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Music thumped loudly off the walls, rattling against the chests of the dancing boys fighting for breath as they moved. Sweat poured off foreheads like they were standing in a rainstorm. Heartbeats accelerated at the rapid movements. 

 

Donghyuck’s face felt flushed as his body moved in sync with the other members, feet hitting the floor at all the right times, following the familiar steps to the song they’d been practicing for a while.

 

His chest heaved as he fought to breathe. His head throbbed painfully, pulsing rapidly as his movements continued without ease. 

 

It wasn’t until the song began winding down that his foot slipped out from under him, skidding most likely on sweat that had dripped down someone’s face and pooled on the floor. 

 

His body fell backwards, arms and legs flailing wildly in an attempt at catching himself somehow. His attempt proved to be in vain as his body toppled over onto someone, dragging them down and landing on top of them.

 

Donghyuck’s butt hit the floor hard, his back and head landing against a bony body that shifted beneath him. 

 

The music stopped and several eyes turned to stare at the two on the floor. 

 

Donghyuck’s face burned in embarrassment as he ducked down to hide in the other person's back. 

 

“Can I get up now?”

 

Yuta’s voice vibrated against Donghyuck’s body, sending the younger male flying off of the elder, blushing and bowing, streaming out several apologies as he stood. 

 

Yuta quickly stood as well, placing a hand on the maknae’s shoulder, giving it a soft pat. 

 

“No harm, no foul.”

 

Donghyuck smiled, grateful he wasn’t about to get scolded. At least, he wasn’t about to get scolded by this hyung. 

 

“What the hell happened?” The manager’s voice was shrill and angry, pudgy face flushed in anger, hard eyes boring holes into Donghyuck’s.

 

The manager was a middle aged man with deep set brown eyes, and rapidly graying hair. His cheeks were thick, skin rolled down his neck, and his massive stomach spilled over the sides of his too tight sweatpants. His arms jiggled when he moved them and the excess skin on his thighs moved with each step. 

 

The younger bowed his head, tucking his chin against his chest and lowering his gaze to examine the contours of the floor. 

 

“I spilled water. He slipped on it. It was my fault, not his,” Taeyong said immediately, moving to stand in front of the maknae. 

 

Most would assume it was a move to put himself directly in front of the manager’s gaze. The boys knew it was a protective stance, daring the “evil” male to come closer to their precious maknae.

 

The male huffed and spun around, chub from his belly and thighs jiggling at the movements.

 

“Start again. From the top!” he ordered. 

 

Exasperated grunts and sighs filled the room as the music began again and they moved to their positions to begin the dance again.

 

This time, it was halfway through when Donghyuck tripped, getting one foot tangled with the other, sending him flying down to the floor. Hitting his head on the floor did little to help his headache. 

 

“Again!” the manager screamed out before biting down angrily on a chocolate bar. 

 

Someone’s stomach rumbled loudly, although Donghyuck wasn’t sure who’s it was. It could have been anyone’s. None of them had eaten since breakfast and it was well past 11 pm now.

 

As the music began again, the males danced desperately, longing to get this over with a return home for showers, food, and rest. 

 

Donghyuck’s headache slowed his movements.The pounding had intensified so much that he was surprised his eyes weren’t leaking blood from the pressure behind them.

 

The music finally ended. Jaehyun and Mark’s bodies hit the floor, backs pressed against the ground, hands over their eyes as the two panted. 

 

The choreographer sighed. 

 

“Ok, get out of here.”

 

They didn’t have to be told twice. All nine males quickly scurried from the room, door slamming behind Jungwoo, as all but one raced down the corridor headed to the parking lot where one of their managers was no doubt waiting in the car for them.

 

Donghyuck turned around and headed the opposite direction. 

 

He stumbled down the hallway, passing closed doors as he traveled. When he reached a transparent door with a silver handle and the words “Recording Room” scrawled in matt black letters, he stopped and pushed the door open, stepping inside. 

 

“Nice of you to join us.”

 

The manager’s voice was cold and unforgiving as his eyes bore into the younger accusingly. 

 

“I’m sorry. Dance practice ran long.” 

