steady and Donghyuck's shallow breathing. Mark watched the lights and shadows in the room gradually shift as the sun slowly disappeared behind the neighboring apartment blocks. Their fingers were still clasped together as the remaining light in the room suddenly faded away completely and they were left in an odd half-light, stuck somewhere between evening and night. Donghyuck's breathing had calmed down by then and his fingers were starting to return Mark's reassuring grip. 

"It's just...- it's like I have all the good memories on one side and all the repressed, dark ones, that I in some twisted fucked up part of my brain refused to believe, on the other and up until now I knew that he was a bad, fucking shitty bastard of a person. I mean I had the living proof right with me all of the time. But at the same goddamn time I couldn't get my head around it, like, I knew but I couldn't- I couldn't make myself dredge up all the bad stuff. It was blocked off and it still is kinda, but now I- well, it's different now. Everything- every fucking lie that he put in my mind, everything I knew or thought I knew is being ruined and every fucking time I'm in that room with her and we talk, I realize that I don't know what to believe anymore because I can't trust my own memory."

"Hey hey, it's okay," Mark whispered, edging a little closer. Donghyuck turned onto his side to look at him, his eyes piercing through the semi-darkness.

"My mother's death day is ingrained in my mind as the day my dad needs me to comfort him, how fucked up is that?"

"That's why-"

Donghyuck's eyelids fluttered shut and his grip on Mark's hand tightened for a moment. "How fucked up is that?" He murmured and Mark pushed closer, exchanging his grip on Donghyuck's hand for cupping his cheek.

"It's not your fault," he said, his voice rasping slightly in his effort to be as quiet as possible.

"I could've done something- I could've run away with Taeyong, I...-" Donghyuck's tone was starting to border on the hysterical now and Mark shushed him, edging close enough that their foreheads were touching.

"You were a kid, Hyuck. It wasn't your fault for wanting love and affection from your dad."

"But-"

"It's not your fault. None of this. I know you don't believe me, but I promise you, this is not your fault."

"I'm crazy." Donghyuck's voice broke and Mark pulled him close so that Donghyuck face pressed against Mark's shoulder, tufts of his ruddy brown hair tickling Mark's throat and chin. Donghyuck's hands were pressed against Mark's chest, his fingers digging into the soft material of his hoodie and Mark could feel the hard edge of Donghyuck's cast nudging him somewhere between two ribs, but he ignored the slight discomfort in favor of drawing soothing circles on Donghyuck's back. 

"You're gonna be okay," he whispered and Donghyuck let out a muffled half-sob-half-laugh.

 

/

 

Spring was finally making itself known. The gardens in the suburbs were the first hint, the weather forecasts the second. And slowly this green breeze swept up from the forest into the suburbs before finally creeping into the city. The streets lined with trees and shrubs took on a little more colour and all the plants and flowers upon the faraway balconies of the countless apartment blocks breathed a sigh of relief as the lingering shadow of winter was finally chased away completely. 

In Mark's case, all this meant that recess would become bearable again and that he could finally shove his winter coat in the back of his wardrobe where it would sit and wait for October to come. It also meant that his mother would stop giving him the look every time he went out wearing a hoodie instead of an actual jacket or coat.

Along with all of these joyful things came the promise of driving lessons and, if he did pass with flying colours, a second hand car all of his own, but the surprised, curious and outright delighted look on Donghyuck's face when Mark had asked him where he'd like to go already sufficed as all the motivation Mark needed to do well. 

Donghyuck still hadn't told him where he'd like to go but Mark would drive to fucking China if that was what Donghyuck wanted. Although he did hope it would be something a little more realistic like the beach or the deserts in Nevada and California since they wouldn't have to cross an actual ocean to get there. 

 

The school courtyard was more puddles than concrete by the time the bell signaled the end of the school day. It had been raining on and off all day and the air was clear and fresh, the smell of damp earth and living things pervading the air. It was a stark contrast to the icy chill of winter. Mark and Jisung being the poor unfortunate souls that they were, managed to get caught in one of the quick sharp showers on their way to school and had to spend the rest of the day picking the seat closest to the radiator. But to their luck, the weather forecast had promised warmth and the weather delivered; 19 degrees smiled at the crowd of students who were huddled around the thermostat that hung next to the main entrance and they all ended up spending recess lying, sitting and standing around on the sunny side of the courtyard. 

By the time the day was over the temperature had already dropped a little, but it stopped exactly no one from stuffing their jackets into their backpacks and gladly taking the risk of getting soaked in a surprise shower for feeling the first proper beams of warm sunlight on their skin. 

Mark and Co. were straddling behind the main stream of students flooding out into the street and into the parking lot, they were mainly hampered by the fact that they were all trying the impossible feat of trying to cram their jackets into overstuffed backpacks whilst at the same trying to walk without accidentally stepping into the road or tripping over their own feet. It was Mark actually who gave up first and dumped his backpack on the pavement where it sat, way too heavy and decidedly unhelpful, as he switched between glaring at it and his jacket. 

"Dude, hurry up!" Jeno yelled down the street, but Mark waved him off, "Just hold on a sec."

"We're gonna be late!" Jisung shouted.

"We're going shopping Jisung, it's not life or death. Mom won't kill us if we're three fuckin' minutes late." Mark crouched down and started systematically cramming the jacket into the remaining space of his already suffering backpack. 

He was just starting to pull up the zipper with one hand firmly keeping the mass of material inside the rucksack when he heard a shout behind him and he jerked around, letting go of the zipper and the backpack practically vomited the jacket back at him. The sinking feeling of his failure was immediately replaced however by a giddy wave of surprise as he saw the source of the ungodly shriek. Donghyuck was jogging towards him, cheeks red and his movements a little stiff, a side effect of having to 'slowly meander' places for the last three weeks because an overprotective brother was scared that something quicker than meandering could break all of the bones in his body. 

"Wow, hey there," Mark laughed as Donghyuck fell against him in an out of breath hug. "What are you doing here?"

"Came to see you, idiot," Donghyuck said, detaching himself from Mark to smile up at him. "Also it's warm and I actually managed to persuade Taeyong to let me go outside without adult supervision."

"I'm genuinely impressed." 

"He's probably put a tracker on my clothes or something."

"Probably," Mark agreed and Donghyuck sighed dramatically, "Ah well, what can you do." He then glanced down at Mark's backpack which was still wholeheartedly rejecting his jacket which was looking a little worse for wear, one sleeve lying sadly in a puddle.

"Need help with that?" Donghyuck snorted, leaning forward and gingerly picking up the sleeve between thumb and forefinger. 

"It's fine," Mark muttered trying not to sound sulky, "It'll fit, I just got distracted." 

Donghyuck winked and swatted Mark on the shoulder as he crouched down again to try the whole ordeal again. 

"Listen it's cute that you actually think that jacket is gonna fit, but no."

"No wait let me just-" 

"Nope give it here."

"Wait- look it'll-"

"Gimme." Donghyuck snapped his fingers in a commanding sort of way and Mark sighed, yanking the rest of the jacket out and handing it to Donghyuck who folded it over his left arm, using his cast like a weird coat hanger. 

Mark slung the backpack over his shoulder and looked down the street only to find it empty of any friend-ish people.

"The bastards left without me." 

"They saw me coming like a mile off, it's cool." 

"Traitors."

"Okay Michelle, calm down," Donghyuck said in the perfectly patronizing tone of a matron at an old people's home.

They started walking, Mark not so sneakily sneaking his hand into Donghyuck's, who gave him a look before cracking slightly under Mark's inquisitive gaze and letting the beginnings of a blush rise up in his cheeks. 

"So how's stuff?" Mark asked after a few minutes of comfortable silence. 

"They're changing my cast on the weekend."

"Hey, that's good news."

"Yup," Donghyuck said, popping the P. "It means I'm gonna get a smaller more manageable one and that I'm halfway through recovery."

"Nice. This is great, I mean except for, like, having to go the hospital again, which kinda sucks, to be honest. But otherwise; yay!"

"Yeah mean the last couple of times I was there it wasn't the I-Hate-The-Gays doctor, but, like, a new one I think? Young, anyway. Kinda nervous which is reassuring."

"How the fuck is making a doctor nervous reassuring?"

"I just like that I have that kind of effect on people."

"Dude the only time I was legitimately nervous around you was the first few times you climbed up to my window."

"I told you the first time that I wasn't going to murder you," Donghyuck muttered, looking indignant.

"Yeah well, that's exactly what a murderer would say."

Donghyuck stared at him. "You're stupid." 

"Oh right, just because I have self-preservation instincts makes me the stupid one."

Donghyuck mimicked him in a high-pitched voice and that just started a whole new level of messiness as they spent a solid five minutes of their walking trying to outmatch each other in the shittiness of their imitations. They stopped when Mark's voice threatened to give out.

"Anything else that's new?" He asked after an extensive bout of clearing his throat.

Donghyuck was quiet for a second before his face lit up with excitement. "My therapist changed!"

"And that's exciting because...?" 

"He looks like a slightly younger version of Sigmund Freud and- and he's German, I mean, how crazy is that?"

"Wasn't Sigmund Freud Austrian though?"

"That's basically German."

Mark snorted, "Exactly thirteen Austrians just burst into angry tears this very second, but okay if you say so." 

"A German psychiatrist though. That's like super fancy."

"Is he better than Doctor Harris?"

"Like no offense to her at all, because she was super sweet, but yeah kinda."

"Okay now imagine him without a German accent. Is he still better than Doctor Harris?"

Donghyuck unclasped their hands to slap him on the arm, "Fuck you. And yes he his." 

"Do I have any reasons to get jealous?" Mark asked, catching Donghyuck's hand again and waggling his eyebrows as the shorter boy glared at him. 

"He's a 60 something-year-old dude, who has a picture of his grandchild in his wallet so no I don't fucking think so." 

Mark shrugged nonchalantly, "You never know." 

"Gross," Donghyuck whined and Mark laughed loudly, squeezing his hand reassuringly when Donghyuck pretended to throw up into a nearby hedge. 

"How about we go to my place and just kinda chill there for a bit?" Mark asked after Donghyuck had finished looking disgusted with Mark implications. "I have some homework to finish and we haven't, y'know, hung out in quite some time."

"But I had something planned," Donghyuck pouted.

"My mom made brownies yesterday?" 

Donghyuck huffed a dramatic sigh, but his eyes didn't manage to disguise the sparkle in his eyes. "Fine-"

"Great!" Mark beamed but Donghyuck held up a finger (of his left hand to be exact, which looked ridiculously cute because the cast made his hand look even smaller than it actually was and, as odd as it may sound, Mark wanted to kiss his hands and he would once that god-awful cast was gone).

"Under one condition-" Donghyuck said and Mark blinked and managed to focus on his face.

"Okay?"

"We do the thing I planned."

"Okay yeah- sure. Uhm, can I ask what it is?"

"I'll tell you later."

"Great."

"Deal with it."

"I am."

"Sure." 

They kept on walking, their clasped hands happily swinging between them. And after a few minutes, Mark couldn't help but break the peaceful silence between them.

"You have really cute hands," he said with more confidence than he actually had. The pause after those words were spoken was the tensest and most fear-inducing pause Mark ever had to live through, but it ended up being totally fucking worth it when he caught sight of the rosy blush rapidly rising into Donghyuck's cheeks and the tips of his ears. 

"Shut up," Donghyuck mumbled, his smile audible in his voice and glowingly present on his face. Mark's heart cartwheeled over the sun in jubilation and he grinned down at the pavement. "True though," he muttered, glancing up to catch Donghyuck putting his hand over his mouth to cover up the bashful smile that was glowing on his face. 

 

Mark's mother greeted them both with a distracted wave and a vague gesture towards the fridge with a promise of brownies and leftover stew. She then whirled past them, Chenle and Jisung in tow both of them glued to Jisung's phone.

"Have fun!" Mark yelled after them and Jisung actually bothered to look up. "We're not buying you anything," he shouted and Chenle snorted.

"Whatever." 

"Have fun with your boyfriend," Chenle snickered which earned him a high-five from Jisung and they hurriedly fled the hallway cackling loudly, before Mark could throw a shoe at them. 

"Children," Donghyuck muttered airily and started carefully extracting himself from his jacket. 

"Indeed," Mark agreed in the most haughty tone he could manage, he then added in a normal voice, "How about you go upstairs and I'll get us some food?"

"Okay," Donghyuck said scooping up Mark's backpack and slinging it over his shoulder with a slight wince. "No cereal though."

Mark grinned, "No cereal."

Donghyuck stopped when he was halfway up the stairs to lean over the banisters and shouted, "And don't just get cereal out of spite!"

"I would never," Mark called back in mock offense.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah! C'mon, that sounds more like a Donghyuck-y thing than anything I'd ever do." 

"Fuck you," Donghyuck said and Mark's laugh echoed loudly from the kitchen. 

 

By the time Mark made it up to his room with a small tray crammed with brownies, cutlery and tea Donghyuck was sitting at his desk, his good hand busily rifling through his various text- and notebooks, eyes gleaming with unbridled curiosity.

"What are you doing?" Mark asked nudging the door shut with his foot and plodding over, setting the tray down on a newly cleared space. 

"Just- y'know, seeing what you do. Never been to high school, remember."

"I hadn't forgotten. Here-" he plucked the English textbook out of his hand and pushed the tray towards him, "-eat."

Donghyuck pouted but did not hesitate in picking one treat up and basically swallowing it whole. 

"You'll choke," Mark warned, tentatively nibbling on his own brownie (to his defense Jisung had helped bake them and if there was anything they had in common it was their miserable cooking skills), but Donghyuck only waved him off with crumbs sticking to his lips and the tips of his fingers.

Mark shrugged. "I'm gonna put I told you so on your grave," he said with a sigh and Donghyuck flicked crumbs at him. 

Once they had demolished most of what had been on the tray Donghyuck immediately went back to leafing through Mark's books, pausing now and again at pages he found interesting. Mark had flopped down on his bed and was pretending to do something on his phone while actually watching Donghyuck with an odd eyebrow-raised-surprised-but-fascinated look on his face. 

"It's just notebooks, man. It's not that interesting." 

Donghyuck snapped the notebook shut. "Yeah no- you see, it is actually. At least for me. I've never been to high school so it's just- it's weird."

"It's just a pain in the ass, really."

"Yeah okay, but imagine you're being taught by your brother's boyfriend, like, really think about it. Isn't that kinda weird? Kinda old-fashioned."

"He's a good teacher though, I mean, you said you get good grades. And I mean, c'mon it's Taeil. How bad can that really be? At least you don't have to see some super shitty teachers every other day, it's just Taeil and Taeil's, y'know, Taeil." 

"Right," Donghyuck said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "But having the same guy teaching you stuff can get pretty fucking boring too. Also it get's difficult, I mean we live together and it's kinda hard separating normal life and school when your only teacher is literally the guy who makes you breakfast in the morning and beats your ass at Mario Kart, like, it's hard to do stuff when we've fought the day before or when I went out at night and- y'know got a bit busted up. I mean shit, I didn't have any friends- any same-aged friends up until I climbed up to your room. I never really got that whole- the whole being a kid-in-school thing."

Donghyuck didn't sound sad exactly, but there was this underlying tone of melancholy in his voice as he looked down at Mark's worn and well-used text- and notebooks, that were filled with his own slanting messy handwriting and the occasional doodles from Renjun and the occasional note from Jeno and Jaemin. The underlying sadness of missing something he never had made Mark's heart break and he moved swiftly off his bed to pull Donghyuck off his chair and onto the floor with him, where they sat across each other, hands solemnly clasped together. 

Mark had to duck his head slightly so that he could peer at Donghyuck who was looking down at their hands and hiding behind his ever-growing fringe. 

"I didn't mean to come off as insensitive," he murmured.

"No no no- I'm sorry, no, please. It's me- I shouldn't have- I shouldn't have brought that up it sounds like I'm fishing for sympathy, I'm sorry. Please, it's- I was being stupid I'm-"

"Hey hey, Donghyuck stop- hey no. No. I was being a dick, I'm sorry. I've never really thought about homeschooling and I've met anyone who is homeschooled before I met you. Don't apologize for proving me wrong or just telling me stuff- whatever it might be, okay?"

"I'm sorry." 

"Don't be, please. Try breaking that habit." Mark squeezed his good hand and Donghyuck glanced up at him, gaze so unsure and cornered that Mark wanted to just pull him into a hug he never wanted to break, but sudden movements and all that weren't really the way to go right now so Mark just kind of opened his arms in a silent question and Donghyuck thankfully crawled towards him. 

"I'm- okay," he muttered against Mark's chest and Mark smiled into his hair. "It's cool. Take your time."

 

About an hour later, Donghyuck was happily sprawled out on Mark's bed with his laptop propped on his lap and about all of the pillows, cushions, and blankets Mark had stuffed behind his back. Also a glass of water and aspirin waiting for him on the bedside table because his ribs had been giving him a bit of trouble. 

Mark was sitting at his desk, both legs pulled up to his chest in a position that didn't look comfortable, but proved to be quite okay. Although the standard of his handwriting did deteriorate from the slightly awkward angle of his hand since his arm had to snake around his knee to reach his notebook. Also, history wasn't that exciting at the very moment and it was easy to get distracted with Donghyuck's incessant giggling behind him. 

"What are you even watching?" He asked, abandoning the cold war in favor of twirling his chair around dramatically.

"You can't tell?" Donghyuck asked and paused whatever he was watching.

"I can only hear dead people laughing."

"What the-"

"That overplayed laughing track, those are people from the 1950s laughing. They were recorded in cinemas and stuff. Most of them are either dead or really old now."

"What the fuck." Donghyuck stared down at the screen. "How do you know that?"

"The Internet." Mark shrugged.

"Ah yes, the reliable source of the century."

"Fuck you, it's probably true. Now back to my question; what are you watching?"

"Friends, but now I don't feel like it anymore." 

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to put you off."

Donghyuck scoffed, "Yes you did, the laughing was getting on your nerves." 

"Just a little bit," Mark said, grinning apologetically and Donghyuck laughed, clicking the tab away, closing the laptop and putting it at the foot of the bed. 

"Gimme a book, then."

Mark got up and with little deliberation picked out a Roald Dahl book and threw it in Donghyuck's general direction. 

"I'll finish my history stuff real quick and then we can do the thing you had planned, okay?"

Donghyuck's face lit up and Mark mentally patted himself on the shoulder, something he did every time he managed to make Donghyuck properly light up and smile. 

"Okay. Ask me if you need any help."

You're shit at history, you literally said so yourself," Mark pointed out, settling back into his chair. 

"Ah that could be, but I'm a true master at bullshitting answers." 

"You don't say."

Donghyuck threatened to kick Mark's laptop off the bed and Mark held up his hands in surrender. 

After 15 minutes of relative silence, Donghyuck piped up, "I've read this before."

"Oh my God," Mark muttered, "Do you want me to finish this or not?"

"C'mon, fuck homework. Who cares anyway?"

"My future academic career does."

"Well, have that turn a blind eye for a second." Donghyuck tossed the book away and got to his feet, shaking out whatever kinks and creaks had accumulated in his back since he sat down and walked over to Mark, who looked like the literal definition of reluctant-but-definitely-tempted.

"Please? Just this once? I don't want to do this before it's completely dark."

"I-" Mark glanced at his homework spread out over his desk and then back at Donghyuck, who was looking at Mark with such big, pleading eyes that Mark gave in without as much as a backward glance at his homework. He had a whole weekend to finish it anyway. 

"Okay," he said, feigning reluctance. Donghyuck punched the air and quickly pulled Mark off his chair and out of his room. 

"Where are we even going?" Mark asked, his question half smothered in a laugh as Donghyuck yanked him down the stairs. 

"You'll see." 

Donghyuck's grin was warm, genuine and excited and Mark's heart couldn't help but sing every cheesy love song under the sun at the thought that he helped put that smile back on Donghyuck's face. 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Are you kidding me?"

"Ah c'mon, it's not like this is actually surprising." 

The high metal fence, artfully topped with barbed wire frowned down at them. Mark frowned back.

Although spring was well and truly upon them, out here in the wide open fields that spread behind the northern district it was clear that winter was still hanging on by the skin of it's teeth. Very un-spring like wind howled across the untamed fields beyond the menacing metal fence. Mark still vaguely remembered the path they had taken the last time they had been here and he was 99% sure that they were straying from that path. 

Donghyuck was strolling along in front of him, his non-fucked-up arm swinging at his side in breezy confidence, something that Mark envied as he stumbled after him. The path they were taking was more worn than the other. The bracken was pressed against the ground, a sign of relatively frequent use and when Mark asked Donghyuck about it he answered, "This is the way I usually go." 

It was the answer to his question, but Mark still felt a little confused. 

After what felt like a small portion of forever they reached a very noticeable 'landmark' in the otherwise pretty bleak scenery. 

The fence, which had been reliably separating them from the fields and apartment blocks beyond, was slowly starting to tilt onto the unkempt field behind it. The metal poles losing their grip in the muddy soil and slowly sagging into the grass. The further they walked the further the fence sagged, the mesh between the poles twisting unnaturally to accommodate the change. 

"Did you do this?" Mark asked as they stopped. The fence was now almost completely on the ground, rust eating its way through the poles and the barbed wire, which had lost their fight with gravity and the harsh wind. 

"Don't be ridiculous," Donghyuck tutted. "I helped," he added as Mark made a sound of disbelief. 

"Thought so." 

Mark joined him at the fence, experimentally prodding the rusting wire with his toe. "And this is the way you usually go? How you used to get to the blocks?"

Donghyuck nodded. "I specially cut that hole in the fence when I first took you here."

"Seriously?" 

"It wasn't completely down at that time, also there was snow everywhere and you couldn't see where the barbed wire was. I would've been a pretty shitty person if I'd made you risk cutting your leg open or something."

Mark stared at him. The fading evening light caught Donghyuck in such a way that any professional photographer would've given his left foot for.

The glowing golden-pinkish sky made a halo out of Donghyuck's tousled hair and the slope of his nose and the curve of his cheeks glowed softly with the subtle colors of a thousand different shades of gold. He looked like an impressionist painting. Dreamlike and fleeting, a thousand different colors and thoughts mixed together to make an image of wistful tranquility.

Donghyuck's eyelashes fluttered as he looked around, carefully inspecting the ruins of the fence and the weeds greedily eating away at whatever was left. Mark was sure that not even Monet would've been able to capture Donghyuck properly. His paintings were beautiful, but Donghyuck outshone every single one of them. 

"Be careful where you step," Donghyuck said, dragging Mark out of his reverie. 

Mark nodded dumbly and trained his gaze on the ground following Donghyuck's exact footsteps as he gracefully stepped over particularly threatening clumps of weeds or wire. 

"Was this seriously always your normal route to the blocks?" Mark asked as they hopped over the corroding coils of barbed wire.

"Yup." 

"But why? You could've just done what you did for me; cut a hole in the fence."

"I don't know honestly," Donghyuck said, catching Mark by the wrist and tugging him along. "Just one night I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to go down into the city so I came up here instead and, like, just walked along the fence for ages until I came here. And I mean, it was already starting to sag and fall back then and I thought hey fuck it let's climb over the fence and make it come down faster."

"What the fuck."

"Admittedly not the smartest idea I've ever had but hey, look-" he turned and pointed at the corpse of the fence behind them. "-worked out didn't it?" 

Images of bruises, cuts, dirt, and blood dripping down Donghyuck's trembling hand all crowded in Mark's mind. The nasty, ragged scar that would forever mar the skin on his right arm. Mark's grip on Donghyuck's hand tightened instinctively and he glanced at him, confused. 

"Is that why- why you always...-" Mark gestured at himself, trying to convey the images haunting him, of Donghyuck sitting cross-legged on his bed whilst Mark carefully cleaned the cuts and bruises littering his arms and legs, silently wishing he could ask where they came from. 

Donghyuck blinked slowly, deliberately. "It's not easy climbing up a fence with barbed wire," he murmured, stating the obvious. 

"Or jumping down from one," Mark added, remembering the scraped, bruised knees and Donghyuck's whispered assurances that he was fine. 

"Yeah." 

"When you hurt your arm-" 

Donghyuck spoke before Mark could finish his sentence. "I was in a bad place. It's a stupid fucking idea to climb a fence that's falling apart."

Mark waited for him to elaborate.

"I lost my footing. I was almost up to the barbed wire, but I lost my footing and there was this big piece of wire poking out and when I slipped I scraped my arm against it."

"You could've died! If that bit of metal had been rusty you would've died!" Mark cried in a harsh whisper, unintentionally looming over Donghyuck, who flinched. 

That small movement and the quick intake of breath smacked any kind of anger right out of Mark. He hadn't meant to loom; hell, he hadn't even known he could loom until just now. Johnny could loom, but that was because he was tall not frightening. A gentle giant. Yuta and Taeyong could loom, both in different ways but with the same kind of quieting effect. Mark was not in the looming business. Not now, not ever and especially not when it concerned Donghyuck. 

Yet here they were in the middle of a fucking field, the sky steadily mixing shades of dark indigo with a pale, fading orange. Stars were twinkling to life above them and Mark's mouth was dry and his hands seemed unsure of where to go after Donghyuck had cringed away from him. The warm assurance of his hand being replaced by the sneering wind around them. 

"Donghyuck-"

Donghyuck didn't move, his head was bowed and both his arm were curled protectively across his chest. And although Mark wanted to rush forward and pull him close and promise him over and over again that he hadn't meant to yell and loom, he knew that rushing Donghyuck would be quite the opposite of helpful. So he stayed where he was. A meter or so away, hands hanging uselessly at his side.

"I didn't mean to-" he tried softly, "please. That was stupid and mean and I shouldn't have said it like that. I'm sorry." Mark put all his weight behind that final sentence and clasped his hands as he waited for Donghyuck to speak. Of course, he hadn't meant to, but that didn't change the fact that he had and it caused Donghyuck to draw away from him, both physically and mentally. The hunch of his shoulders and the frightened curl of his fingers said more than any long-winded sentence ever could. 

Please don't apologize, Mark thought with bated breath. 

"It's- it's okay." 

Mark looked up so quickly that his neck cracked in protest. Donghyuck looked nervous and Mark could practically feel the apology on the tip of his tongue. I'm sorry for flinching it was stupid of me. Mark willed him not to say it. Years of conditioning, abuse and self-deprecation could not be unlearned in a handful of therapy sessions with a guy who looked like Sigmund Freud. 