 

Donghyuck’s voice was weak and subdued. His head hung low, shoulders slumped, and knees bent. Anyone observing him could tell he didn’t need to be there. But it wasn’t in the company’s nature to care about the shape of the idols. 

 

To SM, idols were like livestock. They were there to make the company money, treated with the least amount of respect, given just enough food to stay alive, and used the same way day in and day out. 

 

“Whatever. You’re after Chenle. Wipe that sweat off your forehead and get ready. We’re going until everyone gets it right. You’ve all been slacking off lately. That stops now,” the managers voice was cold and hard. 

 

Donghyuck nodded obediently and sat down on the plush velvet couch beside Jaemin and Jisung. He pulled a bottle of water off the table, uncapping it and chugging it rapidly, hoping the coolness would do something to soothe his aching head. 

 

He placed the empty bottle on the table, his stomach churned at the feeling of something cold and mostly useless against the aching hunger he’d gotten so accustomed to feeling.

 

“What did you have for dinner? Manager-nim brought us pizza!” Jisung exclaimed happily. 

 

Donghyuck let out a low moan at the food. 

 

“That sounds delicious,” he said. 

 

“Haechan! You’re up!”

 

Letting out another moan, this time full of exhaustion, he hauled himself off the couch, legs shaking and aching in protest as he pushed himself onward. 

 

He slipped inside the glass booth that Chenle had just exited, coming to a stop in front of the microphone, headphones dangling from the neck of mic stand. He slid them over his ears and almost immediately, loud music to a song he hadn’t been able to practice much flooded his ears. 

 

As he waited for his que to begin in a place he wasn’t sure he remembered the words to, his mind filled with Mark, and the thoughts he’d never be able to escape, even with the pounding behind his eyes. 

 

If Mark were here, the elder would immediately take all the attention off of Donghyuck. They’d have come to practice on time and when the manager scolded them for being late, he’d say something that got it excused. Then he’d go first and let Donghyuck curl against his side for just a few moments to close his tired eyes. 

 

Donghyuck would be taken care of. Mark wouldn’t have any problem telling someone that they hadn’t eaten. He’d always been able to get them just a little bit of rest before they went into the next thing. 

 

He missed Mark. He missed the male that would run from one practice to the next with him. He missed the way Mark would hold his hand when he was homesick. He missed the way Mark would let him crawl in his bed when Donghyuck had a bad dream. 

 

Sure, they still worked together with 127. But it was wasn’t the same. In Dream, Mark was the oldest. The leader. Their protector. In 127, he was another maknae being taken care of by the hyungs. They didn’t even share the same room anymore. Mark had requested to share a room with Johnny because the two were close and Johnny would let him stay up all night watching television. Donghyuck wasn’t a constant. He was often bouncing between the 127 dorm and the Dream dorm. He didn’t have a constant roommate. Just wherever he was staying. It was always between Renjun or Jaehyun. And neither were jumping at the opportunity to welcome someone in their bed in the middle of the night. 

 

“KIM DONGHYUCK!”

 

Snapping out of his thoughts, Donghyuck shook his head from side to side, eyes wildly searching for whoever just yelled his name. 

 

“You missed your que! What the hell is so important?” the manager hissed. 

 

Donghyuck’s eyes threatened to fill with tears, though he rapidly blinked them back. He couldn’t look at the manager’s angry eyes anymore. Instead, traveling to the other members, all either staring at him or shaking their head in annoyance. 

 

They wanted to leave as badly as he did. And he was holding them up.

 

“I’m sorry… I’ll do better,” he muttered, head bowed in shame.

 

The manager gave an exasperated sigh and started the music again. 

 

This time, his eyes didn’t wander. They focused hard on the person in front of him at the recording keys. And when the manager cued him, he began singing flawlessly. Voice coming out velvety and perfect as he sang the chords he had apparently subconsciously memorized.

 

All would have been perfect. The smiles returned to the members faces and even the manager looked pleased. Until the throbbing intensified by ten, catching Donghyuck so off guard and in pain that he winced, his vocals shaking and chopping off at the last note. 

 

“Again!”

 

He tried. He desperately tried to belt out his verses flawlessly. But it was apparently no use. Four more times repeating the song, and he couldn’t get the notes out perfectly. His head felt like someone was taking a hammer and pounding away at his skull, driving an ice pick through his brain. Tears filled his eyes, both in pain and exhaustion. 

 

“Get out of here. All of you. Back here tomorrow at 7 am.”

 

Groans filled the room. Donghyuck carried himself from the recording booth, eyes downcast. 

 

“Seriously Donghyuck. All you had to do was get it right and we wouldn’t have had to be here until 3 tomorrow afternoon!” Renjun scolded. 

 

“Seriously! Can you not get a few simple lines right?” Jisung complained. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Donghyuck mumbled.

 

“Yeah, you better be. Wasting our time like that,” Renjun retorted. 

 

“Ok, that’s enough. He gets it. Let’s just go home and get what little sleep we can,” Jaemin sighed. 

 

At least someone wasn’t going to poke holes in Donghyuck’s slowly crumbling resolve. 

 

 

 

The ride back to the Dream dorm was a silent one. At least for Donghyuck. No one was willing to spare him a look or speak to him, too upset about losing the few hours of sleep they would have gotten. He was disappointed in himself. Tomorrow could have been a fairly easy day and he screwed that up. 

 

Back at the dorm, everyone disappeared for showers or headed straight for bed, opting to shower in the morning. Donghyuck strayed around in the kitchen, shakily fumbling around for headache pills, downing two to drive off his headache. Once that was taken care of along with absorbing another bottle of water, he opened the refrigerator and picked through what little food he could find, opting on a handful of grapes and a small block of cheese. 

 

He sat down on the couch in the sitting room, propping his feet up on the cushions and flicking on the television. He’d have to be up in three hours to go to an interview with 127, then vocals with Dream, dance practice with 127, then dance practice with Dream. He wouldn’t have time to shower in the morning and he wasn’t going to give the managers another reason to pick at him. 

 

With Jaemin, Jeno, and Jisung all waiting for Chenle to emerge from the shower, Donghyuck would likely be waiting for an hour or two before he got the chance to shower, so he let his eyes trail back to the television, blindly attempting to focus on whatever uninteresting drama was on. The remains of his headache tugged at his eyelids, begging them to close over his burning eyes. Eventually, his eyelids won the battle, shutting for what was supposed to be a brief few seconds. 

 

“Wake up! Donghyuck! Get your ass us!” Renjun’s voice yelled over him. 

 

Letting out a groan, he opened his eyes, staring blearily up at the elder who had a phone pressed to his ear. 

 

“Get dressed! You’re late for an interview with 127! I shouldn’t have to be up at such an ungodly hour to wake your ass up,” he hissed. 

 

Donghyuck jolted, flying off the couch, stumbling a few times in his haste to put on something more appropriate for the interview. 

 

Within ten minutes, he was out the door, calling Taeyong as he left. 

 

“I’m sorry hyung. I overslept,” he mumbled. 

 

“That’s why we’ve told you not to go hang out with the Dreamies when you know we have work the next day!”

 

“But-”

 

“Haechan! Let’s go!” the manager waiting by a car called, eyes bloodshot and irritable. 

 

Hanging his head low, he hung up the phone and climbed into the car. 

 

 

 

The ride to the interview hall was quiet and uneventful. Donghyuck didn’t dare ask for anything to eat to soothe the hunger residing in the pit of his stomach. He didn’t dare asking for anything to help the headache that was slowly ebbing back into his brain. 

 

When they arrived at the building, he was ushered inside and quickly changed, pulling on tight jeans with holes traveling so far up his milky thighs and gaping so wide he practically wasn’t wearing anything. A tight black shirt was forced into the unbuttoned jeans, creased perfectly to prevent wrinkles in the shirt that concealed nothing to the imagination. As his pants were buckled, a black belt wound its way around his waist, tightly looping and fastening around his midsection he found it hard to breath. A jean jacket was tugged onto his arms, the sleeves much too tight, squeezing the skin beneath them, but making them look more “flattering.” The shoes were last, and this was his favorite part. His feet were nestled into soft leather boots, brown and flexible, the insides worn from the many times he’d sported this particular pair. His feet fit perfectly, comfortably inside them because there was no point squeezing the idols feet when so few people focused on feet anyways.