The apology did not come. Donghyuck took a step towards Mark.

It was a start.

 

/

 

Mark woke to a hushed string of curses and a Donghyuck shaped mass of shadows hopping around his room. This was not an uncommon occurrence, but it had been awhile since their last impromptu sleepover (Taeyong's protective side being more pronounced of late, but since their trip to the apartment blocks that had lasted well into the night Taeyong's protective fear had calmed a little) so Mark actually sat up to watch his boyfriend hop around until he finally managed to dredge up whatever human interaction skills he had left and croaked, "Help?" 

The Donghyuck shaped bundle of shadows paused its frantic hopping. "Have you ever tried taking off a shoe with a cast on your arm?"

Mark had not, but his sleep-muddled brain didn't know how to translate that into an actual sentence so he just repeated his prior question. Donghyuck sighed and hopped over. His right shoe lay somewhere by the window, but his left shoe was still stubbornly clinging to his foot. 

When the mattress dipped next to him Mark had just about regained the ability to untangle himself from his sheets and he stared down at Donghyuck's shoe like a hacker would stare at an especially tricky firewall. 

"Help?" Donghyuck asked after 30 seconds of Mark staring unblinkingly at his shoe. 

Mark snapped out of it and nodded, lifting Donghyuck leg onto the bed so that he could carefully untie the laces and place it neatly back on the floor. 

"Why are your shoes so dirty?" He asked, brushing a few crumbs of dried mud off his white comforter. 

"I should ask you the same thing," Donghyuck retorted, pointing at Mark's soiled white sneakers barely visible in the semi-darkness. 

Mark pouted. "Not the point."

"Sure thing, Michelle," Donghyuck muttered. He missed Mark's sleepy smile at the joke as he got up to fetch the lone shoe and to change into some more sleep-appropriate clothes picked from the pile Mark had specially made for occasions such as these. 

Mark watched him for a moment or two before realizing that Donghyuck was going to change clothes and rolling into his assigned spot by the wall, smiling softly as Donghyuck cursed at his godforsaken-piece-of-motherfucking-shit cast. 

He plodded back to bed, oversized T-shirt and ill-fitting jogging trousers hanging limply from his skinny frame. Mark pretended not to notice. At least for now. 

Donghyuck flopped down next to him and Mark tugged the blanket over both of them, their knees knocked together and Donghyuck smothered a giggle with his hand. Mark rolled onto his side, facing Donghyuck, and draped an arm around his waist. Donghyuck accidentally kneed him in the thigh as he made himself more comfortable. 

Sharing a bed was very different in May than it had been in December. For one, both boys naturally ran hot, something that had been good in winter, but now it only took a few minutes under the same blanket together that Mark had to stick out one of his legs to cool off. Donghyuck would've if he weren't on the edge of the bed where sticking your leg out from under the quilt would mean the potential danger of something under the bed grabbing your leg and dragging you into the fiery pits of hell. In other words, Donghyuck would rather suffer in the sticky warmth of too much body heat than be mauled to death in hell. 

But after exactly 20 minutes and 23 seconds of suffering silently, Donghyuck finally cracked. 

"Okay, I have to change I'm slowly boiling to death," he declared untangling himself from Mark's arms and sitting up. 

Mark literally froze, his eyes still shut and his sleep addled brain struggling to compute the sentence that had just come out of Donghyuck's mouth. 

"I'm too hot." 

Mark's still very much struggling brain coughed up a very repetitive version of Nelly's Hot In Herre instead of actually doing anything helpful.

"Are you even awake?" Donghyuck muttered, shaking Mark slightly. 

It's getting hot in here, so hot, so ta-

"MARK." 

"Yes. Hi." Mark opened one eye and peered up at Donghyuck. The warm spring semi-darkness did a bad job of hiding the exasperated half-smile-half-scowl on Donghyuck's face. 

"Are we on the same page?"

Not really. "Yes."

"I'm sorry for waking you, but I'm literally dying and I didn't just want to change without asking if it's okay with you." 

Mark stared blankly at him and when Donghyuck seemed to grow impatient he croaked, "It's fine." 

Donghyuck's shoulders slumped in a weird mixture of relief and embarrassment. "Okay so-" he scratched the back of his neck, "-awkward question coming."

Mark wasn't surprised, this whole conversation was bordering on the absurd. 

"Jogging trousers or T-shirt?"

It was like he was asking Mark if he'd rather jump or be pushed off a cliff. 

"Just do whatever." Was the safe answer Mark went with. 

With a sigh, Donghyuck got up and Mark rolled onto his back, intent on scrutinizing the ceiling until it was safe for him not to look like a creep. 

As if he read Mark's thoughts Donghyuck said from across the room, "Y'know we are a couple. You don't have to be so uptight." 

Mark risked a glance over to where Donghyuck was standing, right hand propped on his hip. "I'm not uptight, it's just- I don't want to be a creep."

"Dude, I've seen you shirtless."

"That was different."

Donghyuck rolled his eyes. "Look if it makes you uncomfortable-"

"It doesn't! I just don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"I'm not uncomfortable!"

"Good! Neither am I." 

They glared at each other. 

"Fine," Donghyuck snapped.

"Fine," Mark retorted with more emphasis. 

There was a pause and Mark distantly wondered if they were maybe speaking a little louder than was generally accepted at two o'clock in the morning, but those thoughts were roundhouse kicked out of the window when Donghyuck said, "Well look away then, Mr.Saving-Myself-For-Marriage." 

Mark squawked indignantly and looked back up at the ceiling. 

There were a few minutes of rustling material and muttered swearing until Donghyuck said in his normal voice, "This T-shirt is basically a fucking dress. What the fuck." 

Mark turned his head ever so slightly and immediately regretted it, because legs. Also, Donghyuck was grinning at him, all kinds of mischievous and evil and life was spectacularly unfair.

"Okay, you can stop staring now," Donghyuck said, his impish grin not entirely hiding the slight twinge of self-consciousness playing in the furrow of his brow and the nervous tugging at the hem of the shirt. 

"Sorry," Mark whispered turning his eyes back to the ceiling, whilst the majority of his mind listened closely to Donghyuck's soft footsteps against the carpet. He let go of a breath he didn't fully realize he had been holding when he felt the mattress dip next to him. 

"Well move over you fucking starfish," Donghyuck hissed and Mark obligingly pressed himself against the cool wall, waiting for Donghyuck to get settled. 

When he had they lay in silence for awhile, both on their back and a few inches of air between them, very far from their usual level of skinship. Mark knew that this was mostly his fault because Donghyuck would probably still cuddle with him if it weren't for the fact that Mark was freaking out. 

This had never happened before and he'd been thrown into cold water with no warning whatsoever and now he was freaking out, which was kind of justified. Most things concerning Donghyuck had been a step into unknown waters, but those had been steps and in some cases slightly larger leaps, all very manageable things Mark had been able to adjust to quickly. But this? Holy crap- yeah no, this wasn't a step into a pretty pearlescent lake, this was more like 'wow look at that deep kind of scary looking pool it'd be a shame if anyone fell into it'. Mark felt horrendously unprepared. 

"Any funny business and I'll kick you into the fucking sun." Was the only warning Mark got before Donghyuck rolled onto his side, closing the few inches space between them with ease and slinging his right arm over Mark's waist. His head was kind of half on, half off Mark's shoulder and his hair was tickling Mark's throat. He complained and after a bit of reshuffling, they found themselves in their normal sleeping position. A tangled pile of limbs, comfort and the slight discomfort of Donghyuck's cast digging into his sternum. 

Just as Mark was finally drifting off Donghyuck nudged him slightly, the strength of his nudge suggesting that he too was close to slipping away into dreamland. 

"What?" Mark mumbled voice heavy with the need for sleep. 

"Can you hear that." Came Donghyuck's muffled reply. 

Mark strained his hearing. First, there was nothing, just the usual gentle rumbling of the faraway-ish city centre and the occasional whisper of a subway grinding to a halt. And then he heard it, slow but incessant and most decidedly incredibly annoying; the buzz of some kind of averagely sized insect. Now that Mark heard it he couldn't unhear it and he swore. "You have got to be fucking kidding me." 

 

"Mark sweetie?"

Mark groaned and let his eyes crack open slightly. Late morning light was streaming through a crack in the curtains, the light catching the dust particles floating aimlessly around in the still air. Donghyuck was curled up against him, blissfully unaware and with a stray eyelash clinging to the bridge of his nose. It was warm but not unbearingly so and the urge to just close his eyes and fall asleep again was stronger than the gnawing edge of hunger in his stomach. 

"Mark? Honey, it's almost 11 o'clock I'm coming in." 

Any kind of late spring morning tranquility was knocked out of Mark with the force of a sledgehammer as the weight and meaning of his mother's words actually registered in his brain. The panicked scramble of his heart was canceled out by the cool logic of his brain to just accept his fate. Donghyuck was still blissfully unaware. 

The door creaked open and Mark watched it with grim acceptance, his arms tightening around Donghyuck sleeping frame. 

His mother appeared in the door frame the knees of her jeans muddy, which meant that she had been gardening and the tilt of her smile eerily reminding Mark of Jisung's, which meant that it was warm outside. 

She smiled and started to move towards the window, apparently intent on opening the window and forcing Mark into the real world of soggy cereal and chores. But she froze mid-step her smile doing the same, her gaze fixedly training on Donghyuck's unassuming bedhead. 

She looked at Mark then back at Donghyuck and then back at Mark. 

"Uh-" She said intelligently and Mark finally knew where he got his startling eloquence from. 

"Yeah..." Mark replied just as intelligently. 

They stared at each other.

"I hope that's Donghyuck because if it's not I'm gonna make you clean the toilet for the rest of your miserable life."

Now that was a threat.

"It is!" Mark said hastily.

She came towards the bed, leaning over them slightly to peer at Donghyuck's peacefully sleeping features. Her face immediately relaxed into a smile. "Thank God. I knew you weren't a fu-fudging cheater."

Mark gasped audibly and his mother snorted, marching over to open the curtains and let the sunshine into the room. "Did- did you just-" Mark was lost for words. 

"Don't get used to it," she said moving back to the door only pausing briefly to look at Donghyuck's neatly folded pile of clothes. There was dried mud on the cuffs of his jeans. "Were those his clothes that kept mysteriously turning up in the washing basket?" She asked, picking up the pile. 

"Yeah-"

She nodded thoughtfully and tucked the pile under her arm and turned to leave.

"-no mom wait, he doesn't have anything else-" 

"I assume you've lent him some clothes." She said pointedly glancing at the extra pile of clothes by the window. "And I assume you can lend him some more." 

"I-" 

"Is he going to wake up soon?" She asked her tone softening considerably. 

Mark looked down at Donghyuck, who was making no signs of getting up anytime soon. "I don't think so." His gaze trailed down to the shadows hidden under the fan of his lashes. They'd been there since he'd known Donghyuck, but after the incident, they had become more pronounced. "I'll let him sleep," he said softly, brushing the stray eyelash off his nose. When he looked back up his mother was watching him with gentle eyes, a knowing sort of sadness obvious in the turn of her mouth. 

"There's cereal and tea downstairs get him something for when he wakes up, alright?"

"Okay." 

"And hurry up a bit I need to talk to you about something."

Mark nodded and she left the room. He then indulged himself a few seconds longer lounging around in bed basking in the shared body heat and the lazy warmth of the sun. It didn't last for very long though because his stomach complained loudly and he was forced to gingerly climb over Donghyuck's sleeping form. 

 

His mother was waiting in the kitchen for him, her dirty gardening gloves lying on the countertop next to the kettle, something that Mark was pretty sure counted as vaguely unsanitary. 

He trudged past her to the fridge and she sighed loudly. He didn't know why. He hadn't said anything yet.

"Talk?" She said and Mark's stomach growled a response. She sighed again. "How long has this been a thing?"

"The-" Mark waved vaguely at the ceiling, his attention mainly being focused on the sad contents of the fridge. 

"Yes." 

"November?" He muttered and then added, "Is this milk off?" 

He turned and waved it in her general direction, which earned him the third sigh of the morning. She snatched the milk carton out of his hands and put it out of his reach, folding her arms across her chest in a way that meant that Mark had to fucking deliver or he wasn't getting out of this kitchen alive.

"I want answers, Mark."

"Fine," Mark sighed and reluctantly closed the fridge, unconsciously mimicking his mother's posture. Only his version was more Teenage Petulance whilst her's was more Motherly Authority. 

"So this has been a thing since November last year?"

"No, November this year," Mark murmured under his breath and then louder, "Yes, since November." 

"How'd you meet?"

Mark had been expecting this question for a really long time now, so he was (for once) sufficiently prepared. "Do you want a sugarcoated version or the truth?"

She only gave him the Look. The truth it was then.

"He climbed up to my window in the middle of the night and asked for food." 

The pause was also expected and Mark used his mother's shock and confusion to edge closer to the milk. Sadly she came out of it faster than he had expected and swiped the milk further out of his reach. 

"What the actual- frick?"

"It's what happened." Mark shrugged.

"And you never bothered to tell me?" She snapped.

"You never asked!" 

She scoffed, "That's a bullshit excuse. You just let a stranger come into your room? He could've been a thief or a murderer or- or god knows what."

"Yeah well, Donghyuck is neither."

"But what were the odds of it being Donghyuck," she said, dropping the anger in her tone down a notch and replacing it with genuine motherly concern. 

"I took the risk," Mark answered with all the conviction he could manage. He met his mother's gaze steadily, arms still folded across his chest.

She clucked and looked away, she was obviously not entirely happy with the answer she had gotten, but she also knew that there was no way in hell that she could make Mark back down. 

"How often has this-" Now it was her turn to wave vaguely at the ceiling. "-happened?"

"Him coming in my room or staying the night?" 

Another vague hand gesture. "Both." 

"A couple of times." 

That got him a glare, which he admittedly kind of deserved. 

"A lot. Less so in a school week, but quite a lot in the holidays and just generally y'know? I think he came over more in winter, but he did say that their apartment has no central heating so I'm assuming that was one of the reasons. He didn't come around at all after the- the thing, which, y'know, makes sense considering, like, everything I guess. His brother's been very protective lately, but I think he's easing off now. Therapy doing its thing and all that." 

"So he came here for the heating?" This wasn't a real question and Mark knew that. It was a question that led up to a bigger, more important one. Mark played along.

"And for me, obviously." 

It was meant to get a laugh out of her, but her face stayed serious. Worry lines tugging at the corners of her mouth. There was a short pause where she seemed to way out her options, her gaze unwaveringly fixed on Mark. It was making him nervous and then finally, just when he was about to break and ask what she really wanted, she said quietly, "Mark, I know they're poor." 

The statement wasn't unexpected, but still, out here in their moderately fancy middle-class kitchen it was like he'd been kicked in the chest. His mother didn't look any better, the lines around her mouth had deepened and she was watching Mark with the same sad gaze that she had worn before. 

"Right," he said finally. 

"I just- I'm not blind. I wanted you to know that I know, I've had my suspicions, and now I know for sure."

"Mom-"

"I just wanted to, y'know, tell you. I don't want him to be uncomfortable, like, thinking our hospitality is charity or something like that."

"Mom, mom listen, they know they're poor. It's not groundbreaking news, especially not for them."

"I just-"

"Don't make it weird, mom, please. They get by just okay and the moment you get weird about it they'll notice."

"I won't!" 

"Well then let's drop this. It's not right." 

They scowled at each other and after a second or two she reached behind her and handed him the milk. "Take care of him," she said, picking up her gardening gloves and fixing Mark with a steady stare, which he returned. "Of course." 

Just as she was about to leave the kitchen she paused, "You should maybe call his brother. He might be worried." 

"I will," Mark answered and she sighed and disappeared out into the backyard. 

The breakfast Mark ended up scraping together consisted of orange juice, tea and enough bread, butter, and jam to feed an entire village. No cereal though, because Donghyuck's very pronounced dislike of the food still prevailed.

The trip up the staircase was getting less harrowing with every time Mark had to do it and he had been getting good at opening doors with his elbows whilst not spilling a single drop of whatever beverage he was carrying. 

The first thing that hit him when he re-entered his room was that it desperately needed airing, it smelled like used up oxygen. The second thing was that Donghyuck was awake and more appropriately dressed, which was good for Mark's already slightly frayed sanity. He was sitting at Mark's desk, a pen in hand and lazily scrawling little comments in the margins of Mark's notes. 

"What are you doing?" Mark asked, setting the tray down on the edge of his desk and leaning over Donghyuck's shoulder. "Are you- are you correcting my spelling?" He exclaimed as he finally managed to decipher Donghyuck's scrawl. 

"You misspelled the word Caribbean 5 times," Donghyuck pointed out, aggressively stabbing at the word, which was indeed written there with double R's one of which Donghyuck had crossed out several times in obvious frustration. 

Mark pouted in offense. "It's an easy word to misspell," he defended and Donghyuck scoffed and jabbed at a few other repeated mistakes. 

"How are you not failing English?" He queried after Mark had snatched the notebook away from him and flung it into some dark corner. They had like 3 weeks of school left and he (and the rest of the school to be honest) didn't understand why some teachers were still handing out homework. 

"I just, y'know-" Mark clenched his fist and Donghyuck's eyebrows disappeared behind his fringe. Mark caught Donghyuck's expression and repeated the gesture, "Y'know?" 

"No." 

"The teacher likes me," Mark muttered as he grabbed the desk chair and wheeled it away from the desk before Donghyuck could find his truly pathetic history notes. Donghyuck made grabby hands for the desk and Mark threatened to make him eat his English notes, which minimized the complaining a teeny tiny bit. 

Mark ended up having to lift Donghyuck off the chair and plonk him down on the floor to eat because the other was being incredibly stubborn about literally everything. They also ended up using Mark's quilt as their picnic blanket and both got strawberry jam on it, which basically meant Mark was going to be sorting washing for the next week or two. 

"Are you coming to the hospital with me on Tuesday?" Donghyuck asked between bites. 

"If you want me to come." 

"Oh yeah, because that was obviously a rhetorical freaking question." 

"So...?"

"Of course I want you to come, I didn't just ask you for the hell of it." Donghyuck waved his slice of bread at him and Mark had to dodge the droplets of jam that went flying in his direction. 

"Sure I'll come," he said, plucking the offending slice of bread out of Donghyuck's still outstretched hand and taking a bite out of it. Donghyuck looked suitably disgusted and snatched it back. 

"We'll pick you up after school."

"Oh, so you can embarrass me in front of my teachers and classmates?"

"Exactly," Donghyuck grinned and flicked some crumbs at him. 

"I'm not hoovering because of you," Mark griped, brushing the small army of crumbs that had assembled in his lap off onto the floor. 

Donghyuck flicking orange juice at him instead and it took their combined power of will and fear of Mark's mother's wrath to not break out into a full on food fight. 

 

"Can't believe I'm finally getting rid of this bi- awful thing," Donghyuck muttered as he helped Mark carry their things back downstairs. 

"It's your only weapon though. Pre-attached club to hit people with," Mark pointed out and directed Donghyuck towards the kitchen with a gentle kick in the butt. 

"Y'know the nurses were surprisingly unhappy when I told them that I use it as a weapon, something about that 'not benefitting my recovery'." 

"Well I'm not saying they have a point, but they have a point."

"You're supposed to be on my side, idiot. Also, where do I put this." Donghyuck held up the strawberry jam and nodded his chin at the bottle of orange juice that was precariously clamped in the crook of his arm. 

Mark gestured vaguely at the fridge and Donghyuck sighed loudly, "Ah yes, I'll just open this with my two fully operational hands." 

"You're really milking this aren't you?" Mark laughed and opened the fridge for him. 

"Well, I only have two days of this bullshit left so I might as well make the most out of it." 

"Who's picking me up anyway?" Mark asked and opened the dishwasher only to immediately regret it. Warm, moist air and old food smell is in the top ten of bad combinations. 

"Taeil. Taeyong's working." 

"Oh no." Taeil and driving was also in the top ten of bad combinations. "Can I drive instead?"

"I know and no, you don't have a license. I'm not getting killed on my way to get his evil thing off my arm." 

"Oh and letting Taeil drive is gonna lower the chances of us meeting our maker a couple of years early?"

"Have you learned how to parallel park yet?"

"No, but-"

"Taeil has, technically, so I'm gonna have him drive."

"If we die-" Mark started, pointing a butter knife at Donghyuck, "I blame everyone but myself."

"Whatever," Donghyuck humphed and dramatically slid down the fridge and onto the tiled floor. Mark carried on filling the dishwasher, gingerly picking up Jisung's dirty cereal bowl between his thumb and forefinger and unceremoniously dropping it into the top compartment. 

His thoughts were all over the place. Ranging from absurdities like if crabs thought fish could fly to annoying realities like his geography test that he was supposed to get back on Monday, a test which he had technically studied for. Technically, because studying at Jeno's place never actually consisted of a lot of studying, but it was the thought that counts. But there was something nagging in the back of his mind, a loud incessant buzzing that came from an unfinished thought and along with the really profound idea that crabs might seriously think that fish flew it was driving Mark up the fucking wall. 

Thankfully the buzzing was extinguished as Mark's mother trudged past the kitchen, a big bag of soil sadly dragging behind her. 

"Oh shit." 

Donghyuck, who had been counting the floor tiles jerked out of his daze. "What?"

"I forgot to call Taeyong," Mark said, hurrying past Donghyuck in search for the house phone, which should technically be in the hall near the living room, but considering everyone in the bloody family had their own idea of where the phone should be it was highly probable that it wasn't.

It wasn't, but Mark found it behind a bowl of fruit next to the TV. 

"Why Taeyong?" Donghyuck asked. He'd been trailing behind Mark as he'd upturned sofa cushions in his frantic search. 

"Because he might, y'know, wonder where the fuck you- aw, Jesus Christ how does this even-" Mark hit the side of the phone with his hand and it and beeped loudly in protest. 

"Just use your own phone, idiot," Donghyuck suggested kindly and took the phone out of Mark's frustrated hands and put it back behind the fruit bowl. 

"It's charging." 

"I think it'll survive a 2-minute phone call," Donghyuck mused and gently ushered Mark back towards the staircase. "Also I left a note before I came over."

"Yeah okay, but it's Taeyong." 

Donghyuck snorted, "You have a point." 

Taeyong, thankfully, hadn't been freaking out, but he did thank Mark for calling and asked if Donghyuck had eaten anything because they only had rice and Sprite in the fridge. Mark told him that he had and that Donghyuck was welcome to stay for lunch (aka microwave chicken tikka masala because Mark's dad and Jisung were out and Mark's mother was preoccupied with an ambitious gardening project). Taeyong thanked him again, sounding a little embarrassed this time and quickly terminated the call because he was getting ready for work. The call lasted 2 minutes and 37 seconds and Mark's phone did minimal complaining. 

 

"Okay so-" Mark said slowly, staring down at his phone calendar with utmost concentration. 

It was already well into the afternoon and the two boys had migrated from Mark's bedroom to the kitchen table only to finally end up sprawled on the couch with a nature documentary and a broad assortment of cookies.

Donghyuck's head rested in his lap, his eyes glued to the TV and his functional right hand blindly swirling around in a bowl of chocolate chip cookies. Not the most comfortable position, but Donghyuck couldn't be bothered to move.

"So?" He yawned, prompting Mark to finish his sentence.

"You're cast thingy is on Tuesday," Mark stated, carefully putting the event into the appropriate day.

"Yes," Donghyuck answered and swore loudly as two killer whales appeared on screen.

"The old ones are getting their exam results back on Thursday," he muttered under his breath and added that to Thursday. "You're coming to our dinner right?"

"If you want me to," Donghyuck said slyly.

Mark flicked him in the back of the head, "You can't say that it's patented."

"Taste your own medicine you moron, of course, I'll come." 

"Nice. Come to the school gate around 11-ish."

"Sounds legal," Donghyuck commented.

"It's the end of the year, no one gives a shit if students skip." 

"Yeah except the people in charge of your grades." 

Mark ruffled Donghyuck's hair and Donghyuck hissed and waved a cookie somewhere in the vague direction of Mark's face. Mark ate the cookie. 

"I can't believe you of all people is telling me off about skipping class." 

"Hey! I've never skipped class."

"Yeah, because Taeil would whoop your sorry ass into next week." 

Donghyuck twisted around in Mark's lap and peered up at him, his left hand swiped dangerously close to Mark's nose and he had duck awkwardly to avoid it. "I'm telling him you said that," Donghyuck threatened and Mark gasped dramatically. 

Donghyuck laughed and swiped at his face again, this time more playfully than murder-y. On the TV David Attenborough was narrating a swarm of fish getting eaten sharks, dolphins, and birds.

Mark winced as Donghyuck sat up and stretched, various cricks in his back and neck cracking loudly. His hair was still reeling from Mark's earlier attack and he looked positively adorable. Eyes fixed on the TV as the sharks and dolphins worked together in driving the swarm of fish apart and towards the surface. David Attenborough sounded pretty excited, but Mark was (unsurprisingly) finding Donghyuck face a lot more interesting.

In a burst of spontaneous rush of affection Mark leaned forward, catching Donghyuck by surprise as he cupped his jaw and drew him in for a surprise kiss. Their noses bumped together and Donghyuck laughed into the kiss so that their teeth clacked together, but generally it was a pretty good kiss. Mark's element of surprise was present in the smile that never quite made it off Donghyuck's lips and the lazy afternoon made itself known again in the way Donghyuck flopped back into Mark's lap, cheeks slightly redder than before and exclaiming loudly about how sharks were creepy. 

It was generally a pretty good day. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Mark wasn't exactly surprised when the congratulatory dinner actually just turned out to be a trip to the convenience store where everyone stacked up on all unhealthy and delicious food they could carry before invading the quiet peacefulness of a park and taking possession of a picnic table. The park at that time of day was mainly populated by mothers with newborn babies, the occasional dad and a bunch of old people. Thankfully none of them asked why they were all out and about on a school day, which was good because they had no backup plan and no alibi. 

As planned the whole squad (minus Donghyuck who was loitering in the school parking lot) smoothly exited the school around 11 o'clock. And by 'smoothly' I mean the non-graduating people had to think of an excuse to leave class without making the teacher suspicious, which was difficult because most of them shared classes together and you can't just say "oh yeah we're going to the bathroom together" because that's just asking for the teacher to get suspicious. Also, it sounds kinda weird. 