 

Once he was clothed, he was ushered to get his hair and makeup done. With all of the other members prepared, the team worked quickly to get him ready. This wouldn’t have been so bad if he didn’t already hate getting his hair prepped. 

 

He had always hated this part. They were never gentle. Not as gentle as Mark or Taeyong were when they gently played with his hair of whatever color the company had demanded it be. The noona’s that often tugged brushes full of gels through their hair or styled it were quite the opposite, yanking and pulling their hair in a variety of directions. For Donghyuck, this was a brutal punishment for his tender head. 

 

Today, the stylists were extra rough, yanking his hair seemingly twice as hard. Tears of pain threatened to spring to his eyes, but he fought them, afraid of what others would say if his makeup ran in streaks down his face.

 

After about ten minutes of torture, he was pushed from the chair and declared ready. 

 

“Finally,” a few members muttered under their breath.

 

He didn’t miss the way the member’s seemed to avoid him, rolling their eyes and staring anywhere but in his general direction. 

 

He could have begun crying at this, but the last thing he wanted was one more reason for them to hate him. 

 

He pulled himself together, plastering his best fake smile on his face and staring down at the floor, head already beginning to hurt again, eyes stinging from exhaustion, and stomach growling from lack of nutrition.

 

They were instructed to wait as the show was being announced and the hosts did their introduction. He didn’t bother attempting to find anyone to stand next to like he usually did. He didn’t feel comfortable enough to lovingly cling to any of them. Not to mention, he’d likely have been rejected. He didn’t deserve their love anyways. He was never enough for them. He didn’t understand why SM had decided to put him in both groups. He was no good for 127. Mark should have been the maknae. Then it would all be smooth. 

 

Tears flitted to his eyes, threatening to spill over. He refused to let them, holding the bridge up with all his might. 

 

A hand slipped in his, causing him to jump in shock, eyes flying to whoever the person was. 

 

“It’s ok. Take a deep breath, close your eyes for just a second. Clear your head and just breathe. You’re ok,” Mark’s soothing voice whispered near his ear. 

 

The tension in his shoulders almost immediately relaxed. He sucked in a deep breath, the belt loosening slightly from the relaxed muscles, his chest felt less tight, and his head felt less clouded. 

 

He pushed the air out of his lungs, allowing it to carry his weight with it until he was left with a feeling of weightlessness. 

 

Mark squeezed his hand gently before letting go completely, an action that made Donghyuck’s stomach sink, although he knew it was because the interview was about to start. 

 

 

Throughout the interview, Mark was beside him. For the first time in a few weeks, Donghyuck didn’t feel lost or hopeless. 

 

 

 

After the interview, all of the members piled into one car. Most of them dozed off as they were transported back to the dorm until their dance practice later that day. The van stopped outside of the SM building, letting Donghyuck out before speeding off. 

 

Donghyuck let out a sigh as he stepped inside the building, still clad in the clothing he’d worn for the interview, the belt cutting into the soft flesh of his belly.

 

He made his way down the familiar hallway, pushing open the same glass door and stepping inside, meeting a sleepy glare from Renjun almost immediately. 

 

Well… that was painful.

 

“Think you can get it right today?” he all but hissed. 

 

Donghyuck gulped, suddenly very aware of his inability to perform properly from stress and exhaustion, which, in all honesty, was no excuse, at least, not an acceptable one. 

 

“Let’s just get started. Haechan first,” the manager said gruffly. 

 

Donghyuck nodded, aware of the other members staring at his back as he walked through the door to the booth. 

 

He put the headphones back over his ears, much too loud music immediately hitting him, causing him to jump in shock, stumbling and falling onto the ground, yanking the headphone cord out of the sound system as he fell. 

 

As soon as he’d seen the damage, he knew he was in for it. He prolonged sitting up, eyes squeezing shut in frustration. 

 

The door to the booth flew open and hands were flying to Donghyuck’s shirt, hoisting his upper half off the floor as the stoney face of their manager glared at him. 

 

He was standing over the younger, legs spread on either side of Donghyuck’s legs. A large hand was fisted in the tight black shirt, stretching the tight material that slid painfully across the youngers neck. His eyes were dark and full of anger and hatred, face morphed into a mixture between cold stone and a rabid dog. He was practically foaming at the mouth. 