Basically they all showed up for the beginning of class with the appropriate books (or not in Jeno's case who was stuck in Biology by himself and purposefully took the wrong books so that he had an excuse to leave the classroom) and then maybe 15 to 20 minutes into the class they would start their elaborate plan to escape. 

Mark, who shared double chemistry with Jaemin, managed to get them out by faking a bad stomach cramp. Jaemin being the good friend that he was offered to walk him to the nurse's office. 

Renjun, who was a model student when it came to art, simply had to ask if he could go to the toilet to get out. He was one of the first to join Donghyuck outside the school. 

Jisung and Chenle had PE outside on the large-ish football pitch behind the school, probably as far away from the school parking lot as you can get. Also, their PE teacher was terrifying and it's always a little harder to lie to someone who looks like they eat primary school children for breakfast. Yet they managed to escape purely on the fact that Chenle was utterly shameless and happily wormed his way out of the PE teacher's menacing gaze. Their escape also heavily relied on the fact that Jisung had actually tripped during warm-up and Chenle immediately offered to take Jisung back to the school, seeing that he was in so much pain. 

It worked and Jisung stopped limping and sniffling the moment they were safely out of sight.

Technically the school had hall monitors. Technically.

Only technically, because the two main hall monitors were an old creaky French teacher, who was as gullible as a toddler and about as fast as one. If he did catch a student speed-walking towards the school gates and freedom he'd hobble after them for about 5 meters before giving up and shuffle back to the school.  

The other hall monitor was a lady from the cafeteria, who honestly couldn't give less of a shit about the students trying to skip class. She'd see you at the other end of the hallway, cock her head and then slowly start walking towards you. This tactic usually managed to frighten some freshmen back to their classes, but most of the time the students would shoot her a thankful thumbs up before bolting. She'd always roll her eyes and return their thumbs up with a begrudging smile. 

In short, everyone made it out without so much of a hiccup and they waited around a little longer until Johnny, Ten, Kun and Sicheng came sauntering out of the school. All four looked positively radiant, grins plastered on glowing faces and arms swinging loosely at their sides months of stress having finally been lifted off their shoulders. 

Chenle whooped tentatively and Ten practically screeched back, breaking into a flat out run to hug the first person he could reach, which happened to be Jeno who stumbled under the onslaught and brought Jaemin and Renjun into the hug to stop himself from hitting the pavement. 

Sicheng streaked past the bundle of celebrating humans to scoop Chenle up and whirl the screeching boy around, yelling: "I GRADUATED! I FUCKIN' GRADUATED!"

Chenle answered with the appropriate screeches and exclamations and Sicheng put him down soon enough because his arms hurt. Kun hovered awkwardly next to the still celebrating bundle, happily waving his report around and kicking Ten in the shin when he tried to pull him into their group hug. 

Johnny hugged Mark and then turned to hug Donghyuck, who seemed surprised by the sudden affection but hugged back enthusiastically. His newly recovered left arm sneakily snatching Johnny's report out of his hands. 

Everyone immediately untangled themselves to crowd around him to take a look at Johnny's grades. Johnny didn't even put up much of fight just grinned gleefully as they all swore at his ridiculously high score in maths. 

"How did you even-" Jeno exclaimed, stabbing a finger at the offending score.

"Hard work and dedication."

"You mean, YouTube videos that explain what the Pythagorean Theorem is," Kun butted in.

"I- no, hold on-" Johnny stammered as everyone sniggered, "-I googled Exponential and Logarithmic Functions. Now explain to me what the fuck they are." 

Kun glared at him and then waved his own report triumphantly. "I got a higher score than you, jerk." 

"By two points!" Johnny argued, snatching the piece of paper out of Kun's gesticulating hands and scanning it critically.

"Yeah! It makes me two points smarter than you," Kun snapped, snatching it back. 

"Y'know the school system doesn't actually test how smart you are. It tests your ability to memorize stuff so in the end, our grades say hardly anything about our intellect, our ability to solve complex problems or our ability to think for ourselves and make our own opinions," Sicheng said. He was standing behind the others who were still crowded around Johnny's report. He didn't even look up as he spoke and both Johnny and Kun's verbal barrage came to an abrupt halt as they turned to stare in disbelief at Sicheng, who still looked largely uninterested. 

When he finally realized that they were staring at him, he looked up and shrugged casually. "I thought that that was common knowledge." 

"Uhm-" Kun said intelligently. 

Sicheng smiled, "Also, scored better than both of you in maths so suck it." And the whole tirade broke out again this time featuring Sicheng smiling pleasantly at the chaos he had caused. 

 

The trip to the convenience store on St. Henry Street was largely uneventful. Renjun almost got hit by a car twice, because of a very interesting construction site and Johnny tried to piggy-back-ride on Ten, which ended up with him on the pavement on his back and Ten looking like the human definition of 'I fucking told you so'. You don't piggyback on short people especially not if you're a literal giant. 

Joy was working the till when they all trampled inside and she greeted them with her usual level of enthusiasm, which was actually quite high since they had all ended up becoming fairly regular customers. 

Their 'dinner' ended up consisting of three packs of strawberries, a whole collection of various soft drinks, bread, water (because someone had to be sensible enough and buy some), red velvet cake, Froot Loops for some goddamn reason, no milk, 11 double packs of sandwiches, variations of gummy bears and peach rings, overly sweet macaroons and beef jerky.  

"You're going to eat all that?" Joy asked incredulously as the piled their items onto the counter.

"We're probably gonna have to come back for more," Mark said, grinning as her eyes widened almost comically. 

"How- how do- y'know what I don't even want to know. Your appetites scare me," she muttered and began scanning their items. 

They did end up having to come back, but not because they needed more food but because they forgot to buy cutlery and eating cake without any kind of cutlery is possible, but not exactly what you're supposed to do. 

 

Now, congregated around a picnic table that definitely wasn't meant for 11 boys, they started tucking in. If it wasn't the fact that a bunch of teenagers were out during school hours that caught the other people's attention (two of them still being in their PE jerseys) then it was certainly the sight of a bunch of teenagers stubbornly squishing themselves around a picnic table. Laps were sat on and a lot of shins were 'accidentally' kicked. 

"So what are you all going to do now that you've successfully finished this chapter of your lives?" Renjun asked, knowing full well what effect it would have. 

Ten pointed at him. "Pretending you never said that."

"You're all going to be adults now. With responsibilities and- and taxes," Chenle added, happily joining the teasing. 

Kun let his head hit the table and Sicheng patted his back. "We were planning on pretending nothing has changed for as long as possible."

"Yeah, and you ruined it." Came Kun's slightly squished addition.

"Adulthood," Donghyuck stage whispered and all four of them burst into a loud tumult of noise. Johnny actually had to get up and take a walk to cool off and Ten threatened to throw the cake into the stratosphere. 

"You five-" Johnny jabbed a finger at Mark, Donghyuck, Renjun, Jeno and Jaemin who shrugged off his menacing gesture with devilish grins, "-are going to be next and then you'll be laughing on the other side of your faces." 

"So you already know what you're going to be doing now?" Jeno asked, leaning forward, propping his chin on his hands his grin taking on a particularly evil edge. 

"Stop changing the subject," Kun said, forehead still firmly planted on the table. 

"So, do you?" Jaemin asked. His head was propped on Jeno's shoulder and his grin was just as mischievous as Jeno's.

"This is bullying," Ten muttered, sticking out his tongue as the younger side of the table aww'd in mock sympathy. 

"So do you kn-" Mark started, conveniently hiding behind Donghyuck who was perched on his lap. 

"I swear to fucking God," Johnny growled and threw a strawberry at the offending couple. They dodged as one and the strawberry landed somewhere in the grass behind them.

"LITTERING," Jaemin shouted dramatically and an elderly couple, who was walking on the path a few feet away from their table shot them a dirty look.

"It's biodegradable you moron," Kun said. 

There was a pause as Jaemin pouted and the others all picked at their food.

"So...?" Donghyuck said into the silence and the graduate side of the table groaned. Kun put his face in his hands and both Sicheng and Ten looked ready to fight someone.

"I'm going to follow my father's footsteps and go into the housing business. Ten is going to Wall Street and Sicheng and Kun are going to become rich simply by existing," Johnny said, pointing at each of them as he mentioned their names. 

"Wait-" Jeno stammered, looking genuinely confused at Johnny's apparent wish to go into the housing business. "-seriously?" 

"Of course fucking not," Johnny laughed. 

"We might be incredibly attractive-" Kun started modestly.

"-but we're not going to make a living out of it," Sicheng finished, grinning.

"You're not that hot," Renjun said matter-of-factly. He had a plastic spoon in his hand and was calmly scooping spoonful after spoonful of Froot Loops into his mouth. 

Kun and Sicheng's smug smiles melted away into matching looks of overdramatic hurt and Renjun grinned at his accomplishment. 

"Anyway," Jisung broke in and everyone jumped slightly. He hadn't really spoken since they'd left the convenience store and had just been comfortably sitting next to Johnny at the end of the table, quietly shoveling food into his mouth. "Better question; what are you all gonna do in the summer holidays?"

Mark opened his mouth, but Jisung waved him off, "Not you. I was there when mom laid out her four-week plan." 

"I was gonna say something else, but okay." 

"I'm going to China to visit my grandparents," Sicheng said, shaking some cake crumbs off his fingers.

"Yeah me too," Kun added.

"For 2 weeks. It's gonna a be an...experience." 

Kun chuckled derisively, "Oh yeah, it's gonna be fun."

"You don't sound thrilled," Donghyuck pointed out and they both laughed.

"Yeah visiting your conservative Chinese grandparents for the first time in three-"

"In my case four," Sicheng interjected.

"-years with a greeting that's basically gonna be something like: 'have you heard the news I'm into dudes' isn't exactly the holiday we're wishing for."

"Holy shit. That sucks."

Sicheng shrugged. Kun ate a strawberry.

"If we're lucky they'll let us go a week or so early and then we can come back home and chill here for the rest of the summer."

That seemed to shock Donghyuck more than anything else they'd just said. "Wait, you don't want to go anywhere?

"Yeah I mean, traveling can be so stressful y'know? And the jet lag sometimes lasts for the whole stay. Also, we've gone somewhere almost every summer up until now and it just get's kinda boring after a-" Sicheng stopped mid-sentence with a pained grimace. Ten had kicked him under the table.

There was a pause where everyone just sat in slightly awkward silence. Sicheng looked apologetic and Mark could feel the muscles in Donghyuck's back stiffen slightly as he sat up a little straighter. Mark didn't have to see Donghyuck's face to know what expression was tightening the corners of his mouth. A poor man's pride was sometimes the most valuable thing he owned. 

Thank God Jeno existed. "Well if it's any consolation I'm going camping with my extended family and by extended family I mean my 91-year-old great-grandma who's gonna make our lives a living hell."

"Thank you for inviting me," Jaemin said through a purposefully fake smile. 

Jeno snorted and very unsubtly nuzzled against Jaemin's shoulder, arm tightening around his waist. "Aw like I'd forget to invite you." 

Jaemin turned to the other's, the slight rosy color on his cheeks quite visible in the warm early afternoon light. "Someone's gonna die on this trip and it's not gonna be the old lady because even death seems to bend to her will. She's gonna be the last one standing, I'm telling you."

"At least it's only gonna be one week." 

Jaemin looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Only one week," he repeated.

"We'll survive," Jeno said, eye-smile at 100% and Jaemin melted.

"Easy for you to say," Jaemin muttered, but the smile that was tugging at the corners of his mouth was undeniably fond. 

"We're going to Disney World," Johnny said, easily wrapping one arm around Ten's shoulder's and pulling him closer.

"Together?" Chenle asked, brows furrowed and a whole handful of sugary peach rings stuffed into one cheek. He looked like a lopsided squirrel. 

"Have you ever seen them as anything but a single unit?" Mark asked much to both Johnny and Ten's amusement.

Chenle pointed at him. "You have a point."

"Of course I do," Mark said modestly and got kicked in the shin by Donghyuck.

"You're mom's probably gonna think you'll be proposing or something." Renjun grinned.

Johnny gasped and dramatically and laid a hand on his heart. "As if I'd do something as unoriginal as propose at Disney World."  

"You wouldn't?" Ten said with a pout.

The look on Johnny's face was the best thing since sliced bread and everyone around the table cackled, effectively scaring some pigeons who had been stealthily edging closer. Ten carefully lifted Johnny's arm away from his shoulders and crossed his arms in a very explain yourself out of this one-way. The mild look of panic on Johnny's face heightened and he started folding and unfolding his hands in an imploring manner. Immediately the whole table started imitating him (with the appropriate pathetic facial expressions of course) and Ten had to physically fight back the urge to burst out laughing. 

"I'll propose to you wherever you like." Was what finally cracked Ten's resolve and he exploded into a pile of giggles, falling forward into Johnny's arms, who accepted him with a surprised groan as Ten's head landed heavily on his chest.

"Anyway," Kun said with the right imploring hand gesture, which earned him a middle finger from Johnny and a loud cackle from literally everyone else. "What are you gonna do for the holidays?" His question was directed at Renjun. 

"Not much. Both my parents are on business trips for the majority of the summer so I'm basically gonna live alone." 

"Just you and your parents' other credit card," Jisung sighed, the twinkle in his eyes was especially mischievous. "How sad." 

Renjun threw the reject bit of a strawberry across the length of the table at him and quickly diverted the attention to Chenle.

"We're going to Europe in the first three weeks!" 

"Where in Europe?" Ten-I-Got-An-A-in-Geography-And-Am-Now-The-Residential-Expert asked, leaning forward slightly in an effort to look extra scholarly. 

"I don't know!" Chenle chirped happily, gleefully shooting down Ten's attempt to be a smartass. "Europe's pretty big and I stopped paying attention when my mom started talking about art galleries." 

"Cute," Kun said, reaching out to ruffle Chenle's hair. 

"And what about you two lovebirds?" Jaemin cooed at Mark and Donghyuck.

"We haven't decided yet," Mark said matter-of-factly and Donghyuck nodded, too preoccupied with his macaroon to add anything helpful. 

"Why?" Was Jeno's immediate query.

Donghyuck stopped fiddling with his macaroon. "Oh, I'm sorry we didn't know there was a deadline."

"Of course there's a deadline. The last day of school obviously," Jaemin said.

"Why are you backing him up?" Donghyuck exclaimed, waving his macaroon dangerously close to Jaemin's nose. 

"Because I-" But for once Jaemin was at a loss of what to say and the flush, which had faded away ages ago reappeared full force coloring his ears and cheeks a paler shade of cherry red. Even Jeno couldn't pretend not to notice. 

"Because you're in love," Chenle and Jisung stage whispered loudly and Mark had to bite back a snicker when Jeno's ears lit up and Jaemin looked like he wanted to jump into the sun. 

"Anyway-" Jaemin croaked, but his attempt to defuse the situation was lost under the shouts of "Oh no you two are gonna talk this out!" 

After some more shouting and food throwing the two finally departed to take a much-needed walk to talk about their feelings and (hopefully) kiss and come back holding hands. 

The moment they were safely out of earshot everyone rounded on Donghyuck, everyone except Mark that is, but that was because Donghyuck was sitting on him. 

"How did you do that?" Sicheng asked, he still wore the look of someone still thoroughly confused by the events that just happened in very quick succession of each other.

"We've been trying for almost a year," Renjun whispered. 

"I do what I do," Donghyuck drawled looking like the cat who had gotten the cream. It was a lovably stupid look and Mark really wasn't trained to deal with this kind of disrespect. 

"You're our god now," Ten marveled. 

Donghyuck preened happily and Mark quickly cut in. "Don't encourage him. His ego doesn't need stroking."

"How dare you," Donghyuck exclaimed, twisting around to glare at Mark, who returned his glare with a look of practiced innocence.

"Oh what? You know I'm right." 

"Doesn't make you any less rude though," Donghyuck muttered, but his glare was failing.

"Can you two stop. Please," Johnny said and the whole table, excluding Ten, burst into a shouting match of protests.

"Okay, Mr.PDA-24-fucking-7," Renjun snorted and Ten started to open his mouth to defend his boyfriend's ailing honor.

"Don't even try, you're part of the problem," Kun said before Ten could utter even one syllable.

"You've won the grossest couple of the year three times in a row," Chenle chimed in and both Johnny and Ten spluttered indignantly.

"There's no such thing!" Ten protested loudly, scaring away three pigeons and a distant pensioner. 

"Yeah, but if there were you two would win it every goddamn year. Also, goddamn is not a swear word so don't even try." That second part of Jisung's sentence was directed at Mark, who had indeed been about to reprimand him for saying that.

"Yes, it is." 

"No, it isn't."

"Yes, it is."

"No, it isn't."

"Yes, it is."

"NO."

"OF COURSE IT FUCKING IS!" Mark yelled and immediately slapped a hand over his mouth in horror.

"Y'know you walked right into that one," Sicheng offered with little sympathy in his grin. 

"It's not on the list on the fridge so it's not a swear word. You can fight me on this." 

"That doesn't make it not a swear word, that just means mom forgot to write it down." 

"This is the stupidest argument-" Kun started.

"How the fuck did you get an A in English?" Johnny interrupted.

"Listen-" Kun said, leaning around Ten to point a threatening finger at Johnny. "-exams are over so I can say whatever the fuck I want."

"See! They keep swearing!" Jisung gestured at the two.

"Yeah, but they're not twelve."

Johnny had to physically hold Jisung down to stop him from lunging across the table. 

"You swear around us all the time," Ten said and Donghyuck nodded. "Yeah you have quite the vocabulary." 

"You guys aren't children!" 

"What the hell am I then?" Chenle piped up and Mark had to muffle his frustrated scream in the material of Donghyuck's T-shirt.

"You lost this fight 10 years ago, dude," Renjun said and Donghyuck leaned over the table to give him a high-five. 

"You all-" Mark started complaining, but Chenle shut him up with a frantic wave.

"Shut up, shut up, shut up, I can see them!" He hissed and the entire table ducked. 

"Now what?" Renjun breathed.

"Are they heading towards us?" Johnny asked. Being the tallest out of everyone here he had completely flattened himself against the table.

"Yes, but really frickin' slowly," Chenle said.

"Okay, deal-breaker here; are they holding hands?" Donghyuck whispered.

"If they are I'm buying you Ramen," Renjun said quietly. 

"And?" Mark muttered. His question was directed at Chenle, who was craning his neck without actually moving it away from the table's surface. 

"There's a bunch of trees in the way hold on." And with that Chenle calmly dropped from the bench onto the ground. 

"Your clothes," Kun said, sounding a little stunned.

"It's my PE kit, it's seen worse." 

"And?" Johnny asked.

There was a long-ish pause as they all waited for Chenle's voice to rise up from the ground. 

"If I get a fucking cramp-" Sicheng muttered under his breath.

"THEY'RE HOLDING HANDS." Chenle screeched, leaping up from the ground like he was on springs.

There were exactly 2 and a half seconds of silence before the whole table erupted into a loud volcano of noise and launched themselves at the clump of trees that the two were still conveniently walking behind. 

Let's just say the rest of the day was very loud (louder than usual actually) and very enthusiastic about new love. Did I say loud? It was loud. 

 

/

 

"I have a question." 

Mark looked up from the two bottles of soda he was holding in his hands. One was cherry coke and the other was regular coke, both were tempting but Mark was walking around the world with the smallest of small change he could scrape up.

Taeyong was standing behind the counter, looking like an out of work model in a store-issued vest. 

"Go for it," Mark said, sadly putting the cherry coke back into the fridge and walking up to the counter. Under his arm was a packet of salt and vinegar crisps and a packet of rice waffles. He was meeting up with Jaemin, Jeno and Renjun to watch their school football team lose. He'd asked Donghyuck to come, but Taeil was insisting on extra lessons. 

"What day is it today?" 

Mark stared at him. "What?"

"The date, Mark. What day is it?" Taeyong said again, fond exasperation clear in the lilt of his voice. He plucked the items out of Mark's hands and started ringing them off. 

"It's a Saturday," Mark said slowly. 

"Yes and? Do you have a bag with you?" 

"I'll take them like this it's fine. And what? It's Saturday?" 

"The date. What date is it today," Taeyong repeated as he pushed Mark's stuff across the counter. 

Mark checked his phone before scooping them up and tucking them under his arm. "It's the third of June." 

"Yes." 

There was a pause. 

"Yes, what?" 

Now it was Taeyong's turn to stare. "You don't know do you." 

"Know what? Should I feel bad right now, because I feel like I've done something bad." 

"Dude, you're his boyfriend."

"Can you get to the point you're making me nervous." 

"It's Donghyuck's birthday in three days." 

Mark dropped his coke. Thankfully it did not explode, but still, he dropped his fucking coke.

"Wha- you're not fucking with me right now?" Mark asked after he'd gingerly picked up his frothing coke. Some of the drink was leaking past the lid and his hands were already getting sticky. 

"Does this face-" Taeyong waved at his face, "-look like I'm kidding?" 

It did not. Mark swallowed and tried to gather himself.

"I wanted to ask him ages ago, but I forgot." 

"How long is ages ago?" 

"After Christmas?" Mark grimaced sheepishly as Taeyong gasped.

"You forgot?" 

"I had a lot on my mind!"

Taeyong just shook his head at him. "Y'know when I first started dating Taeil-" 

"Okay yes, I get it, you're old-" Taeyong spluttered, but Mark continued, "-but the real question right now is what the fuck I'm gonna get him." 

"What's your budget?" Taeyong asked, pushing away his obvious offense at the 'you're old' comment. 

"Like three cents." 

"Mark..." Taeyong reprimanded in a disappointed tone that made Mark pout and cross his arms over his chest. 

"Listen, I got him two books on astronomy for Christmas, cut me some slack." 

Taeyong leaned onto the counter and sighed heavily, "Mark. He's turning 17. It's a big deal."

Resisting to point out that the hype was normally around birthdays like 16 and 18 Mark said, "Well I'll just buy him an ABBA's Greatest Hits CD then." 

"What? Why would you-" 

"You are the dancing queen, young and sweet only seventeen. Dancing que-" Taeyong shut him up quick enough. 

"Are you really gonna get him that?" 

"Why not?" 

"It's ABBA," Taeyong said matter of factly and Mark snorted. 

"Look I know it's not the most amazing birthday present, but I'm on a budget and I'll make it up to him as soon as I have my driver's license." 

Taeyong perked up a little bit, "And when's that?" 

"Friday next week if I don't fuck up." 

"And what do you have planned? It better be good or I'm gonna be very disappointed."

"I want to take him on a little mini holiday. A road trip, I guess. I'm leaving the choice of where up to him." 

The smile on Taeyong's face was bright and genuine, with a little touch of surprise flickering in his eyes as they crinkled at the corners. "You do realize that he's gonna say something ridiculous like, I don't know, Jamaica or something." 

"Well yeah obviously. He's my boyfriend remember." 

Taeyong pointed at him. "Don't use my sentences against me." 

"I will do as I please," Mark laughed and started making his way to the door.

"I can't believe you're actually gonna buy him an ABBA CD for his birthday," Taeyong muttered just before Mark was out of the door and Mark cackled, giving him a thumbs up before disappearing out into the spring sunlight. 

 

 

Chapter Text

The stairs up to Donghyuck's apartment had not magically become less since the last time he'd been there. In fact, it felt like there had been several floors added in the two weeks Mark had spent away from this place.

The tower block had no AC and the already quite warm early June air was making his T-shirt feel like a sticky second skin. Several breaks had to be made on the 5th, 11th and 18th floor.

So here he was, sticky and decidedly out of breath on the 23rd floor with an ABBA CD wrapped in tasteless leopard print wrapping paper in a small paper gift-bag dangling from his wrist.

He was about to ring the doorbell when he remembered that it didn't work and knocked instead. There was a moment of silence before he heard hurried footsteps coming towards him.

Donghyuck's mouth opened and closed a couple of times as he stared at Mark obviously surprised and confused as to why he was there. He looked exceptionally fluffy Mark noted absentmindedly, a loose T-Shirt probably stolen from Taeyong's wardrobe, blue pinstriped pajama trousers, and overgrown ruddy bangs really amplifying the 'I got up 3 seconds ago' look.

"Shouldn't you be in school?" Donghyuck said after a lengthy pause.

"I skipped."

"Again?"

"There are like two weeks left, seriously, no one cares."

Donghyuck made a disapproving sound in the back of his throat and shuffled to the side a bit to let Mark come inside. The apartment looked like it always did; an organised chaos of three very distinct personalities sharing a postage stamp sized apartment. Mark could see where Taeyong had made dents in Taeil's towering piles of loose paper, books and just random things that seemed to multiply every time Mark was there.

The dinner table was probably the only thing in the living room that looked halfway acceptable. Taeyong's laptop was open next to a glass of orange juice and a soggy, unfinished bowl of cereal. 

"I'd offer you something to eat or drink, but the power's out and I can't open the fridge til it's back," Donghyuck said and then pointed at the kitchen sink, "We have tap water though." 

"I'm fine," Mark said, waving him off with a smile.

"You look dehydrated as fuck. Let me get you something," Donghyuck pointed out and disappeared into the kitchen to fetch Mark a glass of water.

Whilst he pottered around in the kitchen Mark flopped down on the couch, toeing off his shoes before pulling his feet up onto the cracked vinyl sofa. The little paper bag lay cradled in his lap since Mark didn't really see any point in hiding it. He still had to broach the subject of him forgetting to ask for the date of Donghyuck's birthday without pissing the latter off.

He looked up when Donghyuck plodded over the glass in his hand was filled to the brim and Mark could see solitary droplets of water sliding down the glass and onto Donghyuck's hand and wrist.

"Seriously?" He snorted, accepting the glass and carefully bringing it to his lips. It left a slightly chalky feeling on the roof of his mouth, but he gulped down half of it before setting it down on the coffee table.

"So-" Donghyuck said.

"So..." Mark echoed.

"Why're you here?" Donghyuck asked, his gaze clearly trained on the mysterious gift bag in Mark's lap.

"You know why I'm here." 

"Yeah I do actually-"

"Great!"

"-it's because you forgot to ask about my birthday and Taeyong had to inform you about it."

Mark stared at him in disbelief.

Donghyuck shrugged, "It was the first thing he said when he came home on Saturday." 

"Oh my fucking-" Mark was ready to make Taeyong eat all of ABBA's albums and EPs.

"He didn't tell me what you were gonna get me though."

Mark let out a sigh of relief and clutched the little bag a little closer, just in case Donghyuck's prying hands would suddenly dart out and snatch it from him.

"Good," he said with finality and quickly lifted the present over his head as Donghyuck lunged unsuccessfully.

"Have your reflexes gotten better?" Donghyuck said into Mark's T-Shirt where his head had landed when Mark had foiled his plans of getting his present early.

"I've known you for quite some time now," Mark pointed out and pushed him back into a proper sitting position.

"Right," Donghyuck muttered distractedly and lunged again.

Mark scrambled back in surprise, desperately holding the bag up into the air far out reach of Donghyuck's scrabbling hands.

"You're like a ca- dude!" Donghyuck actually tried to climb up Mark, who was half sitting, half falling off the armrest of the couch. In his haste to clamber off the couch and out of Donghyuck's reach he accidentally kneed Donghyuck in the chest which thankfully only got him a couple of swearwords and a death threat no complaining ribs. 

So now here they were; Donghyuck kneeling on the couch looking at least 89% more alive than he had 10 minutes ago and Mark standing in the middle of the small living room, the hand with the present in it still held above his head. 

Donghyuck cocked his head, a mischievous smirk forming on his lips as he calculated his next move.

"Buddy don't-" 

Donghyuck pounced, flying off the couch like an actual cat and Mark fled behind the dining table with a terrified shriek. 

"This is stupid," he said, cautiously poking his head over the edge of the table. 

"You're stupid," Donghyuck retorted from where he was crouched on the floor. 

"Oh, very fucking mature." 

"So what's your next move, pal," Donghyuck asked, the grin in his voice as obvious as the sun in the sky. 

"Pal?" Mark laughed incredulously.

"You started it with your stupid fucking 'buddy' you're not allowed to judge me." 

"Can't we just do this the normal way?" Mark asked, whilst ever so slowly edging away from the entrance to the hall which was, in his current position, his only escape route if Donghyuck suddenly ambushed him.

"What, like, the close your eyes bullshit to make it interesting?"

"Yeah!"

"I think it's pretty interesting right now though, don't you?"

"Fuck you, man," Mark whined and Donghyuck cackled. 

"Cute," Donghyuck laughed and Mark's indignant splutter gave him just enough time to catch him off guard and make and unsuccessful leap for the bag. Panicked and completely unprepared Mark did exactly that which he had at first been trying to avoid; he fucking bolted down the narrow hallway and fell through the door at the end, swearing in pain as his elbow tried to highfive the door handle.

Donghyuck was right on his heels cackling and screeching in a way that would probably be absolutely terrifying in the middle of the night. Not so much however at 10 o'clock in the morning. 

Mark dived over the double bed and adopted an improvised kung fu fighter stance, the present still determinedly out of Donghyuck's reach. Donghyuck stood in the doorway and imitated Mark's pose.

"I will fight you for that present," he said and started slowly edging further towards the bed.

"Why can't we just do this the normal way?" Mark asked again, a little more plaintively this time.

"Because this is more fun," Donghyuck retorted easily, eyes fixed on the present in Mark's hand, eerily resembling the look a cat wore when eyeing its prey. Mark backed away until his back hit the wall.

"I will kick you in the chest if you jump at me," he warned.

Donghyuck snorted, "We both know that's bullshit."

"Don't jump me." 

"I'll use other ways of persuasion then," Donghyuck laughed and made a kissy face that made Mark recoil violently and hit his head against the wall.

"I am not making out with you in your brother's bedroom." 

Donghyuck paused mid-imaginative smooch and pouted, "Why not?" 

Mark gaped at him and then gestured wildly around the slightly cramped, but impeccably tidy room. "Taeyong and Taeil sleep here? Live here? Probably do some other things that involve-" 

"OKAY- okay, I get it."

"Can I just hand you the present without you rugby tackling me?" 

"Fine." 

"Fine?" 

"Yeah, I guess." 

Mark edged out from behind the bed, one hand outstretched just in case Donghyuck decided to betray him.

Thankfully he did not and they made it back to the living room without anyone falling flat on their face or getting jumped on. 

"Well, close your eyes and hold out your hands," Mark said once they'd sat back down on the couch.

"This is stupid," Donghyuck muttered, but obliged anyway. 

After making sure that Donghyuck's eyes were tightly shut Mark carefully extracted the garishly wrapped CD and placed onto Donghyuck's outstretched palms. A little frown creased Donghyuck's brow as he got hold of the present properly, experimentally shaking it to check for any telltale sounds. 

"Open your eyes when I tell you to, okay?" 

Donghyuck sighed loudly, but nodded. Mark bit down a grin as he leaned forward so that their noses were almost touching, his gaze flickered all over Donghyuck's face from the tiny birthmark that sat high on his left cheekbone to the weird little scrunch his nose did when he was in an unexpected situation. The beginning of a summer tan was spreading over the back of his neck and over what was peaking out of the frayed collar of his (Taeyong's) shirt. 

"Open your eyes," Mark whispered and let out a soft giggle when Donghyuck's nose scrunched in confusion at the proximity of Mark's voice to his face. 

Donghyuck opened his eyes and Mark got to see his pupils shrink and then dilate again to accommodate the sudden change in lighting. A surprised gasp slipped out from between his lips and Mark laughed and quickly closed the little distance that was left between them to seal his lips over Donghyuck's.  

"Happy birthday," Mark mumbled against Donghyuck's mouth, who spluttered indignantly but also pulled him back by the back of the neck when he tried to break the kiss.

When they did finally break apart they were both slightly pink and Donghyuck looked somewhere between offended and blindingly happy. It was a cute look and it made Mark lean forward one last time to place a quick peck on Donghyuck's forehead.

"You cliched fuck," Donghyuck snapped after that blatant display of affection was over. There was no heat behind his words, but that didn't stop him from smacking Mark on the shoulder with his still wrapped present.

Mark didn't respond to the insult, mostly because he knew it was just gonna get worse once Donghyuck had opened the present.

"Renjun picked the wrapping paper by the way," Mark said when Donghyuck inspected the present a little closer. 

"Why am I not surprised," Donghyuck deadpanned and started picking at the tape. Mark snorted.

There were a few tense seconds before Donghyuck managed to violently tear the wrapping paper off and toss it somewhere where Taeyong could find it and put it in the trash.

"Are you shitting me."

Mark leaned back slightly, a proud grin plastered on his face as Donghyuck held up the CD by his thumb and forefinger.

"I am not."

"ABBAs Greatest Hits?" He asked, clearly stumped for anything else to say. 

"Yes." 

"Why the fuck-" 

Mark had been waiting for him to say something like that and he immediately jumped up from the couch, spreading his arms like an opera singer before bursting into song, "You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen-" 

"Oh my God," Donghyuck murmured, looking from Mark to the CD and then back to Mark, a look of fond exasperation pulling at the corners of his mouth.

Mark swayed happily still singing quietly under his breath. 

"I don't get paid enough for this," Donghyuck muttered and got up.

"Do you think the power's back on?" Mark asked as they both crouched down in front of Taeil's ancient stereo. 

"Good question," Donghyuck hummed and experimentally stabbed at the power button with his thumb. The green LED next to the button spluttered to life and they both breathed a sigh of relief.

"Well- go on." Mark gestured at the CD slot and Donghyuck rolled his eyes, carefully prying the CD out of it's case and almost dropping it several times. The first time by accident, the other times because of the look on Mark's face. 

The CD player whirred noisily for several minutes until, finally, the first telltale note of ABBA's legendary Dancing Queen crackled through the the speakers. Donghyuck groaned loudly but allowed Mark to pull him to his feet. 

"C'MON WE NEED TO DANCE," Mark shouted over the thumping music.

"I AM NOT-" Donghyuck started, but his protest was cut short as Mark started sashaying around the room, conveniently dragging a still very reluctant Donghyuck with him.

"...-LOOKING OUT FOR A PLACE TO GO-" Mark hollered, leading Donghyuck into a sort-of-two step which didn't really go anywhere and just ended up with them twirling around the limited space. 

"ANYBODY COULD BE THAT GUY-" Donghyuck finally joined in, his voice high and clear over the booming instrumentals and vocals. Mark's steps faltered slightly, pulling them both out of the steady swaying rhythm they'd developed. He'd never heard Donghyuck sing before and the look on the other boy's face clearly showed that he had just realised that too. Mark could see in his eyes that he wanted to stop and Mark most definitely wanted him to carry on singing, so he squeezed Donghyuck's hands and egged him on with an encouraging nod. He kept on singing and Mark couldn't help but smile at the odd mixture of embarrassment and self-satisfaction flickering in his eyes. 

About three songs later when they were just on the ending chorus of Voulez-Vous, the front door crashed open and they both jumped apart. Mark tripped over the edge of the only rug in the room and Donghyuck gracefully twirled into a suitably inconspicuous pose, nonchalantly propping a hand on his hip. 

Hansol was standing in the doorway and he was staring at them as if they were a specially confusing new kind of plant. "Is that ABBA?" He asked after a second of awkward silence.  

"Yes," Donghyuck said just as Voulez-Vous smoothly transitioned into Does Your Mother Know and all three of them flinched as the bass line made the floor under their feet vibrate. 

"Why?" 

"Because it's his 17th birthday," Mark said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. 

"Yeah I knew that, but I don't understand what AB- oh." Donghyuck had turned and walked back to the stereo in the middle of Mark's sentence and by the time Hansol was halfway through what he was saying the song had jumped back to Dancing Queen and he finally understood.

"Why are you here anyway?" Donghyuck asked once he'd turned the music down. 

"It's your birthday." 

"Yeah no shit, but why are you here?"

"How'd you get in anyway?" Mark asked.

"The door wasn't locked and we all have keys for each other's apartments."

"What the fuck." 

"Where just that tight, y'know?" Hansol grinned. 

"Okay, but seriously; why are you here?" Donghyuck asked, climbing over the sofa to stand next to Mark, who wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

"Oh- yeah, there's a thing downstairs." 

"A thing." Donghyuck repeated and Hansol wiggled his fingers, "It's a surprise." 

"If it's more ABBA-" 

"It's not!" Hansol hastened to appease and Mark snorted.   

The surprise turned out to be a store-bought cake with homemade decorations and homemade icing that tasted like sugar syrup and cotton candy. Mark was pretty sure his teeth were screaming in pain by the end of the day. 

Everyone had managed to take some time off work or college, except for Taeyong and Jaehyun. Taeyong was at an interview for a job at a recording studio and Jaehyun had an exam. Both of them had however left something at Yuta and Hansol's apartment to wish Donghyuck a happy birthday in their absence. 

Jaehyun had gotten him a lovely yellow button that read: Fuck You You Fucking Fuck, a pink power bank and fancy box of water colours. Donghyuck immediately pinned the button to his shirt and gave the power bank a quizzical look. 

Taeyong's present consisted of a leather-bound notebook, unicorn stickers, a black fountain pen and a note written on the back of a shopping list. From what Mark caught of the note it wasn't very long, just a few lines scribbled in Taeyong's looping handwriting, but whatever it was it made Donghyuck go very quiet for a few seconds and he seemed very reluctant to let go of the note. 

He also stuck a unicorn sticker on Mark's cheek which he forgot to take off and spent his walk home wondering why so many people were giving him odd looks.

Taeil's presents were a Spongebob mug, a pair of black headphones and a pair of socks. The socks were from some obscure anime and Yuta had to help Hansol out of a laughing-fit-gone-bad. Donghyuck, who had been walking around barefoot until then, immediately put them on, which only had Hansol bent double again crying actual tears because he was laughing so hard. 

Yuta gave him a Body Shop voucher and a No Face minimalist phone case, which he stared at for the longest time in utter confusion and then looked up and said, "But I've never watched Spirited Away before?"

"WHAT?" Half of the room yelled and Donghyuck scowled, "You're not allowed to be judgemental, it's my birthday." Yuta stepped on Hansol's foot when he opened his mouth to protest. 

"We'll watch it together. We have a special edition at home," Mark assured him and Donghyuck's scowl faded immediately. 

Hansol got Donghyuck the first season of Haikyuu and a spare pair of peach coloured headphones. Donghyuck raised one eyebrow as he unwrapped the anime and Hansol gesticulated, "Listen, if I hadn't gotten you something anime related everyone including Doyoung's mother would've been disappointed." 

"You right," Donghyuck agreed grudgingly, and then after a moment of inspecting the DVD case, "Ooh, he's hot." 

Mark swiped the DVD case out of his hands and Donghyuck cackled. 

Doyoung got him a copy of I am the Messenger and hand cream. It smelled like pomegranate and Mark was genuinely shocked at how well the scent matched Donghyuck.

"And now for the big reveal," Yuta said and disappeared into the kitchen.

"What?" 

"We all chipped in to give you a very special birthday present," Taeil elaborated. Donghyuck turned to look at Mark, who shrugged. "I have as much of an idea as you." 

"My mother chipped in too by the way," Doyoung said.

"Yeah, mine too," Hansol and Taeil said in unison and Donghyuck just squinted at them in confusion.

"Close your eyes!" Yuta shouted from the kitchen. 

With a heavy sigh Donghyuck closed his eyes and let Mark rearrange his hands so that his palms lay open, facing upwards. Yuta stepped out of the kitchen when Doyoung declared it safe and stalked over to Donghyuck, in his hands was a small-ish box wrapped in Winnie the Pooh wrapping paper. Mark shot Doyoung a questioning glance and he mouthed 'phone' and Mark had to put a hand over his mouth to stop himself from exclaiming out loud. 

Yuta placed the box in Donghyuck's hands and said, "Open your eyes." 

Blinking at the light Donghyuck looked down at the box in his hands and grinned at the wrapping paper. 

"Tear it off carefully, Taeyong probably wants to keep that kind of wrapping paper."

It seemed to take all of Donghyuck's force of will not to tear it off in one go, but it was worth it for the look on his face when the wrapping paper finally fell away. 

The sleek white box of an iPhone 6+ lay in his hands, the logo's slightly reflective print winking up at Donghyuck in the warm June light. 

"I- I don't...understand- what?" He stuttered, his voice so quiet that everyone leaned forward slightly to catch the words before the fell away into silence. 

"We all put some money forward," Doyoung said softly, ducking his head slightly to peer at Donghyuck who was standing there, head bowed and eyes hidden behind his overgrown fringe. 

"It was about time you got a phone," Taeil added just as softly. 

"I- I don't...-" Donghyuck stammered and Mark's hand found itself on the back of his neck, carefully rubbing reassuring circles there with his thumb. 

"It's a birthday present," Hansol said, "you can't be a human these days without a phone."

"Also, there's more of a reason now for you to have one," Yuta smiled, winking at Mark who rolled his eyes and drew the still stunned Donghyuck a little closer. 

"But...-" Donghyuck faltered, finally looking up from behind his fringe to look around at the people crowded around him.

"Look- sweetheart, it's a present from all of us-" Yuta gestured around their little circle and then up at the ceiling which Mark assumed was meant to indicate the two absentees. "-you either take it or leave it. In fact, you take it, there's no leaving."

Donghyuck turned to look at Mark for support. "I'll add you to the groupchat as soon as you have it all set up," he said with a grin and Donghyuck looked back down at the box like he was afraid it would bite him. 

"Groupchat?" Doyoung asked and Mark grimaced, "I'm not adding you all too, it's already a big enough mess as it is." 

"No, you're adding us," Yuta said. 

"Yeah," Mark sighed in defeat, "I'm adding you all." 

"Good," Yuta smiled and Mark vaguely wondered if that was going to be a mistake.  

 

Later that day they found themselves on Donghyuck's bed, shoulder to shoulder, backs against the wall and their legs tangled together and plates of birthday cake in their laps. Donghyuck's phone was charging on his desk. 

The cake was good in a way only store bought cake could be good, the artificial sweetness just on the right side of overpowering. The fresh strawberries and raspberries the others had added to their homemade icing brought a refreshing burst of natural sweetness to the mixture.  

"I getting a car from my grandparents tomorrow," Mark said into the silence.

"Seriously?"

"Yep."

"It'd be kinda shitty if you fail your test then."

"I won't fail."

"Of course you won't fail, I'm just saying the car's gonna be extra motivation for you not to fuck up."

"Well you're not wrong."

Donghyuck knocked his knee against Mark's in playful retaliation. "Whatever." And then after a short pause, "What kind of car anyway?"

"A Porsche."

Donghyuck choked on a piece of cake and Mark thumped his back until he got through it.

"Need some water?"

Donghyuck waved him off and wheezed, "Seriously?"

"Nah, of course not. As far as I know it's gonna be a relatively old-ish Honda or something."

"A Honda?" 

Mark shrugged, "I'll take what's given to me." 

Donghyuck patted his thigh, "Sounds good. Do you want more cake?" 

"I swear my teeth are gonna fall out." 

"Is that yes?"

"Yeah." 

Donghyuck crawled out of bed and plodded off into the kitchen to get more cake, both their plates balanced on one hand in the proper waiters style. Mark braced himself for the sound of porcelain smashing on the floor, but it never came and before he knew it Donghyuck was back. 

He held out one of the plates and Mark took it, patiently waiting for Donghyuck to settle back into his original slouched position at Mark's side. 

"Have you thought about it?" Mark asked through a mouthful of cake. 

Donghyuck silently prodded a gooey strawberry with his fork only looking up when he realised that Mark's gaze wasn't wavering. 

"I don't know," he mumbled, not meeting Mark's gaze. 

"Don't know what?" Mark asked, putting his fork down. 

"How possible my wish is." 

"Tell me." 

Donghyuck made face, but then after a moment's deliberation he said, "Well, I kinda want to go to the seaside." 

"The seaside?" 

"Yeah." Donghyuck glanced up at him. "I've never been." 

"We can go if you want." 

"Isn't it kinda far away?" 

Mark shrugged, picking his fork up again, "We'll make a road trip out of it. We used to go to the seaside every summer, y'know, all of us and our families. We did these weird joint seaside-camping holidays, so I practically know the route off by heart." 

"You know how to set up a tent?"

"Is that the only thing you got from that?"  

"Do you?" 

Mark pouted. "That's what we had Johnny and Jeno's parents for." 

"So, if we go there'd be no camping?"

"Unless you want to go camping." 

Donghyuck seemed to mull the idea over in his head. "Nah, I'd rather not have a tent collapse on us in the middle of the night. We can sleep in the car, can't we?" 

"Dude," Mark turned to look at Donghyuck, "we can rent a room in a motel or something."

"But the expe-"

"It's not that pricey- trust me. Anyway my mom wouldn't let us go if she knew that we planned on sleeping in my shitty car."

"Are you sure?" 

"Absolutely. Anyway, there are loads of little villages dotted along the coast so if you want you can take me out to breakfast or something."

"We'll be even then?"

"Yeah. It's gotta be good breakfast though." 

Donghyuck rolled his eyes and flicked a small piece of cake at Mark's face.

They ate in silence for a while. Mark could hear Taeil pottering around in the kitchen and something soft and acoustic was just audible over the loud clanging sounds of Taeil "tidying up". 

There was a perfect square of sunlight on the floor in the middle of the room and you could see the heat flickering in the light. It was incredibly peaceful; the tidy-merging-on-chaotic aesthetic of Donghyuck's room and the comforting warmth of another body slouched against him. Pinstriped trouser legs tangled with black tracksuit bottom ones.

"Tell me about it." 

Mark blinked out of whatever trance-like state he had been in. "Sorry?"

"Tell me about it. About the seaside where you all used to go." 

"Oh."

The expression on Donghyuk's face was open and curious. It made Mark's heart do a funny little twist in his chest.

Donghyuk prodded him with the non-spikey end of his fork, "So?" 

"Right- right yeah, okay. Well the drive to the coast- or at least the part we're going to- is about 3 hours, 4 if the traffic hates us. The campsite we used to go to is right next to the coast, like, the beach is literally only a 10 minute walk away. Also it's right on the edge of a cliff so you can take the dangerous route down or the safe one," Mark explained. "I've had one near death experience because of that cliff," he added for good measure and Donghyuck rolled his eyes at the subtle hint of pride in his voice. 

"Anyway so it's right next to the ocean and it's so, so pretty. The beach is really wide near where the campsite is, even when the tide comes in, but at other places it comes right up against the cliffs and just- holy shit, it's so pretty. Also you can walk from the campsite spot on the beach to this big-ish coastal town a few miles away and I swear that town is the prettiest town I've ever seen and I've been there a lot, but I never get tired of it. It's got that whole rustic, coastal aesthetic going on and it's the fuckin' best. They have like a mini pier with attractions and rides and shit and it's the prettiest at night. Also that town is literally full weird, quirky little secondhand shops and good Indian food."

"And we'll go there?" Donghyuck whispered and the look of abstract awe on his face caught Mark a little off guard. 

"Yeah. Yeah, for as long as you want. I'll look up a motel or something and then we can do the cliff and beach walk to the town."

"Do you think your mom will be okay with it?" Donghyuck asked hesitantly.

"Sure she will, I know that place almost as well as I know this place. Also she thinks I'm a responsible young man and my dad's already said yes so if that doesn't sway her I don't know what will." 

"She thinks you're responsible?" 

"Yeah."

"What a miscalculation." 

"Hey!"

"You think I've forgotten New Years? Or that one time we went to that skate park and you accepted the dare from Jaemin to do some stupid fucking skating trick when you can't even fucking skate."

"That was a one time thing." But Mark did take the precaution and shut Donghyuck up with forkful of cake before he could list off more reasons why Mark shouldn't be counted into the Responsible Young Man category. 

"This is going to be my first ever holiday," Donghyuck said once he'd swallowed.

"You'll have to take loads of pictures for Taeyong and Taeil."

"How long are we gonna stay?"

"Five days maybe?" 

The soft 'wow' that whooshed past Donghyuck's lips made Mark laugh.  

"Yeah, do you think Taeyong will agree?"

"He fucking better." 

"I think he will." 

"Yeah, because Mr. Responsible is going to be with me."

"Fuck off."

"If you say so Mr. Exemplary-Role-Model." 

"Can you n-" 

"Shining example." 

"I will fight you," Mark said and knocked the fork out of Donghyuck's hand. 

"Like you'd win," Donghyuck laughed and smeared some leftover cake and icing on Mark's cheek, quickly scooting away when the latter tried to get him back. 

"I'm stronger than you," Mark countered after he'd moved the plates to a safer place and stood up on the bed, towering over Donghyuck who was comfortably sprawled on the bed. 

"Home territory," Donghyuck pointed out, lazily grinning up at Mark. 

Mark was just about to pounce when the door swung open and Yuta stood in the doorway, fully adorned in a Kiss The Chef! apron. The boys on the bed froze and Yuta stared at them for a full minute before saying, "I don't even want to know."

Donghyuck started to open his mouth, but Yuta waved him off, "I said I don't want to know!" 

"It's not what you think," Mark tried lamely and both Donghyuck and Yuta gave him a Look. 

"Anyway, there's gonna be food in, like, half an hour and it's the big deal kind of food so stop eating cake." 

"What kind of food?" Donghyuck asked.

"Chicken something- TAEIL?" Yuta suddenly yelled and Mark almost trod on Donghyuck's ankle in surprise. 

"WHAT?" Came the answer from the kitchen. 

"WHAT KIND OF CHICKEN ARE WE HAVING?" 

"ROTISSERIE."

"Rotisserie chicken," Yuta said, turning back to them. 

"Yeah-"

"-we heard." 

"Be there in like half an hour and no more cake. Taeyong's gonna be home soon and Doyoung's making mashed potatoes to go with the chicken so I'm making mashed potatoes in case his are shit, which is something I'm counting on." 

"Okay," they chorused. 

"Oh and Mark, does your mom know you're staying for lunch?"

"She thinks I'm in school." 

"Yes, good one. A rebel in the making." 

Donghyuck snorted and Mark stepped on his ankle. 

"No funny business." Was the last thing he said before closing the door. 

"So Mr. School President-" Donghyuck started and Mark swore loudly. 

 

Chapter Text

Friday came around quicker than Mark had expected and before he knew it he was sat in a black BMW which had been standing in the sun a minute to long and being asked if he was "ready" to take his test. 

The affirmative "yeah" that came out of his mouth sounded a lot surer than he actually felt. 

It was weird because the written test which he'd taken two days earlier had been a piece of cake. He'd been the first one to hand his test sheet back and also ended up scoring the highest marks in his class. 

Actually being out on the road, though? Yeah, that's kind of scary. 

But he passed with flying colours. Kinda. He definitely passed, but he did at one point accidentally turn the windscreen wipers on instead of the indicator-thingy. Some part of his soul departed from his body when that happened. 

Also fuck parallel parking.

Thankfully his vision wasn't too messed up (or at least that was what the vision test said) so he wasn't required to wear glasses when driving, which was nice since he hated his prescription glasses. 

And on a scale from 1 to 10 his driver's license picture was a solid 6 on the Awfulness Scale, which considering that his dad looked like a serial killer on his and his mother looked slightly deranged on her's, was a solid plus point. 

He came home around 8 o'clock in the evening, told his parents that he had passed and then immediately collapsed on his bed and went out like a light. All the adrenaline that had pumped through him since he'd gotten up drained out of his system like the tide going back out to sea and he was left a sleepy, fuzzy haired bundle of June warmth and relief. 

 

/

 

Saturday morning greeted him with warm rain soaked sunlight and a bunch of keys being dangled above his face. He blinked drowsily until Jisung's grinning face came into focus directly above him. 

"Jesus Christ what the-" he swore, sitting up so quickly that Jisung had perform some serious parkor to avoid getting hit in the face. 

"Good morning," Jisung said from a safe distance away. 

"What the fu- what are you doin' here?" 

Jisung held up the bunch of keys again and jangled them merrily. Mark recognised his house and garage key and the ridiculous lion key ring Johnny had given him for his 15th birthday. 

"There's a surprise downstairs," Jisung sang. 

"It's the car, isn't it?"

"What part of surprise don't you understand?" 

"Dad already told me about it. Not much of a surprise if I already know about it."

"Yeah, but you can pretend." 

"Okay, fine," Mark yawned. "Whatever." 

Jisung glared at him for a second, "Can you please pretend to be at least a little enthusiastic about this?"

"I just woke up! You try being fucking enthusiastic."