 

“You worthless piece of shit. Are you kidding me?! All you have done these last few days is screw stuff up!” he hissed, face getting so close to Donghyuck’s that the younger could smell his putrid breath. 

 

“You will get your ass to the practice room and if I so much as see a toe out of place, I’ll hit you so hard your skin will split from the impact!”

 

Donghyuck trembled. The male released his grip on Donghyuck’s shirt and moved away, one of his boots making brief contact with the area right behind the youngers ribs, sending a sharp pain up his spin. It would definitely bruise.

 

It took a few moments before Donghyuck was able to pull himself off the floor, head returned to pounding now, beating inside his ears and hammering in his skull. His side throbbed from the kick and he began to wonder just how much force was behind it. 

 

“LET’S GO DONGHYUCK!”

 

The scream sent Donghyuck running, pulling himself up completely and running from the room and down the hall to the Dream practice room. 

 

Barreling through the door, he halted, out of breath, but too afraid to say otherwise. Any mistake now could result in the manager making good on his promise. 

 

“Positions!” 

 

This was the same pudgy manager that led the 127 dance practice. 

 

The boys scrambled for their positions just as the music was beginning. They moved flawlessly to the beat, keeping the pace and finishing the song perfectly. 

 

“Donghyuck!”

 

What?! He’d danced right! He’d forced his feet to obey! He’d done it right!

 

“Your feet are too close to Jeno’s! Try again!”

 

Groans were sent in his direction as the music began again, dancing through the entire song again, despite their heavy breathing and sweaty foreheads. 

 

They repeated the same song three times now, each time the choreographer nitpicking at Donghyuck and the members were forced to go through with it again. 

 

“Get it right Haechan!” Chenle’s shrill voice screamed, causing the elder to flinch.

 

“I’m sorry…”

 

He could have cried if his body hadn’t long since stopped producing tears. Sweat refused to condensate from his roasting forehead or saliva refusing to moisturize his tongue. 

 

“Just get out. Tomorrow, I expect everyone to be flawless!” 

 

That should have been the end of it. The others would be heading back to their dorm to catch up on sleep, play video games, eat whatever food the manager had bought for them. 

 

Donghyuck wouldn’t go. He would stick around for the 127 members to begin their practice. He’d get to see their disappointed stares directed at him. On the bright side, it also meant he’d get to see Mark. Mark was on his side. Mark would protect him. 

 

His heartbeat accelerated. Mark would take care of him. 

 

The door to the practice room opened and Mark walked through. 

 

His forehead was beaded in a few droplets of sweat and his shirt was pulled out from his body, hands clutching the bottom of the shirt, bringing it up to make a makeshift basket full of whatever he was carrying. The bottom of his stomach was exposed, pale skin contrasting against dark jeans. 

 

He stopped in front of the younger male, a bright smile immediately lighting up his face. 

 

“I brought you something,” he huffed. 

 

Donghyuck gave him a confused glance. It was obvious that the elder had ran from wherever he was and it was apparently to give him something. 

 

Mark gestured to his shirt and Donghyuck peered over, finding two large multigrain muffins, a bagel, and half a baguette. 

 

“What-?”

 

“I know you probably didn’t get a chance to eat this morning and you looked a little pale,” Mark responded, the smile never leaving his lips that gleamed in the fluorescent lights. 

 

Mark Lee boy that Donghyuck had been crushing on since they were trainees, had brought him food.

 

Donghyuck’s heart hammered in his chest, eyes glassing over with tears he wouldn’t dare to shed. 

 

“Thank you,” he whispered. 

 

He reached into the shirt, plucking out a muffin and taking a large bite off the top, practically moaning as the taste hit his tongue, loving the feeling the grain made as it slid down his throat and into his empty stomach. 

 

The door flew open, Jaehyun and Johnny walking in, both jumping around, Johnny reaching over to pinch Jaehyun’s arm and Jaehyun retaliating with a slap to Johnny’s arm. 

 

“Just breathe. Practice will go by in a flash and then we’ll all be back at the dorm filling up on whatever we convince Doyoung to make,” he said. 