"I just woke up-" Jisung mimicked in a screechy highpitched voice. "I don't care, get a move on."

With that he jangled the keys one last time and slipped out of the room. 

Mark flopped back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. The warmth of late morning sun washed over him through the cream coloured curtains. The window was, as always, half open, open enough for a slim boy shaped shadow to slip through in the middle of the night. 

But Mark was alone that morning, not blissfully alone but not unhappily either. 

With a fair amount of groaning he managed to roll out of bed and drop onto the floor, the dull thud of his body landing on the floor reverberated through whatever room was under Mark's bedroom.

"WHAT WAS THAT?" His mom shouted and Mark rolled his eyes. "NOTHING," he yelled back in response. 

A few minutes later he managed to collect enough of his willpower to actually get to his feet. The world swayed around him and he tried to blink the black dots out of his vision. It was probably payback for passing out for 15 hours or something, which honestly wasn't the smartest thing Mark had ever done. 

Once the black dots had disappeared his stomach made a dramatic entrance by growling so intensely that Mark actually doubled over in surprise, the cramping pain of his empty stomach tearing through him with determined force. 

It was all the motivation he needed to make a beeline for the kitchen. 

"Oh, look who's back from the dead," his mother said as he shuffled past. She was sitting at the kitchen table, laptop open in front of her and a steaming cup of what Mark assumed was coffee clasped in her hands. She peered at him through steam rising from the cup. "You sure you're actually alive though?" 

Mark paused to gesture vaguely before plodding off into the kitchen. 

"Do you want me to make you some French toast?" 

The offer was tempting, but Mark knew French toast took ages and he needed food now so he declined.

Thank God for cereal. 

"That's not going to keep you going for long," his mom said as he sat down across from her. 

Mark plunged the spoon into the milky mulch. "I don't care." 

"Suit yourself." 

They sat in companionable silence; the warm June sunlight, the abundance of dirty gardening equipment, the smell of fresh coffee and the distant sound of the main street painting a pretty, comfortably familiar picture. This warm cocoon of semi-silence was shattered into tiny little pieces when Jisung crashed through the backdoor tracking a great deal of mud and lawn clippings with him. Their mother didn't even look fazed. 

"You're up!" He shouted and skidded to halt in front of the table.

"Yeah."

Jisung eyed him for a second, "Have fun with you're fucked up sleeping schedule."

"Jisung!" 

"Worth it," Jisung cackled and darted out of reach of their mother's threatening coffee cup. "Are you coming or what?" 

Mark gave his almost finished bowl of cereal a sad look and got up. "Fine."

"C'mon then!" He disappeared into the hall and Mark let out a long suffering sigh. 

"Be nice," his mom admonished him. "He's just excited." 

"I just got up, don't expect too much from me." And then after she gave him a pointed glare, "But yeah, I'll try." 

Slipping on a pair of his dad's tennis shoes Mark joined Jisung out on the pretty barren driveway, in the space usually occupied by their dad's black company car, stood a silver Honda Civic. 

Mark let out a delirious little laugh and ran a hand through his hair. He actually had a fucking car now. 

"Holy shit," he laughed and walked towards it, carefully running his fingers against the silver metal of the hood. 

"Right?" Jisung crowed. 

A warm summer breeze whisked away some of Mark's grogginess. The cool-ish gust of wind making the glare of the sun a little more bearable. The deep green leaves on the periodically placed maple trees rustled quietly as the breeze blew down the street, through manicured and not-so-manicured front gardens and over the dusty shine of the many cars parked in the gravel driveways. 

"Gimme the keys," Mark said a little imperiously and Jisung threw them at him. They hit Mark squarely on the chest and he swore at the dull pain and threw some gravel at Jisung when he bent to pick them up. 

The interior wasn't anything exciting, but still Mark couldn't help but let out a little excited scream. He sank down into the driver's seat and screamed again. After adjusting the seat and the rear view mirror a little he finally let his hands come to rest on the steering wheel. 

"I have forgotten every single thing I've ever learned about driving," he stated to no one in particular, experimentally flexing his fingers around the weird leathery plastic of the steering wheel. 

He jumped as Jisung appeared in the passenger seat, feet propped up on the dashboard and hands casually folded behind his head. 

"So you're gonna be driving me to school right?" 

"Fuck no."

"What?" His feet dropped from the dashboard as he twisted to look at Mark. "Why not?"

"We can walk. Y'know, like we've always done." 

"But you have a car now." 

"We'll drive in winter but that's it." 

"You're stupid," Jisung pouted. 

Mark waved his housekey dangerously close to Jisung's nose, "Do you know how expensive petrol is over a long time." 

Jisung glared at him but didn't answer. 

Mark settled back into his seat. "That's what I thought." 

"But you'll drive us- us as in Chenle and me- to other places right? They opened a theme park in the Eastern District not too long ago." 

"I'm not cheap."

There was a pause. 

"So you're an expensive car-prostitute?" 

Mark lunged at him, "Get out of my car you rat." 

Jisung practically fell out of the car. "Nothin' wrong with being a prostitute," he laughed before running back inside.

Mark lay there sprawled over the stick shift and the passenger seat. "Brat," he muttered a little belatedly and sat up properly again. 

The backseat had three seats, so the whole car could fit 5 people, 6 or 7 if they wanted to be illegal. The car still looked very untouched, very unfamiliar and cold not that that was surprising since he'd only had it for about 5 minutes. It would soon look a lot more Mark-ish, featuring literally all of his friends, because they were leeches and if he owned something like a car that naturally meant that they all in someway shared it with him. He'd have to figure out some way of keeping his car from turning into a trash dump. He'd also have to buy an air-freshener because if there was one thing he didn't want then it was his car smelling like Chinese take-away for the rest of eternity. 

He sat there in silence, the aircon wasn't on and the June heat was slowly starting to creep in through the open passenger door, but Mark made no move to close it.

This car meant a lot of things and it was kind of overwhelming. It meant the approaching end of his childhood. Adulthood loomed and this car was one of the many cracks in the world that he had become so accustomed to. Of course not everything would suddenly change the day he turned 18 or the day he finally graduated, the changes would be gradual the rift between the world right now and whatever was to become would grow slowly and then one day he'd look into the rearview mirror of the car he got two months before his 18th birthday and realise that the world had changed and that he had changed with it. 

"I heard yelling." 

Mark jumped and knocked his right knee against the steering wheel. His mother grimaced apologetically as she sat down in the passenger seat. A few strands of her dark brown hair were slipping out of her ponytail and Mark noted mildly that she was greying. The thought of her changing as well, as gradually as it may be, was scary too. Scarier than his own impending change, because her changing meant that at some point she would suddenly stop. His dad would stop and Mark would keep on changing, but he'd do it a fraction lonelier than before. 

"Everything okay?" She asked softly, reaching forward to put her hand on Mark's which was still tightly clutching at the steering wheel. 

"Uh...-" Mark swallowed down the tirade of words that threatened to burst past his lips. "-yeah. Yeah, I'm alright- just, y'know, thinking." 

"Dangerous stuff that is." 

Mark laughed, but it wasn't quite his laugh and he wished his mother would stop looking so understanding and warm. "I'll try and be careful." 

She smiled, but her smile wasn't quite her smile.

They sat in silence, but the silence wasn't quite like their usual silences it was tinged with something not exactly bad, but not exactly good either. Her warm hand was still on his and Mark realised with a pang how much smaller her hand looked compared to his. Slender, delicate bones with sunburned knuckles and callused thumbs. A small scar ran along her middle finger from the time she'd burned herself on a camping trip. Mark's hands were larger and they did not have the same kind of pretty slenderness. His hands were more like his fathers, thin and kind of knobbly with a slightly crooked little finger. But they didn't have the reassuring strength that Mark's father's hands had, they were still kind of clumsy and inexperienced. The only sign of use was the permanent blister he had on his ring finger from where his pens rubbed against it when he wrote. 

He didn't have his father's strength and rough palms, he didn't have his mother's callused fingertips and steady stable grip. He'd mastered a pen, but not much else just yet.

"You'll take me grocery shopping today," she said and Mark was thankful she didn't add "to take your mind off things".

"Okay."

"And maybe you can take the others out for a driver later."

He brightened slightly at the mention of the others and he could feel her smile in the pressure of her hand without having to look at her face. "Yeah- yeah, that's a good idea."

"Of course it is." She removed her hand, patting him on the thigh. "Shower, get dressed and eat something proper and we'll be off, alright?"

"Yes, ma'am."

The pat turned into a playful slap and Mark grinned, the remaining part of smile returning from whatever dark void it had been hiding in.

"Call me that one more time and you die."

"Thanks mom."

She smiled her most Jisung-like smile, "My pleasure. Now move, we don't have all day."  

Mark let his head hit the the steering wheel the moment she disappeared back into the house. Summer was coming quicker than he had expected.

The only thing he could do was hope it wouldn't pass by as quickly. 

 

"Are you sure we have red pepper." 

Mark leaned over the trolley and sighed, "I'm 99% sure, mom. I swear I saw something red in the vegetable box." 

"That could've been something else." 

Mark glanced at her. She was standing in front of the fresh vegetable section with two red peppers in her hands, a look of slight distress evident on her face. 

"What other vegetable is red?" 

She frowned. "Tomatoes?" 

"We don't keep those in the fridge." 

"Fine. We'll take one."

"Okay." 

Mark's concentration was mainly focused on not running the trolley into the carefully arranged pyramids of canned food and cereal. His mother forged ahead, shopping list in one hand and her phone in the other. 

"Baking powder," Mark said once they'd reached the right isle and his mom rolled her eyes. 

They carried on, the quiet radio music of the store filling their comfortable silences. 

"Cod or salmon?" 

Mark stared at the iced piles of fresh fish upon fish in front of him and cocked his head. "Why?"

"Dinner tomorrow." 

"Oh. What were you thinking?"

She looked up from her list. "Salmon?" 

"Jisung doesn't like salmon," Mark pointed out. 

"But he doesn't like cod either." 

"That is true." 

They both turned to stare at the assortment of fish. The assistant behind the counter was giving them a funny look. 

"Salmon it is then." 

It was when they reached the dairy and meat section when his mother brought up the topic of Mark's impending holiday with Donghyuck.

"You need to think about what to pack." 

"It's ages away mom, I'll pack in time." 

"Yeah no, but you need to think about food. You can't eat out every day you're there, you'll be broke quicker than you can say 'broke'." 

"They don't have kitchen units in motel rooms," Mark said and put the two cartons of milk she was holding out for him into the trolley.

"Who says you need a kitchen unit to make sandwiches?" 

"So we'll just make food on a dirty motel floor? Sounds hygienic." 

"Y'know when I went on my first holiday with your father we were both broke and just out of college. Petrol back then was way more expensive than it is now and a road trip down to the Grand Canyon was no simple matter. The amount of crappy motels we stayed in, my God. We lived off of gas station food- can you get that pot of Greek yogurt, I can't reach- and the kindness of the locals. Sandwiches made on the floor of a motel will be nothing compared to the stuff we ate." 

"Sounds like a great holiday," Mark deadpanned as they turned into the soup and condiments isle. 

"Oh, it was. It wasn't anything fanciful since we were as broke as could be, but it was sweet and true." She smiled down at a packet of broccoli soup like it was her lost true love. Mark had seen that expression on her face more than enough only normally she was looking up instead of down. Her husband, Mark and Jisung's father, was quite tall which was probably the reason for Jisung's annoying growth spurts. 

"Okay enough of the sappy shit, also please don't buy that none of us like broccoli soup." 

She didn't reprimand him for swearing, only snorted and put the packet back. 

"Has his brother agreed to the holiday?" 

"I don't know if Donghyuck's asked him yet, either way, he'll probably say yes if Donghyuck tells him you've already agreed to it." 

"That influential am I?" She laughed.

"You're everyone's favourite mother, mom. Did you say something about chilli powder earlier?"

She laughed and smugly flicked her ponytail over her shoulder. "I just do what I do. Also yes, that one-"

"Don't worry about the trip, okay? I've got it all figured out and I've already picked a place to stay and I'll book as soon as Taeyong gives his okay."

She shot him an impressed look, "Well okay, Mr. Responsible. I'll take out some cash for you take with you so that you don't starve."

"Thanks," Mark snarked and she grinned, "It's the least I could do."  

 

Preparing the lunch and eating it took a lot longer than originally planned, mostly because Jisung had apparently absorbed the energy of exactly 9 and a half thunder storms and was zooming around the house and backyard like a possessed demon child and generally being pretty unhelpful as Mark struggled with the salad he was supposed to make.

He'd never made salad before so no one, least of all he himself, was very surprised when he cut his finger trying to chop carrots. He spent the rest of lunch preparation playing the invalid card and annoying Jisung.

"You're gonna have the house to yourself from 5 till around 9-ish," his mother said when they finally sat down for lunch. 

Mark looked up from his slightly questionable looking chicken. "Why?" 

She waved her fork at Jisung. "End of year party or something." 

"We're having a class barbecue," Jisung clarified. 

"And I'm not invited?"

"Basically."

"Jisung- Mark honey, if you want to come you can. It's just we all thought it wasn't really your scene."

"He doesn't want to come." 

"You're right. I don't." 

"Good. Didn't want your boring ass there anyway." 

"Jisung!"

"I'll invite the others over and you two can have fun at the barbecue," Mark said graciously. 

Jisung fake gagged and flicked a couple of peas off his spoon and in Mark's general direction. 

"Guess who's brushing the floor before we leave," their mother said and snapped her fingers at Jisung who rolled his eyes. 

"Won't dad be home by 8?" Mark asked. 

"He's getting off work early to join us at the barbecue."

"Ah okay, that's cool." 

"Call, if the boys want to stay overnight, okay?" 

"No one's sleeping in my room though!" Jisung broke in.

"No one wants to sleep in your room." 

"Boys...-" 

"When are you leaving?" 

She turned to glance at the digital clock on the microwave. "4:40 PM if we actually manage to leave on time." 

"Okay, sounds good." 

 

After lunch and a fair amount of chores had been successfully completed Mark dropped down in his desk chair and pulled out his phone. 

mork: okay listen up people (3:59) 

jammin: what (3:59)

heyno: yes (4:00)

yuck: ?? (4:02)

junie: whatsup (4:03)

mork: so i have a car now (4:03)

heyno: ohmgodd yes boy (4:03)

junie: since when wtf?? (4:04)

heyno: is it a porsche (4:04)

mork: since this morning (4:04)

mork: and no it's not (4:04)

yuck: it's a honda lmao (4:05)

jammin: how do u know????? (4:05)

heyno: a honda (4:06)

heyno: fuck lol your dad has a mercedes and you get a honda (4:06)

yuck:  told me about it (4:07)

junie:  ok but a honda is lowkye a lame car (4:07)

junie:  *lowkey (4:07)

yuck:  suits him then (4:07)

jammin:  send a pic!! we gotta see the Car (4:08)

mork:  i'm upstairs i'm not walking all the way downstairs again (4:08)

heyno: you deserve that c in pe  (4:09)

yuck:  i bet it's a silver honda (4:10)

junie:  thats v conventional of you mark (4:10)

junie:  is it really silver tho? (4:11)

mork:  yeah but that's unimprotent (4:11)

jammin: unimprotent (4:11)

yuck: unimprotent (4:11)

mork: UNIMPORTANT ffs (4:11)

yuck:  also i fuckin called it (4:12)

yuck:  i bet its a civic too (4:12)

heyno:  is it?? (4:12) 

mork:  yeah so what (4:12)

yuck:  called it lol (4:13)

mork:  how do you even know?? i didn't even know that til this morninf  (4:13)

jammin:  mindreader (4:14) 

yuck:  i'm outside your house (4:14)

mork:  WHATTHFCUK (4:14)

junie: relationshipgaols:') (4:15)

junie: *gaols (4:15)

junie: *GOALS fuck (4:15)

yuck: kidding i'm still in bed, i haven't moved in ten years (4:16)

heyno: why are you still in bed wtf (4:17)

yuck: taeyongs hoovering in the living room (4:18)

mork: can we pls get to the pount? (4:18)

mork: point (4:18)

jammin: what is ur point son (4:18)

heyno: ^^ (4:19)

junie: you have yet ti tell us (4:19)

junie: to (4:20)

heyno: .... (4:20)

yuck: don't fucking do it (4:20)

jammin: (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧ 420 my dudes (4:20)

yuck has left *stress*

jammin: worth it (4:21) 

junie has added yuck to *stress*

mork: BACK TO THE PLAN (4:22)

yuck: OH YEAH ~THE PLAN~ (4:22)

mork: okay so my mom and jisung are going to this class party or whatever in like 20 min and i have a car now so.........? (4:22)

jammin: i'm too dumb for this,, explain (4:22)

yuck: just get to the fuckidn plan ohmygod (4:23)

mork: how about we all go on a mini roadtrip outside the city (4:23)

heyno: how many does your car fit? (4:24)

heyno: *people (4:24)

mork: 5 (4:24)

mork: i wouldn't be asking the 5 of you if it didn't (4:24)

jammin: will there be food (4:24)

yuck: improtent question^ (4:25)

mork: yes  (4:25)

junie: i'm in also i'm gonna make a playlist look forward to it (4:27)

heyno: same aay (4:27)

heyno: no spotify playlist pls you don't have premium (4:27)

junie: fuck off i do what i want (4:27)

jammin: ohmy god   (4:28)

jammin:  i'm in too btw aaayy (4:29)

mork: hyuk? (4:29)

yuck: fuckin obviously (4:29)

junie: :')new love (4:30)

mork: fight me okay be here in like 10 minutes (4:31)

yuck: lol you fucking wish (4:31)

junie: how about 5-ish (4:31)

mork: okay (4:32)

heyno: do we have to bring anything (4:33)

mork: money maybe? idk (4:33)

jammin: this friendship isgonna bleed me dry (4:33)

Mark locked his phone and pocketed it. He had a vague, general idea of where their little road trip would lead them too. 

Forests stretched beyond the northernmost parts of the city, getting thicker and more impenetrable the more you moved north. But to the west the woods were a lot kinder. Less pine trees and more seasonal leafy trees, fewer rocky inclines and more open fields and clearings. 

The north was the place where thrill seekers and pine tree enthusiasts went. The west on the other hand went by largely untouched. It was the place for adventurous couples on their camping honeymoons and that was basically it. 

The south and the east were the favoured holiday destinations. It was part of the reason why Mark didn't want to go there, he didn't want them to get bogged down in the countless tourist traps and seasonal summery attractions. 

So the quiet tranquillity of the outer Western District was undoubtedly more favourable. 

He was just about to go downstairs to send off Jisung and their mom, who were getting ready to leave when he remembered something he wanted to do before the others arrived. The little unicorn sticker Donghyuck had stuck to his cheek on the day of his birthday was stuck to the front of one of his notebooks. Carefully, he pealed it off and went to fetch some doublesided tape from Jisung's room. 

"What are you doing?" His mother asked as he breezed past her into the hall and outside. 

"I gotta do a thing," Mark called over his shoulder. 

"You do that." 

He quickly unlocked the car and climbed into the drivers seat. Then he ripped out a small piece of doublesided tape and stuck it to the back of the unicorn sticker, which had by now lost most of it's glue. He then leaned forward and stuck it to the dashboard next to the radio panel. 

The inspiration came from Jaehyun's and Doyoung's car which was kind of messy, but had a distinct couple-y feel to it. The sticky notes on the dashboard and the weird Spiderman bracelet thing that was hung around the rear view mirror being one of the few indicators of this. Tokens of their relationship. 

Mark wanted his car to look like that. He wanted it to look like it belonged to him and what better way to start than with a unicorn sticker. 

He almost jumped out of his skin as his mother suddenly tapped at his window. 

"We're off now," she said, her voice slightly muffled thanks to the window. 

Mark got out of the car and said, "Have fun!" 

"Oh I'm sure we will. Won't we, Jisungie?" She turned to Jisung who was hopping from foot to foot, eyes glued to his phone.

"Can we hurry? Chenle's already there and he said that there's a cotton candy machine." 

"Yeah just wait a second, alright?" She turned back to look at Mark, "Now you be careful, okay? Remember to call me if the boys are staying over. There's enough food in the fridge and we three should be home around nine thirty at the latest. Don't stay out too late, there all sorts out in this weather and if you're planning on driving out-" 

"Mom..." Jisung whined. 

She waved distractedly. "If you're planning on driving outside the city-" 

"We'll be careful, mom. Don't worry." 

"Don't go into the woods, you never know-" 

"We won't mom. Seriously, don't worry. Go now, I think Jisung's about to explode." 

"Okay-" she let herself be pulled out of the drive by Jisung, "-we'll see you later, okay?" 

"Yep. Have fun!" He waved them off and only walked back into the house when they'd gone beyond his field of vision. 

 

Jeno was the first to show up. 

"We're going on a mini road trip not a camping trip," Mark, who had been sitting out on the doorstep, called out when Jeno came into view. Jeno laughed and swung the backpack off his shoulders and tossed it at Mark whilst he made a beeline for Mark's car. 

"You gotta be prepared," he said by way of an explanation when Mark joined him. 

Mark raised an eyebrow in a silent question and he elaborated, "Bear attacks for example." 

"Okay." 

Mark zipped open the backpack whilst Jeno stalked around the car, running his fingers along the roof with an appraising look on his face. 

"What the fuck."

Jeno turned and laughed when he saw that Mark had pulled a fancy midnight blue pocket knife out of the depths of his backpack. 

"Bear attacks," he repeated and Mark scoffed. 

"You do realise that this is illegal," he waved the knife at Jeno, who plucked it out of his fingers and pocketed it. "It's cool, man. Don't worry about it." 

Mark frowned. "I didn't even know you had switchbl-"

"It's a pocket knife."

"Fine. Pocket knife."

"Well I don't go around waving it around, since it is, as you said, actually illegal." 

"But why?"

"Dude, are you deaf? Bear attacks. Have you seen the statistics of bear attacks on humans for our state?"

"No?"

"So you shouldn't be talking."

"Are they high?"

"The bears?" Jeno asked, eyes twinkling.

"The statistics, you dolt."

"Why else would I be carrying a fucking pocket knife around with me?"

Mark sighed, "I don't see how a pocket knife would do a lot of damage to a literal fucking bear, but if it makes you feel better I guess you can keep it." 

Jeno scowled at him and huffed, "Thanks dad." 

He gave the car one last appreciative pat and then they both headed back to the porch where they plopped down on the sun-heated concrete of the doorstep. Jeno's legs, clad in tastefully tattered jeans and stylish hiking boots, stretched out next to Mark's dressed in considerably less tattered jeans and worn out tennis shoes. The sun still hung quite high in the sky and the periwinkle blue of the sky was only occasionally disrupted by a smattering of white, harmless looking clouds.

They sat in comfortable silence. Jeno had his face turned up at the sky and was quietly basking in the warm light whilst Mark sat next to him, clenching and unclenching his hands and vaguely wondering if he could watch the summer-freckles slowly appear on his hands. A few were already scattered on his knuckles and fingers. 

"What the fuck is up, nerds." 

Jeno broke out of his weird little cat nap with a sigh that was half laugh, half exasperated sniff. Mark stopped flexing his hands.

Jaemin struck a pose in front of them. He was looking classy in an Iron Man tanktop and a plaid shirt tied around his waist, Mark snorted at his antics whilst Jeno looked suitably love-struck. 

"Hey Jaemin," Mark said as he came hopping over only to immediately plonk himself down in Jeno's lap. 

"Nice car."

"Thanks."

"It's not a Mercedes," Jaemin pointed out helpfully. 

Mark stared at him. "Yes," he said slowly, "I know."

"Just sayin'" 

Jeno rolled his eyes and propped his chin on Jaemin's shoulder. "It's a good car." 

Jaemin only hummed in response which got him a kick in the shin from Mark. 

"Does she have a name?"

"It's a car, not a ship, Jaemin." 

That got him another judgemental hum and Mark kicked him again. 

Next to appear was Renjun. He came cycling down the street, a snapback firmly jammed on his head and a garish orange rucksack on his back. 

After unceremoniously dropping his bike in the drive next to the porch he sat down on the step beneath the one the others were sitting on. 

"Are you ever going to get a kickstand for that bike?" Jeno asked, casting an apologetic glance at the old-fashioned bike with it's rusted metal frame and red, chipping paint. 

"No," Renjun smiled and Jeno sighed sadly. 

"More importantly; why is everyone turning up with backpacks? I didn't include that in my instructions."

"Food, moron."

All four looked up. Donghyuck was standing in the drive, one hand propped on his hip and a black, distinctively Taeyong-ish backpack hanging from his left shoulder. 

"Well look who it is," Renjun crowed, scooching over a bit so that Donghyuck could sit down. 

His hair was obviously still slightly wet and judging by the clothes he was wearing he'd left in quite a hurry. 

"In no way is that your shirt," Jaemin said, pointing at the clearly oversized One Ok Rock T-shirt that definitely looked like a size XL. 

"It's Yuta's," Donghyuck said.

"Ah, that explains the-" Renjun gestured vaguely, "-Japanese-y-ness." 

Donghyuck squinted at him.  

"Why the fuck do you have Yuta's shirt?" Jeno asked. 

"He showers a lot." 

"At your place?" 

"Yes." 

"Why?" They all chorused.

"Good fucking question, that you should ask him when you next see him." 

"We will," Jaemin said, nodding seriously and Donghyuck patted him on the shoulder, "Okay buddy." 

"Well since you all are taking stuff with you I will too," Mark said, getting to his feet.

"Afraid of feeling left out?" Jeno laughed at his retreating back and Mark turned to shout, "Oh yeah, because everyone desperately wants to be part of the Backpack-Moron Squad." 

"We can't insult him he's got the money." Mark heard one of them whisper and he cackled all the way up to his room. 

 

"So what's the game plan?" Jeno asked once they'd all piled into the car and Mark was navigating them out of his neighborhood. Donghyuck had gotten the passenger seat purely because of his self-proclaimed privilege that came from dating the driver. Renjun, being the smallest out of the remaining three, was unwillingly stuck between the touchiest couple (after Johnny and Ten) in the history of couples.

"Y'know the weird nature preserve-slash-park-thingy outside of West District?" 

"We're going picnicking in a glorified park?" Jaemin muttered.

"Well yeah- that is where you normally go to have a picnic." 