 

Donghyuck gave him a small smile, taking another large bite of the muffin before following Mark to the couch pressed against the far side of the wall. Mark piled the smuggled food on the cushions, pulling Taeyong’s discarded hoodie over the stash to hide.

 

Their normal choreographer walked in. He was much younger than the pudgy one that filled in. He was thin as a rail, hips protruding out from the skin tight athletic pants he was wearing. A black tank top pulled over his upper half. He had shaggy black hair and a thin, wiry mustache slinking beneath his nose.

 

“Positions!”

 

His voice was sharp and shrill. Every annunciation dripped with venom. He was angry today. Something had made him mad. And Donghyuck was his favorite punching bag.

 

As everyone filled in, most dressed in loose jeans or sweats, sweatshirts to fight off the bitter cold outside, they made their way to their starting positions, staring at the choreographer expectantly. 

 

The music began and bodies immediately began moving in sync from the memorized movements to follow their recorded voices. 

 

When Donghyuck’s part played, he danced his way to the front of the line, alternating from one side to the next and continuing with the hand movements. 

 

He couldn’t keep the smile off his face. Throughout his solo, he’d gotten it right. The mirror reflected the exact moves and angles. 

 

Things were starting to look up. Maybe Mark was just his good luck charm. The one person that could make everything perfect.

 

Donghyuck moved back into the throngs of dancing bodies, but his mind was too muddled with glee he forgot to take two steps to the left, instead moving to the right and slammed into Jungwoo, knocking the elder to the ground. 

 

“Ouch,” Jungwoo’s soft voice cried, rubbing the arm he landed on as he sat up. 

 

The rest of the members surrounded the injured angel, checking him over for injuries before helping him off the ground. 

 

“You go left! Not right! I thought we’d drilled that in before! Or were you too caught up thinking about your little boyfriend?!” the choreographer’s voice was sharp and evil, eyes boring holes into the males.

 

Donghyuck shrunk under her gaze, chin tucking against his chest, eyes lowered to the floor, heart beating erratically at the call out. 

 

“Accidents happen,” Mark said, wrapping arm around Donghyuck’s shoulders.

 

This only made the youngers face burn bright.

 

The choreographer scoffed and started the music over. 

 

Together, the members nearly flawlessly began dancing to the song, only stepping out of line a few times, but every time someone did mess up, even slightly, Donghyuck was called out for it. Even on the times that weren’t his fault. 

 

Faster than it should have, Donghyuck’s stomach emptied. All of the energy restored by the few bites of muffin had evaporated, turned into sweat or a tiny bit of energy. Now he was left breathless. Chest heaving as they ran through the dance four, five, then six times. His head pounded, pulsing so hard there wasn’t a place to pinpoint the pain. His eyes stung, although he wasn’t sure why. The sweat had long since dried, leaving him feeling as if he were baking in a furnace. 

 

“Again Donghyuck! Can’t you get it right!” the choreographer screamed. 

 

The music began again. 

 

Donghyuck could barely lift his arms. His legs felt like jelly. The pounding in his head only got worse as he danced through the song, several steps behind the rest of the members. 

 

“Lee Donghyuck!” he yelled again.

 

“Leave him alone!” Mark screamed back. 

 

The room fell silent with the exception of the music still blaring. Everyone turned to stare at Mark and then back at the choreographer, who was now practically foaming at the mouth. 

 

“So… tired,” the mutter left Donghyuck’s mouth almost inaudibly as the male swayed from side to side. 

 

“Hyuck!”

 

Johnny’s arm quickly wrapped around Donghyuck’s middle, holding him steady as Donghyuck’s legs gave out, his body falling limp, eyes shut, consciousness fading. 

 

“Seriously? Drama Queen,” the choreographer muttered. 

 

“You listen here-” Mark began.

 

Jaehyun’s arms locked around Mark’s waist, dragging the younger back, fighting against him as he struggled. 

 

“Calm down! You can’t fight here!” he hissed. 

 

This didn’t stop Mark from kicking at Jaehyun’s legs and elbowing his chest over and over. 