Mark yanked the steering wheel to the right and everyone in the car lurched with it. Donghyuck was clinging to the edges of his seat with grim determination and Jaemin swore loudly as his head thumped against his window. 

"How the actual fuck did you pass your driver's test?" Donghyuck gritted out once they were back on a relatively straight, uneventful street. 

"With surprising ease actually." 

"Donghyuck, would you say Mark's driving skills are up there with Taeil's?" Renjun asked, leaning forward with a conspiratorial grin on his face.

Without a second's hesitation, Donghyuck nodded, "Oh yeah." He shot Mark a pointed squint, his vice-like grip on the edges of his seat hadn't loosened. "Definitely," he added for good measure and Mark let out a wounded sigh.

A red glowing traffic light seemingly appeared out of nowhere and Mark hit the breaks with such force everyone in the car tipped forward for a second and Jeno yelped as his seatbelt yanked him back against his seat. 

"Now you're just being an asshole," Donghyuck grumbled and Mark twisted in his seat to grin at him. "You really thought you could just insult me in my own car without consequences?" 

"Yes?" 

Mark floundered for a second and Donghyuck's eyebrows went up behind his tousled fringe, a half-taunting smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. 

Then the light changed and they shot off, a short burst of laughter coming out of Mark's mouth as the other four swore at him in unison.

"Look forward to the roundabouts, fuckers," he crowed.

 

A quick stop at McDonald's ended up with the Backseat Boys and Donghyuck having piles upon piles of food and drinks in their laps.  

Renjun made a sad little comment about the Snickers in his backpack which were by now probably squished into an unrecognizable mess and Jeno joined in and lamented about the crisps and clementines in his bag.

But the tantalizing smell of McDonalds' finest chips and burgers had their comments die down pretty soon.

"This is gonna be the classiest picnic I've ever attended," Jaemin chirped happily, cradling his brown paper bag like it was a particularly soft kitten. 

"Wow, we're setting the bar very high for literally every other picnic we'll ever have," Renjun deadpanned and Jaemin thwacked him across the back of the head. 

Shortly after Mark had navigated them out of the confusing mess of fast food Drive-Thrus and retail parks the scenery around them started to change. They were leaving the sprawling mess of the city behind and entering the weird semi-suburban zone that was the West District.

Now, the West District wasn't one of the richest districts so even the well-off streets they drove down looked a little run down. The roads weren't the best and Donghyuck swore loudly every time the car sped over a pothole. 

But it had a certain charm to it that none of the other districts possessed. It had hints of the Central District cleanliness, but otherwise the whole aura and look of the place stood apart from the other, apartment block and office building dominated districts. Even the parts closest to the cross between Central to West were almost devoid of any concrete and glass atrocities. 

Instead of apartment blocks the West District was dominated by actual grey brick houses. Single houses, with bay windows, high pointy roofs and post stamp sized front yards. One some streets the houses all looked identical, safe from the different curtains, cars and yards. And in other streets the houses obviously had been built, not by the City Council, but by different contractors with varying ideas of how people liked to live. 

Squat red brick houses sat next to tall, weirdly cartoon-ish looking mock Victorian buildings. Some had balconies and porches that looked like they'd come straight out of New Orleans. Jeno pointed out the buildings that obviously were student residencies and they craned their necks to peer through the bay windows (often without any curtains) into the living rooms which were often messy, coffee tables stacked with old take away, mugs and books. It was weird looking into these student's lives knowing full well that maybe in a year or two that could be them, lounging in a draughty mock Victorians together, eating take away and worrying about a paper they had yet to finish. 

Mark, who had been speeding up until then slowed considerably and the conversation in the car died down as they all sat, eyes glued to the oddly charming streets cast in the already fading, orange light of the June sun. 

Clouds were getting more frequent now, racing each other across the sky before building up into a distant looming mass along the horizon. But the sun still had the upper hand and soon all of the windows in the car were rolled down as they slowly moved through the streets, gaping at a place that seemed incredibly different to what they'd all seen so far. 

Which was weird since most of them had been in the West District before, it wasn't that far away and it had the easiest route to go outside of the city without getting bogged down in the mess of motorways that was the Eastern District. 

Yet they all sat there, mouths hanging slightly open as their eyes feasted on the odd sort of tranquility that seemed to permeate this place.  Colourful, well-used bicycles parked outside student houses, washing hanging out to dry in the relentless summer sun and young sunburned kids playing around in their gardens in small plastic paddling pools. 

It wasn't perfect, the slight shabbiness of the place was unmistakable. The West District was the Students, Artists & Young Families District and was generally left to it's own devices since it had no real economic value outside of the two universities. The endless, ambitious housing and development projects of the City Council never made it in the West District, leaving it blissfully real and untouched.

It was the millennial dream.

Probably.

Or maybe it was just the dream of the five boys in the car. 

 

The houses started thinning out and the yards and houses grew exponentially in size. Orchards started springing up around them and the roads got wider and emptier the further they got. The wind whipped through the open car windows and all five of them screamed as Mark stepped on the gas and the wind knocked Renjun's cap off his head. 

They raced down the long, seemingly endless stretch of road. Hair tousled and wild, unrestrained laughter bursting from their lungs whilst the radio blasted something loud and indistinguishable. Blossoming fruit trees became orange, pink and white blurs as they zipped by.

Donghyuck stretched out of his window as they hurtled down a slope and whooped, cheeks flushed and a smile on his face that made the sun pale in comparison. Mark had never seen anyone look more at home in the shimmering sunlight than Donghyuck looked right at that moment.

"EYES ON THE ROAD!" Jaemin shouted and they swerved violently as Mark regained his senses. Donghyuck pulled his upper body back into the car and flopped down in his seat, his breathless laughter bubbling up and filling the car like sparkling orange soda. It was contagious and soon they were all whooping and laughing, Jeno and Jaemin hanging out of their respective windows in unbridled glee and Renjun taking the sunroof for himself, arms stretched over his head like he was trying to touch the endless blue above him. 

Ten minutes later they turned off the pathed road onto a dirt track and everyone slowly reeled themselves back into the car, voices substantially more hoarse and smiles a lot brighter than before.

"Good thing there aren't any cops out here because that shit would've gotten your license suspended real quick," Jeno laughed. 

"We'll be more careful on the way back." 

"You sure?" Jeno sounded amused and not a bit convinced by Mark's lame reassurance.

"Well, I'll try anyway." 

"Reassuring," Jaemin scoffed and kicked the back of Mark's seat. 

They drove until the dirt track faded into shrubs, rocks and overgrown grass and wildflowers. Trees were already scattered here and there. A big swaying oak tree was the most obvious and beyond it Mark could see the white trunks of birches and what he guessed were big maple trees. And beyond that, there was the faint darkened outline of where the tree line to the Western edge of the forest began. 

After moving the car back a bit so that it was half on the dirt path- half not, they all got out. Backpacks were shouldered and McDonald's paper bags distributed, the food had gone cold, but they were teenage boys and cold chips and burgers were still chips and burgers. In other words, they were not deterred. 

"You don't think the car might get stolen?" Renjun asked, peeking over Mark's shoulder as he pulled his own backpack and a makeshift picnic blanket out of the boot. 

Donghyuck snorted behind them and Mark waved in his direction. "There's your answer." 

"No, seriously." 

Mark straightened up and handed Renjun the blanket. "Look this is an old Honda Civic. If someone's gonna steal a car you'd think they'd go for something a little less-" he paused, searching for the right word.

"Shit?" Jaemin offered helpfully and got a high-five from Donghyuck.

"I guess." Mark slammed the boot shut and adjusted the straps of his backpack. "We'll stay in the area of the car though, okay? We always have to be able to see it."

"Sounds good," Jaemin and Jeno said in unison. 

They looked around, a slight breeze tugged at their clothes and hair and Renjun pointed at the not-so-distant oak tree. "Either we go there or we stay here." 

"Oh I want to stay here," Jaemin said and then after the others shot him questioning glances he explained, "I want to get a tan." 

"I don't really care where we go, but I think I'd prefer it near the car. I already know that treeline is gonna freak me the fuck out when it get's dark," Donghyuck said. 

"Yeah, I second that." Renjun nodded. "Y'know just in case a murderous psychopath comes out of the woods."

"Why would you say that?" Donghyuck whispered and Renjun grimaced apologetically. 

"Don't worry Jeno has a switchblade," Mark grinned, stomping past them to find a good place to spread the blanket. Their decision had been wise. The grass was flatter and more manageable near the track. 

"Dude..." Jeno whined. 

"Why?" Jaemin and Donghyuck chorused. Renjun just looked bemused.

"Bear attacks," Mark answered before Jeno could even open his mouth and Jeno groaned as Donghyuck stifled a laugh and Jaemin sighed. 

After a bit more teasing they finally all settled down on the blanket. The food (including Renjun's mutilated Snickers and Jeno's crisps and clementines) was piled up in the middle of their little circle.

McDonald's was distributed first and their chatter died down as they all tucked in. 

It was a peaceful scene. Five boys crowded together on a picnic blanket with greasy fingers and the sun in their eyes. Knobbly knees poking out of ripped jeans and shorts knocking against each other as one boy leaned forward to grab himself a handful of chips. The smell of wildflowers and earth was disturbed by a new smell of coca cola which Jaemin spilled over his shoes whilst completing a complicated gymnastic move to get a box of chicken nuggets out of Donghyuck's stubborn grasp. 

Flies occasionally buzzed around them, but Jeno was good at chasing them off and Donghyuck was efficient in killing them. 

The sun slowly sank lower and the blue in the sky took on an odd mixture of pink and blue. The air further away shimmered with the warmth of the day rising up and sweat prickled on Mark's skin. He noted, with an odd mixture of annoyance and pride, that more freckles were starting to spread across the backs of his hands. He held them out for Donghyuck to see and he pointed out the faint hint of freckles spattered across the bridge of his nose and how it looked "stupidly cute".

 

Food successfully demolished Mark fell onto his back, yawning and stretching his arms out until his muscles buzzed and he let them fall onto his chest. Jeno had Jaemin sprawled in his lap and Renjun was lying face down on his patch of blanket quietly humming to himself. Donghyuck sat next to Mark, legs outstretched and his face turned up to the sky.

"This is so fuckin' weird," Jaemin mumbled at no one in particular. Jeno's hand which had been steadily combing through his hair paused. "What is?" He asked and Mark propped himself up on his elbows to squint at the two.

Jaemin cracked open one eye to stare up at the sky, a slow, lazy smile spreading across his face. "This is. I don't know."

"Amazing," was Renjun's muffled comment and Jaemin scoffed and kicked him.

"Nah, I mean that we're all here, y'know?" He said after a minute or two.

"Where else would we be?" Mark yawned.

Jaemin turned onto his side, "Fuck do I know. I'm just sayin' that it's weird that we all managed to exist at the same time and that we all somehow ended up together. Like- what were the chances? Of us all meeting and becoming friends, like, I don't know...it's crazy."

Donghyuck laughed quietly, "Food's messed with your brain." 

Jaemin shifted into a more comfortable position and fixed his squinted gaze on Donghyuck, who returned it with a quizzical eyebrow raise. "Nah man, it's like with you in particular. The fuckin' chances of you picking Mark out of all people to scare shitless and ask for food were, like, 1 to 50. And now were here-" he gestured vaguely at the scenery around them, "-and you're fuckin' dating him now. Like, what the fuck."

Renjun chose this moment to roll onto his back. "He has a point you know," he grinned at Donghyuck. "If anyone had told Mark beginning of last year that he was going to have a boyfriend by summer next, he would've spluttered indignantly and done that weird little giggle thing."

Mark spluttered indignantly, but Renjun wasn't done yet. "And if anyone would've told Jeno and Jaemin that a complete stranger would kick their asses into gear and make them finally come to terms with their romantic feelings for one another they would've exploded." 

"Okay hold on!" Jaemin complained, sitting up but Renjun waved him off with a laugh. 

Donghyuck was smiling quietly down at his hands which were twisting together stems of tallgrass in his lap. 

"I honestly can't imagine right now without you being part of it," Jeno said, a soft smile directed at Donghyuck who looked up in surprise at the tone of his voice. Jeno and Donghyuck floated in the 'tough love' area of friendship so the genuine sentiment and feeling in Jeno's words and expression naturally caught Donghyuck a little off guard. 

"Thanks. I'm glad- I'm happy, I did that one stupid thing. It was worth it, all the shit and the stuff that came before now- it was worth it." 

There was a moment of silence. The sun was definitely disappearing now, partly because of the clouds and also because it was getting late. The purple in the sky was now dominating the blue and they all instinctively huddled a little closer together. 

"I honestly can't imagine anything beyond right now without you," Mark said quietly.

The sky rumbled it's agreement somewhere in the mass of purple-grey clouds. 

"Oh," Donghyuck whispered softly. 

Mark, who had sat up by now, gently brushed his knuckles against Donghyuck's leg. 

"What the fuck even is a time beyond now," Jeno sighed. 

Donghyuk caught Mark's hand in his own, lacing their fingers together before turning his attention back to the conversation. The sky darkened and Mark cast a nervous glance up at the sky. 

"It's called the future, moron," Jaemin mumbled. 

Another pause. The wind picked up and the empty McDonalds stuff on the blanket shivered. 

"The future fuckin' creeps me out," Mark said. 

"Yeah," Renjun breathed. "Me too." 

"What the hell are we even gonna do after school?" Jeno asked. His question seemingly directed at the clouds that were beginning to close in on them. 

"Fuck knows. College probably," Mark muttered. 

Jaemin shifted closer to Jeno. "I don't even know if I'm made for the college life." 

"I don't think anyone is. College life is hell." 

"I want to do something with music," Donghyuck said softly. 

"Same," Jeno and Mark answered. 

"I want to dance. Anything with dancing," Jaemin added a little wistfully.

Jeno pulled him closer. "I bet there are college courses for that." 

"Won't thrill my parents." 

"Fuck them," Renjun snapped, a little anger seeping through in his tone. Jaemin blinked owlishly at him. "I'm serious," he added after a second or so. "The world's an awful fucking place so you might as well study and do the thing you love. Hell, it might not be the most well-paying profession there is, but that's a decision that lies with you- should lie with you. Dance if you fucking want to, God, even the Pope knows you're good at it." 

No one had really been expecting such a spirited speech from Renjun, but after his words and been swept up by the wind and whisked away into the fields it felt like it out of any one of them it had to have been Renjun to give such a fiery response. 

"Fuck," Donghyuck laughed, running the hand that wasn't entwined with Mark's over his face, "what would we do without you Renjun?"

"You'd be fucked that's what." 

A bit of the existential tension bled out of the air as they laughed quietly. 

"Fact is; we're all going to college after this. Jaemin's gonna dance until he ends up on Broadway or something, I might as well follow him because why the fuck not. Mark's gonna study music and write lyrics that could make anyone's grandmother cry and Donghyuck's probably gonna produce-"

"Sing," Mark interrupted quickly.

"-alright, sing those lyrics and win a fuckin' grammy. Renjun's gonna just do everything because that's what he's good at. He's gonna outdo us all you mark my words. And then we'll have a reunion dinner at Donghyuck's mansion in New England and we'll drink champagne and eat Chinese takeaway." Jeno took a deep breath. "Look, easy. I got our lives all planned out." 

"Sounds simple enough," Renjun smiled. 

"We gotta stick together though, or that reunion dinner won't pan out," Donghyuck added. 

"And if push comes to shove we'll form a band and become filthy rich," Jaemin said, an unmistakable twinkle in his eyes. 

Mark tipped his head back and laughed, "Honestly we might just do that anyway." 

"We'll get Yuta, Taeil and Doyoung drunk and make them come up with a band name," Renjun giggled and Donghyuck choked on air. 

Thunder rumbled and Mark thought he could feel the ground tremble beneath him. Donghyuck's grip on his hand tightened momentarily and Mark shot him a quick glance. 

"Time to pack up I think," he called as the first fat drops of almost refreshingly cold rain started falling from the sky. 

Renjun yelped and swore as one drop hit him in the eye and they all scrambled to their feet. The wind was practically howling now, the not-so-distant oak tree swaying grandly as the gust of wind carried dust and a promise of a rainy night across the open field.

"NO LITTERING," Jaemin shouted over a particularly loud clap of thunder.

They did as they were told and hurriedly picked up the paper bags and little cardboard boxes before bolting for the car. Rain was coming down quick and fast now and the wind carried it so that it was falling almost sideways, pricking painfully at their exposed skin as they made a mad dash for the safety of the car. 

But instead of it being terrifying (as it should be, it's no joke being out on an open field during a thunderstorm) it was exhilarating. The cold, icy pinpricks of the rain, the lightning cutting through the dark sky and the low, rumbling thunder that sounded more joyful than anything else. 

The air was filled with electricity and their shrieks and yelps of laughter as they skidded and ran through the tall grass, mud splattering up to their knees and rain soaking their hair and clothes. 

They dived into the car, out of breath with muddy shoes and clothes and hair plastered to their bodies like a gross, mud-splattered second skin. The rain thundered onto the roof and clattered against the windows, the raindrops racing each other down the panes.

"That was insanely stupid," Mark laughed, letting his head thump back against his headrest. There was mud on his hands and arms, in fact, they all looked like they'd practically rolled in it. Breathless, stupid smiles were still plastered on their faces as their chests heaved and the rain kept up its relentless beat all around them. 

Mark revved the engine to life and then turned the heating on. Goosebumps were starting to appear on his arms and the exposed skin of his knees and thighs. Donghyuck was shivering with a smile on his face and Jeno was humming It's Raining Men under his breath. 

"Yeah it was," Donghyuck grinned, pressing his cheek against the cool glass of his window.

The rain and the hum of the engine filled the silence that formed. But the silence was full to the brim with unsaid promises, vows and stupid to-be-made dares and bets. It was filled with the things to come, the things they'd do together and the things they'd do alone but keep in their hearts to tell later on.

It was filled with a silent pinky-promise. A wordless cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. A promise and a vow that needed no words to be written and signed. It was a shared look, a shared afternoon under the same sunburned sky and it was all it took. 

"We'll stick together, right?" Renjun asked, voicing the until now unsaid. 

"I don't think the universe would have it any other way." 

 

 

Chapter Text

The sky that stretched above the school football pitch was a deep azure blue, not a cloud in sight and not a breeze on the still, hot air. A plane slowly cut through, marring the blue with a trail of white. The noise was distant, but loud enough for it to mix with the distant chatter of the other students and the street not far away. 

No piece of paper folded into a makeshift fan could get rid of the hot, humid air that hung around them like a heavy, suffocating blanket. Everyone moved sluggishly the treacle-like humidity weighing everyone down. 

Mark was lying on the grass, using his English textbook as a shield to block the sun's glaring rays. The grass had been nice and cool when he'd first sat down, but now he could feel the sweat trickling down the back of his neck and under his T-shirt. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, but it was either that or sitting up and having the sun in his face. 

Mr. Porter had, for some fucking reason, thought that English lessons a week before the school year finally ended were best taught outside and in group work. Mark had a theory that the summer heat was getting to him, because there is no alternative reality where that plan actually works. 

One of their group mates, Yeri, had abandoned them as soon as they'd stepped out of the classroom to join her friends, successfully dropping their group number down to three. But she wasn't the only one and either Mr. Porter hadn't noticed the slow collapse of his system or he didn't care. Probably the latter.

"Where the fuck even is Mr. Porter?" Jeno asked and Mark wondered if Jeno had secret clairvoyant-ish abilities that he hadn't told them about.

"Probably gone back to the classroom," Renjun answered. 

"I honestly wouldn't be surprised," Mark muttered and lifted the book off his face. 

"He's probably standing under the AC with some ice tea whilst we suffer," Renjun grumbled, scrunchling up his half-assed attempt to complete the assignment they'd been given. His notebook was open on a half finished sketch of a face. From Mark's perspective it was upside down so it was hard to tell who it was supposed to be, but before he could ask Renjun closed the notebook. 

Jeno lay between them, listlessly flapping a folded scrap of paper at his face. "He didn't even let us take water out with us," he murmured. 

"Yeah, that's because he's evil." 

Mark laughed, "The actual devil incarnate." 

"I hope he chokes on his ice tea," Renjun sniffed. 

"Not before we all die of dehydration and sunstroke," Mark added and sat up, squinting at the other two, who rolled their eyes. 

There was a pause and then Jeno sat up as well and lobbed his textbook away from him. It landed with a dull thud a few feet away from them.

"They're gonna kill you when we have to hand those in," Renjun grinned. "Grass stains are a death sentence."

"I couldn't give less of a fuck. I'm not analysing this fucking poem."  

"Same," Mark said and tossed his own textbook somewhere near Jeno's. A little further down the pitch a couple of boys from their class had found a football and were now kicking it around, shouting loudly because that apparently was an elemental part of the game. 

"Has anyone asked you to the graduation dance yet?" Renjun asked after a few comfortable, humid minutes of silence.

"Yeah..." Jeno sighed, scratching his chin. "But I said no," he added after both Mark and Renjun shot him identically quizzical looks. 

"Let them down gently, did you?" Mark asked and Jeno nodded, "Of course. And I didn't even lie, I just said that I wasn't sure if I was going at all this year and that really isn't far from the truth." 

"Wait, seriously?" Renjun sat up a little straighter. 

"I mean, last year was a disaster."  

Mark flinched inwardly at the memory. 

"It wasn't that-"

"Renjun," Mark interrupted, "Jaemin threw up in the parking lot, the punch was spiked with cheap vodka and fucking disgusting, there was hardly any food, they kept playing Chris Brown and someone thought it would be a good idea to have Mr. Byun and Park be monitors." 

"They weren't bad mon-" 

"A freshman walked in on them making out in a storage closet," Jeno supplied and all three of them cringed at the memory of the hullabaloo that had followed their discovery. It was a wonder they hadn't been fired. 

"Okay, yeah it wasn't very good, but that doesn't mean this year will be exactly the same." 

Jeno seemed to mull it over in his head before answering, "Nah, I still don't think I'll go."

"Yeah," Mark agreed, "I don't think I'm going either. The grad dances are never what they're hyped up to be also the music sucks and the dress code is unnecessary."

"Also, they won't make the same mistake of making Byun and Park monitors, so whatever was dope last year won't be this time around. I mean with them last year there was no problem with bringing someone of the same gender to the dance, but I don't think that'll slide as easy this year." 

"Who the hell is monitor this year?" Renjun asked, frowning.

"Mrs. Burlay and someone else but I can't remember." 

"Burlay?" Renjun gasped and Jeno nodded gravely. 

"Fuck. Fuck this." 

Mark sighed and said, "I honestly don't understand why they'd pick her out of all teachers to be monitor. She's blatantly homophobic and I bet all my money that the school board knows that a good percentage of the students here are queer."

"Yeah, I heard she's the main reason why a good bunch of the actual graduates aren't going," Jeno added, tearing out a fistful of grass and throwing it in the general direction of their discarded textbooks. 

"Johnny and Ten?" 

"Oh they're definitely not going," Jeno laughed. "I think they'd rather die than go to a dance where they can't actually dance together." 

"So we're not going?" Renjun queried.

"I'm not. Neither is Jaemin and Chenle and Jisung can't go."

Renjun looked at Mark. "I'm not going either. I was gonna take Donghyuck, but seeing as that won't be an option I won't go. I wouldn't want him to spend his first school dance being glared at by a homophobic hag."

"Makes sense." And then, "Yeah, I won't go either. Doesn't sound like it'll be a lot of fun."

"You thought last year was more fun?" Jeno asked, looking genuinely surprised.

Renjun pouted, "You gotta admit it was kinda funny."

"Jaemin threw up."

"Yeah but not before he shredded it on the dance floor." 

Jeno bit down a smile and Mark didn't even try and let out a burst of laughter. Jaemin in a black tuxedo, tie undone, hair flying and cheeks a vibrant red colour twirling around on the dance floor like he was born to do, was quite a scene. Judging by the grin on Renjun's face he probably had footage of it somewhere.  

"Y'know we could just as well throw a party in someone's backyard and it'd be better than the drivel the school comes up with. Better dress code, better food and drinks and better music," Mark wondered out loud.

There was a longish pause. 

"Dude...-" Jeno said after a while. 

They looked at each other, three identical, plotting grins spreading across their faces. 

"You're a genius, Mark Lee." 

"I keep saying-" 

"It's a one time thing though. Don't get too ahead of yourself," Renjun hastened to clarify and Jeno let out an unattractive squawk of laughter. 

 

"Holy shit, Burlay and Nash?" Jeno exclaimed. 

All three of them were crowded around the school notice board, peering at the colourful poster advertising the Graduation Dance. All high school students aged 16 and up were invited. One date per person was allowed and Middle school students of the age of 15 were permitted as dates. No one younger. The theme to everyone's puzzlement and dismay was Casino

"Oh, we are definitely not going," Renjun stated, throwing one last disgusted glance at the poster before yanking Mark and Jeno out of the crowd and down the hall.

"Good thing that the actual graduation ceremony and the dance are separate things or half the senior year wouldn't have their certificates," Jeno laughed. 

"Do you think Johnny and Co. already know?" Mark asked, narrowly avoiding elbowing a harassed looking 12 year old in the face. 

"Probably," Renjun said, he was still dragging Jeno and Mark along. "You know Ten, he's never out of the loop."

"Do you think they'll throw a party?" Jeno panted as they clattered down a long set of stairs.

"We're seeing them later aren't we? Ask them then." Jeno pouted slightly at Renjun's clipped response.  

They shared a look behind Renjun's back and then Mark said, "Everything okay, Renjun?" 

"Just annoyed, it's okay." They'd slowed down a little and Renjun dragged them both along until they fell into step on either side of him. 

"I hope Johnny throws a party. He's good at that sort of thing."

"Honestly same," both Jeno and Renjun said in unison. 

The courtyard outside the main school building was deserted aside from a few stacks of plastic chairs piled up under a nearby tree. Prep for the graduation ceremony that was to take place tomorrow afternoon. Mark's heart did an odd little twinge and he tore his gaze away, swallowing the nagging realisation that Johnny, Ten, Sicheng and Kun would be seated on those chairs not even a day from now. 

"C'mon we'll be late," Jeno said, tugging Mark along. Renjun was already halfway to the science building.

"For what?" Mark whined, "A film about amphibian reproduction?" 

Jeno rolled his eyes and quickened his pace. 

The sky was as blue as ever and Mark turned and looked. Letting the sunlit courtyard with it's cracked concrete, old wooden benches, trees and yellow main building burn it's way into his memory.

Mark looked away and followed his friends into the air-conditioned science building.

 

There is a certain charm to convenience store food in the syrupy summer heat that can't be replicated by anything else in the world. The smell of salted pretzels, watermelon ice cream and damp sand was, in it's own way, better than the stuffy elegance of a 4 star restaurant. Especially since none of them, seven sticky, sunburned boys in clothes that were as far away from formal attire as you could imagine, wouldn't exactly fit in. Or be allowed in for that matter.

The ice cream, cold sodas and the fact that they'd managed to find a picnic table under the shade of a big maple tree helped with the heat, but didn't completely erase it. Ten was daydreaming out loud about the Central City pool, not that they'd actually go there on a hot day like this since it would be filled to the brim with toddlers, middle school students and old men who didn't know about the concept of public decency. 

Mark was happily biting into his second watermelon popsicle, which earned him a horrified look from Jaemin who was nibbling on a chocolate doughnut. 

Kun, who was sitting between Johnny and Ten had apparently robbed an arts and crafts store on his way here because there was an entire display spread out in front of him. He also had his graduation cap with him and was carefully sticking cut out letters to it. Jeno was helping him cut out some of the letters and Renjun was colouring them in. 

"How does your mom feel about the quote on your cap?" Johnny asked, peering down at Kun's handiwork with a critical eye. 

"She hasn't seen it yet." 

There was a moment of silence as they watched him carefully stick a pink S to the cap making the word 'was'

"That was?" Mark read out loud. 

"Yeah." 

"That's your quote?" Jaemin asked and Kun rolled his eyes so hard Mark thought for a second they might get stuck like that. "Obviously it's not done yet." 

"What's it gonna say?" Johnny said, popping a raspberry into his mouth. 

"That's a surprise," Kun muttered, but there was mirth in his eyes and in the twitch in the corner of his mouth. 

"Okay so, different topic," Renjun declared and waved his pink marker in the air to get everyone's attention. "The school graduation dance." 

"We're not going," Ten said and Renjun waved him off with a sigh, "I know, I know. We-" he gestured at Jeno, Jaemin and Mark, "-aren't going either."

"Smart move. Burlay's gonna be monitor," Kun muttered, sounding as pleased as everyone felt about it.

"And Nash," Mark grumbled and Ten let out a shocked gasp, "They really don't want us to have fun this year, do they?" 

"So the question is: are you gonna throw a party?" Renjun said, pointing his marker at Johnny who blinked in surprise. "Wha-"

"Are you?" 

"I- I don't-" Johnny stammered and cast a surprised glance at Ten, who rolled his eyes and gestured for him to get on with it, "-I guess? I don't know, I mean- who would I invite? Most of the other graduates are going to separate parties." 

The younger four scoffed loudly and Jaemin actually put down his sandwich to point a threatening finger at Johnny. 

"You could invite us?" They all chorused. 

Johnny coughed, "Obviously! But it'll be a bit of an empty party with just the 11 of us." 

"Are all the grads gonna be somewhere else?" Jeno asked as he handed Renjun a freshly cut out O

"Well, all the ones we're friends with are." 

"Invite the apartment block gang then." 

Johnny opened and closed his mouth a couple of times before cocking his head and giving Mark and inquisitive stare. "That's actually a good idea."

Ten nudged him with an exasperated look on his face. "And you couldn't think of that by yourself? You're like best buds with Jaehyun and Taeil." 

"I- I forgot?"

"You're a moron." Ten punched him in the shoulder and Johnny played off his wince as a shrug, "I sorta deserved that." 

"So party or no?" Renjun asked, dragging them all back to the point.

"Yeah sure." 

"We can throw it at my place, my parents are going out of town in three days," Ten offered and there were hums of agreement from everyone. Ten's house and garden were huge, they even had another, smaller house in the garden which they'd used for sleepovers up until a few years ago. 

"I'll organise all the-" Johnny wriggled his fingers, "-stuff and you all will just have to show up." 

"Will there be alcohol?" Jaemin asked, leaning forward slightly.

"Are Chenle and Jisung going to be there?" 

Jaemin glanced at Renjun and Mark, who both shook their heads and then turned back to look at Johnny, "No." 

"Good. But remember Taeyong and Doyoung are gonna be there so you'll have to drink responsibly." He eyed Jaemin, who put on an expression of mock offense. "Don't look at me. Remember new years? I don't think it's us you have to tell to drink responsibly." 

Both Ten and Johnny flushed and the younger four cackled triumphantly. 

"Is there going to be theme?" 

"Just go crazy, I don't care." 

Kun smothered a burst of laughter with a cough, "Oh God, it's gonna be a disaster." 

Renjun, Jaemin and Jeno shared a look of pure, undiluted mischief and Mark put his face in his hands because he could already hear Donghyuck's mad cackle of glee that would, without a shred of doubt, come from him the moment Mark told him about it. 

 

Mark woke up that night with a familiar shadowy figure hopping around his room on one leg, trying and failing to remove a shoe. He blinked blearily and waved to get the shadow's attention. 

"Food?" He mumbled, propping himself up on his elbows. 

The shadow- Donghyuck, shook his head and went back to trying to take off his shoe. Mark sighed gratefully and let his head hit the pillow again. The night was warm and even the usually cool, blue-ish moonlight had a distinctive heavy stickiness to it. It trickled through the cracks in the curtain, the silvery slivers of moonlight laying patterns on the floor. Now and again Donghyuck hopped through a pattern and the light would cast him in sharp relief, taking the normally sunny glow from his skin and replacing it with something milkier- it made him look like a protagonist from 1950's spy movie, black and white with sharp unforgiving shadows and a troubled past.

But then he'd move again and the sharp contrasts would fade back to the soft, dozy 2 AM semi-darkness. A lighting that fitted his tousled hair, ill-fitting clothes and slight frame better than the lighting of a tortured anti-hero. 

A couple of minutes later he climbed into bed next to Mark, complete with a frayed Harvard T-shirt, shorts and a tired grin that made Mark's insides go all funny. Without much preamble he turned, rolling onto his side and tugged at the front of Mark's shirt so that he too rolled over with a playful groan. Now, facing each other Donghyuk tapped his forefinger on Mark's cheek, a tap that soon turned into incessant poking til he actually opened his eyes to squint at the boy only inches away from his own face. 

"What?" He rasped. Donghyuk stopped prodding at his face and his hand just kind of rested there, on his cheek, until Mark reached up to pull it away and lace their fingers together in the little space there was between them. 

"Ten told me that there was something you wanted to ask me," Donghyuck murmured.

Mark blinked slowly. "Uh, I don't- I don't what..."

Huffing a breath that almost turned into a little laugh Donghyuck squeezed his hand. "It's okay. Maybe you'll remember in the morning."

"I guess." 

Silence fell around them, but now that Donghyuck had prodded him awake both physically and mentally the idea of sleep was a far-fetched dream until he'd remembered whatever question he was supposed to ask. 

Mark closed his eyes and racked his still very much asleep brain for anything that could hint at a question. It hit him like figurative truck and he actually flinched out of the weird sleepy, half conscious state he'd been in. 

Donghyuck opened one eye when he tugged at their linked hands. "Yeah?"

"I remembered."

"Good job. Amazing, 'm fuckin' proud of you."

"The school dance."  

That got Donghyuck's attention, his eyes snapped open again, bright and inquisitive and Mark's insides did an Irish jig in response. "What?" He whispered, leaning even closer if that was even possible. It took Mark every ounce of determination not to close the distance between them and kiss him until the moon bid it's goodbyes. 

"The- the school dance is, uh, coming up soon. This Saturday to be exact and...uh-" Mark stuttered to a halt. His brain and heart were playing a determined tug of war, which made talking with Donghyuck so, so close sort of difficult. Very difficult actually. There was moonlight in his hair and on his skin and his eyes were practically shining, staring at Mark with so much- there was just so much of him. Bright and warm and close, all his attention focused on Mark and his throat closed up. His heart won the tug of war and instead of finishing his sentence he closed the space between them and kissed him, untangling his hand from Donghyuck's to curl it around the curve of his jaw. 

Donghyuck, being not stupid and also ridiculously good at reading Mark was prepared, in fact more prepared than Mark which was odd since he had initiated the kiss. They kept it light, or as light as two, drowsy teenage boys sharing a bed could at least. 

At some point Donghyuck pinched Mark in the side and they parted, both looking a little dazed and not even the pale, milky light of the moon could completely get rid of the matching pink tint they both had on their cheeks. 

"The school dance," he said, echoing Mark's statement as a question. 

"Yeah."

Donghyuck pinched him again. "You're gonna have to be a bit clearer than that. I can't read your mind."

"The school dance," Mark said for the second time and, before Donghyuck could pinch him again, added, "Do you want to go with me? As a date. Do you want to- would you like to be my date for the dance?"

Donghyuck pinched him again and Mark swore and kicked him in the shin, some of the teenage-summer-romance vibes draining out of the air between them. 

"Is that a yes?" Mark asked, catching Donghyuck's hand with his own to stop him from pinching him for a fourth time.

"Of course, you complete and utter moron." He leaned forward and placed a quick, barely there kiss on Mark's mouth.

Mark couldn't help but let out a sigh of relief.

"You thought I'd say no?" Donghyuck was too good at reading Mark's face. Even in the dark.

"I think a lot." 

"Doesn't show." 

Mark kicked him again and Donghyuck's impish grin turned serious in a matter of seconds. "Seriously though," he said, prodding the joint of Mark's thumb and coaxing a tired sigh from him. "You thought I'd say no?"

"I had enough time to overthink it, so yeah, I thought you'd say no." The confession came out in a rush, his shoulders folding inwards as the oxygen left his lungs. 

"Idiot" Donghyuck muttered with a sleepy smile and Mark allowed himself to breathe again. 

"I know." 

"Sleep." 

"Okay." 

Donghyuck sighed, eyes closed and the curl of his mouth relaxed and content. With some shuffling and rearranging he managed to worm his way back into Mark's arms where he stayed, face buried in the soft, worn fabric of Mark's T-Shirt. 

Mark waited a second or two before saying, "Good night." 

"Sleep god-fucking-dammit." 

 

/

 

A day later they were standing, Donghyuck slouched against Mark's side, outside a quaint, slightly run down secondhand shop. The shop windows were big and old-fashioned, the glass between the wooden slats warped with time and old age, giving the assortment of fine china, jewellery and questionable clothing items behind the glass a distinctively distorted look. Clouds of blue, shimmering cloth enveloped the various items on display, pearls and delicate silver and gold chains with colourful pendants hung from the ceiling.

The name of the shop was scrawled in big, gold cursive writing on a plaque above the door. 

Louisa Boutique.

The dark green paint on both the door and the plaque was peeling and flaky and the three steps up to the door were worn down, countless other shoes and boots having dulled the edges. 

The door was being propped open by a spindly metal garden chair and Mark could hear the soft whirring of one or two fans coming from the dimly lit shop. 

"Classy," Donghyuck commented and Mark rolled his eyes. "You rather I take you to the Dior shop downtown?" 

Donghyuck flipped him off and went to press his face against the glass of the shop window. "This place looks like something from a carnival."

"Fortune teller?" 

"Yeah," Donghyuck turned to look at him. "They better have something extravagant."

"I was more aiming for decent, but okay."

"Decent shmecent, we're going all out." 

Mark couldn't help but cock his head in response. "Is that a challenge?" He said, folding his arms across his chest. 

"You don't know what you're signing up for." 

"Oh yeah?" Mark challenged. "I bet I can find an uglier outfit than you."

"I live with Taeil, do you really think this is even a challenge for me?" Donghyuck retorted.

"I don't make it through a week without having you criticise my dress sense, so uh, I think we both know who the real winner's gonna be." 

Donghyuck seemed to consider what Mark had just said. "Good point. You're wearing mismatched socks." 

Mark glanced down. "It's a fashion statement."

"You look like a seven year old." 

In the end Mark didn't bother to argue. 

 

The shop was dark, but there was still enough light for them to see the racks upon racks of clothes that were crowded together on the limited floor space. The light brown, almost yellow linoleum floor creaked and groaned under their feet. Two portable fans stood on shelves and their quiet whirring was joined by the gentle hum of a radio somewhere deeper in the shop. 

Mark turned on the spot and took in the small wooden staircase that lead up to a second floor, the tapestries and the pulp fiction book covers that were probably there to hide the ghastly Victorian wallpaper. He almost expected this place to be lit by candles and flickering gas lamps, but the lighting (at least 4 bedside table lamps with colourful lampshades, a couple of floor lamps and one lava lamp) was thankfully quite modern. 

"Dude..." Donghyuck said under his breath, nudging Mark with a bony elbow. 

"Yeah I kn- JESUS FUCK-" 

Donghyuck grinned at him, or at least Mark assumed he was since his face was hidden behind a really fucking weird pink goat mask. Semi-realistic and absolutely terrifying when it's only a couple of inches away from your own face.

Muffled laughter sounded from behind the flimsy rubber of the mask and Mark yanked it off with an exasperated huff. 

"We should visit one of those weird haunted-corn-field-thingies in autumn. I bet that'd be fun," he cackled, snatching the mask out of Mark's hand. 

"Ah fuck off." 

Donghyuck smiled and hummed, "Cute." After he put the mask back where he found it he turned to Mark and said, "So...is the bet on or what?"

"What are we betting for?"

"Whoever finds the ugliest outfit for the other wins. The loser has to pay for both outfits." 

Mark gave Donghyuck a challenging squint which the other boy returned with just as much vigour. 

"Deal?" Mark said sticking his hand out for Donghyuck to shake.

"Deal," Donghyuck echoed solemnly. 

Mark immediately went for the rack of what looked like capes, but were probably just really weirdly shaped shirts. Most of them were some kind of version of a Hawaiian shirt and with a triumphant laugh Mark pulled out a garish, bright pink Hawaiian shirt and then a second later a white suit jacket which was at least 3 sizes too big for Donghyuck.

"How's this for a combo?" He said holding the two out for Donghyuck to see. 

"I can do worse," was the apathetic reply and Mark rolled his eyes. 

And oh, it was on now. Mark was not about to be outdone in bad fashion contest. No fucking way. 

It was mess. 

Donghyuck found at least 17 different horrible outfits, at least half of them including a weird mesh-lace-see-through shirts that made Mark want to run face first through the shop window. 

At one point he found a combination of a white lacy(?) shirt, cape and white trousers that looked like pantaloons. 

"Now this is a gem," he said holding the three items up together. 

"There is no way in hell that is getting anywhere near my body." 

Donghyuck lunged at him, white pantaloons outstretched and Mark screeched and ducked out of the way. 

Mark tried to put him into various garish floral concoctions more than once. He found a periwinkle blue suit with a floral pattern that looked like a grandma's curtain set had thrown up on it and Donghyuck had physically gagged when Mark held it up proudly. 

Floppy, pinstriped bell bottom trousers, wide rimmed red hats, horrendously patterned shirts and pullovers; this shop had it all. 

"Oh, this is actually quite c- never mind." Was a common phrase by the time the half hour mark rolled by.

"How long have you kids been here?" A voice croaked from behind the counter.

To say the two boys leaped out of their skins would be an understatement. An old lady stood behind the counter, withered and wiry like an ancient tree in autumn. Brown, bark like skin and otherwise completely decked out in shades of red, orange and yellow. She looked like she'd been painted by an artist with a particular colour scheme in mind.

"Uh-" Mark stuttered, "About an...half- half an hour?" He glanced at Donghyuck for confirmation, who nodded and put on his best 'charming old ladies' smile.

"You just browsing or actually plannin' on buying anything?" The way she said browsing made it sound like the devil himself came in here every day only to waste her time. She hobbled out from behind the counter and gave them both an appraising look.

"We're looking for outfits for the school dance," Donghyuck explained.

"I see." Another appraising look. "Any particular theme?" 

They glanced at each other. "Our only instruction was to 'go crazy'," Mark said and the little lady actually smiled and the lines around her eyes increased by about a tenfold. "I can see that," she said with a pointed look at the patchwork shorts Mark was holding in his hands. 

"Would you like my help?"

Another shared glance. Technically the bet was still on, but at the same time they couldn't really turn her down. Also they were at a complete loss at what to buy even though both would probably rather wear some of the awful things they'd found than admit to that. 

"Sure," they said in unison. 

The lady nodded and plucked the shorts out of Mark's hand and put them back where he had found them.

"Do you have a budget?" 

"No," said Donghyuck before Mark could even open his mouth. Donghyuck ignored the frown Mark cast his way. 

"Okay. We'll start with you." She waved Donghyuck towards her and he stumbled forward a little taken aback. 

After looking him up and down for about a minute she turned and stalked off towards the back of the shop, "Wait here," she called over her shoulder. 

Donghyuck looked suitably nervous when he turned to look at Mark, who was trying not to laugh. "It'll be your turn next, dipshit," Donghyuck hissed. Mark, ever the mature 18 year old, blew a raspberry. 

The lady came back a few minutes later with several items of clothing folded over her arm. 

She held out a simple pair of black dress trousers, slim fit and with cuffs that would probably need taking up. There was fine golden thread stitched along the pockets. "Now these look a little long, but I'm sure your mother will be able to take 'em up for you before the big night." 

Mark's neck actually cracked because of how quickly he turned to gauge Donghyuck's reaction, but his expression remained carefully blank as he took the trousers and folded them over his arm. His voice sounded a little quieter though when he thanked her. 

The shopkeeper lady remained blissfully unaware of her unintentional blunder and neither of the two were tactless enough to point it out. 

"This is the shirt I picked out for you." She held up a plain white shirt with a rounded collar and a black ribbon tied into a bow around the neck. "Now, the ribbon is optional of course. But since they told you to 'go crazy' you might like to exchange it for something more...exciting." 

Finally she patted the final item on her arm; a suit jacket, the same colour as the trousers. "This," she said with a badly hidden note of excitement, "-I think would suit you just perfect. It's slim fitted around the waist and has a slight Victorian touch to it, because it has hints of coattails, nothing too extreme, but it does make it stand out a little from a regular suit jacket."

Donghyuck nodded like he'd understood half of the things she had just said. 

"But that isn't the real highlight of this jacket." She unfolded it. Stitched across the shoulders, lapels and beginnings of the sleeves were what looked like hundreds of little flowers, stars and leaves. Blue, yellow, green, red, shades of pink and gold shone brightly in the light of the shop. The details were amazing and both boys found themselves leaning in to get a better look at the delicate stitchery.

The lady was practically beaming with pride as she said, "It's hand stitched." 

"Can I try it on?" Donghyuck asked and she ushered him up the tiny wooden staircase to the changing rooms. 

She gave Mark an intense look when she came tottering back down the stairs. "You two going together?" She asked, neutrally enough.

Mark didn't like lying about the nature of his and Donghyuck's relationship so he said yes. Firmly and without a doubt, because it was the truth and this truth, when he randomly remembered it in the middle of class or whilst doing the dishes, always gave him the most ridiculous giddy feeling that spread from his stomach right down to his toes. His mother had actually once found him grinning stupidly down at a soup ladle covered in soap suds and rolled her eyes so loudly it had made Mark knock out of it. 

"You make quite the pair you two." 

Mark blinked. "Thank you?" 

She waved him off, "I mean it, you look nice together. I hope you have fun at the school dance."

He thanked her again and she ordered him to stay put whilst she sorted out his outfit. 

A few minutes and a great deal of fidgeting later she reappeared with several items of clothing in various colours draped over her arm. 

"Now, since it's the school dance and you two are going together I tried picking out things with a similar style. I don't have your measurements but since you two only really differ in height and the fact that your shoulders are broader it wasn't too hard finding some items that'll fit you." 

She held out a pair of trousers. Mark took them gingerly by the thumb and forefinger. They were black like Donghyuck's, a similar cut too; slim cut dress trousers and the only difference to Donghyuck's was the detailing on the outer seams of the trousers. Instead of simply being stitched together with black thread- green and gold thread crisscrossed down the sides. It wasn't Mark's usual style, but then that was the point of the whole ordeal. 

The shirt was a regular plain white cotton shirt with short sleeves and Mark took it without complaint. This pretence at normality was squelched however when she handed him suspenders with an array of colourful European post stamps on the straps. 

"I can't- I've never worn suspenders before."

"Trust me your friend upstairs won't mind," was a her cool response and Mark flushed a bright obnoxious shade of pink. 

"O-okay."

Speaking of the devil there was a telltale creak of the stairs and they both looked up. Donghyuck was carefully edging down the stairs, one hand firmly clinging to the banister.

Mark looked about as dignified as a fish out of water when Donghyuck made it to the bottom of the stairs. His jaw hung slack as Donghyuck nervously adjusted the bow around his collar. "What do you think?" 

Mark continued to gape for a couple of seconds before the lady gave him a helpful push and he reassembled his mental state. "You- you're...barefoot?" 

The other two sighed so loudly Mark actually flinched and he rushed to cover up his mistake. Not very eloquently mind, but under the circumstances and the fact of him being a hormonal teenage boy it was to be expected and forgiven. 

"You look-" he stammered helplessly and every second he wasted the redder both their faces got, "you look great! I love the...uh, the ribbon...?"

"Thank you," Donghyuck said and wisely left it at that. Although the glow of his cheeks and nervous flitting of his eyes told a whole other, unspoken story. 

"Enough of that," the shopkeeper said to everyone's relief and stepped towards Donghyuck, adjusting the lapels of his jacket and re-doing the ribbon. "Now what do you think?" 

Donghyuck flailed elegantly. "I- uhm, I really like it. I think I look...nice."

Mark tightened his grip on the clothes on his arm as he fought down the urge to violently throw compliments at Donghyuck's head. It worked and the next thing he new Donghyuck was back upstairs after apparently deciding that he really did like his outfit and now it was Mark's turn. 

"This is the jacket." 

It was short, shorter than Donghyuck's and just about reached the dip of his spine in his back. But that wasn't what made it special; what made it special was that it was striped vertically in all shades of the rainbow. Admittedly the colours were slightly muted probably because it looked like it had been catapulted out of the 1980s and it to Mark's hands. 

"Some nice black boots or white trainers would really complete this," she said as she ushered him up the stairs.

He almost ran into Donghyuck on the landing and it took him all his strength of will not to do something embarrassingly adolescent like push Donghyuck against a wall. Instead he nodded awkwardly and practically dived into the nearest changing room before all his self control launched itself off a figurative cliff. 

The only comforting thought was that Donghyuck seemed to be struggling with similar notions, if his red cheeks were anything to go by. 

 

Mark ended up buying both their outfits. In a fit of spirit he put his foot down said, "Screw the bet, I'm paying for this."

Donghyuck had protested of course, but Mark managed to appease him with a new deal that Donghyuck would buy them lunch later that day. 

They walked out of the shop with big plastic bags in their hands (Donghyuck, or technically Taeyong, had been thoughtful enough to bring plastic bags) and a few worries lighter. Mark's wallet was lighter too, whilst Donghyuck's pockets still jingled merrily with coins and a couple of notes he'd managed to scrape up. He still didn't have a wallet and adamantly refused every time Mark offered the ugly Hello Kitty wallet his aunt had given Jisung for his 9th birthday.  

They walked in comfortable silence, Mark keeping his eyes peeled for viable food options whilst Donghyuck walked beside him singing quietly under his breath. They hadn't even held hands since coming out of the boutique, mostly because neither of them felt like they could trust themselves not to do something incredibly stupid and gross like make out in public. 

Both of them knew that seeing each other at the dance all dressed up would be trial enough. 

The rest of their afternoon was spent on a park bench underneath the airy shadows of a weeping willow tree with Chinese take away in their laps. 

Mark then insisted on walking Donghyuck home and got a soy sauce and cola tasting kiss out of it at the end. Taeyong pretended to look suitably scandalised when he opened the door. 

 

/

 

Friday went by as if someone had pressed the fast forward button on their lives.

Freshly graduated Ten and Kun fluttered around the neighbourhood organising and then re-organising the party with a fervour only freshly minted adults could have. The group chat saw more action that day than it had in the last week, which was saying a lot. 

Johnny spent his Friday being a socialite and luring his fellow graduates and other friends away from the parties they'd been intending on going to and inviting them to their's instead. It worked (naturally) and their guest list swelled up from about 15 people to almost 30. Probably more since some people had a tendency of inviting themselves. 

Jaemin and Jeno were unwillingly roped into getting food and Donghyuck was coerced into helping Sicheng and Hansol set up the marquee in Ten's garden. Mark spent the day trailing around Ten's garden holding a box of fairy lights for Jaehyun, who had proclaimed himself master decorater and if anyone even breathed at his fairy light arrangement he'd personally strangle them with said fairy lights. He said all of this with a bright sunshiny smile, which was only slightly disturbing. 

Taeyong helped with the food, Yuta 'assisted' him and Taeil ended up getting stuck with arranging alcoholic beverages. Doyoung appeared for about 5 minutes during the entire day to put a handwritten sign on the beverage table, which read: IF UR UNDER 18 ONLY BEER and then in somewhat smaller writing: it's not a hard rule to follow don't be a dumbass.

Overall the party preparation went by pretty smoothly and everything was set up before the sun had even thought about making an exit. 

 

/

 

"I don't see why you can't smuggle Chenle and me into the party," Jisung complained for what was probably the 6th time now. 

"Can I go to the fucking bathroom in peace?" Mark shot back, annoyed.

"Just answer my question."

"I have and it's still NO. Anyway how would I smuggle you two into a party where everyone knows you. Taeyong and Johnny would lose their collective minds if they saw you there." Mark had said these exact sentences at least 6 times now, but every time Jisung would pout and fade away for about 45 minutes before returning and plaguing Mark with the same question over and over again. 

Not even the bathroom was safe apparently.

"How come no one freaked out at New Years then?" 

"Because mom and dad allowed it, but not this time, so you're not going." With that he slammed the bathroom door in Jisung's face. 

Jisung howled in frustration and kicked the door, Mark retaliated with an equally vicious kick. 

"BOYS," came a warning shout from downstairs. 

Mark sighed happily and went about brushing his teeth in peace. No annoying little twerp clawing at his ankles. 

"Hey," Jisung suddenly whispered, "how about I tell mom about the things that are gonna happen at the party you haven't told her about?" 