 

“Stop. He’s going to be fine! Doyoung and Manager Jun are taking him home!” Taeyong said, placing his hands on Mark’s shoulders and staring intently at his face. 

 

It took a moment for Mark to stop struggling. He eventually did, settling down in Jaehyun’s tight embrace as two more managers ran in. 

 

“What the hell happened?” one asked, staring around the room in shock and confusion. 

 

“You happened. All of you,” Mark glared. 

 

 

 

Eventually, one of the managers drove them back to the dorm. As soon as they walked inside, most went off to their own rooms. Mark made his way into the room Donghyuck usually slept in, finding Jeno and Jaemin, both perched on Jaehyun’s bed. 

 

“How is he?” Mark asked quietly. 

 

Donghyuck lay curled up in a ball, knees tucked against his belly, head resting against his pillow, soft sighs leaving his lips. Someone had changed him into thin pajamas, small teddy bears on the gray pants and a gray shirt with a teddy bear on the pocket.

 

“He’s been sleeping for a while… He looks so small…” Jeno muttered. 

 

Mark sat on the bed next to Donghyuck, tracing a hand from the youngers knee to his ankle, then back up. 

 

“We were so mean to him…”

 

Jeno wrapped an arm around Jaemin’s shoulder, giving it a friendly squeeze. 

 

“He’ll understand. We just need to get better at making sure he’s not too stressed or tired. He works harder than any of us and all we do is worry about ourselves,” Jeno muttered. 

 

Jaemin nodded, leaning against Jeno’s shoulder before sliding off the bed. 

 

“By the way, Mark. Donghyuck’s been crushing on you since we were trainees. We know you feel the same. So grow a pair and ask him out,” he said.

 

With that, he opened the bedroom door and strolled out, leaving a shocked Mark and a dumbfounded Jeno. 

 

“He likes me?”

 

Jeno stared at Mark as if the other had suddenly groan another head. 

 

“You seriously didn’t know?” Jeno stood up, shaking his head. “Why else would he be glued to you. He’s clingy with everyone but extra clingy with you.”

 

He strolled out of the room, leaving behind a confused Mark, still lightly stroking from Donghyuck’s knee to his ankle. 

 

He turned his attention to gaze at the smaller, eyes trailing over the beautifully tan face that looked so peaceful. He looked so small and fragile, like a duckling that desperately needed someone to protect him. 

 

“I’ve liked you too. I didn’t realize until last year, but I like you too,” he whispered. 

 

He knew the other couldn’t hear him. He took solstice in that fact. He could tell Donghyuck how much he loved him and the younger would never know. So he may as well enjoy this while he had time with the male. 

 

He lowered himself down next to Donghyuck, arm wrapping around his waist and hoisting himself up slightly with the other arm. He leaned closer, pressing a soft, lingering kiss to Donghyuck’s cheek. 

 

He settled down behind the other, chest pressed against the younger’s back, arm holding him close. 

 

Mark’s eyes fell closed, face nestling into the youngers neck. 

 

“I’m glad you feel the same.”

 

The sudden, whispered response practically made Mark fall off the bed, shock coursing through his body. 

 

“I didn’t know you were awake…”

 

Donghyuck rolled over carefully until he was facing the male.

 

“I’m glad I was,” he whispered. 

 

The smaller nuzzled closer to Mark, lips pressing against jaw. 

 

He felt Mark heave a sigh against him, arms tightening around the younger, Donghyuck’s legs slowly edging in between the elders. 

 

“Are you going to ask me out or are we going to go back to both being confused?”

 

A kiss pressed against Donghyuck’s forehead, lips traveling lower, pressing chaste, barely there kisses down his nose, over his cheeks, down his jaw, up to his chin, and finally finding a home on his lips. 

 

“Will you be mine?” lips brushed together as the words ghosted over them. 

 

“Yes,” Donghyuck whispered back, closing the distance once again.

 

Lips pressed together in such gentleness one would have thought both boys were fragile vases, just one too harsh movement would have either one or both shattering. The reality was, they were both dented and cracked, both wielding battle scars, mental and physical. 

 

They weren’t perfect. But as two hearts pounded in two chests, breath mingling together, they would be ok. Stress would happen. But with each other, it was one good thing in all the bad.