His evil smile was actually audible through the door and Mark froze, oblivious to the splodges of toothpaste that were dripping down his chin and onto his shirt. "You wouldn't," he said semi-coherently, one hand already reaching for the doorknob. 

"Oh, wouldn't I?" 

Mark threw his toothbrush into the washbasin and yanked the door open, but Jisung had already made a mad dash for the stairs. He clattered down the stairs two at a time with Mark hot on his heels. The staircase was not narrow, but steep and Mark was still struggling not to accidentally swallow the abundance of toothpaste in his mouth. By the time he'd made into the living room Jisung was already at the backdoor, wrenching it open and launching himself into the back garden where their mother was mowing the lawn.

"MOM-" he shouted, elegantly slipping across the dewy grass in nothing but a pair of Pikachu socks, "-MOM!"

She turned and audibly sighed as she saw the two boys skidding towards her.

"NO," Mark yelled and Jisung turned, obviously surprised that he had caught up with him so quickly. Mark did the only dignified thing and threw himself at Jisung, knocking them both onto the ground where Mark managed to pin him down purely out of luck and the fact that he was older and broader than Jisung. 

"Mom, they're gonna-" Mark slapped a hand over Jisung's mouth and the two rolled and twisted around, both of them sinking down to the level of hair pulling and scratching. 

"That's enough." 

They glowered at each other, both reluctant to be the first to give up. But after about 30 seconds Mark grudgingly untangled himself from Jisung and pulled the hand away from his mouth. There was a smarting bite mark on his palm so he accidentally trod on Jisung's ankle as he got up. 

"Mom, they're gonna drink at the party! They're gonna get wasted," Jisung cried out, triumphantly. 

"You little-" Mark snarled and started forward, only to be dragged back by a firm hand on the collar of his now soiled shirt. 

"Now," their mother said, tone firm and exasperated, "if I see any more of this kind of behaviour from either of you you're going to be in deep shit." 

Jisung gasped, either at the threat or the fact that their mother had sworn in front of them. It was hard to tell. Probably both. 

She let go of Mark. "Anymore of this childish bickering and you can forget that party."

"Mom, no!"

"And you," she glared at Jisung, "you are not going to the party and if you initiate anymore of this you can wave goodbye to your Playstation for a week." 

"No!" 

The two bedraggled teenagers in dirt and grass stained pyjama bottoms and T-Shirts gaped at their mother in horror, but she did not budge, confidently staring them down until they both turned dejectedly and shuffled back to the house. 

"Also," she called when they'd reached the salmon pink tiles of the terrace, "I knew about the drinking. I wasn't born yesterday, you know." 

 

 

"Oh you look adorable!" His mother cried out as Mark slowly made his way down the steps.

From the couch Jisung snorted unattractively and Mark shot him a scathing look, self consciously adjusting the bow tie his dad had pressed into his hand before heading out to do something work related. He'd said something about a school dance outfit not being complete without a bow tie before looking mortally embarrassed and fleeing. 

"Not what I was going for but thank you." Mark smiled and reluctantly did a little twirl. 

"I need to find that lady and thank her for picking this out for you. It's so much better than what you wore last year."

"You picked my outfit last year," Mark commented and she waved him off. "I mustn't have been in a very good place last year."

Mark decided not to pursue that any further. 

"You know I wish you'd drive by here again with Donghyuck so that I'd get some pictures," she sighed sadly. 

"I'm sure Taeyong will be happy to send you the pictures."

"They're not going?" 

"They are, just a little later because they both had work." 

She sighed again and adjusted the lapels of Mark's colourful suit jacket. "I hope you have fun, sweetie."

Jisung gagged.

"I'm sure I will," Mark answered with another glare over her shoulder at Jisung. 

"Gonna pick him up in your Honda?" Jisung simpered.

"Last time I checked I'm the one with the actual car and you were the one who wanted to be chauffeured places, so if I were you I'd be quiet."

"Boys..." 

Jisung did a bad high pitched impression and Mark in turn imitated him in an even squeakier voice, and that proceeded to go back and forth until their mother had had enough and practically pushed Mark outside and into his car. 

"Now," she said, leaning in through the passenger side window, "don't get too drunk and don't do anything you might regret."

"Yes, mom."

"No no, I'm serious. Don't rush into anything, alright? However tempting. You're still young and...you know, those kinds of things are best not rushed."

"Mom."

"I'm just saying don't make any in-the-heat-of-the-moment decisions. Making out I'm fine with-"

"Oh my God."

"-but anything further than that deserves a little more thought."

"Please stop."

"Anyway in case it does get a little-" she wriggled her fingers- "hot. Just remember that his brother is going to be at the dance and if that doesn't, uh- get any ideas out of your head I don't know what will." 

"MOM, PLEASE." 

"Alright alright, I just wanted to give you some advice. I've been alive longer than you."

"And that's great, can I please go now?" 

"Sure." She retracted her head out of the car and waved enthusiastically until Mark had successfully pulled out of the driveway. Jisung stood on the porch and made a rude hand gesture.

 

"Oh my God you look precious," was the first thing Taeil said when he opened the door. 

"I-" Mark stuttered, "-that's not...never mind. Thank you." 

Taeil stepped aside to let him in. Donghyuck was sitting on the armrest of the sofa, Taeyong hovering over him carefully adjusting his hair. 

"Uhm- hello," Mark said, awkwardly and Taeyong whirled around.

"Oh my God." 

Mark nodded and said, "Thank you," before Taeyong could say something equally as embarrassing as his mother or Taeil had. Then his gaze trailed past Taeyong and caught on Donghyuck who was still perched on the sofa, hands nervously fidgeting in his lap. 

"Hi," Mark breathed, for once unashamedly taking all of him in. From the embroidered suit, to the ribbon around his collar, to his shoes that probably weren't his and to- he did a double take, breath audibly catching in the back of his throat.

"You're- that's...that's an earring," he croaked. 

Donghyuck's hand shot up to his left ear and nervously toyed with the silver feather-like piece of jewellery. "Y-yeah, I uh...-" he floundered, cheeks colouring.

"I thought it would look nice," Taeyong broke in. "It's my earring."

"No, no you look- you look, uh-" A thousand and one different adjectives jumbled inside Mark's head. "-you look great." 

Taeyong gave him a look and Taeil's disappointment was palpable, but Donghyuck was grinning, which was reassurance enough. 

"You look great too." 

There was a moment where they just sort of stared at each other, it wasn't awkward, well at least not for them, but when Taeil hastily interrupted it Mark's throat felt a little drier than before and he spent their trek down the stairs repeatedly clearing his throat. 

Once they were in the car Donghyuck leaned over and gave Mark a quick, clumsy kiss, which did nothing to help his throat.

 

There was a dirt path with a rickety wooden fence separating it from the street that snaked around Ten's house and spilled out into the spacious back garden. The garden in itself was unremarkable; shielded from the neighbours eyes with old stone walls just a inch or so taller than Johnny and longer than it was wide. The walls were artfully overgrown with moss and pink Eden Roses. The rest of it was just grass with a wooden shed at the end of the garden. The terrace was yellow and currently cluttered with two plastic folding tables they had dug out of the garage the day before.  

Fairy lights ran along the walls and were draped all over the terrace. They'd even managed to get permission from the neighbours to use their trees to string lights and lanterns across the width of the garden. There was no marquee however since it had collapsed in on itself during the night, probably the fruit of Jeno and Jaemin's less than enthusiastic craftsmanship. 

It didn't matter in the end because the darkening sky was clear and no rain was forecast.

Music was already playing, the bass making Mark's chest feel tight and the ground tremble. 

Being the gentleman that he was he climbed over the fence and then helped Donghyuck, who struggled slightly with his coattails. 

Donghyuck's grip on Mark's hand was vice-like and just before they were about turn around the corner into the garden Mark stopped and tugged Donghyuck towards him.

"Hey," he said, ducking his head slightly to peer at Donghyuck, who shrouding himself in shadow, "are you okay?" 

"Yeah, yeah I'm- I'm just nervous, like, happy but nervous. I've never done this kinda thing before." 

"It'll be fun, I promise."

"I don't doubt that, it's just nerves. It's okay." 

"Just tell me if you want to go, alright?" 

Donghyuck rolled his eyes and straightened up. "It'll be fun," he murmured. 

The garden was crowded, most people having flocked to the middle of the lawn to dance. A few party poppers had apparently gone off before they'd arrived because the grass was covered in bits of sparkling confetti and streamers. 

Lot's of graduates had come, a few Mark recognised as Johnny and Ten's friends and others that he only knew by face but not by name. There were a lot of glittery outfits, fishnets and ridiculous platform shoes worn by both girls and boys. 

Somewhere in the shifting crowd of people Mark saw a velvet blue magicians cape with silver moons and stars on it whirl around to the thumping beat of Britney Spears' Toxic

"I've found Jaemin," he called over the noise at Donghyuck, who raised an eyebrow in response. Mark elaborated, "He's dancing." 

And he was right, the interesting cape was indeed attached to Jaemin, who stumbled out of the mass of people an iridescent grin plastered across his face. "THE GAYS ARE HERE!" He shouted, throwing himself at Donghyuck with unabashed glee.

"I can see that," Mark answered, casting another look at the impromptu dance 'floor'. He was pretty sure he'd seen someone stalk through there in full drag, but he wasn't sure. 

"Where are the others?" Donghyuck pulled Jaemin into a one-armed hug as he threatened to drift off towards the dance floor again. 

His response was unhelpful. They let him go in the end and Mark would've been a bit worried if he hadn't seen Jeno in the crowd, catching Jaemin by the waist with more grace than expected and pulling him further into the mess of dancing bodies.

They found Doyoung on the terrace, having abandoned a creaky garden chair in favour of the cracked, yellow tiles.  

"You compliment the tiles." Donghyuck grinned. Doyoung's shirt was made out of some kind of shimmery deep purple material. It hung off his shoulders like an unfortunate tea towel, but the look on his face, the black short-shorts and the knee high black socks signalled that he was determined to pull this look off. 

His look wouldn't have been very exciting if it weren't for the fact that his hair was purple. 

"Your...hair," Mark pointed out intelligently.

"You look like someone dipped you headfirst into a cauldron of grape juice." 

"Thank you, you look like a woodland fairy on acid threw up on you," Doyoung countered sweetly. 

Donghyuck laughed and said, "You look like you could start a Deep Purple tribute band."

Mark was vaguely inclined to intervene their escalating battle when Ten and Sicheng simultaneously threw themselves at them. 

"YOU MADE IT," Ten shouted into Mark's ear. 

Mark decided not to reply to that, because he could smell cherry vodka on Ten's breath and there really wasn't any point hitting him with sarcasm since it would go straight over his head. So instead he asked, "What are you wearing? Is that, like- Ten, is that one of your mother's blouses?" 

"Yeah!" Ten tugged at the floral drapery. "Blouse, white suit trousers and-" he turned his face to one side and Mark took in the actually quite intricate face paint that spread down his cheekbone and up his temple. "Pretty isn't it?" 

"Very," Mark replied earnestly and Ten hooted. 

Sicheng was dressed a bit more school dance-y. A red, well fitted suit and a strange metal-ish choker made him look a little more sophisticated than Ten or Doyoung. This air of sophistication was blown out of the water however when Donghyuck peeked under his jacket and let out a shrieking peal of laughter. 

"Milf hunter?" He squawked and Sicheng's cheeks took on the same colour as his suit. "In my defence," he stuttered, "Kun picked it out for me." 

"I was going to bleach his hair too, but he chickened out." Came a voice from behind them. Kun and Jaehyun were making their way towards them. 

"See," Doyoung said to Donghyuck, who was gaping at Jaehyun in abject horror, "at least I'm not wearing a denim suit!" 

"You dyed your hair." Jaehyun countered and Doyoung snorted. "Yeah but I didn't dye it denim, did I?"

"I can't believe Kun actually looks the most normal out of all of us," Mark muttered, looking Kun up and down. He was dressed in a grey suit with had floral and gingham patches all over it. 

"Where's Johnny?" Jaehyun asked, directing his question at Ten, who gestured vaguely at the open terrace door. 

"Y'know, I think Jeno, Jaemin and Renjun thought this was a dress up party," Sicheng said, plopping down on the vacant garden chair.

"The cape?" Doyoung sat up slightly to peer through their legs at the dancing crowd further down the garden. Lady Gaga was loudly living for the applause.

"Isn't he, like, wearing a blue velvet suit underneath? That's pretty normal if you ask me," Ten spoke, spontaneously sitting himself down on Sicheng's lap and pulling a semi-reluctant Kun with him.  

"What the fuck is normal about a blue velvet suit?" Jaehyun laughed. 

"Oh you don't get to fucking talk- Mr. Denim Disaster." 

Donghyuck choked on air and the other three cackled in unison.

"How about we get something to drink?" Mark asked, poking Donghyuck, who was still doubled over and coughing, in the side. "Sounds good," the other boy croaked. 

"Bring me something!" Ten shouted.

"Get it it yourself." Was Mark's sympathetic reply. 

Donghyuck obeyed Doyoung's rule and got a can of beer; Mark being the good boyfriend that he was, also got one out of solidarity. 

"I wonder what Jeno and Jaemin are wearing," Donghyuck murmured more to himself than anyone else. Mark snorted and Donghyuck punched him in the arm with his spare hand. "Not like that you rat." 

There was a sudden general outcry from the dance floor crowd and everyone not involved turned to look. A dance battle between a couple of people Mark wasn't overly familiar with was taking place. 

"We should dance!" Donghyuck beamed, excitedly tugging at Mark's arm.

"Later," Mark reassured him, "I don't think I'm emotionally prepared just yet." 

 

By the time 10 o'clock rolled around and the sun was well and truly out of the picture, the party had really taken on momentum. Taeyong, Taeil, Yuta and Hansol had arrived shortly after Donghyuck and Mark finished their first drink and Jeno, Renjun and Jaemin crawled off the dance floor for refreshments. Jeno was dressed in a sailors uniform which got a loud squawk of laughter from Mark which lasted until Jeno put a bunch of ice cubes down the back of his shirt. Renjun was wearing what looked like a Japanese boy's school uniform that had been liberally dipped in glitter. 

Taeyong was unofficially crowned hottest person at the party simply for showing up in red leather trousers and Hansol spent the first half of the night assuring everyone that his coat was faux fur and not real. Yuta was greeted by Ten with the now iconic sentence: "YUTA YOU SLUT" because he was dressed in a black mesh shirt and ripped skinny jeans that were 85% rips. 

Johnny was probably the reason for most of the light pollution that night since his silver, sequined suit jacket took all the available light and tripled it's intensity. Taeil joined Hansol and they made up the animal fur themed squad; Hansol in his coat (which he discarded later that night and was used by Kun as a pillow) and Taeil in a beautiful leopard print sweater vest. 

All the lanterns and fairy lights were on now, the different coloured lights cascading over the crowd of brightly dressed people. The expensive stereo system was living up to it's price and none of the neighbours had complained yet. 

Donghyuck managed to drag Mark onto the dance floor and once he'd swallowed his pride and remembered that Renjun was busy filming someone else's drunken escapades he let go and actually had a bit of fun. 

The air was warm and heavy with the scent of a lot people, booze, buttered popcorn and sour sweets. Jackets were shed and left scattered on the terrace and piled on chairs. Now and again a pair of people would hastily stumble out of the dancing crowd and into a more secluded corner further down the garden and Taeyong actually pulled both Mark and Donghyuck out to warn them that if he found them in any kind of compromising position he'd ban them from seeing each other for a week. Mark tried to take him seriously but it was kind of difficult when the lecturer himself kept giving Taeil sneaky glances complete with red cheeks and a hoodie tied around his waist that had the words Sexual Fantasies written on it. 

 

"That girl-" Kun pointed at a tall girl with long dark hair standing at one of the food tables, "-where do I know her from." 

Donghyuck practically fell out of his chair to look at the person Kun was pointing at. "That's whatshername, y'know from the- the, y'know..." he said, flailing vaguely. 

Kun squinted at him. "Not really." 

"Joy!" Renjun piped up from where he was spreadeagled on the grass and the other three oh'd knowledgeably. They were in the middle of the lawn, not really by choice but because that was where most of the chairs were and they were all to lazy (or drunk) to move them back to the terrace.

But it was nice there, the light was dimmer and the music, whilst not exactly quieter, had a weird muffled quality to it. They were all on the tipsy side of the spectrum, which compared to some other party goers was the equivalent of sober. Taeyong and Taeil had disappeared mysteriously, Jaemin was gorging himself on a whole bowl of caramelised popcorn and Yuta and Hansol were having a good old time shaking up the dance floor. 

"She's...Tae's coworker, I think," Jaehyun mumbled, face buried in the crook of Doyoung's neck. They'd been dancing for what felt like hours and even missed the impromptu session of musical chairs, which was the reason for all of them to be sprawled out here and not on the terrace. 

Doyoung had purple and pink streaks running down the sides of his face and his neck and Jaehyun still managed to look annoyingly flawless even when he was sweaty, out of breath and almost completely dressed in denim. 

There were a few hums of acknowledgement but otherwise everyone was too tired to say much else. 

"GUYS!" Jeno skidded to a halt in front of their little gathering. They looked up semi-enthusiastically. "We've found face paints," he crowed, hopping from one foot to the other. 

Donghyuck was up in a flash, a hand firmly wrapped around Mark's wrist. The others looked interested as well, Jaemin even going as far as slowly putting his bowl of popcorn down. 

Renjun, Donghyuck and Doyoung shared a furtive look. 

"RACE YOU," Renjun shouted and was off up the lawn with Doyoung and Donghyuck hot on his heels. Jaehyun and Mark yelped helplessly as they were dragged along. 

In the end none of them won and they had to wait in a haphazard queue like everyone else. Ten however, being the unbiased and fair person that he was waved them forward. "Take what you want," he grinned and Donghyuck snatched the yellow and blue paints. 

"C'mon," he tugged Mark along to a more private part of the garden by one of the walls where the roses grew thick and high. They sat down on the some upturned mossy stones and Mark felt like they were in some kind of pink glowing bubble that happened to be playing Queen at full volume. 

Donghyuck carefully laid the tubs of colours out between them. "You do me first," he said and Mark had to bite down the irrational urge to laugh. Donghyuck kicked him in the shin. "Not like that, for fucks sake. Grow up."

Mark held up his hands in surrender, laughter still caught in his throat.

"If you draw a dick I'll make sure you won't fucking have one in the near future," Donghyuck threatened as Mark picked up the yellow. 

"So charming," Mark grinned, "no wonder I like you." 

"Bite me, noodle boy."

The reference made a honey-like bubble of warmth burst Mark's chest and he leaned forward to steal a kiss. 

"No dicks, gotcha," he promised, dipping his forefinger into the yellow paint. 

Mark drew a simple sun on both Donghyuck's cheeks and a dotted line down the bridge of his nose. Donghyuck picked the blue paint and drew a small heart on the tip of is nose and two stripes each on his cheeks. 

"You look stupid," Donghyuck said, smile brighter than Mark had ever seen before. 

"So do you," he replied, his own smile equally as bright.

They sat in silence for a minute or two, Queen made way for Ariana Grande and Donghyuck fiddled with the lid of the blue paint. The tips of his fingers staining blue.

"Thank you," he said suddenly, "for taking me, I mean. I've never- I've never done something like this before and I'm glad that this is- that this is with you..."

Mark blinked at him. "Hey no, it's okay. I'm happy you agreed to come and I'm happy that you're having a good t- wait, you are having a good time, right?"

"Idiot," Donghyuck scoffed, reaching his blue stained hand out for Mark's unblemished one, "of course I am. I swear I- okay, this might sound really sad, but never in my entire life have I been happier than I am right now. It's fucking stupid how happy I am, and look, I don't know if you really know how much of that happiness is there because of you. So much has changed and all because you were dumb and trusting enough to let me climb up to your window ever so often. I could say thank you in a hundred different ways and it still wouldn't cover it. Like, I don't know if you've noticed this- probably not to be honest- but Taeyong and Taeil are a whole lot happier too. You wouldn't know I guess since you haven't known them for that long, but trust me, they're happier."

Mark opened his mouth to speak, but Donghyuk beat him to it. "Y'know Taeyong smokes right? Well, technically he only really smokes during winter because it's- it's not a good time for us, but the last couple of years he's smoked during the summer as well, not as often but still. This year though, this summer; I haven't seen him so much as look at a cigarette. And I know this might not seem that big of a deal, but I just really really wanted to tell you how much you've done not just for me but also for Taeyong and Taeil simply because you decided to stick around. I wanted to tell you this now because I am so fucking happy and I know this probably won't last and if I don't tell you now it'll be too late."

Mark's eyes widened. "What? Why would you even think that?" 

Donghyuck's mouth twisted and Mark remembered with a dull shock that in some ways Donghyuck was a lot older than him. He'd lived a span of years and experiences Mark could never even hope to catch up to. He'd been raised by a world that had not been kind to him. Since that one fateful night and weekly sessions with a therapist it had become less apparent, but now and again that knowledge would bleed through like scabs that had been scratched open.

"We're in high school," Donghyuck said, sounding frighteningly pragmatic, "we're graduating next year and who knows what'll happen then. Nothing is for certain especially now and you have to consider even if we pick similar things to do, we're from very different social classes and my chances of getting into a prestigious uni are way slimmer than yours. Even if I got the chance I don't think I'd take it, a good uni would just mean mountains of debt and more work for Taeyong and Taeil and there is no way in hell that I'm going to do that to them. You'll move out to go to uni and I'll be here and who knows what'll happen- I just- I'm so happy right now, but we can't just do this and pretend it'll all be fine, because it won't- it won't and I don't- I can't...-" 

"Hey hey- Hyuck, hey listen," Mark whispered urgently, reaching up to cup Donghyuck's face in his hands. The leftover paint on his right hand left smudges of yellow paint on Donghyuck's jaw and ear, "we'll make it work. Alright? We have a whole year to worry about that, not now though. Not tonight." He leaned forward, lightly bumping his forehead against Donghyuck's and stayed like that until Donghyuck's breathing had calmed down. 

"You okay?" Mark asked, voice barely audible over the music. 

"Yeah, yeah I'm- yeah I'm alright." 

Mark sighed and pulled him into a hug, it seemed more appropriate than a kiss. The roses sighed around them and yellow paint dripped out onto the grass between them, because Mark hadn't screwed the lid on properly. 

Later that night Mark realised that he had blue fingerprints on the back of his shirt and Donghyuk matching ones in yellow. 

They broke apart when the B-52's Love Shack started playing and Donghyuck jumped to his feet. There were whistles and whoops from the other party goers and Donghyuck cried over the music, "C'mon, we should dance!" 

They crawled out of the little alcove and out onto the lawn. Someone had apparently found the strobe setting for the fairy lights and the "dance floor" looked even fuller than it had before, everyone convening en masse to dance their hearts and souls out. Under the flickering lights the dark mass of bodies glittered and sparkled in an almost mesmerising way, no real beginning or ending in sight. Somewhere in the mix he saw Johnny and his sequined jacket shimmying around with Ten and Jeno, Jaemin and Renjun jumping up and down singing their lungs out. 

The next thing he knew he was right in the thick of it, clinging to Donghyuck for dear life as they whirled around in tight dizzying circles, lyrics and laughter spilling from their lips. Around them them the carefree din strengthened as the chorus rolled around and the bass thudded through Mark's veins. The lights were flashing and someone somewhere broke out a fresh bunch of glittery party poppers and soon they were all dancing and singing in the swirling, shimmering mess raining down from above. Hands stretched up to the orange night sky as if they could peel it away like an actual orange and reveal the dark, star speckled sky behind it. 

The song changed, Troye Sivan's Youth started playing and someone shouted, "GAY ANTHEM!" which got a general roar of approval from the rest. Somewhere in the middle of the dance floor a conga line started.

If you've never heard a rowdy group of about 30 or more young adolescents sing-slash-shout together as one in a cloud of glitter, confetti and streamers then you have something to look forward too. 

It really was a miracle that none of the neighbours had complained yet.

My youth, my youth is yours 

Mark tore his eyes away from the sky and the writhing crowd around them and focused back on the rosy cheeked individual holding his hands. They weren't really dancing, just twirling around taking up as little space as they could. 

Trippin' on skies, sippin' waterfalls

He could hear Donghyuck's voice over the rest of the crowd, high and clear like a silver bell. They spun faster. Donghyuck's eyes shone bright like new copper pennies and the sun on his right cheek was smudged. The noise was deafening and the lights flashed and flickered almost frantically, there was no air left for Mark to breathe and yet they kept on spinning. Donghyuck as bright and dazzling as ever. 

My youth, my youth is yours

He was all copper and gold. Sunlight and earth. 

 A truth so loud you can't ignore

"I'm pretty sure," Mark yelled over the noise, tightening his grip on Donghyuck's hands and pulling him so close that they were only a breath and half apart, "that I love you- sort of, kind of- a lot." 

My youth, my youth, my youth

Donghyuck's brows furrowed and he leaned closer to yell, "What?" 

Mark pulled him even closer. "I think I might love you." 

My youth is yours

Donghyuck's mouth was nothing like copper pennies; instead of cold metal he was all warmth, warmth that came from being born in the month the sun dared to properly love again. He tasted like caramel, that gross blue drink he'd stolen a sip of earlier and what you imagined sunlight would taste like. 

You can't spin and kiss at the same time so they stopped, too wrapped up in each other to notice the crowd of other dancers moving around them like a stream around a rock. They didn't care as people whooped and cheered around them. They didn't mind the glitter that got mixed up in their kiss or the paint smudging on their cheeks. 

"Is that okay?" Mark asked, regretfully breaking the kiss, one hand still firmly wrapped around the back of Donghyuck's neck. "The love thing, I mean," he elaborated bashfully.

Donghyuck kissed him again. "Idiot," he mumbled against Mark's lips. 

The nickname tasted like honey and dust. Mark was still waiting for an answer. 

"I sort of, maybe, probably love you too." His rosebud mouth twisted into an impish smile. 

Mark swallowed. "G-great."

"Great?" Donghyuck was grinning.

A brighter, fuller version of the boy that had climbed up his window so long ago was now standing mere inches away from him. The same rosebud mouth, summer tan and ruddy hair. But his eyes, that used to be dark with the lurking shadows of a past that refused to let go and a future that refused to make itself known were now brighter, glowing with the light of a happy present and a foreseeable future. 

"Yeah," Mark breathed, "just great."